Rating: PG-13 (a couple swears, a smidge of violence)
Fandom: SPN, gen (Dean, Sam - season one, mild AU)
Word Count: 5712
Notes: My contribution to the hoodie_time Dean-focused h/c remix challenge. This is a remix of roque_clasique's As Easy As 1,2,3 which is absolutely NECESSARY to read first as my story takes place just as hers ends. Sort of.
Thanks to roque_clasique for allowing me to manipulate her fine work, and to twirlycurls for the excellent initial beta work. All remaining errors are my own.
This case-fic takes place in my hometown at a park very central to my childhood, but I've been creative with the history. Call it artistic license. Feedback is love - this is basically the fic that just wouldn't die, and I fear I've just stumbled out into the woods without a map.
Summary: Dean is functionally illiterate, Sam is holding things together, and something is abducting children in Washington state.
Sam eyes his brother in earnest, pointing at the word ‘beef’ on the menu. “Just tell me if you know the letters.”
“Yeah,” Dean says finally. “Well – that’s an E. Two Es. And a B. And – I don’t know the last one.”
“Okay,” Sam says slowly. “So – you recognize the way the word looks, right? You’ve memorized how it looks and that’s how you know what it means. But you don’t know which letter is which. On the page.”
It’s mind-boggling. It’s - Sam doesn’t know how his father let this happen. Fuck, he doesn’t know how he allowed this to pass.
“I guess. Sam, can we –” Dean’s shrugging, playing this conversation off as just another striation from the usual. Next they’ll comment on the weather, on the quality of the coffee, and then they’ll be back on the road – firs lining the black asphalt pathway far from this confrontation.
“I don’t understand,” Sam says, partially to himself. “I don’t –I mean, no wonder school was so hard for you. You don’t know even know the fucking alphabet.”
“I know the alphabet,” Dean snaps. He sings off-key and hurried. “Aa-bee-see-DEE-eee-eff-GEE. I just, fuck. I don’t know – I don’t know which letter is – you know what? Fuck you.”
“Would you quit swearing at me? I’m not – shit. Dean, you can’t read. That’s…”
Dean starts to protest but even Dean Winchester can’t summon a winning argument for this kind of defeat. He settles for a string of muttered expletives that, a few years ago, would have made Sam blush.
“No, stop, listen to me. You can’t read, man. You’re twenty-six and you can’t read. In this world, that’s like – that’s a major disability. But you can fix it! You can learn, man, it’s not too late, it’s never too late, it’s—”
“You sound like one of those goddamn motivational posters,” Dean says, eyes dark and shadowed. He drops his gaze to his hands, braced solidly on the table. “It is too late, I’m too old and I’m too stupid and –”
“No,” Sam says, cuts him off right there. “You’re not too stupid. You know you’re not too stupid. We had a fucked-up childhood and I’ve got problems too, you know I do, and I’ve been trying to deal with them, and some things we can’t fix…” Sam pushes blonde hair and laughter like tinkling china far from his brain. He shakes his head. “But this, this we can fix.”
Dean is bristling, his lean muscles tensed like he’s about to flee and never look back, but he stays because it’s Sam. And then finally he says, “I’m pretty fuckin’ sick of it. To be honest. It’s a hassle. That’s all. It’s a big fuckin’ hassle and I’m sick of it.”
“Okay,” Sam says, heart hammering with surprise and relief and yes, there’s a glimmer of hope in the peripheries. “Yeah? Okay. Well – what about – just an hour or two a day. We can work on it. Together.”
Dean doesn’t answer, rolls his head around on his neck and scrubs a hand through his hair, then shrugs a little. Yes. It’s a yes.
“Great,” Sam says, can’t help but grin, and it’s his first real smile since Jess died.
Sam’s jubilant determination about solving Dean’s illiteracy lingers a few hours after they finish lunch, right up until he sets himself to the task of figuring out how the hell they’re actually going to do it. Then it’s a flood of panic, steeped in leaden guilt.
Sam’s not the patient one; he knows he’s not a good teacher. That’s always been Dean. For Sam, stuff just clicks – he doesn’t know how he’s going to sit down and explain something that intrinsically just makes sense.
Sam learned pretty much everything he knows from Dean. Maybe Sam doesn’t have memories of his older brother reading him stories in bed or helping him with homework like other kids might. But there were plenty of other things Dean had been capable of passing on (“Not actual bunny-ears, Sammy. Just laces. Tie them up like this,” and “Elbow locked, man. You’re pulling to the right every time,” and “Jesus, keep pressure on it, shit, don’t let go, not for anything,”). Sam reckons those were all pretty important, at least as important as reading. More, maybe.
Yeah, there was a point where Sam would have given anything for a chance at normalcy (would have, and in fact did). But Jess is gone and everything else burned away with her. And now Sam figures its time to give something back to Dean, probably the least selfish guy Sam’s ever met.
Sam’s browsing message boards and illiteracy advocacy group websites when the lock on the door clicks and Dean steps into the motel room, a newspaper rolled under one arm and two coffees in hand. It’s still early afternoon and little streams of sunlight chase Dean inside before he kicks the door shut with the heel of his boot.
Dean thumps the paper down on the floral comforter and passes Sam a Styrofoam cup. “Dad’s coordinates led us here. Let’s see what we see.” Sam notes the use of the royal ‘we’ and the way Dean won’t meet his eyes, but closes the lid of his laptop anyway. Back to business, as usual.
It’s not hard to figure out why Dad pointed them to this town in Western Washington: the headline Family of Missing Child Offers Reward for Information stretches across the front page of the local paper, under which sits a school photo of freckle-faced Justin Chambers, age 11, and a number for a police hotline.
Sam lifts the page and taps the photo. “Something’s targeting kids. Four in the last week. The police suspected this kid’s Little League coach, but he hasn’t been charged.”
Dean’s sitting at the table by the door, his palms open and flat on the tops of his thighs. “Why his coach?”
Sam scans the article, points to a paragraph further down the page. “He was the last one to see the kid before he disappeared, his name’s Nick Archipley. Mrs. Chamber’s dropped her son off at baseball practice two days ago and hasn’t seen him since.” Sam folds the paper and snatches his bag from the end of the bed. He pulls out two badges and flips one in Dean’s general direction.
Dean catches it easily, lazily, and lobs Sam another questioning glance. “You wanna go FBI on this one? What about the local police?”
Sam suddenly makes a connection. “Beef,” he blurts out.
“Okay, non sequitur.” Dean’s eyebrow makes another stab toward the ceiling and his open palms curls into loose fists. He is still on edge from their earlier conversation.
Sam pauses to mentally revel in the fact that his twenty-six year old brother can’t read a goddamn take-out menu but is comfortable enough with Latin parlance to toss out non sequitur just as easy as anything. Sam takes another pause to curse the ridiculousness of their lives.
“Back at the restaurant, with the roast beef,” Sam prompts, scribbling something on a scrap of paper and holding it out. “You saw the B and two E’s. But, um, you - you know the last letter.”
Dean gets that look again, like Sam’s backing him into a corner and Dean’s reconciling with his urge to punch Sam right in the face before making a break for the door. Sam would probably let him, because the knot of guilt roiling in Sam’s stomach could do with a broken nose for company, but they just agreed Sam was allowed to do this because Dean said yes. Or as much of a yes as Dean was capable of giving.
“Hey, I -” Dean starts, but Sam steps closer.
“No, Dean, really. Just look. Really look. You’ve been saying it practically your whole life. I’m telling you, man. You know more than you think you do.”
Dean rolls his eyes, but looks at the printed BEEF and FBI badge in his hands.
“FBI…F. Oh. Jesus.” Dean allows a grin to pull at the corner of his mouth, and then flicks his eyes back up to where Sam is beaming at him. Dean swallows once and shoves past his brother toward the door. “We’re not going to have a fucking hug and celebration every time I learn a goddamn letter, Sam, so let’s get a move on.”
They hit the library and Sam scans back issues of the daily paper to find articles on the three other victims. The librarian at the front desk is about thirty years too old for Dean (and too male), so Dean follows Sam to a table near the back and flops down with a sigh.
Sam gives his brother a sideways glance and starts to read aloud in a low voice. It takes the better part of an hour to gather that all of the cases are still ‘open’; no bodies or significant leads have turned up in the week since the first child went missing. Two of the missing kids, a brother and sister, live a block from the park where Justin Chambers was last seen.
