SUMMARY: What seemed like a routine hunt, leaves Dean fighting for his life and Sam frantically trying to figure out what happened. And when he does, it's a big shock to both brothers. Set late in Season 2, but before the deal. Hurt/comfort-Mystery, playing with a loose thread from canon.

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Sam & Dean Winchester belong to Eric Kripke who entertains us each week and graciously lets us play in his sandbox when he turns out the lights and goes home for the night. (Or we sneak in when he's not looking, I'm not sure which.) Definitely for fun not profit.

RATING: T, for some language.

A/N: This story first appeared in the fanzine Brotherhood 8, published in Spring 2009. At slightly more than 21,000 words, it seemed a bit wieldy for a one-shot. Still, some of you like to curl up with a meaty story – and avoid the cliffhangers! - while others prefer to enjoy in smaller portions. So, I've divided Counting Coup into three chapters, but am posting all three simultaneously so it can be read whichever way suits you best. I'm just thrilled you're reading it! It's definitely old-school Sam and Dean, before the deal and all its fallout drove a wedge between the brothers. I hope you enjoy.


The glass ER doors slid open, and Sam's panicked shout quickly drew the attention of everyone sitting in the busy waiting room. "I need some help here!"

Dean was slumped against him, barely able to support his own weight, as they staggered inside. Sam had his brother's right arm across his shoulders, right wrist locked in his right hand and his left arm wrapped tightly around Dean's waist. Dean's feet were dragging along the floor as they slowly moved forward. His head hung down, chin on chest, his left arm falling limply at his side. Vomit stained the front of his shirt, and as they left the cold night air and entered the heated ER, the smell became increasingly noxious. Both brothers were filthy, dirt streaked across their faces, dust staining their hair and clothes. As the soft chatter quieted to silence and all eyes focused on them, Sam was acutely aware of Dean's rapid, shallow breathing.

A nurse and an orderly who had been conversing at the admissions desk moved quickly toward them. The orderly grabbed a gurney that was pushed against a wall and wheeled it toward the Winchesters. Slipping the brake on the wheels, he moved in to help lift Dean onto the stretcher.

Dean scowled as he sensed the stranger's approach, weakly pushing him away. His voice was raspy and barely audible, but his intent unmistakable. "Back off."

"Dean." Sam's voice was strained as he struggled to support his brother's muscular frame. "He's just trying to help."

Dean shook his head. "Don't want help." Bleary eyes turned toward Sam. "Bastard pushed you down the stairs." He coughed as he fought to draw in air, then turned to glare at the orderly. "Send him back to hell where—"

"It wasn't him," Sam interrupted. "He didn't push me. We—"

Dean's knees buckled without warning, and Sam grunted as he shifted his grip to support the additional weight. The orderly, a beefy guy about Dean's height with a shaved head and gold hoop earring, moved in again. This time there was no protest as he and Sam lifted Dean onto the stretcher. The orderly quickly raised the safety rails and stepped to the end of the gurney, allowing the nurse to move in on the opposite side to Sam.

Dean was clearly agitated, his head rolling back and forth, his eyes glassy and unfocused. His skin was flushed, his chest heaving. The fingers of his left hand clawed at his chest, as if pulling away his clothing might somehow make it easier to breathe.

"Exam Room 4." The nurse began efficiently assessing Dean's vitals even as the orderly released the brake and pushed the gurney out of the waiting room. She glanced at Sam, noting the dust and dirt that covered both brothers. "Were you in an accident?"

Dean was muttering incoherently, his fingers grabbing hold of Sam's jacket as his brother walked robotically beside the gurney.

"What?" Everything had happened so fast, Sam hadn't even had time to consider a cover story. He shook his head. "No. We, um, we're renovating."

"Did he fall?"

Fall wasn't quite the right word. The spirit had thrown him across the room. "Yeah, about half an hour ago. But he was acting strange before that."

"Strange how?" The nurse pulled out a penlight and shone it in Dean's eyes. Her patient scowled at the invasive light, weakly pawing at her hand to knock it away.

Sam reached over reflexively, grabbing Dean's hand and pulling it away from the nurse. "He was dizzy, stumbled a few times, said he had a headache—and that was before…he fell. Couldn't catch his breath, either. It's getting harder and harder for him to breathe."

The nurse's next question was blunt. "Drugs?"

"What?" Sam's gaze shifted from his brother to the nurse. He stared at her uncomprehendingly.

The nurse pocketed the light and examined Dean's nose and mouth as they moved down the hallway. "Drugs, prescription or otherwise—did he take anything?"

"No." Sam's eyes widened at the suggestion. "No!" He held on to the gurney rail, his brother's hand still fisted in his jacket, as Dean was pushed toward a curtained cubicle.

The nurse pulled aside the curtain and the gurney was rolled into the center of the space. She looked again at Sam as she reached for an oxygen mask and cranked open a valve on the wall. "Any allergies?"


"Any history of respiratory illness?"


Any preexisting medical conditions?"


Dean was struggling to sit up. Sam placed his hand on his brother's chest. "Keep still. Let them help you." He swallowed as he watched the nurse place the oxygen mask over Dean's face, his brother's frown at the intrusion clearly visible even as the mask fogged up with his first exhale. Sam looked up at the nurse, fear etched plainly across his face. "What's wrong with him?"

"He's not getting enough oxygen. We just have to figure out why." The nurse, a pretty 30-something woman, her long red hair pinned into a loose twist at the nape of her neck, glanced up at the orderly. "Get Dr. Peters. STAT. And page Dr. Chow."

The orderly nodded, offering Sam a reassuring pat on the shoulder as he left the cubicle, pulling the curtain closed after him.

The nurse turned to Sam. "His name is Dean?"

Sam nodded.

The nurse held Dean's face gently in her hands. "Dean, I'm Amy. We're gonna do everything we can to help you feel better. First, I want you to concentrate on your breathing. Slow it down. Can you do that?"

Dean blinked at her, vacantly. His breathing remained rapid and shallow.

Amy looked up at Sam. "And you are—?"

"Sam. Dean's my brother." He glanced down at Dean. The illness, or whatever it was, had hit so hard, so fast, it had left Sam reeling. He'd cared for Dean when he had a fever, nursed him through the confusion of a concussion or pain of physical injuries, but this…Dean had gone from grumpy to completely incapacitated in the space of minutes. "You gotta help him."

Amy voice softened. "We will, Sam. Were you working with any chemicals?"

"No." Sam watched as Amy fastened a clip to Dean's finger, then cut open his stained t-shirt to attach electric leads to his chest. A monitor beside the gurney started beeping immediately. Sam didn't need a medical degree to know Dean's heart was beating way too fast. "There was lots of dirt, dust, but no chemicals."

Sam rested his hand on Dean's chest, just below his heart. "He was grabbing at his chest…" Panic clouded Sam's eyes as they jumped again from his brother to the nurse. "It can't be a heart attack…can it? He's not even 30…"

Sam flashed back to when Dean had been electrocuted battling the rawhead. The same terror he felt then, after finding his brother unconscious in that basement, after being told there was nothing doctors could do to save him, ripped through him now. Again Dean was lying helpless in a hospital, again Dean was struggling simply to breathe. This time there was no electrocution to blame, but what if those earlier doctors had missed something? Some damage that only now… No. He shook his head. Dean had seemed fine right up until they'd gone after the spirit.

Mentally sorting through everything that had happened, Sam missed most of what the nurse said next. "…it could be any of those things. Age is just one factor." She studied Dean's stained shirt. "When did he throw up?"

"In the car on the way over here." Sam cringed as he said it, knowing how pissed Dean would be when he got better and realized he'd puked all over the Impala. When he got better? The phrase came so naturally to Sam. Dean had to get better. He had to.

"Was there blood in the vomit?"

