The diner ─ Noemi's ─ is bigger than a boxcar, but not by much. The counter is crowded up against the bright red booths, and the strip of black and white floor between them is loud enough to make Dean's eyes cross. Christmas lights and fake pine garland are swooped around the walls. The heater is cranked up so high that the vents are whistling; it feels like a blast furnace after the hour Dean spent staring at a bloody patch of snow.
The guy they want is about halfway down the aisle. He fits the description Dean got from the park rangers ─ a junior college dropout who swings a wrench at the body shop off the highway. He's wearing a dirty bomber jacket and dark brown coveralls, and beanie is pulled down around his ears. He's hunched over a hot chocolate topped with what looks like a whole can of whipped cream.
"Excuse me," Dean says. "You Louis Burgin?"
After a pause, the guy looks up. A handful of lank, dishwater hair falls in his face. His visible eye is bloodshot in a 'hair of the dog' kind of way; he rubs it and asks, "Who wants to know?"
"Agent McCafferty." Dean flashes his badge, then nods at Cas. "Agent Charlton. FBI. We have some questions about the night James Oester died."
Burgin pauses again. Then he shrugs and pushes his hair out of his face. "Whatever, yeah."
Dean hedges back a step ─ he hates being on the inside ─ but Cas doesn't dance with him. He just climbs straight into the booth. The vinyl groans out a fart noise that makes Burgin snort. Once Cas is settled, Dean slides in beside him. His coat wraps around his shin, but he doesn't bother tugging at it. He catches the waiter's eye and gestures for two coffees. Then he leans in and zeroes in on Burgin.
"Start from the top."
"Okay, yeah." Burgin pokes at his whipped cream, making hot chocolate erupt over the sides of the mug. "So, last weekend, me and Jim and our buddy Seth ─ we went camping at the state park."
"Illegally," Cas points out. "The campground closed for the winter on December first."
"Yeah," Burgin admits, ducking his head. His hair flops back into his face. "We rode our dirt bikes in. We caught Chattermark Trail off County H and found a spot deep in the trees. I know we weren't supposed to be there, but ─" he shrugs. "It ain't the first time we've done it. Jim was feeling kinda down. Me and Seth wanted to cheer him up, but we ain't got a lot of money. And it ain't like there's a lot to do 'round here. We bought a case of beer and some ─" he cuts off and chews his lip. "Um."
"We're FBI, not DEA," Dean says. The waiter comes over with their coffees; Dean gives him a minute to pass them out and get back behind the counter. Then he continues, "We don't care about the drugs you did. We're here about James' death."
"We ─" Burgin takes a shifty glance around "─ we went thirds on some green. Not a lot ─ just enough for a coupla bowls." He gives his hot chocolate another poke. "Like I said, we just wanted to cheer Jim up a little."
Dean pauses to sip his coffee; it's good and hot. "Why was he upset?"
"He ─ his girlfriend dumped him, and he was taking it kind a hard."
Burgin shrugs again and spoons some whipped cream into his mouth. "I guess, yeah. Whitney's going to college up in Madison. They ain't seen each other much, 'cept when she's on break, and then right before Thanksgiving, she called and said she wasn't coming home for the winter. She decided to do one of those ─ I don't know. Some kinda work-study thing. Jim got pissed, and he ─ he, uh."
"He was unfaithful," Cas finishes. He's cradling his coffee in his hands like he's trying to get warm.
"Yeah," Burgin says, nodding. The service bell rings in the kitchen. "Me and Seth ─ we told him not to do something dumb, but he was really worked up."
Cas narrows his eyes. "And that excuses it?"
"No. He ─ I don't know." Burgin hesitates behind a long slurp of hot chocolate. "Whatever. It was dumb, but he was my best friend. And he'd been bummed out for days, so..."
"So, you took him into the woods for a frat party," Dean says. The diner's heater is still going strong; sweat is prickling at the back of his neck. "What happened when you got out there?"
Burgin chugs some more hot chocolate. He wipes the whipped cream off his mouth with the back of his hand. "Nothing much at first. We were just hanging out in the tent, drinking beers and shooting the shit. We passed the pipe around a coupla times. Then Jim said he needed to take a leak.
"He grabbed another beer and got outta the tent. About a minute later, he started screaming. We, uh ─ we thought he was joking at first. Seth told him to quit fucking around, but then ─" Burgin huffs and bats his hair out of his face "─ then we heard a noise. Like a roar. Or ─ I don't know. Maybe a growl."
Burgin heaves out a sigh. The diner's canned music rushes to fill the silence ─ a pop cover of Winter Wonderland. A woman eating at the counter asks for her check. Cas shifts in his seat; the vinyl farts again, and his thigh nudges against Dean's.
Dean sips his coffee for another minute before pressing, "Then what happened?"
"Me and Seth got outta the tent. We had a lantern, and I ─" Burgin sighs again. "That's when I saw it."
"A fucking monster, that's what."
"You ─?" Dean blinks. He's not used to people going there right out of the gate. They usually spend ten minutes waffling about it ─ I can't be sure or It happened so fast or I think my eyes played tricks on me.
Cas doesn't miss a beat. "Can you describe it?"
Burgin just stares at them. "Wait. You ─ you believe me? 'Cause those forest jockeys ─"
"We believe you," Dean says. The park rangers working this case are a vet and rookie pair. When Dean asked them about the witnesses, the rookie had called them crazy. The vet had sucked his teeth for a second. Then he said he'd try for a real statement after they'd had a week or two to sober up. "Just tell us what you saw."
"Okay, yeah. It, uh ─ it was tall." Burgin holds a hand up above his head. "Like, tall. Seven feet, maybe more. And it was white."
"White," Dean says slowly. "Ugly face? Leathery skin?"
"No," Burgin says, shaking his head. "I ain't talking about an alien. This was a ─ a ─ a bigfoot."
Dean swallows a snort. "A bigfoot?"
"I guess, yeah. Or a yeti. Something like that. It was huge. I mean, huge." Burgin holds his hand up again. "And it was covered in fur. Long, white fur."
Dean opens his mouth to say, "Bigfoot doesn't exist," but Cas leans his elbow on the table and says, "Describe its face."
"Human, kinda. 'Cept its eyes. Those were glowing. Glowing and blue."
"And you saw it kill your friend?"
"No. I saw it standing over Jim's body." Burgin squeezes his eyes shut for a second. "It had blood on its hands, and Jim was all ─" he makes scratching gestures across his own chest.
"Why didn't it come after you?" Dean asks.
"Seth ─ we had a shotgun. You know, in case of bears. And Seth ─ he got a shot off." Burgin's voice cracks a little. "I, um ─ I don't think he hit it, but the noise spooked it. It ran off into the trees." He pauses again. Then he tosses two crumpled dollar bills on the table and climbs out of the booth. "Look, I gotta get going. I start work in twenty minutes."
"All right," Dean says. He hands Burgin a business card. "If you think of anything else ─"
Once Burgin is gone, Dean slides around to the other side of the booth. His coat wraps around his shin again, and he straightens it out with a sharp yank. He signals for more coffee and grabs one of the cardboard menus tucked behind the ketchup bottle. The usual diner offerings are mixed with some "authentic" Swiss fare ─ kalberwurst and eggs with rösti potatoes instead of hashbrowns; a beef brisket sandwich on zopf bread, a cheese and landjäger appetizer platter.
Dean pauses over something called älplermagronen ─ macaroni and cheese mixed with potatoes, onions, and bacon. He pokes Cas with the menu and asks, "You hungry?"
"Never," Cas deadpans.
Cas' mouth twitches a little. "Order something if you want. I don't mind watching you eat."
Before Dean can figure out what to say to that, the waiter comes over with the coffee pot.
Dean leaves the diner so stuffed that he grunts as he's climbing into the truck. His belt feels too tight. He has to burp a couple of times just to breathe comfortably.
"Are you all right?" Cas asks, frowning.
"I think so." Dean blows out another breath and pats his gut. "I probably shoulda passed on that second bowl of applemungin─"
"Älplermagronen," Cas says, fitting the key into the ignition. It's cold enough out that the truck's engine sputters and coughs before turning over and roaring to life. "And I believe I told you that when you ordered it."
"Yeah, okay. But it was mac-and-cheese. With bacon."
"And onions, yes. I noticed."
Dean burps again; he's pretty sure he's going to have heartburn later. "And potatoes. Don't forget the potatoes."
Cas huffs quietly and flips on the defroster. A moment later, warm air starts chugging out of the vents on the dash. The windshield clears in patches that spread out from the middle and slowly reach up. Dean tips his head back and sighs. His phone buzzes before he can really slip into a food coma; it's a text from Sam with an address and a room number.
"Is that your brother?"
"Yeah. He found us a motel."
New Glarus is more of a village than a town, just a couple of square miles and a population barely over two thousand. Usually, places that small don't have much in the way of flops. Dean had spotted a few bed and breakfasts as they drove in ─ the whole "Little Switzerland" shtick stirs up a pretty decent tourist trade ─ but they'd all been way outside the standard Winchester price range. Dean had been worried that they'd have to crash up in Fitchburg or Madison. A forty-minute commute would be bad enough, but if the snow picked up again they'd be looking at something closer to two hours.
Second Street splits New Glarus straight down the middle. The diner is on the north end of town and the address Sam sent is on the south, so they take another trip through the three and a half blocks that make up the business district. The village hall is a white and brown piece of "Swiss" architecture; it's next door to the police station, and it sits across the street from a thumbnail-sized park. They pass a pub and a market and an art studio, all housed in old, brick storefronts with snow piled on their windowsills. Beyond that, there's an antique store in what used to be a house and a Masonic lodge that's built like a country church. Cas swings east on Sixth Avenue, driving past a joint called The Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus.
They hit Highway 69 the next block over. After that, the motel is another quarter-mile south. It's called The Yodeler, and it looks like someone stuck in the eighties tried to build a ski lodge from the fifties. The ground floor is white brick and the second story is rough, dark wood. The peaks in the roof are still frosted with last week's snow. The sky above them is dull and flat and gray.
Cas pulls into the parking lot a little too fast. The truck jolts in an out of the driveway, the bed creaking and the rear tires kicking up a wave of slushy water. For a horrifying split-second, Dean thinks they're going to fishtail into the dumpster. But Cas tugs the wheel just the right way; the truck straightens out with a squeal and glides into one of the spots fronting the vending machines.
