The Ruin of Souls
Disclaimer: The Winchesters belong to Kripke et al. The love belongs to us.
Edited: by Teajunkie. Thank you for all your help polishing this piece.
Author's Note: This story originally appeared in the zine Blood Brothers 5. If you are interested in purchasing Blood Brothers 6 or any past zine please contact A J Wesley – she's listed in my favorite authors.
The Impala's tires hummed on the wet asphalt, providing a steady drone to match the rhythmic beat of the windshield wipers. Dean wished for the hundredth time that day that he'd taken twenty minutes to wrestle Black Sabbath out of the cassette player when his car had turned against him and eaten the treasured tape. Instead, he was singing slightly off-key to "Bad Moon Rising" along with the radio. He was just glad he'd left Sam back at the motel room so he didn't have to defend himself against a raised eyebrow when he hit a sour note.
Lightning flashed over the dark hilltops in the distance, drawing Dean's attention. When he focused again on the road, his headlights illuminated the figure of a young woman standing on the gravel shoulder. He pumped the break, pulling to a stop not five feet from her. The woman's raven hair hung in wet strands, framing her pale face. She looked absolutely miserable and far be it from Dean Winchester to leave a damsel in distress at night, in the rain, along a nearly deserted road.
Dean left the car idling, the headlights capturing the falling raindrops, hiked his shirt collar farther up his neck, and slid out the door. His boots clumped noisily against the tarmac in contrast to the gentle sound of the light but penetrating rain. "Are you okay?" he asked.
Her wide brown eyes reflected palpable sadness even in the near blackness surrounding them. "He's trying to hurt me," she whispered. "I didn't think, I just ran."
Dean bit his cheek to stop from swearing. He just didn't understand men who hurt the ones they professed to love, and her vulnerability definitely stirred all his protective instincts. She was shivering, he noticed, soaked to the bone in nothing but a thin, flowing nightgown.
"You're going to be okay. I'll help you."
She smiled at him—a ghost of a smile—but her upturned lips caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand on end. He didn't know why he hadn't recognized her for what she was through his rain-slicked windshield, but he knew now and he took an instinctual step back.
"Daniel's close," she whispered. She glanced around in obvious fear, her arms wrapped tightly around her torso, staring out into the night.
"He won't get you," Dean assured her, keeping a safe distance. "Can you tell me what happened?" As much as he didn't like it, he needed information from her if he was going to put an end to this.
"I was all alone," she said, despair ringing through each word. "No one helped me."
"It's okay," Dean said, offering what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "He's not going to get you. Just tell me."
"He'll find me," she said, her voice rising in panic. She grabbed one of Dean's arms in her deathly icy hand, the other she placed on his cheek. "He's here!"
Dean frowned and, before he could fully comprehend what she was saying, all the heat was sucked from his body. He was frozen to the spot, unable to move away. Behind him, the Impala's engine chugged sluggishly and stalled. "Damn it," he cursed under his breath. He could see the town lights from here. He doubted they were more than a couple miles away, and all he could think about was how one impulsive act of chivalry was going to bite him in the ass. "S-stop."
Her form blinked twice, and he reached out only to grasp open air, a puddle of water on the ground where she had stood. The temperature dropped dramatically, and Dean could see his breath on each exhale. "Aw, shit," he said, "Dean, you idiot." He was damp from the rain, his jacket in the backseat, his shotgun even farther away, locked neatly in the trunk. "Of all the stupid…"
The air in front of him wavered as the spirit blinked back into view. She looked terrified now, her deep brown eyes round with fear.
"I'm so cold."
She moved closer, her spectral form leeching more heat from his body until he shivered so hard his teeth rattled in his head. He had to get away from her, but the cold made his movements stiff.
"Please, help me."
"I-I will," Dean stuttered. "Tell me where you are."
She tilted her head, frowning, her brow furrowing in a way similar to Sam's. She looked confused by his request.
"Tell me where you are and I'll help you."
"No one can help me," she said with a resigned tone. "I'm alone."
