Totally getting to the Hurt!Dean soon, kids. And Hurt!Sam, though I'm less aquainted with him; we're quickly making friends. ;)
"Are you insane?" Sam demands. He walks a bit faster than Dean once they're outside the bar, pink neon looped above the door washing out his face, wanting to both get away and stay to confront his brother's distinct lack of sanity. What the hell was he thinking, baiting Nicolas like that – that was Dad's job, not theirs. Keeping serious and stoic so Dad had intimidating backup when he tossed back a few with devils and demons had always been their job, part of the plan.
Which is exactly what they lack.
There isn't much traffic coming down the street. Dean gives a quick left, right before jogging across to the EL station on the other side. "Those assholes, making me leave my car. If anything happens to her, I'm going to," – and shouts the last part – "enjoy killing those SOBs!"
Dean yanks open the door to the station and barrels through, worried about his car – a sure sign of insanity, right? Inside, he's stopped from hopping the gate by a large woman in the service booth who looks up slowly from her magazine and shakes her head, curls bouncing.
"I can't believe you. Did you even have a plan?" Sam asks, used to using automated card machines from his life before this as a college student. He deposits the change and pulls out a plastic transit card. "He could have killed us right there," he continues his short rant, inserts the card into the reader, and misses Dean's curious expression when it pops back out and Sam pushes through the gate. "No weapons? Geeze, Dean – " Finally noticing he still has the card in his hand, he reaches back, slides it in, and motions Dean through. "Dude."
Dean stops and rubs the back of his neck. "What, should we flinch? Those things are killing people, normal, everyday people and probably get off on their screaming. Dad had it right when he said you have to sink to their level sometimes."
"Sink to their level?"
"You know what I mean."
Sam shakes his head – there's no getting through when any lesson of Dad's is referenced; his word remains the end all be all. He climbs the first staircase two steps a time with long, lanky legs, and takes in the map of intersecting colored lines, tracing from the 'You Are Here' mark, weathered and half-peeled from the plastic sign, hoping the station nearest the park shares its name.
A few stragglers pass by, older folks out late, young kids, laughing and leaning on each other to stay upright, stumbling left to right, weaving up the stairs. Too far gone to ask for directions; Sam bounds back down to the station below and raps his knuckles on the Plexiglas window. She glances up, settles her face, and slides open the tiny window.
"What?" she asks.
"How do I get to Washington Park?" asks Sam. She shakes her head, mutters under her breath.
"Take the brown line to the loop, transfer to the green, then you get off at Garfield. But there ain't no busses running this late; it's a hike from the station."
He smiles, cocks his head slightly to the side. "Thanks."
"Best be careful," she calls as he starts up the stairs.
He almost turns his head, almost replies that he's trying to, but holds his tongue. He's handled worse before, can handle himself because of Dad's rigorous training and drills and orders, and while before it was hard to defend himself against other people, that line's definitely been blurred by recent events.
The air is chilly up on the platform, the thin roof doing nothing to shelter it from the icy wind sweeping through the channels created by alleys and streets. Dean trudges down the old wooden platform to a steel warming alcove, heat lamps hanging from the roof's support beam giving a little relief from the cold.
He leans up against the rounded edge, metal like ice fusing to his spine. It reminds him he's alive, still kicking and hunting and moving through the motions. Fire and ice, spine to sides, he leans his head back and closes his eyes, listening to Sam's feet patting the wood on his way over. Sam radiates his own type of heat, standing on Dean's left, outside the heat of the lamp lights.
Neither speak. The lights click off, and for a moment, there's silence and a frothy chill to fill such metaphorical space between close brothers. Sam slides his feet, shifting, then the lights click back on and the fake sunlight's back.
"Got a plan?" Sam asks softly.
"Nope." Eyes still closed, he can hear the intake of breath needed for whatever objections Sam may have, and twists his head to regard his younger brother with lazy eyes. "Save the lecture. We know who's behind all this, but we don't know why. We go in and take 'em out now and sure, we'll stop them, but I don't think they're the ones pulling the strings."
Dean pushes forward, wincing as the cold bar is removed from still tender bruises. "He would have killed us if he could, Sam. A lycan like him, with two hunters inside some private room? Why wouldn't he kill us? Someone else has to be in charge, wants us here and alive."
