Looking For Salt (1/3)
an X-Files/Supernatural crossover
by Constance Eilowny (a.k.a. dotfic)
Rating: PG-13 for language and zombies
Continuity: Set between Home and Asylum.
Disclaimer: Supernatural is the property of Eric Kripke and the CW network.
A/N: Thank you to cadhla for advice on zombies and the uses of table salt, for writing her wonderfully funny Supernatural story The Late Late Late Show, and for giving me permission to riff on it here. To batyatoon who made a number of hilarious and poignant suggestions. To my beta readers meko for her insight, support, and X-Files checking, and toMerlin Missy for pulling my writing bacon out of the fire more times than I can count.
Wikipedia is easy to search. I make no guarantees about the accuracy of the information used herein.
This is a follow up to my previous story Stopping for Pancakes, story id: 2893471
Part I: No shoes, no shirt, no service
The Impala ran out of gas in the afternoon, due to a slight, perfectly understandable miscalculation on Dean's part. There was no reason for Sam to get so cranky about it. They pushed the car three miles along the dusty unmarked road off Route 60, because their cell phones stubbornly reported No Service.
To pass the time, Sam and Dean got into an insult contest, which wasn't really a contest because Dean was so much better at that kind of thing. His curses were vivid and his vocabulary was impressive. Sometimes he made words up. So much for college education.
The contest ended when in desperation Sam used "Poopy-head."
"Poopy-head? Poopy-head? What are you six?" Dean stopped pushing the car and whacked Sam upside the head with his palm. "Dude. I win."
"Shut up and keep pushing."
They reached the town just as the desert sun was setting. "Town" was too generous a term for it, as was hamlet, municipality, village, or burg. The gas station sign sagged and the pumps looked rusted. There was a two-story building that served as a hotel on the second floor and post office on the first, and a scattering of old houses.
"We should take a look around." Dean tucked his handgun into the back of his jeans. "I'll check out the hotel. Go see if the gas station has a working phone. What?"
"Nothing, boss." The passenger door of the Impala creaked irritably as Sam leaned inside the car to look at the map for the fiftieth time.
Dean decided to let that go and jogged across the dusty street. The hotel windows were filmed over with dust and sand. Dean wiped away a viewing hole and peered inside, seeing more dust and shadows. The furniture looked like it hadn't been updated since the 1970's, and a single desk seemed to be the entirety of the post office.
"Anyone home?" Dean pounded on the door. When no one answered, he kicked it open. There might be a working land line.
A shadow moved as he wandered towards the desk. "Hello?" The guy walked kind of funny, shuffling out from the kitchen in the back. Dean's stomach growled. He grinned his most friendly grin at the man. "Our car just broke down and I wondered if --"
The guy really, really walked funny. One arm kind of sagged and one foot dragged and as he stepped into a beam of the setting sun that cut through the grime of the windows, Dean got a look at his face.
"Shit." Dean turned towards the door and automatically tried to call Sam. No service bars.
As he reached the door, two more appeared on the porch like they'd been waiting for him. They held their arms out almost pleadingly, moving towards him shuffle-step, shuffle-step. Dean turned back towards the kitchen and saw that four more had joined the first guy.
Dean shot one in the face and it dropped to the floor like it had always been dead. He fired again, taking down another one. And another. And another. Now he had a clear path to the door, so he sprinted.
When he got outside he saw a group of them shuffling towards the gas station, where Sam already had the trunk open and was stuffing guns and rock salt into the duffel bag with one hand and keeping a gun trained on the crowd with the other.
"Yo, Sammy!" Dean vaulted over the porch railing and ran. "Get out of there!"
Sam slammed the trunk and caught up with Dean, sprinting with the duffel bag over his shoulder.
They headed for the only other business in town, a 50's style roadside diner. Windows covered the entire front wall, and the rest of the building was compact, small, and highly defendable. Dean reached the door first and crouched, picking the lock with feverish speed.
"Just kick it open!" Sam shot a zombie that got too close. It staggered back and knocked into its comrade, a female, who shoved it away into another zombie, who fell over, taking the first two with it. They lay on the ground, moaning, a confusion of tattered clothes and mottled skin.
