Characters: Mary, Sam, Dean, Bill Harvelle, Karen Singer, and others.
Word count: 25,000 words.
Summary: AU. After her husband's death, Mary Winchester tried to do her best for her sons: she taught them how to defend themselves against the monsters that go bump in the night, but tried to keep them out of hunting and give as normal a life as possible. But while Sam has followed her mother’s wishes and gone to college, Dean has become a hunter and he and Mary haven’t talked in years. A hunt brings the family together and forces them to confront the past.
AKA, the AU where some people who are dead aren’t, and some people who aren’t dead are.
A/N: Written for spn_gen_bigbang. I thought I would never be able to finish this fic! I'm glad I managed to do it, although I will let you be the judges of whether the result was worth the struggle. I'm very grateful to my artist, wataru_kisugi for her enthusiasm for the fic and her hardwork on the art - please don't forget to check her post and leave her comments! Thank you also to bellatemple for her thorough beta work. This fic owes a lot to those two people.
Link to art master post (plenty of art!)
Link to the fic on AO3
The sound of something breaking woke Mary up. She was instantly awake and lucid, no in-between fuzziness, her hand sliding across her bed and meeting the solid wood of her nightstand. She opened the drawer almost soundlessly to grab her gun.
When she was a child, Mary had been afraid of the dark. She remembered being little and watching the shadows in her room with the brutal, intimate conviction that the dark was actively malevolent, waiting for her to fall asleep before it pounced on her. She wasn’t afraid of the monsters she knew went bump in the night, though; hunting tales were her bedtime stories, and she trusted, with a small child’s confidence, that her daddy would fend them all off.
She didn’t know why it was coming back to her as she made her way downstairs, navigating the shadowed hallway with ease and finding the steps from the staircase with the tips of her toes. Now, of course, everything was different. Mary was still afraid, but not of the same things.
There was a series of other noises – the muffled click of the fridge’s door closing down, the squeaking sound of a chair scraping on the kitchen tiles, then a soft, breathed-out curse – and Mary relaxed. There was so real stealth here, which meant no one – or nothing – was trying to creep into her house. She entered the kitchen and switched on the overhead light. The tall figure standing by the table jerked around and swore.
“Mom!” Sam whined and covered his eyes with a hand, protecting them from the light washing over him. “You scared me. What’re you doing up?”
“Heard a noise.” She leaned against the doorframe, her gun hand falling against her side and between the folds of her nightgown. “Did you break something?”
Sam made a guilty face and crouched to the floor to pick up the shards of a broken glass. Mary let him do it, didn’t move from her position at the door instead of rushing to his help like she usually would. It was high time she stopped coddling him, she told herself – but, she also didn’t want him to see that she’d brought her gun down with her. It wasn’t that the sight of it would scare him: he was a practiced marksman, she’d seen to that, and was used to all kinds of weapons. She just didn’t want to worry him. Didn’t want to have him tiptoe around his old paranoid hunter mom.
“Sorry I woke you up, Mom,” Sam said, unfolding his long body as he stood up. “I was thirsty.”
“Partied too hard?” She smiled to show him that she was joking and not mom-nagging, but he looked flustered anyway.
“You know I wouldn’t–”
“I know, sweetie.” Her hand hidden behind her back, she padded barefoot up to him, and had to rise on her tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. He was so much taller than her now, taller even than his father had been. A man, not a little kid anymore, but she couldn’t help thinking about him as her baby. Her youngest. “Happy birthday, love.”
His smile dimpled. “It’s half-an-hour past my birthday.”
“I get to decide when your birthday ends. I was the one who suffered all day long for it.”
“Did your brother wish you a happy birthday?”
These were not the words she had planned to say. She heard them come out of her mouth and felt like someone had used her body to do it without her consent.
Sam’s smile and dimples smoothed over. “Mom, don’t.”
“What?” She let out a ripple of completely unnatural laugh. “What did I say? I know you’re in touch with your brother. It’s fine, I’m not mad.”
“Come on, don’t do that. I told you before: I’m not acting as a go-between you and Dean. You want to know how he’s doing–”
“It was just a simple question–”
“–then you only have to pick up the phone. Same as I do.” He was looking at her with his face set hard in annoyance, but it lasted all of thirty seconds before his hard expression crumpled and he sighed. “He’s fine. In fact he just called, that’s why I was awake. He was coming back from a hunt and–”
She lifted a hand and he stopped talking. So Dean was still hunting – what was she saying, of course he was still hunting, otherwise he would’ve come back home. Or maybe not, after all. He had turned twenty-six; he was no more a kid than Sam was.
