A/Ns: I am so sorry for the long delay! I had a troublesome couple of months filled with depression. I'm on the other side of it now, working my way back up that hill. Thanks everyone for hanging with me, and for those who reached out: JustinB, faux_strider, P. Por, and Masamune X23. Even if I didn't get back to you, I really, really appreciated the pokes, the support, the patience and encouragement. As well as a big, big thank you to everyone who reviewed or commented, letting me know how much my work is appreciated and loved, and especially missed. And, as always, welcome to our newest readers! I'm so glad y'all are joining us on this little beastie.
Special Thanks to Vaesse and Forestpelt for their help reading this chapter a little early, beta-ing, helping pick the right spot to end it, and encouragement that the whole thing made sense and I wasn't crazy thinking I was onto something.
Chapter Warnings: It is a doozy of a chapter this time, in both events and length. I'd like to believe it makes up for the wait, but you'll have to tell me what you think :D
Actual Chapter Warnings: Well, we got some delicious double fudge rocky road ice cream coming up, wacky shop names in a small town, little bit of Foreigner for you rock n' roll fans, some eight year old's craft supplies turned to wall-weeping slime, psychedelic nostalgia from the sixties, and bird feeders!
Yeah, all that!
Oh, and also one hell of a cliffhanger. But really, we ought to expect those from me my now ;) ENJOY!
The Road So Far (This Time Around)
Season 2: Chapter 82
Dean woke with a jolt – the peaceful quiet of a lakeside dock, lapping water, and wind in the trees suddenly replaced with Foreigner on max volume. He sat bolt-upright in momentary alarm before realizing it was just the motel radio clock, set to go off at seven thirty. With a groan, he rolled over and hit the thing with a closed fist until it stopped making so much noise at such an early hour.
The hunter flopped onto his back with another moan, arm falling over his eyes to block out the light coming from the already-opened, cheap-ass motel curtains.
His brother was an asshole.
"Morning, Sunshine," Sam joked from what sounded like the next bed over. Dean lolled his head to the side, peaking one eye out from under his forearm. His brother was indeed on the other mattress, fully dressed and pulling on his shoes. He looked far too amused for the early hour.
"Bitch," Deam grumbled almost incoherently before forcing himself upright with another noise of protest, rubbing at the grogginess that was his face. Sam had clearly been up for a while, which meant he could have switched that damn alarm off at any point. The older Winchester had a feeling he'd turned the volume all the way up, instead.
Sam just smirked, standing from the bed and heading into the bathroom.
Yeah, alright, Dean probably deserved that for all the times he'd less-than-pleasantly woken his kid brother up. With as loud and disgruntled a groan as he could make, he hauled his body off the mattress and headed into the bathroom as well, where Sam was already brushing his teeth.
Dean grumbled something that might have been English, possibly, as he shouldered his brother out of the way of the sink so he could splash some water on his face. The Sasquatch, still brushing away, raised an eyebrow.
"Coffee?" Sam asked through a mouth full of bristles and toothpaste, so it really sounded more like cooffeef? In response to the peace offering, Dean just moaned – this time as obnoxiously as possible – and, dripping water all over the place, turned to his brother with a suggestive wink.
"Love it when you talk dirty to me, Sammy."
The younger Winchester rolled his eyes, huffed his huffiest little brother huff (which ended up with him almost choking on minty foam) and spat into the sink. Dean grabbed his own toothbrush with an equally obnoxious smirk.
There was a diner around the corner from their motel, and Dean sucked in the smell of grease, butter, and coffee fumes like a drowning man who'd finally found land. He slid into a booth with the relief of salvation and signaled over the harried waitress in her god-awful pink uniform. Without missing a beat she grabbed the coffee pot and headed their way.
Sam eyed him as he settled – at a much more reasonable pace – into the booth across from his brother. Physically, Dean looked fine. And he'd only rubbed at his chest like, twice that morning. Which was pretty good for the man currently housing an angel in his torso.
Still. Sam knew his brother hadn't been sleeping well for a while now. Not since Rivergrove.
Dean immediately dropped his hand from his chest, not even realizing he was rubbing at it, it was such a subconscious habit now. Instead, the man from the future scoffed, about to hassle nosy Samantha right back about sleep schedules and vitamin intake when he actually paused to think about. Had his night been rough? He couldn't remember any dreams, but he sure felt like crap. The kind of crap that usually came after a bad night. But that could just be chalked up to another crap bed in a crap motel in a crap town they'd pulled into way too late the previous night.
His shoulders were tight, like he'd slept tense. His chest was achy, but not in the demon-just-around-the-corner way. More like the slept-bad, probably-had-nightmares-full-of-anxiety-and-dread kinda achy. Or…maybe something in between the two. Whatever all that was, it sure had him feeling groggy this morning.
Dean glanced to the right where a clock was hanging over the service window of the diner's kitchen. Seven fifty-seven. Sure, Dean wasn't quite the rise and shine type like Sammy, but he could usually shake the cobwebs after twenty or so minutes. Maybe he'd had a rough night after all.
Nothing a good cup of Joe couldn't fix, though.
Godsend that she absolutely must be, the waitress arrived not a moment later, hand on her hip and coffee pot already pouring. It was enough to distract Dean from thoughts of bad nights on lumpy mattresses. He greedily sucked down the life-giving black sludge as their waitress – her nametag reading Darla – poured Sam a cup as well. They both stared at the older man as he chugged down the entire mug of hot liquid. Good old Darla was staring so much that she went and overflowed Sam's mug, spilling coffee onto the table top.
"Oh shoot!" she swore, pulling back on the pot and grabbing a towel from her apron. Luckily it had only spilled enough to flood the tabletop around the mug, rather than cover Sam's lap in scalding hot coffee. "Sorry 'bout that."