“Wait, Hamlin Park? That first kid – you said he never got off the bus after school. Any chance he lives in the same neighborhood?” Dean asks, and Sam pulls up a local area map to confirm.
“No, he lives across the freeway from the park,” Sam chews on the cap of a ballpoint pen, and flips back to the newspaper article. “But…hold on, the back side of this park butts up against a junior high. What if the kid never made it onto the bus in the first place?”
Dean stands, his face set. “It’s the park. Something’s getting these kids in the park.”
Sam follows his brother to the exit. “It’s Wednesday, that baseball team’ll be having practice at the park tomorrow. We’ll see what Coach Archipley has to say.”
Sam stops at a Walgreens on the way back to the motel – Dean spilled ketchup on his last respectable tie and Sam is convinced a real FBI agent would never interview a witness while wearing a Santa tie in mid-April. (“This guy is thirty-five, coaching pee-wee baseball and probably still living in his mom’s basement, Sam. He’s in no position to judge my choice of tie.”)
Sam wanders to the aisle with the paperback romance novels, hobby magazines, sympathy cards and office supplies. He’s got his hand hovering over a glossy-covered Hooked on Phonics book (“Learn to Read in 16 Easy Lessons!” a gap-toothed smiling child claims from a speech bubble on the cover) when he blinks and reaches for a spiral notebook instead. It gets tossed onto the counter with Dean’s new tie and two packets of peanut M&M’s. Dean gives Sam a look before counting out the bills and winking lecherously at the top-heavy teenaged clerk behind the counter.
Sam’s got a plan.
Stanford had a language proficiency requirement, and, dismayed that Latin wasn’t offered in the course book, Sam had registered for Spanish 101. Looking back, the classroom itself was a distracting mess of fluorescent note cards affixed to every noun in the place – “libros” on a stack of books in the corner, “reloj” on the clock above the door, “sacapuntas” on the ancient pencil sharpener no one had used in perhaps a decade. Spanish 101 was an endless stream of vocabulary lists: colors, numbers, clothing, weather. Sam learned how to say, “I wear a blue coat” and that was all fine if someone bothered to ask him about fashion. Dean isn’t going to give a flying fuck what color Sam’s coat is, that’s superfluous information. Dean is in it for the pertinent: what type of bullet will put a black dog down, what time of day is best for hunting banshees, and yeah, what toppings come on the bacon cheeseburger.
And if Sam knows Dean, and Sam knows that he knows Dean, his brother is going to want immediate results. Instant gratification might as well be Dean’s middle name. If this is going to work, it’s got to be Dean-specific.
So, back at the motel, Sam lets Dean root around in the desk drawer for a pizza menu with pictures, and scribbles quietly on a pad of paper while Dean calls in their order.
“Sausage and black olives. Yeah, Shoreline Motel, room 15. Okay, thanks.” Dean claps his flip-phone shut and tosses it onto the bed. “I’m your provider, Sammy. I won’t stand idly by while you gnaw on raw carrots for sustenance like a fuckin’ rabbit.”
Sam ignores this. “How long do we have?”
Dean shrugs, flops down on Sam’s bed and reaches for the remote. “Dunno, maybe a half hour?” He clicks the TV on and grabs one of Sam’s pillows, punching it into a more comfortable shape.
“Perfect.” Sam stands and presses the power button on the television, and turns to where Dean is staring at him as though Sam’s just – okay, yeah, deprived him of TV and everything else good in the world. “We have to start with the alphabet. You probably know most of it, and with your knack for memorization, the rest will come easily."
Dean narrows his eyes at his brother, and his shoulders tense perceptively. “Sam,” he says slowly, like he’s talking to a four-year-old. “This isn’t school time. This is TV and pizza time. And beer time.”
Sam sighs heavily, as is his way, and looks at Dean through his bangs. “We’re not going to fight about this every day, are we? ‘Cause that would fucking suck. I have to read over the history of this town, and of that park, and the rest of the case files, and I’m sorry, man, but you aren’t going to help – you can’t help, so you might as well do this.” If not for you, then for me is left unspoken, but it passes between them anyway. Let me help you. I need to help you.
