B-Reel

B-Reel

Summary: Sam and Dean get reacquainted over art films and sex and a cursed film theater.

What it is: A complete Season One fic in 4 parts, drama, humor, slightly cracky. I think I can still call this gen. Probably. Rated…PG-13? Maybe more? R seems excessive and yet?

Warning number one: This contains some naughty bits. I'm giving you fair warning, I hesitate to even describe what the hell this is –there's tons of swearing and goofy boy banter and bonding. And probably bondage. And sex (eventually) with things that aren't even, like human. It's TENTACLE fic, God help me! A Sweet Charity contribution for extraonions, who has waited altogether too damn long for this. No need to feel squeamish about tentacleporn, girl! It's great prompt. (Erhm, that said, you'll likely find this suggestive rather than raunchy)

Warning number two: Hey, the first one wasn't enough? This warning is about spoilers for movies that you may not have already seen. Those movies are: Le Retour de Martin Guerre, Spirited Away, Paprika/The Host, and Y Tu Mama Tambien. Some of these are my favorite movies EVER, so I really suggest that you see them.

Thanks to lemmypie for listening to me jabber on and on and on about movies, and to sasquashme for the cogent and gentle edits. Together, they make me make sense. Thanks also to extraonions for her patience and her imagination.

-:-:-

Part One/Melodrama

-:-:-

The sun streamed into Duckworth's Pet Emporium, feathers everywhere, floating blue and green and yellow, like an Easter basket had exploded. Sam sort of liked budgies, which would have made the whole thing really tragic if it weren't so damn freaky.

Sam edged down the littered aisle, the distinctive smell of wet wood shavings and guinea pig dung causing him to grimace. Feathers stuck to the dried spill of blood slanting across the cement floor, draining into a grate designed for waste water and animal urine. He remembered the budgie from his kindergarten class, though he hadn't been allowed to take it home, not after the unfortunate hamster incident. An exhalation at his shoulder, unexpected, and Sam still didn't know how someone so quintessentially noisy as his brother moved so damn silently.

"Fuck me. Fucking canaries."

A policeman, busy with a camera, looked up quickly and Dean smiled wide, nodding. So sure of himself Sam despaired. The police tape hadn't bothered Dean, who'd said that they were cousins of the store's owner, hospitalized with an honest-to-God heart attack after the morning's rampage. "Budgies," Sam corrected him.

Dean shrugged, unaware or uncaring of the difference, Sam couldn't tell. "So," his voice carried, like Dad's did, and that put iron in Sam's back, "What did Mister - uh - Woltz do to provoke the attack? I mean, what could you possibly do to piss off that many budgies?"

The policeman, battered and worn as a bus station paperback, glanced up at the brief chortle in Dean's voice. "You're the pet store guys. You tell me." And went back to his grim job.

Sam slipped a broad hand under Dean's elbow, the warm sun heating up the store, the air conditioning turned off or non-existent — though who would lack a/c in the Central Valley was beyond Sam — animal reek mixing with that of blood. He remembered suddenly, mercilessly, that Jessica had loved pet stores, had forced him into them regularly, oohing and aahing over the puppies and the kittens. Even at the time, unaware how this hunting life would snag him again, Sam had stared at the cute little bundles of big eyes and fur, thought 'bait', and moved on to the terrariums, where he'd studied the lazy coils of snake and unblinking gaze of gekko, wondering how people could think of all of them as simply pets.

More forcibly than was probably advisable, Sam dragged his brother out into the shabby main street, the Temblor Range a mere smudge on the sandy horizon, and the afternoon sun might as well have been a club. California, Sam could do, had done. But the coast, the water, please. Not this interior heat, this semi-arid desert, the kind that cracked the earth, reduced alkali wetland to shimmering sheets of sulphate and salt.

"Buttonwillow," Dean muttered, clearly unfazed by heat or death or police tape. He shook Sam off, an afterthought. "Fuck me," he said again.

"I wonder where they went," Sam puzzled aloud, heading back toward the black Impala, so hot he could almost see the mirage of heat radiating from its hood.

