Fic: Never Say Die (16/16)
Title: Never Say Die (16/16)
NEVER SAY DIE
Epilogue: Fifteen Years Later
Rose Holt was seventeen years old, a pretty girl with dark, short-cropped hair and a little puppy-fat still rounding out her figure. She wore a light blouse and pants, sandals on her feet and a small silver cross on a chain around her neck. She sat in her hired car, looking up at the sign above the building. Harvelle's Roadhouse, the sign declared.
Rose unfolded the letter in her hand and re-read it, although she already had the contents memorised. Yes, this was the place. It just wasn't anything like she'd imagined.
The Roadhouse was a relatively new building, half stone and half timber. The windows were shuttered. The sign above the doors was hand-painted. The doors stood open, but somehow the sight wasn't as welcoming as it could have been. Around the corner from the building stood a dusty, old, black car. The hood was open and a toolbox lay on the ground, but Rose saw no sign of anyone working on the car.
She glanced down at the letter again and realised she was stalling. Had she come this far only to get scared and run away? Rose slipped the letter into her purse, climbed out of her car, locked it and walked toward the open doors.
As she reached the first step a man came out of the darkness. He wore patched jeans and a t-shirt that had probably been white, once. His tanned skin, like his clothing, was oil-stained and he was carrying something that she guessed belonged in that car. He stopped when he saw Rose.
"Bar's closed, sweetheart," he said. He didn't remark that she looked too young.
She met his eyes, feigning confidence. "I'm looking for Sam Winchester."
He was silent for a moment, those green eyes studying her closely. His eyes lingered on her chest before he reached her eyes again. "Oh. Right. Well, go inside." He moved past her without another word.
Nothing for it, Rose thought, and walked into the shadowed interior of the bar. An old CD stereo stood on the bar with a Blues song playing. Rose walked toward the bar, her heels loud on the wooden floor. The bar, at least, was what she expected: small tables and uncomfortable-looking stools, two pool tables, the usual. A second look revealed children's toys scattered around near the bar. She saw no sign of anyone who might be Sam Winchester.
"Hello?" she called tentatively.
"Looking for Sam?"
The voice came from behind her and Rose whirled around with a little scream.
The man who had spoken was much older than the first man. His hair was grey and thinning, his face deeply lined. He was holding a broom. As Rose turned, he raised both hands as if she'd pulled a gun. Except one of his hands was missing. The broom clattered to the floor. He made no attempt to catch it.
"Sorry," the old man said. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"You're not Sam?" she asked, a little unnerved by all this. She sent out an exploratory tendril of thought from her mind to his. Nothing invasive, just a taste, while there was still time for her to get away. What she felt reassured her and she smiled politely.
He smiled, and it changed his whole face. He looked more gentle and his eyes sparkled with life and intelligence. He moved out of the shadows toward her. "I'm John Winchester. Sam's my son." He offered his right hand, the picture of old-fashioned courtesy.
Rose took the offered hand, feeling she could trust this man. "I'm Rose Holt. Is Sam here?"
"He's making a supply run, but he'll be back in less than an hour. Can I get you a drink while you wait?"
She hesitated. "I'm not twenty one yet."
There was that lovely smile again. He must have been devastatingly handsome when he was young. "Bar's closed anyway," he answered easily. "Cola? Coffee? Juice?"
"Juice would be great."
"Have a seat. I'll get it. Oh, and if the children start running around, just try not to step on them. They move pretty fast and I've given up tryin' to catch 'em."
Rose couldn't help smiling at that. She chose a seat at a table.
John returned with a glass of orange juice and set it in front of her. "You look nervous," he remarked, sitting down.
"I...I guess I am. I don't even know why I came, or why Sam wants to see me."
"There's nothing to be afraid of. Sam's a good man. He wants to talk with you is all."
"What about? Why me?"
It was John's turn to hesitate. "I should let Sam explain. But it has to do with something that happened to your mom when you were a baby."
Rose felt her eyes widen. He must be talking about the fire. Her mom had told her about that: the ghost-like man who started the fire in her nursery, the two men who saved them both. If it were anyone but her mom, Rose wouldn't have believed the story. But Monica was one of the most practical, down-to-earth people Rose knew.
"Rose, I didn't want to scare you. Really, it's okay."
She sipped her juice. "I believe you," she answered honestly, "but I haven't met Sam."
