A crowded shopping mall the week of Christmas was the last place Sam wanted to be, especially with Dean being sick. Not that his stubborn, idiot brother would admit it. A sure sign that Dean was feeling under the weather was when Dean emerged from the motel bathroom that morning, face pale and dressed in Sam's hoodie. Sam had opened his mouth to say something then - to suggest that maybe Dean should just go back to bed - but he quickly snapped it shut upon Dean's warning glare. A hunt was a hunt, and it had to be done.
As they trudged through the mass of last minute shoppers, Sam snuck subtle glances in Dean's direction, noticing the pinched expression and how Dean occasionally reached up to rub at his temples, which usually meant a headache. The Christmas music blaring over the loudspeakers in the department store they were walking through probably wasn't helping things, either.
They had to walk through large groups of people; none of whom seemed inclined to let new bodies into the fray. Sam tried to tune out Dean's undertone mumbling about how he hated people and that he wasn't invisible so why did people keep walking into him. Was he a stroller magnet? Sam was more concerned about the coughs that were interspersed between the mutters and did his best to keep them moving so Dean didn't have any standing targets to aim his ire at.
The "You Are Here" mall guide said that the store they were looking for was in section G. Sam consulted the newspaper clipping and stopped in front of the store that was pictured. It took Dean a moment to realize that Sam had stopped walking; the tide of holiday shoppers swept him along past the cell phone pagoda. Dean grimaced as he fought his way upstream back to where Sam was standing.
They stood silently for a moment. "You have to be kidding me, right?" Dean glared at Sam.
"No," Sam consulted the newspaper and checked the name - Sanrio. "This is it."
Dean ran a weary hand down the length of his face. He looked back at the store but the it hadn't changed. "It's in the shape of Hello Kitty, Sam," he spat out, disgusted, as if Sam had something to do with it. Dean abruptly turned his back on luminous façade and the cheery wall display of white kittens with pink bows and Santa hats. "I need to sit down."
Dean made his way over to the double bench that was situated in the center of the wide aisle between stores, dividing the lanes of foot traffic. Miraculously the bench was momentarily free and Dean slumped down onto the faux wood slats, facing the offending storefront with his elbows resting on his legs, hands drooping between his knees.
Sam sat to Dean's right, finding it difficult to keep his long legs out of the path of distracted holiday shoppers. Dean coughed, the tightness in his shoulders giving away how much he was fighting against it. When the coughing eased, Dean took a deep breath, and before Sam could suggest that he really could handle this case on his own, Dean shot Sam a look.
"Run this down for me again…" Dean barked in a tone just shy of a direct order.
Sam pretended to consult his notes, making a concerted effort not to snap at Dean and reminding himself that a sick Dean is a cranky Dean and must always be taken with a grain of salt. "There have been a number of 'accidents' in this area of the mall. At first it was all chalked up to poorly stacked boxes or shelves that were badly installed. But last week, after some merchandise fell on a girl working at this store" Sam waved in the direction of the glowing Hello Kitty, "there were a few employees who swear that the boxes literally flew off the shelf, and there was no one close enough to give it a push."
Dean squinted as he looked at Sam; Sam was having a hard time telling if Dean was wincing in pain from the headache or just determined not to look a the chipper, radiant entrance to the store. "No one has died here…or even in this mall?"
"Not that I could find," Sam confirmed.
"The mall's not built on a Native American burial site or battleground that time forgot?"
"Nope. This whole area used to be farmland."
Dean sighed as he caught Sam's eye. "If we're not dealing with a ghost, sounds like it could be a poltergeist." Sam nodded and Dean looked away, growling toward his feet, "Son of a bitch."
"Frankly," Sam responded, "we don't know what we're dealing with." As if not knowing what they were up against was a better choice than facing a poltergeist; but as far as Dean was concerned, maybe it was. "If it is a poltergeist, it doesn't conform to the traditional rules. Usually poltergeists are attached to a singular place like a house or apartment, most often in the home of an adolescent girl. This place is filled with girls, not just one…and none of them live here. So unless there is some reason for a poltergeist to be attached to Hello Kitty…it doesn't make much sense."
"So, one more thing on our list of things to kill that makes no sense." Dean tried to shrug but it turned into a cough. He quickly levered himself off the bench before Sam could comment. "Let's start talking to the locals – I'll take the employees in the carts, you hit the regular stores. Meet back here in an hour."
Sam nodded and watched Dean fight his way into the throng of holiday shoppers. As Dean walked away, Sam could see his posture change from tired and slumped to one of determination and purpose. Now that he was on the job, Dean was fighting through, like he always did, but Sam wasn't sure how long it was going to last.
