Punxsutawney Sucks – Epilogue

Disclaimer: My thesaurus tells me than a synonym for 'disclaimer' is 'repudiation', which I actually like a whole lot better.

BigPink's Repudiation: Swearing herein. No spoilers, I don't think. No one is based on any real characters, so put down that phone before calling your lawyers, happy citizens of Punxsutawney. And I make no money from this, only the endless joy that comes from having a sympathetic forum where I can put the words 'Dean' and 'thigh' together as many times as I like. All things Supernatural belong to the suits, including Dean's thighs, alas.

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Sam crossed his arms and tucked his bare hands under his armpits before spotting a familiar face in the sea of yelling Punxsutawnians. Punxsites. Punxsitawans. Hockey fans. Whatever.

As he approached, one of the Punxsy players must have scored, or a fight had broken out, or something, because the crowd stood as one and started cheering. This was one game Sam didn't understand. Loping up the cement steps, he raised a hand in a brief and slightly abashed wave to Floating Heart, who smiled ecstatically at him, mittened hand flapping like a flag at a parade. He bypassed her, went up a few more rows, and took a seat with the rest of the crowd, nestled onto the bench beside the pretty blonde girl he'd spotted from the boards.

Easy enough to mark her in a crowd, even without the flannel shirt.

Britni yipped hello, her eyes on the ice as the players circled around, waiting for the puck to be dropped after the goal, or the penalty call, or whatever had just happened. The tall, wide-shouldered center skated up to where the ice was emblazoned with a rather perky looking marmot mascot, alert, stick ready. And again the action started. It was hard to get Britni's attention, it was so fixed on the play. Bright youthful focus on the center forward, the team's captain. Kris, suited up and ready to go, absolutely no worse for wear from last week's 'accidental electrocution'. Maybe even better, if you factored in the three goals she'd scored this Sunday afternoon. Women's hockey in small town Pennsylvania. It didn't get more hicksville than this. And Sam thought he'd give his eye teeth to have a slice of it, to have someone watch him on a Sunday afternoon like Britni was watching Kris.

Sam followed the game for a few minutes, until regulation time was called. Since the score was tied, there would be a sudden death overtime period, but he doubted he'd stick it out. The players skated off the ice, into the change rooms for a bout of inspirational coach abuse, doubtlessly.

Released from the iron hold the game had, Britni turned to Sam, smiled again. But sadly, Sam realized. "What do you think?" she asked him, lifting her brows and sliding a glance to the empty ice as spectators and fans jostled around for drinks, or to the bathrooms, or simply to nip outside for a smoke.

Sam shrugged, not really willing to lie. "Not really my game," he replied. "They hit harder than I expected."

Britni nodded, looking to her hands. "It's a good game," she offered. "I guess you're leaving, right? You wanted to say goodbye to Kris?"

Sort of, Sam thought. "Yeah. She'll be busy, though." The crowd was laughing, a new energy that hadn't been there last week, back when it was winter, when kids were disappearing in columns of fire. Like a corner had been rounded, turned at speed, a whole new vista spread before them.

"You'll have to wait until after the game, I think. She usually goes out with the team, after." She paused. "She'll be busy after today's game, though." And her eyes slid again, this time to a burly man sitting a few rows ahead of them, an enormous sheet of paper spread on his lap, a pencil marking up columns, a newspaper nearby, a Blackberry in one hand.

Sam looked questioningly at Britni.

"Scout from the University of Toronto," Britni replied. "I think Kris has bigger things ahead of her than Penn State." A whole new world of competitive sport that Sam didn't understand. The sadness he understood, though. Someone you cared for going far away, following a dream. He was suddenly very glad that Dean hadn't come with him.

"So," he asked, breaking the mood. "How's life at the Groundhog Zoo?"

Kris had insisted that they tell Britni nothing, that it would mean her job and so far, Sam had no idea what sense any of the citizens – any of the upstanding Inner Circle that managed the international career of the town's biggest star – were making of Phil's disappearance. Kris, they'd told. No one else.

Britni shrugged. "Same as ever. Phil's lost a little weight, I think. He went into his burrow for a few days, but the Inner Circle called in their vet and now he seems fine. Phyllis is giving him the cold shoulder."

Sam set his stare on the far side of the ice, tried for a calm expression. "Seem any different?" He knew what had happened; he'd picked up Phil's skeleton and scattered it to the wind. Turned back to her when she remained silent.

Her eyes were calm, appraising, right on him, deep and brown. "You know what the average lifespan of a groundhog is, don't you?"

"Not really," Sam confessed.

"Well, it's not a hundred and twenty-five years."

And everything in her tone suggested that he let it go. Trouble was, it didn't feel right to let it go, which was why Dean hadn't come to the game today, even though he'd been out of the hospital for a few days now. Letting go of things wasn't something that came easy to either of them. But what was the alternative?

"You should come back next February 2. It's really fun, you know. This whole place is transformed. You'd never recognize it." And somehow, Sam was pretty sure he would recognize it, that it was exactly the same.

Exactly the same, except for one, small, furry thing. He sighed.

"We'll try. We gotta get going, sorry," and stood, apologetic and lean. "Say bye to Kris for us." He smiled, and it felt good, despite the singed eyebrows that he knew made him look a little odd. "I'll look for her at the next Olympics."

"You better," Britni said, glancing warily over at the Canadian scout before smiling sunnily and waving goodbye.

Sam wandered out the back of the rink, to where the repaired Impala rested in the spring sunshine, the only indication of the harsh winter only a week past being the hardened grey ice still lingering in the deep shadows between the rink and the gymnasium. He paused as he came out into the bright light, lifted his face to the sun, felt the vitamin D course through him like a shot of tequila.

