Disclaimer:The Winchesters belong to CW and Kripke. The house mentioned belongs to Illinois state. The real people mentioned belong to themselves. Slavery belongs in hell.
Author's Notes: This is a present for my fantabulous beta, TraSan, whose birthday it is today. Seeing as she's a SamGirl, I've prepared a historical, Sam-whumper with some quirky OCs in which I hope she'll like. It started off as a nice, short OneShot and promptly ballooned out of all control! Apparently my muse loves Sammy plot-bunnies, go figure!
Many thanks to both APreludeToAnEnd and InsomniaGeek who gave this a thorough beta and made it a thousand times better. I did major reconstructive surgery after they'd finished so any remaining mistakes are all mine.
The house in question is a real haunted house though I've taken some liberties as it is currently closed to the public. I've tried to research all the facts as much as I can though obviously there's only so much I can know without visiting. I hope no-one who knows the story better than I is offended.
I haven't seen the latest episode yet so please, please don't spoil me for anything in it!
So, Happy Birthday TraSan! Hope you enjoy!
Sam opened bleary eyes to find Dean hovering over his bed, far too big grin on his face. Usually getting Dean up in the morning involved either his body weight in caffeine or a demon attack. Sam sniffed the air, ruling out coffee then peered around the room, finding no sign of demon guts. Dean being this cheerful this early without external assistance was certainly a sign of the apocalypse.
If there was going to be an apocalypse, Sam needed a bit more sleep. He rolled over, digging his face into the pillow. "G'way. Sleeping."
"Sam," Dean whined and Sam could hear the thuds on the floor as Dean bounced. Five a.m. in the fucking morning and Dean was bouncing! Sam was going to have to exorcise the demon currently possessing—and doing a very bad impersonation—of his brother and that was just never a good way to start the day. "Have you forgotten what day it is?"
Sam cast his mind back to the last time he'd had the opportunity to glance at a calendar. It was sometime in April, he thought, possibly towards the latter half. It wasn't like the date actually mattered in their particular line of work, apart from a tendency to head to the southern states in winter and the northern states in summer, when they were most bearable.
"Tuesday?" he guessed.
"You really don't know?" Dean's voice sounded surprised and then was a solid thump in the blankets shrouding Sam, too light to be his brother fortunately.
Sam twisted over, feeling the offending object slide to the side. He grabbed for it and brought it up to his eyes. It was a package about two inches thick, oblong and wrapped in the most obnoxiously bright wrapping paper that Sam had ever had the misfortune to see. He thought back and counted the days again "May the second?"
"Happy birthday little brother," Dean said. "Now open your present."
Years of experience had taught Sam that opening one of Dean's presents straight off was not a good idea. It was something to be worked up to, something to prepare yourself for. Fortunately, the package was too small to be a stripper… unless it was a midget stripper and by midget, it'd have to be Tinkerbell-sized.
Dean was far more likely to shoot Tinkerbell with iron than wrap her up as a present so Sam felt he was safe on that matter.
He traced his fingers around the rim of the package, feeling a slight indent and then flexed it, finding just enough give. "Wow, Thanks Dean. A book," he said with appropriate lack of enthusiasm.
"More than just a book!" Dean was up on the balls of his feet, practically vibrating.
"If this is a porno book…" Sam threatened, slipping his finger beneath the folds of wrapping paper and tugging it loose. He wasn't quite sure why he was putting so much effort into preserving the hideous paper. It was probably habit: it had been rare during childhood for one of the boys had got a present which wasn't wrapped the same as last year. Looking back, Sam figured it must have been some small sentimentality on the part of their father rather than frugal nature; the effort to preserve the paper between years wasn't worth the cost.
Nestled inside the paper was a simple book with a plain blue cover. Set in the centre was an old black and white photograph of a large three-story house, only the lower two floors having any visible windows. The embossed silver text declared the book The Haunting of Hickory Hill.
"A haunted house book, gee thanks."
Sam opened the front cover and barely caught the slip of paper that fell out. He peered at it and looked up to his brother's broad grin. "Wow, a gas receipt. It's what I've always wanted," Sam deadpanned.
Dean leaned forward and cuffed his brother on the back of the head. "It's a receipt for enough gas to get us from here to there." He tapped the front cover of the book.
"You got me a trip to a haunted house for my birthday?" Every time Sam thought he finally understood his brother, Dean went and surprised him.
"Not just a haunted house, it's a historical haunted house. You can see and shoot the ghost of John Crenshaw."
Sam could see he needed to cut this idea off at the knees, and quickly. "What about the gargoyles in Ohio?"
"Called Bobby. He'll take care of them."
Damn you Bobby, Sam thought to himself. It was one thing for Dean to come up with some crazy plan but Bobby going along with it? Never good.
"Did you tell him why?"
Dean scuffed a boot across the motel carpet. "I may have sort of told him I was taking you to a strip club."
Sam met his brother's green eyes, sure his own must be reflecting his absolute horror at the concept. "You told Bobby, our Bobby, that we were going to a strip club?"
Dean apparently missed the point. "Hey, it's not too late to go to one instead."
"Prude," Dean muttered, purposefully loud enough for his brother to hear.
"I am not. I'm just not going to a strip club with my brother."
"Like you'd go with anyone else?" Dean's tone reflected his disbelief and Sam didn't hide his answering expression quick enough. "You have? Li'l Sammy's been to a strip club! Come on, who with?"
"Jess." Sam felt guilty for playing the 'dead girlfriend' card, but when playing against Dean's reckless, infectious enthusiasm, all bets were off.
"You went to a strip club with your girlfriend?" Dean's voice conveyed a whole new unwelcome level of respect for his little brother.
"It's not like that," Sam argued. "Jess was doing a course in Women's studies and she was writing a paper comparing the attitudes of men, women and strippers about the strip club."
"And you just went along for moral support?"
"Yes, Dean. Most men don't turn into hormonal freaks just because they see a nice pair of legs."
Dean smirked. "Always suspected you were a leg man."
Sam was beginning to think the only way to break his brother's mental stride would be to break his legs. He set about outlining every argument for why Dean's plan was a very, very, very, very bad idea. That was how Sam found himself, an hour later, in the passenger seat of the Impala headed towards Gallatin County, Illinois.
The old lady sitting at the reception desk of The Old Slave House looked like she should be one of the exhibits. Her skin was paper-thin wrinkles speckled with liver spots, her bone white hair was elegantly coifed in thin curls and her watery blue eyes had a murder of crow's feet at their corners.
She breathed in wheezing, stuttering gasps that left Sam running CPR drills in his head, even if her moist, thick lips and glimpse of crooked teeth spurred a wave of nausea through his stomach at the very thought.
She glanced up as the boys entered and smiled, revealing far too much of her teeth. "Good afternoon, gentlemen. Here to look around the Crenshaw house?"
Sam pondered saying no and running away but he knew Dean would only drag him back. "Sure, how much for two tickets?"
Dean pulled out his folded wallet and fished out bills as he awaited the total. "My treat, Sammy."
The old lady scribbled out a couple of tickets and held them out to Sam. "That'll be twenty three fifty."
