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therapeutic thump

i like your moxie, sassafras!


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"Nothing To See Here" (2/4)
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away
innie_darling
[Kathleen]
The evidence so far has been sparse; she wants to feel like she's getting something done, and a fresh set of eyes can't hurt. The lab smells bitter; Kathleen tries not to think about it as she heads over to Georgia, who looks like she's been on her feet for days. "Where are John Doe's clothes?" Kathleen asks, and Georgia points to a stack of coolers in the corner of the room. The one on top is big and blue. She hauls it over to an empty work station and begins to go through it, pulling on a pair of latex gloves from the box on the counter.

Kathleen pulls out the clothes she remembers seeing on him, individually bagged as procedure requires. Plain dark crew socks, green silk boxers, and then a khaki t-shirt. The underwear is obviously pricey but all she can glean from it is that he had a thirty-two inch waist and apparently appreciated fine fabrics. Neither the socks nor the shirt looks particularly well-worn or used, and the shirt is still a little rough when she rubs it between her gloved forefinger and thumb; the cotton has not yet softened from repeated washings. She pulls out a pair of jeans, bluish-grey, next. They are expensive-looking, made to appear "distressed" or faded or whatever the proper term is, but they are crisp and new as well. She shakes them out and runs her fingers over the seams, searching for any loose threads, any errant fibers, but there's nothing to find. Even the pockets are pristine, no white imprint of a wallet in any of them, and she supposes it would have been too much to ask for that a body lying on a street in a big city would still have a wallet on it.

The black leather jacket is the last piece of clothing she pulls from the cooler. It is thin and heavy, not yet accustomed to the fit of one person's shoulders, though the supple material drapes easily as she holds it up to scan it and empty its pockets. She finds nothing and finally sets it aside, along with the rest of the clothes. There's a pair of size ten boots at the bottom of the cooler, also new and unscuffed, and inside one is a tiny plastic envelope with a ziploc snap. A tiny silver hoop rests inside. A girlfriend's earring, maybe, because it is definitely too small to be a ring. Maybe a boyfriend's earring; John Doe certainly hadn't had a pierced ear.

She holds the envelope up to the light to try to see it a little better, and Georgia, moving from one body to the next, turns, her attention caught by the movement. "Nipple ring," she says, completely matter-of-fact, stripping off her gloves and retying her ponytail. Kathleen can't help flinching a little.

"Ouch."

"I know," Georgia agrees, pulling on a fresh pair of gloves and starting to work on the John Doe. Kathleen suspects that she's been at this regularly, monitoring the organs' dwindling down to several decimal points. She appreciates the attention to detail, and thanks her lucky stars that she can at least count on a pristine chain of evidence even if she's got nothing else. There's nothing else in the cooler and she packs it back up.

"Do you have that left thumbprint?" she asks when Georgia's done with the latest round of statistics. Georgia just waves her over to the computer and she finds the file and emails the digital image to herself. Hopefully the system will be able to find a match in the database; it's pretty much the only hope she has to hold on to, since soon enough there won't even be a body to bury.

*

It's getting dark earlier and earlier these days, and by the time Kathleen heads back to the apartment complex that evening, it's pitch-black except for the streetlights. The police at the door make everyone a little nervous, even more so when a cop is talking about the dead body in the back yard, so Kathleen knocks politely rather than insistently, and speaks calmly and reasonably instead of playing the heavy. There's not a lot to learn, and in fact the evening progresses as slowly and frustratingly as she'd feared. There is only one apartment that stands empty, its splintered door a testament to the workings of the fire department.

Kathleen steps inside, her boot heels slipping on the remnants of something on the floor. She crouches down and finds scattered grains of salt. There's more by the bedroom window, the one that faces the back of the building, that would have provided a perfect vantage-point for the alley where John Doe was found, still blocked off by bright yellow tape. She needs to double-check with Ballistics, but her gut is telling her that it wasn't a sniper; every lead is worth pursuing, though, and she works the angles through in her mind, trying to figure out if the laws of physics allow for this possibility.

