She talks Molinson into taking a quick coffee run with her, more to get away from her desk than anything else. The new Starbucks down the street is incredibly crowded.
"I always feel stupid asking for a grande anything. What happened to 'small, medium, and large'?"
"No idea. But the blondies here are good enough that I'd order in whatever language they pick." Those blondies were going to be her downfall before she decided to allow herself one only at the successful conclusion of a case.
"White chocolate scones for me," Molinson laughs, patting her stomach. "Have to run an extra mile, but, God, they're good."
The coffee and casual chat are exactly what she needs, but their effects don't last. The minute she's back at her desk, the case crowds back into her brain as she tries to take it apart, figure out the individual pieces. The sharp sound of her phone interrupts Kathleen's frustrated afternoon. It takes her a moment to place the voice. It's Roger Dawes, all courtly phrasings and calm voice, asking if she's got a moment to take a look at something he's found.
When she gets to his office, she sees him standing, his hands clasped behind his back, waiting for her. She hadn't realized before how tall he was, and she tilts her head back to meet his gaze. Bringing out the bullet in the plastic bag again, he says, "The inscription's Latin. I thought I recognized a few of the words from my days as an altar boy but not enough to make sense of it. I talked to my priest, asked him if he'd ever heard this particular sequence of words. He hadn't, said they weren't any formal part of any liturgy or service, but that they sounded like a prayer someone with a knowledge of the Church might have written himself. Not a priest, but a believer."
Kathleen feels weary already at the thought of the wild-goose chases this information is going to send her on. Religion and violence are never easy to untangle once they've come together. "And what does it say?"
"It's not grammatically correct, apparently, but it says something about a trinity, about one bullet taking three lives – in heaven, on earth, and in hell. But all three lives being bound together." He looks solemnly at her for a moment, then turns to hand her his final report.
"Thanks," she says, and turns to head back to the stairs.
"Kathleen," the chief says, "could you come into my office, please?"
This case is doing wonders for her popularity. She follows him into his office and feels a spark of unease at the sight of someone else already in there, leaning against the wall with one hard shoulder, his eyes already on her.
"You know Craig Curran, deputy chief, right?" the chief asks.
"Yes, sir," she says tightly. The Hoover, he's called, the guy who cleans up everyone's messes in no time flat, the guy who's never bothered to make any allies or friends but whose record is unbeatable.
"He's going to be primary on the Graeblowski homicide from now on."
"Sir . . ." she gets out, shocked by her swift dismissal. They can't have expected a solution already, so why is she getting the bum's rush?
"It's his case now, Kathleen," the chief continues, flatly, like he's scared she'll make a scene. "You've done good work on this case, I've seen it. But it recently came to my attention that you never took the time off you were supposed to between quitting Hibbing and coming here. You take those two weeks off, starting tomorrow. Just give Curran your notes and a status report and you can even go this afternoon."
"If you're not unhappy with my work, sir, why are you pulling me from the case?"
The chief looks sharply at her. "I told you before, Hudak – this is a high-profile case. The mayor's office feels that someone local might be able to get more of a handle on things."
Politics are the best way to mess up any investigation, as far as she's concerned; no one ever remembers the victim. Giving both the chief and the Hoover a long, hard look, she can tell that this will be no exception. "I really don't think that's necessary, sir."
"Decision's been made."
This whole thing is a mess, but she can't go against her chief's direct orders. "Yes, sir," she says and walks out the door.
There's a typed report waiting for her on her desk. It's the cleanup crew's findings, detailing everything in that alley, from the sulfuric content of the dark stain she spotted near Graeblowski's head to the names of all the people whose fingerprints were found on the fire escape. One name jumps out at her just before she's about to put the report into the pile for Curran: Sam Winchester.
Dean makes it clear without a word that he's vetoing Sam's suggestion of some rest, and Sam can't really imagine himself seriously asking Dean to take a nap. The three of them head downstairs and Sam swallows a moment of panic when he sees that the front door is hanging open and there are groceries spilled all over the front hall. He grabs the heaviest-looking bags and heads for the kitchen.
Dean sits at the table with a dented pint of chocolate ice cream and a couple of spoons, and Eve picks up the phone. Sam draws a deep breath and prepares to explain why calling the cops would be a bad idea, but she turns her back on him and orders two extra-large pizzas with everything on them. Dean nods his approval and gestures for the two of them to join him.
"So . . ." Dean says, his eyes never leaving the long pink line that marks Eve's neck, "who are you? No bullshit this time."
"Evelyn Elkins," she returns quietly, her spoon digging into the ice cream.
Shit. "Any relation to Daniel Elkins?" Sam asks, ignoring the spoon Dean is holding out to him; Dean huffs and starts eating again.
"My grandfather. I never met him. I called him, once, to tell him that my grandmother was dead, and he said I couldn't see him. But that he'd make sure I was safe. He's the one who got me this job." She shivers even as she reaches for more ice cream. "Who were those people?"
