The inhabitants of the small town of Paragon, Ohio vanished one day early in August. On 31st July, the last day the authorities could be certain of, everything was normal. The people of Paragon got up, went to work, bought groceries, watched TV, ate, played, got sick, got better, had sex, had fights, slept.
Then it all stopped. The first person to notice was a supermarket manager in nearby Toledo. When three of his staff failed to show up for work on August 3rd he tried to call their homes and found the phone lines down. Being a busy man, he did nothing more about it, simply made a note to dock the wages of the three women.
Slowly, others began to notice absences. Relatives didn’t get expected phone calls or visits. Facebook friends noticed the lack of updates. A pharmacist noticed several people who had not collected prescriptions were all from the same town. Slowly, suspicions rose.
On August 4th a state patrol car drove that way to see what was what. The officers found the town utterly deserted. The main street looked like there had been a riot: windows were smashed, stores looted, debris littered the streets and obscene graffiti decorated the road. But there was no sign of anyone on the streets. Not even dead bodies.
In the weeks that followed, the authorities examined every property in the town. They didn’t find a single body, but there were signs of violence on many streets. Inside the houses, though, all appeared normal, except that the people were gone. In one house, children’s bath toys floated in a filled bathtub, with a boy’s pyjamas neatly laid out in the next room, but there was no sign of the boy, living or dead. In another house, a partially cooked meal was set out in the kitchen: meat in the oven, vegetables in saucepans and the table laid ready for three people. The cooker had been turned off, but there was no sign of the family that would have eaten there.
No coherent official explanation for the disappearances was ever offered.
No one who had been present in Paragon on the night of August 2nd was ever found.
Naturally, a town turning into the Bermuda Triangle came to the attention of hunters in the area. One of those who investigated found the only clue that might have shed light on what befell the town. On the altar of the Episcopalian Church an ancient Enochian symbol had been written in human blood.
Dean found Jo sitting on a broken engine block in the junkyard. She had a nearly-empty bottle of Bobby’s whiskey dangling from her right hand. Dean didn’t remember her being such a heavy drinker. It was a quiet night and Jo was staring up at the stars. She didn’t seem to be aware of Dean; he moved silently out of habit, walking up to her side. He was quite close to her when she noticed him.
Jo yelped and dropped the bottle. She scrambled away from him, knocking over the engine block in her haste. Dean never saw her draw the knife: it was just suddenly in her hand as she shifted into a fighting stance. All this before she even recognised him.
If she were any other woman, Dean would have taken that knife just to make a point. But his first meeting with Jo at the Roadhouse had left quite an impression. He tried to take a weapon off her then and she damn near broke his nose.
Dean raised his hands in a “peace” gesture, demonstrating that he was unarmed. “Whoa! Easy there, tiger. It’s just me.”
Jo didn’t relax. “No shit. What do you want?”
Oh, she was pissed alright. “You’ve been out here a long time,” Dean explained reasonably. “I was worried about you.”
“Don’t sneak up on me. Don’t ever sneak up on me!”
Dean took a step backwards. “Okay. I’m sorry. You want to put the knife away?”
Jo stared at him for a moment longer, then slid the knife into her jeans. She’d rigged a sheath across her stomach like an inner-pants holster. It was pretty good; Dean wouldn’t have seen it.
He bent down to retrieve the whiskey bottle. Whatever had been left in it was gone. Dean set the bottle on the ground and pulled out his own hip flask. He offered it to Jo.
She shook her head. “It doesn’t help.”
Dean leaned back against a junked car and took a drink. “Not for long,” he agreed. Jo glanced at him sideways but said nothing. Dean sipped from the flask again and once more silently held it out to her.
This time Jo accepted it. She wiped the neck of the flask with her sleeve and raised it to her lips. “Mom’ll kill me,” she muttered, “but what the hell, right?” She tipped the flask up, pouring whiskey into her mouth. She didn’t stop at a sip, either. Jo’s throat worked as she swallowed, drinking it like it was soda. Finally she wiped the flask again and handed it back to Dean.
