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Title: Evening the Odds
Characters: Bill Harvelle, John Winchester
Rating: PG-13, gen AU casefic
Length: 1,545 words
Author's Notes: 1st place winner in the spnland 'Substitute Your Reality' AU writing challenge. Thanks to my beta, Steven.
Warnings: AU with canonical character death and language.
Disclaimer: The concepts and characters of Supernatural belong to the CW.
Summary: In the spring of '86, Bill Harvelle and John Winchester worked a job at the Devil's Gate Reservoir. There's a few different stories told about what happened that day. This one might even be true.

“John Winchester is a revenge-obsessed maniac,” Ellen protested when Bill suggested him. “And those are his good qualities.”

“Now dahrling,” Bill answered, letting enough twang into his voice to make her smile, “if we discriminated on that basis, we’d have no customers left.” It was true enough, though there was a world of difference between serving a man a beer and using him as back-up on a hunt.

Still, Southern California was John’s territory, and had been ever since he’d entered the life a couple years back. He’d taken out poltergeists, black dogs, vengeful spirits – even werewolves and witches, monsters close enough to human to turn some hunters squeamish. Not John, though. Bill appreciated a man who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

John came by the Roadhouse once a month to gather intel, meet up with a contact, or just shoot the shit. He walked into the bar just a few days after Ellen gave up trying to convince Bill not to bring him in on the hunt.

Bill approached him from the front, hands out in the open, so as not to give the man any reason to be jumpy. “Can we talk?”

John nodded and sat down at a table. Bill snagged the chair across from his, turned it around and settled in, arms folded across the back. “Good to see you, John. How’re your boys?” he asked, trying his hand at some small-talk.

John eyed him, and then shrugged. “Doing pretty good. My oldest, Dean, he’s a natural with a gun. Took him out target-shooting for the first time last month. Boy’s only seven, but he bulls-eyed every bottle I set up for him,” John boasted.

Jo could hardly build a Lego tower without it falling over. “Well my girl’s just four. I think her momma wants to give her as normal a childhood as we can.”

John stiffened at that; must have thought it was some kind of criticism. “Something killed my wife, and it’s after the rest of my family. I’ll do whatever it takes to even the odds,” he said in a voice like the low growl of a junkyard dog.

Bill didn’t give a damn if John was crazy, or just crazy enough. Man could raise his kids on gunpowder and vinegar for all he cared. “You figure out what did it, yet?”

John leaned back in his chair. “I’ve got some ideas on what could have done it. Now I just have to narrow it down to what actually did.”

“Glad to hear it.” So much for small talk. “I wanted to talk to you about a hunt.”

John ordered a PBR while Bill talked him through what he knew. It’d taken a while to put the pieces together, but all five hunters, last time they’d been in the Roadhouse, had been talking about a hunt in Southern California. And not a one of them had been heard from again.

John took a final sip of his beer and put the bottle down on the table a little too hard. “It’s more than five,” John said quietly.

“What?”

“More than five hunters. I’d say at least eight.”

“Shiiiiiiit,” Bill drawled, wondering who the other three might be.

“You have any idea what they were hunting?” John asked.

“No, but I know where. Old Luke Cantrell was checking out some rumor about the Devil’s Gate Reservoir. Thought I’d start there.”

John had frozen at the mention of the reservoir. He jerked his head in a sudden decisive nod. “Makes sense. There’s all kinds of legends about that canyon. If there’s some kind of Hellgate down there, that would explain the disappearances. Not a one-man hunt, that’s for sure.” He looked searchingly at Bill. “You in?”

Bill smirked at him. “What do you mean, am I in? It’s my goddamn hunt.”

They argued over which car to take, and eventually ended up each driving their own vehicle. Bill had to practically run John off the road to get him to stop for the night in Utah.

John was certain that the Hellgate was somewhere in the tunnels by the Devil’s Gate Dam. But when Bill finally managed to get through to his contact down on the Pechanga reservation, the Indian told him that area was perfectly safe. A certain trail in the Arroyo Seco just north of there, on the other hand, had been declared off-limits by the elders over a year ago. John wasn’t a man who’d take kindly to being questioned about intel on his own territory, but Bill’s ass had been saved by local shaman too many times for him not to take it seriously.

