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Swellison's Scribblings
Summer Sam Love Runner Up

Spoilers for No Rest for the Wicked, post-season 3 story

Sparks and Memories
By Swellison

Sam meticulously chewed his club sandwich, tasting nothing. He was in the last windowed booth in a diner off of US-20, in New Carlisle, Indiana. His hurried drive to Indiana, Pennsylvania had been a bust, the promised uber-grimoire and its hinted-at knowledge of Devil's Gate locations another dead end. Maybe he should give up on finding a Devil's Gate, and gaining access to Hell that way. It hadn't worked when he'd tried it two months ago in Wyoming, with that exact replica of the Colt. Now this second Devil's Gate approach had been a failure, too. But he couldn't stop searching; leaving Dean rotting in Hell forever...

Sensing footsteps, Sam roused from his depressing thoughts. A thirty-something year old blonde in an old-fashioned pink waitress outfit, complete with a crisp white apron and pink “Sally” nametag, approached his table.

“Can I get you anything else, sir? Some dessert, perhaps? We're known for our apple pie.”

He'd probably choke on Dean's favorite pie. “No.” Maybe he'd said that too forcefully; the waitress's eyes widened and she shifted backwards a step. “Uh, just the check, please.”

The bell over the front door jingled and a small group of customers piled in: mom, dad, two little boys and a less-than-thrilled looking teenage girl, her down bent face focused on the Smartphone clutched in her hand. “Hi, Sally!” the little boys chorused as the family walked further into the diner.

“Hi, kiddos!” Sally greeted them, then nodded towards the cashier's spot in the middle of the diner's Formica-topped breakfast bar. “Your order should be just about ready. I'll go check on it as soon as I'm through here.”

“Thanks, Sally,” the mom said, continuing to walk towards the diner’s main counter. She and her husband lifted the two little boys onto the two backless barstools closest to the register. The boys giggled and tried to whirl the stools around, squirming under the light shoulder holds that their parents had on them.

Sam took in this slice of family life, face expressionless. The boys' behavior didn't ring any bells with him; John Winchester would never allow such hijinks. “Do nothing that draws attention to us” had been dad's mantra. Privately, Dean had found ways to skirt the rules, and give Sam more of a childhood than Sam had realized at the time. In hindsight, it was one more debt he owed Dean. He just had to get Dean out of Hell, and start evening the score. Not that Dean had ever kept count, of course.

“Here’s your check, sir.” Sally placed the bill on the tabletop. Sam glanced at it, dropped a dollar and change on the table, then trailed the waitress to the cash register. Sally zipped behind the counter as Sam lined up behind the family and Sally completed their sale. “Hope you enjoy your evening,” Sally said as the husband picked up the bags and his wife herded the kids towards the door.

Sam moved to the front and handed his check to Sally, who quickly rang it up. “Hope you enjoyed everything.”

“It was fine,” Sam answered, pulling out a ten to pay for his meal. As he collected his change, he asked, “Is there a motel around here with reasonable rates?” He really didn’t want to stay in Indiana, the state where Dean had lost his stand against the hellhounds, but he’d been driving all day, after a long and disappointing night. He could make it to Illinois, but staying in the state where Dean was buried was hardly a better option.

“There’s a Red Roof Inn about a mile down the interstate.” Sally answered, tacking on, “Hey, if you’re gonna be in town, you should come to the fireworks tonight.” She handed him a neon blue flyer with “Fourth of July Fireworks” printed in bold capital letters. “New Carlisle’s been staging them for decades, out in the fields south of town. They’re pretty awesome.”

Sam started at hearing one of Dean’s favorite words. “Maybe I’ll check it out.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Sam followed the handmade signs to the field, trailing a latecomer into the field-cum-parking lot. He had wrestled with his decision to attend; the hunter’s under-the-radar lifestyle avoiding most normal activities. But he’d certainly be hearing other people’s fireworks and firecrackers in his motel room; he might as well watch them, too. It beat being alone in his two-bed, two-bit room. Sam still requested double bed rooms, still expected to see Dean occupying the other bed when he woke—for the first five seconds, before he remembered where his brother really was, and why.

Following the teenaged attendant’s pointing arm, Sam dutifully turned down the indicated aisle with mostly evenly parked cars, trucks and SUVs filling both rows. He turned at the end of the aisle, driving slowly down the next, equally full aisle. He made his way to the back of the makeshift parking lot and parked on the edge, the Impala’s nose facing the entrance for a quick exit. He got out of the car, stepped towards the trunk and hoisted himself up, squirming a bit until he was leaning comfortably against the rear windshield. After a few seconds, he wriggled leftwards, claiming the center of the windshield, since he wasn’t sharing it with anyone. Sam ruefully shook his head. He’d purposely chosen to sit on the trunk, since he and Dean had always plunked themselves on the hood, yet he was still accommodating his absent big brother…

He knew the rest of the attendees were much closer to the actual display; from his heightened perch on the trunk he could see the last few rows of families and couples sprawled on their spread-out picnic blankets. But he was here to observe the fireworks, not mingle with the crowd. Sam watched as the last rays of the sun slowly sank over the horizon and figured the fireworks would be starting soon. A few minutes passed the impatient rustlings and murmurs from the rest of the crowd drifting back to Sam. He checked his watch, then heard footsteps off to his right. Curious, Sam glanced in that direction, and saw two little girls walking along the outermost row of cars. Before they reached the Impala, the older girl – Sam judged her to be ten or eleven, the other girl three or four years younger – grabbed the shorter girl’s hand and whispered something. Then they scampered off to the open area to the right of the parked cars, the moonlight catching their white t-shirts and matching stars-and-stripes skirts. Sam recognized the siblings-with-a-secret vibe he was picking up from the pair and he kept an eye on them.

The girls halted about twenty yards from the parked cars. The taller one reached under her t-shirt and extracted a flat, rectangular packet. Holding it in one hand, she reached into her skirt pocket and withdrew a lighter. The younger girl clapped her hands in anticipation.

“Shhhhhh, Hannah!” the older girl scolded, not realizing that the night air carried their conversation over to Sam. She opened the box and pulled out a sparkler. “Here, hold this.” Then she half-turned from the smaller girl, flicking the lighter until it caught. She then carefully lit the end of the sparkler and retrieved it from Hannah’s hands. “Watch this!”

Sam and Hannah watched as the older girl waved the sparkler in the air, the trail of green sparks creating figure eights and curlicues that lit up the night sky for seconds before fading.

“Oooo, Ashley! More!” Hannah clamored and the older girl reached for a second sparkler.

Immediately, Sam was thrown back in time, to when he was thirteen years old. Sam had been pouting and cranky because Dad was off hunting and they were stuck in another crappy motel room for the Fourth. Dean had waited until nightfall, then dragged him out to the middle of nowhere. Sam had been amazed when he opened the trunk and discovered the large cardboard box of firecrackers and bottle rockets. And lighting them up, watching them burst into a dazzling aerial display, dancing in the sparks, had been awesome…

BOOM!

Sam was jerked back to the present by the unexpected sonic boom. The fireworks show had started with a bang. Sam gazed skywards as a dazzling red and green firework burst into display. He glanced at the little girls and saw their faces upturned to watch the sparkling overhead show, too. Then Hannah nudged her sister and the older girl brought out another sparkler. This time, Hannah held onto the sparkler, making tentative motions in the air, watching their glowing trail of sparks until it faded. She started writing H-a-n-n-

The sparkler was almost finished, having burned down towards its end. Its sparks fell on Hannah’s hand. “Owwww!” Surprised by the hot sparks, Hannah flinched, dropping the sparkler. It landed unexpectedly on her sister’s skirt, getting caught in the bottom ruffle. The older girl stepped hastily away from Hannah, her movement causing the sparks to ignite into flame.

Another firework exploded overhead, falling gracefully towards the ground with dazzling gold streamers, drowning out the older girl’s scream, its momentary glare clarifying the scene for Sam.

“I’ll get Mommy!” Hannah yelled, then dashed off towards the distant crowd of onlookers.

Sam flung himself from the Impala’s trunk, whipping his overshirt off as he raced towards the older girl in the flaming skirt, poised to start running herself. “STOP!” Sam roared, holding his denim overshirt out in front as he ran towards the girl. He reached the startled girl, fell to his knees, and wrapped her up in his shirt. The oversized shirt fell below the girl’s knees, completely covering her flaming skirt. Sam grasped her tightly around the waist. He dropped them both to the ground, the girl landing on top of him. Sam’s feet found purchase against the ground and he pushed, rolling them over and over. Sam wasted no time when they stopped after several cycles, pushing off to roll them firmly in the reverse direction. He rolled them twice more, wanting the fire to be completely snuffed out. They ended up back where they started, Sam still wrapped firmly around the girl. He sniffed the air, getting only at whiff of smoke. “Are you all right?”

“I-I th-think so,” the girl answered shakily as Sam released her from his grip. “Is the fire out?” They stood up as the crowd oohed and ahed in the background, another firework exploding into brilliant color overhead. The girl removed Sam’s overshirt and handed it back to him. “Thank you.”

Sam absently accepted his shirt, draping it over one shoulder as he crouched closer to the ground. “May I?” He gently reached for the bottom of her skirt as he thoroughly examined the girl’s legs for burns. “You appear fine, other than a scorch mark on your skirt.” He released her skirt and stood up, pointed towards the almost hand-sized blackened blotch at the skirt’s hem. A piece of ruffle was missing, burnt away in the brief fire and there was a hole in the center of the blackened area.

“Ashley! Are you all right?” A woman rushed into view, her hand clutching Hannah as the little girl ran to keep up. She looked in her early thirties, dressed in jeans, sandals and a red, white and blue t-shirt.

“She’s fine,” Sam tried to reassure the girls’ mom.

“And who are you?” the woman demanded, whirling to stare at Sam.

Sam’s answer was drowned out by another sonic boom, followed by a shower of blue and silver streamers, the temporary light revealing the woman’s tense face.

Ashley stepped in front of Sam. “He’s a superhero, Mommy! He saved me!”

“What? How?”

Sam briefly explained what had happened.

Ashley interrupted excitedly. “He did the Stop! Drop! Roll! thing, just like they taught us in school.”

“Thank you,” the woman held out her hand to Sam. “I am deeply grateful to you, Mr.--?”

“Jones.” Sam hesitated, almost adding ‘Dean.’ As far as he was concerned, there was only one Winchester brother who was a hero, but Dean believed in dealing honestly with kids, whenever possible. “Sam Jones, Ma’am. I’m just glad I could help.”

“I’m Morgan Fletcher.” A smile twitched her lips. “You’ve already met my older daughter, Ashley, and this is her sister, Hannah.”

Sam stooped down to the little girl’s level. “Pleased to meet you, Hannah.”

Hannah smiled shyly just as another firework lit up the night sky.

“Sam should come watch the fireworks show with us, Mommy.” Ashley announced, loudly.

“He’s probably here with someone else, dear,” Mrs. Fletcher reminded, gently.

Ashley turned to Sam. “Are you?”

“No,” Sam answered honestly. “I’m here by myself.”

“Then you must join us! We have lots of food for supper,” Ashley insisted.

“Mommy made cherry pie for dessert!” Hannah chipped in.

“Please join us, Sam. It’s the least I can do to say thank you,” Mrs. Fletcher said. “Besides, the girls can use the treat. After tonight, they’re grounded for two weeks for playing with fireworks without supervision.”

“But, Mommy—” Hannah protested, before catching Ashley’s firm headshake and quieting.

Dean would never turn down an invitation to eat homemade pie. Did Sam just feel the wind, nudging him gently in the shoulder? “I’d like that very much. Thank you.”

“Good, I’m glad that’s settled,” Mrs. Fletcher said. “Now, let’s go watch the fireworks!”


End

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REVELCON 23 - March 16-18, 2012
Houston, Texas

Calling all fen! Come to The Little Con With The Texas-Size Heart!

My deahs, it's THE fannish event of the season. Break out the sequins and
rhinestones, dust off the top hats and tuxes...our 2012 theme is "Puttin'
On the Ritz"!

Revelcon is THE only fan-run relax-a-con in the Southwest US. It's a fab
weekend of vids, panels, art, zines, merchandise, food and fun! We're a
bifictional con, happily welcoming genners and slashers alike.

Our site - http://www.severalunlimited.com/revelcon

Rates through ** 1/31/12 ** are: $75 for full membership, $110 for Dealer
membership (includes 1 table).
Friday only - $35.00
Saturday only - $40.00
Sunday only - $25.00
Supporting - $10.00 (non-attending, but entering art or vids)

Direct registration link is -
http://www.severalunlimited.com/revelcon/registration.htm

PayPal and snail-mail checks happily accepted! Save some $$$, register now!
Rates go up Feb 1...just two days left!

We offer:

- The swankiest venue in Texas, the RevelCon Soiree! Dress like you're part
of the one-percent :-), and join us for a nightclub atmosphere at the Friday
Nite party. Indulge in the finest ice cream, cake, and punch. Watch your
fellow friends prance primly (or not) in their finery as torch singers
serenade.

- A substantial and diverse Dealers' Room. Shop for zines, art, t-shirts,
jewelry, vids, magazines, henna tattoos, Tarot readings, zines....did we
mention zines? Lots of current zines, and a great assortment of used
zines. Merchants, join up and help shopping-crazed fans sate our
acquisitive lust! Still some room available - check out our dealers rates
at: http://www.severalunlimited.com/revelcon/registration.htm

- Hospitality Suite! Munchies, sandwiches, beverages - a quiet place to
read, relax, eat, and chat with your fellow fen.

- Vid Show! See the newest vids by the latest vidders, and vote for your
faves! Entries eagerly solicited - Music Vid Contest direct link is
http://www.severalunlimited.com/revelcon/vidshow.htm. Vid Contest
questions? Email to revelconvidcontest@severalunlimited.com .

- Art Show and Auction! We're spinning our webs far 'n wide to lure in new
artists and returning favorites. Want to participate? Hit the Art Show
link, http://www.severalunlimited.com/revelcon/artshow.htm.

- Stay up 'til the wee hours and watch our Late Nite Mini-Marathon. This
year's theme is Scruffy After Midnight. We'll feature episodes with some
of your favorite characters covered in dirt or mud or grease or ... you
get the idea! Still accepting episode suggestions at
revelconinfo@severalunlimited.com . See
http://www.severalunlimited.com/revelcon/vidprogramming.htm for more info.

- Pajama Party! Don your slinky peignoirs or silk pajamas and listen to
fanfic readings! In the finest bi-fictional tradition, we feature both a
gen AND a slash Pajama Party.

- Panels, panel, panels. Three days of fannish discussions!

*********************************************

Hotel - Revelcon 23 will once again be at the Galleria-area Hotel 31
(formerly the Holiday Inn) on the West Loop at Richmond. Hotel rooms are
currently available for reservation at the NEWLY-REDUCED con price of
$74.00 per night.

To book: go to www.hotel31houston.com and click BOOK NOW. At the next page,
enter your arrival and departure dates. For the Group Code, type REV, enter
the number of rooms/persons, and click "Check availability".

No toll-free number at this time. If necessary, you may call direct to
*Tisha*, at 713-353-7382: OR email her at tevans@pyramidhotelgroup.com.
Make SURE to tell her this is for RevelCon. Ask for an email confirmation.
If Tisha doesn't answer her direct line, call the front desk,
713-961-1640, and ask for her there. Leave a message with your phone # if
she's not immediately available.

Our rate is good for March 15-18; Thursday thru Sunday nights. Also - if you
wish to be close to the Hospitality Suite, ask for a room in the South
Tower. If anyone is interested in a suite, please let us know as soon as
possible so we can negotiate a room rate.

If you encounter any problems making your reservations, email
revelconhotel@severalunlimited.comwith all your details.

**********************************************

Revelcon is being brought to you by... F5 Productions, aka The Fentastic
Five! We are a bevy of fabulous fenlettes who have been going to Revelcon
for years - Anita, Jamie, Jan, Judy, and Sue - and we fervently wish to
keep this long-time Houston tradition alive. But to do that, we need your
help. It's no secret that most con attendance is down...Revelcon can only
Continue if we keep up our membership. So, y'all come down! Say no to
snow! Visit Texas in the spring!

For updates, roomies, local info etc. - join our Mailing List!
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Revelcon/

Check out our new Facebook page! Still undergoing construction...friend us!
http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Revelcon/133152606745316

Note - Revelcon is an adults-only/18-and-over con.

F5 Productions urges our fellow fen - help us keep this little piece of
fandom alive! We simply MUST maintain, hopefully even increase attendance
in order to carry on. So dig out your address books, start haranguing your
friends, coworkers, enemies, strangers on the street.

Got a LiveJournal? Belong to any other mailing lists? Pass this on, PLEASE.

And of course...JOIN US! Zip over to -
http://www.severalunlimited.com/revelcon/registration.htm

Any questions? Email to revelconinfo@severalunlimited.com

A splendid time is guaranteed for all!

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Apple Pie and Chevrolet - part 3
by Swellison

TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS

Sunday morning, Jim and Norah were back at the judge's tent, comfortably seated on the sofa at a quarter to eleven. "I heard you and Dean put on quite a show at the shooting gallery booth yesterday." Norah said, sipping from a cup of coffee. "It's the talk of the town. Why, I couldn't get my next-door neighbor, Irene to stop talking about it in church this morning until the sermon started."

"It was an interesting experience, getting schooled by a kid." Jim admitted ruefully. Truth be told, it kind of reminded him of his early days with Sandburg.

"It sounded to me like you were pretty evenly matched," Norah said. "Even the tie-breaker could've gone either way."

About to comment further, Jim heard the tent flap opening and seconds later Dean and Amanda entered the tent. Amanda was wearing a pink woolen business suit, the jacket cut to reveal the zebra-striped blouse underneath. Dean was wearing jeans—black instead of blue—and a navy jacket with a turned-over collar. The young man stopped long enough to remove his jacket and sling it over the chair at his assigned judge's table, and then caught up with Amanda as she approached them.