“I’m going back to bed,” she said stiffly.
“I’m sorry,” he said to her back.
She heaved a sigh, shoulders jumping up and down with it. It was unfair of her to make Sam feel bad over her own slip of the tongue. He was in an uncomfortable position, torn between his brother and his mother, and she knew that she should try as much as she could to leave him out of this. She never had one serious fight with Sam. She didn’t want to lose him too.
“I’m just tired,” she said with a smile, turning around to give his cheek a pat. “That’s all. You should go back to bed, too. You have an early start tomorrow.”
“Yes, I know,” he said, dragging the last syllable with twelve-year-old annoyance, but his eyes searched her face, his brow furrowed with concern. “Mom–”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She said it gently, so he knew she wasn’t upset with him. “Goodnight, baby.”
She went back to her room upstairs, feeling like her heart had turned into a block of stone. She went to bed with her fingers curled around the grip of her gun, just like when she was ten and her father had given her her first one. She watched the branches from the tree in front of her window painting fantastic shadows over the wall. She tried to keep her mind blank, but her last conscious thought, right when her defenses were muddled with sleep, was for Dean.
The crude light coming from above the bathroom mirror wasn’t doing him any favors. His face was sallow and the shadows below his eyes made them look like hollow sockets. Uncanny. Dean leaned forward until his nose came close to the mirror, poking at the red mark swelling on his cheekbone. It wasn’t even a wound he’d received heroically wrestling a werewolf or something; no, he’d gotten this one from a little lady’s backhand slap, when she’d confused his pushing her out of a murderous’ ghost way with an attempt at purse-snatching.
There was no way it wasn’t going to bruise, he thought mournfully. And for his next hunts he’d look to all like he’d gotten into a bar fight, which wouldn’t help him gain trust points from people. He sighed and tugged at his t-shirt collar, proceeding to peel off his clothes for a shower. Once naked he stepped into the bathtub; now was the time to figure how the shower worked here. That was one of the banes of his life on the road: who wants to get home tired from work – and in his case, often beaten up and filthy – and have to fight with the shower?
There was a vaguely spade-shaped handle that he tried to pull, then to push, and he wasn’t sure which action had worked when a trickle of water started to drip down from the faucet. He spent a few more minutes struggling to pull the thingy fixed over the faucet so that the running water shifted to the showerhead. He knew it’d worked when he was suddenly drenched by an overhead downpour. He tipped his head back and offered his face to the hot water, then leaned forward, hands against the shower tiles, letting the water beat over his bent back.
He let out a moan. “Oh, god, feels so good.” Better than sex, it felt. Or, okay, maybe not, but certainly better than jerking off. He pressed his forehead against the wall and closed his eyes. He could admit it to himself: he was feeling a little blue tonight. Sometimes hunting on the road was lonely, and calling Sammy yesterday for his birthday, while his brother was at home – no, at their mother’s house, where he wasn’t welcome anymore – had brought it all out.
He gave himself one more minute, then straightened up and started vigorously shampooing his hair, rubbing his scalp until it stung to get rid of the dirt from all the grave digging he’d done tonight. The rushing sound of water almost covered the noise of someone knocking on the door. He shut the water to make sure, and there it was again, louder and tinged with impatience.
“Goddamn it,” he mumbled. “Who the goddamn hell is – Alright, I’m coming!” he shouted after another resounding thud, like the person knocking had closed their fist to pound on the door.
He almost slipped hurrying out of the bathtub, catching himself on the edge of the sink before he fell and hit his head. He decided against the hassle of putting on some clothes and merely wrapped a towel around his hips; whoever it was could deal with his half-naked body.
“Coming,” he repeated in case his visitor hadn’t heard him from the bathroom. He could feel a headache blooming between his eyes and wasn’t in the mood for another round of knocking. “Don’t get your–”
He lost what he was going to say when he opened the door and discovered the person behind it. She was hot, was his first thought. Tall and curvy, smooth dark skin, curly hair cropped short. He didn’t mind if she saw him half-naked. His second thought was that he knew her from somewhere. Her severe gaze, her high cheekbones rang a bell.
