While Dad signed in, Dean lingered on the edge of the room, which was why he was the only one who could see his distant cousins—like Dad and Dean, Mom had been an only child—Mark and Gwen Campbell arguing.
Gwen—a younger girl, about fifteen—seemed to lose whatever fight they had been having, and Mark glanced up, a tight, angry, but satisfied smile on his face. Almost by accident, he met Dean's eyes.
After the first startled second of contact, Mark stopped looking surprised and just held his gaze. Dean wondered if this was how it felt to be caught by in the spell of a siren or by the eyes of a basilisk or something. Mark was only six or seven years older than him and already a hunter and a sometimes-guard at Freak Camp—he filled in when there weren't enough of the usual, non-Campbell guards to cover all the shifts. Dean was pretty sure that he was on the fast track to be a director, some day, when he had proven his abilities as a hunter to the satisfaction of the Campbell clan.
Dean figured that if he had been raised differently, Mark might have been everything that he wanted to be. If he hadn't already wanted to be Dad. But as it was, he knew that Dad was a thousand times better than any Campbell anywhere—except Mom, and she didn't really count as a Campbell—and they could all screw each other for all he cared.
Dean looked away first, and Mark went to intercept Dad, guiding him smoothly out the door toward Special Research while Gwen came up to Dean, the same light, falsely friendly smile on her face.
"Hey, Dean," she said.
Dean shifted warily. He suddenly wondered where Mark had really taken Dad. They wouldn't try to grab him again, would they? Last time…well, Dean had been a lot younger then, and he hadn't really known what was going on…
But there were other hunters around that time, he thought. You wouldn't have gotten away if not for them, and they're not here now.
When the Campbells had tried to take him away from Dad at the Roadhouse, Dean hadn't known what was going on, but he had known that these strangers, the cold-eyed hunters that claimed to be family, had tried to take him away from Dad, and Dean had reacted instinctively by pulling out his knife and trying to gut them all, assuming that they were some kind of monster trying to separate him from Dad so that both of them would be easier prey. It was an incontestable fact that Winchesters were stronger together.
The other hunters had stepped in before anything had gone too far, but Dean had realized from that day on exactly what Dad was afraid of when he talked about Dean being careful and not trusting anyone. Especially Campbells.
"Gwen," he said.
She held the smile for another second—it almost looked like it was hurting her to keep it on her face—and then dropped it. "Samuel wants to see you."
Dean stared at her, and she scowled. "You know who Samuel is, don't you?" Her tone said that she had always suspected that he was an idiot but it was still irritating to deal with in person.
For a wild second Dean wanted to say, You mean Sam? But he realized quickly enough who she was really talking about. "Samuel Campbell," he snapped back. "He's the Director of Freak Camp and the ASC." He didn't think he had to mention some of the other things that Dad said about Samuel Campbell. Scary son of a bitchwas one of the milder descriptions.
"Yeah," Gwen drawled. "You could say that. You know, you could also say he's your grandfather."
Dean froze. He knew that. It was a fact. But he had never let himself think of the Director of the ASC as…family. Not even in the same thought as Mom. Samuel had always—especially since they had tried to take him away...
"Yeah," he said. "I suppose."
"Yeah, well…" Gwen's tone indicated that she didn't really give a shit about Dean being family, but just talking to him was a duty that she would loyally fulfill. He wondered what Mark had said to her to get her to even start the conversation. "Anyway, he wants you. So, are you going to come or be a pissy bastard like your dad?"
"Keep your mouth off my dad." Dean almost didn't recognize his own voice. That low growl was something he heard more often coming out of Dad's mouth. He didn't quite recognize the smooth, easy, adrenaline-producing rage, either, but that didn't take much getting used to. The room felt brighter, and he felt like he was practically humming.
Gwen looked interested. "Or you'll what?"
"I'll gut you," Dean said. He didn't even sound angry. This was how Dad sounded when he talked about the monsters that had killed Mom. When he told some jerk he'd just met that he could stuff it, that Winchesters needed nothing from nobody.
Gwen blinked, as though that was not the response she had expected. She looked at him, and for the first time in the conversation she didn't look like she was dismissing him. She seemed to be studying him carefully, assessing the threat.
After a long moment she nodded thoughtfully, cautiously. "You might even have it in you," she said. "Maybe there's more of Mary in you than I thought."
She could think anything she liked. Dean knew than she hadn't actually known Mom, it was all the usual sort of Campbell bluff and arrogance. Dean watched her. If she made a move, he wanted to get to his knife first.
"So," she said. "You going to see him?" She paused, and almost looked…like a normal teenage girl. "He really does want to see you. And he's not…well, he's old, you know?" She shrugged.
"My dad will know if you grab me. He'll burn this place down around your ears." Dad would too. Dad would do anything to keep Dean safe.
Gwen rolled her eyes. "We're not going to nab you. I don't know why we'd want you. Samuel just wants to talk. At least that's what Mark told me."
Dean could practically hear the irritation under her voice: And he could have told you himself, if it really mattered.
"Why'd he make you do it?" he asked.
Gwen scowled. "My feminine charm."
Dean snorted, and Gwen's mouth quirked. Their eyes met, and for that moment, Dean felt a camaraderie, a unity, a certain level of absolute communication. They didn't have to say a word, but they both understood how stupid that idea was. Gwen Campbell, like all Campbells and Winchesters, fought and killed things, and while charm was useful, charm was not everything. There were also shotguns and gasoline.
It felt disturbingly like family.
"Yeah, I'll come," Dean said.
Gwen nodded. "Good. That'll get Mark off my back. And, you know, make Samuel happy."
Dean didn't really know if he wanted to do anything to make Samuel Campbell, his grandfather, happy—Dad could talk about Samuel for a hell of a long time and not say anything good—but when Gwen turned to take him out of Reception and across the yard to Administration, Dean followed.
Samuel Campbell had lost a hell of a lot of people.
There were friends, colleagues, enemies, civilians. So many people around you died when you were a hunter, but some deaths hurt more than others.
There was his brother when they had both been barely old enough to hold a rifle, when they had been cleaning out one of the last nests of vampires in Kansas. Eli had practically had his throat ripped out, and one of the bloodsucking bastards had got his blood in his mouth before Father had blown him away. Eli had been thoroughly dead, but they cut off his head and burned him anyway, just to make sure, because Campbells never leave one of their own.
Then there was Father, during a basic salt-and-burn that slid into possession. To this day, Samuel didn't know if the little girl that stabbed him in the back had been a ghost or demon-possessed. Mother died of grief. He couldn't say it any other way.
Remembering Deanna still hurt, especially nights when he went home to his house that was half-dark and half-barracks for young Campbells doing their ASC training at Freak Camp. Deanna, his beloved, with her crooked smile and her ability to ignore him when he was being an ass, had died of breast cancer. They might have had a chance with chemo, if they hadn't found the hex bag that caused it too late to do any damn good. That had been in the early days of ASC, before they started cutting off witches' hands. He didn't regret beginning that tradition and was only glad that Dee hadn't been there when he finally found the bastard that cursed her.
But of all the deaths in his life, Mary's still gnawed at him the most. Maybe because he represented the ASC, his life now began and ended with the ASC, and he had built the Agency for Supernatural Control for her. Frankly, he didn't give a damn about FREACS, wasn't really convinced that they would be able to learn anything new that would help them in the eternal fight of Man against Evil, but every time he knew that another freak was dead, it gave him a dim feeling of satisfaction, like he had struck out once again at the darkness that had killed his daughter.
Maybe her death hurt so much because he felt a certain level of responsibility. She had been a hunter, she knew what she was getting into—dammit Samuel, she had been out for six years, how sharp do you really think that left her?—but if he hadn't been an ass, maybe she never would have left in the first place to marry that civilian. If he hadn't refused to talk to her any other way, hadn't insisted on bringing her to D.C. to remind her what it felt like, remind her of the adrenaline, maybe his little girl would still be alive. Estranged, pissed at him, ignoring his calls, but still somewhere out there, alive.
But mostly he thought that it hurt because he missed her. Not like he did his wife—Deanna knew what she was getting into when she married him, loving, unlucky, kind, beloved ruthless woman—or a hunting buddy, or the man he bought his guns from when he was sixteen (a demon found him; fuck, he hated demons) but as his little girl, his princess, his hope for the future. Mary had had a smile that said she was going to do something horribly wicked, but she knew that he would forgive her in the end because she was just so damn adorable.
The first time she flashed that smile on a mark while they were hunting, Samuel had thought he would strangle the man right there.
People love their children differently. Samuel had never really understood that until he had Mary. You love your family—because often they're all you have—and you love your partner, but children…they were like gifts. Mary had been a gift. And even when they fought, even when she had married the civilian, even when she was being a complete pain in his ass, she had been his little girl.
And then she died.
Often as not, Samuel stayed at Freak Camp these days, where he was close to the job and the people who needed him. He had had a couple nice apartments built into Administration, and the one he used was no worse—better, actually—than the motels he had stayed in when he was a younger hunter. And the little house in Lawrence had felt far too big since Deanna died.
Even though he didn't hate living for the ASC and at FREACS, sometimes he hated the desk—symbolically, at any rate. It was a fine desk, large enough for all his papers and folders and a weapon or two, but it kept him out of the field. No one wants to die, but he had expected to die a long time ago, fallen in the line of duty. Now he was an old man behind a desk, and anything trying to kill him would have to fight its way past all the levels of FREACS security—not that They couldn't, demons in particular had shown in the past that they had spies at all levels—and he missed the possibility that he could die with his boots on. Everyone he loved was dead, and he wasn't quite sure why he should be happy about still living.
Someone knocked hard at the door, and Samuel looked up, one hand moving to his gun. He didn't bother to say 'Come in.' That had been a hunter's knock—or a freak pretending to be a hunter—and they didn't usually wait for a response. His great-nephew Jonah said that people should be more careful, treat him with more respect, that they would learn to show that respect if the proper threats and incentives were applied, but Samuel was an old man and he didn't have the time to teach a family of stubborn hunters new tricks.
Littly Gwenny—some kind of cousin, he didn't bother keeping track of the family tree exactly, beyond knowing that they were all Campbells—pushed open the door and peeked inside. Then again, Gwen was a spitfire, like Mary, and even when she "peeked" it was rather decisive and loud.
