Dean is still pressed warmly against him when Bobby makes a right turn onto Marshall Road. They yawn in unison when the truck swings left into the narrow driveway, where Caleb's Mustang still sits, its brown paint flaking off before their eyes. Sam can see the disappointment at the car's condition written clear across Bobby's and Dean's faces and he tries and fails to muster up some concern of his own. All that matters is that Dean gets a chance to recuperate, gets his strength back.
Bobby shuts off the engine and rubs his hands on his jeans to work the kinks out of them, and too late Sam realizes he should have offered to share the driving. Dean's fingers tighten briefly on his lap, and Sam sees the reflex and opens his door.
The air is chilly and the ground is wet and soft; before he's ready, before he can really brace himself in the mud, Dean's inching across the seat and pitching awkwardly into his arms, doubly hampered by bone-deep weakness and cramps from sitting mostly upright for so many hours on end. Sam staggers a little but catches his brother as best he can, and Bobby ambles over like there's no rush, and his calmness is contagious. Dean is almost smiling, and trying to take more of his weight back onto himself, away from Sam's arm, and his face is tilted up, raised to the sun. Sam looks down at his brother, pale and trembling, and remembers how close he came to losing Dean.
The sharp slam of a door pulls his attention away from his brother. There's a girl standing on Caleb's front porch, a shotgun primed and ready in her hands. She's barefoot and slender, dressed only in a tank top and shorts, despite the weather, and her eyes are narrowed like she means business. He looks her over, trying to gauge how much of a threat she is – not that he has a great track record at this sort of thing, he knows, as Meg's face swims up from the depths of his brain to greet him once more. He glances at Bobby, who's frowning as he evaluates the girl in his own way, but then cuts his eyes back to her; his policy, learned at Dad's knee, is not to let his attention wander from anyone who's armed.
But Dean swivels in his arms just then, and Sam risks another glance away from the girl to look at his brother, who hasn't even bothered to look her way. Dean's attention is all on Bobby, watching him as he makes up his mind about the girl on the porch, trusting Bobby completely. When Bobby nods once, to himself, Dean just turns back to Sam and tries once more to extricate himself from Sam's protective grasp.
"Bobby Singer. Dean Winchester. Sam Winchester." Bobby makes the introductions, not bothering to point at each of them in turn; any movement could spook the girl, though Sam's getting the feeling that she doesn't quite know what to do with her weapon.
The girl doesn't lower the gun. Dean moves forward a step, and even though all the advantage is on her side – armed and on higher ground – she takes one step back to preserve the distance between them.
"What's your name?" Sam calls, voice kept low enough not to rouse the neighbors – no one wants this showdown at dawn to prompt a phone call to the police.
Her reply is too soft to hear but he makes out the answer from the nervous movements of her mouth, little and pink and chapped-looking. "Eve what?" he asks, and this time he sees her throat work as she swallows.
She brings the gun down off her shoulder. "El – Ellison," she says, and retreats back into the house. It takes him a moment to realize that was an invitation, and he gets his legs moving, one arm slung around Dean; he hears Bobby moving behind him to get the boxes out of the truck.
She's waiting just inside, and her body is still tense even though she's let go of the gun, propped it up against the wall. She closes the door behind Bobby and squeezes by to lead the way into the kitchen. Sam can smell peach-scented lotion on her skin. She hastily pulls an oversized sweatshirt hanging off the back of one of the kitchen chairs over her head, making a mess of her pale blonde cap of hair, and stares at the three of them.
Bobby sets the boxes down on the counter and Eve narrows her eyes a bit. Dean's voice is still a little hoarse when he says, "Looks like Caleb's sweatshirt."
Eve's cheeks are instantly pink, and Sam wonders just how old she is, aside from being too damn young for Caleb.
"He – he said I could wear it," she says, anger evident in her tone if not the volume of her voice. "He said I could keep it. I've never heard of you, Sam Winchester. I've heard of John Winchester and Dean, but not you."
Sam steps forward. "I'm Sam," he says, trying to sound friendly so she'll stop acting so defensive. "This is my brother, Dean."
She softens a bit when she looks up at him, chewing uncertainly on her upper lip. The pink in her cheeks surges again. "I keep house for Caleb."
Sam hears the present tense in her statement but it is Bobby who tells her in careful words that Caleb has fallen. She sinks into a chair, shaking like a leaf. She's looking at him, and he wants to go to her, comfort her somehow, but Bobby catches his eye and jerks his thumb at the door. Sam squeezes Dean's arm once, reassuringly, and follows Bobby outside.
One of the three hits from the IAFIS database is a woman, Abigail Berenbaum of Lake Park, Wyoming. The second is a man named Christopher Perkins; his last known address is listed as Sacramento, California. And the last of the hits is Thomas Graeblowski of New Hope, Michigan. It was probably too much to hope that the victim would turn out to be local; no missing persons reports matching the John Doe have been called in here in the city.
Nothing about this case has made any sense so far, but what she's stuck on now is a simple question of procedure. She sees Ramirez getting himself a cup of coffee at the other end of the room and weaves her way between the desks.
"Want one?" He snags a cruller that has to be stale after sitting out all day.
