Many thanks to Banbury for the art and vid, there is a link to Live Journal and Website on my profile, the art for this fic can be seen there. Also thank you to Swellison for not only bidding on me and being responsible for the creation of this fic, but for her awesome betaing skills. Thank you Sendintheclowns for being a beta and 1oriel for support and great suggestions.
The gurgling of water was what reached him initially. It was always the first thing, that sound, cheerful and signaling something tragic all at once.
Grass squelching under his boots as he ran at the water, legs pumping, heart pounding. He was never fast enough. The outcome was always the same. Blue jacket billowed out from the water, arms spread to each side, curly dark hair, straightened by the water, fanned out in all directions. Surrounding him was air, sickly sweet and perfumed with freshly cut grass and flowers. The odor of death hovered and slithered across, breaking through the smells of summer.
"No, no, no." His brain ranted over and over.
Knees bending, Jim slid across the grass on his knees, reaching out to the body in the water, but he was too late—again. He was always too late. Noises filtered into his mind, people, Simon, Megan and Henri, talking, there was shouting, water splashing.
Jim stopped, body reacting not to Blair floating in the fountain on campus, but to something else. His attention was pulled away as he jerked to one side. There, across the lawn was a wild cat. Large, spotted, a Jaguar—not solid black like his. This one was more compact. It stared him straight in the eye and pulled its lips up in a silent snarl for a few seconds. Then it was gone.
The water gurgled and the grass scrunched softly under his steps. Blue and brown floated in the water.
Panting in enormous breaths, trying and never quite succeeding in filling his lungs, Jim watched as his friend's—his best friend, his brother—body was pulled away from the water. Blair's mouth dropped open, water gurgled and bubbled out. His head lolled to one side, the force of gravity. Nothing else moved.
The world spun, green and brown and blue melded into one swirl sweeping around Jim's head. He focused on the gurgling of the water, the sound of it dripping off Blair's clothes and down from his face. His white, pasty, lifeless face.
He was never quick enough, never on time. He was always too late, and Blair was always dead.
Except that Blair wasn't.
Water falling hit Jim's ears…he gulped and bolted upright. He was sitting on his bed, t-shirt stuck to his chest. He couldn't inhale and exhale fast enough to stop the world from swaying. Outside the sky streaked white and lightening flashed. Rain pelted the loft windows.
"Get a grip, Ellison." Jim swung his feet over the side of the bed and planted them firmly on the floor. Leaning forward he rested his elbows on his knees and rubbed his hands over his face a few times.
When he'd gone to bed last night…a glance at his clock…well, earlier that night Blair Sandburg had been very much alive and annoying. Jim had to actually count on his fingers and do some mental math to think about how many years had past since the day Blair had been pulled, dead, from a fountain and resuscitated. That had been, what? Six years, almost seven now?
Shoving away from the bed, Jim paced to the railing and looked out over the loft. This was silly, Alex Barnes had been gone from their lives for more than half a decade and now he had nightmares about what she did to Blair?
"You're overreacting," he grumbled and went back to the bed, throwing himself down on his back, staring at the ceiling. It was a lovely ceiling. It needed repainting. Turning his head to the right, Jim blinked at the clock, three-thirty in the morning, thank you very much. Great, he and Blair didn't have to report for duty for eleven more hours and he'd probably never get back to sleep.
So much for sleeping in when he was scheduled for the night shift.
Jim sat up. Blair was alive and well and asleep downstairs. Relaxing he let the sounds of the loft wash over him, amplifying them until he was able to distinguish each individual noise. Blair was in the loft, Jim knew that by how the door was locked and the light over the cook-top was off. Concentrating harder, he worked on isolating Blair's heartbeat.
What if Blair had company? Who was it he was going on about earlier, Candy? No, Chrissy, or was it Cathy…something like that. Remember the last time Blair had company and you heard?
Jim abruptly stopped listening.
He lay back down. Two seconds later he was sitting up again. Maybe Blair had gone out after Jim went to bed and left the light on anyway? Yeah, cause after all these years he'd do something different now.
Maybe if he just listened really fast, enough to hear if there was breathing and a heartbeat in Blair's room. Panting and two heartbeats.
Standing, he decided enough was enough. Jim wanted to know and he had two ways to find out. One was use his senses and maybe have to bleach his brain to erase the trauma—again, the last time was still too fresh and it'd been three years ago—or he could get his ass moving and go look. Sometimes the old ways were the best ways. He stalked to the stairs, foot hovering over the first step he turned back. This was insane, Blair had survived the attack by Alex, he wasn't dead. He wasn't.
Pulling on a pair of jeans, Jim took the steps three at a time, getting down in record time. He crossed the main part of the loft until he was at Blair's bedroom door. If the kid was awake, if Jim woke him up—okay Blair slept like the dead, he wouldn't wake up—bad choice of words. Leaning against the wall, hand resting on the doorframe, Jim leaned in ever so slightly, holding his breath.
In the next instant Jim's entire body relaxed, he let out his breath and drew in another deep one. The soft, steady sound of Blair's light snores was easy enough to hear, even without superior hearing. Material rustled and scratched as Blair moved around, turning over from the sound of it, in his sleep. Jim stood quietly for a few minutes, simply listening to the sounds of his friend sleeping.
Finally he started to feel a bit creepy and like a stalker, so Jim moved away, carefully looking in every nook and cranny of the loft. He checked the door locks, three times, and walked slowly along the row of windows, looking out at the night. Rain had turned to drizzle, gray clouds peppered the darker night sky.
Everything was just dandy. No Alex Barnes and her spotted Jaguar. No fountain with his best friend floating face down in it and no reason for Jim to be awake.
Grumbling, Jim went back up the steps and back to bed. He must have fallen asleep because the next time he opened his eyes he was staring at his ceiling. In the light of day it really did look as if it needed repainting. Smells from the kitchen wafted up; he swore he let Blair continue living there simply because he made the best damn coffee known to mankind.
Stifling a yawn, Jim pulled on the same jeans he'd put on so hastily last night and ambled down the steps.
"Here I thought you'd be up way before me, but you took this whole working nights and sleeping in thing to heart." Blair grinned and poured coffee into a mug, sliding it along the counter at Jim.
"Hungry? I got some—"
Jim held up one hand, some things never changed. "Don't explain it to me. Just put it on a plate, Chief."
Blair shrugged good-naturedly and grabbed plates and silverware. He filled the plates and set them on the table, straddling his chair and pushing hair out of his face. "Sleep good?"
Forkful of food stopped halfway to Blair's mouth and his eyebrows shot up. "Just making conversation. Touchy much?"
"Sorry." Jim pushed his food around, aware the entire time Blair was watching him, but trying to look like he wasn't watching. He shoved some of the food into his mouth, surprised. "This is good."
Bright grin replacing a frown, Blair waved in the general direction of the kitchen. "There's plenty." He ate in silence for a few minutes before he got up and refilled his coffee mug. "Hey, Jim, you uh…have you heard anything lately about…um…Alex Barnes?"
Jim's coffee mug dropped out of his hand before he could process he'd let go. "Oh, ow, crap!" Jumping up he swatted the hot liquid off his lap and made a grab for a napkin to mop the mess up.
Blair sprinted to the kitchen and grabbed a dishrag, wiping the table clean. "Sorry. I'm sorry, but the last few days for no reason I've thought of her. I wondered if there was some new evidence or information and no one would want to tell me. You know, to protect me."
"First of all, I'd tell you if I knew anything you didn't know." The words snapped out, he hadn't intended to sound so nasty.
Blair's face immediately fell. He threw the rag at the sink. "I just thought it was odd after all this time."
"What thoughts did you have?" Jim sat back down.
