A/N: Complete disclaimer and warnings at Chapter One. Read them.
A/N: I'm not really happy with this, but I don't want y'all to have to wait through the weekend. Besides, this morning I tried to do a little video post so people would know me when they say me at the convention this weekend, and I've now come to the conclusion that nothing I do will ever turn out right. Shut up. You didn't see the vid. Why did no one tell me I have no social skills whatsoever, that I'm pasty (I work nights and sleep all day), none of my clothes fit, and my eyes roll like a freaky doll? Why, I ask you?!! So, um, there's no vid. If you want to find me, I'll be in H18. I have long blonde hair past my hips, kinda wavy, and big dimples. None of my clothes will fit right, and I'll make you squirm. I swear. This is true. I fidget, like whoa. The vid made ME squirm, LOL.
A/N: I made some references to the Holocaust in here. They're not a huge part of the story, but if that bothers you, don't read. It's probably also historically inaccurate. *shrug*
"Dean, wake up. It's time to go."
"What?" The room's darker than he remembers, quieter, too. Last he remembers, they were squinting at old newspaper scans that shouldn't be smudged at this resolution but somehow were. And then the smudges started to bleed into the rest of the room, tiny bursts of light fizzing behind his eyelids as he pressed his fingers over them.
He rolls to his side, one arm dangling off the bed, the other scrubbing the sleep from his tear ducts. "Go where?" Seems like a question he should know the answer to, but if he made plans before passing out in the middle of the afternoon, they're swallowed in the spun silk wadded up over the viewfinder in his brain.
"Uh, our job? Night security guards at the storage lot? See if we can't find a valuable piece of history and torch it?" He pauses, giving Dean an incredulous look. "Any of this ringing a bell?"
"Ohhh, yeah, sure, our cover, security guards, haunted trunk," Dean scratches the back of his head, starts to lever himself up, which feel like trying to roll up a hill steep enough to ski down. "Gotcha."
"Actually, it's a hope chest," Sam says with a cynical tilt to his mouth. "Hope chest," he repeats like the irony's too much even for him.
Sam moves with a fluid cat-like posture as though he's been tiptoeing around the room for hours. The security guard dress slacks he's wearing don't even rustle as he puts on his shoes. He laces up one shoe and reaches for the other, lets the first drop to the ground with a muted thud. As he does, he gets a far-off look in his eye, pauses, the tongue of his shoe gaping over the toe of a sock that looks like it'll come out of the next wash holier than it went in It's an old joke between them that they wash their clothes in Holy water, homemade armor plating. Probably started with Dad calling their torn socks 'church wear.' Though, from the expression on Sam's face at the moment, Dean guesses he's not taking a happy stroll down memory lane. "Can you imagine?" he asks.
Dean's throat is thick and gravelly. "Imagine what?" Clearing it doesn't make the words come out any easier.
"Can you imagine how Josef must've felt, facing the gas chamber knowing there was no one else that knew where he'd left his sister? Imagine him knowing right where she was and not being able to save her." It's not like Sam to get quite this worked up over a case, but he's either having the same throat problems as Dean, or he's swallowing something back that's threatening to choke him. He's been doing that a lot. Dean kinda misses the way everything used to just hang out on his shirt sleeve.
He can't really blame Sam for getting emotional this time. The details of the case, as they start to filter into focus, are pretty horrifying. It's always hard when there are kids involved. "Imagine how Anya felt all curled up in that trunk as the Gestapo dragged off her entire family, not knowing if anyone would ever come for her. All those days she spent locked in there waiting for someone to let her out..." He darts his eyes up at Sam, then averts them to his own holy socks. "Probably screaming for her brother."
The silence that follows is pointed and directed at the top of Dean's head until he lifts it, hairline, eyebrows, lashes, then eyes.
Their gazes lock across the span between the two beds, both glistening with something that looks like apology before Sam shakes it off and finishes with his shoe. "Anyway, I can't believe she kept that trunk, brought it all the way across the ocean."
"I'd have never been able to open it again." Dean doesn't know if he's confessing too much, but it's the truth, and he's still in his post-sleep haze, doesn't care if it says something about himself he's not willing to define.
"Well she said she was hoping she'd find Josef again, that she could show it to him and tell him how she made it out alive because of him, and then they could burn it together, put the past behind them." Finished with dressing, Sam starts to load the duffel with their flashlights and extra salt cartridges just in case their ghost mistakes them for the Gestapo like the last three security guards.
"Guess Josef found her, instead. I wonder why she never noticed there was anything attached to that thing when it was in her house."
Sam shrugs. "Maybe while she had the chest in her possession, his spirit was at rest, like they were together, you know. I guess her death and the family stashing it away in storage just stirred up a lot of old memories."
