The Family Business

by River Winters

Chapter 4 / Dead in the Water

November 13, 2004
Middle of Nowhere Interstate-Side Diner

Let me tell you the story of this morning: I was very rudely shaken awake at the asscrack of dawn by Dean and then unceremoniously dragged out into the cold, frostbitten morning—the last place I wanted to be. "Rise and shine, princess!" He goaded me, obviously loving seeing my squinty sleepy looks of protest and the I'll kill you grimaces. I shoved him grumpily and he just laughed like the jerk he is.

So, this is where I find myself right now: Half-asleep and not so happy to be conscious. I'd rather still be sleeping. I think I got like three or four hours, tops… blehhhhhh. I slouch on a stool at the diner counter between my two brothers and hug my hands around a hot mug of black coffee, trying to find the willpower to stay awake and not commit murder. Everything is annoying me right now. I'm… just not a morning person at all so that doesn't help either. Around us the ambiance of the diner is cheerful and bright—people are talking and laughing, I smell bacon and syrup and waffles or pancakes maybe. Silverware clinks against plates, upbeat music plays in the background on the radio, waitresses zip back and forth with smiles and what can only be described as pep. It's too early for pep. In fact, can we just outlaw pep, please? I find it suspicious and weird.

"Eat up, sleepyhead," Dean says, elbowing me and forcing me to jostle slightly into more wakefulness. I shoot him a deadly side eye. You suck. I pick up a triangle of toast and munch it absently, watch as crumbs roll down into my sleeve. They tickle my skin. Urgh. I shake my sleeve down and out a little to loosen the crumbs. My rumpled t-shirt and flannel button-up are hidden underneath of one of Dean's old rugged jackets—it's way too big on me and probably makes me look like a walking tent, but it's warm and familiar. I've never been one to give a fuck about fashion or how I look, really, so the oversized nature of the jacket doesn't bug me. I actually honestly like how the sleeves are too long on me and leave just half of my fingers out. Dean grumbles good naturedly over breakfast about how I 'jacked his wardrobe' but we both know he hasn't even worn this jacket in like two years. That's how long I've been, uh, borrowing it.

Beside me Sam's pretty quiet, only saying a few necessary words here and there. He's clearly a little testy for whatever reason. Maybe because it's so damn early? Who knows. But I can see it in the way he'd holding himself, the way he stabs his fork down into his yuppie egg-white omelet thing. He told us about how the egg yolks are high in heart-dangerous fats or something and then made a bitch-face when Dean ordered scrambled eggs with extra egg yolks just to spite him.

Sam's like me in the mornings—quiet, a little of the sulky side, taking awhile to get going. I can get up whenever I'm woken, that's not a problem—being happy about it is the issue. Actually, all three of us are like that. We know how to wake up when told to do so even if we don't want to. Dad always insisted we got up at six or earlier no matter the day of the week. He kept us on regimented schedules (or at least tried to). But Dean let us stay up all night sometimes, sleep in forever when Dad was away. That was the best. Anyway… I glance sidelong at my twin who's staring death daggers into far distance in front of himself unseeingly, chewing his food malevolently. I wonder what has Sam pissed off now. Seems like more than a case of the I-hate-mornings to me.

Last I remember Sam was in a good mood driving the Impala last night as Dean sang along badly to an old Toto song. But I mean, there's a lot on his mind and I know that. He's been sort of all over the place the past week, but mostly angry, sullen, grieving, cagey. I get it. His girlfriend died, burned to death as he watched. He wants revenge. He wants to find Dad and get on with the slashing and hacking of whatever monster did that to Jess. To Mom.

However, after a whole lifetime of chasing this apparition, I dunno. I feel like it's a wasted effort, a pipe dream, an excuse Dad uses to drag us through this life. Still, here I am. Not walking away… along for the ride as usual.

I eat my breakfast slowly, my fatigue making me sluggish. On one side of me Dean's reading a newspaper, pen in hand, no doubt hunting for another job as usual. On my other side, Sam's glancing Dean's way in clear irritation for one reason or another but saying nothing. I think he's pissed at Dean specifically but I'm not totally sure why. All I know's that my twin has always been like that. He bottles things up that upset him. He stores them away but he doesn't know how to fully compartmentalize… so, inevitably, his anger explodes out of him once it's eaten away at him for awhile. I'm similar, honestly, but better about letting my anger out before it festers. I like to destroy property or kick things… or get angry-drunk and do the first two things while angry drunk. It's not the prettiest picture. But, thankfully, I've gotten better at compartmentalizing and regulating myself over the years. I'm a lot less angry than I used to be as a teen and stuff. I think a lot of it is that I've come to accept my lot in life. I used to really be desperate for a way out of being mute and a way out of being stuck hunting, but these days… I just accept it. It's not the worst—I'm alive, I help people… and I have a pretty awesome brother who makes it bearable. I glance at Dean fondly and then remember I'm mad at him for waking me up so rudely.

Sam finishes his breakfast and throws his napkin down onto his plate almost petulantly, leaves the bar kind of rudely and heads for the bathroom. I pause, coffee cup in front of my lips as I watch him practically stomp off. Jeez, really—what crawled up his ass and died? I look to Dean for explanation and he shrugs it off, gives an eye roll, mutters something about "drama queen" and continues working on scouring the paper he's got. I sip my coffee until it's not scalding, then down it like it's a shot of whiskey.

Dean glances up from his work at the way I gulp the tepid coffee down. "Easy tiger," he says, a smirk on his face. "What, you tired or somethin'?" He feigns concern and confusion and I playfully give him the finger and a wan smile. He chuckles, flipping to the next page of the newspaper casually. We trawl the obituaries constantly like he's doing now. Dour, yeah, but it pretty often helps lead us to cases. I watch from the corner of my eye as Dean circles one with a black pen several times over. I lazily read upside down.

CARLTON, SOPHIE - The Carlton family is sad to announce the death of their beloved 18-year-old daughter in a tragic swimming accident…

A blonde waitress leans over the counter suddenly, distracting me from reading more. "Can I get you anything else?" She asks, all eyes on Dean.

I recognize that coy, flirty tone she uses and see how she's leaning, pushing her boobs out for show. I sit back and roll my eyes before I can help it. Oh puh-lease. Why are all these girls always into Dean? He's not even that cute. Then again, I guess I have sister-vision. Plus I know how bad his body odor can get, how dumb and immature he can be, and how he's a closet geek. Dean looks up and grins around the pen he's chewing on and I recognize that stupid grin. The thing about my brother is he imagines himself a ladies man. I imagine him as an idiot.

I feel Sam brushing up against my arm as he retakes his seat again. "Just the check, please," he says, cutting off any opportunity for Dean to drop a bad pick up line or say something stupid and flirty. The waitress looks mildly disappointed at Sam's curt reply but nods, forces a smile. "Okay."

I approve and shoot Sam a little appreciative glance. The waitress walks away. Dean drops his head and looks at Sam in mild annoyance. "You know, Sam, we are allowed to have fun once in a while." Dean points meaningfully to the waitress walking away. She's wearing tight short shorts. "…That's fun."

Geez Dean. I wonder if he really did forget about Jessica so soon… seems sort of in bad taste to say that. Sam is also giving our brother a look, but Dean's unaware and sliding the newspaper down between us, indicating that we look at it.

"Here, take a look at this, I think I got one. Lake Manitoc, Wisconsin. Last week Sophie Carlton, eighteen. Walks into the lake, doesn't walk out. Authorities dragged the water; nothing. Sophie Carlton's the third Lake Manitoc drowning this year. None of the other bodies were found either. They had a funeral two days ago."

"A funeral?" Sam asks.

"Yeah, it's weird, they buried an empty coffin," Dean said. "For, eh," he waves his hand flippantly, "closure or whatever."

Something about that seems to trigger Sam. "Closure? What closure? People don't just disappear, Dean," he says, and his tone is decidedly aggressive even though he's holding back. "Other people just stop looking for them."

I realize how in-the-middle I am at that moment, both of them leaned forward over the counter to look at each other as I sit in my stool silently. I sense a fight brewing. Dean's giving Sam a challenging look. "Something you wanna say to me?" He asks, never one to beat around the bush.

Sam's face is hard. "The trail for Dad," he says. Exasperation colors his features. "It's getting colder every day and we're just… looking for hunts?"

