At six, the whole community of Sunrise Acres started a mass migration, the whole town picking itself up and moving down the streets as it compacted itself together. Dean had taken one look at the bizarre little event and pronounced it to be like a herd of lemmings heading towards a cliff—even as he’d forced Sam out into the middle of it. They’d join the laughing, joking crowd on its slow amble, pulled along by some kind of bizarre Pied Piper song that Sam couldn’t hear. It was as if the journey was as much a ritual as the actual party itself.
Dean had taken it in stride, latching on to Cally and nearly dwarfing her as Ali rolled her eyes. Apparently, she was okay with Dean as long as he was in her sight. “You’re supposed to dance with your own date,” Ali said, her hand intertwined with Cally’s. Sam amended his earlier assessment to Ali being okay with Dean as long as he was in her sight and she was firmly attached to Cally. “Not everyone else’s.”
Dean glanced back at Sam and smiled. “Sam doesn’t dance. And he knows where to find me if he wants to.” Sam ignored him, turning instead to watch Dan and Sally Klempf stumbling their way down the sidewalk. Apparently, Sally had started the party a little early but, in her defense, she was just trying to catch up to Dan. Sam nodded tensely as they staggered into him, laughing at each other before leaning on each other and lurching away. An elbow dug into Sam’s side. “Lighten up, Sammy,” Dean whispered. “People are going to think you’re on your way to a funeral.”
With Coyote possibly waiting for them? They just might be. As far as Sam was concerned, Coldwater was still their main suspect but even if he wasn’t, Sam still thought that he’d find some answers at Coldwater’s place.
Sunrise Acres was laid-out in a grid-like formation, the curve of the streets being only window dressing to the orderliness of it all and, centered right smack dab in the middle was Coldwater’s crown jewel. Like a lord’s manor looking over its fiefdom, the mansion itself was a lavish and sprawling affair with its own set of gates surrounding it, but, with the hundreds of people crowded inside of it, even it seemed a bit…small. Stuffed inside, having followed the crowd in, Sam was pushed against the wall of what looked to be a ballroom. The house itself was filled to bursting with people from the community, all drinking and chatting with one another as they wandered from room to room on the ground floor.
There had to have been hundreds of people and Sam only recognized a small percentage. Beside him, Dean was grinning and waving at everybody he knew—or thought he knew—like a small town prom queen with a beer held tightly in one hand. Sam let him run defense on the small talk as Sam focused on scanning the various rooms that they meandered into, looking for a way to escape and slip upstairs where Coldwater had to be hiding.
“Hey, Steve!” Dean said, clasping the hand of one of their neighbors. Sam vaguely remembered that he was a tax accountant. “Where’s Beth?” And that he was married. Steve murmured something about Beth getting more beer but Sam tuned him out because he finally saw his chance. Almost hidden behind a veritable forest of potted plants in the corner of the ballroom, winding up along the right side, was a set of stairs. Sam shifted his weight as he judged his chances of being able to reach the stairs without getting stopped by a neighbor.
Dean nudged him with an elbow. “Think we can make it?” he asked quietly. Sam nodded, trying to casually make his way to the small indoor forest. If he could just get behind it, nobody would be able to see him.
As they neared the plants, Sam saw a growing mini-forest of beer bottles growing in front of the orange pots. Dean added to the collection, setting his bottle next to the others, and glanced around the room. Sam set his own drink next to Dean’s and waved weakly at a passing couple. “Great party,” he muttered and they nodded their agreement as they disappeared into the crowd.
“On the count of three,” Dean whispered and Sam only had a brief moment to stare at him before he hissed out “Three!” and yanked Sam backwards behind the small forest of potted plants. Off-balance, Sam crashed against Dean before catching himself on the railing. Dean grinned at him and steadied him, then climbed up over the railing that they were now beside, settling himself down on the fourth step of the stairs.
“You could have warned me,” Sam muttered, pulling himself up and over as well. The stairs were an off-white with a red runner running down them and mostly hidden from the rest of the room.
“And miss that look on your face?” Dean shot back, quietly, already bounding up the steps. “Hurry up before someone starts looking behind fucking Sherwood Forest there for us.” Sam snorted and followed him, climbing the stairs as fast as he could. When Dean reached the top, he paused for a moment, looking both ways before rounding the corner. The hallway that the stairs opened up into stretched in either direction, looking about a hundred miles long and Sam felt his heart sink. Talk about impossible…
If it wasn’t for all the eyes that he’d been feeling, Sam almost wished that he was back in the ballroom. Speaking of that…
Sam stared up at the ceiling, trying to see if he could spot any tiny cameras but Dean elbowed him. “If they’re there, you’re not going to find them and they already know. Act natural and if we’re caught, just pretend we’ve been looking for the bathroom.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “Nobody would ever fall for that.”
“Sure they would,” Dean replied. “You just have to try it.” He walked confidently forward. “Now we just need to figure out which one of these doors that the Wizard of Oz is hiding behind…” He pushed open the first door on the right and peered inside. “Nope.”
This, Sam thought, might take awhile. He stared at the expanse of white wall, broken every now and then by a door or a generic painting. A long, long while. He sighed and tried the first door on the left. Dean was already on his third.
They made it about half the way down the hallway before the door that Sam had been about to try opened itself. Shocked, he could only stand there and stare as Alan Peachtree did a double-take. Alan, about a head shorter than Sam, stared up at him. “Can…can I help you?” he asked.