Dean pulled open the car door, hesitated, sweat softing a dark vee blossom on his red t-shirt. It looked like blood. Sam's mouth twitched. Dean rarely hesitated, so Sam presumed the Impala's interior was too hot, even for him. "Who the hell calls a town Buttonwillow? That's a damn stripper's name." He squinted and pulled his sunglasses to his nose. "Where who went?"

"The budgies," Sam said mournfully, resigning himself to the car.

They were on the Carrizo Plain, and oil derricks bobbed across it like those stupid glass dippy birds sold in tourist trinket stores across America. Despite this, gas was expensive, but even Dean wouldn't chance running dry in a place this devoid of interesting distractions. It took less than three minutes to traverse the McKittrick Highway through Buttonwillow before finding a gas station so dusty it looked derelict, faded yellow ribbons hanging on a single dead-looking willow, a tired flag languishing on an aluminum pole.

Dean slid out like butter from a hot pan, unhooked the nozzle from its cradle, loath to let anyone pump gas in the car but him. Sam knew this, had observed this over the last few months. It was too hot to sit in the car; besides, Sam needed something liquid. His insides were sticking to each other, might have been hung with flypaper. Dean yelled for a Coke as Sam knocked dust from his boots — pavement wasn't heard of in Buttonwillow, apparently — and Sam lifted a hand in acknowledgment without looking back. The bell above the door rattled, didn't ring, its clapper lost in some unmarked altercation. Sam grabbed two Cokes from the cooler, pressed one against the sweating side of his neck.

"Hot," a voice said from behind the counter and Sam startled. No one was there. Then a woman stood up, armful of cigarette cartons piled to her chin.

"Yeah," Sam agreed.

She stared at the Impala and Dean through the window, a fan humming behind her, stirring air like a pot of re-heated porridge. "Haven't seen you boys here before, and you sure the hell don't look like rig pigs. You're here about what happened at Duckworths, aren't you?" she asked. Her hair was pulled back, sweat-darkened blonde. Sam nodded. It was the sort of news item to draw strangers. She turned and dumped the cartons on the counter. "I tell you, from what I hear, Woltz had it coming to him." She squinted at Sam, sizing him up, hands on hips. She was little, skinny as a stray cat, eyes just the same green. "You reporters? I'm Laurel."

Sam set the drinks on the counter beside the pyramid of Kools and scratched his neck. His skin was Coke-cold for a moment, then faded to warm damp. "Sam. No, we're not reporters. But you don't hear a radio report about a guy getting pecked to death by budgies and not check it out." At least, Dean didn't. Sam had been all for just getting the hell out of the state; Dad had been long gone by the time they'd arrived in Sacramento. They'd received no more coordinates from their father, no contact of course. After the Burkittsville debacle, Dean had no excuse for not going to Sacramento, just as Sam had no excuse for not checking out budgies-gone-bad.

Both leads would probably end up nowhere. Except —

"What about Woltz?" he asked, watching Dean wrestle with the gas hose. It wanted to bend around him, and Dean was stepping out of its coils, nozzle in hand, a fine golden spray of gas droplets scattering around him. Finally, his brother got the nozzle back into the gas pump. He wiped both hands on his chest, shaking his head.

She was starved for company, that much was evident. Laurel leaned forward, almost conspiratorially, like this was a campfire story. "Yeah, he owned the Melodrama, over on Lux Avenue. That theater's bad news, that's what they say. Cursed." She drew the word out like the toffee center of a cheap chocolate. "Woltz and his partner shoulda stuck to the oldies." She flipped a strand of hair behind her ear, scratched the side of her face with nails long past their last manicure.

"Why?" Sam asked, glancing out as Dean walked slowly toward the door, legs like a cowboy. "How did Woltz fit in?" Just as Dean came in, eyes flicking to the broken bell like it offended him.

Laurel shrugged, gave Dean an appraising glance so scorching that a bad case of heat stroke was probably the least of their worries. "Well, he wasn't from around here. I think he owned theaters across the Valley and thought that bringing in shit like Pirates of the Caribbean was a good idea."

Dean's brows said it all: It's not?

"Blockbusters don't do well in Buttonwillow?" Sam queried, hoping that Dean wouldn't comment.

Laurel fidgeted with her hands. "Well, Marty and I, we used to drive in to Bakersfield if we wanted a blockbuster. The Melodrama, though? I been living here almost ten years, and it always plays that foreign shit. Or black and white stuff. Or did till Woltz and his partner took over last month."

Dean gestured to the pump. "How painful's it gonna be?" and spun the question on the edge of a grin, finger to Frisbee. Laurel grinned back, despite the wedding ring winking on her restless finger.

It hadn't changed in years, this look, and the accompanying tone, but it still made the hair on Sam's neck stand at attention. He'd admired this look of Dean's at one time, practiced it in front of the mirror of whatever dingy motel Dad had named 'home-for-a-week'. Been caught practicing it. Sam had forgotten nothing over the years, but that didn't mean he liked to remember.

Laurel wasn't exactly a hard case, either. One hand, the one with the ring, touched her bedraggled hair, drifted to a pendant affixed with sweat to the skin just above the neckline of her sleeveless shirt. Her fingers fell to the waistband of her jeans, and Sam turned his back, leaned against the counter and gave Dean a baleful stare.

Dean didn't even meet his eyes. "This your station?" he asked like he was giving her a compliment and he probably was.

"My husband's," she said with a smile in her voice, and Sam was happy he wasn't looking. "But he went MIA just outside of Fallujah, so I don't talk about Marty much anymore."

"Huh," Dean grunted, leaning across the counter and fishing his wallet out from his back pocket like his fingers had just discovered the sleaziest place on the planet.

"Okay," Sam launched himself away from the counter like he was starting a race. "Two Cokes, too." He glanced back and watched Laurel slide Dean's credit card out from the wallet as Dean watched. It had all the makings of soft porn on late-night cable. "Which way's the Melodrama?"

Somehow, that wasn't the weirdest thing to have come out his mouth today. That might have been, "No, I don't want to check out the killer budgies, Dean."

And that hadn't done him a bit of good, either.

-:-:-

Dean put Laurel right out of his mind in the few short minutes it took to find the Melodrama. Shit, this day was getting better and better. Killer parakeets and a creepy movie theater that killed anyone who tried to change the art-house playlist. Almost made coming to California worth it. Leaving Burkittsville, Dean had made a half-hearted argument to Sam that Dad would be long gone from Sacramento, but he didn't want his brother to think that he wasn't trying, at least. Trying to be reasonable. Accommodating. Not suffering from your typical hunter psychosis. This could be okay, this new thing they had going, if only Sam understood that working together meant working, together.

The next damn gig would have to be California, though, wouldn't it? But the lure of the potentially haunted Melodrama outweighed the risk of Sam remembering that some sort of life was still possible back in Palo Alto. Besides, it was the kind of old theater you just didn't see anymore, with neon that probably didn't work, a boarded up ticket kiosk protruding onto the sidewalk, and vitrine cases with posters from movies made when their dad was young. Above, the marquee sign read, Under New Management: Pirates of the Caribbean 2, except the 2 was a Z and 'management' was so badly spelled even Dean could tell it was wrong.

Something was going on, though, because even as they pulled up, two men were manhandling an aluminum ladder against the sign, the skinnier of the two with a plastic bucket slung over his arm, full of letters. As Dean and Sam got out the car, they could hear the shouting from across the desolate street.

"Just take it down! Take it down!" Mouth working even when he wasn't saying anything, the shouter turned as Dean approached, eyes narrow in a bloated face, ginger mustache moving of its own accord.

"But I don't have enough letters for-" but whatever the message was supposed to be was lost as the skinny guy shinnied up the ladder, rattling like a spoon in a tin cup.

"Did we miss it?" Dean said, pointing to the poster. A tentacle waved menacingly over a tiny galleon.

The shorter man dragged his forearm across his sweaty brow. "Wasn't the right market."

"I hear it's popular in other parts of the country," Sam countered evenly. "Not here?"

