First appeared in Road Trip With My Brother 9 (2009), from Agent With Style
Should Old Acquaintances Be Forgot
K Hanna Korossy
If it would've been a little warmer, it would have been perfect. Still, it was Georgia, and even in mid-December the cold didn't have much bite. Not in the midmorning sun Sam Winchester sat squarely in. At the sound of a splash, a smile pulled at his mouth as he looked up from his book.
Not ten feet away, Dean was hard at work. The dusty back roads they traveled took their toll on the Impala, and the car had looked more brown than black by the time they'd pulled into Hazelhurst. It didn't matter they'd driven most of the night before; first thing in the morning, Dean had hauled out the bucket and soap he kept in the trunk and gotten busy. Sam had already witnessed this ritual several times since joining his brother on the road—hauling water out from the motel room, wiping the car down with motel towels, sometimes even charming the grounds staff into letting him use an outside spigot—but Sam never failed to be amused.
Well, that wasn't exactly true. Not much had amused him those first few weeks he and Dean had been reunited. He still felt guilty now whenever he had a moment of happiness.
With that weird telepathy they had, untouched even by years apart, Dean glanced up at him at that moment over the hood of the car. His mouth also curved into a smile, the kind he didn't usually give others. "What?"
Sam shook his head. "Nothing. Just enjoying the day."
"Yeah, well, enjoy fast—you know what always happens after you wash a car." But the green eyes lingered a moment on him, studying him, happy for his contentment.
"Dean, there isn't a cloud in the sky," Sam argued halfheartedly. He knew Dean worried and why, even if there wasn't a word spoken.
"I'm just sayin', it's weird, like a curse or something. We should probably look into that sometime."
The laugh surprised him. "We are not cursed. Well, okay, maybe we are, but I don't think the car is."
An affable shrug was all the answer he got before Dean went back to polishing his baby.
The smile lingered as Sam watched him a minute longer, then finally reopened his book. They both had their ways of winding down. Dean's just happened to involve wax and buffing and—yeeeah, not going there. But the car was one of Dean's few possessions and indulgences, and Sam didn't begrudge him the downtime. At least it let him treat himself to one of his own.
Torts probably didn't make many people's free-time reading lists, but the textbook reminded Sam there was a life out there beyond what crept through the night. He had every intention of going back to it one day, too. But for now, a little bit of sun, Dean humming Zeppelin under his breath while he worked, and time to read made Sam happy for the first in a long time.
A phone rang, and Sam checked his pocket before realizing it was Dean's cell, sitting on the curb where he'd left it with his flannel shirt. Sam glanced from it to his brother. "You want me to get it?"
"Naw, I have it." He was already drying his hands in one of the formerly white towels, which he dropped on the curb as he scooped up the phone. Dean checked the number, then gave Sam a pleasantly surprised look as he flipped the cell open. "I'll be damned."
He didn't seem to mean that literally, but you never knew with their line of work. Sam canted his head and waited, knowing better than to hope for Dad but still never completely giving up, either.
"Tad?" Dean said in greeting. His smile soon widened into a grin. "Long time, no hear, dude—what're you up to these days?"
Sam leaned forward. Tad Kimble? he mouthed, got a nod in response. Huh. Talk about out of the blue.
Dean's face had grown serious. "Yeah, that does sound like our kind of gig. You still living up near Jackson?… I remember. We're in Georgia—we can be there tonight…" He glanced at Sam. "No, I've got Sammy with me." Another grin. "Yeah, you know it. Okay, we'll see you tonight." Dean flipped the phone shut and set it back on the curb, grabbing the towel in its place.
"Tad Kimble? Have you even heard from him in the last ten years?" Sam asked.
"Nope," Dean said with a shrug. "I think Dad stayed in touch with his dad, but I haven't seen them since…well, since you and I spent the week there while Dad went after that Weeping Woman."
"I'm surprised he found us. He needs our help?"
Dean eyed the Impala critically and, apparently satisfied, gathered tossed towels and washing implements. "Yup. Sounds like a nasty ghost or poltergeist's moved into his house. Even scared his wife away."
"Wife." Sam shook his head, willing away the pang the word caused. He concentrated instead on trying to reconcile marriage with the freckled teen he remembered. "Why doesn't he do something about it? I know he never got into his dad's line of work, but he picked up the basics."
Dean dumped out the soapy water in the bucket under a nearby tree. "He's moved on, cut ties with his dad. Wanted a 'normal' life—sound familiar?" There was a faint smile but without mockery. "Wife, kids, hamster. He probably doesn't remember—not everyone's got your freaky memory, Sam."
Sam drew a deep breath. "So, I guess we're not going to Kansas City."
Dean pursed his lips. "He asked for our help, Sam."
"I'm not arguing—it would be good to see him again, too." Sam stuck a receipt in to mark his place. All of eleven pages in; well, there would be other sunny mornings. "You want to leave after lunch?"
"Sounds like a plan."
A normal life, Sam mused as he stood and dusted off his jeans. Apparently, he wasn't the only one who found it hard to leave the past behind. But it might be nice to visit for a while with someone who knew their dad, knew exactly who they were. Even though he had Dean, Sam got tired of the pretending. Jess…even his Jess hadn't known who he really was.
