Red - Chapter Three/New Best Friend

Oct 15, 2006 12:58

Summary: Something evil is killing treeplanters in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, possibly the same predator that Dean narrowly escaped years before. How Grimm will things get before the brothers figure it out?

Obligatory Blahblah: One day, Kripke will realize that I’ve been feeding him the best story ideas that money can buy…like, for no money, right? Until then…*extravagant and resigned sigh.*

Rating: Gen, PG-13 due to rather a lot of chainsaw shenanigans. WIP, will be 10 chapters. Horror/drama.

General Abasements: Oh, you folks have been so goddamn patient while I staggered about Scotland in a drunken stupor. Really, you’re all dolls. But large dollops of thanks go to my betas, Lemmy “Tigger” Pie and jmm “Eeyore” 001, who inspire and transcend.

Read Chapters 1-2


Story Thus Far:
In 1992, Dean and Sam are on their own in Seattle when their father fails to come back from a hunt. Dean is considering his unsavory options for making ends meet until their father returns, one of which involves a predatory ‘wolf’ that is picking up rentboys in a local diner. In 1997, Dean is trying to provide for his family when John is sidelined by injuries; he takes a logging job on the Olympic Peninsula where things quickly get hairy. In the present day, the boys are hunting an elusive ‘wolf’ that is preying on treeplanters: Sam settles in with the planting crew while Dean rejoins old logging friends on the opposite side of the valley.

Road to Quasilit Valley WA, present day

Even after ten years, the smell of fresh cut fir and gasoline gave Dean a thrill, made him feel solid, gave him the same sense of gravity and independence that he experienced when hunting. The crew jacket Dave had given him reeked of independence, and Dean pulled up the collar, buried his nose in the rough wool.

Then had to brace himself against the dashboard of what had to be the oldest truck in Goodenuff Dave’s aged fleet: Dave swung wildly around another steep switchback, the gears grinding as he dropped clumsily into second. Dean swore copiously, eliciting a cackle of laughter from Dave. The music alone - ZZ Top’s La Grange between flaring static and hiss - was enough to make Dean thankful Sam was miles away. They gotta lotta nice girls/Have mercy/A haw haw haw haw.

The truck’s defogger didn’t work especially well in the rain, not with six bodies crammed into the king cab. Dean had been given the front seat, perhaps out of deference to his long-established relationship to Dave, his old friend from the Tacoma days. That’s what he’d thought, anyway, when he’d climbed up into the truck at the Aberdeen motel, the Impala staring blankly at his defection. But maybe the back bench would have been safer, less chance of slamming yourself against the shifts and turns of the truck. In the back, at least, the guys were jammed together, couldn’t move except under the most extreme ballistic duress.

The loggers smelled of cigarettes and gasoline and booze, had just come back from an afternoon at the Aberdeen bars, no one wearing seatbelts of course, just comprehensively impaired. Six in a truck with suspect brakes, a temperamental relationship with its wipers, and radio reception that reminded Dean of the sound a cat might make when dipped periodically into a deep fryer. Oh, and night was falling. Dean wondered if the headlights worked.

Another diversion, then: Dave and Brent Proctor hit on the brilliant idea of listing which girls on 7th Heaven they’d do if they were drunk enough, all the while the deep and dangerous green landscape washing and bumping and sliding around them as the truck slewed from side to side. Dean didn’t even want to think about the drop on the other side of the logging road, where the mountain vanished into valley.

“Hey,” Dean finally yelped, covered it as best he could with a question, “whatever happened to Marty…Marty…Joseph?”

“Coffeeman!” Brent yelled as though Dean wasn’t a foot in front of him, causing Dean’s left eardrum to rattle like a window in a hurricane. “Man, twelve-cup-a-day-dude, right?”

“Yeah, that’s him. Bet he wished he’d laid off the caffeine,” Dave chuckled, big face flushed.

Willy Garfield nodded enthusiastically. Dean craned his neck. Brent and Dave he knew; Willy hadn’t been part of the crew ten years ago. “Got all jittery, took the undercut against the lean and BAM!” he slapped his hands together and Dean startled. ‘Bam’ was never a noise you wanted to hear when you were logging, or even talking about logging. “Tree came back onto the bar, shit, man trapped it there, Marty holding on and then the whole thing kicked up smoke.”

“Drinks with his left hand now,” Stottlemeyer nodded. “Not near as bad as Fontana.” Stottlemeyer, a blond brickhouse of a man, was made for cutting up the fallen logs, driving demolition cars on the weekends and producing children on startled women in five different counties. “Man, he thought he’d outrun a kickback. Clean took his head off.”

“Ortiz,” Dave said, like it was a poker game. All the other guys groaned. “Man, the drag chain just snapped.”

“So’d Ortiz,” Brent chimed in. “In a bunch of places.”

Dean grinned. He could imagine his dad sitting around with some of his old cronies, the ones who had been on speaking terms with him anyway, talking in just the same way. Being stupid, or slow or unlucky was just asking for it.