Sam took a cursory visual survey of the area and quickly came to the realization that Dean was much sicker than he was letting on; in addition to the teen-centric clothing shops like Hot Topic and Quicksilver, there was a Victoria's Secret store in this wing that Dean didn't even attempt to lay claim to for the interviews. Sam hoped that whatever they were able to turn up would be helpful for wrapping up the job sooner rather than later.
About an hour later Sam was frustrated because he hadn't learned much more than what they already knew. It was difficult to get a word in edgewise with employees who were swamped with last minute shoppers; and, the sales people didn't want to chat with Sam once they realized he had nothing in his hands to buy while a line of four or five people built up behind him. It also wasn't easy trying to casually bring up the strange events happening in the mall with clerk on the sales floor with customers constantly interrupting and asking for help. Discouraged at his lack of success, Sam consulted the "You Are Here" sign again to track down someplace to buy coffee.
As Sam approached the now familiar Hello Kitty display, he spotted Dean on the bench where they debriefed earlier. A pair of teenagers sat on the side of the bench facing the store, absorbed in their own intense conversation, while Dean was seated on the opposite side of the bench with his back to the store. Dean was hunched over with his elbows resting on his thighs, but his head wasn't down; instead, Dean was sitting with his head slightly cocked to one side, staring off intently into the distance – or at least, as distant as his gaze could get in an enclosed space. He reminded Sam of a hunting dog on alert, waiting for a rustle in the bushes. It was an odd position to be resting in, and it got Sam's attention. Out of nowhere thought crossed Sam's mind that Dean looked like one of those people who was anticipating having a seizure. It didn't matter that Dean had never had a seizure in his life - Sam picked up his pace.
The couple behind Dean got up and went their separate ways; the girl toward Sanrio and the boy toward Quicksilver. When Sam was about twenty feet away from the bench, approaching from Dean's right a series of crashes from the Sanrio store as the Santa Kitty display exploded stopped everyone in their tracks. For a breathless instant no one moved, the rush of shoppers were jolted out of their individual bubbles and paused, unified in their response to the unexpected disturbance. Then someone screamed in a delayed reaction and the moment was shattered; people started to converge on the store from all directions, but Dean jumped up and headed straight into Hot Topic. Concerned, Sam tossed the coffee into a festively decorated garbage can and rushed after Dean.
Fighting his way through the swiftly building crowd of rubberneckers, Sam kept his hoodie in his sights. Dean was in stalking, not chasing, mode, so once Sam broke free of the gawking mob at the front of the trendy store, it was easy to catch up with him. Sam swiftly wove his way through displays of graphic t-shirts and jewelry as Dean stalked his quarry. Sam caught up just as Dean strode through the door marked "Employees Only".
Before Sam had a chance to question Dean, Dean barked out, "Hey! Lindsey!"
Automatically, the girl that Dean had been following stopped in her tracks. She was petite, dark haired and wore far too much makeup for her delicate features, as far as Sam was concerned. Lindsey shoved her hands deep into her sweater pockets and turned. Although she was justifiably startled by the unexpected presence of two strangers in the stock room, Sam could see that underneath her surprise she was upset about something. The girl quickly scanned the room to see if she had backup, and her anxiety mounted as she realized she was alone.
Before Sam had a chance to figure out what sort of play Dean had in mind, Dean stepped right up into Lindsey's space. She couldn't tear her eyes away from his face.
"You know that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where this ninja dude comes after Indy in the street and does all of his moves and Indy's supposed to do this whole thing with his whip but he takes out his gun and shoots that guy because Harrison Ford had, like, a temperature of a hundred and five?" Lindsey blinked, but nodded. "Right now that's me. Give me the amulet."
Lindsey gasped and took half a step back. She blushed furiously and her expression was undeniably guilty. Dean closed his eyes as he shook his head and pressed the issue. "Whatever it is…amulet, object of power…" Dean opened his eyes and glared, the fever gave his eyes a disturbing sheen. "Hand it over right now, or I swear to God…" Dean let the implied threat hang in the air between them and Lindsey's shoulders sagged in defeat.
With a deep sigh, Lindsey pulled her right hand out of her pocket and handed something over to Dean. He looked down at the Hello Kitty bobble head doll in his hand torn between disbelief and disdain at such a lack of professionalism. He quirked an eyebrow at Lindsey as if to say, "You're such an amateur, kid" and he passed the offending toy over to Sam.
Lindsey was quaking a little when Dean turned his attention back to her. "You are messing with forces you don't understand. You need to knock it the hell off."
