Dean and Sam resaddled the horses quickly, meeting up with Charlie, Miles, and the newly introduced Aaron and Maggie. Dean eyed Aaron's not inconsiderable bulk and decided that everyone riding doubles was out of the question, especially with the pony already laden with their hunting supplies.
Anyway, they didn't really owe these people anything. Especially not Miles Matheson. Dean would not say no to shooting him just on principle.
They started walking, heading out of the city.
"Why are the militia chasing you guys?" Sam asked. Dean let him do the talking; Sam managed to come off as somehow less dangerous and more relatable than Dean, who preferred to play the intimidating part anyway.
"They killed my father and kidnapped my brother." Charlie said. "And they want to take Miles too."
Miles shot her a glare. "Maybe you don't want to walk around blurting that out to everyone. These two are not trustworthy."
Dean snorted. "Like you are? Why are your own men hunting you down, Matheson?"
"Miles? What does he mean by that?" Charlie was staring at Miles. "How do you two know each other?"
Miles sighed. "I didn't think I'd have to tell you this early. Yes, I used to be part of the militia. I helped found it, alongside my best friend Sebastian Monroe. Then I left."
"You - you were one of them?! You killed people, didn't you? Other people's brothers and fathers and sons!"
"Yes, I killed them. That's the kind of person I am, Charlie! That's why I can't help you get your brother back."
Charlie's anger deflated all of a sudden. She seemed smaller. Just a girl. "That's why you have to help me. You know them. You can help more than anyone else."
"Maybe not more than those two." Miles nodded and Sam and Dean.
"Us?" Sam asked. "Why should we help you? You've gotten us run out of town."
"You came to Chicago looking for something, right? No other reason for Singer men to be in Monroe territory. You'd be better off in a group that knows the area."
Dean smirked a little. As Bobby thought, most of the people in other territories were completely unaware that hunters from the Singer Republic roamed the entire country, sending reports back with messenger birds and runners. They were not spies, strictly; their first duty was to hunt monsters, save people, and teach others how to protect themselves. Other details like supply movements and troops being moved around were just a consequence of keeping one's eyes open.
"We're looking for our father." Sam said. "We were planning to ask the tavern owner if anyone who looked like him passed through a few weeks ago. I guess that's you."
"What's he look like?" Miles asked.
"This guy's not gonna be any help, Sammy." Dean complained.
"Between my height and Dean's, um, dark hair, probably wearing an old leather jacket patched on the left shoulder. Going gray a little bit." Sam described their father, waving his hand to indicate height. "He probably drank a lot, too."
Miles was nodding just a little too much. "I know who you're talking about. He came through just a few weeks ago. I've got bad news for you; he was taken by the militia. Started a fight with a group of six or seven of them."
Dean shook his head. "Not him, then. Even drunk off his ass Dad could wipe the floor with six militia."
"Then I guess it was the seventh one that got him, because he introduced himself as John Smith and he was wearing that jacket. They jumped him because he had an old Colt firearm on him."
Dean pulled Miles to a stop roughly with a hand on his shoulder. "What did you just say?"
Miles knocked Dean's hand off and saw Sam closing in on his other side. He was a very good fighter, but he didn't fancy his chances with both brothers. "Hey, calm down."
"No, it's important. What did the gun look like."
"Long barrel. Real old. Guy seemed to think it was worth a hell of a lot."
Dean blew out a heavy breath, looking at Sam. "Think he found it, Sammy?"
"Sounds like it." Sam was grinning.
Dean was, too, wildly happy.
"What's so special about that Colt?" Miles asked.
Dean laughed and shook his head, and started walking again. The other three had only just noticed that they'd stopped, and were looking back curiously. "It's a family thing. That Colt's special."
Miles shrugged. "Whatever. The militia have it now, and your father too."
"Then I guess we're coming with you guys. Strength in numbers, you know." said Sam.
"What was that about?" Charlie asked them as they caught up, glancing between all three nervously.
