Title: Lessons in Making Your Own Fun
Characters: Sam,Dean, two OCs
Warnings: A little cussin', one very brief spoiler for Season One
Prompt: "camping fic! pre-series or not, case-fic or not. Campfires and sleeping bags!" So giftee is getting a Season One mini-case!fic, set at a campground. Outsider POV, boys being bad-ass, bring on the s'mores!
Notes: Written for the 2012 spn_j2_xmas Secret Santa exchange. Extra-special appreciation goes out to monicawoe for alpha-reading this sucker, and to tesserae_ for being the most brilliant editor and beta-reader a writer could want. Ladies, you make me pretty.
West Virginia, in the summer, was stupid hot and stupid boring. The air was so full of water it was thick. Gloppy. It stuck to Jane’s skin like shellac. Why her stepdad thought camping in August was a good idea totally eluded her. Family vacation, Jane’s ass. More like ‘family torture by steam and monotony.’ And it wasn’t even the whole family; Isaiah managed to stay gone, the big turd.
Gnats bothered about her head and she swiped at them with one hand, scanning the dirty purple twilight for Stella. At least her Mom and Josh had the smarts to let her bring Stella along. Jane couldn’t imagine being stranded in this sweltering, poison ivy-infested shit hole all by her lonesome, now that Isaiah was off at college. Damn him for getting a part-time job and daring to have a life that didn’t include his little sister. Though Jane suspected it wasn’t so much the job as wanting to avoid words with Josh. They always had words and not pretty words, either. Jane had threatened to turn Isaiah’s iguana loose if he didn’t come home for Christmas. Of course she wouldn’t do it, but he needed to know how powerfully she missed him, even though she didn’t blame him one bit.
Jane fiddled with a hand-rolled cigarette and settled more comfortably onto a cushion of kudzu, listening. Cicada keened in waves and if she tried really hard, she could hear the faintest strains of Hank Williams Jr. coming from her folks’ campsite, halfway up Shawnee Mountain. Usually, they took weekend trips in June and early October, when the weather was tolerable, but Josh had to have his say and, apparently, learn the hard way how humid West Virginia summers were. “Come on, Janie. He’s trying,” Mom had said, with that look on her face. Well, he could try on someone else’s time, as far as Jane was concerned. She wasn’t brave enough to have her own words with him, though. She didn’t have a dorm or a part-time job to run to.
Footsteps crunched through the brush and Jane sat up straighter, sweat trailing down her back to tickle along the waistband of her cut-offs. Stella bounded over the rise, a small dark shape, landing with a slide beside Jane. Stella’s short black hair stuck wetly to her forehead but she was grinning, and she waggled a yellow Bic lighter between her fingers.
“I return, victorious,” she said with a wicked gleam. “Big Josh is half smashed, so it was cake.”
“In the camper, pretty sure.”
“Cool.” Jane took the Bic and fired it up, pinching the joint between her lips and sucking down several quick tokes to get it to catch. She dragged in one last deep breath before passing the marijuana to Stella.
The girls sat in the bramble, side by side and hips pressed together, watching night fall, getting softly and marvelously stoned. In stupid West Virginia, you had to make your own stupid fun.
Fireflies began to spark between twisted fingers of branch and briar. The dense woods created a sort of pressure that kept the air from moving, but Jane felt restless. She stared up at the crescent moon. “What do we do now?” she asked the sky.
Stella shifted, a shrug in her voice. “Wanna make out?”
“Nah. Too fucking hot.”
“Then we need beer.”
“Yeah, but we can’t sneak that away from Josh. Mom’ll find out and have a stroke,” Jane said sulkily. Her reputation as a ‘good girl’ was hard-won and, in her opinion, entirely misplaced. Isaiah had her number, naturally, because he’d taught her how shit worked. Not everything he knew, but enough. Jane missed her brother all over again and sulked harder.
“We could get beer at the camp store, yeah? You look twenty-one.” Stella nudged Jane’s shoulder. She wasn’t wrong; the Titty Fairy had graced Jane generously.
Jane mulled on this for a moment. If Old Man Markins was working the register it’d be a tough sell, but wasn’t he ninety-something by now? Maybe he wouldn’t recognize her. Hell, maybe he’d died last spring.
“How much cash you got on you?”
Stella smiled. “Enough.”
Old Man Markins squinted over the register at Jane. “Ain’t you Marion Bright’s kid?”
Shit. Jane bit back her disappointment and leaned forward on the counter, knowing full well what that did to her cleavage. “Yeah. Been away to college. How’re you, Mr. Markins?”
