Sam can feel the heat of the diner making his cold face tingle, and Dean's cheeks are getting pink. A waitress with a Santa hat over her blonde curls raises a coffee pot in salute and nods when he tilts his head inquiringly. He finds a table near a window and watches the first flakes of snow drift down, speckle the Impala, and then disappear. In the window's reflection, he sees Dean's ghostly hands curl around a mug of coffee, and he hears his brother hum in pleasure at the first satisfying sip.
He powers up the laptop and leaves most of the coffee cake for Dean, who's picking it apart crumb by crumb, not exactly restless or fidgeting, but making busywork nonetheless. He leans forward with excitement, his hand knocking against Dean's as he turns the laptop around. "Found a case," Sam says, and Dean ducks his head down to read, tilting the screen a little to remove the glare.
Dean's face goes hard as he reads; something is eviscerating children in West Virginia. Dean splits the remainder of the cake in two, bolts down his half, and stands, throwing cash on the table. "Let's get a move on," he says, and heads for the door.
Dorline, West Virginia is a pit of mud and even the Impala balks, tires slipping and skidding on the slick roads, but Dean half-wrestles and half-coaxes her into obedience while Sam reads the local newspapers by the dim map lights. There's only one place to stay, a cross between a motel and a bed-and-breakfast, called the Dew Drop Inn. Dean pulls up as close as he can to the entrance and Sam gets out, ducking his head down against the pounding rain. A man who's about the age Dad would have been is behind the counter, a mug of Irish coffee sending up swirls of steam near his elbow. He looks frankly shocked to see Sam, but pulls himself together enough to stand and smile. "You need directions, son?"
"No, actually, I need a room. Two queens, if you have it." Sam fishes for his wallet and pulls out a MasterCard with the name Jeff Bentley.
The man's eyebrows have gone all the way up but he just says, "Sure, sure. I got that. Here you go, room eleven. When you leave the office, make a left, then another left. It's across from the soda machine." He picks up the credit card and swipes it through his machine, a few times, muttering frustratedly about modern technology. Sam tenses a little; that card is one of the last Dean made before the deal was broken, part of the new life he wanted to give Sam, no outrageous rock star names or inside jokes, and it should be clean as a whistle. "Ah, there we go," the man says finally, as the machine beeps. "Always takes it a minute to get going."
"Thanks," Sam says, taking back the card and pocketing the key, jingling on a chain with a geode charm.
"Happy New Year, son," the man calls out as the door closes behind him.
Dean insists on hitting this case with everything they've got, attacking on all fronts at once, so they split up, Dean taking the physical evidence - the children's mutilated bodies, the sites where they were found - while Sam gets to talk to the families and wave his newest FBI badge around. He goes to home after home, small ranch-style houses with wreaths still on the front doors. They all have dingy, thin carpets and old, polished pianos in the living rooms with framed photographs resting on top. There's not a lot of racial diversity in the town, and the victims reflect that, white, Christian children, all between the ages of six and eight, boys and girls alike.
The Bell home is the last on his list, and Moira Bell opens the door to him, wearing an apron and clutching a handkerchief with which she dabs at her overflowing, red-rimmed eyes. She leads him to a plastic-covered couch in the living room and he sits opposite a framed cross-stitch that commands Trust in the LORD with all your heart.
"April made that," she says, sitting on a straight-backed wooden chair bare of any cushions, pointing with one shaking hand at the cloth. "She insisted on picking out the colors herself, and she chose the text too. Said it was the easiest prayer in the world to remember." A sob escapes her, choking her with grief, and she shakes in her chair, thin shoulders quivering.
"Mrs. Bell -" he begins, ineffectually. Dean seems to think that he's got some trick to get people to trust him hidden up his sleeve, but all he really has is a sense of loss that springs up anew whenever he hears about another senseless death.
"No," she says firmly, interrupting him. "Since Robert passed, she's all I had. I will bear it and I will move on. But you will find the man who killed my daughter and you will make him pay."
"Yes, I will," he promises, and steps back out into the rain, opening a huge black umbrella like a thundercloud over himself for protection.
He hasn't even bothered to climb out of his suit or loosen his tie because the idea hits him the minute he steps inside room eleven, the rain beating steadily against the windows. He plugs in his laptop and does some research on the local Catholic church, finding calls for funding, a history of the stained glass windows that adorn the walls, and even a missionary effort to raise one little boy in Kenya as a good Christian child, but not much of anything suspicious. Still, he can't quite shake the feeling that there's something eluding him, something he and Dean will have to put their heads together to puzzle through.
Dean walks in then, heavy boots stopping just inside the door. He strips off his muddy jeans and jacket, peels away his sodden shirts, and heads for the bathroom. "You okay?" Sam calls after him.
"Sure," Dean says after too long a pause. "Just need to warm up."
He checks his watch; it's just about six and it's been a long day already. "Have you eaten anything today?" He'd bet the answer is no; he's been fed tea and cake all day by grieving mothers who live by a code of hospitality, but all Dean had in the car was a couple of energy bars and a half-empty bottle of water. "I'll go get something, okay?"
"Yeah." The bathroom door opens and Dean sticks his head out, face lined and drawn. "Just not - not pizza, okay?"
Sam knows he means nothing with red sauce, nothing that could look even vaguely like the bodies Dean's been seeing all day and will keep seeing even after they kill this thing. "Yeah, I know," he says, and Dean doesn't answer, just retreats into his steam-filled sanctuary, and Sam heads out the door.
The restaurant two blocks away, Doreen's, has a baked mac and cheese special, and while Doreen is boxing up two servings of salad with Thousand Island dressing, macaroni, green beans with almonds, and cherry pie, a man standing with a group of friends comes over and waits for Sam to acknowledge him. He's a stocky man with not a lot of brownish hair, pulling at the brim of a grimy baseball cap and looking uncertain. "Can I help you?" Sam asks, but the man stays silent, eyes fixed on Sam's face.
"I'm Joe Benson. Heard you met with my wife today, that you're looking into what happened to Joey."
The suit and tie, as well as him having an unfamiliar face, must have given him away, made him ridiculously easy to pick out. "Yes, sir, I am. My partner and I are giving these murders our full attention." He doesn't soften the horror of what's happened by calling it a tragedy, won't diminish the children's deaths by referring to them as "the case"; this man's whole world has gone to hell. Joe Benson nods once, looking satisfied, and retreats back to his huddle. When Sam goes to pay, Doreen tells him the bill's already been settled.
He comes back to the room to find Dean in clean, dry clothes, curled on his side on one bed, pen in his hand, head propped up on the other, looking down at his notebook, resting on top of an open map. Dean doesn't look much better, but before Sam can say anything, Dean looks up with a look of grim satisfaction on his face. "I know what happened here," he says, and Sam nods, dumps the food on the bed, and pulls fresh clothes out of his duffel, hearing Dean's unspoken promise - we're gonna get that bastard echoing in his head.
He changes quickly and hangs his wet suit up in the shower, coming out of the bathroom to find Dean picking at the mac and cheese, eating just enough to preclude any nagging; even that is a comfort, a sign of how in tune with each other they are. "What'd you find?" Dean asks, scooping up almonds and even snagging a green bean or two.
Sam gets his own dinner, working backwards and starting with the pie, and puts his feet up on the edge of Dean's bed. "All the victims were Catholic, the right age for a First Communion. I couldn't find much on the church itself, but that's the only thing that links these kids and excludes the ones who weren't taken and killed."
Dean's nodding, lips tight. "Yeah, the sites where the kids were found forms a cross. Maybe an upside-down cross, if you look at it from that side."
Dean is radiating fury. "What?" Dean just shakes his head, like he can't even put the thought into words. "You think this is a human being going around killing these kids?"
"Tell me, Dean."
"EMF meter didn't make a peep all day. Not one murder site had anything supernatural about it. But I saw bootprints at one site and cigarette ash at another. And the kids' bodies - this wasn't something tearing them apart like those daevas. There wasn't any sulfur. Someone sliced them open for a purpose, and he was neat about it."
Dean goes mute and miserable once he's finished laying out his case; he stacks his containers of food on his bedside table and turns off his light. Sam's still cold, the weather and Dean's conviction both contributing, and he figures a long, hot shower will alleviate at least part of the problem.
Their dopp kits and the first aid kit are all, as always, set neatly next to the sink. The first aid kit's not latched shut, though, and Sam opens it up, figuring he should take stock of what they've got and what they're running low on. His hand closes around the new bottle of Advil Liqui-Gels, rattles it reflexively, and frowns when he realizes it's nearly empty. The cap's popped half off, sitting askew like threading it back on would have taken too much effort.