"No problem," the younger Winchester offered with a weak smile, switching between nodding understandingly at the waitress and eyeing his brother with confused concern.
Darla scurried off to get them a couple waters and another towel, promising to be back to take their order shortly. Sam continued eyeing Dean as he finished the last of the coffee with a loud, overly announced, 'Ah!' and set the mug down with a clink.
The eyebrow raise was approaching Ultimate. "You sure you're feeling alright?"
"Yeah." Dean shrugged off the concern with one shoulder, already looking for Darla and a refill. Sam was still giving him the stink eye – something between open concern and abhorrent regret that he was related to the man sitting across from him. Dean cleared his throat. He wasn't that bad, was he? "It's like you said. Rough night."
Sam didn't seem fully convinced, but let it go as Darla came back over with a clean cloth, wiping away the last of the spill. She also refilled Dean's coffee while she was at it, though not without a little side eye.
With a hand on her hip and an almost empty coffee pot in the other, she asked, "What'll you boys be having this morning?"
"I'll have the California Omelet with a side salad, please." Sam handed over his menu while Dean pulled a face at the crisis that was his kid brother.
"It's eight o'clock in the friggin' morning, Sammy," he grumbled, only somewhat slack-jawed and horrified. "Salads are not a breakfast food. They're barely a food at all, unless you're a rabbit."
Sam just rolled his eyes, like his brother with his one-burger-shy-from-a-heart-attack diet had any room to judge. Dean turned to their waitress with a charming smile that absolutely wasn't returned.
"I'll take the special," he announced proudly, handing over his menu as well. Darla took it, less than impressed, and headed back behind the counter. Dean turned back to Sammy, who looked equally unimpressed. "Two eggs, two sausage links, two pieces of bacon, two pancakes, two slices of toast, and one piece of ham. Now that's a real breakfast."
Sam continued to stare, still unimpressed but now with a slightly green tinge around the corners. "Yeah, a real glutton's breakfast."
Dean pshaw'd, then stubbornly insisted, "Real man's breakfast."
The younger Winchester didn't deign such a comeback with one of his own, instead just rolling his eyes and shaking his head like one might when faced with such infallible logic. Or at least that's what Dean told himself as the bell above the Diner's door rang with new customers. Darla called out a half-hearted greeting as a kid – no more than four or five – came barreling down the aisle between the counter barstools and the booths. Even as the kid's dad called out for him not to run, the little tyke tripped right at Sam and Dean's table, face planting onto the linoleum beside them.
"Great," Dean muttered as he stared at the now screaming child, who looked entirely unharmed to the hunter. "Walk it off, buddy."
Sam grimaced at the volume of the tantrum happening just to his left, but turned it into somewhat of a smile as the father of the child made it to the scene of the wipeout.
"Sorry," the man said – loudly so as to be heard over his screaming child – as he picked the kid up and set him back on his feet.
"It's what kids do," Sam replied with a little more smile than grimace, though it definitely twitched halfway through as the boy let out a truly impressive wail. Dean continued to eye the child with a look far less understanding.
The family moved past, son still crying and father attempting to calm him down. They settled for the last booth in the back, which was not nearly far enough away to lessen the meltdown still happening.
"Awesome," Dean muttered, already feeling the headache coming on. Sam gave him a knowing-yet-still-somehow-admonishing look. Kids were kids, after all. Screaming was just one of the many things they did.
Darla arrived a few moments later with their breakfast, a kid's coloring menu and set of crayons tucked under Dean's plate just waiting to save the day. As she scurried off to deliver what would hopefully bring them all some peace and quiet, Dean eyed his brother's friggin' breakfast salad with as much distaste as he'd spared the wailing kid.
He stabbed his fork into the single slice of ham on his plate and draped it over Sam's salad before the beanstalk could stop him. "There. Now it's breakfast."
Sam's glare received a beaming smile in return even as he less than delicately picked the piece of ham up with his fingers and set it on a side plate.
"So," Dean began with a mouth full of food that earned him a second bitchface for the morning (#6, a general plea to the universe to explain how they could possibly be related), "Tell me about this case."
Sam's 'Really?' bitchface (more of a seven, which often came after six) remained petulantly in place. "Dude, I told you about it last night. In the car?"
Dean frowned, trying to recall that conversation. Ultimately, he shrugged. "Sue me, Sam, I'd been driving for like, eight hours."
"It was five," Sam countered mockingly, though with little heat. He'd taken over the driving and started telling his brother about the possible case in a small town outside of Urbana, Ohio. Which had pretty much put the older Winchester right to sleep, apparently. "And why am I always the one looking for cases, huh? When did that become my job?"
Dean pulled his head back. "Hey, I look for plenty of cases-"
At Sam's raised eyebrow and clear-as-day lawyer look falling into place, Dean changed tactics.
"I do the driving, you do the searching," he offered instead, shrugging like it had always been that way. "Besides, we gotta follow the timeline, right?"
"Yeah, we do. Which would be easier if you're the one looking for cases," his brother argued right back. "You're going to find the ones we did in your timeline a lot faster than me relaying all this to you, waiting for memory to strike. You just want an out for the work."
"Hey, not true!"
It was absolutely true, but Dean wasn't about to admit it. Especially since he did have a valid point too. Well. Sort of. Like half a point.
"If I'm looking, it wouldn't be random. To really follow the timeline, we gotta find our next stop based on what we think is a case, not what we know!"
Sammy lowered his fork, lettuce still on the tip of the utensil, to stare. "Dude. That makes no sense."
The man from the future just shrugged and went with his backup argument. "I did all the legwork first time around-" also not true, but lawyer Sammy had no way of arguing against it- "so this time it's your turn."
The look his kid brother gave him said, 'yeah right,' but to his credit Sam just shook his head and let it drop. "There's been sightings of a mysterious goo-"
"Mysterious goo?" Dean echoed with a raised eyebrow. Didn't sound familiar.
