Summary: Something evil is killing treeplanters in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, possibly the same predator that Dean narrowly escaped years before. How Grimm will things get before the brothers figure it out?
Rating: Gen; no pairings, PG-13 due to swearing, gore and glancing sexual themes. Horror/drama; WIP; 1/10 chapters.
Disclaimer: Aw, sweet jesus, if I owned any of it, you’d all have free unlimited access to the boys all the time, in every way. Don’t you wish I ruled the SPN universe?
Thanks: To lemmypie, who gets as excited by treeplanters as I do (and that’s saying something), and gekizetsu for helping me figure out the BC vs. Washington State treeplanting/logging/environmental protester sub-cultures. But especially to jmm001who, despite being hospitalized for an emergency ruptured appendix, managed to read this first chapter not once, but several times. She makes everything I write that much better. For the record, Lemmy and I sharing our treeplanter porn was NOT what caused the whole ER visit thing, okay?
Red Chapter One/Deep Blue
Walla Walla WA, present day
At first, Sam thought the problem was Dean’s tuna melt.
Sure, Sam didn’t like the look of it himself, all oozing and limp and generally in a hyper-melted state on the plate. Two oil-weeping slabs of white bread surrounded by something the diner claimed was coleslaw but looked more like the grainy gray mush that you’d find in a kitchen drain trap.
The food had arrived and Dean had gone that quiet still way a cat went when it saw a sudden movement in the bushes. Was something, really, that quiet intensity, if his face hadn’t paled to the anemic green color of hospital walls. Dean was so still that Sam didn’t notice for a little while, kept rambling on since Dean wasn’t offering up the usual impediments to a verbal purge.
“For onions? Can you believe it? You know, if I came from someplace as out of the way as this,” and he wasn’t going to say the town’s name; Dean’s sing-song chant and Sam’s ignoring it had become a game as vicious and as imbedded as a staring match, “then I sure as hell would make sure the place was famous for something other than onions.”
Sam glanced across the noisy restaurant, glad they’d arrived in time to scoop a booth, backs high enough he didn’t have to look over his shoulder to see if anyone had noticed that he’d called up Poltergeist Central Command on his open laptop.
Thank god the job they’d just finished had been quick and smooth; they were between credit card pick ups at the moment, needing to touch base with a Mail Box Express in Seattle for what Dean assured him was their next mint set. Gold cards, he’d hinted. Four hours away from a decent bed and a meal that wasn’t nuked into submission.
“Funny that the missionary massacre didn’t lead to more ghosts. Wine. They grow grapes here, why aren’t their marketing guys playing that up? Onions,” he muttered under his breath, knowing that Dean was about a million miles away, hadn’t inhaled that nasty tuna melt or the pigswill coleslaw. Not glancing up, just testing, he whispered under his breath, “Walla Walla Washington.” Like waving a red flag, just to see if Dean was listening. “So nice they named it twice.”
No response was forthcoming, which caused Sam’s attention to detach itself from the web site’s somewhat unreliable claim that poltergeists couldn’t cross thresholds sprinkled with Pop Rocks. All color had drained from Dean’s face. He hadn’t touched his plate. His head was cocked to one side, alert.
“Dean?” Sam said crisply, vocal equivalent of hitting him upside the head.
Dean glanced at him briefly, expression blank except for the telltale pallor. Shocked, maybe. Listening, certainly, just not to Sam.
Sam snapped the computer shut, took a quick sip of his soda, tried to pick out what had caught Dean’s attention from the ambient bub of the room. Only snippets, young men’s voices, “Yeah, well, she never-“ and “Shoulda, though. Give me a bear any day, this spooks the shit…” and “said it was a wolf, saw the prints, but not like…” and “…fuck, gotta be a cougar, at least…” and “…only her planting bags, just like Hilary. Weird, I tell…” and “…stiffed me one whole section, can’t believe the checker thought…” and “…after this season, never workin’ for that bunch of assho…”
The agitated conversation was coming from the booth behind them.
