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Phantom Load

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Title: Phantom Load
Author: Lovesrain44
Artist: Xterm
Genre: Gen
Characters: Sam, Dean, Dad, OFC's
Fic Rating: NC-17
Art Rating: G
Word Count: 54,000
Warnings: Kidfic, underage non-con, not wincest; present day, dark, angst.
Summary: Dean and Sam return to Boulder, CO, where they investigate a haunted school. The job seems simple enough to Sam, who has good, although vague, memories of living in Boulder back in 1992, when John Winchester rented a single-wide trailer, and the boys were able to walk home from school together. Dean, however, has altogether different memories, far less pleasant and far more damaging. It's during the investigation that Sam discovers the secret that Dean doesn't realize he's been hiding.
A/N: Sorry, Dean. I was compelled by forces beyond my ken to be really, really cruel to you.

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Sam snapped the phone shut, and shifted in his seat. "Okay," he said, "I got us a gig." The darkening flat landscape sped past outside the passenger window.

"What kind?" Dean asked this without taking his eyes off the road or his hands off the wheel.

"Haunted school," said Sam. He pulled out a map and unfolded it, scanned it, and then folded it back up and stuffed it under the seat. "Just keep heading west on I-25, and then up 36 into Boulder."

"Boulder?" asked Dean. "It's in Boulder?" There was a flick of Dean's eyelashes as he spared Sam a glance.

"Yeah, so? Didn't we used to live there once? It's an okay town."

"Yeah." This from Dean as he cranked up the heat.

"Yeah, what? What, Dean?"

A moment of silence followed this question and Sam had the feeling that Dean wanted very badly to turn up the music, which was now playing the driver-picked Pink Floyd at a low enough volume so that Sam could talk on the phone. Now that Sam was done, the driver was within his rights to turn the song back up.

"Nothing," said Dean, turning up the music. Not looking at Sam.

The sun was going down, and the wind picked up. They were about two hours out of Denver, he figured, and could probably pick a motel in a bit and then head into Boulder in the morning. It would make more sense than trying to push it, especially if the weather got bad. As he recalled, Colorado was not known for mild weather or good driving conditions, especially before Thanksgiving.

"We're to meet with Audrey Clarke, she's the principal, at 10, so I thought-"

"A principal? You're making me talk to a principal?"

Dean's silent scoff at this did not surprise Sam. His brother had been harangued by more principals in more schools than probably any kid on the planet. They were not his favorite people.

"He's Mr. Panowski's cousin, remember the guy we went up in the plane for?"

"Oh, he's got a cousin?"

"Yeah, she thought there was something strange going on at her school. She told him about it, and he-"

"Told her to call us."

"Yeah."

"It's amazing how we manage to get work without advertising."

It seemed like Dean meant this to be funny, but there was a slight edge to his voice. Though, truth be told, since Dad had died, there was a constant slight edge to Dean's voice, often met by a glance from eyes that would slice through you rather than stay. As if this would push everyone away. Dean had learned the expression long ago, Sam couldn't remember when, to keep others at bay. Sometimes Sam felt that in order to get beyond it, he had to walk through barbed wire and then would have to retreat anyway.

"If we stop early," said Sam now, "we won't have to push it." He said it that way deliberately. We. As if he could possibly be as tired as Dean was, Dean who didn't want to share the driving with anyone. If he made it out that he was tired, that little brother needed some rest, then it was likely that Dean would stop. But only for that reason, never for himself. "I could use the stretching out."

Dean hummed for a minute and tapped the steering wheel with his ring finger, making a clack-clack sound like an old cash register doing calculations.

"Is there something at Denver?"

"Bound to be a Super 8 or something like it," said Sam, letting out a sigh he hadn't known he was holding. He wanted to stretch out and stare at the ceiling while Dean caught whatever late TV he was bound to insist he wanted to watch, and then Sam would let the white light and the low volume sing him to sleep. The break at the end of each day was becoming familiar, not a lot of conversation, sure, but a pattern he could fall into. That Dean, no doubt, had fallen into without even realizing it. Dean fell into a pattern as likely as the next fellow, but point it out to him and he was liable to want to shake things up, just on principle. Sam made a mental note not to mention it to him.

By the time it was full dark, the wind had died down and the lights of Denver, once just a sparkling promise through the hills on the horizon, became real and flashy and had signs that promised comfortable clean beds, free cable, and wi-fi. Sam pointed at the exit for the cheapest motel he could see, and realized that Dean wasn't actually looking. So he gave Dean a jab in the shoulder and then pointed.

"I see, I see," said Dean, not irritated. More, tired, the low energy showing in the set of his shoulders.

"At least it's not snowing," said Sam.

"Not yet," said Dean, taking the exit. "In which case, we are booking out of here, you get me? I do not want to become trapped here."

It was an odd thing for Dean to say, but he was taking the curve of the exit ramp hard, and Sam hung on to his seat and leaned into it. Snow normally didn't bother Dean, although he was bound to fuss over his best girl getting ice in her undercarriage.

Dean pulled into the parking lot and flipped Sam a credit card. Sam took it without looking, figuring he was either going to be a rock star, or an obscure New Yorker.

He got out of the car into the icy, thin air, thinking about his jacket, which he'd folded under his head, and decided it would take too long to mess with it if he was just checking in.

"Ask for a first floor," said Dean as Sam shut the door.

The motel had a room on the first floor and at the far end of the motel, which was lucky. This meant less noise, and they could park the Impala directly outside of their door. That way, if they had to carry in guns or anything that could be seen as threatening, they didn't have as far to risk it. Sam took the keys, waved at Dean, and walked down the sidewalk to the last door on the end. Dean followed with the Impala and then parked it as Sam unlocked the door. A whoosh of heat flowed over him as he opened it and flicked on the lights, casting his eyes around to see the usual layout, the usual colors, the bathroom that smelled like green cleanser, the hum of the heater under the far window.

Dean was right behind him with duffle bags, Sam's laptop, Sam's jacket. Sam carried in everything else they'd need for the night, not much, and then he locked the Impala and hurried in to close the door behind him. Checked the locks, and watched Dean lay out the bags on their respective beds. Dean's was near the door, of course, though Sam could never figure out what difference it made.

He didn't say anything about it, though. It would just start an argument, useless as all the other ones were, and leave them both feeling like badly-peeled road kill. He only nodded to Dean, grabbed up the local menus, and called for delivery. Chinese. Knew Dean heard him order, knew that if that wasn't okay, Dean would have said something. He didn't.

When the food came, he concentrated on that, let Dean have the majority of the egg rolls, and cleared away the trash without seeming obvious about it. Dean would think he was fussing, and that always irritated him.

As he stuffed the last of the broccoli beef in his mouth, Sam said, "This is only her second year as principal, you know."

"Who?" Dean asked this without turning his head, absorbed in the shocking truth about haunted homes in Great Britain.

"Mrs. Clarke, the principal. I said she's only been at it two years, so she's probably not a curmudgeon. Yet."

"Do they even have women principals? I didn't think they did."

"Apparently in Boulder County they do."

"Huh," was all Dean said.

Sam shook his head and then made taking-a-shower-now noises, in case Dean wanted to get into an argument with him about that. But Sam met with no resistance and slunk into the white-tiled room to rinse the road dirt and sweat from his skin and to make his shoulders relax under the hot water. The gig in Boulder sounded easy enough; haunted schools, if it was a haunting, typically didn't have complicated family dynamics to work around, or very many things ghosts would be interested in hanging around for. They would be in and out of there in no time, perhaps taking a break at the end of it to get some turkey and pumpkin pie.

 

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

 

As they pulled into the parking lot of Platt Jr. High school, everything was frozen, which seemed normal enough, but Sam found that he could barely recognize the school, for all he'd been there every day for almost a month. The only thing that seemed familiar was the long line of the top of the building, the red brick against the blue sky. And the orange buses, lined up to take kids home early on the day before Thanksgiving. He got out of the Impala, pushed down the lock, and shut the door behind him. He snuck his hands in his pockets and turned to wait for Dean who was taking an awfully long time.

Sam leaned down to tap on the glass of the passenger door.

"Hey," he said. "The principal is not going to eat you, Dean."

Dean scowled at him and put the car into park. He set the parking break and got out as well, using his keys to lock the door, sweeping a hand over the hood without touching the paint job. Then he looked at Sam.

"Why are we taking this job again?" he asked.

"Because, Dean," said Sam, trying not to huff. Failing. "Mrs. Clarke is a cousin of Mr. Panowski's. We come highly recommended. Some thing, some entity, has been messing up the school, and the janitor has had enough."

"The janitor?" asked Dean.

Sam was looking right at him, or he would have missed it. Dean swallowed and tucked his chin down towards his right shoulder. It was a move he used when he was preparing to fight, but without the fists to back it up, that and the lack of squared shoulders caught Sam. It was strange.

"You okay?" he asked.

Dean's head snapped up. He smiled at Sam. "Yeah. Sure. I just don't like principals, is all. Meeting with one. For any reason. Gives me hives."

"We've got Calamine for that," said Sam. He waved Dean on with his hand and started across the parking lot, bare of snow but slippery with ice in places. The buses, orange against the brick, were parked end to end in the front of the school, and he walked along them, not looking to see if Dean was following him. They had a job to do; Dean knew that. This was an easy gig as well, a phantom in a school house, and them with four solid, uninterrupted days to solve it.

As he rounded the last bus on the end, he felt Dean at his shoulder, the scent of leather warm in the cool air. They walked up the sidewalk together, stepping out of the way of a group of shrieking and running girls, backpacks and hair flying. Kids with hats, kids with boots and backpacks, parents milling, the din growing and bouncing off the red brick.

"Where's her office?" Dean asked, as they were about to go in one of the double doors.

"You should know," said Sam. "You were the one who went here." He hadn't gone to this school, but he'd met Dean any number of times on the very sidewalk where they were standing. He had a flicker of a memory of Dean charging out from the double doors, running, late and breathless. He never remembered Dean being late to meet him, but perhaps Dean had thought he was late.

"Yeah, but I never got called to the principal's office," said Dean now.

Sam pulled the door open and then paused to look at his brother. "Never?"

Dean shook his head and slipped under Sam's arm to move into the current of warm air that pushed itself out into the cold.

"Not at this school," Sam heard.

"No fights, nothing?"

"Nope."

It was hard to believe, given Dean's track record at any school he'd ever gone to. But whether Dean was making it up or not probably didn't matter anymore, so Sam let it go.

There was a sea of kids coming at them, splitting around Sam and Dean like water around rocks at high tide. He saw that Dean was looking up the hallway, but couldn't see his expression.

"I think it's this way," said Sam. Then when Dean didn't move, or look to see which way he was pointing, Sam said, "Dean." And again. "Dean."

"Huh?" Finally, Dean turned to look.

Sam pointed down the hallway to the right. "This way, dude."

The sign over the door said Principal; it was hard to miss. The secretary buzzed them in, and they were soon in a comfortable little office, with big windows overlooking the row of buses, running children, and beyond that, the jagged edges of purple that were the front range in wintertime.

"Mrs. Clarke," said Sam, reaching out to shake her hand. "I'm Sam Winchester, and this is my brother Dean."

Looking prim and organized in her dark blue suit, hair swept back in a braid, she shook Sam's hand and then Dean's. "Call me Audrey, please. And here is Phil, our janitor. Come in Phil."

Sam felt Dean's body jerk beside him as the man came in, brown haired and wearing wire rim glasses, dressed in blue jeans and a grey workman's shirt. The label on his shirt said Phil, and he held out his clean hand. They shook it, and Dean let out a whoosh of air.

Everyone sat down.

"So," said Audrey, sitting behind her desk, "Let's get right to it. We've had disturbances for the last six months, and we can't account for them. Phil has been keeping track."

Phil leaned forward. "Yeah, six months," he said. "I wrote it all down, you see, because I thought I was imagining things, making them up. Can't have that."

"Phil," said Audrey, breaking in, "is getting his PhD at night."

Sam nodded, felt his eyebrows rise. That made it a little different, though he would be the last person to say it aloud. "We'd love to see your notes," he said. "But, just in general, what kind of things?"

"Clocks stopped, like they were turned off, light bulbs exploding, lockers opened, doors opened that I was sure I had locked. Stuff like that. And X marks everywhere in grease pencil. Every time I wash them off, they come back again."

"How do you know it's not kids?" asked Dean. "You know, kids with problems, messing stuff up."

"Well," said Phil, "that's what I thought. At first. But it happens at night. When the school is closed and sealed up tight. And the X's are in weird spots that a kid couldn't reach without a ladder. But the ladder is heavy and is in the boiler room, so..."

"Okay," said Sam. "So not kids. Not any adults either? Someone with an issue with the school, or-"

"We don't think so," said Audrey. "Like Phil said, it happens at night, and it's everywhere, those grease pencil marks are a distraction and we've asked around-"

"Doesn't mean it's not someone who works at the school," said Dean with a little snap.

Sam looked at him and tipped his head. "Look," he said to both Phil and Audrey, keeping his voice low and even. They were probably right, but he had to make sure. Besides which, they were awfully calm about the whole ghost thing. "We know you think everyone should be considered innocent until proven guilty. But what makes you think it's a ghost instead of a human adult?"

"You can't get in the school once the alarm is set without setting it off. And while maybe James Bond could get in, no one who works here could. It's a pretty good system, and I double check it every night," said Phil.

Dean looked over at Sam and then he asked. "Why do you think it started six months ago?"

"We-" Phil started, then he stopped. Looked at Audrey. "Both of us started working here six months ago. It's been happening the whole time we've both been here. Maybe it was going on long before that, I don't know."

"You could check with Mr. Mates. He was the principal before me. He just retired," Audrey said.

"And the other janitor," said Phil. "The one who worked here before me. You could check with him."

"Mr. Gunnarson?" asked Dean, his voice taking a strange high pitch that made everyone in the room turn to look at him. His eyes were wide and round. "He's the j-j-he's the-"

"No, it wasn't a Mr. Gunnarson. The last janitor we had was Rondo Blake."

"Kind of a hippy type," said Phil. "Not really the janitor type."

"So you could talk to him," said Audrey. "I have his address here. And Bob Mates. Maybe they could tell you more."

Sam folded and unfolded his hands against his thighs as he thought about this. Talking to people who had been at the school longer than six months was a good start, but he'd hoped the job would be simpler than that. He wasn't up to talking to many more strangers than he already had, not when he'd anticipated a long weekend and an easy gig. They both needed it. He looked over at Dean who was studying the floor with the interest of an avid scientist. Sam quelled the urge to kick him. Then he looked up.

"Yeah, we'll take those addresses," he said. "We'll go talk to them tomorrow, see what they have to say."

"Oh," said Audrey, looking startled. "Not tomorrow, of course."

"Why not?" asked Dean.

"It's Thanksgiving. They'll all be with their families. Eating."

"Oh," said Dean, though Sam knew he himself had forgotten. The Winchesters had never been big on any holiday.

"Yeah," said Phil. "I'll get to stay in town this year, with all the relatives coming. My wife is up to her eyeballs in turkey and stuffing, so I should get going and lend a hand or my name'll be mud. You guys want me to show you around first?"

"I went to school here," said Dean, speaking up, his voice flat.

"Well, sure, you'd know your way around then. But I can show you the janitor's closets, the boiler room. Maybe you can replace some light bulbs or something to make it look legit. I mean, if you're up for that."

"Sure," said Sam. He stood up and wiped his palms on his jeans. Audrey's office, with the sun pounding in through the open blinds, was getting overly warm. "I've always wanted to see a janitor's closet. Or a boiler room." He looked over at Dean to share the joke, but Dean, now standing, was looking out through the glass in the closed door to the office. Sam couldn't see his face. "Show us what you got, Phil," said Sam instead of giving Dean a poke. "Can't promise miracles, but I've been known to wield a broom in my day."

