St. John, ND

Almost eleven hours after leaving Bobby's, they finally rolled into St. John and were almost through the town before either of them noticed they were in it.

"You gotta be kidding me," Dean groaned. "This place is so small, it doesn't even have a frigging motel," he added.

Sam eyed the houses sliding by and figured Dean was right about that. "Well, we could head back to Rolla. It's not that far away. I saw a sign for a motel there," he suggested. "It's late anyway," he added and glanced at his watch. "Dude, it's twelve ten," he added and sighed. No wonder he was feeling so busted.

Dean sighed, pulled the Impala around in a u-turn and headed back the way they'd come, the car barely making more than twenty miles an hour on the snow covered streets. The snow had started coming down thick about an hour ago and had delayed them even more.

"Once we're done here, we're going to the coast no matter what. If I don't get some sunshine soon, I'll have a frigging cow," Dean declared and meant it.

Sam kept any comment on that statement to himself and stifled a yawn instead. He was in no mood to discuss the job right now. All he wanted was a shower and a bed and he ruefully realized how quickly the two days of downtime had been invalidated by this trip. He had asked Dean about three times if he should drive for a while, but Dean stuck to his guns when it came to the Impala and he had decidedly refused, which of course meant that his mood was in the dumps again because he was tired and strained from having driven eleven hours almost non-stop on snow-slippery roads.

Twenty minutes later, they returned to Rolla and found the aforementioned motel, which luckily had rooms available. Dean checked them in and the room turned out to be as passable as any they had ever stayed in.

With a heartfelt sigh, Sam settled down on the edge of his bed and just sat there for a minute. "Why is it that I get so damned tired of doing nothing all day long?" he asked and arched his neck, then rolled his head from side to side.

"That's just the way things are," Dean shot back. "Go grab a shower," he added.

Sam raised his head and stared at Dean for a moment. "Are you sick?" he asked.

"Why?" Dean countered. "It's the best way to relax, dude," he added and smirked. "That or getting laid, but with you that'll happen in a week full of Sundays, so I suggest you take a shower instead."

Grimacing, Sam rose and started rooting through his duffle. "You're funny, you know that?" he growled.

All Dean did was smirk some more. He was so damned tired of the long drive that he could really only focus on getting some sleep. And it was almost one in the morning. It just felt like they hadn't spent a full day hanging out at Bobby's.

Sam vanished into the bathroom for half an hour and Dean just stretched out on his bed, folded his hands behind his head and closed his eyes while his mind worked overtime. There was so much he still wanted to do and there just wasn't enough time. Six months really wasn't anything, was it? Not when he really thought about it. It was like a fraction of the time he was supposed to have left and it just felt like a drag to get through every day now.

What he didn't like much was that his growing fatigue seemed to drag Sam down too. It seemed to influence his brother that he was down in the dumps and Dean knew he would have to make a conscious effort to stay afloat at least for another six months. What happened then ... well, in his humble opinion, things couldn't get much worse.

When the water shut off and Sam emerged a moment later, Dean sat up and eyed his tired-looking brother. "What do you think is going on here?" he asked.

Sam's expression told Dean that he wasn't very eager to discuss the job right now. He was more eager to get some sleep. He shrugged lightly and combed his fingers through his wet hair, pushing it back from his face. "Could be a lot of things. Could be like those cooks back in Hibbing," he said and sank down on the edge of his bed. "Could be a cult, maybe. Or something seriously supernatural. But I doubt we're dealing with demons."

"Me too," Dean agreed. "Demons tend to finish the job. Letting that kid get away was downright sloppy. My money's on people."

Sam nodded and let out a light groan while rolling his shoulders back and grimacing. "Man, I need to do some serious workout soon," he grumbled.

"Or a decent hunt," Dean said, to which Sam nodded. "Let's hope we get to kick ass tomorrow," he added with a grin.

Sam settled for arching an eyebrow, then got under the covers and yawned heartily.

Dean followed suit, pushing the shower off until morning. He just didn't feel like moving too much right now. Getting undressed and into bed was just about what he could handle right around now.

