debbiel66 (debbiel66) wrote,
debbiel66
debbiel66

Off the Map

Title: Off the Map
Author: debbiel
Characters: Dean, Sam
Spoilers: S4 spoilers all the way through 4X22; AU Season 5, soon to be Kripked.
Rating: pg, gen
Warning: language
Word Count: 10,240
Disclaimer: not mine, not at all
A/N: I cannot thank callistosh65 enough for the beta read and for her brilliant suggestions, which made this a much better story than it would have been otherwise. Thanks also to Corinna for the insights about small town Texas. Much appreciated!

Summary: Injured and on the run, Dean and Sam encounter a town that is nothing like anything they've ever encountered.

Excerpt: Sam is tired. He’s weary to the bone, and this kind of death would make a lot of people happy. Give the hunting world something to talk about for years to come – the delicious irony of the potential anti-Christ being taken out by a fifty-year-old possessed lady wearing a bracelet with poodle charms.





Off the Map




THEN…


There’s a classic werewolf moon overhead, and it feels like old times, just the two of them kicking back at an old cemetery, waiting for a headless ghost to appear.

“So when’s your Sleepy Hollow wannabe gonna show?” Sam asks. It’s something Dean might have asked, but he doesn’t like his brother’s tone.

“It’s El Muerto, dumbass. He’s a headless bandito, not a headless horseman. Have some respect.”

“He doesn’t have a head, Dean. I don’t think he’s really going to care what I call him.”

Dean hates it when Sam gets like this. This is El Muerto, the one who got away, the job any self-respecting hunter would kill for. After Bobby took the call that the headless bandito had been reported haunting cemeteries around South Texas, Dean started packing. It’s what he’s been waiting for - something to get Sam out of the funk he’s been in since coming off the hellblood just over a month ago.

He and Sam haven’t been working jobs, not with angels and demons falling like predestined dominos. Lucifer has been shaking up the natural order of things, but that’s all they know and it’s all Dean wants to know. He’s sick of the whole thing. He knows the angels are still watching him even though they’re keeping their distance. He can almost see the shadow of wings when he comes into a room.

“Dude, do you know what Dad would’ve given for a shot at El Muerto?”

It’s the wrong thing to say, and Sam gets that bitchy look on his face that makes Dean want to slap him upside the head. But before Sam has a chance to say anything, a bullet ricochets off the headstone that he’s leaning against.

They dive for cover. For a second, Dean looks wildly around for El Muerto, until he hears the buzz of another bullet as it barely misses his ear. It takes another second to realize that the bullets aren’t coming from a headless cowboy, and that the rock salt in their shotguns is pretty much worthless against living assassins.

“Stay down!” he yells, but he can’t see his brother, not with bullets raining down all around them.

Shit. Dean has no idea how they got the drop on him. Luckily, he’s got his .45 in his ankle holster and hopes that Sam’s done the same, but the kid’s head has hardly been in the game as it is.

The cemetery is slashed by moonlight, but he can see shadows slipping in and out between the trees that border the graves. None of the shadows belong to Sam, and Dean realizes that he’s not drawing fire. Whoever these bastards are, they’re gunning for Sam, which is pretty damn unacceptable.

“You touch my brother, I swear I’ll kill you!” he shouts into the darkness.

They keep firing but not at him, so Dean swears under his breath and goes after them. When it comes to Sam, Dean always keeps his promises.

By the time Dean finds his brother, Sam’s on the ground and is getting pistol-whipped by a hunter who’s got him pinned. The guy’s the size of a barn, and Dean recognizes him as a hunter from the Roadhouse. Dean doesn’t bother shouting a warning before he shoots the bastard in the back and shoves the seizing body off Sam.

Dean kneels onto the muddy ground, running his hands over Sam and checking for damage. But what Dean really wants to do is to scream at his brother, what the hell’s the matter with you? Are you trying to get yourself killed? You weren’t even fighting back.

A twig snaps behind him, and Dean’s just pulled his gun, when he feels an explosion of pain like someone’s taken a tire iron to him. Whatever it is, it catches him in the ribs, knocking the crap out of him. While he lies writhing on the ground, Sam pulls his gun out of his ankle holster and shoots the son of a bitch without missing a beat. Then he collapses back onto the ground next to Dean.

At least two of their would-be snipers get away, but not before Dean recognizes one as a woman he’d met once when he was a kid. She must have worked with Dad on a job, which gives Dean a sick feeling inside that has nothing to do with his cracked ribs.

Sam’s bashed up, and his own ribs feel like broken glass, but Dean peels out of there like the devil’s on his tail. Dean has no idea where they’re going, but it’s sinking in that they no longer have a community backing them up. They have Bobby, but Dean hates putting him in that kind of position. He keeps thinking about them - the hunters that he’s known his whole life as role models, the ones who fought next to Dad.

Dean tries not to think about which side John Winchester would have taken if he’d lived to fight this war.


*****



NOW…


The first thing Sam notices is the banner. The thing has got to be 40 feet long, and it stretches across the main street of a town that isn’t even supposed to be there. In big block letters, it proclaims: PHILISTINE WELCOMES SAM AND DEAN!!!

“Holy crap.”

Dean slams on the brakes, and Sam has to brace himself to avoid taking a header into the windshield. All he needs is a little head trauma to add to the blood and gore quota of a classic Winchester day.

“Damnit, Dean, be careful!”

“Do you see it too?”

“Yeah, I see it, but easy on the brakes.”

But Dean’s already groping for his sawed off. “Sam, get down. You’re too big a target. Freakin town isn’t on the map. Where the hell’s my gun?”

“Dude, it’s right where you left it.”

Sam reaches for the shotgun and hands it over, wincing as the sudden movement jars the remaining parts of his body that aren’t currently oozing and bloody. Grim-faced, Dean immediately starts loading it with the shells filled with rock salt that he keeps in the glove compartment.

There are people coming at them from all directions, adults and kids, and at least a half a dozen dogs. Over the rumble of the engine, he can hear people cheering and whooping it up. One of the dogs sits back on its haunches and howls.

Dean grabs the back of Sam’s neck and pushes him down onto the seat.

“What the hell, Dean. Let go of me. That hurts!”

“I want you to stay down, Sam, I mean it. These people know our names, and they sure as hell aren’t rolling out the welcome wagon.”

