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 “You’ve got to be kidding me, Dean,” Sam said. “Dad’s missing?” He looked down at his coffee cup, already wishing he had more. He held back a groan and took a long drink.

“He went out on a hunting trip,” Dean said. “And he hasn’t been home in a few days.”

“Look,” Sam said. “I’d love to help, but I have exams in a week. Plus three different papers and a huge project due. I can’t help. Besides, I told you I don’t want anything to do with the hunting life. Not anymore. I swore I would leave it behind.”

“Oh come on,” Dean said. “It wasn’t that bad. You’re just sensitive.”

Sam wanted to find a study room so he and Dean could argue in peace without drawing the attention of every student that walked past them. He also wanted to set his books and backpack down and take a three-day nap. Neither, it seemed, were going to happen anytime soon.

“When I told Dad I was scared of the thing in my closet, he gave me a .45,” Sam said. “What kind of parent does that? He’s supposed to say don’t be afraid of the dark.”

Dean scoffed. “Grow up, Sam,” he said. “You, of all people, should know that you should be scared of the dark. We’ve seen what’s out there!”

Sam almost crushed his Styrofoam to-go cup of coffee. “Yeah?” he said. “Well, I don’t want to see anymore. I have an interview, Dean. An interview that will get me somewhere in life. An interview that I worked hard to get. I can’t just throw that all away. I’m not gonna. Dad got himself into whatever mess he’s in, and I bet you he can get himself out.” He turned and started toward the School of Law building. It was all the way across campus, and Sam was hoping the walk in the fresh air would wake him up enough before his next class.

“And what if he can’t?” Dean called after him. “What if—what if this Big Bad is too big and too bad. What if he needs our help?”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Then I doubt he would want his sons coming to rescue him,” he said. “What was the last thing he called me? It was right before I walked out the door. Oh yeah, something about never wanting to see my face again and how I was a pathetic, whiny pussy.”

Dean shrugged, bouncing his shoulders with a nervous laugh. “You know how Dad is after a couple drinks,” he said. “And besides, you were leaving. It wasn’t his fault.”

“Wasn’t his fault?” Sam repeated, spinning to face Dean. “A couple beers? He had had half a case! And he didn’t look like he was stopping! And how is it my fault if I wanted a different life? We were raised like—” He cut off, glancing nervously at the students passing him. “I’m done, Dean,” he finished. “I don’t want to hunt. Not anymore.”

Sam felt a little guilty for turning his back. Dad had raised them with family at the center of everything. Never leave your brother. Never turn your back. Never let him out of your sight. Never abandon the family business. Mantras like that drilled directly into your fucking brain. Until Sam hadn’t been able to take it anymore and left. And of course, he had ended up the bad guy in the situation.  How, he wasn’t quite sure. It was as if getting an education in his family was illegal. He and Dean had hardly scraped through high school and god forbid that they go beyond that. Sam took a drink of his coffee, knowing that he would need a ton more in the immediate future. 

                                                                           *****

 

“How do you deal with family?” Sam asked Jess that afternoon. They sat side by side in one of the out-of-the-way study rooms. He was about ready to fall asleep over his laptop and had run out of coffee hours ago which is probably why the question tumbled out of his mouth. In fact, he hadn’t even realized he had actually said it out loud until Jess was actually answering.

“I had a couple younger brothers,” Jess said. “Two of them. Why?”

“I have a brother,” Sam said. “He’s—well my dad—ugh, I can’t even think.” He laid his head down on the table next to his laptop and closed his eyes which was very dangerous because he could get demerits for sleeping in the library.

Jess ran her hands over his shoulders and kneaded her knuckles into his tense muscles. “Geez, Sam, you’ve been high-strung ever since this morning. What’s up?”

“Family problems,” Sam mumbled. “My brother wants me to leave college to help with the family business. My dad is—well, it’s complicated.”

“You always said that your family didn’t like that you left,” Jess said. “Why is that? I never understood that. I though parents would like that their child is getting an education. It seems like it’s a good thing.”

“Not my family,” Sam mumbled. “We’re screwed up. So how am I supposed to tell my family that I don’t want to go back? I have an interview on Monday. I’m all set to finally achieve my dream. How do I get them to understand that their dream is not my dream?” 