John was silent for a moment, long enough to make her nervous again. Finally he looked up, meeting her eyes. "I told Sam I'd stay out of it when he started writing to you and the others. But he's not here and you do deserve some answers."
He nodded. "In the year you were born there were nine unusual fires across the country. They all started close to a six-month-old baby. In each case, the baby's primary care giver was killed but the baby survived. Your mother is the only exception: she lived. There's something special about each of those children. Like you, Rose." He said it gently enough.
"What do you know about me?" Rose thought she should be scared. She wasn't.
"I know about the fire when you were a baby. Everything else I know is what I've seen since you walked in that door. For instance, you were really nervous when you came in, but you relaxed very quickly. Yet it bothers you that you haven't met Sam, even though you've been writing to each other for months." John looked at her thoughtfully. "You're...it's not mind-reading you do, is it? You read people's hearts, or maybe their souls."
She laughed, and knew it sounded fake. "No. I...that's crazy." How did he know?
"Sure it is," John smiled. Nothing more.
"I don't read," Rose said defensively. "It's not words. I just...I know you're a good man."
"See? That wasn't so hard to admit, was it?" He looked back over his shoulder. "I think that's Sam. I'll let him know you're here."
Rose watched him go, sipping her juice. John was a good man, but she tasted something hard in him. She wouldn't let herself look below the surface, though. She'd done that before, curious about someone, and hadn't liked what lay beneath the iron-hard shield. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. That was probably what she tasted in John.
Rose got her first glimpse of Sam as he carried boxes into the saloon. She couldn't help noticing his strength, his muscles bulging as he held two boxes in his arms, one atop the other so the upper box came above his head. Sam moved across the saloon confidently, sure of the route without needing to see it. But there was a red and blue plastic truck in his path.
Rose called a warning. "Hey! Crash hazard." It was her father's phrase.
Sam turned his face toward her with some difficulty because of the boxes.
She pointed. "You're about to fall over a truck."
Sam smiled, and Rose saw his father in that smile. "Thanks." He walked around the toy truck and disappeared into the basement. On his return trip he picked up the toy and set it on a table. "I'll be with you in a moment, Rose."
She watched him and his father carry boxes. John carried one box at a time to Sam's two, but the amputated hand didn't seem to be a problem for him. Finally, he and Sam emerged from the basement together. Sam tossed a ring of keys to John who caught them deftly and smiled at Rose on his way out.
It left her alone with Sam. Sam gestured to the stool, asking permission to sit.
"I'm Rose," she offered. She pushed the juice glass away from her; it was empty.
"Hi, Rose. I'm Sam Winchester. I'm glad you came."
"I'm not sure why I did. I'm supposed to be on vacation with my parents, but your invitation...I don't know."
Sam smiled. "Listen, I know this is a bit weird and you've come a long way. I don't know if you'll believe anything I have to tell you, but I promise I'm not a psycho or anything. You can tell me to shut up, or you can leave, any time you want to."
Rose met his eyes and touched his mind at the same time. The taste was so different from his father. Sam was all sharp edges and glass. There was a hardness to him she had tasted in John, too, but in Sam it masked reluctance...and fear. Rose drew back from him. He was afraid...of her?
"What is it, Rose? What do you see?"
"You're afraid of me."
"I warned you," John said from the door. He walked up to their table, laid the keys down and picked up Rose's empty glass.
Sam nodded. "You did," he agreed. To Rose he said, "I'm not sure if I'm relieved that you saw that or..." he hesitated. "I know Dad started to tell you what this is about and I can't think of any subtle way to say this, so here goes. That fire when you were a baby: the same thing happened to me. My mom died."
"I'm sorry," Rose answered automatically, but her gaze moved to John, who was behind the bar. Bad things happen to good people, she remembered. What she felt in him was beginning to fall into place.
Sam followed her gaze. "Yeah," he said, more quietly. "Dad saw it happen. He heard my mom scream, but when he reached the nursery..."
Rose listened as Sam told the story of his mother's death. It was her mom's story all over again. Except someone had been there to save her mom from... "A demon?" Rose whispered. Instinctively, her fingers touched the cross around her neck. She made an effort to smile. "Come on. No one believes in that stuff any more."
"I think you do, at least a little," Sam disagreed. "Me, I know it's real. I've lived with it all my life. Did you ever hear the saying that the Devil's greatest achievement is..."
