The mole on the lady's upper lip moved up and down as she spoke to the man sitting opposite. Up and down, up and down. Dean Winchester watched in rapt fascination, the constant movement blotting out the lady's words until they were a distant buzzing in the back of his head.
"We've received the transcripts from your sons' previous school, Mr Winchester," the lady was saying. "And the one before that." She shuffled a not-inconsiderable pile of papers on the dark wooden desk behind which she sat. "And the one before that."
Dean had heard it all before. Blah blah blah, naughty boy, shouldn't be in school, blah blah. Tuning out the words, he continued to fix his gaze on the mole, certain the lady would be talking about him any minute, and not particularly wanting to hear what she had to say.
Facial growths were, after all, far more engrossing to ten year old boys than school transcripts.
The chair next to him creaked as the big guy shifted his weight, awkwardly. "We move around a lot," he said carefully, dark eyes never leaving those of the little woman opposite.
The mole had stopped moving, and Dean's attention was drawn to his father, who was staring the lady down as if she were the evil prey on one of his more successful hunting trips. Dean didn't breathe for a second, glancing from his father to the mole lady and back again, as a silent battle of wills, possibly imagined but more than likely real, played out between the two adults.
The mole began to move once more. "I see," the mole lady said, the first to break eye contact.
Dean grinned, revelling in his father's small victory. For a brief second, the mole lady fixed him with a disapproving squint, before returning her attention to her paperwork.
"You're a – " she raised her eyebrows and peered over her wire-rimmed glasses, causing the mole to quiver like a bird on a telephone wire, " – hunter?"
John Winchester spared her the briefest of nods. "Of sorts," he confirmed, knuckles whitening as his hands balled into fists. Dean could see the concentration in his eyes as he forcibly calmed himself.
"I see," the mole lady said again, once more consulting her files. Suddenly she looked up, causing Dean to instinctively flinch in his seat, hands gripping the sides of the chair at the mole's sudden movement in his direction.
But she wasn't looking at him.
She was looking at the little boy sitting next to him, inquisitive eyes peeking out from an unruly mop of dark brown hair. Her expression softened, and she smiled, the mole stretching as her lips curved slightly upwards. "We have no problem at all admitting your younger son, Mr Winchester," she was saying, still smiling at the little boy. "Sam's transcripts are exemplary and his former teachers don't have a bad word to say about him. In fact, most of them were very sorry to see him go."
She smiled again, and Dean grimaced as his younger brother smiled back. The little geek. He'd smile at anyone…
"In fact," the mole lady continued, turning her attention back to the man sitting opposite. "They were all in agreement that, with more, ah – " the mole shrank in on itself as she pursed her lips, " – settled schooling, Sam could have a very bright future ahead of him."
Dean's attention flitted back to his brother, who in turn was looking hopefully at their father.
A shadow seemed to pass over Dad's face, and Dean knew what was coming next. Yep, there it went, the set of the jaw, the narrowing of the eyes. He shifted again in his seat, knuckles whitening still further. "We move around a lot," he repeated through clenched teeth. "My job –"
"Yes," the mole lady nodded again. "Your job. I understand that." She sounded almost resigned. Then, "But have you considered the disruptive effect the – " she chose her words carefully, " – the lifestyle you have chosen might be having on your sons' schooling? Or the development of their social skills?" Here she looked pointedly at Dean before returning her attention to her papers. Looking back up at Sam, she continued, "Four schools in eight months? Your sons would perhaps benefit from a little stability in their lives."
John Winchester's chair creaked again, and Dean half expected him to explode into some tirade about not telling him how to raise his children. But he didn't. He just sat there, looking wistfully at Sam.
The mole lady's attention moved slowly back to Dean. "It might certainly help with some of your older son's – erm – behavioural problems." The mole twitched, and it took all of Dean's self-control to tear his gaze away and glance at his father, who's eyes had narrowed to pin pricks.
"'Behavioural problems'?" he repeated.
The mole lady sighed, again turning her attention to her paperwork. "As I said," she reiterated. "We have no problem admitting your younger son – "
Here it comes, Dean thought to himself, inwardly steeling himself and wishing he'd continued to tune out the conversation. The mole had been interesting, but not interesting enough.
"But your older son…" She trailed off, once more catching Dean squarely with that disapproving glare.
Dean felt his colour rise as he realised his father seemed to be deliberately avoiding looking at him.
"Expelled from three out of his last four schools?" The mole was moving rapidly again, and Dean redoubled his efforts to tune out the lady's voice by concentrating on her growth. "That's not exactly encouraging."
"Whatever he did," Dad was saying. "I'm sure he did for a reason."
Dean wasn't used to the apologetic tone in his father's voice, and again tore his attention away from the mole to stare at him. Dad wasn't standing up for him. Why wasn't Dad standing up for him?
Then all of a sudden it hit him, as he saw his father's gaze drift back towards his kid brother.
Sammy was the smart one. The little geek. Dad was trying to do right by him. Dad was trying to get him back into school.
Dean glanced sidelong at his brother, resentment starting to swell into an indignant lump in his chest. It's all his fault, the little voice in his head insisted. I only get in trouble because of him. I only ever get in trouble because of him.
"A reason for breaking another student's arm?" the mole lady's attention snapped back to Dean's Dad. "A reason for starting a playground brawl that left two children in need of hospital treatment?"
"Boys fight – " John said, again on the defensive.
"Not in my school they don't."
John shifted again in his seat, this time his voice low and unnaturally controlled. "I taught my boys right from wrong," he insisted quietly, still resolutely refusing to look at his older son while he maintained unwavering eye contact with the mole lady. "But I also taught them to stand up for themselves. And that's what Dean did. That's what he does. He stands up for himself." He caught Dean's eye then, and the boy's self-righteous indignation evaporated. He knew his Dad would never sell him out. Even to get Sammy back into school. "He stands up for his brother," John added, as if that should be explanation enough. Then he smiled at his son, tossing him an encouraging wink.
Dean grinned back, before turning triumphantly to Sam, wanting to make sure he'd seen Dad standing up for him… But the look on his little brother's face made all thoughts of sibling rivalry disappear.
Dean recognised that look. Sam was looking at Dean the same way Dean looked at their Dad. Everyone needed a hero. But having a hero and being a hero were two different things, and Dean wasn't entirely sure he was up to the job. He met his younger brother's gaze awkwardly, before turning back to the mole lady, defiance in his eyes.
He was ready to speak up now.
"Huh?" Dean Winchester's attention snapped back to his brother, as his eyes drifted slowly away from the mesmerising black top of the road in front of him.