Mom’ll kill me, she said, but Ellen had never been one to get mad over Jo drinking. The way she drank that whiskey, though, and the way she’d greeted him with a knife…Jo was a mess. Dean knew only that something had happened to her; no details. He didn’t want to ask, but if she was staying they couldn’t afford to have secrets. If the past year had taught Dean anything, it was that. No more secrets.
Still, Dean said nothing, only pocketed the empty flask. He thought about Anna, about the night they’d been together. Anna knew his secret; he hadn’t needed to talk about it. She helped him begin to heal just by showing him it was possible. Where was Anna now? Dean had hoped he might see her again when she got her wings back, but that didn’t seem likely now. She could be dead. She’d told him disobedience was like murder to the angels.
Jo had resumed her contemplation of the stars above them. She scratched absently at the inside of her arm as if her clothing irritated her skin.
Dean studied her more closely. It was dark and he couldn’t be sure, but he thought there was a scar on her neck, mostly hidden by her shirt collar. He saw no other sign of injury, but her clothing would have hidden evidence of any serious wounds. The shirt she wore was loose and baggy, nothing like the tight-fitting tops she used to wear. Jo was shivering, he noticed. Dean slipped off his jacket. He reached out to lay the jacket over her shoulders and Jo flinched away.
“You’re cold,” Dean said, by way of explanation.
She gave him a hard look. “Don’t even.”
“Don’t even what?” Dean asked, honestly confused. “You looked cold. I was just tryin’ to help.”
“Yeah, right.” Jo’s eyes narrowed and she edged away from him. “I’ve changed, Dean. Everything’s changed.”
It finally dawned on him that she thought he was making a pass at her. Getting laid was the furthest thing from his mind. “For me, too,” Dean agreed. “I wasn’t trying to screw you, Jo. Just wanted to help.”
She took a step toward him, her expression challenging. “I heard you and Sam have a way to kill demons. Kill them, not just exorcise. That true?”
Dean thought of Sam killing Alastair with nothing but the power of his mind. They didn’t have that any more. He still had Ruby’s knife, though. “It’s true,” he admitted.
“Will you share?” She phrased it as a question but it sounded like a demand.
“It’s a knife. There’s only one and I have no clue how to make more or I’d have started a production line before now. You got a particular demon in mind?”
“All of them!” she answered with venom.
Uh-huh. “That’s a big job,” Dean suggested casually.
Jo opened her mouth to offer a sassy response, but then seemed to crumble. She hugged herself, turning her back on Dean.
Oh, crap. Was she crying? Dean didn’t try to touch her again. “Jo,” he began gently, “I know what happened was bad. I’m not gonna ask, but if you want to talk…”
“You’ll run a mile,” she interrupted, with a trace of her old fire.
“I’m not running anywhere,” Dean answered. It was manipulative, and he wasn’t proud of it, but he needed to know. Or was that just an excuse?
Jo looked like a rabbit caught in headlights. She swallowed. “Last time I saw you, in Duluth?” she began, making it a question.
“I remember,” Dean answered.
“The demon that was in Sam…before you came, he attacked me. I thought for sure he was gonna rape me. I thought…that was the worst thing I could imagine happening to me.” She laughed, a harsh, bitter sound. “You know what? I wish he had raped me! I wish he’d hurt me so bad I woulda gone home for good.”
“But you didn’t go home.” It was all Dean could think of to say. Had Jo gone home after Duluth, she would have been inside the Roadhouse with Ash when the place burned. And he didn’t believe Meg would have raped Jo. Not that night, at least. It had all been about putting on a show for Dean.
“I didn’t go home,” Jo said. “Not even when I heard about the Roadhouse and Ash.”
Dean nodded as though he understood. That one, though, he didn’t get. How could she stay away when her mother must have needed her? Dean couldn’t have done that to his family.
“About a year ago, I did an exorcism,” Jo went on eventually. “Not alone,” she added hastily. “I was hunting with Nancy Franklyn. Did you know her?”
The name sounded vaguely familiar but Dean had to think for a moment before it came to him. “I think we met her at the Roadhouse. I’m not sure.”
“Well…Nancy did most of the work on that exorcism, but I was there. I helped. We sent the demon back to Hell. The little girl was okay…”
“Little girl?” Dean interrupted sharply. No, it couldn’t be… She exorcised Lilith?