So once they checked into the Live Oaks Motel in Altadena, Bill told John he was heading into Pasadena to pick up some more ammo. He parked his beat-up Grenada at the trailhead off Route 2. Bill was armed, of course, but it was just a broad daylight recon mission. If he found any sign of a real hunt up there, he and John could go in together to take it out.

It was a damp spring day, chilly by southern California standards, but Bill was still surprised to not see anyone else on the trail. He hiked an easy twenty minutes up the peaceful trail surrounded by oak, spruce and alder, and then boulder-hopped across a small stream. The hairs on the back of his neck immediately stood up. There was something wrong in this canyon, something that felt like unfriendly eyes. Bill wasn’t sure if it was a side-effect of the monster’s presence, or some intentional psychic ‘Keep Out’ sign, but it was enough to discourage all but the most thick-skinned hikers. Still, he wasn’t about to go running back to John Winchester with nothing to report but a bad feeling.

This part of the trail wasn’t well-maintained. Bill scrambled over washed-out sections and fallen trees, stopping every now and then to listen for anyone or anything that might be trying to sneak up on him. It was quiet, no sound of the highway or normal wildlife.

The uncomfortable feeling intensified as he passed a sign for the Switzer Trail Camp and approached the dilapidated cabins. He drew his gun and peered into each cabin’s filthy windows. As he approached the farthest cabin he heard a voice.

“Sammy? Come on, little man, what’s wrong? Didja have another bad dream?” asked a high-pitched child’s voice.

Bill got close enough to look inside. There were protective symbols carved in the sill, and the window was rattling in its frame. Earthquake? No. The ground wasn’t shaking. Just the cabin and everything in it. A can fell off the table and rolled towards the far corner of the single room cabin. There was a kid there, a little boy. As the can hit him in the leg he looked around and saw Bill at the window. With a gasp he dove for the bed.

Bill swore and kicked open the cabin door. He stepped over a salt line and into the cabin. The boy was pointing a revolver at him. His face had gone dead-pale and his hands were shaking.

“Drop it, boy,” Bill ordered, trying to see if the safety was on. He didn’t want to shoot the kid, but an untrained boy with a weapon was a dangerous thing. The room started vibrating harder. There was another boy, even younger, curled into a tight ball in that far corner. He looked terrified.

“I swear, you drop that weapon now or I will shoot you both dead,” Bill warned the boy with the gun, adrenaline spiking, slowing everything down. Bill used his peripherals to look for whatever was making the cabin shake.

A sudden force shoved Bill backwards, into the air and out the door, like getting clipped by an invisible truck. He slammed into the ground, all the wind knocked out of him, and groped for his gun. A heavy boot kicked the gun away and stepped on his hand. Bill blinked a few times and his vision cleared so he could see the man pointing a .45 at his face.

“John? What the fuck’s going on?” Bill gasped.

“Back inside, boys,” John called out, eyes steady and cold. “I’ve got this.”

There was a sound of a door being dragged closed.

“To answer your question, Bill, just over two years ago some men broke into my home in Lawrence, Kansas. They tried to kill my baby boy. They did kill my wife, Mary. Any of this ringing any bells?”

John had fucking lost it, Bill didn’t … but Lawrence, Kansas. Luke had said something about a hunt in Lawrence. “Wait, Mary Campbell?” John nodded. “She made a deal with the devil, lay with him to – Christ, John, that’s not your son you’re protecting in there, it’s the fucking Antichrist!”

John showed his teeth. “Yeah, Luke filled me in on his theory. Now, unless you want Ellen to be a widow, you’re gonna tell me the names of the other hunters who were with Luke Cantrell that night.”

Damp grass was soaking through the back of Bill’s shirt. “I don’t know, and I wouldn’t tell you if I did, you fucking traitor,” Bill swore.