"...Convincing the world he doesn't exist," Rose finished with him. "But...what does that have to do with me?"
"All of the babies the demon visited were born with some kind of psychic ability. And they were all...infected with the demon's blood. All of them except you, Rose."
"My father was tracking the demon all that year, recording the signs. The first time he was able to predict where it would strike next was when it came after you. We got there in time to save you and your mom."
Rose stared at him. "That was you? You saved my mom that night?"
"Me and my brother. Because we were there, the demon didn't have time to touch you. That makes you pretty special."
Special how? Rose touched her cross again. "What do you want from me, Sam?"
Sam met her eyes. "Right now, I just want a chance to get to know you. The demon is dead now, Rose. That's a good thing, but it mean's we're in uncharted territory. I want you to know that if anything, you know, weird starts happening, you can come to me for help."
Rose could taste the truth of his words, but she also knew it wasn't the whole truth. Sam did want something from her, but he wouldn't tell her yet. He was waiting for something.
"You...you're psychic too?" she tried tentatively.
She hadn't expected her question to hurt him, but there was no mistaking the flash of pain in his eyes before he covered it and answered. "I was. Most of it is gone now but I still have pieces of it. Dreams, mostly."
"Tell me about the others."
Sam looked at her seriously. "Are you sure? This is a lot for you to take in all at once."
Rose nodded. "Your father told me there were nine fires. So there are eight other people?"
"No. The fires happened when the demon was interrupted. He visited a lot of children without anyone knowing."
"How many?" Rose asked breathlessly. She felt close to something big, something she desperately needed to know.
Instead of answering her, Sam turned to his father. John was still at the bar, stacking glasses and probably listening to everything they said. It impressed Rose that Sam valued John's opinion.
"It's your call, Sammy," John answered the unspoken question. "I think she can handle it."
Sam got to his feet. "Come with me."
Rose followed him. Behind the bar a door opened into a long hallway which led, she guessed, to the family living area behind the saloon. There were children's toys scattered along the hallway and from somewhere further in Rose could hear the children playing: voices, laughter and the music of some cartoon on the television.
"Your kids?" she asked Sam.
Sam smiled. "My niece and nephew. They're Dean's kids. I never found time to settle down and start a family."
Rose frowned. "That's the first time you've lied to me," she said quietly.
Sam stopped walking and looked at her. "Alright. I don't believe it would be right to have a family with the life I lead. I was raised like that, a different school every year, moving from one crappy town to another, never having any money, scared all the time... I hated it. If I ever have kids, I don't want them to hate me."
Rose didn't think that was the whole truth, but it was a very personal question, so she let it go. Sam's life was none of her business.
"Here," Sam announced, gesturing to the wall.
A large map of the USA was pinned to the wall. It was surrounded by photographs, post-it notes, press cuttings and handwritten notes on all kinds of scraps. All of the photographs were from public sources: prints from internet sites and local newspapers. Coloured strings went from each picture and note to different points on the map. Rose recognised herself in a photo of her high school cheerleading squad: from last year when they won the state championship. Were all of these the children Sam was talking about? There were too many to count.
"Seventy six," Sam said softly. "There were eighty one children the demon visited in the year you were born. Two of them died in childhood. Three no longer live in the USA. These are the rest."
Seventy six kids. "All of them like me?" Rose turned to Sam and corrected herself. "Like us."
"Yeah. Like us." Sam reached for Rose's hand.
Rose allowed him to hold her hand. She was shaking, suddenly, and the warmth of his touch helped. She realised he had known that; he'd instinctively known how to help her.
"Should have taken the blue pill," she muttered under her breath.
Sam must have heard her, because he laughed suddenly. "Aren't you a bit young to be a Matrix fan?" he asked, smiling.
Rose couldn't help grinning back. "Are you kidding? It's my mom's favourite. I grew up watching them on reruns every year."
It was oddly appropriate, she thought. She did feel like Keanu Reeves must have, stepping into a strange new world. Did that make Sam her Morpheus?
She squeezed Sam's hand. They were a strange family, these Winchesters, but her instinct told her she could trust them. They were good people.
"So," Sam said, "have I scared you enough, or would you like to know more?"
After this, there is no turning back. Take the blue pill - the story ends, you believe whatever you want to believe. Take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
Rose looked at the map on the wall. Seventy six.
"I want to know everything," she decided.
Welcome to the real world.
~ The End ~
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