SUMMARY: What seems like a straight-forward hunt for an angry spirit, takes a unexpected twist when Sam is attacked, and leaves both brothers puzzling over what is behind the deaths they're investigating. Case-fic, with a healthy dose of H/C, battered Sam and uber-protective Dean
SPOILERS: Set in Season 7, but no spoilers.
RATING: T, for some swearing
DISCLAIMER: Still don't own the Winchesters – they're way out of my budget. Continued gratitude to Kripke & Co. for allowing us to play in their sandbox with their awesome toys.
A/N: We now have to wait until March 16 for a new episode. :-( Here's a case-fic which I hope will help satisfy the SPN cravings until new eppies return. Enjoy.
Twin Harbors, Minnesota
Sam wasn't sure what had woken him, but all dregs of sleep vanished the second he saw the large cat sitting on his chest.
He tried to move, but couldn't, his arms pinned to his sides by some invisible force, his legs unresponsive. He tried to call out to Dean but his voice wouldn't work.
The cat stared down at Sam, blue eyes glowing eerily, reflecting the moonlight pushing in through the threadbare drapes, its tail swishing slowly. Then it stood up and stretched, its back arching gracefully, and began to purr. As the rumbling purr got louder, sounding more and more like deep, chilling laughter, the cat seemed to get heavier, the increasing pressure on Sam's chest making it harder and harder to breathe.
The lack of oxygen made him dizzy and his vision blurred just as the cat began to morph. It grew rapidly, feline features quickly becoming human. Sam blinked; the cat was gone but the pressure on his chest was still increasing, thanks to a man who now stood at his bedside, leaning over him, his hand flat on Sam's sternum and pressing down hard.
Sam squinted through the darkness but the man's features were lost in silhouette. He was big and muscular with long hair, and his cold laughter echoed through Sam's head as he leaned down, suddenly becoming smaller and younger, his hair much shorter. As his face passed briefly through the light, Sam recognized him.
"Why?" The man – a kid, really – asked. "Why me?"
He straightened up, features disappearing back into the shadows, and morphed again, shoulders widening as he grew taller and bigger, his hair once again past his shoulders. Still unable to move, Sam watched helplessly as his tormentor lifted his hand, drew back his arm and curled his fingers into a fist. Then, with a strength and speed far beyond human, he drove that fist through Sam's chest.
The explosion of pain shocked Sam awake. He shot up with an audible gasp, his chest heaving as he greedily sucked in the air the nightmare attack had stolen from him.
Nightmare. He swallowed. That's all it was. As his vision adjusted to the dim light, he scanned their motel room; he and Dean were the only occupants, human or otherwise.
"Sammy?" Dean's muffled voice came from his left.
Sam's gaze darted to his brother's bed in time to see Dean roll over and push himself off his pillow to stare sleepily at Sam. "Y'okay?"
Dean's protective instincts always amazed him. A simple gasp was enough to pull his brother from a sound sleep and start the wheels of worry turning. "M'fine, Dean. Go back to sleep."
Dean squinted at the alarm clock. "It's 6:30 in the morning, you're sitting up in the dark and you're breathing like you just ran a marathon. How does that add up to fine?"
Sam slumped back onto his pillows, raking his fingers through his hair and exhaling slowly to stop his heart from racing. "It was a nightmare, that's all."
Dean pushed himself up on his forearms. "Wanna talk about it?"
"Dean…" Sam shot his brother a look through the half-light. "It wasn't a vision, it wasn't demonic and it wasn't Lucifer – it was just a run-of-the-mill our-job-sucks kinda dream. End of story."
Dean scratched his cheek. "Not clowns?"
"Oh." Dean's eyes slid closed. "Then keep it down. Beat-up hunter trying to sleep over here." He punched up his pillow, turned away from Sam and if the steady rhythm of his breathing was any indication, was back to sleep in seconds.
Sam lay still for a few minutes more, one hand rubbing his chest to ease the phantom pain of the attack as he listened to Dean's breathing deepen and even out. Then, realizing sleep was done with him for the night, he threw back the covers, sat up and pulled his legs over the side of the bed. He shivered, bed-warm skin pebbling in the night-chilled room air, pushed himself up and padded silently across the grungy carpet to the bathroom.
After flicking on the light and closing the door, he stared at his reflection in the mirror. His skin was gray and the dark circles underscoring his eyes looked more like bruises. The last few months had been rough and were taking a toll, physically and mentally. This case had been a tough one, too; Dean had hated it from the jump. But the salt and burn earlier in the night had put an end to it, even if it had fueled his nightmare. Much of the dream didn't make sense – a shrink would have a field day with it, as would his brother if he told Dean about the cat – but the young face had been the kid whose remains they'd torched – a victim out to even the score from beyond the grave. Sam let his eyes slide closed; what they did was so much easier when there were plain old bad guys to blame, but the job wasn't always so black and white.
Sam turned on the tap and splashed cold water on his face. He'd leave Dean sleeping while he got them some breakfast from the diner down the street, then they could hit the road right after they finished eating; the sooner they put this town in their rear-view mirror, the happier they'd both be.
He dressed quickly and quietly, scrawled a note for Dean in case his brother woke while he was gone, then headed out the door.
It was almost 7 a.m. but this far north at this time of year, dawn was just breaking, the dark sky streaked with purples and mauves as the sun pushed its way past the horizon. Lights were on in the buildings that lined each side of the street, meaning the occupants were up and getting ready to start their day but, outside, Sam had the street to himself.
Or did he?
He froze as he passed the entrance to an alley, the sound of cold laughter from deep within the shadows sending goosebumps racing up his arms. Sam's heart started racing; the laugh was familiar… like the one he'd heard in his nightmare just minutes earlier.
The wind picked up, a strange smell - like... an old graveyard - filled the air, and suddenly it was dark again, the pastel hues of dawn fading into midnight blue. Sam reached behind his back for his gun, but couldn't even close his fingers around the weapon before a man – the man from his nightmare – materialized in front of him, grabbed him by the jacket and threw him a good twenty feet into the alley. Sam slammed into a brick wall, then crumpled to the ground, knocking over two trash cans as he landed.
He was disoriented and winded, but instinct drove him to his feet. Still, he was barely upright and still staggering when his attacker was in his face again. He was big; a good head taller than Sam and wider still at the shoulders. His features blurred as Sam's vision slid out of focus but he got a clear flash of eerie blue eyes – eyes that weren't human.
Then the man laughed, and that just pissed off Sam. Fury helped clear his head, and he threw a punch, his fist connecting solidly with the man's beard-covered jaw, snapping his head to the side and sending him stumbling backwards. The force of the punch almost toppled Sam, too, and he had to fight hard to stay on his feet. He got just a glimpse of blood leaking from a split lip and the man spitting out a tooth the punch had knocked loose, before his opponent was on the attack again. Sam blocked the first punch he threw but the second slipped through his defenses, the man's fist plowing into Sam's gut, lifting him off his feet and throwing him ten feet through the air before dropping him on his ass.
As Sam struggled to get his breath back and reach for his gun, his head was spinning: What the hell was this? It was no spirit – way too solid. But it was no human, either – it was too fast and too strong. But how had it gone from invading his dreams not an hour ago, to beating the crap out of him here in the street? Some kind of demon, maybe? Between coughs, he managed to spit out, "Christo," but his attacker's eyes stayed blue.
Then it grew, physically grew – getting taller and wider before Sam's eyes until it was well over seven feet tall. But size didn't slow it down. Sam yanked out his gun and managed to squeeze off one shot before it – whatever it was – was on him again. The bullet hit the giant between the heart and the shoulder; it made him bleed, but did little to stop his attack. He snatched the gun from Sam's hand, glared down at him, then began battering him in earnest.
Sam tried to get his hands up to defend himself but his attacker gave him no chance, keeping up the onslaught until Sam's knees buckled, then hauling him up and throwing him across the alley a third time. Sam hit the brick wall, slid down it and landed in a heap on the ground. This time he didn't get up.
Sam was dangerously close to passing out; the part of his brain still functioning knew that playing possum was his only option – so he stayed where he was.
His attacker moved in quickly, dragged Sam to his feet, then grabbed a handful of his hair to yank back his head. He smiled coldly, then dropped his head forward and took a vicious bite out of Sam's shoulder.