"Dude," Dean sputters. He ate too much for this kind of shit. "One of these days, you're gonna put me through the windshield."
"I'd heal you," Cas says mildly.
"Hey, that's not ─ you ─"
"Dean." Cas kills the engine and levels a flat look in Dean's direction. "There's nothing wrong with the way I drive. You're just a bad passenger."
Dean doesn't bother denying it. He is a bad passenger ─ a side effect from logging so many years in the cockpit. He did the lion's share of his dad's driving as soon as he was tall enough to reach the pedals and see over the dash at the same time. He inherited the Impala at nineteen because John and Sam got along better when they traveled in separate cars. Dean feels jumpy and restless without it, but bringing it to Wisconsin in the winter wouldn't have been practical. Even with chains, it doesn't handle well in the snow. And there's enough salt on the roads to chew rust holes through a solid steel beam.
They got a late start yesterday, which meant making the nine-hour haul to New Glarus in two legs. Dean spent both of them ready to crawl out of his skin. He didn't fit right in the seat. His fingers itched to tap the wheel and spin the knobs on the radio. Without the road as a distraction, he couldn't stop himself from sneaking glances at Cas. Cas drove with his knee cocked to the side and his stupid coat bunched up at the small of his back. He steered down straightaways with his left hand. He kept his right hand on the seat, his curled fingers brushing his thigh and his palm up like some kind of invitation.
Dean shivers; without the defroster, the truck's cab is so cold that his breath is clouding in front of his face. He blows on his numb hands a few times and climbs out of the truck. The door groans as he closes it. The snow dusting the tarmac crackles under his boots. There's only one other car in the parking lot; Dean figures the manager either gouged Sam for the rooms or gave them away for a song.
They're in 103. Dean pauses in front of the door and tries to figure out where Sam stashed the key. The usual places are out; the welcome mat is iced to the ground and the flower pot beside it is full of snow. The door-jamb barely has a lip. The bench under the window doesn't have a cushion, and the ashtray is brimming with stinky, orange-brown water. A single cigarette butt is floating in it.
"He musta locked it inside," Dean mutters.
Before he can grab his picks, Cas reaches past him and skims two fingers over the handle. The door swings open with a soft whine.
"We're directly across from the office," Cas says. His voice is reasonable, but a smug smile is curving his mouth. "But if you'd rather make a scene..."
"You ─ just get inside. I'm freezing my balls off out here."
The room is blue and beige and brown. It connects to Sam and Mary's room ─ 104 ─ through a narrow door lurking at the edge of the kitchenette. Thick, shaggy rugs cover most of the hardwood floor, and fake furs are draped across the foot of each bed. Extra blankets are stacked on the sagging couch. It's set facing one of those electric heaters that likes to pretend it's a wood-burning stove. There's a smell in the air ─ an eye-watering mix of industrial cleanser and cigarette smoke. The key is sitting on the nightstand.
"All right," Dean says. He peels off his coat and tosses it toward the couch. "Now what? You wanna head back down to the forest? Poke around 'til something pokes back?"
"I don't see a better alternative."
"Yeah." Dean shrugs out of his suit jacket and starts on his tie. At the other bed, Cas is digging through the clothes in his bag. "You ─ what're you doing?"
Cas pauses with a flannel in one hand and a pair of socks in the other. He glances down at himself, then looks back up at Dean and frowns. "I'm changing. This isn't appropriate for a winter hike."
"You don't get cold."
"No, I don't. But you're always saying that I need to... blend in."
Dean cringes a little. He has said that before, but he wasn't ─ fuck. "You ─ yeah. That's a good idea."
"One shirt or two?"
"At least two. And you ─ gloves." Dean scratches the back of his neck. "See if there's an extra pair of gloves in truck."
Mary calls just as Cas is turning off County H and onto the frontage road that shadows Highway 69 through the state park. When Dean picks up, he gets a sudden blast of metallic noise right in his ear.
Wincing, he tips his head away from the phone. "Mom? Is that you?"
"Yes," Mary says. She huffs out a sigh. "Sorry. Troxler wasn't at home, so we had to interview him at work, and ─"
"He work at a bombing range?"
"At a salvage yard in Monroe."
There's a boom and a clatter and a horrible, drawn-out crunch. Once it clears, Sam thanks someone for their time in his federal agent voice. Dean asks, "How'd it go?"
"It ─ hold on." The junkyard ruckus fades, eclipsed by the sound of her boot-heels clacking on concrete. "Okay. Seth Troxler, twenty-two. Best friends with the victim since middle school. He said the victim was upset over a bad break-up. He and the other witness ─ Burgin ─ wanted to get his mind off it, so they took him out into the woods for a cheap bender."
"Yep." They reach the head of Chattermark Trail as Dean continues, "Then the victim wandered away from the pack and got ripped apart." Cas eases off the gas and pulls onto the soft shoulder. Dean cuts him a sideways glance; if this heap gets stuck in the mud, he is absolutely not pushing it. "Troxler give you a description?"
"No. It was dark, and he was busy looking for his gun."
Cas starts to kill the engine, but Dean grunts and bats his hand away from the keys. He isn't ready to give up the heater, even though the air it's chugging out smells like a wet horse. "Yeah. Our guy mentioned him taking a shot."
"What about him?" Mary asks. A car door squeaks open and closed on her end. "Did he see anything?"
Dean snorts under his breath. "Yeah. The Abominable Snowman."
"Nope. This guy went full Matterhorn ─ seven feet tall, white fur, human-looking face, laser-beam eyes."
"That's ─" Mary sighs quietly. "He's obviously mistaken. But something is out there. Otherwise, his friend wouldn't be dead. Where are you?"
"The woods. I figured we'd make another sweep without the rangers breathing down our necks. What's your next move?"
"Well, the coroner's office is here in Monroe, so we're going to take a look at the body. After that, I thought we'd head back to the motel and start researching."
"Sounds good. We ─" Dean's phone cuts off. He blinks at it for a second, then shrugs and looks over at Cas. "All right. Let's get this over with."
It's fucking cold outside; Dean's teeth start chattering as soon as he gets out of the truck. He blows out a breath that fogs in front of his face and pulls his beanie down around his ears. The sky is still heavy and gray, and a biting wind is whipping through the trees. The frontage road has been shoveled, but everywhere else the ground is covered in ankle-deep snow. It crunches like gravel under Cas' boots as he walks around to the nose of the truck.
From the Chattermark trailhead, they cut a quarter-mile northwest and straight into the woods. It's a flat walk, sloping uphill slightly for about fifty yards before evening out, but there's no path to follow. They have to trudge through the snow, and that's nearly as hard on the knees as climbing up a beach. Dean keeps tripping over rocks hidden in the drifts. The trees are too thin to make a decent buffer against the wind.
Dean ends up lagging behind a little; when Cas pauses beside a snowy patch of brush, Dean hunches his shoulders and tucks his frozen chin into his collar and jogs to catch up. Cas' hair is windblown. He's wearing Dean's light green jacket and a pair of jeans with holes at both knees. He looks just human enough that a dull ache spreads through Dean's chest.
Cas turns back to look to look at Dean, and ─ fuck. Too close. If Dean wasn't such a coward, he'd lean in and kiss him. Instead, he asks, "What're you looking at?"
"The sky," Cas says. He gestures to a bank of clouds darker and heavier than the rest. "The storm is moving."
Dean shifts his weight a couple of times; now that he's standing still, his legs are starting to ache. "How fast?"
Cas gives the sky another long, curious look. "We should go. We can come back after it passes."
"What ─? No." Dean points at a nearby tree, which has a piece of crime scene tape wrapped around it like a scarf. "We're already here."
"C'mon," Dean says, tugging Cas' sleeve. Cas lets himself be dragged a couple of steps. "Fifteen minutes. I ain't trying to find the fucker. I just ─ I wanna know what we're up against."
Sighing, Cas says, "Ten minutes."
"Okay, yeah. I can do ten minutes." Dean grabs Cas' sleeve again, and he keeps ahold of it as they move the last handful of feet. "All right, here. This is it."
"They were camped here." With his heel, Cas marks out a bare stretch of snow just large enough to hold a three-man tent.
"Yeah. And Oester took his whiz here." Dean waves at a tree about five feet away. Lightning struck it at some point; the trunk is split down the middle and the branches are growing out at weird angles. A patch of snow at the base is still faintly yellow. "But he didn't die here."
"No," Cas says, shaking his head. He gestures to another tree, a good ten feet away and past the tent. "The park rangers found his body over there."
Dean glances between the trees. A soft dusting of snow is starting to fall. "That doesn't fit. Burgin said it happened right after Oester got outta the tent."
"Humans often misjudge the passage of time, especially when panicked. And Burgin had been drinking."
"Okay, sure." That almost works. Except: "Where was Oester going?"
"Presumably back to the tent."
Pausing, Dean tries to remember the crime scene photos he saw earlier. They'd been iPhone shots, and most had been taken far enough back to show Oester's position on the ground. But there'd been one good close-up of his body. It had showed everything ─ the ragged hole in Oester's chest, the goose-down puffing out of a tear in his parka, the dried blood caked on his open jeans.
"No. No he wasn't. He ─ uh. His dick was still out." Dean's face flushes; he clears his throat and nods at the lightning tree. "This fucker caught him while he was on the job."
Cas narrows his eyes for a second. Then he says, "Perhaps the creature charged him," and nudges Dean closer to the yellow snow. "Oester is standing there, oblivious." Cas hedges back behind the tree, then steps out and grabs Dean by the shoulders. "It seizes him ─"
"And Oester screams."
"Yes." Cas shuffles Dean back a couple of feet. He smells like the off-brand detergent in the bunker's laundry room. "Meanwhile, the creature gets Oester clear of the trees and throws him down."
"Oester screams again," Dean mumbles. His nose is numb. Cas' breath is fanning against his jaw. "But he ─ he, um. Why doesn't he try to get away?"
Cas hesitates. His throat bobs around something he doesn't say. Then he drops his hands and takes a step back. "The ground is frozen solid. If he hit his head when he landed ─"
"Right, yeah. That woulda knocked him out. Or at least stunned him for a minute."
The wind picks up with a whistle. A violent shiver whips through Dean's body; he curls in on himself and hides his hands in his armpits. A noise shudders in his throat.
"Dean, are you all right?"
"Yeah. I'm just ─" Dean shivers again. His teeth clack together. "Jesus Christ, it's cold."
"Damn it," Cas snaps. He has snowflakes in his hair. "I shouldn't have let you talk me into this."
