The drive back to the cabin was almost silent, Mel taking the wheel and Dean in the back with Sammi on his knee. He held her tight, breathing in the smoke smell from her hair, and pretending not to hear her quiet sniffs. His anger had melted away in the face of a real, honest to god hunt, and his worry… Well he’d deal with that Winchester fashion; find the son of a bitch who got his family involved in magic shit and stop them.
Sammi was still clinging onto his shirt when they pulled into the main gates of the KOA and he really didn’t want to let her go just yet. They got too big for holding so fast.
He cleared his throat and sought Sam’s eye in the reflection of the windshield. “Right, when we get back to the cabin we’ll be changing the sleeping arrangements.” He paused, waiting for Sam’s tiny nod before he continued. “Sam and Mel will be in the bunks, boys, you’ll be on the pullout, and Sammi will be in with me.” There were five individual intakes of breath, preparing for five individual protests. He smirked and squeezed Sammi. “Anyone have any questions?”
As it turned out, everyone was too tired to have any questions at all; Sam had made his silent disgust at being relegated to a bunk quite clear, but the kids had been too busy looking at their feet and pretending not to be there to notice. They could all really have done with a shower, but Dean had gone to bed covered in much worse than soot and said as much – prompting Mel to screw up her face and the twins to look at him with something akin to hero worship.
He changed back into his pajamas in the bedroom with Sam while the girls got changed in the bathroom, and he was already in bed by the time Sammi knocked on the door.
He had to screw up his eyes a little to see his granddaughter’s face, the sooty tear tracks washed off down to her neck. She stopped at the edge of the bed, looking unsure and twisting one leg behind the other
“Hey, baby girl.” He smiled at her. Little girls need their chick flick moments, Molly’s voice echoed in his head. It’s not going to kill you to have them once or twice in your life, Dean. He took a deep breath. “I was worried about you, Sammi. What you were investigating could have got you hurt.”
“I know Grandpa, I’m…” Her breath hitched. “I’m sorry; I just wanted to be like you.”
“You are, Sammi.” He grinned. “You’re good looking, funny and I bet you don’t kick people you share a bed with.”
She giggled and got into bed. “No, but Mel does. Really hard.” She pulled up one of her pajama legs and showed off her shin.
He drew the cover up over her, tucking her in. “Yeah, your Great Uncle Sam does, too. Hurts like a son of a bitch.”
Dean couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face when Sammi laughed.
“We should’a made them sleep on the bunks before – now they can’t kick anyone ‘cept the wall.” Sammi’s laughter lessened a bit as she realized what else people couldn’t have done if the sleeping arrangements had started out like this.
Dean kissed her hair and squeezed her gently in a goodnight hug. “Yeah, we should’a. I’m going to have to borrow Sam’s stick tomorrow…”
The morning came far too quickly, the bright light stabbing through the thin curtains, Dean tried to bury his head in the pillows but even when he half suffocated himself the sun still bothered him. Camping sucked. He groaned as he rolled over again wishing he was at home with his wonderful blackout curtains.
The bedroom door creaked open and the smell of coffee reached him as Sammi came back into the room, carefully carrying a large, steaming, mug which she handed to him. He swigged down about half of the strong, hot, liquid before he put it down and started stretching out the kinks that the night had settled in his bones. His voice was still tinged with smoke from the night before and he felt it rumble in his chest. “Is someone treating Sam to breakfast in bed, too?”
Sammi shook her head and stared at her feet, refusing to meet his eye. “He’s been up for ages; he’s making us all learn about runes, even Mel, and she wasn’t even….” She stopped suddenly.
“So you thought you’d bring me some coffee and hide out with your Grandpa for a while?” Dean had to bite the inside of his lip. Sam’s idea of fun and the kids’ idea of torturous punishment ran hand–in-hand; maybe having to study the most boring angle of any possible hunt would persuade the kids to keep out the family business.
Sammi nodded. “Uh, yeah, I suppose. And I knew you’d be tired…” She sat on the bed, down by his feet. “I’m sorry, Grandpa. We should have told you.”
“How did you know there was something there, kiddo?” If they’d missed something, and they must’ve because the kids found it… They were getting too damn insular and complacent in their old age. When Molly was alive, they’d scoured the local news and spoken to John Green for news from the local tribes. Hell, Sam even asked around his stupid new-agey group instead of just inviting that bimbo Britney over to dinner to annoy the fuck out of him. After Molly died, it had all seemed less important.
Sammi launched into an explanation of newspaper articles and animals and maps and breaking into the computer to get Sam’s damn journal and breaking into the attic to get his. Dean itched to get his family home, safe, and then he and Sam had work to do.