Sam exhaled impatiently, rolling his eyes at his brother's seeming lack of attention. "Earth to Dean," he said sarcastically through a hand cupped around his mouth like a bullhorn. "The Mother Ship's just landed in Times Square and all the aliens look like Jessica Alba…!"
Dean looked at him blankly, before frowning and shifting awkwardly in his seat. He returned his attention to the road stretching out in front of him, black top glittering in the Impala's headlights, the only source of light for miles around as the midnight desert surrounded them in every direction.
Sam shook his head at his brother. "The co-ordinates?"
Dean seemed to shake whatever reverie he'd been lost in from his head, his hazel eyes focussing unblinkingly straight ahead. "Yeah," he insisted. "I was listening."
Sam gestured irritably at the surrounding desert with the map clutched in his hand. "And…?"
"And…" Dean frowned, glancing sidelong at his brother with that vacant look Sam recognised as the 'not quite following the plot' look Dean got sometimes. Sam knew Dean wasn't dumb, but sometimes he just wanted to shake him.
It had been different when they were kids. When Sam had wanted answers, Dean had always had them, even if they were only parroted repetitions of the answers he in turn had got from Dad. When you're a kid, sometimes that's all you need to hear.
But it was different now. Dad wasn't here, and even though Dean was, he didn't have any answers.
"The co-ordinates," Sam repeated. "Why would Dad send us to the middle of the Arizona desert in the middle of the night with no explanation and no clue as to what we might be facing?"
Dean didn't tear his eyes from the road for even a second. "We've had this fight, Sam," he said through gritted teeth. "Orders."
Sam rolled his eyes again. Orders. As if that was explanation enough. "We don't even know the text message was actually from Dad," he pointed out.
"The last one was," Dean countered, knuckles whitening as he gripped the steering wheel a little too hard. "Roosevelt Asylum. Remember?"
Sam remembered only too well. "Yeah," he said. "But he sent that to you – you got the text message. Why would Dad send a text to me?"
Dean spared him the briefest of glances. "'Cause maybe he trusts you to do your job?" he offered.
Sam wasn't sure Dean sounded at all convinced by his own suggestion. And Sam certainly wasn't. "I'm not buying it," he insisted, resolutely shaking his head as he returned his attention to the murky darkness surrounding them. If anything, it seemed to be getting darker than ever. "We shouldn't have come out here."
"What, you feeling a tremor in the Force or somethin' Obi-Wan?" Dean countered testily. "Or maybe the Psychic Hotline texted the wrong number."
"Shut up," was the snappiest retort Sam could come up with. Dean's bringing up of Roosevelt Asylum had spun him off into thoughts he'd prefer not to be thinking just then, feelings towards his big brother that he'd just as soon leave buried. In a lead-lined bunker two hundred feet below ground level.
An irritable silence filled the car, Dean glancing sideways at Sam, who stared sulkily out of the window onto a landscape he could now barely make out.
Then it struck Dean like a thunderclap.
Sam was scared.
Dean hadn't really given himself much time to consider what his brother's newly-discovered talents might actually mean. To either of them. And truth be told, he wasn't sure he wanted to know. But if Sam was getting bad vibes… Well, he'd been right in Lawrence. Hell, he'd been right about Jessica.
Dean considered for a second.
"Had any weird dreams lately, Sam?" he asked tentatively. He saw the expression on his brother's face falter, just for an instant.
Sam didn't look at him. "Maybe," he replied at length.
Dean waited. And waited. But Sam didn't elaborate. Dean raised his eyebrows. "Sam," he prodded. "Dean here. Not psychic. Can't read your mind, buddy."
Sam shook his head, clearly uncomfortable. "I – " he stammered. "I don't know what it means."
It was Dean's turn to roll his eyes. "And if you don't tell me what you saw, neither will I!"
Sam sighed, heavily. "For the last couple of nights, I've been dreaming about – I don't know. A statue, maybe." He turned to look at his brother, who frowned.
"What, like some dead guy holding a sword and sitting on a horse or something?"
Sam shook his head again. "No. More like – " He paused again, thinking. "Those road-side shrines you see sometimes. In the desert or down south, you know? Like a Saint or the Virgin Mary or something. People light candles…" He trailed off, dismayed at his inability to describe the thing he'd seen in his dream.
But Dean was nodding. "OK," he said. "Yeah, I know the kinda thing you mean. Sometimes people come pray. They get miracles. You read about it in the Inquirer a week later. That sorta thing. Right?"
Sam nodded, still frowning. "I guess."
Dean glanced around them. "Well we are in the desert…" he pointed out.
Sam followed the direction of his gaze.
"Not that you'd actually be able to see that if you didn't know…" Dean added. Then, "And I guess there might be shrines like that out here somewhere." He thought for a second, then shrugged. "But I don't know what the hell it means either. If that's any consolation."
"It's not," Sam confirmed. But thanks for trying." He shook his head again, throwing the map into the footwell.. "Dammit, this is so stupid!" he burst out, frustration coming off him in angry waves. "Why do these dreams have to be so – " he groped for the right word. " – Cryptic?"
Dean laughed, mirthlessly. "Interpreting Psychic Dreams for Dummies," he said. "Only $25 on Amazon…"
Sam's sullen expression cracked into a weak smile. "OK," he said, shaking his head in resignation. "I get it. No easy answers."
Dean nodded, before adding in his best Discovery Channel voice, "Welcome to the inexplicable world of the paranormal."
Sam shook his head again. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe it's nothing…" he trailed off back into silence, resting his forehead on the heel of his hand.
Dean concentrated on the road for a while, before he suddenly said, "You remember Mrs Pritchard?"
Sam looked over at him, confused by this seemingly completely random non-sequitur. "Mole Lady?" he ventured uncertainly, a frown creasing his already creased forehead.
Dean nodded. "Yeah," he confirmed with a wry chuckle. "Mole Lady." He looked at Sam again. "I didn't know if you'd remember her. You were only – what – six?"
Sam shuddered, and not from the increasing cold. "I remember her," he said. "She used to scare the crap outta me."
Dean smiled lopsidedly. "Me too."
"Of course," Sam added reproachfully. "It didn't help that you tried to convince me she was a witch, and that the mole was the source of her evil power."
Dean frowned mischievously. "I said that?" he said in mock surprise. "Nah. I never said that. You're remembering it wrong."
Sam snorted. "You liked to torture me, didn't you?"
"That's what kid brothers are for," Dean returned. He paused for a beat. Then, "Anyway, Mrs Pritchard. That's who I was thinking about before."
Sam frowned again. "Our old school Principal? From – what – seventeen years ago? You were thinking about her?"
Sam shook his head. "The word 'why' springs to mind."
Dean shrugged. "I dunno," he said, truthfully. "She just popped into my head."
A wistful smile played at the corners of Sam's mouth. "She was true to her word, though," he said.
Dean nodded. "Yep. The old crone said she'd wind up expelling me." He cast another teasing glance in Sam's direction. "Hell, maybe she was psychic too."
Sam smiled weakly. "Yeah," he offered. "A lot of that going around."
Sam considered his brother for a while, as Dean seemed to drift back into whatever memory he'd fallen into. Maybe it was unconnected, Dean's suddenly remembering something that happened so long ago. A coincidence. Sam shook his head. He didn't believe in coincidences. That memory had popped into his brother's head for a reason; maybe for the same reason he'd had a dream about a roadside statue.
But why? Why should Dean suddenly be thinking about Mole Lady? Of all people? What had happened then that could have made that particular memory resurface after all these years?
Dark eyes still on his brother, Sam tried to remember something – anything – that had happened back at St Christopher's School that might have some bearing on their current situation.
"So you heard what I promised Mrs Pritchard?" Dad was saying, as he lined his boys up in the corridor outside the Principal's Office. He fixed Dean with a steely gaze, and Sam watched his older brother's bearing change completely – shoulders back, chin raised slightly; for all the world the good little soldier.
"Yes sir," Dean replied shortly, his answer clipped and obedient.
Sam didn't quite get his big brother sometimes. Dean didn't take crap off anyone, and nothing seemed to scare him…except their Dad. When he was around, Dean was a whole different person – submissive, attentive – not the headstrong kid who always knew what to do, always knew what to say, and never let anyone get the better of him.
Sam didn't like the effect Dad had on his big brother. He much preferred his Dean to Dad's Dean.
Dad stood in front of his older son, big hands placed firmly on the boy's shoulders. Dean looked up at him hesitantly. "No fighting," Dad reiterated.
Dean nodded. "No sir."
"I don't have time to keep coming down here every time you take exception to something some kid said to you."
"They're not important to us. None of them are. You've got to learn to put up with them."
"Because your little brother wants to be in school, even if you don't."
Dean's military rigidity faltered for an instant, and he risked a quick glance at Sam. "Yes sir."
"So don't screw this up for him."
Dad bent down closer to his son. "And Dean?"
Dean was no longer staring fixedly at a point in space behind his father's right shoulder. "Yes sir?" he asked uncertainly, his eyes meeting Dad's intense scrutiny.
"What's your most important mission?"
Dean glanced again in Sam's direction, and for a split second the younger boy didn't like the expression he saw on his brother's face. "Look out for Sammy," Dean answered, as if by rote.
Dad nodded, pleased, straightening as he removed his hands from his son's shoulders. "Good boy," he said quietly.
Sam was suddenly struck by how small Dean looked as his father ruffled his hair affectionately, before turning his attention to his younger son.
Although Sam didn't really understand the power his Dad had over his brother, he was still glad they were both here. When his Dad smiled down at him, he smiled back.
"Do as Dean tells you," Dad instructed.
Sam nodded. "I will, Daddy," he said. He always did. And he was certain he always would.
Dad patted him gently on the head. "That's my boy," he said, before turning back to Dean. "I'll come get you guys later," he said, as he began to walk away down the long corridor. "Enjoy school."
Dean continued to watch after him long after he'd disappeared from view, a weird look on his fact that Sam couldn't really fathom.
"So where do we go now?" Sam asked, confident that his big brother would know what they were supposed to do next.
Dean looked down at him, as if only just remembering he was there. He sighed, before taking Sam's hand and leading him back towards the Principal's Office. "Mole Lady hasn't finished with us yet," he said.
"This is it."
The car stopped suddenly, jerking Sam back to the present. "It is?"
Dean nodded, surveying the scene beyond the Impala's windshield. A tiny sliver of golden light was trying to force its way up over the horizon, way, way over in the distance. But here… All was darkness. Deep darkness. Almost unnatural darkness.
Sam sat up straight, following the direction of his brother's gaze. "There's nothing out here," he managed eventually.
"Jeez," Dean muttered. "I wish I was psychic. Opens up a whole new perspective on stating the freakin' obvious."
Sam didn't answer, preferring to shoot Dean a testy grimace. If he was still six, he'd have stuck his tongue out at him. Hell, maybe he should still stick his tongue out at him. "You're not helping," he pointed out.
Dean shrugged. "Whatever, dude."
Sam shook his head again. "Dean, I really don't like this," he said, fingers instinctively reaching for the lock on the passenger door.
Dean continued to cast his gaze around the car, hoping to catch some sign of what the hell their Dad had sent them out here for.
If it even was their Dad.
But all he could see was the suffocating darkness. For miles. "Yeah," he agreed cautiously, his own hand hovering over the door lock. "No argument here." He continued to squint out into the gloom, uncertain as to their next move. "Well, we can't just sit here all night," he managed. "Maybe we should go out there – "
"What, are you crazy?" Sam demanded. Dean wasn't sure whether he was being rhetorical. "Anything could be out there – "
"Or in here," Dean cut him off, inclining his head in the direction of the temperature gauge mounted on the dashboard. Sam watched in disbelief as the needle began to plummet, his breath becoming visible as white vapour in front of his mouth.
"Dean – ?"
"He's not here," Sam said, looking hopelessly up and down the now-deserted street for any sign of Dad's jet black Chevy Impala. "Why's he not here?" He turned panic-stricken eyes on his big brother, who was kicking at a soda can in the gutter.
"He's just a little late," Dean said in a calm voice without looking up, even as the familiar feeling of dread began to gnaw at his insides. What if Dad never came to pick them up? What if some evil thing he'd been hunting had got the better of him? What if he'd just ditched them? What would Dean do then? "He'll be here soon," was all he said, trying to sound reassuring as his glanced over at his little brother.
Sam was standing clutching a painting he'd made in art class, a picture of a pretty lady with long blonde hair wearing a white nightdress.
Dean didn't like the picture and kept telling Sam to put it away.
Movement beyond the school gates caught his attention, and he instinctively reached for his kid brother's hand as three boys swaggered towards them down the steps of the school's main entrance. "Dammit, that's all I need," he swore under his breath.
"Dad says we shouldn't curse," Sam admonished him, looking up at him with a gaze every bit as disapproving as the Mole Lady's.
