Season Three

Episode Eighteen: Caught in the Riddle

By irismay42

Part One


Clarksville, TN

“So what, it’s Evil’s day off or something?” Dean arched an eyebrow as he methodically stuffed clothes into his duffle. He’d started out rolling everything, but had soon lost patience with that and was now just screwing each item up into a ball and shoving it in anyhow.

Sam looked up from the laptop, biting his lip distractedly. “Huh?”

“You’ve still not found us a hunt,” Dean clarified with what he believed was a well-deserved eye roll. “Dude, we been here five days without even a whiff of a new gig! I’m gettin’ stir crazy here! I need to kill something!” He looked pointedly at his younger brother, who deftly ignored the implication. Threat. Whatever.

“Which is why I suggested we get back on the road,” Sam reminded him. “Before you decide to take out your frustration on something – or someone – that doesn’t deserve it.”

“I know someone who deserves it,” Dean muttered under his breath, continuing his haphazard packing with little thought for creases or wrinkles. He figured if he looked rumpled enough, Sam wouldn’t be able to help himself, he’d just be compelled to iron Dean’s clothes for him. Yeah, Sammy was so the bitch in this relationship…. He frowned, considering. Did that make him the jerk? “So why are we heading for Minnesota?” he asked, trying to distract himself from his own abstract thought processes.

Sam sighed again. “Could be a water wraith up there,” he said, a shrug turning into a slump to his shoulders. “But more likely it’s just a couple of weekend sailors in a leaky inflatable.”

Dean nodded. “Sounds boring.”

“Every hunt can’t be bodysnatching tattoos or Egyptian cat goddesses, Dean.”

Dean shuddered, absently massaging his shoulder where that feline bitch had put an arrow through it, while Sam unconsciously rubbed at his back where the warlock’s tattoo had covered him. “I guess occasionally ‘boring’ can be a good thing.”

“And we’re probably due a vacation,” Sam agreed. “Or at least a little downtime, or maybe a couple of easy hunts –”

“Last vacation we took we got attacked by a voodoo god and – oh yeah – nearly drowned,” Dean reminded him.

Sam smiled mirthlessly. “Our luck sucks, man,” he declared. “But after everything – after Mia…” He trailed off, and Dean ducked his head slightly, silently returning to his packing.

The awkward atmosphere was mercifully shattered by the opening riff of Focus’ Hocus Pocus blaring from Dean’s cellphone, and he tugged the little hunk of plastic from his pocket gratefully. He grinned brightly when he checked the caller ID, flipping open the phone with a cheerful, “Hey Bobby! Please tell me you got somethin’ we can kill?”

“Dean.” Bobby’s voice sounded strained and oddly controlled, but Dean put that down to the hours the older hunter had recently been putting in researching ways to end a human-demon hybrid; Bobby hadn’t taken the consequences of John’s need-to-know bullcrap any better than the man’s sons had. “You and Sam need to get to Springfield, Illinois,” Singer continued. “As soon as you can, son.”

His grin faltered a little, but Dean still managed to snark back, “Springfield? Poltergeist at the Kwik-E-Mart? Vampire at Moe’s place?” When Bobby made no reply, just sighed heavily, Dean sobered immediately. “Bobby, what’s wrong?”

Responding to the suddenly serious tone in Dean’s voice, Sam discarded the computer, rising to his feet and taking a step toward his brother.

Dean looked up at him with something approaching fear in his eyes, despite his best efforts to remain calmly detached. “Bobby?”

Bobby sighed again. “You need to get here, Dean. St. John’s Hospital, Springfield Illinois.”

Dean felt like the whole world suddenly lurched on its axis, his knees unaccountably turning to rubber. “Why – what’s…?”

“It’s your dad, son,” Bobby replied reluctantly. “He’s in bad shape. You and Sam need to get here…”

St. John’s Hospital,
Springfield, IL

It took four and a half hours to get to Springfield, Dean’s foot pressed almost to the floor of the Impala the whole way. An unusual silence filled the car’s interior throughout the journey; Dean wasn’t saying much, and neither was Sam, both lost in their own fears and worries while the Chevy’s cassette deck remained uncharacteristically mute.

It was one of the longest drives of Dean’s life.

He wasn’t entirely sure how they made it in one piece to the hospital parking lot, muscles and brain on autopilot the entire time since Bobby had uttered those words, “It’s your dad…”

Neither was he really aware of Sam ushering him into the cool interior of the lobby, Sam asking at the reception desk for directions, Sam guiding them to the bank of elevators, Sam telling him which floor they needed to get off at.

When the elevator doors parted onto a well-lit, bright and spotlessly clean hallway stretching off into the distance, he followed Sam almost reluctantly, a ball of dread heavy in the pit of his stomach. For a moment the light and the scene around him seemed to gutter and shift and suddenly he could swear he was walking along another hallway, dark and dingy, paint peeling from moldy walls, apartment doors secured with numerous bolts and locks hiding dark and dingy people behind them.

He was twelve years old and school had just let out….

Griffin, GA
January 1992

“You know, you and Dad could have told me sooner. I’m not a little kid.”