Standing there by the window, looking down into the deserted alley, she realizes something. John Doe's head had been right next to what she'd dismissed as oil stains. But he was lying in the middle of the alley, at an intersection, at a place where no car could conceivably have parked long enough for such a large stain. That might not be oil. She might have some physical evidence after all, another piece of the puzzle she needs to put together.




[Sam]
The din is deafening but Sam can still make out some of the words clearly – smoke, violence, broken, sir. But they fade into insignificance as he ponders the sign on the ceiling. Was it Dad who left it or the Demon, using Dad as a puppet? Is it a plea for help or just a taunt?

Someone on the staff has clearly alerted the police, because now there are cops in the throng surrounding him, and new questions come in an insistent tone.

"Mr. McGillicuddy, sir, we have to ask you some questions."

Sam nods vaguely, eyes still fixed on the ceiling. This might be the first time he's ever blessed his father for his shitty parenting skills. Dad didn't know Dean's room number, would have had no information to offer even if the Demon had simply raked through his mind instead of asking or threatening. Dean is still safe, if only because of Dad's neglect. It isn't fair that Dean's life should hang on being overlooked like that, that what ultimately protects him hurts him all the same.

The questions keep mounting, but the cops calm down when Sam inches toward his own bed and gets into it, drawing the blanket up over his bare legs. The movement seems to remind them all that he is a patient too, and he honestly doesn't know how much of what he's doing is for the benefit of his audience. His voice, when it comes out, is wavering with worry and exhaustion, not all of it faked.

"Please, can you tell me what happened?"

The nurses and cops are glancing at each other, like nobody wants to start trying to explain the unexplainable. Anne's at the back of the huddle of nurses, looking straight at him with her kind eyes, nodding encouragingly at him.

One of the doctors, a man Sam vaguely remembers seeing before, finally begins to speak. "Sir, your father apparently got out of his bed and began to attack the staff. He fought his way to the exit and left. Now his behavior raises quite a few concerns. The first, of course, is the damage he caused; he inflicted serious injuries on one of my colleagues and at least two members of the hospital's security personnel. Secondly, it's unclear how any of this was physically possible for your father, given that he had broken both his arm and his leg, and yet was moving as if he was not aware of either injury."

The doctor takes a deep breath and looks around; it looks like he's seeking encouragement or support to get this last part out. "Several people said Mr. McGillicuddy's eyes were bright yellow, which makes us suspect that perhaps there may be a medical explanation for all of this – a reaction to one of his medications, perhaps, or maybe a chemical imbalance of some kind. We . . . we don't have a lot to go on at this point," he admits, his voice trailing off a little.

"Which is why we need you to answer some questions now," one of the cops says.

Sam does his best to look shocked, to let out a shaky "Oh my God" or two, to fumble artfully with the pitcher of water on the tray near his bed. His mind is racing. There can be no doubt at all that the Demon is back inside of Dad and that it wanted Dad out of the hospital sooner rather than later. What he doesn't know is why it wanted Dad again, if not to use him to kill Dean and seize Sam. And he also doesn't know how long Dad will be useful to it, and what will happen when it no longer needs him. He has to think. The phone call Dad made had to be related to the Colt; it's got to be Bobby who's got it now. He needs to call Bobby.

He blinks and Anne is standing by his bedside holding out a cup of water, keeping herself between him and the crowd of interrogators. "I'm sorry," Sam says, choking a little as he sips. Anne takes the cup back and steps out of the way when he nods. The best defense is a good offense, Dad used to say, and Sam picks out the one admission of weakness the doctor made.

"I . . . I don't know how that could have happened. I've never seen him go crazy like that. You said maybe he had a reaction to the medication? What were you giving him that could set him off like that?" He knows he's the very picture of outraged earnestness, scared for his father but determined to tell the truth. He can almost see Dean in the doorway, applauding his performance.

Having the accusation turned around on them makes the hospital staff back off, and without them the cops' hands are tied. There's a lot of unhappy muttering and he gets back out of the bed; the shake in his legs is real and Anne steadies him. "I have to tell my brother," he says, and she nods.

*

Dean is still awake, though he's clearly hanging by a thread. His eyes are soft and dim when he opens them, and Sam curses his father again for living up to his old tricks, this constant pattern of failed love and disappointment.