“You’ve been bottling this up all day?” Jess asked. “Sam, you can talk to me. Isn’t that what a girlfriend is for?”

“Sorry, sorry,” Sam said. “I’ve had so much homework and with the tests and projects coming up, I’ve been so busy.”

“Well, talk to me now,” Jess said. “Family is the hardest thing to deal with in life. Or the easiest. It never seems to be in between. What’s wrong with yours?”

“They want me to leave college,” Sam admitted. “They want me to go back home and help with the family business. And I told them I couldn’t. I told them about my interview. And my brother makes it sound like I’m the selfish one of the family. That I’m the one that isn’t being family-orientated.” He groaned. “I just don’t know what to do.”

“Well, have you talked with him?” Jess asked.

Sam grunted as she came across a knot in his shoulders and started to knead harder. “Yeah,” he said. “But he’s completely stubborn.”

Jess laughed. “Just like you then,” she said. “Come on, I’m sure it’s not as bad as you think. Talk to him again. See what happens. You’d be surprised.”

Sam was sure he’d be surprised. Surprised that Dean would never take no for an answer. Surprised that Dean couldn’t understand that he needed to get this interview. Surprised that Dean would never understand that Sam wanted a life outside of hunting.

 

                                                                           ******

 

“Alright, Sammy!” Dean cheered, gunning the impala’s engine as they roared off the campus of the college. He glanced over at his little brother with a smile, hoping to see that same expression on his face. This was familiar. This is what he knew. This is what it shoulder always be. Him and Sam—brother and brother—both of them against the world.

Instead, though, Sam was staring at his phone, forehead furrowed, taking sips from a huge to-go cup of coffee. He was chewing on his bottom lip, apparently lost in thought.

“Sam,” Dean prompted. “Sam, dude, wake up, isn’t this awesome?”

“Yeah,” Sam mumbled distractedly. He was texting Jess, still asking for advice. She was appalled that he had actually left with his supposedly evil brother that he had lamented so much about. She was currently berating him via multiple messages—several lengthy, caps-locked messages demanding why he left without saying anything.

He felt horrible, honestly, for leaving so suddenly. But Dean had promised that they would be back before Monday, well before his interview. And he had gone on and on about how Dad would need their help if he were facing some horrible monster. Or if he had found the yellow-eyed monster that had killed Mom. He had convinced Sam that revenge would be the best thing that ever happened him. And Sam had stupidly believed him. Who was he kidding? Sam had always wanted to get revenge on the thing that had killed Mom but had given it up years ago since the trail had gone cold. When Dean had mentioned that Dad might have the name of the thing that caused his horrible childhood, Sam had been unable to say no. And now he was trying to explain that to Jess without telling her that he and his family ganked monsters as a hobby and scammed credit cards for a living.

“Sam!” Dean said, slugging him in the arm to jolt him out of his thoughts. “Buddy, wake up. What are you thinking about? I need your head here, in the hunt.”

Sam swallowed. How many times had he heard that from Dad? Get your head out of your textbooks. I need your help on a hunt. Forget your math problems; I need you to interview the local teenagers about werewolf sightings. Who cares that you need to memorize your play lines? I need bait for this wendigo trap and you’re it. Sam shivered involuntarily, apologized to Jess on last time, and finally turned to Dean.

“What?” he asked. He tried to keep his voice as neutral as possible, but it still came out kind of snappy.

“I was about to tell you the clues that Dad left for us,” Dean said. “He was working a case down here somewhere, but I think it’s a small lead to something way, way bigger. In fact—“

Sam let himself drift as Dean rambled. He was exhausted anyway. He had been getting minimum amounts of sleep with finals coming up, and getting suddenly dragged on a case was not good for him. Sam was pretty sure he hadn’t closed his eyes since his and Jess’s study time in the library. He longed to be able to doze, even for a little bit. Instead, he took a deep drink of his coffee and hoped the caffeine would kicked in soon.

As it turned out, his wishes for sleep would have to wait. For a while. Dean dropped him off at the library for research and went to investigate the motel that their dad had supposedly been staring at. The name the room had been listed under was one of their well-known pseudonyms. So while Dean went out to find Dad, Sam was stuck in the library with ten different internet tabs open and the lullaby of computer monitors and whispers around him.