She blinked out again, and Dean stumbled toward the car, finally able to move. He fumbled with the door handle with numb fingers. The door finally open, he pulled the keys out of the ignition, and staggered to the trunk. It took several tries with a shaking hand to get the key into the lock and turn it. Dean didn't even bother propping up the lid, just grabbed his shotgun and slammed it closed again.
When he sat back in the car, he kept the shotgun tucked in his armpit pointed toward the roof. He wasn't setting down the weapon for a second, not with Mrs. Freeze honed in on his ass. He turned the key in the ignition, hoping it would start. "Please, baby, please." The engine roared to life. "Yes!"
He turned all the vents toward him, carefully eased back onto the road, and pressed the gas pedal to the floor. It was time to get as much distance between him and Casper the Frigid Ghost as possible. Then he and Sam could figure out exactly who she was and put an end to her hitchhiking days.
By the time Dean pulled into the motel parking lot, he'd barely warmed up at all. The chill the spirit had brought with her had soaked in deep; he couldn't stop shivering. It must have taken him longer than he'd thought to turn off the car and move to get out because Sam was hovering outside his window before he could get the door open.
Dean shook his head, motioning for Sam to move out of the way.
As usual, his brother didn't listen. He ripped the door open and leaned into the car. "Dean, what the hell?"
Sam's hand felt hot against his frozen cheek.
"Dude, you're a popsicle."
"Explain later," Dean gritted out through his chattering teeth. "Need to get warmed up first."
"Yeah, of course." Sam wrapped a hand around Dean's arm and tugged him out of the car. Although Sam released his hold, he stayed right by Dean's elbow the entire walk into the room. "Sit down," Sam commanded.
Dean frowned but sat in the chair, regardless. He felt something warm wrap around his shoulders and recognized the blanket as the one from Sam's bed. A mug of steaming coffee was pushed into his hands and Dean took a sip, enjoying the warmth that slowly spread throughout his chest. "There was this woman," he started.
Sam grinned, dimples sinking into his cheeks. "Why do all your stories start that way?"
"Shut it," Dean said without any real heat. "Do you want to hear this or not?"
Sam leaned back in his chair and crossed his long legs at the ankles. "Don't stop. I can't wait to hear the rest."
Dean scowled and started again. "She was standing in the rain at the side of the road and I thought she was lost or something." He paused, waiting for Sam to comment.
The smirk disappeared from Sam's face and he rolled his hand for Dean to continue.
"She looked scared, said someone named Daniel was after her." Dean took another sip of coffee and pulled the blanket tighter. He couldn't shake the chill. "Even after I knew, I couldn't leave her there without trying to do something."
Sam's frown was joined by the one creasing his forehead. "What exactly happened?"
"After we started talking, that's when it got all weird," Dean said. He nearly snorted at the concerned look on Sam's face. "Nothing weird like that, Sam. She started telling me about how he was close by, how she was alone and no one could help her…" He trailed off as he approached the crucial point he'd been avoiding. He really was never going to hear the end of it.
"Dean, what?" Sam asked, leaning forward.
"She's a spirit."
And just like that his brother put together all the facts. Sam's face changed from concern, to understanding, and then he rolled his eyes when the final piece clicked in place. "Let me get this straight. My brother, Dean Winchester," Sam said his name as if it was synonymous with ghost hunter, "tried to pick up a spirit standing alongside the road?"
Hell, it sounded even stupider when Sam said it. "Um, yeah?"
The smirk was back on Sam's face, spread so wide his dimples reappeared. He reached out with one impossibly long arm and cuffed Dean, albeit softly, upside his head. "Upstairs brain, bro."
"It wasn't like that, Sam," Dean growled. Okay, so maybe it was a little like that, but damned if he was going to admit that to his brother. "I thought she was in real trouble out there."
"Sounds like she was," Sam admitted. "At least at one time." He leaned to the side and sat back up, laptop in hand. Sam flipped it open as he set it down. He paused, his fingers hovering over the keys. "Did she say anything that might give you a clue as to who she was or what happened?"
"No." Dean shook his head. "Wait, yes, she said his name was Daniel. Maybe her husband or something?"
Sam nodded, his fingers flying over the keys. Dean continued to drink his cooling coffee, content in the knowledge he could feel his toes again. Several minutes later, Sam's forehead smoothed, and the lines around his mouth disappeared.