*

Phil took them up the ramps for each hallway, and Sam recognized the H-shape from Dean's long-ago descriptions. Though he'd been taken by van every day after elementary school to meet Dean, he'd never actually been inside. The H-shape was cut across by three short hallways, and everything looked spic and span. Shining.

"You keep a nice school," said Sam. He waited for the jibe from Dean about having lustful thoughts about good old-fashioned school days, but none was forthcoming. Where was Dean? Sam turned his neck sharply to find Dean standing back as Phil paused in front of a door along the wall. His shoulders were hunched high in his leather jacket and he was staring at his feet.

Sam opened his mouth to say something, to ask if Dean was all right, but then Phil said, "Well, thank you, Sam," and took out a ring of keys to unlock the door and open it. The smell of lemon-lime chemicals wafted out at them.

"Here's a janitor's closet, slop sink, cleansers, brooms, trash bags, and so on," said Phil. "There's another one on the other side of the school. I keep some light bulbs in here."

"What is this stuff?" asked Sam, moving forward to take a look. "Man, that smells strong."

"Cleaning supplies," said Phil, laughing a bit. "If you boys get a mind to, you can give the floors a mop and then put down a layer of wax. The instructions are on the label here, just follow them." He tapped a large plastic container on the floor with his foot, and then laughed again to show he was joking. His keys jingled as he locked the door.

"And now, if you'll follow me, we'll go down to the boiler room. You won't have to do much there, but the emergency switch is down there, plus my very large supply of light bulbs."

"Why very large?" asked Sam, following Phil as he led the way down a little side hallway. He looked back to make sure Dean was following. Dean was still, silent, a little folded in on himself. Sam cocked his head and tried to catch his brother's eye, but Dean wasn't having any of it. Sam had to trot to keep up with Phil.

"Well, like I said, the light bulbs keep exploding, and I have to replace by the gross ton these days. They get broken in the closets, so, I keep most of them down here."

He'd stopped in front of a door all by itself in a dead end of a short corridor. He used the keys like before and as he opened the door, the musty basement odor that Sam had smelled a hundred times before rushed out at them. Phil reached in to flip on a switch and then turned to smile. "You'll get a crick in your neck replacing light bulbs by the time you're done, but if you can do that, and dust them a little, then you'll do me a favor and a job well done."

Sam nodded. It didn't sound hard. He could replace a few bulbs.

"Well," said Phil, looking back at them. "Get on in here."

Sam started down the steps after him and then realized that Dean still wasn't right behind him.

"Hey," he said, standing on the top, metal step. "You coming?"

"Uh," said Dean. It might have been the light, but his freckles were standing out on his face like they'd been painted on. "Maybe I'll just stay here."

"You're not afraid of the dark, are you." It wasn't a question, but delivered with as much scathing sarcasm as Sam could muster.

"No, I'm not afraid of the dark." Dean said this, but his mouth barely moved and he didn't come closer to the top of the stairs.

"We need to check this out Dean," said Sam, his exasperation rising like steam. "Will you please just come on?"

It was slow, but Dean followed him down the stairs, down the little corridor, and past the row of boilers, hissing away. They all crowded into the brown office, lit by rows of fluorescent bulbs, and the row of fogged glass windows that let some sunshine in. As Sam looked around, he tried not to frown. He couldn't imagine working in a place like this, with the layers of cobwebs among the supporting beams of the floor above, the dents in the filing cabinets, the gouges in the worktable against the wall, the spoon-shaped dent in the cage over the ancient wall clock. The floor, covered with original linoleum, splattered with stains, and the whole of it smelling of mold and lemon-lime cleanser.

"This is the office," said Phil. "All the comforts of home. Including the couch. It's a sleeper, but I can't ever get it open." He tugged on the corner of a blanket sticking out as Sam looked. It was an old couch, green, with rough patterns worn smooth by time, obliterated by hand-grease along the arms and dents where people had sat. "The bulbs are in here," Phil said as he led the way to a little side room where the long blue boxes were stacked. "Really, I can't keep up with the demand. If it's a ghost, he's bleeding me dry in the bills for these things. They're expensive."

"We'll check it out for you," said Sam, stifling the urge to wipe his hands on his pants. The place was unbelievably dusty.

"You know," said Phil, "it's a mess, but the money goes where the parents can see it, you know?"

"Yeah," said Sam. Then he turned to Dean, who was standing at the entrance to the grungy office, the flickering lights of the boiler indicators over his shoulders, jacket still on, hands at his sides. "You coming in?"

"Uh," said Dean. He didn't move. "No, I'm good here."

Sam sighed. It was getting ridiculous, but short of yelling at Dean in front of a stranger, there was nothing he could do. "Extra set of keys," he said now to Phil, "and the code for the alarm, and we'll be all set."

"You'll take good care of my school?" asked Phil, digging in a desk drawer. "You won't let her get into any trouble, will you?" He handed over a stiff little card and a ring of keys. The card had seven numbers on it, the code for the alarm. "Sometimes I can't wait to get away. Other times, I can never imagine leaving this place."

Sam smiled at him, thinking of places he'd rather not have left, towns he'd grown to feel familiar in. "We'll take care of her for you," he said, looking over at Dean. Who was standing as still as if he were playing a game of statues, his eyes on the long row of narrow windows on the far wall. "Don't worry, okay?"

"Okay," said Phil. "Audrey trusts you and that's enough for me."

 

Wednesday, January 8th, 1992

It was the morning of their first day of school in the new school, and Dad was gone. The sun streamed in the windows like it was boring its way in. There was a note on the dining room table with a phone number for Pastor Jim that Dean had memorized, but it never hurt to be sure. Next to the note were the keys to the trailer. The keys were on a string. Dean slipped these over his head, and scratched his tummy under his t-shirt. Sammy followed close behind, scratching his tummy too, striped pajamas, inherited from Dean, flooding over his toes, his hair standing up in a wreath around his head.

"What's for breakfast?" he asked.

Dean looked at the counter. He'd left butter out to soften the night before, and there was fresh bread and sugar in the canister. He looked down at Sam, nodding, as if his idea were a good one, already accepted. Sam was hardly likely to argue; the more sugar the better. "How 'bout sugar and butter on bread?"

Sammy's nod almost snapped his neck. He pulled a chair over to help make it while Dean pulled out the loaf of bread from the breadbox and pulled out four slices. He laid them on the counter. Then he took a knife from the dish drainer and spread the butter. Then he smiled.

"Okay, Sammy. Your turn."

Sammy grabbed the sugar canister, which was only an old tin cup with a battered spoon in it, but it held sugar up to the rim. Dean had made sure of it. With a wild wrist, Sammy flung sugar over the butter and the counter and everywhere. Dean scooped some of it up into his hand and spread it over the bread.

"More?" asked Sammy, and although the bread was shimmering white now, without a speck of butter to be seen, Dean nodded and pressed the sugar in with the blade of the knife.

"Yep," he said. "It's good energy. It'll keep you going all day."

Younger brother flung more sugar as though it were an art form, and then, with Sammy standing on the chair, towering over Dean, and Dean in his bare feet, wading in sugar crystals, they ate. Dean stuffed his mouth full, waiting for the inevitable question. Which came, soon after Sammy had finished his first slice.

"Where's Dad?" His mouth sparkled.

Dean chewed. Slowly. Made himself nod and shrug. "On a job. You know. Like he does. I'll take care of you though."

It happened almost every time. Even the sugar-ladened buttered bread in his hands was almost not enough to placate Sammy. He liked it regular; he liked Dad home.

"But I want-"

"Doesn't always matter what you want, Sammy," said Dean, through a mouthful. He licked his lips. "We talked about this, remember? Dad's gotta work. You and I will go to school, just like always."

"And you'll walk home with me after?"

Dork. Like that was the best part of his day.

"Yeah," said Dean. "And we'll have hot dogs for dinner."

Sam's eyes sparked at this. Hot dogs meant mustard. Lots of mustard, which Dean knew he loved. He'd forget about Dad being gone with visions of that in his head.

*

The school hallway echoed with students' voices bouncing off the brightly painted walls, the polished floors. Dean shifted his shoulders back and walked into it, the floor shining beneath his feet. He had half-used spiral notebook and pen in one hand, and a piece of paper in his other hand, telling him where his homeroom was, and what his schedule was. Plus, for some reason, he had Sam's crayons in his coat pocket; he could feel them bouncing against his leg. He shifted everything to one hand and took them out. It was only a little box of 24, but they were the real deal, not a knockoff bought at an outlet store. Dad had brought them as a treat for Sam for being reasonable about leaving his old school. Dean brought the box up to his nose to smell them; they reminded him of Sam, who hopefully would not get into trouble for not having the full set of supplies for a 3rd grader.

A bell rang, and everyone jumped and started scurrying around. Dean let the energy of the hallway pull him in the direction of the right room. He was two days late for the semester, but that didn't matter. They wouldn't probably be around long enough for it to matter, or for any teachers to start expecting anything out of him. He just had to keep up and keep his head down. That's what Dad had told him before he left. That's what Dad wanted.

Someone bumped against him, and Dean slid the crayons back into his coat pocket. It wouldn't be good to be seen with a little kid's crayons. That would bring on a fight for sure. No fights, Dad had said. Dad had said a lot of other things, but the no fights one had stuck.

His homeroom was with Mrs. Monroe in Room 103. Dean walked in, head high, catching some kids' eyes, ignoring others, nodded at the woman who must be Mrs. Monroe, and took a seat near the door. He rubbed his nose as he set his feet under the desk. His hand smelled like crayons. This made him laugh; Sammy was going to give him such shit for accidentally taking them.

Mrs. Monroe gave him a locker number and a combination, but no one wanted to share with him. He was the new kid; it was almost a given. That was okay with Dean. When they were dismissed, he found the locker, opened it, and stored his coat. Besides the notebook and pen and the dollar for lunch, it was all he had.

Then he walked among the sea of kids to science class. Once there, he sat as far away from the cage with the rat in it as he could. The teacher glowered at him for not having a book already, and was even less pleased when Dean pulled forth his ragged spiral notebook and placed it on the desk. At least he had that and a pen. The teacher could go to hell.

In gym class, Dean didn't have the regulation clean, new, non-street sneakers or the uniform, and so he had to sit out. That wasn't so bad. The bleachers had a nice view of the girl's side of the gym, where they were wearing the modest, Catholic-girl cute uniforms and learning tumbling. With his elbows on the bleacher behind him, he tipped his head back and tried to snooze, but wasn't tired. Sam had been over the moon with joy at the thought of starting a new semester almost on time. Crayons or no crayons, Sammy was, no doubt, having a fine fucking time.

As was the stocky, dark-haired kid he could see on the other side of the volleyball net. He had some other kid in a headlock and was smacking him on the back of the head. The teacher called out his name with a snap Joel Booth! to make him stop, and Dean could see right away he was a bully. Only a bully would pick on a littler kid for no reason or smack him that hard just for fun. And then one last time after that for good measure. Dean made a mental note to stay away from him.

When the bell rang, Dean clomped down off the bleachers and took out the torn schedule from his pocket. He had English and then math, neither of which sounded any fun. He walked down the hall. Where was 22B? The numbers over each room didn't seem like they went in sequence, but maybe, like with hunting, the pattern wasn't an obvious one. He didn't want to stop an adult to ask, that would just draw attention. Besides, Winchesters didn't ask for directions. They gave them. Or invented them.

The school was in a basic H shape, with two long hallways, and three short ones going across. Just like a four on the floor. Easy enough. But there was a little hallway, jogging off to the left at the bottom of the left hand stroke of the H, and then it took a quick right. That's what it looked like to Dean as he stood at the end of it. Maybe 22B was down there? He headed down the ramp, and realized that it wasn't filled with classrooms or anything, but after the hall jogged to the right again, there was the band room and nothing else. A dead end. Right across from the band room was a door with a sign above it that said Boiler Room. Dean turned around to go. He wasn't taking band. Never had. Never would.

"What are you doing there, son?"

There was a man there. He had come from the Boiler Room and was closing the door behind him and locking it. His streaky white hair was cut in a buzz cut. He had a grey uniform shirt on, sturdy dark grey glasses and looked at Dean with blue eyes. He had a name tag that said Gunnarson. Dean realized he must be the janitor.

"Uh," he said. "I'm-" He was about to say he was lost but a Winchester never admitted it, even if it was true. "I'm looking for 22B." He held out his slip of paper with his schedule on it.

"Shouldn't you know where that is by now?"

"I, well, this is my first day."

The janitor looked at him. "What's wrong with your pants?"

"My pants?" Dean looked down at his jeans. The hems were ragged with strings, and the knee on the right leg was going to need a patch soon. But that was normal.

"No, I mean in the back. Turn around."

Not thinking, Dean did as he was told. A hand cupped around the back of his neck and pushed him up against the wall. It took him a minute to catch his breath and by that time, he felt the janitor's hand cupping his buttocks.

"You've got patches and holes," said the janitor.

Dean gulped. Was there a rule against patched pants? Had the patch he put in worn away to a hole already?

Then he felt the janitor's fingers pushing through the cloth, reaching forward to rub up between his legs, fumbling forward until he could feel them on the back of his balls. There was a tearing sound as the cloth of the seat of his pants gave. His forehead grew hot and slick and slipped on the coolness of the tiled wall. The janitor's fingers stroked him there, right up there where his flesh was damp and personal, and then withdrew. Dean shivered.

"You better get those pants fixed, son."

Dean stayed where he was, pressed against the wall, while the sound of footsteps walked away. He let his hands drop to his sides, let the notebook and the pen fall to the floor. Then he took off his flannel shirt and tied it around his waist. Picking up his notebook and pen, he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. There was the bell. And he still didn't know where room 22B was. By the time he found it, across from the library in the second hallway going across the H, he was late. Late enough to be written up by the English teacher, who looked old enough to have written every book there ever was. Even the Bible.

After English was math and then lunch, but when Dean reached into his pocket, he realized there was a hole at the bottom of it, and that he'd lost his dollar. Instead of getting in line with the other kids, or sitting at a table with nothing to eat, he walked past the cafeteria and went outside. For a moment he stood there, letting the wintery sun warm the odd iciness inside him. Then he sat on the steps and leaned against the red brick wall by the side of the stairs. Some kid was doing stunts on his bike, and a sandwich fell out of his bag just as his rear tire went over it.

"You can eat that, kid," he said, and then sprinted away, peddling hard.

Dean looked around. No one was looking. He picked up the sandwich and undid the plastic bag. It was a tuna sandwich with cheese. Not his favorite, but he ate it with both hands, not bothering to take the sandwich out of the bag. He even sucked down the squashed bits, which were almost liquid in his mouth even before he began to chew. His stomach thanked him and he burped into the back of his hand as he wiped his mouth. Then he wiped his hands on his jeans.

The rip in the seat of his pants was feeling the cold of the cement beneath him; the noonday sun was not enough to really warm anything, but it was bright, and Dean turned up his face into it. If he dared, he'd jump ship and go on home. It was only a mile. But he had to stay. The van would be bringing Sammy from his elementary school at 3:30 and Dean had been told to meet the van. To walk Sammy home. No exceptions. Dad's face and voice had been serious, and while Dean knew that Sammy could very well have handled the mile walk, the old rule still applied: Never let Sammy out of your sight.

The afternoon went slow, except for geography. His teacher, Mr. Collins wore a red tie and smiled at him as he gave Dean an almost-new book. "We're learning about Russia," Mr. Collins said, and then flipped the book open to show the maps inside. Dean nodded, thinking that Sam would enjoy looking at the maps and charts. Besides geography was something he'd need to know for hunting. He nodded at Mr. Collins.