Dean handed over some bills and told the woman to keep the change though Sam couldn't see how much they'd overpaid. The tickets were just written on thin, green paper and had an un-artistic rendering of the outside of the house as well as an iron collar with the chain snaking away.
They were just about to turn and go further inside the house when the old lady cleared her throat, a hacking gargle.
"We have security cameras in each room so don't think of nicking anything or doing anything in dark corners. My grandson, Graham, lives with a lovely man called Timothy, so don't think I don't know what young men get up to together these days."
"We're brothers," Dean said through gritted teeth. Sam felt it was more important to note that the security cameras would make their work that much more difficult.
"And I'm the Queen of Sheba. My eyesight may be giving up on me but it ain't that bad yet."
"No, really, we are brothers," Sam interjected before Dean's fuming reaching boiling point.
The woman still looked decidedly suspicious. "If you say so. Just know that I'm watching you."
Dean motioned towards his brother in the long-established let's get away from the normal so we can talk business fashion. Sam stepped closer, just in time for Dean to hiss, "Can't you charm the old bag so we have free reign to look around?"
Sam briefly flitted his eyes to the old lady. He'd once made the mistake of assuming the older generation had terrible hearing and had paid for it in spades when an old dear near the front of the bus loudly repeated the telephone conversation he was currently having with Jess. That was the first, and last, time that Sam agreed to try phone sex.
This particular old person showed no sign of hearing Dean's words so Sam felt it was safe to reply, "Why me? And what good is that going to do? It's not like I can persuade her to turn off the cameras."
"Never say never, dude. I've persuaded a girl to switch off security cameras before." Dean flashed that lascivious grin that usually preceded another of his elaborate tales of sexual conquest that Sam was convinced were at least half-fantasy. "Admittedly for different reasons…"
"Yes, I get the idea, Dean," Sam huffed, feeling a slight blush on his shameless brother's behalf. "I don't think the same strategy will work here."
"Don't be prejudiced, Sammy. She was probably a real looker in her day. 'Course, that day was probably B.C…"
Sam scowled at his brother, "Stop that. She's not that old."
Dean replied with a smug grin that seemed to imply that he thought he had persuaded Sam into something. Sam was too tired to argue with his brother at this point, just wanted the job over and done with so he could celebrate his birthday the traditional way: going to a bar, having a couple of beers and pretending it didn't exist.
Sam returned to the desk and the woman immediately looked up to him. "Yes? What now?"
Sam could have sworn that the woman's gaze was sharper this time. Either that or the added pressure of dissembling was getting to him. "Erm, so... many visitors today?" Sam tried to put on hisinnocent puppy grin, as Dean insisted on referring to it.
Obviously this particular pensioner chewed up puppies for breakfast as she didn't seem the least bit impressed. "An average number."
"That's good. I mean, good for business and keeping it open to all these interested people," Sam babbled, wishing he'd just let Dean do this instead. "You been working here long?"
For a brief second, the old woman's expression changed to one of absolute sadness and Sam flicked his eyes to his brother to see if he caught it too. Dean was looking away and by the time Sam looked back, the old lady's expression held the same suspicious disinterest as before. "A long time, yes."
"You like working here?" Sam asked and immediately heard a stifled cough behind him: the Dean version of 'Get to the point already.' Sam concealed his hand behind his back and flipped his brother off.
The old lady's eyes narrowed and suddenly Sam realised how those poor butterflies must feel, fluttering innocently about when someone suddenly comes along and sticks a pin through you and puts you on display.
"Does this look like the kind of place one could enjoy working in?" The old lady raised a wrinkled hand to gesture to the entrance display, a brief history of slavery in the States, complete with faded black and white photos. "I work here because it's important, because it is necessary. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
"George Santayana." Sam correctly identified the quote.
One silver eyebrow tilted up in a moderate gesture of surprise. "A scholar? I should have guessed from your hair." Sam caught Dean's chortle behind him and so did the woman, who turned a blue gaze on Sam's older brother. "Don't get me started on what that buzz-cut hedgehog tells me about you." The old lady leaned forward, resting sharp elbows on the table. "So what do you know about the Crenshaw place?"
"Family home of John Crenshaw and his wife. His legitimate business was salt mines but he also ran a reverse underground railway: kidnapping free black families and forcing them to work in his mines. Slavery was illegal in Illinois but Crenshaw was allowed as long as he kept the slaves on his own property, the fact that he paid over fifty percent of the states' taxes helped too."
"In 1848, there was an uprising against him, several slaves angered by the brutality he showed towards the women, he lost his leg to an axe blade. In 1850, he and his family moved out."
The old lady looked somewhat impressed. "So you've done your research. You know, lad, there's a midnight opening of the house tonight. A chance for some of the real historians to take a look around without a gaggle of tourists. I can write you out a ticket."
From the irritated huff behind him, Sam knew Dean hadn't missed the singular implication in the old lady's words.
"That'd be great," Sam enthused. "We could have a look around now and then come back again at midnight?"
Watery blue eyes flicked to where Sam knew his brother was and then back to Sam, the old lady crinkling up her face in distaste. "I suppose that would be alright," she said with the same sort of enthusiasm as a small child being told it's Brussels sprout soup for supper.
"Love you too, sweetheart," Dean muttered under his breath though by the sour look on the woman's face she'd heard. Sam wrapped a hand in his brother's shirt and tugged him through the open door into the museum before he could get both of them thrown out.
Midnight brought an eerie cast to the building. The house hadn't fallen prey to the tendency of uplighting historical buildings so it was just the hazy light of the street lamp slicing yellow blades over the building and creating the shadow recesses.
Inside wasn't much better. The restorers had stuck to 'authentic' lighting, just kerosene lamps set in sconces on the wall, casting flickering light and adding a sharp scent to the air.
"Who's there?" a voice called out of the darkness and Sam flinched back, almost feeling the amusement radiating from his brother.
Sam felt the cold weight of a flashlight pressed into his hand and he pressed down the button, his beam of light joined by a second from his brother moments later. The scan of the room revealed the old lady still sitting at her desk and Sam turned the flashlight on himself, illuminating his face. "It's Sam Winchester. You said to come back for the midnight opening."
"And Dean." Sam heard his brother's voice next to him and a quick glance revealed Dean had flicked the light up onto his face too, managing to catch that special angle that turned his face into a grotesque mask--it was a trick Dean had perfected beside childhood campfires.
"Ah, the brothers." Her creaky voice held a familiar note of scepticism. "Call me Rhea, it's easier than 'That old lady.'" She paused for a moment. "We prefer you don't use flashlights. It disturbs the experience for the other visitors."
Sam felt the sting of a kick on his ankle. "Many other people around?" Sam asked with casual disinterest, not needing his brother's prompt. He tried to kick back but his foot found only empty air. Dean had moved; smart brother
Sam couldn't see Rhea's eyes but her tone told him enough about her suspicions. "Just one girl. Nice, if a little loopy."
"Loopy?" Dean's voice betrayed his location and Sam was tempted to give his brother a long-deserved kick. He resisted, not wanting Rhea thinking he was playing footsie.