Sam froze at the question. He had been behind the wheel, flying down rural roads and town streets well above the speed limit en route to the hospital when Dean had gotten sick. His brother had been slumped against the passenger door, forehead pressed against the glass, when he'd groaned, fallen forward, and thrown up all over the dashboard, the passenger seat, and himself. The fact Dean hadn't asked Sam to pull over, hadn't made any attempt to stop himself from puking inside the car told Sam it was bad. But as for blood? "I dunno. It was dark. I pulled over, made sure he wasn't choking, but…"

Dean's head rolled listlessly, unfocused eyes looking up at Sam, his breathing rattling audibly from behind the oxygen mask. Sam's breathing sped up in time with his brother's as he looked from Dean to the nurse. "What the hell is it?"

"I know it seems like a lot of questions and no answers, Sam, but it's all information we need to try to figure out what's wrong." Amy expertly rolled Dean onto his side to remove his shirt and pull away the t-shirt she'd cut open earlier, depositing the clothes in a plastic bag on the counter at the back of the cubicle. Dean's jeans, boots, and socks were the next to go. Amy then peeled off her plastic gloves and tossed them in a waste container before opening a cupboard and pulling out a blanket. She unfolded the blanket over Dean, pulling it up over his chest. "The oxygen seems to be helping. That's a good start."

Sam nodded, for the first time realizing his brother was shivering. Dean's eyes blinked slowly, revealing the glassy irises beneath. His focus settled on Sam, and he shook off the blanket to reach up and fumble with the oxygen mask. His words were slurred, unintelligible.

"Dean, no." Sam pulled his brother's hand away from his face and slid the oxygen mask back into place. He frowned as his hand brushed against Dean's cheek. His skin was bright pink but felt cool and clammy to the touch. Sam shot a worried look at the nurse as he pulled the blanket back into place. "He looks like he has a fever but his skin's cold."

Amy was fastening a blood pressure cuff around Dean's biceps. "His body's not processing oxygen properly." She looked up at Sam as she pumped up the cuff. "What were you renovating?"

Sam swallowed. "The old Barnstable House. We were, um, doing some demolition. Why?"

Amy checked the gauge on the blood pressure cuff, and jotted down the numbers on a chart she'd started for Dean. "Given the sudden onset of symptoms, we have to consider environmental factors. He could have touched something toxic, ingested something, even inhaled it. What's your last name?"

"Young." Sam's heart was pounding rapidly now. "You think he was poisoned?"

Amy put down the chart and pulled on a fresh pair of gloves, fastened a tourniquet around Dean's arm, then swabbed the skin near the crook of his elbow with antiseptic. "We won't know for sure until we do some tests, but it's a possibility." She glanced up at Sam as she reached for a syringe to draw blood. "The Barnstable House—it's over a hundred years old, right?"


There was no reaction from Dean as Amy slid the needle into a vein, the vial attached to the syringe quickly filling with blood. She popped out the vial, capped it, and inserted another. "While you were knocking things down, were you wearing masks?" Amy glanced up to see Sam shake his head. "Were you and your brother in separate parts of the house?"

Again, Sam shook his head.

"And when did he last eat?"

Sam glanced at his watch. "Just before we went to the house. Couple hours ago, maybe less."

"Did you both eat the same things?"

Sam nodded. "For once, yeah."

Amy frowned. "How 'bout you? How're you feeling?"

Sam's headache had climbed a notch or two since entering the hospital, but he dismissed that as worry over Dean. "M'okay."

The nurse raised a gloved hand and pointed at Sam's head. "You do know you're bleeding?"

Sam's hand jumped to his head, wincing at the torn skin he found there and the blood matted in his hair. "Oh. I, um, walked into a door frame."

Amy's frown deepened. "Your brother said you were pushed down the stairs."

Sam swallowed. Amy was sharp, which told him his brother was in good hands, but he'd have to watch his step. "Like I said, he's not making sense. He's mixing things up…"

The curtain to the cubicle was pulled back and a doctor stepped inside. He was tall, just an inch or so shorter than Sam, in his 50s, and his thick, dark hair was shot through with gray. "I'm Mike Peters." He nodded at Sam then turned his attention to Dean. "Amy?"