"I found him!" she announced.
Samuel put down his pen and loosened his grip on the gun. "Who?"
There were a number of people Samuel—and thus the ASC—wanted found. He knew of a handful of highly powerful witches, several demons—a yellow-eyed one in particular—and a hunter with a gun that were high on his list.
"Dean Winchester," Gwen said. She stepped sideways and pushed the door open so he could see the boy behind her.
Samuel thought his heart was going to stop. He'd had some funny murmurs in the past few years—never bothered to get them checked, because what were the doctors going to say? Don't have any sudden shocks, Mr. Campbell. No freaks trying to gut you, no demons sneaking behind you to cut your throat. Absolutely no fried food—but this was different. So different.
"Come in," he choked out, and his heart started again when Dean stepped inside.
The boy entered cautiously. He was a fit, wary ten-year-old with short dark hair and eyes that were too old, too vigilant for his years.
He looked like nothing so much as a miniature version of his father, the bastard civilian Mary had married—Samuel had yet to bring himself to call John his son-in-law—and Samuel barely acknowledged as a hunter. Though he doubted that John fucking Winchester had had that knowing, too-old confidence when he had been Dean's age. That was something that only hunting gave to children so young.
But what choked Samuel, what made it impossible to dismiss Dean the way he always ignored John Winchester—they hadn't spoken in six years; they'd been in a group hunting a nasty shifter in Oregon and hadn't said two words to each other the entire week-long hunt—were the other faces he saw staring back at him from Dean's.
His brother in the jut of his jaw. Deanna in the wry twist of his mouth when he walked past Gwen—who had probably been her usual undiplomatic self—and, God, Mary in those eyes.
It wasn't the color or the shape or the face around them, but the way Dean looked at him, fearlessly, defiantly, silently telling Samuel that he could go stuff himself if he was going to be an ass right now. Dean, like his mother before him, had a look that said he would fight to his last breath against something he didn't believe in, would fight him without hesitation if he thought Samuel was wrong.
Maybe it was because his daughter had looked the same way and he knew that she had loved him to the very end, that he thought there could be the possibility of love between him and her son. Why else would she have come back that fatal last time, if she hadn't still loved her daddy? The boy didn't know him, didn't trust him (why would he, with John Winchester for a father?), but they weren't enemies yet. And when it came to family—Samuel and Mary; hell, Samuel and Deanna some days—sometimes not being enemies was the best that two people could manage.
"Dean," Samuel said, pleased at how even his name came out. He was an old man—Christ, he felt old staring at Mary's son and realizing he had never seen him as a child, as a baby, just the defiant half-adult in front of him—and it was good that his voice didn't shake. "It's…good to meet you at last." Good to see you grown, it hurts to see you grown and looking so much like your mother.
Dean shifted uncomfortably, looking away now. Just like Mary. If she had been expecting a fight and you didn't give her one, usually she had to regroup, retreat or at least pause a moment to find her balance again. He knew that more from watching her with Deanna than from personal experience. Samuel Campbel could usually be counted on to give someone a fight.
"Good to meet you, too. Sir," he added, with a hesitation that made Samuel ache, like his old scars did sometimes before a storm. If they had been a different kind of family, if they had known each other from Adam, Dean would have said Grandfather where that sir was. As it stood, in context with the whole fucking Winchester-Campbell détente, even Dean giving him that much respect meant…a lot. Reminded Samuel of what else was missing in his life.
"I hear you've been hunting with that—John," Samuel said. "Hear you're…" for a Campbell, he would have saiddoing the family proud, but Dean wasn't really a Campbell - "you're looking to be a damn fine hunter."
Dean's chest puffed out in pride at the same time he tried to shrug modestly. The combination made him look cute, cocky, confident. "I've only really been on a couple salt-and-burns, sir," he said. "I do my best."
"And you're still here, so your best must be good enough," Samuel said. "Ghosts aren't exactly easy."
"Yeah, salt-and-burns aren't so bad, if you can do it in the day, but research's a bitch." Dean seemed to realize what he'd said only after it had come out of his mouth, and Samuel had to hide his smile—God, when was the last time he'd smiled like this?—by ducking his head into paperwork while Dean blushed. "Sorry, sir," he said.
"I've heard worse," Samuel said dryly. "But make sure you remember that information saves lives. Don't cut corners when it comes to getting the facts you need to tackle a case. Being sloppy gets you killed."
Dean snapped practically to attention, eyes bright. "Yes, sir," he agreed.
It was easier, made Samuel relax to realize that Dean was just as much of a hunter as the little Campbell kids, maybe more because Samuel—and the ASC—didn't let children hunt as young as they used to. In the past—and for lone hunters—sometimes it was the choice of taking the underaged kids up against evil, or facing it and dying alone. Samuel felt a brief, unfamiliar flash of gratitude for that civ—John. Strange as it was to imagine, he had taught Dean what it meant to be a hunter, the pride and the danger, and that gave Samuel common ground. His grandson wasn't a stranger, he was a hunter. After a certain point, all hunters were kin.
