This one's for wolfpup
Alistair and Old Lace
K Hanna Korossy
"There's still a clinking somewhere. You hear that clink? Never mind, what am I asking you for…"
Dean's mutter was a monologue not a dialogue, not even really meant for Sam. He didn't bother answering. Sure, any off sound in the Impala's engine was going to bug Dean, but that wasn't what was really eating at him.
Sam shifted in his seat, casting a casual glance at his brother. "Did you need more time at Bobby's? I thought you were done with the car."
Dean gave him a withering look. "You're never done with a car, Sam—you ever done with your laptop? Having a car is like being in a relationship—it isn't done until one of you…" His jaw tightened. "You know what, I don't want to talk about this. You were the one who was all pants-on-fire to get to this hunt."
"A sixth victim turned up yesterday," Sam said softly. "Same deal: woman under thirty, no obvious physical injury, sudden complete amnesia."
Dean shook his head, but he wasn't saying no. He wasn't even mad at Sam; Sam knew that. Dean had fixed most of the damage to the car Rose's spirit had wrought, while Sam had tried to fix some of the damage to Dean's spirit that the last case, and several years, had wrought. But even his heartfelt thanks to Dean for retrieving his soul and the promise to have his back could only go so far, no matter how much it had clearly meant to his big brother. Dean's natural optimism had taken so many blows recently, he was still struggling just to get out of bed in the morning. Losing innocent Isabel on the last hunt—and, Sam read between the lines, Dean pretty much saying goodbye to Lisa and Ben for good—were just the latest losses, and they'd cut deep. So after being "dead" for a year, traitorous before and soulless after, Sam figured it was more than time he carried part of the burden.
Cases usually helped, and Sam had scrambled to find one, fast. There was the larger problem of Eve being out there, creating new monsters and probably causing all kinds of trouble, and at some point they'd have to face her. But a simple hunt, saving people and killing things: that had always been Dean's therapy. Provided they actually saved the girl this time instead of watching her die in their arms like Isabel had. Sam glanced over at his brother. He would just have to make sure they had a win with this one.
"That's the exit," Sam spoke up as the sign for Cobbler Hill appeared.
Dean turned in silence, the frown line between his eyes deepening fractionally when the motor gave a little clank even Sam could hear. But he didn't say a word.
Sam sighed silently and turned back to his phone for directions to the area hospital. Several of the victims were still there even though no physiological reason had been found for their amnesia, and Sam already had his CDC badge in his pocket. A proper one, not the Bikini Inspector ID Dean had once made for him. Sam swallowed another sigh. What he'd pay to have that innocent playfulness back, even if Dean's fifth grade sense of humor came with it. There hadn't been so much as a sprinkle of salt in his coffee since he'd returned.
The car pulled over and idled at a curb. Sam looked up in surprise; they were still a mile from the hospital. They'd stopped instead in front of a small one-story with the sign "Gazette"—just the one word—beside the front door.
Sam turned back to his brother. "I thought—"
"We're here—makes sense to check, right? You go ask some questions, and I'll find us a place to stay for tonight and check the car again."
Dean wasn't avoiding his eyes or talking in that flat voice he used when he was shutting Sam out. There was instead an almost plea there for a little bit of space to pull himself together. And Sam got that, even if he didn't like it. He found himself nodding. "Yeah, okay."
"Call me when you're done and I'll come pick you up."
Sam lingered, reluctant to turn away, seeing similar reticence in Dean. His brother had been keeping close watch on him since Sam had gotten his soul back…and the wall that kept Hell at bay. The crack in said wall that had knocked Sam out in Bristol had only added to that worry, for both of them. They'd never done well splitting up, but it was even harder now.
Sam nodded again, even as his mouth curved. "You know only women are targets for whatever this is, right?"
"Which makes you a prime victim," Dean shot back without hesitation. The creases in his face relaxed fractionally.
Sam huffed. "Hey, I'm not the one that waiter in Lansing said was 'pretty.'"
"We aren't talking about that, either," Dean warned. His raised finger became an easy shove. "Go play Jimmy Olsen."
"Stay out of trouble," Sam retorted, and climbed out of the car.
He watched Dean drive away, and tried not to think he'd just jinxed them.
