Season Four

Episode Eight: Family Album

By irismay42

Part One

 

Lynchburg, TN

The house was in darkness.

As houses went, it was fairly unremarkable: white clapboard walls, brightly colored porch, welcome mat laid out on the doorstep and a guttering porch light that finally spluttered and died in silence.

The inside of the house was no different: a welcoming foyer, thickly carpeted and warm despite the late hour, coat stand and shoe rack, photographs on the walls.

A lounge off to the right had pictures on the mantel of a handsome man, broad shouldered, dark haired and dark eyed, his attractive wife, blonde and demur, and their two small children, a boy and a girl, smiling out of their picture frames into the darkened room as a shadow fell across their adorable, cherubic faces.

The shadow, barely substantial, barely there, nevertheless paused in front of the photographs, long dark fingers gently caressing each picture before moving on, deeper into the house.

It hadn’t found what it was looking for yet.

With a creak scarcely perceptible to human ears, the basement door slid open and the shadow slipped noiselessly inside, gliding down solid stone steps until it reached the concrete floor.

There was no light in the basement, but the shadow didn’t need it to find what it was looking for, seemingly insensible to the skylight set high into the wall offering meager moonlight to illuminate its way. It turned slightly, the cold light of the full moon glancing briefly off jet black eyes, and the shadow creature blinked, following the slanting beam of pale white light to a trunk nestled in the corner of the room.

Shadowy fingers fumbled for a second with the metal catch, finally flipping open the lid and peering inside.

The trunk was full of knickknacks and keepsakes, almost as if someone’s entire life—or the parts of it they wanted to remember—had been stored inside for many years, often forgotten, more often regarded with sadness and longing for a life left far behind, moments in time that could never be recaptured.

Barely substantial fingers caressed a well-worn baseball mitt in a child’s size; a Father’s Day card with the word “Daddy” scrawled across it in brightly colored crayon; a dog-eared copy of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham; a silver charm bracelet; a school report card littered with “A”s.

Each trinket was regarded and discarded with disinterest until the shadow lit upon the item it was looking for.

At the bottom of the trunk was a large book covered with peacock blue satin, the words “Family Album” embossed in gold letters across the front.

The shadow creature flipped it open to the first page, running its fingers over pictures displayed in monochrome beneath the plastic: A young boy in short trousers beaming up at a tall, dark haired man in front of a car; the same boy, older, in uniform, standing proudly to attention; a group of soldiers smiling for the camera, a snapshot of doomed youth in a jungle destined to be their final resting place.

The shadow turned the page.

Yes. This is what it came for.

Softly, it began to mumble an incantation, strange words in an ancient language that gradually built in volume and intensity.

The edges of the photographs began to glow as the intruder continued its chant, fingers caressing the pictures as if they were long-lost friends, and as the words finally reached a crescendo, the shadow itself began to glow like the photographs at its fingertips, obsidian eyes reflecting the blinding light emanating from the pages of the album.

As the light increased in intensity, the entire basement seemed to bleach out to a blinding whiteness, a whooshing sound reverberating around the brick walls causing the items on the various shelves around the room to rattle and shake.

Then the light was gone.

And so was the shadow.

A faint glow lingered on one of the photographs: another handsome, dark-haired man, his beautiful blonde wife, a small boy and a baby, standing outside a house with a large tree behind them.

As the glow faded, a shadow passed behind the tree…


Red Roof Inn,
Greenwood, IN

“Hey, Cinderella, how about you curl your eyelashes after we’ve hunted this black shuck, huh?” Sam Winchester yelled through the flimsy plywood bathroom door as he carefully packed his belongings into the duffle his brother had slung onto the bed.

Dean made no reply, but the shower abruptly shut off and Sam snickered to himself.

Yeah, payback was such a bitch. Dean would think twice before calling him “Princess” again.

“Hold your horses, Princess, I’ll be right out!” Dean summarily yelled back through the door, causing Sam to grunt as he resumed his packing.

He wasn’t even sure they should be going on this hunt. It was only two weeks to the spring equinox after all, and they still had no clue how they were supposed to get their dad out of Stull when the gateway finally reopened. But while Dean was more than capable of research when he put his mind to it, right now Sam sensed his brother needed a distraction, anything to take his mind off what the hell they were going to do come March 20th.

The last time they’d heard from Bobby he’d assured them he was working on it, and Sam’s own pile of hurriedly scribbled notes grew larger by the day. But they still didn’t have the answer, and Sam figured if he didn’t find a way to stop his big brother dwelling on that, Dean’s head might just explode.

So a black shuck in Huntington, West Virginia would have to do.

“Dean!” Sam called again as his brother’s cellphone began to belt out the chorus of Rainbow’s I Surrender.

Getting no further response from his brother, Sam cast his eyes about the room and finally located his brother’s cell on the opposite bed, partially submerged beneath a pile of randomly scrambled clothing. Reaching over, he snatched up the vibrating device, glancing a little furtively at the caller I.D. He generally avoided answering Dean’s phone just in case he picked up one of those angry boyfriend or husband calls his brother seemed to receive so often.

However, instead of reading “Stacie” or “Candi” or “Trixee” or some other name Dean could barely remember programming into his cell, the caller I.D. came up “Unknown,” and that was enough to pique Sam’s interest.

Cautiously sliding open the cell, Sam offered a wary, “Hello?” as he steeled himself for an explosion of vitriol from the cuckolded partner of Dean’s latest conquest.

However, considering how long it had been since Dean had actually shown any interest in extracurricular activities of that nature, Sam shouldn’t have been surprised to hear a perfectly sane-sounding woman on the other end of the line. A woman who certainly seemed a little more mature than Dean’s usual type.

“Is this Dean?” the woman asked a little hesitantly. “Dean Winchester?”

Sam froze.

Although he knew Detective Guevara had fixed Dean’s police record months ago, Sam still couldn’t get past cringing every time someone addressed either of them by their real name. Dean had been officially dead for a lot of years, and Sam guessed old habits died hard.

“Uh, no,” he answered at length, glancing over at the still-closed bathroom door. “Dean can’t come to the phone right now.”

There was a pause and a tiny exhalation of breath on the other end of the line. “Sam?” the woman hazarded. “Sam, is that—is that you?”

Sam had to admit, he was a little thrown.

Someone neither Sam nor Dean knew but who appeared to know them, know their real names, knew Dean’s cellphone number, calling them up out of the blue like this?

This so couldn’t be good news.

“Who is this?” Sam asked slowly, trying to sound as unthreatening as possible but not entirely succeeding.

“My name—my name’s Bonnie,” the woman explained softly. “Reynolds. Bonnie Reynolds. I’m—I’m a friend of John’s.” She paused for a second, before adding, “Winchester. John Winchester.”

The room seemed to slide sideways, and Sam had to grab hold of the bed to stop himself collapsing onto it. “How do you—how do you know John?” he asked, attempting to sound calm and composed, but pretty much sucking at that too.

There was another pause that seemed to last a little longer than the previous one.

“Are you Sam?” the woman asked again.

Sam hesitated, looking up as Dean finally emerged from the bathroom, a threadbare off-white towel slung around his hips, short hair sticking up in spikes as he rubbed at it with another towel which seemed in even worse shape than the first.

