Great Smoky Mountains – eastern TN

The man ran, terrified and frantic. In the distance, he could hear…them. Whatever they were. A part of his mind babbled, They're werewolves, stupid! Didn't you see? They're werewolves and they are hunting you now because they want to tear you to pieces and eat you! But he couldn't believe that. There was no such thing. No matter how much howling, growling, and snarling he could hear. He was lost in the mountains, being hunted by wild animals. There was nothing supernatural following him. That had to be true.

The moon hung full and bloated in the sky, casting silvery light everywhere. If it weren't for that light, he was sure he wouldn't be able to see at all. The moon was so bright, it blotted out the stars. Not that he had time to look while he ran pell mell through the trees. And the full moon had nothing to do with what was chasing him.

He could hear panting and large feet running behind him. He risked a glance back, sure he was going to see one of them hot on his heels. But all his panicked mind could see were shapes flitting among the trees. He looked forward again, just in time to see the white bark of a birch tree directly in his path. He tried to change course, but fatigue and fright plotted against him. His ankle twisted painfully. He started to fall and threw his foot wider to catch himself. The ground gave way and he tumbled. He rolled so many times he lost sense of what was up and what was down. Rocks gouged him, branches lashed him, and dirt filled his eyes and mouth. When he finally slid to a stop at the bottom of the drop, he lay on his back, staring at the bright, full moon and gasping for air.

It was very quiet for a long time. Maybe he'd lost them. Maybe this fall had been the break he needed. He rolled onto his side and painfully pushed himself to his feet. His vision swam for a moment, then cleared. He checked himself and was delighted that he had nothing more than cuts and bruises. Maybe he was lucky indeed.

Something bright caught his attention. Further down the mountain, a light snaked through the trees. A pair of lights. A car. Somewhere, down there, was a road. And a road meant salvation. He just had to figure out how to get down the mountain. He laughed with relief. The hope that he might actually survive this whole ordeal gave him new energy. He started down.

Something growled and a large shape moved in his path. The laugh froze on his lips, forgotten, killed by fresh fear. Instinctively, he backed up, ready to go around the animal. But a growl right behind him made him spin. He nearly lost his balance when his turned ankle protested the movement. Something inside told him if he ended up on the ground, he was dead. This time, the shape stepped into a patch of moonlight. Dark eyes glittered, regarding him with amusement and blood lust. The fur was thick, dark, and shiny, like the pelt of a big cat. A long, pink, flat tongue lolled out of the fang-lined mouth. He backed again and turned.

This time, a blonde creature blocked his way. Golden fur, turned nearly white by the moon, shifted with each movement of muscle. Pale blue eyes watched him hungrily. He turned again and a gray animal stepped up, closer, bolder than the others. The stunted muzzle lifted and he heard it sniffing. Black, wet nostrils flared as it tested his scent. It stepped closer. He could see its eyes were blue, dark blue, and they were watching him with an intelligence that unnerved him even further.

More came. More of the pack. They circled him, creatures of differing colors and sizes. Some were even small with the rounded features and sloppy gait of youth. The cubs frolicked among the legs of the adults, nipping, playing, tackling each other. The adults were focused, however. Their gaze unwavering and they slowly inched closer, tightening the circle around their prey. It was then that he finally knew he was dead. No more denial. No more pretending. He was going to die, tonight, on this spot. He turned to look at the gray creature who seemed to be the leader. For a moment, the snarling expression relaxed and it regarded him calmly. Then, it lunged.

The gray took the man down, clamping its jaws on his throat and using the momentum of the leap to drive him to the ground. The man tried to scream but only got out a strangled gurgle at the gray bit and twisted, tearing out a large section of his throat. It backed away and swallowed the fresh meat, licking blood from its muzzle. One of the younger brown ones slunk close to the twitching human, trying to sneak a bite. The gray snarled and snapped, sending it running to the outside of the circle with its tail between its legs. Another auburn colored one tried for a bite and was driven back by the blonde. There was an order to the pack and the new ones had to learn it. It didn't take long for the man to die. In a few moments, the corpse sagged. The gray stepped forward, sniffing, carefully inspecting, then seized his abdomen. The organs and tastiest meat were there. A couple of the older ones joined in, grabbing whatever was closest and tearing it free. The blonde ripped off a lower leg and carried it back to the eager pups who were dancing with excitement outside of the fray. It dropped the meat and the cubs pounced, growling and nipping at each other to establish their own pecking order.