The nurse quickly briefed the doctor. "Male, late twenties, tachycardic…shallow breath sounds…mental confusion…vomiting…blood gases are…"

"Doc, please. You gotta—" Sam took a step forward, and the room suddenly folded in on itself. He stumbled as the wave of dizziness hit, grabbing for the railing on Dean's gurney to steady himself.

The doctor moved in quickly. "Whoa, steady now. Let's get you sitting down."

Sam swallowed, the dizziness passing quickly. "I'm okay." He tried to push away from Dr. Peters, who had one arm around his waist, the other on his elbow. "Look, I walked into a door frame while I was working. It's nothing."

Dr. Peters smiled but maintained his grip, shepherding Sam across the room. "Occupational hazard for us tall guys, huh? I still want you to sit down. Here." He pulled open the curtain that separated Dean's exam room from the adjacent one and guided Sam to the empty gurney in the middle of the cubicle. "Sit here. Dr. Chow will come in and check you out but, in the mean time, you can still keep an eye on…?" He raised his eyebrows questioningly.

"My brother. Dean's my brother." Assisted by the doctor, Sam reluctantly pulled himself up onto the gurney. Once Sam was settled, Dr. Peters returned to Dean's side and began his examination, conversing quietly with Amy and another doctor who had just entered the exam room.

Running his fingers absently over the gash in his forehead, eyes locked on Dean, Sam fought to quell building worries that his dizzy spell was more than just fallout from his own tangle with the spirit. Any time one of them was hospitalized, they were vulnerable; if both of them went down … Sam exhaled audibly. No - he'd be fine. They both would.

"Hey, there." Sam jumped when he realized that Dr. Chow, a petite Asian woman in her 40s, was now standing beside him. "Sam, is it?"

He nodded.

The doctor smiled. "Well, that should be easy to remember."

Sam glanced at the doctor's nametag: it read "Samantha Chow, MD." He smiled despite his worry, Dean's voice sounding clearly in his head. Hey, meet my brother—his name's Samantha, too. His focus quickly returned to Dean, who lay with his head turned away from Sam, his chest still heaving noticeably. "My brother—how is he?"

Dr. Chow turned Sam's head back toward her, flashing a penlight in his eyes. "He's in good hands. We're doing everything we can to make him comfortable while we figure out what's making him ill. You still feel dizzy?"

Sam shook his head. "No. I just turned too fast."

Dr. Chow nodded, picking up a blood pressure cuff. "Hopefully, that's all it is, but let's make sure. Take off your jacket and long-sleeved shirt, please." Sam shrugged them off quickly, and the doctor efficiently but thoroughly moved through the examination. She frowned as she walked behind Sam and lifted his t-shirt to listen to his lungs. Bruises in deep shades of blue, black, and purple painted his back. "How did you get these?"

Sam shifted uncomfortably. "I fell down some stairs yesterday. It's nothing."

The doctor raised an eyebrow but made no comment. She lowered his shirt, draped her stethoscope around her neck, and picked up Sam's chart to make a few more notations. "Well, aside from a slight concussion from the blow to the head, you're doing well. Your heart rate's strong, lungs are clear." She glanced over at Dean. "Still, I'm going to ask Amy to come over and take some blood. Make sure there are no surprises."

Sam frowned. "You just said I'm fine."

Dr. Chow crossed her arms. "The two of you were working together. The sample won't just help us make sure you're okay—it may help us figure out what's wrong with Dean."

That changed things. Sam nodded. "Sure. Anything if it'll help him."

Dr. Chow crossed the exam room and returned to Dean's bedside, taking Sam's chart with her. After a brief exchange with Amy, the two doctors resumed discussing their patients.

Amy threw out her surgical gloves, opened a cupboard, pulled out a set of scrubs and a plastic bag, then walked over to Sam. She placed the scrubs on the gurney beside him. "I want you to change into these and put all your clothes in the plastic bag."

Sam shook his head. "I'm okay, really. It's Dean we need—"

"Sam." Amy pulled the privacy curtain, then reached for a fresh pair of gloves, a tourniquet, and a syringe. "In case you hadn't noticed, you're filthy. I have no idea what you're covered in and any of it could be making Dean sick. It could make you sick too if you're exposed to it long enough. Please, just put on the scrubs. We'll send your clothes down to the lab for testing, see if they yield any clues."