"I know, I know." Dean's legs feel heavy, but he makes himself stamp his feet a few times. "It's ─ we'd already walked out here."
"And we should've walked back. Now you're going to freeze to death."
The sky is the color of steel, and the snow is coming down hard and fast. Still, Dean shakes his head and says, "No. We just gotta make it back to the truck."
After a pause, Cas says. "There's a cabin on the other side of this copse."
"What ─?" Dean's toes are going numb, so he stamps his feet a few more times. "What kinda cabin?"
"It's an auxiliary ranger station. It's only used during the hunting and camping seasons."
Dean would rather go back to the motel, where there's a heater and a TV and where he could thaw out under a hot shower. But his teeth are chattering again. Breathing is making his lungs hurt, and he's starting to get tired.
Cas just looks at him for a second. Then he peels off one of his gloves and says, "Come here." When Dean steps close, he fumbles his bare hand under Dean's shirts.
"Cas ─! What ─?"
"Be still," Cas says quietly. His palm slides up Dean's side. "This may feel strange."
Dean smells the swell of grace before it touches him ─ a quick, ozone-whiff that gets carried off by the wind. Then it starts pouring into him, and ─ fuck. Strange doesn't even cover it. Getting healed is kind of like getting stabbed by an icicle, cold and sudden and such a shock it's almost painful, but this is something else entirely. It's butter-soft and slow, and it pulses like a heartbeat, throbbing underneath Dean's skin. Dean closes his eyes and fists his hands in the front of Cas' jacket. He makes a thin whining noise behind his teeth.
"Almost done," Cas murmurs. His mouth is right beside Dean's ear. "There."
Moving away from Cas is a struggle; Dean has to make himself step back. Afterward, he clears his throat and asks, "What ─ what was that?"
"I returned your body temperature to normal," Cas says. He catches Dean's elbow and tugs. "Come on."
Cas herds him back toward the lightning tree. Its two halves are dancing to different beats. All Dean sees beyond that is snow; it's thicker than a blanket, and the wind is slanting it straight into his face. His eyes sting. He ducks his head a little, and he flexes his fingers so his blood keeps moving. Just as his legs start feeling heavy again, Cas leads him into a tight thicket of trees. The brush is dense, and rocks are jutting up through the snow. Twenty feet later, they stumble out into a clearing.
The cabin is small and squat, and its back wall is hugging the treeline. Dean asks, "How'd you even know about this place?"
"The ranger I spoke with mentioned it when I asked about the witnesses." A good foot of snow is piled in front of the door, but it's still soft enough to be cleared away with a few kicks. "The victim and his friends have a checkered history with this park. They've broken in here to drink more than once."
An oversized padlock is hanging on the door. Cas frowns at it for a second before grabbing it and crushing it in his fist.
Cas just says, "Dean," and nudges him through the door.
Inside, the cabin isn't much. An ancient double bed takes up most of one side. Just past the foot of it, a row of wall-hooks are holding a maroon rain slicker, a dingy set of long-johns, two or three plaid scarves, and a ranger's hat. Below that, three pairs of bright yellow galoshes are lined up against the wall. The other side is crowded with a table and two stools, an armchair that's bleeding stuffing from the seat, and a black, pot-bellied stove. There's also a low shelf stocked with the usual suspects ─ Spam, corned beef hash, baked beans, Chef Boyardee. Everything is covered in a layer of dust; it's thick enough to put a stale, gritty taste in Dean's mouth.
Silently, Cas comes up behind him. He tucks his hand under Dean's shirts and palms the small of Dean's back. Dean gets as far as, "Cas, I'm ─" before a soft heat starts ebbing into him. It's so liquid and bright that his toes curl. Goosebumps prickle the back of his neck. He closes his eyes and sucks in a shaky breath.
It's quicker this time; Dean's not nearly as cold as he was before. Cas murmurs something in Enochian, and his other hand skims Dean's hip. The heat starts to fade. Without thinking, Dean turns his head until he feels Cas breathing against his cheek.
After a short, tight pause, Cas says, "Just in case," and steps back.
"Yeah. You ─ thanks." A slow shiver buzzes up Dean's spine. "That's ─ hey. With a few more jolts of that, I probably coulda made it to the truck."
"It was too far away," Cas says, shaking his head. "Do you remember when you had smiting sickness? After the angels tried to obliterate Amara?" Dean bristles at her name ─ he's been trying to forget that whole shitshow ─ but Cas just continues, "Being healed repeatedly over a short period of time has the same effect ─ lethargy, disorientation, dizziness, nausea."
Dean would almost call that a fair trade, if it meant getting back to the motel. He wants a shower, and a dinner that isn't going to come out of can. He wants to talk to Sam and Mary about the case. He wants ─ fuck. They still don't know what they hell they're hunting.
"So, we're stuck here?"
Cas touches the lantern on the table. A heartbeat later, it glows to life. "Yes."
"Great." Dean's jacket is damp, so he dumps it on the armchair before walking over to the stove. "I'm gonna start a fire."
"I'll do it," Cas says. His hair has dried in a weird cowlick across his forehead. "Your boots are wet."
Dean's boots are soaked. The armchair wobbles and creaks when he sits; once he's sure it's not going to collapse or dump him on the floor, he leans down with a grunt and unlaces them. His socks stick to his skin like plastic wrap. His feet are clammy and pale, and they're crisscrossed with faint fabric creases.
He doesn't want to walk around barefoot all night, so he gets up and checks the galoshes. After poking around a little, he finds a pair of thick, wool socks. He sits on the bed this time, which creaks louder but wobbles less. The socks are scratchy as hell, but his feet start warming up immediately.
"Hey," Dean says, standing. His jeans are wet too, but he's not touching those long-johns with a ten-foot pole. "You almost done there? I gotta dry my jeans."
Cas is crouched in front of the stove; he pauses with a piece of wood in his hand and looks at Dean over his shoulder. "Just take them off."
"You ─" Dean's face flushes. "Running around in my skivvies ain't gonna help me stay warm."
"Get in the bed. There are plenty of blankets."
Dean finds seven in a crate beside the galoshes ─ three quilts, two that are plain wool, and two more that are fuzzy and soft. He can't decide if that's too many or not enough; he isn't freezing anymore, but the wind is screaming like a banshee and snow is pelting against the windows. He ends up using all of them, shaking each one out before spreading it on the bed. Once he's done, he peels off his jeans and tosses them toward the stove. They hit the floor like a ton of bricks.
The bed creaks again as Dean climbs in. He stretches his legs and flexes his toes. Then he rolls over and complains, "This mattress is lumpy."
Instead of replying, Cas just reaches into the stove. The logs light with a soft whoosh.
"I can't believe we're stuck here all night."
"Dean." Cas closes the stove's door and stands. "Even if we'd risked going back to the truck, there's no guarantee we could've driven it."
"You ─" Dean sighs. Cas is right; the truck could be half-buried in snow by now. The roads might not be passable. They'd just be trapped in the cab all night instead of here, running the heater until the gas tank finally gave out. There's an emergency blanket in the glove compartment, but shivering under a piece of tinfoil isn't on Dean's list of top ten ways to spend an evening. "Sorry. I'm just ─"
"You hate leaving a hunt unfinished." Cas walks over to the bed. "Have you called your brother?"
"No," Dean says, shaking his head. "I should do that. I ─ fuck. Phone's in my jeans."
"I'll do it."
"Okay. You ─" Dean yawns. A second one starts before the first one is even finished, coming on so strong and quick that it makes his jaw pop.
"You should sleep," Cas says.
"Nah. It's still early."
"Your body has had a confusing couple of hours." Cas looks at Dean for a long moment, then turns away from the bed. "Go to sleep."
In Dean's dream, he isn't sleeping alone. Cas is in the bed with him. It isn't really big enough for two grown men, but they're making it work. Dean has his head tucked under Cas' chin. His fingers are hooked in Cas' collar. Cas has his arm around Dean's waist, and his hand is hidden under Dean's shirts. It feels huge and warm at the small of Dean's back.
It's a good dream, but it's also a weird one. A mattress lump is digging into Dean's shoulder. His left foot is freezing because it's sticking out of the blankets. The wind is still howling, gusting hard enough to rattle the windows. The cabin walls are creaking. Dust is itching Dean's nose.
He ─ damn it. He's awake. He's awake and breathing into Cas' collarbone.
His first instinct is to roll away before it gets weird. But a mean, nasty part of his brain is telling him to just enjoy it while it lasts. Before he can decide, Cas tenses slightly ─ tenses like he's realized Dean is awake.
Dean clears his throat and says, "Cas. You ─ um. You sleeping, buddy?"
"I ─ no." Cas leans back a little. His hand slides from Dean's back to Dean's hip. "You were shivering."
"Well, that stove's a piece of shit."
"It's old. This cabin isn't used this far into winter." Cas huffs out a noise that ruffles Dean's hair. "I'm sorry. I wanted ─ I thought ─"
"Hey, it's cool," Dean says. He hates how embarrassed Cas sounds. "I probably woulda shivered myself onto the floor." Cas doesn't say anything, but his hand twitches at Dean's hip. Dean kicks the blankets until his foot is covered, then adds, "Look. I'm gonna knock out for a couple more hours. You ─ um. You can stay, if you want."
"Okay," Cas says quietly.
Sleep is already waiting in the wings; Dean expects it to make its entrance the minute he shuts his eyes. But it doesn't. Finally having Cas this close has him hyper-aware of everything ─ the heat of Cas' skin, the weight of Cas' hand at his hip, the almost-tangle of their legs, the rasp of Cas' jeans against his bare shins. Cas isn't wearing Dean's jacket anymore, but he still smells like him. There's barely any space between them; Cas' mouth is a hair away from touching Dean's temple.
Dean opens his eyes. The lantern is out; the only light in the cabin is the faint, yellow-orange glow from the stove. Most of it is blotted out by Cas' shoulder. All Dean can really see is the line of Cas' jaw and the hair curling behind Cas' ears. He shuts his eyes again and breathes Cas in. He inches closer. He lets his lips bump Cas' throat.
He doesn't mean for it to turn into a kiss, but he wants it. He wants it, and he's tired of pretending he doesn't because dancing around it is easier than talking about it. He noses in for another, and then another. He's staring down the barrel of forty, and that's old in hunter years ─ Asa's wake had been a bitter reminder of that. The next kiss is a little open and a little wet, his lips and tongue dragging against the stubble under Cas' jaw. Cas tips his head back and breathes out a noise, so Dean does it again, and again. He's tired of sleeping alone.