Sam had been bouncing on up ahead as he had a habit of doing back then, and Dean remembered how difficult it had been to try and get him to stay close, to stop running off; Sam had never been one to take orders easily, even at that age.

“Keep your brother in your sights whenever possible, Dean,” Dad had always instructed him, and Dean had always done his best to follow Dad’s orders.

He had glanced at each apartment door as they passed by, always on the lookout, always half-expecting someone – or something – to come flying out at them, to try and grab Sammy. Always on the alert. Always waiting.

“What good would it have done?” He’d asked Sam that question over and over since Christmas Eve, since his baby brother had confronted him with Dad’s journal and the question he’d never wanted to hear him ask: “Are monsters real?”

He’d hated that he’d helped Dad keep the truth from Sammy for so long, but he’d just been a kid and Dean had wanted to protect him from the dark and dangerous world into which he’d been born, if only for a little longer.

Even at that age, Dean had realized the cruel inevitability of it all: no matter what Dean did, that dark and dangerous world was out there, just waiting for Sam, and nothing was going to keep him safe from it forever.

“So what’s he hunting now?” Sam had asked, slowing his Tigger-like gait for a second so that he could walk alongside his brother, their shoulders brushing the walls of the narrow hallway. “I mean, we’ve been here two weeks, right? He must have found what he came here for by now.”

“I don’t know,” Dean had replied, fairly truthfully at the time, a little distracted by the two dark figures up ahead at the end of the hallway.

“You better not be keeping any more secrets from me, Dean,” Sam had insisted petulantly. “You promised you’d treat me like a grown-up from now on…”

“You’re too short and too dumb to be a grown-up,” Dean had replied in typical big brother fashion, but even though he was talking, he wasn’t really paying attention, eyes fixed on the smartly-dressed man and woman standing at the end of the hall.

Outside their apartment door.

Their open apartment door.

Dad had said he wouldn’t be home that night….

Dean had hesitated mid-step, grabbing hold of the back of Sam’s jacket and pulling his little brother behind him.

“Dean, what the hell…?”

He should have turned and run. Right then, he should have turned and run. He’d known it then just like he knew it now.

“Dean and Sam Winchester?” the man had said, his voice calm but insistent as he took a step toward them. “You’re going to have to come with us…”

St. John’s Hospital,
Springfield, IL

He should run.

He should just turn around, grab hold of Sam, and run. Right out of this hospital, right out of this town, right out of this state.

He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t. Not again.


Dean blinked, unaware he’d stopped in the middle of the long, brightly-lit, spotlessly clean hallway, his hand fisted in the back of Sam’s jacket.

“Dean, it’s gonna be okay,” Sam said quietly, catching hold of his brother’s wrist and patting his upper arm reassuringly. “Dad’s gonna be okay.”

Dean just looked at him, wondering when Sam had become a grown-up, when Sam had become the big brother.

Since Mia, he thought to himself. He’s been picking up the slack since Mia.

He blinked again, almost surprised to find himself in a shiny hospital in Illinois instead of a dingy run-down apartment building in Georgia.

He took a breath, mentally collecting himself before nodding firmly. He could do this. Dad needed him to do this.

Sam seemed to hesitate for just a second before indicating a room to their left. “In here.”

Dean swallowed before following Sam through the open doorway, his eyes first straying to Bobby, who was sitting in an uncomfortable-looking plastic chair on the far side of the bed, fingers running around and around the rim of his ball cap.

He stood when they entered, ducking his head slightly as if he felt responsible for the condition of the figure stretched out on the bed between them.

“Boys,” he mumbled uncomfortably. “Good you could get here so fast.”

Dean followed Sam’s gaze as the two of them turned their attention to the pale form of their father laid out on the bed, eyes firmly closed, tubes in both arms. There were dark smudges beneath his eyes and a couple of days’ growth of dark stubble on his chin that made his pallor appear all the worse, but apart from that, no visible signs of what might have caused this. There were certainly no marks of violence on the exposed skin of his face and arms; no bruises, no cuts, nothing.

Dean had never seen his father look so small.

“What the hell happened, Bobby?” Dean asked when he was finally able to recover his voice, Sam adding,

“What’s wrong with him?” before Bobby even had a chance to answer Dean’s question.

Singer shook his head, scratching a hand through his hair. “I wish I could tell ya,” he said. “I don’t even know what your daddy was huntin’. It was just dumb random coincidence I was even in the neighborhood – demonic omens addin’ up to a big stinkin’ pile o’ nothin’ couple towns over.”

“Then how come the hospital called you?” Sam asked.

Bobby shrugged. “Docs didn’t find no I.D. on your daddy when they brung him in here. All he had on him was a Singer Salvage business card I’d stuck my cell number on about a hundred years ago. They called me, described John to me, and I high-tailed it over here fast as I could.”

“Why didn’t you call us right away?” Dean demanded, a little of his usual fire returning to his eyes.

Bobby raised his chin a little defensively. “Son, how pissed would you have been if I dragged you boys all the way up here to look at some unconscious hobo?” Dean’s expression mellowed slightly as he exchanged a sideways glance with Sam. “I wasn’t gonna call ya ’til I was sure it actually was your daddy they had here.”

“Where’d they find him?” Sam asked.

“Cops found him slumped over in his truck out on the side of the highway someplace.” He chuckled softly. “’Course his truck’s registered to a Mr. E. Clapton at some trailer park in Nebraska, so that didn’t help ’em I.D. him much either.”

“So what’s wrong with him?” Sam asked again, as if Bobby hadn’t heard him the first time.

Once more, Bobby began to fidget with his ball cap. “Maybe I oughta let the docs…”

“Bobby,” Dean said quietly, a note of pleading in his voice.

Bobby sighed resignedly. “He’s in a coma,” he explained. “Docs can’t find no injuries on him, nothing obviously wrong with him. He just won’t wake up. They got him on some whaddyamacallits – broad-spectrum antibiotics or somethin’. You know, in case it’s –”

“A virus?” Sam offered.

“Yeah –” Bobby began to agree, but was quickly cut off by Dean’s suddenly barked,

“No.” He shook his head vehemently, eyes never leaving his dad’s still form. “It’s Mia.” He looked up then, expression rigid with a certainty that couldn’t hide the desperation in his eyes. “She’s gotten to him – whammied him somehow…”

Sam and Bobby exchanged a glance.

“Dean –” Sam began.

“No, Sammy,” Dean interrupted him, suddenly fixing his younger brother with a determined glare. “What else could put someone in a coma without leaving a trace?”

Bobby inclined his head to one side, thinking. “I guess it’s possible,” he said, scratching his earlobe. “We know she’s still out there. And she has a major axe to grind with you boys.”

Sam puckered his lips. “I dunno, Bobby… Why put Dad in a coma? Why not drag him off to torture him some more? Or just eviscerate him and have done with it?”

Bobby sank back down onto his plastic chair, and Sam pulled out another couple of seats from the neat stack against the wall, placing one meaningfully in front of Dean and indicating his brother should sit.

Dean reluctantly obeyed, sinking down on the chair, eyes never straying from his dad. “So what do we do?” he asked no one in particular.

“How much you wanna bet this is related to whatever Dad was hunting?” Sam suggested.

Dean nodded, that intense feeling of déjà vu that had assaulted him out in the hallway tickling again at that same memory. “Like in Georgia,” he agreed, looking up at Bobby rather than at Sam. “In ’92.”

Bobby shifted awkwardly in his seat, his eyes falling from Dean’s, almost as if he were ashamed. “I don’t think it’s like what happened in ’92, son,” he said quietly. “Far as I know, there’s no other victims here, no localized pattern like the one John found in Georgia…”

Sam’s brow knitted in confusion, gaze darting back and forth between Bobby and his brother. “Gimme a clue here, guys,” he said. “What happened in ’92?”

Winchesters’ apartment,
Griffin, GA
January 1992

“Yeah Bobby, okay,” John Winchester rumbled into the telephone receiver, voice low as if he didn’t want his boys to hear him.

Good luck with that, Dean thought to himself, glancing around the pokey little closet they laughingly referred to as an apartment.

Sam was sprawled across the ancient sofa, eyes glued to the cartoons flicking across the crappy black and white TV lurking in the corner of the living area while he simultaneously finished off a slice of toast and eavesdropped on John’s conversation in the little kitchenette barely six feet away.

No one multi-tasked like Sammy, Dean reflected.

He began clearing the breakfast dishes away noisily in an effort to give Dad some privacy, but only succeeded in garnering scowls from both his little brother and his father.

“Dean, I’m on the phone here,” John hissed, covering the receiver for a second before turning his attention back to Bobby with a frown. “Okay, Bobby, well you boys have fun up there.” His attention drifted away from Dean and back to the journal open on the kitchen table in front of him, his son turning to the sink with a hugely exaggerated sigh. “And good hunting,” John added, replacing the receiver in the cradle mounted on the wall and proceeding to scribble something in the margin of the page in front of him. Even the right way up, Dean wouldn’t have been able to make heads nor tails of it, but upside down? His dad’s writing was worse than a spider on crack that’d fallen in an ink well.

“What’s Uncle Bobby hunting, Dad?” Sam asked, finishing his toast and losing interest in the TV when the cartoon he was watching ended and was replaced by that weird-ass Smells Like Teen Spirit video – the one with the indecipherable lyrics and possessed cheerleaders. Sam switched off the set with a shrug, swinging his legs back over the edge of the couch, while Dean tried to remember the name of the band. Nirvana, maybe? Something like that. Next big thing, apparently.

“Sam,” Dean warned his brother, not entirely sure the three weeks that had passed since Sammy’s introduction to the “family business” had allowed Dad time to cool off about Dean having spilled his guts to his baby brother. We do what we do and we shut up about it. Even to your brother.

John cast his younger son an appraising glance, and Dean reflected on the injustice of it: His dad hadn’t been mad at Sam at all, and it was Sam who’d been the one sneaking a look at his journal. “Demons,” Dad replied at length, his eyes never straying from his youngest son, as if carefully measuring the boy’s reaction.

“Oh.” Sam did his best not to flinch a little, which Dean found kind of endearing in the little twerp. “On his own?” The younger boy’s voice was an oddly strangled mix of awe and apprehension.

John shook his head. “He took backup. Jim Murphy went with him.”

