"So, okay, we've got three kids dead this month – they all look like accidents: girl falls off her balcony, boy trips going down the stairs – but they all have one major thing in common."
"Well, all of them died of the same injury – blunt head trauma," Sam holds out some of the autopsy and crime scene photos he'd gathered since he started researching the potential case. Dean takes his eyes off the road long enough to glance at the pictures and notice the similarities. He winces, wrinkling his nose and looking back ahead.
"So, anything else?"
"Well the victims all seem to be in their late teens, or adults who might work near kids or could be associated with them I guess. And deaths like these have been happening for the past four months."
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
Sam looks into the rear-view mirror to see that Lucifer has adapted the role of the ever-annoying child, tapping his fingers on the glass of the window on the backseat as he stares dreamily out the window.
"I guess it's worth looking into at least," Dean says, flicking his eyes across to his brother when he speaks to make eye-contact. "Who's first on the hit-list then?"
"Most recent victim was a kid called Kevin Taylor, seventeen, fell getting out of the shower, cracked his head open on the tile floor," Sam recites his notes leafing through them so easily. Unlike Dean, his research is always pristine, organised and just second nature to him at that point.
"Huh?" Sam asks, looking up from the stack of pages on his lap to question Dean further but he doesn't need to when he sees the police car and small crowd gathered outside one of the houses on the quiet street.
"Think it's another one?" Dean asks, pulling up across the road.
"Worth checking out, I guess," Sam says, popping open the glove-box to pull out the FBI ID badges they liked to keep handy in the Impala. He tucks it into his breast pocket of the too-small suit jacket which will forever smell of the thrift store they bought it from – moth balls and old people. Well, that and the old take-away Dean had left in the trunk and forgotten about a few weeks ago. Not exactly a pleasant combination.
They cross the street briskly, with that cocky air of confidence a real agent would have – well from what they'd observed of the agents in cheesy cop shows and from the ones who had tried to track them down quite a few times. Flashing their badges they duck under the tape which has been holding back the locals and approach one of the officers who seems to be running the show.
"Hey, I'm Agent Brigati, this is my partner Agent Weis," Dean says smoothly, gesturing to Sam in sequence as they show their badges as proof of their fake identities. "We're in town investigating a series of 'accidental' deaths, we happened to be driving past – would you mind telling us what's going on here?"
The man stares at them with the usual detest they get when impersonating 'those FBI assholes' by officers. He's not exactly in his prime anymore, probably in his late forties with tufts of grey weaving through his dark hair. He chews on his lip for a second before begrudgingly leading them toward the house, "we got the call about an hour ago, the kid – Lewis Pounce – fell down the stairs, probably."
Sam's face creased, "so why is there such a commotion if it was just an accident?"
"Because," he said, pushing open the door to the boys' room, "he was found in his room, and we couldn't find traces of his blood anywhere else in the house, or outside."
The Winchesters share a look of confusion before they catch sight of the body, lying in an awkward position in the middle of the room – the same bloodied bruise as the others had had in the pictures they'd seen. Lucifer smiles up at him from over the body, a sort of sadistic smile that gives Sam the chills. He can't stand seeing the bodies of dead kids.
It was obvious something strange was going on in the town, it was what that was that was the real problem though.
"So what're you thinking? Some angry spirit on a revenge spree?" Dean asks Sam with a mouth stuffed full of a chunk of greasy burger.
Sam gives him a dry look before focusing on his salad, "I don't know, it's probably a Ghost of some sort, but how much could a bunch of kids have done that deserve this kind of punishment?"
"Been stranger things," Dean shrugs with his infinite wisdom, taking another bite and chewing loudly.
They sit in silence for a few moments, with the buzz of life in the fast-food chain filling in the gaps. The place is a dizzying combination of horribly bright reds, fake leather and plastic.
"The pattern with the head injuries… do you think that might have been how the spirit died?" Sam suggests.
Dean's bottom lip sticks out a little when he shrugs this time, "worth checking into," he says, "how about you go check into that and I'll interview some of the families and friends?"
Sam nods, "sure," but in his head he's thinking – typical Dean, anything to avoid doing actual research.
