There's no sudden starting away, no sense of the spell being broken; they both knew what they were doing, where they were headed, and there's no cause for shame. Still, the mood shifts and he watches her pull back slightly, open her eyes, and put the back of her hand to one of her glowing cheeks. "Sam," she says, her voice a little strangled, and he doesn't answer her, not with words. He lets the hand on her skin keep working, rolling a nipple between his fingers, lets his thumb continue to sketch abstract patterns on her hidden, hot flesh; it's a long, slow, delicious retreat, fingers slipping down, teasing as they go, until finally his hand emerges back into the light and she's sitting mostly upright again.
She looks a little shaky, so he puts his hands on either side of her waist and helps her slide off the washing machine; she stumbles and clings precisely because she's trying too hard to stand on her own. Her lipstick is smudged and messy and her hair is falling out of its neat braid. He pivots her and seats her in the little folding chair, then turns back to pull his clothes out of the washing machine.
An unfamiliar trill sounds, and they realize at the same time that it's the house phone. The sound is coming from the main room, and Sarah looks like she's debating whether it's worth the effort to get up. She seems to decide that it is and she brushes by him as she leaves, quick, light steps that are almost too soft to hear, and he gets back to the task at hand, retrieving his wet, fragrant clothes and shaking them flat, then tossing them into the dryer.
He sits in the little wooden chair and zones out watching the clothes tumbling dry, his eyes tracking a red-toed sock that keeps working its way between shirts and jeans. When the buzzer finally goes off, he realizes that Sarah never came back, and now that the steady humming thunk-thunk noise of the dryer has stopped, he can hear her voice, rising and falling in conversation, from the main room. He takes his time pulling the clothes out of the dryer, turning everything right side out and folding them neatly. Going through the duffel, he sets aside what's still inside - a few weapons, his phone, the five-year planner, a Band-Aid tin stuffed with strips of pills, bandages, gauze, and condoms, and his dopp kit. He gets rid of the detritus of crumpled receipts, empty power bar wrappers, and the sheet of motel stationery on which he'd jotted down Sarah's address. There's a small handheld vacuum in one of the cupboards, and he gets rid of the crumbs and dirt that have accumulated in his bag; there's something relieving about putting everything to rights. The neat stacks of clean clothes go back in the main compartment of the duffel, and the rest of his stuff finds a place in the side pockets.
He pulls the strap over his shoulder and leaves the alcove, turning off the light. Sarah's still on the phone, gesturing emphatically even though he's the only one who can see her. "No, Dad, I need that piece for the 'Life and Loves of Mary Cassatt' exhibition that the Dorsky is running. I asked you about that months ago, when we got the letter." She pauses to listen, then bursts out, angrily, "No, I'm not suggesting we give it away! Think of it as free publicity!" She pulls the phone away from her ear and looks up at the ceiling, taking a deep breath; he moves then, just to let her know he's there, and her eyes widen at the sight of him. Bringing the phone back up to her ear, she says, "Yes. Yes. I know, Dad. I'll send you an email. Yes, I love you too." She hangs up the phone with enough force to make it clang with a weird vibration, then turns to him; there's a completely wicked twinkle in her eye. "Want to go for a ride, Sam?" she asks, lips curving into a naughty smile when she realizes he's not about to refuse her.
Daniel Blake might well be the biggest douchebag on the eastern seaboard, but there's no denying the man knows his cars. Sarah puts him behind the wheel of Daniel's prized electric blue Maserati Spyder, encourages him to floor it, and laughs long and loud when they whip around the curves of the narrow country roads made to look like horse lanes, very upper crust. The only thing that's keeping the moment from being absolutely perfect is the knowledge that Dean wouldn't be jealous, not really; he's too in love with his own car to get much more than a little thrill from driving anything else, even one of the rarest, most expensive, and unworthily-owned cars ever. All Dean would do is whistle through his teeth and then shake his head at a schmuck like Daniel Blake owning such a beauty and keeping it locked up instead of letting it out to do what it was made to do. Still. There's no point taking the car out if he's not ready to see everything it can do; he presses down on the accelerator with a heavy foot and lets the rumble of the engine tear through him as he pulls Sarah closer.
"Home," she says, decisively, though he'd bet money that she'd planned to take him out to dinner for his first night in town.
He eyes her curiously, quickly, not wanting to lose sight of the road, and he catches her direct gaze for a moment. "Don't want to share you tonight," she confesses, voice a murmur in the darkness.
She seems to have gotten some self-control after that, because while he's busy returning the Spyder to its designated spot in the Blake garage, she's stepped demurely out and walked calmly into the house, no extra swing to her hips or anything.
"I was thinking we could order in," she says when he steps into the living room. She's curled on the couch, lounging with the cordless phone in one hand. "Thai, Indian, sushi? What sounds good?"
She has just got to be kidding. He tests out the theory by plucking the phone from her hand and tossing it aside, and she smiles up at him when he holds out his hand, hauls her to her feet, and leads the way upstairs.
