Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: The boys are supposed to be on vacation, but somebody's stalking Sam. Spoilers only to the premise of the show.
Warnings: Show-level violence, mentions of past kidnapping and murder of children, and stalking. Please proceed with caution if you find any of that triggery.
Wow, it's been ages since I posted something. Life's been insane and I've barely had time to think – that situation's likely to continue for another month or so. So this was just a little letting-off-steam story.
Many thanks to Cheryl for the beta.
You Can't Run
The first picture comes on Monday morning.
Sam and Dean are taking a week off to spend time in a reasonably clean motel in a small town they've never visited before. They've got big plans to drink beer, shoot pool, and go on hikes in the wooded hills surrounding the town.
Sam's in the shower. Dean's snagged Sam's laptop to check his email over his thicker-than-sludge morning coffee. A message with the subject line IMPORTANT – OPEN IMMEDIATELY catches his eye amidst the notes from other hunters, newsletters Dean doesn't remember signing up for and advertisements for chemical assistance he definitely doesn't need.
Dean hesitates. The sender's just Your Friend. It could be a virus. Sam will never forgive Dean if he does something to the kid's laptop.
He shrugs and clicks on it anyway.
The body of the email reads:
Hello, Dean Winchester.
I think you'll like this picture.
The picture's hi-res and taking its own time to load on the motel's patchy Wi-Fi. Dean takes a gulp of coffee while he waits.
Then he spits the coffee all over the keyboard, and he can't even bring himself to care that Sam's going to make him take out the keys and wipe them off individually, because the picture has loaded and that's Sammy. Sammy, fast asleep on his front, face smushed into the pillow, limbs splayed out. He only sleeps like that when he's feeling comfortable and safe – so, these days, only when he and Dean are sharing a motel room –
Dean notices something else, and his blood runs cold.
Sam-in-the-picture is drooling on a lemon-yellow pillow with white stripes – it looks just like –
Dean turns to his brother's unmade bed.
They checked in yesterday.
That picture is from last night.
Last night, with Dean sleeping three feet away, some creepy pervert snuck into their motel room and took pictures of Sam.
Dean wants to throw up.
He pushes the laptop away and goes and bangs on the bathroom door. There's enough panic in his voice when he yells for Sam to hurry up that Sam knows he's not just being a jerk. He emerges a couple of minutes later with hair still damp, looking worried.
"What's wrong, Dean?"
In answer, Dean shows him the picture.
Sam rolls his eyes. "What, you're trying to blackmail me with that? You need to up your game, Dean."
"Bitch, please," Dean says. It's like an autonomous nervous response. "You think I need lame-ass crap like that to blackmail you?" Then he remembers what's happening and puts a hand on Sam's back. "I didn't take the picture."
Sam stiffens. "Come on."
"I mean it, Sam. I wouldn't mess with you about this. I didn't take the picture."
"But…" Sam shakes his head, eyes widening. "But… that's… the picture is here."
"Yeah, I know. Don't worry. We're going to find out who did this, and I'm going to kick their ass."
"But – no. Someone was here? Inside?"
"Hey." Dean slides his arm all the way around Sam. "We're OK, yeah? Look at me. We're all right. You're all right. I'm not letting anyone get near you."
Yeah, that's the kicker. The room's locked, the deadbolt drawn, salt lines laid down, and Sam's expert runes chalked across all entry points. No wonder Sam's upset. This is supposed to be their down time – and their safe space. This is supposed to be Sam's safe space, where he might get teased and pranked and laughed at, yeah, because that's what big brothers do, but where he also knows that nothing, nothing can ever hurt him, because that's another thing big brothers do.
Dean thinks he might want to kill someone.
"I don't know what happened," he says. "We're going to find out. There are, what, ten people living in this town? We're going to find out who did it, and I'm going to make sure they know not to do it again, and then we're going somewhere else and finishing our vacation. OK?"
"OK," Sam breathes. Then, a look of determination settling on his face, "Yeah, OK. Let's get this guy."
"Or girl," Dean says. "Like that girl, what's-her-name, the creepy stalker in that town in Wisconsin."
"Len Wright?" Sam shakes his head. "She wasn't a creepy stalker, Dean."
"She was a junior in college who snuck into the high school library so she could spy on my sixteen-year-old brother's soccer practice. You want to keep telling me about how she wasn't a creepy stalker?"
"She stopped, though."
"Sure she did, after I went and threatened to have her arrested." Dean shuts the laptop and gives Sam a light shove in the direction of the door. "Come on, kiddo. Breakfast. No sense threatening lowlifes on an empty stomach."
Sam grabs the laptop on his way out. He spends half of breakfast trying to get what information he can from the picture. It isn't much. He tells Dean that whoever sent it has erased most of the metadata, whatever the hell that is. The only thing left is the timestamp, which is May 2, 1983 1:38 pm.
When Sam tells him that, Dean can't hold back a gasp of horror – not like a kid in a slasher movie, but a deep and manly gasp.
"The date you were born. The time you were born."
"I didn't know that."
"Nobody knew it." He glances around. People are watching them. Of course they are. It's a small town and strangers stand out. Dean lowers his voice. "Sam, other than Dad and Mom and me, nobody ever knew that. It's not something you go around telling people. Not one person knew, not even Pastor Jim or Bobby."
Sam shrugs. "It'll be in the hospital records."
"That's even worse. It means this lunatic was smart enough to find out which hospital you were born in and hack their servers. Finish your eggs. We're going to the police station."
The second picture comes on Monday evening.
The police proved singularly useless. They had Dean send them the picture and promised to get their tech people to take a look at it. As though any tech people will find something Sam missed. Then they told Dean that, in a small town like theirs, there's no crime. A kid might play a prank, but nobody's going to harm Sam.
Dean called them some names and stalked out before they could arrest him, herding Sam into the car and driving back to the motel, muttering under his breath about incompetent jerks who think they know everything just because they're in uniform.
Sam spends some time researching the current residents of Little Creek Falls, pop. 8,793. There's not a lot. Two high schools, a handful of churches, a daycare centre. There are pictures of smiling children and community barbecues.
At lunchtime Dean drags Sam away from his laptop and to the nearest diner. He gets a corner booth, sitting with his back to the wall so he can glare at anyone who chances to look in Sam's direction.
Sam seems a little tired afterwards – poor kid's had a shock, no wonder – so Dean drives twenty miles from the town limits and parks behind a clump of trees that hides them from the road. Sam's asleep before he's even stopped the car. Dean intends to stay awake and keep watch, he does, but he's been worried too, and it isn't long before his head has tilted back and he's snoring softly.
Dean wakes first. He can't hold back a small smile when he realizes that, at some point, Sam has settled his head on Dean's shoulder. Dean really should shock him awake with some loud music or at least take a blackmail picture, but he can't bring himself to do it.
He puts the car in gear instead. He drives as smoothly as he can, counting it as a win that Sam doesn't even stir until he's braking in the motel parking lot.
Sam turns on his laptop as soon as he's inside. Dean's in the bathroom when he hears Sam yelling for him. He charges out, ready to murder whoever made his little brother sound that terrified –
And there, on the screen, is a picture of Sam sleeping on a shoulder that has to be Dean's, a picture that, Dean knows, isn't more than four hours old.
The message above it reads:
What, you thought you could protect baby bro by taking him away? I'll always be there.
"C'mere," Dean says, because hunting down the stalker with a death wish comes second, and making Sam feel less scared is first. Sam lets Dean pull him away from the laptop, but he doesn't stop shivering.
"Dean – who –?"
"I don't know. But we're going to find out. Come on, let's go talk to the motel manager. She might know who was here last night."
The motel manager is far more sympathetic than the police, and very apologetic. Sam's big dewy frightened eyes probably have something to do with that. Dean knows Sam's playing it up to get her to help them, just like he knows his brother is the size of a house and can defend himself, but it still makes something catch unpleasantly in his chest.
Besides, what if Sam's stalker is armed with a machine gun? Or manages to poison Sam somehow? Or –
Dean shakes the image of Sam bleeding out in his arms firmly out of his head and focuses on Charlotte, the manager, who's offering to shift them to another room. He nods his agreement, pats Sam on the back, and steers him out of the room.
He doesn't let Sam back in to pack, though. He sits him in the Impala, so Dean's baby can keep his little brother safe while Dean gets their stuff.
He goes through the duffels carefully as he fills them. No hex bags. Nothing new or unexpected. Just his things and Sam's. There aren't even any weapons other than Sam's Taurus and the knife Dean keeps under his pillow, because this was never supposed to be dangerous. They're on vacation.
Dean leaves the duffels in the car. Sam has orders to stay put while Dean reconnoitres the new room. He grumbles but he doesn't seriously argue, which tells Dean exactly how scared the poor kid is.
There are no loose floorboards, no cameras that Dean can find, no hollow panels in the walls that might hide enemies. The bathroom is clean and has just one high window that's too small for anyone to scramble through.
It looks as secure as anything they can hope for in this town.
Dean wonders for a moment if they should leave Little Creek Falls altogether – but, no. The stalker was smart enough to get the details of Sam's birth from Lawrence General. Leaving doesn't guarantee safety. The only way to make sure Sam's safe is to find the creep and tie his legs around his neck.
When Dean goes back for Sam, he makes sure to pick up the weapons duffel too.
They question some locals in the bar after dinner. They're willing to talk after a couple of drinks. Nobody knows anything that's useful, but one person advises them to speak to Old Mrs. Manning, who's eighty years old and still sharp as a tack. Everyone agrees that she knows every single thing that's happened in town in her lifetime. If anyone will know who has secret criminal tendencies, it's Old Mrs. Manning.
It's too late to call her then. Sam and Dean go back to their motel room. Sam's restless and wound up. Dean reads to him from a Latin bestiary, his voice even and soothing as he describes the fourteen ways in which a Hydra can kill a human. Sam falls asleep eventually, but he's lying on his back, stiff and uncomfortable like he's waiting for a nightmare.
Dean tells himself this'll be over soon, turns out the lights, and spends a restless night.
Dean's up first the next morning, so he's the one who stumbles into the bathroom half-awake and sees the words daubed on the mirror. They're in white paint, but it might as well be blood for how hard it makes Dean's heart thud.
YOU CAN'T RUN FROM ME.
