"They're called the 'forgotten children'." Dean sat down at the table, reaching into the cooler. "It's a mystery that the local historians have been working on for years."
"Who are they?" Sam asked. He looked bad today, washed-out and shaky despite the fact that he'd slept until almost eleven. Dean didn't like it. He didn't like his brother having a ghost in his head, he didn't like the freaky powers or the side effects that went with them, and he definitely didn't like how sick Sam looked this morning.
He held the bottle of iced-tea out to Sam, but Sam shook his head. And Dean didn't like that, either.
"They were orphans," Dean responded to Sam's question. "Shipped out from the eastern cities like Boston and New York. Turns out that a ton of them ended up here in Indiana. They were used by the factories here as slave labor before the child-labor laws. The company owners slid the orphanage owners a little cash, and the orphanages gave the factories free rein over how they treated the kids. Win-win."
"For everybody except the kids."
"There is that," Dean opened the bottle of tea, offering it to Missouri. She accepted with a nod.
"Anyway," Dean continued, opening his own. "According to the histories, in between the years 1917 and 1921, over seven hundred orphans disappeared from the books."
"They died?" Missouri asked.
"Officially, they vanished. The historians have been looking for traces of them for years… but no dirt. You should feel proud, Sammy. You uncovered a mass grave that the officials have been searching for, for decades."
"I'm thrilled," Sam muttered, sounding anything but. Dean could see his point.
"How can seven hundred children just disappear?" Missouri asked.
"It's easy if the system used to keep track of them wants it to happen. Everybody was making money off these kids. They brought them in, and then worked them to death. It was in their best interest to keep it quiet. When the kids died, they just buried them in back lot and called it good. That's why there are all the reports of hearing kids in that old factory. They're still playing at night; it was probably the only time they were allowed to play when they were alive, after the factory shut down for the night, and they still are." Dean took a drink from his bottle.
"Would explain the sudden onset schizophrenia too," Sam said. "If they've – if he – has tried to communicate before. When he's awake… I feel schizophrenic. It's hard to tell what I'm seeing and thinking from what he's seeing and thinking."
"Didn't somebody miss them?" Missouri asked, glancing between them. "The children. When they died, didn't anybody notice?"
"Who would?" Dean asked back. "They were orphans. These kids never even had names, officially. That would have been too much information. They listed them by number. Your little hitchhiker was Orphan 334. " Dean said to Sam, taking a pull from his iced-tea. "By the way, how is your little worm this morning?"
"Tired," Sam answered, touching his head. "Disturbed. He saw his own corpse last night. That tends to be a bit…upsetting," he finished lamely.
And Dean had a flash of Sam laying on an old mattress, pale and sunken. Dean had been sitting near, raw, angry…broken. Despair had hung in the room like the smell of decay.
"It's not so pleasant on the other side, either. Believe me," Dean said, shaking his head, trying to clear the sudden memory. "But, whatever. Anyway, I've been thinking."
"Does it hurt? Do you need to lay down? I know the first time can be painful."
Dean tried to glare at Sam as he smirked, but he just couldn't. He was too relieved to hear his little brother in the words and tone. It was good to know his Sammy was still around. "Shut up," Dean snapped, fighting his own grin. "Anyway, that field really isn't that big. The rest of the kid's body has to be in that mess somewhere. The kid did all the hard work last night, unearthing the remains. We could salt and burn the whole hill. With all that brush, it'd go up in an hour or two. So I say we go back tonight and torch the body. The kid will be gone and this creep-fest will be over. Finally."
Dean was only half-serious. The blaze would be too thin to burn hot enough to destroy bone, and too large to control properly. Besides, a fire that size would draw the authorities pretty quick. Sam would know all that.
Sam would – but the kid didn't.
Instantly the boy slammed forward, Sam's eyes flicking from calm hazel to bright, frightened green. "No! I can't go! She said stay! She said wait! I'm. Not. Going!" It was a shriek, a petulant wail that was punctuated by an invisible kick, a slam of force that hit Dean like a roundhouse and took him off his feet. "And you can't make me!" the kid screamed.
Dean rolled to his feet. "Want to bet?"
Glaring, Dean dropped into a fighter's stance, shifting his weight to the balls of his feet. Sam was larger, and arguably stronger, but Dean knew he was more ruthless.
