She takes a moment to wonder which cage her brother had been thrown into, hers or Sam's. It can hardly matter now, but she somehow feels it was hers.
Kathleen walks closer, looks into Sam's cage, and sees the two men piled in there, one on top of the other; Sam had thrown them in separately, not concerned in the least as to whether they could move or breathe. If their survival instinct kicked in enough to make them shift, that was enough for him.
It's not like she can claim to be any better. Their father, that cesspool of twisted love and demented logic, is dead by her hand. He died laughing, and the unfairness of that rocks her back on her heels. He and his murderous pack of children took Riley from her and Mom, so that Mom died crying for her lost baby boy, her frail arms stretched out hopefully, goosebumps rising on her skin because of the hospital chill in the air.
Nothing about this is fair. She knows that. She checks the lock on Sam's cage one more time and heads out to the shed, standing over the patriarch's fallen body. She wants to tear him to shreds, piss on the remains, desecrate the corpse in some way, but she's already stepped far enough outside herself by killing him, choking his laughter with a bullet.
The state police and the FBI will be here soon. She needs to lock the situation down, buy some time for Sam and his cousin, make sure they get away clean. Kathleen makes her way into the main house and whirls when she hears a relentless scratching. It's the girl, Missy, she realizes, remembering that Greg – no, not Greg, she hadn't pressed for his real name once his story of fire came tumbling out of him, lucky man – had said he and Sam had locked her in a closet. At the sound of her footsteps, the scratching subsides, so she takes advantage of the quiet to hear herself think, to assess the site. She steels herself to walk past the jars of teeth, the canisters of meat, the trophy case with jewelry and skulls jumbled together.
Kathleen turns the corner and finds a faded pale blue cloth strung up on hooks like a shower curtain, keeping one corner of the room hidden. When she shoves the dirty fabric aside, an enraged wail echoes throughout the house, and she knows she's found Missy's room, the hiding place of whatever treasures the girl has collected. There's a twin bed, made up with worn but once-fine linens, doubled back on themselves for the narrow mattress; a braided mat made of human hair rests on the floor beside it. A crude bookshelf holding clothes has a jar of eyeballs sitting on top, where any girl but this one, with her sly eyes and cruel smile, would have put a little jewelry box full of beads and friendship bracelets. Next to it is the picture of Sam that Lucky had handed her, and she feels an absurd surge of triumph bubble up in her breast when she slips it into her pocket. Her own shirt is hanging on a hook by the bed, Missy's fingerprints smudged all over the brightness of her badge. Kathleen folds the shirt down until it's the size of a washcloth and goes systematically through the compound, erasing fingerprints as she goes.
She comes across Alvin Jenkins's body when she circles the buildings for a final sweep before the reinforcements arrive; she wouldn't have recognized him. The picture his pretty wife had provided showed a handsome man in his mid forties, barbered and tailored for success. The reality is a bloody corpse, the face set in a rictus of pain and horror. Kathleen looks him over, trying not to disturb the scene too much. He looks like he could have been strong. There's no telling who will be a fighter when the chips are down, but she guesses she could attribute that virtue to him without straining anybody's credulity.
Kathleen's huddled against the wall of the house when Sheriff Biggs finally arrives, and she hasn't even gotten through a quarter of the story when the state police and FBI show up, wanting her to start again from the beginning, any detail you remember, ma'am. Please.
So she does. Kathleen tells them about an anonymous tip that spoke of a "whining growl," how a little luck led her here to this horror show, how she found Alvin Jenkins and set him free, how their escape was blocked by three armed and dangerous men. Got knocked out early, shovel to the noggin, she thinks, and tilts her head obligingly for inspection. Jenkins must have tricked the sons somehow, led them away from her and gotten them into the cage where he'd been kept. The father had stayed behind, and he must have been the one to take her shirt off. No one wants to meet her eye when she gets to this part, and it makes it easier to spin her tale. She'd woken up as he reached for her pants, struggled against him, and ended up with her hand on his shotgun. He'd lunged for her and the gun went off. She called for backup and went to find Jenkins again, but she'd been dizzy, couldn't walk too well, and might have passed out again.
She lets herself be bundled into an ambulance, bows her head when Williams calls the morgue to pick up the bodies of Alvin Jenkins and Abraham Bender. She closes her eyes and feels tears leak from beneath the lids. Her baby brother is dead.
Mercifully, she's checked out of the hospital the next day, before the real work of sifting through the house and cataloging the findings has begun in earnest. Sheriff Biggs walks in as she's tying her shoes. "Kathleen," he says, a note of warning in his voice.
"Don't tell me to take it easy, Mike," she says curtly. She knows what she has to do.
He holds his hands up in a placating gesture. "There was a little girl in the house, locked in a closet. Wasn't even screaming when we found her; must have been in there for hours, maybe days."
She nods tightly; she has no pity to spare for Missy. "We've got her and Lee and Jared Bender – the two men Jenkins subdued – here in the hospital." She has to get out of here right now; there's no way she can share space with Riley's murderers.
Mike takes one look at her face and drives her home.
She'd packed up Mom's house three years ago, when Riley went missing and Mom was diagnosed with cancer, and she's relieved that in her own apartment there's not too much more to do before her entire life is packed away in brown cardboard boxes. Kathleen cannot fathom waiting for the labs to finish unpacking the Benders' trophies and calling to say that they've set aside the bones in the mobiles, the eyeballs in the jar, the teeth in the cans, that were once Riley's; the list of families they will be contacting is terribly long.
In the back of her closet she finds the box the hospital had sent when Mom died. She knows its contents by heart. There's a small envelope tucked inside Mom's jewelry box that holds two locks of baby hair, a few baby teeth, and a couple of snapshots with "1971" and "1977" inked faintly on the back. This is all that's left of her family. She's all that's still standing.
When Sam wakes up, he could swear that his body is still vibrating from the impact of the truck. Everything's resonating at a painful frequency, and he wishes it would just stop. He can feel his own pulse beating insistently at his temples, and it's too strong, it's making his head pound, and he knows better than to want that to stop, but he still wants to turn the volume down a little.
As Sam grows accustomed to the throbbing, he becomes aware of a disturbingly unpleasant sound, a wet sucking wheeze, coming from his right.
His neck feels like it's been pulled too tight and lacerated by wicked blades, but he manages to flop his head around enough to see the source of the noise. It's Dad, unconscious and bleeding from pretty much everywhere, his lungs fighting for air and his hand clenched tightly around his thigh. He can see Dad's chest rising and falling – a hitch every third breath, not quite smooth – and beyond Dad but in the same line of sight he can make out the figure of the truck driver, his torso hanging out of his window, blood and glass pooling on the ground.
Dad's still clutching his cell phone with his other hand, and Sam braces himself to try to reach for it. Every inch he shifts costs him, and he's sweating and shaking, not allowing himself to think beyond getting the phone into his own hand and praying that it's still functional.
Sam's palmed the phone and set it down on his lap when he realizes the only sounds in the car are of Dad's uneasy respiration. He can't hear Dean at all, can't turn far enough to check, and the rearview mirror's lost somewhere near Dad's feet. Dean, you better be doing what you spent a lifetime perfecting he thinks, but that cool, logical part of his brain sees fit to cut in at that point and lay out just how unlikely it is that Dean's mimicking Dad so precisely as to breathe in time with him. Sam tries once more to turn, but his body simply refuses to bend or twist, so he drops his heavy head, and painstakingly directs his thumb to dial 911 and press send. He can hear the ringing and a click as the line connects, but after that it's just a soft sound in the distance as the steering wheel comes up to pillow his cheek.
There are half a dozen people rushing all around, shouting at each other, and Sam can't get them to quiet down and answer his questions. "Dean?" he keeps gasping, but they just keep on chattering while they get his stretcher into an ambulance, and then the sirens drown everything out.
Sam's surprised that so little of their code is intelligible to him; after all the time he's spent in hospitals, hanging out in ERs and near admitting desks, he thought he'd learned the lingo, but their crisp words are curiously elliptical, like not all of them are getting through. He still doesn't know if Dean is alive. "Brother," he tries, figuring it's probably safer to give no names for now.
"Take it easy, buddy," a big guy says, leaning over him, his shaved head stubbly and pale. His eyes look black and Sam chokes and arches up, fighting against the restraints. The guy moves to hold him in place, and in the shifting light, his eyes are blue again. One touch of the guy's fingers against his ribs, though, is enough to knock Sam out again.
Sam's tucked in a narrow hospital bed, his ribs taped up tight and small gauze squares dotting his skin. He aches all over like he's got the flu; if this is the worst he's got, he knows he's incredibly lucky. It's still easier to turn his head right than left, and when he surveys the room, he sees Dad in the bed next to his, clean and pale yet somehow still sturdy-looking, with a brace around his neck, a cast on his leg, and a sling holding his right arm close to his chest. Dad's breathing much more easily now, quiet and steady. Sam fumbles a bit and presses the button for a nurse.
The one who comes in has a kind smile and messy hair. Her nametag says "Anne." She smells like face powder when she leans in close to try to hear him. "I'm sorry, Mr. McGillicuddy, I can't make out what you're saying," she says, and he gives up on verbal communication, instead making his eyes as pleading as he can.
She rocks back a little at his look and draws his blanket gently up, smoothing it down with soft little pats. "You've got three badly bruised ribs and minor lacerations. Your father" – she spares a glance for Dad, faint frown lines appearing on her forehead – "in the accident, he wrenched his neck quite badly and broke his right arm and leg. He also had a bullet embedded in his leg." She looks vaguely puzzled, but he can't come up with a story for her at the moment. "You'll both be just fine."
She steps forward again to fluff his pillow and Sam growls low in his throat. She drops her eyes and his heart sinks. "Your brother's not doing so well," she admits quietly. "His injuries aren't consistent with yours, so it's been difficult to know what to do for him." He thinks of Dean being torn apart from the inside, just like his visions of Monica, of Jess. Even if he could explain it, he doesn't know if Dean can be fixed.
The entire room seems to shimmer and sparkle suddenly, and he braces for a vision before he realizes that his eyesight is just distorted by the tears in his eyes. When they spill over onto his cheeks, Anne settles into the chair next to his bed and reaches for his hand. Sam holds hers like a lifeline.
After the flood of commendations had dried up, after she'd cremated what was left of Riley and sent his rusted and completely uncooperative Mustang to a junkyard, Kathleen had tendered her resignation from the Sheriff's Department and put in for a transfer. There was nothing left for her in Hibbing, and she wanted to go somewhere big, someplace where she could be anonymous for at least a little while, a city where she wouldn't be "Officer Kathleen" anymore, with a standing seven a.m. order for a coffee regular and a raisin bran muffin at Meredith's Meals and an annual trip to the elementary school to talk about traffic safety.
She hadn't quite counted on feeling anonymous – lost, really – in her own department. The JCPD is big, large enough to stand with the state police on equal footing and fight for jurisdiction on interesting and politically important cases. There's no time or manpower to spare to show a new cop the local ropes, and it's not like she's some fresh rookie – she's a decorated officer, a veteran of a dozen years, and she's never developed a taste for being babysat. Kathleen takes the lion's share of hours at the front desk, waiting for a case she can call her own, being a team player and covering for the others when they're wrapped up deep in delicate investigations. It is an election year after all.
Kathleen's there Monday morning at six when a call comes through on line four, the line dedicated to contact with other city departments. "Detective Hudak," she answers, waiting for a meter maid's story about a car with no plates, something quick to check out and write up and feel like she's earned at least a little of her paycheck. Mundane isn't the release she thought it'd be after the Benders.
"Hudak, this is Gregson, over at Sanitation. We got a body. Shot through the head." Kathleen can feel her spine straighten, her mind start to race. This case is incontrovertibly hers; she took the call and she hasn't been assigned a partner. She ropes Caldwell into sitting at the desk by handing over her cinnamon streusel muffin and swigs her coffee as she steps out of the station and into her squad car. She catches every traffic light at yellow and takes the time to re-orient herself with the downtown area.
She doesn't recognize the address she's scribbled down, but at least the street name is familiar, and she doesn't need the GPS to direct her. She pulls up short when she sees the building. If Gregson had just said "Sunrise Apartments" instead of "1386 Riverside Drive," she'd have known what she was walking into. She parks in the lot, organizes her thoughts, and steps out into the bright, cold November sunshine.
The man standing on the front steps walks toward her with his hand outstretched. Kathleen would never have taken him for a sanitation worker – he looks too thin to haul around fifty- and hundred-pound loads all day, six days a week. But his grip is reassuringly firm and his dark face is drawn and serious. He leads her around the apartment building, unlocking the rear gate and latching it shut behind them. There's an alley behind the building that intersects with a small street, and she can see the body lying at the crossroad.
Kathleen circles the body once, noting as much as she can. Caucasian male, anywhere from twenty-eight to thirty-five, slim build, short hair, light brown with expensive-looking blond highlights. No rings or personal jewelry visible, but he seemed likely to have a piercing or a tattoo – that black leather jacket, fashionably faded jeans, and heavy boots all spoke of a certain type. Head aligned with the east near some oil stains on the blacktop, sprawled legs pointing mostly west with the knees jerked north like compass needles.
First cursory examination over, Kathleen turns back to Gregson. He's a superb witness, telling his story clearly and thoughtfully, without any prodding at all; she'd bet this is not the first corpse he's come across in the line of duty. "Found him when we started our rounds this morning. Five forty-five a.m.," he clarifies, watching her jot everything down in shorthand, understanding that this has to be done right. "Last pickup at this location would have been same time on Saturday morning. At least," Gregson pauses and she meets his assessing gaze evenly, waiting to see what he'll come out with, "it's scheduled to be five forty-five, six, but Saturdays tend to run a little later. But no later than seven for sure." She nods to let him know she appreciates his honesty. The lines on his forehead iron themselves out when he's done, and his parting handshake is warm and commiserating.
Kathleen calls for backup, turning the scene over when they arrive, cameras and gloves and evidence bags in hand. The crew is evidently surprised not to see a familiar face directing their efforts, and she smiles and introduces herself, apologizes for covering well-worn ground, and specifies that the site needs to be documented, the slug recovered, and everything in the vicinity, from the fire hydrant to the parked cars and the fire escape ladders, should be dusted for fingerprints. She asks for their findings by noon and turns away, hearing the Saran-wrap sound of police tape being unfurled.
She squares her shoulders and walks back around to the front steps and begins the long task of questioning the building's residents. Not many are home at this time on a weekday, and she'll have to come back tonight. In the meantime, she's got a preliminary report to write up and a replacement muffin to buy.
Sam shuffles back from the bathroom slowly; he's not really so hurt anymore that he needs to move like an ancient tortoise, but all that's waiting for him is a hospital bed so small it's making him practically claustrophobic and an update on Dean that will simply say, like all the others he's been demanding every hour, "No change." But when he gets back to his room and does his usual paranoid survey of each corner of the chilly white space, he sees his father, dark eyes glittering, snapping his cell phone shut.
"What's going on?" Sam asks, picking up the pace, one hand dropping to the metal rail that brackets the bed to steady himself; his coordination's been gone since the crash, and it's like he's fifteen again, growing like a weed and unable to calculate how much space he would take up at any given moment. Math was never his thing.
But Dad remains silent, his eyes merely flashing a warning since the brace won't allow him to do his typical dismissive head shake.
"Dad," Sam says, hearing his own voice pick up steam and volume. "Tell me. What's going on." It can't be news about Dean; Dad wouldn't need his cell for that. And Pastor Jim and Caleb – memory comes flooding back and he's almost sick all over his father and wouldn't that just be hilarious – are dead, murdered by a demon masquerading as a pretty, flirtatious girl. Dad just keeps glowering at him like the hospital visit is all his fault. Well, fine. Two can play this game. Sam might have shot Dad and been driving the car when the collision came, but Dad was the one who'd left himself open to demonic possession, who had begged him to shoot, and who had never taught him how to avoid getting flattened by a Mac truck when it was being driven by a long-haul trucker who happened to have been possessed by a demon.
"Let's see," Sam says, pretending that he's merely musing, knowing by the way his father's eyes track him that his anger is apparent. "You haven't asked me how I'm doing. You wouldn't need the phone to ask how Dean's doing; you could push that call button for a nurse to find that out, but you haven't bothered to do that. Let me think – what could be more important than the fact that your son is dying somewhere in this hospital? Dying because of what you let that thing do to him. Oh, I know! The fucking Colt. The gun that's going to solve all of your problems. Have to make sure that's safe and warm, can't let anyone touch a hair on its precious head, right?" He's shouting, clutching the bed rail with both fists, jarring the bed with each sentence so that it scrapes against the wall, leaving gouges in the plaster.
Dad just stares at him with dark eyes, then closes them. "Well, guess I've been dismissed, huh, sir?" Sam spits, and turns around to make his way back to the nurses' station. Maybe today they'll let him see his brother.
Dean looks waxy and fragile, his skin nearly as pale as the bleached sheets tucked tightly around him. His eyebrows stand out like dark slashes, matched by the ugly and jagged gouges littered across his face and arms.
Sam stumbles a bit at the sight, but Anne catches him and guides him to the chair without a word or even a reproachful look. He tries to mumble a thank you but he doesn't think it comes out. Dean looks even worse than the last time he'd been in a hospital bed. Then Dean had looked tired and bruised, his skin green and purple in patches, his freckles dark as dirt against his worn-thin skin. But weariness and bruising – those were things that could happen to anybody, things that someone could get over. This utter stillness, this complete shutdown, is new, and Sam clasps his hands together instinctively. He doesn't know who he's silently imploring, but when he hears a soft sound, he looks up to see Anne with her eyes closed, chanting a prayer under her breath, her hand wrapped loosely around Dean's wrist.
