Dean flicks the edge of the check between his fingers, stares down at the zeros, then folds it in half and slides it beneath his keyboard. For a week after Sam quits, Dean goes about his life as normal, but every afternoon around three o’clock when the day starts to drag, Dean lifts the bottom of his keyboard, stares at the uncashed bonus check and wonders what Sam Wesson is doing now.
One week and one day after Sam quits, Dean looks up his employee profile on the computer and writes down the address of Sam’s apartment. He stares down at the letters and then rolls his eyes, reminds himself that Sam Wesson took a fire poker to company property, that Sam Wesson has dreams about vampires and Dean, that even though Sam might have saved Dean’s life, it doesn’t change the fact that Sam Wesson is probably a crazy nutjob and possibly a little dangerous too.
Dean slips the paper with Sam’s address underneath his keyboard with the bonus check and tries to forget about them both. He returns phone calls, catches up on his e-mails, and at six o’clock he slides on his jacket, packs up his briefcase, turns off his light, and heads for home.
There’s a tech support guy standing in the elevator when it opens. Dean is checking his blackberry and when he sees the yellow shirt out of the corner of his eye, he looks up, smiles. The tech support guy frowns at him, looks away, mumbles something under his breath. The guy is gangly, small, has dark hair and a sarcastic mouth and looks nothing like Sam Wesson.
Dean feels his smile slip and when the guy presses the button to hold the elevator doors open and says “You coming or what?” Dean turns and heads back toward his office. He takes the four steps to his desk on auto-pilot, lifts the keyboard, and grabs the slip of paper with Sam’s address.
It’s not stalking. Dean just plans to drive by, see what the neighborhood is like, maybe see if Sam’s lights are on. Which, okay, Dean realizes is totally sort of the beginning of stalking, but if he only does this once then it probably won’t end in a restraining order.
The very last thing Dean plans to do is stop, pull into Sam’s driveway, start a conversation, but when he turns down Sam’s street and sees Sam pulling a large bag of groceries out of the back of a Chevy Blazer, a pile of books gripped beneath his other arm, Dean does exactly that and thinks that maybe restraining orders are in his future after all.
He doesn’t think until it’s too late and he’s there sitting in his car in Sam Wesson’s driveway. Sam squints, trying to see him through the glare of the sun on the windshield. Dean watches as Sam shifts and tries to steady his load of books. He thinks that the smart thing to do would be to put the car in reverse and get the hell out of there before he does anything more stupid than this. Dean, however, seems to be having a hard time with smart today, and when Sam takes a step toward the driver side of his car, Dean opens the door and steps out.
Sam stops in his tracks, says “Dean,” and nearly drops his bag of groceries. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Dean smiles, shrugs, lies. “I was in the neighborhood, saw you standing there and thought I’d stop.”
Sam’s eyebrows raise and Dean can tell he’s not buying it for a second.
“Okay, so I looked up your address in the company files and I wasn’t planning to do anything with it - I’m not some stalker - but uh, well, here I am.”
Sam’s eyebrows climb a little higher if that’s even possible. They stand there for a long moment, just staring at each other. Then Sam shrugs around all of the stuff he’s carrying and says, “Uh, okay, I guess?”
Dean nods, satisfied that Sam’s probably not planning to do anything rash like punch him or call the cops. Sam shifts the bags and the books again and Dean suddenly feels like an ass letting him stand there juggling everything. He reaches out to grab the books. “Here, let me help with those.”
Sam says “no, that’s okay” and takes a step back just as Dean goes to slide the books from beneath Sam’s arm. The books fall to the driveway with a thud.
“Shit,” Dean says. “Sorry.” He collects Sam’s books, stacking them neatly under his arm, and then stands back while Sam closes the trunk of his car.
“So,” Sam says, after a few more seconds of awkward staring. “You, uh, I don’t know. You wanna come inside?”
Dean opens his mouth to make an excuse, say that he has to get back in time for his yoga class or something. It’s the smart thing to do. Something. He has work that he needs to get done for a meeting the next morning. That one’s not a lie, but even the truth is suddenly impossible to spit out.
Sam must get sick of waiting for Dean to get even a single word out, or possibly he can actually see Dean working to formulate the lie, because his mouth turns up in a patient smile and he says, “Come on. I’ll make you a sandwich.”
Dean nods and follows Sam inside. Sam’s apartment is the second floor of a two-family house. It’s on the small side, a little cluttered, and feels a lot homier than Dean’s own place. The furniture is old and worn. It looks comfortable and lived in. It looks like there’s history here. Either that or Sam bought all of his furniture at garage sales.
“Sorry,” Sam says. “It’s kind of a mess. I wasn’t really expecting – well, you know. Uh, you can drop the books over there.” He waves Dean toward a small round coffee table, littered with papers and notebooks, Sam’s laptop sitting open in the center of the chaos.
Dean sets the books down and follows Sam into the kitchen, stands there while Sam begins unloading his groceries at the counter. Sam isn’t looking at him, seems to be concentrating extra hard on pulling bananas and lunch meat from his bag.
“So you, uh, you attacked your phone,” Dean says, because he isn’t sure what else to say and it’s bound to come up eventually anyway. Still, it’s not the best conversation starter and Dean cringes a little and looks away.
“Yeah,” Sam agrees, then holds up two slices of bread.
Dean shakes his head and watches while Sam starts making two sandwiches anyway.
“I’m not crazy,” Sam says as he slaps several slices of roast beef onto one of the sandwiches, then opens another bag and starts piling turkey on the other.
“I didn’t say you were crazy,” Dean says. He thinks it’s best not to mention that he spent a solid part of the last several afternoons thinking that Sam probably was at least a little crazy.
Sam laughs. “You think I’m nuts.”
Dean shrugs and watches Sam slice a tomato. “Last week I thought ghosts were nuts too.”
Dean doesn’t miss the way Sam’s face brightens a little as he nods, the way that Sam looks away as soon as he sees Dean notice.
Sam clears his throat. “Why are you here?”
“I don’t know,” Dean admits. “I guess I’m – thing is, maybe you were right. Maybe I don’t want to spend the next twenty years of my life at Sandover.”
“Okay,” Sam says, slowly. “So what does that mean?” He finishes the sandwiches and stares at them for a long moment before he pushes the roast beef across the counter toward Dean. Dean takes it and pokes at it, pulls at the beef hanging off the edges, but doesn’t take a bite.
“I don’t know what it means,” Dean admits. “I still think – don’t get me wrong, Sam. I envy you, but I can’t just quit and start hunting ghosts full time. I can’t – we don’t even know if we’re good at it, really. It could have just been a fluke, right?”
“It wasn’t a fluke,” Sam says, his lips pressed together with determination.
“It might be,” Dean insists, “but I think maybe we should try to find out.”
Sam’s eyebrows raise at that, his mouth falls open a little. “Really? You wanna – what? Like work behind a desk all week and fight ghosts on the weekends?”
“I don’t know,” Dean says. “Maybe. I mean, not alone. With you. If you want to.”
Sam takes a bite of his sandwich and stares down at the counter. He probably doesn’t want anything to do with Dean, not after the way Dean completely blew him off when Sam was so entirely right. Frankly, it freaks Dean out how well Sam seems to know him. Even now, sitting in Sam’s perfectly normal, not crazy or dangerous kitchen, Dean is a little scared by the whole thing. Dean looks at Sam and sees the guy he met a week ago. Too tall, a little weird, but somehow someone Dean thinks that ultimately he can trust.
Sam though, Sam looks at Dean and sees a guy who might reach for the turkey but really prefers the roast beef. Sam looks at Dean and sees all this other stuff. He sees stuff that Dean can’t even see in himself. It doesn’t seem fair.
“I don’t mean – I get that I was a jerk last week,” Dean says. “So I get it if you just want me to leave you alone. Just tell me to get the hell out of here and I’m gone.”
“No,” Sam says then, maybe a little too quickly. He looks up. “No. I – yeah, I still want to do this. Yeah.”
“Okay,” Dean says. He lifts his sandwich and takes a bite to stop himself from grinning at Sam like a giant tool. He’ll worry about the carbs in the morning.
Turns out Sam spent his week off collecting books from used bookstores and guys he’s found on the internet, books about mythological creatures and books full of spirit sightings and Latin. It looks like a lot of nonsense right now, but Sam insists they’ll come in handy.
“We need to know what we’re up against,” Sam says. “And the internet’s good, but I bet we’ll need these too.”
Dean recognizes them as the books that he helped carry into the apartment a few hours earlier. He surveys the clutter on the table, local newspapers, online printouts, phone numbers.