***

The following day

After breakfast, they headed back to St. John with the snow coming down like there was no tomorrow and Dean spent the entire eight miles cursing, because the trip, which with clear roads should have taken about ten minutes, took them forty-five instead. And in that time he managed to exhaust his rather impressive stock of curses while Sam pretended not to listen to him.

"Snow. Why the hell did it have to be snowing today?" Dean growled and pulled over to try and get an idea of where they were. They had passed a half-buried sign telling them they were entering St. John and the irony of a passed-up opportunity for Dean to be lewd about the phrasing of the sign didn't escape Sam. Dean was really in a pissy mood because of the snow. "This sucks," he snarled.

"It's not going to stop snowing because you want it to," Sam said. "What's the plan here?"

"First, we find out where that kid turned up. Then we retrace his steps," Dean said and stared angrily out at the elements that were definitely against them.

"In this?" Sam asked and made a sweeping gesture toward the nearly buried street ahead of them. "We can't even see the sidewalk or five feet ahead of the car, Dean. I think we should head back to the motel and lay low until it at least stops snowing."

"Any other bright ideas?" Dean shot back.

Sam knew Dean's anger wasn't directed at him, but he still felt assaulted. "What do you suggest? That we trudge around in this for a few hours until we freeze our asses off?" he snapped, now decidedly miffed. "Dean, we can't see far enough to find our way through this town right now. Stop being so damned stubborn."

Dean huffed angrily, then carefully maneuvered the car around in a very wide u-turn and drove back toward Rolla. On the way back, the snowfall intensified and it took them nearly an hour to find the motel again.

Once inside, Sam stepped up to the window and stared out at what he could see of Rolla, which was just as snowed in as St. John had been. "Something's telling me that this might be a bust too," he finally said.

"Hell no," Dean growled grumpily. "We are not leaving here until we find a job. I did not just drive eleven hours through this crap to find out it was for nothing."

A little surprised, Sam turned back to face him. "I thought you wanted to head to the coast," he said.

"When this job is over. We don't even know what's going on up here," Dean stated. "And we can't just hightail it out of here because it's snowing."

"Okay, fine. So ... let's see what we can find online about this then," Sam suggested and dug his laptop out of his bag and set it up on the small table by the window.

Dean just sat on the footend of his bed for a moment and stared ahead of himself. Then he sighed and got up to raid the mini fridge. There really wasn't much else they could do right now.

***

Around noon, the snow plows started working because it had finally stopped snowing. Dean had watched the local news for the duration and it seemed that the snowfall should stop, but that it would get pretty damned cold tonight. "Frigging awesome," he muttered, cracked a pistachio shell with his teeth and dug the nut out before popping it in his mouth and chewing on it thoughtfully. Then he glanced at Sam, who had spent the last few hours doing as much research as he could online. "What have you got?" he asked.

"A little more information," Sam countered. "But not much." He shook his head. "We could really have used Ash right around now," he added and sent a pained look toward Dean.

Dean made a face. "Yeah," he agreed quietly. "Maybe we should call Bobby. Get him on the case," he added.

Shrugging lightly, Sam slumped back in his chair. "Might be an idea," he agreed, then glanced out the window. "It's stopped snowing at least."

"Yeah, and according to this, it shouldn't start up again. But when has the weather report ever been right?" Dean said and rubbed the back of his neck. "I hate sitting around with nothing to do," he added.

"Give it another hour. By that time the roads should have been cleared. Unless it starts snowing again," Sam said and glanced at his watch. "How about some lunch?"

"Sounds like a plan," Dean agreed and rose. "There was a pizza place further down the street."

Sam nodded and watched him while he got ready to brave the outside. "We need to get some real winter coats if we have to get around in this weather for much longer."

"I do not intend to stay long enough for that," Dean stated, grinned tightly at him and left the room in search for some food.

The moment he stepped out of the motel, Dean shuddered, then pulled the collar of his leather jacket up and stuffed his hands into his pockets. Sam had a point about the winter coats, actually. It would have been nice to be snug inside one of those giant insulated coats right now. Rather than make a big thing of it, he made his way out onto the street and realized that clearing sidewalks of snow wasn't as important to these people as clearing the roads. With a sigh and well aware of the hazard, Dean stepped out onto the cleared road instead of braving the knee-deep snowdrifts covering the sidewalks and made his way down to the pizza place, which was open for business and had a narrow path cleared up to its front door.

