Author's Notes: Welcome to my first collaborative fic, with the talented Mrstserc (who happens to be an experienced professional news reporter). This one will be a single "episode," with potential for more down the line. We're bringing the boys down south for a bit, because we're not restrained by settings that need to be convincing while shot in Canada. This is set in the same 'Verse as the completed multichapter fic "Before the Fall," so Cas is along for the ride and there's established Destiel (I recommend reading that one for the 'Season Premier' before this, but you don't have to). Now, on to the mystery, the monsters, and our boys!
Some sin for gold, some sin for shame
Some sin for cash, some sin for gain
Some sin for wine, some sin for pain
But I ain't gonna be the fool who's gonna have to
Sin for nothin'
Nothing at all.
- AC/DC, "Some Sin For Nothin'"
The hunter frowned as he watched the petite woman leave the jogging path and ascend into the undergrowth, muttering incoherently to herself. Crumbled rock crunched under her feet for a few yards, the roots of sage and rosemary making trip lines on the dry soil. He knew that higher on the incline were accidental footholds in the rocks and hand holds made from overhanging and untrustworthy branches of live oak and pecan trees.
The October night was dark, and the area under the trees was darker. Brackenridge Park wasn't officially closed until 11 p.m., but the hunter knew many of the area homeless found shelter in unlikely places within the 340 acres of wild parkland nestled in central San Antonio. He knew because three of the city's drug addicted or mentally ill homeless women had gone missing from this very park so far this year.
Brackenridge Park provided dark spaces away from people, even those people from Haven of Hope offering help, and the spring-fed river welling up in the park ensured access to fresh water. Temperate and semi-arid, with easy access from two main interstates, San Antonio attracted homeless people from neighboring states and Brackenridge drew them in from across San Antonio.
The city's park police didn't like to broadcast the news of the missing women; it was bad for tourist business, and the Alamo City economy thrived on bringing in millions of visitors each year. And after all—the disappearance of transients and drug addicts wasn't news.
Bats flittered around the lamps from the streets outlining the park, snatching insects and making fluttering shadows across the ground. Above, the scrabbling of the homeless woman's climb sent loose soil and stones rattling down, the sound carrying in the still air.
"Well," thought the hunter, "I couldn't have found better bait if I tried." He hunkered down and waited to see if the monster would respond.
San Antonio Express News
TATTOOED BODY PARTS FOUND IN BRACKEN PARK
San Antonio Police said Tuesday the tattooed body parts found in Brackenridge Park near the pavilion belong to a white man, not any of the three local women who have gone missing within the last year. The body parts were first discovered by a group of Japanese tourists who were visiting the recently open nature area that houses one of the largest population of bats in North America.
"Based on the condition of the body parts, they likely had not been there long and might have washed into the terrain during recent flash flooding," SAPD Information Officer Paul Gonzalez. Authorities reportedly sent DNA samples from the body parts to the Texas Department of Public Safety in Austin for Human Identification.
Community leaders have accused the police department of not committing sufficient resources to solving the disappearances of the three local women; Cara Springs, 28, who went missing in January, Patricia Johnson, 32, in May, and Linda Sanchez, 25, in September.
Dean Winchester was walking the fine line between being pleasantly intoxicated and downright drunk, and starting to tip farther to the drunk side with every successive minute. Turned to face the room, Sam was watching the entire process out of the corner of his eye with his elbows resting on the bar, smirking to himself as what had started out as a 'scientific experiment' and evolved into a pissing match between his brother and his best friend barreled on without with participation, neither noticing that Sam had stopped keeping pace.
The shot glasses hit the bar together, just a hair off from being in unison as Castiel's half-tips before he rights it again, his hand-eye coordination beginning to suffer.
"You said that about the bourbon."
"No, I said the bourbon was too . . ."
"Pungent." Sam supplies helpfully, trying to tamp down the laughter threatening to call their attention back to his own drinking habits, and that they were the evening's entertainment for him.