“Yes. Does that mean something?”
“I’m sorry. It doesn’t matter.” Lilith was dead. It couldn’t matter now and maybe she wasn’t the only demonic bitch with a taste for children.
Jo frowned at him, but went on. “We called it a win and moved on. Like you do. We didn’t think much about it.”
Dean nodded. “You can’t. Once you’re done with a hunt you need to focus on the next.”
“Six weeks later, we were on the other side of the country. Demons came after us.” Jo was still hugging herself, her arms crossed over her chest. Every word she spoke seemed like a struggle. “There were so many of them, Dean. Ten, twelve…maybe more. Too many. Nancy was the lucky one. She d-died trying to protect me.” Jo’s voice broke, as if she were crying, but her eyes were dry.
Oh, boy, this was bad. Dean didn’t know what to do. He refused to ask her what happened; he’d promised her he wouldn’t. He couldn’t comfort her if she didn’t want to be touched. He considered stopping her, telling her to keep the story to herself. It was tempting. Her tale and the obvious pain behind it touched Dean’s own deep wounds and he was afraid of what more he might hear.
“They took me prisoner,” Jo volunteered, her voice very quiet now. “They…they hurt me. They…made me do things…you don’t know…”
But Dean did know. He knew exactly how creative demons could be with torture. He swallowed, shoving the memory of Alastair’s voice down into the back of his mind. “Jo, it wasn’t your fault. Whatever they did to you, whatever you had to do to survive, it’s not your fault.”
“You have no idea!” she flared.
Good. Get angry. Take a swing at me. It’ll help.
…at the end of every day, Alastair would come to me and he would make me an offer…and every day I told him where to stick it… Words. Just words.
Dean looked up at the stars. “They found ways to hurt you that you never even imagined,” he said softly, lost in his own memories. “Hurt you until you don’t know where you are. Can’t even remember your own name, except they keep saying it, keep whispering who you are while they…” He broke off, unable to continue. “And no matter what you do, it never stops. You’d sell your soul for it to stop, but it’s too late for that. You’re already in Hell.” That was what it meant to get off the rack. It meant selling his soul for a second time. It meant giving up the last thing he had: his humanity.
But Jo hadn’t been in Hell. Not literally. She was alive and that meant she had hope. Did that make it easier to bear? Or harder? He forced himself to meet her eyes. “Whatever they made you do, Jo, it was because they wanted you broken. They made you think you had a choice, but you didn’t, not any more than if you were possessed. Even if…” his voice cracked. “Even if they made you enjoy it, you didn’t have a choice. You’ve got to believe that, Jo.” Dean wasn’t sure he believed it himself. He stretched out his hand toward her, palm up.
Jo stared at his hand for a long time, so long Dean thought she wouldn’t take it. But then she moved, sliding her warm palm over his, her fingers curling around his larger hand. She looked up, meeting Dean’s eyes and her tears finally spilled over. Dean drew her toward him, gently, so she could pull away if she needed to. She let him come close this time. Dean lifted the jacket he still held and settled it over her shoulders.
There was more to Jo’s story, Dean thought as they walked side-by-side back to Bobby’s house. According to her, she was taken prisoner ten months ago, give or take a few weeks. Jo hadn’t said how long the demons held her, but since she seemed physically recovered Dean estimated a few weeks, max. Much longer than that and she’d have more permanent physical injuries, he thought. Jo hadn’t said how she escaped, either, nor anything about what happened to her since then.
The missing pieces could be important, but for right now Jo had told him as much as she could. It was more than he could have said in her place. Dean slowed as they approached the door. Jo, still wearing his jacket, looked up at him quizzically.
“Does your mom know what you just told me?” Dean asked her.
Jo nodded. “No details, but yeah, she knows.”
“Okay. Are you ready to go in?”
“Can I ask you something first?”
“What’s with the vampire? I thought you two were hunters.”
Dean couldn’t help smiling. It was surprising she’d waited so long to ask. “The short version of a very long story is this: Me and Sam met Lenore a couple of years ago. She’s not like most vamps. I ain’t sayin’ I completely trust her, but she’s not going to hurt anyone. Sam was sick; something in his blood. Lenore came to help.”
Jo’s eyes widened. “You mean she took Sam’s blood?”
“Well…yeah. Look, I know how it sounds, but it worked. And I guess the poison affected her, too.”
“So you locked her up? What the hell was wrong with Sam?”
Dean hesitated. “That’s a really long story, Jo. If you and Ellen are sticking around for a while then you should hear it, but not tonight.” He wanted to talk to Sam first, make sure he was okay with sharing. Now he knew part of Jo’s story, Dean wasn’t sure how she would take the news. Sam killed a lot of demons: she’d probably like that. But he was also BFF with a demonic bitch who screwed him and fed him her blood so he would…
Wait. If the demons who tortured Jo were connected to Lilith…had Ruby known about it? Dean frowned, trying to put it together in his head. Jo said it happened about ten months ago. That would have been about the time Ruby crawled out of Hell. Could there be a connection?
“What’s wrong?” Jo asked, and Dean realised he’d been quiet for too long.
He tried to cover it. “Nothing. Just thinking too hard. Listen, Jo. I’d like to know more about those demons, but…just let me know when you think you’re ready, okay? A week, a month, a year if we live that long. No pressure.”
Jo looked away from him, but nodded. “Yeah. Okay.”
They went inside.
Lenore still held Sam’s hand, her thumb stroking along the bones on the back of his hand, a comforting, repetitive gesture. “You kept saying, What have I done?,” she said softly. “What did you do, Sam?”
Sam shook his head mutely.
Lenore’s dark eyes were serious. “If you don’t want to talk, that’s fine. But Sam, no matter how bad it is, I’ve almost certainly done worse.”
Sam stared at her. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“I think,” Lenore told him, “you’re afraid of being seen as a monster. You’re not, Sam. No matter what you’ve done, you’re still you.”
“I’m not so sure,” Sam confessed. He drew his hand out of hers and managed to stand up.
Lenore stood with him and took his hand again. She raised it to her neck, pressing his fingers into her throat in the spot where, had she been human, he would have felt a pulse. Lenore had no pulse.
Sam understood her meaning. “I…I killed someone,” he confessed. “I mean, murder. Not an accident, not part of a hunt. She was an innocent woman with a family at home and I cut her throat.”
Lenore’s eyes met his without condemnation. “You must have had some reason.”
“Power. Blood. She was possessed and I… But it doesn’t matter. There’s no reason good enough.”
Lenore nodded. “You feel it now, don’t you? What you did.”
Sam narrowed his eyes. “Of course I do!”
She reached up and cupped his cheek with one cool hand. “I’ve killed more people in my life than you have monsters. I killed them for blood, and for desire, and sometimes for vengeance. I don’t feel it, Sam. I can’t. I know love and grief and anger, but I can’t feel regret. I can’t feel guilt.”
“You’re lucky,” Sam said bitterly, thinking Dean would probably agree with him.
But Lenore shook her head. “I’m not lucky. I’m a vampire. Treasure that pain, Sam. It’s when you don’t feel it that you’re a monster.”
The sky Dean could see through the hulks of the wrecked cars was slowly turning from black to deep blue. It was almost sunrise and Sam wasn’t back yet. Dean wasn’t worried, but still…
A sound from outside had Dean grabbing for his gun. He moved to the next window for a better view, cautiously keeping his body flat against the wall. There was definitely someone out there. Dean clicked the safety off, waiting for whoever – or whatever – it was to come closer. The house was protected, not only with salt and devil’s traps but also with what they had left of Ruby’s magic. The chances of a demon getting through all that were…well, probably better than they had been before Lucifer busted out.
Light from the front window spilled across the yard, illuminating the figure as she moved into the beam. Dean recognised Ellen and relaxed. What was she up to? He crossed to the front door and unlocked it as Ellen approached.
“You’re up early,” he commented by way of greeting.
“Right back at you.” Ellen walked past him toward the kitchen.
She had a point. Dean shrugged and followed her. “I haven’t slept,” he explained. “Jo’s in my bed and – ”
Ellen whirled around, her eyes blazing. “Tell me you didn’t…”
Dean interrupted her. “I didn’t. What the hell, Ellen? What do you take me for?”