"Dean." Cas' voice dips ─ not quite a warning, but not quite not.
This is it. Gambling with Cas' friendship has always been Dean's biggest fear, but Cas' dick is nudging Dean's hip, and his hand is fisted in the tails of Dean's shirts. He either has to call or fold.
He bites the inside of his cheek for a second. Then he nips at Cas' jaw and puts his cards on the table. "You gonna tell me you don't want it?"
"I do. I want it very much." Cas tucks his hand under Dean's shirts again. He slides it up to Dean's shoulder and digs his nails in a little. "I'm just not sure it's wise."
Dean palms Cas' hip. His heart is hammering in his chest. "Why not?"
Cas is silent for a long moment; Dean listens to the wind whistle and the fire crackle and tries to keep breathing. Finally, Cas says, "I'm not human, and I ─ I can only pretend so far." His lips brush Dean's cheek. "I can't promise you I can be what you want."
"I don't want you to be anything," Dean insists. He presses closer, shifting his leg until his thigh brushes against Cas' dick. A moan catches in Cas' throat, and it sparks at something deep in Dean's gut. "I just want you."
"Hey. If you really ain't interested, I'll ─"
"Dean." Cas rolls them, putting Dean flat on his back. He pushes his hand into Dean's hair and tugs, and ─ fuck. This is about to get embarrassing. Dean claws at the blankets so he doesn't rub himself against Cas' hip. "I'm very interested. I've been interested for a long time." Cas rumbles out a noise beside Dean's ear. "You have no idea how long."
"Yeah?" Dean turns his head and nips at Cas' jaw. "Tell me."
Cas murmurs, "Dean," again and hides his face against the side of Dean's neck. He presses a slow, wet kiss there before saying, "You were in the hospital. After ─ after Alastair. I had orders not to heal you, and I ─ it upset me." He gives Dean's hair another tug. "Seeing you like that made me ache. I didn't understand it at the time. It had been two thousand years since I'd taken a vessel, and then I only walked the earth a few days."
Dean shudders out a breath. The apocalypse seems like a lifetime ago, and in some ways it is; Dean has died more than once since then. He'd wanted Cas in those early days. Wanted. He'd itched to rip off his trenchcoat, and to bite bruises into his throat, and to shove him back against a wall and kiss him hard. He'd wanted to fuck him ─ in shitty motel rooms, in the backseat of the Impala, in Bobby's kitchen ─ anywhere he showed up looking windswept and irritated and ready to smite something. He didn't realize it was more than that until he thought Cas was dead ─ until he spent close to a year feeling like a part of himself was missing.
He slides his hand up to the back of Cas' neck and strokes his thumb behind Cas' ear. "You got me beat, but not my much." He arches up a little, grinding his dick against Cas' hip; the heat that jolts through him makes his toes curl. "You walked into a river and didn't come out, and I watched you do it. You got any idea what that felt like?"
"Some," Cas says, right at the corner of Dean's mouth. He gets his hand under Dean's shirts and skims it up Dean's chest, pausing with his thumb just shy of Dean's nipple. "I've believed you to be dead twice in the last two years alone."
"You sank under the water," Dean says, arching up again. Their dicks ride together, and Cas gasps against Dean's jaw. "Right in front of me."
"You were a demon." Their lips brush as Cas says, "Your true face was a mockery of your beauty. Of the soul I pulled out of Hell."
"I had to watch Lucifer ride around in your skin."
Cas kisses him. It's nothing like Dean imagined over the years ─ not soft or slow or furtive or fumbling. Cas just pins Dean back into the pillows and shoves his tongue in Dean's mouth. He slides the hand in Dean's hair down to Dean's throat. He teases Dean's nipple a few times with the other, then drags it down to palm Dean's dick through his boxer-briefs.
"You ─" Dean hisses out a noise and pushes up into it. "Thought you said we weren't gonna do this."
"I never said we weren't. I said it might not be a good idea."
Dean mutters, "Fuck that," and pulls him down for another kiss.
Cas moans into it, low and deep. He rubs Dean's dick with the heel of his hand, then hooks his fingers in the band of Dean's boxer-briefs and tugs. Once they're out of the way, Dean hitches his leg around Cas' thigh and rolls them, straddling Cas' hips and sitting up on his knees. He yanks on Cas' fly, pushing Cas' jeans down far enough to get his hand on Cas' dick. Cas thrusts up as soon as Dean touches him, his back curving and his head tipping back against the pillows. Another moan catches in his throat.
"Jesus, yeah." Dean leans down so he can nip Cas' jaw and curls his fingers in Cas' hair. "Just like that. Lemme hear you."
Cas runs his hands down Dean's sides, then wraps one around Dean's dick. Heat courses through Dean's body; he fucks into it hard and without any rhythm, just riding the edge and desperate to come. His hips jerk, and the bed creaks like it's about to break in half. Their wrists bump as Cas strokes up and Dean strokes down. Cas slides his other hand up to Dean's face, rubbing his thumb at the corner of Dean's mouth before dragging his fingers down Dean's jaw. When they skip over Dean's lips, Dean sucks them in ─ first two, then three. Cas growls out a dark, filthy noise. His dick pulses in Dean's hand.
Dean takes them in deep, slipping his tongue between them. When Cas' dick pulses again, he pulls back just enough to ask, "You like that?"
Cas says, "Dean," again and chases Dean's mouth with his fingers. Dean sucks them back in and strokes his hand up Cas' dick, and then Cas is coming, his throat bobbing and a faint spark of light glinting behind his eyes. He sucks in a breath, and another, then tips Dean onto his side and jacks Dean hard. Dean gasps out Cas' name and claws at the blankets. He comes with his face buried in the pillow and Cas' wet fingers skimming into the hollow of his throat.
Dean wakes up to a burnt, sour smell and the sound of Cas pacing on the other side of the cabin. He blinks up at the ceiling for a few seconds, then rubs his hand over his face and leans up on his elbow. His throat is dry from breathing in wood-smoke all night, and a lump in the mattress is gouging at his hip. When he rolls over, he finds Cas frowning at the stove. He's babysitting a blue tin kettle with a dent in its lid.
"Is that coffee?" Dean asks hopefully.
"In a manner of speaking," Cas replies. His hair is still a wreck from last night. "It's stale and it's instant, so ─"
"Hey, it's caffeine."
A soft smile tugs Cas' mouth. "It just needs another minute."
Dean kicks the blankets away and climbs out of bed. Goosebumps chase up his bare legs as he walks over to his jeans. At some point during the night, Cas hung them over a stool and put them in front of the fire. He has to wrestle them on because they're stiff from air-drying. So are his socks. He'd leave them, but the wool ones are too thick to fit inside his boots.
Once the coffee is ready, Cas pours it into two mugs that match the kettle down to the dents. He hands one to Dean and turns to look out the window. Steam curls into Dean's nose. The first sip is hotter than he expects ─ hot enough to burn the tip of his tongue. It isn't great, but it also isn't terrible. He's definitely paid for worse at a KwikMart.
He takes another sip and grabs his phone off the table. "You call Sam?"
"I tried twice last night, and again this morning. No signal."
"Great. He's probably ready to call the National Guard." Dean thumbs his phone awake and frowns. "How is my battery full?"
Cas smiles again. This time, it's smug.
"You got all kindsa tricks, don't you?" Dean pockets the phone and pulls Cas in. "C'mere." He kisses Cas' throat and his jaw and the spot below his ear. Cas tenses slightly, so Dean stops before kissing his mouth. "Second thoughts?"
Cas retreats behind his coffee for a few seconds. Then he says, "I ─ no. Not exactly."
"Okay," Dean says. He makes himself breathe through the ache in his chest. "Talk to me."
"Last night," Cas starts slowly. He pauses, draining his coffee and setting the mug on the table. "Last night, you said you want me as I am."
"What I am ─ I've hurt you, Dean. I've betrayed you. I've ─"
"Hey. Shut up. Don't talk like that." Dean ditches his coffee and catches Cas' face in both hands. "First of all, that shit has cut both ways. I ain't exactly been a ray of sunshine the last coupla years. I've ─"
"Dean." Cas' voice dips. "I've never blamed you for the things you said and did while under Cain's sway."
"Doesn't mean I didn't do it." Like a record scratch, Dean's brain jumps to a memory of him punching Cas in the face ─ to a hot brand throbbing on his arm and his blood churning in his ears. Shame spikes through him so violently that for a few seconds he thinks he might puke. He needs a couple of deep breaths before he can finish, "Look. If we're gonna do this, we can't carry that around with us. We gotta let it go. Call it water under the bridge ─ whatever."
"You think it will be that easy?"
"Hell, probably not."
"Dean." Cas sighs and palms the side of Dean's neck. "I need to know you're serious. Angels don't do things by halves."
"Yeah, I've noticed that," Dean says, snorting. He looks at Cas for a second, then takes a step back and scrubs a hand through his hair. "I ain't gonna lie ─ I'm scared shitless. It's been a long time since I tried to do something like this, and it didn't end so hot. But I ─ I want this. You know, permanently."
After a pause, Cas says, "Okay. Yes."
"Great." Dean kisses the corner of his mouth. "Now, how soon can we get outta here?"
Cas glances out the window again, then looks back at Dean. He only sounds somewhat apologetic as he says, "The snow has stopped, but I'd rather we wait another hour or two. It's still very cold outside."
"And, you just want me to warm you up again." Cas cocks an eyebrow at him, and ─ fuck. He has been spending way too much time with Mary. "Don't think I didn't notice how much you enjoyed it."
"You ─" Dean huffs. A hot flush is crawling over his cheeks and jaw. "You had your hands all over me."
Cas hums quietly. "Another hour or two."
"All right," Dean says, sighing. He splits what's left of the coffee between their mugs, filling each one about two-thirds full. "Since we're stuck here, talk to me about this monster."
Cas leans back against the window and cradles his coffee in both hands. "I spent most of the night trying to figure it out. Of all the creatures known to me, none match the facts we have."
"We gotta be missing something." Dean sits on the stool and sips his coffee. Standing has made it slightly sour. "Let's start from the top. A cracked chest usually means werewolves."
"Okay, great. Why was it white?"
Cas makes a thoughtful noise into his coffee. "Perhaps its human clothing was white. A white ski parka, or a white fur coat."
