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.
...continued from Part 3A...
Dean felt terrible.
An ache built across his back; the bones seeming to twist against each other. His clothes were too heavy, his skin too sensitive. The groove Colin's bullet cut across his shoulder throbbed. His ribs hurt, his eyes burned, and he could hear his breath rattle. All-in-all, he felt like he'd been hit by a truck and wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep for the next decade.
But that weakness only fueled an angry fire in him—one that sprang to life when he'd heard Hendrickson on the other end of the phone working to classify his father as a whacko. This anger had a voice, whispering to him that he couldn't stop, not ever. Not even when they killed that yellow-eyed bastard that started this mess. He had to make it count—his life, John's life. The sacrifices they'd forced Sam to make.
He had to make it all count.
Following Cooper's directions, he burrowed deeper into his coat and made his way down the back alley to Tolliver's law offices. Half-way there, he dry-swallowed four ibuprofen he'd snagged from the bottle Cooper had given Sam. He had to keep it together long enough to get this spirit, get the Impala and get the hell out of Lethe without triggering Hendrickson's radar.
He was alone on the street. It seemed that everyone who was anyone in Lethe was gathering at the memorial, which by the smells wafting his way had turned into more of a pot-luck carnival than a somber and respectful display for the memory of the dead. Coughing into his shoulder and regretting not taking more of the cough syrup with him, Dean stopped at the back door of the law office.
It took him less than a minute to jimmy the lock and let himself in.
"Hello mister lawyer-man," Dean called too softly for anyone to hear. "Don't mind me…just here dust off the skeletons in your closet."
The building was set up much the same as Cooper's office, with a long hallway and a series of doors that after quick inspection turned out to be empty offices, supply closets, or bathrooms. One led to a small kitchen and Dean ducked inside, relieving the refrigerator of someone's sack lunch of turkey and cheese on wheat.
Munching quietly, Dean found a door with a brass name plate reading William Tolliver.
"There you are, Mr. Tolliver," Dean opened the door, peering up a flight of stairs. "Tolliver. Sounds like a health food bar." Shoving the rest of the sandwich in his mouth, he headed up the stairs. "I hate health food bars."
No one was in the office, but the room was a complete disaster.
It seemed that Tolliver didn't believe in filing cabinets. Stacks upon stacks of papers and folders decorated the floor in a maze leading from the stairs to a large, wooden desk. A bank of windows lit up the room with the gray winter sunlight. A computer sat dark and silent on the desktop. Off to one side was a closet with accordion doors bent to expose an equally messy collection of coats, shoes, ties, and more files.
Peering into the partially opened closet, Dean muttered, "No room for skeletons in there."
He turned a full circle in the room, clasping his fingers on top of his head and sliding the hood back as he dropped his arms. He had no idea where to begin.
"Shoulda put on a fake mustache and switched places with you, Sammy," he said softly, making his way over to the computer.
Jostling the mouse he woke the screen and growled at the curser blinking on the password window.
"Talk to me, Geek-Boy," he whispered, trying to climb inside Sam's mind. "What word would you choose?"
He knew virtually nothing about Tolliver except what Cooper had revealed. Helplessly he typed Lethe, then Lethe Lake. Both yielded nothing, as he'd suspected. The computer tossed up a warning that he had one attempt left before the system administrator was contacted.
Snarling a curse at the screen, Dean pulled at his bottom lip. Cooper had said that Tolliver was an assistant to the Judge rumored to have the lock box of money.
"What the hell," he whispered and typed in McAvoy. The desktop screen immediately appeared. "Yahtzee!" He cried out triumphantly. "Who has the mad skills now, huh?"
Tolliver's computer was even less organized than his office. Dean rubbed at his temples, his head aching as he tried to figure out how to find answers to questions he didn't know how to ask. Closing his eyes he narrowed his focus.
What do I need to know right now?
He needed to know what this man knew of Josephine Sanderson.
He brought up a search window, directed it to search all files, then typed in Sanderson. The computer began whirring. Dean stood and looked out through the windows. From this vantage point, he could see the edges of the crowd gathered for the memorial. A group of men stood on the recently built platform, one of them at a speaker's podium. He could see Sam standing apart from the crowd, alone, watching the man as he spoke.
The street in front of the building was paved, not cobblestone, and a couple men dressed in flannel were gathered in a doorway. Dean could see small clouds of smoke snaking from their alcove.
"Better watch out, boys," Dean tsked them. "Something tells me The Firm doesn't encourage smoking."
The computer beeped behind him and Dean turned to see several files opening in a cascade on the monitor. Bending close to the screen he saw that it was a series of emails and letters, all from Tolliver and addressed to either Jones or Mead. They were dated over the course of several months, four years ago.
Scanning quickly, Dean saw the name Sanderson in the first letter. Tolliver was advising Mead on how to handle 'him' and stated that if Mead wanted to be sheriff he'd have to start making the tough calls. Dean sat in the chair, reading further. The more he read, the more obvious it became that Sanderson was not an advocate of the plan for New Lethe.
"Him, him, him," Dean muttered. "This is all about a guy named Sanderson." He continued to click on the different files. "So who is Josephine?"
The sound of a doorknob being turned brought Dean's head up quickly. He could hear someone at the base of the stairs, working to open the door. He stood quickly and turned in a circle, searching for an escape. The only option was the windows. He tried to turn the latch on the first he saw, but it was painted shut.
