“Can I tell you a story? One that I have heard?”
Looking back—had he been the one to record it all, or been any kind of novelist—Sam Winchester might have started at the beginning with it was quiet. Too quiet. Which was, in fact, the case, on almost all counts; in the moment he would have chosen, there was a kind of silence. The muted percussion of whatever cassette Dean had in the system, and the gentle hum of the road, and the vague double-time of Castiel tapping his fingers in rhythm on the passenger door.
Sam was in the back seat, for once—later he would not remember why—but at the time it was for a very small reason. Cas had injured his knee on the hunt and needed the space to prop his leg out; that was all. The abstract evening stuck in his mind, the sun going down off in the distance, behind the bluffs; everything grey, dull, low clouds catching up the glow of the end of the day.
Quiet. It was the only way he could think of, in the end, to capture the stillness of everything in that instant, and everything that had come after, and most of all the unexpected and inexplicable appearance of good in the world.
St Cloud, Minnesota, and a kobold—what was meant to be a four-day job had become a two-week endeavor. They'd run into a local pair of hunters, Rebecca and Nathan, who had insisted on helping out, much to Dean's chagrin. “This is why we work alone,” he'd said, sixteen times all told, by the time the hunt was over.
“They were just trying to help,” Sam said, breaking the silence of the car, his voice sounding too loud for the space and drowning out the riff of guitar bleeding from the speakers up front. “And besides, it’s over now.” He’d been watching his brother’s face for some time, and knew Dean was itching for a chance to go off again. It was in the way he kept adjusting his hands on the wheel or shifting his leg under the dashboard restlessly.
“They were out of shape and we had to do double the work just to compensate,” Dean snapped, glancing at Cas’ swollen left knee cap, the Ace bandage bulging under his pants leg. His eyes flicked to the rear-view mirror where Sam was staring back at him.
“Well, tell us how you really feel, Dean” he said lightly, and Dean rolled his eyes back to the road. Sam sighed in the long pause that followed.
Dean’s forehead scrunched as he considered the question, glancing at Cas in the rear-view mirror every now and then. Cas sat silently beside him, watching the landscape scroll by, his eyes thoughtful as they watched the shadows of the trees lengthen in the dimming light. His injury made him look more morose than usual.
Cas listened attentively to the idle conversation, but kept his eyes out the window, the muted southern sky making his face sullen and the set of his mouth apologetic. He wasn’t either of those things at the moment – he felt oddly excited. Nervous energy curled in the center of him, and he rubbed his knuckle against the side of the door, worrying at his borrowed skin.
They slipped back into a sulk. Dean puzzled over Sam’s comment, turning it over and over in his head, trying to make sense of why he couldn’t form any sort of articulate answer. He had no idea why he had absorbed it so directly when it didn’t mean anything – just one of Sam Winchester’s ‘greatest sarcastic hits.' He rolled his shoulders stiffly and exhaled, his toes cracking in his boot when he flexed his foot, eyes blinking and retraining on the highway. The tired paint streaked under the Impala like runaway stars on the black tarmac. Cas, watching them too, thought they looked a lot like the dashed lines of a treasure map. His mouth quirked into a small smile.
“I feel hungry,” Dean said, and the others looked up at him. Dean set his jaw resolutely, glad to have settled the brooding question, and searched for an exit sign.
“Winona is close,” Sam replied, his own stomach feeling painfully empty all of a sudden.
“Winona it is,” Dean said. He reached forward to turn up the radio, but there was nothing good playing, so he turned it down again instead, the hush swelling in the cab again.
Though he wasn’t hungry, Cas delighted in the idea of stopping and being able to stretch his stiff leg and shake out the kernel of anticipation still tumbling around inside of him. He rubbed at his knee, the muscles burning where he’d torn them, itching slightly under the bandage. Dean popped his gum obnoxiously, the sweet flavor having waned into the dull taste of toothpaste, watching for exit signs and fidgeting every few seconds.
Sam looked unseeingly at the road, at the white lines rolling past beneath them as they went.
They pulled in through the bluffs around Winona, Minnesota just as the sun was setting completely. The streets were quiet in a way that suggested they were always quiet, that hardly anything stirred in this place. Clapboard houses, tall and leaning trees.
In searching for a place that looked cheap for dinner they passed a park by the water—and the water was what drew Cas' drifting attention as they rounded the corner, the silhouettes of late-twilight walkers and the shadows of the hills on the water. He was tired, ready for a good night's sleep, and the vague conversation in the car had dulled to soft noise in the periphery of his mind, and his thoughts were floating. He could smell the river through the cracked Impala windows.
He was in a daze when the car came to an abrupt parking stop in the lot of a diner that looked straight from the sixties and blinked, startled back to clarity. The whole world slotted back into place with the push of Dean's hand on his arm and the pop of the door opening.
“Earth to Cas,” Dean said. “Come on, m'starved.”
They went inside (Cas more slowly, leaning on his good leg) to find black-and-white tile lit up by buzzing fluorescent lights, canned muzak streaming from somewhere they couldn't place. All in all an entirely normal diner in an entirely normal town; just what Dean wanted after the fiasco in St Cloud.
He slid into the far end of a red-plasticine booth, to let Cas have the most room to stretch his leg. There was a faraway look in the angel's eyes that was creeping into Sam's, as well. He'd have to remember to ask the waitress for the name of the nearest and cheapest motel; he didn't feel like digging out a map or guessing their way. Not tonight.
A woman in a yellow dress with a Peter Pan collar came by to give them sticky menus and drinks in tall glasses, and as she turned to leave Dean heard the diner door open with a clatter of the tiny bell.
“Sit anywhere you like, hon,” the waitress said, and Dean, for no particular reason, glanced over his shoulder.
A bone-thin young man, hardly more than a teenager, had come in, all pale haphazard hair and big blue eyes, and he was working his jaw in a way that said he was nervous. He met Dean's gaze for half an instant and then wandered towards the counter, to slide onto one of the high stools and tap his fingers anxiously on the bar.
“Dean, quit staring.”
Dean faced front again in the booth seat.
“I wasn't,” he said, throwing Sam a look. He glanced at Cas, who looked ready to faceplant into his menu, and nudged him. “Don't fall asleep, man, we haven't even gotten our food yet.”
“Mmm.” Cas yawned and pulled at his eyes. He blinked at Dean, owlish. “What were you staring at?”
“I wasn't staring—”
“Kid who came in,” Sam muttered, looking meaningfully over Cas' shoulder. Cas turned a little in his seat, wincing at the burn of torn muscle in his leg; when he saw the young man at the bar, he frowned.
“He looks half-starved,” he said, too loud for Dean's comfort, and Dean nudged his foot to hush him.
“Understatement,” Dean murmured.
The waitress came back with their food—the usual, the ordinary, double cheeseburgers for Dean and Castiel, Caesar salad for Sam—and Cas brightened a little at the sight of something edible.
He found the stranger's reflection in the darkening window glass to Sam's left, across the table. The young man's back was bowed, slumped down over the counter, spine visible through his thin grey T-shirt. The bones of his elbows were stark and white; the bit of voice he caught as the yellow-dress waitress asked for his order was thin and young, tremulous.
“It's a shame,” he said, drawing Sam and Dean's attention from their food. “He seems poor. In need.”
Dean followed the path of his gaze. “Is that our problem?”
“Not necessarily,” Cas said, rubbing salt from his fingers; he watched as the boy took long gulps of chocolate milk, the small plate of hash browns he’d ordered untouched, the ketchup a red smear on top. Dean turned back to the angel and narrowed his eyes, tongue digging food from his teeth. He crammed another bite into his mouth and refused to look back over his shoulder. Cas was distracted enough for the two of them, pecking at his plate and casting his melancholy eyes at the stranger’s back.
“Look, it sucks for him, it does, but we’re not a charity,” Dean said sharply. Sam made a face at his salad while he attempted to spear a crouton with his fork. Castiel didn’t reply, tilting his head slightly, eyes fixed in the boy’s direction. Dean grumbled, threw his burger down, and turned – the pale blonde head snapped back to the plate, but a hot flush was working up the back of his neck and his ears were bright read.
“I’ve lost my appetite,” Cas said simply, pushing his plate forward with a dull scrape. Dean wanted to glare but he was too tired, and his eyes were watering from the hypnotic strain of driving. He sagged against the back of the booth and busied himself with eating while Cas pitched his silent fit, padding his fingers along the rim of his water glass, the ice glinting under the fluorescent light.
“So,” Sam tried, and Dean kept chewing, and Cas kept looking impassively at his water, leaving Sam to tap his fork against his bowl. “Good talk,” he mumbled into his coffee. He finished his drink and his eyebrows crawled together, his fingers twitching with that feeling of being watched. He glanced up, setting the mug down and the boy met his eyes for a startled second before ducking his head yet again, shoulders hunched even more than before. Dean growled in frustration and pulled out his wallet, slapping a few bills on the table.
“I’m done, you done?” he asked, looking purposefully at Sam. Sam nodded, relieved they were leaving and could find some place to crash for the night. He just hoped Dean had enough energy to find somewhere with a bed.
Castiel wiped the condensation off of his hand onto the napkin beside his plate and slowly extracted himself from the booth, swaying slightly once he was on his feet. Dean followed, hauling himself up with a groan; his back was stiff and every inch of him wanted to lie down and not get up again for a few years. Dean brushed by Cas, and Sam shook his head at Dean’s mood, the three of them migrating towards the cash register. Walking past the boy, Dean could hear him scraping his plate, eager to get as much food as he could, and the sound followed him all the way down the counter to the check out.
“How are you doing tonight? Well, I hope!” the waitress behind the register said, taking the receipt from Dean’s hand and ringing them up. She was younger than the one they’d been served by, her eyeliner a little smudged from working all day, but her voice cheerful over the tinny music.
“Just fine,” Dean grunted, throwing a tired smile at her. She blushed, tucking a bit of her dirty blonde hair behind her ear, the hand falling to straighten her collar self-consciously. He let his eyes wander down the bar to where the kid was still huddled over the remains of his food. Dean closed his eyes. He was never going to hear the end of this.
