glasslogic: (Fortress)
[personal profile] glasslogic







Section II


“So, why this woman?” Sam asked late the next morning around a mouthful of toaster pastry. Dean opened his eyes and gave his brother an unfriendly look. He was sitting on the bare ground next to a fresh mound of dirt, and Sam, with his strawberry poptarts and curiosity, was not welcome.

“So glad you could join me; you missed the burial,” Dean said instead of answering.

Sam looked distinctly un-guilty. “I was sleeping. Was it a nice service?”

“Bobby dropped me twice hauling me out of that fucking freezer!”

“Did anything snap off like it does in the movies?”

Dean glared. “It took me half an hour to dig this hole by myself.”

“A whole thirty minutes to dig a grave; I’m just crying on the inside.”

“You’re going to be crying on the outside if you don’t quit bugging me.”

Sam sat on the ground next to him instead. He held out one of the poptarts like a peace offering. After a moment, Dean grudgingly accepted.

“Why this woman?” Sam repeated. “She can’t have been the only one, wherever you found her.”

Dean glanced at the bracelet he still wore on one wrist. “County Regional? It’s that big hospital down--”

“I know where it is.”

Dean shrugged. “It was hard to feel my way around. I could have looked for a long-term care place, but I was in a hurry by that point. I wanted a body that I didn’t have to do much rebuilding on. Hospitals don’t usually keep these kind of vegetative patients on hand, so there wasn’t exactly a lot of selection. It was this one, an eighty-year-old stroke victim, or a guy in his twenties who probably weighed as much as both of us combined. All things considered, I figured this would work out best.”

“So she hadn’t been there long?”

“I didn’t examine her file, Sam. The bracelet says she’s been there about a month. Long enough to look like a vampire and start losing some tone, not long enough to require a complete system overhaul.”

“And she was brain dead.”

“Yup. Now go bother Bobby or something, I’ve got work to do.”

Sam ate his poptart in contemplative silence for a few minutes. He hadn’t wanted to bury Dean’s body, but now Dean was sitting beside him and Sam was less concerned with the location of his physical remains.

“Things seem better today,” Sam said abruptly, disrupting Dean, who had just started to sink back into his trance.

“We did our little thing yesterday,” Dean said absently, still only half paying attention. “Of course things are better for you.”

“I don’t mean that, though thanks. I always appreciate not dying.”

“Not always.”

Sam rolled his eyes, but the clear mid-morning skies and the bright sunlight kept the darkness of those memories at bay. “I usually appreciate not dying. Happy?”

“Sure. What are we talking about?”

“The curse; it’s like it was before. But… almost before, before. You know? I can feel you, but it’s not oppressive. I don’t feel like I’m being smothered or something. It’s just… better.”

“I’m trying, Sam. Maybe we can work something out, get some advice from Missouri or a book, ‘Metaphysical Auras For Dummies.’ For now I’m just building barricades on my end, trying to keep some psychic space between us. We’ll see how they hold.”

“Is that dangerous?”

“Not as dangerous as letting you mess with your end, obviously,” Dean snorted. “It might make me miss some things I wouldn’t have before; I might be slower to pick up stuff. A little fuzzy around the edges. It’ll be fine.”

“Until it isn’t.”

“That’s about the best you can usually hope for, Sam.”

Sam nodded. He wasn’t happy about crippling Dean, but he wasn’t willing to trade his newfound autonomy for it either. Yet. He motioned towards the pile of loose dirt just beyond their feet. “How long is this going to take?”

“Well gee, Sam. I’m having to repair putrefaction, freezer damage, oh yeah-- and everything is just dripping with Order. I can’t imagine whose fault that is.”

“Probably from being frozen.”

“What?”

“The dripping part.”

Dean’s borrowed fists tightened. “You should get away from me right now.”

