The Hitchhiker

Disclaimer: I don't own then and no disrespect is intended.

A/N: Happy New Year! I've kinda been missing the first season, so I decided to indulge myself a little bit. I hope you all enjoy it; feel free to let me know!

oooOOOooo

In the final analysis there is no other solution to man's progress but the day's honest work, the day's honest decision, the day's generous utterances, and the day's good deed.

- Clare Boothe Luce -

oooOOOooo

"Are you serious?"

"Do I look like I'm joking?"

Sam Winchester regarded his brother skeptically. It wasn't beyond him to play a practical joke. In fact, it was completely in character; especially since they'd spent the previous day apart and he'd had plenty of time to think one up. He was normally a lot more creative than this, though.

"Okay, tell me again."

Dean sat back in his chair and sighed. "It's not that complicated, dude. I was driving last night and there was a chick on the side of the road. It was raining and I stopped to see if she needed any help."

"You gave her a ride to her house and –"

"And she disappeared."

"She just went poof?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "Poof? Seriously, Sam?"

"She got out of the car and…?"

"I watched her walk up to the front door, but it was pouring and there was a flash of lightning. I lost sight of her, but there was no way she could have gotten inside in that split second. I got out of the car to look around and this guy came out of the house. He asked if I'd brought his daughter home; he described her and told me exactly where I'd seen her."

"And he told you she'd died on that road a year ago?"

Dean nodded.

"Classic story, dude," Sam said.

"I know, but…."

Sam looked at him curiously. "But what?"

"She told me something."

"What?"

Dean shuffled uncomfortably.

"Dean?"

"I…"

As Sam watched, Dean glanced around nervously then leaned forward. "Sam, she knew about you."

"What do you mean?"

"Your visions. She knew about your visions."

"What did she say?" Sam asked quietly as a shudder rolled through him.

"She…" Dean paused while the waitress dropped off two beers. He didn't seem to be interested in continuing even after they were alone again.

Sam wasn't sure he wanted Dean to finish his thought. He'd started having dreams about the future just before his girlfriend's death; in fact, those had been the first. Since then he'd dreamed about the family living in their childhood house and about a kid his age who was killing members of his family with his telekinetic power.

Sam sadly realized that he was only one for three in being able to help the people he dreamed about. Jenny and her kids were safe in Lawrence, though they'd had the help of their mother's spirit with that one. Jessica was dead and so was Max.

Dean's demeanor changed and Sam assumed his brother must have done noticed his discomfort and slipped into big brother mode. He was now sitting straight in his chair and looked less upset than he had only a few moments before.

Sam hesitated, then leaned forward with his elbows on the table. "What did she say?"

Dean looked at him sympathetically, clearly having changed his mind about telling Sam any more.

"Tell me," Sam insisted.

Dean shook his head. "It doesn't matter. It just freaked me out a little that she even knew about them."

Sam didn't push him; he decided he didn't want to hear what some ghost had said about his visions. "So now what?"

"Well," Dean swallowed some of his beer. "I talked to the dad for a while and told him we could probably help."

"You tell him we'd have to salt and burn the bones?"

Dean took another swallow from the beer.

Sam rolled his eyes. "You didn't."

"How was I supposed to tell him that?"

"Well, we can't just do it and not tell him."

"Yeah, I know," Dean sighed. "I guess, anyway."

"What do you mean you guess? Dean, come one, we –"

"I know," Dean reluctantly agreed. "We'd have to tell him."

"Has this been going on since she died?"

"No; at least he doesn't think so. About two months ago, he started getting knocks on the door from people saying they'd brought her home."

"Every night for two months?"

Dean shook his head. "Not every night; a few."

"Any particular kind of person or do you think it's just random?"

"He doesn't know about everyone, but there have been doctors and –"

"Medical doctors?"

Dean nodded. "And shrinks."

"Cops?"

"Yeah, I think so. And a couple psychics."

"And now a hunter. People who might be able to help her," Sam mused. "She knows she's dead."

"That's what I figured."

"So, why doesn't she just…cross over or whatever?"