“Wait, just a second there, darlin’,” Dean smiled, warming it up for her. She paused, and Dean jerked his thumb towards the kid who was currently sucking down his second glass of chocolate milk. “You think he’d mind if I picked up his tab? I just got paid today and I have a little extra.”
“Yann?” she asked, following his hand to where the boy was. He was staring at Dean, his eyes round as dinner plates, his face looking even more drawn in surprise. “No, I don’t think he’d mind...is that credit?”
“Yes ma’am,” Dean finished, handing it to her. She swiped it for him and handed it back, looking up through her lashes.
“That was really kind of you—” she started, and Dean quickly cut her off before she could lay into the flattery.
“Don’t mention it.”
Cas watched Dean’s back as he put his wallet back into his pocket, turning around and raising his eyebrows at him.
“Happy?” Dean hissed, and Cas’ subdued smile answered him. The angel tipped his chin forward a fraction, like a nod, and Dean shook his head. Whatever. Sam seemed happy too, his mouth held in the way that begged to call Dean out for it, but one look and it tucked itself out of sight. Dean took the receipt from the waitress and stuffed it into his jacket as he turned away, eager to get out of the diner and out from under the smell of grease and wet dish towels.
The three of them shuffled out the door, Sam burying a toothpick in his mouth, chewing it more out of habit than necessity, none of them thinking about the sudden scrape of shoes on the concrete behind them and the clang of the door falling shut as someone else left. Dean fished around for his keys, keeping a close eye on Cas as he hobbled around the front of the Impala, standing patiently on the other side, waiting for Dean to unlock it. He leaned against the door and stared out across the highway to the river – the street lights had come on and the water sparkled in the artificial glow from the park. A flock of birds trembled out of a tree, their silhouettes melting in with the darkness, wings flapping and marring what little starlight could be seen as they went careening off into the thickets across the water.
“Hey!” Sam said, suddenly, and Dean whipped his head over his shoulder to where his brother was staring down the pale teenager from the diner. He was standing halfway between the diner and the car, rubbing his skeletal arm up and down nervously, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“You alright?” Sam called; the kid looked at the asphalt for a moment, stiffening, and then tipped forward.
Dean slowly unclenched his fist as the scrawny stranger approached them, rolling his eyes. “Look, if it’s about your bill,” he began, and the boy—Yann, Dean remembered—shook his head sharply side to side, his skinny arms flapping frantically.
“N-no! No, it’s, uh…” He paused, thinking. “Not that I don’t appreciate that, but, that’s not – that’s not what I came out here for.”
Dean gave him a look that clearly said well? and Yann stuffed his hands in his pockets, the bones of his knuckles stark under the thin fabric, eyes darting all around the quickly descending twilight and the parking lot and the water before finally settling somewhere between Dean's shoulder and his chin.
“—you people are hunters, right?” he said, voice timorous, and all three of them recoiled visibly, subtle shifts of their shoulders backwards as if in flight.
Dean—who by this point was reaching negative levels of tolerance for anything out of the ordinary—drove them, all four, to the nearest motel, booked a few nights with the sourest look on his face Sam had seen in a while, and herded Yann between the three of them into the dark, cold cube of a room. He flicked on the buzzing lights; Cas sat down hard on the far bed, Sam folded his arms and fixed the kid with a stiff look, and Dean shot home the door lock before turning to face him.
Yann stood awkwardly in the middle of the pebbled, off-green carpet, rubbing his arms anxiously, looking between them all with a little fear on his face.
“How did you know we were hunters?” Dean asked. His tone of voice was one that clearly indicated he had no time for this; from across the room Cas gave him a weary look of placation.
The kid looked like he was about to burst into tears, or maybe vomit; he couldn't have been more than nineteen. “Look, I—I keep tabs on this stuff. Just in case, you know? Just—you know. I—I heard through the grapevine there were hunters coming through so I thought—I thought of all people maybe you could help me. I'm sorry, I don't—I don't want any trouble. Please—”
“Back up,” Sam said, holding out a hand, palm up. “Who told you we were coming?”
“N-no one—like I said, I keep tabs. I hear things.”
“Help you with what?” Cas chimed in, sounding significantly more interested in the proceedings of the hour than he had in anything all evening. His injured leg was stuck out stiff in front of him. “A case?”
Yann blinked at him, and then blinked nervously at the brothers, and then fixed his eyes stolidly on the floor.
“I'm—oh God,” he said, burying his face in his skeletal hands.
He took a few deep, shaking breaths before he said, “I'm—I'm a werewolf. And I haven't turned in two months.”
The silence that fell was tangible.
“You're a what?” Dean said, finally, dangerously, and Yann let out a noise that might have been a moan and sank backwards against the wall, hiding his face in his hands.
“Oh, God, I'm—I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said, I just—”
Cas sat up straighter, staring at the kid. Sam saw Dean reaching for his gun and barked out a hey! and his hand fell to Dean's arm to stay it. Sam stepped in front of him, shielding the boy, almost, and they waited until Yann looked up from his hands. His face was corpse-white and he was shaking, visibly, looking at them all now not with anxiety but fear.
“Let me get this straight,” Sam said, slow and calm, holding out steadying hands. “You're—a werewolf?”
Yann nodded, his bottom lip caught between his teeth. Tears were hovering on his eyelids.
“And you need our help?”
“I haven't—” He swallowed, hard, seemed to try to regain his bearings. “I haven't turned in at least two full moons. I know I haven't. And—and I thought you could help me.”
“Help you turn again?”
“No, no, I don't want to turn, God—help me—I don't know—”
“Hey—just calm down a minute, okay?” Sam took a hesitant step forward as if to touch Yann's shoulder and Yann flinched.
“If you could—please put your gun away I might be able to—”
Sam swiveled his head and glared at Dean, who had untucked his gun from the back of his jeans. Dean returned the look but obliged, snapping the safety back on and putting the gun on the motel dinette. He showed his empty hands to the kid and crossed his arms.
Cas went to the front desk and bought a few bags of tea, and brought them back for Yann. The four of them sat in awkward silence while the coffeepot boiled water until Cas brought the mug to the dinette and placed it in Yann's shivering hands, and sat down opposite him, next to Dean, and quietly said, “Tell us everything.”
“Are you going to kill me?” Yann blurted, betraying his fears, and immediately ducked his head, staring into the swirling, darkening water in the mug.
Dean opened his mouth as if to say yes but Cas nudged his foot under the table. Sam, beside the boy, said, “No. We just want an explanation, that's all.”
Yann swallowed hard, and took a tenuous sip of his tea.
“I got—turned. Years ago. I was thirteen, maybe, I don't remember, but—I've always done my best to never hurt anyone. I swear, okay?” He looked at all of them, hand flat on the table as if to push his point. “Every month I make up some excuse to go, you know, up. Away from people. My uncle has this cabin, he never uses it. Way up by St Cloud.”
“Is that where you heard about us?”
“Not—not you. Not you in particular. But I knew you guys existed, you hunters. And I always did my best to stay away from you, from them. From everybody. I don't want to hurt anybody.”
Dean looked at him hard. There was true sincerity on Yann's face, so heavy that it was pulling down the corners of his eyes, the corners of his mouth, drawing lines down his skin. He was young but he might as well have been Dean's age, for all the worry on his face.
“So I go up there, whenever the full moon's about to come out. I lock myself in the cabin until it's over, and I've—I've never found any blood, no one's ever died when I'm up there, I check to make sure. I haven't hurt a soul since it started, I swear, I swear to God.” His voice cracked and dissolved and he took another hasty drink, gasped when it burned his throat, pressed a hand to his face.
“Let's say for a minute we believe you,” Dean said, ignoring the dark looks Sam and Cas shot his way. “Why should we help you with anything? You're a monster.”
“I know, I know, God—”
“Dean,” Cas murmured, firmly, an unspoken that's not necessary trailing after the name. Dean pinched the bridge of his nose, rearranging his words. Yann took a rattling breath and pressed his lips tightly together.
“Because it’s not about me,” he said, hurried, before Dean could say anything else. Yann glanced up, the dark circles under his eyes prominent in the swinging light above the table. “If it were about me I wouldn’t have let myself live this long,” he continued, his voice even, grounded in the statement. “I would have killed myself long before now if I didn’t have to take care of my mom.”
Dean knew it was a losing battle. Yann’s eyes didn’t stray from his own, his face the most tranquil it had been since meeting them in the parking lot. There was a safety and calm in internalizing your role. They were all familiar with that one. He was telling the truth; it was the same face Dean made in the mirror when he told himself certain things, certain realities he had completely accepted. Dean looked at Sam, and then Cas, but they were busy staring at the werewolf, concern written on their features.
“I don’t have a dad or anything,” he continued. “It was just me and Mamma, and she can’t afford her medication without me, so please—” He pressed his hand into the table again. “Please understand, if she weren’t here, I promise I would have already killed myself.”
“So what would you like us to do about it?” Dean said, tiredly, once Yann had finished.
“I was hoping you might know what was going on?” he said, his voice back to its meekness. “It’s terrible. Two months. I haven’t slept. I can barely eat – every night I think I’m going to just, just—” He shook his head, lips trembling.
“Explode?” Sam said, and Yann nodded.
“It’s just me and Mamma in the house—w-what if one night I just—what if it catches up with me? I could kill her – I would kill her.” His voice wavered. “I could kill anyone. Someone at work, a stranger, it doesn’t matter to me, so, if you know anything, anything at all, I would really appreciate it.”
“The problem is,” Sam said softly and slowly, meeting Dean’s eyes, “we’ve never heard of this happening before.”
Yann wiped his face with the backs of his hands, exhaling, his cheeks shiny and pink when he finally moved his fingers aside. He nodded again, and his throat bobbed. Dean watched his eyes pan across the table and land on the gun.
“That’s alright,” he whispered, his voice nasal and rough. His blue eyes returned to Dean and he gave a watery grimace, eyes red-rimmed. “Y-you can make it look like an accident, right?”
Dean sighed heavily, pushing his hair back and scratching at his neck, shaking his head.
