The sky was just beginning to lighten when Dean opened his eyes the next morning. He lay there quietly listening to Sam's puffs of breath next to him. Sam. His little brother. His biggest failure. The person he loved most in the world, although he'd deny it a thousand times and cut out his own tongue before he'd admit it out loud to anybody. Saint Peter and that Rooster had nothing on Dean Winchester when it came to denial.
He had to admit to being rather surprised Sam hadn't wanted to dissect everything Bobby'd told them about their dad. His little brother was usually Mr. Diarrhea of the Mouth when it came to discussing subjects Dean had no desire to talk about. And their dad rescuing them, their dad possibly being a demon, anything about their dad at this particular point in time was a no-go area as far as he was concerned.
Hell, he'd failed their dad and he'd failed to protect Sam. He'd promised Sam he'd keep him safe from the demons and he hadn't done it. Alastair got them both. He'd failed, period. Dean Winchester, the mighty failure. That was him, all right.
"You're thinking too hard," came from inside the sleeping bag next to him.
"Thinking?" Sam's tousled head rose up from under Dean's right armpit. His nose wrinkled. "You stink, dude."
"You're no bed of roses yourself, Fart Queen." It was not an attempt worthy of the Master if Comebacks and Dean's frown appeared just seconds before Sam's.
"Don't. Even. Start." Dean shoved at his brother. The big lump didn't move an inch.
"I was going to suggest breakfast," Sam said mildly as he rolled over and got off the bed. "This place still smells like bleach."
"Sure you were," Dean grumbled. "Go make us some coffee. Geisha girl."
"Only if you take a shower, stink monster."
Their eyes met at the same moment and Dean watched Sam's lips start shaking. Okay, they were both off their game, but…
"STINK MONSTER?" Dean was laughing before he realised it, Sam joining in.
"Fart Queen?" came the quick rejoinder.
"Eeee-yup." Dean was still chortling as he disappeared into the bathroom. "Make that coffee!"
He'd stopped laughing by the time he stepped under the shower. He was just so tired. While the physical scars were beginning to fade a little, the emotional ones were as raw as ever and he didn't think they would ever go away. Sam was doing a pretty good job of pretending he was on his game, but Dean knew him too well to believe it; his little brother had tells that gave away his true emotions, tells Dean had been studying for 23 years and knew intimately. They were both in crappy shape and it would probably take a miracle for them to finish this damn hunt successfully.
No, he wasn't going to go there. Briefly he wondered how long he'd been standing like a zombie under the shower as he suddenly realised he hadn't even begun to wash his, according to Sam, stinky body. Sluggishly he picked up a washcloth and rubbed soap over it. Clean the face, the neck, the chest. Scrub those stinky pits. Don't look at the scars on the stomach or legs or arms and don't forget to clean your feet.
The water was cooling off. Great, now he'd have to listen to Sam bitch about the lack of hot water. Par for the course: Dean, the hot water failure.
He turned off the shower, dried himself off and wrapped the cheap towel around his waist. All simple actions he could do without thought. Sniffing, he smelled the coffee. Good boy, Sammy.
The door was barely open when Sam spoke up. "You used all the hot water, didn't you?"
Half a beat, then, "Bitch." It almost hadn't come out, but it wasn't Sam's fault his big brother was a failure. Shouldn't take it out on him. Normal. They needed normal.
"Made your coffee," Sam shot over his shoulder as he disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door.
"Thanks," Dean said, too softly for Sam to possibly hear even if he'd still been in the same room. He dressed quickly; heat wasn't something this room possessed.
Pouring himself a cup of java, Dean sat down at the table. Sam was right the place did still smell like bleach. Well, better that than what they'd opened the door to. His mind skimmed over what they needed to do today; he decided it was important to keep his mind on the job, not let it wander off to … other things.
He was still nursing the same cup of coffee when Sam came waltzing out of the bathroom.
"My goosebumps have goosebumps and you better not have drunk all the coffee, too," Sam said.
"And you could have got bigger towels."
"Complain, complain, com… gladiator Sam!" Dean laughed as finally looked at his brother. The towel was a bit short for his 6'4" stature, and while it circled his skinny non-hips just fine, barely covered his genitals. Another inch or so and Dean would be subjected to more of his brother than he wanted to see. "Don't you flash me, SAM!"