"She's one of those hippie girls, flower-child generations too late." Rhea's voice carried an undertone of benevolent amusement.
"Well, we'll be sure to say 'Howdy' if we see her," Dean snarked from next to Sam.
"Christo," Sam muttered at his brother and flicked his flashlight onto Dean's face to watch for a flinch.
Dean did flinch, but it was more the 'Little brother just flashed light in my eyes' than 'I'm a demonically possessed evil bastard' type. "What was that for?"
"Anytime anyone in our family says 'howdy,' they're possessed."
Dean paused, the expression on his face showing he was thinking about that. "Fair enough. Good call."
Sam walked through into the first hallway, carefully stepping over the loose floorboard that'd almost sent him sprawling across the floor last visit. He smirked as he heard the stumbled footstep from Dean that said his brother hadn't been so lucky.
As per Rhea's request, Sam switched off his flashlight and tucked it into his bag. A yellow beam still cut through the scenery showing that his brother hadn't switched his own off yet nor showed the inclination.
"Your light, switch it off."
"I'm not switching my light off." Dean had that certain tone of voice that meant he was going to say the opposite of whatever Sam said. Sam was tempted to try reverse psychology on his brother except that'd never worked on Dean before. "You switch your light back on."
"No. Stop being an idiot and switch off your light."
"Dude, I'm not risking us getting mauled by Casper's ugly twin so that some flower-power freak can get the right ambient atmosphere."
"Come on, Dean. Just switch off your light."
"N-O spells No. Put your light back on."
"Sammy, for crying out loud, put your frigging light on."
"For fuck's sake! I am not scooping your splattered corpse off the ground 'cause you put your Stubborn Sammy big-boy pants on today."
Sam hated how his brother would turn his perfectly rational decisions into 'Sammy acting like a child.'
"I'm not being stubborn, Dean." Not for the first time, Sam wished he'd made up an annoying nickname for Dean during their childhood. "Rhea said to switch off our flashlights inside. She's being nice enough to open the place at midnight for us so it's the least we can do."
"No, Sam. The least we can do is keep our damn flashlights on and not leave nice old Rhea a couple of corpses to clean up in the morning."
"Go into the light."
There was a short pause interrupted by Dean's voice. "Did you just tell me to go into the light?"
"Do I sound like a girl?"
Sam could almost hear Dean's smirk. "You really want me to answer that?"
"Leave your earthly quarrels behind. Seek peace in the beyond."
"That was not me," Sam stated before Dean could make another bad joke.
"Find your inner centre. Go to that place of peace."
"Hey lady, shut up! We're trying to have an argument here," Dean called out in the direction of the voice.
"You're mortal," There was no disguising the disappointment in the woman's voice, and moments later, a tall girl stepped into the light of one of the oil lamps. Her hair was long and braided, kept back from her face by a headscarf, its colour lost to the dim light.
The beam from Dean's flashlight skittered across to the figure and Sam got his first proper look at their fellow ghost-hunter. She was probably a couple of inches shorter than Dean but far thinner. She was wearing a long, patchwork skirt, excess fabric pooling around her ankles, the patches uneven in join and fabric suggesting it was authentic offcuts rather than the high fashion equivalent. Her top was a white peasant blouse but the uniformity of colour was broken by numerous beaded necklaces than looped around her neck and across each other.
"No shit, Sherlock." Dean said.
The woman sighed and fiddled with one of her necklaces, "I thought I'd finally made contact with the beyond."
"Trust me, that's over-rated," Dean deadpanned.
"Are you sure you're alive? This isn't like the Sixth Sense where I have to let the ghosts know they're dead, right?"
"You know, we have had some close calls..."
"Sammy, hush! We're alive. Trust me, I may not have a fancy college edumacation but I'm practically an expert on death."
That was true. It was Dean who'd invented the 'Guess the age of the body by its scent' game during the frequent grave-diggings of their childhood. It had been a short game. One round, followed by a salt, puke and burn performed by both brothers.
Sam knew Dean would be suggesting a re-match any day now seeing as they'd both developed cast-iron stomachs.
Sam had a feeling that wasn't the aspect of death that Dean was referring to.
"Oh." Sam wished the woman didn't sound so disappointed that he and Dean weren't dead. "I'm Hibiscus."
"Seriously?" Dean asked and Sam stuttered as he barely halted himself from echoing his brother.
"Well, it's not the name my parents gave me, obviously" the girl said, traces of reluctance in her voice. "But you can't always keep the names people give you. They're cages that keep the soul from flying free. They are the banks and I am the river, they can try to curb me but I will always wear down any barriers."
Sam didn't need to see his brother's expression to guess what it was. "Erm, that's nice. I'm Sam and this is my brother, Dean. So, what brings you here?"
"Oh, same as you probably," Hibiscus said but Sam somehow doubted that. "I'm trying to free the poor spirits who are trapped here, to show them the way to the light."
"Nutjob." Sam heard Dean's sing-song hiss in his ear and reached out to elbow his brother in the ribs.
Sam raked a hand back through his hair, searching for a suitable excuse to get the hippie to leave. "Are you sure it's safe here in the dark with all the ghosts around?"
"Of course," Hibiscus said brightly. "Spirits are rarely harmful unless they were bad people in life. They just need a little help to go in the right direction." She swung a bag around to her front and pulled something out, proffering whatever it was out towards Sam. Sam could hear a gentle tinkling noise and when he took the items in an outstretched hand, he recognised them as tiny bells. "Take these, bells ward off evil so you can get rid of any bad spirits and let the good ones go."
Sam tossed one to Dean and, true to form, his brother immediately started playing with it, ringing it repetitively in just the right rhythm to start on Sam's nerves. Sam made a note to himself to make sure that he retrieved the bell off Dean before he got stuck in the car with him.
"Thanks," Dean replied, sounding truly happy with the gift, obvious by the way he kept playing with it. "Hey, if you do get into trouble, just ring one of these little suckers and we'll come help you out."
"Oh, sure," Hibiscus immediately agreed. "And you do the same."
Dean snorted softly and Sam elbowed him again before Hibiscus could catch on. "So anyway, I'll guess we'll see you around." Dean gripped tightly onto Sam's elbow and dragged him through into one of the other rooms.
Dean was bored already. It had seemed like a great idea when he was planning Sam's birthday surprise. A good ol' haunted house, brothers kicking ass together, let the good times roll. So far the count was Ghosts Zero, Crazy people Three (Dean included his brother in that count on principle).
The room they were currently in was much like the four rooms they'd been in already. It had four walls, two windows, a door, a floor and a ceiling. Dean couldn't see much else interesting about it but Sammy was bounding around from barely readable display to barely readable display like a kitten on its first taste of catnip.
"Sam, you found any ghosts yet?" Dean tried to keep the whining note out of his voice because this was Sam's present after all, but he couldn't entirely manage.
"No, Dean, but you gotta see this." He motioned to the display he was currently standing in front of.
Dean rolled his eyes and spun the little bell in his fingers distractedly. "Come on, Sam. Didn't you read this display earlier?" Nonetheless, he started to cross the room to his brother.
The only warning was a soft boom and then the window at the end of the room flexed and shattered, pieces of glass soaring inwards towards the brothers.