Shrugging, this time Blair's shoulders were tense, "Just stuff. Sometimes I think about that day, not often. The last few days, it's been a lot. Kinda bugged me and then last night I had a dream about her."
"Me too." Jim blurted out.
"I saw it happen all over again, you floating in the fountain. I saw her Jaguar. I could even feel and smell the grass and water. It was pretty vivid."
"You know, I work really hard at not remembering what happened."
"Me too," Jim admitted.
Blair sat down and gave him that look. The one that read no bad things happened to Blair as long as Jim was around. Sucking his lower lip between his teeth, Blair ran one hand through his hair and looked around the loft.
"Look, Chief, we'll check it out, see if there's something about her we don't know. She's gone, she can't hurt either of us anymore." He stood up, feeling more confident. "Get dressed, we've got some errands to run before work."
Finding out about Alex didn't take a genius, or even two, and it didn't take a lot of time or effort. She'd been committed to an institution, other than specifics of her medical care, everything else was public record. Learning she'd actually died more than a year ago set Jim's nerves on edge, but obviously made Blair relax. He didn't know why that piece of information didn't bring comfort and he didn't care. It made Blair feel better; he could see it in the man's face and his entire stance.
Her body had been released to the family of her boyfriend, Carl Hettinger, cremated to make shipping easier. They were wealthier than God, but practical Jim realized. Careful spending was the reason they amassed so much money to begin with; that and a dozen or so illegal enterprises. None of which were his or Blair's concern; her boyfriend's family lived out of the country.
Jim's only concern was his partner and keeping him safe. Blair seemed more than content with knowing Alex was dead, so Jim was content too. Those facts didn't mean they wouldn't be vigilant and aware, but against what, Jim had no clue.
Sam sat staring at his phone, more to the point the email on his phone. Movement outside the car caught his attention and for a minute he watched his big brother, Dean, putzing around doing something near the front of the car before he wandered over to Sam's side and leaned down to look in the window. It was warm and there was a soft breeze making the trees along the roadside wave side to side.
"How far are we from Ranier University?" Sam blurted out. No preamble, no preparation, no soft-sell, it was the Winchester way.
"In Cascade?" Dean shrugged. "Do I look like Rand McNally to you?"
"Yes, you do. Ever since you were ten you've know how far we are from anything in the North American continent." Sam offered his brother a smug smile; it was like throwing down a gauntlet. Dean never backed away from a challenge.
Dean curled up the right side of his upper lip and sighed. "About three hours, smartass. Why?"
"Cause we need to lay low for a bit and maybe take a break. A buddy of mine from Stanford transferred up there and says it's really nice this time of year and—"
"And you want to go back to school." It wasn't a question and Dean sort of spat the words at him.
Sam shook his head. "No, not now. Maybe someday, but I just thought we could go. Do something that's not hunting. For one day, that's all I'm asking. Besides aren't you the one always so interested in that area and telling me how Dad says in his journal over and over how there is never anything supernatural there. It's a clean spot. Isn't that sort of like a case?"
"Low blow, Sammy."
Grinning, Sam sat back and put on his best innocent expression. The use of Sammy meant Dean had conceded. Jogging to the driver's side, Dean slid into the car and started the engine. "So, tell me what you know about why Cascade is so clean."
Sam grinned and shook his head. "I have no idea. Isn't that the purpose of investigating, to find out?"
Dean turned and glared at him, eyes narrowing for a few seconds before he muttered something obscene and the phrase pain in my ass under his breath; shook his head and put the car in gear. Sam pretended not to notice and turned his attention back to his phone, emailing a reply that they were on their way.
Approximately three hours later, as predicted, they rolled into the quiet college campus. Despite Dean's constant teasing over college, Sam had come to realize his big brother loved college campuses. Well, maybe it was more he loved the girls on college campuses, but either way, the guy sure did to seem to enjoy them before he'd even stopped the car and gotten out.