As soon as they got home, Dean sent the twins to the attic to retrieve his trunks and started going around the house – checking and renewing all the protective carvings, re-laying all the salt. He’d more or less ordered Mel straight into the kitchen to cook for the family, and sent Sammi with her to help.
Sam went to his office and fired up the computer; Dean would come and find him soon enough. Until then there was some investigation to be done. The runes that had been drawn on the pictures were powerful ones, but he’d never seen them used with blood magic before – which would have been strange enough, but the placement of the candles in relation to the compass and the pictures was more like Zoroastrian magic than Norse rune magic or hoodoo blood control.
Dean had given him Sammi’s folder full of newspaper clippings and the map the kids had marked up showing all the locations where mutilated animals had been found; it was solid work, like something that Sam himself might have put together. He probably wouldn’t have used glitter pens, though – even if they did make the highlighted text in each article very easy to spot.
The twins walked timidly into the study, carrying the two ancient trunks in which Dean kept all his hunting lore, and Dean himself followed them holding his journal tightly in both hands.
“Just put them in the corner, boys, then go help your cousins in the kitchen. There’s laundry to be done.” Dean nodded brusquely at his grandsons and shut the study door behind them. “Well Sammy? What’re we dealing with?”
“I don’t know, Dean...”
“What!? Even with your high tech, ‘please break into me and read the family secrets’ journal?”
Sam glared at his brother. “She’d half worked it out already, and at least I’ve got a password on my journal. You kept yours locked in Molly’s hope chest and stored that just off the kids’ playroom.” He snorted. “And once you insisted on teaching them how to pick a lock they were practically bound to practice on crap in there.”
“Passwords only work if you don’t use your kids’ names, Sammy.”
“You’re just pissed because your granddaughter’s a nerd, like me.” Sam snapped his mouth shut. He really loved Sammi, but one thing you never, ever, did was insult Dean’s family. Even if you were Dean’s family.
The anticipated anger didn’t appear, though, and Dean just half-smirked. “Maybe… My Sammies are both clever girls…”
Four days of painstaking research, looking into the details of all the newspaper reports and checking the DMV records for faces to match those in the pictures from the altar, and Dean looked about ready to smash something. Sam kept sending him out to look after the kids; without his glasses, Dean was practically useless at researching - not that that kept him from pestering Sam for more information and questioning him as to the lack of decent results.
The Runes and blood, and the other symbols that had appeared carved into the dead cattle weren’t linked in any way. It was a mess of different magic and legends and it shouldn’t be producing any real results. Even at that, though, it was some pretty dark stuff and whoever was doing it knew at least a little about real magic; and that was something that needed to be strongly discouraged.
When Dean called John Green to see if he was aware of anything unsettling the ancestors, the shaman had asked them to come over. They’d agreed to visit the Potawatomi community the following morning and, after some persuasion, Dean agreed they’d go to Lawrence in the afternoon so he could see the optometrist. Sam planned on visiting Sally while Dean was getting his glasses to find out if the local coven knew of anything unusual. Dean was even more antsy once they’d agreed to visit Lawrence, but Sam put that down to the lingering bad memories that the place held for his brother.
“Why don’t you go out to the garage for a while, Dean? Mel and I’ll make dinner; you can show Sammi and the twins how to work wheelnuts or something.”
Dean spluttered out a laugh at Sam’s deliberate mechanical incompetence, but agreed that it would be a good way to work up an appetite for dinner. He could hear Dean yelling for Sammi and the twins as he went to find his granddaughter.
Several hours later, the four grease-monkeys sloped back into the house – reluctant to leave the garage for dinner and covered liberally in oil smears. There was a lot of giggling around the dinner table that Sam and Mel weren’t part of and Dean and the kids snuck straight back out as soon as the last mouthful was eaten.
When they finally came in for the night, way after the kids’ bedtime and probably after Dean’s as well, Dean was grinning as if he’d just met Jack Nicholson and he wouldn’t explain what they’d been up to, even when Sam pulled out the big guns and begged.
The next morning a deep growling engine roar from outside told Sam exactly what Dean had been doing. Unbidden, his mouth spilt into a beaming smile and he practically ran out of the front door, the pain in his knees forgotten.
“Dean! You fixed her!”
His big brother was sitting behind the wheel of his first love, his very first Baby. Lovingly, painstakingly, restored. He knew that Jack had been tooling up the parts his dad needed to get the Impala back into shiny, sleek, condition, but he’d had no idea that Dean had them all already. Apparently, working miracles on Chevy parts was in Dean’s blood and that of his son, and probably of his grandsons, too.
“Listen to her purr, Sammy!”