 Sam rubbed his eyes and checked his watch. Nearly thirty hours. He had been up for nearly thirty hours straight. His eyes were burning from staring at a computer screen for so long and at this point, he was pretty sure he would bleed coffee if he were cut. Instead of succumbing to the strong, strong urge to close his eyes and fall asleep—this library honestly was the worst place to do research when you were tired—he opened another tab in the browser.

They were hunting a ghost—a woman in white more specifically. In essence, a vengeful spirit who died a gruesome death and then hunted men who were unfaithful to their wives. Dad had mentioned them off-handedly before, but Sam had never helped in the hunt of one. Burning the corpse usually worked for most ghostly incidents but if Dad had already worked the case, burning the body would’ve been the first thing he did. So, obviously, something else was holding the ghost in place. And while Dean talked up the bartenders and the waitresses, it was up to Sam to do all of the hard research. And when he was running on the last dregs of his natural energy, research was hell.

Sam groaned and pushed himself away from the computer. He figured he should leave before he started drooling on the keyboard and the librarian kicked him out. Besides, Sam was pretty sure he had a lead. With Dad’s journal rescued from the abandoned motel room and the clues from the room’s walls, he had been able to do a quick internet search to find who he thought was haunting to road and bridge. Now, he had to find Dean, find the ghost, finish the job, and get back to college. It sounded easy when you put it like that. Past experience with old ghost cases proved that it would somehow be harder than that. 

Sam gathered his bags and papers together and thanked the librarian for letting him on the computer before heading out the front doors of the large building. He was walking down the large stone steps when he did a double take, nearly stumbling at the sight of a panda bear standing in the middle of the street. He blinked a couple times, rubbed his eyes, and looked again. The bear was gone then, and Sam was left with an uneasy feeling in his stomach. He needed sleep desperately. Hallucinating was not a good experience on a hunt. Maybe he could grab a quick nap before Dean and he went to the bridge.

He called Dean to tell him what he found and hopefully mentioned heading back to their room for a rest. Dean enthusiastically shared what he had found in Dad’s journal and brushed off Sam’s request. Instead, Dean picked him up in the impala with two carry-out coffees and a cheeky grin. He was obviously pumped that they had a strong lead because he handed Sam a gun along with his coffee.

“Dad’s close,” Dean said. “I can feel it. We have to at least be close.”

Sam slipped the handgun between his legs, not trusting himself to hold it steady. He gratefully swallowed a huge gulp of the coffee, glad to find it laced with sugar and cream and flavored syrups. The sugar would be a secondary help behind the caffeine. He took another drink.

“I don’t know,” he said. “The motel room had been empty for at very least a couple days. Dad might’ve gotten another case, a more important one, and left this one undone.”

“Dad’s not like that,” Dean said. “Once he has a case, he never gives it up. Not for anything. He’s like a—like a—like a pit bull or something.”

Sam had to agree with him there. He had just been hoping that maybe, maybe this one time, Dad had gotten distracted or gotten wind of a bigger case and left this one. Just maybe this one time. Of course, they had no such luck.

Sam blinked as gushing river spilled across the road, only to disappear as the impala crashed through the illusion. He took a longer drink of his coffee even though what he should’ve done was close his eyes and sleep.

“Look,” Dean said, not noticing the way Sam was desperately downing his coffee. “I got the address of the woman’s husband. We can head over to his house and do a quick interview. I’m sure that’s what Dad would’ve done. We’re basically on his heels. We just have to hurry in order to catch him.” 

Even as bullheaded as their Dad was, Sam wanted to tell Dean that even he wouldn’t have rushed headfirst into a case like this, not with this little information. He would hunt the thing only after he got as much information as he could. And he would probably would hunt when he had a good night’s rest. At the thought, Sam almost groaned in longing.

“I’m going to stop at a gas station for lunch,” Dean said. “And then we’ll head over. Sound good?”

Sam nodded, checking his phone. He had missed five angry texts from Jess and three concerned ones. They were mostly all the same: asking if he was okay, asking if he was going to be back soon, asking for more details about his suddenly leaving right before a big interview. Sam thumbed in a quick I’m-alright-it’s-okay-don’t-worry-about-me text and slipped his phone into his pocket.