Dean obviously dislikes being questioned. With me, he doesn't get questioned much. He's brusque to Sam. "Yeah, and?"

Sam's eyebrows shoot up. "What do you mean, 'yeah and'?" He asks, and the rising tension between them is making my teeth grind. "Why the hell aren't we doing something to find Dad?"

"You know what?" Dean asks, getting defensive and domineering. "I'm sick of this attitude. You don't think I wanna find Dad as much as you do?"

"If you do, then why aren't we doing that?" Sam retorts hotly. "Finding Dad?"

Dean scoffs. "It's not that simple, Sam. It's gonna take time."

"All I'm hearing are excuses," Sam challenges.

It's Dean's turn to look insulted. "Excuses? Look, Sammy. I don't wanna hear you talk about excuses to me. I'm the one that's been with him every single day for the past two years while you've been off to college going to pep rallies."

Sam takes the bait and is firing back an angry response. "You know what Dean, I think you're jealous 'cause you've been stuck in this hellhole life while I was—"

At this point, I slam my hands down onto the counter because that's definitely enough. The forks jump on our plates loudly in response and Sam and Dean snap out of their little pissing match while I give them each half-angry half-disappointed looks, shaking my head no. Stop, guys. Just stop. I sit back, arms crossed, annoyed at everything in the world, but especially these two asshats.

Tight silence floats between them for a second. "Look, forget it," Dean says, his voice forcibly. "We'll find Dad, but until then, we're gonna kill everything bad between here and there. Okay?" Sam looks reluctant about it and I look at Dean meaningfully, prompting him. He needs to say he's sorry about that unnecessary stuff he said to Sam. He knows what my look means but scoffs, too proud to say anything. I kick his shin hard and he jumps. "Ow!" He whines, looking at me indignantly. "Fine!" He lets out a charged breath and then looks at Sam with thin lips. "Sorry," Dean says, but with a lot of attitude. He smirks abruptly, wry. "For telling the truth."

Sam rolls his eyes and I do too, hand coming tiredly to my face. Ugh. Behind us, the waitress walks by with a bunch of menus and Dean gets distracted, his eyes drifting down to her ass as she moves past. "All right fine, Lake Manitoc," Sam's agreeing in a strained voice, then sees how Dean's off in booty-land. "Hey."

Dean returns his attention to Sam. "Huh?"

"How far?" Sam asks, patience wearing thin.

"Oh, uh… I dunno, thousand miles, give or take. Fifteen hours… if we obey the speed limits. Heh." He's winking at the waitress who is halfway across the restaurant. He gives her a little wave and eyebrow waggle.

Sam's not having it and competes for Dean's attention, leaning out of his seat slightly. "Hey, focus. You can have fun when we find Dad."

Dean looks at Sam with a shit-eating grin. "Aw come on Sam, you don't want a little fun before then?" He asks playfully, thoughtlessly. Wrong thing to ask.

Sam looks stung. "…I loved Jess," he says, and his voice is wavering with sadness. "She's barely in the ground, Dean." He shakes his head, face filled with disillusioned pain. "What's wrong with you?"

My oldest brother realizes his insensitivity fully when Sam says that about Jess, you can see it in his eyes… Dean falters, abashed, clearly regretting his careless comments—feeling bad, embarrassed. It all translates into a terse, gruff demeanor and a long awkward silence. "Sorry Sam," he says, dodging Sam's drilling glare and fiddling around with his wallet. "I wasn't thinking. You know me. Never had anything like that," he says, throwing a couple bills down onto the counter to pay for breakfast. He's avoiding looking at either of us. "Not really."

Sam's standing up, withdrawing, and it seems that Dean's sorry is too little too late to entirely smooth things over. "Let's just hit the road, all right?" My twin asks, stony.

"Yeah. Good." Dean brushes past Sam and is silent for a long time afterwards.

Lake Manitoc, Wisconsin
Twenty-Four(ish) Hours Later

We drove ten hours yesterday before having to stop and rest and just get some physical space from each other. Being stuck in the car like that is enough to make us all stir-crazy, especially when things are just so undeniably tense and threatening to snap completely anyway. We checked into a typical hole-in-the-wall motel where we shared a cheap leathery pizza and some beers then half watched some cheesy gameshows. Dean conked out first, Sam spent some time "emailing friends" and ignoring me. I fell asleep to the drone of The Price is Right.

It's different with Sam here with us and I know Dean feels it too. In some ways, it's nice. I know Dean is really happy to have someone who can actually have a conversation with him but he's also sort of annoyed that now there's always someone around who is challenging him, arguing with him, second guessing him. Dean and I know each other's habits and routines like our own. Sam threw a wrench into everything. Honestly I doubt Sam will stick around for long at this rate. I'm disappointed and sort of hopeful at the same time. I don't know. I feel thrown out of routine and stressed out and guilty about not being overjoyed to have Sam with us.

It's morning now and we're in the city of Lake Manitoc. We tracked down the address for the Carlton family out of the phone book and are pulling up to the lakeside residence right now. As the Impala teeters along the uneven gravel driveway, the trees clear and show a still, quiet body of water—the lake where that Sophie Carlton girl drowned. It glistens underneath the overcast sky and a jagged firry tree line marches around the water's edge. A solitary dock stretches out nearby from the manmade gravel shoreline. A man sits in a chair at the end of that dock, hunched forward. The area looks peaceful, a few lake houses dotting the dark lake… and yet… I feel unsettled.

Dean parks the car at a pretty cabin-looking house and we shuffle up the steps. I hang back, hands in pockets. A guy a little younger than us comes to the door.

"Will Carlton?" Dean asks, assuming he's Sophie's brother who we read about in the obituary.

"Yeah, that's right," the mousy guy confirms, eyeing us carefully. He looks like he's in his late teens.

"I'm Agent Ford." Dean says, then nods to Sam. "This is Agent Hamill," then to me, "and Agent Fisher." Sam and I exchange a brief glance and I hope that Will Carlton's not a Star Wars buff. Dean is so ridiculous sometimes. "We're with the US Wildlife Service," Dean says and holds up an ID, and just like that, trust is given.

Dean asks if Will can just "fill us in a little" about what happened for a report we have to file. As Sam, Dean, and Will stand a few feet off, I walk along the water's edge where it laps quietly. I crouch down and touch fingers to the cold water, look out across the surface. I've got my EMF meter out and fiddle with it discreetly. It's getting readings, but not much out of the ordinary. Maybe I'd have better luck out further into the lake. I decide it's inconclusive and stick the meter back into my jacket.

I can hear Sam and Dean asking Will questions behind where I'm crouched: Where was she when it happened? About a hundred yards out and she got dragged down. You're sure she didn't just drown? No, no way—she was a varsity swimmer. Did you see any shadows in the water, a dark shape beneath the surface? No, but she was really far out and visibility wasn't good.

I stand up and flick the water off my fingers, glance at the man sitting at the end of the pier again as I slide my hands into my jacket pockets. He hasn't moved a muscle and his face is turned away. I wonder if that's the father of the drowned girl. I wonder how my father would react if I drowned in a lake. Would he take to silence and grief? Or would he load his gun and carry on like it was any other day?

"You ever seen any strange tracks by the shoreline?" Dean is asking and I refocus, contemplate them from my distance of about twenty feet off then stare off at the dad again as I listen.

Will hesitates. "No, never… why? You think something's out there?"

"We'll let you know as soon as we know anything," Dean says, cutting short any speculation. He turns my way, motions for me lazily. "Hey Al! Move it or lose it." He sure has a way with words, huh? I start to head to the car.

"What about your father?" Sam asks suddenly, softly. Dean and I stop. "Can we talk to him?"

Will hesitates. "Look, if you don't mind, I mean… he didn't see anything and he's kind of been through a lot. He wouldn't be able to tell you anything else."

Sam nods, sympathetic and showing it with an attentive expression. "We understand. Very sorry for your loss."

"Yeah," Will said, sadness filling his youthful face. He looks down and rubs the back of his neck blankly. "You know you're parents are probably gonna die but… you never expect for your sibling to. Not so young anyway."

Dean seems to be especially taken aback at those words but he covers it over. "Take care of yourself, Will," he says, dismissing the interaction and giving Sam a let's scram side-eye.

Back to the car and it starts up with that familiar rumble.

"Any EMF out there, Alexander?" Dean asks me.

I hold my hand out flat, jiggle it back and forth, shrug, make a face. Meh. Not really.