And just as he thought that, Dave threw the headlights on and they sliced into the gloom and the rain, revealing mud and rock and tree sliding towards them with baffling speed. Dave wheeled round, and the truck hit something hard on the undercarriage, but it didn’t seem to worry Dave in the slightest. He didn’t even slow.

A few minutes later, Dave said, “Shit,” and Dean wondered if it was just a horribly delayed reaction, or something new and exciting; he peered through the windshield. The wipers were on a momentary break from wiping anything, though Dave didn’t seem to be overly concerned with that either. Dean couldn’t see a damn thing. Dave kept driving as though he was on a well-lit highway in a German-engineered car with Pirellis. “How many were there this morning?”

Stottlemeyer groaned. “Fuck, only five or so. Some of those women with the funny hats, I think. Had a big sign. Reckoned this rain would clear ‘em out in a hurry. Need to get back to their mocha lattes.”

“Few more now,” Dave muttered and gunned the engine.

Suddenly, inexplicably, Dean recognized where he was: they were about to cross the bridge over the Quasilit River, where the road forked onto the north shore access road. After the bridge, Dave had said the road gained even more altitude, rising another five hundred feet before hitting their camp.

And a few more what? Then Dean realized that the dark smudges were small tents perched by the roadside and the headlights picked out a sign tied to the bridge itself, but Dean couldn’t make out the words scrawled on the homemade banner, both because the rain was so heavy and because Dave was driving like a NASCAR champion with a bad case of the shakes. The protestors. Another thing that didn’t change.

“Hey, think you might get lucky this time?” Brent called out from the back seat and Dean heard the pop and slurp of a beer can being opened. It was like the fucking wild west up here. He wondered if they had a bat in the back, might lean out the window on any given night and whack a few protestors as they went by, like kids in rural places did for mailboxes.


“Not far now,” Dave said once they were safely over the bridge and the protest camp faded into the soft wet darkness. “This road went in two years ago. You won’t have been this way before, Dino.”

Old name, that, and a sudden silence puzzled the fetid cab. Into which of course came a bray of laughter. Willy, who had no right to make fun of anyone’s name, Dean thought viciously, crowed. “Dino, huh? Hey Dave, is this…”

“Yeah, yeah, must be. I’ve heard the stories.” Pasquale, first or last name Dean didn’t know, who had been blessedly silent up till now, crunched a can in his hands, let it join others rattling around on the floor, then belched with the gusto of a six-year-old boy at a pizza party. “Dino the Kid. You’re him? True?” This to Dave, asking for confirmation.

“Sure enough,” Goodenuff said with a sideways grin to Dean. “He’s the Kid, all right,” even though Dave was only four years older than Dean, it had been a huge gap ten years ago. The difference between being a boy and being a man. The difference between getting piss in your boot and a spot on the regular rotation.

Dean didn’t resent Dave for it; it was just the way things were. But he wasn’t a kid anymore. Shit, he really hadn’t been a kid back then, not in the ways that truly mattered.

“Yeah, that’s me,” he said slowly. “And all of it?” Was taking a chance here, but he knew Goodenuff well enough, knew his propensity to spin a tale wildly, and Dean knew what kernel of a story he’d left behind, could guess what Dave had expanded it to include. “All of it’s true.”

And that, for once, shut them up.

The silence lasted for all of a minute, all the time it took to haul ass into camp.

A small city of plywood shacks, a row of port-a-johns, a cinderblock construction lined with water tanks: the showerhouse. A white cookhouse tent, still lit up at this time of the evening, well after dinner hour, some of the guys probably playing cards or getting boozed up. Both. But it hit Dean like a blow, that tent, that recognizable feature from before.

“Looks different,” Dean muttered, unwilling to admit how familiar the tent was now and what it had represented then. Safety, shelter. Home.

“Yeah, well, with all of us staying here for the week,” Dave said, pulling in behind another truck, spattered and drenched with mud and rain. “We need all this crap. Still, cheaper than a motel and we’re closer to the cut block. Longer days -“

“More trees,” Brent said, and belched.

“More board,” Pasquale further refined what Dean suspected was a litany.

“More money,” Dean finished for them, earning a round of hoots and laughter.

They walked into the mess tent first, of course, because that’s where all business in the camp transpired. Feeding, fighting, drinking. Dean surveyed the wide interior, beat up fridges, clamp lighting, long benches and tables. Looked different, but smelled the same.

“Where’s Lori?” he asked, but it was followed by bleak silence.


Sam tried to imagine a time when he knew nothing about losing your line, or screefing a plant site, or slutting the density, or deep slash. Tried to imagine a time before duct tape had become his New Best Friend.

From a distance, the side of the mountain was an animal shaved for surgery: part of it furred lush thick green; immediately adjacent, a giant hand had flattened the landscape, brushed all the trees away, leaving behind stumps and broken branches and anything too small or too sick to earn anything but the lumberman’s scorn. Slash. First new word of the day.