Yann kept talking, wringing his spidery fingers together frantically, a sharp contrast to the smooth cadence of his voice. “If you make it look like an accident, maybe Mamma can get some money – if she can get some money out of it she can at least keep the house a little longer before they put her in a home –”
“Kid,” Dean said loudly, cutting him off. Yann shrank back in his chair, hands gripping the edges of the seat, face on the brink of a meltdown. Dean actively gentled his tone as much as he could. “Nobody is making anything look like an accident yet, okay? We—” He shook his head and made a small frustrated sound, turning to his brother. “Sam?”
“We haven’t had a chance to look anything up or call anyone yet, so what Dean’s saying, I think, is that we probably shouldn’t jump to any conclusions until we’ve considered everything,” Sam paused, staring at Yann’s face.
He didn’t say anything, merely putting his hands back over his face and tipping forward a fraction, his shoulders shaking. It was the terrible kind of crying that didn’t make any sound – just the violent jerk of his sharp shoulder blades through his shirt and the heaving gasps of his breathing. Cas looked at Yann and then at Dean, conflicted. The green eyes were wearing thin of patience, but they weren’t threatening.
“Come on, pull it together,” Dean grunted, and Yann turned his face into his sleeve to mop at his tears, his sobs stuttering to hiccups and eventually stopping all together.
“S-sorry,” he said, and Dean rubbed his eyes.
“Don’t mention it.”
“Yann, do you think it would be alright if you could take us back up to St. Cloud? Show us the place you stay?” Sam had moved a little closer now, and the teenager sniffled, rubbing his nose with his palm.
“Yes. It’s right off the interstate.”
“Okay. I have a few other questions for you, is that alright?”
“Yes, that’s fine…”
They began to talk in low voices; it left Dean to get up, aimless, and lean against the partitioning wall of the room, still rubbing his face, lost in the action.
Cas let his eyes wander over Dean’s form, flicking from top to bottom as they were wont to do, tracing the lines of his shoulders and the broad sweep of his chest. Dean sagged under the weight of the day; a few pieces of his mussed hair drooped over his forehead and he kept rolling his neck back and forth in an unconscious way.
The tendril of nervous something slithered against his insides; he suddenly wasn’t so tired anymore, watching Dean. Not tired enough to be useless, at least. He pushed off of the dinette chair, ignoring the twinge of pain in his knee, and Dean looked blearily at him over his fingers. Cas managed a small smile, rocking onto his heel to steady himself, straightening the loose shirt over his stomach.
“Sam?” he said, half-over his shoulder.
“Yeah?” Sam sat back, waiting for Cas’ response. The angel glanced at Dean and then back to his younger brother.
“I think we should call it a night,” he said gently, noting how Yann and Sam seemed to be visibly relieved at the prospect of an official end to the proceedings. “You can finish talking about it all tomorrow, can’t you?” Cas smiled awkwardly at Yann, unsure of how to act. “We just had a job, and it’s been a long day.”
“Thanks, Cas, tell him how we just killed a freak like him,” Dean grumbled, and Cas stood there, unaffected by the jab.“No offense,” Dean added, dipping his head at Yann.
“None taken,” the werewolf replied with a cough.
Sam decked out the window-seat, cramped and awkward as it was, with a blanket and some spare pillows for Yann, after he called home to tell his mother he was staying with friends. The lie tripped off his tongue so obviously that Sam was surprised she bought it at all.
Yann sat awkwardly there against the dark glass and the beige drapes, watching them go about their business warily. After a thousand anxious looks from him, Dean had agreed to lock all the firearms in the car, and had promised at least twice not to try and kill Yann in his sleep. Sam had gone in to take a shower; now Dean sat on the far bed with Cas; one jean leg was rolled up past the angel's knee, and he was examining the swollen torn muscle of his knee.
“Feels fine, really,” Cas murmured, watching Dean's hands press expertly here and there, over his patella, prodding at the tendons, calloused fingers sweeping firmly and gently over the wounded area. “I'll be in running shape in a few days, I think.”
“Just be careful with it, yeah? Don't want you out of commission.” Dean picked up the rolled Ace bandage from the comforter and lifted Cas' leg over his own to bind it back up, efficiently, gently. He felt Yann staring from across the room but couldn't be bothered to comment on it.
Without much thought for their nervous guest, Dean and Cas undressed for bed, turning their backs to him, and when Sam came out of the shower there was a muted discussion as to who Cas was to share a bed with that night; eventually they settled on Dean, and crawled into their respective beds, too exhausted to even say a proper goodnight.
Sam clicked out the lights and the room went black.
In the far bed, Dean turned his back on Cas and curled up in the way he always did, nearly fetal, and Cas could tell by the rhythm of his breathing that he fell asleep almost instantly. Cas, however, was distracted, though his mind had glanced back into the drifting dreamlike haze of earlier that evening—he watched Yann struggling with the blankets on the window-seat, and Sam tossing and turning the way he always did before he settled on a sleeping position, and, closest to him, the silhouette of Dean's body in the dark, the hill and valley of his shoulder and side.
The one rule, when sharing Dean's bed, was no cuddling, man, and with it came the unspoken addendum of no touch. Increasingly these days Cas found himself wanting to break that addition, if just to smooth down Dean's T-shirt, or the lines of his face. It was a peculiar itch in his fingers, a very small need. He quashed it as best he could, and turned his body to the wall, stretching out his injured leg as much as possible, tangling his fingers together under the covers.
Before he drifted off, he became aware of a twinge in the room, something hovering, he felt. Something about to fall and break, almost, though he couldn't place it, and by the time his mind caught onto it, he was already asleep.
Their boots crunched on the gravel as they spilled out of the Impala, slamming the doors behind them.
Yann hustled up the front steps of the cabin – if you could even justify calling it that. It was no more than a shack nestled in the middle of nowhere, a few hundred feet from a small fishing lake. Pulling a key from his pocket, the teenager unlocked the door and hurried inside, leaving it open for the others to follow. Dean watched Cas hesitate at the bottom of the stairs, hand gripping the rickety handrail, shaking it to test it. The rotten wood squeaked back at him, the rusted holdings at the bottom well on their way to disintegration.
“Here,” Dean said, coming to stand beside him and offering his arm. “Don’t want you hurting yourself worse. This place is falling apart.” Cas reached out and gripped Dean’s forearm, lifting his good foot. Dean braced himself against the push of Cas’ arm and stepped up with him, grabbing his elbow to steady him when his bad leg came down wrong and he winced.
“Easy,” Dean muttered, and Cas gave him a sheepish smile, both of them finally stepping up on the porch. They stood for a moment, still holding onto one another. Cas moved his thumb against the material of Dean’s jacket, and Dean squeezed his elbow once before pulling back, trying not to look at Cas’ mouth or even acknowledge their proximity. He gestured vaguely at the open door, Sam’s shadow looming inside. “After you.”
Cas stalled, looking at Dean intently.
Cas was mulling something over as he stared, his expression as earnest as it always was when he saw straight through Dean. Dean shifted uncomfortably, trapped under his eyes.
In an instant, Cas caught himself, blinking rapidly, stepping a little in front of Dean and glancing up into the eaves of the porch – it was sunk in the middle from many winters of heavy snow, not yet a problem but well on its way to caving in.
“This house is falling apart,” the angel spoke, mirroring Dean’s earlier statement as if he were just realizing it for the first time. Dean’s eyes must have been fooling him – there was something so violently unimpressed on Castiel’s face the more he looked at the peeling paint on the window sills and the dirty glass; the dirty light, the dirty mat in front of the door, the dirty porch and cobwebbed corners. He brushed his pale hand on the door-frame, moon white against the damp wood, swollen from the summer humidity, and Dean watched him pull it back and inspect it, wiping it on his jeans. “He should take better care of it,” Cas said, stepping finally inside.
“Alright, Better Homes and Gardens,” Dean mused, watching Castiel’s back melt into the shadows of the front of the house. He was used to the weird profundities Cas spouted, but that had been odd, even for him. Since when did Cas care about the state of other people’s living situations? Especially ones used as safe houses for pubescent werewolves?
The floorboards creaked under his feet and he stepped into the cabin, breathing in the stale air and the musty smell of dust and darkness.
Yann had flipped on a small light, illuminating the kitchenette half of the shack and a small pine table that looked like a bear had gotten hold of it. Dean peered further around and saw a splintered chair piled near the fireplace – huge claw marks were ground into the floorboards and the walls, the tattered remains of a pair of curtains shredded on the floor, the rod jammed through the back of a dilapidated couch as if someone had thrown it like a javelin.
“I know I have coffee somewhere,” Yann said, fumbling in the warped cupboards for chipped china mugs. “Sorry about the mess, n-no one ever comes here.”
“Obviously,” Sam marveled, looking around in awe. It was so strange – sort of ridiculous, actually – to see small human accoutrements among the destruction. A stack of paperback novels on the mantle, a hooded jacket on a peg over on the far wall, newspapers scattered on the table and a fork standing in an empty can of Chef Boyardee ravioli on one of the counters.
Cas sat down on the battered, ruined couch, looking around the mouldering room. He could smell lake water and snow in the wood, in the coarse fabric underneath him. He watched Dean make his way in a wide arc around the cabin, examining the walls and the ceiling as if looking for some evidence of violence done to something that could bleed.
But it seemed Yann had been telling the truth. Though the entire place was trashed to hell and deep gouges marked the floors, there wasn't a speck of blood to be seen, nothing to suggest that anyone had been hurt here, and the dust that lay thick on everything precluded the possibility that he'd cleaned up after himself. There were enormous bolts on the inside of the door, the kind that looked like they were made to take a beating, but would have been impossible to maneuver with clawed hands.
The werewolf was making coffee in a rusted-out camping pot on the stove with shaking hands. Outside the world was still waking up, easing its way into early afternoon, and birds were chirruping in the trees.
“So you come up here and just lock yourself in?”
“Yeah.” Yann came around balancing tin cups of sour coffee in his hands and the crooks of his elbows, and when everyone was looking warily at it in their hands, he leaned against the kitchenette counter, hands fidgeting. “So—this is the place...will you help me?”
Dean swiveled one more time to get a look at the place before he settled his gaze on Yann.
“I'm still not clear on what you want us to do,” he said. The edge was gone from his voice, and Yann seemed to sense it. He relaxed visibly against the counter.