She shakes her head. "Got a question, though. Do you have a minute?" He can't answer with his mouth full, so he shrugs and nods while he dumps hazelnut creamer and sugar into his mug.
"Two possible IDs on my John Doe. Both out of state. How should I be handling this?" She knows she could always pick up a phone and call these precincts, but there is a complex ritual of give-and-take unique to each station, and she doesn't want to make any rookie mistakes that would end up with her owing more favors than she's got in her.
"Ah," Ramirez grins, shooting her a finger-gun. "Now that depends. States?"
"California and Michigan."
"California, you'll just have to cold-call. But Michigan – chief might be able to help you out with that one. He used to serve in Detroit. He should be able to get you a name to drop."
"You can call me David, you know," he says. "And if you need any help on this case, I'm around."
The officer on the other end of the line is courteous without really being helpful. She faxes over the picture of the John Doe and the IAFIS printout, hoping he retained at least a little of what she told him. He sounds like he's fresh out of the Academy and resenting the hell out of the fact that he's working the phones.
She's just trying to figure out how to approach the chief when her phone rings and he asks in clipped tones for her to step into his office.
"Come in, Kathleen," he says when he sees her standing in his doorway, uniform straightened and that one errant lock of hair tucked back into the bun at the nape of her neck. Being summoned to the chief's office only happens for a commendation or a dressing-down, as far as she's aware, and she knows she hasn't let herself in for either, so she's nervous when she steps forward to stand in front of his desk.
He gestures casually to the chairs opposite his and she sinks into one of them, her eyes trained on his face. He sighs and runs a hand through his short, bristly hair. He seems to be in no hurry to speak, so she stays perched on the edge of her chair and waits. He finally drops his hand and becomes business-like. "How long have you been with us, Kathleen?"
"Thirteen years on the force, three months here in Jefferson City, sir," she responds promptly, not betraying her surprise at the question.
"You work a lot of homicides?"
"No, sir. Hibbing was a pretty quiet place. Mostly robberies, break-ins. Drugs. Domestic disturbances. That sort of thing." It's not quite as idyllic as she's making it sound, but she figures he can read between the lines, and he'd know that all of those things, domestic disturbances especially, have the potential to get really ugly.
He waits, apparently expecting her to mention her last case, but as far as she's concerned, that was the exception that proved the rule. Aside from that one outrageous anomaly, the citizens of Hibbing were mostly law-abiding. "And this homicide you've got now – you think you can handle it?"
Kathleen's a little blindsided by the question. How has her competence become something open for debate? "Yes, sir," she bites out.
He smiles, not unkindly. "Politics, Hudak. It's an election year. We've got a young white man shot to death on expensive riverfront property, where there are streetlights and private security. Both sides are making this a lead story. You're going to be in the spotlight and you're going to be held accountable if this isn't wrapped up and damn fast. So think about it and tell me, can you handle this case?"
The politicians can do what they want; her duty is and always has been to the victim, and Kathleen intends to fulfill it. "Yes, sir," she says again, meeting his eyes directly. He nods, and she stands. "Just one more thing, sir; I need a name to get a possible ID on the John Doe – someone in New Hope, Michigan."
Sam wishes now he'd been closer to Bobby, thought of him as more than just the guy with the dogs, because he's sure there are all sorts of clues he's not catching – things Dean would have known just by standing close, shoulder to shoulder – in what Bobby says and the way he says it.
"Listen," Bobby says, breath blowing out in smoky curls as they stand next to the truck, "I didn't want to say anything in front of that girl – didn't know if she'd take on – but the house is yours. You want her gone, you say the word."
His brain isn't working just yet, apparently, because he just stands there, squinting dumbly down at Bobby's earnest face.
"Caleb left the house to the three of you. Left everything to you and your daddy. And he didn't say anything about a little housekeeper."
Sam's stunned at Caleb's generosity, and rocks back on his heels a little. But maybe it's not so hard to believe; Caleb had always acted like he was John Winchester's long-lost twin – just as grimly focused on hunting and just as unconcerned about taking care of two little boys. He opens his mouth to ask Bobby what he thinks about Caleb's gift, only to find Bobby's dark eyes already on him, clear and unsparing and so knowing that he has to look away. He casts about for something to say. What ends up coming out of his mouth surprises them both.
"You think he and that girl, um, Eve, ever . . . ?"
Bobby's stern expression fades into a faint smile. "Pair of fools like that, I'd believe anything," he says, clearing his throat, "but she didn't seem much like a girl Caleb would have gone for." He steps forward and pulls open the passenger side door and fumbles briefly with the glove compartment latch. The glove compartment finally flips open and Bobby pulls something out, holding it close to his body and beckoning Sam to come closer. He hands it over, a warm and heavy weight. Sam looks down to see the Colt shining darkly in his hand.
"This is yours too," Bobby reminds him, and Sam feels somehow cheated that this moment of destiny is taking place in a driveway in Nebraska, witnessed only by a beat-up car and a muddy truck, with his brother out of sight. "It belongs in your hands, Sam."
Bobby adjusts his ballcap and touches the brim with a gesture that looks something like respect when his eyes wander over to the house. He climbs in his truck and drives off, gone on the growl of an engine.
