"Maybe we're wasting our time here and should go back to the fountain," Sam said, for the second time trying to suggest they needed to leave the building. Jim ignored him, it wasn't like he hadn't heard the kid loud and clear the first time. Sam was in close enough proximity to Jim that he didn't have as much trouble filtering out his sounds, it was the rest of the damn building that was giving him grief.
"I have to be sure he's not here. Keep looking."
The way the kid huffed and pushed one hand through his hair annoyed Jim far more than it should have. He was trying hard to believe all this and accept that this boy had some connection to Blair or Alex Barnes or both that he needed, but his inner pep talk wasn't working. Sam's constant chatter and questions as they searched the mostly empty rooms of the old building drove his annoyance level even higher and wore his patience thin.
"Why that fountain? What connection does it have to Alex?" Sam just kept right on talking. "Or does Blair have a connection to it?"
"What kind of connection?"
"I dunno, Alex was into art, did she design the fountain? Blair teaches at the university where the fountain is located, did he ever have anything to do with its care or construction? You said Alex died a year or so ago, but the first body didn't show up in the fountain until now, a whole year later, there has to be a reason."
"Why?" Jim wondered if Alex trying to kill—killing—Blair and leaving him in the fountain could be considered a connection. He tried again reaching out with his senses, but just as it had happened when he and Dean had first entered the building, something was muffling them. His head had that covered with a plastic bag sort of feel to, other than Sam he couldn't hear or smell anyone or anything else.
Maybe if he took Sam to the fountain and gave him a good few dunks, held him under just long enough the kid would shut up.
Sam shrugged. Oblivious to Jim's inner turmoil, he chattered on, "That's just how it works. Spirits have motivations, like criminals. The key is to find that motivation."
"She had an affinity for water and didn't like Blair."
"Why not?" Sam pressed.
What Blair chose to disclose about the incident was up to him, not Jim, to explain. "You'd have to ask her."
"If she shows up I will." Sam turned and walked away, pushing a door open with two fingers and stepping partially through the door. "Most spirits have a reason, a catalyst for their actions." He stopped talking, thankfully, and turned away from the doorway. "When was that auction?" He'd started talking again.
"I don't know, a few weeks ago I think. The school has one a few times a year."
"Why the fountain?"
"When she attacked Blair that's where I found him, in the fountain." Jim pushed a string of very unpleasant memories away, not wanting to relive seeing his best friend floating, lifeless, in the water.
"How'd she get him there?" Sam asked.
Jim shrugged, "I have no idea and neither does Sandburg. He told me she came to his office, pulled a gun on him and that was the last thing he remembered until he was revived."
"So," Sam rubbed at the back of his head and moved farther away from Jim, heading to the next doorway. "For all this time no contact with her and you found out not too long ago she's been dead for around a year?"
"That's about it." Jim walked into a room across the hall from the one Sam stood in front of, checking it thoroughly all the while keeping a keen ear on Sam's movements.
"The first body was found in the fountain not too long after all her art was sold. The first two murders were warnings, and she's really after Blair, wants to finish what she started. Those murders were probably her way of drawing him out into the open, where she'd have more access to him. Spirits don't like unfinished business. Sometimes spirits are dormant for years—decades even—until something stirs them up."
"Something like an auction?"
Jim listened to Sam move along, checking another room. Stopping in the middle of the room, he reached out with his hearing. The place was suddenly very quiet. "Which brings me to ask, I know how Blair and I got the paintings we collected. How did you and your brother get yours?" Now, when Jim was asking the questions the talkative kid clammed up. Lengthening his stride, Jim was back in the hall in a few seconds. The door to the room Sam had been checking was still open, swinging slightly on its hinges. "Winchester!"
His voice bounced between the walls. A second later the sound of footsteps reached him.
"What?" That was Dean's voice, not Sam's. "Where's Sam?"
"Did you find any sign of Blair?" Jim countered.
"No. Where's Sam? He was with you."
"He was here a minute ago." Jim cringed inwardly, it sounded lame.
"You lost him?"
"No, I didn't lose him. He left."
"He left to go where?" Dean snapped.