“Who you talking to?” Dean asked distractedly, stirring the discarded clothes around on his bed as if he was searching for something specific before suddenly looking up at Sam and blinking. “Who you talking to on my phone?” he added, apparently more than a little perturbed by the idea of Sam answering his phone, or talking on his phone, or, God forbid, calling a number stored in his phone.

Sam rolled his eyes at him. “Shhh!”

Dean rolled his eyes right on back. “Gimme,” he insisted, holding out his hand for the cell.

Sam waved him into silence before returning his attention to the woman on the other end of the phone. “Yes,” he admitted at length, finally replying to her question. “Yes, this is Sam.”

Dean raised an inquisitive eyebrow, and the woman on the phone released what appeared to have been a long-held breath.

“Can I ask who you are exactly?” Sam continued.

“Bonnie,” the woman repeated. “Call me Bonnie. Your dad and I—well, we’re old friends. John gave me this number and told me to call his son Dean if I was ever in any trouble and—and couldn’t get hold of him.” She paused again, drawing in a short breath. “Is—is he okay?” she asked hesitantly. “John? Your dad? Is he okay? I—I’ve been calling his number for a couple of days now and I—I was getting a little worried that he hasn’t picked up.”

The woman—Bonnie—sounded a whole lot more than “a little worried” to Sam, and Sam wasn’t sure he wanted to dwell on that too much.

Instead, he distracted himself by idly wondering where John’s cell might actually be right now, figuring his dad probably had it on him when…well. At Stull.

“He’s—he’s out of cell contact right now,” he managed to reply, trying to be as vague as possible while not exactly lying to the woman. After all, if she really was a friend of Dad’s, didn’t she deserve some version of the truth? Even a sugar-coated version? “Can—can we help you?”

There was another pause, then an uncertain, “Is Dean with you?”

Sam’s pause was even longer and more uncertain than Bonnie’s had been. “Uh. Yeah, Dean’s with me.” His eyes locked with his brother’s, and Dean frowned at him.

“Who is it?” Dean mouthed, a frown crinkling his forehead.

Sam shrugged, half expecting the woman on the end of the phone to hang up.

Instead, there was the tiniest of resigned sighs. “I think I have something you and your brother might want to see.” Sam had no clue what Bonnie looked like, but right then he imagined her running a tired hand across a furrowed brow. “Can you—do you think you and your brother could come to Lynchburg? Right away?”

“Lynchburg?” Sam echoed. “Tennessee?” He glanced sideways at Dean, whose face had suddenly lit up like the night sky on the 4th of July.

“Home of my best buddy, Jack!” he burst out with a massive grin.

Sam frowned and put his hand over the phone’s mouthpiece. “Jack?” he mouthed uncertainly.

Dean’s grin widened. “Daniels, Sammy!” he burst out. “Jack Daniels!”

Sam shook his head. Looked liked the black shuck might have to wait.

“Uh, yeah, okay,” he said into the phone. “You—uh—wanna give me your address, ma’am?”

“Bonnie. It’s Bonnie,” the woman corrected him, before proceeding to give Sam her street address. “And Sam?” she added, when Sam had taken down the details and assured her he and Dean would be with her asap. “Thank you. Thank you both.”

Sam wasn’t sure what to say to that. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s okay. We’ll see you soon, okay?”

“Thank you, Sam.”

Bonnie sounded ridiculously grateful. And nervous. Grateful and nervous. And when she disconnected the call, Sam couldn’t help thinking that wasn’t the greatest of combinations. This could be a trap. She could be a demon. She could be one of Lucifer’s flunkies… But she sounded scared, and she said she was a friend of Dad’s…

“You know a Bonnie Reynolds?” Sam immediately asked Dean, tapping the notepad he’d used to scribble down the woman’s address against his thigh in an uneasy tattoo.

Dean shook his head. “Nope. That the chick on the phone?”

Sam nodded. “Said she’s a friend of Dad’s.”

“That how she got my number?”

“He told her to call you if—if she needed some help and couldn’t get a hold of him.”

“Huh.” Dean pulled a vaguely cleanish t-shirt over his head. “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.”

“Dean.”

“Yeah, okay,” Dean conceded. “So what kind of ‘friend’ are we talkin’ here?”

Sam sighed heavily, sinking down on his bed and running an uncertain hand through his hair. “Dad’s not a monk, Dean,” he pointed out, knowing he was stumbling right on into a minefield without any kind of exit strategy in place. “Even if he does still wear his wedding band.”

“Sam.” Dean just looked at him, his expression for a moment completely unreadable. “Look, as far as I know, Dad really has lived the life of a monk. Has done since the day Mom died.”

“C’mon, Dean. You can’t honestly believe he’s not had other…liaisons.”

Dean snorted. “No way, dude. He had a chick stashed in every port, I’d o’ known about it.”

“Look,” Sam argued. “I’m just being realistic here, man. Just ’cause Dad never paraded any ‘female company’ around while we were growing up doesn’t mean he never had any. Just means he was careful.”

Dean shook his head and turned away, making a show of searching out clean jeans and underwear.

“Dean,” Sam tried to regain the older man’s attention, but Dean seemed to be finding his laundry pile a hell of a lot more fascinating than his little brother right about then. “Dean!” Sam repeated a little more forcefully, and Dean grudgingly looked back up at him. Sam sighed and shrugged his shoulders a little helplessly. “Dad has a lot of secrets, man.”

Dean made no immediate reply, just returned to his inspection of his dirty clothes for a few long seconds. “He’d have told us,” he finally said at length, his voice so low Sam barely heard him. “He’d have told us, Sammy.”

Sam nodded silently, not wishing to shatter Dean’s illusions regarding their father—or his devotion to their mother—with idle speculation. Bonnie could just be a friend after all.

“So we’re going to Lynchburg?” he asked at last, looking up expectantly as Dean finally located an almost clean pair of jeans at the bottom of the laundry pile and pulled them free with a triumphant flourish.

“Home of Jack Daniels, man,” Dean repeated with a grin that didn’t quite make it all the way to his eyes. “God’s own distillery.”

Sam smiled weakly. Well at least it was better than Dean insisting they camp out at Stull cemetery for the next two weeks.

Taking that as an answer, he shrugged neutrally. “Okay then,” he said, throwing the last of his clothes into his duffle. “I guess we’re going to Lynchburg.”


Lynchburg, TN

As drives went, this one had been pretty uneventful, Dean blasting out AC/DC at full volume all the way down the I-65, studiously refusing to discuss anything but bacon cheeseburgers and the weather, while Sam repeatedly threw him his standard emo please can we talk about this? bitchface every couple of miles, just in case he’d forgotten they were on their way to visit some chick who may or may not be Dad’s girlfriend.

Wow. Girlfriend. That made Dad sound all of sixteen.

Dean had a hard time trying to imagine his dad as a teenager, so trying to imagine a sixteen-year-old Johnny Winchester engaged in extracurricular activity with a member of the opposite sex was damn near impossible. Not to mention, ew. It fair made his toes curl.

“Huh,” he chuckled to himself, glancing at the street sign as he swung the Impala around onto Bonnie Reynolds’ street. “Elm Street. Just as I was beginning to think this was all one doozie of a nightmare. Guess I was right.”

“Dean,” Sam said quietly, switching off his cellphone’s GPS map locator which he’d insisted on using, even though Dean had assured him he wouldn’t need it. “We don’t even know who—what—we’re dealing with here. Be nice.”

