Cookies are love. Jess had told him that once when she had been on one of her baking binges. He takes a freshly baked cookie and wanders into the bedroom. He hears the shower running and for a moment he is tempted to sneak in and join in her. He sits on the end of bed and closes his eyes, picturing Jess, naked and steamy and waiting for him to wash her back. He falls back on the bed, wondering if he shouldn't do something about making this image a reality.
He feels a drop of water fall on his forehead. And for a second he thinks that Jess has come out of the shower and is leaning over him, waiting for him to open his eyes. Another couple of drops land heavily. And he opens his eyes.
In all his dreams, before his helpless sight, he has seen this image a thousand times. It's been burned onto his retinas and into his brain. And now this is how he will always see Jess; pinned to the ceiling; cut up and bleeding. Mouth open ready to speak or scream, but it never comes. And he knows that the flames are next.
They explode silently. Engulfing the woman he loves, and spreading across the ceiling and down the walls. Unlike his nightmares, these flames have heat and they scorch him. Maybe he's shouting, maybe he's screaming, but suddenly Dean's arms are pulling him away from the fire, away from Jess. And he's trying to get him out of the building and away from his life; to let his future burn.
The room blazes around them and Dean drags Sam from the clutches of the fire and they stumble and fall down the stairs and out from the front porch onto the grass. Sam is back on his feet within seconds, heading back towards the flames. Dean grabs him, pinions his arms behind him and wrestles him to the ground. Sam is screaming, crying and fighting him every step of the way.
Sirens and blue-red lights blaze through the neighbourhood towards them. Fire officers train their hoses through the burning window while police officers try to assist Dean in restraining his brother. "There's nothing you can do son," one of them offers "She's gone."
"What do you mean by gone? Gone where?" Sam screams at him and officer realizes how stupid and redundant his words are.
"Sam. Sam. Sam. Sam. Sammy." Dean is patiently saying his name over and over again, until it becomes a mantra, waiting for it to penetrate his fog of fear and distress.
"Jess," Sam says weakly and his legs crumple and he falls, clinging to Dean's jacket as if it's a lifebelt and he a drowning man.
"I know Sam. I know."
"Why didn't you come in sooner?" Sam looks at him, tears streaking the soot on his face "Why did you come at all? If I hadn't left…If I had been there…"
And Dean can feel the hate radiating from him and for a split second it's directed at him. And he hates himself, his own life responsible for ruining his brothers. And then it's gone and there is just despair and pain and the questions are never raised between them again.
A paramedic comes over to check them out and he and Dean help Sam to his feet and lead him over to the ambulance. Sam still has blood on his forehead but Dean knows that it isn't his. They both suck deeply at the proffered oxygen masks, feeling their lungs and heads clearing.
Sam takes off the mask and turns to Dean "This is the thing; the thing that killed Mom isn't it?"
Dean nods "I think so."
"Then I want to find it. Find it and kill it and every bastard thing like it we find along the way."
Everything becomes haze of strobe lights and uniforms. A police man asks questions and Dean answers for Sam. They ask if Jess if lit candles and Dean guesses that sometimes she did. Sam doesn't say a word, just stares at the smouldering shell, silently closing a chapter in the book of his life.
It's several hours before Sam speaks again. Dean wanders off to speak to the fire officers who seem fairly certain that fire was caused by an unattended naked flame. Dean doesn't correct them. Sam is gone when he returns and he sees him a little way down the street, stood behind the Impala, her trunk open.
Dean walks up to find Sam busy loading a rifle. He waits for his brother to speak first. Sam looks at him, sighs and nods his head. Time to open a new chapter. He tosses the rifle into the trunk and finally says "We got work to do." And he slams the trunk closed.
"It's gonna be a couple of days before we can go anywhere. There are things that need to be done here, things for Jess." Dean says softly. He's careful to avoid words like burial, they seem so final. "I have a motel room nearby, we can stay there. You can borrow some of my clothes until we can get you new ones."
Sam hasn't even thought about the material loss from the fire. All that matters is Jess is gone and the thing that killed her is still out there, and he wants to hurt it. Deans' voice interrupts his reverie, "I called Dad." He pauses "I left a message."
"Obviously." Says Sam, and Dean is bothered by his blank acceptance of what has happened.
They go clothes shopping, Sam completely oblivious to the task in hand. Dean grabs a couple of t-shirts and button downs and some jeans. He figures he can pick most of the stuff up as they go, and he wonders if he should mention a suit to Sam. He's going to need it when he meets Jess's parents. He's careful not to say funeral.
Sam acquiesces and silently tries on suits until they find one that fits, with his tall build it's not easy getting one off the peg. Dean grabs of a couple of neutral-looking ties and shirts. The last time he wore a suit was for his mother's funeral. It is an irony not lost on him, that the circumstances of both deaths are the same.
Jess's parents are pale and quiet. They've always liked Sam and they greet him like family. Jess's mother holds him close and cries softly against his shoulder. Sam pats her back gently, unable to give words of comfort. Dean shakes hands with her father and Sam will tell him later how they seemed to have aged overnight.
He goes with them to the funeral home, helps them choose the perfect headstone for Jess. He doesn't want to go but Dean tells him it's the right thing to do. So he does it. Numbly and quietly, letting her parents make the choices. They want her picture on the stone, that's fine. Her full name. Whatever. He already knows it's a place he's only going to visit once. That he will lay his flowers in silence and kiss her goodbye in his heart. She is gone, and he doesn't know where.
Friends come for the funeral. Dean stands at the back, uncomfortable in his suit, uncomfortable with the situation. All he knows of Jess is that she sure looked hot in her tight little Smurfs top. And he is appalled with himself that this is all he knows of the girl his brother loved.
Sam is polite smiles and firm handshakes. People pat him on back, and feed him platitudes and sympathetic faces. But no one really knows what to say to him, apart from "terrible tragedy" and "tragic accident". These are the phrases he hears endlessly throughout the day.
Sam lays flowers against the headstone and Jess smiles out at him.
All he sees are the flames.
He can't say goodbye. Can't bear the finality of it all. As the sermon is delivered Sam wants to stand there and scream the truth. The truth that she died, cut and bloody and trapped on the ceiling while the fires of hell burned her alive. But there is no one to listen to him, no one to believe him.
They leave town two days later. Sam knows as soon as they put Palo Alto a long way behind them, he's going to burn the suit he wore to the funeral service. Dean will burn his too, but for different, less emotional reasons.
Dean drives and eventually Sam speaks. "What do you believe?" Sam asks him.
"What do you mean?"
"What is there? Afterwards. After all this."
"I don't know Sammy, maybe nothing. Maybe something. We've seen things and we know things and…"
"Dean?" Sam interrupts him.
Sam slumps against the window and closes his eyes, "Tell me there's a heaven."
So he does, and Sam listens. And as the Impala chews up the asphalt miles, Sam almost believes him.