Grace hates the night shift.
She hates the eerie silence and the black nothing of the motel parking lot beyond the office’s large front windows. She hates the boredom. She hates the drunks who stumble in after the bars close, men who smell like they’ve taken a few laps in the bottom-shelf stuff. They always try to haggle—“But there’s only half the night left!”—or slip her a few extra bills with a sloppy, slavering wink that makes her shudder—“For your college fund, sweetie. You know where to find me.”
Most of all she hates the stupid dog clock. The never-ending ticking, the idiotic blinking eyes, the curved plastic tail that sways back and forth like a pendulum. She has violent fantasies of taking it apart, throwing it around, stomping on it and seeing its case crack under her boots. But it’s Janice’s baby. Janice would skin her alive.
Grace leans on her elbows and stifles a yawn. Her revision notes are spread on the counter, and she stares at them with blurry eyes. She hates studying for exams. It’s the perfect night for it, though, with all the reservations already checked in and not much else for her to do. And it’s raining, heavy drizzle with occasional sudden downpours. She hates the rain, too, but at least it means most of the drunks stay at home to terrorize their families for a change.
The stupid clock has just blinked its way past 3 a.m. when there’s a loud rumble. Thunder, she thinks, but then a pair of headlights cut through the darkness, and a black classic car the size of a small boat growls its way into a spot right outside the windows. Two large white men clamber out of it. Grace shuffles her notes out of sight and turns to observe them, because she’s got a healthy dose of self-preservation and it never hurts to be one step ahead. The men make the car look positively compact, especially the guy coming out of the passenger side. He heads straight for the office, taking the three steps to the front door in one easy leap, and then he’s rattling in, bringing with him the scent of wet asphalt, and—Jesus he’s tall, head nearly scraping the frame.
The man swipes his wet hair out of his face, the gesture somehow embarrassed and elegant at once. He looks tired as hell, but sober. No lingering eau-de-old-booze, either.
Grace lets herself relax a fraction. “Cats and dogs, huh?”
The guy gives a tiny flinch, then tries to cover it with a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Yeah,” he says. “Some weather you got.”
There’s something furtive about him, like he’s on high alert 24/7, expecting hostility from everyone. Grace’s hackles rise again. Drugs? On the run? About to rob her? Impossible to tell. She puts her happy customer service face on and pulls her phone closer, just in case.
“Well, welcome to Sleep-E-Z, we’re open rain or shine. What can I do for you?”
“One room for tonight.” The guy throws a quick glance at the car and the other man now rummaging through its trunk. “Two queens.”
The old computer is slow to wake from its slumber. She’s only just got the booking software open when the other guy huffs his way in with two heavy-looking duffel bags. This one’s a little shorter than the first guy, but still massive. And pretty. Really pretty, and clearly trying to compensate with a tough-guy military look. He’s more at ease than his pal, but Grace can’t help noticing the way his eyes track around the room, a quick once-over, like he’s checking for potential danger.
Then the guy’s gaze lands the stupid clock and his face breaks into a boyish smile. “Look at that, Sammy,” he says. “A doggie clock. We should get you one.”
“Yeah, right.” The other guy rolls his eyes, but it’s good-natured, like they’ve had a variation of this exchange hundreds of times.
“You get the room yet?”
“Working on it,” Grace jumps in. “Sorry it’s taking so long, this piece of you-know-what is from the stone age.”
“No worries,” tall guy Sammy says. “Hey, do you happen to have maps of the local hiking trails by any chance?”
“Sure, there should be a couple over there.” Grace points at the brochure rack at the other end of the room.
The guys saunter over to it, and Grace watches them between clicks and loading-please-waits. They’ve opened a map and are studying it, heads bent close together, talking quietly. Too low for her to catch the words, but it looks like they might be arguing a little, in that casual way old married couples sometimes do when they’re arguing just to kill time, and—oh. Okay.
That’s why they’re jumpy. They’re not criminals on the run, they’re—
The shorter guy puts his hand on the tall one’s back, a small, familiar touch, and the tall one flinches like it burns, his gaze flicking sideways to Grace.
She quickly averts her eyes, hides her smile behind her hand. It makes total sense. Theirs is not a large town. There aren’t many out’n’loud gays around. Of course a couple like that would want to be careful.
“Two queens, right?” she double-checks, keeping her tone as neutral as she can.
The guys look up in unison, exchange the tiniest of glances, before the tall one says, “Right.”
Grace pauses with the cursor hovering over the room type selection. It’s such a shame. These men shouldn’t have to sleep in separate beds just to avoid discrimination. They must think she would judge. Or refuse them service. That must be the reason, because there’s no way these two would get separate beds if they didn’t have to. They look so clingy, the way they’re totally oriented towards each other, like they’d prefer to sleep inside each other’s skins if they could.