Nice. Yeah, that pretty much summed up the neighborhood: the unremarkable little clapboard houses in their unremarkable little gardens full of unremarkable people. Nice. Yeah, the area was nice.

Dean shuddered as he pulled the Impala to a stop outside the address Bonnie had given Sam. This was all a little sitcom suburbia for him. Any minute now he expected to see the Cosby family come strolling down the street in matching sweaters, or one of the Cunningham kids heading off to feed the jukebox at Al’s Diner.

He tried not to think about how much this house reminded him of their house back in Lawrence. Or, at least, the house back in Lawrence that still existed in the memory of a four-year-old kid.

He also tried not to think about the possibility his dad may have had a whole other family tucked away nice and safe out here in the ’burbs.

A whole other family neither Dean nor Sam knew about.

Dean shook his head decisively. No. Sam was being ridiculous.

Dad would have told them.

Dad would have told him.

This Bonnie was just a friend of John’s. Nothing more. Just a friend. Just a friend who needed some help.

Just a friend whose existence John had kept hidden from his sons, possibly for years.

Although, the rational part of Dean’s brain interjected, keeping Bonnie’s existence on a need-to-know basis—and John obviously didn’t think even his sons needed to know about her—had probably also kept her off the radar of all the vindictive creatures of the night who would have liked nothing better than to see the entire Winchester family—and anyone connected to them—dead.

Maybe that’s why Dad didn’t tell them? To protect Bonnie and her family?

Dean made a conscious effort to swallow the hard lump in his throat as he swung his legs out of the car and stepped onto the sidewalk outside Bonnie’s picture perfect suburban house.

“It’s nice,” Sam muttered as he drew up to his shoulder, and Dean grunted dismissively.

“Sure, if you’re one of the Bradys,” he returned.

“Dean.”

“Nice, nice, yeah I’ll be nice, just like the house,” he assured his brother, stepping onto Bonnie’s driveway and faltering a little when he spotted the pristine 1966 Pontiac GTO parked on the red paving stones. While ordinarily he would have been drooling over such a fine example of American automotive artistry, the memory of the haunted Pontiac factory in Michigan was still a little bit too fresh in his mind for comfort.

He took a hesitant step backwards before giving the Pontiac a wide berth, Sam sniggering softly in his ear.

“Shut up, Sam,” he muttered, casting his gaze over the slightly dented mailbox with the name “Reynolds” painted on the side in bright orange and the old basketball hoop rusting over the garage door. Huh. He guessed kids used to live here once.

Dad’s kids?

Dean’s jaw tightened, fists balling at his sides.

No way. No freakin’ way.

Dad would have told them.

He was knocking on the front door of the Reynolds house before he even realized he’d reached the top of the drive, and when the door opened it suddenly occurred to him he had absolutely no idea what to say to the woman standing on the doorstep, a slightly nervous smile on her face.

She was in her late forties maybe, long blonde hair tied in a braid down her back, twinkling hazel green eyes and fair skin, and Dean had to look away from her for a second, swallowing hard and breathing a little too quickly while his heart did a mad tango in his chest.

He’d spent more time than he’d ever care to admit over the last twenty-six years trying to imagine what his mom would look like now if she was still alive. And the second he clapped eyes on Bonnie Reynolds he figured she must have popped right out of his subconscious and onto this doorstep in the middle of Elm Street, Lynchburg, Tennessee, the home of Jack Daniels.

Because if Mary Winchester were still alive? Dean was pretty damn sure she’d look a hell of a lot like this.

“You—you must be John’s boys,” the woman hazarded. She was looking at Sam as she spoke, but Dean was pretty sure she was including him in that statement too.

Sam cleared his throat, managing to find his voice before Dean had even thought of a coherent sentence. “Bonnie?” he said, holding out his hand, which Bonnie took gently between both of hers. “Hi, I’m Sam, this is my brother, Dean.”

Bonnie smiled a little awkwardly, wrapping her hands around Sam’s and nodding briefly at Dean before turning her attention back to the younger brother.

“I would have known you were John’s, even if I just bumped into you in the street,” she insisted, still not quite looking at Dean as she spoke.

What the hell was this strange effect Sam seemed to have on older women?

“Yes ma’am,” Dean put in, finally finding his voice. “We’re real chips off the old block.”

Bonnie actually seemed to look at him for the first time then.

“You have your mom’s eyes,” she observed wistfully, which shut Dean right the hell up. “Your dad had—pictures…” she trailed off, glancing behind her before beckoning them into the house. “Where are my manners?” she said, her voice a little high-pitched. “Come on in now. Can’t have you both standing out there on the porch all day!”

Sam immediately followed Bonnie into the house, Dean following Sam after a last wary look at the GTO.

The house was pretty much as Dean would have expected it to be from the looks of the outside: plain, pastel walls and simple furniture, a few mismatched ornaments scattered here and there.

What he hadn’t expected was the salt line he and Sam had to step across to get inside, or the wards carved inconspicuously into the door frame.

Looked like Dad had done a pretty good job of teaching these folks how to protect themselves.

Following Sam into a moderately sized but comfortable living room, Dean felt his footsteps falter as he caught sight of the young man and woman sitting on one of the sofas, their expressions a little bit too unreadable for Dean’s liking.

They were both about Sam’s age, maybe a bit younger, the girl blonde haired with hazel green eyes like her mother, the boy darker with brown eyes that kind of reminded Dean of… Oh hell no!

“Sam, Dean, this is my son Chris and my daughter Amie.”

Dean blinked a little uncertainly at the guy, who merely nodded his head in acknowledgement.

“Nice to meet you,” he heard Sam say from somewhere a million miles off to his right as his vision tunneled and his chest constricted painfully.

Taking a breath, his attention skittered to the photographs on the mantel, a handsome, dark haired man with a woman who was clearly Bonnie a couple of decades earlier, and two little kids, a blonde girl and a dark haired boy whose brown eyes were the mirror of…his father’s?

Dean sucked in a relieved breath.

If Dad had a type, then so, apparently, did Bonnie.

“Please sit.” Bonnie’s voice drifted back up to him, and Dean felt an insistent tug on his sleeve, looking down to see Sam making a face at him as if he was a space alien, or nuts, or both, as he pulled him down next to him on the sofa.

Dean favored his brother with a disgruntled scowl before turning a not-entirely-fake smile at Bonnie, who had perched herself on the edge of the opposite sofa, next to her daughter.

For a second no one spoke, the Winchesters just looking at the Reynolds, who just looked right on back.

Awkward.

“So how did you know our dad?” Dean’s voice broke the uneasy silence, Dean himself not entirely sure where it had come from.

He felt rather than saw Sam wince next to him, but Bonnie just smiled fondly, obviously not taking Dean’s question the same way Sam had.

“My husband,” she said, twisting a gold wedding band around her finger before inclining her head toward the photographs on the mantel. “Andy. He was killed getting on for twenty years ago now. Thought it was an accident at the time—fell off the roof fixing a couple of loose tiles.” She blinked a couple of times before smiling weakly. “You know to be honest I think I’d rather have stuck with the leaky roof.” She was back to twisting her ring again, and Amie gently took her hand to still the movement.

Looking back up at the Winchesters, Bonnie continued her explanation. “It was a couple weeks after Andy passed that John—your dad—showed up on the doorstep asking some weird questions that honestly made me think he was a bit of a nut!”