“You were gonna do this without me,” Dean realizes. It’s not even a question. Sam was absolutely going to go off hunting ghosts without him.
“Well,” Sam shrugs. “Yeah. I mean, what else was I gonna do?”
Dean thinks about it, Sam facing this stuff alone, maybe getting hurt, and Dean not being there. He thinks about it and he can feel the redness creep into his face. He takes a deep breath. Part of him wants to yell at Sam, tell him that he’s being reckless. Dean pushes the urge down, realizes that he’s being irrational, and starts to feel a little embarrassed instead. Like he has any say in what Sam Wesson decides to do with his life.
“Dean?” Sam asks, concerned.
“If we’re doing this, we do it together, okay?” Dean says. “I don’t want to find out that while I’m sitting at the office, you’re out somewhere getting yourself hurt.”
“Yeah,” Sam agrees easily, the words accompanied by another shrug. “Yeah, sure.”
“Promise me, Sam.”
Sam pulls a face, but he nods and says, “I’m not going to go after ghosts without you, Dean. I promise.”
“Good,” Dean agrees. “We’re a team.”
“Yeah,” Sam says one more time before changing the subject. “So anyway, in the last week I’ve been looking for stuff in the area, you know? Like for anything strange, ghost sightings or weird deaths, that kind of thing. I haven’t found anything yet but I figure it’s only a matter of time, right? So in the meantime I signed up for some classes. I’ve got my first boxing class next Tuesday, which I know, sounds kind of – whatever, but I think it’ll help. And I’m thinking about buying a gun.”
Dean nods and bites the inside of his cheek, still a little bit upset at the thought of Sam attempting to do this without him. If Dean hadn’t changed his mind, Sam could be out there tomorrow alone and - okay, not entirely unprepared, but anything could happen. Sam needs him for this.
“You should take the class with me,” Sam suggests. “I think it’ll be good.”
“Boxing,” Sam repeats.
“Yeah,” Dean agrees. “Maybe.”
Sam continues talking about the things he’s learned in the last week, a few new tips from the Ghostfacers. He tells Dean about the things he’s read, about demons and vampires and silver and holy water.
“It’s all real, Dean,” Sam says, so sure of himself now that he’s come face to face with one cranky old ghost.
Dean listens to all of it, but he still can’t get the thought of Sam doing this alone out of his head. He hardly knows the guy. He shouldn’t be this worried about some crazy dude from tech support’s well being. It’s not like Sam needs Dean to watch out for him. Sam’s huge. Despite the whole computer nerd thing Sam’s got going, he looks like he could probably bench press Dean. He kicked the door to Sandover’s office in like it was nothing. Even all hunched over his papers Sam looks giant and capable, his arms straining a little against the sleeves of his t-shirt.
“What?” Sam asks, and Dean jumps, just a little.
“What?” Dean repeats. He stops staring at Sam’s arms and looks up at his face instead.
Sam’s mouth pulls a little to the side, like he’s trying not to laugh at Dean. “You could have just told me if I was being that boring.”
“You’re not boring,” Dean says. “I was listening.”
“Right,” Sam says. He closes the book he’s been holding open in his lap. “Your eyes were all glazed over.”
Dean sighs, runs a hand over his face, says, “Sorry, man. I’ve got – there’s a big meeting first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Oh,” Sam says and looks down at his watch. “Oh, you should have said.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Dean insists, not meaning to accuse Sam of keeping him out too late. It’s just an easier response than telling Sam he was zoning out staring at the Sam’s gigantic arm muscles. Dean glances at his own watch, surprised to find that it’s already after eleven. “I probably really should get going though,” he admits.
“Yeah,” Sam agrees, stands. “yeah, of course.”
Sam walks Dean back out to the driveway and once they’re there he slaps Dean’s back, a friendly gesture, and says, “Don’t forget next Tuesday. Boxing. And I’ll keep looking for any leads in the area. I’ll give you a call if anything comes up, okay?”
“Okay,” Dean agrees.
He’s got his hand on the car door when Sam adds, “I’m glad you came by, Dean.”
“Yeah,” Dean says. “Me too.”
At three o’clock Dean slides the bonus check out from underneath his keyboard and stares at it. Yesterday he still thought about cashing it. Today he’s pretty sure he probably never will.
Sam called him at lunch to tell him about three people at a nursing home just over the Michigan border who all died of heart attacks within three hours of one another last Saturday night.
“It’s a nursing home,” Dean pointed out. “People in nursing homes die kind of a lot.”
“Yeah,” Sam said, “But three in the same night, all within hours of one another? I think it’s worth checking out.”
“How?” Dean asked.
“I’m gonna head over to Ashton this afternoon. See if I can talk to some people.”
“Wait for me,” Dean said.
“I’m just going to talk to people,” Sam insisted. “I’m not gonna go after anything without you there.”
Dean wanted to protest, wanted to tell Sam again to wait for him, but it’s a nursing home and Dean was pretty sure Sam’s just grasping at straws here anyway, so he just said, “be careful” and hung up instead, went back to eating his salad.
Now Dean stares at the check and thinks about Sam, wonders if he’s finding any leads, wonders if they’ve kicked him out yet or if he’s just messing around, reading to someone else’s grandmother. Sam seems like the type to get along well with old people. Probably doesn’t even mind having his cheeks pinched. With dimples like Sam’s he’s probably getting his cheeks pinched a lot. His face will be sore all afternoon. So far it’s the only thought that’s made Dean feel a little better about being stuck at his desk. He smiles to himself, slides the check back under the keyboard and gets back to work.
“Get this,” Sam says, hardly waiting for Dean to get into the apartment and set down his briefcase. “Mabel Wright swears that she saw two ghosts the night of the first three heart attacks.”
“The first three?” Dean asks, eyebrows raised. He slides off his suit jacket and throws it over the arm of Sam’s couch.
“Yeah,” Sam says. “George Salamone died of a heart attack in the east wing of the nursing home at 2:30 this morning. They found him collapsed in the hallway.”
“I don’t know, Sam,” Dean says. “I still think it’s not – how old was this guy?”
Sam crosses his arms across his chest, leans in toward Dean, a smug smile turning the corners of his mouth as he continues. “Thing is, George Salamone can’t walk. No one can figure out how he got so far from his room without his wheelchair.”
“Huh,” Dean says. He pulls at his tie. “So this Mabel thinks it’s ghosts?”
“She didn’t say she thought the ghosts were killing anyone, but she’s definitely been seeing things,” Sam says, shrugs.
“And you believe her,” Dean says.
Sam shrugs again, looks away, asks Dean if he’s hungry. There’s something that Sam’s not telling him here, a vital snippet of information that Sam is leaving out, so when Sam opens his fridge and stares for a while before squinting at Dean and asking if he’s still on that master cleanse or if he’d be up for a beer, Dean accepts the beer and waits patiently for Sam to loosen up and spill the missing pieces in the story.
It takes three beers, but eventually Sam spills.
“Wait,” Dean says, holds up a hand, “Slow down. Mabel Wright has Alzheimer’s?”
“Well, yeah, but –“
“Alzheimer’s, Sam. You want to hunt ghosts based on the word of an 80 year old woman who thought you were her high school sweetheart coming to pick her up for the prom.”
“I know,” Sam says. “I know what you’re thinking, but she seemed pretty lucid. I mean, other than the – “ Sam waves his hand and blushes a little before continuing, “I just think – what if there is something going on? What if we don’t do anything about it and more people end up dead?”
Sam is staring at him, his eyes pleading all wide and earnest. It’s the same expression Sam had that night in Dean’s office after they burned Sandover’s gloves. Dean said no to that face then, but he’s not entirely sure he can do it again. Not with Sam so close, not with how right Sam was the last time this happened. And not after three beers when Dean hasn’t had a drink in at least a month.
“Okay,” Dean gives in. He looks away from Sam, down into his beer bottle. Dean isn’t sure why, but the beer bottle seems safer. “Okay, you don’t need to pull a guilt trip. We’ll check out the nursing home.”
Sam hits Dean’s shoulder in victory. He’s grinning at Dean, all dimples. It’s infectious and before Dean knows it he’s shaking his head and smiling too.
“So I guess we just need a plan then,” Dean says.
Dean wouldn’t have guessed it was possible, but Sam’s smile actually becomes wider as he says, “Way ahead of you.”
