Once Sam's safely in the car Dean peels rubber away from the house. He makes it five blocks before it dawns on him he has no fucking clue where the hospital is. Sam is hunched against the door, hand cradled to his chest, mute. He hasn't said a word since asking if Dean was dead and Dean is pretty much (completely) freaked out. He can't quite figure out why Sam punched his fist through the wall. Did he do it on purpose? Was he trying to punch…what? A ghost? And really, that makes even less sense than punching the wall. Dean glances in the rearview mirror, veers into the right lane and pulls into a gas station. He sits still for a moment, lets the car idle. He waits for Sam to say something, anything, like what are you doing? or this doesn't look like the hospital, dumbass.
But Sam just sits there like nothing's wrong, like he doesn't have part of a fucking nail jammed in his hand.
Dean shifts in his seat, drums his fingers against the steering wheel. He finally turns to Sam and gives him his very best tell me the truth because I'm your big brother dammit look and says, "Tell me what you saw back there."
Sam's jaw works and he stares hard at the dashboard, like he's maybe waiting for permission to speak. But the dashboard remains silent and so does Sam.
Dean's not in the mood to put up with this kind of shit, so he snaps his fingers in Sam's face. "Sam."
Sam slides his gaze toward the gas station, watches a kid poke at a pink wad of gum on the ground with a stick. "You were dead," Sam says simply. He touches the point of the nail gently, casually, like it's the most natural thing in the world, like the fucking thing has always been there and Dean hastily looks away. He feels sick. He should already be in the store, figuring out where to go. Sam's hand can be fixed, it can heal, he's not sure so sure about the rest of Sam.
So Dean picks at a spot of dried coffee on the upholstery and says "I get that part. I just meant, how did I die? I mean, how did it look like I died? Why did you…" Dean's voice threatens to creak like an old porch door but he pulls it together, "why did you do that to your hand?"
Sam's still watching the kid and Dean wants to tell him to knock it off, to look at him, but all he does is wait (hope) for Sam to speak. "I…I don't know. You were just." Sam stops and he sounds so miserable Dean wants to kick something. Hard. Sam shrugs helplessly. "You were dead. We were talking and your face, your skin--" Sam sniffs, clears his throat. When he starts again, his voice is deadly calm and Dean knows it must be taking everything Sam has to sound that composed. "It was obvious. There was blood and your eyes were…I could just tell. I knew you were gone."
Part of Dean's brain wants to know if he looked like an Angela zombie or if he was more Dawn of the Dead. But there's no way in hell he's gonna ask Sam that. At least not right now. "And you thought it was the Trickster?"
Sam nods, still watching the boy poke the gum for what's gotta be the billionth time and Dean wishes the kid would take a fucking hike. "Yeah. I thought the Trickster was…" Sam's voice drops lower and Dean shifts again, straining to hear. He puts an arm around the back of Sam's headrest, his wrist touching the back of Sam's hair. Sam doesn't pull away, and Dean considers that a good sign. "…punishing me," Sam continues. "I saw the woman—the ghost—and thought it was him. I wasn't thinking and I just…I wanted to hurt him. Break his face. Something." Sam finally turns to Dean and his eyes are red and hopeless and the force of Sam's despair feels like a weight on Dean's chest. Sam laughs and the sound is wretched. "But I think I broke my hand instead."
Dean's pretty sure Sam's lying his ass off, but there's no way to prove it, and even if he could, he knows Sam would never willingly change his story. The ugly truth is Sam thought Dean was dead and stuck his hand through a wall, the end. It's not like Dean can blame him. A broken hand is probably better—and less fucked up—than a deal with a crossroads demon any day. Dean pats the back of Sam's head gently and opens the door. "I'm gonna find out where the nearest hospital is. Just sit tight, okay?"
Sam nods. "Yeah. Okay."
Dean gets out of the car, hesitates. He leans back in, one hand on the car door. "You know that wasn't the Trickster, right? This isn't his M.O. Neither one of us a pompous asshole." Dean grins slightly, willing Sam to do the same. "Although you are kind of pretentious sometimes."
Sam turns his gaze back to the window. "I know," he says, voice listless. "It was the ghost."
"Two ghosts," Dean corrects. "I think we're gonna have to have another talk with Jayne and Jerry." He slams the car door shut and motions toward the little convenience store. "I'll be right back," he promises, and takes off.
Once Sam's hand is in a cast and sans nail, they wait till the doc's calling in a pain prescription at a nearby pharmacy and make a beeline for the exit. They've got plenty of Advil and a couple of old Percocet to get Sam through the worst of it, so they get in the Impala and head straight for the Days Inn.
It's almost ten by the time they get there, and Jayne's curled on the twin bed closest to the window, already asleep.
Jerry picks up on Dean's mood right away and flicks a nervous look between the brothers. "What's wrong?"
"There's more than one ghost in that house," Dean says simply. He seats himself on the end of Jerry's bed.
Jerry stares at him, open-mouthed. His mouth drops wider when he sees Sam's hand. "What happened?"
Sam grabs the chair next to the mini-fridge and moves it so that it's beside the bed. He straddles it and rests the cast along the scalloped back. "I saw the ghost that attacked Jayne." His voice is quiet and it still sounds too flat, too controlled for Dean's comfort. Sam's said less than a ten words since they left the hospital. Dean's been prodding, trying to understand exactly what Sam saw in that hallway, but Dean knows the real danger isn't in what happened to Sam, it's in how he deals with it.
"And it did that to you?" Jerry asks, clearly horrified.
Sam doesn't meet Panowski's eyes. "Not exactly. It…" he hesitates, runs out words. He looks pale and uncomfortable; the gash on his forehead looks raw and angry. "It made me think Dean was dead."
Dean can still hear Sam's frenzied whispers, see his hand go through the wall, and he wishes there was a way he could make Jerry see how this haunting is ten times more fucked up than he expected. This isn't just about helping an old friend or saving Jayne's bed and breakfast, this is personal now. This isn't about saving the house, it's about saving Sam. Dean's days might be numbered, but Sam's the one who looks like he's dying and Dean's had enough. He's gonna save Sam no matter what it takes. Which, if he thinks about it, is kind of how this whole mess got started. So he stops thinking about that and focuses on Panowksi.