Sam hasn't touched his brother since he carried him out of the cabin and settled his boneless, insubstantial weight into the backseat of the Impala, letting the car cradle the one who loved her best. He reaches his hand out, gingerly, aware of his own potential for clumsiness and absolutely unwilling to touch Dean any way but gently. It feels momentous, watching his hand – it looks dark and huge, destructive and deadly – descend inexorably toward Dean's milk-white form.
Dean is cold beneath his hand, like his vitality has already been spent and all that's left is a cool shell, a simulacrum, and suddenly he can't bear to keep the contact going. Sam shakes his hand loose and stands, looking down at the small figure on the bed. This can't be Dean, who's got broad shoulders and a broader grin. But he knows he's lying to himself even as he formulates the protestations.
Sam turns when Anne clasps his shoulder gently, his eyes locked on the prize in her other hand. He reaches out, shaky and unsure, and wraps his fist around the amulet she surrenders to him; it stabs the flesh of his palm as he rests his hand on his brother's chest to try to say goodbye.
He was stripped and bathed clean while he was unconscious. He can taste dirty rage in the back of his mouth every time he swallows, feel his boy's blood settling stickily into his skin despite it.
When John wakes up, all he can see in his peripheral vision is a mop of brown hair and several feet away, at the other end of the bed, a pair of enormous feet. Sam's feet are bare, and he remembers, absurdly, playing "This Little Piggy" with his baby's toes, Mary laughing when he got stuck on the sequence of events and pigs and shushing Dean by tickling him so he couldn't bail Daddy out. Sammy had watched the whole thing with solemn, sleepy eyes, reached up and grabbed his nose, and then made an enormous mess in his diaper.
And now he can't even look at his child, of whom he'd asked far too much. John's still not sure if Sam would have done it – shot him through the heart – and he's not sure he wants to know how complex Sam really is, how many layers of grief and care and hatred he's mined in his baby boy.
His body takes the coward's way out and he falls back asleep.
John's pretty sure that Missouri's the only one who will still take his calls, and before she can say a word he asks her to get Bobby to get the Impala towed somewhere safe and to keep the Colt under every sign of protection he can muster.
"Oh, John," she says into the phone, anxious and alive, her steady breaths into the receiver calming him down. He's called her so many times in the past just to hear a soft, sweet voice, concerned and tender, and he wonders if she's aware of how he's used her. "Baby, I know," she says; "I'll take care of it."
He closes the phone slowly, the snap of it distinct against the sliding shuffle that heralds Sam's return to the room.
Sam looks surprised to see him awake and coherent, and hesitates, lingering in the doorway for a long moment. But he doesn't stay quiet for long. Sam surges forward, looming over the bed and gripping it fiercely; "I want some answers, Dad," Sam says, sounding furious.
John's got none to give. Sam doesn't so much ask questions as hurl accusations, and there's a familiarity to his own rising anger, the furious jut of Sam's jaw, and the harsh words between them. The bed shakes, bites into the wall deeply enough that he can feel flakes of paint settling on his skin, and he wants to roar back at Sam, say something that will shut him up for good, when suddenly his body goes hot.
His eyes slam shut and he thinks he can hear Sam saying something, suddenly soft and echoing distortedly like he's down a well, little boy lost, but he can't think about that now, not when there's something inside him, holding him aside like a curtain at a window it wants to peer out of. But that's his guts, his lifeblood, his heart it's pushing to one side to make room for itself, and the agony is wrenchingly familiar; the Demon is back.
It's a quicker drive back to the station than it was to get out to the river, and Kathleen closes her eyes at the only red light she hits, fixing the image of the body firmly in her mind. That picture is going to live behind her eyelids until she can solve this case and put him to rest.
The station is noisy, overcrowded at the moment because the shifts are overlapping, and she weaves her way to the desk that's got her nameplate on it, a pocket of quiet next to her as she goes. They fall silent when she approaches, not out of malice or spite, just because they don't know her well enough for casual conversation – talk of misspent weekends, the kids' Halloween costumes, doctors' appointments before the insurance slates wipe clean in January. They smile, though, and Kathleen takes what she's given and smiles back.
She's always had the knack of tuning out the rest of the world when she's concentrating, and inside of ten minutes she's typing up a preliminary report for the captain's inbox, detailing the source of the case, the site, the body, and the course of action she's decided upon. Ramirez has to nudge her to make her stop writing, look up, and realize that it's her phone that's been ringing for the last thirty seconds.
"Hudak," she says, smiling at Ramirez, who puts a cup of coffee on her desk carefully away from her notes.
"Kathleen?" she hears, and she frowns at the eager, breathy voice even before the greeting's strangeness strikes her. There's no one she's given this number to who would call her by her first name. "Kathleen, it's Georgia. Can you come down here? You're going to want to see this."
Even the name isn't ringing any bells for her, and she hangs up the receiver, reaches for the cup of coffee, and catches Molinson's eye over its rim. "Is there a Georgia who works in this building?" she asks.
"Down with the stiffs," Molinson responds, smoothing back her ponytail. "One of the medical examiner's interns."
Back in Hibbing, she'd never spoken to, let alone met, the ME; Dr. Riviera could have been a figment of three counties' collective imagination for all she knew. She keeps forgetting that she's in the big city now, a place with money to spend keeping its citizens safe and buying justice for them when it fails.
If there's already news about the body in the alley, that can only be good. She grabs her notebook again and heads for the stairs.
She'd never known anyone funnier – or more likely to be just completely and totally wrong about things – than Riley.
"Girls named after states, cities, scenic views," he'd said once when they were both a little drunk and he'd been dumped by the girl he'd met at the dry cleaners, "really have no choice, Kath. They have to become strippers." He'd nodded solemnly. "You can look it up. It's a law."
She'd laughed and he'd grinned, pleased with his theory, not knowing it was his crossed eyes that were amusing her.
Georgia Peters could never in a million years have been a stripper. She's plain and immersed in her work, and she's got a voice like a girl half her age. But her enthusiasm is clearly real, so Kathleen smiles and introduces herself and waits for the news.
"This is your John Doe, right?" Georgia gestures at the body on the autopsy table.
Kathleen looks over and sees the body neatly laid out, a sheet covering it from the waist down, autopsy incisions evident on the chest. She nods, walking a little closer, and bends to look at the perfect circle in his left temple. "What's that sound?" she asks; she can't place it except to think that it's halfway between a crinkling like aluminum foil and the whiny hiss of air escaping from a balloon through a pinprick.
"John Doe's making that sound. I've never seen anything like this before," Georgia says, clearly happy to be given a break from the more routine examinations. "What was the time of death?"
Kathleen stares, uncertain whether this is a rhetorical question. "You tell me."
"If the body temperature wasn't so anomalous, I could," Georgia responds without any fuss. "It's over 100 right now, and it was probably several degrees above that when he died. He's losing heat much more slowly than he should. And what's really bizarre is that he's got sulfur everywhere – on his skin, in his blood, in his organ tissue. No one should be able to survive with these levels inside them." Her face is flushed with excitement.
"And that sound?"
"The body is disintegrating, breaking itself down, like there's an acid eating away at it. It might even be the sulfur that's doing it. It's hitting the extremities and the major organs first." Georgia peels back the sheet and Kathleen can see that the feet already look a little misshapen. Same goes for the hands.
Georgia covers the body again. "I couldn't get a complete set of fingerprints. I think I've got a usable print of the left thumb, though."
"Hopefully that'll be enough for IAFIS."
"I'm documenting everything as best I can," Georgia reassures her, pointing to the video camera. "Everything the body tells me is getting recorded."
"I don't want to keep you," Kathleen says. "Looks like you've got a deadline. Thank you," she calls from the doorway, and then trudges back up the stairs.
Come on, now, it says. Let's hit the road, Jack.
John sucks in a lungful of air, gasping even though it's not doing much of anything except talking in that insolent, amused tone that drags through his head like claws, leaving behind bloody furrows.
Oh, but you might want to close your eyes. You don't want to watch this.
He's aware that he's climbed out of the bed that's held him for days and that he's resting his weight on both his legs. John expects the broken one to snap beneath him, but it doesn't, and he finds himself moving swiftly, like his limbs aren't mismatched, and both his arms are swinging freely and painlessly at his sides.
He doesn't quite know what happens next – the speed of the thing inside him is as formidable as its strength. All that he sees, in disconcerting flashes, is blood blooming under his fist, the cast lending his blows extra weight, his punches snapping with military precision, and then he's out of the hospital, dressed in his own jeans and shirt, getting into a car that's been left in front of the ER entrance with the engine still running. He peels out and drives.
He wishes he had the Colt in his hand. He knows he wouldn't falter. All he'd have to do is bring his hand up, slide the gun into his mouth and let the weight of it hang heavy on his lip, make his jaw feel like rock, and squeeze the trigger.
John pulls over onto the shoulder so that he won't kill someone else in a collision. He manages to open the glove compartment. Any gun will do. Clearly he's worth something to it, so if he can take himself off the board, remove himself from the game, whatever it's planning won't go quite so smoothly. His hand scrabbles desperately, rifling through the papers that are stuffed into the glove compartment, dropping them onto the passenger seat and floor like confetti as his fingers dart into the corners over and over again, willing a weapon to materialize from the dust and grit.
He screams when it speaks, words slicing into his head again.
Oh, no, Johnny. Let's have no more of that kind of talk. You have to live, live for your precious boys. You have to stay strong.
It pauses and he throws every curse he can think of at it, chanting Latin under his breath.
It laughs. Thought you were going to be more interesting than that, Jack boy it says, mockingly, voice dripping with disappointment. Well, if you can't keep me entertained, you don't get to speak anymore. What's that your boy likes to say? Driver picks the music? You're shotgun now, Johnny; I'm driving. Best get used to it.
Sam's world has shrunk down to six feet. He's aware, in an uncomfortable way he never was before – not even when he was used to stitching Dean back together, splinting bone, or pressing into firm muscle with insistent fingers – how incredible it is that everything his brother is, all of it, can be housed in a breakable body six feet long.
Dean can't die, not now, not when Sam's finally figured out how to pull his own weight and make this an equal partnership. Winchester and Winchester, brothers in arms and brothers at heart. Dean's been leaving the light on for him all year, and at long last he's taken him up on the invitation and stepped inside, only to find the shitstorm to end all shitstorms. Dean deserves more than just one minute of happiness. Dean deserves better, and it's Sam's turn now to keep the light on.
He keeps vigil with his fist still closed tightly around the amulet, his torso tight and sore but bent close to Dean despite it.
"This isn't doing your ribs any favors, sir," one of the doctors finally says to him, impatient and uninclined to let Sam break the rules. "And you're not doing him any good. He's not responding to you or to any course of treatment."
Sam stays silent, just challenges him to continue with that line of thought with a steely glare, and the man turns away, shaking his head; he finishes his notes and slams the file back in its slot. That still went better than his latest round with Dad. The moment he thinks it, his rage soars again, flying high and bright. He might have been slow to appreciate Dean, but Dad's been worse. Dad's never acknowledged Dean as anything except a grunt, a babysitter, or a hired hand.
Dad really should be here to make it up to Dean, but Sam has some work of his own to do. He lays the amulet down on the blanket somewhere in the vicinity of Dean's left knee and clasps his brother's cool hand in his own.
"Dean, please." It's been so long since he had to ask for anything and he wonders if he's lost the knack because Dean always anticipated him. "Please, you have to wake up."
He rubs his thumb gently over the veins on the back of Dean's hand. He is asking every way he knows how – with words, with touch, with his very presence. Dean will come back to him if he gives him enough time. He puts his palm flat on Dean's belly and prepares to wait.
The muscles under his hand heave suddenly and Dean starts to choke around the tube shoved between his lips, trying to eject it from his throat. His eyelids are fluttering wildly with instinctive panic, and Sam stands and yells for a doctor. He turns back to his brother's spasming form and catches Dean's hips in his hands, weighing them down gradually like he's rocking Dean to sleep.
"It's okay, I'm here," he says, and then he's set firmly aside as a group of doctors and nurses works to get Dean off the respirator and check his vital signs. Dean's eyes close in slow motion as the noise level in the room reaches nearly unbearable heights.
The medical team finally finishes discovering and documenting every possible statistic about Dean and they all walk off together, their voices light and contented, offering congratulations and swapping theories about this recovery that came out of the blue.
Sam moves back to his brother's side as soon as there is a sliver of space for him to squeeze into. Touching is a different proposition now that Dean is awake, so all he does is tap at Dean's wrist with one careful finger, like a hesitant knock on an unfamiliar door. Dean's eyes open and meet Sam's briefly before closing again tiredly. Dean pokes Sam in the belly, the closest spot he could find, evidently, and Sam goes dizzy somewhere between his tears and his laughter. He sits abruptly, the plastic chair skidding a little on the cold bare floor, and he leans in close to whisper his brother's name. Dean manages to lift his eyebrows questioningly but his eyes stay shut and his hand rests limply on the mattress.
He knows what Dean wants. He fights against his fear of letting Dean out of his sight and says, "I'm gonna go tell Dad you're awake. His leg is broken, but maybe they can put him in a wheelchair or something and get him up here to see you. Stay awake, okay?" He stands and squeezes Dean's foot and walks out to the elevator.
The sixth floor is a mess. There is blood in patches all over the floor and there are no personnel anywhere in sight. Dad's bed is empty, a torn neck brace lying on the bed, and a lot of nurses and security guards are standing around inside. They start shouting questions and accusations at him as soon as they spot him, but all of his attention is fixed on the sooty handprint on the ceiling above his father's bed and the smell of smoke staining the air.
The evidence so far has been sparse; she wants to feel like she's getting something done, and a fresh set of eyes can't hurt. The lab smells bitter; Kathleen tries not to think about it as she heads over to Georgia, who looks like she's been on her feet for days. "Where are John Doe's clothes?" Kathleen asks, and Georgia points to a stack of coolers in the corner of the room. The one on top is big and blue. She hauls it over to an empty work station and begins to go through it, pulling on a pair of latex gloves from the box on the counter.
Kathleen pulls out the clothes she remembers seeing on him, individually bagged as procedure requires. Plain dark crew socks, green silk boxers, and then a khaki t-shirt. The underwear is obviously pricey but all she can glean from it is that he had a thirty-two inch waist and apparently appreciated fine fabrics. Neither the socks nor the shirt looks particularly well-worn or used, and the shirt is still a little rough when she rubs it between her gloved forefinger and thumb; the cotton has not yet softened from repeated washings. She pulls out a pair of jeans, bluish-grey, next. They are expensive-looking, made to appear "distressed" or faded or whatever the proper term is, but they are crisp and new as well. She shakes them out and runs her fingers over the seams, searching for any loose threads, any errant fibers, but there's nothing to find. Even the pockets are pristine, no white imprint of a wallet in any of them, and she supposes it would have been too much to ask for that a body lying on a street in a big city would still have a wallet on it.
The black leather jacket is the last piece of clothing she pulls from the cooler. It is thin and heavy, not yet accustomed to the fit of one person's shoulders, though the supple material drapes easily as she holds it up to scan it and empty its pockets. She finds nothing and finally sets it aside, along with the rest of the clothes. There's a pair of size ten boots at the bottom of the cooler, also new and unscuffed, and inside one is a tiny plastic envelope with a ziploc snap. A tiny silver hoop rests inside. A girlfriend's earring, maybe, because it is definitely too small to be a ring. Maybe a boyfriend's earring; John Doe certainly hadn't had a pierced ear.
She holds the envelope up to the light to try to see it a little better, and Georgia, moving from one body to the next, turns, her attention caught by the movement. "Nipple ring," she says, completely matter-of-fact, stripping off her gloves and retying her ponytail. Kathleen can't help flinching a little.
"I know," Georgia agrees, pulling on a fresh pair of gloves and starting to work on the John Doe. Kathleen suspects that she's been at this regularly, monitoring the organs' dwindling down to several decimal points. She appreciates the attention to detail, and thanks her lucky stars that she can at least count on a pristine chain of evidence even if she's got nothing else. There's nothing else in the cooler and she packs it back up.
"Do you have that left thumbprint?" she asks when Georgia's done with the latest round of statistics. Georgia just waves her over to the computer and she finds the file and emails the digital image to herself. Hopefully the system will be able to find a match in the database; it's pretty much the only hope she has to hold on to, since soon enough there won't even be a body to bury.
It's getting dark earlier and earlier these days, and by the time Kathleen heads back to the apartment complex that evening, it's pitch-black except for the streetlights. The police at the door make everyone a little nervous, even more so when a cop is talking about the dead body in the back yard, so Kathleen knocks politely rather than insistently, and speaks calmly and reasonably instead of playing the heavy. There's not a lot to learn, and in fact the evening progresses as slowly and frustratingly as she'd feared. There is only one apartment that stands empty, its splintered door a testament to the workings of the fire department.
Kathleen steps inside, her boot heels slipping on the remnants of something on the floor. She crouches down and finds scattered grains of salt. There's more by the bedroom window, the one that faces the back of the building, that would have provided a perfect vantage-point for the alley where John Doe was found, still blocked off by bright yellow tape. She needs to double-check with Ballistics, but her gut is telling her that it wasn't a sniper; every lead is worth pursuing, though, and she works the angles through in her mind, trying to figure out if the laws of physics allow for this possibility.
Standing there by the window, looking down into the deserted alley, she realizes something. John Doe's head had been right next to what she'd dismissed as oil stains. But he was lying in the middle of the alley, at an intersection, at a place where no car could conceivably have parked long enough for such a large stain. That might not be oil. She might have some physical evidence after all, another piece of the puzzle she needs to put together.