Sam screamed in shock as much as pain, but the hunter in him was operating on autopilot. He raised the knife he'd pulled from his belt holster and plunged it into his attacker's chest.
Both men went down, Sam simply because he was no longer had the strength to stay on his feet without someone holding him up. The giant glanced down at the knife in his chest, then across at Sam, surprise, not pain, etched across his face.
It was Sam who was surprised, though, when his attacker turned into black smoke that hovered briefly above the ground before sinking into it. Sam's knife clattered to the asphalt, blood on the blade the only evidence the giant of man had ever been there.
Black smoke? And it had bitten him? Sam was more confused than ever. What the hell was it? That was the last question that ran through Sam's battered brain before consciousness vanished much like his attacker.
15 Hours Earlier…
"I'll be honest. When we were younger, he was… a real jerk." The recently widowed Tammy Price dabbed at her eyes with a Kleenex, further smearing her mascara. "But he was trying to change." She blew her nose, then glanced from Sam to Dean. "I mean, he hadn't cheated on me in more than two years. That's something, right?"
"Mrs. Price." Sam opened the file he'd placed on the kitchen table in front of him, scanning the report inside. "Your late husband had alcohol in his system at the time his car went off the road. He was well above the legal limit, yet you seem convinced his death wasn't an accident."
"It wasn't." Tammy shook her head emphatically. "He's just the latest… They killed my Billy just like they killed the others."
Dean flipped open his notebook. "By others, you mean Johnny Montgomery, Glenn Harper and Ben Ward?"
Dean looked up at her. "And your husband, he knew all these men?"
Tammy nodded again. "They all went to high school together. They drifted apart after graduation but with the 10-year reunion coming up, they'd started hanging out again."
"Mrs. Price…" Dean set down his notebook and leaned toward her, as if sharing a confidence, "I'll be the first to admit that four friends dying in four separate accidents so close together seems unlikely, but the police say there are no signs of foul play. There's no evidence the cars were tampered with, or of another vehicle on the scene. Why are you so convinced it's murder?"
"The cops don't know what I know." Tammy folded and re-folded the Kleenex. "I think…I think someone's paying them back for what they did."
Sam slowly closed the folder. "And what, exactly, do they need paying back for?"
Tammy shifted uncomfortably, "Like I said, Billy, the others…they could be jerks. Back then, they were at their worst. They liked nothing more than to knock others down just to make themselves look cool."
Sam sat back. "So they were bullies?"
Tammy sniffled and nodded.
Sam raised an eyebrow. "And you think one of the kids they bullied ran each of the victims off the road, and somehow managed to do it four times without leaving any evidence for the cops to find?"
"What my partner means," Dean flashed his good cop smile, "is that murder times four is a little drastic if this is over some high school crap, especially after ten years."
Tammy bristled. "People carry grudges." She shook her head. "And something was bothering Billy… had been since they all got back together. I tried to get him to talk, but he shut me out." She ran her hand over the laminate surface of the table. "After the third funeral, he sat right here, downed half a bottle of scotch, then stood up, said 'I'm putting an end to this' and barged out that door. He was in the truck before I could stop him." Tammy choked back a sob. "That was the last time I saw him alive."
Dean reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a pen. "OK, let's run with the idea this was not an accident. Your husband, his friends – back in the day, who were their favorite punching bags?"
Tammy went back to folding and unfolding the Kleenex. "There was, um, Joe Dyson, a little computer geek… Tim Richards, just 'cause he had red hair…Terry Lindberg, Jake Halvorsen – no, scratch him. He died in our senior year. Then there's Pete MacGillivray, Lars Ellison…"
Sam shook his head. "That's a long list."
"There were more…I just don't remember their names." Tammy glanced over at a framed photo of her husband on the end table. "It seemed like every month there was a new target. Then they left school and found themselves stuck in dead-end jobs in this crap-hole town. Turns out they were the losers, not the kids they were beating the snot out of."
Sam studied Tammy curiously. "You're not exactly wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to Billy. Why'd you stick with him?"
Tammy rolled her eyes. "Like I said, crap-hole town. Dating pool's kinda shallow." She sniffled loudly. "Look, I loved him but Billy was a sheep. Johnny Montgomery – he called the shots, had done since they were six years old. When Billy put some distance between him and Johnny, that's when the decent guy in him came out. But, like a bad smell, Johnny always came back, laughing too loud and talking too low… He loved his secrets."
Sam nodded. "And you think one of these secrets connects the four deaths?"
"I know it does." A black tear ran down Tammy's cheek as she looked up at the brothers. "Look, if someone had beaten the crap out of Billy, out of any of them, I'd say it was overdue." She shook her head. "But… but they didn't deserve to die. Billy didn't deserve to die."
"One last question." Dean glanced down at his notes. "Your husband, Johnny, the rest – is there anyone else who ran with them in high school? If someone is after them, is there anyone else who could be a target, and maybe would know why someone's out to kill them?"
Tammy nodded miserably. "Perry Nylund and Grant Howe – the six of them have known each other since kindergarten."
Sam's chair squeaked against the wooden floor as he shoved it away from the table and stood up. He straightened his tie and suit jacket and offered Tammy a sympathetic smile. "Thank you for speaking with us, Mrs. Price. We're sorry for your loss."
Tammy glanced from one brother to the other. "So you believe me – that someone killed Billy and the others?"
Dean was standing now, too. "Between what you've told us, and what we heard from the other widows, there's enough to warrant further investigation." He slid his chair under the table, then followed Sam toward the door. "It's too early to say much more than that, but we find out anything, we'll be in touch."
Dean gave her a nod, then closed the door behind him. Halfway down the front path, he let out a low whistle. "Well, that was a healthy marriage."
Sam glanced over his shoulder at the house. "She's right, though – about a lot of things. We know these crashes weren't accidents."
Reaching the driver's side of the car, Dean yanked open the door. "Yeah, but she's thinking grudge not angry spirit, and the EMF readings at the last crash site say our killer's good and dead."
Sam circled the car to the passenger side, "She mentioned the same name the last widow did – the bullied kid who died in their senior year. Gimme your notebook."
Dean frowned at his brother across the roof of the car, but tossed him the book. "That was ten years ago. If he's behind this killing spree, he's gotta be the most patient freaking ghost we've ever run into. What took him so long?" He slid behind the wheel and slammed shut the door. "And why now?"
"Both good questions. Maybe the 10th anniversary or the reunion has something to do with it." Sam folded himself into the passenger seat, pulled the door closed and began flipping through Dean's notes until he found the name he was looking for. "But this Jake Halvorsen is the best lead we've got, unless any more kids they bullied are dead, too."
"Well, we've got the names Tammy gave us, plus those we got from the other widows." Dean grimaced at the not-Impala as he slipped it into gear, pulled away from the curb and steered the car down the road toward town. "Why don't I drop you back at the motel so you can figure out who's breathing, who isn't, while I go talk to the last two bullies standing. I'm guessing that secret between Johnny and Billy holds the key to this mess, and fifty bucks says these two jackasses know what it is."
"No bet." Sam glanced up from the notes. "But get'em to stay out of their cars 'til we figure this out. That might give us and, more importantly, them some breathing room."
"This case sucks." Dean's knuckles whitened as he tightened his grip on the wheel. "The killer's likely the ghost of some kid who had sand kicked in his face all his life, and our job is to protect the son of bitch bullies. How bout we convince the spirit to switch its M.O. from murder to ass-kicking – then we walk away and let it have at it. Knowing a bully will be getting a boot up the ass from beyond just makes me feel all tingly inside."
Sam grinned. "You may be on to something, but first, we have to figure out who the spirit is."
"Whatever." Dean tapped his fist on the wheel as he drove. "And you can tell Sheriff Mills she owes us one for this case. Whatever happens, something tells me I'm not gonna like how it rolls out."
Dean walked into their motel room to find Sam sitting on the far bed, phone in hand, a yearbook from Twin Harbors' Eisenhower High School open beside him. In the book, several photos of students had been circled and most of those then crossed out. Dean grinned. "Defacing library property, Sammy? I may have to report you."
Sam dropped the phone on the bed. "If destroying a book is the worst thing we do on this case, I'll live with it. How'd it go with our potential victims?"
Dean snorted as he tossed his keys on the table by the window. "If there's a hall of fame for jackasses, those two should be charter members. Tammy's husband sounds like a freaking saint in comparison."
Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. "Do they know anything about this secret Tammy talked about?"
"Oh, they know. And, surprise, surprise, both turned Casper-white when I threw out the name Jake Halvorsen." Dean shrugged off his jacket, dumping it on the closest chair before loosening his tie and heading to the cooler to grab a beer. "But they ain't talking. Just our luck their one redeeming quality is loyalty."
Sam shook his head when Dean offered him a beer. "Think they'll come around?"
"Oh, yeah." Dean popped the tab on his beer. "I pushed hard today. Next time, I'll push harder. They just need to stew a bit." He waved a hand at the yearbook. "You find anything?"
"As far as I can tell, all of the bullies' victims are alive and well – some, very well." Sam tapped one of the photos. "The computer geek, for instance, made seven figures last year patenting some accounting software, and the redhead is the Doogie Howser of the neurology department at Minneapolis General."
Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "Nothing like success and fat bank accounts to stick it to bullies stuck in dead-end jobs. Good for them." He sank down onto the edge of his bed, opposite Sam. "What about Jake?"
Sam flipped through a few more pages of the yearbook and then passed it to Dean, pointing to a photo in the center of the page. "That's him. From what I've been able to dig up so far, he was a good kid. Kinda quiet, but well-liked and an A student. His older brother Jens was the BMOC – quarterback of the Eisenhower Mighty Ikes, King of the Prom, yadda, yadda, yadda. By all accounts, the two of them were pretty tight and Jake didn't have any problems with bullies until after big bro graduated. His friends say he was hassled all through his sophomore year and died in late August that summer." He twisted around to grab his laptop. "Wanna guess how he died?"
Dean snapped the yearbook shut, pushed himself up and headed for the remains of their lunch left on the dresser. "I'll take car accident for $500, Alex."
"Bingo." Sam clicked open a tab on the computer. "His car went off the road when he was coming home from his summer job. Police report states that deer tracks were found near the crash site. They believe the animal ran in front of his vehicle, causing Jake to lose control. His death is officially on the books as an accident."
Dean wrinkled his nose at the sandwich he'd pulled from the bag and tossed it into the trash. "But you're thinking he had a little help going off the road, and not from Bambi."
Sam nodded. "One of his friends said they used to tease Jake about his careful driving, but the accident scene report says he was going well above the speed limit at the time of the crash."
"Like maybe he was trying to get away from someone." Dean snatched up a half-eaten bag of peanuts and again sat on the bed. "OK, let's say these bullies did something that caused Jake's crash. Why the hell did he wait ten years before taking his revenge?"
Sam grabbed his cardboard coffee cup from the nightstand and frowned when he realized it was empty. "Jake was a good kid. I'm guessing revenge didn't come naturally." He three-pointed the cup into the trash can. "Maybe his spirit got stuck here, trying to let people know he didn't die in an accident. Then, over time, he got more and more pissed…
"Until he snapped." Dean munched on a handful of peanuts. "You talk to big bro and the parents?"
"I'd need a Ouija board for that. Parents are both gone…" Sam checked his notes, "Dad of heart attack five years ago, mom of cancer two years back. His brother enlisted after graduation and was part of the first U.S. wave into Iraq. He re-upped after his first tour, was killed in action four months later – two years after Jake."
"Man…" Dean dropped the bag of peanuts on the bed. "A whole family gets wiped out, one tragedy after the other, and we're protecting morons who got a boner making kids' lives miserable. We should be hanging a freaking medal on Jake's grave instead of digging it up." He frowned. "What if mom, dad or big brother is the angry spirit – you know, avenging Jake from beyond the grave?"
Sam shrugged. "I found nothing that suggests his parents believed Jake's death was anything but a tragic accident, and his brother would only know what mom and dad told him since he was deployed at the time. He was granted leave for the funeral but there are no signs he made any noise while back home. He spoke for the family to the local media and gave the eulogy, but he never went to the cops questioning what happened."
"Which brings us right back to Jake himself." Dean exhaled in frustration. "I just wish we had a better explanation for the time lapse between his death and the killing spree."
"I could do some more digging." Sam reached for his phone. "We could wait-"
"For what? Another death?" Dean shook his head resignedly. "No. Jake's the one thread linking all the victims. We know what we need to do."
"Yeah." Sam's voice was quiet. "I found out which cemetery he's buried in. I'll make a few calls to get the plot number, then we can head over there tonight."
Dean rested his elbows on his knees and shook his head. "Sometimes, Sammy, I hate this job."
"Here it is." Sam's flashlight beam traced the names on the large headstone. "Marthe, Tomas, Jens and Jakob – the whole Halvorsen clan is buried here."
Dean dumped the duffel at the side of the grave. "Even the war hero. I'm surprised he's not in Arlington."
Sam turned on the camping lantern and placed it on the base of the headstone. "According to newspaper reports, a grateful nation offered, but his parents wanted him closer to home. It's a long trek from northern Minnesota to Virginia."
"Little did they know they'd be joining him in the family plot too damn soon." Dean grabbed his shotgun and loaded it with rock salt shells. "You wanna start or shall I?"
"I'll dig first." Sam shoved the cemetery map back in his pocket and picked up his shovel. "The records say Jake is in the bottom casket on the right."
"Of course he is." Dean warily scanned the surrounding headstones. "Oh, FYI, when we're done here, we're going to that all-night diner out by the interstate. I want steak."
"Steak?" Sam stepped on the shovel and pressed down to cut through the sod. "Dude, it's like two in the morning."
"So?" Dean watched Sam work. "This gig sucks. If I have a decent meal to look forward to, then I can focus on that instead of what we're doing now." He rolled his eyes when Sam smiled at him fondly. "Oh, stow the touchy-feely crap. I'm a man of simple pleasures and food, real food, is one of them. Just shut up and dig. The sooner we're done here, the sooner we eat."
After two hours of steady digging, the brothers had hauled Marthe Halvorsen's casket out of the way and dug a foot further down to reach Jake's. Sam worked open the casket while Dean clambered out to get the salt and kerosene. Fifteen minutes later, both were standing graveside, watching as flames consumed Jake Halvorsen's earthly remains.
Dean scowled as Sam scanned the cemetery suspiciously. "What?"
Sam flexed his fingers around his shotgun. "Dunno. This dig's just been… way too by-the-book. I was expecting Jake's spirit to show up and, you know, slam you into a headstone or grab me by the neck and choke me. It's kinda how it goes with us."
"Sad, but true, Sammy." Dean clapped his brother on the back, then began to gather up all their things except the shovels they'd need to fill in the grave. "But, instead of kicking the gift-horse in the grille, let's just say thanks to whoever's cutting us some slack. It's overdue if you ask me – way overdue."
Sam nodded, but hardly seemed convinced.
Still, the grave was filled in without incident, only a slight puckering of seams in the sod and a dusting of soil on the grass giving away that the ground had ever been disturbed.
But as the brothers extinguished the lantern and walked back to the car, neither noticed the heavy smell of decay that filled the air above the grave and the plume of black smoke that pushed its way up through those seams. The smoke swirled round and around to form a vortex before finally solidifying into a man. He was big, with broad shoulders and muscular arms and legs, his pallid complexion half-hidden by long hair. His fingers curled into fists and his blue eyes narrowed as he glared through the darkness at the Winchesters.
Dean stood under the shower and dropped his head forward, letting the hot water massage his stiff neck, shoulders and back. His muscles were always sore the morning after digging up a grave but, as he got older, that stiffness started a little sooner and took just that much longer to fade.
"Getting old sucks," he muttered as he reluctantly turned off the taps, pulled back the shower curtain and grabbed for the towel he'd left on the vanity. After wiping the water from his face, he wrapped the towel around his waist and yanked open the door to clear the steam. "Sammy? Why don't I smell coffee?"
When there was no answer, he pulled a hand towel from the rail and used it to dry his hair as he stepped back into the motel room. There was still no sign of Sam. The piece of paper tented on the bed beside Dean's clean clothes had Gone to get breakfast – back in thirty scrawled on it, but that message had been there when Dean woke up, well over an hour earlier. His brother should have been back long before now. The all-too-familiar knot in the pit of Dean's stomach began to form.
He reached for his phone, but it rang before his fingers even closed around it. Any relief he may have felt dissipated quickly when he read the name on call display: Lake County Coroner's Office. "Yeah?"
