Sam ghosted along behind a kid who actually looked younger than him. He was shorter and blond, and he was a little chubby. They were walking out onto the property that bordered both Bobby's land and the old Talmadge parcel. It was hilly with scrubby trees and bushes. Sam had spent a lot of time out here on his own when he'd lived with Bobby, and had, in fact, built a kind of fort for himself. The other kid was heading straight for it.
He let the kid draw ahead, feeling kind of conflicted. Forts were childish things, and he didn't need it anymore, but having the kid take his over made him feel strangely possessive.
When he got in sight of the thing, he realized that his successor had not merely taken it over, he'd made it his own. The walls were better, and it looked like there was some kind of carpet on the floor. Sam still felt weird about it, but less like it was his space. The kid was sitting in the back of it, writing in a spiral notebook. He looked up and saw Sam, and his eyes widened.
"Hi," Sam said.
The kid got up. "Hi." He looked around. "Who are you?"
"My name's Sam." He shrugged, nodding at the fort. "I built that thing."
"Oh, I . . . I thought no one was interested in it anymore," the kid said anxiously. "I didn't mean –"
Sam shook his head. "Oh, I don't care," he said. "I don't live here anymore. I'm just visiting for awhile." The kid nodded, but he still looked kind of uneasy. "What's your name?"
"Jeremy," he said. "Jeremy Stiles. We just moved in a couple of months ago."
Sam nodded. "To the old Talmadge place," he said. "Uncle Bobby said there was a kid my age there now."
"The salvage guy is your uncle?" Jeremy asked.
"Well, he's my dad's best friend, I guess. I don't have any real uncles."
"Oh. He seems pretty cool."
"He is," Sam said. "I –"
He heard footsteps in the bracken behind him and turned sharply. A girl came into view around the corner. She was tall and really pretty, blond and blue-eyed. She was stomping along the path, and she looked angry. In a strident voice she said, "Jeremy, Mom wants to know –" She stopped dead. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" she demanded.
Sam looked up at her, a little annoyed by her attitude. "My name's Sam Winchester. I'm staying with Bobby Singer."
She glared at him, then seemed to dismiss him as unimportant. "Mom wants to know where you put the box with the garden tools."
"In the shed, where Dad told me to," Jeremy said. "It's under that bench at the back."
She rolled her eyes, giving the haphazard building a disparaging look. "That's really stupid, you know. Only babies build forts."
"He didn't build it," Sam said. "I did."
This brought the glare back down on him. "You don't even live here."
"I used to," Sam said. He turned his back on her. "Jeremy, there's a really cool cave a little ways east of here. You want me to show it to you?"
"Sure," Jeremy said.
"This way." Sam turned towards Jeremy's sister. "Excuse me," he said, the words polite but the tone less so. She shifted back a little, and Sam brushed past her. "Come on, Jeremy." She followed them as far as the fork that would take them towards the cave. Sam kept an ear out and heard her heading back towards the Talmadge land. The Stiles land, now, he supposed. "Your sister, huh?"
"Patricia," Jeremy said, and there was unspoken emotion in his voice. Not happy emotion.
"How old is she?" Sam asked.
"Seventeen. She's a senior, thank God, so I won't have to be in school with her ever again after June."
"Oh, are you a freshman?" Sam asked.
"Yeah. I turned fifteen last month." He gave Sam a defiant look. "I know I don't look it, but I'm not lying."
Sam shrugged. "Even if you were, what's it to me? I lie about my age all the time. I won't be fourteen till May, but I'm a freshman, too, so it's easier."
"Why'd you tell me?" Jeremy asked.
"Because I can't lie here," Sam said. "I went to school at Fremont for three years, and that's where I skipped a grade. But I move around a lot, and it's easier to say I'm fourteen than to explain why I should be a freshman and not an eighth grader."
"You mean, you lie to the schools, too?" Jeremy asked incredulously.
Sam shrugged again. "Sure."
Jeremy grinned. "Cool!"
When Dean stiffened and pulled away, John let him go. Heartsore for the pain his son was suffering, he nevertheless let him go. Dean wouldn't stand being babied, he never had. He watched Dean avert his eyes and wipe them on his sleeve, then looked away so he wouldn't be caught watching. John cleared his throat. "So, I'm going to make a grocery run. You want to come?" Dean shrugged. "You can drive," he added, and Dean looked up, his eyes shining.
"Seriously?" John nodded. "The Impala?" John nodded again, grinning. "Hell yes!"
John dug the keys out of his pocket and handed them over. He opened the door to the kitchen and found Bobby sitting at the table, flipping through one of the books he'd taken with him when he'd made his escape from the emotional scene. "We're heading to town. You need anything besides marshmallows?"
"I made a list," Bobby said, pointing without looking up.
"Thanks. Let Sam know where we've gone, okay?"
"Sure. You going to be back in time for lunch?"
John glanced at his watch. "I don't think so."
"Would you drop something off for me?"
"No problem," John said. Bobby handed him a paper bag that had been stapled shut. There was an address written on the outside. Bobby glanced at Dean, then at John, and John got the message. These were the undeveloped rolls of film. Fortunately, Dean was too busy looking at the keys John had handed him to notice the byplay.
"There's a note inside," Bobby added. "Catch you later."
John wanted to ask him if he'd found anything, but he was not inclined to spoil Dean's mood. "Come on, Dean."
Getting into the passenger side of the Impala was a little weird, but it was thrilling to have Dean there, Dean driving the car. It made him feel like a million bucks. He hadn't reckoned on the sudden panic that would fill him when the car started moving. It wasn't that Dean wasn't driving well, he was doing fine. John had simply discovered a certain parental dilemma. Having junior drive the car was nerve-wracking, both on account of junior and on account of the car. He concealed his reaction under a veneer of calm, leaning back in the seat and giving the impression that he was enjoying the ride. Which he was, on one level. On another he was agonizing over every little thing that could go wrong.