Before Sam had a chance to ask, Dean slid from his seat and came to a quick ready stand beside the next-door table. Sam couldn’t see their now-silent neighbors, but he had a good angle on Dean, could see him perfectly, could see Dean’s composed ‘howdy’ face, pulled like a bunny from a hat.
“You guys been up the mountain?” Dean asked, hands in pockets, that smile on his face, pasted on like bad wallpaper. “You down from the cut block?”
Coulda been speaking Chinese for all Sam was following. They were at least a few hours from the nearest mountain, and Sam had no idea what a cut block was. Might help if he could see who the hell Dean was talking to. And if Dean was about to start a fight – which was sometimes what the ‘howdy’ face precipitated – Sam better size up the guy in the other corner.
Slowly, he edged out of the bench and peered into the next booth. Five young men crowded together, looking as though they were roadies for a Grateful Dead tribute tour, hairier than Shaggy and Scooby-Doo combined. Not as laid back though. Lean and hard as Tijuana dogs, alert, sharp eyes, hands frying pan broad, farmyard tough, dirt and grime under nails, some of which were missing. Scratches and welts; bandages and beards.
“Yeah,” a tall blond one said. He picked up a fry from his plate, swished it around in ketchup, kept an eye half on Dean. Not really committing to the question, or the very notion of having a conversation.
“Olympic Peninsula? The Quasilit Valley?” Dean prodded.
The big blond one didn’t answer, shoved the fry in his mouth, chewed slowly, staring at Dean blandly.
“Yeah,” one of the others piped up, maybe wanting to avoid any trouble, face weather red, dreadlocks tied back in a red and white bandana. “On a day off right now,” he grinned at one of his friends. “No cash yet, fuckers. Tommy’s folks have an onion operation. Hang out at their farm tonight, back on the block tomorrow.”
Dean shifted his feet. “Couldn’t help but hear – you having some trouble up there?” And the young men, all in dirty t-shirts and Guatemalan chokers and heavy boots looked distinctly uncomfortable, closed up.
“You been?” The blond asked, a little older than the rest maybe. Tommy.
Dean shrugged. “Not recently.”
Tommy scowled. No one was inviting Dean to sit. Pit bulls meeting each other in the park were friendlier. “Two of our planters took a hike and didn’t come back, that’s all. They’ll turn around once they realize they’re not gonna make more money somewhere else. Or maybe not. People are weird. Too hard for those girls, I reckon. Probably waitressing in Yakima,” and the others laughed. Except one.
“Not Hilary,” he said.
Tommy shrugged. “Probably not her, no. Her third season. Knew her way around a slash, had good technique.” Again with the shrug. “Probably didn’t like your snoring.” Laughs all around. “Why? You lookin’ for a shift?”
Dean bounced on the balls of his feet slightly. Sam held tight; there was nothing else to do, really. Trust Dean. “Maybe.”
Tommy reached into his canvas sidebag, which was resting on the floor. It was filthy. He drew out a battered card. “Here’s the crew boss’s Aberdeen office. Usually by May it’s way too late to come knocking, but we’re down and have contracts to fill. You fast?”
Dean pocketed the card, threw some bills on top of the untouched tuna melt. “Fast enough. We’ll be seeing you.”
Sam caught up to him at the door, held him back with a grip more forceful than he’d originally planned. “What the hell-“
Dean pulled away, of course, tense and unwilling. “In the car.”
“Who the hell were those guys? How do you-“
But Dean was already pushing open the heavy glass and chrome door, not looking back. “I said in the car.”
Tacoma, WA, 1997
Aw, he really didn’t want to tell them, he really didn’t, but there wasn’t going to be any way that both of them would miss the fact that he wasn’t coming home every day after class. That he wasn’t there to make dinner, or run interference with the landlord, or fetch groceries. Both Sam and John would figure it out pretty damn quick.
The only thing going for him was that Sam was so absorbed by classwork, track and mooning over some girl named Steffi that he might not mind. And Dad? Well, he was so drugged up that it would take awhile for Dean’s absence to penetrate. By the time Dad was better, maybe the idea wouldn’t seem so crazy, wouldn’t seem like Dean was abandoning them.
And maybe John Winchester would take up competitive figure skating.
For maybe the hundredth time, he told himself that Dad would understand. That Dad would want him to earn some money, would want Dean to provide when John himself was in no position to. Man, it sounded so reasonable when you put it that way. But this wasn’t a paper route, or bussing some tables or mowing a couple of lawns. This was going away, and Dean knew his father wouldn’t approve of going away, not ever. Sam was still too young, and John couldn’t protect anybody when he was barely cognizant of his room, let alone the world at large. Shit, maybe Dad would still be out of it by the time Dean got back. Best case scenario.
Dean didn’t know what to bring; he didn’t have much in any case. What had Goodenuff Dave said? Jeans, long underwear, it’s still cold up there, you can borrow my old calk boots, you’ll have enough fucking money in two weeks to buy your own. Warm jacket, none of that lame grunge wear. The real stuff. Don’t show your ID unless it says you’re twenty-one, man, cause that’s what I told my uncle you were.
Dean wasn’t twenty-one, wasn’t anywhere near it. Dad is going to fucking flip. Dean squared his shoulders, stuffed some plaid shirts, gray Stanfields, wool socks, and several pairs of underwear into a duffle bag. Dad wasn’t going to flip because Dean wasn’t going to tell Dad. Dad had a leg broken in three places, was coming off an infection that had maybe damaged his heart, and was wired up the wazoo. Dad wouldn’t notice if Dean packed it up and hoofed it to the Himalayas.
“Hey,” Sam said, surprising Dean but not realizing it. He came into the room on stocking feet, flopped down on the floor and was nose-deep in some book Dean recognized from eighth grade. The cover was familiar, anyway; he’d never read the book.
The apartment was small; Sam slept on a mattress on the floor. At least he’ll have the bed for awhile.
“Hey,” Dean grunted back. So few things. Not any time at all to get them in the bag. No avoiding it, because Sam would have to step up a little. “Hey,” he repeated, threw a balled up sock at Sam’s furry head. Sam didn’t take his attention from the novel, just threw the sock back, missed Dean by a mile. “I’m gonna be gone for a bit.”
Sam made a little noise of disgust. “I don’t need to hear about whoever she is. Pick up some chocolate milk on the way back.”
In some ways, it would be so easy just to go with that. Take the bag and leave; Sam wouldn’t notice for at least three days, except for the looming chocolate milk shortage. Piece of cake, unless Dad’s condition worsened. But there wasn’t much worse than the landlord at the door, almost the middle of the month and still no check. Dad’s meds were costing a fucking mint, had drained them dry. There was no choice.
“I’ll be at least two weeks.” Oh, and that did it.
“What?” Sam’s head appeared from the edge of the bed, a fine line between his brows. “What?”
Dean zipped up the bag, heart big. Unpleasantly big, expanding into places it wasn’t supposed to be. Dean sat on the bed as Sam scrambled to an uncoordinated sit, legs and arms at wonky angles, uncontrolled as an armload of kindling. “Dave Goodenauer got me a job with his uncle’s logging company.” The look on Sam’s face. Christ on a stick. “Listen, it’s two weeks up, weekend down here in Tacoma, then back up. Coupla months worth, start easy, good money.” Sam still wasn’t saying anything, but Dean could see the cartilage in his throat move.
“But,” Sam whispered. Telling the kid that computer had beaten Kasparov had been easier.
Dean shook his head. “There’s some food in the cupboard, shit you know how to make. Dad doesn’t have much of an appetite anyway. If things get bad,” and he bit his lip, “call Pastor Jim.” He handed Sam a slender wad of bills, all he had. Maybe fifty bucks. Two weeks. Shit. Don’t spend it all on chocolate milk, Sammy.
That look again. “I’m not calling Pastor Jim. I can take care of Dad.”
“He’s not a fucking gerbil, Sam,” Dean stressed, foregoing the perverse pleasure he usually got from pointing out that Sam had dispatched the one lonely Winchester experiment in pet-ownership in under four days. “If he gets bad, you call.”
“What happens when Kilcannon comes back?”
That. That would be tricky. “I’ll talk to him before I head out. I’ll promise him May and June at the same time. When I get back.”