"Sam and Dean are coming with us. Militia have their father." Miles said shortly.
Charlie smiled at them. "We're gonna get them both back. My brother, and your father."
"First, though," Dean said, "We need some supplies. I know just where to get them."
It was a full year after the Blackout before John felt comfortable hunting again. Bobby's compound had evolved into its own militia, with territories and farms that paid tribute. The commanders were all hunters, or at the very least knew about the supernatural, but the soldiers for the most part only knew that their commanders were very strange about the occult.
"Why do we have to leave?" Sam complained. "I was just about to finish my book, Bobby won't let me bring it with."
Dean twisted in the saddle, trying to glare his little brother into silence. They were riding double on the Singer militia's first-born horse, a jet-black mare Dean had named Impala after their lost car. She had been Dean's horse from the start; he'd helped deliver her, he'd taken care of her every single day, and he'd been the one to put a saddle on her. She wouldn't accept any other rider, except for Sam.
When glaring didn't work, Dean tried elbowing him.
"Ow!" Sam said, but shut up. Ahead, John didn't seem to have noticed anything at all.
"How are we going to find a hunt now, Dad?" Dean asked, kicking Impala lightly to catch up with his father.
"Like they used to before they had newspapers and the internet. We follow the gossip, and ask around."
"How do we get people to talk to us, though?"
"Times have changed, Dean. The only law is the militia. There's no one to deal with the day-to-day stuff. People have to trust each other more, even strangers. We're gonna rely on that. And we're gonna keep our ears open. With humanity such easy pickings there's no doubt that the monsters will be out."
Dean nodded, satisfied for the moment. Until another thought occurred to him. "Where are we going first?"
"Closest settlement outside our territory is a little place calling itself Drumming. That's where we start."
"Sam, what do you think is the closest supply outpost from Chicago?" Dean asked Sam.
In response, he pulled out their father's map and scanned it. "Looks like Drumming. 'Bout four days on the horses, but on foot I'd give a week and a half, maybe longer with civilians."
Dean smiled a little. "Drumming. I remember that place. Good people."
They were stopped for the night, setting up camp in a gravel lot. Aaron was gathering wood for the fire and Charlie and Maggie were foraging for edible plant life to add to their pot, while Miles dragged some fallen logs over for seats. Sam and Dean were taking care of their horses and unpacking the sleeping rolls from the pony.
The brothers donated strips of dried venison and beef to the stew, far more than anyone else was carrying on them. "We eat a lot of protein," Dean explained easily, and neatly avoided any more questions.
After they'd finished with supper and the camping pots and bowls were rinsed in the nearby stream, they all were settled around the fire, uncomfortably silent.
"So, Sam and Dean." Maggie tried, "What's your story?"
The brothers looked at each other. Dean smirked a little. "Not much to tell. We're from the Singer Republic. Grew up in the Singer militia. Our dad missed his check in, so we went looking for him."
"What's the Singer militia like?" Charlie asked. "It's not like Monroe, right? You guys don't seem like corrupted creeps."
"Nah, a lot of militias are corrupted, but Bobby would never stand for it. He found a group of soldiers taking bribes and put 'em to work in the salters'. Other Republics want more power or territory. Bobby just kind of made his by accident. I was there at the beginning."
"You've been around a lot, haven't you?" Aaron said. "Seen a lot of the Republics."
Dean nodded. "Yeah, me, Sam, and Dad all traveled a lot. Looking for things."
"Like what?" That was Miles.
Dean's expression seemed to sharpen every time he looked at Miles. "Like none of your damn business."
"But we spent a lot of time looking for that Colt." Sam broke in before Dean could start another fight. "It's important."
"Whatever. I don't see what's so great about a gun that old, anyway."
They both shrugged, unwilling to continue the conversation, and in lieu of speaking more Sam pulled out his fletching kit and Dean his whetstone, and the set to work on their weapons.