Sam, apparently, was pretty confident that he could get Dean to agree to look into the Ashton Nursing Home deaths, because when they arrive late Saturday afternoon, Kathy, some sort of nurse/receptionist, is expecting them. She greets Sam warmly, though her smile slips a little when Sam introduces her to Dean. She recovers quickly enough, giving them a quick tour of the facility and a list of volunteer duties. She shows them the common rooms, the cafeteria, even how to work the damn television. It doesn’t go unnoticed that every time she looks at Dean her mouth tightens a little, but as soon as her eyes slide over (and okay, up) to Sam, she’s all smiles and bursting with helpful answers to all of Sam’s questions, no matter how strange (Three times Sam asks security questions and not once does Kathy look at Sam like she thinks his over the top concern for the welfare of other people’s grandparents is at all odd or suspicious.)
Finally, Kathy takes them to the employee break room, hands them name badges and folded piles of blue scrubs.
“I’ll let you guys get changed,” Kathy says. “It’s dinner time, so you’ll find a lot of people in the cafeteria. Maybe spend a few hours getting to know everyone and then we can get started on that list I gave you.”
“Thanks, Kathy,” Sam says, all earnest and Dean can’t quite stop himself before he rolls his eyes.
“Come find me if you boys have any questions,” Kathy says, and then she’s gone.
“Volunteers?” Dean asks, swatting Sam with his scrubs to get his attention. “That’s your genius plan?”
Sam shrugs. “Yesterday she told me how short staffed they are and I might have mentioned that I have a friend who has to do some community service.”
“Community service,” Dean repeats. “That’s why she’s giving me the stink eye? So what was it? Drunk driving? Did I steal some CDs, maybe?”
Now it’s Sam’s turn to rolls his eyes. “Two days top, Dean, and then you never have to see any of these people again. Come on, it’s a good plan.”
Dean sighs, stares down at the scrubs, but Sam’s amused expression doesn’t escape him.
“Yeah, yeah,” Dean grumbles. “Laugh it up, Chuckles.”
It isn’t nearly as bad as Dean expects it to be. The scrubs, though they seem completely unnecessary to Dean, are so comfortable they might as well be pajamas, and everyone seems excited to have new faces around. Men jump at the chance to brag about old war stories, old loves, and the older women at the home just seem thrilled to have two reasonably attractive young men prowling the halls. And as a bonus, they all seem to have developed giant crushes on Sam in the 24 hours that he’s been absent from their lives, so Dean gets to watch Sam turn all kinds of red as he’s petted and pinched and twice has a particularly saucy old lady give his ass a quick slap. Once she goes so far as to squeeze a little and the look of shock on Sam’s face is most definitely the highlight of Dean’s entire week.
By nine o’clock things start to get pretty quiet. Sam and Dean spend some time straightening up the common rooms, discretely checking behind closed doors. They find an empty room in the east wing and Dean unlatches one of the windows, pulls out the screen and stashes it in a nearby closet. He leaves the window open, just a crack, and then goes to find Sam.
At quarter to eleven they change out of their scrubs and sign out on the volunteer sheet tacked to a board in the break room. Sam chats with Kathy’s evening replacement, Cheryl, for a while, and then, once they’re outside, they start toward Sam’s car, stopping only long enough to pull Sam’s duffel bag from the back before doubling back around the side of the building. They have to hop a fence to get to the window that Dean left open and Dean nearly rips the palm of his hand open on the pointed wire along the top of it, but they make it over in one piece and then they’re in the open window, no problem.
“Well, that was actually easier than I expected it to be,” Dean admits, rubbing his scraped palm and brushing grass off his jeans from where he landed after his mishap with the fence. It’s not like he expected a nursing home in suburban Michigan to have top security or anything, but still, he thinks he’d maybe think twice about setting his parents up here. “What now?”
“Now I guess we wait,” Sam suggests. He paces the room a little before he sets his bag of supplies on one of the narrow beds.
“Wait for what?” Dean asks. He thinks he can probably guess, but he’s feeling the need to fill the silence somehow and it’s the most obvious question.
“I don’t know,” Sam says. “Like maybe a drop in temperature. Flickering lights, I guess. Or just someone moving around in the hallway, maybe.”
Dean nods, remembers the cold patches that day in the bathroom at Sandover, remembers all of the blood, and shivers.
They’re silent for a while, sitting a good distance apart on the bed, Sam’s bag of salt and iron on the mattress between them. The nursing home is pretty quiet, the light coming in beneath the door from the hallway illuminating the room just enough for Dean to watch Sam’s profile as Sam watches the door. Eventually Sam turns to look at Dean and shrugs.
“I think it might be a long night,” he concludes.
Dean uses it as an opportunity to pick Sam’s brain, their voices hushed. Turns out Sam started having the strange dreams around the same time he took the job at Sandover, doesn’t remember anything like that happening before. Dean listens and nods and tries not to speculate that the only reason Dean is featured in Sam’s dreams is because Sam subconsciously remembered seeing him around the office. After all, it’s not like Sam was dreaming about Dean before there was the possibility of running into Dean in the hallway or on the elevator.
Sam doesn’t really remember what made him decide to go into tech support. He’s always liked computers but “I always thought I’d try to be a lawyer,” Sam says. “You know something. This was just a job, you know?”
“I can’t picture you as a lawyer,” Dean says.
Sam laughs, “I have a hard time picturing you as some corporate suit.”
Dean looks down at the jeans and the sweater he’s wearing now and shrugs.
“What day did you start at Sandover?” Dean asks.
Sam nods, like he expected as much.
“You don’t think that’s a little coincidental?” Dean asks.
“I think it’s totally weird,” Sam says.
“It’s really fucking weird,” Dean agrees.
“It just doesn’t surprise me,” Sam finishes.
“I don’t know,” Sam says, not looking at Dean. He watches the door as he speaks. “I guess because I can just feel that – it’s like I told you that night. There’s something pulling us together. We were supposed to end up here.”
“Here?” Dean asks, looking around the dark empty room.
“Well, maybe not here, exactly, but doing this. Together”
“And you don’t think for a second that maybe this thing that’s pulling us together is you?” Dean asks. So much for trying not to speculate. It just makes too much sense. “You don’t think that maybe you saw me during some orientation thing on that first day? That maybe subconsciously you remembered and that’s how I ended up starring in your dreams?”
Sam looks at Dean now, his mouth open slightly. Eventually he shakes his head, his brow furrowed, and says, “This isn’t in my head, Dean.”
“Okay,” Dean says. “I believe that you believe that. But maybe we shouldn’t rule it out, okay? It’s not like it would change anything. I’m doing this with you either way.”
“I’m not – what, like you think I’ve been fantasizing about you?” Sam asks, though it sounds more like an accusation at this point. Sam stands, his hands on his hips as he stares down at Dean and waits for an answer.
“No,” Dean says, tries to backpedal. “No, not fantasizing, just –“
“Like you’re that attractive,” Sam says, with a small laugh. “So irresistible that some guy down in tech support has to have fake delusions just to get close to you.”
“No, come on,” Dean hisses. The last thing they need is for someone to catch them in here arguing. “You know that’s not what I meant. I’m just trying to make sense of –“
“Whatever, Dean,” Sam cuts him off. He turns toward the window, his back toward Dean, large shoulders hunched.
Dean wants to say something, move, but he doesn’t know what he can say that won’t make this worse than it already is.
Eventually Sam sighs and his shoulders visibly relax. He doesn’t turn, just says, “Maybe you were right. There are no ghosts here.”
“Yeah,” Dean says. “Maybe.”
Sam turns back to Dean, no longer angry, just kind of sad and upset looking, which Dean thinks might be worse.
“You wanna get out of here?” Sam suggests, defeated.
Dean pulls his blackberry from his pocket and glances at the time. It’s nearly one. He thinks it’s probably a good wake up call, discovering that their hunches aren’t always going to be right. Sometimes three people just die in the same wing of a nursing home on the same night.
He’s about to say so, suggest they hit up a bar on the way back, thinks that at this point, he probably owes Sam a beer. The Master Cleanse went down the drain as soon as Dean started spending time with Sam again. Dean doesn’t miss it. The beer tastes amazing and Dean can tell that even if he gains a few pounds, Sam’s not going to care. He’s seconds from voicing the offer when Sam’s giant hand suddenly grabs his shoulder and Sam is leaning over him saying, “Look.”
Dean’s eyes follow the arm that is reaching over Dean’s shoulder, follow the path to the strip of light beneath the door. The light is flickering erratically.
There’s shuffling in the hallway and a sharp intake of breath from Sam, his hand disappearing from Dean’s back.
Dean turns and grabs the duffel, shoves one of the iron pokers into Sam’s hand, and pulls out the salt as well.
“Come on,” Dean says. They’ve been sitting here all freakin’ night. They’re not going to miss it now that something is finally happening.
They’re quiet as they approach the door, but even Sam’s breathing seems a little too loud now.
Dean reaches out and the door knob feels cold against his damp palm. The door creaks a little when it opens, but the hallway is quiet and after a moment, Dean peers around the edge of the door.