“A Winchester,” she retorted, but her expression softened. “She’s just been through a lot. I know you used to be sweet on her, so when you said…” she gestured, waving it away. “Forget it.”
Dean nodded, accepting the apology. He could probably have put it more clearly.
The sleeping arrangements at Bobby’s had always been casual. There were three bedrooms, but two of them were full of boxes, books, ammo and other esoteric paraphernalia. The third was where Bobby slept. When Dean and Sam stayed over, they usually just tossed a blanket and pillow on the nearest clear patch of floor. But Sam’s detox meant they had to stay longer than just overnight so they figured out a new deal.
In the first week after Maryland, Dean and Bobby cleared the boxes and junk out of one of the bedrooms. They tossed out the stuff Bobby decided he could spare, found a place to store the rest and found a king sized wooden bed frame, in pieces, at the back of the room. Dean put the bed back together and Bobby drove to a nearby flea market where he bought a used mattress. That became Dean’s room. When Lenore’s cure left Sam unconscious, Dean put Sam in his bed and went back to sleeping on the floor or in an armchair.
Tonight, after he heard Jo’s story, Dean knew she wouldn’t feel safe sleeping in the trailer with her mom. He’d offered her the room without mentioning it was his. She might have guessed, but she didn’t ask. As soon as Lenore left, Dean would show her the panic room below; she might want to sleep there instead. They would need to figure something out so all of them could sleep at night. Dean didn’t have the patience for babysitting.
But tonight, he was happy to give up his bed; he couldn’t sleep with Sam gone anyhow. Ellen glanced around the kitchen. Dean saw her eyes linger on the kettle and guessed what she was looking for.
“There’s a coffee press in the second cupboard,” he told her, “but there’s no ground coffee. Freeze dried only around here.”
Ellen grimaced. “Sounds like Bobby.” She set the kettle to boil. “So, why aren’t you sleeping? Is it Sam?”
Dean leaned back against the kitchen counter. “How much do you know?” her asked her warily.
Ellen gave him a shrewd look. “I’ve heard a lot. Can’t all be true. What I know is nothing. Bobby only told me Sam’s been ill.” She opened cupboards as she spoke, looking for mugs.
“He’s better now,” Dean answered.
“Still, he’s got to be weakened. And he’s off with that vampire.”
Dean made a dismissive gesture. “I am worried about Sam,” he admitted, “but Lenore isn’t the trouble. She won’t hurt him.”
Ellen set out a mug for herself and held up another to Dean, silently asking if he wanted coffee. Dean smiled an affirmative and Ellen spooned freeze-dried coffee into both mugs. “She’s the one you busted Gordon Walker’s ass over, isn’t she?”
“Do you really believe she’s one of the good guys?”
Dean laughed. “Hell, no! Ellen, I ain’t stupid.”
She stared at him. “Then what am I missing?”
Dean pushed away from the counter. “Lenore isn’t on the human-free diet because she suddenly grew a conscience. She does it because it keeps hunters off her back.”
“Somehow that’s not reassuring.”
Dean nodded. “The thing a lot of hunters don’t get about vampires is they have this…pack instinct. They call it ‘family’ but it’s like their bloodlust: built in. It’s need, not love, but they think it’s love and that’s good enough.” Dean’s eyes were cold, his voice emotionless. “Ellen, when I asked Lenore to help Sam, I made sure I picked her up from her home. I know where her nest is. If she hurts Sam, I’ll kill everyone she loves and her last. She knows it. That’s why I trust her.”
Ellen met his eyes. “You have changed.”
Yeah, a trip to Hell will do that to a man, Dean thought. What he said aloud was, “We all have, Ellen.”
She handed him a mug of black coffee. “True,” she said sadly.
She was thinking of Jo again, Dean guessed. He thanked her for the coffee and took a sip. It was too hot and burned his tongue. He set the mug down to let it cool.
“How…” Ellen began. She swallowed some coffee and tried again. “Did Jo sleep okay?”
“I didn’t sleep with her, Ellen.”