"Sam?" Dean's voice is rusty from disuse and the ventilator tube

Sam shakes his head slowly. "Dad, uh," he stumbles, unsure about what Dean needs right now – the truth or a little delay – but seeing Dean looking so defeated, he just opens his mouth and hopes that what comes out will be enough. "Dad's gone, Dean. The Demon came back for him. So he's out there right now."

Dean doesn't leap out of bed, guns blazing, shouting about a rescue. Dean doesn't even move, just sighs a small, shuddery sigh and waits for Sam to meet his eyes. "Bobby," he says, and Sam nods in agreement.




[Kathleen]
Kathleen ducks under the crime-scene tape and crouches down, hearing her knees crack a little; she makes a face at how old her body acts after a long day. Time was she could have done all this standing on her head. She puts one hand out, to the side, for balance and leans forward, scraping a little at the dark stains on the blacktop, coming up with a soft residue that curls like a feather. She shakes it into an evidence bag and seals it shut. This is just insurance; tomorrow morning she'll have the crew out here again, but she doesn't want to take a chance this stain will disappear like John Doe's disintegrating body. And who knows – maybe the crew was sharp enough to catch this the first time around; she still hasn't heard back from them, but to be fair, she hasn't made herself easy to find. At some point tomorrow morning, she expects to hear a full report of the findings.

This has been the longest day she can remember since the one that changed everything forever, when she finally found Riley in that house of horrors. And it's only the beginning of the week.

She steps into her apartment with a sigh, unstrapping her holster and laying it on the kitchen counter next to the coffee machine. A long, hot bath is all she can think of at this point, and she scarfs down some leftover pasta straight from the fridge while she waits for the tub to fill. She soaks for nearly an hour, feeling tiredness wash over her, and her sheets smell like bath oil when she draws them up over her and falls asleep.

*

Despite all of the images displayed on the walls, Kathleen's eye is immediately drawn to the sole occupant of the room, a tall, lean man dressed in belted khakis and an old, thick button-down shirt. He's peering into a microscope but he lifts his head when he hears her footsteps. He smiles, friendly wrinkles settling into place as if he's not used to being serious. "Roger Dawes."

"Detective Hudak."

"I know who you are, young lady," he assures her, waving her to a seat. "You're the one who dropped this dilly of a puzzle in my lap." He sounds positively delighted, not frustrated, and she's thrown enough by that to lose her train of thought. He jots down some notes and then turns his whole attention back to her.

"The John Doe?" she finally remembers to ask, and his patient gaze gives way to pleased nodding. "I came here for the preliminary findings, but . . ."

"You got it," he says. Dawes gets up and shuffles behind her to turn out the lights, and she swivels on her stool to face the screen that descends with a loud whirr. The first slide is of the empty alley, only the chalk outline betraying the timing of the photograph. The second is of the body lying sprawled on the blacktop, and the rest of the sequence creeps closer and closer to the corpse until it zeroes in on his face and nearly all that's visible on the screen, magnified almost unbearably, is the perfect circle in John Doe's temple, pitch black against the yellowy-peach of the surrounding skin. The last shot appears to be the same mark, but the photograph has been reversed, or the slide has been flipped. Kathleen turns again to point that out to him, but Dawes merely holds up his hand and switches the lights back on, leaving the last image up.

"First things first," he says, blinking against the fluorescent glow once more invading the room. "John Doe was shot once through the head. The person firing the gun was very skilled, very lucky, or both. That's not an easy spot to hit from anything further than point-blank range, particularly if the victim saw the assailant and was therefore in motion."

Dawes smiles at her again, revealing small white teeth. "But if you were to ask my opinion, I would say luck had nothing to do with it. This was the work of someone with a sharpshooter's eye and a hand as steady as Gibraltar. Someone who knew what he was doing and could do it from about ten or fifteen feet away. Now, for the nitty-gritty stuff, I would say you're looking for a male shooter. The angle of penetration is straight on, and the victim was just under six feet tall. And the area simply isn't big enough for the shooter and victim to have been more than a dozen or so feet apart."

"So . . ."