Mabel Wright is standing twenty feet away from them, her back to Dean.
Dean reaches back and slaps at Sam, steps out into the hall.
“Mabel?” Sam asks, takes a step toward her. “Mabel, it’s Sam Wesson. Remember? Are you all right?”
Mabel doesn’t seem to hear Sam. Sam shrugs at Dean and starts walking toward her, iron poker held tight against his side. The lights flicker once more, but then hold steady.
“Mabel?” Sam asks again. Dean can see Mabel’s face now, her pale eyes staring down the hall. Sam waves a hand in front of her face and Mabel doesn’t even blink. He reaches out to touch Mabel’s shoulder and Mabel doesn’t move, doesn’t register the touch at all.
“She’s coming,” Mabel says then, her voice high, hoarse.
“Who?” Dean asks. He looks from Mabel up to Dean. “Who’s coming?”
The lights in the hallway start to flicker again and Mabel reaches out to grip the sleeve of Sam’s shirt.
“Let’s get you back to your room,” Sam suggests. He reaches out to grip Mabel’s arm and that’s when things go to hell.
Mabel – 80 years old and five feet tall - snarls at Sam and then pushes with what looks like a surprising amount of force. Sam stumbles back and drops his poker to the ground.
Dean, not sure what to do when his partner is being attacked by a seemingly frail old woman, just stands there. Which is how he ends up getting punched in the face.
“What the hell,” Dean curses. She’s 80 freakin’ years old and his nose is fucking bleeding and he’s so preoccupied with his face that he almost misses the change in Mabel, the way she suddenly sags a little, the sudden look of pain and awareness as she grips her own hand.
Mabel turns toward Dean then and says, “Oh dear. You’re bleeding.”
The lights are back on completely now, all flickering stopped. Sam picks up his poker and then tosses a handful of salt at Mabel, shrugs when Mabel brushes it off her bare arm and nothing happens.
“What the hell,” Dean says again.
Mabel lets them help her back to her room, quietly telling them about Doreen Hodgkin, who Dean eventually realizes must be the ghost that possessed Mabel.
“This has happened before?” Dean asks.
“Oh yes,” Mabel says, her voice cheerful and upbeat, as though she’s just happy that someone is interested in all of this. “Doreen’s very scared. She’s been worried for weeks.”
“Scared of who?” Dean asks.
“Janet,” Mabel says.
“Janet?” Dean presses. “Who’s Janet?”
Mabel opens her mouth to answer, then pauses, seemingly stumped. She rubs her hand and says, “Now what was her name?”
They’re at Mabel’s room now and Mabel squeezes each of their hands with the one she didn’t use to punch Dean’s face. She thanks them for helping her home, calls Sam ‘Trevor’ and insists he let her kiss his cheek. When Sam tries to ask her more about Doreen Hodgkin all Mabel will say is “Doreen? Such a nice woman” and it’s clear from her eyes that Mabel doesn’t remember who Doreen is.
“That spirit just possessed her,” Sam says, once they’re safely back in his car. “Like an actual possession.”
“Yeah,” Dean says. He’s been holding a wad of tissues against his nose for the last fifteen minutes and it’s still bleeding a little. “I noticed. Awesome.”
“So I guess now we just have to figure out who the hell Janet and Doreen are,” Sam says. His face is bright and excited when he turns to look at Dean. Dean must look pretty pathetic though because Sam’s expression sobers up and he says, “That’s gonna bruise, man.”
“Thanks,” Dean says, but it’s funny, just a little. Thirty years old and beat up by an 80 year old woman in the halls of a nursing home, and Dean laughs for a second, stopping only because it hurts.
Sam laughs too.
On Sunday they head straight for Home Depot where they stock up on shovels and gas cans and rock salt. They stop at a grocery store for more table salt, and then a gas station where they fill the cans. And then, by mid-afternoon they’re headed back to Ashton Nursing Home with a new plan.
It’s surprisingly easy. Kathy is excited to see Sam again so soon. She gives Dean one long distasteful look, eyeing the bruising around his nose, and then she turns her complete attention to Sam who, as it turns out, plays the role of distraction surprisingly well.
Dean finds the office empty, patient files organized alphabetically by last name with separate cabinets reserved for current and former residents. Dean goes straight to the latter, opening the drawer labeled ‘H – J’.
Doreen Hodgkin lived at Ashton for five years during the ‘70s until she died in her sleep in 1976.
“Grisly accident?” Sam guesses once they’re sitting safely in a diner two miles from the nursing home.
“Natural causes according to the report,” Dean says, poking at his salad with the hand not holding the folder he swiped.
“So why’s she haunting the place?”
“Guess who the attending nurse was the night that Doreen died.”
“Someone named Janet?” Sam guesses.
“Janet Teals,” Dean confirms. “Janet was fifty one in 1976. In 2003 she entered the nursing home as a resident. And that’s where she stayed until 2006 when she also died of natural causes in her sleep.”
Dean scans the notes he scrawled on a sheet of paper and continues. “While Janet did her time as a nurse, twelve more patients died of -“ Dean sets everything down so that he can hold up his fingers to bracket the next two words – “natural causes the same month as Doreen Hodgkin.”
“So?” Sam asks, but he’s smiling and Dean can tell he’s not being contrary so much as helping to lead Dean to the punchline.
“So there’s one more thing,” Dean says. “The last guy to die that month was Walter Green. At first the report said –“
“Natural causes,” Sam supplies.
“Natural causes, yeah, but Walter’s family insisted that his death be investigated further. The coroner found signs of asphyxiation.”
“So someone strangled him?” Sam asks.
“Nah,” Dean says. “No bruising on the neck. More like smothered with a pillow maybe? A week after the discovery, Janet Teals quit her job. The Walter Green case was dropped after interrogations at the nursing home failed to turn up any leads.”
“So you think Janet Teals was what? Like the Dr. Kevorkian of Ashton?”
“Maybe,” Dean says. “Except maybe Doreen Hodgkin wasn’t ready to die just yet.”
“And now Janet and Doreen are haunting Ashton’s east wing.”
“Or Janet’s back up to her God gig,” Dean suggests. “Since 2006 April deaths at Ashton have been higher than any other month. Like a lot higher.”
“So we just need to figure out where Janet is buried – “
“Temperance Catholic Cemetery,” Dean supplies.
“Huh,” Sam says. “You learned a lot in half an hour.”
“I’m good,” Dean agrees with a grin.
“So,” Sam continues. “I guess we wait around here until it gets dark.”
“Guess so,” Dean agrees. “Our first illegal grave desecration.”
Sam’s smile looks just as nervous now as Dean feels.
Dean felt exhilarated after taking care of Sandover, like he’d just completed the best workout of his life. Now, standing knee deep in the grave of some deranged nurse’s aide, Dean just feels tired and a little sick.
“Well, this sucks,” he says, which is probably stating the obvious. Still, it couldn’t go unsaid.
Sam grunts, throws another load of dirt from the grave. Dean watches Sam’s shoulders as he works and then adds, “Kind of makes you wish she just left behind some old gloves to burn, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Sam agrees and keeps digging.
Dean watches him a while longer, thinks about the first time he met Sam in that elevator, when he thought Sam might be coming on to him. Dean wonders if Sam ever expected them to end up here, in a cemetery illegally digging up some corpse that they then plan to salt and burn.
Actually, this is probably exactly what Sam expected.
Dean sits on the edge of their excavation and watches Sam wipe sweat from his forehead.
“You said you had a fiancée?” Dean asks, and this probably isn’t the time for this conversation, but Dean thinks he wants to have it now anyway.
“Yeah,” Sam says. “I mean, I think so.”
“You think you had a fiancée?”
Sam shrugs. “Her phone number doesn’t work and two weeks ago I had this dream that she was a werewolf and I had to put a bullet through her heart. I don’t know. I don’t really know what I’m supposed to think.”
“That’s just a dream, Sam,” Dean says. Dean believes that, he does. Dean’s certainly had his share of fucked up dreams. Still, it’s a dream that should have Dean second guessing how smart it is to be out here alone in the middle of the night standing in an open grave with someone who has basically just admitted that he’s not entirely sure that he didn’t shoot his former fiancée. It should start him second guessing, but it doesn’t.
Sam stops digging and stands to his full height, looks down at Dean slouched against the grass.
“I’m not sure she ever existed in the first place,” Sam admits. He shrugs and pushes his shovel back into the dirt, pulls at his t-shirt where it sticks damp to his side.