"But not investigating," remarks Sam. Dean nods, shoves his hands in the pockets of his jeans, and leans forward to look up and down the track.
"Where's the damn train?" he mutters, then turns to Sam. "Maybe they know that when someone tells us no, we charge ahead just for the challenge."
"To take out the lycans when whatever's going on is done?" Sam says, question rhetorical. "It's some messed up game of chess."
"Usually is," sighs Dean cryptically. "All we have to do is figure out what the hell's going on without crossing paths with Nicolas and his fun furry friends."
"How many had those notches in the bones?" Sam asks.
A shrug. "Four, maybe five."
A horn sounds in the distance. White headlights shine down the track as the train roars into the station. It screeches to a stop, windows showing only a few passengers per car. The small crowd around the warming lights disperses as the bells chime and the doors slide open.
Inside, the brothers sit in seats near the door, facing the center aisle – good for coverage, to watch their backs. With an announcement by a flat automated voice, the doors slide closed and the train chugs up to speed with a rattling that clicks teeth and shakes the heart as it makes it way down the track.
Sam rubs his forehead, pinches the bridge of his nose. "It's going to be a lot harder to get in to see the bones." Turns his bowed head to Dean. "Even with your 'master forgery' skills."
"They've got to have an autopsy report on file with the police."
"Sure, man. You're going to stroll right in and grab the files off the desk," remarks Sam with a scoff. "Right. They won't arrest you. I'm sick of having to save your ass from the cops."
"Internet file, bitch," Dean growls.
"A big city like this is going to have a closed intranet. I can't hack into it like I normally do."
"You just have to get in the door. Access the files from inside."
"And how am I going to do that?"
Dean smirks. "Well, you are good at getting me out of jail."
Sam groans, leans his head back to the window and lifts it just as fast, not up for having his brains rattled into soup. Bent over, elbows on knees and head in hands, he laughs. A short, half-laugh that grows as the train stops at the next station. Sam's laughing at the absurdity of it all, laughter growing. Dean places a hand on his back, feels the shudder of expanding lungs through his jacket, and smiles. He's thinking of when the sun will rise and the ruckus he'll make in the police station to let Sam through because if there's one thing he excels at, it's causing trouble.
The distance from the station to the car seems shorter when Dean's driving at 60 miles per hour, foot heavy on the gas and gaining speed. A crescent moon hangs high, a sliver of light bright in the dark hours after midnight.
Neither is tired, sleeping like the city. They are wired, adrenaline fueling a trail with clues soon to vanish, such is the consequence of time. The pardon offered by whom, or whatever, Nicolas reports to can't last long – a warning, giving them a window to escape unscathed before they do what must be done. Survival of the fittest through strategic murders.
A headache pounds through Dean's head, striking him sharply in the back of his skull where it connected with a wall the previous night, a constant reminder of his fragile mortality. Speed distracts him, music, too, pulsing through the Impala's steel frame, uninterrupted by chatty morning and afternoon DJs. The words are lethargic, traffic report short – no one is out on the roads but them, and Dean takes advantage of being the only inhabitant of an empty city.
"Find it?" he asks, tapping impatient fingers on the worn leather of the steering wheel. Sam waves a hand – be quiet – he's on the phone, listening to the automated menu for the Chicago Police Department, waiting for the option for location. A crime spree this large – public, shocking – would be centered in headquarters and not a local precinct.
"State and Roosevelt," Sam repeats, then hangs up, tossing his Blackberry on the dash. The sound of it skidding across cracked vinyl sparks a memory, the phone sliding down the slick bar of his and Jess's favorite hang out when it was still brand new. Have his friends wondered where he is or how he's doing, or have they, after a year, finally given up, letting him fade like the scent of smoke from the charred remains of his apartment?
"Where the hell is that?" barks Dean. "Look at a map or something." Out of the corner of his eye, he watches Sam fiddle with his phone, press buttons quickly and easily. The stoplight ahead clicks yellow, red, and the Impala's engine idles with a rumble, sound reverberating off brick walls.
"Head towards the lake."
Even in the dark, when all is dormant and sky melts into ground, Dean keeps his sense of direction and heads confidently east. Chicago is laid out in a grid; it helps most acclimate and navigate the city, except for those from Milwaukee, where the numbered system, like many things in life, is reversed.
