Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language
Spoilers: Set in Season 2 dove-tailing the end of Episode 2.12, Nightshifter. If you're just joining the fun, spoilers up to then.
Summary: On the run from the FBI, the brothers are sidelined by a snowstorm and find themselves at the mercy of a sheltered town filled with secrets. Staying alive means staying together as they fight to stay on the surface.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
A/N: These last six years been an eventful, heartbreaking, and often-times hilarious journey with our heroes. I am in for the long haul, but have to say that Season 2 has thus far been my favorite part of their story, back when they were working out how to be brothers and partners after being orphaned by a demon. I wanted to write a story that was just the brothers and a hunt. You'll be the judge if I pulled it off okay.
I heard a voice inside of me; I looked up and saw the sky scream, and there was light everywhere. If life is an ocean, then I must be on the surface.
~On the Surface by Civil Twilight
New Lethe, MN
"It's freezing out here."
"Quitcher bitchin' already."
"Stop shovin' me!"
Four birds, startled by the sudden, sharp voice, took flight from the protection of the boathouse in a hap-hazard flutter of wings and screeches, sending the three teenagers into an instinctive crouch. The dark inside the boathouse pressed around them, suddenly filled with the unknown and the frightening.
Beyond them, the lake's ink-like surface seemed to absorb the starlight rather than reflect it. Wavering light from orange, plastic flashlights swung around to the dark corners of the wooden building as nerves settled. A half a dozen boats, moored by ropes and covered in protective tarps, bumped gently in their respective stalls and the lap of water against the building and shoreline assured the boys that they were still alone.
Blowing his bangs from his eyes in a huff of air, Matthew Mead repeated his reproach.
"Hey." It was softer this time, drawing the eyes of his two friends, their shoulders still curled in as if expecting the birds to return and seek revenge for being startled from their perch. "Shut the hell up, okay? You wanna bring the whole town down here?"
"I still say this is a bad idea," grumbled Nate Fischer, shoving his gloved hands deeper into his down-filled coat. "It's freezing."
"You said that already," pointed out Eric Jones. "About five times now."
"It was true every time." Nate's voice edged on a whine.
"You girls wanna just stay here?" Matt pointed his flashlight first at Nate, then at Eric, making sure to hold the light long enough that they registered his disapproval. "'Cause I can find two other guys to make this dive next week."
"No." Eric's reply was swift. Matt knew Eric wanted this as bad as he did. "No, I'm up for it."
"Fischer?" Matt's flashlight was joined by Eric's as they pointed the beams toward Nate. "You gonna punk out on us?"
Nate pulled his lower lip in, his thick glasses reflecting the light and masking his eyes. Matt tipped the beam down slightly, but Eric kept his steady. Nate was smaller than both of them, and the weakest swimmer. But his dad had the boat and they all knew they weren't going to do this without him.
"Why couldn't we wait until later? Y'know…like, when it's light outside." Nate turned to look out over the dark water; sunrise wasn't for another hour and the combination of trees and the remains of the dam shielded the lake from any reassurance of first light.
Matt sighed and Eric let the beam of his flashlight fall to the creaking, wooden deck along the inside edge of the boathouse.
"Dude, we've been over this, like, a million times," Matt said, trying for patient and landing somewhere near annoyed. "We cannot get caught. You know that part of the lake is off limits now. We gotta get down there, find the lock box, and get our asses back before the patrol comes 'round."
Nate chewed his lip another moment. "We don't even know if the lock box is there."
"Sure it's there," Eric protested, rubbing the back of his neck in a nervous gesture, the close-cropped bristles of his hair flicking against his fingers. "Everyone who's lived here since they made this lake knows it's there."
"No," Nate corrected, shaking his long bangs away from his glasses in a practiced tick of his head. "Everyone who's lived here since they made this lake has heard that story. Don't mean it's there. 'Sides, if it's there, hows come nobody's gone after it before?"
Eric pushed at him with the flashlight. "Because until this past summer the buildings were all covered by water and no one knew where the Judge's house used to be."
"Oh, so it's okay to steal it now since we've had a drought. I get it." Nate rolled his eyes.
"Jesus, Fischer!" Matt exploded, Eric and Nate ducking in anticipation of more birds. "If you were so against this, why'd you even come this far, then, huh?"
Nate was silent, but Eric smirked. "I'll tell you why. Jenna Maloney."
Matt frowned. "Jenna's a senior."
"Exactly," Eric continued, his smirk twisting wider as his flashlight caught Nate's obvious discomfort. "And no way is some hot senior gonna look twice at a punk-ass sophomore like Fischer unless he's part of something like this."
Once more joining his flashlight to Eric's, Matt nodded sagely. "So what about it, Fischer? You ready to risk it?"
Nate shook his head, swearing softly under his breath. "Fine. But I stay on the boat," he finally relented, reaching for the knot to loosen the tarp that covered the boat. "You two jerk-offs freeze to death down there, don't come crying to me."
"We have wet suits, dumb ass," Eric pointed out, helping Nate roll the tarp back.
Nate's glasses caught the beam from Matt's flashlight has he looked over his shoulder. "How'd you get those?"