“Just—I don't know. Is it possible to just stop being a werewolf? Is there some kind of test? I just want to be sure that if it's over, if it's really over, then it's over for good. And if it's not, if I'm still—a monster—I figure you can just kill me and be on your way. Save everyone a whole lot of trouble.”
“No one's killing anyone,” Sam said.
Yann looked at him for a moment and then ducked his head, nodding, but his eyes darted anxiously across the floor in a way that seemed to suggest he'd accepted nothing, or was still holding something back.
Unexpectedly, from the couch, Cas said, “Is there something else you want to tell us, Yann?”
“Hmm?” Yann looked up but couldn't seem to meet his eyes. “Oh—it's nothing. It's probably nothing.”
But all three were looking at him intensely, waiting for the other shoe to drop; now that Cas had said something Dean and Sam could see it clearly on his face, something unsaid in the lines of the boy's mouth.
Yann sighed, rubbed hastily at his eyes with his hands.
“I've—you're my last option,” he said, refusing to look at any of them. “Like I said, it's been two months. I've had time to look into things, you know? I mean, I guess I'm lucky for being such a—normal monster. There's lots of stuff out there about my kind of thing.”
“And?” Dean prompted.
“Well, there's nothing out there about this problem. But I did find—I did happen across a lot of weird stuff, you know? Just stuff that caught my interest, when I was looking. So I kept tabs on that to distract myself. Cut up newspapers and things.” Yann scratched absently at his neck. “I mean, you guys are used to a lot of really terrible shit, right?”
“Understatement,” Sam muttered under his breath.
“I dunno, I thought—I was thinking, last night, about some of the stuff I heard about. Read about. Weird stuff, like I said, but not terrible. That kind of sticks out, you know? So—maybe—”
“Hold on,” Dean said, holding out a hand, and Yann's mouth snapped shut. “So you've been following weird stuff. For fun. Weird, but not terrible?”
“What the hell does that even mean? Or have to do with anything?”
“Look, I know the system with your kind of people,” Yann said; his anxiety was giving way to what sounded almost like frustration with the fact that he couldn't seem to put his thoughts into words. “There are things you look for for cases, right? You've got contacts, you've got things that stick out. I thought if I was going to have to ask a hunter for help I'd better start thinking like one. I don't know what you've been paying attention to, but there've been—things, happening all over. Like—good things.”
“Miracles?” Castiel asked, softly, from the couch.
Yann shrugged. “I guess you could call them that. So I thought, maybe this is one of those good things, you know? It's all over the place, why couldn't it happen to something like me?”
“When you say good things,” Sam said, “what do you mean, exactly?”
Yann made an exasperated noise and crouched down, opening a cabinet in the counter of the kitchenette. From the dusty dark he pulled out what looked like a high schooler's chemistry binder, stuffed full of newspaper clippings and web printouts.
“I told you I've kept track,” he said, cradling it in his arm, opening it against the crook of his elbow. Sam and Dean took steps forward and Cas pulled himself upright again, leaning on his bad leg with a wince. They crowded around Yann as his skeletal fingers danced over the leaves of paper.
“Like this—Iowa Drought Ends Abruptly, Harvest Restored in What Farmers Call a 'Miraculous Occurrence.'” He pulled that one out and Sam took it, hazel eyes glancing over the tiny print. “Or this one. Aurora Borealis at Most Vivid in Recorded History. Or—this one's nearby. The Little Orchard that Could—Wisconsin Peach Orchard Flourishes. That one's weird—see, peaches don't grow well this far north but I guess they're having crazy success—”
“Good farming,” Dean grunted. “And pollution. Doesn't that make things in the sky look brighter? Those aren't miracles, they're just coincidences.”
“That's not all, though,” Yann babbled, tripping over his words in his haste. He dropped the binder unceremoniously on the counter; Sam and Cas turned to look through it. “I've been listening to the news on your side of the world, too. You know wendigos? Hasn't been a single reported case of one in almost a year. There's a demon specialist in Nebraska, everyone's talking about him, how he's saying demons are coming to him. Begging to be exorcised.”
Slowly, all three of them turned to stare at him. That had definitely caught their attention.
Yann nodded, warming to his subject. “And no one's had a case on any kind of water spirit for longer than anyone can remember. Drowned ghosts, kelpies, selkies, merfolk, nothing at all. That entire—species, or whatever, they've all gone quiet.”
“And? Doesn't that sound like a lot of good things? Even you guys—I bet you've been hard-pressed to find cases lately, huh?”
Sam looked at Dean, who looked at Cas; they looked at one another and then back at Yann.
“Well,” Cas said, reluctantly, “they don't come as easily as they used to anymore.”
“Exactly.” Yann snapped up his binder and hugged it to his chest. “Why couldn't it all be—I don't know, connected? Miracles. Or whatever. Maybe—maybe that's what's wrong with me. Or. Right with me. You know.”
The three others lapsed into silence save for the faint rasping sound of Dean rubbing his lower jaw. Yann bit the inside of his cheek and squeezed his arms around the folder.
“It’s been two cycles and I haven’t turned,” he said, rubbing his fingers up and down the spine. “I came up here, and I sat there and nothing happened. Not a hair out of place.” He laughed suddenly, touching his forehead in disbelief. “I, uh. I did a crossword and finished a book and thought about what to get my mom for her birthday, and I thought, ‘why should I bother with a gift if I’m normal?’ If I can give her a normal son again…” His sentence trailed off and he shrugged.
“Lofty dreams,” Dean muttered, and much to their surprise, Yann grinned, chuckling again.
“I know, right? It’s insane.”
“It doesn’t happen,” Dean said more seriously. “Ever. People don’t just stop being werewolves.”
“Dean,” Sam sighed, and Dean rolled his eyes.
“Come on, Sam, are you seriously believing this? It’s all coincidence! Even this is coincidence, and a few months from now we’ll be back here cleaning up his mother’s body.”
“Dean!” Sam barked. “He’s just a kid!”
Yann flinched, tucking his chin to his chest, his face back to its former stricken white, the flush of excitement gone.
“That doesn’t matter.”
“It does matter!” Sam protested. “He’s not a monster right now, and we don’t kill things that aren’t monsters!”
Dean set his jaw and looked away. Sam let his arms swing at his sides, his face apologetic when he found Yann’s eyes.
“You’re not a monster. At least, for the moment – and even if you were a werewolf, it’s debatable.”
Dean growled out something unintelligible, and Sam ignored it, voice still soft.
“The only thing we can do right now is test to see if you are or not. We can try silver on you and see what happens.”
Yann’s face was petrified, but he managed to nod his head. There was no need to go into detail. Sam knew they were both well versed in the knowledge.
“Yeah,” he whispered.
“But,” Sam continued, giving Dean a sideways glance, “we'll only do it if you want us to.”
“Sammy!” Dean barked, finger pointing accusingly in Yann’s direction. “That is out of line! He doesn’t get a say in this!”
“Yes, he does!” Sam insisted. “He does, Dean. What would you do? What if Mom was in the same situation? You wouldn’t abandon her. You’d do exactly what he’s doing!”
“Don’t bring her into this, Sam, it’s completely different!”
“You’d be doing your best to get through it, and that’s all he’s doing, Dean. He’s just a kid, and he loves his mom, and I’m not going to let you take the last bit of control he has.”
Dean grit his teeth together. Sam’s voice lowered.
“If you have to, Dean, prioritize it, because I don’t know about you, but I’m way more concerned with the filing cabinet of weirder shit that he’s holding. That kind of thing doesn’t just happen either, and there’s a lot more of it. That last one? About the peach orchard? That article came out three days ago and judging by the amount of evidence he’s got, whatever is happening has got a hell of a lot of momentum behind it, and that could be good or bad, and I don't think we want to sit on that and do nothing.”
Dean couldn’t argue with the logic, and he knew Sam was right, as much as he despised admitting it.
“Fine,” he bit out. “But if I hear one whisper of something happening because you were too pansy to take care of it, it’s on you, and I’m not going to wait for him to decide.” He wheeled on Yann, eyes dark. “Listen up, I don’t usually do this, but it’s obvious there’s some other shit going down. Shit, as my brother so kindly pointed out, that is way more important to me than some freak kid. So for now you get to slide, but if I catch a word of something up here, you won’t get a choice.”
“I understand,” Yann whispered. “I understand. I’m not – I understand.”
“Good,” Dean said harshly, and out of habit he stared at Cas, still standing quietly by, watching and listening. “Anything to add? At all?”
Cas matched his eyes.
“Sam’s right, Dean. I find the matter of these—miracles far more urgent,” Cas replied, voice even. “Especially with the added knowledge of how recent the last one was.”
“Well, I’m so glad everyone’s happy. So okay. We go after this big pile of happy-go-lucky fucked-up, well, it’s not going to start here. We gotta call Bobby, and that means getting somewhere with service.”
“Dean,” Cas said softly, and Dean threw up his hands, barging out of the cabin.
“He’s just a little wound up,” Sam said tiredly, but Yann was still shaking. “He just really doesn’t like things to be…ambiguous.”
“I understand,” Yann stammered. “I understand him perfectly. It’s terrible to have to be someone you don’t want to be.”
Cas pardoned himself, following Dean out into the yard. The small shack was suddenly suffocating.
There was a dock that stood out over the tiny fishing lake—more of a pond, really, now that Dean was closer. The old wood looked about as stable as the cabin, which wasn't saying much in its favor. He paused where it met the damp grass and came to a stop, rubbing at his eyes.
There was the sound of weeds rustling and Cas' voice said, “You're alright?”
Dean turned, forced up something like a smile. “Yeah.” Cas came to stand beside him, hands in his pockets, injured leg propped out awkwardly. They looked out over the dull pond water; skating beetles blipped across the surface. “Yeah, it's just—a weird situation, you know?”
“Mmm.” Cas glanced at him, the strong line of his jaw, the sweep of his jugular. “Intriguing, though. You have to admit.”
“I never expected to hear the word miracle in a serious context ever again, to be honest.”
“You think it's—what? Do you think it's angels?”