By the end of the second hour, his back was what hurt most, the bending down, coming back up. Fifty pounds of seedlings strapped to his waist. Then it was his hands, the left from plunging into the dirt, jamming the seedling into the hole, the right from gripping the D-handle of the shovel. If it wasn’t for the duct tape binding his fingers and supporting his wrist, his hands would be shredded into ground round. He owed Ruby for that, because she’d bound his hands with the tape in the back of the truck on the way up here, silently, but with a little smile.

Knowing what I was in for.

The pain in his hands was eventually superceded by the one in his feet, because three steps in he got a soaker and that was that for the rest of the day. Finally, it was the intense mix of anxiety and boredom, the wandering of his mind, from the tree to the treeline, up the steep hillside, the water sluicing down the slope, carrying away the topsoil to the Quasilit River hundreds of feet below. Watching for bears, especially after he’d come across a steaming pile of shit.

He lost his line. Stood at one point in the rain, drinking his water, wondering where the hell he was planting his next tree. Where had he planted his last tree? He’d lost his line, understood suddenly what that meant. Had no idea earlier that day what a goddamn hassle losing your line was.

Ruby was long gone, working her section, bagging up at the cache the last time he’d seen her. Watching for bears so hard he’d missed where he’d put his last tree.


Retraced his steps, saw Tommy coming in from the back end, two steps, screef the site with his calk boots, dig, plant, two steps, screef, dig plant. Fast, so fast, head always darting up, concentrating, looking for where the next tree was going to go before he’d even finished planting what was in his hand. Tommy grinned at Sam as he came closer, but didn’t break stride.

“You a mover or a gawker?” he asked, and then passed by, methodically, completely at one with his task.

Sam blinked rain from his eyes, and steel took the place of boredom. He took a few steps back, found his last tree, looked two steps down the line, could see it in his mind’s eye stretching all the way to the old growth across their section - the back end. Right, screw you Tommy. Look two steps ahead, get the fucking tree ready.

Screefed the chosen site with vigor. Winced as his foot complained.

Seven hours later, back at camp, sitting limply on his bedroll, Sam was pretty sure he’d lose two fingernails: they were bruised black and purple, despite the duct tape. He had more gashes and scrapes on his hands and legs and forearms that he could count. His back felt as though he’d been sleeping on rocks for weeks. His feet had blisters the size of quarters on both heels and under the thick calluses on the balls of his feet.

He had planted 956 trees.

Tommy had planted 3,541.

After camp fees, Sam had made a little more than a hundred dollars his first day out. He’d rather go after a rawhead barehanded than plant one more goddamned tree. And he had five more days to go before the next off day, five more days before he’d meet up with Dean at the motel. Inside his tent, pitched under the enormous colony of tarps belonging to various planters, Sam unwound the tape, examined his fingers, and eyed the satellite phone resting on his sleeping bag. Nope, wasn’t going to call Dean. No way.

Just as Sam packed away the phone, raucous laughter burst from the cookhouse tent, and Sam realized he was close to starving, the peanut butter sandwich for lunch a distant memory. Darkness had fallen quickly in the narrow valley as he’d been examining his wounds and ignoring the phone, and he looked for the flashlight. He beamed it round the tent just as Ruby stuck her head in, no knock possible nor needed, a smile illuminated, eyes sparkling.

“Aren’t you hungry?” she asked. Sam noticed she was trying not to stare at his blisters or his cuts. Too commonplace for comment, maybe. Or just as hungry as he was, too distracted by the thought of food to worry over the bangs and bruises of a neophyte.

Sam had never seen a woman pack away as much food as Ruby did.

Be fair, he counseled himself: between the lasagna, the garlic bread and the beer, they must have consumed over 4000 calories. Each. How many calories they had expended, however, was not negligible. Ruby had planted three seedlings to every one of Sam’s, was a machine as awesome as Tommy.

Tommy wasn’t the only one occupying the exalted territory of the ‘highballers’; a whole table of them sat together, sharing cans of beer and stories. They laughed and the other planters - maybe thirty divided into three crews - peered over at them, awed, jealous and curious. Most were around Sam’s age, early twenties. Some, though, were noticeably older, not students, not part of the summer job crowd.

Sam had no idea what he was looking for. As his metabolism equalized with the influx of calories and adequate hydration, he found that he could string together a sentence that made sense, could find oblique questions that got at the whole reason for why he was here. Seven at his table, Ruby and her cohort. Two missing in the last five weeks.

“Wandered off, I guess.” That was the standard response. “Couldn’t hack it.” More or less mirrored what they’d heard at the Walla Walla diner. “They’ll turn up.” Which sounded more macabre this evening than it had yesterday. The dense wilderness accounted for that. Could turn up, literally. Could be screefing your dig site and come across bone.

The camp cooks, a Guatemalan husband and wife team, Maria and Pablo, served up more food after dinner, huge sweet sheets of date and oatmeal squares, then packed up for the night, making sure the supplies were bear proof. The large white canvas tent was left for the planters, and soon degenerated into a party. Everyone played something - Djibouti hand drums, guitar, harmonica, pan pipes - and would have been around a fire, but for the rain. Drugs were freely available; the tent became smoke filled, sweet, reminiscent of San Francisco when the Impala was new.