Dean doesn’t move even though he knows it’s a mere matter of seconds before Sam will point out Dean’s extended break. He sits there and stares at Sam’s giant arms, thinks about the things Sam said that day in his office, tries to remember the last time he spoke to his mother, the last time he heard from Jo.
When Sam stops working and stares pointedly at Dean, Dean picks up his shovel and says, “So you really weren’t hitting on me in that elevator?”
Sam sighs. “I told you I wasn’t.”
Dean nods, still not sure he entirely believes Sam, and resumes digging.
Dean groans when his alarm goes off at six, tries not to think about the fact that he’s had maybe two hours of sleep. He showers quickly, dresses, then walks out of his bedroom to find Sam passed out on his couch, his dirty clothes dumped unceremoniously into a plastic bag nearby. It was nearly midnight by the time they’d uncovered Janet Teals enough to salt and burn her. It was well into the early hours of the morning before they’d refilled the grave and gotten out of there. By the time they pulled up to Dean’s building they were both too exhausted to even think about getting Sam back to his own place.
Sam’s too long for the couch and his feet hang off the end. Still, he seems comfortable enough and Dean is quiet, makes sure not to wake him. He leaves Sam a note, letting him know that there is fresh fruit in the fridge and instructions on both the washer/dryer and the shower. Then Dean slides quietly out the door, locking Sam in behind him.
Dean spends the morning in meetings, downing cup after cup of coffee and trying to pay attention to the numbers being rattled off. Dean really doesn’t care about the meeting. He’s busy thinking about the dull ache in his shoulders, the bruise on his thigh that matches the ones around his nose, the way Sam’s face looked pressed to the pillows on his couch. Dean finds himself wondering if Mabel Wright saw any ghosts last night, and more to the point Dean wonders what he and Sam will find to fight next.
At lunch Dean thinks about Sam’s fiancée, about whether she ever actually existed at all. He wonders if Sam is actually crazy and then is surprised to discover that he doesn’t really care if it turns out that Sam is. Sam can think he’s trapped in the wrong life all he wants. It shouldn’t stop Dean from living this one, and by the time Dean’s finished his salad, he’s pretty sure he plans to live it fighting monsters with Sam Wesson.
Sam calls shortly after Dean has finished his lunch break.
“You’re not gonna like this,” Sam says.
“I’m not going to like what?” Dean asks. He watches the hallway for Adler, keeps his voice low.
“Last night two of Aston’s residents died in the east wing.”
“Shit, really?” Dean asks. “What time?”
“Remember Curtis Bolton? Used to fly planes during World War II? He died at four this morning.”
“That’s after we torched Janet,” Dean says.
“Yeah,” Sam agrees.
“So it wasn’t her?”
“Guess not,” Sam says. “I think we need to try to talk to Mabel again. She broke her hand on your face, but Kathy says the hospital is releasing her this morning and she’ll be back at Ashton tonight. How about I pick you up after work?”
“My car’s here,” Dean says.
“We can swing by and get it on our way back,” Sam suggests. “Or I’ll drive you in tomorrow. Whatever, man. I’ll see you at 5:30, okay?”
Dean agrees and hangs up the phone, tries to get back to work. He responds to a few e-mails, returns a phone call, stares at a spreadsheet. He wonders what Sam is doing now. Maybe gathering more information on Ashton, reading up on ghost possession, watching Days of our Lives. Dean hates soap operas, but even that sounds better than sitting in his office waiting for the day to end so that his life can start again.
Dean makes it to three in the afternoon before he pulls the uncashed bonus check from beneath the keyboard at this desk, prints out his letter of resignation, and walks down the hall to Adler’s office.
Adler doesn’t seem all that surprised.
“It’s a shame to lose someone like you, Dean,” Adler says, but he’s smiling a little despite the words.
“It’s just not a right fit for me,” Dean says.
Adler just nods like he suspected all along. It’s nearly enough to get Dean to change his mind, nearly enough to push him to stay, prove Adler wrong, cash that check and purchase a membership to the golf club Adler’s always going on about. Almost, but not quite.
When Dean slides the check across the desk toward Adler, Adler frowns and says, “What’s this?”
“I can’t take this,” Dean says.
Adler lifts the check and looks at it, smoothes the crease where Dean had folded it on his way down the hall. Eventually Adler sighs, and his mouth turns up in a smirk that’s attempting to look sad.
“Keep it,” Adler says. “For a job well done.”
Dean protests and Adler insists, and eventually Dean folds the check again and slides it into his pocket, not because he wants it or plans to cash it, but because he sees it’s the only way to end this meeting, the only way to move on. Adler nods, satisfied, and shakes Dean’s hand.
Dean’s smile feels tight as he leaves Adler’s office. His fingers touch the edge of the check in his pocket and he can’t help but feel like the meeting is unfinished somehow, like there was something else Adler had to say but decided at the last minute to give him the check instead. Dean returns to his desk, shuts the door and stares at the check, wonders if he did the right thing until 5:30 rolls around and it’s time to meet Sam.
Sam is still ten minutes from the office, so Dean makes a detour to his car, intending to throw his briefcase into the trunk, grab the jeans that he knows are in a bag back there, and change his clothes before they hit the road. The garage is surprisingly full for the end of the day. An office full of overachievers working 80 hours a week. Any other day, Dean would see the garage and feel guilty for leaving so early.
He hears a noise and turns to see one lone guy leaning against the north wall. Dean nods, then crosses the few aisles to his car and presses the button to unlock the hatchback. He tosses his briefcase inside, throws his suit jacket neatly over the back seat. He checks his pocket for his wallet, then grabs the jeans and locks the car back up. He can feel the wall leaner’s eyes on him, and when Dean turns, the guy doesn’t bother to look away. He’s near the stairs, probably in here trying to catch a smoke break, though usually people go down to the sidewalk for that. The guy’s brow is furrowed, like staring at some dude in a parking garage requires all of his concentration. Dean stares back for a second and when the guy doesn’t look away, doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s been caught, Dean turns and gets the hell out of there.
By the time Dean changes and gets down to street level, Sam is there, tapping his fingers against his steering wheel. He leans over and pushes the passenger side door open when he sees Dean coming.
“Hey,” Dean says, tosses his pants into the back seat.
“I got stuck at every light,” Sam grunts.
As Sam’s about to turn the corner, Dean notices the wall leaner exit the parking garage, stopping on the sidewalk to watch Sam and Dean drive away.
Mabel’s on painkillers for her broken hand. They try to talk to her, but she’s convinced the year is 1946 and her parents are searching for her and her father is going to beat her when he finds out she’s not at home in her room.
“So much for Mabel,” Dean sighs.
“You need to be awake for work tomorrow?” Sam asks.
Dean shrugs, then shakes his head. He gave his two weeks, it’s not like they’re gonna fire him.
They keep busy until it’s time for the volunteers to pack it up, and then they’re climbing back over the fence and into their empty east wing room.
Doreen shows up at quarter to one. She’s tall, taller than Dean expects her to be. Dean pictured someone along the lines of Mabel Wright. Doreen looks nothing like Mabel.
“She’s coming,” Doreen whispers, turning to stare at Sam and Dean.
“No one is coming,” Sam says. “Janet’s gone.” But Doreen isn’t listening. Dean watches as she becomes more and more agitated, and then Dean notices the pillow she’s gripping in her hands. He’s having a hard time breathing. He’s suddenly anxious, and he pulls at the collar of his shirt. The hallway is cold, he can see his breath. He can tell that the hallway is cold but he feels flushed anyway, like he has a fever, like he can’t get enough air into his lungs.
“She suffocated Janet,” Dean manages to say. “Doreen killed Janet the same way that she was killed.”
His chest feels tight and he takes a step back, uses the wall to prop himself up.
“Doreen,” Sam tries again. “Doreen, listen to me. Janet is gone. She isn’t coming back. No one’s going to hurt you.”
Doreen ignores Sam. She’s busy staring at Dean now, clutching her pillow, her face white and her hair a tangled mass of gray. Dean closes his eyes, can’t look at her, feels his heart pounding hard in his chest, knows that any second now Janet Teals will show up and it will be the end for Dean. He isn’t ready, he isn’t –
Dean opens his eyes. Doreen is gone. It’s just Sam and Dean now, Sam dropping a carton of salt to the ground as he rushes to Dean’s side, grips Dean’s arm.
“Are you okay?” Sam asks. “What the hell just happened to you?”
Dean takes a moment to catch his breath, lets Sam check his pulse and stare at his eyes. His heart slows, the anxiety and fear gone now, and Dean swallows and says, “I’m good. I’m good.”
Sam helps Dean to his feet, hands all over him, still checking to make sure he’s all right. Eventually Dean swats Sam away, straightens his clothes, rubs a hand across his face.