Jim pulled in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I don't know, I'm a bit preoccupied with finding Blair." The older Winchester kid looked him up and down. He wasn't half as talkative as his brother but he was twice as annoying. He was also as concerned for his brother's welfare as Jim was for Blair's. That gave Winchester a few points in his favor. "Your brother was asking me questions about the fountain and if Alex or Blair had a connection to it."
"There was nothing on the second floor and I got all the paintings we have here in the incinerator. I'll go back and get the ones I left in your buddy's office. One of us should keep an eye on that fountain. I think Sam is onto something, it's something Alex is attracted to, it's a ghost thing. Until we can get rid of her, we should make sure no one else gets hurt."
It was a tenuous and uneasy truce at best, but Jim recognized an olive branch when he saw one. If he blew Dean Winchester off there was the very real risk of Blair or Sam Winchester being in danger, possibly dying. "We can head back, I'll get the paintings, you watch the fountain and we'll find them."
Sam ran the few blocks through the university campus, heading for the fountain. He had a feeling he'd find something there.
He approached the fountain from one side, and saw Blair heading to the same destination from the opposite direction. "What happened to you?" Blair rushed up to him, obvious relief on his face.
"Something weird, even on my scale of weird. I was on the way back to your office and there was…" Sam stopped and scratched at the back of his neck. "It was—"
Sam pulled a face because this was going to sound profoundly stupid. "I got chased by some kind of jungle cat."
That's what Ellison had asked too, Sam offered the same answer. "Not sure, I guess. Big, yellow, really big with black spots."
"Alex's spirit guide," Blair said and cracked a grin at the dubious look Sam no doubt had on his face. "Hey, man I bought your ghost story, so give me this one, okay?"
"So, you're saying this jaguar is really Alex's ghost?" Sam wasn't too sure he believed that, usually people appeared as themselves, not something else.
"I don't know, does that happen?"
Sam shook his head no. If so, this was something new. Sam didn't like new and surprising, it was difficult enough dealing with the old and known.
Blair sighed. "Some cultures believe everyone has a spirit guide and it appears to them in various forms. Sentinels have animals like panthers or jaguars, they represent guardianship."
"And you think Alex's spirit is showing itself in the form of a jaguar?" Sam really didn't like this idea at all.
"I don't know, you're the ghost expert, you tell me. Maybe it follows her even though she's dead and is following her ghost?"
"That could be. It could also be very bad. She's angry and if she is maybe it is too. Or she has some sort of control over it. That would be like having two angry spirits working together."
When water slapped against the sides of the fountain pond they both stopped talking and looked at the structure. Ripples formed and skimmed from one side to the center fountain, coursed around it and to the opposite side. Blair sucked in a breath and Sam arched an eyebrow.
"There's no wind," Blair said, his voice pitched low.
Reaching out, Sam took hold of Blair's arm. "We should probably not be here. This fountain seems to be her favorite killing spot."
Blair backed away, one hand going to Sam's arm, urging him to move faster. "Yeah, you're probably right." When the temperature dropped, causing the breath they exhaled to become frosty tendrils in the air Blair's eyes widened. "What the—"
His words were cut off and in the next instant he was flung away from the spot he stood on, not stopping until he crashed into the side of the fountain. His body twisted around and he was bent face first into the water. Arms flailing at his sides, Blair got his head up once, gasping for breath before his head and shoulders were forced into the water.
Sam had only a few seconds before the translucent image of a woman flickered in front of him. She moved at him in that choppy, too quick way spirits always had of transporting themselves. As her hands connected with his chest and sent him sprawling to the ground he had a glimpse of Blair, a jaguar holding him under the water with both paws firmly on his shoulders.
Trying to get up, to help Blair, was useless, but Sam pushed and struggled against unseen restraints until he was pulled up and off the ground, held suspended for a few seconds and sent crashing down with enough force his vision went dark.
When the world spun back into clarity, Sam had only a brief glance of Blair being pulled away by the jaguar. His next sensation was water being sucked up his nose making his eyes sting and tear and his sinuses scream in protest. Getting both hands under him, Sam tried pushing away from the fountain's edge, but it was useless. The more he pushed, the more he was shoved under the water.