“Not buyin’ your crap, kid. Shoo.” He grabbed the six-pack with his gnarled fingers—Jane could practically hear the knuckles creak—and put the beer under the counter.
Okay, so maybe he wasn’t as senile as she’d thought. Jane huffed and pocketed a pack of Doublemint when Markins’ back was turned. At least they’d have fresh breath when they got back to camp. Stella was still outside because she didn’t come close to looking like she was the legal drinking age, with her pixie haircut and baby face.
The door’s electric bell pinged and a man walked in. He was tall—first thing she noted because Jane was tall, too, and she didn’t like it when a guy only came up to her boobs. Second thing was he looked like fun.
He wore big thick boots that thudded when he walked to the beer cooler, going right for the PBR. He tucked a case under his arm effortlessly; there was muscle under all those freckles and his black t-shirt pulled tight across his back, shrink-wrapped by sweat. Jane wholly approved.
With his free hand, he grabbed a jumbo bag of beef jerky and a cardboard canister of Morton’s salt. Jane slid aside as he brought his wares to the counter but she made a point of watching him, of catching his eye. Wasn’t hard. She’d been snaring the male gaze since she’d turned thirteen.
He gave her a nod, an appraising look that eased into a foxy smile. All tooth and trouble. He might’ve been Isaiah’s age, maybe a little older. Certainly in her wheelhouse.
“Hey,” Jane said, unzipping the pack of gum she’d stolen.
“Hey, yourself,” he said back. His eyes were the color of the wrapper, a flicker of green.
“That’s a lotta beer. You havin’ a party?”
He added a package of peanut M&M’s to the pile and she noted how nicked up his knuckles were. And he might’ve broken his nose at some point; it was slightly crooked. Bare-fisted brawler. Bet the other guy looked like hamburger when it was all over. “Nope. Just me and my brother.”
“It’s not hunting season—”
Old Man Markins coughed. “Unless yer huntin’ for jailbait.”
“Whatever.” Jane rolled her eyes. “I’m Jane. Gum?”
“Why, yes it is.”
“Dean.” He took the offered foil-wrapped stick and peeled it, popped the gum in his mouth. “So. You staying here at the campground?”
“Yeah. Me and my friend Stella. All week.” Just in case you and your brother need, you know, something to do.
“You’re not worried about the people who disappeared? It doesn’t spook you?” One of his eyebrows quirked up.
Jane shrugged, but Old Man Markins shot him a rheumy glare. “Sheriff said t’weren’t nothin’ solid,” he proclaimed. “Coincidence, is all. They might well turn up, lost on the trails or whatnot. No need to get folks all riled up.”
“So those rumors of the glowing lights—”
“S’all they are, young man. Rumors. $25.17.”
Dean grunted and forked over a pair of bills. Sure, Jane had heard tell of campers going missing, but the old fart was right this once. People wandered off all the time, got half-baked and stumbled into the lake or the ravine or got lost in the boggy gunk at the bottom of the valley. Or just made up junk to get on the news.
Markins handed him the change, the coins rattling from palm to palm. “Thanks,” Dean said.
“Ain’t got no bag big enough for the beer.”
“No worries, pops.”
“Not your pop, smart alec.”
Jane snorted and that earned her a saggy scowl from Old Man Markins and a chuckle from Dean. Jane liked the way his laugh caught in his throat and growled there.
“Well all righty,” Dean said eventually, gathering his goods. “You have a mighty fine evening, then, sir.” He didn’t invite Jane along but he flicked her an honest-to-God, old school wink that implied he was open to suggestions. She watched him saunter away from the counter, the case of beer hauled up on one shoulder. He had a sheathed knife hanging off his belt, and she simply had to appreciate the way it bounced as he strutted out of the store. After a moment of Markins giving her his creepy, geriatric stink-eye, Jane left too.
As soon as she hit the outside heat, Stella snagged her by the elbow. “Look at that car,” she hissed. “That is one killer ride.” She paused dramatically after each word.
Figures, it would be Dean’s car. Black and sleek as an oil slick. He popped the trunk and threw the beer in the back before sliding behind the steering wheel. The shotgun door opened and another guy got out, shaggy-haired. He stretched and when he did, he flashed a swath of tight, tan belly because he was tall, too, and his shirt couldn’t help but be short. He stooped to check one of the tires, gave Dean a thumbs-up through the rear window, and got back in. The engine rumbled to life and the car cruised away down the gravel drive, off towards ‘C’ loop. Jane knew the campground by heart.
“That’s Dean and his brother,” she told Stella.
“You know ‘em?”