"Pardon my freakin' French, grandma," Dean muttered, pulling Sam behind him as the three boys exited the school gates and strolled menacingly towards them.
The one in front stopped just inches from them. Dean straightened, trying to look taller in his battered sneakers. But it wasn't much use: the other boy was a whole head taller than Dean was, and twice his size in every other direction.
"Your Dad forget to pick you up again, Winchester?" the bigger boy said, sneering. "What's that, the third time this week? Someone really oughtta call Child Services."
Dean set his jaw and spat through gritted teeth, "What's it to you, butthead? I don't see your Dad here, either, and it's not like he's got much else to do today, seeing as he sends your Mom out to bring home the bacon."
The big kid bristled visibly, freckled face turning the colour of his ginger buzzcut. "At least I got a Mom, asshole!"
Dean flinched at this, his grip tightening so hard on Sam's wrist that the younger boy gave a startled yelp.
The ginger kid grinned, deciding to press his seeming advantage. "And at least I don't live in some rat-infested one-bedroomed motel room with a Dad who's so interested in me he can't even be bothered to pick me up from school!"
Sam could feel Dean shaking with anger.
In an unnaturally calm voice, Dean replied, "At least we can afford rats, Hogan. Not like your family."
Hogan took another step towards Dean, towering over him menacingly, his two henchmen hard on his heels. They were both almost as big as he was, the smaller one squat and almost square, with big shoulders and stubby legs, while the other one had arms like tree trunks.
Dean's attention was drawn to the bigger one of the two, who had pulled a baseball bat seemingly from nowhere and was swinging it lazily in Sam's direction. "They kick your ass off the baseball team again, McKinley?" he asked, pulling Sam further behind him, putting himself directly between the little boy and the baseball bat. "What happened? That lardy butt of yours split out of your uniform again?
McKinley growled, eyes narrowed, the baseball bat raised in front of him threateningly.
"Not so fast, Jake," Hogan caught hold of the bat shaft. "Before we go New York Yankees on Winchester's ass, I wanna feel bones breaking the old fashioned way." He took another menacing step towards Dean, punching his left hand with his right fist as McKinley and the other kid fell into step behind him.
"Who's your choreographer?" Dean asked. "Paula Abdul? 'Cause you know, your routine could really use some work." He took an instinctive step backwards as Hogan and his buddies moved another step closer, almost pushing Sam into the road as the kid teetered on the edge of the kerb.
Hogan's face was almost purple as he thrust it closer to Dean's. "Lunch money," he demanded through gritted teeth. "Hand it over."
Dean laughed derisively. "Ah, did Daddy never teach poor Petey how to tell the time? It's three-thirty, you knucklehead – lunch money spent at lunchtime!"
Hogan seemed to snap then, infuriated by his own seeming inability to intimidate this goddamn kid. There was something wrong with Dean, he was sure of it. Maybe his weirdo Dad was an axe murderer. Or a child killer. Or both. 'Never trust an outsider', that was what his own Dad had always taught him. Especially one you couldn't bully.
Snarling like a rabid Rottweiler, Hogan thrust out a big pudgy hand, grabbing at Dean's t-shirt and almost pulling the smaller kid off his feet.
"Get your hands off me!" Dean said quietly, trying to push Hogan away. "I mean it."
Hogan laughed, more for his buddies' benefit than anything else. "Yeah?" he said, turning to grin at his cheering section. "Boy, I'm sooooo scared…!"
"Get – your hands – off – me!" Dean repeated, more forcefully this time, letting go of Sam's wrist and pushing his kid brother away from him. When Sam was at a safe distance, he made a grab at Hogan's hand, trying to twist himself out of his not-inconsiderable grip.
Hogan laughed again. "This sidewalk," he said, pulling Dean closer. "Your face."
Sam wasn't entirely sure what happened next, and, truth be told, neither was Dean. He was pretty sure that Hogan had made a move to push him over, which Dean had somehow turned back on him, twisting his arm up behind his back as he kicked the bigger boy's legs right out from under him, before using his own momentum to flip him over and bring his huge frame crashing down onto the sidewalk. Where he lay now, stretched out on his back, a look of complete shock etched into his chalk-white face. His bottom lip quivered as his brain began to register the pain in his body.
McKinley and the other kid backed off nervously, as Dean took a step towards them, hands beckoning them on. "So which of you ladies is next?" he asked over the sound of Hogan's moaning.
The two kids didn't move for a second, and Dean suddenly got a horrible feeling that he might actually have to take them both on together. He didn't really fancy his chances against the two of them. But still, he fronted them both up, never breaking eye contact and standing up as straight as his shaking legs would allow – just like Dad had taught him.
McKinley moved first, but not towards Dean. He held out a stubby hand to his fallen comrade, and Hogan took it resentfully, reluctant to show weakness in the face of his opponent, but equally unsure that he'd be able to stand under his own power.
Getting painfully to his feet, Hogan met Dean's defiant stare once more, face now a distinct shade of purple and his red ears fairly quivering with humiliated rage. He took a step backwards, away from Dean, but still facing him. "You know what?" he spat venomously. "You're a goddamn freak, Winchester. You hear me? You're a freak! You and your freaky little brother."
And with that, he turned to head off down the street, limping slightly as he shrugged off McKinley's attempts to help him.
As Dean turned to check where Sammy had wound up, he heard Hogan shout back after him, "Don't think this is over, Winchester! I'm coming for you. You're dead meat! You and your brother. You're dead meat, both of you!"
Dean didn't even bother turning round, standing rooted to the spot as all the breath he appeared to have been holding in his chest for the last few minutes decided to leave his body in one mad exhalation. Legs threatening to buckle right out from under him, he turned to fix Sam back in his sights, his kid brother standing in the gutter gazing up at him with an expression nothing short of awestruck on his face. Dean frowned. "You OK?" he asked.
Sam fairly bounded up onto the sidewalk. "That was so cool!" he cried, running over to his brother and grabbing hold of his wrist. "Show me!" he cried excitedly, bouncing up and down. "Show me how to do that!"
Dean put an affectionate arm around his brother's shoulder. "Maybe later," he said, steering the little boy down the sidewalk. "Looks like we're gonna be walking home."
As Dean and Sam walked away from the school, Mrs Pritchard stepped out from behind the school gates, watching the boys walk off down the street before beginning to scribble in a little black notebook.
"Uh – Dean?" Sam said, voice tense as he cast about him nervously, the temperature dipping like crazy while the darkness seemed to be pressing in all around.