At the gas station, Sam bought a couple energy bars, a cheap burger, and three bottles of sweet iced coffee. At the register though, he ended up adding two five-hour energies to his pile. He met up with Dean back in the impala. He already had half of his burger in his mouth, chowing down. Instead of coffee and energy drinks like Sam, Dean had opted for a six pack of beer.

“A victory celebration,” Dean said when he noticed Sam staring. “You know, how dad always did it.”

Sam shrugged. He couldn’t care less how they celebrated as long as they got back for his interview on time. He cracked open one of his coffees and then one of the small bottles of energy drink. After taking a quick drink of the coffee to create room, he dumped in the energy drink, screwed the cap back on, and shook it vigorously. He then opened it back up and took a taste, letting it sit on his tongue to see whether it was worth it or not. Not bad. He opened his second energy drink and added that too, shaking it in. He paused when he realized Dean was giving him a look.

“What?” Sam asked.

“Is that even healthy?” Dean said, raising his eyebrows at the drink.

“Is hunting monsters drunk healthy?” Sam retorted, nodding to the beer. “Is hunting monsters period healthy?”

“Dude, I was just asking,” Dean said. “Dad never liked us hunting alone and I don’t want you dying on me in the middle of a hunt.”

Sam took a long drink of his concoction just to drive home his point. “I’ve seen people at college do this,” he said. “I’ve seen them do more extreme things. I’m just trying to stay awake.”

Dean wrinkled his nose. “People do that?” he said. “Why?”

Sam grinned, finally remembering that Dean had never experienced college and barely either of them had experience high school. Hell, even Sam had been shocked at the transition to the sudden mountain of homework and strict schedule. And to answer Dean’s question, he had one word.

“Finals.”

Dean frowned as he pulled out of the gas station and started down the road. “Finals?” he repeated. “What the hell are finals? Why does it sound like the school is threatening to kill you? It sounds like you’re about to die.”

“That’s basically what happens,” Sam said with a laugh. “The school tries to kill you and you want to die.”

Dean whipped his gaze to him, trying to gauge if he was lying or not. Sam gestured for him to look at the road as the impala started to waver back and forth. It didn’t help that his mind was insisting that the road was moving up and down even though it wasn’t.

“Pay attention,” he said.

Dean returned his gaze to the road but was still frowning. “No, seriously,” he said. “What are finals?”

Sam sighed. “They are the huge tests at the end of semester,” he explained. “And they test you over everything you learned so far. They count for a large amount of your grade and basically everyone stresses out over them.” He raised his drink up and then took a sip. “You see people doing this all the time. It’s not considered crazy.”

“And you left hunting for that?” Dean said. “Dude, that sounds worse than tracking wendigoes.”

Sam wanted to tell Dean that it wasn’t as horrible as it sounded. He wanted to tell him that waking up for a seven A.M. class was better than waking up at seven A.M. to go hunt a ghost that was trying to kill someone. That chugging coffee and energy drinks was better than chugging beer or vodka or just alcohol in general to cope with what they saw. That studying with friends for a calculus test was a million times better than digging through lore. That having goddamn friends was better than skipping town every few months because their credit cards started to bounce and businesses were starting to get suspicious. Everything about college was better than hunting, Sam wanted to tell Dean. But it was too much effort at the moment. He only grunted.

Dean drummed the steering wheel and scanned the passing scenery. “I feel bad for you sometimes, Sam,” he said. “College sounds like hell. Looked like hell too. Except for all the chicks.”

Sam gritted his teeth and pulled out his phone to text Jess, mostly to complain about how stupid Dean was and how messed up his family had become. Not that he could share much but at least she would sympathize with him.

Dean grabbed a tape from a box on the floor and slipped it into the slot, adjusting the volume way up. Sam winced as the classic rock blasted without any warning. Geez, that was a wake up if the coffee wasn’t.

“Dude,” Sam said, rolling his eyes. “Is this literally what you listen to?”

“Driver picks the music,” Dean said. “Shotgun shuts his cakehole. And doesn’t judge.”

Sam nearly groaned but then his phone buzzed with a text from Jess. Before Sam could check it, Dean was jostling his shoulder as he pulled onto a gravel road. The ride was a lot rough now, and Sam gripped the door handle as he bounced up and down. He had to grab the gun from between his legs before it fell to the floor.

