I barely write SPN Gen anymore and I've been wanting to stick my toe in the water again for a while so...this is what I've come up with. It's a little rough around the edges because I wrote pretty much all of it in one day but, well, consider it a suck it and see fic because I'm definitely rusty.
The Naming Of Cats.
In a tumbledown house on the outskirts of Munfordville, Kentucky, there lives an old woman.
She isn't crazy, so don't go paying heed to anyone who tries to tell you different.
Over the years, she's owned eight cats and her backyard has been converted into a makeshift pet cemetery, tiny wooden crosses marking out each small burial mound.
It's the names which are a problem, too many to recall now that her memory has more holes than the colander in her kitchen so she simply refers to them all as Dearest and as regular as day turns to night she lays an offering of wild flowers on their graves.
Her name is Em but to everyone in Munfordville she's old Mrs. Grapewin. Even Em doesn't remember a time when she didn't have wiry white hair and a face full of wrinkles.
The backs of her hands are flecked with dark brown liver spots, fingers permanently stiff and crooked and for the most part useless.
She lives alone now, no Dearest to keep her company and nobody comes visiting at her house anymore. Not even her good Christian neighbours who live only one mile due south of her property.
Back in the early Seventies, Em maintained some form of contact with the towns' folk. Tom Arden used to deliver her groceries from his mom's store, scraped knees pumping as he rode his bike to Em's house with a basket full of goodies. Tom came once a fortnight, right up until the day that he went missing.
As the last person to see Tom alive, Em was considered a suspect. She was questioned and her life invaded as the Sheriff's Department searched her house from cellar to attic but they couldn't find anything. Months went by without a single clue or sniff of a trail coming to light, it was as if Tom had simply vanished into thin air.
Three years passed and Tom still wasn't traced. His parents eventually buried an empty casket, they needed the closure—or so they said.
Em didn't go to the funeral. The people in town had taken to regarding her with suspicious eyes, more so than they ever had done before. Her name was always weaved into their gossiping and they called her things. Cruel things like crazy and freak and weird cat lady, and by far the worst of all, child killer.
In the end, Em cancelled her grocery order and decided to try and be as self-sufficient as she could manage. The forest behind her house became her pantry and she soon developed a taste for fresh berries and hen of the wood wild mushrooms. During the driest summers and harshest winters, the forest never let Em go hungry.
She'd never really cared all that much for people anyway.
The air feels warm when Em steps outside to tend her garden, she takes a moment to inhale a breath of a breeze fragranced with narcissus flowers. Spring is edging its way forward as winter starts to slink away and everything is coming to life again.
With her brittle bones creaking Em kneels down and gets to work, struggling to push her trowel into the dark rich earth. Today she's planting chickweed because she loves the ten-pointed star formed by its tiny petals and it does have a pleasing flavor once cooked.
Em loses herself for a while in the task of pulling the weeds strangling her plants, in the shift of earth beneath her fingers and the feeling of being connected to something much greater than herself.
She's been working for almost an hour when she notices a boy who she's never seen before following the dirt track which runs directly by her front door.
He's tall and slender with chestnut colored hair worn long enough to curl at the nape of his neck. He doesn't look much older than twelve or thirteen. The boy is dressed as though he's out for a long hike and a water canteen hangs from a strap over his shoulder, banging against his hip with every step he takes.
He keeps stopping every few yards or so, appearing to consult a map and Em wipes at the smudge of dirt on her forehead as she stands up, brushes her hands down the front of her apron and shouts out a greeting to him.
A child walking alone, all the way out here—it's too rare and valuable an opportunity for her to waste.
Em notices straight away that this boy is different. So much so that the impression of it hits her like a wave crashing against the shore.
She can taste it in the air around him and can't stop her dusky pink tongue snaking out to sample the flavor.
There are shadows behind the dimpled smile set in his seemingly innocent face, his eyes are much too jaded for one so young.
He's unlike any she's come across before.
For the first time in almost a quarter of a century, Em feels the old familiar burst of want explode in her chest. The feeling that confirms what she already knows. She's going to take this child for herself.
The boy tells her he's trying to locate a river which runs through the forest.
Em knows exactly which river he's talking about, Long Pine Creek isn't too far from her house. Em likes to walk along the riverbank, it's such a pretty place and she doesn't have to worry about being disturbed because nobody goes out there since the rumors about it being haunted started.
"Why are you looking for the creek?"
"My dad, he wants me to scout it out...he's promised to take me and my brother fishing." The boy blushes, starting to fidget under her piercing gaze. He's lying, Em can spot an untruth from a mile away. He covers up his discomfort by taking a drink from his canteen bottle and Em sees the chance she's been waiting for.
"That looks to be almost empty, you can fill it up in my kitchen if you like? It's a fair trek all the way out to the river."
The boy looks unsure, doubt crossing briefly over his face but then Em calls his bluff, collecting her gardening tools together she starts to go back inside. That seems to make the boy's decision for him and he hurries to follow her.