Sam made a show of standing slowly, stretching, and sauntering casually back across the field. Dean could hear him whistling-- badly-- as he vanished into the house.

~~~~~

Dean stayed outside in the field beside the burial until dark. He would have stayed all night, but there were needs that weighed heavily on his borrowed body. For one thing, it seemed to be always hungry. Bobby was grilling outside, and Dean’s stomach had been growling for over an hour before he finally detangled himself from the tedium of cellular repair and headed back to the house. Rough gravel cut into the tender soles of his feet, but the effort to fix bruises was less annoying than clomping around in oversized shoes.

He made an effort to brush off the dried grass and dirt that clung to his skin where the shorts didn’t cover. None of the clothes Bobby had brought back from a thrift store had really fit, but they fit well enough to stay on and didn’t bother him much.

Hair was another matter. Dean found his long hair irritating to wash and irritating to wear, and really irritating in bed when it got tangled in hands and stuck to sweaty skin, but when he’d grabbed a convenient pair of scissors in the kitchen, Sam made a small noise that sounded like protest. Dean raised an eyebrow at him and Sam only shrugged, but Dean ended up leaving the long strands alone. It was a decision he regretted less once Sam handed him a rubber band and he was able to tie the mess of it up out of his way.

“Burgers?” He could hear Bobby on the phone in the hallway. The conversation sounded tense, but Dean wasn’t interested in run-of-the-mill hunting business and didn’t bother to eavesdrop like he might have in another lifetime.

Sam handed him a plate. “I wasn’t sure you were going to come in. I was about to bring this out.”

“Afraid I might starve?”

“Wanted to make sure you hadn’t been eaten by coyotes.”

Dean snorted at the idea.

Sam sat across from him at the table. “Are you going back out tonight?”

“No reason not to.” Dean helped himself to a handful of chips off Sam’s plate. “The sooner I finish, the sooner we can get back to business. I forgot what a pain in the ass a living body is. I’m cold, I’m hot, I’m itchy, I’m thirsty. It never ends.”

“You thinking of doing something--”

“Terminal?” Dean finished with a raised eyebrow. He dropped his carrot sticks on Sam’s plate and grabbed a few more chips before Sam scowled and moved the plate out of his reach. “No, it’s not nearly as much of a pain as your whining would be if I did that. Besides, it’s not that I don’t usually feel these things, it’s just not usually important that I respond to them. My usual body’s not alive like this one, but I still run it like a living system.”

Sam let that pass without comment, turning attention to demolishing his own plate of food. What Dean had left unmolested, anyways.

Bobby stormed through the kitchen a moment later, grabbed his jacket from a hook and vanished through the door with a growled, “I’m going out.”

The truck started a moment later.

“That can’t be good,” Dean observed.

Sam shrugged, still concentrating on his food, but Dean didn’t miss the occasional furtive glance in his direction.

“Did you want something?” Dean finally asked.

“Nope.”

“Uh huh. So what did you do today?”

“Washed clothes, cleaned a gun and looked for any reports on your little medical miracle.”

“Anything?”

“Not really. The internet mentioned her being in some kind of car accident, but it wasn’t big news when it happened so that’s just a blurb. They didn’t even spell her name right. They ran her picture on the five o’clock news today with a request for information on any sightings, but not really any details.” Sam hesitated. “There was an interview with her fiancé. Mostly him just crying and begging for the public’s help.”

“Oh, I’m sure.”

“The guy’s messed up, Dean. Wouldn’t you be? First she’s brain dead, and then she just gets up and walks out and vanishes into the night! This has got be tearing him up.”

“He’ll get over it,” Dean said, unconcerned. “Did you get the car cleaned out?”

Sam didn’t look like he was quite done with the previous topic, but he let it drop. There wasn’t any place for the conversation to go. The woman was dead, and it wasn’t like Dean could offer the guy any kind of resolution. Having the demon inhabiting his vegetative fiancée’s body call up and insult him was unlikely to provide the kind of closure he needed.

“I’m willing to share a lot of bodily fluids with you, Dean, but I’m not touching the trunk. Your body, your mess.”

“I didn’t stuff me in there!”

“I used a tarp. Your tarp,” Sam said heartlessly. “It’s not my fault if it had a rip.”

“You owe me,” Dean retorted. “A little matter of a sanctified freezer and an unnatural aversion to honest labor.”

“Do you really want to get into who owes who after this last little adventure?” Sam demanded. “You got a little turned around and have to wear a girl for awhile. You left me in a motel room with a corpse and I almost died.”

“You caused the problem in the first place!”

“I didn’t tell you to take your disembodied ass on a cross-country adventure!”

“Do we have any more burgers?”

“No,” Sam growled.

Dean got up to rummage through the fridge, but he was aware of Sam’s eyes on his back the entire time. It felt almost… contemplative. And not like Sam was contemplating violence. Dean was exasperated enough to feel around the edges of their connection, not really invading his brother’s privacy, more just… sampling the flavor of whatever was on the surface.

And what was there was very interesting.

Dean closed the fridge without grabbing anything and turned to face Sam, but Sam had his nose buried firmly in a magazine. Still with the sidelong glances though. Dean shrugged inwardly and pulled his t-shirt off. Bras were not something Bobby had been successful in obtaining, and Dean had a whole new appreciation for why women wore them, but it wasn’t worth a trip to town to pick up one that would fit. Too risky.

“What are you doing?” Sam asked in a strangled tone.

“If you’re going to look, you might as well get the entire view.”

“Jesus, Dean. I wasn’t--”

“Ogling me?”

“No, I mean--”

“Chill, Sam. It’s new, it’s different, it’s a nice looking body. Speaking of which: Bobby’s gone.”

Sam blinked and tore his gaze back to Dean’s face. “So?”

“So…” Dean raised an eyebrow and gave a meaningful look towards the stairs.

Considering how hard it usually was to coax Sam into bed, it was almost irritating how fast he accepted.

