Title: Stranger than Fiction
Summary: When a traumatised teenager stumbles from the woods hypothermic and covered in blood, the obvious conclusions are not necessarily the correct ones. Pre-series.
Disclaimer: Anything recognisable belongs to the CW, I'm just borrowing.
A/n – This story is dedicated to Gidgetgal9. I technically started writing it on her birthday, if that counts. I may also have stolen a lot of the story idea form her somewhere along the line too (sorry).
Day 1-2: Jake
It was a pitch black night and the temperature outside had fallen well below zero. He could barely keep his eyes open. They'd been patrolling the back roads outside of town for hours, and for the first time since he'd been awarded his shiny new Officer's badge, Jake was grateful he didn't rank highly enough to be allowed to drive.
Henry Mason, his partner, was nearly thirty years his senior and had been sure to remind him at least once a day about the time he'd picked up a thirteen year old Jake outside the local school one Halloween for egging the principal's car.
Maybe Missy was right. Maybe he did need to get out, join her in the city. Find a job on a force where no-one had seen his turn in the middle-school production of Pirates of Penzance, but it wasn't that easy. Woodhouse wasn't the kind of town it was easy to leave; it was his life, all he'd known. She had a scholarship and a chance to get out, but for Jake, a place on the local force was a huge step up from the alternative, where they all assumed he'd end up – manning his father's car wash and handing out free sponges bearing his family's name.
At least his shift was nearly over, and she was home this weekend too. Maybe he'd call round if it wasn't too late, let her take a look at him in his crisp new uniform and see if that made her change her tune.
They were cutting through the forest about five miles out of town when they turned a bend to find a figure standing in the road in front of them.
"Jesus…" Henry swore, pounding the brake, and Jake was thrown into the passenger door as the car fishtailed on some ice.
They came to a stop ten feet away from the man, engine still ticking over, the headlights illuminating a small form wearing what looked like only jeans and a thin t-shirt standing with its back to them in the road.
Jake fumbled for the door release but his partner grabbed his arm in warning. "What are you doing?"
"Look at him Henry, it's just a kid."
He opened the car door and the figure turned at the sound, raising his right hand to shield his eyes from the glaring headlights, the only light for miles around. That was when Jake saw it, the thing that had obviously made the more experienced officer reluctant to approach.
The hand held up to the kids face held a knife. A big one. Even at this distance he could see the gleam of red on its blade.
"Holy shh…" Henry whispered in awe and Jake froze. The kid was young, he barely looked 13 and his frame was slight. Long bangs masked his eyes and he was visibly shaking in the breeze. The front of his t-shirt was covered in a large rust coloured stain and his clothing was torn. There was blood on his hands and arms, in his hair and running down his neck.
As the kids eyes locked with theirs he raised his other hand slightly in an attempt to keep the light out of his eyes and held the bloody knife in front of him in a defensive pose, his face set.
Slowly, so not to spook the kid any more than he was, Jake reached over to the radio on the dash and picked up the receiver.
"This is unit 7 requesting immediate back-up and medical assistance along Route 46 about five miles out of town, out beyond the Old Kershaw's place," he said quietly as his partner slowly guided his gun out of his holster and cracked open his own door.
Carefully the two men slid out of the car, weapons held in front of them.
"It's alright now kid, no-one's gonna hurt you," Henry intoned soothingly as they approached.
The kid took one jerky step backwards and almost tripped over his own uncoordinated feet. He looked as though he could barely stand. They were smack in the middle of no-where; Jake didn't even want to speculate on how this boy had got here. He looked like he should be long tucked up in bed, not wandering the back roads in the middle of the night, freezing cold and covered in blood.
The two officers circled slowly, each approaching from a different direction and the kid spun, frantic, knife arm darting as he tried to keep them both in view.
"Easy," Jake murmured. "We need you to put the knife down now, okay? We're here to help you."
"Can't help." His voice was hoarse, barely audible over the brief distance. "You don't know… didn't see…"
Jake took another step closer and could see that his eyes were wide, his pupils dilated. His skin was pale and clammy under a coating of grime and blood, and he was clearly in shock. But there was something more, too.
"Jesus, Henry. I know this kid."
"Yeah, Winchester or something. Goes to school with my little sister."
"He lives in town?"
Jake could understand the other man's scepticism; they hardly ever got newcomers to Woodhouse and those they did get hardly went un-noticed. Jake had only seen him once talking to Kathy outside the school gates. He'd eyed the uniform warily as Jake had rolled up but been polite as anything when refusing a ride.
"I don't know. Showed up a couple of weeks ago in the middle of the semester. I think they rent one of the cabins over Teignmouth way."
"That's miles from here. Someone's gotta be missing this kid by now."
