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Monsters

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Spring settles around the shoulders of Vermonters like a shawl. Sun wrapped mornings breathe life into the frozen earth as floes of ice grind against each other, creaking and grinding like the joints of an old man. After seven years bathed in the winds that march across the Green Mountains from Canada, the heady bouquet of spring growth riding on the back of last fall’s leaf litter always makes Sam Winchester giddy.

 

Sam perches on the steps that lead into their front yard content to watch the water and listen to the gruff report of a flock of snow geese winding their way back north after lapping up all that Florida sunshine. He turns his face toward the sky and lets the sun and the branches of the ancient white ash that guards their home paint mosaics of light and shadow across his eyelids. Their front yard is a patch of grass buttressed by a sea-wall that never quite manages to keep the lake water from kissing their front steps each fall. The front face of their home watches over Missisquoi Bay, a mile wide swath of water surrounded by coarse sand and shale beaches. The back is a quarter-mile gravel drive pouring into a dirt road that rattles Sam’s teeth and makes Dean cringe for another three-quarters of a mile before spilling onto the asphalt of Route 7.

 

The road is a bitch to keep plowed in the winter and the Impala now lives in a garage built especially for her, draped with tarps to protect against dust and scratches as winter scours the landscape. But Sam has watched Dean’s eyes glitter as the temperature began to climb late that past week, mid-May rounding the corner toward June. That morning, as Saturday dawned brilliant and fair, Sam heard the creak of hinges rusted from disuse and knew that once Dean finished with the water pump, he would spend the day pampering his girl and crowing to Sam about the trip to Montreal they would take the following weekend to let his baby stretch her legs.

 

Dean makes his way around the corner of the house wiping his grease smeared hands on a tattered old rag.

 

“Pump’s about to go.” Dean strolls over and sits beside Sam, nudging him to make room on the step.

 

“Yeah?” Sam leans his head on Dean’s shoulder. “How much?”

 

Dean shrugs and drops a kiss on Sam’s brow. “Not much.”

 

Sam sighs. Conversations like this still leave him in awe, even after seven years. It is astounding to hime that they have real bank accounts, real jobs, real money concerns, that they do not, will not, solve by hustling pool or committing credit card fraud. “Not much, we can get it today or not much it has to wait until Thursday when I get paid?

 

“Nothing a few well played games of pool can’t cover.” Dean smirks, catching the thread of Sam’s thoughts and pinching his thigh. Sam pinches back and rolls his eyes, knowing Dean is no more tempted than he is to go out and embrace that old life. Once, five years ago when things still felt strange and new and the electric heater had gone out in January. Yeah, Sam had doubted then, had been the one who was tempted to cave, proposing a trip up to Montreal or down to Burlington to hustle some pool. But Dean would not have it, told Sam to untwist his panties, and insisted that the wood stove and the fireplace would work fine until they could afford the part to fix the heater. Better even because they lived in freaking Vermont and there was no shortage of trees to chop down and fires meant naked snuggling because isn’t that what all the survivalists said to do when you were cold? Dean had said if they froze their balls off by the next morning he would call his boss Mike and ask for an advance. Dean had assured Sam that he would still have his tuition money on time and that the teaching certificate program Sam was enrolled in was worth being a little chilly.

 

In the end, even though the wood stove had kept them plenty toasty, Dean had asked his boss for an advance. Mike Lemieux was a crotchety old codger who owned Lemieux’s Sunoco, the only full service gas station and garage North of St. Albans. Well, it wasn’t the only one but it was the only full service station and garage that the old timers and the old timer’s kids would visit their business upon because Mike was not owned by some family in New York. Mike had grumbled and fussed but the money was forthcoming. Truth is Mike loved Dean like a son, loved him like a man who’s loyalty was carved out of the bones of the earth, but goddamned if he let Dean know. He cared for Dean even though the young man was a little funny like Earl’s kid Lawrence who moved to California, of all places. But still, Dean knew his way around an engine and like any good Vermonter, Mike figured as long Dean did his work it did not matter a tick who shared his bed.

 

“Hey, earth to Sammy.” Dean waves his hand in front of Sam’s face. “Did you hear me?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“That’s what I thought.” Dean chuckles. “I said if you’re done grading finals we could run down to St. Albans, pick up the part at Abernathy’s and maybe grab some lunch?”

 

“There any ice cream involved in this scenario?”

 

“You drive a hard bargain, who’d you learn that from?”

 

“Who do you think? Hey, you see the Stone’s drove in this morning? You wanna swing by and see if they need anything from town?”

 

“Sounds good.” Dean nods, but Sam notices the sparkle in his eyes.

 

Dean rises from the step, offering Sam a hand up, pulling the younger man against him and sliding his arm around Sam’s waist. “I’ll walk over, you want to drive over and meet me there?” Dean brushes his mouth against the delicate skin just below Sam’s ear, enjoying the way that his lover’s body still shivers beneath his lips.

 

“You keep that up we’re not going to make it to St. Albans today.” Sam leans into Dean slipping a hand into his back pocket.

 

“And that would be bad why?” Dean nips and licks at Sam’s earlobe.

 

“Running water.” Sam sighs, wondering if they could make due for an evening.

 

“Oh yeah, that.” Dean huffs and pushes himself away from Sam, reluctant to release his lover. Dean is about to turn and head in the direction of the Stone’s cabin when he hears his name being called from the direction of the beach. A young girl all coltish legs and string bean arms bolts toward Dean crashing into the man as she squishes him in a hug.

 

“Whoah, Linnie. Nice to see you too, sweetheart.” Dean belly laughs and picks the girl up, spinning her around while she shrieks in delight.

 

He tosses the girl over his shoulder patting her rump. “Hey Sammy, look what crawled out of the bay, think I should keep her or throw her back?”

 

The girl screams as Dean starts down the cement boat ramp toward the dock. “No. Deeeeaaannnnn.”

 

“I don’t know dude, she’s pretty small. Fish and Game would definitely fine you if you kept her.”

 

The girl howls again flailing her arms the closer Dean gets to the water. “I guess. Still she might be useful. I hear even these little ones can do dishes.”

 

“Sam Winchester make him put me down.” The girl demands.

 

“Can’t help ya’, sweetie.” Sam watches the antics unfold. Dean teases the girl one last time, feinting toward the shallow water then slides her off his shoulder, setting her down and making sure she has her footing before letting her go.

 

Sam studies the girl’s face for a few more moments, noting the smudges beneath her eyes and the sallow cast to her skin. A pall of concern slides across the excitement and energy of the moment like a cloud passing before the sun. He shakes off the feeling, tucking it away to analyze later.

 

Linnie Stone. Sam thinks as he heads inside for his car keys and the girl and Dean take off toward the Stone’s cabin a few doors down. That kid is a force of nature.

Chapter Text

Mary Stone stands alone on her lawn, looking toward the thick bodies of maples and the slender trunks of birches dotting the far side of the bay like the bare legs of so many girls. Canada. It never ceases to baffle her that the other shore is so close she could shuck off her clothes, dive into the water and swim to the other side in less than an hour and as far away as another country.

 

A whole other life. She thinks as she imagines her fingers curling into the sand on that other beach and the freedom of emerging from the lake, nude, stripped of this life. Delivered. Released.

 

Fresh. she muses. A fresh start.

 

The squeals coming from the Winchester’s yard surges into her consciousness, bringing her back from that strip of sand only a mile away. A few minutes later Mary watches as Dean and Linnie amble along the beach, Linnie picking her way among the rocks in her flip-flops, the Fighting Fuchsia polish on her toes glaring against the skin of her feet. The closer they get the more animated she can tell her daughter is, the girl's thin arms pin-wheeling as she engages in an elaborate pantomime. Linnie’s voice reaches Mary and she sees Dean’s eyebrows skate toward his hairline. Linnie has always chattered at Dean about anything and everything that races through her mind. Even from that very first day, Mary remembers.

 

“I’m guessing you just heard about Cindy Mitchell’s skating party and Robert Carlisle?” Mary shouts, raising a hand in greeting.

 

“I think I might need to have a talk with this young man.” Dean says as he climbs the Stone's boat ramp, Linnie stretching “mom” into at least forty syllables as she traipses up behind him and tugs on his belt loop, swinging back and forth.

 

“Honey, don’t do that, you’re not little anymore.”

 

“Mary she’s fine.” Dean waves Mary off, enjoying the familiarity of having Linnie hanging all over him like a jungle-gym, especially when he is still recovering from the shock of hearing “boys” and “kiss” in the same sentence bubbling out of Linnie’s mouth. Dean had hunted evil things for the majority of his life, and Winchester habits die hard; protecting people he loved was not one he was likely to give up anytime soon. Dean was sure if he phrased it right, Sam would not mind if he maybe paid a visit to this little punk Carlisle with a shotgun full of rock salt.

 

Dean reigns in his overprotectiveness and opts for neutral for the time being. “We’re heading down to St. Albans this afternoon, you folks need anything?”

 

“No, but thanks. Roger’s putting the water in this weekend and we’re heading back to town tomorrow night.”

 

Most of the families that had homes on the point only stayed during summer months. That meant running a water line into the bay for showering and cleaning and hauling drinking water in from town.

 

Mary Wilton married Roger Stone at seventeen, Linnie weighing heavy in her belly on their wedding day. Mary’s mother, Helene, was a brusque French Canadian woman famous for belting out off-key hymns during mass and hiding chocolate kisses in the bronzed toes of her children’s baby shoes. Helene telegraphed her disappointment in Mary’s circumstances by hand-dyeing her wedding dress in tea and casting stern looks at her daughter as she hung each piece of silk on the clothes line to dry.

 

Escaping the oppression of her mother’s Catholicism was not the only reason Mary had fled her family home when Roger had pronounced that He always knew he would marry the woman he got pregnant. No, it was not the only reason, it was not even the biggest, but the unexpected pregnancy had provided an easy excuse that allowed Mary to circumvent all the other sorrows that she had confessed to her pillow.

 

Leaving her childhood home meant forsaking the bustling coming and going of relatives and the smell of her father’s pipe smoke permeating her pores. Now she spends summers listening to the rumble of trains passing over the Missisquoi Bay Bridge with their lonesome whistles and winters cleaning milk bucket after milk bucket of the smelt her husband lugs home.

 

“So when’s Olga coming up?” Dean asks.

 

Mary’s eyes dart to Linnie and back to Dean with a grimace. Dean turns to the girl and plops a hand on her shoulder. “Hey squirt, why don’t you hustle back over to our place and see what’s slowing gigantor down?”

 

“That means go away so the old folks can talk.” Linnie groans and skips back down the boat ramp to the beach shouting for Sam to hurry up.

 

“Is Olga okay?” Dean’s brows draw together, his voice deepening to a whisper.

 

The Stone’s camp was the first on Sandy Point, built in 1901 by Gene Kettletas. Olga Stone, Gene’s daughter, still made it up from Florida every summer, although now that she was going on 85, she no longer drove and was a little more forgetful than she was when Sam and Dean first encountered her seven years prior. Dean had found Olga kicking her tires and cursing her Buick Skylark because it wouldn’t start. It turned out she was late for a hair appointment in Swanton, seven miles up the road and too far to walk for a wash and set, which Olga had explained to Dean when he stopped to ask her if she needed a hand.

 

Dean had given her a lift into town and stuck around to entertain all the ladies in the salon with legends, tall tales, and his beautiful cupid bow smile. At Olga’s request Dean had escorted the Stone Matriarch to the local IGA after her hair appointment, “just in case” her girls had forgotten to pick up three-bean salad for her when they were in town the day before. Then he drove her back to her car, fixed the timing belt that had slipped on the old behemoth and tailed her back to her camp just for safe measure. Olga had called Mike Lemieux that afternoon and insisted he make room in his shop for one more, because Dean was a good boy and needed a fair wage. Mike had loved Olga from the time she was a skinny slip of a girl who let her mice loose in the parlor when her sisters were courting. He considered his biggest regret losing her heart to Jeremiah Stone and couldn’t refuse her a thing. He said he would take the young man on, but only a few days a week on a trial basis, putting his foot down just to prove he wasn't still pining.

 

Dean had enjoyed his impromptu “date”, but the real miracle of that afternoon, as far as Dean was concerned, was meeting Linnie Stone. Linnie was Olga’s great-granddaughter, and at the time was a five year old spit-fire with a smattering of freckles where the sun had kissed the bridge of her nose and her cheeks. Linnie had stomped up to Dean and demanded to know, in a voice that sounded like a crystal chime, what he had done with her Great-Gram and why he had followed her home. When Dean explained their adventure, the little girl had regarded him for a moment, declared him funny looking, and then laughed, speeding away across the neighboring field to pick wild flowers.

 

Mary can still recall the look of shock mingling with confusion on the older man’s face after experiencing the tsunami that was Linnie Stone. It was a look not so different from the one he was wearing at the moment.

 

The Stone’s were grateful to Dean, for fixing Great Gram’s car and for not taking offense at the girl’s antics. Roger Stone, Linnie’s father, had insisted that Dean and his family join them for cocktail hour and a cook out. Dean had shuffled and hedged until Olga mentioned she had seen him kissing that tall drink of water on the dock the other day and didn’t give a hoot. She had fixed her grandson Roger with a glare and said, in a not so subtle tone, that any of her family that did care could take the issue up with her after her guest had left.

 

Dean had stumbled home a little shell shocked and informed Sam of their plans, of his afternoon entertaining the blue-haired crowd, and of the peculiar little girl two cabins over who Dean was relatively sure wasn’t human.

 

Later that evening, after a dinner of burgers and corn on the cob, Dean and Sam sat on the beach with the Stone’s recounting, with a great deal of editing, the journey they had taken and how they came to live in the Singer’s old cabin.

 

Sam had taken to telling Linnie the story of Sir Pelinore and the Questing Beast when the little girl had gotten squirmy and impatient with the grown up talk. After Sam had finished, Linnie had been corralled by her mother Mary for her bath. A half hour later while the grown-ups were listening to the night song of crickets and the pop of shale in the fire, Linnie had poked Dean in the shoulder and offered him a fistful of Indian paint brushes and cornflowers. The girl apologized, at her mother’s behest, for calling him “funny looking”, informed him that she thought he was okay, and that his friend told good stories even if he was taller than a giant.

 

Dean was over the moon for Linnie Stone from that second on and Sam had the received the gift of seeing first-hand what fatherhood would have looked like on his brother. Dean doted on the child. Linnie stayed with her Great Gram in the summers while school was out. Each evening, Linnie would be at their door armed with her fishing pole thirty minutes after she heard Dean’s truck rumble past on the dirt road. The two would fish off the dock after dinner while Dean would tell her stories about dragons and brave girls who could fly on their backs among the clouds. Sam would lounge in a deck chair on these nights, reading or just watching Dean. He fell in love with Dean a little more each time he unhooked a sunfish from Linnie’s line and threw it back while the little girl squealed. Her giggle bouncing off the water and careening into the dusk where Sam imagined it echoed past the confines of the milky-way, far into space.

 

The child became a fixture in the Winchester household and it seemed that during the summers Dean was never without his shadow. Sam was concerned at first that the Stone’s might worry about the inordinate amount of time the girl spent at their place. He had broached the subject with Olga one evening after Linnie had fallen asleep on their sofa watching Kung Fu Panda. Sam had carried the girl home and stuttered about propriety and how much they enjoyed Linnie but didn’t want to interfere with her family. Olga had burst out laughing and told Sam if she thought either of them would hurt her great granddaughter she would have filled them full of buckshot that first evening they met.

 

Sam had been relieved, if not a little terrified, and raced home to inform Dean that Olga was packing heat. Dean just regarded Sam with his patented duh look and curled up around his lover watching the stars shimmer out above the bay in the darkness of the northern night.

 

During the fall and winter months Dean made sure they never missed a birthday or a school play. Roger, Mary, and Linnie lived an hour south in Burlington and the Winchester’s home calendar quickly filled up with important dates preceded by the initials LS. Trips to Burlington were frequent and Dean’s regard for Roger grew less and less the more birthdays and assemblies he seemed to miss, but Sam always reminded him that Roger was Linnie’s dad and that he loved his daughter, he was just trying to make it through. It was no worse than their own father, in the long run probably better, at least Linnie didn’t have to move around every few weeks and learn Latin, Aramaic, and Sumerian.

 

The following fight had been short lived with apologies whispered in the dark as legs twined together and hands fit into hollows of muscle to caress away hurt and worry.

 

Now Dean is standing on the Stone’s lawn and a fist of anxiety curls in his gut. Dean can fix a car and exorcise a demon, even though he is a touch rusty on the particulars since they dropped out of the game, but those are things he has been doing since he was a child. Illness, aging, life; these are things with which Dean Winchester has little practical experience and the idea that this fierce woman, whom he regards as a grandmother to both himself and Sam, is ailing in a way that he cannot fix, nor understand makes him struggle to breathe.

 

Mary cuts her eyes sideways toward the back of the house where Dean can hear Roger banging on a pipe. Roger had shrugged in tacit approval when she had mentioned her idea to him last night after the call had come that Olga was suffering from a bout of pneumonia and would not be making it up until at least July and would require around the clock care when she finally did arrive up north. Tears prick at Mary’s eyes, the sharp sting of heat in her cheeks embarrasses her, but this could work, could give all of them a chance to regroup after the winter with all its darkness and confusion.

 

“Hey.” Dean says, "Just tell me. I promise you, I’ve heard worse.”

 

“The past few months have been…hard. I’m sorry.” Mary scrubs at her face swiping away her tears.

 

“Nothing to be sorry about.” 

 

“Great Gram is sick, won’t be up until at least July.”

The words strike Dean somewhere in the center of his chest and he does not hear Sam approach him, does not realize someone is behind him until his brother is molded to his back, blocking Mary from Linnie, who is throwing a ratty grey tennis ball for the Stones’ spastic Boxer Maddie a few yards away. Dean jumps, his hand going to the small of his back, fingers searching the waist band of his jeans for the 9mm that is not there, has not been there for at least five years. The unconscious startle response prickles across the yoke of Dean’s shoulders. Sam’s palm massages the nape of Dean’s neck. After a lifetime together Sam knows how to ease Dean’s anxiety with his presence and his hands, like gentling a horse.

 

“Mary, why doesn’t Linnie stay with us for a little while, at least through June? Looks like you could use a break and I could use the company during the day.” Sam’s voice is measured and calm, giving Mary an out, a way to have this become a favor to them instead of the other way around. Dean leans back against his lover. Sam’s innate ability to read people never ceases to amaze him.

 

“Really?” The relief in Mary’s voice is palpable.

 

“Absolutely.” Dean confirms. “Sam is out of school as of Wednesday, without Linnie and Olga around he's going to be bored out of his skull.”

 

“That would be…that would be amazing. She needs some time, it’s been…”

 

“Hard.” Dean says, the twitching in his stomach telling him that hard is a euphemism for fucked up beyond recognition and the idea of Linnie in the center of a shit storm re-awakens the overprotectiveness he'd managed to force down a few minutes ago. “No worries. I need to get some parts in Burlington on Thursday. We’ll come down together and pick her up.” 

 

“God. Thank you.” Mary sniffs and kicks at the rough scrub of grass poking up through the ground. “You don’t know how much this means.”

 

“It’s really okay, she can stay for as long as she likes, as long as you all need.” Sam reaches out for her hand and Mary feels a little glimmer of hope.

 

“Yeah. Besides, you folks, Bobby, Lucy,” Dean smiles, forcing warmth into his eyes to cover the suspicion that this is more than just worry over Olga’s illness and what kind of mischief Linnie can get into left to her own devices during the day. “You’re family. We take care of our family.”

Chapter Text

Wednesday Evening

 

Sam takes a step back and stares aghast at the pile of shopping bags at the foot of the full-size bed. He had not meant to buy so much, especially so much pink, but he had noticed the nail polish on Linnie’s toes and wanted her to feel welcome and home when she arrives tomorrow. He had spent his youth going place to place and sleeping in spaces that were not his own. While Sam knows this is temporary and that Linnie is comfortable in their small cabin with its creaking floor joists and second hand furniture, he does not want her to feel that she cannot claim this space as hers.

 

Sam pulls out a duvet cover with petal pink and chocolate brown flowers splashed against a background of rich cream. Dean is going to faint when he sees the matching bedroom accessories, but tomorrow is payday and Sam has a little tucked by from his stint as debate team coach this past season. Offering to coach clubs on top of his regular gig teaching sophomore U.S. History and Senior Public Issues and World Affairs at MVHS brings in additional cash that usually finds its way into the Oh Shit fund along with any overtime Dean clocks at Lemieux’s. Their thriftiness is what allowed them to purchase the part for the water pump in-between paydays without having to play merry hob with the bills. Sam knows that Dean will not begrudge Linnie these creature comforts but he still worries when he spends over $100.00 without checking with Dean first. The thought makes him roll his eyes and chuckle to himself while he considers the fact that he may have finally gone off the domestic deep end.

 

Lucky for Sam, his job also gives him at least marginal exposure to how a teenage girl might decorate her bedroom. Marginal, he thinks groaning, at best. In a fit of paranoia Sam digs the receipt out of his pocket and tucks it into his wallet, just in case they end up making a return trip if Linnie looks at all this swag and wretches, or worse yet, cries.

 

He hears Dean’s Ford F150 rumble and crunch up to the back of the house and starts to pull out his purchases and arrange them on the bed so that Dean can look them over. Sam wants to get the monumental “WTF how much do little girls cost, anyway?” moment out of the way early, since this is their last night of unrestrained, don’t have to be quiet and bite your fist when you come privacy for at least a month.

 

“Hey Samantha, wanna give me a hand?” Sam grunts and sticks his head out into the kitchen. Dean’s face floats outside the large window that sits above the sink, a wicked smile stretching the corners of his mouth.

 

“What did you do, Dean?”

 

“Why, when I smile at you after a long, hard day, do you insist questioning my actions? It hurts me, to my core, Sammy, to my core.” Dean pouts, then turns toward his truck calling over his shoulder. “Now help me carry this stuff inside and maybe, just maybe I’ll let you make it up to me after dinner.” The whiskey heat in Dean’s voice sends a blush shooting up Sam’s cheeks and excitement pooling low in his gut.

 

Sam walks to the truck and stops when sees a mountain of shopping bags piled in the back of the cab. A lemon yellow lampshade dotted with ballet pink hearts catches his eye sending Sam into a fit of laughter.

 

“What? We don’t exactly have girly stuff lying around. I just don’t want her room to feel like a…” Dean stutters to a stop, the calloused fingers of his right hand rub at the short stubble on the back of his neck.

 

“Like a hotel.” Sam finishes and gathers Dean into his arms. He kisses Dean’s temple and then rests his cheek against his lover’s brow. “I love you.”

 

“I know.” Sam smacks Dean’s ass and bends down to capture his lips in a kiss.

 

“Well, Captain Solo, it looks like you weren’t the only getting visits from the ghosts of hotel rooms past today.”

 

“Don’t say the “g” word Sammy.” Dean grins, the mood between them starting to lighten as the tide of childhood memories recede.

 

“Sorry, what was I thinking?” Sam reaches past Dean and slips his large hands through the bag handles capturing almost all of the parcels in one trip. Dean looks up for a moment, heavy swags of grey clouds dip towards the ground like an armada soaring across the sky. “Gonna rain later.”

 

“Yeah.” Sam says and heads inside.

 

A garden off a low deck flanks the back side of the house. The delicate belled blooms of the lily of the valley that Sam planted last spring lean their snow white heads toward the earth like a clutch of novices praying to their Saintly namesakes. The flower’s leaves curl toward the sky in anticipation of the storm. Sam holds the door for Dean and experiences a swelling in his chest, as if bone and sinew are too frail to contain the onslaught of emotion that courses through him, never in all those years of blood and fire would he have envisioned himself soaking in the nuanced silences of the North with his lover, his brother, his life. Sam’s know their home is more than the small mud room with its cast-iron pot-bellied stove, the mahogany paneling throughout the house, and the bathroom and kitchen with their gold flecked Formica countertops and stained oak cabinetry. The sum of its parts, what transforms this amalgamation of wood, drywall, and glass into a home, is found in the details. The signs exist in the pieces of life that create a sense of permanency to each man. The desk Dean refinished by hand for Sam one Christmas and the few remaining pictures of their parents that now live in frames on their bedroom dresser instead of rolled in a sweatshirt and hidden in the weapons compartment of the Impala. Sam spares a look at the newest addition as he adds Dean’s purchases to the already overflowing pile on the bed. They found the overstuffed reading chair at a flea market on Sunday and purchased it on the spot because, Dean insisted, a girl needs a place to think or read or paint her toenails. Sam sniggered at the time and asked Dean how he knew about toenail painting. The comment earned him a glare and one of Dean’s patented “Shaddup, would ya or you’re walking home” retorts. But Sam had the same thought when he saw it and could not have been happier when they carried it into the guest room the minute they had gotten home.

 

Not the guest room any longer, Linnie’s room. Sam reminds himself, his throat catching as he watches Dean survey the array of treasures they have collected for the girl that Sam sometimes wishes was their own child.

 

Sam twines his hand in Dean’s and pulls him along, through kitchen, the small dining area, and their bedroom. He guides Dean into the living room where he pushes him onto the couch and straddles his lap, leaning down to lick the full, plump curve of Dean’s bottom lip.

 

“You want to give the border patrol a show?” Dean huffs and fits his palms flush against Sam’s ass. He drags his tongue up Sam’s neck as Sam grinds against Dean so that he can feel Sam’s growing arousal brushing against his own hardness. A picture window runs the length of the spacious living room and provides a place where the men can watch storms stalk across the bay in the summer or the Northern lights dance above the horizon in the winter.

 

“Maybe.” Sam moans as his fingers snake beneath the hem of Dean’s shirt gliding over the musculature of Dean’s abdomen, yanking the soft cotton Henley over Dean’s head. Sam’s fingers slide up Dean’s chest stopping at his nipples. He runs his thumbs over the hardening flesh as it pebbles with Dean’s arousal. “Want you.”

 

Sam grasps the back of Dean’s neck with one hand, drawing Dean forward into a kiss, his tongue caressing Dean’s while his other hand slips between them and tugs at Dean’s belt, then stands and strips, letting his clothes stay where they fall. Time, which had been moving honey-thick, sweet and slow begins to race like quick silver, little fingers of pleasure tickling up Dean’s spine setting his skin alight. A random thought flits across Dean’s consciousness and he remembers the games that his dad used to buy them at the Good Will, little plastic mazes with a dot of mercury inside that broke apart into tiny pieces when he shook the container. That thought blows apart like wood smoke in a gale when Sam’s large palm curls around his shaft, stroking him to his full length, the salvia from where Sam had licked his palm and Dean’s pre-come the only lubricant that Sam is patient enough to wait for as he raises his hips and lets Dean slide inside his body. It burns, but Sam is still open from their lovemaking that morning and welcomes the stretch and the fullness.

 

They surge together like wind and water, skin on skin as heated breath ghosts across bare shoulders, whispers of love, please, and yes float on the dusk as tongues and lips mold together and break apart. Dean’s hips buck up into his lover, his movements becoming erratic and he locks eyes with Sam. He moves his hand to Sam’s cock and caresses him watching the awe wash across Sam’s features as he feels Sam’s body tighten around him and begin to quake, the searing heat of his spend bursting across Dean’s hand. The force of Sam’s release, the clenching heat of his lover’s body and the feel of Sam’s breath as he whispers “Now baby” while rides out the aftershocks of his orgasm bring Dean over the edge.

 

Sam collapses on Dean, nuzzling his neck. They both are still for what may be minutes or hours until Sam bends back and nips at the tip of Dean’s nose.

 

“We just keep getting better and better, you know?”

 

Dean wraps his arms around Sam when Sam attempts to extricate himself and falls sideways onto the couch. Sam allows Dean to drag him down and flip a throw over them, pressing small butterfly kisses to the back of Sam’s neck.

 

“Aren’t you hungry?” Sam sighs.

 

“Mmmmhhh. Nap now, food later.” Sam does not answer, just snuggles back into  Dean’s chest and closes his eyes drifting in and out of sleep to the patter of rain against the roof and the breath of the man who makes this tiny patch of land and water his home.

 

***

 

Thursday Night

Dean bolts upright, awake, bewilderment and sleep fighting for dominance as his eyes adjust to the dark and his hand fumbles along his nightstand for his glasses, one minor concession he made to age a few months before his 37th birthday. Earlier that evening they had gotten Linnie settled and turned in, Dean having promised to take Friday off and dazzle both Sam and Linnie with his pancake making genius if they agreed to stop teasing him about having picked up the movie Penelope to watch together Friday night.

 

His hunter’s instincts are dull but not forgotten, he cocks his head to the side and listens. The wind whips the water against the shoreline, the branches of the ash tree rattle like the bones of old men, and then the sound that broke the surface of Dean’s sleep pierces the grogginess and he is striding out of his room, his gate purposeful, the short nap of the worn carpet soft under his feet. He makes it to Linnie’s room in a few seconds and is cracking her bedroom door when he hears Sam call out his name, his tone clipped and anxious.

Dean answers, his voice is laden with concern but quiet. “It’s okay Sammy, go back to sleep.” Even so, the house is small and he can hear the bedclothes rustle as Sam moves around in the other room.

 

Dean’s turns back toward the door and peeks in on Linnie. The sleeping girl moans and curls on her side, legs thrashing under the blankets as her fists clench and unclench in front of her chest. Her teeth grind together, crunching like the gears in his father’s truck, the summer John decided that 14 year old Sammy needed to learn how to drive stick. Her face pinches tight as if she is flinching from an oncoming blow and the pitch of her moaning rises, then the girl is shrieking, shrill, staccato cries that are only interrupted by a sharp intake of breath. Dean flounders for a second and then all those nights soothing Sam after the blood curdling nightmares that plagued him as a child surface like the muscle memory of riding a bike, shooting a gun, and chasing away the specters of fear that creep from shadowed corners.

 

Dean kneels by the child’s bed, his hand stroking her shoulder, pitching his voice low as he tries to help guide her out of the clutches of her dream. She gasps once then her eyes snap open and her arms fly around Dean’s neck.

 

“Shhhh. Shhhh. It’s okay. I got ya’.” Dean stands, scooping the girl into his arms and heading over to the chair. Sam hovers in the doorway, Dean catches his eye and mouths water, then watches as the light from refrigerator spills into the room.

 

He rubs her back and keeps up the patter of meaningless, comforting words. “We’re here, we’re here and nothing is going to hurt you. Nothing. I promise.”

 

Sam listens to Linnie sob. He pulls out the water pitcher, pours a glass and heads into her room, flicking on the overhead light and crouching down in front of Dean and the girl.

 

“Here you go.” Sam scoots back and sits cross-legged after handing Dean the glass. Linnie gasps when Sam’s hand brushes her knee and she clings to Dean’s neck hard enough that Sam knows tomorrow morning Dean will sport finger shaped bruises where Linnie has cleaved so tight that her knuckles have gone white with force.

 

They sit quiet, listening to her crying subside to soft whimpers, the catches of her breath mingling with the other night sounds, like the metallic click of electric heater and the whir-tick of the swivel-eyed black and rhinestone kitty cat clock that Sam had found in the attic and mounted in Linnie’s room. Linnie is calm enough at 5AM when the North-bound train for Montreal sounds it’s whistle as it prepares to cross the bridge, that Dean carries her, half-awake and places her back in bed, pulling the covers up to her chin.

 

She blinks up at both men, owlish and haunted and the trepidation Sam felt when he saw her for the first time in a few months returns, splashing frigid little ripples of disquiet down his spine.

 

“Do you want me to stay for awhile?” Dean whispers. Linnie looks back and forth between the two men. “Do you want both of us to stay until you fall asleep?”

 

Sam hears the exhaustion in Dean’s voice, but knows from experience that he is not leaving the girl’s side until she's resting safe as houses. Sam knows because he remembers the shadowed circles beneath Dean’s eyes when they were children and he was plagued by nightmares and visions that would drag him to the surface of wakefulness, weeping and sweating like he had been struck by a fever.

 

Linnie nods and Dean bends over to brush his lips against her brow. They both retreat to the chair, Dean offering Sam the cushion while he stretches out on the floor propping his back against Sam’s knees.

 

“It wanted me.” The girl’s voice, which is usually clear as a church chime, is sandpaper rough and weighted with sleep.

 

“What wanted you?” They say at once, relief that after an hour and half of comforting, Linnie has relaxed enough to find words beyond the gasps and hiccups that followed what Sam figures was a corker of a nightmare.

 

“Death, it wanted me. And now it’s mad because it can’t get inside. Not anymore. Not here.”

Chapter Text

My name is Melinda Anne Stone. My dad calls me Mindy, which I think is dumb. Everyone else calls me Linnie, which is only slightly cooler than Mindy. Sam Winchester, who is one of the most incredible people in the world, gave me this journal and suggested I write down what’s been going on, so he and Dean, the other most incredible person in the world, can figure out how to help me.

 

Dean says that his dad kept a journal like this after Sam came to live with them. Sam’s mom died in a fire when Sam was a baby and he didn’t have anyone else but Dean and Dean’s dad. Dean’s dad is dead now too. So they have each other and me and Bobby and Lucy. Sam and Dean kind of grew up together, which makes them super close, best friends. They’re also married, which is why they both have the same last name. But I don’t think that’s the kind of thing they want to hear about, they already know that story.

 

I hope this helps, because if it doesn’t I’m going to die. And I don’t want to die.

 

Not today anyway.

 

Linnie chews on the end of her pen staring at the chop on the bay and watching the sun ride the surface of the water, creating deep shadows in the troughs of the waves. She crosses out the last line scribbling circles around the letters until the purple ink is so thick on the page that the words beneath are unintelligible. She tamps down a threatening surge of panic, tucking it somewhere beneath her solar-plexis in the tight, silent space where she keeps the dark, 3 AM things like the acrid tang of whiskey that hangs around the corners of her father’s mouth and her mother’s constant absence, a vacancy that exists even when her mother is present. Sometimes Linnie thinks it is like the air itself is trying to pull away from Mary Stone. The flesh on Linnie’s upper-arm itches with a phantom burn as if the specter that disturbs her dreams also teased the insides of her body with poison ivy, creating a greasy  sensation beneath her skin, a sensation that defies relief. 

 

Almost Linnie thinks, and she clenches her eyes shut against the compulsion to dig the box-cutter out of the bottom of her duffle bag and slice at that itch, create a tension and a release that will allow the constriction in her chest to unravel just a little.

 

“No. No. No.” She whispers to herself and snaps the notebook shut. She swore to herself that she would not bring those things here. Bad enough that the dreams had crept inside of her, slithering under her blankets and leaving a clinging film of sadness, like her entire body has been rubbed with rancid butter and she will never be rid of the cloying stink of sour milk.

 

A soft knock at her door draws Linnie out of her thoughts and she turns to see Dean leaning against the doorframe, hands shoved in his pockets, brows knit with concern.

 

“Hey.” Dean says. He stares at this girl, wondering how he missed the moment that she ceased to be the munchkin who dug for night crawlers with him in Olga’s garden and scaled Sam like Mt. Everest, climbing until she could wind her small, popsicle-sticky fingers in the fringe of Sam’s curls and beg for a story before being shuffled off to bed. The hunter within Dean is fully awake now, precise and calm, and Dean begins to categorize and quantify everything, the height of the windows, the protective signs and sigils hidden beneath wood and paint, how the room is arranged, and how to fight in the space, if necessary. And he will fight, because Dean Winchester is his father’s son and you fight to protect the innocent, more than that, he loves this child as if she were his own. It is something Dean never anticipated feeling, a confluence of emotions that has brought him closer to understanding his father and the distant, driven nature of John’s life after it was shattered in Sam’s nursery years ago. Dean will protect Linnie from whatever it is that has wandered into her life, because this child is family and woe be it to the thing that threatens the ones that he loves.

 

“Hey yourself.” Linnie blushes under the intensity of Dean’s gaze. He wanders into the room and sits on the end of the bed, elbows resting on his knees.

 

“So I was thinking of going for a walk down to the point, what do you say?” Dean remembers how he used to hoist her onto his shoulders on Sunday afternoons and wander down to the abandon fish hatchery at the end of the road. They would prowl through the cattails at the edge of a pond behind the hatchery  and search for turtles. Dean offering a penny to Linnie for every curious reptilian head she could spot poking up from the pond water. Dean would tell Linnie stories about Goliath, the thousand year old turtle that lived at the bottom of the pond and nibbled little girl’s toes for fun. It was the closest thing to a ghost or a monster story that he every told the child and she would giggle and screech when he would crouch down, cock his head and ask her if she heard Goliath sloshing through the muddy water towards the shore.

 

“That sounds cool.” She flips the notebook onto her bed and stand.

 

Dean and Linnie crunch across the pea gravel drive way toward the dirt road thick with the unfurling spring green of birch, maple, and pine all wrapped in rambling skeins of ivy. Black Eyed Susans, morning glories, and cornflowers flutter in the breeze around the bases of the trees. The road is pocked and pitted like the surface of the moon and Linnie and Dean walk together, the slap of their feet against the hard pack of dirt and the wind in the branches above their heads the only sounds until Dean clears his throat.

 

“Linnie,” He begins, reaching out and tearing a leaf off the low branch of a birch tree. “What you said last night, about Death, you know that Sam and I won’t let anything hurt you, right?”

 

“Okay.” She whispers, staring at the ground as she moves beneath the green-gold canopy.

 

“I don’t know if we’ve ever talked about this, but before Sam and I came here, before we met you and your family, we used to help people out.”

 

“How?”

 

Dean slings an arm around her shoulders and tugs her against his side as they walk. He feels Linnie’s shoulders tense beneath his hands and his stomach churns with anxiety as he considers the different creatures that could be causing her such profound distress that she shrinks from such a simple act of comfort.

 

“Well, Sam and his big brain would figure out what was bothering them and then he and I would make sure it stopped. My dad started doing it after mo…after Sam’s mom passed away. So, it was kind of a family business.”

 

“Like private detectives?”

 

Dean chuckles. “Yup, like detectives.”

 

Linnie glances up, the ghost of a frown tugging at the corners of her mouth. They walk on in silence, the whip and whir of the forest life around them filling up the quiet until they reach the fish hatchery. The white paint on the building’s cedar planks is chipped and buckled from being battered with ice and snow for 75 winters. Faded shutters that were once painted deep emerald now hang at odd angles off the loft’s windows. Dean can already see the white, fleshy heads of mushrooms pushing up through the soil on the shady side of the building.

 

“Linnie?”

 

Linnie comes to a stop and sits against the remains of a rotting oak, the broad branches of its crown long since hauled off for firewood after an errant lightning strike brought it down while Sam and Dean were still caught in the net between Heaven and Hell. She picks at a papery hollow piece of bark, knowing Dean is waiting for her to begin.

 

“Linnie, whatever it is, you can tell me,” Dean plops himself down on the ground beside her and folds his legs. “even if it seems weird or scary. Even if you think I won’t believe you.”

 

That morning he and Sam had retreated to their room after Linnie had dropped into sleep. They had whispered names of monsters, each man’s tongue recoiling at the words that were once common parlance, a day’s work. Reaper. Shtriga. Demon. It is not like they have not heard these words spoken of since they dropped out of the game. Hunters still came through town searching out Bobby. Bobby had moved East four years ago. The older man had taken one look at their friend Lucy and fallen in love like a school boy. He stated as much when he arrived in a U-haul loaded with his belongings and towing his beloved truck two weeks to the day after the visit in which the he and Lucy had finally admitted their mutual feelings. Bobby stated, in his plain Midwestern drawl, that someone needed to keep an eye on you two idjits and that he couldn’t help himself because Lucy had been fashioned out of granite and weathered by the Northern wind.

 

Sam and Dean had befriended Lucy their first Thanksgiving in Vermont. Her husband had died in an auto accident the year before and Sam had been one of the first people she had climbed out of her sadness to embrace. Lucy and Joseph’s jeep had flipped and Lucy lost her high school sweetheart and most of the fingers on her right hand. She had gained some psychic ability, which was cold comfort, but it had drawn her to Sam and brought measure of peace into her life as a result of their friendship. A few years later, on a bright and fair Saturday in May, she kissed a photograph of Joseph and whispered a thank you and a goodbye and then married Bobby Singer on the Winchester’s front lawn.

 

The only hitch that the couple experienced in their first year of marriage was that Lucy was not too keen on hunting and she put her foot down when Rufus had shown up in the middle of the night needing help on a job. She insisted she had suffered enough loss for one lifetime and if Bobby wanted to run off and chase an ill wind half way across the country then he could get gone and stay that way. Bobby had kicked the side of the house, shouted “Balls!” loud enough to scare a few geese into the air, and then relented because Lucy was that shining city on a hill for Bobby and it was not like she objected to the library of supernatural books or the bank of phones mounted in the guest room. If staying out of harm’s way meant keeping his bride happy, Bobby would do just that, even if he grumbled and pouted like a kid stuck inside with the chicken pox for a day or two after Rufus left.

 

So Sam and Dean still caught bits and pieces of the hunting community’s goings on, but they had made a commitment to each other not to be lured back into that life. Until now.

 

Dean had called Bobby and Lucy after he and Sam had grabbed a few hours of miserable, unsatisfying sleep. Lucy had answered and Dean relayed the night’s events and Sam’s plan to drive back to Burlington to check out Linnie’s house and school. He knew Lucy’s feelings about hunting, they both understood her fear, she had seen inside both their minds, she knew how deep that rabbit hole went. Dean assured her that he only needed Bobby’s brain after Sam gathered some information. Dean had listened to the line crackle for a beat before Lucy had shouted for Bobby to get his ass out of bed and told Dean she would have her husband, a thermos of coffee, and some breakfast sandwiches ready in half an hour.

 

“It’s dad.” Linnie’s whisper drags Dean back and the anxiety he has been battling ratchets up a notch. He schools his face into a mask of calm, not wanting to frighten Linnie back into silence.

 

“Can you tell me what’s going on?”

 

“I don’t know.” She sobs, burying her face in her hands. “He’s…different.”

 

Dean rubs small, comforting circles on her back. “Different how?”

 

“He’s just different. He’s angry all the time, mostly at me, it’s like I can’t do anything right and he does stuff when he’s mad.” Linnie’s breath hitches and breaks around her words.

 

“What kind of stuff?” Dean’s throat is tight as he attempts to put reigns on his anger when Linnie curls into Dean’s side.

 

“I know this is hard, but I have to ask, okay? Has he hit you?” She nods, her tears soaking through the thick cotton of Dean’s shirt. Dean continues to stroke her hair and soothe her with quiet nonsense even as a brush fire of wrath sweeps across his skin. “Has there been anything else?” Linnie's head bobs up and down and it is a testament to his self control that he is not up and pummeling his fist into the cedar boards of the fish hatchery just to release some of fury he is experiencing.

 

“Can you tell me about it?”

 

Linnie is terrified to look in his eyes and see the revulsion and the disappointment. She can feel Dean shaking and she knows he will hate her after she tells him everything. She understands because she sees the same expression of disgust in her own face when she looks in the mirror. It is why, when she is alone, she hits herself in the head until her nose bleeds and her ears ring and the face staring back at her is as bloody and empty as she feels. The only thing propelling her forward is that they were so kind to her last night and despite it all she is more afraid that Sam and Dean will send her home where death lurks in the high corners of her room among the cobwebs and the peeling paint.

 

“About three months ago.” She draws in a lungful of air and then lets the words tumble from her mouth before she can think to stop them. “That boy, Robert, I liked him a lot, and at Cindy’s party he kissed me. A few days later he wrote me a note asking me to be his girlfriend. It said he wanted to kiss me again and do other things too. Daddy found it and he got so mad. His eyes got all scrunched up and funny and he held me down on the couch and asked me if I liked it when boys did stuff to me. He slapped me a few times and then he made me go to my room. He had me take my pants down and lay on my bed while spanked me like I was still a little kid. He said that his daddy did him that way with a belt and that I should be grateful for just his hand. I kept asking mom to make him stop but she just stood there and watched.”

 

Linnie stops for a second, wondering if Dean is going to push her away and tell her how sick she makes him, but he just continues to run his fingers through her hair and whisper You’re okay now over and over again. “I was so scared Dean, and I swear I don’t do dirty things with boys. I mean I kissed Robert but I didn’t let him do anything else. Later after I was supposed to be asleep I heard mom and dad talking and he kept saying he felt like he had something inside him and that night was the first time I saw it in my room.”

 

“Saw what?”

 

“The monster, it was all dark and I couldn’t see its face, but it looks like a person. I think its Death. Now it sits in the corner of my room every night and watches me and I try to stay awake for as long as I can but I get so tired. I waited for it last night and it didn’t come, so I think it can’t find me, but then I had that dream and I know it’s angry.”

 

Dean lets the sun wash across his face and the solid ground beneath his body support them both. He smells old wood and lake water mingling with the candied strawberry scent of Linnie’s shampoo and he knows in the marrow of his bones that he will make this right for this child. He pulls gently at her shoulder until she is sitting up and looking him in the eye.

 

“Linnie, I need you to listen to me…”

 

"Are you mad at me? I'm sorry."

 

"No. No I'm not."

 

"But you're shaking. You're mad at me."

 

Dean curses himself for not having better control over his emotions. "I'm not mad at..."

 

The girl cuts him off, frightened she begs to stay. “Please Dean don’t send me home. Please? I’ll do anything you and Sam want. I can clean and cook and do laundry and i don't think it can get me here. I know you must think I’m a horrible person but maybe I can stay here for the month, at least until Great Gram gets here. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…”

 

Dean’s eyes widen in shock and he tries to console the frightful rambling girl. “Linnie. Linnie.” He gives her a gentle shake and she stops talking. “We’re not going to send you home. You’re going to stay with Sam and I until we can figure out how to make you safe, alright? We love you. You don’t have to do anything but be yourself. Do you understand Linnie? I need to know that you understand.”

 

Linnie nods again and Dean’s heart shatters as relief finally floods Linnie’s eyes.

 

“And you are not a horrible person. If you got hurt falling off your bike, would that make you horrible?”

 

She shakes her head and hiccoughs, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her hoodie.

 

“So if someone or something hurts you, then how is that your fault?”

 

“It's not?" Her voice is weak and questioning but her response gives Dean a little hope.

 

They sit together against the decaying oak, beside the crumbling building for awhile, just listening to the passing day, until Dean hears the girl’s stomach start to growl. The two wander home and Dean fixes her a sandwich and makes the excuse that he needs to go to the shed and grab a jar of pickles that Lucy put up last fall. When he is out of earshot he rips his phone from his pocket and jabs at Sam’s speed dial number.

 

“Hey.” Sam answers after one ring.

 

“You get anything?” Dean asks.

 

“No. We just came from the school. Nothing there. How about you, did she write anything down or say anything more.”

 

“Yeah.” Dean’s gut twists.

 

“Dean?”

 

“When you get to her house, check the corners of her room.”

 

“For what?”

 

“Sulfur, Sammy. I think we got ourselves a demon.”

Chapter Text

“Goddamn it!”Sam flips his phone shut and jams it in a cup holder. He drums his fingers against the wheel.

 

“I’m guessing that wasn’t good.” Bobby asks. Sam shakes his head. Bobby studies his young friend’s profile, the creases of worry at the corners of his eyes and the downward pull at the corners of his mouth. It is a rare expression these days, the deep furrowed worry that marks the cast of his eyes and the tense set of his shoulder. “I know how hard this is, but we’ll figure it out.”

 

Sam’s mind races, he wonders how they are supposed to fight this thing when he can't recall the first words of the Rite of Exorcism. The light switches to green and Sam guns the gas as they drive toward the Stone’s modest duplex in South Burlington, a quiet section of town past the University hospital where the middle and working class rub against each other to the constant roar of jets flying in and out of the city’s only airport. It’s a neighborhood where some streets boast manicured lawns and Volvos and some host row after row of rental duplexes with postage stamp yards that play host to children’s bikes and the occasional deer trussed and hanging from a tree, its belly slit as the lucky owner bleeds it dry.

 

“Son, slow down, getting us killed isn’t going to help anybody and for God’s sake tell me what the hell is going on, you’ve said about five words since we left Swanton.”

 

“Sorry.” Sam scrubs his hand over his face as he slows down for a stop sign. “Linnie had this horrible dream last night, she was screaming like a banshee, said that “death” was coming for her but it couldn’t get in at our place and it was pissed. We figured right off it wasn’t a Reaper, those sons of bitches won’t stop at anything.”

 

Bobby snorts his agreement. “It was her time, there’s nothing we could do, she’d be dead already.”

 

“Exactly. So, then we thought maybe Shrtiga but that doesn’t fit either. Anyway, Dean was talking to her, trying to get some more info, maybe see if there was anything else she may have noticed and she started talking about Roger; how he’s been different lately, how his eyes get funny, and he’s been violent, he’s hit her, more than once, the one time she told Dean about it sounded…”

 

Bobby’s face is tight with anger, the thought of someone hitting that little pea-pod of a girl makes his blood boil. “How’d it sound Sam?” Bobby flexes his fingers trying to release some of the tension and keep himself from putting a fist through Sam’s windshield.

 

“Shit, Bobby. It sounded sexual, he made her take her clothes off, at least her pants, and he hit her while she begged her mom to make him stop. Mary had said that things had been hard the past few months, that’s why Linnie’s staying with us until Olga can make it up from Florida.”

 

The breath in Bobby’s lungs whooshes out like someone has punched him in the gut. “Okay, so his eyes go all funny is that what made you boys jump right to demon?”

 

There is something in Bobby’s tone that makes the hair on the back of Sam’s neck prickle. “Well, that and she said she heard Roger telling Mary that he feels like he has something inside of him. She also said she saw a dark figure in the corner of her room, couldn’t make out a person, but knew something was there.”

 

“Huh.” Bobby grimaces and they ride the rest of the last mile to the Stone’s apartment in silence.

 

Sam parks the truck and then turns to face Bobby, studying the man’s face. “Huh what Bobby? You think it may be something other than a demon. Dean said to check for sulfur but if you think we should be looking at something else, let me know now.”

 

Bobby closes his eyes to gather his thoughts. He wonders if it is wise to start down this path now and feels a little twinge of sadness at the words that are causing the rise and fall of his chest to ache. Sam and Dean Winchester have faced some of the nastiest creatures that walked under God’s vast heaven, and it pains him a little that he has to be the one to point out the most dangerous to this gentle, kind man who he has long considered a son.

 

“Sam, I agree, it sounds, well it sounds damn bad. But there may be another explanation.”

 

“What are you thinking?” Sam feels his skin starting to crawl.

 

“Sam, you can’t rule out that this man is just wrong.”

 

Sam stares at Bobby as if he has sprouted a third eye. “What the fuck, Bobby? We’ve known these folks for seven years. They’re not the Bender’s for Christ sake.”

 

“I know, Sam, but sometimes people go twelve kinds of crazy without any help from the other side.”

 

“Look…” Sam pinches the bridge of his nose in the hopes of staving off the headache beginning to throb behind his eyes. “Bobby, I get that, okay? But that isn’t the case here, Roger may be a total douche, but he’s not like that and for fuck’s sake do not repeat that to Dean, he’s freaked out enough right now.”

 

“I understand, but Sam…”

 

“No Bobby, I don’t think that you do. This girl, she’s the closest thing Dean is…we’re ever going to get to having a child and it scares us shitless that we’ve managed to fuck up her life by leading some evil son-of-a-bitch right to her door.”

 

Thunderheads roll across Bobby’s brow, his face turns crimson. “Sam Winchester, I don’t how you make it out of the house in the morning being as bone stupid as you are. I don’t understand? Son, how do you think it felt all those years worrying about you and brother’s sorry asses, wondering when the call was going to come that you were both dead, no take backs, no do-overs? There were days I would do nothing but pace, shit scared that I would lose the only two people I gave a crap about and second guessing tossing John out when he showed up on my doorstep with you two when you were still crapping in your diapers. You think I don’t wonder if I could have spared you all that misery? Christ almighty boy you are about as dumb as a bag of hammers.”

 

Sam stares at his lap, embarrassed for having been so clueless and so cruel to the man who, for all intents and purposes, has acted as father and guardian to both him and his brother, accepting them even when their relationship transformed into one that most people would decry as abhorrent. “Bobby, I’m sorry, I can be…”

 

Bobby chucks Sam on the shoulder and smiles. “You can be a bitch sometimes, but I’ve seen how you treat Linnie, the way Dean dotes on that child. We’ll make this as right as we can for her, all I’m saying is that this thing may go a different way. Right might not involve an exorcism or a salt and burn and God help us all if it doesn’t because I’ll kill the bastard myself.”

 

Sam huffs out a sigh staring at the sparse patches of grass that dot the front lawn of the Stone’s duplex. The house itself is an older ranch style, well-kept save the picture window in front which is boarded over with shards of glass littering the yard. 

 

“Someone’s been decorating.” Bobby snorts. “Was that like this yesterday when you picked Linnie up?”

 

“I don’t know. We picked her up at Helene’s. I’m guessing this was why.”

 

Bobby shivers and casts a glance in Sam’s direction at the mention of Linnie’s grandmother.

 

“Yeah. That was fun.” Sam groans.

 

“Woman could tame a hellhound with a look.”

 

“No kidding, the first time she turned that glare on Dean I thought he was going faint. That woman is worse than Missouri and her spoon.” Sam says as he approaches the front door, glass cracking under his feet. Just as he raises his fist to knock, the door swings open. Sam’s first thought looking into Mary’s face is that woman has not slept in days. Her eyes are puffy, angry crimson ringing her lids as if she has rubbed them raw in an effort to stay awake. Her cheeks are hollow and the pallid cast to her skin has Sam muttering Christo loud enough for her to hear and for him to note that her eyes had not shifted to the tell-tale onyx in the presence of the name of God.

 

“Roger where the hell have you…? Oh, Sam…Bobby…what’swrong, isLinnieokay? Whatdidshedonow?” The words tumble out of Mary’s mouth, Sam understands about a fifth of what she says, but catches the strong thread of anxiety ratcheting up the volume and pitch of her usually soft, lilting voice.

 

“Linnie’s fine.” Sam soothes. “She just said she left a few books down here and I figured we would swing by and pick them up. I forgot some stuff yesterday while we were in town and Bobby tagged along while Dean’s trying to recoup his losses from Saturday night.” Saturday night Dean and Sam had suggested Linnie have dinner with them to give Roger and Mary some space and Dean had taught the girl poker after the dinner dishes were washed and put away. Linnie was a born natural, much to Dean’s delight and he had crowed to Sam about her card prowess despite the fact he was now into the child for a year’s college tuition. “Sorry about that, by the way.”

 

Mary shrugs and steps away from the door to allow both Sam and Bobby inside. Sam takes a moment to look around noting the dining table tucked in the corner that also serves as Roger’s work bench from the looks of an unpainted wooden duck clasped in a vice. The living area is flanked by a battered couch and love seat, the large ivory hydrangeas on the upholstry grayed with age and use making the pieces look shabby and cheap. Shattered glass blankets a low table along the front wall beneath what was a large picture window. A broken television sits discarded in the far corner surrounded by books that have spilled from a listing bookcase, its shelves tilting at odd angles like the furniture was subjected to a vicious kick.

 

Sam has trouble not staring, open mouthed, at the destruction. The Stone’s have never been rolling in money, they struggle, but Mary tries to maintain a sense of order, tending the small apartment with meticulous care. Sam looks past the obvious chaos and notes that there is a thick layer of dust on the mantle above the decorative fire place.

 

“You folks have a break in?” Bobby asks.

 

“What?” Mary starts.

 

“Mary?” Sam places a hand on her shoulder. “What’s going on here?”

 

“Nothing. It’s…nothing.”

 

Sam does not want to push, but his instincts are hollering at him and he feels a cold shiver run the length of his spine. “Okay.” He runs his hand through his hair and then catches Bobby’s eye.

 

Bobby clears his throat. “Mary, you don’t mind if I use the can, do you?”

 

“No. You know where it is. Sam, what books did Linnie say she wanted?” Mary asks.

 

Bobby walks from the living room and heads down the hall. They have both spent enough time at the Stone’s over the years to know the layout of the small duplex and Sam settles in a chair next to Mary, hoping to keep her talking to give Bobby enough time to sweep the rest of the apartment for signs of a demonic presence.

 

“Mary…” Sam places his hand on her shoulder and is surprised when the woman releases a harsh sob. “Something is going on here, Linnie woke us up last night with a night terror that scared the hell out of us.” Mary’s eyes shoot up and Sam notes the unguarded fear and concern in the woman’s expression, grateful that there seems to be some sense of concern for her daughter.

 

“God help me, I don’t know what to do anymore. It’s Roger, he’s so different. I thought at first it was just frustration. Then…well, you know he got let go about three months ago, yeah?”

 

Roger worked for the Social Security Administration as a claims representative, and as far as Sam knew, short of slaughtering a goat on your desk in full view of your supervisor, there was precious little that a person could do to warrant getting fired. “No. What happened?”

 

“Right after Thanksgiving he started acting strange, you know, moody; he would just sit on the couch and stare at nothing for hours and then Linnie would try to talk to him or I would ask him a question and he would fly into a frenzy about how we just couldn’t understand what was going on and what they were trying to do to him.”

 

“Did he say who they were?” Sam’s stomach twists.

 

“No. Not at first. He just got mad, threw stuff around, a book or a couch cushion and I thought he was just having a rough time at work and needed some space. But it kept getting worse, he started to talk about how they were trying to get into his head, he called them the dark children. The dark children were putting these thoughts in his mind. I asked him to get some help, figured maybe if he talked to someone he would get better. He’s always been kind of high strung. But it got worse and worse, on his days off he wouldn’t get out of bed and when he did he drank because he said it was the only way to make them be quiet.”

 

“Oh God, Mary, why didn’t you call us?”

 

“And say what? Hi Sam, Roger’s a crazy drunk, want to drive down and join us for dinner?

 

“It would have been a start.” Sam hurts for his friend but the rich stench of garbage from the kitchen curls in his nostrils, the rotting sweetness causes his stomach to turn at the thought of Linnie wading through this train wreck each day. He grinds his teeth and pushes his anger away. “What about Helene, have you tried to talk to your mom?”

 

Mary shakes her head, and laughs, a harsh bark that is absent joy. “I tried. But she’s so old school, gave me the you’re an adult you need to figure this out on your own speech. Then in January he got into a fight with a client, started accusing the woman of cursing him, he threw his phone at her started ranting about how they were winning and he was disappearing.”

 

“Jesus.” Sadness rolls through Sam’s chest, lodging a hollow ache behind his sternum. “What about Linnie? Mary, she’s terrified.”

 

“I know my daughter Sam, she’ll be fine.” 

 

“She wasn’t fine last night. I don’t think she’s been fine for a while. She talks about dying. I’ve worked around kids long enough to know that’s not a good sign.” Sam knows he is treading a fine line but he wants to shake her until her teeth rattle.

 

“Roger has moments when he’s okay. Linnie just pushes his buttons.”

 

And Sam's composure snaps. “Did she push his buttons when he made her strip so he could beat her? Mary tell me, what horrible thing did your twelve year old daughter do to deserve being humiliated and hurt?” Sam spits out the words like they are bitter and despite all the years of working with kids, facing situations not so dissimilar, he can't reign in his anger.  All the things Sam knows he should be saying are like a foreign language he cannot seem to grasp at the moment.

 

“She told you about that?”

 

“She told Dean, he called a few minutes before we got here.”

 

Mary clasps her hands in her lap and stares past Sam, her eyes unfocused. “That was bad, Sam, but it only happened that one time and Roger felt sick after.” Mary dips her head trying to hold Sam’s gaze. “I hoped that Linnie staying with you and Dean might help, but last night, he…” She gestures toward the shattered window and buries her head in her hands.

 

Bobby stands in the hallway holding a glass of water and clears his throat. Sam looks up and Bobby shakes his head. Sam mouths Nothing and Bobby confirms with a curt nod. Sam’s mind spins back to his conversation with Bobby on the way over and he wonders if there is a possibility that this brokenness is just the result of a confluence of events and biology. He hopes not and that thought makes bile rise and burn the back of his throat, to hope for a demon after everything they have been through, but it is hope none the less, because a demon can be exorcised, the other alternative? Sam shudders and turns back to Mary.

 

“You’re not alone in this, okay? We’ll figure it out.” Sam says placing a hand on her knee.

 

“Figure what out Sam?” Sam jumps when Roger’s guarded voice cuts through the silence. Sam curses the dullness of his hunting instincts. Seven years ago he would have been aware of the rumble of the engine in the driveway and the creek of the door.

 

Bobby takes a step into the cluttered living area. “Fixing that window. Mary told us about the break in, sounds like they did a number on Linnie’s room too. Not to worry though, I know a guy up in Rutland who can get this work done for you cheap if your insurance doesn’t cover it.”

 

“Break in, yeah. Hell of a thing.” Roger’s eyes spark with an electric energy that makes Sam wince and Sam finds himself trying to discern whether Roger believes there was a break in or if he remembers the damage he wrought in his own home.

 

“Linnie behaving?” Roger asks as he steps up to his wife and runs his hands along her shoulders. Sam notices Mary's wince when Roger touches her.

 

Sam forces a normal tone into his voice. “Absolutely. God, Dean has been on cloud nine since you guys decided to let her stay with us, me too for that matter. We’re just glad to be able to help out. She’s a great kid.”

 

Roger snorts and Sam wants to pummel the man until he begs for mercy.

 

Bobby watches the instinct to lash out pinch the corners of his friends eyes, his full, wide mouth clenches in a straight line of anger. Bobby has seen that look, felt it roiling in his own gut enough times across the years to know that Sam is seconds away from losing his composure. Hell, he wants nothing more than to break Roger in half, but he understands that they are in dangerous territory, he needs to be certain there is nothing supernatural here. One last test Bobby thinks and crosses to Sam, on his way he fakes a trip and splashes the holy water in the glass he is holding onto Roger.

 

It is a clumsy move on Bobby’s part, but both Bobby and Sam are certain before the water even touches Roger’s skin that there will be no tell-tale sizzle, no throw down with the forces of darkness. Roger shrieks and then laughs as he holds the soaked material away from his skin and chastises Bobby for his two left feet.

 

Sam's head is pounding. He knows this situation is as mundane as the dust that clings to the toes of his boots. He excuses them quickly, not wanting to remain in this pitiful charade any longer than necessary. He’s gotten the information he needs, now he just wants to go home. Roger appears thankful to see them go and Mary walks them to Sam’s truck, stopping him with a trembling hand as he opens the door.

 

“The books Linnie wanted?” Mary asks and Sam is five seconds from screaming at her just to siphon off some of the tension that is causing his body to shake.

 

“Don’t worry about it, I'll swing by the school and grab some stuff for her. Are you folks coming up this weekend?”

 

Mary’s lips tug down into a frown and she nods.

 

“Good, Linnie can stay with Lucy Saturday night and the five of us can sit down and talk about how we’re going to fix this.”

 

“Sam. We can handle this on our own.”

 

“Mary, no offense, we love you, you have been family to us since we moved here, no questions asked. But this has gone way beyond anything that you can take care of by yourself. We’ll work this out, I promise, but we can’t stand by and let him continue to hurt you or Linnie anymore. Do you understand?”

 

“Sam, he’s my husband.”

 

“I know, and Linnie is your daughter.” Sam says as he climbs in the truck and shuts the door. The engine rattles to life when he turns the key in the ignition and he and Bobby set off down the street. Sam wonders, as they turn toward the interstate to make their way back to Swanton, how the sun can shine with such affable grace, how the wind can feel so gentle against the rough, unshaven skin of his cheek when his guts are shot through with dread and rage.

 

Thirty miles up the road, Bobby turns in his seat and regards Sam, the set of his jaw and the twitch of muscle that pulses when he clenches his teeth. “Son, you got a plan forming up there in that big brain of yours?”

 

Sam huffs out a sigh and casts a quick glance at Bobby. “Honestly, Bobby, I don’t know what the hell we are going to do. Monsters I can deal with, this mess, I don’t even know where to start. Truth is, if this were a kid at school we'd be calling Children's Services by now. I'd be half-tempted to do it, if I thought they'd actually do something to help. But I've seen how they help. They'd talk to her, recommend family, counseling, and then forget about her. I can't let that happen." 

 

“Well,” Bobby looks out the window of the truck, watching the mountains jut up from the earth like giants setting their shoulders against the roof of the sky to lift the mantel of blue and white closer to heaven. “We better figure something out. We’ll be home in about half an hour and your brother…”

 

Bobby does not need to finish his sentence. “Yeah.” Sam’s thoughts turn toward his ferocious and loyal brother, his lover, his life. The man will be crushed when he hears about the exchange with Mary. “Shit, Bobby, what are we going to do?”

 

Silence returns to the car as the miles rumble beneath the tires of the truck and the rolling hills and cragged, mountain tops stand implacable and still against a backdrop light and shadow, offering Sam and Bobby neither answers nor solace as each man’s thoughts tick off the minutes until they reach home.

Chapter Text

Lucy had been out the door the minute Sam pulled up to drop Bobby off at home. Sam got out of the truck and the three had stood together listening to the gentle breeze shifting the leaves of the large maple tree next to Lucy’s and Bobby’s house. It cast a map of light and shadow across Lucy’s changing expressions as she read each man’s thoughts. Sam was unsure what she had sensed, but her expression shifted from concern to grief. She cupped Sam’s cheek, tears standing in her eyes. “Don’t worry, we’ll make sure your girl is safe, you can make book on that.” She had said. Bobby had slung an arm around his wife’s shoulder and gone inside while Sam tried to gather his thoughts before going home.

Now Sam’s truck is rumbling down his own driveway as dusk starts to creep into the sky. He spots Linnie and Dean on the dock and smiles despite the barbs of anxiety racing up and down his arms. They look peaceful. He thinks, watching Dean perch on the edge of a battered deck chair, an acoustic guitar resting on his knee.  Linnie is lying on the dock at Dean’s feet pointing at the sky. Sam hears the chords mixing with evening bird song, remembering the day they had found the guitar in a second-hand store in Montreal. It’s a battered instrument with more days behind it than it has in front but Dean plays her almost every day and attends to it with the same care that he gives to his baby.  

Sam hears an old Def Leppard ballad drifting up the boat ramp and his chest aches with the fullness that he experiences when he is struck by how close they came to never having this life.

Small good things. Sam muses, remembering a line from a short story he had read to Dean one night last winter when a storm had knocked out their already spotty TV reception.  Dean had laid his head in Sam’s lap and Sam had carded his long, lithe fingers through Dean’s graying hair as the north wind gnawed and howled through the eves like a wild, lost thing.   Dean had turned to him that night after they had retreated to the warmth of their own bed. He had echoed those words, whispering to Sam about all the things he had discovered and loved in the years since they left the hunt behind. He talked of the sugar-warm scent of pie baked in their own oven. The feel of fresh towels pulled straight from a dryer not designed to torture clothes with hell-fire. Finally, the rasp of Sam’s stubble against his shoulder when they lay together after making love on a Sunday morning, watching daylight chase the shadows of clouds across the surface of the bay.

Dean’s shoulders are now riding high and tight, a result of their fear for the girl they’ve taken into their hearts. He can’t help but feel like all those small good things that replaced the wretched days of uncertainty and pain are threatened by this new fear, a monster in-and-of-itself that will not be banished by an incantation or a fistful of salt. 

Sam knows Dean has heard his truck, seven years out of the game does not mean that his lover is any less aware of his surroundings. Dean is stalling, chatting with Linnie, playing rock anthems and hoping like hell that Sam will saunter down the boat ramp with an easy solution to this tangled cluster-fuck. Sam’s stomach churns, try as he might, he can’t untangle these threads on his own and he dreads the conversation he needs to have with Dean. Lucy and Bobby will arrive tomorrow morning early, so that Lucy can read the child before her parents come up for the weekend. It should be a comfort, knowing they will have the truth soon, but it’s not.

Sam reaches into the cab of the truck and pulls out a handful of plastic grocery bags overflowing with food. Grilled chicken and potato salad from the deli in town, a bag of Funyon’s and Mr. Pibb for him, Cool Ranch Doritos and Coke for Dean, and two packages of fluffy coconut Snowballs, sprayed with Barbie-pink coconut for Linnie. Excess and comfort in the face of uncertainty is a tried and true Winchester coping mechanism.

Sam is putting away the treats when he hears the screen door bang open with a screech.

“Dean, will you hit that door with some WD-40?”

“He’s still on the dock.” Linnie answers, walking into the galley kitchen a moment later and leaning her elbows on the counter. “Oh, snowballs!”  She says, reaching for her treat.

Sam swats her hand and chuckles.  “Back off, monkey, these are movie snacks.”

“You’re so mean.”

“Yup. I’m a very bad man who is going to insist that you eat something healthy before you and the Dashing El Deano stuff yourselves with junk food.” Sam grabs three plates from a cabinet over the stove and begins setting out dinner. He sneaks a glance in Linnie’s direction and takes a deep breath.

“I heard you and Dean had a pretty intense talk today.”  

Linnie tugs at the hem of her t-shirt and looks away, her smile going slack.  “He told you?” 

Sam pauses and places both hands on the girl’s shoulders.  “You scared us last night. Yeah, Dean told me what you talked about, because he was worried. He loves you, so do I. We don’t keep secrets from each other, especially when they may be the difference between you being in danger and you being safe. Do you understand?”

Fat tears spill down Linnie’s cheeks and she nods. “Sam?”

“Yeah?” 

“Have you ever done something that you’re ashamed of?” 

Sam thinks back to those days he spent burying his grief in the poor soulless corpse that Ruby was riding and then back farther, to the horrendous fight, the words he let fly toward both his father and his brother the night he left for Stanford. The times he hurt Dean still live in him, an ache that flares when he thinks too much about the past.

“Yes. Yes, I have.”

The girl whimpers and crushes her body against Sam’s, holding on around his waist as if she is afraid of being carried away.  He cards his hand through Linnie’s hair and her crying escalates to full-on, frame-wracking sobs. 

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. It’s my fault, I’m sorry, I know Dean said, but I know, I can’t be better, I try so hard.”

Sam’s eyes sting. Dean’s come inside to investigate, sound travels around water after all. Sam can tell by the furrow in his brow and the tilt of his head that he is prepared to kill to protect his girl. Sam can tell he is angry and scared and wishes he could embrace them both and shelter them from whatever storm has swept into their lives. Dean leans his guitar against the couch and walks toward them, Sam can see the moment Dean chooses to stash his darker emotions for later. He makes comforting noises just loud enough to let Linnie know he’s approaching.

“Hey there, was my singing really that bad?”  He soothes and Linnie releases Sam and turns to Dean, rushing into Dean’s embrace.  He rubs her back as he takes a step and sits on one of the dining room chairs pulling her into his lap, even though she’s complained in the past that she’s too old for cuddles. It doesn’t matter to Dean, to him she’ll always be five.

Dean brushes the tears from her cheeks with his thumb.  Sam abandons his dinner preparation and crouches in front of Linnie and Dean.

“Linnie, do you trust us both when we say we will protect you?”

Linnie’s nods her head and buries her face in the crook of Dean’s neck and Dean looks over her head at Sam, his eyes full of questions.

Sam is cursing the timing. He needed to talk to Dean before this conversation and make sure his over-protective big brother didn’t rush off in a rage and kill Roger Stone.  That option was gone, if this was the chance to get Linnie to open-up, he would have to take it and wrangle Dean out of his murderous rampage later.

 “Linnie, Dean said you told him your dad spanked you, is that true.”

“Uh-huh.” Linnie nodded.

“Linnie, is there anything else that has happened that you want to tell us about?”

The girl’s wailing starts fresh and jumbled words tumble out of her mouth. 

“I didn’t know. He doesn’t say anything about it, and I never asked him to or anything. He came in my room one night, late. I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared I couldn’t move.”  She breaks into a hiccupping cough and Sam looks up to see the horror he’s feeling mirrored in Dean’s face.  “I try to be good, you know?  But he gets so mad and he’s always watching me. He hates me. It's cause of what I let him do and he does all the time now, it’s like I’m supposed to and I don’t want to but I do anyway because then he doesn’t yell so much at me or mom. He doesn’t hit me when I let him. He just comes in my room and sits there for a while talking and I think maybe it won’t happen again but it always does and after kisses me on the cheek and goes away.”

“Son of a bitch.” Dean whispers, his voice hoarse with sadness.

“I’m sorry.” Linnie’s voice escalates to screaming and her hands fly out from around Dean’s neck. Sam watches, time slowing to a crawl as Linnie curls her hands into fists and begins to batter herself in the head, pounding with enough force to cause a hollow knocking sound that Sam knows he will hear in his nightmares for years to come.  Both men emerge from their stupor and Dean wraps his arms around Linnie, pinning her hands. Sam notices that her nose is gushing blood and rushes to the kitchen grabs a wad of paper towels and comes back, cursing as his knee bangs against the table.

The soft patter of Dean’s voice cuts through Sam’s panic as he staunches the flow of blood from Linnie’s nose.  “Linnie, I didn’t mean you, honey. You didn’t do anything wrong. You are my girl, right? You’re always gonna be my girl and I’ll make sure that nothing and no one ever hurts you again.” Sam sees the tears running down Dean’s cheeks and he sucks in a calming breath, noticing the wetness on his own face and neck. 

“No one is going to hurt you anymore, I promise.” Sam says. “But you can’t hurt yourself either, do you understand? Have you ever done that before?” Sam pulls the towel away from Linnie’s nose, relieved to see the blood has stopped. He begins to wipe at her chin and her face, cleaning the remnants of the nose-bleed away. He looks into the girl’s eyes when he doesn’t receive an answer.

“Linnie, this is important, okay?  Have you hurt yourself before?” 

She nods her head and Sam hears Dean’s soft gasp. He knows his brother is reliving those first few months after returning from Hell, when his only comfort was the sting of the razor blade.

“Malinda, look at me.” Dean says. The girl turns to look and he cups her delicate cheeks in the palms of his hands.  “A long time ago, something happened to me, and I was hurt. Hurt so bad that the only thing that I thought made it better was to hurt myself.”

Linnie’s eyes go wide and her bottom lip begins to tremble.

“It didn’t make it any better, sweetheart. In the end, all I was doing was making myself hurt worse. I was so angry, because so many things had happened, things I didn’t understand and couldn’t control.  I wanted to feel something that felt better than the pain in my heart and for some reason, it took my mind off it, but it never went away. Does that make sense to you?”

Linnie nods again.  “How…” Her voice is soft and choked with grief.  “How did you do it?”

“I cut myself. Have you ever done that?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Does it feel sometimes like you can’t help it?”

“Yeah.”

“Can we make a deal?  If it feels like you want to cut or hurt yourself will you tell me?  Doesn’t matter what time of day or night, whether I’m sleeping, or fishing, or singing, or picking on Sasquatch here, you tell me, and we’ll figure it out together. Can you do that?”

“I can try.” Dean has to remind himself that he’s looking at a twelve-year-old girl and not a worn-out on the trail hunter who has seen too much and forgotten too little.  “Was it hard to stop?”

“It was, but you know who was there?  This guy here.” Dean reaches out and clasps Sam’s hand.  “He helped me and now both of us are going to help you.”

Linnie nods again then collapses against Dean’s chest.  They sit, Dean and Linnie together, Dean rocking back and forth and crooning some nonsense until Linnie is worn out from crying and falling sleep. Dean scoops her up and she wakes for a moment, but Dean gentles her back to sleep as he moves to her room and sets her on her bed. Dean brushes away the hair that’s curled around her face, damp with sweat and tears and covers her with a quilt. 

Dean shuts her door and joins Sam in the kitchen. The anger he felt earlier transforms into rage.

“Never again.” He says and Sam shivers at the ice and certainty in his brother’s voice.