With the side of her foot she pushed the refrigerator closed. The heavy door shut smoothly, some bottles inside rattling with the force of it and the large cooling device started ticking slightly.
The kitchen was clean. The marbled surfaces gleamed with an unnatural shimmer. They did not give the impression of ever having been used.
The lights were turned on, reflecting off the metallic counter and the kitchenware was perfectly arranged. Actually, the whole house was more like a well preserved stage than a place for children.
Natasha had gotten the babysitting job a few weeks ago after her mother had met the "nice politician with the poor little kids who don't have a mommy" and she regretted saying yes ever since. On the other hand, the money was good, the beer was cold and getting the kids out of her way was easier than she had anticipated.
With the bottle in her hand she walked towards the back door, staring out the spotless windows at the spacious veranda holding beach chairs and a patio umbrella. A swimming pool illuminated from below was next to a young oak. The surface of the water unmoving and twinkling. Behind it loomed the high wall with branches of a huge weeping willow hanging over it like anchors grabbing for something to hold on.
Natasha brought the bottle to her lips, took a deep gulp and grimaced.
But being a seventeen-year-old rebel meant you'd have to make sacrifices. Even if it tasted like piss.
From the room above trampling sounds could be heard and she yelled "Hey, stop running around. It's almost ten. Didn't I tell you to frigging go to sleep half an hour ago?"
On the verge of getting upstairs and having another discussion with the two boys she stopped when her cell phone rang loudly and she fumbled for it in her back pocket, the bottle in her left hand slipping from wet fingers. The crashing sound made her jump in distress and she all but shouted into the phone.
"Whoa, sugar. No need to get all cranky with me. Is it that time of a month, or what?" She relaxed a little and made a step over the broken glass on the floor to reach for the paper towels.
"Shut up, idiot!" She hissed. "I dropped the damn beer bottle because of your obnoxious ringing."
The voice on the phone chuckled, making Natasha roll her eyes. "That's not funny. The stuff stinks like shit."
”Yeah, and you wanted to drink it."
Another loud sound came from somewhere in the house. And it was a big house. The phone still held in one hand, the paper towels in the other she shouted towards the stairs leading upstairs into the room where her wards were supposed to be asleep and not getting in her way. "You two morons. Stop messing around or I'll put cleaner in your dinner."
Another chuckle from the phone and grumbling she trotted back into the kitchen. The puddle was getting wider by the seconds, the broken glass like icebergs in a see of alcohol and she made another grimace. Tiny rivulets of beer were spreading all over, filling the gouges between the unblemished tiles. She'd sooo be in trouble if she didn't get the smell out of the kitchen before the boys’ father came home.
"Damn!" she said to no one in particular and was surprised when her boyfriend was still on the phone.
"I love it when you curse. Should I come over and be a bad boy so you can curse some more?"
"I'd love to but I think the big man is gonna be home soon."
Getting down on her knees she began to collect the large pieces of glass before wiping the fluid away. The smell was bitter in her nostrils, her stomach recoiling in disgust when yet another sound, this time closer, reached her ears. A screeching sound, like a chair being hauled over the floor made her stop.
"Hey, Greg. Can I call you back? I think these dim-witted boys are in for more trouble than I am."
Without waiting for an answer she put the cell on the counter, slowly getting up and not making any sound. If she was about to catch the boys red-handed she did not want to alert them.
Hastily, she took off her shoes and tiptoed back into the long hallway. Not hearing anything but her own breathing she took some more steps, first glancing to her left into the living room, then to her right into the dining room. Wrinkling her nose, she needed a few seconds before recognizing a different smell than the stale one from the beer lingering in the air. Like rotten eggs.
"Uaah, that's disgusting."
She put a hand over her nose and walked on, this time less careful.
"What the hell did you do?" The boys were not in sight, yet she had no doubt they had cooked this up for her. Though, she had to admit, that'd be a first. "Remember the cleaner in your dinner?" she added just for good measure but there was no response. No giggling, no snorting. Just the sickening odor of decay and sulfur.
Definitely the sound of a foot, crushing onto the glass in the kitchen.
She turned around and headed back to the kitchen, leaving wet footprints that were quickly fading. She suddenly realized, she had not made sure the alarm system was turned on. Even though the neighborhood was one of the safest in the whole city, Carver had insisted on having it turned on all the time.
She sneaked closer, damning the cell she had left on the counter. She could see it resting on its given place, the display blinking wildly but not making any sounds. Had she maybe turned off the sound?
No, it had rang only minutes ago when Greg... "Greg! You asshole! If that's you..."
She quickened her steps, expecting to find her stupid boyfriend standing behind the door, smirking. But it was not her boyfriend, as it turned out.
"Who...?" was the last word she ever spoke.
Meanwhile, a fourteen year old boy frantically ran back up the stairs, grabbed his little brother's hand and pulled him into the assumed safety of the closet.