Sam swallowed and glanced back at the shiny Impala. Then he turned and walked into their motel room with a deliberate smile.
"You know, man, there're a lot of dirt roads between here and Tad's."
Dean's groan made the smile real.
They pulled up in front of the small house, and even in the weak light of dusk, Dean could see the changes. Where the white paint had once been peeling, the shingles starting to slide out of place, the whole house was now fixed up and repainted. Probably part of Tad's normal life, Dean thought maybe a little sarcastically. He understood how the innocents who didn't know any better went on with their mundane little lives, but those who had peeked behind the curtain? Dean didn't get it. Had tried to for Sam's sake, but probably never would.
He exchanged a look with his brother, seeing amusement in Sam's eyes at knowing what he was thinking, and with an eye roll in response, Dean climbed out. Then he reached into the back for their gear bag, and met Sam's upraised brow over the roof of the Impala.
"Just in case," was all he said, but Sam nodded. Even if they probably wouldn't banish whatever it was that night, it wouldn't hurt to take some readings, do some of the preliminaries. And be prepared for trouble. Their motto was the only thing that had impressed Dean about the Boy Scouts.
Sam, of course, had joined a troop at the first opportunity, even managed to keep up with it through a few moves. Not that he and Dean were different or anything.
With a snort, Dean led the way up the neatly edged walk, to the door with a wreath on it. Christmas was coming, a fact that neither interested nor touched Dean, but sooner or later he should ask Sam if he wanted to do something. Later. Dean rang the doorbell, stood back, balancing comfortably on the balls of his feet, Sam a solid presence at his side. Dad had always led the way; it felt good to have someone beside him again.
The door opened.
Sam had the book memory, but Dean remembered people and places. Tad Kimble was a lot like the picture in his head, plus a few pounds and minus a little hair. He was tall and lanky like Sam, paler in coloring than Dean, and moved with seemingly endless energy. At the sight of them, his face broke into the same know-it-all, troublemaker grin that had always heralded trouble with their dads, if not the law, but that Dean had never been able to resist. He didn't now, either, grinning back.
"Sammy, Dean—man, it's good to see you guys. Come in, come in." The door was held wide, and Dean followed his brother inside.
It didn't take long to see the woman's touch the house had never had before. The furniture matched, the living room was wallpapered, and there was a cabinet with china in the dining room. Dean took it all in impassively.
"Good to see you, too," Sam said, also smiling, if a little more reserved. Then again, Sam was usually a little more reserved, and Tad had been more Dean's friend than Sam's, both because of temperament and age. But Sam's body language was as relaxed as it got these days, and, satisfied, Dean turned his grin back on Tad and moved in for a back-pounding bear hug.
"I am so glad you're here," Tad said quietly in his ear. Dean gave him a questioning look as they pulled apart, but Tad moved on to embrace Sam without another word. Sam met Dean's eyes over Tad's shoulder, and Dean shrugged.
"Uh, we came as fast as we could," he offered when Tad finally stood looking at them both again, hands buried in his jeans pockets.
"Yeah, I'm sorry about that—I probably shouldn't have made it sound so urgent. It's not like whatever it is hasn't been around for a while…but, hey, let's save the shoptalk for after dinner, okay? Do you guys like Mexican? I've got fixings for burritos."
Dean exchanged another look with Sam, then gave Tad a smile. "Sounds good."
Dinner was a friendly competition of tall stories from their past. It had been a long time since he could kick back and not have to keep the lies straight, and Dean enjoyed it. Pete Kimble had never dragged his son into his supernatural-hunting life nearly as much as John Winchester had, but Tad hadn't exactly had a normal childhood, either. His mother being mauled by a werewolf when he was five had been just the start, and one of the instant bonds between the three of them. Even without being raised like a warrior, Tad had grown up on the road and gave Dean a run for his money in storytelling, with even Sam joining in with a few tales. But more often, Sammy just listened, absorbing Dean's stories with earnest attention. Maybe he hadn't been there for the last three-and-a-half years, but Dean sometimes got the feeling Sam had missed it more than he let on, maybe even more than he admitted to himself. Or at least missed his family.
It was after they'd finished dinner and were nursing their second round of beers that talk finally turned to why they were really there.
"So, this ghost, it's been around for a few weeks now?" Dean asked.
Tad nodded. "Showed up about three weeks ago, just appeared in the upstairs hallway."
"What did it do?" Sam picked it up, leaning forward.
"That first night, nothing. Just stood there a minute, then vanished." Tad's shoulders hitched. "I've seen a lot worse than that, you know? I didn't worry a lot about it, and Sherry didn't see it. But then the next day, it showed up down here, started throwing things at Sherry. You can imagine how much that freaked her out."
They nodded sympathetically. Sherry was, apparently, a civilian, who still thought monsters under the bed were just childhood fantasies.
"After that, it started coming every day, sometimes more than once a day. No patterns to time or place, just materialized and would start screaming or throwing stuff around."
"It talked?" Sam asked, fascinated. Dean hid a smile.
"Not that it made sense, but yeah, just whispers, noises—you know, the usual." Tad had a nervous tic Dean hadn't recalled seeing before, a twitch of the mouth that revealed how upset he was. Dean didn't say it but apparently Tad had become half-civilian himself.
Dean took a breath. "Any other signs of manifestation? Flickering lights, other sounds, smell of ozone?"
"All of the above. But how violent it got—that's what scared Sherry, and finally, me. It's like it's mad at us for something. Are ghosts usually able to throw things?"
Sam's head bobbed. "Depends—the more powerful ones have a pretty wide range of psychic abilities." He glanced at Dean. "A few weeks ago, we ran across the spirit of a murdered boy in a lake that was drowning everyone related to the people responsible for its death. It was pretty strong. And sometimes the anger gets misdirected at anything in its way."
Dean's fingers wove together a little more tightly on the tabletop. Yeah, like at Lucas Barr, a kid who had never hurt anybody but had nearly been drowned because of a vengeful spirit.
Sam's elbow nudged his arm. Startled, Dean looked up, caught a flicker of a smile from his brother. Great, now Sam was reassuring him. He made himself unclench his hands but threw Sam a scowling half-smile back. Yeah, Sam knew him scary well, but it still was good to have him there.
Tad had missed the exchange, thankfully, gazing into his coffee cup. "Sherry put up with it for about a week. I'm kinda surprised she lasted that long—the thing hit her a couple of times with our alarm clock, a cup, stuff like that. But then I guess she couldn't take it anymore. I came home from work to a note—sayonara, she was gone."
"Why didn't you go with her?" Sam asked in his quiet people voice. Definitely one of the things Dean's solo act had been lacking; Sam could get a response out of a coma patient.
Tad sighed. "It's not exactly like she asked, but…this is my house, dude. I wasn't giving it up without a fight. She'll come back after you guys work your mojo." He said it with a certainty Dean usually employed, but that he actually felt a lot less often than he let on.
He met Sam's eyes over the table, then cleared his throat. "Look, Tad, Sam and I have faced stuff like this before and we can usually banish or destroy it, but sometimes these things…well, they get sorta stuck. You end up having to burn the house down or plow it under to get rid of it. I'm not saying we can't help, I just want you to be prepared—we might not be able to just make it go away like you're thinking."
"Hey," a friendly clap on the arm, "I'm not asking for guarantees, Dean. I just have to try, you know? It's my house, my wife. I'm not just gonna roll over and play dead here."
A moment of silent conference with Sam, but his brother was on the same wavelength. Dean nodded. "Okay, sure. We'll see what we can do."
Tad's smile was clearly relieved. "Thanks, man. Both of you. And if I can help with anything, just say the word."
Dean considered the cheerful sky-blue kitchen, the suburbia neighborhood, and the possible unfriendly cousin of Casper roaming the hallways, and gave Tad a bland smile. "Recommend a good motel in the area?"
"It was good to see Tad again, huh?" Dean said over the sound of the whetstone scraping against steel.
Sam didn't bother to look up; he knew exactly how Dean would be tilting his head, glancing down the blade to look for imperfections, then running a thumb lightly over the sharp edge with satisfaction. Besides, Sam was busy doing what they were both supposed to be engaged in: research. "Yeah, I guess."
Dean's movements stopped. "You guess? Don't get too excited, dude, you might pull something."
Sam pursed his lips and straightened back in the chair, cracking a kink out of his neck. "No, it was, it's just…I don't know, something's weird about this one, Dean."
Dean's one eyebrow went up over the knife he was testing for balance. "Weird, like man, he's gotten old weird, or like pea-soup spewing, head-spinning weird?"
"Weird like…how many times have you heard about a ghost or poltergeist just moving into a house one day? No renovations, no new purchases, no deaths, and EMF residuals all over the house? And I can't find anything in the history, no crimes, nothing suspicious about the land. The house was built in the sixties, Dean, and the Kimbles are the original owners."
"Okay, so, maybe Tad forgot to tell us something. Maybe his wife brought home some object with something nasty tethered to it, or, I don't know, maybe it's got something to do with his dad."
"Yeah, maybe…" Sam trailed off, unconvinced. But it wasn't like he could articulate what was bugging him, and Dean's instincts didn't seem to be sounding any alarms. He sighed and shut the laptop's cover. "I just think it's weird."
"Yeah, well, you're weird," Dean muttered. He eyed Sam as he slid the knife into its sheath. "You ready to turn in?"
Like some kind of Pavlovian response, Sam yawned, but fumbled for the remote as he dropped down onto his bed. "Think I'm gonna watch some TV first, wind down a little."
"Right, from all that exercise searching online." Dean nodded sagely. He started repacking weapons, clearly done with maintenance for the night.
"Which you totally conned your way out of," Sam threw back mildly. He dug a pillow out from behind his back and curled around it, sleepily starting to surf channels.
Dean pretended to ponder. "One computer, one geek…sounds like a match made in heaven to me." A shameless grin.
Sam rolled his eyes and settled on a rerun of Friends. Sometimes he didn't know why he bothered.
He didn't even know it when he dozed off, just half-woke to Dean carefully sliding the shoes off his feet and folding the blanket over him.
Oh, yeah, he thought muzzily before sinking back into sleep. That's why.
He didn't bother waking Sam the next morning. There was no rush on this case, and Sammy looked perpetually tired since he'd been back on the road. Between the nightmares and the physical exhaustion of grief, Dean sometimes wondered how the kid even stayed functional.
So, pulling the blinds and keeping it down even as Dean's stomach threatened to eat itself in his hunger, well, that was just part of being an awesome brother. Besides, it let him use the laptop for a while without Sam standing jealous guard. It had been Dean's once, but over the last few weeks had somehow taken up residence in Sam's satchel. Not the first and probably not the last time his little brother had laid claim to something of Dean's.
When the sleeping giant finally stirred, Dean quickly closed down the browser, then glanced over at the alarm clock between the beds. Ten-thirteen: not bad. Maybe a boring little nothing case and some beers with an old friend were just what the doctor ordered for that overactive brain.
Dean stood and started the coffee machine he'd been eyeing longingly the last two hours, then glanced back at Sam. "Wanna check out the continental breakfast?"
Sam mumbled something completely unintelligible and possibly not even English under his breath and rolled out of bed, almost literally, then stumbled to the bathroom. A minute later, the shower came on.
Dean grinned, shook his head, and went in search of food.
He came back loaded up with pastries, buttermilk biscuits, and corn muffins. Thank God for Southern hospitality. Sam was just coming out of the bathroom, toweling off that ridiculous mop of hair, and he peered doubtfully at Dean's bounty. "No fruit?"
Dean glared at him as he held out packets of three different kinds of jam. Sam had always been a picky eater.
His brother sighed. "Dean, you do know there are other food groups besides starches and sweets, right?"
"I'm not an idiot, Sam." He suddenly smiled. "There's also beef."
Sam gave him the look that meant he'd pretty much given up on Dean, but as long as the kid ate something, Dean didn't much care.
Turned out Sam was a sucker for buttermilk biscuits with jam, which Dean made note of for future reference. Sam inhaled all three while getting dressed, and didn't seem to notice that Dean ran out again for a half-dozen more, eating four of those, too. In all, Dean was pretty pleased with himself.
"So," Sam began while sipping absently at his coffee while reviewing their notes from the day before. "You wanna check the house again? See if we find any readings we didn't last night?"
Dean shrugged, talking around a mouthful of some red-fruit-filled pastry. Shame to let the food go to waste. "Might as well take another pass. Tad's counting on us to figure this thing out."
Sam looked a little sour at the thought—at some point, Dean would have to beat it out of him what had his panties in a twist about this job—but nodded. Considering Sam had eaten and slept more in the last twelve hours than the previous forty-eight, Dean was feeling generous and let it drop for now.
Tad swung open the door within seconds of their knock, his expression one of clear relief at the sight of them. "Thank God. It was back last night."
Dean exchanged a look with Sam. "Show us where."
The upstairs hallway showed slightly stronger readings than the house had the day before, but still nothing that couldn't have been explained away as regular electrical activity. They did another pass of the rest of the house, Dean manning the EMF meter, Sam watching his back and keeping his senses peeled for other signs of spiritual manifestation: ozone, flickers of movement, electrical surges, weird noises. Tad trailed a respectful distance behind them, watching tensely.
They made it back to the ground floor with only flutters from the meter. Dean caught his brother's eye and saw Sam mirror his thoughts: they had nothing to go on. You couldn't hunt what you couldn't find.
Tad ushered them into the kitchen, and a spread of coffee, donuts, and—had to be a normal person kinda thing—a fruit salad waiting for them. Even Sam seemed to unthaw at that, and packed away about as much chopped melon and citrus and grapes as he had biscuits. Well, needed to keep that gigantor body going somehow. Even Tad had to look up to the kid now, to Dean's private amusement.
He grew more serious as he turned back to Kimble. "Sorry, man, but we're just not picking up anything more than residuals. Maybe there was something here before, but it's hiding now, and for all we know, it's not coming back."
Tad's face fell. "Dude, it was here last night. It tried to say something, and then it blew the pictures right off the wall. You gotta be able to do something, right? Cleanse the place or something?"
Sam picked that one up. "We could do a general cleansing ritual, but, Tad, there's no guarantee it would affect whatever this is, and even if it did, it probably wouldn't last more than a year or two."
Tad brushed a hand through his hair. "I can't believe this. I mean, I know it sounds crazy, but what didn't from when we were kids? I swear, guys, I am not making this up."
Dean glanced at Sam with a meaningful cant of the head. Sam wriggled his shoulders and stood. "Hey. Can I use the—?"
Tad pointed down the hall. "Second door on the left."
They waited until Sam disappeared, then Dean smiled at Tad. "How's your dad these days?"
A shadow passed over Tad's face. "Guess you guys didn't hear. He bought it last year. Exorcism gone wrong in Florida."
Dean's brow crumpled in sympathy. "Sorry, dude, we didn't know."
Tad shrugged, pushing his coffee mug in small circles. "I got out of the life to avoid all that, and what do I end up with? A dad who's killed by a demon, a ghost moving in, and a wife moving out."
"Yeah, well, the normal life doesn't exactly come with any guarantees, either."
Tad's eyes pinched. "I heard about Sam's girlfriend. That's rough. How's he holding up?"
Dean chewed on the inside of his cheek. That wasn't a subject he wanted to discuss with anyone besides Sam, and certainly not someone Sam wasn't close to. He just shrugged, then nodded his chin at Tad. "Tell me about Sherry."
Tad pushed up from the table. "I can do better than that. Give me a sec." He disappeared down the hall.
Dean ate a donut in two bites, then another for good measure, before there was a crash from down the hall, and a yelp from Sam.
Dean was on his feet and at the bathroom door before he even thought about it.
"Sam!" The door was locked. Dean cursed, started to raise a booted foot, then realized he'd be slamming the door open into a very small space and probably into Sam. Still cursing, he dug through his pockets and dropped to a knee. Not ten seconds later, the paperclip worked its magic and the door clicked open.
Sam was on the floor, although sitting up…sort of. He was half-leaning against the bathtub, propping himself up with one hand, his head cradled in the other. There was blood trickling between his fingers.
"Sammy," Dean barked, and knelt down in what he quickly realized was a glittering layer of mirror fragments. One crunched uncomfortably against his knee, but he ignored it as he peeled Sam's hand away. "Let me see," he ordered gently.
There were three cuts along Sam's right temple and cheek, none of them deep or scarring but all copiously bleeding. Sam's pupils were reactive, and he shoved away Dean's hands when he started to check for other injuries. Dean relaxed a little. A broken mirror and a few superficial cuts he could handle. He pulled Sam to his feet and tugged him toward the sink. "What happened?"
"Mirror blew," Sam muttered. "If I'd been facing it…"
Dean swallowed even as he turned the water on and pressed Sam's head down. If Sam had been looking that way, he'd have gotten a faceful of glass, maybe even a sliced neck. "You sure your ugly mug didn't break it?" Dean teased weakly as he washed the blood off his brother's face, then grabbed a towel to pat him dry.
Sam managed to throw him a scowl even through all the manhandling. "I wasn't even near it, dude. It just…exploded."
"It's the ghost," Tad suddenly spoke from the doorway. They both looked up at him, and Kimble's face was pale. "It's stepping up its game. Probably knows I called you two in."
Dean eyed Sam's cuts critically. "Tad, you got a first aid kit?"
"Uh, yeah. Just a minute."
As soon as he disappeared, Dean took a breath. "We're nailing this one, Sam. I don't care how long it takes. I want this thing smoked."
Sam snorted. "We still don't have anything to go on. I didn't see or hear anything before the mirror broke."
"Right, 'cause mirrors self-destruct all the time." Dean looked him in the eye. "I want this one, man. This is personal now. It made it personal."
Tad reappeared in the doorway, a little out of breath. "Here." He shoved the white box at Dean.
"Thanks." Dean looked at Sam a moment more, waited for the tiny concessionary drop of the head, then turned to Tad. "So, you got any spare beds in the place?"
Sam chewed on his thumbnail as his eyes passed over the faded print his brain barely registered. It was a skill he'd developed in college, being able to scan for key words while his thoughts were miles away, and he'd turned the auto-pilot on now as he sat and thought.
"We still don't know if it's a ghost or poltergeist," Dean was saying across the table. They'd checked out of the motel and were at the library now to look up land records further back than what was online. For once, Dean was doing his part of the research; the attack on Sam had sobered him, bringing out the pure hunter Sam knew he could be. He flipped through another few pages of their dad's journal. "Could also be a domovoy or some other kind of house spirit. And we haven't ruled out a cursed object. Although, that doesn't usually manifest in visible form."
"Mm-hm," Sam murmured, idly turning the page of newsprint. So far, he'd found the land the Kimble house sat on had been a commune, a park, and a farm. Before becoming arable, it had probably been wilderness, which left them…back at square one.
"Maybe it's a curse someone put on Tad," Dean went on. A pause. "Or maybe it's a pre-law college boy wearing a pink tutu…"
Okay, so maybe he hadn't completely sobered. "Dude," Sam said, dropping his hand to the table in exasperation, "I'm listening, you're just not saying anything worth listening to."
Dean slapped the journal shut and laced his fingers together over it. "Okay, Sam, spill."
He blinked up at his brother, puzzled. "Spill what?"
"What's got you so bunched up about this job. Is it the hide-and-seek ghost? 'Cause we've had worse than that. Or Tad? 'Cause the dude's been falling all over himself to be a good host since we got here."
Sam flinched, turning half away from Dean as he rubbed the pads of his fingers over the Band-Aids on his face. "I know."