“I believe you. I meant has she been quiet? Stayed in bed?”
The question told Dean a lot about what Ellen had been through with Jo. “As far as I know,” he answered. No nightmares, was what he meant. “She – uh – she seems to be handling it,” he added.
Ellen’s eyes narrowed. “How much did she tell you?”
“Enough. She told me about the demons. No details, but I got the picture.”
“She didn’t tell you about Chicago, then?”
“No. I didn’t ask. Not my business.” The words came out more curtly than Dean intended. “Jo can tell me when she’s ready. If she wants to.” That was better. “Sam should be back by now,” Dean announced to change the subject. “I’m gonna call him.”
Dean picked up his coffee mug and left Ellen alone in the kitchen while he went to phone Sam.
“Can you handle the sun?” Sam asked worriedly. He knew Lenore wouldn’t burn up in the light like vampires in the movies, but he still felt guilty. If he’d kept control of himself they could be back at Bobby’s by now. Instead, Lenore had to face the dawn.
Lenore kept her back to the rising sun. “I can handle it,” she answered. “It’s painful, but I’ll be okay.” She reached for the Impala’s door.
“Get in the back,” Sam suggested. “There’s a blanket on the seat. You can cover yourself with it.”
Lenore smiled. “Thank you.” She climbed into the back seat.
Sam slid in behind the wheel and found his phone ringing insistently on the dash. He answered it quickly. “Hello?”
“Sam? Where are you? What’s taking so long?”
Sam couldn’t explain he’d had some kind of emotional breakdown. Not over the phone. “I’ll explain when we get back,” he evaded. “I think we’re about an hour away if I floor it.” He hesitated then, wondering why Dean was calling, added, “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. Just planning today’s training is all.”
Sam grinned. “What do you have in mind?”
“Oh, I won’t spoil the surprise,” Dean said and Sam knew he was grinning.
“Fine. I’ll see you in an hour.”
“See ya, Sammy.”
“…meteorologists described as a freak tornado which left a trail of destruction across Oklahoma this morning. Early estimates suggest up to four hundred people may have died in the disaster. In other news…”
Bobby snapped off the radio with a snarl.
Ellen stood abruptly and walked across to the window, gazing out.
“What’s wrong?” Dean asked. He got it: the tornado was just the latest in a series of seemingly natural disasters that were anything but natural. But that didn’t explain this reaction.
“When did you last hear from her?” Ellen asked, still with her back to the room.
Dean stared at Bobby. His expression was grim. “A while,” he answered curtly.
“You both know someone in Perry?” Dean guessed.
Ellen nodded. “Hannah Lake.”
“She’s…an old friend,” Bobby added.
Meaning, Dean assumed, that she was a hunter, or at least someone who helped hunters. But Bobby’s grim expression told a different story. Dean knew the old man well enough that he could tell Bobby was struggling not to show his feelings. This Hannah meant something to him. An old girlfriend?
“I’m sorry,” Dean said quietly.
Bobby was already dialling the phone. He held it to his ear for a moment then slammed the receiver down, swearing. “Line’s down,” he explained unnecessarily. He rose to his feet, but then stood there are if he’d forgotten what he was about to do.
Dean had never seen his friend so indecisive.
Finally, Bobby strode toward the stairs. “I’ve got to go out there,” he announced as he left the room.
Dean found Ellen’s hand on his arm. “Let him go,” she ordered. Her eyes warned of dire consequences if Dean disobeyed her. He nodded and returned to his seat. A moment later, he switched the radio back on and re-tuned it to a music channel. No one spoke.
Jo was curled up in her usual chair, one of Bobby’s books resting on her thighs. Occasionally she turned the pages, but Dean wasn’t convinced she was reading.
Sam was in the next room, either whacking off with the computer or sleeping off the morning’s training. Dean didn’t know. Sam was getting stronger, but he wasn’t there yet. Dean was beginning to wonder if he would ever get his brother back completely.
It was no surprise when Bobby reappeared with a bag slung over his shoulder. Dean stood, ignoring Ellen’s signal this time. “We’ll come with you,” he offered.
Bobby hesitated, but then shook his head. “No. Sam’s not recovered yet.”