Dean and Sam both nod, digest it thoughtfully. "So, what now?" Sam asks, looking to Dean who's backing the car up already, turning the wheel with one hand as he looks over his shoulder lazily.

Dean's gained his devil-may-care attitude back and cracks a grin Sammy's way. "Go hit up the PD, dig around, see what we can see," he says loftily then cranks up Def Leppard to an almost deafening volume.

Not Long After
Brew Ha Ha Coffee Shop

I'm sitting around feeling bored and listless and a little sorry for myself, honestly. While Sam and Dean poke around at the police station, I'm a few doors down in a local small-town coffee shop… they didn't say it outright but I understand the implication: I'd be of zero help. That is what I have always hated the most… the moments where I very clearly feel the way I burden and oblige my family. Sam was the one who suggested I could "hang out and relax" while they "did the cop stuff." I know what he really meant: You can get out of the way so we don't have to be inconvenienced by you. I acted fine with it because you know what? The only thing worse than the pain-in-the-ass that my disability makes me to my family would be me being a bitch about stuff. But it still hurts me when I'm left out by default or by decision.

So, I'm stuck at this very ridiculously-named small-town coffee shop. You know the type: super hippie and artsy, lots of weird mixed-media art on the walls, eclectic decor and lots of punny signs that say things about coffee.

No coffee, no workee.

Coffee is not a matter of life or death. It is much more important than that.

I don't have a caffeine problem… I have a problem without it!

Go ahead and espresso yourself.

I'm sitting by the glass storefront where I can see the sidewalk beyond and the street where traffic is light and errant. Not many people are out, but whenever anyone walks by, I watch from my seat discreetly. After awhile, people start to look alike to you when you live an unrooted life like mine. You start to group people into classes and cliches because you can just tell people for what they are. Mom. Student. Business man. Free spirit. Prep. Tired Dad. Bad news. Trouble. Boring. Vapid. Dropout. Druggie. Paranoid. Ditzy. Overachiever. Depressed. Etcetera etcetera.

I spend so much time watching that I like to think I could make a pretty good profiler, maybe. So, there's that.

They say that when you're missing a sense, your other senses are stronger to make up for the weakness. So what happens when you're missing a basic human function? I dunno. Ask me later when I've figured out what the hell I'm good for.

After no one walks by the window for a long couple minutes, I gaze around the coffee shop instead, tapping fingers against the tiny table I occupy. There's not a lot of people in here. Some sort of tribal-sounding music competes with the movie that's on the screen behind the counter and I watch it a couple minutes, recognizing it. City of Angels. Dean and I watched that one time and he teared up at the part where the chick dies and the angel guy finds her. "Don't look at me, it's allergies!" Dean had said when I saw his teary-eyed reaction. Yeah… allergies. He's such a softie. Just won't admit it to anyone but me. He's one of the most tender-hearted people I know. Well… he's one of the only people I know, too. This life, you don't really get close to anyone except who you're stuck with. Anyway, good movie, City of Angels. Really romantic. It got me good just like it did Dean. After it was over I remember thinking about how bad I want a love story like that. Not so much with the dying after being hit by a logging truck part, just… having a guy love me so completely. It's a fantasy I don't see ever being realized but a girl can dream.

The tribal music is really starting to get on my nerves and I sigh loudly. One of the only sounds I can make.

I think of Sam again. I find myself wishing for something and I'm not sure what. Is it jacked up to want him to stay and go at the same time? I miss how things used to be, that's for damn sure. I remember the three of us, hanging out and getting along and sharing inside jokes and interests and depending on each other to get through the hell of childhood. Now it's like we're from totally different worlds. Maybe I'm just remembering things better than they were. I don't know.

"Get you anything else?" the shop employee asks, stopping at my table. He's got a rag in hand, is cute, was cleaning the table behind me. I shake my head no, look away, hoping he won't ask anything else. He gives me a friendly smile despite my attitude. "Just gimme a shout if ya change your mind!" He says, on his way again.

A shout. Yup. Sure. I'm distracted and dissatisfied now. The music and the movie's sounds are clashing and I feel so damn frustrated I want to scream. I need to do something to get all this agitated energy out. My nerves are shot and I want to climb something or break into somewhere we're not supposed to be or go for a run, maybe. But Dean said to wait here so… I'm waiting. It won't take them long, I hope.

I contemplate the empty table top in front of myself, glancing up every once in awhile. I notice how everyone else here in this coffee shop is with someone. Two girls are chatting animatedly over some frilly coffees, a guy is slouched down in an armchair and plucking on a guitar as he talks about what "the Lord's teaching me through this tough semester" to another hipster looking guy wearing an oversized beanie. A mother and her little curly-haired daughter are having tea. I'm alone, off by myself and I feel it so starkly and suddenly. I stick out like a sore thumb and it's like I think people can just take a single look at me and know I'm not like them. It's nothing new, but I still don't like it… this constant feeling of being the kid in the cafeteria who no one wanted to sit with or acknowledge at all.

A knock on the window right beside my face startles me—it's Sam and he's motioning for me to get a move on, hustle. I do, seeing that Dean is walking ahead of him down the sidewalk with some brunette chick. Relieved to be on the move again, I exit the coffee shop and catch up with my twin, having to walk pretty fast to match his insanely long stride. I point at the girl leading the way questioningly—she and Dean are about ten feet ahead. "That's Andrea, and Dean's embarrassing himself," Sam tells me furtively, sounding mildly annoyed. "He cruise for hookups this much when it's just you two or is he trying to prove something?"

I shrug neutrally. The answer to Sam's question is no, not really. Dean flirts like crazy but he's not half the womanizer he imagines himself to be.

We're catching up to them. Where is this chick taking us, anyway? "So, cute kid," Dean is saying to the Andrea girl. She's walking fast in front of him and he's trying to keep up, get her attention. So what, she's got a kid? …Where?

"Thanks," she says, not sounding too eager to talk to him as we cross the street. Immediately I kind of like her a little bit, because if she's not into Dean… that shit is always funny when he strikes out.

Dean tries again to get her to talk to him. "Kids are the best, huh?"

… Seriously? That's all he's got? Sam and I glance at each other at in abrupt shared amusement.

Andrea glances at Dean at that comment and ignores him, but she's smiling like she's wondering if he's seriously trying these lines on her. We stop in front of a building that says Lakefront Motel. "There it is," she says, turning to speak to Dean. "Like I said, two blocks." Dean looks pleased… she's finally talking to him. And then she smiles at him demurely. "Must be hard, with your sense of direction… never being able to find your way to a decent pickup line…?" Andrea leaves even as our jaws drop, calling back over her shoulder, "Enjoy your stay!"

Boom, roasted! That was such a good burn. It caught me off guard and I'd be laughing if my vocal chords would let me. Kind of gleeful at how perfect that little comment of hers was, I poke Dean in the ribs repeatedly. Take that, Smooth Moves. "Hey, hey!" He protests, batting me away indignantly. "You know I'm ticklish!"

Uh, yeah, I do. Which is exactly why I love to do what I just did.

"'Kids are the best'?" Sam is asking, clearly judging Dean and teasing him at the same time. "You don't even like kids."

"I love kids!" Dean protests indignantly.

Sam challenges him. "Name three children that you even know."

Dean thinks, holds up his hand to count off names… and comes up empty. Sam waves a hand at him in dismissal and walks off toward the motel. Dean scratches his head, looking seriously befuddled. "I'm thinking!" He defends, then heads off to follow Sam slowly. "Do you and Al count?"

"Uh, no," Sam says, sassy as it gets as he opens the motel door, nods at me. "After you," he says, motioning and waiting for me to walk through. That's kinda nice. Dean never does that kind of stuff for me (I think he views me as a boy half the time, honestly). Sometimes you're not so bad, Sam, what with your manners and your chivalry. He's currently giving Dean a lecturing look as he holds the door.

Dean stops short before coming into the lobby, thinking of something. "Wait, whoa… I need to drive the car over from the PD," he says, then gets faintly excited. "And, it's lunchtime." The guy loves food. Almost to the point of insanity. Commanding, he points at Sam. "You check us in Sammy, me and Al are gonna go grab some grub and get the wheels." He cracks a puckish grin at our brother. "You want the greasiest thing on the menu, right?"