"I don't know."

Sam sat back in his chair, suddenly lost in thought. When the waitress stopped at their table again, Dean ordered them each a burger and another beer. Sam barely noticed.

-----

They went back to where Dean had come across the ghost and checked into a motel. It was still fairly early and Sam set up his laptop while Dean spread out the guns on his bed. He went about inspecting and cleaning them while watching his brother at the table across the room.

"You're quiet," Dean said later. He knew what was on Sam's mind and as much as he didn't want to talk about it, he thought that maybe Sam needed to.

"You know how your ghost died?"

Dean recognized Sam's delaying tactic. "Her dad said that her car broke down. She'd been out with friends and was on her way home. She was walking down the road, just a couple miles from the house, and was run over by a drunk driver. Apparently the dude didn't even stop, but the cops found him later."

Sam didn't say anything.

"Why?" Dean asked. "What are you researching, anyway?"

"Nothing, really. Just…."

"Just what?" Dean asked as he finished putting the last gun back together. When Sam didn't answer, Dean moved to the empty chair across from him. "Just what?"

Sam's eyes turned to his brother's face for a moment, then he looked back at the computer.

"I was just looking at similar stories. Sometimes the ghost just disappears, sometimes it leaves behind clothing, sometimes it's prophetic."

"Like the one I saw," Dean said.

Sam nodded. "So, none of the other people who she brought to her father tried to help? Not even the psychics?"

Dean thought for a moment. "I don't know. We'll ask that when we talk to him tomorrow."

"It might be important to know what else has been tried; if anything."

"Yeah, maybe."

"What about the guy who ran her down? Is he in jail?"

"I think so."

Sam started typing. "I'll see if I can find out."

Dean watched him for a moment. "You might be making this more complicated than it needs to be."

Sam looked up sharply. "I'm just trying to be thorough."

"I…Yeah, okay. But in the end it's probably just going to come down to salting and burning her bones."

Sam said nothing and turned his attention back to the computer.

Dean could see his brother's anger. Sam was doing a good job of controlling it, but it was just below the surface. Dean was pretty sure it wouldn't take much to get Sam to lash out at him, but he wasn't sure that was the right way to deal with the situation.

He hated that his brother had to live with the nightmares and the increasingly painful waking visions. What he hated more was that there was nothing he could do help Sam, other than hand him the pain killer when the headache started after a vision. They were migraine level and often left Sam feeling sick and weak for hours afterward. Most of the time, he pushed past the pain and insisted they go right to work to change the outcome of what he'd seen.

Dean wished he hadn't said anything about the ghost knowing about Sam's ability, but he couldn't take it back. Sam said he didn't want to know what she said, but Dean thought he did. How could he not be curious?

Dean wanted someone to talk to about how Sam's visions made him feel. He was scared, but he couldn't show that fear to Sam. It wasn't just because it had always been his job to take care of Sam, though that was a lot of it. Mainly it was because Sam was so scared of the visions and what they meant; Dean had to be strong for him.

They'd begun to suspect that the visions were somehow tied to their mother's death, but they didn't know anything for sure. Assuming the ghost was telling the truth, he still didn't really know anything. This was another one of those times Dean wished their dad wasn't missing. He needed his father's guidance, but there seemed to be little chance of getting it any time soon.

Sighing, Dean went back to his bed and finished with the weapons, letting Sam stew for a while longer.

"It's late," he noted a while later. "We should probably get some sleep."

Sam agreed and shut down the computer. They were both in bed fifteen minutes later with the lights out.

"Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"What did she say?"

Dean wasn't surprised at the question; he'd been expecting it. The brothers always seemed to have serious discussions either in the car or in a dark motel room.

"Are you sure you want to know?"

"No. Do I?"

"I'm sorry I said anything about it," Dean turned onto his side even though the room was too dark to see Sam's face. "And it's gotten way bigger than it should have."

"What do you mean?"

"It's not some big revelation. It's not like she told me where they're coming from."

"We know where they're coming from."

"We suspect; we don't know."

