The phone rings three times before someone on the other end picks up. Long enough for three swallows of his third beer, he observes, his mind still picking out patterns, trying to order the chaos. His mind's been doing a lot of that these days. A lot of rationalization, too.
"Sammy? Where the hell are you? It's three a.m." The voice on the other end is thick and muddied with sleep, eyes probably still shut tight; he clearly hasn't checked the caller ID. Time for another swallow, sharp and bitter against his tongue. "Sam?" More awake now, wary. Time to talk, then.
There's no trace of sleep left in the response, the rough honey's crystallized into something sharp and hard, steel-edged. "How did you get this number?"
"Don't fool yourself, Dean. I know your cell number, I know probably about three quarters of the false IDs you use, hell, I even know that right now, you're in room 17 of the All Aboard Motor Inn and that you haven't seen your brother Sam since Monday." The last one's a guess, albeit an obvious one: Dean Winchester checked in last night alone, under the name of Jim Rockford, at the first motel listed in the phone book. It fits what Ballard told him. And as loath as Victor is to trust in the coincidence, he's retraced Winchester's steps since his cross-country Bonnie and Clyde act stopped dead in its tracks two days, and Sam Winchester's disappearance fits the same pattern as the rest of them.
He thinks he can hear the Winchester's jaw start twitching. "Where is he?"
Victor shrugs, shifts his phone and leans back, staring at the good three or four dozen manila folders in front of him, their contents--witness statements, autopsy photos, forensics reports--sorted into piles of decreasing plausibility. On his laptop screen, Dean Winchester's face is paused mid-non-confession. Victor's watched it seven or eight times, trying to parse out the truth from the lies, and the more he watches, the more he reads, the more he's uncomfortably certain that almost all of it is true. He considers lying, then decides that a lie,
in this case, would be more trouble than it's worth. He looks down at the folders set slightly away from the rest, the ones that are why he's here. "Damned if I know." He pauses. "But if you play your cards right, Dean, I can help you find him."
Silence, then: "Fuck you." But with no weight to it. Worry and exhaustion, but no weight.
"Why don't you tell me what really happened in that bank, Dean?"
Another silence, followed by the sound of a body readjusting itself against a bed.
"My colleagues have started calling me Mulder. Do you have any idea how embarrassing that is?"
That startles a laugh out of him. "Nope. Can't say that I do."
"Here's the deal, short form: I've got a missing persons case. Unofficial. Several of them, as a matter of fact. One that's personal, the rest all business as usual, except it's not as usual. In fact, it's downright unusual, and I need your help. Help me with my missing persons, I'll help you with yours. And as a bonus, I won't even bring you in at the end of it."
"Isn't that a risk to your job?"
"I'm on a leave of absence. Like I said, one of them's personal."
"How do I know this isn't some kind of trap?"
"I've been watching you for weeks. If I wanted to bring you in, you'd already be in bright orange and long past your one phone call. In five minutes, I'm going to knock twice on your door. You're going to answer it, unarmed, and we're going to talk."
It goes down, just like that. He knocks, and Winchester opens the door. Victor looks around: the room is a mess, papers pinned to the wall, clothes scattered around, and what looks like salt spread across the door jamb. He steps inside, careful not to turn his back.
"Before you ask," he says, displaying his Glock, "I said you'd be unarmed, not me. I may think you need my help and I need yours, but don't think that means I don't still consider you a danger to myself and others."
Except for a slight shift of his body weight, Winchester pointedly ignores the gun. "You said missing persons. You think this has something to do with Sam?"
"That depends. Tell me about when you last saw your brother."
"Not much to tell. Sam went out to get us some coffee. He didn't come back. Nobody's heard from him, and he's not answering his phone."
"Tell me the part you're not telling me. Or should I tell it to you instead?"
"Be my guest."
"Fifteen, twenty minutes after he leaves, you get a call from his phone, only no one's there. You maybe go to the mini mart or coffee shop and ask if anyone's seen him. They say yeah, he was in earlier. Left with his twin. Am I close?"
If it wasn't for the slight twitch of his nostrils, Dean Winchester's face would be unreadable. His voice sure as hell is. "Yeah, you're close."
"That girl in Milwaukee swore up and down that she didn't have a twin. Thought it was maybe a psychotic break. Until two weeks ago, that is."
"What happened two weeks ago?"