His name is Sam, Samuel. That much was revealed to Em the moment she put her skeletal hand on his shoulder. She was right about him too, he is different.
She tucks Sam into a bed in one of the guest rooms upstairs, long limbs arranged carefully under a faded quilt. Em places a pillow under his head, regarding him tenderly she sings snatches of a half-forgotten lullaby before stroking a lock of hair away from his closed eyes and leaving him to his rest.
He'll wake up soon enough, when her hard work takes effect and grips him in its firm hold.
There's another boy in Em's garden. Older this time, in fact this one looks to be on the cusp of becoming a man. Brimming with experience and confidence and a sense of impatience to leave his childhood far behind him.
Em has to pinch at the parchment-thin skin on her arm, unable to trust her eyes. She's pretty sure it isn't Christmas.
With her nose pressed right up against the dirty glass, Em watches him from an upstairs window. His heavy feet are tramping down on her herbs as he stalks through her yard with his features pinched and his mouth drawn into a hard, tight line. He's searching for something (someone) he's lost—carelessly misplaced.
Em tuts loudly, shaking her head hard enough to make her hair come loose from the neatly tied braid that hangs down over her shoulder and she moves to stand over by the bed where Samuel lays sleeping.
She can feel Samuel's thoughts, read his dreams. Even unconscious he screams inside his head for Dean. For his brother.
And Em's positive that it is Samuel's brother who is stomping all over her Blackcohoch and Yellowroot in a show of a complete lack of respect.
What a poor, foolish, boy.
It's enough to make Em smile. In years long since passed, her enemies would tremble at the first soft whispers of an invocation leaving her lips, at the spark of dark light flickering in her eyes. She's older now, slower and somewhat out of practice but power still harbours inside her soul.
The doors are locked, the windows bolted tight, but Em has a hunch such trivialities won't stop Dean.
She scuttles downstairs to wait.
Em notices the faint sound of a lock rattling only because she's listening out for it, but Dean's tread is light, practiced stealth. Em is pleased she has been vigilant otherwise this boy might have been sneaky enough to catch her unawares. She settles herself in an armchair.
He'll come and find her soon enough.
Sam hasn't answered his cell in over three hours and maybe the kid's simply wandered out of signal range but there's an uncomfortable tightening sensation in Dean's gut that won't let up.
Dean would like to think it's his highly tuned hunter's instincts but in reality, it's the fact that he knows Sam and no matter how pissed off Sam was about their Dad sending him on a tedious reccy mission, there's no way he would be gone for such a long time without touching base.
That's why Dean's here, now, scoping out some creepy derelict house in the middle of nowhere when he could be back at the motel, feeding quarters into the magic fingers and watching Judge Judy.
The door Dean uses takes him straight into a kitchen. It's a big room, almost a perfect square and yet the one thing that hits Dean is what he finds by the top of the steps leading down into the cellar, the one thing that turns his rational thoughts to scrambled white noise.
On the floor, in a burlap sack, he finds Sam's clothes.
Not bloodied or torn but neatly folded, exactly how Sam packs his belongings into a duffle when they're on the move, not the 'roll and ram' method Dean favors. What this discovery means...Dean can't, won't, think about.
The wooden stairs disappearing into the dark of the cellar are rotten and when Dean reaches the bottom, his flashlight reveals straight away that the cellar is empty. No cage, no chains hanging from the walls and definitely no Sam.
Where the hell are you? You'd better be okay.
Back upstairs, Dean swiftly explores room after room, panic rising rapidly when each search leaves him empty handed. When he enters the lounge, Dean doesn't see the blow coming but he feels something connect with the side of his head, hard enough to send him tumbling onto the dusty wooden floor.
Dean's vision wavers as he blinks up at the old woman standing over him. "Dearest is mine, Dearest is staying with me."
Dean groans, struggling to prop himself up on his elbows before his aching head computes her words, "Dearest? You mean my brother, Sam? You really are buckets of crazy lady if you think you're keeping Sam."
She bends down, a glowing finger reaching out to touch his forehead as swirls of fire dance in her eyes.
"Oh, no way in hell..." Dean curls his lips in a snarl, scrambles back and his fingers close around the shotgun hidden inside his jacket. She smiles at the sight of the weapon, not afraid in the slightest and that makes Dean want to shoot her full of holes even more. If she's a harmless old biddy then Dean's Robert Plant. "Where's Sam? What have you done to him? You'd better tell me now or so help me God..."
The old lady moves towards Dean, so fast that it's clearly not normal and Dean only holds off firing because he wants information. It doesn't stop his finger from twitching against the trigger.
He flinches, waiting to see what she intends to do but all of a sudden, he hears a shrill hissing sound and watches, in utter shock, as a ball of brown shaggy fur flies at the old lady. Sharp claws scratching at her face, in spite of the way the cuts heal over almost instantaneously.
It's not like Dean's hasn't seen an animal attack before but a flea-ridden moggy?
"No! No, Dearest!" The old woman is screeching and with one flailing sweep of her arm she knocks the cat away, small body tossed into the air by the strike.