"Friggin' ghosts have lousy timing," Dean huffs, finally rolling to his feet, glad he'd already half-dressed before he took his unplanned nap. "Dude sleeps through eighty-odd years of candy apple life, marriage, house, half a dozen kids, grand kids, great-grand kids, the whole American dream, and then he wakes up when it's over and wants revenge."
"Yeah, should've picked up a phone once in awhile, I guess," Sam says with some sort of strange squirm to his posture that Dean's only ever felt crawling over his own skin. It doesn't suit Sam.
His joints pop and creak when he stands, testament to how long he's been crashed out. "Shit, why'd you let me sleep so long?" he asks, massaging at his neck, which is no small feat with even his hands tightened into knots.
Sam huffs. "You say that like I could've got you up with anything less than a stick of dynamite. You were really dead to the..." His throat cuts off the rest of the sentence before his eyes flicker in realization of what he's saying, and he drops his gaze to the ever important task of sliding on the uniform jacket. "You looked like you needed it. Just crashed out without any kind of warning. I think you might've been in the middle of a sentence." He looks up again, having regained his composure. "You've been doing that a lot lately. You sure you're all right?"
"Me? Yeah, sure, why wouldn't I be?"
A dimple forms in Sam's bottom lip where he must be biting it, a sure sign he's about to say nothing no matter how strongly he has something to say. "I don't know. I guess I just worry too much."
"Well don't." They've been through all this, went through it before the deal came due, and Dean's not about to go through it again.
It's done, over.
In the past.
Which is the worst possible kind of reassurance when they're on a ghost hunt, but whatever.
"Aye, aye, Captain," Sam snorts. "You ready?"
Dean points to the door, chest up, shoulders back. "Make it so, Number One."
"You're such a geek."
"That's Captain Geek to you."
Sam does a double take of his uniform, seems satisfied when he straightens up. Catching Dean's questioning eyebrow quirk, he says, "Just making sure I didn't put on a red shirt by mistake."
"Wrong Star Trek, dumbass," Dean says with a shake of his head. He cuffs Sam upside the head for good measure. "Now let's go, Warp One."
"Fine. Warp Five."
"I'm givin' her all she's got, Cap'n."
Dean doesn't bother to correct Sam on his second slip. He just files it away for future reference. It'll probably get him a bye the next time Sam wants to compare notes on something Dean knows nothing about.
Like, say, the Civil War.
Brother against brother. Now that's some deep shit Dean doesn't want anything to do with.
Forty-five minutes later, they've had the grand tour which consisted of showing them the fire exits, the bathroom, the breakroom, and the designated smoking area, then planting them in front of a bank of monitors. Which is good, you know, if they want to catch a potential burglar, but since they're planning on doing a little hamburgling of their own, is pretty impractical. They get the feeling the day guard has no interest in staying into the night. They watch him hit the parking lot, walking like he's got firecrackers in his socks, hop into his car, and drive away before getting down to business.
With pursed lips, Dean outlines the path of destruction. "First guard got pinned under the cargo elevator on the dock. Second one reported electrical outages and faulty reception on the security cameras in this block before he 'accidentally' ingested enough rat poison to kill an elephant, all without leaving his station, right..." he swings his flashlight toward the cubicle in the corner of the warehouse, "over there." He regrets turning so quickly when the room keeps on going several seconds after he stops, flashlight wavering.
The place is massive. This is going to be a long night.
It flies out of the darkness, a glint of light that splooshes into his chest before he can deflect it. He catches it mostly by reflex, his defensive action just slow enough to snag it on the rebound as it rolls down the front of his jacket. There's no way to make it look graceful, so Dean's sure he'll look up and find Sam chuckling at him, keeping score in the air for having caught him off guard.
Sam's watching him, yes, but there's nothing amused or gloating in his expression, nothing but blank objectivity sparsely painted over glaring concern.
It's the same kind of test Dean used to give Sam, born of a hundred, 'think fasts' and 'ha, gotchas', a test of physical and emotional reflex, preparedness for the task at hand.
A test Dean just failed miserably.
Sam doesn't even take his spoils, no two-for-flinching shoulder slugs, or slimy finger to ear, no Three Stooges antics of any sort. He's all slow, unwavering gaze, deceptively still like a coiled snake when he says, "You need me to open that for you?"
Dean can't tell whether it's a jab or a serious question, or he can tell and it falls into the part of his brain that looks the other way. He doesn't say no, but makes a show of opening the bottle of water with a sharp twist, ignoring the tingling in his fingers. It's funny, he hasn't consciously not noticed the tingling before. So far, he's been able to just dismiss it as part of having a new body.
