Ice Cold in LA
Here ya go. Thanks again to everyone who reviewed this story. Your contributions do provide a lot of encouragement, and help a writer feel wanted.
Dean glanced over at the snoozing occupant of the passenger seat, and smiled.
After signing out of Dr Morvant's care, Sam had refused to lie down in the back, where Dean had spent some considerable time and effort plumping up pillows and laying soft, warm blankets.
The kid insisted he was fine, able to stay awake and navigate. Stubborn little bastard.
Damn good job the older brother was a master at remembering directions, because Sam had fallen asleep within ten minutes of leaving the hospital grounds. Dean couldn't say he was altogether surprised, given all his little brother had been through.
But he was in for a surprise when he saw where he and Sam would be staying for the next two weeks. It wasn't what he was expecting.
At the end of a long, gravel road, stretching back from the sea like a long arm reaching for dry land, The Cranberry Hotel resided in the fading evening light like a grand duchess. According to the online brochure Dean printed out, it boasted a spa facility, indoor swimming pool, and four stars, which was just three stars more than he and Sam were used to. A two story, graceful, red brick building, with hanging baskets of winter flowering plants dangling from each balcony, the Cranberry was indeed a sight for sore eyes.
"Wow," Dean muttered, eyeing the place up and down. He wasn't sure how he felt about staying in such opulent surroundings, when hinky motel rooms with greasy diner food was more his style. "Guess I can get used to this."
Leaving Sam asleep in the passenger seat, Dean got out, quietly closed the door, and headed inside to check in.
The hall and foyer was draped in red velvet, complimented by dark oak wooden floors and furniture, creating a surprisingly warm and cosy atmosphere, only enhanced by the soft glow from the massive stone fire place in the lounge, just to the left off the entrance hall.
The fire place itself was central to the lounge, with two low slung, comfy looking dark red suede sofas on both sides of a dark oak coffee table, facing each other, and a beautiful deep oak bar, sporting a vast range of single malt Scotch, and dusty vintage wine. Lighting was provided not only by the fire but also by large carriage-style lanterns placed strategically throughout the room nearby small reading desks with accompanying soft arm chairs. The walls were lined, floor to ceiling, with bookshelves, the contents mainly leather-bound journals, and a few paperbacks scattered here and there.
The only sound, above the crackling of the blazing logs in the grate, was the tick-tick-ticking of a grandfather clock, squatting in the shadows at the end of the bar.
Thick red, velvet drapes kept the cold, snow-ridden world at bay, while at the same time effectively containing the warmth of the room.
The overall effect was that of a private tavern, but left one with the feeling of having walked into an old library, or a place of prayer.
Dean was kind of mesmerised by it, and knew Sam would fall in love with the place the instant he walked through the door.
It wasn't just the quiet, of which there was plenty.
There was a great sense of peace, one that Dean hadn't felt in way too long.
"Ah!" a quiet, Irish twang announced from the bar area. "You must be Dean Winchester."
Dean whirled around, startled and feeling a little embarrassed at having been caught unawares.
The owner of the voice was standing at the rear of the bar, cloaked in shadow, but Dean could see he was tall, well built, meaty arms folded across his chest, and leaning against the grandfather clock.
Dean followed suit, folded arms, feet shoulder-width apart, stance deceptively casual.
"That depends," he said, neutrally.
The shadow rumbled with laughter, and stepped forward into the light, arms leaning on the bar, brown eyes twinkling with kindness.
"Ya alright, Pastor Jim told me you were coming," he held out a beefy hand. "Name's Patch. Pleased to make your acquaintance, young Winchester."
"The 'Young' Winchester is still asleep out in the car," Dean replied, but his mouth twitched into a smile. "I'm the older brother."
The guy, who looked around John Winchester's age, tilted his head slightly, smile widening.
"I know who ye are, kid," he turned and pulled a dusty old bottle down from a shelf, along with three tumblers. "Now, you're all booked in already, so go get the 'Younger' afore he freezes his bollocks off out there. Get some whisky into ya both."
"Uh, we need to keep off the booze for a while, doc's orders," Dean stated, apologetically. "Especially Sammy."
The Irishman made a rude noise of dismissal. "Booze, maybe. But I'm not talking about that American shite gutrot you boys insist on quaffing," he leaned forward, the light catching his brown eyes and making them dance. "I'm talking about the real stuff… the water of life. Do you the world of good, so long as you remember the advice everything in moderation."
Dean nodded. He liked this guy already.
"That's real kind of you, Patch," he said, grinning from ear to ear. "You're a gentleman and scholar."
"Ach, gentlemen?" Patch scoffed with good humour. "Me? How absurd! I work for a living! Now away with you!"
Dean laughed and backed away, hands held palm outwards. "I'm awaying. Be right back with my brother."
He turned and headed back out into the foyer, almost running in his haste to get to Sam. He couldn't wait to see the kid's reaction to this place, and Patch… what a character!
Shivering at the blast of cold, wintry air that hit him as he opened the front door, Dean squinted against the brightness of the snow.
"Aw man…" he muttered when he saw his brother, and took off across the icy parking lot.
Sam was struggling out of the car, clinging on for dear life to the passenger door, worried eyes searching his surroundings. The worry immediately vanished when he saw Dean, replaced with a look of uncertainty, something that didn't go unnoticed by his big brother.
"Sammy, what're you doing?" said Dean, nearly slipping over on the ice and skidding to an uneasy halt next to Sam. "Should've stayed in the car 'til I'd checked in. It's cold out here, and you're still sick."
The kid shifted nervously from foot to foot, still holding on tight to the door. His face was deathly pale, and his body was wracked with shivers.
"Uh, I-I w-woke up," Sam mumbled, and looked away. "Y-you w-weren't h-here. And… and I th-thought…"
Dean's heart broke just a little. He knew exactly what Sam had been thinking.
Aw, Kid. I wouldn't leave you out here. Not after what happened last time.
Instead of calling him on it, Dean reached inside the car, grabbed up one of the blankets, and pulled it around Sam's shoulders.
"C'mon inside, Sammy," he said, softly, and wrapped an arm around his brother's waist, partly for support, partly for comfort. "You'll like it here. Just your kind of place, with lots of books to read, and the owner's pretty cool."
Sam shivered and stumbled wearily on the icy ground, grateful beyond words when he felt his brother's arm tighten. He felt so damn tired, his head hurt, and the bruising on his chest from the defib paddles hadn't helped to ease his aching lungs. He was no longer coughing hard enough to wake the dead, and the pneumonia had been defeated by some hard-assed antibiotics, but Sam still wasn't feeling too good. Winchesters were renowned for their acting skills, and could easily have given some of the Oscar wining Greats a few tips, but even Sam had to admit that hiding the extent of his ills from Doc Morvant and Dean had been a challenge. Somehow, he figured, the show wouldn't go on and the curtain call would most definitely come. And soon.
Like… about now?
Sam's vision dimmed and he swayed, blinking heavily, chin dropping onto Dean's shoulder. Their progress across the parking lot stopped abruptly, and gentle fingers combed back and down through Sam's hair to gently squeeze his nape.
"Easy, Sammy," he heard Dean murmuring to him. "Just take it slow and steady. No rush, ok?"
"C-cold," Sam stammered out from between chattering teeth, and blinked again. The world gradually slowed, then stopped spinning, and with a bit more blinking his vision finally cleared.
"You good?" Dean asked in a low voice.
Sam just nodded in reply and the two of them continued on their short journey to the hotel entrance, a little faster this time, with Dean virtually dragging Sam along with him.
"You weren't ready to leave, huh?" Dean remarked, casually, as they slipped inside the building. Moving the two of them through the foyer to the lounge, he rubbed Sam's arms briskly, trying to warm him up. "Seriously, bro, I know you don't like hospitals, but you need to be a little more honest with me, even if you can't be with the doctors."
"I'm ok," said Sam, but refused to look his brother in the eye. "Just a little cold and tired…"
"I call bullshit," Dean interrupted immediately, stopped and gently, but forcibly turned Sam to face him. "And let me tell you this, Sammy-boy, you lie to me about your health just one more time and I'm taking you straight back again." He eyed him, sternly. "Understood?"
Sam stared at his big brother, a little like a wide-eyed six year old, and nodded vigorously, completely speechless.
Giving him a pat on the back, Dean grinned suddenly. "Atta boy," then tugged Sam gently into the lounge. "Patch? This is my brother, Sam."
Sam glanced around in confusion until he met the kindly gaze of a big, burly guy who bore an ever so slight resemblance to his dad.
"Oho, Sam m'lad!" the Irishman bellowed across the room from the bar, and raised a crystal tumbler, three fingers-full of a dark amber liquid. "Park your arse by the fire and get warmed up."
"Uh…" Sam glanced between the two men, still swaying in his brother's firm grasp.
Patch was smiling, all innocent and friendly, but his face wavered in and out, as though another image was trying to superimpose in its place. Sam blinked a few times, and wondered if the fever was returning.
