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the cost of a thing

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“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

-Henry David Thoreau, Walden


 

Dean squints into the afternoon light at the gated community before him. There are rows and rows of houses; all looking more or less the same. A quintessential newer development neighborhood, unassumingly standing before him.

Slowly, Dean turns his head toward his brother, giving him a murderous expression. Sam innocently looks up from his phone.

“Sam,” Dean says, warningly.

“Dean,” Sam replies, pleasantly.

“What kind of Stepford Wives hell did you bring me to?” Dean’s hand flings toward the idyllic neighborhood.

“The gate’s open, Dean.”

Grumbling, Dean slowly urges the Impala forward, and around the winding corner. “When you told me about this case, you failed to mention that it’s in goddamn suburbia.”

Sam rolls his eyes as he taps at his phone screen. “Dean, I told you that this case is in a suburban development.”

“Yeah, a suburb, not a scene out of A Wrinkle in Time.

Sam finally looks up in order to frown at Dean. “You’ve never even read that book. How would you know that scene if you haven’t read that book?”

“Just tell me where to turn, smartass.”

“Next left on Peach Street.” Sam holds up a hand as Dean sputters out the name. “I know it’s corny, Dean, yes.”

Dean whacks the turn signal and expels a loud breath in the same motion. “I’m just sayin’, I think we’re gonna get murdered by the residents before we even smoke out the damn monster.” He eases Baby around another corner. “What makes you think the murders here are even a case, and not just some disgruntled house dad?”

Sam’s fingers fly on his phone; out of the corner of his eye, Dean can see that Sam has pulled up a police report. Probably from hacking into their database.

“‘Victim has multiple puncture wounds on neck, a half inch apart,’” Sam reads aloud. “‘Victim’s blood found on the neck.’”

“So, a vampire,” Dean says with an outstretched hand.

Raising a finger in the air to call for silence, Sam continues, “‘No evidence of significant blood loss. Death is by either asphyxiation, otherwise unknown.’”

“Whoa, back up. Not a vampire—and maybe death by suffocation?”

Sam shrugs. “My guess? Someone tried to make it look like a vampire.”

Dean gives Sam a side glance, asking, “Why the hell—”

“Got me, man. And I’ve never seen a coroner’s report say “maybe” on a cause of death—usually it’s definitive, or unknown.”

“Huh.” Dean stops the Impala at a stop sign. “You’re right, that is really weird.”

“See? A case. And definitely a supernatural one.”

“Okay, fine, you’re a genius. Now which way do I go?”

“Straight ahead.”

Dean turns the corner; a thought occurs. “How did you find out about this case, anyway? Somethin’ like that should have been in the headlines, and I didn’t see anything.”

Sam clears his throat. “I have a contact.”

“Oh yeah? Which one?”

“Just… a contact.”

Dean gives his brother a suspicious glance. Sam suddenly seems uncomfortable. Nonetheless, Dean drives on.

There’s a culdesac at the end of the street where the line of large houses stop. The street is empty of people, except for one lone figure on a driveway about fifty yards away from them.

Dean squints. There’s something about the way that person is standing there, and the outfit…

“Son of a bitch!” he roars, slamming the brakes with full force.

Sam jolts forward, phone scattering to the floor. “Dean, what—”

Dean remains frozen, staring at the figure ahead, white knuckles clutching the steering wheel.

Cas looks different, yet the same: slightly hunched shoulders (not new), a leather jacket (that’s new), and scuffed jeans with equally scuffed work-boots (what is he, a lumberjack?). He doesn’t look like he belongs; then again, Cas has never been quite a part of this world.

“Sam, what in the hell did you do?” Dean manages to growl through clenched teeth.

Sam winces, running a nervous hand through his hair. “Look, I was going to tell you—”

“What is he doing here, Sam?”

“He’s… my contact, Dean. He told me about the case—”

Dean moves, then, whipping around the seat to stare at his brother in shock. “What the hell d’ya mean, he told you? He’s hunting ?”

“Uh. Yeah.”

“And you’ve been—what, you’ve been talkingto him? How?”

Sam shifts uncomfortably. “He… he gave me his number. Before he left.”

“He gave you his number,” Dean repeats woodenly. At Sam’s small nod, Dean growls, “Fuck this. We’re leaving,” and pulls the Impala in reverse.