Once the older ones had taken what they wanted, they backed away and allowed the younger ones access. Unlike the orderly feeding among the older ones, the younger ones barked and bit, jealously fighting over what was left. In the end, they trotted back to the place they came from, muzzles streaked with blood, bellies sated but not full. The gray brought up the rear and urged the little ones to catch up by nipping at their heels. The night fell silent again. All that remained of the man were a few tatters of clothing and some gnawed, bloody bones. A triumphant howl echoed through the trees.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Days didn't get much more perfect than this. The sky was electric blue, dotted with a few fluffy white clouds. The sun was bright and warm. Both windows of the Impala were down and both brothers wore T-shirts and sunglasses. It was the first genuine day of summer and to celebrate the South (since they were driving through Tennessee), Dean had Lynyrd Skynrd on the stereo. "Sweet Home Alabama" was a far cry better than Bible radio. Dean was relaxed for the first time in months. He had his elbow on the door while he drummed in rhythm to the music on the roof, his head bobbing along. Sam was soaking up the sun streaming through his window, feeling the warmth sink into his bones. After four years in California, it had been rough skulking around in the northern climes, hunting and killing various demons. Sam liked the warm weather.

For the first time in months, they weren't going to the next job. Once they had dispatched the harpy in Chicago, no new information came their way via cryptic text messages from their father. Nothing popped up on a search of the web. After three days of anxious waiting, Sam suggested calling their father. Dean nixed the idea. Instead, Dean pointed to Dad's journal. There was the name and number of one of Dad's old contacts, a Santeria priestess who did white magic. Dean said they should look her up and see if she had any leads on Dad. Once again, Sam felt annoyance at Dean's unwavering faith that their father had a plan but he agreed to the idea. He'd learned a lot about himself, his father, and their relationship in the last few months and while he wanted to see Dad again, he also wanted a little more time to process everything.

Once they passed Springfield, the weather warmed the further south they traveled. Head leaned back, face to the sun, Sam was glad for the road trip. It was nice not to be driving toward some unknown evil for a change. Emerald green pine trees whipped past the window as Dean guided the car through the mountains east of Nashville. They weren't going to make South Carolina tonight, but the bright day had improved both of their dispositions. It was good to drive now. Sam felt a tap on his arm. Dean was poking him with the map. "All this fresh air is making me hungry. Let's find some place to get some food."

Sam unfolded the map and glanced around for a sign to get his bearings. They were about an hour east of Nashville, which meant that they should be coming up on something soon. Long-haul truckers often ate outside of metropolitan areas, favoring the lower prices and friendlier service that small places afforded. On any major highway, about 50 miles from the nearest city center, there were always diners that offered good food and friendly conversation. Sam's stomach rumbled at the very thought.

In the next mile, they passed a small, neatly painted sign that told them they were going to reach the turnoff for Sally's in 2 miles. Sam pointed and Dean nodded. "Sounds good." They took exit 137C, then a left at the stop sign that took them under the highway and around a bend. Sally's was nestled in a copse of trees. The parking lot was enormous and surprisingly full. Several semis and tankers gleamed in the late morning sun. This was a good sign. Dean parked the Impala and they climbed the steps to the daffodil yellow door and pushed it open.

They were immediately overcome by the perfume of Southern cooking. Things were being battered, deep fried, and cooking long in big pots. Dean flashed a grin at Sam and took a deep breath. It smelled fantastic. A small round woman wearing jeans and a yellow polo top bustled past them, laden with a huge tray. "Why don't you gents seat yourself and I'll get someone over to y'all right away," she drawled with a bright smile. They spotted a booth next to a window offering a view of pristine pine forest and settled into it. A burst of laughter from the waitress and her table made them both smile. She picked up her tray and headed for the kitchen, calling out that customers were waiting on Table 7.

A busboy who couldn't have been more than 15 delivered water to them. "How y'all doin' today?" he asked genuinely.

"Great," Sam replied. "How are you?"

"Couldn't get much better." He leaned in conspiratorially. There was a scattering of acne amongst his freckles. "I've got a date with the prettiest girl in town tonight." He grinned giddily and winked.

"Atta boy," Dean encouraged.

The busboy straightened, a smile still plastered across his face. "Yup. Becky is as pretty as a buttercup in the mornin'." His good mood was contagious and Sam and Dean grinned up at him. "Can I get you gents anything else?"

"No, thanks, we're good for now," Sam replied.

"You bet. I'll make sure Heather knows yer here. Y'all have a nice day, now, y'hear?"

