Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
Spoilers: None for the true arc of the show.
A/N: Please Read.
The Supernatural Virtual Seasons is an AU storyline that was imagined by kittsbud in 2006 when Supernatural's first season ended with such a harrowing cliffhanger. Partnering with a rotating group of several talented writers, kittsbud created the Virtual Seasons team, bringing to life a plotline that has now completed three seasons.
This story was aired as Episode Ten during Virtual Season 2. It is a "stand-alone" episode, meaning not pivotal to the central VS2 story arc, but there are some things you need to know in order for this story to make sense.
1) John is alive, though not always a central character.
2) In the VS, the YED was called "Haris" after a particular demon that is pivotal to later stories.
3) Sam made a deal with Haris to free Dean from demonic possession in exchange for his powers (and presumably his life) by his next birthday.
Suffocate picks up after Dean has discovered the deal his brother made—exposed accidentally during an argument with Sam in a previous episode.
I haven't edited or changed this story from when it was posted on supernatural[dot]tv's Virtual Seasons site back in June of 2007. This is probably my favorite of the VS episodes I wrote. Is it okay to confess that?
I will post a new chapter each day until the story is completed. I hope you enjoy!
Road outside Ellicott City, MD
Dean was humming.
Sam had been so engrossed in the words before him that he didn't realize what he was hearing at first. He looked up, the glow of the highway lights periodically illuminating the Impala's shiny hood as they drew closer to their destination. He had been reading by flashlight, trying to distract himself from the heavy quiet of the car, trying to ready himself for what they would find in Ellicott City. He narrowed his focus on the radio, James Hetfield's gruff voice as familiar to him as his brother's. Metallica's Nothing Else Matters.
Dean started singing, low, soft, as if he wasn't aware that the words were out loud.
"…trust I seek, and I find in you… every day for us something new… and nothing else matters… never cared for what they say… never cared for games they played… never cared for what they do… never cared for what they know…"
Sam closed his eyes briefly, then looked back down at the papers lying in his lap. Dean used to sing a lot when they were younger. When the load he carried was lighter. He knew Dean was unaware of it, but his brother's suffering came through his quiet voice and Sam felt a stab of frustrated helplessness. There was nothing he could do… nothing. Because he was the cause, the catalyst.
Sam rubbed two fingers across the lid of his left eye, trying to stifle the dull ache there. It had never really stopped bothering him since the time they spent in Riverside, not that he'd admit that to Dean. It was good enough – he could see, that's all that mattered. He knew that despite Dean's automatic drive to follow John's orders, his brother's focus had been on one thing since the night when Sam had let exhaustion get the better of him and had broken his brother's heart with six words spoken without thought: I had to make the deal.
He shifted against the seat as Dean took the curve of the darkened road faster than the posted speed limited suggested. Dean was in complete control of the car, his fingers curled around the wheel, his shoulders squared and tense, his eyes pinned to the blacktop. Sam never worried about Dean losing control of his car. He worried about him losing control of everything else.
Melissa's death had hit Dean harder than Sam first realized. By the time Sam understood, really understood, it was too late. He'd discovered the phantom platoon and had pushed Dean onto another hunt. Keep them moving, keep them working, keep their minds off the inevitable…
Sam had watched as Dean had pulled the pain exposed by alcohol back inside, made it go away, once again effectively shoring up his internal defensive perimeter. Sifting through the myriad of information printed across the papers in his lap, Sam let a small sigh leak out. Dad's news last week had simply added another brick to Dean's wall.
Somehow, the knowledge that his abilities were a result of destiny working to balance itself had a calming, almost peaceful effect on Sam. Dean had taken the information in stride, used it to fuel his already white-hot drive to get Sam out of his deal. As usual, Dean preferred action: focusing on a solution to their current dilemma rather than musing about the mysteries of the universe. But, then, Dean was action. And he would never be at peace unless he was able to keep denying evil what it so badly desired.
Dean stopped singing when the song ended and the Stones' Paint It Black began. The near-silence that filled the car in the wake of Dean's voice almost compelled Sam to dig through the CD collection and find something else his brother would sing to.
For Sam, going to Maryland on a new hunt was a welcome reprieve – a way to keep the demons at bay that couldn't be dispelled with holy water or an exorcism. The demons of time and truth. The demons of betrayal and sacrifice.
For Dean, he knew, it was just one more thing keeping him from his true mission: saving Sam. But an order was an order, no matter how it was delivered.
