Chapter One - Chicken & Funyuns
Sam Winchester rifles through the white plastic bag in his lap. He crinkles his nose. Funyuns. Again.
"Dude...Funyuns?" He tries not to whine, but fails miserably. Dean smirks from the driver's seat, snatches the yellow package out of his baby brother's hand. Rips it open with his teeth. "Dean, if we have to live off of chips, can't you at least get us a decent-"
"You stop right there before I disown you," Dean interjects, steering with one hand while he positions the snack food between his legs with the other. "First of all, Funyuns aren't chips. They're a tasty onion treat. Second of all, they're fucking incredible."
"This is the third day in a row-"
"Third of all, they're still hot on the market. You can find Funyuns anywhere, Sammy. They're not like tomatoes or bread or meat or any of those other sandwich fixings I so dearly miss..."
Dean trails off longingly. Sam stifles a sigh, looks out the window of the Impala.
The Impala. Sam is grateful that she is still intact. The world has come crashing down with the Pulse, but the Winchesters still have their home. Granted, she is a home that requires fuel they can't exactly afford and Dean keeps making Sam siphon the gas from other cars.
"Sammy, dig into your Funyuns."
"Aw, c'mon...it'll help get that nasty gasoline taste out of your mouth..."
Sam scowls, but Dean has a point. So he digs into his Funyuns.
Sometimes when they are in the car it is like nothing has changed at all. Sometimes the sun still shines down on green grass and flowers still pop out of the dirt and Dean still elbows Sam in the side and says something utterly stupid.
That's when they're in the car. That's when they're not outside with everyone else, scrounging for food and money and shelter. They can usually hustle or steal or sell enough to get a place for the night, but sometimes they can't. They've gotten used to parking and sleeping, letting down their seats, shoving their long legs in awkward positions and just passing out with asses aching from sitting all day long in this car it seems they still come home to.
"So this house..." Sam trails off, forehead pressed against the cool glass of the passenger side window.
"I don't even know why we're bothering," Dean says, and he's said it before. They hunt ghosts and demons and werewolves and shit, because crazy ass evil bastards like that kill people - but now people are killing people and cops are killing people and its happening all the time, in the streets, in public. Yesterday they were in Helena, Montana. Montana, for chrissakes, and people were flooding the streets and Dean couldn't see where he was going and he stepped in shit. And it wasn't dog shit. It was people shit. And Sam had taken one look at his brother's face and laughed at the absurdity of it all.
"Because whatever's in the damn house can still kill people," Sam says, and he's said it before. "People...some people, city people, are probably going to be hiking out of the suburbs, trying to fend for themselves. They're not used to the area. They see an abandoned house, they're going to squat, and they're not going to know what the fuck's inside."
"What are the chances of them just making it to the house..."
People are always hitchhiking now. The Winchester brothers used to see them sometimes - of course they did, they lived on the goddamn road - but it was only sometimes. They're always out there now. Whole families are out there now.
Sam and Dean never pick them up. There are times, rare times, when its just one person out there, one person who looks hungry and scared and tired and Sam will say, "Dean, let's pick 'em up" and Dean will say "Sam, if we pick that person up, we'll have to pick every person up" even though the statement is ridiculous and untrue. And Sam will nod without much argument and they'll drive on by.
There are other times when there's one person and a dog, usually an old person and a big dog, and Dean will say, "Sam, let's pick 'em up" and Sam will say, "Dean...I don't want a dog in the back seat." And Dean will nod without much argument and they'll drive on by again.
"One of my Funyuns is burnt," Dean says now, without much concern, holding the darkened circular snack in his hand and examining it.
"Dude, keep your eyes on the road."
"But look at it, man. It's abnormal."
Sam snatches the Funyun out of his brother's grasp and shoves it in his own mouth despite Dean's vehement complaints. Despite any abnormality, they both know that Dean fully intended to eat that Funyun.