Dean’s smile was almost as sad as Bonnie’s. “Yeah, that’s the first impression he tends to give most people. Last impression usually involves firearms or the cops.”

Bonnie’s smile widened a little bit and she nodded. “I kinda sensed that about him,” she agreed, nodding affectionately. “Anyway, he told me that Andy’s was the fourth ‘accidental’ death in a two square mile area in as many weeks. Figured there was something in the neighborhood, maybe even something in this house—” she looked around herself wistfully. “Something that wanted us out. Or wanted us dead.”

“Did Dad figure out what it was?” Sam asked, sitting forward slightly, his hands clasped together between his knees.

Bonnie nodded. “You know I never was much of a believer in ghosts and such like, but after meeting your dad?” She chuckled. “Well, he could make a believer out of anybody!”

“He can be pretty persuasive when he wants to be,” Sam agreed with a wan smile, glancing sideways at Dean.

“And pretty charming,” Bonnie added. “I was skeptical at first. He told me it was the spirit of William Richardson, a Confederate soldier who died up at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. His brother Thomas was a Unionist, owned the house and the land that stood here back then. The spirit had apparently returned in search of his brother, somehow realized Thomas was long dead, and instead decided to find and kill his heirs, effectively erasing his brother’s bloodline from history.

“None of the four men he killed—including Andy—was related in any way to Thomas Richardson. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. William was just systematically working his way through all the men living in the two mile plot of land that had been his brother’s, just in case any of them were his heirs.”

“Creepy, yet methodical,” Dean commented. “Kinda like Sammy here.”

“Hey!” Sam protested, and Dean grinned at him.

“Your dad put the soldier’s spirit to rest,” Bonnie continued. “Not sure how. Had something to do with his remains—”

“I thought at that time the remains of Confederate soldiers who died in battle were just left where they fell on the battlefield?” Sam put in.

Bonnie nodded. “Yes. That’s why it took your dad a while to put him to rest.”

“He salted and burned a whole battlefield?” Dean asked a little incredulously.

Bonnie shook her head. “Your dad performed some kind of cleansing ritual around the circumference of the land Thomas Richardson owned and the circumference of the battlefield. He said that was enough to lay the brother’s spirit to rest.”

Sam nodded. “Yeah, I’ve read about rituals like that. Never actually tried one though.”

“Your dad—” Bonnie hesitated. “Well he told me he’d brought you boys up to know about all this supernatural stuff. Said you both helped out with the ‘family business.’”

“Only way he could think of to keep us alive,” Dean explained.

“I suppose,” Bonnie agreed. “I think he had the same idea about us. Stayed in touch with me and my kids, tried to make sure we could protect ourselves.”

Dean breathed out a mental sigh of relief. Bonnie had her kids before she met Dad. Dean knew the guy had his secrets, but no way would he keep something that big from him and Sam.

“Your dad was so good to us,” Bonnie continued. “Looked out for us, came to visit whenever he could. Taught all three of us how to shoot. Taught Chris about cars.”

“That your GTO out front?” Dean asked, his voice constricting a little in his throat.

Chris virtually beamed with pride. “Uh-huh. Used to be my dad’s. John helped me fix it up. Showed me how to take care of it till I was old enough to actually drive it. Showed me how to actually drive it!” he laughed softly, and Dean didn’t fail to notice the tiny crease that crinkled Sam’s brow.

“Dad taught you to drive?”

“Mm-hmm,” Chris confirmed. “Amie too.”

Sam nodded stiffly, his mouth compressing into a line, and Dean wanted to make a joke of it, tell Sam he’d taught him to drive way better than Dad ever would have. He kinda sucked when he taught Dean.

But instead he just leaned slightly in Sam’s direction, lightly brushing his shoulder with his own.

The obvious hurt in Sam’s eyes dimmed a little. “Yeah,” he said softly, only loud enough for Dean to hear. “I know.”

“He taught us how to protect ourselves when he wasn’t here,” Bonnie continued. “Showed us how to lay salt lines. Draw wards to keep stuff out. Gave us the tools to deal with whatever was out there in case it ever came knocking at our door again.”

Dean cleared his throat as Bonnie trailed off, her eyes misting up. “He—he spend a lot of time here?” he asked as casually as he was able, and this time it was Sam’s shoulder that bumped up against his.

Bonnie shrugged. “Whenever he could. Sometimes he’d show up for a couple of days, sometimes for a couple of weeks. Sometimes it’d be weeks between visits, sometimes longer. He always used to say we’d be surprised how much there was for him to hunt around here.”

“Yeah,” Dean agreed weakly, smile never faltering as he tried to remember how many times dad had brought him and Sam with him to Tennessee. Off the top of his head, he could only think of maybe two occasions, and one of those might have been when Dad first came here to deal with William Richardson’s spirit.

Before Dean realized she’d moved, Amie had pulled a photograph from the mantel, one that had been tucked in a corner where Dean hadn’t seen it.

“Here,” she said, holding it out so the Winchesters could look. “I guess I was maybe nine or ten when this was taken.”

Dean swallowed.

He didn’t think he could remember Dad ever looking so happy. Except maybe in those photographs with Mom… There he was, arm slung around Bonnie’s shoulder, the two kids in front. Just like the other pictures on the mantel, the ones with Bonnie’s husband in them. Portraits. Posed portraits. Like Dad had gotten himself all cleaned up and actually gone to a photographer’s studio with his surrogate family.

Dad should have told them, dammit…

“How long have you known him?” Sam suddenly asked, breaking in on his thoughts. “Our dad. I know you said your husband passed getting on for twenty years ago—”

“Andy died in 1994,” Bonnie replied promptly. “Chris was ten and Amie was only seven.” The wistful smile returned and she gently tucked a strand of her daughter’s hair behind her ear. “In some ways, John’s been more of a father to my kids than their own dad ever got the chance to be.”

1994? John had been seeing this woman since 1994? Sixteen years? Since Dean was fifteen? When he was cutting class and flunking school because he was too busy taking care of Sam while Dad was off playing house with this woman and her two normal kids. All the Christmases he’d missed. All the birthdays. Was Dad here while his sons were taking care of each other because their dad had more important things to take care of? He’d always thought it was the job—the job always came first, before everything. But maybe he’d been wrong. Maybe it hadn’t been the job that had kept Dad away all those times.

For a second he was so angry he wanted to smash something.

He took a breath, tried to look at Sam but couldn’t.

So he’d been fifteen. Not like he’d been a little kid. He’d been more than capable of taking care of Sammy by that age—had been for years—and he and Sam got to do a hell of a lot of cool stuff John would never have allowed had he been around all the time. And it wasn’t like John had taken off and forgotten about them. Sure, he’d had this second family he’d never told them about, but it’s not like they were blood or anything. Not like Dean and Sammy.

He was rationalizing and he knew it. And when he finally plucked up the courage to steal a glance in Sam’s direction, he could tell from the expression on his brother’s face that Sam knew it too. And he’d not even said anything.

“Why didn’t Dad tell us about you?” Sam finally asked the question Dean had been wanting to ask but hadn’t had the stones to string the words into a sentence. “Why did he never bring us by here? Introduce us? Why the big secret?”