They talked about nothing. They talked about the job. The whole time, Dean looked a little confused, and Samuel wasn't sure what he was doing, but dammit, he was talking to his grandson, to Mary's son at last, and sometimes that had to be enough.
When Dean finally started looking fidgety—and what ten-year-old wouldn't, talking to an old man for half an hour?—Samuel said he could go, and Dean turned away, heading fearlessly toward the door.
This was another thing to regret about Mary's death, Samuel thought. Because she had left the family well before she died, because she had died long before they had really come to any kind of reconciliation, he had never met her son, never had the chance to be a grandfather to the last of his bloodline.
Sure, there were Campbells. Cousins, aunts, uncles, even a few great-nieces and nephews. But none of them really belonged to Samuel Campbell, Director of ASC, father of Mary, hunter among hunters.
"See you again, Dean?" he asked. He didn't say anything else he wanted to say, because it had been said in the past, by other Campbells, and that had gone very badly. Stay with us, not with that bastard who sired you. We're your family, and he never did anything but take my daughter away.
But Samuel didn't say it, because he knew that it wasn't what Dean wanted to hear, wasn't what Dean wouldhear in that moment.
Dean hesitated, biting his lip and shifting back and forth like he could hear everything that Samuel wasn't saying. "My dad…" he began.
"Maybe next time you come to Freak Camp?" Samuel said gently. Please say yes, he thought. Even if it's a lie the young tell the old. Come on, throw an old dog a bone.
Dean nodded, more quickly this time. What was he thinking about so hard, beneath his stiff, wary hunter's face? "Yes, sir," he said. "I'd like that, sir. But only at Freak Camp, unless my dad says it's all right."
If John knew we were talking, night now, he and I would probably have to kill each other. Or he would take you away again and never come back. The thought amused him, and he almost laughed. He thought that Dean understood how it stood between his grandfather and his father as well. But the boy—your grandson—was willing to keep this cautious conversation a secret. And that was Mary, too, though the last time she had kept a secret—as opposed to just not talking to him at all—it had been John fucking Winchester.
The world goes in cycles, Samuel thought as the door closed gently behind Dean. Maybe this one can be mine.
Samuel Campbell sat and smiled for a long time after Dean was gone, until finally bending back over the paperwork—requisitions forms, execution authorizations, new bounty legislation—feeling better, more whole, than he had in a very long time.
It was really easy for Dean to find Sam in the yard after he had talked with the...with Samuel, his grandfather. It was almost like the younger boy had been waiting for him.
When Sam saw him walking toward him, unmistakable relief filled his face. Dean wanted to feel glad that Sam was so happy to see him, but it wasn't quite that kind of expression.
"Hey, Sam," he said, ignoring the looks that the guards were giving them. Dean didn't know if it was because he was talking to a monster or because he had just been talking to the Dir—to Samuel, but he wished they would all butt out.
"Dean." Sam still looked anxious. He glanced toward Administration, and then at the guards, and then looked very fixedly at his own feet. "Are you okay?" he whispered.
Dean stopped farther away from Sam than he usually did. Something was off about the question, something he didn't understand. And he didn't want to be dealing with any more weird things right now. The conversation with Sa—his grandfather had been weird enough.
"Yeah, I'm fine, Sammy," he said. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Sam hunched his shoulders and still looked anywhere but at Dean. Though that wasn't completely true, because he was looking at Dean, quick furtive movements that took in his entire body, the way he was standing, but didn't ever get high enough to meet his eyes. "I saw your da—Hunter Winchester come in, and I figured you weren't…I'm not…" he shrugged, seeming to think that the movement encompassed everything he wanted to say, even though Dean was still confused. "But then," Sam stopped again and swallowed, and Dean felt his heart jump. "Then the guards said you were seeing the Director, and that you had come but the C-C-Campbells sent you to Administration, and I j-just want to know if you're all right."
Sam looked so worried. Dean wasn't quite sure why—sure, Campbells had tried to nab him before, but that had only been once and he hadn't even told Sam about that—but he could see that Sam had really been upset. Which must mean that he cared.
And in so many ways, that was much less complicated than whatever had just happened between him and his mother's father.
"Yeah, Sam, I'm fine." Dean stepped forward and brushed Sam on the arm, just something to say that he understood that Sam cared and was grateful for it. Sam jumped like he'd just given him a static shock and stared up at him, straight in the eyes for the first time that visit. He looked terrified for a split second, and then whatever he saw in Dean's face made him break into a huge smile.
"Good," Sam said. "That's really good."
They had been drifting away from where the guards could see, and Dean crouched by one of the walls, where the wind whipping through Freak Camp couldn't cut quite so easily through the seams in his jacket.
"Wanna play cards?" Dean asked, holding up the deck. It was chilly out, and he could see his breath, but cards were always a good thing to fall back on. "And..." He dug in his pockets. He loved the new coat Dad had gotten for him. It had tons of pockets, he could always find something interesting in them that he had forgotten. Like today. "And I have M&Ms!"
Sam brightened, kneeling in front of Dean, who quickly shuffled the cards and started dealing out seven. He noticed Sam fumbled picking up the cards, fingertips working to catch the edge under the dirt. He got a few of them up, but they nearly slid out of his hand again.