“Quit shoving me. I’m not going to hide while you defend me. Give it up already.”

“Sam, I don’t have time to argue with you! Get down and stay down.”

Sam is getting pissed. “No. Why should I?”

“Because I said so! So get. The hell. Down.”

Oh.

Because I said so. So they’re back to that again. Sam swears under his breath, but he goes ahead and crams his aching body into the space between the seat and the dash, trying to keep his head out of target range. It’s stupid and more than a little humiliating, but this is the new deal, the price of being forgiven for the greatest screw-up in the history of the whole world.

Dean has given up everything for Sam. It’s only right that Sam gives up something for Dean in return.

But he is really, really uncomfortable. His body’s taken a beating, and there are plenty of places where his shirt is stuck to his skin with dried blood. Sam knows that Dean’s not doing much better. He hides it well, but Sam can read Dean’s pain better than his own.

Dean rolls down the window and supports the weight of the gun with his forearm, but Sam doesn’t like this. They need to slow down, be smart about they’re doing. Just because Dean’s gone all alpha on him doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to open fire on a crowd.

Sam thinks back over his training with Ruby. Did she ever talk about a mass possession? He wonders how many demons he could exorcise at once. The most he’s ever done is two simultaneously but he has a feeling he could do more if he had to. Sam’s gone cold turkey, and it’s been one month, three days, and almost two hours since he’s used his powers, but it’s always there as a choice. As a possibility.

Then there’s the fact that he still wants it, maybe even still needs it, all that potential lying in wait like a feral thing curled up inside of him…

“Stay back. Everyone stay away from the car!” Dean shouts out the window.

Even though Sam knows that there’s no one more careful around civilians than his brother, Dean’s ferocity from the night before is scaring him now. Dean’s not thinking straight…he’s just not. Sam can’t forget how Dean shot those hunters.

“Dean, they’re civilians.”

“Like hell those are civilians. They know our names, Sam!”

“There are kids out there.”

“Right, and we both know that demons never possess kids. Look, do you know how many things want to mount your head above their fireplace? You’re like a trophy, dude.”

“But Dean—”

“Stay down. Sonuvabitch! They’re still coming.”

Glowering at his brother, Sam stays where he is and reminds himself why he’s going along with this. Dean saved him. He pulled Sam out of perdition, just as surely as Castiel first saved Dean. He’d kept Sam from eating his gun or slitting his own throat more than once, during withdrawal and after, and Dean had only asked for this one thing.

Let me keep you safe, Sammy. I’m gonna take care of this. You gotta trust me to save you.

Dean’s still shouting out the window, “Don’t come any closer! Ah, crap.”

“What’s going on?”

“They’re taking pictures.”

“No way.” Sam tries to get into a more comfortable position, but Dean uses the butt of the gun to prod him back down again. “Ow, damnit, that hurts. I’m not getting up, I’m just trying to talk to you. We can’t let them take pictures.”

“Yes, college boy, I know,” Dean replies with exaggerated politeness. “And that’s why you need to stay the hell down or I’m going to beat the crap out of you. All I need is our pictures posted all over the freakin internet…”

There’s a voice way too close to Dean’s side of the car. “Oh my gosh, he’s even more beautiful than in the pictures.”

That makes Sam smile, and he elbows his brother’s knee. “They think you’re beautiful, Dean. They must be possessed.”

“Shut up,” Dean grumbles, before yelling out the window, “Hey! Get away from the car! Have any of you people noticed that I have a gun?”

Sam hears a different voice call out, “Where’s Sam? I can kind of see him. Isn’t he supposed to be seven feet tall?”

Dean tenses up even more, and he glares down at Sam. “Can’t you get down any further?”

“No, Dean I can’t. I’m not five years old anymore.”

“That’s debatable,” Dean mutters, and Sam would like to take a swing at him, when he thinks of something that makes him feel cold inside.

“Maybe it’s a trickster who’s doing this.”

“Or maybe it’s a town of possessed nut-cases. Damnit, I can’t even back the car up.”

“Why not?”

“Cheerleaders.”

Partly because his back and shoulders are absolutely killing him and partly because he wants to see the cheerleaders, Sam decides he’s had enough. He accidentally elbows Dean in the side, as he painfully climbs onto his own seat.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“I’m getting up, Dean. Nobody’s shooting at us.”

“Oh look, it’s Sam! It’s really him!” There are a couple girls who look like they’re turning thirteen and who are pointing. When he looks their way, they grab each other by the elbows and giggle.

Wide-eyed, Sam turns to his brother. “God, Dean. What’s going on here?

He’s seen a lot, but this is over the top. There are people milling around everywhere. A few are waving. Even if Dean opened fire, the sheer numbers would immediately overwhelm them. Sam duly checks off yet another sign of the apocalypse – mass demonic possession.

“Hey, don’t touch the car!” Dean bitches out the window at a couple kids who are bouncing on the fender. He turns to Sam. “I say we take out a couple cheerleaders and get the hell out of here. This is some serious kind of crazy.”

Sam doesn’t like it, but he thinks Dean’s right. They have no choice other than to start firing into the crowd.

“Go slow,” he warns, looking over his shoulder. “They’re doing a pyramid. Wait for the dismount.”

“The dismount?” Dean smirks at him. “Dude, seriously. You know cheerleading terms?”

“Jess was a cheerleader in high school. She…showed me some stuff,” Sam says a little defensively and then sees that there’s a break before their next stunt. “Okay, back up now, go slow.”

Dean shifts the car into reverse, and they’re both checking to see if they’re clear, when there’s a businesslike tap at his window. Before they even turn around, Sam’s got his knife out of its ankle holster and Dean swings the sawed off, whacking Sam in the face with the barrel.

There in Sam’s window is a pleasant, smiling middle-aged woman, wearing a pink cowboy shirt, with her hands held up in cheerful surrender. Sam’s mouth falls open, but she is miming for Sam to roll down the window.

“Sam, don’t do it –”

Sam goes ahead and starts rolling down the window, ignoring Dean cussing him out. He knows he’s being stupid. He does know better. With his luck, this perfectly nice woman is going to rip out his throat with her teeth. There are so many ways that this could come to a grotesque and absurd ending.