Sam stared down at his stained jeans, then nodded, grabbing the collar of his t-shirt and yanking it over his head. If the dirt or dust was making Dean sick, he didn't want it anywhere near his brother. He shoved his shirts and jacket into the plastic bag. Boots, socks and jeans quickly followed. He pulled on the blue scrub pants and top, then sat down again while Amy took a sample of blood.

When she was done, he pushed himself off the gurney, pulled open the curtain and walked over to Dean's bedside.

His brother blinked sluggishly, his chest occasionally arching as he struggled to pull in a deep breath, but his breathing seemed to have eased a little. Sam looked up, his gaze traveling from one doctor to the other. "If it's something we touched or inhaled, why am I okay and Dean's…" he swallowed, "…like this."

Dr. Peters frowned as he checked the monitor. "At this point, I don't know. He might have gotten a stronger dose, it might be an allergic reaction… When we know what he's reacting to, we'll have a better idea."

Even semi-conscious, Dean's hand clawed at his chest, threatening to pull off the electric leads tracking his heart. Sam pulled Dean's arm back to his side, his hand staying gripped around his brother's a little longer than necessary.

He stared down at Dean, replaying the events of the past 24 hours over and over, trying to figure out what the hell had happened.


Dean threw back the lid of the casket and wrinkled his nose at the all-too-familiar smell. He dragged the back of his hand across his forehead, smearing dirt with sweat, as he looked down at the remains of Reginald Barnstable.

After almost a century, there was little left of the founding father of Edgeport, Maine. Scraps of cloth were stuck to the bones, and a gold ring that had slipped from the fingers of his skeletal hand lay beside him in the gray dust that littered the inside of the casket.

Dean shook his head as he reached up to take the canister of salt from Sam. "You'd never guess he was once the richest son of a bitch in town."

Sam nodded, shifting his grip on his shotgun as he warily glanced around the cemetery. "Like the proverb says, when the game's over, the king and the pawn go in the same box."

Dean shot Sam a look. "I think the problem here is Reggie's out of his box. We need to shove him back in and slam the lid."

After sprinkling the salt over the remains, he tossed the container aside and turned to take the can of gasoline his brother offered next. Dousing the interior of the casket, Dean stared again at Reginald's skull, trying to imagine the industrial baron who had guiltlessly mowed down almost everyone he met in the quest to build his fortune.

Following his death, Reginald's angry spirit had picked up where the man left off. Family journals detailed dozens of bizarre accidents at the Barnstable House, an imposing Victorian mansion sitting high atop a cliff on the outskirts of town. Over the years, Reginald's attacks had become increasingly violent as he lashed out over real or perceived mismanagement of the family fortune.

Elliot Barnstable, the last surviving member of the family, had inherited the property from his great aunt ten years earlier. Aware of its "unlucky" reputation and the ghost stories handed down over the generations, he had put up the house for sale. There had been plenty of offers, from hotel chains, movie stars, and dot-com millionaires, but all had fallen through thanks to mysterious accidents that plagued potential buyers and their representatives while inspecting the property.

Increasingly desperate to unload the house, and the million-dollar tax bills that came with it, Elliot was willing to try almost anything to get rid of the spirit. He had held a séance to ask Reginald to leave, had the house blessed to try to force him out, and even asked a local witch to perform a banishing ritual. Nothing had worked. Then the Winchesters had gotten a call…and the offer of a hefty paycheck if they could cleanse the house for good.

Dean hauled himself out of the grave, brushed the dirt from his hands, and reached into his pocket for a book of matches. He stared down at the remains, eyes flashing. "End of the line, Reggie. Consider this your eviction notice."

"Wait." Sam's hand stopped him as he moved to strike the match.

Dean frowned. "What?"

Sam stepped closer to the edge of the grave, staring intently at the remains. "What's wrong with this picture?" He pulled his flashlight from his pocket, clicking it on and shining the beam around the interior of the casket. "Remember how Reginald died?"