But it wasn't Sam he was facing – it was a kid, scared and angry and lashing out at anyone near. "Just leave me alone! Why can't any of you just leave me alone!"
Dean was slapped back again, this time he felt the welts in his chest and back. It was like getting hit with a leather whip, and the pain of it sucked the air from his lungs. He dropped to his knees.
"Everybody always pushing me! Ordering me! Hurting me!"
Each phrase was punctuated with another psychic blow, the hot sting of them cutting into Dean.
"I did everything they told me to! I was good! But they hated me anyway! They hurt me anyway! She was the only one who cared about me! And she said to wait on her, that she'd be back! That she'd never leave me!"
Dean panted through the pain of it, watching the kid's approach. Behind him, Dean could see Missouri standing cautiously. She took a step closer, raising her hand. The kid ranted on, unaware.
"No more. It's not going to happen to me any more. I'm stronger than you, now," he hissed with a malicious grin. "You can't hurt me any more. And I'm going to find her! I have to! I can't leave without her. So just get out of my way!"
The last was said as he spun on Missouri. The older woman grunted as she flew back, tossed by unseen hands. She slammed into the wall and slumped, unmoving.
The kid started toward her. "I told you that you can't hurt me anymore," he taunted in a very child-like way. The fear in him had given way to anger and Dean could see the ghost in Sam now, enraged and ready to kill. "You can't stop me."
"Timothy Peter Sheldon!"
The kid froze, eyes widening as he turned to stare at Dean.
"Yeah, I found your name," Dean said, standing. He took a few steps back, toward the door and drawing Timothy's attention away from the downed psychic. "The tag on your clothes…it said IOH. That's the tag for the Indiana Orphan Home. That was the building you stopped at. That old foundation was where it stood. That's where you lived. They marched you from there to the factory every day."
Timothy's eyes glowed. He watched Dean with a stillness that was unnerving and held an undertone of danger. Dean knew he was prodding at the ghost's memories. Pull him one direction, and the ghost would leave on his own: a peaceful dispersion. Push too hard in the wrong way, and he'd snap, becoming a vengeful, killing monster. Dean felt himself begin to sweat. Sam was so much better at this kind of stuff.
"You're wrong," the boy said.
Dean felt a chill. If he got this wrong, Sam could pay the price. "Wrong?"
"It wasn't every day. Not every day. The factory closed on Sunday."
Dean swallowed. It had been said with all the smug arrogance of an angry child. But this kid could kill him without much problem.
"How did you know my name?" the kid asked, coming forward another step.
"The first set of papers they sent with you when you got on the train from New York were in the history archives," Dean answered honestly, sliding back another step. "The number 334 was scrawled in the margins. That was your number, wasn't it?"
The kid's eyes had flared again at the digits. His face settled back into sullenness. "I hate them."
Dean nodded quickly. "Yeah. I bet. They hurt you; they killed you… but they did something even worse, didn't they?" Dean sidled back another step. The door was right behind him. "They took your sister away."
The kid started shaking. "She's said to wait. Wait for her. She'd be back. She'd come get me."
Dean's heart twisted. How many times had Sammy said the same thing about their dad, in the same tone? How many times had he said it about Dean? "Timothy," Dean called softly, "I not only found your name, I found your sister. And you know why she isn't with you? She lived, Timothy. She got adopted out, and she swore she was coming back for you, but you didn't survive. She lived. And she's still alive."
Timothy's eyes glowed again at the words.
"I know where she is," Dean coaxed. "I can take you to her."
Dean could see the kid waver, wanting to attack…and wanting to see his sister.
"I have a little brother, too," Dean said quietly. Calmly. "He's in there. With you. He knows me, and he knows when I'm lying. Ask him if you can trust me."
The kid glared at him for maybe half a second. Dean watched as the eyes flickered- hazel to green to hazel. A moment later, the eyes settled on green again, but it was with a warmer expression. "We can see her? Now?"
"We can," Dean confirmed. He opened the door, reaching in his pocket to fetch out his keys. "We can go right now." Dean kept himself from looking at Missouri. As much as he wanted to check on her, she would be safer if Dean got the kid away from her as soon as possible. The kid had zeroed in on her as a target, and Dean knew there wasn't much he could do to stop the boy if he decided to go after her again.