He's used to shadowing his older brother.
A large part of his training, John Winchester had his youngest follow his brother, walk in his footsteps, make the same quiet strides. Years of stepping in Dean's shadow have given him rare insight as to the moves and motivations of his brother that have easily translated to daily life; the length of a stride, the slight turn of a foot, a long breath – all tells he can read and act upon within seconds.
Moving unseen is easy here, where tall buildings and cars left illegally overnight cast long, sharp shadows across the amber of lit sidewalks.
Following a block behind, Sam watches as one moves forward to engage Dean, a beggar living in the shadow of the CPD's headquarters – spitting in the face of the law with each panhandled coin. He shakes his cup and spouts something Sam can't hear from such a distance, probably a sad story with just the right embellishment to get deeper into wallets.
When Dean doesn't stop, the man leaves his perch and follows, shouts loud enough to be heard as swears and derogatory remarks. When an insult is thrown on their mother, Sam's breath catches in his chest, a painful balloon needing release – this wasn't part of the plan. Dean pivots around, eyes narrow, and yells back at the man.
His lungs aren't moving, but Sam's feet are, and he closes the distance between himself and his brother, slowing as a returning patrol car does the same, rubber tires rolling slowly on the upswept street, curious.
Words are exchanged. A giant spotlight swings over Dean just as he launches himself at the homeless man, tackling him to the ground in a rare show of raw emotion. Damn the plan – Sam rushes over and hooks his arms around Dean, pulling back and hoping Dean realizes it's him before trying to defend himself with a mean right hook.
The whoop of a starting siren – Dean stops, grins up at Sam, and does as the officers say when they are close enough to see the whites of his eyes.
True to his colors, Dean yells loud and struggles against the officer leading him through the doors and down the steel staircase to the booking agent, going so far as to grab the top of the railing and let the officer try and pull him down. He releases after a few seconds – he wants to get Sam in, not himself arrested – and smiles a floppy, goofy smile with, he hopes, drunk-looking eyes.
"Think you're a funny guy, huh? You're a lucky SOB; that homeless guy's not pressing charges," the officer remarks on their way down the stairs. "Drunk and wandering the streets – you lookin' for trouble, or just that fucking wasted?" Dean stumbles off the bottom stair and teeters off right into a wooden bench set across the lobby from the duty desk. He laughs it off, slides to the floor, and lets his chin fall to his chest.
"Throw this one in the drunk tank," he sneers. "Anyone make a run to Dunkin Donuts?"
"Tim's leaving in a few," the deputy at the desk answers.
"Oh, that's an order I want to get in on." The officer, mind on donuts and coffee, uncuffs Dean and wanders off, disappearing behind the wall separating the desk and lobby from the unknown world of police.
Dean lounges against the counter. "Hey, does that mean I can leave?"
A piercing look from the deputy says no.
Sam spends the night in their hotel room alone.
There's no snoring, no shifting or stumbling in the middle of the night. He's free to leave the television off, the lamp on, and read, propped up with both his and the other bed's pillows, as long as he'd like. He can take a shower and not worry about what Dean's possibly done to his clothes, and for dinner, he has something that isn't saturated in grease or made at a local and possibly shady diner.
After reading the same page three times, Sam groans and tosses a paperback – worn from weeks of carrying it around in hope he could find time to read it – onto the end of the bed. Running weary hands over his face, he realizes his dreamed solitude is full of fallacies. It's been years since he'd lived alone – even his dorm room freshman year came with a roommate – and the ambient, natural sounds of someone else in the room have become comforting.
In short, he misses his sometimes annoying roommate.
A night of waking up to silence has him frazzled, and despite his best efforts, his hair still sticks out oddly under handfuls of the goop Dean calls hair gel. His suit – the only one he owns, bought secondhand in Nazareth – is rumpled. He approaches his task with weary confidence, hoping the sight of his brother after a night in the drunk tank will even the playing field.
Sam approaches the desk with a smile, hoping bags under his eyes make him look overworked, not under-qualified. A sneaky resentful thought snakes through in time with his steps – you'd be two years from a bar card if only...
He knows how that thought ends.
Drooping an arm on the counter, Sam puts on a charming smile. "I believe my brother was brought in last night; about this tall," – holds a hand to his shoulder, wishing he could share the tickling laughter with someone – "dark blond hair, probably swore a lot?"
