Can't thank Jeanne enough for doing a double-beta on this fic, asking to up the angst and repairing my mistakes. Seriously, you ROCK. This one's for you.
Set post AHBL2.
The cemetery was smack in the middle of town. It had been all too easy to find, given the busy road out front and the gravestones that stood brightly in the sun. The Impala was parked on a curved stretch of pavement underneath a tree. From a distance it looked very much like a short hearse, maybe a little more cheery, definitely more retro, and glistening almost as much as the smaller white markers that stood out amongst the false flowers like tiny icons.
Sam followed Dean over the patchwork ground, cut into neat squares by the graves and spotted by sunlight dripping through the trees. It was peaceful, as it should be. The cool breeze was alive as a constant rustle in the air. The grass hadn't yet lost its summer gleam. It was a perfect, gorgeous day.
Dean, of course, was oblivious to the natural wonders that kept distracting Sam. His attention was strictly focused on his job, which at the moment was reading any and all odd sayings on the gravestones he was surveying. "Man. This is seriously twisted." He leaned over the brilliant white marker. His eyes were hidden by dark glasses, protecting them from the harsh glare, but the amusement was clear on his face as he read the eternal words. "Beneath this grassy mound now rests one Edgar Oscar Earl, who to another hunter looked exactly like a squirrel." He chuckled. "That's sweet."
"Dean, will you cut it out? We're supposed to be hunting for a grave, not poking fun at the dead." Sam was turned away, not letting Dean see his smile. The last thing he needed to do was give in to his amusement at his brother's antics, because Dean was just in the sort of mood where his joviality would turn things sour. He had a way of not letting things go, of carrying things too far, and if Sam wasn't careful he'd be certain to find more itching powder in his underwear, or oil in his shoes, or toothpaste in the bottom of his coffee mug. Dean was a mass of energy that needed to find an outlet, especially after days on the road. Sam hoped they would find the grave soon, because without a case he was in dire trouble of being the butt of about five-too-many practical jokes, and time was running out.
"Uh-uh. Don't blame me. These people poked fun at themselves. This is great." Dean chuckled again and moved to the next grave, bending over to study the name. "God, I love my job."
"Yeah, I'll remind you of that when we're down here getting dirty," Sam replied as he pulled a small piece of folded paper from his pocket. "Ernestine Grainger," he read aloud, and winced in thought. "Why is that name familiar?"
"I dunno. Hey, listen to this one. 'Grim death took me without any warning. I was well at night
and dead in the morning.' Sounds like some demon bitches we know, huh?"
Dean's smile was almost too bright. Sam could only snort in response and shake his head. "You're enjoying yourself way too much."
"You better believe it." Dean paused before a small marker and snapped his fingers at Sam. "Tell me that name again?"
"Present and in the decaying flesh." Dean jabbed a finger at a smaller grave two rows across from Sam and walked toward it, then hesitated for a second as a thought came to him. "Wasn't there an Ernest Grainger in that English show about that department store?" he asked over his shoulder.
Sam's mouth fell into a thoughtful frown as he folded the paper. "Yeah, I think there was, now that you mention it. Something like that, anyway."
"That's why it's familiar. Man, that is one funny show." Dean chuckled and bent down. The edges of the grave were slightly eroded, showing signs of settling though it was barely six months old. Already the marker seemed to lean the slightest bit to the left. "You think she's really under here?"
Sam knelt down beside his brother. "If what Elaine says is true, then no, I don't." The tone of his voice held a shrug.
"And Elaine thinks her uncle is trying to bring this body back to life." Dean huffed and cocked his head to look at Sam. "Dude, I gotta tell ya, that's pretty ripe."
"Well, if the body isn't here, we've got a case."
"If the body is here, we've got a puke-inducing night ahead of us." Dean raised his chin at the death date carved on the stone. "This is fairly recent, I mean this isn't like a skeleton or mummified corpse, you know? This is some seriously disgusting shit."
Sam smiled at the hint of distaste in Dean's voice. "Since when are you squeamish? I mean, I think I can remember saying something like that once before, and I think someone called me a pansy for it. Now I wonder who that was?" Dean merely grunted as Sam looked around and made notes on the location of the grave. "I'm more concerned with how we're going to do this with no one seeing," he admitted. "This isn't exactly a secluded place."
"Okay Sam, two things. First off, you are a pansy." Dean glanced over his shoulder at the busy road behind them. Colored cars flashed past in a post rush hour frenzy. "Second, I'm pretty sure all these people aren't going to be around at four in the morning."