Sam sat by the tent flap and listened for wolves. He heard nothing but rain. As he sat, the lights turned down in the tent, Ruby settled in beside him, offered a massage, which was tempting, given how fucking sore he was. He smiled slow, all dimple and deference, but determined. This wasn’t a summer in the trees earning enough money to study cultural anthropology come September. This was hunting, plain and simple. Well, never plain, and rarely simple.

Dean had said it was a wolf, and it wasn’t a wolf and it had scared Dean shitless whatever it had been. Ludovic. It was hunting female treeplanters in this valley much as it had ten years before; ten years ago, it had taken away five, Dean had said. This season, two so far.

Sam knew Dean was lying by omission, wasn’t telling him everything. Sam chalked it up to the fear, fear Dean would never admit to. Sam had to be smarter than that, would figure it out; together, between Dean’s memories and Sam’s smarts, they’d hunt this thing down. They were both on the mountain, on opposite sides of the valley, with a meeting place in five days. Collect information; compare notes. The satellite phone was for emergencies.

Before they’d split up, Dean had said he wasn’t expecting the wolf to strike the lumber camp, but working there was the best way to get him on the cut block; the wolf-that-was-not-a-wolf kept away from the guys with axes, Dean had continued, white-lipped. Metaphorically, Sam had thought, still thought. Axes were a little nineteenth century, weren’t they? Chainsaws, maybe.

The idea of Dean with a chainsaw made him grin wickedly, imagining the carnage Dean could inflict on any corporeal quarry. Ruby asked him what was so funny, but Sam waved her off, not wanting to mention Dean with or without a chainsaw, not so soon after Sam had broken up an ideological argument between them over a plate of sweet potato fries and a salmon burger.

Dean had disparaged the burger, had only eaten half, which was half a burger more than Sam would have guessed.

As Sam considered his relative astonishment at Dean’s sudden connoisseurship of salmon burgers, a wiry man sat at the long bench, offered a joint of Kootenay homegrown, which Sam declined. He was one of the older guys, a lifer, Ruby had said earlier, when Sam had asked over a slab of garlic toast the size of the Impala’s hood. Tommy, Lorenzo, Teresa. Lukas. The highballers of the crew, planters who’d been doing this year after year, literally a million trees in the course of a season.

“Hey,” Lukas said by way of greeting. “You’re new. How’re things?” He looked to Sam’s battered hands.

A memory tugged at Sam, hard and sharp, but damned if he could pinpoint its origin. Lukas was somewhere between thirty and fifty, a mid-European accent surfacing from vowel to vowel, slightly glassy-eyed. Graying dark blond hair tied back in a ponytail, eyes glinting with being stoned and something that Sam couldn’t quite put his finger on.

Sam shrugged, poster child for the non-committal. “Okay.” He allowed his glance to touch on Ruby, who had an arm linked through his, her cheek resting against his shoulder. This he didn’t mind, actually. And what was the difference between this and massage, he briefly wondered, but he was too tired to actually take that to the next stage. Rules differed here, even his own. “Fine. Getting the hang of it.”

Lukas smiled, a grim curve of pale lip and an exposed incisor, and Sam shuddered. Someone’s walking over my grave, he thought. Was this instinct? Or merely the fact he was sitting high in the mountains, belly full of cheap beer, exhausted, with a very attractive young woman offering him a massage?

This guy, Sam thought, pulling back, Ruby’s arm falling to her side. This guy’s wrong.

“You been planting a long time, Ruby says.” She’d said Lukas was a fucking automaton, that’s what she’d said.

Lukas shrugged. “Used to scout timber, believe it or not. Wanted to put something back in, I guess. Enough of harvesting. Time to plant.”

“How’s that working out?” Sam laughed, but low in the throat, almost a growl.

Lukas non-smiled again. “It’s working out. I make enough to go down to Costa Rica every winter.”

Sam would have given his eye teeth for an internet hook up right then. His Spanish was good enough to trawl newspaper reports. Had girls gone missing in Costa Rica? Hold up there, Sammy. Too much beer and hinky stupid superpowers that didn’t work even on a good day. Lukas is just creepy, not a wolf. Not a threat.

Really fucking creepy, though.

Ruby seemed enthralled, leaned closer, reached out and touched Lukas’s hand; from across the tent, someone shouted for a song and one of the guitar players started up again and Sam wished he’d had one less beer. Shit.

He watched Ruby watching Lukas, and shuddered again. He couldn’t call Dean with this. What the fuck would he say? Met a creepy highballer who’s trying to steal the hippy chick I’m not interested in. Too sore to even consider it - his hands. And his feet. And his back.

Call it a night, Sammy.

So he said goodnight to Lukas, and smiled to Ruby, who wasn’t feeling any pain, none whatsoever, and stumbled through the rain to where his tent leaked intermittently throughout the night.

Sam slept like he was already dead.


Seattle WA, 1992.

Sam didn’t know what Dean had against Robert Heinlein. The man was a genius. But the children’s librarian had asked Sam twice now if he had a parent coming to pick him up, wanted to know his home phone number. That had been enough for Dean; he had unilaterally declared the library off-limits for after-school homework sessions. The garage would have to do. Sam was forced to hang on to Stranger in a Strange Land and it looked like he wasn’t going to get the chance to return it. Dean’s paranoia had made Sam into a book-stealer.

Sam hoped ‘school’ didn’t get to be another place Dean thought too dangerous, because the play was coming up and Sam was pretty sure Mrs. Legris was going to give him a part. They would stick out the year, Dad had promised, not two months ago. Dean was going to keep to that, wasn’t he?

But only if no one found out that they were living in an abandoned car. Dean didn’t need to tell him that, for pete’s sake. Though he did, repeatedly, like Sam was a frigging moron. I can make Dad’s signature on the field trip form just fine, Sammy. Tell Mrs. Fucking Legris (and why he had to call her that, Sam had no idea because she was actually nice) that you’ll pay her next week. Don’t talk to any adults if you don’t really, really have to, Sammy. Always take a shower after gym, even if the other kids don’t.

Yeah, because Dean, man, you’re not exactly smelling like a rose yourself.

Hand to back of head.

Dean was cutting classes like crazy, Sam knew, but always produced a note, sometimes written on paper stolen from the photocopier in the 7-11. His brother was ducking and lying and really, not having much fun, if you judged from the expression on his face.

Sam knew Dean thought he didn’t notice, but he did. To pass time during the dark hours, when the sun went down and the streetlight was on, Sam opened up the Heinlein and read out loud.

Maybe that’s what caused Dean to go out every night. Maybe Dean didn’t like classic sci-fi. Maybe Sam should switch to the Goosebumps series, which Dad always called crap. Except he didn’t use the word crap. Could get one of those from Mrs. Legris’s shelf in the classroom. But Dad was right; they were sucky and Dean would hate them on principle.

It wasn’t Heinlein, though, that was driving Dean out night after night and Sam knew it. Dean was breaking into cars, Sam guessed, worried and hungry. Man, Sam was hungry all the time, way hungrier than Dean, because Dean hardly ate anything, seemed uninterested in food. Sam didn’t tell Dean that Mrs. Legris had been giving him lunch money for the past week, because that was the sort of thing that would make Dean nuts. We’re not a friggin’ charity case, Sammy.

Then two nights in a row without any dinner, just fries and hotdogs and chili from the school cafeteria at lunchtime to hold him over, Dean out from sundown to past midnight, coming back drenched and shivering, once with a shiner and blood on his knuckles.

Sam was getting scared.

Dean kept saying that Dad was coming back, but that’s what he’d been saying since the beginning, since Dad had left them in the motel. Back in three days, Dad had said, throwing guns in a canvas sack, so rote that Sam had barely paid attention. The Impala had rumbled off, seventy dollars in tens lying on the kitchenette’s table held down by the revolver. Sam knew most fathers didn’t use a gun for a paperweight. Five days later and nothing, less fifty dollars. Six days, no money left, and the motel owner had threatened to call child services.

Dean had smiled and said they were going to go stay with an uncle. They’d be out of her hair by noon. Dean had stripped the room practically bare. Day seven and Dean had found the garage.

Sam had looked at the garage in mute horror. After a minute, he’d said, How will Dad find us, Dean?

I’m keeping an eye on the motel. Dad’ll be back soon, Dean had said, not for the last time. We don’t need to call Pastor Jim. I can take care of this.

Of you, he meant. At least he didn’t say it this time.

It was almost three weeks now, since Dad hadn’t come back. Dean kept checking the motel, and Sam knew he really should stop asking, that he was being a pest, but he couldn’t help it. Three weeks was longer than Dad had ever been gone before and Dean suddenly wasn’t talking about anything anymore. They had no money, and Sam suggested selling the gun, and Dean looked at him as though he was something that had crawled out from an open grave.

Wasn’t saying anything now, either, just had a determined look on his face, that set expression in his eyes that telegraphed don’t screw with me, but that was actually the look he got when he was either scared or really, really worried. Sam couldn’t tell which it was, because it took all his concentration to keep up with Dean’s long stride.

Dean stopped beside a shabby commercial row, pulled Sam to his side wordlessly, glared at him. Stay put, that meant. While Sam stayed put and thought of grilled cheese sandwiches, Dean peered around the corner. The sun was just going down. Dinnertime, Sam’s stomach announced loudly.

For some reason, that made Dean laugh and Sam was grateful. He didn’t like it when Dean was so serious. “Okay, Sammy,” Dean muttered quietly, laying one hand on his shoulder. The jean jacket was one of Dean’s old ones, and was still too big, but when pulled over two t-shirts and an old orange fiberfill vest with a broken zipper, it was almost warm. “Coast is clear. Let’s go.”

The coast was clear in a diner, apparently, one with grammatically challenged hand-written signs (the rules for possessive apostrophes were pretty straightforward, weren’t they?) and tired booths, ripped up stools.