Dean took the long route to the Potawatomi lands, putting the Impala through her paces and blasting Back in Black from the stereo. Dean had finally given in and replaced the old tape deck when he realized that he couldn’t replace any of his ancient, stretched and crackling tapes, but Sam wasn’t convinced that the extra volume Dean could crank out of the new MP3 stereo was an improvement…
Still it felt like coming home.
John Green was sitting outside waiting for them, probably having heard the growl of the engine from half a mile away, and gestured for them to come join him.
Once the three of them were comfortably sprawled on John’s garden chairs, each with a mug of hot tea, John spoke. “I was going to call you last night, Dean, just about when you called me. There’s something going on and the ancestors don’t like it. You know I am Mwenslze – Wolf Brother?”
Sam nodded that yes, he did, and Dean murmured his agreement.
“Wolf energy is powerful, protective – wolves run in packs and the pack is everything – but someone is summoning it for evil, to control and manipulate instead of to lead and nurture.”
Sam opened his mouth to speak, but Dean put his hand out, indicating he should stay quiet.
“It’s thrown our balance off, Dean. With the Wolf out of balance, the other spirits are sure to follow and it has angered many people. I know that you are no longer active hunters but you and your brother understand the importance of protecting family. We need your help; The Elders can appease the Wolf but we cannot free it. The bindings are not of our way.”
Dean’s face was serious, business-like, when he responded. “Yeah, we do, and we want to find out who’s behind this just as much as you do.” He glanced at Sam.
Sam took that as his cue. “We’ve been looking into a binding altar. We destroyed it but someone’s been messing with all different kinds of magic – runes and Hoodoo and God knows what else. If you’re still getting something then… Either they’re still doing it or they’ve summoned something new that’s hanging around. Thanks, John. We’ll let you know when we’ve found out who’s playing here.” Sam grabbed his stick, ready to stand.
“It’s a powerful energy they’ve summoned, Samuel Winchester. Your family needs to take care with it. If I find out anything more, or it changes, I’ll call you.”
Dean stood up and clapped John on the shoulder. “I’ll talk to you soon, John. Next time I come up, I’ll be looking for more eggs – Sammi and I are going to try making Molly’s cheesecake, apparently.” He stuck out his hand, ready to haul Sam to his feet, and Sam gratefully accepted the help. Garden chairs were a little low for his long legs and arthritic knees.
They got back into the car, Dean grinning at the creak-thunk of the doors closing, and headed off towards Lawrence. Sam would be much happier when Dean was wearing his correct prescription while driving but the road was quiet, and he was looking forward to seeing Sally Hopkins again.
Sally had been a terrible girlfriend – wrapped up in her child, with no time to spare for Sam, who’d been going through his own messy time with Hulsu – but she was a great friend and was the high priestess for the Cottonwood Grove Coven. Under her leadership, the members practiced a positive path and Sally encouraged those who showed talent.
Dean pulled over to the curb beside Sally’s split-level. “Alright Sammy, I’ll come get you when I’ve finished at the optometrist. You want me to call you when I’m on my way?” He raised his eyebrow suggestively.
Sam snorted, but didn’t bother otherwise responding to his brother’s implication. Things may have been over between Sam and Sally for decades but it didn’t mean that Dean was ever going to stop teasing him about it. “Yeah, Dean. Don’t scare the nice receptionist, okay?”
As he eased his way out of the Impala, carefully unfolding his knees to minimize the pain, Sam wondered for millionth time how much being bunched up shotgun in the car for so many years had contributed to his arthritis. He loved the car almost as much as Dean did, but it wasn’t exactly the best fit for his height.
Dean roared off the instant Sam closed the car door, leaving Sam to carefully make his way up to Sally’s front door.
“Hey, Foxy!” Sally called out the living room window, seconds after he pressed the doorbell.
Sally had taken to calling him ‘Foxy’ after one of the more frivolous members her coven decided he was a Silver Fox. A smile played at his mouth as he waited for Sally to open the door; who’d’ve thought that he’d end up the ladies man while Dean fell in love with a girl-next-door and her chicken pot pie.
Molly had been heart and home for the Winchesters from the moment Dean met her. Unlike Mom, or Jess – even Madison – Molly hadn’t been lost to evil; she died because of a heart problem. It should have killed her years before it did; almost had when she was pregnant with Jack – but she’d always said that loving Winchesters made her heart so strong that even the doctors were fooled.
Maybe that’s why Dean was so at peace with his family, while Sam… He’d had the promise of domestic bliss with Jess and it had been ripped away. Home had become Dean, Molly, and the children. Not a woman.
A sharp poke on his arm dragged him out his reverie.
“Sam Winchester, are you just going to stand out on the stoop all day?” Sally was laughing at him.
He bent slightly to kiss her on the cheek, then followed her into the house. She took him straight through to the kitchen at the back and started burrowing into the refrigerator.