Sam tucks the Colt into the back of his jeans, pulls his jacket back down to cover his waistband, and heads back inside, taking the front porch steps slowly.
It looks like Dean and Eve haven't moved at all since he left, like they're actors holding their positions and waiting for the curtain to rise. Dean is still leaning with apparent nonchalance against the counter, but Sam can see the tiny tremors shaking his body. For a moment he sees red and wants to snap at Dean that the world will not end if he gives himself a break. But he curbs his tongue, and when he looks again, he sees that Dean has kept himself standing with his determination to stay between the box of Dad's stuff and Eve, whom he does not know and has no reason to trust.
Sam grabs the boxes – surprisingly light, though bulky, and he has to juggle them a little. "Do you live here?" he asks Eve, who's looking up from her seat with a dry face and eyes turned sadly down at the corners.
She nods and points to the small bedroom just off the kitchen, so he heads for the stairs.
"We'll take the upstairs, then," he says, running up to dump the boxes in the biggest bedroom he can find and come back for Dean, who's pushing himself determinedly away from the counter and preparing to walk up the stairs.
"I can . . ." she starts to say, trailing off when he steps in front of her to get to Dean.
"I got it," he says as nicely as he can, wishing she would just go; Dean will never let him help if they have an audience. Her little rosebud mouth thins out and she turns on her heel, and his hands finally clasp Dean.
It's slow going, and Dean is sweating and shaking once they reach the top. "Sammy," Dean murmurs, then pauses, considering. "Man, I reek."
"Like a rendering plant," Sam agrees, and Dean snorts softly. "Bath?"
"This a chick flick? No candles, no bubbles. Soap. Hot water. The end."
"Big words, tough guy. You aren't going to make it to the shower." He wants to bite his tongue, but it's too late, and now Dean has to ask for what he should have offered.
"The nurses all fought over who got to give me sponge baths, you know," Dean jokes after a moment, ignoring the fact that he was comatose at the time. "They'd be so jealous of you right now." Dean's voice is getting better the more he uses it, though it's still nowhere near its usual timbre; his sense of humor, however, has not improved.
"Yeah, I'm a hell of a lucky guy," Sam says, deadpan, watching surprise and amusement chase each other across Dean's freckled face.
"You know it, baby," Dean says, and collapses against the wall.
The house looks strange. It's too tall for its width, rising precariously out of the mud into the sky, and the faux-Tudor boards nailed to its façade only make it more unsettling. Kathleen has no reason to draw her weapon, not yet, but she finds her hand straying to her hip holster, hovering uneasily over her sidearm as she walks down the drive to the large, crumbling porch.
It could be the smell. Closer up, she realizes that the whole place gives off an unwashed odor, like clothes stripped off wet and not spread out to dry. There's a metallic tang in the air as well, old blood, but it's subtle enough that she recognizes it only when the shovel has already begun its swooping arc toward her skull. She wakes up gasping, clutching a pillow that smells like lavender.
There is always paperwork to catch up on, and she spends an hour yawning and completing forms. Busywork over, she forces herself to think, to go back through the scant evidence she has. Dawes has emailed her photographs of the recovered bullet and images from the FBI site of solid frame handguns, mostly nineteenth-century weapons. Firearms are not her area of expertise – she pretty much only knows what she likes, what fits in her hand, and how much recoil she can cope with.
Wills and pawnshops are probably the best way to track an antique pistol; something that old would be valuable, and it's easy to imagine it being passed down through generations. The phone rings. "Hudak," she says briskly into the receiver.
"This is Robin Dudley with the Sacramento P.D. You wanted a check on a Christopher Perkins?"
"He involved in something out by you? Cause he's been keeping his nose clean out here – checks in with his parole officer regular."
"No, nothing like that. Got a John Doe, IAFIS thought Perkins was a match."
"You said it."
Dudley says, "Good luck," and hangs up.
With any other case, she'd be content with the process of elimination and ready to assign a name to the John Doe at this point. But she has no idea how much the sulfur and the disintegration messed up the thumbprint, so she sits tight and waits for an answer from the chief's friend up in Michigan.
It turns out to be even easier than that. She's put on hold a few times before she gets connected to Mickey Mulcahy, the chief's former partner, and goes through the same routine with him, only this time she's got a hit. Molinson walks by her desk just as she's saying her thanks and stops to pluck the faxed photo out of her hand.
"This is the John Doe?" Molinson asks after Kathleen hangs up.
"Not a John Doe anymore. Got a name. Thomas Quincy Graeblowski."
"I've seen him," Molinson says, frowning at the picture.
"In a really awful production of The Tempest that Joe took me to. At the Beacon Theater a couple months ago."
"That outdoor theater in the state park?"
"Yeah. It was hot as hell that night, and I got eaten alive by mosquitoes and Joe's allergies were acting up."
"So a good time was not had by all?" Kathleen grins at her.
"Things got better once we got home and into bed." Molinson laughs. "And we've kind of talked ourselves out of doing anything 'cultural' since then, thank God." She takes another look at the photograph. "But that's definitely the guy. He played one of the sailors." She puts the picture down and taps it once, right between the eyes. "Good luck on this one."