"We need the door to stay locked once we're inside, Sam." The tumblers clicked in a satisfying way, giving in to his manipulations. They ran inside and slammed the door behind them.
Dean and Sam leaned against the door while the zombies pounded ineffectually against the glass with their fists. It was only a matter of time before they tried to throw things at the windows, but for the moment, they were safe.
"I can't believe it." Sam dropped the duffel bag on the chipped linoleum with a thump, next to the vintage-looking juke box. He put his hand to his face. "I just can't believe it." He looked at Dean. Now his cheek was smudged with dust from his hand, and he actually did look, just for a moment, like a six-year-old. A very cross six-year-old. "Romero style zombies? Again? Didn't we figure out that they don't actually, um, exist?"
"So, we were wrong. Wait here. Shoot at anything that moves."
Dean went behind the counter and through the swinging door that led to the kitchen. Beyond that he found a storeroom with one tiny window, high up. Otherwise there was one side door for deliveries. It seemed solid when Dean test-kicked it, and it had a dead-bolt.
"Back is secure." Dean got the shotgun out of the bag and loaded it. "If we can fend them off until sunrise, we should be fine."
Curious, Sam flicked the light-switch on the wall, and half the overhead lights came on. "Huh. Electricity is still on." Then he turned back to Dean, who was blinking in the sudden brightness after the dusk outside. "Are you sure about the sunrise thing?"
"Absolutely," Dean lied.
was a knock on the door, a distinct, deliberate knock, different than
the indiscriminate pounding of the zombies' fists against the glass.
With a simultaneous precision that would have pleased Dad, Sam and Dean both turned their guns on the door. The door shade was down so they couldn't see who was knocking.
"Hello? Look, we know you're in there, could you open the door?" A man's voice called calmly, in the way that people speak calmly when they're trying not to give in to screaming-frantic.
Dean pressed his cheek against the window, craning his neck sideways. He saw a tall man in jeans and a black t-shirt standing on the diner steps with his back to the door. Next to him was a red-headed woman, so petite the top of her head only reached the middle of the man's bicep. She held her sawed-off shotgun with assurance. As a zombie got too close, she fired off a round. Her body barely twitched from the recoil.
As if the glass had turned to ice, Dean jerked away from the window.
"Don't open that door!" Dean hissed at Sam, who froze with his fingers inches from the latch.
"Why, what's out there?"
"Man and a woman. I recognize them. You can't let them in."
"They're people, Dean, we have to --"
Sam kept his hand on the latch. "And you know this because..."
"I recognize them."
"Uh, I don't mean to rush you or anything...really, take your time," the man called. "It's just that we'd rather not get turned into the walking undead tonight, so if you could unlock the door, that would be good. That would be very helpful." Now a note of urgency had crept into the man's voice.
"Explain, Dean. Right now," said Sam.
"Truck stop, 1993. Pennsylvania?"
Dean waited. Zombies pounded at the glass and there were several more gunshots from outside.
"Excuse me..." the man called again.
"Just open the door already!" The woman yelled, followed by another gunshot.
"Wait. I don't..." Sam frowned, thinking.
"You were ten, you should remember. The fed that came up to Dad in the parking lot and started asking him questions about Mom."
Sam's jaw dropped. "Oh. Him."
"The federal agent you punched in the jaw."
"That's the one."
Sam undid the lock on the door.
"What the hell are you doing?" Dean grabbed Sam by his collar.
"They're people, Dean. You can't leave them out there. Maybe he won't remember you."
The door opened and the woman ran in while the man fired his gun several times, backing into the diner after her. Sam slammed and locked the door.
"About time," the man said, immediately striding along the windows, looking around. "You checked the back?" He asked, without looking at them.
"Secured," said Dean, wondering why he had the urge to add Sir.
The man dropped into a booth as if his legs had just given out.
The red-head looked at Sam and Dean. "Thank you for letting us in."
"Aw, shucks, it was our pleasure," Dean said with a modest smirk. He ignored the look Sam gave him.
"How did you boys get stuck here?" Her red hair was cut short, just below her ears, and curled in natural waves. Like the man, she wore jeans. A blue fleece pullover was tied around her waist and she wore a sleeveless green blouse. As she set her shotgun down on a table, Dean noticed the definition in her biceps.