"Jesus," Jerry mutters. He moves to the mini fridge and takes out a diet Coke. "Want one?" He holds the can up and looks from Dean to Sam.
Dean shakes his head but Sam accepts one. He pops the soda open and swallows down three Advil.
"You said there was another ghost?" Jerry opens his own soda and stares into the can, as if the second ghost is hiding inside.
"Yeah. And we're definitely gonna have to do research," Dean says, flashing a pointed I told you so look at Sam. "They seem to be from different time periods and they didn't really interact. In fact, the kid seemed like he was trying to help us." Helpful ghosts freak him out more than the violent ones. Spirits that try to toss you off a bridge or slash you with a hook are just doing what they're supposed to be doing: scaring the shit out of people. Ghosts are the twisted, broken remnants of people who've died and can't (or won't) move on. Ghosts that act helpful--or worse, don't realize they're dead—just make him nervous. And maybe that's part of it, right there. Maybe the kid doesn't know he's dead. The only friendly ghost he's ever trusted was Casper back when he was eight…and that ended the minute the round-headed freak made googly eyes at Wendy.
Jerry frowns. "A…kid?"
Dean nods. "Yeah. A boy, maybe nine or ten. Blond hair and glasses. Maybe he died there before Jayne moved in, maybe he lived there twenty years ago. We won't know until we check the history of the house."
"He's never lived there." Jayne's voice startles them all. She's sitting up, her hair matted, glasses on the nightstand. She blinks owlishly at Jerry.
Jerry shakes his head, picking up on something Dean's not. "Jayne. It's not him."
Dean frowns. "Not who?"
"Leo," Jayne says. "My son."
"Don't you think you should have mentioned this before?" Dean's glare lands on Jayne for a long moment before shifting to Jerry.
"Why would she mention it?" Jerry demands angrily. "Leo died months ago in a different house, in a different city, in a different state."
Sam thinks of Claire Becker and Molly McNamara, and the familiar pain in his stomach sparks to life. He takes another sip of soda and the pain blazes hot and sharp, almost worse than his hand. He lurches to his feet and heads for the bathroom.
He leans against the sink, head down, and fumbles the roll of Rolaids out of pocket. Sam pops three of them into his mouth and chews them mechanically. He cups his hand under the faucet and swallows a handful of lukewarm water, careful to avoid his reflection in the mirror. He wonders what it will be like to be an only child. The mirror wavers, and he leans against the sink,willing the room to right itself. He stares down into the pristine sink and thinks of another one, a sink in a vision spattered with blood. He hadn't been able to save Dr. Jennings, and in the end, he couldn't save Andy either. He's not going to lose Dean too. He's not.
He can still hear Dean asking about the boy and Jayne's soft reply. He takes a deep breath and emerges from the bathroom, a friendly smile tacked to his face, head cocked as if he's just waiting to listen.
Sam returns to his chair and nods at Dean, but the voice he hears inside his head doesn't belong to Jayne. Sam, there's a lesson here that I've been trying to drill into that freakish Cro-Magnon skull of yours. This obsession to save Dean, the way you two sacrifice yourselves for each other? Nothing good comes out of it. Just blood and pain. Dean's your weakness, and the bad guys know it. It's gonna be the death of you, Sam. Sometimes you just gotta let people go.
Sam's spent his life letting people go. His mother, friends, Jess, Dad. He's not about to add Dean to the list.
By the time they get back to the motel, it's nearly one. Dean wants to fall face-first into bed, but Sam's been a little too quiet for comfort and he knows he should try to pry a few answers out of him before drifting off.
Dean pulls off his t-shirt and tosses it over the back of the chair. "How's your hand?" he asks, rolling the kinks out of his shoulders.
Sam boots up his laptop and flips open the book on Ásatrú rituals. He keeps his eyes on the index and not Dean. "It's fine."
Dean rummages in his duffel and pulls out the first aid kit and rattles it toward Sam. "You sure?"
"It's fine," Sam repeats, typing faster with one hand than Dean does with two. Show-off.
Dean slides the first aid kit back into the bag and collapses onto the bed. He crosses his arms behind his head and watches his brother. Sam's concentrating on whatever he's reading, tongue tucked between his teeth like a dork. He's not paying attention to Dean (as usual), so Dean decided now's as good a time as any to ask. "Hey Sam?"
"What did you mean before, that you thought the Trickster was trying to punish you?"
Sam frowns over the top of the laptop screen. "I didn't--"
"You might find this shocking, but I do listen to what you say," Dean says mildly. The corner of his mouth ticks upward. "Sometimes. If I don't have anything better to do. And this afternoon was one of those rare times, dude. So quit stalling."
Sam closes the laptop with a snap, accidentally smacking his cast against the table top in the process. He flinches, face tight with pain. "Dean, it didn't mean anything."
Dean sits up and rolls his eyes. "How about you let me be the judge of that."
"He was…" Sam hesitates. "He was trying to teach me a lesson last time." Sam swallows and makes a face, as if telling the truth tastes weird. Maybe it does.
"What kind of lesson?"
Sam's silent so long Dean thinks he's not going to answer, but then Sam says "That I should stop trying to save you." Sam rubs the back of his neck, his expression bleak.
Dean considers this. From Sam's reluctance to elaborate and general air of misery, he's probably telling the truth. "Huh," Dean says, "that's just…" he flails for a word and settles on "rude. I'm totally worth saving."
Sam stalks into the bathroom, but the door stays open. Dean can't see him, but he hears the water run. "You know what I mean," Sam says, his voice rigid. "If you wanna sit there and talk like an ass, that's fine. I'm used to it."
Dean clucks. "Jeez, now you're rude."
The door slams and Dean sighs. He's not rude. Much. He's just not as tactful as he could be. Life's way too short for tact. Especially his.
Dean drops back onto the bed. "Sam. Come on. Don't let him get to you."
Sam's answer is the snick of the bathroom lock.
Sam sits on the edge of the tub. He lets the shower run for a long time, at least half an hour. He sits with his eyes closed, listening. He listens to the patter of water against the shower curtain, against the chipped tub. He listens for sounds outside the room. He waits for Dean to pound on the door, to yell for Sam to hurry up or quit being a such a freaking baby.