"Uh-uh. Think of the time change, Dean. We need to be here at two a.m. to guarantee beating the sunrise."
"Really?" Dean looked more disgusted at that piece of news than he did at the thought of digging up a half-rotted corpse. "Damn."
Sam patted Dean on the shoulder. His brother was anything but a morning person. Sure, he could wake up in a flash, ready to gut anyone or anything in the room without a second thought, but don't let him speak a word before coffee. Vitriol had nothing on his acerbic wit when those eyes first opened.
Sam's stomach rumbled, and he stood. There was nothing else to be done for now, anyway. "Let's stop by Elaine's place and get some food."
"Yeah, because I really need to dig up a half-rotted corpse on a full stomach." Dean pushed to his feet and fell into step behind his brother.
"Never bothered you before," Sam said over his shoulder. He grinned at the slap he felt on the back of his head.
Elaine's Place turned out to be the name of the diner. Elaine wasn't the owner, however. The owner was a man named Ralph Murphy, who had a daughter, Elaine. Pure coincidence. Elaine, the daughter, had moved away after managing the restaurant for a month, saying she was more interested in selling real estate. Her desires took her to New Jersey, then to New Mexico. Ralph didn't bother to change the name; he'd called it Elaine's Place after his daughter was born because she practically grew up in the storeroom in the back after her mother's untimely death.
Elaine the waitress decided, when she was sixteen, that the diner would be a nice place to work because her nametag would hold the same name as the sign over the door. Of course, in such a small town everyone knew who she was, and that she was in no way related to Ralph, but those that passed through didn't know that. The locals seemed to get a kick out of the way Elaine, at the young age of twenty, would hold her head high when asked if the place was hers. Ralph had been all too pleased to tell Sam and Dean the whole story when they first arrived, and she had given a knowing smirk when they mentioned her name.
Dean slowly turned his coffee mug on the table as he watched Elaine working behind the counter. "You know," he said thoughtfully, "for someone who has an uncle trying to bring her gooey aunt back to life, she seems disturbingly calm."
Sam barely snorted as he eyed his laptop. "I get the feeling she doesn't believe it can happen. I think she's just playing along with all of this. Probably feels indebted to her uncle for something and doesn't want to rain on his parade."
"Dude, that's just freaky. I mean, we're not talking about buying a goldfish here."
Sam shrugged, his eyes still glued to the laptop. The screen had started blinking at him annoyingly, and he was getting nervous about it. They couldn't afford another laptop. "Like I said. She's not taking this seriously."
"Yeah? Then why did Bruce go through all the trouble to find us and beg us to come down here, saying she's all stressed out and stuff?"
Sam glanced over the top of the screen. "You intercepted the call. You told him we'd check on his cousin. So don't pin your dislike for Bruce on this girl, okay?"
Dean raised his mug and talked over the rim. "It's not that. I like Bruce fine. It's his pool game I hate."
"You could learn a thing or two from him. Own up, he's a better hustler than you."
"Never. And you need to shut your mouth." Dean set his mug on the worn table and slumped in the booth, his eyes pinned on the young, cute waitress. "Man, why can't she be a damsel in distress or something? I could really get into that."
Sam glanced around and leaned forward, tilting the screen of his laptop down and talking over it. "Tell you what," he said in a conspiring tone. "We'll take her with us tonight. I'll open the coffin, shove her in, bury her, and then you can get her back out."
He grinned as Dean checked in false surprise. "Sammy! Listen to you, man!" He eyed his brother askance. "You're just pissed that she said what she did."
Bastard. Trust his idiotic asshole of a brother to bring that up. Sam clamped his lips together and returned his attention to his computer as Dean pressed him. "I bet you and Elaine's brother would make a good couple. 'Course that would leave me without a hunting partner, but hey, I've had to make sacrifices for your happiness before, right? Huh?" He waggled his brows and grinned.
Sam's eyes were glued to his screen. "Shut up, Dean."
"Touchy! Fine." Dean leaned back once more, raising his mug of coffee to his lips. "What's got you so engrossed, anyway?"
"Resurrection rituals," Sam muttered.
"Like we don't know enough of those?"
Sam gave an exasperated sigh. "I'm just brushing up. If that coffin is empty, that means Elaine's dear, sweet Uncle Rupert already has the body. And that means we're not going to have time to play this one by ear."
