"Look, it doesn't matter what we call it. We just need to figure out how to kill it!"
Sam woke to the sound of a low-voiced argument. He blinked sleepily. He could see daylight, warm enough that it had to be late morning. There was a white swell of pillow in front of his face and he had the covers pulled up to his shoulder. He could feel Dean's warm body in his arms, his brother's steady breathing gusting through the material of his teeshirt, and if he hadn't known they weren't alone in the room, he'd have nuzzled his way down under the covers to find Dean's lips and indulge in some lazy morning fooling around.
They weren't alone in the room, though. And it wasn't even their room. The events of the night before slammed back into Sam's mind and Dean snuffled, shifting restlessly against him as he stiffened. Sam tried to relax, both to keep from disturbing Dean and so that the men in the room with them wouldn't know that he was awake, so that he had some time to go over things in his head.
Dean, wandering away... lured by "singing"... by a supernatural female presence... the Melusine? But Bobby had said that she'd been destroyed, and, besides, Missouri had said that she didn't get any sense of the ocean. And then Dean had rescued those strange Hunters from some sort of fiery monster....
Jesus, it was one thing to manipulate raindrops, but another entirely to move enough river water to put out a forest fire!
Evidently Dean had that kind of power, though Sam was certain that it was due to the mark on his neck, not anything he'd been born with. He'd saved the Hunters, they'd saved him, and they'd brought Sam and Dean back together before Sam could go completely mad from worry.
Dean had vouched for them. Bobby had vouched for them. Their own actions spoke well for them. And yet Sam couldn't quite bring himself to trust this Danny and Rusty. He hated to agree with his Dad on anything, but when Dean's well being was in his hands, "trust no one" sure seemed like sound advice.
Of course, he hadn't done such a great job taking care of Dean last night. And it had been Danny and Rusty who'd stepped up to take his slack. Everything he knew of the men spoke well of them, and yet... and yet....
Well, it wouldn't hurt anything to lay here, feigning sleep, and hopefully get a better feel for them. It probably made him something of an ass, but they were strangers, and there was no way he was trusting strangers with his Dean. Not until he knew them better, anyway; well enough that they weren't strangers anymore.
"I'm not disagreeing," he heard the man he remembered as Rusty saying, his tone torn between reasonable and exasperated. "I'm just saying that if we know what it is, we can better research how to kill it."
Sam thought that sounded fair, even half-hazed with sleep as he was, but it wasn't his Hunt. He hadn't Hunted in over two years, almost three. He supposed that he and Dean were here on a Hunt, of sorts, looking for their father who was in turn looking for a way to fix Dean... but he preferred not to think of it on those terms. In fact, he preferred not to think of it at all. What he wanted to do was wait until Bobby got here and gave him some direction.
"Well, water seemed to work pretty well, in large enough amounts," Danny rumbled, sounding almost as sleepy as Sam felt.
"That didn't kill it, though," Rusty said, and he sounded wide awake and aware. Sam smelled coffee and he knew that once Dean woke and smelled it he'd be clambering for his share. Good thing he was buried under the covers right now, his face pressed against Sam's chest, still snoozing. He needed his sleep. "The water only doused its flames -- it got away handily enough. And don't forget about the spirit that people have seen. It's human and there's got to be some significance there. Unless it's a complete coincidence."
"Hm. Well, it's been seen near the blaze sites, before or after the fires. That's unlikely to be coincidence, even though that's not impossible. Maybe it's just drawn to the flames like... like a moth or something...." Sam could hear bedcovers rustling, but he had his back to the other bed, and his eyes were stubbornly closed besides.
"Has there been any description of the spirit?" Rusty asked, speaking with his mouth full. Sam wondered if he was having cold pizza with his coffee, or if there was breakfast of some sort. He hadn't had anything to eat last night aside from half a slice of pepperoni pizza, and his stomach gave an unhappy twist to let him know that by now it was completely empty. He wasn't ready to rouse, though, to give up his ruse.
"Yeah, the foreman saw it pretty clearly," Danny replied. He was closer than Rusty, Sam thought, though it was hard to tell when they were both behind him. "He said it looked like an Indian -- Native American, that is. He thought that it was female, said there were lots of beads catching the light of the flames, and he said that 'she' looked very sad and upset."
"And you didn't think that any of this was important enough to mention before we went out on our hike last night?" Rusty didn't sound put out, just curious. Sam was impressed. Their Dad would have been pissed if he or Dean had left out information like that on a Hunt while they'd been growing up. Not that either of them would have. Maybe Danny was a little sloppy, even though Bobby seemed to think highly of both he and Rusty.
"Lay off, dumbass," Danny replied, equally mildly. "I looked it up just now. Before, the guy only rated half a paragraph in the local paper. Now his daughter has a blog up with all the gory details."
"Huh. Anything else?"
"Not really. She's got more speculation than facts posted; claiming the spirit is an Indian Princess who was sacrificed ages ago and is trying to warn people about the fires--"
"That sounds pretty plausible, actually," Rusty broke in, grunting. His voice was muffled momentarily, and Sam decided that he was probably bending over, putting on his shoes or something. "Only I'd say 'priestess' is more likely than 'princess'. The beading would seem to support that. And if the guy who saw it is right about the spirit's emotions, then it probably is trying to warn people about the fire salamander."