Thinking quickly, Dean scrambled across the room and slipped silently into the closet, pressing back against the wall, the coats and suits covering him. He tried to breathe shallowly, the heavy scent of cologne and mothballs on the material surrounding him triggering the cough Cooper's syrup had tried to suppress.
He listened intently as whoever entered the office moved around. Heavy footfalls made their way to the closet. Someone pulled the doors wide and pushed the coats on the opposite end from Dean out of the way. He tightened his stomach muscles to hold his balance, peering through the hanger tops to see a heavy-set, balding man wearing rimless glasses and covered in sweat.
He could only surmise this was Tolliver. The man lifted what looked like a shoebox over his head and slid it onto an empty space on the shelf above.
Dean saw a wedding ring, a Timex, and the frayed cuff of a suit jacket before the man retreated, sliding the door of the closet partially closed. Dean exhaled in relief, but to his chagrin, felt the pressure of what promised to be a bone-rattling cough build in his chest. Swallowing convulsively, he covered his mouth, pressing his fingers into his cheeks.
He heard the creak of a chair as Tolliver sat heavily and only then realized what he'd left up on the computer screen. His eyes began to water as he tried to keep his cough at bay.
"Who's here?" Tolliver called out to the empty office. "I know you're here!"
Dean swallowed again, working to find a plausible story for why he was hiding in the man's closet before his weakened lungs gave him away.
"What are you doing here? You can't…it's impossible!" Tolliver's voice was panicked, scared.
Dean frowned, confused. He started to pull his hand away, intending to reach out and part the clothes when Tolliver uttered a strangled scream of protest.
"No! You've got it all wrong! We didn't know! I swear to you! We didn't kn—"
The scream turned into a horrific gagging sound and Dean pushed his way out of the closet, his lungs exploding up his throat and through his mouth, sending him to his knees next to Tolliver's desk as the cough wrecked him. His vision blurred as he reached blindly for the edge of the desk, pulling himself to his feet to confront whoever it was that Tolliver had been talking to.
There was no one in the room except for him and the man convulsing in his desk chair.
Dean rushed up to Tolliver, his hands going to the man's face, trying to figure out what was going on.
"Hey! Hey, man…easy, easy, easy…. Breathe!"
But Tolliver was beyond reassurance, beyond comfort. The veins on his neck protruded in thick, bluish tracks, his face was a mottled shade of red and purple, his arms appeared pinned to his sides. Dean tried to get the man out of the chair and onto the floor, desperate to get him to breathe, to stop the horrible gagging sound.
What the hell? Heart attack? Seizure?
He couldn't move him. It was almost as if Tolliver was being held down, pinned to the chair.
And then gagging changed. It was the sound of a drain filling up, water replacing air.
Dean jerked back in horrified surprise as water suddenly bubbles up from Tolliver's open mouth spilling over his chin and cheeks, soaking his collar and running down his chest to form a growing puddle under the chair.
"Shit!" He spat, moving his feet to avoid the spreading wetness.
In seconds, everything stopped: the noise, the shaking, the water. Tolliver went still, his color rapidly fading to a grayish white, his eyes locked on nothing.
Dean stood there, staring in shock, shaking; adrenalin and fear warring for control of his muscles. Turning away, he shoving his fingers through his short hair and looked around the empty room.
"Son of a bitch!" he breathed, unable to prevent the cough that punctuated his curse.
What the hell had just happened?
Someone or something had been in the office with them and whatever the hell it was had somehow managed to drown the man at his own damned desk. Dean dragged a hand down his face, and looked at the desk, the piles of files around the office, the computer screen—and stopped.
The letter on the screen wasn't the one he'd had up. It was from Josephine Sanderson and addressed to Judge McAvoy. Dean's eyes burned as he read the single paragraph.
I understand your position and I want you to know I appreciate all you've done for my father over the years. It's hard to see your home die. My father hasn't accepted the decision of the town he loved so much, but I hope your assistance in moving him to the lake cabin will work to ease his transition. It will just take some time, and I implore you once again to reach out to your friends and ask them to delay the demolition.
"Dammit, that's it," Dean whispered. "Cooper called the cabin the old Sanderson place."
He straightened, looking down at Tolliver's body.
"That's why the name caught me," he said to the dead man. "Wallace is Josephine's father. Has to be."
He heard voices below, echoing down the hall; Tolliver must have left the door open to the stairs leading up to his office. Dean had to move fast; the last thing he needed was to be found with a dead body. Especially one that had died like this. He went to the bank of windows, moving down the line until he found one with the latch unpainted. As he lifted the window, he heard the voices growing louder as they drew closer to the office door.
Slipping outside to the narrow, sloping roof, Dean shoved the window back down and pressed his body against the side of the building. He could see down to the street, see the people spilling back to the town from the memorial service, heads bent close as they talked. He could see the cluster of flannel-clad men move away from their alcove and head down a side alley toward a parking lot.
And he could see Sam heading his way.
Tugging his hood back up to cover his face, Dean slid carefully along the roof to the opposite side of the building. The moment he was in the shadow of the building, he heard the unmistakable scream of discovery as someone entered Tolliver's office. Swallowing and willing himself not to cough, he lowered himself shakily to his knees, crawling the few feet to the edge of the roof, and grabbing the gutter with stiff, cold fingers.
"I'm getting too old for this shit," he muttered, then swung down from the roof, hanging from the gutter for a moment before dropping to the paved alley, the impact sending shock-waves through his aching body and toppling him to the side.
Grunting, he pushed upright looking around to make sure he wasn't seen, then limped on bruised ankles toward the place he'd seen Sam.