"Agent Smith? This is Harold Masterson."
Dean nodded impatiently. "Right. The county coroner."
"Whatever." Dean was pacing now. "Listen, Harold, let me call you back. I-"
"I'm sorry but this really has to be now." Harold cleared his throat. "My boss doesn't know I'm calling you but, in light of what happened this morning, I don't believe I have any other choice. So before he gets in, I-"
"Get to the point, Harold." Dean's frown deepened. "What happened this morning?"
"There's been another death."
Dean's stomach lurched. "Who?"
"Perry Nylund – and, yes, he has a connection with the other victims."
"I know who he is. I spoke with him yesterday." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face; Nylund was one of the two surviving bullies linked to Johnny Montgomery and the secret they had yet to uncover. "So it was another car wreck?"
"No. The victim was found dead in his home this morning."
"You got a time of death?"
The sound of rustling papers came across the phone. "We've yet to conduct the autopsy, you understand. These are just my notes from talking to an officer on the scene, but according to Nylund's wife, he was snoring in bed as usual at seven this morning when she got up to get the kids ready for school. When he hadn't come downstairs by 8 a.m., she went up to get him and he was dead."
Dean's heart was racing. That was well after they'd burned Jake Halvorsen's remains. "The MO is completely out of whack. Could this be a different killer?"
"I'm sure it's the same killer."
"Spit it out, Harold."
"Nylund… His body had been drained of blood, and most of him appeared to have been, um, … eaten – just like the others."
Dean froze. "What do you mean – like the others?"
Harold's gulp was audible. "It wasn't my idea to hold back that information – and it wasn't like we had a lot to work with in the first two accidents." He was speaking so quickly, his words were tripping over each other. "The cars exploded and the remains were…decimated. It wasn't until the third accident that I realized there should have been more blood. The fourth victim…well, there were definite signs of bite-marks."
Dean began pacing again. "Why the fuck are we just finding out about this now?"
"My boss…he told me not to make waves when the evidence was suspect – that the families, the town were upset enough over these accidents…He said the blood loss could have taken place at the accident scene, that animals could have gotten to the bodies post-mortem but before EMTs got there…But the bites weren't made by animals – they were human."
"Human? Son of a bitch…" Dean sank down onto the edge of the bed. "And it's lot tougher to cover up ugly little details like that when a guy buys it in his own bed, huh Harold?"
"I told him…" Harold was completely on the defensive now. "I told him we shouldn't hold things back from the FBI. Now the paramedics, the cops – they all saw the body this morning. They all know. I told him-"
"Well you tell him we'll be in to see him and have a little chat about how things work when you screw with the federal government." Dean was pissed and not holding back. "And I want copies – complete copies – of the reports on all the accidents under investigation, including this morning's. If you left anything out, it better be in there by the time I see it. And if a courier can't get them over here before lunch, you get off your ass and walk them over yourself."
"Yes, sir. I-"
Dean hung up on him and hit speed dial for Sam. The call went straight to voice mail. 'Damn it, Sam, pick up. We destroyed that poor kid's remains for nothing because unless angry spirits have started draining their victims of blood and snacking on them, Jake Halvorsen wasn't the killer. Not to mention one of the last two bullies bought it this morning, after we torched Jake's remains. Call me as soon as you get this, then get your ass back here so we can figure out what the hell's going on." His phone rang again just as he hung up, and he hit the button to allow the call through. Sam's name popped up on the screen. "It's about freaking time. Where'd you go for breakfast? Cleveland?"
But instead of Sam's familiar deep baritone, a woman's voice came across the phone. "I'm trying to find a relative of Sam Johnson."
Dean's heart jumped into his throat. "Sam's my brother. Who the hell is this?"
"My name is Kim Langdon. I'm a nurse at Lake County General Hospital. Your brother was just brought into the ER."
Dean glared at the ER's automatic doors for taking too damn long to open, then stormed through when they did, heading straight for the reception desk. "Sam Johnson. I got a call he was brought in here."
The clerk behind the desk looked up, annoyance softening to understanding when she saw the worry in the face staring down at her. "Just a moment." She turned to her computer and typed in a few commands. "Sam Johnson. Yes, he's still in Treatment Bay 4. You can wait-"
Dean was already moving down the hall, glancing at every sign in a hunt for anything that said Treatment Bay 4 and ignoring the calls of, "Hey, you can't go back there," from behind him.
He found Bay 2, Bay 3, and then yanked back the curtain on Bay 4.
Sam was sitting on a gurney, his back to Dean. A nurse was helping him thread his arms into a hospital gown, offering Dean a clear view of the ugly bruises, in colors ranging from deep red to navy, that littered his brother's back from shoulder blades to kidneys.
Sam grunted in pain as he glanced over his shoulder at the sound of the curtain being pulled back; his face was covered in the same mottled bruising as his back, his nose obviously broken, one eye swollen shut and the other deeply bloodshot. "Dean." The single word was muffled by a split lip, as was another groan as Sam shifted slightly to face his brother.
"Breakfast, Sammy. You went out to get breakfast. What the hell happened?" Dean stepped into the bay, his horrified gaze jumping from Sam to the nurse and back again.
The nurse looked like she was about to tell Dean to take a hike until Sam gave her a pathetic attempt at a smile. "S'okay. He's my brother."
The nurse nodded sympathetically – apparently Sam's puppy dog look worked as well, if not better, when his face resembled raw hamburger – and turned to Dean. "Sam was mugged."
"Mugged!" Dean's eyes widened in shock as he moved closer to Sam. "Who the-" A bleary glance from Sam told him the answer was not for the nurse's ears. "How bad is it?"
"Concussion, broken nose, cracked ribs, cracked jaw, bruised kidneys, blood loss…" The nurse glanced up at Dean. "We've reported the attack. The cops will be here soon so Sam can give them a statement."
"I told you…" Sam winced as he shifted towards the nurse, wrapping his arm protectively around his ribs. "I got jumped from behind. I didn't see them. I can't give the cops much."
The nurse filled a syringe and injected the contents into an IV she'd inserted into Sam's left arm. "You just tell them everything you can. The animals who did this need to pay." She pulled a pillow from a cupboard and placed it at the head of Sam's gurney. "Now lie on your right side and bend your knees. That should be the most comfortable position for you."
Dean watched as the nurse got Sam settled and covered him with a blanket. "How long does he have to stay here?"
The nurse raised the safety rails. "Dr. Ryan is checking his X-rays right now. He'll be in to talk to you both shortly and can better answer that, but Sam will be here at least until his IV is empty." She motioned to a bandage on Sam's shoulder, peeping out from the neck of his gown. "We've flushed the bite wound and given him a tetanus booster, but given the extent of skin and muscle damage, we're also treating him with IV antibiotics. The human mouth carries all kinds of bacteria – we just want to make sure his system is well-equipped to fight off any potential infection."
Dean's knuckles whitened as he gripped the edge of Sam's gurney. "The…mugger bit him?"
"Like I said – animals." The nurse shook her head in disgust as she rolled a stool beside the gurney and motioned for Dean to sit. "Try not to worry. Sam will be uncomfortable for a couple of weeks, but he's going to be fine. Now stay and keep him company while the antibiotics do their job." She smiled reassuringly, then stepped out of the bay, pulling the curtain closed after her.
Dean sank down slowly onto the stool. "Dude, seriously – answers, now."
Sam winced as he shifted in a failed attempt to find a more comfortable position. "I was just heading for the diner at the end of the street. I passed an alley, heard something…then got jumped."
Dean's jaw clenched. "By a who, or a what?"
"It wasn't human, if that's what you're asking, but it wasn't a spirit, either. I mean, it was solid." Sam glanced down at his bruised knuckles. "I hit it, Dean. Like threw punches and they connected."
"And by the look of your face, I'd say it landed a few shots of its own." Dean gestured at the bandage on Sam's shoulder. "It bit you? Some kind of vamp, maybe – even if its aim is a little off?"
Sam started to shake his head, but quickly thought better of it. "It threw me into a brick wall, used my head as punching bag, so things are a little scrambled right now, but I don't remember fangs."
"No fangs is good – that would rule out a werewolf, too. Ghoul, maybe?" Dean glanced at the bite on Sam's shoulder. "Did it…swallow?"