“Uh…” Sam’s brain stuttered to a stop. Fuck!
“We’re lookin’ for a bathroom,” Dean said and Sam had to glance down at him because Dean’s words were slurred together. Dean slammed up against him, nearly knocking him off balance and Sam caught himself against a door jamb. “I really gotta go.”
Alan forced a smile. It only served to make him look constipated rather than friendly. “The bathrooms downstairs,” he said tensely, sounding like he trying very hard not to be offended by Dean’s drunken act.
“They’re all full!” Dean swayed and Sam caught him, wrapping his arms around Dean’s middle. “And I’ve really gotta go.”
“He’s really got to go,” Sam repeated, mentally crossing his fingers.
Alan winced. “I’m sorry. There’s just no bathrooms on the second floor. Just down the stairs, though, and through the main archway, there’s a small hidden one on the right. I’m sure that it has remained undiscovered.” He pointed back down the stairs and Dean shrugged.
“Sure thing, Captain Hair Gel…” Dean slurred, stumbling his way backward as he leaned heavily on Sam.
Fuck. So much for investigating the upstairs. Maybe they could try again later on? Sam really didn’t want to think about what it would be like trying to break into Coldwater’s place.
“Mr. Mustaine?” Alan called and it took Sam a beat to realize that Alan was referring to him. “Could I have a word? Alone?”
Dean slipped away from Sam, humming tunelessly to himself as he pretended that he still couldn’t walk straight, gripping the railing on his way down the stairs. Sam swallowed, watching him go before joining Alan.
“Your partner seems very given to drinking,” Alan said quietly. Sam frowned. “Not that that’s a problem—we all enjoy a little here and there—but alcoholism can be a disease, Mr. Mustaine.”
“Of course not, I didn’t mean to imply so. I’m sure he’s just excited about the new move.” Alan placed a hand on Sam’s elbow, ushering him inside the room that he’d just been about to leave. “I’m just concerned is all—and I wanted to tell you about some of the great programs that we here at Sunrise Acres have…”
Sam swallowed, seeing the desk with the mountains of paperwork piled on it. This was going to take longer than the search through the endless hallway of doors, wasn’t it? Sam reluctantly sat down beside the large bowl of candy in the corner.
Well, fuck, Dean thought, joining the milling crowd on the first floor again. There went that way out and now Sam was tied up. Thankfully not literally. Dean glanced with concern back at the mostly hidden staircase. At least he hoped that it wasn’t literally. At any rate, Dean was going to have to find another way upstairs. The good news was that he knew where Alan was skulking around. That put him one up from where he’d been a few minutes ago. He considered saving Sam—Alan would probably bore him to tears with a well-meaning lecture—but, if time had proven anything, Sam was a big boy. He could handle himself.
He always had more of a tolerance for that kind of thing than Dean anyway.
Dean smiled at a few people that smiled back at him—who they were he didn’t have a fucking clue but from the way the blond one was checking him out, he was pretty sure he hadn’t met them before—and moved deeper into the mansion.
That was one thing that Dean couldn’t understand: why would one guy ever need so much space? It was just crazy. Sure, Coldwater threw parties and all, but, most of the time, he lived in this big huge mansion all by himself when Dean was sure that you’d probably be able to house all of Sunrise Acres inside of it.
It probably cost a small fortune to cool the thing in the hot summer months.
He found the bathroom that Alan had mention by accident, stumbling into it while trying to avoid an out of control Conga line. He’d pressed against what he thought was a wall and had just fallen right on in, catching himself on the wall and ending up staring straight down at the toilet seat that he’d almost landed on. Was that…gold?
Who was he kidding? Rich people were crazy. It was completely possible that Steven. J. Coldwater had built the mansion full of rooms that he’d never use just to say that he had them. That was the kind of shit that the obscenely rich lived for. Matter of fact, if Dean got rich one day, he might do the exact same thing, just to say that he had. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Even if that meant building huge, mostly useless mansions with golden toilet seats.
He backed out of the bathroom and turned to view the room at large. He was in another one of Coldwater’s indistinguishable rooms—the kind that never seemed to run out. People that Dean had never seen before were milling, laughing and chatting, but one familiar face stood out.
Nick was striding through the crowd as if it wasn’t even there, heading towards the back with purpose in his step. Dean watched him go, the crowd parting before him like he was Moses, and made a snap decision. Something in his gut was screaming at him to follow.
He pushed through the crowd, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible as he kept his eyes firmly trained on the back of Nick’s head. Nick moved through two more nearly identical rooms, each one less densely packed than the last, until he finally pushed open a door in the back of the house. Dean caught the door before it closed and peeked around it.
Nick had apparently found the kitchen with its stainless steel countertops—though it seemed to be exactly where he wanted to be. He kept moving, walking into one of the pantries. And not coming back out. Dean blinked. What the…?
After a quick glance behind to see if anyone was watching, Dean crept slowly into the kitchen, cautiously making his way over to where Nick had disappeared. His hand reached back behind to grip the handle of the gun that was tucked into his waistband as he inched around the corner to look into the pantry.
There were no pots and pans, no food items, nothing one would expect in a pantry. Instead, Dean found a flight of stairs descending down into darkness. Well son of a bitch…
Metal and sparse, they looked nothing like the rest of the house, seemingly embedded into the wall like pieces of rebar. Knowing that Nick had to be down somewhere in the pitch black and wondering how he’d known about the little passageway, Dean slunk forward down the stairs, crouching after each step and peering into the darkness.