The man huffed a little, pink. "Not here. Never here." He looked over his shoulder, into the dark recesses of the theater. "We only play quality movies — I mean films! — here." Then, he finally seemed to notice them. Dean knew what he looked like to someone like this, same as he knew how he had come across to Laurie at the gas station. Laura. Laurel. Whatever.

The not-so-far-from-porcine man squinted at Dean. "What do you want?"

Desperate, and moneyed. The kind of combination that Dean had been taught to exploit. "We hear you might have a problem with your theater. We specialize in…problems."

Drumming up business in their line of work didn't mean taking out ads, it meant showing up when weird things happened. And this guy, in Dean's opinion, was ready to hear the sales pitch.

"Can we go inside?" Sam asked, and hoped sparked in Dean: maybe there would be air conditioning.

No luck. A fan turned drowsily in the corner of the office. Buddy Bourne, the man with the mustache, ushered them in, introduced himself as 'one of the new owners' and Dean said, "You mean, the only owner," and Buddy turned even more pink.

Sam, who looked as though sweat wasn't something he was going to do today, sank into the leather chair with proprietorial ease, one ankle across one knee, fingers stroking the upholstery as though it was a spaniel's sleek head. "Your partner, Woltz? What happened?"

Buddy had the immediate nerve to say 'an accident', but that didn't last long. Sam, Dean had cause to know, possessed a withering gaze. "Jack and me, we've made a career out of this, right? This is what we do, turning around failing theaters, and we've made a lot of coin. It's not as though this is the first time we've changed a theater's format."

"First time for cockatoos to take Jack apart in a pet store though, I'm guessing," Dean interceded. Good cop, bad cop, a play as old as the hills. This Buddy doughboy knew what was what. He was scared shitless.

"It was an-"

"A whole pet store goes apeshit and attacks your business partner, right after you take ownership?" Dean leaned forward in the chair. "You say 'accident' one more time, and I'm gonna jam my thumbs into your eye sockets."

Buddy's mouth shut. Beside Dean, Sam's fingers no longer drifted on the armrest; they stilled on leather worn thin as tissue. Concentrating, making a decision. C'mon, Sammy, like riding a bike.

Then, like it hurt him to say it, "How long's the movie theater been haunted?"

One blink. Two. "Since '95, we think."

Huh, so doing some independent research, are you Sam? Just as long as Sam remembered that 'working together' also meant 'sharing information'. Dean had been hunting with his father for more than a decade; hunting with Sam for mere months. There were rules and one of those was never act surprised in front of a client, so he didn't.

Sam continued. "So, why is this happening now?"

Buddy shrugged slightly, sweat darkening wide circles under his cotton short-sleeved button up. "We went to big screen commercial hits. Either that or shut this puppy down. It's the only way to make money in this day and age. We can't be playing those art-house flicks, not in Nowheresville, California."

In a strange way, watching Sam work this was reassuring. You like it, Sammy. Don't tell me you don't like it. Something similar to pride filled him, but it also might have been relief.

"Let me guess. The last movie before you pulled the plug and went Johnny Depp on the town?" Dean turned to see Sam's brow raised. But he knew. They all knew, or could have guessed. Ghosts were nothing if not predictable.

"Hitchcock's The Birds," Buddy sighed. "Please help me. I don't want to die."

"Who do we talk to?" Dean asked, and tried to imagine what kind of feast pudgy Buddy Bourne would make for a bunch of birds.

Turned out they needed to talk to Alf and Leni, because they'd been working the Melodrama for twenty years. Dean couldn't figure out how you worked with someone for twenty years without jumping their bones, but Alf assured him that he'd never 'felt that way' about Leni, even though Leni was a babe and Alf looked as though he could use some action. Across the lobby, Sam bent down to talk with Leni, who was loading the popcorn machine. Alf — the skinny guy with all the letters — squirmed like he had chiggers in his pants. Maybe asking Alf if he was banging the popcorn girl wasn't the best leading question, but Dean reckoned his job wasn't to make anyone comfortable.

"There's a ghost here? Like, a real ghost?" he slipped into Alf's stuttering surprise, and it caused Alf to get positively agitated.

"No! God, no, no ghost. I don't know what-"

And then heard, from right across the lobby, Leni's voice, responding to Sam's similar line of questioning, "Oh, hell yes, big damn ghost won't leave us the hell alone."