"You got it, Sammy?"
Sam hunched one shoulder up, frowning as he tried to keep the cards spread in both hands. "Y-yeah." He didn't look okay, though. His small hands were red, and his navy jacket barely covered his wrists.
Dean put down his cards and held out his hands. It had been a weird day, but there was no way in hell he was just going to let Sam shiver like that. Sam had waited for him. He'd been worried that he had been talking to Samuel. Dad might never know, and the other hunters didn't give a crap, but Sam... "C'mere." Sam looked up in surprise, glancing at Dean's hands, and hesitantly put out his own. Dean took his cards out, setting them down before trapping Sam's hands between his to rub them vigorously, like Dad did when Dean had forgotten his gloves in the last motel. Sam looked astonished, but he didn't move until Dean let go.
He tentatively curled and wiggled his fingers, then smiled. "Yeah. Thanks."
Dean would do a lot for one of those smiles. Right now, he was wearing one of his own, and pulling the cards up so that Sam couldn't see what he had.
Four hands of poker later—Sam had won one, Dean three, but he'd caught Sam cheating once to give him the better hand, so he wasn't sure exactly what the right score would be—Dean was feeling better. Sam always made him feel better. Maybe that was his monster power.
"Come on, Sam, let's walk around," Dean said, getting to his feet and shoving the cards into another pocket.
Sam jumped after him, and they started rambling around the edges of the yard, passing the bag of M&Ms back and forth as they went.
It was too cold to walk around in the open for long. Dean didn't know how Sam managed it in his thin coat. He honestly felt a little bad about his nice warm jacket, but he didn't think that the guards would let him bring Sam a coat, even assuming that he could find or snatch one without Dad noticing. Sam didn't complain though, and Dean hoped that he was the kind of monster who didn't feel the cold, even if his hands had been stiff earlier.
They ended up perching on one of the external air conditioning units attached to the edge of Administration, munching through the rest of the M&Ms. Sam was small enough to actually sit on the air conditioner, with a boost up, but Dean opted to lean against it, arms crossed. He decided that he looked very cool, in his new jacket. And Sam was cool because he was with Dean.
They were scraping the bottom of the bag, arguing about who should eat the last M&M—Dean always made Sam eat it, if he remembered, but Sam would never voluntarily eat the last one if he could help it—when Dean heard a sharp "Sam!" and snapped his head up . If this was some guard, Dean was going to give them the glare, because the last thing he wanted right now was to have to deal with another stupid adult.
Instead of a guard come to check on Winchester and his monster, a woman in a thin blue jacket and baggy gray pants rounded the corner and stopped short at the sight of them sitting together.
Dean's hand went for his knife, but Sam brightened, sitting up on his perch. "Hey Becca!"
Dean blinked. This was Sam's mom? Dean looked her over dubiously. He didn't pay a lot of attention to girls—while girls could be hunters, of course, like Mom or Gwen, they weren't inherently interesting—but he could tell that she was not nearly as pretty as Dean's mom had been. Becca was bony-thin, her face haggard and pinched with bushy blond hair matted and tied back. Like every monster, after a first startled, nervous glance at Dean, she kept her eyes on the ground as she stayed back.
If Sam noticed her reaction, he gave no sign. He swung his legs back and forth, as openly happy and lively as Dean had ever seen him, but he didn't move to get off the air conditioner or run to her. Instead he grabbed Dean's jacket sleeve, as though afraid he might run or leave if he didn't hold on, or that Rebecca wouldn't believe him unless he had the physical evidence of Dean in his hands. "Becca, look, this is Dean, the real boy I told you about."
"Hey," he said, awkward. It was cool that Sam had just grabbed him like that, that he felt comfortable enough to touch him—hell, it had been a struggle at first for Sam to get close to him at all—but Sam was the only monster he had ever talked to, and he felt uneasy all over again facing another one, even if she was Sam's mom.
Becca took a couple steps closer, keeping her eyes on Sam. They flickered to Sam's hand on his sleeve and then up over Dean, just for a second before dropping. "Hello," she said, voice soft.
Sam held up the empty bag of M&Ms between them. "Look, Becca, he brought me candy."
The ghost of a smile tugged her lips. "That's very kind of him. Did you say thank you?"
She sounded more like a mom now, Dean thought.
"Yep." Sam bounced on the conditioner.
"I brought you something too." She extended her left hand, showing a small apple peeking out from a dirty paper napkin. As Sam reached out with both hands to take it, she added, "Be sure to offer some to Dean."
"No thanks," Dean said, holding up his hands to ward off the fruit offering. "Apples aren't my thing." He could see it was just as much of a treat to Sam as the candy, which was weird, but he guessed monsters really liked fruit, and anything that was a treat for Sam should be all his.
As Sam took an enormous bite into the little green apple, Becca knelt to adjust his shoe, which was threatening to slip off his heel. Smiling to himself, Dean guessed that Sam had been too busy banging his feet against the air conditioner to notice it getting loose. It made him a little glad that he was that distracting.
Then Dean saw, with a jolt, that Becca's right hand ended in a stump.
