Sometimes, places blended together. It wasn't exactly a foreign feeling, waking up of a morning, forgetting where he was, especially when so many rooms looked alike. He felt much the same way now, standing on the sidewalk, watching a few mid-day customers running errands in the small city. Riverside had some amount of charm, and it was here, in this dusty part of town, with its line of tall store-fronts and brick sidewalks. Once, he was certain, this had been the heart, the main economic focus of the area, sitting snug with the Tennessee River. Now, fast food restaurants and department stores were all two miles away, along a highway, pulling the crowd from the historical district.
It could have been any place, any town. Sam wondered if, in five years, he were to walk back down this sidewalk, he'd even remember where he was: the place he'd almost lost Dean. Again.
With a shaky breath, he repeated that most important word, "almost."
Braeden touched his elbow lightly, directing him to a bench in the shade of a small maple tree as she spoke into her cell phone. Nancy Brewer, the person who'd discovered a one-armed body in the nearby park, had moved. Sam had taken the information like a blow to the stomach, but just as quickly, he'd recovered when the woman agreed to at least speak to the "federal investigators" over the phone.
Glancing around to make sure there was no nearby passer-by to listen in, Braeden turned on the speaker phone so that Sam could hear. He'd almost insisted on making the call while he was parking, until he remembered that, while he'd been acting the part for a long time, Braeden had, if she was telling the truth, plenty of authentic experience in playing law enforcement.
"...Yes, that's right, it was early morning," Nancy was saying. Her voice sounded staticy and syrupy sweet, a Southern accent tugging at her words until they were long and lazy. Sam took a guess that she was almost as old as her clients, with retirement likely being the reason for her recent move. "I'd left early for work that morning, to visit an old patient's family. The poor dear had been shipped off recently to a nursing home in Alabama, and without a word to me or mine about her no longer needing our services if you can believe it. Discourteous is what it is. Anyhow, I'd left a stack of books with her. I'm a reader, you see, of romance, and I wanted to return them to Betty Hill, my neighbor, but that family-"
"Um, ma'am," Sam interrupted, "you were walking through the park?"
Braeden glanced up at him, a smile in her eyes. She must have heard the barely-contained strain in his voice.
"Why, yes, after trying to see Donna Howlett's boy about my books, yes. He wasn't at home, so I tried work but he wasn't answering the door there either, even though I know I saw his momma's Cadillac parked there. I figured he was avoiding me, so I was left with an hour to kill before I had to be anywhere, and I thought I'd just slip through the alley to the park, since there's nothing much else to do on that side of town. Ain't even any thrift stores open early, but his antique shop, and they closed the Downtown Cafe a year back, but there's a lovely bench in the walk park, and I just thought it would be a nice spot to eat my orange. I have one day, at breakfast, so it don't make my sugar go up too high in the night, and there he was, just laying on the gravel next to the water. Right next to my sitting spot. Dead as all get-out."
Braeden cleared her throat, as if to stop the woman from continuing. "The initial report makes no mention of any other witnesses. Was there anything you forgot to mention to the police at the time? Anyone who might have been close enough to see the accident?"
"Oh, I'm sure there wasn't. If it was a good fishing spot, maybe, but it's too close to town, and like I said, there aren't many businesses until you get to the end of the street, where those Indians opened that gaudy gas station."
Sam bit his lip to keep from commenting on that last part. His brow wrinkled with a sudden thought. "But the antique shop was open early?"
"The sign wasn't flipped yet," Nancy assured, "but when Donna was still running it, she always got there bright and early. It was her pride and joy, and I suppose she needed one, what with being a single mother with a boy like hers. He's obviously a bit lazier than his mother, when it comes to catching the early worm."
"But his car was there that morning?" Sam asked.
Braeden sat up straighter, looking over her shoulder. Sam realized she was trying to spot building in question. He could vaguely remember passing by it on the way to the convenience store.
"His mother's car. Jasper always used hers, ever since she got down and out, and I was brought into the picture to help. Donna was always so sure her boy would take good care of the shop, but I doubted it. Always up in the clouds, that one, running off to do this or that, upsetting poor Donna. She was a fine Christian woman, I'm sure, but I was always happy to get out of the house when her boy was home."
Sam stood up, Braeden following his lead. She snatched the phone from him, "Uh, thanks, thank you, Mrs. Brewer, that's all that we need right now, but we'll be in touch," and quickly disconnected. Glancing at Sam, she whispered, "The son then?"
"Location fits. Sounds like a good enough lead to me," Sam said, striding forward.
"Surely someone would have heard, if he was using the building to keep victims?"