"S'ok, Sam," Dean murmured, frowning worriedly. "Patch is a friend of Pastor Jim Murphy's." He lifted a hand and cautiously pressed it to Sam's forehead. "Temperature's up again. Let's get you seated, huh?"
Sam stared harder at the Irishman, and gasped when the image fighting for dominance won-out just for the barest of seconds. John Winchester's stern, worried face looked back at him, studying Sam just as closely. The strange apparition shook his head slightly, eyes flickering to Dean and back.
Sam's mouth dropped open. He closed it, then swallowed a few times, and nodded back. Another long slow blink, and Patch's face reappeared, with no sign of John Winchester.
"Y-yeah," he whispered, disturbed and confused. Could've sworn I saw…yeah, say that out loud and see where that gets you. Instead he said, "th-think I'm g-gonna n-need that whisky."
Sam felt a little like a child who had caught the real Santa Claus in the act of climbing down the chimney on Christmas Night, but the leather sofa was heaven sent and very much welcome.
Dean made sure his little brother sat as close to the fire as possible and replaced the now cold, wet blanket with a nicer, softer one provided by the hotel owner. Another blanket was folded neatly on the coffee table, just in case.
Dean settled right next to him, one arm stretched along the back of the leather sofa behind his brother.
"Here ya go, lad," Patch handed Sam the whisky. When Sam made no move to hold it, just carried on staring up at him, the Irishman pressed the glass into his hand and wrapped Sam's cold, stiff fingers around it. "That'll help you sleep. I've added some lemon and honey, amongst other things." The guy tutted, good naturedly. "That's a rare occurrence, so it is. Make the most of it. There's only one thing you should put in whisky, and that's more whisky! Cheers!"
Patch clinked his glass to Sam's, then Dean's, and took a delicate sip.
"Ahhhh. Now that's damn beautiful," he muttered with a satisfied grin on his face. "Go on, lad," he gestured to Sam while Dean took a long, deep gulp. "Drink up now."
Sam obediently tasted the concoction, swirled it slowly round his mouth, swallowed, and his eyes widened with pleasant surprise. Not only did it taste good, but that nice, deep burn inside, seconds after he'd swallowed it down, sank into his flesh and warmed his bones to the very core. His eyelids drooped of their own accord, and the glass would have slipped from his fingers if Dean hadn't gently removed it in time.
"Sleep well, kiddo," Sam heard, before the warmth of the doctored whisky, the distant crackle of the fire, and Dean's soothing voice allowed him to slip into a pleasant slumber. Safe, and peaceful.
Dean and Patch carried on chatting quietly for a while, before the older brother also felt himself dozing off.
"That's it, son," the Irishman murmured, softly. "Don't fight it, now. The rest will do you both the world of good."
Patch's voice almost brought Dean back. There was something familiar about it, the accent not quite so heavy, as though the owner wasn't too worried about keeping up the act anymore.
Dean fell into a deep, restful sleep with that thought hovering at the edge of his mind.
Patch sighed, his face flickering eerily in the firelight, and leaned down to brush a few strands of hair off Sam's face, then gave Dean's shoulder an affectionate squeeze.
But it was John Winchester who stood up.
Both his sons were out for the count.
"Thank you Patch and Pastor Jim," he murmured.
He needed this time with the boys, even undercover.
The elixir was made up by Patch Jenkins, the real hotel owner and friend of Pastor Jim, and John was giving it a trial run. It had worked well for the most part, except where it obviously didn't fool his youngest, and Dean had been about to cotton on. Patch, a talented alchemist and warlock, had warned John that fever and exhaustion might be enough to break the illusion and reveal his true self, but that was a risk John was prepared to take. This way, he couldn't be tracked or traced by any demons from afar. Up close and personal was another matter for discussion. The elixir was designed to cloak the bearer from some of the most powerful forces at large in the world, allowing the hunter to move freely without hindrance or danger, though this was the first time it had truly been tried and tested in the field.
So, that was one for Patch to tick off his 'to do' list:
Tested on humans – only a qualified success.
As encouraging as that seemed, John wasn't sure he'd ever be ready to risk a close up demon trial and, in any case, the elixir was only powerful enough to pass muster at a distance. Say, twenty feet or more. Any determined demon or shape-shifter standing close enough, would soon see through it.
John shook his head. No. It would be many, many years before hunters would come to trust the elixir enough to rely on it.