Dean knew that look; his brother had found answers. "What?"
"Elisabeth Johnson," Sam said, his eyes tracking as he read information off the screen. "Her husband, Daniel, reported her missing in April of 1904. No trace of her was ever found and local law enforcement suspected Daniel but couldn't prove anything."
Dean snorted. "Seriously?"
Sam nodded and tugged on his lips twice before he ran a hand through his hair, pulling his bangs back. "I just don't understand how a guy can profess to love his wife and then just—"
"Me neither," Dean interrupted. He stood and clapped Sam on the shoulder. "I'm going to take a shower, see if I can warm up."
Sam nodded absently, his mind obviously still working through the facts he'd read. "I'm going to research a little more, see if I can find anything." He looked up at Dean. "We are going to check this out, right?"
"Hell, yeah." Dean walked slowly to the bathroom, his joints stiff from cold. They were going to check this out all right. Daniel may not be alive and kicking anymore, but Dean was going to take great pleasure in freeing Elisabeth from her husband's abuse once and for all.
Dean was finally warm. Last night, he'd eaten dinner and then slept like a log, crashing hard after his shower. He'd opened his eyes to be greeted by his brother bearing coffee and doughnuts and, judging by the look of satisfied curiosity on Sam's face, he had a lead on Elisabeth. As far as Dean was concerned, the day was looking pretty good.
"What'cha got?" Dean asked with a yawn. He sat up and gladly accepted the proffered coffee.
Sam sat on the opposite bed, which Dean couldn't help but notice was made, so he doubted his brother had slept.
Sam opened the paper bag and ticked off the contents. "Glazed, jelly-filled, and if you can believe this, crullers. They actually had crullers."
"I meant, what did you find out?" Dean asked. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Sam could be so single-minded at times.
"I was going to let you eat first," Sam said.
Dean raised his eyebrows and waved his hand holding the coffee cup in his brother's direction to get him to continue.
"Yeah, okay," Sam said. He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees, effectively bridging the distance between them. "Elisabeth and Daniel didn't live far from town at all, two to three miles maybe, out on a farm he'd inherited from his grandfather. By all accounts they were a happy, church-going, community-minded couple."
Sam paused long enough to take a sip of his coffee. At the speed in which he was relaying information, Dean suspected it wasn't his brother's first cup.
"Elisabeth had one late-term stillborn infant according to church records. Per the local doctor, Richard Staton, she had suspicious bruising on her stomach and back when she lost the baby, and he theorized she'd been beaten, not that she'd fallen down the stairs as she'd claimed."
"That was part of the church records?" Dean asked. He was surprised that given such information the police hadn't tried harder to pin Elisabeth's disappearance on Daniel. Then again, given the time period, maybe it wasn't so surprising.
"Uh, not exactly," Sam confessed, rubbing a hand on the back of his neck. "More like a letter Doctor Staton wrote to his colleague, Doctor Thielson, in Boston. The letter is part of the Thielson House museum display."
Dean shook his head in amazement. He was no slouch when it came to research, but sometimes, even after everything, Sam's abilities managed to surprise him. He must have been up most of the night. "So, Farmer Dan beats his wife, causes her to lose their child, and then what? Snaps and kills her?"
"That's my guess," Sam said, turning the cup in his hand. "He probably felt guilty about what he'd done. Devastated by the loss of his child and, obviously, he had a history of beating her."
"The guy was a class-A asshole," Dean said, swinging his legs off the bed. "I hope he got what he deserved."
"Well, that's the other thing," Sam said, leaning back to give Dean room to pass by. "Elisabeth was Daniel's second wife. He and his first wife, Judith, had two children, both sons, Daniel Jr. and Jacob. She died after a fall from a horse."
Sam nodded in agreement before he continued. "But by all accounts, Daniel lived for two more decades before he disappeared. They never found him and I can't find any evidence anyone tried very hard to look for him, either."
"Good riddance." Dean reached down for his jeans and t-shirt. "So, all we have to do is find the bones of a woman he buried God-knows-where, and salt and burn her before she manages to give us both hypothermia."
"That's about it," Sam agreed.