The tiny room fills with steam, the heat pressing against Sam's face and arms, but he doesn't move. The air feels thick, like fog, and he watches the shape of his reflection (only the shape) fade into the haze.
He thinks about faith and God and trust. He might still believe in God and angels, but if he does, his faith is tenuous at best. He wants to believe in God, believe in goodness, but he's only seen the evil. He's seen so much darkness and so little light. What he does believe in is Dean. And he puts his trust in knowledge and research. He's prayed more in the past nine months than he has in the previous twenty-four years. He's prayed and read and hoped and bargained and begged and the only thing he got for his trouble was more desperate, more afraid, and more alone.
The water goes from hot to luke warm, and eventually the steam clears enough to let Sam's reflection resurface. Sam listens for the sound of Dean's movement outside the door, and finally reaches for the faucet handle. He turns the handle and the pipes creak, complaining, but the water stops.
Sam doesn't know if he believes in God, but he definitely believes in a god. He unlocks the door and listens.
There's nothing but the drip of the shower and the thud of his heart in his ears. He waits, straining, face pressed to the cheap wood--and there it is. The sound of Dean's breathing.
Sam dreads a future of silence, a future without Dean's snoring, a future of nothing but himself. He thinks about Jayne Robert and losing her son to cancer. He thinks about losing his mother to a demon. Everyone says it's terrible for a mother to lose her child, how you never get over the loss. But Sam's never gotten over losing Mom, not really. It helped seeing her in their old house, but it didn't heal the wound of her loss; it just let it scab over. He already knows there won't be any healing after Dean's gone.
Sam reaches into a pocket for the tube of Rolaids and grabs the keys off the dresser. He's careful not to wake Dean when he slips outside.
A dumpster sits at the edge of the small parking lot tucked behind the motel. Beyond it is a field filled with clumps of brown grass. Plastic bags blow in the night breeze like pale ghosts, and Sam crouches behind the big metal container. He's got everything arranged, just like the books say, just like the dozen websites he's been surfing tell him to. But he still feels like a fool.
He feels like he's just stumbled into a Catholic church with a bag of Wonder Bread and a pitcher of Kool-Aid and declared it Communion. He doesn't know what he's doing, and he's not exactly sure why he's doing it, other than it's one of the few things he hasn't tried. So Sam sits in a field at half past two in the morning and arranges an offering to a god who goes by many names: Lie-Smith, Sly God, Shape-Changer, Sly One, Sky Traveler, Wizard of Lies, Trickster. The name he's best known by is Loki.
Sam kneels and lights the small bunch of kindling he's assembled. He has the last bottle of Dean's dark beer from his not-so-secret stash hidden in the trunk of the Impala. He has some candles, a hammer, his favorite knife, a well-thumbed copy of the Elder Edda, a small wooden bowl, and a silver cup. He lights two half-melted votive candles and places them on the either side of the fire. Next, he rummages in his pocket for the little velvet bag he pulled from the weapons cache. He tips the bag, and eight obsidian stones fall into the palm of his hand, each carved with a rune. Tucked in the very bottom of the bag is a small packet of incense.
Sam arranges three cones of incense in the bowl—myrrh, cedar and saffron. The eight runes are from the Elder Futhark, Freyja's Ætt. He drops the stones back into the bag, one at a time, until he finds the one marked with an X. This is the gift rune, and he offers himself, his knowledge, his hope, his respect, his loyalty, even his protection.
He sets out small offerings--a pile of sunflower seeds, a handful of dried berries, a container of honey--all arranged around the rune stone. Lastly, Sam fills the silver cup with the dark beer and picks up the knife. He draws the knife across the palm of his hand, but he barely feels it. He's too keyed up, too nervous to feel anything besides a kind of wild desperation. He holds his hand above the cup and watches as a few drops of blood fall into the liquid. The blood swirls, spreading like dark clouds across the surface of the liquid.
Sam wipes the palm of his hand on the grass and lifts the cup. He picks up the hammer and moves it in a circle over the silver glass. He lays the hammer beside the bowl and flips the Elder Edda open to a section of the mythical poem Lokasenna. It's only for the sake of the ritual, he has the stanza memorized. "Hail to thee, Loki and this cool cup receive, full of old mead; at least me alone, among the blameless Æsir race, leave stainless." It's a passage said by the goddess Sif to Loki, and although the cup isn't filled with mead and he's not a god and he's far from blameless, it's all Sam can think to do. He brings the cup to his lips and drinks.
Ruby can't (won't) tell him who holds the contract on Dean's soul and he's finished with crossroads demons (for now). Sam figures the Trickster took an interest in him for a reason, and if it amuses him, if it's fun for him to torment Sam, maybe Sam can make it just as entertaining for the Trickster to help. Sam has no idea how to accomplish this (not yet), but he's (more than) willing to do just about anything to save Dean.
Pain burns in Sam's stomach, echoing the tiny fire, and he shifts into a sitting position. He pops two more Rolaids into his mouth and looks up at the stars. He wonders if anyone's watching.
He sits for almost forty-five minutes, until the beer is gone and the candles are reduced to burnt-up wicks. He sits until his ass tingles with pins and needles and his left foot feels like a block of wood. He sits until a car pulls into the lot and he's afraid he'll be seen. It's not like he's been expecting the Trickster to appear with a grin and a plan, he's not that stupid. He's not expecting anything. He just wants the Trickster to know, if he's watching, if he knows (and he has to, he has to) that Sam means business, he's going to save Dean. He'd like the Trickster's help. But he doesn't need it. The only thing he really needs is Dean.
Sam cleans up, scatters the remains of the fire and returns the silver cup, rune bag, knife and hammer to the car. He leaves the three offerings exactly as they are. When he returns to the room, Dean's still asleep, and Sam listens.
The next morning Jayne and Jerry are waiting at the house, and Dean is pissed. "What are you doing here?" he demands. "This isn't the plan."
Sam pushes the car door shut with his cast. "It's their choice," Sam says quietly.
Dean grimaces. "Jerry, you know better than this. You've been through shit like this before."
Jerry nods. "I know, but this is–"
"I have to go back in," Jayne interrupts. "I need to see Leo."
Sam smiles, his face mournful. "Just because you go in doesn't mean you'll see him. I didn't."
Jayne swallows. "I know. But Dean did. And whether I see him or not, he'll see me. Right?" She looks from Sam to Dean, insistent. "Right?"
Dean opens the trunk and pulls out the bag from yesterday. "Look, this isn't exact science, all right? There's no saying he'll even be there. Maybe it's just the happy strangler today." He pokes a finger at the siblings. "Which means it's safer for you out here. Actually," he amends grimly, "it's safer for you back at the hotel."
"Jerry told me what to do," Jayne counters, ignoring Dean. She pulls two crowbars from the backseat of Jerry's truck and hands one to her brother. "Iron," she says. "Iron, um, deflects ghosts. And we still have salt," she continues doggedly.
Dean stares at her, silent.
She wilts under his gaze. "Please. I need to say goodbye." Her eyes look bruised behind her glasses. "If you had a chance to say goodbye to someone you lost, wouldn't you do it?"
That makes Dean squirm. He slings the bag over his arm and slams the trunk closed. "It's not safe," Dean says again, but Sam can see he's backing down.
"Yes," Sam tells her, avoiding Dean's gaze. "I would."
"It's not safe," Dean warns her again.
"Nothing is," Jayne says simply.
Jerry hefts the crowbar and squares his shoulders. "If she goes in, so do I. I'm divorced, Dean. My folks are dead. My kids barely talk to me. Jayne is all the family I have left. I'm not letting her go in there alone."
Dean looks to Sam for help, but Sam just shrugs.
"All you have to do is put those little bags in the walls, right?" Jayne asks. "We can help with that."
"You're not actually helping if we have to protect you instead of cleansing the house."
Jayne lifts her chin, defiant. "I'm going in."
Dean sighs, defeated. "Fine. On one condition."
"Name it," Jerry says.
"If things go south, you get out. That means you haul ass if I tell you to, or if Sam tells you. Got it?"
Jayne nods. "Got it."
"Understood," Jerry says.
"All right, look," Dean cautions, as they head for the porch. "This isn't a parade. This is dangerous. You're not wandering off on your own. No one's splitting up, we're all staying together."
"But won't that take longer?" Jerry asks. "It'll be faster if we separate, right? Wouldn't that be safer?" He darts his hand back and forth. "You know, in and out?"
"Faster doesn't mean safer," Sam replies and pulls the front door open.
Dean puts a hand on Sam's arm. "Listen," he says quietly. "You trust what I say, not what you see, got it?" Dean looks back at Jayne and Jerry. "That goes for you too. This ghost likes to play head games. What you see isn't necessarily what you get. So before you freak out and start punching walls–" Dean casts a pointed look at Sam, "–make sure you know what's really going on."
Sam pulls the door open and they head inside.
Dean's plan starts well. They go to the basement first. Sam and Dean are in the lead, and the stairs creak and the lights flicker, but nothing appears. No ghosts of either gender put in an appearance, so by the time he and Jerry have pried one of the old field stones out of the wall and Sam's slid in the bag, he's thinking so far, so good.
It turns out the basement was a freebie, though, because she's waiting for them on the first floor. She picks Jayne up without even touching her and hurls her across the room. Jayne screams, smashes against part of the mantle and drops to the floor. Jerry rushes to her, panicked, face devoid of color. "What's happening?"
I told you to get out of my house, take him out of my house
Dean whirls around, eyes darting across the room. "I don't see her."
Sam points the rifle. "She's there," he says, and shoots. The ghost explodes like a flock of birds in a field and reshapes in front of Sam. Her empty face flickers and then a pair of wide-set eyes watch him mournfully, mouth turned down, a bullet hole in the center of her forehead. Why did you kill me? she asks. Killing me didn't save Dean.
"Where is she?" Dean demands.
"Right here," Sam bellows and lifts the gun and it's like déjà vu, but he can't dwell on that, he can't. This isn't the crossroads demon, this is a ghost and she's seriously pissing him off. But the ghost isn't about to cooperate, and she jerks the gun out of his hands, sending it flying. Dean ducks just in time to avoid getting brained. Sam takes a step backwards and his knees hit the couch. Dean fires his own shotgun, and the rock salt blasts past Sam, but the ghost's already gone. "Did I get it?"
Sam shakes his head, and he clutches his stomach with one hand. He casts another gaze round the room. "She's gone."
Jayne's face is bleeding, but she's awake and coherent enough to ask where Leo is. "I don't see him," Dean says, checking the room. He glances toward Sam. "Do you?"
When he looks at Sam, Dean's eyes go black, and his expression shifts from worried to sly. He winks at Sam, flashes his teeth. "I can't wait to leave you behind. You're nothing but dead weight. I can't believe I sold my soul to bring you back. What I wouldn't give for a refund."
Sam blinks, mouth dry. His chest feels too tight. "What…what did you say?"
Dean stares at him like he's just gone mental and Sam thinks maybe he has. That's not how Dean thinks of him, (dead weight, and that's just what he is, literally) it's not. "I said we can't wait around here, we've gotta get going before it's too late." Dean lifts an eyebrow and his eyes are still black and Sam doesn't want to look at him but he can't stop.
"Wait a sec," Dean says. "Are you seeing more weird shit? Am I dead again?"
Sam swallows. "No. Possessed."
Dean snorts and pats his chest. "Not happening, dude. I've got the tat to prove it."
Sam nods, relaxes slightly. That's true. Dean can't be possessed, not any more. And more importantly, neither can Sam. "Okay. Let's go."
Jerry helps Jayne to her feet and Sam wants to tell them just wait, but before he can open his mouth he's thrown back against the couch and it slides a good four feet across the room, ornate clawed feet grinding across oak floorboards. The couch tips onto its back and Sam goes with it, pinned to the floor. The ghost is there, smiling, and now she looks like Ava, and she wields Ava's voice like a knife. "You said you'd protect me, Sam, but you let him have me. You didn't even try to find me. You just left me in that fucking ghost town for all those months, you let me turn into a monster." Pain and accusation ring her voice like barbed wire and she puts a hand to Sam's chest. "That's what you could become, Sam. Why don't you lead the demons, Sam? I know you want to save Dean. Ruby's waiting for you."