Her bedroom is a reminder of all the differences between them, sophisticated with its pale green textured paint and blond wood furniture, impressive copies of some of the world's most recognizable paintings hanging in heavy frames. But the look in her eyes is negating all of that, saying that all that's been missing from the room is him. He takes her at her word and strips her naked.
He's done before she even thinks to reciprocate, and he lets himself look her over, see what his fingers had already discovered. Her breasts are heavy, oval rather than round, with large, soft nipples that look more lavender than pink in the lamplight. She's strongly built, toned body narrowing to form a perfect hourglass shape, and her hips flare out, wide and insistent. Her skin is the most beautiful he's ever seen, her best feature; standing there with the shine of the light on her, he could believe that Sarah had just descended from on high, or sprang to life from some ancient mythology, because she bears no imperfect marks, just glows with health.
Sarah snaps off the light, cutting him off from studying the rising tide of pink across her skin, and steps closer, reaching out for him. Her hands are still cold from the moonlit drive, and he sucks in a breath as the muscles in his stomach contract involuntarily. She keeps going for the button of his jeans, undeterred, and pops it open. Tall as she is even when she isn't wearing her high heels, she's still not tall enough to pull his shirt easily over his head, so he ducks down just a bit, taking over the task when she totters on her tip-toes. He kicks off his shoes, then lets her kneel down to strip him of his socks; she mimics his trick from the laundry room and runs her hand up the outside seam of his jeans, stroking him like a restive animal, and he figures that there's no point in drawing this out any longer. He pulls off his jeans, taking his boxers along with them, and steers her to the bed.
Back up on her tip-toes, she kisses him, winding her arms around her neck and bringing them flush against each other. He keeps sliding his tongue against hers while he lays her down, and though her legs spread automatically and her feet meet insistently at the small of his back, she just continues to kiss him and doesn't press for more.
He realizes in that moment that being with Sarah is different from being with anyone else. Because Sarah - unlike Jess - knows the truth about his life, the secret he guarded so zealously for so long. And Sarah - unlike Madison - not only knows, but survived her brush with the supernatural; she wasn't tainted or destroyed by it. And Sarah just means more than any of the other girls who giggled, took him to bed, and shouted out whatever fake name Dean had put on his ID; Sarah kisses him like she has not, could not, forget the kiss they shared years ago, in the doorway of her father's gallery with his brother looking on, their mouths fused together while their hips rocked gently in time.
Sarah is in for the night of her life.
Every single thing that he learned from being with Jess, every trick he's ever pulled with a one-night stand that got a positive reaction - they're all fair game right now. He pulls away from Sarah's eager mouth and traces the tips of his fingers and then his lips down the center of her body. Holding her thighs nearly flat against the bed, he gives thanks for the flexibility he had guessed at from the yoga mat rolled up in one corner of the room and ducks his head down, letting his nose brush against the dark curls of pubic hair. The tip of his tongue darts out, flitting like a butterfly sucking nectar, quick little licks, barely enough to get a taste of her. The old standby of writing the alphabet with his tongue against her clit is the way to go here, and he's up to "G" when he registers the silence around him, the way her legs aren't tightening around his ears in ecstasy and totally in defiance of his grip, but lying lax and unresponsive under his hands.
"Sarah?" he asks, lifting his head and licking his lips, tonguing away the wetness he'd been chasing.
She sits halfway up, reclining on her side, one arm from elbow to wrist supporting her weight, and reaches out to turn on the lamp on the bedside table. Her dark hair spills across her breasts and back; one nipple peeks through the tangle, and he reaches for it, because he knows just how to play to get her to moan, to scream, to do whatever she does when she's too wound up to think or hush or even breathe. Sarah pulls back just far enough to elude his fingers. "Sam, stop," she says, the look on her face remote and uncomfortably sharp-sighted.
"What's the matter?" he asks. He was definitely getting every signal right; there's no way he could have misinterpreted anything. Maybe she's just worried about the fact that he hasn't got a condom on yet.
"I don't want this," she says, lying there like an odalisque, the living, breathing mirror to the one rendered in smooth brushstrokes and oil paint that's hanging above her bed; one of the girl's hands is picking grapes from a bowl of lush fruit and the pink, nimble fingers of the other hand are employed in playing with herself under a transparent white veil. He doesn't let his eyes drift back down to Sarah, because he's frozen with the fear that he's done something unforgivable without ever meaning to. Up until a moment ago, she had been responding.
"I don't want you to just get me off. I want to be in bed with you, Sam; I want you to talk to me." Sarah speaks her mind and then just watches him, waiting to see what he will do.
He inches closer and starts again. He's done dirty talking before, though never with someone who knew his real name, someone whose name was on the tip of his own tongue. "You're so beautiful, Sarah," he murmurs against her skin, tongue slipping out to lap at her breast. His hand steals downward, and he runs one finger over and around her before letting it sink slowly into the heat of her. "I'm going to open you up, hold you there, let you feel every last inch of me -"
"Sam! Stop!" she says, sounding not panicked but exasperated. "I don't need a narrator either." She pushes at his shoulders, forcing him back, and gets to her knees so that they're facing each other, kneeling on the bed. "I want to hear about you. Can you do that for me, Sam? I've thought so much about you; I want to know what your life has been like."