But Sam is tired. He’s weary to the bone, and this kind of death would make a lot of people happy. Give the hunting world something to talk about for years to come – the delicious irony of the potential anti-Christ being taken out by a fifty-year-old possessed lady wearing a bracelet with poodle charms.

Sam sticks his head out the window. “Okay, let’s get this over with. What do you want from us?”

The woman leans down so her face is just a few inches away, and Sam can smell her spearmint gum. She doesn’t seem the least bit put out by the shotgun muzzle Dean’s got aimed between her eyes.

“Sam and Dean Winchester. I’m Abby Wessell, and it’s an honor to meet you. We’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

Dean mutters something under his breath that sounds like sorry, Sammy. Sam doesn’t get why until Dean says, “Christo,” and Sam’s body and soul implode in the wake of that singular word.

“Sorry, sorry,” Dean babbles, but Sam is doubled over, trying to breathe again. The word is still molten fire running quicksilver through his veins, but it doesn’t do a thing to deter the woman. She’s just standing there, watching them both with something that almost looks like pity.

“You okay, Sammy?”

Sam is still breathing which pretty much defines okay in their book, so he nods. He’s fine, except for the fact that he’s not.

They found out about this a few weeks ago– the fact that holy water and crucifixes and love songs in Latin now cause Sam excruciating pain. Sam knows that this has been a sucker punch for Dean, even though his brother does not want to talk about it. Now that Sam’s off the demon blood, Dean wants this to be behind them. But Sam knows that this will never be over, not for him. Ruby was telling the truth.

It wasn’t the blood, it was you…and your choices…

The potential for evil is always going to be in him. It might lay dormant some of the time, but it will always be there, waiting for the right opportunity, waiting for him to fall. It is only a matter of time.

“Sam. Sammy? You okay?”

“I’m okay,” Sam mutters, trying to rub away the pain in his head, but he’s only managed to open up a cut on his forehead.

“You poor boys.” The woman sighs somewhat sorrowfully.

“Who are you and what do you want?” Dean asks.

“Please. Call me Mrs. Wessell.” She smiles. “You two are worried that we’re possessed, and I don’t blame you, not with all you’ve been through. Do you have any holy water? You could splash some on us to make yourselves feel better. Wait, I have a better idea. We have a well in the center of town, and we could hook up a hose, kind of like your father did in ‘Salvation.’ He was a very brave man, your father, and we’re so sorry for your loss. I know it was a few years ago, but that sort of grief doesn’t go away.”

It takes nerve bringing up their dad. Dean, for once, is speechless, but it pisses Sam off and he says, “Christo” out of sheer defiance. Saying the word burns the inside of his mouth and throat like scalding water.

“Quit hurting yourself, Sam.” Dean’s furious and cuffs him on the back of the head. “Okay lady, listen up. If you all aren’t demons, then I’m guessing you’re true believers. So I want you to go and tell all your friends that if you’re jockeying for position in my brother’s kingdom or any crap like that, you’re gonna have to find yourself a new boy king. Sammy’s retired!”

“Good for you, Sam!” Mrs. Wessell says, beaming. “We knew things would work out as long as you boys stuck together. Now come on and why don’t you get out of that hot car? We didn’t have much time to prepare once we knew you were coming, but we do have iced tea.” She admonishes the people gathered closest to the car, “Give them some space. They’re a little nervous.”

There’s murmuring in the crowd, but people back away, most still smiling and some waving. The cheerleaders have moved to Sam’s side of the car and are starting up a new routine, and there’s a little kid dribbling a basketball by the curb.

Sam takes a breath and tries to pull himself together. He looks over at Dean, who is scowling, staring out at the crowd.

“What do we do?” Sam whispers.

Dean lowers the shotgun, resting the barrel on Sam’s lap. “I don’t know. We don’t know jack about this town, but I don’t know how long it’s gonna be till we find anything else. I don’t like it, but I think we gotta find out what’s going on here.”

They open their doors slowly, and Dean brandishes the shotgun as a warning. As they get out of the car, the crowd explodes with wildly enthusiastic applause.

Dean cautiously sidles over to Sam and mutters, “I feel like I’m in a freakin Twilight Zone episode.”

“Dude, our lives are a Twilight Zone episode.”

“Our lives are weird. This is batshit crazy.”

Shoulder to shoulder, they walk down the middle of the road following Mrs. Wessell, still scanning the crowd for any sign of an attack. Sam’s got dried blood stuck in his eyelashes, and his face is swelling up. Dean’s all hunched over to one side like he always is when his ribs are cracked. They’re not much to look at, yet all these people are carrying on like they’re the Second Coming.

That thought sobers Sam up quickly. Nothing has changed, not really. They’re still the damned chosen ones, Dean by heaven and Sam by hell. Sam likes Dean’s odds better, and he’d like to give his brother the best shot that he can. The only reason Sam hasn’t blown his brains out by now is because he knows now that it would kill Dean. Sam has had enough of killing his big brother for this one ruined lifetime.

When the street turns a corner, they almost collide into a marching band. Oddly enough, Sam couldn’t hear music until the band was practically on top of them, and he’s still staring while Dean hauls him out of the way. The band marches by, and they’re cute - the little trombonists, the trumpet players, the chubby girl with the drum. They’ve got their whole lives ahead of them.

Sam watches until they’re gone.

There’s an ache inside he can hardly understand, words spoken in a waking dream he can’t remember, the memory of himself as a boy that he can’t forget.

I thought we were going to be normal.

As a kid, he’d always wanted to be in a parade.



*****




As he finishes off his fourth glass of iced tea, which is sweet enough to make his teeth hurt, Dean keeps his other hand on his .45 and his eyes on the handful of strangers who are still smiling at him. He remembers mocking heaven to Cas as some kind of Stepford paradise, and he wonders if this whole thing is someone’s idea of ironic justice. He hasn’t seen Cas since the angel sent him to go save Sam, but he wouldn’t put this past Zachariah.

A couple days ago, he and Sam were safely bored, hiding out from Armageddon at Bobby’s. Now he’s sitting with Sam in a bright yellow kitchen drinking tea and trying not to think about the fact that these people seem to know every detail about his life. Dean’s tired from driving all night, and his ribs hurt like hell. He’s got his gun on the table in plain sight, hoping it reminds these very pleasant whack jobs – don’t mess with me and my brother.