And he was off. Dean took a sip of water and remarked, "That's one thing about the South. They sure are nice folks." Sam nodded in agreement but froze by the look that came over his brother. Stunned. Maybe a little surprised. Soon, the corner of Dean's mouth quirked. Sam looked over his shoulder to see what had so captured his brother's attention. Not surprisingly, it was a girl. She was pretty. Her curly, honey blonde hair was pulled up in a ponytail. Her clear, pale blue eyes were her most arresting feature. They were set in a heart-shaped faced above a pretty pink mouth. She wore, like the earlier waitress, jeans and a yellow blouse. Not overly remarkable or even sexy, but there was something about the way she walked. Her hips swung naturally and she had the rolling gait of an athlete. Or someone who was very physical. Sam glanced back at Dean and saw a stupefied smile on his brother's face. Sam shook his head and sat back, amused.

The blonde stopped at their table. Sure enough, her nametag identified her as Heather. She pulled a pad and pen from her apron and smiled warmly at them. "Good afternoon, gentlemen. I'm so sorry to keep you waiting. My name is Heather and I'll be your server this morning." Unlike the earlier waitress or the busboy, Heather's accent was smooth, gentle. Much more old South than folky. It spoke of genteel ladies sipping juleps under the expansive shade of an oak tree.

Dean had recovered a bit. "Hi, Heather," he greeted with his most devastating smile. Heather lowered her eyes and blushed.

"What can I get you gents today?" She cast a quick glance at Dean and her blush deepened. It suited her.

"Uh, actually, we haven't seen a menu yet," Sam offered.

That snapped Heather out of her fluster. "Oh, mercy! I am so sorry. I didn't even see. Let me get those for you." She hurried away. Dean watched her go with an appreciative gaze. "Sure are nice folks," he murmured.

"Dean."

"What?" Distracted.

"We're just here to eat, remember?"

"Uh-huh." He lit up when Heather returned with menus, full of apologies and embarrassment. She rushed off to give them time to choose, bumping into a table in her retreat. She looked at Dean, blushed again, and hurried away before they could see too much of her smile. Sam flipped open the plastic-covered menu and perused. It was going to be hard to pick. Everything looked so good. He peeked over the top of the menu at Dean, who just sat there with a grin on his face.

"Hey."

"What?"

"What do you want?" When the leer appeared, Sam added, "From the menu."

"Huh? Oh. Right." Dean read his for the first time. When Heather reappeared, they were ready. Sam settled on the pulled BBQ pork with grits and salad. Dean ordered the BBQ brisket with beans, corn, and biscuits. They both agreed on iced tea. Heather smiled at them both, but she held Dean's gaze for a few seconds longer. This time when she left, she sashayed gracefully. Dean finally turned away and let out a low whistle.

After placing their orders, Heather returned. She was more relaxed now and clearly enjoying Dean's attention. "So, what brings you gents 'round here? We don't get too many handsome young men like yourselves in these parts." Sam sensed she wasn't just flattering them but was sincere.

"We're just passing through," he told her. He was immediately kicked under the table. "Ow!"

"My name is Dean. This is my brother, Sam. We were actually thinking about hanging around here for a few days. Sure is pretty in these parts." This time, Sam kicked Dean and glared. Dean grimaced but didn't look at him.

"So, you aren't from around here?"

"No, ma'am. My brother and I, we're…on a road trip."

"We're headed for South Carolina," Sam reminded.

"Yeah, but you know, we won't make it there tonight and I was thinking that it might be nice to stop for a few days and take in the sights."

Heather laughed. It was a light, musical sound. "Sugar, we don't have much in the way of sights 'round here."

"I wouldn't say that," Dean purred. Sam rolled his eyes.

"But if you're lookin' for a place to stay, Eva and Bobby run a nice little place down the road a piece. Cute little cabins."

"Guess we'll check it out."

Heather smiled. "I have to go check on my other tables. Then I'll check on your order." She left reluctantly. The busboy zipped by with two tall glasses of iced tea. He grinned at them and sped off.

"You're unbelievable," Sam remarked, stripping the paper off his straw.

"What?" Dean said, defensively. "We know we aren't going to make South Carolina tonight. We were gonna have to stop anyway."

"So, I guess we stop at the place with the first pretty blonde?"

Dean displayed all his teeth. "Yeah, well, that's sure a perk."

Sam sipped his tea, tasting the familiar sweetness. Dean wasn't paying attention and choked, not prepared. Sam laughed and Dean kicked him again, gently, under the table.

"Jerk," Dean chuckled.

"Bitch," Sam retorted.

Heather returned with one of the large trays and set their food before them. The smell was amazing and they both dove into their food, eating like they had been starving. Once Dean's belly was full, though, his attention started to drift more and more to watching Heather move about the restaurant. Sam finished his salad and shook his head. On the one hand, it was nice to see Dean so smitten. On the other hand, they really couldn't stay and Sam didn't share his brother's proclivity for one-night stands. Dean was a grown man and could make his own choices and yadda yadda. Sam still thought it was cheap.