"Whatever. Tell me what she said. If it's no big revelation, it shouldn't be a big deal."

"It's not. Not really."

"So tell me."

"She just said…." Dean hesitated. "She just said they'd stop at some point, but that wouldn't be the end of your abilities."

"What does that mean?"

Dean hated the small sound of his brother's voice. It meant that Sam was afraid and he didn't want Sam to be afraid.

"She didn't say anything else."

Sam was quiet, but Dean heard the rustle of the bed covers.

"You know I'm in this with you, right?" Dean asked.

Still, Sam said nothing.

"Sammy?"

"I know," he whispered a few moments later.

-----

Sam didn't sleep much normally, but he got even less that night. He gave up even trying, showered and got on the computer just after dawn. Dean knew he was awake, having not gotten much sleep himself, but he pretended so that Sam could have some time to himself. When his brother stood up and slipped into his jacket, Dean sat up.

"Where are you going?"

Sam paused near the door and looked at him. "I thought I'd get us some food."

"You want some company?"

"I'll be back in a few minutes. There's coffee."

"Sam…" Dean sighed to himself. "Yeah, okay. Don't hurt my car."

"Bite me," Sam said with no anger in his voice.

Dean watched as his brother left the room and wished again that he could just take everything back.

-----

Dean showered and was dressed when Sam got back later. He hadn't taken nearly as long as Dean suspected he would and his mood seemed to be better than expected. The conversation remained light while they ate and watched the morning news. They also went through the newspaper that Sam had gotten.

When it was a more socially acceptable hour, Dean called Ron Jessup, the father of the ghost, to let him know they were in town and wanted to talk with him. He readily agreed and the brothers left the room a few minutes later.

"Hey, Dean?"

Dean was leaning against the Impala as he pumped gas and looked toward Sam as he came around the car.

"Did she say anything else?"

"No, I told you everything."

Sam nodded and looked off in the distance.

"What?"

Sam turned back to him. "Thanks for telling me."

"You're welcome.'

"What do you think she meant? I mean, cuz the visions are bad enough, you know? What else am I going to be able to do?"

Dean shuddered involuntarily and hoped Sam hadn't seen. "I don't know. Maybe she just meant it would get easier; less painful.'

"You said she told you they'd stop."

Dean didn't say anything.

"I don't want to be like Max," Sam said.

The first waking vision had led the brothers to Max Miller and his power of telekinesis. He'd killed his father and uncle and had nearly killed his stepmother, but Sam and Dean arrived in time to save her. Sam still harbored guilt for Max's suicide even though he'd nearly killed Dean first.

"We talked about that, Sammy," Dean said with kindness in his voice. "You're not going to be like Max. He'd been abused by his father and uncle; he was scared and alone when his powers started. You're not alone."

Sam looked at him uncertainly.

"What?" Dean prompted him.

Sam shrugged and turned away.

"Hey," Dean left the pump and walked toward his brother. He touched Sam's arm. "What's going on in your head?"

"It's just…."

"Just what?"

"What if…."

"Sam –"

"What if it gets to be too much for you?"

Dean was stunned. "What are you talking about?"

"What if whatever I morph into is too much for you to handle?"

"Sam, you're not going to morph into anything. Whatever you end up being able to do won't change you."

"What if it does?" Sam asked, his voice low.

Dean saw tears in his brother's eyes and was tempted to pull him into a hug, but that wasn't how they handled their feelings. At least that isn't how Dean handled them. Instead he took a step closer.

"Sammy, you're my brother. I'm not going anywhere. Ever."

Sam looked at Dean with a mixture of gratitude and uncertainty on his face.

-----

Ron Jessup was on the porch when Dean pulled the Impala into the driveway. He was only in his 50's, but life had not been kind to him. Working as a cop several years before in Miami, he'd been shot in the back while working a drug bust. Confined to a wheelchair, he and his family moved to the small town in Ohio where he still lived. Soon after, his wife was diagnosed with cancer and she died six months later, leaving Ron alone with their young daughter.

