If You Ever Need Help
When Gloria woke in the morning, she could see that Dean had been right; the two brothers looked like they'd barely slept at all. A couple of near-empty coffee cups sat on the floor, Sam's laptop open and plugged into the wall socket (carefully surrounded by salt). She was grateful that the screen was turned away from her, not sure that she wanted to see the kind of things that could be on it.
Dean was dozing lightly in the armchair. When Gloria shifted on the couch his eyes opened, dulled by sleep, appraised her and, as if registering that she was no threat, closed again.
Sam was sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the laptop, chewing distractedly on the head of a pen as he scrolled down on the screen.
"Good morning," Gloria said, because that was how she usually greeted people in the morning and she figured it would work just as well in this absurd situation.
Sam's head jerked up and, when the surprise had faded, he smiled at her. "Morning, Gloria. Sleep okay?"
Gloria sat up stiffly, stretching as she tried to work the kinks out of her back and neck. An unbidden fantasy of young hands giving her a massage appeared before she shook it out of her head, amused with herself. "Fine," she lied, "Is it... can I leave the salt circle?"
Sam nodded. "Haven't heard from Paul since last night."
Gloria stepped carefully over the salt and went to the bathroom to shower and change her clothes. The house seemed a lot less threatening in the morning, the dark cloud that settled over it at night dissipating with the sun. It was almost possible to believe that Paul had been nothing more than a bad dream. She felt almost peaceful as she went back to the living area. She found the boys in the kitchen, where the mood was definitely not peaceful.
She entered through the archway just as Sam threw his hands in the air in a classic exasperated motion and, catching sight of her, exclaimed, "Gloria, can you please tell Dean that my head's not going to fall apart the second he leaves me alone?"
"Um," Gloria said, taken aback.
"I don't think your head's going to fall apart," Dean snapped.
"It wont," Gloria said belatedly, still bewildered.
"So what's the problem then?" Sam asked, folding his arms across his chest. "I can handle this."
"The problem," Dean said icily, speaking slowly as if he'd already explained but now needed to dumb it down so that Sam would understand, "Is that you'll be here without any back-up, while I'm too far away to be of any use to anyone. Sam, the last time we split up-"
"Dude, it's a ghost. I have a million rounds of rock salt. And I have Gloria as back-up."
Dean cast her a doubtful glance and Gloria didn't blame him. The only thing she'd ever done to a ghost was scream at it, and that didn't seem to help much.
"We'll take her with us," Dean suggested.
Sam raised an eyebrow.
Dean deflated, "Okay, so that might not work too well, but-"
"But nothing, Dean! You go and take care of the salt and burn and I'll stay here and keep an eye on things."
Gloria wisely kept her mouth shut as, after a tense silent moment, Dean grudgingly backed down, muttering something under his breath as he stalked out of the kitchen.
Sam looked at her awkwardly. "Um, want some tea?"
Gloria accepted, mostly to stop the awkward moment from getting any worse, and took a seat at the table in the dining room. "I'm sorry I'm making things so complicated for you."
Sam laughed humourlessly, "Honestly, this case is so simple it's almost a holiday for us. Dean's just being pig-headed."
Gloria waited until Sam brought her tea through before she spoke. "It sounds to me like he's worried about you."
Sam shrugged, looking off in the direction of Dean's exit. "Yeah, I get that, but he's being over the top. I mean, it's been six months."
"Six months for him to think about how close he came to losing you," Gloria said, thinking back to when her youngest son was five and almost drowned in a swimming pool, the terror that had choked her and how long it had been before she could watch him in the water without the feeling that something awful would happen any minute.
Sam sat in the chair next to her, his hair falling over his eyes, "The job's dangerous. That's a fact, but it's even more dangerous if he's distracted by wondering whether I'm okay or not."
Gloria couldn't dispute that.
"It's just... God, he treats me like a little kid sometimes. He acts like I got hurt because he left me alone for a few minutes, like I can't be trusted by myself. Sometimes stuff just happens."
"Maybe that's what he's afraid of."
Sam was quiet behind his curtain of hair. "I thought we were making progress before, like he was finally starting to see me as my own person, rather than just his kid brother. Then..." Sam shook his head, "I can't go back and stop myself from getting hurt, neither can Dean, but I'm fine now."
"Are you fine?" Gloria asked, "You left the hospital before we could do the tests we usually do."
Sam shrugged, "I guess... sometimes when I'm really tired I start slurring my words, and my balance isn't as steady as it was... but those are hardly life-threatening disabilities."
Gloria sipped her tea. "You were very sick," she informed him, "I don't know if you were told but the doctors didn't think you were going to pull through at first."
"Yeah, Dean's informed me of that," Sam said tightly. "Repeatedly."
"Sorry," Gloria apologized quickly, "I don't mean to sound like I'm taking Dean's side. You seem perfectly capable to me." She swirled her remaining tea nervously. "I don't think I'll make very good back-up though."
Regardless of what Gloria thought or didn't think, in the afternoon, after a terse, "Be careful," to Sam, Dean climbed into the Impala to begin the long drive to the next county. The two brothers seemed confident that they had the right Paul Daniells and the right burial plot. Gloria didn't ask why they needed to know where he was buried. She wasn't stupid. She'd heard them talking about a 'salt and burn' and she had the feeling she'd mostly figured it out. She just didn't want to think about it, to think about Sam and Dean doing... that.
She spent a tense couple of hours, pretending to watch TV. At one point she put on a soap opera that made Sam go still and silent, his eyes fixed on the screen but distant at the same time, as if the show made him think of something very sad. She didn't ask and when the ads came on she changed the channel. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Sam swallow and blink a few times before composing himself.
Eventually, the shadows grew longer and the natural light dimmed. An hour after dark had fully settled, the TV flickered, followed immediately by a crash from the kitchen. It sounded like plates breaking.
Sam had tensed, sitting alert and watchful beside Gloria on the couch, his hand resting on the shotgun at his other side.
"It's left the upstairs. Whatever you do, don't leave the salt circle. We just have to wait it out," he said, his voice low as his eyes continued to flit around the room.
Gloria nodded. She had no intention at all of leaving the circle. She wondered distractedly whether she could keep it there permanantly.
Heavy footsteps stomped on the stairs. There hadn't been a staircase in the home she'd shared with Paul but there had been a few steps leading to the front door. She shuddered as she remembered the daily dread that would chill through her veins when she heard the scuff of his boots on those steps.
"He can't hurt you while you're in here," Sam reassured her.
Gloria jumped as the TV switched to a channel playing black and white snow, buzzing angrily at them. Then the temperature dropped, so suddenly that Gloria's breath caught in her throat. She shivered.
Sam stood, taking the shotgun with him. He turned in a full circle, eyes sharp. The room was deathly still.
"There!" Gloria shrieked suddenly, pointing to the archway leading to the kitchen.
Sam spun, firing off a shot but Paul zapped out of existance before it could connect. Rock salt splattered the wall as Paul reappeared on the other side of the room.
Sam spun again, sighting him up. Paul looked at Gloria and time seemed to slow down as she watched his face split into a menacing grin.
"I found you."
The words hissed in her head. She didn't think he said them aloud. His lips didn't move but she heard him all the same. She couldn't take her eyes off of him. His own eyes, bulging and bloodshot, flicked up above her head and, with another leer, he vanished.
Silence filled the house, punctuated by the buzz from the TV set. The air stayed icy.
"He's still here, isn't he?" Gloria whispered, and had her question answered by a loud bang as a large landscape portrait fell from the wall behind her.
"The salt!" Samm yelled, and Gloria had just enough time to glimpse the scattered crystals before she was yanked off her feet.
She hit the wall with a thud that took her breath away, or maybe that was Paul. He smelt like dirt and whiskey. In life he had been a good-looking man, until near the end when he started to look old and tired, grew a beer-belly and stopped caring about his appearance.
In death, he was truly hidious, made ugly by the evil that was inside him in life and brought to the surface after his demise. His hands were creeping towards her throat. Gloria was frozen. She liked to thing that she was a tough lady; she'd taken self-defense classes so she knew how to protect herself, but she had the feeling that Grab, Squeeze, Twist, Pull wasn't going to work this time.
Gloria cringed back against the wall, closing her eyes as she wondered how she had ever thought she was in love with this shell of a man.
Gunshots were louder in real life than on TV, Gloria noted distractedly as she opened her eyes. Paul was gone.
"Fix the circle!" Sam ordered breathlessly, snapping her from her reverie.
Together they grabbed handfuls of salt to pour over the break. Gloria tried to stop the shaking in her hands but it was impossible. Granules of salt spilt everywhere.
"I found you."
Gloria's head snapped up in time to see Sam fly back and slam into the wall, thumping to the floor. She dropped her handful of salt – more accidental than purposeful – and the circle closed.