"Yeah, that's what the news article said."
Dean's eyes narrowed, because what self-respecting newspaper would print a story about mystery goo? "Which news?"
Sam's unimpressed look was back, and the older Winchester knew he was about two more comments away from being told to find a case himself if he didn't like Sam's. "Weekly World News."
Dean hummed in response, weighing his head back and forth as he shoved another forkful of breakfast into his mouth. They'd used that trashy tabloid more than a few times to find themselves a case. "So. Mystery goo. Go on."
Sam took a deep, calming breath – much to Dean's delight – before letting it out (no doubt counting to ten as he did so). "There's been sightings of this mystery goo in several buildings in town. All commercial, always when the employee was alone in the building."
"Sounds more like a freaky contamination issue," Dean reasoned. "Has the CDC been called in, or something?"
His brother could only shrug. "Not yet because the goo, or whatever it is, is always gone by the time any sort of authority shows up. Cops think drugs may be playing a role, but the, uh, witnesses come from all different backgrounds, and only one of them has any history of drug use."
Dean pursed his lips. "You thinking something in the water?"
"Sure, could be." Sam pulled some folded up papers out of his back pocket, no doubt the news articles he'd printed in the last town. Dean, meanwhile, was eyeing the glass of water Darla had dropped off on her first greeting more than a little warily now. He pushed it another couple inches further away from him. Sam unfolded the papers, trying to flatten them out. "Or it could be some sort of group prank or something."
"If it's a prank, what's the joke?"
"You got me." Sam shrugged again, head of brown hair shaking back and forth. "I never said it was a good one, if that's what it is."
Dean snorted in response. "So what's the goo do?"
Sam blinked at the question. "Uh…nothing, far as I can tell."
The older Winchester frowned. "Nothing?"
"It just…oozes down the walls. Freaks out the employee, who usually bolts. By the time someone comes back with them, it's gone."
Hence the theory of drugs, Sam thought. He would doubt the mystery goo, or whatever it was, was real too if he was a normal civilian. Probably a hallucination. Not that he or his brother were normal.
Dean, though, was still frowning. "So a bunch of scaredy cats, possibly drugged to their gills, go running from their lives thinking Night of the Living Dead-"
"-Or Ghostbusters," Dean amended without batting an eye because Sam had an excellent point, "and we're… what? Going to somehow…investigate that?"
Sam just shrugged for the fourth, maybe fifth time that conversation. "You can always pick the cases, Dean. I'd be happy to do the driving if you want to-"
"No, no. Mysterious goo. Definitely a case, totally not a waste of time," Dean answered way too quickly with way too wide a smile. Sam stuck with the unimpressed staring. "So, what's our theory? Ectoplasm? One strong-as-hell-but-conveniently-absent ghost?"
"That's the thing, if it's real, I don't think it's ectoplasm," Sam responded, spinning one of those papers around and pushing it towards Dean, pointing at a section.
As Dean began to scan, his previous frown returned. And then got deeper. "What the hell?"
"All the witnesses said the same thing." Sam met Dean's eyes as his brother's gaze glanced up from the papers spelling out something neither of them had ever even heard of before. "The goo they saw was yellow."
Dean's frown went near comical levels, and for the first time that morning he actually seemed intrigued by the possible case. "You sure it's not drugs?"
First on the list of things to do when investigating mysterious yellow goo? Interview the alleged witnesses. The first person to report it was twenty-six year old Dale Harris, who worked at – and Dean would shit you not, here – Winners One, otherwise known as the local liquor store. Cops probably dismissed his goo ramblings as sampling a little too much of the merchandise.
The second, only two days later but on the other side of town, was a middle-aged mother of four who worked at Three Guys and An Ox furniture store. Whoever named things in this town was just asking for mystery goo to start showing up on their doorstep. Seriously.
For sighting number three, they visited the home of one Holly Brine, of the Heritage Country Store. 'Just past Little Darby Creek,' or so the gas station attendant told them. When the yellow ooze started coming out of the birdfeeders, that's when she bolted.
Seriously. This town.
Sam and Dean went in as CDC under the ruse that perhaps the goo was a contaminant of some kind. Hey, if they weren't there already, hunters might as well do the job for 'em, right? Unfortunately for said hunters, they weren't getting a lot of useful information. While each witness had a different enough story to not feel rehearsed or raise any flags – eliminating the possibility of them being in on the prank, if it was one – their tales weren't different enough to provide the brothers anything useful.
Each of them had been alone in their respective stores at the time, heard some sort of strange bubbling, liquid noise, and then noticed a thick ooze seeping out of the walls, refrigerators, sofas, and, in Mrs. Brine's case, birdfeeders. And it wasn't just a little bit of ooze, apparently. We're talking entire walls, gallons puddling on the cushions, bye-bye birdie. Which was about when they all took off running.
"And you didn't come in contact with it?" Sam would ask each of them. "Interact with it at all?"
They all shook their heads.
"Touch that stuff? Nuh-uh."
"Honesty, I thought I was hallucinating. My first thought was to get home where I could lock the door and ride out the trip."
That was, surprisingly, the sixty-eight year old Holly Brine, sitting on her floral-print sofa in the 'sun room' of her downright quaint little cottage home. Both Winchesters took a moment to stare, blink, clear their throats, and then stare some more.
"So, um, Mrs. Brine…" Dean made a face that said he could not believe he was asking this (or maybe that was just the multiple cat-themed wall decorations surrounding them). "Are you a, uh, frequent user of…erm…hallucinogens-"
"Oh!" Mrs. Brine laughed. It was something of a nervous-but-hinting-at-a-far-wilder-side chuckle. "No, I don't do drugs. I mean, I lived through the sixties, so I know what a bad trip is like."