John gave him directions into town, and took him by the address Bobby wanted the film dropped off at first. Leaving Dean in the car, he went up to the door and knocked. A woman answered, looking nervous. "Bobby Singer asked me to drop this by," John said, and her anxiety abated somewhat. "He said there's a note inside."
"Thanks," she said.
He walked back to the car. Dean was stroking the wheel with a very possessive air. John knew then that he'd remembered the Impala, too, on some visceral level. He opened the door and climbed in, and Dean dropped his hands into his lap, looking like he felt guilty. John sat down. "Left at the end of the street," he said, and Dean lost his guilty expression in the sheer joy of driving the car.
Bobby's list wasn't short. Evidently he had miscalculated on the amount of food he'd need for two teenaged boys. Of course, he hadn't actually expected both of them to be staying. They made their way up and down the aisles, and John picked up a few things he knew Sam would like.
When they reached the front, the cart was piled high and there were short lines at both the open registers. John chose the nearer and pulled his cart up to a stop. Dean had been staying close, but he suddenly said, "I'll be back in a minute." He walked away quickly and came back with a hand basket. He walked up to a girl who looked around sixteen. She stood at the end of the next line over, juggling six items. "This might help a little," he said, holding the basket out. The girl smiled at him and deposited her selections into the basket, but she made no move to take it from him, and he made no move to hand it over. John rolled his eyes. There was no doubting that his boy was a flirt.
"Thank you," she said with a sweet smile. "I'm Trish. I haven't seen you around here before."
"We just got into town yesterday," Dean said.
"Really?" she asked, dimpling. "What's your name?"
"Dean." The line moved, and he shifted forward with her. "You go to Jackson High?" She nodded. "Then I guess I'll be seeing you on Monday."
"Oh, are you a senior?" she asked.
Dean shook his head. "A junior. I was sick in junior high, so I missed a year."
"That sucks," she said. It was her turn at the register. "I guess I'll see you on Monday."
"Sure," he said with a grin, handing the basket to the checker. Then he backed away and returned to John's side, giving John an embarrassed look when he realized that John had seen all of it.
John leaned over. "Smooth," he murmured for Dean's ears only. Dean shrugged, but he flushed a little. The incident made John a little worried. He remembered suddenly how very interested in girls Dean had gotten just before he'd disappeared. It appeared that he was going to have to have a chat with his son. He felt vague stirrings of panic at the thought. He'd been working up to a talk about the birds and bees when John had disappeared.
They loaded the trunk full of groceries and Dean offered him the keys. "You want to drive back, sir?" he asked.
"No," John said. "You go ahead." They got into the car and John said, "Dean, we need to have a talk."
Dean froze with the keys partway to the ignition. He turned, eyes wide. "Is something wrong?"
"No, no," John said hastily. "Nothing like that. I just . . ." He hesitated, not sure quite how to put this. He hadn't seen any need to have this kind of talk with Sam yet. He knew girls were different, but he hadn't yet come to appreciate the difference. "I somehow doubt that Jake had this talk with you, and I just think it's . . ."
Dean's posture relaxed a little, and he stared at John. "What talk?"
John reflected on the fact that all the names Sam had identified as Dean's friends were female. "I assume you're sexually active," John said in sort of a blurt. Dean went pale and turned away, focused on the center of the steering wheel, and John wasn't sure how to read that reaction. "So I thought we should probably talk about safe sex."
Dean shook his head. "Not really necessary," he said in a strangled voice.
"If you're sexually active, you –"
"I'm not," Dean said, his voice low and smothered. He hadn't looked up from the horn.
"You're not?" John repeated, caught flat. He hadn't expected that.
Dean looked up, his face a rictus of embarrassment. "You . . . you saw me," he said, his hands fluttering in the direction of his torso. The keys jingled, and Dean dropped his hands again, looking hideously self conscious.
John was caught between two conflicting reactions. He wanted to reassure Dean that no woman worth spending time with would judge him based on those marks, but he also wasn't sure he wanted Dean crossing that line quite yet if he hadn't already. But Dean thought he was eighteen, and he would be in fact soon enough.
"That doesn't have to stand in the way," John said. "I mean, it doesn't mean anything about you."
"Any normal girl, looking at me, is going to want to run home to Mommy," Dean said, his voice low and tense. "And the abnormal ones would find it . . . interesting." He shuddered. "It doesn't really matter."
"It matters, Dean," John said.
Dean shrugged. "I don't really want to talk about it. And the social workers covered safe sex pretty thoroughly when I was fourteen."
John supposed they probably had. "Okay, sorry. I didn't mean to bring up an uncomfortable subject."
Dean shrugged again, and then he started the car. The drive back was a lot faster than the drive out had been, and John suspected there was an emotional component to that. He didn't say anything, and he kept his white-knuckled grip on the armrest as subtle as possible.
Bobby stared at the facsimile of a cuneiform tablet in the book he was scanning through. Parts of it were written in cuneiform, but there was a section that was described by the author of the text as "highly decorative, having religious significance." Religious significance was archeologist shorthand for we don't have the foggiest clue what it means.
Nevertheless, he had found a source for one of the symbols, and it dated back to more than 3000 years BC. That got him next to nothing in terms of interpreting it, but it might give him a better idea where to look for more information.
The door opened and Sam came racketing into the house. "I've met that kid," Sam said, and Bobby wrenched his mind back to the present. "His name is Jeremy, and I told him he could come over after church tomorrow. Is that okay with you?"
"Sure, Sam," Bobby said. "Your dad and Dean are out at the store. You hungry? I expected you back for lunch."
"I had lunch at Jeremy's," Sam replied. "His parents were really nice."
"Good." Bobby looked down at the page again. "Would you go grab me a beer, Sam?"
"What are you researching?" Sam asked, immediately going to the fridge.
"Some symbols," Bobby replied, trying not to sound evasive. He put a marker in the book and shut it. "How are you doing with all of this, Sam?" he asked, tentatively.