Dean was scrabbling for the duffel bag on the back seat, tossing aside a screaming EMF meter as his fingers struggled to find the reassuringly heavy 9mm hidden among his clothes.
Pulling the gun from the bag, Dean clutched it with trembling hands, the temperature inside the Impala seeming to plummet even further. The metal was cold against his skin, and his fingers seemed too numb to even keep hold of it, much less be able to aim it at anyone. Or anything.
"Is it just me, or is it getting darker in here?" Sam asked, trying to sound calm while his brain tried to do the opposite.
"OK, that's it," Dean said as the interior light sputtered out and the blackness outside the car windows seemed to somehow start seeping in through the glass. "Time to go."
Putting the gun down on the seat next to him, Dean fumbled for the car's ignition, finding the keys in the encroaching darkness more by luck than anything else – his fingers were now so numb he could barely feel the smooth metal.
Twisting the key frantically, Dean shoved his foot down on the gas pedal…
…Only to be met by a resoundingly negative click.
Exchanging a nervous glance with Sam, he tried the ignition one more time. Nothing.
"Dammit!" Dean beat his fist against the steering wheel in disbelief. "Not now, baby!" he cried. "Daddy needs to get his ass the hell outta Dodge!" It was now so dark inside the car that Dean could barely make out Sam's face. "What the hell is this thing?" he demanded, his hands batting in front of his face as if he could physically push the blackness away.
"I don't – " Sam stopped mid-sentence, cocking his head as if listening to something Dean couldn't hear.
"Sam – ?"
"Get out of the car."
Dean shook his head, as if to clear Sam's last sentence out of his ears. "Huh? You're not serious?"
Sam suddenly lurched forwards, grabbing his brother by his jacket and pulling him towards him. "Dean – " he said, seemingly oblivious to the look of surprise on his brother's face. "Get – the hell – out – of – the car!" With that, he shoved his brother hard against the driver's door, looking around him frantically, as if at something Dean couldn't see.
Feeling behind him for the door handle, Dean hesitated. "You're coming too, right? Sam?"
A billow of white mist issued from Sam's mouth as he exhaled slowly. "It's after me," he said, his voice calm now, almost matter of fact. "It's after me." He locked eyes with his brother. "Dean, you have to go. It'll kill you. It won't hurt me, it needs me."
"Needs you for what?" Dean demanded. "Sam, you're not making any sense – "
"GO!" Sam yelled suddenly. "I don't know how much longer I can hold it – "
"Hold what? Sammy, I'm not leaving you – "
"Go! Now, Dean! Go!"
Dean froze. How had he known? How had Sam known to use that phrase? That exact same phrase… "I can't. That's not the plan. Sammy, I can't…"
Then Dean saw it. The white mist. Sam's breathing. It was going back. Back into Sam's mouth, the blackness seeming to follow in it's wake like some miniature implosion. Sam cried out once before being slammed back against his seat.
"Sam?" Dean grabbed the 9mm feverishly, pointing it at random, finger too scared to squeeze the trigger in case he shot his brother.
Sam was pressed into his seat, thrashing and kicking as if at some invisible force, clawing at something around his neck that Dean just couldn't see, gasping for air as if he were drowning in the blackness around him.
Then he stopped. Stopped struggling. Stopped fighting. Just stopped.
Dean took a shallow breath, still pointing the 9mm in Sam's direction. "Sam?"
His brother sat up, opening his eyes.
Dean almost dropped the gun, recovering just in time to keep the muzzle pointed at his brother. "Sam?"
Sam's lips parted slowly, uncertainly, like a marionette controlled by inexperienced hands.
"Sam's gone," he said, matter-of-factly.
But it wasn't Sam's voice that came out of his mouth. It was deeper, raspy, sibilant. Snake-like.
Dean sat, frozen into stunned silence, the 9mm still aimed at his brother's chest.
"You made me a promise, Dean," John Winchester said quietly, staring down at his older son. There was a disappointment in his eyes that made Dean's chest hurt.
"Yes sir," he said, equally as quietly. "I'm sorry – "
"Sorry doesn't cut it, Dean," Dad interrupted. "I made a promise to that woman, too. I promised her you'd behave – "
"And I would have!" Dean protested, for a second losing the military-style cool and acting like the angry ten-year-old boy he was. "They came at us!"
"Exactly!" Dad said, bending down so that they were at eye level. He put a gentle hand on Dean's shoulder. "That's the more important promise you broke today."
Dean frowned, unsure what his father meant.
"You put your brother at risk," Dad spelt it out for him. "You're supposed to protect him. That's your job!"
Dean didn't answer, just glared sulkily over his Dad's shoulder to where Sam sat in front of the ancient motel room TV, eating cold macaroni and cheese from a can while he watched a re-run of The A-Team.
John squeezed Dean's shoulder, bringing his attention back to his Dad. "This can't happen again," he said. A statement, not a request. "Mrs Pritchard said she'd expel you."
Being expelled didn't bother Dean one iota. But letting his Dad down – that was a different story. "It won't happen again," he promised.
Dad smiled, pushing a stray lock of hair out of his son's eyes. "Good boy," he said. Then, smiling crookedly, "And I hear you kicked the other's kid's butt. That's something."
"He was awesome, Daddy!" Sam entered the conversation, all thoughts of dinner forgotten. "Laid that guy right out on the sidewalk! And he's thirteen, Daddy! Thirteen! And twice Dean's size!"
"He's not twice my size," Dean corrected, laughing at his kid brother's enthusiasm.
"And the other guy," Sam continued excitedly. "No way you'd let him hit me with that baseball bat!"
That got Dad's attention. "Baseball bat?"
Dean cringed inwardly. He'd sort of forgotten to mention that part. "Ye-ah," he said, slowly. "But Sammy's right. I'd never have let him hit him." He met Dad's gaze squarely. "I'd never let anyone hurt him, Dad. Never."
Dean's hand was shaking so bad he couldn't have shot at Kansas. But still he held the 9mm, vaguely aimed in his brother's direction.
"You can't shoot me," the voice issuing from Sam's mouth said. "You'd risk hurting your brother. And you could never do that."
Dean faltered before his bad-ass swagger routine had the chance to kick in. "How d'you know he's my brother?" he asked uncertainly.
Sam – whatever Sam had become – smiled serenely. "I know a lot of things," he said, blinking. Dean was glad to see those white eyes hidden, if only for a fraction of a second. "I know your brother has great power. He probably doesn't realise just how great. But I do. I know…"
"And you want his – " Dean faltered again, the word unnatural on his tongue. " – His power? For yourself?"