Cas frowned, chin pulling down. He watched a beetle dart over the surface of the shallows, leaving ripples in its wake. “You know angels, Dean. Does this sound like angels to you?”
“Not really, no.”
“There's your answer.”
Silence of a sort fell, broken by the wind in the leaves and the sound of the cabin door opening. They both glanced over their shoulders; Sam and Yann were leaving the cabin, talking in low voices, and Sam gestured in their direction to come back to the car soon.
“I guess we're done here.”
“We'll test him when we get back to Winona,” Cas said, quietly. “And then we'll figure out what to do next.”
“This sounds like some heavy shit, Cas,” Dean said, on the end of a breath, and finally Cas heard how stressed he actually was. “Bigger than some kid out of Teen Wolf. And I thought maybe things were quieting down for good—”
“Well...if it is something big, we'll handle it. One step at a time, the way you always do. Right?”
Sam's voice trailed over the yard. “Come on, guys, let's hit the road!”
Dean sighed, and turned to go back to the Impala. Cas caught his wrist as they started back, and squeezed it, once, as if in reassurance.
Yann held out his arm, his whole body caught in a tremble. Sam held his shoulder in a warm clasp, squeezing.
“Try to relax, that way I can make a clean cut.”
“Knives, you know, and blood—” Yann said thinly, a whimper climbing out of his throat, eyes squinting closed when Sam steadied the knife in his hand. Without another warning, Sam pulled Yann's arm taut and slid the knife over his forearm, tearing a gasp out of the teenager's throat.
They waited, Dean and Cas staring, but they seemed to already know.
“Shit, get me a towel,” Sam said. Dean tossed him one from his bag, and Yann stayed stone still, even as Sam pressed the cloth against the wound. Out of nowhere he gasped again, eyes flying open.
“—I’m not dead!” he cried, looking at Sam, and Sam smiled hesitantly at him.
Sam looked at Dean.
“I have no clue,” Dean said in disbelief, throwing up his hands.
Yann quickly began using his own hand to apply pressure, a deep scarlet blush rising up his neck and his face, his eyes huge.
“How do you feel?” Cas asked, softly.
The teenager raised his head, but his eyes remained glued to his arm.
“How do you feel?”
His mouth opened and closed rapidly, and they watched the tears brim and spill down his face all at once. He didn’t manage to say anything for a long time, and when he did, it was proceeded by a laugh from somewhere deep, deep within him.
“I feel like a person,” he said. “I feel like – like a person!”
Dean’s stomach flipped.
“This shit is unreal,” he mumbled, watching the boy tip his head against Sam when his brother brought him closer, an arm around his back.
Cas was astounded, watching it all, trying to sort through it in his head.
“He's cured,” Cas said, tilting his head toward Dean. “It is a miracle.”
And he said that word as if it were totally foreign, a precious object. He stared at Yann as if he were something long-lost and strange.
“I told you, idjit, I’m workin’ on it.”
“Bobby, I just saw a werewolf withstand a silver knife. You’re gonna have to give me something.”
The mood in the motel room had lightened considerably in the hours after Yann had passed the test; there was a glow to his face that Dean could only classify as joy. Sam had gone out and come back with Chinese takeout and now he and Yann and Cas were sitting at the dinette, picking in their boxes with their chopsticks; he was vaguely aware of Sam trying to teach Cas how to use them. Dean was on the opposite end of the room, legs crossed on the bed, phone tucked into his shoulder.
“Listen, I dunno about that,” Bobby said. Dean could hear the loud noises of books being closed and slammed and moved on the other end. “But it looks like what the kid said is legit. I don't know how anybody missed all this crap.”
“Bad crap or good crap?”
“On the surface? Good, I imagine.”
“Okay, yeah, and since when is any crap we come across ever good?”
“Well, what more d'you want? I'm hardly scratchin' the surface and even I can tell you there ain't nothin' negative about any of this.”
Dean sighed, rolled his shoulders; through the partition he could see Yann helping Cas arrange the chopsticks in his fingers. Cas was staring studiously at them, nodding and blinking.
“Come on, Bobby, there has to be something.”
“Because there's always something. Good things just don't happen like that, hell, miracles just don't happen. There's got to be an—ulterior motive, you know, some kind of catch? Something big and bad orchestrating all of this, I don't know, but I don't trust it.”
“So good harvests are a sign of Satan's handiwork now, is that it? My God, you're paranoid, boy.”
“Okay, but what about this? People don't just up and stop having lycanthropy. The guy in Nebraska? Demons asking to be exorcised? And we've hardly had any good work in months. Bobby, come on, that's just not natural.”
“Look, I don't know what to tell you. All I got's a big heap of what look like full-blown miracles that just keep stackin' up and hardly any leads.”
“Hardly any, does that mean—you've got at least some?”
“I dunno how useful it'll be, but—”
“Anything is useful if it'll let us figure out what's going on.”
“Well, let me get a little more intel on it, then. For now, just stay put where you are, keep an eye on things, let me know if anything comes up. I'll call you when I got somethin' worth telling.”
“Okay.” Dean leaned forward, bending his leg, rubbing at his face with one hand. “Okay, Bobby, thanks.”
There was a dull click on the other end as Bobby hung up, and Dean slowly flipped his phone shut and pinched the bridge of his nose.
Cas leaned around the partition unexpectedly, favoring his good leg, and cast Dean a small smile when Dean looked up.
“Come eat,” Cas said. “Your food is getting cold.”
Sam drove Yann home that night after the boy gave them his number. “Just in case,” he'd said. “The full moon's in a few nights. Give me a call when it's out, yeah? And if I don't answer, assume we were wrong.”
Sam hadn't liked that idea, but they had done as he was obliged. Yann Olsson sat snugly at the bottom of their contacts lists.
Yann lived on the other side of Winona, past even the furthest suburbs, and Sam was gone for the better part of an hour.
In the gentle silence of the motel room, Dean and Cas went about their nightly routine—checking Cas' injury, Dean showering, collapsing on the bed to watch grainy sitcoms while Cas took his own shower. When Cas was done, he came out in his towel and closed the drapes, ducking behind the partition's wavy glass to get dressed.
Dean felt only slightly self-conscious about glancing at him through the warped, muffled half-wall, the flesh-colored blur of his body while he slipped into boxers and a T-shirt. Dean was continually struck with how thin he was, no matter how much he ate. His ribs always showed.
A few months ago there had been a Conversation. It rested with a capital C in Dean's memory—not because it had been altogether profound or eloquent but because it had been so jarred and uncertain. He couldn't remember the exact circumstances but he could remember the exchange perfectly: Cas, quietly and uneasily telling Dean the great secret, and Dean, quietly and uneasily responding with his own. That there were feelings between them that neither of them entirely understood. Since then there had been touch, and glances, but nothing solid, nothing tangible. Not yet.
It was an unsteady kind of relationship they had these days, Dean Winchester and his angel.
He turned his face back to the television as Cas came around the partition again, left knee still bound in his bandage. Another night sleeping with Dean, they'd decided, and so he sat down on the bed next to him and lifted his leg up onto the comforter. It was no secret he preferred sleeping in Dean's bed—he claimed it was because Sam thrashed, and Dean didn't, but they both knew in the backs of their brains that wasn't quite the whole truth.
“How's it feel?” Dean asked, swallowing, trying to smudge out the shape of Cas' body behind the partition from his mind. He gestured to Cas' leg and Cas shifted it, frowning.
“Not too bad,” he said. He nodded towards the television. “What's, uh—what's on?”
“Full House,” Dean said, shuffling further down the bed until his shoulders were propping up his head. He crossed his arms and sighed.
Cas tangled his hands together in his lap and tried to settle in. He glanced at Dean, the long line of his body, the fold of his arms over his chest and his Adam's apple working in his throat. He wanted very much to lean against him, rest his head on his shoulder, maybe, but he knew Dean would shrug him off even though Sam wasn't there. It frustrated him, being this between, not knowing what was acceptable. He'd been learning through trial and error—touching Dean's wrists, his arms, was fine; looking at him, admiring him, was fine. But there were other things Cas wished he could do, things he wished he could say, things he wasn't sure about.
He settled for moving a little closer to Dean on the bed, close enough to feel the heat of Dean's body against his own.
They were forced out of the motel before noon the next day; by some gravity they ended up back at the diner. Dean frowned into his coffee, unsure if his headache was from too much caffeine or not enough.
“So,” Sam said sleepily, mopping his egg up with a piece of toast. “Plan?”
“Wait for Bobby to call about whatever it is and then we go take care of business,” Dean grumbled back, stealing a look at Cas’ plate – he was picking the chocolate chips out of his pancakes and eating them separately, absorbed in the task. Dean fought the urge to shake his head at it, taking another drink of coffee instead.
“I meant in the meantime,” Sam said, stifling a yawn with the back of his hand. Dean shrugged and watched Cas suck a little bit of chocolate from the prongs of his fork and then set it down. He picked up a piece of bacon and tore it into a smaller piece; everything was always made bite sized when Cas ate, except for burgers, which he ate like Dean did. Dean was sure there wasn’t a coincidence in that.
“I’d like to see the river,” Cas said, looking up only to immediately meet Dean’s eyes. Dean felt embarrassed for staring, but Cas didn’t seem bothered, nibbling another section of his bacon. “If we have time.”
“Sure,” Dean said, taking the next second to clear his throat.
Sam crunched his toast thoughtfully, nodding along. “I want to look through that binder again,” he said, mouth full. He swallowed, and tapped a few crumbs off of the toast and onto his plate before taking another bite. “See if there are any more that are closer, like that one in Wisconsin.”
“‘Course,” Dean agreed, taking yet another drink and wondering if they had aspirin or not. His mind wandered while Cas and Sam finished their food. He’d inhaled his own, as usual, and now it sat heavy in his stomach. He threw his used napkin onto his empty plate. The crushed paper resembled the kicked-off covers of a motel bed.
The diner faded to background noise as he lapsed into thought. That morning he'd woken up only to realize that he had decided to be a hot sleeper and push the sheets to the foot of the mattress.