Mrs. Wessell had taken them to a very nice house with a picket fence, flowers out front, and a plaque on the door that read, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers for some have entertained angels unawares.”

Dean refused to go in at first, but Sam convinced him that the advice on the plaque probably wasn’t intended as a threat.

He can’t stop thinking about that plaque, while he tries to figure out what they’re dealing with. Dean was thinking demons, which is still the most likely scenario. Sam brought up a trickster, which was possible, but which is becoming less and less likely as the day went on and no Martians land in the center of town. This is weird, but it’s almost too subtle for a trickster. That leaves angels. Maybe this is a town full of angels trying to test him in some way or another, which would just suck, but Dean wouldn’t put it past those dicks to screw with him this way.

“Is something bothering you, dear?” Mrs. Wessell asks him pleasantly, as she fills his glass with even more iced tea.

Dean clenches his jaw and tries not to throw her a dirty look. What’s bothering him? Well, there’s the little fact that the town seems to have been waiting for them. And then there’s also the disturbing fact that everyone they’ve met seems to know personal things about them– everything from Sam’s geeky love affair with his laptop to Dean’s virginity upon coming back from hell. Some teenage jerk asked him about that.

But that’s not all that’s bugging Dean. Sam’s bugging him. His pain in the ass brother has hated being touched ever since coming off the demon blood. So here is Sam letting some pre-med student, home on vacation from UT, stitch and bandage the worst of the gashes he got from that pistol whipping. Damn hunter…seeing the mess he made of his brother, Dean wishes he could kill the bastard all over again.

Even so, Dean doesn’t like the idea of some twenty-year-old medical student practicing first aid on Sam. All they need is for any of those wounds to get infected or something even worse. Dean offered – okay he’d demanded – to stitch them up himself. After all, he’s been stitching up Sammy since the kid could walk.

But Sam said, “No way. Not until you get your ribs taken care of. I can hear you rattling from across the room.”

Dean knew full well that Sam was damn stubborn enough to hold out on medical attention just as long as he did, so he reluctantly agreed.

He’s not going to admit his ribs feel better, and the med student’s work on Sam’s face looks all right, but it’s not as careful as Dean would have done it.

Dean’s about to say thank you anyway, when the pre-med student grins and says, “We stockpiled bandages when we heard you two were coming.”

That’s almost enough to make Dean go for his shotgun again. It brings it all home. They have no idea who these people are, and yet he and Sam are sitting in their kitchen.

“Okay, that’s enough.” Dean points at some little kid who’s poking at Sam’s tattoo. “You back off too.”

Sam rolls his eyes. “Dean…”

Dean glares at his brother. “Shut up. And put your shirt back on. There’s people taking pictures through the window.” He points at Sam’s iced tea. “What’s that green stuff? Mine doesn’t have that. Why does yours?”

Mrs. Wessell diplomatically reminds him, “Sally asked you if you wanted any mint in your tea, but you said no.”

Dean ignores her. “How do you know it’s mint?”

“It tastes like mint,” Sam says sulkily.

“I grow it in my garden,” a young woman explains. Sally probably.

“I’m not going to be assassinated by iced tea. Get over it, Dean.”

“You don’t know that.”

Dean’s about ready to haul his brother out of the damn kitchen, but his plans are interrupted by an older man who approaches the table. The guy’s just been one of many people coming in and out of the room, and Dean hasn’t been paying much attention to him. It was one of the first things his dad ever taught him – never turn your back on the quietest person in the room. The guy gestures for Mrs. Wessell to take a seat, and all the others leave the kitchen.

The man holds out his hand but Dean doesn’t take it. He offers his hand to Sam, but Dean knocks it away. The guy’s persistent. He shrugs and takes a seat next to Mrs. Wessell.

“I’m Steve Johnston. I’m a pastor at the Baptist church here in Philistine, the only church in Philistine now, even though, believe it or not, there used to be a dozen.”

“Yeah, yeah, demonic priests are a dime a dozen. So what do you want with me and my brother?”

“You think I’m possessed?” the guy asks, and Dean wants to clock him for looking amused.

Mrs. Wessell leans in. “We want to thank you… offer some hospitality. For all you’ve done for all of us, we certainly owe you boys that much.”

The pastor nods. “That pretty much covers it. Abby’s good at getting to the heart of things.”

“Okay, that’s enough.” Dean pushes his chair back from the table. “You act like you know us. You know our names. How about you fill us in with your agenda before we just exorcise the lot of you?”

Sam frowns. “Dean, they’re not demons. I’d be able to feel it if they were. Could you try and relax? I know your ribs are killing you.”

“If they’re not demons, then what are they?”

Sam chews on his lip, before he suddenly asks, “Are you fans?”

“That’s all we need…more of your demon groupies,” Dean mutters, and Sam shakes his head.

“Not fans of me, dumbass. Fans of the books, you know, Chuck’s books… Supernatural. Maybe they’ve read the series.”

Dean shrugs. That actually makes some sense, but it doesn’t explain how they knew that we were coming …

Mrs. Wessell nods eagerly, her eyes bright. “We’ve been following the words of the prophet for a long time, even before the prophet knew he was a prophet. We know the truth.”

“What truth?” Sam asks.

The pastor replies, “The truth about the real world. We know what we’re up against, what you’ve already done for us. We’ve been praying for you boys ever since we’ve known about you.”

Dean is stunned, trying to get his mind around what they’re telling him. “You know the truth? All of it?”

Sam cuts in, “Ghosts, goblins? Demons? You’re saying you believe in all of it?”

Mrs. Wessell says, “Ghosts are real, goblins are real. Demons are certainly real, but we’ve always known that.”

“It’s all in the prophecies,” the pastor adds. “We own the first editions of most of the books.”

Sam persists, “But the books aren’t being published any more. Chuck… I mean the prophet… hasn’t been putting out new books for over a year now.”

“We follow his blog. Praise the Lord for wireless. The prophet posted yesterday that you boys would be coming to Philistine and that you would need some hospitality.” Mrs. Wessell waves her hand vaguely at the tea and cookies. “Nobody’s been doing anything but getting ready ever since.”

