Fire and Ice
The familiar rumble of the Impala's engine slowly seeps through Dean's consciousness and he reluctantly lets go of the beautiful, yet totally imaginary, Christina, and opens his eyes. Sam's driving has been smooth and uneventful and as Dean stretches languidly, he twists his head to look out at the Seattle countryside.
And spins to glare at Sam.
The suburban streets rolling past the window are most definitely not the gentle hills and fields he was expecting and he's worryingly sure they're not in Seattle. Hell, he doesn't even think they're in the US anymore.
"Sam?" he questions, and his suspicions are confirmed when Sam seems to cringe in the driver's seat.
"Dean?" he replies, trying to sound innocent and failing miserably.
Dean stays calm and takes a deep breath. "Where are we, dude?" he asks, "because this doesn't look like Seattle to me."
Sam grips the steering wheel a little tighter and risks a sideway glance at Dean. His brother looks well rested and Sam hopes that's a good thing, because he knows he's going to be pissed when Sam tells him where they are. He decides to take the bull by the horns.
"That's because we're not," he mutters and concentrates hard on the road ahead. He's silent for as long as he can bear it, aware of the look Dean is directing at him. Eventually, he caves. "We're in Vancouver."
Dean kind of knew that. The signs for the Winter Olympics are everywhere and the volume of traffic is inexplicably heavy for this time of morning. Or night, whichever way you like to look at it. He has a hundred questions in his head and he takes a moment to get them in some sort of order. And fails.
"Why?" is all he can come up with and even to his own ears it sounds petulant and whiny.
Sam takes a minute to negotiate a particularly blind turn, before pulling over to the side of the road. Dean looks confused but he's been confused since he woke, expecting to be somewhere completely different.
"I got a call from Cassie," Sam starts and sits back, waiting for the inevitable retort from Dean. He's not disappointed.
"Cassie?" Dean stammers. "My Cassie?"
"I wasn't aware she belonged to you," Sam teases, "and I don't think she'd take too kindly to it either. But, yeah, your Cassie."
"Why's she calling you and not me?" Dean wonders and Sam thinks he hears a hint of hurt in there.
"I don't know," Sam admits. "Maybe she's not sure what reception she'll get from you."
"But, she's got my number. She knows me a helluva lot better than you. Why didn't she call me?" Dean repeats.
Sam smirks. It's obvious Dean's been put out by this turn of events and it's far too good an opportunity for him to miss. "Why?" he asks, "you still carrying a torch for her?"
Dean almost answers that but just catches himself in time. He settles instead for yet another glare at his little brother. "Whatever," he grunts and Sam can't hide the satisfied smile. "What did she want?"
Sam's all business now. Dean's not going to kick up a fuss about being here and they do have a reason for travelling so far out of their normal comfort zone. "Cassie's picked up a couple of reports of unexplained deaths happening over here," he tells Dean. "She thinks it might be something we should look into."
Dean raises his eyebrows. "Since when are we at the beck and call of a journalist?" he queries, but Sam thinks it still has more to do with Dean feeling snubbed.
"Since she might be right," Sam replies. "Three men have died since the Games opened. Frozen to death – literally – in their own motel rooms." He pauses for emphasis. "Fully heated motel rooms."
"Maybe they didn't pay their bills," Dean quips but sobers quickly under Sam's withering stare.
"They had ice particles in their blood, Dean. Takes more than one night without heating to cause that."
Dean sighs. He has to admit that Cassie has a point. This is their kind of thing. "Okay," he says, "where do we start?"
Sam engages the gears and smoothly pulls the Impala back into the stream of traffic. "I have the address of a motel. It's where the latest victim died. Somehow I don't think we'll have any trouble getting a room there."
Turns out, Sam's right. The Blue Petal Motel has more than one vacancy when they book in, using one of Dean's dubious aliases. Sam's always convinced they're going to be caught out but so far their luck has held. It probably has something to do with the charming manner Dean seems to be able to turn on and off at will.
The office is manned by an elderly, uninterested man with a paunch to be proud of and a cloud of cigarette fumes hanging over his head. Sam has to try really hard not to gag or get too close to him. Dean takes it all in his stride though and within minutes they're booked into the room next door to the murder scene. Dean wanted the actual room but they're told it's still sealed off by the cops.