He gets it then, and leans forward to kiss her, to nibble on her lower lip, unconsciously pouted out with her plea. His fingers tangle in her hair and she tips her head back, baring her throat. "We killed - Dean killed - the demon that killed my mom and my girlfriend," he says, dragging his mouth up the length of her neck, feeling her pulse speed up and throb against his lips. She's ticklish around her belly, a fact he discovers when he trails his fingers along her sides, confessing, "My dad died so that Dean could live." She's moaning softly now. He rests his cheek on her belly, feeling each quick breath she takes, hearing the whimpers she's trying to keep locked in her throat. "Then I died." She flinches before he runs his fingers over her smooth skin and continues, "Dean sold his soul to bring me back to life."
His mouth opens over her, hot breath steaming up her skin, and he pulls back to smell the tangy scent of her arousal. His fingers stroke inside her, twisting gently, watching her come apart against his hand. She's still shuddering when he holds her open and pushes in, still no condom, but she's got to be on the pill. Her eyes widen as he thrusts insistently into her, his hands pulling her waist nearly off the bed, her back arched up and the crown of her head dragging against the pillow; when her eyes regain some kind of focus, he growls, "I saved him, Sarah," and twists his hips sharply enough to make her cry out all over again. "I got him out of the deal," he snarls, his words cutting through her sated cries. He comes in a rush and slumps against her, his head pillowed on her yielding breast.
"Sam?" she murmurs, carding her fingers through his hair. Her thumb slides along his face, encountering his tears; she hesitates and pulls her hand away. He keeps crying silently, not even shaking, just leaking tears, and she shifts until she can draw the blankets up over them and get both of her arms around him. The light still burns brightly over them.
His jeans are ringing. Somehow, that doesn't seem all that odd. Sam lifts his head, grimacing as a strand of drool strings out, stretching between his mouth and Sarah's breast, blinks blearily against the sunshine and the bright yellow light of her bedside lamp, and heaves himself into a seated position.
That's Dean's ring, he registers suddenly, and he wonders that Sarah can sleep right through it. He staggers over and winces as he bends down, pawing through the pile of clothes on the floor, fingers fumbling through each pocket.
He finally finds the phone and flips it open. "Yeah?"
"Morning, lazybones," Dean says, bright and cheery, and Sam blinks slowly, as if he can buy himself some time that way.
"Dean? What're you doing awake already?" The antique brass clock on the bedside table near the window reads nine a.m. That makes it seven out in South Dakota, right? Or is that one of those weird states that splits itself? He used to know this stuff.
"Well, Sammy, out here at Little House on the Prairie, chores begin at sunup," Dean says in his best mockery of a gather round the campfire tone. Dean pauses, waiting for a retort, and then slips back into his normal voice when he doesn't get one. "Nah, Bobby wakes up early, says old men don't need much sleep, and I decided to just get up when I heard him puttering around."
Dean does sound better, maybe resting easier about something. Knowing him, it could just be the knowledge that his little brother's got a sure thing lined up. Still, an early morning call has never boded well for either of them, and he has to make sure, no matter how much mockery he's letting himself in for. "Are you good?"
"Yeah, are you?"
"Yeah. Sarah's been great, and there's some winter carnival she wants to go to next week - wait, I'm going to miss your birthday, aren't I?"
"Don't worry about it," Dean says easily. "I'm okay out here."
The reassurance comes too quickly, and Sam swallows down the hurt. "Are you saying you'd rather be with Bobby than with me?"
"Let's see, on the one hand we've got a guy who makes the best coffee I've ever had in my life, even if he refuses to bake a goddamn pie every once in a while" - Dean's voice rises on that like he's making sure Bobby can hear every word coming out of his smart mouth - "and on the other, we've got a drama queen who's been given a second shot at a great girl and would probably whine like an overgrown, pesky baby at the thought of leaving her again." Just when Sam's sure Dean's about to say you do the math, Dean veers in a different direction. "Course, one of those two is my baby brother, who owes me birthday cake out the wazoo, so no, Sammy, I'm not saying I'd rather be with Bobby than with you, and only an idiot would think that's what I meant."
Sam grins into the phone. "Yes, your life is so tough, Dean, having to deal with a brother of limited intelligence."
"Dude, you have no idea," Dean says, deadpan. "And have fun out there."
"My mom used to take me ice skating every day while the rink was open," Sarah says, steam from her hot apple cider rising and veiling her face, painted bright pink from the cold.
"I don't know how to skate, Sarah," Sam says for approximately the hundredth time. He shies away from further explanations, and really, Sarah's much too smart not to have figured out that any activity that required expensive equipment was not one he would ever have been able to participate in. His conscience is only slightly stricken when he wishes that the skate rental counter will have no skates large enough for his feet; unfortunately, they can fit him out, no problem.