The last time he had a new body, he was too young to appreciate it. He doesn't remember what it feels like.
Sam doesn't seem assuaged by Dean's deft removal of the cap, locks a knowing gaze on the little bit of water that dribbles out the corner of Dean's mouth when he tries to drink it too quickly.
So, maybe his lips are a little tingly, too.
Dean hates that Sam watches so closely. He wonders when he stopped being the big brother, the strong one, the constant in the equation, and became the variable. He feels like he and Sam are on opposite sides of the equals sign, inverse functions of each other, not the like terms they used to be.
Maybe he's on the wrong side of the mirror after all.
With a smirk, Dean eyes the bottle in his hand. "Funny, I didn't see a concession stand. Next time you swing by that way, oh, I dunno, on your way to actually hunting this ghost, I'd like some cotton candy and a caramel apple... with nuts." The mention of nuts reminds him of the tightness in his throat, and he clears it with a cough.
Sam turns, makes a show of shining the beam of his flashlight over the facility map on the wall, finger tracing around the outlines of the twenty or so structures strewn over the lot. "Vending machine," he says absently. "In the break room. And you should thank me. You sound like an old man with all that coughing and wheezing. Might as well have a sign on your back that says, 'easy prey.'"
"Aw, c'mon, man. Everything's drawn to me, anyway. I'm just that pretty."
Sam laughs. Sort of. Either that or his hair's in his face and he just blows it out of the way. It's hard to tell from where Dean's standing. "We don't want it to be drawn to anything. The ghost is attached to an object, remember? We just want to find the chest and torch it. Any luck, we won't even see Josef."
Dean scoffs. "See, now, that would just be anticlimactic. You know me. All about the... climax," he says with a waggle of his eyebrows.
Even with his back turned, Dean can tell Sam's rolling his eyes. "Ah! Here it is. Storage locker 613, Building 12," he sighs, shoulders slumping. "Other side of the lot."
Dean steps in closer, eyeing the map over Sam's shoulder. "That far, huh?"
"That gonna be a problem?" Sam asks, and Dean hates that there's no sarcasm in his voice.
"No," he clears his throat, "no, it's just..." he tugs his uniform blazer straight over his chest so his tin badge lands right over his heart. "I don't think they pay me enough. Remind me to ask for a raise."
This time Sam's laugh is real. He ducks his head into his chest, his hand fishing around in his pocket. "You're such a whiny bitch," he says. "Lucky for you," he raises a set of keys in the air, "the salary sucks, but there's plenty of perks."
"What?" Dean asks, and maybe his heart beats faster in anticipation. He knows he's got a big stupid grin on his face like he's just made it to the catwalk and can finally reach the stripper's G-string. "Golf cart? It's a golf cart, isn't it? We get golf carts, right?" He's rubbing his hands together, already imagining a night of doing donuts in the parking lot, taking corners fast just to see if Sam flies out the other side. This is better than the time they investigated the haunted bumper cars. "C'mon tell me we get golf carts."
"Better," Sam grins.
Dean frown, feels his lips pucker together. "Better? Dude, what could be better than golf carts?"
This time, Sam's eyebrows waggle.
"Duuuude." Dean's well aware he sounds awestruck. He's not even a little ashamed. "These are way better than golf carts."
Sam's not as impressed. "Easy for you to say," he grumbles. "You got the cool one. I got the friggin' HoverRound."
Dean revs the engine on his minibike, guns it with the front brake engaged just to feel the back end jump. He might be a little giggly at this point. His whole body thrums with anticipation, enough to override the tingle that's been spreading down his limbs, the latent bit of nausea still twisting in his gut. "You don't want this one, Sam. She's too spicy for ya. You're way better off with your vanilla scooter there. You do know what to do with her right? I mean, do we need to have the talk?"
"The talk?" Sam turns the key, appalled at the near silent electric hum of his new transportation.
"You know," Dean smirks. "Tab A, Slot B, where you gotta stroke to get just the right... thrust." He bites his lip, eyelashes drooping to half-mast. "Mmmm-mmmm. Cuz let me tell ya, Sam, once you get her purring, you'll be able to open her up, get the maximum torgue. Best ride of your life, I promise."
"Ugh, I think I need a shower now."
"Hot and bothered?" He guns his engine a couple more times.
"Dirty and slimy."
"Ah, well, that works, too." He circles his arm over head, makes a whip-cracking motion with his elbow and shoulder. "Move 'em on! Head 'em UP!"
"Dean, you're no Clint Eastwood."
"Yates," Dean says with a wink, "Rowdy Yates. Cattle boss. Now let's get this show on the road before I rope, throw, and brand your ass."
"You sure have an obsession with my ass."