"So, Mrs Pounce, did your son have any enemies?" Dean asks a little bluntly, after they disperse of the small-talk and he had convinced her that it was absolutely necessary that she be interviewed on the matter yet again.
She looks taken aback, "n-no, he was always a good boy, well-liked in school…" she stops when it looks like the words are choking her, and pats away a tear forming in the corner of her eye. "Why would someone do this to my Lewis?"
Dean shifts uncomfortably on the couch opposite her, he never liked women crying. It was harder for him to see this than some screwed up monster having a flesh-feast. "It's okay Mrs Pounce, I just need you to think real hard, do you remember him being in any arguments, or getting into trouble the last few days?"
She looks up again, eyes shrink-wrapped in tears, clutching her handkerchief tight in one hand, "I d-don't think so; like I said, he was friendly with everyone, never got into any trouble," she tells him again. "And it's Ms Pounce," she adds, with a glint in her eye that Dean is all too familiar with.
He springs to his feet, folding his doodle-covered notepad into his pocket, "thank-you so much for your help, we'll be in touch if anything comes up," his words come fast and almost tumble together as he spreads a thick, face smile all over his face. "I'll see myself out."
"So you were friends of Lewis?" Dean confirms, holding his notepad at the ready for more scribbles of cartoons and boobs.
The three boys nod.
"Well, can you tell me if he had any enemies in school, picked any fights with someone recently?" He's hoping to get a more accurate response from Lewis Pounce's friends, who he's managed to corner after enquiring at the boy's school. They stand in the now vacated Principal's office, with high tensions, only the sound of a lazy fan in the corner, occasionally fluttering weighted paper on his desk, breaks up the silence.
Two of the boys immediately disagree where as one nods his head. The others scowl at him as if he's given up the country's secrets a minute into the torture. "Kyle," One of them hisses at their smaller friend.
"Kyle Richards?" Dean asks, checking a note he had made underneath a crude drawing of a cat.
The boy nods again.
The other boys continue to scowl at him, and he seems to shrivel into silence.
Dean rolls his eyes, "may I remind you that with-holding information is a criminal offence," he bluffs, knowing he's heard something like this on some TV show or another.
Kyle finally swallows and the boys look away, "he got into an argument with the Ruger brothers a few days ago."
Dean purses his lips, wondering how relevant it could actually be, "what happened?"
"I think Lewis walked into the younger one in the hall between classes, and his older brother was there and ended up picking a fight. They only really pushed eachother before it was broken up, but that's probably enough."
"Kyle!" the other boy hisses now, looking exasperated at his apparent rat of a friend.
He looks between Dean and his friends before finally saying, "well, there's this story that if you cross the Ruger's you get killed."
Dean raises an eyebrow, definitely relevant, "how long has this been goin' on for?"
Kyle shrugs, looking up to his friends to confer, they perform some strange teenage interpretive dance made up of grunts and shrugs before Kyle finally turns back and says, "yeah, about four months."
"I'm gonna need these Ruger kids' names and address."
Dean's cell buzzes as he's leaving the school; he answers it immediately, "get anything?"
"Yeah, so get this, a kid in town died of a head-injury just like the other victims-"
"Four months ago?" Dean guesses with a flat voice as he fiddles in his pocket for his keys.
"Yeah, actually… his name was-"
"Let me guess, Ruger?"
He presses the key into the lock of the Impala, opening his baby and jumping in, slamming the door behind him as he listens to Sam fumble for words on the other end of the line.
"Nathan Sanderson-Ruger. Adopted by the Rugers after being fostered by them for a year – how did you know?"
"I talked to some of Lewis Pounce's friends, mentioned some town-legend growing around the Ruger boys – bug them, and you get ganked, basically," he explains to his brother, starting the engine and pulling out of the carpark with his phone wedged between his ear and his shoulder.
"You get an address?"
"Yeah, the secretary at the school dug it up for me, I'm headed there now – you still at the library? I can pick you up on the way."