~~~~~

“It’s interesting,” Dean commented to the ceiling half an hour later.

“What is?” Sam mumbled into his pillow. He was stretched out on his belly, one arm thrown over Dean’s waist. The bed really wasn’t big enough for the both of them, but Deborah May fit more comfortably against Sam’s side than Dean usually did in the cramped space.

“Casual sex. No curse, no angsty whining. Almost like I remember.” He glanced down at himself. His ghost-pale skin was already showing faint bruises where things had gotten a little over enthusiastic. The curve of his breast, the swell of his hip. There was a faded white line low on Dean’s stomach, an old caesarian scar. Dean wasn’t sure Sam had noticed, or would know what it was if he did. Dean knew, but he had advantages that he had no intention of sharing with Sam. “The details are a little different.”

Sam propped himself up on one elbow. “We’ve had sex when we didn’t have to before.”

“Not like this.”

“Well, no, not like this.” Sam splayed the fingers of his free hand over the sweep of Dean’s ribcage. It was a possessive gesture, and most unusual from Sam. Overt possessiveness only tended to run one way in their relationship.

Dean lay still for a moment, then rolled his eyes and shoved at Sam’s arm until he was free to sit up. “You know what I’m talking about. We have sex outside of the curse on the odd alternate Tuesday because you’re a healthy guy and I’m the only game in town for you, but you don’t really want to. Not like you wanted to now.”

“I don’t remember you complaining.”

“I’m not; I just said it was interesting.” Dean climbed off the end of the bed and went to the bathroom across the hall to clean up. He came back a few minutes later with a damp washcloth he tossed to Sam and bent to gather up his clothes.

Sam made quick work with the washcloth and dropped it on his own discarded shirt. He planned to shower before he got dressed again. “You going?”

“I’ve got work to do, Sam.”

“It can’t wait until morning?”

“Morning, evening, it’s all the same.” Dean was distracted looking for his shorts. It was a tiny room; they couldn’t have gone that far. Sam sat up and untangled the missing garment from the bedding. Dean muttered a thanks as he took them.

“It’s just--”

“Just what, Sam? Were you serious about the coyotes earlier? Because I’ve got to tell you, it’s only humans I’m fooling. There’s not a self-respecting coyote, bear, wolf, cougar, hungry housecat, stray dog or anything else you can think of that will get near me. I’m as safe in that field as I am in this bed.”

“Right but… that body still needs rest. If you think it’s irritating now, just wait until it’s literally half-dead from exhaustion.”