The ghost's eyes darted between the open door and Dean's face, hesitant. But when Dean took that step across the threshold, the kid followed him.
The half hour drive to the Greenlawn Assisted Living facility was one on the oddest in Dean's experience. The kid just sat in the passenger seat, body stiff, as he stared out the window. He spoke only once, saying, "The train didn't go this fast," in a tone that made Dean's skin crawl.
"Kelly Sheldon-Reese?" Dean asked at the reception desk just inside the door.
The busy receptionist just gestured at a long, brightly lit hall. Dean shrugged and headed that direction, Sam/Timothy trailing him like an overgrown kid. It felt almost normal. Until they came to the large, warm sunlit room at the end of the hall.
The room was empty except for an elderly lady dozing in a lounge chair in the sun. She was so old that she seemed brittle, and Dean hesitated at the doorway, wondering if it was right to bring the kid here at all.
But the kid had no such worries, shoving passed Dean and making a beeline for the woman. There he stood a moment, looking confused, and not a little appalled.
Dean watched as he cautiously reached out, running gentle curious fingers over her withered cheek.
She stirred at the touch, blinking open eyes that were a distinct bright green, the same eyes that had taken over Sam. There could be no doubt that this was Timothy Sheldon's big sister.
She looked up, confused by the tall stranger who stood over her, but not upset. She half-frowned.
"Can I help you?" she asked, her voice as thin as her hair. "Hold on, just let me get my glasses…"
It was all he said. And, still half asleep, she shivered so violently that Dean saw it from his place in the door.
"Who are you?" the elderly woman gasped, struggling to sit up and fumbling with her glasses, frantic to see them. "Who are you? How do you know that name?"
Her voice was rising, and Dean winced, throwing a nervous, guilty glace down the hall before quietly closing the doors to the sunroom.
Dean bit his lip as he approached the two of them. The woman had finally gotten her glasses on, and she was obviously upset by the two strange men who had woken her. Which wasn't exactly surprising, but was a problem. Dean added emotional shock to very old and very frail and got really worried really fast.
"Hey, Timothy, back off of the lady, okay?" Dean said, reaching for his brother's arm. "You're going to give her a heart attack."
Timothy swung Dean's direction, glaring. The power snapped out at him, shoving him down. It wasn't a full attack, but the warning was obvious. Dean wasn't welcome here.
"Who are you two!" the elderly woman demanded, one hand fluttering toward her throat. "How did you do that? What do you want? How did you know that name? Who are you?"
"Easy, okay?" Dean said, holding up his hands. "We're friends."
"My ass!" she snarled, glaring. Her eyes glittered. "I don't know who you are, but I'm calling the nurse!"
Timothy glared at her through narrowed, distrustful eyes. "That's not her!" he said to Dean. "That's not Kady. You lied!"
The woman had been starting to stand, but now she fell back, her skin going so pale that Dean cringed.
"The only person who ever called me Kady was my, my little brother. He…" Her eyes darted from the bright, green eyes in the young man in front of her, to Dean. Her confusion – her want to believe and her certainty that this could not be happening – was palpable. Dean couldn't help but feel for her… he knew what it felt like to have a dead little brother suddenly standing in front of you, the twist of longing and disbelief that hit like a knife in the gut.
"My little brother," she whispered brokenly. "He had a speech problem. He slurred his ells. He called me…"
"Kady," Dean finished, when she seemed unable. "He called you Kady."
"Nobody knew that. Not after I left the orphanage. I never told anyone about that. It hurt too much to talk about that." She gazed at those green, green eyes. Eyes the same shade as her own.
"Kady?" the kid searched the wrinkled face. "Kady? Is that you? You look…icky."
Dean winced, but the old woman laughed. Tears were welling in her eyes, streaming down her face. "It's me," she gasped. "Oh, Timmy. It's me."
She reached for him, her hand stretching toward his face, but he pulled back, frowning. "What happened to you?" he demanded suspiciously.
The hand that had reached for him pulled back and she touched her own cheek. "I got old, Timmy. I grew up and got married and got old. But I never forgot you."
That weird, almost-taste of ozone began to fill the room. Dean shifted nervously, recognizing the feel of the poltergeist getting agitated.