The din is deafening but Sam can still make out some of the words clearly – smoke, violence, broken, sir. But they fade into insignificance as he ponders the sign on the ceiling. Was it Dad who left it or the Demon, using Dad as a puppet? Is it a plea for help or just a taunt? The din is deafening but Sam can still make out some of the words clearly – But they fade into insignificance as he ponders the sign on the ceiling. Was it Dad who left it or the Demon, using Dad as a puppet? Is it a plea for help or just a taunt?
Someone on the staff has clearly alerted the police, because now there are cops in the throng surrounding him, and new questions come in an insistent tone.
"Mr. McGillicuddy, sir, we have to ask you some questions."
Sam nods vaguely, eyes still fixed on the ceiling. This might be the first time he's ever blessed his father for his shitty parenting skills. Dad didn't know Dean's room number, would have had no information to offer even if the Demon had simply raked through his mind instead of asking or threatening. Dean is still safe, if only because of Dad's neglect. It isn't fair that Dean's life should hang on being overlooked like that, that what ultimately protects him hurts him all the same.
The questions keep mounting, but the cops calm down when Sam inches toward his own bed and gets into it, drawing the blanket up over his bare legs. The movement seems to remind them all that he is a patient too, and he honestly doesn't know how much of what he's doing is for the benefit of his audience. His voice, when it comes out, is wavering with worry and exhaustion, not all of it faked.
"Please, can you tell me what happened?"
The nurses and cops are glancing at each other, like nobody wants to start trying to explain the unexplainable. Anne's at the back of the huddle of nurses, looking straight at him with her kind eyes, nodding encouragingly at him.
One of the doctors, a man Sam vaguely remembers seeing before, finally begins to speak. "Sir, your father apparently got out of his bed and began to attack the staff. He fought his way to the exit and left. Now his behavior raises quite a few concerns. The first, of course, is the damage he caused; he inflicted serious injuries on one of my colleagues and at least two members of the hospital's security personnel. Secondly, it's unclear how any of this was physically possible for your father, given that he had broken both his arm and his leg, and yet was moving as if he was not aware of either injury."
The doctor takes a deep breath and looks around; it looks like he's seeking encouragement or support to get this last part out. "Several people said Mr. McGillicuddy's eyes were bright yellow, which makes us suspect that perhaps there may be a medical explanation for all of this – a reaction to one of his medications, perhaps, or maybe a chemical imbalance of some kind. We . . . we don't have a lot to go on at this point," he admits, his voice trailing off a little.
"Which is why we need you to answer some questions now," one of the cops says.
Sam does his best to look shocked, to let out a shaky "Oh my God" or two, to fumble artfully with the pitcher of water on the tray near his bed. His mind is racing. There can be no doubt at all that the Demon is back inside of Dad and that it wanted Dad out of the hospital sooner rather than later. What he doesn't know is why it wanted Dad again, if not to use him to kill Dean and seize Sam. And he also doesn't know how long Dad will be useful to it, and what will happen when it no longer needs him. He has to think. The phone call Dad made had to be related to the Colt; it's got to be Bobby who's got it now. He needs to call Bobby.
He blinks and Anne is standing by his bedside holding out a cup of water, keeping herself between him and the crowd of interrogators. "I'm sorry," Sam says, choking a little as he sips. Anne takes the cup back and steps out of the way when he nods. The best defense is a good offense, Dad used to say, and Sam picks out the one admission of weakness the doctor made.
"I . . . I don't know how that could have happened. I've never seen him go crazy like that. You said maybe he had a reaction to the medication? What were you giving him that could set him off like that?" He knows he's the very picture of outraged earnestness, scared for his father but determined to tell the truth. He can almost see Dean in the doorway, applauding his performance.
Having the accusation turned around on them makes the hospital staff back off, and without them the cops' hands are tied. There's a lot of unhappy muttering and he gets back out of the bed; the shake in his legs is real and Anne steadies him. "I have to tell my brother," he says, and she nods.
Dean is still awake, though he's clearly hanging by a thread. His eyes are soft and dim when he opens them, and Sam curses his father again for living up to his old tricks, this constant pattern of failed love and disappointment.
"Sam?" Dean's voice is rusty from disuse and the ventilator tube
Sam shakes his head slowly. "Dad, uh," he stumbles, unsure about what Dean needs right now – the truth or a little delay – but seeing Dean looking so defeated, he just opens his mouth and hopes that what comes out will be enough. "Dad's gone, Dean. The Demon came back for him. So he's out there right now."
Dean doesn't leap out of bed, guns blazing, shouting about a rescue. Dean doesn't even move, just sighs a small, shuddery sigh and waits for Sam to meet his eyes. "Bobby," he says, and Sam nods in agreement.
Kathleen ducks under the crime-scene tape and crouches down, hearing her knees crack a little; she makes a face at how old her body acts after a long day. Time was she could have done all this standing on her head. She puts one hand out, to the side, for balance and leans forward, scraping a little at the dark stains on the blacktop, coming up with a soft residue that curls like a feather. She shakes it into an evidence bag and seals it shut. This is just insurance; tomorrow morning she'll have the crew out here again, but she doesn't want to take a chance this stain will disappear like John Doe's disintegrating body. And who knows – maybe the crew was sharp enough to catch this the first time around; she still hasn't heard back from them, but to be fair, she hasn't made herself easy to find. At some point tomorrow morning, she expects to hear a full report of the findings.
This has been the longest day she can remember since the one that changed everything forever, when she finally found Riley in that house of horrors. And it's only the beginning of the week.
She steps into her apartment with a sigh, unstrapping her holster and laying it on the kitchen counter next to the coffee machine. A long, hot bath is all she can think of at this point, and she scarfs down some leftover pasta straight from the fridge while she waits for the tub to fill. She soaks for nearly an hour, feeling tiredness wash over her, and her sheets smell like bath oil when she draws them up over her and falls asleep.
Despite all of the images displayed on the walls, Kathleen's eye is immediately drawn to the sole occupant of the room, a tall, lean man dressed in belted khakis and an old, thick button-down shirt. He's peering into a microscope but he lifts his head when he hears her footsteps. He smiles, friendly wrinkles settling into place as if he's not used to being serious. "Roger Dawes."
"I know who you are, young lady," he assures her, waving her to a seat. "You're the one who dropped this dilly of a puzzle in my lap." He sounds positively delighted, not frustrated, and she's thrown enough by that to lose her train of thought. He jots down some notes and then turns his whole attention back to her.
"The John Doe?" she finally remembers to ask, and his patient gaze gives way to pleased nodding. "I came here for the preliminary findings, but . . ."
"You got it," he says. Dawes gets up and shuffles behind her to turn out the lights, and she swivels on her stool to face the screen that descends with a loud whirr. The first slide is of the empty alley, only the chalk outline betraying the timing of the photograph. The second is of the body lying sprawled on the blacktop, and the rest of the sequence creeps closer and closer to the corpse until it zeroes in on his face and nearly all that's visible on the screen, magnified almost unbearably, is the perfect circle in John Doe's temple, pitch black against the yellowy-peach of the surrounding skin. The last shot appears to be the same mark, but the photograph has been reversed, or the slide has been flipped. Kathleen turns again to point that out to him, but Dawes merely holds up his hand and switches the lights back on, leaving the last image up.
"First things first," he says, blinking against the fluorescent glow once more invading the room. "John Doe was shot once through the head. The person firing the gun was very skilled, very lucky, or both. That's not an easy spot to hit from anything further than point-blank range, particularly if the victim saw the assailant and was therefore in motion."
Dawes smiles at her again, revealing small white teeth. "But if you were to ask my opinion, I would say luck had nothing to do with it. This was the work of someone with a sharpshooter's eye and a hand as steady as Gibraltar. Someone who knew what he was doing and could do it from about ten or fifteen feet away. Now, for the nitty-gritty stuff, I would say you're looking for a male shooter. The angle of penetration is straight on, and the victim was just under six feet tall. And the area simply isn't big enough for the shooter and victim to have been more than a dozen or so feet apart."
"So . . ."
"So, here's where it all falls apart. The cleanup crew recovered the slug." He picks up a bag by its sealed edges. Inside is a bullet, gleaming pristinely, glittering even under fluorescent lighting.
Kathleen frowns. "There was an unused bullet in the vicinity too?"
"No, this is the bullet that went through your John Doe's head." Dawes holds the bag out to her and she grasps it by its edges from long habit. She holds the bag up to the light and sees markings all over the slug. "These grooves – they look like striations, but they're not. They couldn't have been formed by firing the gun; there are inscriptions in each one, though the writing is too fine to make out even under this microscope. That suggests that the bullet was matched to its weapon, made for a particular gun. The gun itself is most likely an antique, almost certainly a solid frame firearm."
He looks at her and she nods dumbly before realizing that a weapon like that must be unique; she might just have found a way to narrow the search for the gunman. "But the bullet itself has more to tell us than just that," Dawes continues. "It should not have retained its shape once it hit a target. But, as you can see, it did. I haven't had a chance to analyze it fully yet, but it appears that the bullet's makeup allowed it to preserve its integrity. And, even more peculiar, the exit wound is identical to the entrance wound." Dawes gestures at the image still up on the screen, and Kathleen blinks at the neat little hole in John Doe's head.
"Do you have any ideas about how all of this is possible?" She hands back the bullet.
"I've been working on this since yesterday morning. All I've found so far is a thin layer of sulfur over the entire surface area. And that makes no sense either."
This more she learns, the less this case makes sense.
John's panting like a fucking dog after the Demon exits, sweeping out of him with a flourish. His arm and leg are blazing, sharp with pain, and hot in a way the rest of him feels like it can never be, cold now that the Demon's taken all the heat with it. He stumbles to the ground and tries to vomit, his stomach only releasing thin sprays of sour bile.
Of course this would happen – no, wait, that makes it all sound like happenstance. Of course the Demon would choose to leave him by the wayside now, when it's gotten rid of the car they took from the hospital. He's broken and beaten and must look like shit – no way is anyone going to stop for him if he finds a road and tries to thumb a ride.
John's not even sure where he is. His consciousness had been flickering in and out while the Demon marked its territory. From the stink of his sweat it's been two and a half, maybe three days since he turned into a meat suit again, lit out from the hospital, and left his boys behind.
He doesn't know where he's going. Maybe more important, he doesn't know where the Demon is going, if he managed to slow it down at all or if he only gave it more ammunition with panicked, desperately hidden thoughts about Missouri and Bobby and the Colt, the only weapon that counts right now.
His neck is agonizingly sore without its brace and the casts on his limbs are stained a dirty yellow like pissed-in snow. John crawls away from the puddle of puke and surveys the landscape as best he can. Dirt, dirt in every direction, some loose and kicking up in clouds because of the wind, some packed hard in narrow roads made by nothing more than time and the weight of insistent feet and wheels. No houses, no buildings visible anywhere. No promise of shelter and safety as far as the eye can see.
John closes his eyes, trying to clear his mind, but all he can see is Sammy, looming over him, too many ugly emotions warring for dominance on his face, and with that picture firmly in his mind, he takes as deep a breath as he's able, rises to his feet, spits once more, and begins, blindly, to walk.
Taking off from the hospital, where the Demon roamed but left them alone, might not be the smartest course of action, but staying doesn't exactly seem wise, either. The sullen-faced orderly brings him two boxes, one of his stuff and one of Dad's, and begins packing up Dean's belongings into a third.
Sam waits until the guy finishes with a slam and leaves before pulling Dad's cell out of the first box. He turns it on and lets out a tiny whoop when he sees there's still life in the battery. He dials Bobby and begs to be picked up, knowing that Bobby won't refuse him; him and Dean being "the kids" in a group of grizzled old veterans is good for that much at least. Closing the phone, he tosses it back into the box and hears it ping against something else hard. He roots around in the box fruitlessly for a minute before his ribs protest, so he heaves the box up onto his lap, finally finding the bullet he buried in his father's leg nestled inside a plastic bag.
Bobby makes it there in pretty much no time flat, far more quickly than Sam had anticipated anyway, and Dean is still flat on his back, sweaty and pale and not quite conscious. Sam keeps quiet while Bobby steps close to Dean's bedside and looks down at him with eyes full of grief. "You . . ." Sam starts to say, but chokes to a halt. He doesn't know what he wants to say.
Bobby and Dean have always had a bond he never understood and Dad just never saw. It had nothing to do with Bobby playing favorites; it was just the way it was, the two of them seeming to speak the same language with the same cadences, a harmony that couldn't be learned or faked. He'd never minded, because whenever they stayed with Bobby, all of his attention and devotion had been for the dogs. One glorious summer there had been new pups to play with and Sam had rolled and tumbled with them, playing day-long games of Hide and Seek with them and losing every time.
It's a far cry from those days drenched in sunlight to this grim, painfully white hospital room, but even here and now, Bobby is like a magnetic pull for Dean. His eyes flutter open and he reaches up an unsteady hand to clasp forearms with Bobby; he smiles at the grease that jumps from Bobby's skin to his and tries to sit up. Dean uses Bobby's strong arms and hands without embarrassment and Sam stops holding his breath and swings into gear, pulling Dean's clothes from the box, shaking them out, and getting ready to thread Dean's limbs into sleeves and jeans. Sam catches the half-resigned, half-indignant look Dean shoots Bobby and lets himself smile.
They pile into Bobby's truck, Dean sitting between them on the bench seat so that he can't topple too far to either side. Sam waits the space of three Johnny Cash songs before he takes a chance and looks sideways at Dean. Dean's conked out again, crumpled in on himself and looking so weary that Sam starts to doubt his plan; a stern glance from Bobby, though, sets him straight.
"Sammy," Bobby says, his voice low and even, undemanding. "Tell me."
He doesn't get any more specific than that, and he doesn't need to. Sam counts back the days until he can remember leaving Bobby's place with a grease pencil in his hand and The Key of Solomon under his arm, and then he begins to talk.
"When we left your place, Dean drove like a maniac to get to Jefferson City. I don't think he was going under seventy-five until we hit the city limits."
Bobby just nods, unfazed. "These flat, empty roads are good for that kind of thing."
"So we found him – some demons inside of people were keeping him there, tied up, and then Dean shot a guy, used up one of the Colt's bullets, trying to get the guy off me."
Dean stirs between them, as if even asleep he can hear what they're talking about. Bobby looks over at him and Sam takes a deep breath. "Got to the cabin – Dean must have been dragging me while he was carrying Dad – and . . ." He falters. It was horrific enough the first time. He'll never stop seeing Dean pinned to the wall and just pouring out blood. He grits his teeth. "The Demon was in Dad the whole time. Tore Dean apart. Told me to shoot him."
Dean slumps against him, and he lowers his voice and keeps speaking.
Georgia is studying the body of an elderly woman and muttering about stomach contents, and Kathleen is suddenly, starkly glad that she didn't make a detour for food this morning.
She waits until Georgia looks up, unwilling to disturb the train of thought that might help make a case, and when Georgia nods at her, Kathleen pulls the evidence bag from her pocket. "I was hoping you could analyze this substance found near the body."
"I can't do a full analysis any time soon, but I could at least look at it under a microscope, narrow the field a bit for you. Hand it over."
Five minutes later Georgia's looking at the sample under her 'scope, her lank strawberry blonde hair slipping out of place again. "Huh." She sits back in her chair, blinking. "Looks like you won't need a full analysis from the lab. This is sulfur. Same stuff that's in your John Doe."
And the same stuff that's all over that beautiful and otherwise pristine bullet. Somehow, Kathleen's not surprised.
She's still a little queasy from watching Georgia poke around inside someone's body to uncover partially digested food, so she passes on even a coffee break and settles at her desk instead to catch up on paperwork. There's a letter in her inbox, forwarded from Hibbing, and she just knows there's nothing in that envelope that could make her day any better. She takes a deep breath and slits it open. The letter, when she unfolds it, turns out to be another shrink's request to do an evaluation of her, looking for fodder for some article on the psychology of cops or the family members of victims or both. Kathleen crumples it in her fist. She is moving on, putting it behind her. She misses Riley every day anyway – it's not like she needs any reminders.
Kathleen chucks the letter and the envelope into the trash. She scans through her email until she finds the message she sent herself yesterday and loads the partial thumbprint Georgia pulled from the John Doe into the IAFIS database. Hopefully she'll get a hit. While she waits, she takes another crack at the preliminary report she still owes the chief.
"Hold up a second, Sammy," Bobby says, and Sam stops talking, abruptly aware of Dean's soft breaths near his ear and the grit kicking out from under the wheels of the truck. He hadn't even noticed it while he was speaking, but a quiet rain has started to fall, clouding the landscape with a dull sheen. The whole world looks gentle from here, and he shifts so that his shoulder can be a better pillow for Dean's heavy head.
Bobby's voice, when it cuts through the quiet, still comes as a surprise. "You think Dean woke up when the Demon jumped back in your daddy?"
He can't nod without disturbing Dean, so he just says, "Yeah."
"What makes you think it had something to do with the Demon? You said you put the amulet on Dean and less than a minute later he was breathin' on his own again."
That's an angle he never considered, and put like that, it sounds so simple and clear he can feel his face getting hot with embarrassment. Now he knows why Bobby had insisted on cutting the old knot in the cord free and retying the amulet around Dean's white throat before any of them set foot outside the hospital room. His heavy, blunt fingers had looked curiously gentle wielding a knife and strangely nimble knotting the thin black cord.
"Course, the Demon theory makes sense too," Bobby says without pause, keeping his eyes on the road instead of letting them stray to Sam's face. "Either way, I'm glad you boys are safe."
The truck eats up the miles of road like it's starving for it. Looking out the window, Sam thinks they must have been driving for at least two or three times as long as it had taken Bobby to get to the hospital in the first place. But he could be wrong about that. The hospital messed up his internal clock, made him count in breaths rather than minutes. And anyway, he's never had Dean's uncanny sense of direction, the ability to look once and just know where he is, where he needs to go, and what he'll find just down the road.