"Oester's heart wasn't missing."
"Troxler fired at it. The noise might've scared it off." After a pause, Cas shakes his head. "The attack is outside the lunar cycle. The moon was waning gibbous last Friday."
Dean sighs and says, "All right, next. Hidebehind?"
"Hidebehinds aren't typically white. And they prefer to eat in their dens."
"Yeah. They don't dine in, they take out." Dean sighs again and rubs his forehead. "And they don't snack on drunks. These guys were deep into a case ─ the rangers found seventeen cans outside the tent."
Cas takes a long sip of his coffee. Then he straightens from the window and walks over to stand between Dean's legs. He brushes his fingers through Dean's hair as he asks, "Wendigo?"
"Maybe." Mary had floated that idea as they were getting ready to head out to New Glarus, but Dean isn't sure. "Wendigos like the deep woods, not tourist traps. And they have to feed every twenty or twenty-five years. This place doesn't have a history of weirdo disappearances."
"True. It's also fairly small."
Dean palms Cas' hip. "Yeah. No caves, no abandon mines. Where would it hole up?"
"Your brother planned on finding a topographical map of the park. That would show us any geographic features not noted on the hiking guide."
"Okay, okay." The bottom of Dean's coffee is practically mud; he reaches past Cas and sets his mug on the table. "Let's say there is something we don't know about ─ a cave, maybe. Wendigos don't dine in any more than hidebehinds. Why didn't it drag Oester away?"
"The gunshot?" Cas ventures.
"I don't know. Wendigos don't spook easily." Dean chews his lip for a second and tries to think, but everything just keeps coming up zeros. "What if ─ fuck. I hate to say it, but what if there's no monster? I mean, the rangers swear it's a bear attack."
Cas considers this. Then he frowns and says, "No. I think the rangers believe it's a bear attack because they can't imagine it being anything else. The bears in this region aren't white. And they generally aren't active this time of year."
"So we're... back to wendigo."
Dean's hands are cold, so he tucks them under Cas' shirt. "Wendigos don't have fur."
"Honestly, I'm not convinced the fur is of import," Cas says. He brushes his fingers through Dean's hair again. "Burgin only saw the creature for a few seconds. And he was inebriated."
"You ─ you think he made it up?"
"No," Cas says, shaking his head. "I think he saw something that terrified and confused him. He didn't understand it, so he transformed it into something familiar. Bigfoot might not exist, but bigfoot legends persist all across this country."
"That... makes sense, kinda," Dean says. "He saw something freaky in the woods and figured it was the only freaky-woods thing he'd ever heard about. But ─ Christ. That puts us back at wendigo."
Cas shrugs. "There are worse things walking the earth."
"Not many," Dean says. He sighs and pats Cas' hip. "C'mon. We gotta get this dump cleaned up."
The truck is stuck in about a foot and a half of snow. There's enough for a snowman piled on the hood and the roof of the cab. Dean doesn't even bother looking to see how much is in the bed.
He tells Cas, "Don't say it."
"Say 'I told you so.'"
Cas' mouth twitches. "I wasn't going to."
Dean snorts and stuffs his hands in his pockets. He bends his knees a few times to keep his blood moving. The wind has finally died down for the most part, but what's left still has an icy edge to it. His legs ache. His nose and cheeks are almost numb.
Just over the fence, a snowplow is pushing south on Highway 69, whipping up a miniature blizzard as it clears the slow lane. Dean turns his back to it; he doesn't want the driver stopping and asking if they need help. A minute later, he hears it chug by at about ten miles an hour. The fumes from its exhaust leave a dirty, diesel smell in the air.
A horn honks in the distance. Dean asks, "You got a shovel?"
"We don't need one," Cas says, crouching beside the tailgate. He pinches some snow off the bumper and rubs it between his fingers. "Is anyone watching?"
"I don't think so." A car passes them going north on the highway, but the snow heaped on the shoulder is high enough to hide them, at least from the waist down. On their other side, the forest is empty and quiet. "No. You're good."
Cas touches the lump of snow closest to his feet. After a pause, a soft, yellowish light flickers under his palm. The snow snaps and cracks like ice settling at the bottom of a whiskey glass. Then it disappears. Water swirls on the ground, forming a puddle underneath the tire. Cas waves it away before moving on.
Little by little, he works his way up one side of the truck and around the grill. Dean feels ridiculous just watching him, so he grabs a stick and starts whacking at the snow on the hood. His first two swings barely make a dent, but the third sends most of it avalanching to the ground. After that, the rest comes off easy. Dean is just getting finished when Cas stands and wipes his hands on his jeans.
"We all set?" Dean asks.
Dean tosses the stick aside, startling a raven out of a snowy clump of brush. It croaks at them and flaps up to the fence that separates the frontage road from the highway. It dances on the wire for a moment before hopping up onto one of the wood posts. It bobs its head a few times. Then it croaks again and wheels off to the south.
Cas watches it cut across the sky. It joins up with two more that are circling something about a mile away. "I wonder what that is."
"Roadkill," Dean says, shrugging. "Something tried a Frogger run and didn't make it."
Cas' hair is still a wreck, and his collar is twisted behind his ear. Dean reaches up to fix it, but he ends up pulling Cas in for a kiss. He smells like cold air and wood-smoke. Dean isn't trying to start anything ─ not really ─ but Cas makes a soft, dirty noise into his mouth. That leads to another kiss, and another. Then Dean nudges Cas back against the truck and palms the hollow of his throat.
"Dean," Cas murmurs. His teeth graze Dean's jaw. "I thought you said you were hungry."
Dean is hungry. He had breakfast at the cabin ─ cold baked beans straight out of the can ─ but it didn't exactly hit the spot. "Yeah. All right." The frontage road is still buried; he steps back onto a pile of snow that collapses under him and swallows his foot to the ankle. "You got chains for this heap?"
Cas narrows his eyes. "Yes."
The door shrieks as Cas tugs it open. He sticks his hand behind the seat and digs around for a minute or two. He finds a red and yellow saddle blanket, a pair of mittens, a dead flashlight, and a couple of road flares. After that, he strikes gold. He gets the first set out with no problem. The other three come out together; they're tangled up like the Christmas lights in that Chevy Chase movie.
"Fuck," Dean mutters. "Okay, lemme ─" his phone rings. He mutters, "Fuck," again. Then he bites the bullet and says, "Hi, Mom."
"Where the heck have you been?" Mary asks sharply.
"We ─ um. The woods."
"What ─? You ─ are you all right?"
"We're fine. We just ─ the storm rolled in while we were out at the crime scene. Kinda caught us with our pants down." Once Dean realizes what he said, his face flushes. He clears his throat before continuing, "We holed up in a ranger cabin 'til morning. We just got back to the truck."
"Yeah. Angel McWorrywart over here wouldn't let me ─"
"It was too cold," Cas says. He doesn't look up from the chain he strapping around the front tire.
"All right, all right." A gust of wind whips by; Dean puts his shoulder to it and asks Mary, "What about you guys? Did you get stuck in Monroe, or did you make it back to the motel?"
"We made it back to the motel. Barely."
"You talk to the coroner?"
"Yes." Mary pauses for a second. Dean hears TV noise in the background ─ something with jangly music and a live audience. A gameshow, maybe. "When I asked on the record, she called it a bear attack."
"Uh-huh. What about off the record?"
"Off the record, she admitted the claw marks didn't match any bear she'd ever seen."
"What about ─" The chains clank, and Cas snarls something in Enochian. Dean covers his other ear and walks toward the fence. "What about the body? Those pics I saw ─ it looked like he was ripped open."
"He was. The gash was nearly a foot long."
Werewolves normally punch straight through the sternum. Dean rubs his face and asks, "They do a toxicology report?"
"The drug tests hadn't come back yet. His blood alcohol level was point-one-four."
Dean whistles through his teeth. "Sonofabitch was bombed."
"It's not a werewolf, and it's not a hidebehind." Mary pauses again. Dean hears slurping on that end of the line ─ she's probably drinking coffee. "I'm not sure a wendigo fits either, but ─"
"I know. I just ─" Dean sighs and rubs his face again. "This ain't the kinda place wendigos use for a bed and breakfast. Did Sam find that map he wanted?"
"Yes. As far as we can tell, there aren't any ─ hold on. He wants to talk to you." A scuffling noise rattles in Dean's ear. Then Sam asks, "Dean? Are you still in the woods?"
"They just found another victim. I heard the rangers calling for the coroner on the scanner."
Dean glances at the sky. The ravens are still circling. "Lemme guess. South end of the park."
"Okay. We're headed down there right now. We'll call you if it's worth saddling up."
As Dean is pocketing his phone, Cas comes up behind him and palms his hip. "I assume that isn't roadkill."
Dean shakes his head. "No. Not so much."
The frontage road only takes them as far south as the ranger station. After that, they get shunted onto County Road Nn. Cas follows that east through the park's front gate and out onto the highway. The last of the snow has been cleared, so the chains rattle and bump against the asphalt. The truck's defroster whistles like an old radiator. Dean spins the radio dial past a jazzy cover of Jingle Bells, a farm report that's more static than talk, and an old-school version of White Christmas.
Most of the south end of the park is prairie. The trees curve back from the highway, leaving a flat stretch of snow dotted with brush. A pair of deer are nosing at the grass poking through the drifts. About a mile down, the trees start crowding back in again. A Grand Cherokee painted Department of Natural Resources olive drab is parked diagonally on the shoulder. Its roof light is flashing, washing the crime scene bright yellow.
The same two rangers are holding down the fort. The kid ─ Villanueva ─ is pacing at the Grand Cherokee's nose with a roll of police tape in his hand. He's one the phone, and the look on his face says he's getting an earful from whoever's on the other end of the line. The older guy ─ Frutiger ─ is standing over the body and taking notes on a clipboard. He glances up as Cas pulls onto the shoulder. He only swallows about half of his sneer.
As Dean and Cas are walking over, he mutters, "Well, I guess it's true what they say about you federal boys."
"Yeah?" Dean forces a smile. "And what's that?"
"That you'll stick your nose in anyone's business for a dollar."
"Hey," Dean says, holding up his hands. "We were just in the neighborhood. We thought we'd stop and see what's what."
Frutiger adjusts his hat, tipping it back enough to flash his receding hairline. "Ain't nothing to see here but a bear attack."
"A bear attack?" Cas asks dubiously. He gives Frutiger an angel squint. "This close to the highway?"