Waiting for the nickel to drop, surprised it wasn’t the first thing out his mouth. “And school? What about school?”
Dean didn’t have any answer to that, none that Sam would find acceptable, so he just stood up, the room too small and his stupid heart too big and the idea of sweet-talking Kilcannon sucking hard.
Sam’s eyes followed him, Scud missile accurate. “You gonna say goodbye to Dad?” He asked, suddenly sharp and small for all that he’d grown this last year, sure of himself in a way Dean never was. A missile.
Dean hefted the bag onto his shoulder, grabbed his lined jean jacket from the doorknob. “You say goodbye for me.” Smiled, but it was brutal, trying to do that. Dean cleared his throat. “You’ll be okay.”
“Yeah,” Sam said like it was obvious, flinging himself on Dean’s bed, back to the book.
Washington State, present day
The hills were dry, the color of old gold cords, ruffled with lines of grape and what might be the world-famous onions, but they were a summer treat, apparently, wouldn’t be ready for another month. The place needed rain. Sam sat expectantly as the view out the Impala blurred by, mountains to the south, the smell of river and dust coming through a gap in the window. Maybe I need rain, he thought.
Maybe I need Dean to open his mouth and for rain to fall.
Dean drove fast. Not so unusual, but this had the feeling not so much of driving to get new gold cards, as driving to get back to a house where you’d left an empty pot on a red-hot stove. Highway 12 gave way to the I-90 and Dean picked up more speed. Seattle maybe three hours away. They’d been this way before, plenty of times. The northwest coast up ahead, nothing but green and mountain and rainrainrain.
“So, we’re in the car…” Sam led, but there wasn’t even a tug on the line. He adjusted himself, wondered how long it would be before Dean realized he was starving, lunch all but abandoned at the table. What had he heard back there? What was it about those scruffy shrubs that had provoked this reaction? “That’s not the beginning of a joke, in case you’re wondering.”
Dean scratched his forehead. For once, he hadn’t put on music. Was thinking, apparently. Sam watched him take a deep breath. “You remember that time Dad got thrown by a se’irim? Busted up his leg?
Wow. That was really not the opening Sam had been expecting. Still, it was what he was dealt, might as well play it. “Uh. Dad got busted up a lot, Dean. Narrow it down for me?”
Dean suddenly became calm, the jittering just flowed out like a released breath. The starting was the hardest for him, Sam knew; if Sam could keep Dean talking, he’d be okay. Over the last year or so, Sam had become pretty good at getting Dean to talk. It usually involved waiting him out.
“We were finishing out the school year in Tacoma. He got an infection, docs thought it might damage his heart.” Neither made the obvious joke. “You were maybe thirteen, fourteen.”
“Yeah, that’s when you quit school.” A muscle jumped in Dean’s jaw; was that surprise? Sam pressed his lips together. Shit. Keep him talking. “Um, maybe ’97?”
Dean nodded. “Yeah, ’97.” Eyes flicked to a road sign. “You remember why I quit?”
“You really hated that algebra teacher. And wasn’t that the school where the vice principal phoned Dad once, told him that if you came back, she’d put you in juvy?”
Sam was given an earned grimace. “Yeah, that’s the one. Had nothing to do with why I left. Hell, I even kinda liked that school. That student teacher in Mrs. O’Brien’s Health and the Human Body class,” and Dean shook his head with a smile, “really something…” This could be worse than Dean shutting up altogether, Sam knew. Giving Dean free rein to reminisce about women usually resulted in a long, descriptive – often pornographic – ramble.
“But you left for a different reason?” Sam cut him off. “Something to do with those bushmen back in the diner?”
Just enough of a prod in the right direction, Sam hoped, watching Dean lean back in the seat. “We were so broke. You don’t remember, but I was down to my last few bucks, the rent was way past due and Dad was having conversations with the wallpaper.”
Had happened a few times over the years, the being flat broke. Occupational hazard of having an occupation with lots of hazards and no paychecks. “Right,” Sam said slowly, trying to remember. Suddenly, “Dad was fucking furious when he figured out you’d…” Trailed off, because it seemed so unlikely in retrospect. “I thought the school sent you to some kinda camp.”