"Dean." Sam would have rolled his eyes if he could. "It was nothing like the last ghouls we met. What I do remember is it was big – bigger than me." He closed his eyes as he tried to replay the fight in his head. "It had long hair, full beard, freaky blue eyes, like a husky's, and it was superhuman strong. It threw me across the alley like I weighed nothing." Sam glanced up at Dean. "And this sounds nuts, but I swear it got bigger as we were fighting."
"Bigger?" Dean raised an eyebrow. "Like it grew?"
Sam nodded. "Must've been well over seven feet before it was done." He raked his fingers through his hair. "And, um, before I fought it in the alley, I think I dreamed about it."
"What?" Dean's eyes narrowed. "You haven't had a vision in like…forever."
"It wasn't a vision." Sam played with a loose thread in the blanket as he tried to pull up the memories. "It was just a nightmare. There was this…man, pinning me down so hard I couldn't breathe. I never saw his face, but his laugh – it sounded just like the thing in the alley." He glanced up at Dean. "What the hell does that – change size, get inside your dreams, bites you? And is it even tied to this case or–"
"Oh, it's tied to the case." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "The coroner was holding out on us. The deaths we've been investigating – yeah, they all died in car wrecks, but something had been snacking on the bodies. Each was down a few pints of blood, and something human left behind bite-marks a lot like the one you're wearing."
"What?" Sam looked like he was going to be sick, and this time his injuries weren't to blame. "So, Jake-"
"Can't be our killer. No spirit did this." Dean scowled as he scanned Sam's injuries. "But why the hell did it go after you? You're no bully."
Sam snorted. "We play good cop, bad cop enough – pretty sure there's few people out there who might argue that point."
"Uh-uh." Dean shook his head. "We bully bad guys – those two things cancel each other out."
Sam shrugged. "We're trying to kill it, or stop it at least. Maybe it's that simple – get us before we get it."
"Maybe." Dean pushed himself up and began pacing. "But whatever the reason, you're the first one to survive an attack. How'd you get away?"
"I um..." Sam screwed his eyes closed, a headache obviously adding to his misery. "I shot it – that didn't even slow it down. But when it bit me, it got close enough that I could stab it – bury my knife in its chest. It went down, then, um… vanished."
"Another talent. It turned to smoke and disappeared." Sam frowned. "I must've passed out then 'cause the next thing I remember is waking up here."
"It smoked out?" Dean stopped pacing. "Think it's some kind of demon?"
Sam shook his head. "I said Christo – no black eyes. You think maybe the smoke means it's dead?"
Dean frowned. "What time did you leave the motel to get breakfast?"
Sam shrugged. "Around seven, I guess. Why?"
"Unless there's more than one of these things, it's not dead." Dean wrapped his fingers around the gurney rails. "There was another murder after you were attacked."
"What?" Sam looked up in surprise. "Who?"
"One of our two remaining bullies. Killed in his bed, body drained of blood, most of the flesh eaten."
"In bed?" Sam exhaled in frustration. "Because we told them to stay out of their cars."
"And our killer, whatever it is, apparently has a talent for improvising."
Sam groaned as he sat up. "Find my clothes so we can get outta here. I need my computer to-"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Dean gently pushed Sam back onto the gurney. "You heard the nurse – you're staying put 'til the IV's done."
"But nothing. We wait and see what the doc says, then if it's all stuff we can handle, I bust you out. If not, you park your ass here, and I do the research. It may not top my list of fun things to do, but I'm good at it, so chill." Dean resumed pacing beside the gurney. "Man… yesterday, this case was black and white. Made me sick to my stomach, but it all made sense. Today, everything's gone freaking sideways. Another death, a monster we can't I.D. ..."
Sam winced as he reached for his phone on the cabinet beside the gurney. "We've gotta warn the last guy – Grant Howe."
"And tell him what?" Dean snatched up the phone to keep it from Sam. "Get yourself a big knife and if something tries to eat you, stab it in the chest and hope it smokes out?"
Sam sank back into the pillow. "We can't just do nothing."
"Look," Dean dropped Sam's phone in his pocket, "top priority now is you. Once we know you're OK, then we worry about Last Bully Standing." He started pacing again. "Trust me, Grant Howe and I are gonna have a chat. And this time, he's not walking away until we figure out what the hell is going on."
The door to the motel room flew open and Grant Howe stumbled in, courtesy of a good shove from Dean, who followed closely behind.
Sam, sitting up in bed, propped up on pillows with the computer on his lap, looked up in surprise.
Grant's eyes widened when he took in Sam's battered face, and the bandages on his neck and hands. "Dude, what happened to you?"
"Meet the last guy who pissed me off. And most of the time, I like him." Dean clapped a hand on Grant's shoulder and steered him to the table by the window, shoving him down into a chair. He winked at Sam once his back was to Grant. "How you doing, Sammy?"
"I'll live." Sam fought to keep a straight face. "No thanks to you."
Dean shrugged off his jacket, dropped it on the bed and loosened his tie. He leveled a glare at Grant before moving to their cooler, pulling out a Gatorade, and taking it to Sam. "Seriously, you hanging in there?" When Sam nodded, he motioned to the computer. "What's with that? You're supposed to be resting – or do I need to beat you up some more?"
"M'okay." Sam winced as he reached up to take the drink from Dean. "But I couldn't sleep, and lying here thinking about everything was just making my headache worse. I'm just trying to put the pieces together."
"Uh-huh." Dean glanced at his watch, then grabbed the amber pill bottle from the nightstand, dumped out two orange capsules, and passed them to Sam.
Sam shot Dean a look. "How'd you know I didn't take them already?"
"'Cause I know you." He waited 'til Sam took the pills, then pulled the Gatorade from Sam's hand, twisted off the lid, and returned the drink to his brother. "You need anything else."
Sam tossed the pills in his mouth, washed them down, then shook his head.
Dean nodded, returned to the cooler to grab a beer for himself, then settled into the chair across the table from Grant. "Now, as I explained on the ride over here, someone is out to kill you, just like they killed all of your high school pals. For reasons that escape me right now, we're gonna try to stop that from happening – but we can't do that if you keep up the I-don't-know-why-they're-out-to-get-me bullshit. Capice?"
Grant stole a glance at Sam, then nodded.
"So," Dean took a long drink, set the can on the table, and smiled at Grant, "let's forget all the crap and excuses you tried to feed me in the car. You have exactly thirty seconds to tell me why someone would want to wipe out your lame-ass gang of bullies, or I'm gonna drag you to the site of Billy Price's accident, tie you to a tree, hammer a sign over your head that says Come get me, then sit back and watch what happens."
Grant shifted nervously in his seat. "You can't do that. You're…you're feds."
Sam offered an exaggerated groan to get Grant's attention. "The bureau tends to frown on beating the crap out of your partner, too, but Agent Smith here isn't exactly a by-the-book kind of guy." He dropped his head back onto the pillows and allowed his good eye to close. "Just something you might wanna keep in mind."
"And here's something else for your sorry excuse of a brain to process." Dean leaned toward Grant. "You're it. The last one. And that means whoever killed your buds is coming for you next." He sat back. "And since you're kind of the runt of the litter, you really think you can fight off something none of the others could?"
"I…I…" Grant's eyes widened as his focus jumped from one brother to the other. "This wasn't my fault – just so we're clear on that – I was in the back seat… But, I think…I think someone knows what we did – that…that we caused the accident that killed Jake Halvorsen ten years ago."
Sam and Dean exchanged glances; Jake's spirit might not be the killer but his death still seemed to be the linchpin of the case. Dean turned back to Grant. "Go on."
"We didn't mean to." Grant wiped sweaty hands on his jeans. "Jake worked at Burger Barn after school and on weekends. We went in there one night and Johnny – Johnny Montgomery – he decided he didn't wanna pay for the food, that Jake should give us whatever we wanted free, any time we went in there. The kid had stones, I'll give him that – he stood up to Johnny, said no. When Johnny threatened him, Jake just picked up the phone and said we either paid for what we ordered or he was calling the cops. You could tell he meant it, too."
Sam winced for real as he reached over to place the Gatorade bottle on the nightstand. "I'm guessing Johnny didn't much care for Jake's defiance."