The paint's run down, dripping over the flap of an envelope taped to the bottom of the mirror.
Hands shaking, Dean tears the tape off and opens it.
It takes a moment for him to register what he's seeing. Then he realizes that it's strands of chestnut hair.
It couldn't be. It can't be.
Dean goes to wake Sam.
Sam's surprisingly calm when Dean shows him the contents of the envelope, pointing out that the colour could be a coincidence. Lots of people have brown hair. It could be anyone's.
Dean doesn't argue, because Sam rational is better than Sam panicking. They get breakfast – in a different diner, this time – and make their way to the police station. The cops are inclined to laugh at them, looking Sam up and down with snide smirks as though to point out that he's eight feet tall.
Then one of them suggests that Sam might be in on it and it's some sort of prank.
Dean's about to clock the nearest officer on the jaw, but Sam grabs his arm to stop him.
On reflection, Dean decides that's just as well. He can't be spending time in jail and leaving Sam at the mercy of a lunatic. They leave the police station, get in the Impala, and drive to the address they were given for Mrs. Manning.
They're halfway there when Sam, remembering that he hasn't checked his email in Dean's hurry to get him out and to the station, takes out his phone. Dean tenses. His big brother senses are on fire. There's something wrong, something wrong, something wrong –
The colour drains from Sam's face.
Dean pulls the Impala to the side of the road, completely ignoring the No Parking sign – the cops weren't willing to help them, he doesn't see why he has to obey their stupid rules – and takes the phone from Sam.
The message is just a line.
Did you think I didn't have a picture for you?
Dean scrolls down.
Then he wishes he hadn't, because the picture is of Sam asleep. Someone off-camera has a knife to his throat. It's a wickedly sharp blade, Dean can see that even in the picture, and it's probably the same one they used to cut off a few strands of his hair.
"That's your knife," Sam whispers.
"It was under my pillow all night." Dean's shaking his head in disbelief, wrapping an arm around Sam's shoulders. "I don't get it. They must have drugged us or something. No way I wouldn't wake up to someone grabbing it from under my freaking pillow – or you wouldn't wake up if someone was about to kill you."
Sam shifts closer to him. It's as much of an admission of fear as Dean will ever get.
No wonder Sam's scared. When he's in a room that's as thoroughly protected as he and Dean can make it, asleep with his big brother next to him, he's supposed to be safe. Dean's freaking out internally, because someone got close enough to his little brother to kill him and he doesn't know who and he didn't even wake up. Sam could've had his throat cut and Dean would've slept right through it and woken up to blood on the sheets and blood on the floor and –
"We're going to get to the bottom of this," Dean promises. "And when I find out who's doing this, there's going to be hell to pay."
Sam nods, letting himself shiver in Dean's arms for another minute before he pushes away and scrubs a hand down his face. "Let's talk to Mrs. Manning."
"That's my boy," Dean says, starting the car again.
Mrs. Manning turns out to be a wrinkled, white-haired lady in a flower-print dress, vigorous despite her years. She asks them in and makes them tea, pouring a shot of brandy into each cup when her sharp eyes notice how shaken Sam still is.
"Pete told me you might be coming," she says. "What can I do for you?"
Dean doesn't think about a fabrication. He tells the truth, that he and his brother are on holiday and someone is stalking his brother and the cops won't take them seriously, because look at Sam, and Dean wants to kill someone, because look at Sam, and can Mrs. Manning please tell him who needs to die.
"Oh, my dear." She reaches across the table to pat Sam's hand. "I'm so sorry. I wish I could help you, I do. Nobody should be able to get away with things like this."
"Don't you have any ideas?" Dean asks. He's not above begging. "Anything, please. Has anything of this kind ever happened here before? Is anyone working at the motel not… you know, not all there? I can't – I don't want to just pack up and leave. Whoever it was traced us back to where we were born and got Sam's hospital records. They could follow us out."
"Poor Millie's had a run of bad luck at that motel," Mrs. Manning says with a sigh. "She's had to employ a couple of boys from the next town over, because none of the locals will work for her. Nobody knows much about them."
"What are their names?" Dean demands, even as Sam asks, "What run of bad luck?"
"It started when one of her guests died unexpectedly while she was there," says Mrs. Manning. "About five years ago. She was found dead in her bed one morning. They put it down to a sudden heart attack, though I think it must have been more than that. For some reason a lot of people thought Millie had a hand in it. She never was very popular. She hasn't been able to keep staff on longer than a few months."
Dean feels Sam tense next to him.
"The woman who died," Sam says, "what was her name?"
"Oh, dear, it was so long ago." Mrs. Manning frowns in concentration. "Wrigley? No, Wright. Helena Wright."
"Oh my god." Sam's eyes are suddenly wide. "Len Wright."
"Len Wright," Dean's growling under his breath as he honks at a child riding a tricycle down the sidewalk. "Len Wright. I knew I should've killed her."
"It might be coincidence," Sam says half-heartedly. Dean shoots him a withering glare. Sam sighs. "Yeah, OK, probably not. Still, Dean, you did the right thing. C'mon, she was practically a kid herself."
"You were sixteen," Dean hisses. "Sixteen, and she tried to get you to go out with her."
"She offered to help me with my History paper."