Dean didn't give Lindsey a chance to finish. "Come with me." Dean took Lindsey by her left elbow and guided her back through the door and into the store. Most of the people were still gawking at the confusion across the way and paid them no mind. Dean dragged Lindsey toward the front of the store and once again Sam was left wondering just what his brother was up to – did he have a plan, or was it the fever talking?
"Dean?" Sam tried to interject.
"Just loom, Sam."
Lindsey shot a look at Sam. Sam's face creased in a frown.
Sam changed his tone from "quiet questioning" to "I need some answers". "Dean," he repeated, ready to interpose himself between Dean and the girl he had yet to release.
"Dammit, Sam! Just loom and be scary, alright?" It was crazy, but while Dean's expression and body language were screaming "You're in such big trouble, girl" his tone and his words were matter-of-fact and insistent.
"You've got this all wrong, Lindsey. Brad and Katie are always hanging out together because they've been neighbors and friends forever. I bet you don't know that Katie's actually been trying to convince Brad to man up, come over here and talk to you."
Sam and Lindsey wore matching expressions of disbelief; Lindsey because she couldn't believe Dean's announcement that the object of her affection returned her unspoken feelings, and Sam because he couldn't process why Dean suddenly sounded like a recap of Days of Our Lives. How the hell did he know all of this stuff anyway?
"I don't understand…" Lindsey looked confused, yet hopeful. She tried to shrug, but Dean hadn't yet let her go. "Brad couldn't care less about me."
"Yeah?" Dean questioned quirking an eyebrow at her. "Would a guy who could care less be fighting his way across the mall to see why two random men are harassing you?"
Lindsey tried to turn, but Dean gave her elbow a little tweak and dropped a quick wink, "Don't look. Let him make his entrance."
Sam looked over the heads of the throng of people in the corridor, and sure enough, the teenage boy who had been sitting on the bench behind Dean earlier was determinedly making his way around clumps of standing patrons and through the moving traffic to get to them.
"The next time you find yourself mixed up like this, you need to talk to people. Using cursed objects to drop things on people's heads is not an option. Don't make us come back here." Dean dropped his voice to a menacing growl; he wasn't playing and Lindsey could feel it. "If there's a next time, we will take you out…after we let your friends," he nodded his head toward Lindsey's approaching knight in shining armor, "know exactly what you were doing. Brad might not be so fond of you if he knows what you were doing to Katie."
The threat was delivered just as Brad arrived; Dean's words were low enough to be for Lindsey's ears only, but Brad could certainly pick up on the tone. Sam had to give the kid credit for coming to face the two of them; if it was a real life situation, the kid never would've stood a chance against the Winchesters, but apparently Dean had been infected the Christmas spirit as well as a virus and was willing to give Lindsey a pass. Sam could only hope that this mini-"Scared Straight" lecture would stick.
"Everything okay here?" Brad asked a little too loudly. He crowded close to Lindsey's right side randomly patting her arm to reassure her of his presence.
Dean finally released Lindsey who had blanched at his final words, and took a step back with a final, weighted look. "Everything's fine. We found just what we were looking for."
Sam followed Dean out of the store and back into the flow of pedestrian traffic, perplexed that somehow the case was suddenly resolved. He shook his head in disbelief and was about to question Dean when his brother was seized by another coughing fit. By the time it had passed Dean was leaning on the wall for support and people were giving them a wide berth.
"Good thing I solved this one as quick as I did, Sammy. Now I can take a nap."
It was about as close to an acknowledgement of illness that Dean was willing to give, and Sam wasn't going to look a gift-horse in the mouth this close to Christmas. Contented that they were headed back to the motel and that Dean was going to get some much needed sleep, Sam didn't even address the cough or Dean's temperature. "Dude, you went full on Dr. Phil on that girl. What the hell happened?"
Dean smirked in satisfaction. "I was waiting for you to get back when Barbie and Ken plopped themselves on the bench behind me. I wasn't paying much attention to what they were saying until I caught Lindsey staring daggers at the girl from Hello Kitty. A little eavesdropping and simple observation brought me to the conclusion that we were not dealing with a poltergeist, but a woman scorned. Or girl, as the case may be."
"Impressive." Sam admitted, but he was not above taking a shot at his brother even in his weakened physical state. "You do know that you sounded like an expert on Peyton Place when you were talking Lindsey down…"
Dean rolled his eyes and stifled a cough. "You do know that you sound like a girl when you use Peyton Place as a reference…"
Together the Winchesters ambled through the mall back toward the Impala as the smooth voice of Nat King Cole wished kids from one to ninety-two "Merry Christmas, to you." Sam even thought he might have heard Dean singing along.