Aaron, Maggie, and Charlie were holding a whispered conversation facing away from the fire, and Miles was just staring into the flames, thinking. Dean watched him closely as he drew the stone over the blade of his favorite knife, deftly sharpening it, and wasn't surprised at all when Miles stood suddenly.
The other three fell silent, all looking at him.
"What are you doing?" Charlie asked as Miles put on his coat.
"Two weeks." Miles said, shrugging to settle the coat comfortably. "Meet you on Main street in Lowell, Indiana."
"Wait, you're leaving?" Charlie stood too, coming around the fire.
"Pontiac was a bust, but that doesn't change the reasons for going there. Gotta go get Nora."
"Who's this Nora chick, and why's she so important?" Dean asked, looking up from his sharpening.
"She's really good a blowing stuff up. We're gonna need her to get our people back from the militia."
Charlie tried to protest, but Miles cut her off. "Lowell, Indiana, two weeks." and he stalked off into the dark.
That seemed to be everyone's cue to turn in for the night, but when Dean was finished banking the fire he saw the gleam of Charlie's open eyes watching him and he smirked a little, winking at her and pressing a finger to his lips.
"Go get 'im." Dean mouthed, and turned his back.
He could swear he felt her smiling.
When morning came and the other two discovered Charlie's trick, Sam and Dean were quick to shut down Maggie's idea to follow her.
"You could, though!" Maggie shouted. "You know how to track, don't you? Don't you care?"
"She's a big girl, she can take care of herself. Besides, we've got our own path. It's going to be a detour up to Drumming, so we'll have to move fast. If we make it in five days we can make it back to Indiana easy." Sam said, showing them the map. "And meet up with them there."
"Fine." Maggie snapped. "Whatever, you're right, I'm wrong, let's go."
"Women," Dean muttered.
Their arrival in Drumming was not without notice, Dean saw as his father's horse passed a silent car. There was a child playing in the yard further up the street, quickly ushered into hiding by her father who looked at them suspiciously.
"Dad, are they more nervous than usual?" Dean asked, bringing Impala up alongside his father.
John was looking around, standing up in his stirrups. "They are. I wonder what's going on. Has the local militia been causing trouble, or is it our kind of business?"
"And what business is that?" A woman asked as she rounded a huge SUV. She was carrying a loaded crossbow in one hand and a decorative katana in the other.
John eyed her up and down, taking stock. She hadn't been a fighter before the Blackout, but she been one of the ones who adapted perfectly to the change in circumstances. He thought that she would shoot, if she had to. "We're just passing through. I'm a priest. These are my sons, Dean and Sam."
Dean smiled beatifically when the woman looked his way, putting on his best 'trust me I'm adorable' facade. She fell for it hook, line, and sinker, smiling back a little.
"I didn't know preachers were allowed to carry weapons like those," she said, giving a little nod towards John's own crossbow hanging in plain sight, and the hunting knife on his hip.
John shrugged. "God works in mysterious ways. I am here as a shepherd. I fight so that the innocent do not have to, even if it may block my own way into His Heaven." It was a standard spiel for hunters post-Blackout, when religion came raging back across a countryside that had mostly lost interest. With no governmental authority figures to impersonate, they had to improvise with another great power in people's lives.
The woman seemed impressed, or at the very least convinced. "Well, our old pastor left town not long after the Blackout. We've been making do with simple services since then. If you want, we hold them in the chapel down on Ninth every evening at sunset. Come along, speak to our congregation."
John gave her a pleased half-smile, one that Dean knew he was faking. "I think I'll do that. Where can we settle down for the night?"
The woman pointed. "Two blocks down, corner of Fifth and Main, there's a red-brick building, can't miss it. It's been a waystation since we got things situated around here. We keep it stocked with some essentials, no food though. By the way, I'm Esther. Esther Drumming. I'm the Mayor."
Walking into Drumming again felt like deja vu, making Dean's head spin with how much had changed. That red car had been right there, but there had been a steel gray truck parked in front of it before, and it was gone now. The SUV was still right where it had been, in front of the Mayor's house.