Still, he can't quite shake the feeling that they're going the wrong way, that Bobby has an entirely different destination in mind. His heart slams into his throat when Bobby taps out a tattoo on the steering wheel, windshield wipers laying down a syncopated rhythm. "Sammy," he says, voice low and determined, eyes still fixed on the road ahead, "I'm not taking you boys home with me."
Sam feels the burn of betrayal hit him sharp and fast. He's beyond glad that Dean isn't awake to hear this, though part of him wants to hold up Dean's lolling head and shame Bobby into submission.
"I'm not gonna hurt Dean that way," Bobby says. "I take you boys home with me, and then what? Dean'll be worried about trying to find your Dad, fixin' his car, going through every book in my house for ways to kill that damn Demon. And all the while not giving himself time to rest or recover. You know it and I know it and I bet even Dean knows it, but that's the way the boy is built. So let's not give him the option." Bobby shifts in his seat and flips on the headlights.
The illumination dazzles Sam's eyes for a moment and he shuts them tightly. "Where do you think we can go that Dean won't push himself? There's no such place, Bobby."
"Maybe so." Bobby turns to face him. "I guess you'd know best, Sam. So you tell me what you want for him."
Dean starts to shift restlessly in his sleep when dawn breaks. The first rays of light shine on his frowning face and Sam rubs the sleep out of his eyes and smiles at Dean's disgruntled expression. He surveys the flat land, the empty lots bare of houses and trees, and wants to shiver at the lack of cover. But when he looks at it again, all he can think is fresh start.
Dean is fully awake by the time Bobby cracks a window to let in a little fresh morning air, and he looks straight ahead at the road they're on and says, "Nebraska."
Sam looks at Bobby for confirmation, and Bobby says to Dean, in a voice equally scratchy from an early morning without coffee, "Yeah. Caleb's."
Dean just nods and leans back in his seat between them, the long line of his leg blurring into Sam's at the hip.
Kathleen finds, to her surprise, that entering all the incomprehensible information she's gathered so far into the standard form for the preliminary report reduces the weirdness of this case tremendously. Set down in black and white, in twelve point font on crisp white paper, even the slipperiness of the diminishing corpse and the bizarre sulfur residue seem more like valuable clues than brick walls frustrating her investigation. It's oddly comforting, and she saves the report to her hard drive, prints it out, and closes the program. She maximizes the window for the IAFIS database and notes that it is still gamely running, searching through its giant haystack for her needle. There's no telling how long that will take, given that she could only provide an unsatisfactory one-tenth of the information it requires.
She drops the report in the chief's inbox, which is atypically empty. It's only on her way back from the ladies' room that she realizes why the inbox was practically bare; he's got his weekly meeting with the mayor and her staff and needs to be absolutely up to date on the report he gives her.
By the time Molinson comes to relieve her from an endless desk duty shift, her stomach is growling loudly, so she walks the four blocks over to the convenience store and has the kid behind the deli counter make her a turkey club hoagie with mayonnaise and mustard. He eyes the gun at her hip nervously and forgets the mustard, even after she pulls at her jacket to hide her weapon. She takes the sandwich and a soda to the park on the next block, the one that's been under construction since before she moved to this city. It's warmer in the park than she'd expected, and a little bit humid too, but she keeps her jacket tucked around her, proud of her uniform but unwilling to flaunt her weapon for no reason.
Her diet black cherry soda is gone but half the sub is still wrapped up in wax paper and she leans back on the bench and basks in the sun for a moment. She thinks about going for a run tonight, then curling up and watching an old movie. Something, anything that is simple and achievable – that's all she's looking for at this point.
All conversation stops when she gets back into the main room. It's not subtle, and she remembers just such a silence falling the first day she reported back at the station after her ordeal with the Benders; her gut clenches hard and the sandwich sits like a lead weight in the pit of her stomach.
The quiet spins out for several seconds. Then someone whistles the theme from The X-Files and most of her colleagues break into laughter; she hears Ramirez call out, loud enough to be heard across the room, "Hell of a case you caught, Hudak," and she realizes that her preliminary report – detailing her own findings and the expert opinions of Georgia and Dawes – has somehow made the rounds.
She makes her way to her desk and checks her inbox and her email; all she finds is an email from Shelby on the cleanup crew that repeats most of the ballistics information and promises her a complete listing of crime scene fingerprints within the next few days, by next week at the very latest.
The computer beeps insistently while she types up a quick response, so she sends the email and maximizes the IAFIS database again. The system has come up with three possible matches for the partial thumbprint she submitted. At last she's getting somewhere.
His gait is all off, and his weakened hip takes each step like a blow from a bumper car. As much as it hurts to go on, it hurts even worse to stop, catch his breath, and try to move again after all these false starts. If he can just keep moving, things might not be okay – he honestly can't conceive of an "okay" at this point, with Dean near dead and Sammy ready to take on the whole world, or maybe just him, because of it – but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot that could be much worse. He's still got his mind, his sanity, and his memories. He knows what is happening when the Demon wears his body, even if he can't quite believe that all of his precautions have been worth exactly shit. He can't be seduced by false visions of Mary, or tricked by pleas from Jim or Caleb; that might be the one good thing about an enemy that plays for keeps like this, the absence of hostages. Except, of course, for himself. His gait is all off, and his weakened hip takes each step like a blow from a bumper car. As much as it hurts to go on, it hurts even worse to stop, catch his breath, and try to move again after all these false starts. If he can just keep moving, things might not be okay – he honestly can't conceive of an "okay" at this point, with Dean near dead and Sammy ready to take on the whole world, or maybe just him, because of it – but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot that could be much worse. He's still got his mind, his sanity, and his memories. He what is happening when the Demon wears his body, even if he can't quite believe that all of his precautions have been worth exactly shit. He can't be seduced by false visions of Mary, or tricked by pleas from Jim or Caleb; that might be the one good thing about an enemy that plays for keeps like this, the absence of hostages. Except, of course, for himself.
He wonders if Sammy's figured it out by now, that his dad didn't just suddenly go berserk for no good reason. He closes his eyes and tries to remember the uses his body was put to. He's counted two faces tight with surprise and bright with blood that fell beneath his fist when he considers that Sammy might have had more pressing demands on his time.
John stops, though he knows what it will cost him, and bows his head, praying for his boy to wake up and make his little brother smile. He has no memory at all of Dean after the crash. Even broken and battered, he would have wanted to see his boy.
His hip starts to tighten up again, so he tries to swing his leg forward and get moving once more. After the first jolt of pain subsides a little, he can feel the air start to clear. A few more steps and he feels like he's breathing a little freer, and he can't stop moving and he can't really turn around, but he opens his eyes and twists his head to look back and sees that he was just at a crossroads, at the heart of where two dirt tracks leading nowhere meet.
He fills his lungs with clean air and looks up at the blue sky overhead. He has never been this alone before. There's nothing else alive out here, and even the smell of his own sweat is receding, though he can feel drops of it rolling down his back and dotting his temples just from the effort to keep moving. He lifts his hand to scrub at his chin, finding a heavy but patchy beard. His wedding ring is cool against his cheek, and he remembers Mary sliding it on, her nervous fingers pressing it insistently past his knuckle; she'd squeezed his hand comfortingly when she was done, trying to heal the hurt she thought she'd inflicted.
But he can't think about Mary now. There's no telling what the Demon will pull from his brain once it enters his life again, even if it's found a new suit to wear. This Demon is more powerful than even he had guessed; it is unfazed by holy water and has a casual disregard for all the rules he's painstakingly learned about demonic possession. John has no suit of armor that will stand up to it, and so as long as the Demon has him in its sights, he cannot think of Mary, his dead, or of Missouri and Bobby, his living. And he simply cannot bear to think anymore of his boys, trapped somewhere in between, so he just lifts his head again and tries to keep walking. He soldiers on.
Dean is still pressed warmly against him when Bobby makes a right turn onto Marshall Road. They yawn in unison when the truck swings left into the narrow driveway, where Caleb's Mustang still sits, its brown paint flaking off before their eyes. Sam can see the disappointment at the car's condition written clear across Bobby's and Dean's faces and he tries and fails to muster up some concern of his own. All that matters is that Dean gets a chance to recuperate, gets his strength back.
Bobby shuts off the engine and rubs his hands on his jeans to work the kinks out of them, and too late Sam realizes he should have offered to share the driving. Dean's fingers tighten briefly on his lap, and Sam sees the reflex and opens his door.
The air is chilly and the ground is wet and soft; before he's ready, before he can really brace himself in the mud, Dean's inching across the seat and pitching awkwardly into his arms, doubly hampered by bone-deep weakness and cramps from sitting mostly upright for so many hours on end. Sam staggers a little but catches his brother as best he can, and Bobby ambles over like there's no rush, and his calmness is contagious. Dean is almost smiling, and trying to take more of his weight back onto himself, away from Sam's arm, and his face is tilted up, raised to the sun. Sam looks down at his brother, pale and trembling, and remembers how close he came to losing Dean.
The sharp slam of a door pulls his attention away from his brother. There's a girl standing on Caleb's front porch, a shotgun primed and ready in her hands. She's barefoot and slender, dressed only in a tank top and shorts, despite the weather, and her eyes are narrowed like she means business. He looks her over, trying to gauge how much of a threat she is – not that he has a great track record at this sort of thing, he knows, as Meg's face swims up from the depths of his brain to greet him once more. He glances at Bobby, who's frowning as he evaluates the girl in his own way, but then cuts his eyes back to her; his policy, learned at Dad's knee, is not to let his attention wander from anyone who's armed.
But Dean swivels in his arms just then, and Sam risks another glance away from the girl to look at his brother, who hasn't even bothered to look her way. Dean's attention is all on Bobby, watching him as he makes up his mind about the girl on the porch, trusting Bobby completely. When Bobby nods once, to himself, Dean just turns back to Sam and tries once more to extricate himself from Sam's protective grasp.
"Bobby Singer. Dean Winchester. Sam Winchester." Bobby makes the introductions, not bothering to point at each of them in turn; any movement could spook the girl, though Sam's getting the feeling that she doesn't quite know what to do with her weapon.
The girl doesn't lower the gun. Dean moves forward a step, and even though all the advantage is on her side – armed and on higher ground – she takes one step back to preserve the distance between them.
"What's your name?" Sam calls, voice kept low enough not to rouse the neighbors – no one wants this showdown at dawn to prompt a phone call to the police.
Her reply is too soft to hear but he makes out the answer from the nervous movements of her mouth, little and pink and chapped-looking. "Eve what?" he asks, and this time he sees her throat work as she swallows.
She brings the gun down off her shoulder. "El – Ellison," she says, and retreats back into the house. It takes him a moment to realize that was an invitation, and he gets his legs moving, one arm slung around Dean; he hears Bobby moving behind him to get the boxes out of the truck.
She's waiting just inside, and her body is still tense even though she's let go of the gun, propped it up against the wall. She closes the door behind Bobby and squeezes by to lead the way into the kitchen. Sam can smell peach-scented lotion on her skin. She hastily pulls an oversized sweatshirt hanging off the back of one of the kitchen chairs over her head, making a mess of her pale blonde cap of hair, and stares at the three of them.
Bobby sets the boxes down on the counter and Eve narrows her eyes a bit. Dean's voice is still a little hoarse when he says, "Looks like Caleb's sweatshirt."
Eve's cheeks are instantly pink, and Sam wonders just how old she is, aside from being too damn young for Caleb.
"He – he said I could wear it," she says, anger evident in her tone if not the volume of her voice. "He said I could keep it. I've never heard of you, Sam Winchester. I've heard of John Winchester and Dean, but not you."
Sam steps forward. "I'm Sam," he says, trying to sound friendly so she'll stop acting so defensive. "This is my brother, Dean."
She softens a bit when she looks up at him, chewing uncertainly on her upper lip. The pink in her cheeks surges again. "I keep house for Caleb."
Sam hears the present tense in her statement but it is Bobby who tells her in careful words that Caleb has fallen. She sinks into a chair, shaking like a leaf. She's looking at him, and he wants to go to her, comfort her somehow, but Bobby catches his eye and jerks his thumb at the door. Sam squeezes Dean's arm once, reassuringly, and follows Bobby outside.
One of the three hits from the IAFIS database is a woman, Abigail Berenbaum of Lake Park, Wyoming. The second is a man named Christopher Perkins; his last known address is listed as Sacramento, California. And the last of the hits is Thomas Graeblowski of New Hope, Michigan. It was probably too much to hope that the victim would turn out to be local; no missing persons reports matching the John Doe have been called in here in the city.
Nothing about this case has made any sense so far, but what she's stuck on now is a simple question of procedure. She sees Ramirez getting himself a cup of coffee at the other end of the room and weaves her way between the desks.
"Want one?" He snags a cruller that has to be stale after sitting out all day.
She shakes her head. "Got a question, though. Do you have a minute?" He can't answer with his mouth full, so he shrugs and nods while he dumps hazelnut creamer and sugar into his mug.
"Two possible IDs on my John Doe. Both out of state. How should I be handling this?" She knows she could always pick up a phone and call these precincts, but there is a complex ritual of give-and-take unique to each station, and she doesn't want to make any rookie mistakes that would end up with her owing more favors than she's got in her.
"Ah," Ramirez grins, shooting her a finger-gun. "Now that depends. States?"
"California and Michigan."
"California, you'll just have to cold-call. But Michigan – chief might be able to help you out with that one. He used to serve in Detroit. He should be able to get you a name to drop."
"You can call me David, you know," he says. "And if you need any help on this case, I'm around."
The officer on the other end of the line is courteous without really being helpful. She faxes over the picture of the John Doe and the IAFIS printout, hoping he retained at least a little of what she told him. He sounds like he's fresh out of the Academy and resenting the hell out of the fact that he's working the phones.
She's just trying to figure out how to approach the chief when her phone rings and he asks in clipped tones for her to step into his office.
"Come in, Kathleen," he says when he sees her standing in his doorway, uniform straightened and that one errant lock of hair tucked back into the bun at the nape of her neck. Being summoned to the chief's office only happens for a commendation or a dressing-down, as far as she's aware, and she knows she hasn't let herself in for either, so she's nervous when she steps forward to stand in front of his desk.
He gestures casually to the chairs opposite his and she sinks into one of them, her eyes trained on his face. He sighs and runs a hand through his short, bristly hair. He seems to be in no hurry to speak, so she stays perched on the edge of her chair and waits. He finally drops his hand and becomes business-like. "How long have you been with us, Kathleen?"
"Thirteen years on the force, three months here in Jefferson City, sir," she responds promptly, not betraying her surprise at the question.
"You work a lot of homicides?"
"No, sir. Hibbing was a pretty quiet place. Mostly robberies, break-ins. Drugs. Domestic disturbances. That sort of thing." It's not quite as idyllic as she's making it sound, but she figures he can read between the lines, and he'd know that all of those things, domestic disturbances especially, have the potential to get really ugly.
He waits, apparently expecting her to mention her last case, but as far as she's concerned, that was the exception that proved the rule. Aside from that one outrageous anomaly, the citizens of Hibbing were mostly law-abiding. "And this homicide you've got now – you think you can handle it?"
Kathleen's a little blindsided by the question. How has her competence become something open for debate? "Yes, sir," she bites out.
He smiles, not unkindly. "Politics, Hudak. It's an election year. We've got a young white man shot to death on expensive riverfront property, where there are streetlights and private security. Both sides are making this a lead story. You're going to be in the spotlight and you're going to be held accountable if this isn't wrapped up and damn fast. So think about it and tell me, can you handle this case?"
The politicians can do what they want; her duty is and always has been to the victim, and Kathleen intends to fulfill it. "Yes, sir," she says again, meeting his eyes directly. He nods, and she stands. "Just one more thing, sir; I need a name to get a possible ID on the John Doe – someone in New Hope, Michigan."
Sam wishes now he'd been closer to Bobby, thought of him as more than just the guy with the dogs, because he's sure there are all sorts of clues he's not catching – things Dean would have known just by standing close, shoulder to shoulder – in what Bobby says and the way he says it.
"Listen," Bobby says, breath blowing out in smoky curls as they stand next to the truck, "I didn't want to say anything in front of that girl – didn't know if she'd take on – but the house is yours. You want her gone, you say the word."
His brain isn't working just yet, apparently, because he just stands there, squinting dumbly down at Bobby's earnest face.
"Caleb left the house to the three of you. Left everything to you and your daddy. And he didn't say anything about a little housekeeper."
Sam's stunned at Caleb's generosity, and rocks back on his heels a little. But maybe it's not so hard to believe; Caleb had always acted like he was John Winchester's long-lost twin – just as grimly focused on hunting and just as unconcerned about taking care of two little boys. He opens his mouth to ask Bobby what he thinks about Caleb's gift, only to find Bobby's dark eyes already on him, clear and unsparing and so knowing that he has to look away. He casts about for something to say. What ends up coming out of his mouth surprises them both.
"You think he and that girl, um, Eve, ever . . . ?"
Bobby's stern expression fades into a faint smile. "Pair of fools like that, I'd believe anything," he says, clearing his throat, "but she didn't seem much like a girl Caleb would have gone for." He steps forward and pulls open the passenger side door and fumbles briefly with the glove compartment latch. The glove compartment finally flips open and Bobby pulls something out, holding it close to his body and beckoning Sam to come closer. He hands it over, a warm and heavy weight. Sam looks down to see the Colt shining darkly in his hand.
"This is yours too," Bobby reminds him, and Sam feels somehow cheated that this moment of destiny is taking place in a driveway in Nebraska, witnessed only by a beat-up car and a muddy truck, with his brother out of sight. "It belongs in your hands, Sam."