"Good morning, Jim, Norah. I trust everyone's ready for the final judging?" Amanda smiled at their polite nods and kept talking. "As I said yesterday, the festival committee tallied your scores for all the pies and the top five scoring pies have been determined. The whole pies and your individual slices were carefully refrigerated overnight, and then placed on the first table. You've also got fresh score sheets on your tables. Everything's ready for you. Remember, after everyone's scored the pies, you're going to get together, compare notes and hash out an over-all winning pie. As I indicated yesterday, underneath each full pie are three copies of the recipe, if you need it for some reason. Jennifer will be in touch with me by phone, so when you've settled on the winning entrant, let her know and I'll join you here. Again, on behalf of the Festival's Committee, thanks to all of you and happy judging!"

"I'll leave you to get to your work." Amanda strolled towards the exit, Dean walking with her until he split off to approach the table of pies.

Jim, only two steps behind Dean in reaching the pie-laden table, saw the younger man glance at the numbers of the five pies still in the race: #13, #11, #7, #4 and #8. Then Dean shook his head, and picked up a piece of the right-most pie, #8. Jim decided to start from the left side, again and after a quick glance at the whole pie to aid in his presentation evaluation, he picked up the first slice of pie #13. Then he walked quickly back to his table—they were seated at the same tables that they'd occupied yesterday—and sat. He checked over the pie slice's appearance, and then picked up a fork and chewed, letting his sense of smell sort the various flavors: apple, crisp, and sweet, sugar, flour, cinnamon—a bit too much cinnamon, and Jim made a note to check the recipe for the amount, it had to be well over a teaspoon.

Concentrating on his pie piece, Jim put his fork down, then picked up his pencil and gave the lilac-plated pie his marks. After that, he rose and headed for the pie table, quickly falling into a rhythm of walk, soak up the pie in-situ, take the piece back to his table, study the pie's appearance, inside and out, savor a couple of bites, then mark down the pie's scores. With yesterday behind him, he had a full routine worked out in detail. He kept track of how the other judges were doing, mostly by listening. It was super-easy to tell Dean's booted strides from Norah's sensibly-soled working flats, and it didn't surprise him at all that Dean was faster than Norah in his pie judging. Jim wasn't too far behind Dean, as he saw Dean return to his seat pie-less as Jim left to retrieve his last piece of pie.

Picking up his fifth and final slice, Jim carried it back to his table and sat down. Pie #8. He glanced at the plating—one of the few slices that was presented on a plain piece of white china, he noted with approval, giving the slice a 5 for presentation. Then he studied the crust for a few seconds, looking for unevenly cooked spots, any brownish signs of overcooking, but the slice was a uniform golden brown. The crust was nicely flaked; the fork cut through it easily, inside consistency was uniform. He sampled the piece, the taste also earning his approval. Then Jim wrote his scores for the last piece: 5, 5, 4, 4, 5. He set down his pencil with relief, reaching for the water glass to cleanse his palate—no, to drink something that wasn't remotely sweet-tasting. For an instant, he flashed back to being blindfolded and drinking the sour milk by mistake during Sandburg's ill-conceived Sentinel taste test. He took a swig of water.

Ah, nice cold water. This had been interesting, but the next time Aunt Helen asked him to be a judge, he was turning her down, politely but firmly. Too much of a good thing. Even with his senses working overtime, it was harder than he'd expected to ferret out the subtle differences in taste, texture, and appearance among the dozens of pie choices and rank them accordingly.

Idly, he glanced at his fellow judges. Norah was writing down her scores; he toyed with the idea of boosting his vision to read exactly what she was writing, but that was pointless. He'd know in a few minutes, wouldn't he? Then he glanced at Dean's table. Although he appeared outwardly calm, Jim could hear the younger man fidget, one leg bouncing ever-so-slightly against the floor. Well, what did you expect of the younger generation? And Sandburg accused *me* of having the attention span of a gerbil.

A few minutes later, Norah wrote down her last score. She set the pencil on her tabletop with a relieved sigh. "Done!"

Dean smiled at her, probably pleased to have something to do. "Now the fun part begins. How do we want to do this, take turns?"

"No," Norah spoke consideringly. "I think the contest has the best idea. Let's add up the scores and see which pie comes out in first place. We might've all made the same decision already, without even knowing it."

"Good idea," Jim rose from his table, grabbing his chair and his scoring sheets. "Since you suggested it, we'll use your table." He circled Dean's table, nose on the alert for that whiff of whatever-it-was, then placed his chair on the floor and sat. While he was situating himself, Dean grabbed his own chair and joined them at Norah's table.

"Anyone got a calculator?" Dean asked a slight smirk on his face.

"I'll do it," Norah picked up all the papers, quickly sorting them into piles by pie number. "I work with numbers all the time, this is a snap."

"Numbers, huh? D'ya teach math or something?" Dean asked.

"No, I run a bakery, here in Cashmere—Great Scott Baked Goods and Tea House. You should stop by; I'll treat you to a free dessert."

She picked up her pencil, flipped over a blank form and scribbled away on the back of the form.

"You're on—as long as it's not apple pie," Dean said.

Jim got the feeling the kid was only half-joking, but he could see where Dean might be apple pie'd out at the moment.

Norah chuckled. "No apple pie," she promised. Then she looked up from her calculations. "Okay, the winning pie is... #11." She frowned. "Do we all agree with that? Which pie is it?"

"It's the second one I tasted," Jim said, remembering that he'd used his first pie, #13 as his standard pie to measure against, and he'd ranked two pies higher, #11 and #8. "It was a good pie, but I scored #8 higher, I liked it better over-all."

"Hmmm, I gave that one high marks, too." Norah said. She consulted her tallies. "But it came out fourth overall." She turned to look at Dean, and Jim also glanced questioningly at the younger man. "Why'd you give it a one in taste and appearance, Dean? I thought it tasted very well, and it certainly was nicely plated."

"It was nicely plated," Dean agreed. "But, whoever baked it cheated, and the best way to account for that was in the taste score and presentation, so I gave it ones. Would've been zeroes, but one's the lowest score allowed."

"What do you mean, cheated?" Norah glanced pointedly at Dean. "I've been to the festival for years, and there's never been a hint of cheating."

Dean handed a piece of paper to Norah. "That's the recipe sheet for Number Eight."

"It only says it used Cameo apples in a Secret Family Recipe," Jim read the paper from across the table, upside-down.

"That's because this pie-maker didn't use Cameo apples," Dean asserted calmly. "He or she used Splendour apples instead—and Splendour's not on the list of Washington's most popular apples, so the pie's disqualified."

"Wait a minute, you're telling me you can taste the difference between Cameo apples and Splendour apples? How?" Jim couldn't stop himself from jumping on the kid's claim. The only way he could think that Dean could make that kind of taste distinction was if the kid was another Sentinel—and he and Blair had been down that rocky road before. That would explain the kid's marksmanship, too. If Jim had another Alex Barnes on his hands, he wanted to know about it. Yesterday.

"I do a lot of travelling in my line of work. And I've eaten a lot of pies, at a lot of diners. There's one in Kokomo, Indiana—Kokomo's Kozy Korner Diner, if you can believe that. And they have the best apple pie in the Midwest—it tastes just like pie #8. I know that the Kozy Korner uses Splendour apples—that's Splendour with a 'u', whoever named it wanted them to sound impressive. They're not normally available in the grocery markets, because they bruise too easily. But they taste freakin' awesome—especially when they're baked, like in pie #8."

Jim stared at the kid, trying to rattle him. "Are you telling me your sense of taste today is as accurate as your sense of sight yesterday at the shooting gallery?" Are you a Sentinel? He bumped up his hearing, listening for a tell-tale increase in Dean's breathing, an admission of lying.

"What are you talking about, dude?"

Dean remained outwardly—and inwardly—calm, but Jim couldn't be objective about this. He rose to his feet; hands placed firmly on the table and leaned across it, getting in the kid's face. "You heard me! How are you so certain that you taste Splendour apples, one variety out of the hundreds of known apple species?"

"Gentlemen!" Norah interrupted almost shouting. She slapped at Jim's forearm, getting his attention. "Let's take a breather, all right? It's close to lunchtime. Go put something other than pie in your stomachs and we'll reconvene back here at one. Now, git, both of you." She waited at the table, arms crossed firmly in front of her and tapping her toes impatiently until Dean rose from the table and sauntered to the tent's exit.

Jim reached for his cell phone, flipped it open and text-messaged Blair. "? Helen get Splendour apple. Bring 2 lunch now. C ya few." Then he too left the tent, heading for the festival's outdoor food court.

Jim met Helen and Blair at the "Pit Stop," rolling his eyes at the name. Blair staked out a picnic table while Jim placed their orders. Shortly afterwards, he was munching contentedly on the roast beef sandwich that he'd ordered. Blair and Helen prattled on about their morning's fun and ate their grilled chicken salads—full of apple slices of course, with a small Waldorf salad on the side.

Jim swallowed his last bite of sandwich—correction, Panini, whatever the heck that was, and drank the last of his water, clearing his palate. "Did you find a Splendour apple?"

Blair reached into his coat pocket and brought out a napkin-wrapped bundle. "Sure, Jim, no problem. The exhibitor at the apple variety booth I was tellin' you about yesterday had several." He handed the apple over to Jim, who inspected it carefully.

The pinkish-red apple was large, with a small brown spot on its side and Jim remembered the kid's comment that Splendour apples bruised too easily to be sold in grocery stores. He bit into the apple, exposing its white interior. He carefully crunched his way around the apple, memorizing and savoring its taste. He placed the core on the tabletop and glanced up to find Helen and Blair watching him. "Thanks, Chief. I'll explain later." Jim's gaze flicked to his watch. "Now, I've got to get back to the tent. See you two later this afternoon, all right?"

Blair nodded while Helen asked, "Jim, dear, you are planning on attending the auction, right?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Jim promised as he rose to his feet. He slowly made his way back to the judge's tent. He had to cross most of the square to do it, since the food court was located on the north side of the Square, almost directly opposite the judge's tent. He began skirting the parking lot on the east side of the Square, halting in surprise when he spotted Dean out of the corner of his eye. The kid was leaning nonchalantly against a vintage black muscle car.

Jim ducked behind a convenient tree and notched up his vision, appreciatively noting the details of the almost-cherry looking black '67 Chevy Impala. His opinion of the kid rose a bit; anyone who owned and looked after that car—and it was clear to Jim that Dean owned the car he leaned against—couldn't be all bad.

Dean was talking on his cell phone and Jim boosted his hearing without really even noticing.

"Yes, sir."

Dean's tone was respectful, which totally threw Jim. The Sentinel's hearing rose another level so he could clearly hear the other side of the conversation.

"I trust you're through dawdling with that girl now." The voice was gruff, with a distinct edge to it.

"Almost, sir. I'll be finished later this afternoon."

"Good. Because I need your help on the job I'm working on."

"Where are you, Dad? I'll come—"

"No. We'll meet at Caleb's, just earlier than planned. I'll expect you in Lincoln before supper tomorrow night."

"But, Dad—"

"No side trips to Palo Alto, either. Sammy's fine—and I need you in Lincoln."

"But, sir—"

"Do I have to make it an order? Stay away from Palo Alto."

"Yes, sir." Dean's tone was flat.

"Good. I'll see you tomorrow, Dean." Dean's dad broke the connection.

Jim watched as Dean pocketed his cell phone, then back-kicked the tire behind him. Seconds later, the kid calmed down, patting the Impala's hood. "Sorry, baby." Dean took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, then walked purposefully away, heading for the judge's tent.

So, he and Dean had something in common, after all—and it wasn't heightened senses.

TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS

Jim entered the tent and walked over to Norah's table, where she and Dean were patiently awaiting his arrival. He sat down in the empty seat. "Sorry I overreacted earlier," Jim apologized. "Now, let's settle this like reasonable adults, hmm? Norah, what are the top two pies by points?"

Norah scanned the notebook in front of her. "Numbers 4 and 11."

"Fine. I'm going to re-sample Dean's reject, and 4 and 11 and judge them all again. You can keep your current ratings, or re-taste any of these three again, too." Jim stood, and crossed over to the pie table, picking up a spare plate and putting a new piece of #8 on the plate. He sat down in his chair at Norah's table—they weren't keeping their scores a secret from each other, this late in the game. Norah left to get at least one piece of pie for resampling, but Dean remained seated.

Jim took a long sip of water and then picked up his fork and scooped a piece of the allegedly disqualified pie into his mouth. He chewed slowly, filtering out the sugar, crust, nutmeg, cinnamon, flour, and barest hint of parsley (!), until only the apple's flavor remained on his taste buds. He recognized this particular apple taste; he'd just eaten it recently, at lunch. Son of a bitch, the kid's right. This pie's made with Splendour apples. Jim scored it accordingly, and then sampled pie #11 again, followed by #4. He rescored those two slices, and then put his pencil down. Norah had also finished her re-sampling, and Dean hadn't re-sampled or re-judged any pie slices.

"So, Jim. What's your conclusion?" Dean asked.

"I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt if you'll tell me how you know that Kokomo diner used Splendour apples. You don't strike me as the recipe-gathering type," Jim joked lightly.

"I stayed in town for almost two weeks, working a job. So I ate at the diner a lot and got to be on good terms with the waitress there." Dean smiled a twinkle in his eye and Jim knew exactly what he meant when he repeated: "Really good terms." He shrugged. "Their apple pie was my favorite dessert, and before I left town, Diane told me all about the pie's secret ingredient: Splendour apples."

"All right, I believe you. That knocks #8 out of the competition, so I vote for #11."

Dean lightly patted his stomach. "That's my favorite."

"Norah?"

"Well...I'm partial to Granny Smith apples, so my choice would be #4, but in the interest of unity, I'll go along with you two. Number 11."

"All right, then, that's settled." Jim said after Norah made it unanimous. "Let's go tell Jennifer and she can get ahold of Amanda."

Norah stood up."I'll go tell Jennifer. It was nice meeting you two. I trust I'll see you both at the presentation and auction later this afternoon."

"Looking forward to it." Jim said. "Blair says I'm a natural auctioneer."

"I'm sorry I'm gonna miss that," Dean sounded sincere. "But my meeting's been moved up to tomorrow, so I'm hitting the road as soon as I tell Mandy goodbye."

"Oh, too bad. Well, drive safely then, Dean. Good-bye." She walked towards the tent's exit.

Jim impulsively pulled out his business card and held it out to Dean. "If you're ever in Cascade, look me up."

Dean hesitated a moment, then plucked the card out of his hand and pocketed it.

"I'll treat you to a meal," Jim offered. "And I promise, no apple pie for dessert!"

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Apple Pie and Chevrolet part 2
by Swellison

Dean sauntered into Amanda's (surprise, surprise) pink and white kitchen, drawn in by the enticing smells of fresh coffee and pancakes. The hunter's gaze swept over the apple-shaped cookie jar and matching canisters on the pink granite countertop, the outdated pink and red apple border, the pink stove, and apple placemats.

Amanda was seated at the round table, talking on her phone. She smiled at him and continued speaking, adjusting the silverware on the place setting in front of her. "Yes, Dad, I'm fine... Yes, I'll get the car over to Otto's today...Oh, my, that's terrible, how is Joe?...I'll send him flowers from the family...Well, that's a tall order, but I'll try...Love you, too. Bye." Amanda clicked off the handset, then rose to put the wireless phone back on its base on the countertop by the stove. "Breakfast's just about ready," she said over her shoulder, scooping a pancake out of the frying pan and placing it on top of the stack warming on the stovetop. "If you can get the coffee..."

"Sure." Dean skirted the table and picked up the pot from the Mr. Coffee machine on the counter by the sink. Taking the pot, he stepped back to the table and poured into two steaming "I Heart Apples" mugs, then returned the pot to the coffeemaker. Meanwhile, Amanda had transferred the pancakes to their plates and fetched the maple syrup and butter from her fridge. They sat down about the same time and started eating.

"Mmmm, this is delicious, Mandy," Dean said after his first bite of pancake drenched in syrup. After they'd spent the night together, it was pointless to keep addressing her as "Amanda"—and her old college buddies certainly wouldn't.

"Glad you like it. I don't suppose you know anything about apple pies?"

Dean blinked. "That's an odd question, but, as a matter of fact I do. In my travels, I've been up, down and across the country—and I've eaten a lot of pies."

"Well, that's a step in the right direction," Amanda mused.

"What does that mean?"

"Y'heard Chris talking last night? The festival he mentioned this weekend—it's Cashmere's annual Apple Harvest Festival—well-known in these parts. Why, folks come from all over Washington and beyond to experience our Apple Harvest Festival. The highlight of the whole shebang is the apple pie contest. Joe Carpenter was going to be a pie judge this weekend, but he fell off a ladder and broke his leg, so he's laid up in the hospital. He'll be fine, but we're short a judge, and the contest starts Saturday, as in tomorrow. Mighty short notice to find a qualified pie judge, unless you could—"

"Mandy, I know about eating pies, I don't know about judging them."

"Today's only Friday, I can give you a crash course in pie making and judging. You don't need to be a real expert, just have an appreciation for Washington's finest dessert—apple pie. Please, Dean, I don't know where else I can turn."

Amanda tilted her face beseechingly towards him, but she had nothing on Sammy and his puppy-dog eyes. Still, Dean considered the request. A few days' break from hunting wouldn't be a bad thing, he could tell Dad he was hanging around town to make sure that the threat was taken care of. He'd heard Dad use that excuse himself several times. "As it happens, I don't have to be in California til Tuesday—and apple pie's my favorite. So, it looks like you've got yourself a pie judge, Mandy."

Mandy leaned across the table and gave him a quick kiss. "Thanks. You've taken a load off my mind. We can get started right after breakfast."

"Don't you have to work?"

"I mostly telecommute," Mandy waved at the pink Apple laptop on the counter behind her. "My aunt and uncle own Parmer Farms, the orchard's been in my family for generations. I do the bookkeeping and I started handling internet sales two years ago. When I first got back from school, Parmer Farms didn't even have a website. Now, almost twenty percent of our business is internet sales. We're well-known for our Cripps Pink apples, also known as Pink Lady." She smiled and gestured around the kitchen. "When it comes to advertising our apples, I'm a natural.