Sam burrowed deeper into his coats, trying to ignore his aching head.
It had been too cold to stand among a crowd of strangers and listen as a man gave lip service to the memory of a woman he didn't even know. Sheriff Mead had spoken with scripted eloquence about how temporary life was, dubbed the lake Josephine's Refuge, and spoke of New Lethe's generous spirit.
Mead had ended the ceremony with a flourish of ashes being dumped into a hole in the ice of the lake cut specifically for this occasion. Sam felt certain he sprained something as he'd rolled his eyes.
There was no mention of Mayor Jones, and the moment the ceremony was over, Mead had been whisked off the stage by the men who'd stood behind him, glowering at the crowd the entire time.
Unable to find the Sheriff or Cooper, Sam had followed the crowd back to town, intent on locating Dean and hoping he'd had more success. His thoughts were focused inward, trying to weave their way through the maze in his mind constructed by the unanswered questions. He didn't notice them men approaching him until it was too late.
"You're like a cockroach," came a thick voice to his left. "Ain't ya?"
Sam stopped, looking up and around. He saw immediately that he'd wandered off the main road to one of the back lots Cooper had said were reserved for parking. Except this lot was empty of cars. The only thing here were three very large men, one of whom Sam recognized as Paul Bunyan from the diner the day before.
His eye throbbed immediately.
"Really?" Sam replied, weariness erasing fear. "You really think bullying me is the best choice here?"
The men approached, Paul Bunyan—Marshall, Cooper had said—cracking his knuckles. Sam tilted his head, wondering how Colin had truly managed to scare them off before.
"You gave us the slip yesterday," Marshall continued. "Never got to give you our message."
Sam touched his bruised eye. "I think you got your point across."
"If I had," Marshall said, circling Sam like an alpha wolf, "you wouldn't still be here."
"Dude, I don't know what your deal is," Sam said, standing absolutely still and working to keep all three in his sight. "But the only reason I'm here is because my car is stuck in the snow outside of your town."
"Why were you at the memorial, then?" asked one of the other men.
"Waiting for Cooper," Sam told him.
"Well, he ain't here," Marshall pointed out. "And you are."
"What is your problem, man?" Sam glared at him.
"My problem is you freaks coming in here with your ghost theories and screwing with the lives of good people," Marshall returned, stepping close to Sam and causing him to look up slightly.
"What? What are you talking about?"
"I saw you at the CoffeeHaus," Marshall said. "I know you're with them reporters. You're probably spying on us so you could tell your ghost hunter friends which house to hit next."
"You've got this all wrong," Sam shook his head.
"Do I?" Marshall growled, his breath reeking of cigarettes and old meat.
Sam swallowed and turned his face away. His irritation at the ridiculousness of this situation overpowered any real fear he probably should be feeling.
"My Mama had to board up a broken window after you freaks tried to break in and check for the Lake Woman's Ghost or whatever the hell," Marshall continued. He jerked his thumb toward one of his friends. "His daughter saw a group of you in the library plotting about whose house was going to be next."
"Mister, I don't know what you're talking about." Sam set his jaw, looking Marshall directly in the eye. "Now get out of my way."
"How about you head out of town the same way you came in," Marshall said, stepping close enough that his generous chest pressed against Sam's.
"How about you go to Hell and take a left," Sam returned, body tense as he sensed one of the other men drawing close.
He jutted his elbow out, catching the man on the jaw, then turned and shoved his fist into the man's throat. As the man choked and backed up, Marshall drove a punch into Sam's kidneys, sending him to his knees with a cry of pain.
Marshall pressed his advantage, slamming his fist across Sam's face hard enough that Sam felt his teeth rattle and immediately tasted blood. He shoved back, pushing to a staggered stance and raised his fists, wondering fleetingly if the people leaving the memorial would hear this commotion.
The men approached as one; Sam swung with ferocity, but fighting in real life is never like fighting in the movies. There was no waiting until one was done for another to attack. There was no space to put force behind a blow. It was a tangled jumble of limbs and grunts, shooting pains traveling up his arm whenever his knuckles made contact with one of his attackers, and blurred images moving too closely and too swiftly for him to focus.
He was losing ground.
In minutes he found himself caught, suspended between two men, his arms immobilized as Marshall stood in front of him, lip bleeding, eye starting to swell. Sam allowed himself a sluggish grin as he saw that he had, indeed, damaged the larger man.
"Okay, that's it, you little shit," Marshall wheezed. "I was all for giving you a chance, but now you're gonna pay."
"Shut the hell up already," Sam panted, struggling in the grip of Marshall's friends.
Uttering a guttural growl, Marshall pulled his fist back. Sam tightened his belly, anticipating the blow.
"Let him go."
Sam almost sagged with relief.
Marshall's face folded in confusion as he turned slowly to face whoever was interrupting him. Sam could see Dean standing a few feet behind Marshall. The dark hood was up, shadowing his face, and the layers of coats gave the illusion that he was bigger than Sam knew he was.
"What's it to you?" Marshall wanted to know.
"He's my brother." Dean took a step forward, his shoulders rolling.
Even Sam had to admit he looked rather dangerous.
"In that case, wait your turn," Marshall said. "I'll get to you next."
Dean tipped his head. "'Fraid that's not going to work for me."
Sam blinked, feeling his captors go still as they watched Dean lift his arms lightning-quick and clap his hands against Marshall's ears with enough force that Sam flinched with the sound. Marshall teetered, but Dean didn't pause. He thrust his right fist forward, crashing it against Marshall's throat.