Room 107 is small and cramped but Sam doesn't really care. He's driven through the night and all he wants is a shower and a sleep. The Olympic memorabilia strewn around the place is off putting but they've stayed in worse.
"Sam." Dean interrupts his thoughts and he realises he's been drifting.
"You coming, or what?" and he waves at the diner across the street.
Sam nods reluctantly. They're on a job here and sleep can wait a little longer. Food, on the other hand, is a necessity Dean isn't prepared to go without. Sam drops his duffel on the bed and digs out his laptop.
Sitting at a slightly sticky table, Dean keeps one eye on the street and one eye on the door. The waitress has just brought him a stack of pancakes that would have fed the entire Olympic village. Sam contents himself with a strong coffee and pulls out his laptop, swiftly and efficiently hacking into the local police reports. He finds what he needs and sits back with a frown on his face.
Looking up from his pile of pancakes, Dean notices the concern on his brother's face.
"What?" he asks round a mouthful of breakfast delights. "What've you got?"
Sam tilts his head to one side and makes eye contact with Dean, trying to ignore the trail of syrup slowing making its way down his chin.
"So," he starts, "all the victims were pretty similar. Single, mid twenties to thirties, out of towners here to watch the games." He sits back and gives Dean a meaningful look. Which is completely lost on the older hunter.
"And?" Dean prompts when it becomes apparent Sam isn't going to share his revelation.
"Like us?" Sam suggests.
"And thousands of others in this city right now," Dean argues. "Or hadn't you noticed?"
Sam shrugs. "It appears that each of them had come to the rescue of an old woman on the afternoon of their death - either whilst watching the games or on the way back. The police seem to think this woman knows something and are trying to trace her. All they've come up with so far is a vague description of her as being dressed all in grey with a plaid shawl about her shoulders and over her head, shielding her face. Probably why they haven't found her yet." He slams his laptop shut and picks up his now lukewarm coffee.
Dean nods. There's nothing helpful in what Sam has found. The woman could be anyone, could be nothing, could be everything. "What about the way they died?" he asks, hoping to glean something more useful.
"Not much to go on," Sam admits. "It's like Cassie said. Extreme hypothermia which the cops haven't been able to explain. All the motels had fully working heating and all the victims were fully dressed, in winter gear."
"So the cops have nothing?" Dean checks.
Sam shakes his head. "They're baffled."
"So, what are we looking for then?" Dean wonders, wracking his brain, running through every hunt he's ever been on or heard of and coming up blank. "Something with the ability to literally freeze people? What would that be?"
Sam doesn't know either and there's not enough information in the police files to help. He looks up at Dean and knows they're both thinking the same thing. "Morgue?" he asks.
"Morgue," Dean agrees, finishing up his pancakes and giving the waitress a knowing wink. He smiles to himself when she turns a beautiful shade of pink and makes a mental note to come back here when they're done. She has the kind of eyes he could get lost in and he's well on the way when Sam kicks him under the table.
"Morgue?" he reminds his older, incorrigible brother.
The morgue is across town and it takes Dean a good hour and a half to traverse the city's avenues and streets, cursing the Games and the resultant influx of visitors to Vancouver. Sam sits back and tries to relax but it's hard when Dean is on a roll, cursing every red light, diversion and jam whilst maintaining a running commentary on how skimpy some of the winter outfits are.
Turns out the morgue is in the basement of a large hospital, run by overworked and underpaid medical professionals. It's ridiculously easy to get down to the basement and Sam has them inside within ten minutes of parking the Impala. There's no security and the cameras don't seem to be working.
"I guess everyone's too busy with the Games," Sam muses as he scans the rows of drawers, each one containing the body of a soul no longer on this earth. Dean watches him curiously for a couple of minutes.
"Do you even know who you're looking for?" he asks, picking up a clipboard lying on a gurney and flicking through the papers left on it.
"Michael Evans, Colin Robinson and George Blackden." Sam reels off the names by rote.
"2A, 17C and 22C," Dean tells him, waving the clipboard smugly in answer to Sam's silent question. "It's all on the chart."
Sam sighs a long suffering sigh and makes his way to the first drawer. He pulls it out and takes hold of the sheet covering the corpse. He hesitates for a second, wondering who this man was, whether he left a family behind somewhere, whether he accomplished what he wanted to with his life.