"But why now?" Danny asked. "The fires have only started in the last month; the first was three weeks and five days ago. Before that... nothing."
"Construction," Rusty said, packing plenty of meaning into the one word. Then he went on to clarify. "Remember, you said they were building a monument in the woods? Tell me that they didn't do some heavy blasting just three weeks and six days ago. Tell me. Go on."
"Well, hell if I know!" Danny sounded aggravated. Then his tone calmed to contemplative. "We should go and check out the construction site, shouldn't we?"
Rusty didn't answer, but that was answer in itself. Sam tried to stifle a yawn, but he was unsuccessful. Well, he should probably stop playing 'possum anyhow, and wake Dean for some coffee. Then they could say goodbye to Danny and Rusty, get a hotel room somewhere else, and wait for Bobby to get to Troutdale.
"Good morning," Danny greeted cheerfully as Sam sat up, rubbing at his face. Dean rolled into the indent where Sam's body had been, let out a discontented sound, and began to wake. Danny was sitting crosslegged on the other bed, a laptop on his thighs, wearing a black turtleneck and grey sweatpants. Even with his hair a mess, he still managed to look sophisticated. And that was tough to carry off in sweatpants.
Rusty was sitting at the table, fully dressed, hair brushed, and looking as though he'd been up hours. Hell, he looked like he'd already gone for a run and showered, and he was stuffing the second half of a powder-covered donut in his mouth. He gave Sam a little wave, his eyes crinkling at the corners, and Sam was suddenly sure that he hadn't fooled either of the men with his little charade.
"We were wondering when you'd return to the world of the living," Danny continued evenly, closing his laptop and setting it aside. "There's coffee and donuts." He pointed at the table Rusty was seated beside, then stood and stretched.
"What time is it?" Sam mumbled, even as he turned his attention to the small clock between the beds. It read 10:47, and he tried to decide whether he felt guilty or gratified over having slept in so late.
"You both needed your rest," Rusty said, ignoring the query, since Sam had already answered it for himself. "No problem. But you might want to check your phone; it's been going off every half hour for the last three hours."
Before he had even done speaking, Sam had dived for the phone he'd left in his jacket pocket the night before. His jacket was slung over the duffels next to the door, and he fumbled a little, but dug it out quickly. Seven missed calls, and they were all from Missouri. Sam tried to calm his pounding heart, and he moved to call her back. If it wasn't their Dad or Bobby, it probably wasn't urgent, she was probably just checking on them. But he didn't want to leave her hanging, and if she did have new information, he needed to get it as quickly as possible.
Dean rolled off of the bed and headed right for the coffee pot on the table, which didn't surprise Sam. What did surprise him was the way Dean paused next to Rusty, gave him a shy smile, and murmured a low, "good morning."
"Morning," Rusty responded, also speaking quietly. His smile was small but genuine and he kept his body language easy and nonthreatening. Today he was wearing a button-up shirt over a white teeshirt, vibrant green paisley print on a field of pastel yellow-green, the sleeves rolled up to expose a black tattoo that twined around his left wrist and up his forearm. He was a handsome man, possessed of open, leonine features, clear blue eyes, and a mop of neatly gelled dark blonde hair. He was well built and muscular, older than Sam but younger than John. Just looking at him, Sam wanted to like and trust him, even against his better judgment.
The same was true of Danny as well, though he looked quite different than his partner. He was dark where Rusty was golden, with black hair dusted with silver at the temples and deep brown eyes surrounded by thick lashes. His features were less angular than Rusty's, a little more weathered -- though Sam didn't think he was as old as he looked; the silver in his hair was deceptive -- and he was more solid, just as well-built as Rusty but not as lean. He also seemed to have better fashion sense, from what Sam could tell.
They made a good match. And Sam wanted to trust them. He just... couldn't let go of his misgivings that easily. He wanted to like them, wanted them to give him a reason to trust them -- aside from the fact of finding Dean in the woods and taking care of him and contacting Sam -- and yet seeing Dean hovering so close to Rusty, the selfish, possessive big brother in him swelled, wanted to sweep Dean up and hide him away where they would never meet these strange Hunters again. Because he didn't want to share, dammit.
"Sam Winchester!" And then Missouri was yelling in his ear and his attention was dragged away from Dean and Rusty. It looked as though Dean was going to be okay, anyway, focused on his coffee and donuts. "Young man, I've a real mind to give you an earful!"
"I'm sorry!" Sam blurted, flopping to sit on the floor. He was still in his pajamas and there was a cold draft this close to the door, but he didn't have it in him to make any more of an effort. Not until he placated Missouri and woke up a little more thoroughly. "Sorry, Missouri!"
"Do you have any idea how worried I've been?!" she continued, more softly now, but that was even worse, because he could hear the anxiety and disappointment in her voice. "Something was wrong last night, I could feel it, but you're so far away that I couldn't tell what. I gave you time to call me, and around two in the morning I could sense that things got better, but...."
"I'm so sorry," Sam repeated, as fervently as he could. It seemed as though lately all he was doing was apologizing, begging people, or thanking them. Still, he had his Dean back, so he couldn't bring himself to mind too much. "If I'd known you were worried I'd have called, Missouri. But I didn't know that you could sense things from so far away."