"I was supposed to meet my ex-partner for lunch. Only I was running late, looking into some partial prints from a San Francisco murder scene, MO sounded like you and Sam." There's a quick flash of something in Winchester's eyes, and if he didn't know better, Victor might have called it grief. "My phone rang, caller ID said it was Kevin."
"Kevin's your former Scully?" Winchester interrupts, sounding for all the world like he's spent his adult life taking witness statements.
It would be easy to let the assumption go uncorrected. But Victor's never been one to take the easy way out. "Not that kind of partner," he says.
Winchester's brows go up slightly, getting it. Doesn't miss a beat. "What happened next?"
"Dead silence on the other end. Nothing unusual in that; reception's crap when you're indoors, so I headed out to meet him."
"Only he wasn't there. And let me guess: he left with one, but he doesn't have a twin."
"Kevin's an only child. We were together for five years. I've met his whole family. None of them even look much like him."
Winchester runs a hand over the back of his neck, head down and deep in thought. "Wouldn't be a shifter," he says at last. "Sam knows how to deal with them. You have any security footage from the restaurant?"
"On my laptop."
"Go get it and bring it back."
Winchester makes him go through the footage frame by frame. "No lens flare," he mutters, freezing it on a three-quarter shot of Kevin's double's head. "Definitely not a shifter."
"In the eyes. Shifters, you'll see a flash when the camera hits their eyes." He points at the screen. "You go over the security tapes from those bank jobs, there'll be a flare."
"In St. Louis, that thing they buried--that was one of those shifter things?"
A grimace. "Yep. But this isn't, which means we're starting at square one."
Square one means listening to Winchester rattle off everything he knows about doppelgangers. "Sometimes said to be death omens, sometimes crisis apparitions." He frowns. "Lore also has it that they cast no shadow, but everyone who fits the pattern went missing around noon, so no one's said anything about that."
It's 5 a.m., and Victor is in a motel room in the middle of BFE listening to a felon he's been tracking for months giving him a lecture on evil twins, and he has the sinking feeling that this is going to be the high point of his day.
For the first time in his life, he hates being right.
By 6 a.m., Winchester is packed, the discarded socks and shirts that once littered his motel floor rolled up and put away military tight. "Get your things."
Winchester is waiting by his Impala when Victor come back out, bags in hand. He looks at the long hulk of black metal and frowns. Too obvious, too known. Hell, this car practically has a rap sheet of its own. "Your car's a risk. We're taking my rental."
"Your car got room in the trunk for an arsenal?"
It's a white Dodge Neon. It has room for his suitcase and not much more. He shakes his head.
"Then we're taking my car. Get in."
The inside of the car is clean, ridiculously well cared for. In his mental file, he adjust things slightly, adds a note about attention to detail.
Sam Winchester disappeared on Monday in central Pennsylvania. Tuesday afternoon, a writer by the name of Amy Gardner disappeared on her way to a lunch meeting with some friends in upstate New York. She'd stopped off at a gas station to buy a pack of cigarettes. Marlboro Medium 100s. The clerk remembers her as the chatty type, talked about her kids, how she was meaning to quit.
"Till her twin walked in." The kid's probably 21, but doesn't look much over 18, all acne and oily hair, with a mouth full of braces that do him no favors.
"What happened when her twin came in?" It's Winchester who asks, Winchester who grabbed one of the missing persons posters off a lamppost, made a stack of copies, and started acting the part of concerned relative. Cousin, he said.
The clerk looks at him funny, asks, "She's your cousin. Why don't you ask her yourself?"
That gets a sheepish, earnest grin. "Yeah, well, I would, but Andi's not answering her phone right now. She's pretty broken up, can't do much more than cry. We're all worried sick."
Also gets more of an answer than they'd heard so far. "She was telling me about how her daughter wants to get a dog. Then--what did you say her name was? Andi?--walks in, and she shuts right up. Pays me, goes over to Andi. Says she needs to make a phone call, but I didn't hear her say anything. She just stood there holding the phone. Then they walked out."
"Thanks," Dean says. "You mind if we hang one of these up?"
"Be my guest."
Back in the car, Winchester's quiet, drums his fingers against the steering wheel and frowns a lot. He pulls over in a lot outside of town, says he has to make a phone call, and gets out.
Five minutes later, he's back, frown more of a glower now. "Well," he says, "that was no help. How are you with research?"
"Better than 99.9% of the population."
"Good. We'll be hitting a library next." The Impala leaves behind the scent of scorched rubber as he pulls out.