"Are you ok, Johnno?" asked Patch. He'd quietly entered the room once the brother's were asleep, and stood silently waiting for his friend.
John smiled sadly over his shoulder at the Irishman.
"Yeah," he murmured and looked back at his sons. His babies. He'd die protecting them, if needed. "Thanks for letting me talk to them."
"Hmm," replied Patch with a noncommittal shrug. "I think they'd feel the benefit if they knew who they were really talking to, my friend."
John hung his head in defeat. "I know," he whispered, his voice sounding almost strangled with fear and grief. "But this is safer… for them. The less contact they have with me, the better. The demons won't know where to look, who to target."
"We hope," said Patch, pointedly staring at John. "There's no guarantee, Johnno. There never is."
"But I have to try," answered John. He hated to admit it, but he was scared, more scared than he'd been in a long, long time. The past was catching up, and John was anxious to put an end to all this crap.
The Irishman thought that through for a second, then slowly nodded.
"Right enough," he crossed over to the bar. "The boys'll be out for the rest of the night. Would you like a taste of the Emerald Isle afore ye go?"
Patch grinned when John smirked, shoved his hands in his jean pockets and sauntered after him.
"You read my mind."
An hour passed by, sitting at the bar and talking in low voices, before John reluctantly decided it was time to head out.
"You could always stay tonight," Patch offered, watching the senior Winchester haul himself up off the bar stool. "And leave before dawn. The boys won't know a thing."
"Wish I could," said John, sadly. "But I got a few leads to follow up before the trail goes cold." He held out a hand. "Thank you for looking after my sons. I owe you one."
"I'll be collecting soon enough, no doubt," the Irishman grinned, cheekily, and accepted the hand shake. His eyes searched John's face for a second, and his expression turned serious. "You take care of yourself, my friend. Those boys need their father alive and well."
"I will," replied John, and padded quietly back over to his sleeping sons. "G'night boys." He tucked one of the blankets in tighter around Sam, and grabbed the other from the coffee table to tenderly wrap around Dean. The boys didn't stir, even when John smoothed a palm over Sam's cheek and the other over Dean's heart. "Stay safe for me, you two."
With one last glance, full of sadness and longing, John Winchester disappeared from the brothers' lives.
Patch, who had followed John out into the foyer, watched the door close behind his friend, a few stray flakes of snow drifting in to melt on the oak wood floor.
"Now there goes a man with too much on his mind," he muttered, matter-of-factly.
Dean yawned and stretched his arms high above his head, opened his eyes and frowned.
What the hell?
It quickly all came flooding back to him. He remembered meeting Patch, the friendly Irish hotel owner, who Dean could've sworn he'd met before somewhere, Sam's near face-plant and silent, grudging admission that he really wasn't doing so great after all, and then the taste of whisky in his mouth, warming and soothing… he didn't recall much after that, though.
A small snuffling noise next to him made Dean glance over at the other occupant of the sofa.
Sam's head lolled against Dean's shoulder, eyelids fluttering open and taking in his surroundings with as much surprise as Dean had.
"Huh? What?" Sam blinked, lifted and turned his head sharply, yelping in astonishment when his nose banged against Dean's. "Dean! You scared the crap out of me!"
Dean rubbed his bruised nose, glaring at Sam. "Did you have to sit so damn close? You nearly broke my nose, dude!"
"Sorry," said Sam, apologetically. "Didn't see you there."
"No shit, Sherlock!" Dean snarked back, mouth twitching with amusement, then peered at Sam's face. Kid was still a little pale, but over all he was looking… well, good.
"How you feeling?" he asked, cautiously, anyway.
Sam nodded. "Ok, actually. I mean, better than I was yesterday," he added hurriedly, seeing the look on Dean's face. His brother hadn't been entirely convinced last time Sam gave a similar answer. "Must've slept really well last night."
"Yeah," Dean looked around the room. The fire was still blazing away in the grate, and the room was still cosy and warm. There was a lightening around the edges of the velvet drapes that suggested night had finally given way to morning, and was, in fact, already on the road to noon. "Can't believe we didn't even make it to our room."
He scrubbed a hand down his face and leaned forward, resting elbows on knees.
Somehow, in some way, Dean got the feeling he was missing something.
"Sam?" Dean wasn't sure what he was asking, but there was a strange atmosphere here. Not dangerous or unpleasant even, but… just… strange.
"You getting anything on Psychic FM? About this place, I mean?" Dean asked, voice quiet and serious.
Sam considered that for a moment before answering but, judging by the look on the kid's face, it was clear his little brother felt the same way.
