Dean followed his nose to the kitchen and rubbed his eyes until he was sure they weren't playing tricks on him. Dad was sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper, a mug of hot coffee and a plate of eggs in front of him. And Jess was standing by the stove, her hair in a floppy little bun, testing the edges of the omelet in the pan with a spatula.
"Morning," she chirped, all cheerful and welcoming like she belonged here and he was the guest. "You want this one, or do you like your eggs a different way?"
"Whatever's easier," he mumbled, too surprised to think strategically and ask for something that would have kept her busy for a few minutes more, and let him figure out with Dad what exactly was going on.
"Eat it before it gets cold," Dad said from behind his paper after she'd slid a plate with the omelet in front of him and turned back to the stove to start another one. Dad's voice sounded weird, but still more relaxed than tense, so Dean figured he could get away with interrupting whatever research Dad might have been doing.
He plucked the edge of the newspaper down enough to catch Dad's eye and frowned when Dad showed no sign of understanding any of his unspoken questions. There was a smile on the man's face, though, and Dean let the paper go in favor of digging into his eggs as he'd been commanded.
Something was definitely up.
"You've been holding out on me," Sam said, voice all scratchy from sleep. "Since when can you cook?"
"Oh, it all just clicked into place," Jess said with a secret smile in her voice. "No, sit," she said, evading Sam's questing hands, "or you won't get any breakfast." She spun away from the table, back to the counter, and chopped up more peppers for Sam's eggs; Dean watched her move quick and sure around the kitchen, the knife almost an extension of her hands rather than a tool she'd just picked up.
That feeling of not right started screaming within him, and he knew he was going to have to stop her, whatever she was. Even if she did make omelets exactly the way he liked them.
"Dad," Dean said again, not letting any of his frustration over the repetition, over the whole situation, tip over into his voice. "Somethin's not right."
Dad just scoffed, smiling, still smiling, like he hadn't trained Dean himself, told Dean over and over that there was no good substitute for plain old instinct. Like his own life hadn't been saved by Dean's goddamn gut feelings more than once. "I'm not getting any kind of a bad vibe off her," Dad said dismissively. "Jessica."
Did Dad think this was fun for him, seeing Sammy targeted by something he couldn't figure out? He'd seen the way the kid looked at her, totally wrapped around her little finger - bait. Sammy wasn't going to accept that there was anything wrong with his golden girl, would probably try to fight him if he said anything, let alone made a move. He had to get Dad to listen.
"It's got to be hard for you," Dad said, and Dean couldn't help nodding in relief, but he froze when Dad continued, "seeing Sam wanting to spend all his time with someone other than you."
For fuck's sake. "I'm not jealous," he said evenly. "Dad, please, something's going on. I can feel it right here." He brought a fist up to his gut.
Dad looked at him for a long moment, like he had to weigh his words carefully, had to figure out what would get through to him; Dean felt his hackles rise despite himself.
"Dean," Dad said finally, "I know you're feeling jittery, but it's not Jessica you're reacting to. It's your mother." Despite knowing what Dad would infer from it, that word was enough to make Dean go still as if he had a gut wound that wouldn't quit bleeding, pulsing through his outspread fingers. "You're anxious to figure out how to kill the thing that took her from us." Dad's hands opened and parted in front of him - holding nothing and hiding nothing. "Will you trust me when I tell you that that's what's getting you all keyed up?"
Dean could feel himself deflating. Dad had trained him, and he'd never once steered him wrong. And Dean couldn't deny the itch he was feeling under his skin, to make his move, to win back the life that had been stolen from them all. "Yes, sir," he said, and Dad gave him a brief, sad-eyed smile.
"We still don't know why it killed her," Dad said, starting to pace as he thought everything through. "So there's nothing to say it couldn't happen again." He caught the look Dean gave him and amended, "To some other family." Dad twisted his wedding ring around like it was a worry bead as he continued to pace and plan. "I'll stay here, keep pestering Bobby and maybe Jim, do some research with what I've got. I need you to hit the road, try to hook up with Caleb or Jefferson, see what you can get out of them or their contacts."