But the smell of hot oil and salt was intoxicating and Sam stood in the doorway, just breathing, for a long while. The waitress looked at him strangely, a weird looking woman with black and pink hair, too many earrings to count, a pierced eyebrow and tattoos on her upper arms. Sam didn’t feel like smiling at her.

Don’t talk to any adults you don’t have to.

So what the heck was Dean doing? Just walking up to the counter, sliding in with that stupid fake smile and an apologetic shrug in Sam’s direction that even Sam knew was because Dean felt awkward bringing his kid brother into such a decrepit diner.

Well, screw you, Dean.

There were other boys in the place, a few on their own, parents must have dropped them off or would be picking them up soon, cause they didn’t look old enough to be out at night. They’d been loud when Dean had come in, but as soon as Dean sat down, they got all quiet.

The waitress came over to Dean, and he turned to Sam, waved him over. Don’t be a fucking dipshit, the look said. Sam sauntered over, nostrils wide, taking in the smells.

Dean’s new best friend set down two enormous glasses of chocolate milk and that was all it took. Sam knew his eyes had gone big, and he hated Dean for that small smile of satisfaction, like he was saying ‘gotcha’ without words.

The waitress was called Tanya and she alternated between giving them overflowing plates of fries and looking worried.

“Cops have been all over here,” she said, giving a quick glance to Sam. Dean followed her look. He’d eaten his plate pretty quickly, Sam thought, surprised.

Dean raised his eyebrows and the waitress looked over to the booth where the three boys sat. “Kids keep going missing.”

“That, uh,” Dean stumbled over words. That was unlike him, and it piqued Sam’s curiosity. “That guy,” he said finally and Sam didn’t recognize the voice, all strangled and soft.

Tanya shrugged, offered Dean coffee and he nodded. “Been back every night, sweetheart,” and she stared hard at Dean. A warning. “Told the cops, but what the fuck do they know?” Or care, she might have said. She put the coffee pot back on the burner and leaned over the counter, twirled a strand of dayglo pink between black-nailed fingers. “You want a salmon burger?”

Her suggestion surprised a small laugh from Dean, and Sam liked Tanya even more for that than for the chocolate milk. “Salmon?” Dean repeated. “In a burger?”

Tanya smiled wide, wagged dark brows up and down. “I make a mean salmon burger, kid. With pine nuts. Secret ingredient. Fucking dynamite on a plate. One day, I’ll make a fortune with ‘em, too good for this joint. You’ll see. You too, rugrat,” she turned the smile on Sam and he smiled back.

“What’s salmon?” he asked.

“Suck it and see,” she said over her shoulder.

And it was way better than anything Sam had ever tasted. Pink, but he’d get past that. Fish, apparently, but that was okay too. Dean ate it faster than Sam, which was saying something, making Tanya beam as though both he and Dean were works of art she’d fashioned from rough clay.

It was dark outside and raining again, the windows fogging up by the boys.

Men came in and out, none of them fathers, but something else that Sam couldn’t recognize but didn’t like. Sam caught Dean looking over at the table of boys, watching, careful and guarded. Like he was most of the time. When he wasn’t being a grade A jerk. Sam had no idea how they were going to pay for this. Maybe Dean was planning a dine-and-dash. They’d done it before, earlier in the week, for breakfast.

It didn’t feel like that, though. Tanya knew Dean, he’d been here before. Because of her smile and the food, it felt homey, for all that Dean alternated between nervous and satisfied. The warmth. Sam felt like taking off his jacket, but that meant they couldn’t run out of here fast, so he kept it on.

“So what’s your name?” Tanya asked Sam when Dean went to the toilets. She didn’t seem any different, didn’t seem like an adult, really. Just a big kid.

“Sam,” he said. “Dean didn’t tell me about you.”

She nodded slowly. “Yeah, he’s careful, that one. You brothers?”

Sam nodded and she refilled his chocolate milk. “You gotta parent around?”

And Sam shut up, didn’t even touch the milk. Tanya noticed, her mouth twitched. “Hey, don’t worry, Sam. I’m not calling the cops.”

“But you said they were here already.”

“That’s because of…” the bell over the door interrupted her and she looked up, her expression changing sharply. Sam thought maybe ‘hardened’ was the right word, but that wasn’t it, because she was also scared. He could almost smell it. She bent back down, put her mouth right against Sam’s ear and he went all itchy, puffed up like one of those prickly fish. “You go out back - get Dean and leave through the back door. Julio’ll let you. Tell your brother not to come out…”

But it was too late, because Dean stood in the archway by the toilets and he was white.

Sam turned in his place, and the boys at the next table settled too, and Sam then stood slowly to see what everyone was staring at.

A tall kid with a swagger that would shame an alleycat. Had a bunch of bills in his hand and he called to Tanya for a round of burgers for the boys at the table. Was so loud and obnoxious that Sam didn’t immediately register that someone stood behind the kid, one hand ruffling the unruly black hair like he owned him, pushing the boy to his table of friends.

A man, sort of. A man who walked right up to Dean, all quiet like a cat or a hunting bird circling in the sky, totally ignoring everything else in the diner. Sam’s heart thudded, because he could see what was in the man’s eyes and he couldn’t put a word to it, even though he was a kid full of words. Oh fuck, he thought, and that was the first time he’d said that word, even to himself.