Sam shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "It's all really weird. I mean, it's amazing to have Dean back, but I can't tell him I know he's my brother. I didn't tell Jeremy anything about him, because I wasn't sure what to call him. Friend just doesn't cover it, and I can't tell Jeremy he's my brother if I can't tell Dean he's my brother."
"No, that's true enough."
"I mean, what are we going to tell people at school? Because we act a lot closer than friends."
"I don't know," Bobby said. He shrugged. "We can figure that out later." They both heard the growl of the Impala, and Sam darted out of the house instantly. Bobby opened the book again and carried it through into the library. He pulled down another reference, a more occult reference that dealt with the Sumerian period, and looked to see if he could find that same text.
Next thing he knew, the kitchen was full of people putting stuff away. Sam took over, instructing both John and Dean where to put things, acting on his authority as a previous resident. The house was really full right now, and it was kind of nice. Bobby had long given up on having a family like this. After Karen's untimely death, he'd cut most of his ties to his few remaining family members, and her family hadn't wanted anything to do with him. He'd found John's sons charming and fun, but up until Dean's disappearance, his contact with them had been sporadic at best. John and he had a fair amount in common, but their temperaments were diametrically opposed. John's driving need for revenge had always disturbed Bobby. Yeah, he wanted payback for Karen's horrifying last days, but he didn't feel a need to track down the specific demon that had possessed her.
Then Dean had been taken while John was on a job, and Sam had called him. Bobby knew it was most likely because he was the closest, but it had put him at ground zero when John had gone on his hunt for Dean. John had left Sam with him, explaining that he had to keep Sam safe, and that there were things after him. Bobby had chalked that up to paranoia, and he'd kept little Sammy in with him at night because the poor kid was so freaked. He wasn't up to leaving a frightened eight-year-old boy alone.
"I've still got some work to do on the Camaro," Dean said suddenly. "You want to help, Sammy?"
The phone rang, and Bobby turned his attention away from the boys. He picked it up. "Singer Salvage."
"Bobby, this is Elaine."
"Elaine, hi," Bobby said, turning away from the kitchen. "How'd the pictures come out?"
"Crystal clear, and now I'm going to have nightmares. Those things are carved into skin, aren't they?"
Bobby grimaced. "Yeah. Okay, someone will be by either today or tomorrow to pick them up. Monday at the latest."
"Look, this is going to sound weird, but want these photos out of my house as soon as possible. They give me the creeps. I mean, I think you caught more than you think you did."
"I can't describe it. You'll have to come get them and see for yourself."
Bobby scowled. "I'll be there as soon as I can." He hung up the phone and went to grab his keys. He found all this more than a little alarming. Elaine was no civilian. She'd seen some pretty scary stuff in the past, and she'd never reacted like this.
John wasn't in the kitchen anymore, and he figured there was a good chance he was with the kids out by the Camaro. He took a deep breath to make sure his unsettled reaction didn't show, then went out to find him. True to his expectations, he found John with a beer in his hand, standing back to watch Dean work. He walked over. "Hey, John, there's a truck I've got that's making a noise I can't identify. You want to come with me? It takes a bit of driving to get it to start."
John's brows knit, and he turned towards him. Bobby could see he was going to suggest they do it later, so he sent a warning glance towards the boys and raised his eyebrows. John blinked a couple of times, then said, "Sure. Let's give it a listen. You boys will be fine for a little while without us, right?"
"Sure," Sam said. Dean looked less certain, but Bobby figured that probably had more to do with being on a stranger's property than anything else.
"We'll be back soon," Bobby said, giving Dean what he hoped was a reassuring nod.
They headed over to the truck, Bobby leading the way. It was on the other side of the house, and the minute they were inside with the door shut, John said, "What's going on?"
"The woman who developed the pictures is freaking out," Bobby said. "She says I caught more on film than I knew I caught." John's jaw tensed, and Bobby started the truck. "She also says she doesn't want them in the house, so I told her I'd come pick them up right away."
"Did she say what she saw?" John gazed out the windshield, frozen with tension, his voice low, controlled.
"Nope. Just that they give her the creeps."
"Charming," John muttered.
"Don't judge her reaction till you see them," Bobby said. "I've sent her some pretty weirdo crap, and she hasn't ever turned a hair before this."
John's Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed. "Right," he said, turning to look out the window. They traveled in silence for awhile. The radio in this truck didn't work, and neither of them had much to say. Bobby was contemplating his next move in research, and God knew what was in John's mind.
He was almost to town before John cleared his throat. "I don't know what we're going to do to find out what happened to Dean. He gets anywhere near the subject and he starts to unglue."
"I noticed," Bobby said dryly. He glanced sideways at John. "We could always try a psychic. I don't have anybody on tap at the moment, but we could put out some feelers."
"If I was going to get a psychic to look into this, I'd bring Missouri up from Lawrence, if I could get her to come."
Bobby nodded slowly. "I can see that. She's met Dean before."
"And I consulted her when Dean went missing."
That didn't surprise Bobby in the slightest. John had consulted everyone, including people who'd threatened to kill him if they ever saw him again. No one had been able to provide the slightest lead, but John had been desperate, going from contact to contact. Visiting his home town to see the psychic who had evaluated Mary's death site was definitely in keeping with that.
They reached Elaine's place and Bobby stopped the truck. Before they could even get out, Elaine came running down the front walk, the setting sun flashing on her glasses. John rolled down his window, and she thrust a flat envelope inside. "Something really wanted to control whoever that was," she said. "See you later, Bobby."
"Wait!" John said. "Why do you say that?"
"Just my impression," she replied, and she hurried up to the door and back inside. She hadn't bothered to put on a coat, so she had to be freezing.
Bobby pulled away from the house and said, "Let's get out of town before we –"
"Son of a bitch!" John exclaimed.