Witch. Sam's mom was a witch. Dean felt a surge of fear and adrenaline rush through him. He had known Becca was a monster, but had never thought to ask what type. There had been this witch in Aberdeen that had gotten Dad so bad they had actually gone to the hospital, and Dean had had to wait alone while they pumped Dad's stomach for the poison she had given him, hoping that when Dad came out he would still be alive, that he wouldn't be coughing up blood. For a moment, Dean's breath stopped, his vision went a little grey around the edges, and he had the crazy image of the witch in Snow White handing out poisoned apples to the good, sweet children she wanted to kill.
Dean wasn't worried about himself. He could call a guard and she would be shot in the head the second he put up an alarm, and even the fastest curses couldn't do too much damage in that time, not with the resources that the ASC had. And there was something about the way that they removed the hand from a witch that made it harder for the spell to work. Though maybe that was just because it was harder to do anything with only one hand.
No, Dean was suddenly terrified at the thought that Sam trusted this witch every day, let her give him food without checking it for spells or poison or dirt, and that he loved her when she was a witch and she had probably killed people, and maybe she had slipped them pretty little apples too. Monsters were liars, after all, and she could be...
But then Dean caught the edges of this thought and told himself that was stupid. Witches wouldn't have access to poison in the camp, and Sam wasn't falling over snoring or choking or anything. Even Samuel had told him that he should have as much information as possible before he made a decision, and he didn't have nearly enough information about this Rebecca witch yet. Besides, even witches wouldn't poison their own kids. Not usually, anyway. The evil queen stepmother in Snow White didn't count, because she had never really cared about Snow White anyway. And Rebecca clearly cared about Sam. Dean could tell. Mom used to smile that same way when she helped him pull on his coat. Sometimes he had pulled it off again, just so he could see her face while she buttoned it up.
Finished adjusting Sam's shoe, Becca straightened and lifted her remaining hand to rest her knuckles against his forehead. That was all, the barest touch, before she dropped her hand back to her side and turned away, walking out of sight around the corner without another word to him. Sam didn't say anything either, still eating his apple in large quick bites - it was already nearly gone - but his eyes followed her.
And Dean was abruptly homesick, homesick and lonely, and what he wanted more than anything in that second was Mom.
He tipped his head down, away from Sam, and pinched his mouth together as he decided very firmly that he would not cry, because he was grown-up and Mom wasn't ever coming back and crying wouldn't do a damn thing about it, and it wasn't Sam's fault that he missed Mom so damn much.
They'd been talking fine before, but now he didn't know what to say to Sam. Missing Mom was a familiar ache, but this made him feel weird too. He'd never thought about witches being good moms, taking care of their kids the way his mom had taken care of him. That didn't seem possible, what with them being witches and hurting people. Maybe Becca had learned her lesson when they cut off her hand.
And if she had learned her lesson...Dean wondered suddenly if monsters were ever released from Freak Camp, even though he knew they weren't - none of them ever left, because they were always dangerous. But for those who had started as people, maybe they did learn their lesson after a while in the camp, the same way other criminals did... Then Dean knew he wanted Becca and Sam to be able to leave Freak Camp, to have a normal life again. Sam especially couldn't have hurt anyone. Dean had been convinced of that for a while, even if he couldn't exactly admit it to anyone. He didn't know how Sam had ended up here, but he was positive Sam wouldn't try to hurt anyone if he were out. And he wanted - a lot, he realized, he wanted this almost more than anything else in his life, anything he could actually have, anything but Mom - he wanted Sam and his mom to be out of Freak Camp, to have a second chance. After all, Sam still had his mom. Maybe the ASC could watch them, and they'd make sure they didn't hurt anyone or do anything wrong.
But monsters didn't leave Freak Camp.
Sam was absorbed by the apple until he had nibbled it down to the skinniest core Dean had ever seen, and even then he held it carefully between his hands, turning it over as though he might have missed something. He was looking at him, though, equal parts worry and happiness in his eyes.
"What's the matter, Dean?"
Sam frowned, then held the apple core up. "Are you sure you didn't want some? I would have shared -"
"No, Sam, it's cool." Sam's large eyes, turned up toward him, still looked worried, so Dean lied impulsively. "I had a couple this morning."
"Oh," Sam said, eyes going even rounder. "Two."
Dean tried not to smile. "Do you want me to bring you fruit next time, or another Three Musketeers? I've seen apples twice as big as that one."
Sam's mouth dropped open, and he clasped his hands in his lap as he rocked back and forth, overwhelmed.
Dean couldn't help laughing, and he reached out to tussle Sam's hair and pull him over. "How about I bring both? Will that work?" He was rewarded by the most dazzling smile Sam had, though just a glimpse of it before he buried his face in Dean's side.
"You're the best, Dean."
And if he couldn't have Mom, and he didn't know what to do with a grandfather, being the best in Sam's world was pretty damn good.
"It was my birthday last week," Dean said brightly. "I'm eleven now."
Sam did not say "happy birthday." He tilted his head, examining Dean like he might have undergone some critical change now that he was a year older. "What's a birthday?"