"So, here's where it all falls apart. The cleanup crew recovered the slug." He picks up a bag by its sealed edges. Inside is a bullet, gleaming pristinely, glittering even under fluorescent lighting.

Kathleen frowns. "There was an unused bullet in the vicinity too?"

"No, this is the bullet that went through your John Doe's head." Dawes holds the bag out to her and she grasps it by its edges from long habit. She holds the bag up to the light and sees markings all over the slug. "These grooves – they look like striations, but they're not. They couldn't have been formed by firing the gun; there are inscriptions in each one, though the writing is too fine to make out even under this microscope. That suggests that the bullet was matched to its weapon, made for a particular gun. The gun itself is most likely an antique, almost certainly a solid frame firearm."

He looks at her and she nods dumbly before realizing that a weapon like that must be unique; she might just have found a way to narrow the search for the gunman. "But the bullet itself has more to tell us than just that," Dawes continues. "It should not have retained its shape once it hit a target. But, as you can see, it did. I haven't had a chance to analyze it fully yet, but it appears that the bullet's makeup allowed it to preserve its integrity. And, even more peculiar, the exit wound is identical to the entrance wound." Dawes gestures at the image still up on the screen, and Kathleen blinks at the neat little hole in John Doe's head.

"Do you have any ideas about how all of this is possible?" She hands back the bullet.

"I've been working on this since yesterday morning. All I've found so far is a thin layer of sulfur over the entire surface area. And that makes no sense either."

This more she learns, the less this case makes sense.




[John]
John's panting like a fucking dog after the Demon exits, sweeping out of him with a flourish. His arm and leg are blazing, sharp with pain, and hot in a way the rest of him feels like it can never be, cold now that the Demon's taken all the heat with it. He stumbles to the ground and tries to vomit, his stomach only releasing thin sprays of sour bile.

Of course this would happen – no, wait, that makes it all sound like happenstance. Of course the Demon would choose to leave him by the wayside now, when it's gotten rid of the car they took from the hospital. He's broken and beaten and must look like shit – no way is anyone going to stop for him if he finds a road and tries to thumb a ride.

John's not even sure where he is. His consciousness had been flickering in and out while the Demon marked its territory. From the stink of his sweat it's been two and a half, maybe three days since he turned into a meat suit again, lit out from the hospital, and left his boys behind.

He doesn't know where he's going. Maybe more important, he doesn't know where the Demon is going, if he managed to slow it down at all or if he only gave it more ammunition with panicked, desperately hidden thoughts about Missouri and Bobby and the Colt, the only weapon that counts right now.

His neck is agonizingly sore without its brace and the casts on his limbs are stained a dirty yellow like pissed-in snow. John crawls away from the puddle of puke and surveys the landscape as best he can. Dirt, dirt in every direction, some loose and kicking up in clouds because of the wind, some packed hard in narrow roads made by nothing more than time and the weight of insistent feet and wheels. No houses, no buildings visible anywhere. No promise of shelter and safety as far as the eye can see.

John closes his eyes, trying to clear his mind, but all he can see is Sammy, looming over him, too many ugly emotions warring for dominance on his face, and with that picture firmly in his mind, he takes as deep a breath as he's able, rises to his feet, spits once more, and begins, blindly, to walk.




[Sam]
Taking off from the hospital, where the Demon roamed but left them alone, might not be the smartest course of action, but staying doesn't exactly seem wise, either. The sullen-faced orderly brings him two boxes, one of his stuff and one of Dad's, and begins packing up Dean's belongings into a third.

Sam waits until the guy finishes with a slam and leaves before pulling Dad's cell out of the first box. He turns it on and lets out a tiny whoop when he sees there's still life in the battery. He dials Bobby and begs to be picked up, knowing that Bobby won't refuse him; him and Dean being "the kids" in a group of grizzled old veterans is good for that much at least. Closing the phone, he tosses it back into the box and hears it ping against something else hard. He roots around in the box fruitlessly for a minute before his ribs protest, so he heaves the box up onto his lap, finally finding the bullet he buried in his father's leg nestled inside a plastic bag.