"This place looks like home," Aaron said wistfully, looking around at the occupied houses. There were little kids playing in the front yards of six houses, watched over by older siblings who were nonetheless too young to work in the farmer's fields.
Farther ahead there was the town's main intersection, a small parking lot just off the street in all the corners. What seemed to be a market was set up there, subdued but busy. A few vendors were hawking halfheartedly, but for the most part conducted their business in quiet voices.
Dean was frowning. "It shouldn't be like this. Sam?"
"There's something wrong here." Sam replied. "These people are afraid of something."
"Militia's been acting up lately?" Maggie suggested.
Dean shook his head, pointing at a double militia guard by a bigger stall than most. Both of the men looked faintly tense and nervous, despite the rifles held in their hands. "I don't think it's the local goons making folk afraid."
"Sam and Dean Winchester?" a voice said from behind them. "Is that really you?"
Dean turned around, a smile spreading across his face as he recognized that voice. "Esther! Haven't seen you in years."
"You two grew up well, I see. Not traveling with John anymore, though."
"We're looking for him, actually. Monroe Militia took him." Sam said.
"Well I'm sorry to hear that. You two here about the shtriga again?"
Dean's smile froze in place. "It's back?"
Esther shook her head, her short silver hair hanging loose around her face. She looked old. "We were just as surprised. Thought it was gone for good after you and your daddy ran it off. But two nights ago my Ella fell asleep and didn't wake up in the morning. Now... I fear for my boy's little girl."
"You had another kid?" Sam asked, surprised.
Esther smiled wryly. "Ella's nine years old. Evan has a little girl of his own, Dee, with a girl from Cooperston. She's just three. I know it'll come for her next."
Dean met Esther's eyes squarely, and swore, "We'll stop it this time."
Esther sighed. "I hope to God you do."
"I'm sorry," Maggie said, stepping up into the conversation. "But what the hell is going on?"
John spent the rest of the evening planning out a service that would speak to any community being terrorized by something supernatural. It wasn't difficult; he already knew the relating Bible passages, and he held his own views on the monstrosities of both human beings and non-humans. He just spun it towards forgiveness and looking for the light of God in difficult times, and it was authentic enough.
Sam, with his fear of the dark, was the one to inspire the bit about God's light. Since the lights all went out, it had become a rather powerful idea.
Sam and Dean sat off to the side of the preacher's stage, watching the congregation while their father spoke with all the conviction he could muster. They both saw the reaction in the crowd of about twenty whenever their father mentioned the monstrous acts that had been committed by men since the Blackout. These people were having some sort of trouble, all right, but so far there was no way of knowing if it was a true hunt or not.
When John finally stepped down from the podium, he looked right at Dean, who nodded.
Yeah, we've got something here.
John jerked his head, motioning towards the whispering congregation. Go gather intel, Dean understood.
"C'mon, Sammy, let's mingle." Dean said, holding out his hand.
Sam refused to take it, citing that he was too old now, but came along with Dean as he headed for the knot of kids off to the side. The oldest one, a boy about Dean's age or perhaps a little younger, was holding a sleeping baby, bouncing it up and down slightly.
"Who're you?" the boy with the baby asked.
"I'm Dean, this is Sam."
Sam smiled shyly, just the way he'd been taught, and they got down to the con.
An hour later, when the community meeting broke up, Dean guided a half-asleep Sam over to where their father was waiting.
"Any luck?" John asked.
Dean grinned, happy about the report he was about to give. "Something's been preying on the kids here every three nights. Two kids so far, both asleep and won't wake up. Tomorrow night should happen again. What do you think it is, vengeful spirit?"
"I got pretty much the same intel. Closed-mouth bunch, but they have reason." They set off for the house, John thinking aloud. "I don't think it's a spirit. We don't have EMF filters anymore, but there's ways for people to sense that sort of thing too. I think your brother has the talent. I've learned it. You'll learn it, too. I don't get the ghost feeling here though. It's something else."