Her question makes it obvious that she's been kept in the dark all this time, and he doesn't know how to explain all the things that are out there to her. Dean cuts off his musings. "Sammy owed them some money. But you don't have to worry about them; they don't have any friends to come by and bother you."
That's not nearly good enough, but Eve holds up her hand again when Sam opens his mouth to explain. "I don't really want to know, Sam," she says. She blinks, staring down at her shaking hands. "They were going to kill me – kill us – and we killed them instead. That's it. I don't want to think about it anymore."
Her innocence is what he fights to protect. He keeps his mouth shut as she covers her face with her hands.
Eve gets up after a few minutes and looks around the kitchen with watery eyes. She bends to get the cleaning supplies out from under the sink and Sam nudges Dean. While she's cleaning down here, he and Dean can clean up upstairs, get the bodies out of the house and lock up the weapons room again.
Sam can barely hear Dean's soft voice from the other side of Caleb's king-size bed. "What?"
"I said," Dean repeats, gingerly rolling over to face him, "we need to get back out there. I'm strong enough, Sammy. Let's do this."
"No way." He sets his mouth in a thin line, not wanting to utter anything that Dean would take as a challenge.
"Yes way. Who knows what that sonuvabitch is doing to Dad; we gotta be there."
At the mention of Dad, Sam loses his self-control. "You mean, who could Dad be tearing apart from the inside if you're not around? I said no, Dean! You can barely walk across a room, now you want to chase him across the country? And we don't even have the Colt anymore because Eve used the last bullet!"
Dean's face looks tight, verging on anger. "I'm going in the morning."
"You can't, Dean. Please."
Dean closes his eyes and doesn't answer.
Dean's already up and outside by the time he wakes up, and from the window he can see Dean examining the workings of Caleb's beat-up Mustang. He gets downstairs in time to see Dean be greeted by a mug of steaming coffee and a plate of chocolate chip pancakes.
"It's all yours," Eve is saying before she sees Sam and turns back to the stove. "I don't even have a license."
"It'll take a little while to get her back to the way she should be," Dean says before digging in. Dean's intent on his pancakes, and he's not giving Sam a chance to catch his eye. Sam just takes the seat across from him in silence.
Sam picks the lock of the weapons room one last time and starts gathering a new arsenal for the Mustang's trunk. If Dean insists on risking his neck, he should at least be well-armed. When he finally gets back to their bedroom, he packs their clothes into their ratty duffels with practiced motions, his hands moving automatically while he tries to figure out their next move.
It's tempting to call Bobby, but Bobby knows where they are and if he knew anything, he'd've called already. He finishes up and decides at the last minute to put the Colt, shining uselessly on the bedside table, into Dean's bag. Eve doesn't need the reminder, and he can't bring himself to leave behind anything that soothed Dean's sleep.
The food that Eve packed takes up the entire backseat, and Sam taps the horn twice as he pulls out of the driveway; Eve stands on the porch in her tank top and shorts and waves. Dean is silent in the passenger seat, slouching down tiredly, and Sam shifts from reverse to drive.
He gets out to the highway and sees Dean lost in a restless sleep. He follows the signs for Kansas.
The box with all of Riley's things is at the very back of her closet, so Kathleen makes a virtue of it, unpacking all the other boxes, setting some of the sweaters and heavy jeans aside for her trip and throwing the rest on her bed to put away in drawers later. By the time she gets to Riley's box, dark has fallen so completely that she has to turn on the light, and she nearly kills herself tripping over piles of clothes on the way to the lamp.
She wrestles it out and opens its cardboard flaps. There, right on the top, is the picture of Sam that Missy had pretty much snatched from her hand. She moves closer to the light and studies it. Sam's not smiling, but he's looking out like he wants to tell her something. One lock of dark hair is spilling across his brow, just like Riley's used to. Kathleen remembers that Sam was big, pretty much a giant, and even in this picture his shoulders are huge, but his face is so young that he looks as helpless as the fear in Lucky's eyes had intimated.
It's the faintest, most ridiculous of hopes, and she knows that, but Lucky and Sam were the ones who led her to the truth about Riley, however incomplete. Maybe they can help with the Graeblowski case.
She logs on from home and pulls up the file on Sam Winchester. Born in Lawrence, Kansas, just like his older brother Dean. That means that the Winchesters weren't itinerant, probably had some ties to the community, maybe even live there still. And Lawrence is a straight shot down 70 from here, not even four hours away. She can drive that in a morning, check it out and come back within a day. She can't flash her badge around without drawing the attention of the chief and Curran, but Sam will remember her, won't play games with her or lie about why he was in Jefferson City.
So tomorrow she'll take her car for a tune-up and get on the road the day after. The plan should set her mind at ease, but she dreams that night of being back in that house, seeing Riley inside the cage opposite hers.
John recites a credit card number from memory, and that's enough to get his truck's tires changed. There's nothing troubling under the hood; the Demon's damned children went for easy destruction rather than lasting damage.
He shakes hands with the guy once he's done, and climbs clumsily in, pulling the spare key out from under the passenger-side floormat. He should go, find a motel, and get some sleep. Geoff Carradine's credit card has enough life for that and a few decent meals.