"Uh, well," Sam blew out a breath and gazed up at his brother. "Now that you mention it, something weird happened last night, but I…" he frowned suddenly. "Ya know what? I can't even remember last night all that well."
"You were running a high temperature, again," Dean theorised. "That could explain it, but…" he raised an eyebrow and made a 'roll on' gesture with his left hand.
"But," Sam continued. "I don't know Dean, but was Dad here at some point? 'Cos I could swear I got a faint whiff of his aftershave."
Dean stared at him in silence.
He didn't want to admit it, but Sam was right. Dean had smelled their dad's aftershave too, but he just couldn't pin point when. It was as though the scent had come to him in a dream, and evaporated away into the night.
In contrast, the smell of cooked bacon wafted through to the lounge, followed by the big, friendly Irishman.
"Good mornin' to you both!" Patch bellowed, grinning brightly at the two youngsters. He was carrying a silver tray piled up with hot food, steaming coffee, fresh fruit, and orange juice. "Hope you both slept well, 'cos I just couldn't bring myself to wake you and send you upstairs, not when you boys looked so peaceful. Now, there's plenty of food, so get to eating. We'll have you both healthy in no time!"
Dean hadn't quite let go of his conversation with Sam just before Patch arrived, but his attention was easily snagged by all the food. He licked his lips in anticipation when a plate of bacon, poached eggs, and pancakes were set down on his lap.
"Aw man, this looks good!" he exclaimed, eye wide and practically gleaming with lust.
"Wow! Just check out all this fruit," said Sam, with equal enthusiasm. "Strawberries, pineapple, kiwi…" he shook his head and grabbed for the syrup before Dean could empty the bottle all over his pancakes. "No fair, Dean! Leave some for me!"
Patch laughed, brightly. "Now now, boys, there's plenty more in the kitchen. Just take your time."
Sam glanced up at him, feeling a little guilty for not having acknowledged the guy sooner, but he'd suddenly rediscovered his appetite and was rather distracted by it. "Thank you so much for all this. It's gotta be the best meal we've had in a while."
"Yeah, and home made too!" said Dean around a mouthful of bacon, pancake and syrup. It looked kind of gross, with his cheeks bulging like a glutinous hamster. "This bacon… beautiful!" he gestured at the plate with his knife and fork.
Patch blushed with pleasure, seemingly overcome by modesty. "I cure it myself, on site, would you believe."
Sam stared at him. Just for a moment, a fleeting memory of a wavering face, an image of his father's eyes, dark with worry and sadness, made him pause but was gone again in an instant. Whatever had him flummoxed the night before was no longer apparent.
"Sammy?" Dean gently nudged him with an elbow. "You ok there?"
"Yeah," Sam responded, with a small smile. "Yeah, just thought I saw something... ya know what? Nevermind. Like you said, I had a fever."
Dean nodded, chewing thoughtfully. "Yeah, that's probably just it."
Patch watched them both carefully, trying not to appear too eager. "A fever will mess with the mind, Sam. And it takes a lot out of you, so here…"
He dished up more bacon, and ladled another poached egg on Sam's plate.
Technically, Patch was against lacing innocent people's food with mind altering potions. It was shameful, and low, and went totally against the grain. But he had promised John Winchester his boys wouldn't remember anything other than Patch Jenkins, hotel owner, from the night they checked in.
What they didn't know couldn't get them hurt.
Already, any suspicions that something was out of place or different, even the slightest ones, were slowly being erased by the memory draught. Come later that afternoon, the brothers would never know they had anything to be suspicious of in the first place.
John would come for them when the time was right.
But for now the boys were safe, content, and filling their bellies with nutritious food.
Patch poured coffee and chatted away with his guests, liking the boys all the more with each passing minute. It was obvious that Dean adored his little brother, in spite of all the teasing, and when Sam looked at Dean his eyes held the unmistakable glimmer of hero worship. A little worn and faded by years of growing independence and self-worth, maybe, but hero worship was still there, nonetheless.
"Here, have some more bacon, Sammy."
"Dean, I've already had three. I'm gonna explode if I eat anymore!"
"You need it, kiddo. You've been real sick."
Sam let out an affectionate but frustrated sigh.
"Like I need reminding."
"Yeah, you clearly do. You're memory's not what it used to be, huh Sammy?"
Dean received a light punch on the shoulder, which was returned with a ruffle to Sam's hair.
Patch grinned. It was going to be a fun and interesting two weeks.
The End... No, really it is this time!
Thanks again everyone.
Love and hugs,