"So, what, you gonna take the laptop to the ritual where you can look up all the little signs and come to a conclusion there, Sherlock?"
"No," Sam said patiently, "which is why I'm refreshing now. You should try it, Dean. It's called staying on top of things."
"Yeah, by using the internet. Because that's so reliable."
Sam winced as the screen flickered again. "It's what we've got. You saw their library."
Dean snorted. "Freakin' bible thumpers. Absolutely nothing on the supernatural. Not even a Stephen King novel, for Christ's sake." He frowned at his near-empty mug. "You sure that Uncle Rupert dude grew up here?"
Sam gave a quick glance to the counter where the small blond worked. "That's what Elaine said."
"Now that would definitely explain his foray into black magic. This place is deader than Ernestine." He chuckled, and quickly composed himself as Elaine walked up to their table, coffeepot in hand.
"You guys okay?" Her voice was deeper than one would expect from such a petite person. She gave a small, curious smile.
Dean quickly held out his mug for a refill, smile glowing. "Sure thing. Sam here's just catching up on proper dating protocol. You know, it's been awhile." He saluted Sam with the mug before sipping, and jerked his head back at the unexpected heat.
"Fresh pot," Elaine explained, and turned to Sam. "Are you serious? Cause my brother, he's sitting right over there, and let me tell you, he hasn't stopped talking about you since he first laid eyes on you. It's been awhile for him, too, so I think you've got a real chance there." She gestured toward her brother with the pot.
It made the idea of digging up a gooey dead body seem appetizing. Sam habitually looked where Elaine was pointing to see the man smiling faintly in his direction. "I have to go." He slammed his laptop closed and jammed it into the leather bag as he slid out of the booth. He grabbed Dean's arm. Coffee sloshed onto the table.
"Hey!" Dean rose while trying to dodge the spill. "What, no pie?"
"No." Sam snapped at him, and tried to smile at Elaine. "Sorry. I just remembered, we have an appointment. We'll be in touch."
"But I thought we were going to talk, I thought that's why you came here!" Elaine had jumped back, her coffeepot held out of the way.
"That and pie," Dean groused.
"Uh, yeah! Yeah, we are going to talk. Later. I promise. When we have more information." Sam finally managed a small, apologetic smile as he walked backwards, holding on to Dean's sleeve, pulling him along quickly and practically hiding behind him. "I'll call you," he said over Dean's shoulder. He caught the eye of the man in the booth and swallowed hard.
"Okay," Elaine responded dubiously. And they were out the door and crossing the street.
Dean jerked his arm away once they were out of earshot. "Dude, what the hell?" He lengthened his stride to match Sam's. "That was just plain rude, skipping out like that."
"Are you serious?" Sam rounded on him, glared at him. He stomped to the Impala and opened the passenger-side door, tossed his bag over the back of the seat, then slid in grumpily, ignoring the sly look his brother gave him over the top of the car. Asshole.
Dean wore a shit-eating grin as he eased behind the steering wheel and turned the key in the ignition. "Nah, I'm not really," he answered. "But it was fun."
"Sure. Very amusing," Sam folded his arms across his chest, checking his watch as he did so. "Look, let's just go back to the motel, see if we can get some sleep before we head out tonight."
"You kidding me? I just had coffee!"
"So not my problem."
"Okay. Fine. Lover boy." Dean shrugged and headed to the motel. Sam just kept his arms crossed, and sulked.
The cemetery was amazingly quiet. Sam realized his fears of being disturbed were completely unfounded, which was great, but on the other hand the degree to which the place suddenly went to sleep made him want to roam the streets and make sure the inhabitants were real and not having to hook into a machine to recharge after the sun set. He shared Dean's view that the place was just a little creepy, and he couldn't put his finger on why. Elaine was perfectly nice, with the exception of trying to set him up with Frank, who was actually taller than Sam himself. Dean had turned away when they were officially introduced earlier that evening at Rupert's place, choking back his laughter when the young man rose from his seat, his eyes bright with anticipation. Sam had just swallowed hard and shook his hand, leaving no openings. Dean even bailed him out, realizing the joke had gone a little far on his end, and it was obvious the game could get seriously uncomfortable. Dean was out for fun, sure, but he always had Sam's back. It allowed for the tricks and jokes and set-ups with no real fear of damage.
They plowed the shovels into the dirt again and again, creating a large rectangular area around the grave site, allowing enough room for both of them to work around the coffin. Sam already sensed a problem. "Dean, you realize we can't just pry into the coffin. This is too new. What if it's inside a vault?"
"We'll have to hope it isn't."
"Yeah. That's thin, Dean."
Dean stopped shoveling and caught his breath. At this point, they were both hip deep in the soil. It would be time to take watches soon; once the hole was deep enough to where they couldn't see out, it was best for one to keep an eye on things, and dig in shifts. Sam wondered if he should take first dig; Dean looked tired. "I think we can get around it," Dean said breathlessly. "Just take more muscle, that's all."
"You ever try to break a vault?"
"Sam, my reasoning is this." Dean leaned on his shovel. "If old Rupert is determined to get his love out of here, you really think he'd put her in a vault and make getting her out harder on himself?"
It made sense. "Probably not." Sam wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, frowning at the way his brother slumped over his shovel. "Why don't you take a break?"
Dean sighed and tossed his shovel up onto the grass beside the grave. "Yeah, okay. But not long, we don't have a whole lot of time here."
Sam didn't like that Dean accepted so easily. He was fully expecting an "I'm fine" snapped back at him, or at the least, reassurance. He resumed digging, glancing up on occasion at his brother, who was just sitting on the grass, arms folded and resting on his knees.
His concern about Dean was well-founded. It had started that evening with an unexpected run-in with Rupert. They had both taken brief naps, then rose and walked the town, waiting for darkness, checking out the small shops, watching the people. Elaine had noticed them while walking home from the restaurant, and before they knew it. . .
"That's him." Elaine nodded toward the tall, thin man who stood outside a store, talking to another man. "That's my uncle Rupert." She waved him over. And suddenly Sam found himself inside the man's home, Dean looking rather uncomfortable, and Elaine in the kitchen making snack sandwiches. Frank had gone through the introductions and excused himself with a knowing glance in Sam's direction, something the brothers didn't miss. Sam just cringed and gave a tiny smile, feeling a weight lift as Frank left the house. Dean didn't even comment, or give Sam grief over the event, which was the first thing that pointed to something being...not quite right.
It was strange how calm Elaine was about the whole situation, which just added to Sam's own unease. Sure, she dismissed Rupert's idea as far-fetched. She even went so far as to pat him on the top of the head like a puppy before disappearing into the kitchen. It was a gesture Rupert took in stride, as though he was used to being chided.
Dean was unreadable. He looked around the drab house, which was richly decorated yet flat. Sam followed his gaze. He seemed stiff, like he was waiting for something to jump out of the wall and grab him, and Sam found that in following his brother's line of sight, he was expecting that very thing himself. Something was wrong.
There was no sense of life in the house, even with Elaine's energy flooding the place. The photos were old. The furniture was outdated and too frilly for his taste. "She loved this place," Rupert said tearfully, seeing their eyes wander over the decor. "I can't stand the thought of changing anything." His emotional state, his reluctance to let go, was disturbing to say the least.
But the thing that bothered Sam the most was . . . Rupert was their age.
He had expected a much older man, or maybe someone along the same age as their dad. But Rupert had to be in his late twenties, possibly early thirties at a stretch. And he was living in a home that looked like it had been furnished by his great-grandmother. His smile was thin, as was his face. If anyone could be described as having a weasel's features, it was this guy. He even wore a complete beige suit and shoes, which confirmed the notion that he was eccentric at best.
Sam smiled at Elaine as she entered with a plate of finger sandwiches. He didn't touch them, and fully expected Dean to dive in. But his brother's attention had been captured by something in the corner of the room, something Sam couldn't see. Dean was rubbing his chin thoughtfully with his forefinger, and Sam could see the wheels turning. He was in hunter mode. Like a predator, he'd picked up a scent.
"How long has it been?" Sam asked Rupert as though they hadn't seen the grave.
"Six long, painful months," Rupert choked.
Sam winced slightly. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, me too. Who're the dudes in the black suits?" Dean's eyes hadn't left the corner of the room. His tact was on target, as usual.
Rupert craned his head around. "What . . . oh. That was my college fraternity. Hasn't been all that long ago."
"Must've been quite an event. Looks like you were all just nuts about going."
Rupert smirked. "We thought we looked rather distinguished."
"Oh, well, sure. Fetching." Dean shrugged it off with a relaxed smile.