Dean stood up straighter. This was Dad handing him his dream. "Yes, sir," he said again, feeling the anticipation thrumming through his veins so loudly it nearly deafened him. It took a couple of moments for him to register that Dad was holding out the keys to the Impala.
"I'm trusting you," Dad said. "I always have."
The car purred all around him as they flew down the highway. His fingers itched to blast some tunes, but he kept the cassette deck empty; he needed some time to figure out what his plan of attack was going to be. He guessed he could call Caleb, but the man was no tactician; he was more of a blast first, ask questions later kind of guy. What Dean really needed was someone with a grasp of the bigger picture. Jefferson was his best bet, not that he would answer his phone or be reachable by any means other than showing up on his doorstep.
Mind made up, Dean pointed the Impala northwest, in the direction of Alliance, and popped Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap into the empty mouth of the stereo system. Singing along cleared his head, and he rode the wave of music all the way to the next fill-up station, where he washed and waxed the car until she looked like she was in fighting condition too.
Dean fought his way through the knee-high weeds and knocked on Jefferson’s faded cellar doors, waited three minutes, knocked again, and then drew back the big deadbolts. "Jefferson?" he called out as he descended the steps that still smelled sharply of freshly cut wood. "It's Dean Winchester." He kept a running catalog of the customized weapons that lined Jeff’s cellar walls, gleaming behind the thick netting he knotted himself, quicker than anyone with two whole hands possibly could.
He made his way through the warren of rooms Jeff had carved out of the earth, even stuck his head into Jeff's workshop, although the last time he'd done that, a dozen years ago, Jeff and Dad had chimed in together like they were backup singers working in unison, "You want to lose an eye?" and made him snort at the thought of the two of them as the Pips.
No Jefferson. He climbed the stairs, found his way into a large room he vaguely remembered. The wood paneling was starting to warp, but Jeff still kept it polished all the way up to the ceiling. Dean wandered around, still calling out every once in a while, but getting more and more certain Jeff wasn't home but hadn't planned to be gone for long. The spacious kitchen was empty and the cupboards were fully stocked. And right there, pinned to the fridge with a Jim Beam magnet, was a calendar marked up in Jeff's cramped, hurt-looking writing; he apparently wouldn't be back until the next day.
It was nothing like a reprieve. The tightness in his stomach that he'd been attributing to Jess was only getting worse; Dad was trusting him to ask the right questions, make the right connections, and he couldn't get started without Jefferson to light a few paths. He had no desire to stick around here anymore.
The bar was missing a sign, but it was clear enough from the full parking lot and the noise flowing from the open door to figure out what kind of joint it was. Dean pulled in and took a look around. Nobody in the crowd stood out in his quick scan upon entering, so he hunkered down at the bar.
He'd thought that a couple of beers would relax him, but every new song on the jukebox got his shoulders to tighten, until he had folded himself down over his drink.
"Usually I like the strong, silent type, but you're taking it a little too far for my taste," said a voice from two barstools away, and Christ, when had he stopped paying any attention at all? He turned his head and saw a girl, older than him, maybe, with dark hair and strong eyebrows over the most direct gaze he'd encountered since Dad had waved him off on this quest.
"Hey," he said, then took another pull from the bottle.
"It speaks," she said with a little smirk, but Dean had seen her gaze drop down to his mouth, and he didn't feel like being a dick.
"I'm Dean," he said, swiveling on his stool to face her fully. "Can I buy you a beer?"
She tipped her bottle back for the last few swallows, then met his eyes again. She hesitated, a muscle in her throat jumping just for a second. "No need, handsome," she finally said. "But I'll tell you this for free: whatever you're after, you're going to get it."
"Really?" he asked. That was a new one. A curl of ink on her skin caught his eye as he put one foot on the floor to steady himself for this weird conversation. He leaned over and read her tattoo. "'Jesse Forever,' huh?"