“Then I’ll come.”
“Whatever happened in Perry, it’s most likely over. I’m just going to check up on her.”
“You don’t know that it’s over, Bobby. What if you walk into the middle of…I don’t know. Some shitstorm.”
Bobby scowled. “You think I can’t handle a hunt, boy?”
Uh-oh. Dean knew that tone. He held up both hands in surrender. “Okay. Okay.”
“If I’m gonna be longer than a week, I’ll call.” Bobby headed for the door.
Dean let him go. Moments later they heard Bobby’s car roar out of the junkyard.
Ellen glared at Dean. “Don’t you dare quiz him about this, Dean.”
Dean returned her look steadily. He couldn’t give her the promise she wanted. “We can’t keep secrets. None of us. Bobby knows that.”
“Now, you listen to me…”
“Dean’s right.” Sam’s voice came from the doorway. He stood there, holding the doorframe for support. Dean hated to see him so weak. “Ellen,” Sam went on, his voice quiet but determined, “when we escaped from Ilchester and came back here, we all agreed. Bobby too. The secrets we all thought we had a right to keep got us into this mess.”
Ellen’s eyes narrowed. “He didn’t agree to share this.”
“That’s not your call,” Sam said firmly.
Ellen met Sam’s eyes for a moment longer, then nodded. “Hannah’s his sister in law. You boys know Bobby was married once, right?”
Dean moved to Sam’s side. “We know. And we know what happened to her. Probably not everything, but…” he shrugged.
“I’m not sure what lies Bobby told the cops, but Hannah never believed it. She thinks he killed Karen. Bobby gave up trying to reconcile a long time ago, but he still keeps an eye on her, from a distance. If he heard of anything happening near her place he’d call me. I’d make sure it got checked out.”
The way Dad always kept an eye on Sam while he was at Stanford. Dean nodded, understanding. “Thanks, Ellen. We’ll keep it to ourselves.”
Sam and Dean spent the next morning training as usual: running through the junkyard, using the cars an improvised obstacle course. It was hard work for Dean; for Sam it was exhausting. When they stopped for lunch he was so tired he could barely eat and after the meal he went up to the bed Jo had slept in and fell asleep at once.
Dean, who hadn’t slept at all the night before, decided to join him.
It was late in the day when he woke. While they slept, they had come together in the bed they were sharing. When Dean woke, it was to find Sam half on top of him, one of his legs between Dean’s. Dean tried to wriggle out from under Sam without disturbing him, but he was trapped. He pushed at Sam’s shoulders.
“Dude, let me up,” he groaned.
Sam stirred and, half-awake, he shifted above Dean. The movement made Dean uncomfortably aware of his brother’s warm body and his breath gusting past Dean’s cheek. Dean shoved Sam away more insistently. “Sam! Get off me!”
This time Sam heard him. He raised himself up on his elbows and met Dean’s eyes sleepily. “Dean?”
“Get off me!”
“Oh. Uh. Sorry.” Sam rolled onto his back, dragging most of the covers with him.
Dean moved away from him. “How are you feelin’?”
Sam frowned. “Okay, I guess.” He sat up and rubbed his shoulder. “I still ache,” he admitted, “but it’s better.”
“Good to know.” Dean pulled his jeans on, turning his back on Sam.
Sam reached for the shirt he’d discarded for sleep. “Lenore’s healed from the poison. We should take her home tonight.”
Dean frowned, twisting around to look at Sam. He narrowed his eyes at his brother. “Did something happen between you two?” he asked. Sam was trying just a bit too hard.
Sam opened his mouth to issue a denial, but stopped. He sighed, his shoulders slumping a little. “Yeah. Kind of.”
Dean thought about how late they returned from Lenore’s hunting trip. “Tell me you didn’t screw her! Geez, Sam, what is it with you and evil chicks?”
Sam looked defiant. “I didn’t have sex with her,” he said, his hand straying to the bite mark on his neck. He sighed again. “There’s something Lenore didn’t tell us when she agreed to help me,” Sam began. He explained, as briefly as he could, what Lenore had told him about the mark.
Damn. I knew the bitch was hiding something. “So what? She can fuck you over now?”
