This is the first big SPN story I wrote, and it ended up in a zine. Since a year has passed, I asked for permission from the lovely Jeanne to polish it up and post it, and she graciously agreed. So here is "Play-Right", previously published in the "Blood Brothers" fanzine by Jeanne Gold, Gold 'n Lily Press, 2007. A fanzine which won an award at this year's Media West convention, I'm proud to say! So thank you, Jeanne, for getting me into this fandom with my feet hitting the ground running. And be sure to check out Blood Brothers Two through Agent With Style.
This is a tweaked version of the story, and as such will differ slightly from the version in print. Only the OC's are mine, no profit is being made here. This is a drawn-out hobby. grins As always, review are adored. THANK YOU.
He was nowhere. He was worse than nowhere, a fragment of existence that dangled in front of a predator he could sense, but couldn't see. There were no boulders to hide behind, no trees to crash into and swing around. No place to run. It wasn't as if he could move, anyway, his boots were rooted to the spot, which was strange because it didn't seem to exist either.
The creature loomed over him: a thick, dark shadow, expanding and sucking in the air around it. Yet there was no shadow, no sense of anything or anybody. But Dean knew the thing was there before him. Listening. Waiting. "I said, answer me!" he yelled, continuing a conversation he didn't remember starting. "Is this the one?"
There was no response, not even a movement of breath. The thing stared at him, at least he assumed it was. It chilled him to the bone, clenching every nerve in his body. His muscles cramped. He was desperate to move, to throw a rock, anything. Of course he was weaponless, why was he always weaponless? An arsenal in the trunk and he had to confront Mr Oil Slick/Intimidation From Hell with clenched fists that wouldn't move. "Dammit, you came here for a reason, now tell me! Is this the one?" The one what?
The thing before him suddenly seemed to waver. Only it had no form, so he thought it wavered. He took a step back, just in case, finding that he could move, but it felt like trudging through mud. "What do you think,"it whispered in a frigid voice, as engulfing and heavy as fog.
Dean shook his head minutely, his large eyes trying to dart around a space that didn't exist. "I don't know. That's why I'm asking you." And not getting answers.
"Everything has a time, and there is a time for everything."
Dean winced. "Oh, come on, now!"
"You've passed your time. Others are not so lucky."
Dean's expression tightened. "For once, Christ, just for once, give me a straight answer!"
The thing shimmered. "That is up to you." And it yawned into a freezing black gulf, and rushed at him.
Dean gasped awake and sat up, flinging aside the bed sheet. His head roared as he fought for breath. His heart pounded deep inside his chest, and he put his hand there, physically trying to steady it, or keep it from bursting out of his chest. His ears were ringing. Damn it, what the hell? He'd been waking up with a start for the past several nights, ever since his father told him. . .that. That thing that he wouldn't even consider. He hadn't known in the dream, but he knew now what he was waiting for, deep inside him, that one thought that stayed with him no matter how hard he tried to push it away. That anxiety that hovered over him then curled around his spine. A serpent of tension.
His vision slowly focused and he noticed his lanky brother sprawled in the twin bed beside his, undisturbed by the commotion. Sam's blanket was smooth, no longer disturbed by nightmares. His heels just cleared the end of the mattress. His breathing was even, his face looking impossibly young and innocent. It always amazed Dean how Sam could still look so untouched by the freakish nature of their lives. Well, untouched least until those eyes opened and the hardness showed. The uncertainty. He still smiled like a five-year-old, but his eyes were older. Made Dean wonder at times what he really looked like.
For now, he desperately wanted Sam's eyes to open, troubled or not. Dean sighed shakily and ran his hand over his face. "Dammit, Sam," he muttered, "for once can't you be awake when I have a nightmare? God knows I've seen enough of yours." Breathing deeply, he fought through his panic and debated getting up to start the ancient coffee maker that sat on the worn counter. He let himself study the small appliance in the dim light, seeing the drip stains, wondering idly if he had the strength and will to simply walk over there. Instead he lay back shakily, struggling for composure though there was no reason for the front. But it was habit. He couldn't show weakness around Dad. Of course now with Dad gone, but he didn't want to worry Sam, which meant it was just as well he was still sleeping. Sam saw through his walls, though, and as a result Dean had discovered his barriers had fallen substantially over the past year. Not that he was really able to raise them with Sam. And he blamed that on the damn airplane. Crappy Wright brothers. What was it about brothers? What was it about Sam that he was able to tease him mercilessly while keeping that damned annoying look of concern in his eyes? Like he was about to break or something. Well, annoying as hell, maybe, but on the other hand . . . almost nice.
