“Are you sure we don’t need the car?” Dean was still fumbling his gun into concealment when Sam hit the sidewalk, pounding off at a hard jog and already panting like he’d just completed a 10-K run.
Panic caught the air and gave it weight. Panic at getting to the magi before Bad Things happened. Panic at the eddying images smeared, in dirty red stains, through Sam’s recent memory. Panic at something he couldn’t tell Dean, could barely tell himself.
“Sam! Shit, wait up.”
“It’s only a couple of blocks. We might not find parking. Don’t have time for the car.” Sam didn’t apologize for his legs being longer than Dean’s. That was life. Like how Dean was effortless with the female of the species and could drink just about anyone under the table. But he didn’t slow his pace. Dean caught up, barely, falling into step and fixing a hot stare at Sam’s left sideburn.
“You’re not gonna have an aneurism or anything, are you?”
“NO, Dean. But you know how these things are; sometimes we get time, sometimes we don’t.” Sam sounded harsher than he intended and cut an apologetic glance sideways. Dean had this expression, part deer-in-the-headlights, part don’t-fuck-with-me.
The premonitions weren’t as straightforward as Sam would like, ever. There had been occasions when they got there too late, others when they had an hour to spare, minutes to spare. Dean knew that. But this…felt different. And maybe that’s why Dean asked about the brain bleed. Maybe he felt it too. Guilt rolled along with the panic tightening in Sam’s belly.
As per usual, the vision was instigating a thought-eating migraine, coming from deep left field and plastering Sam with nausea and a blinding sear inside his frontal lobe. Also typical of the damned things, this one didn’t make a lick of narrative sense, frantic stop-motion shreds that frequently went by too fast to digest, or blinked repeatedly until you wanted to smash your head against a wall to make it all stop, to un-skip the record.
These physical feelings were expected of Sam’s psychic birthday present. Old hat. It was the accompanying emotion that set Sam’s nerves on edge with a trip-wire snare of fear. When he saw, in his mind’s eye, the washes of dark deoxygenated blood, something felt righteous. When the kid with the purple hair screamed, Sam warmed with easy satisfaction. The snake turned, the flower blossomed, maws of every imaginable tooth snapped and bit and jibbered in a language he didn’t know but somehow understood. He is here he is here he is here. Something made Sam feel sated and perfectly placed within this foreseen massacre…the precious, missing fragment of a million-piece jigsaw puzzle. No, Dean could not know this.
When they arrived back at the house, which in the brightening haze of dawn revealed itself to be painted an absurd shade of electric blue, there were lights burning in the bowels of the place, probably from the kitchen. Sam barely had time to make note of the exterior last night. The blue paint was peeling, a month’s worth of newspapers piled up on the porch beside a half-dozen empty beer bottles and row after row of over-grown potted plants. Decorative chimes dangled from the eaves, crystalline sounds brushing the wind. A dreamcatcher or two swayed in the mix. Underfoot, a jute doormat ordered, in big block letters, every person crossing its path to “WIPE”, which went wholly ignored by the Winchesters.
Sam knocked loudly, insistently. A large orange tabby appeared inside the sidelight and assessed Sam and Dean with tawny-eyed indifference, licking its chops and flicking its ears and probably mildly amused by the outsiders’ distress. The hallway behind the cat was still empty and dark, not that anyone would have had a chance to answer the door before Sam pounded again.
“Easy, there, Sammy.” Dean was the rare voice of moderation at Sam’s shoulder, an angel with his halo askew. “It’s only —” checked his watch “— the asscrack of dawn. Give ‘em a minute.”
Sam huffed, rolled a shoulder, tried to brush off his anxiety as if it were an inconvenient tickle of spider web. A shadow finally moved at the end of the hall, briefly blocking the light from inside. Taking its own sweet time, a figure shuffled forward and they recognized the disheveled outline of Benicio, the pothead, although Sam suspected the entire house could easily fall under the category of ‘recreational drug users.’ The man squinted as he neared, scratched an arm pit and shooed the cat away. He was barefoot, in sweats and a vintage Queen t-shirt both of which had seen far better days. His face didn’t exactly light up when he saw Sam and Dean but it did ease with recognition. The door opened a crack and the aroma of frying peppers and onions flooded out on a push of warm household air.
“Little early, yeah?”
“Um, yeah. Sorry. Did…did anything weird happen to you guys last night? After we left?” Sam tried not to let the panic creep out in his tone and was failing miserably.
Benecio quirked both bushy brows, knuckled an eye socket blearily. Apparently it’d been a boring, quiet night for the household.
“We need to talk. Please.” Sam almost demanded.
Dean smiled all the way to his molars, patting Sam on the back and making with the nicey-nice. “Eager beaver. Sorry. We just, uh, man that smells good. Can we come in?”
Benicio grinned something quick and uncomplicated, apparently buying Dean’s bull. He swung the door wide and gestured magnanimously. The cat tried to escape but was scooped up and tucked under one arm, grumping despite Benicio’s whispered sweet nothings into its ruff.