Sam waved a hand at the street. There were maybe three other cars parked in front of the meters, two of them at a pawn shop further down. "The antique shop was attached to an empty storefront. The other side was the cafe, the one Nancy said hadn't been open in a year."
Braeden nodded. "Okay. Good enough start. Weapons?"
"Fire always works," Sam assured, and headed toward the Impala.
"Come on, come on!" Dean whispered, struggling to shake the numbness out of his fingers so he could work on the straps at his legs. When he was loose, he nearly stumbled in his haste to stand, but he froze before he could celebrate his freedom. He didn't need supernatural hearing to catch the sound of a door shutting upstairs. Jasper must have been out, which explained why he didn't come rushing at the sound of the pulley busting, but he was obviously back. And it sounded like his footsteps were getting closer to the basement entrance.
Dean's boots slid against the blood as he shifted to Derek's side. Remembering the pick he had hid against his sock, he reached down and pulled it free. He was certain that the chain above was probably on a similar pulley, but he didn't have the time or strength to sort it out. Instead, Dean relied on instinct, and a skill that almost came as second nature to him. He leaned in behind Derek, trying not to touch the werewolf's battered and bleeding body, and failing as he blindly stretched up and tried to get his lock pick into the manacles.
He could barely feel his fingers and his shoulders were screaming at him, but he knew he had no room to complain, not next to Mr. Double Jointed here.
"Derek, you with me?" Dean whispered, his mouth almost against the man's black hair.
He was surprised that he'd managed to get so close without the stench gagging him, considering how long the guy had been down here. Derek smelled mostly of blood and sweat, and Dean figured that had something to do with the waterhose hanging on the wall. He shuddered to think of what bathtime meant when Jasper was in charge.
Derek groaned when Dean accidentally brushed against his butchered back. There could be no helping it though. If the guy hadn't been cut to ribbons, Dean might have felt more than a bit dirty, rubbing against a naked man without his permission. He made a mental note to leave this part out of the retelling, if he made it back to Sam. With a second's hesitation, Dean continued until he heard the snap of the lock releasing. He let go of his pick, barely having time to wrap an arm around Derek before his weight dropped. Dean slowed their descent, both of them hitting the floor a second later.
Derek was sprawled between his denim-clad legs, hunched over across Dean's thigh. As much as he wanted to roll the guy off of him, he could hear Jasper at the lock on the basement door. Dean grabbed Derek's right arm, rotating it back, his other hand holding the man's shoulder steady. He could feel the joint shift as the bone moved back into place, and Derek jumped against him, suddenly aware.
Dean squeezed his arm in warning. "He's coming."
Derek turned back, his eyes wide. "Then you need to run. Get to the stairs. When he comes down, I'll distract him. You get out."
It felt wrong, having someone else spout a plan at him, especially since that someone had been unconscious seconds earlier, but it was exactly what Dean had wanted to do: run. He took a long look at Derek, still half curled in on himself in pain, and pushed himself away. Without a word, he stood and moved to the shadows of the room, circling toward the bottom of the staircase.
Derek didn't stare after him, his eyes fixed on the doorway above.
Dean pushed himself against the wall and waited for his chance.
It was worse. Worse than waking up from the battle with the Alpha or Kate's hospitality. Worse than bullets coated in wolfsbane. Worse than getting impaled, repeatedly. As far as physical trauma went, Derek was certain he'd outdone himself this time. Hanging from the chain for weeks had done more damage than the wendigo himself and his body hadn't had a chance to even try and heal his abused ligaments and muscles. His wolf was too busy trying to keep him alive.
He didn't want to wake up, be fully aware again, even as his body screamed that it was released from those cuffs. He barely noticed the warm body that he was leaning against, only conscious to the fact that the owner was helping, not hurting him.
His arm raised without permission, a pressure at his shoulder letting him know what was coming. Derek shot to full awareness just as one shoulder set. Pain and relief hit him all at once, and he blinked, wide awake, up at the hunter against him.
Dean's skin looked gray, haggard, and Derek's instinct was to pull the pain from him, but he knew he couldn't even try in his current state. Before he could say as much, he heard the reason for Dean's pale face - Jasper was just outside the basement door and coming in.
"He's coming," Dean said, quietly.
Derek couldn't so much as stand. His body wasn't ready. Wouldn't be ready any time soon. But maybe the hunter could at least get help, bring Braeden back.
"Then you need to run." Derek was surprised at how clear his own voice was. "Get to the stairs. When he comes down, I'll distract him. You get out."
Quickly, didn't need to be spoken. Dean's heart skipped; Derek could hear it and wondered what the hunter had been about to say. From the look on his face, he was close to arguing. Instead, though, Dean pushed himself back, letting Derek roll off of his leg, and standing without a word.