"Road trip," said Sam automatically. "We ran out of gas."
"What's your name?" The woman asked.
"Sam Winchester," the man spoke tiredly from the booth before Sam could say anything. "And the one trying to look down your blouse right now is Dean Winchester. I see you're not dead," he added. "What was shot in St. Louis? A shapeshifter?"
Dean stepped away from the red-head. "What? No, I...you must have us confused with someone else."
"Sam Winchester?" Sam pursed his lips. "Never heard of him."
Dean made a mental note to have a little talk with Sam about his acting skills.
"Suit yourself," said the man. It didn't seem to bother him much that zombies were banging on the glass inches from his head. His handgun rested on the table by his elbow.
The red-head shot him a glare, then turned back to Dean and Sam. "I'm Katherine Luder, this is my husband William."
"Well, it's very nice to meet you, Katherine." Dean shook her hand. Her grasp was cool and strong, strangely comforting. "What's a lovely woman like you doing in a place like this?" He left off the with a guy like him part.
"We were travelling," she said. "Vacation. I'm an insurance agent from --"
"Wait. Stop." The man slid out of the booth, throwing his hands up. "I can't take it anymore. You know who we are and you know I know who you are. By one of life's strange coincidences, we all ended up here over a decade after we first met."
Dean leaned closer to the red-head. "Uh, did he forget to take his medication this morning?"
The woman quirked a sardonic eyebrow, and it was one of the sexiest things Dean had ever seen.
"Since I don't believe in coincidence," the man went on, "There must be some reason we ended up here, besieged by improbable zombies. I'm Fox Mulder, and this really is my wife, Dana Scully, although we don't use those names anymore. You're Dean Winchester, and you're Sam Winchester, and your mother died burning on the ceiling on November 2, 1983."
Dean picked up his shotgun and aimed it at Mulder.
Sam grabbed the barrel and lowered the gun. "You can't shoot an FBI agent!"
"We're not with the FBI anymore," the man said.
"Can I shoot a former FBI agent?" Dean snapped, raising the gun again.
The sound of breaking glass made all four of them turn. A determined zombie had found a cinderblock, which crashed onto the table of the booth where Mulder had been sitting.
Zombies started to try to climb through the jagged opening in the window. One got halfway in before Scully shot it in the face. The zombie fell away, but other pale, rotted hands reached up in its place.
Mulder and Scully shot away a few zombies while Sam picked up a table and wedged it onto the booth so the table part was flat against the glass. It wasn't a very heavy table, and it moved when the zombies pushed against it.
"We'll have to take shifts watching so the zombies don't push the table away," Sam said.
"How did you two end up here, really?" Dean kept his gun trained on Mulder.
"A contact told me there was a town that had gone zombie. They add to their numbers whenever a hapless traveler's car breaks down. The town's been zombie for decades. We decided it was time to put a stop to it."
"An extermination job," Dean muttered.
"You could put it like that," said Scully. "Now, do you mind not aiming your gun at my husband?" she said, her voice like steel.
Dean lowered the shotgun.
Mulder's shoulders visibly relaxed. "I don't suppose there's any coffee left in this place, is there?"
"Salt," said Sam.
"Huh?" Dean turned.
"There might be bags of salt in the storage room. We've got rock salt for the guns, but if we could find a large bag of salt, maybe we could, I don't know..."
"Salt bomb?" Mulder suggested.
"Yeah. Cover them all with table salt."
"I don't know if that's such a good idea," Dean said.
"Salt supposedly restores a zombie to its former personality," Scully said, like she was giving a lecture to room full of students. "Wade Davis postulated that it's the chemical tetrodotoxin which puts people into their death-like state. The tetro bonds to the voltage-gated sodium channel in nerve cells."
"I love it when you talk scientific." Mulder grinned for the first time since they'd arrived in the diner. "Recite the formula."
"Would you two like to be alone?" asked Sam.
Dean put his shotgun over his shoulder. "I just don't think salt's a good idea. These aren't Haitian voodoo zombies or revenants or draugr. Our best bet is to shoot them with rock salt. It gets under their skin, into their bodies that way. If we sprinkle them with table salt, I dunno. The results could be...unpredictable."