He got two pizzas, a big bottle of coke and headed back the way he'd come. He would rather have had beer, but they were out and the pizza guy had no idea when they would get supplies again, what with the weather being like this and all. Dean had accepted that since there was nothing to be done about it and trudged back to the motel to feed his brother and himself.

When he got back, he felt frozen stiff and promised himself that he would be wearing more than just a t-shirt and a shirt under the leather jacket when they went out to check out this latest job and he somehow couldn't subdue the hope that Sam had found a reason for them not to go.

"Lunch time," he said and dumped the pizza boxes on the table next to the laptop.

Sam absentmindedly grabbed the top box and opened it, glanced briefly at the pizza, then took a slice and returned his attention to the laptop. "Six in all," he said.

"Six what?" Dean asked and shrugged out of his jacket although he'd rather have kept it on for now.

"Kids," Sam said and gave him a brief glance. "Missing kids, Dean. The dude with the broken jaw and busted head is number seven," he clarified. "And the police are none the wiser. I called Bobby. He hadn't even heard of it. Said he would check into if there's anything weird about St. John. He'll call when he knows more."

"Cool," Dean said and grabbed a slice of pizza too. "The roads out there are pretty much clear. I think we can chance it once we've eaten."

Sam nodded and took a bite of his pizza. "How do we play this?" he asked after swallowing.

"Well, I'm assuming St. John doesn't have a library, so there's not much research you can do there. I suggest we take on the woman who reported this kid to the police in the first place. Maybe she knows more than the papers were telling," Dean said.

"Sounds like a plan," Sam agreed.

They ate in silence after that and left the motel again half an hour later. The trip back to St. John was a little faster the third time around, but Dean drove slowly just the same. Sam had checked up on who the woman was and eventually found her address.

Poplan Street wasn't long and the houses were spaced out pretty well. Margaret Hemming's home was the last in the row, but the street was cleared all the way to the end, giving them easy access.

Dean put the Impala in park and looked in at the house for a moment. Then he glanced at his brother. "Here goes nothing," he said, opened the door and got out.

Sam followed suit and a moment later they were standing in front of the door, ready to fill the poor woman with lies to get the truth out of her. When the door opened, even Dean felt a bit uncomfortable. The woman was over eighty by the looks of it and she looked frail and slightly concerned to find them standing on her doorstep. "Yes?"

"Mrs. Hemming?" Sam took over and Dean let him. The kid had a way with the older ladies. The woman nodded. "Hi, we're from the Grand Forks Herald in Grand Forks and we're doing a piece on that kid who stumbled into your backyard a week ago. Could we possibly ask you some questions about that?"

Mrs. Hemming blinked owlishly at him and Dean could barely keep a smirk at bay at the way her demeanor changed. "Oh, yes, of course. Uh ... won't you come in?" She stepped back to let them in and Dean sighed with relief. At least they didn't have to start out with getting frozen to the bone. "Can I offer you anything? A cup of coffee maybe? It's frightfully cold out there," she asked.

"That would be great," Dean said before Sam could refuse. He elbowed his brother in the side and smiled brightly at Mrs. Hemming, who nodded and shuffled into the kitchen to get them some coffee. "Never turn down a hot drink when it's this cold," he hissed quietly at Sam, who settle for rolling his eyes in reply.

They settled down in the over-stuffed living room which was so frilly and pink that it made Dean's teeth ache, but he kept up the charade and listened politely while Mrs. Hemming retold them what they had basically read in the papers.

"Do you know the boy?" Sam asked. He had a pad and a pen out and was dotting down doodles on it, pretending to write down everything she told them.

"No, no, I don't. Never seen him before. The poor child. And it was even snowing that night and so bitterly cold and there he was without a thread on. I mean ... how he got as far as he got is beyond me," Mrs. Hemming said with a sad shake of the head. "I don't think he's from around here. Maybe from Rolla. It's slightly bigger and there are more children there."

