Notes: -This features Dog of 'Flies to Gather' fame. You really don't need to read that though. He's explained. Sam needed a Toto.
-My thanks to Tidia for betaing. I picked at it though, so mistakes are mine.
-The Wizard of Oz belongs to L. Frank Baum. Sam and Dean belong to Mr. Kripke.
Now Leaving Kansas
"If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with." –Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
Sam is reading when it starts to thunder. Huddled up alone in the motel room, he looks up as the air conditioner kicks on and waits for the pinging of rain on the awning outside. It doesn't come.
Dean just drove over to the convenient store up the road to get a few things they need, so Sam grabs his cell phone and dials.
Dean answers on the second ring. "Yeah?"
"It's going to rain," Sam drawls plainly, one finger stuck between the pages of his book. He glances toward the window, but the heavy curtains are closed. Dean had shut them early that morning against what had been a blindingly sunny day.
"No kidding," Dean snaps, brisk and rough. "Just turn on the radio and stay inside. I'm almost there."
"Oookay." Sam glances toward the curtained window again. It's not what he was expecting, such coldness, an order, but Dean's already hung up. Another roll of thunder rattles the windowpanes as Sam reaches over to flip on the radio.
He turns the volume up and then, as he's sitting back against the pillows, the lights flicker.
On and off again, a strobe light-like effect on the aluminum radio and white skin of his palm.
Simon and Garfunkel sift through the radio, staticy and weak, fading in and out."I am leaving…I am leaving…I am leaving…"
Sam's off the bed in one smooth motion and digging through the duffel bag for a weapon. He yanks the shotgun out, catches it on the shoulder strap, nerves creeping into his hands. A prickling finger runs down the back of his neck.
He loads the gun as he crosses the room to the window and pushes the curtains back with the muzzle.
The motel sits just off the highway in a little row of buildings, a restaurant, a store, and the post office. They all face west, out across a vast prairie. The grass waves, shades of green rippling across the land. The sky has turned a sickly yellow-green. It's begun to rain now, large, solid drops, intermixed with pebbles of hail. A gust of wind whirls paper and litter high over the motel's roof.
Sam's seen this a few times before. Being constantly on the move helped them avoid some of the worst weather, but sometimes it wasn't possible.
Feeling a little silly, he unloads the gun and shoves it back in the bag, hopes he can clean it up properly later on without having to explain to Dean why he had it out to begin with.
Sam crosses the room and looks out the window again to see that the sky has turned midnight black and the parking lot is littered with the hail now like a driving range in need of a clean up. The rain is torrential, sheets of water falling from the sky.
And then it stops. It all just stops and in the quiet that sits in the absence of the rain, it takes Sam a moment to realize something else has taken its place. It's deep and low and far-off, a rumbling roar, like a stampede or a freight train in the distance.
Dean is just pulling into a parking space. Sam darts over to open the door for him. He gets it unlocked and turns the knob before it's ripped from his fingers and torn open. The door bangs into the wall and continues to rattle on its hinges, trying to break free.
Sam takes one step forward onto the stoop and bellows into the wind "Dean!"
Dean ducks and runs, hair pressed flat to his forehead.
Sam sees him coming, thinks they're okay, it's okay. He doesn't see the stray pop can, whipped around by a fierce wind until it cracks him in the forehead and then everything is dark.
When Sam wakes, everything has stilled. There is no hum of air conditioner, no rumble of cars outside, no roll of thunder or rain. It's quiet.
He's flat on his back on the motel bed and he sits up slowly, one hand pressed to his forehead. He glances about the room. "Dean?"
The room is empty. There's a paper grocery bag on the table, Dean's jacket hung on the back of a chair, but no actual brother. The bathroom door is closed though, and at the sound of Sam's voice, a soft scratching comes from behind it.
Sam stands slowly and makes his way to the door. "Dean?" he asks, tapping at the wood with his fingers.
The scratching grows louder and is accompanied by a clicking. Click, click, click like fingernails drummed on a counter top.
Sam grabs the doorknob and finds it unlocked. Slowly, he pushes it open. "Hey, Dean?" He peeks inside and is immediately tackled by a large ball of fur.
Thick paws hit his shoulders, and blunt teeth nip at his chin. Sam ducks his head, tries to find leverage to push the animal off. But, after a few moments, he finds he isn't being attacked at all. The large dog stands above him, front paws on his shoulders, panting happily in his face.
"Dog?" Sam gapes, instantly recognizing the big, scraggly stray they'd kept for a few days when he was a kid. That was over ten years ago. Over ten years since Dog had died in a grassy field in Indiana.
Sam grabs the dog's thick neck and pulls him close, buries his face in his fur and inhales. Popcorn and old straw. That's what he'd always smelled like. Sam sits back, glancing about the room again. "What the hell…"
Gently moving Dog off of him, he stands and crosses the room. The door knob is smooth and cool in his hand and Sam throws it open without preamble.