The upside of hunting in New England? The weather, when it wasn't winter. The downside? A paucity of the cheap motels they usually frequented, supplanted by bed-and-breakfasts with fancier prices, floral bedding, and nosy proprietors. Dean drove the outskirts of the town, looking for a place to stay that wouldn't strain their last credit card to the limit, and not finding any. Cursing under his breath, he finally pulled into the rose bush-bordered lot of a place that looked like the Queen of England's summer cottage.
The lobby—Sammy would probably call it a foy-eh—was about what he'd expected, with flowered wallpaper and plush carpets and dark wood furniture. No getting blood on these floors, he thought wryly as he strode up to the counter, resisting the urge to wipe his feet and not touch anything. They might have to stay in some frou-frou place, but he'd be damned if he'd let them cramp his style.
A lady, and she really was a lady with her blouse and skirt and hair done up in some twisted braid thing, looked up at him with a smile as he leaned on the wooden check-in counter. She was wearing a wedding ring, not that he would have hit on someone who made him think more mom than miss. The smile he gave her was automatic, however, just this side of decent.
"Looking for a room."
"That's what we're here for," she answered cheerfully, and he couldn't help but like her. "Just you?"
"Me and m'brother. One night, maybe more?"
"I think we can handle that." Her smile deepened. "I'm guessing neither of you are the Rose Room kind?"
Dean grimaced. "You got a Classic Car Room?"
She laughed. "Afraid not. But the Blue Room is pretty simple and won't choke you with estrogen. And it's got two beds."
"We'll take it," Dean said, thumping his knuckles lightly on the counter. "Name's Roark. Dean Roark."
"I'm Alice Lincoln. My husband Pete and I run the Post & Carriage." Off Dean's blank look, she smiled and clarified, "This place."
"Oh. Right." Dean glanced around the fancy moldings and sconced lamps. "Nice," he said, probably not very convincingly.
It didn't seem to deter Mrs. Lincoln. "Thank you. So, business or pleasure?"
Sammy tossing himself into the Pit to save the world. The smell of Lisa's skin after a shower. The empty gaze of his soulless brother. Ben helping him fix the car. Business or pleasure: always pain. Dean could feel his smile dim and didn't have it in him to shore it up. "Business."
The proprietor must've picked up on something, the way her face softened. "Well, I hope you'll enjoy your stay nonetheless. If you'd just sign here, Mr. Roark. And I'll need a credit card."
Dean tried not to think about how pathetic it was when a middle-aged innkeeper in the boonies felt sorry for you.
Ten minutes later he lugged three duffels into the room they'd been given. It was second floor, not ideal but at least it was closest to the stairs, and the nearest entrance. They'd made do with worse, not that Dean expected any trouble on this hunt. And, he glanced around the deep blue walls and simple striped bedspreads, at least it didn't look like a flower shop had thrown up in their room, so points for that.
Lisa would've liked the place, the thought crept in traitorously. Dean shucked it off, tossing Sam's duffel onto the far bed and shoving the weapons bag with his foot under his own. He and Lisa had gone to a B&B once, the memory wouldn't be denied, for a weekend while Ben stayed with his grandparents. Dean sagged down onto the end of the soft mattress. Lisa had said he needed a break, and Dean hadn't fought it, willingly losing himself in her that weekend, forgetting for brief snatches that Sam was Downstairs, suffering horribly…
Dean sucked in a breath, palming his damp eyes. "Great, five minutes in a B&B, and I'm turning into a girl." He shook his head, grateful that Sam wasn't there, and stood to shed his jacket and dig out a change of clothes. Knowing the way Sam geeked out anyplace that smelled like paper and ink, Dean was pretty sure he had time to get a shower in before his brother called. Probably even a late lunch—
The knock on the door startled him enough that he had a hand on his Colt before he realized it. Dean rolled his eyes at himself and tucked it back under his jacket as he went to get the door. Mrs. Lincoln had probably forgotten to give him some towels or something.
He was close. The lady outside his door was a few decades older than the proprietor, but there was something in her face that reminded him of Alice Lincoln. And in her hands she held a silver tray containing a carafe and a glass.
"Hello. My granddaughter and I thought you might like some refreshment after your trip, Mr. Roark. You look ever so tired."