He finds a motel that looks like a strip-mall and pulls in. The girl behind the counter has those anywhere-but-here eyes, and she takes the credit card number willingly, even offers to pick up dinner for him while she gets her own from the diner across the street. He's too used up to consider declining, doesn't want to think about the way she simpers and plays with her hair like he's not more than twice her age and broken into the bargain. John opens his mouth to say thanks for the meal and make it clear that's all the interaction she's getting when he sees her eyes pass over his wedding ring like it makes no damn difference at all.
Rage bubbles up inside him, not just at the slight to Mary, not just at the assumption that he wears it for show, but for what it says about her. Is her life so bad she'll wrap her legs around a stranger old enough to be her father on the off-chance he'll get her out of here? He's shaking with anger one moment and it bleeds out of him the next. He can't get caught up in her story right now, not when he's got unfinished business of his own.
When she knocks on his door forty-five minutes later, he takes the food from her and closes the door in her coy and freshly made-up face. She's just a baby, after all.
John wakes late in the morning, still feeling unrested. The casts on his arm and leg kept him pinned, unable to shift for comfort's sake. He gets out of bed, pops his neck and back, and heads into the shower. His hair's dripping cold water down his collar when he walks out of the motel and gets into the truck.
He's thinking of finding a better diner than the one across the street – had no one there ever learned to make a decent cup of coffee? – when his back arches away from the seat and his body is jammed with heat.
Hey, Johnny. I'm back. Did you miss me?
"Get out, you sonuvabitch," John growls, fumbling for the glove compartment, but the Colt is gone and all that's in there is a vial of holy water and another of peroxide.
The Demon clicks its tongue – his tongue – making that admonishing noise he remembers, dimly, hearing from his mother and her sewing circle when he forgot to wipe his feet on the mat outside the front door. Jacky boy, it's no good trying to pretend.
He slumps, mentally anyway, knowing he's too weak to do more than challenge it verbally. "Pretend what?"
I'm the one who gives your pathetic life meaning. You've been chasing after me so much longer than you wooed your pretty, stupid wife. You can tell me the truth, Johnny. She was just puppy love; I'm the real thing. Am I right? It gives him a moment to savor his rage before it butts in again. All you got from her is a couple of brats and a lifetime of heartache. Raw deal.
But now he feels stronger. He knows how to launch his own attack. "My boys are good men." John swallows thickly, feeling his throat constrict from the inside. "Men you fear," he rasps triumphantly.
Fear? Oh, no, Johnny, that's not it at all. They're mosquitoes; they just need to be squashed. You'll see.
Before Dean can ask where they're headed, Sam pounces. The minute he sees Dean waking up, he turns down the radio and grins at his big brother. "That was a nice move with the crossbow, man," he says sincerely.
Dean looks a little surprised but shrugs casually. "No sweat," he says, sounding a little stronger than he had in the early morning.
"Literally," Sam points out. "How did you know that would work?"
There's no bravado in Dean's eyes, and Sam's sure he'll say something along the lines of using whatever's on hand, but then realization hits, and with it comes anger, sharp and sour in the back of his throat. Next to him, Dean sighs and says wearily, "What, Sam?"
"What's got you standing on the accelerator and pretty much mooning every cop around? Ease up."
"We didn't know," Sam bites out, slowing the car down. Dean just looks confused. "We didn't know how to defeat vampires, Dean; we didn't even know they existed."
"Yeah, but we wasted 'em," Dean points out.
"Dad knew. Dad knew those things were out there, but because he got pissed off at Elkins a hundred and ten years ago, he ripped those pages out of his journal." The speedometer needle starts to creep to the right again. "And he never breathed a word about them, never considered that our lives might depend on knowing what was on those pages."
Dean's eyes are cold and flat as stone. "We're alive because of what Dad taught us," he says.
"You have got to be kidding me," he snaps. "You're still defending him? Dean! Forget the vampires! He was ripping you open, and you had to beg –"
"No." It's as close to a shout as Dean's abused throat can form, and Dean has gone white and still. "I am not going to let that thing win. Dad's last memory of me is not going to be me bleeding like a stuck pig. And mine is not going to be of yellow eyes in his face. No, Sammy."
Sam clutches the steering wheel in tight fists and keeps his foot on the gas.
They haven't spoken for a hundred miles, but the skin around Dean's eyes is getting tighter and tighter, and Sam suddenly remembers Dean's weirdly unerring sense of direction and realizes that Dean probably already knew that they were headed for Lawrence.
When Sam pulls up in front of Missouri's house, Dean just closes his eyes briefly like he's praying for patience, then follows Sam up to her door. Sam knocks, just to be polite, he supposes, and smiles when she answers the door.
"Sam, sugar!" she says in that high, sweet tone that soothed him the minute he heard it. "Let me look at you." She reaches up to touch his chin, clucking over the injuries that still litter his face. Dean stands stiffly beside him, practically radiating "hands off" vibes that Missouri heeds. They follow her silently inside.