Matt shrugged. "Borrowed 'em. From my dad."
"You stole them from the sheriff?" Nate squeaked.
"No." Matt's voice was firm as he dropped the two duffel bags full of equipment into the back of the boat. "I borrowed them from my dad. Kinda like you and this here boat, pal."
Eric climbed in and caught the flashlight Matt tossed his way. He reached for the rope anchoring the stern to the deck, then made his way to the bow to help Nate step into the boat.
"I'm just going on record as saying this is a bad idea," Nate huffed.
"But you're in, right?" Eric asked sliding out of the way to allow Nate access to the steering wheel.
"I'm here, ain't I?"
Working as a unit, the three boys pushed the boat from its stall, using oars to shove it out from the boathouse and into the yawning opening of the lake. Once they'd paddled a fair distance from the building, Nate pressed the starter button as he turned the key and the Evinrude motor came to life like a million angry dragonflies.
Nate turned toward the west end of Lethe Lake as the other two took seats on either side of the twenty-foot boat. The sound of the motor seemed to echo off the shoreline, but all three knew they were safe from detection until the Lethe sheriff's office sent out the first morning patrol to keep boaters from venturing into what was now an unsafe section of Lethe Lake.
Lethe had become a haven for those who enjoyed a life of semi-luxury and preferred to stay off the grid as much as possible. Residents proudly dubbed Lethe the Hamptons of the North; it was exclusive to those who could afford the real estate prices, it was geographically private, and the almost familial connections of those who lived year-round and those who summered on the lake created a virtually impenetrable neighborhood watch.
Eric Jones' father was one of the two developers responsible for creating this sanctuary. After systematically buying up the properties of Old Lethe, MN, population 324, they destroyed the dam and created Lethe Lake and the town of New Lethe, playground to the could-have-been-wealthy and the wish-they-were-famous.
Matt Mead, Nate Fischer, and Eric Jones had never lived in Old Lethe, moving to the revitalized town four years ago with their families. The town had enjoyed nearly three years of prosperity before a year-long drought lowered the water level of Lethe Lake, exposing the rooftops of Old Lethe in several places and creating water hazards in over half the lake. Word in the small community was if they couldn't restore the lake, summer residency would drop and the town could be in financial ruin.
It was Matt's idea to search for the lock box.
Judge McAvoy had passed away the year after the town had been flooded; it was common knowledge among Lethe residents, old and new, that the good Judge had not trusted the small bank and had kept his riches in a lock box in the study of his home. After his death, no one had been able to find his box, sparking the rumor that he'd left it behind.
Matt was convinced that he could find that box; he'd found a street map of Old Lethe, located the Judge's residence, and with the confidence of youth fanning the flame of his conviction, talked his two friends into joining him on his quest to save the town—and become heroes in the meantime.
"Spooky out here," Eric said softly as Nate slowed the boat.
The moonless sky gave way to stars too numerous to count, but the dead light was barely enough to illuminate the dark surface of the lake. As they drew closer to the barrier that police now patrolled, Nate's hands shook slightly and he switched on the search light his father had mounted on the bow of the boat.
All three boys drew back involuntarily as the light immediately hit the cross and bell tower of the First Baptist Church, the tallest building in Old Lethe built atop a hill that crested at the edge of the sunken town.
"This is a bad idea," Nate whispered, the words almost becoming a chant as he muttered them again under his breath.
"Oh, Jesus, don't be a pussy," Matt growled, unzipping one of the duffel bags and pulling out an oxygen tank. "It's just some old buildings. Grow the fuck up already."
Eric and Nate exchanged a nervous glance, neither certain what scared them more: the empty, water-covered town, or looking like a pussy in front of Matt.
"Lookit that," Eric whispered, his hushed voice conveying deference to the eerie sight before them.
All three boys stilled, eyes front as Nate maneuvered the boat past the old church and further into the restricted area. They could see the very top crest of a rooftop near the shoreline, a rusted, bent weather vane breeching the surface of the dark water. Eric took hold of the search light, bending the beam until it no longer reached outward, but downward, through the first few clear inches of lake water, to the submerged buildings below.
"This. Is. So. Cool." Matt's voice trembled slightly. He wasn't sure if it was nerves or cold, but at this point he didn't care. "It's like we're discovering the Titanic or something."
"I think it's creepy," Nate muttered, turning the boat slightly to avoid catching the engine propellers on a barely submerged roof.
"You would," Matt and Eric replied in unison.
Nate shot them a dirty look, the gray light of dawn that had begun to penetrate the protection of trees turning his face a cold blue.
"Okay, we need to find Hanover Street," Matt said, shining his flashlight on the map he'd found of Old Lethe.
"Yeah? And how the hell are we supposed to do that? Not like we can ask for directions." Nate's sarcasm was cut by his chattering teeth.
Matt ignored him. "It's three streets down from the old church," he said, shining the flash light over his shoulder. "So, if that's the church, then I'd say…." He grabbed the search light from Eric and pointed it forward. "Hanover is probably right up there near that piece of land that juts out. See it?"
"There aren't any roofs above water over there," Eric pointed out, frowning. "What if the house is on the other side of the lake?"
"Nah, it's here." Matt shook his head once. "My dad said that the Judge had the biggest house in town. We can't miss it once we're down there."
Nate continued forward for a few more minutes, throttling back when Matt put a hand on his shoulder. He cut the engine and watched as Matt nodded with satisfaction. Breath collecting in small clouds before their shivering lips, Eric and Matt began to pull on the wet suits, their pale skin puckering with goose flesh in the cold morning air. All three had spent the last few summers shagging golf balls from the East end of the lake for minimum wage. They were accustomed to the suits and heavy tanks.
As the sun drew thin slivers of light on the eastern horizon, the pale gray of the morning shifted, exposing the shadow of the shoreline. Nate pressed the button on the dash, dropping the anchor to keep the boat stationary as his friends searched for the lock box. The quiet was broken only by the soft grunts of effort as the boys pulled the malleable rubber up over their slim bodies and the quiet lapping of the lake against the fiberglass hull of the boat.
The boys toppled slightly to the side when the boat bumped against something solid as it floated.
"I think we might be scraping against a roof," Eric said, tugging the zipper of the wetsuit up.
"I'll reset the anchor," Nate offered, pressing the button to pull up the anchor.
The grind of gears brought their heads up, three frowns identical.
"What's that?" Matt asked, shining the flashlight on the dash.
"It's stuck on something," Nate said. "I can't pull it up."
"Probably snagged one of the buildings," Matt said, shrugging into the shoulder straps of the oxygen tank. Eric helpfully shone the flashlight on the gauges as Matt checked the levels, testing the breather. "You two stay here; I'll get it loose and then Fischer can move the boat."
The other two boys nodded, watching as Matt pulled the face mask on and swung his legs over the edge of the boat. Instead of flippers, both he and Eric wore rubber shoes so as to move more easily inside the buildings and avoid getting snagged on any structural damage caused by the destructive water. Matt turned on the powerful underwater flashlight and grabbed Eric's arm, allowing his friend to lower him down.
Eric pulled his arm up quickly once Matt was in the water, shaking his fingers dry.
"Dude, that water's wicked cold," he complained. "This is crazy."
"Oh, so now it's crazy," Nate muttered, pounding on the anchor button sullenly. "When Mead's up here you're all, oh, Matty, I'm up for anything…I'll go with you, Matty…I'll wipe your ass for you, Matty…."
Eric threw a shoe at Nate, bouncing it off of his shoulder. "Shut up, Fischer."
"You just watch," Nate said, leaning over the edge of the boat and shining his flash light down onto the surface. "This whole stupid idea is going to totally blow up in our—"
Nate and Eric fell back yelling as Matt suddenly exploded from the water like a geyser, screeching around his breather. He scrabbled madly at the side of the boat, spitting his mouth piece out.
"Pull me up! Pull me up!" he shrieked.
Completely freaked out, Nate and Eric scrambled back to the side of the boat. Moving as one, they reached over the edge of the boat and grabbed onto their water-logged friend as Matt's voice became young and high-pitched with fear. Matt was heavy: the rubber wet suit was hard to grip and the oxygen tank pulled him backwards toward the water and out of their hands.
"What! What is it? What is it?" Eric screamed back at his friend, grabbing anything his cold hands could reach.
Before Matt could reply, a tangled mass of rotted cloth, weeds, and protruding bones surfaced next to him. Any doubt as to what it could be was removed when the yawning grin and empty eye sockets of a skull rolled upwards, bits of skin and hair still clinging to the bone.
Eric and Nate screamed, dropping their friend back into the water and backing away from the edge of the boat. As the corpse bobbed next to him, Matt's screams rivaled his friend's as he shucked the oxygen tank in record time, allowing it to fall to the bottom of the lake.
He kicked frantically, using his panicked momentum to reach the top edge of the boat. Nate continued to back up as Eric stared, horrified, at the body.
One arm floated toward Matt, the motion of the water turning the boney fingers into a summons.
"Get outta here, man! Go!" Matt screamed.
Nate crashed into Eric as he headed for the wheel. He slapped the flat of his hand on the anchor button, the satisfying sound of the cable retracting settling his nerves slightly.
"Jones! Jones! ERIC!" Nate yelled, finally having to reach out and shove his friend's shoulder to get his attention. Eric turned wide eyes toward him, his face sickeningly pale. "Get Matt! Help him!"
Eric didn't move. His feet seemed to have grown roots, cementing him upright at the edge of the boat. Nate could hear Matt's gasps of effort as he tried to climb aboard the boat.
"Matt!" He yelled. "Go around to the stern! Use the motor like a ladder, man!"
Matt clung to the side of the boat, his body shivering from cold and shock, his hands uncooperative. He followed Nate's instructions and flopped aboard the boat, rolling from the rear seat to the floor. The moment he was aboard, Nate started the motor, turning the wheel a sharp right and sending Eric to the ground on top of his friend.
"Just wanted to find the box—" Matt's voice trembled in time with his chattering teeth, covering his friends in a litany of horror and regret without pause for reason, "—that's all…wanted to save the town show my dad I could do something that mattered, you know…just do something right for once…something he'd be proud of…just one thing…find the box…and it's down there holding the fucking anchor like it's gonna ride out of the lake…oh my God it was just there just fucking there—"
"Shut up!" Eric finally yelled, shoving Matt away from him. "Shut the hell up!"
"Told you this was a bad idea," Nate proclaimed.
As he steered them toward the lakeside police station, the sunlight finally hit the water, turning their wake a frothy gold and glinting off of the cross that crested the surface, shining like a beacon toward what had been a watery grave.
It was like being hit with a sledgehammer.
Dean dimly recalled reading about shapeshifter's superior strength; Sam had recounted the struggle to simply survive the fight with the shifter who had taken on Dean's form. And there was no question this chick had eaten her Wheaties this morning. He was getting his ass kicked and hard.
His natural inclination to not hit a woman evaporated when he felt his shoulder pop as she twisted in his grip. Heat blew through his upper chest like a wildfire; he tried to stifle his cry, unwilling to draw the S.W.A.T. team's attention to the boiler room until he'd neutralized this threat.
Channeling the pain from his wrenched shoulder into a series of reactive blows, he managed to get her against the wall, barely controlling his hammering breath, his pulse pressing against the thin skin of his neck. Working to ignore the human look of desperation caught in her eyes, Dean grappled with the shifter for dominance.
And then her skin peeled away.
Horrified, Dean looked at the angry red of the exposed muscles in her arm, the skin gooey in his grip.
"Gross!" He gagged, reacting instinctively to the mess in his hand.
He dropped it to the floor, returning his attention to the creature caught between him and the wall, but he was two beats too late. The shifter used his distraction to her advantage and delivered an incapacitating blow to his groin. Dean instantly went to his knees, gasping for air. The white-hot pain shot like a lit rocket through his system, exploding in his gut like a bomb. His eyes watered as he sucked the involuntary yelp back behind his teeth.
Before he had a chance to recover, his head snapped harshly to the side as her closed fist slammed against his cheek once, twice. On the third hit his ears began to ring and the breath he desperately sought retreated further, his vision wavering, the shifter swimming before his eyes.
I know about your dad...I just can't get a handle on what type of whacko he was….
Hendrickson's words echoed in his ears, the implications spinning him, sending his vision gray. He once more felt the acid in his chest as the agent's bitter words draw black marks across John's memory, adding to the marks Dean had created with his own anger, resentment, and regret.
His failure to locate and eliminate this monster before Ron had been killed, before he and Sam had been cornered by Federal Agents twisted inside of him, turning his blood to ice. But as she pulled back her fist for another blow, Dean's mind suddenly quieted.
He barely felt the crack of bone on bone as the shifter endeavored to knock him cold. He ignored the lingering memory of Ron falling to his knees, his trusting eyes going dim and empty. He closed off the bright ache of anger Hendrickson's words about John had triggered in his heart.
He simply moved, years of hunter instinct overcoming pain.
Thrusting upward from his crouched position, Dean grabbed the shifter's leg, shoving her hard and fast against the wall and rising to his feet in one smooth motion. Muscles throbbing, Dean used his body to keep her pinned, grappling to keep her hands away from his aching head. He could feel the silver letter opener pressing against his lower back.
Moving quickly, he grabbed the weapon. With his face so close to the shifter's he could feel her breath on his bruised skin, he captured her desperate eyes with his and plunged the blade into her chest.
He felt her gasp, felt her shake with the shock of silver to her system, watched her eyes—inches from his own—flash in denial before awareness evaporated and the shifter's body went limp. Dean slid with her to the ground, unable for a moment to pull his eyes away from her face.
It was a monster. It was evil. It didn't matter how human it looked. It didn't matter that the sweat from their struggle still beaded on the smooth lines of its face or that the eyes still stared back at him or that the lips were parted with a last gasp of denial.
Evil was evil and this wasn't a she, this was an it. A thing. And he'd done his job.
He'd just done it too late to save the one innocent he'd wanted to protect.
A footfall behind him broke his revere. It was only a matter of time, he knew, before Hendrickson's team found him. With an odd sense of relief curling around the knot of dread in his gut, Dean sank to his knees in front of the body of the shifter, slowly raising his arms in surrender. He turned to face whoever had come to take him away.
The flashlight blinded him for a moment, but then he recognized the silhouette behind it.
"Sam?" he whispered, surprise sandwiched between the questions in his tone.
"You okay?" Sam's voice was breathy from exertion, the beam of light dropping from Dean's eyes.
Dean nodded and began to push to his feet. The pain in his groin had faded to a dull ache but his movement lit it up again. He gasped, swaying. Sam's fingers wrapped around his bicep, tightening and pulling at him.
"C'mon," Sam hissed through clenched teeth. "Don't have much time."
Dean allowed his brother to tug him upright; he stumbled away from the dead shifter and out of the boiler room. Leaning against the wall of the hallway, directly behind Sam, he paused to make sure no one was approaching from the other direction. Silently, Sam beckoned him forward with a nod of his head and Dean followed, biting hard on the inside of his cheek to keep from swearing out loud. His body thrummed with the rhythm of bruises, strained muscles, and regret.
They turned the corner and the sight that met Dean's eyes took him a moment to compute. Two men in full S.W.A.T. gear lay unconscious, their hands cuffed behind their backs. Dean shot a glance at Sam, unsure what his eyes were telling him.
Sam crouched next to the head of one man, looking up at Dean, anxiety clear in his expression. Dean knew what his brother was asking, knew what they needed to do, but he was having a hard time registering the fact that while he'd been fighting a woman—a woman with super-strength, yes, but still—his little brother had taken out two armed S.W.A.T. team members.
Jerking his head to the side in an impatient order to follow, Sam lifted the shoulders of one unconscious man and began to drag him to a small broom closet just beyond where they'd fallen. Taking a steadying breath, Dean grabbed the other man by the ankles and followed his brother through the doorway. His hands moving with quick precision, Sam began to strip his captive's clothes and gear.
Nodding, agreeing with his brother's logic, and more than a little pissed at himself for not thinking the same thing, Dean crouched, wincing at the tug of sore muscles along his belly and thighs, and began to pull the gear from his S.W.A.T. guy. In moments, they'd reduced the two unconscious cops to their skivvies and had donned their uniforms—pulling the gear over their own clothes with the exception of their long-sleeved shirts. Dean tossed his into the corner and watched as Sam shrugged and did the same.
It wasn't as if the Feds didn't know who they were. Leaving behind a small bit of DNA wasn't going to make much of a difference.
Habit had Dean checking the clip of his weapon and automatically flicking the safety on before pulling the ski mask down over his face. Voices were approaching from the south end of the building. Meeting his brother's eyes through the mask, Dean nodded once, then turned, heading back the way they'd come—toward the boiler room. More men were collecting in the hall both behind and in front of them.
Shoulders set, breathing even, Dean flicked his fingers once at his side, indicating Sam should follow him. He headed directly to the boiler room, his weapon pressed into his shoulder, barrel lowered. An African American man dressed in a dark suit with posture so tight it screamed Government Agent was standing in the center of the room glowering at the body of the shifter and the two cops that flanked her. Sam rotated, his back to Dean's, his weapon covering the other end of the hall.
As another man approached the room, Dean took a step back, signaling to Sam with a lift his chin that the room was clear—in case anyone was watching. Sam nodded and began to move away from the wall, his role played well.
"Sir?" The man who entered the room addressed the angry face of the Agent. "My team said it's secure. They're gone."
"You tell your team to tear it apart."
Dean froze mid-step. He knew that voice.
"The ducts, the ceilings, the furnace, everything."
Glancing back over his shoulder, Dean took another look at the agent who'd made it his mission to know all about Dean's life and had still managed to get it all wrong.
"I don't think that's necessary." The other cop shook his head.
Hendrickson frowned. "Why not?"
As the cop led Hendrickson from the boiler room, Dean and Sam folded themselves into the crowd of S.W.A.T. members, slipping through the halls to an unprotected exit. Silently, taking the steps two at a time, they hustled in unison from the rear of the bank into the cold of the winter morning, the steel-plated sky glaring down on them with silent accusation. They hustled to the parking garage where they'd left the Impala parked a lifetime ago.
Dropping behind the wheel, Dean waited until Sam slammed the passenger door shut then pushed the suffocating mask to the crest of his forehead, pulling in the cold, still air from the interior of the Impala into his quaking lungs.
He didn't look at his brother. He didn't need to.
"We are so screwed," he verified softly.
The morning light was tight around them, drawing every passing car, every building, every heavily-bundled pedestrian into sharp focus. Sam felt himself breathing shallowly, as if the sound of his lungs expanding might draw attention to them. They'd been forced to fly under the radar before when they were young, but John had always been with them. Sam had always been relatively shielded from the fear that they were two beats from being separated forever.
Dean shifted stiffly in the seat next to him; a small grunt of pain that Sam was positive his brother hadn't realized was audible leaked out between clenched teeth. Sam glanced over, tearing his eyes from his surveillance of the passing geography. Dean gripped the steering wheel as if it were a lifeline—the one thing keeping him grounded in the safety of now.
"You okay?" Sam asked, the sound of his own voice in the quiet confines of the Impala making his skin jump.
Dean lifted his chin slightly by way of an answer.
Sam looked closer; he could see a red mark on his brother's cheekbone, framing his eye—marks of knuckles that would inevitably fade to purple and yellow bruises. He'd not taken time to absorb much beyond shifter dead when he'd hurried back to retrieve his brother and get the hell out of there.
Flexing his right hand, Sam looked down at the black-clad appendage. Dean had cut the cast free not more than a week ago. The skin that had been covered by the plaster had been pale, flakey, and he'd scratched it for almost a full day. But it felt strong.
Strong enough to take out two S.W.A.T. guys. On his own.
Dean turned a sharp right, sending Sam against the passenger door.
He wasn't, Sam knew. It was just lip-service to cover I can't think of what to do next. Sam didn't have any answers at the moment, either, but Dean not knowing what to do torqued up Sam's anxiety to an almost visible level. Things had been bad before. St. Louis had rattled them. Baltimore had been rough. But it had never been this bad. It had never been this close.
"That guy…the suit in the boiler room," Sam started.
"Hendrickson," Dean provided, his voice like ground gravel.
"He was the agent you talked to?"
"And he," Sam swallowed, "he knew about us?"
Dean took a left. Sam was completely lost; the only thing he was sure of was that they were still, unfortunately, in Milwaukee. Dean was doing his level-best to get out of the city without using any main roads.
"He knew about Dad?"
"He didn't know shit about Dad."
The anger riding the surface of Dean's words brought Sam's head up. He turned, focusing his full attention on Dean.
"What did he say to you, man?"
Dean shook his head once and Sam saw his eyes slide to the side-view mirror. Instead of answering, Dean pulled the ski mask completely off his head and tossed it in the back seat. Tucking one hand under his arm, he pulled a glove free using his bicep as a grip, then alternated with the other hand.
"We gotta ditch this gear."
Sam looked down at the vest, large, white letters across the front proclaiming what they weren't.
"Some of it might come in handy," he offered.
"No," Dean shook his head. "We ditch it."
"Fine," Sam relented, sagging back against the seat and bracing his legs on the floorboards as Dean managed to fit the wide Chevy down an impossibly narrow alley.
Silence sat like a judge between them for another moment until Dean said, "You just get the drop on them, or what?"
Sam looked over, confused. "Huh?"
"Two cops, dude. Down and cuffed. How the hell?"
Sam arched an eyebrow, masking the flutter of worried panic that woke once more at Dean's words. "Jealous?"
Dean's lips twitched and Sam felt the bands encircling his chest ease slightly at that small indication of normalcy.
"Next time," his brother drawled, "you fight the monster; I'll take the cops."
"No thanks," Sam shook his head. "Already had to fight one of those bastards."
"Your hand okay?"
Now at the edge of the city, they approached an empty railroad crossing, the cross bars lowered. Sam felt rather than saw Dean tense up; he echoed the feeling. A frightening scenario immediately shot through Sam's mind: sitting at the crossing, cops pulling up behind them, train in front of them. Trapped and out of options. His gut told him the agent that had found them in the bank wouldn't be stonewalled as easily as the Baltimore police department.
Dean leaned forward. "See a train?"
Sam shook his head, palms sweating as another scenario—this one ending with them as so much scrap metal smeared on the front of a freight engine—filled his head. The tracks were empty, though, as was the road behind and ahead of them.
"I'm going," Dean informed him.
Sam spread his hands flat on his knees, holding very still as Dean threaded the crossbeams, the Impala jostling and bumping across the tracks. Once clear, he felt sweat tickle the back of his neck and shed the ski mask and gloves, tossing his into the back seat with Dean's.
"Hand's fine," he answered Dean's question. "Didn't even really punch them."
"How the hell are they training those guys?" Dean remarked, visibly relaxing as they left Milwaukee in their rear-view mirror and wound their way through the suburbs toward Highway 18. Madison was roughly an hour away, according to the road sign.
Sam shrugged, looking back down at his hand, thinking about how easy it had been to disarm and overpower two presumably highly-trained cops. He swallowed. Dean's quiet confession—he said I had to save you…and if I couldn't…he said I might have to kill you, Sammy—never really left Sam's mind. His brother's subsequent promise—to follow through—both chilled and reassured Sam.
Sighing, Sam rubbed his head, stress pushing the edges of his skull against the taut skin. A low thrum was starting up behind his eyes. He hadn't had a vision in months. Not since the Croatoan massacre—as he'd come to think of it.
What if I'm…changing? Is…strength just part of it all?
"Don't do that, Sammy."
Sam brought his head up, blinking at his brother in confusion. "Do what?"
"I know what that big brain of yours is thinking." Dean glanced askance at him. "You were trained by a soldier and a hunter. You have instincts. End of story."
Sam didn't know why he was so surprised. When he wasn't tail spinning from grief and pain, Dean had always been able to see right through him.
"But…I mean…," Sam tilted his head, popping his tense neck. "Even you have to admit…that's not really like me."
Dean lifted a shoulder, tilting his head slightly in concession. "True. You totally suck at hand-to-hand."
"But," Dean continued, "you have never let me down. Not once, man."
"How did I—"
"And if you hadn't done what you did? I'd be in some Federal lock-up right now."
Sam frowned. "You'd have gotten away."
"Nah, man." Dean rolled his right arm, wincing at the motion of his shoulder. "That chick kicked my ass. I was done."
Sam took a breath. "Guess you never know what you'll do until you're tested, huh?"
"Exactly," Dean nodded. "So none of this what am I turning into crap, get me?"
Sam couldn't stop the half-grin that ticked up the corner of his mouth. He dropped his eyes to his lap in an effort to disguise the relief of having his brother understand.
The first few months after John's death had been hard on Sam, but it had nearly erased Dean. His brother had been flailing, fighting shadows, not sleeping, wired so tight a deep breath practically shattered him. Part of that, Sam knew now, was the secret John had pressed upon him; a weight so great that even now it bowed Dean's shoulders and dogged Sam's every thought.
But most of it stemmed from a truth so thin and fragile Sam could only really see it from the side. It was a hologram of fact that sprang forward in vivid color if Sam stared hard enough. He knew Dean couldn't bring himself to see it, not yet anyway.
It was the truth that screamed that they were alone.
There was no longer a leader, no one to tell them what to do. No coordinates to follow, no approval to seek. The only thing keeping them together now was history and an unspoken agreement to find and kill the demon that had taken their family from them. It was a freedom Sam had craved—not at the cost of his father's life—to simply to be left to his own discretion.
But that freedom was suffocating to Dean.
His brother had been a soldier in someone else's war his entire life and the one battle he'd never won—as far as Sam knew—was the fight to gain his own father's approval. They were in a new world now, on their own with only a scant few friends willing and able to cover their backs. Sam knew Dean walked around the jagged truth that Sam could leave anytime.
He didn't want to, not now. But sometimes Sam had to wonder if being with his brother was just another harsh reminder to Dean of the father he'd lost and the reward he'd never get.
"Where are you going?" Sam asked, pulling out of his head and taking a renewed interest in their surroundings.
"It's Friday, right?"
Sam frowned. "Yeah, I think so."
"Middle of the morning—everyone's at school or work."
Sam looked at his brother. "Yeah…so?"
"Hang on," Dean ordered, turning down a residential street to an apartment complex and a gravel alley.
At the end of the alley was a collection of dumpsters. Sam nodded slowly.
"Use the shop towel," Dean instructed, shoving the gear into Park. "Wipe down all prints. Get rid of everything—vest, clothes, belt, the whole nine. Take the weapon apart—completely, every piece—and put them in the dumpsters."
The winter air was frigid; Sam felt the moisture sucked from his skin and mouth, reminding him immediately that it had been over twenty-four hours since they'd eaten or slept. He grabbed long-sleeve shirts from the duffels in the trunk; he heard the pieces of Dean's weapon clank against the inside of the dumpsters. He followed suit, tossing a shirt and jacket to his brother, watching as Dean moved stiffly back toward the Impala, his normally rolling gait lurching unevenly with his limp.
"You mess your knee up or something?" Sam asked.
"Not…exactly," Dean groaned, twisting at the waist to work out the soreness gathering in his muscles.
"Let's just say…that shifter never heard of the Marquess of Queensberry Rules."
Sam's eyes instinctively bounced down to Dean's groin, then back up. He winced. "Ouch."
"That's putting it mildly."
They climbed back into the car and Sam immediately cranked the heat, rubbing his hands together in front of the vent.
Dean sighed, pulling away from the apartment buildings. "I don't know, man."
"Want to get some food?"
Dean's stomach growled loudly in response.
"I'll take that as a yes," Sam chuckled.
"Let's get to Madison," Dean suggested. "Farther we are from that guy, the better."
"Maybe we should…I don't know…change our appearance or something," Sam suggested, once more scouring the streets, checking the mirrors, watching for signs of a tail or suspicious activity.
"What, like disguises?"
Sam shrugged, his face heating up. "Maybe."
The grin was evident in Dean's voice, though Sam refused to look at him. "Sure, Sammy. I could die my hair blond with peroxide and you could cut yours short…use a pocket knife, though. Make it authentic."
"Shut up." Sam shook his head and looked out the window. "It was just an idea."
"No, no, I'm with you," Dean said, warming to his theme. "We could go hide out in an abandoned church and read Gone With the Wind until the church burns down 'cause of our cancer sticks."
"We don't smoke."
"Like I said," Sam pouted, his pride marked up a bit by his brother's teasing, "just an idea."
Dean pushed at his shoulder good naturedly. "Relax, man. We didn't have to do that after Baltimore. We're gonna be fine."
Disgruntled, Sam snapped at him. "This is on an entirely different level from Baltimore, Dean. We have no idea if we're gonna be fine!"
He heard Dean's jaw pop as his brother clenched his teeth. "What do you want me to say, Sammy?"
"I don't know!" Sam shouted. "But saying it's gonna be fine doesn't make it true. It was bad enough that you were wanted for murder in St. Louis—"
"I beat that; I died, remember?"
"—and then we had to get mug shots taken in Baltimore," Sam reminded him. "You know we only got out of that by luck."
"I'd like to think it had something to do with our wit and charm," Dean glanced at him.
Sam glared at him.
"Dude, look." Dean tilted his chin down, eyes darting between Sam and the road. "I know we're screwed. You know we're screwed. Since when has talking about being screwed made it any better?"
Sam blinked, seeing the twitch of Dean's mouth as his brother returned his attention to the road. He quieted, accepting Dean's point—however skewed with subversion it might've been—that they weren't going to improve their situation just by beating the facts into the ground.
"Least we don't have to ditch the car," Sam muttered, absentmindedly.
The air around Dean seemed to disappear for a moment. Sam looked over, surprised to see his brother so pale.
"Don't even joke about that."
Sam held up a hand. "Sorry, I just—"
"We are never ditching her, you understand?" Dean looked quickly at him, then returned his eyes to the road.
"Of course not, Dean," Sam placated. "I only meant…I'm glad this Hendrickson guy never saw her. We wouldn't ditch her."
Dean shook his head. "Damn straight."
Sam swallowed. It was good to have Dean back in the game, doing the job without that bloodlust that had frightened Sam and with a little less of the bone-deep weariness he'd witnessed on more than one occasion. But it didn't take much to remind Sam that his brother was gripping this persona by the fingertips. There was a thin line between Dean and devastation.
And it made Sam wonder why he was different. His desperation was there, was palpable and real, but he never felt as if he was one step away from crashing.
"Might have to change her plates one of these days, though."
Sam nodded carefully, unwilling to agree too quickly.
"Dad had to do that a few times when you were little," Dean informed him.
"We've had this one a long time, though," Dean sighed. "Kinda…I don't know…makes me feel like we have somewhere left to go."
"You mean Lawrence?" Sam asked, unable to keep the snarl from his voice. He never wanted to go back there. That place meant nothing but pain to him.
Dean lifted a shoulder. "Yeah, I guess. I mean, everyone has to be from somewhere."
Sam didn't reply. They rode in uncertain silence until they reached the exit for Madison. Dean pulled into a gas station, leaning over to the glove box to pull out a collection of credit cards.
"You remember which one we used in Milwaukee?"
"Ezra Gamble," Sam replied.
"Right," Dean nodded, flipping that card back into the stack. "How about Jerry Kaplan? Haven't seen him in awhile."
He grinned disarmingly at Sam who rolled his eyes in return.
"Whatever, dude, just hurry up. I'm starving."
The door of the Impala opened with a creak and Dean flipped him a smart-assed salute before circling around to the back of the car and to fill it up with gas. He left the door open allowing the bite of air to crystallize the interior of the car.
"Jerk," Sam muttered, sliding across the car and pulling the door shut.
As he did, he caught the image of a police car rolling up to a pump across the way. He shot a look at Dean over his shoulder and saw that his brother had turned his back to the cruiser, the collar of his jacket popped to both protect him from the wind and shield his face from a clear view.
Using Jerry Kaplan's credit card to pay at the gas pump, Dean returned to the wheel and started up the Chevy, pulling away from the gas station without a word. Sam felt anxiety beating a syncopated rhythm on the backbeat of each breath he took. There was virtually nowhere they could go that they wouldn't run into cops. And there was no guarantee that this Agent Hendrickson hadn't flooded every police station in Wisconsin with their pictures and descriptions.
"Gotta be someplace to eat outside of town," Dean said quietly.
Sam nodded. He'd gone this long without food—another hour wouldn't kill him. Needing to dispel the tense quiet, Sam fished around in the box of cassette tapes Dean had salvaged from the wreckage and popped the first one he found into the player, turning the volume up to just beneath burst-ear-drum level.
Dean shot him a look of surprise. "Dude, Iron Maiden?"
"It could be Simon and Garfunkel for all I care," Sam yelled over the scream of guitars. Just need something else in my head besides my own voice.
Dean's frown was fierce. "I'd rather go to Federal prison."
"Far away from the land of our birth, we fly a flag in some foreign earth. We sailed away like our fathers before; these colors don't run from cold bloody war…."
They drove on, leaving Madison behind them and following Highway 18 to the next point on the road. It had started to snow several miles back and the large flakes flung themselves against the windshield, coating it until Dean was forced to turn on the wipers to see his way clear. Sam could feel the wind push against the large machine, enhancing the floating effect.
Turning the volume down slightly so that he wasn't screaming, Dean said, "What'd you tell your friends about Dad?"
Sam shot a look at him. "What? What friends?"
"I mean when you were at Stanford. What did you tell them he did?"
Sam looked away, guilt turning his gut cold, his heart heavy. "Why?"
"Something that dick Hendrickson said…made me think about how all our stories just…," Dean rolled his bottom lip against his teeth. "I mean he had all the right facts but had put the picture together all wrong. Y'know?"
"Who's gonna put the right picture together, Dean?" Sam challenged him. "Who would ever believe the truth about Dad? About how we lived?"
"People we've helped," Dean replied. "People who've seen what's really out there."
"Not like we have reunions or anything, man. We help them, we move on. End of story."
Shaking his head slowly, Dean turned the car into the sloped entrance of a truck stop and diner. The music cut off mid-lyric when he shut off the car. Turning slightly in his seat, Dean met Sam's gaze, his eyes heavy with everything he wasn't saying. Sam waited, expecting details, a reveal of Hendrickson's words, but instead Dean's eyes went flat, action and duty canceling need.
"We eat, we find a place to crash for a few hours, and then we figure out what to do next."
Sam nodded in agreement. "We gotta lay low for awhile, Dean. A hunt right now…," he let his tone trail off.
Dean worried his lip a bit more. "Haven't been to Bobby's in awhile."
"Good idea." Sam stepped out of the car, his mind on options, coming up with few.
Continued in Part 1B, here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/107177.html