"Seriously, the whole family promotes the farm and the apple business. Dad's the chairman of the Apple Harvest Festival Committee, and this year the Parmers are in charge of the pie judging – the position rotates annually. So really, by teaching you to be a pie judge, I am working today."

TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS

Jim Ellison rose before his traveling alarm clock could buzz. He didn't like the raucous noise that the necessary nuisance made, and he was an early riser. The noises—roosters, songbirds, crickets and whatever the heck else was out in the boundless country wormed their way into his mind, different enough from city noises to get his attention.

Jim walked into the kitchen, his superior senses not required to smell the tantalizing aroma of coffee, potato pancakes, sour cream and homemade applesauce wafting from the room. His aunt stood in front of the stove, expertly flipping two small pancakes with one spatula. He pushed a chair away from the kitchen table and sat down. "Morning, Helen."

"Morning, Jim. Breakfast's almost ready. Can you go tell Blair?"

Jim rose from his seat. "I'll be right back. Prob'ly have to roust him; he's quite a nightowl." Muttering to himself about Sandburg still clinging to his late night hours left over from his student days, Jim climbed the stairs and pounded on Blair's door. "Hey, Sandburg! Up and at 'em! Breakfast's ready!"

He cranked up his hearing without thought, pleased to hear the restless rustle of sheets and a mumbled muttering from Sandburg about morning people. Jim banged the door again. "I heard that!"

"Of course you did!" Jim heard Sandburg's retort, then more active bustling from within the room.

"Get a move on, Sandburg. You've got fifteen minutes to shower and make yourself presentable—or we'll start eating without you."

The door popped open and Sandburg glared up at him. "You're in my way. I'm heading for the shower."

Jim stepped back and Blair strode rapidly down the hallway. Jim grinned at Blair's retreating back and headed down the nicely carved wooden staircase, bound for the kitchen. He stopped at the entrance, "Blair'll be down shortly, Helen. Anything I can do to help?"

"You can pour the milk if you want, but I'm almost done here, dear."

Jim walked over to the spotless white refrigerator, opened it and extracted a gallon of milk. Stepping over to the table, he poured the milk into the three glasses already on the table. Then he carried the platter of potato pancakes over to the table, teasing Helen about the amount. "Looks like you're cooking for an army."

"No; just two cops." Helen smirked, adding serving spoons to the bowls of sour cream and applesauce.

Blair appeared at the kitchen entry, dressed in jeans, gray t-shirt and his favorite blue plaid overshirt. His hair was pulled back into what Jim considered his working man's pony-tail. "Morning, Helen. Jim."

"Good morning, Blair." Helen greeted him."Did you sleep well?"

"Yes, ma'am." Blair sat down.

"Jim's always complaining about how noisy it is here at night, I'm glad at least one of my guests had a good night's sleep."

Jim caught the glint of understanding in Blair's eye and wondered if there'd be any 'how Sentinels can sleep in the country' lectures—or worse, experiments—from his junior partner and Guide in the near future. "I wouldn't call it complaining, Helen. The sounds here are just - different from what I'm used to in the city. I hope I didn't keep you up."

"Don't be silly. Your mother and I could sleep through anything, or at least that's what your grandmother always said." Helen sat at the table and passed the pancake platter to Blair. "I hope you're hungry."

Blair placed the platter on the tabletop and speared three potato cakes with his fork. "Famished." He globbed some sour cream on the pancakes and started eating. Jim coughed and Blair put down his fork and quickly passed the platter of potato cakes over to him.



Helping himself to four potato cakes, Jim divided the cakes into two stacks of two cakes. Then he lavished the first with sour cream and the second stack with applesauce. "Haven't you ever had applesauce with potato pancakes, Sandburg? You should try it—around here, it's like bread and butter."

"It does look tasty," Blair agreed.

"It is tasty," Jim said. "Home-made using Great-Aunt May's secret recipe, right Helen?"

"That's right. Grandma May used her favorite apples in it, too. Granny Smiths, from our orchard."

Blair's eyes lit up with excitement and Jim knew that his partner was about to go off on some exuberant tangent about who-knows-what, so Jim beat him to the conversation. "Speaking of apples, Helen, when am I supposed to judge those pies?"

"The first round of judging is this morning, we need to be at the festival by eight-fifteen, sharp. There'll be two other judges, Mrs. Dawkins and someone that Amanda found to replace Joe Carpenter."

"What happened to Joe?"

"He broke his leg, something about falling off a ladder. Don't worry, he's fine, but he's in the hospital at least until Tuesday, poor thing." Helen sympathized.

"Who's Amanda?" Jim didn't recognize the name, but it felt like Helen knew every one of the two thousand people in her tiny hometown of Cashmere.

"Amanda Parmer, Judge Parmer's younger daughter. She's a nice girl, but very independent. Harold and Nadeen have had their hands full raising her. Why, you may even know her, Blair. She went to Rainier U for two years, then left because she didn't know what to major in. She came back and took over the bookkeeping and promotional side of the Parmer's Apples—brought the family kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, as she puts it. Their sales have increased significantly in the two years she's been back, too." She turned to address Blair directly. "I got out of the apple business five years ago, when the internet was just starting to make an impact on business conduct."

"You had an orchard? Jim didn't tell me that."

"Yes, Doug and I had inherited his family's apple farm. We had prime growing land along the Wenatchee River, and kept the orchards bustling for 30 years. I kept the business going for eight years after Doug died, but I retired and sold it in 1998."

"That's really fascinating. Would you mind if I interviewed you about the early days of the apple industry at some time? Everyone's heard about Washington apples, but I bet you know tons of little-known facts about the industry, from your family and from running your farm so many years."

"Sandburg, you're sounding like a journalist, not a cop. Now, let's finish breakfast and then get on over to the festival. Where is that being held, Helen?"

"In the Square, same as always."

Jim felt Blair's eyes on him. "What?"

Blair nodded at Jim's ironed black t-shirt. "Kinda grim for a festival, don'tcha think?"

"Nonsense, Blair," Helen said briskly. "It's perfect for a judge. Now, shall we go?"

Half an hour later, Jim, Helen and Blair were on the festival grounds, ie Cashmere Square, bordered by Main Street, Michigan Street, Hawser Boulevard and City Hall Road. Jim was glad that Sandburg refrained from commenting on the unimaginative street names, or worse, detailing where the names originated.

A large white event tent was set up on the south side of the square, with a sign-in desk in front, manned by a high school student. "Good morning, Mrs. Fuller," the girl—her nametag said 'Hello my name is Jennifer'—greeted them. "How many tickets do you need?"

"Only two, Jennifer. My nephew, Jim, here is one of the pie judges."

"Oh, right. I've got a form you need to sign, sir. And a badge somewhere." The girl rifled through the folders and opened a 3-ring notebook on the table. She turned the notebook so that the pages faced Jim and said, "This is the judges' sign-in sheet."

Jim picked up a pen and signed his name, then accepted the blue ribbon that had JUDGE in gold letters on it and clipped it over his jacket's breast pocket. Jennifer handed him a two-page document. "Read this and sign it when you're through, please."

Jim scanned the document—apparently the Apple Harvest Festival took the integrity of their pie judges seriously—then signed his name again, with a flourish. "Now what?"

"Please go into the tent, the other judges are already here. Miss Parmer will brief you shortly." Then she turned her attention to Helen and Blair. "That's fifteen dollars for two general admission tickets."

Blair paid for the tickets, Jim noted with approval, then said his good-byes. He drew open the tent’s entrance flap and stepped inside. The large inside area was arranged simply but effectively. Three long tables were set up on the right side of the tent, with five pies and three plates of freshly sliced pie evenly spaced on the crisp white tablecloths that covered each table. The other side of the tent had three unoccupied round tables and a couple of sofas placed to face the empty tables. Several small but potent space heaters were placed strategically inside the tent, keeping the area comfortably warm. The sofas were occupied, the left-hand one by a middle-aged woman and the right one by two young adults who looked like the sparkling young couples in those People magazines that Blair denied reading, but that Jim frequently encountered when he initiated a clean-up crackdown in the loft.

The girl smiled as Jim approached them. "Hi, you must be Mr. Ellison, Helen Fuller’s nephew?"

"Yes, that’s right, Jim Ellison."

The couple rose to their feet, followed by the older woman. The girl extended her hand and shook Jim’s. "I’m Amanda Parmer. And these are your fellow judges, Dean Adams and Norah Scott."

"Pleased to meet you, Norah, Dean," Jim shook hands with his fellow judges, noting that the kid had a strong, firm grip.

"Likewise, I’m sure," Norah said, while Dean just nodded, giving a perfunctory "Jim." No Mr. Ellison from that kid, Jim noted half-amused.

"Now, let’s get down to business." Amanda said. "The Apple Harvest Festival has been an annual event in Cashmere for almost four decades. It was started in the mid-seventies, to draw attention to the local apple orchards, and the delicious apples that are produced yearly by Cashmere and the entire Chelan County apple-growing community. This ties into the first rule of the pie contest; contestants must use apples from one of the nine most popular apples grown in Washington. As it happens, all of them are grown locally, too. The first page of the judging packet lists these varieties. They are: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Honeycrisp, Cameo and Cripps Pink, also known as Pink Lady.

"The other rules mostly relate to the judging of the pies. Since a large portion of the county is involved in the apple business, the only people barred from entering the contest are direct family members of the judges. It's perfectly OK for someone associated with the apple industry to enter our contest. We've fine-tuned the judging process over the years, and have kept it the same for the past six years. Each contestant bakes and enters two identical pies. One is left intact for the judge's inspection, the other is cut into eight pieces, two are reserved for the charity auction on Sunday afternoon, and the rest are used by the judges. One piece of each pie is available to you this morning, for the preliminary round, and then tomorrrow morning, you'll each have a piece of the top five pies from the preliminary round.

"The preliminary judging is strictly by the book: you will each independently judge all of the pies by appearance, taste, crust, consistency and overall impression. Pies are ranked with five points in each category, with five being the highest score and one the lowest. Then you'll turn your marks over to me and I will tally the scores. The five pies with the most points will then be judged tomorrow morning, in the final round. Final judging starts with the same score card system, but then you will discuss the scores and the merits of the pies among yourselves and pick the winning pie by consensus. We really like to have a unanimous decision on the winning pie, although we have occasionally had to accept a two-to-one majority. The winning pie is then announced Sunday afternoon, just before the Charity Auction starts. Usually the judges are present—and sometimes they act as auctioneers, it's up to you whether you choose to do this. At any rate, let me thank you very much from the community for being this year's apple pie judges."

Amanda took a breath. "Did I leave anything out? Oh, yes, for the final judging, the recipes for the pies will be made available to you, if you wish to know an ingredient. However, some of our entries are from secret family recipes, and the contestant has the option to not submit the recipe if he or she chooses. Now, let's get to the fun stuff.

"You may select your pies in any order that's convenient for you. After you've chosen a piece, sit at your assigned table." She waved towards the three round tables, which had a folder and a couple of pencils in front of each table's sole chair. "When you've finished judging all the pies, take your results to Jennifer, she'll be waiting outside the tent. Then you're free to enjoy the festival in whatever way you choose, until final judging resumes at 11 o'clock tomorrow morning. Again, thank you Jim, Norah and Dean, for your participation. Good luck and good eating."

Amanda then walked over to the tent's exit while Jim, Dean and Norah crossed over to the pie-laden tables, after picking up their judging forms and pencils from their assigned tables.

Jim decided to begin methodically, from the far table and work his way down that table, slowly advancing towards the center of the room. He glanced at the first pie - labelled #11—on the back table. The full pie looked appealing, six equal length slits carefully cut into the pie to release steam as it cooked, each close to thirty degrees apart. A very balanced pie, Jim thought. Then he picked up the closest pie piece, noting that the three plates were located towards the front of the table, for easy reach, in roughly the clock positions of five, six and seven. He walked back to the other side of the tent, set the piece of pie on the table and then sat down. He pulled out the first blank judging form and filled in pie # 11, then set the pencil down and glanced critically at the piece of pie on the plate. Right away, he noticed that the plate wasn't a piece of basic white restaurant dinnerware; it was a soft, minty green in color. Whoever made this pie was trying to get points any way possible. Hmmm, distracting from the core taste and consistency values, or only adding to a really nice pie all around? Jim picked up a fork from the fifteen(!) neatly placed on the table. These people were worried about cross-contamination between apple pies?

Certainly they took this pie judging *very* seriously, it was time he did the same. Jim surveyed the pie critically, amping up his sight to get a good look at the inside consistency of the pie as his fork cut into the tip. He chewed thoughtfully on the pie, letting the delightful smell and taste of well-baked apples, cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, flour, and a hint of mint?, some spice in the mint family, at any rate, linger on his tongue as he swallowed, then tasted another bite. He then picked up the pencil and scribbled down his scores for the first piece. Then he rose from the table. One down, fourteen to go. He was opposed to wasting food, but he could hardly eat fifteen pieces of pie before lunch, so the majority of the pie slices would have to be left uneaten. Then again, wasn't the first bite of anything supposed to be the best?

Jim walked back to the far table for his second piece, pie slice #12. He studied the full pie before picking up his slice—this time the three slices were arranged in a row, to the right of the pie. By starting at the back, he was getting the first slice of these pies, so he was also getting the full impact of any intended design in the pie plate placement. Since both of the pieces so far had been deliberately arranged, Jim glanced down the table, taking in the various plate designs for the other three pies. He noticed that only one had white plates, and they were delicate china with a fluted edge. The other two plates were solid colors, one a lilac-y looking pastel, the other a bold red with a white geometric pattern, mostly obscured by the pie slice. That slice was a square, not the traditional triangle. Jim noted with amusement that the full pie wasn't round, either. He grinned slightly, remembering Sandburg's awful joke "pi are squared". Blair had insisted that that was a funny joke, had everyone at school laughing their heads off when he'd filched it from the internet and told it to his colleagues.

Personally, Jim preferred traditional methods, and he made a note to take a few points off the presentation score for pie #14. Meanwhile, he had to judge the second piece. He walked back to his table, drank a sip of water from the iced pitcher that was on his table—for palate cleansing, obviously. *Serious* pie fanatics, here.

Jim ran through the checklist on his second slice, noting its taste and consistency. He compared it with the first slice and found it lacking, the taste not quite as good, the consistency of the filling a bit on the gooey side, and marked down his scores.

Rising to his feet, Jim crossed back for his third pie piece. He noted that Dean and Norah had both started with the front table, from opposite sides, it looked like. Dean was almost through with the first table, making his way from right to left. Norah had apparently started from the left hand side, with pie #1 and Jim saw her slip past Dean and pick up a pie slice from the middle pie, #3, leaving only Jim's slice left.

Jim paused long enough to remember the plating for the pie #13—it had the faintly lustrous lilac plates simply arranged in a row in front of the pie. He picked up his slice and walked back to his table. Setting the piece down, he gave the full piece the once-over before taking his first, senses-on-alert bite. Yummmmm, his tastebuds said, and Jim gave the tangy but sweet pie high marks. Then he left for his fourth piece of pie. He strode quickly towards the table, altering his step to bypass Dean, who was at the left end of the first table, picking up his fifth piece. As Jim passed the kid, he got an unexpected whiff of a strong odor. Oh, yeah, he'd decided to leave his sense of smell heightened while he worked his way through the pie tasting, it was easier than bouncing it back and forth between normal and extra-strong, like a ping-ping ball or something. Still, he wasn't smelling pie, or apples or anything sweet, it was a pungent odor, but only faintly there. If he'd been using his normal sense of smell, it wouldn't have registered. But now that it did, it left Jim puzzled because it didn't belong here...

He picked up his third pie and strode back to his table, purposely walking past Dean's table, senses heightened. And he smelled it again, old, musty...decayed? What the devil?! Jim glanced sharply at his fellow judge, but the young kid was munching contentedly on a piece of pie, the slice almost entirely gone. Jim shook his head at the bottomless pit that the younger man seemed to have for a stomach. Then he sat down and judged his third piece of pie. He'd picked up a few mental tricks from Blair over the years, and while Jim continued to carefully judge the pie contest, a part of his mind was busy trying to pin down the elusive scent—mud? dirt?—that was emanating ever-so-faintly from Dean. Despite Cascade's well-deserved reputation for rain, it hadn't been raining in Cashmere for the past several days, so it couldn't be mud, exactly....

Almost ninety minutes later, Jim put down his fork and marked his last set of scores, for pie #5. He then looked at the other two tables. Norah was frowning over an untouched piece of pie, but Dean's table was deserted. The younger man had finished his judging and left the tent almost fifteen minutes earlier. Jim picked up his scoring forms and crossed over to the tent exit. He opened the flap and saw Jennifer, reading a book as she sat behind the desk. Hearing the tent flap move, she glanced up and smiled. "Hi, Mr. Ellison. All finished?" she reached to take the sheets of paper from him.

"Yes, Norah's still in there." He glanced at his watch, frowning slightly. "Darn, I was supposed to meet Dean here, but I guess he got tired of waiting."

"You just missed him by a few minutes. Mandy met him here about ten minutes ago. She said she'd really like a stuffed animal as a souvenir, and Dean said, 'That's an easy one' and they walked away. Looked like they were heading for the main strip, to me."

TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS

"Honestly, Jim," Blair enthused as he, Jim and Helen walked down the festival's busy main path. "You may have been eating apple pies all morning, but I was drinking in everything apple. One of the booths has a fascinating video about the growth of the apple industry, and another has a ginormous number of different species of apples on display.

"Cashmere is a one-industry town, like the old mining towns, but it escaped the pitfalls that can occur with a town being economically dependent on one dominant industry by keeping the local farms family-run. There aren't any huge businesses or combines running the apple orchards, at least not locally. One way that Cashmere's managed to do this is niche marketing their apple products, growing species to fill custom orders—" Blair paused for a breath, and realized that he'd lost his audience. Glancing around, he saw that Jim's and Helen's interests had been caught by a booth further up the path. A noticeable crowd was grouped around the shooting gallery booth. Blair followed Helen and Jim as they walked over and joined the crowd of onlookers at the booth. Peering around Jim, Blair spotted Amanda Parmer and a young man in a leather jacket standing in front of the booth. He heard Jim mumble something like "it figures."