Kathleen spends twenty fruitless minutes searching for Thomas Graeblowski and then for every variation of the name she can think of. He's not listed anywhere in Jefferson City or its environs, so she follows the one solid lead she has and heads out to the Beacon Theater.
A man in a Hawaiian shirt and jeans answers the door. "The theater's dark today," he says before she gets her badge out. "Oh, sorry, come in."
"I'm Detective Hudak with the JCPD. I'm going to need to see your employment records for the last year or so."
"Yeah, of course," he says. "What's this about?"
"Case I'm on," she answers, deliberately vague to keep him from getting spooked. She follows him to a crowded office and opens the drawer marked F - J. No mention of Graeblowski here either, and the manager's making a hell of a racket carting boxes of playbills around. That might be a better place to look, and she hits the jackpot. Graeblowski's features are clear and sharp in black and white, his eyes intense and his smirk disarming. The name underneath his picture is Tom Tracy.
The new name is much more fame-friendly, she supposes as she plugs it into her search engines, and she gets a hit almost immediately. He's leasing an apartment downtown, and she jots down the address and the other name on the lease – Derek Fisher.
Sam grabs Dean, remembering too late how hard his hands can be when he's panicking; Dean winces – can't help a wince – and he's so pale that all of the red lines on his face seem fresh and glistening, threatening to tear Sam's heart out all over again. But Sam steels himself and braces Dean against the wall, looking him over carefully. All of the cuts on his face and neck and arms look terrible, but they're superficial. The car crash really didn't do much to Dean, tucked away in the back seat, away from the side that took the brunt of the impact. Sam can't help feeling like the Impala itself – herself, Dean's voice in his head corrects, simultaneously irritable and amused – did everything it could to protect his brother. What had gotten Dean and stumped the doctors, of course, was being scooped out from the inside like a melon, shredded into chunks by the Demon. And it's that damage that Sam wants to wash away with hot water and a bar of soap. He curses himself for being an idiot and puts all of his sincerity into a prayer that Dean won't ever suffer again for having him as a brother.
Dean's leaning stiffly against the wall, his eyes never leaving Sam's face. "You done beating yourself up?" he rasps, aiming for his familiar, jocular cadences. "Cause some of us aren't gettin' any fresher, waiting for you to figure out how to work a shower."
Sam doesn't answer; he's dumbstruck that Dean is still trying to lighten the mood, even when he's pretty much panting after every third word.
"Sammy?" Dean asks, his voice still rough but growing sharper. "You gonna have a vision-fit?" Dean's voice is getting higher, approaching scared; he's probably trying to figure out how he'd be able to catch and support six-plus feet of flailing baby brother.
Sam stares at Dean and then laughs. "I hadn't even thought about that," he admits softly. "My guess is, no visions while the Demon's got Dad to play with." Dean tilts his head quizzically. "Just – I really am trying to figure out the logistics here."
Dean rolls his eyes. "Me. Shower. You. Soap. The end, genius."
Sam rolls his eyes right back. "I'm telling you, Dean, it's not going to be that simple," he says, but steers his brother gently to the bathroom.
The bathroom is small and blue and Sam pulls back the shower curtain to find a sparklingly clean tub; Eve apparently is good at her job. He turns the water on as hot as it can go, knowing that too hot for him is just right for Dean. He keeps one arm around Dean and pulls the Colt out of his jeans with his free hand; he sees Dean's eyes track the weapon as he lays it gingerly next to the sink. He nods, a promise that they will talk later, and Dean gives him a small smile.
Dean's hands come up to rest on Sam's shoulders, and Sam bends to pull off his brother's shoes and socks and jeans. He looks up at Dean's bruised face and closed eyes before stripping him of his thin hospital underwear too. The shirts are the last things to go, and he guides Dean's hands to the wall before he shucks everything he's wearing except for his boxers. Dean is shaking against his hands as he tries to climb into the tub; his teeth are gritted against the pressure of the water on his battered body.
Even discounting the cool shadow the blue and grey shower curtain casts over Dean, Sam can see his brother's skin go instantly pink when the water hits it, the color coming sudden and sharp like a little girl smearing her mother's rouge on her face. His own skin is tingling from the temperature of the water, even though just his arms are inside the tub, and he'd wonder how Dean can stand the heat if Dean weren't relaxing under his steadying hands, his cold and stiff body growing warm and supple like magic. Sam lets him bask under the spray for a moment or two, before realizing he can't trust Dean's legs to hold him up for too long. He soaps his brother down, running the bar of Ivory over skin and scalp, until Dean is lost to view – all that's visible is a mass of shining white bubbles. He rinses the foam off of Dean and shuts off the water, making sure Dean's still balanced on his own two feet before turning away to grab a towel.
Wrapping it around Dean, Sam lifts him out of the tub. Just as he's about to make some stupid remark about Dean being a secret cuddler after all, Dean's stomach rumbles loudly. Sam remembers having eaten something a few days ago, but Dean's only had an IV for sustenance since the crash. He finishes drying off his brother and knots the towel around Dean's bruised waist.
"Sorry, Dean," he says, pulling his own clothes back on quickly. "I'll take care of you, I promise."
Dean looks tired again – still – and puzzled, too. "I know, Sammy."