Dean asks, "How long've you been on this job?"
"So, you've seen a bear attack. You know they don't look like that."
Frutiger hesitates. "She's open straight down the front, just like that other kid. And the doc down in Monroe says that was a bear attack."
"The doc is saying bear attack, but she isn't jumping up and down about it." Frutiger's jaw tics like he's grinding his teeth, so Dean adds, "Look," and holds up his hands again. "We're here to help."
Frutiger hesitates again. Then he crouches beside the body and pulls back the tarp. The victim is an older woman with deep wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. She's missing two front teeth, and her gray hair is stiff with ice. Blood is spattered around the collar of her worn, dirty parka.
"This here is Fiona Loerch. Age sixty-one."
The edge of the tarp flaps with the wind. Dean asks, "She have an address?"
"She ─" Frutiger's mouth thins slightly. "She was itinerant."
"That's a cute way of saying homeless," Dean mutters. A few feet away, Villanueva is snapping phone pics of something stuck in the snow. "There a shelter around here?"
Frutiger grunts out, "No," and heaves himself to his feet. "In bad weather, Lenny up at The Yodeler would let her use an empty room. So would ─ aw, hell." He grunts again and snaps his fingers a few times. "Can't remember her name ─ the old bird that runs the bee-and-bee up by the park. She's got an attic room that never rents because the bed's only a twin."
His jaw works like he isn't quite finished, so Dean presses, "But?"
"Well, they didn't like her to come around drunk. We found an empty bottle of wine just up the highway."
"They would've turned her out for that?" Cas' voice slices through the frozen air like a knife. "In a blizzard?"
"No. They ─ no." Frutiger shakes his head. "No. But Fiona ─" he sighs quietly. "Sometimes, Fiona would fill her tank and then get embarrassed about people seeing her like that. I figure she was headed to Monroe. There's a soup kitchen down there. It's open all night, and they don't ask questions."
"Monroe?" Cas asks sharply. "That's twenty miles from here."
"She usually hitches a ride, but ─" Frutiger gestures at the snow and shrugs one shoulder.
"But no one was out driving last night." Dean blows out a breath and pinches the bridge of his nose. Then he tells Frutiger, "Thanks. My partner and I need a minute alone."
Frutiger blinks at them. Then he stumps toward the Grand Cherokee, grumbling, "Feds," under his breath.
Once he's gone, Dean leans down and lifts the tarp a little more. The edge catches the wind again. The worst of Fiona's wound is covered by her parka; goose-down is leaking from a hole near the zipper. A patch of snow underneath her body is rusty with old blood.
Oester's crime scene had looked like a slaughterhouse. Dean says, "She didn't bleed as much as the kid."
"Hypothermia," Cas murmurs. "I suspect she was already near death when she was attacked."
"Yeah." New Glarus is a mile and a half away; that would've been a long walk in the middle of a storm. Sighing, Dean says, "Man, this is a weird fucking wendigo. I mean, you were just telling Ranger Rick this is too close to the highway."
"I said it was too close to the highway for a bear attack." Cas' cheeks and nose are pink from the cold. He frowns at the trees for a second before continuing, "The forest comes within feet of the shoulder, here. And wendigos move too fast to truly fear being seen."
"I know you're skeptical, but I can't think of anything else it could be."
Dean tugs the tarp back into place and sighs again. "I don't know. A person, maybe?"
"A human?" Cas says it just loud enough that Dean winces and glances around, but no one is paying attention. Frutiger is inside the Grand Cherokee, and Villanueva is taking pictures about ten yards away. Cas whips out the angel squint again. "Are you serious?"
Dean shrugs; it wouldn't be the first time they've bumped into a whackadoo with a knife. It wouldn't even been the tenth. "I'm thinking about it."
Cas makes a noise in the back of his throat. Then he says, "A serial killer chooses victims with a purpose. They're usually correlated in some way ─ gender, ethnicity, physical features, occupation."
"Sometimes." Dean shrugs again. He doesn't really know. "Not always. I ─ you gotta ask Sam. He's the true crime geek around here. He ─ wait." Villanueva is headed their way; Dean waves him over and asks, "You mind if we take a look at those?"
"Yeah. Go ahead." Villanueva thumbs at his phone a couple of times, then hands it to Dean. "It just the stuff the victim dropped."
The first photo is an old plaid scarf; one end is sticking up through the snow. The second is a bottle of Night Train, half-buried beside a fallen, rotting branch. The next three are a foldable shopping cart tipped on its side ─ one from the back, one from the side, and one that shows the plastic bags that spilled out of it. The last is a styrofoam Gas & Sip coffee cup.
Dean swipes through the whole set twice, but nothing really jumps out at him. Before he can try a third time, Cas touches his wrist and says, "Wait. There."
It's the coffee cup shot. The bottom of the cup is squashed, like Fiona stepped on it after she dropped it. A scuff-mark is cutting the Gas & Sip logo in half. "Yeah. Very American Beauty. What am I looking at?"
"That." Cas points to the shrubs at the top of the frame. "That looks trampled."
Dean scrubs at his hair. "Great. Another walk in the woods."
The bush they want is about halfway between the coffee cup and the body. It comes up to Dean's waist, and it's growing in the shade of a gnarled, crooked tree. One side is splintered and squashed, like someone ─ or something ─ clipped it as it crashed out into the open. A few broken branches are hanging at awkward angles. Winter-brown leaves are scattered in the snow.
Dean grumbles, "Okay," and rubs his frozen hands together. "Let's say it came from back here."
Cas points at the coffee cup. "She stops there." After a pause, he turns and gestures south. "Then she takes a few more steps."
"Yeah. And then it jumps out and grabs her." Dean grips Cas' shoulders and leans into his back. "It throws her down. And she ─ how'd she end up facing the other way? You think she fought it?"
Cas shakes his head. "I doubt she had the strength." He pauses again, then crouches and shifts sideways on his heels. "Perhaps she fell as it approached."
"And it just attacked her where she hit the ground." Dean looks back at the bush and sighs. "I don't know, man. They woulda been right out in the open."
"It would've been dark. And there wouldn't have been any cars on the highway." Cas palms Dean's hip and levers himself up. His hand lingers for a second. "I assume the creature returned to the woods the same way it emerged. We should see if it left a trail."
Frutiger climbs out of the Grand Cherokee and slams the door. The roof lights are still flashing ─ yellow and white, yellow and white. Villanueva says something Dean can't hear over the wind; Frutiger grunts in reply and adjusts his hat. He cuts a sideways glance at Dean and Cas, then points at the body and waves his hand. A semi rumbles south on the highway. Frutiger glances at Dean and Cas again.
"I got a better idea," Dean says. He bends his knees a few times; the chilly air is making them achy and stiff. "Let's go back into town and grab some real food. We can come back after Andy and Barney have cleared out."
"I... I could use a cup of coffee."
"That's the spirit."
Dean stuffs his hands in his pockets and hunches his shoulders against the wind. His feet are so cold-numb that they feel like they weigh a hundred pounds. Villanueva is on the phone again; Frutiger is at the rear of the Grand Cherokee, futzing with the roll of crime scene tape. Only two of the ravens are still circling in the sky. The third is perched in a tree; it croaks a few times, then flaps down to the ground and starts pecking at something in the snow.
The meatwagon pulls up just as Dean and Cas reach the truck. It cuts diagonally across the highway and puts itself nose to nose with the Grand Cherokee. The coroner climbs out, dressed in a bulky, fur-lined parka with Green County stenciled on the back. She's followed by two lanky college kids who are probably interns, and then a tall, female park ranger Dean hasn't seen before. She hesitates as she's closing the door. After a quick glance around, she walks over to Dean and Cas.
"Agents," she greets quietly. Her nametag says Amaal Ibráhim. Under her hat, she's wearing a hijab the same drab, grey-green as her uniform. "Do you have a moment?"
"Sure." Ibráhim glances over her shoulder again, so Dean nods her closer to the truck and lowers his voice. "What's on your mind?"
After a pause, Ibráhim says, "I know who you are."
Cas shifts like he's gearing up to zap her, but Dean nudges his arm. He tells Ibráhim, "Ma'am, we're federal agents. We ─"
She just waves him off. "I know what you really do. I know why you're here."
"You a hunter?"
"No," Ibráhim replies, shaking her head. "I had an aunt in Somalia. A great-aunt ─ she was already an old woman when I was a child. She often told... stories. Impossible stories. She said she killed monsters ─ demons, ghouls, skinchangers who turned into hyenas by starlight. I never believed her. Not until I ─" she sighs and looks away.
"You saw something," Cas says.
Ibráhim pauses again. A gust of wind whips past them as she says, "My second year here, I was injured in the woods. My ATV overturned on Great Oak Trail. I was thrown ten feet, maybe more. My leg was broken, and I lost consciousness. When I woke up, it was dark. I ─ a storm had moved in.
"The ATV had rescue flares, so I tried to crawl back to the trail. But I was confused, disoriented. I only moved further into the woods. The cold started to take me. I heard voices ─ voices and growling. There was a boulder," she continues, shaping it out with her hands, chest-high and several feet wide. "It moved toward me. Or, I think it moved toward me."
"You're not sure?" Dean asks.
"No. I lost consciousness again." Another semi rumbles down the highway. Once it's gone, Ibráhim says, "This time, I woke up at the ranger station. I was lying on the ground, just outside the door."
Cas tips his head to the side. "And you believe something carried you?"
"Something must have," Ibráhim insists. Her mouth thins slightly. "I couldn't walk. Even if I could ─ if I hadn't broken my leg ─ I would've frozen to death before I reached the ranger's station. Also, I was ─" she cuts off with an uncertain huff.
Dean just gestures for her to continue. "Don't worry. Whatever you got, we've heard weirder."
Ibráhim huffs again. Then she says, "Fur. I ─ there was white fur on my uniform."
"What ─?" Dean glances at Cas. "Fur?"
"Yes," Ibráhim says, nodding. "It was everywhere. At the hospital, the nurse asked me if I had a pet rabbit."
Dean's mouth works, but nothing comes out. Cas saves him by saying, "Thank you. We appreciate the help."
Ibráhim nods again, then walks over to join the others. Another burst of wind chases after her, just strong enough to tug at the collar of her jacket. The ravens have finally stopped circling; the sky is dull and empty and gray. The coroner is standing beside the Grand Cherokee, waving her hands as she talks to Frutiger and Villanueva. Her interns are loading the body into the meatwagon.