"There's the turn-off, man," Sam spoke up suddenly.
"I see it," Dean's low voice responded.
As the Impala angled down the exit ramp, Sam swallowed the sudden urge to snap at his brother. How long, Dean? How long are you going to shut me out? How long are you going to make me pay? He sank a bit deeper into his seat, knowing the answer. His birthday was less than two weeks away. Ten days to be exact.
Glancing quickly over at his brother, Sam could almost see Dean coil tighter before his eyes as if a digital countdown hovered above Dean's head, ticking away the time they had left together: 239 hours, 59 minutes, 60 seconds. He wondered idly why he didn't feel the same sense of urgency.
"Okay, Sam. Whaddaya got?"
Sam took a breath and began to roll up the sleeves of his denim shirt. Dad's note had effectively shut them out of one hunt and pushed them toward another. He knew which one Dean wanted to be on, but when he'd called the number Dad had left them, he'd reached Frank Jessup who said that he knew John from the Marines.
Dean said Frank sounded almost desperate when he asked them to come right away. The fact that he'd served with their dad made the note's implied order explicit. His brother would move heaven and earth to live up to the expectations he perceived their father had of him. Helping a fellow marine was not only expected, it was demanded.
"So, let's see… Frank said that the kid died last week—"
"Yeah, I got that part," Dean interrupted, glancing quickly down at the papers lit by Sam's flashlight. "Skip to the part I don't know."
Sam licked his lips. He was on shaky ground, covering old territory. He knew Dean would remember every word Frank said; Dean remembered pretty much everything he heard, from conversations, to music lyrics, to movie lines. He mentally shook off the strange hesitation he was feeling about how to talk to his brother, and plunged ahead.
"Well, looks like Ellicott City was pretty quiet until about three years ago. Then weird stuff started happening."
"Weird like three-headed cow weird, or weird like 28 Days Later weird?"
"Weird like… well, here it says a half a dozen animals drowned in the river, and then three houses in one neighborhood sank one story into the earth overnight."
Sam nodded. "Guess things have been, um, escalating over the last month – library books flying from the shelves, the odd fire breaking out for no reason. That kinda stuff. Hey, Dean?"
"Did you know that Baltimore is considered pretty much the most haunted place in the US?"
Dean lifted an eyebrow and glanced at him. "Who doesn't know that, Sam?"
"Jeeze, sorry," Sam rolled his eyes. He hid a smile. Talking was good. Talking eased the tension.
Dean cracked his neck. "You know the name of this place isn't really working in our favor."
"I promise not to shoot you." Sam pulled the corner of his mouth up in a small grin. "Again."
He glanced at his brother, noting how Dean's eyes crinkled slightly at the corners, betraying the humor that his mouth tried to hide.
"Dude, I think it's my turn to shoot you…"
Sam looked up and watched through the front window as Dean turned down the main street of Ellicott City. "I think Howie took your turn for you."
Dean bobbed his head once. "Howie freakin' Grumnik. Little bastard."
They stopped at a red light and Dean stretched an arm over the back of the seat, looking over at him. Sam was surprised at his own reaction to the sight of his brother's eyes. Recently, having Dean simply look at him was like winning the lottery. He missed his brother's often inappropriate humor, his natural tendency to parent him – even Dean's anger was better than the careful tread of pained uncertainty that had been tainting their conversation since John had left them in Nebraska.
"So, what you're saying is… we got some poltergeist running amuck in this here town," Dean drawled.
"Amuck?" Sam asked, grinning.
Dean nodded, his mouth bowed down in a mock frown. "Amuck. Causin' a ruckus even."
"Apparently," Sam chuckled, appreciating Dean's attempt at levity. "You know… I wonder why Frank offered to pay us. If he knows Dad, he's gotta know we'd come, regardless."
Dean accelerated through the green light, his face a display of doubt. "Yeah… I don't know, Sam. Feels hinky, taking money from one of Dad's friends."
"Dad ever mention him to you before this?"
Dean shook his head. "Nah, but it's not like he talked about every guy he served with."
"Yeah…" Sam frowned, looking back down at the papers.
"Nothing," Sam shook his head. "Guess I just think that… well, hinky or not, it's nice to be able to make some honest money for a change."
Dean shook his head. "Dude, you have one twisted idea of honesty."
Sam winced, looking over at him. "Dean, I—"
"Forget it." Dean's voice went hard, apparently realizing how layered such a statement was these days. "We're here anyway."