“Hey… Vivian!” He pointed a triumphant finger at her. “Vivian Walker! Right.” He rested nonchalantly against the doorframe, one arm up above his head. “How’s it going?”
She gave him a cold once over, starting from his bare feet, then raking the whole length of his body to finally pin him with a death glare. “Hi, Dean. Do you have a minute?”
“Sure!” He waited for more; she pinched her lips and pointedly looked over his shoulder. “Oh, er, do come in.”
He hadn’t done more to the motel room than throw his duffle bag on the bed, but she managed to look around the room, find it lacking, and disapprove him for it. She drew out one of the two chairs placed at the little round table by the window and sat down. It was only when she put a yellow folder down on the table that Dean noticed she’d been holding it against her chest.
“Please have a seat,” Dean said with a touch of sarcasm and a little flourish of the hand. For all that he was in favor of receiving pretty women to his room at night, he was tired, sore, dripping from his interrupted shower, and it didn’t look like this conversation was going to turn into more pleasant activities anytime soon. “I’ll put some pants on.”
“You do that.”
The jeans that were crumpled in a heap inside the bathroom were stained with dirt and fresh grass, so he turned to his bag and fumbled through it for a clean pair. He didn’t go to the bathroom to get dressed, but dropped his towel to the floor and slipped into his jeans commando, his backside to Vivian. He wasn’t shy about his body, and if it bothered her, well, tough shit; she should’ve chosen a decent hour to come find him.
“Alright.” He dropped into the other chair. His t-shirt clung to his wet skin, darker patches starting to form, and the wet denim of his jeans chafed uncomfortably against his sensitive bits, but he leaned back into his chair, watching her with a smile. She looked so serious, it made him want to find a way to wrinkle that smooth surface. Had they slept together? He remembered clearly meeting her at Bill Harvelle’s Roadhouse, one night after a tough hunt. They’d talked, they’d drunk, and he couldn’t remembered how that night had ended.
“What did you want to talk to me about?”
“The yellow-eyed man,” she said, and he felt his smile drop.
“What did you just say?”
“You heard me. And you’re the one who told me about him, so don’t play dumb.”
He definitely didn’t remember that, so he must have been even more shitfaced that night than he’d thought. His heartbeat picked up and all tiredness and aches were forgotten, adrenaline giving him a second wind. He gripped the edges of his chair to anchor himself, feeling his fingers get slick with sweat.
“What do you have to say about the yellow-eyed man?”
“I may have a lead. Are you interested or what?”
He was not feeling amused, flirty, or even tired anymore. “Okay, start talking.”
Half-awake, moving on autopilot, Sam shut off the water and dried his hands on the bunched up hand towel one of his roommates had abandoned on the side of the sink. It was a contrast with the bathroom at home, even if his mom wasn’t by any means a clean freak: the shaving kits crowded the space around the sink, smelly wet towels had been left on the floor, and Sam had had to clean the sink from leftover hairs.
And yet, as much as he loved his mother, he enjoyed living on campus even if home was only half-an-hour away. Whenever he was home he felt like his brother’s ghost was lingering around the house, even if it had been over six years since he’d left. It didn’t help that his mother went out of her way to avoid saying Dean’s name.
Sam stifled a yawn. It was time to get back to bed; his first class was early in the morning and he’d stayed up late finishing an essay for his International Journalism class. He switched off the light in the bathroom and crossed the living area between the two rooms of their four-person suite in the dark. He knew where all the furniture was, but it was still a bit of a hazardous journey. He was concentrating on his feet, trying not to stumble on any shoe, book, or controller, when something touched his arm. A voice whispered to his ear, “Hey, careful there.”
His reflexes kicked in and he twisted his arm to escape the intruder’s grip, while his other hand formed a fist, ready to throw a punch. A strong hand caught his wrist and the voice said, “Jesus, Sammy!”
“Dean?” Sam shook his hand free and let it drop against his side; it was trembling a little as the adrenaline rush ebbed and left him tingling. “Dude, what the fuck?”
“Is that a way to welcome your brother?”
“What are you– Damn it.” Sam went to switch on the light, cursing some more on the way when he knocked his hip against the couch. “Okay,” he said, turning to his brother and crossing his arms over his chest. “What the hell, Dean?”