She motions them to the couch and sits across from them, waiting with patient eyes. "Missouri," Sam starts, turning toward his brother to include him too, "we're looking for Dad again." He pauses, wonders how much she already knows, then decides it might be best to proceed as if she doesn't know any of it. "We were all in a hospital when the Demon possessed him again, and we haven't seen him since. Do you . . . can you tell us where he is? If the Demon's still got him?"
She sighs, sorrow and pity all bundled up in a single long breath. "I can't locate like that, Sam. And I'd need to be in your father's presence to know if he was himself." She drops a hand to Dean's knee, and Sam tenses, watching the muscles of Dean's leg jump. Dean's deliberately not meeting her gaze. "I'm sorry, honey. I know you want to see him real bad."
He's startled when Dean lashes out. "Oh, now I'm 'honey'? Last time I was just the stupid little whipping boy but now you've decided I'm not completely useless after all?"
The words pour out of Dean's wounded throat like bile, and Sam wonders how long they've been brewing. "Fucking useless," Dean mutters, tearing the keys from Sam's hand and stalking out.
He spares Missouri's shocked face one glance and an apologetic smile, then tears off after his brother. "Dean!" he calls, honestly unsure about whether Dean would leave him here.
Dean waits until he's situated himself in the passenger seat before taking off. "Where are we going?" Sam asks quietly.
"Find a motel," Dean says, clipped and hurt. "Not going to make a target of her in case the Demon comes sniffing around again."
Sam can't think of anything to say to that; he sits in silence and watches their hometown pass by in a blur of green and brown.
It's getting harder to hold on to the image of Thomas Graeblowski lying with his dead eyes open in that alleyway; her memory of him is decomposing as quickly as his body. All she can think about is Riley, her and Riley, and Lucky and Sam. That entire endless night is clear in her mind, even if some of the pieces still don't make a lot of sense.
The conversation Sam and Lucky had had, about "usual playmates" and the Benders' proclivities, was definitely edited for her ears, but the familiarity of it, the ease of their communication, still shone through. There had been not a doubt in their minds, once they saw each other, that they were going to prevail.
She could use a shot of positive thinking herself.
She looks up from her book when Barry calls her name to let her know her car's ready. She eats lunch at the nice place on Orchard, sitting near the fireplace with only her book for company. When she gets home, she goes through her CDs and picks out good driving music for herself; this trip isn't a punishment or even a necessity, and she's determined to enjoy it.
In the morning she gets up and dresses in jeans, boots, and a couple of shirts. Her badge goes in her shoulder bag, but her gun stays on her, hidden by the fall of her flannel shirt and thick cloth jacket.
There's a motel right on the cusp of the residential and business districts, and Dean pulls in there after ten minutes of steady driving. He looks tired again, and Sam feels a pang at how much Dean pushes himself even when he doesn't have to, when the better thing to do would be to rest and recuperate.
He lets Dean go to the front desk and get a key while he tries to juggle the food that won't keep longer than a day and a couple of the books he'd chosen from Caleb's selection. He puts the books down, swings their duffels over his left shoulder, and grabs more food; he'll come back out after they've eaten to get the laptop and the books. Dean rounds the corner and points with his chin to the room at the end of the row, number 12; he scrapes the key against the door before managing to slot it into the lock, and the door finally opens.
The room is a lot tamer than usual, and Sam's suspicion that his brother looks up bizarre places to stay before they head to a town escalates. This place is a dull mustard color, with brown curtains and dark but scarred wooden furniture. It might have looked warm and homey when it was new, and it honestly doesn't look that bad now.
Sam dumps the food in the middle of one bed and settles himself at the foot. Dean eyes him for a moment before coming over to sit, his back propped up against the headboard. Dean reaches for a triple-decker sandwich wrapped in wax paper and Sam relaxes and begins to eat.
Dean's snoring quietly and Sam is fighting off his own food coma – not a term he wants to use anymore, actually – as best he can. Moving will just wake Dean up, so he reaches for the remote and turns the TV on.
It flickers off and on a few times, and he turns his head to look out the window. There's lightning flashing outside, but no rain is falling. Figuring he should get out to the car before it does start to pour, he ends up making a few trips to bring the books and laptop in; by then Dean is sitting up and rubbing at his eyes.
"Bring the rest of the stuff, would you?" Dean mumbles, blinking tiredly, and Sam takes heart at the casual tone.
"Sure thing," he says, and brings in all of the weapons, cleaning out the car completely. Dean grabs one of the bottles of water when it hits the bed, gulping down half of it. Sam asks, "Coffee?" as a peace offering, and Dean smiles up at him.
He's glad to see that the heater's clicked on when he gets back. "Dude, it's freezing out there," he says. Dean looks up from the gun he's cleaning and nods. "Man, I'm just glad the rain held off." He hands Dean the extra-jumbo cup of coffee, watching him remove the plastic lid and pour about a quarter of it straight down his throat. Dean sighs contentedly and wipes his hands, then reaches for the bag of homemade cookies Eve packed for them, lying just beyond the row of guns laid out in front of him.