They didn't move when the door to their room opened.
They didn't move when the stranger--hands and clothes covered with their baby-sitter's blood and intestines--stood motionless in front of the closet staring at them through the small gap between frame and door.
They didn't dare to move when the man's footsteps faded again a few minutes later.
Two days later, Charade, Ohio
The weather mirrored his mood. Cold and grey, with clouds hanging low and pressing hard against the landscape. A few lost raindrops were landing on the windshield and Dean activated the wipers.
Sam stared at the large pack of paper on his knees and realized it could have been written in Chinese and he wouldn't have noticed. He tried to read the first sentence for the sixth time but his eyes wouldn't even focus.
"You've been staring at the same piece of paper for ages. You should know it by heart already." Dean joked, but the humor in voice quickly turned into frustration.
Sam rotated his head a few times before answering, his throat still sore from...
Quickly, he pressed his eyes shut, trying to push away the image of his father's amused expression while closing off his windpipe with invisible fists.
"Maybe you should turn it around."
"What?" Sam's eyes snapped back open.
"The paper. Maybe you should turn it around."
Sure, Sam hadn't had a lot of sleep the last few days but this was ridiculous. His head felt empty... or crowded. The perception of his surroundings changed every few seconds and he almost felt like crawling in the back seat to get some shut eye.
"You're holding it upside down! Did they teach you how to read like this at Stanford, too?"
His brother took his right hand from the steering wheel and grabbed the whole folder of print-outs Sam had collected over the last few days.
"Dean, give it back..." he argued but it was too late. His older brother's face scrunched up, first in confusion, then anger.
"What is this?"
Sam huffed. "Information, what else?"
"About what? I thought you were researching the seals. Don't you think that should be our first priority?" Dean's eyes were fixed on the print-out Sam had tried to study. He had found some philosophical facts about Hell in one of Bobby's old books and had decided to give it a try. It was the only thing he'd found out about their father - his time in hell. Actually, he had no idea what he was looking for. It was hard to Google "How my Dad turned evil after spending a hundred years in Hell".
Sure, Sam had asked Dean again and again what exactly had happened after he'd lost consciousness in that old warehouse---very much to Dean's dismay---but Dean had begun to shut down. Acted, like he didn't hear a word Sam was saying and, to put it mildly, it was driving Sam up the wall. And since "Hell" was the only helpful information he'd gotten out of his brother. The damn topic was more extensive than a freaking ocean.
Ever since their encounter with John Winchester an uncomfortable undertone had crept into the brothers’ life. It was like they were strangers. They were talking with each other but at the same time talking past each other. Tiptoe-ing around the Big Question. The one constant that had once glued them together. Had made them a family. The common denominator that had been their connection to what should have been a normal life.
Their father and what had become of him.
"I was just..."
With a surprising force that made Sam jump in his seat Dean hit his hand against the steering wheel. The following silence was almost unbearable and Sam was the first to clear his throat.
"Dean, you know we have to..."
"Stop it, Sammy!" The words were hard to understand since Dean had his teeth gritted so tight Sam could hear them rub against each other. "No, Dad should not be our priority right now."
Sam snorted. "Don't tell me you're following his orders."
Another round of silence ensued as Dean's anger deflated suddenly, leaving him tired and drained. He settled into the backrest to get comfortable while Sam gathered the papers and stuffed them into the folder.
A large sign welcomed them to Charade, Ohio and Sam put the documents into his backpack, not wanting to agitate Dean even further with a fruitless research that would drive Sam crazy one way or another.
"You know, you'll have to talk to me at one point, Dean," he finally said, keeping his voice calm but determined. "I need to know what's going on."
Dean didn't answer.
Fine. Two could play that game just as well.
Strained silence was becoming the new constant in their life.
The town they were driving through was a typical middle class town in the suburban area of Charade. Houses, three floors at the most. Broad streets, bright ads in the shop windows and a park on almost every corner with colorful monkey bars and healthy looking trees that offered shade in the warm summer months.
The leaves were already starting to flee the oncoming winter and formed large mountains for children to run through.
It was past five pm when Dean finally turned off the road and stopped in a small parking lot in front of a cozy looking bed and breakfast, not their usual kind of night's refuge.
Confused, Sam raised his eyebrow. His "What are we doing here?" was answered by a snort when Dean got out of the car, hoisted the trunk open and got his and Sam's stuff out.
"What do you think we're doing here? It's a motel."
"Yeah," Sam replied with a duh-face. "A motel with clean sheets and warm water for two showers. What's wrong? Am I dying?... Again?" Bad joke, but Sam didn't care. Anything to get a reaction from Dean.