He didn’t know if this was the dark-haired kid’s dad, or a truant officer, or social worker, or detective. But it felt like a shark, felt hungry and wild and…and evil, which was one of their Dad’s words that Sam had never completely understood before. He didn’t need to understand evil to recognize it, though.

The man came right up to Dean, put both hands on Dean’s shoulders, all his weight on one foot, smiled, licked his lips and Dean didn’t move.

Move, Dean. Please move.

Before he had time to think it through, Sam grabbed Dean’s arm, pulled him away, Dean suddenly aware, back to himself, came between Sam and the man. Pushed Sam away, bending down like Tanya had. “Run,” he whispered hoarsely so only Sam would hear. “The garage. Run.” And shoved Sam away.

Sam looked at Dean, shook his head. No. He turned to the man, crossed his arms. Fuck you, asshole.

“We gotta go. Our Dad’s waiting for us,” Sam lied clearly, braced by an overwhelming anger. “And he’s a cop.”

The man smiled again but his rapacious gaze was all on Dean, who was still pushing Sam towards the door. “You’ll be back,” the man honeyed, then turned to the table of boys and Sam had a good grip on Dean then and dragged him out the door.

They ran for awhile, Dean finally telling Sam to take a different route, but they met up back at the garage. Dean said the car still wasn’t at the motel, so he’d gone by and checked. Sam didn’t say anything.

He wasn’t going to ask about Dad anymore, he decided. Never again. Fuck him.


Quasilit Valley WA, 1997

Lori served up beans on toast, eggs, huge rashers of bacon that probably came from a smoked brontosaurus. A stack of pancakes adequate for Paul Bunyan. She smiled surreptitiously, perhaps taking perverse pleasure in the silence that fell over the tent when the men ate. She delighted in slapping a mound of scrambled eggs on Dean’s plate, that much he knew from the dimples.

At first, he’d thought it was because she’d had a crush on him - Lori, maybe in her late twenties, a tiny thing the size of a sparrow, blonde hair tied back in two braids, round face reminiscent of those Norwegian trolls Dad had once hunted in Minnesota, the ones that tied knots in cow’s tails and curdled milk. The little fuckers that tampered with outboard motors, blowing up fishermen, which was why John Winchester had been called in.

Merry, mischievous. Had a serious boyfriend, a guy who owned a fishing resort in Puget Sound; was getting married in September. So, not into Dean in that way, though he’d been charming - shit, how did he ever get by in this world without doing that? - and she was suitably charmed. Just not going to sleep with him. She gave him more food than the others, anyway.

He’d needed it. By the end of the second week, just coming up to the weekend, Dean had not only gotten the hang of using a chainsaw, Uncle Goodenuff had declared him a walking miracle of falling instinct. Not that it had earned him any respect. The rest of the crew had continued to razz him mercilessly, spiked his coffee thermos with piss, called him the Kid without stop, never once offered him a hand or a word of encouragement. They had willingly worked beside him, though. Dean had noticed that.

Noticed that along with how Goodenuff Dave had batted his big brown eyes at Lori - to no avail, man, half the battle is knowing when to lay siege, fuckwad - and the way Brent Proctor always offered to make the coffee. Dean was pretty sure Brent was the one pissing in his boots and thermos.

None of which changed the fact that Lori liked Dean best, maybe because he was the youngest, the obvious youngest, maybe because he wore an invisible sign that read ‘motherless kid’ on his back like a bad joke. Maybe because he knew women well enough by eighteen to know when to be a friend and when to turn it on and right now, she’d have happily tucked him in at night and read him the Very Hungry Caterpillar twelve times in a row like Sam had always demanded.

Which was why Dean was immediately on guard that day, because he saw the expression on her face and to him it looked like fear.

The only other person in the tent was a tall blond man, rangy like he didn’t eat much, rangy like he wanted to eat, given half a chance. Hovering over coffee spiked with rye, eyeing Dean as though this was it, man, this was why he’d come.

Right behind him, Goodenuff Dave pushed Dean out of the way, mostly because he was just standing there like a post, for fuck’s sake, said, “Hey Ludovic! Whatcha find out?” and poured himself a cup of coffee from Lori’s tureen. Dave, goddamned Dave, grabbed Dean’s elbow, took a handful of plaid, steered him to the bench opposite the table.

Dean had gone cold, a prickle running up his spine, hadn’t moved an inch, only because he was repeating something in his head over and over and over. That was: don’t run, don’t run, don’t run. He knew from his father that there were times to run and there were times that running only got you chased.

He swallowed hard and let himself be dragged to the table, sat at the edge of the bench, throat closed up and dry. And he had no idea why. Just this guy, this Ludovic, who Dean knew he’d seen before. He was struggling to remember, because that was only instinct. But he was also trying to shut down the memory before it surfaced, because that was another way of avoiding horror.

Oh, god, if I faint the guys’ll never let me hear the end of it. Just a guy. Just a fucking goddamned creepy guy.