He pulled to a stop in front of the police station. Sam switched off his flashlight and stuffed it and the papers into the glove box. The familiar creak of the Impala's doors announced their arrival. Dean got out and Sam heard him whistle in admiration at the dark blue – or was it black? – vehicle he'd parked next to. Sam paused and leaned on the roof of the Impala, waiting while Dean slowly circled the other car.
"1970 Ford Falcon, Sam."
"This baby's a classic. Probably got a Mustang V8 under her hood."
"You want me to give you two a minute alone?"
Dean finished his prowl around the car, his shoulders rolling under his leather jacket as he shrugged off the inevitable tension Sam knew driving across country always settled on him.
"Nah," Dean tossed him a crooked grin. "Wouldn't dream of cheating on my baby."
"Right. My bad," Sam said, shaking his head and following him up the stone steps to the heavy wooden doors of the police station.
As he was a bit behind, Sam was able to swiftly step out of the way when Dean crashed backwards and stumbled down one step, his arms splayed to keep from falling, as a dark-haired girl with an armful of thick text books slammed directly into him.
"Oh, my God," she exclaimed as her books slid from her grasp. Sam grabbed the door before it could swing back and hit them as Dean struggled to both catch his balance and keep the girl from propelling them backwards down the stairs.
"Easy, whoa!" Dean grabbed the girl up against him, effectively stopping their possible plummet backwards. "Hey, you okay?"
She nodded, stepping back and looking up at him. From where he stood, Sam couldn't see her face – but he could see Dean's. His brother's large hazel eyes flashed once, pupils widening, and then they softened. He'd seen that flash before, many times… but rarely had he seen the almost pained smile that followed. That brief reveal of a bared soul had Sam remembering Cassie… and Melissa.
"I'm so sorry," the girl exclaimed, her voice deep. "I wasn't paying attention… I could have… I am so sorry."
Dean ducked his head so that he caught her eyes, his hands firmly but gently holding her upper arms. "Hey, it's okay. No one's broken. Lemme help you with—"
Sam matched Dean's surprised expression at her swift denial.
"No," she repeated more softly, with an embarrassed laugh. "I've got it; it's okay." She shoved her hands into her close-cropped hair.
Sam crouched down and picked up a thick book, turning it over. Ascension Magick: Ritual, Myth, and Healing for the New Aeon. He stood, the book in his hand, and watched as the girl bent to pick up the others quickly. Dean turned and grabbed one that had tumbled down a couple of stairs. Sam watched as he looked at the title. He lifted it and flashed the cover at Sam. Elemental Witch: Fire, Air, Water, Earth; Discover your Natural Affinity. Sam lifted an eyebrow and showed Dean the book he held in his hand.
"Thank you, thanks," said the girl, turning to take the book from Sam. He caught his first look at her face. She was captivating – older than he'd first thought, with high cheekbones, a small mouth that quirked up naturally at the corners, even in her harried state, and large brown eyes framed by thick, dark lashes.
She turned back to Dean and met his eyes. Sam watched Dean pull his lips in, his brows gathering across the bridge of his nose. He handed her the last book.
"You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah," the girl's voice trembled slightly. "Yes. I'm fine. Thanks. Thanks again."
Her arms once again laden with the Wiccan books, the girl moved past Dean, tossing a quick smile back at him as she made her way down the stairs. Sam watched as Dean kept his eyes on her, turning his body as she walked away. Sam flicked his eyes from the back of his brother's head to watch the girl unlock the back door of the Falcon, toss the books on the seat, then slide into the driver's seat. His brows shot up in surprised admiration.
Dean shook his head slowly as the car fired up with an eerily familiar rumble, and the girl backed out of the parking space, turned on the headlights, and drove away with strains of Don Henley's Boys of Summer echoing back to them through her opened windows.
When Dean turned back to look at him, the grin on his face had Sam shaking his head in bemusement. Some things never change, he thought. Dean nodded at him, motioning him to go in first. As Sam walked through the door, his eyes hit a large wall calendar next to the Most Wanted board. Today's date flashed up at him. April 22nd.
And some things do…
"Can I help you?" The desk sergeant was a tired-looking Asian man whose expression told Sam that helping them was the absolute last thing he wanted to do.
"Yeah, uh, Officer… Kim," Dean replied with a friendly smile, ducking his eyes to read the sergeant's name badge. "We're looking for Frank Jessup."