He didn't duck fast enough to miss the towel tossed at him, as Sam twirled around and stuck his bare butt in the air. "Fart Queen!" he shouted and proceeded to demonstrate his prowess. Dean couldn't get out of the way fast enough.
Sam smirked as he slipped his boxers on. "Doesn't smell like bleach," he said with satisfaction.
"Ass," Dean grumbled before he thought.
"Yes," Sam said happily, "that would be what I used."
After a meal of donuts and coffee―the breakfast of champions living in dive hotels―Sam and Dean headed out to the local library. Research was a necessary evil as far as Dean was concerned, and something he shunned as much as possible. In this case avoidance was going to be impossible; one room key, one car, and a little brother who was apparently determined to make Dean do as much work as possible.
"We should probably see about interviewing more of the victims' family members today." Dean put as much innocence and nonchalance into his voice as possible. Nothing to see here, no ulterior motive to avoid reading through a gazillion miles of micro-fiche, nope.
"Nice try, Dean."
"We'll get more done if we split up," he attempted again.
"Together. We're doing this together."
"You just don't want to wade through all those dusty newspapers by yourself," Dean pouted. "You're perfectly capable of doing it by yourself."
"Yeah, but I don't want to."
After parking, they made their way into the small building that proudly called itself―in overly large lettering―the Lompoc Public Library. He stayed by the sliding glass door as Sam walked over to the information desk. A few minutes of quiet whispering and finger-pointing and Sam was turning back to his brother.
"Most of the old papers we want are still on micro-fiche," Sam said as he got closer. "At least it's stored out here in the research section so we don't have to check film in and out each time. Card catalog is here, too."
"Card catalog? As in little squares of paper? Hasn't anyone told them it's the 21stcentury?"
They made their way to the back of the library. After glancing around Sam trundled over to a small filing cabinet and pulled open one of the tiny drawers.
"Okay. Steven said he and Maggie grew up with the legend, and his mom with a variation of it," he began. "I think we should start with 1980 and work our way back."
"A woman and a baby killed in a car accident on a lonely mountain road sometime between 1980 and the invention of the au-to-mo-bile," Dean said sarcastically. "Simple."
"You never know, we might get lucky."
Dean looked at him and raised an eyebrow, waiting.
Sam quickly looked down at the card in his hand then up to the film boxes stacked on the shelves next to them looking for the 1980's. He spun around hands full of film and his face took on a suitably abashed expression. "Yeah, right, what was I thinking? Luck and Winchester don't go together. Here." He held out a palm full of micro-fiche.
"Thanks. Not," was all Dean said as he took his share. He didn't want to be here at all. The 80's had not been good to the Winchester family, not by a long shot. The 80's started his life as a failure; in fact the only thing he'd actually succeeded at was getting Sammy out of their burning house. After that? Just one fiasco after another.
Did Sam still trust him? How could he? Dean knew he had to be a disappointment to his little brother, that he'd let Sam down so many times it was impossible for Sam to trust him to watch his back. To protect him. To do his job and take care of Sammy. And dad…
He immediately shut down that train of thought and settled at the machine next to Sam. At least there weren't a million kids roaming around.
"It's the middle of a school day," Sam said seemingly out of the blue.
"There aren't any kids here because it's the middle of a school day," Sam reiterated, not very patiently.
"Oh, did I say that out loud?" Dean turned his attention back to the machine in front of him and continued reading.
"Obviously," Sam said dryly.
For a while the only sounds to be heard were the swishing of the film through the micro-fiche machine and the hushed whispers of the few Library patrons. Dean was getting very bored; scratch that, he'd been bored since he woke up this morning, now he was practically somnambulant and this tiny print was making it worse. Plus he'd failed to find anything of interest; aside from the recent deaths it seemed nothing much ever happened in this one-horse town.
"Will you stop?" Sam hissed.
Dean looked around guardedly. "Who me? Stop what?"
"Squirming. You're like a little kid who has to pee and can't hold it."
"There's nothing in here, Sammy, this is useless. We're not going to find anything." Dean got up and stalked around their table. Why go through all this only to fail? They weren't going to catch any ghost, if there even was a ghost…"
"There is a ghost, Dean, and we'll stop this," Sam said softly.
Oops. Dean really needed to watch is mouth; that was the second time something popped out without his permission.
"I don't… yeah, right." Dean flopped back into his chair, gave a heavy sigh and started reading. A few minutes later he sighed again, adding a little squirm. Wait for it….