He talked to Sam and Dean about all of this without any anger or bitterness in his voice. He'd led them into the house when they arrived and served them coffee, managing the task and moving about the house easily.

He also told them about his wife's dream of opening a restaurant and that he'd managed to make that happen, though it was after her death. It was a casual bar and grill and while he admitted to not being able to even boil water, he had gone to bartending school and enjoyed tending bar a few nights a week.

"Mr. Jessup," Sam began when the conversation turned to the ghost. "Dean told me about some of the other people your daughter has brought here. It seems like she's bringing people who can help her; like she knows she's dead, but doesn't know where to go."

He nodded. "That's what I started to think after a while, too."

"Have you ever seen her?"

Ron shook his head. "No. And don't think I haven't tried."

"Those other people," Sam began. "Did they try to help?"

"A couple of the psychics did. They tried to contact her back on the road, but she didn't appear to them. They also tried to do it here at the house, but it didn't work."

"And the man that hit her? He's still in jail?" Dean asked. Sam had found a newspaper article about the sentencing, but hadn't been able to find out if he was actually serving it.

"He was sentenced to 15 years on account of this not being his only offense. He was a drinker and the police tracked some other hit and runs to him, too," he said and looked at Dean. "You were thinking she had some kind of unfinished business with him, maybe?"

Sam shrugged. "Yeah, but it doesn't seem likely, considering what you just told us."

"So, when you were here before, you said you could help. What would you have to do?"

The brothers exchanged a look.

"Well," Sam began.

"The surest way to handle it is to dig her body up, then salt and burn the bones," Dean finished for him.

Ron nodded sadly.

"But we could also try talking to her," Sam said.

Dean looked at him. That wasn't something they'd actually talked about, but he supposed it was worth a shot.

"I don't know that it will do any good, but she appeared to me before," Dean shrugged. "We could go back out to the road tonight and see what happens."

"You'd do that?"

Dean looked at Sam, who nodded his agreement.

"Yeah, we would."

Ron looked thoughtful. "I'd like to try that."

-----

"Did she say anything else to you?" Sam asked after he and Dean went back to their motel. They'd stayed with Mr. Jessup for quite a while to get as much information as they could.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, she told you about my visions, she told you where she lived, but," Sam sat down on the edge of the nearest bed. "Did she tell you anything that indicated she wanted help?"

Dean looked thoughtful. "No, I guess she didn't."

Sam said nothing as he started to think.

"What do you think that means?"

He shrugged. "Maybe she doesn't want help after all."

"Then why bring these people to her father? Why not everyone or no one?"

Sam shrugged again. "I don't know."

Dean sat down across from him. "Think we're stepping into something here?'

Sam grinned. "Has that ever stopped us?"

Dean rolled his eyes.

"We'll just make sure the rock salt is nearby and if we have to, we'll just dig her up tomorrow and be done with it."

"That's cold, dude."

Dean looked at him curiously, but said nothing.

-----

With shotguns filled with rock salt within easy reach, just in case, the brothers headed out to the road where Dean had run into the ghost. There was no reason to believe that she would actually be there, but they were hopeful. They'd asked Ron to come with them, but he declined because he'd not been able to see her the other times he'd tried. He thought if there was a chance the Winchesters could help her, it would be better if he wasn't with them.

It was a deserted stretch of road with no houses nearby, only trees and other foliage. It was a state highway with no streetlights, but it was a clear night and even though the moon wasn't full, it didn't seem overly dark. Theirs was the only car on the road.

"Dean."

Dean glanced at his brother, then followed his nod. Ahead, standing under a lighted billboard, a female stood. Dean recognized the pink sweater she was wearing.

"It's her," he said.

Once he was closer, Dean pulled the car to the side of the road.

"Why don't you hang back?" he suggested while reaching for the door handle.

"Okay,"

Sam got out of the car, but while Dean took a few steps toward the girl, he stood next to the open door. He made sure the shotgun was within easy reach and kept an eye on Dean.

"Hey," the older Winchester called. "Remember me?"

She looked at him with a curious expression.

"I took you home last night," Dean said and with a glance at his brother, he took another few steps forward. "My name's Dean."