There was also the slightly terrifying moment of waking up to see that he had thrown his arm over Cas’ back, and his face was buried in his shoulder. He didn’t know if Cas had woken up as he extracted himself, but that wasn’t what disturbed him so much. Maybe it would have been a bit better if Cas had woken up – maybe it would have motivated him to move more quickly. In those first few drowsy seconds he hadn’t registered everything completely. There had just been the soft background hum of the air conditioner and the shuddering rattle of the mini fridge under the counter and the sliver of light wavering on the floor when the curtains swayed. And the press of Cas’ shoulder into his cheek, the way he could feel the soft swell of his back when he breathed.
He had lain there for a second, content to remain as he was, until the fog of sleep had cleared and some muscle in Cas’ back had twitched, and he'd realized, and quickly pulled his arm off and rolled over. He'd felt stunned for some reason – stunned because of how pleasant it was to wake up like that, or that he had let it happen again, or something else, he didn’t know. He didn’t like the lack of control sleep brought, the way his body sought out Cas on its own. He didn’t like how easy it felt, because easy meant letting your guard down.
Easy affection could disarm you, if you let it.
Dean broke from his reverie and blinked.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m ready,” he muttered, standing, watching Sam put a few bills on the table, his turn to pick up the tip. He knew Cas’ eyes were following him as he ambled towards the front of the diner for what he hoped was the last time, and he was compelled to wait, holding the door open for Cas as he caught up. Cas smiled at him.
Dean felt himself tip towards getting lost in the openness of Cas’ face when he smiled quietly at Dean in passing, but then he had gone by, and Sam’s back filled his view, and Dean was left standing, still holding the door, and still some kind of hungry.
It was well into the end of May; children and their parents lingered on the mulched playground near the parking lot, and a small coup of doves in a screen-and-wood dovecote cooed down on the little cement path to the water, flapping their wings and bathing in the shallow metal trays in the early morning sunlight.
Sam pointed out a little cafe-on-wheels on the other end of the park and then said he was going to take a jog, hadn't had a proper one in months; when he'd gone off, Dean went to the mesh screen and peered in at the doves with Cas, hands in his pockets. Some nodded sleepily on their perches, necks pulled inwards, feathers fluffed up in rest, and others fluttered around, wings beating the air in their frenzied little flights from artificial branch to branch. One struck up a mournful song, low and sweet, and a few joined in, waking the ones with their wings over their faces. Here and there pairs and trios nestled against each other, beady eyes winking at the two men watching them, their companions pecking seed from the dirt bottom.
“Cute,” Dean said, and Cas hummed in agreement, his arm brushing against Dean’s when he moved slightly. Cas looked past the doves, through the other side of their enclosure to the water; he could barely see the current, the water shimmering past, rolling steadily along. He didn’t think as he took Dean’s elbow and tugged, stepping back from the aviary back towards the path that wound down towards the docks.
“This is so weird,” Dean said under his breath as they went, crossing the grass to hop up onto the dock steps, the warped dark wood thick and blistered with water.
“This.” Dean gestured to the park, the dovecote, the water. To Cas. “Not having anything to do, you know? Acting like normal people. Going to the park, for Christ's sake.” He laughed, an uncomfortable little sound.
“It's a nice change of pace,” Cas said, tugging on Dean's shirt sleeve, rolled up against his elbow. He felt fidgety, restless, for whatever reason inclined to touch Dean whenever he could get the chance. “We might as well enjoy it.”
“Would you rather be here investigating a horrific death or having a little time to relax?” Cas leaned on Dean's arm to get up the steps, more out of habit than pain at this point.
Together they walked down to the end of the dock, over the sounds of water breaking on the pillars. The wood creaked and wobbled under their feet and the smell of the river was so large and swelling that it almost washed like wind against their faces.
“So.” Dean stuck his hands in his pockets, looking out over the expanse of the water. “What's so great about the river?”
“God's handiwork,” Cas said simply. “And it reminds me of home.”
“Well. Yours was a road. Not much different from a river, really.”
There was, Dean had to admit, a peace to this. Standing out over the water with his best friend, just admiring the view—the rolling green water, the bluffs across the way, trees still coming into their summer clothes; the pale strips of rock, the sounds of children and footpath-walkers and dogs trailing behind their backs. He could almost ignore the weight of the phone in his pocket waiting for Bobby to call back, or the memory of Yann's blood on the silver knife the night before still lingering in his mind. It felt like the first time in his life that he'd had this opportunity, to take a day off. Perhaps it was.
Beside him, shifting his body from one leg to another, Cas looked down and then up again, squinting against the warm wind.
“What are we doing, Dean?”
“What do you mean?”
Cas sighed; his mouth pulled down. “Us,” he said, glancing at Dean. “What are we doing?”
Dean looked away from him, into the water lapping at the pylons of the dock. He wondered absently if there were minnows in the shallows, back a ways.
“I suppose I'm just confused,” Cas added, then. He shrugged his shoulders back. “I'm not sure how—how we're getting on. What's alright to do and not do.”
“With each other.”
Out of the corner of his eye Dean looked at him—his lean body under Dean's clothes, and Sam's clothes. They'd consigned the old raggedy trench coat to the trunk for the warm months weeks ago and now Cas wore what the brothers had to spare, worn-out jeans and button-downs, soft T-shirts, jackets. Dean's shirt, today, dark red plaid, and Sam's jeans, too long and paler blue even than Cas' eyes. They suited him, Dean thought. They suited his form and his shape.
“Yeah,” Dean said softly, squinting up at the empty sky. “I'm still trying to figure that out, too.”
They stood there a while longer without saying anything. To Dean's surprise no pall fell on their good moods despite the awkward conversation, the awkward situation.
He wasn't used to talking about strange things like this, like their odd unsteady affection, without feeling strange himself.
Dean's cell buzzed in his pocket and he fished it out, expecting Bobby's number on the screen, but instead he saw a text from Sam.
“Wants to meet us at that cafe-on-wheels thing,” he said, in answer to Cas' curious tilt of the head. “You hungry?”
“Not particularly,” Cas said. “But we might as well.”
They turned to leave the dock, the warm breeze soothing and pressing against their skin, and Cas self-consciously slipped his arm into Dean's—carefully, smoothly, and to his surprise and happiness Dean only pulled away a very little bit—the better to find Cas' fingers, and lace his own between them.
Sam spread the binder on the hood of the Impala, mixing the granola and blueberries down into the yogurt he’d bought. Between spoonfuls he turned pages, trying to muddle the facts from the wordy and often unbelievable articles.
“Get this,” he said loudly, not bothering to lift his head, shoveling another hefty amount of parfait into his mouth. Dean made some sound from inside the car, his long leg moving slightly where it was slung out of the open door, his head tilted back against the back seat, sunglasses on. Cas was a few feet away, watching sparrows graze in the weeds by the parking lot, chirping contentedly. He heard Sam speak and turned back, ambling to his side.
“So, this peach orchard, it’s actually been running for years. Like—” He skimmed the article again—“more than a hundred years. It’s owned by the Francis family, and apparently they’ve been experiencing success ever since they put the orchard down in the early 1800s, and it didn’t take, and then, all of a sudden, it just erupted in the 1840s, and they’ve been doing pretty well ever since. That in itself—peaches don't grow this far north. Not that well.”
“So, they grow peaches,” Dean grumbled. “Big freakin’ deal.”
“Well, this year they pulled in a record harvest. We’re talking record. Like, enough to grab the attention of the Department of Agriculture. They sent an agent in to test the soil and didn’t find anything out of the ordinary.”
“Curious,” Cas said, and Sam laughed at the choice of word.
“Yeah, and curiouser,” he joked, flipping to the article behind the one he had been looking at.
Cas peered around him, glancing at the headline. “Well, regardless of the cause, they seem pleased about it,” he said. “‘Greenacre is planning to extend the peach festival an extra week due to surplus fruit. Local and surrounding communities are encouraged to participate in the celebration.' It looks like a lot of fun.”
“We aren’t here for fun,” Dean said, as if to remind them. He pushed up his sunglasses to glance at the screen of his phone and check if Bobby had called while he was dozing. Sam rolled his eyes. Cas licked his thumb, turning the page, continuing to read.
“I was merely being objective,” he said. “For us it will be a good chance to talk to the owner and his family without attracting suspicion. We can just act as more press…” Cas’ words trailed off and he pushed the binder towards Sam once more. Dean watched from the back seat as the angel pushed his hands into the pockets of what used to be Sam's jeans, lost in thought.
Dean was so absorbed in watching that when his phone did vibrate to life he hardly noticed it. On the second buzz he jumped, answering it and climbing out of the car so he could stand closer to the others. Sam put down his yogurt and stared at him expectantly and Cas took his hands out of his pockets, waiting.
“Well,” Bobby sighed on the other end, “I’ve dug to the bottom of it, and I’ll tell you, it ain’t much to go on.”
“But it’s something,” Dean insisted, flicking his eyes from his brother and Cas to the ground.
“It’s something, alright,” Bobby answered, in a slightly confounded voice. There was a pause and Dean bristled, ready to catch the cinder block the world was no doubt about to drop on them. “Way back when, late 1840s or so, the Mississippi got infected by this—fad religion.”
“Bobby, what the hell does that have to do with anything?”
“Don’t sass me boy, the history is important!” Bobby snapped, and Dean pulled a face. “It never got very widespread, sort of petered out the further south it went, as far as I can tell. But as I was sayin’, there was this old preacher – Amos Porter – he goes up and down the Mississippi crowing on about this 'New Faith,' said it was going to turn the world over—”
“Here it comes,” Dean interrupted.
“You don’t even know what I’m gonna say,” Bobby said gruffly. “Now, listen to me, because you’re not going to believe it, but there’s not a lick of hellfire or brimstone in this. Not one hair of it. It’s nothing but the ‘fruit of the vine’ and ‘good will to men;' harvests, plants blooming out of season, neighbors shaking hands, the whole works. Which to me sounds a lot like what you boys are lookin' at.”
Cas watched Dean’s face. If the situation didn’t call for such a somber attitude, he might have laughed. Dean’s expression was caught in some kind of in-between state. He appeared unsure of how to react to whatever Bobby was telling him, the phone pressed against his ear, his mouth slightly open in surprise.