Dean stares back at his brother defiantly, as is his way, but hell if Dean can deny Sam anything - any fucking thing. He ducks his head then, a gesture of silent surrender, and Sam takes it without comment.
A paper exchanges hands, and they walk through each letter and Sam’s selected examples.
Bb – Burger
Cc – Coffee
Dd – Dean
Ee – Engine
Ff – Fire
Gg – Ghost
Hh – Hunter
Ii – Impala
Jj – John
Kk – Kansas
Ll – Library
Mm – Metallica
Nn – November
Oo – Omen
Pp – Pizza
Qq – Quicksilver
Rr – Rocksalt
Ss – Sam
Tt – Trunk
Uu – Uncle Bobby
Vv – Voodoo
Ww – Winchester
Xx – Exorcism
Yy – Yellow-eyes
Zz – Led Zeppelin
It’s strange and breathtaking to see the sum of their lives whittled down to twenty-six words. Twenty-six words for his twenty-six year old brother.
Dean points to this list where Sam has written his own name. “Dude, that one I’ve got.”
Sam plops a notebook in front of his brother and sets a pen down on the blank, lined pages. “Yeah? Prove it. ”
Sam wakes when the motel door clunks closed. He sucks in a breath caught in his throat and coughs, groping for the light on the bedside table. His mouth tastes like ash.
Sam’s hand collides with a beer bottle, the alarm clock, and a stack of library books before he toggles the lamp on. He blinks, sleep stupid and groggy in the harsh motel light, and fumbles his way out of bed and into the bathroom to take a leak.
He’s washing his hands before he notices the note taped to the mirror.
It doesn’t say much in print, but Sam reads between Dean’s lines:
I took my baby out for breakfast (gotta treat a lady right). We’ll be back in 20, and if you aren’t up by then I’ll pour coffee on your stupid face.
Smirking, Sam ghosts a finger over the words, feeling the deep impressions left by Dean’s savage attack with the pen. Sam’s never seen his brother work through the learning process; in Sam’s eyes, Dean was born wielding a gun and knives and confidence and charm. Dean awkward and fumbling is as inconceivable to Sam as ghosts and demons are to normal people.
Dean’s grace and natural athleticism doesn’t translate through the tips of his fingers to brittle writing implements in his firm grip. Dean is rough edges and hard fists and aged leather and black motor oil. If Sam is the brains, the tact and finesse, that makes Dean the heart – steady, loud, uncompromising. Ruthless.
Something echoes in the back of Sam’s brain: I am more than just a blunt instrument, Sam.
For the third time in as many days, Sam vows to fix this.
“The park covers 80 acres of coniferous forest land, some of which has been marked out for the school’s cross country course. It’s also got four baseball diamonds and a small playground.” Sam reads aloud from his notes as Dean navigates a suburban traffic jam of minivans and Volvos. “This area was settled in the early 1900’s by Marshall Blinn, who logged the land for a few decades before the homestead was sold to the Hamlin family. Sixty acres was donated to the county under the designation ‘Hamlin Park’ in 1938. Bits of the original park have been sold to the school district in the years since, but otherwise the history of place is pretty calm.”
Dean shakes his head, taps his palms against the steering wheel as they idle at a stoplight. “Dad knew there was something going on here. So maybe it’s not tied to the land, but these kids aren’t just disappearing. There’s something in the woods.”
Sam is quiet until they arrive at the park, shuffling through his notes a third time. Dean scans the lot and selects a parking spot as far as possible from the baseball diamond where Archipley’s team is currently shagging fly balls. The boys hoot and holler, too much pent up energy after a full day at school, and the metallic ting ting of bat on ball chimes rhythmically in the background.
“No way is a rogue baseball denting my baby,” he says in response to Sam’s annoyed huff. Sam rolls his eyes in a typical only my brother could manage this level of mania kind of way.
Archipley runs a shaky hand through his unkempt hair at the sight of their FBI badges but directs his assistant to take over tossing batting practice as he shuffles Agents James and Starr into the dugout. Surprisingly, Archipley is entirely cooperative with their questions, and Sam thinks he shows real remorse at the mention of the Chambers disappearance. When it doesn’t seem like the coach is going to offer up anything new or helpful, Sam thanks him for his time and starts to usher Dean back toward the parking lot.