Sam smiles to himself and sips his own coffee. He sits on the other bed and opens the newspaper he bought. The big story seems to be the weather; no one at the Dunkin Donuts could stop talking about it. Wildly fluctuating temperatures and freak lightning flashes for the last few days were throwing everyone off. Some people seem to be linking the lightning to all the dead livestock, but the corpses had revealed no such connection. Sam drops the paper in shock. "Dean," he says, "the Demon's coming here."
"You gotta call Missouri," Dean says; "warn her. Tell her to get out of here."
Sam picks up his phone but then has to scrabble through the journal to find her phone number. Dean is frowning, waiting for his own call to connect. "Bobby," Sam hears him say before he finds Missouri's number staring up at him from the grimy page.
Missouri's voice is thin and frightened, but she refuses flat-out to go anywhere. "Not if I can be of any help, sugar," she says defiantly, and he's simultaneously touched and frustrated. Missouri could escape; she doesn't need to declare her allegiance.
He tries again to warn her off, but she stands firm. "Demon don't care about me, baby," she says; "won't bother with small fry like me. But if I can help y'all out, I will, you understand me?"
"Yes, ma'am," he murmurs, disconnecting and looking up to see Dean smiling as he snaps his phone shut.
"I got an idea, okay?" Dean waves off his questions. "Just let me sleep on it."
"You think the Demon will still be in Dad?"
Dean's face goes grim. "I hope not. Who knows what it could do to him from the inside. Hey, when the Demon left Dad – in the cabin, I mean – did you see it go?"
"Yeah," Sam says, uncomprehending. "Yeah, I saw it go . . . kinda between the floorboards," he recalls after a moment.
Dean gets his grin back. "That's what I thought. So not out the window or through the door?"
"No." He feels disconcertingly slow. "What does that matter?"
"The Demon didn't get out any places where we'd laid down salt. Salt still works."
"But holy water didn't."
"I'm talkin' about the oldest and best defense, Sammy."
He doesn't want to bring Dean down, but this is their lives they're talking about. "Salt's not going to be enough, Dean."
"No." Dean's smile hasn't dimmed. "But it might be enough of a step one."
Kathleen expected an easy drive, and until she hits Lawrence, it pretty much is. Clear and crisp and bright, the day is perfect for driving, singing, and air-drumming when there's no one else on the road, but never at a stoplight in case there's a traffic cam; no one needs to see how ready she is for Spinal Tap.
Ten miles outside Lawrence the air starts crackling, and she notices an odd stench in the air. Not skunks, not paving tar. More like the stink of roadkill, but she hasn’t seen a single dead animal on her way into the city.
She gets turned around a few times – too many roads with the same name, Laurel Avenue turning into Laurel Street, intersecting with Laurel Road – but she finds the police station eventually, and then, just a few blocks down, a diner she'd bet her life caters mostly to cops. She slides into a booth and waits for someone looking to talk.
She gets lucky with Ted, old enough to have been on the force twenty years ago, high enough up that he's not worried about clocking in after a long, late lunch. He remembers the Winchesters, he says, and tells her about a fire that started in the baby's room and how everyone but the wife got out. "Husband had to have done it," Ted says, "but hell if we could figure out why." He swallows the dregs in his coffee cup. "Packed up the kids and left town."
"Couple weeks, maybe." His sharp blue eyes are searching the diner.
"Was there an investigation?"
Ted smiles at the bleached-blonde waitress topping off his coffee. "Yeah, but it didn't go anywhere. Guy was damn clever, and hid real good too."
She remembers Lucky's words about pulling Sam from a fire. Nothing here is adding up. No mention has been made about the older boy, Dean, the one who went on a murderous rampage in St. Louis.
"Figured the guy buckled the kids up in that car – was a real beauty – and took off like a bat out of hell." Ted's drained his cup dry again.
The waitress heads back to their table with a full pot. "What kind of car?"
"Big, black gas-guzzler. Guy was a mechanic, knew his stuff."
Remembering Lucky's ride, gleaming like a hearse, she nods to get a refill of her own cup.
It's dark and there's lightning flashing threateningly by the time she finally gets free from Ted, who clearly loves having a new audience for his old stories.
Kathleen stops at the cash register on her way out. "Is there a motel nearby?" she asks, unwrapping a mint from the dish.
"Yeah, hon," the waitress says. "Just get back onto Laurel, heading south. You can't miss it."
When she finally finds it, there's no shiny black car in the parking lot. She takes a wild leap anyway and shows the woman behind the counter Sam's picture, but nothing clicks. When she describes Lucky, though, the woman's eyes gleam with recognition. "Sounds like the guy in 12," she says after inspecting Kathleen's badge. "But I don't want any trouble here."
"No trouble," Kathleen assures her. "Just need to ask a couple of questions."
He gets up to answer the door, expecting to see Missouri standing there, fists on her hips. His mouth falls open when he realizes who it is. "Officer," he says, hearing Dean glide up silently behind him. "What can I do for you?"
"Hi, Sam," she says, smiling up at him. "Mind if I come in for a moment?" He wishes Dean would give him a sign, but if there's one being sent, he's not catching it.