Heather visited their table frequently, ostensibly to clear dishes or refill their tea. But it was obvious that her attraction to Dean was what made her linger. She was always polite, sure to include Sam in any conversation. Manners were important to people from the South and she was careful not to exclude him. When the meal came to a close and she dropped off the check, she set it in front of Dean and rested her hand there. Dean touched her hand, lingering, before accepting the bill.

"You boys have a nice day, now, y'hear?" She walked away slowly, pausing to drop a wink of long lashes and promises their way.

"Oh man, I gotta get her number."

"Dean…"

"C'mon! You still have a pair, right? Can you not see that woman?"

"Dude, whatever. I'll wait by the car. I guess you're picking up the tab." Sam slid out of the booth and exited the diner. He shoved his hands in his pockets and sighed at the sky. Okay, if they stayed the night and Dean got his time with Heather, they could leave first thing in the morning and make South Carolina in plenty of time. Sam knew this meant he had a long night of crappy TV while his brother was out getting laid. He ambled to the car, scuffing his feet in the fine gravel. He was about to open the door when Dean banged out of the diner. There was no mistaking that enormous smile—he had not only succeeded in getting Heather's phone number, he had a date. He practically bounced to the driver's door. Sam just shook his head and climbed in.

"What?" Dean followed. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing, nothing."

"So, did you want to ask her out?"

"No."

"Do you want me to ask if she has a sister?"

"No!"

"Because I could."

"Just shut up and drive."

"Boy, someone needs to get laid," Dean murmured, grinning like a fool while he backed out of the space. "Oh wait! Someone is!" He laughed and slapped Sam on the shoulder.