"Seriously, Danny, I am not going to tell you again. Do your freakin' job, man!"
Sam blinked at the harsh bark from an opened doorway behind Officer Kim. He saw Dean straighten reflexively out of the corners of his eyes. Officer Kim jerked a thumb over his shoulder.
"That's him," he muttered and dropped his gaze back down to the magazine he'd been reading before they walked in.
A young blond man in a light-blue officer's shirt stumbled out of the opened doorway, hurried through the bullpen and pushed through the swinging door next to Officer Kim, who didn't so much as raise his head. Sam and Dean separated quickly to allow the young man space to storm out of the station, watched him exit, then turned as one back to face the angry-looking Sheriff standing with his elbow propped in the doorway, fingers splayed through dark hair, a scowl looking at home on his face.
"Frank Jessup?" Dean asked.
"Who wants to know?" He grumbled.
"Name's Winchester. Dean Winchester." Dean tilted his head to the left. "This is my brother, Sam. You called us?"
Frank straightened quickly at the sound of their surname. He'd crossed the room in three quick, long-legged strides by the time Dean stopped talking.
"Hot damn it's good to see you boys!" Frank exclaimed. He reached out a hand and grabbed Sam's, pumping it enthusiastically. "Damn, I should have realized – you look just like your Daddy did at your age, Sam."
Sam blinked, carefully extracting his hand from Frank's exuberant greeting. He looked over at Dean and was momentarily surprised by the shadowed expression that brushed his brother's features. When Frank reached for his hand, Dean took it, shook once and stepped back from his grasp. Frank didn't seem to notice.
"You boys made good time," he said, a relieved smile nearly splitting his face in half. "You eat yet?"
Sam was still watching Dean and allowed himself to relax when at the mention of food, Dean smiled.
"No sir," Dean replied.
"Well, c'mon," Frank clapped a hand on Sam's shoulder, turning them toward the door. "Kim, hold down the fort."
Officer Kim didn't even look up. "Mmhmm."
"There's a diner right across t'way," Frank said, stepping between them to jog ahead down the stone steps. He caught sight of the Impala and Sam saw him do a double-take. "Hot damn! She yours?"
He turned to look at Sam. Dean nodded, saying nothing. Frank looked back at the car.
"You wait 'til you meet my niece, Reed," Frank said, starting to reach out and run a finger along the hood of the Impala. Sam had to bite back a grin when Frank instinctively looked up to see Dean's stony expression warning him away. He pulled his hand back and continued. "Her Daddy had a thing for classic cars. Gave her his Ford Falcon when she turned twenty-one."
Sam's eyebrows went up. His niece, huh?
"We, uh, met," Dean said, following Frank across the street. "Sorta."
Sam walked in under the ringing bell behind Frank and Dean. The small diner looked like it had once been a railroad car. The sound of the bell caught the attention of a white-haired man, wearing a navy-blue baseball cap that was turned backwards on his head, wiping down the counter.
"Three coffees, Luke," Frank signaled with his fingers.
He led the way to a booth, sliding into the far side, facing the door. Sam slid in across from him, making room for Dean. Luke set three thick, white mugs down in the middle of the table and poured the coffee over them, filling each with an impressive circular motion. Dean hooked his elbow over the back of the booth between himself and Sam and rested his other arm on the Formica table top.
"Thanks, Luke," Frank nodded, picking up his coffee and gulping half the cup in what should have been a mouth-scalding swallow. He set it back down and Luke, who was apparently used to this behavior, filled it back up, then looked at the boys.
Dean shrugged and mimicked Frank, receiving an immediate refill. Sam waved his hand over the top of his still-steaming mug.
"I'm good, thanks," he said hurriedly, rewarded with narrowed eyes and a frown from the gregarious Luke.
"Uh, three specials, I think, Luke," Frank nodded at Dean, then Sam. "That good with you boys?"
Sam blinked, but Dean nodded. Surrendering to the inevitable, Sam smiled at Luke and nodded as well. After more than a thousand diners in more than a thousand small towns across America, Sam had learned that the special was pretty much the same anywhere they went.
Luke stepped away, and Dean leaned forward, resting both elbows on the table and wrapping his hands around his mug.
"Thank God," he mumbled sarcastically. "I thought he'd never shut up."
Frank grinned. "Luke's not much of a talker. He was a POW in the war. Prolly said about ten words in the last ten years."