It’s really none of her business, but…
“You know what,” Grace says, faking a grimace, like she’s embarrassed. “I’m really awfully sorry, but it looks like we only have kings left.”
“You gotta be kidding me.” The pretty one strides over to the counter like he’s about to go all soccer mom on her, but the other guy is only half a step behind him, already reaching out a placating hand.
“Dean, it’s fine,” he says. “Look, it’s late. We’re not gonna drive elsewhere. It’s just for one night.”
“It’s the principle of the thing, Sammy.”
Grace wonders if she made the wrong assumption. But she can’t really back out now. “I’ll give you a discount, of course. For the trouble.”
“See,” Sammy says. “Silver lining. And you’ll be asleep in minutes, anyway.” She smiles at Grace, and it looks a bit more real this time. “We’ll take it.”
“With the discount,” Dean says, still going for grumpy.
“Of course.” Grace doesn’t bother hiding her relief, but she does fight to keep most of the glee off her face as she clicks through the final steps of the sign-in process. “I’ll even comp you the minibar, how’s that sound?”
“Great,” Dean says. He turns to Sammy, lifts his eyebrows. “Maybe if I can get drunk enough I won’t feel your giraffe legs kicking me in the nuts.”
“Very funny,” Sammy says. He’s clearly aiming for exasperated, but really it just comes across as fond.
They pay cash and then bicker over who gets to carry the bags, and Grace smiles and gives them a little wave as they clatter out, and only when the door bangs shut after them does she let out a long, happy sigh. She wonders if they realized what she did. The tall guy left a pretty decent tip, more than she usually gets, so—maybe they did.
Even as she gets her notes out again, Grace still feels all glowy inside. Like a hero. A modern Good Samaritan, selflessly helping out those whose love society looks down upon.
Wesley’s dead Grandma tries to kill him.
He wakes up to her standing at the foot of his bed, dressed in the gown she was buried in some five months prior. She looks pale and waxy, straight out of a horror movie, her thin flesh hanging from the bones of her face, her hands like dried up bird feet. Her mouth opens and she screams, and Wesley can’t breathe, can’t move, black spots dancing across his vision. He’s going to die, too. He’s going to suffocate and this dreadful apparition is going to be the last thing he’ll ever see.
The bedroom door crashes open and a gunshot cleaves the air in half. There’s a whooshing crackle, and as suddenly as it started, the pressure on his windpipe eases. Wesley gulps in desperate lungfuls of air. He’s still disoriented in the dark when large hands grab him, drag him off the bed—“Come on. We can’t stay here. Come on”—and he’s being pulled along, out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and into the kitchen where the lights are on, blinding and painful.
There are two large, flannel-clad men armed with—are those shotguns? The one who was dragging him, freakishly tall with hair falling in sweaty bangs across his face, is now loading the gun, and the other, a more military looking guy, is pouring something white across the doorway. They look dangerous, more mercenary than serial killer, but only barely. Their movements are economical, and they keep glancing at each other as if to make sure the other is where they’re supposed to be.
“Who are you people?” Wesley says. And just in case, even though it’s not yet legally speaking true, “What are you doing in my house?”
The tall one turns to him. “I’m Sam,” he says. “This is Dean. And you’re Wesley Morris, right? We’ll explain everything once this is over. Now come here.”
In the middle of the kitchen there’s a circle of something white and grainy, and when Wesley fails to move, Sam grabs his elbow and marches him into it. Rock salt, Wesley’s brain supplies on auto-pilot. None of this makes any sense.
“Stay inside the circle,” Sam says, “No matter what. Okay?”
“What?” Wesley says, and then, when both men give him a frustrated glare, he says, “Okay.”
He kind of wants to cry, but his body feels like it’s a million miles away, packed in cotton. Shock, he thinks. He’s in shock. Dissociating. Not altogether an unfamiliar experience, but he’s never had it this bad before.
“Doors and windows salted,” Dean is saying, grimly pleased. “That should keep it out for a bit.”
The men lock gazes, then, just for a few seconds, but it’s like they’re having a whole silent discussion, because then the Dean guy nods and the Sam guy turns back to Wesley.
“Now, I know this is going to sound crazy,” Sam says, calm as you please. “But that thing you just saw, that thing that nearly killed you. That was a ghost.”
Wesley nods. A ghost. Of course. That must be it—he’s having a nightmare. Maybe if he’ll close his eyes he can will himself to wake up.
“Hey.” Sam’s huge paw lands on his shoulder. “Stay with me, okay? We may need your help in getting rid of it.”