"Hell, no." Grant shook his head. "He decided we were gonna teach him a lesson. We were gonna wait until he finished his shift, then follow him home, force him off the road and beat the crap out of him. If he showed up at school the next day looking like…" he waved a hand toward Sam, "well, looking like you, then everyone would know you didn't mess with us."
"Six against one." Dean's eyes narrowed. "Color me impressed."
"It all went wrong." Grant looked like he was going to be sick. "Jake lived outside of town, so there were no houses, no traffic. We had two cars and we could hassle him all we wanted. We were honking the horns, pulling up beside him then pulling back…Johnny loved scaring the piss out of him." He shook his head. "Then… a deer, a huge freaking buck, ran right in front of Jake's car. He swerved, lost control…" Grant swallowed. "He went off the road, slammed into a tree… and the whole car went up in a fireball."
Dean stood up and glared down at Grant. "Don't suppose it occurred to any of you ass-wipes to try to help him."
Grant was rubbing his palms on his jeans again. "Johnny was driving, not me – he wouldn't even stop. He made us promise to never say a word, to never admit we were even there."
Dean snorted, his eyes glinting furiously. "Made you, huh?"
Sweat beaded across Grant's forehead. "Look, we felt guilty – really we did. Even after all this time. Our ten-year high school reunion is coming up and Billy Price, he said it was time we came clean, that we owed it to Jake and his family… that it would be hard to look our kids in the eye if we didn't."
He shook his head. "Johnny wanted no part of it. He told us all to meet him at Jake's grave. When we got there, he said Jake was dead and buried, and nothing we did was gonna bring him back… He said admitting we were guilty would just put us behind bars and leave no one to look after our families."
Dean was pacing now, trying to rein in his anger. "I'm gonna disagree on 'Nothing you did could bring Jake back,' but keep talking."
Grant now seemed truly terrified of Dean. "Johnny gave us all a beer and made us swear we'd never tell – and that if one did, the other five would hunt them down. We took a drink, then poured the rest of our beers on Jake's grave to seal the pact." He swallowed. "Johnny was killed two nights later – he was the first."
Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. But even with Johnny dead, the guy who forced you to keep what you did a secret, you clowns still said nothing."
"We…we made a pact," Grant offered lamely.
"Un-fucking-believable." Dean shook his head and turned to Sam. "I will take great pleasure in hauling this sorry sack of crap down to local cop shop, but we've still got nothing to explain what's behind all this. Right cause, wrong killer."
"But now we've got the missing piece of the puzzle." Sam glanced over at Grant. "When they made this…pact, they all poured their beers on Jake's grave. That's desecration."
"True – and please don't take this the wrong way – but, so?" Dean walked toward his brother; Sam's face may have been beaten to a pulp but he still recognized the light bulb sparking behind bloodshot eyes. "Sammy? What've you got?"
Sam grunted in pain as he tried to grab the yearbook which had slid beyond his reach. "Pass me that."
Dean did, and Sam flipped backwards through the pages until he reached the graduating class. He glanced through the photos, then tapped one and passed it to Dean. "He doesn't look much like this any more, but I'd bet good money this is our killer."
Dean's eyes widened as he glanced at the photo Sam had indicated. "Jens Halvorsen – Jake's big brother?"
"But he's dead." Grant's terrified gaze jumped from one brother to the other. "The governor came for his funeral and everything."
"You – shut up." Dean jabbed a finger at Grant, then turned back to Sam. "Let's forget for a moment this guy died eight years ago, that there's no direct link between him and the victims which would allow his spirit to pinball all over town and that Mr. All-American here looks nothing like the long-haired, bearded giant you said beat the crap out of you... You told me the thing in the alley was solid. If big bro is avenging Jake's death, how's he still wearing a meatsuit?"
"'Cause he's not a spirit." Sam turned back to his computer. "I've been punching in everything we know about this case and one thing kept coming up – zombies and revenants."
"What?" Grant's eyes were wide.
Dean shot him a glare. "Shut up, or I'll shut you up. Sammy, go on."
"The smell of decay, the eating flesh, the drinking blood – they all fit. We know it can't be Jake, so his parents and brother are the next logical suspects. But, like you said, there was no direct link between them and the victims – until now."
Dean nodded as he ran this new information through his head. "A revenant can't come back without being called back – intentionally or otherwise. But grave desecration – that's an open invitation." He sat on the edge of his bed, opposite his brother. "But we've dealt with zombies before, Sammy. They couldn't smoke out and they sure as hell didn't grow."
"There's all kind of zombies, all kinds of revenants." Sam punched a few more buttons on his computer. "I looked into Jake's family background. He and his brother are first generation Americans. His parents moved to the U.S. from Denmark and settled here in Minnesota. In Viking lore, there are revenants known as draugr who guard the graves of warriors. Historically, if a Viking warrior died in battle, he was buried with his earthly treasures, which made the grave a prime target for robbers. But if the grave was desecrated, lore states the Viking would rise as a draugr to exact revenge."
Dean waved a hand at Grant. "So that's what's been picking off these clowns – a Viking zombie?"
Grant stood slowly. "You guys are insane. I'd like to go now."
"Sit!" The brothers issued the command in stereo.
Sam turned back to Dean. "Jake's brother was a decorated soldier – a modern day warrior with Viking blood in his veins. Everyone we talked to said the Halvorsens were tight-knit – the treasure buried with Jens was his family." He pointed a finger at Grant. "When they admitted over the grave that they killed his brother, and poured beer on his final resting place…"
"They desecrated his grave and big brother came back as one of these… draugr to protect his family, to avenge Jake's death." Dean looked at Grant in disgust. "I can relate. But," he turned back to Sam and frowned, "what about you? Why'd he come after you?"
Sam shrugged. "I desecrated the grave, too – we both did, when we torched Jake's remains. Walking to the diner, I was alone – all his attacks seem to be one-on-one, so I guess that bumped me to the top of the list. But, bottom line, he's coming for all all three of us."
"Awesome." Dean glared again at Grant. "Thanks to these bozos we torched a kid we didn't need to touch, and now we've gotta take down a war hero for protecting his little brother. I know I'm repeating myself but I hate this gig."
Sam hissed as he shifted in a futile attempt to get comfortable. "It has to be done. This draugr may have noble roots, but he's still a revenant, still the walking dead. Just like a spirit, it'll get angrier over time, and hungrier. Pretty soon anyone will be fair game."
"Super." Dean sank back down onto the bed, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "What about the growing thing?"
Sam scanned through the information on his computer. "It says here the draugr can change size at will and can move through solid objects, often in the form of black smoke – that's how they leave the grave without disturbing it. They also have shape-shifting abilities and can enter the dreams of their victims." He snorted. "It showed up in my nightmare as a cat."
Dean's eyebrow quirked. "A cat? Like a kitty-cat, or a, you know, manly lion…cat."
He got a classic bitchface for that one.
"Oh." Dean pushed himself up. "Well, no zombie kitty is using my head for a litter box. How do we take it out for good?"
"Gimme a minute – or five." Sam sifted through the on-screen information with Dean pacing at his side. "Here we go. It takes a hero to call him out, and wrestle him back into the grave."
"A hero, huh?" Dean scowled at Grant. "That rules him out. And by wrestle, you mean…"
"Hand-to-hand combat." Sam shrugged. "Weapons, as a rule, won't kill it but they can injure it, which is why my knife took it down, I guess. According to what it says here, an iron knife to the heart works best. That'll keep him down and stop him from smoking out. Then, to make sure he doesn't rise again, you chop off his head, burn the remains and scatter the ashes in the sea."
"The sea?" Dean stared at Sam in disbelief. "Dude, we're in Minnesota."
Sam shrugged again. "The lake will have to do. Sooner or later, it empties into the Atlantic, so – Dean!"
Dean spun around at Sam's warning shout to see Grant making a break for the door. Grant was closer, but Dean was faster, slamming the door shut just as Grant got it open and almost taking the smaller man's fingers off in the process.
Grant looked up at Dean in genuine fear. "You two are fucking nuts. I mean zombies, Vikings, chopping heads off – what the hell kind of feds are you?"