The stairs wound around in a tight circle, doubling back on themselves after only a few feet giving Dean just barely enough room for his head to clear the bottom of the steps above him. A few full circles down and he finally caught sight of a light—a soft flickering blue—like a computer screen.
A shadow moved past the light and Dean froze on the steps, peering through the bars of the railing at the room that he was entering from above. Nick—just barely visible in the faint light—was riffling through a file cabinet on the far side of the room, it’s metal drawers slamming closed each time he failed to find what he was looking for. As Dean watched, Nick moved onto another one, his fingers flying over the tabbed folders. Every now and then, Nick would pull a folder out of the drawer and flip through it before tossing it back. What the hell was he looking for? Dean tilted his head and quietly pulled his gun out of his waistband.
The only thing that he was sure of at the moment was that neither him nor Nick were supposed to be here in this room. With Nick occupied for the time being, Dean turned to find the source of the light that was weakly illuminating the room.
He nearly fell over. Two full banks of computer monitors were mounted on the wall, spanning the length of the room and they looked to be recording Sunrise Acres from every conceivable angle. Beneath them was a control panel complete with all the requisite dials and buttons and Dean swore silently. It was no longer a question of if Coldwater was recording them—it was a money back guarantee.
“Found you,” Nick whispered in the silent room and Dean jumped. Paper crinkled as Nick pulled a form out of the folder in his hand, turning a few pages. “You son of a bitch…” Nick said, his eyes scanning the pages. “I knew it was you.” Keeping the papers, he dropped the folder back into the drawer and slammed it shut and Dean decided that he’d better move his ass before Nick caught him spying on him. He crept up the stairs, hitting the top and re-entering the pantry just in time to hear Nick climbing up after him.
Dean made a break for the door of the kitchen only to see the handle start to turn. Fuck! He reversed, his boots sliding a little with the momentum and darted back to one of the other pantries lining the wall, pushing himself inside as best as he was able, his elbow digging into a large sack of flour. He pulled his lip back into a snarl and shoved at the offending bag as he gripped his gun. He hoped that he was just overreacting but better safe than sorry and he was stuck now, for better or for worse.
“You’re an interesting man, Mr. Mustaine,” Alan suddenly said, turning in his chair. After giving Sam a pamphlet on AA meetings, he’d convinced Sam to sit down at his desk. Sam folded his hands on his lap, wondering if he’d made a mistake. “I trust that you’re liking Sunrise Acres?”
“Oh, yeah,” Sam replied, nodding. “We love it here.” For some reason, he felt compelled to stress that he and Dean were here together and not separately.
Alan smiled briefly. “I hear you’ve been out meeting the neighbors.” He let the end of the statement trail off, waiting for Sam to pick up on it.
“We introduced ourselves to a few,” Sam said. “It’s a big community.”
“That it is…” Alan trailed off again. “I hear that you and your partner have been asking a lot of questions.”
Shit, Sam thought. Shit, shit, shit. This sounded like a talk he’d had a million times before, mostly with suspicious sheriffs in small town everywhere. Sam wondered where Dean was and if he’d found Coldwater. He tried to keep his face neutral as his brain desperately scrambled around for a reply to Alan’s statement. Sam shrugged casually. “We were curious about the area.”
Alan leaned forward. “I wanted to tell you, Mr. Mustaine…” he started, “that we here at Sunrise Acres value our security very highly and we’re doing everything possible to get to the bottom of the situations that we’ve been having. There’s no need to worry. I assure you that the authorities are taking care of it.” He punctuated his sentence with a smile, like he’d just remembered that he should do so. “This is a very good neighborhood and I hope that you feel completely at ease.”
“Oh, we do,” Sam replied, nodding hurriedly. “We do. Completely at ease.”
“Good.” Alan’s hand snaked out and latched onto Sam’s arm. Sam stared at it warily, like it was a viper sinking in its fangs. “Because I wouldn’t want you to worry.”
Clearing his throat, Sam subtly moved away from Alan’s touch. “I, uh, should go check on Dean.”
“Of course,” Alan said, sounding vaguely disappointed. Sam really didn’t want to examine why. He stood.
“So I…” Sam pointed at the closed door of Alan’s office.
“Down the stairs and through the main archway, Mr. Mustaine,” Alan said, leaning back to start stacking some papers. “I trust that you can find the staircase?”
“Oh, yeah. Got it covered.” Sam gave Alan an awkward thumbs up as he backed towards the door and fumbled for the knob. When Alan dropped his eyes to the stack of paper that he was holding, Sam was out the door, bursting into the hallway.
Alan had kept him tied up for awhile. There was hope that Dean had taken advantage of the distraction and started searching the upstairs again. With that in mind, Sam avoided the staircase and headed quickly down the hallway, wanting to near the end before Alan thought to emerge from his office again. At the end of the hall, he turned a corner and at the end of that one, he turned another.
He kept going until he reached a dead end containing two, imposing double doors of a dark, rich wood. Engraved and glossy, they ran from nearly floor to ceiling, looking like they’d just come from a church cathedral instead of a house. After taking a deep, steadying breath, Sam gently tried one and watched it swing open soundlessly. He peeked his head inside to find another empty sitting room but one more ornate than any of the other ones in the mansion. It was also bigger and, for the most part, wide open with a wall that half separated it from yet another room. Curious, Sam slipped inside, closing the door behind him as he padded across the intricately designed rug to the dividing wall to look on the other side.