Dean sighs and rubs his face. "What the fuck?"
"I was mistaken about the fur."
"Yeah. But you ─ it wasn't a bad theory."
"No, but ─" Cas makes an irritated noise. "If it has fur, it can't be a wendigo."
Dean shrugs. "Yeah, well, I wasn't ready to lay money on that anyway. But that puts us back at square one." He watches Cas frown for a few seconds; he wants to kiss the curve of his mouth and the cranky line between his eyebrows. Instead, he mutters, "C'mon," and heads back over to the bush.
"Dean? What are you doing?"
"I'm gonna see if the sonofabitch left a trail."
The meatwagon starts up with an angry, asthmatic wheeze. Cas says, "I thought you wanted to let them... clear out."
Dean skirts around the damaged side of the bush. It looks about the same from the back as it had from the front ─ a couple more broken branches, another handful of dead leaves. The snow around it hasn't been disturbed. A small, jagged rock is jutting up through one of the shallower drifts.
"All right," Dean says, turning in a circle. "I figure this fucker made for the woods."
Cas nods. "Probably. If this creature ─ Dean." His voice dips. "Dean, come look at this."
"What're you ─ holy shit."
Dean looks at the footprints again. He rubs his hand over his face and mutters, "No way. There's no fucking way."
There are six of them, spaced evenly between the trampled bush and a heavy snow drift that's pushing up against a thicket of trees. They're about eighteen inches long, and they have four, perfectly round toes. One is broken up at the heel by a tuft of grass. They're obviously not human, but they're just close enough to make Dean's teeth itch.
"Maybe it's some kinda prank. Like ─ I don't know." Dean waves his hands. "Maybe some guy's been walking around out here in fake bigfoot boots."
Cas is crouched between the pair closest to the bush. Glancing up, he asks, "For what purpose?"
"I don't know," Dean says again, shrugging. "Maybe some tourist is trying to fuck with the locals. Maybe a local is trying to get into the newspaper. Or trying to get himself one of those dumb reality shows. You know what I mean ─ Bigfoot Found! Or Wisconsin Sasquatch Revealed!"
"They'd have to do better than a few footprints," Cas says. He stands and wipes his snowy hands on his jeans. "During my Netflix binge, I noticed that the cryptozoology market is fairly saturated."
Dean snorts out a laugh. He starts to call Cas a dork, but something rustles in the brush. Turning, he reaches for his gun and asks, "That you, Sammy?"
Sam says, "Yeah," and steps out from behind the bush. He's wearing a Michelin Man coat and a bright red mad bomber hat. Mary is with him; she's wearing a normal jacket and has a blue and green scarf bundled around her throat. "It's, uh ─ it's us."
"What took you guys so long?"
Mary sighs and shoves a Culver's bag at him. A grease stain is spreading along the bottom. "Well, someone asked us to stop and get him a burger."
"Thank God." Dean sticks his hand in the bag and pulls out some fries. "I'm starving."
"You ate at the cabin," Cas points out.
Dean stuffs the fries into his mouth. Chewing, he says, "Cold baked beans do not make a meal. If you ─"
Mary says, "Boys," and blows on her hands. "Why am I out here, freezing to death?"
"Oh, yeah." Dean wipes the salt off his mouth and points at the ground. "Because of those."
"You ─ oh. Oh, wow." She stares at the footprints for a few seconds, then looks up at Dean. Shaking her head slightly, she says, "That ─ that's not possible. Bigfoot doesn't exist."
"Yeah, I know. But that's ─"
"Guys," Sam says. He's standing beside the snow drift where the footprints end. "I think I know what it is." His coat makes a rough, scratchy noise as he waves his hands. "It's ─ I think it might be a barbegazi."
Sam rolls his eyes. "Barbegazi." His coat makes another noise. "I wasn't sold on this being a wendigo, so last night I started digging into Swiss folklore, and ─"
Dean nearly chokes on his fries. "Swiss?"
"Yeah," Sam says, nodding. "Turns out, the whole Little Switzerland thing isn't just a tourist gag. This area was settled by Swiss immigrants in the 1840s."
"And they... what? They just brought these things over with them?"
Cas hums under his breath. "It's possible they didn't have to. Most folk creatures are more like tulpas than true monsters ─ they exist because people believe in them." After a pause, he asks Sam, "These barbegazi ─ they're forest dwellers?"
Sam nods again. "Forest guardians, yeah. And you're probably right about them getting tulpa'd up once the Swiss got here. About half put down roots as farmers, but the rest worked as loggers."
"Okay," Mary says. She shivers out a breath and tucks herself against Dean's side. "What do they look like?"
"They, uh ─ kind of like garden gnomes. About five feet tall and stocky. White hair. They have large hands and feet. Like ─" Sam gestures at the footprints "─ disproportionately large."
That's shorter than what Burgin described, but he'd been drunk and probably pissing himself with fear. Dean asks, "Anything else?"
Sam says, "Yeah," and draws his hand over his chin. "They have long, crazy Santa Claus beards."
"Fur," Cas murmurs, glancing at Dean. "Does the lore mention anything about rocks?"
"Actually, yeah. Some versions describe them as being made from rock." Sam gives Cas a curious look. "Why?"
"Earlier, we spoke with a park ranger who had a strange encounter out here."
"Yeah." Dean peels the foil off his cheeseburger and takes a bite. It's so good he makes a noise before continuing, "A couple years back, she cannonballed off her ATV and woke up in the middle of a storm. She swears a talking rock carried her back to the ranger station."
The wind picks up for a second; Sam smooths the flaps on his hat as he says, "That fits. According to the lore, they mostly avoid humans, but they'll rescue someone they find stranded in the snow."
"Okay," Mary says thoughtfully. "Okay. How does it go from rescuing to killing?"
"Yeah, that's the weird part. But ─ I don't know." Sam shrugs. "Oester and his buddies were out here whizzing on the trees and throwing beer cans everywhere. It ─ maybe it didn't like the land being trashed."
"You could be right," Cas says, nodding. "The other victim ─ she dropped some of her belongings as she walked down the highway. It might've thought she was littering."
Dean grumbles, "Great," around the last of his cheeseburger. "An eco-friendly monster. I mean, how're we gonna find this thing? We gonna come back tonight and dump out a garbage bag? Mix our plastic with glass? We ─"
"Boys," Mary says quietly. She slips her arm around Dean's waist and tugs Cas closer by the elbow. Once they're crowded into a tight circle with Sam, she jerks her chin toward the line of footprints. "Look."
They're ─ fuck. There are only four of them now. The last two are hidden under a giant, snow-covered boulder.
"Uh-huh," Mary murmurs. "It wasn't there before."
They just stand there for a moment, staring at it. It's leaning against a tree. If Dean squints, the grooves on it almost look like a face. Another gust of wind whips past them. Slowly, Mary reaches for the bag at her feet. Cas flexes his hand like he's cooking up something with his grace.
Dean glances at Sam, but Sam just shrugs and flashes some teeth. Cas shifts his weight from foot to foot. Dean glances at Sam again; this time, Sam cocks an eyebrow at Dean's burger wrapper. A laugh catches in Dean's throat ─ he can't be fucking serious ─ but Sam just does it again. And again. Shaking his head, Dean pulls away from Mary. He stuffs the wrapper in the bag, crumples the bag into a ball, and lobs it right at the boulder.
There's a short, strange pause. Then Dean hears a rumble ─ something a little too dark and choppy to be thunder. A sharp, cracking noise snaps through the trees, and then the boulder unfolds into ─ fuck. Blue eyes and long teeth and a bristling white beard. It lumbers forward, reaching for Dean with huge, gnarled hands.
"Shit." Dean scrambles back. His heel snags on a rock and he crashes to the ground. "Shit, shit, shit."
Sam opens fire with his forty-five ─ three, four, five times. The barbegazi snarls; stone chips fly off its nose and ear. Mary levels her shotgun at it, but the buckshot just hits its shoulder and scatters. Cas bellows something in Enochian; blue-white light flickers behind the barbegazi's head. Sam shouts Dean's name and empties his clip. The barbegazi leans over Dean and lets out another snarl.
It smells like an old forest ─ cold air and damp earth and dead leaves and rotten logs. Dean shoots it from close range; the bullet gouges a chip from its forehead that ricochets into Dean's cheek. Dean hears another rumble. Mary's shotgun goes off again. The barbegazi yanks Dean up by the ankle and hurls him into a tree.
Pain flares in Dean's arm, hot and sharp. Then his head hits a rock and the lights go out.
Dean wakes up to Cas pumping him full of grace.
Getting healed is never comfortable, but this ─ Jesus Christ. This almost hurts. Dean feels like he's been slam-dunked into icy water; his skin is prickling and his heart is pounding and everything inside him is too big and too bright. He gasps and grits his teeth and digs his heels into the dirt. But it just keeps going and going and going; finally, he claws at Cas' side and hisses, "Cas. You ─ too much."
It floods out of Dean all at once. Cas mumbles, "Sorry." He's holding Dean's face in both hands, and there's a wild, panicked look in his eyes.
He thought I was dead. "Hey. It's all right." Dean pats Cas' arm and leans up on his elbows. "I'm all right."
Cas says, "Sorry," again and breathes out a noise against Dean's forehead. He noses at Dean's temple and Dean's cheek. His thumb brushes the corner of Dean mouth; Dean turns his head and kisses him.
Someone murmurs behind them, and ─ fuck. Dean forgot they had an audience. This isn't how he wanted to tell Mary and Sam about this, but now that the cat's out of the bag, he can't find the energy to give a shit. He squeezes Cas' shoulder, then slides his hand up to the side of Cas' neck. "The barbegazi?"
"I smote it."
"Nice. Now, lemme up."
Cas wraps his arm around Dean's waist and heaves them both to their feet. The forest spins for a few seconds. Then everything settles and Dean feels normal, or something close to it. A burnt, acrid smell is hanging in the air; Dean glances around until he sees a charred pile of rocks about five feet away. Smoke is rising from it in thick, gray-white curls. He whistles through his teeth and stretches his mended arm.
"Are you checking my work?"
"No. 'Course not."
Sam clears his throat. "So, uh ─ you. You ─"
"Don't ask dumb questions, Sammy."
"I ─ okay," Sam says, shaking his head. Mary's mouth twitches like she's trying to hide a smile. "Okay. So, we ─ are we done here?"