Sam's Burger Joint was a dive, but it was a popular one. The walls were lined with pictures of bands, singers, and license plates from every state, and every burger was branded with the place's name (in case you missed it on the neon sign, visible from the freeway and possibly from space). Outside the bar, a converted warehouse had become a popular music venue, and even without paying to get near the stage the volume was ear-bleeding, the cover band dominating the stage exuberantly declaring that they were going off the rails on a crazy train.
It was just the kind of place Dean liked, right down to the bacon cheeseburgers of which half of Castiel's was still wrapped in the greasy paper, and Sam was cadging off of Dean's leftover fries, dipping them in his guacamole. In the morning, when the hangover was crippling both of his fellow hunters and slowing down their progress on the morning's investigation, Sam would point out that they should have finished their dinner before they got into the drinking contest.
Both of them would deny there had been a contest.
"Yeah, yeah. Okay. Fine. You turn out to like anything froo-froo, though, you're walking back to the motel."
"Maybe they have Purple Nurples. You liked them. That's a manly drink, right?" Sam smirks at his brother over his own beer, and the bartender snorts quietly as she plucks away the discarded glasses, only barely audible over the music. At least she thought he was funny.
"They always like this?" She asks, leaning her hip against the bar as she swipes it down with a dingy rag. Sam can't help but notice that her jeans ride low on her hips despite her belt, showing the dimple at the small of her back, and she flashes him a smile that matches it. Sam redirects his attention, turning in his stool and tipping his head to get his hair out of his eyes.
Texan drawl. Pretty. Blonde, too. If Dean even thinks about trying to move in on this girl, he's going to point out that dragging Cas out for dinner, drinking and music counts as a date. Obnoxiously. In front of Cas, the entire bar, and the blonde. Even if he gets his ass kicked for it later.
"Those guys? I don't really know them. They just kinda follow me around."
Dean leans in his seat, throwing an arm around Sam's shoulder and reaching up to rumple his hair obnoxiously, addressing the bartender in a voice loud enough to carry. Revenge for the Purple Nurple comment. "He's so cute, ain't he? My little brother, forgetting I'm the driver, and he can walk too if he keeps trying to disown me. Dean." He offers his name with a winning crooked grin.
"Laurie." The bartender responds with a smile, and a laugh. "And you're not driving anywhere tonight, cowboy." Plunking the next drink on the menu down in front of Dean and Cas, she shakes her head. Castiel eyes the drink before him suspiciously until Dean drops his arm from around Sam and leans towards the angel instead, unable to back down from the challenge and determined to find out Cas's drink preferences, continuing his newest hobby of figuring out Cas's likes and dislikes in his humanity.
After a moment making the rounds, passing out drinks to the other patrons, Laurie slides back over in front of Sam, and there's a good chance that he's in. "So, the big little brother. Got a name? You sound local, you from around here?"
"Sam, ironically. Probably part of why my brother decided we had to stop in." The younger Winchester offers with a sheepish shrug and a boy-next-door smile, holding his own burger up indicatively, his name seared across the top of the bun with the bar's logo, also emblazoned across her chest on the t-shirt. "And no, just passing through." Dean's influenced him too much over the years, he's using the same lines, establishing himself as short-term for her consideration with a smile. After his beer she serves him up iced tea regularly, cloyingly sweet and on the house for the 'designated driver.' He palms the keys to the Impala, tucking them into his jacket pocket after a few more flirtatious questions between refills and set changes in the concert outside.
She's a law student at Saint Mary's. Dean and Cas can walk back to the motel room the three of them are sharing.
Dean Winchester's freckles are distracting.
Lit by the low-hanging bar lights and the bright pops of neon from advertisements for the various alcoholic beverages that Castiel has now imbibed, each in turn, those freckles seem to resist the light that bathes Dean's face, but more than that they are not where Castiel put them.
He doesn't realize he's said this last part aloud until Dean's looking at him incredulously, green eyes bright and reflective after trying to keep up with him in drinks.
(Castiel is significantly more inebriated than Dean, but he refuses to admit it—he once drank an entire liquor store, he can hold his alcohol, he's certain of it.)
Freckles have merged, new ones have joined the familiar constellations that patterned across his nose and his cheekbones, some have settled into the fine lines that now decorate his face, taking him from being merely a pretty boy into an attractive man, and Castiel's syllables are blurred around the edges and part of that was aloud again, though he's not sure which part. This is potentially troublesome, as much of what he's thinking has been classified as 'you don't just talk about that' and Dean is quite particular about maintaining those social mores.
After a moment Dean grins, and it's good. He is welcome to be a happy drunk, so long as he's not a sad one. They've had too much sadness in their lives.
"You're a lightweight, Cas." Dean declares with relish, and drops money on the bar to cover their bill before dragging Castiel up with him, his competition finished and Dean as the self-declared winner: it'd been enough of a blow to his pride when Castiel eventually proved to be better with a blade than he was, he had refused to accept that the man who'd been a sober rule-abiding angelic-choirboy virgin for the millions of years until he met them could outdrink him as a human. "C'mon, Sammy. We need to get Cas to b. . ." His brother is gone, and in his place at the bar is a note written on napkin, apparently placed under Dean's elbow earlier.
Don't wait up.
The blonde is gone, too, and. . . patting himself down, leaving Castiel to brace himself against the bar, Dean swears under his breath.
"Son of a bitch."
It was a mile walk, at night, drunk, and with a drunken angel stumbling along in his wake muttering under his breath about handsome men and disobedient freckles. He was going to kill Sam for taking his car.
"We're armed." Castiel reminds Dean, his voice a whiskey-soaked rumble, as if it's just the safety of walking in an unknown city at night that is worrisome, and Dean rolls his eyes as they make it out of the parking lot and cross beneath the freeway overpass.
"You never spent much time in Texas, did you Cas? Everyone's armed. I just don't want to have to drag your drunk ass that far. If you puke on me, you're sleeping on the couch." Cas hadn't needed to learn the puppy dog eyes from Sam. They both came by it naturally, the earnest hopeful sad-eyed look, and Dean fell for it every damned time. Sighing, he relents and hauls Cas's arm around his shoulder and keeps them walking, cinching his arm around Castiel's waist before he can stumble on the cracked and uneven sidewalk, ignoring the itch between his shoulder blades that made him feel as if he were being judged for it. Just helping a drunk friend out. That was all anyone would see, as they lean into each other. "Fine. Just don't puke on me."
Castiel makes it until morning before it all comes up again.
Stretched out along a bedspread patterned in gold, purple, red, blue, brown and green southwestern style quilting, Dean throws his arm over his eyes and grimaces as Sam hits the switch, flooding the room with searing light. The younger Winchester then demonstrates his unique skill at crinkling the paper bags in his hands, jingling the car keys, and stomping his gargantuan feet while slamming the motel room door open and closed again, all in head-splitting enthusiasm, and with undisguised glee and uninhibited volume addressing his brother.
"Alright, up. Dressed. It is officially after noon now, you've had enough time to sleep it off."
Dean grunts, and lowers his arm enough to glare at his brother, without lifting his head from where he has stolen Castiel's pillow with his absence. "You stole my car."
"Yes, I did. Nice walk?" Sam ducks the pillow that sails at his head with ease, and turns to look at his brother, flashing him an unrepentant grin as he sets the paper bags down on the table and grabs his laptop case. "Where's Cas?"
"The angel's still praying to the porcelain god." Closing his eyes again, Dean flops back down on the remaining pillow, smirking to himself at his own joke even as Castiel's voice grounds out from behind the open bathroom door.
"That's still not funny, Dean."
Cracking one eye open, Dean looks to Sam to weigh in, and his brother struggles to refrain from laughing as he tilts sideways to peer at the fallen angel kneeling on the linoleum floor, looking as if he was considering being ill again, an arm braced on the rim of the tub. "It's a little funny, Cas."
If Castiel's grumbled response qualified as communication, it wasn't in any language the boys knew.
With a snort of laughter, Dean finally rolls to his feet, stretching to pop his back and grabbing his shirt from where it was flung across the nightstand, as if determined to prove he handled a hangover better than Castiel too. In the bathroom, he steps over Castiel, who glowers at him from the floor, as he brushes his teeth only half listening to his brother while doing his best, most obnoxious impersonation of someone without a splitting headache, for the sheer purpose of exacerbating Castiel's.