A sudden flash of teeth and that was all. Dean shook his head, looked away. Found Lori’s eyes, held there for a long moment. She nodded once, but did not smile, did not comfort.

“Hey, Dean,” she shouted, waved him over. Dean risked a glance to Dave, who was talking with this Ludovic, finding out about inclines and board feet and spar lines. Dave gestured okay, and Dean stood as though the seat had an electric current running through it.

“Help me with this,” Lori muttered, picking up one end of a long table. Make work. Dean could see it and Lori didn’t disguise it. She said she wanted the table outside, where the midday sun hung high in the sky. “Eat lunch outside today, if you want.”

An easy out.

“Who,” he started, but couldn’t finish. Lori didn’t stop her fussing, told Dean to stay there while she brought out the bins of cutlery. He would have offered to help, but that would mean going back inside the tent.

Third trip out, she dumped a pile of rough tablecloths into his arms, patted his shoulder. “Saturday tomorrow,” she dropped her voice. “Don’t hang around here, okay? You go back down with Dave.”

He brought his chin up. He hadn’t been raised a coward. The question was in his eyes, and he didn’t have to ask twice. Lori shifted her stance, threw a linen over the coffee serving area, put her hands on her hips. Finally, she shook her head.

“He’s bad fucking news. From Croatia, or Serbia. Something like that. Surveys the timber stands, figures out the best harvests, plots the roads up. Worth his weight in gold, boss says. Scares the crap outta me.” Her arms were crossed; Dean could see the glint of her modest engagement ring next to a crisscross of grill burns. Tapping out a rhythm.

“Why?” he asked. Quietly, only a few feet and a screen of white canvas between Ludovic and them.

She shrugged, maybe a little embarrassed. Brent had told a story about Lori chasing away a black bear that had threatened the camp’s supplies, empty-handed, barefoot, and after midnight. Not scared of weird shit in the night. Lori didn’t remind Dean so much of anything as himself. As himself as he’d like to be, maybe. Taking care of people. Brave, smart, observant. True.

“Couldn’t say, really. Just…” this time she waved one hand around in a small circle, inconsequential and oddly delicate. She stopped, maybe aware of the futile gesture. “He’s hungry. Not right. You know how when they catch serial killers and the neighbors always say, ‘Oh, he was such a fucking normal guy, who woulda thought he’d fry up babies?’ That’s not Ludovic. You could tell me that he raped, murdered and ate an entire Boy Scout troop and I’d believe you.”

Dean swayed so much he had to take a step back. He grabbed the table’s edge as the forest turned around him. He must have gone to some color for Lori to gasp like that, but before she reached him, he’d already righted himself. One hand up. Fuck, if Brent and the guys saw this, he’d never hear the end of it.

“I’m okay,” he whispered shortly. Looked up, saw the concern in Lori’s face. He tried to smile, but knew that probably only completed the picture of ‘village idiot, junior version’. “Really.”

Effort was involved, but he stood on his own, brushing imaginary dirt from his jeans. Wiping the sweat from his palms. Why the fuck didn’t he remember this guy? He’d met Ludovic before, he was sure of it. Eating Boy Scouts.

Don’t think of that, Winchester.

Tomorrow he’d go home with over a thousand dollars in his pocket. Think of that. Enough for groceries and rent and medicine. For chocolate milk and frosted flakes. He’d walk into that crummy goddamn apartment and lay his pay packet on the table and smile at Sam. Who would ignore him, of course, would barely look up from whatever book he was reading. But he’d know. And at some point, Sam would reward all this with a huge smile, probably while drinking the chocolate milk directly from the carton, too tall for his shirt, cuffs coming up past his skinny wrists.

Smiling and chocolate milk. That knocked something loose inside Dean and it rattled around, hurting. I don’t want to remember this, do I?

New clothes, those too. And Dad sitting up in bed, his leg cast in plaster from ankle to hip, maybe not a smile, but with a dance in his dark eyes. Never mind that Dad was going to be insane with worry disguised as fury. Never mind that. Maybe a glint of pride, but maybe not. It wasn’t why Dean was doing this.

Never mind the danger. Never mind whatever that taunting, elusive memory was, just out of earshot, like a figure shouting at him from a distant hillside. From years away. No amount of danger outweighed what he was doing now. Protecting his family. Keeping them together. Keeping them going.

From that, he mustered a smile for Lori and she grudgingly gave him one back, but she was worried. And so was he.


Go to Chapter 4

a/n: As anyone who’s ever read other stuff of mine knows, my research methods are freakishly haphazard and occasionally clairvoyant. Explain to me the serendipity of this: Sitting across from A2 in a swanky restaurant two months ago, he says to me, “Hey, we’re thinking of starting a new research project on treeplanters and their perceptions of risk.” And I’ve already started outlining Red at this point. As I wipe the red wine from A2’s face and chest, I try to explain that, yes, I’d love blind access to these interviews. So I’ve been mainlining treeplanting lore like a downtown eastside crack whore for MONTHS now.

red, supernatural, fanfic

Previous post Next post