The officer nods, a young woman with closely cropped blonde hair and pretty painted lips. "Hits on anything with tits? Yeah, he's here. Been sleeping off a bender."
"Sounds like him. Think I can pick him up?"
"Let me get the duty officer; I'm just here for his fifteen."
Police procedure is the same if there's a city of 5 million or a town of 500; most shifts overlap for at least a half hour, creating chaos as twice as many people clutter the narrow, usually adequate hallways and spans between desks. Breaks are scheduled, fresh blood relieves the old, and Sam's got about ten minutes before the woman covering the desk comes back looking for him – or anyone notices there's an extra body that isn't supposed to be there.
He swiped a VISITOR badge from Dean's collection in the glove box; he plucks it from his pocket and clips it on a wrinkled lapel before passing through the door marked AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.
Behind the door, the station is buzzing with contagious energy. Officers, both in and out of uniform, rush down crowded hallways and between desks in an overstuffed bullpen area. Sam slips through easily, his suit helping him to blend in with other lawyers and detectives roaming the halls, and looks for an open computer or file room he can use without attracting the wrong kind of attention.
The rush of moving officers and assistants won't last long, not nearly long enough to do deep research or search through governmental databases for a commonality. Then again, when has anything he's hunted stuck to a pattern defined by birthplace or the same hairstylist?
Navigating is easy. He clicks through screens left up by the computer's owner until he finds the shared database login, left open on another case more human but no less horrible. Without a case number, Sam has to search based on the identifying marks he's looking to connect; he grabs for some scrap paper on the desk and scribbles down the names and anything left in the notes section of the autopsy reports. He pockets the notes and the pen -- there's nothing he can do to wipe the keyboard, but that doesn't mean he can't do anything -- before pushing out of the chair and into the hallway --
"Hey, kid, what are you doing back here?"
Sam takes a breath and turns to the questioner. "Uh, I'm here to pick up my brother, but no one was at the desk, do you think you could help me out?" he asks, switching mid-sentence. The questioner, a uniform beat cop probably on his way to call, eyes Sam, then chuckles and shakes his head.
"He in trouble?" he says. "My brother, damn troublemaker -- to be honest, he's a bit of a fuck up, but I, man, how many times have I gone in to get him after a bender?" He whistles and starts leading Sam, smiling at some old memory made amusing by time.
Sam plays along. "Yeah, sounds like my brother. Bet he's sleeping it off in the drunk tank while I'm out here -- "
"Picking his drunk ass up," interrupts the cop. They round the corner, and the warmth of cream walls and beige industrial carpeting gives way to the cold of concrete -- walls and floor as grey as the painted steel bars. The smell and sounds of men are concentrated, close quarters sharing more than benches after a night behind bars. Their steps echo through the dimly lit hallway; a few men hold the bars or shout insults at the beat cop -- he takes them with a grain of salt and keeps walking to the booking cop.
"Hey, open the tank, will ya? Someone's got a ride waiting."
The booking cop pauses halfway through printing a bleary-eyed rail of a man, his finger sinking into the thick black sponge. Sam looks to the cells, to the faint black stains on prisoners' fingers, and hopes -- prays, though he won't tell Dean -- that city cops are just as lazy as their contemporaries and are just getting to the drunks just waking.
She hands the man off to Sam's cop and unlocks the tank. He spots his brother right away, sitting in one of the corners, head tilted back to the wall, arms crossed. Like most of the men gathered in the twelve by twelve, he's asleep, or at least pretending to be, eyelashes dark against skin washed out by overhead lights.
When the gate slides open, Dean tilts his head, smiles lopsided, and stands. "Hey there, sunshine," he drawls, walking towards Sam and freedom at the same time, "took you long enough." The officer waves him through, and the cell clanks closed with a resounding twang behind them. "Thanks, sugar," he grins at the booking cop, now back fingerprinting her prisoner.
To Sam's infinite dismay, she doesn't frown, she winks.
As they walk out, the officer laughs.
Dean clips Sam in the back of the head as they hop-step down the three steps to street level. Above, the sun's stronger as the clock inches towards high noon, and the breeze off the lake is softer during the lunch hour. The brothers blend in, traveling with human traffic down the street to the parallel spot the Impala's parked in.