The motel no longer faces the highway and open prairie. It's set down in a wide courtyard of sandstone and surrounded by small, weather-beaten gray cottages, the likes of which they've seen on the east coast shore towns. The sky is clear and cast in the soft orange light of dawn.
Dog trounces about, but doesn't stray far and Sam fixes him with a disparaging stare. "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
Dog yelps happily in response.
"Yeah. Right." Sam shuffles a little ways around the courtyard, glancing between each house. A short, white gate stands at the entrance to the yard and beyond the sandstone of the courtyard narrows to a path that winds far out into open land and forest.
Sam considers knocking on a door, but then just shrugs and opens his mouth. "Dean?" he calls deeply. "Dean?"
A door squeaks open behind him. "Shh," a voice stage whispers across the courtyard. "You've scared them plenty already."
Sam turns as Dog barks and takes off, tail wagging slowly.
Missouri stands there, dressed in overcoat and high heels, a red scarf tied around her hair. Dog dances beside her, sniffing at her hands.
"Missouri?" Sam gapes. "What's going on? Where's Dean? Who's scared?"
"One question at a time, child," Missouri coos, patting Dog softly on the head.
Deftly, Sam points at the animal. "How in the hell--"
"I can't answer that one," Missouri interrupts.
"Okay." Sam takes a deep breath, glancing about the tiny houses. "Where are we?"
Missouri smiles slowly. "Welcome to Oz, Sam."
"Oz? Oz, as in Osbourne?"
"You have been spending entirely too much time with that brother of yours and, no." She pauses. "I don't know where he is."
Sam nods, moving past that for the moment. "How--"
Missouri holds up a hand. "Not here. We need to go inside. Somewhere safe."
"Safe from what?"
"You don't realize what you've done, do you?" Missouri shakes her head and motions Sam toward the motel. "There." She points, leather purse swinging from her wrist.
Two booted feet stick out from under the side of the motel.
"Your motel landed on the demon's daughter, Sam. Killed her. It's good work," Missouri concedes. "They've been after her for awhile, but that demon is for sure going to be on your tail now."
"I-I didn't even do anything."
"Sam," Missouri chides. "You should be proud to take the credit for this. But you also need to prepare yourself. Understand?"
"No…" Sam shakes his head slowly. Missouri opens her mouth to respond and then stops.
One by one, the lights in each house begin to flicker off. Through the windows, Sam can see pale hands frantically pulling curtains closed.
Missouri tugs at his arm. "It's coming."
A flare of fire shoots up from the ground just outside the courtyard gate. It rises higher and larger, bright orange and the size of a small bonfire. From within the flames, a distinct black shadow of a man emerges.
Sam lifts his chin. "The demon…"
"It can't reach us here," Missouri whispers fiercely, her fingers tightening on Sam's arm.
Sam steps forward, at a loss. Dog has hunkered down behind them, tail tucked between his legs.
"You can't have it," Missouri says sternly, focusing on the shadow. Her eyes flicker to Sam's and then to the legs of the demon's daughter. "The Colt, Sam. She has it. Get it, Sam. Hurry."
Sam glances between them, still unsure, but he knows a command when he hears one. He kneels by the side of the motel and tugs up the demon's pants legs to reveal tall boots and candy cane striped socks. His eyes widen at the sight of the Colt, the long barrel tucked into her boot.
This is it. This is his chance. He pulls the gun free, stands and turns, levels it in the demon's direction.
But the demon knows. He sees. The flames are rapidly disappearing and the shadow with them, but Sam has one fleeting glimpse of the shadow man poised, one arm extended, thin fingers pointing directly at him. And then he's gone in a flash of smoke.
Slowly, Sam lowers the gun and turns to Missouri. "I need to find Dean," he says carefully. "And then I need to kill that thing."
"I can't help you with that," Missouri replies evenly.
Sam scowls. "Well, then what--"
"But I know someone who definitely can." Missouri smiles. "Another hunter, Sam, a good one. If anyone can help you with this…" Her eyes trail over to the feet beneath the motel. "It'll be him."
"Who is it?"
Missouri peers at Sam, looking deep in a way that makes him itch and fidget. "I'm not sure you know him very well," she responds slowly. "He's gone by many names, but you'll find him under the title of Henry Gale. If anyone can help you find your brother and especially to kill this demon, he can."
Sam shrugs and straightens his shoulders. "So, where is this guy?"
"Truth or Consequences."
"Oz, Sam." Missouri clucks her tongue. "For God's sake."
"Fine. Okay." He'll bite. Sam tucks the Colt into the back of his jeans and pulls his t-shirt over it. "T or C, Oz. How do I get there?"
Missouri nods toward the sandstone path outside the gate, where it winds away through fields and forest. "Just follow the path."