Dean looks at the rocks; the smoke is starting to thin. "I guess, yeah. I mean, we can't exactly throw that shit on a pyre. Let's just ─"
A loud rumble cuts Dean off. It's followed by a familiar, rock-shearing-from-rock crack. Mary's head whips around, and Sam crouches beside their bag to grab a fresh clip. A raven bursts out of the trees. After a pause, Dean hears a low growl and another, sharper crack. Fear-sweat prickles at the back of his neck. He ─ damn it. He should've realized there would be more than one.
The brush rustles. Another raven startles and flaps away. Something shifts behind the trees, then slowly unfolds to its full height. Dean's gun won't be much good, but he reaches for it anyway. This one is shorter than the first ─ shorter and fatter and uglier. A chunk of its nose is missing, and its beard is so long that it scrapes the tops of its gigantic feet. It moves toward them at a waddle. The ground doesn't shake, but it almost feels like it should.
Cas waves Sam and Mary back. He steps in front of Dean. The barbegazi stops and holds up its hands. A garbled, gravel-crunch sound comes out of its mouth.
Mary sucks in a breath. "That's ─ is it... talking?"
"Yes," Cas says quietly. "It's using an old form of Swiss German. Very old."
"How old?" Dean asks.
"So old it wasn't truly a language yet." Cas hesitates for a moment. "I'm not sure I can ─" he cuts off with a noise. His mouth works a few times. Then he barks out something that rattles around in Dean's ears.
The barbegazi bows its head and grumbles a reply. Cas responds with something that sounds angry; he narrows his eyes and points back at the highway. His voice grates over every word. The barbegazi holds up its hands again. Then it claps them together; it sounds like a cinder block hitting concrete. After that, Cas converses with it for two or three minutes. It's one of the weirdest things Dean's ever seen, and he's seen some weird shit.
Finally, Cas glances back at Dean and says, "He claims to be the creature who rescued Amaal Ibráhim."
"Great," Dean says, snorting. "Gold star for him. What about his murdering buddy?"
"It's like we suspected. He was tired of people disrespecting the forest." A horn blares up on the highway as Cas continues, "Evidently, his kin tried to dissuade him, but he was old ─ one of the first to rise from the rocks after the Swiss settled here."
"Kin?" Mary asks sharply. Her shotgun is braced against her hip. "How many?"
Cas says, "Five," before looking at the barbegazi and gritting out another handful of words.
The barbegazi bows again. Its hair is thinning at the top of its head. Once it straightens, its blue eyes flash. Then it turns away and waddles back into the trees. It seems to shrink as it goes; within a yard or two, it completely disappears. It must shift back into a rock ─ Dean hears the rumble and crack. The noise echoes through the woods loud enough to scare a deer. It crashes out of the brush, stares at them for a second, then dashes off in the other direction.
"What did you tell it?" Sam asks.
A gust of wind tugs at Cas' collar. He says, "That we'd be back if anyone else died."
Dean huffs under his breath. "You really think they're gonna stick to that?"
"I'm not sure we have a choice," Cas says, frowning. "We could hunt them all down, but ─ like I said earlier ─ they exist because people believe in them."
Mary nods. "I think Castiel is right. Even if we killed them all tonight, a month from now there could be five more."
"Yeah. All right." Dean doesn't like it ─ it feels like leaving a movie before the credits roll ─ but there isn't much he can do about it. "Let's hit the road."
The walk back to the truck warms him up ─ enough that he pulls off his beanie and gloves. The wind is starting to die down, but the sky is still dull and flat and gray. Out on the highway, a road crew is spreading salt on the southbound lane. The coroner and the rangers are gone. Cas' truck is waiting on the shoulder; Mary's fuck-ugly International Harvester is parked right behind it.
"So, now what?" Dean asks. "Back to the motel?"
Mary's keys jingle in her hand. "Actually, your brother and I haven't had lunch yet."
"Yeah," Sam says. A dead leaf is stuck in his hat. "There's a place on First Street we were thinking of checking out. It's a buffet. Authentic Swiss."
"You know I love a buffet," Dean says, smiling.
It's colder inside the truck ─ so cold that Dean almost regrets taking off his gloves. He shivers as he climbs in the seat and closes the door. Once Cas starts the engine, the radio blurts out Jingle Bell Rock. Dean switches it off and turns on the heater.
Cas lets the truck idle for a minute. As Mary flips a u-turn onto the highway, he says, "I'm sorry."
"I know you dislike leaving a hunt unfinished."
After a pause, Dean admits, "I ain't thrilled about it. But ─" he shrugs. "Like you said, killing 'em probably ain't worth the trouble. Not if the people around here are just gonna cook up more. At least these guys know we're gunning for them."
"It's fine," Dean says, sliding across the seat. He curls his hand in Cas' hair. "C'mere for a second."
Smiling, Cas leans into him. He tips his head back a little, so Dean kisses the corner of his jaw and the spot just below his ear.
"Dean," Cas says softly.
The heater is still running; sweat is pooling behind Dean's ears. The seat creaks as he leans in again. He runs his thumb over the sticky-wet head of Cas' dick, skimming right over the slit. Then he strokes his hand down and teases Cas with his tongue. Cas moans and hooks his fingers in Dean's collar. His knuckles bump the back of Dean's neck.
Dean drags his hand up to meet his mouth and swirls his tongue around the head again. He slides a slow, wet kiss down the length, then pulls back up and takes Cas in as deep as he can. It's not too deep ─ it's been awhile since he's done this, and he's hunched over at an awkward angle ─ but it's good enough. Cas is filling his mouth and pushing against his tongue. Another moan shudders in Cas' throat. His hips twitch off the seat, and he works his hand into Dean's hair.
He tastes like salt and clean skin. Dean wishes his jeans weren't in the way; he wants to spread Cas out so he can see everything. So he can bury his face in the crease of Cas' hip and bite kisses into the inside of his thigh. Another burst of precome hits the back of his tongue; he eases up and licks it away. Then he sucks Cas in again, everything hot and spit-slick.
Cas twists under him, thrusting up. His fingers knot in Dean's hair. His other hand brushes Dean's cheek, and Dean tips his head a little, just enough for Cas to feel himself there. Cas breathes out a noise that makes Dean shiver. Arousal is humming under his skin, so bright and hot that his blood is rushing in his ears. His dick is pressing against the fly of his jeans. The seat creaks again as he shifts and tugs on his zipper.
"Dean, Dean." Cas' thumb is tracing the stretch of Dean's lips. "Are you ─"
"Yeah," Dean admits, gasping. "Can't wait."
He probably could ─ he just doesn't want to. He wants ─ fuck. He just wants. The air inside the truck is thick enough to chew, and Cas is half-fucking his mouth, his hips chasing for more with short, rhythmless hitches. Dean bobs his head and hollows his cheeks. He sucks Cas in and in and in and grinds against his own hand.
Cas tugs Dean's hair when he comes, his nails biting into Dean's scalp. Dean shivers and swallows and shivers and fucks his fist. Cas murmurs his name. Then he pushes Dean up and shoves him back onto the seat. He kisses Dean hard, licking into Dean's mouth like he's trying to taste himself there. He gets his hand around Dean's dick and strokes him hard and fast. Dean arches under him, his fingers scrabbling at the seats.
Cas nips the well of Dean's lip and drags a wet kiss down the line of Dean's jaw. He jacks Dean's dick and murmurs, "Dean," into the hollow of Dean's throat. "You ─ you're beautiful like this."
Dean snorts out a noise ─ he's probably red-faced and gasping, and sweat is beading on his face ─ but Cas nips his lip again and twists his wrist. A noise catches in Dean's throat, and he fucks up into Cas' hand, coming. Cas touches him through it, soft and easy and slow.
He keeps it up until it's too much; finally, Dean says, "Hey, hey," and nudges his hand away. Then he sucks in a shaky breath and kisses the corner of Cas' mouth. "God. You're something else."
A smile tugs Cas' mouth. After cleaning Dean up with a wave, he says, "We should go."
"Shit." Dean sits up and runs a hand through his hair. The truck's windows are fogged. "Yeah. C'mon."
The ride back into town just takes a few minutes. They only pass two other cars, both headed south. Cas drives with his left hand on the wheel and his right hand on Dean's thigh. He swings west on Sixth Avenue and then north on First Street. The restaurant is fancier than their usual fare ─ too fancy for Dean's nearly-maxed credit card ─ but he's never been able to say no to a buffet. The parking lot is nearly empty; Cas pulls into a spot right beside the International.
Inside, the restaurant is all decked out for Christmas. A huge tree is hogging one corner of the dining room, and pine garland strung with ornaments and lights is hanging from the rafters. An instrumental take on Let it Snow is whispering through the speakers. They find Sam at a table near the buffet. When he sees them, he leans back in his chair and cocks an eyebrow.
"What took you so long?"
Heat crawls up the back of Dean's neck, but Cas doesn't blink. He huffs out an irritated noise and says, "I made the mistake of letting your brother navigate. He insisted you said First Avenue."
Sam's mouth twitches like he smells bullshit, but Mary comes over before he can call them on it. Her plate is stacked with bread. She says, "You need to check out the buffet," and slides into her seat. "There must be twenty kinds of cheese."
It's more like fifteen kinds of cheese, but Dean isn't going to complain. There's also a piping hot tray of älplermagronen. He dishes out two helpings of that, and he grabs two healthy spoonfuls of rösti potatoes. The landjäger looks like Slim Jims on steroids, so he only takes four. He also snags a couple of pieces of bread.
As he's settling in, he asks, "So, what's the plan? Are we heading out after this?" Lebanon is nine hours away; they can take their time with lunch and still be back at the bunker by midnight.
"I," Mary starts slowly. She pokes a kalberwurst with her fork. "I was thinking we could stay. Tomorrow is Christmas."
"Yeah." In his closet, Dean has a bronze dagger for Sam and a sweater for Mary. He also has book of Enochian poetry that he's been too chicken to give to Cas about five years running. None of it's wrapped. They don't even have a tree. "And?"
"And, they're having a parade tomorrow."
"You ─ a parade?"
"Yes. After that, the elementary school kids are going to sing carols at the park. They're also doing horse and buggy rides. And a cakewalk. I thought it might be ─" Mary glances at Sam. "Oh, what's that word?"
"You wanna stay here and do Christmas? Like ─ um." Dean clears his throat. "Like, together?"
Warmth curls under Dean's ribs. He says, "Okay," and rests his hand on Cas' knee. "That ─ that sounds good."