Bobby adjusts his ballcap and touches the brim with a gesture that looks something like respect when his eyes wander over to the house. He climbs in his truck and drives off, gone on the growl of an engine.
Sam tucks the Colt into the back of his jeans, pulls his jacket back down to cover his waistband, and heads back inside, taking the front porch steps slowly.
It looks like Dean and Eve haven't moved at all since he left, like they're actors holding their positions and waiting for the curtain to rise. Dean is still leaning with apparent nonchalance against the counter, but Sam can see the tiny tremors shaking his body. For a moment he sees red and wants to snap at Dean that the world will not end if he gives himself a break. But he curbs his tongue, and when he looks again, he sees that Dean has kept himself standing with his determination to stay between the box of Dad's stuff and Eve, whom he does not know and has no reason to trust.
Sam grabs the boxes – surprisingly light, though bulky, and he has to juggle them a little. "Do you live here?" he asks Eve, who's looking up from her seat with a dry face and eyes turned sadly down at the corners.
She nods and points to the small bedroom just off the kitchen, so he heads for the stairs.
"We'll take the upstairs, then," he says, running up to dump the boxes in the biggest bedroom he can find and come back for Dean, who's pushing himself determinedly away from the counter and preparing to walk up the stairs.
"I can . . ." she starts to say, trailing off when he steps in front of her to get to Dean.
"I got it," he says as nicely as he can, wishing she would just go; Dean will never let him help if they have an audience. Her little rosebud mouth thins out and she turns on her heel, and his hands finally clasp Dean.
It's slow going, and Dean is sweating and shaking once they reach the top. "Sammy," Dean murmurs, then pauses, considering. "Man, I reek."
"Like a rendering plant," Sam agrees, and Dean snorts softly. "Bath?"
"This a chick flick? No candles, no bubbles. Soap. Hot water. The end."
"Big words, tough guy. You aren't going to make it to the shower." He wants to bite his tongue, but it's too late, and now Dean has to ask for what he should have offered.
"The nurses all fought over who got to give me sponge baths, you know," Dean jokes after a moment, ignoring the fact that he was comatose at the time. "They'd be so jealous of you right now." Dean's voice is getting better the more he uses it, though it's still nowhere near its usual timbre; his sense of humor, however, has not improved.
"Yeah, I'm a hell of a lucky guy," Sam says, deadpan, watching surprise and amusement chase each other across Dean's freckled face.
"You know it, baby," Dean says, and collapses against the wall.
The house looks strange. It's too tall for its width, rising precariously out of the mud into the sky, and the faux-Tudor boards nailed to its façade only make it more unsettling. Kathleen has no reason to draw her weapon, not yet, but she finds her hand straying to her hip holster, hovering uneasily over her sidearm as she walks down the drive to the large, crumbling porch.
It could be the smell. Closer up, she realizes that the whole place gives off an unwashed odor, like clothes stripped off wet and not spread out to dry. There's a metallic tang in the air as well, old blood, but it's subtle enough that she recognizes it only when the shovel has already begun its swooping arc toward her skull. She wakes up gasping, clutching a pillow that smells like lavender.
There is always paperwork to catch up on, and she spends an hour yawning and completing forms. Busywork over, she forces herself to think, to go back through the scant evidence she has. Dawes has emailed her photographs of the recovered bullet and images from the FBI site of solid frame handguns, mostly nineteenth-century weapons. Firearms are not her area of expertise – she pretty much only knows what she likes, what fits in her hand, and how much recoil she can cope with.
Wills and pawnshops are probably the best way to track an antique pistol; something that old would be valuable, and it's easy to imagine it being passed down through generations. The phone rings. "Hudak," she says briskly into the receiver.
"This is Robin Dudley with the Sacramento P.D. You wanted a check on a Christopher Perkins?"
"He involved in something out by you? Cause he's been keeping his nose clean out here – checks in with his parole officer regular."
"No, nothing like that. Got a John Doe, IAFIS thought Perkins was a match."
"You said it."
Dudley says, "Good luck," and hangs up.
With any other case, she'd be content with the process of elimination and ready to assign a name to the John Doe at this point. But she has no idea how much the sulfur and the disintegration messed up the thumbprint, so she sits tight and waits for an answer from the chief's friend up in Michigan.
It turns out to be even easier than that. She's put on hold a few times before she gets connected to Mickey Mulcahy, the chief's former partner, and goes through the same routine with him, only this time she's got a hit. Molinson walks by her desk just as she's saying her thanks and stops to pluck the faxed photo out of her hand.
"This is the John Doe?" Molinson asks after Kathleen hangs up.
"Not a John Doe anymore. Got a name. Thomas Quincy Graeblowski."
"I've seen him," Molinson says, frowning at the picture.
"In a really awful production of The Tempest that Joe took me to. At the Beacon Theater a couple months ago."
"That outdoor theater in the state park?"
"Yeah. It was hot as hell that night, and I got eaten alive by mosquitoes and Joe's allergies were acting up."
"So a good time was not had by all?" Kathleen grins at her.
"Things got better once we got home and into bed." Molinson laughs. "And we've kind of talked ourselves out of doing anything 'cultural' since then, thank God." She takes another look at the photograph. "But that's definitely the guy. He played one of the sailors." She puts the picture down and taps it once, right between the eyes. "Good luck on this one."
Kathleen spends twenty fruitless minutes searching for Thomas Graeblowski and then for every variation of the name she can think of. He's not listed anywhere in Jefferson City or its environs, so she follows the one solid lead she has and heads out to the Beacon Theater.
A man in a Hawaiian shirt and jeans answers the door. "The theater's dark today," he says before she gets her badge out. "Oh, sorry, come in."
"I'm Detective Hudak with the JCPD. I'm going to need to see your employment records for the last year or so."
"Yeah, of course," he says. "What's this about?"
"Case I'm on," she answers, deliberately vague to keep him from getting spooked. She follows him to a crowded office and opens the drawer marked F - J. No mention of Graeblowski here either, and the manager's making a hell of a racket carting boxes of playbills around. That might be a better place to look, and she hits the jackpot. Graeblowski's features are clear and sharp in black and white, his eyes intense and his smirk disarming. The name underneath his picture is Tom Tracy.
The new name is much more fame-friendly, she supposes as she plugs it into her search engines, and she gets a hit almost immediately. He's leasing an apartment downtown, and she jots down the address and the other name on the lease – Derek Fisher.
Sam grabs Dean, remembering too late how hard his hands can be when he's panicking; Dean winces – can't help a wince – and he's so pale that all of the red lines on his face seem fresh and glistening, threatening to tear Sam's heart out all over again. But Sam steels himself and braces Dean against the wall, looking him over carefully. All of the cuts on his face and neck and arms look terrible, but they're superficial. The car crash really didn't do much to Dean, tucked away in the back seat, away from the side that took the brunt of the impact. Sam can't help feeling like the Impala itself – herself, Dean's voice in his head corrects, simultaneously irritable and amused – did everything it could to protect his brother. What had gotten Dean and stumped the doctors, of course, was being scooped out from the inside like a melon, shredded into chunks by the Demon. And it's that damage that Sam wants to wash away with hot water and a bar of soap. He curses himself for being an idiot and puts all of his sincerity into a prayer that Dean won't ever suffer again for having him as a brother. Sam grabs Dean, remembering too late how hard his hands can be when he's panicking; Dean winces – can't help a wince – and he's so pale that all of the red lines on his face seem fresh and glistening, threatening to tear Sam's heart out all over again. But Sam steels himself and braces Dean against the wall, looking him over carefully. All of the cuts on his face and neck and arms look terrible, but they're superficial. The car crash really didn't do much to Dean, tucked away in the back seat, away from the side that took the brunt of the impact. Sam can't help feeling like the Impala itself – , Dean's voice in his head corrects, simultaneously irritable and amused – did everything it could to protect his brother. What had gotten Dean and stumped the doctors, of course, was being scooped out from the inside like a melon, shredded into chunks by the Demon. And it's that damage that Sam wants to wash away with hot water and a bar of soap. He curses himself for being an idiot and puts all of his sincerity into a prayer that Dean won't ever suffer again for having him as a brother.
Dean's leaning stiffly against the wall, his eyes never leaving Sam's face. "You done beating yourself up?" he rasps, aiming for his familiar, jocular cadences. "Cause some of us aren't gettin' any fresher, waiting for you to figure out how to work a shower."
Sam doesn't answer; he's dumbstruck that Dean is still trying to lighten the mood, even when he's pretty much panting after every third word.
"Sammy?" Dean asks, his voice still rough but growing sharper. "You gonna have a vision-fit?" Dean's voice is getting higher, approaching scared; he's probably trying to figure out how he'd be able to catch and support six-plus feet of flailing baby brother.
Sam stares at Dean and then laughs. "I hadn't even thought about that," he admits softly. "My guess is, no visions while the Demon's got Dad to play with." Dean tilts his head quizzically. "Just – I really am trying to figure out the logistics here."
Dean rolls his eyes. "Me. Shower. You. Soap. The end, genius."
Sam rolls his eyes right back. "I'm telling you, Dean, it's not going to be that simple," he says, but steers his brother gently to the bathroom.
The bathroom is small and blue and Sam pulls back the shower curtain to find a sparklingly clean tub; Eve apparently is good at her job. He turns the water on as hot as it can go, knowing that too hot for him is just right for Dean. He keeps one arm around Dean and pulls the Colt out of his jeans with his free hand; he sees Dean's eyes track the weapon as he lays it gingerly next to the sink. He nods, a promise that they will talk later, and Dean gives him a small smile.
Dean's hands come up to rest on Sam's shoulders, and Sam bends to pull off his brother's shoes and socks and jeans. He looks up at Dean's bruised face and closed eyes before stripping him of his thin hospital underwear too. The shirts are the last things to go, and he guides Dean's hands to the wall before he shucks everything he's wearing except for his boxers. Dean is shaking against his hands as he tries to climb into the tub; his teeth are gritted against the pressure of the water on his battered body.
Even discounting the cool shadow the blue and grey shower curtain casts over Dean, Sam can see his brother's skin go instantly pink when the water hits it, the color coming sudden and sharp like a little girl smearing her mother's rouge on her face. His own skin is tingling from the temperature of the water, even though just his arms are inside the tub, and he'd wonder how Dean can stand the heat if Dean weren't relaxing under his steadying hands, his cold and stiff body growing warm and supple like magic. Sam lets him bask under the spray for a moment or two, before realizing he can't trust Dean's legs to hold him up for too long. He soaps his brother down, running the bar of Ivory over skin and scalp, until Dean is lost to view – all that's visible is a mass of shining white bubbles. He rinses the foam off of Dean and shuts off the water, making sure Dean's still balanced on his own two feet before turning away to grab a towel.
Wrapping it around Dean, Sam lifts him out of the tub. Just as he's about to make some stupid remark about Dean being a secret cuddler after all, Dean's stomach rumbles loudly. Sam remembers having eaten something a few days ago, but Dean's only had an IV for sustenance since the crash. He finishes drying off his brother and knots the towel around Dean's bruised waist.
"Sorry, Dean," he says, pulling his own clothes back on quickly. "I'll take care of you, I promise."
Dean looks tired again – still – and puzzled, too. "I know, Sammy."
The first thing Kathleen thinks when the door swings open is that Derek Fisher has striking eyes, their soft blue contrasting with the milky brown of his round face.
"Derek Fisher? I'm Detective Hudak with the Jefferson City Police Department. I'd like to ask you a few questions."
Fisher nods at his name but doesn't seem to register much else. He looks faintly curious but not surprised or upset or nervous. Glancing at his wristwatch, he says, "I've got a few hours before I have to get to campus. Please come in." He bolts the door behind her and leads her to a striped couch.
"Mr. Fisher, you share this apartment with a Tom Tracy, is that correct?" He nods calmly. "Did he ever use the last name Graeblowski, as far as you're aware?"
He looks a little puzzled now as he shakes his head in denial.
"And Mr. Tracy's been missing for about a week?"
"He hasn't been here, if that's what you're asking," he says, his voice still remarkably unperturbed.
"May I ask why you didn't report him missing, sir?"
"He's always off somewhere or the other, performing. I think he said something about doing a show in St. Louis around now."
The explanation makes sense, and she has no reason to mistrust Fisher, but his calmness is rattling her. There's something here that she needs to tease out, and until she can figure out how, she has to get him talking. Most people are more than pleased to talk about themselves, so she starts him on that track, paying close attention to what he does and does not say. "And what is it that you do, sir?" she asks.
"Me?" At last he looks surprised. "I'm a grad student down at the university."
"Is that Lincoln University?" He nods and she keeps moving forward. "And what is your field?" There's nothing in this living room to indicate his area of interest, no books or papers scattered around.
"American history" His eyes go shy behind his horn-rimmed glasses. "The expansion of the railroad and of the country, really. Would you like to see?"
He stands and leads the way to a small bedroom. One entire wall is taken up by books, stacked on the floor, crammed into crates, shelved haphazardly into a sagging bookshelf. There's a desk in there as well, covered in papers marked by pen and highlighter ink. She turns to survey the room and her eye is caught by a procession of strange little figures marching across the windowsill. She moves closer to inspect them, frowning a little when she sees that they're made of bone and wood and hair.
He's gotten lost again in contemplation of the nineteenth-century map of the country that hangs on the wall, but he hears her when she clears her throat questioningly. "Oh, yeah, those. My grandmother made them for me when I was born. Made me promise to keep them by my window for as long as I lived." There's fondness in his face now, and she has no compunction about slipping in underneath his guard.
"What about Tom's bedroom? Could I see that, please?"
He's obedient, still the dutiful grandson, and he leads her to the bedroom on the other side of the apartment without a murmur. She opens the door and thinks that, without ever having known Tom Tracy alive, she'd have guessed that this was his room. It's messy, clothes strewn everywhere, mostly designer labels or convincing knock-offs. There are black-and-white movie stills covering the walls, some with autographs. A dresser with a mirror above it stands opposite the bed, and on its surface lie empty glasses frames, a bottle of self-tanner, and a small collection of silver jewelry.
"Do you know what he took with him when he left?"
"No," he says, looking at her, and she wonders if he's figuring it out, that she's not here to speak with Tom, that she's here to tell him that Tom is dead. "He usually packed a small suitcase if he was going to be working out of town for more than a few days, but I think that's it right there." He points to the blue fabric peeking out from under the bed. "But he wasn't really himself the last time I saw him."
"How do you mean?"
"Well," he begins, a small smile crossing his face, "he was never really himself. Always acting, trying on characters – changing his clothes, his hair, his accent. But the last week before he left – before I thought he left for St. Louis – he stayed in one character the entire time."
She stays silent, waiting to hear more, though it is too much to hope that he'll be able to offer an explanation for how Tom ended up dead in Jefferson City rather than alive and on stage in St. Louis.
"He was wearing these weird contacts that made his whole eye black, and his voice got deeper. He kept talking about his father, about stopping the threat. It made no sense."
"Like he was learning lines?"
"No, like he knew the lines but not who he was supposed to be," he finally says, weighing his words.
That's not exactly clear, but there seems to be nothing more to be said. She's walking to the door when his voice stops her. "He's dead, isn't he? Detective?"
Her hand is on the doorknob but she turns back to face him. "Yes. I'm sorry. He is."
He nods, his face still set and calm, and she lets herself out.
He finds Dean some old clothes in Caleb's closet – a faded t-shirt and sweatpants – and manhandles him into bed. The sheets are stiff, freshly washed, and Sam piles as many blankets as he can find on top of his brother. He goes back to the bathroom to gather up the dirty discarded clothes, but then he smells himself and sees the blood caked on his jacket and jeans.
Sam hops into the shower, ruthlessly efficient, his skin red with heat and scrubbing when he gets out. He dresses himself in Caleb's clothes that leave his wrists and ankles exposed and Dean's face betrays his amusement.
"Shut up," Sam says, grinning at him. "You want to sleep or you want to eat?"
"Grub." Dean's voice is stretched thin again.
He knows he can't show his concern outright, so he pretends to smack Dean while trying to gauge his temperature with the back of one hand. Dean doesn't look like he's been duped, though, so Sam adds, "I'm not your room service boy," with a grumble and Dean just settles further into the mattress to wait.
Downstairs he finds Eve in the kitchen, scrubbing the sink so that the white ceramic surface gleams. With every motion, the light sparkles off her little pink earrings, and she turns to look at him over her bare shoulder.
"Sam! Hi!" she says, smiling at him and he smiles back politely, looking at the flipped-up tag peeking out of her tank top. She grabs the towel to dry her hands and turns to face him. "Can I make you something to eat?" She sounds hopeful, despite the fact that she has no reason to treat them kindly.
"No," he says, startled. "I was just going to make something –"
"Oh! I can do it," she starts, but then smiles up at him. "But I guess you want something to do." She's not exactly right – he wants to be looking out for Dean – but it's a reasonable explanation, one he doesn't bother correcting. "Well, help yourself to anything. I was going to go to the store later today, so I can get more of anything you like."
"Thanks. Right now, I just need to make something for my brother." He sidesteps past her to get to the fridge.
"Dean," she says carefully, watching him closely.
"Um, yeah." He pokes through the fridge in the vain hope that Dean will like anything that's in there. There's nothing that Caleb or Dean or any hunter would eat in the fridge; it's filled with stuff that reminds him distressingly of Jess, the kind of food girls start eating in their twenties and guys figure out a couple of decades later when nagged by their wives. He pulls a container of plain yogurt out and asks, "Do you have a blender?"
He wants someone to appreciate the humor in the fact that he's making his badass brother a smoothie – wheat germ, banana, honey, and plain yogurt – but the only one who would find that properly hilarious (after delivering a swift punch to the shoulder) is Dean himself, who's lying crumpled like a tissue in an unfamiliar bed. He stops smiling and looks around for a glass, still with one finger on the blender's button. He spends a few moments searching for a straw before considering that the tube Dean had down his throat probably hurt the muscles he'd need to suck through a straw. And he's got no problem holding the cup to Dean's mouth for as long as it takes him to drain the glass. At least this won't exacerbate the injuries, will be easy to digest.
The noise in the kitchen stops when he finally turns the blender off and Eve is right there again, holding a few glasses out for him. "Thanks," he says, pouring the smoothie out, filling two cups to the brim, and notices there's still a little left. "Do you want to finish this?" he asks, gesturing, and she shrugs, crowding in close to peer inside, see how much is left. He can still smell peach on her skin, stronger than ever, actually, and he closes his eyes and thinks about the scented candles that Jess liked so much.
"Sam," she says, putting one hand on his arm just as he grabs the two full glasses.
"Yeah?" he asks, turning to leave the kitchen and trying not to spill. He pauses for a moment, but she doesn't say anything, so he heads back up the stairs.
He's got his eyes on the line of liquid in the cups, so he almost misses the guilty look that flashes across Dean's face when he walks back into the master bedroom. As pale and weak as Dean is right now, he looks incredibly young, and Sam wonders if maybe that's why it's so very easy for him to read Dean now, as if time really has reversed and his big brother has not yet learned to love the mask.
"What, Dean?" he asks, and he can't help the dread that creeps through his voice.
Dean says nothing, but flips back the bunched-up blankets to reveal the box of Dad's stuff next to him. Sam stares at him and decides he does not want to know how Dean made it out of bed, lifted the box, and got back in; he remembers guiltily that the racket the blender made would have covered up any sounds of movement or hisses of pain. And Dean is not used to his body betraying him, and would have pushed himself. Sam makes up his mind in that moment that he will go along with whatever Dean wants, so that he can keep an eye on him at least and not be an obstacle around which Dean has to plot.
Even without the lecture, Dean looks a little chastened, and Sam tucks the blankets back in around his brother as gently as he can. Dean's hand falls on top of his, and Sam holds the smoothie for Dean to drink.
"Well, it went down without a protest, so –" He stops, an empty glass in each hand, and looks at Eve, sitting at the table in the silent, sparkling kitchen. "I was going to clean up," he says awkwardly, moving to put the glasses in the sink.
"Don't worry about it," she says listlessly. "It's my job, isn't it?"
She sounds so different; he's sitting across from her and reaching out to touch her shoulder before he remembers that she barely knows him. "Hey, are you okay?"
She drags her eyes up from the tabletop to meet his, and he sees that they're light blue behind eyelashes so pale they're nearly invisible. "No," she says, twisting off a smile. "First you tell me Caleb's dead but you don't say how it happened or how you know. Then you say this house is yours. Then you move in. I'm scared, okay?" That all sounds true, but she's looking at him like he can make everything better, and suddenly all of her shy little smiles and blushes make sense.
Explanations will only make things worse, but he can't exactly tell her that either. It's clear that Caleb never let her in on his true profession and he doesn't have the energy to try. "I . . . I'm sorry, Eve," he says. It's inadequate, but he feels it's better not to let her know that he's figured out her crush.
Her eyes are fastened to the table again, her face tilted down, but he can still see the unhappy grimace she makes. "And to top it all off you don't say anything about why you're treating that brother of yours like he's made of glass."
She seems to know immediately that she's gone too far; he's too taken aback by the unbridled jealousy in her voice to react. She jumps up out of her seat, saying, "Sorry, sorry. I'm . . . I'm going to the store. I'll be back in a couple hours."
Eve scurries off to her room, and when she comes back out, dressed in a few more layers than just the tank and shorts she was wearing before, she won't meet his eye.
He's dizzy now, and he wonders how the sun has stayed up for so long. He has the time but not the inclination to figure it out now, so he just keeps his mind on the barren landscape drowning him and continues to walk as best he can.
John starts to see scrub, brownish weeds growing in feeble clumps. Later there are actual bushes, then a tree, and it's like he's going backwards through one of those films that have gotten so popular for whatever reason, the ones where the apocalypse comes and changes lush green land into a dark wasteland, mingling the colors of blood and dirt. He plods his way to the tree and lets himself lean against it and close his eyes. The dark falls immediately, and the sky is black when he lowers himself carefully to the ground.
The pain in his arm and leg springs up fresh when John wakes the next morning, compounded now by the ache in his feet and back from walking too long, trying to compensate for his ruined limbs. He pulls with his good hand at the tree, ratcheting himself up in slow degrees until he's fully upright. He cracks his neck and starts to walk again.
He must have hazed out again while his legs kept marching on, because the road appears without warning in front of him. Not much of a road, just a single lane, but it is blacktop and not dirt, and it is a sign.
John pushes his good hand into his belly to keep it from feeling so empty and picks up the pace. He jerks around when he hears a roar behind him.
It's a big truck with a big man behind the wheel, and he knows better than to stop walking because starting again will not be easy. The truck slows and rolls next to him and John braces himself to face black eyes, hating himself for thinking that if the eyes are yellow, then he knows he doesn't have enough fight in him. The driver calls out to him. "Sir? Can I give you a lift?"
Kindness is so unexpected that it doesn't register at first and he keeps walking grimly.
"Sir?" the man says again, and John turns to face him. The man's eyes are brown, worried, completely human. "Can I take you somewhere?"
"Where you headed?"
"Left Omaha this morning, got to be in Lincoln by night," the man says, leaning across the seat to open the passenger door.
Nebraska, then. His truck might still sitting behind that abandoned warehouse. "Lincoln sounds great to me," John says, and heaves himself into the seat. "Thanks," he mutters once he's settled.
"Glad of the company," the man says. "Burt Resley."
Burt sees the tattoo on his left arm and laughs disbelievingly. "Thundering Third. You?"
John feels himself loosening up. "Echo 2-1," he answers, looking out at the straight road that spills cleanly for miles ahead of them.
"Good men," Burt says.
They're silent for a moment, thinking of all those they knew. The commercial break on the radio ends, and something soft and sweet and bluegrassy comes through the truck's speakers.
"So what's in Lincoln, John?"
"My truck, hopefully, if no one's been out there. Tires were slashed."
"Got a cell phone. You could call a tow truck, call ahead and have your truck fixed up by the time we get there."
It's a good plan, makes sense, and he's relieved when Burt calls 411 and asks for the name of a big garage; he doesn't want to rip off a mom-and-pop garage with his bogus credit card. Burt recites the number so they both can memorize it and then hands him the phone.
Business taken care of, he's finally at ease, as much as he can be with his body broken and no idea about the whereabouts of the Demon.
Burt looks over at him and turns the volume down. "I won't be offended if you'd rather sleep than talk, John."
"Take it where you can get it," John says, feeling a smile spark on his dirty face as he repeats the mantra passed down from one Marine to the next.
"Amen, brother," Burt says, and grins.
"Rick Rainwater," Ramirez says, no doubt in his voice. It's a nice voice, Kathleen thinks suddenly, wry and warm. "He's the go-to guy on this kind of thing. I'll get you his number."
She loses another few hours to paperwork before she can make the call. The man who picks up sounds far too young to be an expert in any field, and he seems to know what she's thinking when he says, "Detective, this is the family business, and I started early. Now what can I do for you?"
Kathleen appreciates an upfront contact, and she does her best to describe the unique, pristine bullet and the inferences she and Dawes made about the weapon it must have come from. He's making little noises of agreement – "mm-hmm"s – throughout, but when she gets to the detail of the inscription wrapped around the slug, he draws in a sharp, surprised-sounding breath. "Now, Detective, I've only heard of one firearm that would need a bullet like that, but I can't figure how it could possibly have been used to kill a human being in Missouri."
There's something off about his phrasing but she can't put her finger on it. "Mr. Rainwater, I'd be very interested in hearing anything you can tell me about this weapon," she says.
"Yes," he says, still sounding distracted, like his brain is busy while his mouth moves automatically. "It's a Colt. Antique value, a real beauty. Owner is Daniel Elkins of Manning, Colorado."
It takes her some time to find any records on Elkins. She finally manages to trace the property in Manning to a Joseph Elkins, a hunting and fishing cabin bequeathed to his son Daniel and family. Daniel, once his divorce was finalized, apparently made it his permanent address, and she can't find anything more on him; there's not even a phone number associated with the cabin.
The ex-wife, Lisa, went back to Louisiana and took their son Elias with her. Thirty years later, Elias and his wife were killed by a drunk driver; Lisa kept their daughter Evelyn from an orphanage. Lisa died a few years ago, and Kathleen cannot find any indication that Evelyn and Daniel have even heard of each other, let alone have each other's contact information.
Kathleen sighs in frustration, her eyes scratchy from reading too many official documents on her fuzzy computer monitor. She checks the clock again, and can't help feeling like time is running out.
Eve is carefully giving Dean plenty of space and being very polite when circumstances force them into the same room; her jealousy is so clear that Sam can't believe that Dean seems not to notice it. Sam does his best to keep her distracted and busy; he only had to fumble his way through cooking one dinner – underdone pasta with watery sauce – before Eve stepped up, dumped the entire pot into the trash, and started to cook from scratch. Dean managed about half a plate before taking refuge in chocolate ice cream, huddled under a blanket on the couch, but Sam polished off nearly the entire pan of lasagna.
In just a few days, it's become a routine of sorts, the two of them in some alternate version of domestic bliss while Dean sleeps fitfully. Eve smiles at him every time she gives him another helping of her food, and the kitchen feels warm and intimate when he stands beside her to help with the dishes, thinking of Jess.
The parts of the house that Eve can get to gleam with cleanliness. She dusts and sweeps and vacuums and mops and scrubs every day, with such grim determination that Sam wonders if it's a ritual that keeps something – real or imaginary – at bay. She can never be fully satisfied; there is a room that is locked against her, proof that Caleb hadn't gotten completely careless.
They can get in. Dean insists on it, so Sam picks the lock while Eve is at the supermarket. The floor is dusty and the walls are lined with weapons, hanging on hooks or lying on shelves. There's a space the size of a bay window that's devoted entirely to throwing knives, another section that holds firearms. Along the top are three shining antique pistols, all looking uncannily like the false Colt Dean had picked up at an antique shop.
Dean sinks to the ground, tired again, and Sam can see his brother beginning to take inventory. He wants to stop him, put him back to bed, and stand guard over his sleep, but instead he just sits down in the dust and adds his voice to Dean's as they recite the names and uses of the weapons on the walls.
Dean keeps the Colt in their bed, under his pillow; Sam figures Dean would actually sleep worse without that weapon close at hand.
Eve runs her errands in the afternoons, when Dean is at his best, no longer stiff from sleep and not yet exhausted from the day. They go back to the locked room whenever she's out, using the empty space to start their training over again. Dean looks better when he has a weapon in his hand, and Sam figures there's no point in fighting his brother now.
Dean's got a crossbow in his hands, petting it like it's a puppy in the pound and making Sam laugh, when they hear Eve scream. Sam jumps to his feet, and by the time Dean's gotten to his, Eve is at the doorway of the weapons room, flanked by two women, one of whom has her in a vicious chokehold. Then the one with her arm over Eve's neck smiles, quick and deadly, and he recognizes Kate, that vampire whose mate Dad killed with the Colt.
Kate sniffs the air and says conversationally to Eve, "I thought you smelled familiar, but the Winchester stink in here is just terrible." The other vampire sniggers stupidly. Eve's pleading, desperate eyes well up, and Sam takes a tentative step toward the three of them.
Kate tightens her arm, casually, and Eve gasps. "I don't think so, Winchester," she purrs. "Take a couple steps back. Next to that smartass brother of yours."
"Not a big fan of that plan," he says.
Her eyes narrow and she hands Eve off to her sidekick, who grabs the girl roughly by the arm. Kate steps forward, and her hair is ruffled by something that flies right by her; she goes completely motionless and Sam finds himself turning to see what's happened. The other vampire is pinned to the wall by the heavy arrow in her throat, courtesy of Dean's crossbow. She sounds like she's retching, frantically tearing at the bolt, but it doesn't budge.
Eve is the first to react, running out of the room. Kate turns back to Dean with a snarl. "I am going to rip you apart," she promises, and Sam knows it's up to him to save his brother. He stabs at her with the little silver knife he pulls off the wall, but that was a mistake, getting that close to the weapons, because now he's boxed in, trapped up against the wall, and Dean is on the other side of the room, decapitating the other vampire with a sharp sword.
Kate's hungry mouth is getting closer and he hears a pounding – his heart, it must be – and Dean's shaky voice calling his name. Dean pulls Kate away, spinning her roughly with borrowed strength, and while she's between the two of them, uncertain which of them to kill first, a shot rings out. Kate falls to the ground, Dean's knees buckle, and Sam looks over to see Eve in the doorway, the smoking Colt in her hand.
He's paralyzed, realizing the last bullet's been wasted, and only comes back to awareness when he hears a pained gasp. Dean's sitting up and cleaning a long scratch on Eve's neck with holy water and the hem of his shirt; she's shaking and her eyes are closed, and the Colt lies on her lap.
"God," she says, "that hurts like hell." She sounds tired, and so young that Sam wants to clap his hands over his ears.
"I know," Dean says.
"Thank you," she says, with sudden fervor, opening her eyes to fix them insistently on Dean.
"Don't still want to kill me, do you?" Dean jokes awkwardly, and Sam hates that Dean's had his guard up all this time.
A tiny smile appears on her ashen face. "A lot less than usual," she allows, her pale eyes sliding over to Sam for reassurance. "Sam," she asks, and he sits beside her and gives her a shoulder to lean on.
She talks Molinson into taking a quick coffee run with her, more to get away from her desk than anything else. The new Starbucks down the street is incredibly crowded.
"I always feel stupid asking for a grande anything. What happened to 'small, medium, and large'?"
"No idea. But the blondies here are good enough that I'd order in whatever language they pick." Those blondies were going to be her downfall before she decided to allow herself one only at the successful conclusion of a case.
"White chocolate scones for me," Molinson laughs, patting her stomach. "Have to run an extra mile, but, God, they're good."
The coffee and casual chat are exactly what she needs, but their effects don't last. The minute she's back at her desk, the case crowds back into her brain as she tries to take it apart, figure out the individual pieces. The sharp sound of her phone interrupts Kathleen's frustrated afternoon. It takes her a moment to place the voice. It's Roger Dawes, all courtly phrasings and calm voice, asking if she's got a moment to take a look at something he's found.
When she gets to his office, she sees him standing, his hands clasped behind his back, waiting for her. She hadn't realized before how tall he was, and she tilts her head back to meet his gaze. Bringing out the bullet in the plastic bag again, he says, "The inscription's Latin. I thought I recognized a few of the words from my days as an altar boy but not enough to make sense of it. I talked to my priest, asked him if he'd ever heard this particular sequence of words. He hadn't, said they weren't any formal part of any liturgy or service, but that they sounded like a prayer someone with a knowledge of the Church might have written himself. Not a priest, but a believer."
Kathleen feels weary already at the thought of the wild-goose chases this information is going to send her on. Religion and violence are never easy to untangle once they've come together. "And what does it say?"
"It's not grammatically correct, apparently, but it says something about a trinity, about one bullet taking three lives – in heaven, on earth, and in hell. But all three lives being bound together." He looks solemnly at her for a moment, then turns to hand her his final report.
"Thanks," she says, and turns to head back to the stairs.
"Kathleen," the chief says, "could you come into my office, please?"
This case is doing wonders for her popularity. She follows him into his office and feels a spark of unease at the sight of someone else already in there, leaning against the wall with one hard shoulder, his eyes already on her.
"You know Craig Curran, deputy chief, right?" the chief asks.
"Yes, sir," she says tightly. The Hoover, he's called, the guy who cleans up everyone's messes in no time flat, the guy who's never bothered to make any allies or friends but whose record is unbeatable.
"He's going to be primary on the Graeblowski homicide from now on."
"Sir . . ." she gets out, shocked by her swift dismissal. They can't have expected a solution already, so why is she getting the bum's rush?
"It's his case now, Kathleen," the chief continues, flatly, like he's scared she'll make a scene. "You've done good work on this case, I've seen it. But it recently came to my attention that you never took the time off you were supposed to between quitting Hibbing and coming here. You take those two weeks off, starting tomorrow. Just give Curran your notes and a status report and you can even go this afternoon."
"If you're not unhappy with my work, sir, why are you pulling me from the case?"
The chief looks sharply at her. "I told you before, Hudak – this is a high-profile case. The mayor's office feels that someone local might be able to get more of a handle on things."
Politics are the best way to mess up any investigation, as far as she's concerned; no one ever remembers the victim. Giving both the chief and the Hoover a long, hard look, she can tell that this will be no exception. "I really don't think that's necessary, sir."
"Decision's been made."
This whole thing is a mess, but she can't go against her chief's direct orders. "Yes, sir," she says and walks out the door.
There's a typed report waiting for her on her desk. It's the cleanup crew's findings, detailing everything in that alley, from the sulfuric content of the dark stain she spotted near Graeblowski's head to the names of all the people whose fingerprints were found on the fire escape. One name jumps out at her just before she's about to put the report into the pile for Curran: Sam Winchester.
Dean makes it clear without a word that he's vetoing Sam's suggestion of some rest, and Sam can't really imagine himself seriously asking Dean to take a nap. The three of them head downstairs and Sam swallows a moment of panic when he sees that the front door is hanging open and there are groceries spilled all over the front hall. He grabs the heaviest-looking bags and heads for the kitchen.