Sarah's got her monogrammed white skates on and she's acting like it's perfectly natural to walk on two thin blades rather than nice safe human feet; she kneels on the weird turfy stuff that lines the rink and does up his battered black skates with swift, sharp movements, locking his ankles firmly into place. Sam looks down at the top of her head, the fuzzy white of her earwarmer headband standing out distinctly against the soft dark fall of her hair. She stands up, straight and sure, not even wobbling a little, and holds her hand out to him.
There are a few good memories of ice - forts and homemade sno-cones and icicle spears - locked inside his memory, but there are other ones as well: treacherous black ice sending the Impala spinning beneath his hands; Dad tracking something nasty out onto a patch of thin ice, falling through and cracking his head as he went down; Dean putting him into a bathtub full of sharp little cubes, making him go still and helpless against the green and purple monsters he was battling in his mind. But Sarah's gloved hand is warm in his, and there are little kids out there, twirling giddily, so how bad can this really be?
"Sam," Sarah says, her hand still in his, guiding him like it's no effort at all, even though her legs are pumping confidently while he's got his knees locked, terrified that the slightest movement on his part will spill him to the ground and maybe drag her down with him. He tries to concentrate on what she's saying, trusting that she will keep him upright. "Can we talk about what you said last night?"
He doesn't want to nod, to do anything other than go where she leads him, but before he can answer, she lets go of his hand to keep them from ramming into a little girl who's practicing a really complicated-looking spin, oblivious to everything but the music pounding into her skull from her earphones. In that instant, he goes down hard. Nice move, Sammy; very double-oh seven the voice in his head that sounds like Dean pipes up. Sarah's giggling when she glides over to help him to his feet, but the fall has shaken him, made it impossible for him to be the sidecar to her motorcycle, and it turns out that fall was just the beginning.
His ass is one massive purple bruise not twenty minutes later, and his ankles have twisted underneath him in every direction possible, so he lets Sarah pull him over to the opening in the wall. He limps over to the nearest bench, wishing his fingers would regain some feeling so that he can take these damn instruments of torture off his feet.
Sarah hisses sympathetically when she unlaces his skates, noting the swell of his ankles and the red marks on his skin from where the skates bit too sharply into his flesh. "Sorry about this," she says ruefully, looking up apologetically at him. "I just thought, if I can do it, anyone can do it . . ." she trails off. "I'm not making this any better, am I? Let's go home and I'll pamper you."
Sarah's tied up on a phone call with the curator at the Dorsky, the art museum she'd promised a painting to, and the questions she asked about Dean's deal while driving home have gotten Sam itchy, made him imagine that the jagged scar at the base of his spine was starting to tingle. He should check in with Dean anyway, see if there's anything Dean wants for his birthday that he could only get from around here. Not that he can think of anything New Paltz is notable for.
He presses 1 on his speed dial and waits for Dean's sarcastic greeting. But the phone rings a dozen times, then a dozen more, and he finally hears the message Dean had recorded in the car as Sam was driving them through Kansas with no intention of stopping once in the entire state. "Hey, this is Dean. I'll call you back if you leave me a number that actually works."
There's no point leaving Dean a message about Sarah's questions; Sam knows better than to give Dean that kind of ammunition. All he says is, "Call me when you get a chance. Just not at the crack of dawn, alright?" He clicks the phone shut and it lies heavily in his hand. He gets up and heads to the living room, where Sarah's huddled under a blanket, notes on her lap, still on the phone. There's a fireplace in the room, and he hauls in a few of the applewood logs stacked in the mud room and lights the fire, sitting back on his heels and listening to the crackle until he can't hear Sarah's voice anymore.
Sitting hunched up with his arms around his drawn-up legs, Sam watches the colors the applewood lends to the fire, hazy green dancing among the bright peach and orange and yellow. He's startled when Sarah comes up and wraps her arms around him from behind, pulling him back between her legs. Her cheek rests on his hair, and he can feel her heart racing a mile a minute. "Sam," she whispers, dragging her blanket around to cover his legs, "can we talk?"
"Sarah," he begins, then stops again. He starts to turn around, but then remembers that while he's reading her face for clues as to what she wants to hear, she'll surely be doing the same, evaluating his honesty with probing looks at his face, his eyes, and his body language. "Yes, I was dead, actually dead, literally dead. For three days." Dean still won't speak about those lost hours, and Sam hasn't pushed on that one boundary, leaving it sacrosanct. He won't talk about what Dean must have gone through, not even for Sarah, cradling him in her arms. This time he does twist. and catches a glimpse of her face; her eyes are closed but there are tears leaking out from beneath her eyelids; there's a pained frown twisting her features. He reaches out for her.
"And where did you go?" she asks, surprising him so much that his hand stills between them.