A library turns into a dozen or more, each one punctuated by another flurry of phone calls from Dean Winchester to party or parties unknown. Winchester's anxious, not hiding it well.
"Look, can you just check again? There has to be something else," he's saying to whoever it is he's called. He closes his eyes, slams the back of his head into the head rest, sounds tired as hell when he says in response to their response, "And you're sure about that?" Pause, and this time his head slumps forward. "Yeah, okay. Thanks, I will."
"Let me guess: nothing. You got any sources who know anything at all?"
Winchester stares at him, runs a hand through hair that's already sticking out in every direction and gives a tight, insincere smile. "I guess not. Guess we'll just have to find some."
Victor gives a pointed look at his watch. "At this hour?"
They may be taking Winchester's car, but damned if Victor is going to let him pick the hotel. Right now, he could use a shower and sleep in that order, and he'd prefer it somewhere where he's not going to have to worry about bad plumbing and bedbugs. Room service would be nice, but it's not a deal breaker, considering it'll probably be closed for the night by the time they check in.
Three hotels later, he finds one that meets his specifications and has a vacancy. Winchester hangs around the edges of the lobby like a ghost, getting nervous looks from the check-in clerk, and thinly-veiled suspicious ones from the concierge desk. Victor smiles just enough to dimple and says just loudly enough to carry, "It's okay. He's with me. First time back home since he came out to his folks and he's tying himself in knots over whether they're going to flip more over the black part or the man part when they meet me tomorrow."
That sparks a sympathetic smile from the clerk and a glare from Winchester.
Winchester keeps silent through the elevator ride, jaw clenched tight enough to twitch. He waits until the door's clicked into place behind them to turn to Victor and let out a low, "Don't you talk about my parents like that."
"I'm sorry. I keep forgetting: your father raised you up to be a different kind of paramilitary nutjob. The kind with hearts and flowers and Rainbow Coalition stickers on the ammo box."
"Do I look like some kinda neo-Nazi white supremacist type to you?"
Victor stares at the close-cropped light brown hair, at the battered work boots and flannel shirt. "Actually? Yeah, you do. What do you think, that they wander around in hoods and robes all the time?"
Dean acknowledges the point with a grunt and a grumbled, "Would make things a hell of a lot easier if they did."
It's been 16 hours. They're no closer to finding Sam Winchester, or Kevin Torres, or any of the other missing persons. Victor, on the other hand, is a hell of a lot closer to losing his mind. "I'm sure they'll get right on that. I'm going to take a shower. Stay out of the mini-bar."
The bathroom's huge, with a spacious shower and a separate jacuzzi tub. Victor looks longingly at the latter and steps into the former, scrubbing off road dust and frustration. He should be back in his condo, watching Tivoed ESPN and going over possible leads relating to the whereabouts of the brothers Winchester, putting off responding to Kevin's emails or voicemails as usual until Kevin's rightfully pissed. He misses business as usual, even if business as usual meant tracking down psychopaths and being a passive-aggressive shit to the ex.
Now Kevin's missing, and Victor's not even sure what the Winchesters are anymore, and the more he learns, the less he knows. Dangerous, yes. Not your standard-issue fanatics or psychopaths. Crazy, at least this one is, but not delusional.
He amends the mental definition of Dean Winchester with "has a death wish" when he walks out of the bathroom to find him sitting on Victor's bed, reading Victor's files, from Victor's briefcase.
"That was locked," he says.
Winchester doesn't even look up. "Yep."
"Those are my personal files."
"Those are files about the case. I'm going over them to see if there's anything you missed."
"And is there?"
"So far? Nope. You're pretty good for a Fed." There's a grudging note of admiration in it. He holds up a picture, a glossy 5 x 7 snapshot. "This Kevin?"
Victor looks at the picture. He took it in Hawaii, the one time Kevin managed to bully him into a vacation. In it, Kevin's squinting slightly against the sun, teeth flashing brilliant white against the deep gold of his skin. "Yes," he says. "That's him."
"Huh. He looks familiar."
"You've probably seen his face around. Kevin modeled his way through undergrad. Now if you're finished pawing through my things, I'd like to get to bed."
Two days, and Winchester forgets he's dealing with the enemy, or at least stops caring. Goes from taciturn to downright talkative. Victor liked him better the other way.
"So you're gay, huh?" It's as awkward an attempt at small talk as Victor's heard in years.