"I wouldn't be able to, normally," she said, in a more moderate tone of voice. "But I'm trying to keep tabs on you boys, and even with Dean's shields, I've been inside his mind enough in the last two weeks that I sort of feel an echo, very faint but there."
"Owch," Sam grimaced. Then he flushed faintly, hoping that she hadn't been feeling that "echo" while he and Dean had been having sex....
"It doesn't work that way, Sam," she chuckled in his ear, and he wondered again if she was reading his mind over the phone, or if she was just following his logical train of thought. "Now, are you going to tell me what happened?"
"Uh, yeah," he replied, distracted because Dean had just brought him over a cup of coffee and a couple of donuts on a paper towel, then settled into his lap. He felt a little dumb, sitting there by the door, on the floor, talking on the phone, but it wasn't like he was going to be asking Dean to move or anything. And Missouri wanted to know what had gone wrong last night.
"Dean went wandering again last night," he explained, nuzzling his brother's temple in response to his soft, "sorry, Sammy." Danny was showing Rusty something on the laptop and neither one was looking in their direction, so Sam pressed a soft kiss to Dean's brow. "It wasn't your fault, Dean," he assured his brother, giving him a little squeeze. "I shouldn't have left you alone."
Speaking quietly, because Danny and Rusty didn't need to hear how dumb Sam had been, didn't need to know how vulnerable Dean was, he laid things out for Missouri. The other two Hunters seemed to be focused on the computer screen, arguing again, but not with any sense of earnestness. They reminded Sam more of how Dean and their Dad had gone back and forth over a Hunt, bouncing ideas off each other, feeling plans out for flaws. Back in the days before Sam had left for college. Before Dean had been captured by the Melusine and then taken by humans. Back when Dean hadn't been broken and damaged. Sam would never in a million years have thought back then that he'd ever consider those "the good old days".
"It definitely has to do with the presence that I sensed," Missouri mused, after Sam had told her about how Dean had said he'd heard singing. "But every time I try to get a feel for what's out there.... Well, to put it in physical terms, it's sort of like being in a very thick fog, where you can't see any further than your hand in front of your face. I just can't... see anything. And it's not just because of the distance. There's a power that's actively preventing me from taking a look."
"Is it dangerous?" was Sam's prime concern. Mainly he was worried about Dean, but he also didn't want Missouri stretching her abilities too far and getting hurt or worse for their sakes. And he knew that supernatural beings often lashed out when they felt they were being threatened, even when the initial contact might be entirely benign.
"No.... Yes?" Missouri sounded as confused as Sam felt. "Maybe. It's strange, Sam. There's a duality to it that I don't understand, that I can't explain. Is Bobby Singer on his way?"
"Good. Well, honey, you stay with those nice Hunters who found Dean until he gets there, and I know I don't have to tell you to keep an eye on your brother."
Sam didn't even dignify that with an answer. As she'd pointed out, it didn't even need to be said. On the other hand... "Are you sure?" he asked, glancing at Danny and Rusty, over Dean's head. Danny was vanishing into the bathroom with his clothes, and Rusty was starting a new pot of coffee, his cheeks chipmunked with what Sam assumed was more donuts. "I was thinking that Dean and I should get our own room...."
He actually meant their own room in a different hotel, far away from the Sandy River Inn, but he didn't want to say so when Rusty would hear him. He wondered if Missouri would pick up on that.
"It's not my place to direct you," she told him calmly. "But I know that I'd feel more comfortable knowing that you had someone to help you keep an eye on your brother until Bobby Singer got there. Just because I don't sense a threat from the power in your area, and just because Dean was all right last night, doesn't mean that he's not in danger, that you both might not be. Remember that your father has gone missing."
Sam bit back a curse, because she was right.
"Still, a room of your own might not be entirely amiss," Missouri continued thoughtfully. "Especially if Dean is still having trouble recognizing the reason he should be mindful our your personal space."
"Actually, we dealt with that," Sam informed her, trying to keep his words neutral and impossible to interpret. "But since it's kind of a problem for me, as well...."
Missouri chuckled, which Sam thought was definitely a good thing, considering that she'd initially called to bitch him out. "Well, just keep my advice in mind, Sam, honey. You and Dean may need your privacy, but you both need support too. And it sounds as though you've fallen in with some good men who can offer that."
"Are you sure?" Sam asked again, anxiously. He wanted to ask Missouri flat-out if he could trust Danny and Rusty, but since Rusty was puttering around the room, he didn't dare. Even though he had the distinct impression that Rusty wouldn't really mind; would actually be more amused by it than anything else.
"I am." And now Danny and Rusty had Bobby, Dean, and Missouri on their side. Dammit. Because Sam still didn't want to trust them.
"All right. Thanks," he said, stifling a heavy sigh. His ass was going numb, his feet were chilled, and if Dean didn't stop squirming in his lap, pretty soon he'd be popping a boner, and that just wasn't appropriate, given the situation they were in, and the fact that Danny and Rusty knew they were brothers. "Be careful sending out feelers, okay? But let me know if you turn anything up."
"The same to you, Sam," she instructed. "I won't bother you with phone calls anymore unless I have news, but I hope that you'll let me know if you have anything to tell me."
"I'll keep you updated," Sam assured her as Danny emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of scented steam. He was still wearing the black turtleneck, but now he had on a pair of dark grey jeans and a pair of black suede hiking boots. Between he and Rusty, Sam was feeling a little underdressed. And Dean definitely needed to be wearing more clothes!