A persistent and annoying ringing in his ears escalated until it blocked out the gurgling sound of the water. Sam's lungs felt like they were going to burst, yet he clamped his lips tightly shut. Opening them and drawing in a breath meant certain death.
The dim sound of footsteps and voices reached through the ever increasing ringing and registered vaguely in his brain. He cringed closer to the edge of the fountain when something spoken got through the haze and registered in his subconscious. A shotgun blast reverberated through the air above him and he was free. Coughing, Sam pushed away from the fountain and sagged onto the ground.
A grip he immediately recognized as his brother's had him by the shoulders and was easing him into a sitting position. He heard Dean mutter something about a permit and rocksalt rounds. Braced against Dean, he pointed in the direction he'd seen the jungle cat go with Sandburg. "That way…big spotted cat…Blair…was in water…"
"Crap," Ellison spat.
Dean propped Sam against the fountain, holding his chin in one hand, and peered at him. "You okay for a minute, Sammy?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Dean backed up and stood, turning to Ellison. "Here, take this and shoot at anything that isn't your buddy. It won't kill the ghost but it'll slow it down." Taking a few steps forward, Dean pressed his sawed off into Ellison's hands.
"This is illegal."
"So is murder, which is what is going to happen to your partner if you don't get a move on. Only difference is, you won't be able to toss his killer in a jail cell. Get there and hold her off with the rocksalt rounds. She's probably taken him to the building where her art is. We'll get the rest of the paintings into the incinerator and get a fire going." Dean dug in one pocket and yanked out a box, tossing it to Ellison.
The detective caught the extra rounds out of the air easily, nodded once and spun on his heels, running full tilt away from the fountain.
Dean moved away. Sam saw three paintings scattered on the sidewalk, his brother must have dropped them there to get Sam out of the fountain. Watching as Dean gathered them and shoved them under his arm, Sam managed to sit a bit straighter.
Holding out one hand for help up, Sam nodded. "I think so." He took another few deep breaths to get himself together and started to follow Dean, running into his back. "Sheesh, signal!"
"Do they not lock the cage doors at the zoo around here?" Dean threw his free hand in the air and looked over his shoulder at Sam. "I don't like this town, it's weird and for me to say it's weird, it's freaking a lot weird!"
Sam stood, mouth agape, staring at the creatures a few feet in front of them. "Blair seemed convinced Alex had an animal that was her spirit guide, that big cat."
"I don't know," Sam shrugged. "It followed her around. He said the cat represented a guardian. I'm not sure I buy it."
Dean snorted, "Not much of a guardian if she kills people. What are those?"
A large, solid black version of the same cat Sam had seen earlier sat contemplating them with patient eyes. It didn't move and Sam got none of the dangerous vibes he'd gotten from the spotted feline. Next to it and a few feet to the right a timber wolf paced back and forth. Eyes focused on them, it scratched at the pavement, whined and ducked its head before backing up a few steps.
When they simply stood there watching the animals, the wolf repeated its actions, this time adding a sharp yip. It sidled up to the panther, dipped its head to rub under the panther's chin and yipped again. The panther sat back on muscled haunches and cuffed the wolf's ears, earning a decidedly dirty glare from the wolf.
"Great. Just great. Dogs and cats sleeping together. What's next, the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man? Sammy, I do not like this town."
"Uh, Dean." Sam tapped his brother's shoulder. "I think it wants us to follow them."
"Oh yeah, sure. We're not Timmy and they sure as hell aren't Lassie."
As if to prove Sam was right, the wolf trotted off a few paces, looked back and yipped. It spun in a circle and moved a few steps at them then away.
"We're coming," Dean groused, jogging after the wolf. "But dude, we already know where to go."
The panther twitched an ear and flicked its tail before bounding after the wolf. When they reached the building with the incinerator both animals ran through the wall, evaporating from sight.
Jim didn't waste time searching the upper floors of the building, he didn't have to, Blair's distinct scent and heartbeat came from the lowest level. At least whatever prevented his senses from working normally before was gone, he hoped it stayed that way. Heading straight for the basement, he slammed to a halt as soon as he was clear of the stairs. The paintings they'd collected and Dean had said were already in the incinerator were in a heap on the floor. On top of them, too still and far too pale for Jim's liking was Blair. His fingers twitched and he moaned, but was far from actually coherent. The blood trickling along his cheek sent slivers of fear up and down Jim's spine.
A cold chill worked its way through his entire body. Standing on the other side of Blair was Alex. Not the Alex he'd seen last, a woman—albeit crazy—of flesh and blood and bone, but some hideous representation of her. When she pulled her lips up, revealing teeth and a partial jaw bone the action was jerky, almost fake. Her movements and actions reminded him of a puppet.
When he raised the sawed off and took a step closer she kicked out, catching Blair squarely in the ribs. His body convulsed from the blow and he exhaled a soft whimper. Jim honed in on the image of Alex, no heartbeat, no body scent, not even the slightest sound of breathing. He'd seen confirmation of her death with his own eyes, yet those same eyes were looking at her now.
Not Alex, some ethereal representation of her. Whatever it was he looked at right now, the intent was clear, she—it—wanted Blair dead. It didn't matter why or that her motives made no sense. Then again, irrational people or their spirits didn't need to make sense, Jim reasoned. If this was a ghost, she certainly wasn't anything like the soft, gentle ghost of a murdered woman he'd seen so many years ago who simply wanted her killer brought to justice.
Gaze dropping to the shotgun in his hand for no more than a split second, Jim took a step sideways, drawing Alex's attention to him and away from Blair. In one swift, smooth movement, Jim raised the weapon and fired at Alex's head.
In a deafening screech of sound she blew apart, her form creating a starburst that dissolved in white and gray haze.
"That was special." Jim looked from the sawed off to the spot Alex had only seconds ago occupied, to Blair. "Chief."
He had no idea how long he'd have or if the gun blast had done more than dissipate her. Digging the extra rounds from his pocket he spent all of a few seconds reloading. Winchester had said the rocksalt would slow a spirit down, but not end it. The question was answered when Alex reappeared a few feet away. Leveling the shotgun again, he fired at her head as he'd done before, again dissipating her. Two long strides and he dropped at Blair's side, rolling him over with one hand while keeping the shotgun ready.
Blair groaned again, hand going to his forehead and eyes blinking open. "She was here. How could she be here?"
"I thought you were the one who believed in this stuff?"
Jim gripped Blair's arm and eased him to a sitting position. Blair's fingers wound in his shirt and gripped hard. "Oh, ow, I think I believed the theory a whole lot more than the reality."
"Come on," Jim kept his voice low, grabbed Blair under the arm and stood, pulling his friend with him. Winding one arm around Blair's middle he hefted him closer, supporting more of his weight than Blair did his own.
"We have to burn the paintings," Blair panted and wrapped one arm around his middle. The shuddering breaths he sucked in told Jim how much he was hurting right now.
Making their way to the incinerator, Jim eased Blair against the wall. "You stay there, I'll bring them over, you start a fire and feed them inside."
"Start a fire with what? Rub my fingers together and twitch my nose?" Blair lurched to the side, eyes widening. "Oh shit."
Jim spun around, coming face to face with Alex's spirit again. It was unsettling, he had no warning, she simply appeared. There was no sound, no smell, nothing but a drop in temperature when she was right in his face. She smiled at him and turned away, glaring at Blair.
Arms and legs jerking in an uneven and inhuman manner she flickered into sight and then out only to reappear closer to Blair. Taking aim he didn't have a chance to shoot before she was perilously close to Blair. "Move!"
Blair tried to inch away, but she was too fast. Twin shotgun blasts exploded behind Jim and Alex vanished in a rain of haze and light. Dean dropped a duffel from his shoulder at Sam's feet. At once Sam was digging through it while Dean threw the paintings he carried into the incinerator. Sam tossed him a metal container. The distinct odor of accelerant hit Jim's nostrils at the same time he saw it splash across the paintings and inside of the incinerator.
Blair yelped when Alex's jaguar materialized mid-leap at him, hitting him in the chest and knocking him to the ground.
"Keep them busy, we'll load up and get them burning," Sam called, bolting to the pile of other paintings, grabbing them up and running back to hand them off to his brother.