That's the question that Dean wouldn't ask him, assuming a knowledge that was sacred, private, and not to be trampled upon even by one so very near. Sam had never worked up the courage to admit that he hadn't gone anywhere at all, that he could remember being in Cold Oak, could clearly recall setting down the knife and bargaining with Jake for peace, and then there was cold and dark sweeping over him like velvet curtains coming down, thick and soft and heavy, and then suddenly there was warmth again, Dean's insistent arms around him and frantic heartbeat surrounding him while his nose got lost in Dean's dirty hair. Clarity came later, seeing Dean in bright pieces and shadowed fragments that suddenly resolved into a whole as light invaded his unaccustomed eyes.
He's never remembered the moment so vividly before, and he wants to hug it to himself, keep it inside. But Sarah's asking for comfort only he can give, and he recalls that she'd spoken about her mother's death when he had first met her. He does the only thing he can think to do. He lies.
"There was light. Everything was white and clean and . . . calm. And I wasn't scared or hurt. Just peaceful."
She's nodding, her eyes still closed, pressed tightly shut to trap her tears, and the arms she's wound around him loosen. He pivots and reverses their positions, holding her in his own arms and saying shhh into her soft hair, rocking her while she cries, exhausting herself.
He puts her to bed, then steals back downstairs. There's a part of him that wants to hunt out a blank pad, make it serve as a makeshift journal, and write down everything that's just come back to him. But no words will ever get it exactly right, and the five-year planner is for the future, not the past, and so he settles in front of the TV, flipping through channels.
His phone rings a few times, the ordinary ring only, so he ignores it. When the credits roll on The Return of the King, he tries Dean again, only to get the same message as before, this time immediately instead of after several rings. "Dean, charge your goddamn phone once in a while," he mutters, and gets ready for bed.
He wakes up to the sound of his phone's voicemail notification. He's got half a dozen messages, all from the same number, starting with a 605 area code. That's got to be Bobby. Dean has probably been bugging him since he set foot in his house to extend the olive branch, but just because Bobby caved doesn't mean Sam has to forgive him.
Sam calls Dean's cell again, but only gets his voicemail. "Listen, Dean, call me back yourself and don't make Bobby do it for you," he says. "I mean it. You're not going to outlast me on this one."
His call waiting beeps as he's finishing his message, and he clicks over. "Sam?" he hears, and registers it as Bobby's voice, rougher than he's ever heard it. "Dean's missing."
Sam clicks his cell phone shut and stumbles on his way across the room - why do the rooms in this house have to be so goddamn big anyway? - to pick up the phone sitting on the glass and brass bedside table. He flips his cell back open to locate Bobby's number in the "received calls" guide and calls back on the house line.
"What the hell was that?" Bobby bites out, not bothering with any words of greeting.
"Have to keep the line to the cell open," Sam explains, fumbling the words, and hears Bobby's anger being expelled in a long sigh. "Where's Dean?" Even to his own ears, he sounds petulant and frightened, like a child unconvincingly denying that he's afraid to sleep on his own in the dark.
"He went on a hunt -"
"Jesus, Bobby!" Sam is seething like a pot boiling over, so angry he wants to reach through the phone and throttle the man. "He came to you because he needed to get some rest, needed a break, and you sent him after -"
"He came to me because he needed a break from you!" Bobby shouts right back, then clams up.
"That's not . . . that's not true."
He tries to think back, to the West Virginia case, but Bobby is relentless, keeps on dropping words that insinuate themselves in Sam's brain. "Said he was tired, said he needed something to make it stop," Bobby continues, and Sam remembers just how long it had been since he'd seen Dean without any lines of pain on his face, or looking well-rested and one hundred percent healthy. That nearly depleted bottle of Advil rises up before his mind's eye.
"Do you know?" He has to clear his throat; he hopes Bobby won't make him beg for it. "What's wrong with my brother?" Too many things to name he remembers Dean joking.
Bobby's silent for a good long while. "Bobby?" Sam prods sharply.
"He went after some fae that've sorta settled nearby," Bobby finally says. "We read up on all the lore before he went, and he took every precaution. Had a cold iron knife in his pocket, carried herbs and bread. He took a self-bored stone too."
"And what? You just sent him off like that?" Dean never took adequate precautions when he didn't have someone to watch out for. "Couldn't even be bothered to go with him?"
Bobby's just flat-out ignoring him now, simply reciting the necessary information instead of responding; that's a trick John Winchester never thought to pull, and Sam flounders, unsure how to retaliate. "The fae must have gotten him somehow in spite of everything. Must have taken him somewhere."
Tired of Bobby's vagueness, Sam snaps, "Figure it out! You're the one with a million and one books!"
"Have you been hearing a word I've been saying? Dean did everything right according to my books. This is a different kind of fae, different rules; if I knew any other way of getting Dean back, I'da done it already."
Then what the fuck good are you? Sam wants to scream. If Bobby's whole library had nothing on the rules for the type of fae that took Dean, where the hell is he supposed to find anything that will work?
"You hearing me?" Bobby growls.
He schools himself to be calm, cool, as unlike Bobby as he can be. "I heard you. What I didn't hear was an explanation for what you think was wrong with Dean in the first place, or why you let him go if he seemed so hurt."