Jake just shrugged. Winchester's eyes kept darting between them sluggishly and there was a frown on his face, as though he was trying to follow their words. There was a bruise blossoming on his jaw, another around his left eye and his clothes were torn, his belt unfastened and miss-looped.
"Hey there," Jake tried. "Remember me? I'm Kathy's brother. We met last week. We just want to get you out of here, take you somewhere warm. Somewhere you can ring your folks, okay?"
The knife wavered on its way to lowering, but then flashing lights and sounds of sirens could be heard in the distance and Jake could tell whatever headway he might have made had been lost.
The kid spun wildly but Henry was there, already closing the distance. The blade swung in an arc towards him but the senior officer already had a firm hold on the Winchester kid's arm, twisting it, and the knife clattered onto the road between their feet.
"No! Don't touch me." The kid exploded in a flurry of movement. Jake had to race forward and assist the other man in restraining him, grabbing hold of skin that was like ice. He twisted and kicked but there was no strength behind the blows.
"Let go of me, you don't understand. There's a monster. You have to… Please…" The fight seemed to go out of him all at once and he sagged in Henry's grip. Jake let go of his arm, afraid to hold him too tightly until he'd been checked out, until they could assess what damage lay under all the dirt and blood.
And ambulance and a second police car pulled up alongside their vehicle and the kid twisted again, shielding himself from the increased light.
"These guys are gonna get you taken care of," Henry reassured him, steering him towards the paramedics already heading in their direction.
"No," the kid whispered. "You don't… the monster."
"What monster?" Jake asked, ignoring the look of irritation his partner flashed him.
The kid turned and stared back into the dark woods behind them and shivered. "There was a… and I couldn't. I tried, and I couldn't… and I think. Oh god, please. You have to find… There was a…" He twisted and tried to get away, but Henry's grip was firm.
"We'll deal with it," Jake soothed. "Just tell us where to look."
"You can't. It isn't safe." Winchester looked him squarely in the eyes. "I don't know if I killed it. There was so much blood." He brought his two crimson palms in front of his face and stared at them, as though seeing them for the first time. "Oh God… No!"
The kid bolted, heading for the tree-line, but Henry was ready for him and held him down as he twisted and screamed. One of the paramedics stepped forwards and injected something into the side of his neck and the struggles ceased.
"Please," he whispered as his eyelids drooped, turning his face in Jake's direction, and the young officer had the distinct impression the kid was reaching out directly to him. "Please. You have to help him."
With that the kid slumped in Henry's arms.
"Lord…" Henry breathed, shifting the load in his arms. Now that he was still, the Winchester kid looked unthreatening and impossibly young. With a pang in his chest Jake recalled again that this kid was his sister's age, and he had clearly seen something he was never meant to see.
"Okay," he nodded to one of the new officers that had arrived with the paramedics, who were now loading the injured kid onto a stretcher. "Head with the kid back into town. Stay with him while they check him out, see if you can get anything out of him, or get in touch with his family. They rent one of the cabins north of here so get someone out there; see if they can't find his damn parents. We'll check the woods."
"What?" Henry questioned as the others moved away.
"He can't have travelled far in that condition; we'll probably still be able piece together what happened out here."
"Hunt the monster?" Henry asked scathingly.
"That kid didn't get this far out here by himself," Jake told him. "That amount of blood is bound to have left a trail and monster or not, he was sure as Hell running from something."
His partner sighed but nodded approvingly. The ambulance headed back into town as the three remaining officers retrieved flashlights and Henry shut off their car, momentarily plunging the road into darkness.
"After you." Henry gestured with the beam of his flashlight for Jake to take point and he led the way up the road, all thoughts of his earlier fatigue forgotten. He'd never encountered anything like this in his training. This was the most exciting thing to have happened in Woodhouse in living memory, and here he was, getting to be a part of it. He couldn't wait to tell Missy – things like this probably never happened in the city.
They followed the road for several minutes in silence, scanning the undergrowth on either side for clues. There was the occasional spatter of blood along the roadside marking the kid's uneven flight but they were easy to miss in the poor light. At last they found an area where the thickets at the side of the road were torn and damaged, as though something had fought its way through; in all likelihood the place where the kid had left the forest and reached the road.
Henry shone his flashlight into the trees and the beam barely did anything to alleviate the gloom.
"Alright kids, that's it," he sighed. "End of the road."
"We're not going to be able to see anything in there in this light. We need to wait until morning, get a team together, maybe some dogs. We'll find out what happened out there, don't you worry," he continued, overriding Jakes objections, "But if we head in there now we could do more damage than good. Trample evidence. Miss trails. If we do this, we do this smart, you understand me?"