“Alright, so that was a waste of time,” Dean says, loosening his Walgreen’s tie at the neck. He’s eyeing the woods, though, so Sam’s prepared for what comes next. “Let’s split up, scout around in the park a bit before it gets dark. Those kids all went missing right around this time of day, we should check for EMF and all that.”
Sam isn’t convinced. Things usually end poorly when their plan begins with let’s split up. “Are you sure? We should probably –”
“You take the playground and the picnic area. Call if you find anything.”
Sam’s phone rings some time later while Sam is trying to discern any recognizable animal prints from a patch of muddy trail. In vain, of course.
“Dude, come here. I found something.”
Sam drops the stick and stands from his crouched position. “Where are you?”
“There’s a sign. Umm, H-Omen-S – shit, um, pizza? Yeah, P-I-T—”
“You’re at a hospital? What the hell, Dean, I just saw you like ten minutes ago!”
“I’m not at a hospital, I found a hospital. And it’s not a hospital. It’s a sign with hospital written on it.”
“Where are you?” Sam repeats.
“Head back toward the car, but take a left at the gravel path. I’m just past the equipment shed, and the EMF…crazy…something…”
“Dean, what?” The phone connection crackles, and Sam only catches random words before the signal is lost completely. Sam punches a few buttons on the phone and holds it up above his head, as if one more foot closer to the satellite is going to make all the difference.
A single gunshot, heavy and muffled, echoes through the thick foliage surrounding the diamond. Sam is off and running before his heart catches up, and then there’s blood pounding in his ears faster than his feet slap the paved pathway. He spots the parking lot ahead and hangs a left, skidding a little as the ground underfoot changes to gravel. The utter lack of movement and noise in the forest sends a cold shiver up his spine and a sinking weight in his stomach, intensifying the steady thrum of DeanDeanDean below the surface of Sam’s consciousness.
He doesn’t stop running until he nearly collides with a chain link fence on the far side of an old, red shed. Beyond the fence sits an even older building with boarded up windows and graffiti adorning its bowing walls. A sign on the fence reads NO TRESSPASSING PARK RIDGE PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL.
“Dean!” Sam’s voice cuts through the oppressive silence and he waits, holding his breath.
An eternity ticks by. Sam sucks in another lungful of air, but his eyes catch on the broken door of the shed swinging listlessly on a broken hinge. Sam pulls the pistol from the waistband of his jeans and steps inside.
The overhead bulb flickers and provides just enough stale light to make Sam squint, his eyes searching the small storage unit for any sign of his brother. It’s a windowless building, not twenty feet deep and packed from floor to ceiling with equipment. Slouching bags of batting helmets line one wall; thick rubber tees and buckets of balls create a haphazard perimeter around boxes of uniform shirts. It smells damp, dusty, and Sam’s feet kick up small clouds of field chalk leaking from a bag near the entrance.
“Dean?” Sam calls, and he’s met with the same heart-plummeting quiet.
There’s a path leading diagonally through the clutter, though Sam has to turn sideways to edge past an upended wheelbarrow and a toppled stack of extra bases. The path dead-ends at the furthest wall, tucked almost entirely in shadow behind a tower of stacked crates. Cool air blows past Sam’s face, and he runs a hand along the wall. His hand finds a crease in the wood, but his fingers come away damp and sticky. Sam knows its blood, Dean’s blood, without even looking. Sam spent enough of his childhood messily stitching up his writhing brother; he knows the feel of Dean’s blood even in total darkness.
There is a penlight in his jacket pocket. He clicks it on and steps back. Sam’s light illuminates a small puddle of blood at his feet and a crude ‘S’ in smeared crimson on the faded wood of the shed, just about at Sam’s shoulder. Underneath the marking is that same indent, and more air seeps through and lifts Sam’s bangs.
Without words, Dean is still communicating with his brother. Sam - Something got me, but I’m okay. Follow me through this hidden panel that I’ve helpfully found for you, because I’m awesome like that.
Sam pushes firmly, and the wood gives, hinging at the top and swinging upward. He is expecting the door to lead outside, but it’s a dark dirt tunnel sloping immediately down. The penlight doesn’t illuminate much, just enough to indicate that the dirt has been recently disturbed. He’s going to have to crawl and that sucks because it looks months to find new dress pants that fit his large frame after the last ones were stained beyond Dean’s magical stain-removing abilities.