At John's yell, Bobby's hands tightened on the wheel, but he managed to keep from jerking too much. He looked over and saw that John had already pulled the photos out of the envelope. "John –" He broke off. "Balls!" There was no point. John was staring at the first picture – a letter-sized enlargement – he held in his hand, tears streaming down his face, and he wasn't hearing a word. Bobby drove out of town and pulled off onto a side road, shutting the engine down and turning towards John. "Let me see."
Wordlessly, John handed the first picture over. Before Bobby could even look at it, though, John started making muffled sounds as he looked at the second one. Bobby stared at him in dismay, very glad he'd brought him along. This reaction at the house would have been bad.
He turned his attention to the photo and suddenly understood the reaction. It was one of the photos of the front of Dean's body. Besides the glyph, which was as clear as Elaine had said it was, there was a scattering of glowing dots that Bobby thought corresponded to the locations of those small circular scars.
He took his hat off and closed his eyes. When his eyes started to burn, he scrubbed at them irritably. They didn't have time to get emotional over this. God knew what all these crappy things did to Dean. He seemed to be in good enough health, but anything could happen as a result of these markings. For all they knew, some of them were only active in the presence of the demon who made them.
Forcing himself, Bobby opened his eyes and scrutinized the photo. "If there's a pattern here, I'm not seeing it."
John shook his head. "I can't see . . . Dean told me that the bastard had some sort of skewers, he described them as long, like needles only thicker. That he stuck them into him . . . but he never got any further than that. It was . . ." John covered his eyes with his hand. "If you can believe it, it was an aside. He was telling me how he escaped. He used . . ."
"John –" Bobby started, but John spoke over him, emotion forcing the words out.
"He used one of the skewers to pick the locks on the chains that held him. Bobby . . ." John's face crumpled. "What did we ever do to deserve this, Bobby?"
"You didn't, John. Bad things happen."
"This isn't bad, Bobby. Bad doesn't begin to cover wells of glowing crap that are sunk into my son's skin. Bad doesn't cover glyphs that seem to be growing."
"Growing?" Bobby exclaimed. John handed him the second photo. It was Dean's back. There were the glowing dots, but there were also offshoots from both the glyphs. They were further intertwining, and some of the lines seemed to have extended down, around the brand, onto Dean's buttocks. These lines weren't visible to the naked eye, but somehow the photographic emulsion had captured them. They didn't glow, they were dark, almost shadowy. "Balls!"
"Do we tell Dean about this? I mean . . . Christ."
"Hell no," Bobby said. "At least not yet." He shook his head. "He's not going to ask to see the photos, and I want to have a whole lot better idea of what we're looking at before we tell him anything."
"But this makes it . . . we have to know what happened, and Dean can't tell us."
Bobby nodded. "That's true enough."
"When we get back to the house, I'm calling Missouri and seeing if she'll come up here."
"Good idea, though how Dean will react to it is anyone's guess."
"We'll work it out," John said. He seemed to have regained some semblance of control, though he was still very edgy looking. He flipped through the remaining pictures, looking at them with a stony expression, then he handed them to Bobby.
Bobby rifled through the photographs quickly, controlling nausea. It was deeply disturbing. He handed them back to John. "You ready to go back?"
Bobby flipped a u-turn to get back out on the main road and headed back, casting around for a new subject to help John defuse his emotions before they got to the house. "Sam made a new friend," he commented.
"What?" John exclaimed, turning to him with wide eyes.
Bobby gave him a startled look. "It's the boy on the next property, John."
"Oh, right," John said. "He mentioned he was going to go spy on him."
"Spy on him?"
"He wanted to know more about him before school on Monday."
Bobby snorted. "Well, he invited him to come over after church tomorrow," he said. "I told him it was okay."
John rubbed his eyes. "Actually, Dean made a new friend, too. Pretty girl named Trish. He played the gallant knight and rescued her from an armful of groceries."
"Huh. Trust him to make friends with a girl right off."
"I tried to give him the talk," John said, and Bobby knit his brows.
"You know, condoms, pregnancy, STDs, but he told me he's not sexually active."
"Not surprising," Bobby said sardonically, and John gave him an odd look. "How's he going to convince a girl to take her shirt off if he won't take his off?" He shook his head. "No, the way he behaved today, I doubt very much whether he'd strip off for a girl his own age, and a girl his own age would freak out if she saw that."
"A normal girl would," John said. "He said the abnormal ones would find it interesting, and I got the impression he'd like that even less."
Bobby grimaced. "Any girl who'd find that a turn on is not someone Dean needs to be around," he said.
John shivered. "That's a truly disgusting thought."
John was faking it really well. He knew that because Bobby wouldn't let him go back to the house if he was still visibly freaking out. Bobby parked the truck and reminded him that they were supposed to have been listening for a noise.
"I guess it didn't make it on this trip," John said, his voice reasonably level. Bobby shrugged. "So, is there a phone I can use privately?"
"Go on up to my bedroom. I've got a phone in there."
John nodded and went upstairs. Grabbing his journal out of his bedroom, he sat down on Bobby's bed, looking at the phone. He was disturbed by how readily Missouri could read him, but they needed her help. He just hoped she'd cope with what she'd learn if she looked in Dean's mind.
Steeling himself, he dialed. Three rings, and then the familiar breathy voice said, "Hello."
"Missouri, it's John Winchester."
"John," she said, her voice brimming with compassion. "How is Sammy?"
"Sammy's fine," he said. "He's great, actually."
"Missouri, I need a favor."
"I know," she said.
"I thought you couldn't read minds at this distance."
"I can't. You called me, John. You wouldn't have called me if you didn't need a favor."
John grimaced. "Yeah, I . . . um . . . I'm not real –"
"I don't mind, John. What is it you need?"
"We found Dean, Missouri," John said. "Or actually, Sammy found Dean."
"Alive?" she asked, her voice full of wonder.
"Alive, well, and living in Georgia," he said. "He has amnesia and . . . well, a lot has happened to him. That's where the favor comes in."
"What do you mean?"
