“You want some coffee with that sugar?” Dean paused with his fork in midair to watch Sam shake the last of four packets of honest-to-god cane sugar into his mug.
Sam made a face. “Someone decided it would be okay to serve customers the slop that’s been sitting on a burner all night.”
Dean picked up his own mug and drained it with a noisy slurp. He plunked the mug down at the edge of the table where the waitress could see it and shrugged. “Tastes fine to me.” He shoveled up a huge forkful of eggs and went back to reading the stack of [microfiche] printouts they’d made the day before.
Sam added a second creamer, and stirred slowly. It was a busy morning in this little diner. Truckers, a couple of off-duty cops, a high school couple–the chatter was low-key, cheerful, kind of like the diner with its shiny-clean Formica tables and cozy red window curtains and seat covers. He took a sip, using the cover to eye his brother again.
At least Dean was eating this time. Not wolfing the food down as he usually might, but steadily downing eggs, sausage, hash browns and that murky witch’s-brew coffee. And he smiled at the late-40's Hispanic waitress who came to give him a refill (though not in a flirtatious way).
And Dean was doing research. Sam hadn’t yet made up his mind whether this counted as a good sign or a bad one: Dean generally didn’t want to split his attention between decent food and newsprint, but on the other hand, they did need to work this case, and even if it was meant to be a distraction from Dean’s own condition, Sam could hardly fault him for it.
If anything, Sam should be taking his cue from his apparently-functional brother. He cut a neat triangle out of the short stack in front of him, and swirled it through the puddle of syrup. Real maple syrup? That more than made up for the crappy coffee. Sam cut another bite, and looked back at the cheap map of the town he’d picked up at the motel. The sites of the two disappearances were marked in red, and he and Dean had spent part of last evening covering the streets in bright green markings–sites of many previous disappearances in Ashland.
Sam chewed thoughtfully. There had to be a pattern here somewhere, but it didn’t look like location was a factor. Even if only a few of these disappearances were related, they were spread out over the town and the outlying areas.
He glanced at Dean, who was pushing the remains of his hash browns around his plate and flipping through the stack of papers with a frown.
Sam sat back in his seat. “Anything new? It sure doesn’t look like we have any patterns of location or time of day, time of year....”
Dean didn’t look up right away. “Yeah, it’s probably not faeries,” he said, completely deadpan.
“Too bad.” Sam shrugged at Dean incredulous glance. “But you’re right, it doesn’t look like it. No preference for woodlands or parks, the missing persons vary in widely in age and temperament, and none of them have ever reappeared telling strange stories.”
Dean scraped together the scraps of his sausage and scooped them into his mouth. “They’re just gone. So....” He took a swig of coffee, belched a little, and after grinning at the sound, held up one hand. “We’re looking for something that kidnaps humans, doesn’t mind the cold, isn’t bound to one location, and isn’t picky about age or sex.”
“Right.” Sam fished a piece of paper out of his pile and pushed it across the table. “And it can either fly, float, or teleport. Here’s another instance of footprints that just stop, out in the open. Little girl, 1987.” It was a news article, complete with photograph.
“And it isn’t a demon, a fae, or a spirit.” Dean pushed his plate away and pulled the stack of research in front of him. “It’s gonna be a bitch trying to nail this sucker.”
Sam combed both hands back into his hair. “I wonder if this thing always goes for eldest children.”
“It doesn’t always go for kids, period,” Dean reminded him.
“Just because you’re adult now–-mostly--“ Dean narrowed his eyes, and Sam hurried to continue. “That doesn’t mean you’re not still the eldest child of Mary and John Winchester. Right? We don’t have obituaries for these people, do we? ‘So-and-so is survived by,’ stuff like that?”
Dean picked up the stack of papers and plunked them down on Sam’s side of the table, almost on top of Sam’s half-eaten pancakes. “Knock yourself out, if you think it’ll help. But these people were missing, not dead.”
Sam began resorting the cases, this time by date. “Yeah, we might have to hit the historical library again, see what they have in terms of genealogy, birth and death records.”
Dean sighed and let his head thump against the back of his seat. Sam glanced at him, but if there’d been a wince, he wasn’t in time to catch it.
A cheerful voice broke Sam’s focus on the tiny print. “Good morning, mister!”
A little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, has appeared next to their table and was beaming at Dean. “Hi,” Dean said. “What’s your name?”
“Mercedes.” Despite the name, soft brown skin, and a thick plait of black hair hanging down her back, the girl’s voice was thoroughly midWestern. She lowered her tone to what she clearly thought was a conspiratorial whisper. “Can I get you some asprin?”
Dean shot a glance at Sam, then told the girl, “No. I think I’m good. Thanks, though.”
Mercedes didn’t look at all crestfallen. If possible, she smiled wider; a dimple dipped into one cheek. “Okay. Mama says it’s always a good idea to check, if a customer looks like he had a hard night.” She held out her hand. “Have a good day, Mister.”
Dean shook it solemnly. “Dean. This is my little brother Sammy.”
Mercedes turned a skeptical eye on Sam. “You’re not little.” Dean grinned.
“He’s joking.” Sam offered his own hand, which Mercedes shook firmly. “We’re cops. Dean’s my partner.”
She considered this, then smiled again. “Cool.” Without another word, she scurried away to whisper with the older waitress.
Dean watched her go, absently rubbing a spot just above his right eye. “Guess that’s Mama? Must be bring your daughter to work day.”
“Dean.” Sam waited until Dean looked back at him. “Is she right? Do you need painkillers?”
“No, Sam. Come on, let’s go.”
Sam cut another wedge out of his pancakes. “I’m still eating. Where were we?”
Dean sighed theatrically, rubbing the heels of his hands against his eyes. “Looking for non-existent patterns.”
Sam shuffled one-handed through the stack again. “There are no similarities in time of y ear, lunar cycle, time between victims?”
Dean shook his head. “One at a time, two at a time, four within two weeks. It varies a lot. ‘Course, we might not have everyone on our list, either.”
Sam stopped moving, papers crimped uneasily between his fingers. A thought, something they hadn’t factored in. “Dean, who goes missing but isn’t reported as missing?”
Dean shrugged. “Bums. Travelers. Hermits?”
Sam held up a hand. “Habitual runaways.”