After pressing the doorbell and waiting outside the inconspicuous suburban house, Dean and Sam are greeted by a shrewd-looking teenage boy. He stares at them as if they could be here to steal his family. Dean exchanges a look with his brother before flashing his badge, "I'm Agent Brigati, this is my partner Agent Weis – we were hoping to speak with a Ryan and Daniel Ruger?"
A man steps in behind the boy at the door before he had a chance to snap some snide remark at the Winchesters, "what is this regarding?" he asks, putting a hand on his sons shoulder.
"We're investigating a series of deaths in the local area, and some of the people we've interviewed mentioned that your sons knew the victims at school – we just want to talk for a few minutes and see if we can get any more information," Sam speaks with his usual persuasive tone, a bed-side manner Dean can't often replicate to the same standard. It's just one of those emotional moose things.
The man looks unsure for a moment, but eventually he steps aside, tugging his son along with him. They nod and thank him as they move inside. He sends his son off to get his brother, and begrudgingly he leaves as they are ushered into the sitting-room. When the Hunters are seated, the man finally extends a hand to introduce himself, "Denny Ruger," he says; and they shake his hand in turn, telling him they're names again.
When his sons return they stand hesitantly in the door, with the older of the two protectively shielding his younger brother. Denny ushers them over and they sit at either side of him opposite the Winchesters, "these are my sons, Daniel and Ryan," he says, Ryan being the older one which they met at the door.
"Great," Dean says, throwing his hands up a little as he looks briefly to Sam, "well, uh – we were wondering how well you both knew the victims?"
Ryan shrugs roughly, still looking at the Winchester brothers in a somewhat hostile manner. Daniel speaks up though, receiving an equally sharp look from Ryan, "we've spoken to a few of them I guess – some were in our classes."
Dean smiles at Daniel, almost to rub in the fact that he was cooperating with him to Ryan. "Great, so the last time you spoke to them before they died – did anything significant happen?" Daniel looks a little timid now, after the harsh look from his brother, Dean sighs, "you should know that any information you withhold from us or refusal to cooperate can be used against you later if anything does come from this," he can see Sam struggling not to roll his eyes at his brother who is clearly doing a poor job of reciting lines from some cheesy cop show. The two boys nod a little sullenly in response and Sam flips to a page, reading out the names of the previous victims one by one.
"Let's start with the most recent, Lewis Pounce."
"He bumped into me in the hall…" Daniel says quietly, "and Ryan picked a fight with him – but nothing happened."
Denny looks surprised as his gaze shifts between his sons, but he doesn't interrupt.
"I… asked her out on a date, and she turned me down." Ryan says stiffly; Dean suppresses a smile as he scribbles in his notepad.
"He got caught cheating off of me in a test and I got a zero for it."
"He's a jerk. We had an argument."
"I can see a bit of a trend here…" Dean says to Sam, and Denny looks a little outraged at this.
"Are you telling me my sons are suspects? How could you possibly think they would be capable of this?"
Dean raises an eyebrow at the man, but doesn't respond directly, "can I ask about your other son, Nathan Sanderson-Ruger?"
Denny stiffens and the brothers seem to pale a little, Daniel letting out an almost incoherent noise. If that didn't seem suspicious, they didn't know what did.
"How did he die?" Sam asks carefully, looking at them with soft puppy-dog eyes. The eyes that broke Dean's heart on occasion, he had been a sucker for that look when Sam was a kid.
Denny swallows hard, "they say he killed himself – jumped off the roof." He chokes up a little and looks away, Ryan looks up at his dad immediately but Daniel looks at the ground.
"You don't think so?" Sam asks, surprised.
Denny looks back at Sam, his gaze hard, "of course not – he was only a kid. He was happy, innocent. A little strange, but I don't think he was being bullied… he wouldn't do that to himself. B-…" he pauses, trying to get a hold of his emotions, "but there's no other explanation."
Ryan looks outraged at the Winchesters having brought his father to the verge of tears, his head snaps around to stare at them eyes like fire, "just get out. We're done here."
Sam and Dean look at eachother, in surprise, "we just have a few more questions," Sam tries to say, but Ryan leaps to his feet and hands clenched into fists, "no, just get out."