The room was dark, light just barely filtering through the drawn drapes but Sam could make out a huge bed that dominated the other room, covered with yards and yards of a white gauzy canopy that muted the deep burgundy of the bedspread.
Sam glanced around the room again, finding nothing but ornate wardrobes and paintings with a few bookshelves here and there. There was nothing of pressing interest in the room besides the bed and, as Sam stepped closer, fully entering the room, a slow mechanical beep. As he moved nearer, Sam realized that part of what he thought was the bed was, in fact, a large machine that ran from end to end, tubes of all sizes spilling out from it like a science experiment gone wrong. Sam took another step forward and then froze.
There on the bed, looking hardly alive, was a frail man, deeply asleep, his thin chest lifting slowly with each wheezing, rattling breath. His entire face was sunken, the skin stretched tight and thin around his face, and his gray-speckled hair was lank, plastered against his forehead. The tubes from the machine where connecting to him—oxygen, IVs and other life-sustaining measures—and Sam was willing to bet that the machine next to him was the only thing keeping the man alive. Despite the haggard appearance, Sam recognized the face from the photographs that he and Dean had dug up before arriving in Sunrise Acres. The dying man in front of him was none other than Steven J. Coldwater, billionaire and the founder of Sunrise Acres—Steven J. Coldwater who looked like he already had both feet in the grave.
Sam jerked away in surprise. Jesus. Coldwater looked like he’d put in an oven and baked at about 350, he was so dried out. The bed around him was smoothly made, like Coldwater never disturbed it—like he was in a coma. Sam thought furiously, weighing the possibilities and wondering if he and Dean had been barking up the wrong tree. Coldwater looked as if he hadn’t been healthy in a long time. He couldn’t possibly be the Trickster or even be behind it. There had to be someone else.
Sam scanned the room, looking past the withered man and the bulky machine to the heavy drapes that kept Coldwater’s slowly dying body shut off from the rest of the world. Sam turned and looked behind himself to study the bookshelves against the far wall. They looked like the books that Sam had found the auction receipts on—old, powerful. Dusty.
Wondering if Coldwater had been messing with books beyond his understanding, Sam crept up to the bookcase, tilting his head as he looked at the spines. Not a one seemed to have a title. They were the kind of books that a person was just supposed to know what they contained. If you didn’t, then they weren’t meant for you. Sam reached out and touched one with a dark leather binding, pulling it gently. To his surprise, it seemed to be stuck. Frowning, Sam pulled harder.
Instead of the book coming off the shelf like he expected, Sam jumped backwards as the entire shelf moved backward, sliding into the wall. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Sam said softly. Secret passage ways operated by random books on shelves were supposed to exist only in the movies. Dean would probably geek out if he saw it. Sam swallowed. He still had to find Dean.
He wondered if Dean had found anything as bizarre as Coldwater’s withered body and a secret passage. He wondered if something else had found Dean…
Sam firmed his jaw and entered the passage. Wherever it led, it was sure to be someplace important and he needed to know. The passage way was tight, the walls just barely giving him enough room for his shoulders to pass through and smelled of musk and mold. Sam wondered how long it had been before this hallway had even been used. It must have, however, been built by Coldwater as he was the one who had designed the mansion. He pulled out his cell phone to light the way and gingerly stepped forward.
Sam inched his way along the passageway and every time he reached a stud, he’d have to turn sideways just to get by. It was hard to see in the light glow of his phone and Sam almost pitched face first down the metal stairs when he reached them, not expecting the drop. With no other exits to the passageway, the stairs disappeared into the darkness, swirling downward in a dizzying spiral. Sam firmly gripped the railing as he climbed downward. The stairs seemed to go on forever.
Dean held his breath, firmly tucked away and not daring to make a sound as he heard the door open and the sharp click of dress shoes against the tile. The steps stopped before they reached him, pausing in front of the pantry with the staircase. “What are you…?” Dean swallowed as he recognized Alan’s voice.
“Oh, I was hoping I’d run into you tonight...” Nick purred and Dean heard Alan take a few more quick steps—this time backward.
“What do you mean by that?” Alan asked, sounding oddly breathless. Dean stared at the wooden stud in front of him. There was fear in Alan’s voice. That couldn’t be good.
“You didn’t think I would find out? You didn’t think I’d know? I had you pegged the moment I stepped foot in this town.”
“I have no idea what you’re—put that down.” The last three words came out pinched, almost overlapping each other.
“Nah. Wouldn’t want to get mine all dirty, you see. And you’ve got to pay for what you did to Louie.”
Another few steps and then a pained gasp. “I don’t know a Louie!” Alan hissed.
“Yeah, you do.” Nick sounded calm and collected—dispassionately cool to counteract Alan’s rising panic. “Louie Bravada. You hired him eight months ago to do a job for you. Taking care of some pain-in-the-ass hippie who couldn’t keep his mouth shut.” Miguel, Dean’s mind supplied, slotting a puzzle piece into place. Dean could hear Alan’s breathing now—hard and fast and punchy, like he couldn’t get enough air. “Don’t deny it. I found the contract you and he signed. Don’t know the details but I sure as hell know he didn’t come back from that job.” Dean jumped as a loud thwap! echoed through the room—like a rolled up newspaper hitting a solid surface.