Bobby's tone is pure ice. "What's wrong with Dean is what you did to him with your goddamned spell. You thought you could cheat the devil, get away scot-free? Maybe you did, Sam, but your brother didn't." Sam hears the click of the phone being hung up and realizes it sounds like a shotgun being cocked.
Think, he has to think. What does he know about fae? He's never gone up against them, but he remembers hearing something about them once, some hunter facing them and winding up as a draw. Not Dad, he doesn't think; surely not Dean. Pastor Jim, maybe? But he's dead too, and he never kept a journal, not like Dad did; Pastor Jim believed in personal communication, talking things through, and the value of the teacher-student relationship. Sam had once sat at his feet, happily ensconced in reams of Latin, one eye always on Dean, who'd made the lessons more interesting for himself by composing dirty limericks in the dead language or translating the lyrics to songs that would have made the Romans - except maybe the really decadent emperors - roll over in their graves.
It always comes back to Dean, who'd spent years following Dad, one step over and one behind, being treated like he was just tagging along, when really he was providing that human touch that Dad didn't have time to bother with. And Dean had stayed, had cultivated those relationships on his own when Dad and Sam had both taken off for greener pastures.
Except for Missouri. That's who he can call. His fingers shake with triumph as he finds the number in his phone and dials. There's a click when she picks up on her end and the call is connected.
"Hello?" she says cautiously, and he falters. She's never answered like that. Usually, it's more along the lines of "Sam! I'm glad to hear from you, sugar!" or "Dean, baby, you better call more than once a year if you want my help," and on one memorable occasion, it had been, "Samuel Winchester, you apologize to your brother right now or I'ma hand my whackin' spoon over to him real soon."
"Hello?" she tries again. "Sam? Dean?"
"Missouri," he says in a rush, butchering the syllables of her name, and she chuckles.
"There you are, baby. You boys doing okay?"
He's clutching Sarah's imitation antique phone with a sweaty hand. "Why didn't you know it was me? Why did you think it was Dean?"
She sounds taken aback, a little muddled, like she can't quite remember what just happened. "I don't know. I can mostly see you boys clear . . ." she trails off.
"I see him." She sounds like she's surprised even herself.
"Dean? You can see Dean? Where is he?"
"Just now, when you said my name again, I got a sense of you. And kind of . . . an echo, maybe? An echo of Dean."
His stomach is turning itself inside out. "Just an echo?" If the fae really have Dean, he could be trapped in some weird parallel world, a place where time and space operate with different constraints; he could be right next to Dean, pretty much pressed up against him, and not be able to touch him, not even know that they had gotten so close. Maybe what she's sensing is being transmitted from that other world.
"What . . . what do you see?"
"There's nothing to see, baby. He's asleep; he's resting."
Sam barely chokes down a laugh; Dean had been so tired, so worn out - of course he's resting now. "Sam," Missouri says, "I don't mean to make light of this, but I want you to know that from what I can tell, nothing's hurting him right now. I don't know where he is, but he's just being quiet."
Quiet and lost, because Dean is a big believer in going the stupidly stoic route, never complaining himself but insisting on knowing every time Sam trips on an untied shoelace or cuts himself shaving. Quiet and sleeping, because Sam had fucked him up when he'd broken that damn crossroads deal.
His head is swimming, and he lets it fall into his hands while he squeezes his eyes shut and tries to remember the number of Dean's latest cell phone. It's just not coming to him, and he has to admit that Dean's lecture about modern technology's destruction of memory - a lecture he was at least forty years too young to deliver with a straight face - was right on the money. All his life, Dean's been available just by pressing a button on his speed-dial; he gives up and checks his cell, then dials it from Sarah's chunky white phone. It doesn't even ring anymore; all he hears is that high-pitched, three-tone sequence and then a message saying that that number is no longer in service.
Who knows how time is passing for Dean, asleep in the land of the fae, if he can even feel time slipping away drop by drop or all in a rush. Even if it's only in dreams, Sam hopes that Dean hears with every heartbeat the insistent rhythm of his apology, the words that will choke him until he sees his brother again.
The best thing to do is to get out to South Dakota, find Dean himself, even if it means kicking over every stone and plucking every blade of grass in the whole fucking state. He just needs to get there . . . shit. All he's got is some clothes, a fake credit card, one knife, and two guns. All of the other weapons, the stuff he needs for any rituals - books, herbs, and symbols - everything else is with Dean, either on him or stashed somewhere in Bobby's house or locked in the trunk of the car. He can maybe catch a flight out there, but there's nowhere around here to stock back up on weapons, and he can't fly with them in any case. There's no one trustworthy who could sell him gear out there, either. It'll take time to find a car cheap enough to buy but good enough to get him three-quarters of the way across the country, and even more time to actually make the drive.
There's got to be a smarter way to go about this.