Marshall gagged and reached for his throat just as Dean shoved his left fist into the big man's gut. Marshall went to his knees and Dean brought his own knee up, clocking the man on the chin and stunning him. Rearing back, Dean slammed the flat of his arm across Marshall's cheek, sending the man to the ground, unmoving.
Gasping for breath from the effort, Dean looked up at the two men still holding Sam. His face in shadow, Sam saw his brother mask his shaking hands by reaching for the knife he kept sheathed at the small of his back.
Pulling out the big blade, he said again, "Let him go."
Sam almost fell on his rear as the men released him.
"Get the hell out of here," Dean ordered.
The two men turned without a word and Sam heard their boots hitting the pavement in retreat. When they were far enough away, Dean slipped the knife back into its sheath.
"You okay, Sammy?" Dean asked, his voice wavering with weariness.
Sam nodded hesitantly, taking a shaky step forward on watery legs. "You?"
Before he could answer, Dean began to cough, bending forward and holding his knees with the force of it.
"What the hell is going on here?"
Sam looked around his brother to see Cooper standing with the man he now recognized as Sheriff Mead. The Sheriff had his gun drawn and Cooper was looking at them with a troubled, almost frightened expression.
"Welcoming party," Sam said, moving closer to Dean and resting a hand lightly on his brother's bent back. "Gone wrong."
"What's wrong with Marshall?" Mead asked.
"He's an idiot," Dean rasped, straightening up. "It might be incurable."
Sam dropped his hand from Dean's back but stood close enough that he could feel the subtle tremor run through his brother's body.
Cooper reached over and put a hand on Mead's gun. "Put that away, Matthew," he said quietly. "These aren't our guys."
"Your guys?" Sam asked, pressing his tongue against the cut on his lower lip.
Mead peered at them, his eyes searching the shadow of Dean's hood for a better look. "William Tolliver is dead," he informed them. "Happened during the memorial."
Sam went still and felt Dean's muscles tighten as he curled his hands into fists.
"Where were you during the memorial?" Mead asked.
"We were there," Sam answered quickly. Cooper and Dean remained quiet. "Heard every word you said. Thought the bit about New Lethe's generous spirit was especially touching." Sam pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, wiping some of the blood away. "'Course, now I'm having trouble believing you."
"You boys okay?" Cooper said as Marshall groaned and started to roll over.
"We're fi-," Dean tried, but began to cough again.
"Matthew," Cooper said, "I think you have sufficient grounds to take Marshall into custody. I'm going to get these two back to my office."
"What about Tolliver?" Mead asked, frowning and not taking his eyes off of the brothers. "We need you to get on this, Coop."
"I will," Cooper said. "Have your men take him to the morgue. I'll meet you there."
Sam pulled Dean away as Sheriff Mead cuffed Marshall and pulled the disoriented man to his feet.
"You might need to check him out, too," Mead commented, shaking his head at Marshall's bruised countenance.
"He can wait," Cooper declared.
Sam watched Mead haul Marshall away, then looked at the M.E. "What is it?"
"Tolliver drowned," Dean said before Cooper had a chance to speak. "In his office. At his desk."
"What?" Sam looked over at his brother, surprised.
"How did you know that?" Cooper asked, frowning.
"I saw it happen," Dean informed them. He looked at Sam. "It gets worse."
Sam sighed. "It usually does."
It was cold in the Cooper's office.
Dean was starting to think that it was cold all over the world. He couldn't remember the last time he'd really felt warm. He'd given in to Cooper's insistence on examining him when he'd not been able to draw a breath without wincing as they walked from the parking lot to the office.
He sat on the exam table, his coat, borrowed hoodie, and flannel shirt hanging on a hook on the wall, his boots beneath them on the floor. He was dressed in a long-sleeved T-shirt, jeans, and thick socks but he was still shivering. Pressing a hand to his aching chest he cleared his throat.
"You okay?" Sam asked.
"Ask me that again. Seriously. I dare you."
Sam lifted his hands in surrender and slouched on the edge of Cooper's desk where he'd been perched since the M.E. had left to get supplies.
"Sorry, jeeze," Sam muttered. "You just don't look so hot."
"That's because it's freezing in here."
"No it's not," Sam protested, pushing the sleeves of his long-sleeved shirt up.
"Oh, shut up," Dean grumbled. "Bitch."
"Jerk," Sam retorted with an abbreviated grin, wincing as his split lip protested.
Dean rolled his neck, closing his eyes so that he didn't have to see Sam's damaged face. There was no reason for Sam to be bearing those bruises. Dean should have been there. Or Sam should have been with him. Stay together, stay alive. He needed to step up his game if they were going to get out of this intact.
"So, Josephine is Colin's sister." Sam interrupted his thoughts, evidently still piecing together the information Dean had shared with him.
Dean rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, looks that way."
"Doesn't make any sense," Sam said, looking at his hands.
Sam shrugged. "He never mentioned her. He talked about his dad and once or twice mentioned his family getting run out of town, but…well, I mean we even talked about the body and he never said anything."
"You said he was pretty messed up," Dean offered. "Maybe he just…y'know…couldn't."
"Maybe," Sam sounded doubtful.
Dean peered at his brother closely. "What's going on in that head of yours?"
Sam looked away and Dean saw a muscle in his jaw coil. "I just…I shoulda seen it. I could tell something was off about him, but…."