“Now, the only way we know about any of this is old primary works from all up and down the river. But there was this book he had. Some old book he’d come across in his travels and he would read from it and people would feel all warm and fuzzy inside and call themselves transformed, or what-not. Least that's the impression I'm gettin'.”
“Let me guess, it was lost,” Dean said, and Bobby huffed.
“Damn straight. He died in a steamboat crash while he was goin' down preachin' the word, and they found his body, but the book was never recovered. All I found were a bunch of wild goose chases on who might have stolen it from him – the book never left his side. He slept with the damn thing. Called himself the new prophet of the ages to come.”
Dean’s brow furrowed and he rubbed his forehead.
“Okay—and what makes you think this book has anything to do with this? I mean, what if it's just coincidence?”
“Remember those primary works I mentioned? I found a few things, scattered all up and down—stuff from hunters. I guess wherever this guy went and preached his New Gospel or whatever, there was a pattern. Every-goddamn-thing paranormal high-tailed it out of there for at least two months in his wake. Like nothin' nobody'd ever seen. Not surprised they made note of it. 'Course, it all went back to normal after he died, but it happened. People noticed. Our kind of people.”
“So you’re telling me the only real lead we have is a book that may or may not still exist, and may or may not have fuck-all to do with this.”
“I’m telling you that if you want to figure out what’s going on you’re going to have to do a lot of the footwork yourself. Amos Porter’s body and all the rest of his shit was in one piece – fool died of smoke inhalation when the fire broke out on his deck of the ship, but the water put it out before it could destroy his room. Wherever that book is, it’s intact, but I can’t tell you where it is or if it can even be found. I got a sinkin’ suspicion that this all ain’t some coincidence, though. I've been callin' people up, asking around. You look up and down that river all you’ll find are a bunch of happy folks. Not a whisper of trouble in months from our side of the veil or the other. It's taken a while, but people are starting to notice it.”
“And you think Amos Porter’s religion is the reason?”
“It’s the only explanation I can find. There isn’t anything else heralding ‘an eternal spring.'”
“So what are we going to do? Just wander and hope we come across something? That sounds like a grand waste of my time, Bobby.”
“You’re at the top mouth of the Mississippi and you got a hell of a lot of ground to cover. That orchard you were telling me about is the tip of the iceberg. Things happening from where you are to the Gulf – all you gotta do is put your hand on the map and pick. Somebody is bound to know something somewhere. Try for the small towns – the boonies. They hold on to history better. Somebody’s granddaddy knows something. That’s what I think. If you have a hell’s chance of getting ahead of whatever’s happening, it’s in that book, and if you want to find that book you’re going to have to put on a face and talk to people. It’s all word of mouth in that part of the country.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
“It’s either that or sitting around waiting for a call to come in, and you know as well as I do that could take a while. Everything’s quiet. I have nothing else to tell you,” Bobby said shortly, and Dean could tell he was just as exasperated by the whole thing. “It’s the craziest thing I’ve heard in a while. Like all of a sudden things just flipped.”
“What do you think it is?” Dean asked, hoping for something easier to follow.
“I don’t know, kid. I don’t know what to make of it, but it’s big. It’s bigger than what it looks like on the surface – all these little things are clicking together to make one big something, and we happen to be in the business of big somethings.”
Dean looked at Sam and Castiel's expectant faces and turned to the side, lowering his voice.
“Could it be bad?”
“Hell, boy, everything could be bad. Just figure out what's going on before it has the chance to turn sour.”
They found slightly nicer accommodation for the night; the motel of the last few days had been skeevy even by the Winchesters' standards, booked more out of necessity than anything else. That night they parked the Impala in front of Room 38 at a Motel 6 after an uneventful afternoon; the sun was setting bright and golden over the bluffs, and though Dean would never admit it, all three of them had an easy lope to their walks that only came from relaxation. They needed days like this, no matter how much they denied it to themselves.
They were getting settled when Sam's phone rang, and when he picked it up he frowned at the number.
“Who is it?” Dean asked from across the room. Cas straightened up in his seat on the far bed.
“It's Yann,” Sam said, sounded confused, and he flipped the phone open. “Hello?”
There was a pause in which Dean and Castiel heard the low muffled sound of Yann talking, and Sam's face contorted into a few different shades of bewildered before he spoke again.
“Uh—are you sure?”
Dean and Cas exchanged glances.
“Well—if—if you really want us to, I guess—yeah. Sure. Okay. Bye—yeah, bye.”
He closed the phone and blinked a few times.
“What did he want?” Dean asked.
“To—invite us to dinner,” Sam said, staring at the phone in his hand.
Yann Olsson and his mother lived in a huge, rambling clapboard house past the farthest-flung suburb of Winona, tucked up along the rise of a bluff among the towering trees. Altogether it looked like a poor house, but a kind one—wind-chimes dangled in bunches near the door, floral curtains drifted in the windows, and as they walked up to the door, the window-air-conditioner chugged and puffed with a little domestic hum as if welcoming them.
Sam hardly had time to knock on the door before it was opening, and Yann, all his five-feet-nine-inches of bony elbows and pale hair, was grinning up at all of them.
“Sorry that was so last-minute,” he said in a sort of hush as he let them in. “I just was trying to think of a way to thank you guys for—you know. And I thought it'd be nice. And I wanted you to meet my mom.”
The interior of the house was dark, but not in a way that seemed unfriendly; the sunset light was painting everything in orange rectangles and yellow streaks, and the warm summer breeze that blew in through the open windows ruffled the curtains in soft arcs. It was immaculately clean. Photographs of Yann and a woman in a wheelchair decorated almost every surface, and here and there a lone man, who looked like he might have been the boy's father. Castiel trailed behind the brothers, lagging a bit, taking it all in. It wasn't often they had a chance to be inside the house of living people like this.
“Mamma,” he heard Yann say up ahead, “these are—my friends. You know? The ones who helped me out with, um—well, we've been—”
“Just happened to meet up in town,” Dean said, smoothly lying as usual, and Cas' attention drifted back to them. “We've been, uh—”
“—Trying to get your insurance worked out,” Sam chimed in. “Ma'am. Pro bono, you know.”
“Yann's been telling me all about you,” said a woman's voice; Cas finally caught up to them and slipped into what looked like a small dining room, behind Dean.
She was small, bone-fragile by the looks of her, sitting in a power wheelchair in a long blue dress with a white collar, and a shawl around her shoulders. She looked like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, soft pale hair and bright blue eyes and arthritic hands placed tentatively on the armrests of her chair.
Yann was shifting on his feet as if afraid she'd catch wind of the all the lies in the room, but she didn't seem bothered. Cas thought she looked like the kind of woman who'd invite the homeless in for supper at a moment's notice. He could smell food cooking in the kitchen through the hall behind her, and the glass porch doors were open just slightly to let in the breeze. There were already places set for them.
“I'll check on the food,” Yann said, scratching nervously at his neck, and he vanished into the kitchen.
His mother extended her hand to Sam, who shook it and introduced himself. Dean did the same, and then Cas. To him she said, peering up into his face, “Thank you very much for looking after my boy and I. We're very grateful.”
Cas smiled uncertainly, still unsure of the lie they were selling. “It's—our pleasure,” he said quietly. Sam and Dean were already awkwardly navigating the musical chairs of who-would-sit-where.
“Välsigna dig,” Mrs Olsson whispered, nodding. Bless you. Swedish. Castiel thought it was like music on her tongue.
He sat down next to Dean as Yann came bustling in with a casserole dish in his hands, held tight between two oven mitts, and set it down in the middle of the table. Steam pillowed from the top, Yann waving it out of his face while he arranged the glass pan on the trivet.
“Back in a second,” he called, trotting back to the kitchen to get something else.
Mrs. Olsson touched the pads of her fingers to her mouth, obscuring her affectionate smile, the other stroking the heavy silver end of her fork. "You are all so handsome for insurance brokers," she said, her voice laced with an amused sort of suspicion.
"Ah," Sam laughed, coughing into his fist. "Thank you."
"All the other agents are so stuffy," she sighed, her lips in a playful smirk. "But I like this look. Very casual. Very good to have for dinner."
Sam gave another laugh, playing with the edge of his linen napkin, ducking his head in boyish embarrassment. Paying more attention, Dean managed to tear his eyes away from the food to take a better look at his hostess. Perhaps it was just because of the atmosphere, but she was very lovely. She had an old world charm about her - the sort of face he'd seen in Victorian paintings.
"Your home is just as lovely as you are," Cas said, voicing Dean's thoughts, and Dean knew without looking that Cas' face was just as earnest as his words sounded. "You keep a wonderful house."
She nodded her head in thanks, her fingers having moved away from her chin to twirl a piece of her fair hair around her finger, a light blush scattered across her cheeks, her cornflower blue eyes gleaming in the honey colored light. A breeze filtered through the house, and Dean smelled violets all of a sudden.
"It would be a very different house without my Yann," she replied, and Dean could see the pride on her heart-shaped face. Maybe that was what made her so beautiful. "I'd be lost without him. He is a very good boy to stay and take care of an old woman like me!"
"Hardly an old woman," Dean said, and her blush deepened, her hand coming to her mouth once more. She turned her head to look at him sideways, shy and old-fashioned. He grinned at her, and Cas was compelled to reach across the small space between himself and Dean and touch his hand where it rested on the hunter's knee. Though he loved all the many facets of Dean, this one - the charming, wholesome, dear one - was one of his most treasured favorites.
It was very much Mary Winchester's Dean.
Yann reemerged a moment later, setting down a plate of thick white bread and a plastic tub of margarine. He pulled his chair out with a dull scrape and sat down heavily, grinning.
"It's good?" he asked his mother, and she smiled, all teeth and no obscuring fingers.
"Perfect," she told her son, and he flushed just like his mother did, Dean noted, watching Yann pick up the heavy serving spoon. He took his mother's plate and she clucked at him. "Guests first, Yann," she murmured, looking at Sam, who quickly offered his own plate for Yann to fill.
The teenager glanced at Sam and dug down into the dish, spooning a heaping portion onto Sam's plate. He searched Sam's eyes.
"Do you need more?" he asked. Sam shook his head, a bit taken with it all, and laid his plate back on the mat in front of him, staring at the food.
"It's chicken divan," Mrs. Olsson said, watching him with curiosity. Sam lifted his wide eyes to her and she smiled warmly. "Has your Mamma ever made it for you?"
"No ma’am," Sam said quietly. "Our mother passed away."
Mrs. Olsson nodded at him and reached her bird-like hand across the table to pat his wrist sympathetically. Sam looked to Dean who kept his eyes on his plate, mouth caught in a sad sort of line.
"Is he your brother?" she asked, tilting her head. "You said 'our mother.'"
"Insurance is a family business, Mrs. Olsson," Dean responded before Sam could, and she nodded, satisfied.
"Call me Helena," she insisted, her tone growing more and more relaxed with each moment. "I am no old woman, after all!"
"Not at all," Dean sounded, finally taking up food, smiling at her.
Helena took one look at the ridiculously small portion of food in front of her son and scolded him in Swedish, reaching over to put more on his plate.
"Mamma," Yann said, attempting to sound annoyed, and she hushed him, continuing to scrape the rest of the casserole onto Yann's plate.
It appeared, to Cas, like a routine that was often enacted. A ceremony of sorts. Cas watched the two of them and stroked the back of Dean's hand under the table.
"Please eat," Helena said, once she was satisfied with Yann's food. The boys picked up their forks and the table descended into a comfortable quiet, everyone consumed with eating, the silence interrupted only by the soft clanks and tings of cutlery against porcelain.
As their food disappeared the conversation grew, the boys content to eat and chat with Helena whenever she directed them with her careful questions. She ate like a bird, eating hardly anything at all, and Dean figured it was probably because she talked so much, eager to learn about her guests.
"Did Mamma tell you what she does?" Yann said at the conclusion of a brief conversation with Cas on his position in the trio. Cas had kept it vague, Dean jumping in to explain he was a very good friend. Their best. Helena had tapped a bit of casserole off of her fork and smiled to herself in a way that said a very good friend indeed.
"Yann," she sighed, her cheeks going rosy at the mention of whatever it was. She touched her hot cheek and shook her head.
"What do you do?" Sam prodded, and Helena opened her mouth but Yann beat her to the answer.
"She sews and crochets. She's the best of anyone in town and everyone wants something she's made."
"He exaggerates," Helena said, smoothing her hair self-consciously, peering up at the three other men. She sighed again, and folded her napkin crisply, setting it over her half-empty plate. "I don't do much. Just a few things here and there."
"It's beautiful," Yann interrupted. He turned to her, excited. "Can I show them?"
Helena shook her head and clucked her tongue again.
"Please do," Cas said. "We'd love to see it."
Dean balked, turning to Cas, whose eyes were fixed on their hostess. Sam too, was genuinely interested. Dean mopped the last bit of chicken divan off of his plate with the crust of his bread, and resigned himself to agreeing.
"It's nothing," she waved. "Baptismal gowns for the babies at the church and sometimes a veil and a few doilies..."
Yann shook his head in disagreement. "Not just that - she's making this big thing! It's really something."
"It's a table cloth," she explained. "It's nothing. They're not interested, Yann, don't be so pushy."
"How about we clear the table and you come and show us?" Sam said, and she laughed at herself.
"Well, alright," she said tentatively, her power chair rolling back from the table.
They did what was promised, even going so far as to put a pot of coffee on, and then they filed back into the dining room, re-seating themselves at the empty table. They did not hear the hum of Helena's chair this time, but instead a soft, staggered footfall as she came slowly in, carrying a bundle in her arms.
"She's afraid she'll get the ends caught in the wheels," Yann whispered to them.
The frail woman paused at the table and Yann got up to help her, but before she unfurled the huge cloth in her arms she looked shyly at the men watching her.
"Don't laugh," she said. "It's just something I do when I have the time, but I started it when Jakob died..."
"Jakob's my dad," Yann murmured.
Yann took two corners and stepped back, the cloth coming undone. The three seated pushed their chairs back as Yann and his mother carefully arranged the linen work on the table.
They were quite at a loss for words.
"See, it's nothing," Helena muttered.
"You did this?" Dean said, disbelieving that someone who looked no bigger than his pinky finger could have accomplished so much.
He picked up an edge of the cloth, staring at it. The scalloped lace was so intricate he swore there were pictures in it; pinwheels of lace and fine thread all connected together. Above that, painstakingly embroidered, was a border at least five inches wide, the soft muted colors accented by deep rich tones, all converging into one massive mural expressed around the ivory cloth.
"What is it?" Sam asked, picking up a piece too to look at it further. Deep blue and violet flowers sprouting from the banks of a cerulean river, a kingfisher with wings spread, laughing beak gaping under the lavender sky.
"The river, mostly," Helena said. "Little things here and there that I like or that Jakob liked." Her voice was quiet as she spoke, caressing the linen. "The lace is from my wedding veil. I did it all myself...but that was before my hands got so sore," she said, laughing.
Cas marveled at the handiwork. "This is a masterpiece," he breathed, examining it in closer detail. "How long has this taken you?"
"Jakob died sixteen years ago, so on and off since then. Here and there, when I have time. It isn't finished yet - I don't think it ever will be. My husband always liked to watch me work, so I always keep adding things.”
“This is—this is really stunning, Mrs Olsson,” Sam said.
It was almost too intricate to fathom, a vast mural of the river and everything surrounding it, like the map of a life, or a love. There was nearly too much to see.
They gazed at it, in various stages of something like rapture, until Yann fidgeted a little.
“I think the coffee's done,” he said, and went in to take the pot off, and slowly Helena began to fold the tablecloth up again. Cas reached across to help, meeting her soft shaking fingers with his own, catching up all the embroidery and lace into a neat white square.
“I'll never sell it,” she murmured. Dean and Cas followed her slowly into the hall, hands hovering behind her back as if to steady her; they reached a linen closet and she opened it, and carefully placed the masterpiece on a dusty wooden shelf, smoothing it out with her veined, crippled fingers. “Too precious to sell.”
“What will you do with it?” Cas asked, softly, as she shuffled around the door to sink back into her power chair.
“Work until my hands won't anymore,” she said, smiling gently up at him. “And Yann will have it for his wedding. It's a good tablecloth for a wedding.”
They heard the sounds of coffee cups clattering in the dining room, and she pushed her chair forward with a little hum of the tiny engine. For a moment Dean and Castiel stood in the hall, breathless, for some reason, in the wake of the little woman who had created so much.
“I'm glad we came,” Cas said, catching Dean's eyes.
Dean paused, and smiled a little bit.
“Me too,” he said, touching Cas' wrist for a moment, and then he followed Helena Olsson back into the room with the glass porch doors, and Cas followed at his heels.
They left when the full moon was well into the sky. Yann stayed entirely human throughout the evening, much to his joy—Dean saw him glancing at the window every few minutes until at least an hour under the moonlight had passed, and every minute that passed in peace brought a bigger smile to his face.
Mrs Olsson and her son walked to the front door with them, and she shook their hands again as they passed her, and beckoned each of them down for a kiss on the cheek for good measure. Yann thanked them profusely for nothing in particular as he closed the door, and shut out the light against their content and smiling faces.
They lingered for a moment on the porch.
“That was...really nice,” Sam said, sounding a little startled, as they started down the steps, past the wind-chimes making soft sounds by the door. “Weird—but nice.”
“Maybe we ought to make friends with teenage werewolves more often,” Dean said, and Cas nudged his shoulder.
“Do you think they believed that insurance lie?” Cas said, and Sam chuckled to himself.
“Well, I'm sure they will,” he said, “once the changes I made to her policy kick in.”
Cas and Dean stopped on the drive to stare at him.
“What?” Sam said, shrugging. “I had some time to kill before we left the motel. I hacked the database. Fixed things up. Made everything cheaper for her.”
“You are scarily nice sometimes, dude,” Dean said, shaking his head, pulling open the driver's side door.
They piled into the car and backed down off the bluff, and Cas looked back at the twinkling lights in the Olsson house windows until they vanished into the trees.
By the time they made it back to the Motel 6 both Cas and Sam were asleep, full of good food and pleasant company, and Dean had to shake them both awake. There was no quibbling over where Cas would sleep that night; they were all too contentedly tired to care. He collapsed onto Dean's bed, blinking sleepily, and when Dean turned out the light and crawled in next to him, for once he didn't turn his back but lay on his side, pushing his head into the pillow and mumbling a “goodnight, Cas,” under his breath.
Cas whispered, “Goodnight, Dean,” and felt for his hand under the blankets. He squeezed it once, glad that he could do that much, and closed his eyes.
The next morning they sat in a mutual stupor of motel coffee and lazy bones until the sun was halfway into the sky, and Sam had gone through every single article in Yann's binder. He'd been exhausting Google as well, all morning, and just as Dean was starting to stir for lunch and Cas was starting to feel fully awake, he closed his laptop and rubbed his eyes and said, “Okay.”
The other two looked at him, blinking.
“It looks like that peach orchard in Greenacre is our best bet for now. It's the closest and it's the biggest of these—things. They're having that festival, we can just sneak in as more press and see what's up. So I vote we pack up, head out there. We can get there by tonight.”
“And why this place exactly?” Dean said groggily, unfolding himself from his seat to throw away his coffee cup.
“There's Yann's article, but get this—that preacher Bobby was talking about? I found a reference to him from ages back. Says he was from Greenacre originally. That's where he started out, and then he left on the riverboat Bobby mentioned. The Elaine.”
“Good enough for me,” Dean said. They looked at Cas for confirmation and he nodded.
In relative quiet they packed up and loaded the Impala, and as the brothers wrestled with the false bottom in the trunk (something was stuck underneath), Cas wandered a little ways into the parking lot, looking out at the river one more time. He could almost see Helena Olsson's embroidery in the water, the indigos and purples and blues wending through the current.
“Cas, come on.”
He turned, pulled on the hook of Dean's voice, and climbed into the back, keeping his eyes fixed on the water through the window.
They pulled out of the parking lot, and out of Winona, under a pale summer sun. East, to Wisconsin, and whatever was waiting for them there.