Pure astonished outrage in that one glance before it returned to the road. “You thought I was on vacation?”
No fair, Dean being mad at him for something he’d been told ten years ago. “Dad phoned around, you’d gone to camp, he said.”
The fingers on Dean’s right hand drummed the steering wheel. He opened his mouth to say something, then shook his head.
“You didn’t go to camp?” Sam asked, turning so his back jammed between door and seat, the better to look at Dean, monitor his relative state of pissed-off-ness. “You weren’t at camp.” Then, suddenly, he remembered something else. “You came back with a cast on your arm.”
“Not the point,” Dean sidestepped. “Point was, I got a job with Goodenuff Dave at his uncle’s logging company. They worked tree farm licenses pulled from one of the big oufits, did some cutting on the Olympic Peninsula.” He shook his head again, and Sam didn’t immediately recognize the set of the crooked brows and sad mouth. “God, it was not the easiest way to make a buck.” He was remembering, but not sharing. Sam didn’t know if that was important. “There was trouble up on the mountain.”
“What kind of trouble?” Outside, the vineyards had given way to scrub and low pine. Dust smell changing, becoming thicker, more complex.
“Our kind of trouble.”
Seattle WA, 1992
Tanya thought it might break her heart one of these days, but what else was there to do but work her ass off and collect the quarters and crushed bills? One of these days, she’d get a better job, maybe on one of the cruise ships, that’d be nice, head up to Alaska, or down to California.
Tonight was not the night, though. She was stuck here until she saved enough, but it didn’t stop her from wishing herself on a boat or a plane to someplace warmer than downtown Seattle when it rained. Fuck, it had rained every single day in March so far. Her feet ached and it was only halfway through a ten-hour split shift. Still a few hours to go. Tanya threw the old terry cloth into the vat of warm water and bleach, snagged a new one from under the counter. The coffee smelled burnt, but no one in this part of town was likely to complain. It wasn’t a fucking Starbucks, was it?
The work wasn’t going to break her heart, far from it -- she liked waitressing. It was the kids. It was those kids at the far table, and that lone one jammed up at the end of the counter, head in hand. What the fuck were they? Twelve? Thirteen? Any one of them could be her kid brother, Tanya thought despairingly. Laughter, teasing. One with a bruise on his cheek, always one with a bruise. Ragged clothes bought or stolen from the Salvation Army, layers of flannel and army surplus. Hi-tops. Phone numbers and obscenities written on jeans with holes in the knees.
She wiped the counter, checked the time on the clock: still two hours before midnight closing. Decent tips, enough to get good and hammered tonight. Tobi had phoned earlier: Bikini Kill was playing an underground club, let’s go, let’s go. Not any legal venue, just some warehouse, way better than the college joints along Pioneer Square; it was getting harder to avoid rabid music reporters now that Nevermind had ripped the lid right off this city. Maybe a good night ahead and a perfect day tomorrow: wake up late and hungover, go down to Pike Place, maybe get a few salmon steaks, no work tomorrow, Sheila was on, not her.
Gathering together a splayed Seattle PI, the sports section long gone, crossword half finished, Tanya pulled a strand of pink and black hair and tidied it behind her ear. There’d be a new paper in a few hours, this one was close to garbage. The front page was still miraculously intact, sad faced photo of a kid, screaming the headline: “Missing Boy number 4, A Killer in Our Midst?” She shook her head, snapped her attention to a sudden flurry of laughter from the boys at the table.
Even as she looked, a man outside the shabby restaurant came to the rain-streaked window, face dark, hat pulled low against the weather and the night. Met someone’s stare, bent a knuckle and tapped. One of the boys slid out – Anthony, Tanya remembered, imprinted his face, mindful that she’d might have to identify him in a morgue one day, or give his description to police. These boys were all dancing on the edge of oblivion. She couldn’t quite bring herself not to care.
The others were quiet for a moment, and Tanya called out, “Hey, anyone want more coffee?”