Sam stood in a crouch to see what they were talking about. There was an eight-by-ten photo on the wall over a corner writing desk. The photo showed twelve young men, all dressed in black suits, all with solemn expressions on their young faces. Opposite the photo, also hanging on the wall, was a document. "Which fraternity?" Sam asked, unable to make out the symbol on the top of the paper.
"Oh, uh, we made it up. I mean, can you see a guy like me in a fraternity?" Rupert gave a small laugh and crossed the room.
Sam looked at Dean. He was making a face that indicated he thought about as much of Rupert as he did a snake, and Sam didn't blame him. Something about Rupert was – oily. Untrustworthy. "You keep in touch with them?" Dean asked. It was obvious something had him bothered, and he wasn't giving Sam any clues.
"With the guys? Some of them, sure."
"Yeah, Sammy here likes to keep up with his old college buddies." He looked up and smiled, but there was no meaning behind it. "So what do you do around here, Rupert?"
The thin man shrugged as he poured himself a drink. "Little of this, little of that. I've been ill since my wife's death."
"Sitting on some old money, huh? Was it hers?"
"Dean!" Sam hissed.
Rupert turned, his glass in hand. "No, it's okay. Yes, it was hers, and no, I didn't kill her for it."
Dean blinked once. "That's an odd thing to say."
Rupert exhaled in apology. "There were inquiries, because of the estate. It was only recently settled. Ernestine died of cancer."
Dean nodded. "I'm sorry to hear that," he said, and sounded like he meant it.
"Rupert, if she died of cancer, why was there an inquiry?"
"She was suffering. They thought maybe I. . ." He covered his mouth with his hand and hesitated.
"It wasn't the marriage I'd hoped for," he continued when he was able. " She became ill shortly after we met, and it progressed so quickly, we weren't able to do anything we'd planned. But she's at peace now." He nodded, his eyes fixed to a spot on the carpet. "She's at peace. She's whole."
"I bet if you had the chance to do it over again, without the sickness, I mean . . . " Dean said cautiously, watching Rupert. Sam watched as well, closely.
The hands clenched, then released. His breath stopped for a split second, just enough to be an inner gasp. "Of course," he said quietly.
Dean gave Sam a knowing look. But Sam caught only a glance of it, his concentration was on Rupert.
Whose concentration, at that moment, was focused entirely on Dean. And it gave him chills.
Sam thrust the shovel into the dirt over and over, remembering the look in Rupert's eyes that had fallen on his brother. The chill settled again, and he tried to shake it away. Dean had been unusually withdrawn when they left, and offered no explanation for his interest in the photo other than that it just proved how strange Rupert was. And so here they were, hours later, digging.
After a while, Sam stopped, and Dean took his place, shoveling with a vigor that left Sam wondering if the fatigue was merely a figment of a worn-out, overexposed imagination. There was certainly nothing wrong with him now as he tossed dirt from the hole onto the narrow mounds that surrounded it. Sam squatted, leaning on his shovel, his gaze occasionally darting across the cemetery.
Forty minutes and three swaps later, Sam hit something hard. He looked up, wincing slightly at the clang. "Metal. Or fiberglass."
"Oh, that's just great." Dean sighed. "Six months, she's probably part Kool-Aid by now."
Sam just looked down at the vault he was standing on. Even after several hundreds pounds of soil pressure, it didn't bow under his weight. "I'm really not looking forward to this."
"Yeah, stiffs are one thing. I'd rather not swim in gut goo." Dean sighed again, and the vault suddenly glowed under the beam of his flashlight. "Let's do this, get it over with."
They cleared the soil from around the vault. Halfway down, Sam made the discovery. He looked up in disbelief, then quickly set down his shovel. "Dean, look. It's not a real vault."
Dean frowned. "Come again?"
"Here. Help me." Sam pressed his hands to the false side and pushed. Dean added his weight, and the wall slid in half an inch.
"No way." Dean straightened. "How's that possible? A box like this should've been crushed under the weight of that soil."
Sam shook his head. "I don't know." He lit a match and peeked into the tiny opening, then stood slowly. "But there's nothing in there. No casket, nothing."
"No Ernestine," Dean said. "Then Rupert already has her." He looked at the vault, then raised the shovel and impaled it. The shovel went through the side as though it were made of tin.
Sam bent down and looked at the damage. "You know, Dean, whatever we're dealing with here," he looked up, "I don't like it."
Dean agreed. He stood motionless for a moment, then tapped Sam on the shoulder. "Come on," he said. "We're running out of dark."