"So I'm not so good with my own life, but trust me - I'm solid as a rock on other people's." She pinned him with her light eyes. White eyes were no longer accepted as a sign of a witch, he reminded himself. "And I wish I were talking about a little fun back at my place, but you know I'm not." She waited, but he stayed stubbornly silent. She sighed and gestured for another beer with a decisive motion of her hand. "You're really going to make me say it? Fine. I'm pretty familiar with your line of work, and I may not know the specifics of your particular situation, but I can see that you're on the right track being here."
He had no idea what to say, so he just sat there dumbly, watching her efficiently put away the beer, pluck a few bills from her pocket, and shrug back into the leather jacket she'd been sitting on. She looked back over at him at the end and smiled in a way that made her look years younger. "Dean," she said. "Here's a kiss for luck." She stepped close and kissed him thoroughly. She tasted like beer and her fingers on his neck were cool. He steadied himself with hands on her waist but still stumbled when she broke the kiss and walked away, eyes like lasers as she looked over her shoulder as a goodbye.
"Kid," Jefferson said, knocking his scarred knuckles against the driver's-side window of the Impala, and Dean jerked awake, barely missed kissing the horn with his elbow, and rolled down the window. "You never used to have a predilection for camping, far as I remember," Jeff said in that dry voice that both invited and shut down any response but a straight one. "Why the hell didn't you sling that skinny butt of yours into a bed inside?"
"Hey, Professor," Dean said, brushing gunk out of his eyes with a dry fingertip. "Didn't want to just waltz in like the place was mine."
"Dean, sometimes I wonder about you," was all Jefferson said, but he smiled and beckoned Dean to follow him. "Sausage and eggs good?"
"You don't have to -" Dean stuttered out before he got the full effect of Jefferson's implacable gaze and crossed arms. "I mean, I'm already gonna ask a favor, so . . ."
"I might have more than one favor in me," Jeff retorted. "Even for a punk like you." His gnarled hand came up and cupped Dean's cheek.
The kitchen was brighter in the morning light, pleasant to be in, especially with the smells of homemade sausage and freshly squeezed orange juice perfuming the air. Jefferson got to work right away, his diminished hands steady on his special knives as he made breakfast and let Dean sit quietly in the sunlight.
Dean remembered that Jeff was strict about keeping mealtimes free of work, so he kept his peace and pulled the comics out of the thick newspaper Jeff offered him. Calvin was going for the gusto today, apparently, and Dean, remembering Sam's adventures in dressing himself, felt every last bit of Hobbes's desire to distance himself from this disaster in the making.
He wiped the crumbs of buttered toast from his mouth with the back of one hand, then took his and Jeff's plates to the sink and washed them clean. When he turned away from the sink, Jeff was watching him closely, but still kindly, like he hadn't yet worn out his welcome.
"Let's hear it, son," Jeff said, and Dean jerked his eyes up from Jefferson's veined forearms and hands to meet that steady brown gaze. His voice sounded a disbelieving note. "You wanting to branch out on your own?"
"No!" Dean blurted out, taken aback. "I'm . . . Dad says he found out that the thing that killed Mom, my mom, was a demon. I figured you'd know where to go from there."
"Demons," was all Jefferson said, but low enough that the word sent prickles up Dean's spine just as Jeff bent his head like he had been sapped of all his strength.
"A demon, that's a personal enemy, no mistake about that, with the way your mother was killed." She had been so beautiful, and she had gone up in a column of flame, and Dean wanted to keep her death private, not have it picked over by so many lonely men, but he wanted to put her to rest too.
"The first thing we need to do is figure out what it was doing with her, why it wanted her." Jefferson said quietly.
"I don't know. When I count up all I know about her, really know, it's not that much." He could remember her vaguely as a golden shape, and he'd seen the pictures Dad had tucked into the journal and his wallet - never for more than a split-second, always scrabbling for answers or an insurance card that verified the names they'd given whatever hospital they happened to be in - and carried away an image of her bright hair and candid eyes. It was hard to believe that the little rugrat she was holding, one palm on his ugly mop of hair, was him. If he closed his eyes, he could see the line of her hand as it curled protectively around him.