*

Bobby makes it there in pretty much no time flat, far more quickly than Sam had anticipated anyway, and Dean is still flat on his back, sweaty and pale and not quite conscious. Sam keeps quiet while Bobby steps close to Dean's bedside and looks down at him with eyes full of grief. "You . . ." Sam starts to say, but chokes to a halt. He doesn't know what he wants to say.

Bobby and Dean have always had a bond he never understood and Dad just never saw. It had nothing to do with Bobby playing favorites; it was just the way it was, the two of them seeming to speak the same language with the same cadences, a harmony that couldn't be learned or faked. He'd never minded, because whenever they stayed with Bobby, all of his attention and devotion had been for the dogs. One glorious summer there had been new pups to play with and Sam had rolled and tumbled with them, playing day-long games of Hide and Seek with them and losing every time.

It's a far cry from those days drenched in sunlight to this grim, painfully white hospital room, but even here and now, Bobby is like a magnetic pull for Dean. His eyes flutter open and he reaches up an unsteady hand to clasp forearms with Bobby; he smiles at the grease that jumps from Bobby's skin to his and tries to sit up. Dean uses Bobby's strong arms and hands without embarrassment and Sam stops holding his breath and swings into gear, pulling Dean's clothes from the box, shaking them out, and getting ready to thread Dean's limbs into sleeves and jeans. Sam catches the half-resigned, half-indignant look Dean shoots Bobby and lets himself smile.

*

They pile into Bobby's truck, Dean sitting between them on the bench seat so that he can't topple too far to either side. Sam waits the space of three Johnny Cash songs before he takes a chance and looks sideways at Dean. Dean's conked out again, crumpled in on himself and looking so weary that Sam starts to doubt his plan; a stern glance from Bobby, though, sets him straight.

"Sammy," Bobby says, his voice low and even, undemanding. "Tell me."

He doesn't get any more specific than that, and he doesn't need to. Sam counts back the days until he can remember leaving Bobby's place with a grease pencil in his hand and The Key of Solomon under his arm, and then he begins to talk.

"When we left your place, Dean drove like a maniac to get to Jefferson City. I don't think he was going under seventy-five until we hit the city limits."

Bobby just nods, unfazed. "These flat, empty roads are good for that kind of thing."

"So we found him – some demons inside of people were keeping him there, tied up, and then Dean shot a guy, used up one of the Colt's bullets, trying to get the guy off me."

Dean stirs between them, as if even asleep he can hear what they're talking about. Bobby looks over at him and Sam takes a deep breath. "Got to the cabin – Dean must have been dragging me while he was carrying Dad – and . . ." He falters. It was horrific enough the first time. He'll never stop seeing Dean pinned to the wall and just pouring out blood. He grits his teeth. "The Demon was in Dad the whole time. Tore Dean apart. Told me to shoot him."

Dean slumps against him, and he lowers his voice and keeps speaking.




[Kathleen]
Georgia is studying the body of an elderly woman and muttering about stomach contents, and Kathleen is suddenly, starkly glad that she didn't make a detour for food this morning.

She waits until Georgia looks up, unwilling to disturb the train of thought that might help make a case, and when Georgia nods at her, Kathleen pulls the evidence bag from her pocket. "I was hoping you could analyze this substance found near the body."

"I can't do a full analysis any time soon, but I could at least look at it under a microscope, narrow the field a bit for you. Hand it over."

Five minutes later Georgia's looking at the sample under her 'scope, her lank strawberry blonde hair slipping out of place again. "Huh." She sits back in her chair, blinking. "Looks like you won't need a full analysis from the lab. This is sulfur. Same stuff that's in your John Doe."

And the same stuff that's all over that beautiful and otherwise pristine bullet. Somehow, Kathleen's not surprised.

She's still a little queasy from watching Georgia poke around inside someone's body to uncover partially digested food, so she passes on even a coffee break and settles at her desk instead to catch up on paperwork. There's a letter in her inbox, forwarded from Hibbing, and she just knows there's nothing in that envelope that could make her day any better. She takes a deep breath and slits it open. The letter, when she unfolds it, turns out to be another shrink's request to do an evaluation of her, looking for fodder for some article on the psychology of cops or the family members of victims or both. Kathleen crumples it in her fist. She is moving on, putting it behind her. She misses Riley every day anyway – it's not like she needs any reminders.