"Give yourself a break, Sam," Dean said gently. "He's a soldier without a war who has to take care of someone who depends on him, and is doing it all by himself because everyone he knows looks at him like a freak." He turned his head to catch Sam's eyes. "Remind you of anyone?"
"Colin is nothing like Dad," Sam protested.
"All I'm saying is…sometimes we get so used to seeing our kind of weird that we miss normal weird. Y'know?"
Sam chuckled, looking down. "Strangely enough, that makes a lot of sense."
Dean heard Cooper moving their direction down the hall, a one-sided conversation catching their attention.
"Okay," Cooper was saying as he entered the room, a cell phone pinned to his shoulder with the side of his head, his arms full of boxes, vials, and tools that Dean didn't recognize. "Okay, got it. Thanks, Matthew."
Cooper dumped his armload onto the desk next to Sam, then dropped his phone from his shoulder to his hand, shutting it off and putting it in his pocket.
"What was that about?" Sam asked.
Cooper straightened and took a breath. "I told Matthew."
"Told him…what?" Dean asked.
"I told him that the two deaths were connected," Cooper said, putting his supplies in small stacks as he spoke. "That even though I haven't done a full autopsy, it appears that William Tolliver drowned in much the same manner that Mayor Jones did. And that I believed those deaths were related to the body of Josephine Sanderson."
"And he believed you?" Sam pressed.
Cooper looked at him. "He did. Because I didn't cry ghost."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Oh, well, in that case…."
"So what are you doing about it?" Sam demanded.
"I told him that I thought someone was looking for something where Josephine's body had been found."
Sam cocked his head. "Wait…so…you believe us?"
"I'm not saying that," Cooper picked gestured for Sam's bruised hand. "I'm just saying it wouldn't hurt to take a look and see what we might be able to find."
"Also wouldn't hurt to go back to Colin's," Dean said quietly. "See if there's anything of his sister's there."
"I didn't see anything," Sam said. "But, I suppose there could be—ouch!"
"Sorry," Cooper said as he dabbed antiseptic over the roughed-up skin on Sam's knuckles. "Who is this now?"
"The guy that saved Sam's ass yesterday," Dean said. "And then shot me."
"What? Shot you?" Cooper turned away from Sam.
"Just a flesh wound," Dean waved a hand at his worried face. "Believe me. I've had worse."
Dean caught Sam's glance but looked away. He felt his body ticking down, but knew he had to hang on awhile longer; they were close on this. Really, really close.
"And this guy," Cooper said, cleaning the cut on Sam's mouth. "You say he knew Josephine?"
"He's her brother," Dean said. "I found Sam out at his place last night."
Cooper dabbed some salve on Sam's lip then inspected his bruised eye and butterfly-bandaged cut. "I thought you said you never made it to town."
Dean coughed into the crook of his arm, feeling something pulling in his chest, tearing across his throat. Sliding from the exam table, he made his way to the waste basket next to Cooper's desk and spat into it, ignoring the pink tinge of the mucus there.
"We didn't," he said, watching as Cooper cleaned and re-bandaged Sam's cut. "We were out at the old Sanderson place."
Cooper turned from Sam, looping a stethoscope around his neck. "Wait, you're not talking about Colin Sanderson," Cooper said.
Dean jutted his jaw forward, his eyebrows up. "Uh…yes."
He shot Sam a look watching as his brother lifted his shoulders, equally as clueless.
Waving Dean back toward the exam table, Cooper shook his head. "Sorry, I'm just…I thought Colin never came back from Iraq is all. I didn't realize he'd been living out there this whole time."
"Yeah, well," Sam said as Dean settled on the exam table. "He said they weren't really town favorites. Especially after his Dad's stroke."
"Take off your shirt," Cooper instructed Dean, narrowing his eyes.
Dean bit off a groan as he reached back between his shoulders and grabbed the cotton material. He pulled it up and over his head, suppressing a shiver as the cooler air hit his skin. The bullet tear in the coat hadn't bothered him with the hoodie on, but it snagged on his bandage as he pulled the clothing all the way off.
"Let's see that wound, first of all," Cooper said, gently removing the bandage Sam had placed over the grooved skin the night before.
The brothers were quiet, each lost in their own collection of thoughts. Dean saw Sam watching Cooper's movements and wanted to reassure him that everything was going to be okay, but it was hard enough to pull in a deep breath as it was.
"Doesn't look too bad," Cooper said.
Dean saw him go for the antiseptic and pulled his belly tight in anticipation. The sting was deep and immediate, but then Cooper followed it with the same salve he'd put on Sam's lip and the ache eased considerably. Cooper covered the wound with a clean bandage, then moved to face Dean.
"Quite a collection of scars," he commented, his eyes on Dean's chest.
"Not an easy life," Dean said, straightening as Cooper pressed the cold face of the stethoscope against his back.
"This bruising," Cooper's cool fingers touched lightly on Dean's side marking evidence of his fight with the shapeshifter just days ago. "Was this a result of your fall through the ice?"
Dean shook his head. "Got that before we stopped off in your little hamlet here."
"So this is all you two do? Drive around the country ghost busting?"
"Believe me, it's not as glamorous as you make it sound," Sam remarked dryly.
Dean almost grinned.
"Take a deep breath," Cooper ordered.
Dean tried, but ended up coughing. Cooper waited until he was done and then pressed the stethoscope against his back again.
"You have any pain in your chest?"
"A little," Dean hedged.