"And the paramedics took him to Rolla?" Sam asked on and continued to doodle on his pad.

"Yes, I would assume so. I ... haven't really ... you know ... kept up to date on it all. It was quite a shock, all that," Mrs. Hemming said and sighed.

"Do you mind if we take a look around, maybe try and track where he came from?" Dean asked and gave her a bright smile when she focused on him.

"Of course. By all means," she said and glanced toward the windows facing the back yard. "Might be hard to get through, though, with all the snow."

"We'll manage," Dean said.

"I do know that Maddie is keeping track of what's happening," Mrs. Hemming said with a thoughtful look in her eyes. "Very sweet and so helpful. You can always count on Maddie," she added and smiled.

"And Maddie would be?" Sam asked.

"Maddie Parkinson. Sweet young lady," Mrs. Hemming said. "She lives two houses further down the road on the other side. She might know how the boy is and where he is."

Both Dean and Sam rose. "Thank you very much, Mrs. Hemming. You've been very helpful," Sam said and the old lady beamed at him.

They left the house and stopped next to the Impala. Dean considered the old woman's words for a moment, then glanced at the tree line visible beyond the house. "Go check out her backyard and see if you can find anything," he said.

Sam eyed him for a moment. "And what are you ..." He trailed off and narrowed his eyes. "You're gonna go and talk to that 'nice young lady', aren't you?" he asked.

"You've got your ways with the older ladies. I know how to handle the young ones," Dean agreed with a grin. "I'll just see what she has to say and I'll catch up with you in a bit," he added, got into the car and drove away. A quick glance in the rearview mirror showed him that Sam was still standing there and he couldn't help a brief grin. "Sucker," he muttered.

***

Sam watched his brother drive away and mostly felt like slapping him upside the head for stranding him here. All he could hope for was that this Maddie was ugly as sin and grabby on top. The thought made him smirk viciously, before he turned and made his way through the snowdrifts toward the edge of the forest. There really wasn't any way to retrace the kid's steps in all this, but Sam figured he kid had to have come from somewhere in the forest and if he could find that somewhere, they might be able to work out what exactly had nearly killed the kid.

So he trudged onward, cursing the fact that he didn't have proper boots while the snow began to seep through his jeans and numbed his legs. After a bit, he reached the tree line, where the snow leveled out to ankle depth. And a bit after that, there was only a light powdering on the ground. He stopped and stomped the snow off his jeans and shoes, then glanced around.

The forest consisted of evergreens mostly and was fairly dense, but he could hear traffic noise and figured there was a road somewhere up ahead. He followed the noise and broke out of the forest again after about two hundred feet. About a mile out, there was a road. It wasn't heavily trafficked and there was a wall of snow between him and the street. "Shit," he muttered and glanced back at the wall of trees, which curved out toward the street. To get there without having to wade through hip-deep snow all the way, he returned to the relative safety of the tree line and made his way toward the road that way.

Why he had to be the one to do the heavy part of the job was beyond him and he swore he would get back at Dean for this. "Jerk," he muttered under his breath and once again wished he was wrapped in a heavy parka and wearing decent boots and water-resistant pants. More so, he wished he had some gloves.

More than a little annoyed, he burrowed his hands deeper into his pockets and trudged on toward the road while trying to figure out where the kid had come from. With a head injury like that, it was fairly unlikely that the kid had paid much attention to where he was going and it was obvious that he had probably bypassed a house or two before ending up in Mrs. Hemming's backyard.

The tongue of forest he followed landed him a few feet from the edge of the road, but there was still a hill of snow to brave before he could get out there. He stopped and eyed the area, then noted that there was a house to the left, so he veered off and came out in their driveway, which had been cleared of snow.

There was a house on the other side of the road too, but he doubted the kid had come through there. He stepped out on the road and inspected the area while waiting for a few cars to pass before he made his way across. The kid had probably passed between the two houses on the other side and stumbled onward in a fairly straight line to end up at Mrs. Hemming's house.