"Why don't you go get us some lunch," Sam said, his voice and face plainly showing his exasperation.
"Excellent idea. Glad I thought of it." Dean jumped out of the chair. "What do you want?"
"Fine. Later, dude. Don't find anything useful without me." Dean shot through the library like a bullet from a gun, he so wanted out of the building. He needed to be moving, he was an action man not a geek researcher.
After a lunch of Subway sandwiches, chips and sodas outside in the library's garden it was back to the grind. Dean burped quietly; at least he wasn't hungry any more. His full stomach was good for at least an hour more of this bore-me-to-death research.
Or not even that long. Dean had barely sat down and warmed up the computer-thing when Sam spoke.
"About time." Dean turned off his machine and leaned over to look at Sam's terminal.
"Don't leave the film in there, Jesus," Sam glowered.
Dean scowled back but did as he was told. His little brother had way too many bitch-faces for one person. "So what did you find?" He set the micro-fiche down on the table with exaggerated care, just catching Sam's eye-roll.
"Her name really was Agnes. No last name, no ID―they only have the first name because it was embroidered on her sweater. Died in a car accident on Harris Grade, June 13, 1957. There's no mention of a baby other than a notation of baby items being found in the car." Sam shrugged. "Did they have seat belts back then? There was no law about infant seats, so if she did have a baby with her, it's possible it was thrown from the car. Would explain her looking for it all these years."
"But why suddenly start killing people? In all that time nobody's died because of her until now." Dean beamed. "I think we need to pay another visit to our good friend Charlie Weir, convince him to give us a little more information this time around."
Sam clicked "copy" then unwound the film from his machine. "You can't punch him, Dean."
"Just a little tap?"
"No." Sam stood, looking around the room.
Dean pointed to their left. "Printer's over there. Spoilsport." He didn't have to see Sam's face to know another rolling of the eyes was in progress. "Bitch."
"I heard that," Sam said. "Jerk. And she was cremated. Something is keeping her here."
"Great," Dean muttered as he followed his long-legged brother out of the library.
One good thing about this town, Dean thought, was its size. They didn't spend a ton of time driving around looking for where they had to go. Of course, the GPS in Sam's fancy phone certainly helped with that.
The grass in front of the Weir house had been mowed between their last visit and now. "Guess someone got off their fat ass and did some pruning," Dean commented. The weeds were noticeably absent around the flowers, too.
"Either that or a neighbor got tired of looking at the jungle and cleaned up for him." Sam beat Dean to the doorbell and pushed the button.
Dean glanced around as they waited. And waited. He was ready to punch the bell himself when the door finally opened before them.
"You again." Charles hadn't grown any more articulate in the last 24 or so hours, not that Dean was surprised.
"Yeah, it's us again. We have some more questions for you," Dean ground out, using his best bad-cop voice.
"We're sorry we have to bother you again." Sam's soft voice slid in behind's Dean's belligerent tone right on schedule.
It gave Dean a moment's pause; they hadn't talked about how they were going to handle Charles this time, and things were starting off smoothly. Maybe they could do this after all.
"You gonna let us in, or are we gonna conduct business out here so all your neighbors can watch the show?" Dean growled.
"I don't think we need to be quite so aggressive with him, Agent Taylor," Sam turned to Charles and smiled. "May we come in? We just have a couple more questions for you, it won't take long."
"Uh, yeah. I guess." Charles stepped back from the doorway. Dean headed directly for the couch he'd sat on last time and made himself comfortable. Sam politely let Charles lead the way, then positioned himself on the cushions beside his brother.
"Since we last spoke, Mr. Weir, we've found out more about that spot along the hill you mentioned." Sam leaned forward, elbows on knees with his hands clasped loosely between his legs. "Had you and your cousin been to 'that spot' prior to his death?"
Sam had barely finished his question before Charles was shaking his head. "No. Never been to that spot. No."
"You sure?" Dean clenched his jaw, narrowed his eyes and stared at Charles.
"Are you asking me? Because if you are," Dean spit the words out between his teeth, "then I'm going to answer you with a 'yes-you-have'. See, I think you and your cousin were there before he died, and I think the two of you found something and messed with it when you shouldn't have. What do you think, Charlie?"
Charles' eyes were wide, his mouth opening and closing soundlessly; the man was definitely awake and paying attention now.