"Nothing's wrong," Dean answered, his bad temper still vivid enough to stop any smartass answer lying on Sam's mouth. Quietly, Sam followed his older brother into the reception area, where an old lady with teeth more yellow than Azazel's eyes greeted them exuberantly and put a key with a faded red eleven on the tag in Dean’s hand.
The rooms were spacious even though Sam felt immediately cramped. Heavy maroon colored drapes were hanging at the window and the wallpaper was a flowery disaster that belonged into a museum not a motel room.
"Nice!" Dean said with a shrug and dropped his stuff on the first bed.
"Sure, if you've served in World War One, are a hundred years old and blind," Sam countered, still sulking about the way Dean was dismissing him. Without further comment Dean started to put salt lines on the window ledge as well as in front of the doors, obviously not meaning to leave the room anytime soon. Which was not what Sam had expected.
"What?" Dean replied.
"We haven't even eaten."
"So what? We're not going to die of starvation anytime soon."
That was it! Dean not wanting to eat after a fourteen hour drive through two states? That meant apocalypses, as in plural.
He hadn't meant to get so loud when the words left his mouth. "What the hell is wrong with you, Dean? You're acting as if ... as if... I don't even know what. What happened when I was unconscious. What did Dad tell you?"
"He's not our DAD! Dad would've never..." If Dean had had the chance to punctuate his outburst with another blow to the steering wheel, he'd have done it but halfway in the sentence the words left him, the memory of his father squeezing the air out of his brother with a sadistic smile on his lips.
Yes, Dean, what would Dad never have done? Threaten his sons’ lives? Kill Sammy? Turn into a murderer?
Turned out, his father had done a lot of things Dean would've never thought possible.
"He's our father. And he's a murderer, Dean. He's dangerous. We have a responsi..."
"Shut up, Sam!"
"No!" Sam got up from his place on the edge of the bed, using his height to support his opinion. "I want to know what's going on. And don't tell me, nothing's wrong." He started to pace without letting Dean out his sight. "Ever since we met Dad..."
Sure Dean, who are you kidding?
Sam ignored him. "... you're acting like he's turned into the devil himself. There's got to be a way to find out exactly what happened. We could try another exorcism. Or a summoning. He's still our father and we are responsible for what harm he's causing. We need to stop him. People are dying because of him."
"Don't you dare to blame him." Dean interrupted. "This thing isn't Dad. Dad loved us. Everything he did... he did for us. And now he's dead... for us.."
"I don't blame him, Dean. I'm not saying this is his fault. But we can't allow him to be running free. The thing that's walking around looking like him IS him, thinks like him, knows everything Dad knows. It's not just the familiar face that scares me. It's DAD! And if there's one thing we learned from Dad it's not to do things by halves. There's more. And we have to stop..."
"Shut up!" Dean shouted one last time before dropping on the bed. He arranged the pillow, grabbed the remote and when the TV came to life he pumped up the volume to finish this discussion once and for all. "Dad'd want us to get as much space as possible between that thing and us. And that's what I intend to do."
See, Dean? I knew you were my good little soldier.
There it was again. The new constant. The uncomfortable silence between them.
Sam could feel the blood rush in his veins. His breathing was erratic but there was no more talking to do. Dean had shut down again, his forefinger listlessly tapping on the buttons, switching channels like he wanted to catch as many bad television shows as possible in one minute.
The Late Night News was flickering soundlessly over the screen and Sam rubbed his gritty eyes, lifting his head from the worn pages of an old book about biblical signs when the headlines of the current topic got his attention.
"Gruesome murder in a loca politician's home…"
The screen showed the face of a charismatic man in his late thirties with an already receding hairline showing the first signs of grey. He was clean-shaven, his teeth sparkled white when he spoke and his whole demeanor radiated a professionalism that made it clear he was used to being on TV in the middle of an important story. He smiled winningly after he was asked a question and if there hadn't been a ticker below his smiling visage Sam would've assumed he was talking about the weather or a new political strategy.
In the background of the scene Sam could see half the facade of a big house. White brick and white columns decorated the entrance area of the building that looked like someone's home, probably the man's. Next to it Sam recognized two boys standing rather forlornly together like they had no where else to be. The older one, a young teenager of maybe thirteen or fourteen years, had his arm protectively around the younger one, who was pressing what looked like an action figure against his chest.
It looked familiar and the unexpected wave of deja vu hit Sam with a power that would have brought him to his knees if he were standing. Not knowing why the image had such an effect on him, a suppressed sound of surprise came over his lips drowning Dean's light snoring and quickly he reached for the remote control in Dean's slack hands.
"Hmuh, I'm watch'ng th's," Dean protested sleepily, blinking his eyes open.
"Of course you are," Sam retorted and turned on the volume.
"... does not have clues about the identity of the murderer or why the young woman was the victim," the off-screen female voice explained in a bored tone. "A homicide in the heat of the moment can't be ruled out entirely but the investigations are only beginning. Jeffrey Carver's sons reportedly did not see the culprit."