The first thing Kathleen thinks when the door swings open is that Derek Fisher has striking eyes, their soft blue contrasting with the milky brown of his round face.
"Derek Fisher? I'm Detective Hudak with the Jefferson City Police Department. I'd like to ask you a few questions."
Fisher nods at his name but doesn't seem to register much else. He looks faintly curious but not surprised or upset or nervous. Glancing at his wristwatch, he says, "I've got a few hours before I have to get to campus. Please come in." He bolts the door behind her and leads her to a striped couch.
"Mr. Fisher, you share this apartment with a Tom Tracy, is that correct?" He nods calmly. "Did he ever use the last name Graeblowski, as far as you're aware?"
He looks a little puzzled now as he shakes his head in denial.
"And Mr. Tracy's been missing for about a week?"
"He hasn't been here, if that's what you're asking," he says, his voice still remarkably unperturbed.
"May I ask why you didn't report him missing, sir?"
"He's always off somewhere or the other, performing. I think he said something about doing a show in St. Louis around now."
The explanation makes sense, and she has no reason to mistrust Fisher, but his calmness is rattling her. There's something here that she needs to tease out, and until she can figure out how, she has to get him talking. Most people are more than pleased to talk about themselves, so she starts him on that track, paying close attention to what he does and does not say. "And what is it that you do, sir?" she asks.
"Me?" At last he looks surprised. "I'm a grad student down at the university."
"Is that Lincoln University?" He nods and she keeps moving forward. "And what is your field?" There's nothing in this living room to indicate his area of interest, no books or papers scattered around.
"American history" His eyes go shy behind his horn-rimmed glasses. "The expansion of the railroad and of the country, really. Would you like to see?"
He stands and leads the way to a small bedroom. One entire wall is taken up by books, stacked on the floor, crammed into crates, shelved haphazardly into a sagging bookshelf. There's a desk in there as well, covered in papers marked by pen and highlighter ink. She turns to survey the room and her eye is caught by a procession of strange little figures marching across the windowsill. She moves closer to inspect them, frowning a little when she sees that they're made of bone and wood and hair.
He's gotten lost again in contemplation of the nineteenth-century map of the country that hangs on the wall, but he hears her when she clears her throat questioningly. "Oh, yeah, those. My grandmother made them for me when I was born. Made me promise to keep them by my window for as long as I lived." There's fondness in his face now, and she has no compunction about slipping in underneath his guard.
"What about Tom's bedroom? Could I see that, please?"
He's obedient, still the dutiful grandson, and he leads her to the bedroom on the other side of the apartment without a murmur. She opens the door and thinks that, without ever having known Tom Tracy alive, she'd have guessed that this was his room. It's messy, clothes strewn everywhere, mostly designer labels or convincing knock-offs. There are black-and-white movie stills covering the walls, some with autographs. A dresser with a mirror above it stands opposite the bed, and on its surface lie empty glasses frames, a bottle of self-tanner, and a small collection of silver jewelry.
"Do you know what he took with him when he left?"
"No," he says, looking at her, and she wonders if he's figuring it out, that she's not here to speak with Tom, that she's here to tell him that Tom is dead. "He usually packed a small suitcase if he was going to be working out of town for more than a few days, but I think that's it right there." He points to the blue fabric peeking out from under the bed. "But he wasn't really himself the last time I saw him."
"How do you mean?"
"Well," he begins, a small smile crossing his face, "he was never really himself. Always acting, trying on characters – changing his clothes, his hair, his accent. But the last week before he left – before I thought he left for St. Louis – he stayed in one character the entire time."
She stays silent, waiting to hear more, though it is too much to hope that he'll be able to offer an explanation for how Tom ended up dead in Jefferson City rather than alive and on stage in St. Louis.
"He was wearing these weird contacts that made his whole eye black, and his voice got deeper. He kept talking about his father, about stopping the threat. It made no sense."
"Like he was learning lines?"
"No, like he knew the lines but not who he was supposed to be," he finally says, weighing his words.
That's not exactly clear, but there seems to be nothing more to be said. She's walking to the door when his voice stops her. "He's dead, isn't he? Detective?"
Her hand is on the doorknob but she turns back to face him. "Yes. I'm sorry. He is."
He nods, his face still set and calm, and she lets herself out.
He finds Dean some old clothes in Caleb's closet – a faded t-shirt and sweatpants – and manhandles him into bed. The sheets are stiff, freshly washed, and Sam piles as many blankets as he can find on top of his brother. He goes back to the bathroom to gather up the dirty discarded clothes, but then he smells himself and sees the blood caked on his jacket and jeans.
Sam hops into the shower, ruthlessly efficient, his skin red with heat and scrubbing when he gets out. He dresses himself in Caleb's clothes that leave his wrists and ankles exposed and Dean's face betrays his amusement.
"Shut up," Sam says, grinning at him. "You want to sleep or you want to eat?"
"Grub." Dean's voice is stretched thin again.
He knows he can't show his concern outright, so he pretends to smack Dean while trying to gauge his temperature with the back of one hand. Dean doesn't look like he's been duped, though, so Sam adds, "I'm not your room service boy," with a grumble and Dean just settles further into the mattress to wait.