"Take care of Dean," Missouri told him firmly. "And let him take care of you, too, Sam. It'll do you both good."
"Yes, ma'am," he responded, then said his goodbyes. "Get up, Dean," he urged, sticking his phone back in his jacket pocket. "I've got to go to the bathroom and we both need to get dressed."
"Sammy needs breakfast," Dean declared, clambering off his lap. He was evidently speaking to Danny and Rusty, and Sam flushed. He wasn't upset with Dean, was glad that his brother was able to talk to strange men instead of cowering in the corner, but he didn't like feeling like the child he hadn't been in a good fifteen years, who couldn't even take care of himself, much less watching out for Dean.
"So does Rusty," Danny responded smoothly, grinning but evidently as serious as Dean had been. He really was an attractive man, especially when he smiled. As was Rusty. Sam was straight -- aside from that part of him that was evidently sexually fixated on his brother -- but he recognized that fact and found himself hoping that Dean had not noticed. That was jealousy, pure and simple, and he knew it. He wasn't ashamed of it, either.
"After you're both ready to go, we'll all head out to eat," Rusty completed that thought, sipping at his fresh coffee. His eyes twinkled at them and Sam was pretty sure that he winked.
Sam had thought that the donuts were breakfast, but evidently they'd only been a warm up. He didn't even remember eating his, but he could taste the sweet tang of powdered sugar on his lips, competing with the bitterness of the coffee he vaguely remembered drinking, so he must have done.
"Are you okay with going out, Dean?" he asked as he collected their clothes and the bathroom supplies they would need. He hoped Danny and Rusty wouldn't mind the Winchester boys using their shower. They might have bathed Dean after bringing him back from the river the night before -- and didn't that thought make him heated and chilled at once with jealous, possessive rage -- but Sam hadn't had a chance, and after all his panic-sweat, not to mention sleeping in so late, he really needed to wash. "You weren't last night, remember?"
"I remember." Dean nodded solemnly, his plushy lips punched out in a thoughtful pout. "But last night was different than this morning."
"How so?" Sam wanted to know. This was something new, and he felt that he was justified in feeling a little trepidation. Also, he didn't want to get to the restaurant and find Dean changing his mind. If Dean really was doing that much better, that was great. But Sam wasn't going to quite believe in it until he saw it.
"It's...." Dean faltered, frowning. "I don't know. I just feel different. Better."
Sam's brows rose, but he certainly wasn't going to complain if that was the case. Picking up his empty coffee cup from where he'd left it on the floor by his duffel he set it on the table, shooting Danny and Rusty a quick smile of gratitude. He hoped it wasn't as much of a grimace as it felt. Then he shooed Dean ahead of him toward the bathroom.
Closing the door behind them, resisting the very powerful desire to lock it, he plopped their clothes on the counter and then drew Dean into his arms for a long, sweet "good morning" kiss. Dean had powdered sugar at the corners of his plush mouth, and Sam made sure to lick away every trace before he finally let his brother go.
"Sammy..." Dean breathed, his eyes heavy-lidded, his cheeks flushed pink. God, he looked tempting. Sinfully tempting. But....
"Dean, we can't," Sam said regretfully, keeping his voice low enough that it couldn't be heard outside the bathroom.
"Tease." Dean wrinkled his nose at Sam, but he didn't seem terribly serious about it. He licked his plump pink lips and stripped out of his clothes in a blink, and Sam swallowed tightly, thinking that it was Dean who was the tease, whether he meant to be or not. Of course, it would take a hell of a lot to keep Sam from wanting to tumble his brother. He still wanted to, but the two Hunters on the other side of the door kept him from acting on his overwhelming desires. Even though his dick was standing up, taking an interest in the proceedings, there was no way they could be quiet enough to get away with it undetected. It seemed a shame to take a shower without its usual happy ending, but, again, there wasn't much choice.
All the more reason to get them their own room, then. Sighing heavily, Sam started the water and got it to the proper temperature. Fortunately both he and Dean liked their showers hot; though a cold shower might be more appropriate for both of them right now. Sam wasn't the only one who was hard.
Dean didn't seem too put out, or inclined to insist that they fool around. As disappointing as that was on a visceral level, Sam was glad, because it meant that their talk two days ago had sunk in.
None of that meant that they couldn't kiss and caress while soaping each other up, of course. Sam hoped they'd get all their dangerous need for physical affection out of the way before heading out into public... but it wasn't really that simple, was it? Because touching Dean had become as necessary to him as breathing, occasionally more necessary than eating. It was just fortunate that so far Danny and Rusty didn't seem to mind that the two Winchester brothers were so touchy-feely.
Well, it wasn't as though Sam had told them about what had happened to Dean, with the Melusine and his human captors, but surely they could both tell that he wasn't quite right, had been through something horrible. And that alone would explain away a lot.
This was what Sam was going to tell himself, anyway.
It had only been about two weeks since their Dad had cut Dean's hair, but Sam could swear that it was already longer. He washed it for Dean, taking care not to get shampoo in his brother's eyes, taking advantage of the chance to run his hands over Dean's scalp, touching him with tenderness and love.
Dean raised his chin for another kiss as Sam rinsed out the last of the conditioner, but then they really had to get out of the shower. Sam was starving and he knew that Dean was probably hungry too, and it was likely that Danny and Rusty were getting impatient.
Once out of the shower, Sam dressed them both warmly, in layers. It was colder here than it had been in Kansas, and after the chill he'd gotten last night, Dean needed to be kept warm. Dean pouted a little over not being allowed to wear Sam's shirt, but Sam reminded him that they would be going out in public and he relented.
"Sure thing, Bobby," Rusty was saying into his phone when the Winchester boys emerged. He was grinning broadly, and gave them a little salute. "Yeah, no problem. Should be done by the time you get here."
"Was that Bobby Singer?" Sam asked tightly as Rusty hung up with a brisk snap. Danny already had the car keys dangling from his fingers, both men standing, but the Winchesters weren't going anywhere until Sam's fears had been put to rest. He really hated being talked about behind his back.
"It was," Rusty verified easily enough. "We needed some help figuring out how to take out that fire salamander. He had just the thing."
Danny rolled his eyes as Sam stared suspiciously, not sure he entirely believed that. "You would like this plan."
"I do," Rusty confirmed, smirking at his partner. Then he turned his attention fully to Sam, his smile softening into something friendly. "Bobby thinks he'll get here around five tonight. But he's not coming to Troutdale right off; he says he's going to go straight to Corbett first."
Sam frowned, not liking that Rusty now knew so much about their situation, that Bobby had evidently confided in them. "I wish he'd called me," he said, aware that he sounded petulant, but unable to help himself.
"He probably did," Rusty said, as Danny strode to the door and opened it. "Your phone rang a couple of times while you were in the shower. I called Bobby just to get some help with this critter we've run up against, and he asked me to pass the word on to you."
Sam nodded, unable to fault that logic. There would probably be a voicemail from Bobby, telling him exactly what Rusty had just told him. "Oh. Okay."
"Food, Sammy," Dean urged, tugging at his arm, dragging him toward the parking lot. When Danny had opened the door, he'd shoved the Winchesters' bags behind it, and now, since he was standing there, holding the door open, there was no way Sam would be able to nonchalantly grab their things on the way out without making a big production of it. Dammit.
"Do you want to ride along?" Rusty asked, following them as they left the hotel room. Sam blinked, squinting in the fierce daylight. There were clouds on the eastern horizon, but the sky overhead was clear and the sun was shining brightly. "Would save you some gas and some trouble following us. The way Danny drives...."
"Oh, ha-ha," Danny interrupted, scowling at his partner. "What about all those unflattering comparisons to a blue-haired granny being flung around in the car on the way through Detroit?"
"That's my point," Rusty replied blithely. "Who wants to get stuck behind a grandma-driver when they're in that?" he indicated the Impala, a suitably impressed look on his face to indicate that he'd meant his words as a compliment to the vehicle.
Sam felt like he was listening to an old married couple bickering, but for some reason it didn't make him feel uncomfortable. Danny and Rusty were just so damned approachable. And that was another thing that made him want to distance himself from them. It would be all too easy to trust them.
"Thanks for the offer," he put in, trying to sound as neutral as possible. "But I think we'll take our car." What he didn't say was that he hadn't liked driving it alone last night, without his brother curled up close by his side, and he was ready to overwrite those memories. Besides, even though their stuff was now locked in Danny and Rusty's hotel room, Sam didn't care for the idea of leaving Dean's car behind, of essentially being at the mercy of these strange Hunters.
Rusty shrugged easily and Danny was already climbing into their battered old car. "We're headed for the Pig 'N Poke," Rusty directed, opening the passenger door but pausing there a moment.
Sam snorted and Dean snickered. Rusty smirked. "Laugh if you will, but they make the best strawberry crepes this side of the Rockies."
"Hurry up, Sammy," Dean urged, crawling into the Impala and bouncing on the seat. Sam couldn't bite back a little chuckle, loving his brother just a tiny bit more in that moment, if that were possible. Dean really was doing better, Sam was happy to see.
He was still a little concerned about how Dean would do at the restaurant. But he wouldn't know until they got there. None of them would.
Sam needn't have worried. Dean was silent when they entered the Pig 'N Poke -- no, Rusty hadn't been joshing them, that was really what the place was called -- but flanked on all sides by three tall, broad, strong men he seemed to feel safe. A quiet word from Danny to the hostess and they got a nice booth in the back corner of the restaurant. Sam only hoped that they wouldn't be forgotten back here, but it was worth it if Dean felt sheltered.
And then when Sam saw the way Danny flirted easily with their waitress, the way she flirted back, the way she was eyeing all of them except Dean, he figured being forgotten wasn't a big danger. So he let himself relax and read the menu.
It was closer to lunch time now, but Rusty and Dean insisted on getting breakfast items. Dean wanted pancakes and eggs and bacon and toast and sausage. Rusty got much the same, only french toast instead of pancakes, and a serving of those crepes he had lauded before they had set out. That was way more sugar than Sam could countenance. He settled for choosing a chicken salad sandwich with coleslaw. Danny went all out and ordered a philly steak sandwich, even though Rusty claimed that was blasphemy this far West, with steak fries and an extra side of onion rings. They all had coffee. Almost as an afterthought, Sam ordered some orange juice for Dean and intended to make sure that his brother drank it.