Dean was standing in the middle of the room, blinking owlishly against the sudden light. Sam hadn’t seen him in months but he looked the same as ever, from the leather jacket he wore – a memorabilia of their father – to the spiky hair and the steel-toe boots. He even still had the friendship bracelet Sam had made him years ago around his wrist; it was hot pink and purple, because Sam had had the nebulous notion then that if Dean was willing to wear the horrendous colors, it meant he wouldn’t forget his little brother. At the time, he’d had the irrational fear that he would never see Dean again.
“So?” he insisted when his brother didn’t answer right away and kept rubbing at his eyes like a little kid. Then, remembering the kind of circumstances that usually brought Dean to his doorstep: “Are you hurt?” Dean didn’t seem hurt, but Sam still looked him up and down. There was no tear or stain anywhere on his clothes, no bruises on the visible patches of skin other than a purple one on his cheek.
“Nah, I’m fine.”
“You didn’t bring any critter back from your job, did you? I don’t want a repeat of your werewolf stalker from three months ago.” It was the only hunt Sam had taken part in, and he still had the scars to show for it; of course, his mom had no idea it had ever happened.
Dean rolled his eyes. “Quit the paranoia, dude. I wasn’t even on a hunt tonight. I–”
The door to the room opposite from Sam’s opened, and one of Sam’s roommates, Alex, stood silhouetted in the crack, his hair mussed from sleep. “Waz goin’ on?” His eyes wandered around the room and when they stopped on Dean, his mouth twisted in annoyance. “Sam, man, you know you can’t have your brother here. Not after last time.”
“Alex, hey.” Dean wriggled his fingers. “Glad to see you too, buddy.”
Sam silenced his brother with a glare. “Don’t think I can’t see that Lizzie’s in your bed from here,” he said to Alex. “It’s been over two weeks. So you don’t lecture me about guests, okay?”
Alex scowled, but disappeared into his room without another word, walking backward and blocking their view with his body like he could still deny the truth in Sam’s words. After the door closed Sam shared a look with his brother and they both snickered.
“Okay,” Sam said, serious again. “Why did you come in the middle of the night? Ever heard of a phone call?”
“Er, I was close by, and I thought, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen my little brother in a while, I should pay him a visit. He’ll be happy to see me for sure. By the time I found a parking spot…”
“Okay, okay.” Dean raised his hands in surrender. “I think there’s something going on at your campus.”
Dean arched an eyebrow. “Yeah, something.”
“Oh.” Sam looked around. Alex was probably still awake, and any of his other roommates could show up at any moment. The downside of living on-campus was certainly the lack of privacy. “Right. Bathroom, then.”
They went to the bathroom and Dean looked into the shower, opening and closing the sliding door until Sam slapped his wrist. “Nice,” Dean said.
“You’ve been in here before.”
“Don’t remember it.”
Indeed, the only time Dean had used that shower he’d been concussed as hell, barely able to stand on his own, forcing Sam to help him out. His roommates had thought Dean was merely drunk and they had not enjoyed being disturbed in the middle of the night, to say the least. By regularly covering their shift of cooking and cleaning – a contractual obligation to stay in the scholarship hall – every time Dean showed up, Sam had been able to keep them off his back for a while. But eventually it hadn’t been enough and Alex had put his foot down – the last straw had been the aforementioned werewolf stalker, which Sam’s roommates had thought to be your garden-variety psycho. On the one hand, Sam couldn’t really blame Alex: how could he explain Dean to any of them, Dean with his odd hours, shady looks, and suspicious wounds? They had to think he was part of the mob or something. On the other hand, being defensive of his brother had been Sam’s default mode for years.
“What’s this thing you wanted to tell me about?” Sam asked, shaking off the memory of his brother showing up bloody on his doorstep.
“Okay, so there’s this hunter chick I met at Harvelle’s–” Sam raised his eyebrows and Dean groaned. “Come on, Sammy, get your mind out of the gutter. We shared a few drinks. Believe me, I think she’d chop my balls off before she did the nasty with me.” He sounded almost indignant about it and Sam suppressed a grin. “Anyway, she came to me with a possible gig… Wait a sec, I got it here.”
Dean slid a hand inside his jacket and came up with a newspaper clip that he handed to Sam. “It happened here,” he said uselessly, because Sam’s eye had already caught the words: ‘Kansas University;’ ‘Lawrence;’ and ‘Margaret Amini,’ the women’s hall, sister to K.K. Amini, Sam’s own hall. They shared a courtyard, so Sam didn’t need to read the article to know what it was about.
