They were after a spirit, just a spirit, no big deal. It was manifesting in an old farmhouse in upstate Michigan, a house with new owners looking to do some restoration. There had been a story in the newspaper about their ongoing troubles. A medium declared the house possessed by the malevolent ghost of a former owner and proceeded to conduct an elaborate ceremony to get it to leave. Dean declared the medium a quack. He and Sam went to Michigan.
Sure enough, the spirit came back not long after the medium left. It left ugly scratches on the homeowners wife, and tossed around a few things causing quite a bit of damage. Sam led the way to the grave. It was at the back of the property, beyond a hayfield, obscured by overgrowth; tangled vines and long grasses interwoven so badly Dean had to go back to the car for a machete. They hacked their way through, dug up the farmer's bones, and disposed of the spirit by fire and salt.
It should have been a simple in and out job, but it wasn't.
"Guh, I reek of lighter fluid," Sam grimaced, sniffing his coat. "What did you use, the whole bottle?"
"Hey, I'm thorough, what can I say."
"Yeah, whatever. We're staying over tonight. I want a shower."
Dean snorted derisively. "You're such a girl. Hotels cost money, Sam."
"I'm not driving all night stinking like a barbecue grill."
"Maybe the Nelsons will let you use their shower." Dean laughed, because the Nelson's farmhouse wasn't quite ready for occupation. The sole bathroom in the house had a toilet and nothing else. To bathe one would have to utilize a bucket and a sponge.
"Very funny," Sam grimaced. "I'm serious, dude. My eyes are watering."
"Not my fault you were standing too close."
Looking back over his shoulder, Dean could see a faint flickering light from the edge of the field. The fire was dying out, that was good. He didn't want to be responsible for a grass fire that would possibly wipe out the Nelson's house or those of their neighbors. He had used quite a bit of lighter fluid this time around. They'd have to pick up some more before they left town. With that thought in mind, he hoisted the bag he carried back up on his shoulder and quickened his pace a little. Ahead of them a dirt farm road arced its way through the woods between the house and the hayfield and there sat the Impala, waiting for them.
Covered in mud. Maybe we should stay over one more night, hang around for a while in the morning. There was a car wash not too far from here...
He rolled his eyes and kept walking. "What now, Sam?"
Dean turned around in mid stride. "What?" He expected more whining, but that wasn't what was on his brother's mind.
Sam stood several yard behind him, head raised, eyes scanning the woods just to his right. "There's something else here." He frowned, his eyes narrowing beneath the fall of his bangs.
It was iffy, Sam's psychic radar, but over the course of time Dean had learned to trust it. When it was working, it worked pretty damn good. He reached into the bag and pulled out a shotgun.
"Nu-huh," Sam said softly. "Something else. I can't quite..."
Abruptly Sam's eyes widened. His head jerked around, his gaze locked on Dean's as he shouted, "RUN!"
Neither one of them had time to even flinch, let alone run, and in retrospect Dean realized they wouldn't have gotten very far anyway. The thing moved much too fast. One moment it was bursting out of the underbrush, a big, black shadow leaping forward across the ground on four legs, and in the next breath it was on Sam. Dean fired, but rock salt had little effect. He saw a flash of teeth, heard a scream...
And then he was running, sprinting across the field as fast as he could, fumbling the keys as he unlocked the trunk of the car. His motions were jerky, fast, and frantic. His hands shook, badly.
"Come on, come on, where is it? Where is it?"
There, beneath a wooden cross, he saw a flash of silver. The pistol was in his hand and he was gone within seconds, firing repeatedly as he raced back over the field. At least one bullet found its target. In a blink the thing was gone.
Dean kept running, kept the gun trained on the woods and every nerve, every muscle poised for action. The whole attack, from beginning to end, had only taken seconds. He had not killed it, nor wounded it severely. It could come back in an instant and finish what it started.
What it started.
"Sam?" Dean didn't look, but kept his eyes on their surroundings as he walked the few feet to where Sam knelt in the dirt. "Sam, talk to me."
There was a faint, very faint whisper. "Son of a bitch..."
The relief Dean felt at hearing his brother speak didn't last long. He spared a look.
"Oh, God. Sammy..."
He was on his knees then, catching Sam as he collapsed slowly to the ground. The tear at the juncture of Sam's neck and shoulder was an ugly, mangled wound over which blood poured in rhythmic bursts. Sam's jacket and the shirt beneath it were already soaked. His face was paper white. Without thinking, Dean jammed his hand down over the wound. Blood spurted through his fingers and Sam did not even flinch. He was already beyond pain.
"Hold on. Damnit don't you die on me." Dean's fingers slipped. He sought the torn jugular again, pressing hard. A sob choked him. "It won't fucking stop!"
Sam looked up at him. His lips quirked in a half smile as his eyes slowly closed. "Don't," he breathed. "Do anything...stupid."
"Sam! No. No, no, no. You stay with me! Stay with me!" Scrambling around on his knees, Dean pulled Sam's body up into his arms, letting his brother's head fall against his shoulder as he redoubled his efforts to stop the bleeding. "Don't do this! SAM!"
He could feel the bleeding begin to cease, but for all the wrong reasons. Sam's heart faltered, and then stopped completely, no longer pushing the blood through his veins. Dean felt the faint breath of a sigh against his neck. "Sam. Oh, Sammy please..."He tightened his grip, pulling Sam closer, but beneath his arm his brother's chest did not rise again.
Dean sat there stunned. It had happened so suddenly he could not get his head around it. In seconds Sam had been killed, just seconds. Twenty-two years of life had been stolen away in less than a minute.
He pressed Sam's head to his cheek, rocking back and forth as a low, keening whine turned into a scream of anger, frustration and denial. It echoed back over the field as the tears began to fall.
Don't do anything stupid.
Dean was notorious for doing stupid things. Seeking out Manford Dubois would definitely be considered stupid, but he didn't give a fuck. Ignoring the warnings John Winchester had written in his journal could be considered extremely stupid, but again, Dean didn't give a fuck. For years he'd been involved with the paranormal. He knew what power was out there. It could do a lot of harm to people. It had killed his brother. Harnessing the paranormal in an effort to do good sometimes backfired. Dean himself was a living example of that. He lived while someone else pushed up the daisies.
It was morally bankrupt and dangerous as Hell, but Dean took Sam to Pennsylvania, to Manford.
The girl who answered the door looked at him with half-glazed eyes and mumbled a greeting. She was pale and somewhat listless, but managed a smile as she led Dean through the big rambling house to the parlor where Manford met guests. The house was astounding, but that was not surprising. Manford was in the restoration business after all.
Tall, thin, and affecting the dress of a Victorian gentleman, Manford was a man out of time. There was nothing paranormal about him though, he was not a spirit nor vampire. He was simply a man who had been born in the wrong era, who loved history and the mysteries of the past. His dark eyes widened as he saw Dean in his parlor, and his mustache twitched in a smirk. There was no love lost between Manford Dubois and the Winchesters. John had busted up too many of his parties.
"Here to dispense the annual Winchester lecture upon my lack of moral fiber?" Manny snorted, as he eased himself into a chair opposite Dean. "Don't waste your breath. I promise you, I've done nothing wrong."
"Yeah?" Dean jerked a head toward the girl, who had brought tea for Manford and a beer for Dean. "What about her?"
Manny thanked the girl and sent her on her way. "Deborah is compensated for her services."
"Richly," Dean murmured. He twisted off the top of the beer and drank. It hit him like a punch in the gut. He hadn't slept, hadn't eaten, for two days. "She's better than the last one."
"You should see the one that followed her," Manny chuckled. He sipped at his tea and gazed at Dean with a smug expression as if daring him to comment further.
Dean did comment, but probably not in the manner Manny was expecting. "So you've improved the serum?"
With a sigh, Dean rubbed at his eyes. "Manny, don't play games with me. I know you. You've never let Dad interrupt your experiments for long, and I know you made another trip to the Caribbean last year..."
"A legitimate vacation..."
"And I'm the Pope," Dean snapped. "Just tell me the fucking truth. Does it work?"
Manford's mouth stretched into a wide grin. "Ask Deborah."
"Is it permanent? Are there any side effects?"
"How should I know? Just when I start collecting data your old man comes in here with an axe and lops off the heads of my test subjects." Manny lowered his voice. "Sanctimonious bastard. Do you realize what my work could accomplish if he'd just let me do it?"
"Yeah. I've seen Day of the Dead several times."
"Piss on you, Winchester."
Dean took another long pull from his beer. When he finished, he licked his lips, and idly turned the bottle around in his hand, avoiding Manny's dark, smoldering gaze. "I'm not here to bust you," he said softly.
"Then why are you here?"
Slowly, Dean leaned forward and placed the empty beer bottle on the coffee table. He raised his eyes to meet Manny's.
"I've brought you a new project."
Thin, dark eyebrows went up in surprise. "Reaaaally," Manford drawled. "Backsliding into the dark side are we? What would your old man say?"
"I don't know," Dean muttered.
It was a lie. John would be infuriated and Dean knew it. This once, though, Dean didn't care what John thought. He didn't care what anyone thought. He needed to purge the ache that had settled down into his chest because it was killing him.
Manford put his tea aside and stood. "My curiosity is certainly piqued. Let's see what you've got."
"I need another beer first."
He was obliged. Deborah returned with another cold bottle. Dean took a bit of time to study her. Aside from the faintly distracted air about her, she seemed perfectly normal. She even smiled at him as she handed him his drink. His fingers brushed against hers. They were cold, but that might have been from the beer. When he thanked her, she smiled again and a very faint blush entered her pale cheeks.
The beer went down quickly. Emboldened and slightly buzzed, Dean rose from his chair to lead Manny outside. The Impala was parked in the Victorian's long curving driveway. He handed Manny the keys but stood back himself.
"Back seat," he said gruffly.
Manny opened the passenger's side door and immediately recoiled. He looked back over his shoulder with a grimace. "God...that's... How long has he been dead?"
"Forty-eight hours give or take."
"I'd have liked something fresher."
"He's not a side of fucking beef!" Dean's voice cracked. Manford looked at him sharply. Biting his lip, Dean fought down the urge to be sick. "Just...just tell me if you can do it or not."
Eyes rolling, Manford stuck his head back in the car, pushing up the passenger's seat and pulling away the blanket. Dean didn't look. He really didn't have to since Manny insisted on giving him a play by play.
"Serious trauma here. I'd have to fix that first. What was it?"
Manny's head popped out of the car. He drew a long breath of fresh air. "Infected?"
"No. Bled out too fast."
"Thank God for that. I'm not about to reanimate something that's going to turn around and bite my head off." His voice grew muffled as he went back in to continue his examination. "Still in rigor. You'll have to help me get him out of here."
Dean heard a curse, and the car door slamming. He looked up to see Manny approaching with a scowl on his face.
"What do you mean, 'no'? You think I can pull a corpse that big, in full rigor, out of there by myself?"
"I can't," Dean said hoarsely. "Don't you have a lab assistant or something? I thought all mad scientists have an Igor."
"What's going on, Winchester?" Manford said suddenly, crossing his arms over his chest. "I actually haven't agreed to do this yet. Forty-eight hours is a long time dead. I've improved the serum, yes, but I'm used to using it on the newly departed, not rotting meat. Maybe you should give me a little more incentive."
"If you can't do it, fine. Point me to a funeral home and I'll get out of your hair."
"What aren't you telling me? Don't come here demanding answers if you're not going to give any. What's this guy to you?"
Dean ground his teeth. He knew Manny couldn't miss the way his eyes were watering, nor the strain on his face. It was time to come clean.
"Family," he growled. "My little brother."
One elegant black brow arched and Manny spoke softly. "Oh. Well. Things just got more interesting." His eyes narrowed. "Your father will disown you for this."
"No, he'd have two dead sons 'cause he'd kill me. He doesn't know, and I'd like to keep it that way."
"What's in it for me?"
Inhaling deeply, Dean closed his eyes. His side of the bargain was going to be easy considering John Winchester's AWOL status. "I'll keep Dad off your back."
Dean's eyes popped open. "And what? Isn't that enough?"
"No, it's not. You people are nomads, and judging from the fact that your father doesn't know one of his sons bit the big one, I get the impression you haven't seen him lately. A month from now you'd be gone off spook hunting and he could drive up with his trusty axe and put an end to my operation yet again."
"You're a bastard, Dubois."
Manny waved a perfectly manicured hand. "Fine," he said, stalking back up the steps to the house. "But I've got to warn you, you'll never get that stench out of your car once baby brother starts bloat..."
"All right, all right! What do you want?" Stomach churning, Dean turned around and grabbed Manny's arm, ceasing his progress up the stairs. "Anything. I'll do anything."
The look Manford gave him was appraising. Dean got the point.
"You're such a homophobe. Not even for your brother?"
"I think he'd understand considering you form lasting relationships with corpses on a regular basis."
Manny grunted. "You're about to," he said. "You know what, we'll finish the negotiations later. If you want this done right, we need to get moving." He disengaged his arm from Dean's hand and started up the stairs again.
Dean glanced uneasily back at the car. "Where are you going?" he demanded.
The answer was dripping with sarcasm.
"To call Igor of course."