“No, Dean, listen!” Sam’s hand shoots out to grab the clutch. “I should have told you, okay? I’m sorry. But I knew you’d never agree if I did, and I just want you to… hear him out.”

Dean is projecting daggers through his eyes. “Sam. Let. Go.”

“No. Just give it a chance—”

“Why the hell would I give it a chance?”

“Because, Dean, I’m sick of watching you mope around the bunker over this whole situation, and not doing anything about it!”

Dean snaps his jaw shut. He stares ahead at Cas' back: at the familiar black hair and the familiar tightness in Dean’s chest. He hates the way that his hand instinctively goes to the front of his jeans pocket, where he feels the achingly familiar crinkle of paper.

Taking his hand away slowly, Sam dares to venture, “One hour, okay? Just one hour to explain, maybe let him say his piece.”

Dean breathes in, and out. Tries to dissociate from the strong urge to put the car in drive and get to that man on the driveway as quickly as he can—and the equally strong urge to put as much distance between them as possible.

He doesn’t even look that different, after all these months.

Roughly pushing the shift into drive, Dean jerks the car forward. “One hour,” he grits out, “then I’m getting the fuck out of here.”

*

Despite hearing the telltale rumble of the Impala’s old engine before it even rounded the corner, Cas’ stomach still does wild flips as he sees the sleek black car come into view.

He bites the inside of his cheek: a nervous human habit he’s picked up since he’s fallen. He bites it when his eyes connect with Dean’s through the windshield; bites harder when he sees the Impala screech to a halt in the middle of the street. Sam is gesticulating wildly, while Dean glares between Sam and Cas’ direction. Dean’s clearly caught off guard.

Cas’ heart climbs into his throat as he realizes: Sam hadn’t even told Dean that he would be here.

His breathing doesn’t resume to normal until he sees the Impala drive toward him once again, and whip into the driveway. Sam is out of the car first, coming to Cas with a wide, welcoming smile.

Cas lets himself be hugged—smothered, rather—against the taller man’s broad chest. Cas’ face is pressed into Sam’s shoulder, and he can smell the familiar bunker-Winchester-scent. “It’s so good to see you,” he hears Sam exclaim from above.

Cas pulls back. He hopes that he’s smiling as he says, “You too, Sam. Was the address difficult to find?”

“No, no, it was simple.” Sam opens his mouth as if to say more, but Dean has slammed the car door shut, coming to stand next to Sam. His hands are shoved into his jean pockets, and he’s glaring at his shoes.

Cas can only stare, voice temporarily stolen, as Sam impatiently elbows Dean in the side.

Eyes flickering everywhere but on Cas’ face, Dean grunts out a simple, “Hey.”

“Hello, Dean,” Cas manages to softly reply.

Sam waits for another beat of uncomfortable silence, then claps his hands together. “Well, let’s go inside, huh? Then Cas can update us on the case.”

“If there even is a case,” Dean grumbles. He locks the driver’s door.

Cas remains where he is as the brothers walk up the porch to the front door of the house. His feet are permanently planted to the concrete. He feels incapable of anything but watching the back of Dean’s coat, the way it wrinkles as he moves; the new weighted slope to his shoulders.

There's a heaviness in Cas’ chest as he watches the setting sun catch Dean's hair, giving it an auburn shimmer.

Sam’s voice calling for Cas breaks his reverie. He follows Sam’s beckoning gesture up the porch and through the door.

“This is pretty nice,” Sam says, his voice booming with the emptiness of the house.

Cas follows Sam’s gaze around the open-plan living room, the high ceilings, the kitchen to the right of the entrance. Cas nods distractedly, not having much experience with human homes to compare it to.

“So, what, we trespassing?” Dean asks as he opens the double-door fridge, inspecting the inside.

“Borrowing it,” Sam clarifies.

“From another hunter,” adds Cas.

“Who we borrowing it from?” Dean asks Sam.

“That guy, Rudy, who daylights as a realtor. This house is a model home; he set it up for us to live in for a couple of weeks.”

“Who the hell is Rudy?” Dean asks.

“We helped him with a haunting in Michigan once.”

Dean grunts and throws the fridge door closed. “No food in this goddamn place.”