Dean scoffs. "Yeah, right. Like you needed her help. She was averaging Cs in college."
"How do you know that?"
"You think you're the only one who made any friends? I had someone check her out."
"You looked up her grades? That's –"
"Save it," Dean snaps. "In case you missed it, she was a threat to my little brother. She's lucky I didn't take it to the cops or the college board."
"I was going to say that's sweet," Sam says. "You were worried about me."
Although he knows Sam's teasing, and trying to lighten the mood, Dean can't help responding seriously to the remark. "Of course I was worried about you. You were a kid."
"How many girls did you kiss in the janitor's closet when you were sixteen?"
"How many girls did I kiss in the janitor's closet when I was fourteen? But that's not the point, Sammy. You were never like that. You were just so innocent, despite everything we'd been through, and I wanted to let you have that as long as you could."
Sam's quiet a moment. His voice is rough when he says, "All right, let's go back and talk to the manager. I suppose there's something of Helena Wright's still sitting around the place somewhere. Find it, burn it, and we can finish our vacation somewhere else."
"Do you think…?"
"I looked up Little Creek Falls before we came here. There've been no reports of anything like this in the last five years… So even if Len's ghost is hanging around, she's not been active. Do you think it was us coming here that set her off?"
"She wasn't a bad person, Dean. She helped me with my homework." Dean scoffs, but Sam goes on, "Yeah, I know, everything she knew about history came from movies, and I would've done just as well if she hadn't helped me. But she did try to help me and she didn't lay a hand on me."
"She hid in the library to take pictures of you playing soccer with your shirt off. Does that sound like not a bad person to you?"
"She didn't seem very happy."
"That's it," Dean barks, braking abruptly. Fortunately they're on a deserted street. "What the hell are you saying, Sam? That I shouldn't have stopped her?"
"No, of course not." Sam pats his arm placatingly. "You're my big brother, and you were worried about me and you were doing what was best for me. I know that. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. But… she was having trouble at college, and her mother wasn't sympathetic because she thought Len just wasn't trying hard enough. Len felt like a disappointment, and… well, I could understand."
"So I made you feel like a disappointment." Dean tries to keep the hurt from his voice, but he knows he's not succeeded when Sam's eyes go dewy. "Nice to know. Thanks, Sam."
"That's not what I meant." Sam grabs Dean's wrist before he can start driving again, forcing Dean to face him. "You bragged about my grades to your friends – yeah, I know you did – and you came to my plays and my soccer games. I always knew you were proud of me. I just never felt like I deserved it."
"Don't you dare." Dean shakes free and starts the car. "You were never a disappointment, you hear? Never."
They make it back to the motel in record time. Dean follows Sam into the manager's office, where "Millie" is on the computer looking harassed.
"Something wrong?" Sam asks.
"What? Oh, yeah, Ali quit." At Dean's bewildered look, she explains, "the boy who handles the outside – mowing the lawn and watering the plants. He was working afternoons after his classes, but he's been given a spot on the baseball team so he won't have time anymore. Never mind, that's not your problem. Can I help you? Are you here for the note?"
"Yes, there was one hand-delivered for Dean Winchester – that's you, right? Someone slid it under my door." Millie sweeps aside the papers on her desk and grabs a plain white envelope. "Here you are."
Dean's chest seizes. It's identical to the one that was taped to the mirror. He can't move.
Sam must sense his trouble, because he takes it from Millie, smiling his thanks. Dean snatches it before Sam can open it. He rips the envelope open and pulls out a sheet of typewritten paper.
Sam Winchester broke his leg in a fall on a hiking trip in college. Did you know that, Dean?
Silently, Dean shows it to Sam.
"I knew," he adds, although that hardly seems relevant. He has to say it, though. He's going crazy enough as it is. If this Len woman had been telling him things about Sam that he didn't know… "I knew, Sammy. I used to come by now and then to check on you. Saw you hobbling around in the cast."
Sam nods. Dean knows he gets it.
"What now?" Sam asks.
"Now…" Dean pats Sam on the back, and leaves his hand there because he can feel Sam's faint tremors under it. "Now, kiddo, Millie's going to tell us all about what happened to Helena Wright."
"There's nothing much to tell," says Millie. "She came here alone. Lots of people do. I wouldn't even remember her if it weren't for what happened… She'd called in a takeaway but never showed up to get it. They called us, because they recognized the number she called from. I sent Rosa – she was the housemaid at the time – up to her room to make sure she was OK. The door was locked on the inside. Rosa used her master key and went in and found Helena –" Millie shudders. "It was horrible. She was dead, and they say the dead look peaceful, but she didn't. She looked terrified."
"What happened then?" Dean asks, rubbing Sam's back. He sees Millie's eyes tracking the movement and knows she's questioning the two single beds they asked for. He really doesn't care. "Mrs. Manning said it was a heart attack."
"There were no signs of violence. They thought she might have been poisoned, but I…" Millie blushes. "I know it was wrong. I begged Arty not to ask for tox screens. I was already losing money. I didn't need more bad press."
"The officer in charge of the case."
"You knew him?"