Their orders placed and their coffee mugs filled, they settling into the booth seats and all glanced around at each other.
"I... I don't think I ever said thank you," Sam said, trying not to sound reluctant. It wasn't that he wasn't grateful; he just didn't feel comfortable showing any kind of weakness in front of the two Hunters. Even if expressing gratitude wasn't a weakness, really. "For finding Dean and for getting a hold of me so quickly. And for letting us stay in your room."
"Not a problem," Danny waved his hand, and the way he said it, it really seemed as though it wasn't a big deal. "We owe Dean our lives, so it was the least we could do."
Sam nodded absently, chewing on his lower lip. He wondered how much to tell Danny and Rusty. Bobby seemed to consider them allies, not just an incidental meeting, but Sam wasn't going to be foolish enough to assume that they'd be willing to help the Winchesters a second time. Especially when they had no idea what they were up against.
"You don't have to tell us anything you don't want to," Danny continued, as though reading Sam's mind. His smile was soft and disarming as he sipped his coffee, but Sam couldn't help tensing. "I think Rusty has some things to tell you, though."
Sam turned his attention to Rusty. Rusty's focus was on his brother, and that made Sam twitch. He wanted to tell Rusty to stop staring, but that would just be beyond rude, and into obsessive, possessive, pretty much psychotic behavior.
Dean didn't seem fazed, draining his own coffee mug and reaching around Sam for the pot their waitress had left, in order to fill it again. They'd seated him on the inside of the booth, the tall back of the bench seat reaching above his head. He was completely sheltered from the rest of the restaurant, and except for their waitress, the only faces he'd see until they were ready to leave would be his brother and the two Hunters he'd rescued the night before.
"There is something big and bad after you," Rusty said after a weighted pause, leaning forward, those piercing eyes pinned on Dean.
Dean stared back levely. "I know," he replied earnestly, wrapping both hands around his mug. "I can feel her calling, even if I can't remember...." He trailed away, licking his lips, seemingly unsure of where that sentence had been going.
"But there's something else," Rusty continued, frowning, his face creasing. Neither he nor Danny was young, but they were both full of vitality and strength. Sam knew they'd make valuable allies if he could just bring himself to trust them. But then, why should they want to involve themselves in Sam and Dean's problems? They probably wouldn't, right?
"Do you know what is after Dean?" he asked urgently. Because so far he had no real clues. It was female, supernatural, likely was not the Melusine, and was very powerful. That was all the information he had now, and that really wasn't much to go on.
Oh, and "she", whoever she was, seemed to have captured their father.
Rusty was shaking his head, looking rueful. "Not as such, no. It's a feminine force, as Dean has indicated. It has nothing whatsoever to do with this Hunt that Danny and I are on. And it's bigger than all of us combined. I think you're going to need our help."
And now it was out there. And Sam wasn't ready to accept, but he knew it would be incredibly stupid to reject the offered aid out of hand. Bobby really would tear him a new one if he blew Danny and Rusty off just because he couldn't stand to have them around Dean.
"It might be dangerous," he hedged. "Our father has already gone missing."
"I know," Rusty nodded, with a mild grimace. Sam's arms prickled with gooseflesh, because that was taking things a little too far. It was one thing for Rusty to know that there was something after Dean, but their Dad had vanished two days ago, if Sam's dream and Dean's words had been any indication. How did Rusty--?
"Rusty has these dreams, you see," Danny put in, and he looked as uncomfortable with the whole conversation as Sam felt. "Not visions, per se, but...."
Rusty was frowning, but not at Danny, and he didn't seem put out, just contemplative. "I knew long before your father got to Corbett that he was headed for trouble. I even sent him a warning."
Danny snorted, quite loudly, and Rusty slanted him an irritated look. "Some fucking warning," Danny put in scathingly.
"Oh, bite me," Rusty replied easily, and Sam felt something in his chest that had been drawing tight suddenly loosen.
It wasn't that he suddenly, magically trusted these men. But they were just so... they reminded him so much of himself and Dean before he had left for Stanford. They were just guys, who Hunted and who relied utterly on each other, who had offered to help the Winchesters even though one of them was certain that it was going to be dangerous, even though common sense should have told them to leave well enough alone.
He still didn't like the idea of them around Dean. Didn't like the idea of Dean trusting them and maybe even touching them. But he realized that it was not only selfish but also incredibly stupid of him to try to keep Dean away from all human contact. Dean needed to heal and if he felt safe with Danny and Rusty -- as he obviously did -- then Sam could not go out of his way to keep them separated. Especially when Dean seemed to be doing so much better.
"So, we know there's something after Dean, and we know that your Dad has been taken," Danny laid out, taking a drink of his water, his gaze focused more on Sam than Dean, though he wasn't leaving the younger Winchester out of the conversation. "But that's about all the information we have. Was there anything more that you could tell us?"
Sam squirmed. On the one hand, he'd decided it'd be dumb not to take Danny and Rusty up on their offer of aid. On the other hand, he hated to give too much away; words and knowledge that couldn't be taken back.
"We're not asking you to tell us anything you don't want to," Rusty put in, his reasonable tone making Sam feel like a world-class dick. "We don't need or want to know anything that isn't connected to your current problems. But if there's anything you can tell us that would help us to help you...?"