“Yeah, I know about this. The girl who killed herself.”
“Did you know her?”
The only clear memory Sam had of that girl – Rachel was her name, as far as he remembered – was of a tiny blonde crouching to the ground to pick up a book that had dropped from Sam’s bag. He’d thanked her, she’d smiled blindingly at him, he’d thought for a moment about asking her out for coffee, hadn’t dared to follow through, and then he’d been caught up in school work and hadn’t thought about her again until he heard that she’d thrown herself off her hall’s second floor. He shook his head and said, “I don’t see what this has to do with… your kind of thing.”
“You can call it by its name, you know. It’s not gonna bite you. And if you’d tried to read the article you’d see that she wasn’t alone when she jumped: one of her roommates was there and they were talking to each other when Rachel just ‘stood up and walked to the window, opened it, and jumped.’ Does it sound like normal suicidal behavior to you?”
Sam had talked – or rather, exchanged a few words – with some of Rachel’s friends, and all they’d said was that Rachel wasn’t depressed, that they didn’t understand, she never would’ve done something like this…. It had sounded like normal denial to him.
“Suicide is hardly normal behavior in the first place. Who can say what was going through her mind?” That was weak and he knew it; Dean knew it, but was kind enough not to give him shit about it.
“Well, I’m not a shrink, but I know when something doesn’t sound right.”
“What do you want from me?”
Dean had tried to get him to hunt with him before and it wasn’t that Sam never thought about it. Not full time, but maybe on the weekends or something. He’d helped his brother, even his mother, research hunts before and he did like some aspects of the job. He just didn’t know if he had it in him to lead a double life like his mom did, or to withdraw from normal society, like Dean did. And to think about how Mom would feel about it, the letdown it would be for her to have both of her kids get into hunting…. So he didn’t consider it too much.
He saw on Dean’s face that he was thinking along the same lines: Dean’s mouth pursed, he looked down, and smiled wryly. “Don’t worry your pretty head. I’m not gonna drag you away from your books. Just thought I’d give you a heads up, since this is basically taking place next door to you.” He buried his hands in his jacket pockets and bumped one shoulder into Sam. “You’ll need to be careful. You have to–”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Salt the doors and windows, refresh the wards. The guys are gonna think I’m crazy but what else is new. You be careful too.” His stomach did a little flip as he said it. “Where are you staying?”
“A motel, not too far.” Dean shot him a suspicious look. “I’m not saying there. You know that.”
Sam raised both hands, palms turned outward. “Hey, I didn’t say anything.”
If only he could get Mom and Dean in the same room and bash their heads together until they talked.
Mary bent to take off her shoes, then flexed her toes, working out the aches from the long day at work. She walked barefoot on the cold tiles across the living room and up to the kitchen, wanting to get herself something to drink. The phone started ringing and she had to backtrack with a sigh.
A low chuckle vibrated into her ear. “Bad time?”
“I’m just getting back from work, Bill. What do you want?”
“It’s always no pleasantries with you, isn’t it? For the record, this is not one of the things I like about you.”
Mary pinched the bridge of her nose, closing her eyes. Was he flirting with her? Bill tended to sound flirty even when he didn’t intend to, so she was never quite sure. It didn’t help that they had slept with each other on occasion, which Mary persisted in thinking was a bad idea when they were both so hung up on their dead spouses.
She realized that she’d remained silent too long when Bill spoke again: “You’re right, this isn’t a social call. Ash found something.”
“What’s ‘something’? Is it a hunt? I don’t know, I’ve been really tired lately and I’m not sure– ”
“You’ll want to hear about this one, Mary. I promise. This is about the fires.”
The fires. Two magic words, if there were any. But she’d been disappointed often enough that she kept her voice unconcerned when she asked, “On a scale of one to ten – with one being a vague tale of someone’s grandmother dying in a fire and ten being a real breakthrough – how do you rank Ash’s ‘something’?”
“It’s a twelve, minimum. Ash thinks he’s found a pattern between– It’ll be easier to explain in person. When can you come to the Roadhouse?”
She started to say, ‘not before the weekend,’ because she had work on Thursday and Friday and she’d gotten used to planning her hunts around her job, trying to make it so her life was as normal as possible and hunting was just… some sort of bizarre hobby. But. A real breakthrough. This hunt, investigation – no, this quest – was what had pulled her back into the life. If it hadn’t been for the yellow-eyed demon killing John and maybe doing something to Sam, she would have been happy letting other hunters deal with the monsters out there. She’d had enough of that growing up to last her a lifetime. If only pretending she was normal hadn’t ended with her life in ashes.