"...How are we going to find out?" Dean asked softly, the realization hitting him all over again, even a year later: information was no longer on the other side of a computer screen. For the most part it was back at Bobby's house, in the library.
For a long time John didn't answer. "We're just gonna have to know a lot. And if salt don't hurt it, maybe silver will, or steel, or iron, or holy water. Maybe it'll take a stake to the heart, or chopping off its head. We'll just keep trying 'til we find what works, and write that down for the ones that come after us. That's why we all met at Bobby's house in the first place. These times, no hunter can work alone."
When they got back to the red house, John left them at the room they'd chosen for their bedroom, regarding both of them seriously. Dean straightened up under the attention, despite looking tired, but Sam just looked about ready to fall asleep on his feet. "We'll be talking to the Mayor tomorrow about their monster problem. Get some sleep, be up at dawn. Dean... look after Sam."
That was always his job.
Dean shifted uncomfortably away from Maggie, who seemed to have discovered the joy of shouting at him. She was glaring, hands on her hips.
"They don't know?" Esther asked, mildly surprised as Sam shook his head.
"Didn't really have time to say anything. Didn't think it would come up." Dean said.
"What are you even talking about? Because it sounds like you want to stay for something but we are on a time limit, here. In and out, that was the deal." Maggie said. Even Aaron shifted away from her.
"What is your problem? There are kids dying here, you want us to just get our stuff and look the other way?"
"Maggie," Sam started towards her, hands out. "We'll explain later. Somewhere less... public. But it's getting late anyway, we'd have to stop, so here's better than further down the road. Esther?"
"Oh, you're definitely staying with me. I remember last time."
Maggie threw off Aaron's placating gestures in anger, and stalked off after Sam, Dean, and Esther, leaving him to bring up the rear. He sighed, looking around the deserted streets as they passed them. He looked down, pulling something out of his pocket. A bright silver pendant.
It was glowing.
He stuffed it back in his pocket quickly, checking to see if anybody was looking his way, but it seemed he'd gone unnoticed in favor of the much louder group in front of him. He sped up, rejoining them in time to hear Esther say, "If the pattern's the same this time as it was last it will come tonight."
"Then we'll be there. We'll stop it this time." Dean promised.
"What happened?" Maggie asked again, a bit calmer as Esther let them into her house.
Sam looked at Dean. "Go. I'm better at the 'truth is out there' speech anyway."
Dean nodded, and Esther led him further into the house while Same showed them into a cold but cozy living room and started lighting the fireplace again.
Maggie and Aaron waited, silent.
When there was a fire growing in the hearth Sam sat back on his heels and addressed it, "My brother and I are hunters. Not just deer and wildlife. There are things out there in the world that science could not explain even before the Blackout. Some... most of these things like to prey on people like Esther and her town. When we pass by, we keep an eye out, and ask questions. We find a monster, hunt it back to where it sleeps, and kill it.
"Our father is the one who started us hunting. He raised us into it. Something evil killed our mother when I was just a baby. We've been hunting it down ever since. He was out on a hunt, looking for clues, when he went missing.
"Fourteen years ago, we came to Drumming when it was just getting started. There was a child-killing witch, a shtriga, preying on the children here. It put two of them into comas before we got here. We had a trap set up for it, but it got away. We had no way of tracking it down, so we passed the case along for the other hunters to look for and moved on. Now it's back."
Sam was still looking into the fire, feeding it logs and building it up, when he finished his speech. There was silence behind him. Finally too curious, he turned around to see both Aaron and Maggie staring at each other, processing. Deciding on whether or not something like this could be real.
"This is what we do." Sam said. "We hunt the things that go bump in the night, we save people from the monsters. Ghosts are real, some of them are damn vengeful. Vampires are mostly extinct but making a comeback. Werewolves don't turn into wolf-people but they're strong and fast and they eat human hearts on the three days of the full moon. Silver kills shapeshifters, revenants, werewolves. Salt is your best protection. And if you ever smell sulfur... run."