Had Bobby said he was going to keep looking? Can he trust Bobby to do whatever it takes to help Dean? He can, right? It's not Dean who Bobby's mad at; hell, they'd both yelled at him for trying spell-work years beyond what he should have been able to manage. He'd had to drug both of them just to shut them up, pacify them so that Bobby didn't see which books Sam was studying or notice him dragging Dean's supine form into the passenger seat and slamming on the gas. Dean had been on Bobby's side when Bobby had drawn that ridiculous line in the sand and said he wasn't going to do a damn thing more to save Dean's life and get him out of the deal.
But after Sam had saved his brother, Bobby had had no bone to pick with Dean, had welcomed him back with open arms, apparently, if the frequency of their phone calls and Dean's visits was anything to go by. So maybe Bobby won't think of this as helping him, but as saving Dean, and will do what he can. Sam can only hope.
His thumb hovers over the send button while he debates whether calling Rick is a good idea. Even if he can somehow get out to Ohio to swing by Rick's store, he's got no guarantees that Rick carries what he needs. And he doesn't have cash, and while Rick might possibly let that slide for Dean, there's pretty much no chance he'll do it for the brother who always went to the OU library rather than sticking with Dean on the wrong side of the tracks in Athens. He pushes the button before he can think himself out of this.
"This is Rick."
"This is Sam Winchester - Dean's, Dean Winchester's brother." He can't remember if Rick knew Dad, if he should bring up Dad's name.
There's only silence coming from the other end, and he wonders if they got cut off somehow. "Hello?"
"I'm here." Rick's voice is calm and unwelcoming.
"I'm looking for Dean -"
"Last time I saw him was about a week ago."
"You saw him?" How many people had Dean stopped in to see on his farewell tour? What the hell was going on?
"That's what I said," Rick says, clipped, like he's taking offense at Sam's disbelief, like his word is unimpeachable. "He came by, said he was driving through the area, thought he should stock up while he had the cash and the time."
Okay, he can work with this. Any information is good information. "What'd he buy?"
There's another long pause, like Rick is trying to figure out if he's trustworthy. Just before Sam's about to say something about knowing Dean wouldn't like his little brother being jerked around, Rick says, "Nothing unusual. Ammo, couple bow strings, a nice tight knife. Same kind of thing he used to have on regular order, just like your dad."
"Did you notice anything unusual while he was there?"
"I don't like being interrogated," Rick says tightly. "But if it'll get you off my line, I'll tell you what you want to know. He came by. He looked like shit. I told him so, he laughed, and said to hurry up and ring him up because he had a nice warm bed waiting for him only a couple of states away."
Sam ignores the warning. "And that's it? He didn't mention anything about hunting fae? Because that's what he was doing when he went missing, and I need whatever weapons I can find that'll be good for that -"
"I'm not interested in what you need. From what I hear, you'll mess with anything, consequences be damned, let someone else clean up the mess you made."
God damn Bobby Singer. "If you heard that from Bobby -"
"I heard it from a lot of people, good people who know where hunters aren't supposed to go. I'm not going to be the one to hand you a loaded gun when you don't even care what you're aiming at."
"But it's for Dean, to save Dean -" he gets out before Rick interrupts him one last time.
"There's always some way to rationalize doing what you want, isn't there?" Rick says just before he hangs up.
Everyone he talks to goes through the same song and dance - sorry about Dean, fuck you anyway. Who died and made Bobby God is beyond Sam, but he's shaking with rage when he finally thinks of someone Bobby might not have gotten his claws into. Gutierrez - Sam can't remember the guy's first name - the guy who sold Gordon Walker all the bright shiny knives he'd used to hunt vampires and some guns too, just to be on the safe side. Gutierrez was a slime, but not one with enough of a spine to stand up to anyone. It'll be best to go see him in person, rather than call and let Gutierrez hang up on him, and in any case, he's more likely to find everything he needs in New York City.
Sam hammers on Sarah's door, and when she opens it, he can hear the sound of Joni Mitchell's croon coming from the iPod sitting in its sleek white dock. "Sam? What's wrong?"
"Dean's gone missing. I need to find him."
"Oh my God, Sam -"
There's no time to listen to anything but concrete plans. "I need to get to New York, and I need cash."
Sarah snaps to and straightens her spine. "Yes. I can do that." She goes to her dressing room and pulls out a jacket and a pair of sneakers. "I'll drive you. It'll be quicker than taking the bus."
His stomach growls, angry at having been ignored for so many hours. "I'm going to get my stuff together."
"Go. I'll figure out the food situation." Sarah sends him off while pulling her hair into a tight ponytail, then jogs down the stairs.
Ten minutes later, they're in Sarah's white Mercedes convertible, and Sam's got a large supreme pizza on his lap, hot enough to burn his thighs through layers of cardboard and denim. Sarah zips down Interstate 87 and says not a word.
Sam doesn't want anyone connecting Sarah with him and making trouble for her somewhere down the road, and anyway he needs some time to himself, just to think about how he's going to pull this off, so he gets out of the car and swings his duffel high on his shoulder while they're stopped at a light near the Metropolitan Museum. He remembers Jess promising him that they'd go there one day, but now he's glad they never made it, because California belonged to Jess, but New York seems like it's Sarah's, and his head is all jumbled up from everything that's happened.