"He's . . . he can't talk about what happened to him, but we really need to know. I was hoping I could persuade you to come up here to meet him and see what you could find out."
"Where are you?"
"South Dakota," he said. "Bobby's."
"Where you left Sam all those years ago," she filled in for him.
"That's quite a drive, John."
"If you don't feel up to it, I could come down and pick you up."
She was silent for a moment. "What is going on, John?"
"We think Dean was kidnapped by a demon," John said. "He was tortured and physically marked with glyphs, and a number of other things. When we took photos, we discovered things that weren't visible to the naked eye. Missouri, we really need to know what happened to him, and he is simply unable to talk about it without eliciting flashbacks."
"A demon . . ." She sounded alarmed.
He sighed. "If you don't feel able to help with it, I underst –"
"I didn't say that," she retorted. "How soon can you be here?"
John contemplated the drive and the urgency. "Give me about eight hours," he said.
"I'll be ready."
John hung up and went downstairs. Bobby was in the kitchen alone, fixing dinner. John picked up his jacket and his keys. "I'm going to go pick up Missouri now."
"Now?" Bobby exclaimed incredulously. "John –"
"We have to know. There's no time like the present."
Bobby blinked at him. "Make sure you tell the boys before you go," he said sourly. "I'm not getting stuck with breaking it to them. You left me with that task a few too many times with Sammy."
John grimaced. "I'll take care of it," he said. "I'll call you if we're delayed at all, but if everything goes as planned, we'll be back tomorrow sometime."
"Okay," Bobby said dubiously, and John went outside.
Dean was in the car, cranking the engine. He got out as John came up. "She sounds pretty good, you think?"
John nodded. "She sounds great. You do good work."
"Thanks." He was wiping his hands on a cloth. "What time is it?"
"Just past four," John said. "Bobby's fixing dinner."
"Good. I'm starving."
John cleared his throat. "I've got an errand to run," he said. "I'm leaving shortly, and I'll be back sometime tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Dean repeated anxiously. His hands stilled on the cloth. "Is everything okay?"
"I just need to go get someone," John said. "She's in Kansas, so it will take a little time, that's all."
Dean's brows drew together. "Kansas? Isn't that like a seven hour drive?" John nodded. "Is this a hunt? I mean, wouldn't you usually take Sammy?"
"Not for this," John said.
"Because you know, if you want to, you could . . . I don't know, leave me here. I don't think Bobby would mind, and I can be of help here while he's figuring out this stuff that's on me, and then I wouldn't be interfering in your normal way of doing things."
John put his hands on Dean's shoulders. "I am not taking Sam and leaving you behind, Dean," he said. Not ever. "For one thing, Sam would never forgive me."
"Sam would never forgive you for what?" Sam said, coming up behind him.
"For something I'm not going to do," John said. "I've got an errand to run. I'll be back tomorrow." He squeezed Dean's shoulders, tousled Sam's hair and headed to the car, out in front of the house.
He had just unlocked the door when he heard Sam speak from right behind him. "Are you ditching us?" he demanded, his voice just shy of angry.
John turned around in surprise. "Ditching you?" he repeated. "Of course not."
"Five years ago you told me you were just going to go check some things out, and you'd be back in a couple of days. I didn't see you again for three months."
John shook his head. "This isn't anything like that, Sam," he said. "I'm literally going to go pick someone up and bring her back. It's just a long drive, so we won't be here till tomorrow. I'm not even taking my stuff."
Sam still looked suspicious. "Who are you picking up?" he asked.
"Someone you don't know, someone to help us with Dean's situation."
That wiped the suspicion off Sam's face. "Really?" he asked. "Someone that will help him remember stuff?"
"Not exactly, though if we're lucky it will get us to that point." He pulled Sam close and hugged him. "I promise, I'll be back tomorrow."
"No hunts," John replied. "But if I don't leave soon, it will take me that much longer to get back."
Sam nodded earnestly and stepped away. "See you tomorrow, then," he said.
John got into the Impala and left.
Sam watched his father drive away and then went back to Dean. He was standing by the Camaro, and he appeared to be lost in thought. In the hand with the cast, he held an oil-stained rag, and the other was fisted by his side. Sam cleared his throat as he approached. "You okay?"
Dean started, then looked at him. "Sure, Sammy," he said, and he was lying. Sam looked at him again and wondered how he could ever have missed that this was his brother. "Here, let's get the car washed, and then it will be ready to be sold."
"What's the point of washing it?" Sam asked. "The minute someone drives past it, it will be covered with dust again. I mean, do you know when Bobby's going to sell it?"
Dean shrugged. "Not really." He led the way towards the mudroom. "Do you know who your dad's going to pick up?"
"He said I don't know her," Sam said, abruptly aware that he had no idea if Dean knew this person was supposed to help with him. "Just that it was a long drive."
"I'll say," Dean replied. "Kansas. He's going to have to drive through another entire state to get there."
Sam blinked. "He's going to Kansas? But . . ." He shook his head. "That's weird."
"What's weird about Kansas?"
"It's where we're from," Sam said. He opened the door and grabbed the carton of Lava soap and sprinkled it liberally over his hands, then handed it to Dean. They scrubbed off and went into the kitchen, which was full of heavenly smells.
"Roast beef?" Dean asked hopefully.
Bobby nodded. "Roast beef, potatoes, green beans, carrots and corn. It will be ready in twenty minutes." Sam got the milk of the fridge. He thought back to when he'd first moved in with Bobby. There had been a lot of pizza, Chinese food and TV dinners then, back before Bobby learned how to cook.
"Can't wait," Dean replied. "I'm starving."
"Never knew a boy your age who wasn't," Bobby said. Sam was staring at him. He had an odd look to him, like something was bugging him, and Sam wondered why.
"Hey, we were wanting to know when you planned to sell the car," Dean said. "I want to get it washed and ready so you won't have any trouble."
"I figured I'd take you boys to school in it on Monday, then drop it off at Jed's. He's got a clunker he wants me to fix up for him, so that works out perfect."