Sam’s eyes widened. “Pastor Jim’s a hunter too?”

John’s lips twitched into a smile. “Occasionally. When his parishioners aren’t paying too much attention. They’re up in Alaska,” he added without prompting, which surprised Dean a little because usually getting information out of his dad was like getting blood out of the stoniest of stones. “Multiple possessions. Damn demons taking advantage of the long hours of darkness up there this time of year.”

“Demons are like vampires?” Sam asked, eyes widening still further. “Only come out at night?”

“No such thing as vampires, son,” John informed his youngest. “And demons aren’t afraid of the light – they just prefer to take advantage of people’s fear of the dark, that’s all.”

Sam sat forward a little. “Is that what you’re hunting here, Dad?” he asked tentatively. “Demons?”

Dean’s ears pricked up at that, and he did his best not to suddenly look too interested.

John straightened, pursing his lips as he closed the journal in front of him with a snap that effectively ended the conversation. “You boys are going to be late for school –”

“C’mon, Dad,” Dean put in. “What are we doing her? In this town? There’s got be a reason you brought us here.”

Sam glanced over at his brother, a small smile of gratitude flickering at the corners of his mouth. “It’s okay, Dad,” he added. “I’m old enough. You know I know what you do now. I’m not scared.”

John gritted his teeth, a disapproving glance thrown in Dean’s direction. Dean swallowed as his dad sighed heavily. “There’s people in hospital,” he said at length. “In comas. Doctors don’t know what put ’em there.”

“But you do?” Sam blinked owlishly at his father, as if for a moment he truly believed what Dean had told him on Christmas Eve, about their dad being some kind of superhero.

John shrugged noncommittally. “I got ideas,” he said cryptically. “These people – the ones in comas? They all got kids just like you two, and all those kids are gonna be in big trouble if their parents don’t wake up pretty soon.”

“Trouble how?” Sam asked.

Neither Dad nor Dean answered, Dean just glancing at his father as his fingers gripped the edge of the table a little too tightly.

“And what could put people into comas?” Sam continued, the wheels in that big brain of his clearly spinning too fast to notice the suddenly tense silence between his father and brother.

John shrugged again, his gaze dipping away from Dean’s a little guiltily. “Could be a lot of things,” he said. “I need to do more digging.” He shook his head, glancing at his wristwatch. “Now look alive, you two – you’re gonna be late.”

John glanced hesitantly back at Dean, who held his gaze for a second before his father looked away again. He knows somethin’, Dean thought to himself. He’s just not tellin’.

Sam hauled himself up from the sofa, retrieving his book bag on his way into the kitchenette. “So you’re gonna be there this afternoon, right Dad?” he asked tentatively, affecting his best puppy dog blink as his father gazed at him levelly. “Right?”

John winked slightly in Dean’s direction before schooling his features into a frown. “What’s this afternoon?”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Dad –!”

“I know, I know,” John teased, grinning. “Open house, right? I finally get to meet the awesome Ms. Curtis?”

Sam frowned. “You’re not going to embarrass me, right?” he insisted. “With my new teacher? ’Cause I’ve only been at this school a couple of weeks and I’m still trying to make a good impression –”

“And I love Ms. Curtis soooooo much!” Dean added in his best Whiny Sam voice, making kissy faces in his brother’s direction as he hefted his own bag onto his shoulder.

“Shut up, jerk!”

“Teacher’s pet!”

“Juvenile delinquent!”

“Ms. Curtis’ bitch!”

“Don’t call your brother a bitch, Dean.”

“Sorry Dad.”

Taylor Street Middle School,
Griffin, GA
Later that day

“So you think Sam’s open house is gonna go a little better than yours, buddy?” John asked, smiling slyly as Dean showed him the way to Sam’s classroom.

Dean scowled up at him. “It went just fine, Dad,” he gritted out through clenched teeth. “You said we were supposed to be keeping a low profile in this town, right?”

“Well yeah,” John agreed. “But you didn’t have to go quite this far. What was that your teacher said? She’d barely noticed you were in her class?”

“Dad you said –”

“And that you weren’t mixing with the other kids?”

“Low profile, Dad –”

“And that the first year of high school could be tough,” John barely stifled a snigger, “especially on shy kids…”

“I am not shy!” Dean snapped, yanking open the main door into the middle school and belatedly remembering to hold it open for his dad.

John ruffled his boy’s hair as he breezed past. “Never had you down as the shrinking violet type, son.”

“Dad –” Dean was close to whining now, sounding uncomfortably like Sammy when he had his bitchface on.

John grinned wide, clapping Dean on the shoulder affectionately. “I’m just teasing, kiddo!” he said. “You’re right, I told you to keep your head down and stay off the radar, and you’re doing just that. You’re following orders. I’m really proud of you for that.”

Dean faltered some, a tiny flicker of a smile chasing away the pouty grimace. “Yeah?” He glanced up at his father through lowered lashes.

John nodded. “You guys need to fade into the background in this town.”

Dean’s brow creased as he took the lead, directing his dad down the long hallway toward Sammy’s classroom. “Only us?” he asked. “What about you?” When John made no attempt to answer, Dean continued, “Why, Dad? What’s going on in this town?”

John shrugged noncommittally, and even though they’d reached Sam’s classroom, Dean was pretty damn sure he hadn’t been about to tell him anything else.

Even in the hallway, Dean could hear his little brother’s voice clearly audible through the open classroom door.

John’s lips twitched into a wry smile. “Not sure your brother got the memo about keeping a low profile,” he observed, striding on into the classroom as if he owned it, which Dad had a habit of doing wherever they went. Dean tagged along behind him in his wake. Which he also had a habit of doing wherever they went.

“Stupid open house,” he grumbled under his breath. “Only good for getting us out of class early.”

He followed his dad into the classroom, where Sammy was in the middle of regaling his teacher Ms. Curtis and several hovering parents with a long and animated discussion about saber-toothed tigers.

Low profile my ass….

“Sammy, let someone else get a word in, huh?” John said, and Sam responded immediately at the sound of his father’s voice, for the first time since Christmas Eve actually looking pleased to see him.

“We were talking about tigers –” Sam protested.

“No, you were talking about tigers,” John corrected him. “These other folks would really like to be talking about their kids.”

Ms. Curtis turned at the sound of John’s voice, the pretty young teacher positively beaming at him. She held out her hand to him, and he shook it briskly. “Mr. Winchester,” she simpered. “Your son’s always a delight to talk to! I don’t think I ever met such an animated boy!”

“Yeah, animated like Lisa friggin’ Simpson,” Dean muttered grumpily, scowling at Sam’s teacher as she held on to John’s hand a little longer than was strictly necessary in Dean’s humble opinion.

Dean wasn’t entirely sure why, but he wasn’t overly fond of Ms. Curtis. Actually, he pretty much detested her with a passion, while Sam thought the sun shone out of her horrible purple glasses and long, painted fingernails.

The rational part of Dean’s brain told him it was some kind of – what had Dad called it? – “separation anxiety.” There was a mile of sidewalk between the high school and the middle school, and Dean didn’t like Sam spending the entire day away from him in a completely different building one bit. Sam shouldn’t be alone and defenseless. It wasn’t right. It went against Dean’s programming.

Dad told him to chill; that it was natural, that he couldn’t be by his brother’s side twenty-four seven. But that really didn’t make Dean feel any better.

Obviously, the rational part of his brain told him, he was taking his anxiety out on Sam’s teacher, demonizing the person entrusted with his little brother’s care; the person doing his job.

Of course, the rational side of Dean’s brain pretty much shorted out completely when he realized why Ms. Curtis kept reaching out to gently touch his dad’s arm, simpering and giggling at him like a shy schoolgirl.

She was flirting.

Sam’s teacher was flirting.

With his dad!

And what was worse, Dad was flirting back!

That settled it, Dean figured, hackles rising unaccountably. So much for demonizing Sam’s teacher. The chick probably was a friggin’ demon!

That must be it, right? Dad was just reeling her in for the kill. He wasn’t actually flirting with her. It was all an act. A ruse.


John laughed suddenly, eyes twinkling as his hand brushed across Sammy’s hair.

Dean glanced at Sam, willing his brother to look at him.

You’re seeing this, Sammy, right?

But Sam was too busy beaming up at Ms. Curtis to take much notice of Dean right then.


He wished a werewolf would burst into the classroom and start chowing down on Ms. Curtis’ stupid, giggling face.

“So your wife,” Sammy’s teacher was saying, and Dean froze, all thoughts of the woman’s spectacularly gruesome death immediately driven from his brain. “Sam tells me she passed away when he was very young?”

John’s smile slipped a little, his hand coming to rest on Sam’s shoulder which he squeezed lightly. He dipped his eyes down to his youngest son for a second. “Seven years now,” he confirmed quietly.

Seven years, two months, nineteen days, Dean’s brain automatically supplied.

Ms. Curtis nodded sympathetically. “That must be hard. Being all by yourself.”

Dean virtually growled, even more hideously gruesome deaths for Ms. Curtis popping into his head. What was the stupid bat talking about? Dad was so obviously not by himself – especially not with Dean standing right there!

Maybe a gargoyle could come carry her off and drop her head first off the Empire State Building. Yeah, that’d be good. Or some unfriendly poltergeist could maybe smash her into a few walls until she stopped saying such ridiculous things to his father.

Yeah, she so wouldn’t be flirting with his dad then, would she?

“Dad?” He tried to interrupt, stepping forward to remind his father of his presence. When his dad continued his conversation with Ms. Curtis as if he’d not even spoken, he tried a little harder. “Dad!”

John whirled on him, annoyance plainly etched in the line between his dark eyebrows. “Dean, what?” he demanded.

“I –” Dean shrugged and shook his head. “I just –” Suddenly he found his sneakers absolutely fascinating.

“Then stop interrupting!” John turned back to Ms. Curtis, but she had already been co-opted by another of the parents before he could regain her attention. “Now look what you did.”

Dean smiled ever-so-slightly, but instantly sobered when he noticed Sam scowling at him.

“You are such a freak,” the younger boy pronounced, sticking out his lower lip sulkily. “You didn’t see me interrupting when Dad was talking to your teacher!

“You weren’t even there, brainiac!”

“Dean –”

“Well exactly, brainfart!”

“Sam –”

“I couldn’t help overhearing…”

Dean’s attention snapped away from Sammy as another female voice emanated from his dad’s general vicinity.

God, the guy was a freakin’ chick magnet this afternoon!

“Being on your own. It must be hard – you have two little boys don’t you?”

The woman had her hand on Dad’s forearm, all long spindly fingers and claw-like red nails, and Dean realized he vaguely recognized her from picking Sam up after school – she had a daughter in his little brother’s class.

“I’m on my own too,” the woman continued with little encouragement from Dean’s dad, thin lips painted into a bright scarlet grimace that Dean figured was probably supposed to look like a smile, bright dark eyes set close together, hawk-like in their intensity, dark hair threaded with silver pulled back into a tight knot at the nape of her neck. “Just me and Flora.”

“Yeah,” Dad was saying, smiling warmly. “It’s tough raising kids on your own.”

Dean felt like stamping his foot. You’re not on your own, Dad!

“Oh it is,” the woman agreed. “So tough. Sometimes you just need another adult to talk to…”

Okay, that’s it. Dean was pulling his dad out of this room full of crazy flirting women right now….

“You’re Sam’s big brother, right?”

The voice was right in his ear, and his focus shifted sideways, a little startled at the girl’s proximity and the fact that she’d totally managed to sneak up on him.

He blinked at her for a second, recognizing her as Flora, the crazy hawk-eyed woman’s daughter.

“Yeah,” he confirmed warily. “So?”

He didn’t bother to give the girl his name. It felt like most places they went he was just “Sam’s brother” these days.

She blinked back at him, almost as if she’d got something in her eye, but Dean was pretty sure it was just because she couldn’t bring herself to make eye contact with him.

Now this was a real shy kid, he observed. She was pretty though, as tall as he was despite being four years younger, masses of blonde curls floating down her back, wide clear blue eyes and freckles peppering her nose.

Her attention slid down to her feet at Dean’s scrutiny, eyes downcast, lower lip trembling just a little bit.

“Get your dad out of town, Sam’s brother,” she whispered softly. “Right now.”

Griffin, GA
January 1992

Dean stared silently out of the Impala’s window, unable to shake Flora’s dire warning from his head.

“Get your dad out of town, Sam’s brother.”

Sam had called shotgun, and Dean had acquiesced for once, so distracted by the girl’s words that he was almost oblivious to his dad’s unexpected approval.

“Good boy, Dean. I think Sammy’s earned a seat up front today.”

“Get your dad out of town…”

What the hell had Flora meant by that? Was this related to whatever Dad was hunting? There had to be something going on in this town after all, or Dad wouldn’t be here.

“Dad, there’s more to this than people in comas, right?”

John glanced at him in the rearview mirror, but didn’t respond, instead continuing to give Sam’s incessant chatter his full attention.

“You like Ms. Curtis, right? She’s the best! She says if I carry on like this, I might get to skip fifth grade altogether…”

“Dad?” Dean pressed. “What are we doing here? What are you hunting?”

John’s dark gaze again flickered to the rearview, but then was almost immediately back on Sam. “That’s good, Sammy. I’m really proud of you, son.”

Dean huffed, folding his arms across his chest sullenly. “You can’t have it both ways, Dad,” he groused. “Either you’re proud of Sammy for being an oh-so-brilliant suck-up and drawing attention all over himself, or you’re proud of me for keeping a low profile like you told us to.”

Sam returned Dean’s huff with added interest. “You’re just jealous ’cause your teacher thinks you’re a moron,” he snapped.

“Shut up, suck-up!”

“Shut up yourself, moron!”

“Boys!” Dad cut in. “Both of you shut the hell up, you’re giving me a headache.” He sighed heavily. “Look, Dean,” he said, again looking up into the rearview. “We’ll talk about this when we get home.”

Dean glared at him darkly.


Dean considered that. “Okay.”

Winchesters’ apartment,
Griffin, GA
January 1992

The tinny sound of the shower spray hitting the ancient enamel bathtub filled the apartment, and Dean took that as his cue to head on over to the kitchen table, which was currently littered with John’s hastily handwritten notes, newspaper clippings, even what looked to Dean like copies of hospital records.

Dad had been a lot less secretive about his research since Christmas, often leaving it out on display where the boys could see it. Usually, it was Sam who eagerly sifted through the mountains of paper, intent on discovering information about Dad’s latest hunt. Dean, typically, was content with Dad telling him what was going on, he didn’t need any extra information. But on this occasion, Dad pretty much wasn’t telling him anything, and he couldn’t let that go. Not after what Flora had said to him.

Of course, Dean knew that Dad was probably just protecting him. The only hunts Dad didn’t tell him everything he needed to know about were generally those where his father knew Dean would only worry.

And Dean was plenty worried now.

“She has such a crush on you, you know,” Sam piped up suddenly from the direction of the sofa, where he had his nose stuck in a book on prehistoric creatures.

Dean blinked at the non-sequitur. “Huh?”

Sam looked over the top of his book at him, grinning wickedly. “Flora,” he clarified. “I saw her talking to you in class.”