Kathleen chucks the letter and the envelope into the trash. She scans through her email until she finds the message she sent herself yesterday and loads the partial thumbprint Georgia pulled from the John Doe into the IAFIS database. Hopefully she'll get a hit. While she waits, she takes another crack at the preliminary report she still owes the chief.




[Sam]
"Hold up a second, Sammy," Bobby says, and Sam stops talking, abruptly aware of Dean's soft breaths near his ear and the grit kicking out from under the wheels of the truck. He hadn't even noticed it while he was speaking, but a quiet rain has started to fall, clouding the landscape with a dull sheen. The whole world looks gentle from here, and he shifts so that his shoulder can be a better pillow for Dean's heavy head.

Bobby's voice, when it cuts through the quiet, still comes as a surprise. "You think Dean woke up when the Demon jumped back in your daddy?"

He can't nod without disturbing Dean, so he just says, "Yeah."

"What makes you think it had something to do with the Demon? You said you put the amulet on Dean and less than a minute later he was breathin' on his own again."

That's an angle he never considered, and put like that, it sounds so simple and clear he can feel his face getting hot with embarrassment. Now he knows why Bobby had insisted on cutting the old knot in the cord free and retying the amulet around Dean's white throat before any of them set foot outside the hospital room. His heavy, blunt fingers had looked curiously gentle wielding a knife and strangely nimble knotting the thin black cord.

"Course, the Demon theory makes sense too," Bobby says without pause, keeping his eyes on the road instead of letting them stray to Sam's face. "Either way, I'm glad you boys are safe."

*

The truck eats up the miles of road like it's starving for it. Looking out the window, Sam thinks they must have been driving for at least two or three times as long as it had taken Bobby to get to the hospital in the first place. But he could be wrong about that. The hospital messed up his internal clock, made him count in breaths rather than minutes. And anyway, he's never had Dean's uncanny sense of direction, the ability to look once and just know where he is, where he needs to go, and what he'll find just down the road.

Still, he can't quite shake the feeling that they're going the wrong way, that Bobby has an entirely different destination in mind. His heart slams into his throat when Bobby taps out a tattoo on the steering wheel, windshield wipers laying down a syncopated rhythm. "Sammy," he says, voice low and determined, eyes still fixed on the road ahead, "I'm not taking you boys home with me."

Sam feels the burn of betrayal hit him sharp and fast. He's beyond glad that Dean isn't awake to hear this, though part of him wants to hold up Dean's lolling head and shame Bobby into submission.

"I'm not gonna hurt Dean that way," Bobby says. "I take you boys home with me, and then what? Dean'll be worried about trying to find your Dad, fixin' his car, going through every book in my house for ways to kill that damn Demon. And all the while not giving himself time to rest or recover. You know it and I know it and I bet even Dean knows it, but that's the way the boy is built. So let's not give him the option." Bobby shifts in his seat and flips on the headlights.

The illumination dazzles Sam's eyes for a moment and he shuts them tightly. "Where do you think we can go that Dean won't push himself? There's no such place, Bobby."

"Maybe so." Bobby turns to face him. "I guess you'd know best, Sam. So you tell me what you want for him."

*

Dean starts to shift restlessly in his sleep when dawn breaks. The first rays of light shine on his frowning face and Sam rubs the sleep out of his eyes and smiles at Dean's disgruntled expression. He surveys the flat land, the empty lots bare of houses and trees, and wants to shiver at the lack of cover. But when he looks at it again, all he can think is fresh start.

Dean is fully awake by the time Bobby cracks a window to let in a little fresh morning air, and he looks straight ahead at the road they're on and says, "Nebraska."

Sam looks at Bobby for confirmation, and Bobby says to Dean, in a voice equally scratchy from an early morning without coffee, "Yeah. Caleb's."

Dean just nods and leans back in his seat between them, the long line of his leg blurring into Sam's at the hip.