Paul appeared over Sam's dazed form. His head turned slowly, abnormally on his bruised neck, to look at her. She held his gaze. Sam was reaching for the gun...
Paul was too fast. In a movement too quick to be humanly possible he stomped his foot down on Sam's hand. Gloria heard it crunch.
"Sam!" she cried, hovering uncertainly.
"Stay in the circle!" Sam shot back, trying to get his hand out from under Paul's boot as he gave her a quick glance to make sure she was doing as he said. She was taken aback by the fierce protectiveness she saw in his eyes. Did she really mean that much to him? Had she made that much of an impact? Sure, she had been there when he needed someone, but wasn't she just a lonely old lady who wanted someone to talk to? Hadn't she needed him too?
Paul reached down and fisted a hand in Sam's shirt, dragging him up the wall. Didn't she need him now?
"She's mine," Paul's ethereal voice echoed around the room. He threw Sam to the side as if he weighed nothing and turned back to Gloria, but this time she was ready, hurling a handful of salt right into his face. He flickered from existence.
"Sam!" she called breathlessly but he was already getting to his feet, bracing himself with one hand on the frame of the archway, his other hand held to his chest.
"I'm okay. Nice work with the salt."
Gloria offered a small smile that she knew was fueled by hysteria. "I'm a fast learner."
What happened next happened so fast that Gloria had no time to shout a warning. Sam had no time to move. One second he was alone in the archway, the next Paul was behind him, grinning at Gloria as, in another movement too rapid to even see properly, he looped a belt over Sam's head and pulled it tight around his neck, then they were both falling back into the kitchen, out of Gloria's line of sight.
"Sam!" Her feet did a nervous dance at the edge of the salt line as she waited desperately for a reply that wasn't coming. Muffled thuds came from the kitchen and her eyes skittered around the room until they finally landed on Sam's shotgun.
Gloria hesitated. Sam had told her, in no uncertain terms, to stay inside the salt. Aside from that, there was a ghost out there intent on murdering her, a ghost of a man who had been terrifying enough when he was alive.
The sounds from the kitchen were fading and Gloria made up her mind. No way was she going to stand there helplessly while Sam was in trouble. She may be getting closer to her sixties than her forties and she may not be a professional ghost hunter but she cared about that boy as much as he apparently cared about her.
She stepped over the salt line, half-expecting Paul to appear out of thin air but he didn't. She dashed to the gun and picked it up, careful to keep it pointed away from her. It was heavier than she expected and more awkward to hold than she would have wished. She hoped the safety wasn't on because she had no idea what to do with it other than point and pull the trigger.
Her legs threatened to fold under her as a small voice in her head insisted that she was going the wrong way, run for the hills! But she crept closer, trying to hold the gun the way she'd seen Sam and Dean, her heart pounding in her chest.
Sam and Paul were on the floor, surrounded by broken crockery, Sam's hands scrabbling at the belt around his neck. Paul's hands held it firmly in place as he knelt up behind Sam, whose struggles were becoming uncoordinated, blue beginning to tinge his lips.
"Paul," Gloria whispered.
Paul's eyes fixed on hers and the absolute cruelty and hatred in them staggered her for a moment. She shook it off, leveling him with a glare of her own.
"Eat rock salt, you bastard," she managed to utter through her suddenly dry throat, and she pulled the trigger.
The force of the shot rocked her back a few steps, the gun's kickback hitting her shoulder hard, but Paul's ghastly image vanished. She ran to Sam's side and dropped down next to him, amongst the shattered plates, and helped him pull the belt away as he gasped and choked in fresh air.
"Oh God, Sam," she puffed as she ghosted her hands over him, looking for any other injuries, patting his back, "Oh God, are you okay? Sam?"
"Gun," Sam managed between coughs.
"Gun!" Sam insisted, and his eyes flicked up over her shoulder.
Gloria gasped and spun on her knees. Paul was back, in the doorway. She crawled hastily forwards a few paces, cursing herself for dropping the weapon. Paul was advancing on her. She raised the gun and pulled the trigger but it was stuck. She pressed harder.
Beginning to panic, she lowered the gun to inspect it. Maybe there was something else she had to press, maybe the safety clicked on automatically after each shot, maybe she needed to reload it...