The scene changed and now the two boys were shown directly, still holding each other.
"Really, I swear, it was a monster," the smaller one explained with such fervor that it made the interviewer raise his eyebrow and Sam numb to the bones.
"Thank you, Melanie, for the news. Now let's get back to the weather..."
Sam pushed the mute button and turned towards the laptop, starting to type viciously and seconds later seven hundred and twenty two hits concerning Jeffrey Carver popped up on screen.
"Don't you even think about it."
Looked like Dean was awake after all, Sam thought but he didn't avert his eyes from the screen filled with information about the politician.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about." Dean's voice was low, yet hard. "We're not going to clean up other people's mess while standing in our own, knee deep. You understand?"
But for Sam, the next step was already decided.
The house in front of Sam was the same as in the news the night before. The brick and the columns. The neat rows of bushes planted directly next to the three steps of the stair. The archway leading towards the door alone looked bigger than some of the motels Sam and Dean had lived in. The wood shone freshly polished and the doorknob actually twinkled like the gold teeth of a gangster rapper.
To say Dean was feeling uncomfortable would have been the understatement of the century. Keeping his eyes open and his fingers close to the waistband where he was hiding his forty-five he let his gaze sweep over the are area coming to rest at the far side of the estate where someone was busy raking the leaves from the well-groomed lawn. Someone with dark hair, who seemed to notice the stares Dean was giving him.
Slowly he turned around, the familiar gaze finding Dean's and he winked with a grin, the dimpled chin even visible from this distance
Dean stopped short, his heart missing a few beats and he reached for the gun when Sam's voice made his head swirl around.
"Dean, you coming?"
Quickly, he looked back at the man working in the garden and ... hadn't the man been larger only seconds ago? Hadn't he worn a different jacket? Hadn't he looked like someone Dean had known his whole life? He had, Dean was sure. Dean could have sworn the man had looked like his father. Confusion and adrenalin made Dean's head swim and his ears rang with the whispering of... something. It sounded like the blood rushing in his ears but more dully. Like he had water in his ears.
"Do you hear that?" Dean asked, tilting his head a little to wriggle his finger in his ear.
"Forget it!" Angry to have made such a scene Dean strode on. "Let's get this over with."
Sam followed quickly and only caught up with him after Dean had pressed a button and behind the door echoed the ridiculous dingeling of the bell. They could hear a voice, loud and authoritative, before the door opened and were greeted by the man they had seen on the TV the night before.
"Mr. Carver, I'm--”
"... late!" The man bellowed angrily.
Sam and Dean looked at each other, perplexed.
"We... excuse me?" Dean replied.
"I have an appointment in..." The man took an impatient look at his wrist watch. "Well... twenty minutes ago." During the last words his voice rose even louder but he stopped his agitated movements, his jacket slung over his left arm, and squinted warily.
Dean resisted the urge to shrink and straightened up.
"I had expected you much earlier," Carver scolded. "The agency assured me you'd be here at nine-thirty am sharp. Now it's nine-forty-one. I expect punctuality from my staff."
"Agency?" Sam repeated whereas Dean asked, appalled, "Staff?"
"Yes. By the way, I suppose you are the one responsible for the security?" Carver asked, eyeing Dean conspicuously. Then huffed. "... Not that we need it of course. But my incompetent advisor holds the opinion that I should take special precautions regarding the..." His face twisted irritatedly. "... incident. I suppose you're well informed about it?" The politician looked sharply at Dean, then--with a rather disbelieving glance--he studied Sam as if trying to figure out how he was fitting into the Mary Poppins scheme. He was already halfway out of the door when he turned. "Oh...uhm..."
Dean almost shrunk away, expecting their bluffs to be called.
"What was your name again?" Carver wanted to know, squinting his eyes again.
Gulping, Dean answered with the first name that came to his mind. "Waters, Roger Waters." Behind his back he could almost hear Sam rolling his eyes about the choice of the name and resisted the urge to kick his younger brother in the shin. Nevertheless, the answer seemed to meet the man's demands and he nodded.
"Fine, Mr. Waters." Then, with an even more mandatory tone in his voice Carver yelled back into the house. "Behave, boys!"
With these words he ascended the few steps down to a waiting car and got into the backseat. He vanished behind the darkened windows leaving behind Sam and Dean who were staring at each other in utter perplexity.
"That was weird," Sam announced and shrugged his shoulders.
The door to the house was still standing wide open and gave view to a spacious hallway, from which three arches were leading into a living room, a dining room and, in the back of the long corridor, the kitchen. A red-carpeted stairway was leading into the upper parts of the house. In the opening to the kitchen two boys were standing warily. The smaller one peeping from behind the larger one's back, an action figure pressed against his side.
"So," the older one asked, obviously not happy about the development. "You're our new babysitters, huh?"