"So maybe we should proceed with a practical course instead of a more theoretical one," Jeff said like he was simply musing out loud like he must've when he'd been his students' favorite professor for however many years running. "I think Caleb is your best bet here. Unlikely as it sounds, he is the only hunter I know who has actually faced a demon and lived to tell the tale."
"Is he around?" Dean asked around a half-stifled yawn; Jeff had put enough on his plate to send anyone into a food coma.
"I'll find out while you get some shuteye for a couple of hours." Jefferson raised his hands to shut him up before he could even start protesting. "I remember being your age, son. Caleb might not, and he's never been good at putting himself in another man's shoes. Get upstairs and keep your boots off my blankets."
He dialed the familiar number as he climbed the stairs, too tired to say hello when Sammy picked up.
"Quit breathing at me, you freaky pervert," Sam muttered after a second's pause, and Dean smiled at how transparent the kid was, trying to figure out just from the sound of his brother's respiration if everything was okay. At least when he did it, he wasn't broadcasting it all over the damn place.
"You want me to quit breathing? That's not nice, Sammy," he teased. "You'd think getting laid on the regular would've gotten you to unclench just a little."
Sam's answering laugh sounded half-hearted, but that could just have been the phone slipping away from his ear as he bent to unlace his boots. "Seriously, dude," he said, straightening back up, "I'm fine. Jeff still cooks a mean breakfast."
"So does Jess," Sammy said, "and I'm apparently now late for lunch. Thanks a lot."
"Get a move on, bitch," Dean said, smiling as he flipped the phone shut against his chest and tipped over sideways and let the bed catch him.
"Man, am I glad you swanned into town just now, kid," Caleb said, lighting another of his foul, coal-black cigarettes before he continued to rummage in the trunk of his beat-to-shit car. "Got a hunt, could maybe use a partner. Just for the one gig."
Dean nodded, ready for some action, ready to hear something in his head besides his father's directive and Jefferson's insistent, "Take care of yourself, Dean," mumbled like a charm against his vanishing back. "What do you got?"
"Werewolf. Can't say I don't treat you right." He grinned around the smoke stick. "Daylight's burning, so let's get a move on."
Dean rolled his eyes and climbed into the passenger seat of the rusted out Mustang; poor thing had probably been pretty once upon a time, could still be a looker if Caleb spent a fraction of the time he devoted to polishing his already spotless weapons.
"I saw that, smartass," Caleb called as he walked around to get to the driver's side. "The minute you think you're enough of a grown-ass man to lead a hunt like this, you just say the word."
"No, not really, nitwit. Do I look like I want to be following the lead of some kid who just stopped sucking his thumb two weeks ago?" Caleb bit out.
"You have an interesting grasp of chronology."
"You better have an interesting grasp on which direction we need to be headed, since you're in the navigator's seat."
"Whatever you say," Dean said, hiding a grin that would only get him deeper into trouble. "Put her in drive."
"My car's got bigger balls than you, kid. Show him some respect."
There was no feeling like this, the way the hair on the back of his neck stood on end while his heart beat fast and happy, the sensation that he'd turned himself into a weapon, and could rid the world of some evil thing before the day was done and he had to say goodnight.
The werewolf didn't even bother going for Caleb, and Dean thought up a dozen jokes as he ran, all about finicky eaters and how Caleb had to be less than prime-grade meat. No question he made the better bait, and Dean let it chase him, working the angles in his head, wondering if the thing was going to make its move before Caleb made his.
He hit a clearing that was perfect, and turned, figuring Caleb had to have the thing well in his sights now, but there was no shot ringing out to split the night, and the firefighter who'd wolfed out kept closing inexorably in on him, eyes gleaming light and bright with the desire to eat his heart. Dad would have made this thing into worm food by now. Dean raised his arm, leveled the gun, and nailed it right in the heart.