"Hey!" says Sam, frowning.
"Thanks for taking your sweet-ass time, Sammy boy," Dean grunts, hands in his pockets. His hair is a bit flatter then it was the night before, but that's the only difference in appearance; rumpled, but full of energy, and that little creep slept just fine while Sam tossed and turned.
The car groans as they fall into comfortable places, Dean back in the driver's seat where he belongs. He doesn't start the car, though, but lets his head thunk back onto the top of the bench seat and sighs.
Maybe he wasn't as rested as Sam thought.
"Man," Dean yawns. He scratches the side of his face idly while gazing out the windshield at people walking down the sidewalk. For a moment, Sam catches a glimpse of the weariness that's inhabited his brother ever since – just ever since. Lines on his face seem deeper, etched sharply upon a normally youthful face, his mouth now a scowl Sam doesn't remember seeing until he was pulled back from fire a second time.
Silence hangs heavy, and for a few moments. Sam feels like he should say something, that a moment like this is rare, and there are so many answers he craves.
Time to man-up and just ask. "Dean –"
"So, what did you find out?" interrupts Dean, blinking open his eyes and the momentary slip of a
mask. "Tell me I didn't spend the night in there for nothing."
"No," Sam quickly recovers. It's always like this – wanting to ask, talk, but always losing to hesitation. Does that mean he really doesn't want to know?
"No, you found something, or no, I wasn't in there for nothing?" Dean asks, head now lifted and turned towards Sam. "C'mon, man!"
"There are two more with the same marks in their ribs," Sam says, pulling out his notebook. As he speaks, Dean starts the car and watches for a clear space in traffic to pull out. "A Thomas Alton and Bethany Salron."
"Kinda breaks any theory around gender." The light behind them changes and Dean pulls out into traffic, making a right onto Roosevelt back to the hotel. "The cops got a theory?"
"They're grasping at straws," Sam reports. "None of the victims lived near each other, went to the same school, knew each other. They don't even look alike. I don't know, Dean – maybe there isn't a connection."
He takes a right on Dearborn. The tires squeal as he takes it too fast. "We already know the first was desperate for a boyfriend and the second, for a dude who could play bass."
"Wait. What makes you think Angela was desperate for a boyfriend?"
"Think about it. She didn't want anyone at work to know him – she had to be reaching for the bottom of the barrel to date someone she couldn't even introduce to those weirdoes she worked with."
Sam thought about Jess, and her never-ending requests to meet his family. "Maybe he didn't want to meet them."
He gets a pained look. "Then why would he go there to surprise her? Trust me; sometimes the girl wants to keep you her dirty little secret."
It's hard to get a read with Dean so focused on the road – maybe that's why he was.
"Learn that one from personal experience?" Sam half-jokes, hoping the lighter tone might slip through carefully constructed barriers.
It does; Dean snorts and lets out a chuckle. "Yeah, maybe." Then, "They were all desperate for some reason – no surprise there. But Angela didn't have a notch."
"Those guys said Jimmy put up fliers to find a bass player," Sam thinks aloud. "Maybe the others were just as desperate." He shakes his head. "Can you imagine, putting yourself out there for anything to find? People really need to re-learn stranger danger. Would make it harder for shit to find 'em."
"Would also make it harder for us to help them," points out Sam.
Dean clicks on the radio.
A quick query on the internet reveals the Gold Coast address of Bethany Salron, Chicago's high-class district of luxurious condos butting up against the lake just a stone's throw from the posh Magnificent Mile of Michigan Ave. Here, the Impala sticks out, dried mud along the bottom of the frame, flicked up from balding tires, clashing with gleaming SUVs and elegant sports cars. Dean snarls at them as he roams for an empty spot to park, half wishing he had one but loving his car all the same. His has character, a memory of its own that those new cars, traded in after a few years when the owners grow bored of them, will never have.
Even in a residential area, there are meters along the major streets, and permit parking signs on the side routes. More willing to spare a few quarters than his car's relative freedom, Dean swings into a spot as soon as it opens up, parallel parking with marked ease, fingers tapping on the leather back of the bench seat before the car settles. He's got his seatbelt off and one foot out the door when Sam notices the meter and traffic whizzing by a bit too fast for comfort.