“Sit down, Sam.” Her voice was muffled by the sheer quantity of food she kept in the fridge. “I figured we could have an early lunch before we get down to business.”
“It’s not even 10:30 yet, Sal! I don’t even think the twins would try and call that lunchtime.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not sure you’ll want to eat much later on, and we’ve time to kill before your brother gets back.”
Sam caught her eye as she brought boxes over to the table but she shook her head. “Eat first, business later, okay?”
Sally wasn’t a great cook, certainly not compared with Molly, or even Dean, but she could buy up a storm in a deli and their early lunch was a masterpiece of salad, sandwiches, pickles and quiche. She’d cleared the remains of the food off the table but refused to talk ‘business’ until Sam finished his coffee and the large slice of Angel food cake she pressed on him.
When she finally deemed that he’d finished lunch, she cleared the table and sat down opposite him. “I know why you’re here, Sam. You’ve found something, your brother and you?”
Sam sighed and smiled ruefully. “The kids, actually; a binding altar and a lot of other magic. It was all so mixed up that I wondered if it would actually do anything at all, but we went to see John Green before I came here and he said there was messed up Wolf energy in the area, so whatever it is, it’s managing something.”
“More than something, Sam. And they’re focused on you and yours now; there’s a dark cloud heading straight for the Winchesters.”
A cold spread over Sam, like ice water was being poured down his spine, and he felt like he was back with Bobby, listening to his prophecy that a storm was coming.
Dean was humming as he pulled up to collect Sammy; music blaring, taquito in hand. His new glasses were awesome – he didn’t need to tip his head to see and the color varied with the light, too. And Sam was waiting on the stoop for him; they were on a real hunt, in a real car, with the family safe at home. This was a good day.
Sam slid into his rightful, shotgun, seat and Dean tried not to pose to show his glasses off as he pulled out again.
“Very nice, Dean.” Sam gestured at Dean’s head.
“Nice?! Dude! The girl in the shop thought they made me look ten years younger. She thought I was fifty, man!”
Sam’s lip quirked. “Did you tell her your real age?”
“Hell, yeah. I’m 69, man! And I’m only 69 for a year, Sammy. Gotta take advantage of that, right?” Dean couldn’t help grinning at that. Sixty-nine was too awesome an age to ignore, even if it made the kids kind of uncomfortable.
“Yeah, yeah. I knew I shouldn’t have let you go there by yourself; the girl’s probably traumatized for life.” Sam’s smile vanished. “But what Sal had to say was important. Whatever, whoever, it is that made that altar and is upsetting John has their sights set on us – on the family - now.”
Dean stood on the brake, ignoring the protesting squeal from the tires and the pads. The cold fury he’d felt when he realized his family were getting involved in dealing with altars and runes and shit came flooding back. “No one’s hurting my family, Sammy. Not again.” His jaw clenched involuntarily and he took a moment to continue. “We find them and we end this.”
Sam pulled Sammi’s folder from the glove compartment and retrieved the DMV records he’d pulled of the people in the photographs on the altar. “Okay, Dean. These people are mostly in Lawrence.” He shuffled through the papers before bringing one to the top. “Linda Geener lives just around the corner.”
Six doorstop visits later, and they’d spoken to a bunch of people who seemed almost entirely unconnected - a psychiatric nurse, the assistant manager of a wine shop, an art history student…all with varied hobbies. Sam would have been annoyed and frustrated at the lack of commonality except that Dean, apparently, had become more trustworthy as he got older - the respectable widower who organizer those great firework displays in Pleasant Grove - and their witnesses practically fell over themselves to agree that they all knew each other, that they all went once a month to Johannsen’s bookstore. It was a wonderful book group with such interesting debates about the different things they read and the shop owner – Archie Johannsen – was such an amazing man.
As they left the last house, smiling and waving until Merrill – grandmother of five – closed the door, Dean caught his eye. “The EMF’s got nothing from any of them and I wasn’t getting a whole hoodoo kind of vibe either – you get anything, geek boy?”
Sam shook his head. “Nothing. They all seemed…boring. The whole hero-worship of Archie was a little odd though.”
“Yeah, who’d admire a bookshop owner…apart from you, anyway?”
“No, Dean, it’s not that. It’s just...” Sam paused to gather his thoughts. “I’ve bought books there and neither of the two brothers that run it are the type to inspire that kind of devotion. They’re a little strange, to be honest.”
“Like our kind of strange?”
“I didn’t think so but maybe. They’re about the same age as us, maybe a little older, but they’re like the kids no one wanted to talk to at school; quiet and a bit obsequious.”
“Slimy, overly flattering.”
“Huh. Sounds like a bookshop I want to visit then.”
And because she couldn't come back without her anthem, Back In Black