"Yes. I'm gay. I'm black. I was raised Baptist, but now I go to an Episcopalian service if I go at all. I graduated at the head of my class, my dick is of average size, and if there's anything else you were wanting to know, for god's sake ask it now, before I come to my senses and gag your ass."
Winchester looks at him, mouth opening slightly to say something, clamping shut when he thinks the better of it, and then after a second, opening again. "Do I give off some sort of gay vibe?"
"Sam, he says people think I'm overcompensating. Says that's why people keep assuming we're, you know, together."
He resists the easy target about the two of them being unnaturally close. "And are you? Overcompensating, that is. Not sleeping with your brother. If it were the latter, you can safely assume I'd already know that."
"Right, because like you said, you know everything there is to know about me. And you've been so right about that." Winchester doesn't roll his eyes. It just sounds like he did. "No. It's not my thing. I mean, don't get me wrong, to each his own, but that's not the way I swing." The flush starts at the hairline and goes all the way down his neck. "No offense."
"You sound pretty sure of yourself."
"Tried it. Like I said, wasn't really my thing."
"Tried it. Tried it how?"
"I was sixteen, maybe seventeen. Dad was off somewhere on a hunt. Was supposed to be back in a week, maybe two weeks tops, only three weeks go by and he doesn't show. No word, nothing. Someone has to look after Sammy, so I can't go after him, and money's tight. I figured what the hell, guys had been offering me cash at rest stops for years, might as well take advantage of it."
Victor's seen the mug shots of Dean at eighteen, Abercrombie and Fitch pretty, slighter than he is now. He can picture it all too well. "So you sold your ass for food and rent?"
Dean grins, open and unconcerned, like he hasn't just confessed to whoring himself, like it's no big deal. "Nah, just my mouth. Anyhow, it was only a couple of times. Dad got back a few weeks later, and we pulled up stakes. Did it enough to know I didn't like it, though."
"Your brother know about this?"
The shutters go up, but not before Victor sees the quick flash of shame cross his face. Quiet and clipped, Dean answers, "Sammy wouldn't understand."
It's the sound that wakes him. It's not normal, not good, not a human kind of sound, and it's coming from the other bed. Victor flips the light on. 2 a.m.. Winchester's shaking so hard that Victor thinks for a moment he's seizing, but no, not a seizure: a nightmare.
Victor reaches across the space between the beds and nudges him. All he can reach is Winchester's hand, cold and clammy, but that's enough to wake him. Panicked eyes fix on his, bloodshot and bright.
"Nightmare," Victor says.
He doesn't bother waiting for a response, just turns the light off and rolls over. This time, he shoves the pillow over his head. That ought to muffle any sounds.
"Wake up, Mary Sunshine, we've got another missing person last spotted with her twin."
Persistent, obnoxious, damn near cheerful. That's what that voice is. It penetrates right through the pillow, too. Victor considers reaching out, grabbing the other pillow from the other side of the bed and seeing if two of them would serve as adequate sound blocking material.
He doesn't, though. The sooner this is over, the better, so he might as well get up and see if they're really on the right track. It's a small satisfaction that Winchester doesn't look anywhere near as well-rested as he sounded. It would be a bigger one if that detracted from his looks in any way.
"Maybe a day's drive from here. She's only been gone since yesterday. Went off to take pictures of a supposedly haunted house and never showed up."
"Anything about a phone call?"
Winchester shrugs. "Reports don't say. We can check when we get there."
It's the first haunted house Victor's seen outside of Halloween displays. He thought they'd be a little more impressive than an abandoned mid-century modern rambler with half the windows blown out and more weeds than shingles on the roof. The police have obviously come and gone, and Winchester's following the path they trod in the overgrown lawn.
"This is their haunted house?" Victor stares at the decapitated lawn gnome, its head stationed like a soccer ball in front of the flaking red paint of its feet. Stupid as it sounds even in his own head, he was expecting turrets at the very least.
"They don't all look scary; it's what's inside that counts. Speaking of, you see anything weird or out of the ordinary, use this." He passes back the shotgun. "It's loaded with rock salt. If this place is really haunted, it'll dispel whatever spirit's haunting it, temporarily."
"There's two of us, and you only brought in one shotgun. What are you planning on doing if some spirit gets in your face?"
"Staying out of its way."
The house is a bust. Five minutes to go through it, and they don't see a damn thing. Winchester waves some device around, mutters about there being no EMF, and it's time to go on their not-so-merry way.