Paul was almost on her. It was too late. The useless weapon dropped from Gloria's shaking hands, as she thought how ridiculously ironic it was that her last regret in life was going to be that she'd never learnt how to use a gun. She'd been on marches when she was young and determined to make a difference in the world, for tougher laws on the sale of firearms, to end war, to protest any kind of combat that involved any kind of weapon.
Gloria knelt on the floor and looked up into the face of her dead ex-husband and prepared herself. He had found her, and a part of her had always known he would. Hadn't she spent all these years hiding from him? Going to work and coming home to watch her soaps and hardly ever going out? Even after death and all the years that followed, she had been waiting for him to come for her.
He stared down at her in cold satisfaction, and then... and then...
And then he burst into flames, burning from the ground up in a sudden flash of bright white fire and in mere seconds he was gone, without even smoke left in his place.
The room warmed up. She heard soft voices from the TV in the other room and the dark oppressive atmosphere dispersed. Sam made her jump as his hand suddenly appeared to help her up and, after her mini-heart attack was over, she took it gratefully and let him pull her to her feet.
Sam grinned at her ruefully. "And you thought you'd be no good as back-up."
The boys stayed for another two days.
"To make sure Paul stays gone," Sam said, but Gloria could tell that it was an excuse more than anything. They weren't expecting him to come back.
Dean had arrived back at the house in the early hours of the morning, covered in grave dirt – Gloria decided that she just wasn't ever going to think about that – surveyed the damage to the house and to her and Sam (she had a small bump on her forehead and her shoulder was stiff, while Sam's hand and neck had bruised spectacularly) and, while she saw the struggle on Dean's face as he took in Sam's injuries and the resigned expression on Sam's, Dean managed to restrain himself to a quick, "You guys alright?"
Sam looked so stunned by the lack of smothering that Gloria felt the need to answer for the both of them.
"Nothing that a stiff drink wont fix."
This time both brothers looked at her in surprise. Gloria laughed like she hadn't in a long time and went to fetch the bourbon that had been sitting in her cupboard for almost a year.
The next day, whilst Sam was in the shower, Gloria made her way to the kitchen (which had miraculously tidied itself, along with the lounge, while she slept, or so Sam and Dean seemed to want her to think, what with all their blushing and embarassed stammering) where Dean was making coffee, again. Both boys seemed to be addicted to the stuff. She supposed it was neccessary in their profession.
"So," she said nonchalantly, "You and Sam sorted out your issue?"
"What issue?" Dean dodged, his back to her.
"I seem to remember something about Sam's head falling apart if you left him alone," Gloria teased lightly.
Dean took his coffee over to the table and surprised Gloria with a cup of tea for her. She smiled her thanks.
"Yeah, well..." Dean glanced at her, "Maybe I was being a bit over the top."
Gloria raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, so I kinda overheard you and Sam talking. I didn't realise I was making him feel so..."
"Incompentent?" Gloria suggested.
"Uh, yeah, I guess that works." Dean rubbed the back of his neck. "It's just... I practically raised him, you know? When I thought he was gone... I can't do that again."
"All parents know when it's time to let their kids stand on their own two feet, Dean."
"All parents don't take their kids to hunt monsters."
Gloria sipped her tea. It wasn't quite sweet enough but bless the boy for trying. "Well, it seems to me that you've got two options."
Dean looked up at her, "What's that?"
"You can either quit hunting-" she saw the doubt on Dean's face "-or you can start trusting Sam."
"I do trust Sam," Dean said defensively.
"You could try showing it sometimes," Sam said from the doorway, hair wet from the shower, dressed in socks, jeans and a t-shirt.
Gloria left them alone to talk.
The boys loaded up their Impala on the morning of the third day without Paul, and Gloria hugged them both goodbye.
Sam whispered a thanks in her ear that made her think that their conversation had gone well. She hoped so.
"Don't be strangers," she said, and she meant it, "There doesn't have to be a ghost for you to stop by and say hi."
The boys both muttered things about how the job was demanding and they didn't know where they'd be in a few months and they'd try to stop by sometime later.
Gloria watched them drive away and wondered if she'd ever see them again, and that night, like many nights to come, though she wasn't really a religious person, she sent up a prayer, hoping that someone up there was watching over her boys.
A/N: I was going to say that I'm taking a break from fanfiction while I finish the first draft of my novel, but I've already started another story (I just can't help myself) so, maybe not so much of a break, but a slowing down. Just for a wee while.
Please tell me what you thought. I have a few more ideas so, if people are willing to have her, this might not be the last we see of Gloria. :) Thanks for reading!