Sam smiles falsely and sarcastically, seeming to think very funny, Dean. My twin looks at me like he's going to tell me something important. "Don't let him get me something gross," he says with over seriousness, like it would be the end of the world if he got greasy french fries to eat. I give two thumbs up to Sammy—rabbit food it is, then—I about face and walk right back out of the lobby three seconds after walking in, falling into familiar step with my oldest brother.

We start retracing our steps back toward the police station where the car will be parked. For a minute we just walk, hands in pockets, strides matching.

Then Dean turns his head and fixes me with a close, scrutinizing look. "You okay? Seem kinda distant or something," he says. I glance at him briefly, shake my head while shrugging like nothing's wrong, even though I want to shrink smaller so he can't see me as well. "It's Sam, right?" Dean presses. "Having him around's weird after him being MIA for so long," he says, squinting in the midday sun as he lopes along. "Me too," he says, admitting that he feels the same. "It'll get better," he tells me. "Especially once we find Dad." …Dad. I don't even realize it but I guess I cloud over. Dean points it out as we stop walking, having arrived at the parking space where the Impala's sleek black body rests. "Don't make that face… the man's come a long way. People can change, Al."

I cut a moody glance his way. I'll believe that load of shit when I see it. Dean lazily slings an arm over my shoulders, pulling me roughly and tightly to his side for a little hug, halfway attempting to trip me up—my feet definitely did stutter but I don't loose my footing. I do, however, poke him in the side again, right where he's ticklish. Yelping out a laugh, he lets go, surrenders. "All right, all right," he defends, then indicates that I look across the street with a thrust of his chin. There are two restaurants side by side across the street… one sign says Hungry Burger and the other one says Dynasty Garden. Dean contemplates them with pursed lips, glances sidelong at me. "So. Burgers or Chinese?"

I point decisively at Hungry Burger. Dean chuckles, puts his arm around me again, looks either way before we cross the street. "That's my girl."

I like it when he says that.

After he puts in our orders at the little burger joint, we sit in a booth to wait. He lets me know what they dug up at the police department. Three drownings in the last six months, no bodies… "And then there's the dam," he continues. "It's about to go—" he makes explosion noises and a poof kind of motion with both hands. "They give it six months, tops. So…" he shrugs, scratches the back of his head, unsure what to make of it.

Same here. I wrack my brain. Huh, so what… some kind of vengeful water spirit maybe? A water wraith? The friggin' Loch Ness monster? Did the impending dam break stir up some ancient water-spirit grudge…? Was that even a real thing?

"Could be a bunch of things or maybe even something we haven't heard of," Dean says, fiddling with the ring on his right hand impatiently, cutting through my thoughts. He sighs, sits back in the booth, and something about his behavior suddenly clues me into something deeper going on.

I look at him silently—are you okay?

He sees how I'm looking at him in concern and he wipes the look off his face and in its place is a slight eye roll. He pulls out his phone, checks it—probably looking to see if Dad's called, which he won't have. I feel sympathetic toward my big brother. I know he really looks up to Dad for whatever damn reason and I know he's sad and feeling rejected and unsure right now. In response to my sympathetic look Dean huffs, jabs his pointer finger at me. "You know I hate it when you look at me with those big sad eyes," he complains gruffly.

I just smile a little. They call our order and it's time to go. Food in tow, we drive the thirty-seconds from the PD to the motel—Sam texted us the room number and we go find it.

The three of us chow down together but no meaningful conversation happens between my siblings. Just Sam getting uncomfortable in the silence then asking Dean if we've seen the new Spiderman movie ("You kidding me? I hate that kid—Tobey whatshisface, always looks like he's about to poop"). Sam gets eye-rolley and makes a smart comment about how he bet we saw that kiddy Harry Potter movie instead. Um… Dean and I glance at each other, say nothing. I mean, I really liked the books, okay?

After lunch, Dean goes through his clothing as I page through Dad's journal on the hunt for anything on water spirits. Sam's hunched over his laptop, silently reading news websites.

"So there's the three drowning victims this year like we figured out before…" he says after a few minutes.

"Any before that?" Dean asks, sniffing his pants and making a face, throwing them into the dirty pile.

"Uh, yeah," Sam confirms. "Six more spread out over the past thirty-five years. Those bodies were never recovered either. If there is something out there, it's picking up its pace."

"So, what, we got a lake monster on a binge?" Dean asks, then looks at me as he folds a shirt sloppily. "Dad write anything about lake boogie men in there?" I haven't found anything yet and shake my head, shrug uselessly.

Sam sounds really vexed. "This whole lake monster theory though, it just bugs me," he mutters.

Dean goes over to Sam to read over his shoulder at whatever website is up. "Why?"

"Loch Ness, Lake Champlain—there are literally hundreds of eyewitness accounts, but here, nothing. Whatever it is out there, no one's living to talk about it."

Dean points at the screen suddenly, leans closer over Sam's shoulder. "Wait, Barr, Christopher Barr. Where have I heard that name before?"

"Christopher Barr, the victim in May… lemme open the link." I'm setting the journal down and drifting over to see what they're looking at on the laptop. Sam sits back slightly. "Oh. Christopher Barr was Andrea's husband—that woman we met back at the police station. He was Lucas's father. Hm. Apparently he took Lucas out swimming… Lucas was on a floating wooden platform when Chris drowned… two hours before the kid got rescued." His voice is soft and I can see a picture on the page of a kid with brown hair. He's wrapped in a towel standing beside a police officer. His expression is terrified, totally deer-in-the-headlights. "Maybe we have an eyewitness after all," Sam says. Beside me, Dean looks pained by association as he looks at the picture of the kid.

"No wonder that kid was so freaked out," Dean says quietly. "Watching one of your parents die isn't something you just get over."

I'm confused… who is this boy in the picture? Lucas, I get that his name is Lucas, but when did Sam and Dean meet him or whatever? I'm looking at Dean questioningly and he seems reluctant to explain. "That kid, we met him at the station. That chick Andrea's son. He uh… he hasn't spoken out loud at all since the accident."

Hasn't spoken? I feel taken aback. What like… selective mutism or something? Dean's looking at me and I see how he's feeling bad, sorry for me or about me and comparing Lucas to me. The pain written on his familiar face makes me look away and I feel guilty for putting that look on his face at all. I hear him clear his throat and his tone is businesslike now. "Hey, you remember how Andrea said she was gonna take Lucas to the park?" He asks Sam. "Let's head that way, see if maybe he can tell us more."

"Whoa, Dean—you're gonna try and question that poor kid?" Sam asks, turning around in the chair he sits in, fixing our brother with a pretty flabbergasted look.

Dean's immediately defensive and a little rude towards Sam. "Look, if there's anything I know how to do right, it's talk to a kid who doesn't talk back, okay?" He retorts, then the room goes quiet.

Me. He means me.

Sam relents, slightly embarrassed as he realizes Dean's right. "Fair enough," he says, then stands up, grabs his jacket, looks at me briefly. "We'll be back in awhile."

Dean gives a short little cynical chuckle, corrects Sam immediately. "Uh—no, she's coming, Sammy." He jerks his thumb at the door, telling me to get a move on. "Let's go."

If I could think of one word to describe life right now it'd have to be awkward. Silences used to be companionable with it was just Dean and me. Now they're stilted and charged.

Dean and Sam argued over how to find the park and while they squabbled, I stopped someone walking by and held up a note that asked can you tell us where the closest park is?

The woman gave us directions and I gave my brothers a quit being bitches look. We walked to the park from the motel. It wasn't far.

Now that we're here at the park, I can see an array of kids playing, climbing, roughhousing. I see one boy off on his own and immediately know that must be Lucas. He's bent over a park bench coloring. His mom, the Andrea chick, is giving him space I guess. She's about twenty feet away. After Dean and Sam say hello and remember to introduce me all nice and proper to her, Sam hangs back with Andrea after Dean gets the okay to go ahead and talk to Lucas. Dean indicates that I should come with him. "Follow my lead," Dean says as we head that way. I give him a semi-amused look. I always do, don't I?

"How's it going?" Dean asks Lucas as we approach, then crouches down across from the kid. I kneel at the end of the bench, fold my arms over the wooden slats, not sure what Dean wants me to do here, exactly. Lucas doesn't acknowledge us, he just keeps coloring. He has colored construction paper stacked next to him and some untouched plastic army men scattered across the bench, too. Dean and I exchange a glance and I shrug almost imperceptibly. I dunno what to do…! Dean picks up a toy soldier.

