Sam turned the medallion over in his hand, the cold pewter smooth against his palm. It was about the size of the base of a plastic cup, and it was very old; he didn't recognize the inscription carved into it. He slipped it into the pocket of the uniform, pulling his cap down over his face as he rounded a corner on the way back to the motel.
The McLaughlins had hidden it in the floorboards in the guest bedroom. In hindsight, it should have been one of the first places he looked, but it had seemed too obvious a hiding place. It was only after he'd checked all the walls in the house, torn up some of the carpet in the closets, and gone over the empty attic with a fine tooth comb that he considered the floorboards.
Dean hadn't spoken to him as they'd cleared out the trash from the house and yard, opting instead for dark glares and "accidental" bumps into Sam. Sam didn't blame him; Dean could always tell when he was lying, and he had every right to be angry that Sam was keeping secrets from him. He could Dean with Dean's emotions – what he couldn't deal with was Dean's skills as a hunter, all of which would be focused on stopping Sam if Dean discovered that he was taking steps to break the deal. Thankfully, the thought didn't seem to have entered Dean's consciousness, even after Merida's rather pointed comment.
It was evening now, just before sunset, and Dean walked about a quarter mile ahead of him; far enough away to let Sam know he was still pissed, but close enough to respond in case things went south.
Always trying to protect me, even when he doesn't trust me. Fucking saint. I'll end up in hell if I don't find a way to save his ass.
Dean disappeared around a corner and Sam quickened pace to catch up with him. He caught sight of Dean again as he crossed the motel parking lot, banging on the door to their room. Sam had made it all the way to the door by the time Bobby opened it, and they stepped inside, kicking off their shoes.
"Christ almighty," Bobby said, fanning the air in front of his face. "You pick up the garbage or go for a swim in it?"
Dean ignored him, stripping on his way to the bathroom.
Sam sighed. "Nice, Dean."
He closed the bathroom door, and the shower came on.
Sam sat down at the table, resting his forehead against the heel of his hand.
"That bad, huh?"
Sam chuckled humorlessly. "Least we have a plan now. There's a festival, day after tomorrow, out at the McLaughlins' place. Honor the harvest gods, you know the drill. Anu's gonna put in a guest appearance at this thing; I guess it's easier for him to cross over if he completes the ritual while people worship him."
"Where'd you learn that fun fact?"
Bobby raised an eyebrow.
"Don't bother. I already got it from Dean."
He raised the other.
"I'm not saying she's Mother Teresa, all right? But we scratch her back, she scratches ours. She needs out of this as badly as we do. She's a prisoner to this thing."
"So she says."
"She's not lying. I'd know."
Sam was silent.
"Just trust me on this one. We need her, Bobby. We need her."
Bobby gave him a measured look and took a drink from a glass that looked like it had been sitting on the table awhile.
Sam studied his face, concluded that he was being sincere, and leaned back in his chair. "Thanks."
Bobby pressed his lips together in a thin smile. "Sure thing."
When Dean emerged from the bathroom, Sam was already asleep on the floor beside the heater, his head resting on a roll of clothes.
"Hope you enjoyed the sauna. We'll be taking ice-cold showers in the morning."
"Eh, we'll live. 'Sides, maybe the ice water'll shock some sense into him."
"You don't trust her, I take it?"
Dean scoffed. "Can you blame me? The girl's dancing in his head right along with the visions of sugar plums. Hell, she's probably wearing a thong made of 'em."
Bobby shook his head. "If she's cheerleading for the visitors, though, what's her end game? Why even talk you two mooks? She's had a million chances to kill ya."
"You're telling me you think she's on the up and up?"
"I ain't saying she'll be sending us any Christmas cards when all this is over, but I don't think she's running this show, neither."
Dean tossed a damp towel into the corner with the uniforms. Sorry Emanuel, he thought. You and your partner'll have to get new threads from the back room.
"Did Sam tell you that she was tailing you? She knew you went down to Corrina to get the blood."
"You think I was born yesterday? I know she followed me, kid."
"And," Dean continued, "she just so happens to know someone who can get us the evergreen. Isn't that lucky?"
"She's a confessor, Dean. No great shock she knows where some rare artifacts are hidden. Spirits must tell her all sorts of stuff."
Dean pulled on a flannel shirt. "What, suddenly you're her fan club president?"
"I'm just being realistic here. Maybe you should stop layin' into this girl and fess up to what's really got your goat."
Dean glared at him and sat down on the corner of one of the beds, elbows on his knees. He sighed and glanced down at Sam.
"He's lying about something, Bobby. I know it."
He looked up at the ceiling, puffing his cheeks as he exhaled. "I don't know, okay? I don't know. And it sounds paranoid and ridiculous, but there it is."
"What could Sam have to hide? And why hide it from us? He hasn't done much of that in the past."
