Title: Time to face the music

Author: Starrylizard
Rating: Teen
Spoiler Warnings: Pre-season (Sam at Stanford), so no spoilers

Summary: It's Halloween at Stanford and Sam is unwillingly drawn into working a case
Author's Notes: Stars91's prompts were: "Sam, Pre-series, One time Sam had to work a case while at Stanford, milk, wooden stake, crayons"
Words: 1855

A quiet, yet persistent bell pervaded the silence of the library followed by a deliberately gentle announcement. Please be advised that the library will be closing in half an hour.

Sam sighed, closing the book in front of him with a snap and stretching backwards. That was it then, enough stalling; time to face the music… of the Halloween party. Sam shuddered gently, wishing he could just spend a quiet night in, but this thing with Jess was pretty new and he didn't want to ruin it by refusing to go with her. With another sigh, he packed away his things, slung his backpack easily over one shoulder and headed back to the dorms.

A shower and a change of clothes (no costume, just a clean shirt) later, Sam left his building and headed toward Jess' dorm. Outside the evening was clear except for a few wisps of cloud, white smudges against the dusky red sky. A chill breeze played over Sam's skin and he unconsciously pulled his jacket closer around him as he walked, quickly and deliberately, ignoring as he did so the squeals and drunken laughter of the costume-clad groups of people that passed him by.

Jess answered the door – hair in pig-tails, tight red leather pants hugging the curve of her hips and accentuating long legs, a cute black camisole showing off what Dean would have called her best assets. She bounced forward, brandishing a long wooden stake and yelling, "Die, you fiendish vampire."

Sam stepped back, hands held up in a sign of surrender, a slight grimace gracing his face, before he managed to smile. "What makes you think I'm one of the undead?"

"You didn't wear a costume. You were supposed to come as one of the Scooby gang, Sam. Remember, Buffy theme party?"

Sam shrugged. "I'm dressed as Riley on a normal college day."

"Uh huh." Jess crossed her arms, attempting to look annoyed, but only managing cute.

"A much more dashingly handsome version of Riley," he added and Jess gave up all pretense of anger, pulling Sam into the common room where a few other girls were already gathered in various Buffy-related costumes.

A large bottle of Baileys Cream had already been mostly consumed, mixed into milk or poured over ice cream from the looks of it, and Sam attributed this to Jess' extra-bouncy mood. When he kissed her, he could taste it on her lips.

"Sam, you've met Sally and Clara. And this is Jean."

Sam ducked his head, slightly self-conscious as Jean, a dark-haired girl who was scantily dressed as Faith, wolf-whistled her approval. He was saved from further embarrassment though, as the rest of their party showed up. Two guys strolled through the open door, fake blood and fangs apparently the extent of their costume design, and Sam found himself suddenly engulfed in manly greetings and excitable chatter as the guys scooped up their girls. A slab of beer thunked ceremoniously onto the coffee table, joining the girls' empty bowls and glasses.

"Aren't we going to the party?" Sam asked, confused eyes on the beer.

"We had a better idea." Steve smirked; his beer-laden breath brushing Sam's face as he threw an arm around Sam's shoulders in a gesture that always came before trouble. Steve was good at finding trouble. "Trust me, Sam. This'll be much more fun than a party. We're going to check out a real haunted building."

Sam's stomach lurched, the blood pounding in his ears so hard it was like white noise. Oblivious to Sam's apprehension, Steve continued on.

"Everyone bring supplies?"

A giggling Jean held up some black candles and a lighter. Sally produced several thick white crayons and Clara held up a packet of incense sticks. Jess just pointed to the Baileys and Steve laughed, nudging Sam's shoulder.

Jess moved to Sam's side, one arm snaking around his waist. "You all right, Sam?" she asked.

"Yeah, yeah, just need some water." Sam gently shouldered Jess aside and headed for the kitchen, pouring himself a glass of water before opening the various cupboards and drawers one by one. Jess followed him in.

"Are you really all right, Sam? What are you looking for?"

Sam turned to face Jess, leaning back on the kitchen bench. In his hand was a large pour-pack of salt. "They say ghosts don't like salt; I just thought…" He shrugged.

"You goose." Jess crossed the distance between them to lean up against Sam, quickly kissing his cheek. "Seriously, though, what's with you tonight?"

"I just don't like Halloween. It's creepy and it just brings up some stuff. I don't really want to talk about it now. My Dad was pretty superstitious." Sam figured something close to the truth would be easier than a lie. "You sure we can't just talk them into going to the party?" He rested his chin on Jess' hair and she squeezed him around the middle.

"Hey, don't worry. Steve just wants to scare us all a bit: light some candles, make some noise. Then we'll go to the party, okay?"

Sam nodded, squeezed Jess back and hoped like hell the place wasn't really haunted.