After that, Dean sat through social studies and art, wondering why he felt lightheaded. Maybe the kid's mom had done something to the tuna. Some dope she'd added to keep the kid under control. He'd looked pretty hot and wild on that bike. Maybe he was a handful at home.

At 3:10, school was out. Dean went to his locker and got his coat, put his notebook and pen on the shelf next to the books he'd been given that day, and then closed the locker. He spun the lock; there was no homework for him, even if there was any, because he wasn't doing it. He went to the front of the school to wait for the van. The school that could take Sammy was in the right busing district, but the bus couldn't very well take him to an empty house, so, along with other kids like him, a van took him from his school to Dean's. The plan was they would walk home together, every day. Which meant no extra activities for Dean, but that was fine by him. Pounding a basketball indoors while some guy in dumb shorts blew a whistle and shouted at him was not his idea of a good time. Track, which he liked, or baseball, wasn't till later in the year. As for anything else? No way.

He sat on the sidewalk, his feet in the gutter, staring out at the parking lot, watching moms and dads come and go, watched kids shrieking as they got on their buses, and thought about what time it was. He didn't know what time it was and his butt was getting cold. Then he stood up, and saw the janitor at the front door. He was talking to another man with brown hair and a brown suit; Dean guessed he was a teacher or something. He was nodding to the parents, frowning at the kids when no parent was looking. Maybe he was the principal; he and the janitor looked out at the sea of kids. Dean licked his lips and then looked away. His plan was to avoid the janitor in future.

A ratty white van pulled into the parking lot and before it came to a complete stop, Sammy jumped out, coat unzipped, mittens on strings flying out of his coat sleeves. He had a little plastic sack with his stuff in it. He was hatless, though, his dark hair flying out of his eyes as he raced over to Dean.

"Where's your hat?" said Dean. Sam's ears were red.

"Some kid," said Sammy, shrugging. "Stole it." Then Sam smiled. Wagged his arms to make the mittens flop up and down. "He tried to get the mittens too, but couldn't."

"Christ, Sammy," said Dean. But Sammy looked up at him through his mop of bangs, and Dean didn't have it in him to get really mad. They'd get another hat. The weather was sunny enough. Maybe it would stay that way for a while. "Let's go."

Giving Sammy's coat a tug, Dean led the way across the edge of the parking lot and out onto the side of the road. Slush was melting under their feet, but now that it was after 3:30, the sun was going low to the mountains. The air was getting snappy with cold. A mile would take them 20 minutes, maybe. It would be okay.

Over his shoulder, as he pushed Sammy ahead of him towards the intersection, he looked back. The janitor was gone, and the principal was still standing there.

Dean turned back around. "Let's hustle, Sammy."

"I want tuna fish for dinner," Sammy said.

"No," said Dean. "Tomato soup. It's hot. I want hot."

"Okay," said Sammy, kicking his feet through piles of fast-freezing slush.

When they got to the corner of Cherryvale and Baseline, Dean socked Sam in the arm. "Quit it. You're getting wet. Your shoes will never dry."

They hurried along Cherryvale and then up the other leg of Baseline, and by that time, they were both soaked to the knee. It was getting dark by the time they got to the narrow white trailer by the side of the road. They were frozen as they walked up the driveway, which was unshoveled and unmarked except for the wheel marks left by the Impala.

Dean scrambled in his pocket for the key, which was on a string around his neck, and opened the door. "Hurry up, dork," he said. "Stomp your feet on the step, don't trample snow in."

"Nag," said Sammy, doing as he was told. His lips were blue, and Dean could not believe that some asshole had taken a little kid's hat like that. Some sixth grader who thought he was hot shit, no doubt. Five minutes alone with Dean could teach him the error of his ways.

The trailer was old. It had probably been old when it was built. But it was big enough, bigger than some motel rooms, for all it was so narrow. There was a bedroom at the front, which was Dad's in case he had to come or go at weird hours, and a bedroom at the back, near the bathroom, in case Sammy got sick and had to throw up. In the middle was a living room that flowed into a tiny kitchen. The furniture was scarred and cheap, but the couch was huge and there was an armchair with an ottoman. Like the empire, Dad had said. Nothing matched. The carpet had cigarette burns, and there was a stain on the carpet that none of them could identify.

Dean made Sam drape his coat over a chair in the kitchen and had him take off his shoes and socks, and put the shoes upside down on the heating vent to dry. He did the same with his own coat and shoes, while Sammy followed him around, patting his own tummy, demanding to be fed, eyes sparkling as he annoyed Dean by not saying it outright.

"Look," he said, giving Sammy a shove. "I'll start something to eat. Just go watch TV or something."

"I'm cold," said Sammy, going over to throw himself on the couch.

Dean chewed on his lower lip. The last thing Dad would appreciate was Sammy getting a cold. Not when the school and the van and everything had been set up so nicely so that Dad could work a couple of jobs in the area. He checked the thermostat. It was up to 70, as high as Dad said it should go. Then Dean went into the back room, and unplugged the space heater that sat next to their double bed. He carried it out to the living room, plugged it in and set it down in front of Sammy. He turned it on, watched the bars glow orange.

"Okay?"

"Yeah." Sammy looked up at him, and pulled his writing tablet from the plastic sack on the floor. Then he said, "I lost my crayons today, too." He dipped his head between his shoulders. Under ordinary circumstances, both of them knew that carelessness to get your hat stolen and loose your new crayons on the same day would call for some serious trouble. Dean smiled. He would save the day.

He went to his coat and pulled out the crayons. The edge of the box was a little damp, but they were all there. He put them under his nose and smelled. "Such a terrific little box," he said.

Sammy leaped up from the couch to grab them. "Dean, Dean!"

Dean smiled. Sammy danced his way back to the couch and settled himself in to color in his notebook, pretending to be a great and famous artist. Dean turned to the kitchen and hunted down the cans of tomato soup. Was there milk to make it with? Yes. They were well stocked. At least for now.

"Grilled cheese, too, Sammy?" he asked.

"Yeah!"

Dean nodded. Grilled cheese it was.

*

No.

He thought it. Tried to say it.

No. Don't do that. Don't do that to me.

It was too late. He could feel the hands on him, fingers slipping between his legs, stroking the flesh behind his balls. The hand wanted to do more. He knew it.

No.

He sat up. The covers slipped from him, and he almost couldn't breathe. The TV was on in the other room; he could see the light, hear the low sound. People laughing. A talk show. Dad. Come home from a hunt, or maybe the bar, or maybe the library. There was a clock on the wooden chair by the bed. It said 2 am. It was set to 7 am, so Dean could get them both up and meet the bus with Sammy before he walked to school by 8:10. And as for nightmares, there was nothing Dad could do anyway. He was a big boy. It was just a dream.

Beside him, as he lay down, Sammy stirred, and curled in closer. Even with three blankets over them, the furnace never did much good. The space heater was still out by the TV, but Dean didn't want to get up and get it. That would alert Dad to the fact that Dean was awake, and Dad would want to know why. It was nothing.

"'ean?" asked Sammy. Sam's monkey-light hand patted him on the shoulder. Sammy had his share of bad dreams, it seemed he could recognize when Dean was having one. "S'okay, now. Sleep." The little hand touched Dean's face before falling back on the pillow. Dean turned and curved his arm around Sammy's shoulder, tucked Sam's dark head under his chin. Made himself breathe slowly in and out. Breathed in Sammy's clean soap scent. Closed his eyes against the darkness. Willed sleep to come.

 

Thursday, January 9th, 1992

The next day Dean found out that homework was definitely a big fat deal at Nevin Platt. The teachers in all his morning classes scowled at him for not having anything to hand in; even in gym, he got yelled at for not having the right footwear or uniform. When he told them he was still new, they tapped their respective pens or pencils on the edge of teacher desks and lectured on responsibility. Told him to stay on top of it or he would fall behind, and then where would that take him? Not very far, young man. Dean shrugged. He didn't care.

At lunchtime, he felt in his pocket for his dollar and thought about what he would eat. But as he got to the glass windows that looked in on the lunchroom, he stopped. Mr. Gunnarson was over by the head of the line where the kids were waiting to go through and get their trays and food. He was smiling and patted one boy on the head; he looked across the sea of round tables as he did this, like he was checking the place out. Like he was looking for something. Dean slowly backed away and told himself he wasn't hungry.

He waited outside in the sunshine and the brisk wind without his coat, thinking that in a little while Gunnarson would be gone. But by the time the bell rang for his next class, the lunchroom was closed up and a lady janitor was already cleaning the tables. His stomach growled as he walked to geography, where even Mr. Collins, in his purple tie, made a comment over the lack of homework.

But, unlike his other teachers, Mr. Collins was nice about it and smiled at him. "Don't you want to know where Timbuktu is?" he asked. "That's where you can find Tasmanian devils. Like on the Road Runner cartoon?" Yeah, Dean wanted to know that. He might have to go there for a hunt some day. When he was big. "Okay," he said. He'd do his homework. He nodded at Mr. Collins.

When school let out at 3:10, Dean scurried from his art class down the right-hand of the H, and cut across the middle hallway. He stopped at his locker to drop off half of his books. He kept the geography one, the math one, and the English book, and figured he needed a backpack or something, like all the other kids had. Then he locked the locker.

On his way down the left-hand of the H, he passed the little hallway that jigged to the right, where you couldn't see the dead end. All of a sudden, without even looking, he could see the dark-booted foot and the grey-slacked legs of the janitor coming around the corner. Dean's heart gave a little jump and he made himself not run. He hurried down the hall to the entrance of the school, as fast as he could without running.

Once through the front door, books clasped to his chest, he skirted to the edge of the sidewalk, not quite knowing what he was doing. Going over his books and his homework in his mind. Math, first ten problems. Geography, read the chapter on Russia. English, spelling words. Easy peasy. Sam needed a hat. He needed a backpack. They would have spaghetti for dinner, unless Sam wanted chili and corn chips.

His brain was rattled for things to think of, and then Joel Booth walked up to him, saying something random about kids who were too poor to get the right gear, kids who looked funny in their stupid wool coats, kids who didn't have proper shoes. Dean ignored him. After all, he knew a real monster when he saw one and Joel was just a creep.

By the time the 3:30 van arrived, he almost ran at Sammy and hustled them both down the street. When they got to the trailer, the clouds had blocked out the sunset and the Impala was in the driveway. Sammy shrieked and ran up the stairs, flinging it open to race in without knocking the snow from his feet. By the time Dean climbed the steps, Dad was helping Sammy off with his coat, brushing his hand over Sammy's head.

"Where's his hat?" he asked, looking at Dean.

"Some kid stole it," said Dean. "Yesterday. And I need shorts for gym. And something for my books."

For a moment Dad was still, frowning a little, scratching his chin. He looked at Dean, and Dean looked back, staying steady. A Winchester didn't ask for something he didn't really need.

"Keep your coat on then. We'll pick that up, if you need it. McDonalds?"

Sammy did a dance of glee as Dad helped him back on with his coat. Dean put his books on the table and took Sammy's plastic bag and laid that down too.

"It doesn't have to be fancy, Dad," said Dean, buttoning his coat up.

"I know," said Dad. "But if the army surplus store is still open, we can get you both something."

The army surplus store was down on Pearl Street and had everything. Dad was quick; Dean trailed after him, keeping a tug on Sam's coat so he wouldn't wander off in the mystery and magic that was the army surplus store. There were rows and rows of closely packed bits of anything a hunter might need. Or a hunter's boys. Dad got them two grey, canvas messenger bags, a new pair of sneakers for Dean, and shorts for gym class.

"Wear a t-shirt with that, son," said Dad, as they stood in line for the cash register. "And if that's not enough, I'll give you a note to sit it out."

Dean nodded. He could forge his own notes pretty well, but it was always easier if Dad just wrote them himself.

After, they drove through the slushy streets to the McDonalds, which was next to a 7-11, on Baseline. As they went in, Dad gave them the look, the one that told them to mind themselves, but it was almost a lost cause. Sammy couldn't stand still in line in anticipation of the French fries, and danced about, bumping into people until Dad chuffed him upside the head and told Dean to watch him. When they got their tray of food, they slid into one of the orange booths, and found out that as a treat, Dad had gotten them both fruit pies. Dean had the apple of course, and Sam got the cherry one. Sammy got half his pie on his face, and Dean burned his tongue on the filling, but the shakes were cool, and the fries salty. It was the perfect meal; he hadn't known he was starving until they sat down to eat.

Then Dad drove them back to the trailer. They trundled from the Impala, up the metal steps, and stomped their feet to remove the snow. As Dean laid their coats on the back of chairs, Dad sat on the couch to unlace his boots.

"We okay on supplies, Dean?" he asked.

"Yes, Dad," said Dean, toeing off his sneakers.

"Well, I'm leaving in the morning. Take this twenty, if you need anything."

"What are you hunting?" asked Dean, taking the money and going directly to put it in the coffee tin by the sugar.

"I dunno," said Dad. He stood up to put the boots by the door. "Some kind of phantom; I'll find out when I get there. You got homework?"

"Some," said Dean, trying not to squirm. He'd been hoping to get out of it, but alas, no.

"You and Sammy, then. Homework. Then bed. You hear me, Sammy?"

"Yes, Dad," said Sam. He got up from the couch and moped his way to the table. This was a sham, Dean knew. Sam loved to do those dumb worksheets, or the reading, or writing little stories. Anything to hand in, because he knew he would always get good marks. What a dork. Dean pulled out his geography book. It seemed the least painful of his options.

*

It was like a getaway chase game, only he was the one being chased. His heart thumped like birds trying to get free. He ran down the halls.


Someone was around the corner. Waiting. Dark and still.

Something jumped out at him, he hadn't seen it coming.

There were hands on him. Hard, like the claws of a wendigo Dad had shown him once. Exactly like that.


They reached. They were fast. They got him.

"Dean?"

When he heard Sam's voice, he woke up. He could feel sweat pooling in the creases of his neck even as a cold draft came down from the window over their heads. His throat felt thick, like someone had stuffed a fist in there, and he reached up to wipe the sweat away, to ease his breathing. Then he tried to stay still, like he wasn't awake, but Sam tapped him and then butted his warm head against Dean's arm.


"Dean," he said again. Sleeping. Already falling back asleep.

Dean listened as Sam's breathing slowed and quieted back down. Swallowing, he waited till his heartbeat evened out and the shadows in the room felt comfortable. Even the cool air stirring around his ears felt good. Everything was okay now. He was okay. It had just been a dream. Everybody had those.

 

Friday, January 10, 1992

 

They ate cereal at the table, which felt a little big without Dad there. Dean hoped Sam wouldn't say anything about it.

"C'mon, eat up," Dean said, "and I'll give you a dollar for lunch."

"Don't need a dollar," said Sammy through a full mouth, wiggling on his chair.

"Why not, didn't you eat?"

"I had lunch," said Sammy, pushing his bangs out of his eyes. "It was only 55 cents, so I've been keeping the rest." He looked at Dean. "I wanna buy candy with it."

It was part confession, part consultation. If Dean didn't give him another dollar, he could give him ten cents, enough to buy lunch, and Sam would get no candy. The decision was Dean's.

"Thought lunch was a dollar at your school," Dean said. "That's what I told Dad."

Confession and consultation on his part, too. If Sammy decided to be horribly honest, Dean would have to as well. He still had the dollar from the day before.

They looked at each other. Then Sammy shrugged and looked up at Dean, cocking his head to the side. "Candy? We could split it."

Dean nodded. "Candy. We could walk to the 7-11 when we have enough."

That done, Dean jerked his head over his shoulder and began cleaning up from breakfast. Took his bowl and Sam's and rinsed them in the sink.

"You gotta catch the bus," said Dean, looking at the clock. "Hurry, or I'll be the one who gets it if you miss it." If Sam missed the bus, there was no way he could get to school, and no way Dean could leave him at home alone. It would be all kinds of messy when Dad found out.

Sam hurried. Dean hurried too. He had on his other jeans, the ones without the holes in the seat of the pants, and a clean shirt. He tucked a dollar from the jar in his pocket and slipped on his coat. He grabbed his new school bag, packed it with his books and notebook. He made sure that Sammy was zipped up, had his bag too, and gave him a dollar, and walked outside to wait with him by the side of the road in the icy, blue air till the yellow bus came.

"See you at 3:30," he said, not hugging Sammy. Not touching him. Sammy didn't need that kid stuff anymore.

As Sam's bus pulled away, Dean walked along Baseline road towards the school, the slush from the night before now frozen spikes beneath his sneakered feet. He realized he'd forgotten his new gym shorts and sneakers, but never mind. He was still the new kid, and the excuse of being overwhelmed by the newness of it all was still good for a few days yet. He'd done his geography homework, had glanced at the English spelling words enough to be able to fake it. Screw math. He could do that in his head. In his sleep, even.

At the corner of Baseline and Cherryvale, he stopped to check for his dollar. Still there. Then he hoofed it across the street when someone stopped at the stop sign and headed towards the other leg of Baseline. Some screwball had spilt the street in two; Dad had said something about it being on one of the actual lines of latitude, which could be pretty cool, if he had any idea what it meant. He'd ask Mr. Collins about it. He seemed the type to like questions like that.

Then he walked up Baseline, joining the babble of kids at the crosswalk, the sea of blue and red and green down coats. Dean felt cold in his wool pea coat, unbuttoned, but reckoned it would help make him tough. He had no hat or scarf or mittens like the other kids had. Sometimes hunters had to go without shoes, even. Or eating. Or sleeping. You always had to be on the alert. When he was allowed to go on a hunt, he would be tough. He wouldn't be soft. He would be ready.

Nevin Platt rose up, red brick against the hard, clear sky. There were buses in the parking lot, teacher's cars, people walking towards the front door. Dean felt something vacant and empty slip inside of his head. That was okay. All he had to do was make it to his first class. What was his first class, anyway? By the time he got to the front door, his heart was pounding. He didn't have his slip of paper; it was in his other pants. The pants with the holes. Or more holes. These ones, the ones he had on, were a little worn on one knee. He hoped it wouldn't attract any attention.

Hefting his messenger bag, he looped it over his head sideways so it lay across his chest and rested his hand along the top. Then he opened the door. Science. He had science. Science classes were in the middle corridor going across. He could head straight up the left hand side of the H, or he could go along the front corridor and head up the right hand side of the H. Yeah. There would be fewer kids on that side of the building, away from the band rooms and the auditorium. He started walking. Heart thudding, and he really didn't know why.

*

During geography, Mr. Collins was cool. They were talking about the Soviet Union, and Mr. Collins, wearing a green tie, had handed out study sheets for next week's test, and then asked if there were any questions.

Dean, sitting in the back of the room, had raised his hand. Not something he normally would do, not after Dad's instructions of head down, no trouble, no attention. But he couldn't resist.

"Yes, Dean," said Mr. Collins, pointing at him as he walked between the rows of desks.

"This ain't to do with the Soviet Union," he said, feeling his mouth go a little dry as everyone turned to look at him. "But I got a question.

"Yes, Dean, go ahead."

"Um, my Dad says that Baseline Road is on a latitude. What does that mean?"

"Well, now." Mr. Collins settled a hip on the edge of his desk. "That's a very good question. Can anyone answer Dean?"

The entire class was totally silent. No one had any idea what he was talking about.

"Okay, then, here's your answer. Remember when we talked about longitude and latitude and how they marked space and time on the globe?"

Everyone around Dean nodded, and Dean nodded too.

"Well, Baseline Road sits exactly on top of the north 40th parallel, which, as you all know, you can see on any globe."

"Any globe?" asked someone in front of the room.

"Any. Here, take a look." Mr. Collins went over to the table near the windows and picked up the globe. Spun it around, and traced his finger along a dark black line. "It's pretty specific and very clear. This line goes round the world, and we're a part of it."

There was a general sigh of appreciation from the class and then Mr. Collins nodded at Dean. "Great question, Dean. Bonus points for you." He went back up front and put the globe away.

The bell rang.

"Okay, finish the chapter on the Soviet Union and start reviewing the study sheets I just gave you. Test on Monday."

Dean tucked the sheet in his bag, and then stood up. He had two more classes, just social studies and art. They were both in the topmost corridor; he could easily hurry up the left hand side of the H. Hurry. Keep to the wall. It would be okay.

 

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006 - Thanksgiving Day

 

Getting Dean up in the morning was as hard as he remembered getting Dad up after Dad had hit the bottle too hard because it was the wrong time of year, or the right time or whatever. Not that it happened very often, but when it did, the memory was as clear as a punch to the jaw. And Dean liked to sleep in, yes, that was true, it always had been. He was a night owl or an alley cat, and it was after the sun went down that he came to life.

Nine o'clock had come and gone by the time Sam went to eat breakfast. The Buff Restaurant was a little diner attached to the motel. It had the usual booths and tables, and a sunroom with tables along the window. Sam sat in the sunshine and drank over-sugared coffee that tasted of burnt orange rinds and looked over Phil's notes. The eggs were good and fresh, though, and the butter real. That made up for it. He'd wanted to take a donut or something back to the room, a danish even, but the kitchen had been flat out, he was told, half an hour before he'd gotten there. Try again tomorrow. When he got back to the room, Sam had to resort to kicking the bed Dean slept in.

"Don't," said Dean, into his pillow. He rolled over, half-awake, the back of his hair standing straight up as if it had been glued that way. "Don't you ever."

Sam tried not to loom. He wished he had a bag of something to shake at Dean, something sweet to keep him at bay. Always best, when older brother was like this, to distract him with pastries. "C'mon, Dean, this is an easy one. The sooner we're done, the sooner we're-"

"Easy?" asked Dean, scrubbing his right eye with the heel of his palm. "Why are you so sure, we haven't even started."

Shrugging off his coat, now that he was in the warm, dry air of the motel room, Sam moved to the little table next to the window, his fingers reaching out to his laptop, Dad's journal. He put down the crisp pad of paper and the new pen he'd bought himself last week and stacked Phil's notes on top of that. "It seems pretty obvious to me. Some ghost is haunting the school for some reason. I looked at Phil's notes, and they're-"

"Amateur stuff, right?"

Sam sat in the chair, leaning into the curved back. He pretended to be very interested in what his laptop was doing at the moment, which was sleeping, so as not to let it fly in Dean's direction everything he was not saying. "Not really. He didn't know what he was seeing, but he was pretty systematic about it all. Each night new marks, new things disrupted and opened. But, he says at the end of the third month, he began to realize that there was no permanent damage. Funny, for a ghost, huh? Like it was being careful or something."

Dean sat up, like Sam knew he would. There wasn't a puzzle in the world that Dean could resist, and in particular, Sam's making it sound like the whole deal was already solved was enough to make him edgy and determined to prove that they would be better off if they solved this gig together. As they had all the other gigs. As they would, Sam presumed, solve all the gigs to come.

Looking at his feet, Dean sat on the edge of the bed, his fingers curving into the rumpled counterpane so hard they disappeared. "I need a shower," he said. Then he looked up, and it was then Sam noticed the circles under his eyes, as though the sleep Dean had gotten had worn him out rather than done him any good. "After that," continued Dean, as if unaware of Sam looking at him so hard, "what do you want to do?"

"EMF readings," said Sam. That much was obvious. Plus, according to Phil, when they went into the school, they would find evidence of the ghost having been there. "Far as I know, no one has ever been hurt by this ghost-"

"Or as yet unknown entity," said Dean, standing. Butting in.

"Or entity," said Sam, nodding. He watched Dean strip out of his t-shirt as he walked into the bathroom. Watched the door close, heard the shower going on. Maybe he should have listened to Dean when he'd half-complained about not wanting to come to Boulder. The last time the Winchesters had lived there, Dean had caught a cold pretty much early on and it had not left him until they had left the area. Maybe the thin air didn't agree with him, which didn't make any sense, since Manning had not had the same effect on him and was even higher in elevation. Maybe it was the time of year, maybe it was nothing.

*

They pulled into the now-empty parking lot of Nevin Platt. A bit of wind whisked at their feet, carrying hard bits of snow. As they walked up to the front door, the edge of the roof seemed to loom at them against the clear blue sky. He couldn't remember his own school, but he could remember meeting Dean here under the same sky. It'd been cold then as well, but for some reason, Dean's pea coat had always been unbuttoned, yet at the same time, he'd fussed at Sam to keep his jacket zipped up on the walks home. Where was the trailer they'd lived in anyway? For some reason, he couldn't place it on the map in his memory.

"I remember," said Sam, as he watched Dean unlock the front door, "it being the shortest semester on record that you went here."

"What's that?" Dean asked above the loud alarm beeps as he strode to the alarm pad and punched in the seven numbers that Phil had given them. The pad gave a small beep and then stopped. "What?"

"You went to school here; I went to elementary school down the road. We were here, what, three weeks before something lit a fire under Dad and we were out of here."

"Don't get started, Sam," said Dean. He put the piece of paper with the alarm numbers on it in his shirt pocket. He had to reach under his leather jacket to his flannel shirt to do this, and it occurred to Sam how many layers Dean was wearing. Leather jacket, fleece vest, flannel t-shirt, thermal underwear. It was cold, but not that cold. "Don't get started about Dad. Not today. You were in elementary school, you didn't miss anything important."

"I'm not complaining," said Sam, feeling the last of his hold on his temper slipping. He waited a minute, Dean's eyes glittering at him from that pale face. "I just said it was short, is all."

Dean's jaw worked. Then he turned on his heel and pulled the EMF from his jacket pocket. He held it in one hand and turned it on, and then waved to Sam to come along. Together they walked up the left hand side of the H. As soon as they passed the auditorium, the meter went off, that low buzzing whine sending a familiar shock up Sam's spine. Bingo. He never could understand why it still got to him when Dean's homemade meter would make that sound. He should be used to it.

"Look," he said, tapping Dean on the shoulder.

They looked up the hallway at the shining floors, the bank of lockers completely open, with kid's stuff falling out, and Sam could see a row of black X's near the ceiling.

"Something opened them," said Dean.

"And no kid could have gotten up there to make those marks."

They walked closer, and the hallway was so quiet, Sam could hear Dean's breathing, the creak of the leather of his jacket. When they got to the open bank of lockers, they were in front of the library, the bank of glass letting them see in to the half-lit room, with rows of books under a very high ceiling. The X's, along the opposite wall, were about the size of a man's palm, each neatly in the center of the polished brick, and above every locker that had been opened. 25 in all.

Dean tilted his head back to look up at them, and then scratched the back of his head. He looked at Sam. "We should keep track of where the X's show up," he said.

"We need to clean them off; Phil's got some sort of cleanser that will work-"

The expression on Dean's face stopped him. There was a little gleam there, the twitch of an eyebrow, and a small little nod that told Sam that Dean had just figured something out, all in his head, just standing there. Figured out something it would have taken Sam, or John, even, pieces of paper, charts, graphs, just to see the pattern.

"We should leave the marks," he said, "till we figure out what they're for."

"How is leaving them-" Sam began, then he snapped his mouth shut. Dean already knew that.

"We leave them so we can see the pattern of where they show up. If we can compare that to where they don't show up then-"

"We can maybe figure out why." Sam nodded. "Phil washed them off religiously. Every day, according to his notes." Sam wanted to mention that the notes were available at any time for Dean's perusal, but he didn't. Notes were fine and Dean could unlock the mysteries of a pie chart as fast as the next man. But he much preferred to see the evidence with his own naked eye and could grasp what it meant as easily as he could pick up a fork.

"It'll mean cleaning them all off after," said Dean, "but hell, we've pulled all-nighters before."

"If this is the average number of X's," said Sam, chewing on his thumb, "around 25, for six months, that's 180 days times-"

"Lots and lots, Sam," said Dean.

"Four thousand, five hundred," finished Sam.

"Thanks, Spock," said Dean.

"Shut up, Kirk," said Sam, now smiling.

Dean waved the EMF to point up the hallway. "Let's cover the rest of the school, and then get out of here.

"We could go eat lunch, you know," said Sam, falling in at Dean's side as they walked up the ramp towards the top of the school. "You didn't eat this morning."

"I'm good," Dean said to this, his head bent over the meter. "Not hungry now anyhow."

They circled the whole school. The only place the meter went off was in front of the Auditorium.

"No," said Sam, reaching out to grab the EMF. Dean pulled it out of reach. "I think it's the hallway, point it this way."

"I'll point it," said Dean. "You make an EMF, you get to point it. Otherwise, keep your hands off."

Sam didn't let himself snort at this and kept his hands at his sides, however much they might want to strangle. The EMF kept shrieking at them as they went down the little side corridor, and Dean kept walking, holding it in front of him. The passage was cold and the air seemed sharp, and Sam was about to open his mouth and say ghost, I told you so, when Dean stopped. Right in front of the door leading to the boiler room and the janitor's office.

"Is that where it goes?" asked Sam.

"Do we have the keys?" asked Dean. He lowered the volume on the EMF, and, without looking at Sam, tucked his chin into his shoulder, like he was stretching a muscle.

"Yeah," said Sam. "All the ones Phil gave me. They're all marked. Hang on."

Sam dug in his pocket and pulled out the ring of keys. There weren't many; the school had master locks, Phil had said, so as to keep the number of keys down. It apparently was an improvement on the way things had been done when Blake was there. Seven keys. Sam twirled them on the ring in his hand. He found the one labeled Boiler and unlocked the door. When he opened the door, Dean stepped back, and Sam felt the cold, dank air rush out at him. Just like it had the day before, as if the rooms below hadn't been opened for years and years instead of just a day. He reached in to flip on the light. It fluttered yellow for a minute before coming on with full strength.

"What is it with ghosts and basements?" asked Sam, turning to share the joke with Dean.

Dean was right behind him, holding the EMF with one hand, holding his jacket closed with the other.

"You cold?" Sam asked.

"Maybe coming down with something."

"You look it," said Sam. "We'll check out the boiler room and then go get lunch. After all, it is a holiday."

"Uh-huh," said Dean.

Sam led the way down the stairs single file, hearing the small squeal of the EMF and Dean's footsteps behind him on the metal stairs. They walked down the narrow passage, the cement wall on one side, the row of boilers and their pipes and lights on the other till they reached the battered doorway of the janitor's office. The EMF burst into a cackle and as Sam looked down, the red bar pressed all the way to the right.

Dean clicked the EMF off. "This is where it is," he said, his voice thick. "Whatever it is."

Sam opened the door. Flipped on the light, and took in the office, which was as dusty as it had been the day before. The gloom was offset only by the light coming in through the bank of frosted windows. In the silence, the clock, a round, functional throwback from the fifties, ticked loudly. Water dripped along a long, rust-colored stain in the corner sink, and the pipes along the wall rose to bend and disappear into the murk of the ceiling.

"This is where the EMF leads us," said Sam, stepping into the room. It was not as cold in here as it was in the corridor, though the air was still as murky, and the odor of lemon-lime cleanser was potent. "Shit, that's strong," he said looking for the source. But besides the closet full of light bulbs and the shelves of tools and boxes of dry supplies, there was nothing that looked as though it should smell of lemons or limes.

Off to the left of the door, by the pipes, was a small dark opening, as tall as the ceiling.

"What's in there, I wonder," he said, almost to himself. He moved to go over to it when he felt Dean's hand on his sleeve.

"Just a crawlspace," said Dean. "Under the auditorium, behind the boilers."

"Oh," said Sam, nodding. The passage way didn't look very wide. "Wait. How do you know?"

For a moment there was silence, then he turned to look at Dean who was clutching the EMF to him like a talisman.

"Uh," said Dean. His mouth worked for a minute. "Well, I went to school here, so I think maybe I just knew that."

This made sense to Sam. Dean had a mind full of odd factoids, and he could never explain how he had come by them. Sam nodded and looked around the room, thinking if he kept looking hard enough, he'd find the source of that smell. "Okay, so...we've located the source. Let's put the stuff back in the lockers at least, leave the marks, and go get something to eat."

"Sounds like a plan," said Dean. He was already walking out the door, holding the EMF close. If he'd been any other person besides who he was, Sam would have said that he was running. As it was, it look Sam several long-legged strides to catch up and keep up as Dean raced up the stairs, where he stood, holding the door open. He closed it behind Sam when Sam got to the top. "You going to lock it?" he asked.

"What's the point?" asked Sam in return. "There's no kids around, and the front door is locked.

"You should lock it."

There was a pause and it was in his mouth to ask why it was so important but the curve to Dean's mouth stopped him. Or rather the lack of it. Dean's mouth was flat, and his chin was tucking down to his shoulder, and he seemed to be trying to catch his breath as he looked at Sam. There was something in his expression, as though he'd rammed up against something hard and was just now feeling the painful effects.

"Okay," he said. Sam reached into his pocket and locked the door as fast as he could. As they put stuff back into lockers as neatly as they could and shut the metal doors, something in the back of his brain started moving around ages ago, as if rearranging furniture, but he'd ignored it. He'd been distracted by the hunt, but now the look on Dean's face worried him. It couldn't just be that Dean was hungry.

When they finished, he tried that first anyway.

"So," he said, putting the ring back in his pocket and jerking his chin towards the front of the school. "I think either Applebee's or Chili's is open, your call."

"Urg," said Dean. "I hate those places."

They walked, shoulder to shoulder, their footsteps loud in the empty spaces.

"It is Thanksgiving," said Sam. "Our options are limited, you realize."

Dean sighed as he set the alarm, frowning as they walked out the front door. He was almost muttering to himself as he locked up and tested the door with a heft of his hand.

"Or," said Sam, pushing his fists into the pockets of his jacket as he leaned into the wind. "Seeing as this is Boulder, there might be a Chinese restaurant in town that's open today."

They both squinted against the bright sun as Dean rubbed his hands together and blew on them. He was smiling as they walked towards the Impala. "Pork lo mein, man," he said. "I can taste it now."

If it would cheer Dean up, Sam was prepared to go anywhere, even a Chinese place that had tons of MSG in every dish.

They drove around in the cold for a bit before they found a place in Niwot that was open. It was called Fan's and even Sam could see the sign that proudly stated no MSG. He liked the way it smelled, and the small tables on the clean, linoleum floor. They ordered tons of food, but when it came, and Sam started inhaling the soup and the lemon chicken, Dean merely poked at his noodles and sauce.

"I thought you liked that," said Sam, around a mouthful.

Dean shrugged. "I'll have it later."


The dark look in his eyes told Sam not to pester him with questions. So Sam didn't. Dean had a right not to eat if he didn't want to. Maybe he was coming down with a cold. Maybe everything would come out in the wash.

 

Monday, January 13, 1992

Gym class sucked. Out loud. Dean finally remembered to bring his new gym shorts and sneakers so that Dad wouldn't have to write a note, but while the sneakers were okay, the shorts weren't. They were the wrong kind. Not wrong in the widest sense, they were gym shorts, they were dark. But they were the kind that guys wore in the army, not the kind that kids wore in school.

It would have been all right, except for the fact that Joel Booth, the bully he'd seen on his first day, decided to take go after him. It was one of those things that happened from time to time, from school to school, and usually Dean was ready for it. Had read the brain waves or something and knew how to lay low, as ordered, how to fit in or stand out in such a way that he didn't attract any of the wrong kind of attention. But in this case, well, Joel had a nose for it, and being raised, as he must have been, without a lot of something, he seemed to set eyes on Dean and find him the most interesting thing he'd ever seen. Dean had been able to ignore the stuff from the week before, but in gym class on Monday, the barbs had become sharper, and as Dean got out of his gym shorts and into his jeans in the locker room, Joel was right there.

"Looks like we got white trash," said Joel, as if to himself.

Dean ignored him.

"Some apeshit dumb kid, wearing shorts that look like a plastic bag. Where'd you get the plastic bag, kid?"

Dean ignored him.

Joel snapped him with a damp towel, and Dean still ignored him. He managed to get dressed as fast as he could, stuffed his gym shorts in his messenger bag, and hauled his ass out of the dressing room and into the hall, headed toward English.

English classes were at the other end of the school, up towards the end of the long, left-hand hallway that ran in front of the library. Dean went to his locker and got his English book, and then went back to skirt up the right-hand hallway, and intended to duck back along the short hallway that cut across the school. He was halfway along when he heard the rattle of a garbage can on wheels, and through the bodies of teachers and kids, he saw Gunnarson. Coming. For a second, he could see it. The garbage can was empty, the rags and brooms hanging off the end of the rack attached to it were clean. Even from here, Dean could see that. The whole thing was a ruse, so that Gunnarson could look busy while he came looking. For him.


For a second, he thought he could just keep going, that Gunnarson hadn't spotted him, that he could use the bodies as a buffer. But his feet froze to the floor and his palms started to sweat. He clenched his hand around his book.

Then he bolted and backtracked, bumping into someone who gave him a quick, hard shove. Dean ducked under someone else's arm, walked as fast as he could. If he ran, some teacher might stop him, and that would give Gunnarson the opportunity to catch up to him. He kept to the wall, eyes smarting in the sunlight as he walked past the bank of windows, throat perfectly dry. Lungs burning rather like someone was baking him from the inside out.

By the time he got to his English class, he was almost late and the hallways were absolutely empty of kids. He heard the rattle of a garbage can on wheels, and slipped inside. Made himself take a deep breath and sit down like he wasn't sweating from beneath his armpits and along the backs of his knees and everywhere else. There was a swath of grey that passed in front of the long narrow window. Dean leaned back and watched to see if the door would open. It didn't.

The rest of the day marched forward like a dog straining on a leash, and Dean knew he couldn't go to Dad with his hat in his hand and say he had the wrong gym shorts. Not only was there not enough money, not only would Dad preferred not to be bothered about the small shit; what difference did it make anyway? Shorts were shorts, and Joel would probably soon find himself someone else to bug the shit out of. Dean was going to keep his head down, as ordered. End of story.

Joel, he belatedly realized, was in his geography class, but it was easy enough to focus on Mr. Collins and ignore Joel. It was after school was over that the trouble broke out. Dean was in front of the school, waiting for Sammy next to the row of pine trees. His stomach was growling and he had another dollar in his pocket, though he couldn't remember when or if he'd checked out the lunchroom. Joel's bus was late, or something, and there he was. Sticking his chin out, making remarks.

"Can't even afford a proper coat, can you, white trash? You know, at this school, we wear down jackets. We have sneakers without holes. We have lunch money."

"I have lunch money," said Dean, hefting his messenger bag over his head, settling it on his hip.

"Hey, I saw you," said Joel. "I saw you pick up that donut from the ground and eat it."

"It was a sandwich," said Dean, without thinking.

"Oh, you picked up a sandwich from the ground and ate it. Nice manners. Starve much? Your old man forget to feed you?"

Dean felt his jaw go forward at this. But stopped himself, watching the half-ring of kids forming around them. Remembering Dad's orders.

"None of your fucking business," he said, thinking that would stop it.

"What did you say to me? Did you say fucking?" Joel snarled this at him, his face bright with glee at having caught Dean saying a bad word. With witnesses.

Someone gasped, so Dean decided to up the ante.

"Fucking shit," said Dean. "If you must know. You're just a piece of fucking shit."

Joel launched himself at Dean and started punching away. Dean moved back, but Joel had him by the strap of his messenger bag, and swung him around. Dean landed in a punch to the jaw, one to the side of Joel's head. He grabbed Joel by the coat, and pulled him in close. It was a trick he'd seen Dad do when confronted with trouble in a bar. Pull the guy in close and you have him at a disadvantage. You could pop him in the stomach, snap him in the head and he won't know what hit him.

Dean did this. A snap with his elbow to Joel's stomach, and then one in the nose, and Joel was bleeding. The kids were shouting, and too late, Dean remembered Dad's orders. His stomach fell and he let go of Joel.

In an instant, the principal, Mr. Mates, in his brown suit, was upon them both, pulling them apart, and Dean sank back, his hands clutching the strap of his messenger bag. Panting. Feeling the effects of Joel's fingers on his arm, his face, mouth throbbing. Mr. Mates was scowling; the crowd was dispersing. Dean knew he was in big bad trouble. And Sam's bus hadn't even arrived yet.

"Both of you are in so much trouble," said Mr. Mates. "Detention at the very least, after school every day for a week. Or suspension, we don't allow-"

Dean's stomach now tumbled. It was worse than it was supposed to be. It wasn't the fighting so much as the trouble it caused. The attention it brought forth, and the fact that if he were in suspension or detention, he wouldn't be able to walk Sammy home from school and look after him. That's what would make Dad the maddest.

"Hey, now," said a voice, and Dean looked up. It was the janitor. Coatless, looking chilly.

"Mr. Gunnarson," said Mr. Mates. "What-can I help you?"

"What's going on here is what I want to know," said Mr. Gunnarson. "Looks like a fight."

"He started it," said Joel. Pointing at Dean. No one refuted him.

"Oh, I don't know about that," said Mr. Gunnarson. "I saw you start the whole thing, Booth."

"Dean Winchester, is that true?"

Both men were now looking at him, and now he felt as though it was him that had been smashed in the nose, not Joel.

"You know better-" started Mr. Mates.

"And you know better, Bob," said Mr. Gunnarson. "Kids don't tell on each other. Besides, I saw the whole thing."

"You did, Roy?"

"Yes indeed. From my windows." Gunnarson pointed. "This kid, Booth, he started it. Dean was just defending himself. You know I don't like kids, don't like to take sides, but this is a clear cut case to me."

The crowd was gone now. It was just the two men and the two boys. And the buses had come.

"Come with me Joel, I'll walk you to your bus," said Mr. Mates. "Some days, you kids-" And then he walked off.

"Let's get you cleaned up before your brother gets here," said Gunnarson, giving a tug to the strap of Dean's bag. Dean followed. His mind did a little jump and then settled into the back of his head, his feet marching as told, his hands gripping the strap, the cold air of the sidewalk replaced by the warmer air of the school. Mr. Gunnarson led him down the side hallway and then unlocked a door with his ring of keys.

"Got a sink down here, you can wash up. Otherwise, you'll look like you were in a fight. Which you were."

Dean nodded, and walked down the flight of metal steps, trying not to smell the air that reeked of mold and moisture and the sharp scent of some kind of cleanser that wasn't Pine Sol.

"I don't need to clean up," he said as they came to the bottom of the stairs. "My nose isn't bleeding."

Mr. Gunnison's hand landed on the back of his neck and pushed him forward, made him walk. "You've got dirt on your face. And you look a little white. We'll get you fixed up."

The hand pushed him into the office, and Mr. Gunnarson went to the sink that was in the corner next to the worktable and began to run it. Cold. Then he took a white cloth and rinsed it out. Came over to Dean, frozen where he stood, and wiped his face.

"Better?"

Dean nodded, looking up. Feeling suddenly hot and cold at the same time. From the bank of windows above the sink, he could see the blue of the sky, though the glass was rippled, so he couldn't see any details beyond that. It occurred to him that Mr. Gunnarson couldn't have really seen the details of the fight through those windows, and he opened his mouth to ask about it, when Mr. Gunnarson sat on the chair at his desk.

"Come here, Dean."

Dean walked forward, his mouth a little dry, his feet feeling numb. He shivered like he had a fever; wanted to button up his coat. He wanted to go back the way he had come.

"Here, Dean. I want to make sure you are alright."

This was strange, seeing as the only marks Joel had left on him had been on his arms, bruises that would rise come the morning and would soon fade away before anyone could take any notice of them. Whether Joel would ever forgive him for being bested, Dean didn't know. And he didn't care. As long as he stayed off the grid, Dad would be happy.

Mr. Gunnarson reached out to grab his arm and pulled him close until Dean was sitting on his lap, his legs between Mr. Gunnarson's legs. He felt his messenger bag hit Mr. Gunnarson's thigh, and pulled it up. Held on to it.

"I need to go," he said.

"You want to stay," said Mr. Gunnarson, his hand cupping the back of Dean's neck again. "You know you do."

"I-I don't," said Dean.

Mr. Gunnarson's other hand slipped around the front of Dean's waist, and then moved down to his crotch. Dean felt his eyebrows flip up, and his mouth drop open. It hadn't been his imagination then, the other day. Last week. Mr. Gunnarson's fingers on his balls.

"Mr. Gunnarson-" said Dean.

"Hold still, Dean. You need to hold still and be a good boy."

The janitor's hand slipped down between Dean's legs and pressed. The collar of Dean's pea coat felt rough and hot against his neck, and Mr. Gunnarson's hand was clamped hard. The hand between his legs moved around over his crotch. The heel of Mr. Gunnarson's hand moved back and forth, the strong fingers stroking him. Dean felt something harden and twitch down there, like Dad had always said it would if you did that, but that was grownup stuff. Time enough for that later. That's what Dad had said.

"Does that feel nice, Dean?"

Dean waited a second. No it didn't. His stomach was doing a strange dance, as though someone were scraping it with a spoon.

"No," he said. "N-no-"

"Hold on, Dean," said Mr. Gunnarson. "It will."

Mr. Gunnarson was breathing hard now, his face was getting dark, and Dean tucked his chin down and away so he wouldn't have to watch. It began to hurt, and suddenly Mr. Gunnarson grunted and made a little sound after that in his throat.

"You're a good boy, Dean," he said, his voice low.

"Can I go now?"

"Yes," said Mr. Gunnarson. "You go ahead and meet your brother's bus. And I'll see you later. See if you can stay out of fights with Joel, okay?"

Dean stood up, snapping his mouth shut, pulling his bag to him. His crotch felt as though it had been banged with a hammer, and Mr. Gunnarson's crotch was darkened with damp. Then he turned and walked away. He had to hurry. He'd seen the flash of orange roll off through the bank of windows. Sam's bus would be there any time. Any time. He had to hurry.

His heart fluttered as he raced through the empty school. By the time he made it through the front doors, all the buses were gone and the white van was pulling away. Sam was the only little boy standing there, just to the side of the trees. A few teachers lingered by the edge of the sidewalk, their eyes on Dean, silent but accusing him. He was late. He knew he was. He didn't let himself shrink from their looks or stumble on the roughness of the sidewalk. He stepped off it, in fact, to walk over the snow-crusted grass to where Sammy stood, his grey messenger bag slung around his neck, his coat unzipped.

"Zip up your coat, Sammy," he said, to say hello.

"Only if you button yours," said Sammy, in reply. Smiling, seeming not to mind that Dean was late, he held out his fist, holding it there till Dean held out his hand. Into it dropped a quarter and two dimes.

"For the candy," he said.

"You had lunch, then," said Dean, putting the money in his pocket.

"Yep. Fish sticks."

Dean's mouth watered. He couldn't remember what he'd had for lunch that day. Or whether or not he'd eaten. He felt his brow furrow as he thought about this.

"You all right?" asked Sam.

"What?"

"You okay? You look like someone punched you in the stomach."

"Hey," said Dean, chuffing the back of Sam's head. Light. More like skimming. "If I'd been in a fight, you would have heard about it. Right?"

Sammy nodded.

"Let's get home," said Dean, finding that he looked forward to the walk to the trailer. It was only a mile. It wasn't snowing. They'd get there before dark. "Chili," he said.

"Yeah," said Sam.

"And then we can make pudding after."

"Yeah," said Sam again, looking up through his bangs. "Chocolate."

"And if we have enough money on Saturday," he said, settling his bag over his head so the cloth strap crossed his chest, "we can walk to the 7-11. If it's not snowing."

"Yeah," said Sammy again.

Dean nodded. It would be good to go home.

 

Thursday, January 16, 1992

On Thursday the walk home was flayed with snow, and when they got to the trailer, steam heat coming out of the vent at the end, the Impala was there, unannounced. The Impala had no snow on it, and the tracks from the tires looked fresh and clean. Dean led the way around the car, stomping up the metal steps to clear the snow from his sneakers, waving at Sammy to do the same before he opened the door to the warm air. Dad was on the phone, standing, boots still on, dampness tracked in, his greygreen duffle bag on the floor with his jacket on top.

"Yes, I understand, Mr. Mates, and I'll certainly check into it. Yes. Yes, that's for certain. Goodbye."

Dean froze as Dad turned around. He wanted to shrug out of his jacket, but the look in Dad's eye told him that this had been no ordinary phone conversation.

"Phantoms," said Dad, "give me less trouble than you do, boy."

For a quick second, as Sammy bumped into him from behind, Dean wondered if this was about Mr. Gunnarson, if someone had called it in and his heart leapt up in his throat. But it couldn't be because no one knew about Mr. Gunnarson, so it had to be something else.

"What is it, Dad?" asked Dean.

"Take your coat off, Dean. Both of you. And Sammy." Here Dad stopped to motion at the back trailer. "Make yourself scarce for a bit."

"But I'm not in trouble." This protest came out automatically, even as Sam was scooting around the kitchen table towards the back bedroom.

Dad gave him a mild chuff on the head as he went past. "Go anyway. I want to talk to your brother. Alone."

"But Dad," began Sam.

"Now, Sam."

Sam pulled himself out of his coat and hung it on the back of a chair in the kitchen because this was not a hotel and never had been. His took his bag with him, disappearing down the short hall, where Dean could hear him flicking on the light with a click. Dean took off his coat too, but held it to his chest to cover his hammering heart.

"That was Mr. Mates. He says you've not been handing in any homework. You care to explain that one to me?"

"I've been doing my homework," said Dean, thinking back. Yes, he'd sat at the table at night, across from Sammy. He could clearly remember the geography book open in front of him.

"You have, huh."

"Yeah, Dad."

"So why haven't any of your teachers been getting it? Except for Mr. Collins, all your teachers have turned in a report, coming up blank. Seems early in the game for that sort of thing, but-"

"I have, Dad," said Dean interrupting. His heart was like a tom-tom in his chest, stomach doing a good imitation of a roller coaster. Every night he'd been working, but it was hard to prove it when the report said otherwise. Otherwise, what had he been doing every night?

"What's in your bag?"

Dean handed it over, his pea coat slipping out of his grip to tumble at his feet. He stayed motionless as Dad opened the bag and saw what was in it. Tipped the bag open so that Dean could see, as well. Just the geography book, bright and new and covered in pictures and maps of faraway places. His notebook. A pen.

"One book, Dean, is not homework. You have work due in all your classes, not just the one." Then Dad slammed the bag shut and tossed it on the couch where it lay tumbled like a distressed child.

Then Dad loomed, like a tall giant over a forest it was soon to destroy. "Your job," he said, speaking slowly, in that way he had when everything else but what he was saying was of no importance to him. "Your job is to go to school and keep your head down. Then your job is to look after Sammy when I'm not here. Two things, Dean, two simple things. If you fall down on the first one, you fall down on the second. If you don't turn your work in and have to stay after school, who will walk Sammy home? I can't leave him alone."

"But, Dad-" began Dean, thinking of the books in his locker and the tests he'd taken and the pencils he'd chewed on, but for the life of him, other than sitting at the table with Sam, he couldn't remember doing any work. Worse, he couldn't remember sitting at a desk, handing anything in.

"This is not a game," said Dad. His voice was dangerously low, like gravel, one pitch away from booming into a shout. "You may not like it, but this is where we are for now, and you will do as you're told. Am I clear?"

There was the look, and Dean felt the quiver in his chin before he could stop it. Telling Dad it wasn't fair was a baby's trick, something Sam would do when he railed against the unfairness of the world. Telling Dad about not being able to remember most of his day would only invite further ire. Telling Dad about the boiler room-

"I'll do my homework, Dad," he said. "I promise."

"And I'll get no more phone calls from that principal?"

"No, Dad."

Dad paused, looking him up and down. "Dean, is everything okay?"

He couldn't understand why Dad was asking him this question; he had everything under control, except for the homework. "Yeah, Dad," he said, "it's fine." Then he tried to look confident, realized that chewing on his lip was ruining the effect, and made himself stop.

Dad looked at the carpet, stained and now wet. Then he sighed. "I'll get dinner. You hit the book, and tomorrow, there'd better be books."

"Yes, Dad."

Dad bent to pick up his jacket and his duffle, and took them into the little bedroom in the front of the trailer. Dean used the moment to quickly take off his sneakers, hang his coat on a chair, and settled himself at the table, bag in hand, with his back to the wall. From his position, he could see the open doorway to the back bedroom.

"Can I come out?" asked Sam, his hissing whisper like a steam kettle.

"Yeah," Dean hissed back. He watched Sam come closer, his bag in his hand, far more full than Dean's was.

Sam sat with his back to the hallway to the second bedroom and moved stuff around in his bag before pulling out some worksheets and a pencil. "Times tables," Sam said.

"Didn't you already do that?" asked Dean, bending his head low, pulling out his geography book. Listening for Dad.

"No," said Sam, equally quiet. "That was addition and subtraction. Over and over."

Dean opened his book with both hands, and panicked for a second while he realized he had no idea what he was supposed to do with it. His mind clicked back. He could picture Mr. Collins with his blue tie that he'd worn today. Something about Siberia. Dean ran his finger along the table of contents till he saw Siberia listed and then turned to that page. The whole chapter or just parts of it? From the beginning, or near the middle? Why didn't he know?

Stomach going like a tilt-a-whirl, he thought he'd start at the beginning. Then tomorrow he'd write down what Mr. Collins said, so he'd remember at the end of the day. And he'd do the same for all of his classes. Yeah. That was the answer.

Dad came out of the front room, sock-footed, flannel shirtsleeves rolled up, the front of his thermal shirt stained near the bottom with something dark. As he walked into the kitchen, he caught Dean's eye and nodded. The lecture had been delivered, and Dean knew his place; nothing more would be said about it.

"Spaghetti?" asked Dad, wanting confirmation that his boys had not eaten any recently. He opened one cupboard, and then shut it. Opened another one. They'd not been in the trailer long enough for any of them to know where they'd put anything.

"Yeah," said Dean. That sounded good. "There's garlic bread in the freezer," he added to that, hoping Dad would take the hint.

He did.

As the water boiled, Dad heated up a jar of store bought spaghetti sauce, one with a blue parrot on it, and whatever that had to do with tomato sauce, Dean didn't know. Then, while the spaghetti cooked and the bread heated up in the little oven, Dad laid the dishes and mix of silverware on the table, taking up room. Letting Dean know, without words, that study time was over. For now. Sam had already finished all of his sheets, of course, and had just started on marking up a map of the United States, but he too stopped, and cleared away his work.

The meal was good and hot. Not that it was hard making spaghetti, but there was something about not having made it himself, having Dad home to make it, that made it extra good. He even managed to pretend to forget to pour the milk, which earned him a scowl from Dad, so that Dad would have to pour it for them all. It always tasted better when Dad poured it, not that that was something he could ever put into words.

And it was nice having them all at the table together. Even Sammy kept his dorky chatter to a minimum while Dean put away enough spaghetti and sauce and bread for two Winchesters. When he started to choke on his milk, he was chugging it so fast, Dad gave Dean a grin, patted him on the back, and took the glass away.

"Take it easy there, kiddo," he said, a good mood having taken the place of the earlier bad one. "And, Dean, I'm leaving in the morning for another job, if it doesn't keep snowing. You do your homework and make sure Sammy does his. I'll do laundry when I get back."

Dean nodded, keeping his eyes on his plate, on the fork curled up in his fist. "Okay, Dad."

"And the books, Dean, I mean it. When I come back-"

"I'll do it, Dad," said Dean, swallowing. Looking up, the dark eyes of his father's meeting his, that mouth working as though over a sore spot. "I promise."

After dinner, Dean did the dishes in the shallow metal sink and left them in the drainer to dry. At one point the idea had been to make Sammy dry them, to give him more responsibility, but he managed to drop more than he dried. Even getting used Corelle from the Salvation Army hadn't made any difference. Besides which, Dad had found out that letting dishes air dry was actually healthier, so Sam was off the hook. Forever.

Then Dad planted himself in the Dad chair, sock feet up on the ottoman, the TV on to some old movie, something with horses. It looked like a Clint Eastwood movie, but Clint wasn't on screen, so Dean couldn't be sure. He settled on the couch anyway, his geography book up, reading, hoping it was the right chapter, hoping Dad wouldn't notice and exile him to the dining room table. Sammy settled himself at the other end of the couch, some book open under the lamp on the side table, lips moving slightly as he worried his thumb with his teeth, eyes tracking each word.

Then it got later. The movie turned into the evening news, and Dean nudged Sammy, already half-asleep, with his foot. Sam's head jerked upright and he looked at Dean, head tilted back, eyes mostly closed, like he could already feel a pillow behind him. Dean tipped his head in the direction of the bedroom and closed his geography book as quietly as he could. As he got up, he left it on the couch, and walked over to the TV to turn it down a little.

"Don't change the channel," said Dad, without opening his eyes. His head was resting against the lumpy pillow at the top of the chair, and Dean nodded without saying anything. He hustled Sam to the bathroom, where both of them brushed their teeth, and flipping that light off, he reached around to turn on the bedroom light. Not that they couldn't get dressed in the dark, of course, but the room was so small and still somewhat new to them that bumping into something sharp-edged was a good possibility.

Dean took pjs from the drawer and put them on. He would soon be too old for pjs, and would sleep in his underwear and a t-shirt like Dad did. Sammy put on his striped pjs and slipped into the bed, taking the spot against the wall. Dean turned off the light and crawled in beside his brother.

"You gonna have a nightmare again, Dean?" asked Sam. Whispering in the dark. Dean could feel him pulling the covers up to his chin. The room, with only one heating vent coming up from the floor, was chilly. Dean thought about getting the space heater, but it was in the living room, and he didn't want to get up.

"No," he said. "I never have nightmares. You're the one who has nightmares all the time."

He felt rather than heard Sammy sigh. "Okay. But you make the bed shake sometimes."

"Do not."

"You do too." Sammy nodded his head, moving it against the pillow, making the bed shake. "You do."

"I do not, you jerk. Quit saying that."

"Boys."

This from the living room, quiet, but loud enough and fierce enough to shut them both up.

"So shut up," said Dean. Whispering now.

"You shut up."

"You." He reached over and socked Sam in the arm. Heard Sam grunt in his throat as he took it and immediately felt bad. "Sorry."

"S'okay." This said low, almost under Sammy's breath, like the faint sound of a faraway ghost.

Then Sam rolled over, facing towards the wall, and Dean lay on his back, with only his face and the tips of his fingers out of the blanket and sheets. His heart was still settling down from pounding, his stomach full of spaghetti, and his head feeling like it had a huge concrete wall in it. He didn't know what was on the other side. He didn't know if he wanted to know.

In the morning, he woke up, curled into a small ball against Sam's ribs. Sam was already awake, his hands behind his head, stretched out, looking down at Dean. He didn't say anything, but Dean already knew, knew by the soft, appraising look in Sam's eyes, that yes, he'd had a nightmare that he luckily couldn't remember, and yes, he'd shaken the bed with it. But Sam, being Sam, didn't need to say a word to make his point.

 

Friday, November 24th, 2006

 

Sam stirred, waking to a dry mouth and all of his covers flung off. There was a slender thread of light coming between the crack in the curtains, and with it he checked the room. It was 8 o'clock, according to the square red numbers on the nightstand, and with a click, the heat came on. What on earth? It was already boiling in the room.

He got up and opened the lid to the controls on the air conditioner/heater. It was set to high heat, so he turned the knob to low heat, and felt the room cool almost instantly as the heat and the fan pushing it around went off. He didn't remember it being that high last night. In the other bed, as he turned to look at it, Dean was face down, bundled in the covers. It looked like he was wearing one of Sam's hoodies with the hood up as well, though Sam didn't remember him borrowing it. Or even mentioning that he needed it. A cold was the likely culprit, because even though it hadn't been that chilly, who knew where germs lurked in this dry climate.

"Dean," he said, not kicking the bed. Instead, he leaned close and gave Dean's shoulder a pat. Just a small one, but Dean flung out at him as though under attack. Sam jumped back, feeling like a rabbit on the run, and tried not to snap something mean. It would start out the day with much more tension than was needed, and the way things were going, they'd find enough tension between them to string wire.

"Dean, can you get up so we can go to breakfast? They'll have sweet rolls if we're early enough."

Groaning, Dean sank back into his pillow. "I'm not hungry."

"Look," said Sam, going over to his duffle to dig for some mostly clean jeans and socks. "Just come and have coffee or something so we can go over what we're going to ask Blake and Mates." He pulled on the jeans and zipped up.

"Who?" Now Dean sat up, blankets tucked around him like bunting.

"Blake and Mates. Janitor and Principal, respectively. The diner around the corner has very good donuts, by the way they sold out yesterday. C'mon, will you?"

With several dark mumbles, Dean pulled himself out of bed and began pulling on clothes. First his socks, then his jeans, as normal. He pulled off the hoodie to pull on some thermal underwear over his t-shirt, and then a flannel shirt. Then he put the hoodie back on.

"Will you quit watching me?"

"I've never seen you wear so many clothes, Dean. You really are coming down with a cold, because if you're not, this room is like a dry sauna for no reason."

"Yeah, I turned it up last night," said Dean. Shrugging. He grabbed the keys from the table between the beds and shoved it in his pocket, and jingled them while he stood there. "Gonna bring the notes?"

"Yeah," said Sam, gathering up the folder and his pen. He needed coffee and he needed toast. With butter and jam.

As they entered the diner, the smell of coffee and grease settling over everything, Sam asked for a table by the window, liking the way the sun slanted in, liking the quiet of the corner. He sat in the chair with his back to the wall, smiling at Dean's frown. It was warm enough that he could take off his jacket and drape it behind him. Something that Dean did not do. But rather than bring up a cold that Dean would, no doubt, dismiss, he let it go. If Dean wanted to wear his leather jacket and get egg on it, that was his problem.

"So these guys," said Dean, sitting across from him, pulling out the menu. He waved his hand in the air, like he was coaxing Sam to remember his lines. "What's his name and what's his name-"

"Rondo Blake and Henry Mates. They agreed to meet with us today, either because they have nothing better to do, or because they have a story to tell and no one to tell it to."

"Either is likely," said Dean, cryptic. Staring at the inside flap of the plastic coated menu. He knew, as well as Sam did, that sometimes people had a story to tell, even after six months, it was likely they could get information from two guys who would have the key to every room in the building.

The waitress came by and Sam ordered his favorite, a ham and cheese omelet, and a short stack of pancakes. Did that come with bacon? Thank you. And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

When she turned to Dean, he hesitated, like he was going to refuse her. Like he ever refused food. "Uh," he said, not looking at Sam. His concentration full on the menu. "Coffee. Um, toast."

"Dean." It was not a question, but Sam said it with some force.

"I'll have the number one, the two egg special. Sunny side up."

"Thank you sir," said the waitress, back in about two seconds with a pot of coffee, filling their cups far enough so that Sam had to take several sips of black before he could add cream and sugar. Dean had no problem, he liked it black. But he didn't touch the cup.

"Are you going to be like this all day?" asked Sam.

"Like what?"

"Like this. Grunting. Not eating. Bundled up like an Eskimo."

"I'm not bundled up like an Eskimo," said Dean, fiddling with the handle on his cup. "I just got a cold is all, so you can just back off before you start."

Sam blinked.

"Yeah, Sam, you. You've been at me since we started this job, and I'm sick of it. Quit harassing me."

"I'm not harassing you."

"Yes, you are. Like right now."

"How-" Sam stopped to take a breath, to let himself cool off. "How am I harassing you? You mean about getting breakfast?" Sam waved his hands over the table. "It's not like you to not order, especially breakfast. You want to say it's a cold and that you're not hungry, then, fine, don't order. Don't let me boss you around, but don't tell me I'm harassing you."

The waitress came with their orders, which meant that they could only glower at each other while she was there. And for some moments after she left, at their plates, as Dean asked for the salt and pepper to be passed, as Sam reached for the cream.

After several mouthfuls where it was obvious Dean was putting food in his mouth to please Sam, he looked up, brows furrowed. "Can we just stick to the job? Sam?"

"Fine," said Sam.

"Fine," said Dean.

*

Rondo Blake's place was half of a duplex off of North Broadway, where the town suddenly flattened out on the top of a mesa, which was scattered with gas station, trailers, a goat farm, and a development that looked old even though it was new. When they knocked on Rondo's brown door, he let them in, smelling slightly like weed, a lot like patchouli, and with a beard long enough for a castaway.

"Come on in, man, glad you could make it."

As if he'd invited them to a party or something. That's what Dean's look said, and Sam shrugged and scowled to hide his smile. If Rondo was stoned, his story might not have enough facts to do them any good. Or they could get stoned on the residual smoke, which probably, in Dean's mind, wouldn't be half bad.

They were waved to the leather couch that was half covered in blankets and a pillow. The other half was a pile of clothes, hopefully clean.

"Don't mind that," said Rondo, shoving everything on the floor. "Buddy of mine had to crash here last night. You guys want Kool-Aid or something? Is it too early for beer?"

"Not by my watch," said Dean, settling back, giving the blankets on the floor a kick.

Sam sat next to him, taking in the mountain climbing posters, the gear in the corner, ropes and belaying hooks, and took a beer when Rondo offered it to him. It was cold in his hand. He didn't have to drink it, he knew that, but sometimes it paid to look like you were joining the party.

Dean took his beer with both hands, opened it with his ring, and took a healthy swig.

"So," said Rondo, with a beer of his own as he settled into a nap-worn comfy chair. "You got a problem up at that school, huh?" He took a large swig of his beer. "Fire away."

"What can you tell us about what happened?"

"You mean why I only worked there a month?"

"Did you?" Sam looked sideways at Dean, who shrugged. This hadn't come out in their conversation with Audrey or Phil.

"Yeah, shit, that school was nasty."

"Nasty?" asked Dean. "Like run down?"

That was hard to believe, the way it currently looked, all sparkly and well tended. Sam shook his head.

"No, man. Spooky nasty." Rondo shook his head. "Them damn X's every where, lockers being opened. It was a good gig, right, but I could never explain why I wasn't changing light bulbs fast enough. And then they found the you-know-what in the file cabinet."

Dean was smiling against the mouth of his beer, Sam could tell, even without looking.

Rondo followed suit, swallowing loudly, not hiding his belch. "Yeah, I'm the hippy, right, so of course, it's the weed that's keeping me from doing my job, not anything else."

"Was it something else?" asked Sam, leaning forward. He let the beer dangle between his hands as he rested his elbows on his knees.

"Damn straight. That was a good gig for me. It was easy to keep up, there weren't any bad kids lighting fires or shooting each other or peeing in trashcans. Kids are pigs, right?" Rondo gulped down the last half of his beer and then put the empty bottle by his foot. And while still looking down at his shoelaces, he seemed more alert than he had since they'd come in. "I worked nights so I could climb during the day, right? I would go down a hall, having waxed it, swept, done the trash, or whatever. Then I would get all cold, and then turn around to find light bulbs burned out, X's up high over the lockers. Lockers open that had been closed when I went past 'em. Could hear lockers being opened in another hallway. But there was nobody there but me."

"You sure of that?" This from Dean, who had finished his beer also and looked like he could use another one. "Could have been-could have been someone else there."

"Man, did you hear me?" Rondo slipped back in his seat, his head on the headrest. "I was the only one there."

"And did you tell anyone?"

"Yeah, man, I did. They got one earful of my story and then they searched that boiler room, and found my weed. I only smoked it on my break, right? It let me think. And I got the job done, so what the hell did they care."

"Well," said Sam, trying not to laugh or shake his head. "Schools are funny that way."

"And it gets even funnier, right?"

"How so?"

"I asked around, right? Janitors talk, you know. To each other. It's like a little community, and thank Peter for that, because I've got me a cleaning gig in Ft. Collins starting next week, and man, there are some rocks up there."

Sam felt his patience slipping away. "What did you ask them?"

"What was going on, don't you get it?"

Both he and Dean shook their heads. Sam prepared himself to take it on the chin from Dean after they left Rondo's place. Dean would give it to him but good. Waste of time, Sam.

"It was the last janitor. That's what they said. He hung himself. In the boiler room."

"And that would be-" said Sam, leaving it open, not seeing the pieces.

"It's Mr. Gunnarson," said Dean, and Rondo nodded at him.

"Yeah, man. Old Mr. Gunnarson is haunting the school. That's what suicides do, right?"

"How the hell, Dean," said Sam, turning towards his brother. "How the hell do you know who this guy is?"

Dean's hands froze on his beer as he brought it to his mouth.

"Yeah, man," asked Rondo, "you go to school there, or something?"

Dean's mouth was open, his eyes on Rondo. Like Rondo was suddenly going to turn into a snake or something. "Yeah, uh, yeah. I went to school there, and the janitor's name was Gunnarson. So I figured-"

"That's who you thought it was when we talked to Audrey and Phil, too, Dean." Sam felt like he was going to have to start shouting to get Dean to answer him.

"Hey, how they doing anyway?" asked Rondo. "Still mad at me for the weed, right?"

It was frustrating that Dean wouldn't look at him, but he was now studying the beer bottle in his hands like his fingers wanted to tease the label off. Like it was the most important thing he would be working on that morning. Or any morning.

"They're fine, Rondo," said Sam, "and they send their regards."

Rondo snorted at this and then looked up as Dean jumped to his feet. Not giving his brother the chance to find out why the hell Dean kept bringing up some old janitor.

"Come on, Sam," said Dean.

Rondo stood up as well, and the two men clasped hands like old drinking buddies soon to be parted. "Alright, man, you take care, and hey, call if, you know, you want to hang out or something."

Then he reached to shake Sam's hand, which Sam responded to, hoping he wasn't frowning. Not that it made any difference who Rondo was or what he did with his spare time. He'd given them a big lead, one they should have figured out for themselves. But trust the universe to laugh at them long and loud by having some ex-janitor-climber-wanna be figure out the reason for the haunting. He hoped the universe got a bellyache. Thank goodness janitors talked.

"Thank you, Rondo," he said. "Take care.

They left, and as the front door shut behind them, Sam took several lungfuls of sharp, clear air.

"If we get stopped by the cops," said Sam, shaking his lapel as he smelled it.

"I'll tell them you've got it hidden on your person."

"You would," said Sam, snapping back.

Sam allowed himself to get into the car without going at Dean about Mr. Gunnarson, seeing as Dean wasn't going to go after him about Rondo being a waste of time. Because he hadn't been. Getting pissed off wouldn't do any good anyway, and besides, they had a real lead. If Rondo knew about the suicide, then surely Bob Mates would, too.

"Where does he live?" asked Dean, pulling out of the driveway.

"Head south here, on Broadway," said Sam, pointing. Wishing he'd taken at least one good swallow of beer. "Then, it goes downhill. When it goes uphill again, we take a right on Mapleton."

The drive was silent, the after holiday traffic getting thicker as people headed out to shop. Mapleton was a tree-lined street, with elegant, large houses, and substantial fences around each one. Expensive cars. More trees in each yard. Mr. Mate's house was one of the smaller ones, sided with stone and surrounded by a tidy green lawn. Dean parked on a side street half a block away, not wanting to leave the Impala in harm's way.

"Is he going to be in?" asked Dean, as they walked along a flagstone sidewalk. Then Sam opened the gate to Mr. Mate's yard. More flagstone.

"Yeah, he said his wife was shopping and didn't want to hear any of this. She's had enough, she said."

"Wow. That's supportive." Dean smirked at Sam and banged on the door with the brass knocker.

Before Sam could make any kind of retort about people getting tired of other people's shit, the door opened. Mr. Mates looked just like a retired principal should: cardigan sweater half-buttoned over a round belly, neat hair and eyeglasses. Indoor loafers. A newspaper in his hand.

"You the boys about the school?" he asked.

"Yes, Mr. Mates. I'm Sam Winchester, and this is my brother Dean."

Mates opened the door wider and welcomed them in with a wave of his newspaper. The house smelled like baking and cleanser. Everything was dusted and tidy except for the newspaper spread out over the dining room table.

"Doing the crosswords. Gives my wife fits, so I have to sneak it in when she's not here."

Sam didn't acknowledge Dean's continued smirk.

"We appreciate you taking some of that crossword puzzle time, then, Mr. Mates, to answer some questions."

"Bob," said Mr. Mates, as if addressing a fourth party in the room. "You boys make yourself comfortable." He pointed at the padded chairs. "Any of the remaining five."

Sam sat across from Bob Mates and his newspapers and the little scratch pad he used so he could, apparently, do the final puzzle in ink and amaze his wife. Dean sat on his left and folded his hands on the table. Like he was a schoolboy and in trouble.

"So, Bob," said Sam, tipping his head forward, trying for his best not-meaning-to-impose face. "What can you tell us about the school? You said over the phone that you couldn't-"

"Not with my wife listening," said Bob. Scowling. He tapped his pen on the pad. "She hates talking about this."

"About-?" Sam began the question, let his voice trail off. People loved to fill in the blanks. Especially lovers of crossword puzzles.

"About all of it! The suicide. That janitor, Mr. Gunnarson-"

"Wasn't he a co-worker of yours?"

This from Dean who hadn't even as much as nodded hello to the man. Sam found himself staring, open jawed.

"Excuse me, young man?"

"You worked with him," said Dean, biting off each word. "You were the principal there while he was the janitor. So, co-worker and friend, I'd say."

Now it was Bob's turn. His mouth hung open a little while he regarded Dean, the pen still in his hand, his fingers looking like they wanted to turn it around and around.

"Do I know you?"

"I went-" Dean stared, a little gasp of breath escaping him. "I went to that school while you were the principal. Years ago, it was-"

"1992," said Bob. Nodding now. Pleased with himself. "Yeah, that's you. You got into a fight with that Joel Booth, and Gunnarson covered for you."

"You knew that?"

"You didn't start the fight, Dean, I asked around, I asked teachers on bus duty. But you were going to end it, and it was going to get messy."

Dean tucked his chin and tried to look abashed at this, but failed.

"I thought you said you'd never gotten into a fight at that school," said Sam.

Shrug. "Dude, I forgot. What difference does it make?"

Only that every fight Dean had ever been in, especially the ones that he'd won, while sometimes a secret from Dad, had been spelled out to Sam. Lessons in how to win. What to do. What not to do. When to walk, when to run away.

Then he remembered the day Bob Mates was talking about. It had been a bright, windy day, with snow on the street and in the lee side of all the trees. When the white van had dropped him off, Dean had not been there to meet him, as he usually was. There had been some teachers there, watching him, and Sam tried not to look at them, thinking in the back of his mind that he shouldn't attract too much attention. Then, suddenly, Dean had raced out of the front doors, his pea coat open. His collar, awry. He'd been white and sweating, for all it was cold.

Sam had asked questions because, from the way Dean was curled forward, it looked like someone had punched him in the stomach. Dean's denial had been quick. He'd denied anything was wrong, though the walk home had been slow, even for Sam, because Dean had kept tripping over his own feet.

Dean opened his mouth now and turned sharply towards Sam, and Sam knew what was on his lips, ready to burst out: Quit looking at me like that.

So he looked away. Looked at Bob. Pressed his lips together and took a breath.

"Why don't you tell us what you know, Bob, and we'll see where that takes us."

"Sure, sure." Bob looked at his crossword puzzle, which Sam could see had the dignity of being from the New York Times. Knew Bob wanted to bury himself inside of it. Made himself wait.

"Gunnarson worked at that school, I don't know, twenty years or more. Not a black mark on his record, and he kept that school like it was his own. Kept it brand new. You see what I'm saying, why it was so wrong what happened to him?

What happened to him? Sam kept his mouth shut over this, tipped his head at Dean to keep him quiet as well. It worked. For the moment.

"Gunnarson committed suicide. But why? I'll tell you why. Because of that kid. That dumb kid and his accusations."

Someone shifted in his chair. There was a loud creak. It could have been Dean but he'd not moved.

Then Bob looked up. "Sorry. You're not in the school system; it was all over like wildfire. Some kid accused poor Roy of inappropriate touching. But before they could take him in for questioning, you know, so he could clear his name, he hung himself. In the boiler room. The stress, after looking after those kids and that school, and that's the thanks he gets for it?" He pulled his lips in against his teeth and did what all grown men did. He sucked it back.

"What kid?" asked Sam.

Bob shook his head. "I can't tell you that. It's unsubstantiated anyway. Kid transferred to another school, I hired Rondo Blake, who turned out to be a pothead, and then I retired. And that's it. End of story."

"His word against the janitor's, anyway," said Dean. Flat.

"No, that's the thing of it. Kid said he had proof. That Roy kept files on each kid. Kept them in the school somewhere. Said he saw them. What a joke. A man's life, let alone his reputation, ripped to shreds by some lying punk."

"So, no one believed him then, this kid?" Sam made his voice gentle.

"No and why should they? I worked with Roy, hell, we practically started at that school together. He wasn't into that. I would have noticed something. Or some other kid would have said something."

"Maybe they were afraid," said Dean. His voice sounded uncomfortable, but Sam could hardly blame him. Dealing with an accused pedophile, or rather, the ghost of an accused pedophile, was not their usual thing.

"They shouldn't be, if they're telling the truth." Bob nodded. As sure of this, it seemed, as though it was all black and white, like his puzzles. Sam could see that.

"Anything else you can tell us, Bob?"

"Rondo Blake was sure that it was Roy's ghost haunting the school. If you can believe that. That Roy was leaving X's like a trail. But Roy's dead, so you can see how strange that sounds."

"Yeah," agreed Sam for form's sake. "That's pretty weird." What was even weirder was the fact that a pothead, someone very low on society's ladder, could see the truth better and faster than an upstanding citizen.

"Only what I expect from a pothead," said Bob. "I recommended that they fire him and I retired. It's not really my problem any of it, though I hate to see that school be brought down by rumors. Or some punk kid sneaking in there and causing trouble."

In Bob's mind, it was some punk kid. Some punk liar kid, maybe. Nothing close to the truth.

Sam shoved back his padded chair and held out his hand to shake. Bob shook it.

"Thank you, Bob, for your time, then. We won't take up any more of it."

"I hope you get to the bottom of this mess. That's a good school, even if it does have a woman principal."

"Yeah," said Dean, shaking Bob's hand, going through the motions. "A good school."

"Worth saving," said Bob. "Even if you didn't like it much."

"I liked it just fine," said Dean, drawing his hand back with a snap. He looked like he wanted to wipe his palm on his jeans but refrained. Sam wanted to snap out something about the woman principal remark, but he clamped his teeth on the end of his tongue. It wouldn't serve any purpose, wouldn't change Bob or his opinion.

"Thank you again, Bob," he said instead. He tugged at Dean's jacket with his fingertips, drawing them towards the door. Once outside, he hurried next to Dean, who was walking as fast as he could without running, as though he had someplace he wanted to be. And barely had Sam gotten in on the passenger side and shut the door, Dean had gunned the engine, and tipped the nose of the car into the street. Pulled out quick, not looking.

"So," Dean said, eyes only on the road ahead. "We should go to that school, look for those records."

"What?" Sam felt himself scowling. "What lit a fire under your ass all of a sudden?"

"Nothing," said Dean, not stopping at the stoplight, pulling through, taking a right turn, fast. "But I think I got it figured out. We can wrap this gig up easy, just like you said."

Dean pushed the Impala into the traffic on Broadway, heading south, purposeful. Not using his blinkers. Scaring other cars with the growl of his engine.

"And?"

"I'll take you to the school now and show you."

"Can we get lunch first?" It wasn't like Dean to not remember that it was coming on to noon, the sun was at a hard slant, coming down like brass, warming the air in the car so the heater wasn't necessary, though Dean had it on anyway. Sam felt himself grow hot, wanted to turn it down. Didn't.

"Yeah, okay," said Dean. "How about that Chinese place, Fans. North of town?"

Sam nodded, and Dean drove them there. He was tired of noodles and soy sauce, but this was comfort food to Dean, so if he would eat it, Sam would put up with Chinese. Again. Except, once there and when the food was brought to their table, Dean merely poked at it.

"This great idea of yours, then?"

"Gunnarson's ghost," said Dean, waving an egg roll for emphasis, "is looking for his files. That's why he's marking everywhere. To remind him of where he's already looked. Phil, a very tidy man, kept erasing the marks. If he'd left them, Gunnarson would be at rest, having found the files."

"Having found them, what was he going to do with them?" Sam felt the question was self-evident. "He's a ghost, he can't actually destroy the evidence."

"Well, maybe he just wanted to know where they were. Since he forgot while he was hanging himself."

It made an odd sort of sense. Find the records, take what Gunnarson was looking for, if that's what he was doing with the crazy X's, and that would stop the X's.

"We still have to salt and burn the bones," said Sam.

"Got to have a body for that."

"Easy enough. Now that I have a name and a context, I can find it."

Dean nodded, nibbling at his wonton like he was some dainty girl, as though the food didn't interest him at all.

 

Friday, January 17th, 1992

 

Once at school, Dean's morning classes rolled past him, though he did remember to attempt a list of each assignment.

When he went to the lunchroom, he could see that there was beef stew and carrot rounds on the menu. That's what the kids were eating. His stomach lurched as he felt the dollar in his pocket. There was a nice little stack of them in his sock drawer. He wasn't hungry, suddenly, and he looked around. Even if he went in, there was no telling who would show up, unseen, especially if Dean sat with his back to the door. Which he never would do. He knew better.

The day got better when he got to geography, and he concentrated on that rather than on his stomach growling and burning. It was nice that Joel was out today. Not that he couldn't have taken Joel; he could have bloodied that face of his as quick as anything. But Dad had said, head down. Do your homework. Stick to the plan.

Dean stuck to the plan. He was able to do the worksheet on Siberia with no problem, and carefully wrote down the assignment for the next chapter, plus the test on Wednesday. Putting a big circle around the information with a flourish, he shut his notebook loudly and nodded at it. This was part of what Dad wanted.

When the last bell rang, Dean went to his locker and collected all his books. He was pretty sure he had assignments in every class, in addition to which, all of his teachers, except for Mr. Collins, had given him a list of makeup assignments that were to be done over the weekend. Dad would want to see the list, and, no doubt, the finished assignments when he came home to do laundry on Sunday. Though Dean could do that, if need be, in the little stacked washer and dryer that stood narrow and cramped in the corner of the bathroom.

He hauled on his coat without buttoning it up, but the day was sunny, and the walk home would be pleasant. Pulling his heavy bag with the books over his shoulder, he headed down the main hallway, in front of the principal's office and towards the front door.

Then a pair of hands grabbed him and guided him towards the little side hallway, and before he could think, he was being pushed down the metal stairs and down the narrow dark passageway towards the janitor's office, the bank of boilers humming and blinking in the dusty, still air.

"Did you have a nice day, Dean?" asked Mr. Gunnarson, taking off the bag and Dean's coat and laying both of them on the lumpy green couch. "You look like you didn't sleep well."

For a moment, Dean could only stand there, his mouth open, blinking. His eyes moved to the open doorway, and beyond that, the little rectangle that was light coming through the little window at the top of the stairs.

"Come here, Dean," said Mr. Gunnarson. He sat at the chair in front of his desk and for a moment, Dean looked at that, at the stacks of pink and yellow paper, the pencil cup with only one pencil in it, a bottle of some type of fluid, a greasy rag flung over the top. At the circles of stains on the wood on the pitted surface of the desk. At Mr. Gunnarson's shoes.

"Come on, Dean, don't be shy. You know I won't hurt you."

Mr. Gunnarson tugged at his arms and pulled Dean between his legs. He half lifted Dean to settle against his thigh, and gave Dean a pat.

"Been having trouble with your classes, is that it?"

Startled, Dean turned to look at Mr. Gunnarson, seeing part of his own reflection in Mr. Gunnarson's large glasses.

"Teachers talk in the lounge, you know," said Mr. Gunnarson. He rubbed Dean's thigh and drew him close in a hug. "It must be hard to start a new school like that. Everything so new and maybe a little scary."

For a second, Dean felt the gentle words fall over him like a blanket, how nice it was that someone understood just exactly how it was. Not that Dean wasn't willing to do what Dad wanted, that wasn't it. But he couldn't complain, not to Dad, who wouldn't listen to any whining, and not to Sam, who loved each new school like it was his first. Mr. Gunnarson's fingers were undoing the button on Dean's jeans, unzipping them, and pulling down cloth on his underwear. The cool skin of Mr. Gunnarson's fingers on his bare skin quickly turned warm.

"No," he said, "Don't do that, don't-"

"Now, Dean," said Mr. Gunnarson, using the heel of his hand to push down on Dean's crotch. "This will feel good. It will make you feel better."

It didn't.

Dean turned his head away, tucked his chin to his shoulder so he wouldn't have to watch, but it couldn't keep it from happening. Mr. Gunnarson pushed and pulled on Dean, his breath coming in hard gasps while his thigh trembled beneath Dean. Then Mr. Gunnarson pushed hard, and it hurt, but Dean was startled by Mr. Gunnarson's loud groan, and a dense, salty smell. He almost fell backwards then, but grabbed at the cloth of Mr. Gunnarson's shirt to steady himself. Still looking away. Still trying not to look down and see himself, to see Mr. Gunnarson's hand stroking him, gently now. Like it wanted to sooth, even though it was shaking.

Light lanced down through the frosted windows, and Dean slid off Mr. Gunnarson's lap, pulling up his underwear, buttoning his jeans. He reached for his pea coat and put it on. Grabbed his bag and slung it over his shoulder. He glanced at Mr. Gunnarson, who was sitting in the chair like a statue, his mouth slack, eyes a little glazed. Then, without asking permission, Dean walked out of the janitor's office and up the stairs, careful to shut the door behind him. Once he turned the corner, he could see the flash of orange bus, and the white of the van just entering the parking lot, which was good, because it meant he wasn't late.

But by the time he reached the door, he realized he had a disaster on his hands. Sammy came flying off the van before it had even stopped. His nose was bleeding, and the blood had soaked his shirt. But even worse, he held up his right arm like a stump and for a second, Dean thought someone had cut his hand off. But it was the mitten that was gone, missing from his string. Dean knew that even before Sammy had said a word.

"He cut it, he cut it off!" Fury, it was fury, and anger, all rolled up and glittering in Sammy's eyes. "I punched him, I punched him hard, and he ran away."

Dean reached out for the empty sleeve, reached in and pulled Sam's hand out, the ragged edge of the string trailing around his wrist like a leech. Sam's hand was cold.

"Why?"

"He said it was stupid." Sammy spit out the word. "He's stupid. Uncle Bobby gave them to me, and I want my mitten back!"

There was no way to get the mitten back, unless Dean went to Sam's school and beat up the boy and made him. Or if Sam made him, which, at this point, given the black swirl of pure hate around Sammy, wasn't a far possibility.

"We'll get your mitten," said Dean, dropping the sleeve and reaching for Sam's face. Used his thumb to press against Sam's upper lip, to swipe away the blood. It was slowing. "Looks like he punched you, too."

"It wasn't a good punch," said Sam. Now he was starting to sniff, snot mixing with blood, and running down to his chin. Using the tail end of his flannel shirt, Dean wiped some of it away, but it just went everywhere. Not hopeless, a good, cool washcloth would take care of it. But in the meantime, Sammy was on the edge of bawling out loud. Now that he'd told Dean what had happened, his woe over his mitten could march to the fore, leaving the anger ashes at his feet.

"Come on, let's go home."

He motioned with his head, towards home as the buses and the van left the parking lot, as mothers in minivans stopped and started, picking up their kids and moving along, just as it should be.

"We'll get you new mittens," said Dean as they walked along the side of the road, the wind blowing their open jackets back, streaming through their hair, whistling past their ears. He stopped them at the first corner to zip Sammy up, buttoned himself up, and bent his shoulders into the wind. Even though the sun was shining, it was not warm, and particularly, as they walked beneath the long shadows, it was positively cold. "New ones, Sammy."

"I want my mitten," said Sam. Lips drawn in a mulish line as he wiped away his mouth with the back of his hand, leaving a dark streak on the sleeve of his coat. "It's mine."

Now the tears were dripping off Sammy's chin, and Dean let them. There wasn't any point in stopping them, it would be like trying to dam up the waters of a fast, hard river, so you might as well let the water spill now as later. But he had to try.

"C'mon, it's just a mitten."

"It was red," Sammy said, twisting his head to look at Dean, stopping by the empty field, where the autumn-burned cattails bent under the wind. "It was red and it was mine."

Dean stopped too. Let the wind whistle down his collar, felt the grit of Sammy's blood drying on his fingers. "So beat him up and get it back."

Sam's eyes were pooling with tears, which left streaks on his face, and behind that, Dean could see the flicker of thinking this through.

"Or I could," Dean offered, not sure how he would manage the logistics of it.

Then Sammy scrubbed his eyes with both of his hands, wiped the snot and blood from his upper lip with his sleeve again, and swallowed. "No, I'll do it. I'll get it back."

Funny Sam. Crying one minute, and then pulling his shoulders back the next.

They walked on, and Dean thought about dinner and homework, and what might be on TV, and whether Dad might come home early. That would be good if he did.

When they got to the trailer, Sammy's tears had dried, and Dean used the key on the string around his neck to unlock the door and let them in. He turned up the heat a little bit, telling himself to remember to turn it down later, before Dad got back.

They put their coats on the chairs, dumped the bags on the floor next to the couch, and Dean thought that the homework could wait till tomorrow. After all, it was Friday night, wasn't it? He had the whole weekend to get his assignments done. Sam went to wash his face and change his shirt. When he came back he said, "Hot dogs."

"Again?" asked Dean. Sam would have hot dogs every day of the week if Dad let him.

"And macaroni and cheese. In a box."

Putting his hands on his hips, Dean stood in the middle of the kitchen, pulling his eyebrows down in a scowl. But Sam wasn't fooled. He just smiled and started getting everything out, opening a few cupboards with false starts, as they all still did, putting the packages of pink hot dogs on the counter with a triumphant smack.

"There. Cook now."

"Only if we have chocolate pudding after," said Dean. Mock stern.

"Well," said Sam, floating away to throw himself on the couch. "If we have to."

Dean made dinner, standing as close to the heating element as he could. He couldn't understand why he was freezing, but he didn't want to turn up the heat anymore. Dad was sure to find out and get pissed. Instead, he concentrated on putting extra butter in the mac and cheese. When he was finished cooking, they ate sitting on the couch, watching sitcoms till Sam snorted milk through his nose. Then they switched to America's Most Wanted, which both of them watched in complete silence. Then Dean announced that he was going to make chocolate pudding so Sam could watch Perfect Strangers and Dean wouldn't have to watch it and barf.

"Make a double batch," said Sam, bouncing on the cushions.

"There's only one box, idiot."

Dean went into the kitchen and measured out the milk and poured the powder into a big white, plastic bowl. They didn't have beaters, so he mixed it all together with a spoon, careful to smash the lumps against the side of the bowl. Then he put the bowl in the fridge, and walked over to throw himself in the Dad chair.

"Only Dad gets to sit there," said Sam, taking up the couch with his whole body.

"Well, I'm sitting here now," said Dean, knowing that the only reason he was bold was because Dad wasn't due back till Sunday.

"I'm going to sit there tomorrow," said Sam.

"Right. Like you got the guts."

Dean sank back in the chair, and put his feet up on the ottoman, like Dad did. For a moment, he tilted his head back, closing his eyes, curling his fingers around the worn edges of the armrest. Imagining for a minute that he was Dad, tired, just home from a hunt. Even though he was playing pretend, it made him feel more normal than he had all day. The idea that Dad was home was a good one; he let it sink through him until he felt a little warmer inside.

"Knock it off, boy," he said, making his voice low and gritty.

"You're not Dad," said Sam, not putting up with it.

Dean cracked an eye at Sam, and laughed. Then he hopped up and looked at the clock on the stove. It had been four minutes. He went and checked the pudding, sticking a finger in and licking it. Pretty firm. He got two spoons from the drawer, grabbed the bowl, and went back to the Dad chair. But Sam was sitting in it.

"That's my seat, Sam, get out."

"You move," said Sam, shaking his bangs out of his eyes, both hands on the armrest, "you lose."

"Get out, Sam, or I'll make you."

"Make me."

Dean appraised the situation for a minute. The chair was big enough for two and it was selfish of him to hog the whole thing, even though Sam was wrong. He'd only left the chair because of the pudding. So, tucking the bowl against his hip, he tossed the spoons at Sam, and shimmied in to sit beside him, making Sam go close against one armrest while he snugged himself against the other.

"Big enough for two," said Dean, his hip banging against Sam's.

"Maybe," said Sam.

Dean picked up a spoon where it had fallen in between their thighs and flicked some of the pudding at Sam with it. "Maybe, hell. It's big enough because I said it was."

"And I said maybe." Sam grabbed a spoon and flicked some pudding back at him.

Then Dean took a mouthful of pudding. It was a bit soupy, but it was sweet and cold. "Maybe, baby," he said, licking the back of the spoon. Then he looked at Sam, who had taken a big mouthful of pudding, so much so, that his cheeks were bulging.

"Don't you spit that pudding at me," said Dean, tucking his chin down in warning.

"Mmmmm?" asked Sam, eyebrows protesting his innocence.

"I mean it, Sam. You spit that at me and you'll be sorry."

"Mmmmmmpf," said Sam in response, cheeks bulging even harder as he tried not to laugh.

"Don't. You. Dare."

Sam dared. Exploding, the pudding went all over Dean, all over the lamp behind him. Dean scooped up some pudding with his spoon, and flicking the spoon back with his finger, splashed it all over Sam's face. Sam was laughing so hard, he didn't care, and scooped his hand in the bowl and flung the contents of it at Dean. Dean tried to fling some back, and ended up getting most of the pudding on the wall. Mouth open, almost screaming with it, laughing so hard, his stomach hurt. And then the pudding was gone. Dean looked up. There was even some on the ceiling.

"Oh, shit. Dad's gonna be pissed."

Sam shrugged. Smiled, pudding dripping from his nose. "Not if we clean it up first and promise not to tell."

(Continued in next chapter.)