More than a week passed since that initial exchange, and a trio of mundane hunts in equally mundane Midwestern towns had kept the brothers occupied. A fourth potential hunt; another fairly run-of-the-mill haunting had brought them to another small, dull backwater, so unremarkable that neither Winchester could even trouble to remember its name. As boring as the town was, however, Sam's research had revealed that the spirit only seemed to manifest on a Friday, and so they decided to make the most of having a couple of days to kill, and take the opportunity to enjoy some rest and relaxation.
During that time, Dean had seemed unusually preoccupied; brooding and uncharacteristically quiet. Sam wasn't deluded enough to think that their recent hunts were anywhere near diverting enough to capture his brother's limited attention span; and felt secure in the assumption that it was Dean's mysterious nocturnal visitor that was filling his brother's thoughts.
It was one hazy morning following a brief visit to the little town's sparse array of shops that Sam returned to the room to hear the hiss of running water and an echoing rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody with the added novelty of having absolutely no tune whatsoever. Safely concluding that Dean was showering, Sam dropped his purchases on the kitchen table and chanced a brief look in the notebook that Dean had been dutifully keeping beside his bed as per Sam's suggestion.
He reflected that Dean had certainly taken his suggestion to heart as he scanned the hastily scribbled notes:
'Green dress – a nice green like the colour of grass or leaves.'
'Really long blonde hair.'
'Light green ribbons in her hair today.'
'Help me please – she said this three times to me.'
'Bare feet. Her feet are dirty.'
'I asked her name but she didn't say.'
'All dark around us, couldn't see anything else apart from her. Never any light.'
'Much darker green dress today, thick material with fancy sewed patterns all over it.'
'She called me noble prince again. She asked for help again twice. I asked her name again. I think she was going to tell me but then I woke up.'
'Her hair is tied back in a really long braid today.'
'She's wearing a dress the colour of red wine today, rack looks awesome in this dress.'
'Her hair is still in a braid – black ribbon in her hair today. Not as nice as the green one.'
'It's still dark all around us, I thought she was going to cry today, but she didn't. I really want to help her - I told her so but I don't think she can hear me.'
'I called out to her today but woke up as soon as I did.'
As he stood studying the notebook, Sam patently failed to hear the creak of the bathroom door opening behind him.
"It takes a while to get going," Dean's voice huffed indignantly; "but it's sad at the end y'know …"
Dropping the notebook back on the nightstand, Sam turned to see his freshly showered brother standing behind him, arms folded, leaning on the doorframe. Clad only in a blue, motel towel which, wrapped around his waist, reached halfway down his shins; and with his face and chest flushed a healthy, glowing pink from the heat of the water, Dean glared at him from under a shock of shower-damp hair.
"Sorry dude, I was just curious," Sam mumbled sheepishly, deliberately walking away from the nightstand; "still getting the dreams then?"
Dean rolled his eyes, and tugged at the towel to tighten it before approaching the kitchen counter to pour a coffee. He eyed the stuffed plastic bag that Sam had deposited on the table earlier. "What's in the bag?" he asked, cocking his head toward the kitchen table and changing the subject seamlessly.
Sam sidled round him, and rummaged in the bag, pulling out a pile of dog-eared books. "I saw an antiquarian bookshop as we were driving through town yesterday," Sam explained; "I noticed it was closing down and the stock was going real cheap, so I thought these night be handy to have around."
He dropped into a chair and started sifting through his purchases; a clutch of books on various subjects ranging from the occult and the paranormal to cryptozoology and symbology.
"Great," Dean grunted; "more crap to cart around in the Impala."
"They might save us a couple of trips to the library," Sam replied with a shrug, thumbing through a mildew-stained book about lycanthropy lore.
"... save YOU a couple of trips to the library," Dean snorted and headed back toward the bathroom.
His progress stalled when he heard Sam's puzzled voice behind him.
"What the …?"
Spinning round, Dean rapidly clutched his towel which seemed to be intent on making a break for freedom, and turned back to Sam, who was still sitting at the table, his face frozen into a quizzical frown.
"I didn't pick this one," Sam muttered, staring at the book he held in his hand; "the server must have put it in my pile by mistake."
He held the book up for Dean to see.
Entitled 'Once Upon a Time,' its creased and faded cover was embellished with a scene straight out of Arthurian legend. A noble and gloriously handsome knight, bearing armour of gleaming bronze, knelt before a beautiful princess who stood before him smiling a gentle and dignified smile; a vision of radiance in a gown of gold brocade and ivory silk. Close by his side, his magnificent black steed, clad in a caparison of blue and gold, champed impossibly green grass. The whole scene was backlit by a diamond bright sun whose light and warmth seemed to be reserved entirely for these three figures.
"It looks like a kids book," Sam mused, grinning wickedly as he added; "hey Dean, this might be right up your street."
He was expecting a smartass comment as Dean leaned idly over him, glancing at the book's colourful cover with a sigh, but what he wasn't expecting was for Dean's jaw to drop, eyes stretching saucer wide as his mug slipped limply through his fingers, dropping onto the floor and splashing dregs of cold coffee across the carpet.
Dean's mouth moved silently, goldfish-like for a moment, before he seemed to regain some sense and snatched the book out of Sam's hand staring intently at the picture.
"Dean?" Sam repeated, louder this time; "what the hell is going on?"
Looking up over the book at his brother, Dean's face had drained of its warm pink flush, turning ashen. He gaped at Sam, wearing an expression that would have perfectly fitted the phrase 'looking like he'd seen a ghost' except for the fact that when Dean saw a ghost he usually looked excited and ever-so-slightly psychotic.
"Sam," he mumbled absently, "this – this picture ..."
Sam nodded, "yeah, what about it?"
"The girl in this picture," he pointed to the willowy beauty, a vision of loveliness in her golden gown, her flaxen hair tumbling over her shoulders like spun silk.
"Dude," Dean stammered; "this princess," he blinked hard and Sam could see the hand that held the book trembling.
"She's the woman from my dreams."