Slowly, Sam and Dean stand and eventually nod, "okay kid – we'll come back again if we need anything else."
Ryan's eyes get a little wilder but he doesn't say anything, just watches the brothers leave the house.
"So that was weird, right?" Dean asks when they're back in the car.
"Totally weird." And he can't help but notice Lucifer perched on the roof of the house, swinging his legs over the edge a little too cheerfully.
Dean lies back on his bed in the Motel room while Sam flicks through local newspapers articles on his laptop. Much to Sam's distaste, Lucifer is lying on his bed. He hates the quieter moments like this, moments when his subconscious could crawl up on him and his own personal demons could haunt him. Luckily he was keeping quiet for now, and this allowed Sam to concentrate on what he was doing.
Dean sits up a little, waiting while his brother scans the article detailing the 'suicide' of Nathan Sanderson-Ruger. After a few moments, Sam finally speaks up again, "okay, so get this – four months ago, Nathan was found in the back garden of the Ruger house having supposedly jumped from the roof. He wasn't killed from hitting the ground though; on the way down his head hit off of the families Trampoline, cracking his skull."
"Just like the other victims."
"You think he was just trying to jump onto the Trampoline and lost his footing or something? I mean, the guy did say he was only a little kid."
"Maybe," Sam considers, pursing his lips and looking back at the article again in case he missed something.
"What if he isn't the vengeful spirit – what if he's the first victim?" Dean suggests, and Lucifer makes a snorting noise on the bed next to his.
Sam shakes his head, "no, think about it – all of the kids the Ruger's talked to before that – their last interactions were arguments and that kind of thing. It has to be Nathan defending his brothers, right?"
"I guess so – but doesn't that mean…"
"Well, our last run-in with them didn't go so smoothly; you think…?"
"Oh great," Sam says, "he's going to come for us now."
"We better go salt and burn the little monster."
Sam's eyes shoot up to meet his older brother's gaze, "but Dean, he's only been dead a few months – his body will still be…" he trails off, not knowing how to finish the sentence.
"I know, but we don't exactly have a choice here, unless you want your head smashed in?"
Sam swallows hard, "I guess we don't."
"Alright, it'll be dark soon, we'll go to the graveyard then."
"This is wrong, Dean," Sam says just before his shovel connects with the casket at last. Not only would the body still be pretty much fresh, it would be a little kid, only eleven years old.
In a disturbing sort of way, the scene is lightened by Luci, who Sam suddenly notices is swimming through the pond just a little away from them, "seriously?" he mutters under his breath.
"He's killing people, Sam, he's killing kids for nothing. He's a monster, and he's already dead. This is our job." Dean's words are solid like stone, and Sam knows he has no way of arguing around this. So he shuts his mouth and clears the rest of the dirt off of the top of the coffin.
Dean jumps in next to him with a crowbar and starts to prise it open. Sam uses this as an excuse to scramble out of the hole and find the salt and lighter fluid. He really doesn't want to see this, and he really doesn't want to do this.
The sound of Lucifer splashing in the water is really beginning to get irritating too.
There's a crack as he finally gets it open, and a muffled coughing when Dean receives the full brunt of the smell of death that rises from the coffin. "Come on Sammy, hurry up," he finally manages to call out and he hurries to grab everything they need from the bag they brought from the trunk of the Impala which waited in the carpark. Dean is pulling himself out of the grave when Sam returns, and he purposefully avoids looking down before throwing the salt to his brother. That was probably how he managed to see the flicker behind him before a small, black-haired boy appearing suddenly behind Dean.
"D-Dean…" Sam says, taking a step back.
Dean spins around to see the boy, and swings the iron crowbar through the air, causing him to flicker away again. "He's after me then? Great." He hurries to shower the body in salt before throwing the can to one side and gesturing for Sam to toss him the lighter fluid, but just before he throws it, Dean is slammed to one side and pinned against a tree.
"Finish it, Sam!"