"That sounds crazy," Aaron pointed out, like he honestly thought Sam hadn't noticed.
"Yeah. But that's my life."
Dean came back, without Esther but plus a little toddler girl on his hip. "Sam, Esther's with Ella. I think you need to do your thing."
"I'm gonna be bait!" The girl burst out cheerfully, smiling at Sam.
Sam looked at his brother, a storm brewing in the lines between his brows.
"No you're not." Dean said quickly, darting a nervous 'I'd never do that' glance at Sam. "She heard us talking about what we'd need to do to catch the witch, and now she wants to be the bait."
"We can't do it without..." Sam trailed off, motioning at the little girl.
"Yeah, I know. I'd just like to delude myself for a little while longer, okay?" Dean snapped. "I can't fuck this up again, Sammy. Last time I almost lost you. I won't do this over again in fourteen years."
Sam snorted bitterly. "Dude, we won't even be alive in fourteen years. It'll be some other hunter's problem."
"Stop talking like that." Just then the girl in Dean's arms started squirming, wanting down, and he barely had time to set her on her feet before she took off running, laughing.
"Catch me, monster!" she exclaimed from down the hall. "Can't catch me!"
"Excuse me." Dean said gravely, before dropping into a half-crouch and running down the hall after the girl, growling badly.
There was a squeal of sheer glee, and then more laughing.
"Hard to believe he's supposed to be twenty-six, right?" Sam said.
John had talked to Esther, and though she seemed skeptical about John's explanation, she was at this point ready to try anything so long as it had a chance of working.
Luckily they'd already seen the pattern that it ran in families. It had finished with Megan and Theodore Dunbar's children, a boy and a girl, but Megan was Esther's sister, and lived right next door.
"I know it's coming for Evan next," Esther said, pulling her boy closer. Evan was perhaps nine or ten years old, between Sam and Dean, and mournfully silent. He'd been the boy in the church holding the baby, who had told Sam and Dean most of what they'd found out.
Evan, for his part, didn't look scared. Just tired, and a little resigned.
"We think it's a shtriga," John said. "It's a witch that feeds on the life-force of children. It's likely a person in town, but probably not one you'd ever expect. They only need to feed in cycles, three times every number of years. There's no way of telling when it was here last. This is the last night we'll be able to get to it. Since it does hunt mostly in families, it's probably coming after Evan tonight."
"How are you going to stop it?" Esther asked, steel in her voice and her spine.
John seemed impressed. "Iron is our best bet. Like most things, it's weakest when it's feeding. But it'll be scared off if there's an adult in the room with the kid. That's where my boys come in."
Dean stepped forward, his expression dead serious as he stared at Evan. "Nothing bad's gonna happen to you, Evan." Dean swore, his hand on the gun at his hip. Dad had finally decided to trust him with it, but only because Dean had proven beyond any doubt that he knew how to handle one, and wouldn't treat it like a toy.
Esther looked up at John. "You can't be serious."
John held her gaze. "I am. Dean's put down six violent spirits and helped take out a pack of werewolves just two years ago. He's the best protection your boy can have if I can't be in there."
"I'll be fine, Mom," Evan spoke up finally, looking up at his mother and breaking his stare-off with Dean. "They won't let anything happen to me."
Esther crouched in front of her son, hugging him tightly as she glared over his shoulder at John. "I can't lose you, too, baby. I can't."
"You won't," Dean and John promised at the same time.
Her glare turned poisonous. "Fine. But if one hair on his head is harmed, Winchester, you better run real fast, because I'll be coming for you, and your boys."
John nodded, taking the threat. He didn't think the woman could carry it through on his children, but he was used to taking his life into his own hands. "And if we kill this witch, you're going to let us set up a cache in your town. A team of horses, weapons, salt, and supplies. You'll take care of the horses and clean the weapons, you won't touch the salt, you won't go near the supplies. Deal?"