Jim squinted and made a mental note to ask later why salt was poured on top of the paintings; he'd have thought that would impede the burning part. Apparently not so, since a whoosh accompanied a lick of flame shooting up and out of the incinerator door.
Turning on his heels Jim fired at the jaguar, only mildly surprised when it reacted the same way Alex had to the shotgun blast. Blair rolled over, scrambling to get his feet and hands under him. Closing the distance between them, Jim met him halfway, again grabbing him up and hoisting Blair against his side. They backed away from Alex as she materialized again and advanced on them.
The crackle of the fire the Winchester kids started—and now Jim saw why it was important to pick an isolated place like this—countered the intense cold he felt each time Alex appeared and moved towards them.
He glanced back in time to see Sam throw the last painting into the burner. Dean sprayed it with more of the accelerant, the sharp tangy odor making Jim's eyes water and his nose sting. Another handful of salt was tossed in then Sam lit an entire book of matches, throwing that in last.
A wind blew up, throwing the few loose items in the basement around, threatening to knock Jim and Blair over. Dropping the shotgun, Jim forced Blair to the ground and covered him with his body, at the same time clamping his hands over his ears. The air around him splintered with high pitched, completely inhuman screams rolling around them in waves.
A sickly sweet smell reached him, along with the distinct odor of burning wood making Jim realize it was the paint, canvass and framework of the paintings. The stronger those odors became, the more the paintings were undoubtedly burning. Crackling and snapping followed on the heels of the odors and intensified as the wind rose equally.
Carried on the wind was what had to be the most unnatural noise, scratchy and tinny like fingers on a chalkboard amplified a hundred times. Pain from the racket slammed through his head. His periphery caught movement and he curled more tightly around Blair when something he couldn't identify flew at them.
Then everything went still.
Dragging in a shuddering breath, Jim eased to his knees. Blair brushed hair from his face and pushed off the floor until he sat upright. In unison they turned and looked at the incinerator. Inside a cheery fire was burning itself out, the paintings nothing more than a pile of ash. Much more time had gone by than it felt like, at least judging by the condition of what was left of the paintings.
"That stinks." Blair put one hand over his mouth and stifled a cough.
"You don't have to tell me." Jim stood up and took a look around. "Where are they?" He strode toward the stairs and looked up, about to head to the upper level. The sound of Blair gasping in pain and retching, something thick and liquidy hitting the floor in the general vicinity of Blair's increasing heart rate stopped Jim in his tracks. "Shit," he grumbled and went back to help his friend.
"Why do you have to arrest them?" Blair climbed out of the truck and slammed the door shut, not caring about the impatient look Jim gave him.
"Oh, I don't know. Illegal weapons for one. I'm sure once I get my hands on those wants and warrants records on the Winchesters I'll have plenty of other reasons, too.
"They saved my life, doesn't that count for anything?"
"No. Yes. Come on Chief, you know I can't just let them go."
"Even if they probably stopped further murders, including mine?" Blair had to jog to keep up, which was difficult with cracked ribs. "Wait up."
Jim stopped his march across the parking lot and turned, giving Blair the critical once over, mumbling, "Sorry. Which room are they in?"
"I dunno." Blair shrugged and looked around the parking lot, not seeing the sleek, black muscle car. "They were in their car driving away when I stopped them."
"And you didn't think to tell me this?"
Blair cringed, Jim sounded a bit miffed. "Jim, man, come on, with getting attacked by a dead woman and all is it that surprising I'd forget?" The look Jim gave him made him duck his head and turn away, of course it was surprising. Jim knew full well Blair wouldn't forget something like that. "Look, you never asked."
Jim ground his teeth, crossed his arms over his chest and huffed an irritated noise. Blair followed along a pace behind and offered Jim a meek smile when they were informed at the office no one by the name of Winchester had registered. A description of the car and the brothers did get them pointed at a motel door halfway down the row of rooms.
Blair scuffed his toe on the ground and stuffed both hands in his pockets when Jim turned a terse expression on him, but said nothing when they found the room empty. "You know, I'd sleep a lot better knowing there wasn't anything else of Alex's hanging around." It was a total ploy and they both knew it. What they also both knew was Jim would put Blair above a couple of strangers. If they were anywhere near Cascade or ever came back, Jim would and could hunt them down and throw them in the jail cell he'd promised to put them in earlier.