“We are here,” Dean said, finally pulling to a rough stop in front of a rundown farm house. He pulled the impala alongside a pickup truck with cinderblocks for wheels. He and Sam exchanged a look. “This is the place,” Dean said. “I double checked the address. Besides, I’m not stupid. Grab your gun. Let’s go.”

Sam reluctantly grabbed the handgun and climbed out of the impala, sliding it into the back of his waistband. He left his phone on the seat, feeling guilty as he heard it buzz again. But Dean was already heading toward the house, jauntily, confident, shoulders back. He looked like Dad. Sam swallowed and slammed his door, hurrying after him. Dean was already knocking on the door by the time Sam got to his side. He hadn’t even hid his gun as well as Sam, just shoving it into a holster strapped to his thigh, in plain view. Sam raised his eyebrows at that but didn’t question it. Dean was the one who had been hunting the entire time he was at school. Obviously, he was the one who knew what he was doing.

An older man answered the door, looking warily between Sam and Dean. “Can I help you gentlemen?” he said.

“Agents Ford and Hamill,” Dean said, pointing first to himself and then to Sam. “We just have a couple questions for you.”

“About what?” the man said. Sam noticed the way he drew back into his house, hand going to something that Sam couldn’t see, most likely a gun. “What are some scummy government agents doing on my property?”

“Not government,” Sam quickly interjected, stopping Dean with a subtle touch to his hip. “US Wildlife Services. We just need some soil samples of the surrounding area.”

“Oh,” the man said, relaxing. His hand dropped back to his side. “Well, you can take a hike through the backwoods if you need to. I won’t stop ya.” He moved to close the door, and Sam stopped him. He immediately removed his hand when the man glared.

“My partner just has a couple questions,” he explained before the man could go for the gun again. “About the history of the place. I’ll go get those samples.”

Sam didn’t think he was awake to do the interview anyway so he made his way off the porch and around the back of the house. He took his time, picking through the trash and weeds and overgrown plants. The forest and backyard had melded together, and Sam wrinkled his nose at the broken beer bottles and discarded metal carcasses of bicycles and motorcycles. He studied the trees and froze when he saw a woman staring back at him.

She wore a white dress that clung to her as if it were wet. But it didn’t drip or look wet. Sam blushed as she moved towards him, like a succubus with her curves and jaunty hips. Her mouth curved into a tempting smile as she moved through the underbrush as if it wasn’t there. Sam shook his head and took a drink of his coffee before crouching to scoop up a handful of dirt, tucking it into a napkin that Dean had lying around the impala and stuffing it into his pocket. When he stood, the hallucinated woman was gone, and Sam was desperate to get back to his phone and back to Jess. By the time he made his way back to the impala, Dean was already waiting for him, fiddling with the stations. Sam plopped the napkin full of dirt on the dashboard.

“So what’d you learn?” he asked.

“Dude,” Dean said, grabbing the napkin and tossing it out the window. “Not in the car.”

Sam glanced to the backseat which was half hid under a pile of crumpled fast food wrappers, empty boxes of ammo, and half gone bottles of gun shiner. “Yeah,” he said. “Okay, not in the car. Whatever. What did you learn?”

“You know the road that the ghost is haunting?” Dean said, pulling the impala out and out of the man’s yard. “Where the other two bodies were found? Turns out, our suspicions of the ghost’s identity were correct. Constance used to be married to good old Mr. Welch here. And he wasn’t exactly the most faithful man on the planet.”

“Surprise, surprise,” Sam said.

“He had a huge story about how she was crazy though,” Dean said. “Kept going on and on. He said that’s why he had to find someone else to sleep with.” Well, that sounded sleazy. Dean kept talking before Sam could comment. “He said she drowned their two kids in the bathtub of their old home.”

Sam shuddered. It was hard to believe that a mother would kill her own children, but he had read the articles too, same as Dean.

“I figured we could head there now,” Dean went on. “Scout the area. Get ready for tonight.”