"Mr. Weir?" Sam's soft trust-me voice again.
"How did … you know?" The agitated man could barely get the words out.
"We're the FBI, dude," Dean snorted, grin wide.
After that the floodgates opened.
"We found some bones, okay? We were out there dumping an old couch and my cap fell off and slid down with it. When we went to get it, David found a baby's skull. Thought it would make a cool paper-weight--"
"You're not serious." Sam sounded horrified, the gentle, sympathetic tones gone. Dean was just disgusted. Idiots.
"David brought it back. Not me," Charles protested.
"Good thing for you, or you'd probably be dead, too," Dean pointed out angrily. "Where exactly did you morons find the skull? And more importantly, where the hell is it now?"
Charles pointed a shaky finger at the fireplace. There on the mantle sat a tiny, dirty skull. Dean wanted to throw up. People. He simply didn't understand them.
"And you found it….?"
"Right where David was killed. The couch is still there."
"And the fact that David was killed exactly where you found the skull didn't tell you anything?" Dean stomped over to the fireplace and gently picked up the head. He turned back; Charles was looking at the floor. Dean shook his head in revulsion. "Let's go, Sam."
Back at the car Dean opened the trunk. Pulling out a blanket he reverently wrapped the tiny head in it and handed it to Sam.
"Let's go. Put this back where it belongs and burn the lot," Dean said as he started the car up.
"Do you think we actually need to burn them?" Sam asked hesitantly.
"Why wouldn't we?" What was up in Sam's big brain now?
"There were no deaths before David took the skull. Makes sense that all we need to do is put it back where it was," Sam pointed out sensibly.
"Maybe. I don't know."
"Besides, we don't know what happens to a soul after we salt and burn the bones. What if we're sending the baby to Hell or―"
"Don't even go there Sam. People are cremated after they die a normal death every day. Are you saying all those souls―assuming there are such things―automatically go to Hell?" Up ahead was bright yellow crime scene tape and Dean carefully pulled off the road onto the dirt verge. He shut off the car and turned to his brother. "Okay? Are we good here, Sam? Because I don't want to be halfway through looking for the rest of the bones only to have mommy show up and toss me while you waffle over whether or not to burn the bones. So? Sam?"
"Yeah, Dean, we're good. I don't… yeah. We're good."
"Then let's finish this."
Sam unwrapped the baby's skull and handed it over to Dean who set it in his jacket pocket. Grabbing the salt and lighter fluid, Sam followed Dean carefully down the side of the hill, passing the Weir's couch in the process.
"Yeah, it was past time for that thing to be dumped," Dean laughed. "It's got stuff on it that I don't even want to know what it was."
"Man, the bones could be anywhere around here." Sam stood by the couch, forehead wrinkled and a forlorn expression on his face.
"Well, the cap fell―off his stupid head I'd imagine, and on to the couch―so the skull would've been somewhere between the top of the hill and the couch. Or it could be farther down," Dean added, frustrated.
"Yeah, thanks for that, Sherlock." Sam bent over and began looking closely at the ground covering.
After watching his brother for a few minutes Dean followed suit. He was feeling pretty hopeless at the moment; the chance of actually finding the tiny bones of an infant were slim to none in his opinion. And with his track record as Mr. Failure Extraordinaire, he wasn't expecting any miracles to pop up and say "here I am, give me back my head and let's salt and burn!"
For a split second Dean was afraid he'd once again verbalized his thoughts, but at the sad look on Sam's face he realised it wasn't that. He walked over to where Sam knelt on the ground and sank down beside him. Sam's very large was hand was holding a very small bone.
"Yeah," Sam said in low voice. He carefully wiped the dirt away from the bone and set it aside before running his fingers though the dirt in search of more bones.
It didn't take long before they found the rest of the baby's remains. Dean sat back on his haunches with a sigh. This hunt really sucked big time. He wondered if Bobby would have sent them here if he'd real―
"WOAH!" Suddenly Dean was looking down on the top of Sam's head, his legs dangling in mid-air.
"Dean?" Sam jumped up and looked around wildly. "Where is she?"
"I don't―behind you, on your left. Ooooof." An invisible hand punched him hard in the stomach and he gasped, trying to catch his breath. "Burn the … bones … Sammy!"