“Tomorrow. I’ll call in sick for work and I’ll leave first thing tomorrow.”
“Okay. I’ll be expecting you then.”
After hanging up Mary stayed by the phone for a moment, with her toes curling against the hard floor, her hands fluttering with no purpose at her sides. She’d come back from work with a pretty clear outline for her evening – dinner and wine, then a book in bed – and now she felt aimless – or rather, pulled into too many directions at the same time. She sprung into action suddenly, making a beeline for her office. It was Dean’s old room, where she’d installed shelves, file cases, and a desk, and that she had pompously renamed. She always made herself use that new appellation, even in her mind.
She rummaged through her files for the red cardboard folder where she kept everything she’d gathered for the twenty-one years. She didn’t take any particular pains to hide it because she knew Sam would never dream of looking into the stuff she had in her office, so she found it quickly. It wasn’t labeled but the corners and edges were worn soft and it was stained with ink, coffee, and even a little bit of blood. As well-known as a beloved safety blanket. Twenty-one years and six months, almost to the day. She held it protectively against her chest, like she would hold her boys when they were babies.
That night she dreamed of the fire, something that hadn’t happened to her in years. She dreamed she was in her bed, in their house from back then, and was hearing the squeaky sound of Sam’s whines coming from the baby monitor, marred with static. In the dream it made her feel anxious, whereas in reality she’d just been annoyed to find her sleep broken. She felt the bed move as John sat up on the edge, saying “I got it,” in a voice full of gravel from sleep. She’d fallen back to sleep when it really happened, but her dream self tried to move and talk, to tell John, “don’t go, I’ll do it,” do something to stop what was about to happen. But her arms, fingers, even her eyelids felt too heavy, and the bed was sucking her in and the covers molding to her body like a cast. She heard Dean’s high-pitched cry of “Daddy!” and that was when she woke up.
She sat in her bed, rubbed at her cheeks and found them wet with tears even though she hadn’t been aware she was crying. She couldn’t stop her mind from remembering what had happened next: her waking up abruptly, running first to Dean’s room, then to Sam’s, finding her husband pinned to the ceiling with blood dripping from his midsection. She’d just had enough time to grab Sammy from his crib and usher Dean out of the room before a stream of fire surged forth.
She got out of her bed, put on her robe, and as she tied it up on the front John’s pale face from that night imposed itself on her: looking down at her from the ceiling with wide terrified eyes, his mouth open on a soundless cry, right before the fire engulfed him whole. She’d forgotten a lot about her dead husband. She couldn’t remember the sound of his voice, his smell, and his features would’ve been blurry by now if not for the few pictures she’d managed to save from the fire. But that image of his face as he was dying remained crystal clear, etched on the surface of her memory with excruciating precision.
She wasn’t about to sleep now, so instead she went to her office, opened her old folder and examined the various documents inside under the yellow halo of her desk lamp. Newspaper clips about the fire, relaying the tragedy in stark, simple terms: John Winchester, aged 29, burned to death in his house in Lawrence, leaving two young sons and a widow. Reports from the Division of Fire Safety that determined that the fire had started with no external ignition source. Other newspaper clips, other fires; weather forecasts, painstakingly transcribed interviews that she’d realized over the years. She knew all those documents by heart although she hadn’t reviewed them in a long time. Rereading them now wasn’t about learning something new, not even so much about making sure she had all her facts straight, but more about reminding herself of her purpose.
She sat at her desk until the livid light of dawn filtered through the blinds, and after some perfunctory ablutions she got ready to start on the road. It was a six-hour drive up to the Roadhouse; counting the obligatory lunch break and gas break, she’d get there at around 2 or 3 in the afternoon.
She was already behind the wheel when the sun rose from behind the houses. She hadn’t made a drive this long in a while and the thought had exhausted her, but once on the road it felt sort of liberating. Entering Nebraska via I-70 W she flashed back to the very time first time she’d made this trip, with little Sammy and Dean huddled in the backseat. The brown plains of Kansas, the never-ending cornfields followed by wheat fields followed by ranch scrub, never failed to put both boys to sleep. Nebraska, barely greener, didn’t breach the monotony much, and when the boys had gotten older it had been hours of fights and cries and recriminations.