Dean felt his jaw drop. Surely even monsters knew...but Sam was just a little kid. "You know." He gestured expansively. "Birthdays. It's the day you're born, and everyone in school sings you that stupid song and sometimes the teacher will have cupcakes or something, if she's nice. People give you stuff and are extra nice to you. Dad took me out for an ice cream sundae, and later we went shooting and he let me try out his new shotgun." Dean grinned, even though his shoulder was still sore from the recoil. It had been an awesome birthday, one of his best yet.
"Oh." Sam shrugged dismissively, a gesture Dean recognized as meaning Sam found the information so alien as to be completely useless. "Monsters don't have birthdays."
Dean looked at him, dumbfounded. "Yes you do. You gotta have a birthday. I mean" - he struggled - "it's the day that you're born. What, do you think you just...appeared someday? Popped out of an egg? Even then, you'd still have a birthday."
Sam shook his head again obstinately. "Monsters don't have 'em. Not like reals."
Dean sat back. Not often did he confront an intractable belief that contradicted what he knew to be true, but he'd been learning how to do research to prove he was right. It could be really boring, but sometimes totally worth it. "Okay, Sammy," he said. "I'm going to find out your birthday for you. Just you wait."
Sam looked at him like he was crazy, which Dean usually got at least once a visit. "How are you going to do that?"
"You'll see," Dean said, and stood up. "I'll be back in a minute."
Sam bit his lip, nodding as he dropped his gaze.
"Really," Dean insisted, because he didn't like Sam looking the same way he did when Dean had to leave. "I'll be back, Sam." He turned and headed for Reception, quick and determined.
The guards let him through with a basic silver-cut test—just to make sure he wasn't a shifter trying to sneak out. The lobby was empty, except for Mrs. O'Donnell the receptionist, so Dean went straight up to the counter, folding his arms on it and smiled brightly through the Plexiglas. "Hi."
The woman looked like she was almost going to smile for a moment, but instead she just said, "Where is your father?"
"Special Research. Don't worry, he can take care of himself."
Now she did smile a little, before turning stern again. "You should stay here to wait for him."
"Nah. He likes me to have firsthand experience with monsters. Actually, he sent me here for a bit of research. I need some information on one of them."
Mrs. O'Donnell raised her eyebrows, even as her fingers moved to the keyboard. "What supernatural would that be?"
"Eighty-eight U I six seven zero three." He had been sure to get a good look at Sam's tattoo before he left.
She typed it in, though frowning a little. "What does he need to know?"
"How old is he? Dad wants to know exactly, down to the birthdate." When she hesitated, Dean put on his best I'm a very sincere boy, you should believe me face. "Dad's very interested in 88UI6703."
Mrs. O'Donnell shook her head. "We don't always have that information, particularly those brought in for bounties."
Dean's stomach dropped – he didn't know how else he'd find out, maybe if he found out Sam's hometown and persuaded Dad somehow to visit there… He had to find out, after promising Sam – it seemed really important, even more than usual, to prove that he was right about Sam having a birthday.
"Most of the information on 88UI is locked – I suppose because he's unidentified. But I do have his birthdate here…May second, 1983."
Dean repeated it, once aloud and again in his head so he wouldn't forget. "Cool – thanks Mrs. O'Donnell, my dad'll appreciate that." He flashed his best smile again—never let your guard down, Dean, whether it's a monster or a con—and he darted back out before she could tell him to stop.
Sam was waiting for him in the same spot, and he looked up as Dean approached, eyes wide and following him.
"Guess what I found out," Dean crowed.
"You," Dean informed him, "have a birthday." Sam did not yet look blown away, so he went on. "It's May second, 1983 -" same year Mom died, he realized, but pushed the thought aside at once, "and that means you'll be seven in a few months."
Sam looked like he didn't know what to do with this information. He blinked at Dean, then glanced at the ground.
Dean felt the glow of triumph slowly ebb away. He looked around at the packed dirt yard, fences, and patrolling guards, and realized then that Sam had been right. Monsters might have a birthday, a day they were born, but it wasn't the same kind of birthday everyone else had. It couldn't be - especially not here.
It made him kind of mad, after all that hard work he did, after he'd promised to prove to Sam he had a birthday.
"It's okay, Dean," Sam said. "I have lots of birthdays. It's my birthday whenever you come see me."
Dean put his hand on Sam's shoulder and the smile that burst across his face made Dean feel that maybe it was true.
But he still personally resolved to bring Sam something awesome when May rolled around. But he wasn't sure, when he gave Sam his present, if he would remind him that it was because it was his birthday. This was an idea that Dean would keep safe for Sam until he could enjoy it himself. Though he didn't know how that could ever happen.
Dad was angry, storming angry in fact, and Dean left him in Reception shouting at the new receptionist—Ms. Hart didn't look nearly as nice as Mrs. O'Donnell—while he went to find Sam, toting a full footlong submarine sandwich and chips—and a jumbo bag of M&Ms—in his pockets, ready to share with Sam and tell him about what had pissed Dad off this time (Campbells. It could always boil down to Campbells).
But he couldn't find him.
Dean scouted the yard, looking in all their usual spots, even peeking into the barracks, but there was no sign of Sam. He was starting to get frustrated, and a little worried, when he saw a guard making a round of the yard.