Sam's gut clenches in fear and he replays the evening, realizing that Dean had stayed lying down on his bed, not cleaning weapons or even pacing about the room as he went through the case. Dean's looked tired lately, but he hasn't said a word, and Sam had figured it was nothing serious. He pokes his head out of the bathroom and sees Dean curled on his side, snoring quietly, a frown deepening the lines on his face.
Sam showers quickly and gets into bed, thinking of Dean and considering the case, turning them both over in his mind until it gives out on him and he falls asleep.
When he wakes up, there's an idea in his head that won't leave him alone. The rain's let up, finally, and there's a note from Dean saying he went out to get coffee and breakfast for them both. He splashes a little water on his face to wake himself up and goes back to the laptop.
There. There it is. After all the research he did to figure out how to break Dean's goddamned crossroads deal, he's got some interesting websites bookmarked, and this one is explicit and scarily accurate.
"Dean," he says, when his brother walks in with cinnamon donuts and two jumbo coffees, "I found it."
"Found what?" Dean walks slowly over to the table to set the food down, not wanting to spill, but his halting movements reminds Sam sharply of last night's discovery.
"First of all, explain this," he says, fetching the bottle of Advil and waving it in front of Dean's nose.
"Aw, can't figure out the childproof cap?" Dean smirks. "It's okay, I'm here for you, Sammy."
"Why've you been popping so many?"
"What, it's a capital crime now to take aspirin?"
"Just tell me, Dean."
"Had a headache a couple of times, that's all. Nothing to get worked up about."
"You never take any medication unless it's forced down your throat," Sam says.
Dean looks shamefaced. "Yeah, well, maybe I thought you had better things to do than play Florence Nightingale."
That actually does make sense in a Deanish sort of way, the philosophy of needing to stay strong to watch his brother's back.
"Hey," Dean snaps his fingers in front of Sam's face. "Not getting any younger here. What did you find?"
"Yeah." He turns his laptop around so that they can both see the screen. "I think you're right - the guy doing all the killing is human. But. It looks like he's planning to become something other than human."
"Which means he's fair game," Dean says, and Sam nods. Told you we'd get you, you sonuvabitch Sam hears. "Okay, let's bring this motherfucker down."
Standing in Gerald Romney's house of horrors, looking at everything the man had acquired to aid him in his quest to become a demon here on earth, Sam gets a sudden inspiration.
"You're looking at me like you're calculating how many tears you need to squeeze out to get the last Rice Krispie treat, Sam. I recognize that look."
"I'm just thinking."
"Aw, just spit it out. We got the guy, the demon, whatever. What now?"
"I think there's a lot here that Henrickson should see."
"You want to hand the keys to this place over to the FBI? What've you been smoking?"
"There's only so much he can deny, right, I mean there's got to be a limit. Maybe leaving this stuff for him will get him to piece some stuff together, realize we're not the ones he needs to be fighting."
Dean's silent for a long moment, then looks up with a smile. "At the very least, it'll be an excellent time-waster."
They're packing up their stuff from room eleven, standing back to back and slinging clothes into duffels, when Dean says, "I want to visit Bobby."
Sam turns, but all he sees is Dean's broad back. "No."
"I'm not asking you to go, Sam. I know you don't want to see him. But I'm saying I need to see him, and I'm gonna go."
"Please." He reaches out, puts his hand on Dean's shoulder and turns him halfway around. "Can't you just call him? Email him? Do you have to drive all the way out there?"
"Sam, look," Dean sighs, "don't make a big deal out of this. I'm not taking off, okay? I just want to see him. If you want to come, that'd be great, but I'm thinking you don't, so just think of this as a little vacation, okay?" Dean tosses the five-year planner over. "In fact, I think our next big gig is in three weeks at Woodstock, so why don't you go up early, catch up with Sarah, and meet me there February third?"
That's such classic Dean that he laughs, reassured that there's nothing seriously wrong. Cases involving kids always hit Dean hard; maybe he just needs to drink a few beers with someone who wasn't living the case night and day. "Can I have the car?"
"Not on your life," Dean snorts. "I'll take you to the bus station, Romeo."
4959 / 50,000