It was warm and sunny when she arrived at the Roadhouse, birds chirping their happy springtime song. She parked in a cloud of dust next to the trucks lined up at the front. Chatting voices and laughter were coming out of the open door. Mary barely had the time to get out of her car before Bill appeared in the doorframe.
“Mary. You found your way.”
Subtly hinting at the fact that she hadn’t come in a long time. Mary snorted and didn’t reply, walking to him for a greeting hug. He pulled apart after a few seconds and held her shoulders, examining her like a proud parent. “You’re getting prettier by the year.”
She shoved at him playfully; she had to be getting old for that kind of corny one-liner to ignite a spark of pleasure inside her. She would never admit to the feeling, of course, nor would she tell him that he looked pretty damn good himself: as tall as John had been, but broader in the shoulders, he had a pleasant, smiling face, laughing lines at the corners of his eyes, and a shock of brown hair that didn’t show any gray – she suspected him of dyeing it.
“So, what’s the hurry?” she asked, proud of herself at how nonchalant she sounded.
Bill shot a glance inside the bar; from where she was standing Mary could see a line of crusty hunters slouched at the counter, talking to each other with alcohol-induced slurs. She caught bits and pieces of their conversations: set the fucking thing on fire… I find silver works better for this… got the five-inch scar to prove it…
“We’ll go somewhere private,” Bill reassured her.
They got inside; it was hot and stuffy, and smelled like sweat and gun cleaning detergent. They waded their way through the room, leaving echoing greetings in their wake: ‘Hey, Mary’; ‘Looking good, Winchester,’ or 'Campbell' from those old enough to have known her father. Mary smiled and nodded, but didn’t try to initiate conversation; hunting remained an overwhelmingly male profession, and unsubtle attempts at hitting on her were par for course, but she wasn’t in the mood for that tonight.
Bill stopped at the bar and knocked on the counter to draw the attention of the young blond woman reordering the liquor bottles.
Jo Harvelle twirled around to the sound of her father’s voice, making her blond ponytail flop back and forth. “Yeah? Hey, what’s up, Mary?”
Mary forced a tight smile. “Business as usual.”
“How’s Sam? I forgot to wish him a happy birthday.”
Mary gave her a succinct account of what Sam had been up to recently. She was getting antsy, impatient to get down to the real reason of her coming. Bill must have picked up on it because he cut the conversation short: “Jo, can you try and find Ash? Dig him up from whatever hole he’s stumbled into, tell him Mary’s here and we’re taking it upstairs.”
“Will do, Dad.”
Mary gave the girl a last smile and followed Bill upstairs to the Harvelle’s apartment above the bar.
“Something to drink?” Bill asked, already heading for his liquor cabinet.
“No, thanks.” She wanted to keep a clear mind. “How long has Jo been working at the bar?”
“A few months. It’s a deal we have: she helps me with the bar, and I take her on a hunt with me from time to time.”
Mary bit her lip to hold back the comments she burned to make. Bill knew her too well, though: “If we didn’t have this arrangement, she would just do it behind my back. I’d much rather have her where I can keep an eye on her.”
“I just would’ve thought, with what happened to her mother–”
There was a thud as Bill put down the bottle he’d been holding, and Mary regretted her words. It was easy, watching Bill’s cheerful ways, to forget the kind of darkness that had fallen onto him in the past. Losing a loved one to the supernatural was an experience many hunters shared; having to kill them was a different story.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was out of line.”
They’d been friends long enough that they could let that kind of thing roll. Mary saw Bill’s shoulders slump a little, losing their hard line. “Mary,” he said, “this wasn’t a dig at your parenting skills. My relationship with Jo is different from your relationship with Dean.”
It was her turn to tense. “I wouldn’t have taken it that way if you hadn’t felt like you had to mention it.”
“I just think that–”
“Bill. Not in the mood.”
Bill let a beat pass. “Okay.” He went to sit on the chair opposite to her, holding a glass of some amber-colored beverage. “I haven’t seen him in a few months, but he’s doing fine from what I heard. Nailed that Wendigo in Blackwater.”
She wasn’t too proud to take advantage of Bill’s connections in the hunting world to keep tabs on how her son was doing. She didn’t acknowledge Bill’s information with more than a nod, feeling vaguely regretful she’d refused Bill’s offer for a drink: it would have given her something to do with her hands.