"It's all right, Sammy," Dean said, nudging Sam in the ribs, and he closed the mouth he had opened with a snap.
"I'm not--" he began to protest automatically, then he shut up again as the waitress arrived with their food. "Let's wait until we're back at the hotel to talk about it," he hedged, buying himself some time. He wanted to go over it in his head, decide what to tell them and what could be left out of the narrative. He was ready to trust Danny and Rusty, but he wasn't going to trust them unconditionally.
"Sure thing," Danny agreed, stealing one of Rusty's slices of bacon. He got himself a hearty smack to the back of his hand, but stuffed it in his mouth unrepentantly. "And in the meantime, we had a favor to ask of you."
Sam paused in the act of lifting his sandwich to his mouth. "What?"
He could have kicked himself for how defensive and ungracious he sounded. He didn't have to, though; Dean did it for him.
Ignoring his tone and replying to the question, Danny continued. "Well, this Hunt we're on has turned out to be more than we'd expected. We came for a simple salt-and-burn, but now we're facing an elemental beastie; one who wasn't destroyed even when Dean dumped a swimming pool's worth of water on it. We got some advice from Bobby, but the more Hunters we can get on this, the better off we'll be; the better off this town will be."
"We'll help," Dean chimed in immediately. His plate was nearly empty, and he was eyeing the untouched half of Sam's sandwich. "Right Sammy?"
"We're not Hunters," Sam stated flatly. It was one thing to accept Danny and Rusty's help -- in theory only, at this point -- but it was another entirely to risk Dean's safety, his health. He was grateful to the two men, both for finding and caring for Dean the night before and for offering their aid now, but the level of repayment for his gratitude began and ended with what he felt Dean was able to handle. "I haven't been on a Hunt for almost three years, and Dean...."
"Sammy, we have to help," Dean broke in fervently. "They helped me, and--"
"I won't do anything that will put Dean in danger," Sam laid it out in plain terms. It made him feel a little better when he saw that Rusty was nodding.
"We wouldn't ask you to," Danny said, thick brows rising. "We were just hoping for someone to do some of the research while we do the grunt work. Thanks to Bobby we have a plan, but if we want to stop this thing before someone dies, like we almost did last night, we need to act fast."
"I suppose that'd be okay..." Sam said slowly. Not grudgingly, but it felt weird to be jumping into a Hunt after two years in Stanford; and someone else's Hunt to boot.
"I can do the research," Dean interrupted, and he sounded pissed. Sam twisted to look at his brother incredulously, while Danny blinked in mild surprise from across the table. Rusty was finishing the last of the steak fries off of Danny's plate and steadfastly staying out of things.
"What?" He raised his chin, glaring at Sam. "I still know how to read, Sammy. I know where we are and I know what happened in the woods last night. I can see patterns and track down information. I'm not stupid."
Sam flinched as Dean practically spat out that last word, but he was mainly concerned with the tears that he could see springing into his brother's eyes. He hadn't meant to hurt Dean's feelings, hadn't meant to express his doubt. He was just so used to Dean being so broken that now that he was doing better, he hadn't had time to adjust his mindset.
"I'm sorry, Dean," he said humbly, reaching and grabbing Dean's smaller hand and squeezing. "I just didn't want to.... All right, you help with the research and I'll see if I can help with the grunt work. Okay?"
Dean snuffled a little and blinked, the tears catching damp in his lashes, but the potential meltdown seemed to have been diverted, and he nodded. Sam breathed a sigh of relief. Dean had never been this emotionally fragile before. Or maybe he always had been, and he had just hidden it better before he'd been taken by the Melusine and damaged by those human bastards. Either way, he was easily upset now, and Sam was going to have to keep that in mind.
"I can help," Dean repeated, defiant, but the little hiccough at the end of the sentence giving him away.
"We'd really appreciate that," Danny said to Dean, his voice warm and not condescending in the least.
"Will that be everything, boys?" their waitress purred, already setting the bill on the table despite the query.
"Yes, thanks," Danny replied with a broad grin, snagging the slip of paper before Sam could. After the waitress -- who wasn't unattractive, and might actually have been Dean's type, "before" -- had sauntered away, he nudged Rusty and chuckled. "I think this is for you," he murmured, pointing to the phone number penciled in at the top of the bill.
Rusty's mouth twitched and he quirked a brow. "You were the one flirting," he said, giving Danny a little shove to start him out of the booth.
"I was just being friendly," Danny protested, obediently rising and heading toward the front register to pay. Sam hadn't even had a chance to offer to cover his meal and Dean's.
"And that is why we get into trouble everywhere we go," Rusty grumbled as he moved to follow his partner. Sam wasn't sure whether the man was speaking to him or not, so he settled for helping Dean out of the booth and guiding him carefully through the crowded restaurant. He could sympathize; that was how Dean had used to be. But not anymore. He wanted that Dean back, but it was no good wishing for impossible things.
And, he had to admit, that he liked the Dean that he had now. Even though this Dean worried him and scared him and made him feel responsible and helpless by turns. He also made him feel strong and supportive, loving and loved.... This new Dean was so open and he didn't hide his feelings from Sam. While Sam would have been happy if the last two years hadn't happened and Dean was still giving him shit and teasing him and embarrassing him in public, he couldn't deny that he also adored the brother that had gone through that abhorrent torture and had come out the other side different, changed, but still the same person, still his Dean at the heart of it.