The cat smacks against the wall hard, drops to the ground and goes still.
Em's hair is wild, tangled and hanging loose. She wipes at her face with the back of her hand, smearing tears across her cheeks.
Dean's frozen, too stunned to know how to react until—
She called the cat, Dearest.
"That's what you've done to my brother?!" Dean's eyes are darting between the cat and Em, bottomless pits of black surrounded by only a faint ring of green. When Em doesn't answer, Dean yells again, fury boiling over, "Is that my brother?"
"People are such nasty, vile things." Em glares back, power swells and surges under her skin, tiny blue veins pulsing and pushing to the surface. "WHY CAN'T YOU JUST LEAVE ME ALONE?!"
She raises her hand again, a long bony finger slowly uncurling to point at Dean but it seems he knows a few tricks of his own. Dean reaches into his jacket pocket and whips out a cellphone, punches in a single speed-dial number.
"Now! Dad, do it now!"
Dean holds his breath and then covers his eyes, protecting them from the glare as she erupts into bright orange flame, her form crumbling to ashes.
Her parting scream is the sound of breaking glass, fingernails scratching down chalkboards, the most pitiable wailing Dean's ever heard and it leaves his ears ringing long after she's gone.
With Em dealt with, her magic dies too and Dearest is a boy again. Long lean naked body slumped, broken, on the floor.
Blood spills and tickles from a corner of Sam's mouth as Dean rolls him onto his back, fretfully checking the slow but steady thwump of Sam's pulse at his neck, Dean covers him as best he can with his warm leather jacket and pulls him into his arms. Drawing him in tight against his chest and everything feels so over now Sam is where he belongs that Dean has to remind himself that he still has work to do. He has a brother to take home and fix up.
Sam's bigger than he was the last time Dean carried him but Dean doesn't care, just locks his knees together and gets them both the hell out of there.
At the motel Dean arranges icepacks over the worst of the bruising. Sam's still out for the count, sprawled on the bed in the same position Dean laid him. He doesn't make a single sound, not a murmur, as Dean runs a warm washcloth over his temple, catching drips with the corner of a towel from the bathroom.
The twelve stitches Dean puts into the gash on the back of Sam's head draw an almost imperceptible wince and that provides a small sense of comfort for Dean's rattled nerves.
Sam hates having his wounds sewn back together, the raw stick of needle and stinging pull of thread but he never complains or begs for pain meds. Dean usually grinds a codeine tablet into dust and stirs it into Sam's soda anyway.
It's probably better that Sam's out of it, Dean doesn't think he could handle seeing pain on Sam's face right now. Dean ties off his handiwork, adds antibiotic ointment and a pad of gauze, and sits back.
He doesn't have to wait long.
"Hey Garfield, how you feeling?" Dean leans forward in his chair, not failing to notice the second Sam starts to stir awake.
Sam's brow creases in confusion and then ultimately, comprehension.
Dean keeps the smile fixed on his face but his skin is paler than Sam's. In-between being smacked around by the ghost of a murdered witch and a missing kid brother, today has been a day Dean would rather forget.
Throw in a midget stripper offering to give him a lap-dance and the local diner having a vegetarian-only menu and Dean would definitely have needed counselling.
Dean pops a piece of salt-water taffy into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully while he double-checks Sam's pulse and replaces the tepid icepacks with cold ones. "She's gone. Dad found the body, he's seasoned and flambéed Fin Raziel's ass." Dean explains and the line of tension carved between Sam's eyebrows instantly begins to fade. "Dad told you to find the river and mark it on the map, not take on the ghost all by yourself."
"I did—didn't know it was her."
"Don't try to talk, it's okay." Dean moves to the table, picks up a manila folder and leafs through it until he finds a Photostat copy of an old newspaper clipping. "Emily Grapewin was shot and killed in her home back in 1976 by the father of Tom Arden. He was convinced Emily was behind his son's disappearance and despite there being no evidence to support him, he maintained that claim throughout his trial and incarceration."
Sam pulls himself up, leaning heavily against the bed's metal headboard, he doesn't mention it when Dean nonchalantly puts a hand on his blanket covered knee. Dean continues, "Five-O are at her house now, Dad's posing as FBI and apparently, they've uncovered a whole heap of children's bones buried in her backyard. So it looks like not only was that old witch the ghost we been hunting but she's behind the mystery of the kids who have been disappearing from this town for almost a century."
"Is Dad angry?"
"That you got whammied?" Dean moves his hand up until it rests on Sam's chest, both restraining and comforting. "It doesn't matter. What matter's is that you're safe. In fact, you nearly got yourself killed trying to save me, Top Cat."
"You're never going to let that drop are you?"
"No, Macavity, I'm not." Dean smiles again and this time it reaches his eyes. There's enough secret language conveyed in that one smile and the unacknowledged contact Dean is maintaining, that Sam gives his brother a small exhausted smile back before he slowly sinks into sleep.
Constructive feedback is always welcome.