"Caleb?" he hollered out. "What the fuck, man?" He looked down at the body, figured they were deep enough in the woods that predators - other predators - would take care of the flesh, and set out to find the guy.
He had the trunk of his car open, and he was disassembling a heavy-duty mother of a rifle. "Gun jammed," was all Caleb would say when Dean came up and gave him a raised eyebrow, but it didn't take a genius to read the fury and frustration on the guy's face, so Dean kept his mouth shut, just got in the passenger seat and nodded when Caleb asked gruffly, "You sure it's done?"
He wasn't all that surprised when Caleb stopped the car at the first bar they saw on their way back.
It wasn't a hunters' bar, not by a long shot. "Hey," Dean said into Caleb's shoulder as he came up behind him. "We won't exactly blend."
"They can damn well blend to us," Caleb snapped back, and Dean got the message; Caleb was going to get hammered, forget about the hunt, and not be of any damn use until about this time tomorrow. He watched Caleb take off for the back room, sighed, and headed for the nearly empty bar. One beer wouldn't kill him. And he could use a closer look at that pretty bartender done up in a vest and tie, all alone up there behind the bar.
She smiled when she saw him coming, tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder, and he grinned back. Yeah, she was worth the trip. "What can I get you?" she asked.
"Whatever you've got on tap," he said, and handed over his ID when she made the impatient give it here gesture with her fingers.
"You got it, Dean," she said, handing it back, and turned to get a glass from under the bar. The big guy on the only occupied stool, down at the end of the line, started muttering a little louder, but she clearly knew that ignoring him was the way to handle him. She set the glass down in front of Dean, then turned away before he could lift it appreciatively to her, saying, "Napkin."
The napkins were apparently in that same corner under the bar, and when she got over there, the big guy’s hand darted out and closed around her tie. He dragged her close. "I said, 'I want my keys back, you bitch.'" His arm shook from alcohol and adrenaline, and Dean could see that he was making her shake too.
Dean slipped off his stool and came up behind the guy. "If you let her go, I think she'll have a better chance at finding your keys," he said conversationally.
"Now, bitch!" the guy yelled, and she had that look on her face that Dean hated, that look where she'd plead for her life if she only got the chance; that look was pretty much the reason he did what he did every day of his life. He slammed the heel of one hand into the guy's skull, got his other arm around the guy's neck when his head snapped forward. In his confusion over the new attack, the guy loosened his grip on her tie, and the girl slithered away, still trembling.
The guy was flailing, trying to turn to get a good swing in, but Dean wasn't about to let him go anywhere until he was good and ready for it. He squeezed at the guy's neck again until his movements started to slow down, then let him go. The guy, running on fumes, turned and took a wild swing; he missed, but Dean didn't, and one punch to his cheekbone and the guy was laid out, lying half on the bar and half on the stool, slowly slipping down.
The girl came around the bar. "My hero," she said, and Dean was pretty sure she'd meant to keep the wobble out of her voice, but he didn't call her on it. She straightened her back, fixed her tie, and coolly appraised the drunk; Dean approved. "I'll grab his arms, you get his legs?" she asked, and they got to work. "Right through here," she said, pushing open a door with her backside, and they deposited him in the alley behind the bar.
"He come here a lot?" Dean asked as they dusted off their hands and headed back inside.
"Never seen him before," she said. "Good thing it's a slow night."
She pulled him down into a kiss, let him move forward until her back was touching the wall and his hips were pinning her in place against it. The kiss was long and luxurious, and Dean liked where this was going. He kept one hand on her cheek and let the other drift down to loosen her tie and work on all those little buttons running down her shirt.
She pulled her hands away from his hair to peel the shirt open. Sitting just above her collarbone, accentuated by a couple of stray freckles, was a gold chain that spelled out Jamie. He didn't have a lot of time to admire the sight, because she was a fast worker; she had her hands on his bare ass, pulling him to her, before he could do more than kiss his way down her throat. But he took the cue, hefted her up so she could wrap her long, long legs around him, and got her right where he wanted her. She was moaning with his every thrust, little sighs he'd bet she didn't know she was letting escape, and he was feeling pretty pleased with himself when the front clasp of her bra gave out, smacking him on the bridge of his nose. He knew a sign from the universe when he saw one; he got his mouth on her warm skin and listened as her sighs got louder.