"Oh, I used to love these things," Dean says conversationally and swings the little plastic piece around making cheesy gun and explosion sounds. I'm shaking my head and trying not to crack a smile at his antics. I remember the army-men days well. I used to chew on them when we were four and five and it really pissed Sammy off. Lucas keeps coloring, ignoring us, and Dean tries again. "So crayons more your thing?" Dean asks, watching Lucas carefully. "That's cool. Chicks dig artists."

I pick up the drawing on top of the little pile of drawings Lucas has next to himself. It's of a big black swirl—kind of horror movie fodder, if you ask me. Dean is quiet for a second, I glance up and see him looking at me with that pained look in his eyes again. He looks away fast, takes the stack of drawings and flips through. "Hey, these are pretty good," he says, looking at one of a red bicycle. Watching him with Lucas is heartwarming and bittersweet to me. He's good with kids. He always has been. Sam and me were the first kids he was good with. "You mind if I sit and draw with you for awhile?" Dean asks Lucas.

No response, but Dean doesn't even bat an eye. "I'm not so bad myself," he says, going ahead and picking up the stack of paper and a crayon, standing up. I have my hands together and under my chin as I watch silently, mostly observing Lucas, but looking at Dean from time to time. He's taken a seat at the other end of the bench and is drawing with crayon as he glances sidelong at Lucas again.

"You know Lucas, I'm thinking you can hear me, you just don't want to talk. I don't know exactly what happened to your dad, but I know it was something real bad." Lucas is still unresponsive. "I think I know how you feel. When I was your age, I… I saw something." He pauses, stops drawing for a second, growing deeply thoughtful and pensive. I wonder what he's thinking about. The night of the nursery fire? He doesn't talk about it much, but I know he remembers it.

Sobering a good deal, Dean takes a deep breath, glances my way darkly. "Anyway," Dean looks at Lucas, gathering himself. "My sister Alex here? She doesn't talk 'cause of what happened." I'm shocked at the abrupt throwaway comment. "Just like you. She saw something so bad that it just… made her voice go poof, I guess."

We both know PTSD or trauma didn't make me decide to be quiet. I literally cannot make sounds with my vocal chords. Dad used to say the doctors just didn't know what to do with me, then told me he thought it had to be a paranormal curse or something. We still don't know. If I'd been born this way maybe I would feel more peace about it. But Dean remembers that I made noises and even said "dada" before the night of the nursery fire. The one thing I hold out hope for is that if we do ever find the thing that killed Mom, we can get my voice back too.

Anyway, all that aside… Lucas stops drawing for a second and glances my way before returning to his scribbles.

"Listen," Dean says to the kid. "We understand and we wanna help." He returns to drawing. "Maybe you don't think anyone will listen to you, or, or believe you. I want you to know that I will. You don't even have to say anything." I peek up at him from underneath my eyelashes. He's used to these one-sided conversations after a lifetime with me and he's good at them, too.

"You could draw me a picture about what you saw that day, with your dad, on the lake," Dean suggests, refocusing on Lucas. When he again gets no response, he nods and backs off. "Okay, no problem. This is for you." Dean holds out the stick-figure drawing he made. "This is my family." He points to each stick figure individually. "That's my dad. That's my mom. That's my geek brother—" he smirks, glances Sam's way, "my kid sister—and that's me." A pause, and Lucas still says nothing, just colors his little rocket ship drawing, off in his own little world. Dean gives up but keeps his voice friendly and calm. "All right, so I'm a sucky artist." He stands, puts the drawing down where he'd been sitting. "I'll see you around, Lucas."

Dean starts to walk off but I don't move. When he stops and looks at me questioningly I shake my head slightly, motion for him to go on and go. He hangs back, but watches, curious.

Lucas comes out of his fog, picks up the drawing Dean left, stares at it curiously, then looks at me and then back to the picture, then back at me again. He's scrutinizing me kind of suspiciously. I smile just a little, reach over and tap the stick figure on the sheet that symbolizes me—Dean wrote my name underneath it. Alex. I tap myself now, telling him that's me. Lucas looks at me a long time, trying to decide something maybe. I grab a blank piece of paper, a crayon, write something down that he should know. When you're a freak, people don't see you. Yes, they look at you, but they don't see you for who you really are, they don't see you as a person who is more or less just like them. I hate being looked at and I crave being seen. Not many people see me.

And I think maybe Lucas feels like not many people see him. Maybe I'm just projecting. But maybe not. I hold out what I've written for him to read. I see you.

Lucas reads that and tilts his head to the side just slightly, thoughtfully, then reaches out and accepts the paper from me. I feel a flicker of encouragement. Wow. Usually I'm a total disaster with kids—I just never know what to do with them and they don't know what to do with me either—kids like loud people, entertaining people and that's just not me. I think I'm easy to miss if you're not looking for me. But Lucas seems interested in me, open to me and thoughtful. He's not passing me over like some people do. He takes out his own blank piece of paper and writes on it then hands it back over to me. In kiddy handwriting he has written I see you too.

I smile a little and tilt my head, look at Lucas's little face. He's maybe eight I think and has longish floppy brown hair, eyes that seem older than his body, sadness hidden deep inside. He's looking at me thoroughly and I feel like I kinda get this kid somehow. Understand him without needing words or anything. I don't encounter that feeling a lot out in the world. His eyes crimp up just a little as the faintest smile plays on his face.

And just like it happened, it's abruptly over. Lucas goes back to drawing something again and ignoring everything and one else. After a few beats, I get up and drift back over toward where my brothers are talking with Lucas's mom.

"Lucas hasn't said a word, not even to me," Andrea's saying to Sam. "Not since his dad's accident."

"What are the doctors saying?" Sam asks in attentive concern.

"That it's a kind of post-traumatic stress. Selective mutism, something like that."

Sam nods, sympathetic, glancing at me flickeringly before looking back at Andrea. "That can't be easy. For either of you."

Andrea looks like she's been through emotional hell. Still, a brave smile is on her face. "It's not, but… we moved in with my dad. He helps out a lot. It's just… when I think about what Lucas went through, what he saw…"

There's a pause. Dean's the one who speaks up to fill it. "Kids are strong," he says firmly. "You'd be surprised what they can deal with."

He's speaking from personal experience.

"You know, he used to have such life," Andrea says sadly, looking over at her son with bittersweet emotion. "He was hard to keep up with, to tell you the truth. Now he just sits there. Drawing those pictures, playing with those army men. I just wish I knew he'd be okay again someday."

"He will be," Dean replies immediately. "Just make sure he always knows he's got you and he'll be fine."

Andrea looks at him with a curious, thoughtful expression. "You sound like you're talking from experience, Dean."

He shrugs, hiding his deeper emotions and thoughts. "Hey, maybe I am."

Just then Lucas walks up with a piece of construction paper in hand. "Hey sweetie," Andrea greets. Lucas isn't looking at her—instead, he's offering Dean the piece of paper.

"Thanks," Dean says in mild surprise even as Lucas is drifting away again, going back to his bench. "Thanks, Lucas."

I crane my neck to peer over. It's a picture of a house with a red roof. Huh. I watch Lucas walk off and settle down at his bench again. It's strange. He's surrounded by playing, shouting, laughing kids who are swinging, running, playing. And he's just quiet, pale, both unnoticed completely and sticking out like a sore thumb. I feel sad just to see that. Kids aren't supposed to be so ghostlike. It's not right.

I should know, I grew up feeling like a ghost. In fact, I still feel that way.

The Next Day

I'm frowning out the car window watching the landscape blur by as I ponder what's happened overnight. It just doesn't make sense. Doesn't add up. Rubs me the wrong way. What are we missing here?

That's exactly the topic of discussion up front in the car.

"Lucas knew something bad was gonna happen in the house," Dean's saying, voice strong with passionate conviction. "He knew." He hits the steering wheel lightly for emphasis.

Sam isn't convinced and shrugs, mutters pensively. "I don't know about that."

"What, you got a better explanation?" Dean asks churlishly.

"I dunno, maybe he just happened to give you the drawing of the house Will Carlton died in?" Sam suggests then gives Dean a sidelong look from where he's sitting in the passenger seat. "Coincidences do happen, Dean."

"Well then that's one hell of a coincidence, Sam," Dean retorts flatly, shaking his head.