The barker, who looked like he was just out of high school, was handing Amanda a big pink stuffed elephant—she had a pink turtle held in her other hand—and casting an anxious look over the crowd.

"Anyone else want to try their luck? Step right up, in front. You've just seen how easy it is to win a prize—" the booth attendant wiped his brow with a handkerchief as the young man growled a correction "pri-zes"—"Anyone else? Please?"

"I will." Jim stepped forward.

Blair and Helen exchanged glances, and the young shooter protested. "Hey! I wasn't finished."

"A little friendly competition never hurt anyone, Dean." Jim smiled and Blair realized that the shooter was one of Jim's fellow judges. "Let's make it interesting. I'll bet you twenty dollars I can out-shoot you."

Dean smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Fine. But it's fifty dollars. When I win, I'm taking Mandy out to the nicest restaurant in town—courtesy of you."

"If he's expecting Jim to back down, he's got another think coming," Blair spoke quietly to Helen. His Sentinel rose to challenges, as this Dean character was going to find out, the hard way.

"Deal." Jim paid for his turn and watched the attendant load a fresh tube of BBs into the rifle. Afterwards, he inspected the tethered rifle and then set it carefully down on the counter at the front of the shooting gallery booth, waiting while Dean's rifle was similarly loaded. Then Jim studied the targets at the back of the booth: currently non-moving rows of raccoons, ducks, rabbits, squirrels, birds and butterflies. The targets were thin sheet metal cutouts that moved from left to right and obligingly tipped over backwards when hit. They started at the bottom row with ten raccoons and shrank in size to the ten multi-colored butterflies on the highest row.

Jim turned to face Dean. "How d'you want to do this, row by row?"

"Why not?" Dean shrugged. "I'll even let you go first."

"How many shots per row? Fifteen?"

"If you need that many." The kid shrugged, and Blair winced inside that he was seeing men in their early twenties as 'kids.' When did that happen?

Blair saw Jim's jaw tighten. "Thirteen."

"What is this, Name That Tune? Fine." Dean smirked. "Eleven. First shot to sight the rifles, then one shot per target."

"Agreed." Jim picked up his rifle and the attendant turned the display back on, so the targets were moving slowly from side to side, some of the rows going left-to-right, the others right-to-left in a further effort to confuse shooters. Dean stepped closer to Amanda, giving Jim plenty of room to shoot, Blair noted with approval. The obnoxious fake-cheery carnival music had started when the targets were put in motion, but Blair knew his Sentinel could easily tune out that distraction.

Blair watched as Jim raised the rifle to his shoulders, shifted his stance slightly and pulled the trigger. None of the targets fell over. After a few seconds, Jim fired again, his second shot knocking over one raccoon. A short pause, then he fired again, and a raccoon tipped over; another pause, another shot, another raccoon out of the lineup. He didn't stop until the entire bottom row was flattened. Eleven shots, ten targets down. Jim lowered his rifle. "Your turn."

Dean stepped over to the counter and Jim backed up to stand next to Blair and Helen. "Nice shooting," Blair said quietly as Dean calmly picked up his rifle, nestled it into his shoulder and fired, missing all the targets. He shifted minutely, then fired again and struck a duck. Dean methodically shot down the row of ducks, making it look easy. He lowered his rifle and the crowd applauded and murmured appreciation over both men's first round efforts.

They switched positions, Dean going back to watch from Amanda's side and Jim coming forward, scooping up his rifle and starting round two. He sighted the weapon with his first shot, then calmly mowed down the westward moving rabbits, shooting west to east, letting the targets move towards him, instead of vice versa.

"Not bad, Jim." Dean commented as they swapped places. The younger man tucked his rifle into his shoulder, fired a sighting shot, made some minor adjustment to his aim and then started shooting. The row of gray and brown squirrels were moving eastward at a steady crawl.

Blair and the rest of the crowd quietly observed as Dean shot down the line of squirrels, his targets about half the size of the first row's raccoons. Jim whistled quietly and Blair looked inquiringly at his partner.

"He shot them all from east to west, in the same direction that the targets were progressing, tracking them with his rifle. That takes skill and a lot of practice." Then Jim stepped up to the counter as the applause and voices quieted. "Not bad, Dean," he said as he took possession of his rifle.

Jim assumed the position, rifle comfortably settled against his shoulder and fired his sighting shot. A few seconds' pause, then he aimed at the targets. Blam! Blam! Blam! Three birds fell over, neatly struck by Jim's BBs, and the rest of the row followed suit. Jim had hit all of his targets, putting the pressure squarely on Dean's shoulders.

Blair studied Dean's body language as the kid stepped up to the counter. If he was feeling any pressure, he sure wasn't letting it show. The younger man retrieved his rifle, tucked it into his shoulder and fired a shot to test the rifle's aim, although Blair got the impression that the kid was only doing that for show. Then he started firing, in the same measured but quick way he'd shot at the previous targets. Blair watched as the pink, purple, blue, orange, and yellow butterflies were shot down, followed by the second set of pink, purple, blue, orange and yellow butterflies being similarly flattened. The crowd started applauding and yacking before Dean even lowered his rifle to the counter. Another perfect round.

"It's a tie." Jim stepped up to the counter and the two competitors stood just a foot or so apart.

Dean glanced at the booth's attendant. "Got any tie-breakers?"

The attendant wiped his hands on his jeans, nervously. "Yeah, sure." He fumbled behind his side of the countertop, then produced a standard white sheet of paper with huge a red star stamped on it. "The shooting star contest. You have to shoot the star out of the paper, totally. If there's any red—even the tiniest bit—from the star still left on the paper when it's inspected, you lose."

"And what do I win, besides Jim's fifty bucks?"

"Ahhh," the attendant glanced over his remaining stock of stuffed animals. "The pink panther—that's the biggest animal I've got, sir."

"And it's the right color," Dean grinned. "Yeah, that works for me. Jim, you in?"

"Yes. I'm sure Cascade's Children's Hospital can find a good home for a pink panther."

"All right, then. You're first."

The attendant walked to the back of the booth and raised his hands to attach two red-starred pieces of paper to a thin black line that ran along the rear of the booth. Then he sauntered back to the front of the booth, resuming his station at the front corner of the gallery. He flicked a switch and the booth's interior lighting was cut, replaced by two spotlights over the target stars. "For dramatic effect."

"By all means, let's have drama." Dean said. "Could you can the music?" He gestured towards the spotlighted stars. "It ruins the mood."

The attendant nodded, hit another switch and the music stopped. Meanwhile, Dean walked over to stand next to Amanda and Jim picked up his rifle. He fired once to sight the rifle, inched his right foot slightly forward, and then opened fire.

Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam!

Five deliberate, evenly spaced shots, followed by a few seconds of silence. Then Jim fired in earnest, unloading the rest of his BBs into the target. He lowered his rifle and placed it on the counter. Then Jim walked over towards Blair and Helen and Blair saw Dean and Amanda kissing, clearly hearing Amanda's "For luck" as Dean stepped up to the counter for the last time.

Dean nestled his rifle into his shoulder as Blair murmured, "Fantastic shooting," to Jim.

"There's a sliver of red still on the paper—I didn't hit one of the bottom points squarely," Jim murmured back. Of course he'd already checked his target with his Sentinel sight. "Let's see how the kid does."

Dean fired his test shot, then repositioned his rifle by the tiniest fraction and pulled the trigger.

Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam!

"He knows the trick," Jim muttered at Blair's side. "I thought he would."

Dean then let loose with his rifle, rapidly firing into the second paper target. Then he lowered his rifle, placing it on the countertop. The audience held its collective breath and all eyes were on the attendant as the kid retrieved the targets from the back of the booth.

Blair swiveled his head towards Jim. "Well?" He knew darn well that Jim had zoomed his vision in on Dean's target as his opponent took his turn.

"Dean won. He shot out the points, then shot in a circle around the rest of the star, cutting it out of the paper. Clean shooting, no trace of red star remaining." Jim stepped back to the counter, and Blair went with him.

They joined Dean in front of the booth while the attendant compared the two targets. "First shooter," he held up the first paper in his hands, "left a tiny bit of red on the paper." He set the paper target on the counter and held up the second one. "Second shooter, no red. Second shooter wins!"

The crowd, which had swelled to over thirty people as the shootout progressed, clapped and Dean grinned, waving acknowledgment. Jim pulled out his wallet and handed the kid two twenties and a ten. "Congratulations. Where'd you learn to shoot like that?"

"My dad was a Marine. He taught me everything I know."

"Congratulations, man." Blair grinned. "It isn't often someone can outshoot Jim."

"Where are my manners?" Jim asked rhetorically. "Blair, this is Dean Adams, my fellow pie judge. Dean, this is my partner, Detective Blair Sandburg of the Cascade PD."

Blair kept his face open and friendly. Jim had deliberately introduced him as a cop, to get the kid's reaction. Blair held out his hand and Dean took it, shaking firmly and not showing any visible reaction to Jim's words. "Nice to meet you, Blair. I was wondering about Jim's shooting ability. I had him pegged as the military."

Blair nodded, laughing. "It's the hair, right? Jim was in the military; ex-Army Ranger—but he's been a cop for decades, now."

"Sandburg!" Jim's voice was tinged with annoyance. "You're making me sound ancient."

Dean pocketed his cash. "I've got to go. I'm taking the prettiest girl in Cashmere out to the fanciest restaurant in town. See ya tomorrow, Jim."

Blair and Jim watched the kid approach Amanda and then the couple left, talking animatedly. "Now I feel ancient," Blair muttered, causing Jim to smile slightly.

"Chief, you're an old soul, not an old man."

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Go to Part 3 http://swellison.livejournal.com/1924.html

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Apple Pie and Chevrolet
by Swellison

"So." Blair Sandburg paused in the midst of entering his arrest report into the PC at his desk. "Y’think they’re gonna convict DeLoggia?"

"You’ve been a cop for four years, Chief." Jim Ellison’s tone held a touch of rebuke. The older detective, dressed in a navy turtleneck and dark gray slacks, was perched on Blair's desk. "You should know by now that we only arrest them. What the DA and the judicial system choose to do with the perps afterwards is out of our hands."

Blair impatiently tucked a loose curl that had escaped the pony-tail he routinely wore at work behind his ear and started to expound on the strength of their evidence against the evil dick, growing with each word entered into his report. He noticed his partner stiffen and glance towards the entrance to Major Crimes. The double doors swung open and Kyle Hanson strode in, nudging along a sullen, stone-faced man in his mid-twenties. Blair knew that Detective Hanson, at twenty-seven the youngest and newest member of Major Crimes, wasn’t on Jim’s Christmas list. Scuttlebutt had it that Ellison was jealous of Hanson’s arrest record and youth.

Blair knew that the gossip about Jim being envious of the much-younger Hanson was hooey. Granted, Jim was a far cry from Naomi Sandburg's free-spirited open-mindedness, but he wasn't the rigid, box-thinking cop that people assumed he was, either. Blair—along with their boss, Captain Simon Banks, and long-term denizens of the Major Crimes squad like Rafe, Henri, Rhonda, and Megan, knew the real Jim Ellison—tough but fair, dedicated and protective to a fault. Simon and Megan also knew that Jim Ellison was a Sentinel, whose five extraordinarily heightened senses aided him in his chosen profession, and that Blair Sandburg was Ellison's Guide who kept his Sentinel grounded and taught Jim how to cope with the complexities of his double-life.

Ever the researcher, Blair had discretely checked into Hanson's record. It was impressive, but Sandburg and Ellison did hold a better arrest record, percentage-wise. Kyle Hanson's arrests were more flashy and news-worthy, and the media-savvy blond detective was often in the public eye. Since the debacle of the premature release of Sandburg's dissertation on Sentinels, Ellison preferred maintaining a low profile, working quietly but effectively. That mess had almost derailed their friendship, and had significantly altered Sandburg's career choices. Blair brought his thoughts back to the present as Jim rose from Sandburg's desk, crossed over to his own desk and scooped up a file.

Blair watched as Jim walked past his desk, heading straight for Simon's office. Jim eschewed the defined path to Simon's office, a L-shaped stroll with a right turn at Henri Brown's desk heading down the main corridor to Simon's corner office. Instead, he strode towards Rhonda's desk, located just outside of Simon's door, so his personal assistant could intercept and screen visitors, if need be. Since Ellison and Sandburg were called to the captain's office frequently, they had adopted their own shortcut, which Sandburg privately had dubbed "the Peru Path."

Blair's attention was drawn to Hanson, firmly escorting his suspect down the main aisle of Major Crimes. Blair's view was obscured by the column by Brown's desk as the duo reached Hanson's desk, on the other side of the aisle from Brown's currently unoccupied desk. Out of the corner of his eye, Blair saw Jim stiffen by Rhonda's desk, dropping his file on it. Sandburg heard some kind of commotion around Hanson's desk, and then the young blond detective raised the alarm, a note of panic in his voice. "GUN!"

Blair surprised himself with the speed in which he pulled his weapon and dropped to the floor by his desk. Blair noted all the other officers in the room had done the same thing and were now crouching by desks, weapons drawn. Craning his neck, he cursed his blocked vision and scooted across the gap to Brown's empty desk, staying low to the floor. Gun in hand, he peered around the desk, and jerked his weapon upright when he saw Ellison’s back in his sights. Hanson's perp was in the center aisle, one hand keeping Hanson in front of him as an unwilling shield, the other holding the automatic shoved into Hanson's neck. The perp's head moved as he anxiously scanned the large bullpen, occupied by several irate cops. He was smack-dab in the middle of the huge room, facing Major Crime's main entrance. Detecting movement at the back of the room, Blair saw Simon's door crack open,but before the captain could do anything, Jim silently stalked behind the gunman. Jim's left hand whipped across the man's neck in an Army Ranger-trained chokehold. Simultaneously, his right hand clamped over the gun, viciously yanking the perp's arm up and away from Hanson. The surprised gunman yelped as Jim's grip on the weapon tightened and he wrenched it out of the perp's arm.

Hanson shoved an elbow sharply into his captor's stomach and stepped quickly out of the man's hold. The room became full of the clicking sound of gun safeties being re-engaged.

Hanson and Ellison eyed each other with the now-disarmed gunman standing between them. "Thanks, Ellison. I've got him now."

Jim removed his arm from around the perp’s neck and stepped back. He flicked the safety back on and returned Hanson’s gun to the younger detective. "I can see that."

Blair rose to his feet and saw Simon approaching Hanson's desk. Debating on joining them, too, Sandburg heard Jim's phone start to ring. Glancing quickly toward his partner, still exchanging words with Hanson, Blair walked hurriedly to Jim’s desk and picked up the phone. "Ellison’s desk, Detective Sandburg speaking."

"Hello, Blair?" Jim’s aunt, Mrs. Helen Fuller, spoke over the phone. "I was trying to reach Jim."

"He’s a little busy now, Helen. Can I help?"

"I wanted to ask Jim for a favor. Our Apple Harvest Festival is next weekend."

"That sounds like a lot of fun."

"Oh, it is, it is." Helen reassured Blair. "It’s just—we’re a bit short of judges this year, and I was wondering if Jim could be a judge for the apple pie contest. He’s so good with food."

Blair hid a smile, remembering that Jim had used his heightened sense of taste to reveal the ingredients in one of Helen’s chocolate dessert concoctions—only it turned out that Helen’s neighbor and baking rival had actually made the cake, not Helen. It was a treasured family recipe that Helen had been trying to pry out of Emily for years, in a friendly cook's rivalry.

Helen was continuing to talk. "—besides, I haven’t seen Jim since the Fourth of July, and here it’s practically November."

"Jim’s been pretty busy, Helen. You know what his job’s like."

"All the more reason to take a break, then. You too, Blair, of course. You can both stay with me, no need to worry about a motel room. Cashmere puts on a very good Apple Harvest Festival. We have booths of all sorts, and rides for the kids. We even have a ferris wheel! And the main attraction is the apple pie contest, it’s an honor to be asked to judge it, really."

Blair glanced around Major Crimes’ office space, things rapidly returning to normal after the earlier excitement. A weekend enjoying a small-town festival sounded like a welcome respite. Just what the doctor ordered. Blair winced mentally. He was never going to be Dr. Blair Sandburg, PhD. in Anthropology, not any more. That title had mutated into Detective Blair Sandburg, Major Crimes, partner to Detective Lieutenant James Ellison—who also happened to be Sentinel of the Great City. Just what the Guide ordered, then.

"Helen, I’ll tell Jim you called and mention the festival. We have a few vacation days coming up, too. You'll be hearing from Jim shortly, okay?"

"Thanks, Blair. And if Jim can't be a judge, I understand. You're still both welcome to come for the festival and a nice old-fashioned visit. Good-bye."

"That's very kind of you, Helen. Bye for now."

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Blair Sandburg glanced up from the anthropology journal he was reading, comfortably sprawled on the loft's loveseat. He glanced at Jim, stretched out on the matching sofa with his feet on the coffee table, perusing the Cascade Times' sports section. The main layout of the loft had changed only slightly in the eight years that he'd been Jim's roommate, after Jim's initial offer of a week's stay while Sandburg relocated from his burned-out residence had become a mutually satisfactory open-ended arrangement.

Sandburg had learned that his Sentinel responded best to continuity in his surroundings, so the main rooms stayed almost static. The sofa and loveseat were re-upholstered every few years for Jim's tactile comfort; they were currently a calming dark green, and the geometrical area rug defining the living room's center had been replaced with a green and tan leaf-patterned rug. The television had been upgraded to a wall-mounted high definition TV, positioned on a pivoting arm above Blair's yellow chair, to the right of the balcony doors. This diagonal placement allowed comfortable viewing from both the loveseat and the sofa, perfect for watching football or basketball with the gang from MC.