Nathan is approaching Dean slowly, taking little notice of Sam now, who is trying his best to look into the grave just long enough to coat his body in the liquid. He fiddles with a lighter, pushing away the sounds of Dean's struggle so he can concentrate. He drops it into the trench and watches as it's suddenly filled with light. Looking across to Dean, he sees Nathan suddenly snap around to stare at Sam before disappearing. Dean falls to the ground, landing in a crouched position and remains like that for a few moments before Sam helps him to his feet.
"Shouldn't he have-"
"But he didn't-"
"It didn't work."
Dean shakes his head, and Sam can't take his eyes away from the desecrated grave of the little boy. It was him – that much was certain – he just wasn't being kept here by his body.
"We need to go back to the Ruger's and find out what really happened."
Dean swallows hard when he looks at Sam and just nods before they clear away their things swiftly and return to the Impala, leaving the graveyard alight with the burning body.
Dean's fist hammers on the door of the Ruger family house. Sam makes a face at him, but he responds sharply, "we don't know how much time the graveyard stunt bought us. We don't know anything, we just need to find out what's keeping him around and destroy it."
"And banging on his family's door at 12am is the way to do that?"
True enough the lights were only flickering on now at the racket. Denny answers the door, still cocooned in sleep, rubbing his eyes by pushing his hands under his glasses. A deep frown creases his brow as he recognises the brothers and pulls his dressing-robe tighter around himself, "what are you doing here?"
"We need to speak to your sons, it's important." Dean's voice is urgent and thunderous as he demands the man.
"Do you know what time it is?" Denny looks a little outraged, especially at being ordered around so bluntly.
"It's important," Dean repeats himself.
"What's so important that it can't wait until the morning? They're both in bed – and there's no way you can be on the clock at this time. Get off my porch."
"Are you kidding me?" Dean snaps, rolling his eyes.
"Dean." Sam says to his brother as a warning, not wanting things to get out of hand. Dean sighs and backs off, Sam turns his attention to Denny, "please – just five minutes."
"No" Denny sneers, "get the hell off my property."
Sam bites his lip, but holds up his hands defensively and they move away from the house, back towards the car, "we'll be back in the morning."
Denny slams the door shut, but there's the ghost of a face which catches Sam's eye in the upstairs window, when they back away. Sam makes a small gesture to Daniel before they get into the car, waiting. Salt-gun and iron at hand, they wait for the now youngest Ruger boy to slink across the street and climb into the back-seat of the car.
"I want to help you," is all he says, a look of guilt on his face. Sam and Dean exchange a glance, and Sam can't help but feel wrong again tonight about pretending to be cops and having a kid in the back seat of their car.
"What can you tell us about Nathan?"
"He didn't kill himself – it was my fault, and Ryan's."
"What happened? You can trust us."
He looks up, finally his eyes heavy with regret and other things he should be too young to carry the burden of. "We used to play tricks on him all the time, make him do silly things and scare him. And he was just happy that we were playing with him I guess. He never questioned anything we told him to do… he just… loved us. He… trusted us."
Sam and Dean stare at him as he speaks. Something about his voice lulls them into a trancelike state as he tells his story.
"We told him he could fly. We told him if he jumped off the roof he would fly. We gave him an umbrella, and told him to walk on the roof to where his bedroom window was – because it was above the trampoline. We thought if he opened the umbrella and he landed on it… he would be fine. It wasn't meant to hurt him. But he slipped and fell before he got to it… and we couldn't… so we hid the umbrella so no one would guess it was us… and…" He stops, choking with rough sobs, which break up his words and make what he says after this unintelligible.
"Hey, hey – it's okay. It was an accident, alright?" Sam says, trying to calm the boy down a little. And with that same bedside manner voice he managed to.
Daniel takes a few deep breaths before continuing, "we started noticing everyone dying. People that we had been annoyed by, I guess. And then it sort of made sense… All the rumours and stories… I'm so sorry."
Dean and Sam nod in unison and then exchange and strange glance before Sam speaks to Daniel again, "did you keep anything of his? Something that meant a lot to him?"
Daniel pauses to think about this for a moment, "we kept his locket," he says, "he used to wear it constantly, it belonged to his mom – his birth mom."
"Great, where is it?"
"In my room, I can go get it. Will you still be here?"