Dean shifted, and Sam could feel his brother's irritation transform into concern, which really didn't help things. "You get a bad feeling about this one, Sammy? Because you can always sit it—"
"It's Tad," Sam blurted out, looking back at Dean. Defensively, he continued. "I don't know why, all right? It's just… This whole thing's been jacked from the start, Dean—only he's seen the ghost, we can't reach his wife to back up his story, and there wasn't any sign of spiritual activity when the mirror broke. None of this follows any of the patterns of haunts or poltergeists that we know. I just think…something else is going on here."
"Something else…that Tad's doing?" Dean asked cautiously.
"I don't know, maybe." Sam looked uncomfortable. "Or maybe he's just not telling us the whole truth. I mean, it was a long time ago that you two were friends, man."
Dean's head bobbed a little in surprise. "He was your friend, too, Sam."
"No." Sam smiled a little; it figured Dean would've remembered it that way. Dean had always thought everyone should appreciate the same things he did. "I was just your tagalong little brother."
Dean frowned, opening his mouth to respond, but his phone rang first. He dug it out, peered at the caller ID, and looked at Sam as he opened the cell. "Yeah, Tad."
Sam couldn't hear the words, but they were loud enough that the fear in them carried. His own face creasing in a frown, he leaned forward.
Dean's mouth unfolded into a straight line. "Okay, I'll be there in a few. Get out of the house if you can, or get behind some salt and wait for me." He snapped the phone shut, already rising.
Sam was also closing the newspaper folios. "It's back?"
"It's back," Dean confirmed, then pointed at Sam. "Stay here and keep looking."
Sam stared at him. "Dean, I'm not letting you go without—"
"Sam. I'm fine—I'm just gonna make sure Tad's safe, okay? You need to figure this thing out. If it's Tad…" Dean's face twisted. "We need to know."
Sam reluctantly sank back into his seat. "Yeah. All right."
Dean nodded at him and turned to go.
"Be careful, dude."
Dean threw him back a smile that was half-cockiness and half-real emotion, then he was gone.
Sam grumbled under his breath and pulled out his laptop.
Just a few minutes later, his eyes went wide.
He fumbled out his phone and speed-dialed Dean. Whose phone rang four times, then went to voice mail.
Sam swore, sweeping all his materials into his satchel as he jumped to his feet and hurried out the door.
His bad feeling had just turned into hard fact.
Tad was waiting outside the door, ashen and shifting from foot to foot. He was at the Impala before Dean could even get out, pulling at his sleeve.
"Dude, it's back, and it's ticked off."
Dean had already pulled out what he'd need on the way over and immediately headed for the house. "What happened?"
"I don't know. One minute I was taking out the laundry, the next, there it was, screaming at me."
Dean spared him a glance as he jogged up the steps. "You didn't do anything to provoke it? Did it say anything?"
"No. And just some muttering. It's nuts, Dean."
He pressed himself next to the ajar front door and peered inside. "Yeah, well, sometimes death kinda messes up spirits, confuses them or drives them crazy. They don't always act like they did when they were alive."
"So you're sure now it's a ghost? You can get rid of it then, right? I think Dad used to do that sometimes."
There was nothing amiss that Dean could see on the ground floor. He pushed the door open and stepped inside. "Yeah, if that's what it is. Just need to salt and burn the remains. We just need to figure out first who it is." He looked back at Tad. "Didn't your dad teach you any of this?"
Tad huffed. "You think I listened to anything he said? The guy was half-crazy."
Dean eyed him with a creeping distaste. "That 'crazy talk' might've just helped you figure this out before you lost Sherry." He glanced up the stairs. "Sounds like it usually shows upstairs, right?"
"Uh, yeah, either in the hall or the bedroom."
"Okay. You stay out here. If I'm not back in ten minutes, call Sam."
Tad shoved his hands into his pockets. "Yeah, all right. Just…be careful, man, okay?"
Dean snorted. Seems like he was hearing that one a lot today.
He crept up the stairs slowly, EMF meter buzzing faintly in his pocket, salt-loaded shotgun in hand. Dean kept his eyes moving, listened intently, and pressed his back to the wall as he reached the top and stepped into the hallway. It stretched about ten feet in either direction, leading off to a half-dozen doorways, and was sparsely furnished with a small table, pictures on the walls, and a full laundry basket sitting on the floor at one end.
"So, what's got you so attached to this place, huh?" Dean murmured, heading slowly down the hallway toward the basket. "'Cause I'm telling you, I can think of a lot of nicer places to haunt than this. House doesn't even have hardwood floors."
His eyes moved over pictures of Tad when he was younger, photos of a strawberry-blonde little girl—doubtless Sherry as a child—and pictures of Tad with what had to be his wife; Dean never had seen the photo Tad was going to show him the other night. There were no pictures of Pete Kimble or any other parents. No locks of hair were tucked into the frames nor was there anything suspicious in the pictures. Dean glanced into an empty guestroom and kept going.
The small table held a basket of dusty dried flowers and a drawer with some odds and ends in it. Amazing how much crap accumulated in a house. He and Sam had always had to keep their belongings to the bare minimum growing up; there was no room for a junk drawer in the Impala. Dean shoved the little drawer shut, then started to move on.
And abruptly noticed the dark stain on the corner of the table. He bent for a closer look.
"That's where he killed me."
The soft, ethereal voice came just as the EMF let out a squawk. Dean's head jerked up the same time his gun did.
But the transparent form hovering in front of him didn't seem all that threatening. In fact, it just seemed…sad.
And looked an awful lot like Tad's missing wife.
"Sherry?" Dean said doubtfully, shotgun not budging.
She nodded, floating body bobbing with the movement. "I made him a home, did everything for him. For better or for worse—that's what we promised. But when he didn't want me anymore, he killed me."
The discomfort that had lodged in his gut since Sam had shared his suspicions took ugly root. "And that's when you showed up. You came back to make him pay." Drawn to the place where some small piece of her—her blood—remained.
The ghost's face darkened. "He killed me."
Dean nodded. "Yeah, I got that." He paused, thinking, then angled his head up. "Let me guess—that wasn't you with the mirror in the bathroom."
"He was afraid you would leave him to me. He wants me gone." Her expression was bitter. "He is a liar and a murderer."
Dean winced. "I can take care of him for you, just tell me where you're buried."
"In the garden. By my roses. He—" Her eyes went wide.
The firecracker of pain in his head answered his question, but by then, Dean had ceased to care.
The Impala was parked neatly behind Tad's Rambler in the driveway as the cab pulled up to the curb. Sam shoved a twenty at the driver, then made a pit-stop at the trunk of the car before heading into the quiet house.
Through the door that stood wide open.
He didn't dare call for Dean, unsure what was going on, but even as Sam looked around the foyer, he could feel there was no one downstairs. Creeping along in near silence, he headed up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
Dean was the first thing he saw, sprawled on his back in the narrow hallway, head toward the stairs. His eyes were closed and he wasn't moving.
"Dean," Sam whispered sharply, and darted forward to press two fingers against his brother's neck. He took a shaky breath when he found a strong beat, and rolled Dean just enough to spot the mat of bloody hair on the back of his head. Wincing, Sam laid him gently back down and lifted his eyelids instead, freshly relieved when both pupils shrank.
And even more so when Dean reached up to clumsily bat him away. "'M t'red, Dad."
"Dean. Hey. It's me. It's Sam. Y'all right, man?" He chafed Dean's cheek, patted him on the chest. "Dean?"
"Sammy?" Dean squinted up at him, then rolled his head with a groan. "Yeah. Yeah. M'good." He started to reach up toward his head.
Sam caught his arm. "You don't wanna do that. Something clocked you pretty hard. Was it the ghost?" He looked up and down the hallway.
Dean breathed out long. "It was Tad."
Sam's eyes swung back. "What?"
"Yeah. The ghost? Turns out it was the missing Sherry. Tad killed her." He pitched onto his side and grimaced. "Help me up."
Sam did so, trying to be gentle, and to pretend he didn't notice when Dean paused a moment to lean against his shoulder, marshalling his strength. "Yeah, I kinda figured. Turns out Sherry Kimble went missing three weeks ago. Last place anybody saw her was here. You okay?"
Dean grunted as he tilted heavily against the little table before straightening up by inches. "Tad didn't know how to get rid of a spirit before, but he does now. My guess is, he's gone to get rid of the missus, permanently."
"Do you know where she's—?"
"Okay." Sam paused, assessing his brother's pale, sweaty face. "You, uh, wanna wait for me here?"
Dean flopped his head toward the stairway and groaned, then glanced around. "Check in there," he pointed to the room on the other side of the table.
Sam frowned a second, then his brow cleared in comprehension. He hurried into the room, to the window. One story below, Tad was digging furiously in the garden. Sam smiled grimly and quietly slid the window open.
He came out again, scooping up Dean's shotgun as he did. "He's right outside. You good to go?"
Dean glowered at him.
Sam almost smiled. "Right," he said, handing his brother the weapon before he headed back down the way he'd come. Behind him he could hear Dean start to shuffle into the bedroom.
Sam shot out of the house and hurried around the corner to the back. This was a job for law enforcement, not their kind of enforcement, but only if they could keep Tad from getting rid of the evidence.
He slowed near the back corner. There was a big lilac bush growing there, obscuring both his aim and Tad's sight of him, and Sam crept silently around it until he was a mere half-dozen feet away from Kimble and had a clear shot. He straightened then, raising his Taurus and taking aim before announcing, "It's over, Tad."
Tad froze, shovel in hand. Next to him, Sam saw a can of gasoline and a kitchen canister of salt.
"Put the shovel down."
Tad's face tilted until he could just see Sam over his shoulder. "What's going on, Sammy?"
"Don't call me Sammy." Sam gestured with the gun. "Put the shovel down. I'm guessing the police are gonna be interested in your choice of fertilizer."
Tad turned slowly, hands raised but shovel still firmly in his grasp. "Hey, man, it's not what you think—it was an accident, all right? We were fighting and she was upset and tripped and hit her head. I didn't kill her, I swear."
"Yeah." Sam's voice dripped his anger. "That's why you buried her in the garden and called us in to get rid of her spirit. Killing her once wasn't enough—you wanted us to do it again."
Tad's mouth ticked. "Sam, it's not like that—she's crazy. She just attacked Dean upstairs—"
"Dude, didn't you learn anything from your dad? Sherry already told us what's going on. Did you seriously think you'd get away with this?"
Tad snorted. "That old coot was crazy. You know what I mean, Sam—seems like you were always butting heads with your old man, too."
Sam's jaw bunched as his eyes darted up to Dean in the window and back again. His brother was impassive, shotgun aimed steadily at Tad, letting Sam call the play. "I love my family. You? You killed the woman who loved you—on purpose. You were supposed to protect her, and you murdered her."
Tad swallowed. "Sam, please…"
And then he threw the shovel at Sam and lunged after it.
A rock-salt load from a dozen feet away wouldn't kill a person, but hitting center-mass of Tad's back, it was enough to bring him down cold at Sam's feet. Sam ducked the shovel but otherwise didn't even have to move.
He peered up at Dean with a frown. "Dude, I had him."
"Dude, he had a shovel," Dean called back. Not to mention there was the whole protective big-brother thing. "Deal with it."
Sam sighed and pulled out his cell.
And found himself gaping at Sherry's ghost instead.
"No," Sam said gently, "just knocked out."
"He killed me," she said pointedly.
"I know, and I'm sorry. But I promise you, he'll pay for it. Everybody will know what he did to you."
She stared at him a long moment, then her eyes unexpectedly filled. "Thank you."
Before Sam could answer, she was gone.
"You all right?" Dean hollered from above as Sam's shoulders slumped.
"Yeah," he said quietly, which pretty much meant no. Yeah, Sherry had closure, but she was still dead, and the guy she'd loved had been the one who'd killed her. Where was the justice in that?
"Cops are coming—I phoned it in," Dean called out. "Get up here and give me a hand down, bitch."
Sam chuffed a reluctant smile, prodded Tad's motionless figure with one foot, and shook his head. Then he headed back around the house to go get his brother and leave all this behind them.
They drove through the night, Dean sleeping most of the way, until he woke up near dawn and saw Sam's strained glances at him. Yeah, knew that feeling too well, where you practically had to sit on your hands to keep from checking every few minutes to make sure your brother was breathing. Dean made a show of yawning himself awake and soon commandeered the driver's seat again. Sam seemed glad to relinquish it, and curled up to get some sleep of his own.
After the third time Sam started awake, No! on his lips, Dean turned on the radio as Sam reached for the map. Dean repressed a sigh: so much for resting up and starting to bounce back. It'd been great timing, a case with that murderous, lying son-of-a-bitch Tad and his dead wife. All that was missing from Sam's worst nightmare was a ceiling and a fire.
They ended up in a diner somewhere in Arkansas for breakfast, working their way through big plates of biscuits and fruit and eggs and sausage—Dean had ordered while Sam was in the bathroom—and nursing bottomless cups of coffee. Sam looked depressed and tired, the cuts on his face a puffy red, but the tension he'd had around Tad was gone and he was eating. Dean kinda hoped all the carbs would make him sleepy enough to get some real rest when they hit the road again, and left him be.
"I don't get it." Dean shook his head as he finished reading the article and shoved it toward Sam. Tad had been arrested right next to his wife's body. "How can you hate so much somebody you loved once? I mean, I know we see it all the time—women in white, vengeful spirits, McCartney and Heather Mills. But I still don't get it."
Sam shrugged listlessly. "It's simple—he didn't really love her. If he did—if he ever did—he wouldn't have been able to do it."
Dean raised an eyebrow at him. "So you're saying you don't think love can ever turn to hate?"
Sam considered that. "Maybe. If the other person betrays you first. But it should, I don't know, break your heart, or make you wanna take off, not kill them. She didn't deserve that," he finished more quietly.
Dean eyed him a moment before asking, cautiously compassionate, "We are still talking Sherry here, right?"
Sam stared down at his plate a long time, the curtain of bangs hiding his expression from Dean. When he looked up again, it was with his game face back on. "I'm sorry about Tad."
Dean blinked, scrambling to cover up the stab of pain at the reminder, and knowing Sam knew anyway. "Hey, it had to be done. It's not like we were best friends or something, dude. I didn't even know he got married." Yeah, he'd considered Tad a friend. He shared history with precious few people, and talking old times with someone who knew the real ones had felt good. But Dean's disillusionment had started long before he'd found out what Tad had become. About when he'd realized Sam had had a different experience with their old friend than Dean, in fact. Dean had always thought all his friends should appreciate Sam and family as much as he did.
"But still," Sam pressed, his face all Oprah, "you shouldn't have had to do that."
"Yeah, well." Dean passed it off with the hitch of a shoulder. "He wasn't coming after you to pat you on the back, Sam. It's not like he left me any choice—I've got a lot more old friends than I do little brothers."
Sam gave him a look of pleased surprise—like this was news to him, the big genius?—before switching smoothly to mock innocence. "You do?"
So Dean kicked him—lovingly—in the leg.