He takes a breath and swings the door open. "Sure."
At least the room looks relatively normal. The weapons are all out of sight, though the smell of Dean's gun oil lingers, its sharpness cutting through the sweet aroma of Eve's baking. He looks down and sees his photograph in her hand. "What's that?" he blurts.
She looks over at Dean with a friendly nod. "He gave it to me, when we were looking for you, back in Minnesota."
He looks over at his brother. "Dean, you carry around a picture of me?"
He's expecting some sarcastic response, but Dean growls, "Shut up, Sammy," and the cop – what was her name? Katherine? – goes stiff.
"You're Dean Winchester?" she asks, and Sam begins to panic.
"Kathleen," Dean says, his hands up in a hang-on-a-minute gesture. "Kathleen, please listen to me. I am Dean Winchester. The cops in St. Louis got the wrong guy." Dean's letting his eyes do most of the talking. "You've got no reason not to trust me, right?"
"You impersonated an officer."
"To get my brother back." Dean's response is immediate and it works.
"Okay," Kathleen says, standing down, taking a seat on the near bed.
"Kathleen, what are you doing here?" Sam asks finally.
She looks up at him and nods slowly. "Looking for you, actually. Got a hell of a weird case, and your fingerprints were found in the vicinity."
Sam shakes his head. "We haven't been back to Minnesota" – he clears his throat, thinking of Pastor Jim bleeding to death in his own church – "since then."
"No, I transferred. I work out of Jefferson City now. Body of a white male found in an alleyway. No motive, no reason for him to have been in Jefferson City; I was hoping you might know something about it."
Sam feels his spine stiffen and can sense Dean's doing the same. He turns to look at his brother, who fixes his eyes on Kathleen and warns her she'll find it hard to believe him, then proceeds to explain about the Demon and his children and why he killed the man in the alley.
Sam takes it as a good sign that Kathleen doesn't run screaming.
"Sulfur," Kathleen says again, her tone more considering than disbelieving. Sam wonders how many things must be clicking into place for her. "Black eyes." Dean nods.
"And the gun?" Her eyes widen when Sam pulls it out of Dean's duffel and hands it over. "It's beautiful," she says softly, holding it up to the light to read the words engraved on the barrel. "Non timebo mala."
"I will fear no evil," he translates for her.
"What does the inscription on the bullet mean?"
He's shocked that Dean doesn't look more surprised; Sam's never heard of any inscription on the Colt's bullets. "What did your guys come up with?" Dean asks instead of answering.
Kathleen says something about the trinity, three lives all bound up together, and Dean grins and says, "That's pretty much what we got, too," like they're all comparing math homework. Sam wonders if maybe Dean really does have this all locked down, but that seems too good to be true.
Just then, Sam's body goes cold, then hot, then numb. The words of the part of the Rituale Romanum that he committed to memory at Dean's insistence are jumbled up in his head. "Sammy?" he hears, feels Dean's hands – still strong, somehow – gripping his shoulders. There's a pull in his gut, just behind his navel, jerking him forward, while his limbs flail, trying to stay put; his head doesn't know which way to go. His heart, meanwhile, feels like it's being ripped out. "Sammy!" he hears again, as if from a great distance, and he opens his mouth to shout back at Dean and ask for a lifeline but the darkness overcomes everything.
Sam comes back around to hear Dean trying to get Kathleen to leave while rousing him gently. "Sammy, come on, wake up." Dean's voice is hoarse, like he's been pleading for hours. "Kathleen, please, you have to go. I can't . . . you'll only get in the way. Sammy, come on, brat. Rise and shine."
He opens his eyes a crack and sees Dean's pale face. "Vision?" Dean asks as Sam struggles to sit up.
"Yeah," Sam breathes, gulping down the water Kathleen hands him. "Demon. Dad. Tomorrow night." He turns to Kathleen. "Thank you."
Something about his exhaustion convinces her when Dean's frantic words couldn't. She lets herself out and Dean's eyes roll back in his head.
He's crying as he digs, big, messy sobs that should incapacitate him because no air is coming in, but his body keeps moving quickly along. Mary, Mary, I'm sorry is all John can think, while the Demon uses his hands and his body's muscle memory to pull up the soil covering the fragments of her body. The earth is rich and fragrant, and it would turn his stomach, but he's not the one in control of his organs anymore.
What's the matter, Johnny? Don't you like your new home? It's his own grave he's digging, then, not just exhuming her. That doesn't sound bad at all, a little rest, close to her forever. There's a shift as his body stops digging, stands upright, and holds one hand out, palm up. Even got you a little housewarming present. John watches in horror as something the size of his fist rests heavily on his hand, then falls into the open grave. Mary's heart. He couldn't protect her even from that final desecration. Don't need to hang on to this old thing any longer, but it might spruce up your new place. John wants, more than he wants to die or to throw up everything he's ever eaten, to wipe his brain clean of that image, that voice. He knows he'll never be able to do it.
He tries to think about how tall and strong his boys would stay in the face of this. He holds on to that idea as tightly as he can.