Pain crushes Sam's chest. It feels like all his ribs break at once and he screams, flailing, desperate to get away from Ava's face, from the pain. It's like there's something alive burrowing inside him, hot and hungry and it bites and grinds and he screams because this pain is the whole universe, it's like nothing he's ever felt, and the room is a pinprick in the distance and the pain is bright and endless and rushes at him with open arms.
Sam's howling like his guts are coming out, and Dean launches himself over the couch like a fucking stuntman or whatever, and if he wasn't so freaking terrified he'd be patting himself on the back over the sheer awesomeness of that move.
Jerry's waving his crowbar around like it's a magic wand and Jayne's calling for Leo and Sam's waving his arms, flat-out screaming. "What?" Dean demands, spiraling in a circle, "What?" Because he can't see a thing. He can't see the fucking bitch of a ghost, but she's there all right, he knows she's there, and he shoots the air right above Sam's heaving chest.
Dean drops beside him and Sam's pasty-faced and his eyes are slits and he stares at Dean like he's never seen him before. Dean pats his cheek, checks his pulse. It's a stuttering drumbeat, and a thread of blood leaks from Sam's nose. Dean wipes it away with his thumb and pats Sam's face again. "Sam? Sammy?"
This shit is so not worth it. They should just burn the house down and be done with it. Sam's eyes refocus and he groans. "Guh." And then, "Dnnn."
Dean tries to smile, tries to say something funny and clever but his lips don't get the message because what comes out of his mouth is "Jesus, Sam. Are you okay?"
Leo appears on the other side of Sam like a fucking ghost-in-the-box and runs to his mother and uncle. "Mom! Mom?" Neither of them react, and it's obvious they don't know he's there. "Why can't they see me?" Leo demands, glaring at Dean, as if Leo's invisibility is something Dean engineered.
Dean snaps his fingers at Jerry. "Hey, Jer. Help me get Sam up."
Jerry and Dean get Sam to his feet and he Dean's relieved to see Sam upright. "I don't know," Dean grits to Leo, "Why can't I see the ghosty bitch?"
"Who are you talking to?" Jerry asks, eyes roving the room.
Jayne peers at Dean, as if he's hiding Leo under his coat or got him stuffed in a pocket. Dean sighs. "Leo. He's right here."
"I can't see him!" Jayne wails.
"Neither can I," Jerry says, and he backs toward Jayne, puts an arm around her shoulders.
Leo waves a hand in front of his mom's face but there's no reaction. Dean pulls a book from an overturned box and hands it to the boy. "Here. Swayze this at your Mom."
Leo stares from the book to Dean. "Do what?"
"Just throw it," Dean says. "Show them you're here."
Leo does one better. He takes the book and walks the three paces to his mother. He holds the book in front of her and Jayne's eyes fill with the tears. "Oh my God," she whispers. "Oh my God."
"T-The book's floating," Jerry stutters, shocked.
"It's not floating," Dean points out, "Leo's holding it."
Jayne takes the book and clutches it to her breast, as if she believes Leo can feel the force of her hug through the book.
Sam flinches and Dean looks at him, tries to adjust the grip worry has on him. "What?"
"Nothing," Sam says. He pulls a gris-gris bag from his pocket. "Come on, let's finish this."
"But I don't want Leo to go," Jayne says, her voice suffused with tears.
"We don't have a choice," Dean says harshly. "You don't get to pick. It's a two for one deal." Dean's eyebrows draw together. "Because I don't think it's you the ghost wants to get rid of, I think it's who you brought along."
"I didn't bring him with me," Jayne cries, red-faced. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"You didn't let him go," Dean shouts. "You couldn't say goodbye or let go or whatever the hell you were supposed to do and now he's here pissing off the big ghost on campus."
Jayne's face goes tight and her eyes flash. "And now you're pissing me off."
"I guess you'd know how easy it is to say goodbye," Sam says softly and brushes past Dean.
Dean huffs. "That's not what I meant and you know it."
But Sam's not listening because he's got to end this, he's got to finish this and he stoops painfully to pick up his shotgun and moves into the kitchen. He walks to the counter and uses his cast to smash a hole in the wall above a retro chrome toaster. He stuffs the gris-gris bag into the hole. His lungs feel bruised and his ribs are glass rods, but he can breathe and the pain is only a shadow of what it was.
He storms back out of the kitchen and Dean's right there, grinning, and his eyes are oil, beetle-black, and he says "I'm going to crawl back out of hell and kill you."
Sam walks around him and Dean calls are you okay? Sam knows Dean isn't a demon but he knows someday (demons lie, Ruby lies) he might be and he feels sick. Is this how Dean felt when Sam was possessed?
Dean moves in front of him, blocks his way, and thankfully he's just Dean, his eyes full of nothing but concern. "Sam?"
"We've got to finish this," Sam says hoarsely and climbs the stairs. Jayne and Jerry follow.
"How did I bring Leo with me?" Jayne asks, "and why can't I see him? Why is this even happening?"
"I don't know, I don't know and I don't know," Dean tells her, focusing on the hallway.
"She's threatened," Sam blurts. "The ghost. That's why she's so desperate to get him--us--out of here."
"But he's just a little boy," Jayne protests.
"Not anymore," Sam says.
Today the hall is empty--for the time being at least. And there, across from the second bedroom, is the neat hole where Sam punched the wall. Dean shoves the gris-gris bag inside and by the time Jerry reaches the top of the stairs, Dean's already done with the second floor. He heads for the stained glass window and the second set of stairs.
Dean takes the steps two at a time, Sam on his heels. Jerry and Jayne are slower, and that's just as well, Dean would rather it's him and Sam facing whatever nasty might be waiting, not Panowski and his sister. The stairs lead up to a huge attic. It's empty and clean, assorted swatches of wallpaper and paint chips forming a haphazard pattern along one wall. Dean's almost across the room, gris-gris bag in his hand, when the light fixture above his head flickers. Words appear on the wood floor in front of him, get my mom out of here, get her out, get out, and Dean's had enough. He points at Jerry and Jayne, then the stairs. "This is it," he says. "This is officially south. Get out. Now. Both of you."