The "haunted building" turned out to be a nearby house which had burnt down years earlier. Tales of a badly burned woman haunting the ruins had so far kept new developments away.

The small block of land was fenced in; three brick walls singed black and touching at right angles were the only solid reminder a house once stood there – the surrounding ground now covered by grass and weeds.

Steve led the Scooby gang through a large hole in the fence and strode toward the framework that had once housed the front door. With the group's whispers and giggles and bouncing flashlights beams, it reminded Sam more of the childish break-and-enter stunt that he and his brother had once pulled, rather than anything close to a hunt. If anything, the party atmosphere only served to ratchet his apprehension levels even higher.

Inside the ruins the walls were strangely free of graffiti, something that was never a good sign in an abandoned building of any kind, let alone one with such easy access. James began passing beers out to the guys as Sally and Clara lit candles. Jean and Steve seemed content to grope each other against the far wall.

"So, we came, we saw. Should we go to the party now?" Sam asked no one in particular. He held Jess close to him, arms wrapped protectively about her in what he hoped looked like a simple hug, rather than a need to ground himself.

"Chill, dude." James chuckled, making chicken noises, before handing Sam a beer.

When Sally brought out the crayons, Sam spurred himself to action. "Hey, let me help with that." Sam took the crayon and used it to sketch a large protection ward on the floor of the house and then ringed it with a circle of salt.

"Cool!" Sally smiled, nodding in approval as Clara moved the candles so they were artfully placed around the symbol's edge, and then everyone stepped inside its boundaries.

They stood silent for a few moments, all except for shuffling feet and muffled giggles, and then Jean and Sally started reciting something out of a notebook.

"Unknown spirit, we call to thee
Those who wish to set you free
Cross on over, so we may help
Come to us, Reveal yourself."

"That's from Charmed. And here I thought it was a Buffy party," Jess whispered to Sam. Sam smiled and held her close, starting to feel safer by the minute.

Not every student prank ended in tears, or angry spirits. The place probably wasn't even haunted and… Sam's thoughts petered out as a sudden wind doused the candlelight, the flashlights all flickered simultaneously, and Jean screamed. Sam spun around in time to see a shape disappear as it hit the salt line he'd so carefully drawn.

"What the hell was that?" Jean asked, her voice shaking slightly. "Steve, if this is one of your pranks…"

To their right, it appeared again: a young woman of perhaps twenty. Her thin nightgown was stained with soot and singed at the edges, a teddy bear clutched in her right hand, one glass eye hanging from its fuzzy face. She cocked her head and then turned – slowly yet quickly, as if a camera was skipping frames on playback – to reveal the other side of her face, burnt beyond recognition.

"Have you seen my baby?" The voice, when it came, was a raspy whisper. Air forced through ruined vocal chords, burnt beyond repair.

Sam was relieved to see the group pull closer together, unconsciously shifting closer to the center of the circle.

"On my count, make for the door and don't look back." Sam's voice was commanding, perfectly steady and the others seemed content to follow. "One, two, three."

Sam brought up the salt container, flinging what was left of its contents in an arc toward the ghost, before following the others as they bolted for the door. It wasn't until they were halfway down the street that the adrenaline wore off enough to let them pause… and giggle.

"Oh my god! That was freakin' cool!" Sally and Clara bounced and squealed, grabbing Jess as they did.

James muttered something about going back for the beer, but he didn't seem serious and Sam shook his head, laughing at them all in disbelief. Steve and Jean, usually the life of any party, were quiet. Jean nestled into Steve's arms, face hidden.

"That was not cool, man," Steve whispered harshly at Sam. "You went too far; scared her to death."

"Whatever, okay. This was your idea, man. I didn't even want to come," Sam spat.

Jess stepped between them, a gentle hand on Sam's chest. "Leave it. We're all tired. Let's skip the party, okay. Take me home, Sam?"

"Yeah, sure."

It took just two hours to track her down. Darlene Everett, aged 22, died in a house fire while trying to rescue her baby girl from an upstairs bedroom. Police arrested her boyfriend, accused of lighting the fire in a rage after learning of an affair. The baby wasn't his.

She was buried in the local cemetery and, even in the dead of night, the grave had been easy enough to locate. Grave dirt and gasoline brought back far too many memories; a way of life Sam had abandoned and refused to return to. Yet, here he was. If he was caught, it would be the end. No more college. No more scholarship. No way he could explain this to Jess.

He let himself briefly enjoy the feel of firelight, warm on his skin, like a sacrificial burning of what he once was. When he turned and walked away, it was with a renewed determination in his step.

Sam never saw the dark shape of a man, leaning casually, blending in comfortably with the darkness and the graveyard; watching quietly, completely unnoticed as he acted as both guard and look-out. Sam never saw him return to a black Chevy Impala and drive away.