Granddaughter—okay, that made sense. What didn't was the weird prickle he got down his spine from the old lady. And was it his imagination, or had she emphasized the 'tired' part? "Uh, thanks, I think. But—"
"It's just some wine we make from the berries we grow on the grounds. It's nothing fancy, but we want our guests to feel welcome." She smiled at him, the same smile as her granddaughter. "And you're very welcome, Mr. Roark."
Well, how was he supposed to say no to that? Dean looked her in the eye, saw nothing but sincerity, and gave a mental shrug. "Well, thank you, ma'am." He reached out to take the glass of wine. "That's—"
The unnatural chill of the glass registered the same moment everything else disappeared.
"That's not the weirdest part," the kid—Jon—said as he turned his monitor more toward Sam. "This is the only thing I've found they have in common."
Sam's eyes widened as he read the lines. "Okay, that's really—"
"—weird, right?" Jon beamed at him, sandy hair bobbing as he nodded.
Sam had expected to find an older person running the town's paper, not a kid a half-dozen years younger than he was who looked like he'd be more at home on a beach than in an office. Considering the newspaper was online, had a twitter feed, and counted most of the town as "friends" on its Facebook page, Sam was guessing Jon was the only reason the newspaper was still going. "That's good—"
His phone interrupted him this time, and Sam glanced down at it and frowned. Dean? He took the call while skimming the article. "Yeah?"
Sam shot to his feet, ignoring Jon's surprised squawk. Something was wrong; he could tell from that one word. "Dean? What's going on?"
"'M s-stuck. F-friggin' freezer. Think she was a g-ghost—whammied me or s-something."
"Wait, what?" Sam pressed the phone almost to his mouth, as if he could get closer to Dean that way. "You're in a freezer?" He heard a soft whoa! from behind him. Sam's mouth tightened, and he headed for the door.
"She put me in h-here. Freakin' cold, dude—c-come get me out."
"Okay, just…where are you? I'm on my way, but tell me what you know."
There was a soft rustle of sound, and then a faint clatter that Sam realized with a wince was Dean's chattering teeth. Outside the newspaper office, he scanned both sides of the street for some way to get to his brother, jaw clenching when no obvious candidates presented themselves. Well, he'd hotwire a car in broad daylight in the center of town if he had to.
"O-okay, just…can't breathe in here. Sam—"
Crap, for some reason he'd been thinking Dean was in a walk-in freezer, like in a restaurant, but it was starting to sound more like a chest unit. Nicely coffin-sized. Sam ran a hand through his hair, again casting a helpless glance up and down the street. "Where were you when she got you? Dean?"
He almost missed his brother's answer in the sound of a revving engine. Sam blinked, and there was a car in front of him, sapphire blue with painted flames licking up her sides and an engine that could rival the Impala's. Jon leaned over to shove the passenger side door open.
"Sounds like you need a fast ride."
Sam gave him a grateful look and climbed in, still focused on his phone. "I'm on my way, man. Where were you last?"
Dean's mutter sounded like "Pots 'n Kettles," which had to be wrong. Then, "Post 'n Kellogg's?"
Sam blew out a breath. "Jon, you got any place to stay in this town?"
"Uh, pretty much just the Post & Carriage down the—"
"That's it," Sam said urgently. "Can you take me there?"
Sam's attention was already back on the phone. "Okay, I'm coming. Tell me what happened, dude."
"Uh…" It worried him how long it was taking Dean, who'd been raised to spit out status reports on cue, to collect his thoughts. "Checked in. Got to the room, uh… Sh-she knocked. Old lady, brought m-me a drink. I touched it and…it was c-cold, Sam. Like, dead cold. And next thing I know 'm—"
"Right." His mind was racing; they'd dealt with spirit translocation before, with Daggett in the Morton House, and another time when Dean had actually been transported a few states away into a rat-infested cellar. He'd been trapped then, too, and freaking out, and he hadn't been in tight, airless quarters, either. "Did she say anything before she beamed you out?" Jon gave him a wide-eyed look, and Sam snapped his fingers and pointed at the windshield in an unspoken hurry!
"Y-yeah, said, uh…I looked t-tired and…I dunno, was welcome or s-something and th-the wine was moonshine or…" A thump. "Can't move in here. Sam, I can't—"
"It's just a little longer, Dean," Sam soothed. "I'm almost there. This is important—did she say who she is?"