Sandburg's creativity wasn't stifled; he redecorated his own bedroom at least once a year. It was currently deep in a '70's retro vibe, with tell-tale orange and brown walls and a huge, genuine tie-dyed spread on the bed that Naomi had retrieved from somewhere once she'd heard about her son's latest room theme.

"So, Jim." Blair decided to just cut to the chase about Helen's request. "Your aunt Helen called while you and Simon were chatting with Hanson in the bullpen."

Jim dropped the newspaper to his lap. "Did she, now."

"Yes. She invited us to come visit for the Apple Harvest Festival, next weekend. She especially wants you to be a judge in the apple pie contest, the premiere event of the Festival. Helen said it's a true honor to be selected, and she thought of you immediately."

"I can tell that you're opposed to the idea." Jim teased, mildly.

"But Jim, a visit to the country would be a much-needed change of scenery—" Blair caught on that Jim was pulling his leg. "You came back from you Fourth of July trip all relaxed and invigorated. I figured it'd be a welcome change of pace before the holiday madness ensues.

"And I totally agree with Helen; you'd be a fabulous judge, with your heightened tastebuds and other senses, you'd suss out the winning pie in no time."

"Aunt Helen's a wonderful cook, too. And she makes real food, not the vegetables, beans and tofu fusion-stuff that you're always trying to get me to eat."

"There's nothing wrong with healthy eating, Jim," Blair protested.

Jim didn't reply directly; he reached for the phone and dialed Aunt Helen's number. "Hello, Aunt Helen? It's Jim... Blair's been filling me in on your Apple Harvest Festival... I'd be delighted to judge your apple pies...Simon knows we've got some time off coming, so that's not a problem...See you Friday, then. Bye."

TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS

Dean Winchester pulled the Impala off the night-still two-lane road, creeping slowly along the shoulder. He parked under the cover of a weeping willow, the long, dragging leaves concealing his large, black car. The half-moon, while casting some light, also aided in hiding his default home. He opened the door and got out, pausing for a few quick stretches before heading for the trunk. He popped the lid, quickly surveying the totally deserted area by second nature. Glancing at his watch, he read the time: 9:43. Dean half-shrugged, surprised at how early it still was. Guess the jokes about small towns rolling up the streets at 9 pm are true. It certainly seems to be the case in Dryden. Dean tugged up on the small, almost invisible fabric loop that opened his secret weapons cache, concealed underneath the Impala's false trunk bottom. He grabbed his sawed-off shotgun and then closed the secret stash's lid. Reaching for one of the duffels tucked into the corner of the trunk, he unzipped it, depositing his shotgun, and checking for the ever-present salt and lighter fluid. He then zipped the duffel closed and slipped the bag over his shoulder, grabbed a shovel, and firmly closed the trunk.

After a final glance at his surroundings, he walked towards the faint dirt road, passing the Mountainview Cemetery sign. As he approached the wrought-iron gate, Sam's voice rang in his head "There's the cemetery. People are dying to get in there." His younger brother must have been around seven when he'd picked up the joke from school, and repeated it, knowing Dean would get the humor in it. That was long before Sammy knew about the monsters lurking in the dark, before he discovered and rejected the family business, leaving his family—Dad and Dean—in the dust as he'd departed for Stanford University two years ago.

Dean shook his head and concentrated on the task at hand. He hopped over the only six-foot-tall ornamental cemetery fence, deciding that it was easier than picking the lock on the gate, and left less tangible evidence of his presence. He then walked carefully through the grave sites, slowing down to check the names when he approached the newer part of the cemetery, towards the back. Dad would doubtless fault him for having the shotgun in his duffel instead of crooked in his arm, at-the-ready, but he only had two hands, here. Besides, he'd extract the shotgun from the duffel as soon as he found the right headstone, so no worries. He no longer had the luxury of Sammy backing him up, splitting the load, and he'd had to adjust his procedures accordingly.

For a moment, he wondered how Dad - he could hear Sammy's sarcastic voice—"the great John Winchester"—handled his weapons and equipment in a solo hunt. Maybe he should ask? Maybe not, though. Dad wasn't much of a conversationalist these days; he ate, lived and slept hunting, most especially hunting for the thing that had killed Mom, now twenty years ago...

Oh, jeeze, way to get your head in the game, Dean! He sharply criticized himself, plainly hearing Dad's voice in his head. He went back to studying the names on the headstones—he'd never really stopped, even as he'd retreated into his memories. Dean was very good at hearing one thing and doing another. Even his brother envied his ability to "walk and chew gum at the same time", as Sam had snarkily put it more than once during the years they had both been Dad's good little soldiers. Joseph Tourmaline, Andrew Sexton, Dale Gooden—those names didn't even come close to the one he was looking for, Sherry Torrent.

Five graves in, he found Sherry. Dean dropped the weapons bag from his shoulder, unzipped it, and quickly yanked out the sawed-off shotgun. He stared at the headstone for a second, and gently placed the shotgun on the ground to the left side of the headstone. Out of the way of his digging, but it would be within easy reach if he needed it. Then he put the duffel next to the shotgun, far enough away that it wouldn't block his reach. He mentally measured off the space in front of the headstone and calmly extracted an illegal eight-inch switchblade, flicking it open with ease. Bending over, he thrust the knife blade into the ground, carving out a long rectangle in the grass. He pocketed the knife and swiftly rolled the grass up, setting it on the opposite side of the gravestone from his duffel and shovel. He carved out and removed two more grass strips, adjacent to the first one, making a big rectangle of soil in front of the girl's headstone. Then he grabbed his shovel, thrust it into the earth and started digging.

Dean paced himself, knowing that it would take a long while to dig down to the buried casket by himself. He wondered if going solo was the best thing for him; if he'd have been better off staying with Dad and hunting as the two-man team that they'd become since Sammy had quit the field. But John Winchester wanted Dean to be able to hunt solo, and what Dad wanted, Dean bent over backwards to give him. Another point of contention with his now-estranged brother, Dean's absolute willingness to do or be whatever Dad told him.

Dean stopped shoveling to wipe the perspiration from his forehead, then resumed digging. He had discarded his leather jacket when he'd commenced digging, and briefly debated removing his overshirt, too. However, it was October in Washington and the chilly night air was too cold for that. He soon had a good-sized mound of dirt piling up to the right of the hole, and he shifted his aim when he dropped the dirt, starting a new mound. This went on for hours, the only sound in the cemetery Dean's shovel, systematically extracting dirt from Sherry Torrent's final resting place.

Only it wasn't, Sherry having decided that she didn't want to stay buried. Instead, she'd wreaked havoc on two members of her family – her husband and his cousin, Joe.

Dean had found out about the weird happenings in Dryden by accident. He'd just been passing through and stopped at a local bar for a drink and some friendly games of pool. Actually, Dean didn't do friendly games of pool; he hustled pool. It was one of his tried and true ways to make money on the road, and pay for the things that his fake credit cards couldn't. He was also, at twenty-four, an accomplished poker player, which plenty of people had found out the hard way. Yes, Dean was, in every way, his father's son—something Sammy always maintained that he, himself, was most emphatically NOT.

Dean paused again to rub the sweat off his face, and change mental gears. He didn't like the way his upper brain constantly thought of Sammy, although if he was honest, he'd have to admit that his family was his world, so that limited his thoughts. Maybe when this little old salt-and-burn was done, he could drop by Palo Alto and check on Sammy.... Hell, maybe he'd even get up the gumption to actually speak to Sammy, instead of just shadowing him from afar. No, not opening that can of worms, not now. He had a job to do, and he needed to focus on that.

He went back to digging, having made a lot of progress in the over two hours he'd been at his task. A few more shovelfuls and the shovel clanked, hitting the top of the coffin. About time. Dean redoubled his digging efforts, working to clear the space around the lid, so that he had access to its lock. This was a new coffin—pine, so Sherry's relatives were being cost-conscious in their choice of her eternal resting place. It didn't take him long to pick the lock and open the lid. As he did so, a gray blur whipped out of the coffin and floated above the ground to Dean's left, staring at him with accusing eyes.

"What are you doing here?" the ghost's voice was clearly angry, and loud.

Dean spun, quickly grabbing his sawed-off shotgun from the ground at her feet. BLAM! He shot at the ghost, the rocksalt hitting the spirit and causing her to disperse with a wail. Dean kicked it into high gear, knowing he only had minutes, if that, before the ghost rematerialized. He grabbed the salt and the gasoline and poured both over the exposed body, pink dress and decaying flesh still very visible. Then he grasped the side of the hole and heaved himself out of it. Reaching into his pocket as he rose to his feet, Dean struck a match and eyed the flame for a few seconds, dropping it into the exposed coffin's salt and gasoline-soaked contents. Sherry chose that moment to materialize and faced him across the opened grave site, glaring. "I'm gonna—" she started to say, then gasped as the flames rose from the burning coffin, and slowly burnt up her ghostly form, starting with her legs, leaving her face the last thing to go up in smoke.

"Rest in peace, bitch." Dean snorted. Score: Dean Winchester 1, Ghost Girl 0. He couldn't gloat too long, he still had to fill the dirt back into the hole, and then spread the grass strips back over the ground. Luckily, filling the hole was a much faster, easier job than digging it. In less than an hour, he'd filled in the hole and recovered it with grass. With any luck, no one would know that he'd been there. We do what we do and we shut up about it. Dad's number one rule resounded through Dean's head. He wearily picked up his shovel and walked back to the Impala. He stowed his gear in the trunk, getting a good whiff of ode de graveyard from his raised arms to close the trunk lid. I'm takin' a shower as soon as I get a motel room.

He paused long enough to strip off his plaid overshirt and black t-shirt. After dousing himself with cologne, he slipped into a fresh t-shirt and his leather jacket, then slammed the lid closed and hit the road.

Dean drove down the road and turned right onto a two-lane state highway, which actually had full, gravel shoulders on its sides, so it was a vast improvement over the road to the cemetery. A few minutes later, he came across a pink convertible pulled over to the shoulder, its hood raised. He pulled over behind the car, and got out. Dean blinked when he saw that it was a Mustang, souped up with custom hubcaps, a spoiler, and a vanity license plate. PNK LADY.

He saw the driver leaning against the driver's side door, cell phone to her ear. It had to be a woman, because what guy would put up with a pink Mustang? Which, come to think of it, must be a custom paint job, because pink wasn't a normal paint option for a speedy macho Mustang.

He approached the girl, hands loosely at his sides. "Hi. D'you need any help?"

"Yes." The pretty blonde gave Dean the once-over, doubtless noting his leather jacket, jeans and biker boots. Dean shifted his feet but met her gaze. Undoubtedly, she was also getting a sniff of Dean himself, too—the cologne could only go so far in masking his hours of toil in the cemetery.

He returned the favor, noting her short blonde hair, snug-fitting jacket (pink suede, to match the car) and curve-hugging raspberry jeans. A pair of textured pink cowboy boots peaked out from the bottom of the jeans. She was totally hot.

She snapped her flip-phone closed and tossed it into the driver's seat. "D'you know anything about cars? I was driving along, then I heard this loud snap or bang. The car died, so I coasted over to the side of the road. This late at night, there's not much traffic going by."

"Hmmm," Dean walked over to the raised pink hood—at least she hadn't added the thick black racing stripe; that would've been just wrong. "Well, 'bang' is never a good sound, coming from a car, but let me take a look." He bent over, leaning under the hood to feel around the engine, the carburetor, and a few other places. The area was lit up suddenly and he saw that the girl was holding a flashlight, allowing him a better view of the car's innards. Quickly turning his head towards her, Dean smiled. "Thanks. That makes the diagnosis easier." He stood up and withdrew from the hood. "But it doesn't change the results. You've got a broken belt."

"That's not something you can fix, is it?"

"By the side of the road? No, ma'am."

"Ma'am?" She coughed. "You can call my mother ma'am, but don't try it with me. My name is Amanda, Amanda Parmer —Mandy, for short. "

"Yes, ma—Amanda. Anyway, your car isn't going anywhere tonight. Did you call a tow truck?"

Amanda paused, then said. "I was trying to. The reception's kinda hit-or-miss out here in the boonies."

"I know what you mean," Dean replied. "My name's Dean Adams, by the way."

"Pleased to meet you, Dean—very pleased." She smiled again.

"D'you want me to try my cell? I might be able to get a useable signal."

"No, thank you. But I could use a ride, if you don't mind?"

Dean frowned slightly. Girls should not be asking strangers for rides in the middle of the night. At least, not normal girls, like the ones that Sammy was probably meeting at Stanford. It was unusual to encounter someone on a deserted road, maybe she wasn't exactly what she seemed, and her goal was to get inside the Impala, and then rob him? You've been watching too many cop show reruns, Dean chided himself.

"Where can I take you to?"

"The Appleyard Bar 'n Grill, it's about ten miles from here, close to Cashmere."

Dean did a double-take. "You want me to drop you off at a bar?"

"It's about the only place open this time of night around here. My cousin's the bartender there. He'll see that I get home safely."

"Well, okay. Appleyard Bar 'n Grill it is, then." Dean waited while the girl—Amanda—fished a handkerchief out of her purse and tied it to the driver's side door handle. Then she grabbed her cell phone and slipped it into her leather purse—pink, of course.

"I'm ready." They walked towards the Impala, Dean escorting the girl to the passenger side. Opening the door, he let her get settled before closing it, then rejoining her behind the wheel. He started up the engine, and the Impala glided smoothly back onto the road.

"Nice car," Amanda said, running her fingertips over the dashboard in front of her.

"Yes, she is."

"Turn right at the second crossroad and then follow US 2 into town. The bar's at the side of the highway, you can't miss it."

"Okay. Mind if I turn on some music?"

"Not at all."

Dean flicked the dial on, the speakers blaring AC/DC from where they left off. He caught a movement from the passenger seat and hastily lowered the volume. "Sorry, I tend to crank up the volume."

"That's okay. I like AC/DC."

Dean grinned, Miss Pretty in Pink had gone up a notch in his book. He wanted to ask her what she was doing out on the road so late, but the question might boomerang, with her asking the same thing.

"So, Dean, what're you doing out here this time of night," she giggled slightly, "besides rescuing damsels in distress, that is."

"Isn't that enough?" Dean asked mildly.

"Probably. But my father wants me to be a journalist, and you know how nosey the press is."

Dean's eyes glinted with humor, remembering some of Dad's less-than-favorable views of the fifth estate. "Haven't you heard of the old saying, 'Don't look a gift horse in the mouth?'"

"Sure I have, but that doesn't answer my question."

"I've got an answer," Dean said, mind searching for a plausible cover story. "But it's not very exciting, I'm afraid." He decided to go with a simple lie. No embellishments needed, easy to remember. "My business involves a lot of travelling, and right now I'm heading for my next job, in Palo Alto." Damn, he'd meant to say San Francisco, but Sammy was never far from his mind.

"You're a bit north of California."

"Yes, my last assignment was in Bismarck."

She looked him over, a slight smile curving her lips. "You're a long way from both, now. Were you planning on driving straight through? That can't be good for business."

"The boss gives me a hotel allowance based on travel dates, whether or not I actually stay in a hotel is up to me. I enjoy traveling the open road, so sometimes I just keep driving."

"Well, lucky for me tonight was one of your road nights."

They both noted the batch of bright lights they were approaching, and the neon sign "APPLEYARD BAR 'N GRILL" with alternating neon words in red and green. Dean pulled into the parking lot, close to the door. A few cars and more pickup trucks already occupied the lot. Dean filed the information to check the bars in small towns. Although it was after one a.m., the bar was a hotspot of activity even if the town had officially rolled up the red carpet at nine p.m..


"C'mon inside and I'll buy you a drink," Amanda offered. "It's the least I can do, to repay your efforts. Cashmere only has one taxi, and old Ed Garland's been snoring for the past couple of hours, at least, so I'd still be waiting for a ride, if you hadn't come along."

Dean looked at the girl, consideringly. "Are you old enough to buy drinks?" He'd learned the hard way that makeup and moonlight could add a few years to a girl's true age—emphasis on girl.

"Hey, I'm twenty-two! You look like you still get carded, too. " Amanda's tone changed from defensive to teasing.

"I'm twenty-four!" Dean protested automatically. Sheesh, even chicks think I look younger than I am. Hell, a beer—or something stronger—seemed fair compensation for an extra-long night. "All right." Dean found an empty space, pulled in and parked. Disembarking, he sauntered around to the Impala's other side and opened the passenger door, giving Amanda a courteous assist.

They walked into the bar, Amanda leading the way to the long mahogany bar located at the back of the mildly rustic-looking room.

"Hi, Chris."

"Mandy! What'cha doing back here?" the dark-haired twenty-something bartender greeted them, then resumed wiping down the bar with a hand towel.

"My car broke down halfway to Dryden," Mandy said. "Fortunately, Dean offered me a lift here."

The bartender turned towards Dean, eyes narrowing, but he spoke to Amanda. "What? Why didn't you call me? Never mind, I know—no signal, right? Your father's not gonna be pleased."

"I can handle Dad, Chris. I just need a ride home, when you're free."

"Damn, I wish I knew about this earlier, Mandy. I'm working late, promised Ned I'd do inventory and haul up the extra supplies for the festival this weekend. You know how busy it'll be."

"I can take Mandy home," Dean volunteered.

"And why should I trust you, Dean?" Chris's eyes narrowed.

"Because Dean's a friend of mine—not just some stranger who offered me a lift. Chris Parmer, meet Dean Adams. Dean, this is my cousin Chris." Amanda stepped back into the conversation with belated introductions. "He was an upperclassman while I was at Rainier, a coupl'a years ago. We met again tonight by serendipity."

Dean's estimation of Amanda rose again. He appreciated a good lie when he heard one—and a good liar. He leaned closer to her, smiling. "Hey, Mandy, where's that drink you promised me?"

"Coming up. Two drafts, please, Chris. We'll be at my usual table." Amanda walked away from the bar, Dean trailing her slightly. She made her way across the room and slipped into a half-circle booth, tucked into a nook close to the kitchen. Dean slid onto the green leather bench seat on the other side of the table.