Dean reached for Sam to push his brother to the ground, only to find Sam already reaching across to him. Unbalanced, it wasn't difficult for Sam to press him down to the ground, covering Dean with his sasquatch frame.
Dean could hear the whistle of glass as it sliced the air above him and he pressed himself flatter against the ground, practically grinding his nose into the wooden boards. Even so, he knew Sam wouldn't be able to get clear of all the shards of glass.
The glass fell silent after what seemed like forever and Dean arched up against his brother, "Come on, Sammy. Get off me!"
Dean felt Sam's weight begin to lift and then suddenly it was gone. He spun just in time to catch Sam's wrist as his brother soared backwards towards the clear window. Dean bumped along the ground, determined to keep his grip even as he gathered glass shards pin-pricking through his jeans.
The window frame came up too fast and Dean barely got his legs back under him in time to brace himself against the wall, throwing all his strength backwards to prevent his little brother flying off into the night... or more likely just straight down.
"Sammy, hang on!" Dean tried to shift his feet enough to give him enough pull to get Sam back inside.
Sam's answer was lost to the roaring wind but Dean suspected from Sam's expression it was something along the lines of 'What the fuck else am I gonna do?'
The muscles in Dean's back, arms and thighs were screaming in protest but he hadn't managed to pull Sam any closer to the window and the safety of inside. Old physics lessons drifted back to him: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The next thought went something along the lines of 'Fuck that shit. No spook gets to be the equal of me.'
Abruptly, the opposite force was gone and Dean had to lurch and shift quickly to prevent skewering himself or any part of Sam on the spiked glass balustrade that was all that remained of the window. The glass still skimmed across his forearms, leaving fine slices that began to seep blood down his arm.
"Sammy, you okay?" He risked a glance down to where Sam dangled, both his hands gripping onto Dean's arm, long legs flailing as they tried to gain some sort of purchase against the outside wall.
"I'm fine." At Dean's disbelieving look, he added, "Okay, apart from the whole hanging out of a window thing. Can you pull me up?"
Dean's back said 'No!,' his arms joined in with a 'Hell no!,' but all he said was, "Sure. Gimme a sec." He took the space of three breaths to survey the scene and then asked, "You got a good grip on my hand, right?" Dean could see the thin trails of blood from his cuts sliding down his arm and hoped it wouldn't make his grip slippery.
"Yeah," Sam said, a wary note in his voice.
"Good." Dean leaned backwards to give himself room to work then used his free hand to grip the first jag of glass that threatened to turn Sammy into a little brother kebab if Dean tried to pull him up now. The glass gave easily though it dug a little into his palm. It didn't take long to clear a Sammy-sized path through the lip of the window.
He wiped his bloody hand off on his jeans and then held it down to Sam. "Ok, grab on!"
Sam had remained silent apart from an expressive, disapproving frown on his face as Dean had cleared the way but he scowled at the offered hand. "Dean, I can't grip your hand, it's..."
Dean glanced down at his hand where tiny cuts were beginning to ooze blood once more. He swiped skin against rough denim, hissing at the pain and then held the limb out to Sam again. "Does this sound like a debate? Grab my fucking hand."
Sam gingerly grasped Dean's hand and Dean immediately tightened his grip and flung his weight backwards, dragging all six foot and too many inches of his baby brother over the lip of the window and back into the safety of the room.
Task accomplished, Dean collapsed backwards, losing himself to the cacophony of pain from his various parts. The heavy weight of his brother rested against him; the hitch of Sam's breath indicated that he was going through something similar.
"You okay?" Sam asked.
"Yeah, fine. You?" Dean replied.
"I'm good. Ready to move?"
"Me neither. You know if the old lady saw this she'd be having a field day."
"Don't care," Dean mumbled.
"Dean, you really okay?" Dean knew the exact moment Sam's tone shifted from banter to concern that it was time to start moving.
"Of course. Come on, shift those ginormous legs of yours. Up and at 'em before our ghost gets back."
Sam lifted gradually up off Dean and Dean braced himself for a repeat, fingers half-snagging in Sam's jacket. Fortunately this time Sam just stood somewhat awkwardly, offering an arm down to haul Dean up.
Dean's pride put in a vote for getting up by himself but was soundly overruled. He let Sam haul him up to his feet, knees wobbling as they protested the exertion.
"You okay?" Sam asked for what seemed like the fifty-third time.
"Dude, chill, I'm fine. Shouldn't I be asking that? I'm not the one who got chucked out of a window here. What's wrong with your arm?" Dean didn't wait for an answer, just took hold off the limb Sam had been cradling to his body and stretched it out.
Sam hissed and attempted to pull the arm back.
"Hold still," Dean chided. "We aren't going anywhere until I've checked this out. No use to me on a hunt if you can't hold a shotgun."
Sam tried to twist away with an, "I'm fine, Dean," but Dean grappled onto his good arm, pulling him around.
"Hey, what was that… Erm," Dean span around just in time to see Hibiscus standing in the door, even the feeble lighting enough to show a red flush spreading across her cheeks. "Am I interrupting something?"
"We're brothers," Dean growled out, pushing Sam back a little nonetheless.
Hibiscus tilted her head to one side and stepped closer, "Hmm. Your auras are similar." Her eyes were disconcertingly fixed on a point just above and to the left of Dean's head.
"No way," Dean protested, glancing at Sam out of the corner of his eye to try and catch a glimpse of this supposed aura. "His aura has to be girlier than mine."
Sam let out an irritated huff of air and stepped further away from Dean. "Dean, you don't even believe in auras."
Dean closed the gap again, eyes flicking to the back of Sam's jacket. There were several long cuts in the fabric, probably where the flying glass had sliced through, but Dean couldn't see any darkening that would indicate a nasty bleed. "Well, no, but it's the principle of the things," He jested, hoping to disguise his actions from Sam.
"Definitely brothers," Hibiscus said, stepping fully into the room and making her way towards the Winchesters. "So, what happened here?"
"Sam tripped," Dean hastily said. "Big feet and all, smashed the window by accident."
Hibiscus pursed her lips and her eyes dipped and darted about the room, "If he tripped and fell into the window, why's the glass on the inside?"
Dean had been hoping she hadn't noticed that. "What makes you think the glass wouldn't be on the inside?" He hedged.
"I watched a lot of CSI," The hippie answered. "And I majored in mechanical engineering."
Dean blinked and looked over Hibiscus again, trying to reconcile words and the image in front of him, "I thought you were a hippie."
"I am," Hibiscus said, one sandaled foot stomping on the wooden floor to emphasise her point. "But they don't pay you for saving the world. Anyway, just because I value nature doesn't mean I don't appreciate the toaster."
"Toaster?" Sam asked, moments before Dean had the chance.
"Best thing since sliced bread." Silence followed as Hibiscus' eyes darted from brother to brother. "Enh, engineer joke. You still haven't told me what happened here?"
Dean shot Sam a look to say all yours.
"Right, well," Sam fidgeted, long fingers tugging at the cuff of his jacket. "You know what you do with restless spirits and all? Helping them to move on. We do that too, only we're a little more pro-active about it."