She took off at a jog, Stella on her heels. There was a game path ribboning through the woods, a short-cut from the store to ‘C’ loop that allowed them to keep pace with the car but hide in the murky shadows. Those half-dozen or so campsites were relatively remote, set apart from the rest of the grounds by thick copses of trees and notched into hillsides, almost invisible until you got right up on them. Some sites didn’t even have electrical hook-ups but promised privacy.
Jane listened for the car’s deep echo as she cut through the underbrush, vines whipping at her bare legs and causing sweaty stings. The car’s headlights strobed through the pines, flicker-flashes like lightning to match the thunder of the engine. Finally, the big black machine eased to a stop at a weathered tent. The tent, big enough for three-ish people, was quilted with patches and sagged against its poles. Jane and Stella settled behind a fallen tree, maybe twenty feet away from the site, and Jane took a few gulps of air to steady her noisy breathing before the men got out of the car.
They had a perfect view of the site, up on a bit of a rise and shrouded from view behind the honeysuckle that draped the fallen log. Dean killed the engine, but left the lights on to provide illumination. Getting out of the car, he thumped the hood fondly, then went to the tent and returned with an electric lantern. It split the dark with an artificial glow and he placed it in the middle of the picnic table as his brother leaned over the seat to cut the headlights. Dean was singing to himself, somewhat tunelessly, but Jane recognized the words. The Eagles, Life in the Fast Lane. She liked Dean better with every sour note.
His brother got out of the car with the creak of a door and circled back to the trunk, returning with the case of beer. They stood at the picnic table for a few seconds, distributing cans before stashing the rest in a battered avocado-green cooler that was tucked under a bench. The brother was even taller than Dean by a good several inches, damn. Much of it might’ve been hair. But he seemed rangy instead of compactly muscled and they really didn’t look alike, except possibly in the set of the jaw. Half-brothers, maybe. Stella elbowed Jane and nodded, brows bouncing.
“Are you kidding? He looks like a wookie,” Jane whispered, and Stella snickered behind her palm.
Dean sat at the picnic table and tore open what Jane knew was the bag of jerky, slipped a piece in his mouth. His gaze scanned the surroundings and the girls crouched farther, holding their breaths. He had the level, watchful demeanor of a quarterback, scoping out the field and assessing his play. His brother had moved to the fire pit and was coaxing flames from a teepee of kindling. He’d obviously done this a few time before. The new fire threw orange and yellow across his face and shuddered the shadows. He was all sharp angles around wide-set, tilted eyes and okay, he was cute. Smart-looking. More Stella’s type.
After the brother was satisfied with the fire, he wiped his palms on his seat and joined Dean at the table, fishing out a piece of jerky for himself. “You get the salt?”
“Yup. But I really don’t think this is a ghost, Sammy.” Their voices carried on the still air; they weren’t exactly whispering, unaware of their voyeurs.
Ghost? Stella mouthed. Jane shrugged.
“Ghost, fairy, will o’ the wisp, whatever it is, salt’ll give it grief. Not like we’ve got much else to go on.” The brother—Sammy—dragged a hand through all that dark hair and pressed a cold can of beer to his forehead. “Guess we’d better start making the bombs.”
Dean snorted and shook his head. “Dumb as hell idea—”
“You wanna use guns in a campground during high season, Dean? Seriously?”
“Okay. Shut it.”
Yeah, Jane decided. They’re brothers, all right. But wtf? Firing guns in the campground? That would surely result in a nice little sleep-over at the county lock-up.
The guys brought grocery bags out of the tent and began setting items on the table, working succinctly. Plastic gallons of water, the carton of salt, several small bags of … something. Jane couldn’t be sure what, from this distance.
“This blessed already?” Dean nudged a jug and Sammy nodded. He ripped open one of the mystery bags with his teeth and shook out the brightly colored contents. Balloons.
Sammy was dipping what looked like a string of beads into one of the other water jugs and mumbling too quietly for his voice to reach the girls. Low, methodical. Dean took the carton of salt and poured a good slug into his jug, shook it, resumed humming off-key. He tugged a bright yellow balloon onto the end of an ordinary kitchen funnel and began filling it with the salty water, or at least Jane assumed it was water. Holy water, apparently. She slid a glance to Stella, who was probably wearing the same baffled expression on her face as Jane. What the hell were these guys into? Some freaky cult? They were way too serious to be playing pranks, or at least the really tall one was. His brow was furrowing hard as he dunked the beads in each gallon in turn, followed by the salt, chanting all the while. Dean opened a plastic grocery bag and started loading it up with filled balloons. Sammy took a spin at filling balloons as well, knotting them off clumsily, getting as much water on his shirt as he did in the balloons.