"It's worth trying, Dean." Sam picked up the salt shaker on a nearby table. There was just a small amount of old, crusted salt inside.
"Scully, you and Sam look for boards to hammer over the windows. Dean, let's go looking for salt." Mulder headed towards the counter.
Dean hesitated, watching his brother. Scully and Sam picked up another table and began discussing how to take it apart. The red-head made some remark and Sam smiled. It was the only type of smile Dean had seen from him lately, gone in a flash and looking like it hurt to do it, but it was a smile.
"He's safe with her," Mulder said. "She's a crack shot."
"It's not her I'm worried about," said Dean, and followed Mulder. "I don't trust you."
"Good," said Mulder.
Part II: Smoke and dust
Mulder and Dean searched the storeroom together without talking. Dean kept Mulder in front of him and in his sights at all times. He wasn't even sure what he thought Mulder might do. Pull a gun on him, cuff him, produce a satellite cell phone to call in the arrest of Dean Winchester for credit card fraud? They didn't know if it was true that Mulder and Scully were no longer FBI.
Every time Dean looked at Mulder's chin, he remembered the feel of his teenaged fist contacting with it.
Dad had lectured Dean all the way from Pittsburgh to Altoona about the incident, about not putting the family in jeopardy by drawing attention, about the wisdom of not assaulting federal officers.
They found two bags of salt in a cardboard box. Mulder and Dean carried them out into the front and dropped them on a table with twin thumps, then moved away from each other.
Sam was standing watch with Scully's sawed-off shotgun while Scully nailed the table top across the door using one of her boots as a hammer. The zombies must have decided it wouldn't be easy to get inside, and had quieted.
"I chopped of a few limbs with the axe I found," said Scully. "That seemed to startle the rest so they've backed off."
"Maybe now they'll stay away," Sam said hopefully.
"They'll be back," said Mulder. "Zombies have almost no short-term memory. Zombies are --"
Dean finished the sentence with Mulder, "-- stupid that way."
"We need a dispersal method," said Mulder, who started rummaging behind the counter.
"No, we don't," said Sam. "We can throw the salt at them. Fill up a couple of containers, go outside..."
"Oh, oh, oh." Dean held up his hands. "Hold on, little brother. Go outside? No."
"But Dean, it's the only..."
"No. You can throw salt through the window."
"That won't be nearly as effective. Unless we're facing them head-on, we won't be able to--"
"Okay, no one is going outside." Scully lowered her boot.
"Aw, c'mon," Mulder said, with a pretend-whine. "I've always wanted to throw salt at zombies. Sam's right, Scully. You and Dean cover us, Sam and I will go out and throw salt. The zombies should either fall down dead or scatter."
"Sam, don't even think about it." Dean jabbed his index finger at Sam.
"You look like Dad when you do that."
Dean opened his mouth for a retort, and found that he couldn't think of one.
"I warned you. I WARNED YOU PEOPLE." Dean blasted away the face of the zombie who had its hands wrapped around Sam's leg, trying to bite his kneecap. "But did you listen? NOOOOOOOOO. I knew table salt wasn't a good idea. Now they're just pissed off."
A dozen or so zombies, the ones that Dean and Scully hadn't already blasted to hell, swarmed towards the diner door.
Two small forms shambled up to Sam. They had once been children, the boy in a now filthy hoodie sweatshirt, the girl in overalls. Their clothes were torn, their eyes hollow and staring in faces so sunken they were almost like skulls.
Dean watched his brother freeze, a look of terrible sympathy on his face as the zombie children reached out for him.
Before Dean could yell at Sam to move his sorry ass, Mulder grabbed Sam's arm and yanked him away from the grasping small hands.
The zombies moaned loudly. One of them rushed Sam and Mulder. Dean pulled the trigger, but he was out of ammo.
"Scully!" Dean shouted, and she calmly turned and fired, shooting off its arms. The thing flailed for a few seconds, then fell over and twitched like a toppled wind-up toy.
"Inside," Mulder yelled. Somehow they all got back in and slammed the door behind them.