Esther put her hand out. "Deal."
"Last time, you put Evan's life in danger." Esther said. She was holding the little girl. "Now I assume you want to do the same to Evan's daughter?"
Dean nodded. "But neither of us are young enough to be in the same room. We'll be waiting right outside, hell, I'll be in the closet. The second that thing starts feeding we're gonna put it full of cold iron and end this once and for all."
Esther considered it for a moment. "Last time, you said you'd kill the thing, and that you'd keep Evan safe. If it comes down to the same choice this time, I want you to let my granddaughter live and leave that thing to come back in three days. It can take some other family's children. It's done with mine." she spat this last statement, viciously determined.
"It's not gonna come to that." Dean promised.
"Dean, I need help with this symbol!" Sam called from inside the kid's bedroom.
Dean went to hold the rickety stepladder still while Same painted every weakening, pure symbol they knew on the ceiling and walls. There was an unbroken salt line all around the perimeter of the room, the only gap right below the window. That would be the witch's only possible point of entry.
"It can't see you," Sam began, "So I figured put the candles right next to the kid's bed, between you and it, so you have good light for the shot and it can't see beyond the light."
"Good thinking, Sammy," Dean said. "God, I hope this works. It has to work."
"How are Aaron and Maggie doing with all of this?" Sam asked.
"Well, they seem willing enough to believe, but there's always gonna be some doubt until they see the witch for themselves."
"I'm thinking we let them keep doubting, and don't let them see the shtriga." Sam suggested.
"Yeah, probably the best idea. They're cool with it when it's not really there, no need to shove it in their faces."
There was a commotion downstairs as the front door opened and shut, bringing new voices in.
"Go, I've got the ladder now." Sam said.
Dean went to the top of the stairs and looked down just as someone else was looking up. "Evan?" Dean said.
"Dean?" Evan yelped, starting up the stairs. "Dude, it's been years. You got here fast!"
Evan went for it, so Dean submitted to being bear-hugged on the stairs. Evan had grown up well, not quite as tall as Dean but his arms roped in thick muscle from working in the fields.
When they separated, Evan was a little more subdued. "It's the shtriga again, right? It came for my little sister and now it's back for Dee."
"Dee?" Dean asked. "Oh, the girl." Somehow he'd never gotten her name.
Evan smiled mischievously. "Yeah, she's named after this guy who saved my life once."
It took Dean longer than it probably should have. "Dude, you didn't. A girl? You couldn't have waited 'til you had a boy?"
Esther said, from the bottom of the stairs, "It's getting dark."
That sobered everyone pretty quickly. They were introduced to Evan's wife, Aly, and set up sleeping arrangements for Maggie and Aaron. Dean thought it was more likely that no one would be getting any sleep tonight.
"I want to be there." Evan came to stand in front of Dean, his feet planted. "I won't get in the way. I'm going to be right outside the door, with Sam. I won't let my little girl go through this alone."
"She won't be alone, Evan." Dean said quietly. "I'm gonna be there. You remember when I protected you? You know I'd never let anything bad happen to that little girl."
"As I recall, last time it didn't come down to you letting anything happen at all."
Dean flinched as the barb struck home, and Sam came to the rescue. "You can wait for the signal outside the room with me. It won't be a problem, right Dean?"
"Yeah, that's fine." Dean muttered, leaving.
"What's the signal?" Evan asked.
Rustling from the other bed.
"It's best if you're asleep." Dean whispered across the space between the beds.
"I can't sleep." Evan whispered back after a long silence.
"Sure you can. Just close your eyes and imagine you're somewhere else. Then you're dreaming."
"Do you have that gun still?"
"Yeah. It's my gun now. My dad gave it to me because he knows I can be trusted with it."
"What if you miss and shoot me? Or what if you're too late?"
"I won't be. I'll protect you, promise. I've been protecting my little brother Sam all his life, and he's fine. I'm good at keeping people safe."