Dean looked up and over at his brother, smirking. Sammy rolled a shoulder and paused to scratch down his back as far as one long arm could reach, and Dean’s smirk slipped a notch.
“What’s the deal?” he said gruffly, even bossily. He was probably the older of the two; Jane had heard that tone in Isaiah’s voice on more than a few occasions.
“Itches,” Sammy stated. “Still stiff.”
“Lemme see. Dad’ll beat both of our asses if you get blood poisoning from infected stitches—”
“If we find Dad.”
Dean’s posture got rigid, his jaw knotted and pallid in the colorless light. “When we find him. And we will, so don’t even go there.”
Sammy sighed and looked put-upon—another gesture Jane knew well—but pulled his t-shirt overhead, regardless.
Jane immediately reversed her assessment of Sammy’s scrawniness. Holy shit, his shoulders were broad and rocky with raw muscle. Not the showy build of a gym rat but real, applicable strength that could beat the tar out of anyone who underestimated him. An angry wound as long as her hand ran north-to-south over his left shoulder blade and Dean poked at it mercilessly, Sammy hissing.
Stella gawked. “That is so not a wookie,” she said, her voice rising into a giggle, and Dean’s head snapped up, his stare lasering through the heavy sweet tangle of honeysuckle.
In almost the same motion, his brother stood, something edged and metal suddenly glinting between his fingers. There was nothing alarmed or even inquisitive about the looks on their faces, just 100% no-fucking-nonsense menace etched in the narrowed glares and tightly-held energy of their bodies. Dean gave a blue water balloon a single bounce in his palm and his arm was pulling back to throw it when Jane jumped up, fast.
“No, no! It’s just me! And—” she yanked Stella to her feet “—and my friend!”
Dean blinked. “Joanie?”
“Jane,” she stammered.
Sammy exhaled audibly and his features softened with relief. He flicked his wrist and a big fat knife, some kind of Bowie maybe, thunked into the picnic table and quivered there. “Do we know them?” he said without taking his gaze off the girls. He might even have been grinning slightly.
Dean shook his head, not amused. “Ladies, it is nine kinds of dumb to spy on people. You get that, right?”
Both girls nodded.
“Not that I disapprove of—”
“Incoming.” Sammy slipped back into his t-shirt and elbowed Dean before pointing off behind Jane and Stella.
Against her better judgment—though Jane’s judgment wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders this evening—she slowly turned and looked to where Sammy was pointing. She’d expected to see a campground rent-a-cop or worse yet, a skunk, but there wasn’t much of anything. Just a hazy spot of light, bobbing through the trees. Bigger than a firefly but smaller than a flashlight, or at least that’s the way it started. As it came closer, it stretched and curled, a floating amoeboid form with no discernable body attached to it. It pulsed like a heartbeat, and Jane could feel it matching her own quickened lub-dub, lub-dub and it was real. A creature, a personality … beautiful in its sadness and desperate for someone to listen, for someone to sit with it a while and just keep it company because forever was such a very, very long time. Long and lonely. Tonight, it didn’t want to be lonely. And it was so tired of forever.
“Jane,” came Dean’s stern voice. “Get down.”
But why? It wasn’t doing anything. It gave her the impression of a very old person, warm and worldly, and didn’t want anything beyond what everyone wanted: to be heard. To be acknowledged, to count for something. To not be alone. That wasn’t so awful, was it?
Jane watched it move forward, and it took shape. Its wizened little face, neither male nor female but the most likeable qualities of both, hovered above a newly-formed, spindly body and fluttery, hummingbird wings. It smiled, toothless, gesturing with its tiny gnarled fingers. And that was when something heavy hauled Jane to the ground. No, someone. Steely arms grabbed around her middle and tossed her into the honeysuckle, without much ceremony.
“When Dean says get down, he usually means it.” Sam frowned above her, and she saw he had the knife back in his fist. At that moment, she started to think of him as ‘Sam’ instead of ‘Sammy’; he was not a Sammy.
Brightly colored orbs soared over their heads. The second balloon hit the thing, whatever it was, and there was a searing hiss like steam escaping, the stink of rotten eggs. Jane not only heard it, she felt it in her heart again, a stutter-start, a sort of internal gasp.
“No,” she squirmed under Sam, shoving at him, but he was unmovable. He had thrown an arm over her shoulders and the more she struggled, the harder he pressed. “NO. It just doesn’t want to die alone! Don’t we all deserve that?”
Sam’s brows pulled heavily, eyes lost in shadow. “Listen, it’s lying to you. It can’t die alone—”
“What? I don’t get—”
“Jane,” he said through gritted teeth, “it’s already dead.”