There’s sympathy in his quiet voice, but of a calculated, professional kind, and—holy shit, he’s not having a nightmare. This is all real. Ghosts are real. And these guys are…some kind of soldiers? The artificiality of the sympathy Sam is offering, it’s carefully engineered to pierce through his panic so the guy can get on with doing whatever it is he’s trying to do. Somehow this realization makes everything worse. For these people, this is just another day at the office. He’s just another unlucky civilian, caught in the middle of their bizarro war.
“Wesley.” Sam is shaking his shoulder a little. “Was this Judith’s—was this your grandma’s house?”
A normal question. Wesley scrabbles to hold onto it. “Yes,” he says, his voice sounding hollow in his own ears. “Before she passed away.”
“That was five months ago, right?”
“And she was cremated?”
An odd question, but Wesley nods. “Grandma said she didn’t want to rot in the ground.”
The other guy huffs. “And yet, here we are.”
Sam shoots him an annoyed glance.
“Look.” Dean spreads his arms. “All I’m saying is, I wish these spirits weren’t so damn attached to whatever unfinished business they think they have.”
“And your cousin,” Sam continues, as if Dean hadn’t interrupted, “Caitlin, who died here last month. Was she directly related to Judith as well?”
“She was,” Wesley says, the intonation making it a question. “She was her granddaughter. Wait—” Again, reality threatens to tilt sideways. “Are you saying—“
He feels cold all of a sudden, as if the room’s temperature has dropped. He even imagines he can see soft tendrils of vapor rise from Sam’s mouth when he answers, “We think Judith might have killed her, yes.”
Wesley’s teeth are clattering. He’s only wearing a t-shirt and boxer shorts, but it’s late spring, it really shouldn’t be this cold, even at night. The guys seem to notice it, too. They look at each other, their expressions darkening like mirror images, and they load their guns in perfect sync, Dean turning towards the doorway, Sam towards the windows, practiced and easy.
“Stay in the circle,” Dean says, his eyes never leaving his target, and Wesley looks down at his feet to find he’s nearly backed out of it, some primal instinct telling him to run and hide.
When he looks back up, Grandma is standing just outside the kitchen door, her wispy hair haloed by the hallway light. She’s reaching, straining towards him, a terrible look on her dead face. Wesley is rooted on the spot, frozen in terror.
“Dean,” Sam says, and Dean says, “Yeah I know,” and then a deafening shot echoes through the kitchen, making his ears ring.
Grandma’s ghost vanishes in an angry puff of smoke.
“Did you kill her?” Wesley blurts out.
Dean makes an ugly sound, not quite a laugh. “Nah. She’ll be back in a minute, even more pissed off.” He fixes Wesley with a hard stare and stalks closer. He’s radiating thinly veiled impatience. “Can you think of anything you might’ve had in common with your cousin?” he asks. “Any dark secrets? Anything that would make grandma Foxworth want to stick around?”
Wesley shakes his head, confused, and then the guy is close enough to be looming over him, and he’s not sure who he’s more afraid of, these guys or the ghost. He wraps his arms around his waist and tries to fold in on himself, become small and harmless and still. Maybe if he succeeds they’ll all go away.
“Dean.” Sam has a restraining hand on the other guy’s shoulder. “I don’t think her motive’s relevant at this point.”
“So we agree that she’s simply attached to an object?”
Dean casts a despairing look around the kitchen. “Could be any old thing.”
“It could even be the house itself she’s haunting,” Sam says.
Dean’s lips quirk. “Let’s hope not. I didn’t pack enough lighter fluid.”
Sam laughs, like this is all a big private joke.
A violent gust of wind rattles the old windows. The lights in the hallway flicker. It’s getting cold again.
“Wesley,” Sam says, urgently, his voice thickly coated in that calculated empathy again. “Did anything pass down from Judith to Caitlin to you? A keepsake, a letter, anything.”
Wesley’s hand goes to the small golden cross at his neck. Both men’s gazes zero in on it like weapons locking on a target.
“Was that Judith’s?” Sam asks at the same time Dean says, “Give it here,” and Sam says, “Dean, we don’t know for sure,” and Dean says, “It’s a guessing game at this point, anyway,” and then several things happen at once, all of them horrible.
A howling gust of wind blows the windows right open and the grains of salt scatter like frightened insects. The lights flicker and blink out, plunging the kitchen into a sea of rustling shadows, and then Grandma is there, right next to him, screaming, and Wesley looks down to see that the circle is broken. She lifts her bird-hand and he can’t breathe. A shot like the crack of a thunder, but Grandma just flickers out and in again. Wesley feels a sharp tug at his neck. The golden chain of the cross cuts into his skin before it snaps, and he still can’t breathe. There’s a flicker of warm light—Has someone brought a candle to his grave? he thinks, irrational, How nice—and then Grandma bursts into flames, embers soaring up like fireflies. That’s beautiful, Wesley thinks, right before he passes out.