Coke was demanded, and that cost, but the boss wasn’t there and Tanya wasn’t going to refuse. Not on a night as cold and miserable as tonight, not when this was the bit of normal they could have. Some slept in an empty warehouse with laughable hoarding; others under the viaduct. Sometimes, one of them said he had a girlfriend and Tanya didn’t know what that meant.
This one sitting by himself. Been in two or three times this week, never this late. Always coffee, once a plate of fries. Tanya had figured out that he wasn’t with the rent boys, not as far as she could tell. This was the first time she’d seen them all together and somehow he looked different. His eyes weren’t as skittish, or as beaten. He didn’t jump at loud noises.
She wondered if this was how it started.
Grabbing the coffeepot and the paper, Tanya moved down the counter. She lifted the pot, waited for a brief nod, then poured. Poured herself one too, lit a cigarette, offered, was declined. Quiet. That was quite the shiner.
“I’m Tanya,” she said, easy. She was good at conversation, part of the reason her tips were so fucking great. “Haven’t seen you around.”
A little shrug, economical, no wasted energy. Shit, this kid was starving. “Listen, I can’t eat the crap food they serve here, but I get one free meal per shift.” She plucked the menu from the chrome holder and held it out to him. “What’ll it be?”
He took a deep swallow, but didn’t look at the menu. His hair had grown out from a short cut; you might be able to measure the length of time he’d been away from adult care from that alone. His freckles were stark against skin too pale and he didn’t look uncared for as much as wild and determined. “Burger. Fries.” He smiled, and it wasn’t guarded, it was genuine, and Tanya’s heart gave a little bump. “To go, maybe?”
If this kid tried to pick her up, she didn’t know what she’d say. Like he was dipped in fucking honey and left for wasps. “To go? Sure thing, sweetheart.” All of thirteen, maybe, you pervert. As she was writing it up, she glanced back at him. She nodded at the newspaper she’d put beside him, for a minute hating the headline that was staring him in the face, daring him to not feel afraid of where he’d found himself. “The crossword’s only half-done.”
He raised one eyebrow, telling her crosswords were the last thing on his mind. One minute a kid, next on the prowl. They grew up young, true, but this was ridiculous. She’d still been playing with skipping ropes at his age.
“How’d you get that?” She gestured to the black and purple bruise on his cheekbone and under his eye. Questions like that weren’t rude around here.
He shook his head, a Feed the World kid with attitude to spare. “Broke into a car. Got caught.”
Tanya thought he might be telling the truth.
She slipped the order onto the passbar, hoped that Julio wouldn’t ask any questions about a staff meal slip when he knew she didn’t eat barnyard, turned her back on the kid long enough that he picked up the paper. She moved behind the cash as a couple of regulars paid up, but she watched him out of the corner of her eye.
Not with the rent boys, not yet. But hungry and on the street, and it was anybody’s guess as to when his luck ran out trying to steal cars. Around here, the only cars worth breaking into belonged to drug dealers and those assholes weren’t likely to call the cops when they found a kid under the dash twisting two wires together or prying out the tape deck. They were likely to kill him.
She watched as he threw the paper to one side, bored. Then, a little bit of her died and she knew that she needed to get out of this town, out of this part of it, where she was witness to these sorts of slow deaths.
Because as soon as the kid looked away, as soon as he slid his glance to the chattering group of rent boys at the booth, Tanya saw the change. Something in his round green eyes shifted to…Tanya didn’t know what it was, not exactly, but the confidence, the smooth charm, the fucking sexiness of this kid fled. He saw his future and it scared him. Not beaten, not by a long shot, but scared.
Caught her looking, and blinked once. “How ‘bout I bring you a burger and fries now, and get you another to go when you’re done?” she suggested, because there was no telling who he was feeding at home. If he had a home. His jacket was too light for this weather, was soaked through. You’re going out with Tobi tonight, she told herself. You’re not bringing home a stray. I gotta get a new job.
The kid agreed to that, a flash of thanks, and he looked young again. Too young for what he was contemplating. But Tanya knew. Kids didn’t hang out at this diner at this time of night because it was fun. They came here to work and he was standing at the edge of his known universe, unsure.