Well. That shut her up.
Another balloon hit the thing, the ‘it’. Dean vaulted over her, Sam, the brambles. Though she couldn’t see what was happening back behind her, there was a shriek in her mind, a migraine given voice. It seethed with fury and an unnamable sense of wrongness. Then, there was nothing but an echo. She knew it was gone—since, if Sam wasn’t spouting bullshit, it couldn’t be dead again. And she didn’t think he was.
“Dean!” Sam shouted, demanding a response with his tone.
“Ha! Got the little son of a bitch.”
Sam exhaled before he rolled off, and Jane scrambled up, trembling. Her body was buzzing with fear and adrenaline, stomach in a curdled knot. “What – what was that?” She still tasted sulfur in the air.
“Um,” Sam said succinctly.
“And where’s Stella?” Jane whirled around, desperately scanning the layers of thickets and tree trunks.
Dean was standing in a small clearing, the faintest glow of moonlight hitting his own knife as he wiped it on the thigh of his jeans. He darted a look to his brother. “There were two of them. I didn’t get the second one.” He sounded almost apologetic.
It really had lied to her, just as Sam had said. Jane felt the prickle of tears.
“Hey, don’t do that,” Sam put a big hand on her arm, and as quickly as he’d been strange and dark and threatening, he was stooping down to fix her with an earnest gaze, eyes bright, a mess of hair falling over his forehead. “Dean and I will find Stella. But you have to go home or back to your camp or whatever. Is your family here?”
Jane jerked a single nod.
“Great. Go be with them. These—” he hesitated as though filtering through words for the right thing to say “—sprites seem to like to take people who wander off by themselves. Don’t ask me what they are just – just trust me when I tell you the best place to be is with your family. The little shits can’t touch you as long as you’re all together.” The corners of his mouth twitched, trying for a smile but fell just short. Something enigmatic washed over his face and then was gone, just as quickly. When she didn’t immediately move, he turned solemn again and gave her a shake. “If you don’t run home – now – I’ll have to handcuff you to the steering wheel and make you listen to Hootie and the Blowfish until your ears bleed, we clear?”
Sam released her and stepped back to grab the grocery bag of water balloons. He sheathed his knife and Jane watched him tuck a handgun under his waistband at the small of his back before he loped, long-legged, to catch up to his brother. He paused, caught Jane’s eye and flashed a quick grin, unexpected, complete with dimples. “We’ll get her. Promise.”
And then they were both gone.
Jane ran all the way to her campsite. She didn’t stop, not once. She ran until her lungs burned and the world swam.
The camper was rocking when she got back, literally rocking, and Jane had never been so relieved to find her mom and stepdad preoccupied. It not only meant they were safe, it gave her the chance to desperately chug half a beer (she didn’t give a rat’s ass if Josh found out) and settle the walloping of her heart against her ribs. But the night still felt like a living thing, too full of secrets. She scrambled to plug in the trout Christmas lights that dangled from the canopy, to flick on the electric Coleman lamp, and she sat in the middle of all that glow until the camper stopped lurching.
Eventually, her mother creaked open the door in her bathrobe, squinting out at Jane.
“Bath house.” Jane had already fashioned a good lie.
“You coming to bed?”
Josh appeared over her mom’s shoulder, rumpled and scrubbing at his salt-and-pepper beard. “You okay, Janie-boo?”
Only Isaiah called her Janie and it should bug the crap out of her that Josh added something dorkish like ‘boo’ but at this moment, she didn’t half mind.
It was the least of her worries.
“Okay, sweetie,” her mom said. “Don’t stay up too late.”
Josh added a gun-cocking finger. “Gonna take you girls canoeing tomorrow.”
They disappeared back inside the camper. Jane curled her fist around the pepper spray canister on the end of her keychain.
When two a.m. came and went, Jane finally crawled into her bunk and stared at the ceiling, listening to her parents snore and grateful that she couldn’t hear the night noises beyond the walls. An hour later, she fell restlessly asleep. She woke to the watered-down glow of dawn, or maybe it was a distant rooster from one of the neighboring farms. Or maybe it was the dreams. Jane didn’t change clothes, still in the same dirty jean shorts and sweat-stained t-shirt; she pulled on sneakers, sockless, and snuck away before Mom and Josh stirred.
At the foot of Shawnee Mountain, she found Stella asleep in the cinnamon ferns, a puffy bruise on her forehead but otherwise unharmed. They never saw Dean or Sam again, nor spoke of that night.
But they never forgot.