It’s still night when he comes to, lying on the old hard sofa bench that’s tucked away against the back wall of the kitchen. For a few confused seconds Wesley wonders if he fell asleep there, if he’s maybe had too much to drink. Then everything comes crashing back.
“Oh my god,” he says. “Please tell me that was a nightmare.”
“Sure, man,” says a gruff voice somewhere on his right. “You can believe that if it makes you feel better.” The military guy. Dean.
“How’re you feeling?” And that’s Sam, his voice still full of careful kindness.
“Weird,” Wesley says.
He struggles up and takes in the dim room with eyes that feel scratchy and raw. Apart from the mess, everything looks the same—the kitchen, the night outside, the world, and that feels wrong, because nothing is the same. Nothing is safe anymore. He only half listens as Sam explains what happened. Angry spirit. Attached to the necklace, afraid to move on. But it’s over, Sam is saying. It’s going to be okay. Wesley is safe, and he might not be able to forget about it, but with time he’ll learn to cope.
It’s easy for him to say. Sam’s not just a soldier, Wesley can see that now—he’s a veteran. They both are. All toughened up, so used to the horrors of their war that they no longer know how to relate to people who aren’t them.
“How did you know how to come here?” he asks.
Sam gives him a tight smile. “Just be glad we did, okay?”
“Is this what you guys do for a living?”
Dean laughs. “Except we don’t get paid.”
There it is again, that attitude like the rough edge of an old knife. Like this really was just another Thursday night for them.
Are they even human?
Wesley watches the men as they tidy up the salt and the debris scattered on the floor. Even now, with all the fighting done, they move like two parts of a whole, like they don’t need words to communicate. Like they share a mind. He can picture it, stretching in gossamer threads between them, a web of veins, thoughts and feelings pumping between them like blood.
Of all the horrible things Wesley’s witnessed tonight, somehow that is the worst.
“Well if that isn’t Sam Fucking Winchester,” Jeffrey says, and Brian turns to look so fast his neck makes an audible crack.
There’s a tall man by the bar, wide flannel-clad shoulders and light brown hair curling around his ears. He’s talking to the barkeep, leaning on the sticky counter, hunching a little to be more on the same level with her, and Brian can’t see his face until the man turns to glance at the door. Then he gets a glimpse of a side profile: strong stubbled jaw, slightly upturned nose, the clear glint of a slanted eye over a sharp cheekbone.
Brian sucks in a breath.
If that is Sam Fucking Winchester, then Sam Fucking Winchester is fucking gorgeous.
A hard slap on the back of his head, and Jeffrey says, “Don’t fucking stare. Don’t want’im to get our scent.”
Reluctantly, Brian turns back to the other two men.
Across the table Keith huffs. “You talk like he’s some kind of a monster.”
Jeffrey empties his pint, leans back in his rickety chair. “You got any evidence to support the argument they’re not, let’s hear it.”
“Well say all you like. Doesn’t change the facts.”
“I’ve heard they’re heroes,” Brian says, and immediately regrets how childish it sounds. He chances a quick glance towards the bar, where Sam Winchester is now frowning at his phone. He hopes his cheeks aren’t burning. But the others are raising their eyebrows in mock interest—go on, kid, tell the grownups what your friends told you at school—so he has no choice but to continue. “From what I’ve heard, it seems, well, that the Winchesters might have saved the world a couple of times.”
Jeffrey barks out a laugh. “You mean from the things they themselves unleashed? Some might call that saving the world. I’d call it cleaning up your own fucking mess.”
“Still, making a mess doesn’t make you a monster,” Keith says philosophically.
“Get out of here. Like starting the apocalypse could happen to any regular Joe.” Jeffrey pitches his voice high, mimes embarrassed surprise. “Whoops, I let Lucifer out of his cage. Mondays, am I right?”
Keith snorts into his beer.
“Besides,” Jeffrey continues, lowering his voice, “The last I heard, being abnormally apocalypse-prone isn’t the only freaky thing about those two brothers.”
Brian stands up so fast the table wobbles. He’s in no mood to listen to Jeffrey spout bitter rumors about those whose fame exceeds his own. “Gonna get another,” he says and doesn’t wait to find out if the guys think it’s too dangerous—or if they want him to get them a new round as well, too chickenshit to get within speaking distance of a Winchester themselves.
Despite his bravado, Brian’s heart is hammering in his throat as he approaches the bar, where Sam is now lounging against the worn wood, nursing the last of his beer and still frowning at his phone. It’s all Brian can do to keep his hands from shaking as he leans them on the counter, only a few feet away from him. Up close he’s even more…Brian’s brain stutters to a stop, trying to come up with the right word. Beautiful doesn’t begin to cover it, but only because it feels somehow too shallow. Beautiful is something regular people are. It’s surface-level, superficial. Brian’s man enough to admit he can appreciate a bit of male beauty, and objectively speaking Sam Winchester is very good-looking, even when he’s clearly exhausted and travel-worn.
But…He’s somehow so large. It has nothing to do with his actual size, which is…Wow, but. Large. That’s what Brian’s brain settles on. Larger than life.
He’s just got his beer and is about to head back to their table, when Sam lifts his eyes from his phone and smiles at him.
Brian wants to run for the hills.
“Hi,” Sam says, “Um. You local?” His voice is like nothing Brian imagined. It’s warm and soft and surprisingly high.
“Yeah,” Brian says. It comes out as a breathy squeak and he clears his throat. “Yeah, kinda. From the area.”
Sam’s lips quirk, a blink-and-miss thing. “Great. You wouldn’t happen to know of any good burger joints around here? Maybe on the north side of town?”
“A good…” Brian’s not sure he’s heard right. “What?”
“A burger joint,” Sam repeats. “See, my brother’s on his way here and he’s had a kind of a lousy day. He’s gonna be like a hornet with a headache if I don’t get a decent burger in him fast enough.”
His brother. He’s talking about Dean Winchester, the Dean Winchester, like he’s just some regular guy in need of his daily grub. “Um…” Brian says. “Sure. Let’s see…” He’s chatting with Sam Winchester. About burgers. For Dean Winchester. Brian’s really proud of himself for keeping most of the hysteria off his face. He rattles off a couple of names just to get his brain into gear, and Sam asks if any of them do decent salads, which Brian has no fucking idea, so he names one place that has really good fries and amazing blueberry pie, and that seems to make Sam happy for whatever reason.
“Thanks,” Sam says. “I’m sure that’ll do the trick. I’ll let you get back to your buddies. Good hunting.”
“You, too,” Brian replies on autopilot.
He realizes his error immediately, but the words are out there, he can’t take them back, so he just takes his beer and turns to go. A final glance shows him the corners of Sam’s mouth pulling up in genuine amusement.
“You talked to Sam Fucking Winchester,” Jeffrey hisses as soon as Brian is within hearing distance. “Why the fuck would you do something like that?”
Brian sits down, still kind of shell-shocked. “He talked to me,” he says.
“He talked to you,” Jeffrey repeats, as if he’s not sure he’s heard right. “And what on earth did Sam Fucking Winchester want to talk to you about?”
“Well, he—“ It sounds so ridiculous, like one of those dreams that don’t really make any sense, just leave you feeling oddly good for the rest of the day. “He wanted to know if I…knew of any decent burger joints around here.”
Keith’s eyebrows jump. “He what?”
Jeffrey looks equally confused. “Why would Sam Winchester ask you about a burger joint?”
Brian shrugs, feigning nonchalance. “Because he needed a way to get his brother in a better mood.”
While the others digest that, Brian takes a long draft of his beer. He feels warm, glowing with pride that Sam Winchester recognized him as a fellow hunter and asked for his advice—and no matter that it was only about burgers. They were burgers for his brother, and everyone who knows anything about anything knows that the most important thing in the world for Sam and Dean Winchester are each other, so…Kind of a big deal, actually, those burgers for Dean.
“See,” Jeffrey says, crossing his arms. “That’s what I was gonna say before you bolted. There’s something weird about those brothers.”
Brian really doesn’t like the malicious gleam in Jeffrey’s eyes, but this time curiosity wins. “Weird how?”
“The way they are with each other.” Satisfied that he now has a captive audience, Jeffrey leans forward, grins slow and ugly. “Sure, give’em a casual glance and you’d think they’re just really close. Best buddies. Devoted big brother and faithful baby bro. But think about it. No steady girlfriends. No wives. No kids. Hell, I’ve even heard Dean Winchester’s not sleeping around much, nowadays. You gotta wonder, where does he get it, huh? Red-blooded man like him, can’t have gone full Friar Tuck.”
Brian’s about to protest that it’s more unusual for hunters to have wives and kids than the other way around, when Keith nods towards the door.
“Speak of the devil,” Keith says.
There’s a tall man in a blue canvas jacket, just stepped in. Hair neatly clipped short, full lips pressed tightly together, too pretty eyes scanning the room with the casually alert air of a seasoned hunter. Dean Winchester has a permanent crease between his brows, like he spends the majority of his time angry at the world. But then it suddenly smoothes out, and he smiles—and Brian follows his gaze to the bar, where Sam is answering that smile with his own, so bright it should light up the whole room.
“See that?” Jeffrey says in his ear. “Now watch. It gets worse.”
Brian really doesn’t want to. It feels like he’s intruding on something that should be private. But he watches, helpless, as Sam waves his brother over and slides him a beer he must have just ordered. He’s saying something, and Dean takes the beer, glances at Sam as he drinks, eyes crinkling in amusement. They’re leaning toward each other, their elbows touching, and it’s like there are magnets inside them, or a tight rubber band around both their middles, irresistibly pulling them together.
“Is it really any wonder they grew up twisted,” Jeffrey says, “the way John raised them.”
“So they’re close,” Brian says. “Anyone would be, after what they’ve been through.”
“You have a sister, right?” Jeffrey asks, mock casual, and when Brian nods, “You close?”
“Yeah, sure. Why?”
“Would you let the whole world burn for her?”
“I’d do a lot to try to save her, yeah, but—“
“Would you sell your soul for her?”
Brian shakes his head. “No one does that.”
“Some people do.” Jeffrey nods towards the Winchesters. “They’d do it. Hell, they’ve done it, and worse, over and over if rumors are true, which usually they are. You tell me there ain’t something twisted in being so wrapped up in your own brother that you go crazy if anyone so much as looks at him funny.”
They’re not saying it, but there’s an ugly word hanging heavy in the air, dripping miasma, coating every surface like oil.
At the bar, Dean is gesturing over Sam’s phone, looking annoyed, and Sam is rolling his eyes. But they’re still practically leaning on each other, and Sam is fighting a losing battle with a smile, and Dean—the fuck is that? Dean keeps glancing at his brother, all quietly fond, like he’s head-over-heels and there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.
Brian feels queasy, like he’s taken a bite out of a beautiful apple only to find it infested with maggots. His beer tastes flat when he chugs it down to drown out the bitter taste coating the back of his mouth. His skin feels clammy with old sweat. All the enjoyment has leached out of the night. He wants to get out, get some fresh air into his lungs, maybe take a shower—definitely take a shower—order a pizza, watch an old movie or something. Get this whole thing out of his head.
Jeffrey and Keith don’t bother to put up much of a fight when he gets up to leave.
Brian passes the brothers on his way out. He hopes they’re too engrossed in each other to take any notice of him, but he makes the mistake of looking at them, and, fuck, Sam is looking right back. Then Dean turns to look at him as well, gives Brian a quick once-over, and—fucking winks. A horrible mix of shame and, oddly, something like arousal slithers down Brian’s spine. It takes all of his willpower not to run.
Once safely outside, he spits on the ground.
Sick freaks, the pair of them.
There are real monsters in this world, her sisters told her. You need to be careful. You need to be quiet. You need to be prepared.
She is. They are. They do everything right—and yet.
They come for her family at night. The Winchesters. The real monsters. They come with blades that burn, and fire that smokes with foul herbs, and Lauren wakes up to her sisters’s screams, ice in her blood, and does as she’s been told a hundred, a thousand times. She crawls on her belly, nightgown snatching on uneven boards, slips down a hatch in the floor, crawls through the muddy underbelly of the house like a rat, out through a gap in the siding and into the dark bushes, barefooted, choking on tears and snot and the acrid smell of her life burning down.
There are real monsters, all right. Dressed up in combat boots and soft flannel, wielding cursed blades and bullets dipped in poison and spells like serrated glass.
She hides among the thick foliage, the carpet of rotting leaves cold under her knees. Her nightgown is light pink, and Lauren knows she should run farther away, knows she isn’t safe here, but she can’t make herself move. She can’t leave her sisters behind, even though the thought is irrational, meaningless. She’s already left them. They’re already dead.
They’d been so careful. They’d been so good, her and her sisters. Hiding, feeding only on the very old and sick, those about to cross over anyway, giving them a good death, a pleasurable, peaceful death. Quick and painless, more humane than being hooked up on beeping machines, being kept artificially alive for family who never stay long, if they come at all.
Death makes the living squeamish, and so most dying people are all alone. They’d done good, her and her sisters.
And now her sisters are gone. Killed by the Winchesters, the monsters masquerading as saints.
Easy for them to feel righteous in their murderous prejudice, their black and white morality. Easy for them to walk away from a bad deed thinking they’ve done good, thinking they’ve saved lives, helped people. Do they sleep well at night, these monsters in human skin? Do they spare any thoughts to the creatures they hunt and kill? Maybe they do—enough to celebrate tonight, toast to a successful hunt, clink bottles and smile at each other, drunk on their omnipotence, invincible, secure in the knowledge that all lesser monsters cover in fear before their name.
The house is just starting to catch properly, flames licking up the old boards, when she sees them coming out. They walk away from the house together, shoulders bumping, unhurried, comfortable and safe with each other. So close that in the flickering darkness it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.
Jealousy rises in her like bile. She’s choking on it, the cold rage, the thought like iron at the back of her mouth of how unfair it is. It’s unfair that these monsters get to have this, too. Get to have each other, get to have a family, when they’ve just taken hers away. Why are they allowed to have that when she has to continue living all alone? Who gave them the right to rip other families apart and call it justice?
The muscles in her legs spasm. She’ll get up. She’ll run after them, screaming—Send me to my sisters!—yelling—Finish what you started!—and they’ll turn around, and she’ll be dead, and it’ll be over.
Lauren hugs her knees close to her body and rocks gently back and forth, her chest heaving with great silent sobs.
Thoughts of revenge won’t do her any good. She’s heard the stories. The Winchesters are avenging angels, sent by God to purge the world of monsters, and that’s why they can never be separated. God won’t let you kill just one of them, and if you still somehow manage it, they will just come back and others will be punished for your sins. She used to believe those stories. But now she thinks maybe theirs is a more personal vendetta, simple revenge for all the suffering inflicted on them by God and monsters alike. An eye for an eye. A life for a life. A family for a family—only the Winchesters didn’t stop at one.
How great their suffering must be to demand so many victims to satisfy its hunger. How terrible the love that fuels that anger.
Shivering in the cold ground, Lauren thinks she maybe understands them now, a little, these monster-brothers, these murder-saints glued together by tragedy.
If she’s honest with herself, Jody is a little jealous of them. What they have.
Not the end-of-the-world crap. Not dying and being resurrected, or going to hell, or any of the god-awful stuff that’s happened to these poor boys over the years. Jody’s sure she doesn’t know half of it. What she does know is that she wouldn’t have coped as well as they have. She would have crumbled with the first real blow. No, she’s not jealous of all that.
It’s the other thing.
The boys are quiet as they sit down to the dinner Jody’s cooked for them. More quiet than they’ve usually been around her, even though tonight it’s just the three of them. She gets why, though, once they tell her the story of how they finally beat God at his own game. From anyone else she wouldn’t believe a word of it. From the Winchesters…Well, she rather suspects they’re downplaying their part. She doesn’t press them. They don’t need anyone breathing down their necks. Not after all they’ve lost.
So many friends. Mary and Cas.
Almost idly, Jody wonders if their new god prefers to be on a first-name-basis with everyone.
Stomachs finally full, they settle down in the living room, Jody in the cushy chair and Sam and Dean—nowadays it’s one word in her head, really, Sam’n’Dean—on the old sofa, sprawling out, their knees pressed together. Sam has a glass of white wine, same as Jody, and Dean’s gone for a beer. He’s making fun of Sam, calling him a lady, saying Sam’ll be sipping pink margaritas next, and Sam just smiles, says rather that than the piss-water Dean is drinking, no offense to Jody, and she doesn’t take any, says those bottles are the special piss-water kind she reserves just for them.
“She treats us so well,” Dean says, waggles his eyebrows at his brother, and Sam catches his eye, shakes his head, a small upside-down smile bringing out the dimples in his cheeks.
Jody would never in a million years trade places with them, but she wants what they have with a longing like a knife in her chest.
“So,” she says. “What are you planning on doing now?”
Dean shrugs. “Keep hunting. It’s not like Jack got rid of all the evil in the world.”
“There’s plenty of things left for us to kill,” Sam agrees.
“Damn right.” Dean holds up his bottle, and without looking Sam clinks his glass against it.
Jody’s mind latches onto Sam’s words—that one small word, innocently nestled between things and kill.
Them. The Winchesters. Sam’n’Dean. A singular entity you cannot tear apart and expect the world to survive intact.
“You should take a vacation,” she says. “Just the two of you.”
The boys exchange an inscrutable glance. “That’s what I’ve been telling him,” Dean says at the same time Sam asks, “What would we even do on a vacation?”
“I don’t know.” Jody spreads her arms. “Go someplace. Sleep in. Watch bad tv. Eat crap food.”
Sam laughs. “That’s what we do anyways.”
“Except you don’t sleep in.” Dean nudges him with his knee. “You health freak.”
“A little bit of exercise wouldn’t kill you, you know.”
“Hey, I get plenty of exercise”—that eyebrow waggle again—“running after monsters.”
“Or away from them.”
Dean puts his bottle down. “Fighting words, Sammy,” he says and cracks his knuckles.
“Boys.” Jody puts on her Mom expression. “You want to wrestle, you take it outside. I’m not watching you destroy my furniture.” They look a little guilty and Jody has to hide her smile in a gulp of wine.
“Guess you got lucky, kid.” Dean picks his beer up again, takes a swig, lets out a satisfied burp. “Would’ve wiped the table with your nose.”
“Keep telling yourself that, old man,” Sam says, but the way he looks at his brother—
She’s not stupid or ignorant. She knows what the other hunters say of them. Freaks is one of the kindest words they use, and Jody loves these boys like family, but even so, she can’t entirely disagree. They are weird. That thing they have, that thing she yearns for like it’s bread and she’s starving, it runs frighteningly deep. The bond they share goes way beyond family, way beyond brother. Hell, it even goes way beyond lover—the things Sam and Dean are willing to do for each other, no ordinary pair of husbands would ever go that far.