“It’s a model home, Dean,” Sam explains.

Dean leans over the kitchen island, elbows propped, hands folded together. He shoots Sam a glare. “Fifty eight minutes,” he says.

Sighing, Sam walks to the kitchen, knuckles tapping on the grey countertop. “Why don’t you fill us in on the case, Cas?”

Cas hesitantly gathers his stack of files from the opposite counter and spreads it before the Winchesters. “There’s been four killings, so far,” he begins, pushing the case files toward them. “There isn’t much to say about the connection between all the victims, apart from the fact that they lived in this neighborhood.”

“Well, that’s a pretty big connection,” Sam says. He picks up a case file and examines it with narrowed eyes.

“None of the victims knew each other; the neighborhood is quite large. And the locations of the killings were different each time.”

“You mean where the bodies were dumped,” Dean says, frowning at the files.

Cas says, carefully, “The police reports say that it’s where the killings occurred.”

“Well, police reports are usually wrong in these cases,” Dean shoots back. He finally makes eye contact with Cas; it isn’t pleasant.

Cas’ heart twinges as he realizes this is the first time Dean has acknowledged his presence. “Perhaps,” he says, eyes flickering away, “but strong evidence points to it.”

“What’s the evidence, Cas?” Sam asks.

“Well,” Cas sighs, crossing his arms, “I suppose, the lack of evidence. That’s what is incomplete about the police report; and what’s worth going down to the station and investigating.”

Dean nods, chewing on his lip and staring down at the countertop. “Makes sense.”

Cas frowns at the top of Dean’s head. His stomach suddenly hurts.

“What was the time between the victims disappearing and their bodies being found?” Sam asks, flipping through the papers.

“A week, roughly,” Cas says. “The police theorize this to mean that whoever is killing these people are simply keeping them hostage until they decide to finally murder them.”

“So a feeding? Like a djinn?”

Cas shakes his head. “The bodies didn’t exhibit the typical signs of djinn captivity.”

“So what—”

There’s a rapid knocking on the door. Their heads whip toward the noise.

“Who the hell? I thought you said this house was set, Cas,” Dean hisses.

Cas pulls the case files into his arms and shoves them into an empty kitchen drawer. “I assure you, I did not invite anyone.”

“Well we should probably… answer it?” Sam says with a shrug.

Dean shrugs back. Cas extends a hand toward the door, inviting Sam to execute his plan.

Sam sighs. “I have to do everything myself…” His footsteps echo across the house as he walks to the door, leaving Cas and Dean behind in the kitchen.

Opening the door reveals a very blonde, very excited woman practically rocking back and forth on her heels.

“Hello!” she chimes. “Are you our new neighbor?”

“Oh,” Sam says, “I—”

“I just wanted to stop by and welcome you to the neighborhood! We haven’t had a new neighbor around here in awhile, everyone just seems to come in here and like it so much that they never sell! Or they can’t afford to,” she adds with a loud laugh, her head tilted back.

Cas and Dean exchange a look.

Sam tries again. “I—”

“Oh, and this is such a nice house!” the woman exclaims, poking her head through the doorframe. “You have an open floor plan, I’m so jealous! Bob—that’s my husband—he’s useless at remodeling, and I told him to hire someone to open up our walls because for god’s sake there’s no light in there, but he said—”

Dean, rolling his eyes, says very loudly, “Hey Sam, who is it?”

The woman gasps. She tries more desperately to crane her neck around the door. “Oh, there’s more of you?”

“Uh, yeah,” Sam says. He holds the door open wider. He gestures back at Dean and Cas, looking shell-shocked. “That’s my brother, Dean.”

Dean gives a single, sharp wave to the woman. “Pleasure.”

“Oh, lovely,” the woman titters.

“And this is…” Sam pauses as he gestures to Cas.

Cas stares back at him, confused as to why Sam has seemingly forgotten his name, after knowing him for just shy of a decade.

“This is Cas,” Sam finally says. “He’s, uh…”

He falters, his eyes flickering back and forth from Dean to Cas. “He’s my… brother-in-law.”

The blonde woman frowns. “Brother-in-law?”

Cas sneaks a look at Dean: he appears torn between committing murder or sprinting from the room.

Sam straightens. He says, very gravely, “Yes. He’s my brother’s husband.”