Dean sighed loudly, talking to the room. "Yeah, that's just great. You're making me turn into a freakin' emo chick. No way is that gonna happen. Yes, I'm talking about you!" He glanced at his sleeping brother once more and winced in faint dismay as the young man refused to stir. He turned his back to him. Oh, yeah, sleep. Sure. Big day and all that. But the question nagged at him, churning in his brain as the fear had churned in his stomach since he first sensed that ominous presence.
Is this the one?
The dark man looking at him was defining new levels of grief of Dean. He waved aside the posse that had gathered around the college student and came right out with it. "What's this about a haunting?" he asked loudly. Oh, he was in rare form, and he knew it. No appreciable sleep, no coffee, and no cute chick this side of the quadrant. It was a college, dammit, and a southern one at that. There were supposed to be hot chicks. Hot chicks in Daisy Duke shorts. He saw Sam wince, and almost regretted his lack of discretion. Almost, but this guy was seriously about to piss him off, the way he was shuffling about and basically being a prick.
"I'm saying, I didn't call you 'bout no haunting!" Their would-be client was in full squeaky-voiced, showing-off denial with his friends standing nearby, chuckling behind their loose hands in response as he glanced around at the people that passed by with a nervous expression. The argument had just started, but Dean was in no mood for games. These guys snickering at him pushed a button that he didn't realize he had. This was no laughing matter, dammit, none of this was.
He whipped out his phone angrily and flipped it open. "I have seven digits here, plus area code, says you did." He showed the display. "But look, man, if you don't want to talk to us, fine. 'Cause I tell you, I was just dying to drive a nine-hundred mile trip down here for nothing! It made my week! You owe me some tread, dude, man, I can't believe this." Dean turned and stomped down the walkway, dismissing the young black man that stared at him with eyes like coal. He heard muttering behind him, a few cackles, and a moment later a dark hand reached out for his shoulder. He jerked away, but turned.
"Hey! Look, I'll dish, okay?" The man held his hand out imploringly. "I just didn't think you'd believe me and those guys," he nodded back at his departing friends, "you know what it's like."
"Yeah, yeah, same song, different coordinates." Dean turned away again, only to be stopped by a muttered name and a gentle hand against his chest. "Oh, what? We've got better things to do than listen to this crap." Trust good 'ole brother Sam to pull out the psych-bit and do his part for humanity. God, he was having a rotten day.
"Don't you want to hear what he has to say?" Sam asked quietly, his eyes boring into Dean's.
No way. "What, now he wants to talk? I'm not interested. He had his chance." He took his brother by the arms to push him away, but was stopped again.
"Look," Sam hissed at him and spun Dean around to face the young black man. "Stop it. Okay? I'll buy you a coffee or a donut or something."
"I want a freakin' Ho-Ho." He smiled cheekily at their would-be client's dumbfounded expression as he approached. "This is a college campus, right? Somewhere there is a Ho-Ho."
Sam leaned close over his shoulder. "Cool it," he muttered, "or I'm leaving you in the car and taking the case myself."
"Suits me." Dean shrugged.
Sam sighed. "I'm sorry," he said over Dean to the young man, who now looked ready to leave all worries and crazy fools behind, "would you excuse us?" He smiled and tugged Dean aside, ignoring the eye-roll. He planted his six-foot-four frame between Dean and their increasingly irritated client. "What the hell's wrong with you?" he muttered angrily.
"What's wrong with me? What the hell's wrong with you?"
"Look, I already told you I didn't want to come here, all right?" Dean shot back in a tone that bordered on desperation. "And now this guy's started yanking our chain, so I say we screw it and get the hell out of here, okay?" He tucked his hands into his pockets, suddenly so anxious to leave that he felt as though he was already heading to the car and leaving his skin behind.
"You said you didn't want to come here, but you didn't say why. You ready to talk now?" Sam sighed as Dean just ran a distressed hand through his short hair. "Okay, look. You've been a complete ass for two days, Dean, this isn't like you. It isn't like you to just down a potential client like that! Usually you're the freedom fighter pulling out the hardware!"