Dean sits at the table with a dented pint of chocolate ice cream and a couple of spoons, and Eve picks up the phone. Sam draws a deep breath and prepares to explain why calling the cops would be a bad idea, but she turns her back on him and orders two extra-large pizzas with everything on them. Dean nods his approval and gestures for the two of them to join him.
"So . . ." Dean says, his eyes never leaving the long pink line that marks Eve's neck, "who are you? No bullshit this time."
"Evelyn Elkins," she returns quietly, her spoon digging into the ice cream.
Shit. "Any relation to Daniel Elkins?" Sam asks, ignoring the spoon Dean is holding out to him; Dean huffs and starts eating again.
"My grandfather. I never met him. I called him, once, to tell him that my grandmother was dead, and he said I couldn't see him. But that he'd make sure I was safe. He's the one who got me this job." She shivers even as she reaches for more ice cream. "Who were those people?"
Her question makes it obvious that she's been kept in the dark all this time, and he doesn't know how to explain all the things that are out there to her. Dean cuts off his musings. "Sammy owed them some money. But you don't have to worry about them; they don't have any friends to come by and bother you."
That's not nearly good enough, but Eve holds up her hand again when Sam opens his mouth to explain. "I don't really want to know, Sam," she says. She blinks, staring down at her shaking hands. "They were going to kill me – kill us – and we killed them instead. That's it. I don't want to think about it anymore."
Her innocence is what he fights to protect. He keeps his mouth shut as she covers her face with her hands.
Eve gets up after a few minutes and looks around the kitchen with watery eyes. She bends to get the cleaning supplies out from under the sink and Sam nudges Dean. While she's cleaning down here, he and Dean can clean up upstairs, get the bodies out of the house and lock up the weapons room again.
Sam can barely hear Dean's soft voice from the other side of Caleb's king-size bed. "What?"
"I said," Dean repeats, gingerly rolling over to face him, "we need to get back out there. I'm strong enough, Sammy. Let's do this."
"No way." He sets his mouth in a thin line, not wanting to utter anything that Dean would take as a challenge.
"Yes way. Who knows what that sonuvabitch is doing to Dad; we gotta be there."
At the mention of Dad, Sam loses his self-control. "You mean, who could Dad be tearing apart from the inside if you're not around? I said no, Dean! You can barely walk across a room, now you want to chase him across the country? And we don't even have the Colt anymore because Eve used the last bullet!"
Dean's face looks tight, verging on anger. "I'm going in the morning."
"You can't, Dean. Please."
Dean closes his eyes and doesn't answer.
Dean's already up and outside by the time he wakes up, and from the window he can see Dean examining the workings of Caleb's beat-up Mustang. He gets downstairs in time to see Dean be greeted by a mug of steaming coffee and a plate of chocolate chip pancakes.
"It's all yours," Eve is saying before she sees Sam and turns back to the stove. "I don't even have a license."
"It'll take a little while to get her back to the way she should be," Dean says before digging in. Dean's intent on his pancakes, and he's not giving Sam a chance to catch his eye. Sam just takes the seat across from him in silence.
Sam picks the lock of the weapons room one last time and starts gathering a new arsenal for the Mustang's trunk. If Dean insists on risking his neck, he should at least be well-armed. When he finally gets back to their bedroom, he packs their clothes into their ratty duffels with practiced motions, his hands moving automatically while he tries to figure out their next move.
It's tempting to call Bobby, but Bobby knows where they are and if he knew anything, he'd've called already. He finishes up and decides at the last minute to put the Colt, shining uselessly on the bedside table, into Dean's bag. Eve doesn't need the reminder, and he can't bring himself to leave behind anything that soothed Dean's sleep.
The food that Eve packed takes up the entire backseat, and Sam taps the horn twice as he pulls out of the driveway; Eve stands on the porch in her tank top and shorts and waves. Dean is silent in the passenger seat, slouching down tiredly, and Sam shifts from reverse to drive.
He gets out to the highway and sees Dean lost in a restless sleep. He follows the signs for Kansas.
The box with all of Riley's things is at the very back of her closet, so Kathleen makes a virtue of it, unpacking all the other boxes, setting some of the sweaters and heavy jeans aside for her trip and throwing the rest on her bed to put away in drawers later. By the time she gets to Riley's box, dark has fallen so completely that she has to turn on the light, and she nearly kills herself tripping over piles of clothes on the way to the lamp.
She wrestles it out and opens its cardboard flaps. There, right on the top, is the picture of Sam that Missy had pretty much snatched from her hand. She moves closer to the light and studies it. Sam's not smiling, but he's looking out like he wants to tell her something. One lock of dark hair is spilling across his brow, just like Riley's used to. Kathleen remembers that Sam was big, pretty much a giant, and even in this picture his shoulders are huge, but his face is so young that he looks as helpless as the fear in Lucky's eyes had intimated.
It's the faintest, most ridiculous of hopes, and she knows that, but Lucky and Sam were the ones who led her to the truth about Riley, however incomplete. Maybe they can help with the Graeblowski case.
She logs on from home and pulls up the file on Sam Winchester. Born in Lawrence, Kansas, just like his older brother Dean. That means that the Winchesters weren't itinerant, probably had some ties to the community, maybe even live there still. And Lawrence is a straight shot down 70 from here, not even four hours away. She can drive that in a morning, check it out and come back within a day. She can't flash her badge around without drawing the attention of the chief and Curran, but Sam will remember her, won't play games with her or lie about why he was in Jefferson City.
So tomorrow she'll take her car for a tune-up and get on the road the day after. The plan should set her mind at ease, but she dreams that night of being back in that house, seeing Riley inside the cage opposite hers.
John recites a credit card number from memory, and that's enough to get his truck's tires changed. There's nothing troubling under the hood; the Demon's damned children went for easy destruction rather than lasting damage.
He shakes hands with the guy once he's done, and climbs clumsily in, pulling the spare key out from under the passenger-side floormat. He should go, find a motel, and get some sleep. Geoff Carradine's credit card has enough life for that and a few decent meals.
He finds a motel that looks like a strip-mall and pulls in. The girl behind the counter has those anywhere-but-here eyes, and she takes the credit card number willingly, even offers to pick up dinner for him while she gets her own from the diner across the street. He's too used up to consider declining, doesn't want to think about the way she simpers and plays with her hair like he's not more than twice her age and broken into the bargain. John opens his mouth to say thanks for the meal and make it clear that's all the interaction she's getting when he sees her eyes pass over his wedding ring like it makes no damn difference at all.
Rage bubbles up inside him, not just at the slight to Mary, not just at the assumption that he wears it for show, but for what it says about her. Is her life so bad she'll wrap her legs around a stranger old enough to be her father on the off-chance he'll get her out of here? He's shaking with anger one moment and it bleeds out of him the next. He can't get caught up in her story right now, not when he's got unfinished business of his own.
When she knocks on his door forty-five minutes later, he takes the food from her and closes the door in her coy and freshly made-up face. She's just a baby, after all.
John wakes late in the morning, still feeling unrested. The casts on his arm and leg kept him pinned, unable to shift for comfort's sake. He gets out of bed, pops his neck and back, and heads into the shower. His hair's dripping cold water down his collar when he walks out of the motel and gets into the truck.
He's thinking of finding a better diner than the one across the street – had no one there ever learned to make a decent cup of coffee? – when his back arches away from the seat and his body is jammed with heat.
Hey, Johnny. I'm back. Did you miss me?
"Get out, you sonuvabitch," John growls, fumbling for the glove compartment, but the Colt is gone and all that's in there is a vial of holy water and another of peroxide.
The Demon clicks its tongue – his tongue – making that admonishing noise he remembers, dimly, hearing from his mother and her sewing circle when he forgot to wipe his feet on the mat outside the front door. Jacky boy, it's no good trying to pretend.
He slumps, mentally anyway, knowing he's too weak to do more than challenge it verbally. "Pretend what?"
I'm the one who gives your pathetic life meaning. You've been chasing after me so much longer than you wooed your pretty, stupid wife. You can tell me the truth, Johnny. She was just puppy love; I'm the real thing. Am I right? It gives him a moment to savor his rage before it butts in again. All you got from her is a couple of brats and a lifetime of heartache. Raw deal.
But now he feels stronger. He knows how to launch his own attack. "My boys are good men." John swallows thickly, feeling his throat constrict from the inside. "Men you fear," he rasps triumphantly.
Fear? Oh, no, Johnny, that's not it at all. They're mosquitoes; they just need to be squashed. You'll see.
Before Dean can ask where they're headed, Sam pounces. The minute he sees Dean waking up, he turns down the radio and grins at his big brother. "That was a nice move with the crossbow, man," he says sincerely.
Dean looks a little surprised but shrugs casually. "No sweat," he says, sounding a little stronger than he had in the early morning.
"Literally," Sam points out. "How did you know that would work?"
There's no bravado in Dean's eyes, and Sam's sure he'll say something along the lines of using whatever's on hand, but then realization hits, and with it comes anger, sharp and sour in the back of his throat. Next to him, Dean sighs and says wearily, "What, Sam?"
"What's got you standing on the accelerator and pretty much mooning every cop around? Ease up."
"We didn't know," Sam bites out, slowing the car down. Dean just looks confused. "We didn't know how to defeat vampires, Dean; we didn't even know they existed."
"Yeah, but we wasted 'em," Dean points out.
"Dad knew. Dad knew those things were out there, but because he got pissed off at Elkins a hundred and ten years ago, he ripped those pages out of his journal." The speedometer needle starts to creep to the right again. "And he never breathed a word about them, never considered that our lives might depend on knowing what was on those pages."
Dean's eyes are cold and flat as stone. "We're alive because of what Dad taught us," he says.
"You have got to be kidding me," he snaps. "You're still defending him? Dean! Forget the vampires! He was ripping you open, and you had to beg –"
"No." It's as close to a shout as Dean's abused throat can form, and Dean has gone white and still. "I am not going to let that thing win. Dad's last memory of me is not going to be me bleeding like a stuck pig. And mine is not going to be of yellow eyes in his face. No, Sammy."
Sam clutches the steering wheel in tight fists and keeps his foot on the gas.
They haven't spoken for a hundred miles, but the skin around Dean's eyes is getting tighter and tighter, and Sam suddenly remembers Dean's weirdly unerring sense of direction and realizes that Dean probably already knew that they were headed for Lawrence.
When Sam pulls up in front of Missouri's house, Dean just closes his eyes briefly like he's praying for patience, then follows Sam up to her door. Sam knocks, just to be polite, he supposes, and smiles when she answers the door.
"Sam, sugar!" she says in that high, sweet tone that soothed him the minute he heard it. "Let me look at you." She reaches up to touch his chin, clucking over the injuries that still litter his face. Dean stands stiffly beside him, practically radiating "hands off" vibes that Missouri heeds. They follow her silently inside.
She motions them to the couch and sits across from them, waiting with patient eyes. "Missouri," Sam starts, turning toward his brother to include him too, "we're looking for Dad again." He pauses, wonders how much she already knows, then decides it might be best to proceed as if she doesn't know any of it. "We were all in a hospital when the Demon possessed him again, and we haven't seen him since. Do you . . . can you tell us where he is? If the Demon's still got him?"
She sighs, sorrow and pity all bundled up in a single long breath. "I can't locate like that, Sam. And I'd need to be in your father's presence to know if he was himself." She drops a hand to Dean's knee, and Sam tenses, watching the muscles of Dean's leg jump. Dean's deliberately not meeting her gaze. "I'm sorry, honey. I know you want to see him real bad."
He's startled when Dean lashes out. "Oh, now I'm 'honey'? Last time I was just the stupid little whipping boy but now you've decided I'm not completely useless after all?"
The words pour out of Dean's wounded throat like bile, and Sam wonders how long they've been brewing. "Fucking useless," Dean mutters, tearing the keys from Sam's hand and stalking out.
He spares Missouri's shocked face one glance and an apologetic smile, then tears off after his brother. "Dean!" he calls, honestly unsure about whether Dean would leave him here.
Dean waits until he's situated himself in the passenger seat before taking off. "Where are we going?" Sam asks quietly.
"Find a motel," Dean says, clipped and hurt. "Not going to make a target of her in case the Demon comes sniffing around again."
Sam can't think of anything to say to that; he sits in silence and watches their hometown pass by in a blur of green and brown.
It's getting harder to hold on to the image of Thomas Graeblowski lying with his dead eyes open in that alleyway; her memory of him is decomposing as quickly as his body. All she can think about is Riley, her and Riley, and Lucky and Sam. That entire endless night is clear in her mind, even if some of the pieces still don't make a lot of sense.
The conversation Sam and Lucky had had, about "usual playmates" and the Benders' proclivities, was definitely edited for her ears, but the familiarity of it, the ease of their communication, still shone through. There had been not a doubt in their minds, once they saw each other, that they were going to prevail.
She could use a shot of positive thinking herself.
She looks up from her book when Barry calls her name to let her know her car's ready. She eats lunch at the nice place on Orchard, sitting near the fireplace with only her book for company. When she gets home, she goes through her CDs and picks out good driving music for herself; this trip isn't a punishment or even a necessity, and she's determined to enjoy it.
In the morning she gets up and dresses in jeans, boots, and a couple of shirts. Her badge goes in her shoulder bag, but her gun stays on her, hidden by the fall of her flannel shirt and thick cloth jacket.
There's a motel right on the cusp of the residential and business districts, and Dean pulls in there after ten minutes of steady driving. He looks tired again, and Sam feels a pang at how much Dean pushes himself even when he doesn't have to, when the better thing to do would be to rest and recuperate.
He lets Dean go to the front desk and get a key while he tries to juggle the food that won't keep longer than a day and a couple of the books he'd chosen from Caleb's selection. He puts the books down, swings their duffels over his left shoulder, and grabs more food; he'll come back out after they've eaten to get the laptop and the books. Dean rounds the corner and points with his chin to the room at the end of the row, number 12; he scrapes the key against the door before managing to slot it into the lock, and the door finally opens.
The room is a lot tamer than usual, and Sam's suspicion that his brother looks up bizarre places to stay before they head to a town escalates. This place is a dull mustard color, with brown curtains and dark but scarred wooden furniture. It might have looked warm and homey when it was new, and it honestly doesn't look that bad now.
Sam dumps the food in the middle of one bed and settles himself at the foot. Dean eyes him for a moment before coming over to sit, his back propped up against the headboard. Dean reaches for a triple-decker sandwich wrapped in wax paper and Sam relaxes and begins to eat.
Dean's snoring quietly and Sam is fighting off his own food coma – not a term he wants to use anymore, actually – as best he can. Moving will just wake Dean up, so he reaches for the remote and turns the TV on.
It flickers off and on a few times, and he turns his head to look out the window. There's lightning flashing outside, but no rain is falling. Figuring he should get out to the car before it does start to pour, he ends up making a few trips to bring the books and laptop in; by then Dean is sitting up and rubbing at his eyes.
"Bring the rest of the stuff, would you?" Dean mumbles, blinking tiredly, and Sam takes heart at the casual tone.
"Sure thing," he says, and brings in all of the weapons, cleaning out the car completely. Dean grabs one of the bottles of water when it hits the bed, gulping down half of it. Sam asks, "Coffee?" as a peace offering, and Dean smiles up at him.
He's glad to see that the heater's clicked on when he gets back. "Dude, it's freezing out there," he says. Dean looks up from the gun he's cleaning and nods. "Man, I'm just glad the rain held off." He hands Dean the extra-jumbo cup of coffee, watching him remove the plastic lid and pour about a quarter of it straight down his throat. Dean sighs contentedly and wipes his hands, then reaches for the bag of homemade cookies Eve packed for them, lying just beyond the row of guns laid out in front of him.
Sam smiles to himself and sips his own coffee. He sits on the other bed and opens the newspaper he bought. The big story seems to be the weather; no one at the Dunkin Donuts could stop talking about it. Wildly fluctuating temperatures and freak lightning flashes for the last few days were throwing everyone off. Some people seem to be linking the lightning to all the dead livestock, but the corpses had revealed no such connection. Sam drops the paper in shock. "Dean," he says, "the Demon's coming here."
"You gotta call Missouri," Dean says; "warn her. Tell her to get out of here."
Sam picks up his phone but then has to scrabble through the journal to find her phone number. Dean is frowning, waiting for his own call to connect. "Bobby," Sam hears him say before he finds Missouri's number staring up at him from the grimy page.
Missouri's voice is thin and frightened, but she refuses flat-out to go anywhere. "Not if I can be of any help, sugar," she says defiantly, and he's simultaneously touched and frustrated. Missouri could escape; she doesn't need to declare her allegiance.
He tries again to warn her off, but she stands firm. "Demon don't care about me, baby," she says; "won't bother with small fry like me. But if I can help y'all out, I will, you understand me?"
"Yes, ma'am," he murmurs, disconnecting and looking up to see Dean smiling as he snaps his phone shut.
"I got an idea, okay?" Dean waves off his questions. "Just let me sleep on it."
"You think the Demon will still be in Dad?"
Dean's face goes grim. "I hope not. Who knows what it could do to him from the inside. Hey, when the Demon left Dad – in the cabin, I mean – did you see it go?"
"Yeah," Sam says, uncomprehending. "Yeah, I saw it go . . . kinda between the floorboards," he recalls after a moment.
Dean gets his grin back. "That's what I thought. So not out the window or through the door?"
"No." He feels disconcertingly slow. "What does that matter?"
"The Demon didn't get out any places where we'd laid down salt. Salt still works."
"But holy water didn't."
"I'm talkin' about the oldest and best defense, Sammy."
He doesn't want to bring Dean down, but this is their lives they're talking about. "Salt's not going to be enough, Dean."
"No." Dean's smile hasn't dimmed. "But it might be enough of a step one."