“She says not. I think it’s okay.”
“You believe her?”
Sam was halfway through buttoning his shirt. He stopped and looked at Dean. “Honestly? I’m not sure. I don’t think she lied. She might have left something out.”
“We’re taking her home today,” Dean said decisively. “I want the bitch out of here.” He was pissed. He’d had enough of monsters trying to claim his brother.
Sam finished dressing and sat down on the bed again. “We need to get back out there, Dean.”
Dean shook his head firmly. “You’re not ready, Sam.”
“What’s happening out there won’t wait for us. And we’re both partly responsible.”
“Yeah, you’re right. But I don’t care. Something comes for us – we’ll deal. Until then, we’re doing this my way, Sam. That means training until you’re ready and we have a real plan.” Then he grinned. “You know, when we take her home, we’ll have to pass close by the wood where we trained when we were kids,” he suggested.
“Geez. You really are turning into Dad.”
“Are you up for it?” Dean pressed.
Sam smiled back. “Yeah. Why not?”
In the end, there were four of them on the overnight drive. Lenore seemed as keen to leave as Sam was to get rid of her. It made Dean wonder if Sam was telling him everything. There was nothing for her to pack: Lenore came with only the clothes on her back.
Jo was in the room when Dean explained to Ellen that they wouldn’t be back for a day or two. When she heard Dean say they were going to do some training she asked if she could come.
Dean could tell she was serious. Jo had been in the corner of Bobby’s library when they came down after their nap, engrossed in one of the many books. She was looking for something. She’d been asking about ways to kill demons, Dean remembered, but she wouldn’t find that in Bobby’s books. There was the legendary Colt, which Bela Talbot stole from them…on Lilith’s orders, Dean suspected. There was Ruby’s knife, which remained in Dean’s possession. There was the spell Ruby tried to talk them into using once, but that definitely wasn’t in the books and Dean didn’t picture Jo sacrificing virgins. And there was whatever the hell Sam had been doing when he was hopped up on demon blood. That was it.
On top of that, she wanted to join them training. Jo had some kind of half-assed plan, Dean was sure. Was it better to say yes and keep an eye on her, or say no and hope she’d stay here out of trouble? He thought about her showing up in Philadelphia after everyone told her not to. He glanced at Sam, silently asking his opinion.
“If we’re going to the wood, it would be better to have a third,” Sam suggested.
“Good,” Jo announced. “Then I’m coming.”
Even with a vampire and Jo Harvelle in the back seat, it was good to be back on the road with Sam at his side again. Dean revved the engine hard, turned the music up loud and grinned at his brother as they headed away from Bobby’s place.
Lenore’s home was not unlike the place she was living when they first met: an isolated farmstead in a rural area, miles away from the nearest town. Sam walked with her to the door, wanting a last, private word. Dean and Jo remained in the Impala.
“Thank you, Lenore.” Sam took her hand as they reached the gabled door of the farmhouse.
Lenore squeezed his hand in reply. “You don’t have to thank me, Sam. I was glad to help.”
“I won’t forget it,” Sam promised.
Her smile faded a little. “Sam, about last night…”
“I’m sorry about that,” Sam muttered, embarrassed. He started out kissing her and ended by throwing up. Even if she had to know it wasn’t her, it was a pretty poor start to a relationship.
Lenore seemed to read his thoughts. “I’m not insulted. I just want to say that…well. I told you that the mark doesn’t have to mean anything between us. But it could…if you want it to.”
Sam shook his head. “Thanks, but I plan on dying human.”
“I respect that. I just mean you can have a place here. If you need it.”
Sam drew back, several things becoming clear with her words. “That’s why you came, isn’t it?” he accused. “You want a hunter with you. Why?” But even as the words left his mouth, Sam knew. When Hell rises…we’ll all die, she had told him. “Protection. Not from other hunters. From Lucifer.”
Lenore looked down; it was as good as a confession. When she met Sam’s eyes again, her look was defiant. “Do you blame me?”
“I don’t like being manipulated, Lenore. I’ve had as much of that as I can take in the past few years. You need something from me? Be honest. I owe you my life, but if you lie to me again, I will leave you to burn.”