Downstairs he finds Eve in the kitchen, scrubbing the sink so that the white ceramic surface gleams. With every motion, the light sparkles off her little pink earrings, and she turns to look at him over her bare shoulder.
"Sam! Hi!" she says, smiling at him and he smiles back politely, looking at the flipped-up tag peeking out of her tank top. She grabs the towel to dry her hands and turns to face him. "Can I make you something to eat?" She sounds hopeful, despite the fact that she has no reason to treat them kindly.
"No," he says, startled. "I was just going to make something –"
"Oh! I can do it," she starts, but then smiles up at him. "But I guess you want something to do." She's not exactly right – he wants to be looking out for Dean – but it's a reasonable explanation, one he doesn't bother correcting. "Well, help yourself to anything. I was going to go to the store later today, so I can get more of anything you like."
"Thanks. Right now, I just need to make something for my brother." He sidesteps past her to get to the fridge.
"Dean," she says carefully, watching him closely.
"Um, yeah." He pokes through the fridge in the vain hope that Dean will like anything that's in there. There's nothing that Caleb or Dean or any hunter would eat in the fridge; it's filled with stuff that reminds him distressingly of Jess, the kind of food girls start eating in their twenties and guys figure out a couple of decades later when nagged by their wives. He pulls a container of plain yogurt out and asks, "Do you have a blender?"
He wants someone to appreciate the humor in the fact that he's making his badass brother a smoothie – wheat germ, banana, honey, and plain yogurt – but the only one who would find that properly hilarious (after delivering a swift punch to the shoulder) is Dean himself, who’s lying crumpled like a tissue in an unfamiliar bed. He stops smiling and looks around for a glass, still with one finger on the blender's button. He spends a few moments searching for a straw before considering that the tube Dean had down his throat probably hurt the muscles he'd need to suck through a straw. And he's got no problem holding the cup to Dean's mouth for as long as it takes him to drain the glass. At least this won't exacerbate the injuries, will be easy to digest.
The noise in the kitchen stops when he finally turns the blender off and Eve is right there again, holding a few glasses out for him. "Thanks," he says, pouring the smoothie out, filling two cups to the brim, and notices there's still a little left. "Do you want to finish this?" he asks, gesturing, and she shrugs, crowding in close to peer inside, see how much is left. He can still smell peach on her skin, stronger than ever, actually, and he closes his eyes and thinks about the scented candles that Jess liked so much.
"Sam," she says, putting one hand on his arm just as he grabs the two full glasses.
"Yeah?" he asks, turning to leave the kitchen and trying not to spill. He pauses for a moment, but she doesn't say anything, so he heads back up the stairs.
He's got his eyes on the line of liquid in the cups, so he almost misses the guilty look that flashes across Dean's face when he walks back into the master bedroom. As pale and weak as Dean is right now, he looks incredibly young, and Sam wonders if maybe that's why it's so very easy for him to read Dean now, as if time really has reversed and his big brother has not yet learned to love the mask.
"What, Dean?" he asks, and he can't help the dread that creeps through his voice.
Dean says nothing, but flips back the bunched-up blankets to reveal the box of Dad's stuff next to him. Sam stares at him and decides he does not want to know how Dean made it out of bed, lifted the box, and got back in; he remembers guiltily that the racket the blender made would have covered up any sounds of movement or hisses of pain. And Dean is not used to his body betraying him, and would have pushed himself. Sam makes up his mind in that moment that he will go along with whatever Dean wants, so that he can keep an eye on him at least and not be an obstacle around which Dean has to plot.
Even without the lecture, Dean looks a little chastened, and Sam tucks the blankets back in around his brother as gently as he can. Dean's hand falls on top of his, and Sam holds the smoothie for Dean to drink.
"Well, it went down without a protest, so –" He stops, an empty glass in each hand, and looks at Eve, sitting at the table in the silent, sparkling kitchen. "I was going to clean up," he says awkwardly, moving to put the glasses in the sink.
"Don't worry about it," she says listlessly. "It's my job, isn't it?"
She sounds so different; he's sitting across from her and reaching out to touch her shoulder before he remembers that she barely knows him. "Hey, are you okay?"
She drags her eyes up from the tabletop to meet his, and he sees that they're light blue behind eyelashes so pale they're nearly invisible. "No," she says, twisting off a smile. "First you tell me Caleb's dead but you don't say how it happened or how you know. Then you say this house is yours. Then you move in. I'm scared, okay?" That all sounds true, but she's looking at him like he can make everything better, and suddenly all of her shy little smiles and blushes make sense.
Explanations will only make things worse, but he can't exactly tell her that either. It's clear that Caleb never let her in on his true profession and he doesn't have the energy to try. "I . . . I'm sorry, Eve," he says. It's inadequate, but he feels it's better not to let her know that he's figured out her crush.
Her eyes are fastened to the table again, her face tilted down, but he can still see the unhappy grimace she makes. "And to top it all off you don't say anything about why you're treating that brother of yours like he's made of glass."
She seems to know immediately that she's gone too far; he's too taken aback by the unbridled jealousy in her voice to react. She jumps up out of her seat, saying, "Sorry, sorry. I'm . . . I'm going to the store. I'll be back in a couple hours."