They're there in the graveyard, stealing out of the darkness like his longing for them brought them to him, Dean supporting Sam, or maybe it's the other way around, because they both look exhausted and hurt and the evil thing inside him starts to laugh at these little tin soldiers, look at them, so determined. It's kinda cute. John hopes they brought the Colt, that they can now see their way clear to killing the Demon, no matter where it hides and how it toys with them. Oh, Johnny, didn't you hear? That last bullet went into a vampire. Not a very pretty vampire either. Nothing like our beautiful Mary. He knows by now when it's telling the truth and he realizes that it picked this moment for a showdown precisely because their last weapon is useless; he's put all his faith in the Colt and come up with no Plan B. Told you I'd squash them, Jack. Is it just me or do they look halfway dead already?
John can feel the Demon, curious but unconcerned, watching his boys, Dean whispering something to Sammy. Not too late to make a deal, boys it sings out, forcing his voice to a jolly, horrible heartiness. Sam, you come with me, and we'll leave Dean to keel over whenever he likes. Won't lay a finger on him. They ignore him and Sam closes his eyes while Dean pulls out the Colt. It laughs again, doubling him over with its glee, wiping at his eyes. An empty gun's not a real effective weapon, Dean. That all you can muster? Its laughter echoes dementedly.
John feels a surge of triumph when it stops laughing and he opens his eyes to see the crude circle of salt laid down around his feet, Dean shaking his fingers to get the last of it off. I'm inside your daddy, Dean; you know a little salt won't stop him from going anywhere he likes.
Dean just smiles, hard and angry, and John finally hears Sam's voice, low and relentless, intoning the ritual that will force the Demon out of him and into its own corporeal form. His boys have made the wrong move, trying too hard to save him instead of figuring out how to kill the Demon, and John closes his eyes again, this time in defeat.
John can hear his voice spouting filth, trying to distract Sam, but the boy is as implacable as ever, staying on target despite sweating and shaking like a snake-handling preacher, while Dean watches all of them and keeps his hand on the Colt. When it happens, it should feel like a relief, a return to the natural order of things, getting the Demon out, but instead it's as if the huge, clumsy staples that have been holding him together have all snapped under pressure and his lifeblood is flooding out. There's a moment of sheer terror when he's alone in the circle of salt, his knees locked while waiting for black sulfuric dust to stop rising from the ground as if the Demon is and always has been all around them, and then he feels himself shattering into innumerable pieces and begins to fall.
Before he hits the ground, before his body contaminates the ring of shining white salt, John feels a hand on his good arm. There's a woman there, speaking to him in a low, soothing tone, bearing his weight as he pitches forward, away from the darkness swirling into solidity. He focuses on her eyes – they look as bright as a shapeshifter's – and lets her lead him out of the circle.
"Boys," he gasps, now that his voice is his own again. John knows the woman hears him from the way she slows to a halt and turns so that he can see the showdown taking place over Mary's open grave. Sam's silent now that the ritual is done; he's dropped to his knees and is scrabbling at the ground like he needs purchase to keep from vaulting across the grave to get to the Demon's side.
Dean moves forward until Sam is huddled between his wide-spread feet. Dean's hand, holding the Colt, is steady, though the rest of his body is trembling. Sam's head jerks up as though he's being called, and the yearning on his face is terrible. John can see Dean squeeze Sam a little more tightly with his legs while he chews his lower lip into a bloody mess.
The moment the swirl of thick black dust becomes solid, Dean fires.
The shot is silent, just as it had been when he'd fired at the vampire, and John figures he must be going deaf because no replacement bullet could slide so smoothly out of that elegant barrel. His eyes are bleeding now, as light of every color and unbearable brightness flashes out from the point of the bullet; this is what he expected Samuel Colt's handiwork to look like, but that's impossible. The Demon's scream echoes throughout him like all of his bones have gone hollow, and he watches as best he can while the Demon shimmers like an oil spill against the dark sky, collapsing in a filthy heap. Both his boys seem to deflate, sunk low on knees and forearms, and he fights against the woman's hands, holding him still when he needs to touch them, make sure they're still alive. Even with her help, it takes an eternity to make his way to his sons, and they aren't moving.
A hand on each boy's back, rib cages shuddering uneasily beneath, gives John the strength to kick salt onto the Demon's remains and light the ugly mound, the silver splat of the used slug lying on top. The fire burns quick and bright, extinguishing itself the moment there's nothing left but scorched earth. He's all set to collapse when the woman gets her arms around him again, urgency making her rough, and marches him to her car, propping him up in the front seat. Through the windshield he can see Caleb's beat-to-shit Mustang, then the woman doing her best to support first Sam, then Dean, and push them into the backseat. He hears her call them by name and closes his eyes, allowing himself to believe that maybe it really is all over.
The Winchesters are big men, all three, but after years of wrangling her brother, drunk and loose-limbed, Kathleen knows how to manage them. Seems like she can't help tangling memories of Riley up with thoughts about Sam and Dean; it hurts less than she thought it would, maybe because they're the ones who helped her put him to rest.