Bonnie shrugged. “Lord knows I asked him enough times,” she said softly. “I mean, he talked about you boys all the time, showed me pictures, but—but whenever I asked him to bring you here he always made some excuse—you were in school, you had places to be. I couldn’t understand it at first, but after a while, when I learned about what happened to your mom, what you’d all been through, I began to figure that maybe he wanted to keep the different parts of his life separate, compartmentalized. So that if anything happened to you boys, he’d still have us, and vice versa. As if he didn’t dare have us all in one place just in case something happened to all of us and destroyed everything he had left. Like it did when he lost your mother.”

Sam shook his head, his shoulders tense. “He still should have told us about you.”

“Maybe,” Bonnie agreed. “But I think he thought he was protecting you boys. You know? He always said you wanted a mom so bad, Sam, maybe he thought you might want to come here and then…then…I don’t know. Something would happen to us. He’s terrified of losing anyone else. Terrified.”

Dean fleetingly wondered whether Dad had told Bonnie about the Curse, about Haris. About what Sam could do.

“Look,” Bonnie ran a tired hand over her forehead. “I can’t speak for your dad’s motives. He plays things pretty close to his chest, always has. But—” she looked up suddenly, clearly upset and worried and scared out of her mind. “I just need you to tell me where he is; whether he’s okay. Please. Just—just tell me. Even if it’s bad. Please. Just tell me.”

Bonnie obviously knew what John’s “work” involved. She knew what he dealt with every day. But how to explain something like Stull to her?

“He’s trapped,” Dean began with a resigned sigh. “In a—well, it’s a little like a doorway between—uh—”

“Different planes of existence,” Sam offered. “Alternate universes? You know, there’s this theory that there are an infinite amount of realities coexisting together and—and Dad—”

“Fell through a doorway into one of ’em,” Dean finished.

Bonnie’s expression remained stoically neutral, although Chris and Amie both fidgeted a little on the sofa. “Can you—can he get home?” she asked hesitantly, looking first to Sam and then to Dean. “Can you get him out?”

“We think so,” Sam said, doing a pretty good job of sounding reassuring. “We hope so.”

“The doorway opens again on March 20th,” Dean added.

“Spring equinox.”

“We think we’ll be able to get him out then.”

“How?” Chris asked, causing the boys to glance sideways at each other.

“Don’t worry,” Dean offered, smiling. “We’ll figure something out. We always do. We’ll get him back. Don’t worry.”

Bonnie laughed mirthlessly. “Don’t worry?” she echoed. “The way you boys aren’t worrying?”

Dean straightened. Was he that transparent? “We’ll get him back,” he asserted a little more forcefully. “We will. Only way this ends.”

Bonnie seemed to take some comfort from that. “I believe you,” she said earnestly.

Dean quirked an eyebrow. “You do?”

“I do,” Bonnie confirmed. “’Cause you sounded just like your dad when you said it.”

Dean’s expression lightened a little. “I think I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“It was meant as one,” Bonnie confirmed. “When your dad sets his mind to something, you better get out of his way and let him get on with it.”

“Yeah,” Dean agreed. “Story of our lives.”

Bonnie gently took the picture of John Amie still held, gazing at it briefly. “And his.”

Sam broke the silence that followed. “So you were trying to get a hold of Dad?” he said, deftly changing the subject. “You said on the phone there was something we needed to see…?”

Bonnie nodded, rising slowly to her feet. “This way,” she said, heading for the door.

Dean and Sam followed, Amie and Chris remaining in the living room.

They followed her into a homely kitchen, a big wooden dining table with a vase of daffodils in the center; more photographs of John and Bonnie and the kids scattered on the dresser.

She opened the kitchen door leading out onto a modestly-sized garden, indicating the unbroken salt line lacing the threshold. “I take all the precautions,” she informed them. “Always keep the doors and the windows salted.” She put her hands on her hips and shook her head. “I don’t know how it got in.”

Dean frowned. “How what got in?”

Bonnie turned to close the door without answering, showing them instead to another door which appeared to lead down into the basement. “This way.”

It was like any other basement Dean had ever been in—stone steps, slightly uneven, leading down to a concrete floor and a room full of crap. Older crap, newer crap. The kind of crap people kept in their basements. A washer and a dryer.

And a trunk thrown open in the far corner, US Marine Corps issue.

“John asked if he could leave some of his things here,” Bonnie was saying, heading straight for the trunk. “Clothes, books. Some other little knickknacks. And this wooden box full of photographs that he kept in the back of his truck.”

“I remember that,” Dean told her. “Jenny, the lady that—that used to live in the house in Lawrence where our mom died, found it in her basement.”

“That’s the one,” Bonnie confirmed. “For John’s birthday a couple of years ago I decided to make a photograph album for him,” she said. “Put in the pictures from that box, some others he had in this trunk of his—pictures from when he was a kid, his mom and dad, his buddies from the Corps, Mary.” She laughed softly. “He had a lot of pictures of you boys. From before the fire and after.”

“He told you about the fire?” Sam asked.

“Mm-hmm,” Bonnie said. “Not sure he told me everything, but he told me the basics. About how he found your mom…” She trailed off, shaking her head. “Twenty years later, he still could barely talk about it. Talked about you two instead. Showed me these pictures—” she turned her attention to Dean, “—of you driving that big old Impala of his when you were about ten. Sam’s graduation.”

Sam seemed surprised. “He kept my graduation picture?”

“A couple of different ones, yeah,” Bonnie said. “He was so proud of you boys.”

Sam sniffed and rubbed at his eyes a little, and Dean shoulder-checked him.

“Girl.”

“Ass,” Sam returned wetly.

Dean grinned before turning back to Bonnie. “Always wondered what he did with all that stuff. Figured he must be stashing it someplace.”

“I think he has other hidey-holes,” Bonnie commented wryly. “But he kept some of his most precious things here.” She indicated the open trunk.

And the open photograph album lying in front of it.

Dean squinted.

The glowing photograph album.

“What the…?”

“My thoughts exactly,” Bonnie agreed, finally coming to a stop a couple of feet away from the thing. “Can’t explain it. John always kept it at the bottom of his trunk. Last time he looked at it was probably the last time he was here—last March or April maybe. Yesterday morning, I woke up to find the basement door open and the album lying on the floor like this, glowing. At first I thought I’d been burgled, but there’s no sign of forced entry, the salt lines are all intact, nothing’s missing and this seems to be the only thing that’s been touched.”

Dean took a step toward the album, but Bonnie caught his arm. “Careful,” she said urgently. “Anything happened to you boys in my house I’d never be able to live with myself.”

Dean smiled reassuringly at her. “Family business, remember?” he reminded her.

“Then you’ve seen something like this before?”

Sam coughed. “Not exactly.”

Taking another step forward, Dean bent over to examine the album a little more closely, immediately recognizing one of the photographs staring up at him from the open page: Mom, Dad, Dean when he was a little kid and Sammy when he was a baby. He swallowed. Part of him hated that photo. Remembered Dad just staring at it for hours on end in the months after the fire. It had been stuck in the cover of his journal until Sam had that weirdo vision that had led them back to Lawrence, to their old house, to Jenny and her kids and Missouri.

He didn’t really remember the photograph being taken, but he’d looked at it enough times since Jenny gave that other copy back to them to know every last detail of it by heart.

Bending a little lower, he frowned at the dark shape lurking behind the big tree in the background. That wasn’t there last time he—

“Dean, I don’t think—”

Dean reached out toward the faintly glowing pages.