"Yeah, just be as quick as you can."
Daniel nods, wiping at his eyes and slips back out of the car, slinking into the darkness and disappearing back into his house. There's a chill suddenly, and Dean breathes out to see a cloud of white appear before him. He exchanges a worried look with Sam and they turn around to see Nathan sitting in the back seat.
With the boy so close now, in the fraction of a second before Dean lunges out with the crowbar, Sam notices the peculiar look on Nathan's face. It isn't an expression of wrath or hatred, it's one more blank of emotion. His eyes seem so piercing on an otherwise insignificant face, but he just seems innocent; like all of this is a game, he doesn't feel anything – only love for his brothers and the need to protect them and help them. He was too young to truly understand life and death, what condoned it, and what made it worse as Daniel had put it was that he was so naïve and child-like despite being eleven. He saw all of this as innocently as he saw the 'games' his adoptive brothers would play with him.
But a second later, he flickers away as the iron connects with his ghostly form. Sam wrestles through junk on the floor of the Impala to find something they could make a fire in, "this?" he asks quickly holding out a mug Dean had picked up somewhere for winning a pie-eating contest. He makes a face but nods. Dean leaps out of the car and opens the trunk to get the salt and lighter fluid out, but again is sent hurdling across the street, connecting with a high-fence. The crowbar drops with a heavy clank as Nathan comes towards him again, drifting eerily across the street as if he's hovering. Sam darts around the car to finish where Dean had left off; Daniel appears by his side just in time. He holds out the cup and Daniel hesitantly drops the necklace in while Sam covers it in salt and the fluid.
Nathan nods his head and Dean begins to ascend floating higher and higher until the little boy will be happy enough to drop him on his head. Dean lets out a choked noise to hurry his brother up and Sam lights a scrap of paper, dropping it into the mug which he sets on the ground before it becomes too hot to hold. Daniel stares at his dead brother, a ghastly look on his face, and actually jumps back when the black-haired boy turns to face Daniel and Sam. But before he can start to move towards them, he begins to burn away into the air.
Daniel reaches out towards him, teary eyed, but his brother's gone.
When he's almost fully burned away his mental grip on Dean is released and the man starts falling downwards suddenly, Sam cries out and sprints forward, leaping just in time for Dean to crash into him. The two men lie tangled on the side of the street, rendered silent from the sudden pain of the collision. It takes a few minutes before either actually attempt to move. Sam curls around under Dean, checking he's alright. His green eyes flicker open and he smiles, "did we get him?"
Sam chuckles lightly, "yeah, we got him."
"I noticed something," Sam says from the passenger seat of the Impala as the Winchesters ride out of town.
Sam looks across at his brother carefully trying to decide how to approach what he wants to say, "about the Ruger boys, and Nathan," he pauses to chew his lip a little, watching Dean's expression. "They're a bit like us… and Cas."
Dean seems to tense a little at the mention of the Angel. He doesn't say anything but stares straight ahead. Sam slowly moves to stare out at the road ahead too.
"Daniel and Ryan being so close, Nathan becoming their brother. Loving them so much he does everything for them – including literally killing for them. And… falling for them," he actually looks taken aback at the coincidence, only realising it as he speaks, "Dean… we called him our brother, but we didn't always treat him like one."
"We used him, he gave us everything, and we just abandoned him every time he asked for something in return."
"I know, Sam."
"Dean, we have to find him. He has to be out there somewhere, he can't be-"
"God-damn it, Sam, just drop it."
Sam looks across at Dean. His knuckles are white from his grip on the wheel, and there's an expression on his face Sam has never seen before. And it scares him how pained his brother looks, so he stops and looks out the front window again.
The silence is broken up by Dean's phone ringing, and he flips it open pressing it to his ear, "Bobby? Hey, what's up?" his voice is still a little cracked, "uh-huh. What really? Sure, Bobby – we're on it." He snaps the phone shut again and throws it onto the dashboard.
"We're we headed?"
"Detroit. Some guy got run over."
Sam's eyebrows push together in a frown, "we're investigating a traffic accident?"
"He got run over in his apartment."