This place was going to break her heart, right enough. And this kid, too young and too old, was going to be the one to do it.
Washington State, present day
“Well, that’s how it started, anyway, me getting that job,” Dean explained, knowing that he was going to fuck this up; too many things he didn’t want to talk about and too many things he didn’t know and too many things he didn’t remember, couldn’t remember – hell, maybe didn’t want to remember – and Sam would see every fabrication and gap.
And that wasn’t where it had started, was it? It hadn’t been the mountainside, it had been a Seattle diner. Dean prayed that Sam wouldn’t notice, wouldn’t ask.
But Sam always had questions. “You could get a job, just like that?” Sam’s brows quirked together, but he looked genuinely interested, not like when he’d been fourteen and only thinking of chess, girls and chocolate milk.
“Well, Goodenuff Dave spoke up for me, and it was his uncle’s crew, so, yeah.” This would be easier if he didn’t look at Sam, for so many different reasons. Pine now, and sudden roadside stops and gasoline and donuts. “I went logging for the money, Sam, I wasn’t looking for any weird shit.”
Sam was silent. “Wow, so you just left us on purpose?” Nothing of accusation in it, more wonderment than anything, but it wouldn’t take Sam long to remember his own leaving and how he’d been made to pay and pay. Which would bring him to the question: why hadn’t Dean?
Nip that in the proverbial bud. “We needed the money.” That was the only thing that had mattered. It was different. It didn’t feel different.
But Sam seemed okay with it, more awestruck than anything. “So, what was up there?”
Jesus, how to explain something all shadow and danger and need? “In the Quasilit Valley, at that time, we were logging old growth. Thick, like,” held up a hand and made it a fist, not finding the words to describe how complex and dark and ancient those woods had been. “The cut block was up the Valley, and across the way, they were planting.”
“Those guys in the restaurant…they’re planters, not loggers.”
Great, Sam was following along at home. Good. Made things easier. “Right. Don’t mix much, the loggers and the planters. Both usually contracted out by the same multinational, but don’t always see eye to eye. One day, you see the planters with the protestors, next day they’re on the mountain.” Oil and vinegar, the cultures of loggers and treeplanters. “The planters get called in maybe a year or two after a clearcut. Make what they call a New Forest. Twenty, thirty years on, it’s ready for harvest.”
Sam was silent. Expectant, and always so fast. Waiting him out. Shit, Sam had his number; Dean hated silences.
“And something was picking off the planters. Almost all loggers are men, but the treeplanters aren’t. So you get girls off in the slash, bags full of seedlings, nothing to protect themselves with but a shovel.”
The loggers had chainsaws and axes and heavy equipment, loaders and cables and trucks. Their camps were five star luxury resorts compared to treeplanter camps.
“What was it? Did you find out?”
“If it’d had been a bear, or a cougar, or anything else, we’d have seen the signs. But all we ever found were wolf tracks. And some human tracks. Bare foot.” Up there, when all of them, loggers and planters both, wore heavy spiked boots.
Dean took his concentration from the road for a minute, ignored the twinge his stomach gave as he glimpsed the first roadside sign for a wagon selling salmon burgers. Shit, he was hungry. Sam stared at him, his dark eyes somber and level. “But not a wolf?” he asked gently.
Dean shook his head, turned back to the racing ribbon of white as it startled from the dark asphalt. Clouds moved in. Rain. About time. Thought that as the first fat drop splatted against the windshield like an unlucky bird. “Too big for starters. But –“ and here came the hard part, “…I don’t think….listen, it wasn’t a werewolf.” He stared at Sam. “I know werewolves.”
Sam bit his lower lip. “Back then? What the hell did you know about werewolves?”
“Give me some credit, Sam.” And was suddenly heartened to remember that they’d be in range of Seattle radio stations now, some of the best in the country. If it hadn’t been raining, it would have been beautiful. But that was the Pacific Northwest all over; rain and fog and cold when it should have been hot, hot when it should have been cold. If it hadn’t been for certain memories, Dean would have said he’d liked the place, its wildness and its wackiness.