"That thunderous sound you hear? Is Caleb snoring," Dean said. "And he reeks."
He wasn't kidding about the strength of the alcoholic fumes Caleb was breathing out; he rolled down the windows and got a whiff of nice fresh air.
Lights coming on behind him made him glance in the rearview mirror, and he laughed as he realized that the only mark on him tonight was a scar from Jamie's bra; the werewolf hadn't left a scratch. And he never had gotten that beer.
"Now are you gonna tell me what's up or what?" It wasn't like Sam to have so little to say; even when the little geek was at school, he'd talk for hours at a time about classes he was taking, books he'd been reading, and all kinds of other things that Dean had never really understood the way Sam evidently wanted him to. "Spill, dumbass," he said.
"It's Jess," Sam said, reluctantly, and all of the twisting in Dean's gut came back with a vengeance; he'd known something was off, but he'd let Dad talk him out of it, and now Sammy was paying the price. "She's been, I don't know, man, weird since you left. And don't say it's because she's pining over you."
Dean was in no mood for jokes about which of them was the handsome one. "Sam," was all he could get out.
"All she does is hang out with Dad. Last night I found them having coffee on the porch."
Wait, that didn't sound bad at all. "Isn't that what you wanted? For her to meet Dad and for them to get to know each other?"
"Well, yeah, but . . ."
The knot in his stomach uncoiled, and Dean took as deep a breath as he could while fighting a smile. "Aw, Princess, you feelin' left out of their little coffee klatch?"
Sam couldn't quite hold back his snort. "Shut up, Dean."
"Caleb," Dean said mercilessly, waving a plate of greasy eggs and bacon near the man's nose. "Caleb Caleb Caleb."
"Jesus fucking Christ, what," Caleb spat, then groaned at the volume of his own voice. "Unbunch your panties and leave me alone."
"Only way I'm getting out of your hair -" Dean paused, looking at the shine from Caleb's bald head, "- off your back, whatever, is if you do what I goddamn asked you to do before we went off to chase werewolves."
"God, Winchesters are the worst," Caleb croaked. But he sat up long enough to get Dean's hangover-curing breakfast in him, and when he finally finished, he looked almost human. "So, tough guy? What is it?" He belched unapologetically and left the dishes where they were.
"Dad and Bobby figured out somehow that the thing that killed my mother was a demon," Dean said, just like he'd practiced; Caleb had never treated him like the son he wished he'd had, not like Bobby or Jefferson did, and Caleb had never once looked at him as a motherless child, just a soldier. Caleb had to be handled with care.
"So? Why aren't you leaning on Singer, then, if he's got it all figured out?"
"Dad's doing that. I'm looking for stuff they might miss."
"And you came to me?" Caleb shook his head, winced, and then laid his scarred fists on the table between them. "Look, you need firepower, I'm your guy. You need another guy to run the traps, I can do it. But I ain't a cop - I don't give a good goddamn why these things do what they do."
Dean nodded, swallowing to keep the water out of his eyes. He knew all that, and still had decided to waste time on the off-chance that Caleb would break pattern and actually be willing to do a little thinking. He still couldn't call Dad and give him even a shred of useful information.
"Hey, kid," he heard, and Caleb was looking at him, right at him like he was considering something that hadn't been his mind just a second ago. "There is someone I know, might be able to help you out. Rufus Turner. Just don't tell him I sent you."
It took him a couple of minutes to realize that the weird growling noise wasn't the Impala warning him of impending doom; it was his own stomach reminding him he hadn't bothered to eat before tearing off for Rufus Turner's house, still two states away. He figured he should fill up the tank and look around for a decent diner, someplace where they'd serve him pie and leave him alone; he didn't even bother wishing for a decent jukebox, not when he was too tense to enjoy it.