He gets out of the car and just nods at Sarah, who stares back and then pulls away when the light turns green, something sad and resigned in her eyes.
Sarah had tucked a fat wad of cash in the side pocket of his duffel bag, and he ducks into a convenient alcove to distribute it so that it will stay with him even if his bag doesn't. There's a bitter wind knifing through his clothes, freezing his gloveless hands and making the bills flutter dangerously, but on the plus side, no one is interested in hanging around to see how much he's got or even to glance sideways at him as they march along the sidewalk, faces staring straight down to make headway against the wind.
He walks until he finds the lit globes that stand above the subway stations, guarding the entrances, and heads down into the muggy warmth of the station. The plastic covering the route map is stained and covered in graffiti, but the YOU ARE HERE symbol still shows up brightly against the multicolored paper, and he traces the route he'll need with careful fingers, unconcerned about what he must look like to the homeless man sitting on one of the wooden benches just inside the turnstiles. He buys an unlimited ride pass with Jeff Bentley's MasterCard and swipes it to let himself through the middle turnstile.
Standing on the platform, he takes stock of what he's got and what he'll need. Gloves, definitely, a scarf maybe. He can get away without a warmer coat since he wears so many layers anyway. A hat is a must, if only because he can imagine Dean's taunts about looking like the world's tallest five-year-old, and he hasn't heard Dean's voice, even in his head, for way too long.
The train comes thundering down the track, heralded by a blast of frigid air; he's standing inside the yellow line, much too close, and the rush of the train as it roars its way past him makes his heart skip and his stomach drop. He wonders if that's how the Impala makes Dean feel, if that's what Dean's awed, delighted smiles meant every time he shared one across the broad front seat. He muscles himself into the train car just before the doors slide shut.
It's coming back to him more quickly than he'd counted on, the navigation of the New York streets not a problem. Once his feet hit the sidewalk of the right block, he just knows, even though there's construction going on at the corner, scaffolding and temporary sidewalks creating new patterns that invalidate the ones in his memory. Still, the buildings look pretty much the same, cheap little mini-marts and delis, nail salons and Chinese take-out places. There's even the same miserable looking chocolate-colored mutt tied up outside one of the convenience stores that had been there a few years ago, and he shakes his head at the kind of asshole who'd leave a dog outside in the middle of a New York January; figures it would be one of Gutierrez's friends or neighbors.
There's no proper sign for Gutierrez's store, not one that states its business outright anyway, but there's a paper taped up in the front window saying "A. Gutierrez, Proprietor." He remembers that from a couple of years ago too.
The bell dings loud and cheerful when Sam pushes the door open, and Gutierrez comes out from the back of the store with a wide smile that vanishes when he sees who it is. The guy's eyes get impossibly big. "No! I . . . I gave it up, man! Went straight after you guys came by, okay?"
This might even be a little fun. Sam leans his forearms against the glass of the biggest display case - nearly barren, just a few cheap knives with the Virgin Mary picked out in bright enamel and paint on the handles spread artfully across some draped velvet - and nods thoughtfully. "You went straight, huh? Thought you said back then that you hadn't been doing anything wrong."
"I didn't do nothing, man." Gutierrez is already sweating, and his skin has a sick-looking yellow tint. "Ever since you and your brother came by, I stopped selling . . . special equipment." He gestures at the empty display cases.
Only Gordon had ever really dealt with Gutierrez, but from what Sam remembered about Gordon, Gutierrez's stuff must have been good as well as cheap and easily obtained. "Come on, you don't have anything in the back?" he wheedles, pretending he doesn't see the fear come rushing back to the man's face, replacing the expression of false innocence he'd pasted on. "Not even for an old friend?" Sam drops his voice to a whisper. "An old friend willing to pay cash?"
Now it's just a matter of playing Gutierrez's greed against his fear. "For - for you, maybe, I could see if I still have something. From my private collection."
But most hunters were monogamous, specializing in one kind of evil, and everything Gutierrez has, Sam realizes, would be good against a vampire; he has no idea what he needs to go up against the fae. "A knife would be good," he finally says, watching Gutierrez nearly deflate with relief, "but some information would be better."
"What do you need?"
"Fae. What do I need to hunt them?"
Gutierrez relaxes all the way, at last telling the whole truth. "That I can't help you with. I don't carry those things."
"Give me a name," Sam demands.
"There is no one who sells what you want," Gutierrez says with calm finality. "Fighting the fae is not like hunting anything else; it's not weapons you need."
"I still need a name." An expert, if there aren't any sellers.
"There's a bar, down in Hell's Kitchen. Mary Kelly's. Word is, the bartender there knows all kinds of things. Joe Connor."
Joke on her Sam hears before it resolves into a name. Joe Connor, who works in a bar named for one of the most famous murder victims in the world. That sounds about right.