A new horrifying idea occurs to Dean, even as he struggles to make sense of what these people are telling them. “So you’re saying that every evil sonuvabitch who’s out to get us only has to read Chuck’s blog to find out where we are?”

“Of course not,” Mrs. Wessell reassures him. “He’s got his site locked. We’re on his friends’ list. I’m sure he would add you as well.”

“Terrific,” Dean says, darkly. “Who’s to say he doesn’t have Lucifer as a friend?”

Pastor Steve says, “He’s a prophet. That’s some tough security to break.”

Sam is trying to make sense of this. “So y’all are Chuck’s…followers?”

Pastor Steve says, “We’re Baptists. But we listen to the prophet. We’re facing Armageddon, you know.”

For the life of him, Dean doesn’t know what to say. He needs to check in with Sam, but his brother is just shaking his head, clearly nonplussed.

Mrs. Wessell pushes the tray of cookies at Sam. “Have some more, Sam. The prophet says that you haven’t been eating well since starting the apocalypse.”

“That’s true,” Dean admits, kind of impressed. Sam glares at his brother even as he dutifully takes a cookie, and damn, these people are good.

“The cookies were originally for the bake sale, but now that you’re here, we obviously don’t need to keep holding it.”

“The bake sale?”

The pastor says, “We’ve been holding a bake sale every Sunday for a good long time. We know you boys have been getting by with credit card fraud and hustling pool, but that’s just not a reliable source of income, not in these economic times. Now, I’m not judging you. We have quite a few former cons in our congregation.”

Mrs. Wessell adds, “We figured with the banks tightening up lines of credit, you boys would need some ready cash.”

And wouldn’t you know, Sam, anti-Christ sap that he is, looks like he’s about to cry. He asks quietly, “You held a bake sale for us?”

Dean rolls his eyes. “You are so friggin easy.”

Sam throws him a dirty look just as a younger woman ventures into the kitchen, smiling apologetically while balancing a crying baby on her hip.

“Sorry, I’ve been listening in. I also wanted to say thank you for everything you’ve done. You boys haven’t had much of a life, but it’s not in vain, you have to know that. My baby’s name is Johnny. We named him after your father.”

Dean just stares. He’s suddenly very tired and more than a little bewildered. Nobody has ever thanked him for his life before. Nobody but Sam, and that’s different.

Mrs. Wessell pats him on the arm. “I fixed up a room in the house. You boys need to rest. And don’t tell us you don’t need one. The prophet said you would.”



*****




For the first time in a long time, Sam lies down and tries to relax. They’re sharing a room – Dean insisted on it, saying that he didn’t trust any of these people, but Sam has a feeling it’s more that Dean doesn’t trust him. Not that Sam blames him.

The room isn’t much, but it’s clean, and there’s a tray with some apples and bananas on the dresser. Dean’s already dozing off, arms and legs splayed out, but Sam is pretty sure he’s not going to sleep tonight. He hardly sleeps at all any more, even though he’s good at lying still enough to fool Dean.

The last time he slept soundly was his last night with Ruby. Sam has no idea what that says about him, but he certainly can’t ask Dean. His brother wants to forget that she ever existed. Calls her “that demon bitch” or “your skank ex” when he talks about her at all.

But Sam thinks about Ruby late at night when he can’t sleep. It’s not that he misses her; he probably hates her. But there’s something about someone who knows everything about you and still sticks around.

There’s a quiet knock at the door. Sam instinctively reaches for his gun on the bedside table, but Dean’s snoring softly so he leaves it. Dean will back him up if anything goes wrong.

There’s an old man standing in the hallway, but Sam doesn’t remember him from before. This man’s wrinkles have wrinkles, and his shoulders are hunched, fingers arthritic, but other than that, he seems almost spry. Sam steps out into the hallway to see what he wants.

“Samuel,” the man drawls. “Samuel Winchester in the flesh. So you’re the one that’s causing all this trouble. My God, you’re just a boy.”

Sam has no idea what to say to that. “I’m sorry, sir, but my brother’s sleeping.”

The old man seems to have his own agenda. He rests his hand on Sam’s bandaged cheek and says, “You’re more than the worst thing you’ve done, Samuel. The prophet wanted me to tell you that tonight.”

Wow. Chuck’s sure getting a lot of mileage from this Prophet of the Lord gig. But Sam clears his throat. “You don’t know what I’ve done, sir.”

“Look at me son.” Even though he has no idea why, Sam does as he’s told. “I was on the beach at Normandy. I can’t tell you how many men I killed that day. I was twenty, just a boy, even younger than you, which doesn’t seem possible to look at you. I survived the war, came back home and married my sweetheart. We had babies, five of them. Two girls and three boys. Spent the rest of my life here in Philistine. Samuel, I know what you’ve done, and I know what it’s cost you.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Sam asks, bewildered.

“Losing the war doesn’t mean you’re any less of a hero, boy.”

To Sam’s astonishment, the man stands at attention and salutes him. Sam’s mouth falls open, and his eyes fill up. He doesn’t know what to say. Without another word, the man turns and walks back down the hall.

Sam almost collides with Dean who is waiting on the other side of the door.

“You okay, Sammy?”

“No,” he answers, honestly for once. “Are you?”

Dean shrugs and yawns. “Been better. Been a whole lot worse. You hungry? You want an apple?”

Strangely enough, Sam does.



*****



“Sam, we gotta hit the road.” Dean takes another sip of the best coffee he’s ever had. He still isn’t convinced that these people don’t have some deal going with some all-powerful being out there… there’s always a catch, and this is damn fine coffee. “I called Bobby and he says we’ve pretty much got a bounty on our heads, not to mention all your demon groupies that keep circling his house. Said he’s never heard of a town called Philistine before.”

Sam is still in a fog, but he’s studying the map. “Yeah, it’s not here, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. A lot of these little towns aren’t on the map.”

“Still doesn’t make me feel better.”

“I’m just trying to figure out where we go next.”

The kitchen door swings open, and the pastor ambles into the room, disgustingly cheerful as always. He’s got his own cup of the awesome coffee, but his good mood doesn’t make a lot of sense to Dean. If these people know the truth like they claim to, then what the hell do they have to be so happy about?

“Good news,” the pastor says. “The prophet updated about an hour ago, and you can stay the rest of the day. I went ahead and emailed him to be sure, and he thought you should probably leave by tonight. He says he doesn’t have divine guidance for that one. It’s just a hunch.”

“A hunch,” Dean says with a smirk. “Good to know that prophets still get hunches.”

“He says ‘hi’ to you boys by the way.”

Dean puts down his coffee. “Well you go and say ‘hi’ right back at him. And tell him not to put any archangels on our tail.”

“I’ll do that.”

Sam is frowning. “Why would you even want us to stay? You’re a lot safer without us here.”

“We just want to help you out. It’s about the only way that we can thank you. It’s no different than we’d do for any of our young people come back on furlough.”

“But what exactly are you thanking us for?” Sam asks.

Pastor Steve looks thoughtful. “For risking everything to fight evil, trying to stop Lucifer. We’re all in danger, but you’re the ones who answered the call.”

Sam looks like he’s angry, but Dean knows better. Sam is shutting down. “You should thank Dean. He’s the hero, not me.”

“C’mon Sam, enough with the crap already…”

“No it’s true. You’re acting like we’re the same, you and me, but we’re not.” Sam turns back to the pastor. “My brother is the one who’s going to save you. I have nothing to offer you, any of you. Because of me, you’re all in danger of dying in ways you can’t even imagine.”

“Son, you listen to me.” The pastor looks to Dean first, almost like he’s asking for permission before turning back to Sam. “There are forces that are bigger than you and me. There’s another world playing itself out right beside this one. I know there’s good and there’s evil, but there’s a whole lot in between. You two are the ones making the hard choices. I have no right to judge you, either of you.”

“You’re taking a helluva risk,” Dean says. “We’ve had a lot of innocent people die because they were friends with us.”

“You’ve saved even more. But we don’t care about numbers. One person can make all the difference in the world.”

But Sam smiles bitterly. “Ruby said I was the only one who could do this. So I guess you’re right. One person can make a difference.” That’s all he says before he’s out the door.

Dean turns back to the pastor. “I’m getting sick and tired of this ‘one person makes a difference’ crap. The deal is that I don’t want to be the one who makes a difference, and I want everyone to leave me and my brother out of this.”

“That doesn’t look very likely, Dean.”

“I know it,” Dean says miserably and goes to the window. Sam is sitting down on the front porch and is being surrounded by a bunch of kids who had been playing in the street. None of them seem freaked out by his little brother, the anti-Christ. One of them is touching his hair.

The pastor says quietly, “Not even the prophet knows how this is all going to turn out.”

“Yeah thanks, that’s really comforting. And that’s another thing. About Chuck…your prophet. He’s a nice enough guy, but he’s an ordinary guy. Do you get it? He’s normal, like you and me.”

“Exactly.” Pastor Steve nods cryptically. “Now you’re beginning to understand.”



*****



Philistine knows how to do a potluck. Sam hasn’t been to one since he was at Stanford, and that had been mostly keggers and Mexican food, not this sea of cowboy hats and boots and enough Pyrex to cover folding tables from one end of the dancehall to the other.

In the corner, two cub scouts are sitting at a small picnic table behind the sign: All Proceeds Benefit Winchester Boys. Help Support the Fight Against Lucifer!!!

Philistine apparently believes in exclamation marks as well.

Of course Dean insists on buying two ziplocks filled with brownies. The kids don’t want him to pay, but he hands over his two quarters anyway. Dean tosses a baggie to Sam, innocently holding up his hands in mock surrender.

“What? It’s for a good cause. Besides, these brownies are awesome!”

Right about then, two women come up to Dean and start talking. It already feels like everyone knows Dean, but that’s how it is with Dean. Sam lets himself hope that maybe someday when this is over, his big brother can live in a place like this, surrounded by people who genuinely like him.

One of the women is explaining, “Of course, our book club can never agree which one we like best. I like the early gospels myself. Things were so much simpler then. But I still get cold chills when I go by mirrors. Praise God that you boys took care of Mary when you did. Poor Sam was feeling so guilty about his girl …”

It’s too much for him right now. Sam walks away, knowing that Dean is being taken care of.

Sam stands near the back door and watches the gym fill up. It looks like everyone in the town has showed up to see them on their way. It makes him uneasy being in a room that’s filled with so many innocent people. Sometimes, Sam remembers that poor vampire girl, Lucy, and how she was tormented by the sound of beating hearts. It’s probably his imagination, but sometimes Sam thinks he can hear the demon blood running through his veins, pumping in and out of his heart, corrupting his soul inside and out…

“He worries about you.”

Startled, Sam looks over to see Mrs. Wessell standing next to him. He doesn’t know how long she’s been there. He’s been getting sloppy, letting things get past him.

“I was just going to go back and make sure we were all packed.”

“Come sit with me a while.”

He’s not sure why but he doesn’t say no. So he lets her lead him to a pair of folding metal chairs.

“Ma’am…what did you want to talk to me about?”

“Do you believe you’re damned?” she asks.

Sam almost falls off his chair. His voice comes out in a squeak. “Excuse me?”

“Do you believe it doesn’t matter what you do with the rest of your life? That you’re cursed anyway?”

For a moment, Sam forgets himself, and his temper rises up. “What the hell does it matter what I believe? And what kind of question is that to ask someone? Don’t you understand what I’ve done?”

“Yes, Sam, I do.”

“Then you should keep the hell away from me. All these people should. I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”

“Do you want some milk? I can get you some.”

Excuse me?”

“A glass of milk. A tall boy like you, your bones aren’t full grown yet and need the calcium. The prophet says you haven’t been taking care of yourself. Stay here, I’ll go get some.”

Sam sits there dumbfounded while she disappears into the adjoining kitchen. She must have had it ready because she’s back before he can get away. She hands him the glass, and he takes a tentative sip. It’s good, really good actually. He can’t remember the last time he had a cold glass of milk. He used to drink it all the time…

Then Mrs. Wessell hands him a plate of cookies, chocolate chip oatmeal, which used to be the kind Jess liked to bake. He wonders if Chuck included that sort of thing in his first book and if that was how Mrs. Wessell knew to bring them…

“Eat one honey,” she urges, and Sam takes a bite obediently. It’s warm, the chocolate chips still melting, and it reminds him of Jess and the way she would shove cookies in his mouth when they were too hot, straight out of the oven. Was it so unforgivable that Sam is grateful that Jess never has to find out what he’s become?