Sam positions himself between Jerry and Jayne and Dean. The light flickers and words appear on the wood floor in front of him, you can't be saved and neither can Dean. Sam looks up to see the ghost wearing Ruby's face. She snatches his shirt and hoists him into the air like Sam's immune to gravity. Ruby's eyes are black, and she grins. "You figure out I lied about saving Dean, yet, Sam? I can't believe you fell for that. You and Dean both, you're all talk and no walk. I don't know why I ever bothered with you."
"Neither do I," Sam grunts. "Dean, go!" he shouts, and smashes his cast into her face.
The spirit reels backward and Sam drops to the floor into a crouch. Ruby's face is gone. There's no face at all, just empty malevolence and two glowing eyes like stars in the dark. How did you do that? she demands, and Sam doesn't hear the scream as much as feels it echo in his head, in the itch of his teeth.
Sam lifts into the air like he's wearing some kind of freaking jet shoes, and even though Dean can't see the bitch, he can hear her voice. It sounds strangely like Ruby. Sam yells at him to go, and Dean runs for the east wall.
You can't stop me, she says, but Sam's not concerned with stopping her, he's concerned with slowing her down so Dean can finish the job. He advances on her, face grim, gun ready, but she's not there. He whirls to see her yank the crowbar out of Jayne's hand and ram it into her, effectively pinning Jayne to the wall.
Sam yells shit, and shoots.
The spirit dissolves but the bare walls warp and twist until they're blackened with mold and cobwebs festoon the light fixtures. The wood floor beneath his feet ripples, and worn blue carpet laps across the wood like water. A noose dangles from a crossbeam, and swinging from it, a pale negative of a woman. A woman wearing a long navy skirt and a white lace blouse. Faded books lie below the soles of her feet, and beside them a sheet of parchment bears the bloody signature Sarah Morrow. An open straight razor smiles across the paper.
This is my house. I made an agreement, I forfeit my soul to stay here forever and you will not make me leave.
"Deals are made to be broken," Sam hisses and jams the rifle into the void of Sarah Morrow's face. He's ready for her this time.
Dean uses the butt of the shot gun to bash a hole in the wall. He stuffs the last gris-gris bag inside and--
What the hell? He looks back to make sure Jerry and Jayne are gone when he sees the crowbar jerk out of Jayne's hand, hover momentarily, and (holy fuck on a stick!) impale her to the wall.
Sam yells shit and shoots, rock salt briefly illuminating the outline of a woman.
A scream spirals through the room and Dean thinks it's Jayne or maybe Jerry, but it's Leo. The boy stands in the center of the room, hands fisted, eyes wide and blazing. The walls glow like they've been dipped in gold. The bloody words on the floor hiss and sputter like hot grease and evaporate into curls of smoke. Spokes of light pierce the semi-darkness, their intensity growing brighter until Dean is forced to squint and then squeeze his eyes shut, and still the light stabs his eyeballs like clumsy fingers.
The sound starts small, like a whisper, like a leaf skittering along a sidewalk, but it builds to a roar, to thunder, and lightning comes with it, flashing inside the attic with enough force to make Sam's skull throb.
The moldy walls straighten and the floor unbuckles. A wave of white light sweeps through the attic, erasing cobwebs and carpet, blood and books. The brilliant glow envelopes the last cobweb with a sound like bells and then the light is gone. The sudden gloom makes the room feels like night and Sam blinks rapidly, struggling to find Dean's familiar shape, to make his way toward Jayne.
Leo's already there. He stands beside his mother, both arms wrapped around her waist, tears streaming down his face.
The attic is a simple room once more, there's no torn wallpaper, no cascade of light. But Leo is there. And so is Sarah.
The anguish on the boy's face forces Sam to look away.
"Mom please," Leo begs, both of his hands gripping one of hers. "Mom. Mommy."
"We've got get her down," Jerry says brokenly. "Help me."
"You shouldn't remove the bar," Dean says.
"I'm not leaving her hung on the wall like a…like a fucking painting!" Jerry shrieks. He turns to his nephew. "Help me Leo, okay? Can you help?"
"I don't know what's happening," Leo whispers, face pale and sickly. Now he actually looks like a ghost. Jayne mutters softly to herself, she doesn't scream or cry, not even when Jerry pulls out the bar. Jerry catches her beneath one arm and lowers her to the floor. Leo doesn't let go of her hand.
Dean runs a hand through his hair. "I told you to get out," he says hoarsely, "I told you this would be dangerous."
"What do we do?" Jerry mutters. "What do we do?" He blinks, like he's trying to wake up, rubs his face. "My cell. Gotta get my cell." He fumbles in his pockets, movements jerky, fingers clumsy like they're made of wood. "Need to call 911."
Shit. Fuck. What should he do? Dean can't very well leave them. The ghost (ghosts, plural) is still here, and he sure as hell doesn't want the cops involved. How are they supposed to get out of this? It's not like he can pull a believable crowbar through the gut mishap excuse out of his ass. "Sam? We hafta–" He stares. Sam has his hands around the ghost's throat and not only can Dean see her, she has a face. And it looks pretty pissed.
What are you? The ghost chokes out, eyes burning into Sam.
Dean strides forward, shotgun ready. "He's a guy with a brother who's sick of looking at you," Dean says, and he shoots the bitch.
Sam drops to his knees and scrambles along the floor, hands digging along the narrow space between wall and floor, fingers skimming for loose boards. He should have realized the minute he saw the contract. It's still here. Somewhere in the attic. Someone hid it. He doesn't know why or when and he doesn't care, because he's going to find it and break the contract. He's going to break the deal.
He can do it.
He crawls across the floor, jeans covered in a fine patina of dust, his hair damp with sweat. He can feel the hard square of the rune stone in his pocket, but he doesn't think about it. He's going to break this deal, and then: Dean's.
"What are you doing?"
Sam glances up at his brother. "Don't you get it? The contract. It's got to be here. That's why she won't go, that's why the ritual didn't work."
Dean's face twists into a magnificent frown. "What are you talking about?"
Sam jumps to his feet, checks the base of the chimney for loose bricks. "The ghost is–was–Sarah Morrow. She sold her soul to the demon, the devil, whatever. One of those sign-your-name-in-blood things. And I think the contract's still here. That's why she can stay. That's why she's so powerful."
