Summary: "So sad … so sad," she whispered and when he saw her form vanish for a second, Sam knew he was in trouble. AU. Pre-Series.
Author's notes: I shouldn't have named this story before writing it, since it really was a long way to finish it. I can't remember the last time I fought so hard to get a fic down and wrote so many different versions of it before it all worked out.
Much kudos go to my big brother, who put up with me telling him all the things he never wanted to know about Supernatural for the last three weeks, bought me the Supernatural Book of Monsters and even drove back home when I had forgotten my Supernatural dvd box.
Heartfelt thanks to Kaly, who didn't announce me crazy and saved my butt with her speed beta.
This story was written specifically for ScaredofPennies in the course of the SFCTOL(AR)S Summer Fic Exchange: Round Four.
Taking the long way
Sam?" He couldn't meet Dean's eyes. "You're really going to college? Leaving us?"
Sam thought of the acceptance letter and the offer for a scholarship from Stanford hidden in his duffelbag. He thought of their dad, and how he had awaited him on the doorsteps when he had come home from research, holding the letter in his hand, asking him in a stern voice to choose.
It was simple. He was sick of hunting, of following orders and moving to a new town every two weeks. Yet he could stay in Stanford for years, make his own choices, and simply take the chance of normalcy he would never experience if he stayed with his dad.
Expect that he never had heard Dean's voice sounding so hollow and lost before. "So what? You're going?" Dean asked again.
"No, it was just …. you know, to see if I could make it." Sam tried to smile, but failed. "I'm not leaving you." He turned and thought about burning the letter, and that he never wanted to hear Dean's voice breaking again. It really was that simple.
Three months later, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
When Sam first saw her, he didn't recognize her. She sat on the long-stretched gravel beach he and Dean were ordered to patrol, her back to him. Small waves lapped against her faded blue dress and with her fingers she gently tapped at the leaves, which swam in the clear water of the lake.
He approached her, making enough noise not to startle her with his appearance.
"Ma'am, you can't stay here," he said, but she didn't turn to face him. "This area of the park is closed to the public." When she still didn't react, he bent down to her,and touched her shoulder. "Ma'am?"
Suddenly she laid a cold hand on his and slowly turned her head, as if it was nearly too much effort to accomplish. "So sad … so sad," she whispered,and when he saw her form vanish for a second, Sam knew he was in trouble.
Dean was bored out of his skull. Bad enough that their dad had insisted that he and Sam both patroled this lake with its countless coves and headlands while he burned the body of the ghost who lured people into an untimely death by drowning. To make matters worse, Sam had been – for reasons only known to him – grumpy and distant as hell. So Dean had voted for them to split up patroling before he could get a chance to strangle his little brother.
Annoyingly,splitting up meant he had no entertainment besides the occiasional chirping of birds and the sound of the harsh fall wind in the surrounding woods. And he wasn't really the type to sit still and appreciate the wonders of mother nature. Instead he kicked a stone in the water and thought that maybe he should go look for Sam on the other side of the lake.
He was flat on his back, gravel pressing in his skin and water soaking his pants. Cold seeped through his body and he had no memory of how he had gotten in this position. He tried to move away from her, but found that he couldn't. Her face, beautiful and yet reflecting a sadness so deep it hurt to look at, came into his sight. Her hair fell in waves over her shoulder and tickled his bare skin above the collar of his jacket. The bright September sun shone from behind through her hair, making it shine golden and blinding him. He felt her cold hands stroke through his hair, moving it out of his face.
"So sad … so sad," she repeated before she turned her head to the lake, her face masked by a longing for something he couldn't see. "Why are you so sad?" She bent over him, her face mere inches away from his, blocking his view of everything else. Once again she stroked over his face, leaving a sickening feeling behind. "Why are you so sad?"
He stared into her dark eyes and wondered the same.
If Dean had known it would take so long to walk around the lake, he would have thought twice about it. He nearly wished the spirit would appear in front of him, so he could pump a round of rock salt in it – or better yet, her. According to their research, all the drownings in this lake could be attributed to the ghost of a depressed,middle-aged woman, who had drowned herself here two centuries ago. Now their dad was off to burn her remains in a town near the national park,while he and Sam made sure that nobody drowned in the meantime
The water raised and Sam felt his body slowly sink further into the lake.
"Why are you doing this?", he managed to ask, suddenly feeling bone-tired and cold. For a while she stayed silent,and the water reached his ears. Then she once again began to stroke his face and the feeling of tiredness intesified. He couldn't hear her, but when she moved her lips he knew she didn't answer, but just asked the same question again:
"Why are you so sad?"
He had no chance to answer her when the water covered his mouth and moments later his eyes. Everything became a blurring ocean of colors and then darkness.
Dean's first thought when he saw the woman in the lake was that it was really too cold to go swimming.
His second thought when he saw the floating brown jacket next to her wasthat his first thought was really stupid.
"Sam!" He screamed, breaking into a run.
It took only seconds for Dean's fingers to pull the trigger to shoot at the woman with rock salt. He didn't even register her sorrowful look before she vanished and he was kneedeep in the water, next to his little brother, whose head was under the surface.
"Sam!" He grabbed his little brother by the shoulders and lifted him out of the lake. Sam sagged against him like a puppet without strings and Dean tried not to think about how wrong that felt. "Come on Sammy, rise and shine," he said while he pressed two fingers against Sam's neck. For the longest moment he didn't feel anything, but then it was there, a faint beating against his skin. His relief turned into renewed panic when he realized that Sam's heart was indeed beating, but he wasn't breathing. For a moment he kneeled dumbstruck in the lake, wondering how they had gotten into that situation, then he got Sam's limp body in a fireman's carry,and got him to the beach.
Sam still didn't move when his body touched the uncomfortable ground and Dean tilted his chin back. He took a deep breath, pinched off Sam's nose and blew into his mouth. He watched his kid brother's chest for movement, triggered by the resuscitation,while he tried to fend off his rising despair. Suddenly something in the air flickered and caught his attention. One hand protectively laying on top of Sam,he raised his gun, right into the face of their ghost. He blinked, but she was still there, sitting on the other side of Sam, her gaze fixed on him.
"Why is he so sad?" She met Dean's eyes and in the next second vanished in a shower of rock salt.
She came back when Sam took his first own breath again,and Dean was too occupied and too happy to shoot her in the face again. He cradled Sam in his arms, wrapping him into his dry jacket and warming his clammy body with his own. She stared at them, her body now more transparent, so Dean could see the trees through her.
"So sad … so sad," she murmured and stretched her arm to touch Sam's feet. Dean cradled him closer.
"Don't touch him!" he snapped at her.
She looked questioningly at Dean, as if she didn't understand him. "Only the sad ones talk to me. Why is he so sad?" Her voice got weaker and the outline of her body fuzzier. She flickered once again,and when she reappeared she looked even more detached. Dean wished to every higher being that their dad would get the burning finally finished. "What is Stanford?" was her last question before she vanished completely. Dean felt like he had been punched in the gut.
"Dean?" Sam's voice was rasping.
"It's okay, Sammy. I've got you, I've got you … Eeverything is gonna be okay."
It was the orange light of the street light in the evening that found Dean sitting on the bed opposite of Sam's, looking at the envelope in his hand.
"What you've got?" Sam's sleepy voice drifted over to him and Dean raised his head.
"You should sleep, you need your beauty rest."
"I spent the whole day sleeping, thank you very much .. So what's so interesting in your hand?" Sam leaned against the headboard.
"Your application," Dean stated matter of fact.
"My Application? For what?"
"Stanford." Dean had thought it would hurt to speak it out aloud, but it was surprisingly easy.
"Is there an echo in this room or what? It's too late for this year with the semester already having started but new year, new chance, I say." Dean smirked.
"New … what? Why?"
"For someone with straight A's in High School you're seriously lacking in your communication skills. We need to practice this for your scholarship interview."
"No, Dean – "
"I'm not leaving you," Sam said in a voice which tolerated no protest, but Dean was never one to listen to that.
"People go to college all the time and they don't leave their family. You've got holidays and I sure as hell will come by to check out the hot chicks on the campus. Besides, someone will need to drag you out of your geekness and into the party zone."
"Dean, if this is about what that spirit said – "
"It's not," Dean sighed. "At least not totally. You haven't been yourself the last six months and dude, that totally got on my nerves. As much as I enjoyed you not chewing my ear off telling me all the stuff I never wanted to know, you not talking at all … Well, just let's say it gets a little bit too silent, even with AC/DC keeping me company."
"No, Sammy … you don't want to be here, hunting. I get that. I mean, I can't imagine doing anything else, but apparently you can and I want you to be happy and not sacrificing your dreams for what you think will make me or dad happy. If it makes you giggle like a girl to stick your nose in two million volumes in the Green Library, so be it." Sam just stared at him, the hint of a smile tucking on his lips. "Dude, what?"
"You so totally did a chick-flick-moment right then!" Sam laughed. Dean tried to look disapproving, but soon his face split into a grin.