"So, you're a co-ed?" Dean asked, making conversation as they waited for their drinks.

"Not anymore. Two years at Rainier University, in Cascade. But I still didn't know what I wanted to do at the end of my sophomore year, so I took a little time off to figure things out. Came back here to run the technical side of the family farm."

Dean grinned, a wicked gleam in his eye. "Hey, you're a genuine farmer's daughter?"

"Yes, but the farm's really an orchard—an apple orchard. Like everyone else around here, my family's into apples."

Dean noticed that the rustic motif to the bar had a heavy apple influence, come to think of it the free-standing tables - curved, off-white stands and painted red and green tops, kind of resembled apples. Now the joint's name made more sense, THE APPLEYARD.

A tall brunette waitress delivered two beers to their table. "Hey, girlfriend. Back for seconds?" the waitress inquired breezily, then flicked her eyes towards Dean. She lowered her voice, "You sure can pick 'em, Mandy." The waitress stepped back, smiling at Dean. "Let me know if you need anything else, sugar." Then she left.

Amanda gave Dean a half-smile. "That's Stephanie. We went to high school together."

She took a gulp of her beer, then put it down and met Dean's eyes. "Thanks again for giving me a lift."

"Anytime. Can't let a damsel stay in distress, it's not in my nature."

"Well, that's a comforting thought." They talked in generalities while drinking their beers. Amanda set down her empty mug. "Will you take me home, now, Dean? Sorry to drink and run but it's been a long day."

"Sure." Dean reached for his wallet, but Amanda gently grasped his hand.

"I'm buying, remember?" she said, dropping a couple of bills on the table. "Let's go."

Driving Amanda home took only a few minutes. Dean pulled into the indicated driveway at the side of a light-colored bungalow.

"Here we are." Amanda rummaged around in her purse for her keys and then turned to Dean. "Look, it's absolutely ridiculous for you to go find a motel at this time of night. You're perfectly welcome to stay here."

Dean's eyebrows rose. "What will your neighbors say?"

"Steph overheard us talking to Chris at the bar. I'm sure by tomorrow night it'll be all over town that you're a friend of mine from Rainier. So," she said, grinning up at him, "no raised eyebrows from the town gossips, at all. They'd expect me to put up an old college friend."

"All right, you've convinced me." Dean extracted the keys and they stepped outside of the car. "Let me get my bag." Dean walked to the trunk, opened it and grabbed his duffel, then followed Amanda up the porch steps and into her house.

"D'you mind if I use the shower?" he asked, setting his duffel on the first piece of furniture he saw, the living room couch. "As you must've noticed, I smell a little rank."

"Help yourself. Second door on the right," Amanda waved towards a hallway off to the left of the living room. "I'm gonna make some hot tea, d'you want some?"

Tea? That was for girls, although Sammy liked it, too. "No thanks." Dean politely declined, and then snatched up his duffel and headed for the shower.

Ten minutes later, Dean was showering, vigorously scrubbing the graveyard dirt and sweat from his body when he felt a slight draft. The shower curtain opened and Amanda stepped in, naked. "Let me wash your back," she took the washcloth from Dean's right hand. "And then I can thank you properly, hmmmm?"

TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS*SPN*TS
Go to Part 2 http://swellison.livejournal.com/1628.html

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Title: Sasquatch and Squash
Author: Swellison
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: 3rd season story, takes place after Dream a Little Dream of Me, references Dean's deal. Content warning:
To quote My Favorite Year: "Women vomit, men throw up." Much spewing of bodily fluids occurs here, do not read close to meal time. Angst & yuckies abound.
Disclaimer: Sam, Dean and all the other elements and players of the Winchester Universe are the property of Eric Kripke et al.
Word Count: 6,830 words
Recipient: Termite
Prompt: at the end of the story




Once they were out of the cramped bathroom, Dean slipped Sam's right arm over his shoulder and put a hand around Sam's waist, supporting him from the side as they trudged down the hallway. Almost halfway there, Sam halted, pushed Dean's hand away and spun around, walking rapidly toward the bathroom.
What, again? Dean trailed Sam back to the bathroom, then he kept on walking, going into the living room. He strode towards the sofa, illuminated by the light from the open bathroom door. He yanked open the weapons bag that Sammy'd left on the couch, grabbing their medicine kit. Returning to the bathroom, he waited patiently through another round of Sam's ralphing, then cleaned up his little brother. They walked slowly down the hallway, again, Sam leaning more pronouncedly against Dean this time. That's it. As they approached the doorway to the first bedroom, Dean steered Sam towards his room.
Sam balked. "That's your room, Dean."
"I know that, Sammy. I wanna keep an eye on you, you're sick. Besides," Dean added the clincher, "It's closer to the bathroom."
Sam didn't resist as Dean guided him into the first bedroom and settled Sam on the bed. Dean then retrieved a fresh t-shirt for Sam and watched as his brother slipped it on.
"No covers," Sam said as Dean started pulling the blankets up.
"Sammy, it's less than forty degrees outside," Dean argued. "And it's not much warmer in here."
"No covers," Sam said, "I'm hot enough already."
"Just one blanket," Dean compromised, pulling the sheet and lightweight green blanket up almost to Sam's chin. "Be right back." He slipped out of the bedroom and into the bathroom, returning with the medkit and a glass of cold water. Setting the water on the nightstand, he withdrew two aspirins from the medkit. "Here, take these." He held out the pills to Sam.
"No, it won't stay down, Dean." Sam protested.
"You need to take those pills, Sammy. You're sick and I think you've hurled more than that time you were stinkin' drunk at that hotel in Connecticut. Now, open up." Dean held out the two pills and watched as Sam reluctantly swallowed them. Then he handed Sam the glass of water, nodding approvingly as Sam drank almost all of it.
"There. Feel better?"
"Not really," Sam's expression twisted and he tossed the covers aside, lurching out of bed and clambering down the hall.
"Sammy?" Dean followed, pausing only to switch on the hall light, the closed bathroom door dimming the hall lighting considerably. He yanked open the door to find Sammy seated miserably on the toilet. The room reeked worse than if Sam had eaten ten burritos. Dean closed the door and strode quickly to his room, extracting the Pepto-Bismol carton and a box of wooden matches from the medkit. He returned to the bathroom, stepping inside long enough to wordlessly place the two small boxes by the sink. Dean left, closing the door behind him almost completely, leaving it cracked open less than an inch.
Dean loitered patiently in the hall, hearing the toilet flush, then running water. In the night-time quiet, he also heard Sam opening the box of Pepto-Bismol and tearing open the packaging around the tablets. Then he heard Sam strike a couple of matches and finally the bathroom door creaked open. Sam stood silently in the door frame.
"Ready to try again?" Dean asked and gently walked his sick brother back to the closer bedroom. He got Sam resettled under the blanket. "Wait a sec." Dean popped into Sam's bedroom and snatched up Sammy's current paperback. Re-entering his own bedroom, Dean pulled the straight back chair from its position in front of a rough pine desk and placed it next to the night table, between Sam's side of the bed and the door.
Dean sat down, adjusting the lamp on the nightstand so that it shone more on himself and less on Sammy. Then he glanced at the back cover blurb of Evil Under the Sun. "Poirot? I thought you liked that old bat, Miss Marple best," Dean teased.
"Actually, Tommy 'n Tuppence are my favorites—a real partnership, but Christie didn't write nearly as many stories with them as the protagonists."
"Huh." Trust Sammy to use three-dollar words, even when he's sick as a dog. "Close your eyes and relax, Sasquatch, I'm gonna read to you, pick up where you left off." He quelled Sam's incipient protest with a classic big brother glower, found Sam's bookmark and started reading aloud.
It worked for almost half an hour. Dean started reading Chapter Five when Sammy squirmed, then sat up in bed. "I'm gonna—" he warned, but Dean was already in action.
Dropping the book, Dean rose from his chair and pulled back the covers, grabbing the room's wastebasket and placing it on Sam's lap. Sam grasped the trash can's edge, leaned forward and puked. Four lengthy spurts this time, Dean noted with concern. What is going on with you, Sammy?
Dean removed the trash can when it seemed that Sam—and his stomach—settled down. He took the thankfully lined trash can to the bathroom and flushed the revolting contents down the toilet, seeing a couple specks of pink in the disgusting yellow-green glop. So the Pepto didn't work either. Fan-freakin'-tastic. Leaving the trash can to soak in the tub, he walked to Sam's room, grabbed that room's trash can and returned to Sam. Placing the trash can in easy reach at the side of the bed, he said, "Take it easy, Sammy. I'll be right back."
Leaving the bedroom, Dean strode towards the kitchen, hunting up the trash can liners in short order. He scrubbed the first can clean, re-lined it and then returned to his bedroom, pretty sure he'd need the backup bucket before the night was over. Sam was sprawled on top of the bed, uncovered in the chilly night. "Samm" Dean almost growled, and Sam reacted, quickly resituating himself under the sheet and one blanket. Dean sighed, preparing to resume his seat and start reading. He glanced at Sammy's sweat-glistening face. Oops, change of plans. He quick-marched to the bathroom, returning with a damp washcloth, a new glass of water and Sam's toothbrush and toothpaste.
Sam sat up in bed, and Dean wiped the damp cloth over his younger brother's face. Then he handed Sam his toothbrushing gear. Sam brushed his teeth, spitting into the initial, almost empty water glass still on the night stand. Dean cleared away the stuff after Sam finished, and picked up the Christie paperback, still lying on the floor.
About to reseat himself, Dean changed his mind. Keeping a hold of the book, he walked around the double bed to its far side and climbed under the covers. He remembered little Sammy taking comfort from his mere presence, and he still had plenty of big brother mojo. Dean refused to think about how his permanent absence would affect Sam in the future, instead he opened the book. "Now, where'd we leave off?" He grinned to himself as he felt Sam settle more comfortably in the bed. Big brother still knows best.
They made it through the rest of a rocky night, Sam upchucking once or twice an hour, Dean methodically dealing with the results and coaxing Sam back to bed. Just before dawn, Sam started snoring and Dean took advantage of his temporary respite, hopping quietly out of bed. He grabbed his cell phone and walked down the hall into the dark living room. The fire was on its last legs, but he ignored it, flipping open his cell and dialing 9-1-1.
"I'm sorry, the number you have reached—"
Dean ended the call, cursing small towns and their limited access to crucial emergency services. Then he hit speed dial #2, their own personal 9-1-1 number.
"Whatta ya want?"
"Sam's sick, Bobby."
"What's the matter, how sick?"
"He spent the whole night barfing. Ya wouldn't believe the number of times the toilet's been flush—"
"TMI, boy. I get your point, tho'. What do you need?"
"Directions to the nearest ER or clinic. We're in BF Egy—Erin, Tennessee, but Sam said you already know that."
"Okay, gimme a few minutes and I'll call you back in ten."
"Thanks, Bobby. Bye." Dean clicked his cell off and lowered the ringtone volume, since he didn't want to wake Sam any earlier than necessary. He padded back into his bedroom and quietly dressed, grabbing his boots and returning to the living room. He sat down on the sofa, slipped into his boots and laced up the grommets. Still no call from Bobby. Dean went to the kitchen and half-heartedly opened a couple of cupboards, striking gold when he found an unexpected can of coffee in one. Spying a cheap home coffee maker on the counter, Dean started making a batch of coffee. He really needed some caffeine; he'd been keeping an eye on Sammy all night long and he had to drive Sam to the hospital or clinic or whatever, soon.
Smoke on the Waters played softly from his jeans pocket, barely discernible over the bubbling coffee maker, and Dean eagerly snatched up his cell. "Bobby?"
"Nearest hospital is in Waverly, about thirty miles southwest of Erin. Take Main Street—also known as Tennessee-49—to Tennessee-13 and stay on the highway. Three Rivers Hospital's right along the highway, on the feeder road, in Waverly. You can't miss it."
"Thanks, Bobby."
"Call me when you know more about Sam."
"I will. Bye." Pocketing his cell, Dean headed for his bedroom. He crossed to the bed and nudged Sam's shoulder. "Sammy. Rise and shine, bro."
"Mmphrggg," Sam mumbled, but at least he stopped snoring.
"Sammy." Dean prodded his brother again. "Let's go. Now."
Sam woke, sitting up in bed and gazing blearily at his brother. "Dean?"
Dean recognized the all-too-familiar expression that crossed Sam's face and he had the trash can positioned just in time as Sam upchucked again, beginning the day on a sour note.
"I was afraid of that. Sorry, Sammy.” Dean helped Sam out of bed and down the hall towards the bathroom. "Get cleaned up and I'll bring you your clothes."
Ten minutes later Dean, already in his leather coat, kept his eye on Sam as his fully dressed but wobbly brother entered the kitchen. Dean finished guzzling his cup of coffee. "Ahhhhh," He placed the empty cup on the counter. "Let's go, Sammy."
"Where're we going?"
"Hospital. Nearest one's in Waverly, so grab your jacket. I left it on the sofa."
"Hospital? Why?" Sam questioned, then his face tightened. "Did you injure your back some more?"
"I'm fine, Sammy.” Dean shook his head. The dude is up all night ralphing and he's worried that I need to go to the hospital. That's my kid brother, all over. Dean urged Sam towards the sofa. "You've been barfing all night, and that's not natural, bro."
Sam froze, one sleeve of his brown microfiber coat in place. "Y'mean it's supernatural?"
Dean's eyebrows rose; he hadn't even thought of that, but it wasn't that long since their run-in with that Coven in Sturbridge. He eyed the cabin's rafters above them. Should I be looking for hexbags?
First things first. Dean helped bundle Sam into his jacket. "You've been barfing non-stop for the entire night. My medkit cures aren't cutting it, Sammy—so I'm taking you to a doctor, now." He jingled the Impala's keys in emphasis and then shepherded Sam out the door.
Dean quickly loaded Sam into the passenger seat, then slid behind the wheel. Turning to face Sam, he instructed, "Warn me if I need to pull over. Barfing and my baby don't mix." Then he swung the Impala around, heading slowly down the driveway, speeding up when they got back on blacktop. Once they merged onto TN-13 Dean opened up the throttle and booked. They were five miles from Waverly when they had to pull over to the shoulder for a barf break.
Minutes later, Dean drove into the hospital's parking lot and unloaded Sam. Directing Sam to wait inside, out of the cold, he parked the Impala in the first legal space he found and tramped back to where he'd left Sam. Dean strode through the automatic doors, following the signs to the ER/admitting room. The room only had four occupants, so he easily singled out Sammy, sitting in one of those ubiquitous plastic cafeteria chairs, staring at a clipboard. Giving Sam a hasty pat on the shoulder, Dean approached the admitting desk.
He smiled at the middle-aged nurse seated behind the counter, quickly reading her nametag. "Hi, Doreen. Do you have a barf bag?"
The nurse frowned. "Excuse me?"
Dean gestured behind him, towards Sam. "My brother's been sick all night, and he's due for another round in a few minutes."
"Oh." Doreen rolled her chair back, rummaging in a cupboard for a minute, and then handed a kidney-shaped emesis basin to Dean.
Dean accepted the small bowl, shaking his head. "Thank you, but I don't think that's big enough."
"Come back if you need another one."
"Ah, yes, ma'am." Dean strode over to Sam, dropping into the empty blue plastic chair next to him. "Keep this handy." He presented Sam with the emesis basin and took the clipboard with the admissions forms on it. "I'll fill out this, you just try not to spew until the doctor can see you." Dean quickly started reading the form, surreptitiously checked to see what insurance ID he was currently toting and starting filling in the form's many blanks. This time Sammy was Sam Turner, an innocuous, forgettable name. When the form was finished, he walked back to the admitting desk and handed it to Doreen. Behind him, he heard the all-too-familiar sound of retching. The nurse shoved another emesis basin in Dean's hands and rose from her station. "I'll see if I can hurry things along for you, dear." She left the waiting area, passing through a set of swinging doors with an Authorized Access Only sign prominently displayed.
A few minutes later, the nurse returned, a wheelchair and an orderly in tow. "Sam Turner? The doctor can see you now." The orderly, who was wearing gloves, discretely removed the emesis basins from the unoccupied seat next to Sam as Dean and Doreen got him comfortably arranged in the wheelchair. "Do you want to accompany your brother?" Doreen asked.
"Of course," Dean said, and followed behind as the nurse wheeled Sam through the double doors. Doreen pushed Sam's wheelchair to a smallish room with a hospital gurney in its center, and various pieces of medical equipment along or attached to the surrounding walls. She and Dean helped Sam onto the bed, then Doreen took Sam's temperature, asked him if he still felt nauseous. Doreen noted Sam's answers on a clipboard. "Dr. Corrigan will be in to see you shortly, Mr. Turner," she said and then left.
Dean stood next to Sam. "You feelin' any better?"
"About the same," Sam said as the door opened and a white-coated man walked in.
"Hi, I'm Dr. Hal Corrigan."
"Dean Turner, and this is my brother, Sam."
The doctor walked over to the foot of Sam's bed and picked up the clipboard that Doreen left attached. "So, Sam, you're still feeling nauseous?"
"Yes, sir."
"And when did this start?"
"Last night, around midnight, I guess."
Dean straightened. Midnight, the witching hour? Maybe this *is* a supernatural problem, after all.
Dr. Corrigan checked over the chart. "You've also experienced stomach cramps and diarrhea?"
Sam nodded yes.
"Do you feel dehydrated? Did you drink any water recently?"
"Tried. It wouldn't stay down."
"Neither would the aspirin or Pepto-Bismol he took with the water," Dean expanded on Sam's short answer. "So, yeah, he probably is dehydrated a little—he didn't get much sleep at all last night, too busy hurling."
The doctor nodded. "Have you been out West recently?"
"Uh, Colorado and Wyoming."
"When were you there?"
"About a month ago."
"Doc, what does our travelling have to do with Sam's illness?" Dean asked.
Sam answered. "Lyme disease, Dean."
"That's right, Sam. And you don't have it, the symptoms would've manifested before now if you got infected while in Wyoming or Colorado. Now, what have you had to eat in the last twenty-four hours?"
"Ah, the Swedish Passport breakfast at an IHOP in Ohio, then a turkey sandwich and a Coke for lunch, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chicken noodle soup, beans and beer for dinner."
"That last sounds like a home-made meal, right?"
"Yes, we were on the road most of yesterday, didn't even get to Erin til almost sunset." Dean explained, then frowned. "But I had the same dinner that Sam did last night and I'm feeling fine." He didn't mention his back, which was grumbling after his busy night, and he sure wasn't telling any doctor that he was functioning with a three day sleep deficit.
"Squash," Sam said suddenly. "I forgot about the squash. Dean didn't have any, he doesn't like it."
"Canned?"
"Frozen. There was a bag in the freezer."
Dr.Corrigan glanced sharply at Sam. "Your brother said you just arrived in Erin yesterday. You're not locals, then."
"No, our job involves a lot of traveling," Dean said smoothly.
"So you weren't here two weeks ago, for the big storm."
"No," Dean said cautiously.
"We had a large, freak blizzard—rare for these parts. Most of the area lost power for a day or two, even longer in the more remote towns, like Erin."
"The squash must've thawed out and then refroze after the power came back on. And then I ate it."
"Giving yourself a nasty case of accidental food poisoning." Dr. Corrigan concluded. Dean saw him walk over to a locked medicine cabinet, unlock it and remove something from its contents. The doctor then shut and relocked the cabinet's door and approached Sam's bed. He swabbed Sam's arm, explaining, "Since you're still nauseous, I'm giving you a Dramamine shot to quell that, and an antidiarrheal shot, too." He efficiently dispensed both shots. "I want to keep you under observation for a couple of hours, see if the shots are working. Meanwhile, get some rest, Mr. Turner. I'll be back later and then you can go home. Take it easy for the next few days, don't drink any fruit juices, but do drink water regularly and try to start eating your usual meals as soon as you can." The doctor scribbled a note on the chart and put it back in its place, then left the room.
"Accidental food poisoning—from squash." Dean shook his head, dragging a chair next to Sam's bed. He ruffled Sam's hair. "Only you, Sasquatch." Dean settled in the chair, keeping watch over his recuperating little brother.