She gets Sam out of the car first, trying to be gentle. She gets him into one of the queen-size beds and goes back out to deal with his brother. Before she can lay Dean out on the other bed, Sam – not quite conscious by the looks of him – calls for his brother. It makes more sense to put them together than to separate them and put the father in the spare bed in her room – easier to keep an eye on all of them, each breathing like he's sucking in his last gasps of oxygen. They quiet down once they're all in the room, and Kathleen's amazed at how closely bound together they are.
The boy at the counter of the motel office smiles as he swipes Kathleen's credit card to cover both rooms for another day. She makes a quick detour to her dingy room to shower and brush her teeth, then lets herself back into the Winchesters' equally ugly room.
Sam is just getting out of the bathroom, and he gives her a big grin. "Sam!" she says, shocked at how healthy and strong he looks, a far cry from what she saw yesterday.
"Hey, Kathleen. Thanks for getting us out of there." He sits at the small card table and looks up at her.
She sinks into the other chair. "What . . . happened out there?" It bursts out of her mouth before she can stop it.
"I'm trying to piece that together too," he says, looking so serious she knows he's being honest. "You saw – I mean, you know that I have visions. Always related to the Demon. So I saw that it had Dad, and that they'd be near Mom's grave last night." He pauses for a moment, his head cocked to the side. "I wonder if I'll still have the visions now."
He's not answering the most important question. "So it's really gone?"
Sam smiles the smile of the first kid up on Christmas morning. "They wouldn't be sleeping like this if it wasn't. I want them to sleep for a week."
Sam looks lost in thought for a long moment, and Kathleen lets him savor the sight of his father and brother sleeping deeply. Something seems to click in his brain and he turns back to her. "What was that you were telling Dean about an inscription on the bullet?"
"Oh! Dawes – the ballistics expert – found it. Said it was Latin. Something about a trinity of lives." It's hard to remember, given the pyrotechnics she's witnessed and the revelation that demons walk the earth.
Sam frowns. "I still don't get it. Even if he used the bullet from Dad's leg, how could Dean have known it would work?" He gives his brother a long, speculative look, then ruffles through a bag, coming up with a leather journal stuffed full of newspaper clippings and sticky notes. Holding the book on his lap, he flips to the end and reads for a minute before crowing with glee.
He puts the journal on the table and spins it toward her so she can read the writing on the page. "SC Journal (Bobby)" she sees at the top, then a string of Latin she's got no hope of deciphering. Sam's watching her, waiting for her to get it before remembering that she can't read the words in front of her.
"It's a riddle!" he says, and again she's amazed at how much younger he seems now than he had even two days ago. "It's from Samuel Colt's journal; he made this gun to kill demons and inscribed each bullet with this text. It says what Dawes told you, that each bullet was destined to take three lives – in heaven, earth, and hell – but that it would only fulfill its destiny and be spent when there was a trinity behind it too, three lives all intent on killing whatever it was that needed to be killed."
It takes her a while to start to untwist that logic. "So that's why the bullet we pulled out of Graeblowski" – Sam gives her a puzzled look – "the Demon's kid, the one in the alley, looked brand new? Because only Dean fired?" That still makes no sense.
"Kind of. But Graeblowski didn't have three lives to lose. He had his here, on earth, and the demon inside him had one, in hell, but that's it. The Demon we killed last night – it was older than that. It was around when heaven and hell were still being divided." Sam looks earnestly at her, then shrugs a little. "Well, Dean's always been good with puzzles like this. He must have used the bullet the hospital pulled out of Dad, because that one had taken no lives at all before."
"So the Graeblowski bullet– that's still got one kill in it?"
"I think so. It shouldn't have been used on a human," Sam says solemnly. "But the Demon's kid was going to kill me, and Dean couldn't stop him any other way."
Kathleen remembers what that rage feels like, can still feel the twitch of her muscles just after she pulled the trigger on Abraham Bender. "I take that bullet out of the evidence room and get it to you, that means one less demon walking the earth?"
"Yeah." He smiles like they've been bargaining for days and just come to a truce.
"It'll take a little while," she warns. Curran won't want to give up his perfect record and he'll stew over every piece of evidence for weeks.
Sam's smile widens and she gets a peek at dimples that should really be outlawed. "This would be the best way to reach us," he says, scribbling on a blank page of the journal, ripping it out and handing it to her. There's a Lincoln, Nebraska address on it and a California phone number underneath. "We'll be around," he says like a promise.
He gets up to put the journal back in the duffel bag against the wall and digs around in it for a moment, coming up with a big paper bag that smells pretty damn good. "Want some cookies?" he asks. "We've got plenty."
She thinks back to milk and cookies with Riley, his little legs swinging happily, and smiles up at Sam. "Yeah," she says, and reaches for one, chocolate-chocolate chip, and closes her eyes in delight.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
Huge thanks go out to dotfic who did a super-speedy beta on this while sick as a dog, and janissa11, who kicked my ass on this story. Both of you are wonderful and amazing, and I'm lucky you're willing to make me better.