"We shoot them fulla rock-salt then salt and scorch their bones," Dean chipped in, earning a patented Sammy pissy look.
"Anyway, it tends to mean ghosts don't like us much," Sam continued.
"Understatement!" Dean added.
Sam turned to face Dean and scowled, "Do you want to do this?"
Dean held his arms up in a conciliatory gesture, "No, you're doing a great job, Sammy. Carry on."
"Ghost tried to kill us. We survived. The end."
"A ghost did all of this?" Hibiscus gestured out with her hand to the slivers of glass glittering on the floor.
"That's a good point," Sam said, brow crinkling. "Crenshaw was the narrow-minded, money-grubbing bastard level of evil. He shouldn't have been able to smash the window like that or toss me through the window without a physical manifestation."
"Not to mention surviving the fact his corpse was torched four years ago," Dean smoothly added and waited for the fireworks.
Sam nodded, mind elsewhere, "Not to mention… What?" Hazel-blue eyes narrowed to sharp focus on Dean, "Dean!"
Dean winced and reluctantly met his brother's gaze, "So Dad kinda came here already while you were away at Stanford." At the darkening scowl spreading across Sam's face, he added, "I was gonna mention it!"
"When?" Sam snapped, voice just staying within the masculine edge of shrill.
"Erm, now?" Dean cracked a big grin, hoping he wasn't just presenting a target for Sam's fist.
"Stop using my name like a swear word," Dean protested. "What was I supposed to say? 'Happy birthday, Sammy. Dad screwed up."
"How about mentioning you'd been here before?"
"Ihaven't. Dad came here solo, he sent me to Milwaukee after a suspected Leszy."
Dean knew it had been a mistake to say that as soon he saw the smile twitching at the corner of Sam's mouth, "Don't they.."
"Yes," Dean cut his brother off before he could be embarrassed anymore. "Anyway, it turned out to be a bunch of teenagers on an LSD trip."
Hibiscus had fallen silent while the brothers argued apart the occasional huff of laughter. "Anyway, about the ghost?" She prompted.
"I've got a theory on that," Sam said and Dean was ready to bless the hippie for distracting Sam from growling at Dean. "I read a book about some ghosts that had the ability to 'consume' other ghosts and use it to expand themselves. There must have been a lot of deaths here, a lot of angry spirits, so it's possible when Crenshaw died, he practically had a banquet waiting for him."
"Crenshaw munches on the other ectoplasmic white meat and powers-up? It's a theory." Dean puzzled it out. "So, what book was that?"
"Erm, probably not one you read." Eyes to the right? Check. Head ducked? Check. Sammy trying to avoid the question? Double-check.
"Sammy, what book?"
"Um..." Sam scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. "The Exiles series by Melanie Rawn."
"Oh, I love that book," Hibiscus chimed in. "Though I wish she'd finish writing them."
Of all the answers Dean had been expecting, that wasn't in the top hundred. "You're basing our grand master plan on a load of fantasy novels?"
Sam huffed. "It's not just the books. I mean, tell me it doesn't make sense? If a ghost can stick around 'cause of hair or a silver knife, they can stick around by feeding off other ghosts."
"Makes sense to me," Hibiscus added. "It's deep. Slaves in life, slaves in death."
"That'd be based on your extensive knowledge of spooks, would it?" Dean snapped at the girl, running his thumb against his jaw as he tried to think of a counter-argument. It wasn't that Sam's idea didn't seem plausible but a fantasy novel? That was just wrong.
"You got any better ideas?" Sam asked, barely pausing before he added, "Well?"
"I'm thinking," Dean said, speeding up the rhythm of the rubbing as if that would somehow kick-start his brain. It wasn't working so he leaned his head back, letting out a frustrated exhalation and turned to his brother. "Fine, So if your theory is true, how do we kill him?"
"Release the other ghosts. I mean, the slaves are probably more absorbed than consumed so we let them free, he loses his anchor to this world and he's off to hell. He must have something keeping the slaves here."
"Let's get to it," Hibiscus said, half-turning to the door.
"We?" Dean said, shooting a look of disbelief across to Hibiscus. "Oh no, there is no 'We'. There's a me, there's a Sam, you are going to stay down here in a nice circle of salt and not get in our way."
Hibiscus drew in a deep breath just as Sam said, "I agree." The breath was expelled in a indignant squeak.
"I can help," She protested.
"No, you can't," Dean disagreed. "The only things civilians on a hunt ever do is get themselves killed or get us killed."
Hibiscus snorted, a tiny whuff of air, "How many times have you died?"
Dean paused and then held up his hands, trying to count out the incidents. Of course, it was made more difficult by whether he consider near-deaths or if it had to be actual heart-stopped incidents.
He was up to four using the latter methodology when Sam interrupted his count, "Dean's right. We can't be worrying about you when we are trying to take out Crenshaw. Just, please, stay here."
Dean had to hide a smirk behind one hand. His brother was using the puppy eyes, they never failed.
Hibiscus seemed to realise it too as she sighed, "Fine, I'll stay here like a good little girl."
Dean reached the package of salt out of his bag, hissing as a few grains slid out and stung the slices across his palm, "Sam, salt her up."
"Repels ghosts," Sam explained before Hibiscus could ask. He unfolded a corner and meticulously poured a complete circle around Hibiscus' sandals. "We'll come back down once we're done."
"And if you are a good girl, we'll even tell you about it," Dean added.
"Dean," Sam chided. "So, the third floor? That was the slave quarters, right? So it's likely to be up there."
"On the plus side, no windows."
If the lower two floors had seemed foreboding, the top floor was downright grim. The so-called attic was little more than a long hallway lined with cells, iron rings jutting up from the floor where the slaves had been shackled at night.
The only piece in the room that was properly lit was the whipping post and Sam hated how his eyes kept being drawn towards it. It was bad enough having the old chains dangling off every available wall. Subtlety was apparently not what they were going for in this place.
"You getting any weird vibes yet?" Dean called from where he was poking his head around one of the cells, half-hidden in shadows.
"I'm not an EMF, Dean," Sam replied, feeling the annoyance within manifesting itself as the slow grind of a headache.
"Good thing I got one then, isn't it?" Sam could make out the lights of Dean's makeshift EMF as he scanned it around the room, "Nothing, nothing, more nothing. Maybe we should go back downstairs. I mean if the ghost is old man Crenshaw then I suppose we'd be more likely to see him where he lived."
Sam shook his head in disagreement before realising Dean probably wouldn't see the expression in the dark. "If I'm right and he's trapping the souls of his former slaves then he'd probably be up here."
Dean swung the EMF meter around wildly and Sam began to wonder if Dean was trying to spell out swear words much like he had anytime anyone put a sparkler in his hands. The lights remained uncooperatively dim until finally Dean sighed and tucked the meter into his pocket. "Any bright ideas?"
Sam's brain prompted him with 'Hey, why don't you ask that guy?' and it took a minute for the rest of his thought processes to catch up. He turned his head to where a figure stood, half in and half out of the shadows. That someone other than himself and his brother was up here was strange enough but one look at the figure and Sam knew it didn't belong in this decade.