Dean nodded and looked down.
"So, uh, Frank," Sam started. It was late, and he could feel the tension begin to build around Dean again.
"Yeah," Frank nodded. "You're probably ready to get down to business, ain'tcha?"
Dean kept his eyes down, seemingly content to let Sam handle the talking.
"We did some research on the way in…"
Frank shook his head. "Y'ain't gonna find out what you need to know from any book."
"Internet research," Sam corrected.
"Not there, neither," Frank said, glancing out of the diner window into the darkness.
"Nobody knows, is why."
"Knows what?" Dean asked, keeping his head lowered, but raising his eyes to look directly at Frank.
Frank pressed his lips down in a frown, looking back over at Dean, then shifting his eyes to Sam.
"That my brother is haunting this town."
Wayside Inn B&B, night
Dean lay on top of the red comforter covering one of the two double beds in the room Frank had secured for them. His leather jacket was draped across the back of the chair sitting opposite Sam, who was hunched over his laptop, staring intently at the screen. Dean tucked one arm behind his head, grateful for the grey T-shirt layered beneath the soft, thin fabric of his second-hand red plaid flannel shirt. April in Maryland was brisk, to say the least.
Mindlessly flipping through the five channels on the hotel TV, Dean thought about what Frank had told them less than an hour before. Frank had apparently been able to shrug off the weird occurrences that had happened in and around Ellicott City for the last three years until the teenager was found dead in a local abandoned house. He'd been missing for almost a week when an anonymous tip had led them to the house and they'd found the boy in a small broom closet. The coroner's report said he'd died from asphyxiation.
Poor kid suffocated. That had to be scary as hell…
Dean stopped flipping when he reached a rerun of The X-files and he dropped the remote onto the bed next to him. He looked over at Sam. His brother had handled the initial information-gathering part of the investigation with ease. He'd smoothly maneuvered around Frank's reluctance to relinquish many details as to why he was so certain of the spirit's identity, and got enough for them to do more research on their own. He had even managed to get Frank to give them half of the money offered now, with the promise of the second half when they'd taken care of the problem.
Some problem. Vanquishing his dead brother's spirit…
Shaking his head, Dean sat up on the bed, bending one leg in front of him and dropping the other to the floor. He didn't even like thinking the words 'brother' and 'spirit' in the same sentence. He lifted his eyes to the TV screen, watching without comprehension. He should be out there with his dad, finding that damn Seal, fixing this, saving Sam.
"Okay, so listen to this," Sam spoke up suddenly, breaking into his thoughts. "Lawrence Jessup died three years ago at the age of forty-five."
"You gotta be kidding me," Dean said, dropping his chin. "The dude's name was Lawrence?"
Sam glanced at him. "Yeah."
"What is it with this case? Next thing you're gonna tell me is that we have to walk into an attic full of bees."
Sam curved the corner of his mouth into a grin. "I don't think so," he said, glancing over at the TV. "But anything is possible."
"Oh my God, Mulder. It smells like... I think it's bile."
"Uh, Scully… is there any way I can get it off my fingers quickly without betraying my cool exterior?"
"What episode is this?" Sam asked.
"The one with that creepy little dude with the fingers… Tooms," Dean said, looking from Sam over to the TV.
"Oh, right," Sam nodded. "I think Dad likes this episode."
"Dad likes any of the episodes that don't have aliens in them," Dean said, pushing up from the bed and striding over to the duffel bag full of weapons.
Grabbing it up, he dropped it onto his bed, then sat on Sam's and began to pull the guns from the bag and lay them out on the bed. His fingers itched. His hands were aching. His arms hurt. He needed to move, to act, to do. He needed a purpose. Picking up one of the shotguns, he began to break it down and clean the barrels with an automatic flow of action.
Ten days, Dad… Ten friggin' days and you send us on a ghost hunt. Town'll still be haunted after Sammy's safe… this couldn't have waited? Oh, right… dead kid… friend from the Marines… the goddamn family business. Won't be much of a business without the family…
When Sam didn't continue with what he'd discovered about Lawrence Jessup, Dean glanced over at him. He was watching TV, his face serene, happy even. Dean pulled his eyebrows together, his hands continuing their ceaseless motion. Sam didn't look one bit concerned about the time they were losing dealing with Frank Jessup's haunted town. In fact, he didn't look concerned about much of anything.
"Sam!" He barked.