Dean raised both brows. Go on, Alf.

"Okay, so there's a ghost."

"Sure it's not just you who doesn't like the switch to pirates and superheroes? Maybe make Woltz's death look like an accident?"

Alf's long face twisted, talking about ghosts apparently preferable to admitting murder. "No. Of course not. It's just Lucky again. He won't leave us alone," and was going to say something that would have earned him a PG-13 rating, but held back.

Leni, across the lobby still, didn't. "That fucker was a fucking psychopath who didn't know how to handle rejection! Now look at him!" and stared around the lobby like Lucky the Ghost was going to come zooming out of the woodwork like one of Casper's uncles.

Everyone looked around. So much for conducting separate interviews. Dean jerked his nose towards the concession stand.

Coming up to the counter, Alf in mournful tow, Dean asked, "Okay, so who's Lucky?"

"He was a good guy-" Alf started.

Leni, eyes icy blue beneath short dark bangs that made her look like a World War II pinup, snapped some gum behind red lips. "Lucio Jorge was a certified nutjob. Killed himself when his girlfriend dumped him."

Alf swayed a little, weight going from foot to foot. His hair, Dean noticed, fuzzed straight up. He'd have had a hard time getting a hat on that mess. "He was a good guy," he reiterated, softly. "He went to film school, trained as a projectionist. He came up here for a summer, started the theater on all sorts of foreign films, stuff with subtitles. See, there's a huge Latino population around here, so lots of Spanish flicks, Pedro Almodovar, Robert Rodriguez and whatnot. El Mariachi, Rodriguez, not Spy Kids," Alf explained like Dean had seen either of them.

"From Dusk 'Til Dawn, Dean," Sam translated.

"Hack," Dean coughed into his fist.

"We did okay," Alf directed that at Leni, who was rolling her eyes.

"Every weekend a different 'festival'. Christ, I got sick of festivals." Her fingernails were painted black. "Lucky was a runty sex maniac who couldn't take it when Ana said 'adios'. He sparked up the projector after everyone left, ran his favorite flick, and jumped off the balcony with a rope around his neck. We were the ones that found him," and her forefinger drew a line between herself and Alf, possibly the only connection they had. Other than working in a dusty movie theater for decades.

"So," Sam asked. "Favorite film? Let me guess — Cinema Paradiso."

Like that mattered on any planet. "Sam, could you and Alf come up with your Top Ten some other time?" Dean turned to Leni, who at least seemed to care about the problem at hand. "Why the hell did you play all this old shit if it wasn't making money?"

"Mrs. Lawford, the old owner, loved Lucky's ass, and she kept up the goddamn festivals. When she died last year, we kept to the program. But when Woltz and Bourne took over, we had the chance to try something new. And look what happens."

Sam's brow furrowed, and Dean could almost see the wheels turning. "Did Lucky show up before now?"

Leni looked uncomfortable for once, and Alf was the one who grinned. "Don't let Leni snow you. She likes the old ones, the noir stuff." Leni shot him daggers and Alf chuckled. "You do," but not unkindly. "Sometimes, you're watching a movie and you feel him. Cold. Sitting near you. Never does anything, never really would come right out. But he could tell when you were enjoying the show."

Sam looked like he was fighting a smile. "How did things change when the new owners took over?"

"Well," Leni said, "we've tried changing the movies before, tried some American avant-garde, but Lucky doesn't like that either. The machines were wrecked in the morning, or the projector would keep jamming. Cold drafts that weren't there before."

Alf took up the story. "But nothing like switching to Pirates of the Caribbean."

Leni sniffed. "I like Johnny Depp."

"Opinions differ. For sure Orlando Bloom can't act his way out of a paper bag," Alf countered. "And don't get me started on that sell-out, Geoffrey Rush."

"People," Dean said, holding up a hand. "Please."

Alf cleared his throat, apparently willing to forget sketchy acting abilities. "First night of the new program, we started to find dead rats everywhere."

Leni shuddered. "That was last week." She glanced behind her. "Then a dead rabbit in the popcorn maker."

"I kept hearing banging in the projectionist's booth, but no one was there." Alf jammed his hands into his pockets. "It was only a matter of time. And even though Lucky was a good guy, knew movie trivia like no one else, he wasn't exactly, uh. Stable." He looked nervous. "A little nuts, really."

"You don't say," Dean murmured. "Only one more question, guys." They looked at him. Enough of this. Cut to the chase. "Where's he buried?"

-:-:-

"You know," Dean was saying, but Sam was barely listening, mostly because he knew that small town cops loved to bust young guys desecrating gravesites, and someone had to stand look-out, "the worst thing about goddamn ghosts is they just don't know when to quit."

A spade-full of dirt sprayed over the lip of the grave, and Dean's head bobbed up for a moment, catching the beam of Sam's flashlight full in the face. "Christ!" Dean swore, holding up a hand to block it and Sam deflected the light away without apology. "Just because they have 'unfinished business' or whatever," and he waved his calloused hand around in the air before swiping at his sweating brow, "doesn't give them the right to keep pestering the living. It's not…healthy," and bent back to the work at hand.

Dean wouldn't recognize healthy if it sat down and gave him a business card, Sam thought. But he had to hand it to his brother: he'd never seen anyone dig a grave faster. Not that much competitive grave-digging had been going on at Stanford. Try putting that on a resume.

"I know if I was buried in this goddamn armpit of a town, I'd get the fuck…out…of here…as soon-" and the shovel hit wood. "Phew!" came from the hole.

Sam bent down to give Dean better light; not a single car had passed in the two hours they'd been here. Sam figured either they were due for a cop to swing by, or no one gave a good goddamn about the dead in this town. "Guess no one wanted to pony up and send his bones back to Uruguay."

Dean's head popped back up, like a meerkat on the Kalahari. "I thought it was Paraguay?"

Sam lifted a shoulder and let it drop. It didn't matter. "Might have been Bolivia." He trained the flashlight onto the dirt-covered lid. Dean didn't seem to mind doing the heavy lifting. In fact, Dean had yanked the shovel out of Sam's hands without a word, had started digging and Sam just had to watch. Par for the damn course, Dean acting like Sam was incapable of handling anything more strenuous than opening up the laptop.

The coffin was soon uncovered enough, and Sam handed Dean the crowbar. The lid came up with a screech of iron against wood and Sam winced. That wasn't a sound you got used to, no matter how many times you heard it.

Dean shook his head, a foot on either side of the now-gaping coffin. The dry soil had been kind to the body — Sam shone the light right in and saw that Lucio Jorge was desiccated, not rotting. God, why didn't people get cremated as a matter of course? It would make their job so much easier. Actually, it might make their job redundant. Strange that Sam couldn't quite decide if that was a good thing or not.

Dean made a quick survey to ensure that all body parts were there, as much as you could with a flashlight and limited time. It was closer to dawn than midnight, and Dean declared he was getting hungry, just before he asked for the jerrycan. Typical first-response: torch the damn body. See if that cleared things up. Maybe worked a quarter of the time, but always worth the effort. Damn, Sam had forgotten how much of this job was tedium and dirt.

As Dean untwisted the cap, Sam heard him say, "What's so bad about a few pirates?" followed by the slosh and splash of the can being emptied.

"Movies like that have no nutritional value whatsoever. Mindless brain candy," Sam replied, the gas fumes wafting into the night air. Dammit, he likes being down in a confined space, surrounded by noxious fumes.

"Yeah," Dean's voice came, earth-muted. "That's what I mean."

The jerrycan was passed back up empty and Sam handed down the bag of road salt that Dean kept in the trunk. It had been around since winter, when they'd stolen a dozen or more bags from a parked city salt truck in Utah. Sam watched as Dean thumped it against his knee to break up the crystallized chunks that had formed over the last few months. "This our last bag?" he asked. "It's gonna be a bitch to find more out of season." He stood up, put both elbows on the edge of the grave, legs scissored over the open coffin. "I mean. The bony chick's pretty hot, and that octopus thing was fucking great. Really realistic," like he knew about giant squid. "And Depp was awesome."