"Yeah, well, maybe you should've listened when I said I didn't want to come here, and you wouldn't have to put up with this crap!"
"Why am I putting up with it now?" an angered voice asked.
Dean raised his chin, and Sam turned to see the man standing directly behind him. It was obvious he was ready to back out of the whole deal. Sam offered a smile. "My brother, he – gets like this. It's – it's his . . . bowels." He ignored Dean's glare. "Is there someplace we can talk?"
The man considered, then gestured across the street. "There's a coffeehouse over there. Your friend can get all the coffee and Ho-Ho's," he emphasized crudely, "he wants." He gave Dean a severe look and made it a point to shoulder by him. Dean nearly laughed in disbelief, but Sam stopped him with a warning look. Dean raised his eyebrows and hands in his best 'backing off now' manner as he followed them.
The coffeehouse was exactly what one would expect for a small place on a college campus. It was cramped, filled with java-soaked air that needed only to be inhaled to guarantee at least an hour's buzz. The seats were all stuffed to bursting by people or books, leaving a few large pillows on the floor to be used for seating, which they stumbled over as they wormed their way into a corner that was being vacated. The chatter was subdued, just loud enough to field conversations over the heads of those studying. Sam eyed a waitress and held up three fingers, mouthing, "coffee". She nodded and walked behind the counter.
"Don't these people have classes to go to?" Dean asked sullenly as he plopped onto a large red cushion. Sam noticed his brother's ever-wandering eye searching the room and landing on a cute blond snuggling with a football player type, pretending to pour over a book while her fingers did the walking just below the waistline of his jeans. Dean just snorted and turned away.
"Sure they got classes," the young man replied. "Tomorrow."
Dean snapped his fingers. "Right. It's Sunday. So I guess these people are all cramming for that Monday morning exam or something. Not my first choice for weekend entertainment."
Now wasn't the time for Sam to admit he missed the atmosphere. The frantic cramming after a night out, the girls eyeing the guys, the guys eyeing the girls, people disappearing into cliques, late night parties that he attended even though he knew he shouldn't. The games. The beer. And yes, even the studying. He'd loved all of it, yet in an odd way, it never felt right. Like he was supposed to be somewhere else, doing something else. Almost like college was a temporary sport.
Dean turned back and studied the man across from him for a moment. His scrutiny was met with an even, unintimidated stare. "What's your name again?" he asked in a tone more civil that the one he'd been using, and Sam relaxed slightly.
"Juba. Some people call me JG, but I prefer Juba."
"Juba. That's a pretty unusual name."
"Tell me of a southern black man with a common name."
Juba smiled, and allowed himself a laugh. "I was named for my great-great-grandfather. He was called Juba after a Nubian king."
"Ethnic." Dean sounded almost interested as he settled back into his cushion.
Sam glanced at Dean, waiting for further comment, but Dean just waved a hand at him and looked away. It was a clear sign Dean wanted Sam to take over the questioning, so he jumped right in. "Juba, what is it you want to tell us? Why are we here? How did you know to find us?"
"A friend of a friend of a friend had a problem you helped with. Word of mouth." His speech was rhythmic, almost like he was speaking verse. His body managed to stretch and look comfortable in the tight space. His eyes were bright. "Right," he said quietly, "listen up. I'm a playwright here on campus. We have a theater company. Two weeks from tonight we're supposed to put on a play, American Ties, which I wrote, to raise money and recognition for our company. The PTB sliced funding to the department, so several top billing types are expected to stop by, more word of mouth, and if they like what they see, they'll contribute. And they should, it's my best work."
"You must have quite the network," Dean said.
Sam raised his eyebrows. "But . . ."
Juba hesitated. He glanced around for eyes in the brightly painted woodwork. "Something's going on in the theater." The words came out forcefully, like he was loathe to speak them and wanted the conversation over with. He leaned forward. "Things started moving around, man. There's always been rumors of the place being haunted, but they say that about any old theater out there. Hell, we've got pledges centered around som'a that shit. Brothers can't resist an old ghost tale."
"So why don't you just put on Phantom of the Opera instead?" Dean asked.
Juba pushed upright, staring Dean down. "You see, this is exactly why I'd almost changed my mind, talking to you two," he snapped. "I got enough shit going on, I don't need this."
"Hey, easy," Sam said, reaching for his arm and taking control of the conversation. "Look, I know it's hard to talk about this, just keep going."
Juba shifted, glaring at Dean. "Anyway, things started out normal enough, then it got violent. Three days ago a prop flew across the stage and brained my lead actor. Got stitches."
"No one's been injured before now?" Sam asked.
"Nuh-uh. Not on my watch. Never heard of it before."
"I take it your friends don't believe you."
"Would you? Only people that believe it are my cast, and even they think somebody threw something."
"But you don't," Sam pressed.
Juba leaned forward. "Man, my people are from New Orleans. I've heard some strange shit, you know? But I ain't never seen it, and I saw this, and I believe it."
"Sounds like a standard, run-of-the-mill poltergeist to me," Dean offered.
"Well, whatever it is, it needs to get the hell outta my theater!"
"Has anyone else seen evidence of this poltergeist?" Sam questioned. "Does it restrict its activity to the theater?"
Juba shook his head quickly. "No, man, far as I know, no one else has seen it. Didn't believe it myself until Beaver was clocked in the forehead and did a face-plant on the boards."
Dean's brows rose. "Beaver?"
"Bradley. Call him Beaver. Flat nose and all that. Damn piece of wood just flew through the air, aimed right at him. No one was near it to throw it, and no one could throw it that strong, you know what I'm sayin'?"
"Yeah." Sam accepted his coffee from the waitress with a grateful smile and passed one to Dean. He blew at the brew before taking a sip, keeping an eye on his sullen brother. Dean just widened his eyes at him, a sort of visual what's your problem? taking place.
"So, you two up for this or not?" Juba took a large gulp of his own freshly-brewed coffee, obviously used to the extreme heat due to many hours of caffeine-fueled cramming.
"Yeah, we're up for it," Sam said. "I mean, we're here, aren't we?"
"Sweet." Juba used one hand to push himself to his feet, the other gripping the paper cup. "Look, I gotta go. I'm in Lynch Hall, room three-nineteen. Should be back there by eight tonight if you wanna crash."
"Oh. Uh, right." Sam looked startled at the sudden departure. "We've got a few things to check out, so – we'll meet up with you then." He reached up and shook Juba's hand quickly, as did Dean.
"Well?"Sam asked Dean.
Dean just grimaced. "Man, I got butt cramp driving all the way down here."
"That's not what I mean, and you know it." Sam scooted closer to him, folding his long legs underneath his body.
"I already said what it was. Standard poltergeist." Dean looked away and sipped at his coffee.
"A poltergeist. That's what you think. Without even looking at the theater, without the EMF, without – "
"Sometimes the simplest explanation is the right one."
Sam grinned. "Okay there, Sherlock! Since when have our explanations ever been simple?"
"Hm. How about, 'oh look, there's a ghost!' God, I'm stiff. Let's find a place to pack it in, huh? I'm so tight I couldn't get it up if I wanted to, so no sense in checking out the chicks."
"Aw, Dean!" Sam popped him on the arm. "I so didn't need to know that." He stood, watching as Dean followed suit. "But hey, listen. Seriously. You sure nothing's wrong?"
"Cause I can tell you were making an effort there. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate it."
"Stop it, Sam."
Dean's eyes hid little, though his face was a perfect cover. His smile was wry, but his eyes spoke volumes. "I'm fine."
Right. Sam shook his head in consternation as he followed Dean out of the coffee house.
If there was one thing Sam had learned about his brother, it was that his moods were generally on a pretty even keel. A certain level of anxiety was to be expected from Dean while working on a job, served up with a bit of animosity, an atmosphere of playfulness, a slice of flirtation, and definite cockiness. Now, being with him was like walking beside a bomb waiting to explode in his face. Dean's irritation was obvious, and his attempt to hide it was pitiful at best.
Sam thought back over the past day. He tried to find a rational reason for Dean's behavior, tried to remember anything he could have done or said to piss Dean off. He kept drawing blanks. Maybe it was his father's words coming back to torment them. Since their Dad's death – Dad's words – Dean's eyes were haunted. He was waiting – hell, they both were – for something to happen, something terrible, something that could end everything they knew, and in turn end the one thing they managed to cling to throughout the odd nightmare that composed their lives: each other.