“So, not a wolf, not a werewolf…”
“Yeah.” Dean fiddled with the knob, found something, but didn’t turn it up loud. Too hard to think. “Something that could wear both a human and a wolf form.”
“Evil? What did it want?”
“What evil always wants, Sam.” Dean said that softly, almost under his breath, caught the thin edge of what might be fucking panic, suddenly realized that he was getting into the ring with this thing for the third time, and that could either be the charm or it could be out. He could tell Sam about the second time, that second encounter, but he couldn’t tell Sam about the first time. No way in hell. Hard enough to tell him what had happened at eighteen, when he’d left Sam alone with Dad and gone into the bush.
First time? No fucking way, not ever.
And this time, this lucky or fatal third time, he was dragging Sam with him. This time, he reminded himself, you’re not going in unprepared. You’re all grown up and have been fighting fucked-up things for years. You are ready for this Winchester.
Shit, when was the last time he’d needed to give himself a pep talk?
Dean shook his head at these thoughts, knew that Sam’s alarm bells were probably going off like crazy, knew that Dean wasn’t giving him the straight goods. “Five treeplanters went missing, Sam. Never found them.”
“You get a look at it, whatever it was?”
Oh, and how to explain? His mouth was swimming, and he swallowed hard. “Hell, it took a fucking shine to me, Sam, got real conversational. Was one of the loggers, Ludovic, I think his name was, but who the hell knows if that was right. It wasn’t human, and it wasn’t a wolf, and it was both, kinda. Neither.” Goddamn, he sounded like a scared amateur who didn’t know Springheel Jack from Wolfman Jack.
“Never caught it,” he went on, trying for the same tone he’d have if he’d missed a pool shot, or had been blown off by some girl in a bar. Failed miserably. “I…you know, I was able to confront it, but that was all. Ludovic got spooked, maybe, getting his ass dragged out into the light.”
Right, Ludovic was spooked, that’s it.
Sam was silent, and Dean knew all that meant was he was connecting the dots, would figure out the picture.
“Did it threaten you?” Dean heard Sam shift in the seat, but he wasn’t going to look at him. “Is it…” Sam ran out of steam then, but it was only to regroup, put together his case. He was close enough, now, Sam was, close enough to see what Dean wasn’t saying. “Is it after you, Dean?”
Dean sometimes wished his brother wasn’t so smart. He pressed his lips together, knew that was its own kind of answer. “You gonna need a tent, for starters. And don’t think that one in the back will do you in the bush.”
Amazing, how well he knew his brother, knew exactly how to distract him.
“Me? Bush?” And Sam laughed shortly, unamused, because it must have sounded ridiculous. “I don’t know anything about logging.”
Might as well just tell him. Dean turned, tried on a smile and thank god it didn’t break his face. “You’re not going logging, you pansy-assed stork. Fuck, think I’d put a chain saw in those book-lovin’ hands? Shit. No, I’m going logging. We’ll go to Seattle, pick up the new cards, buy some decent gear, rent some satellite phones. Head off down to Aberdeen. I’ll hook up with Goodenuff, if he’s still around, get on a crew if they’re hiring. You? You’re going planting.”
Another glance, just to see what mess Sam was making on the front seat. Mouth open, eyes a little wide: mouth closed, eyes blinked. Mouth open again. Nothing came out for a minute. Would have been funny, under different circumstances. “Me?”
Sam probably thought treeplanting involved prancing around a grassy hillside like Johnny Fucking Appleseed, a little sack slung around his shoulder, scattering seeds and singing.
“Yeah, you. You saw the guys in Walla Walla,” and oh, how he loved saying that idiotic name, half the joy coming from the way Sam’s mouth twitched whenever he said it. Dean took his pleasures where they lay. “Do you think I’d fit in with those dope-smoking, dreadlocked, hacky-sack playing vegans? Shit, you’ll think you’re back in Stanford,” for maybe thirty seconds.
Slowly, Sam turned up the song on the station. Nirvana, of course.
With the lights out it’s less dangerous/Here we are now/Entertain us.
Damn, and Dean had always hated that song, and Sam knew it.
Go to Chapter 2