Sam jumped, startled.
"Focus. Or I'm turning off the TV."
Sam pouted, then turned back to the laptop. "Okay, where was I?"
"Freaking me out with the dude's name," Dean replied, looking down the barrel of the empty shotgun to check for any remaining residue.
"Right, okay, so… says here that Lawrence was a pillar of the community, big philanthropist—"
"Donated a lot of money to a lot of causes."
"Named a wing of the library after him… umm, man, looks like the mayor even gave him the key to the city," Sam folded his lips down, shaking his head. "Maybe Frank's wrong. Why would a guy this well-liked turn into an angry spirit?"
Dean shrugged. "Maybe he's not the spirit."
"Frank seemed so sure, though," Sam frowned.
"Seem weird to you that Frank didn't tell us how he died?"
"Yeah. It did," Sam scrolled through a few more screens. "Looks like he, uh, drowned. A kid fell into the river, Jessup went in after him, fished him out, but his pants got snagged on something and he was pulled under. No one nearby was strong enough to get to him in time."
Dean set the shotgun aside and picked up another, broke it down and started to oil it. "Man, that blows."
Sam nodded. "Doesn't seem like his spirit would kill that kid, though, Dean. Not when he died to save another kid…"
Dean shrugged, checking the barrel of the second gun. "Maybe the kid just wandered in on a dare… freaked himself out, got trapped."
"Maybe," Sam said, peering at the laptop screen again. "Huh."
"What?" Dean glanced over at his brother.
"Frank left out a few facts about that kid's death, too," Sam said, a muscle jumping in his jaw.
"Like what?" Dean asked, setting down the second shotgun and picking up his .45, ejecting the clip.
"Like the fact that the property the abandoned house is sitting on belongs to Reed Jessup."
Dean froze, thinking. He knew that name… "Holy shit, his niece? The chick with the Falcon?"
Sam nodded. "Lawrence's daughter."
"Well, that changes things a bit," Dean said, taking apart his gun.
Sam sat back in his chair and rubbed his face tiredly. "Man, this gets old, you know it?"
Dean's attention snapped to a narrowed focus and he looked hard at Sam's profile. "What are you talking about?"
"This…" Sam waved his hand around the room. "All… this. Different town, different motel room. Family tragedy, lies, secrets. Ghosts, pain, hauntings… all of it. I'm just gonna be glad when it's all over."
Dean went cold. He swallowed the sudden rush of bile to his throat at Sam's words. Working to pull a breath into his lungs, he licked his lips and carefully set down his .45.
"Why are you saying this stuff, Sam?"
If his distress echoed through his voice, Sam gave no notice. He simply tipped his chair back on its rear legs and rolled his neck.
"'Cause I'm ready for something different, man. I'm just ready… y'know, for it all to be… over."
Dean felt his heart thud once, hard, against his ribcage. He was standing before he was even conscious of pushing himself to his feet.
"Shut the hell up."
Sam's head snapped up in surprise at the cold dread in Dean's voice. Dean could feel himself shaking, but he didn't care. He knew his wall was becoming swiftly transparent, but he wanted, needed, Sam to see. He couldn't fight hard enough, he wasn't strong enough, to keep them both believing – Sam had to believe that they would find a way out of this deal. He had to believe or Dean would be lost.
"What? Dean, are you—"
Dean crossed the room in two strides and stood directly in front of Sam. He curled his hands into fists, resisting the almost overpowering urge to grab the front of Sam's denim shirt, haul him to his feet, and shake him, hard.
"You listen to me," Dean said, his voice low, hard. "It will never be over. This is our life. Our life. As long those evil sonsabitches are out there, it will always be our life."
He watched as Sam paled in reaction to his trembling anger. His fists tightened to the point where he heard his knuckles crack. Sam's expression shifted and his eyes suddenly swam with memories. Dean stared at him, willing him to come back from complacency, willing the warrior he'd raised to return… needing to see the fight in Sam's eyes.
"You can't give up on me, Sam," he whispered.
"I'm…" Sam looked away. "I'm not giving up."
"Don't lie to me."
Sam didn't meet his eyes. "I'm not lying, Dean." He looked over at the TV. "I just think that I'm… settled."
"Settled?" Dean pulled his head back, his brow furrowed in confusion. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"It means," Sam pushed his chair away from the table and stepped away from Dean's formidable presence. "That maybe Dad'll find the Seal of Solomon… and maybe we'll find a way to defeat Haris…" Sam looked at him then. "And maybe we won't."