She let out another light laugh, this one far more nostalgic. Dean exchanged amused glances with Sam, waggling his eyebrows. Sam gave him the look that wasn't quite a bitchface but definitely said, 'focus, Dean.'
"But I don't do those sorts of things anymore," Mrs. Brine continued with a wistful sigh. "I just thought…must have gotten slipped into my food or drink at some point. Because it was a badtrip. I mean, it was yellow. And…glittery."
Sam snorted into the tea she'd poured them. "G-glittery?"
"Yes. Reminded me of my granddaughter's craft glue. They come in all the rainbow colors, and are quite sparkly. She just loves them." Holly was shaking her head like it was the darndest thing in the world as she picked up her own teacup and saucer. "Like I said. It was a bad trip."
"Uh-huh," Dean responded almost in rote, both fascinated by this insane senior who apparently didn't think much of her granddaughter's glitter glue leaking out of the walls – or someone slipping her some LSD offhand – and yet also horrified by this insane senior who clearly did too many drugs in the sixties and didn't think much of glitter glue oozing out of the walls! Seriously. "I think we have all we need. Thank you for your time."
As they left Mrs. Brine's house, screen door closing behind them with the woman still waving them off, Sam and Dean exchanged knowing looks.
"Okay, so probably not drugs," Sam began.
"Not any recent ones, anyway." Dean snorted, smile still on his face from one Holly Brine. Man, life goals if he ever lived that long. "But seriously, what the hell?"
"I don't know."
"Glitter goo, Sam? Glitter goo!"
Sam was still shaking his head as they climbed into the Impala. "You got me. But if they're not all mass hallucinating on some…drugs-in-the-water-supply trip, then what?"
"Not a clue," Dean answered immediately, starting up his Baby and pulling back onto the main road. They had one more witness to interview. The most recent goo sighting had been at a mom 'n pop ice cream shop just a couple blocks away from Holly's house. "Guess we gotta check one of these places ourselves."
Might as well start with the last sighting.
The ice cream shop was pretty darn empty, aside from the owner and a moody, pre-tween boy sitting at one of the tables, headphones on and ignoring the two men in suits who just walked in. The Pop part of the mom 'n pop shop looked rather disappointed they weren't customers. Guess having a sighting of yellow goo at any shop where the merch was digestible was bad for business.
When Sam inquired about the kid's presence, the owner shrugged. "My son. Usually I pick him up from school and take him home, but with Sally, uh, recovering, I'm pulling multiple shifts," the man explained, looking less than enthused about that fact.
"Should we speak in, uh, private, maybe?" the Samsquatch continued, keeping his tone official-CDC-business. It made the owner nervous, clearly, but the man ultimately cast a half-heated glance his son's way and shook his head.
"He can't hear us. Music on those things is turned up so loud he can't hear himself think. Not that he does much of that these days. He's twelve, you know?"
Dean nodded understandingly – because he did know, actually – and Sam gave him a funny look. He cleared his throat, returning a, 'focus, Sam' glance of his own. "We're here concerning what your employee-" Dean glanced down at his notebook- "Sally Fairway saw two days ago?"
"Yes," the man – a Doug Evans – nodded, looking more put out than concerned about the CDC present in his ice cream shop. He, apparently, was onboard the prank or drugs theory. "I told the local authorities already, I don't know what she saw but I've cleaned this place top to bottom and haven't found a thing out of place. No 'yellow goo.' This shop is clean as a whistle, and up to code."
"We believe you, Mr. Evans," Sam jumped in before the increasingly-defensive man could get any more worked up and therefore less cooperative than he already was. "This is just a precautionary evaluation. Standard procedure when we hear multiple reports of an unknown substance."
"Yeah," Dean added on, tapping his notebook on the counter. "We're sure it's nothing, but we need to take a look around. That way we can write up our report, let the town know there's nothing to worry about, and officially declare your ice cream good and safe."
The mention of returning customers, reassured and ready to pay, perked the man right up. He was nodding well before Dean had finished speaking. "Of course, of course. Sally was in the back when she said it happened. Let me show you."
Mr. Evans escorted them to the back, which was really just an empty hallway that led to an employee restroom, a storage room, and a walk-in freezer. The two hunters poked around while Mr. Evans stood in the hallway, arms crossed and keeping half an eye on them, half an eye on his moody tween. There wasn't much the Winchesters could do under the eye of the owner, but they searched what they could for hex bags, symbols, artifacts – pretty much anything that would explain goo appearing and disappearing without reason.
They came up with nothing.
"Alright, so… break in after hours?" Dean muttered under his breath as he and Sam came back together. Mr. Evans' attention was currently on his son. "There's gotta be something causing this 'goo' to show up out of the blue."
Maybe if they tore the place apart without Pop watching over them, they'd find something. Sam didn't have any better ideas, so he agreed, and, with the shop owner, headed back to the front of the shop. They thanked him for his time, assured him their report would be out soon, and started for the door when Mr. Evans cleared his throat.
The two brothers turned back only to find the man was looking at them expectantly.
"Aren't you going to get some ice cream?"
Dean and Sam exchanged looks, Sam coughing to hide his guilty-slash-do-we-really-have-to expression while Dean slapped a wide smile on his face.
"Uh… of course!"
They left the shop several minutes later, Dean chowing down on a double scoop while Sam stared between his own single-scoop sugar cone and his brother disbelievingly.
"Dude." As they rounded the corner of the building, headed for the car, the younger Winchester tossed his cone in the nearest trash can, untouched. "Yellow goo."
Dean p'shawed, looking at his brother than the ice cream. "What? It's not like it's got goo on it now!"
"You're disgusting," Sam said with a shake of his head, but he was half laughing as he slid into the passenger side of the Impala.
"And this double fudge rocky road is delicious," Dean countered. "You don't waste delicious, Sammy."