“Dean, wait, don’t touch it!”

But Sam’s warning came too late, Dean’s fingers already having grazed the plastic.

There was a blinding flash, and Dean felt Sam’s fingers gripping his arm, trying to pull him back, so tight it hurt, and it was as if he was teetering on the edge of a canyon, Sam pulling him one way while gravity pulled him the other.

Gravity won.

He was falling, and it was dark and the wind was rushing past his ears, and then there was something solid at his back, something solid and hard, and he was pretty sure he banged his head.

Then he was lying on something soft.

Taking a breath as his heart tried to tango right on out of his chest, he gingerly opened one eye. Then the other. Only to find himself staring up at the roof of the Impala.

What the hell? Did he fall asleep in the car? Did he dream Bonnie and her kids and their suburban house with their suburban garden and their GTO and their freaky photo album?

“Dean?”

Sam’s voice.

“Sammy?”

Dean bolted upright, his head swimming a little as he attempted to follow the direction of his brother’s voice.

Sam was lying on the backseat of the old Chevy, one arm slung over his eyes. “Oh man, got any Dramamine?” he asked mirthlessly, and Dean had to admit, he did look a little green around the gills.

“Okay, I think I just had the trippiest dream ever,” Dean confessed, casting his eyes around the car nervously. “I dreamt we were in some woman’s basement and she showed us a photo of Mom and Dad and it was glowing, and…and…now we’re in the Impala.”

“We’re in the Impala?”

Sam finally removed the crook of his elbow from his eyes, looking up at Dean uncertainly.

“We’re in the Impala.”

“Dean, I remember Bonnie’s basement too. You weren’t dreaming, man. You reached down to touch the photo album, and I tried to grab you, and…and…”

“We’re in the Impala.”

Dean rubbed at his eyes, half expecting his car to disappear only to be replaced once again by Bonnie’s basement. But as he looked around, he realized he was still in the old Chevy, which looked exactly the same as it always did.

Apart from the old radio cassette player in the dashboard.

Sam replaced that with a CD player years ago, right? After they got turned into a pretzel by the semi? And he would swear a couple months ago he remembered Sam adding that fancy gizmo for plugging in his MP3 player.

He scratched his head thoughtfully.

“Sammy?” he asked, fishing around under the seat for his box of beloved cassette tapes, which also appeared to be missing. “I didn’t dream you putting a CD player in my car either, did I?”

Sam’s head and torso suddenly sprang up from the backseat, and he was squinting uncertainly at him. “Huh? Man, did we both hit our heads or something?”

“Look at this.” Dean waved in the general direction of the dashboard. “And my cassettes are gone.”

“Well don’t look at me. I know I’ve been telling you to get rid of them since we got the CD player, but I value my life too much to mess with your Metallica.”

Dean popped open the glovebox, peering inside a little apprehensively. “Dude, my IDs are gone too,” he told his brother, feeling around for the cigar box in which he kept the laminated cards. “All that’s left in here’s a flashlight, a roll of Life Savers and a pacifier.”

“A what?” Sam blinked at the bright blue rubber and plastic item Dean was holding.

“There’s a pacifier in my car, Sam.” Dean threw the offensive item back into the glovebox disgustedly. “Why’s there a pacifier in my car?”

Sam grimaced uncomfortably, reaching underneath himself and pulling out an obviously well-loved teddy bear, one eye missing and mostly pretty threadbare. “Man, you have a kid while I wasn’t lookin’?”

Dean drew in a sharp breath. “Mr. Teddy?” he murmured, snatching the bear out of Sam’s hand and examining it incredulously.

“Mr. Teddy?” Sam snorted.

Dean scowled at him. “Sam, I remember this thing. This was my teddy bear!”

“When, last week?”

“No, dumbass, when I was a kid. Y’know. Before. Took it to bed with me every night until…until the fire. Used to pretend he was one of those ‘angels watching over me’ Mom always insisted were hanging around someplace.”

Sam didn’t even try to hide the smirk breaking out on his face. “You had a teddy bear? Aw, Dean, that’s adorable.”

“Sam, listen to me!” Dean said, barely keeping the panic out of his voice. “That thing burned up in the fire! Understand? It burned Sam! I left it in my room when I heard—when I heard Mom—when I heard—when I got you out of the house, and when Dad went back a couple days later, he said it was gone.”

Sam instantly sobered. “Seriously?”

“Seriously, Sam.”

“Man, what the hell’s going on here?”

“You got me.”

Dean cast his gaze out of the front windshield, desperately trying to figure out where—when?—they were.

It was autumn beyond the Impala’s windows, the leaves were a golden brown and gently falling from the trees. The Chevy was parked on a suburban street, not unlike the one where Bonnie lived, and Dean got the distinct impression he’d been here before.

Wait.

Dean remembered this street. He remembered parking in this exact spot four years earlier, that first time he and Sam visited Jenny and her family after Sam dreamed about the tree and the house…

The house.

It took him several seconds, but he finally managed to screw up the courage to look at the house.

It was their house.

The one he’d lived in until he was four. The one Jenny had lived in until last year, when Mia finally razed it to the ground.

It looked perfect. The way it looked in his memory. Not his memory of four years ago, but his memory of before. When he was a kid. Just like it had looked in that photo, the one he’d been looking at when…

“Sam,” he said quietly. “I think we’re home.”

“What?”

“Home, Sam. Lawrence. We’re home.”

“How can we be in Lawrence, Dean? We were in Tennessee a couple of minutes ago!”

Dean shook his head, finally tearing his eyes away from the house, and for the first time noticing the people standing on the lawn out front. The lawn where he’d stood with baby Sammy in his arms all those years ago as his mom burned up in the nursery.

“That’s Mike Guenther.”

Dean wasn’t sure why he recognized Dad’s former business partner and best friend first. He was slimmer and a whole lot younger than he had been four years ago when he and Sam had spoken to him at the garage he and Dad used to run together.

“Get in a little closer will you?” the mechanic said, squinting through the viewfinder of an ancient-looking camera at the family of four arranged on the lawn in front of the tree.

“Any closer and I’ll have to marry her!” the guy on the lawn said, turning to the woman and grinning. “Oh wait, I already did that!”

“John, just do like Mike tells you for once, huh?” the woman chided him playfully. “Sammy’s getting heavy. Not sure I can hold him up here much longer!”

“Holy crap,” both Dean and Sam managed to mutter in unison.

“Dean…” Sam whispered. “Dean, that’s us. That’s Dad and—and Mom, Dean!”

Dean nodded dumbly, taking in the sight of his parents, his baby brother and himself standing right there on the lawn, not twenty feet from where they were sitting, posing for the very photograph Dean had just been looking at in Bonnie’s basement, the one in John’s journal, the one Jenny had found: “The Winchesters. John, Mary, Dean and little Sammy…”

And he began to wonder whether they’d fallen back through Stull’s revolving door into unreality.


Reynolds House
Lynchburg, TN

“They what?”

Bonnie wasn’t entirely sure Chris believed her.

“I’m not making this up, Christopher,” she insisted a little haughtily, pulling out her cellphone and frantically scrolling through her contact numbers.

“You’re serious?” Amie burst out. “They fell into the photo album?”

She and Chris were standing staring down at the still-glowing photo album, both seeming to be keeping a safe distance despite their obvious skepticism.

“Yes, Amie. John’s boys fell into the photo album. One minute they were here, the next minute they weren’t.”

For a second, she turned her attention away from her cell and back to the album, squinting down at the photograph of the Winchester family in front of that big spooky-looking tree.

Something dark seemed to move to the left of the frame, and she blinked. When she opened her eyes again, the shadow she would swear she had seen was gone, and she was left looking down at a picture of John and his dead wife smiling into the camera.

“Okay,” she muttered, dragging in a breath and trying to think for a minute. “Ordinarily, something this weird happened—”

“You’d call John,” Chris finished for her, bending to look a little more closely at the photograph.

Amie caught his arm and pulled him back, smiling sheepishly. “Doesn’t hurt to be cautious,” she told him. “It may sound crazy, but a lot of what John’s told us is pretty whacked too, right?”

“Mom, we need to get some help, here,” Chris informed his mother a little redundantly. “Maybe we should call the cops?”

“And tell them what?” Amie demanded. “Our mom’s boyfriend’s sons just fell into a photo album?”

“I only meant—”

“Kids, be quiet,” Bonnie hushed them suddenly, finally finding the number she’d been looking for in her contact list. “John gave me one other number to try in case of emergency. I think this qualifies as an emergency.”


Winchester house
Lawrence, KS

It was getting dark and Sam and Dean had nowhere to go.

They’d been skulking around their old house for a while now, hiding in the Impala until the family on the lawn—their family—had gone back into the house, before figuring they’d better shag ass out of there before someone saw them and called the cops.

Someone like Mike Guenther, who’d looked at them very strangely as he’d left their old house, crossing the street to avoid them, and then glancing over his shoulder every couple of feet as he’d made his way back to his own house a few blocks away.

“This is stupid,” Dean growled, once again bashing his fist against the invisible barrier barring his and Sam’s path.

They’d tried to do the sensible thing, tried to retreat to a safe distance while they regrouped to figure out what the hell was going on, but the universe seemed to have other ideas, and they couldn’t get any further than a few feet along the sidewalk in either direction of their old house before they hit one of these stupid invisible barriers.

Dean smacked his fist against it one more time, and when it still didn’t give, he virtually growled.

“Okay, let’s think,” Sam said, pacing backwards and forwards along the sidewalk. “We can get across the street to—”

“Old Mr. Russell’s house,” Dean supplied absently, dragging a hand through his hair.

“Right,” Sam conceded. “But we can’t get further than a few feet in either direction on this side of the street either, almost as if we’re stuck in—”

“The photo,” Dean said suddenly.

Sam looked up at his brother’s apparent revelation. “The what?”

“The photo,” Dean repeated, suddenly dropping down onto the curb outside the Russell house and staring across the street toward the place where he’d spent the first four years of his life. “Sammy, I think we’re in the photo.”

Sam sat down heavily by his side, saying nothing, but turning his gaze in the direction of his brother’s, the two of them staring at the only childhood home they’d ever known as the lights came on in the living room, then in one of the upstairs rooms.

“That’s your nursery,” Dean murmured, resting his elbows on his knees while he cupped his chin in his hands. “Sammy—”

“What do you mean we’re in the photo?” Sam interrupted, his voice soft, his eyes still focused on the house across the street.

“The photograph I was looking at—the one I touched before we wound up here,” Dean explained, sighing lightly. “It was the one Jenny found—the one from Dad’s journal. Mom and Dad and me as a kid and you as a baby standing in front of that tree, in front of that house. The picture we saw Mike Guenther take this afternoon. Sam, we can’t go any further down the street because we can’t go outside the photograph—a couple of feet to either side of the house.”

“Wait,” Sam held up a hand, his scrutiny shifting to his brother. “You’re actually saying—you’re saying we’re in the photograph? As in—really in it?”

Dean shrugged, still not turning his gaze away from the house. “Stranger things have happened, man,” he pointed out. “And someone—something—messed with Bonnie’s photo album. Dad’s photo album. Maybe they put a whammy on it—some kind of mojo that—”

“Pulled us into the picture?” Sam asked a little incredulously. “So…so you’re saying this was a trap? Someone lured us to Bonnie’s house with the express purpose of trapping us in her photograph album? C’mon, man! Not only is that—y’know—nuts, but how could anyone know Bonnie would call us?”

“With Dad missing?” Dean sighed again. “Who else would she call?” He shook his head. “I dunno, man. It’s the best I got. This is our house. This is the house Mom died in. That was Mike Guenther taking that picture, the same picture Jenny found in Dad’s box in the basement of the same house we’re looking at right now. It’s gotta mean something, Sam! Coincidence I get, but this? This is more than that. Plus…”

“Plus what?” Sam looked up sharply.

“Plus… When we were in Bonnie’s basement I—I thought I saw something in the picture. A shadow. Something. Something moving. That’s why I wanted to take a closer look.”

“So you think something else is in here with us?”

Dean shrugged. “Maybe.”

Sam drew in a long breath. “You know this makes no sense, right?”

“Sammy, when did our lives ever make sense?”

“True,” Sam conceded. “So…not that I’m completely convinced by your theory,” he said slowly. “If we are inside the photograph, how come we can get across the street? That wasn’t in the picture either.”

“Maybe because we’re behind where Mike was standing when he took the photograph?” Dean hazarded. “The picture’s only two dimensional, right? There’s left and there’s right, but there’s not forward and backwards. So maybe as long as we’re looking in the same direction the camera was looking, we can move in that direction.”

Sam raised a skeptical eyebrow. “So can we go behind the house? That’s the direction the camera was pointed.”

“Good question,” Dean conceded. “The camera couldn’t see behind the house.” He drew himself to his feet, having to look away and back to his brother when he noticed his mom drawing the curtains across the nursery window. “Maybe we should go check?”

Sam stood, nodding slightly. “Okay. Although we could get ourselves arrested if Dad catches us.”

“Yeah we could,” Dean agreed. “But where the hell are the cops gonna take us if we can’t leave the photo?”

“True,” Sam said. “Could make for an interesting experiment, actually.”

“I don’t recommend it,” Dean returned, crossing the road and casually checking out the lay of the land before wandering up onto the Winchesters’ front lawn as if he owned the place.

Sam followed him, hands in his jeans pockets as he rounded his shoulders, fairly ineffectually attempting to make himself look smaller.

Stealthily, they made their way around the back of the house, Dean pulling up short when he hit the back fence.

“Can’t get any further,” he informed Sam, pushing his hand against the air above the wooden slats only to find the same invisible resistance they’d encountered out on the street.

“And we definitely can’t get around back of the house,” Sam added, tugging on Dean’s sleeve.

Dean followed the direction of his brother’s gaze, sucking in a breath when he checked out the back of the house.

Or the big black hole of nothingness where the back of the house should have been.

“Holy crap,” Dean muttered, taking a step toward the pool of blackness where the garden should have stood.

“Dean, don’t,” Sam warned, and for once Dean heeded his little brother’s advice, drawing back from the area of darkness.

It was as if the rear of the house was composed of precisely nothing, or maybe more accurately, the absence of anything, a place devoid of definition because the camera hadn’t been able to see what was back here simply because the house itself was in the way.

Yet in the far distance, on the other side of the house, the other side of the garden, fences and gardens and neighboring houses were clearly visible, the edges of the area caught in the camera’s lens.