I'm with Dean on this one. Yesterday when Lucas handed us that drawing of a house, it didn't seem that odd. I mean, kids draw houses a lot, right? But then when we got news that Sophie's brother Will died this morning (he drowned in his own house, in a sink somehow), we realized the house Lucas drew was the house Will drowned in. Almost like Lucas knew.

We just left Lucas's home and Dean convinced Andrea to let him talk to the kid more, ask if he knew anything else. We got another drawing but no words.

"I mean, think about it," Dean's continuing. "Andrea said the kid never drew like that till his dad died. That's something, you gotta admit."

Sam concedes the point. He's got Lucas's newest drawing in his lap. "Well, there are cases where going through a traumatic experience could make people more sensitive to premonitions, psychic tendencies…"

"Yeah, see?" Dean sounds convinced. "Whatever's out there, what if Lucas is tapping into it somehow? I mean, it's definitely only a matter of time before somebody else drowns, so if you got a better lead, please."

Sam sighs softly, tiredly. "All right, we got another house to find."

He's talking about the one in the latest drawing we got. "The only problem is there's about a thousand yellow two-stories in this county alone," Dean says starkly.

Sam taps the drawing even as I'm leaning up between the seats to peer at it again over his shoulder. The white church drawn in crayon has a house is beside it and the house has a wooden fence. Against the fence is a boy with a red bike. "See this church?" Sam asks. It's very distinct, sort of mission style. "I bet there's less than a thousand of those around here."

Dean adopts a silly accent. "Oh, College Boy think he so smart!" Sam and I hide smiles at the comment and the way our brother said it.

A short silence passes and Sam looks at Dean with a slightly concerned look on his face. "So, you know, um… what you said to Lucas back there about Mom…" he trails off even as Dean's guard goes up a couple notches. "How you saw something bad happen to her? You never told me that before," Sam says cautiously.

"It's no big deal," Dean says, but it sounds like he's hedging. Sam seems to think the same thing I do and is giving our brother a look that prompts him to get sarcastic. "Oh god, we're not gonna have to hug or anything, are we?" Dean asks, implying it'd be the worst thing on earth.

I'm writing on my notepad and since Dean is driving, I nudge Sam and hand over the note I just scrawled. Sam takes it from me even as the exchange garners a curious glance from Dean. "What'd she write?" He asks as Sam's reading it.

My twin glances up. "She wants to know what you saw."

Dean's mouth flattens a little in a tense expression and he shrugs, tries to brush it off. "I dunno. I mean, I only got a glimpse, you know?" He stares straight ahead and for a minute the only sound is the muffled engine and the odd creaking of the car joints. Then he speaks again, voice faraway. "There was fire. I remember there was fire." He drags a hand down across his mouth then makes a get outta here motion with his hand. "It's all a blur. Doesn't matter."

Sam and I exchange a brief glance and I can see my twin doesn't really buy that. Me either. Dean's never said much of anything about that fateful night of our lives. Doesn't look like he'll start now, either. Either way, Sam doesn't push Dean for more information. He just changes the subject and we spend the next hour riding around town looking for the church.

Follow the bodies. Follow the deaths… they always mark a trail back to the killer. That's proving true once again for us. I only wish we didn't have we could find the killer without letting the body count pile up so much higher and higher.

We found the church and the house beside it. Sam and Dean went inside and spoke with the resident there, an elderly woman they said. They asked about the red bike they saw in Lucas's drawing and if a little boy lived there. Apparently, a little boy had lived there… decades ago. The red bike in Lucas's drawing belonged to this woman's son Peter who disappeared when he was just a boy back in the seventies. Dean said in the house there was a photo of Peter with, of all people, Bill Carlton… the father of the recent drowning victims. So, a boy who disappeared years ago and deaths surrounding the Carlton family. It's beginning to make sense and it's beginning to look like Peter was probably killed by Bill. That's why we left that house double-time and raced back to the Carlton lake house, trying to get to Bill. But we got there just in time to see him going out onto the lake on a boat… and then out of nowhere, the boat flipped over like something hit it from underneath. Bill was dragged underneath the black water and stayed under. It looks like Peter got his final revenge. It looks like we couldn't do anything or save anyone. This happens from time to time and always upsets me a lot. I know it eats at Sam and Dean too.

The police officer who responded to the scene, Sheriff Devins, was apparently the same one who Sam and Dean spoke with yesterday. He took one look at them and me, listened to their witness report, and then said we had to come to the station for questioning. He seems pretty suspicious. I don't really even know why Dean's cooperating on this one (the job's over… why not just cut and run?). But, here we are walking into the police department.

So imagine my surprise when I look behind the reception desk and see Lucas sitting there as his mom fusses over him. It's now that I make the connection that Andrea is the Sheriff's daughter… he calls her sweetheart and thanks her for bringing him dinner, they exchange some words I don't really pay attention to. I'm looking at the kid. Lucas is fidgeting and has this look of general illness and distress. Without warning he jumps out of his chair and grabs hold of Dean's arm, begins to cry and make soft, unintelligible noises of dismay.

"Lucas, hey, what is it?" Dean asks, worried and surprised at the sudden and urgent grabs at his arm.

"Lucas!" Andrea exclaims softly, catching hold of her son and trying to calm him and get him off of Dean at the same time.

"Hey, Lucas, it's okay," Dean says, "It's okay," even as the kid is whimpering miserably with this look of pure urgent alarm in his eyes.

His mom pulls him away from Dean and looks really worried. "I'm gonna take him outside a minute," Andrea says, and bustles him out of the station and out onto the front steps. I'm watching in uncertainty, not sure what just happened.

"You boys wanna come into my office?" The Sheriff asks in a dour tone. Dean shoots me a look that I think means hang tight. They follow the Sheriff back further into the building and I drift toward the glass station doors to watch Lucas and Andrea on the steps out there. Poor Andrea… newly single mom after her husband drowned and now Lucas is shutting down. It can't be easy. After hesitating, I go out there.

Andrea has sat Lucas down on the steps and is in front of him, holding him by either arm as she crouches and tries to calm him, tries to get him to look her in the eye. "Sweetie? Hey, come on now. You're okay. Can you talk to mama? Can you tell me what's wrong?" He is just moaning in these pitiful little whimpers and not making eye contact with her. It's like he's haunted or tormented by something internally.

I've never heard of PTSD like this—is that what it even is? I'm starting to doubt it. Andrea sees me as I come down a few stairs nearer to them. She looks up at me and seems desperate and at a loss. She shakes her head, stands up. "He won't say anything. Nothing." She looks at her child with this clear pain and confusion. "How am I supposed to know how to help him if he won't say?" I dunno if she's asking me or the universe. Either way, I can't give her an answer. But, I guess she wanted me to say something because when I don't answer, she looks at me sort of in this challenging flabbergasted way. She thinks I'm being rude when I say nothing. She hasn't figured it out—that I'm mute—and I have to do the same old song and dance of pointing at my vocal chords in chagrin and making nope, no, nada signals with my face, hands, expression. Embarrassed understanding washes over her expression, then mild confusion like that couldn't possibly be true. "Oh—you're—you can't speak?" She asks, thunderstruck.

I shake my head no and she gets the apologetic look in her eyes. "Oh—I'm so sorry. I didn't know—no one said anything—no one told me."

It's okay. I get that a lot.

I'm looking at Lucas now, who surprisingly and suddenly looks at me in breathless, hyperventilating terror. I don't get it… something is wrong with him—really wrong to make him act like this. I feel my expression turning to a deep, confused frown. What is it, Lucas? What has you acting like this?

He suddenly reaches up and grabs my hand real tight with both of his and squeezes until I think my bones are going to break. He's scared, scared mindless, breathing hard and looking at me with eyes that scream help me.

Andrea's getting more and more worried. "Okay, that's it," she says, shaking her head in clear alarm. "I'm taking him the the doctor… this can't be normal. Lucas, honey, come on, it's okay, let's go see about getting you checked out again sweetie." She pulls him away from me and I watch her hurry him away. He looks back at me with that agonized look on his young face and I just don't get it.

A couple minutes later my brothers come out and look distinctly shaken up. Sam's throwing a backward glance over his shoulder at the sheriff who's staring balefully at us from inside of the station.

Dean, ever the troll, smiles and waves pleasantly. I can already tell something's up. Sam, chagrinned at Dean's antics, steers us down the stairs. "Yeah, come on. We gotta go," he says, seeming in a hurry.