But the salt-enraged zombies were no longer going to be put off by something as flimsy as a locked glass door. They began hurling themselves against the glass, two or three at a time. Meanwhile, the table slid off a booth sideways onto the jukebox, which lit up and whirred into the opening guitar strings of "Paint it Black" by the Rolling Stones.
"Perfect!" Dean yelled over the music. He dove for their duffel bag and grabbed a pre-loaded shotgun. "Sam! Window!" Side by side, Dean and Sam started firing. Dean could feel the grin tugging at his cheek muscles, and wondered if he looked as manic as he felt as zombie after zombie fell back under their defense.
The jukebox switched again to something else with thrumming drumbeats and a lot of bass guitar, while Mulder and Scully tried to shove the jukebox in front of the door.
"Dean, did you pre-program the jukebox?" Sam asked.
"No! As if I would ever willingly listen to The Clash. And if I ever use a fight soundtrack on purpose, just shoot me."
There was a thud, and a crash. A tire smashed through the glass of the door. The zombies' rage had also apparently increased their ingenuity.
Scully was closer to the door and she flinched back just a second too late. Mulder tackled her out of the tire's path. They landed heavily.
Zombies started to push through the broken door. "Stay on the windows," Dean told Sam.
Dean picked up the tire, and hurled it at the zombies. They fell back out the door.
That was Mulder, kneeling on the floor with his wife in his arms. Her eyes were closed, and she looked pale. "She's out cold," Mulder said flatly. "She must have hit her head."
He gathered her up and carried her to the diner counter. Mulder gently set her down, smoothed the hair back from her face.
Dean stood momentarily frozen, shotgun forgotten in his hands.
Then Scully groaned and opened her eyes.
"Scully? You okay?" Mulder touched her shoulder.
Scully sat up gingerly, her fingers running over her own face, checking for damage.
Scully swung her legs over, slid off the counter, grabbed up the nearest shotgun, and blew off the head of a zombie that was suddenly reaching for Dean with its knobby fingers.
"I hate zombies!"
"I know," he said, his hand on her back, supporting her as she swayed a little. "Just be grateful they aren't liver-eating mutants."
"You guys hunted liver-eating mutants?" Sam gawked.
"I assume you don't mean the kind who eat it fried with onions," said Dean.
"Afraid not. But it was just one, singular," said Mulder.
"Hey, I'm not sure about this, but I think we've cut their number by half," said Sam. "And I think Dean's trick with the tire scared them away from trying the door. For the moment, anyway."
The jukebox began playing "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
The song died with a bang as Dean shot the jukebox.
"Thank you," three voices chorused.
"No prob," said Dean, giving a two-fingered salute. "What time is it?" In the sudden silence Dean yawned and rubbed a hand through his hair.
"Three a.m.," said Scully, and winced, putting her palm to her forehead.
Mulder touched the tender spot with his fingers. "How are you feeling?"
"I'll survive." She smiled up at him.
The smile made Dean's chest ache a little. He ignored the little voice in his brain that whispered: someday... and instead got his mind back on the job.
"We probably have a few hours before they try again," said Dean. "Sammy, let's take an ammunition count and figure out how to destroy the rest of them." He looked at Mulder, who met his glance. "I don't suppose you know if sunrise will stop them?"
Mulder just shrugged.
"Oh, that's comforting." Dean rolled his eyes.
Part III: The absence of pancakes
"You should talk to him. Both of them. Tell them about Jess."
Seated across from Sam in the booth in the farthest corner of the diner, Dean fisted his hand and bumped it on the table. "Sammy. He says this has probably happened to other people -- he and Scully are some kind of...experts on the supernatural. Not like Dad, not hunters. Scientists. I think you can trust him."
"It's not that." Sam fiddled with the empty napkin holder. "I just...I can't talk about Jess."
"Then let me tell him for you."
"I dunno, Dean."
"Don't you want to find out why these things happened? What happened to Mom?"
"Of course." Sam's hair flopped into his eyes. "All right. I'll tell them if you're there listening."
So all four them sat in a booth together at 3:56 a.m. while Sam talked about cookies, and a girl with thousand-kilowatt smile, and drops of blood, and fire. Sam's voice shook a little, his eyes turning bright.