"We were at school together. And Helena's father seemed to agree. Well, her stepfather, I think. Joe Pascal, he was listed as her emergency contact. Apparently her mother had passed away earlier that year, of a chronic heart condition, and her father had gone missing while she was a toddler. There was a family history of heart trouble and no reason to believe she'd been poisoned except Arty's gut instinct."
"That's fine," Sam says. "We're not looking to make any trouble. What happened to her things?"
"Her stepfather took most of it. He missed a couple of things – her toothbrush, and a locket she must have been wearing that night. It had fallen behind the bed. Rosa found it when she was cleaning out the room. I threw away the toothbrush."
"And the locket?"
"It's in the safe. I tried to get in touch with Helena's stepfather but he wasn't answering his phone or email. I tossed it in there thinking he might come back for it, but he never did."
"Can you show us?"
Millie leads them through a door in the back wall to a tiny room containing an old safe.
"I know," she says, when she sees the way Sam's looking at it. "It's been here since my grandfather first opened the place. I never bothered to get another one – this isn't a dangerous town. And it's not like I have anything valuable in it. Just some documents."
"Someone's tampered with it," points out Sam.
Dean doesn't bother to check. Sammy's the expert. If he says the lock's been tampered with, it has. When Millie looks a little disbelieving, Dean says, "Open it and see if anything's missing."
Millie fumbles with the key for a moment before she manages to turn it. The door swings open. There are binders and ledgers and loose sheets of paper stacked untidily inside. Millie rootles through them, somehow managing to mess them up even more. When she emerges, she looks disconcerted.
"It's all there," she says. "Except the locket."
Sam's breath catches.
"Are you sure?" Dean asks briskly. "There's a lot of stuff in there, maybe you missed it."
"I'm sure," Millie says. "I put it in an old jewellery box I had lying around. The box is gone. There's no way I could miss it."
"Can you describe it?"
"The locket, but, yeah, the box too."
"Oh… All right. The locket was gold, oval, on a simple chain. It had a pattern of hearts in red enamel, the sort of thing you give a girl for Valentine's Day when you're getting a little serious. The box was a flat jewellery box, purple, with a snap catch."
"All right," Dean says. "Thanks."
"Is there a problem with the new room? I told the housemaid not to go in, but you can call her if you need the room cleaned. It's on the second floor, there should be no way anyone can get in, or… anything."
Dean manages a tight smile. "Yeah… I think we're good for now."
"I'd hate to think… I'm sorry, you must think I'm a terrible person, trying to keep the police from investigating Helena's death. I thought I was doing the right thing. But if it was… I don't know, some kind of psychopath and now he's after you…"
"We can take care of ourselves," Dean promises. "Don't worry."
Sam's silent as they go upstairs. Once they're in their room, he grabs his laptop and sits on his bed. Dean watches him research for a couple of minutes, fingers flying to show just how panicked he is. Dean tries to occupy himself cleaning the guns. He manages it for a couple of minutes before he can't stand it anymore. He picks up the duffel and goes to Sam's bed.
"Scoot over," Dean orders.
Sam scoots without argument. Dean sits next to him and goes back to work.
"Turns out Joe Pascal was a horrible person," Sam murmurs about half an hour later.
"Big surprise," says Dean. "People are horrible."
"No, I mean it. According to the local paper, the police suspected him of having murdered his girlfriend – Helena's mother – a year before Helena died. They'd been together for a while. Police suspected him of a lot of unsavoury things, abuse and assault among them, but they could never prove anything. They believed… oh my god."
Sam looks a little sick. "There was a boy who went missing. High school sophomore. Kidnappers contacted his father, who was a bank teller, demanding his help robbing the bank in exchange for his son's life. He was afraid to go to the police, so he helped them. He got caught, and told the detective on the case about the kidnapping. They managed to track down the kidnappers but by the time they got there, they just found the boy's body. The men were long gone. The description the father gave of the one who'd been the liaison between him and the kidnappers matches Joe Pascal." Sam pushes the laptop away.
"You think Helena was stalking you on Pascal's orders?"
"Maybe." Sam shrugs. "Not willingly, I'm sure, but who knows what he threatened her with?"
"Right. Pascal still alive?"
"No. He was killed in a car crash two years ago."
"Damn it," Dean mutters. "So I can't do it myself… do we have a theory?"
"Yeah. Pascal murdered Helena. She might've tried to get away, or threatened to go to the cops. She ran, he followed her and poisoned her somehow. Her spirit is stuck here, and we came, and she thought… I don't know. Maybe she thought finishing her unfinished job would let her move on?"
"OK. We find the locket and burn it. And then we track down Pascal's grave and burn him too, just to be safe."
"Sam." Dean's voice is deadly serious. "I didn't let Len Wright hurt you then, and I'm not going to let her hurt you now. Nobody gets past Dean Winchester."
The next thing they find is the missing jewellery box.
It's in Sam's duffel, purple velvet with a snap catch, just like Millie said. Sam finds it when he goes to grab the coconut shampoo that Dean would normally tease him mercilessly about.
Today, when he goes in response to Sam's call and stares down at the jewellery box nestled between Sam's Taurus and a bottle of drugstore cologne, he thinks he'll gladly let Sam have all the coconut shampoo in the world if anyone can promise them that it won't come with a side of ghostly stalker.
Sam reaches for it. Dean grabs his arm to stop him.