[Kathleen]
Kathleen finds, to her surprise, that entering all the incomprehensible information she's gathered so far into the standard form for the preliminary report reduces the weirdness of this case tremendously. Set down in black and white, in twelve point font on crisp white paper, even the slipperiness of the diminishing corpse and the bizarre sulfur residue seem more like valuable clues than brick walls frustrating her investigation. It's oddly comforting, and she saves the report to her hard drive, prints it out, and closes the program. She maximizes the window for the IAFIS database and notes that it is still gamely running, searching through its giant haystack for her needle. There's no telling how long that will take, given that she could only provide an unsatisfactory one-tenth of the information it requires.

She drops the report in the chief's inbox, which is atypically empty. It's only on her way back from the ladies' room that she realizes why the inbox was practically bare; he's got his weekly meeting with the mayor and her staff and needs to be absolutely up to date on the report he gives her.

By the time Molinson comes to relieve her from an endless desk duty shift, her stomach is growling loudly, so she walks the four blocks over to the convenience store and has the kid behind the deli counter make her a turkey club hoagie with mayonnaise and mustard. He eyes the gun at her hip nervously and forgets the mustard, even after she pulls at her jacket to hide her weapon. She takes the sandwich and a soda to the park on the next block, the one that's been under construction since before she moved to this city. It's warmer in the park than she'd expected, and a little bit humid too, but she keeps her jacket tucked around her, proud of her uniform but unwilling to flaunt her weapon for no reason.

Her diet black cherry soda is gone but half the sub is still wrapped up in wax paper and she leans back on the bench and basks in the sun for a moment. She thinks about going for a run tonight, then curling up and watching an old movie. Something, anything that is simple and achievable – that's all she's looking for at this point.

*

All conversation stops when she gets back into the main room. It's not subtle, and she remembers just such a silence falling the first day she reported back at the station after her ordeal with the Benders; her gut clenches hard and the sandwich sits like a lead weight in the pit of her stomach.

The quiet spins out for several seconds. Then someone whistles the theme from The X-Files and most of her colleagues break into laughter; she hears Ramirez call out, loud enough to be heard across the room, "Hell of a case you caught, Hudak," and she realizes that her preliminary report – detailing her own findings and the expert opinions of Georgia and Dawes – has somehow made the rounds.

She makes her way to her desk and checks her inbox and her email; all she finds is an email from Shelby on the cleanup crew that repeats most of the ballistics information and promises her a complete listing of crime scene fingerprints within the next few days, by next week at the very latest.

The computer beeps insistently while she types up a quick response, so she sends the email and maximizes the IAFIS database again. The system has come up with three possible matches for the partial thumbprint she submitted. At last she's getting somewhere.




[John]
His gait is all off, and his weakened hip takes each step like a blow from a bumper car. As much as it hurts to go on, it hurts even worse to stop, catch his breath, and try to move again after all these false starts. If he can just keep moving, things might not be okay – he honestly can't conceive of an "okay" at this point, with Dean near dead and Sammy ready to take on the whole world, or maybe just him, because of it – but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot that could be much worse. He's still got his mind, his sanity, and his memories. He knows what is happening when the Demon wears his body, even if he can't quite believe that all of his precautions have been worth exactly shit. He can't be seduced by false visions of Mary, or tricked by pleas from Jim or Caleb; that might be the one good thing about an enemy that plays for keeps like this, the absence of hostages. Except, of course, for himself.

He wonders if Sammy's figured it out by now, that his dad didn't just suddenly go berserk for no good reason. He closes his eyes and tries to remember the uses his body was put to. He's counted two faces tight with surprise and bright with blood that fell beneath his fist when he considers that Sammy might have had more pressing demands on his time.

John stops, though he knows what it will cost him, and bows his head, praying for his boy to wake up and make his little brother smile. He has no memory at all of Dean after the crash. Even broken and battered, he would have wanted to see his boy.

His hip starts to tighten up again, so he tries to swing his leg forward and get moving once more. After the first jolt of pain subsides a little, he can feel the air start to clear. A few more steps and he feels like he's breathing a little freer, and he can't stop moving and he can't really turn around, but he opens his eyes and twists his head to look back and sees that he was just at a crossroads, at the heart of where two dirt tracks leading nowhere meet.