“I don’t think Janet Teals killed Doreen,” Dean says, feeling a lot more like himself now.
“I think Doreen thought Janet planned to kill her. I think Doreen worried herself sick, eventually scared herself to death. And now she’s doing the same thing to other people in the home. I don’t think she even knows she’s doing it.”
It takes them twenty minutes to get out of the nursing home and over to the cemetery. And then they’re illegally digging up their second grave in a week. They dig in silence for a while. Dean thinks about Doreen, feels sorry for her, thinks she’d probably be horrified if she had any idea what she was doing to the poor old people at Ashton. He pushes his shovel into the soil and thinks about the smug look on Adler’s round face as he pushed the bonus check back across his desk toward Dean. If Dean didn’t know better he’d say it was a look that said, ‘everything is going according to plan,’ like maybe Adler was just buttering him up because he knew it would push Dean away from Sandover. Like maybe Dean wasn’t doing such a great job after all.
“How’d you explain the nose?” Sam asks, grunting as he hefts a large shovel of dirt from Doreen’s grave.
“What?” Dean asks.
“At work. How did you explain your busted up nose?” Sam asks.
“Oh,” Dean says. “Said I had an encounter with a friend’s over excited dog.”
“Couldn’t admit the truth, huh? You don’t think the guys in the office would be impressed to hear that someone’s grandmother nearly broke your face?”
“Shut up,” Dean says.
“You know, I wasn’t actually that sore today after all the digging we did last night,” Sam says. “I expected to be hurting.”
Dean eyes Sam’s upper body and thinks about the aches and pains in his own shoulders. Dean’s in pretty good shape, but Sam’s arms are ridiculous. “Yeah,” Dean agrees eventually. “I was worried you might pull something there.”
Now it is Sam’s turn to tell Dean to shut up, accompanied by a shovel full of grave dirt thrown at Dean’s legs.
“This how you flirt with all the guys?” Dean asks, shaking his head as he kicks the dirt off his jeans.
Sam makes a face and then says, “You know, you can let that joke go any day now.”
“Yeah?” Dean asks. He makes sure to keep digging as he talks. “Not funny anymore?”
“You think it was ever funny?” Sam laughs. “I mean, I get it, Dean. I’m a good looking guy – “
“Whoa,” Dean says, dropping his shovel and holding up his hands.
Sam continues. “I just think that if we’re gonna, you know, work together like this, we should keep things cool between us. Platonic.”
Dean stares at Sam for a long moment and then opens his mouth to speak. At a loss for words, he gapes silently, before finally, squeezing his eyes shut, says, “What are you talking about?”
Sam looks at Dean with what Dean can only define as some sort of pity. Dean raises an eyebrow and Sam shrugs, goes back to digging. Dean watches him until eventually Sam says, “You just gonna stand there all night?”
Dean stares at the flames, watches Doreen burn. Sam sighs beside him. He’s hunched over, his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. Dean glances over at him, watches Sam watch the fire.
“So I gave my two weeks,” Dean says, after another moment.
Sam starts, turning toward Dean. “You what?”
“Gave my two weeks,” Dean repeats.
Sam’s mouth is hanging open. He looks down to hide some of his surprise, kicks at a tuft of grass with his shoe. Eventually he says, “Why?”
Dean shrugs. “More time for illegally digging up corpses? I don’t know.”
Sam’s mouth turns down in an exaggerated frown while he nods and considers this.
“So Doreen Hodgkin was enough to convince you that this wasn’t a fluke?”
Dean laughs. “More like a bruised face and two nights of no sleep were enough to convince me that I can’t do both at once. Had to make a choice, you know?”
“And digging up graves with me won out over giant bonus checks, nice suits, and golfing with Adler?”
“Sure did,” Dean grins.
Sam doesn’t say anything, seems to be thinking harder than usual. He’s probably thinking back on how badly Dean reacted when Sam suggested this very thing to him just a few weeks ago. He’s probably remembering how Dean wanted nothing to do with any of it.
Dean waits patiently until finally Sam says, “Huh. Think you’re going to regret it?”
“Regretting it already,” Dean lies. He turns back to stare down into the flaming grave.
“Yeah, right,” Sam says.
They continue their watch in silence. Eventually the fire dies down, leaving a pile of ash and coals in the bottom of the hole. Sam sighs heavily and bends over to retrieve their shovels. He hands one to Dean.
“You know,” Dean says, taking the shovel from Sam. “You were more surprised that I was quitting than Adler?”
Sam pushes his shovel into the pile of dirt, grunting a little as he tosses it back into the pit. “Thought you were pretty much Adler’s golden boy.”
“He seemed almost smug about the whole thing,” Dean says. “And then he tried to convince me to keep the bonus check.”
“You gonna?” Sam asks.
Dean starts helping Sam clean up their mess. He isn’t entirely sure of the point. It’s obvious someone has been here and when the disturbed grave is discovered, some poor schmuck is probably going to have to dig the whole thing back out in order to see the damage. Still, Sam insists that it’s the right thing to do.
“Well?” Sam asks.
“You gonna keep the check?”
Dean makes a face and lifts a large shovel full of dirt. “Of course not.”
Sam shrugs and wipes his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. “You could buy a lot of salt with that check.”
Dean snorts. “Right?”
Dean’s last two weeks at Sandover pass quickly. He gets all of his accounts in order, pulls together client folders, organizes everything for the next guy. He barely makes it through Tuesday, feels a little better in the afternoon when Sam calls to tell him that no one died at Ashton that night. He skips out on Tuesday night boxing and falls asleep shortly after he gets home from the office.
On Thursday after work they fill Nalgene bottles with holy water at a church two blocks from Sam’s apartment.
“This isn’t right,” Dean whispers, attempting to discreetly dip the bottle beneath the pool of water. It doesn’t really fit, hitting the sides of the basin so that it will only partially submerge. “This is so fucked up.”
“Don’t swear,” Sam hisses back. “Jesu – Geez.”
Dean tries not to laugh. Somehow they manage to get it together and get out of there before the priest returns.
Over the weekend they investigate a woman in southeast Toledo who claims that her dog has some kind of demon in him. They’re locked in the garage with the dog who wags his tail but snarls and growls and barks and generally looks like he’d rip off Dean’s head if he had the chance. He’s huge, some kind of mutt that looks like a german shepherd, a rottweiler and a pitt bull all mixed together. He pulls at his restraints as Sam reads some Latin mumbo jumbo from one of the books he’d collected from his dusty old internet contacts.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Dean asks. He thinks that locking themselves in a garage with this thing was probably not the smartest idea they’ve ever had. He looks around and grabs a broom that’s leaning against the wall, holding it in front of him like it’s some kind of shield.
Sam just keeps reading, his voice low and intense. The dog barks and jumps at them. Dean takes a step back, holds out an arm to protect Sam.
The dog lunges again and something snaps. The dog jumps, landing against Dean. Dean shouts and stumbles back, falling into Sam. Sam’s book slides across the floor out of reach. Dean, still half on Sam, reaches for his broom, ready to hit the dog with it, something. He looks up, broom wielded in his left hand, Sam’s shoulder pressed firmly against his right, ready for battle.
“Uh, Sam?” Dean says.
The garage is quiet. The dog’s stopped barking, stopped doing everything. It’s just sitting there, staring at Dean, tongue hanging out of one side of his mouth, ears perky and amiable.
“Maybe it worked?” Dean suggests. He turns back toward Sam.
Sam isn’t even looking at the dog. He’s staring up at Dean, his face all soft and funny. He looks like he’s forgotten all about the dog and the Latin and the barking.
“What – “ Dean starts, and pulls back when Sam leans up just slightly. “Are you going to kiss me?”
Sam continues to stare for a minute and then he shakes his head and shoves at Dean’s shoulder. “Of course not, asshole.”
Dean sits up and the dog stands, takes a step toward him.
“Whoa,” Dean says, holding up his hands. The dog leans in, sniffs his palms, and then slides his giant wet tongue across Dean’s right hand.
“I can’t believe that worked,” Dean says.
“It didn’t,” Sam grunts. “I didn’t finish it.”
“You didn’t finish it?”
“I don’t think the dog was possessed.”
Dean tentatively reaches out and pats the dog’s head. The dog lets him, sits back down, wags his tail.
“So what? It just really doesn’t like Latin?”
“I guess,” Sam says.
“Wish we’d figured that out before we tried the exorcism.”
Sam shoots Dean a look. “What’s funny now?”
Dean didn’t even realize he was smiling.
“Nothing,” he says. He tries to stop, but it only lasts a second before he can feel it twitch at the corner of his mouth.