"Thank you for getting breakfast... lunch... whatever that was," Sam said awkwardly as they walked back to the two cars. "Let me get lunch... or dinner. Okay?"
"That'd be good," Rusty responded as Danny just grinned over his shoulder and slid on a pair of sunglasses in response to the bright sun, before he got into the car, on the passenger side this time. "Meet you back at the hotel."
Rusty got into the driver's seat, and Sam was grinning all the way back to the Sandy River Inn. For all his complaints about Danny's driving, it was really Rusty who was the more conservative of the two. Sam didn't think he'd ever seen anyone who actually slowed down for a yellow light before!
At least he didn't have any trouble following them back.
"Here it is," Dean announced, after spending less than half an hour on Danny's laptop. He lifted his head triumphantly, pointing at the screen.
"You found something?" Sam queried, looking up from his cell phone in surprise. He'd tried calling their Dad again. Nothing. He'd tried calling Bobby, but he wasn't picking up. He'd deleted his voicemails from Missouri, and had just been sending Jess a text message so that she wouldn't call him, when Dean had made his bold declaration.
"I'm not completely useless," Dean said, with a dryness that stunned Sam, that left him with his mouth hanging open.
"I-- I didn't say you--" he sputtered, too rattled to finish his sentence.
"What did you find?" Rusty asked, moving to peer over Dean's shoulder at the screen. Danny was out, getting "supplies" for the Hunt, but Rusty had stayed in the hotel. Sam wanted to go and get a room for himself and Dean, but Dean had settled in to do research and no way was he leaving his brother alone with anyone, even Rusty, who seemed trustworthy but was a man. So that was delayed a little.
"It's all right here," Dean replied, sliding off the chair and padding over to Sam, who was sitting on the bed they'd slept in the night before. Rusty sat down in the vacated chair and began reading as Dean moved between Sam's thighs and leaned into him. Sam wrapped his arms around his brother and pressed his mouth to one sharp cheekbone.
"Ah-hah," Rusty verbalized, a huge grin splitting his lips, flashing white teeth. "Thanks, Dean! That's perfect!"
"What is it?" Sam asked curiously.
Rusty sat back and dragged his hands through his hair, still smiling. "Seems that the blasting three weeks ago uncovered an ancient Native American grave site. So they moved construction of the monument a half a mile East. Huh." Rusty grunted and squinted at the screen. "Must be privately funded, or else it'd still be wrapped up in red tape. Anyway, it's a good thing we didn't go to the current site; we would've been wasting our time."
"And the grave site?" Sam prompted, though he thought he could see where this was going.
"A single grave, holding the remains of what looks to be a Native American priestess," Rusty confirmed. "The body's been moved to Mt Hood Community College until they can decide who it belongs to, and the site's been cordoned off. I'll bet you anything that somewhere there is the entrance to the fire salamander's lair."
Sam pondered this. "And the priestess...."
"Was probably sacrificed to restrain the creature," Rusty posited. "And she probably did her job for centuries. Until our local construction crew came in with their explosives and broke the seal, woke it up, what have you."
"And she's hanging around, trying to stop it, trying to warn people, but not able to do anything," Sam filled in the rest. "That's why she's been seen in the vicinities of the fires."
"That's sad," Dean said, resting against Sam's shoulder, not seeming to hold a grudge over his feelings behind hurt earlier. "She feels like she died for nothing, now."
"Well, we'll help her out," Rusty avowed cheerfully. "We'll take out the fire salamander and then see what we can do to set her spirit to rest."
"Great job, Dean," Sam murmured, squeezing his brother and kissing his temple. It didn't matter whether Rusty saw, he was overflowing with love, and Dean needed a moment of comfort. It wasn't as though he'd kissed him on the lips, after all.
"Toldja I could help." Dean hugged him back, and Sam wondered if now was a good time to get their own room. Because it'd been well over twenty-four hours since the last time they'd had sex, and he couldn't exactly tumble Dean right here in Danny and Rusty's room. That would probably traumatize Rusty for life
Or, even worse, he might want to join in. And that thought was enough to traumatize Sam.
Yeah, it was definitely time for their own room!
Running pale fingers through his curly dark hair, tracing the lines carved deeply into his face even in repose, she marveled. From these loins had sprung such beauty, such power. And yet it was perhaps not such a wonder. It was coarse, earthly, but he held his own fascination, his own beauty and strength.
He had made such wondrous children. He could yet make more. She could envision it; offspring gifted with his solid strength, blessed with her beauty and power, perhaps even her immortality.... Begotten and born in that place where mortals and immortals met....
It was easy to see why he had been desired. Not as much so as his eldest child, of course, but if that exquisite creature was out of reach, then he might make a good substitution.
The point was incontrovertible, now, though. The child of this warrior had returned. Come back to that place he had escaped two turning of the seasons ago. It was like it was meant to be... only she had never believed in inevitability. If immortality had taught her anything, if her interactions with humans had showed her anything, it was that there was always free will, that choices could always be made.
That was why she was here. That was why this mortal was here. And that was why things were about to get very messy, very quickly.
It was a good thing that she had always functioned best in chaos. Because nothing was going to stop the coming conflict. And that was the only thing about this entire situation that she knew to be inevitable.