“I’m not planning to be in it that long.”

“You said weeks, Dean. Remember what it used to feel like when you didn’t sleep just for a day or two?”

“No, but I know how bitchy you get when you miss a few hours. I can compensate for physical tiredness.”

“Which just takes more of your energy.”

Dean crossed his arms and eyed his brother appraisingly. “What’s this really about?”

Sam scooted over until his back was pressed against the wall, leaving half the bed free. “You need sleep… and I don’t like the idea of you sitting out there all night alone.”

“I’m not in any danger, Sam.” He paused. “You wouldn’t have cared before.”

“Yeah,” Sam met his eyes, “I would have.”

The ghost of a smile touched Dean’s lips. “Maybe. You sure it’s not the girl thing?”

Sam rolled his eyes. “It’s a ‘get over here and sleep’ thing, Dean. I don’t have an agenda except not having to put up with your bad attitude when not-sleeping bites you in the ass. Besides, it’s cold. Bed’s warmer with two.”

“Bobby’s insulation sucks,” Dean agreed. He sat on the edge of the bed. “One of us should probably go wash up in the kitchen. Seeing as we’re freeloading guests and all. It’d be inconvenient for Bobby to decide to throw us out.”

Sam grabbed his arm and pulled until Dean was lying beside him on the ancient mattress. It did feel nice to stretch out, though Dean would have cut off a hand before he admitted it to Sam.

“I’ll cook breakfast in the morning,” Sam said. “Make some pancakes and clean up then. We’ve almost ended the world, turned half his junkyard to dust when you were more out of your mind than usual last year, and I showed up last week with a corpse in the trunk. Not to mention all the crap Dad pulled when we were kids. Bobby’s not going to kick us out over dishes. Get the light?”

Dean glanced at the alarm clock on the nightstand as he reached to turn off the lamp. “It’s kind of early for bed, isn’t it?”

“I’m old.” Sam threw his arm over Dean’s waist again and settled into his pillow with an air of great satisfaction.

Dean frowned. “You’re not that old.”

“Older, then.”

“Whatever. And thanks for giving me the wet spot.”

Sam snorted softly, but in a few minutes had slipped deep under the edge of slumber. Dean let his borrowed body follow suit. With Sam asleep, he had no need to cripple himself and let his senses range out over Bobby’s property until he was aware of even the mice that stirred in the rafters of the barn. Enjoying what passed for a demon’s sleep while Sam rested, safe and oblivious, beside him. It wasn’t always so easy, but Bobby’s land was old stomping grounds and Dean settled over it with the effortlessness of long familiarity.