It didn't take them long to find the older building and small apartment of Jeff Young. Jeff must have been happy to see Sam, or lonely and not yet made friends in his new school because he was waiting outside his door for them.
"Hey, guys!" Jeff boomed and Sam remembered the guy never really talked normally, he stage shouted, voice booming, or laughed. "Come on in."
A quick glance behind at his brother ambling down the hall to stand beside him had Sam talking fast. Dean had that look. The one where he appraised people, tending to forget that not everyone they met was some monster. "Hi. It's good to see you. This is my brother—"
Grabbing poor Dean in a bear hug, Jeff patted—slammed—his back a few times before letting loose with a jovial, "DEAN!"
Extricating himself, Dean sort of smiled, maybe it was more like a grimace, and took a step back from Jeff. "Hello."
His gaze landed on Sam, who rubbed at one ear and when Jeff turned and flung his apartment door open, he mouthed the words, hearing problem. Dean simply rolled his eyes.
"It's so cool to finally meet you. Sam told me about you that week you were at school with him."
When his brother's eyebrows shot up, Sam looked down and scuffed his toe along the hard wood floor. Turning his head far enough to catch Dean's eye he mumbled, "Get over yourself." He looked around the small apartment; it was actually one big room with a bathroom off to the side. "This is great."
"Yeah, sort of small, but a studio apartment fit the budget the best." Jeff headed toward a counter, behind that was the small kitchen. "Not really stocked up for much entertaining. You guys are welcome to bunk here though."
Sam looked over at Dean who shrugged then plastered a smile on his face. "We take up too much room. I'm sure we can find a motel nearby, right, Sammy?"
His arm was whacked by the back of Dean's hand. "Yeah." Looking around the apartment, Sam's attention fell on a painting hanging on one wall. It was jungle plants in serene colors of brown and green, in the middle was some sort of shrine or temple. "Hey, this is cool." Stepping closer for a better look, Sam's fingers brushed lightly over the canvas. He straightened and took a step away, turning he ran one hand through his hair pulling his bangs away from his face. The painting suddenly wasn't so cool and appealing. There was nothing specific Sam could put his finger on, but it was as if it'd sparked against his skin, that it didn't like him touching it.
The serene greens and browns of the jungle scene took on a menacing quality. He couldn't have slept at night with that thing staring at him. Thankfully they were finding a motel.
"There was an auction a few weeks ago, got it there. Not like I can afford a ton of stuff to brighten the place up with, but that jumped out at me."
"So," Dean rocked back on his heels and rubbed at his middle, watching Sam in that careful way he sometimes did. "I'm hungry."
"Sweet! There is the most darling place not far from here, just a little bar, but great food and nice inside."
Sam gave Dean a sidelong glance and a small smile, relieved to be getting out of the apartment that was suddenly too small for three grown men.
Back outside a few minutes later and Sam breathed a little easier. He convinced himself he'd been cooped up in their car for too long the last few days and he was hungry. Low blood sugar could do that to a guy, make them nervous and edgy and think paintings didn't like him. Jeff was in the back of the Impala a few seconds later, yammering about what a wonderful car it was.
Dean stopped mid-stride, turned and leaned on the top of the car, eyebrows going up. Sam shrugged and nodded, turning on the innocent look, lips forming one silent word, gay. Dean's forehead banged on the roof of the car twice before he huffed a sigh and got inside.
While Jeff hung over the seat and pointed out directions to Dean, Sam sat hoping his brother didn't bite off the guy's finger and took a look around at the campus. Jeff had been wholly correct in his email, it was very nice this time of year and Rainer was a great campus. Older buildings mixed with newer ones, trees, flowers and shrubs dotted the areas between and paved sidewalks wound their way from one building to the next. It was smaller than Stanford, and Sam thought, nicer.