Sam grabs Dean’s broom and props it back against the wall. “Come on. What?”
“You were absolutely hitting on me in that elevator,” Dean says.
Sam huffs a little. “I really wasn’t,” Sam says, and then reaches for his book and heads toward the door of the garage.
“Sure, Sammy,” Dean says. He never plans to believe Sam again.
By the following Wednesday Dean’s been with Sam every day and is not sick of him yet. In a way, Sam was right. Dean does feel like he knows Sam. He doesn’t always understand Sam, he’s still a little freaked out about the whole missing girlfriend and wrong life stuff, but most of the time Dean feels like he’s known Sam Wesson for years.
On Thursday Sam finally buys his gun, and that Saturday they get a 12 pack of beer and go shooting. They take it out into some fields, way outside of town, and set up empty Coke cans on a fallen log.
Dean inspects the gun while Sam pours over the inspection manual.
“You ever done this before?” Dean asks.
“Nope,” Sam says, holding out his hand for the gun.
Dean passes the gun to Sam, watches as Sam turns it over in his hand. “Ever do it in one of your dreams?”
Sam cocks the gun, aims and shoots, the sound loud in Dean’s ears. Dean watches as one of the cans falls over neatly.
“Yeah,” Sam says. “I’ve dreamed about it.”
“Jesus,” Dean says. He’s a little horrified that he’s suddenly slightly aroused. He didn’t peg himself as one of those guys who gets off on guns.
Sam seems a little surprised by himself, stares down at the gun in his hand. He lifts it again, aims, and shoots the next four cans in quick succession. Dean watches as Sam reloads the gun and hands it over to Dean.
It feels strange in Dean’s hand. He finishes his beer while he watches Sam walk out to the log, his long legs taking huge steps in the tall grass. Sam repositions the cans and then turns to head back to where Dean is standing.
“Go for it,” Sam says.
Dean holds off a moment longer and then raises the gun and shoots. His first shot misses, but his second three are right on the mark, three cans down. He stops shooting and lowers the gun.
“Huh,” Sam says, leaning against the Blazer.
Dean sets the gun down on the hood of the car and reaches for another beer. He opens it and downs half the can, then hands it to Sam. Sam takes it, plucks at the tab twice before taking a sip.
“So in these dreams of yours,” Dean says, reaching for another beer. “It’s just you and me?”
Sam shrugs. “Mostly, yeah.”
“Different things. We’ve killed vampires. Uh, I had one where you were holding down a demon on a plane while I exorcised it. I dreamt that we were in prison and there was this ghost. I don’t know. We kill a lot of things, mostly. Why?”
“What do you think it means?”
“What?” Sam asks. “The dreams?”
“Yeah,” Dean says. “The dreams.”
“I don’t know. They’re just dreams. They don’t have to mean anything.”
“But they do mean something, right?” Dean insists. “You think they do. You and me, we wouldn’t even be here if you didn’t think your dreams meant something. We’d still be at Sandover sitting behind our desks. Sam, we might not even know each other.”
“What do you want me to say?” Sam asks. “That I’m dreaming our future or something? That I’m some kind of psychic?”
“Are you?” Dean asks. It’s weird, the idea that Sam might be psychic, but it makes sense. It makes more sense than the idea that they’re living lives that aren’t theirs, that Sam’s dreams are windows to the world they really belong to.
Sam is quiet for a moment, staring down into his beer.
“Are you?” Dean repeats.
Sam sighs, opens his empty palm and stares into it. “I don’t know,” he says. “I hope not.”
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing,” Sam says. “I don’t know.”
Dean sighs, stares out across the field. It’s starting to get dark and Dean finishes the last of his beer and crunches the can a little in his hand.
“You want to get out of here? Grab some food or something?”
“Okay,” Sam nods. He trudges out across the field. Dean watches as Sam collects the cans from the ground. The sun is almost gone now and Sam mostly looks like a dark silhouette moving against the deep blue of the sky. Dean can’t stop thinking about Sam’s dreams, about their meeting at Sandover, about how easy it’s been to slip into this, how easy it is with Sam. He thinks about their afternoon in the garage with Rover, thinks about how Sam looked at him that day.
Dean thinks he’s probably had enough beer for the night.
Dean watches as Sam picks up the last of the cans. Sam stands out there for a moment, turns so that Dean's pretty sure Sam is staring back at him. After a good thirty seconds pass and Sam doesn’t move, Dean shouts, “You okay?”
Sam’s quiet, doesn’t answer, but after another moment he starts walking back toward the car.
“Did you see something out there?” Dean asks, when Sam is almost back beside him. Sam drops the bag of cans in the grass and reaches out to set a hand on Dean’s shoulder.
“What’s going on?”
“I want you to know that I really wasn’t hitting on you in the elevator,” Sam says.
“Oh,” Dean says. “Okay, Sammy. I believe you.”
“Okay,” Sam agrees, then adds, “It’s Sam.” He doesn’t remove his hand from Dean’s shoulder.
Dean looks down at Sam’s hand, then back up at Sam, smiles and says, “What are you doing?”
And then Sam leans in and kisses him. Dean’s first instinct is to pull away and he does, just a little, but Sam follows, his hand coming up to hold Dean’s chin. His thumb slides across Dean’s cheek. Sam’s eyes are closed and Dean stares at Sam’s eyelids, at the bridge of his nose, and wonders what he’s supposed to do.
Dean’s thought about what he’d do if this happened, he’s thought about it more than he wants to admit. Dean's just never thought about what he should do if it happens like this.
When Dean imagined it, it was in the heat of some big battle, adrenaline pumping. Maybe they’re locked into close quarters somewhere, pressed together for hours and eventually Dean can’t take it anymore, pulls Sam down and kisses him. Or maybe Dean saves Sam from a vampire or a ghoul, and once the bastard is dead, Dean just can’t help himself, he kisses Sam, needs some kind of release. He imagines it’ll be a situation that he can brush away, come up with excuses to explain. In each scenario, Dean always thought it’d be him who accidentally ends up kissing Sam and scrambling for an explanation.
Sam pulls away, frowns at him.
“That was weird,” Sam says. “Sorry.”
“What?” Dean asks. He realizes that his hand is on Sam’s arm, but other than that he’s just been standing here, hasn’t moved, hasn’t kissed Sam back. Sam must think he’s horrified or disgusted, worse.
Dean thinks that the smart thing to do is probably to brush it off, act like it’s no big deal and get them out of this field. Instead he says, “I meant to kiss you back.”
“What?” Sam asks.
“I was going to – I didn’t get a chance to kiss you back. I was going to.”
“You were?” Sam asks.
Dean shrugs and then says, “Yeah.”
“Oh,” Sam says. His hands have found their way into his pockets and he’s hunched over, curling in on himself in front of Dean.
“Maybe kiss me again,” Dean suggests.
“I don’t think –“
“I’ll be ready for it this time.”
“Are you sure?” Sam asks. “This is kind of weird now. And it’s getting cold out here.”
“No,” Dean says. “Come on. It can be quick.” Sam’s right. It is weird now, but Dean doesn’t want to let it go like that. Doesn’t want Sam to think that Dean is pushing him away again.
“Dean,” Sam starts, and Dean cuts him off, leans in and kisses Sam.
Sam kisses him back right away. It’s still a little weird, but kind of a nice weird. Dean can’t actually remember the last time he kissed anyone, which means that it’s obviously been far too long. He likes the feel of Sam against him, big and solid. Sam’s hands are on his face again, holding Dean’s mouth to him. They kiss like that, safe and slow, until eventually Sam’s the one to pull away for the second time.
He takes a step back and waits for Dean’s reaction. Dean thinks he should crack a joke, something, but instead he just stands there, stares back, nods. Sam leans back against the front of the Blazer and stares out into the dark.
“So did you see that in any of your dreams?” Dean asks eventually, unable to handle the awkward silence any longer.
“No,” Sam says, his laugh nervous. “I haven’t dreamed anything like that.”
“Still hungry?” Dean asks.
“Yeah,” Sam says, pushing himself away from the front of the Blazer. “Yeah, let’s go.”
Dean spends Sunday at the office, pulling together last minute things, cleaning out his drawers, boxing up all of his office trinkets. He tells himself that it’s stuff that has to be done, stuff that he won’t have time to do on Monday. He tells himself he’s not doing it to avoid Sam.
Sam was right, after all. They have a lot going on. It’s much easier if they just keep things platonic between them. Maybe they should save the awkward kissing for adrenaline rush post battle moments
When Dean finally leaves the office, it’s dark and his car is one of three in the garage. He’s almost to his door when he looks up to find the wall leaner watching him again, this time standing by one of the support columns.