Kathleen expected an easy drive, and until she hits Lawrence, it pretty much is. Clear and crisp and bright, the day is perfect for driving, singing, and air-drumming when there's no one else on the road, but never at a stoplight in case there's a traffic cam; no one needs to see how ready she is for Spinal Tap.
Ten miles outside Lawrence the air starts crackling, and she notices an odd stench in the air. Not skunks, not paving tar. More like the stink of roadkill, but she hasn't seen a single dead animal on her way into the city.
She gets turned around a few times – too many roads with the same name, Laurel Avenue turning into Laurel Street, intersecting with Laurel Road – but she finds the police station eventually, and then, just a few blocks down, a diner she'd bet her life caters mostly to cops. She slides into a booth and waits for someone looking to talk.
She gets lucky with Ted, old enough to have been on the force twenty years ago, high enough up that he's not worried about clocking in after a long, late lunch. He remembers the Winchesters, he says, and tells her about a fire that started in the baby's room and how everyone but the wife got out. "Husband had to have done it," Ted says, "but hell if we could figure out why." He swallows the dregs in his coffee cup. "Packed up the kids and left town."
"Couple weeks, maybe." His sharp blue eyes are searching the diner.
"Was there an investigation?"
Ted smiles at the bleached-blonde waitress topping off his coffee. "Yeah, but it didn't go anywhere. Guy was damn clever, and hid real good too."
She remembers Lucky's words about pulling Sam from a fire. Nothing here is adding up. No mention has been made about the older boy, Dean, the one who went on a murderous rampage in St. Louis.
"Figured the guy buckled the kids up in that car – was a real beauty – and took off like a bat out of hell." Ted's drained his cup dry again.
The waitress heads back to their table with a full pot. "What kind of car?"
"Big, black gas-guzzler. Guy was a mechanic, knew his stuff."
Remembering Lucky's ride, gleaming like a hearse, she nods to get a refill of her own cup.
It's dark and there's lightning flashing threateningly by the time she finally gets free from Ted, who clearly loves having a new audience for his old stories.
Kathleen stops at the cash register on her way out. "Is there a motel nearby?" she asks, unwrapping a mint from the dish.
"Yeah, hon," the waitress says. "Just get back onto Laurel, heading south. You can't miss it."
When she finally finds it, there's no shiny black car in the parking lot. She takes a wild leap anyway and shows the woman behind the counter Sam's picture, but nothing clicks. When she describes Lucky, though, the woman's eyes gleam with recognition. "Sounds like the guy in 12," she says after inspecting Kathleen's badge. "But I don't want any trouble here."
"No trouble," Kathleen assures her. "Just need to ask a couple of questions."
He gets up to answer the door, expecting to see Missouri standing there, fists on her hips. His mouth falls open when he realizes who it is. "Officer," he says, hearing Dean glide up silently behind him. "What can I do for you?"
"Hi, Sam," she says, smiling up at him. "Mind if I come in for a moment?" He wishes Dean would give him a sign, but if there's one being sent, he's not catching it.
He takes a breath and swings the door open. "Sure."
At least the room looks relatively normal. The weapons are all out of sight, though the smell of Dean's gun oil lingers, its sharpness cutting through the sweet aroma of Eve's baking. He looks down and sees his photograph in her hand. "What's that?" he blurts.
She looks over at Dean with a friendly nod. "He gave it to me, when we were looking for you, back in Minnesota."
He looks over at his brother. "Dean, you carry around a picture of me?"
He's expecting some sarcastic response, but Dean growls, "Shut up, Sammy," and the cop – what was her name? Katherine? – goes stiff.
"You're Dean Winchester?" she asks, and Sam begins to panic.
"Kathleen," Dean says, his hands up in a hang-on-a-minute gesture. "Kathleen, please listen to me. I am Dean Winchester. The cops in St. Louis got the wrong guy." Dean's letting his eyes do most of the talking. "You've got no reason not to trust me, right?"
"You impersonated an officer."
"To get my brother back." Dean's response is immediate and it works.
"Okay," Kathleen says, standing down, taking a seat on the near bed.
"Kathleen, what are you doing here?" Sam asks finally.
She looks up at him and nods slowly. "Looking for you, actually. Got a hell of a weird case, and your fingerprints were found in the vicinity."
Sam shakes his head. "We haven't been back to Minnesota" – he clears his throat, thinking of Pastor Jim bleeding to death in his own church – "since then."
"No, I transferred. I work out of Jefferson City now. Body of a white male found in an alleyway. No motive, no reason for him to have been in Jefferson City; I was hoping you might know something about it."
Sam feels his spine stiffen and can sense Dean's doing the same. He turns to look at his brother, who fixes his eyes on Kathleen and warns her she'll find it hard to believe him, then proceeds to explain about the Demon and his children and why he killed the man in the alley.
Sam takes it as a good sign that Kathleen doesn't run screaming.
"Sulfur," Kathleen says again, her tone more considering than disbelieving. Sam wonders how many things must be clicking into place for her. "Black eyes." Dean nods.
"And the gun?" Her eyes widen when Sam pulls it out of Dean's duffel and hands it over. "It's beautiful," she says softly, holding it up to the light to read the words engraved on the barrel. "Non timebo mala."
"I will fear no evil," he translates for her.
"What does the inscription on the bullet mean?"
He's shocked that Dean doesn't look more surprised; Sam's never heard of any inscription on the Colt's bullets. "What did your guys come up with?" Dean asks instead of answering.
Kathleen says something about the trinity, three lives all bound up together, and Dean grins and says, "That's pretty much what we got, too," like they're all comparing math homework. Sam wonders if maybe Dean really does have this all locked down, but that seems too good to be true.
Just then, Sam's body goes cold, then hot, then numb. The words of the part of the Rituale Romanum that he committed to memory at Dean's insistence are jumbled up in his head. "Sammy?" he hears, feels Dean's hands – still strong, somehow – gripping his shoulders. There's a pull in his gut, just behind his navel, jerking him forward, while his limbs flail, trying to stay put; his head doesn't know which way to go. His heart, meanwhile, feels like it's being ripped out. "Sammy!" he hears again, as if from a great distance, and he opens his mouth to shout back at Dean and ask for a lifeline but the darkness overcomes everything.
Sam comes back around to hear Dean trying to get Kathleen to leave while rousing him gently. "Sammy, come on, wake up." Dean's voice is hoarse, like he's been pleading for hours. "Kathleen, please, you have to go. I can't . . . you'll only get in the way. Sammy, come on, brat. Rise and shine."
He opens his eyes a crack and sees Dean's pale face. "Vision?" Dean asks as Sam struggles to sit up.
"Yeah," Sam breathes, gulping down the water Kathleen hands him. "Demon. Dad. Tomorrow night." He turns to Kathleen. "Thank you."
Something about his exhaustion convinces her when Dean's frantic words couldn't. She lets herself out and Dean's eyes roll back in his head.
He's crying as he digs, big, messy sobs that should incapacitate him because no air is coming in, but his body keeps moving quickly along. Mary, Mary, I'm sorry is all John can think, while the Demon uses his hands and his body's muscle memory to pull up the soil covering the fragments of her body. The earth is rich and fragrant, and it would turn his stomach, but he's not the one in control of his organs anymore. He's crying as he digs, big, messy sobs that should incapacitate him because no air is coming in, but his body keeps moving quickly along. is all John can think, while the Demon uses his hands and his body's muscle memory to pull up the soil covering the fragments of her body. The earth is rich and fragrant, and it would turn his stomach, but he's not the one in control of his organs anymore.
What's the matter, Johnny? Don't you like your new home? It's his own grave he's digging, then, not just exhuming her. That doesn't sound bad at all, a little rest, close to her forever. There's a shift as his body stops digging, stands upright, and holds one hand out, palm up. Even got you a little housewarming present. John watches in horror as something the size of his fist rests heavily on his hand, then falls into the open grave. Mary's heart. He couldn't protect her even from that final desecration. Don't need to hang on to this old thing any longer, but it might spruce up your new place. John wants, more than he wants to die or to throw up everything he's ever eaten, to wipe his brain clean of that image, that voice. He knows he'll never be able to do it.
He tries to think about how tall and strong his boys would stay in the face of this. He holds on to that idea as tightly as he can.
They're there in the graveyard, stealing out of the darkness like his longing for them brought them to him, Dean supporting Sam, or maybe it's the other way around, because they both look exhausted and hurt and the evil thing inside him starts to laugh at these little tin soldiers, look at them, so determined. It's kinda cute. John hopes they brought the Colt, that they can now see their way clear to killing the Demon, no matter where it hides and how it toys with them. Oh, Johnny, didn't you hear? That last bullet went into a vampire. Not a very pretty vampire either. Nothing like our beautiful Mary. He knows by now when it's telling the truth and he realizes that it picked this moment for a showdown precisely because their last weapon is useless; he's put all his faith in the Colt and come up with no Plan B. Told you I'd squash them, Jack. Is it just me or do they look halfway dead already?
John can feel the Demon, curious but unconcerned, watching his boys, Dean whispering something to Sammy. Not too late to make a deal, boys it sings out, forcing his voice to a jolly, horrible heartiness. Sam, you come with me, and we'll leave Dean to keel over whenever he likes. Won't lay a finger on him. They ignore him and Sam closes his eyes while Dean pulls out the Colt. It laughs again, doubling him over with its glee, wiping at his eyes. An empty gun's not a real effective weapon, Dean. That all you can muster? Its laughter echoes dementedly.
John feels a surge of triumph when it stops laughing and he opens his eyes to see the crude circle of salt laid down around his feet, Dean shaking his fingers to get the last of it off. I'm inside your daddy, Dean; you know a little salt won't stop him from going anywhere he likes.
Dean just smiles, hard and angry, and John finally hears Sam's voice, low and relentless, intoning the ritual that will force the Demon out of him and into its own corporeal form. His boys have made the wrong move, trying too hard to save him instead of figuring out how to kill the Demon, and John closes his eyes again, this time in defeat.
John can hear his voice spouting filth, trying to distract Sam, but the boy is as implacable as ever, staying on target despite sweating and shaking like a snake-handling preacher, while Dean watches all of them and keeps his hand on the Colt. When it happens, it should feel like a relief, a return to the natural order of things, getting the Demon out, but instead it's as if the huge, clumsy staples that have been holding him together have all snapped under pressure and his lifeblood is flooding out. There's a moment of sheer terror when he's alone in the circle of salt, his knees locked while waiting for black sulfuric dust to stop rising from the ground as if the Demon is and always has been all around them, and then he feels himself shattering into innumerable pieces and begins to fall.
Before he hits the ground, before his body contaminates the ring of shining white salt, John feels a hand on his good arm. There's a woman there, speaking to him in a low, soothing tone, bearing his weight as he pitches forward, away from the darkness swirling into solidity. He focuses on her eyes – they look as bright as a shapeshifter's – and lets her lead him out of the circle.
"Boys," he gasps, now that his voice is his own again. John knows the woman hears him from the way she slows to a halt and turns so that he can see the showdown taking place over Mary's open grave. Sam's silent now that the ritual is done; he's dropped to his knees and is scrabbling at the ground like he needs purchase to keep from vaulting across the grave to get to the Demon's side.
Dean moves forward until Sam is huddled between his wide-spread feet. Dean's hand, holding the Colt, is steady, though the rest of his body is trembling. Sam's head jerks up as though he's being called, and the yearning on his face is terrible. John can see Dean squeeze Sam a little more tightly with his legs while he chews his lower lip into a bloody mess.
The moment the swirl of thick black dust becomes solid, Dean fires.
The shot is silent, just as it had been when he'd fired at the vampire, and John figures he must be going deaf because no replacement bullet could slide so smoothly out of that elegant barrel. His eyes are bleeding now, as light of every color and unbearable brightness flashes out from the point of the bullet; this is what he expected Samuel Colt's handiwork to look like, but that's impossible. The Demon's scream echoes throughout him like all of his bones have gone hollow, and he watches as best he can while the Demon shimmers like an oil spill against the dark sky, collapsing in a filthy heap. Both his boys seem to deflate, sunk low on knees and forearms, and he fights against the woman's hands, holding him still when he needs to touch them, make sure they're still alive. Even with her help, it takes an eternity to make his way to his sons, and they aren't moving.
A hand on each boy's back, rib cages shuddering uneasily beneath, gives John the strength to kick salt onto the Demon's remains and light the ugly mound, the silver splat of the used slug lying on top. The fire burns quick and bright, extinguishing itself the moment there's nothing left but scorched earth. He's all set to collapse when the woman gets her arms around him again, urgency making her rough, and marches him to her car, propping him up in the front seat. Through the windshield he can see Caleb's beat-to-shit Mustang, then the woman doing her best to support first Sam, then Dean, and push them into the backseat. He hears her call them by name and closes his eyes, allowing himself to believe that maybe it really is all over.
The Winchesters are big men, all three, but after years of wrangling her brother, drunk and loose-limbed, Kathleen knows how to manage them. Seems like she can't help tangling memories of Riley up with thoughts about Sam and Dean; it hurts less than she thought it would, maybe because they're the ones who helped her put him to rest.
She gets Sam out of the car first, trying to be gentle. She gets him into one of the queen-size beds and goes back out to deal with his brother. Before she can lay Dean out on the other bed, Sam – not quite conscious by the looks of him – calls for his brother. It makes more sense to put them together than to separate them and put the father in the spare bed in her room – easier to keep an eye on all of them, each breathing like he's sucking in his last gasps of oxygen. They quiet down once they're all in the room, and Kathleen's amazed at how closely bound together they are.
The boy at the counter of the motel office smiles as he swipes Kathleen's credit card to cover both rooms for another day. She makes a quick detour to her dingy room to shower and brush her teeth, then lets herself back into the Winchesters' equally ugly room.
Sam is just getting out of the bathroom, and he gives her a big grin. "Sam!" she says, shocked at how healthy and strong he looks, a far cry from what she saw yesterday.
"Hey, Kathleen. Thanks for getting us out of there." He sits at the small card table and looks up at her.
She sinks into the other chair. "What . . . happened out there?" It bursts out of her mouth before she can stop it.
"I'm trying to piece that together too," he says, looking so serious she knows he's being honest. "You saw – I mean, you know that I have visions. Always related to the Demon. So I saw that it had Dad, and that they'd be near Mom's grave last night." He pauses for a moment, his head cocked to the side. "I wonder if I'll still have the visions now."
He's not answering the most important question. "So it's really gone?"
Sam smiles the smile of the first kid up on Christmas morning. "They wouldn't be sleeping like this if it wasn't. I want them to sleep for a week."
Sam looks lost in thought for a long moment, and Kathleen lets him savor the sight of his father and brother sleeping deeply. Something seems to click in his brain and he turns back to her. "What was that you were telling Dean about an inscription on the bullet?"
"Oh! Dawes – the ballistics expert – found it. Said it was Latin. Something about a trinity of lives." It's hard to remember, given the pyrotechnics she's witnessed and the revelation that demons walk the earth.
Sam frowns. "I still don't get it. Even if he used the bullet from Dad's leg, how could Dean have known it would work?" He gives his brother a long, speculative look, then ruffles through a bag, coming up with a leather journal stuffed full of newspaper clippings and sticky notes. Holding the book on his lap, he flips to the end and reads for a minute before crowing with glee.
He puts the journal on the table and spins it toward her so she can read the writing on the page. "SC Journal (Bobby)" she sees at the top, then a string of Latin she's got no hope of deciphering. Sam's watching her, waiting for her to get it before remembering that she can't read the words in front of her.
"It's a riddle!" he says, and again she's amazed at how much younger he seems now than he had even two days ago. "It's from Samuel Colt's journal; he made this gun to kill demons and inscribed each bullet with this text. It says what Dawes told you, that each bullet was destined to take three lives – in heaven, earth, and hell – but that it would only fulfill its destiny and be spent when there was a trinity behind it too, three lives all intent on killing whatever it was that needed to be killed."
It takes her a while to start to untwist that logic. "So that's why the bullet we pulled out of Graeblowski" – Sam gives her a puzzled look – "the Demon's kid, the one in the alley, looked brand new? Because only Dean fired?" That still makes no sense.
"Kind of. But Graeblowski didn't have three lives to lose. He had his here, on earth, and the demon inside him had one, in hell, but that's it. The Demon we killed last night – it was older than that. It was around when heaven and hell were still being divided." Sam looks earnestly at her, then shrugs a little. "Well, Dean's always been good with puzzles like this. He must have used the bullet the hospital pulled out of Dad, because that one had taken no lives at all before."
"So the Graeblowski bullet– that's still got one kill in it?"
"I think so. It shouldn't have been used on a human," Sam says solemnly. "But the Demon's kid was going to kill me, and Dean couldn't stop him any other way."
Kathleen remembers what that rage feels like, can still feel the twitch of her muscles just after she pulled the trigger on Abraham Bender. "I take that bullet out of the evidence room and get it to you, that means one less demon walking the earth?"
"Yeah." He smiles like they've been bargaining for days and just come to a truce.
"It'll take a little while," she warns. Curran won't want to give up his perfect record and he'll stew over every piece of evidence for weeks.
Sam's smile widens and she gets a peek at dimples that should really be outlawed. "This would be the best way to reach us," he says, scribbling on a blank page of the journal, ripping it out and handing it to her. There's a Lincoln, Nebraska address on it and a California phone number underneath. "We'll be around," he says like a promise.
He gets up to put the journal back in the duffel bag against the wall and digs around in it for a moment, coming up with a big paper bag that smells pretty damn good. "Want some cookies?" he asks. "We've got plenty."
She thinks back to milk and cookies with Riley, his little legs swinging happily, and smiles up at Sam. "Yeah," she says, and reaches for one, chocolate-chocolate chip, and closes her eyes in delight.