What? What'd I miss?

Dean shrugs mildly. "He knows we're not who we say we are. We stick around in town, he's gonna hold us in connection with Bill's disappearance. So we gotta scram. But…" he looks unsure.

"But nothing, Dean," Sam says. "We're outta here."

It's just after sunset and we were headed out of town… but then Dean suddenly did a one-eighty and headed right back for Andrea's house.

Sam of course flips out the second that happened. "Dean, why are we going back?!"

"Shut up, Sam, I'm trying to think," Dean replied.

"Think about what?" Sam demands. "Getting us all arrested?"

Dean's in deep thought, not really hearing Sam. "I mean it's bugging me, guys. It's just not right, something's not right here, am I crazy?" He glances back at me as we come to a stop light. "Al?" I don't know what my face is doing but apparently he can see that I'm having the same thoughts. "See?" He asks, jabbing a hand out at Sam. "She's right there with me on this one, Sam."

Confused and half amused with skepticism, Sam scoffs, glances at me briefly before staring at Dean. "What, you got that from a one-second look?"

"Yeah," Dean says like it's crazy Sam would suggest otherwise. "Get with the program Sammy."

Sam's mildly annoyed. "Uh… okay," he says, not sure how to respond. He then sighs. "Look, I'm saying if Bill murdered Peter Sweeney and Peter's spirit got its revenge, case closed. The spirit should be at rest! We're wasting our time going back—the trail for Dad—"

"Forget Dad for two seconds!" Dean says loudly. "What if we take off and this thing isn't done? You know, what if we've missed something? What if more people get hurt?" He shakes his head grimly. "Not on my watch."

"But why would you even think that?" Sam asks, exasperated. "The spirit has gotta be at rest now after killing Bill. Dean—we're done."

"I don't think we are," Dean replies impatiently.

"Why? You a psychic now?" Sam asks sarcastically.

Dean looks reluctant to admit his reason. "'Cause Lucas was really scared."

Sam makes a face, like he really doesn't see a connection. "And? Kids get scared, Dean."

"Yeah, they do," Dean retorts in slight animosity. "And usually for good reasons." He huffs out a charged breath through his nose, shakes his head and stares at the road ahead after sending me a glance in the rearview. "I just don't wanna leave this town until I know the kid's okay." He glances at Sam and gets irritated. "Don't roll your eyes at me!" Sam opens his mouth to say something sassy, I'm sure, but Dean beats him to the punch. "Start calling me overprotective again and I swear, Sammy."

Cool and annoyed, Sam gives Dean a long look. "Hey, I call 'em like I see 'em, Dean."

"Yeah you do, don't you," Dean mutters. His jaw is tight and clenches as he glances into the side rear view mirror. He's thinking long and hard about something. "The way I was with you and Al growing up was necessary," he says, then cuts a challenging glance Sam's way. "Don't tell me it wasn't."

Sam's shaking his head and not looking back at our brother. "Wouldn't dream of it, Dean."

In the back seat, I'm wishing I could tell them to quit being bitches.

Honestly, I'm glad we're going back. Something just isn't sitting right with me.

Sam was veryyyy clearly unhappy about it but resigned himself to going with Dean's instincts. For the rest of the ride to Andrea's house, he was quiet and sullen…

When we get to the house and as we walk up to the door, Sam is acting skeptical and unsure again, unwilling to go along with this. "You sure about this?" He asks Dean. "It's pretty late, man."

Dean doesn't care and rings the doorbell. I can hear little running feet in the house getting louder as they get closer to where we wait. And then the door yanks open and Lucas is terrified, wide-eyed, breathing heavy and noisy. Whoa… something's wrong. He's panicked, pointing in alarm and then taking off back through the pitch-black house in a tizzy. "Lucas? Lucas!" Dean charges after him, Sam and I are right behind.

We race after the kid up the stairs, I hear splashing and realize water is running down the upstairs hall and down the stairs. Suddenly, I have a terrible thought. I know Will Carlton drowned in a sink. Could Andrea be dead in this house in her bathtub or sink? Even as I think that, Lucas skids to a stop at a closed door, hyperventilating and pounding on the door. His mom is in there, and I can hear splashing.

Dean yanks Lucas's little body away from the door and shoves him at me before I can even react. "Hold him!" Dean barks and I clamp my arms around the flailing kid even as Sam kicks the bathroom door down with a cracking sound.

Lucas is having a full-on panic attack and struggling against me, gasping huge noisy breaths in and out, trying to get to his mom so hardcore that I almost can't hold him back at all—Sam and Dean are shouting and yelling as they struggle to pull Andrea out of a full bathtub of black water. For a second, I have this terrifying thought that they will be pulled down too, they'll drown too. And then with a huge splash and the heavy sound of bodies hitting the floor, they yank her out and all crash to the ground.

Relief courses through me and I feel Lucas's body relax momentarily, too. "Get her a towel," Dean's saying even as Sam's tossing one over to cover Andrea. She is shaken up and crying, gasping, wracked with fear and disbelief. She holds the towel to herself weakly, makes a wretched sobbing sound.

Lucas tears away from me then and barrels into his mom, who tearfully clutches him to herself. "Lucas! Oh sweetie, it's okay, I'm here sweetie, I'm here!" Mother and son cling to each other on the floor of the bathroom as Sam and Dean stand across from me.

Sam, contrite and chastened because Dean was right, meets Dean's gaze then mine. "Looks like we still got work left to do," he says softly.

Instead of being rude or throwing it in Sam's face, Dean just claps Sam on the shoulder and squeezes reassuringly, nods silently.

We spent the night with the very shaken up Andrea and Lucas. In the morning, Sam stayed with and counseled Andrea, who was just beside herself, unable to believe she'd almost been drowned in her own tub. Dean and I went through her old photo albums trying to find some kind of connection or clue as to why Peter would be targeting Andrea's family now too.

I suggested at one point to Dean maybe Peter is just killing everyone living lakeside—Andrea's house is on the lake after all. He said maybe, but we kept looking through the albums just in case. And then Dean discovered an old photo of Andrea's dad, Jake Devins (the hostile sheriff who tried to run us out of town), with Peter. This led us to the assumption that Jake was probably also involved in Peter's death. There was no way to really prove it except that now Jake's family was on the water-ghost hit list.

Lucas led us to a spot near the lake and pointed to shovels beside the garden house, silently telling us to dig. After Andrea and Lucas went back inside, we did, expecting and hoping to find bones. Instead, we found Peter's rusted old red bicycle. That's when Sheriff Jake appeared and held us at gunpoint, demanded to know what we were doing. Dean called his bluff and the sheriff admitted that he and Bill Carlton buried the bike after they accidentally drowned Peter as boys. They let his body sink in the lake. There were no bones to salt and burn, and even as we were trying to figure out a damn way to set the spirit to rest, Andrea was screaming for Lucas, and Lucas was at the end of the dock, leaning over the water. And then he got pulled in. We all ran.

I remember Andrea freaking out—screaming, crying, about to jump in the water—Dean and Sam dove right in but I grabbed onto Andrea, dug claws in practically to keep her from jumping into the water and getting herself killed, too.

I don't know when the sheriff waded in, I just remember hearing him yelling to Peter to take him instead of his grandson. His head disappeared from the top of the water. Sam's head bobbed up and he shook his head no—he couldn't find Lucas. And I was suddenly panicking even more, realizing Dean hadn't surfaced in awhile either. Even as I feared the worst, his dark head burst up out of the black water. He held an unresponsive Lucas held against himself.

The Next Day
November 17, 2005

I haul open the trunk and stick my duffel bag in there, have to shift some stuff around to make it fit. Mid morning light slants across the parking lot. I squint over at my tall brothers who are at the side of the car. "Man, sometimes I hate this job Sammy," Dean's saying, morose. He's tossing one of his bags into the backseat. "All the dead bodies, all the jacked up lives…"

"Look, we're not gonna save everybody," Sam counsels gently.

Dean nods gravely. "I know."

I've lost count of the people I've seen die in this line of work. It doesn't break even with the amount of people we've saved. But you know, anyone we save is a small victory to me. Still, when people die and you could have maybe saved them somehow, it eats at you. It cuts in on your sleep and dreams and stress levels.