She turned her eyes from him and looked to the car.

"That's my brother," Dean said. "Sam."

She looked back to Dean.

"You didn't tell me your name last night, but I talked to your dad. He said your name is Barbara."

"You…you talked to my father?"

"Yeah. He told me what happened to you a year ago. Do you remember?"

"Of course. I died."

Even though they had suspected that she knew she was dead, Dean was still taken aback by her certainty. He glanced at Sam again, then turned his attention to Barbara.

"You remember?"

"Do I look like an idiot to you? I was supposed to be valedictorian of my graduating class and I had a scholarship to Notre Dame. Of course, that was before the sonofabitch ran over me."

Dean blinked a few times. "Uh, yeah. Notre Dame. That's –"

"Yeah, whatever," Barbara sounded irritated. "It doesn't much matter now, huh?"

"I guess not," Dean said sympathetically. "So, what are you doing out here? Why do you keep bringing people to your father's house? I mean, if you know you're dead, why don't you –"

"Cross over? Go to the light?"

"Yeah."

"I did. Sort of, anyway. There's a process and I was working my way through it, but something happened…."

While they'd been talking she'd taken steps toward Dean and she was close enough for him to see tears glistening in her eyes. She continued before Dean could say anything.

"I came back to help my dad, but I don't have the power to do whatever I want. I've only been dead a year and hadn't gotten all the way through the induction –"

"A year isn't long enough?"

"Hey, we're dead forever. What's a year?"

Dean shrugged, thinking about that for a moment. "Why does your father need help?"

"He's sick, but he doesn't know it yet. Look, if I could go to him directly, I would. I'm working with all these rules that I don't understand, but…."

Dean saw her flicker, almost like she was going to disappear.

"Damnit," she said as a tear rolled down her cheek. "I don't have much time. My dad is sick; he needs to go to a doctor. I love him and I miss him, but he's important to a lot of people and he shouldn't die yet."

"What's wrong with him?" Dean asked as she flickered again.

"It's his kidneys. I don't know exactly, but it has to do with the gunshot wound he got back in Miami. If they catch it early, now, he should have a lot of years left. Please…."

"We'll tell him."

"Thank you."

"Will you be able to come back again?" Dean asked.

"I don't know, but I don't think so. Rules," she shrugged.

"Look, we'll go talk to your dad now and we'll come back tomorrow night. If you're here…."

She nodded. "Thank you. Look, I'm not allowed to see him, so….Will you tell him that I love him and that he was the best father I could have asked for?"

"Of course," Dean said, his throat tight.

"And tell him that I've seen Mama." Barbara's voice was getting softer and Dean could see she was fading.

"We'll tell him."

She nodded, then looked toward Sam. He was still standing next to the car. "Be careful, Sam."

Dean glanced over his shoulder, then back to Barbara. "What's going to happen to my brother?"

"He's…."

Dean saw her mouth moving, but he couldn't see her voice and a moment later she was gone. He looked at the empty spot for a few moments before turning around. Sam was also staring at the place the ghost had been standing and he looked scared.

"Be careful, huh?" Sam said, looking at Dean over the top of the car.

"That means whatever's coming, we can beat it."

"You think?"

Dean nodded. "I do."

Sam looked back to where Barbara had been standing, then at his brother. Dean hoped his expression was confident because he didn't exactly feel that way.

"Let's go back to Mr. Jessup."

-----

The brothers sat with Ron Jessup for over two hours; they passed along Barbara's messages and explained what they could. He kept telling them how much he appreciated their help and promised to make an appointment with his doctor for a full physical. He nearly cried when Dean told him they would stay in town another day to see if they could talk to Barbara again.

Sufficiently satisfied with the outcome and sure that Mr. Jessup was all right for the night, Sam and Dean headed back to their hotel.

"You're quiet," Dean noted as he drove.

"I'm glad we didn't just salt and burn her bones; this was better."

"Yeah," Dean agreed.

After a few minutes of silence, Dean glanced at his brother. "So? You okay?"