Derek watched the staircase. Jasper appeared a moment later, a hum at his throat that disappeared completely as soon as he met Derek's gaze. For a moment, they both froze, then they acted. Derek pretended to try and get away, half crawling toward the far side of the room and listening to Jasper's heavy steps hasten to get to him.
"Hey, momma's boy!"
Derek looked back just in time to see Dean appear out of the shadows, wrestling a noose of thick waterhose around Jasper's neck.
"Get out!" Derek snapped.
Dean wasn't listening. He delivered a quick kick to the back of Jasper's knee, taking him to the cement floor. Jasper grasped at the rubber hose, face stricken in panic. His lips twisted into a snarl, and Derek noticed it, the white spots at the center of his eyes, expanding out until they were milky pearls. The transformation was happening.
"Dean, watch out!"
Derek tried to jump to his feet and slipped. His other shoulder set of its own accord, the pain blinding him for a moment. When he managed to focus, it was just in time to see Jasper jerk forward, tossing Dean and the hose over his head.
Dean landed hard on his back, gasping for breath, but managed to roll out of the way right before Jasper's fist hit the floor where his chest had been. The hunter pulled himself to his feet at a half run toward the bottom steps. Jasper shot forward to meet him, his fingers wrapping around the man's calve to hold him in place. Even from across the room, Derek could see Jasper's fingers elongating to match a set of pointed claws. Their talon-like tips shredded Dean's jeans and blood sprouted to the surfaces as they scored flesh.
Dean cried out in pain, and something in Derek shifted, his muscles rolling beneath the skin. His mind caught up with his body, turning to instinct for survival. When he blinked, he saw out of the eyes of a wolf.
A flash of blue eyes and then a mound of black fur, tackling Jasper away from Dean: it was all the hunter saw before he rolled over, scrambling back the few feet to the steps and out of the wendigo's grip. His leg throbbed where Jasper's new set of claws had found purchase, but it wasn't enough to stop him from moving. No, what made him hesitate was the sight before him, of Jasper with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, screaming at the massive wolf snarling into his face.
Derek. That was Derek. As an actual wolf. If he wasn't so terrifying, Dean might have found him, the animal him, beautiful.
The shout hit Dean like a ton of bricks. He almost stumbled off his seat on the bottom step when he recognized Sam's voice. Sure enough, his brother was standing in the basement doorway, handgun raised, with Braeden at ten o'clock, crouched to aim her own weapon past the door frame.
"I'm good," Dean shouted back, knowing his brother needed the confirmation.
The guests had proved a distraction to the wolf as well. Jasper tossed Derek halfway across the room and the werewolf landed with a pained whine. Sam and Braeden took that as an invitation. The room lit with the flash of gunfire.
Dean cupped his hands to his ears, suddenly reminded of his concussion, and watched as Jasper stumbled back, taking hit after hit. The wendigo landed on the floor but was still twitching, his mouth open in an animal's wild roar.
"I will," he screamed, blood gurgling from his lips, "devour!"
Sam seemed to have an answer for that. He gave Dean a sharp nod and the older hunter dove off the steps, stumbling as far as he could from the staircase. Sam came down them at a run, his handgun tossed aside for a small fuel tank strapped with a handle. Braeden held out the stick lighter like they'd practiced the move. Dean shut his eyes to the glow of the homemade flamethrower, squinting when a wave of dry heat hit the room. It was just in time for him to see Jasper's clothes catch light, the flames scorching his hair and skin before he could so much as issue another scream. The wendigo flailed, falling flat on the cement and staying down.
Dean thought for a second it was the creature whimpering, still burning alive on the floor, until he realized the sound was coming from behind him. The wolf was crouched low, as if to avoid the flames, its jaw working in tense movement to make a pitiful, fearful whine.
As soon as the flamethrower sputtered out, Braeden ran past, stopping just short of the wolf. "Derek, it's ok, you're ok," she said. She glanced back at Sam. "The fire," she explained.
Sam frowned, but crouched down beside Dean instead of moving to help the woman. He clasped his brother's shoulder, his hand sliding to the back of his neck, refusing to let go.
"Dean? You hurt?"
Dean didn't want to answer too honestly. "I've had worse," he said. "Nothing life threatening," he assured. "Derek's in worse shape. Or he was before he went all…" Dean waved his hand toward the wolf "...canine."
"The shift might help him heal faster, but I don't know how quickly he can change back when he's hurt," Braeden agreed. "We need to get out of here. Someone will see the smoke. It's not even fully dark out yet and we're in town."
Sam gave the werewolf a cautious glance. "Don't get too close," he warned Braeden. "He might not know you." She shot him a look of annoyance, but didn't counter the comment.