"So we wash it tomorrow," Sam said. "No point today." Dean shrugged, and Sam said, "We'd better set the table." He went to the cupboard and grabbed out some plates, throwing a casual question over his shoulder. "Bobby, do you know who Dad's bringing back from Kansas?"
"I don't think you know her, Sam," Bobby said, and Sam glanced at Dean. Even his less experienced brother picked up on the evasion.
"But who is it?" Sam asked.
"What's going on, Bobby?" Dean asked. "You both looked really weird when you came back from looking at that truck. And now John's going to Kansas to pick up some chick? It's kinda strange." He tilted his head and looked over at Sam. "Does your dad have a girlfriend?"
Sam goggled at him. "Not likely. He's still way too wound up over what happened to Mom to have a girlfriend."
Dean's brows knit. "I guess he does still wear his wedding ring," he said.
Bobby and Sam shared a look of consternation at this blasé reaction. It was weird to have Dean so calm about Mom. Sam hadn't thought about it before, but when he'd told him about Mom's death, he hadn't reacted at all. He shrugged. "Yeah," he said. "Who's he going after, Bobby?"
"If he didn't tell you, I'm not going to," Bobby replied.
"Uncle Bobby!" Sam exclaimed.
"Sammy, let it be," Dean said. "He's right, John must have his reasons for not wanting us to know."
Sam stared at him in astonishment, shaking his head. "Dad sometimes just keeps things to himself, Dean, without any real reason," Sam protested. "I think it's because it saves arguments."
Dean shrugged, looking unhappy. "So you're going to argue with me about it?" he asked.
Sam bit his lip. "No!" He shook his head and turned to Bobby. "But we can't argue with him now, so why don't you just tell us, Uncle Bobby?"
Bobby sighed and shrugged. "She's from Lawrence," he said. "Her name's Missouri Mosely."
"She's from Lawrence?" Sam asked, and Bobby nodded. "I didn't think dad would ever go back there."
"Dinner's about ready, boys. Get the table set."
Sam nodded and Dean went and grabbed the silverware. "So, Sammy, what do you want to do after dinner?" Dean asked.
Sam shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "We haven't done any training today."
"There's no place in the house where you can do hand to hand training," Bobby said instantly. "And it's too late for you to be going outside for it."
"You could help me with my poker tells," Sam suggested.
"Sounds like a plan, squirt," Dean said. "Bobby, you want to play? It's more fun when there's more players."
Bobby glanced towards the library, but then he shrugged. "What the hell, so long as it's for chicken stakes."
"I don't have any chickens," Dean replied with a straight face, and Bobby glowered at him.
They ate dinner, and Sam kept catching himself watching Dean eat. He was eating with his brother again. Dean hadn't been dead all those years, and Sam didn't have to find some monster who'd eaten him. There was a demon to be destroyed, but that was old familiar territory. They'd always been after a demon. Now they were just after two. His brows knit in sudden concentration. Two? What were the odds that there were two demons after his family? Could it be . . . didn't it almost have to be the same one?
"Did I grow an extra head, Sammy?" Dean asked suddenly. "Or do I have something stuck in my teeth?"
Sam jerked his eyes away from Dean's face. "I was just . . . woolgathering, I think."
"While looking at my face?" Dean asked. "I know it's devilishly handsome, but really, Sammy."
Sam rolled his eyes. "It was just in the way," he said.
"In the way?" Dean repeated. "My face was in the way?" Sam shrugged, and Dean turned to Bobby. "You see how he treats me?"
"Sam's like that," Bobby said. "He starts thinking and the world disappears."
"I am not!" Sam protested.
"So he's a space cadet?" Dean asked. "Good to know. So when he does that, I'll just start saying 'Ground control to Sammy' till he wakes up?"
"Hey!" Sam exclaimed.
Bobby grinned at Dean. "You've got the idea, now, boy. 'Houston, we have a problem.'"
Sam had somehow never expected the reappearance of Dean to mean a resurgence of the teasing he'd always engaged in. He felt both irritated and oddly nostalgic. He swallowed a lump in his throat and blurted, "I've got to go to the bathroom." He got up and hurried out so there wasn't any chance he'd start crying right there at the table.
"Thanks for the update on the BM," Dean called and Sam bit his lip to keep from bawling where he could still be heard.
He went to the bathroom and buried his face in his arms, trying to control himself. Tears flowed despite his best intentions, and it took him a few minutes to force them back under control. When he emerged, he could hear Dean and Uncle Bobby clearing up from dinner. He went upstairs and into Bobby's room where there was a phone on the bedside table. A plan had hatched while he'd sat in the bathroom, but he stopped on the threshold, staring. His dad's journal was lying open on the bed. He walked over and looked at it. There was a name, Missouri Mosely, and a Kansas phone number.
It was like it was fated that he find this out. He wouldn't even have to call Information.
He closed the door and walked back over to the phone. Picking it up, he took a deep breath and dialed. The phone only rang once, and then he heard a click and a voice. "Hello?" The voice was high and sweet, and sort of black Southern.
"Hi," he said, and his voice wobbled a little.
"Who is this?" she asked. "Are you okay, honey?"
"I'm fine. My name's Sam."
"Sam Winchester?" she asked, and Sam blinked. "Is that you, Sammy?"
"Sam," he repeated. "Not Sammy," he said. "But yeah, I'm Sam Winchester. How did you know?"
"Your father called me a couple of hours ago, Sam," she said. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Sam said. "I just –" To his extreme embarrassment, he sniffled.
"You're crying, honey. What is it?"
"I'm not crying," Sam said. "And everything's fine."
"Why did you call? Is your father delayed or something?"
"Not . . . I just wanted to know who you were. He didn't tell me who he was picking up or why."
"Oh, I see," she said in a knowing voice. "Well, I'm an old friend of your father's. I'm coming to help out with Dean, but if your dad wanted you to know the details, he would have told you."