"Uh…granddaughter. Alicccce's gra'ma."
"What? Who's Alice?"
"Alice Lincoln," Jon chimed in. "She runs the Post & Carriage with her husband Pete."
"N-n-nice lady. Y-your type, Ssss—" Dean broke off with a curse, unable even get Sam's name out.
Crap, crap. Trapped someplace small, limited air, and he was freezing. This was bad. Sam turned to Jon. "How far—?"
"Here." The car—he'd have to find out later what kind it was for Dean—screeched up to a small pathway set with white posts leading up to a Victorian mansion.
The Impala was parked in the most unobtrusive corner of the lot, and even though he fully expected it to be there, the sight of her eased Sam's tight chest. He moved the phone back to his mouth. "Dean—"
The phone beeped and dropped the connection.
Sam swore and hit the button to call back even as he climbed out of the low car. "Thanks," he called back over his shoulder.
"Sure, just let me know—"
Sam was already halfway up the walk, listening to the ring of the phone.
"I'm here. I see the car. I'm gonna find you, Dean." Assuming he hadn't been sent to another building, another town, another state. There wasn't enough time to make the drive this time, let alone to figure out where Dean was if he wasn't here. Sam was counting on most ghosts being bound to one location…if Dean was even right about this having been a ghost. "Man, this isn't even what we were here for…"
"Hard to…breathe, Ssss—" There was suddenly a shivering stream of curses and muted clumps.
Sam flinched; Dean was finally freaking out. It wasn't unexpected, but they didn't have time for this. "Dean. Dean! Listen to me, man, listen to me." He was inside now, and his raised voice quickly brought an attractive middle-aged woman running, wide-eyed. "You need to calm down and conserve your air. The cold'll slow your body down so you need less, but you still gotta stay calm." To the woman, he said, "Alice? My name's Sam—my brother Dean just checked in and he's in trouble. Where's your grandmother?"
Her eyes got even bigger. "My grandmother? What's—?"
"Please," Sam said, urgent and pleading. "My brother doesn't have much longer. Your grandmother, she's passed?"
"Hang on, Dean. Listen, Alice, I need to see the room you gave Dean."
Her hands were shaking as she reached for the room-key cubbies behind the counter…and, subtly, the phone.
The panic parted enough for Sam to realize what he had to look like to a civilian. He swallowed a curse and dug out a badge with his free hand. Okay, so it was CDC, but whatever, people tended to trust anyone with authority. "I need to see the room now."
Alice squeaked and gave a little nod, hurrying to lead the way down the stairs.
"Dean, you still with me?" Sam barked into the phone as he followed her, just keeping himself from stepping on her heels. "Dean?"
He didn't want to hear what Dean couldn't. "Yes, you can," Sam shot back. "Yes, you can. Just a little longer, bro." Something sounded different, and he was almost at the room door before he realized what: the background chatter of Dean's teeth had silenced. They were almost out of time.
The door of the room stood open. There was no sign of foul play, no blood or anything askew. The faint scent of ozone prickled Sam's nose as he stepped over the threshold, and with narrowed eyes, he went and dug the EMF detector from the weapons bag. It peeped faintly when he turned it on, registering the residuals of a recent ghost.
He turned back to Alice, his face set in stone. "Tell me about your grandmother."
Dean was used to being in tight situations, literally and metaphorically. He'd faced things twice as big as him and many times more powerful, died multiple times, and been banged up more times than he could count. He knew fear, had that bitch on a leash.
But that was his rational mind. The animal instinct in him just knew that his heart was slowing down, his lungs weren't finding air, and he could barely move. And it was freaking out, with or without his permission.
"Sam!" That was what he'd wanted to say. It came out slushy, a slow roll of sound through numb lips. He gripped the freezing phone tight enough to make his fingers hurt and tried again. "Sss…"
"Sammy isn't here right now."
He'd heard that voice from many forms, but he always recognized it. Dean's eyes opened wide in the pitch black of the freezer, head and elbows pressing against unyielding walls as he tried to cringe back. "Alistair."
It was garbled, even he could hear that, but the demon seemed to have no trouble making him out. A Cheshire cat grin appeared in the darkness, perfect teeth gleaming paradoxically white in the fetid glow of Hell-light. "Comfortable? I try so hard to be a good host."
Sometimes he burned, but Dean had once been surprised at how cold Hell could also be. Little surprised him anymore; Hell was about excruciating extremes in every direction beyond what the human mind could imagine. He groaned at the blaze of cold against his skin, the way it seemed to sear the little air he could pull into his straining lungs. Dean tried to pull away again, and felt the icy walls tighten around him.
"There, nice and snug. Don't worry, you'll be too frozen to move soon. Hmm, what do you think will get to you first, the cold or the lack of air? I do love a good experiment!"
Dean gasped in a breath, then another, the increasing lightheadedness kicking off an automatic struggle for life. He screamed his wordless rage and fought. Banged into hard walls wherever he turned, agitation increasing as it found no release. Panted in the unbreathable air. Shoved and clawed and kicked. It hurt distantly as he struggled to escape, muted starbursts of pain, but more and more it was numb, a creeping cloud of confusion and heaviness and despair.
A hot brand of a finger traced his gaping lips. "Missed me, my boy, haven't you?"
He craned his head away, gasping in the last pockets of air, the pressure of the walls increasing until they felt like they'd crush his chest. And he was…he didn't…Sam…
Alistair's laugh was the last thing he was aware of as he slipped from Hell's icy grip.
The innkeeper's eyes got wider with every question, her answers more stammering. And Sam's heart raced faster each second.
"Is there anything, anything at all weird about when your grandmother ran this place? Any stories, rumors?" Her grandmother was dead and buried two years, apparently a peaceful death. No one else had disappeared or reported seeing or feeling anything weird at the inn. The Lincolns didn't have a chest freezer. Nothing strange in the family, nothing that would help Dean, nothing, nothing, nothing.
"I…I…" The woman's face was white, and in other circumstances, Sam would have felt bad for her.
These weren't other circumstances.
Dean was losing it. Sam had heard every bit of his brother's downward spiral, from Dean's fear and pleas for help, to his panic and mindless struggle, to the sluggish gasps and mumbles as hypothermia and suffocation began to win.
"The ice house!" she blurted, and blinked, clearly surprising even herself. Alice Lincoln straightened. "There's an ice house on the grounds—I think there's an old freezer in there from when electricity was first—"
"Show me," Sam barked, grabbing her arm to propel her to the door.
"But it doesn't work! There's no power out—"
"Take me there anyway," Sam insisted. Then again, "Now, Alice!" when she hesitated.
He thought he heard Dean mumble an echo of her name. "Hold on, man," Sam directed into the phone he still held clutched to his ear.
Oh, God. Sam felt a wash of cold through him, chest tightening as if he were channeling what his brother felt. But Dean knew, remembered, a Hell that Sam didn't, and if he was stuck there now…
Alice had to run to keep up with him as Sam rushed down the stairs and toward the back of the house.
He'd seen Dean crack a few times when his claustrophobia got the better of him: in a coffin, in a bureau a ghost locked him in, in a cellar full of dead bodies and rats. But that had been before Hell, before any little thing could set off a flashback to forty years of torture, let alone a killer combo of cold and tight spaces and little air. Now, in the span of less than half an hour, it sounded like Dean was completely crumbling, on the verge of giving in.
"I'm coming, Dean," he promised desperately into the phone, knowing his brother was past hearing him. The dragging wheezes were the sounds of someone who was struggling to breathe and losing, and when Dean whimpered, it felt like a punch to Sam's gut.
Reality caved in for a second. I burn cold, Sam. Cold and hot and, oh, God, pain pain pain, and—
Sam blinked. Stared at the woman blankly for a moment before context filtered in. "Yeah." For a second he'd been in the cage, his own wall faltering. Sam's head throbbed, as if something had literally given way inside, but Sam shoved it back. "Yeah, I'm fine. Where's—?"
"There." A—Alice? pulled herself free of Sam's grip with a wince and pointed to the small building across a hundred feet of cleared back yard.
It was almost picturesque: thatched, sagging roof, overrun with ivy and some startlingly blue morning glory. It sat silent, an island of stillness in a yard full of buzzing bees and scampering squirrels and singing birds.
Sam tore across the yard, heedless of all the wildlife that scattered as he ran. He could feel it, the unearthly chill of the place, some sixth sense developed by years of hunting. The supernatural had touched here. And Dean was in the center of it. Sam would entertain no other option.
The door was jammed but unlocked, one strong heave enough to swing it open. The feel of wrong was even stronger inside, a taste of ozone in the air and the electric buzz of spirit activity raising goosebumps. It centered around the waist-height, once-white chest tucked into the back corner, half-hidden by layers of dirt and spider webs.
It hummed with power, even though Sam could see the frayed cord poking out one side, unplugged. He leaped forward, phone falling to the ground as he grabbed for the ice chest's lid and yanked.
It wouldn't budge.
No lock that he could see, but a determined spirit didn't need one. Cursing, Sam dug through his pockets and found a couple of diner packets of salt. He tore off the tops in one motion and fanned the contents over the lid of the chest. Then he grabbed the lip and pulled again.
It opened, opaque icy air billowing out. And as he waved the clouds of condensation aside, they revealed…
A body was curled almost fetal to fit in the small space inside, eyes closed, lips blue, frost edging the hair.
"Dean!" Sam barked, reaching in to grab his brother under the uppermost arm, then the other one as he pulled Dean up, pliant and barely trembling. His face was also slack, body folding against Sam like one of those mannequins from their last case. But cold, way too cold.
A small sound from the doorway alerted him to Alice's arrival.
"Heat some water, fix something hot to drink and some hot towels. And get some extra blankets," Sam snapped over one shoulder. Then he dismissed all thought of her.
Dean was so dismayingly lifeless against his chest. Sam had hauled him up enough that only his legs were still inside the chest, and Sam lugged him out the rest of the way, going down to the floor with Dean unresponsive in his arms.
"C'mon, man, don't do this to me," Sam ordered. He was pretty sure it sounded more like begging. He found a sluggish pulse in Dean's neck, and felt a small puff of cold air against his cheek. "That's good, Dean, but c'mon, wake up. You're out now—time to snap out of it and bitch at me for not getting here sooner. You hear me? Dean?"
No answer, although Dean's eyes looked more pinched than they had before. And his lips seemed to be moving a little bit, but leaning close, Sam only heard an incoherent whisper of sound. God alone knew where his head was. Sam swallowed and wrestled out of his jacket while Dean's chin dug into his breastbone—of course the jerk had his jacket off when he'd been taken—and wrapped it around his big brother. Dean was shivering harder now, and Sam felt a small moment of relief: this was something he could fix. The tiny quarters had gotten to Dean faster, but the hypothermia still hadn't had enough time to really take hold. Sam towed Dean higher, his brother's head on his shoulder, then over his back as Sam got him into a fireman's carry.
"Gonna get you warmed up, but then it's up to you, dude, you hear me?" He grunted as he rose to his feet one wobbly leg at a time. "You made me promise…not to go anywhere…no kicking the wall…" He had to angle to fit them both through the icehouse door. "Well…gotta promise…you're not goin' anywhere…either."
Alice met them halfway back to the house, her arms laden with quilts. "The water's heating, and I've got blankets. You want them upstairs…?"
Sam almost said the nearest room, but all their stuff was upstairs, and if they were going to be here a while, he wanted Dean to have some peace and privacy. "Yeah," he said tersely, panting as he reached the house and went inside. Three staircases lay before him. "Lead the way?"
She did, pausing with Sam as he stopped mid-stairs to shift Dean a little more comfortably and gather his strength. His soulless self had apparently done a lot of weight training instead of sleeping, and Sam was thankful now for the musculature, even as he cursed his ever-present fatigue.
They finally made it to the room, Alice dropping the quilts on the nearest bed and then hurrying out to get the hot water. Sam tilted Dean forward on the bed and quickly got to work stripping him of clothing that was cold and wet from condensation and, Sam guessed, sweat. Dean was shivering, sometimes puffing out a small moan, but otherwise unconscious, and Sam was almost glad for the moment.
"I know you're cold but it's gonna get better. This isn't Hell, Dean, I swear." There were bruises blooming on Dean's knees, elbows, shins, forehead. The nails on one of his big toes was cracked down the middle. He'd fought hard to get free. "Alistair's gone—he's dead, remember? It's me, I've got you, dude, not him." He paused when he found Dean's right hand still clenched around the cell phone, then gently pried it free and turned it off. The fingertips of Dean's other hand were raw, two of them sluggishly starting to bleed as the skin defrosted. Sam wrapped his own large hand around his big brother's smaller one and watched Dean's blank, pale face. "It's Sam. It's me. You hear me?" He was aware of the clogged sound of his voice and cleared his throat. He needed Dean to recognize who was talking to him. "You're with me."