"Hey guys!" comes a call from nearby. We all look up to see Andrea walking up with Lucas. Sam and Dean go to greet her as I hang back at the trunk. She's smiling, looks young and relieved, brighter-eyed. Even though her dad's dead, she still has her son. I guess that's why she can look so okay after what happened yesterday. Lucas looks worlds better—alert, present. His eyes are clearer. I smile just a little to see that. "We're glad we caught you," Andrea says, then nods down at her son. "We just, um, we made you lunch for the road." Lucas has a tray of sandwiches covered in plastic wrap. "Lucas insisted on making the sandwiches himself."

Lucas looks up at his mom for guidance. "Can I give it to them now?" He asks softly. Oh my god, my heart melts to hear him talk. I think it melts Sam and Dean too… they look at each other with these smiles that are worth a million bucks.

"Of course, baby." Andrea smiles and kisses Lucas's head.

Dean chuckles and accepts the sandwiches, motions for Lucas to come with him. "Come on, Lucas, let's load these into the car." The two of them come closer to me and Lucas smiles and gives me a little timid wave. I wave back even as Dean is looking at his little friend with a playful expression. "So what's this, you talking again?"

Lucas tries to hide a shy smile. "A little."

"You must be feeling better, huh?" Dean asks.

"Yeah," Lucas says. "A lot."

"Awesome, dude," Dean says, then examines the tray of sandwiches with great interest. "So, what we got here? Ham and cheese?" He flashes an approving grin Lucas's way. "Score, am I right, Al?"

I give two thumbs up from where I am as Dean puts the sandwiches into the car. Lucas grins at me then looks at my shirt with a curious expression. "What's on your shirt?" He asks me, wandering over closer. I look down. It has the Led Zeppelin logo on it. Another one of Dean's old shirts (from when he was like twelve) that I've claimed as my own.

Dean steps in to explain. "That, my friend, is the world's greatest band," he says. "Zeppelin rules!"

"Zeppelin rules?" Lucas asks curiously.

Dean is animated. "Hell—uh, heck yeah!" He glances Andrea's way, clearly thinking oops. She's talking to Sam and didn't notice.

Lucas grins widely, sly. "Don't worry," he says, lowering his voice secretively and leaning a little closer to Dean. "I won't tell Mom you said a bad word."

"Thanks bud," Dean says. "You're the best."

Lucas looks at me and comes over, suddenly grabs my hand, looks me in the eye from his lower height. "I hope you can get your voice back too like I did Miss Alex," he says in utmost earnestness. What he said touches and shocks me and I don't know how to react. I feel really mortified which I know he didn't mean but… I've hoped I would get a voice for all my life and hoping never did anything except let me down again and again. I nod thank you but I can feel my features working in an effort to shield my inner feelings from showing. I'm not like Lucas. I'm stuck this way forever. There is no "getting it back" someday. But Lucas, childlike because he's a child, is optimistic and believes in a magic I can't believe in anymore.

Dean can tell I'm upset and he puts an arm around Lucas's shoulders to draw his attention over. "That's real nice of you, Lucas," he tells the kid. "She really appreciates you saying that."

"How do you know that?" Lucas asks curiously, looking up at Dean studiously.

"I know her pretty good," Dean says, his tone factual and brotherly. "I can just tell. She likes you. Thinks you're cool. Wants you to know that her feet smell like rotten eggs."

I make a face. Lucas busts into a toothy grin and he laughs—a beautiful sweet sound. "She didn't tell you that!" He says. I'm smiling too now despite myself.

Dean's grinning. "Yeah, I may have made that last part up." He shoots me a sly look and I nod wanly, accepting that he will always be very immature (and funny). He makes a mock serious face at Lucas. "All right, listen if you're gonna be talking now, this is a very important phrase, so I want you to repeat it one more time. What about Zeppelin…?"

"Zeppelin rules!" Lucas exclaims, remembering.

"That's right," Dean says then puts his hand up for a high five. "Up high." Lucas gives the high five with an enthusiastic slap, grinning. "You take care of your mom, okay?"

"All right," Lucas says, then gives instructions of his own: "You take care of Sam and Alex."

Dean grins from surprise and amusement. He then nods with a can do attitude. "Trust me, I got that covered kiddo."

Andrea and Sam walk up. "Thank you again," Andrea says, smiling fetchingly at Dean. "Stop by and say hello if you're in town again, all right?" I can see she's changed her mind about Dean.

Dean nods, smiles back. He likes her… like really, really likes her. I can tell. "Will do."

And then without warning, she leans in and kisses him on the mouth. "Ewww," Lucas mumbles. Dean and Andrea look at each other afterwards and Sam and I exchange a brief awkward look.

Andrea glances at Dean meaningfully before beckoning to her son. "Come on Lucas," she says, and puts a hand on Lucas's shoulder. "Let's get back home, okay?"

"'Kay, Mom."

They're walking away and Dean and Sam are waving and calling goodbye.

I'm standing off at the trunk, separate from my brothers and I can't call goodbye. I look down into the trunk and feel myself getting upset despite my best efforts not to. I've told myself to get over it but I can't. I'm going to be like this forever. It's always going to be silent Alex and the noisy world. It's always gonna be me off in a corner not able to express myself or say what's on my mind. I'll die alone, an old maid. Who would want me? No, really. Who would want me? I want someone to want me. I want that so much. I just wanna have someone look at me like Andrea just looked at Dean. Once, just once would be enough I think. But I don't think I'll ever have that and I want to throw something out of hopeless anger. The problem is hope. Always thinking maybe there's a way out sets me up for devastating disappointment. I just wish it didn't have to be this way.

I hear footsteps shuffling up. "Did you get the—" Dean stops halfway through his question, seeing my face. "Hey, hey. What is it? Aw, Al, no, come on." He is giving me that don't be sad look but I can't help it. "Was it what Lucas said?" He asks. I get more upset because yes. Dean sighs. He hates it when I get frustrated about my condition because he can't do a damn thing. No one can. "I know," he soothes, and pulls me in for a hug. "C'mere." Pat pat, goes his hand on my back and I'm embarrassed. I can feel Sam watching and I don't want him to see me cry. It's been years and we're not that close anymore and I just don't want him to see it.

"Shh," Dean's saying. "Hey. It's been a rough week or two, huh? You know what?" He pulls back, makes me look at him and I'm dashing tears away jerkily, mad at myself for crying. "We are gonna go get cupcakes. Like, the real deal, not just gas station crap." I look at him sullenly, refusing to be cheered up. Cupcakes won't make it better. At my dour expression, Dean gives me a lecturing look. "Hey, if you keep that up I'll have to tickle you. Don't think I won't."

My mouth twitches slightly at the way he said that. His expression is coaxing the reluctant beginnings of a smile from me.

Sam comes over at that point, hands in his jacket pockets, expression a little reserved. "So hey," he says, addressing me and then jerking a thumb at the front of the car. "You, uh, you want shotgun?" I feel a little surprised and touched, too. He's trying to cheer me up, too, and quickly tries to act like he's not. "I'm kinda sick of sitting by him," he says impishly, glancing at Dean.

"What?" Dean scoffs. "Why?"

Sam shrugs, casting around for a quick, funny reply. "You smell."

Dean's eyebrows raise high. "I smell… good," he corrects, then cracks a huge shit-eating grin as he does his chuckling heh heh heh.

Sam rolls his eyes even as he fights a that was kinda funny smile. Dean's rounding the car and heading for the driver's side. I slam the trunk shut and Sam gives me a little smile as he pulls the back door open to get in. My heart warms a little at the gesture of giving me the front seat and I almost go in for a hug but then don't at the last minute. Just brush past him and pretend I wasn't thinking about it.

I can hear Blue Oyster Cult cranking up as Dean starts the car. The song is "Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll"… one of Dean's favorites. I get in the front seat beside him and shut the door. I can feel my oldest brother looking at me sidelong, gauging me. I pretend I don't notice and in a second, the car shifts into motion.

I watch the small town pass by idly and listen to the gritty guitar tones grooving on the stereo. We'll leave this place in the rearview like we do every town.

I'll feel bad for myself a little while then suck it up like I always do.

Who knows where the open road will take us next.

At least I know who I'll be with to face whatever's ahead: Dean, the classic rock junkie. And Sam, who is currently in the back seat asking if we can listen to something else other than this album again please god.

In response, the music just gets cranked louder. I hide a smile so Sam won't accuse me of being on Dean's side.