"I know. I just . . . I don't know what's wrong with Dean. No one will tell me anything."
"Sometimes that happens when we're young, Sam. If it's any consolation, you do grow out of it. Eventually."
"Just like being short," Sam muttered.
She laughed. "Yes, just like that."
"How come my dad has never mentioned you before, if you're an old friend?"
"Probably because before this, he's only ever talked to me at the worst times of his life. I remind him of those times."
Sam blinked. "The worst times . . . so when Mom died?" he asked.
"And . . . and when Dean went missing?"
"But Dean's been found," Sam said. "That's not a bad thing."
"I know. It was kind of nice to get good news from John. Now, you should probably be off with your brother, shouldn't you? Getting acquainted again."
"Oh, we're acquainted. It's . . ." His voice quavered and he firmed it up. "It's like we were never apart, almost. Just . . ." His voice broke, and he took a deep, shuddering breath before saying, "He doesn't remember he's my brother."
"Oh, that sounds rough," she said. "But it won't be forever, Sam. You just hold on to that."
Sam sniffled again, to his everlasting humiliation. "How are you going to help?" he asked.
"I think we'd better wait to get into that till I'm there," she said. "I may not be able to help."
"Dad thinks you can, or he wouldn't be driving all the way to Kansas and back to bring you here."
"Your father is a determined man," she replied with a sigh. "I'm a psychic, Sam."
"Then why did you need to ask who I was?"
"Because I'm not omniscient. I can read thoughts, but not at this distance."
Sam nodded. "Right, because if you could do it from there, Dad wouldn't need to bring you here."
"Very smart," she said. "Well, I need to finish getting ready. I'll be seeing you tomorrow."
"Okay. Thanks for talking to me."
"No problem. Take care of your brother."
"Of course. Good bye."
The door opened as he hung up, and Uncle Bobby raised his eyebrows. "Who you talking to, Sam?"
"Miss Mosely. Or maybe Mrs. I don't know which."
"You called her?" Bobby demanded. He walked over and grabbed the journal, closing it and snapping it shut. "Sam!"
"What?" Sam asked. "I wanted to know who she was."
"What did she tell you?"
"That she's an old friend of dad's, that he only talks to her when things are really bad, and that she's a psychic who is coming here to help Dean."
"Oh, is that all?" Bobby asked sarcastically. "Are you planning on telling Dean?"
Sam considered the question, then nodded. "Yes, I am."
"Don't you think it might make him a little anxious?"
"I think he's already anxious," Sam said. He got up and walked out of the room. "I wish someone would tell me what's going on."
Dean was shuffling cards at the kitchen table when Sam got down there. He walked in and sat down. "I called Missouri Mosely," he said, and Dean looked up at him in surprise.
"You did? Why?"
"I wanted to know who she was," Sam said. "She's a psychic, and Dad thinks she can help you."
Dean raised his eyebrows. "A psychic?" he repeated. "Those aren't for real, are they?"
"Some are," Bobby said from the door, coming back into the kitchen. "Some are fakes, but it's nothing to worry about right now. She'll be here tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, I'm going to skunk the two of you at poker."
"You're going to try, old man," Sam said.
"Big words, small fry."
"You two can duke it out all you want," Dean said, and both Bobby and Sam turned to him. "Well, someone's got to come in second."
John cursed himself as he pulled into a parking spot next to a truck. The closer he'd gotten to the turn off to the Roadhouse, the more his conscience had told him he should stop. It couldn't be long, Missouri expected him, but that was the perfect time to drop by. He had an excuse for leaving quickly. He slammed the Impala's door and strode into the building.
Ignoring the other occupants of the room, he walked straight up to where Ellen was wiping down the bar. She looked up as he approached, and her eyes widened. "John, I haven't seen you in nearly five years."
He shrugged. "Can I talk to you privately?" he asked.
Her eyes narrowed, and she nodded. "Becky, keep an eye on things, would you?" A girl who looked about twenty nodded and Ellen beckoned him towards the back rooms. "Come on up, John." John hesitated, and Ellen sighed. "Jo's staying over with a friend tonight," she assured him.
John was glad. He didn't really want to see Bill's daughter. His widow was hard enough to face. "Thanks," he said. They got upstairs into her sitting room, and John shut the door behind them. "I thought it was only fair to tell you, we found Dean."
She gave him an anxious, sympathetic look. "Where'd you find the body?" she asked.
John shook his head. "He was going to school with Sam in Georgia."
Ellen's jaw dropped. "What?"
John grinned at her, and he knew the expression had to look pretty damned foolish. "He's alive, Ellen. He's been in foster care in Georgia for all this time."
"Why didn't he try and find you, though?" she asked. "I know he had this number, and he must have had Bobby's."
John's giddiness dissipated. "He had amnesia," he said.
"John, be serious. That only happens in soap operas," Ellen replied. "What happened?"
John looked down. "He was kidnapped by a demon, Ellen," he said. "And he has spells carved into his skin. Bobby thinks one of them may be blocking his memory, because he still doesn't know who he is." He raised his eyes to hers. "He asked me to help him find his family."
She walked across to the small table of liquor she had set up in a corner and poured two shots. She handed one to him and downed the other. "Son of a gun. Why haven't you told him?"
"For fear that the demon did something else that might make him freak out and bolt if he does find out who we are and who he is." He sank into one of her chairs. "He's the same Dean, though. You remember how he was always so protective of Sammy?" She nodded. "Same thing now. The two of them started acting like brothers before they'd spent a week hanging out together."
She smiled and sat down across from him. "That doesn't surprise me. He always was an overly responsible kid. How's Sam taking it?"
"He's thrilled, of course, he figured it out a few days ago, I guess. They started spending time together in mid-December. Oddly enough, they did a hunt together."
"Why does that not shock me?" Ellen said, laughing. "John, this is amazing. Did you bring them with you?"