"Just follow the path," Sam mutters to Dog. "No problem." They'd been walking for a while now over the rough slabs of stone. Sam used to think there was nothing worse than the monotony of driving past miles and miles of cornfields, until now, that is. Walking, it turns out, is even worse, everything passing by at just a crisp two miles per hour.
Sam jerks to a stop and Dog barks, trampling into the field on their left. Turning, Sam sees a tall wooden post sticking up out of the corn stalks just a little ways into the field. There's the rustling of stalks and then, "Get away from me, you mutt. Sam! Is that you?"
"Uh…yeah?" Cautiously, Sam ducks into the field, pushing leaves out of his way. He comes upon the post and a man tied securely to it, head down, trying to wiggle away from Dog's nose. If not the colorful language, the baseball cap, camo vest, and scruffy mustache are a dead giveaway.
Bobby looks up and smiles. "Sam. Good to see you. Got a knife handy?" He tugs on the ropes that hold him.
"Bobby." Sam shakes his head and laughs. "No, no knife. Lemme see." He steps over to pick at the knots. "What happened?"
"Norse God of Harvest. Got the best of me. I would've had him, too, but the danged matches got wet."
Sam tugs at the rope, loosening the last knot. "How'd you get here?"
Bobby gives him a funny look. "Norse God of Harvest," he repeats slowly.
"No, I mean here…Oz. How did you get here?"
"Oh." Bobby shrugs off the last of the ropes and rolls his shoulders. "Just came out hunting. Took the pick-up."
"Right." Sam nods. "The pick-up."
"You drove here?"
"In the truck." Bobby nods, eyes wide. "You okay there, Sam?"
"Yeah, yeah." Sam shakes his head. "Hey, you haven't seen Dean by any chance, have you?"
"Can't say that I have. Not for a while anyway. He gone missing or something?"
Sam looks away. "Yeah…um, have you ever been to Truth or Consequences?"
Sam closes his eyes, not quite believing what he's saying. "Oz."
"No, I haven't been. I hear there's some good hunters in those parts. Some pretty good demons though, too. That's why I stay away. You ain't thinking of heading over there, are you?"
"Yeah." Sam nods. "I need to find Dean and there's a hunter there, that's supposed to be able to help me."
"Think this guy could help me with my hunt, too?"
Bobby stands there quietly for a moment and then he looks up and smiles tightly. "Well, then. I suppose I can't send you off on your own now, can I?"
Bobby's old pick-up chokes and splutters every time he attempts to shift gears, but doesn't stall and eventually they're moving along at a good clip, bouncing over the rough path. Dog sits between them on the bench seat, front paws on the floor and chin on the dash. Trees and dense forest loom up ahead and there isn't any sort of transition when they come upon them. Surrounded by cornstalks and sunlight one minute and plunged into the hazy green of thick forest the next.
The first thud comes from beneath them and Sam assumes it to be the transmission again, clunking through its paces, but the bang that follows sounds right above his head. Sam ducks instinctively, brings his arms up over his head.
"What in the--" Bobby starts to say but is cut off as a man darts out in front of the truck, arms extended.
Sam puts one arm out to hold Dog in place as the truck swerves and slows, coming to a stop just inches from the man in the road. One final apple lands on the hood, connecting with a dull thud and then all is quiet.
Bobby swings his door open with a curse and stands, staring at the thin man in front of the truck. "What in the…Caleb?"
Sam jerks forward and squints at the man in the road. Wiry, tall and wearing an ever-present black suit coat with jeans, it is Caleb, no doubt. Sam scrambles to open his door. Dog leaps out over him and Sam has to duck again as apples start to fly by his head.
"Stop," Caleb calls again, halting Bobby in his tracks. Dog sits down in the middle of the path and Sam pauses where he sits in the cab. "Enchanted trees," Caleb says, holding himself still and speaking through nearly closed lips, like a ventriloquist. "They only react to movement. It's like…like a security system."
Bobby's eyes shift about the trees. "Whose?"
"Got me." Sam imagines Caleb would shrug if he could. "Someone powerful."
Sam watches the exchange, everything coming into an uncomfortable clarity. "The demon."
Bobby turns and then sidesteps an apple as it shoots by his side. "The demon?"
"I think so." Sam nods minutely. "It's after me, now. More so than usual anyway. I…I killed his daughter."
"That's good work, Sam." Caleb speaks softly, eyes darting left and right.
"Hell yeah, it is." Bobby laughs and then groans as an apple strikes him in the gut.
"And I…" Sam hesitates, not sure how loudly he should speak. "I…I have the Colt."
"Well, holy shit." Bobby shakes his head. "What're we standing here for, then?" He takes a step toward the car. Three more apples whiz by and Bobby freezes.
"That's why," Caleb retorts with a scoff. "Sometimes it's like you've got no brain there, Bob."
"Alright." Bobby sighs roughly. "What's the plan then?"