The rest of the drive goes by in relative silence and before they know it, they've arrived. The house is crumbling. The wood is old and rotting, and Sam eyes it distrustfully as Dean pulls the shotguns out of the trunk.
"Fuck Montana," Dean says, handing Sam a gun. He doesn't say it for a reason. He doesn't have to. The world may have changed, but Dean didn't, and he still just likes to hear himself talk sometimes.
The steps creak under their feet and Sam's foot actually goes through one of the porch floorboards. He curses up a storm while Dean laughs and calls him fat.
They get through the foyer without incident.
It's in the great room. It's a spirit. It usually is. But this one's gross, and a girl, and naked. She's grey and her eyes are dark and her hair is so blonde it's practically white. It hangs, dirty and stringy around her face, which is heart-shaped and probably used to be attractive but now it's screaming fucking ugly at the Winchester brothers and Dean is shooting her and Sam is shooting her and both of them are feeling bad about it because one of her tits is cut halfway off.
"I was the victim here." Her voice is low and distant and coming out of the walls and out of the ceiling and out of the fucking floor. Dean can hear it in his bones. Sam can feel her in every inch of his body and he shoots her again, feels bad about it again, right before Dean grabs him by the sleeve and drags him through the room and through the kitchen and out the back of the goddamned house.
They're both colder than the air outside and Dean keeps a steady, unconscious hand on his brother's back while they get a grip on themselves.
"Okay...now we find out who she was," Dean pants. He's still catching his breath, still trying to feel normal again.
But Sam's eyes are elsewhere. They're pinned on the barn in the backyard, the one they couldn't see from the front. He starts moving towards it, but Dean yanks him back by the fabric of his shirt.
"Wait until I'm ready." Dean's tone is quick and harsh and implying that Sam should know better. The younger Winchester can't help the way his eyes narrow at the manner in which it reminds him of their father.
Dean lets go of Sam's shirt. It's only a few steps until they spot the trail of blood splatter along the dirt and grass, leading into the barn. Dean gives Sam a look, and both of them hoist their shotguns up into shooting positions. They cover themselves in silence, stepping lightly towards the ramshackle barn, deaf footsteps camouflaging them like lions in tall grass.
Both of them want to kick the door down. They argue about it with their eyes for a second before they start mouthing nasty names at each other, and eventually they just settle for the old favorite.
Dean always picks scissors.
Sam's long leg practically bursts through the wood. Birds cry and fly away in a flash of fluttering wings. There's feathers everywhere. Feathers and bones.
"Dude," Dean says, kicking at a small bone on the floor. "Is this...?"
"Chicken bone," Sam confirms.
"Think there's any more chickens?" Dean sounds hopeful. Sam is almost sorry to crush his brother's dreams.
"Dean, do you hear any more chickens?"
Dean kicks at the cracked concrete floor like a four-year-old who's just been tricked out of a cookie. Sam gives him a patronizing pat on the back. Dean shrugs his hand away.
"Don't touch me, Sam-"
"Dude, what's up with that cat?"
There's a cat in the corner of the barn, and he's long and mangy, hissing and scratching at a bundle of tarps piled haphazardly next to the wall.
Dean begins to shrug, then brightens. "Chicken?"
Sam snorts at his brother's one-track mind, but goes forward willingly. Hell, if there is a chicken under there...
Dean shoos the cat away with a gentle foot. He isn't so cautious with the tarp however, choosing to yank it away from the floor with a grand flourish.
The child under the tarp is half-clothed. There's dried blood around his mouth and smudges of dirt smattering his pale freckled skin. He looks up at the brothers with green eyes. The resemblance hits Sam like an anvil out of a cartoon sky.
"Huh." Dean says, blinking in surprise. "Hey, kid. You okay?"
The kid looks between them, first at their guns, then at their faces. His eyes linger on Dean.
"I, uh...ate the last chicken," he says, almost apologetically.
Sam is paralyzed. He doesn't feel it when his brother elbows him in the side, just notes that he moves a bit with the pressure.
"You eat it raw?" Dean asks the kid, who nods. "I think you can get something bad that way...Sam?" Sam doesn't respond. "Sammy?"
"Salmonella," Sam finally says absently and his heart jolts at the way the kid smirks.
"It was worth the risk."
When Dean smirks, it's like pressing rewind for a millisecond. "Yeah, it would be."
Silence falls over them. Sam doesn't know what to think. Especially because Dean is smirking at the kid and the kid is smirking back at him and it's like they've known each other for years.
"You gonna shoot me?" the mini-Dean asks.
"Nah, we don't shoot kids."
"Did you shoot the scary lady inside?"
"Yeah, we shot her."
"Is she dead?"
"Yeah...but not because we shot her."
Dean holds out a hand to help the kid to his feet. The kid ignores the proffered aid, shoves himself up to a standing position. Sam notes the way the boy's eyes skirt around the room before they click back to attention.
"I went right through her."
Sam blinks. "Are you okay?"
The boy shrugs. "I mean...it was really freaky. And cold. But I'll get over it."
He doesn't ask any more about the 'scary lady'. Dean asks him where his parents are and he says something about them being back soon, which is clearly a lie. This kid doesn't have parents. Parents don't let their kids eat raw chicken, or leave them under tarps wearing ripped clothing in creepy Montana barns with hissing feral cats.
"We'll stay with you until they get back," Sam says.
"No. You don't have to." The boy's tone has turned terse and cold, as if Sam's offer was just a bit too presumptuous. "I'll be fine."
Dean snorts. "You're like seven years old...we can't just leave you here."
"Hey, buddy, I'll have you know that I'm at least nine. Maybe ten."
The Winchesters' eyebrows flee upwards at that statement and the kid suddenly looks very uncomfortable, as if he knows he's let something slip. He runs a small hand through his hair and dust rises from it. Sam notices for the first time that the boy's hair is blonde. Just like Dean's used to be.
"You're small," Dean tells the kid.
"You're small," the kid shoots back.
Sam realizes that there's no possible way that this is going to progress into anything resembling an adult conversation. So he interjects. "Can we ask you what your name is?"
"You can ask."
Fucking smart ass kid.
"Okay..." Sam swallows down some irritation. "What's your name?"
"I'm Sam." He jerks his head in Dean's direction. "The small guy is Dean."
"Hey-" Dean's voice is full of heat and Sam has the feeling the next words are going to be something not prime for a 9-year-old's ears.
"Alec," the kid offers readily.
Sam barely restrains his self-satisfied smile. Yep, Sam Winchester knows how to talk to kids. You just give them a hint of affirmation and they melt in your hands like butter. Dad never got that. Dean never quite got that, either.
"So, Alec, we're just gonna stay here with you until your parents come back, okay?" Sam sets his gun down. Dean follows suit.
The kid heaves a tremendous sigh. "No. You're going to go."
Sam glances at Dean, who is glancing back. Dean looks half-amused, half-offended.
"Kid, we're not going anywhere. So why don't we just-"
Alec throws his arms up in the air in frustration. "You know, I actually kinda like you guys. Well you're alright, anyway, I guess." He looks pointedly at Dean. Sam tucks his bottom lip into his mouth to keep from pouting. "But I don't have the patience for this good citizen thing you've got going on. I trust you about as far as I can throw you and...hey, you know what? I must trust you a little..."
Sam's not sure what happens, but all of a sudden Dean is flying into the wall of the barn.
"Alec, what the-"
But Sam doesn't get the words out. His head hurts from the dusty concrete it just made contact with. He hears Dean moan. He feels little hands searching his pockets.
"I'm sorry..." the kid's voice is small. "I think... you guys might be alright. I just...he looks...I don't know you."
Sam tries to open his eyes, but all he sees is black.
"I'm sorry." The kid's voice is distant now. "I'm sorry I can't trust you. You'll wake up soon."
Unconsciousness creeps over Sam before he can get the you out.