Eve scurries off to her room, and when she comes back out, dressed in a few more layers than just the tank and shorts she was wearing before, she won't meet his eye.
He's dizzy now, and he wonders how the sun has stayed up for so long. He has the time but not the inclination to figure it out now, so he just keeps his mind on the barren landscape drowning him and continues to walk as best he can.
John starts to see scrub, brownish weeds growing in feeble clumps. Later there are actual bushes, then a tree, and it's like he's going backwards through one of those films that have gotten so popular for whatever reason, the ones where the apocalypse comes and changes lush green land into a dark wasteland, mingling the colors of blood and dirt. He plods his way to the tree and lets himself lean against it and close his eyes. The dark falls immediately, and the sky is black when he lowers himself carefully to the ground.
The pain in his arm and leg springs up fresh when John wakes the next morning, compounded now by the ache in his feet and back from walking too long, trying to compensate for his ruined limbs. He pulls with his good hand at the tree, ratcheting himself up in slow degrees until he's fully upright. He cracks his neck and starts to walk again.
He must have hazed out again while his legs kept marching on, because the road appears without warning in front of him. Not much of a road, just a single lane, but it is blacktop and not dirt, and it is a sign.
John pushes his good hand into his belly to keep it from feeling so empty and picks up the pace. He jerks around when he hears a roar behind him.
It's a big truck with a big man behind the wheel, and he knows better than to stop walking because starting again will not be easy. The truck slows and rolls next to him and John braces himself to face black eyes, hating himself for thinking that if the eyes are yellow, then he knows he doesn't have enough fight in him. The driver calls out to him. "Sir? Can I give you a lift?"
Kindness is so unexpected that it doesn't register at first and he keeps walking grimly.
"Sir?" the man says again, and John turns to face him. The man's eyes are brown, worried, completely human. "Can I take you somewhere?"
"Where you headed?"
"Left Omaha this morning, got to be in Lincoln by night," the man says, leaning across the seat to open the passenger door.
Nebraska, then. His truck might still sitting behind that abandoned warehouse. "Lincoln sounds great to me," John says, and heaves himself into the seat. "Thanks," he mutters once he's settled.
"Glad of the company," the man says. "Burt Resley."
Burt sees the tattoo on his left arm and laughs disbelievingly. "Thundering Third. You?"
John feels himself loosening up. "Echo 2-1," he answers, looking out at the straight road that spills cleanly for miles ahead of them.
"Good men," Burt says.
They're silent for a moment, thinking of all those they knew. The commercial break on the radio ends, and something soft and sweet and bluegrassy comes through the truck's speakers.
"So what's in Lincoln, John?"
"My truck, hopefully, if no one's been out there. Tires were slashed."
"Got a cell phone. You could call a tow truck, call ahead and have your truck fixed up by the time we get there."
It's a good plan, makes sense, and he's relieved when Burt calls 411 and asks for the name of a big garage; he doesn't want to rip off a mom-and-pop garage with his bogus credit card. Burt recites the number so they both can memorize it and then hands him the phone.
Business taken care of, he's finally at ease, as much as he can be with his body broken and no idea about the whereabouts of the Demon.
Burt looks over at him and turns the volume down. "I won't be offended if you'd rather sleep than talk, John."
"Take it where you can get it," John says, feeling a smile spark on his dirty face as he repeats the mantra passed down from one Marine to the next.
"Amen, brother," Burt says, and grins.
"Rick Rainwater," Ramirez says, no doubt in his voice. It's a nice voice, Kathleen thinks suddenly, wry and warm. "He's the go-to guy on this kind of thing. I'll get you his number."
She loses another few hours to paperwork before she can make the call. The man who picks up sounds far too young to be an expert in any field, and he seems to know what she's thinking when he says, "Detective, this is the family business, and I started early. Now what can I do for you?"
Kathleen appreciates an upfront contact, and she does her best to describe the unique, pristine bullet and the inferences she and Dawes made about the weapon it must have come from. He's making little noises of agreement – "mm-hmm"s – throughout, but when she gets to the detail of the inscription wrapped around the slug, he draws in a sharp, surprised-sounding breath. "Now, Detective, I've only heard of one firearm that would need a bullet like that, but I can't figure how it could possibly have been used to kill a human being in Missouri."
There's something off about his phrasing but she can't put her finger on it. "Mr. Rainwater, I'd be very interested in hearing anything you can tell me about this weapon," she says.
"Yes," he says, still sounding distracted, like his brain is busy while his mouth moves automatically. "It's a Colt. Antique value, a real beauty. Owner is Daniel Elkins of Manning, Colorado."
It takes her some time to find any records on Elkins. She finally manages to trace the property in Manning to a Joseph Elkins, a hunting and fishing cabin bequeathed to his son Daniel and family. Daniel, once his divorce was finalized, apparently made it his permanent address, and she can't find anything more on him; there's not even a phone number associated with the cabin.
The ex-wife, Lisa, went back to Louisiana and took their son Elias with her. Thirty years later, Elias and his wife were killed by a drunk driver; Lisa kept their daughter Evelyn from an orphanage. Lisa died a few years ago, and Kathleen cannot find any indication that Evelyn and Daniel have even heard of each other, let alone have each other's contact information.