"Maybe she's just drawing energy off the kid." Dean points out. He lifts an eyebrow. "Or you."
Sam stalks to the window and feels beneath the thin ledge. And there, hidden in a hollow space beneath the ledge, is a thin leather satchel. Sam tears the bag open, and an ivory handled razor winks up at him. Beneath the razor is a faded rectangle of parchment. He unfolds it and there is Sara Morrow's careful signature, the blood turned black.
Dean snatches the page from Sam's hand, flicks his lighter and holds the flame to paper. The page catches instantly, and Dean drops it to the floor, where it curls in on itself like it's dying. Sarah growls, her face a rigid mask of rage, but as the paper burns so does she. Within seconds, there's nothing but a charred smudge of ash on the floor. The ghost is gone.
But Leo's not.
She's going to die. She can tell because Leo's here. And Jerry's crying like he's six again and just lost his bike. But mostly she knows she's going to die because there's a big piece of metal sticking out of her and there's a lot of blood and that can't be good.
There's not much pain, but there's an all-encompassing weariness. Her eyelids weigh a thousand pounds, but she strains to keep them open because there's Leo. Leo.
Jerry is crying and she doesn't know why. She wants to tell him it's okay, because Leo's here, her boy. His face is pressed against hers and she can smell his hair and his skin and tears leak down her face and into her hair, into her ears. "Mom, Mom," he chokes, and Jayne doesn't understand why he's here, because he's dead, but she doesn't care, doesn't need to know why because it's enough that she can see him. She can feel his perfect hand in hers, his blue eyes peer into hers and Jayne doesn't want to move or breathe or blink to break the moment.
"I never left you," Leo tells her, sniffling. "I was always here but you couldn't see me and I was scared, I was scared because I didn't know what was happening and I still don't but I don't want you to die. Please Mom, not yet."
Jerry grips Jayne's other hand and his hand is familiar, it's family, it's the feel of bike rides and camp fires and sarcasm and drunken Monopoly games and lame jokes and love and guilt and awkward dinners and forgiveness. "Jayne. It's gonna be okay, Jayne," he says, like her name's a talisman, and if he says it enough she really will be all right.
Leo squeezes her hand tighter, and his hand feels like laughter and sunshine and kites and running barefoot and more love than she knows what to do with. But it also feels like despair and dark corridors and distance and ventilators and loss. "I love you, Mom," he tells her, "but I want to go home."
Jayne wants to tell him this is home now, Maison Belle. These rooms are his home. These rooms are waiting for him, they need him as badly as she does, because without his voice, his laughter, Maison Belle will only be a series of walls and floors and furniture and strangers. It will be a house, her house, but never her home. She wants to squeeze his fingers back, to rub her thumb over the back of hand, to tell him she was wrong, she doesn't want this house (life) without him. But she's tired, and when she tries to open her mouth she finds it's made of stone, her tongue is lead.
The shorter, older Winchester brother leans over and says the ambulance is on its way, and she sees the black rectangle of phone in his hand and closes her eyes. She's tired and she wants to sleep, because she has a feeling sleep means she can stay with Leo.
Jerry won't let her sleep, though. He keeps yelling at her, pleading with her to open her eyes, to talk to him, but both tasks take require too much energy, too much work. There's another voice now, and it says he's your brother, he loves you, Jayne. Please don't go, and she can't think of his name, but her brain tells her the voice belongs to the younger Winchester, the one with the big eyes and long hair. She thinks about his words, turns them over in her mind and considers them. Jerry's voice is still there as well, still begging, but the only voice she wants now is Leo's.
Her son's voice is soft in her ear and she thinks of sleeping bags and tents made from blankets and the soft fuzz of hair on his head when he was just a baby and he fit in her arms like he was made for them. "Let me go," he whispers, "just for a little while. I'll see you again, but not yet. It's not time." She thinks it wasn't your time either but you left me alone, and she can feel fingers fumbling at her neck and her wrist but she doesn't know why.
It was my time, Leo tells her, we just didn't know it.
Jayne wants to shake her head. No. He's wrong. It wasn't. It's not.
I'll always love you but you have to let me go. I'm tired, too. Please, Mom.
More tears slip from beneath her burning eyelids. No matter what she wants, she won't deny him, she can't. She's his mother, and she'll do whatever she can, always, always. Even if it means letting go.
Because that's all she has to do. Let go. Let go of Jerry's hand and go with Leo. Let go of Leo and stay in this empty house-not-home. Let go of Leo and live with the knowledge there are things in the dark better left unknown and unseen.
Jayne is tired, and she's lying in a spreading pool of her own blood. Jayne wills her fingers to squeeze once, twice, and then she lets go.
Sam stands in front of the window and watches the ambulance pull away, sirens blaring, lights flashing. Dean checks the EMF meter for the tenth time and the reading's the same: nothing. The house is one hundred percent ghost-free. Dean goes back up to the attic and down to the basement and the EMF stays quiet. When Dean returns to the living room, Sam's still standing there, staring out at nothing.
"Looks like they're gone," Dean says to Sam's back. "She'll make it." It's probably a lie, but he's pretty sure it's what Sam wants to hear, so he says it.
Sam's shoulders slump and Dean can just make out his reflection in the glass. "She let go."
Dean glances down at the meter in his hand, then out the window, then at the back of Sam's head. Nope, still doesn't make sense. "Who let go?"
Sam keeps looking out the window and now it's starting to get annoying, because there's nothing out there, nothing but grass and sidewalks and the boring blank face of suburbia. Okay, the Impala's parked out there, and she's worth a look, but it's not like Sam hasn't seen her before. "Jayne," Sam says softly, patiently. Like he's explaining something to a two-year old. "She let go of Jerry's hand."
Sam's voice makes it clear this is a tragedy of epic proportions, but all Dean can come up with is a big so what? But he knows how to play this game, he knows that Sam's emo and he's supposed to give a shit. He also knows there was a time not that long ago when Sam actually shared his feelings, when he wasn't Captain Cryptic, and he didn't force Dean to squeeze information out of him like the world's tallest (and geekiest) tube of toothpaste. Dean licks his lips, and settles on the proper response. "I know."