Dean knew not to touch him or offer comfort, because then his brother would start to weep in front of strangers, which would mortify him. So instead he did what he used to do when they were little kids. He started poking Sam in the arm over and over.
"Knock it off," Sam said and kept on talking. Seconds later Dean poked him again. "I said, cut it out!"
Now his brother's face was angry, the tears drying up faster than water on hot asphalt.
"Poke," said Dean, and did. Sam turned in his seat and tried to shove Dean out of the booth.
"Boys!" Scully said, and they froze in mid-tussle. "Settle down." Then her eyes caught Dean's, and he realized she knew exactly what he'd just done.
"I hate to be the one to point this out," Mulder said, when Sam had finished. "But Sam...so far Sam's the common link between the two deaths."
"What are you talking about?" Dean gripped the edge of the table with both hands.
"Sam was present as an infant at his mother's death, and he was in the room when Jessica died. I don't know if it necessarily means anything or not."
Mulder must have seen the look that passed between Sam and Dean because he tilted his head to one side, and added, "Is there anything else you're not telling me?"
"I've had dreams," Sam muttered, slumping in his seat. "Seeing things before they happen."
Dean didn't at all like the look Mulder gave Sam -- like a scientist eyeing a lab specimen. "Okay!" Dean said cheerily. "I think that's enough interrogation for one night. Who's up for pancakes? Oh, right." He smacked his forehead. "There's no food in this diner."
"There isn't even any coffee in this diner." Scully put her forehead down on the table.
"Look on the bright side," Sam said, peering out the window.
"The zombies are back."
But it was just an hour and a half to the desert dawn, and there were only six zombies left. Mulder put an axe through one. Scully shot off the head of the second and third. Dean took out two at once with a gun in each hand.
"That makes twelve for me," he said, and blew across the barrel of one handgun, then the other.
"Thirteen," Sam shouted, and he shot the last zombie as it tried to crawl over the jukebox through the broken door.
"Aw, crap," said Dean.
"That's two weeks of laundry," Sam said.
"We said one week."
"We said two."
With the zombies gone, Mulder and Scully managed to get to their SUV. They offered Sam and Dean a lift to the nearest gas station, where they hired a tow truck.
Before they drove off, while Scully and Sam spread a map over the hood of the SUV and studied it, Mulder scribbled a number on a piece of paper and handed it to Dean. "Call if you need help," said Mulder.
"We won't." Dean glanced at Sam and Scully, as the morning sun flashed off the windshield, making him squint. "Can I ask you something?" Dean said, fingering the piece of paper. "What happened to you?"
There was a long pause before Mulder finally answered. "When I was a child my little sister was taken away by something that for decades I could not explain." His voice was expressionless. "It happened while my parents were out for the evening. It was my job to look after her and I failed."
"Did you ever find out --" Dean began.
Mulder didn't let him finish. "Yes. She's dead."
I'm sorry seemed so ridiculously inadequate. "What was her name?"
"What's that?" Sam asked. He turned his head, leaning tiredly against the passenger-side door as the Impala roared along Route 60.
Dean fingered the piece of paper in his right hand. "It's Mulder's phone number. I dunno." He crumpled the piece of paper and let it drop to the floor of the car. "Kind of a weird guy, wasn't he?"
"Nah. He was cool." Sam closed his eyes. "You liked Scully a lot, didn't you?"
"Dean, she's married."
"So? She might get tired of him," Dean said.
"Yeah, right." Sam snorted.
Dean put both hands on the wheel, watching the morning highway, at the yellow line unspooling like a ribbon ahead of him. After a moment his brother's breaths grew slow and even, and Dean knew Sam was out. The radio station switched to Jimmy Buffet. Dean wanted to change to something else but didn't want to wake Sam.
Wastin' away again in margaritaville
Searching for my lost shaker of salt...
After a few miles, Dean reached down and found the piece of crumpled paper by his boot. He remembered the expression on Mulder's face when he told Dean about his sister.
He tucked the piece of paper into his front jeans pocket. Later, he'd probably program it into the cell phone. Maybe.
Besides -- the phone number was the only way he'd ever find the red-head again.
Lyrics to "Margaritaville" by Jimmy Buffet