Everything circles back to Dean, and that’s why Sam strips off his jacket and climbs down the hole and crawls. It’s not three minutes before the tunnel tapers off, and Sam’s tumbling out into a filthy hallway. He can see the shed through the broken windowpane to his left, and Sam realizes he is inside the dilapidated building that used to be the Park Ridge hospital.
There are more drops of blood of the floor, scuffed and smeared but fresh.
“Dean!” Sam’s voice echoes down the shadowy, linoleum hallway. Identical doors line the hall, four on each side.
A shuffling to his right - Dean’s voice is muffled, but unmistakable. “Sammy? That you?”
There’s a small combination lock on the door but one kick delivered by a Sam-sized human is enough to break the wood from its rusted hinges. Dean is crumpled against the far wall, nose and forehead bleeding, hair tousled and dusted with red dirt and white baseball chalk. His pants have the same dirt smudges from crawling down the tunnel.
Sam’s at his side in two strides, but Dean is already pushing himself off the floor. He blinks a few times, leans a little into the hand Sam settles on his chest. Sam thinks about asking if Dean is okay, but before he can, Dean straightens and steps away from his brother.
“It’s a ghost. A kid. Kept accusing me of stealing his baseball. Keep an eye out for him, scrappy little fucker stole my gun.” Dean brushes past Sam more roughly than he normally would, and Sam chalks it up to the imbalance of the past few days and the shredding of Dean’s facade each time Sam catches a glimpse of the uncertainly below Dean’s exterior.
Dean heads straight for the door across from his, sizing it up. He’s just about to kick the lock when a small voice pipes up from within.
“We didn’t take it, I swear! We don’t have it!” Dean exchanges a look with his brother.
Sam steps forward. “Justin? It’s okay, we’re here to help you. Step back from the door, we’ll get you out of there.”
Ordinarily, this would be a record good day for Sam, seeing as he’s gotten to kick in two doors in almost as many minutes (and what boy doesn’t love kicking in a door now and again), but Dean is bleeding and four kids are crying and huddled together in an abandoned hospital and that damn spirit may come back at any moment, so Sam doesn’t waste any time rejoicing.
The kids are hesitant, nervous, obviously distressed. It takes a lot of coaxing to get them crawling back through the tunnel, but someone must have called the cops when the heard the gunshot because the dusk is tinged with the red and blue of police lights when Sam steps out of the shed.
The police thank them for their heroic efforts. Dean shrugs and says he’s just glad the kids are okay. The mothers of the missing kids cry and praise their modesty, but Sam knows it’s nothing to do with that. Dean’s just being honest.
“We shouldn’t have split up,” Sam says, back at the car. He lifts his hand to check Dean’s nose, but Dean bats it away. “You should have waited for me, you shouldn’t be out there by yourself. What if-”
Dean’s eyes flash a little, but his tone is even and calm when he cuts Sam off. “Seriously, whatever is out here didn’t target me just because I’m a little behind on my school work. Nothing’s changed in the last two days, so just trust me when I say I know what I’m doing, because I do. Know what I’m doing.”
“Yeah, it really shows.” Sam says, pointedly not staring at Dean’s bleeding face.
“I did this on my own for a while, you know.”
Sam knows, so he doesn’t say anything.
The research goes a lot faster now that Sam knows what they’re looking for. He opens a new browser on his laptop and by the time Dean is finished washing up in the bathroom, Sam’s found a history of the medical center.
“Andrew Merkling was a patient at Park Ridge back in the eighties. His parents brought him in – he was having nightmares, seeing things, and fighting with his older brother.”
Dean pulls a clean shirt over his head and runs a hand through damp, spiky hair. “So they took him to a psychiatric institution? Seems a little harsh. Fighting with his brother. That describes your entire childhood and you turned out...” Dean makes a vague gesture in Sam’s direction that can be interpreted in many ways. Sam chooses to believe Dean meant ‘as close to normal as our fucked-up lives would allow for’.
“Maybe, but it says here Andrew broke his brother’s nose when he was six and tried to gouge his eyes out with a pencil when he was eleven. You and I played rough but I think it’d be different if we were actively trying to kill each other.”
Dean snorts and buckles his belt. His hands fall to his sides, flexing in and out of fists. “Right. Any leads on where he is buried? We gotta end this before any more kids get hurt.”
Sam clicks, scans another newspaper article. “He fought a lot with the other patients, and ended up in some sort of solitary confinement. He died in the hospital, a year before it was shut down. And…ah, he’s buried at Holyrood Catholic Cemetery.”
Dean grabs his jacket, and peers through the curtain at the motel parking lot. Night has fully descended, and the moonless dark will make for difficult grave digging, but it should just be a routine salt and burn. They’ll be finished before breakfast.
It’s a short drive to the cemetery, and Dean parks a few blocks down on a suburban street. Sam has a crude sketch of the cemetery grounds, and an X marking the spot Merkling should be buried. He’s studying it one last time when Dean taps him on the shoulder with the handle of a shovel.
“Hop to, Samantha. We’ve only got an hour or two to get this done.” Dean steps off into the night and Sam follows, the weight of the shovel sure in his grip and the beam of Dean’s flashlight leading the way.
Sam stops at a diner on their way out of town, a small place called Lena’s with chipped mugs and cigarette stained wallpaper. It’s nearly empty, the lull between the early crowd and the family breakfast rush. They slide into a booth in the corner, still riding a high from the hunt. It’s a giddy exhaustion, a combination of adrenalin, fear, and the bone-deep exertion of grave digging. Dean’s eyes have that sparkle that Sam associates with pyromania, and Sam’s got a little grave dirt in his shaggy hair.
The waitress brings them water in yellow glasses and two menus, and Dean cracks Sam in the shin with his boot and says something like, “Keep your goddamn limbs on your side of the goddamn table,” but there’s no real bite in his tone so Sam kicks him back. There is a brief scuffle under the table, interrupted by the waitress, who smiles sweetly before filling their upturned coffee cups.
Dean ignores the menus, takes a sip of black coffee and looks out the window. Sam busies himself fixing his coffee with creamer and a little sugar. Finally, he clears his throat and picks up a menu.
“Looks like they’ve got all the usuals. I’m ordering the number seven, pancakes and bacon.” He eyes Dean over the top of the laminated page.
Dean’s shoulders rise slightly, but Dean takes another casual drink before returning the gaze.
“I want an omelet with hash browns and toast.”
“Okay.” Sam flips the menu between them, lays it out on the table in front of his brother. He points to a header, Omelets, and finds Dean’s eyes again. “They’ve got all kinds.”
The waitress arrives then, peering to see if their coffees need topping off. “What’ll you have, boys?” she asks, pulling out a pad and pen from her apron.
Sam orders his pancakes and splurges for a large orange juice with his meal. It’s Dean’s turn to clear his throat, and he flicks a smile at the waitress that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, probably because his nose and the cut on his forehead are swollen something awful and it probably hurts to make the effort. The menu is still flat on the table, and Dean’s fingers find a lip of loose lamination and he starts picking at the corner.
“The Denver Omelet,” he says, eyes on the page and a slight flush rising on his cheekbones. His finger lands on the word ‘wheat’ and he looks up at the waitress. “Could I have rye instead of wheat toast, please?”
The questions hangs out in the air (a test balloon? a warning shot? Sam isn’t sure, but he can feel Dean holding his breath and the staccato pick pick pick of his fingernail on the plastic menu counts the seconds as they pass).
The waitress flips her order pad closed and leans in, one hand on her hip and the other on the booth behind Dean’s neck. “You know, we don’t usually do substitutions but…I’ll see what I can do for you, sugar. It looks like you’ve had a rouge couple a’ days.” She’s looking down at Dean like she wants to pet him, or maybe adopt him, and Dean ducks his head all bashful and aw shucks, thank you ma’am.
“You boys let me know if you need anything else,” she says, and heads back toward the kitchen.
Sam snorts and takes another sip of coffee, shaking his head. Dean throws a sugar packet at him, all bravado and confidence again.
“Just remember who taught you that sad, lost puppy dog shtick in the first place, Sammy,” Dean says.
Sam nods, and pushes the menu toward Dean. “Yeah, yeah. Let’s work on your breakfast food vocabulary, Mr. Wheat Toast.”