Sam nearly groaned at the prospect of another night with no sleep but he sucked down the feeling with a huge mouthful of coffee. Dean would probably do most of the shooting anyway. In his current state, Sam honestly didn’t trust himself with a gun. As long as he did his half of the research, Dean was usually happy with being the hero. That was how it had worked with Dad. Sam was always the one in the books and Dean was happy to follow on the heels of Dad with a gun in his hands and a ghost in the cross hairs.

Sam wanted sleep. And then he wanted to take his finals and pass. Was that too much to ask?

Apparently.

 

                                                                           ********

 

“Take the car around the corner,” Sam muttered to himself, mocking Dean’s tone. “It’ll just be for a minute. It’ll be easy. Go screw yourself, Dean, I want to sleep.”

Of course, Dean wasn’t there and Sam couldn’t sleep. He spun the wheel of the impala, easing around the corner of the road. It had rained at some point and the roads were still slick. And with the way his eyelids felt like they weighed a hundred pounds each, Sam wanted to be careful.

Dean was back on the bridge, going over the place where he said he saw the woman in white. Sam, of course, had only seen a gaggle of purple geese. Even now, the road in front of him heaved up at random times, which was another reason he was taking his time. He wanted to get back to Jess safely. Get back to finals safely. Sam laughed dryly. He was probably the only student ever who actually wanted to take their finals.

Sam squinted harder at the road, hyper aware of the weight of the handgun on his thigh. Dean had insisted he take it, even though Sam had denied that he would use it. Now, it just made him nervous. He wanted to throw it out the window.

Sam glanced in the rearview mirror as an afterthought and slammed on the brakes. The impala squealed to an unwanted stop, and Sam jerked forward in his seat. The gun slid off his thigh, clattering to the ground. Sam wanted to grab for it but there wasn’t time. He spun in his seat, scanning the backseat for what he had seen moment before.

He swore. He swore he had just seen the woman. She had been looked at him through hooded eyes, dressed all in white, voluptuous. Not that Sam had been looking. She had smiled at him. He swore he saw it. And now she was gone.

Had he dreamed her? Had he been imagining her like everything else? Sam wasn’t even sure. With shaking hands, he turned back to the road. He leaned down and fumbled with the gun. It took him a couple tries to get the chamber over and check the bullets inside. Satisfied that Dean had given him the right weapon, Sam snapped it shut and returned it to his lap. He glanced to his phone, looking for the text the Dean had promised he would send if he found anything. Nothing from Jess. Not for the last few hours. She was probably sleeping. Or studying. Both things that Sam needed desperately to do. Sam checked the mirror one last time to see if his brain was lying to him and pulled back out into the road.

He was dreaming.

He was dreaming.

He wished he was dreaming.

That would make him asleep and Sam wanted to be asleep.

He wished he was dreaming.

He wished he was dreaming so, so, so, so much. Sleep would be a blessing right now, a huge blessing, a blessing that he would pay anything to have, a blessing—

Sam jerked his head up as the impala hit the rumbled strips on the side of the road and he was jarred back awake. He over-adjusted, swerving back to the middle of the road before realizing his mistake and twisting the wheel until he was back in his lane. The wheels squealed as they gripped the road through the thin sheen of water, and Sam swore that the back tires spun uselessly for a moment before catching. Then again, maybe he dreamed it.

Sam shook his head, panting at the sudden adrenaline rush he had gotten from the almost-accident. At least that had woken him up. Some. Sam groaned and blinked to clear his eyes. He was scared to look in the mirror but did anyways. No woman. Nothing else. Not yet. And the phone was still empty. Sam was just starting to relax into the situation when a lilting, sing-song voice made his hair stand on end.

“Sa-a-a-a-ammy,” the voice called. Sweet. Tempting. Soothing. It sent shivers down Sam’s spine. “I can see you, Sammy.”

Sam slammed on the breaks without thinking, every ounce of exhaustion leaving his body in a snap. The gun flew off his lap for a second time. He grabbed at it but his reflexes were dulled by lack of sleep. Too slow. Sam didn’t have to look in the mirror to know that the woman was back, not a hallucination, sitting in his back seat.

Cold fingers looped around his throat and down his chest, leaving trails of goosebumps. Sam shuddered without wanting to.

“Take me home, Sammy,” the woman said, her voice soft and ethereal. “I want to go home. Won’t you please take me home?”