A dark tail-coat covered most of his body but it opened up at the chest to reveal a white shirt and a cross-patterned cravat. The coat finished mid-calf, revealing only one leg jutting out. Despite that the figure appeared to be balanced as if he had two. His face was mostly still in shadow but Sam could made out a rounded aspect. The figure in entirety seemed oddly bulbous and it took Sam a matter of moments to realise that it wasn't just a trick of the light, that the man in front of him really was expanding out and contracting back in at regular intervals.
"Dean..." Sam tried to keep his voice low, head inclined towards the figure.
It obviously wasn't enough as the figure turned towards him, resting its weight on a leg that wasn't there and sadly shaking its head. The next thing Sam knew, he was flying through the air, then everything went black.
Dean was just about ready to write this room off as a lost cause and head back downstairs when he heard his brother call his name. He turned towards Sam just in time to see his little brother fly through the air, crashing into a wall and then hanging there, long legs still inches from the ground.
His muscles coiled and bunched, ready to spring into action, but he forced himself to do a check of the room first. Chains? Check. Post? Check. Freaky looking guy in some hideous coat? Ah yeah, that could be a problem.
He fumbled in his pocket for some salt then remembered too late handing the packet off to Sam. A quick mental check of his weaponry left only a useless revolver and a tiny bell. He tried an experimental chime of bell just in case Hibiscus had been on to something but the spook didn't so much a blink, let alone dissipate.
Fortunately, the ghost was convenient placed so as not to be between Dean and his brother so Dean gave into instinct and hastily crossed the floor. He reached up to Sam, gripping tightly onto Sam's shirt and yanked.
The only thing that moved were Dean's hands as he came away with two handfuls of Sam's shirt. Sam made a coughing, gagging noise and his eyes fluttered back open, hands lifted to his throat in the universal expression of 'I can't breathe!'
Dean brought his own hands up to Sam's neck but had no more success in dispelling the nothing that was choking the life out of his brother. He turned toward the ghostly figure; it hadn't moved an inch from where Dean had last seen it. "Let my brother go," he growled out, knowing that it was unlikely to have any effect on the dead man. It made him feel better though.
Dean tried to lift Sam, to brace his brother's weight, but it seemed to have little effect. Sam's mouth was moving in inaudible words, the only noise escaping a juddering gasp. Dean tried to cobble together some form of lip reading but it wasn't working and it only alerted him to the beginnings of a blue tinge to his brother's lips.
Sam's head jerked and for a moment Dean panicked that his brother was going into some kind of oxygen deprived seizure. That was, until he followed the path of Sam's head towards an innocuous cabinet at the far end of the room. He recognised it from their earlier excursion; it housed the 'key of freedom,' a master set of Crenshaw's keys.
"What the hell you want with that, Sammy?" Dean asked, frantically pressing his fingers to Sam's throat just to feel the reassuring beat of Sam's heart.
Sam mouthed another word and this time Dean picked it up. "Chains?" he asked, and Sam nodded sharply, gagging against the extra pressure. "Unlock the chains?" Dean glanced towards the items, dangling unhelpfully from the wall. His little brother was suffocating and Dean was stuck in the world's worst game of charades. "You better be right about this, Sam."
He dashed towards the cabinet, hoping he could get there before Crenshaw caught on, But as expected, Crenshaw noticed. Fortunately, the man who had always been business sharp in life showed a remarkable lack of thinking in death, as his solution was to toss Dean towards the wall, conveniently sending him closer to his goal, even if the transport method earned him a few more bruises. The bell in Dean's pocket tinkled away as he soared through the air.
Dean pulled himself up off the ground and over to the cabinet. It seemed incongruous amongst the wooden furnishings of the room, a glass cube held together by metal fixings with a small keyhole on the front. Dean forced himself to pause even as his brain ran down the number of seconds Sam had been dangling there.
He took a quick step backwards and then pivoted, twisting his leg up and kicking at the front of the cabinet. It took two blows for the glass to give way and Dean shoved his hand in among the tumbling glass shards and closed his fingers around the key ring.
It turned out to be just in time as Crenshaw turned his attention back to Dean and Dean found himself airborne again. Thank you for flying Crazy Ghost Airlines, please think of us again. He impacted face-first into the wall, feeling the copper tang in his mouth that spoke of a split lip. He grasped the first dangling chain close to him and twisted a key into the lock, hoping against hope that the key ring wasn't just a decorative feature.
The first key did nothing. The second key too. The third key didn't even fit and Dean began to panic, his brain trickling in information about just how long Sam had been dangling from that wall.
The fourth key slid in like a dream and with a click, the chain opened. Dean turned to see an amorphous blob detach itself from Crenshaw and drift down into the floor as the slave owner's face turned thunderous.
Dean didn't waste time in getting to the next chain to unlock it, and the next and the next. Crenshaw caught on fast and resumed his game of squash featuring Dean Winchester as the musical ball but the blows didn't have the force of before and just carried Dean closer to the chains he needed to unlock, Dean just needed to brace himself just in time to avoid serious impact with the wall.
Barely had Dean slotted the key into the final chain than, with a final howl, Crenshaw flickered out and Sam dropped to the floor.
Dean tried to stand up but his legs had decided that enough was enough and sagged under him, forcing him to lean against the wall. He feebly picked his way across the room towards Sam's crumpled figure.
Sam didn't stir.
There was a gasp from the door and Dean lifted his eyes to see the hippie standing there, hand clasped over her mouth in the traditional gesture of shock. "Hey, hippie girl," Dean called out, his bashed brain failing to recall her name. "Can you check on my brother?"
She didn't even stop to nod as she hurried over to Sam, turning him over and pressing her fingers to his throat. Even in the shadowy light, Dean could make out the marks where bruises were starting to form. "He's got a pulse," the girl, Hibiscus, that was it, reported and Dean felt his own racing heartbeat begin to relax. Sam was hardly out of the woods yet though. "He's breathing too. Looks like you're lucky."
Dean wanted to laugh. Lucky? Oh yeah. Happy birthday, Sammy, I'm getting you nearly asphyxiated this year. Somehow, Dean didn't think that was what Sam was hoping for when he blew out the candles on his cake. A new brother would be more likely.
The stiffness in Dean's legs eased and he made the last distance, flumping down on the floor next to Sam, checking the pulse for himself. "What are you doing here?" he asked Hibiscus, eyes not leaving the steady rise and fall of Sam's chest. "I told you to stay downstairs."
"What, no thank you?" Hibiscus asked. "I heard the crashing and I thought you might need some help. What happened here?"
"Crenshaw." The word wasn't Dean's, it came in a gruff half-whisper from Sam as Dean's little brother stirred back to consciousness. "Need to open all the chains." He poked one of those annoying long fingers in Dean's side like he expected his brother to jump right up and get right on that.
"We need a plan. Doing this room weakened him but he's still too fucking strong. If we try to get the rest of the chains in this place, he'll slaughter us."
"We can't leave him here, Dean," Sam protested, trying to sit up.
It was disturbingly easy for Dean to push his groggy brother back down again. "I'm not suggesting we do, but trying to do it right now would be suicide."