Dean shifted, cheeks coloring. “Don’t be ridiculous, she’s just a little kid –”

“She’s four months older than I am,” Sam informed his brother. “And they say girls mature faster than boys, right?”

“At this rate, you’ll be retiring before you mature,” Dean commented.

Sam ignored that. “She’s always asking about you. Keeps finding excuses to hang out with me – y’know, so she can ask me stuff? Don’t you see her staring at you when you come pick me up after class?”

Sam was eight. Sam was eight and he’d noticed that. And Dean hadn’t. Not once.

“Uh –”

“I guess you’re just not very observant,” Sam teased.

Dean frowned at him. “Get your observant ass over here and observe Dad’s notes,” he barked. “I can’t make heads or tails out of ’em. He has worse handwriting that you did when you were three.”

Sam put down his book with a sigh, heading on over to Dean’s position and casting a cursory glance over the mound of paperwork.

“It’s all about the coma people,” he pronounced after a couple of minutes of examination, pointing to one of the newspaper clippings. “Ninth resident in coma: Doctors mystified.”

“Well I know that,” Dean snapped. “But is there a reason for them to be in comas? Is something causing it? Is Dad hunting the thing that’s causing it?”

Sam glanced back down at the paperwork. “Bunch of people in comas,” he repeated. “Probably a virus or something.”

Dean shook his head. “Thank you for that outstanding diagnosis, Doctor, Sammy…”

St. John’s Hospital,
Springfield, IL
Present day

Sam concentrated. Really hard. And that wasn’t easy with his father lying unconscious in front of him and his big brother pacing the hospital room like some caged animal.

He could vaguely remember the hunt Dean had described – back in Griffin in ’92 – but there had been so many hunts between then and now that sometimes the details all bled into one another.

“Was that the year I was in Ms. Curtis’ class?” he asked at length, and Dean merely snorted at him.

“Figures you’d remember her. Suck-up.”

Sam shook his head. “Dean –”

Bobby raked his fingers over the back of his head. “I was in Alaska. The one time you boys really needed me –”

“Bobby,” Dean interrupted him. “Don’t. It wasn’t your fault. Not like you had an obligation or anything.”

“But I should have been there,” Bobby disagreed. “I could have –”

“No,” Dean silenced him. “Don’t do that, man. Things happen for a reason, and that all happened the way it was supposed to happen.”

“But you boys could have been killed – or – or –”

“Worse?” Dean supplied with a wry laugh. “Yeah, well. We weren’t.”

“If John had just told me what he was hunting…”

Sam huffed. “Yeah, a lot of that going around lately,” he observed.

Dean ignored him, although Sam could tell from the muscle bouncing around in his cheek that his big brother silently agreed. “Dad’s unwillingness to share notwithstanding,” he said, “he’d figured out way before we ever got to Griffin what the victims all had in common…”

Outside Taylor Street Middle School,
Griffin, GA
January 1992

Dean leaned against the wall impatiently, glancing at his watch before returning his attention to the steady stream of little kids exiting the school excitedly.

“C’mon, Sammy…” he muttered. “Is that a whole freakin’ cart of apples you’re givin’ your teacher or what?”

He straightened as his eyes lit on Flora emerging into the cold January sunshine, dashing across to her and planting himself right in her path.


She looked up at him and almost swallowed her tongue, eyes widening as she jerked back a step in surprise.

“Remember me?” he added. “Sam’s brother.”

Flora nodded mutely.

Dean took a step toward her, and she flinched visibly. “What did you mean yesterday?” he asked. “When you told me to get my dad out of town?”

Her whole face seemed to freeze, and she glanced about herself fearfully, as if looking for someone.


“I can’t…” She tried to push past him, head down and eyes fixed on the path in front of her, not stopping until she walked right into another boy who grabbed her by her upper arms.

“Hey –” Dean tried to intercede, but the kid just scowled at him.

“Stay out of this, shortstuff,” he growled, causing Dean to bristle and raise himself to his full height, which was admittedly a couple of inches shy of this asshole.

The kid got right up in Flora’s face and she raised wet-looking eyes to him fearfully. “Please, Donny –”

“I hate your mom,” Donny spat. “You know she’s weird, right? She’s a weirdo. Like you. You’re both weird and I hate you. You know there’s something not right about her, right? You know that, I know you do. You know she’s weird. I hate her and I hate you and I don’t want to live with you anymore!”

The words tumbled out of the boy’s mouth in a mad rush, and Flora promptly burst into tears, shoving past him and running off down the path as fast as her feet would carry her.

“Dude, that was so not cool,” Dean commented. “Why’d you have to make her cry like that?”

Donny just looked at him, anger and frustration and fear skimming across his face in a matter of seconds. “Her mom’s weird,” he repeated shortly.

“Yeah, I get that, but that’s not her fault –”

“I don’t wanna live there anymore.”

“So you live with Flora and her mom?” Dean clarified.

Donny nodded, shoulders slumping in resignation. “Two weeks now. Since my mom…” he trailed off and began to turn away.

“Wait!” Dean caught his arm. “Your mom what?”

Donny glanced back at him. “She’s sick,” he said at length. “In the hospital. She won’t wake up and no one can figure out what’s wrong with her.”

Dean’s heart began to quicken. “She’s in a coma?” he asked gently.

Donny nodded. “I don’t have anyone else and she won’t wake up. My dad left when I was a baby and – and – that’s why I got stuck with a freakin’ foster family.”

“Flora’s mom’s a foster mom?”

Donny nodded again. “She’s got quite a few of us living with her now.”

Dean frowned. “‘Us?’”

“Kids whose parents have gotten sick,” Donny clarified. He shook his head and wrapped his arms around himself protectively. “I don’t wanna stay with them no more.”

“Why? What’s wrong with them? Besides – y’know – being weird and everything.”

Donny bit his lip. “I heard stuff,” he said, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “The other kids…they talk and –”


Dean whirled at the sound of Sam’s voice, the eight-year-old running toward him with the all the deadly accuracy of a cruise missile.

He turned back toward Donny, but the other boy had disappeared, obviously having thought better of unburdening himself to a complete stranger. “Dammit…”

Sam was waving over his shoulder to a little girl in pigtails who was climbing into a shiny minivan being driven by an elderly lady in a big fur hat.

“That your girlfriend?” Dean’s asked casually, causing Sam to glare at him.

“That’s Clara,” he informed his brother. “Her dad’s in the hospital. One of the coma people.”

Dean raised an approving eyebrow. “How d’you get that out of her?”

“We bonded,” Sam replied flatly. “She’s got no mom like us.”

Something cold and prickly began to squirm in the pit of Dean’s stomach. “And her dad’s sick?”

Sam nodded. “Good thing her grandma’s around. She’d have nowhere to go if she wasn’t.”

Dean bit his lip. Like Donny. He had nowhere to go….

He felt like the ground was tilting a little, his legs threatening to give right out from under him.

Was this it? Was this why dad was here? Was this thing going after single parents? Was Dad using himself as bait to draw whatever it was out into the open? Was it after the kids?

And what would happen to them if something happened to Dad?

Because they had nowhere to go either….

St. John’s Hospital,
Springfield, IL
Present day

“That was it, wasn’t it?” Sam said suddenly, memories rushing over him like a broken dam. “Dad was using himself as bait! And us too! Just like the Shtriga…” He trailed off, shaking his head angrily.

“He told us to keep a low profile, remember?” Dean insisted. “He was trying to protect us.”

Sam shot him a disbelieving look. “You’re kidding, right? Dean, he was offering himself up to that thing – what the hell did he think would happen to us?”

Dean shook his head. “Sam, just drop it, okay?” he said. “It’s water under the bridge.”

“But you think that’s what’s going on now, right? You think maybe he was using himself as bait and the thing he was hunting got to him first?”

Dean didn’t answer, just turned his gaze to the prone form of his father, the sound of the heart monitor too loud as it echoed about the room.

What the hell were you hunting this time, Dad?

Griffin GA
January 1992

“You know, you and Dad could have told me sooner. I’m not a little kid,” Sam insisted, bouncing on up ahead while Dean tried in vain to get him to stay close.

“Sam, will you quit running off?” he said, glancing nervously at each apartment door as they passed by, always on the lookout, always half-expecting someone – or something – to come flying out at them, to try and grab Sammy. Always on the alert. Always waiting.

Sam glanced back at him, shrugging but not slowing down his canter.

Dean sighed. “What good would it have done?” he asked, as he had so many times since Christmas Eve, since his baby brother had confronted him with Dad’s journal and the question he’d never wanted to hear him ask: “Are monsters real?”

He’d hated that he’d helped Dad keep the truth from Sammy for so long, but he’d just been a kid and Dean had wanted to protect him from the dark and dangerous world into which he’d been born, if only for a little longer.

Dean knew it was inevitable. He knew that no matter what he did, that dark and dangerous world was out there, just waiting for Sam, and nothing was going to keep him safe from it forever.

“So why won’t he tell us what he’s hunting?” Sam asked, slowing his Tigger-like gait for a second so that he could walk alongside his brother, their shoulders brushing the walls of the narrow hallway. “I mean, we’ve been here two weeks, right? He must have found what he came here for by now.”

“I don’t know,” Dean had replied, a little distracted by the two dark figures up ahead at the end of the hallway. “I don’t know what he’s hunting. He won’t tell me.”

“You better not be keeping any more secrets from me, Dean,” Sam insisted petulantly. “You promised you’d treat me like a grown-up from now on…”

“You’re too short and too dumb to be a grown-up,” Dean replied in typical big brother fashion. “And besides, you know as much as I do: it’s something to do with all of these people falling into comas all over town.”

Dean may have been talking, but Sam didn’t have his full attention, eyes fixed on the smartly-dressed man and woman standing at the end of the hall.

Outside their apartment door.

Their open apartment door.

Dad said he wouldn’t be home tonight….

Dean hesitated mid-step, grabbing hold of the back of Sam’s jacket and pulling his little brother behind him roughly.

“Dean, what the hell…?” Sam began to protest, but the smartly-dressed man on their doorstep took a step forward, an I.D. card with his photograph on it held out for their inspection.

“Dean and Sam Winchester?” the man said, his voice calm but insistent as he took another step toward them. “You’re going to have to come with us…”



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The Winchester Chronicles

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