Sam growled in frustration and covered his face with his hand. There was going to be no living with Dean for the rest of the day. He wondered if there was some nice, quiet demon he could tackle.

~~~~~~~~~~

Eva and Bobby's place was like a little campground set off the road. The Little Pine Lodge was about 15 little cabins snuggled together under the canopy of pine, blackgum, and white ash trees. A square of asphalt held the cars of visitors while paths of gravel lined with rocks led to each cabin. Eva was an energetic, effusive personality. Bobby, her husband, was more taciturn. He led them to their cabin, number 14.

Inside the cabin were two twin beds, a pair of faded chairs, a table and two more chairs, and a television on an old but sturdy wood stand. The bathroom was small but clean, separated from the living area by an accordion door of plastic wood laminate. Dean asked about a washing machine and an iron. Bobby told him he could find both in the room attached to the back of the office building. Sam goggled. Dean was going to iron? The last time Dean ironed was… Well, when Sam thought about it, he couldn't remember ever seeing Dean iron anything. Their lives on the road lead to clothes that could be shoved into a bag at the last minute. Nothing that wrinkled too badly ever survived. Their clothes had to be practical and sturdy, to survive the work they did and their haphazard laundry habits.

Bobby exchanged some quarters for Dean and shambled out the door. Dean upended his duffle on his bed and began to pick through clothes. Sam flopped on to the other bed, toed off his sneakers, and watched his brother with amusement. The tangle of what had once been a striped white dress shirt emerged from the pile of fabric. Dean grabbed it and some underwear and headed for the door. "Got anything you want washed?"

"You're offering to wash clothes?"

Dean's good mood was not going to be diminished. "Better take the offer while it stands, Sammy. Hurry up. I've got just enough time to wash and get these into the dryer."

Sam grabbed his bag and pulled a few items out, tossing them to Dean. Dean threw back a red T-shirt and exited. When he returned, Dean took an extra long shower. Sam heard the growl of the electric shaver and noted that Dean took extra care there as well. Sam smiled despite his annoyance. It had been a long time since Dean had been so careful in preparing for a date. The bathroom folded open a bit, releasing a plume of steam.

"Hey, Sammy. Can you put the clothes in the dryer? Quarters are in my pocket." The door shut and the shaver clicked on again.

Don't call me Sammy. He picked up the jeans and fished several coins out of the pocket. He put on his shoes, grabbed his key, and stepped out of the cabin. The office was just up the slight hill and it felt good to stretch his legs. After a moment of confusion, he found the laundry room. He fed the machine for a dryer sheet and threw it and the wet clothes in the dryer. He walked around the building to the main office, where Eva was clacking away on the computer. She smiled, greeting him, and pointed out the vending machines when he asked. He got two bottles of water and some chips for TV snacks later.

He took his time returning to the cabin. Dean would no doubt be in fine spirits, preparing for his date. His booty call, you mean. Well, whatever. Sam didn't agree with the (lack of) principle, but it was nice to see Dean in such a good mood for a change. Sam had noticed a general darkening in Dean's disposition lately. Sam could tell the strain of the last few months was catching up to his brother. Hell, he was feeling it in himself. Dean, maddeningly, never wanted to talk about it. Sam knew his brother internalized a lot and it frustrated him. If he could just get Dean to open up… A bird trilled overhead and launched from a branch, a flash of white and blue. The dapples of sunlight shivered. Sam sat on the steps of their cabin, cracked open a bottle, and leaned back on his elbows. It was pretty here. Peaceful. The day was heating up and he closed his eyes, his bones eagerly soaking in the warmth. It was so nice to just sit for a change.

He dozed lightly, comfortably. It was a twilight sleep where he could still hear the activity around him, but it was muted and distant. His sleep patterns were still erratic and he was still plagued by nightmares, but his body was finally settling into a pattern. He could hear the leaves above rustle with a gust of breeze. Then he heard something snort. An animal, maybe a dog? It sounded near. Sam didn't move, unconcerned. He was sure it was the pet of one of the guests. But when another gust of wind tugged on his hair, he felt a warm breath on his ear and heard an unpleasant growl. Sam started, jolting away. He looked around, absently touching his ear, still feeling a hot, wet breath. There was nothing except a squirrel that bolted up a tree at his sudden movement. It scolded him from its safe perch. The door snapped open, startling him again.

"Dude! Where have you been?"

Sam twisted around and saw Dean in the threshold. "Nowhere. Just here."

"Did you put the clothes in the dryer?"

"Yeah. Yeah…" Sam could have sworn something large and unfriendly had huffed in his ear.

"When?"

Sam shook himself. Cut it out. It was another dream. He turned his wrist to look at his watch. "You have about 10 more minutes."

Dean gave him a curious look but grunted and shut the door. Sam looked at his watch again. 3:14. How long had he been there dozing? And what about that weird sensation? He took a long pull from the water bottle and tried to file it away. A few minutes later, Dean emerged. He picked his way past Sam's legs on the steps and jogged over to the laundry room. A few minutes later he returned. Most of the load of clothes was folded, more or less. He carried those under one arm. With the other hand, he carried the striped shirt, his finger carefully holding it by the collar. When he got close to Sam, he held it out. "How's it look?"

Sam lifted the sleeves. Dean definitely wasn't domestically skilled, but he'd done a fair enough job. The shirt was clean and relatively wrinkle-free. "Looks good."

Dean smiled with relief and stepped past him back into the cabin. Sam had to smile. It was kind of cute that Dean was so concerned about looking nice for his date. Of course, if Sam told him this, Dean would kick his ass. Untangling his long legs, Sam stood and went back inside. The shirt was hung properly on a hanger. Dean was trying to clean his boots, hunched over, scrubbing with a towel at something along the sole that was probably not pleasant. "Damn harpy blood…" he muttered, scrubbing harder.

"So…" Sam flopped down on his bed. "When does your big date start?"

Dean shot him an arched eyebrow. "I'm picking Heather up at 4."

"Does the lady in question know about your plans?" He shouldn't goad Dean. He knew that. But it was just too easy.

"Don't start with me, Sam."

"What? I'm just asking."

"Riiight."

After a full moment of silence, Sam asked, "Do you have protection?" That earned him the towel thrown at him. Dean jammed his foot into the boot, grabbed his shirt, and stomped into the bathroom. Sam chuckled. Yep, it was just too easy.

Dean came out at last, buttoning his shirt and checking his reflection. He tugged the collar, patted his hair, and turned to Sam. "How do I look?"

"Like the fairest in the land."

"Sam!"

"Okay, seriously. You look good, man."

Dean gave himself a nervous once over in the mirror then gathered up his keys and wallet. "You gonna be okay?"

"I'll be fine."

Dean walked slowly to the door. "Don't go disappearing on me again."

"I won't."

"You sure you don't want me to see if Heather has a friend or a sister?" He paused, his hand on the door knob. Sam could tell that he was reluctant to leave.

"Would you just go?"

"Okay." Dean opened the door and stepped out. He paused, looked back at Sam, and murmured, "Okay," again and pulled the door shut. Sam looked through the sheers in the window and watched Dean walk to the parking lot. His brother cast two worried looks back at the cabin before he disappeared around the corner. The Impala roared to life moments later and the sleek black car pulled out to the road.

TBC