Kathleen sighs in frustration, her eyes scratchy from reading too many official documents on her fuzzy computer monitor. She checks the clock again, and can't help feeling like time is running out.
Eve is carefully giving Dean plenty of space and being very polite when circumstances force them into the same room; her jealousy is so clear that Sam can't believe that Dean seems not to notice it. Sam does his best to keep her distracted and busy; he only had to fumble his way through cooking one dinner – underdone pasta with watery sauce – before Eve stepped up, dumped the entire pot into the trash, and started to cook from scratch. Dean managed about half a plate before taking refuge in chocolate ice cream, huddled under a blanket on the couch, but Sam polished off nearly the entire pan of lasagna.
In just a few days, it's become a routine of sorts, the two of them in some alternate version of domestic bliss while Dean sleeps fitfully. Eve smiles at him every time she gives him another helping of her food, and the kitchen feels warm and intimate when he stands beside her to help with the dishes, thinking of Jess.
The parts of the house that Eve can get to gleam with cleanliness. She dusts and sweeps and vacuums and mops and scrubs every day, with such grim determination that Sam wonders if it's a ritual that keeps something – real or imaginary – at bay. She can never be fully satisfied; there is a room that is locked against her, proof that Caleb hadn't gotten completely careless.
They can get in. Dean insists on it, so Sam picks the lock while Eve is at the supermarket. The floor is dusty and the walls are lined with weapons, hanging on hooks or lying on shelves. There's a space the size of a bay window that's devoted entirely to throwing knives, another section that holds firearms. Along the top are three shining antique pistols, all looking uncannily like the false Colt Dean had picked up at an antique shop.
Dean sinks to the ground, tired again, and Sam can see his brother beginning to take inventory. He wants to stop him, put him back to bed, and stand guard over his sleep, but instead he just sits down in the dust and adds his voice to Dean's as they recite the names and uses of the weapons on the walls.
Dean keeps the Colt in their bed, under his pillow; Sam figures Dean would actually sleep worse without that weapon close at hand.
Eve runs her errands in the afternoons, when Dean is at his best, no longer stiff from sleep and not yet exhausted from the day. They go back to the locked room whenever she's out, using the empty space to start their training over again. Dean looks better when he has a weapon in his hand, and Sam figures there's no point in fighting his brother now.
Dean's got a crossbow in his hands, petting it like it's a puppy in the pound and making Sam laugh, when they hear Eve scream. Sam jumps to his feet, and by the time Dean's gotten to his, Eve is at the doorway of the weapons room, flanked by two women, one of whom has her in a vicious chokehold. Then the one with her arm over Eve's neck smiles, quick and deadly, and he recognizes Kate, that vampire whose mate Dad killed with the Colt.
Kate sniffs the air and says conversationally to Eve, "I thought you smelled familiar, but the Winchester stink in here is just terrible." The other vampire sniggers stupidly. Eve's pleading, desperate eyes well up, and Sam takes a tentative step toward the three of them.
Kate tightens her arm, casually, and Eve gasps. "I don't think so, Winchester," she purrs. "Take a couple steps back. Next to that smartass brother of yours."
"Not a big fan of that plan," he says.
Her eyes narrow and she hands Eve off to her sidekick, who grabs the girl roughly by the arm. Kate steps forward, and her hair is ruffled by something that flies right by her; she goes completely motionless and Sam finds himself turning to see what's happened. The other vampire is pinned to the wall by the heavy arrow in her throat, courtesy of Dean's crossbow. She sounds like she's retching, frantically tearing at the bolt, but it doesn't budge.
Eve is the first to react, running out of the room. Kate turns back to Dean with a snarl. "I am going to rip you apart," she promises, and Sam knows it's up to him to save his brother. He stabs at her with the little silver knife he pulls off the wall, but that was a mistake, getting that close to the weapons, because now he's boxed in, trapped up against the wall, and Dean is on the other side of the room, decapitating the other vampire with a sharp sword.
Kate's hungry mouth is getting closer and he hears a pounding – his heart, it must be – and Dean's shaky voice calling his name. Dean pulls Kate away, spinning her roughly with borrowed strength, and while she's between the two of them, uncertain which of them to kill first, a shot rings out. Kate falls to the ground, Dean's knees buckle, and Sam looks over to see Eve in the doorway, the smoking Colt in her hand.
He's paralyzed, realizing the last bullet's been wasted, and only comes back to awareness when he hears a pained gasp. Dean's sitting up and cleaning a long scratch on Eve's neck with holy water and the hem of his shirt; she's shaking and her eyes are closed, and the Colt lies on her lap.
"God," she says, "that hurts like hell." She sounds tired, and so young that Sam wants to clap his hands over his ears.
"I know," Dean says.
"Thank you," she says, with sudden fervor, opening her eyes to fix them insistently on Dean.
"Don't still want to kill me, do you?" Dean jokes awkwardly, and Sam hates that Dean's had his guard up all this time.
A tiny smile appears on her ashen face. "A lot less than usual," she allows, her pale eyes sliding over to Sam for reassurance. "Sam," she asks, and he sits beside her and gives her a shoulder to lean on.