Even as he said it, his stomach made quite the noise of disagreement, which kind of gargled out of his gut, then up his throat and out the mouth in, what Dean would call, an eleven on the Burp scale. Given Sam's truly offended face, it might have even been a twelve.
Dean finished off his ice cream, licking the fingers of one hand while rubbing at his chest with the other. It still wasn't a Chest-Cas feeling burning in there. More like acid reflux, really, so he blamed it on that real man's breakfast. And maybe a little on the double fudge rocky road, much as it pained him to.
"Alright, let's go waste a couple hours until break-in time." With that, Dean put Baby into drive and started searching for the local dive bar. Every town had one, no matter how small, and every town had drunk locals just lining up to be sharked.
They broke into the ice cream shop a hundred and forty dollars richer and one black eye later (but as with any fight – bar scuffle or hunt – Dean gave as good as he got. You should have seen the other guy). As they had earlier that day, the boys found a goo-less, standard hallway, storage space and walk-in freezer. The two brothers decided to divide and conquer, with Sam taking the storage room and Dean the freezer after he lost at Rock, Paper, Scissors. Dean blamed the loss (and the chilly night he now had to look forward to) on only being able to mostly see out of one eye. Sam reminded him that his eye wasn't even that swollen.
And that sight had nothing to do with winning Rock, Paper, Scissors, unless you were cheating.
Dean turned and walked into the freezer with a grunt, which the younger Winchester (correctly) translated into, 'fuck off, Sammy.' Sam may not have a list of bitchfaces numbered in his brother's honor (because he wasn't a child), but he was fully versed in the fragile egos of over-compensating Winchester men (a.k.a. sore losers).
Sam had explored about half of the store room – flashlight in hand, opening boxes to search for hex bags or cursed objects – when he first heard it. There was a faint bubbling noise, like the cheesy TV sound effect of a witch's cauldron on Saturday morning cartoons. Sam turned towards where he thought the noise was coming from, flashlight trained on walls and storage shelves, but didn't see anything. No yellow goo.
He strained in the silence of the empty shop, hoping to catch more of the bubbling, but there was nothing. Sam waited another moment before turning back to the box he'd been rummaging through, wondering if he'd imagined the noise.
It was another thirty seconds, maybe even a full minute, before he heard it again. It was coming from the same wall, this time Sam was sure of it. The circle of light from his torch landed on the splotched concrete surface behind an industrial storage shelf. No yellow goo, but the wall did have a slight shimmer to it. Like maybe it was damp. Or glittery.
Sam propped his light between a can of paint and an old, beat up box filled with paintbrushes and rollers, then got to work moving the shelf. The thing was decently heavy, the length of four feet adding to the awkwardness of attempting to move it on his own. He ended up dragging just his end, inch by inch across the floor, the whole thing scraping loudly with each pull. Once he had enough clearance to get a better view of the section he thought he'd seen the shimmer on, Sam turned to grab his flashlight.
"Alright, I got bust," Dean suddenly announced loudly from just a few feet away, having left the freezer and entered the storage room without Sam's notice.
The younger Winchester jumped at the sudden interruption, fumbling with the flashlight and knocking a can of paint off the shelf in his efforts to catch it. The lid popped off as it hit the hard concrete below. Light purple paint – the same color of the walls in the front of the shop – splashed over the washed-out grey of the floor.
"Smooth move, ExLax," Dean snorted, though he was staring at his brother like the beanstalk might have somehow forgotten they were in here sneaking around.
"Jeez, Dean," Sam blurted out, flashlight and accompanying hand pressed to his chest as his heart raced. He sent a look Dean's way. "You scared the crap out of me!"
His brother's eyebrows went up unapologetically, and he tossed his arms out. "Dude, I wasn't being quiet."
Sam bit back the obvious response to that and instead focused his torch on the wall, turning to look for any shimmer. But the concrete was clear and dry. No glitter, no goo, no dampness in sight. He pressed his hand to it, hoping for… he didn't even know. Maybe some residual wetness? Something to prove he wasn't just seeing things?
"Uh…you alright there, Sammy?" Dean asked, having moved far enough into the room to look between his brother and the wall he was, er, caressing.
Sam gave him an annoyed look, catching the tone, before pulling his hand off the concrete surface. "Yeah, just… thought I saw something."
"Goo? An eight year old's leftover craft supplies?" Dean shouldered up next to him, as much as he could between the partially shifted storage shelf and the stacked boxes to the other side. He craned his neck past Sammy's shoulder to squint at the wall. "Looks like a normal wall to me."
"Yeah, thanks, Dean. I can see that for myself." Sam turned and pushed past his brother, shaking his head. "Probably just a trick of the light. You done?"
Dean spun on his heel as well, tracing his flashlight from the wall along the floor until it landed on the spilled paint. Sam ignored it and him. "Yup, nothing 'cept ice cream in there. Tasty, tasty ice cream."
"Dude," the younger Winchester immediately chided, giving his brother a wide-eyed look, stabbing at his face with his light. Dean squinted through the beam. "That's so unsanitary."
"Eh, what they don't know won't hurt them," Dean grumbled back, raising a hand to block the obnoxious light. "Besides, doesn't cold, like, kill bacteria and shit?"
"Some of it, sure," Sam answered reasonably, though the expression on his face as he lowered the beam was anything but reasonable. Really, had his brother listened at all in school? "But some bacteria and viruses live in sub-zero temperatures, you moron."
Dean pulled his head back. "What viruses?"
"E-coli, for one!" Sam wanted to shake his head and stare at the heavens, but instead he got back to looking through the last of the boxes he'd yet to search.
"Ew, dude, I do not have E-coli."
"Salmonella for another."
"And I'm not raw chicken, either, thank you very much."
Sam did pause to look over his shoulder at his idiotic brother. Dean was just milling about in the center of the room, a half-hearted expression of offense on his face. "Don't you have something better to be doing? Like helping me search?"
"Dude, I searched my room," the older Winchester immediately defended, raising his hands, flashlight loosely gripped in one. "And I got the sucky one."
"Which I'm sure has nothing to do with why you're done faster," Sam muttered, almost-but-not-quite under his breath.
"Not my fault you were communing with a blank wall while I actually did my job," Dean snarked back, smirk on his face.
"I was not commun-" Sam cut himself off with a sigh, realizing exactly what his brother was dragging him headfirst into and refusing to follow. He was the adult in the room, regardless of age, and he would act like it. "Can you go check out back?"
Dean gave off what he probably thought was a stern frown, but all Sam saw was the pout of a put-upon child. "There's nothing back there."
He wasn't wrong. The back of the shop was nothing more than a dumpster and three employee parking spots squeezed into the small space in the alley behind the building. Still, it would get him out of Sam's hair and let him finish his search in peace.
"A dumpster is a great place to hide a hex bag," Sam offered with a far-too-nonchalant shrug as he finished one box and opened another. There'd been nothing in them but marketing materials, some tools and cleaning supplies, and an outdated set of menus (at least according to the selection they'd chosen from earlier that day). Nothing suspicious, but now Sam was determined to finish the job and do it right.
"Yeah, yeah." Grumbling under his breath about how hex bags outside the building wouldn't affect the person inside, Dean trudged out of the storage room. Sam heard the emergency exit door open and close a few seconds later.
He didn't even have time to return a good-natured grumble of his own before the bubbling was back. It was louder this time, and accompanied by the drip-plop-drip of something thick but aqueous. Sam spun back to the wall, flashlight trained beyond the shelf. It was shimmering once more with a dampness not unlike a Weeping Wall.
"Right," Sam breathed out as realization came to him. "Every witness was alone when they saw it."
He glanced towards the door where Dean had left not a full minute ago. When he looked back at the wall, it had a viscous shine to it now, like the surface had become slimy. As Sam drew closer, the texture thickened, becoming more of a goo-like substance that started to slide down the wall.
With his flashlight illuminating the slime, Sam could admit the yellowy, transparent stuff did have something of a glittery look.
"Dean!" he hollered, though he didn't take his eyes off the wall. He didn't know if it would disappear once his brother came in, and Sam realized belatedly they should get a sample. The hunter spun in a circle, flashlight landing on the boxes to one side and the cluttered shelves to the other. He'd seen some plastic sample spoons in one of those boxes while searching through them. That would work.
It took him several seconds of rummaging, tossing packages of napkins and some marketing materials aside until he came up with the bag of several hundred colored, plastic spoons. He ripped into it, spilling them all over the place as he grabbed one.
Sam heard the back door open and knew Dean would be back any moment. Just in case the goo magically disappeared with another person present – and in a case this weird, Sam really wouldn't count against it – the younger Winchester turned back to the wall. With flashlight in one hand, spoon in the other, he carefully scraped some of the viscous, goopy substance onto the tip of the blue plastic.
Dean came jogging into the room as Sam stepped away from the wall, flashlight on the blob of what now looked like green goop.
"Huh," Sam said as Dean drew up short, eying the spoon. The older Winchester glanced at the wall behind Sam, expecting to see slime dripping down the walls, but it was barren and dry. Sam leaned his head closer to the gunk, taking a small whiff.
He immediately sneezed so strongly he sent the yellow stuff flinging across the room via his mini-blue-catapult. Dean ducked out of the way.
"Dude," he complained at almost getting a face-full of Nickelodeon-Gone-Wrong.
Sam made a noise of equal complaint (and yet somehow also apologetic in that way only a puppy dog could ever truly manage) as he sneezed again. When he spoke, his voice was wet and gunky. Dean made another face.
"Sulfur," the moose of a Winchester managed to spit out, rubbing at his nose with his free hand, wiggling his facial features as much as possible to cure the awful itch and leftover smell.
Dean looked equally disgusted, but with an extra dose of surprise. "Demon goo?"
A wave of white caught Sam's attention and he looked up to see Dean flapping a napkin his way, having snagged one from the discarded package on the floor. Sam took it gratefully and spent the next several seconds trying to clear out what was at least a minor allergic reaction.
Great. The boy with the demon blood, allergic to sulfur goo. You'd think being cursed with such a God-awful destiny would at least come with benefits. Silver linings at a bare minimum.
With another cough and two more napkins, Sam was finally able to breath without sneezing. "Gross. What kind of demon creates, uh… demonic ectoplasm?"
"A…demon ghost?" Dean hazarded. "God I hope not, that sounds like a pain in the ass."
Sam took a closer look at the spoon in his hand. Most of the glob of yellow he'd scraped off the wall was now somewhere on the other side of the room. But the blue plastic was still tipped with wetness. Sam didn't dare breathe in again anywhere near it, and instead started looking for something to put the contaminated spoon in.
Dean held out an ice cream cup he dug out of another box and Sam, grateful once again, dropped the spoon into the small paper container. Then he sneezed, again, letting out an irritated whine. The younger Winchester hated allergies. And head colds.
And the look on his brother's face in that moment.
"You're such a baby," Dean sniggered, wrapping another napkin around the top of the cup. Not exactly a sterile or secure method of transporting evidence but, then again, hunters made do with what they had.
"Shut up," Sam muttered through another round of gunk-face, voice clogged with mucus. So gross. He wanted to remind his brother what a baby he was when sick, but was too busy going through another handful of napkins.
The two brothers froze – Sam mid-blow – at the sound of a car driving by, probably through the alley out back. The headlines lit the hallway just outside the door. The Winchesters exchanged cautious glances.
"We should probably get out of here." Dean, still smirking, handed his brother the carefully wrapped cup with their only clue so far. "Hold this. And don't snort it again."