"Hey!" Dean jogged up to him. "Do you know where Sam is?"
The guard raised his eyebrows. "Who?"
Dean clenched his teeth, feeling stupid and annoyed. "Monster, uh, 88UI6703."
"Oh." The guard glanced around. "You might try...over there, that place between the barracks. He's been hanging there for the past couple of days."
Dean found Sam in the dark alley between two barracks with his hands pressed into his armpits, rocking slightly back and forth. He didn't look up when Dean said hi or crouched down next to him.
"Hey." Dean leaned forward, trying to get a glimpse of his face. "What's wrong, man?"
Sam said nothing. Dean was about to ask if Sam was pissed off and ignoring him for some reason—shit, why did this happen when Dad was angry too, and Dean just wanted someone who wasn't throwing off sparks?—when Sam whispered, so low he almost didn't catch it, "Becca's gone."
A horrible pit opened in Dean's stomach, and he dropped forward to his knees. He had forgotten Sam's mom would be dying. Sam hadn't mentioned it after that first time. "Shit," he whispered.
Sam stopped rocking and rubbed the heels of his palms into his eyes. "She told me not to cry, but I already did twice."
Dean wanted to get up and break things, take Dad's shotgun and shoot stuff up, which was how he felt whenever he thought about Mom dying. But he already knew there was no chance of bringing a gun to Sam. He stared at his empty hands. "I'm sorry, Sam." He hated it when people said that to him, it always made him want to hit them, but he saw now they did it because there was nothing else they could say.
"Why?" said Sam expressionlessly, and Dean realized he wasn't crying. "She's a monster. That's what happens to monsters."
Dean grabbed his shoulder hard, angry for a reason he didn't understand. "She was your mom, Sam. Doesn't matter that she's a monster, she was your mom. I'm sorry she's dead."
Sam shuddered. He didn't raise his head, but a moment later he slowly leaned his head against Dean's arm. He still wasn't crying, but breathing a little unsteadily.
Dean swallowed and nudged Sam gently, not to push him off. "Hey, remember what I said? Maybe our moms are together now."
Sam looked up, blinking in confusion. "How? Your mom's a hero. Mine's a monster. They wouldn't be in the same place."
Dean took a deep breath. "Becca was a good mom too, even if she was a witch. I saw that. I think my mom could see that too, and wouldn't mind hanging around her. They could be friends." He looked down at Sam. "Like we're friends."
Sam's mouth opened. He stared at Dean with his widest look of astonishment yet, bigger even than when Dean told him about pie. "Friends," he repeated. Like he couldn't quite believe it. And then Dean watched as his breathing went uneven again, and his eyes filled up.
He pulled Sam against his chest, resting his head on top of Sam's as the little kid buried his face into Dean's shoulder and his shoulders shook. Dean just held him, that entire visit, until he heard the guards start calling for him. He left both halves of sandwich in Sam's hands.
He wasn't sure what made had made him feel worse, how close Sam had been to crying, or the fact that he never really had.
They were half an hour away from Freak Camp before Dad noticed that Dean had only half-heartedly been responding to his diatribe about fucking ASC bureaucracy and assfuckery. He stopped himself in the middle of another explicit description of Mark Campbell's character to glance at Dean. John half coughed, like he had to clear his throat to get the anger out. "You're awfully quiet."
Dean shrugged, not looking at him, still staring vacantly out the window. He'd been thinking, and something had occured to him about Sam's mom. Something horrible, and he couldn't get it out of his head. He didn't really want to ask, but he had to know. "Dad - what happens to monsters in Special Research?"
John looked surprised, then his expression closed. "Why do you want to know?"
Sam's mom went there. Dean shrugged. "Just wondering. It's where you always go."
John didn't answer for a long moment, until Dean thought he wouldn't. "It's not pretty," he said at last. "It's where hunters find out what they need to know."
Dean stared at him. "You mean - torture?"
John sighed, resettling his hands on the steering wheel. "No, not torture. It always has a point. And they're monsters, Dean, like the ones that killed your mom." His voice hardened. "Don't forget that. Don't go feeling sorry for them."
Dean would never forget, he couldn't believe Dad would think that, but - Sam's mom hadn't killed Mom. But then again, she had been a witch, she had hurt people.
But Sam hadn't. He couldn't even remember what made him a monster. Dean couldn't imagine Sam hurting anyone.
He scuffed his shoes on the floor mat, trying to ignore the sick twisted feeling in his stomach. He didn't want to think about how Sam would feel if he knew his mom would be tortured before they killed her. "Do all monsters go to Special Research?" he asked, a little desperately.
John exhaled loudly. "I don't know, Dean."
He swallowed. He had never been sick riding in the Impala, but he was starting to think it might happen soon. "Not all monsters are the same, though. Some of them get caught when they're babies, before they do anything. Why should they -"
"Dean." John's voice held a warning now. "I know you've been talking to that Sam kid, and I would never let you if I hadn't thought you'd learned what I taught you and got your head straight. Monsters are monsters."
Sam's a monster. Dean slumped back. He would not cry or puke. He would not think of Sam going to Special Research. Monster or no, he would never let Sam go there. Though he had no idea how he could stop it. But he would. "Yes, sir."