"He…I don't think it's anything too bad or serious, but I don't like it, okay? It's…it's bad precedent."
"Welp," Bobby said, getting up from the table, "'till he decides to fess up or you figure out what he's growin' on the back forty, you might as well shovel the shit in front of you. You got an angry god with a screaming bitch for hire just waitin' for the perfect moment to tear into your hides. Worry about Sam's inner demons next week, y'hear?"
Dean chuckled. "Yeah, I hear you."
Bobby turned down the covers on his bed, tossing a duffel onto the floor.
"It's like seven-thirty!" Dean took his seat at the table and cracked a beer, grabbing the remote. "Dr. Sexy reruns are on!"
"We got the mother of all summoning spells to rig up tomorrow. Get some shuteye, kid. That's an order."
Glass clinked as Dean set his bottle down amidst the crowd of empty ones on the table. "G'night, grandpa."
Bobby made a face and laid down, turning away from the television.
Flipping channels while Dr. Sexy, M. D. went to commercial, Dean looked over at Sam, who was shifting under the modest covers he'd found.
What the hell's going on in there? He had stopped scanning channels; an infomercial about grills played on the screen, but Dean didn't notice.
What are you up to, Sammy?
"Did you find the damn thing?"
They were sitting on a park bench under the glow of an invisible street lamp in a garden Sam didn't recognize. It was night, but butterflies floated around them, landing on too-bright flowers.
"Where are we?"
"I don't know, the place is your creation, remember? The butterflies are mine though. You like?"
Sam considered them. They were all orange with black piping – Painted Ladies. He remembered them from his first butterfly farm; a project for his second grade class. Dean had given him endless shit about it.
"Yeah," he said. "I do, actually."
"Good. Now did you-"
"Yes," he said, leaning toward her. "I got it." He looked down and realized he was still wearing Emanuel's uniform; reaching into the pocket, he found it empty.
"It was right here-"
She laughed; Sam watched her, touched by the sound. "You're asleep, asshole. Just think about it, and I'll be able to see it."
Sam closed his eyes and pushed, the way he had when he'd sent Dean the vision of Yellow Eyes' town.
"I said think about it, Sam, not try and squeeze it out of the end of your dick."
He spluttered and she laughed some more, throwing her head back with abandon.
"Here," she said, holding out her hand. He placed his hand in hers, and she brought it to her lips and kissed it softly, a coy look in her eyes.
But he felt it, her power, flowing from the end of his fingers to his heart.
"Think," she mumbled against his hand.
He closed his eyes again, imagining the feel of the cold metal, the depression of the engraving, the rough outer edge-
-and just like that, it was between their intertwined hands.
"See?" She placed his hand on her knee, turning the artifact over in her own. "You're just out of practice. You got some real juice, though."
Sam swallowed an inappropriate reply. "So, what do you think?"
She nodded, grinning excitedly. "This is it, Sam. I really think this is it!"
"This is the talisman? The one Siobhan swore on?"
"Yes…" She shook her head in awe. "I can't believe it, but yes." She met his eyes, narrowing hers. "Who are you two? Really, I mean?"
Sam smiled. "We're Sam and Dean Winchester, hunters extraordinaire."
"You're more than that." She placed her hand on top of his, moving it from her knee to mid-thigh. "What are the odds that the McLaughlins were the ones who kept this thing all these years, and that you'd be the ones to find it?"
"I don't know," Sam said, "but I'm not checking this gift horse for strep. Do you really think you can use it to break Dean's deal?"
"It's a contract," she said. "Of a kind, anyway. It's an ancient coin, and it meant a lot to whoever first minted it. When she swore on it, it became a binding agreement, like a kiss with a crossroads demon."
"How does that help us?"
"Well," she continued, "contract-binders are rare objects, and they have certain things in common, magic-wise. We can use this one to find your brother's contract, and once we know where it is, we can destroy it."
"And then Dean'll be home free?"
"But wait," he said, shaking his head. "Won't Dean's contract be in hell? How will we get to it?"
"We get someone to retrieve it for us."
Sam's expression darkened. "A demon?"
She shrugged. "Whatever works."
"Demons are what got us into this mess! We're not dealing with any more of them!"
"How else did you think this was going to work? Did you think it would be all clean and pretty? Of course we'd have to deal with demons! You're brother's gonna end up in hell, Sam. H-E-double-hockey-sticks. Do you understand what that means? Do you know what happens to human souls in hell?"
Sam searched for a retort, something that would convince her – and himself – that dealing with demons was a line they shouldn't cross, that there were things even he wouldn't do to save Dean…but there were no words. Because there was nothing he wouldn't do.
"You know any friendly demons?"
She chuckled. "Let's just take care of Anu first, okay? Then we have to find your brother's contract. And we'd better hurry," she added, looking worried.