"Dean, we have to see if the locket's inside. If it is, we can burn it."
"You're not touching it."
Dean takes a bandanna from his pocket and uses that to pull out the box. He lays it on the table and releases the catch carefully with the point of his knife. The lid springs open.
The box is empty.
"The locket was here," Sam notes, indicating the little oval indent in the satin where the locket used to rest. "Someone's taken it out recently."
"Yeah… It wasn't there last night, was it?"
"No. I would have noticed."
"So someone got the locket out of the safe, and then, sometime between last night and now, they put it in your duffel. Len Wright couldn't have done it, she's not corporeal. Same goes for Pascal. Do we have any other suspects?"
"Why would anyone help her? That makes no sense."
"We find out who did and we can ask them." Dean hesitates. They can cover more ground if they split up – but, as much as he wants this solved quickly, he doesn't even want to think about leaving Sammy alone with who-knows-what after him.
"Maybe we should get lunch first?" Sam suggests. "It's past time. I'm surprised you've not started eating the bedsheets."
"Excuse me for not worrying about food when some psycho ghost stalker is after my little brother."
"There's no point starving. Do us some good to get out of here, and we can chat with the locals – see if anyone else remembers anything about the Len Wright case, just in case Millie isn't being fully honest. I'm sure news got around."
"Why didn't they tell us yesterday? Think they're part of a cover-up?"
"Don't be ridiculous. They probably forgot. Most people think ghosts aren't real, remember? There's no other reason to connect Len being maybe-poisoned five years ago to someone stalking me now."
"Yeah," Dean mutters, unconvinced. "Come on. Let's go. This place is giving me the creeps."
The waitresses at the diner recognize them. One of them starts flirting with Dean as soon as they're through the door. Sam can't help thinking it's a little tragic that Dean's too distracted for more than a cursory smile in her direction, even when she practically bends in half trying to let him see down her shirt.
"What can I get you?" she asks, when it's clear that she's not going to get Dean's attention tonight.
Dean absent-mindedly stabs his finger at the burger section of the menu.
"The tofu burger?" asks the waitress, whose name, according to her tag, is Darlene. "You sure about that?"
"Listen," Dean says, in the tone that means trouble. "I don't care about burgers. I don't care about tofu. We came to this town wanting a little time off. That's it. And instead I have to deal with somebody, somebody who's going to wish they were dead when I get my hands of them, sneaking into our room in the middle of the night and cutting off bits of my brother's hair!"
"Dean," Sam hisses, feeling himself go scarlet. "Calm down. It's not her fault. He'll have a regular cheeseburger," he adds to the waitress. "And I'll have whichever of the salads is the freshest. Coffee for both of us."
"Sure thing. You might want to keep an eye on your brother. We don't believe in making public scenes in this town."
"But you believe in stalking innocent kids, is that it?" Dean snarls before Sam can stop him.
"Dean! I'm so sorry about my brother, he's just a little… protective." Darlene scoffs and flounces away. "Dean," Sam goes on in a softer tone, "I know you're worried about me, but you have to calm down. It's not her fault Len Wright turned into a ghost."
"Screw Len Wright. It was a human who picked the lock on Millie's safe. Someone's helping her."
"That's not Darlene's fault either."
"Easy for you to say."
"Dean. What's wrong?"
"I should've dealt with it," Dean says unhappily. "When I realized she was following you around. I went and threatened her and she stopped and I thought that was the end of it. I should've known better. I left the job unfinished, and now she's after you as a ghost."
"It's going to be fine. It's nothing we've not seen before." Sam gets to his feet. "I'm going to hit the head. You enjoy your burger."
"Be careful," Dean calls after him.
Sam rolls his eyes. His does his business quickly, washes his hands, and splashes water on his face. His head is already starting to ache. He's nervous, and although he's been trying not to show it, he's sure Dean has figured it out. That has to be part of what has Dean so furious. Nothing pisses him off as much as knowing his little brother is afraid and not being able to rain hell on the cause.
He hears the door open and looks up.
Before he can do more than register the person standing behind him, something slams into the back of his head with brutal force.
Sam falls into darkness.
His head is still heavy and aching. Something in the coffee, there's no other way anyone could've drugged him. The bitterness of the coffee would have masked any giveaway taste of a roofie. Dean's vision started blurring as soon as he'd downed the first gulp.
The next thing he remembers is waking up in his motel room. There's no sign of Sam.
Dean's boots and jacket were off when he woke up, which makes him think Sam must have got him back to their room and into bed. Nobody else would have bothered.
But it's not like Sam to disappear when Dean's out cold. He might run down to the drugstore if their med kit needs to be restocked, but otherwise he'll stay there, warm and close by Dean's side, one big hand in Dean's hair. He'll stay there until Dean's feeling better, no matter how much Dean bitches at him or calls him a girl, and let Dean pretend to hate being coddled.
As the minutes tick by with no Sam, Dean's fear grows.
He's tried all of Sam's phones. The Number Two and Number Three phones ring from Sam's duffel. The Number One phone is turned off.
Dean tries not to think of Sam lying in some back alley with his throat cut.
He thinks he might throw up.