“They’re good, aren’t they? I made those myself.”

“Very good. It’s been a long time since I had these. Thank you.”

“Did Jess make them for you? Was it the last time, before she died?”

The cookie tastes like ashes in his mouth. He can’t swallow.

Mrs. Wessell leans closer to him. “The prophet took a lot of care describing her, Sam. It sounds like she was something special.”

Sam does not want to talk about this, any of this. He doesn’t belong anywhere near decent people, his own brother included. Who is he kidding? No good can come from pretending that he is anything else but evil cloaked as a nice young man from Kansas.

“You’re in trouble. Is it the demon blood still?”

Fight or flight kicks in… Sam stands up…because, what the hell?

He can barely get the words out. “How do you know? Chuck said....he…he said he wasn’t going to put that in.”

“He included it after…after you let Lucifer out. The prophet wrote that he’d been enabling you by keeping it out before.”

The world spins, as Sam considers the ramifications. This means that every person in the room knows this about him. They know who he is and what he’s done and they aren’t running away from him screaming. He deserves revulsion and horror, not banners and balloons. Not a bake sale.

“If you know…if you all know about me, what I’ve done, then why this?”

“Sit down,” she says. Her voice is like steel, and he can’t help but listen to it. Maybe there is something about her holding him here against his will… “I’m not possessed, Sam,” she says, reading his mind again. “I was possessed once when I was a child, but I haven’t been since.”

Sam stares. It makes sense, the way she talks directly at him, like they have something in common. They’ve met many children over the years who have been possessed, but Sam has no idea what it would be like to get over that.

“How did you get away?”

“My daddy was a plumber and didn’t know what to do with something like that. He went from town to town until he found someone who told him what to do about it. He came back and exorcised it. Never came back, praise the Lord. But that doesn’t change the things that I did. I don’t remember all of it. I don’t like to. But I can’t forget. You’re never going to forget Sam, but you can move on from it.”

“You didn’t have a choice. I did.”

“All right, Sam, now you listen to me. Look over there. See that young man talking with Dean? The one with the hat?”

Almost every man in the room has on a hat, but Sam nods anyway.

“That’s Eric Pedersen. He got himself addicted to meth when he was fifteen. He’s been clean a year next month, but he broke his mama’s heart a hundred times over. She’s my best friend, and I’ll tell you she’s glad to have him back. Do you understand what I’m saying to you, Sam?” She gestures at the glass he’s still holding. “Drink the rest of your milk.”

Sam drinks it down. “If you’re trying to tell me that being addicted to meth is the same thing as what I did, then –”

But Mrs. Wessell is blithely continuing on. “Over by the door, that’s Annie Hunt. She had three babies with three different boys for daddies, and she gave every one of those babies away for other people to raise. She doesn’t go a day without missing them. Do you think she’s not heartsick about what choices she’s made? I could pick out just about any person in this room and tell you a story.”

“It’s not the same. What I’ve done… it’s bigger than anything anyone’s done before.”

“Sam. You go and look at your brother. Really see him.”

Dean is across the room, gamely posing for a picture with a mom and a dad and about fifty kids.

“I see him.”

“He forgives you. He loves you.”

“I know that. But that doesn’t change anything.”

“That’s bullshit, Sam.”

Sam sits back in his metal chair, startled and a little amused. “Ma’am?”

“You listen to me now, and you listen good. Love cannot from its post withdraw. Nor death, nor hell, nor sin, nor law.”

“Mrs. Wessell, I really don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“It’s my favorite hymn. And I’ll tell you this – your real sin is pride, not letting Lucifer out, not listening to demons who filled your head with lies. It’s you thinking you’re the only one in the history of the world who is unforgivable. It takes a mighty big ego to think that way.”

“You don’t understand-”

“I do understand. And in case you’re wondering how, it’s because God told me, and he wants me to tell you. Chuck’s not the only prophet around here. And Sam Winchester, you are not the adversary.”

They’ve caught Dean’s attention now. Sam can tell his brother’s in full attack-mode and is coming at them from across the dancehall.

Mrs. Wessell leans over and to his surprise, kisses him on his uninjured cheek. “I know I’m not the only one who wants to spend time with you.” Then she whispers in his ear, “The best is yet to come, Sam.”

She takes his empty glass and plate and is gone.

But Dean’s there and is shaking Sam by the shoulder until it hurts.

“Dude. What the hell’s wrong? What did she say to you? Sammy?”

“I don’t know Dean.” Sam’s eyes are filling up again, but he can’t help it. “I think maybe I was wrong.”

Dean frowns and keeps his hand on Sam’s shoulder. “We’ve been over this. I know you’re sorry for letting Lucifer out -”

“That’s not it, Dean. It’s…it’s more than that.”

“Really? You got more to be sorry about than that?”

Dean sounds kind of pissed. But Sam feels something real finally break inside. It’s new and terrifying, but he’s not broken by it. Not at all. He can hardly breathe, but somehow he’s doing just that. He’s breathing and he’s still alive and the world hasn’t come to an end. His life is worth more than the worst thing he’s done.

“Hey, Sammy, you okay?” Dean’s voice is gentler now, his hand still on Sam’s shoulder, and Sam doesn’t shake him off.

“No. But maybe I’m going to be.”

Dean doesn’t saying anything to that, but it’s all right. For the first time in a long time, Sam kind of wants to find out what’s going to happen next.



*****




When Philistine says it’s time to go, it’s really time to go.

Dean is signing autographs and posing for an occasional picture when a teenage boy bursts into the gym.

“Prophet Chuck just updated! He says Sam and Dean have to go now. It’s coming.”

These people take their prophetic blogs seriously. Of course, Dean asks who exactly is coming, but the boy says that Chuck wasn’t being real specific.

“Terrific,” Dean says dryly, but the whole town of Philistine is already in motion. It’s like they’ve already got this planned.

Bags have been packed. Stacks of blankets, first aid supplies, and boxes of canned food are waiting outside the Impala, and lots of people are loading it up. He and Sam don’t even have to carry their bags to the car. Everyone wants to help. Dean notices that his brother is hefting a plastic jug of milk, along with his laptop.

“Where the hell did you get that?” he asks.