"Uh, Dean?" he asks while he unbuckles his own lap belt and steps onto the sidewalk. "You sure you want to park on the street? Someone could come by and, God-forbid, take off the side mirror or something."
"Ha ha," Dean replies. "Don't patronize me, Sam," he says over the roof. "It's hard enough without your comments."
At a break in traffic, Dean jogs off without warning, Sam's long legs the only thing allowing him to catch up, albeit awkwardly, inside the drive curving outward in front of the apartment building. An employee gives them an odd look, one that could mean trouble, but becomes distracted by an overly demanding woman and turns away. Sam thumps Dean on the back.
"You're an ass," he grins.
"And you're a whiny bitch," Dean shoots back. "This the place?"
Sam looks up at the address above the door in large, gold letters, and wonders, briefly, if they're gold plated like those seen in the rest of America. He nods, "Yeah. Apartment 317."
The lobby is a room longer than it is wide, with a security desk made of marble on the left. Beneath their feet is an elegant floral carpeting, and the room is more golds and mirrors than usually seen just inside the doors of an apartment building. When they enter, eyes wide with wonder that marks the regular from intruder, the security guard looks up from a monitor or hidden magazine, and clears his throat.
"Can I help you?" he asks after a pregnant pause.
Heads back in the game, the brothers turn to the guard, their smiles reflecting back at them from the mirrored wall behind the guard station. Dean steps up this time, where there are no un-relatable college students around, and leans casually on the counter.
"Hey. We're with the police clean up crew. Someone from the Salron place called and said we missed something," drawls Dean in that laid back Southern meter Sam never really developed. It relaxes people, makes them lean in a little closer and give Dean the benefit of the doubt.
"I'll have to call up there," says the guard, reaching for the phone.
"C'mon, man," Dean tries. "They're out. I really don't want to get fired today; leaving something's more than enough to get my ass sacked."
There's a moment of uncertainty, then the guard hangs up the phone. "Make it quick."
"Like I'd take my time. Thanks, man."
Dean leaves, Sam beside him, before anyone can think twice. Farther down the lobby is the elevator lobby, three elevators facing three more in gleaming gold.
"Geeze," whistles Dean. "This woman was loaded. If this is the lobby, I wonder what her place looks like."
"Could be her husband," Sam comments, pressing the up button. Both have their eyes to the ceiling, heads tilted as they sweep the area, using hunting skills to let the building impress them – and warn them as to what type of people they're dealing with. "How did someone like Bethany Salron get involved with the lycans?" Sam thinks aloud. "Compared to the other victims, she doesn't fit."
"What, cause she's not living in some shitty apartment?" Dean asks. "Yeah, I get what you're saying. A woman living here doesn't seem like the desperate type, unless they've got those desperate housewives going around here." He smiles, and shakes his head. "Man, have you seen the shit they do?"
"When do you find time to watch TV?" asks Sam, incredulous.
"When your lightweight ass is asleep."
Sam's comeback's interrupted by the ding of an arriving elevator. The doors slide open to reveal a carpeted elevator, and with skeptical eyes, they enter, Sam pressing 3.
"Maybe if you didn't make me drink – "
"Hey, I don't make you do anything. You do that all on your own."
Sam growls, frustrated, but that's normal when dealing with his brother and things outside the realm of hunting. Despite spending most of their lives living out of the same room, they've turned out vastly different and the gulf between them is sometimes hard to breach.
Riding three floors is short. The doors open on a hallway with the same carpet as in the lobby downstairs, more gold and money surrounding them as they scope out apartment 317. Ten feet away, Dean notices the door's ajar, and motions in that sign language usually reserved for men in war for Sam to stop. There's no reason for the door to be unlocked and open during the day, giving them enough pause to pull guns from waistbands of faded jeans and approach slowly.
Positioned on each side of the door, Dean gives the count, then pushes open the door with the barrel of his gun and peeks his head around the doorframe.
"Uh, hello? Anyone here?" he calls into the silent apartment.
The lycans could be watching, could be waiting, and Sam doesn't want to take any chances. He follows after Dean, pushing the door open wider, and takes a step into the room.
And feels the cold iron of a gun pressed against his neck.
"Take another step, and I'll waste him," says a voice.
Dean freezes. "Freakin' great."