Think of Jess. Think of Jess. Think of Jess goddammit! Sam tried to ignore the way the woman’s body pressed against the back of his seat, the parts that spilled onto his shoulder, and the hands that stroked lines of freezing cold into his chest. He thought of Jess, warm living Jess. Jess who was waiting for him back at college, waiting to take their finals together. Waiting to fall asleep with him after the exhausting week they endured.

“I want to go home, Sammy,” the woman reminded, crooning in his ear. “Please take me home.”

Sam took a breath, hating the way her voice pulled his eyelids down. He forced them back up, wondering if he had enough time to lunge for the gun where it had fallen. Not even close. She would have his heart out before he even had his finger near the trigger. He had no choice. He slowly eased on the gas and pulled back into the road, more controlled this time. The woman’s lullaby echoed in his ears, pulling on his thoughts and tugging his eyelids down.

“Don’t you want to come home with me?” the woman asked, giggling as she stroked a finger down his jaw. “Don’t you want to come ho-o-o-o-me? I can tell you’re lost. I can tell you’re searching.”

“I’m not,” Sam managed to say. He needed to protest. He needed to stay awake. “I don’t want you.” He wanted Jess. But as the woman’s voice crooned in his ear, he was reminded how much he wanted sleep too.

His movements became more automatic, blurry with exhaustion as the woman guided him along the turns, directing him where to go. He turned the wheel without thinking mostly, eyes half close, the road a blur in front of him. The woman giggled, her mouth centimeters from his ear. The sound sent shivers down Sam’s back.

“Take me home, Sammy,” she said, petting his chest. “Take me home, and you can come home with me.”

Sam wanted that. He found himself wanting that. The thought of a bed was enough to make his foot twitch against the gas pedal, making the impala jump forward with a sudden roar. The woman laughed at his mistake, a sound that pulled Sam’s eyelids down even more.

Exhausted. He was so exhausted. He needed something to wake him up. He needed something—

The car slammed into the side of the house before Sam even registered that he should apply the brake. The back wheels of the impala spun out, shredding the ground as the struggled to find purchase in the wet ground. Chunks of sod flew up, and Sam blinked as the headlights bounced off the wood in front of him and directly back into his face. Where was he? A house?

He grunted as the woman dug her fingers into his chest, suddenly violent. She hissed in his ear and flashed to existence on his lap, straddling him as she stared down at him. Her face twisted as she cackled, going from smooth and attractive to skeletal and disfigured. She tore into his chest, gouging her fingers into his flesh.

“You’re unfaithful!” she howled. “Like all the rest! I knew it! I knew it!”

The pain was like livewires attached directly to Sam’s brain. It shot adrenaline to every one of his limbs and in an instant, he was awake. It was like dunking his head in a bucket of ice water. Sam gasped as he came back to himself and his situation.

“No!” he said. He groped for his phone on the passenger seat but his hand came up empty. “Jess! No!”

The woman in white hissed at him, her skin flashing transparent at Jess’s name, showing her rotting skeleton underneath. She snarled at Sam and withdrew her fingers. She howled in rage, her form flashing in and out of existence. “You don’t need her!” she screamed. “All you need is me!” She gouged her fingers back into his chest, sending bursts of cold as hot as fire straight to his bones.

Sam howled, his hands instinctively thrashing up to try to push her off. They found no purchase though, going through her instead of shoving her away. “Jess!” he yelled, both pleading with the woman and calling out for his girlfriend. 

The pain had ravaged what was left of his exhaustion, leaving him more awake than ever. He shoved his hands through the woman’s stomach. It was more the thought that was unnerving since Sam couldn’t touch her. Instead, he grabbed the wheel, gripping the hard plastic and using it as a life line, an anchor. It helped take his mind off the blazing pain in his chest. He slammed his foot down on the gas pedal and the impala roared beneath him.

The woman wailed louder, and the engine turned to a squealing whine as the wheels spun but found no purchase. Sam grunted and jerked the wheel. Wood groaned and creaked, and suddenly the impala jumped forward with a roar, crashing through the side of the house and jolting to forced stop as it landed nose first on the floorboards. Sam was slammed forward in his seat, his seatbelt nearly knocking his breath out. The woman disappeared with a crackle and a scream, and Sam draped himself over the wheel, panting. He fumbled with the belt buckle, undoing it after a couple tries. His fingers felt thick and shaky, unstable and awkward. As soon as he was free, Sam leaned over and grabbed his phone off floor and clutching it tight to his chest. After a second thought, he grabbed the handgun off the floor as well.