"Yes, you did," Timothy snarled. Old anger boiled; the same rage that had kept him earthbound for so long. "You went away, and you said you'd come back, but you never did. It was so hard there, Kady. It hurt so much. And I died. I didn't want to go, I didn't want to leave you all alone. So I stayed. I stayed, and I waited but you never came back. I was all alone, but you never ever came back!"
Tear were rolling down the old woman's face. And Dean felt his own heart ache in sympathy. He'd been there when his brother died, held him as his life faded… but it hadn't made it any better, it hadn't been closure. It had been agony.
The same agony he could see reflected in Kelly's expression right now.
"All I wanted was to be with you," Timothy went on mercilessly, so caught in his own memories and pain he couldn't see what he was doing to his sister. "Why did you leave me there… all alone? What did I do wrong, Kady?"
She sobbed, the sound so hard and so broken that it tore something in Dean's chest. "You didn't do anything wrong, Timmy. Not anything!" Her hand reached again for Timothy, and again he flinched from her touch. She winced like he'd hit her.
"Then why did you leave me?" His voice was as cold as the brick and metal of his factory.
Kelly sobbed again. "I never left you, Timmy. I swear. Don't you remember? Don't you remember when they came and got me? I had no choice. They took me away to be with the new family. I was going to come back and get you! I was going to run away and come get you. But by the time I got back, I couldn't find you. You weren't at the factory. The kids… they said you'd been taken to the field. I couldn't accept it. I moved back here. I never stopped looking for you! Even though I knew I'd never find you, I couldn't let myself stop looking. Never."
She gasped, gulping air. "I knew you were in the field. I knew you were, in my heart. But I couldn't allow it. I couldn't believe that not only had I failed you, had I let you be killed, but that I couldn't even bury you. Couldn't even put you to rest properly.
"You're a part of me, Timmy. Not just flesh and bone, but a part of me like no one else could be. When we lost Mommy and Father, you were all I had to hold on to. When I lost you, I lost what was left of myself. I searched for you for a lifetime, knowing I'd never really find you again."
Kelly was crying openly now, her head bowed, her face in her hands as her frail body shook with her grief.
"I never gave up," Timothy said, edging closer to her. Sam could feel his restlessness, his anger and betrayal. Sam knew the boy was dangerous, but was helpless to stop him as he hammered his sister, looking for a weak spot, looking for one clue that she was insincere. If he found it, Sam was sure he would tear her apart.
"I never left," Sam heard the boy hiss using his voice. "You said wait, so I waited. And it was such a long time…" There was so much grief in his tone that Sam reeled with it.
"I know," she sobbed, "I'm so sorry, Timmy. So, so sorry. I never meant to leave you like that. I never meant to let anyone hurt you. And I never meant to cause you so much pain by keeping you trapped here for so long."
The kid's lower lip trembled. He bit it. His hands curled into fists. He rocked slightly on his feet, fighting to hold on to his anger, his rage, his bitterness. Those were the things that kept him going. Those were the things that kept him there.
But the sight of his big sister so frail and so shattered undid a lifetime of confusion, anger and fear. Sam's heart went out to the grieving sibling, and Timothy had to follow.
"Don't cry, Kady. I don't want you to cry. I'm sorry…"
And like that, Sam and Timothy separated. The memories of his own death, the stabbing, the pain of it, were dwarfed by the loss afterwards. Of seeing Dean broken. Of seeing himself lifeless. Of the all encompassing sense of loss and loneliness – and he knew that Dean felt the same, and knew that it paled in comparison to his brother's pain, the pain he could see in Kady right now, a pain so huge that flesh couldn't hold it in, that will couldn't hold it back, and it poured out of her like tears… the pain of being the last, being alone.
"I'm sorry," Timothy repeated, now beginning to cry. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry…"
Timmy was gone like the air – leaping from Sam to hug his Kady.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Sam heard it as a whisper, an echo, as the little spirit flung itself free of his flesh and reached for his waiting sister.
He connected with his big sister, after all these years, and she gasped, her tears stopping. Her eyes widened, a slight smile flickering across her features…before they went slack.
The ghost was gone, but the emotions remained, and Sam couldn't stop them. They swamped him, spinning him around and leaving him breathless. He was so dizzy and disorientated that his knees unhinged and he dropped.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Dean. I never meant to leave you. Never meant to leave you all alone in the dark like that…"
Instantly his brother was there. Strong hands caught him, held him, gave him a place to keep himself steady in the raging dark.
"I'm so sorry…"
"Hey," Dean said, gruff and worried and so much of what Sam defined as home. "Stop, Sam. This isn't on you. This was done to you. I failed, Sam. Not you. I couldn't keep you safe. You didn't leave me, you were taken. But you're back now. And that's all that we need. All we've ever needed."
Slowly the tidal wave ebbed. The emotions faded away leaving Sam feeling hollow and broken and more than a little embarrassed to be clinging to his brother like a drowning man hanging on to a life preserver.
Not that Dean seemed to be minding.
The emotions faded, but the memories remained. Sam's now and always. From now on he'd not only remember what it was like to die, but to be dead. To be cut off from his family and his life. He never wanted to know that. He never wanted to feel that again. But it was his, a part of him. A part that his brother would never know about.
He hugged Dean just a little tighter. Then reluctantly let go. Dean pulled back slowly, his eyes scared and sad. "Sam? You okay?"
Sam sniffed, trying to smile. That was a loaded question for him right now. Maybe it always would be. He wiped off his face. "Yeah. I'm fine. He's gone."
Sam looked over at Kelly 'Kady' Sheldon, already knowing the aged lady was gone, too. The brother and sister had finally found each other, and went on together. Stiffly, Sam stood, and carefully closed her eyes.
"It's amazing how much damage a little poltergeist can do in just under a week," Dean observed, zipping his bag shut.
Sam snorted. "Noisy-spirit, hell. He was a full-out terrorist." He dumped another dustpan of glass into the trash.
"He wasn't that bad," Missouri said, leaning into the open door. They'd left it standing wide to try and air some of the burnt-polyester smell out. Her bag was next to her.
"Oh, he was that bad," Dean argued. "Not that that he didn't have his reasons. But still, the threats to life and property kind of out weighed them."
The psychic still looked tired. Last night, they had gone to the field and sanctified it. And while there hadn't been a full seven-hundred children to deal with, there had been a lot. It had taxed Missouri, and she would be recovering for a few days. From both the cleansing ritual and the lingering bruises. It had been a rough couple of days for the older woman and Sam felt guilty every time he saw the bruise on one side of her face, and the hitch in her gait from what she assured them was only a strained hip. Sam had tried to apologize, but the ex-hunter would have none of it. "I used to get worse going out on a Saturday night, Honey. A little Comfrey and I'll be right as rain."
Still didn't stop Dean from feeling guilty that they had ever pulled the poor woman into all this in the first place.
She smiled at him a little, as if reading his thoughts; which, he realized, she probably was. "My plane leaves in a few hours, boys, so I just thought I'd stop in to say good-bye." She grinned, opening her arms, "So come give me a hug. I won't break."
Dean responded to her open arms and gave her a brief hug. "You sure you don't want us to drive you home?"
She gave him a dirty look. "I know how you drive, boy. I'm safer in the plane."
She turned to Sam, gesturing. He came forward with an embarrassed smile and hugged her too. She leaned over and whispered in his ear. Dean was sure that he wasn't supposed to hear, but he did anyway. "Trust yourself, Sam. When the time comes you're going to make the right choice."
Dean hurriedly busied himself with his bag as the psychic turned Sam loose.
Sam walked her to the door. "Good-bye, Missouri. Be safe. And thank you for everything."
She smiled, patting his cheek. "That's my job." A horn blew. "And that's my cab. You boys take care of each other, you hear?"
"Yes, Ma'am," Dean said. "We will."
"Good," She said decisively. And then she was gone.
Dean chuckled. "Why are psychics always so dramatic?"
Sam rolled his eyes, smiling. But the smile was off.
Dean huffed. "Okay. Enough. What is it, Sam?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't know. The kid was a holy terror… but who could blame him? He wasn't bad, really. He didn't mean to hurt those people. He was just lost and angry and hurt. Used to death by a cruel 'Boss' who left him broken and bleeding, and the only thing he had was the hope that his sister would come for him…save him from that. It's just sad that Kady couldn't get there, you know?"
Shaking his head, Sam shouldered his bag, heading for the car.
Behind him, quietly enough that Sam would never hear it, Dean muttered: "I will, Sam. I'll get there. I always will."