"Yes Sir," Jake agreed. He didn't like waiting but the older man was right; they had next to no chance of seeing anything of value in this light.
Henry tried to drop him at home – their shift had officially ended over an hour ago – but Jake was determined to swing by the hospital instead and check on the kid. His sister had just turned 15 and Jake still didn't like letting her walk the mile long trail home from school by herself, especially in winter now the evenings were drawing in. He had a few choice words he wouldn't mind issuing to Winchester Senior about good parenting once he'd spoken to the doctors.
Only the elder Winchester wasn't there. No parents were, and McGregor hadn't been able to locate anyone at the lodges that were missing a child.
He hung around the hospital but it was another couple of hours before he was given any concrete news, and Winchester's parents were still a no show. If he hadn't seen it for himself he would have had a hard time reconciling the doctor's description with the mild mannered kid he'd been teasing his sister about since meeting him the week before.
Winchester was on a ward upstairs, restrained and heavily sedated after he'd woken up confused and severely agitated, mumbling about ghosts and monsters. He was exhausted and hypothermic with a dislocated shoulder they hadn't even been aware of when they'd been manhandling him in the road. They were monitoring for mild concussion and Jake had been right to think he was in shock. There was evidence of a previous broken arm and a liberal spattering of already fading bruises. He had a few fresh scrapes and contusions, but nothing that could account for the blood that had been soaking his hands and clothing.
Nothing apart from the knife, which Mason had already taken back to the station as evidence.
Jake had been keen to talk to him, get a statement, but the doctor made it clear that wouldn't be happening any time soon. In the meantime an officer would be posted at the kid's door – for whose protection Jake couldn't be sure – and they were recommending a full psych evaluation before anything he had to say was given any credence. It was possible a combination of shock and trauma was behind the combative and delusional behaviour.
It was equally possible the kid was just nuts, that his mind had been undone by whatever he'd seen. Only time would tell.
He'd re-assembled with the search team on the road just before dawn. He was technically off duty and had promised Missy's folks he'd be over for breakfast, but that felt unimportant now, and he didn't want to have to head home and explain to his little sister why her classmate wouldn't be in school.
He wasn't surprised to find that Henry Mason had also returned to aid in the search. He'd been home and changed out of his uniform, but despite the older man's brisk demeanour there was something about this kid, this whole situation, that was impossible to walk away from.
The early morning light was nothing more than an unearthly glow when they set off into the forest, the mist ice-cold in his lungs, waking him up with the fresh scent of earth and pine.
The trail was only slightly easier to follow, the light still not strong enough to fully cut through the trees, but with a group of them spread out beating the bushes, and with the assistance of Daisy, the scent hound borrowed from the next town over, they were able to trace the path of the kid's chaotic flight.
Jake hadn't really been sure what he was expecting to find. He'd seen the state of the kid's body and mind, but even he was taken by surprise by the carnage that greeted them an hour later.
The body they found had been so badly shredded that the surrounding grass and undergrowth was a circle of red up to a meter in diameter. Jake had to hold his arm against his nose to ward off the smell of blood and decay and the dog's barks were rabid.
"What the hell happened here," Henry whispered, coming to stand alongside him.
The undergrowth around them was trampled and torn as though it had witnessed an epic struggle. There looked to be far more blood scattered around the clearing than should have been possible with just one body, but the kid they had found had no wounds that would account for the discrepancy.
"Eh, guys…" the officer kneeling to investigate the victim spoke up hesitantly. "This poor bastard's still alive."
The scene was a flurry of activity after that – reinforcements were called and basic triage attempted. They were dealing with a man, possibly in his forties – it was hard to tell under all that blood – with three deep parallel slashes across his chest that made Jake's insides clench. There was a bottle of water at his side and the sleeve of a small flannel shirt was wrapped around his fingers and arm like a rosary. A backpack was resting under his ankles and a kid's bloodstained jacket was lying along his side, as though it had slipped from his shoulders.
"He got an ID?" Henry asked Officer Martin as she crouched to further assess his condition.
"No, but we got this. Pine lodge hunting lets." She dangled a key chain from one finger. "Just that and a… whatever the hell this is." She held a series of interlocking metal rings and a fat knotted piece of rope out in the palm of her hand, what looked like the spoils of a kids magic set.
"Well, I guess we know why daddy never got around to reporting his son missing," Mason commented wearily. "But what kind of father drags his kid miles out in the middle of no-where, on a school night. What the hell were they doing out here?"
Jake's mind flashed back to torn clothes, wild eyes and a reluctance to be touched, the kid's unfastened belt and history of old injuries. "Nothing good," he murmured, throat dry. He wondered what the odds were that the giant blade the kid had been carrying would match exactly the slash wounds across his father's chest.
"Maybe the kid slew a monster after all."