“You don’t think…? That’s ridiculous!”
“Oh, I know you killed him. Or had him killed. I don’t know how a limp-dicked son of a bitch like yourself managed it but I know you did it. Louie would have come back if he wasn’t dead.”
A scuffle broke out, Nick’s quieter steps mixing in with Alan’s clicks before Alan whimpered. Dean cocked his gun and leaned outward. Nick and Alan were on the other side of the room, Nick nearly bending Alan over with one hand pulling at his hair and holding him in place while the other held a long silver knife to Alan’s wildly bobbing throat. “You know how I know you did it?” Nick asked, a hint of amusement in his voice. He smiled. “Got a phone call from Louie right after the job. Said he was coming back just as soon as he got his payment. That he was going to have to teach some rich snobby bitch his place in life because the bastard was refusing to pay for services rendered. Last time I ever talked to Louie.”
“Please…” Alan’s voice broke on a sob.
“Best damn partner I ever had, too…”
“Please don’t kill me… Whatever you want—!” The knife punctured Alan’s throat, moving in deep enough to sever his vocal cords as Nick placed a hand over his mouth.
“Just want you dead,” Nick said softly and, with the smooth efficiency of someone who’d done it countless times, he began dragging Alan’s body towards the walk-in cooler.
Dean jerked back into the relative safety of the pantry, his eyes wide. Nick… Nick was a hired killer, wasn’t he? And undoubtedly the partner of the guy who had killed Miguel Foxtail eight months ago—Jules had been right. Miguel hadn’t been missing: he was dead.
Just like Alan.
Jesus, Alan was dead. And Dean was going to be next if Nick caught him. Go figure that he and Sam would show up to try and hunt down some creature only to find a fucking serial killer.
Sam. Dean’s thought processes stopped, hung on that one word. He had to go find Sam. Sam had no idea what Nick was capable of. He’d been suspicious, yeah, but there was no way that he could have expected this.
Dean peeked back around the corner to find no trace of Nick or Alan’s body: he wasn’t likely to get a better chance. Pushing off of the bag of floor, he scrambled his way back into the main kitchen and pushed himself to his feet, heading for the door back to the party.
Nick just happened to beat him there. Standing up from where he’d been squatting down, digging through one of the cabinets, Nick cocked his head. “Dean?”
Dean forced himself to start breathing again and hurriedly shoved his gun into his waistband at his back. Letting go of it felt almost painful. “Oh, hey!” he said, putting as much cheer as he could manage into his voice. “Dude, you wouldn’t believe how lost I am. I mean, this is a pretty big place, huh?” He put on what he hoped was an engaging smile but Nick didn’t look like he was buying it: he was staring blankly at Dean.
“Lost?” he asked quietly and Dean nodded.
“Lost,” he repeated. “But, hey, doesn’t that door lead back to the party?” Nick turned to look at the door that Dean was pointing at and then came back to fix Dean with another icy stare. Dean’s skin was crawling but he tried not to let it show. Trying to appear casual, he moved next to Nick, his fingers brushing against the smooth wood. “So if we just go through here…”
Nick’s fingers wrapped around Dean’s wrist, stopping him dead. “How much did you see?” Nick asked, sounding as if he was asking about the weather and not, say, a preliminary question to jabbing a knife into Dean’s neck.
“See?” Dean kept his voice as innocent sounding as he could. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Hey, you mind letting me go, that’s starting to hurt…”
Nick’s grip tightened. “Liar,” he whispered, his free hand sliding down Dean’s back to rest against the bulge in Dean’s shirt. Nick’s fingers brushed against Dean’s skin as they pulled the gun free. Dean let himself sag, pretending that he was giving up and Nick took the bait, hook, line and sinker. A small smile crossed his face. “That’s better,” Nick said. “We don’t have to do this the hard way…” Dean jammed his knee into Nick’s groin and, as the man doubled over in pain, Dean socked him in the jaw with his left fist, sending him to the floor. Nick snarled as he slapped against the tile, already starting to push himself up. Dean turned on his heel and darted for one of the many side exits to the kitchen, making a run for it. Where he was going, he didn’t have a clue, but it was obvious that the party wasn’t an option anymore.
The stairs emptied out into a small room and Sam cautiously stepped down into it. Apprehension was gnawing at him and Sam pulled out his gun, needing the weight of it to remind him of where he was and what he was doing. A faint glow of monitors illuminated the room, casting shadows across the console and the lone chair. In the corner, another set of stairs spiraled up to places unknown. It looked to be some kind of security room but why would Coldwater’s bedroom link to a security guard station?
Sam squinted at one of the screens and the answer him like a punch to the gut. A wave of nausea came over him as he finally realized what the room was. He stared from screen to screen, taking in each and every different angle before looking down at the controls. They were probably for switching to all the other cameras that Coldwater had installed over the years. Beside one of the dials sat a half-eaten Snickers, carefully rewrapped and Sam felt his stomach bottom out. It hadn’t been Coldwater watching them—it had been their monster. Watching their every move and laughing at them.
Sam slammed his fist into the control board. They had to have been played as soon as they’d stepped foot into Sunrise Acres. He snarled, looking up at the cameras again—yep, there was the one over their bed back at the house and the monitor underneath that one displayed the kitchen. More had shots of the living room, the hallways, even the damn bathrooms. Nearly half of the monitors were set to display cameras from Dean and Sam’s house—inside and out.
The other half… Sam frowned, recognizing the large expanse of Coldwater’s private yard with the meticulously pruned shrubs and… “Dean?”
Just off center of the screen, Sam could make out Dean barreling across the grass, his arms pumping as he ran for all he was worth. Sam gripped the edge of the monitor. “Dean!” A man was chasing after Dean, his arms reaching out and nearly snagging the flare of Dean’s overshirt. It was just a matter of time before the man managed to catch him—he was outpacing Dean. The man curled a fist around Dean’s shirt, yanking him backwards and Dean stumbled as his momentum was stopped. He twisted, slipping out of the shirt and trying to continue on but he was already down: the man jumped him, taking him to the ground. Dean’s head was slammed into the ground once, twice, three times and then he wasn’t struggling anymore.
Sam’s breath caught in his throat until he saw the weak movements of Dean’s arms. Oh thank God, he was still alive. But probably not for much longer.
The man on top of Dean suddenly turned toward the camera, waving at someone just outside of the cameras range and Sam’s felt sick as he recognized Nick. He knew it. He fucking knew it. Nick was pulling Dean to his feet to half drag him off and Sam shoved himself away from the monitors, heading for the stairs. He had to stop Nick.
Dean shook his head groggily as he came to. Fuck but it hurt. What the hell had he been drinking? And for that matter, his arms felt pinched, like he’d spent the night in a ditch or something. He better not have. He’d kill Sam.
Dean slowly opened his eyes, catching sight of a white tile floor and he stared at it, wondering what it was doing in front of him. Until he realized he was lying on it. “Oh, good. You’re awake,” a voice told him and Dean found himself rolled over, his arms completely useless and bound behind him. Nick smiled down at him. “I really didn’t want to have to do this, Dean,” he said.
Everything came flooding back to Dean—the camera room, Alan’s murder, the mad dash he’d made and Nick catching him. He pushed at the gag in his mouth, trying hard to get his tongue free enough to form words.
“Because I like you,” Nick continued, pushing himself upward and reaching over the kitchen island. “I do. You’re a cool guy. In another life, who knows? We could have been good for each other.” Nick glanced down at Dean. “Of course, you would have had to meet me before Louie. Or, hey, maybe after. Depends on how good you are, really.” Nick knelt back down beside Dean and Dean’s eyes widened as he caught sight of the butcher knife in Nick’s hand. He squirmed backwards, sliding on the floor and Nick dropped a hand to his thigh to drag him back down. “Aw, don’t be that way,” he said. “Look, I promise to make it quick and all. Like I said, I like you. ‘Course, now, I can’t have you going to tell the cops or anything so I have to do this but I don’t really want to.” Nick bit his lip and ran his fingers over Dean’s thigh, moving up to Dean’s hip to find a patch of skin above Dean’s waistband. “We could have some fun before, you know.”
Dean shied away, his body rolling with the revulsion filling him. At one point in time, he’d found Nick attractive. Now he was pretty sure he’d rather go fuck a tree. He knew, though, from the way Nick’s eyes were filling with heat, that ‘no’ really wasn’t going to be an answer.
“Never would have thought that skinny little prick had it in him, would you?” Nick asked, his hand rubbing against Dean’s stomach. “I never would have guessed. I thought for sure it was that rich fatcat, Coldwater. That was before I got a good look at him, the poor bastard. He’s fried.” Nick shrugged and reached for Dean’s belt buckle. “Anyway. Let’s get this over with, shall we?”
Dean shouted, struggling as best as he could in his bonds, trying to get away but Nick just thought that it was all one big game. He grinned, batting Dean to and fro like a playful cat and a bitter wave of frustration washed over Dean, cut through with an edge of helplessness that made him fight harder. No, damn it!
“Would you just—” Glass shattered overtop of them as the kitchen window behind Nick exploded inward. Dean heard a growl and then Nick screamed, rearing backward and clutching at his shoulder. Dean’s heart skipped a beat as he saw a muzzle clamping onto Nick’s skin but there wasn’t any time to react. He was stuck, lying there and watching it happen.
Nick whipped around, slamming his fist against the coyote that was on top of him, pounding at its rib cage, his hits getting more and more desperate each time. No matter how hard he fought, the coyote refused to be shaken loose and, as Dean watched, the skin of Nick’s face became tighter, thinner. His body began to shrink, losing its muscle mass and its tone—like his life was being such right out of him.
Jesus. Using every last bit of strength he had, Dean bucked upward, twisting to roll all three of them—himself, Nick and the coyote. Nick tumbled to the floor, landing on top of the coyote who yipped, finally releasing the man as it struggled to get out from underneath of him. Dean stared down at Nick, barely able to believe his eyes as the shell of the man that Nick had been wheezed beneath him. That was…
Dean struggled to his feet, putting some distance between himself and the creature that was pulling itself out from under the wreckage that was Nick. The coyote stared back at him and, for a moment, it was a stand-off.
A wooden stake stabbed into the coyote’s side, the creature yipping in pain as blood gushed out around the wound and Dean stumbled backwards, wheeling around to find Sam standing next to him, shoving the stake in deeper.
The coyote’s form wavered, slipping from the dog into something vaguely human before evaporating and blowing away like dust. The stake tumbled harmlessly to the tile, clacking against the floor as Sam dropped it and turned to Dean. “Dean,” he said, pulling at the gag in Dean’s mouth. “Are you alright?”