The Sam-thing smiled again, a mirthless smile that twisted his brother's face into a horrible caricature of itself. Dean gritted his teeth, resisting the almost overwhelming impulse to smash the thing's face in – for daring to take that face. "His power. His corporeal being – "
"Jeez," muttered Dean. "Who knew Sam had a ghost after his body? You are a ghost, right? Or a spirit?"
"You have lots of questions," the thing replied. "And yet, you're used to being the one with all the answers."
Dean shifted uncomfortably. "You seem to know a lot about me," he observed, playing for time while he desperately tried to think of a way out of this. Preferably a way that didn't end up with him or Sammy as other-worldly roadkill. Keep the thing talking. He was good at talking. He could do that.
The thing twisted Sam's face into another wry smile. "I know more now," it said. "Since I crossed over into your world."
"That 'world' you're in," Dean said, trying not to lose his cool, "happens to belong to my brother."
"And you," the thing with Sam's face said. "After all, in truth, he is 'your world', isn't he?"
Dean averted his gaze, avoiding the question. "You need to let my brother go," he said.
The Sam-thing sneered. "Now why would I want to do that?"
Dean set his jaw and raised the 9mm. "'Cause you ain't taking my brother nowhere, pal," he said. "Even if I have to kill him to stop you."
Dean needed a distraction, that was all. He needed to get Hogan closer to the water. Hogan was scared of water. Couldn't swim. Terrified of the stuff.
Dean just needed to get him near the water…
"Come out come out wherever you are!"
Dean felt Sam kick against him, panic overtaking reason as the kid's unnaturally-developed fight or flight response kicked into overdrive. Tightening his grip on his brother, Sam yelped – half in fear, half in pain – and Dean had to clamp his hand harder over the little boy's mouth.
"Shhhh," he hissed, before adding in what he hoped was a reassuringly soothing tone of voice, "It's OK, Sammy. It's gonna be OK. But you need to keep quiet."
Sam inclined his head backwards so he could look up into his brother's eyes. Even though he knew Dean would never hurt him, he didn't understand why his brother wouldn't just let him run away.
"OK?" Dean whispered, looking down at him as he held him fast, pulled close to him in the confined space where they were currently hiding, peeking out from under the seating by the side of the school swimming pool.
Dean didn't know how long they could stay hidden here, mind you. Hogan and his buddies were close by, maybe as close as the locker room. He wasn't sure. It had been hard to keep track of them, dragging a struggling six-year-old while trying to find a hiding place big enough for the two of them.
Dean needed to think. He needed to think of a way out of this, and he couldn't do that on the run.
Sam nodded up at him, eyes wide with fear, but no longer fighting to free himself. Cautiously, Dean removed his hand from Sam's mouth, and when Sam didn't yell at him, he took that as a good sign. Sam may only have been six, but Dad had taught him the old duck and cover routine well and the kid was a quick study.
Dean put his finger to his lips again, just to make sure Sam got it. Sam nodded.
Dean winced at the nearness of Hogan's voice.
"Where are you, you little freak?"
Peeking out between the rows of benches, Dean caught sight of his nemesis swaggering through the locker room door, swinging a big wooden baseball bat against his open palm with grossly exaggerated relish.
Dean didn't like the noise it made. It sounded uncomfortably solid.
Hogan hesitated for a second as he approached the water, and Dean was heartened a little. So maybe luring him here had been the right thing to do, after all. Dean had been second-guessing his strategy since he discovered the emergency exit doors hung with a big red sign reading 'Out of Order. Please use alternative exit.'
Hiding hadn't actually been part of the plan, but as his exit strategy had been derailed by a jammed bar lock, he hadn't seen a whole lot of options.
Of course, neither had he expected Hogan to actually follow them in here. He always brought a note from his Mom requesting he be excused swim class. The plan had been gym – pool – out the back door while Hogan plucks up the courage to leave the locker room.
Thinking about it, it had been a good plan, Dean was sure. But he couldn't congratulate himself. He'd been completely unprepared for the end of class ambush Hogan and his buddies had sprung on him. He should have seen it coming. Hogan knew Dad was late picking them up most days.
Dean hadn't even made it out the school gates before he'd realised his mistake. He'd been heading down the main steps which lead out onto the sidewalk, when out of the corner of his eye he'd suddenly noticed McKinley and his bulky friend trying to outflank him. Knowing that those two never went anywhere without their Great Leader, Dean had turned his attention to the street where, to his complete horror, Hogan was making a dash for Sam, who was already sitting patiently on the kerb, more prepared for Dad's late arrivals than he had been on their last encounter with Hogan's goon squad.
"Sam – " his voice had caught in his throat as he began to realise the danger his kid brother was in. "Sam!" he got the name out on the second attempt, his brother jumping to attention as if shot, spinning around just in time to duck out of the way of Hogan's fist, which was making a grab for Sam's shirt.
Dean was running now. But not towards Sam. He was headed for the gym block.
Dad's exhaustive training kicking in, Sam had seen where Dean was headed and quickly followed suit, avoiding further capture attempts by Hogan, and sprinting full tilt across the concrete basketball court.
McKinley and his bulky buddy hot on his heels, Dean caught up with Sam within seconds, grabbing his brother by the hand and fairly dragging him in his wake.
"Water," his head had screamed at him. "He's scared of water! That's his weakness!"
And so they'd wound up here – hemmed in. Their one escape route blocked.
Dean cursed silently at himself.
Hogan was mere feet from them now, still beating his hand with the baseball bat while he tried to fathom their hiding place. He may have had the brain capacity of a goldfish, but even he had seen the sign on the emergency exit. He knew they were hiding in here someplace. His lips twisted into a sadistic grin. "You should've just given me your lunch money, Winchester!" he shouted. "Then I wouldn't have had to beat the crap out of you – " Dean swallowed hard. " – Or your kid brother." Sam stiffened. "Yeah, I'm gonna smack his freaky face in first. Make you see you should've done as you were told. Then it'll be your turn." He beat the bat against his hand some more. "No mercy!"
Sam was shaking with barely contained terror. And Dean couldn't really blame him. When he'd told Dad that Hogan wasn't really twice his size, he'd been wrong. Or at least that was how it looked from this perspective.
A distraction. He needed a distraction… Then an idea occurred to him.
But he wasn't sure Sammy would go for it.
Hesitantly, he bent down and whispered in Sam's ear. Sam looked up at him with wide, frightened eyes, but nodded, slowly.
Dean grinned at him encouragingly. "On three – " he whispered, loosening his grip on his brother. "One – "
"You can't hide forever, Winchester!"
"Two – "
"This bat's got your name written all over it!"
Dean knew Sam could move, but the kid was whippet-fast when he was scared.
Darting out from under the benches, Sam covered the ground between the stand and the pool in seconds, speeding straight past a startled-looking Hogan and diving right into the painfully blue water without breaking his stride.
Although Dean also knew that Sam could swim like a fish, he still couldn't help feeling that lurch in his chest in the split second before his little brother's head bobbed up above the water, half-way out into the pool.
Hogan laughed, although clearly not amused, turning to face Sammy with faltering steps. "Nice dive, kid," he said, his voice not quite disguising a nervous tremor. "Now get back here! Don't make me come in there and get you…!"
Sam continued to tread water, holding Hogan's attention just like Dean had told him to.
Hogan's face reddened. "I said get out here, freak!" he bellowed, unconsciously stamping his foot. When Sam made no move to comply, he screwed up his mouth so tight his lips disappeared completely. "Right now, or I swear I'll come in there and drag your sorry ass out!"
"Like to see you try."
Hogan whirled at the unexpected sound of Dean's voice in his ear, too late to avoid his cheekbone connecting with Dean's fist with a sickening crunch.
Stunned, Hogan overbalanced, the world swimming in front of his eyes as the blue water of the pool came rushing up to meet him.
He went under with a crash, thrashing violently as he tried to figure which way was up, his wildly kicking legs somehow forcing him to the surface, where he was greeted by Dean Winchester kneeling at the pool's edge.
"I can't swim," Hogan spluttered, arms thrashing about him ineffectually.
Dean nodded coolly. "I noticed," he said, his face impassive.
Two mouthfuls of chlorinated water later, Hogan's head popped back out of the pool. "Please," he begged, choking. "Help me! I'll drown!"
Dean nodded. "Yeah, you will," he agreed.
Hogan went under again, this time for several seconds. Sam made a move as if to swim over and help him, but Dean shook his head. Then a wet mop of ginger hair reappeared above the surface, Hogan coughing and spluttering. "Please!" he begged again. "Help me! I'll do anything – !"
There it was. "Anything?" Dean echoed, slowly.
Spitting out another mouthful of water, Hogan nodded. "Anything."
"Promise you'll leave me and my brother alone," Dean demanded, standing.
Hogan thrashed about some more with his arms, but didn't answer.
"Promise!" Dean repeated. "I'm not kidding. I'll let you drown."
For a second their eyes locked, and Hogan believed Dean wasn't kidding. "All right," he agreed. "I promise. Just help me."
Dean nodded. "Fine," he agreed, slowly taking off his sneakers before diving into the pool.
Getting Hogan out proved no easy task, however. Like trying to wrestle a whale, maybe. But with a little help from Sam, Dean managed to get kid over to the poolside, where first he hauled himself up out of the water before offering Hogan his hand.
Reluctantly, Hogan took it, almost pulling Dean back in as he crawled up onto the pool's edge.
Panting, he sat there silently watching as Dean pulled his kid brother up after him.
Kneeling in front of Sam, Dean checked his brother was in one piece before clapping him on the shoulder. "Good job, squirt!" he said. Sam beamed at him, and Dean ruffled his sodden hair before getting back to his feet and slipping back into his sneakers.
Looking over at Hogan, he got the feeling that he and Sam weren't going to be around St Christopher's long enough to see whether he would be true to his promise. But at least he might think twice before trying to take the next kid's lunch money.
"C'mon, Sammy," he said, taking the boy's hand. "Dad's gonna be wondering where we are. And he's gonna be pissed if we drip dry all over his car."
"You really think your weapon can hurt me?"
Dean tightened his grip on the 9mm, left hand wrapped tightly around his right wrist in an effort to steady his aim. "No," he admitted. "But it can hurt Sam. And he's what you really want. Right?"
Sam's face contorted into an expression Dean had only seen there once before: When his brother had stood over him, gun held inches from his face, as he lay prone on the cold floor of Roosevelt Asylum. He shuddered unconsciously, as a sneer curled the corners of Sam's mouth. "You're not going to hurt your brother," he said. "No matter how hard you try to convince yourself you're capable of it."
Dean gritted his teeth. OK. Poker face. This thing was calling his bluff and he better well be freakin' convincing. Taking in a deep lungful of freezing air to try and hide the fact that he didn't have the first inkling of a plan, Dean shoved the muzzle of the 9mm right up against Sam's forehead, finger hovering determinedly over the trigger.
"Yeah?" he said. "Try me."
Sam's expression faltered ever-so-slightly.
OK, that had got his attention.
"You're not taking him," Dean insisted, pressing his advantage. "Give him up, or I swear I'll blow his brains out."
"You don't have it in you – "
Dean released the safety.
Sam's body froze.
"Give – him – back," Dean demanded, eyes locking with the space where his brother's had been.
Then a weird thing happened.
And that was enough.
Before he knew what had hit him, Sam had grabbed his right wrist, twisting it back against the car seat with superhuman strength, the gun now aiming wildly towards the back of the car. Before Dean could react, Sam's other hand darted to his brother's throat, squeezing so hard Dean actually saw stars for a second as he was rammed into the driver's door.
Struggling for air, Dean could feel himself starting to lose consciousness, his brother's face becoming a dark blur as he bore down on him, his vice-like grip tightening with each passing second.
Then another weird thing happened.
Just as Dean felt his grip on consciousness slipping, Sam let him go.
Gulping in a lungful of air, Dean managed to focus his eyes just long enough to see the confused expression on Sam's face. For, although his hand was still only an inch from Dean's throat, he seemed completely unable to touch him.
Stunned, Dean didn't move for a second, unsure what the hell had just happened. Sam was frowning, the muscles in his arm straining as he tried to reassert his grip on Dean, but to no avail.
Then it hit Dean like a freight train, and a grin spread across his face. "Well I'll be damned!" he exclaimed, almost unable to believe what had just happened himself. "I don't know about me not letting you hurt Sam," he said, triumphantly. "Sam won't let you hurt me, will he?"
Sam's mouth twisted into a snarl, barely contained fury etched deep onto his usually placid features. "There are other ways to kill you," he hissed, finally, the hand still gripping Dean's wrist suddenly twisting it so hard Dean actually cried out in startled pain, his fingers finally losing all sensation as the gun fell with a muted thud onto the seat between them.
Releasing his grip on Dean, Sam picked up the gun, slowly turning it on his brother.
This wasn't good.