"Yeah. He fell off his horse and..." Dean's eyes widened. "Oh. Son of a bitch."

Reginald had been thrown from his horse while hunting and broken his right arm. It was a bad break that quickly became infected. Doctors amputated the limb, but the infection had spread and Reginald died shortly after surgery.

The remains they were looking at, however, were of a man with two arms. His right arm was half-hidden in shadow, but both arms were nonetheless intact.

Sam tucked his shotgun under his arm and pulled a piece of paper from his jacket. Shining the flashlight on the paper to read it, he shook his head. "It's a double plot, reserved for Reginald and his wife, Celia. She chose to be cremated, so Reginald should be the only one in here, but that," he shone his flashlight on the remains, "can't be him." Sam sighed. "Maybe the undertakers screwed up, mixed up the bodies."

Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. "Damn it, I knew this job was goin' too smooth."

Sam blew out a breath, clicking off the flashlight and shoving it back in his pocket. "We'll just have to go through the family records one more time. See if—"

"First things first." Dean moved forward, struck a match, then held the flame to the rest of the matches so the whole book flared. He then dropped the matches into the open grave and the gas-soaked casket ignited with a loud whumph. "On the off chance the medical records were wrong and this is Reggie, I'm not diggin' this hole again."

The flickering light from the flames dancing across his face, Dean's jaw clenched noticeably. "I say we go to the house. Run the EMF over the place. If Reggie's toast, the place should be nice and quiet. If some other dude is subletting his casket…"

Sam finished his thought. "…then Reginald's spirit will still be around and we're back to square one."

Dean bent to pick up a shovel, waiting for the flames to die out so they could fill in the grave. "One of these days, an easy job will actually turn out to be an easy job."

Sam smiled softly as he swapped his shotgun for a shovel. "Don't count on it. I think we're on a Do Not Call list for easy jobs."

Three hours later, the Impala was rumbling up the winding driveway to the sprawling Barnstable House. Designed to impress, the forty rooms of the Victorian mansion were spread over four stories, most offering breathtaking views of the rugged Maine coastline. Towers and gables, elaborately trimmed in spires and fretwork, disappeared into the leafy canopies of the stately elms and maples that edged the property. A covered veranda spanned the width of the house, a peaked roof in the middle covering a wide set of steps that led up to the oversized front doors.

But neglect had taken a hefty toll. More than one shutter hung loose, and several of the upper windows were cracked or boarded up. Clapboard siding, once stained a deep red, was faded and peeling; tiles were missing from the dark roof and bricks were falling loose from the massive chimneys that climbed four stories high on each end. Formal flower beds that lined the veranda were a tangled mass of weeds, and the grass on the expansive lawns was knee-high.

Dean whistled as he pulled the Impala to a stop in front of the house. "She must have been somethin' in her day, huh?"

Sam nodded as he pushed open the car door, stepped out, and stretched to ease muscles stiffening after hours of grave digging. "Yeah…but something tells me if we were visiting back then, we'd be going in through the doors for the hired help."

The hinges of the driver's door groaned loudly as Dean slammed it shut. Walking around to pop open the trunk, he looked down at his filthy clothes. "Dressed like this, you might be right." He grinned as he reached for his shotgun. "But give me a hot shower, clean clothes and five minutes with a Barnstable daughter, and I'd be goin' through the front doors and sitting down to dinner with the family."

Sam shook his head as he grabbed his shotgun and dug out the EMF detector, shoving the latter in his pocket. "The last Barnstable daughter was born in 1918. Even for you, that might be pushing things a bit."

Dean considered that as he slammed shut the trunk. "A bit." His grin returned. "More your type, cougar hound." He snorted, then moved off toward the house.

Sam's bitchface was wasted on the back on Dean's head as he fell in step behind his brother.

The front steps, warped and twisted, groaned loudly as the brothers climbed toward the main doors. Dean stepped onto the veranda and a rotten plank gave way beneath his boot. He yanked his foot back, testing his next step before shifting his weight. "Whatever entrance we're using, this place is definitely past its best-by date."

