If You Ever Need Help
A/N: I'm a little worried about how this one will go over really. I guess it's a bit more Gloria-oriented than Sam and Dean, although there's still plenty of our boys. It's two chapters long, the second containing most of the excitement, so I guess I'm just asking you guys to give it a chance before immediately discarding it. (Okay, maybe I'm more than a little worried...)
In other news, to anyone who's been following, the men who robbed me went to court to be sentenced yesterday (charges are home invasion and aggravated robbery) so I'm just waiting on an email from Victim Support to tell me how it went. Hopefully this whole thing will be over soon. *-fingers crossed-*
Gloria stood in her kitchen indecisively. She fingered the tattered business card. There had been many times in the last six months that she had taken it out, wondering. Once, she'd almost finished dialling the number printed on it before she lost her nerve and hung up.
Now she wasn't sure what to do. The message read, If you ever need help, and she thought that yes, she might need some help, but maybe the help she needed was some kind of anti-psychotic drug – like her eldest son seemed to be suggesting – or maybe she just needed a cat, like her youngest son thought.
"You're just going a bit mad in that empty old house," he'd laughed when she told him of the strange goings-on. "Get a cat or something. Go out, meet some people. You shouldn't be alone so much."
"Come and stay. Just for a week. Bring the kids, there's plenty of room."
"Oh, Mum, you know what my job's like."
Gloria didn't, not really, because the only conversations she had with him were over the phone and they always ended within ten minutes with some flimsy excuse.
"Got to go, Mum, I think the dog's trying to eat the hose again."
Gloria didn't want a cat to molt all over her carpets and scratch up her furniture, and she didn't want to be medicated. She just wanted her bedroom to stop being so cold, and to stop waking up in the night with the fearful sense that she wasn't alone.
Honestly, she'd started sleeping on the couch in front of the TV. It played havic on her back and gave way to the upsetting realization that she was simply too old to not have a mattress underneath her.
She'd never had a problem with living alone before. Sure, she sometimes missed the chatter of people around her, but she had always found comfort in being at home. She had her soaps to watch and she enjoyed knitting things for the grandkids. Secretly, she had a lot of fun sometimes, dancing around to the boppy songs on the radio as she vacummed or tidied, in a manner completely unbecoming for a woman of her age, but there was no one around to laugh at her. She'd certainly never felt afraid, but now the atmosphere in her house was changing, darkening into something threatening. She found herself taking extra shifts at the hospital as an excuse to stay away for longer. She began to dread going home.
And then, two days ago, she fell down the stairs. She landed at the bottom, a bit bruised, a lot shaken, and with the firm belief that someone had pushed her. She knew this, just as she knew that there was no one else in the house. She also knew that this was a contradiction, but that didn't stop it from being true.
She wasn't just a loopy old lady – God, she wasn't even that old – she wasn't losing her marbles. There was something happening in her house.
"You're imagining things, Mum," her eldest informed her helpfully. "Maybe you need your hearing and eyesight checked. Or perhaps you should go to the doctor, tell him some of the things you've told me..."
Her hearing and eyesight were fine, thank you very much, and, oh, don't worry, the trip down the stairs hadn't left any lasting damage, nice of you to ask, and would you like to come for dinner? Oh, you're busy. Maybe next week? Some other time then. Have a nice – click.
Maybe she was being too harsh. Her sons meant well, she knew, but they were busy with their own lives, their own jobs and kids, and simply didn't have time for her problems.
Gloria flipped the business card over.
If you ever need help.
She looked from the card to the phone. He probably didn't even remember her. He probably had even less time for her than her sons did. He probably wouldn't come.
She dialled the number. Maybe he wouldn't even pick up. He probably had a different phone now, a different number. Kids these days were always upgrading to the latest model. He was a mystery from the past, the kind that never got solved.
The voice offered nothing else, no name to confirm that she had the right person, and... it sounded off, not like she remembered it. She almost hung up right then, but she'd come this far.
"Um, is this... I mean, I'm looking for Sam?"
"Hang on," the voice said, and it clicked into place. Dean, the brother. She did have the right number. She heard the phone being fumbled with and listened in as Dean, in the background now, made a crack about it being a girl – she wasn't sure if she should be insulted or flattered – and then a new voice came on the line.
Gloria's heart was beating faster than it should have. Sometimes it had been all too easy to convince herself that she'd made him up, despite the business card. There was something unreal about their meeting and he had vanished so suddenly. A few times she'd even looked up his case on the hospital computers, to reassure herself that he really had been there. She was fairly certain that the last name on the files was fake and the insurance Dean had given had been dodgy, but it hadn't tarnished her opinion of the boy at all.
There was a beat of silence as he tried to place her voice and Gloria felt her hopes dim. Of course he wouldn't remember her, she was just a nurse who had looked after him for a couple of weeks, just a blip in his busy life, just -
"Yes." He did remember her!
"Are you alright? Has something happened?"
He sounded genuinely concerned, which melted something inside her and she felt a bit more confident as she stammered into the phone.
"No. Well, yes." Which question was she meant to be answering? "I'm okay, but... I think I need some help."
He looked almost the same as she remembered. Of course, his hair had grown out over where his stitches had been and he looked a great deal healthier and less bruised than he had the last time she'd seen him at the hospital, but it was him alright.
Sam and his brother sat in her living room, and that in itself amazed Gloria. She honestly hadn't thought she would ever see either of them again. They both accepted her offer of coffee – she used the private moment as she brewed it in the kitchen to pinch herself - and she brought each of them a cup, making a tea for herself before sitting down awkwardly in her chair.
It wasn't like the last time they had been together, when Sam was her patient and she was his nurse, and despite the reassurances offered over the phone, she was about to tell them a ridiculous story that in the light of day didn't seem the slightest bit believable. She felt like a foolish old woman.
"So tell us whats been happening," Sam encouraged, his coffee sitting untouched on the table as he gazed at her with what she thought was the same amazement that must have been in her eyes. Neither had expected to see the other again.
Gloria sighed, "It sounds crazy. Maybe it is. I'm sorry I dragged you both out here, but I didn't know who else to call."
"It's no trouble, really," Sam assured her quickly, "And we kind of specialize in crazy."
Gloria wasn't sure she wanted to know what that meant, and Sam and Dean were looking at her expectantly so, reluctantly, she told them her story.
It had started a month ago, maybe a little longer, and it had started in her bedroom. It wasn't a large room and it had always warmed up quickly when the sun came through the windows and stayed warm all day through but soon even running a heater in there didn't help. It stayed cold, and not just cold. Icy, almost. A few times she'd even seen her breath steam in the air.
She started seeing things out of the corner of her eye, things that were never there when she looked properly, and the radio stopped working at night. She could only get static. Sometimes the TV flickered and occasionally she thought she heard a voice muttering. Then there was the fall down the stairs that hadn't been accidental at all. She'd felt hands on her.
When Gloria finished the brothers exchanged a quick, knowing glance before turning their attention back to her.
Dean cleared his throat awkwardly, "Is there anyone who might hold a grudge against you? Someone with a reason to target you?"
Gloria frowned, "I don't think you understand. There was no one in the house when I was pushed down the stairs. I always lock my door and windows. I was alone."
"I meant someone who's dead," Dean said bluntly. Sam shot him a disapproving look.
"You think it's a ghost?" Gloria asked.
"I know it's hard to believe," Sam started, "But-"
Gloria shook her head, a huff of a laugh escaping her lips, "No, no, I believe it. I just didn't think anyone else would."
"Oh," Sam said, looking slightly dumbfounded, "Well, that makes things easier."
"Anyone, Gloria?" Dean pressed.
Gloria was quiet, thinking. She sipped her tea without tasting it.
"Maybe it's the house," Dean suggested, to Sam more than her, "We'll have to do some research."
"No." Gloria held up a hand, not quite able to meet the boy's eyes. "There is someone."
Now that she had thought of it, the answer seemed clear. She was surprised she hadn't figured it out before.
"He always said he'd find me," she murmered to herself.
"Who?" Sam prodded gently, "Who said he'd find you, Gloria?"
Gloria placed her cup of tea down on the table, gathering herself together. "It's not something that I talk about," she said carefully. "It was a long time ago now."
Sam and Dean gave her a moment but she knew what was coming.
"We need to know, really. We wouldn't ask if it wasn't important."
Gloria stared down into her tea cup. "I was married once," she began, "I thought I was in love, but I was young and Paul was handome and I was impressionable, I suppose. We were happy, for a while. He was the father of my two sons. The boys were still little when things went wrong."
She paused to sip her lukewarm tea, and this time neither brother spoke. She continued under her own steam.
"Paul lost his job, and couldn't find a new one. He used to drink before that, but after... he changed. He drank all the time, and he got angry. Angry if the dishes weren't done or the boys weren't in bed on time. Angry at everything really. And then he started hitting me."
"I'm sorry," Sam's voice said quietly.
Gloria flapped a hand in his direction. "Not your fault," she said, annoyed at the huskiness in her own voice. "Anyway, he'd hit me and I'd tell him I was taking the kids and leaving. He'd say not to bother because he'd find me and bring me back. So I stayed, for another two years. My oldest was five by then, the youngest almost three. I could handle Paul knocking me around but I always told myself that if he laid a hand on the boys, I'd leave. One day it happened, so I packed up myself and the kids and left. I never saw Paul again. I heard he hung himself a few years later."
The atmosphere in her living room was thick and awkward. Gloria dabbed at the corners of her eyes surrepticiously and cleared her throat. "So that's my sob story," she said, trying to sound flippant, "I wouldn't be surprised if Paul kept his word. The weird stuff starts when it gets dark."
Luckily, the boys could take a hint and went on without any clumsy attempts at comforting her.
"What was Paul's last name?" Dean asked.
"Daniells. Paul Daniells. His middle name was Robert, if that helps."
"It does," Sam said. "Okay, so we'll hang around here, wait until dark and see if we can get confirmation that Paul's our guy. Is there someone you can stay with until this is over?"
There wasn't. Gloria was friendly with most of the other nurses at work but not the kind of friendly where she could just show up on one of their doorsteps, and the gossip it would cause! The younger nurses were the worst; oh, so and so's pregnant, and Linda's cheating on her boyfriend and Carrie's sleeping with one of the doctors. Sometimes she felt like she was on the set of Greys Anatomy rather than working in a busy hospital. Gloria was saved from having to admit her lack of friends when Dean spoke.
"If it's Paul, it's not tied to the house. It's tied to her. It'll just follow."
Sam didn't look happy but conceded the point, "Okay then, so we all stay here and wait for the ghost to show up."
"So a pretty normal evening, then," Dean said, reaching for her TV remote.
Gloria didn't think he was joking.
Sam was clicking away on his laptop in the living room, trying to find out where Paul was buried, apparently, and Gloria was in the kitchen, rustling up some dinner for the three of them, when Dean appeared in the doorway. He stood there awkwardly until Gloria took pity on him.
"Here, you can set the table," she said, handing him a stack of cutlery.
Seeming relieved to be given sometimes to do, Dean obeyed, moving to the small dining room that connected to the kitchen.
"You don't have to cook for us, you know," he said as he laid down knives and forks, "I saw a diner not far from here."
"I don't mind in the slightest." Gloria had the feeling that the boys were far overdue a good home-cooked meal and honestly, she wouldn't eat at the diner down the road if they paid her. "You and Sam are doing me a big favour. It's the least I can do to repay you."
"Seems to me like we owe you a favour." Dean looked up from the table, "I, uh, never really got to thank you, for looking after Sam for me."
"I was his nurse," Gloria said to the oven so that he wouldn't see her blush. "It was my job."
"The way Sam talks about you, it seems you went above and beyond the call of duty."
"Well, someone had to be there for him." Less than two seconds after the words were out of her mouth she realised how they sounded. She spun to face Dean. "I didn't mean, uh, not that you-"
"It's okay." Dean didn't look like it was okay. "I'm really happy that there was someone looking out for him, when I wasn't there."
Gloria wrestled with herself for a moment, wondering if she was overstepping the boundaries but couldn't help asking.
"Where were you?" It came out a bit blunter than she meant it to. "I mean, it got to the point where I didn't think anyone was going to come. What held you up?"
Dean's face darkened, his eyes turned hard and Gloria actually took a step back, he was so intimidating.
"I thought he was dead," he said, his voice so low that Gloria wasn't sure she'd heard him right.
"What?" she asked breathlessly.
Dean was gripping the back of one of her chairs hard enough that his knuckles were white. "I thought he was dead. A de- something told me that he was dead. I was hunting it." He glanced up at Gloria and this time she caught a glimpse of the devastation he must have felt. "It took me a while to track it down and I... well, eventually it told me it had lied, so I took care of it and started searching the hospitals."
Gloria recalled the battered man that had shown up in her hospital.
"It was a demon?"
Dean frowned, "Man, how are you so accepting of all this stuff? We come in talking about ghosts and demons and you just nod your head like it's the most normal thing in the world. Most people think we're nuts."
Gloria took that for a yes. "Before Sam remembered anything, he had this notebook that one of the doctors gave him. He was supposed to write in it so it would jog his memory."
"I know the one," Dean said, still frowning.
"I read it once."
"You read it?" Dean sounded doubtful.
"Okay, I didn't actually read it, but I looked through it. Sam said the Latin was exorcisms."
"And you believed him?" Dean shook his head, looking at her like she was something he just couldn't understand.
"He was very sincere."
"He'd just suffered a serious head injury," Dean pointed out.
Dean huffed a laugh through his nose. "Anyway, I think thanks was the point of this conversation."
"Don't thank me," Gloria instructed, "Just get that ghost out of my house."
Just after 8 o'clock the TV flickered.
Gloria looked to Sam. Sam looked to Dean, who nodded and bent to unzip the duffle bag beside his chair.
Gloria turned apprehensively to gaze at the staircase leading to the bedrooms. Something was up there, something that might be Paul, come back from the grave to punish her for leaving all those years ago. She shuddered at the thought and turned back to ask what exactly Sam and Dean planned to do. The words died in her mouth.
Standing in the middle of her nice, tidy living room, looking completely out of place, Sam was checking rounds in a shotgun. Dean held a similar gun at his side as he turned on the radio. Static filled Gloria's ears and she was struck by the stupidity of inviting two strangers, young, strong men who could easily overpower her, into her house.
God, she didn't really know either of them. All she had was a couple of weeks in the hospital when Sam didn't even know himself. Suppose his memories came back and he'd discovered that he and his brother were criminals?
"It's rock salt."
Gloria tore her gaze away from the weapons to Sam's face. He held up his arms non-threateningly, gun pointed toward the wall.
"They aren't real bullets," he explained, seemingly anxious for her to understand, "They're rock salt. Salt's a purity from the earth. It repels spirits."
"A kitchen condiment is going to kill a ghost?" Gloria asked, feeling a little faint.
"Not kill," Dean corrected, turning off the radio. "Just... it'll go away for a while."
"Stay here," Sam said.
Gloria raised her eyebrows and made a snap decision that she'd rather trust Sam and Dean than live with her dead ex-husband. "You think I'm staying down here by myself while there's a ghost in the house? I'm coming with you."
Sam chewed on his bottom lip. Gloria did her best to look determined and finally Sam gave in.
"Just... stay behind us then."
"That I can do."
Catiously, holding the railing firmly, Gloria followed the two brothers up the stairs. Once at the top they carried on along the hallway until they reached the end room. Gloria's room.
Using hand signals that baffled Gloria, the boys got into position. Sam stepped in front of her, shotgun held ready, and Dean stood by the door, hand on the knob. His quick eyes flashed over them and, assured that they were all ready – though Gloria wasn't sure what she was meant to be ready for – turned the knob and pushed the door open in one smooth movement.
A gust of icy air washed out of the doorway but apart from that the room was as it always was. Her bed and matching side tables were against the far wall, in the middle. The window was firmly shut, curtains drawn. The wardrobe was empty, the door open. She'd moved most of her clothes into her youngest son's old bedroom, eager to spend as little time in her room as possible.
The radio on the bedside table turned on by itself, static screeching.
"Have you ever seen it?" Dean asked, voice low.
"Sometimes I catch a glimpse of something in the corner of my eye," Gloria said, her own voice hushed.
"Maybe it's not strong enough to physically manifest yet," Sam suggested.
"Thank God for that," Gloris shuddered, and turned back to the stairs.
There, just inches away from her, so close that if he'd been breathing she would have felt it against her skin, stood Paul. His dirty blonde hair was plastered against his head, his eyes bulging and around his neck was a thick black bruise. He raised his hands towards her.
A blast almost deafened her and before her eyes, Paul dissipated into nothing. The radio turned off.
She wanted to keep screaming (because oh my God, she actually just saw a ghost, in her own house, and the boys had shot it with salt and this whole situation was just insane) but then Sam was in front of her, taking Paul's place, and he was no where near as fightening.
"Are you okay? Gloria?" he was asking, his hands on her shoulders.
Gloria clamped her mouth shut and, after doing a quick mental check that all her limbs were in place and her bladder had behaved itself, nodded.
"Was that Paul?"
Again, Gloria nodded, not trusting herself to speak just yet.
"Okay, lets go back downstairs," Dean decided, pulling the bedroom door shut.
Sam kept a hand at Gloria's elbow as he guided her down the stairs. She found that it comforted her, and she missed it when he sat her on the couch and disappeared into the kitchen. Dean was putting the guns away. She sat there and watched him in silence.
Sam came back with a mug of tea and pressed it into her hands, before taking a seat next to her.
"Are you sure you're alright?" he asked.
Gloria took a sip of the sweet tea and found that it loosened her vocal cords. "Yes. It just... took me by surprise."
"I'm sorry, you shouldn't have had to see that."
Gloria glanced at Dean, then back at Sam. "Is this really what you do? This is your job?"
Sam hesitated, "I guess you could call it that."
Gloria shook her head, "Why? I mean... God, why?"
"Well, for one thing," Sam placed a hand over her shaking one, steadying the tea cups before she drenched herself, "We get to help people like you."
Gloria felt a small smile form. "Thank you."
"Sam, you wanna go get that other bag of salt from the car? We're gonna need a lot."
Gloria looked up to see Dean pouring salt in a large wonky circle around all the furniture.
Sam patted her shoulder. "I'll be right back."
"He's a nice boy," Gloria said conversationally when Sam was gone.
Dean had his back to her now, tipping a steady stream of white crystals onto the carpet. "He's a pain in the ass," he grumbled lightly, before clearing his throat, "He liked you a lot. He said you were really nice to him in the hospital. I think he saw you as... a substitute mother, or something." He glanced at her, his expression unreadable. "You look a bit like her."
Gloria felt a little warm at that.
"Where are your parents?" she asked without thinking.
Dean's back stiffened, "They're dead."
"I'm sorry," Gloria said. She guessed she should have seen that coming.
"Yeah, well, that's not going to bring them back," Dean muttered.
"No, I suppose it wont," Gloria said mildly.
Dean sighed and when he spoke the bitterness was gone from his voice. "Sorry, that was..."
"No need to apologize, honey. I understand."
Dean looked awkwardly apologetic and quickly turned back to his work. Sam came back with a second bag of salt and they made fast work of fashioning a large ring around the living room.
"We'll stay down here tonight, then we can do a salt and burn tomorrow. You did find out where he's buried, right?"
"Yeah, next county over."
"You can't sleep on the floor," Gloria said as Dean dumped some blankets on the couch for her.
"We probably wont be doing much sleeping."
That night, Gloria slept in her living room, inside a ring of salt, with an armed guard of an old amnesiac patient and his brother, protecting her from her dead ex-husband.
Life was full of surprises.