Safety was a fleeting state, and to be enjoyed when it occurred.

~~~~~

Sam beat Dean to the shower in the morning and refused to share. He had some argument about concussions and elbow room that he seemed pretty passionate about, so Dean perched his lighter-than-usual-ass on the laundry hamper and waited. And if he occasionally flushed the toilet to encourage Sam to hurry up, well, Sam should have been more chivalrous. There had to be some perks to being a girl, however temporary. Showering first seemed like it should be one of them. Dean had always let his girlfriends shower first.

Bored, he extended one leg and pressed the handle on the toilet again with his toes. From the shower, Sam gave a strangled yelp and stuck his head out to scowl. “Quit it!”

“If you didn’t keep stopping to yell at me, you would have been done by now.”

“Gee,” Sam yelled from behind the curtain, “I can’t imagine what my problem is!”

“You use up all the hot water playing games and you’ll see what problems really are.”

There was another strangled sound from behind the curtain, but this one sounded more like choked-off rage. Dean was contemplating another flush when the water shut off and Sam stormed out.

“All clean?” Dean asked.

Sam snarled something and stalked past him. A moment later, the bedroom door slammed.

Sam was in the kitchen making pancakes when Dean finished his own bathing and wandered down to find food. Bobby was there too, looking none the worse for whatever his evening crisis had been as he flipped through the paper.

“Everything okay?” Dean asked.

Bobby glanced at him over the paper. “Do you care?”

“I’m being polite, showing an interest. You want me to stop?”

“Please.”

“Well, I’m actually interested.” Sam set a platter of pancakes on the edge of the table beside a couple of plates and forks. “What happened?”

Bobby folded up his paper and grabbed a plate. “Nothing that’s likely to snowball. You tell someone not to do something, they do it anyways, and then other people get to clean up the mess. I dumped it in someone else’s lap. They’re closer-- what the hell am I going to do about a blasted harpy in South Carolina from here?”

“That’s why you stormed out of here last night?”

“Oh. That. Had to run down to the sheriff’s office. I have a contact there who wanted some advice on something.”

“Hanging out with the local authorities?” Dean raised an eyebrow. “Doesn’t seem healthy.”

Bobby shrugged. “I’ve reason to stop by on occasion.”

Sam and Dean exchanged knowing looks.

“Does the reason have a name?” Sam asked.

“No,” Bobby answered gruffly, but he couldn’t do much about the flush on the back of his neck.

“Uh huh. Invite her over for the next shindig,” Dean suggested. “Burgers, beer, babes. We should really meet the future Mrs. Singer.”

“Right, because you’re exactly who I’d want to introduce a lady-friend to.”

“What’s wrong with me?” Dean asked around a mouthful of pancake.

“We don’t have that kind of time.” Bobby rolled his eyes. “But speaking of time… I have a little task for you guys this morning.”

“I already have a task, but feel free to use Sam here. I do.”

Sam settled at the table with his own plate. “Thanks, Dean.”

“Oh, I think you both can tackle this one. In fact, I insist.” Bobby’s smile was more edged than friendly. “Considering how hospitable and understanding I’ve been and all over the years.”

It was an argument that was hard to refute.

“Fine,” Dean glanced at the clock, “but this had better not take all day.”

~~~~~

“This is going to take all freaking day,” Sam said flatly, surveying the waist- and knee-high piles of slivered metal that covered that part of the junkyard. Sam remembered when the heaps were shiny and new, snowfall in midsummer and the green of his brother’s eyes swallowed by spiraling gray. Time and weather had rusted the top layers and blown them down somewhat into the tall grass that grew up between them.

Time changed everything.

“I was thinking this place looked less cluttered,” Dean mused aloud as he kicked at one.

“Shut up, Dean. Aren’t you the one with the tight schedule?”

“A few hours here, a few hours there… besides, this particular mess actually is our fault.”

“Your fault, Dean. This mess is your fault.”

“Hey, I wouldn’t have been here to do this damage if it wasn’t for you.”

Sam gave him an annoyed look.

“I don’t care who you guys want to blame; all I know is it wasn’t my fault.” Bobby handed Sam a couple of shovels. “Just get up as much as you can. Put it in those dumpsters over there.”

Dean eyed the dumpsters in question skeptically. “And after we fill them up with a few cars' worth of metal, how exactly are you going to move them?”

“Problem for another day. First step is getting all this crap off the ground so I can actually use the place.”

Dean scuffed his foot against another low pile, revealing the shimmer of unexposed metal flakes beneath. “I don’t know, Bobby. It’s kind of pretty, don’t you think?”

“I think you turned about three dozen cars of perfectly good scrap into glitter, Dean. So how about you just help clean it up and then we never mention it again?”

“Fine. We’re never going to get it all out of the grass, though. Hope you’ve got some awesome magnets.”

“Get what you can with the shovel. We’ll go from there.”

Sam sighed and went to borrow some gloves from the barn.

The day wore on under the monotony of shoveling. Sam was grateful it was cool, and that Dean wasn’t bitching about doing the lion’s share of the work. It was only fair; Dean had caused the problem, even though he was out of his mind at the time. He also had the advantage of demonic strength that wasn’t easily fatigued by physical labor, and the supernatural ability to heal human muscles even as he strained them to shredding. Sam, on the other hand, enjoyed neither advantage, and spent a lot of time wiping sweat from his forehead and watching enviously as Dean went through piles like it was confetti he was lifting and not fragmented steel.

It was exhausting work. Sam sat down for a minute and closed his eyes, just a moment’s reprieve… then jumped and turned when something icy and wet touched the back of his neck.