"What, and you're just okay with that?" Dean yelled.
Sam nodded. "Yeah, Dean." He leaned on the dresser, his fingers stuffed into the front pockets of his jeans. "I am."
Dean slowly uncurled his fists. He felt his heartbeat in his head. He blinked as the edges around Sam blurred and he realized that he had forgotten to breathe. Turning away from Sam and staring down at the weapons spaced across the bed, Dean ran a hand through his short hair, then rubbed the back of his neck.
"Well, I'm not."
Dean looked over at his brother. He took in the unlined face, the calm blue-grey eyes, the slight quirk of a brow in question. His brother, who had been his responsibility – his one job – since he could remember. His brother, whom he'd both taught and learned from, been both saved by and savior of, whom he'd protected, cursed at, laughed with, loved. His brother who had offered his soul to hell in one desperate, stupid act. His brother who stood there and told him that he was okay with losing, he was okay with giving in, he was okay with dying.
Well, screw that, Dean thought. He was not about to lose this fight.
"I said I'm not, Sam." Dean turned to face Sam, his arms at his sides, palms open and out, soul exposed. "No matter what, I will fight this. I will fight for you. I am not about to let you go, let him friggin' win. You got me?"
He put his heart into those words, his will as real as if he'd grabbed his brother up and shoved him against the wall. His memory echoed an image of a different Sam, a desperate Sam. Don't you say that, not you… not after all this…
Sam swallowed, looking down. He nodded. "I got you."
Dean was silent for a moment, weighing the sincerity of Sam's reply. When Sam looked up again, he nodded into Dean's eyes. "I got you, Dean," he repeated.
Dean wasn't certain if the fight was back in Sam, but he did know that Sam believed him and he was finally able to take a breath.
"Good. Now, we diggin' tonight or what?"
Dean turned back to the weapons strewn across the bed. "Only way to find out for sure if Larry's haunting the town he apparently loved is to salt and burn his bones," he said, shoving a clip into the .45 and dropping it back into the duffel.
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
"'Course I'm right," Dean retorted, grabbing the remote and turning off the TV. "Now, where's this dude buried?"
Sam moved back over to the laptop. His fingers flew over the keys so quickly that Dean didn't bother trying to keep up. "Crest Lawns Memorial Gardens."
"Alright then, Sammy. Let's get it done."
Sam closed the lid of the lap top and reached for his jacket.
"Yeah?" Dean answered, shrugging into his leather jacket. He didn't meet Sam's eyes, afraid that his earlier display of emotion would trigger one of Sam's unique chick-flick moments. He didn't think he could handle that right now.
"You know, if you're right… this could be the easiest hunt we've ever been on."
"Dude!" Dean pulled the hotel room door open and shook his head. "Do you not pay attention to movies?"
"What?" Sam asked innocently, stepping through the door and heading to the car.
"Famous last words, Sam."
Crest Lawns Memorial Gardens, night
"How many graves you think we've dug in our lifetime, man?" Sam asked as they retrieved the shovels from the trunk of the Impala. Lights from a nearby mausoleum conveniently shone along their path.
"I don't even want to think about it."
"How old were you, first time you dug a grave?"
They started to walk across the wet grass toward the plot where Lawrence Jessup's earthly remains waited for them. Dean shook his head… questions, questions, always with the questions… don't ever change, Sammy…
"Uh, ten," he answered.
"What?" Sam pulled up short, his face twisted in disbelief. "No way you were ten."
"Fine. Don't believe me. You were there, though. Kinda."
Sam started walking again, narrowly missing one of the in-ground brass grave markers. Dean glanced down and over, watching Sam's path. His eyes caught on the name etched on one of the markers he stepped over: Benjamin Reed Jessup.
"We gotta be close," he said. "I think that's Frank's Dad."
"How do you know?"
"Years look about right."
Sam nodded, and started scanning the ground. "So… I was there?" he prompted.
"Have I pissed you off more than usual?"
"I just want to know what happened."
Dean sighed. "Fine." He looked down and stopped cold. "Found 'im."
"Swell," Sam shrugged out of his jacket and moved to toss it over a tombstone, realizing his mistaken assumption and dropped it on the ground. "I'm not a fan of these flat tombstone things."
"You would be if you got thrown into more of the other kind," Dean pointed out, dropping his leather jacket on the ground.