“So. You guys didn’t come here for the free breakfast, I’m a’guessin’.” Benicio meandered to the kitchen, Sam and Dean trailing behind. The cat was dropped by its food dish and Benicio continued on to a skillet that sizzled and hissed and popped on the stovetop, coffee drizzling into a carafe on the counter. No one else was awake, just the stoner and the cat and two brothers.
“Nope, can’t say that we did, though I wasn’t lying when I said it smelled good.” Dean sounded perfectly cordial. His eyes scanned the room and Sam saw him lingering over the knife block, back door, cast-iron skillets. All the necessities to pull a hasty retreat, if required. The room was as old and decrepit as the front porch, cabinets rough with umpteen layers of paint over chipped Formica countertops and still more potted plants. Someone in the coven had at least ten green thumbs.
“Huevos rancheros. Plenty to go around. I cook for the house. Sit.” And they did, both with their backs to the wall. Two mugs were slipped from a rack and filled with fresh coffee. Benicio slid one to Dean, black, and the second to Sam along with a pint of half-and-half and a pumpkin-shaped sugar bowl. And one spoon.
In unison, the Winchesters stared at the mugs like the things had somehow grown mouths and begun quoting Shakespeare.
“How did…” Sam began, fingertip prodding the fat spot on his lip where he must’ve bitten it earlier.
Benicio pulled a carton of brown eggs towards the stove, cracked several into a second skillet. “It’s my thing, man. I, like, read people. Intuition or something. See auras. I just had a feeling you took yours black and you took yours light and sweet. Kinda like your women.”
Dean almost spit coffee. “Whoa whoa whoa, what?”
“Sorry, man, did I say that out loud?” Benicio threw Dean a laugh over one shoulder. “Yeah, and your aura? It’s as pink as…as…those crazy colored marshmallow chicks you buy at Easter.”
“Peeps,” Sam supplied, grinning in spite of the busted lip.
“Yeah, that’s the stuff. Peeps.”
Grousing over the rim of his coffee, Dean shot them both with a withering glare. “I do not…DO NOT…have a pink aura. Do not. Nuh-uh. But I bet his is turd yellow.” Dean fixed a pointed finger at Sam, who rolled his eyes and shoveled sugar into one mug. Dean could keep his bacon cheeseburgers; Sam needed a good shot of sugar to feel like himself.
Shifting a gaze from one brother to the other, Benicio blinked slowly. Shrugged. Turned back to his eggs and began assembling breakfast onto three plates. “ ‘Course he has an aura. Everyone does.”
The room fell quiet for a moment except for the noises from frying pans and the cat noshing kibble and a toilet flushing somewhere upstairs. The world was beginning to awaken around them.
Dean gawked, clearly annoyed the question had been left hanging, heavy, in mid-air and stinking of avoidance. “And?”
Even Sam had to admit to some curiosity here. Or not. He might be confusing curiosity with dread which happened a lot these days.
“Gray.” Benicio set plates before his guests, tortillas and eggs and veggies smothered in oceans of salsa. A fistful of silverware was thrown into the middle of the table. Hospitality didn’t have to include ceremony. He was conspicuous in avoiding Sam’s gaze, though, which wasn’t very hospitable. “With, uh, these black squiggles.”
Sam’s expression wilted, bravely trying for nonchalant but just ended up looking transparent and uneasy. He distractedly forked holes in an egg yolk, bleeding it yellow. “What does that mean? I’m all emo?”
A chair scraped out and Benicio sat, scrubbing fingers across the scruff on his chin before settling hands on the table, loosely twined. His fingertips were slightly stained from smoking, and he appeared either thoughtful or half-baked, Sam couldn’t tell for all the pounding in his skull. The stoner locked and held Sam’s gaze, heavy brows quirking. “You really want me discussin’ this now?”
The question made Dean rock back several inches, fork paused partway between huevos rancheros and slack jaw.
Sam felt heat hit his face from the inside out and the migraine ratcheted up a notch. He cleared his throat, pushed back the plate, fearing what little he’d eaten would crawl back up his esophagus and say “Good morning!” to the world.
“Yes. Yeah. Of course. I mean, why wouldn’t I?” Be cool, Winchester, be cool.
Benicio gave the room a pause, apparently selecting his words with great care. Nope, not stoned, Sam decided. Not even a little. “It’s polluted, man. Best way I can put it. You got shit in your aura.”
Now it was Dean’s turn to roll his eyes. “Shit in your aura. Now I’ve heard it all – ”
“Hey, believe me or not. I don’t make the rules. I just read the signs. That’s how it is with these things, right?” Benicio was still looking conscientiously at Sam and Sam wished he would stop. The center of attention was not where he wanted to be, pinned in the spotlight by whatever crap-ton of bad luck dropped him there. Sam’s ever-expanding repertoire of bad luck. Or fate. Was there even a difference anymore? “You know, man. I know you know.”
Dean dodged his gaze down to his plate, continued shoveling food in his mouth around a scowl. Sam grudgingly had to admire Dean’s cast iron stomach. It took more than doom and gloom and obtuse extrasensory yakkity-smack to kill Dean’s appetite. Sam felt like a fucking princess next to Dean most days and this was one of them.