“What did Ash find out?”
“I think it’s better if–” There was a crashing sound from the stairs. “There he is.”
The door that separated the landing from Bill’s living room opened, and Ash appeared, a disheveled lanky figure in sleeveless shirt and ratty jeans. He greeted Mary and from the slur in his voice she knew he was a little drunk. Alcohol never seemed to affect his abilities any, so she refrained from showing her distaste.
Ash was carrying a laptop under his arm, a huge thing with no case, its bare wires visible. It looked like it was held together with a spit and a prayer. Ash flopped into a chair and opened the laptop, which came to life with a whooshing sound.
“Remember the fires you asked me to investigate?” Ash liked to go straight to business, and Mary could appreciate that. His fingers flew over his keyboard, his eyes flicking left and right.
“Yeah. Fire in nurseries, six-month old babies, dead parents.” They’d known about those for a while; obviously, the yellow-eyed demon had been busy. She anticipated underwhelming information and steeled herself against disappointment.
“I kept looking for other deaths of that kind beside ’83. Found a bunch of them, every decade or so – it’s not completely regular. Went back to the early fifties.”
“I know that,” Mary said. She hadn’t known just how far it went back, but she was growing impatient.
“Listen to the rest of it,” Bill said.
“I thought about your theory, you know–” Ash stifled a burp with a closed fist. “Sorry; threw up a little in my mouth. You know, your theory that it wasn’t the parents that were important, but the babies. So I kept track of what was happening to the most recent generations. And guess what: five names belonging to one of those lists showed up together… Look for yourself.”
Ash turned the laptop so that Mary could see the screen and the article he had loaded. She leaned and squinted her eyes, skimming through it: a bunch of dead bodies had been found on the grounds of an abandoned farm in Jerome, Arizona, and evidence pointed to murders. One hypothesis was that the people had actually killed each other.
“I’m counting seven names,” Mary said.
“Yeah, two of them had a completely fire-free history. But the other five had lost parents in a fire when they were six-month old. That’s a pattern. They came from different places, different backgrounds, and at no point their paths seem to have crossed. Not until they died together, that is.”
Ash shot her a droopy-eyed glance above the lid of his laptop; Bill was looking at her too, both hands wrapped around his glass. They were probably both watching for her reaction, waiting for her to say or do something. Congratulate them for their hard work, maybe? Or freak out? Mary’s heart was pounding inside her chest, but she wasn’t sure what she was feeling. This was a breakthrough; progress, finally, after years of not making any headway, so she should be glad, she should be feeling the narrow focus that came with the return of her purpose. Instead what made her chest hurt was more akin to dread. Fear. She looked at the grainy photo that came with the article: the dilapidated wooden house with its empty windows cut out to the façade, black holes like a skull’s eye sockets, standing in a vast field of bushes and wild grass, the skeleton of other buildings silhouetted in the background.
Bill’s soft tone told her she had been silent too long. She smiled and said, “It’s great. Thanks for the good work, guys.”
Something – the demon? – had taken those people and brought them to their death. Forced them to fight each other, or assassinated them, one or the other. She couldn’t let something like that happen to Sam.
“We need to see if this has happened before, and if we can find something tying all those people together, other than the fires. It can’t be random; it has to be looking for something. We need to be talking to those kids, maybe to their parents too. We–”
“Mary,” Bill cut her in. “What’s going on?”
“What? You know as much as I do.”
Bill put his glass down on the floor. He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. “Do I? I always figured you knew more than you were letting on. If I’m going to get more involved in this, I want to know everything you know.”
In the background, sounding far, far away, Mary heard Ash shut his computer and say, “I think there’s a beer calling my name downstairs.”
She waited for him to leave the room before she said in a breath, “It’s a demon.”
“How do you know? Did you find sulfur on the scene?”
“No, there… there wasn’t much left after the fire. I know because I’ve met him before. It. But it’s not a normal demon: it has yellow eyes, and it’s powerful.”
Bill looked her in the eye intensely for what felt like a very long time. “You met it. What do you mean by that? Did you talk to it? Fight it? Were you…” he swallowed, seeming to struggle to let the word out, “were you possessed?”
“No, no,” she said. “Nothing like that. But the truth is…” She hesitated; she hadn’t breathed any of this to a soul in over thirty years. “I don’t remember.”