"Dean," Sam warned, just as a cool breeze sheered across his shoulders.

One hand lifted, then fell to the earthen edge. "Some people just want all this angst with their entertainment. Why does it always have to be with the blahblahblah and the teary goodbyes. Why can't people just stuff their faces with popcorn and Twizzlers and have some fun?"

"Dean, get out of the grave."

Dean's mouth twitched, Sam saw that familiar look of annoyance in the suddenly flickering light, damn guy never liked anything resembling an order coming from anyone but Dad. But that was before Sam was thrown back away from the grave, an opaque white fog forming around him, blue and becoming a bruising solid in mere seconds. The air exited his lungs with an excitable whoosh, and the rapidly-condensing ghost moved off Sam and into the grave itself. Before he had time to shout a warning, Sam heard Dean swearing. From the bottom of the hole. Heard cursing and the splintering of wood and the sound of flesh meeting dirt.

"Dean!" Sam shouted, scrambling to the edge, one hand reaching in, like sticking your arm into the piranha pool at the aquarium. It was freezing cold in there and though Sam could see nothing — not ghost nor brother - his hand found Dean's ear, then his hair, and Dean's hand wrapped around Sam's wrist like it was a lifeline. Which maybe it was.

Sam hauled for all he was worth, and Dean came up out of the hole in one piece, swearing, sprawled on top of Sam like he was a queen-sized bed at a Super 8. Just for a moment, then he was off, scrambling around for the box of matches, and the ghost came howling out, man-shaped in the soft edge of dawn. The ghost of Lucky Jorge passed over Sam like a gulp of menthol mouthwash across tongue, right over and on to Dean, pushing him across the gravel as Sam watched, like someone would squish a bug.

The saltgun lay by the duffle, but the box of matches was closer. Sam grabbed them, slid open the cardboard, broke the first match against the grit of scratch paper. The next one took and he threw it into the open grave. For one second, nothing happened, and Sam rolled to the duffle, hand reaching for the saltgun. And then, the familiar non-sound of oxygen sucking flame and a sheet of blue fire shot from the pit like a moon launch.

Dean, breathing raggedly against the ground, smothered by the phosphorous ghost glow so present Sam could read Lucky's t-shirt — Buttonwillow Fun Run 1992 — shouted, "Get off!" and rose to his elbows. Lucky slid sideways, fizzling like a television with bad reception, the smell of gas and dirt and ozone tight around them all. "You're no Patrick Swayze and I'm sure as shit not Demi Moore!"

The grave flames were dying down, and the sun was lipping the eastern ridge. In the poor and changing light, Sam couldn't tell if the damn spirit was on its way out or what. His brother sat fully up, the ghostly light hovering. "Come and get it," Dean said, low in his throat, a Pit Bull with laryngitis. He'd cut his lip at some point in the tussle; it bled freely down his chin. "I ain't making clay pots with your ghostly ass, Casper."

Maybe it was because he'd brought up love from beyond the cinematic grave. Maybe it was because Dean had poured the gas and spread the salt. Perhaps it was because he'd been talking about the relative merits of pirate movies, or that he'd brought up the horrifying prospect of Whoopi Goldberg however obliquely. Whatever the case, the ghost of Lucio Jorge gathered strength and streamed over Dean's semi-prone body, knocking him flat like a blacksmith's hammer, leaving Sam no choice.

Hand curled around the shotgun, trigger finger happy as shit, Sam squeezed.

No mistaking it — dawn had arrived, and by its glow, Sam watched Lucky the ghost dissipate in an explosion of electrical force, a dispersal of plasma into the earth, excited electrons relaxing into an altered state. Going to ground, in the most elemental way possible.

Sam realized he was breathing hard. "I think we'll have to come up with a Plan B."

Dean got to his feet slowly, looked down at himself, fingers gingerly exploring his torso, making sure he didn't have any new holes. "Yeah, boy genius. No shit."

Sam took two steps and peered into the smoldering grave. All was blackened sticks. He knew whose job it was going to be, filling it back in. Some things didn't change, no matter what.

-:-:-