"True," Sam dug the spade of his shovel into the earth at what would be the foot of the grave.
"Dad was teaching me a lesson," Dean said, digging in at the head of the grave, near the marker.
"A you'll need to know this for later lesson? Or a I don't give orders to hear myself talk lesson?"
"The second one."
"Figures. You always were a rebel."
"Tiger don't change its stripes, man."
Their conversation was soon punctuated by slight gasps for breath and grunts of exertion as shovels full of dirt were flung over their shoulders.
"What was he hunting?"
Sam paused, leaning on the handle of the shovel. "He took you with him?"
"Yep." Dean pulled off the red flannel shirt, balled it up and tossed it over on the grass near his jacket. Even in the cool of the East Coast night, digging graves worked up a sweat. He felt it gathering at his lower back and around his collar bones.
"What about me?"
"Hell, no," Dean panted. "You were six. He locked you in the car."
"Nice," Sam grinned. "Did you get the spirit?"
"Well, not exactly."
"The spirit found me first," Dean said, his shovel finally hitting something solid. "I was supposed to stay inside the salt circle, saw Dad get… y'know… flung, went over to him…"
He tossed the shovel up and out of the hole, then grabbed the dirt edge of the hole, scrambled up the side of the grave and hauled himself over the edge.
"What… happened?" Sam asked hesitantly.
"Nothing bad," Dean said as he sat for a moment on the edge of the grave, his feet dangling in the hole. "It was my first spirit, though. Gotta say… spooky the first time you see one."
"Hell, yeah it is," Sam exclaimed from down inside the grave. "I was fifteen and I was still freaked."
"Well, that's just 'cause you're such a girl," Dean clambered to his feet and turned to dig through their bag to retrieve the salt, lighter fluid and a box of wooden matches. He'd lost his Zippo trying to get away from Mordecai Murdock. Matches had been the order of the day until he could find an Army/Navy surplus store where he could get another Zippo.
"You gonna break through that thing tonight, Sam? Or are you planning on waiting until there are more people around?" He called over his shoulder.
"Hey, you've been doing this longer, apparently," Sam shot back. "Why don't you break through?"
"Because this is your favorite part," Dean retorted with a grin.
"You're a friggin' jerk." Sam grunted as he slammed the face of the shovel through the wooden box at the bottom of the grave.
Dean straightened, balancing his burden and started to turn toward the grave.
"I'm comin'," he muttered. "Keep your pantyhose on."
"Think you might wanna take a look at this," Sam continued. A shovel, followed by his brother's lanky form appeared over the edge of the grave.
Dean frowned at Sam, then looked down into the opened wooden box.
Inside rested the bones of one human leg from femur to foot. And nothing else.
Dean looked over at Sam. "I blame you for this, Mr. Famous Last Words," he said.
"You know, I thought it was weird that there was a wooden box for a guy that's been dead for only three years," Sam said, wiping at a smear of dirt across his nose. "So… a leg. A missing body. What do we do now, tell Frank to arrest David Copperfield?"
"Yes," Dean nodded. "But not for this."
Sam shot him a look, and Dean answered it with one of his own. He twisted the cap off of the old gas can that they used to contain their rock salt supply and dumped a good amount in the grave.
"What are you doing?"
"Salt and burn, Sammy," Dean said. "Think it's pretty obvious now that Larry's our spirit, don't you think?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Sam nodded, taking the lighter fluid from Dean and pouring it over the leg bones.
Dean lit the match, held the flame in his hand for a brief moment, then dropped it in. The bones were consumed with very little heat and only a small glow from the fire reflecting on their faces. Dean looked up from the fire into the dark that surrounded them like a familiar enemy.
"Y'know," Dean said. "Larry didn't chop himself up before he was buried."
"Yeah, I was thinking that," Sam said, his gaze on the dying fire. When the flames were out, he started to shovel the dirt back into the grave. "We got someone else out there, Dean."
"Yep," Dean scratched the back of his head. "Problem is… are they controlling the spirit, or did they just… create it?"
"That's not the only problem," Sam said, pausing as Dean picked up his shovel to help refill the hole. "We still gotta get rid of Lawrence Jessup's body."
"Yeah," Dean nodded, shaking his head as he filled another shovel with dirt and dropped it into the hole. "So… how many pieces is he in?"
Sam looked out into the darkness. "And where are they?"
a/n: Thanks for reading! Part 2 tomorrow…