Sam shrugged. "Plenty left worth salvaging…as long as you've got deep pockets."

Dean shook his head as he crossed to the front doors. "All I care about is that Elliot's pockets are deep enough to forward a few thousand bucks our way." He turned to grin back at Sam. "Feels good to get paid for a little ghostbustin' for a change."

Sam frowned as he pulled out the key Elliot had couriered to them. "I still think it's weird he contacted us. We're not exactly at the top of some 'Who you gonna call' list."

"Whatever. It's a short list." Dean clapped Sam on the shoulder, sending a cloud of dirt into the air. He coughed, waving his hand in front of his face exaggeratedly. "Don't punch a gift horse in the mouth, Pig-Pen. We need the cash." He pointed to the door knob. "Come on, let's see if anyone's home."

Sam turned the key and pushed open the door, neglected hinges squealing loudly. He stepped inside, dropped the key back in his pocket and pulled out the EMF detector, scanning the front foyer.

Dean followed right behind him, glancing at the EMF. "I don't hear anything."

Sam shook his head. "No. So far, nada."

"Good." Dean squinted as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Early morning light was fighting its way past the years of dirt and grime that coated the large windows, but much of the house was still in shadow.

The brothers were standing in a wide, two-story foyer in the center of the house. Two sets of double doors to twin reception rooms flanked the foyer, while the hallway stretched out toward the back of the house. The main staircase was to their right, running straight up to a landing that ran the width of the hall. Stairs at the left end of the landing continued up to the second floor.

Sam peered up the stairs. The wall at the back of the landing extended six feet up, then was topped by a railing that framed the second floor hallway beyond. Early morning sunlight spilled in through a large, stained glass window at the back of the upstairs hall, dust dancing in the colored beams of light that played on the walls and ceiling. He turned to Dean. "Main floor first or start at the top?"

Dean grinned. "Don't know 'bout you, Sammy, but workin' from the top down is always my first choice."

Sam ignored the crack, pushing past his brother to climb up the stairs. The EMF crackled but otherwise stayed silent.

Dean fell in step behind Sam, fingers reflexively clenching his shotgun. He shook his head as he looked around; most of his life had been spent in motel rooms and the Impala—spaces dwarfed by even the smallest rooms in the Barnstable House. "Can you imagine living here? It's like half a block from one end of the house to the other, and that hallway down there is wider than most roads in this neck of the woods." He glanced over the railing into the foyer below, the corners of his mouth twitching mischievously. "Betcha I could drive my car down that hall. If I—"

"Dean." Sam kept his eyes on the EMF as he crossed the landing and headed for the second flight of stairs.

Dean sighed. "You're right, I'd just screw up the alignment getting her up the front steps, anyway."

Batting away giant cobwebs as they made their way to the top floor, the brothers began a room-by-room sweep of the house. Many of the rooms were empty but some still held once grand furniture that now sat covered in thick dust or large, white dust sheets. Portraits of Barnstable ancestors stared down at them menacingly from the walls, eyes seemingly tracking them as they searched.

An hour later, they were back on the second floor, near the top of the stairs.

Dean nodded approvingly. "Three down, one to go. If we—"

The high-pitched wail of the EMF cut him off. Sam's eyes darted around the upstairs hall as he shoved the EMF in his pocket and raised his shotgun.

Dean took a step closer to Sam, both hands now on his gun. He shot a look at his brother, annoyed more than startled. "Son of a bitch."

Sam shivered as the temperature dropped suddenly. It was his only warning before he was viciously shoved. He fell backward, seemingly in slow motion, his arms windmilling to try to save himself but unable to fend off gravity. He toppled back, crashing into the staircase railing, which shattered under his weight.

Sam heard Dean yell his name almost the same second he realized he was going over the edge and falling toward the downstairs hallway. He landed hard on his back, grunting loudly as the impact drove the air from his lungs. His vision slid out of focus as his head slammed into the floor and pain exploded behind his eyes. He was only vaguely aware of Dean's blurry form hovering way above him before unconsciousness reached out and pulled him under.

Continued in Chapter 2