“That’s what I figured you’d say,” John answered, looking strangely content.

The gunshot echoed through the clearing.

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
whitereflection
Aug. 19th, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
Ha, I wondered if this one was yours! SO damned excellent. Vivid, intense, so well thought out, and damn, but you capture the feel of the SPN world so well. And dang, but John and even Dean are just right. I can picture this like it's the show rather than text, if that makes sense. Really liked this one.
keerawa
Aug. 19th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks, whitereflection! I can picture this like it's the show rather than text *beams a smile* That's a high compliment!

I wondered, what if Mary took past-Dean's advice and didn't go into the nursery on Nov 2? Azazel wouldn't have killed her, but I can imagine she might make some inquiries via her family's old hunting contacts. And that, well, that could result in the wrong kind of assumptions being made about her and Sam. Then I wondered, if Mary were killed in front of Sam when he was old enough to know what was going on, if that might cause those latent powers to manifest early. Then John's need to revenge Mary and protect his family led them all ... here.
dragonlit
Aug. 19th, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC)
Your descriptions of the area gave me such a clear picture - really enjoyable, seeing the stream, the boulders. But...moving on. Nice to see Ellen - I do love her and getting a glimpse of Bill is great. What a fabulous concept all around! John is more than a little crazy in this but definitely still Papa Winchester, protecting his kids as he always would. Sam's powers manifest so young is terrifying, as is the cold-blooded killing. Such an amazing feel to this story. Brilliant.
keerawa
Aug. 19th, 2010 11:54 pm (UTC)
I did a fair bit of research on the the Devil's Gate Reservoir and the Arroyo Seco for this, and I'm glad that paid off. There's a lot of additional pressure here. Not just the threat of supernatural evil, but of hunters as well, and with Sammy's powers isolating them even more than in canon.

I'm glad the story worked for you, thank you, dragonlit!
vanillafluffy
Aug. 19th, 2010 11:42 pm (UTC)
Oh shit! Ajdkrewsldyikaf!!! I did not see that coming.
keerawa
Aug. 19th, 2010 11:55 pm (UTC)
*evil laughter* Well, there are hints here and there, but John's enough of a 'revenge-obsessed maniac' for them to slip by. Thanks for the comment, vanillafluffy!
tifaching
Aug. 20th, 2010 12:48 am (UTC)
Ha! Good thing Bill called John in on this hunt! Not good for Bill of course, but John can't have people poking around out there. I have a feeling Dean and Sammy could have taken care of things themselves if it came to it, but I'd have hated for them to have to.

First place, huh? Well deserved and I haven't even read any of the others. They'd need to be pretty damned inspired to beat this. I need to get over there and check this place out.
keerawa
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
John set himself up as the primary hunter for that region for exactly that reason. So he would always be the one given the heads up, asked the questions, called in for back-up.

spnland is a team-based set of challenges - writing, art, media, and games. I'm on Team Hell. I think the posts are locked, but you could always join. It's fun!
electricalgwen
Aug. 21st, 2010 01:28 am (UTC)
Ooh! Very clever! I enjoyed this. :)
keerawa
Aug. 21st, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
Thanks, electricalgwen! Perfect icon for wee!Dean here, too.
randomstasis
Aug. 21st, 2010 05:09 pm (UTC)
Ha! didn't see that coming at all- but yeah, it makes perfect sense. Poor Bill, and poor John-
"She made a deal with the devil, lay with him to "
convicted in the court of someone said so, eh?
keerawa
Aug. 21st, 2010 06:54 pm (UTC)
Exactly. You have to wonder how often that happens, with hunters. And the worse the accusation, the less calmly people will think it through and look for other evidence. Thanks for the comment, randomstasis!
candycanerica
Aug. 30th, 2010 12:13 am (UTC)
Oh WOW! Good story, loved it. Unexpected ending, good job.
keerawa
Sep. 1st, 2010 01:44 am (UTC)
Thanks candycanerica! I wondered if I'd telegraphed the ending too much. Guess not! *smiles*
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )