Books were piled over every surface of her room. Finding anything about the Men of Letters was a daunting task; they'd hidden their tracks incredibly well. Throwing another book onto the "no" pile, Ashlinn took a moment to watch the rain fall onto the cars below her window.
Ashlinn wondered if Ash had been any luckier. Despite how he acted, the man was a genius, and he had the power of technology and the internet on his side. Ashlinn only had access to Bobby's books, and while they were informative, they lacked the information she actually needed. After grabbing a new book off of the counter, she sat on the bed and browsed through the next one. Flipping the pages, she chuckled as she remembered Ash's initial reaction to Ashlinn's information. While getting Ash onboard had been less difficult than she'd thought it'd be, Ash had still been skeptical at first. Of course, he'd been. Ashlinn didn't blame him; after all, who would believe a teenager telling them about a secret society of supernatural researchers?
The silence from Ash was making her nervous. About a week ago, Ash had called Bobby, saying that he'd found a lead, but they hadn't heard from him since. Her hands shook as she set the book on the bed. Resisting the urge to call the Roadhouse and check on him, she curled up on the bed and looked back out of the window.
Keeping herself busy was simply just a way to distract herself from the constant anxiety… and the grief. During the moments where she had nothing to do, she could feel her emotions bubbling at the surface. The pain… the anger… the panic… In one day, her family was gone. Anyone could be next… Dean… Sam… Ash… Ashlinn twirled the anti-possession talisman in her hand and tried to take calming breaths.
Memories of the fire, the car accident, and the murder of her family gave the paranoia strength. Someone had wanted her entire family dead, but something told her that it probably wasn't Azazel. Fire was certainly his MO. However… the shifter killing her family had seemed… messy. The yellow-eyed demon had a pattern. If anything, he would have had her remaining family possessed and destroy all of them at once. Sam and Dean would have left thinking that it was maybe a little suspicious. Killing everyone at once while the brothers were there would create more attention.
Holding the talisman to the light, she could at least feel a little relief that Sam, Dean, and John also had one on hand. As John had dropped her off, Bobby had stiffly handed one to John. Ashlinn had recommended something better: a tattoo. Demons could take an amulet off. Taking someone's skin off was a little more difficult. Not impossible… but difficult.
An unfamiliar truck pulled up to the back of the house. Ash's senses went on high alert until a familiar mullet caught her attention as Ash made his way out of the truck. Ashlinn got out of the bed and slowly made her way down the stairs. Bobby would likely want to test him first. As she came into the kitchen, she waved to Ash who was bandaging a cut. At least he wasn't a shifter. Ash gave a nod in return before pulling an old notebook out of the leather bag he was carrying.
"I found something… it's not a lot, but it's something," Ash said as Ashlinn opened the notebook to find the owner's name: Leonard Druitt. "There was an old retired hunter not too far from the Roadhouse. A lot of the folks in the area assumed he was just a paranoid, old man with a lot of fables. His children frequent our lovely establishment from time to time. I mentioned something to Jo, and one of them overheard. Apparently, before the old man had passed, he'd revealed the existence of a secret order: the Men of Letters. They only worked with the best hunters according to the old man, which is why his kids thought it was another tall tale. Jo won their dad's notebook off of them for us."
"Well, tell her I said thank you," Ashlinn murmured as she walked over to drawer to get the blacklight.
"Aren't they going to try to get it back?" Bobby asked irritably.
"Not really. Didn't seem to care much. Seemed to think the old man was a loon."
Ashlinn turned on the blacklight and flipped through the pages. Sure enough, hidden messages were on each page. "He was a clever man," Ashlinn said confidently and showed Bobby and Ash the hidden messages.
Ash started chatting excitedly about ciphers and took a closer look as Ashlinn couldn't help but give Bobby a smirk. While Bobby had been more than accommodating, she could tell that he didn't fully trust her… or at least her information. Being proven right felt good. With another look at the journal, Ashlinn's brows furrowed.
"Did those jerks ever mention a name? Like the name of one of the Men of Letters?"
Ash took a break from his monologue to think back and answered, "Oh, not really… they said it was something like Albert but weirder."
Ashlinn sighed in frustration. She wanted more but had to admit that what they currently had was fortunate enough. Waiting for Ash to take a break as he fervently flipped through the pages, she wondered why he'd only appeared in a couple seasons. She knew that Ellen and Jo died. What had happened to Ash?
"So you came all the way out here for just the notebook?" Bobby asked grumpily, clearly assuming something else was going on.
"Um…," Ash hesitated for a moment and scratched hid head nervously. "Well, actually it was Ellen's idea. She wanted me to come by and offer the kid a place at the Roadhouse. It's awesome there by the way… It was something about the little lady maybe being more comfortable staying with a woman. Not that she thinks you're uncomfortable. Just… y'know."
Ashlinn smiled at Ash but replied, "Thanks for the offer, but… I'm pretty comfortable here. As long as Bobby will let me stay, I'll stay here."
Bobby gave her a nod, and she could have sworn the old man had a slight smile on his face. Ash looked a little more uncomfortable.
"And… hunting's dangerous. She just wants to make sure everyone's priority is to keep you safe."
Ashlinn put a hand on his arm and said with a smile, "That's nice of her to say. I'm fully aware of my skills, and I have no inclinations to sprint into danger. Tell her that I'm incredibly grateful of what she's offering, but it's unnecessary. I'm staying here."
No doubt Ellen was worried that Ashlinn would get hurt like Ellen's husband. The thought of the danger had crossed Ashlinn's mind every minute of every day. Perhaps if she had come home to her family and everything had been fine, then she would have went on with her normal life. Maybe she would have pushed Sam and Dean to the back of her mind. After a while, it might have become a strange dream.
That fire purged that option. Even if she tried to go back to a normal life, how long would she have before she ended up in flames? How long would she have before someone sent a monster to carve out her heart? And if the yellow-eyed demon caught her… how long could she hold out before he forced her to tell him everything she knew? No, this was where she needed to be.
"Just… keep us in mind, 'kay?" Ash said and headed for the door.
An image of the Roadhouse burned to the ground flashed in her mind. That was how he died. Ashlinn grabbed onto his shirt and blurted out, "Pretzel run."
Embarrassed, she let go and said, "That's the code. If I call you and say 'pretzel run', you get everyone out of there. I'm serious, Ash."
Ash looked like he wanted to ask questions, but the desperation in her eyes seemed to convince him. With a smile, he assured her, "Of course… if I say I'm thinking of 'getting a haircut', then y'all skedaddle, right?"
Ashlinn chuckled and nodded. That would be very out of character for him. Ash pat her head reassuringly and said, "I'll let you know what I find in the notebook."
"Thank you," Ashlinn said, and Ash waved as he walked out the door.
Ashlinn couldn't help but chuckle as she heard "Dead Man Walking" fade into the distance. Bobby rolled his eyes at the music.
"So… what's your real reason for staying here?"
"It's where I need to be… I'm not looking for revenge. My family's gone. Killing whoever did it isn't going to bring them back, and I'm not selfless enough to devote my life to chasing down the menace to prevent someone else's family from suffering the same fate. If I thought I could, then I would have went back to my old life. But… that's probably just a dream. You checked on my aunts and uncles… are they gone too?"
Bobby shuffled around uncomfortably before saying, "Yes, I did… They're…"
"Dead or missing," Ashlinn filled in feeling a strange hollowness in her throat. It didn't feel like Azazel's doing. This felt… calculated but not in the same way. It was more like someone was purging her family from existence than aiming for her specifically. Was there something she didn't know about her family in this world? Her family had seemed normal to her while she'd been recovering.
"I know I'm not much of a talker, but if you ever need someone to listen… I'm here," Bobby said awkwardly, but Ashlinn could tell it was genuine.
"Thanks. Not right now but… thanks," Ashlinn finished as she heard the sound of "Back in Black" getting closer to the house.
"What does he want now?" Bobby asked grumpily as a car pulled in behind the house.
Sam and Dean's voices could be heard arguing as the music shut off. Bobby walked to the back door and let them inside. Dean gave Ashlinn a wave as he entered, and Ashlinn gave him a small wave in return. Ashlinn could tell he still didn't really trust her information. At least he was more friendly now. Sam soon followed and smiled when he saw Ashlinn.
"Find anything?" Sam asked in a low voice. Ashlinn had told him that she was looking into a secret society.
"Yeah actually. Ash has been helping me."
"Ash?" Dean asked with a look of confusion.
"Yeah, he works with hunters. He was able to find a hunter that knew about the secret society. Right now he's working on decoding the journal."
Ashlinn could tell that both Sam and Dean were interested, even if Dean was pretending that he wasn't. Sam gave her a look of encouragement, and she continued, "The journal had notes in invisible ink, but it was all in code. Ash can figure it out. I'm sure he'll get back to me once he figures it out."
"So he lives nearby?" Sam asked and looked at Bobby.
Bobby shook his head and replied, "Not really. The Roadhouse is about four hours away from here."
"And he drove all that way just to chitchat about a journal?" Dean asked with a scoff.
"I suspect Ellen wanted him to check if I was really alright," Ashlinn answered with a scowl at Dean. "She has good reason to doubt your dad."
"And why's that?"
"Her husband died while out on a hunt with him," Ashlinn answered and watched Dean's indignation turn to shock. "I'm not saying it was his fault, but… it's not surprising that she'd want to check on a kid whose entire family has been dropping off the face of the Earth."
That shut Dean up. Ashlinn felt a little guilt for what she said, but it was true. Bobby went into the kitchen to answer a phone, and Dean followed him. Ashlinn walked out the front door and took a seat on the rocking chair. Sam followed her out onto the porch and sighed.
"I'm sorry," Ashlinn said, and Sam turned to her. "I know you want answers from your dad… and from me."
Sam sighed and took a seat on the chair in front of her. "I am frustrated… but not with you. You've lost more than my dad and me put together… It's not your fault. We'll figure this out."
Ashlinn nodded and replied, "My family… I don't think it's the same thing that has attacked your family."
"What do you think it is?"
"I don't know… and that's what scares me. The shifter might have been just bad luck. Everyone else… either they died by fire or were burned after. There are a few creatures that use fire, but I don't remember anything that would want to burn dead bodies except…"
"Except hunters," Sam finished quietly. "So you think this… secret society has something to do with it?"
"Not really… that doesn't matter. What I do know is that this secret society was able to stay secret for so long because of their abilities and knowledge. Knowledge is power, and safety is better than gold. If I can find one of their chapterhouses, then at least I'll have a safe place."
"If it was so safe, why aren't they around anymore? I don't mean to discourage you, but… I just don't want you to get your hopes up."
"They died because they weren't prepared for what they were up against. Because they only worked with 'the best hunters' and thought they were impervious to being blindsided. That's the one good thing about being paranoid, Sam. Being comfortable just doesn't suit me."