"What are you waiting for, Sammy?" Dean asks.
"Nothing," mumbles Sam, "doesn't matter." He draws back the sheet to reveal the man's face, frozen in death.
Dean hovers over his shoulder and peers down at the current occupant of 2A. There's nothing remarkable and he sure as hell isn't going to start cutting the guy up to see if anything was missed.
He moves on to the next drawer and yanks it out, dragging the sheet off with indecent speed. Sam winces at the lack of respect but knows there's no point saying anything. The bodies are in good condition he muses, glancing over at Dean's subject. As he turns his head back, something glimmers and catches his eye. Frowning he lifts the hand of the deceased, turning it over in his. He lifts it nearer to examine it closer.
Dean throws back the sheet and is about to slam the drawer shut when he notices what Sam is doing. Curiosity gets the better of him and he abandons his post, moving over to his brother.
"What'cha got?" he queries.
Sam doesn't reply, just waves the hand at Dean, pointing to the fingers. Dean leans forward and frowns.
"Is that silver?" he asks.
Sam nods and moves over to the other body. "Nothing here," he announces after a cursory check. "What about number three?"
Dean pulls out the third victim and rummages under the sheet for a hand. He doesn't need to see the face, he's seen enough dead eyes in his line of work to last a lifetime. A quick examination confirms what they both half expect. Silver residue under the nails.
"Huh," Dean grunts. "This wasn't on the autopsy reports," he complains.
"No," Sam agrees. "Neither was this." He beckons Dean over to where he's rolled the body of Michael Evans on to its side, revealing a small tattoo in the small of his back. Dean takes one look and tries to suppress the shiver of recognition that courses through him.
"Is that…" he can't quite bring himself to finish the statement.
"Yeah," Sam confirms. "It's the same as ours. Either he had good taste in tattoos, or he was a hunter."
"A hunter? Out here?"
"Why not? We can't be the only hunters with this tattoo, Dean."
Dean can't argue with Sam's logic and, on a whim he moves back to Colin and George. Colin's back is blemish free, but the evidence says George probably could have told them a story or two.
"What were hunters doing out here?" he wonders.
"Same as us I expect," Sam answers. "It would explain the silver. Maybe they knew what this thing is and silver kills it."
"Kind've a long shot, don't you think?"
"Maybe, but if you have a better idea, let me know."
Outside the weather has deteriorated and Dean pulls the collar of his jacket up. It doesn't help – the snow still manages to find its way down the back of his neck. Sam seems oblivious to the cold and for some reason that just pisses Dean off even more.
"Dude, are you not cold?" Dean grumbles for the hundredth time.
"Not really," Sam replies, heading down sidewalk to where they parked the car. "I dressed for the season. It is winter after all."
"Yeah, but it's, like, really cold today. This is why I like California so much."
Sam laughs, but Dean's comments have got him thinking. It is cold, unseasonably cold and maybe, just maybe, there's something in that. He has a theory which he wants to check out but he knows from experience he'll get more done on his own.
"I'm gonna swing by the library," he says, knowing his brother will balk at the idea of spending the rest of the day surrounded by dry, dusty books. "Why don't you give Bobby a call? See if he's ever heard of those guys."
True to form, Dean leaps at the get out clause Sam has just given him. In his mind's eye, he's already back at the diner, sipping coffee and reacquainting himself with that foxy little waitress. As the brothers prepare to go their separate ways, Sam can't help but put a damper on his brother's enthusiasm for extracurricular activity.
"Don't forget to call Bobby," he reminds Dean, raising an eyebrow to let Dean know his plans aren't that tricky to figure out. Dean looks hurt, but as he peels away up the steps of the Central Library, Sam allows himself a little smile, content in the knowledge he's caught his brother out on this one.
Dean heaves a dramatic sigh, aimed at Sam's back, and turns back towards the Impala. The traffic is even heavier than when they set out and much as he loves spending time with his baby, he'd much rather be on the open road than stuck in some pointless jam. Clasping his hands together and huffing warm breath on them he's about to cross the road, picking his way through virtually stationary traffic, when he sees her.