He pulled into a fill-up station, opting for the self-serve pump. He filled her up, stretching the muscles in his legs and back as she drank the gasoline down. The air was hazy and hot, an occasional breeze bringing by the scent of freshly cut grass. He knew he needed real food, but he still took a gander at the candy bars lining the shelves of the tiny convenience store. "You got a restroom?" he asked, and the guy behind the counter didn't even look up from his lotto ticket to point to the back. No key needed, apparently, because the door was busted.
He pushed it open with his shoulder and stopped dead in surprise. There was a girl standing there in nothing but a bikini top and a little tiny skirt that barely cleared her ass, and she was pinching her nipples through the top to make them stand at attention. Dean leaned against the door frame and enjoyed the show.
It was only when she leaned closer to the mirror to put on some kind of complicated looking eye makeup that she caught him in the reflection and jumped back. "Oh! You scared me!"
"Sorry about that," he said, "but I do need to use the facilities."
"Can you give me, like, two minutes?" she asked, already turning back to the mirror. "I just need to finish my face before this audition, and the ladies' room key disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle, like, weeks ago."
"What're you auditioning for?" he asked; it figured a girl this pretty wouldn't want to be a gas station attendant for the rest of her life.
"To be the new El Sol girl. You know, the beer? 'Go someplace better'?" She saw him shake his head. "Whatever. The point is, it's either this or I hitchhike to L.A. I'm getting out of here." She pulled a tube of lipstick out of her pocket - how she'd fit anything in there, Dean had no idea, since the skirt looked like it'd been painted on - and hesitated, looking up at him. "Give me a kiss for luck?" she asked, and Dean obliged.
Rufus Turner was the most cantankerous bastard Dean had ever known; sure, Dad might be equally irritable, but he wasn't a bastard about it - once you knew the rules, they were pretty easy to follow, and he was pretty happy. But Rufus didn't seem to have any rules, or at least not any set rules, since they changed as his mood took him.
"You said you wanted help. So I'm giving you help, not all the answers. Fools did some of their own work instead of coming to me all the time, world would be a better place." Dean couldn't argue with that; a day without Rufus certainly would make the world seem brighter. He bent his head obediently and continued to read the text Rufus had set in front of him. Nothing on the pages broke through the insistent voice he heard in his head, chanting Mom-Mom-Mom, and he cursed himself for being so fucking useless.
To give the guy credit, he was reading too, flipping through pages quicker than Dean could fathom, sighing disgustedly as he failed to find what he needed in any of the books. When he'd shoved away a stack as tall as Sammy, Rufus pulled Dean's book away too and fixed him with a look. "Start talking."
He had to get this right, because this guy was his last hope. "There's not much to tell. Not yet. Bobby Singer, he found out something that made him sure that the thing that killed my mother was a demon. That's about all I know right now."
"No, you tell me how she died, when, everything you know but never wanted to remember," Rufus said, pouring himself another belt of whiskey. Dean's eyes stayed locked on the glass until Rufus pushed it over to him. "Drink up, and give me the details."
It was exhausting, and probably what going to a shrink - for real, not just as a way to get into his files and figure out which one of his former patients was haunting the office - was like. Dean drank and dredged up every memory he had, pulled them out into the light, examined them, and filtered them down for Rufus, who never let up. It should have been Dad doing this, giving real answers, not guessing and trying to piece things together; it wasn't like he'd been a particularly smart kid, and there were gaps in what he knew, gaps that the look in Dad's eyes had never let him try to fill.
He wondered, dimly, ungratefully, when he'd be allowed to stop reliving the worst days of his life, when Rufus held up a strong, shaking hand. "Dean," he said, sounding kinder than Dean had thought possible, "the demon you're after, the demon that's after you, is Azazel."