"Wait. It's not even been a full day?" Dean asked, as if offended.
"It's amazing the messes you can get into in just a few hours," Sam said, raising a brow. "Let's try not to add getting arrested for murder to the list today."
"Yeah, well, sounds like a day that ends in a Y," Dean muttered. He glanced at the wolf and whistled to catch its attention. Its dark eyes brightened to blue for a moment, before fading again. "I don't care if your ass is furry or hairy, but we need to haul it up those steps. ASAP. If you can control this thing, now's the time to prove it."
Sam took the silent cue, helping Dean up to his feet. After a moment, the wolf glanced between Braeden and the brothers and pushed itself up, hobbling toward the steps. Braeden cocked her head, staring at Dean with a raised brow.
Dean shrugged as best he could manage. "What can I say? Dog whisperer."
Derek growled under his breath and picked up the pace on the steps.
"Still a dick," she noted. "Glad to see the monster didn't break you."
Dean gripped the back of his brother's shirt tightly and tried not to look at the smoldering corpse behind them. "Takes a bit more than that, sweetheart."
Sam looked up at the question in surprise. He tapped his cell phone, saving the information Braeden had sent him and pocketing the phone. It was just after midnight, but he understood his brother's need to skip out of this town. Even so, he'd hoped Dean would change his mind, take a few hours of shut-eye and let them find somewhere with pain meds for the wound on his back. Sam knew that the car ride was going to be torture on his injuries.
"Uh, yeah, ready when you are," Sam finally answered. "Braeden was just giving me a few contacts we can reach out to. She was a US Marshall once upon a time," Sam explained.
Dean raised a brow, impressed. "Wow, salary and everything, huh? That must be useful."
She shrugged one shoulder as she crossed the room, a bottle of water in hand. "I get by," she agreed. "So where are you two headed?"
"We've got some people to check up on," Sam explained. "Are you sure you're going to be okay?"
Braeden nodded. "We've got an ally flying out. He's a druid healer. He'll be able to patch him up, if Derek needs it. Thank you again, for your help."
She glanced back at the room's second bed, where Derek was lying in his human form. A sheet had been pulled up over him and was already stained with dry blood from the few hours of sleep he'd managed. The werewolf's back was facing them, and faded red lines were all that remained of the more shallow stab wounds. A few, though were still open.
"Part of the job," Dean commented, and cleared his throat. "Did your 'ally' say anything about the wolfsbane poisoning."
"That if it hadn't killed him yet, it must be a mild strand. I think Derek's through the worst of it. He just needs time," Braeden assured.
Dean grunted in something close to agreement.
Sam watched his brother's expression carefully, interested in the way his lips curled into a frown, the small lines at his eyes crinkling. It almost looked like real concern on his face. This wasn't what Sam had expected from this hunt. A decent ending. Maybe not exactly happy, but as happy as they could have hoped for at the end of the day.
Everyone alive. Even the werewolf.
Sam felt uneasy at the thought. This was becoming a thing with them, finding the gray area, but maybe a bit of trust was allowed here. After all, the wolf had managed to control himself on the way back before he passed out against Braeden's side and shifted back into a person in his sleep. And he had a hunter vouching for him.
Sam gave Dean rueful grin. Maybe two hunters. Sam really wondered what Derek had done to earn Dean's trust in such a short time.
"Keep an eye on him," Dean said. "For everyone's sake."
"He's a good person." Braeden's voice was pleading, and Sam understood. She still wasn't sure if they were going to send hunters his way. Or hers, for that matter.
"Unless he proves otherwise," Dean said, carefully. Then he sighed. "He's a person. Ready, Sam?"
Dean didn't wait for a reply, nodding his farewell to Braeden and heading out the door. Sam moved to follow and the woman surprised him with a quick, awkward hug. Her face was stony, when she released him, as if she was already pretending it didn't happen.
"Call if you need me to return the favor," she said, briskly, shutting the motel door as soon as he'd stepped outside.
"Hot and cold, that one," Dean commented, hopping in the passenger's side without a fight.
Sam slid into the driver's seat. "You sure you don't want to stick around, say bye to Derek? I mean, it sounds like you didn't hate him."
"No," Dean replied. "Drive."
Sam shook his head, biting the inside of his lips to keep from commenting. He drove off the lot, headed toward the highway out of town. "We did the job," he said, hoping it sounded reassuring.
"The 'saving people' part, it's the one that comes first," Dean said, nodding once.
Sam wasn't sure who his brother was trying to reassure. He only smiled faintly at the open road, the moon hanging in the horizon like a beacon. "Get some rest, Dean."