“Here.” Dean was holding out a water bottle that Sam took gratefully. “I grabbed some sandwiches too, while I was in the house. Since you were so busy napping and all.”

Sam got up and followed Dean over to one of the few trees near the house. They sat together in the shade and contemplated the remaining task in silence for a few minutes. There was still a lot of loose metal in the yard but most of it was picked up. Sam estimated a couple more hours before they could call it a day.

“We’re going to need another dumpster,” Dean observed. Sam, halfway through a baloney sandwich, only nodded in agreement. “Think Bobby will care if we just pile it up in one place until he can get his hands on one?”

“You could ask him.”

“I don’t think Bobby really wants to talk with me right now, Sam. Maybe you want to go beard the lion?”

“I don’t think he’s still mad about the cars. He just needed it cleaned up without having to explain how it happened.”

Dean crossed long legs at the ankle and leaned back against the tree. He’d gracelessly caved to borrowing boots again rather than spend the day kicking barefoot through metal shards. “You want to know whose fault this really is? Look no further than our intrepid host.”

“I’m not sure you turning half his junkyard into steel mulch is the predictable result of his failing to chase us off with a shotgun every time we drop by,” Sam said dubiously.

“No, but it’s the predictable result of warding this place to kingdom come and then being careless about how they're targeted.”

“What?”

“You seriously can’t feel this place?”

Sam looked around at the familiar rusting cars, the open fields, the barn with its subtle list, and the house itself, flaking paint and all. “No it’s… just like it always is.”

“Yeah, and it’s always been a dizzying playground of mystical whateverness. Everything Bobby could come up with, including the kitchen sink, is laced through this place. I mean, some of these things were set before we were even born. Nothing like your old place pre-cremation, but still impressive.”

A bird trilled in the tree overhead, breaking the quiet peace around them. A gentle breeze rippled the golden, knee-high grasses of Bobby’s neglected fields beyond the edges of the junkyard. In between the waving fronds, Sam could sometimes catch sight of the dark mound of disturbed earth where Dean’s corpse was entombed, waiting. At their backs, the house loomed, as solid and timeless as it had ever been.

“I don’t feel anything at all.”

“You didn’t feel anything in that spook-infested nightmare of an asylum down in Florida either. I’m starting to have grave doubts about these psychic claims of yours, Sammy. I mean, how did you think Bobby kept a well-known, permanent address and hasn’t been turned into kibble yet?”

“I seem to recall being jumped by demons here once, Dean.”

“I told you it wasn’t perfect, but it’s a damn good effort.”

“And how does this make your mulching his scrap pile his fault again?”

“He wasn’t terribly picky when he whipped these things up, or had whoever do the whipping for him. Most of it just seems to be general warnings, some of them are pretty specific, but a few of them find you interesting, and I doubt I would have tolerated that well. You know, before. I’m not thrilled about it now, but I figure if they haven’t smacked you yet, then there’s probably nothing worth getting excited about.”

“Some of them are targeting me?” Sam looked around again, more warily this time, but… everything still seemed normal.

“Yeah, they sparkle and flash when you get too close, or worse, stop sparkling and flashing. They’re all over the cars, the barn, the house, the fence posts. You didn’t think Bobby kept this many cars lying around just because he loves a good snake infestation, did you? It’s not as good as iron for pure protection, but steel takes a spell better, and this house is surrounded. Less so now, I guess. I could have done a better job,” Dean added critically.

Sam eyed the piles of metal still in the grass, most of them shiny again now that the top rusted layers had been shoveled off. “I think you did more than enough.”

“Not when this many of the irritants survived the destruction. Digging through these piles is like mining little stars.”

“Maybe you weren’t trying to destroy them,” Sam suggested, still looking around, trying to catch a hint of the something that Dean insisted was there.

“Maybe not,” Dean shrugged. “Maybe I was just blowing off steam. Hard to say; memories are pretty fuzzy.”

“I wish mine were.” Sam finished the last of his water and got reluctantly to his feet. “Ready to finish up?”