Dean's mouth opened and closed without any input from his brain, and before he could figure out what he needed to ask or say, Rufus stood, grabbed the last bottle of whiskey, and strode off to another room. Dean watched him go, vaguely wondering if he was now free to vomit or pass the news along to Dad or turn to the books again and look for that name.
The sound of the door slamming clicked something off in Dean's mind, and instead he laid his head down on his arms and sank into sleep.
There was a soft swishing in his ears, the sound somehow vaguely comforting, and Dean opened his eyes and turned his head to find its source.
He barely remembered leaving Rufus's house or how he'd gotten past the barricades surrounding it, could only just recall getting into the car and turning her nose in what seemed like the least wrong direction. It was like the world had been turned off, the volume down low, everything slow and sluggish, the car the only thing capable of motion. Somehow, after all of that, he'd ended up in a church, and there was a girl in a long dress and soft-soled shoes standing next to him, one hand outstretched like she thought he needed comfort.
"Yeah?" he croaked, looking up to meet her eyes.
"Would you like me to sit here with you?" she asked, and he glanced over and saw that he'd left enough room between himself and the curled end of the pew for another person. Mom, his traitorous mind supplied, Mom with a hand cupped protectively around his head and a defiant look in her eyes, and he told himself to fuck right off.
At his shrug, she sat down, arranging her skirt so it wouldn't bunch under her, even though she was thin enough that the wooden pew would be biting into her bones in no time flat. She kept her heels on the floor and her eyes cast down, and he fidgeted next to her, eyes restlessly scanning the faded paint on the ceiling, the wires running along the walls, and the crucifixes everywhere. He couldn't sit still; his leg bounced up and down of its own volition, and her hand, still clasping her rosary, settled gently on his knee.
He looked from her hand to her face and saw nothing but concern. He let the warmth of her hand, of her body from shoulder to hip, bleed slowly into him and calm him down. They sat there, while the stained glass windows turned dark as daylight fled, and she braved a sidelong glance at him and said, "I'm a good person to talk to, you know. I never go anywhere."
He thought about that, all the places he'd been to learn what he knew now, what was weighing so heavily on him, as if he'd never wanted the knowledge in the first place. "What's your name?" he asked and she shifted to face him, the long rope of her braid brushing over his shoulder.
She was nothing like Mom, no resemblance except for being so young, so direct. "Nancy," she said.
He let himself linger a moment longer against her. "Thank you, Nancy," he said, then peeled
He sat in the car with the last of the sunlight doing its best to blind him, and fumbled his phone into his hand. Dad didn't pick up until the seventh ring, and Dean felt another shiver that something was wrong when he heard the tail end of Dad's laugh instead of hello.
It took a moment for his throat to cooperate. "What's going on?" He could hear a feminine voice and then Sam's, and he knew that Dad still had half his attention on whatever was happening there.
"Nothing," Dad said. "She and Sam are making sundaes."
"So she and Sammy are still hangin' out, everything's fine?" he asked.
"What exactly are you asking, Dean?" Dad said, sounding pissed, and Dean hesitated.
He'd been worried, from what Sam had said, that Jessica seemed to have dropped Sammy like a hot potato once she'd gotten a load of Dad; whatever she was, she knew the importance of taking out the leader of the pack first. Not a succubus, but that was as far as he'd gotten.
If he said something, he'd be ratting out Sam. "Just heard the two of you were spending a lot of time together," he said.
"I needed Sam to do some research, and he can't exactly bring her along," Dad snapped. "What have you got for me?"
"Sorry, sir. I've got a name." There was still something skittering along the back of his mind, but he couldn't pin it down.
Dad's eagerness rang through sharp and clear, and as soon as Dean let the word "Azazel" tumble out, he figured out what he'd been trying to push down as impossible: Dad was going to go after this thing, and he wasn't planning on coming back.
"Dad, wait for me before you head out?" he asked but there was only silence on the other end of the line. Damn it. That was why he was going all Mike Brady for Jessica, trying to make sure she'd stick around for Sam after he was gone. Dad was what his gut had been screaming at him.
He slammed on the accelerator and headed home.