"Why do you say that?"
"I've heard things. Whispers from evil souls, old haunted places. It's why I came to town, to meet you guys and get you to break my curse. They said you'd be here. I think…they're planning something. Something involving you two."
"Who? The demons?"
"Yes," she said. "And no."
She hesitated, then shook her head. "We'll worry about it when we have to." She scooted closer to him so that his hand was practically in her crotch.
"Close your eyes."
After he rolled them, he did.
When he opened them, a bed had replaced the park bench. It was enormous – probably a California King – and the comforter and pillows were jet-white. They were both naked now, sitting cross-legged and facing one another.
"Now," Merida said, walking on her knees toward him until she straddled his lap. "We've put this off long enough, wouldn't you say?"
Sam's hands moved up her silken thighs to her hips, resting there as their lips met. Her body pressed against his and her hands moved over his shoulders, trailing gently over his skin. She snorted, tickling his back with her nails.
Sam yanked her tighter against him, his hands tangling themselves in her hair.
"Mmm," she said, "aren't we aggressive."
Sam tossed her down onto her back and she bounced, laughing, onto the pillows. Sam swatted at two butterflies that landed in her hair and slid between her thighs, pinning her arms on either side of her head.
He leaned down and went to work on her neck, and she groaned and bucked against him, tightening her thighs around his waist. Then, she opened her mouth and screamed, and Sam thought for sure it would kill him.
The sound tore at his mind from the inside out, and he twisted away from Merida, pressing his palms against his ears. It helped not at all; the piercing wail drove nails into his brain and out through his eye sockets. He grunted and leapt off the bed, running through the grass and away from the bed under the street lamp.
The sound followed him, broken only occasionally by the passing bunch of trees. Sam ran with his eyes closed, unthinking, unfeeling, only moving away, away, away from the terrible sound. Rocks cut into the soles of his feet and he nearly slipped as the sprinted through the damp grass, the increasingly cold air raising gooseflesh all over him.
He reached a road and crossed it, sucking in air in huge gulps. The sound had stopped, and he hadn't had the time to process the sweet silence when she appeared a foot in front of him.
Or, rather, it.
The body was Merida's, but the head was like the end of a rotten log, crawling with maggots and flying beetles. The mouth was a slimy, gaping chasm, and the stench that erupted from it made him double over, his stomach roiling.
It screamed again and he covered his ears with his hands, falling down to the pavement. He put his head between his knees, hoping praying begging to die-
-and then scream died down to almost a whisper.
His hands came away from his ears bloody, and when he looked up, Merida's face was back.
"1-4-3-7 Tripp Lane…" she whined, he head whipping back and forth nearly too fast to see. He face vanished and the banshee reappeared and opened its mouth to scream. There was another blinding shake of the head and Merida was back, he face covered in black muck.
"1-4-3-7…" she garbled, black slime dripping from her lips; she coughed, and a glop of it flew to the pavement below. She stumbled, clawing at her face. "1-4-3-"
But the banshee returned, and as it opened its mouth to scream again, water forced its way down Sam's throat-
-and he coughed and sat up, gasping for breath.
The light was on, and Sam was struck by a sense of déjà vu as he looked up at Dean standing over him with the bucket and Bobby standing beside him. He was soaking wet again.
Dean tossed the bucket and knelt in front of him, alternately shaking him by the shoulders and touching his face, looking into his eyes, and checking his pulse.
"Jesus, Sam," he said. "You're bleeding!"
Confused, Sam reached up to his ears. His hands came way red and wet.
"What the hell happened in there, boy?"
He closed his eyes and put a hand to him temple, trying to remember-
"Merida! We have to get to her!"
"Fuck Merida, Sam, we need to worry about you-"
"No, no! The banshee! It's got her again! She could kill someone-"
He stumbled to his feet, still coughing and reached for his shoes. Dean stood and grabbed him by the arm, whipping him around.
"Sam!" He smacked Sam's face lightly and shook him. "SAM!"
Sam stopped moving and took a deep breath.
"Where is she, Sam?" Dean's forehead was practically touching his. "Where?"
"Think, Sam. Think."
'"1-4-3-7! 1-4-3-7… trick lane? Tick lane?"
Bobby already had his shoes and coat on, and was holstering his gun. "Close enough. This town's not that big."
Dean set about getting dressed and Sam moved to do the same.
"Sit down. You're not going anywhere."
The look Dean gave him stopped him mid-sentence.
He sighed and coughed and sat down, trying to think.
God, his head was about to explode.
"Don't fucking go anywhere, you hear me?"
By the time Sam had mustered the energy to reply, they were gone. He laid back on the bed, holding a pillow over his face. He passed out.
Stay tuned! The next chapter is going to be action packed. R & R!