Sam's responding glower was something between a pout and fratricide.
Sam kept clearing his throat.
By the third or fourth time in twice as many minutes, Dean glanced over to the passenger side, where his brother's face was screwed up in a way that said he was trying not to clear his throat a fifth time.
"Dude. You swallow a fly or something over there?"
Sam didn't even glare, just cleared his throat again, this time rubbing at his throat as he did. When he spoke, his voice was thick. "I'm fine. Just..."
Dean waited for the rest of that sentence, focus split between the road and his brother. Concern flickered on the backburner, but the man from the future fought it off. Sam was fine, just had something in his system. He'd clear it out in a minute.
Still. Sam hadn't answered, and there he was, trying to clear his throat again.
"Just what?" Dean glanced at Sam again, this time actually slowing the Impala so he could pay more attention to his brother. "Sam?"
The younger Winchester's throat-clearing turned into a cough, which then didn't stop. Dean's eyes widened, concern no longer in the back of his mind.
Sam was pulling at the collar of his t-shirt now, doubled over as the cough got rougher. "D-Dean."
"Shit, hang on!" Dean pulled the car over as quickly as he could without sending Sam flying into the windshield. The cough abated enough for Sam to take a deep, gasping breath, but it didn't sound right. For such a deep inhalation, it was far too shallow.
"S-something's wrong," Sam managed to get out before he was coughing again, weaker this time.
Dean was out of the car and around to the passenger side in record time, throwing the door open. Sam managed to tilt himself out of the car with his brother's help, legs on the rough asphalt, desperately trying to breathe through a closing throat and crackling lungs. Dean tried to guide him through deep breaths, but nothing was working.
"Damnit, Sammy, breathe!"
Sam wanted to snap at him that he was trying. But he didn't need to. His fingertips were starting to tinge blue. He could only imagine what his face and lips looked like.
"Shit," Dean swore. "Hospital. I'm taking you to the hospital."
Dean shoved his brother's cricket legs back into the footwell of the passenger seat and closed the door as fast as he could. As soon as he was back in the driver's seat, he gunned it, hoping that whatever the hell Sam had inhaled in that glitter goo, it was curable by normal, modern medicine.
The nearest hospital was a fifteen minute drive. Dean made it in nine. He didn't bother parking Baby so much as screeching her tires to an abrupt halt outside the E.R., where he threw the door open and was by Sam's side before the first medical staff came running. His brother was still struggling to breathe, taking shallow, gasping inhales. His lips were a terrifying blue.
An EMT, probably back on his way to an ambulance, was the first to assess the younger Winchester as Dean helped Sam out of the car. He was bent over, hand to his chest, shaking with a desperate need for oxygen as they stumbled step-by-step towards the hospital doors. Dean fumbled through the rapid fire questions directed at him by the EMT – what happened, had he taken anything, anything at all, was he exposed to anything – the best he could.
Can't breathe. No, no drugs. Nothing! There wasn't anything that caused this shit. He just started coughing, then not breathing! Maybe…there was this yellow goo, and he maybe sniffed it?
The man started hollering words to the pair of nurses that hurried their way from inside. Words like asphyxiation and hypoxia. Words, for the most part, that meant nothing but bad to Dean. It was clear from the calm but urgent way the man spoke to the two others that Sam was in serious trouble. They took him from Dean's arms before the hunter even knew the transfer had happened, but he let it. Despite every bone in his body that said 'back off!', the hunter knew he was out of his depth.
They hurried Sam inside, meeting a stretcher at the door that was on its way out to them. As Dean tried to follow them into the building, Sam sagging as he was hoisted onto the bed, the EMT grabbed his shoulder.
"You need to move your car, man. They've got your friend." At the dumbfounded-yet-fierce glare Dean sent his way, the EMT returned the look with one that said he understood, but wasn't budging. "There's nothing more you can do for him now, alright? You got him here. Now go park your car and head to the front desk. They'll need you to fill out paperwork, get them information, alright? That's what you can do to help your friend."
"Brother," Dean corrected forcefully, eyes darting between the hospital doors where Sam was now being wheeled in, and the EMT. He was clearly seconds away from bolting after the disappearing younger Winchester. "He's my brother."
The guy's eyes closed for a second before, with a sigh, he held out his empty hand, curling his fingers expectantly. "Give me your keys."
The hunter balked immediately. "Excuse me?"
"Keys," he repeated. "I'll park your car. Go in after your brother and talk to the nurses at the front desk. And be nice. They're just doing their jobs, man."
Dean spared him a look – something between angry and grateful, quite the odd combo but hardly the first time the man had seen such an expression aimed his way – before he threw the EMT his keys and headed in after Sam. Choosing between his brother and his Baby – letting someone, some stranger, drive her – was easier than he'd ever imagined it would be. But, he supposed, that really shouldn't have been surprising, given Sammy was definitely in trouble and Dean had no idea what was causing it. Which meant he had no idea how to fix it.
He could always bodily murder some random EMT for dinging up his Baby after Sammy pulled through.
The E.R. was unfairly calm and quiet. Maybe that was normal on a Sunday night, but Dean thought there should be yelling, running around, you know, urgency. Something to match what was going on internally for him, at least.
There were a dozen or so people in the waiting area, coughing, sniffling, or clutching minor injuries as they waited to be seen. Dean marched passed all of them, straight up to the Admissions desk. Familiar with the process, he had the paperwork filled out with nearly entirely fake information in less than ten minutes. Then he started demanding information on his brother, all the while keeping his eyes locked on the Emergency Room doors.
It wasn't long. Dean's brain said, 'That's a good thing' while his gut clenched in the complete opposite. A doctor, flanked by a nurse, came through those double days, holding a clipboard and spotting Dean right away. The hunter steeled himself for whatever news they had to deliver and met them half way.