Sam was laying out the blankets over Dean when Alice returned with a tray of steaming towels, a mug, and a teapot.
"Thank you," Sam said gratefully, sparing her a smile now that he could and seeing her relax a little at the sight.
"I still don't—"
"I'll explain everything later, I promise." After he iced her granny, permanently. "I have to take care of him right now, though."
"Of course." She nodded uncertainly. "I'll just…" She slipped toward the door, shut it behind her.
Sam breathed out low and hard, and turned back to Dean. "Just you and me now, bro. You ready for this?"
He rolled and tucked the towels against armpits, groin, neck. Coaxed Dean into spluttering down a few mouthfuls of what looked like hot tea. Then Sam shucked off his jeans and overshirt and boots, made a face, and clambered under the blankets with Dean.
His brother rolled toward him, unconsciously seeking warmth.
Sam pulled him close, suppressing his own shiver at the contact with chilled flesh. Careful not to dislodge the warming towels, he wrapped arms around Dean and closed his eyes.
It reminded him of back at Bobby's, waking up in the panic room with Stull his last memory and hesitantly heading upstairs to see if anyone was left standing. To find not only Bobby alive and well, but Dean looking healthy and relieved and overjoyed to see him… Sam had pulled him into a hug then, too, one Dean had returned just as fiercely.
He dug his chin into his brother's icy, quivering shoulder, and held on tighter. "You're not in Hell, Dean. I'm not in Hell. I know you're cold and hurting and scared, but you're out, you're out and I've got you. I've got you, but I need you, too, man, you know? What I did the last year, what's behind the wall, it scares the crap out of me, and I need my big brother to keep an eye on me so I don't go all walls of Jericho, all right? You hear me, man? You can't bring me back and then just check out on me."
Dean sighed, rubbing his nose a little against Sam's breastbone.
Sam echoed him. "Dude, this wasn't even our case. You got taken down by some little old lady in a freakin' B&B—you realize that, right?"
Sam startled, pulled back a little. His brother's eyes were still closed; his mouth—a pale pink now—remained clenched tight. "Dean?"
"Sl'pin'," Dean slurred. He turned his face in toward Sam's clavicle, conversation over.
His voice was still weak, and Sam was pretty sure he wasn't all that aware of his surroundings or he would have been elbowing Sam off him. But he knew enough to figure his brother was pouring his heart out in worry, and to shut him up. And that was enough for Sam.
He dropped his head back to the pillow and smiled. "Yeah. All right."
Sleeping didn't sound like a bad plan, actually.
He wasn't quite sure how long he'd slept, or how much of that he'd spent cuddled, mostly naked, against Sam. Honestly, he was totally okay with not knowing. Alistair was mixed in with the hazy memories of the cold, tight freezer, and the less Dean remembered of that and of the mess he must've been when Sam got him out, the happier he was. The aches and bruises of his body gave him a pretty good idea, anyway.
As did Sam. Dean had always been able to measure how bad things had been by how soft Sam's eyes got and how long he cut Dean slack. Dean was pretty sure it had been a couple of days since the freezer, but Sam still parked in front of him every time he woke, his voice solid and reassuring and so not Alistair, told him how close it'd been.
Not to mention that the first few times he'd woken, it was from nightmares of Alistair's voice, touch, and unique brand of pain.
Dean sucked in a breath and shoved a little higher on the mass of pillows Sam had collected for him, the little packrat. Sam glanced away from the door where he was talking to Alice Lincoln, throwing him a half smile before returning to the conversation. He'd had a break in their original case but said he'd handed it off to someone else so he could focus on the one Dean had gotten tangled up in, literally. There'd been a lot of quiet conversations on the phone and in the doorway, mostly with Alice and some newspaper guy named Jon who apparently had a sweet car. Sammy had been a busy boy, while Dean had just…slept.
Dean made a face and pointedly ignored the conversation that didn't include him. He returned to the article he'd been reading, pretending his eyes weren't feeling heavy.
