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Fic: Devil's Arcade (2/14)

ooooooooooooooooooo

I took a guess and cut a portion out of my heart
He said that's nowhere close enough but it's a damn good start
--Five for Fighting, "Devil In The Wishing Well"

ooooooooooooooooooo

Three days earlier

Stunned into immobility, Sam stared after his brother as he walked away down the weathered grey boards of the dock. He finally started following slowly, automatically, but it wasn't until the distant bow-legged figure flung open the door of the Impala and climbed inside that Sam roused himself enough to catch up, afraid that Dean might well drive off and leave him there in small-town Washington.

But when he slipped into the passenger seat, Dean was simply sitting there, staring out the windshield. The teddy-bear girl and her sunburned parents were passing in front of the car, a big smile on her face and shell-shocked expressions on theirs. Sam frowned.

How could they still be sunburned when things had been returned to the way they were for everyone else?

The ironically-named Hope who'd been enchanted into loving Wesley-the-nerd couldn't remember that she even knew the man she'd been married to. Sam wasn't crispy from the lightning bolt that had hurled him out of his shoes, nor were there any scorch marks in the sidewalk or on his clothes. Wesley had given him the nutshell description of what had happened after the jolt of electricity that he did vividly remember: the blinding white light that had become his world for a fraction of a second before sheer nothingness had closed in.

No, maybe not quite nothingness. There was something tickling the back of his memory about what had come next, that split second when he had wondered if this was what Uriel had meant by turning him to dust…

Sam slammed down his mental walls before that thought could go any farther. Given the bleak look on Dean's face when explaining that yes, he did remember every horrible detail of what had happened after his own death, Sam probably didn't want to recall exactly what had happened to him yesterday. He'd been dead once before, and he kept that under mental wraps as much as he could, too.

"So, where to?" he asked in his best let's change the subject tone.

"Beats me," Dean said, still staring ahead. "Away from this freaky-ass town, that's all I know."

"It'll be fine now, Dean. The coin's gone." More's the pity, Sam thought, thinking of their conversation on the dock a moment ago. Because he had a damn fine use for it now.

"Yeah, I guess it is." Dean let out a gusty sigh and turned on the car. "Check the paper, see if there's anything interesting. Otherwise I guess we'll head east."

Sam obediently fished the newspaper out of the back seat where Dean had tossed it and started leafing through the pages as they drove out of Concrete. There were lots of local oddities being reported, which was hardly surprising given that months' worth of memories and events had been rearranged in people's minds overnight. He felt the prickle of electricity across his back and stiffened. Not only in their minds, he reminded himself. Apparently in their bodies, too.

He suddenly wondered if he was the only person who had been the victim of a fatal wish. The answers to the children's wishes had made it pretty clear that "be careful what you wish for" had taken on a whole new meaning with the enchanted coin. If anyone else besides Hope had wished that someone would simply disappear or stop interfering, would they have died, too? Were they back, too, or was he lucky in that he hadn't been dead long enough for his body to cool?

Not like last time, a voice whispered in his head, and a swift shudder passed through him at the memory of dying in the mud at Cold Oak.

"Found something?" Dean asked with a sideways glance.

"Not yet," Sam automatically replied, turning the page and willing the memory away.

"Hey, you never told me what happened with the nerd and his love-slave wife. What happened when he took the coin out of the well?"

Sam scanned the page, hoping for a nice, distracting article so he could head off this topic before it got somewhere he didn't want to go. "I guess she didn't remember any of it."

"Huh." Dean punched the accelerator, blowing through the last yellow light in town and putting Concrete in the rearview mirror. "You didn't see it happen?"

No, I was kind of dead at the time. "No, I wasn't in the restaurant when he did it." He turned to the last page of the single-section newspaper, aware that his luck with the conversation was about to run out if he didn't find something else to bring up.

No frickin' way was he telling Dean what the final wish cast in the well had been.

"Too bad. Would have liked to see the look on his face when he realized the 'love of his life' wouldn't give him the time of day." Dean took his fingers off the wheel long enough to make air quotes.

"Yeah, that would have been hilarious," Sam muttered.

He felt rather than saw the look Dean shot him. "Dude, what crawled up your butt?"

Sam pressed his lips together, his features forming into what Dean loved to call his bitchface. "Nothing," he said as he scanned the final column. Please let there be something worth looking into, something far away in Georgia or Maine…

There it was. Thank God for "News of the Weird."

"Hey, check this out," he said, folding the newspaper back on itself so only the lower right-hand corner of the last column of the last page was visible. "Out of Elk River, Idaho. 'Sources say a recent spate of thefts has an obvious suspect, but local authorities are having a hard time taking them seriously. Rose Henderson, proprietor of Elk River Antiques, has had several items stolen from her shop over the past month. When questioned by the county sheriff, she gave a description that matched perfectly to a former, well-known resident of the area.'"

"Yeah, and?" Dean asked impatiently, making a rolling motion with his hand.

"This well-known resident died twenty years ago," Sam added, quirking his eyebrow upwards.

"Oh." There was silence for a moment while Dean navigated a hairpin turn as the road started to climb up into the Cascades. "So how do we get to this place?"

Sam frowned. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" He'd been hoping for several days' worth of driving before they encountered another supernatural: either enough days to give him another crack at getting Dean to talk, or enough time so that the current level of tension between them would be reduced. Besides, for his part, apparently he was going to need a little time to shake off the aftereffects of another more-than-near-death experience. Diving headlong into another hunt was potentially dangerous given the shaky ground both of them were on right now.

On the other hand, diving headlong into denial was always how Winchesters dealt with things, so why should this be any different?

"Why wouldn't it be a good idea? Hey, the chick in the article recognized the ghost, right? Can't get much easier than that." Dean scrunched up his nose. "Too bad 'Rose' sounds like a little old lady's name, especially if she's running an antique store, but you never know. Could be some lonely young woman stranded up in the mountains, waiting for a handsome young fellow to show her a good time." He waggled his eyebrows.

Sam pursed his lips as he tried to think of the best way to say what he wanted to without making Dean defensive about himself or concerned about his little brother. "I thought maybe we should take a break for a few days. Hang out somewhere, shoot some pool, get our cash flow in better shape."

"Dude, our cash flow is fine. 'Sides, we're coming into a national park and following it up with some pretty damn empty country. Not a lot of pool halls out here." The Impala's tires thrummed against the pavement for a moment, and then Dean said, "What's up with you, Sam?"

"Nothing," he answered too quickly, folding the newspaper back the way it had been and tossing it over his shoulder. The movement stretched muscles that were sore from hitting the ground, and he winced.

Then he froze. His body was back to normal, right? If the wishes had been unmade, then he was never struck by lightning and never got blasted out of his shoes and never fell dead to the concrete. Then why was he sore from the impact?

"I'll figure out a route," he said to distract himself and his brother, digging under the seat for the well-worn road atlas.

No, there was no way in hell he was telling Dean that a wish from the enchanted well had killed him, if only for a few minutes. Dean would freak out and treat him like he was made out of glass and turn the car around to go back and kill Hope (no pun intended, Sam thought with a bit of grim humor). He didn't need to know.

If Dean could keep his secrets, then so could Sam.

ooooooo

As it turned out, Elk River was as close to a straight shot from Concrete as you could get in this part of the world. Nevertheless, the sharp peaks of the Cascades, the rolling hills of the Palouse, and the rising foothills of the Rockies all conspired to make them spend as much time driving north or south as east over the course of the day. Dean momentarily pouted when he realized the Grand Coulee Dam was too far off their route to justify a stop. Normally, Sam would have either relented and planned the hundred-mile diversion or teased Dean for pouting, but today he couldn't muster up the energy to do either.

It was a shame, because the terrain they were driving through was as beautiful as any Sam had ever seen, and he'd seen pretty much the whole damn country. They always talked about how someday they'd come back to a place like the Cascades and take a hike in the woods that didn't involve chasing something with claws or fangs, or spend some time looking at a beautiful landscape through something other than the windshield. For the first few years after resuming hunting, in fact, Sam had kept a mental list of the places he was going to go back to once it was all over: Lost Creek National Forest in Colorado, Lake Manitoc in Wisconsin, maybe even New Paltz, New York.

But the instant the yellow-eyed demon told him what was lurking under his own skin and what it was intended for, any thoughts of "once it was all over" had vanished without a trace. Now Sam was glad that there was always another hunt, always something else driving them on, always a reason not to think about what "all over" meant for him.

They motored eastward, rolling into the tiny Idaho town at dusk. It was picturesque enough to make your teeth hurt: the road was perched along the side of a winding valley with a crystal-clear mountain stream below and forested hills above that widened out briefly into a gentle, grassy slope cradling the cluster of buildings that constituted Elk River, population 156.

Sam noted the antique shop as they passed—it was hard to miss, considering there were about eight buildings on the main road. Thankfully, the last of those buildings was a reasonably well-kept motel, although Dean grumbled about parking his baby in a dusty gravel parking lot.

Once they were settled in a room at the end of the building that was at least neat and clean—despite being last decorated before they were born—Sam muttered something about going to get dinner and slipped back out. Dean nodded absently after him, already ensconced on his bed and flipping through channels. Sam shut the door behind him and strolled out into the parking lot.

There wasn't much of a choice about where to go: the motel clerk said the Elk River Café might still be open, but that would be it. So Sam trudged the whole four blocks across town to the worn white building that shone in the moonlight as if it had been recently painted, an encouraging neon red "Open" sign glowing in the window.

A bell bounced cheerily off the glass door as he entered, and the two lone patrons in the café looked up. Sam gave them a half-smile, and they returned friendly nods before resuming their conversation. They looked like hunters—not the Winchester kind, but the deer kind. Brilliant observation, he could hear Dean saying, given the neon orange vests draped over their camouflage jackets. He shook his head and slid into the cracked vinyl booth at the end, noting the purple-and-white gingham curtains over the window that matched the seats.

Actually, now that he noticed it, pretty much everything in the restaurant was purple or white. It was a deep purple, not pansy-assed lavender like Dean would probably insist on calling it once he saw it, but it was still unusual. He picked up the menu and found it printed in the same monotone color scheme. Just as he found himself wondering if the owner was a fan of Prince or the Minnesota Vikings, he flipped the menu over to see "Huckleberry Heaven" printed at the top. Well, every town had its excuse for a festival to celebrate its identity, he supposed; this was no weirder than garlic or gladiolas, only two of the many they'd come across over the years.

"What can I get you, hon? We're closing soon, so best make it quick."

Sam looked up to see a middle-aged, motherly-looking blonde waiting at the edge of the table, notepad in hand. He blinked. Man, he must be tired if she had managed to sneak up on him. "Um, what's with the huckleberries?" his tired mind chose to spit out through his lips.

She grinned. "This your first time in Elk River?" she asked.

"Yeah, it is. That obvious, huh?" he asked with his trademark sheepish grin.

The smile grew wider, and he decided she must have children to have developed that particular look of patient tolerance. "This'll explain it," she said, tapping the plastic-covered menu in his hands. "In the meantime, how about a cup of coffee and a muffin while you decide?"

"Let me guess what kind of muffin, Marie," he said with a raised eyebrow, noting the name on her nametag.

"Smart aleck," she said, turning away, but in a friendly tone. Sam felt a grin spread over his own face. Flirting with the waitress was usually Dean's department, but since he wasn't here…

His face fell. It was true that ever since mid-September, whenever Dean wasn't right at his side, he'd found himself thinking about what the older man would do or say, the thought bringing him comfort like it hadn't been able to in the previous months. He hadn't exactly taken over Dean's habits and mannerisms when he thought—no, when his brother actually was dead. In fact, he'd tried to forget as much as he could about what Dean would have said or done in response to anything that crossed his path.

That's how the drinking had started: trying to drown out the Dean-voice in his head that insisted on making snarky comments about nearly everything he came across, from checking out women walking down the street to suggesting the best way to approach a hunt. Or, and most especially, chiding Sam for not picking himself up and moving on—as if a pep talk was all it should take.

Sam set his jaw and forced himself to concentrate on the menu. Dean was back, he was sitting right over there in the motel room waiting for Sam to bring him some food, and there was no use dwelling on those horrible four months that had in many ways been much worse than the six months he'd spent playing the Trickster's game.

At least then he hadn't done anything he couldn't tell Dean about.

When the waitress returned, Sam quickly ordered two specials to go. He was so tired he had to call Marie back to add on two slices of the house pie. Ever since Sam's abduction, Dean had never again asked him to bring back pie, but Sam tried to always remember. Especially when a peace offering was necessary, which given the silence that had filled the Impala for most of the day, was definitely the case right now.

He spent the time waiting looking around the room, counting how many ways the décor had managed to work in the fruit that was apparently the symbol of the little Idaho town. Out of curiosity, he checked the syrup dispensers waiting in their little purple basket at the back side of the table. One maple, one huckleberry. Dean was going to love having breakfast here.

Sam shook his head tiredly. Can't stop doing it, can you? he asked himself.

"So you're here with someone?" Marie was back with the coffee pot, and Sam was surprised to realize he had already drained his mug. "Kind of late in the year for most tourists."

"Yeah, my brother." Sam realized belatedly that the two of them hadn't yet come up with a story for their presence in town, which gave him free rein as long as he remembered to tell Dean who they were. Years of experience in small towns had taught him that the closer to the truth they could get while remaining as vague as possible, the better. "We, uh, heard about the problems that the antique store in town is having with things going missing."

Marie finished pouring and set the coffee pot on the table and a hand on her hip. "You guys private investigators or something?" She dubiously eyed him up and down, no doubt taking in the worn red-and-white plaid flannel shirt hanging open over the Wall Drug t-shirt Dean had bought for him the last time they'd headed east from Bobby's place.

"Something like that," Sam agreed, keeping his expression neutral and holding his breath.

Marie cast a glance over her shoulder at the kitchen before sliding into the booth opposite him. Sam held back the mental Yes! at the implied forthcoming information dump. "Poor Rose has been going through an awful lot," she started in a low voice, fixing him with a warning look. "That reporter who came through here ended up treating her like a kook."

Sam folded his hands on the table in front of him and did his best to project trustworthiness. Dean might still give him a hard time for his floppy hair, but he was sure it did more to make him look harmless than anything else hanging off his six-foot-four frame. He licked his lips and took a leap based on the way Marie had phrased her response. "Ma'am, it's been our experience that stories like Rose's don't get the seriousness they deserve because people are afraid to believe they're true. We have no intention of adding to whatever she's going through right now by treating her like there's something wrong with her." Never mind that I read about her in "News of the Weird," he mentally added.

"Why are you here investigating?" she asked, a sharp tone to her voice that hinted of protectiveness towards the antique store owner.

He spread his hands wide, palms down. "We just want to help," he said quietly but earnestly. "It's what we do for a living."

The woman's chocolate-brown eyes focused on his for a moment, and she took her lower lip in between her teeth. Then she nodded as if her mind was made up. "We're closing in fifteen minutes, but you'll be back for breakfast, right?" she asked with raised eyebrows.

"Yes, ma'am," Sam instantly agreed with a nod of his head. "Gotta try those huckleberry pancakes."

The corners of her eyes crinkled as she smiled in a way that reminded him of Dean. "That you do," she said, scooting back out of the booth. A bell rang in the kitchen, and she looked over her shoulder as she picked up the coffee pot. "Sounds like your order's ready," she said, turning on her heel.

Sam took another sip of the coffee and pushed it aside; it had obviously been sitting on the burner way too long, and the need for caffeine wasn't overriding the complaints of his taste buds the way it so often did. He tucked a couple of dollars between the salt and pepper shakers, half surprised the white crystals hadn't been dyed purple, and rose to make his way to the cash register.

It was a younger woman who rang him up, her resemblance so strong to the blonde waitress that he knew his earlier guess about her family status has been correct. The girl couldn't have been more than fifteen, but she rang up the order and accepted Sam's cash as efficiently as if she had been doing this for years. "Have a nice night," she said cheerfully as she handed over the plastic bag laden with styrofoam containers, and he gave her a warm smile in return.

Outside, Sam breathed in the cool, pine-scented air and felt his shoulders relax as he strode down the dark streets towards the motel. Overhead, the stars were twinkling in profusion, the few streetlights of the town doing little to dim the majesty of the vast expanse above. He could faintly hear the rushing of the river down below the town, streaming on to the Snake, then the Columbia, and then the Pacific. For a moment, he found himself picturing the map and exactly where the water flow, and then he shook his head with a self-deprecating grin. Turn off your brain, dude, Dean would say if he could hear him. Either that or plug it into the car and save us some gas.

His spirits had lifted considerably from the walk over to the café. Already he could tell that this was not going to be one of those suspicious little towns where no one wanted to talk and he and Dean had to fight tooth and nail for any kind of information. Maybe it came from being a minor tourist destination, where residents regularly dealt with outsiders instead of being so far off the beaten trail that they saw anything unknown as a threat. Maybe it was good luck for a change.

Whatever the reason, things were looking up. Marie would give them more information in the morning, they'd talk to Rose, and then they'd deal with the spirit and be on their way. His earlier misgivings about taking on another job so soon after the wishing well disaster were already dwindling.

This hunt could be just what they needed.

 (Chapter 3)

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zubeneschamali
May. 4th, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
Fanfiction: pointing out plot holes since 1965.
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