"We could drive out," Sam suggests from the car. "Apples aren't bullets. You might get a few dents, Bobby, but that's better than bruises."
"Says the man already in the car."
"Okay, on three," Caleb breaths softly. "We go for the car. Sam, you're gonna have to move over."
It's a flurry of movement and curses and thuds and smacks of apples hitting flesh, before they're all piled in and the doors slam in unison.
Bobby throws the car into drive. It stutters and coughs and then jerks forward.
"Away we go," Caleb remarks with a sarcastic grin.
Sam shifts uncomfortably, wondering how, when sandwiched between Bobby and Caleb and with a lap full of Dog, he can still feel so very alone.
They make it out of the forest with only a few dents. The road opens up before them and they all breathe a silent sigh of relief at making it out of the forest, into the sun and open air again.
And then the sharp crack of a gunshot rings through the air. The truck veers wildly as Bobby jumps and swerves. They roll to a stop just outside of the forest on the edge of a vast field of wild flowers.
Bobby curses loudly and slouches down in the driver's seat, while Caleb slides down nearly to the floor, squinted eyes taking in the prairie around them.
Sam leans forward, arms wrapped around Dog, and peers into the weeds. Perfectly normal except for a slight depression just a few feet in, a gap in the flowers just long enough to be a man.
"Bobby." He elbows the man and nods forward. They all quiet, studying the field. Sam knows they see what he sees.
Bobby gestures to the glove box, unable to reach over everyone. "There's a .44 in there, Caleb. Hand it over."
The weapon is exchanged and then both doors creak open, a man dropping out of each side. Bobby makes the first move, swinging around the door and firing into the weeds. It's a deliberately off shot, goes wide to the left, but it does just exactly what Bobby had wanted it to do.
The man leaps out of the flowers, hands raised and stuttering. "D-don't. Don't shoot."
"Oh for cripes sake," Caleb mutters loudly, dropping his tense stance.
"Jim?" Bobby lowers his arms. "What the hell are you doing?"
Sam shakes his head and releases his grip on Dog. As if this day could get any weirder.
Pastor Jim stumbles out onto the path. "I thought—I thought you all were somebody else."
"I should hope so," Caleb snaps.
"You could've killed us," Bobby roars.
"Sorry. I'm sorry. Honestly, you know how it is around here. I wasn't thinking."
Sam scoots out of the truck and steps into the group of men.
Jim's eyes shift over to him. "Sam? My God…"
"Hey." Sam lifts a hand in greeting.
Clad in his black suit and collar, Jim waves back from where he stands in the grass, a rifle in one hand. "I think you got a little taller." He smiles.
"You just got shorter," Caleb remarks.
"Alright." Bobby settles back into the driver's seat. "Whenever you're all done making nice, we can hit the road, huh?"
Jim glances between them. "Where are you headed?"
"Truth or Consequences."
Sam runs a hand over his face and sighs. "Oz."
"Ah." Jim nods. "Not exactly the best area, I have to tell you."
"So, I've heard." Sam glances toward the truck. "But, uh, I'm sort of in some trouble and there's a man there, a hunter. He's supposed to be able to help."
Jim narrows his eyes. "What sort of trouble?"
"Well, I uh, I sort of killed the demon's daughter." Sam shrugs. It doesn't get any easier to say and the weird sense of remorse doesn't go away.
"The demon's daughter?"
Sam presses his lips together and nods.
Jim whistles. "Sweet mother of Mary. And that's not all, is it?"
Sam scratches at the back of his neck. "Uh, no, not really. Sort of lost Dean, too."
"Well." Jim nods. "That is a problem. Never could do anything alone."
Sam frowns, resentment building in his belly until he realizes Jim is talking about Dean just as much as himself. "Yeah, I guess not."
"So, who is it you're going to see?"
Jim pauses in thought. "Sounds familiar. Is he a supplier?"
Jim lifts the weapon away from his side and smiles. "I'm running low. Henry Gale, it is sounding like somebody I've heard of."
"He's supposed to be able to help me find Dean…and you know, kill the demon."
"Sounds like a heck of a hunter. Do you think he could get me some ammo?"
Bobby sticks his head out of the truck. "How about some water proof matches?"
Caleb rolls his eyes. "How about a helmet?"
"Uh…" Sam glances between the three of them. "I…I don't really know. He's supposed to be good…"
Bobby shrugs. "It's worth a shot, especially if it'll get you ladies moving."
Sam follows Jim over to the truck, Dog following behind. Caleb wrenches open the passenger door and then pauses.
"One small problem, I think," Jim says.
Caleb shrugs. "We can just leave the dog."
"Ah, Caleb." Jim sighs. "Have a heart, would you?" He pats the younger man on the shoulder. "You can ride in the back."
Once they're all situated, Bobby in the driver's seat, Dog sprawled over Jim and Sam's laps and Caleb in the bed of the truck, Bobby stomps on the clutch, turns the key…and nothing happens. He tries again, attempting to put the clutch through the floor. The truck whines, makes a chugging noise, and falls silent. Once more, and with the same result.
"Alright." Bobby sighs. "Everybody out."
They all pile out again onto the rough sandstone path. Bobby props the hood up and stands back, assessing the elements inside. Caleb and Jim join him, each offering their opinion.
Dog wanders off into the grassy field and after a moment, Sam follows him. He can see Truth or Consequences in the distance, a great, gray city belching smoke and fog into the blue sky. It doesn't look like any place he'd like to go if given the choice. But if he can find Dean, please alive and okay, please, Sam will go just about anywhere.
He glances back toward the path and the truck, not realizing how far he'd wandered out. The three men's voices can't even be heard anymore.
Dog roams on ahead, the dull grass giving way to thicker and taller wild flowers of all colors, as far as the eye can see. Sam watches the animal, his nose to the ground, on the hunt of something. Dog takes a few more steps and stumbles.
Sam frowns. It's a little weird. The huge animal is typically, surprisingly graceful. He puts a hand up to block the sun from his eyes.
Dog sniffs, snuffles and stumbles again, nearly hitting the dirt before righting himself on newborn colt legs.
"Hey," Sam calls out to him and starts through the grass and flowers between them. "Dog?" The animal lies down quite suddenly, disappearing beneath the brush.
Sam jumps and moves to run, too quickly as a wave of dizziness washes over him. He pauses, puts a hand to his head. Maybe that bump to the head earlier was finally catching up with him. He'd have to have Jim check him out. He takes another few stumbling steps toward Dog, before he's forced to stop again. Another bout of dizziness, more intense than before, and all his limbs feel like lead.
Someone yells, maybe Bobby, it's hard to tell. Sam lifts a lazy arm in acknowledgement. He's okay. He just needs to sit down for a minute, maybe take a nap. He just needs to sit down. He sinks down into the flowers, his knees folding up clumsily.
The grass is a feather bed beneath him and the sunny sky fades away.
Something cold and wet trails across Sam's forehead. The damp line dries quickly in colder air. Sam scrunches his face up, doesn't open his eyes, and swats at the air above him. "Go away, Dean."
He can hear the breaths of someone close to him, very close, practically in his ear, huffing in and out. Dean had many creative ways of waking Sam when he'd fallen asleep in awkward places. A flashlight in the face, a spoon in the mouth, occasionally, a terse shout right in his ear to get the blood going. Yet, he's never attempted to wake Sam simply by breathing at him. It's surprisingly effective in it's simplicity.
Sam swats at the air again. "'M'sleepin' here." But, he's already awake, knows there's no going back to that warm, comfortable spot anymore. And as awareness creeps in, he realizes he isn't in the car at all. Not on a bed or a couch or even a carpeted floor.
Sam opens his eyes and jolts backwards at the hulking, hairy form above him. He blinks and stutters, rubs at his eyes in hopes of clearing them of the shady darkness that surrounds him. He reaches out and runs his palm over the wiry fur of the animal next to him.
"Dog." He sighs and bows his head. Still in Oz, not at home, no Impala, no Dean, no anybody.
Sam glances around the space. It's a small room, stone walls, damp floor, and a single tin bucket in the corner. Soft, evening light streams in from a minute window cut high in one wall. There's a heavy wooden door in the opposite wall, a barred square cut out of it at face level. It looks like a dungeon, Sam thinks, and then, it is a dungeon. He stands and tries pulling at the door, peering out the window, but can't see much of anything.
"We're stuck," he finally says to Dog, who has curled up in a corner. It's what Sam feels like doing, too, the sleepy effects of whatever still heavy in his mind. He slouches back against a wall, shoulder blades flat against the stone. It's comfortable; well, more comfortable than it should be. He moves his shoulders, scratching his back like a bear on a tree when it hits him.
He leans forward and pats at his waistband.
The Colt is gone.
To recap, conked by a twister, lost Dean, accidentally killed demon spawn, found three friends, lost three friends, captured by said demon, completely unarmed and trapped, with only one very large, very skinny dog as company. Excellent. Sam has had worse days.
There's a steady drip of water from a crevice in the ceiling. Steady enough that Sam places the bucket beneath it to catch the drip and keep the little room from forming puddles.
He sits on the cold floor next to Dog, one hand on the animal's back and closes his eyes. Blinks. Comes awake to fierce whispers outside the door and the rattling of the latch.
The bucket has overflowed and the water seeps over the edges and onto the floor in a steadily growing puddle. The hems of Sam's jeans are wet, icy against his legs when he stands.
The whispers grow louder, more urgent. It sounds almost like an argument. Sam creeps toward the door, one hand reaching for it when the latch snaps and the heavy wood groans as it's shouldered open.
"The door is old. What do you want me to do?"
Sam frowns at the troupe of rescuers. "Uh…" He clears his throat.
Bobby and Caleb look up from their argument over the door.
"Sam." Bobby grins. "Good to see you."
"Alive and well," Caleb remarks whimsically.
"Yeah." Sam nods. He pauses, waiting for someone to ask him if he's okay, to call him Sammy, or to grab his shoulders and shake him a little to make sure he's really there. He doesn't feel really there. He shrugs his shoulders, up and down to loosen them. "We need to get out of here. Where's--"
"Jim?" Caleb interrupts. "Waiting in the truck. Driving so we can make a quick get away."
"More like hiding."
"Can't say I blame him."
"Today?" Sam asks, raising his eyebrows.
Caleb nods and backs out of the doorway, narrow eyes taking in the hallway.
Bobby takes a step back and motions into the room. "You gettin' your mutt?"
Sam glances back to see Dog still curled up asleep in the corner. Not much of a watchdog, apparently. Sam pats his leg and calls him. Dog lumbers to his feet.
"Okay. Let's—" Sam turns toward the door and freezes at the sound of fire. Like a small explosion, flames erupt in the hallway just outside the door.
Caleb and Bobby jump back on either side of the concentrated flames.
The fire grows, taller and wider, effectively separating them and trapping Sam in the room. When the doorway is full, a square of blinding, white and orange flames, a shadow appears in the center of it. It grows and solidifies into the shape of a man, standing within the flames.
"SAM!" Bobby yells from the other side of the fire. There's a strangled shout from Caleb.
Sam bounces on his feet, one hand tapping an insane rhythm on his thigh. Trapped, no weapon, no nothing, how do you beat a demon of fire?
Sam scoops up the bucket of drip water and heaves it at the demon in a fit of desperation. It's not enough. It's not going to be enough. Sam stumbles back against the far wall, watching with wide eyes.
The fire splutters and hisses, more smoke than flame, and then it dies altogether.
There, left standing in the hall is just a man. Not even a man, but a shadow of a man, semi-transparent and wispy, weak.
What is a fire demon without his fire?
The shadows fall to the floor, dissipating and fading to nothing.
Sam heaves a breath and struggles to form words in his cotton-dry mouth.
Caleb and Bobby appear in the doorframe, faces shined with sweat.
"Was that," Sam stutters. "Is that it?"
Caleb nods and turns to look at the charred black circle on the floor.
Bobby frowns and gives Sam a bemused look. "But, that was easy."
Henry Gale lives in the center of Truth or Consequences, behind a tall fence topped with barbed wire. Behind the fence is a deep yard of junk, piles of broken machinery and appliances. A few rusted out cars sit amongst the heaps.
The house itself is not a house at all, but a small utility shed, wired up for electricity and water. A sign on the door reads 'Please knock between the hours of nine and five' in faded black marker.
Sam glances at his watch. It's late. Later than five.
Beside him, Bobby shrugs. "Guess that means we just don't have to knock." He reaches for the rusted doorknob, but before he can touch it, the door pops open a few inches, held taut by the lock chain. A pair of wide, shining green eyes peer out at them, grazing over each man and the dog individually. Finally, they settle on Sam. "It's later than five. You'll have to wait for tomorrow." It's voice is high and weird, skipping over consonants and hanging onto the vowels.
"Right. Sorry." Sam inches closer to the door. "It's just that we were hoping to find Henry Gale and we were told--"
"Told by whom?" the eyes and voice interrupts.
"Um." Sam shifts nervously. "Missouri? She's a--"
"Missouri Moseley, psychic of the Midwest?"
The door slams shut. Sam blinks and leans back. He glances over at Caleb and Jim. "I guess, I guess we should come back tomorrow."
Jim purses his lips. "Try again, Sam. We've come all this way. I'm sure he's not that busy."
Sam squares his shoulders and lifts one fist to knock when the door pops open again. Beaded eyes focus on Sam's startled ones. "Are you one Samuel Winchester, son of John, orphan of Mary, brother of Dean, student of law, economics, Latin, demonic rituals and traits, friend of many, known to few?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Gale is quite busy this evening." The door begins to close and Sam reaches out to stop it and jam a foot against the frame.
"Wait. We, we really came a long way and it won't take very long."
"He killed the demon," Bobby adds, pointing at Sam. "And his daughter."
"Well, now…that is a horse of a different color." The eyes graze over the group again. "Mr. Gale will see you all. One at a time." The door slams shut again, the chain rattles, and then it opens, fully this time. It creaks on its hinges, swinging open on its own accord to reveal a small room with emerald green wall paper, pea green carpeting, and kelly green arm chairs.
Sam enters hesitantly, having to duck to get through the door. On the opposite wall is another door, painted the color of new, spring leaves, and a sign reading 'Please, one at a time.'
"I knew there was a reason I avoided T or C," Bobby says after a moment.