“Hey,” Dean snaps, “Hey, buddy.” This is the third time he’s caught this guy watching him outside the building and Dean’s had enough. Three days ago he and Sam took on some kind of pet cemetery demon cat (this time Dean was pretty positive that there was something fucked up with the cat. Besides personality issues, that is). Dean still has the scratches. After demon cat, Dean thinks he can handle some constipated looking guy in a big coat. “You following me or something?”
“My name is Castiel,” the trenchcoat says as he approaches. “I can help you.”
Dean smiles and starts to turn away. “Thanks, but I’m not looking for another job right now.”
“Dean,” Castiel says, and when he reaches out and touches Dean’s right shoulder, Dean stops walking, lets the smile slip from his lips.
“Who gave you my name?” Dean asks. If the guy is some sort of recruiter, he’s probably checked up on Dean already, has probably known his name for weeks. It’s not that weird. The way he says it though, familiar, the firm hand on Dean’s shoulder. Dean doesn’t like it. “Help me, how?”
“I’m going to give you an address,” Castiel says. “At the address is a woman who needs your help.”
“Help with what?” Dean asks again, but Castiel just shakes his head, rattles off the address: 15 Altmore Lane in Findlay, forty minutes south of Toledo.
Castiel repeats the address and then nods, turns to leave.
“What – wait,” Dean says. “You got a first name?”
Castiel stops, turns to stare at Dean for a minute. His eyebrows are furrowed, like he’s trying hard to remember. Or to make something up. “David,” he says eventually. “David Castiel.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“It isn’t important,” David Castiel says over his shoulder and then he disappears into the stairwell.
Dean intended to head home, call it an early night, but he finds himself driving to Sam’s place instead. Sam is surprised to see him, wipes his hands on his jeans and steps aside to let Dean in.
“You want pizza?” Sam asks. “It just got here.”
Dean rubs a hand over his face and then nods and says, “Okay.”
Four beers and two slices of pizza later, Dean finally gets around to telling Sam about the guy in the parking lot.
“So, some random guy has been stalking you in the parking garage and when you confronted him he gave you the address of a woman who needs our help,” Sam says, condensing Dean’s version of events down to something a bit more manageable.
“Right,” Dean confirms. He wrote down the address as soon as he returned to his car and now he slides the paper across the table toward Sam.
“What if it’s a trap?” Sam says. “I mean, how does this guy even know the kind of stuff we help with? It’s not like we have a website or an ad in the paper or something,” Sam points out. “It’s not like we’re in some kind of ghost fighting demon hunting business. We’ve only been doing this three weeks.”
Dean thinks that Sam might be onto something there, but he pushes the thought aside for the moment, says, “Who would bother to set up a trap for us? We’re no one.”
“I don’t know, Dean. I just don’t think this is a great idea. I mean, we don’t know anything about this guy.”
“So we’ll look into him,” Dean says. “We’ll look into this house. If we find anything we’ll go check it out. If we don’t, then we call the guy crazy and get on with our lives. Okay?”
Sam thinks about it for a moment, then half shrugs and says, “Okay.”
“Okay,” Dean repeats and smiles into his beer. “You know, a demon hunting business isn’t really that bad an idea.”
“Yeah, right,” Sam says with a chuckle.
“Seriously,” Dean says. “Look at the Ghostfacers. They’re in it for the exposure, for the TV show, right? But say we set up a website like that. I mean, less flashy obviously, just something simple with a phone number. We can like – you know, a couple hundred dollars to get rid of a home possession, more if it’s really dangerous.”
“That’s kinda fucked up,” Sam says.
Dean shrugs. “Maybe we charge an extra fee if it turns out your dog doesn’t really have a demon inside it after all. I don’t know. You got a better idea to make money?”
“Not yet,” Sam says.
“Well let me know when you do, hot shot,” Dean finishes.
Sam rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling and things between them have lost some of the awkwardness that they’d had the night before. Sam leaves the table and grabs his laptop, settling with it on the couch.
”What did you say that guy’s name was?” Sam asks.
“David Castiel,” Dean says. He leaves the stool he’s been perched on and sits beside Sam on the couch. He sits a little too close, but Sam doesn’t bother to move away.
The internet doesn’t give them any information on David Castiel, at least not the right David Castiel. They find facebook pages and twitter accounts for David Castiels in California and Texas, but Dean is pretty positive they haven’t found the right guy.
They have better luck with the address in Findlay. The home belongs to a single mother named Dolly Sadler. Dolly was driving home from her daughter’s choir practice two months ago when she swerved to avoid a deer. Her car drove off the road, hit a ditch, flipped, and was stopped by a tree. Dolly Sadler survived, but her only child, Brenda, wasn’t as lucky.
“Guess we’re going to Findlay,” Dean says.
Dean’s last day at Sandover feels like the longest day of Dean’s life. Coworkers that he’s only known for a month and half stream into his office to wish him luck. The receptionist made cookies and Adler keeps grinning at him like he’s got some big secret he wishes he could share. Dean locks himself in his office in the early part of the afternoon. He stares at his empty shelves, at his desk, at Toledo stretching out outside his windows.
At three o'clock Dean slips the bonus check, now wrinkled and folded, from beneath his keyboard. He slides the paper between his fingers, tries to smooth out the wrinkles.
He doesn’t know how any of this is going to work out. He still worries about things like health insurance and money. Dean has some money saved. They’ll be fine for a while, but it won’t last. The first time one of them gets seriously hurt - and Dean can tell, they will - they’re going to have to come up with a better plan. He doesn’t know how Sam can be so sure about all of this.
A month ago, Dean never would have dreamed of actually going through with this. A month ago, Dean was perfectly sane. He knew that Sam Wesson was nuts. Now Dean is pretty sure he’s probably just as crazy. But he likes Sam, he knows Sam, and so things are a little strange right now. Dean can tell that they’ll work through it. Dean can tell that things will either move forward, or they’ll pull back, settle into the comfortable partnership they’d already started to build. Dean hopes that they’ll move forward, hopes that they’ll try to figure out what they have between them. It’ll be awkward and weird, but Dean thinks that ultimately, they'll be able to smooth out the awkward and the weird and it’ll be worth it.
Dean thinks that he should keep the check. Adler told him to keep it, after all. "For a job well done." The check could help the first time one of them breaks something, the first time they need stitches or end up in the hospital with a concussion. Keeping the bonus check would be smart.
Dean pictures the smug smile on Adler's face and rips the check into strips, tossing it into the bin.
Dean's hand is up to knock when Sam flings the door open, pulls Dean into a hug, and then shoves a beer into Dean’s hand. Dean stands there stunned for a second, staring at the beer.
“Congratulations,” Sam says. He’s grinning, and his whole face is involved in the grin and Dean can’t look away, finds himself smiling back as he twists the cap off the beer and takes a sip.
“Did I win the lottery?” Dean asks, raises his eyebrows.
“No,” Sam laughs. “I mean on getting out of Sandover. I told you this wasn’t a fluke.”
“Oh,” Dean says. “Yeah.”
“So you’re a free man, what are you going to do now?”
“I thought we were heading down to Findlay tomorrow,” Dean frowns.
“I meant in general,” Sam clarifies. “Not just tomorrow.”
“Oh,” Dean says. “I was thinking I’d sell my apartment.”
“You’re serious?” Sam asks. “I thought you’d say Disneyland. Something cheesy like that.”
“Well, yeah,” Dean says. “I mean, in this market it won’t sell right away anyway, and if it does then great. We’ll have some extra funds. It’s the smart thing to do, right? I can get a small studio or crash with you for a while. If – I mean, if you’re okay with that idea.”
“Yeah,” Sam says. “Yeah.”
Dean slides off his blazer and tosses it over the arm of Sam’s old couch. Sam reaches out a hand toward him, probably to take his jacket, and then lets it fall awkwardly back to his side. Dean watches Sam stand there, watches him fidget and try to figure out what to do with himself. He’s full of nervous energy, seems too large for his own apartment, and there’s something about the way that he shifts, the way that he finally folds his arms across his broad chest. Dean can tell there’s no going back. Sam wants to move forward with this too. With all of it.
“What?” Sam asks, and Dean realizes that he’s smiling like an idiot, holding his beer in front of him, the bottle halfway to his mouth.
“What?” Dean repeats. “Nothing.”
Eventually Sam unfolds his arms, visibly relaxes, and says, “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this.”
Dean reaches out and slaps Sam’s shoulder in a manly show of support. “Well, believe it, Sammy. You’re stuck with me, at least for a while.”
Sam shakes his head and looks down, tries to hide his smile. Finally he looks up and says, “You know, I think I’m okay with that.”