They're halfway back to the car when any doubts Victor still had left about the veracity of this supernatural shit go right the hell away. One minute, he's on his way to the car and on his way to a bad mood about going out of their way, the next, he and a goddamn ghost are face to face.
He feels ice-slick hands down the side of his face, then hands on his shoulders push him roughly out of the way. When he looks up, the ghost's hands are on Winchester, holding him in place.
Victor fires the shotgun, spraying salt and scattering the figure gripping Winchester's head. Winchester staggers, stray bits of salt leaving sharp marks across his skin in bright, painful red. He swallows, lifts his hand to wipe his face, and Victor sees blood trailing across it, dripping from his nostrils.
Winchester closes his eyes, inhales harshly, opens them again and mutters, "Shit."
By the time they make it back to the hotel, Dean Winchester's eyes have the glassy, unfocused look that he's seen on addicts deep in the grip of their poison of choice. His cheeks and lips are flushed, and beads of sweat are forming on his brow.
He swallows, hard, and his eyes snap back into focus. "Handcuffs?"
"I beg your pardon?"
Struggling against something, whatever it was they ran into back there. "Handcuffs. Do you have handcuffs?" Each word forced out between quick pants of breath.
"Yes, I have handcuffs."
"Get them. Cuff me to the bathroom sink." He's got a death grip on the footboard. Victor can see the whites of Winchester's knuckles and, looking at his face, the whites of his eyes. "Do it now."
His wrist where Victor touches it is fever-hot, as are the fingers that scramble, trying to find purchase in Victor's sleeves. "Hold still," he mutters, trying to snap the other bracelet around the pipe.
Winchester's whole body arches upward on a groan. "Can't," he grits out. The metal clicks into place. "Go." He looks at Victor with those blown-out eyes. "It'll wear off. I'll be fine."
Victor goes and sits, tries not to listen to the whimpers and flat-out moans coming from the bathroom. Does a good enough job that he doesn't hear Winchester breaking out, doesn't notice a damn thing until he looks up and Winchester's right there, shaking, white t-shirt soaked transparent with sweat. The knuckles and sides of his formerly cuffed hand are scraped raw.
Victor can smell the heat of him, he's that close, and he was wrong, it's not fever-hot, it's sex-hot, need coming off him in waves, breathing fast and shallow. Lifts that scraped-up hand, and slides the rough pad of his thumb over Victor's lower lip, slow and curious.
"Cuffs were too loose." It's almost conversational. Would be, except it goes husky at the end. "I'm sorry, I am." Then the thumb is gone, and Winchester kisses him hard, lips demanding and precise.
He's on the end of a hotel bed, and Dean Winchester is kissing him, hands grabbing at his belt loops and pulling him up, and it takes his brain until then to catch up. He has six feet of fucked up, dangerous, mentally altered, combat trained confusion on his hands and practically crawling onto his lap, and there is no way in hell this is going to end well unless it ends right now, so he ends up frog marching Winchester back to the bathroom, shoves him into the tub and blasts cold water out of the shower head.
Winchester sinks down on the floor of the tub and lets it hit him. Opens his eyes briefly and throws Victor a look of pure gratitude before he closes them again and curls around himself, huddling beneath the spray. Victor waits until he's soaking wet, shivering instead of shaking, and hauls him to his feet.
This time, he cuffs Winchester's hands behind his back and shackles his ankles for good measure so there's no getting out. He wraps a couple of towels around him, escorts him back to the room and sits him down.
Winchester shifts between lucid and not, more the latter than the former.
It's being used as a curse, not a come on; this means they're back in lucid territory. Victor looks at his watch. Two hours, and it's getting worse instead of better. "I thought you said this would wear off."
"Yeah, well." Winchester shifts, whole torso turning towards him. "I was wrong."
"Got any smart ideas about how to stop it?"
"One. But you're not going to like it."
"Oh really, and what's that?"
Stone-faced, deadly serious, he answers. "Give it what it wants."
Victor takes a minute to digest this. Then he fishes out the keys to the cuffs.
"So how are we going to do this?"
Winchester closes his eyes, and when he opens them, lucid has clearly left the building. "Let me taste you." He hasn't bothered standing since Victor took off the cuffs, and now he moves up onto his knees, fingers back up to the belt loops again. Winchester's mouth teases through the fabric of his pants, and Victor feels his dick respond. "Let me suck you off."