Although it meant climbing the mountain of snow on the side of the road, he did so anyway and skittered down the other side, estimated the distance between the houses and then trudged onward until he was between the trees of the next forested area again and could once again stomp the snow off his legs and shoes. "I am so gonna use up all the hot water when we get back to the motel," he growled. Back among the trees, he could move more quickly while he wondered if he would actually see Dean again today.

***

Maddie Parkinson was anything but ugly, but damn she talked. Dean couldn't get a word in edgewise after he'd managed to trigger her by asking about that kid. And she told him everything she knew while veering off into uncharted territories as well where he gently had to nudge her back on track from.

The more the woman talked, the more Dean wished he had gone with Sam. "Mrs. ..." he tried, but she just kept going.

"... and I told him, I said Frank, you have got to be kidding me, but he was adamant about it and ..."

"Mrs. Parkinson," Dean tried again.

She arched both brows and eyed him curiously. Then she smiled. "Oh, dear me. I go on, don't I?" she cooed and then continued telling him about Frank and what his take had been on the poor, poor kid.

Dean barely kept a groan at bay. That woman could talk anyone to death. Finally he leaned forward and grabbed her hands, which had the desired effect. She clammed up immediately, stunned by the close encounter. "Mrs. Parkinson, I'm sorry, but my partner is waiting for me and I need to get going. Thank you very much for all the details. And we'll be sure to get back to you as soon as we know more."

"Oh ... uh ... yes, of course. And with this weather. It's awful and ..." she began again, but Dean tightened his grip on her hands, stopping her again.

He rose. "Thank you for your time," he said and left the house as quickly as he could. "Jeez, man," he muttered, dug his phone out of one pocket and got in the car at the same time.

He drove back to where he had dropped Sam off while dialing Sam's number. It took a moment before Sam picked up.

"Where the hell are you?" Dean demanded.

"On the other side of the forest. Actually, I'm in the forest on the other side of the forest," Sam replied.

Dean groaned. "Is there a road nearby?" he asked.

"Yeah, about ... I don't know. One hundred feet away from where I am right now. Where are you?"

"Back where I dropped you off," Dean said. "Stay there. I'll come get you."

"There's a bend in the road up ahead. I think you can drive up the first driveway. It looked fairly clear. I'm just gonna check something out. See you in a bit," Sam replied and hung up.

Dean grumbled under his breath, turned the Impala around and headed back the way they'd come. It took him a bit to find the right driveway. It branched off halfway to the house it belonged to and a dirt road, which was oddly clear of snow, wound away around a patch of forest.

Keeping his car safe was his primary reason for driving in that far. Then he honked the horn and settled back in his seat to wait for Sam to turn up. Which he didn't. It took Dean five minutes to realize that Sam wasn't going to show up without some prompting. He pulled the phone out again, dialed his number and waited. The call switched to voice mail and Dean pulled the phone away from his ear and eyed it. He hung up and got out of the car to send a look around.

Ahead of him, a field of snow stretched toward the edge of the forest at the far side and there were clear footprints in the snow. "SAM!" he yelled, but there was no answer. "Son of a bitch," Dean growled, slammed the door and locked it, then pulled the collar of his leather jacket up and started forward. "I am gonna bust his ass for this," he muttered under his breath. "If he's yanking my chain, I'm not talking to him for a week," he added heatedly and plowed his way through the snow toward the edge of the forest. "SAM!" he yelled again.

After five hundred feet that felt like a damned marathon to him, he reached the forest and took a second to brush off the snow before it completely soaked through his jeans. "SAM!" he tried again and there still was no reply. "Dammit," he muttered and called him again.

The second it started ringing, Dean froze. He could hear Sam's phone. "What the hell?" he muttered and started forward. His immediate idea was that Sam had slipped and knocked himself out, although that was so totally not like him. Sam might be tall, but he was no klutz.

It took him a moment to zero in on the phone, which was lying on a bed of wilted pine needles, but there was no sign of Sam anywhere. He picked it up, then swept his gaze over the ground in search of some sort of clue as to what might have happened to his brother. The only thing apart from the phone that indicated foul play was the spatter of something dark on the trunk of one of the pines. He stepped closer and touched it. His fingers came away bloody. "Son of a bitch," he hissed. His previous concern erupted into full-fledged fear.