Dean shook his head free of the gag, and scraped his tongue against his teeth, trying to get rid of the taste. “Did we kill it?” he asked. Sam shrugged, already working on the ropes that bound Dean’s arms. “Damn it,” Dean swore. As Sam pulled the knots free, Dean nodded at Nick’s body on the floor. “Did it kill him?” He rubbed at his sore wrists. Nick didn’t look to be breathing anymore. He wasn’t a mummy but he did look like he’d been left out in the sun for a century too long.
Sam knelt down beside Nick, his fingers searching for a pulse point on his neck. “I think so,” he said.
“Fantastic,” Dean muttered. Nick had been killed right in front of him. Granted, Nick apparently hadn’t been the best guy around but Dean still felt useless that he hadn’t even managed to save him.
“Are you okay?” Sam asked, standing up.
Dean scowled. “Of course I am.”
“Because you’re swaying. And your head got pounded into the ground.” Yeah, Dean remembered that. It had sucked.
Sam’s hands brushed over his face and they felt so good that, for once, Dean didn’t bother to complain.
The first thing that Sam did once he got Dean back in the house was check him over for injuries—as much as Dean would allow him to, that was. Even at the best of times, Dean could only put up with so much fussing before he rebelled. As it was, he let Sam get out the flashlight to check for signs of a concussion and waited patiently while Sam brushed his fingers through Dean’s hair, feeling for any signs of damage. But that was it—he pushed Sam away with a grumble when Sam tried to bandage his hair but even Sam had to admit that it was overkill.
At the moment, Sam was wondering if it would be safe to let Dean go to sleep or not. On one hand, possible closed head injuries were never good things but, on the other, Sam hadn’t found any evidence of a concussion and Dean was starting to get cranky due to a lack of sleep. The current dilemma, though, was the reason why they were both awake—some more graciously than others—when the knock on the door came. Sam grabbed his gun and moved to answer the door while Dean held his own—retrieved from Nick’s corpse earlier—and flattened himself against the wall. No good news ever came this late at night.
Sam could see a slim, shadowy figure through the glass of the door and he hid his gun beside his leg as he opened the door. The gun nearly slipped through Sam’s nerveless fingers. Standing at the front door was none other than Alan Peachtree. For a man who’d supposedly died a few hours ago, he was looking remarkably healthy. Sam steadied his gun, aiming it at Alan’s chest and wishing he’d thought to grab a stake.
Alan shook his head. “We both know that’s not going to work, Sam.” The human mask slipped a bit, showing the creature underneath before coming back up. “Now why don’t you tell Dean to come out from behind the door so we can talk?” Sam’s eyes darted over to meet Dean’s and Alan smiled. “Just drop the routine. The ‘I threaten you, you hassle me’ is over and done.” Alan’s familiar speech patterns had dropped away and Sam blinked. “Hey,” the creature said, holding out his arms. “You already know who I am and you know what I can do. Coyote’s been around for a long time guys.”
Sam dropped his gun and, looking distinctly unhappy about it, Dean followed suit. A smile crossed Alan’s face—looking more genuine than any that he’d given them before. “I just wanted to inform you boys that I was leaving.”
“What?” Dean barked.
“And,” the creature added, holding up a finger, “that you should probably leave too. They’ll find Nick’s body eventually, you know. Even if they don’t, someone’s bound to notice that he’s gone missing...”
“So where’s the real Alan Peachtree?” Sam asked point blank. He knew that Alan Peachtree had really existed. He had a history.
“Oh, I killed him,” ‘Alan’ answered with a smile. “He was the second body they found. Right after that slimemold that had killed my Miguel.”
“Your Miguel?” Dean demanded and ‘Alan’s’ features shifted, turning softer, the face filling out more and his hair lightening as it curled into a gentle wave.
“My Miguel,” Coyote repeated, wearing the face of Jules Foxtail.
Sam’s eyes narrowed. “Did you kill Jules, too?”
Coyote shook his head. “No. I was Jules. He only existed as part of me.”
“And how are we supposed to believe that?” Dean asked.
Coyote shrugged. “Believe me, don’t believe me. Whatever makes you happy. I buried Jules when I buried Miguel. Jules loved him you know.” Coyote glanced between them. “I loved him. He was meant for such better things than what he got.”
“That’s—” Dean started but Coyote interrupted him.
“So I punished those who took him away from me.” He held up a hand, counting off the people with his fingers. “The slime who was paid to kill Miguel. The maggot who paid him. The toadie who was paid to make it all disappear. The sleazeball who was paid to spread around his influence. And the pig who paid them all.”
Pig who paid them all...? “You killed Coldwater,” Sam said, putting it together. Coldwater had looked one step away from death when Sam had seen him.
Coyote smiled. “Finally. I had to take my time with that one.”
“And so now you just want us to let you go?” Dean asked. “After killing all those people?”
“People,” Coyote said, “who deserved to die. And I did save your life, after all.”
“Yeah,” Dean snarled, “forgive me if I don’t jump for fucking joy over here that you killed somebody else.”
“He was a bad man, Dean. He would have wanted to go out the same way as his partner—I just obliged him.” Coyote stood, the facade of Jules slipping away as he shifted back into Alan’s persona. “My work here is done. Now I suggest that you two move along as well. After Alan Peachtree goes missing, his replacement might just find your paperwork and decide to file it.” Sam stared at the creature in front of him. He’d never even filed their paperwork? He must have known who they were immediately. “You did a good job boys,” Coyote said. “But there’s not much left for you to do now.”