"Not as much as I have with mine." He looks over his shoulder and down at the back pockets of his jeans where they meet the seat of the bike. "Now that's what I'm talkin' bout." He gives Sam a thumbs up and releases the brake, zipping off across the compound.
It's not really all that far from one end of the compound to the other, and to be fair, Sam's "scooter" (air quotes for wussiness) is probably capable of about forty miles per hour. The squirrels should be able to run around the wheel fast enough to get across the compound in just a couple of minutes.
But what would be the fun in that?
Dean takes the scenic route. It's not every day they get to play with toys they don't have to make or steal themselves. And laughter's supposed to be the best medicine. A little fun is the only thing he can swallow and keep down at the moment. Sam wants him to take care of himself, right?
The compound is laid out in long rows of buildings, driveways criss-crossing between them for easy loading and unloading. In the time it takes Sam to cram his ten foot legs up to his chest and get his feet on the pegs, Dean's circled around him and between the buidings on both sides, cutting in front of Sam just as the scooter gets straightened out and starts to pick up speed, so Sam has to swerve, brake, put his feet on the ground, and start all over again.
On about the third pass, Dean catches a grumble of something that sounds like, "sophomoric," knows the curses will lose a syllable every time he passes. He's tempted to see which one syllable word Sam pulls out of his SAT acing vocabulary, but the buzzing of his engine and the shocks vibrating up his arms make it harder and harder to keep his own bike from wobbling out of control.
He zips down an alley he's pretty sure is in the right direction, kicks in the clutch and cranks the throttle. Flying down the straightaway, he stands on the foot pegs, knees braced against the frame of the mini bike like a jockey on a racehorse, and leans out over the handlebars. He looks under the crook of his arm to see if Sam's anywhere in sight, a "woohoo! Look at me go!" just itching on his tongue.
Sam's still on the other side of this row of buildings, the beam of his headlight meandering back and forth so the shadows tilt hither and yon, and Dean's more chuckling to himself than gloating when he looks back to the path in front of him... just in time to see an air conditioning unit materialize out of a cloud of creeping fog directly ahead.
"Oh, shit!" Dean reaches for the clutch, realizing too late his thumb (and the rest of his fingers for that matter) is tingling with more than just the vibration from the engine, nothing but pins and needles to work with, and he can't be certain he's still gripping the handlebar, let alone find the clutch. Doing the only thing he can in that situation, he drops the throttle, feels the engine sputter and die, then lays the bike down.
He's lucky. The air conditioner can't drain onto black top, so there's deep pea gravel laid all around it. What doesn't spray against the unit like stony hail offers slightly more cushion than the parking lot would have. He hits the ground hard enough for the breath to knock out of him with a whump, skids through the gravel for several yards before stopping.
Having the wind knocked out of him shouldn't really be an issue, considering the number of times he's collided with inanimate objects over the course of his... career. So, Dean's already scrambling himself into a sitting position, more worried about Sam finding him like this than how he got like this in the first place, when he realizes he's having a hell of a time trying to knock the breath back in.
It just flat refuses.
His chest constricts like he's got a hose clamp strapped around him, someone with a screwdriver tightening it notch by notch. Pain radiates out from behind his sternum, punishing him for every tiny sip of air that does manage to squeak by, warning him not to try again, like he can just stop breathing on command. He tries to press a hand over it, massage it out like a charley horse, but his hand's numb, fingers fat and useless, tingling down his arm.
His vision's already starting to cloud over when he discovers the fog around him has a face. And it's not the face of a boy who died in a Nazi death camp. He doesn't recognize her, hasn't ever seen a picture of her so young, but he can guess her identity. "A-anya?" he gasps. She squints, five-year-old face menacing between her dark braids, stretches out a finger the way a toddler would when asked to "show me the puppy, your ears, your nose," but her touch is ice cold.
He huffs one clouded breath into the air between them before he can't see anything at all.
A/N: Well, now, that's about all I have of this story so far. I just started it a couple weeks ago, right after Yellow Fever, I think. I'm uncertain whether the case aspect of it should take center stage or whether Dean wakes up to find Sam's dispatched of the ghost and just have the mystery illness to deal with. Any votes?
A/N2: I probably spelled the names Anya and Josef wrong. I spelled Josef with an f instead of 'ph' because I figured the ph was probably more the English version of the name, but there's probably a 'y' or something in there. I just wanted the named to look how they sound so people wouldn't spend too much time stumbling over them in the text. On the show, we'd only hear them in the dialogue. Sometimes, I envy show. I'm pretty sure Anya probably has a 'j' in it, too. Please, do not be correcting my bad non-English grammar. Now, the English you can criticize all you want, though I'll probably chalk it up to stylistic choice.