She's hovering in the doorway of a department store, her face shielded from view by a bright red plaid shawl. Her head is bowed and her shoulders are hunched, whether by age or by choice Dean doesn't know. And for an instant, he doesn't care. He's one foot into the road before he realises his feet are making their own decisions. He's compelled to get to her even though, in the back of his mind he knows he's totally unprepared for this encounter, not even Sammy there for back up.
But for the moment, it doesn't matter. All that matters is getting to her. She lifts her head and Dean can almost see her face. He takes another step forward and is startled back into himself by the squeal of brakes and blaring of horns as the not-so-stationary traffic gets up close and personal with him.
He steadies himself with a hand on the hood of the Honda that's just tried to run him down and offers the driver, typical soccer mom, an apologetic gesture. She looks almost as shaken as he feels. He feels he ought to reassure her a little more but his attention is diverted by the frail looking woman on the other side of the road. She's watching him intently and he feels almost violated by her gaze and he wishes he could make out her features.
Then the tableau is broken by a delivery truck cruising past and when Dean's view of the shop front is clear again, she's gone. Shaking his head, Dean casts his eye up and down the street but she's nowhere to be seen but the Impala is in sight now and Dean suddenly feels chilled to the core, wanting only the warmth his baby can provide.
By the time he gets back to the motel room he's almost warm but not quite. Cursing the winter weather, Sam for dragging him here, Cassie for contacting Sam, he forces the key in the door a little too harshly. Flinging the door open, the first thing he does is grab a steaming cup of coffee from the ancient coffee maker in the corner of the room.
He settles himself down on one of the rickety chairs by the window where he can keep an eye on the car, the weather, the diner over the road, and dials Bobby's number from memory, his fingers doing the work without him thinking about it. It takes the older hunter three or four rings before he picks up and if Dean hadn't already guessed he knew where they were, his first words would have been a dead giveaway.
"You boys get there alright?" Bobby asks without greeting and then listens while Dean quickly fills him in on what they've found, finishing with the names of the victims and the tattoos Sam found.
"Too much of a coincidence for me, Bobby," Dean confides. "Tell me you've heard of them."
There's a pause and Dean can hear Bobby shuffling paper around. "I've heard of 'em," he tells Dean. "Or at least I've heard of Evans and Blackden. Don't know about Robinson though. I can ask around. Could be he doesn't venture out much or he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"You could say that about most the people here," Dean grumbles, wrapping his free hand round his coffee, feeling a little colder again. He glances over to the thermostat while Bobby mutters some reply. It's set high and Dean doesn't really understand why he's feeling cold again.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spots a mist swirling by the bathroom door and for one, disorientated minute, he thinks it a strange time for Sammy to be taking a shower. Then the cold ratches up another notch and it's all he can do to not drop his phone from his shaking fingers.
"Bobby?" he manages to stutter through chattering teeth, "I need help…" and that's all he manages before the mist materialises into the old woman he saw on the street and the phone signal drops out fractionally before the phone itself falls to the fall from numb digits.
Sam's just about to put the last book back on the shelf when his phone rings. He whips it out of his pocket before it disturbs too many people but it's too late to escape the notice of the ancient librarian seated at the desk. He raises apologetic eyebrows at her and shrugs, before turning away and disappearing down an aisle of academic tomes.
He hasn't looked at the caller display, just assumes it will be Dean so Bobby's gruff tones come as a surprise.
"Where are you?" Bobby demands and Sam doesn't fail to spot the lack of niceties which, whilst not his forte, usually accompany Bobby's calls.
"Library," he answers quietly, edging past the librarian who is glaring alternately at Sam and the 'Silence' sign above her desk.
"Well get yourself back to the motel," Bobby orders him. "Dean's in trouble but I'm damned if I know what."
Bobby doesn't need to say anything more and Sam's virtually running down the halls to the street. "It's okay," he tells the older hunter. "I have a fairly good idea. What do you know about the God of Winter?"
There's a pause on the other end of the phone and Sam can almost see Bobby scratching his head. "Not much," he admits. "Except I thought it was a Goddess. Unless you boys have found something new."
Sam skids to a halt at the kerbside, looking both ways across the traffic, waiting to dart between the cars to get nearer to the motel. "Yeah," he puffs. "That's what I meant." There's a gap in the traffic and Sam legs it across the street. "How do you kill one, Bobby?" and he really hopes that Bobby has the answer even though he knows nothing is ever that easy for the Winchesters.