As they drove through one section, Jeff playing tour guide, there was the science building, the social sciences building, the administration building…Sam's gaze landed on a fountain and Jeff's voice became background noise. Water bubbled cheerfully down from a sculpture in the center. A small, well manicured bit of lawn surrounded it. The thing was tranquil and beautiful—and creepy as hell.
Sam leaned back farther in his seat. Where had that come from? It was unsettling. He hated that fountain, it scared the crap out of him and he had no idea why. Definitely low blood sugar. First paintings didn't like him and now he didn't like perfectly nice, innocent fountains.
"Hey, you coming or what?" Dean leaning back into the car—when had the car stopped and when had Dean and Jeff gotten out?—then play punching his shoulder jolted Sam away from thoughts of beautiful, creepy fountains, irritable paintings and to the here and now.
"Um, yeah, sorry." Fumbling with the door handle for a second, Sam finally was free of the car and trailing after Dean and Jeff into the bar. He couldn't help looking back over his shoulder; the fountain was still in sight. Suppressing a shiver he turned his attention to the lower lighting of the bar and following Dean.
The bar was your average bar, Sam watched as his brother did a fast visual sweep of the entire place, apparently deciding it was stay worthy and wandered to a booth.
Jeff and Dean seemed to get along fine, despite Jeff constantly pointing out facts on the bar's décor. Sam sipped his beer, took a deep breath and shook away thoughts of the fountain and the painting.
Once they'd finished their meal they left Jeff, promising to be back in a bit after they'd found a motel and gotten checked in. As Dean drove, Sam made a real effort to not look at the fountain, though it seemed to be everywhere. The motel they found was only a few blocks from the bar and Jeff's building, so leaving the Impala there they went on foot back to meet up with Jeff.
The place was nice and quiet and it was good to visit with his friend. After a few hours, a few more beers and a full stomach Sam forgot all about the fountain and the painting.
Not leaving until the bar was closing, they walked along the street. The night air was cool and clean smelling. Soft sounds from others leaving and heading home for the night drifted through the air. Sam knew there was no way this would ever be his life or Dean's, but it was sure nice to take a break for a few days.
Then he remembered the fountain. It loomed up in front of them, when they reached it Jeff would go one way, Dean and Sam another to their respective places. Water gurgled and bubbled out of the sculpture that was too bright and an eerie whitish color to rain down on the pool below, causing little drops to dance and ping off the surface. Sam pulled in a quick breath, stumbled for a few steps, not recovering until Dean's hand gripped his elbow and steadied him.
"Sidewalk's cracked." Sam managed a quick laugh and got himself together. "One too many beers."
"I think we'd better head to the motel, too much driving, we're both loopy." Dean was ever smooth. His hand did not leave Sam's elbow, instead there was constant pressure there to move along faster. "Besides, my brother can't hold his booze."
"Oh, I know," Jeff laughed; he didn't seem to notice anything amiss. He happily waved them good-night and jogged down the street toward his building.
Dean didn't let go of Sam's arm until they were safely inside their room, door shut and locked. "What was that, Sam?"
"I…nothing, drop it, Dean."
"Bullshit it was nothing. First you get all weird over a stupid picture on a wall and now you look like someone who's just seen their first ghost. Seriously, Sam, you saw your first ghost when you were ten, so I know you're over it by now."
He was trapped and knew it. "I…there was…Dean there was a dead body floating in that fountain, just for a few seconds, I saw it."
"No." Sam shook his head. "Not that kind anyway. It was just a flash. There was the fountain and another one over it for a few seconds. A man, sort of hippy looking, he was floating in the water. I think he was dead. I couldn't tell how tall he was, but he was maybe a few years older than you and had a lot of dark, really curly brown hair. And um…blue jacket or maybe it was shirt, I'm not sure."
"There wasn't anyone in the water," Dean said quietly.
"I know, I blinked and it—he was gone."
"So much for Cascade not having anything supernatural around."