* * * * * *

Prompt: Sam comes down with severe food poisoning.
20 comments or Leave a comment
Title: Sasquatch and Squash
Author: Swellison
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: 3rd season story, takes place after Dream a Little Dream of Me, references Dean's deal. Content warning:
To quote My Favorite Year: "Women vomit, men throw up." Much spewing of bodily fluids occurs here, do not read close to meal time. Angst & yuckies abound.
Disclaimer: Sam, Dean and all the other elements and players of the Winchester Universe are the property of Eric Kripke et al.
Recipient: Termite
Word Count: 6,830 words
Author’s Note: Huge thank you to quickreaver who created some amazing artwork for my story, and put up with my ping-pong emails back and forth about it. Thanks, Cris! Your efforts are very much appreciated. Also, thank you to sendintheklowns for betaing, even though she has tons of other stuff on her plate. Thanks to faye_dartmouth for answering all my posting questions. Kudos to dontknowmyname, faye_dartmouth and sendintheklowns for moderating another fun and fabulous Summer of Sam Love writing extravaganza!
Prompt: at the end of the story
Summary: Sam's worries about Dean's deal are superseded by his own problems when he becomes suddenly, violently ill.
Art


Sasquatch and Squash
By Swellison

Sam drove into the strip center's parking lot and slid smoothly into a parking slot halfway down the center aisle. Turning off the Impala's engine, he glanced at Dean, still zonked out in the passenger seat. Dean had been through the wars, not being able to sleep while under the threat of dream-master/kook Jeremy Frost and his death-dealing dreamwalking. He was still catching up on the three days he'd spent struggling to stay awake, and Sam decided he'd let Dean sleep while he took a strafing run through the grocery store, just long enough to stock up on the basics.
Sam extracted a small spiral notepad from his pocket, then reached for a pen. He started scribbling a note about his grocery run, knowing that Dean would absolutely freak if he woke up to a motionless, Sam-less car. Tearing the note off, Sam laid it on the dash, in front of Dean. Drawn to his sleeping brother, he noticed that Dean was sleeping so soundly – and soundlessly – that he almost appeared... No, Dean's fine. He isn't... it's only January, we've still got time. Dean's still got time. Sam vividly recalled the relief and renewed determination he'd felt when Dean had taken the huge step of admitting that he didn't *want* to die and go to Hell. Now they were finally on the same page, and they could get down to finding a "Get Out of Hell Free" card for Dean's crossroads deal. Purposely blocking the words of the Crossroads Demon that he'd killed in New York – "He made that deal of his own free will, fair and square. It's iron-clad." – Sam gazed at his still sleeping brother.
Dean was in rough shape. Sam knew his "I'm Batman" brother would never admit it, but their encounter with the dreamwalking psychopath Frost had left its mark on him. For one thing, Dean was exhausted after staying awake for almost three days straight. Sam was convinced that Dean hadn't just been dreaming about finding Sam in the woods, as he'd claimed. Sam had tagged along in Dean's dream and ended up Frost's batting practice, staked out like the intended victim of a horde of fire ants from some B-rated desert movie. Sam had beaten Jeremy at his own game and ended Dean's dream. He knew better than to tease Dean about the picnic with Lisa that he'd glimpsed, but he wished Dean would talk about what else had happened in his dream. Because something did. Winchesters didn't wake up gasping and defensive from pleasant, boring dreams. That was nightmare territory, as Sam knew from the times he'd woken up, shaking and flailing from his nightmares of Jess and that night.
At least Dean wasn't in complete denial. After Pittsburgh, he'd only driven until lunch-time before turning the keys over to Sam and pitching into uneasy sleep in the passenger seat. The next day, however, Dean had combed the internet looking for a hunt. Sam had been surprised by the return to business-as-usual. Dean hadn't suddenly acquired an interest in researching ancient tomes for possible deal-breaking methods, or scoured the internet for contacts or sources that might have some know-how in wriggling out of contracts with Hell and crossroad deals. Instead, he'd found a poltergeist hunt and seemed surprised when Sam had balked at the idea of hunting, NOW, when they should be focused on Dean's predicament.
Sam was beginning to realize that Dean might not be able to act any differently than he was, that he was always going to be hunter-big-brother Dean, whether he had sixty years or just over three months left on this Earth. And maybe that wasn't a bad thing; Dean was an awesome hunter, and he'd saved a lot of people over the years. He'd also taken a lot of punishment doing it. Witness their last hunt, where Dean had been thrown against a couple of walls before Sam had banished the poltergeist. Dean had insisted that he was fine, but Sam had seen the black and blue bruises on his brother's back as the older Winchester hastily dressed that morning. On top of his brother's sleep deficiency, it had shouted otherwise to Sam.
Taking care not to disturb Dean, Sam slipped out of the car, gently closing the Impala's door. It squeaked less than usual and Sam absent-mindedly patted the door. Even Dean's baby was doing her part to let him sleep. Rapidly striding towards Dale's Corner Grocery, Sam stopped a few feet outside the entrance and dug out his cell phone. "Hey, Bobby. How are you?"
"I'm fine. How's Dean?"
"Not great. A poltergeist slammed him up against a coupl'a walls yesterday."
"What? You let Dean go hunting so soon after Pittsburgh?" the cell phone squawked. "Sam, how could you—"
"You try stoppin' him." Sam interrupted. "You know what Dean's like when there's a hunt around."
"Stupid, stubborn—"
"Tell me about it," Sam muttered. "Look, Bobby, we need a place to hole up for a few days. Some place remote and peaceful, where Dean won't be able to do anything BUT rest. Got any ideas?"
"Where are you now?"
"About twenty miles north of Evansville, Indiana."
"Southern Indiana, hmmm."
"Call me back in about twenty minutes. I'm making a grocery run." Receiving Bobby's okay, Sam entered the store. He grabbed a basket and headed for the beverage aisle. He'd just checked out when his cell buzzed.
"Yeah, Bobby?"
"Got a place for you, a small cabin owned by a friend of a friend. It's in Erin, Tennessee, about two and a half hours south of Evansville. Nothing fancy, but the welcome mat's always out for hunters."
"Sounds perfect, thanks, Bobby." Sam wrote down the directions and headed back to the Impala and Dean.
* * * * *
Dean woke to the familiar slam of the Impala's door. He rubbed his eyes, tracking Sam in the rear view mirror as his brother yanked up the trunk lid and extracted two duffels. Oh, Hell no, Sammy. Dean opened the passenger door and lurched to his feet, striding determinedly towards the trunk. "I am not an invalid. Gimme my bag," he snapped, holding his hand out towards Sam.
Sam blinked, his own duffel looped over his shoulder and the weapons bag held in his right hand. "Your duffel's still in the trunk."
Dean deflated. "Oh, right." He stepped around Sam and grabbed his duffel, closing the Impala's trunk firmly.
Then he followed Sam's tall form to the log cabin that they had parked in front of. Dean's steps slowed as he glanced around. The setting sun lengthened the trees' shadows on the gravel parking area they crossed on the way to a log cabin, the only man-made structure in sight. It sure didn't look like a motel, and he wondered exactly what Sam had planned this time. Sam bent over the front door for a few seconds—Hunter's key, Dean thought, spying the lockpick in his brother's capable hands—then it opened and he followed Sam inside. His hulking brother pulled up short three steps into the cabin, and Dean plowed into Sam's back. "Plant it someplace else, Sasquatch," he grumbled, stepping past his younger brother. "Where are we, anyway?"
"Erin, Tennessee."
The town's name meant nothing to Dean. "And?"
"This is a safe house that Bobby told me about. Thought we'd settle in for a few days, get some rest."
Dean added two and two and got an unacceptable answer. Sam was coddling him again, attempting to be the big brother. "You told Bobby about the poltergeist!"
"Yeah, and I got an earful for doin' it, too." Sam winced and Dean remembered that Bobby's cursing could rival Dad's, and that was saying a lot. "He's pissed at you for even thinking about hunting, since you're still—oh, three nights' short on sleep."
"I don't—"
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Sam snorted as he dumped the weapons bag and his duffel on the sofa in the middle of the room, positioned to face the fireplace along the cabin's right hand wall. "You don't need any rest, you just fall asleep ten minutes later when you're riding shotgun. And you don't yawn more than talk when you're having conversations, either."
"Aw, c'mon—" Dean involuntarily cut off his conversation to yawn hugely. "You did that on purpose, you made me yawn."
"No, Dean," Sam lectured. "Mentioning yawning doesn't cause another person to yawn, you have to actually do it to trigger the yawning mechanism. You yawned because you're tired—even after you've slept the afternoon away."
Dean didn't even respond to that bit of logic, busy taking in the large, square room that surrounded them. The walls were horizontal planks, smoothed and stained in typical log cabin style. A blue leather chair and a painted rocking chair flanked the sofa to their right, creating the cabin’s living room, which was dominated by the flagstone fireplace on its wall. A working fireplace, he noted, seeing a short stack of logs in the hidey hole next to the fireplace's hearth. His gaze shifted to the open A-frame ceiling, sporting plenty of exposed crossbeams, and one lone wagon-wheel light fixture, situated over a round pine dining room table to their left. The kitchen occupied most of the back half of the cabin, with a closed door next to it that Dean fervently hoped led to a bathroom. He wasn't in the mood to deal with outdoor plumbing tonight.
There was an opening to the right of the supposed bathroom, and Dean stepped through it. He walked down a narrow, quickly darkening hallway that had two bedrooms on its left side and a single window on its exterior wall. Dean peeked inside the corner bedroom which had a double bed and two windows for cross-ventilation. He entered the other bedroom and casually dropped his duffel on top of its neatly made double bed. Then he walked back to the cabin's main room, taking a second to open the closed door he'd seen earlier. It revealed a compact but fully functional bathroom. One point in the cabin's favor, at least.
He found Sam in the kitchen, poking around its rustic wooden cupboards. Sam had turned on the lamp over the dining room table and some improbable under the cupboard lighting in the kitchen, too. "It's a good thing I stocked up in Evansville." Sam indicated the beer, soup cans, loaf of bread, jars of peanut butter and jelly and assorted bags of potato chips on the Formica countertop. "The cupboards are pretty much empty." He reached down and opened a lower cabinet. "Plenty of salt," Sam noted approvingly. "Two industrial-sized bags."
Dean looked at the rest of the cabin from his kitchen vantage point, then glanced back at Sam. "No TV."
"I noticed," Sam said. "But there's a radio on the kitchen counter."
"Probably only gets stations with hill-billy and Grand Ole Opry." Dean shuddered.
"My brother, the eternal optimist," Sam teased, smiling.
"Realist," Dean corrected.
Sam's smile faded and Dean just knew he was thinking about the harsh realities that they'd be facing in a few months. He braced himself for some emo-laden crap. Not that he didn't believe Sammy's sincerity, but he couldn't disregard Ruby's words from that parking lot in Sturbridge, either. He was, after all, a realist.
His brother's next words surprised him. "Go start a fire, and I'll rustle up some dinner."
Dean nodded and walked over to the fireplace. The cabin lacked central heating or a furnace, so the fireplace would be their only source of heat for the night. He removed the fireplace screen, checked that the flue was open, added a couple of new logs to the half-burned ones already in the fireplace and lit a match. He watched as the fire slowly encompassed the logs, building in size and heat and remembered staring at the flames of another, much larger fire as it consumed his father's remains.
Shaking off the memory, he placed the screen back on the hearth, and turned his back to the fireplace, glancing around the room for something else to think about. His gaze landed on the two windows on the opposite wall, each framed by an over-sized pair of shutters. His attention shifted to the closest window, between the fireplace and the door, facing the front of the cabin. It had the same shutters, and Dean stepped over to that window for a closer look at the extra-wide shutters. They were thick wooden slabs, set with heavy duty, well-oiled hinges. Dean reached for one shutter and swung it closed. It covered half of the window, the exposed backside showing notches for barricading the window shut. This cabin was built with defense in mind, and not the football variety of defense.
He once again examined the room, searching for oddities. The furnishings in the cabin were a hodge-podge of style and color. The leather sofa was tan, but the chair was brown leather. The two floor lamps on opposite sides of the sofa were mismatched, too, one was brass and the other was painted black metal. His attention drawn to the fireplace, Dean walked over to stand in front of it, staring at the intricately carved front of the mantle. So why is the fireplace so carefully, elaborately decorated? The solid oak mantle was quite thick, with the front side elaborately carved. Not folk carving either, the pattern was very deliberate, and one raised star cut-out attracted his attention. It was slightly lighter in color than the rest of the mantelpiece, and Dean impulsively touched the star. Running his fingers over it, it felt smooth, so he pressed down. The star yielded to his pressure, and a hidden drawer popped open to the right of the star push-button. Dean looked into the drawer and extracted a thin brown leather journal. He opened the pages and started reading.
He glanced up from the book to see Sam slam the refrigerator door shut. "Empty." Sam said, reaching to put the six-pack into the fridge.
"I know why," Dean said, walking towards Sam with the book still open. "This is a sign-in ledger, sort of. No surnames, but it does list the guests of this place, or at least the ones who admitted to being here. Five hunters holed up here for New Year's—they were recovering from a werewolf hunt and they ate everything in sight, left a thank you for the supplies."
"That's why the cupboards're bare, then. Good thing I made that grocery run earlier today."
"So what's for dinner?" Dean asked, the subject of food always a good one.
"Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and soup."
"What kind?"
"Tomato, chicken noodle—the chunky kind, or clam chowder."
Dean made a face. "Well, at least it's a variety."
"Yeah, it is. We can augment our feast with something, though."
Dean's brows rose.
"There's a can of beans in the cupboard." Sam grinned.
"Oh great, y'know you're toxic with that stuff--"
"I am not! Besides, that's after a bean burrito, not canned beans."
"Well, we'll find out tonight, huh?"
Sam huffed. "Beggars can't be choosers." He looked at the remaining six-pack on the counter, picked it up and opened the top door of the fridge, to cool off the beer more quickly. "There's something in the freezer." Sam hauled out the package of frozen vegetables. "Squash, yummy. Want some?"
"Sam, green vegetables can kill you—they're evil."
"This is squash, Dean--it's yellow."
"Even more evil," Dean retorted, walking back to the fireplace. He put the journal back in its secret drawer without adding to the list of names. Sam called out that dinner was ready a few minutes later and Dean strolled over to the table. Sam had set two places at opposite ends of the table and was pouring tomato soup into one of the bowls, a dishcloth draped over his shoulder. Dean considered teasing his younger brother, saying Sammy'd make someone a great wife one day, but he refrained. A lazy night of peace and quiet with Sammy was a rarity and Dean wanted to savor this one. He suspected he'd have few additional opportunities to enjoy such quiet time with his brother.
So he didn't protest when Sam dragooned him into washing up the dishes after they ate, or squawk too loudly when he suggested a game of cards, even though it was concentration instead of poker. Dean watched as Sam carefully dealt the cards facedown in six evenly spaced rows of eight, putting the last four cards in a mini-row at the bottom.
Then Sam calmly and methodically beat him the first three games straight. "No more Mr. Nice Guy," Dean growled as he dealt the cards for the fourth game, trying to give Sam the impression that he *let* him win, completely ignoring the part played by Sam's almost photographic memory. Dean turned over two of the corner cards, a five and a jack, to start the game. Sam flipped over a couple of random cards from his side of the board, staring at the seven and four for several seconds before turning them back over. Dean chose the other two corner cards, revealing a five and an eight. Oh great, he'd just given Sam the first pair. But Sam ignored the matching corner cards, and turned over another pair of cards from the center of the board: a jack and a three.
Dean quickly pounced on the fives, and then matched up his corner jack with the one that Sammy'd just found, fourth card in the second row away from Sam. His back twinged as he stretched to turn the card on Sam's side of the table, but he ignored it, concerned about Sam's suddenly off-kilter playing. "You feelin' all right?"
"Stomach's a little...testy," Sam admitted, squirming in his chair.
"Ahhh, it's those beans, isn't it? Told you so," Dean smirked as Sam rose, knowing where he was going. "Don't forget to light a match."
Dean grinned as Sam flashed him the finger as he retreated towards the bathroom. Sam returned a few minutes later and the game resumed. Sam clearly wasn't playing up to par and Dean beat him handily. "Wanna play again?" Dean asked, shuffling the deck with careless ease.
"Nah. It's been a long day, think I'll turn in." Sam stood up.
"Long day? It's not even 10:30," Dean said, looking Sam over from head to toe. "You sure you're feeling okay?"
"Peachy." Sam said shortly. "I'm not going straight to bed, I wanna read for a while."
Well, Sammy always did love curling up with a good book, from the time he was old enough to read. "You've got the corner bedroom," he reminded Sam as his brother picked up his duffel from where he'd left it on the sofa.
Sam fidgeted. "The other one's closer to the bathroom."
"And closer to the front door, so it's my room." Dean really didn't mean to sound so territorial, but Sam knew the rules as well as he did. Dean always got the bed near the door, no discussion required.
"Fine." Sam walked over to the doorway leading to the bedrooms, pausing to turn around and throw a glance in his direction. "G'night, Dean."
"Night, Sammy." Dean watched as Sam disappeared down the hallway. He slipped the playing cards into their box and then rose to check the fireplace. It had enough logs to comfortably burn til morning, so they'd be nice and warm despite the cold January night. He considered salting the door, but decided that, since they weren't on a hunt, it was an unnecessary use of the cabin's salt supply. He turned off the lights, letting the firelight guide him to the hallway and his bed.
Dean woke to the unmistakable sound of gigantor-sized bare feet pounding down the hallway past his room. He sprang out of bed and quietly followed his brother down the hallway. The bathroom light clicked on and Sam stepped inside, leaving the door open. Dean heard the unmistakable sound of barfing and arrived in time to see Sam kneeling next to the open toilet bowl.
"Sammy! Are you—"
Dean's question was cut off as Sam vomited again, the stream of yellowish-green liquid spewing into the bowl with such force that some of it bounced back from the water, spraying Sam's t-shirt, and the immediate walls and floors of the bathroom with puke.
"Ewwwww, gross," Dean muttered softly, wetting a washcloth in the sink.
At the sound of running water, Sam turned towards him, face flushed with embarrassment and maybe fever. Dean gently wiped his younger brother's face with the cool, damp washcloth. "That it?"
"I think so—" An odd look crossed Sam's face and he turned towards the toilet again, spewing another round of high velocity puke into the bowl.
Dean quickly wet the washcloth again and waited a minute or so as Sam panted, and then slowly rose to his feet. Sam turned slightly to face Dean, and held out an open palm. Placing the washcloth in Sam's hand, Dean watched as Sam dabbed his face clean. Then Dean handed Sam a toothbrush with a healthy dollop of toothpaste on it. He stepped backwards towards the door to give Sammy room at the sink.
"Want some water?"
"No." Sam spoke as he brushed his teeth.
Even Sam's garbled voice sounded off to Dean. He really should take some aspirin. I'll get some soon as I get him settled.
"Let's get that t-shirt off," Dean suggested after Sam finished brushing his teeth.
"Should'a thought of this before I washed my face," Sam joked weakly, raising his hands and bending towards Dean.
"Close your eyes," Dean instructed as he pulled the t-shirt up and over Sam's head. The worrying thought that Sammy was too weak to take off his own t-shirt planted itself firmly in Dean's mind. He tossed the soiled t-shirt into the bathtub, to deal with later. "C'mon, let's get you back to bed," he coaxed, stepping backwards out of the bathroom, Sam following.