Sam turns away from the window, but he doesn't look at Dean. His eyes are on the mantle, studying the photographs of Leo. "She didn't choose her brother." Sam frowns, and his forehead creases, like he's confused. "Why wouldn't she choose her brother?" Sam's voice is sand and his eyes are black holes and Dean's pretty sure what he means is why didn't you choose me? which sort of makes Dean want to break Sam's good hand. Or at the very least, smack that weepy look off his face.
Dean's mouth opens and he takes a breath because he's got plenty to say, because he did choose Sam and he's sick and tired of the guilt that choice brought him. He's sick and tired of Sam's impression of the walking wounded, because it's him, Dean who's practically the walking dead and—
"I'll always choose you," Sam says. "I won't let go."
Dean's mouth snaps shut and his teeth click together and the anger roiling in his gut evaporates like steam. Well, shit. That's not what he was expecting. That's just. Huh. His brain tells him to smirk, to shrug, to play it cool. But he can't, because his heart's been replaced by one that belongs to a twelve year old girl and he's got a lump in his throat, so he just nods. He knows a thing or two about not letting go.
Sam finally looks at Dean and he nods, like he's psyching himself up. "I'm not letting go," he says again. "I can save you." There's a thin wire of determination in his voice that Dean hasn't heard in a while, and it sounds pretty damn good. "I'm not giving up and neither are you," Sam says, eyes bright, pointing a finger at Dean.
Dean raises his hands. "Dude. Chill. Ain't nobody giving up around here."
Sam's scrolling through more worship rituals on Google when Jerry calls. He's done this same search so often he has the results memorized, but he always comes back to it, desperate for something he's missed. He listens to the cadence of Dean's voice, not what he says, but he gleans enough to know Jayne's going to live. Sam closes his eyes, not in prayer exactly, but a kind of thanksgiving. Maybe this is a sign. If Jayne can live, so can Dean.
Dean flips his phone shut and sighs. "Jerry asked me to drive his truck over to the hospital." Dean lifts an eyebrow in silent invitation.
Sam rubs his eyes and types every day is Tuesday into the Google search bar, then deletes it. He studies Dean's face. He tries not to think about the fact there are only so many more days he'll be able to see Dean roll his eyes or grin. He fails. Sam gestures to the laptop. "You mind if I stay here?"
"Nah. Work your research mojo. I'll bring food back." Dean pauses at the door, snaps his fingers to get Sam's attention. "Hey man, I'll make you a deal."
Sam lifts his head, wary at Dean's choice of words. Dean's mouth twitches. "I won't bring back tacos if you promise not to clean the room."
"Whatever," Sam huffs, but his mouth twitches back.
The knock on the door makes Sam jump. He drops the Prose Edda onto the table and checks his watch. Dean's been gone over an hour. Sam checks for the weight of the gun in his waste band and goes to the door. He peers through the peep hole to see an oblong Jerry Panowski standing outside their room.
Sam frowns and opens the door. "Jerry? Is everything okay? I thought Dean was supposed to meet you at the hospital."
Jerry nods, hands in his pockets. "Oh sure. Everything's fine. Jayne's gonna be okay." Jerry smiles and there's something a little off about his expression that puts Sam on edge. "I just wanted to stop by and say thanks."
Sam darts a look past Jerry but there's no one else around. The parking lot is deserted save for a few old model cars speckled with rust. He wonders how Jerry got here, but he says "Thanks for what?"
"For believing in me. Not many do nowadays. And you're persistent. I like that. Of course you're also annoying as hell, but you gotta take the good with the bad." Jerry pulls what looks like a recipe card from his pocket. "Don't say I never gave you anything."
Confused, Sam takes the card, looks down at it. It's blank.
Jerry turns to walk away, stops. "And just for the record, I'm not a freaking vampire, Sam." His smile turns into a grin. "Sunflower seeds are good, but corn nuts are better." Jerry winks and points to his ear. "Don't call me, I'll call you."
Sam's mouth drops open, finally getting it. No way. It can't be. He can hear the squeal of tires and the slam of a car door as Jerry ambles away. But it's not Jerry. It's—
Sam flips the card over in time to hear Dean ask What was that all about? Fine rectangular print flows across the card, line after line of detailed instructions. Sam ignores Dean, ignores the way his heart hammers, and shouts after the receding figure. "Wait!"
The figure turns and it's not Jerry at all, it's him, and he's almost on the other side of the lot and Sam takes off, legs pumping. His cast feels like an anvil stuck to the end of his arm, but he doesn't care, he doesn't care because--
The Trickster touches two fingers to his forehead and salutes Sam. "You owe me, Winchester."
Sam nods, and he thinks (thank you thank you) he should ask what, exactly, he owes and his stomach lurches toward his feet but he doesn't care, it doesn't matter, he'll pay whatever he owes and he'll pay gladly because this means—
"This will do it?" Sam asks, and his voice sounds too thin, like the wrong answer will break it. He clutches the card tightly in his good hand and the cardstock cuts into the soft skin between his thumb and index finger but it doesn't hurt at all. It feels like hope.
"For being the brainy one you're kind of slow on the uptake aren't you?" the Trickster drawls.
Sam nods stupidly and he's grinning like a fool and the pain in his stomach recedes and the weight on his shoulders lifts just a little and he can breathe. It doesn't feel like Tuesday. "Thank you," Sam whispers.
"Adios," the Trickster replies and snaps his fingers.
And then Sam's standing alone with a slightly bent recipe card clenches in his hand until Dean catches up to him and yells "Jesus Christ Sam, what did you do?"
Sam studies the card again, checks to make sure the writing is still there. He reads through the ritual once, twice, and it makes sense, it's doable. It might actually work. Sam looks up into Dean's pinched face and he swallows. "I think I found a way to save you."
Dean shakes him and his face is panicked. "And you trust that son of a bitch?"
Sam has no choice. He doesn't answer, just lets Dean swear and yank on his sleeve. He catalogues what he'll need for the ritual.
"Listen to me," Dean demands, and Sam does. "What do you have to do? I mean, what do you get? A year? More?"
Sam laughs. He can't help it. He puts a hand on Dean's shoulder and his smile's so wide his face hurts. "You," he says, "I get you."