“Ah, still have to kill you,” Dean said and Coyote waved a finger at him.
“Not possible,” he replied, his voice singsongy. “And the cops will be here in the morning. I just came to warn you.” With another wide smirk, Coyote slipped away again, his body dissolving into dust.
“Fuck!” Dean snarled, punching the wall. Sam felt like doing the same thing but he grabbed Dean’s shoulder and pushed him forwards.
“Go pack.” The sooner they got out of Sunrise Acres, the better. Coyote was right: people were going to ask about Nick and seeing as how Nick had last been spotted with Dean... The last thing they needed was yet another murder on their record.
In a matter of hours, Sunrise Acres and it’s ‘better way of living’ was nothing but a distant memory of identical white houses and perfectly mowed lawns as Sam and Dean slipped out in the night. Sam wondered if their former neighbors would miss them or if they would just shrug and move on with life the way they always did. When he commented on that to Dean, Dean had shaken his head.
They had driven across the state border into California where Dean had set his sights on finding the tackiest motel he could (Grandma’s Wacky Wildlife Emporium). It was almost business as usual. Almost. Sunrise Acres might have been just a memory but what had happened there was not. Sam stared at his lap, his thumbnail scratching at his jeans while he waited for Dean to come back with the motel room key, wondering just where he and Dean were supposed to go from here.
There weren’t any cameras anymore, no one to pretend for. They were back in their normal lives—as normal as they got, anyway—and Sam was left with the question of how much of it had been real?
Dean dropped into the driver’s side seat, the door slamming behind him before he put the car in gear, backing it out of the parking spot. “We’re in number 5,” he said. “It’s the dog room.” He pulled into a spot a few car lengths down and put the Impala into park before turning to grin at Sam. “Twenty-fifth time we’ve been in a dog room, Sammy. That means silver.”
“Dean…” Sam couldn’t quite meet Dean’s eyes, analyzing the vinyl of the dashboard instead.
A hand landed on Sam’s thigh, warm and heavy, and Sam jumped. “Or we could go inside and you could fuck me and we’ll say it’s our first.” Sam stared at Dean, dumbfounded, and silence settled between them. Dean squirmed, dropping his head. “If you want,” he added.
It was an invitation that Sam couldn’t refuse. He leaned across the car and pressed a soft, hesitant kiss to Dean’s lips—not that Dean left it that way. Dean pushed Sam backward, opening his mouth to deepen the kiss and Sam obliged him.
They broke apart, breathing heavy, and Dean swallowed, still staring at Sam’s mouth. “Inside,” Dean hissed and they both scrambled out of the car. Dean headed to the trunk to grab the duffle bags—no sense being unprepared—while Sam bounced impatiently. God. It was as if he was dreaming—this kind of stuff didn’t happen except in fantasies, right? Sam was well versed in fantasies. He pinched himself just to make sure that he wasn’t currently in one.
“Son of a bitch…” Dean said, amusement coloring his voice and Sam quirked an eyebrow.
“That bastard.” Mildly curious but mostly just wanting to get inside the damn room already, Sam walked back to where Dean was staring into the trunk. Or rather, where Dean was staring at the red silk that was hanging from the top of the trunk.
Sam tilted his head in puzzlement. “What is that?” Dean snorted.
“Our going away present,” he said, his hand snatching up the silk and pulling it free. “It probably matches, too.”
Now Sam was really confused. “Matches what?” he asked. Dean didn’t answer him. He just glanced downward and then quirked an eyebrow as he shook the slinky red fabric.
And Sam got it. “Oh.” He blinked and then another thought hit him. “How did he…?”
“Well, he’s probably the one who stuffed them in that newspaper,” Dean said, like it wasn’t a big deal. He looked to be more concerned with the silk he was now holding but Sam couldn’t believe his ears.
“You mean you wore something that you just found? Dean!” What if the panties had been, been, been poisoned or something? …That would probably be pretty damn weird but they’d dealt with stranger.
Dean shrugged. “Looked like the pair I used to own,” he confessed and Sam couldn’t think of anything to say to that. He was too busy trying to reply his memories wondering if he’d ever even caught a hint of this fetish from Dean before. Dean took advantage of the lack of argument and unfurled the red silk he was now holding, flattening it against his chest while Sam’s thought processes ground to a sudden stop.
Dean nodded, his fingers plucking at the short hemline. “Teddy,” he supplied, saying the word as casually as if he’d just remarked on a falling leaf. Sam thought that his eyes were going to drop out of his head—they certainly couldn’t get any wider. Dean furled his eyebrows with concern as he peered at Sam. “Do you think he could read minds?”
Sam tried to form a reply but the only thing that came out was a weak, wordless sound. “Dean just nodded to himself, still playing with the silk. “That bastard,” he swore. Then he shrugged. “Well, it’s here now.”
Yes. Yes it was. Sam’s fingers reached out mindlessly to grasp the red silk, using it to yank Dean close while Sam still struggled for something to say. “Twelfth,” he croaked.
“Twelfth?” Dean cocked his head, not understanding.
“Silk,” Sam said and dragged Dean toward the hotel room. It was the best explanation he could give at the moment. He wasn’t sure what twelfth anniversary they could be celebrating but he was sure he could come up with something.