The day was rainy and gray. The dismal brown landscape whizzed by his window in a depressing blur. Sam's knee bounced and he beat his thumb against the door in a steady rhythm in time with the windshield wipers. Caffeinated energy was jangling his nerves and he couldn't help the kinetic movements. The third time Dean tossed him an exasperated look, Sam put his hands on his legs to stop them. "Judith is buried on the property." Sam's knee started jumping again. "He might have buried Elisabeth nearby, kept her close, marked the grave somehow. Wherever it is, something has happened recently to cause her spirit to be active after all this time."
"Good thing it's still daylight," Dean said, "and the property is so secluded. This is going to take forever."
"Maybe we'll get lucky."
Sam couldn't help but agree with him. Luck was not usually what came their way.
"And maybe a magical leprechaun will appear and give us a pot of gold," Dean shot back.
Sam huffed and pulled the map out of the glove box. He fished his flashlight out of his pocket and flicked it on. He glanced at the odometer and then back at the map. "Turn should be right around here."
"I don't see any—. Never mind."
Dean turned sharply, the motion throwing Sam against the passenger door. "Nice driving," Sam teased.
"Whatever. Your directions suck."
Sam chuckled. He peered out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the farmhouse. The gravel road was bumpy, and he heard Dean curse under his breath. "Over there." Sam pointed to the left.
Dean nodded, slowing the Impala to a near stop before turning onto the faint, overgrown driveway. "You always take me to the nicest places," he said in a falsetto.
"Ha-ha." Sam rolled his eyes, but the grin took a while to fade. He carefully folded the map and stuffed it back in the glove box as the Impala rolled to a stop. The thick grove of trees surrounding the house blocked a good portion of the meager sunlight so he pocketed his flashlight. It never hurt to be prepared. At least the rain had slowed to a light drizzle. By the time he made his way around to the trunk, Dean was already rummaging through the weapons stash.
"Here," Dean said, handing Sam his Taurus.
"Thanks." Sam snagged his favorite knife as well and tucked it safely into his inside jacket pocket along with the lock-pick set. "The family plot shouldn't be far from the house, but they'd want to keep it away from the watershed line."
Dean stood up, slammed the trunk shut, and looked around. He pointed to his left with the barrel of the shotgun. "That way."
Sam nodded in agreement and fell into step beside his brother. The early winter skies were completely overcast. As they walked farther into the trees and uphill, the clouds met them, ethereal fingers of misty white blocking more of the light and chilling the air.
"There," Dean said, pointing to the left.
The modest marker for Judith was one of the only graves in the whole plot whose epitaph was still clearly visible. Most of the others were weatherworn, barely legible, or missing entirely. They split up to cover the area. Sam searched, looking for any sign that might indicate where Elisabeth was buried, if she was buried there at all. After a half-hour of fruitless searching, he had to admit defeat. If her body was there, it was impossible to tell where.
A flash of white caught his attention through the strands of low-lying clouds and dark trees. "Dean, I think I see her!" he called over his shoulder. Dry twigs snapped under his boots as Sam strode deeper into the cover of the trees. He stopped where he thought he'd seen the spirit and glanced around. He'd just about given up and started to head back when he spotted another flash slightly downhill toward the old farmhouse.
He pulled out his cell to let Dean know he was definitely onto a lead on Elisabeth's remains. He glanced at the readout—only two bars, but that was enough.
"Where are you?" Dean demanded before Sam had a chance to say anything.
"About two clicks east of the family plot. Look, I think I've had two glimpses of Elisabeth already, and she seems to be leading me downhill toward the farm." A breeze blew through the trees and several rain-soaked leaves fell from their branches, one landing on his head. He scrunched his shoulders as water ran down his collar and he reached up to brush the sodden mass off his head.
"Keep following her," Dean said, his tone definitely less hostile now. "I'm right behind you."
Sam spun in a circle. He searched the landscape in all directions. "The thing is, I don't—" The rest of what he was about to say was cut off when something hit his head again. This time it wasn't a clump of wet leaves. It was hard, heavy, and thrown with enough force to knock him to his knees. "Dean," he whispered as he continued the rest of the way to the ground and the world blinked out.
Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading!