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: Thank you for coming back! I know some people said they were going to wait until this was all done before reading, and I look forward to the thoughts of those readers with eager anticipation, but I want to thank you guys who are reading as I post. You push me to keep going. It's been snowing like crazy in Lawrence, so writing this chapter was an exercise in irony. *smile* I hope you enjoy! It's going to get worse before it gets better.
Well, if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand.
I've seen your face before my friend, but I don't know if you know who I am.
Well, I was there and I saw what you did. I saw it with my own two eyes.
So you can wipe off the grin, I know where you've been
It's all been a pack of lies
~ In The Air Tonight by Genesis
An hour after Sam left, Dean fell asleep.
He hadn't meant to, and when he felt exhaustion tugging his lids lower, he fought it. But roughly forty-eight hours without rest and with only anxiety and tension fueling him resulted in a weight on his battered body that he was hard-pressed to combat. The night before had consisted of watching Sam sleep, waking him enough every few hours to ensure he hadn't suffered a concussion—though Sam had really only huffed at him and swatted his hand away—and turning the car on periodically to keep them from freezing to death until the snow got too bad that he had to stop or risk suffocating them on exhaust fumes.
He hadn't been able to sleep while the car was on, afraid they'd run out of gas. He hadn't been able to sleep when the car was off, needing to check on Sam. The ending result had been a distorted doze against the door, slipping sideways to wake with the steering wheel pressed against his eye socket.
When the sun had first crested the protective wall of trees, he'd transferred the towels wrapped around his chilled body to Sam, shoved his way free of the buried car, and set about clearing a path to the tail pipe. Watching Sam walk away several hours later was one of the hardest things he'd had to do, and though he'd never admit it openly, also one of the most necessary.
FBI Agents aside, Dean was beat. And he knew it.
The trapped warmth of the Impala from the last heater blast had faded quickly and Dean layered the extra flannels and one spare hoodie under his blue canvass jacket, then used his Bowie knife to cut a hole into one of the blankets, pulling it over his head like a poncho.
After wrapping the other blanket around his legs, he curled up on the front seat of the Impala as best he could without putting extra pressure on his sore ribs, his knees tented and leaning against the steering wheel, counting the minutes until he could turn the car on again. Sleep tugged at him almost the moment he stopped moving. There was nothing to do, no one to watch over and his body desperately wanted to shut down.
Propping his feet on the window, his back against the cold vinyl of the bench seat, he began to hum the first song that came to his head, working his arms free of the blanket cocoon and crashing invisible sticks on an imaginary drum set.
"Exit light…enter night…take my hand…. We're off to never never-land…"
Dropping the sticks, Dean rubbed his cold face viciously, the sunburned skin across his cheeks tight and sensitive.
"Great, Dean," he chastised himself. "Way to stay awake, man. Enter Sandman. Awesome choice."
He stretched his hands out in front of his eyes, noticing with a vaguely disconnected sensation how much bigger they looked in the S.W.A.T. gloves. It struck him that he was always aware of his hands.
It was an odd sensation, and one he'd never really spoken of to anyone, but for some reason he was constantly conscious of his hands. Where they were, what they were doing. As if they were not an extension of him, but a situation he had to control.
Curling his fingers against his palms in tight fists, he pressed them against his eyes until he saw a jumble of stars and fireworks dance across his closed lids.
"Jesus, Dean, get it together!" He bounced his fists against his face once. He felt drunk. High. Oddly and frighteningly euphoric.
With a breath of air cold enough to crackle inside his chest, he sat up, blinking his eyes wide, wincing as the sunlight reflected in crystallized perfection off of the mountains of snow around him. Digging into the recesses of the glove compartment, he came up with road maps, napkins, a deck of cards and his Colt 1911.
"Never really been one for solitaire," he muttered aloud.
His eyes tracked to the gun resting heavily in the hollow of his hand. Cleaning his weapons had always soothed him in the past. The automatic rhythm of removing each piece, cleaning each piece, reassembling each piece gave him purpose and clarity, something to keep his unwieldy hands occupied so that his mind could work. But at the moment, the prospect of taking the weapon apart required too much effort.
Exhaling a cloud of air, he set the gun on the seat beside him, automatically checking to make sure the safety was on. He wasn't shivering, but he was cold, and he instinctively burrowed deeper into the blankets, turning his mind to Sam, and the image of his brother's shoulders hunched against the cold as he walked away. The transition from awareness to the twilight of dreaming was seamless.
For most people, dreams waited for them until they were sleeping deep enough to relax the guard on their subconscious. Dean, however, had a series of mazes in his mind, each wall carefully constructed to sequester a memory too painful to deal with or too confusing to focus on for any length of time. Unfortunately, Dean had long ago learned that there were more flavors of pain than there was coffee, and if the walls he'd been forced to construct so far were any indication, he was going to taste each one. The more innocent, less-painful memories had the weakest guard. And were therefore more accessible and easily encountered even when he brushed the edges of sleep.
The images were faded, unclear. They were more impressions at first. But he knew he was seeing Sam. And Dad. Both were old and young at the same time, confusing him. Something was wrong; he could sense that much. And he needed to get Sam away. Dad was telling him to get Sam away. Something was outside, something bad.
Dad was shouting. Dean felt his heart kick in his chest at the sound. Dad only shouted like that when he was scared. Dean was holding Sam, gripping him, really, because he was too big hold. But he had to protect him. He had to get him away, get him safe. He wanted to keep him close, shield him from that thing outside. That thing they couldn't see.
It was after them, chasing them. They were running, all of them. He could hear them breathing beside him. Dad's breath released with harsh slaps of air against air, as if he was fighting a battle just by being there. Sam's gasps were more desperate; he was falling behind. It was going to get him, and Dean couldn't let that happen. If it even touched Sam, he'd be lost to them forever.
Turning, Dean thrust out a frantic hand and felt his fingers crash against a hard, unyielding surface; he cried out in surprise and confusion. Opening his eyes, he blinked around, trying to gather his bearings, to balance himself. His fingers slid down the frosted-over pane of the driver's side window. He could feel himself shaking and wasn't sure if it was from the cold or the remnants of the dream.
He pulled his right hand free from the glove and rubbed his face, slightly surprised to find it come away sweaty. Glancing at his watch, he realized that he'd slept for over an hour. With a clumsy, panicked motion, he grabbed for his cell phone, flipping it open. No bars.
"Shit," he whispered, the word jumping with the force of his shaking body.
The cold had settled into him; he felt it layering against his bones, turning them brittle, making them ache. The bruises he'd gathered from his face-off with the shapeshifter fell down the ladder of importance when he realized his teeth had chattered hard enough he bit through the skin on the inside of his bottom lip. He could taste the blood on his tongue.
His breath puffing out in clouds and bouncing off the frost gathered on the inside of the window, Dean gave in to the shivers rattling through him, turned on the car, and cranked the heater once the car had warmed up sufficiently. Huddled close to the vent, Dean let his eyes flutter closed with pleasure. The heat pouring over his face and his chilled hands was delicious. He felt his body quake from the inside out as he drank it in.
Shaking off the cobwebs from the half-remembered dream, he glanced at the gas tank. If he was careful, he rationed, he could keep the car on for thirty minutes and trap the heat. If they were lucky, Sam would be back by morning. He could last until morning. He'd endured worse, he reasoned, than a cold car stuck in the middle of a snow bank in Nowhere, MN.
Watching his father tailspin when Sam left for Stanford had been worse, even if it had led to a refined understanding between Dean and John. Living through those first few months without Sam around was nothing short of an endurance test. Remembering how to breathe normally after burning his father's body had been worse than this.
As his muscles warmed, he eased back from the vent and closed his eyes. He was surprised that it was still so easy to draw his father's face in his mind. Especially when it was quiet like this. The kind of quiet that screamed at him. With only the whispered snarl of an agent's accusations to fill in the gap.
Reaching forward quickly, Dean turned on the radio. He knew it wasn't the smartest thing to do; he needed to save battery power. But he was willing to risk it to stave off the pain that the image of his father in his mind's eye stabbed into him. Seeing John—even a memory of him—was a wound without a balm.
He ejected Iron Maiden, not wanting the reminder of Sam's quiet, off-tune voice replacing Hendrickson's snarl in his mind. As he searched for Metallica's Black Album, the rattle of a static-filled news report drew his attention. Frowning, he tweaked the dial, trying to bring the words in clearer.
"…reports from New Lethe, Minnesota, are still coming in, even though the town is apparently under a media quarantine after…. ...body found three weeks ago in Lethe Lake by…sons of prominent town members."
Dean turned the volume up, wincing through the crackles of static.
"The body, identified as Josephine Sanderson, was cremated days ago…. ...memorial service to have her ashes returned to the lake…. Mayor Saul Jones had planned to rename the lake Josephine's Refuge to honor…the woman who some say was left behind when the town was abandoned and flooded to create the new…."
Rubbing his face, Dean sighed. "Perfect. Just freakin' perfect," he muttered. "Of all the Podunk towns in the entire Midwest, we have to get stuck outside of one with a body in a lake."
He dropped his hands, staring at the radio as if his concentration would clear up the static.
"…locals are calling the lake Josephine's Revenge in light of the recent death…. ...preliminary reports indicate that the Mayor drowned, though suspicion was raised as his body was found at his desk in his downtown office…. Sheriff Matthew Mead will take over the memorial…in hopes of laying to rest any…. ...and restoring peace to the town…."
The report buzzed with a strong burst of static, and Dean flinched, reaching out to adjust the dial. When he found the news channel again, they'd shifted to a report about the recent storm freezing the lake and making further investigation into where the body had been found impossible for now. When a commercial for a local gun and knife show came on, Dean looked down at his watch.
Time was up for keeping the car running.
He switched off the radio, glancing mournfully at his box of cassettes. Leaning toward the heater, he willed his body to draw in the warm air, then cut the engine, sitting absolutely still in the utter quiet that surrounded him.
"Be careful, Sammy," he whispered, knowing his brother had no idea what he was walking into.
For one wild moment, he considered heading out after him, warning him. But it had been hours since Sam had left. By the time he caught up to him, they'd both be in Lethe. Which is what Dean had wanted to do in the first place.
"Hendrickson, you son of a bitch," Dean muttered out loud, casting a hand over his hair and gripping his aching neck.
He burrowed deeper into his blanket, thinking about the footprint the Winchesters had left in the world, at least according to one Special Agent Victor Hendrickson: grave desecration, murder, theft….
All of it true and none of it right.
Dean closed his eyes, bracing himself for the image of his father he knew would hit him. Someone like Hendrickson could never know what his father had gone through, what he'd been forced to learn, to sacrifice, to endure simply to fight the evils of the world. Someone like Hendrickson couldn't appreciate the number of people who were alive today because of what his father had done. Because of what they'd all done.
"Maybe I shouldn't have called you an ass," Dean said to the quiet of the car and the memory of his father. "I mean, don't get me wrong. You shoulda told me about Sam. Told me more about him, anyway. You shoulda…." He stopped, shifting sideways and tucking his legs up tight under the blanket. "You shoulda given me something, Dad. I can't protect him like this."
Using the side of his gloved hand, Dean wiped a circle clean in the frost of the window.
"I can't protect him like this," he repeated softly, staring out at the snow and trying not to let his teeth chatter.
The heat hit him first.
It slid over his cold cheeks, snapping tears from his eyes and causing the skin on the backs of his hands to prick with the need to soak it up and roll in it. As he stepped further inside, allowing the door to close behind him, the smell of coffee, grease, and people wrapped around him, forcing him to breathe shallowly through his mouth until he got used to it.
After the near-silence of the snowy outdoors, the energetic, almost wordless hum of twenty or so voices was almost deafening. Sam ducked his head and shuffled his snow-packed boots on the rough entry mat. Working his head around the story he'd decided to tell to get someone to take him back to his brother and the Impala, he moved into the main part of the building, lifting his eyes and glancing around.
He blinked in surprise. Every eye in the room was on him.
"Uh, hi." He hesitantly lifted a hand, his glove still clasped tightly in his fingers.
A man dressed in the tan of a sheriff's uniform twisted his rotund body around on a barstool, a large pewter coffee mug gripped in his hand.
"Help you, son?"
Any carefully crafted story he'd assembled outside in the cold evaporated and Sam's mind went blank. "Just, uh…lookin' for some coffee?"
It came out as a question, his eyes darting away from the sheriff to find somewhere friendly to land. He ran out of options rather quickly as he saw a group of people that looked like reporters—press badges and blue-tooth ear pieces giving them away, though ink-filled notebook curiously replaced PDA's—staring back with curious expressions, other law enforcement officers tilting their heads and taking him in, a group of hard-mouthed men dressed in flannel snarling rather suspiciously back at his innocent smile, and three teenagers gathered despondently in a corner of the diner, their eyes defeated.
"Would you all get back to your worrying and gossip?" A woman's voice from the back of the room cut through the awkward silence like sugar-coated venom. "Are you so sideways with your own problems you can't see this boy's about frozen?"
Sam searched the room, coming upon the smallest woman he'd ever seen, her steel-gray hair twisted at the back of her neck, her arms moving like pistons as she made her way across the room toward Sam.
"You come here," she ordered.
Sam obeyed, sensing instinctively that to do otherwise would seal his doom. A hand in the vicinity of his knee, she guided him to an empty stool at the end of the bar. He nodded at her, smiling gratefully, and shrugged out of the first two layers of his coats.
"You poor dear," she clucked, narrowing large eyes the same color as her hair as she stared at him. "Were you out walking in this weather?"
Sam opened his mouth to answer, but she waved him off.
"That much is obvious. And, goodness now, look at that eye! Quite a bruise you've got there. What you need now is a cuppa hot coffee and some stick-to-your-ribs food. I know just the thing."
She turned and moved away before Sam could say a word. He glanced to his right and lifted his chin at the still-staring eyes. As if on cue, the diner patrons turned back to their coffee and conversation, the sheriff standing, stretching, and fixing his walkie-talkie back to his belt before nodding to the other officers two booths away.
Sam found himself breathing easier when the cops left the coffee house.
"Sheriff Mead's gonna have to kiss a lot of babies this year if he wants to keep his job," grumbled a voice from down the bar when the door shut behind the retreating figures.
"That isn't all he'll have to kiss," replied another, this one from a booth. "Calling Mayor Jones' death an accident and renaming the lake isn't going to fix what's going on here."
"And what is going on here, Mr. Fischer?"
Sam turned to see one of the reporters sitting in a booth behind him leaning forward, his dark-framed glasses sliding to the point of his nose and wiry, jet-black eyebrows twisting like fat caterpillars above bright blue eyes.
The man the reporter addressed as Fischer turned his attention back to his coffee.
"Your son was one of the boys who found Josephine's body three weeks ago, is that right?" the reporter pressed.
Sam felt a knot coil in his belly and he turned around quickly, facing the counter, his back to the rising conflict. The last thing he needed was to walk in on a town neck deep in a murder investigation. Let alone two of them, from the sound of it. Sweat beaded on the back of his neck and upper lip as he considered the increased media scrutiny and suspicion of the law that would go hand-in-hand with such a situation.
Dean cannot be here. No matter what, he had to keep his brother out of this town.
The man next to him huffed loudly, making no secret his displeasure with the course of the community discussion. Sam glanced over as the man snapped a newspaper open and pointedly trained his eyes on the center, leaving the front page exposed to Sam's view.
In seconds Sam's quick eyes caught the words body, lake, mysterious, and drowning in the caption under a picture of a water-logged steeple emerging from an ice-laden lake. The headline Mayor Dead by Ghostly Hands took up the entire top line of the paper.
As the reporter and Mr. Fischer argued behind them, Sam saw the kitchen door swing open and the woman emerged with a mug of coffee and plate full of biscuits and gravy. Sam took them from her with a smile and a nod of thanks.
"I appreciate it," he said sincerely, his stomach growling at the smell of food.
He spared a moment of guilt for Dean trapped back in the freezing Impala before shoveling two huge spoonfuls into his mouth. The noise level rose behind him, but the woman's eyes were pinned to his face, watching him eat.
"You know anyone that has a tow truck around here?" He asked her, keeping his voice low so as to not draw attention to himself, but the discussion around him looked to have been going on for awhile and was just gaining more momentum.
Accusing shouts of reporters invading Lethe and Lethe doing just fine without the media spreading rumors were blocked and parried by equally ardent cries of foul play running amuck in town evidenced by a body rising from a submerged town and Mayor Jones dying under mysterious circumstances.
Sam tried to ignore the ice filling his gut faster than the food he was shoveling down.
"Oh, Sheriff Mead might know someone," the lady clucked, as if oblivious to the chaos building behind Sam, "but he's got his hands full these days keeping the reporters and their spies out of town and setting up the memorial for that poor woman."
Deciding to skip over the 'spies' comment, Sam forced down another bite of food, bands of tension wrapping tightly around his chest. "Anyone else I can ask? My brother's stuck back at our car—"
"You can delude yourselves all you want," the indignant cry interrupted Sam's explanation, "but everyone in this room knows that your Mayor's death wasn't an accident. He was killed by the ghost of that woman you found in your lake!"
Sam met the gray eyes of his benefactor and watched as she shook her head and turned away. Glancing to the side, Sam tried to get a glimpse of the man who'd called 'ghost,' wondering for a brief moment if he might be a reporter for the Weekly World News.
The man next to Sam carefully folded the newspaper and turned around on his stool. "Son, you need to calm down."
His voice reminded Sam of Bobby's and the serenity that surrounded him drew Sam's attention. "I've been reading this paper of yours," he continued, "and not one thing you have here is based on any sort of empirical evidence. All you folks have done is get people worked up. We've got tourists coming to Lethe in the off-season to poke around and search for ghosts in our living rooms and it's all the sheriff's men can do to keep them from getting themselves killed by heading out on a frozen lake."
"There's a murderer in this town!" His voice impassioned, the reporter's face was bright pink, spittle edging his lips as he raked a think hand through unkempt black hair.
Sam swallowed, turning on his stool to face the room as he felt people begin to close in.
"We don't know that." Reason keeping his tone measured, the man next to Sam lifted a weathered hand to tap the air, seeming to sweep an aura of calm around everyone except the reporter. "All we know is that it appears a woman drowned several years ago and that this town lost a beloved Mayor."
"You read my story," the reporter pointed to the paper folded under the man's arm. "It's all right there!"
"But there is no fact in anything you said."
The reporter stepped forward swiftly, shoving his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose. Sam saw several other people with palm-sized pads of paper furiously scribbling notes.
"Who are you?" the reporter demanded.
"My name is Cooper," the man replied, dropping his chin and raising his eyes to meet the reporter's intense gaze. "I'm the Medical Examiner, and I can tell you that Mayor Jones did, indeed, drown."
"At his desk?" the reporter shot back, sarcasm layered thick on each word. "Tell me that's not a fact."
Sam couldn't help himself; he looked back at Cooper, awaiting an answer.
"Foul play has not been ruled out," Cooper replied, his dark eyes raking over the patrons in the diner, "which is one of the many reasons, as you know, the sheriff has asked those not currently living in New Lethe to stay outside of town limits until after the memorial service and a thorough investigation can be conducted."
Another reporter stood and took his friend by the arm, trying to tug him back to the booth. Sam watched him, his head spinning with the amount of information that had come his way in a relatively short amount of time. If Dean were here, they would be all over this case.
"Answer me this!" the reporter called to Cooper in a last attempt for attention. "How can I constitute my beliefs with fact if you quarantine your precious town and refuse to allow anyone not currently living there access?"
"You want fact?"
Sam's head swiveled along with the rest of the patron's in the diner to track to this new voice. One of the boys Sam had noticed upon entering stood, stepping from the shadows, his face lined with grief and rage, his body tight with both.
"Eric—" One of the other boys reached up to pull at his arm.
Eric shook him off. "Here's a fact for you."
Sam watched the other two rise behind their friend, creating an impressive wall of support as Eric continued walking toward the reporter. The smallest of the trio pushed his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose and it looked to Sam as if he might be sick any minute.
"My friends and I were trying to save our town. That's a fact. We took my buddy's boat and went out past the border over to the old town," Eric kept going until he was standing with barely a breath of space between himself and the reporter. "That's a fact." Sniffing he pointed at the reporter's chest. "We found the body, reported the body, and now my Dad is dead."
"Eric, c'mon, man." The same friend reached for him again.
Eric wrenched his arm from his friend's grip. "Lay offa me, Matt."
"Eric, he's not worth it, man," chimed in his bespeckled friend. "Your dad was a good guy."
"Yeah," Eric nodded, his dark eyes pinned to the cowed reporter. "He was a good guy. And he was gonna do a good thing and name the lake after that woman we found. A woman nobody even knows." Eric dragged the back of his hand beneath his nose. "And he doesn't deserve this dickhead making up lies about him."
"Nate," the man called Fischer said from the doorway. Sam saw the kid with glasses turn to face him. "Son, you and Matt take Eric home. You don't need to be out here."
Nate nodded, exchanging a quick glance with Matt. "Yessir."
Matt finally got a grip on Eric's arm, turning him. Sam felt his heart clench at the expression on Eric's face; it mirrored the expression he'd seen on Dean's as they stood at their father's funeral pyre: regret, anger, and pain beating helpless fists against a glass wall.
Fischer followed the three kids out of the diner, the door closing solidly behind them. Conversation returned to the background hum and Cooper turned back to face the counter. Sam found that he needed to take a deep breath. Sparks danced at the edges of his vision and the tips of his fingers tingled. Dropping his head, he turned slowly toward the counter, working to re-center himself on why he was there, what he needed to do.
"I hear you were in need of a tow truck?" Cooper asked Sam.
Sam jumped slightly at the sound of the man's voice, then nodded. "Yeah," he started, then paused to clear his voice. "Uh, my brother's back at our car. We went off the road in the storm last night."
"I don't have a tow truck, but I have a pick-up with a winch," Cooper told him.
Sam felt the tension begin to ease. Maybe he could get back to Dean and they could get on their way before dark after all.
"Can't get to you until tomorrow, though," Cooper continued. "Too many ghost-hunting tourists and goddamned reporters to wrangle. Not enough Sheriff Mead to go around. I gotta stay here on the edge of town until after the memorial is over tomorrow."
Sam looked down, running a hand through his hair in frustration. Last night was cold enough; could they make another one? He chewed on the inside of his bottom lip as he thought. They could help the situation here; he knew it in his bones. There was a very simple way to find out the truth behind what was going on—and more likely as not, the reporter had a point, regardless of his paranoid approach.
"Just Cooper, son," Cooper corrected.
Sam nodded. "What if we worked in a trade?"
Cooper looked at him curiously; the lines at the corners of his eyes folding like bird wings around serious eyes. His lips pulled close as if he were about to take a drag on a cigarette and Sam could tell by the myriad of creases around his mouth that the action wasn't an unfamiliar one to this man.
"What sort of trade you got in mind?"
Sam swallowed, thinking about Dean; about what he would do; about what he had done. Dean had wanted to bring Ronald in on the truth from the start—Mandroid misdirection aside. He'd told Ronald the truth, eventually.
And Ronald had died.
Yeah, except he's not a hunter, Dean. He's just a guy who stumbled onto something real. If he were to go up against this thing he'd get torn apart. Better to stay in the dark, and stay alive.
"Son?" Cooper pressed. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Sam nodded quickly, abruptly changing tactics. "I was just gonna see if I could maybe rent your truck from you and get our car out, then bring it right back."
Cooper narrowed his eyes slightly, his head-tilt proclaiming that he knew Sam had been about to say something different, but the noise behind them drew both of their attention. The reporter and his friends were arguing with a different group of people—a larger group. In size and in number. It was only a matter of time until punches were thrown.
"You need to listen to me or someone else is going to die," the reporter warned.
"You wanna feel how hard I can hit?" Asked a man blanketed in flannel.
Cooper was off his stool and wading into the melee before Sam could blink. The M.E. latched onto the reporter by the back of his black leather jackets and shoved him aside.
"What the hell is going on here?" he roared, his eyes boring holes into the flannel-clad man.
"We are done with their kind, Cooper," the man replied, his height, barrel chest and thick, red beard and mustache putting Sam in the mind of Paul Bunyan. "We don't need any more strangers around here pokin' their noses where they're not wanted."
"Just go home, Marshall."
"Go home," Cooper snapped. "Stay out of it."
"You can't keep them out on your own, y'know," Marshall declared. "You're gonna need our help."
Sam's eyes followed the thumb he jerked over his shoulder to a group of four other men of equal size. As if on cue, all four crossed their powerful arms over their massive chests.
"No." Cooper declared, shaking his head and stepping between Marshall and the reporter who was now shaking like a leaf. "I won't. Now, get on out of here."
Marshall narrowed his eyes at Cooper, then shifted his attention to Sam.
"Who the hell are you?"
Sam raised his hands and took a step back. "Nobody," he replied, his eyes hitting the other four men behind Marshall before coming back to meet the man's flinty expression. For a moment, he wished for Dean with the desire of Ralphie asking Santa for a Red Rider BB Gun.
"You're one of them, aren't you?" Marshall snarled, taking a step toward Sam. "Come to peek in our windows and write lies about us?"
"No, man," Sam shook his head. "Just passing through."
Cooper shifted his stance to stay between Marshall and Sam.
"Yeah, well, keep on passing," Marshall growled, turning around and grabbing his coat from a hook as he left, his friends following along in his wake.
Sam licked his dry lips, the food he'd inhaled turning to rocks in his stomach, his extra clothes an uncomfortable weight in the heat of the diner. Stress and exhaustion twisted his muscles and he rubbed the heel of his hand against the bridge of his nose.
Realizing that staying here wasn't going to get him the help Dean needed, Sam dug a ten dollar bill from his jean's and put it under the coffee mug. He looked for the woman who'd helped him, but didn't see her behind the counter or at any of the tables. Grabbing his coat, he made his way toward the door, trying to figure out his next move.
Cooper stopped him in the entryway.
"I, uh," Sam glanced at the remaining people in the diner, "think I should just be going."
"You find a way to get your car out?" Cooper asked.
Sam shook his head. "I'll figure something out."
"It's gonna be dark in a couple of hours," Cooper frowned, looking out through the window. "Your brother's still out at the car, you say?"
Sam nodded, seeing that the man was torn. "Look, it's okay. You got a general store in town? I could just get some shovels and sand, call it good." The fact that they even needed shovels in their line of work was ironic to him, but there it was. They rarely had exactly what they needed when they needed it, or so it seemed.
Cooper nodded. "There's a store about three blocks into town," he said, gesturing west. "Tell Emily that I sent you and to put it on my charge."
"Oh, I couldn't—"
Cooper raised a hand. "Don't," he said. "Old Lethe used to be the kind of town that would help people out." He looked past Sam and some of the light left his eyes. "New Lethe is…just a town. We lost our heart when they blew that dam."
Sam frowned, enough questions swimming around him to make his fingers itch, but necessity forced him to ignore them.
"Thanks for your help," he offered instead, snapping his coat closed as he prepared to head out into the cold.
The utter lack of warmth sucked his breath from his lungs and he curled inward instinctively. Moving around to the side of the building, he dug his cell phone out and checked for bars. Finding enough to connect a call, he scrolled down to Dean's name.
"This is Dean. You know what to do."
Sam's heart sank a bit as he got his brother's voicemail once more. It had been long enough that he really needed to hear Dean's actual voice; he needed that reassurance before he pushed on, knowing that by the time he got the shovel and got back to the car, it would be night and they would be in for a long, cold wait for daylight.
"Hey, Dean. It's me. Listen, I made it to Lethe, but this place is…well, let's just say it's our kind of weird. Haven't found what we need, but I have a plan B. Stay warm."
He closed the phone and shoved it into his pocket before pulling his gloves back on and heading back out to the road. He began walking in the direction Cooper had indicated, scanning the horizon of the road for signs of this town everyone was so concerned about protecting from lecherous reporters and over-enthusiastic ghost hunters.
Ghost hunters. Sam chuckled quietly at the term.
It sounded so…innocent. If any of those so-called hunters ever actually found a ghost, he knew for a fact it would scare them straight into another profession. Unconsciously, his mind began to work over the scattered information that had been shoved his way, trying to suss out the sense from the emotion.
The fact that the Mayor's death had been ruled as a drowning, but his body had been found at his desk waved a spirit flag in front of Sam's eyes. The implication by the reporter had been that Mayor Jones had a hand in the woman's untimely death. The curious part for Sam, however, was that they said they'd cremated the remains already, to return them to the lake.
A body reduced to ash couldn't produce a spirit. The part of him that had been raised a hunter chewed on these disjointed facts while the part of him that was focused on saving their collective hides trudged on through the cold and snow, swathed in a strange, unnatural stillness of air. He was so deep in thought, he didn't hear the crunch of boots on snow until they were nearly upon him.
Shifting his weight, he turned to face whomever it was approaching him. He caught a glimpse of flannel and a blur of flesh before pain exploded through his already fragile head and darkness swamped him.
He'd cleaned the 1911. Twice.
He'd played four games of solitaire, challenging himself to find a different Latin word each time he laid down a red card.
He'd put on a karaoke-like concert to Boston's Don't Look Back album, though he'd been slightly shady on the lyrics to Feelin' Satisfied; it had never been one of his favorites, anyway. His few treks outside of the Impala to answer nature's call had confirmed that it was, indeed, freezing. He'd checked his cell phone roughly thirty-four times. He'd recited—out loud—every town he'd stopped for longer than twelve hours in the last ten years.
He'd recited—out loud—every woman he'd slept with in the last ten years, then moved on to the physical attributes he most appreciated about each conquest. However, taking into account that he was alone in the car, his mind wandered to the variety of ways he could stay warm, and he decided to shift his thoughts to less enticing territory. The last thing he needed was to have certain appendages damaged by the frigid temperatures.
All in all, he'd managed to survive over six hours since his impromptu nap.
In the freezing Impala.
Having successfully staved off claustrophobia, solitary-induced hysteria, and familial melancholy brought on by an absence of distraction from his memories, Dean considered this to be a rather successful day.
Climbing back into the Impala after spending about fifteen minutes bouncing up and down in the cleared-out space at the front of the car to keep his blood flowing and soak up as much energy from the sun as he could, Dean grabbed the keys and twisted, ready for his next allotted time of heat. He'd waited over two hours this time, working to build up his endurance for the long night.
At first, he was sure he just hadn't twisted far enough.
But when a second turn of the key yielded no satisfying rumble of life, he felt the ice that had been working its way inward from his skin wrap chilled fingers around his heart.
"Oh, no," he shook his head, pumping the gas slightly and turning the key again. "C'mon, baby, don't do this to me don't do this to me…start start start start—"
Another turn. Nothing.
He checked his gauges: he had gas; he hadn't flooded her. Desperate for an explanation, he clambered out into the snow and waded to the front of the car once more, popping the hood and peering inside. Everything was connected as it should be. He unnecessarily tightened the leads to the battery.
Shivering, puffing air through chilled lips, he slid behind the wheel once more, and tried again.
"SON OF A BITCH!" His cry slipped through the still-opened door and echoed off of the surrounding trees.
And for one small moment, Dean lost control.
Grabbing the steering wheel, he grit his teeth and jerked repeatedly on the unyielding steel, the growl of frustration building from low in his gut until it vibrated his lips and bounced around the interior of the Impala like a trapped bird.
Balling his gloved hand into a fist, he pounded the seat next to him repeatedly. Until he was dizzy from lack of oxygen. Until his hand stung and his fingers cried out. Until he was panting and sweating. Until he was spent.
Taking a breath, he sagged forward, his forehead resting against the cold steel of the steering wheel.
"Well, Dean," he said out loud. "You've got two choices. You can sit here on your impotent ass and wait for your little brother to bail you out—and just hope you don't turn into a human popsicle in the meantime—or…."
He lifted his head, a bead of sweat running into his eyes and tripping over his lashes.
"Or," he exhaled, running his tongue over his chapped bottom lip, "you can risk pissing you brother off and getting caught by the Feds and follow him into town."
He checked his watch. He had about two hours of sunlight left, he reasoned. He doubted he'd make it to New Lethe before dark. But the dark had never bothered him. Things were always more frightening in the light of day.
Freezing to death alone in the wilderness—that frightened him.
"Okay," he nodded as if to mentally seal the deal. "A pissed-off Sammy it is. I never did like popsicles."
Grabbing his 1911, his gloves, the extra ski mask, and the last bottle of water, he climbed out of the Impala, shoving the front door shut and moving around to the trunk. He had given Sam the extra long underwear and only had his jeans to protect his legs. Cutting a blanket into strips, he wrapped the two pieces around his legs, fastening them at his thigh and calf with the straps from Sam's duffle bag.
Pulling on the ski mask to protect his face, he lifted the hood from Sam's borrowed hoodie and secured the poncho-like blanket with a piece of rope they'd always just had on hand for no reason either of them could ever discern.
"You never know when you'll need some rope," Sam had argued.
Dean was determined not to give his brother credit for this one. Not until they were safe. And warm. Warmth was the key here.
He loaded the still-intact duffel with a rock-salt-filled shotgun, holy water, water proof matches, a small can of fuel, and tossed his 1911 and Bowie inside. Slipping his head and one arm through the straps, he positioned the bag across his back. Searching the recesses of the trunk, he found one large, black flashlight. Turning it on, though, the faded yellow of the beam proved what he'd feared: low batteries.
"Next town without a dead body in the lake, we go on a supply run," he muttered, tossing the useless tool back into the trunk.
As an afterthought, he grabbed the two glow sticks Sam had kept from a hunt-gone-wrong into a coal mine hunting an Avae. Shoving them into his back pocket, he closed and locked the trunk.
Offering the Impala a lingering look, he vowed, "I will be back for you. We're not ditching you. I swear to God, I'll be back."
And with that, he climbed up the knee-deep snow of the embankment to trudge along in Sam's footprints toward New Lethe.
The sounds around him were familiar—the thunk of boots on the floor, the clink of dishes in a sink, a sniff, a sigh, a hushed voice and meaningless words—but he knew at once it wasn't Dean. There was an abruptness to the motion, not the lingering closeness of someone who needed to be reassured that he was okay.
Sam opened his eyes, pushing himself forward with a gasp before reality truly settled in. The world swam around him and he groaned, closing his eyes and sagging back.
"Take it easy. They clocked you a good one."
Reaching up with a trembling hand, Sam gingerly touched his forehead; the area around his right eyebrow was puffy and swollen. He kept his eyes closed, falling back on his training. Taking stock of his surroundings with his other senses, he catalogued the fact that he was warm, the only thing that really hurt was his head, he was lying on something soft, and wherever he was, it was old.
The smell of mildew and rust penetrated even his addled senses.
"Think you can handle some water?"
The voice again.
It wasn't one he'd heard before, Sam realized. Not even at the diner. He had a thing for voices. He stored them away like Dean stored faces. Blinking his eyes carefully, he took in the dim light of his surroundings. A cabin. Of some kind. Wood and firelight. Lanterns and a sagging couch.
And a man, leaning over him, concern in his tawny eyes, dog tags dangling from his neck as he bent forward.
"Yeah," Sam rasped. "Water would be good."
The man nodded to the side and Sam looked over to see a glass sitting on the floor by the couch. Cautiously reaching over the edge of the couch with a slightly trembling hand, Sam retrieved the glass, tipping his head forward, thankful that the pain didn't threaten to eject his eyes from their sockets. He sipped the water slowly, feeling relief as the cool liquid slipped down his parched throat.
"There's some aspirin there, too, if you need it."
Sam managed to resist a whimper. Barely. He simply flopped his hand back down, found the bottle, and poured four pills into his palm. "How long was I out?"
"Not long. Maybe twenty minutes or so."
Sam watched as the man crouched, balanced on his toes, eye-level with Sam. He was dressed in jeans and black combat boots a grey sweatshirt, loose over a black T-shirt. His hair looked as if it had been cut short at one time, but was now almost scruffy. He could have been twenty-five or forty-five as far as Sam could tell. The severe cut of his cheekbones and squared-off jaw had Sam instinctively straightening his spine; the unsmiling eyes gave nothing away.
"So…I guess I owe you a thanks," Sam tried hesitantly, squinting over at the man's image bouncing and dancing in the flickering light of the fireplace.
"Don't mention it. Been trying to get one up on those bastards for a long time."
Sam saw something flash in the man's eyes but his head was pounding too loudly to identify it.
"They jumped you, that's what happened." He hadn't moved a muscle; his expression was almost set in stone, but Sam felt the bitterness laced through the words and sensed the chill in the room. "Five of them."
Sam closed his eyes, pressing his hand against his forehead, feeling a sticky wetness there that told him stitches were probably needed. "Let me guess, trees shaped like men dressed in flannel?"
The man scowled. "I was heading into town, saw them circling, and got there before they got more than a couple of hits in."
Sam peered at him through one eye. "You took out all five?"
The man shook his head. "Didn't have to. They don't like me much."
Swallowing a slow build of nausea, Sam nodded. "Name's Sam, by the way."
"Nice to meet you, Colin." Sam swung his legs over the edge of the couch. "Not to sound ungrateful, but—"
"Whoa." Colin stood, his position blocking Sam's attempt to rise. "Where are you going?"
"I've been gone too long," Sam said, trying to explain without explaining.
"Kid, you've got a sweet bruise on your head. You aren't going anywhere tonight." Colin shook his head once, as if that was the end of it.
"I need to get back to my brother…or get to town and get a shovel…or…."
"Is he dead?"
Sam brought his head up quickly, biting back a gasp as a white hot needle stabbed the back of his eye. "What?"
"No, he's not dead!"
"Why else would you need a shovel?" Colin's brows pulled together and confusion worked to surface as an honest expression.
Sam swallowed, closing his eyes to stave off the continued nausea. "We went off the road. Last night. Into a snow bank." His ability to communicate seemed to have been reduced to brief, staccato sentences. "He's back with the car. I need to get a shovel. Dig us out."
Colin was quiet long enough that Sam opened his eyes. He was surprised to find that the man was no longer in front of him, but standing across the room, his back to Sam.
"I can't help you."
"It's okay," Sam sighed. He'd started to be resigned to the fact that regardless of the situation, he and Dean were in it alone. "I just need to get back to him."
"They're just looking for a way to get rid of us," Colin continued, his voice soft, yet filled with poison.
Sam dabbed at his forehead, pulling his fingers away to see blood, then looked back at Colin's unyielding stance. He didn't bother to ask who they were.
"They've been trying to run my family out since they got the idea for this new town. We don't fit in to their ideal. We're…different. Always have been."
Sam sighed quietly. He knew the feeling.
"I'm tired of being on the outside. Looking in. Feeling like shit." Colin half turned and Sam frowned.
He realized that Colin was standing in front of a chair. A chair that looked liked it was occupied.
"Sam, this is my father. Wallace. It started with him."
"What did?" Sam asked, pushing slowly to his feet, swaying slightly and reaching out to the fireplace for balance.
"The hate. The exile."
Sam looked at Wallace—a man physically reduced by age, time, and circumstance. His arms were curled in toward his body, his hands bent, fingers crimped and claw-like. A long, unkempt gray beard twisted its way to the middle of his chest. Someone—presumably Colin—had combed his hair away from his face. His eyes snapped with reflected firelight, trailing up Sam's form before fixing on his face.
"Before they flooded the old town," Colin said, turning away from Wallace and Sam to stare out into the growing darkness cut only by a brilliant moon, "my father was a prominent citizen. Everyone loved him. And then I left. And when I got back…it was all shit."
"Where did you go?" Sam asked, wiping a thin, sluggish stream of blood from his eye with the back of his hand.
He was still wearing his coat and boots; he could still feel the press of Dean's Beretta against the small of his back. Colin had basically dropped him on the couch, it seemed. No need to find his clothes or belongings. Which was a good thing as he needed to get back to Dean. It was becoming a quiet chant in the back of his mind.
Get to back to Dean. Get back to Dean. Get back to Dean.
"Iraq," Colin answered simply. "After 9/11…it was the only thing I could do."
Sam nodded, though Colin couldn't see. "How long were you gone?"
As Colin talked, Sam took stock of the cabin. Two rooms: the room with the couch and fireplace—which seemed to be the main source of heat—and a kitchen with a gas stove, sink, small refrigerator and a four-person table. Wallace sat at one of the chairs at the table; to his left was another door and next to the fridge was a third door. A clock was mounted on one wall, a mirror on another, an empty gun rack on a third.
Sam guessed that one led to a bedroom, the other a bathroom, but all-in-all, it was a small space for two men to share.
"Long enough for my father to have a stroke, my town to be destroyed, and my family to be sequestered outside of town like lepers."
It was the second time Colin had referred to his family, but aside from the mirror—which was ornate enough to belong to a woman—there didn't seem to be anyone else there besides himself and Wallace.
"They flooded the town?" he asked, remembering pieces from the arguments in the diner. A sudden fist of pain crashed against Sam's skull. He bit back a groan, trying to focus on Colin's words.
Colin turned toward him, his quick eyes taking in the blood making a slim track down the side of Sam's face. "There's a med kit by the sink," he said, gesturing toward a white box sitting on the counter. He continued talking softly as Sam dragged himself to his feet and moved slowly toward the kit, flipping the lid open and squinting in the dim light at the packets and bottles inside.
"There were three guys—Jones, Tolliver, and Mead," Colin continued. "They saw a chance to make some serious money, but needed to get rid of the old town and increase the size of the lake. They bought everyone out, blew the dam, flooded the old town, and built the new one."
Sam gathered up a handful of items and moved over to the ornate mirror, setting the items on a table beneath it.
"Three years later, a drought lowers the water level of the lake severely; everyone is worried about the town going under," Colin met Sam's reflected eyes in the mirror briefly, "so to speak. And then one winter day, three high school kids find a body. And two weeks later Jones is dead. And Tolliver and Mead are panicking."
Sam stared into the mirror and took a breath. Cleaning this cut was going to hurt. Showing pain in front of Dean was one thing; showing pain in front of a hard-as-nails former soldier who'd saved his ass? Not happening.
"Mead…isn't that…the sheriff?" Sam asked, his voice tight as he wet a cotton ball with antiseptic and began dabbing at the wound; he had to work to keep from visibly wincing.
"Yessir," Colin replied. "New town, new sheriff."
"Who was the old sheriff?"
Colin, looked down for a moment, then glanced over his shoulder.
"Up until the stroke," Colin confirmed. "Which happened right about the same time they bought out the town. No coincidence there."
Sam nodded. The cut wasn't as deep as he'd first thought, but the bruise around it was impressive. In the mirror, Sam could see Colin standing next to Wallace, both watching him.
Pulling out some butterfly bandages from the med kit, he took a breath and pressed the cut together, smoothing the tape across the wound. His face looked like it had been through the wringer—fading bruise from the car's dash overshadowed by the cut delivered by an angry man's fist. His lips were chapped, nose and cheeks rubbed red by the cold.
"Thanks," he said to Colin, gingerly touching the bandage. "Not every day I get saved by a guy who has a full med kit on hand."
"Did my share of field medicine in the Corp."
"You were a Marine?" Sam asked, glancing over his shoulder.
"Am a Marine," Colin replied. "Just…taking a leave until…." He paused, his eyes briefly hitting the silent figure of his father.
"My dad was a Marine," Sam informed him.
"No such thing as a former Marine," Colin replied gruffly.
"Unless you're dead," Sam countered.
Colin lifted his chin, glancing away. "Sorry."
"Don't worry about it." Sam said, looking back down at Wallace for a moment, wondering what it had to be like for this family. Both trapped in different prisons, neither where they wanted to be. What did it say about him that he felt a kinship to his savior? "Listen, I really do have to get back to my brother."
"It's freezing out there," Colin argued.
"And my brother's stuck out in it," Sam snapped. At the flash in Colin's eyes, he took a breath. "I'm sorry. I'm just worried about him. I've been gone a long time."
Colin glanced away. "Let me get you a flashlight at least."
"I'd appreciate it."
Colin moved past Sam through a small door. Sam glanced down at Wallace who didn't look up. Sighing, Sam pulled out his cell phone. He had a few bars here as well. Dialing Dean's number, he left a message.
"Hey, man. It's me. Been a…weird night. I'm at some cabin outside of town." He moved toward the window. "Not exactly sure where it is, but I can see the lake real close. Guy who owns it saved my ass from getting jumped by some locals. His name's Colin. That's all I know. I'm trying to get back to you."
He hung up without a goodbye, the word sour on the back of his tongue. Dean didn't like to be alone; and if he had to be alone, he made sure he was busy. Sam didn't want to think about Dean alone in the Impala, unable to do anything productive, and slowly freezing to death between turns of the heater. He closed his eyes and leaned his aching head against the cold glass of the window.
"I'm trying to get back to you," he repeated quietly.
Continued in Part 2B here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/108031.html