"Okay. I'm going to try to sleep now."
The room was dark and cold.
It was the cold that woke Dean up.
With a start he realized that he'd drifted off, and it was only his numb feet that had woken him up. It hadn't been a restful sleep at all; he blinked blearily, and took three seconds to realize that the shape of the shadows over Evan's bed were all wrong.
He raised the gun and fired without making a sound in between, and only after absorbing the recoil did he shout for his father.
John burst into the room to see the witch rolling off of Evan's bed and crawling towards the window. It was on the sill when John fired, the shot pushing it out into the night.
It never hit the ground. It just disappeared.
Dean scrambled over to Evan, shaking his shoulder, shouting at him to wake up. Esther stormed into the room and swept both Dean and John out of her way, cradling Evan to her. But he wasn't asleep anymore; he was moving, asking tiredly if everything was okay, if they'd gotten the monster.
Esther was asking them the same thing, and Dean was looking at John, saying, "I don't know. I don't know," over and over.
Dean knows he's not going to fall asleep this time. He physically can't - not only is he hopped up on adrenaline, but he's only been falling asleep in the early hours of the morning these days. The less sleep isn't killing him any faster than anything else is.
He's wide awake and listening when he hears the soft thump from the other side of the door.
Was that it? No, wait for the screaming, that was the deal. But what if she's asleep? The shtriga doesn't wake its victims. What if he scares it off again, and it takes one more child when they can't stop it and stops for another fourteen years, what if he waits too long and Dee...
If it comes down to the same choice this time, Esther had said.
He's an idiot.
The closet door swings open perfectly silent, ghosting just above the carpet under Dean's hand. His feet are planted perfectly. The witch is right across from him, casting shadows in the candlelight, crouching over the little girl on the bed.
"Not tonight, bitch." Dean says as he fires.
The witch screams, hit right in the chest as it feeds. It falls off the bed, just like last time, but Dean doesn't let up. Even as Sam and Evan burst through the door, Dean is unloading three more bullets into the shtriga, two in the heart, one in the head.
"It's dead, Dean." Sam says, holding Dean's wrist.
"Yeah." Dean sighs. "Fucking finally. I'm tired, Sam. Where's my bed?"
"Hello?" Charlie voice rang out from around the corner. She and Maggie ran into a hug, but Miles and the woman who had to be Nora hung back a little, looking at what Sam and Dean had brought to the meet-up.
Impala, the pony, and Sam's horse were all laden down with weapons and ammo, some hanging in plain sight. Sam and Dean themselves both had sawed-off shotguns and rifles strapped to their backs, knives and swords in sheaths, and what appeared to be bulletproof vests on.
"Got four more vests with the horses." Dean said shortly. "Figured they'd come in handy. Also have some explosive things for your girl there."
Miles whistled. "You weren't kidding when you said you'd get the supplies. You just had this stuff lying around?"
Dean shrugged. "We keep caches all over the place. This one was a little better supplied than most, but it was also only outfitted for six people. We didn't want to take the horses."
"Maybe we actually have a chance." Nora said, eyeing both the brothers and the weapons appreciatively.
"Danny's close." Charlie said. "We could maybe catch up within the next day."
"You're joking, let's hurry then." Maggie said, shouldering her own pack again.
"Hey." Dean wasn't moving.
Charlie looked back. "What's wrong?"
"What happens when we help you get your brother back?" Dean said. "You just gonna leave us high and dry?"
"I'll help for a few of those guns," Nora volunteered.
"Your rebel buddies do not need - " Miles started.
"Yes they do, as you well saw!"
"Hey!" Charlie shouted. "Dean, Sam, when we've got my brother back we'll send him home with Aaron and Maggie, and then we'll get your father."
"I won't leave you out here." said Maggie.
Charlie just looked at her. "You can't shoot worth a damn and you certainly can't kill a man."
"And you can?" Maggie demanded, tilting her head angrily.
Charlie's eyes swept away. "Yes," she murmured.