“All I’m saying is that Bobby better have steaks in that freezer of his.”

Sam’s gaze was drawn inadvertently to the barn. “I don’t think you should bring up the subject of freezers with Bobby this visit.”

“You know,” Dean said as he picked up his own shovel, “the list of things we shouldn’t discuss with Bobby is going to limit conversation to the weather pretty soon.”

The afternoon wore on much as the morning had. Sam wished for nothing more than a cold beer and a hot bath, but Dean kept on tirelessly, his exhaustion only obvious when a sheriff’s cruiser rounded the last turn of the driveway and neither of them noticed until it was too late. Dean swore and tossed his shovel down, waiting with arms crossed as the car pulled to a stop by the house.

“Dean,” Sam said tightly.

“I know, Sam!” Dean hissed. “But what do you want me to do? They’ve already seen me; running off now only looks like we’ve got something to hide.”

“We do have something to hide!” Sam hissed back.

“Better get used to calling me Deb,” Dean replied. He pasted a smile firmly on his face and walked over to greet the dark-haired woman who was climbing out of the cruiser, expression wary as she glanced between the two of them. Sam tried to imagine how they must look to her: him in his filthy t-shirt and ripped jeans, with shaggy hair, covered in grime and sweat from a day of hard labor; and Dean, equally filthy, wearing an oversized red spaghetti strap top, neon plaid shorts, boots that were clearly five sizes too large, and the hospital bracelet that he seemed to view as some kind of trophy and refused to take off.

Yeah, he’d be eyeing them oddly too.

“Deborah May?” the sheriff asked slowly.

“Hey, Sheriff, um--”

“Mills, Jody Mills. Don’t you remember me?”

“Maybe?” Dean tried a winsome smile. Sam thought it was a pretty good effort, but maybe not to someone who had known Deborah May Mason when she was still herself. “Some things are still kind of scrambled. You looked familiar, but names--” Dean shrugged one mostly bare shoulder.

“Right.” The sheriff still seemed on edge. Sam dropped his own shovel and concentrated on looking unthreatening. More challenging since he was nearly a foot taller than either of them and hadn’t bothered to shave. “You know, a lot of people have been looking for you. Your neighbors out on Blaylock have organized a sign-hanging committee to plaster the area with 'missing' posters.”

“I just needed some to get myself together. It’s been kind of a lot, you know?”

“What has?” Her gaze flickered between the two of them, uncertain which she should watch. Dean seemed to notice too. He brightened his smile and gestured for Sam to come closer. Sam did so hesitantly. When he was in range, Dean wrapped one arm firmly around his waist.

“Just things, big changes. You haven’t met Sam, have you?”

Sheriff Mill’s finally seemed to relax a little. “Sam who?”

“Smith,” Sam said firmly, leaning forward and offering his hand. Sheriff Mills shook it, looking almost as bemused as Sam felt.

“And you are…?”

“My fiancé,” Dean announced, tightening his arm around Sam when Sam stiffened with surprise. “He’s been taking care of me while I sort some things out.”

Sam was less than happy to be dragged into Dean’s incessant need to stir the pot, but stepped up his effort to project benign friendliness.

“Carl’s going to be surprised to hear about that,” the sheriff said. “The kids might be a little surprised too.”

Dean shrugged. “The kids will love him. As for Carl--” Dean’s expression hardened. “I think we both know I’m better off without him. Sam’s an old flame; he just happened to be in the right place and the right time when I needed him.”

“So you’re okay?” Sheriff Mills asked, still glancing between the two of them.

“I--” was all Dean got out before the porch door swung open and Bobby stepped out.

“Jody?”

“Bobby.” Sheriff Mills seemed pleased to see a familiar face. “I was just solving a missing person’s case here in your yard. Care to comment?”

Bobby took in the tableau, then sighed. “Yeah, I suppose I’d better. How about you come in and we have this talk over coffee and whatever I can find in the pantry?”

“Best suggestion I’ve heard all afternoon. You too, Deborah May; you’re not leaving my sight until we hash some things out.”

Dean fell obediently in line behind the sheriff, keeping a firm grip on Sam’s arm when Sam tried to peel away.