He shook his head. "No, I . . . I'm on my way to Lawrence to pick up Missouri." When Ellen raised an eyebrow, he elucidated. "The psychic I consulted after Mary died. We need desperately to know more about what happened to Dean in the two months the demon had him, and Dean just can't talk about it." He closed his eyes. "That kid has been through hell, Ellen."
"Where are they?"
"Bobby's," John said.
"Wait, did you say two months?" Ellen asked, her eyes going wide. "He was with a demon for two months?" John nodded. "What the hell for? Why did it keep him that long instead of killing him?" John felt the blood drain from his face, and Ellen shook her head, putting her shot glass down. "I'm sorry to be so blunt about it, John, but you know other hunters are going to ask that question. They're going to want to know what the demon did with him."
"I don't give a tinker's damn what other hunters want to know," John replied harshly. "My son is alive, he's the same caring, responsible kid he was five years ago, and . . ." He shook his head. "He's my boy, Ellen."
"I know," Ellen said softly. She put her hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. "I'm guessing you don't want this broadcast yet."
John shook his head. "Not yet," he replied. "I just thought – you put in so much effort on the search that it only seemed fair to tell you. And it didn't seem like the kind of news to pass over the phone."
"I appreciate it, John," she said, smiling at him. "You . . . will I see you around here a little bit from now on?"
"We'll see," he said,
She shrugged philosophically. "Well, thanks for coming by, and if you care to arrange it, I'd love to see both Sam and Dean again." Leaning against the wall, she crossed her arms. "Jo's aching to try out some fighting tricks she's learned from one of the hunters on Sam."
"Oh yeah?" he asked, a little startled that Ellen was letting her daughter learn any part of the trade.
She snorted. "Last time they saw each other, I guess, he whupped her butt, and she wants revenge."
"He's been beating up high school football stars, or so I gather. Not sure she wants to go there."
"That won't convince Jo," Ellen said.
John snorted. "No, probably not." He stood up. "Thanks for this," he said, holding out the empty shot glass. "I'd better go."
"Of course, John," she said, taking the glass and putting it aside. She put her hands on his shoulders and looked into his eyes. "You're always welcome."
John gave her a weak smile and went back out to the car. A couple of guys greeted him as he passed, but he gave them as little attention as he could. He had to get to Missouri and then back to Bobby's.
Sam spent Sunday morning with Dean, clearing out his room so that there was a little more space in there. Bobby had told them it was fine, so he wasn't worried about it, but Dean kept looking like he thought they were going to get in trouble.
"Look, Dean, if we're going to be here long enough to go to school, we need the room to be a little less congested, don't you think?"
"I guess, but it's Bobby's place."
"Uncle Bobby said it was okay," Sam said.
"You know, this is kind of a weird room," Dean commented.
"It's ghost and demon-proof," Sam replied. "I guess Dad wanted me to be in the safest place available or something."
"Weird." Dean looked up at the star-shaped fan. "Good ventilation, though."
After they got that done, they went outside and did some hand to hand sparring. Dean was getting better by leaps and bounds, every day, but now that Sam thought about it, Dad had always called Dean a natural. Sam finally thought he had him pinned, but then Dean, cast and all, threw him off and pinned him instead. "Give up, squirt?"
Sam contemplated his options. "If I were really wanting to hurt you, I could get away, but since I'm not, uncle."
"Cop out," Dean grunted, but he stood up again and offered Sam a hand up. "Another go?"
"Do you hear that?" Sam asked.
Dean's eyes went distant, and he looked towards the entrance to the yard. "The Impala!" he said, and they headed as one towards the front of the house. The car pulled up just as they got there, and John got out, hurrying around to open the passenger door. Sam was a little startled by his father's sudden spurt of chivalry.
The person who got out was a heavyset black woman, wearing dark pants and a heavy red jacket. Bobby was on the porch, but she turned towards Sam and Dean. "Hello, boys," she said with a smile. "Let me get warmed up, Dean, and then we can get started. Sam, your friend will be here in a couple of minutes, so you might as well wait out here."
"Hi," Sam said, a little startled. "I . . ." He looked over at Dean. "I'll see you later," he said.
Dean glanced at the adults, who were all heading into the house. "I'll be along in a minute," he said, and he put an arm around Sam's shoulders and turned him around. "Sammy, don't feel bad, please. It's really not that I don't trust you."
Sam shrugged, and he looked up at Dean. "I know. You just want someone close to you who doesn't know all the things that have Dad so freaked out."
Dean blinked at him. "Thank you for understanding, Sammy. I know it's bugging you, but I really need it."
Sam saw Jeremy coming up towards the front of the house nervously. "My friend is here, and you probably ought to go inside."
Dean turned around. "He looks like a little kid," he said.
"He's older than me," Sam replied. "Fifteen, actually. Jeremy!" He finally seemed to see them and came running over. "Jeremy, this is Dean, Dean, this is Jeremy."
"Nice to meet you," Dean said with a distracted grin. "I'd better go. Have fun, Sammy."
He trotted off inside, and Jeremy said, "Wow, your brother's cool."
"Yeah," Sam said. "I –"
"Sam!" Bobby came out on the porch with a paper bag. "I made you some roast beef sandwiches if you're hungry."
Sam ran up to the porch, grabbed them, then joined Jeremy. "You want to go back out to the cave?"
"Yeah, the fort's no fun now that Trish found it." Jeremy kicked the stones in the driveway. "Actually, this place is pretty cool."
Sam looked around. "I lived here for three years before. I can show you around later. Let's go out to the cave." They set off together. "Did you get any lunch?" Sam asked.
"I told Mom I'd get it here so I could get away. Otherwise I might not have escaped for a couple more hours."
Sam opened the bag, which had been heavier than he'd expected. "We've got plenty," he said, showing Jeremy. Bobby'd included a couple of cans of soda and some hardboiled eggs. "Race you!"
They took off running, Sam using the exertion to get some of his emotion out. He hated being excluded, but he couldn't deny Dean anything. Not when he'd only just got him back.