"I don't know, Sam," Bobby sighs. "This is a goddess we're talking about. Not some second-rate sprite or spirit. These things are aeons old. Ancient power's hard to break."
"Try, Bobby," Sam pleads. "Please."
"I'll get back to you," he answers. "You just go get your brother." And Sam doesn't need telling twice.
"Bobby?" he asks, hesitantly as though asking might just jinx him. Or Dean. "If this is what we think, what's it going to do to Dean? Just so I know what to expect." He pauses, gauges the distance he still has to travel to get to his brother. "You know. Just in case." He doesn't want to think about the 'just in case' but it's best to be prepared even if he doesn't like what he might hear.
"I don't know." Bobby's reply is slow and measured. "Stay on the line. I've got some books round here somewhere should tell me something. But keep moving."
Sam's running down the sidewalk now, dodging in and out of the hordes, cursing the Games and the aimless meandering of the thousands of spectators drifting back to their hotels or making their way to the next event. His frustration is mounting and he just about to let loose with a stream of uncharacteristic expletives when Bobby's voice breaks through his anxiety.
"Sam? You still there?"
Sam just grunts in reply, ignoring the aggrieved glares from passers by as he jostles them out of his way.
"How long till you get to Dean?"
Sam doesn't like the tone of Bobby's question and his heart tries to drop to his stomach. "I'm going as fast as I can, Bobby. But Dean took the car and there's like a million people just going for a stroll here. What've you got?"
"I know how to kill it," Bobby states. "But you need to hurry. These things work fast, Sam. Dean may not have much time left."
The temperature in the room must be way below freezing by now and Dean can't control the shivering in his limbs. He's managed to grab hold of his shotgun and, more by luck than judgement, he raises it to hip height. He's been taught well and he knows he can take the shot from that position but something tells him it won't do him any good. He still can see her face but from beneath the shawl a long, bony arm snakes out and withered fingers beckon him to her. He wants to resist, he really does, but he's inexplicably drawn to her, shotgun clattering to the floor at his numb feet.
Somewhere in the recesses of his mind he finds the time to wonder why the temperature seems even colder over here, finally decides it's something to do with her, and bizarrely he gives her a name – Icy Izzy. He doesn't know where that came from and he thinks Sam would smack him upside the head if he ever found out he was giving their foe names.
But then she's in touching distance and Dean stops thinking about anything at all. Her hand, gnarled and withered, drops onto his shoulder and the cold spreads from her fingers through his shirt and courses through his body.
And just like that the spell is broken. Dean pulls away from her, but she clings on tenaciously and there's strength in those old, old fingers that he didn't expect. The ice in her touch is permeating his skin and he swears he can feel his life fluids solidifying in his veins. This is why there was ice in the victims' bloodstreams he realises. He gives in to the shivering and shaking, wondering idly if he can shake her off him. His shoulder is burning now where her hand rests, deceptively gently.
There's a buzzing in his ears and it's getting hard to focus. He's pretty sure they're still in the motel room but the frigid temperature belies their location. He might as well be in an ice cave in the Antartic. In his shorts. Through the ringing and shivering he thinks he can hear Sam but somehow he thinks that's impossible. Sam is safe and warm, tucked up in the library with his dusty old books. He's lost the ability to think clearly and his eyelids feel incredibly heavy. All he wants to do is sleep.
The burst of flame takes him completely by surprise, the shards of cold ricocheting round his brain, darting behind his eyes and stabbing the back of his neck. The woman in front of him wails and releases her hold on his shoulder. The relief is overwhelming and Dean stumbles backwards awkwardly, falling to his knees, hands scrubbing at his temples in an attempt to alleviate the headache pounding away in his skull.
There's a fireball in front of him now, exactly where the old woman was standing and no matter how muddled Dean's brain is, his survival instincts are all there. He pulls away, curling into a ball to protect himself from the heat and flames licking at the toe of his boots. Then there are strong, warm hands under his arms, pulling him across the floor, away from the fire, towards safety.
He looks up and sees Sam towering above him, flame thrower over one shoulder and a cocky grin on his face.
"Fire," he states with a smirk. "Beats ice every time."