"Yeah. I'm just thinking about what Barbara said. About being careful."

"Well, you know, it's always good advice."

"I know," Sam said with a smile.

"Sam –"

"I know what you're going to say, Dean," Sam looked at him. "I know you've got my back."

"Damn straight."

-----

Sam talked to Mr. Jessup the next morning and was glad to hear he'd made an appointment with his doctor for the next day. He wanted to do something to thank the brothers and invited them to have dinner with him at his restaurant that evening. Sam accepted.

He and Dean arrived at the agreed upon time and the hostess led them to a table near the back. It was next to a large picture window with a view of the lights along Lake Eerie; it was no doubt more impressive during the day, but clearly one of the best tables in the place. There was a large fireplace across the room with a picture of Barbara on the mantel. There was another photo next to it that the brothers assumed was her mother.

They placed drink orders and Ron joined them a few minutes later.

He'd suggested some tourist type activities for them and though it wasn't something they normally had a lot of time to engage in, they had taken the day off to just have some fun. They talked about some of what they'd seen and Ron filled in some of the historical facts for them. Dean surprised his brother by taking an active part in the conversation. Normally he wasn't one for a lot of small talk and even though he often pretended otherwise, he enjoyed the occasional sight-seeing trip.

Their steaks were prepared to perfection and the service was impeccable. Sam watched the servers and other customers; it seemed that everyone was getting the same level of service and not just the boss. After salad and an entrée with side dishes, the brothers were stuffed, but Ron insisted on sending them off with large slices of apple pie.

Back in their motel room, they packed their things while an old sit-com played in the background. They planned to stop by Ron's after, hopefully, talking to Barbara one last time and then continue out of town. Sam had found another job for them to work that wasn't too far away and Dean liked to drive at night. There was less traffic and fewer cops on the road.

A couple of hours later they sat on their beds eating pie and drinking bad motel coffee. Finally, it was time to leave.

"I was thinking," Sam said as they sat in the car near the billboard where they'd seen Barbara the night before. "Even if she doesn't show up, maybe we should tell Ron that she did."

"Sam Winchester!" Dean said with mock alarm. "Are you suggesting we lie?"

Sam laughed at his brother's exaggerated tone. "You're such a jerk."

Dean smiled, then turned to look through the windshield. "Yeah, I know. Maybe you're right; it would put his mind at ease if we told him she said goodbye and that she's going….well, where ever it is she's going."

"You ever wonder about that?" Sam asked. "Where we go when we die?"

"I try not to."

Sam nodded thoughtfully. "Me, too."

After a few minutes of silence, Sam shifted and looked at Dean. "It's been a while since we had a lead on Dad."

"Where'd that come from?" Dean asked.

Sam shrugged. "I was just sayin'…."

"Something will come up."

"Yeah," Sam agreed quietly.

Dean nodded toward the billboard. "She's here."

They quickly got out of the car and approached her. She wasn't nearly as vibrant as she had been previously and she confirmed their suspicion that she only had a moment.

"Rules," she rolled her eyes.

"Your dad made the appointment," Sam told her.

She looked relieved. "Thank goodness! Thank you so much."

"You're welcome," Dean said.

"He also said to tell you that he loves you."

"I know he does," she smiled. "But it's nice to hear."

She looked behind her as if she'd heard something, then turned back to the brothers. "I have to go. Thank you again; for everything."

"Barbara," Sam began, then looked at Dean guiltily. His brother didn't react. "What you said about my visions –"

"Like I told Dean, they'll stop, but there's more to come.'

"Is that good or bad?"

She smiled at him a little sadly. "I think that might depend."

"On what?"

"On you," she looked over her shoulder again. "I really have to go. I'm sorry I can't tell you more."

Sam nodded. "It's okay."

She smiled at them both again and when she turned around, they saw a bright glow coming from behind some trees. She walked toward it, but before disappearing, she turned to wave at them. They waved back and a moment later, she was gone. The light faded and they were left in the almost complete darkness of the overcast night.

"Come on, Sammy," Dean said and led the way back to the car.

fin