"Go towards the light," Hibiscus remarked.
"Don't start that shit again," Dean growled.
"Not you," Hibiscus said with a roll of her eyes. "Crenshaw! I'm trying to commune with his aura and help him to the beyond."
Dean took a minute to try and translate that into the kind of English he understood. "Look, honey. Crenshaw is a bad spirit. For bad spirits, the light is kinda the equivalent of moths and a campfire. It all ends in burning."
"Burning," Sam echoed and Dean pressed a hand to his brother's forehead but felt no evidence of fever. Sam batted his hand away. "That's the answer, Dean. The chains are probably an iron mix, their melting point should be within the normal range of a house fire. We burn this place down and it'll take out the chains."
"You can't burn this place down! It's an important historical monument," Hibiscus protested. Dean was more concerned about when his brother had turned firebug.
"Yeah and it's full of one hundred percent genuine trapped slaves," Sam added.
"Good point," Hibiscus conceded.
"Hating to be the voice of reason here, Sam—God only knows I love burning down buildings—but don't think you think lighting up this place might attract the wrong sort of attention?"
Sam rolled his eyes, "I thought of that. We just tell whoever turns up that we saw the fire, went inside to rescue anyone, got in a fight with the arsonists and barely got ourselves out." The impressive reasoning was diminished as Sam petered out into a coughing fit.
"You," Dean pointed at Hibiscus, "get Sam out of here and I'll get the fire started once we hit the lower floor."
"That's not gonna work," Sam argued, still wheezing and breaking off into a cough as soon as the sentence was out. "We need something to distract Crenshaw or he'll be on us as soon as we leave the room."
"What'd you suggest?"
"We light the fire here. It won't be enough to take out the whole building but it'll get Crenshaw distracted."
"And leave us less time to get out," Dean pointed out. "You aren't exactly in tip-top shape for running."
"I'm not? How many times did Crenshaw bounce you off the walls?"
"No changing the subject," Dean sniped. "I'm an expert on how to collide with walls, barely a bruise. Can you run in that stupid skirt?" Dean asked the hippie.
"Can you run in those tight jeans?" Hibiscus replied.
Dean frowned, "My jeans aren't tight."
"Are you kidding? They are so tight I can make out the shape of the mole on your butt."
"Ha," Dean claimed victory. "I don't have a mole on my butt."
"You kinda do," Sam said sheepishly.
"What?" Dean swivelled his head to his brother. "How the hell would you know that?"
"Because you never remember to lock the bathroom door while you're in there."
"Why the hell were you looking?" Dean asked, horrified, before recalling where they were. "Whatever, point is, you can run. A three word answer would've been fine. So, I'll light the fire, you two run." He could see Sam open his mouth to argue, so he just clicked open his lighter and headed for the far corner. "Ready? Good. Run!"
The stairs down from the attic creaked and groaned underneath Sam's feet and he flinched each time; the innocuous sound could be covering up more sinister heralds of the ghost's arrival. Hibiscus twitching beside him was not helping, nor was the fact his brother was off playing firebug.
"Does any salt work?" Hibiscus asked once they reached the floor.
"What?" Sam asked, most of his attention still on listening out for his brother.
"The salt. Your brother said that Crenshaw's corpse had been salted and burnt but is there any specific salt or will kitchen salt do?"
Sam spared a glance to the hippie who had a thoughtful expression on her face, "Just about any salt will do."
They fell back into silence which dragged long as Sam made a cautious path towards the door, pulling out the EMF meter he'd acquired from Dean and panning it carefully around. The lights seemed almost as twitchy as Hibiscus, one bulb flickering up to two occasionally.
Sam felt some relief as thundering footsteps heralded Dean's arrival.
Dean glanced over to Sam and Hibiscus. "What are you two doing here? Come on. The fire's burning, we don't have time to chat." Dean grabbed Sam's shirt sleeve and tugged, as if Sam needed the extra incentive to get moving.
Sam pulled back away from Dean in irritation and that was when he heard the creak above. Sam didn't even have time for a yelp before the ceiling came down.
Sam spluttered back to consciousness, his mouth full of dirt and ash. He arched his back, shifting off debris and then scrambled up to his feet. The heat of the fire felt closer and he pressed a hand to shield his eyes. Firefly sparks scattered down from the gaping hole in the ceiling, smouldering as they tumbled downwards before being extinguished.
What had been the ceiling now formed a barrier between Sam and where he'd last seen Dean. The centre was formed of large chunks of wood, broken off beams jutting outwards.
"Dean!" Sam sucked a deep breath of air in, trying his best to ignore the acrid smoke that followed. He used the air to bellow again while he desperately scanned the debris for his brother. "DEAN!"
"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck." It took Sam a moment to realise it wasn't just his heartbeat thudding in his ears.
Sam paced the obstruction, searching for any way to scramble through to his brother. "Dean?"
"Sammy?" Sam didn't think he was mistaken in hearing a frantic note in his voice. "Sammy, where are you? You okay?"
"I'm fine, Dean." Sam ran a hand over his feeling, feeling a slight sticky patch where he'd caught a glancing blow from the debris.
"Then get out before the roof collapses anymore."
"I'm not leaving you," Sam pointed out in exasperated irritation.
"Sam, get out! I'm fine. I'll meet you outside."
"How exactly?"As far as Sam knew, the only exit was out the front door, a route now blocked to Dean.
There was a clutter of wood followed by an unmanfully high-pitched squeak, "I'll clear the barrier, be right behind you."
"How are you going to do that?" Sam studied the pile of debris, swiping a hand across his eyes to clear the stinging smoke.
"I'm working on it?" Sam could tell that Dean was evading the question.
"I'm gonna find a way to get to you. Just hang on." Silence greeted Sam in response. "Dean? Dean!"
"Shuddup, got a headache." The voice that replied was too feminine to be Dean.
"Hibiscus?" Sam queried, recognising the voice. He had forgotten all about the hippie.
"Yeah, that you Sam? What the hell happened?" Hibiscus sounded fairly aware, apart from the whole issue of having just woken up.
"The roof collapsed," Sam yelled, trying to make his voice clear over the crackle of flames. "I'm on the other side. Dean should be on your side."
"I'm here," Dean's voice called and Sam breathed a sigh of relief, making a mental note to smack his brother for falling silent later.
"Okay, I'm heading towards you," He heard shuffling footsteps as Hibiscus made her way towards the sound of Dean's voice. "Ow!"
"What?" Sam called, squinting through the smoke as if that would allow him to see what was going on.
"I stubbed my toe on your brother."
"Is my brother alright?" Sam asked, knowing about Dean's tendency to hide injuries.
"He looks fine. I can't see that much in this damn smoke."
"Quit worrying, I told you I'm fine," Dean growled moments after Hibiscus finished speaking.
"We're cut off from the front door," Hibiscus said. "Any chance you can bring down some of this rubble?"
Sam shook his head before realising the futility of that gesture. "Not in time." He paced along the artificial wall. "Wait, there's a carriage door around the back. Crenshaw used to use it for transporting new slaves in without other people noticing. Go to that, I'll go out the front."
"Can you get out alright?" Dean asked and Sam rolled his eyes at his brother.
"I can get out easy. Go now." Sam forced himself to make the first move, knowing that Dean was going to stay in the area until he knew Sam was out.
The path to the stairs was easy, though the house was groaning louder now from the flames. Sam hoped against anything that Hibiscus and his brother had gotten out of there. He swung his bag around to the front, checking through the lighter fluid and matches in the pocket, knowing it would be his job to make sure the place burned completely to the ground.
For as much as he'd told his brother he was fine, Sam was starting to feel worse for wear. The smoke was irritating his bruised throat. He stopped for a moment and ripped a piece of his shirt, pressing the fabric against his mouth to try and ease his breathing. That small movement only served to fuel the growing fire in his shoulder from where he'd dangled from the window.
It was no small relief when Sam reached the ground floor, and he ran quickly towards the front door. He skidded to a halt in the front lobby where he noticed the small figure sitting behind the desk. "Rhea?" He greeted the old lady by the name she'd given. "You need to get out of here, the place is on fire."
"I know," the woman said proudly. "I knew you could do it."
Sam wasn't sure he hadn't added a concussion to his injuries. "Okay. Come on, we need to get you out of here."
"I'm not going anywhere," Rhea said with an amused laugh. "I got a job to do."
And Sam thought Dean had an overpowering sense of job responsibility! "There's not going to be much work to do in a while. I've got to finish this off and I need you out of here before I do that."
Rhea shook her head. "I'm right where I need to be, boy." As Sam looked towards her, her face went from the frail old lady to a drawn, skeletal mask. "I've been waiting a long time to finish off what I came here to do."
Sam had never been a slow boy. "You're a reaper?"
"I knew you were the smart one. Your brother didn't do too badly either." Rhea looked almost grandmotherly in that moment… for a skeleton.
"But…" Sam started to say, raking his mind over all the unwelcome knowledge he'd accumulated of reapers. "Why can I see you?"
"You're not dying if that's what you are worried about," Rhea answered the unspoken question. "At least not any more than any human is. I've just been waiting here long time so I chose to interact with you to pass the time. I think it worked out well," The reaper did look rather proud of herself. "Now, set your fires and get out of here. Let me finish up my work."
Even as Sam watched, a translucent figure appeared in the lobby in front of Rhea. It paid no attention to Sam, just turned imploring hands towards Rhea. The old lady smiled benevolently and nodded and the figure burst out into a shattering of light.
Sam didn't need telling twice. He twisted the cap off the kerosene and sprinkled it around the lobby. Once at the front door he flicked a match backwards, getting one last look at Rhea, haloed in the light of another dissipating spirit, before the flames roared up and blocked it from view.
"Sammy!" Sam spun towards the sound of his brother's voice and then broke into a run towards him. Dean was loping around the side of the building, soot darkening skin and clothes. Hibiscus was faring little better, her white peasant blouse now a dirty grey.
Dean grabbed onto his jacket as soon as Sam was within arm's range and Sam let himself be manhandled as Dean checked over injuries, "How's your throat?"
"Sore," Sam griped.
"More sore," Sam attempted to roll it and instantly regretted it.
"You need a hospital?"
"No way," Sam balked. "It's not that bad."
"You kidding? The bastard had you choked for ages. Does your throat feel tight? Can you breathe okay? Did you breathe in too much smoke? How's your head?" Dean rattled off a litany of questions, giving Sam no chance to respond.
"No, no, yes, no and fine," Sam replied. Flashing lights flickered through the night sky as a couple of fire engines pulled up to the main gate. Firemen poured out of the doors, moving in time to an inaudible beat as they gathered up hoses and headed towards the building. Sam just hoped that the fire had time to warp all the remaining chains before it was extinguished.
A couple of medics obviously spotted the three figures and scurried over. Sam let himself be chivvied over to the waiting van, giving up his protests at the stubborn look on Dean's fault. The other medic led Hibiscus away to the waiting place. He allowed himself a grin at Dean's bemused expression as an oxygen mask was slipped over his brother's face, moments before one was slipped over his own.
Trust be told, Sam was a little glad he'd given into his brother as the cool flow of air worked wonders against the scratchy soreness of his throat.
Dean however seemed to be holding a contest with a frustrated female medic over how soon after having the mask put on, he could remove it again. Finally she decided she was onto a losing cause and asked, "Did you see what happened?"
Dean nodded eagerly and Sam would have groaned if he could have. "Yep, me 'n' my brother saw the fire and went in to rescue anyone trapped inside. We saw the arsonists leaving, four of them, really tall and loads of muscles. They tried to choke my brother but I rescued him."
The woman didn't seem that impressed with Dean's stories as she ignored him, turning to Sam. One surprisingly strong hand tilted his chin up, prodding at the ring of bruises Sam suspected was forming on his throat, "Does your throat feel tight?"
Sam tried to push the mask down to answer but the woman's hand clasped it in place, "Just nod or shake your head."
Sam shook his head.
"Any dizziness? Shortness of breath? How long were you in the smoke?"
Sam carried on shaking his head in the hope that she would leave him alone.
"I'd like to take you to a hospital to be checked out…" She started to say but was cut off as Sam strenuously shook his head.
"Sam and me need to leave today. He's meeting with his publisher later on."
"Publisher?" The medic quizzed.
"Sam's a horror novelist," Dean said, teeth glinting extra white in his smirk compared to the soot dark of his skin.
"Fine. I want him to stay on the oxygen a while longer and the police will probably want to talk to you once they get here," Sam was saved as the medic was signalled over by one of the fireman.
Sam pulled down his mask and glowered at his brother, "Novelist?"
Dean leaned over and pushed Sam's mask back up, "Hey, I think you were in there."
Hibiscus joined the brothers, perching next to Sam, "How are you feeling?"
"He's fine," Dean replied, shifting awkwardly on his seat. A frown lit his face then Dean tilted to one side, using the extra room to reach into his jacket pocket. It took Sam a moment to recognise the mangled objects cradled in Dean's hand and he barely suppressed a crow of laughter when he did. "My bells," Dean sighed.
Hibiscus glanced at the crushed objects and huffed, "If I'd known you wouldn't take care of them! Anyway, I guess you two will be leaving before the police arrive?"
Dean half-shrugged, "Probably. You going to stick around?"
"Probably," Hibiscus replied in a similar tone. "I need to crib some notes for my new profession."
"Your new what?" The brothers echoed each other though Sam's was lost to the mask on his face.
"My new profession," Hibiscus repeated as if it was just an aural deficiency prevented the brother's understanding. "I've seen what you do now. I've been getting it wrong all along. The spirits need a firm hand to go towards the light, they need to be salted and burned for their own good."
"Has anyone told you that you are a very, very strange person?" Sam asked. Fortunately Hibiscus didn't have time to answer as the second medic spotted his charge had absconded and retrieved Hibiscus back to the second van.
"She makes us look normal," Dean said. "You feeling better? The cops will probably be here soon, we should escape while we can."
Sam nodded and removed the mask, "Though, one thing, Dean?"
"What?" Dean asked, looking a little confused.
"Next year? Gift certificate."