Dean leaned in, his face inches from Grant's. "If it wasn't for you ass-clowns getting your rocks off in high school by picking on anyone who didn't fit your screwed-to-hell definition of cool, none of us would be in this mess." He grabbed Grant by the shirt and slammed him against the wall. "Trust me, if I had my druthers, I'd let you go, let this Viking zombie find you and turn you into an appetizer. The problem, as my brother just pointed out, is that snacking on you won't stop it and then more innocent people will die. And that's on me, as well as you, so it ain't gonna happen." He gave Grant a shove towards the chair. "Now park your ass there while I get changed, then the two of us are gonna put an end to this for good."
"Three of us." Sam grimaced as he swung his legs off the bed, pushed himself to his feet and grabbed the nightstand to steady himself as the color drained from his face. "I'm coming, too."
"The hell you are." Dean shook his head. "Look at you, Sammy – you can barely stand up."
Sam's jaw set stubbornly. "I don't have to be standing to hold a gun. Besides, all three of us are targets. If you two take off, there's nothing to stop it showing up here. It's best we stay together."
Sam was right, but it didn't mean Dean had to like it. "Son of a bitch." He pulled out his gun and handed it to his brother. "Keep that pointed at asshat over there while I get out of this suit, then let's get this over with."
"Why are we here?" The cuffs on Grant's wrists jangled as he fidgeted nervously and surveyed the cemetery from the backseat of the car. "You were just yanking my chain when you talked about wrestling something into a grave, right? 'Cause, if not, that is seriously messed-up."
Dean ignored him. He turned off the engine, his attention focused on his brother. "You shouldn't be here, Sammy. I mean this in the nicest way possible, but if it was you and crap in a beauty pageant, you'd be first runner-up."
"I'm touched, Dean, really, but we've been over this." Sam didn't look up from his computer. "And if you're gonna take on this draugr, I need to make sure I didn't miss anything."
"You went up against it knowing squat and walked away." Dean took in Sam's battered face. "OK, maybe you were carried away, but you're still breathing. Now, we know what it is, we know what we have to do… I'll be fine."
"I need to be sure." Sam kept scanning the document on the laptop's screen.
Dean shook his head. What little color Sam had left had disappeared soon after he'd folded himself into the car, and his cracked ribs and concussion had obviously hated the trip along the pothole-filled gravel road into the cemetery. He'd offered to pull over twice when it looked like Sam was about to lose his lunch, but his little brother was nothing if not stubborn. "Fine." Dean reached over and snatched the laptop from Sam. "We need to cross-check our intel, I'll do it."
"Dean, give- Son of a bitch." Sam's injured ribs quickly foiled his attempt to grab back the computer. He leaned back against the seat, cradling his ribcage and breathing slowly and deliberately as he rolled his head toward Dean. "Dude, come on."
"Sammy, chill." Dean scanned the draugr lore his brother had been studying. "I can read this just a well as you, probably better since both my eyes are open." He shook his head. "I'm not seeing anything here we haven't already talked about. I'd say the biggest question mark is whether I qualify as a hero."
Sam exhaled loudly in exasperation. "Dean, why would you even-"
"Oh, don't get you panties in a bunch, Samantha. This isn't about self-worth – this is about spending half our lives impersonating the law and the other half breaking it. It's a legit concern." His gaze jumped from his brother to the rear-view mirror. "But since you're on the D.L. and Chuckles the Clown back there isn't even in the ballpark, it looks like I'm up to bat."
Grant leaned forward, eyes wide. "Wait, you're not really feds?"
Dean turned to glare at him. "When it comes to tossing your ass behind bars for contributing to the death of Jake Halvorsen, we're as real as we need to be. And if you wanna make it to the safety of a jail cell, that's the last thing you'll say to me until the door clangs shut."
Grant may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed, but he knew Dean meant it. He shut up.
"OK, then." Dean closed the computer, dropped it on the seat between them, then pulled out his gun and gave it to Sam. "Keep that safe. It may be useless when it comes to hurting the draugr, but I don't want him grabbing it and using it on me."
Sam nodded and passed Dean the iron dagger they'd taken from the trunk. "Don't drag things out. Just get him close enough to use this."
"That's the plan." Dean pushed open the door and climbed out of the car. He watched worriedly as Sam did the same, but with a great deal more difficulty. As his brother caught his breath, Dean yanked open the back door and motioned to Grant. "You – out!"
Grant shook his head. "I don't wanna come out."
Sam, on the far side of the car, tapped the window with his gun; that was enough to get Grant moving.
Once he was out of the car, Dean stopped to get their duffel and two shovels from the trunk, then grabbed Grant by the jacket and marched him toward the Halvorsen family grave. "Now, you're gonna earn your keep." He unlocked the smaller man's cuffs, jammed a shovel into his freed hands and pointed to the grave. "Dig." He smiled dangerously at his prisoner. "Try anything stupid, and Agent Johnson here will shoot you."
Grant glanced nervously from one brother to the other. "You can't do that. You wouldn't."
Sam chambered a round. "Try me."
Grant moved immediately to the grave and started digging. Dean joined him and ninety-some minutes later, they had Jens Halvorsen's empty casket open. Dean glanced over at Sam. "If we needed more proof the draugr is Jens, I'd say this goes a long way."
He gave Grant a shove toward Sam. "Stand over there and keep quiet. Then maybe, just maybe, we'll all get out of this in one piece." He glanced around the cemetery. "OK, Sammy, grave's open, but nobody's home. How do we get the guest of honor to join us?"
Sam shrugged. "You call him out."
"Call him out?" Dean snorted. "How? 'Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.'"
Sam ignored him. "Look the lore says the draugr retains most of the memories and intelligence from its human form. Talk to him. Try to connect with the man he was."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Dude, there's a reason they don't show Romero flicks on Masterpiece Theater – you don't talk to zombies."
"Yeah, yeah." Dean tossed aside his shovel, turned to face the Halvorsen grave, and huffed out a breath. "Hey, it's Jens, right? Look, I understand the need to protect your little brother, believe me I do – and what happened to Jake was all kinds of wrong. Trust me, I've got no love for the pieces of crap who did that to him, but the killing has gotta stop. So, let's you and me go at it, mano y mano, settle this once and for all. What do you say?"
Dean waited, but there was no answer, no black smoke rising from the grave, nothing. The cemetery stayed silent. He turned back to his brother. "How long's this supposed – Sam!"
The draugr appeared suddenly behind Sam and Grant. It grabbed Sam before he had a chance to turn around and threw him across the cemetery. The younger Winchester sailed through the air, slammed into a granite headstone and crumpled to the ground. He didn't get up.
The revenant then turned his attention to the terrified Grant who was frozen in place.
"Wait." Dean moved toward the draugr, stealing a glance at his brother, hoping for any kind of movement, but there was none. He waved a hand at Grant. "Don't waste your time with him. He's so not worth the effort. Me on the other hand – you'll get your money's worth, I guaran-damn-tee it."
The draugr hesitated for a moment, glancing between Grant and Dean before making up its mind; it swung a beefy arm at Grant, the blow lifting him off the ground before gravity slammed him back into it. Like Sam, he didn't get up.
Dean swallowed. "OK. Now it's just you and me."
The draugr vanished, then reappeared almost instantly right in front of Dean, throwing a punch before the hunter even had a chance to raise his fists. Hurled through the air and falling in what felt like slow motion, Dean would later swear he felt his brain slam into the side of his skull from the force of the blow. He landed hard on his back, the impact forcing every last bit of the air from his lungs.
"Son of a bitch." Dean coughed as he rolled over and staggered to his feet, sucking in air and shaking his head to clear his blurred vision. His eyesight slid into focus in time to see the draugr throw back its head and grow a full foot in height, bones cracking and muscles popping as his shoulders widened and chest expanded. He cracked his neck and smiled at Dean as the sky clouded over and darkened.
"Now that's just showing off." Dean smiled back. "How 'bout we stow the parlor tricks and just stick to fighting."
The draugr vanished, but this time Dean was ready for its attack, throwing his punch before it reappeared. As it solidified, Dean's fist connected with the side of its nose and he got the satisfaction of a loud crunch of bone as the revenant's head snapped to the side
As the draugr turned back and snarled at him, Dean shrugged. "I've got a little brother, too. That's for breaking Sammy's nose." He dodged the first counter-punch but zigged instead of zagged on the second, taking the full force of a meaty fist to the gut.