*

He fills his lungs with clean air and looks up at the blue sky overhead. He has never been this alone before. There's nothing else alive out here, and even the smell of his own sweat is receding, though he can feel drops of it rolling down his back and dotting his temples just from the effort to keep moving. He lifts his hand to scrub at his chin, finding a heavy but patchy beard. His wedding ring is cool against his cheek, and he remembers Mary sliding it on, her nervous fingers pressing it insistently past his knuckle; she'd squeezed his hand comfortingly when she was done, trying to heal the hurt she thought she'd inflicted.

But he can't think about Mary now. There's no telling what the Demon will pull from his brain once it enters his life again, even if it's found a new suit to wear. This Demon is more powerful than even he had guessed; it is unfazed by holy water and has a casual disregard for all the rules he's painstakingly learned about demonic possession. John has no suit of armor that will stand up to it, and so as long as the Demon has him in its sights, he cannot think of Mary, his dead, or of Missouri and Bobby, his living. And he simply cannot bear to think anymore of his boys, trapped somewhere in between, so he just lifts his head again and tries to keep walking. He soldiers on.


3/4

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I. Love. This story.

It's so rich and detailed and FULL.

*ignores work and hoeas to part three*

I am so pleased you're enjoying this! It's kind of a nutty ride.

Gah. There's so much goodness here. I love the image of John soldiering on, trying to make it for his boys, and I love the mystery and Kathleen and how it'll all relate.

LOVE!

Sam nods vaguely, eyes still fixed on the ceiling. This might be the first time he's ever blessed his father for his shitty parenting skills. Dad didn't know Dean's room number, would have had no information to offer even if the Demon had simply raked through his mind instead of asking or threatening.

The questions keep mounting, but the cops calm down when Sam inches toward his own bed and gets into it, drawing the blanket up over his bare legs. The movement seems to remind them all that he is a patient too, and he honestly doesn't know how much of what he's doing is for the benefit of his audience. His voice, when it comes out, is wavering with worry and exhaustion, not all of it faked.

keeping herself between him and the crowd of interrogators.

Dean slumps against him, and he lowers his voice and keeps speaking.

Dean just nods and leans back in his seat between them, the long line of his leg blurring into Sam's at the hip.
It's not subtle, and she remembers just such a silence falling the first day she reported back at the station after her ordeal with the Benders; her gut clenches hard and the sandwich sits like a lead weight in the pit of her stomach.

A few more steps and he feels like he's breathing a little freer, and he can't stop moving and he can't really turn around, but he opens his eyes and twists his head to look back and sees that he was just at a crossroads, at the heart of where two dirt tracks leading nowhere meet.

You are two for two right now - the "blurring" line is the one for me in this section.

This was really an interesting story to write using Sam's POV instead of Dean's. Because I feel like Dean would have been too transparent and too opaque by turns but Sam was all conveniently translucent, you know?

Another good chapter. I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about Kathleen closing in on the truth. I liked her character and want to see her interact with the boys again, but not if it’s to arrest Dean. :)

Favorite lines:

It is thin and heavy, not yet accustomed to the fit of one person's shoulders

Good detail.

He blinks and Anne is standing by his bedside holding out a cup of water, keeping herself between him and the crowd of interrogators.

I like Anne’s bit of protectiveness. *pets her*

He stumbles to the ground and tries to vomit, his stomach only releasing thin sprays of sour bile.


Eew! And also: Poor John!

One glorious summer there had been new pups to play with and Sam had rolled and tumbled with them, playing day-long games of Hide and Seek with them and losing every time.

Aww. Sam+puppies=love.

The whole world looks gentle from here, and he shifts so that his shoulder can be a better pillow for Dean's heavy head.

Sweet image. :)

John stops, though he knows what it will cost him, and bows his head, praying for his boy to wake up and make his little brother smile.

Oh, John. He loves his boys so much.

he remembers Mary sliding it on, her nervous fingers pressing it insistently past his knuckle; she'd squeezed his hand comfortingly when she was done, trying to heal the hurt she thought she'd inflicted.

Such a bittersweet memory. Great details.

I'm so pleased this is working for you! Thanks!

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