"You've got a couple hours to sleep until dinner."
Crap, when had Sam finished jawing and snuck up beside him? Dean grimaced at the magazine—seriously, a piece on a local muscle car show should've been able to hold his attention more—and shoved it to the side. It promptly slid off the blanket Sam had tossed over him earlier, the little mother hen, and plopped on the floor.
Sam started around the bed to pick it up.
"Don't worry about it." Dean thumped his head back into the pillow, disgusted anew that he still felt so tired. "What did Alice want?"
Sam cocked an eyebrow at him that said he saw right through Dean—the little know-it-all—and plopped down on the side of his own bed, his knees knocking against Dean's mattress. Dean thought he remembered the nightstand being between the beds, as well as another foot or two of space, but he was good at ignoring stuff he didn't want to acknowledge. Instead he focused on the sheaf of papers Sam was holding out.
He took it, shuffling through what looked like a bunch of photocopied clippings and…missing persons reports. It was his turn to raise an eyebrow at Sam.
"So, Alice and Jon looked into it, and turns out that during the years her grandmother ran the place, there were several men who were last seen here."
It was kinda what they'd figured, the little bit they'd talked about it so far, but it still somehow felt like a surprise. "Her grandma, another Dorothea Puente? How'd Alice take that?"
"Who?" Sam frowned and shook his head. "She's pretty shocked, but it doesn't look like her grandmother was malicious. There's no evidence she took anything from the missing men. No unexplained deposits, nothing in her grandmother's stuff. By all accounts, the men were loners, couple of them had recent losses. Actually, the cops figured a few of them were suicides that were never found."
Maybe he was tired, but he wasn't slow. Dean glared at his brother. "Don't start, Sam."
"There's no evidence she…took anyone after she died. Until you."
Dean rolled his eyes and tossed the blanket off, taking a breath before he pushed to his feet. At least Sam had finally let him get dressed the day before, the little tyrant. Maybe when he went to charbroil their hostess's grandmother, Dean could sneak down to the 'pala to check out that clinking in her engine…
"You know the play Arsenic & Old Lace?"
The random question stopped Dean in his determined march to the bathroom. He looked back at Sam. "Like the movie? Cary Grant and the hot blonde?"
"And the two aunts who Kevorkian their boarders they think are lonely and better off that way? Starting to look like that's what was happening here. Sheriff's bringing in ground-penetrating radar to check for graves, but they've got some reason to think she, uh," Sam looked him in the eye, "…was sticking bodies in the freezer until she could bury them."
The offered wine, the cold as he touched the glass; Dean couldn't repress a shiver. He forced a twitch of a smile. "Guess I was lucky she skipped the poisoning and went straight to the freezing-the-leftovers part, huh?" He turned back to the bathroom, feeling more now like emptying his stomach than his bladder.
"She was wrong, wasn't she?"
The quiet words stopped him a second time, but Dean didn't look back again. "Killing people and turning them into frozen fish sticks? Yeah, I'd say she had some screws loose."
"That's not what I— Tell me she was wrong about you, that you didn't…fit her profile."
Sam, the little brother, wanted reassurance. In the past Dean would have lied, but after everything, after Ruby and Cas and RoboSam, after Lisa and Ben, Dean was done with secrets and untruths. Didn't mean he could rip into his brother with the cold reality, though, either. He hung his head. "What do you want from me, Sam?"
He heard the bed creak, and thought for a hysterical moment that Sam was gonna hug him or something, the little girl. Instead, when he stepped around in front of Dean, he looked sad but composed, no tears or clinginess in evidence. "I want you to know that you're not alone," Sam said, soft but firm. "That, yeah, things suck right now, but I'm stronger than some wall and we're gonna take it one day at a time and get through this. I'm not asking you to go all Pollyanna on me or anything, but…just give me a chance, Dean. Trust me that I'm not going anywhere and it's gonna get better."
Dean swallowed, feeling his eyes prickle. He looked up sideways at Sam, and wondered when his little brother had stopped being a little anything. He cleared his throat. "Who the hell is Pollyanna?" he croaked.
Sam smiled a little at him, and stepped aside to clear his path to the bathroom. But he squeezed Dean's shoulder, brief but hard, as he did.
And he was waiting when Dean came back out again, just as Dean knew he'd be.