"Don't feel too bad about it, Cas. You didn't do too badly. You just shouldn't go up against an Olympic medalist in your first trial run, y'know? Dean's been training his whole life for this." Sam smirks at his computer screen without looking away when Dean points at him around the edge of the bathroom doorframe, speaking around a froth of toothpaste.
"I don't know if I should thank you for the compliment or kick your ass for calling me a drunk." The words are slurred around the edges by the toothbrush, and he gargles (loudly and obnoxiously) and rinses his mouth out before relenting, offering a hand down to Castiel and hauling the man to his feet with a wink, pushing him towards the sink to get himself cleaned up. He paces out of the bathroom, now back in the game.
Without looking away from the screen, Sam hands a coffee up to his brother as Dean walks past to pull up his own chair at the room's rickety motel table, their own post-drinking routine well established and requiring no discussion. "Okay, so hit me. You got your OCD itinerary planned out?"
Sam doesn't refute the comment about his own habits, instead pushing a stack of notes to Dean. "We probably need to split up today. Lot of ground to cover. There's the 'remains' we need to hit up at the morgue." Dean raises two fingers from the side of his coffee cup, volunteering. "The homeless shelter that put out the information about the missing women, we should talk to the director and some of the other homeless, see what they have to say . . ."
"That's got you written all over it."
Sam looks up from the computer, squinting at his brother inquisitively as Dean dives into the greasy paper bag on the table, pulling out aluminum-foil wrapped food and eyeing it suspiciously, only looking up to offer explanation when his brother doesn't respond immediately.
"Sounds like sensitive crap."
"Nice, Dean." Rolling his eyes, Sam looks back at the computer screen. "Then we've got a meeting with the hunter that pegged us out here, Ruben Rivera. He's being released from the hospital today, says he'll catch up with us at the meeting of. . ." Sam turns the computer screen now to Dean, trying to maintain an even expression "...the San Antonio Paranormal Investigators. S. A. P. I."
Pulling the computer closer, Dean sets the food down unwrapped (his stomach was roiling, too, though you wouldn't tell it to look at him) and snorts as his eyes scan the page. "A local 'non-lucrative' organization. I like that. It's like an accidental non-profit. 'Proud owners of a money pit.' But c'mon. Who names their group 'Sappy.' Bunch of weirdos, that's who. They all hunters?"
"Only the one, far as I can tell, but they and the. . ." Turning the computer back, he swaps pages and pushes it back to Dean again. ". . . Paranormal Investigators of San Antonio seem to canvas the area, recording ghosts and checking out stories, along with a few other clubs. "
"What town needs multiple groups of Ghost Facers?"
Sam shrugs, stretching his legs out beneath the table to push another chair out for Cas as he joins them, rolling a foil-wrapped breakfast taco in front of him. It leaves a thin line of orange grease across the table before stopping in front of Cas, who stares in revulsion as he slowly unwraps it. "I dunno. San Antonio, apparently. I mean, there's something to be said about it. City's down on record as being the most haunted place in the entire U.S."
"Great. So we've got spooks everywhere, and some sorta monster likes to snatch up bums and spit out pieces. That's. . . that's just awesome. We gonna have to talk to all these yahoos?"
"Like I said. Busy afternoon."
Grease drips from the edges of the foil, having saturated the tortilla long before Castiel received it, and the pungent smell of egg hits the air as he opens the tortilla. Inside seems to be a mix of sickeningly orange and yellow and white and pink mush, chorizo and egg and cheese with chunks of potato, but it looks like nothing insomuch as it does vomit.
Castiel lurches from the table again and skids back into the bathroom as Sam all but punches the air in his success, before turning an expectant look on his brother. Meeting that challenge, Dean picks up his own breakfast taco and takes a wolfish bite even as they can hear the sound of Castiel dry-heaving in the bathroom, speaking around the mess of food in his mouth and forcing it down with the coffee.
"You're gonna have to try harder than that with me, Sammy."
This is what love and affection looks like with the Winchesters, on the good days. Teasing, mockery, obnoxiousness, pranks and perhaps Cas should have considered what he was signing up for when he chose their life.
(He would have chosen them anyway, regardless. But he may never drink again.)