And their past is one thing, extraordinary circumstances and all that, she gets it. They haven’t exactly had a say in the shit they’ve been forced to go through, and if they’ve at times come out the other end a little warped, who can blame them? But they’re free now. Finally free to live out the rest of their lives however they choose. And by the looks of it they’re still choosing each other.
They must know what it looks like. They must have decided they don’t care. And who knows, maybe they are—
Jody shakes her head a little. It’s really none of her business. A connection that deep—a love that fierce—whatever outward form it takes is irrelevant next to the breathtaking fact that it exists.
Sara is forty-two when she finds out she’s pregnant. It’s a miracle, her mother says, and Sara laughs.
Forty-two. The meaning of life. At least she’s not ninety.
The father is a private security consultant from Kansas, a one-night-stand she couldn’t quite get out of her head after, and maybe that was why. Sam Winchester. Part of him is now growing inside her, a parasite sucking on her blood, burrowing deep into a tissue that tried its best to shake it off, and isn’t life just so weird, overall.
“I’m pregnant,” she tells him over the phone. “I’m pretty sure it’s yours.”
“Oh,” he says, just a breath, surprised or terrified, it’s hard to tell, but then he says, “Are you planning on keeping it?” and there is so much hope and heartbreak in his voice Sara nearly breaks down crying.
She hadn’t made up her mind. Not until that moment.
“There’s something you need to know about me,” Sam tells her a week after that first phone call. They’re sitting in a nice little restaurant near her office, and Sam is picking at his salad like he’s looking for answers to all of life’s mysteries under the lettuce. “It’s very likely you’ll think I’m completely insane, and I don’t hold it against you if you do. But it wouldn’t be fair to leave you in the dark.”
He tells her that monsters are real. Sara thinks he is insane—schizophrenia, maybe, probably something genetic, and maybe she shouldn’t keep the baby, after all. Except she’s already thinking of the lump of cells as a baby, her baby, and—well, he doesn’t look insane. And she knows that’s not how it works, but he’s successful and well dressed and articulate, and clearly so very intelligent, and he tells her there are monsters, but that there are also people who can vouch for his sanity. Credible people. Police officers.
In the end she believes him. Just like that. There are real monsters, hiding in the dirty corners of reality. Some of them hold grudges.
“My brother,” Sam says, “he was…” And then he stops, and all at once a large part of the sadness clinging to his edges makes sense.
“Your brother would’ve been happy to know you’re having a child,” Sara says, on instinct, and Sam’s face crumbles.
That’s the final nail in the coffin of her old life. She watches him cry silent tears and thinks she’s the one out of her mind—the wise thing would be to terminate the pregnancy, probably to leave the state, start a new life somewhere far away—but there’s a part of her, a hard knot of conviction deep in her gut that makes her believe having this child is the right thing to do.
They don’t start dating, not really, but they hang out a lot, and sometimes they fuck, and quite soon it just makes sense to move in together. And when that seems to work out okay, and the reality hits of just how expensive having a child really will be, it makes financial sense to get married. Sara’s mother weeps with joy throughout the small ceremony. Sam doesn’t invite anyone. He slips a ring on her finger and kisses her, sweet and chaste, and Sara can’t find it in herself to be mad at how clearly his heart is somewhere else.
She learns more about Sam’s late brother in tiny bits and pieces, stories of him shared with faux casualness like tiny nuggets of gold. Gradually the shattered fragments of a reflection take shape, and Sara looks up at the image of Dean Winchester with something not quite unlike fear. She wonders if Sam prays to his brother every night, if he lights a candle at the altar of this saint he carries around inside him.
The only real fight they ever have is over their son’s name.
“A child cannot replace the brother you lost,” she says, throwing the leftovers of the baby shower cake into a container with unnecessary force. “You cannot put that burden on him.”
Sam looks genuinely offended. For a few breaths he just stares at her. “I know that,” he finally says, his tone so deadly-soft Sara almost wishes he were shouting instead. “No-one can ever replace him.”
Oh, she thinks then, with surprising calmness. I see.
She starts to pay more attention after that, to the stories Sam tells, the look he gets in his eyes when certain songs come on the radio, the way he sometimes seems to just stop, staring at nothing, hardly breathing. Sam wears his brother’s watch and holds onto his brother’s car, and some days it feels like Dean’s ghost is living in the house with them, walking half a step behind his little brother.
You were in love with him, Sara thinks. He was the love of your life, and you lost him.
Maybe it should freak her out more than it does. But Sara is old enough to know that life is weird and sometimes that’s how it goes.