Cooper took Dean's face in his hands and turned it first one direction then the other. Using the pads of his thumbs, he pulled Dean's eyelids up and peered closely, then released him.
"How long have you been running a fever?" Cooper asked.
Dean saw Sam's head jerk up.
"Not long," he lied.
"So, let me ask you this," Cooper stepped back, crossing his arms. "Does this job of yours afford you special…powers?"
"What?" Sam exclaimed. "No!"
"He's yankin' our chain, man," Dean replied tiredly.
"Yes," Cooper nodded. "Yes, I am." He tilted his head, pushing his lips out in what was quickly becoming a familiar expression. "The human body can only take so much abuse. You've got multiple contusions, a decent graze from a bullet, and you're working on pneumonia." When Dean didn't react, Cooper tried again. "You've got fluid building up in your lungs. Your chest is rattling like Marley's ghost."
Dean simply looked at him.
"Why didn't you get help sooner?" Cooper asked.
"Didn't want to cause any trouble," Dean replied.
"Oh, well," Cooper lifted his hands. "Dodged that bullet."
"Hey, listen," Sam protested, stepping forward.
"No, Sam, wait," Dean held up a hand, still looking at Cooper. "Let the man speak. I mean, after all…he's dealing with two whackos who have no idea what they're talking about while people in his down drop like flies." Dean tilted his head and pushed out his lips in an obvious imitation of Cooper. "That's a lot to take in."
Sam settled back against the desk and waited. Dean coughed weakly into his shoulder. Cooper stared at the floor.
"I told Sheriff Mead to search in the spot the boys found the body," Cooper said finally. "Search everything—there are houses and buildings still completely intact underwater."
The brothers waited quietly.
"I told him to bring up anything that looked like it could be a personal artifact. He has a two-man team of divers in his unit—they have specialized equipment to search the lake for…well…bodies."
"So, what are you saying, Coop?" Dean asked, drawing on the nickname he'd heard others in the town use.
Cooper looked up at him. "I'm saying…you just might…be right."
"We are right," Dean declared.
"But you're also human," Cooper said, pushing away from the exam table and crossing to the desk full of supplies. "And you're sick." He poured cough syrup into a small medicine cup and handed it to Dean, then turned back to his desk. "So, while the Sheriff searches the lake and I autopsy Tolliver, I want both of you to rest." He grabbed a vial and a syringe and turned back to Dean. "I want to give you a shot of penicillin. Are you allergic?"
Dean shook his head.
"It's not the strongest antibiotic, but it'll help you fight this off as long as you stay warm and rest," Cooper approached, filling the syringe as he walked. "I'll have Mandy fix you some food later up at the diner. You can take the couches in the waiting room. No one will bother you."
"Hey, Cooper," Sam asked as Cooper slid the needle beneath Dean's skin. "What did that diner used to be called?"
"What do you mean?" Cooper asked, handing Dean back his shirts.
"I thought I saw a name on the side—some faded letters."
"Oh," Cooper grabbed a bottle of ibuprofen from his stash and tossed it to Dean. "Take a few of these after you eat. Keep that fever down. I'm going to write you up a prescription to take with you when we get your car out." He turned to Sam. "A long time ago it was Sanderson Bar & Grill. But that was well before 9/11—before Colin Sanderson left for Iraq."
"So, this family…they used to be pretty prominent in this town, huh?" Sam mused, following Dean and Cooper as they made their way to the waiting room.
"How do you mean?" Cooper asked, opening a closet in the hall and grabbing two blankets.
"Well, I mean, they had a restaurant and Wallace was the Sheriff before Mead…," Sam shrugged taking a blanket from Cooper and dropping heavily onto the couch. "Just seems sad that people left them behind. Forgot about them."
Cooper looked over at Sam, something unreadable crossing his face. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, it is."
Dean lay back on the couch, feeling his body groan as he removed the burden of carrying his own weight. He flipped the blanket over his legs and sighed as Cooper left the room.
"You gonna be okay, Sammy?"
"First time I've taken an afternoon nap in years," Sam yawned in reply.
"I think the fact that you've gone, like, forty-eight hours without sleep gets you off the hook."
"Oh, good," Sam muttered drowsily. "'Cause I was worried."
"Don't do anything without me," Dean said on a whisper, finding sleep waiting for him on the other side of his exhale.
It took him a moment to realize the sound he was hearing wasn't captured in the layer of his own dreams.
It was half-way between a snarl and a whimper and Sam couldn't seem to shake it off or shake it loose. Prying his eyes open took an inhuman effort of will. His entire body felt encased in lead, drifting, moments away from rolling back into the sweet oblivion of sleep.
But in the dying light of day that spilled through the narrow window at the top of the room, Sam saw his brother on the adjacent couch. Dean was tangled in his blanket, his legs kicked free, his arms trapped. Sweat glistened on his face, tenting his lashes and soaking his short hair. His lips were parted and even in this light Sam saw a bluish tinge to them.
And the sound was coming from him.
Pushing himself free of blankets and sleep at the same time, Sam stumbled across the short space between them to hit his knees by the side of the couch. He grabbed his brother's arm, holding him and shaking him awake at the same time.
"Hey! Hey, man," Sam said softly. "Dean, hey! Wake up."
Dean came to with a start, jerking away from Sam's grip and staring at him with wide, unseeing eyes.
"Easy, it's okay," Sam reassured him. "Just a dream."
Dean fought the blankets to get his arms free then dragged a hand down his sweaty face. "Son of a….," he muttered, dropping his head back, "bitch."