Caleb grins tightly and sinks into one of the armchairs, straightening his suit coat. "You first then, Sam."
Sam turns to the wide green door. Everything leading up to this and suddenly, an unnerving fear of what might be behind that door grips him. "No." He shakes his head slowly. "No. Why don't you go ahead, Caleb?"
Caleb licks his lips, crosses his arms and shakes his head.
Bobby frowns. "Don't make me the guinea pig, Sam. Guy's probably waiting back there with a garrote and a hacksaw."
"I'm sure there's nothing to worry about," Jim offers. "Missouri wouldn't send you here if the man couldn't help."
"Why don't you go on then, Jim?" Bobby says. "If there's nothing to worry about."
"Sure." Jim squares his shoulders and starts for the door. "I'll be right back."
As soon as the door closes, Caleb shakes his head and says, "Faith will get him killed one day."
They all sit anxiously in the very green room for what feels like hours, but may well be only a few minutes. When Jim emerges again it's with a box of silver .22s and a flask of golden liquid that Bobby takes one whiff of and dubs to be one grade below motor oil. He scrambles through the door next, perhaps hoping for more of the same.
When Bobby emerges sometime later though, it's with a long barreled flare gun. "Specially made." He grins, admiring the weapon. "Just look at it."
Caleb disappears behind the green door next and returns with a GI helmet, army drab green, with printed black lettering and netting across the top. He shakes his head. "Guy's got some stories. You're up, Sam."
Sam takes a deep breath and stands, Dog at his side.
"Good luck," Jim offers.
Sam nods tightly, grasps the doorknob and pulls. A gust of wind comes with the opening door and Sam steps through into a tiny, dark kitchen with low ceilings and soil colored cabinets. There's a cherry oak table on the right side of the room. A curtain is set up next to that, blocking part of the room from view, but a hand reaches out and gestures toward the table.
"Have a seat."
Sam moves over to the table and sits stiffly in one of the chairs. Dog wanders around the room, sniffing at the cupboards. Sam presses his lips together, clasps and unclasps his hands, wanting to lean forward and peek around the curtain, but also figuring that it's probably there for a reason. Maybe he wouldn't want to see.
"I understand," a gruff voice says from behind the black cloth. "That you've greatly improved our odds around here. We've been after the demon for some time now."
"Well, uh, Mr. Gale." Sam pauses and clears his throat. "The first one was an accident really and the demon, well, my family, we've been--" Sam stops when the man makes a distinct humming noise. It's neither approval nor disapproval, yet commanding. Stop. Be quiet. Pay attention. All in two wordless hmms.
"What brings you here now?" Henry Gale asks.
"My brother is missing. I heard that you would be able to help me find him."
"This brother is important to you?"
"Yes," Sam answers quickly. Dog has wandered over to nudge at Sam's hands with a cold nose. Sam waves him away and leans forward, waiting for a response.
"I would suggest that you go elsewhere for assistance then."
"What?" Sam's eyebrows draw together. "Why?"
Henry Gale says nothing behind his curtain.
"You were supposed to help," Sam argues loudly. "We've come all this way. You can't just, just shrug this off."
"What about Bobby? And Caleb? And Jim? You helped them out, why's this different?" Sam stands up, venting anger at this person he doesn't even know, can't even see. "This is my brother."
Out of the corner of his eye, Sam sees Dog making a thorough inspection of the curtain behind which Henry Gale sits. One of his big paws steps on the curtain hem while he pushes forward with his nose. The curtain goes taut and wobbles on its frame.
"Dog, don't." Sam reaches for him even as the animal moves. There's a terrible, rattling rip and the curtain falls.
For a moment, Sam can only gape at the worn man sitting there, his bearded jaw, and the creases at the corners of his eyes.
Sam works his jaw and his hands clench into fists. "Dad? What? What are you? Why are you? Henry Gale?"
John sighs heavily and reaches out to grasp Dog's chin and run a finger from the top of his head to the tip of his muzzle. "Just another alias."
Missouri's words come back to Sam in whole parts, her voice right next to his ear.
"He's gone by many names," and then, "I don't think you know him very well."
Sam sits back down, next to his father now. "How'd you get here?"
John rubs wearily at his forehead. "It's been awhile…"
"Okay." Sam clasps his hands. "Can you help me?"
"Dad, it's Dean. Okay? Can't you just--"
"It's not that easy, Sam. I don't have the means."
"When has that ever stopped you?"
"This is different. I don't have any way of finding him. I don't even know where you were."
"Kansas," Sam answers stonily.
John leans forward and pinches the bridge of his nose. His eyes are closed and Sam resists the urge to ask him if he's all right. "I'm sorry," he says.
"That's it?" Sam asks in disbelief. He stands up and slaps both hands palm down on the table. "That's it?" You just…you're just going to…" He takes a breath and straightens his shoulders. "Fine. I'll just figure it out myself. Don't worry about it." He turns for the door, calling Dog with him.
"Sam, wait." John stands with aching slowness. "There is…there is one thing."
The Impala is polished black coal amongst the junk that surrounds "Henry Gale's" shed.
"It's hard to find fuel around here," John explains wearily. "I don't have much left and I was worried…Kansas is so far, Sam, and I knew I'd run out before I found it. But maybe…" He gazes over the car and nods. "Maybe the both of us…together."
"Okay," Sam agrees easily. "Let's go."
Behind the wheel, Sam finally feels in control again, like he's really getting somewhere. Soon, Truth or Consequences will be behind them and Kansas will be on the horizon.
"Left turn up ahead, Clyde," John says, nearly smiling as he sits in the passenger seat.
Sam nods and flips on the turn signal, steps on the brake.
The car doesn't slow.
Frowning but not yet panicking, Sam stomps harder on the brake pedal.
The car seems, in fact, to be speeding up, rushing toward the intersection and brick buildings beyond.
"The brakes," Sam gasps. "There's no…they're not working."
John leans back and crosses his arms. "Well, this is most unusual. Highly unprecedented."
John shrugs. "You know how to stop the car, Sam."
"No. No." Sam stomps on the brake again, but they only accelerate more, hurtling toward the looming intersection. He searches for some open space, somewhere to steer the car, but there's nowhere to go. He can't make the turn at this speed.
"You've known all along," John says dryly.
In desperation, Sam cranks the wheel to the right, taking the turn wide and still, too, too fast. Horns blare, the Impala skids, slides, and it all goes black in a shattering of glass.
Sam wakes up flat on his back on a bed in the motel room. Everything has stilled. There is no screeching of tires, no blare of car horns, no dry words of his father's. He sits up slowly, one hand pressed to his forehead. The wound above his eye throbs and stings.
Dean's jacket hangs on the back of a chair and a paper bag of groceries sits on the table, but the room is otherwise empty. The bathroom door is closed.
A dream, Sam thinks idly, feeling as though he's traveled around the world in a hot air balloon. Everything faraway and dizzy. Maybe this is the dream.
Sam would have lain back down and gone to sleep, hoped to wake up somewhere else, if it weren't for one thing. The room door is wide open. No, on a second look, not open, but broken entirely from its hinges and propped against the wall where it would typically stand.
From what Sam can see, it's sunny outside in a hazy sort of way. Trash and bits of glass litter the parking lot and some of it has blown into the room. Sirens whine in the distance, high and low.
The bathroom doorknob rattles.
Sam lays back down and turns his head to see the door, waiting, wondering if he opened it would Dog come lumbering out.
The bathroom door opens.
Sam sits up so fast his head spins.
"Whoa." Dean sits next to him on the bed and grabs his shoulders. "Easy."
"Dean?" Sam blinks at him.
"In the flesh." Somehow, in a twist of lips and squint of eyes, Dean manages to both smile and frown at the same time. "How's the head?"
Sam rubs at his eyes and blinks harder. The sirens are wailing closer. There are footsteps outside, bare feet slapping the concrete and a woman runs past their open door, screaming. "¿Qué pasó¿Qué pasó?"
"Sam?" Dean leans closer, concern clouding his eyes. "You with me here?"
Sam nods slowly. "What happened?"
"You want the big picture or the small?"
"You got beamed by a soda can," Dean says, entirely too happy to be telling him this.
Sam reaches up to feel the throbbing goose egg on his forehead. "The big picture?"
"Una tor-nah-dah. Ripped up the post office and part of the highway."
"Twister. Cyclone." Dean gives him a dry look. "We are in Kansas, Sammy."
"Thank God." Sam releases a long held breath, lies back, and closes his eyes.
"Sam?" The weight on the bed shifts as Dean leans over him. "You okay?"
"Yeah…I just…I had a really…really weird dream."
"Oh, yeah?" Dean pokes at Sam's forehead.
"Yeah." Sam swats at his hand.
"You could say that."
Dean sits back. "What are you smiling for then?"
Sam reaches up to touch his mouth, hadn't even realized the goofy grin that graced his features. He sighs and sinks back into the pillow. "It's just good to be home, I guess."
Dean laughs and pats his shoulder roughly. "Alright, Sammy. I'm going to see if I can track down a paramedic for you."
"I'm okay," Sam argues, reaching up to touch his forehead again.
"You're talking crazy, dude, and you were out for…" Dean glances at his watch and shrugs. "Longer than usual, anyway."
Apparently, talking about home and being happy to be in Kansas is crazy in Dean's book. Maybe Dean would always associate the two negatively, if he thought about things that way at all, but Sam knows better. Home isn't any place at all. It isn't any thing.
Home is a secret you carry deep in your belly. It's where you've been and where you're comfortable and it's only when you've missed it that you can truly garner it's worth.