“I know,” Sam murmured. Time to ‘fess up. “We’re not here for the home cooking. I had a vision last night…this morning. Whatever. I get visions. And they foretell death. I saw Simon die. Happy fun times, huh.”
Benicio humphed, nodded, didn’t shift his stare even when Dean added, in false cheer, “Our very own little deathwatch beetle, Sammy Winchester.”
Sam frowned. “Shut it, Dean.”
“No, don’t.” Quiet words, feminine, edged with something sharp like a razor blade in taffy, issued from the doorway. “Keep talking. This is really, really fascinating. A hunter with psychic abilities. Pot, meet kettle.”
Finally, Benicio stopped staring at Sam and slid back from the table, clattering another plate from the cupboard for Eddie. “Mornin’, sunshine.” He beamed ear to ear as Eddie shuffled into the kitchen, resplendent in wooly pink slippers and a robe that was big and tufted in spots and practically swallowed her up from neck to knees.
Comfort food for the body, Sam reasoned. Not unlike his own favorite shirt, the soft white one with weird, faded red paisley, like it’d been sewn inside out. The last remaining gift he’d received from Jess that wasn’t hopelessly blood-stained or shot up or worn out. He would never throw that one away, no matter how threadbare, so it scored a few points with Sam that Eddie didn’t dispose of clothing just because it wasn’t au currant. And he hardly blamed her for being a smidge rancorous with them; Sam was keenly aware of the duplicity of the situation. Hell, he was living it.
Dean, however, didn’t appear impressed in the least. Sam knew that when his brother barely slowed the progress of food to mouth, didn’t bother to swallow before he spoke, gave you a look that droned “Oh, hi, yeah, who were you again?” you were not on Dean’s list of Top Ten Most Impressive People. “Big difference between what we do with our mad skills, sister, and what you people do. We save lives.”
“You people? Seriously? You don’t have a clue what I do.” Eddie smiled pleasantly enough when she sat down across from Dean, who was busy scalping food from Sam’s abandoned plate and stubbornly refusing to look at her. “Tell me about the vision, Sam.”
Sam cleared his throat and shifted like his ass went numb. “It’s not really cut and dried, these visions. They kinda slur together and don’t make a lot of sense. I saw flowers, like water lilies. No, wait, just one flower. And a sketch of a snake. Blood. Lots of blood. Simon was swimming in the stuff. I think…I think he was being eaten?” Sam pinched fingers to the bridge of his nose, swallowing hard. “There were all these teeth. A flash of white. Then…nothing.” He neglected to reveal his disturbing gratification and smugness brought on by the whole affair; that, to him, was the most terrifying part. And there was nothing anyone else could do about it. This was all Sam’s shit to reconcile.
Eddie hummed contemplatively. “Nothing phallic there, no, not a little.”
Sam’s cheeks colored and Dean snorted.
“You’re certain it was Simon? And he was killed?” Eddie asked.
“Yeah. That much was pretty clear. I really don’t want to see the kid end that way. We can do something about it, I think. I hope. Set things right.” He didn’t mean to sound so desperate, so needy. The room was brightening with the full-on arrival of morning but the sun did nothing to strip Sam of the feeling he was damned and dangerous, circling the drain and liking it. The fact he doubted himself, his ability to be trusted, sat like bile on the back of his tongue. When he looked up, Eddie was watching him with heart-melting brown eyes. Might even have been pooling with deliberate tears. Emotional manipulation notwithstanding, Simon meant something to her, this much was clear. In fact, the way she fraternized with all the magi indicated she was their den mother. In common witchcraft parlance, she might’ve been their high priestess. She had lost many friends in the past six months, or so she’d said, including Sylvie and it must’ve been sitting heavy on her shoulders if, indeed, she had nothing to do with their disappearances. Yes, they had to set things right, even if there were a lot of unanswered questions still clinging to the periphery of Sam’s cloudy theories.
Benicio, on the other hand, was glaring holes in Sam, and not happily. His expression had become almost unbearable, 180 degrees from the affable demeanor he wore not ten minutes ago. Sam could hardly hold the guy’s gaze without his skin crawling, stomach contents edging upwards.
“Can I use your restroom?” Sam was quite certain he looked as green as he felt.
“Sure. It’s upstairs.” Eddie said, tilting her head like a dewy-eyed Golden Retriever which was not, Sam noted with some regret, the most flattering comparison but he wasn’t feeling particularly generous at the moment. He was about to toss his breakfast back onto the table.
Benicio immediately moved from his place by the stove, setting a hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “I’ll take him. I need to get ready for work anyway. Daylight’s burnin’. C’mon, Sam.”
Dean followed with his eyes, his expression dark, concerned, worn out. “You okay, Sammy?”
No, I’m not okay. Nothing about me is okay. Sam shrugged him off and stood, hands sagging at his sides and shoulders at a telltale slope. He doubted Benicio would do anything aggressive in Dean’s absence, but maybe, just maybe, Sam could pick the empath’s brain and glean something of use from the guy’s intuition. Something hopeful, that didn’t make Sam look like the monster. Make something…anything…okay for once.