Sam looked at the jug of milk like he’s never seen it before. “Someone just handed it to me when we were leaving. I don’t know what it is with this town and milk.”

Dean checks out the car before they go and notices that someone’s already filled the tank. That’s pretty damn impressive because his car is right where he’d left it, and he’s kept the keys with him the whole time. It’s obvious that people in God’s best little town in Texas know enough not to touch his car.

Or his little brother.

He’s not sure what the difference is, but something’s changed in Sam. Dean never knew if he’d get him out of Bobby’s house again, let alone interacting with a town full of people.

For over a year, everyone who’s not a demon has been telling Dean that his brother is evil incarnate. That he needs to be stopped at all costs. Maybe they were right all along, and there was a time when Dean believed them, but these people in Philistine are good people, even if they are a little whacked. And they like Sam. They don’t want to kill him. They want to stuff him full of cookies and milk and remind him to eat his vegetables. All right, they didn’t feed him vegetables, but they would have if he stayed long enough.

Dean can’t really explain why this is so important, but it is. He’s been the only one looking after Sam his whole life, and that’s okay. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, it’s his job, and he’s not turning his back on it. All the same, Dean doesn’t feel nearly so alone, knowing that there’s someone else who cares about Sam too. Who cares about both of them.

Dean’s been thinking, and it turns out that Bobby was right. Dean is not the man his father was. Never was, never will be, and as far as Dean’s concerned, he’s made his peace with that. If his dad wants to come back from the dead to bust his ass for that decision, he can take a number. Dean’s allegiance is with Sammy, for now and forevermore, so help him God, and everyone else will have to live with it.

Pastor Steve walks up to the car and holds out his hand. Dean takes it gladly. It’s a firm handshake, trustworthy and strong, and it reminds Dean of his dad even though the two men couldn’t be any more different from each other.

“Maybe we should stay. I don’t like the idea of leaving all of you unprotected.”

“It’s not after us,” Pastor Steve says. “You boys need to go. Godspeed and good luck to you.”

“Thought you folks didn’t believe in luck.”

“Luck is for when God chooses to remain anonymous,” the pastor says with a smile. “I don’t think this is one of those times. We’ll pray for you.”

Dean isn’t at all sure he wants anyone praying for him. His relationship with God isn’t exactly cool, but he likes the pastor, so he simply thanks him and gets in the car.

Sam’s huge body is hanging over the front seat, and he’s trying to organize the bags that are piled up in the back. Dean knows that Mr. OCD won’t give it up until he’s got it just the way he wants it, but they need to get on the road. Chuck says there’s some big bad on the way, and Dean is learning to have a healthy respect for their personal prophet of the Lord.

Dean pulls out a wad of cash from his pocket and waves it in Sam’s face. Sure enough, it gets his brother’s attention right away. Even during the apocalypse, Sam worries about their cash flow.

“Where’d you get that?”

“The church treasurer gave it to me after lecturing me on the evils of credit card fraud. It’s from the bake sale, and I guess they had some kind of silent auction. I tried giving it back, but she got mad and said God was going to smote me if I didn’t take it. These people are kind of badass, Sam.”

“Yeah, they kind of are. But… they’re okay, Dean.”

“Yeah, they are.” That’s all Dean wants to say about it.

Dean turns the key in the ignition and takes a sidelong glance at his brother. Sam has his face pressed against the window like he used to when he was a kid and they were just passing through some random town.

There are people all around them, smiling and waving goodbye. Dean’s been introduced to most of them but he’d never be able to remember their names. Maybe Sam will remember. Sam’s always been good at stuff like that. Dean has no idea how to say goodbye to people who are sorry to see him go.

He makes a sharp u-turn in the middle of the road, careful not to hit any of the kids who are still running up and touching the Impala. Dean smiles at them and they stand clear. When he’s sure they’re out of the way, Dean floors it just to give the kids a show. He can’t hear anything over the roar of the engine and the squealing tires, but he can see people still waving in the rear view.

It’s awfully quiet in the car.

“What now, Sammy?”

Sam looks at him, surprised. Dean’s been calling the shots lately, but he figures maybe it’s time to bring Sam back on board. He doesn’t trust his brother, and he’s not sure he ever will. But they’ve got to start somewhere.

Sam waits a second before saying, “I’ve got some ideas. I need to do some research first, but I’m starting to understand more of what Zachariah told you. If we can figure out what both sides already know, maybe we can turn it against them.”

“Sam, we got heaven and hell after us, not to mention all of Dad’s old hunting buddies. I think we’d better lay low for a while.”

“No, we can’t hide from this. The demons, even the angels, I’m not sure they’re as on top of this as they think they are… Dean, there’s things that they don’t understand. ”

“Like what? I’m not following.”

“Like that town for one thing.” Sam looks straight ahead, and Dean can see that his jaw is working. “They don’t know anything about people like that.”

“I don’t know if I understand,” Dean admits. “Whole town of freakin crazy people, even if they do make awesome brownies… Sammy, I don’t know if we’re up for this.”

I don’t know if you’re up for this, and I’m not letting go of you again.

“We can’t give in. We’re not letting them win this.” Sam’s talking more to himself than Dean. “Love cannot from its post withdraw,” he adds so quietly that Dean’s not even sure he heard it right.

“Okay, a little random, dude. You channeling George Bush or something?”

“Nope. Mrs. Wessell,” Sam deadpans and then grins. Sam actually grins his dopey grin just like he used to, dimples and all, and then he gropes around on the floor of the car until he finds the gallon of milk. “Want some?”

“Nah. You’re the one who’s still growing.”

Sam takes a chug and waits a beat.

“This as fast as you can go?”

Dean does a double take before he gets it. Sam’s actually baiting him.

“Shut your piehole, bitch,” Dean retorts, but he’s not kidding anyone… Dean’s grinning so wide it hurts.

There’s gotta be music always, so Dean cranks it up and pushes the pedal down until he can feel the hum of the open road like a song he’d forgotten. Sammy’s drumming his fingers on the dash and rocking out a little, geekboy that he is. It’s been a while since Zeppelin has sounded so good.

And you know - Dean hopes that Chuck remembers Philistine in his gospel, even though nothing all that important happened there. It’s a weird little town with piss poor taste in its heroes, but it deserves a place on the freakin map.




The End


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