It was as freaky as all hell, and Dean shuddered.

“Let’s get out of here,” he suggested, shoving his hands in his jacket pockets and trying to pretend this didn’t freak him the hell out.

He made a move toward the front of the house, but suddenly Sam grabbed his sleeve again.

“Dean, wait.”

Dean glanced back at his brother, who was squinting into the patch of darkness where the back garden should have been.

“Sam?”

His brother frowned minutely. “I thought I saw something,” he muttered. “Something moving. Almost like—like a shadow within a shadow. Like I could only see it when I wasn’t actually looking at it.”

Dean turned to scrutinize the spot Sam was staring at, but couldn’t see a damn thing, and eventually Sam laughed hollowly and shook his head.

“Jumping at shadows,” he said. “Literally. C’mon, let’s go.”

Dean continued to stare at the shadows for a couple more seconds, before reluctantly accompanying his brother back out onto the street.

Once there, they again assessed their surroundings, wondering what the hell they were going to do next.

“Man, someone’s gonna call the cops if we hang around out here much longer,” Sam pointed out, fidgeting nervously from foot to foot. He shoved his hands under his armpits, and it was only then that Dean realized how cold it was getting out here.

“Just our luck we couldn’t get sucked into a photograph of a tropical beach in summer,” he grumbled, taking a few paces to the right, before returning to his starting position with a grunt. “Okay look, we wanna avoid getting arrested out here, I think our only option is the Impala. It’s not locked. It’s warmer in there than it is out here—barely. And if we keep our heads down, maybe we can hole up there till we work out how the hell to get out of this place…”

“And how long’s that gonna take?” Sam asked. “Dean, we could be stuck here! I mean, really stuck here! What if we can’t get back?”

“We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it, Sammy,” Dean said, making his way back to the Chevy, still sitting patiently by the side of the road. “But for right now? I call front seat.”

* * * *

It wasn’t like they’d never slept in the Impala before, Dean told himself, staring up at the vinyl ceiling and trying to slow his breathing to the tempo of Sam’s soft snores emanating from the back.

Still, this was different. The Impala was different. For all Dean knew, history was different, just for them being here.

Was that even possible? Had they really travelled back in time? Could a photograph do that? Capture a moment, freeze it, enable someone with the right words, the right herbs, the right knowhow, to create a link to another time, another place? Deposit a person in any particular moment in history as long as that moment had been captured by the lens of a camera?

That was pretty wacky, even for them.

He tried to remember when that photograph had been taken: The Winchesters. John, Mary, Dean and little Sammy. He didn’t think it was long before the fire, but he was just a little kid, and little kids had no real concept of time at that age.

He needed to sleep. Go to sleep. Don’t think about it for a couple of hours. In the past, he’d come up with some of his best solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems while he was sleeping.

Just sleep. Listen to Sam breathing. Breath with Sam. Go to sleep…

There was a noise.

Dean bolted upright, no idea how long he’d been out, if he’d actually been sleeping. Whether he’d dreamt the noise. Whether he was dreaming now.

Trying to get his bearings, he cast he gaze about himself, taking in the interior of the Impala, Sam still asleep on the backseat, all ungainly limbs and floppy hair.

The street outside was quiet, the streetlight casting a puddle of orange along the empty sidewalk.

It was dark.

Nothing was moving.

He took a breath and glanced at his watch: 11.25pm.

Rubbing at his eyes, he absently wondered to himself why that time sounded somehow familiar.

Trying to dislodge the fuzz of fatigue and worry from his brain, his attention wandered to the Winchester house, a light snapping on upstairs in the nursery, the flickering illumination of a TV bleeding out through the living room curtains.

The shadow lurking by the front door.

He sat up a little straighter, squinting into the darkness as he remembered the shadow he thought he’d seen when he’d been looking at the photograph in Bonnie’s basement; at the shadow Sam thought he’d seen behind the house.

Something was there. Something was at the front door of the house.

And it was moving.

Dean’s frigid fingers fumbled for the handle behind him, opening the car door as silently as he was able and sliding his feet out onto the asphalt.

“Dean?”

Sam was stirring in the backseat, and he turned to see his brother sit up, eyes muddied with sleep and bangs falling in his eyes, just as he heard a click from the direction of the house.

Attention snapping back to the front door, Dean’s brain rapidly identified the sound he had just heard as he squinted into the darkness: it was the sound of a key turning in a lock.

The shadow on the doorstep moved very slightly and there was a glitter of something shiny, something small, maybe a key in long shadowy fingers.

Dean crouched lower as he moved around the front driver’s side wing of the Impala, trying to keep the big Chevy between himself and whatever it was that was lurking outside his childhood home.

“Dean?” Sam said again, the back door opening with a creak just as a pair of jet black eyes turned in Dean’s direction.

Dean froze, ducking his head as another sound reached his ears, chilling the blood in his veins and making his heart thud against his ribs.

His mother was screaming.

And he couldn’t move. He couldn’t move and that thing, the thing on the doorstep, was just looking at him.

“Mary!” John’s terrified yell filtered out through the brick and the glass and the lawn was lit up orange and Dean could hear his dad’s scream, desperate and horrified. “Mary!”

Just like before.

Just like the first time he’d heard it.

And somehow he was standing on the lawn with no idea how he got there, a part of him not daring to look up because he knew what he was going to see if he did.

Just like before.

He didn’t need to look at his watch to know the time. It was 11.27pm. 11.27pm on November 2nd, 1983.

When he finally plucked up the courage to raise his eyes to the window of Sam’s nursery, he could see flames licking their way across the ceiling, the curtains catching alight as his mother burned above his baby brother’s crib.

He swallowed hard, trying to breathe, trying to move, to help, to run, to do something, but he couldn’t, he couldn’t move, his legs were Jell-o and he could sense Sam standing behind him yelling at him, but he couldn’t seem to make out a word he was saying.

And the obsidian eyes blinked at him once before the shadow moved, quickly, rushing away toward the back of the house as Sam sprinted after it while Dean just stood there looking up at the nursery window, a horrible sense of déjà vu invading his senses.

Can’t move. Can’t think. Can’t be here. Not again.

It was as if everything had stopped, time, space, sound, the flames in the window above his head, everything stopped until all he could hear was the hammering of his heart, echoed by an insistent hammering on the front door of the house and the terrified voice of a little boy screaming, “Daddy! Daddy!” at the top of his lungs.

Little boy’s voice.

Dean’s voice.

“Daddy!” the little boy screamed. “Daddy, it’s locked, the door’s locked and there’s no key! Daddy! We can’t get out!”

Dean heard his younger self screaming for his father from the other side of the door, heard his baby brother howling in terror, his dad yelling and glass breaking and a sickening realization suddenly hit him. What that shadow had been up to. What was happening here.

The shadow creature had locked the door. It had locked the door and taken the key.

Dean tried to think, tried to remember. The door had been unlocked. When he’d run downstairs with Sammy in his arms and the flames flickering above his head and his mom screaming while his dad yelled out her name. The door had been unlocked. The door had been unlocked and he’d taken his brother outside, just like his dad had told him to.

But that shadow creature… it had locked the door.

Locked Dean’s younger self inside.

Dean couldn’t get out of the burning house.

And if Dean couldn’t get out, neither could Sam. Neither could Dad…

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The Winchester Chronicles

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