Their next stop was the auction house. It didn't take much convincing for the manager to let them see a list of everything the place had. Blair felt a weight lift off him when there was nothing else listed from Alex's estate or that looked as if it might have belonged to her. From there they revisited the nursing home she'd spent her final days in, a babbling, crazy woman Blair was sure.
The staff was kind and helpful, they even let Jim and Blair see her room even though there was another occupant at this point and they had no warrant. There was nothing of value left, but they did hand over a small box of Alex's possessions. The items were mostly toiletries, but to be on the safe side Blair wanted to burn them, as the Winchesters had instructed.
Once back home and safe in their loft, Blair lit a fire in the fireplace and Jim carefully put each item in, letting it burn completely before moving onto the next.
"I'm going to make some dinner." Jim stood and stretched. "You get some rest, you look like crap."
Blair nodded and eased onto the couch, clicking the television on. When Jim was entrenched in the kitchen, busy with his project of food, Blair dug into his pocket and pulled out the paper he'd taken from Jim's desk earlier. Wadding it up he tossed it into the fire and retreated to the couch once again. Maybe that wouldn't stop the Winchesters from being found or arrested, but Blair hoped he'd given them enough of a headstart and they'd be smart enough to stay clear of Cascade…forever.
A plate of spaghetti was plunked down in front of him and Jim nudged at his arm. "Eat up, Chief."
"Thanks, Jim. Smells great. I haven't eaten in forever, it seems."
Jim sat on the chair, eating his own dinner. After a few mouthfuls he glanced at the fireplace then at Blair. "You know, I'll arrest those two if they're in this city, anywhere near it."
"I know. I don't have to like it, but I know."
"You also know that burning the paper copy of their rap sheet won't stop me, or even slow me down much."
"Yeah I…how did you know?"
Jim cracked a grin and thumped two fingers against his chest. "De—tec—tive. Remember? And sulking won't really make a difference either."
Blair stuffed more noodles and sauce into his mouth and nodded. He was safe, Alex was gone for good, he hoped, and Jim had done what he'd needed to for them both to sleep soundly at night. His partner cared enough for him to put personal beliefs aside long enough to ensure Blair's security and forgave him for anything. There wasn't a whole lot more Blair could ask for or expect.
He only hoped if they ran into any more dead criminals that wanted a piece of them he could get some tips over the phone from Sam Winchester. Actually what Blair really hoped was they never had anything other than live criminals.
Either way, he had a friend and partner he could always count on and that was the most important thing in his life.
"Whatcha doin'?" Dean padded out of the bathroom and dug through his duffel for clean—not very dirty—clothes.
Sam looked up and grinned at his brother, flicking at the laptop screen frame as he spoke. "I found out Jim Ellison used to be an Army Ranger, I'd have thought you two would've gotten along better. Mostly I was trying to see what else I could dig up on sentinels and this spirit guide stuff."
Dean snorted and tugged a tee over his head. "Spirit guides. That's just silly. Sandburg seemed like a fairly intelligent, opened-minded guy, surprises me he'd buy into that crap."
It didn't get beyond Sam that Dean made no mention of Ellison. "Yeah, it's a bit out there. But, we did see those animals. Have you ever seen animal ghosts before?"
Rubbing his chin, Dean put on one of his thoughtful expressions that Sam had learned over the years was mostly fake. "Nope. But it sure doesn't mean animals don't have ghosts, why wouldn't they? Cascade is weird. We need to note that in Dad's journal, Cascade weird, stay away."
"And anywhere else we find with no supernatural activity."
"Ha, you got that right, Sammy." Dean pulled on his jacket and tossed Sam his. "I'm hungry, let's go find some eats."
Sam shut the computer and pulled his own jacket on, trailing after Dean out to the car.
He couldn't help laughing outright when Dean muttered, "No supernatural activity just isn't natural." He shook his head and unlocked Sam's door. "Spirit guides. Takes all kinds I guess. Pizza or Chinese?"
"Dude, please, pizza." Sam settled into the Impala, looking forward to a good meal with extra cheese and pepperoni and some down time with his brother.