"Sam won't let you kill me," Dean asserted, hoping like hell he was right. "He's too strong for you, isn't he? Won't let you control him – at least, won't let you control him enough to kill me."
Sam raised the 9mm and aimed it between Dean's eyes. Dean fought the urge to close them, somehow managing to maintain eye contact. Like you would with any bully. "Your brother's energy is waning," the Sam-thing said, tauntingly. "He won't be able to fight me much longer."
OK, this was so far from good, Dean didn't know what it was. "Go on then," he urged, bating the spirit in the only way he knew how. "Pull the trigger. Kill me." Sam didn't move and Dean laughed, derisively. "I'd like to see you try."
Face contorting with the effort of maintaining control, Sam's finger poised itself on the trigger of the 9mm, teeth gritted together in absolute concentration.
Heart hammering so hard he was pretty sure it would be audible all the way to California, all Dean could do was trust in his brother's strength, his self-control – and the fact that he probably didn't want to see his big brother's brains splattered across the windshield any more than Dean did.
The gun started to shake violently in Sam's hand. "There are other ways to kill you!" the thing controlling him repeated. "If your brother won't do it, then I will!"
With that, what Dean could only describe as a kind of oily black vapour started pouring out of Sam's mouth, gathering itself into a mass of darkness just inches from his brother's face, it's centre so devoid of light that it seemed to absorb all the darkness from the surrounding area. So much so that Dean suddenly realised he could see weak rays of sunlight trying to affect some kind of sunrise way over in the distance, and if he looked hard, he could just about make out the shape of a tree over his brother's shoulder.
And in the passenger side mirror, he could see a statue by the side of the road.
"Dean, down!" Sam yelled suddenly, grabbing the collar of his brother's jacket and slamming him face down onto the car seat as he raised the 9mm still clutched in his trembling hand, took aim through the driver's side window, and fired.
And kept on firing.
Dean heard the window shatter, glass raining down over his head as Sam continued to empty the 9mm – bang-bang-bang – over and over until the gun started clicking on empty. Click-click-click, still Sam kept pulling the trigger until Dean finally lifted his head up off the car seat, gently putting his hand on the barrel.
"I think you got it, Sam," he muttered, carefully sliding the gun out of his brother's grip as Sam continued to stare unblinkingly at a point over Dean's right shoulder.
Dean turned in his seat, eyes settling on the pile of rubble that he guessed had once been the roadside shrine from Sam's dream. As it collapsed into dust, the blackness that had been hovering inches from Sam seemed to be drawn backwards, out through the broken window, whooshing towards the statue with a great rushing sound, like air escaping from a punctured tyre. When it reached the decimated statue, it collected into a ball of complete blackness, hovered for a second a couple of feet from the ground, then imploded into a light so bright Dean had to close his eyes. Next, he heard a rather anticlimactic popping sound, and when he was able to look again, all he could see was the broken statue and a rapidly dissipating dust devil winding its way upwards into the lightening sky.
Looking back at Sam, Dean managed, "Nice shootin', Tex,", before putting a hand on his brother's shoulder.
Sam was still frozen in place, face the colour his eyes had been moments before. "Thanks," he managed hoarsely, before adding, "Power centre."
Dean nodded. "Yeah, I pretty much figured."
"That's why it brought us here," Sam continued, meeting his brother's look with suddenly comprehending eyes. "It had to get me as close to the source of its power as it could before it could – "
"Put the whammy on you?" Dean offered.
Dean shook his head. "Ghosts using cell phones," he said. "Hell, they'll be replacing séances with video-conferencing any day now."
"I think it's gone," Sam muttered, more to reassure himself than his brother, finally tearing his eyes away from the decimated statue.
Dean nodded, a little freaked by his brother's spaced-out expression, but quickly realising that the poor kid was probably in shock. He put a hand either side of Sam's neck, wincing at the pain in his battered wrist as he looked deep into his brother's dark eyes. "You OK?"
Sam nodded, his pupils finally starting to contract. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. You?"
Dean grimaced. "Just super," he said, rubbing at his rapidly purpling neck.
Sam's attention drifted back to the statue. "You know what that was, right?" he asked.
Dean frowned. "The thing in your dream?"
"Apart from that," Sam said, meeting his brother's gaze. "It was St Christopher," he said.
"Patron saint of travellers, right?" Dean said. "So the spirit – whatever it was – used the shrine as – "
"A refuge," Sam said "A place to store its power until – "
"It found someplace better."
Sam nodded again. "You know what else St Christopher is?" he asked.
Dean was about to answer in the negative when it hit him. "Our school," he said, realisation dawning on his face. "The school where…"
"Where you nearly drowned Pete Hogan."
"Where Mole Lady was the Principal."
"The school you were thinking about on our way here."
Dean shuddered, for once lost for words. "That's pretty weird," he managed at length.
Sam nodded. "Yeah," he agreed. "Pretty weird."
Dean turned back towards the road, frowning as he tried to work out the implications of that.
Sam grinned. "So that Dummies Guide to Being Psychic. You got a copy stashed somewhere I don't know about?"
Dean shrugged. "Reflected glory, man," he said.
Sam frowned. "Huh?"
Dean met his puzzled glance. "Who's to say I wasn't picking up on your vibes?"
Sam nodded. "Maybe," he conceded. "But still pretty weird."
"Yeah," Dean agreed. Then, "But on the plus side, at least we didn't kill each other."
Sam inclined his head. "Always gotta look on the plus side."
Dean smiled at him for a second. "You know what?" he said. "I really hate the desert. Let's get the hell outta here." Reaching for the car's ignition, he added, "If you know any good prayers…" The Impala purred into life on the first attempt. Dean sighed in relief. "Maybe someone's looking out for us tonight," he muttered, shifting the car into gear.
"St Christopher, maybe?" Sam offered. "Patron saint of travellers."
Dean nodded. "I'll take any help I can get," he said, easing the car away from the ruined statue, out onto the black top and towards the approaching daylight. "And Sam," he added, almost as an afterthought.
"You're paying for that window."
Mrs Pritchard peered over her wire-rimmed glasses as John Winchester's car pulled away down the street, his two young sons peering back at her through the rear window. That older kid was going to be trouble someday, she could tell…
A sleek silver Ford pulled smoothly into the kerbside, parking where the Winchesters had been just moments before. The driver, a non-descript man in his forties with slicked back silver hair and an expensive grey suit, rolled down the window and leaned out.
"Well?" he asked, removing dark sunglasses to reveal eyes completely devoid of colour.
Mrs Pritchard handed him her little black notebook. "The younger one," she said, quietly. "You want the younger one…"