There's no way his voice is going to work, so Victor nods his assent. Nimble fingers make short work of his pants, shorter work of his boxers, leave him with his shirttails curtaining his ass. Winchester's mouth is hot enough to be shocking when it closes around the head of his dick, tongue moving with quick, sure strokes while those fingers occupy themselves with his balls and ass.
Either Winchester's a quick study, or he wasn't exactly forthcoming with the number of times he's done this. Though there are no soliciting charges among the long and varied list of criminal activities, and his story had the ring of truth to it. He looks down to see the brilliant green eyes watching him steadily from beneath their absurd fringe of sandy lashes. Reading him, he realizes. Adjusting what he does based on it.
He stops wondering what that means a second later, can't think with that hot, wet mouth working him, cheeks hollowed out, damp head sliding up and down. Victor wraps a hand around the back of Winchester's head, doesn't let go until he's come. Then he gives himself a moment before he loops his hands under Winchester's armpits, hauling him up on the bed.
Earns himself a downright quizzical look for his troubles, so he explains in short order, "Your turn," as he pushes aside the soaked black boxers. He hardly even touches him, just the barest brush of his palm, and Winchester's hips jerk up.
Hisses like he's been shocked, "Son of a bitch."
Winchester rolls into him, tense and quick and strangely graceless, covers his mouth with a teenage-awkward kiss that doesn't quite mesh until Victor shifts his head slightly to the left. Tastes spit and semen as he wraps his fingers around Winchester's dick, stroking until his whole body stiffens and shudders, spilling out hot and sticky across their stomachs and the bed. Then Winchester breaks contact, slides off and onto his back, brings his forearm up to shield his eyes from the light overhead.
He mutters something that might be an apology, then he's fast asleep.
Victor gets up, takes a shower. Comes out and takes the other bed.
Even nice hotels like the one they're in have crappy coffee nine times out of ten. Victor pours a cup from the mini pot, takes a sip, and wishes this wasn't one of those times. It is, though, so he tears open three packets of Sugar in the Raw and one of creamer, stirs, sips again, and adds another sugar to the mix. He hears the shower stop, hears footfalls, then on goes the sink. Winchester's been up for a while: the coffee was already made and half-gone when Victor woke up, and the laptop's open, several pages of notes scrawled on hotel stationary stacked next to it.
The door finally opens, and Winchester leaves the bathroom clean shaven and fully dressed. "I screwed up," he says. His voice is hoarse and quiet. "Last night, I hurried into things. Didn't do enough digging. Our missing girl here, she really does have a twin."
Victor raises his eyebrows and his coffee cup, taking a slow, deliberate sip. It's too early in the morning for this shit.
"She was supposed to meet up with a friend, a fellow photographer who'd been taking night photos of the place. He's the one who said she never showed, only it turns out, she did. He turned himself in for her rape and murder early this morning. I'd lay odds whatever that spirit did to me, it did to him. About that," he clears his throat, looks Victor square in the eyes, a faint flush of pink creeping up his neck. "Thank you. For what you did." There's an end of subject finality to it. He pulls out the chair and sits, starts typing into the search box.
Victor's fine with that, more than fine, so long as end of subject is end of subject. "So, let's get one thing clear: is it over?"
Winchester slants a glance at him, and goes back to looking at the laptop screen, eyes rapidly scanning whatever he's found there. "Can't tell, but my guess is probably not yet. Probably not until we stop this son of a bitch. Guess you're going to get a crash course in grave desecration once I find what I'm looking for."
"What are you looking for, exactly?"
"Hell if I know. Maybe some dude who died of a Viagra overdose. It muttered something, said I'd understand the urge." He pushes away, scrubs at his eyes, the tell-tale flush rising now. "Let's see, sex, sex crimes, sexual violence. Man, this town sure as hell has a lot of it." The rapid click of fingers on the keyboard, then. "Bingo."
Winchester turns the laptop so that Victor can read the screen. "1967. Charles Benton's rape and murder trial ends with a not guilty verdict. Benton's the mayor's nephew, and the victim's from the wrong side of the tracks. Four days later, Benton's dead. Family members of the victim, or victims, because it looks like he was suspected of more than just the one attack, took matters into their own hands, kinda like in Nightmare on Elm Street. And, kinda like Freddy Krueger, Charlie came back. Without the killing people in their dreams part, that is."
"So what's the next step?"
Eyes crinkle up and Winchester's face splits into a boyish grin. "Like I said: grave desecration 101. For our first lesson, we'll be finding out where Charlie here is buried."
It occurs to Victor right then and there that, when he really means it, that smile counts as assault with a deadly weapon.
The cemetery where Charles Benton is buried is small and out of the way, but not small and out of the way enough that they can reasonably expect to go disinter him in the middle of the day. Winchester wants to, of course. Even suggests they steal some uniforms and pretend they're supposed to be out there digging graves. He's keyed up and hyper, won't sit still. It's exhausting just watching him.
"You remind me of my dog," Victor says.
Winchester glances up from the pile of maps he's been going through, one for each city where the victims went missing. "Your dog?"
"Mine and Kevin's. Miss Priss."
Incredulous is how to best describe the face he makes. "I remind you of a dog named Miss Priss? You have a dog named Miss Priss. What is it, some kind of Maltese or something?"
"German Shepherd. It's short for Priscilla." Queen of the Dessert, because she had a sweet tooth and was always trying to steal things off their plates, and because Kevin never met a pun he didn't like. "We were supposed to discuss visitation arrangements at lunch that day."
Dead silence, and when he looks over at Winchester, it's to find sympathy on his face. "It's not your fault he was taken," he says.
"No, it's not. But I'm still the reason he was there in the first place."
"Why'd you two break up, anyway?"
"Not that it's any of your business, but work. My job doesn't exactly allow me a lot of quality time at home, and seeing the kind of shit I see every day doesn't exactly make me a joy to be around when I am there."
Winchester looks like he wants to say something, lips parting slightly then closing again before whatever he's thinking makes it out. "Well," he finally settles on. "Sun's down. Let's go torch the corpse."
"This is all in a day's work for you, isn't it?" Victor says when they're halfway through digging up the grave.
Winchester empties a shovelful of dirt onto the pile. "Used to be. We're mostly concentrating on demons these days."
"Demons." Sure, why the hell not. Demons. Shit. "Heaven and hell, fire and brimstone type actual demons?"
"Yep. Hell, that's probably what took Sam and the rest of them. Guess some of them can appear in pretty much any shape."
Trespassing, grave desecration, arson. Victor adds the list to the growing tally of illegal activities he'd never have expected he'd be willingly part of, yet is. At least for certain definitions of willing. It's not what he'd call a soothing train of thought, but it keeps his mind off demons.
"Little bit of butane, little bit of salt," Winchester's saying, making this sound like some surreal TV cooking show as he stands at the edge of the open grave, soaking the remains with lighter fluid and an exceedingly generous helping from the container of salt. He sucks in a sudden breath, pauses a moment too long. "Then strike a match," he finishes, dropping it in. His voice is lashed tight with pain.
A second later, his knees buckle under him, and Victor's just fast enough to grab him and haul him back before he can fall into the flames.
"What the hell was that?" Victor asks, the moment Winchester's able to stand.
For a man who almost fell face first onto a burning corpse, Winchester looks downright cheerful. "Sam," he says, sounding awestruck. "It was Sam. We have to get back to the hotel. I think I know where he is. Where everybody is."
"It's some kind of warehouse. I recognized it, I just can't quite remember where I saw it before. Recently, though. I know that." Winchester gnaws on his lower lip, worrying it. He flips through the maps again. "Just off an interstate."
Winchester drove back like a bat out of hell, and Victor feels like his brain's still stuck back in the cemetery. "Does your brother send you psychic visions often?"
There's a shake of his head, and he taps his fingers on one of the maps before picking it up and heading to the computer. "No. Hell, I thought all that was over a couple months ago." He looks at the map again. "Got it. I've found the place. Come on, we're going back the way we came."
Victor takes one look at his face and knows that arguing is just going to be a waste of breath. "Okay."
The warehouse looks like something out of a horror movie. It's utterly derelict, shattered glass and pools of water littering the floors, debris and graffiti everywhere you look. They comb each and every room and hallway and find nothing. They're going over it a second time when Winchester pauses in one of the inner rooms, staring at the warped wood paneling on the back wall. He rubs his forehead and paces, muttering to himself. Then he stops and looks at the wall again.
"There's a space back there. I'm sure of it."
Winchester kicks the wall, kicks it hard. His feet and shins are going to hurt like hell. When that doesn't work, he steps back, assesses it with a frown.
"I think there's brick behind there, maybe concrete. How far back was that hardware store we passed?"
"At least twenty miles. Let me get this straight: are you seriously suggesting a Home Depot run?"
He looks at his watch and deepens the frown. "Yeah, guess it's way too late. Man, I miss when they were open 24 hours. I'd kill for a Gorilla Bar about now." Then he digs out his keys and tosses them to Victor. "Guess a crowbar will have to do. In the trunk. Next to the shovels."
Once he goes through the paneling and the sheet rock, Winchester's first guess is confirmed as correct. Brick, not concrete. Thank god for that. He jams the sharp edge into the mortar, driving it in again and again until he's chipped enough away to try prying.
Stops a minute later, and turns to Victor, face caked in mortar dust and sweat. "Could use a little help here," he pants out.
Together, they manage to push-pry one of the bricks. It drops with a dull thud to the other side, while Winchester crowds the open space it left, shouting his brother's name into the dark.
"Dean!" muffled and relieved, echoes back.
Knuckles bruised and bloodied, everything covered in grit, Victor remembers how little he likes anything to do with construction. It takes too damn long to knock open a man-sized hole in the brick, and the air coming out of there is stale and rank, smells like unwashed bodies, like shit and piss. He's almost glad for the dust that clogs his sinuses.
And damn if it isn't worth it once it's open, when he shines his flashlight through the hole and sees every fucking missing person, including and especially the one he personally missed. Then it's back to work as one by one, they start pulling the people through the gap they've made in the brick.
Kevin's face is gaunt, which would have had the effect of making him look like he did back in his modeling days, except for the scruffy beard, greasy hair, and glasses he no doubt counts himself as lucky he put on that morning instead of putting his contacts in. His hands cling to Victor's shoulders as he and Dean help him through the opening.
"Vic." It comes out as a whisper from between chapped lips, threaded with exhaustion and sheer relief.
"Call me Vicky, and I'm putting you right back in there, Kev."
"Vic," Kevin repeats, his voice stronger this time, and he sounds like he's barely holding back a laugh. "Where's Miss Priss?"
Trust Kevin to think of the dog first. The dog's how this all started. "Your mom's looking after her. She's in good hands."
Sam Winchester comes out last, struggling to get his huge frame past the edges of the bricks. Victor watches as Winchester--Dean--checks his brother over for injuries, briefly cupping Sam's face in his hand.
"Dean." It's the first time Victor's heard Sam's voice clearly. Softer than he would have thought, gentle with an edge of command as he stills his brother's hands. "I'm okay."
And Dean comes to heel, just like that. "You get a chance to figure out exactly what this is and what it wants?"
Sam looks around, makes sure most of the crowd's too far away to hear him and shakes his head. "Demon, one of the escaped ones, but that's all I know for sure. It could be one of any of them."
"Hey, Agent Mulder!" Dean's grin this time is one that Victor hasn't seen. Honest. Victorious. Righteous. Well, hell.
Victor checks Kevin one more time, makes sure he's okay to stand unsupported while Victor goes a few steps off to talk to the Winchesters, Dean and Sam.
"We need to get these people some medical attention," Dean says, pitched low so it won't carry. "But Sammy and me, we're wanted men. How do you want to play this?"
He's already got that taken care of. "Kevin kept checking once a day for a cell signal, turning off the phone in between to conserve battery. He finally got lucky, got in touch. I was understandably frantic, didn't even think to call it in until I'd found him, and with him, them. Local police will look into it, no doubt screw up the whole investigation. It helps that everyone's memory's a little fuzzy."
Dean stares at him for a beat. "I gotta say, I'm impressed. How are you going to explain your lack of a car?"
"Easy. My GPS tells me we're no more than an hour's drive from where we left it. You and Sam are going to drive back to the All Aboard Motor Inn, pick up my car, and leave it parked a few blocks from here. I know damn well you're smart enough not to get yourselves caught on the way in."
That gets him the stare again. It's level, maybe a little unnerving. "You'd have made one hell of a hunter, Agent Henricksen."
The one job less conducive to a healthy personal life than working for the Bureau. When he gets back to work, he's going to kiss his desk. "Thanks. Maybe in a different life, you'd have made a decent Fed."
There's a muffled snort from Sam as Dean's nose crinkles up at the compliment: he looks a little taken aback. "Never really thought of it that way, but thanks, I guess."
Victor laughs out loud and slips his rental car keys into Dean's hand. Leaves him with, "Take care of yourself, and for god's sake, start wearing gloves."
Then he goes back to where Kevin and the rest of the people they rescued are waiting, takes out his phone, and calls it in.