Dean doubled over as his lungs emptied again, then went flying sideways when another punch smashed into his cheek. He felt bone shatter, and the pain fueled a wave of nausea that left him heaving as he hit the ground. He spat to clear his mouth and rolled onto his back but before he had a chance to sit up, the draugr was on him again, grabbing him by the neck and hauling him to his feet. He coughed and choked as the draugr tightened his grip, but Dean saw his chance; he yanked the knife from his belt and buried the iron blade hilt-deep in the draugr's heart.
The revenant's eyes widened in surprise. It glanced down at the knife sticking out of its chest and dropped to his knees, dropping Dean in the process. Coughing, Dean dragged himself up and as quickly as his battered state allowed, got his bearings. The open grave was just to the draugr's right. As the revenant began to topple, Dean grabbed him by the arms, turned him and shoved him backwards.
The draugr fell into the open casket, landing on its back, one hand wrapped around the knife in his chest, his eerie blue eyes open and fixed in an unseeing stare.
Dean unsteadily stood up, his own harsh breathing the only sound in the suddenly silent cemetery. "So far, so good, Sammy," he rasped. "Looks like the lore's solid."
When there was no answer, he quickly scanned the ground around him, searching for his brother. Dean's stomach lurched when he found him; Sam still hadn't moved. "Damn it."
He stumbled over to where Sam was lying on his side at the base of a headstone. Dean quickly triaged him; his pulse was slow, but not dangerously so, one of his cracked ribs now gave way under gentle pressure and fresh blood coated the side of his face from a new, jagged cut. He groaned softly as Dean rolled him onto his back, his good eye flickering open.
Dean smiled. "You slept through the main event, Sammy. I took down a Viking zombie – I was expecting at least a round of applause."
As consciousness returned, Sam's face crumpled in pain. "Son of a bitch…"
"Yeah." Dean grimaced in empathy. "One of your cracked ribs has been promoted to broken. You're gonna be in a world of hurt for the next few days. But once we're done here, we'll go back to the hospital, see that nurse who was crushing on you and get her to upgrade your painkillers."
"Dude." Sam weakly swatted Dean. "She was like Mom's age."
"And you, my brother, are catnip to the cougar set." Dean shrugged at Sam's bitchface. "I know – I can't figure it out either."
Sam hissed as he tried to push himself up.
"Whoa, whoa…" Dean placed a gentle hand on Sam's chest to stop him. "You're gonna need my help to get vertical." He scrambled to his feet, then hooked his arms under Sam's. "You know the drill – exhale and push up on three. Two…three."
Sam couldn't stifle a yell, but he was up and standing beside his brother, breathing the short, shallow breaths that tormented his injured ribs the least. He nodded his thanks to Dean, his expression darkening when he got his first good look at his brother. "Your face."
Dean grinned, his arm still around Sam's back until he was sure his brother was steady. "Handsome, I know."
Sam shot him a look. "The zombie broke it."
"What?" Dean reached up, hissing as he touched his cheek. Bone grated under torn and rapidly swelling skin and his fingers came away sticky with blood. "Oh, son of a bitch…"
Sam studied him worriedly. "Seriously, you OK?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "Date night's screwed, but yeah, m'fine."
Sam grinned as he stumbled toward the Halvorsen grave, one arm locked around his ribs. "Maybe the nurse has an older sister." The grin faded as he caught sight of the draugr lying in the casket with the knife protruding from its chest. "So, it's over."
Dean nodded slowly. "All but the dirty work." Now sure that Sam was steady on his feet, he walked over to their duffel and pulled out a large axe.
A whimper to their left told Dean Grant was conscious again. The smaller man stood up with a groan, and shakily walked up to the grave. He looked like he was going to be sick when he caught sight of the massive draugr with a knife in its chest and Dean walking up to the grave wielding a large axe.
Dean pointed the axe at him. "You - stay."
Grant didn't move.
Dean glanced down into the grave and shook his head. "Damn, I will be glad when this gig is done."
Sam was staring at the draugr, too. "There's another way."
Dean frowned. "What?"
Sam's focus stayed on the revenant. "According to lore, we can drive nails into the soles of his feet and rebury him. As long as the nails stay in place, he can never walk the earth again."
The brothers glanced at each other in shock; the response came from inside the grave. The draugr was conscious and talking, although it seemed unable to move.
Dean dropped into the open grave and stared down at the revenant. "You said something?"
The draugr rolled his head to face him. Its eyes had lost their eerie glow; now they were a soft gray-blue, young and tormented – they were those of Jens, the man the draugr used to be. "End this, please."
Dean swallowed. "You know what we plan to do?"
The draugr – Jens – nodded. "Know that this… what I am now… it's through some curse of bloodline, not conscious choice. Help me move on."
Dean's jaw clenched. "You killed five people. You may not like where you're moving on to."
Jens met Dean's gaze. "I want to see my family again. God willing, I will. If not, I accept that – but I won't exist like this." He rolled his head and stared up at Grant, who blanched in terror at the attention.
"Don't you worry about him." Dean shot a glare at Grant. "He's not getting a free pass when it comes to Jake."
"Thank you." Jens nodded at Dean, then closed his eyes.
Dean exhaled slowly, adjusted his stance, and swung the axe.
"Dean, gimme the computer."
"Whine all you want, Sammy, but the answer's the same – no! The doc told you – no TV, no computers, no reading until both eyes are working and your head's not dented anymore."
"But nothing." Dean shot Sam a look from his seat at the table by the window. "I don't like getting chewed out by a nurse half my size for letting you get eyestrain, and letting you trip and fall when you're still recovering from a mugging. Letting you – that's rich."
Sam sank back into the pillows propping him up in bed. "Dude, come on. I'm bored out of my skull here."
Dean waved a hand at Sam's iPod. "Listen to your crap music."
Sam scowled at the laptop on the table in front of Dean. "Is there anything in the news about the case?"
"It's all over town." Dean tapped a few buttons. "Grant spilled his guts when we dropped him off at the police station. The cops are reopening Jake Halvorsen's accident file, looking to charge Grant with vehicular manslaughter, conspiracy to conceal a crime – whatever they can get to stick. Some sleazy lawyer may still get him off but the town's at least gonna know what really happened. And, as far as I can tell, Grant hasn't said anything about us or what he saw at the cemetery. Guess he prefers jail to the loony bin."
Sam was quiet for a moment. "The draugr – Jens – called what he'd become a curse. Think he meant that literally?"
Dean snorted. "Damned if I know. I'm not exactly an expert in Viking lore. But if it's a curse of the bloodline, why didn't the whole family turn into Viking zombies?"
"That's what I want my computer to find out." Sam exhaled in frustration. "Maybe it only affects first-born sons… maybe it's because Jens was a trained soldier, a warrior. Whatever the reason, it sounded like when Johnny Montgomery and his gang admitted at the grave they killed his brother, he rose as a revenant against his will to avenge Jake's death."
Dean scrubbed a hand down his face, wincing as his fingers ran over his broken cheekbone. "It's a little early in the day for that kind of philosophical debate, Sammy." He turned to face his brother. "It's the whole destiny versus free will argument dressed in Viking armor."
Sam nodded. "And the only one who really knows the answers has been AWOL upstairs since before we met Cas."
"God." Dean grabbed his duffel. "If this is what web withdrawal does to you, I'm gonna be the one with a dented head by the time you're better – from banging it against the wall." He held up the deck of cards he'd pulled from his bag. "Poker? Winner gets to pick dinner."
Sam nodded and started to push himself up. "Yeah. Sounds good."
"Uh-uh." Dean motioned for Sam to stay put. "I'm coming to you. Sitting in these chairs won't do your ribs any favors. You take your meds?"
Sam exhaled loudly in mock annoyance. "Please tell me you're not gonna mother me until my ribs knit."
"I do not mother, Sam." Dean scowled as he sat on the end of his brother's bed, shuffled the cards and dealt two hands. "The only time that word applies to me is when bad guys use it. Now shut up and play."
Sam grinned and, for once, did as he was told.
A/N: I haven't seen the series The Walking Dead (yet) but one of my colleagues is a big fan and described it as a 'human drama that just happens to have zombies.' I loved that idea and tried to take the same approach when I found the fascinating draugr lore from Norse mythology. It was fun to play with the concept that these revenants retain some memory/intelligence and, of course, the parallels between the Winchester brothers and the Halvorsen brothers. Hope you enjoyed. If you have a moment, I'd love to hear from you. Til next time, cheers.