“Don’t even think it,” Dean whispered, when Sheriff Mills was too far ahead to overhear.

“You aren’t the one featuring on wanted posters,” Sam whispered back harshly. “Not like this.”

“Those posters are a decade old. I think a woman who spends time with Bobby, of all people, has too much on her plate to be busy memorizing ten-year-old warrants.”

“That’s great, Dean. Going to bake me a cake with a file when you turn out to be wrong?”

“What are you guys whispering about back there?” Sheriff Mills called from the porch.

“Sam’s being sweet; we’ve been arguing about the wedding and he was wondering if the kids would like to be in the ceremony.”

Sam shot Dean a poisonous look the sheriff couldn’t see. Dean’s smile only widened.

“Has he met them?”

“Not yet, but I just know everything will be perfect.”

“Uh huh.” The Sheriff made a noncommittal sound and held the screen door open to usher them through. Bobby glanced them both over when they walked in.

“Maybe you lovebirds should go grab another shower while I talk to Jody for a few minutes. There’s no exits up there,” he added when the Sheriff looked inclined to protest, “I don’t think Debbie’s going to scale the side of the house to avoid a little conversation. What’s going on with the new construction at the school?”

Sam and Dean made a hasty escape up the staircase while Jody was distracted with local news.

“What are we going to do?” Sam demanded when they were safely closeted in the bathroom.

Dean shrugged. “Clean up, go back downstairs.”

“She knows you, Dean! Or Deborah, she knows Deborah May Mason. How long do you think you can fake this?”

“Fake what, Sam?” Dean asked, an expression of mock concern on his face. “I’m not faking anything; it’s common knowledge that a serious head injury can affect the memory. I just have to seem not incompetent, and eventually the nice sheriff lady Bobby wants to bang will wander off on her merry way.”

“And tell everyone where to find you? How well are you going to dodge tearful relatives and who the hell is Carl?”

“Jealous?”

Sam’s eyes narrowed. Dean rolled his.

“Judging from what was said downstairs, I assume Carl is the tragic fiancé. Didn’t you say you saw him on some news report?”

“She has kids, Dean.”

“Yeah, Sam; I know.”

“How did you know,” Sam ground out. “That wasn’t in any of the reports I saw.”

Dean kicked off his shorts and pointed to the thin white line low on his belly. “Did you think she got this from a really weirdly placed appendectomy?”

Sam stared at the scar for a moment. “You implied something else, something about Carl. The sheriff understood. What was that about?”

Dean turned the faucet over to hot and waited while the icy water warmed up. “Logical deduction. This body had a lot of old fractures and deep bruises when I moved in. Some were from the car accident, but there was a good selection of older ones. Someone was beating the crap out of her, and Jody’s aura flared when she mentioned his name. She seriously doesn’t like Carl. I put the two together and it paid off.”

“That’s some impressively quick thinking.”

“And yet somehow, that doesn’t sound like a compliment.”

Sam wasn’t making any move to get undressed. Dean shrugged his own shirt off and grabbed the hem of Sam’s, shoving upwards, raking nails, cracked from the day’s work, up Sam’s chest and to his shoulders until he could push the shirt over the top of Sam’s uncooperative head. He rubbed his cheek over the tattoo on Sam’s chest, each line of ink burning like dry ice against his borrowed skin. Anti-possession wards didn’t like being touched by demons. Sam didn’t respond at all, tension singing through his frame. A song of indecision.

Dean knew exactly what the problem was. “She’s gone, Sam.”

“Are you sure?” Sam asked, a distrust in his eyes that Dean had gotten used to not seeing.

Trust, another casualty of Sam’s insistence on space. He’d lied freely to Sam before, when the situation made it expedient, but for the last year or so Sam had known when he was lying, even if he wasn’t always sure about what. A kind of honesty between them that still left room for the deceptions and half-truths that let any two people live together in peace.

“I’m sure that if I’d left her lying there, she’d have stayed lying there until the day her heart stopped beating,” Dean said firmly.

Sam sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair. “We should clean up.”

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