Continued in Part 2
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Yeehaw! The Sentinel Big Bang just started posting their stories, one a day, so I'll have some good reading this weekend. Yet another excuse for not writing anything --too busy reading;-P

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Restless

by Swellison

 

May 4, 2008

 

Dean is dead.

Even as I'm writing the words, I can't make myself believe them.

"No he's not! He's not dead, he can't be!"

No, that's not true. I know he's dead. He died right in front of me.  But, that's not the worst of it. He's not just dead... Dean's dead and his soul is trapped in Hell. Forever. And it's all my fault. I don't know what to do about it, either.  Dean is--was the fixer in the Winchester family. I used to believe that he was invincible; there was nothing my big brother couldn't do—wouldn't do, for family.

"For you or Dad, the things I'm willin' to do or kill, it just...it scares me sometimes."

I can't sleep. I'm afraid of what I'll dream. Even if I just close my eyes, I'm back in New Harmony, pinned against the wall, watching helplessly while those invisible Hellhounds tear chunks out of Dean. And he's screaming....then, it was a pain-filled yell. Now, I swear I hear words...

"No! Help! Somebody help me! Sam! SAMMM!!"

I did a lot of research on Hellhounds, trying to find a way out of Dean's deal. Typically, Hellhounds' victims look like they died naturally of a heart attack, no matter how violent the actual claiming was. But Dean's special; the Hellhounds didn't clean up afterwards. Lilith wants me to remember what he looked like—as if I can ever forget. Dean...

Bobby got us out of New Harmony. I remember riding in the back seat, Dean stretched out under a blanket, next to me, head cradled in my lap. Like he was sleeping, with his eyes open.

We stopped at somebody's cabin after we'd been driving for awhile. I'm pretty sure we'd crossed a state line by then. Bobby's got connections all over the place. I settled Dean on the bed and got out the med kit. I painstakingly cleaned the blood off his face and neck, and then I looked at the rest of the carnage and I lost it. I sank to the floor, burying my head in the mattress next to Dean's still hand and cried, wishing things were different. Wishing we hadn't fought so much this last year—Dean's last year. Wishing we'd seen the Grand Canyon, instead of tackling the Morton House on leap year's day. Wishing Dean hadn't made that cursed deal with the Crossroads Demon in the first place...

I heard Bobby clear his throat and got to my feet.

"There's a clearing not too far from here, Sam. Nice and remote, a good place for a hunter's send-off."

I knew exactly what he meant and I was suddenly, furiously resolved. "NO! We're not salting and burning Dean like he's something evil!"

"It's what he'd want---"

"I said no! If you torch him, I swear to God, I'll leap into the fire and burn with him!"

I remember how shocked Bobby looked after I said that, but he shouldn't have been. He has to know what we Winchesters are like by now. He raised a hand, placating, "Sam---"

"We have to bury him, Bobby. Dean'll need his body when I get him back home." I have to believe that; it's the only hope I've got left. I couldn't keep Dean from going to Hell, but I can bring him back, somehow, someday.

Bobby stared at me, then he reached up and patted my shoulder. "Okay, Sam, okay." He sighed. "Look, it's too late to do anything tonight, be daylight in a coupla hours. Go try to get some rest and I'll finish up in here."

"I can't sleep!" I protested, knowing I couldn't sleep with Dean in the next room. I picked up a clean cloth, steeling myself to prepare Dean...prepare Dean's body for burial. Dean's done everything for me; I should be able to do this one last thing for him. 

Bobby took the cloth from my hand. "Figure out where we're gonna bury him. I'll take care of Dean."

I met Bobby's eyes and saw loss, grief and devastation—what he saw in mine. I realized that Bobby needed some time with Dean, too. Time to say good-bye. He wasn't there when...

"Where are we?" I asked and Bobby told me we were in Mattoon, Illinois. I left the room, got the laptop out of the Impala. I opened the trunk, intent on grabbing my duffel and the laptop, and I saw Dean placing his duffel in the trunk, tossing me a shotgun, counting the knives and stakes in the weapons box...

I slammed the lid closed, wincing afterwards.

"Take care of my wheels."

I bolted for the cabin and started searching the internet for a suitable burial place for Dean. A fine and private place... Illinois has a lot of small towns, but I finally picked Pontiac. Dean would understand. It was the closest I could get to Impala or Chevy. Actually, Illinois has two Pontiacs in it. When I saw that the northern one was in Livingston County, I knew I'd found the right location. I scanned the images around town, concentrating on a wooded area outside of the town proper and wrote down the directions to Pontiac. It wasn't far from Mattoon, a little over two hours. That'd give us plenty of time to take care of business.

Bobby approached me when I was finishing up with the directions to Pontiac.

"Sam, I, uh, need some fresh clothes for Dean."

"I'll get 'em." I retrieved Dean's duffel and hauled out his blue jeans and a plain black t-shirt. I added his blue-green jacket and handed the bundle to Bobby.

"Y'don't think he'd want to—have his leather jacket?"

"No."  That was a lie. Dean loved that jacket almost as much as the Impala. But I couldn't give it up, right now. I needed it—Dean would understand. He's always given me everything. His jacket. His car. His heart. His life...

 I guess I got lost in my thoughts, then. Or buried in the past. Anyway, next thing I knew, Bobby was back, pressing a cup of tea into my hand. I wasn't hungry but I drank the tea and it felt good on my raw throat.

Just like it felt good to stretch out on the couch, after Bobby coaxed me into moving to the living room. Next thing I knew it was lights out. I woke up mid-afternoon. Bobby'd put a sleeping pill in my tea. I should've been angry, but I was just so relieved that I didn't have any dreams, or didn't remember them if I did.

I heard the sound of hammering from outside and followed it. Bobby was working on a rectangular piece of pine, the rest of the coffin already assembled and lying on the ground. Wordlessly, I started helping Bobby with the lid. When we finished, we manhandled the lidless coffin into the bedroom, set it on the bed next to Dean and lowered him into it. Bobby left us alone.

Dean looked like he was sleeping, a little cramped in the tight space, maybe. He'd learned a long time ago to grab sleep where he could get it, just one of the hundred hunting rules Dad had taught us.

"Sam, remember what Dad taught you, okay?"

I slipped a cigarette lighter into Dean's pocket, because no hunter goes anywhere without one. Then I gently lifted his head and removed the amulet from around his neck. I clutched it in my hand, staring at the dangling gold head.

"Thanks, Sam. I—I love it."

Silent tears trickled down my face. I slipped the necklace on, tucking it under my t-shirt.  "I'm sorry, Dean." I wiped the tears from my face. "Good-bye for now...jerk."

"Bitch."

Bobby came in with the coffin lid and we placed it on top and hammered it closed. It felt like every nail went straight through my heart.

We put the coffin in the Impala's trunk and headed for Pontiac. Bobby drove and I rode shotgun. Neither of us said a word. After a few miles, I reached for Dean's cassette box. My hand shook as I grabbed a random tape and slid it into the player. Metallica blared from the speakers, just like Dean would've wanted it to.

We got to Pontiac right after sunset. I found the woods and after some tramping around, we found a small clearing that would do.  I started digging while Bobby pulled the car as close as he could get it, then grabbed the other shovel and dug with me. I was used to working in tandem, digging up graves with Dean. We made good time, the task feeling comfortingly normal, until I realized that we hadn't struck a casket lid. There was nothing buried in this grave's hole...yet.

A few minutes later, Bobby called a halt to the proceedings. We trudged back to the Impala and returned, carrying Dean's coffin between us. We put it into the ground the old-fashioned way, the coffin cradled by two thick rope loops that we payed out as we gently lowered the casket till it touched bottom.  I blanked my mind as we started filling in the hole, concentrating on doing the job right. It was the least I could do.

When we finished and the ground looked as undisturbed as we could make it, Bobby planted a simple cross. It was two rough-hewn pieces from an old barn, the horizontal one faintly showing carved markings that could've been initials, weathered by time. If anyone found this, it would look like a forgotten grave from Illinois' wagon trail days. Perfect.

Bobby stood to the right of the cross and I knew he was going to say something. "Dean was one of the best hunters I knew."

"He's an even better brother," I choked out, ghosting my fingers along the top of the cross. "This isn't permanent, Dean, I swear."

Bobby didn't say anything after that; we just walked back to the Impala. It was well past midnight and we both reeked after hours of grave digging. Bobby slid behind the wheel and turned the Impala for South Dakota. It's a nine hour drive to Sioux Falls and Bobby drove all night. He grudgingly let me drive the last hundred miles or so while he catnapped in the passenger seat.

Dean and I both knew this highway like the back of our hands. It was way too easy to picture Dean laughing and barreling down the road, anticipating the pie that'd be waiting for us at Bobby's. I got caught up in the memory, jarred back to the present to find the Impala's right wheels on the shoulder. I corrected course, got her back on the road, no harm done. Lucky for me, Bobby slept through the whole incident. But I paid more attention to the road for the rest of the trip.

Now I'm here at Bobby's, scribbling away like mad in my diary. Maybe if I write it all down, I can get it out of my head. Yeah, right.

 

May 6, 2008

 

Bobby's been watching me like a hawk, pushing food at me, making sure I eat and sleep. Like a remake of when Dean and I were here after Dad died...only not.

He's trying to get me to open up, too. Told me a few stories from Dean's early hunting days, and when I was at Stanford, things I'd never heard before. They were great stories, too. Bobby can tell a mean tale when he sets his mind to it--and I liked hearing them, but they only make me miss Dean more. If that's even possible.

I washed the Impala yesterday. Figured she needed a thorough cleaning after Bobby and I drove her from Pontiac, so I went all out, hand washed and waxed, top to bottom. It felt like Dean was critiquing everything I did, too. Damn, he loved his car...and he gave her to me.

I drove her into town, to pick up groceries and supplies for Bobby. He was apprehensive about me driving, but we both know I need to start doing something. Dean's presence permeates that car, though. There isn't an inch of the Impala that I can't look at and call up a memory of Dean. Washing the car, patting the roof, legs sticking out from underneath, working on the engine, buried under the hood. I got distracted, and ran off the road, again.

"Hey, you better take care of that car. Or, I swear, I'll haunt your ass."

I pulled off the side of the road and actually thought about it. What if I wrecked the Impala, would Dean come streaming out of Hell and haunt me? If that were true, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But I know that Lilith's never gonna let Dean escape her grasp that easily.

No matter how much Dean loves his car, it's not going to be enough to free him from Hell. No, Dean can't get out. So, what's left? That thought nagged me all the way back to Bobby's. As I was unloading the supplies, I glanced up and saw the devil's trap on the ceiling.

"...I swear to God I will march into Hell myself and I will slaughter each and every one of you sons of bitches, so help me God!'

Dean can't get out, but I can get in! I already know about the Devil's Gate in Wyoming, and Bobby said it was "a Devil's Gate", which means there's more than one. We don't have the Colt anymore, but a different Devil's Gate would have a different key...

I glanced around, noting all the books scattered in Bobby's front room. Bobby probably had the biggest occult library in South Dakota. A week ago, he, Dean and I had been frantically tearing through it, looking for a way to stop the Hellhounds. This time, I'm doing it right. I'm going to systematically read every book in Bobby's library. Thank God I learned how to speed-read at Stanford.

I hastily finished unloading the groceries, came back to the living room, grabbed a tome and started reading. One down.

 

May 8, 2008

 

Bobby's not sure what to make of my sudden zest for research. I told him the bare bones of my plan, and I know he's skeptical about its success. But I'm also eating and sleeping, so he's letting me be. Even trusted me enough to fly down to Indiana yesterday. He's retrieving his Chevelle, and driving it back here.

I stopped reading the latest textbook and rubbed my eyes. I need to remember to make something for dinner, Bobby's going to be tired and hungry when he gets home.  I glanced at my watch; I still had time to wade through another book or two.

I finished my current book and reached for the next one. It didn't look very promising, wasn't even really old. But I'm reading every book, I'm not leaving any stone unturned, or page unread. A few chapters in, I came to a hand-drawn diagram. I blinked, thought I'd recognized it. This was a schematic of a revolver. I flipped to the front of the book and read the copyright. 1837.

I returned to the schematic page and read the inked notes from the drawing's originator. It took a few seconds for the name to register: S. Colt. I stared at the drawings, filled with barrel specifications and measurements, notes on the grip, annotations about the triggering mechanism. These drawings weren't just for a Colt revolver, they described the Colt, the gun that Dad had stolen from the vampires, and Bela had eventually stolen from us.

I can pay a gunsmith to follow these drawings and make an exact, perfect replica of Colt's revolver. And I can open the Devil's Gate with it, and get Dean out of Hell. This is going to work.

I packed the book and the rest of my stuff and left a note for Bobby, so he won't worry, or think I did something stupid. Then I slid behind the Impala's wheel and headed for the nearest Indian gambling resort. I'm going to hire the best damned gunsmith in the United States, and that's going to take a considerable amount of money. I need to raise it, fast.

 

May 11, 2008

 

I've got an appointment tomorrow with Hank Gallagher, the top-rated gunsmith in Colorado—in all of the western United States. He's intrigued by my request, and my demand for meticulous attention to detail. I told him I had a schematic from the 1830's and I could hear him practically salivating over the phone.

So, I'm driving towards his office in Denver, listening to Green Day on my iPod. I had to have something in the Impala that doesn't remind me of Dean, to keep my attention on the road, not the past.

 

May 15, 2008

 

I picked up the Colt today, and she's a beauty. Despite the rush job I insisted on, Gallagher paid strict attention to detail, even used a laser to cut out all the pieces to the exact specifications. He wanted to buy the book from me but I told him it wasn't for sale. I let him keep a copy of the schematic though and we parted on good terms.  I'm heading for southwestern Wyoming now, stopped to grab a bite to eat and scribble this down at a diner. I even had a piece of pie. Next time I order pie, Dean'll be here to share it with me.

 

May 16, 2008

 

Oh God, it didn't work. Turns out the bullets weren't the only special thing about Colt's revolver. I can't fault Gallagher, though. The gun slid into the Devil's Gate perfectly. It just didn't activate the unlocking mechanism afterwards. I waited around a half an hour, and then I finally admitted defeat and left.

Drove to the closest bar and ordered a bottle.

The nearest crossroads is two towns over, and I'm heading there now.

"This ends now. I'm ending it. I don't care what it takes."



A/N: Thanks so much for reading. While this story is complete in itself, it's also a chapter of my on-going Excerpts From the Diary of Sam Winchester, posted under Swellison at FF.net and Supernaturalville.net 
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