"I was, uh…," Dean swallowed, blinking to focus his eyes. "Trapped in net. Underwater."
Sam tugged the rest of the blanket free from Dean's body. "Creepy," he commented.
Dean took a breath, but didn't cough. However, this close, Sam heard the rattle Cooper had mentioned. It didn't sound good. Swinging his legs over the edge of the couch, Dean sat up slowly. Sam dropped down next to him.
"How long were we asleep?" Dean asked, rubbing the top of his head.
Sam looked at his watch. "Few hours. Think Mead's found anything?"
Dean cleared his throat and reached for his boots. "Let's go find out."
"You need some more aspirin or anything?"
Shaking his head, Dean pushed to his feet, wavering for a moment before catching his balance. "I think that shot he gave me is helping. Chest doesn't hurt as bad."
Sam rubbed at his temples. His head hadn't really quit aching since they'd driven off the road the night before last. It wasn't as bad right now, and it hadn't been long enough since he'd taken ibuprofen to take more. He put a few in his pocket for later.
"What about your fever?"
"It's fine," Dean said, grabbing his coat and hoodie and draping them over his arm. "C'mon."
It's fine, Sam mocked silently. We build our lives on lies and still manage to be surprised when we face the truth.
He watched his brother carefully as they walked down the hall toward the morgue, determined to catch the first sign of Dean giving in. He knew his brother wouldn't hesitate to stop if it were Sam who was sick. Or in danger of getting hurt.
But he also knew that Dean could feel how close they were to getting to the bottom of this hunt. It was stenciled on his face in dark, bold font. And he wouldn't quit. To Sam's frustration, Dean's keen hunter sense was often times wrapped in reckless abandon and his own well-being became simply collateral damage.
"Cooper!" Dean called at the top of the stairs leading down to the morgue. "You decent?"
"Come on down," Cooper called. "Beware…it's not PG-13 down here, boys."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Dean muttered, his boots hitting the tiled staircase like exclamation points.
Sam followed, noticing the large elevator doors at the base of the stairs. He wondered how they got the bodies down here through such a small door. He turned at the bottom of the stairs in time to pull in a formaldehyde-laden breath and look away. William Tolliver was lying, naked, on a metal table, his chest cavity open, the skin folded back. On a tray next to him lay the front of his ribcage and what appeared to be his heart, lungs, and stomach in separate metal bowls.
"Thought you would have rested longer," Cooper commented. A blue smock covered his street clothes and his hair was covered by a paper skull cap.
"Bad dreams," Dean shrugged. "Occupational hazard."
"Yes, I'd imagine," Cooper said, turning back to Tolliver.
"Uh, find out…anything?" Sam asked, trying not to look directly at the body.
"Well, if he hadn't drowned on lake water while high and dry in his office," Cooper said, "our friend Mr. Tolliver would have probably died of a heart attack in a few years' time."
"Anything helpful?" Dean amended.
"Nothing," Cooper shook his head. "Everything here is exactly the same as when I autopsied Mayor Jones. Even these."
Cooper lifted Tolliver's hand and showed them three round, mottled marks on his wrist.
"What is that?" Dean asked, peering closely. "Looks like…bruises?"
"Yes, exactly," Cooper nodded. "Finger marks, actually. Like he'd been held down. Which is one reason your spirit theory about Jones seemed so unlikely."
"Why do you believe us now?" Sam asked as a cell phone rang.
Cooper pulled his latex gloves from his fingers, turning to find his coat and pat the pockets until he pulled out his phone. "Maybe because you two are so convincing," he said, flipping the phone open. "Yes?"
The brothers stood quietly and waited as Cooper listened to whoever was speaking on the other end of the line.
"I'll be there in ten," Cooper said, then closed his phone. He moved over to Tolliver and began pulling up a heavy-duty sheet over the body.
"Be where?" Dean asked.
"That was Sheriff Mead," Cooper told them. "Said his divers found something, but he needs me on site to take a look."
"We're coming with you," Dean declared.
"Son," Cooper said, turning to face them and pulling his smock over his head. "On site. As in the lake."
"Right," Dean replied, cocking his head to the side as if waiting for the punch line.
"I'm not letting you anywhere near that lake," Cooper shook his head. "Not with those lungs. You stay here. I'll call you when I get there."
He started toward the stairs and Dean stepped smoothly in front of him.
"All due respect," Dean said softly, "but you have no idea what you're dealing with. We do."
Cooper looked at Sam for help. Sam stepped up behind Dean. There was no way he wasn't going to back his brother's play in this. Not after all they'd been through to get this far.
Recognizing his defeat, Cooper sighed. "Fine. But you stay on the shore."
"Fine," Dean agreed.
The drive to the lake was quiet. Night had captured the town, darkness eagerly spreading between the trees that surrounded New Lethe and stretching its greedy fingers through the woods as they drove.
Sam felt the tension in the air, but not between the three of them. There was a sense of foreboding in the cab of the truck, a dread that something was going to come to the surface of this town's white-washed history that would leave them all marked by its truth.
Mandy had been right: everyone was going to pay a price.
"We're not too far from Colin's place," Dean spoke up as Cooper pulled off the road and bounced the truck through the snow covered landscape, narrowly missing the various cluster of trees. "Depending on what Mead has, maybe we go talk to him next."
"Good idea," Sam agreed, bracing himself against the dash and floorboards. He wasn't ready to bounce his still-fragile head on against anything else for a good while.