Sam wondered if his own eyes were haunted as well.
Not that it mattered at the moment. Dean was surveying their temporary room with an air of satisfaction, his lips pursed as he evaluated their surroundings. "Not bad. Not bad at all. Your place ever this classy?"
"Please. You saw where I lived." Sam claimed a bed by tossing his bag on it.
"Uh-uh, nope." Dean waved his hand in the general direction of the claimed bed. "I sleep by the door."
He looked incredulous. "In case something comes in?"
"What? Through the door?" Sam replied in fake disbelief.
Dean scratched the back of his head. "It could happen!"
Sam laughed quietly. He picked up his bag and tossed it onto the other bed. "Fine. You want that Klingon-looking blade under your pillow?"
"Amongst other things." Dean stretched out on the mattress. He toed off his boots, laced his fingers behind his head, and closed his eyes.
Sam's mouth quirked. "Should I tell the poltergeist not to disturb anything until you've had your beauty rest?"
"Damn straight. You know how hard it is to keep up a face like this?" He glanced at Sam. "Well, no, you wouldn't." He flipped onto his stomach with an exaggerated groan and buried his face in the pillow.
For all Dean's flippancy, Sam recognized exhaustion when he saw it. He left their room quietly.
More students were arriving on campus from the weekend, some in souped-up cars, some in conservative mom-and-dad-bought-this-so-I'd-stay-out- of-trouble vehicles his brother would in no way consider a car. Sam leaned against the rough trunk of a tree and watched as the students milled about, greeting each other, walking past people without looking up, some carrying backpacks, others pushing bicycles or carrying nothing more than their pride, especially when a cute girl or guy looked their way. It was obvious Dean was missing out as the area slowly filled with young women, some insanely attractive, others more bookish and cute, and yes, several he normally wouldn't give a second glace. Once more the nostalgia kicked in and he felt wistful, remembering his goal that was now waylaid indefinitely, and the awful price he'd paid for secrecy. These kids – and he did think of them as kids though they were his age or older – had no clue. Really, no clue. They would go around taking their exams and getting drunk and living life to the fullest while complaining about it the whole time. They would miss it once they were gone from here, thrust headlong into the world of deadlines and meetings and suits. When did he start feeling so old, so worn down? It wasn't normal.
What the hell was normal?
He shouldered off the tree and nearly walked into a young girl who glanced back with a small laugh and apology, and kept walking. Any other time he would have let her walk on, but not today. Today he needed something normal. Something sane. "Hey! Excuse me!"
She turned, her teeth bright against caramel-colored skin. She waved at a cheerleader-looking blond before answering. "Yes?"
"Can you show me where the theater is? I hear there's going to be a play, I wanted to see the facility."
"Sure," she answered brightly, almost flirtatiously, and Sam felt an odd sense of relief. "I take it you're visiting. Thinking about attending next year?"
"Possibly." He fell into step with her. "What's your name?"
"Joan." She offered a hand, and he shook it.
"Sam. Man, this place packs out fast, doesn't it?"
"Out of state football game. Everyone's just getting back in after a weekend of boozing." She sounded lightly irritated.
"I take it you didn't go?"
"Uh-uh. Not with midterms coming. Forget it."
"I don't blame you. I used to study all the time. I have the worst test anxiety. I'd freeze up. I remember actually running out of the classroom during the SAT in highschool." She laughed, and he grinned. "Yeah. Should've just stayed in there, because I felt worse when I walked back in and saw everyone staring at me. I ended up retaking the whole thing, because seeing as how I left . . ."
"They wouldn't let you finish the exam."
"Right." He smiled sheepishly. "Worked out for the best in a funny way. I managed to get a higher score than I probably would've had."
"Lucky. 'Course I don't have test anxiety, so what would I know?"
Sam stared. "You serious?"
"I love taking exams. I like the challenge, finding out what I know."
He thought about that. "What's your major?"
"You're a freshman?"
"Sophomore. Can you believe it?"
The theater looked just like the surrounding buildings; red brick walls that held white framed windows, with tinted glass looking out over the corner of the campus like dark eyes. The only thing that distinguished it from the other buildings was the large dome that capped the roof, seeming too modern for the classic architecture, and completely out of place. "This is it," Joan said. "So. You going to the play?"
Joan shrugged. "Ordinarily, no. I'm not much of a play buff, but I'll go to this one. My boyfriend wrote it."
"Wait, you know Juba?"
"Hope so, since I sleep with him." She shifted her purse further up her shoulder. "He's a freak, but I love him. Maybe I'll be seeing you around then, Sam."
"Sure." He smiled back and watched as she headed to her dorm. Then he turned to the building.
The stairs were set concrete and worn on the edge from decades of use. Vines snaked up from the shrubs that flanked the walls, curling around the concrete posts and weaving through each other to cling desperately to the uppermost part of the building. Sam stepped back and stared at the dome, still so out of place, too new-looking. He wondered why they went through such an effort to add a modern touch to a building that otherwise seemed so haggard, so choked. Of course it wasn't unusual for vines and the like to thrive on haunted buildings, the life force the spirit so desperately wanted being pulled into the very ground, making it fertile, making it grow. Not an evil spirit, then? Nothing dead. Of course he'd seen plenty of instances where paranormal fact and fiction twisted and reshaped each other. Just because these vines were thriving on the power didn't mean the spirit wasn't malevolent. Dead plants didn't always mean evil spirits. Sometimes plants were just dead. And these. . . he leaned in and examined a vine closely. Perfectly healthy. It made him feel better as he entered the building.
The entrance looked like a school hall. Classrooms framed the corridor, unused except for drama purposes and the occasional over-excited couple. His mouth quirked as he walked down the hall, looking at the stairs that led to the upper rooms, hearing his shoes squeak on the polished floor. Before him were two large, heavy wooden doors, looking totally out of place and added in. It didn't fit the whole layout, and he frowned as he walked up to them. He carefully took hold of a handle, and pulled one open. It squealed with a high-pitched whine of new joints and let him in. And he stopped.
The theater hall was magnificent. The stage was plain, the lights dim, but the seating area was lush and grand. He looked up to the box seats. Apparently every floor led to this staging area. Wooden paneling softened the room and gave it a touch of class. The ceiling was high.
Sam walked down the center aisle, turning slowly as he did so, taking in the decorations, the paintings lit by small lights braced underneath them. It looked professional. It looked . . .out of place. He winced and focused his attention on the stage, seeing where two small sets of stairs led to doors on either side of the small orchestra pit.
Curiosity caught him in a weak moment.
The stairway was narrow, almost too much so, and led to another door which put him in the wings. Coiled rope lay neatly near the curtain. A large, old, upright piano sat diagonally in the back corner, just facing the stage. He could see a few props against the back wall, and fingered the velvet back curtain. And he walked out onto the wooden floor, stood center stage, and took a deep breath.
He'd been in a play once. He'd enjoyed it, once he'd gotten over the terror not only of being onstage, but also of having his brother there watching him, because he'd known was going to catch hell when he walked off. But his brother had surprised him. After the ovation, he'd found Dean in the foyer of the theater. Those large eyes had held his for a moment, and he had given a single nod. "Good work." He'd clapped Sam on the arm and went on his way, leaving Sam to stare after him. It had been enough to scare him away from auditioning ever again.
So he chose law school. Performance on a smaller scale.
But for the moment he could imagine the lights burning down on him. He could remember seeing faint outlines of the first two rows of people, hidden in shadow, and that was if he was lucky. He remembered being so aware of the spotlights on him, almost distracting him, and how he would play to them as though they were angels keeping him from making a mistake. Sure, he'd flubbed a few lines, of course. Everyone did. But the play had gone well.
Sam knew deep down what secret was pushing Juba toward his calling, and wondered if the playwright was actually performing a role in his self-proclaimed masterpiece, and if this poltergeist had a vendetta against him. If that was the case, no one who worked with him was safe.
Sam reached into jacket pocket and pulled out the EMF detector while eyeing the area. The lights held steady: no matter where he walked, there was no whine, no crackle, nothing. He frowned at the machine and kept walking around, poking into corners, holding it up to lights, and towards the large dome. Still nothing. Nothing in the seating area, nothing in the small closets that were supposed to be dressing rooms. He even climbed above the stage for a bird's-eye view, but the detector remained silent. "Strange," Sam said to himself, and pocketed the device.
He left the theater to its secrets.
TBC. . .