He staggered out of the car, sweeping the room with a shaky aim. He kept one finger on the trigger as he fumbled with his phone, flipping it open and scrambling to open a new message box to Jess. A part of him—the hunter part—said he should be messaging Dean, but another part—the scared, whimpering, desperate part—wanted Jess and only Jess. He managed to type a couple letters, fumbling with the number-letter keyboard.

Evil cackling made him spin around, raising the gun up as his breath caught in his throat. The woman stood at the other end of the room. She was back to normal. Or, as normal as she could look. Her sheer dress was draped over her front. Her hair laying across her shoulders, looking almost soft. Her cold, cruel lips curved in a smile.

“You brought me home,” she crooned. Her voice was back to the sing-song lullaby, no longer threatening, coaxing and soft. “You brought me home, Sammy. Thank you, thank you so much.” Her eyes flashed red and then went back to normal. “I want you to stay with me,” she said. “I want you to stay with me forever.”

“No,” Sam said. He risked a glance at his phone, wondering if what he had was send-worthy.

I L-O-V-F Y-

Not enough. Sam looked back to woman, re-aiming at her heart. Or where her heart would be. She hissed at him, as if sensing what he was about to do. And Sam would do it. He would, godammit, he’d pull the trigger.

If only.

If only she didn’t look so human. So hurt. So vulnerable. So heartbroken. So human.

Sam didn’t want to pull the trigger on her like that. His heart wouldn’t let him.

But he flinched when he heard the drip-drip of water. It came from up the stairs of the old house and drew both his attention and the woman’s. They both turned, and Sam felt his stomach jump to his throat as he spotted the two kids standing at the top of the stairs. They were soaked to their bones, clothes clinging and dripping. They didn’t even glance at Sam though. Their cold, dead eyes were locked on the woman.

“You’ve come home,” they stated. Their voices were flat, emotionless, somehow even worse than the woman’s. Instead of just sending goosebumps down his skin, Sam felt chilled to his very bones. “You’ve come home, Mother,” the children repeated. The name fell with hatred and contempt from their mouths, and they disappeared in a flash.

Sam jolted as they appeared in front of him, facing the woman. They held each other’s hands, not giving Sam a glance as they turned on the woman with a force of hell it seemed.

“We’ve been waiting,” they intoned. “We’ve been waiting this whole time, Mother, for you to come back to us.”

The woman screamed as her own children grabbed her, tearing at her soul with their own vengeance, dragging her of to . . . . to who knew where. Sam was too tired to think. The woman exploded in a flash of light and the water that the children had trailed seeped back into the floor, leaving no evidence that there had ever been ghosts in the space.

Sam fell back against the impala, gasping for breath. His arms were still shaking, and his legs were now too. He felt like a leaf in a windstorm. He became aware that he was still clutching the handgun, his finger twitching sporadically against the trigger but not hard enough the fire it. Sam wasn’t sure if he even had the strength to do that. With disgust, he threw the gun away from himself, watching disinterestedly as it skittered across the floor. He then turned back to his phone.

I L-O-V-F Y-

With fumbling, uncoordinated fingers, Sam erased his mistake and re-typed the phrase, accurately this time. As he hit send, the last dregs of his adrenaline trickled out of him, the last of his fight, the last of his energy. He leaned heavier on the impala now, the metal hood cool against his skin. He felt like he was on fire.

Sam rested his cheek against the hood and finally, finally, finally closed his eyes. He was still half standing, only his chest really leaning on the car, but he could relax and rest and let himself go limp. His fingers went limp around the phone and he was only dimly aware when it buzzed. Sam grunted, dragging his hand up. The phone seemed to weigh a hundred pounds and by the time Sam got it up to his face, he wanted to pass out.

He had two new messages. Both from Jess. One was just the line of question marks. The other was a single phrase.

‘I love you too, dork’

Sam sighed and closed his eyes, smiling at nothing. And finally, he let himself sleep.