He finally thinks to check his email. He has a message from Your Friend with a picture attached. Dean waits impatiently for the picture to load – stupid slow motel Wi-Fi. The message itself reads:
If you want him back, I have a job for you.
Once the picture has loaded, he almost wishes it hadn't. It's of Sam, tied to a chair. His head is bowed, hair obscuring most of his face, but what Dean can see is bloodied. He's clearly unconscious, whether from the beating or a drug Dean doesn't know.
He replies right away.
Hurt my brother, and you're going to regret it forever.
There's no response. Dean waits as patiently as he can for ten minutes. Then the panic-stricken thought occurs to him that Len Wright might just kill Sam if she thinks Dean's not going to help her.
He sends another email.
What do you want?
Dean's got no problem robbing a bank. Society owes them, anyway. They've saved so many lives – Sam's saved so many lives – that if a few people have to give up some cash to ensure Sam's safety, they can just deal with it and be grateful Sam's still around to be an awesome hunter.
Minutes go by without a response.
Dean can't think of anything but Sam, alone, scared, wondering why Dean isn't coming for him.
He has no idea where Sam is. He spoke to Millie, who says she hasn't seen either of them since they opened her safe. She didn't even notice Sam bringing Dean back, let alone Sam leaving again. Dean's starting to wonder if Sam could've been snatched from the diner – but Darlene, whom he spoke to on the phone, said she saw Sam and Dean pulling out of the parking lot in the Impala, leaving their payment and a generous tip on the table next to their uneaten food.
Right. So Sam paid and got Dean back to the motel.
Then what? The trail isn't cold. There is no trail.
"Where are you?" Dean whispers. "Sammy, where are you? Come on, kiddo, you have to come back to me safe. I'll even let you pick the music."
He feels cold, and hot, and sticky. That's probably the drug.
A shower. He needs a shower. It'll clear his head, and then he can find Sam and kill whoever hurt him and fix Sam and they can get out of this town and never come near here again.
He stumbles into the bathroom.
He stops short as soon as he flicks on the light.
Dean cleaned off the mirror before they left for lunch. He knows he did. But the words are back, YOU CAN'T RUN FROM ME all in capitals. But this time it's worse, because the letters are in a dull rust colour that Dean knows from experience is blood.
No no no. This can't be happening. This is a nightmare. He's going to wake up any minute, and Sam's going to be asleep in the next bed, drooling like he always does, and when Dean pokes him he's going to snuffle and go back to sleep and it's going to be fine because this –
This can't be real.
Dean's not standing in a bathroom with a warning message daubed on the mirror in his brother's blood by the ghost of a woman who stalked him when he was a teenager. Even their lives aren't that insane.
And Sam, his sweet, innocent Sammy, isn't currently being held hostage by someone who might kill him if Dean doesn't cooperate. What kind of horrible person would hold Sammy hostage? That's like drowning a puppy. You need to be a special kind of evil to contemplate it.
Dean needs to shower. He hangs onto that as his last hope of normalcy. Hot water. It'll help him think.
Dean unbuttons his shirt.
When his fingers reach for the top button, they find something cold and metallic.
Dean knows what it is before he raises his eyes to the bloodstained mirror.
There, around his neck, is a delicate chain of gold links, and an oval locket with red enamel hearts.
"He tried to take it off," croons Dean's voice. "So I had to take over."
Sam groans and manages to raise his head enough to look at the thing wearing his brother's face.
"Please," he begs, "let him go. Do what you want with me, but let my brother go."
"Oh, Sammy. What's the fun in that? No, I need to kill you with Dean's hands. But that can wait. First – selfie!" Dean – not Dean, he reminds himself – grabs a knife off the table and goes around to stand behind Sam. The knife comes up under Sam's skin, pressing at the delicate skin of his throat and forcing him to raise his head. "That's a good boy. Smile for the camera."
The flash goes off.
"I think Dean's going to love this picture… don't you?"
Sam can't help wincing when the picture is thrust under his nose. It's of him and Dean. Sam has to admit, objectively, that he looks terrible. One eye is swollen shut, there's blood trickling from his nose and mouth, and his face is covered in bruises. The knife, Dean's knife, is clearly visible, forcing Sam to keep his head raised. And Dean – not Dean, Len possessing Dean – is smiling brightly.
Dean's never going to get over it if he sees that picture.
"Please let him go."
"You don't understand, Sam. I have to do this. This is my unfinished business."
"How am I your unfinished business? You knew me years ago."
"You were the one who started it all. You weren't my first job – my stepfather always had me scope out the kids he and his friends planned to kidnap. Much less suspicious if I did it. I did what I was told. I was terrified of him. I was protecting myself and my mother. And then, well, your brother threatened to call the cops on me if I didn't leave you alone."
"I bet Pascal didn't like that."
"He was angry because I let myself get noticed." The words are punctuated by a delicate, very un-Dean-like shudder. "But he did agree that it was best to let you go. That got me thinking… And, well, I'm sure you figured out the rest. I eventually realized I couldn't be part of his schemes anymore. It took years, but I got there, and I tried to run."
"Then you know killing me would be wrong."
"I know he wouldn't have killed me if I hadn't had attacks of conscience, and I wouldn't have had attacks of conscience if it hadn't been for you. Oh, yes, look disapproving. It was the only life I knew. I was four when he started dating my mother… Right, enough talk. Time to send big brother his instructions."
"What do you want him to do?"
"He's going to find my stepfather's bones and burn them. And then… poor Dean. He's going to come back here to find out that you've been dead for days."
"We would've burnt his bones anyway! You didn't have to do this – you don't have to do this. Please. Just let Dean go."
"Not a chance."
"Please. You can't kill me while you're possessing Dean. He'll never forgive himself."
"Find someone who cares."
The cell phone is dropped to the table. Sam has a moment's notice, and then Dean's fist connects with his face hard enough to make him see stars. He cowers on instinct, but the blows keep coming, to his chest and stomach and God this is going to kill him.
"Dean," he sobs. "Dean."
"Dean," mocks the ghost wearing Dean's face, landing another punch to Sam's ribs. "Dean can't hear you, Sam. He saved you then, but nobody's going to save you now."
"Dean!" Sam gasps out. There's a pause. Sam can see the conflict behind Dean's green eyes. "Dean," he urges. "Come on, fight it. I know you can."
"I can't hold her back for long," Dean croaks. "What do we do?"
"Worth a shot. Hurry."
Sam's head is spinning, but he manages to dredge it up from his memory. "Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus…"
"No," Dean snarls, but now it's Len Wright again, staring at him in outright hatred as the Latin trips off Sam's tongue. "No! Not this time. This time you're going to die, like you were supposed to in the first place!"
Firm hands close around Sam's throat.
"Cessa decipere humanas creaturas," Sam chokes, "eisque aeternae Perditionis venenum propinare."
Len's control is slipping now, and for a moment it's Dean again, fingers loosening, squeezing his shoulder, silently urging him on. But Len fights, and she and Dean go back and forth. Sam recites the ritual through the blows that come from Len and Dean's soothing hands.
It's Len who's in control at the end, Len trying to strangle Sam again when he says, "Benedictus deus. Gloria patri."
And then it's Dean, Dean, untying him and pulling him into familiar comfort, it's Dean heart thudding under his cheek and Dean's voice whispering to him about how smart he is for a pain-in-the-ass little brother and how Dean's going to buy him his girly milkshakes every day for a month.
"Burnt the locket," Dean reports, tossing his gun on the bed. "Your turn. Tell me the truth. How bad is it? Anything that needs a hospital?"
"No," Sam says firmly, shifting the ice pack he's holding over his face to look at Dean out of his one good eye.
They're not going to a hospital. It's too much of a risk. He knows how this is going to look to the doctors. He's been beaten to hell and has rope burns on his wrists and ankles. Dean's knuckles are busted and he has blood under his fingernails. The ring of bruises around Sam's throat is a perfect match for Dean's hands. He isn't so badly hurt that they need to take the chance of Dean ending up in jail.
"It's not that bad."
Dean scoffs. "Yeah, right. You look in a mirror lately, princess? You look like you went one-on-one with the Hulk."
"Dean, it's not that bad. You can clean me up."
"I know what you're thinking, Sam, and it's not that big a deal to go to the hospital."
"Not that big a deal? Dean, do you remember the last time we went to the ER when Alfie the Plumber shoved me down a flight of stairs? The doctor was about two minutes away from calling the police and having you taken in, no matter how much I told him you didn't do it."
"I can bust out of jail," Dean says dismissively. "We need to make sure there's no permanent damage. You might have broken ribs, Sam. Those could puncture a lung if you're not careful."
"I don't want to hurt you."
And now they've come to the problem. Dean knows that sometimes patching Sam up is going to hurt a little, but this time is different.
"It wasn't you," Sam points out.
"I'm your big brother. I should've fought harder."
"You did fight. If you hadn't managed to hold her, I would never have been able to finish the ritual. Come on, Dean." Dean looks unconvinced, so Sam widens his eyes and pouts a little. "Please?"
"Sam," Dean says helplessly.
Yup. Still works like a charm, every time.
"Dean, come on. I don't want the ER nurse touching me or asking questions or hinting that I'm in some sort of abusive relationship. You can patch me up."
"I'll do it," Dean relents. "But if there's anything that I think needs a hospital, you're going without a fuss." He grabs the first aid kit. "Scoot over, Samantha. Give the doctor some space."
"That should go down in a day or two," Dean murmurs, touching the swollen skin around Sam's eye. "Keep icing it. Nothing too bad on your face – you don't even need stitches. A couple of butterfly bandages should do it." Deft fingers unbutton Sam's shirt and skim over his chest. Sam winces when they hit a tender spot. "Bruised, I think. Maybe cracked, but not broken. We're strapping those."
"Well?" Sam asks when Dean's finished his triage.
Dean sighs. "All right. No hospital for now. I'll patch you up. You try to get some sleep. I'll see if I can get us something to eat. Soup for you for now, kiddo. I don't think you're going to be able to get solid food down."
Later, much later, when Sam's been fed and dosed with enough painkillers to make him get all dewy-eyed and clingy and tell Dean what an awesome big brother he is, seriously, the best ever, Dean starts making phone calls. He doesn't know how many people were involved Joe Pascal's kidnapping-and-murder business, but he does know they're all going to be suffering the consequences.
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