They drove onto a narrow outcropping of beach where Sam saw several uniformed men with high-powered flashlights gathered. A small speedboat had been pulled up on the sand and the group of men was staring out across the lake, their lights marking a path cut through the ice. A portable spot light was positioned at the high edge of the beach and was focused down that path, softly illuminating a sight Sam would be happy never to see again.
Protruding from the ice was the tip of a church steeple, the gold cross gleaming dully in the spotlight. The tops of two buildings could be seen further down, near a boat moored in the ice of the lake. They looked like bodies, he thought. Wooden bodies floating up from the clutches of the lake.
"Dean," Sam said in a low warning. "Lots of cops."
"I noticed," Dean muttered.
Sam watched him pull his hood up and hoped it, the darkness, and the focus on the lake would keep the cops from getting a good look at his brother. Maybe Hendrickson hasn't even gotten up this far. He could have turned south, be looking in Canada or Mexico. There's no reason to—
"You guys got a problem with cops?" Cooper asked.
"No," Dean shook his head. "No problem."
Cooper looked at Sam who nodded in agreement.
"Any of them got a problem with you?" Cooper asked slowly.
Sam smiled. "No reason any cop in New Lethe should even know who we are," he said confidently.
Narrowing his eyes in doubt, Cooper climbed out of the truck. Sam exchanged a worried glance with Dean, noting that he could barely see his brother's eyes in the shadow of the hood. They followed Cooper into the chill of the night; Sam buried his gloved hands deeper into his pockets wishing for the ski mask as the wind took a bite out of his cheeks.
"Whatcha got, Matthew?" Cooper called as he made his way to the cluster of men.
Staying close to each other, the brothers followed. Sheriff Mead and several other officers were standing near what looked like a portable monitor. Peering closer, Sam saw that the image captured was a night vision shot, most likely from a camera mounted on one of the diver's masks. As he watched, one of the officers flipped a switch and the image shifted to that of a boat.
Sam lifted his eyes and saw that the flashlights were trained down the path cut in the ice, toward where the boat must be. It was too dark for him to actually see the boat that was displayed on the monitor.
"Divers found the house about an hour ago," Sheriff Mead said, turning his flashlight toward Cooper. "Started searching room by room, just like you said. They found it just before I called you."
"Another body," Mead replied.
Sam started in quiet surprise, but Dean didn't move.
"Another…." Cooper gasped.
"Bones, mainly. Just like with the woman. It's in an upper room of the house, but there's a lot of damage to the building. It's going to take a bit to get it free."
"Oh, Jesus, Matthew." Cooper rubbed his face. "What happened here?"
"We rushed it, Coop," Mead said softly, his voice both defensive and filled with regret. "We didn't know."
Sam looked at Dean, noting the complete focus his brother had on Sheriff Mead.
"Didn't know what?"
"Sheriff!" A voice called out from the group of men around the monitor. "Think you should see this."
Dean pressed forward, following Mead and Cooper toward the monitor. Taller than his brother, Sam had no trouble rising on his toes to see over Dean's shoulder. The screen showed the top of the boat, wavering a bit as the men inside leaned over to reach for something handed up by the divers.
Sam blinked, focusing as the image caught a man's hand retrieving something from the diver's gloved grip.
"What…what is that?" Cooper asked, peering closer.
"Dog tags," Dean whispered, looking back over his shoulder at Sam.
Sam saw it then. Gripped in the man's dripping hand was a set of dog tags, greenish lake weed tangled in the chain.
"Son of a bitch," Dean breathed. "We missed it. We missed it."
"Dog tags?" Cooper whispered, looking back at Dean, confused.
Sam stared at the dog tags for a moment longer, shock sliding through his system. "Wait, you mean…Colin?"
He looked up at Cooper and watched as the realization hit the M.E. "Oh, Lord," Cooper uttered as if in prayer.
"Oh, shit, Sam!" Dean turned, grabbing his shoulders, his voice urgent. "Wallace. Wallace is back there with him."
Before Sam could grab him back, Dean was moving away, up the beach, past the truck.
"Wait! Dean! Wait!" Sam started after him, pulled up short when Cooper grabbed his arm. He turned, tugging himself free, and noticed that the eyes of every cop were on him.
"Where is he going?" Mead demanded.
Sam looked from Mead to Cooper, floundering for a way to explain without explaining, needing to catch up with Dean now.
"The cabin?" Cooper asked, grabbing Sam's arm again.
Sam nodded, staring to turn away.
"Wallace is there?" Cooper pressed.
"Yes!" Sam snapped. "Dean's going to get Wallace out of there until you can pull Colin's bones up. We gotta burn them if you want this to stop."
"Wallace Sanderson?" Mead asked, turning his flashlight full onto Sam's face. "The former sheriff?"
"Yes, goddammit!" Sam trying to pull his arm free from Cooper's surprisingly strong grip.
"No." Mead dropped the beam of light to the beach, turning away. "This isn't possible. It's just not possible."
"What, Matthew? What did you do?" Cooper turned to the Sheriff.
"Listen," Sam snapped. "Work out your issues later, okay?" He looked directly at Cooper, narrowing his eyes against the harsh glare from so many flashlights trained on him. "My brother is going to catch your killer. Now either help me or let me go! He can't do this on his own—not sick like this."
Cooper released Sam's arm.
"Tell us what to do."
a/n: Thanks so much for reading! You guys make this all worthwhile. I'm still working to keep this as close to an every-two-weeks update as I can. More to come soon—I look forward to your thoughts.