He approached the car quietly, not quite knowing what to expect. Dean had been unbearably moody the last few days, snapping at things he'd usually laugh off. We need a break, Sam thought, not knowing what that was, exactly. As he peered through the passenger side window, he realized that his brother had stretched himself out in the back seat, a couple of stolen hospital pillows cushioning the angles between door and seat. How he got comfortable in any position was beyond Sam's understanding, but especially in the car. Dean had insisted that they leave, though, had not wanted to stay the length of time that they had. Repairs to the vintage Impala, though, had taken a little longer than anticipated, and was the only thing that kept Dean from going, short of tying him to a chair. Sam had paid the mechanic fifty dollars to take an extra three days.

Just because he was stretched out didn't mean that he was sleeping. As Sam bent down to shade the glare on the window glass, Dean moved his arm from across his face, grimaced, and sat up slowly. Taking that as his cue to engage, Sam opened the passenger door, slid into the seat leaning an arm over its back, facing Dean as he came upright.

"You gotta find a better place to sleep, man," he said with a quiet smile.

"I'm going to turn into Rip van Torn if I sleep much longer." Looked confused for a minute, aware that he'd got the reference wrong. "What did you find out?"

Sam shrugged, feeling ridiculous. It was a groundhog, for god's sake. "There's a new Phil in town."

"Standard operating procedure?" Dean asked, but it was no question. A strange combination: bitter, and angry, and sad, sad, sad. Fuck.

"I guess. They don't live that long anyway. Apparently," he added. A silence filled the car's interior, lazy, but not comfortable. "I told Britni to say goodbye to Kris for us. The game went into overtime."

Dean wasn't paying attention, had clambered awkwardly out the car and was now standing on the bare pavement, his splinted right hand resting on the Impala's roof, his eye returned to normal, staring at a spot in the far distance, a pink scar that would fade on his cheekbone. Sam had seen his chest yesterday, had been permitted. It was ugly, but nothing they couldn't handle, given some downtime. He hoped Dean would allow them downtime. Trouble was, Sam knew this mood, knew that what Dean wanted to do right now, right this minute, was to kill something.

He'd been lying frozen in the ice, had done nothing to save his brother, break the Gobbler's icy hold on the town, done nothing – as ridiculous as it sounded – to save a suicidal rodent from its death wish. He'd been scooped by a teen hockey player and by a groundhog. Touchy didn't begin to describe Dean at the moment. Jesus, why couldn't they have normal problems?

Asked for perhaps the thousandth time in his life. Never, ever, answered.

The only way he gets to drive is if he doesn't ask. So he doesn't, just slides over, grabs the pillows from the back and tosses them into the passenger seat, starts the car with a roar. This is nothing that a few hundred miles of spring won't cure.

Although Dean was silent for the first fifty of those miles, by the time they were truly into the countryside, where trees were bursting into such outrageous greenery that Sam thought the mechanic had installed some kind of tinted windshield on the car, he finally spoke. Sam could tell he was trying. He appreciated the effort that took, what bridge Dean was attempting to build.

"So, what now, Sammy?" The only reason the music wasn't blaring was because Sam had strategically put the box of tapes on the floorboards, and he knew Dean still couldn't bend down that far without considerable pain. Maybe the radio. He might allow that in a few miles, if Dean behaved himself.

"I don't know. Haven't had any news or coordinates for a while. We could splurge, get a place with a pool." He glanced over at Dean, who was pale, but alert and looking out the window. "Get you a physiotherapist."

Dean chuckled, but didn't look over. If he says he's thinking about getting a dog, Sam thought, I'm going to honest-to-god bawl my eyes out.

"Now there's a thought. A nice strong Swedish blonde with hands that could crack my back in about a million different places..."

First road kill, coming up on the right, Dean's side. Smallish brown hump, too smooth to be a porcupine, too uniform to be a skunk. And it was exactly what he hoped it wouldn't be.

Sam didn't need to look at Dean; he couldn't look at him.

"I don't know," Dean said at length, tapping his splint against the window in a way that would have Sam counting to ten before too long. A long silence followed.

"Use your words, Dean," Sam prompted, not looking, never looking, doing that stupid guy thing where you didn't look at each other, just at the road, and had permission to say just about anything as long as that's where your eyes were.

"Maybe, given what we've just come up against, and the time of year...maybe. Yeah." A short exhalation of breath, easier now than even yesterday. Sam took it upon himself to monitor such things.

"And?"

"The Easter Bunny. You know, I've got an affinity for the rodents, I think." No looking permitted, though Sam felt the acid burn the not-looking caused him.

He shrugged instead. "Works for me. Where do you think we should start?"

"The tourist office in Punxsutawney had brochures for the Hershey Factory – must be around here somewhere." It took a lot to ignore what was just underneath Dean's words, all that would never be let out, that couldn't be pointed out for fear of ruining everything.

"You know, we never torched those fiberglass Phils in town," Sam observed, going along, acting normal, which would soon be normal, if he played it right.

A pause, and Sam risked a glance. Dean was staring at him, open-faced. Then he pulled his eyebrows up and to the side and smiled that slow way of his that meant everything was okay, or would be okay.

"That would involve going back to Punxsy. And I never want to go back there again. Ever."

So Sam turned on the radio, and the classic rock station revealed that it was having a George Thorogood-a-thon, which had Dean singing along within a few miles, tapping a relentless whiskey-soaked beat against his thigh with the flat of his good hand, and the splint against his belt buckle with the other. Sam thought he might go mental. And everything was going to be just fine.

-30-

a/n: And that's a wrap, folks! Copious thanks to those who've stuck it through, and the grace and humour of the gang that reviews and especially my dear Northface and Lemmypie, who listen to me rant.