"Catch!" Dean grabbed the skull from his pocket and tossed it to Sam who caught it carefully. "Now burn the bones!"
"What if… why can't we just show her …and re-bury them?" Sam appeared to be quickly losing all rational thought.
"What if someone digs them up again?" Dean gasped as he was twirled around in a circle.
"Agnes! Agnes, we have your baby," Sam yelled. He waved the skull around, and her attention immediately switched from Dean.
Dean dropped back to the ground with a thud, a grunt and a promise to severely hurt his brother after this was all over.
Sam knelt, gently laid the skull down with the rest of the remains and looked over at the flickering figure. "We found your baby for you."
With a jerk, Agnes got up close and personal with Sam, looking between him and her baby. Dean tensed, ready for whatever her next trick would be.
She smiled and reached out a hand towards the ground and her baby.
"We need to burn the bones, Sammy," Dean said softly.
"She was cremated. It would be the same thing."
From his position on the ground, Sam stared up at Dean with a stricken expression. "What if--"
"No, Sam, no what ifs." Dean joined him in the dirt and began pouring out the salt. He handed Sam the accelerant. "Trust me."
Dean sat there quietly, waiting, as Sam's jaw clenched and un-clenched a few times before he finally upended the container. A snick of the match and it wasn't long before little baby Doe was ashes and dust.
"Look," Dean whispered.
Sam glanced up. Agnes was standing in front of them, smiling and holding a tiny blanket-wrapped bundle. She stayed there for another moment before gradually fading from view.
"You were right," Sam said. "Salt and burn worked. I was just afraid―"
"I know," Dean said quickly. "I know."
After carefully burying the burn evidence, they gathered everything up and trudged back up the hill to the car.
"Can you stand one more night here?" Dean asked.
"Yeah. I'm beat. But can we not eat dinner at Juanita's?"
"That rabbit food still arguing with you?" Dean grinned.
"No, but … there's an Alphie's Fish and Chips―"
"I have no say in this, do I?" Sam grumbled.
"Sure you do. You don't want to go to Juanita's. We're not going there. That's your say," Dean smirked as they turned into the parking lot at MacDonald's.
"This isn't Burger King," Sam commented.
It was stated rather mildly, too, in Dean's opinion, so apparently Sam wasn't too against eating a Big Mac or three. Or, wait. McDonald's had salads. Figured. What a sacrilege.
Cuddled up in their respective sleeping bags on top of the lone bed is when Sam picked to bring up the subject of their dad. Dean knew it had to happen, he'd just hoped it would be later rather than sooner.
"We going to head back to Bobby's?" Sam asked.
"Dunno. We could drive around, go see the Grand Canyon."
"Want me to start looking for a new hunt?"
"No." They still weren't ready.
"We can do this, Dean."
And then Sam went there.
"That wasn't a demon that rescued us from Alastair," Sam argued. "It was dad."
"Demons lie. They have their own agendas." Dean wanted to believe it had been their dad coming out from behind the demon skin to save them, he really did. He didn't think he could stand the ensuing disappointment if it wasn't true, though.
"He managed to beat Azazel in the cabin," Sam pointed out softly. "Remember?"
It was ironic that Sam was the one pushing the Dad-Is-Good agenda this time around. That was usually his job. "Yeah, Sam, I remember," Dean said, his voice getting louder. "Kind of hard not to since that's how dad ended up in Hell in the first place!"
Sam poked his head out of the sleeping bag and looked straight into Dean's eyes. "Which was not your fault," he said firmly. "It's not your fault I died. I'm alive―however it happened, why it happened, I don't care. We're together, we can do this together. We solved this hunt; Agnes and her baby are together. Nobody else is going to die because of her."
Dean glanced away from Sam's pleading eyes. Together they were a family, he and Sam. They did solve this case; it hadn't been as easy as it would have been a year ago, but they weren't the same people now, either. Everything they'd been through this past year, this past month, had … had it made them stronger? He didn't know for sure, but if Sam could find good in their black-eyed father, then perhaps he could, too.
"Maybe dad's in there fighting, right?" Dean looked back into Sam's eyes. "Fighting against what Hell tried to turn him into, fighting to get back to us?" He didn't say, we could be a family again, but the thought was out there, hanging in the air between them.
They were Winchesters, all three of them. Saving people, hunting things, this was the family business and if one of those things that needed saving was their dad, then so be it. He and Sam would do it together.