Sam was fine. Whatever had happened was fixable, and they'd fixed him. Easy as that.
Because this wasn't where Sam died and Dean knew that. Knew that with a hundred percent confidence.
"Mr. Winchester," the doctor greeted with a solemn nod and a look on his face that did nothing for Dean's gut. His brain wasn't listening to it, though.
"How's my brother?"
"I'm… I'm sorry, Mr. Winchester. Your brother didn't make it."
"Right." Dean nodded, eyes darting over the man's shoulder to the doors behind him. Where Sam was. "When can I see him?"
The doctor and nurse exchanged a look Dean hardly saw, let alone wasted time interpreting. The doctor cleared his throat. "Um, I don't think you're understanding me, Mr. Winchester."
"What's there to understand?" Dean asked more forcefully this time, locking fierce, demanding eyes on the man for a moment before looking at those doors again. "I want to see him."
"Mr. Winchester…" It was the nurse this time, going for that soft, victim-voice that Dean did not like. He didn't like it when it was aimed at genuine victims – too much pitying, not enough helping in his opinion – let alone aimed at him. "Your brother passed away. We weren't able to save him."
Dean frowned at the words that made absolutely no sense. Why was she saying that? It's clearly not what had happened. Sam was fine. Maybe dinged up, probably doped to the gills to fix whatever had happened, but he was fine. He was in some room just passed those doors.
"Mr. Winchester, your brother is dead."
The hunter turned that bemused stare to the doctor, then started shaking his head. "No, he's not. He had, like, an allergic reaction or something. That's fixable."
"We don't know what happened," the doctor admitted with a frown of his own, though his was far more neutral and restrained than Dean's. "But even an allergic reaction, if severe enough, can be fatal."
"Yeah, but this one wasn't," Dean insisted, still not understanding what they were playing at. Sam wasn't dead, because this wasn't where he died. It was as simple as that. The man from the future had no illusions that time was coming (and he'd fight tooth and nail to keep it from happening), but it wasn't now. It wasn't here.
Azazel wasn't even back topside, far as they knew. And Dean was sure, once that happened, they'd know. That yellow-eyed son of a bitch would make sure they knew.
"I want to see my brother," he insisted, raising his voice now. Dean didn't know what was going on – maybe it was some sort of conspiracy, or trick. Demons, angels, or something else. But Sammy was back there, and he wasn't dead.
So Dean did what he always did when it came to Sammy. He stopped listening and took action.
"Hey, wait!" the nurse yelled as Dean bodily pushed through the two medical professionals and headed for those double doors. He heard them following him, shouting at him to stop, but he wasn't gonna do that until he got to the bottom of whatever sick joke this was.
"Sammy!" He hollered through the hall, checking the first room on the right, which was locked, and the next on the left, which opened to an operating room.
"What the hell?" one of the nurses, dressed head to toe in blue, mask over face, could be heard even as Dean moved on.
He opened the next door and froze. There were three people in there, two cleaning up what had clearly been a surgery and one draping a sheet over the third. Sam. Lying on the table in the middle of the room, unmoving. His eyes were closed, his hair was messy and way too long, just like always. And he wasn't moving.
"Sam…" Dean started forward, faltering when the two others in the room froze, unsure what to do. The doctor and the nurse that had followed him down the hall stopped in the doorway behind him.
"Let's give him a moment," the doctor murmured softly, and the other staff set down what they were doing. They all headed for the door, giving Dean a wide berth as they moved around that the hunter saw any of them. His eyes were locked on his brother, on a truth he refused to see, lying cold and still in the center of the room.
"I'm so sorry," one of them said as they passed, hand on his shoulder. "We did everything we could."
As Dean reached his brother's bedside, still confused but in a numb sort of way, the doctor saw the last of his staff out of the room. He quietly shut the door, remaining in the room with the distraught hunter.
"Sammy?" Dean spoke, voice cracking as he reached out and grabbed his brother's shoulder, giving it a shake. This didn't make any sense. This wasn't where Sam died. Or how or when. It just wasn't.
"They really did do all they could," the doctor spoke from behind, voice taking on a different tone. Less quiet. Less understanding. "They couldn't save him."
This didn't make any sense. It was the only thing going through Dean's brain. The only thought he seemed capable of thinking. Something was wrong. Something was off. He didn't know what, but this wasn't right.
"But I can."
Dean picked his head up, away from his brother's lifeless face. Something about that voice. He turned his head towards the doctor. "What did you say?"
"I said I can save him, Dean. For the right price."
The man from the future turned, hunter's gut tightening to the point of pain, to take in the doctor standing by the door. A man he didn't recognize, had never seen before, but somehow still knew.
At least, he knew those pale, yellow eyes.
A/Ns: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Dun Dun Duuuuuuun! Told ya it was a heck of a chapter :D Oh, do we have good things in store! Did I say good? I think I meant no good, dirty rotten ;)
"Smooth move, Exlax" is a phrase sarcastically referencing a common laxative, ExLax. It was popular in the 80's and 90's, far as I can tell.
Chapter Fun Fact #1: All the store names are real stores in Mechanicsburg, Ohio. I pulled open google maps and got-a searching, then couldn't believe when I just kept finding more and more of the most fabulously named stores. Sometimes, it's the real world shit you can sneak in that's the best XD
Chapter Fun Fact #2: Half of this chapter was edited while in lines for various roller coasters at Six Flags today. I'm a queen of multi-tasking :D
Update: I apologize for such a long delay to get you this chapter. Good news is I have the next two chapters already written, yaaaaay! I'll do my best to post the next chapter in a week, but if I can't then I promise it'll be up in two weeks! (My August is getting very busy between extreme OT at work and social events next weekend, but I'll do my best!)
I have missed you all these last few months, love you very much, and hope you are well. See you in one (or two, at the most) week(s)!