Actions

Work Header

Lingering in Quiet Places

Work Text:

Attending a seminar called “The Evil that Men Do” was something Victor Henriksen would later look back on and recognize it as a turning point in his life.

“Evil wears many masks.” Professor Nolan pointed at the screen and let the presentation scroll through head shots of several well known serial killers.

“And not all those masks are evil. It’s your job to look behind the mask, to see what’s kept hidden.”

Another face appeared on the screen, then another.

“It’s not an easy job, and we all know that in some cases, lives could have been spared if these people had been brought to justice earlier. So remember these masks when you interview suspects.”

Victor liked the professor’s lectures. He’d studied psychology at college and the need to know how people ticked had stayed with him and led him to join the FBI.

“What motivates these people to live above the law? To live by philosophies that allow them to mutilate and murder their fellow human beings? Traumatic events in childhood, witnessing violence, rejection by their peers. All are cited as reasons, yet not everyone who goes through similar events ends up a serial killer. It’s not always possible to identify the true motivations, to see behind the mask, but that’s what we must continue to strive for. To gain insights into the minds of these individuals.”

After the seminar, Victor hung back, waiting for the other agents who wanted to talk to the professor to finish so he could talk to him alone.

“I enjoyed your lecture, Professor.” Victor stuck out his hand and was rewarded with a firm handshake and a smile of pleasure from the older man.

“Thank you, Agent Henriksen.” The professor replied after a quick glance at Victor’s name badge and then the folder under his arm. “Now, what can I help you with?”

“A case came across my desk last week, credit card fraud, with possible links to organized crime. I’ve ruled out that connection, but I did some digging on the name, and it’s led me to some unusual places. I’d appreciate it if you could take a look at the file?”

The professor nodded and held out his hand. Now that it came down to it, Victor felt a strange reluctance to let it go, as if he was holding something unique in his hands that wasn’t to be shared. He coughed, inwardly rolling his eyes at himself, and passed the file over. Professor Nolan’s eyes lit up when he saw the name on the folder, and he smiled again.

“Victor. May I call you Victor?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well then, Victor, I believe this conversation calls for decent coffee and something sweet to go with it. If you foot the bill, I’ll tell you what little I know about John Winchester.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Seconds after the bell rang, kids began pouring out of the high school in Albion. Sam was caught up in the stampede, hefting his backpack further onto his shoulder as he ran down the steps.

“Sam! Wait up!”

Sam pivoted around. A small red haired whirlwind was barreling her way towards him through the masses of escaping kids.

“Mom says I can come to your party on Saturday.”

“Hey Suzy. That’s cool.” Sam nodded, forcing his shoulders to relax as he smiled at her, struggling to keep a shit eating grin from bursting onto his face. He was still having a hard time believing that he was having a real birthday party. They were what normal kids had, yet the handful of his classmates that he’d invited had all said yes. He was walking in someone else’s shoes, someone who had friends and a normal life, and it felt good.

They fell into step as they walked towards the centre of the small town. Albion wasn’t the kind of place Sam and his family usually fitted in. It was bright and clean, it’s small marina bristling with a forest of gleaming white masts and the town had begun to fill up with tourists that flocked to the place every summer.

“Have you started your history assignment?” Suzy asked as they rounded the corner onto Main Street.

“It’s almost done. I’m gonna finish it off tonight.”

“Fast worker! Oh, there’s Marla.” Suzy waved to her older sister who was standing across the road. “Guess I’d better go. See you at lunch tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Sam grinned and waved as she trotted off.

Another couple of steps and he was at The Bean. He opened the door and the rich aroma of coffee enveloped him, mixed in with the tempting scent of freshly baked pastries and muffins and other sweet treats. He glanced around until he found Dean, busy serving coffee from behind the counter.

Dean grinned at him, and nodded in the direction of a small table in the far corner by the window that overlooked the marina. Sam made his way over to it and sat down, unloading the books he needed to do his homework. He was already deep into a chapter on the Civil War when Dean wandered over with a mango smoothie in one hand and a chocolate chip muffin on a plate in the other.

“Was that Suzy you were talking to outside?” Dean smirked. “That’s the third time this week, Sammy. I think she’s sweet on you.”

“Shut up, Dean.” Sam blushed and grabbed the muffin as Dean set his smoothie down on the table. Suzy was his friend, and sure, he’d seen her looking at him sometimes out of the corner of her eye, but he didn’t know enough about girls to know what that meant. And he wasn’t about to tell Dean that, because he didn’t want any more highly embarrassing instructional talks from him.

“I’ll be done in an hour. You got plenty to keep you busy?” Dean asked, smoothing down the smart black apron he was wearing. It had the name of the coffee house across the chest in yellow. Sam had teased him about having to wear it for the first few days after Dean got the job, but it didn’t bother his brother. Dean adapted to working in the coffee shop as easily as he adapted to every other change in their lives. Sam wished he could be that chameleon, but never settling, always having to move on and not look back, it wasn’t as easy for him. Four months in the same town was a luxury, and for once, Sam had been able to loosen up enough to make friends, knowing he’d be there for the rest of the school year.

“Yeah, plenty of homework.”

“Only you could sound happy about that, squirt.” Dean ruffled Sam’s hair and wove his way through tables back to the counter, picking up empty plates and mugs as he went.

Sam scowled and patted his hair flat again. He munched on his muffin, slurped down his smoothie and watched Dean work. Dean could talk to anyone or flirt with anyone, Sam supposed as he watched a table of girls giggling as Dean served them. No wonder he was taking more time in the bathroom every morning and wearing tighter jeans and t shirts than usual under his apron. Dean easily turned on the charm with the tourists that filled the place. It wasn’t just the girls he flirted with. He had an easy smile for the group of older women in the corner, and for the two guys sitting close together at the counter.

Sam wondered if he would be the same when he got older, be able to talk to people with such ease, or if it was something Dean had been born with that Sam would never grow into. He sighed, finished his muffin and concentrated on his homework. He only looked up when the harbor bell sounded to signal sunset. The Bean was almost empty, and he could see Dean chatting with Darcy, one of the other baristas. There was a small pile of cartons already sitting on the counter by the cash register, so Sam packed his books away, and waited for Dean to put his jacket on.

The biggest advantage of Dean working there, as far as Sam was concerned, was the food. Staff got a generous discount, and when that was added to the leftovers that they could take home every night, it meant that the Winchesters no longer existed on pizza and lucky charms. There were always salads left at the end of the day too, so Dean made sure he got enough to go with dinner and also for Sam’s lunches. It didn’t matter how much Dean teased him about liking rabbit food, as soon as he found out Sam liked something, he made a point of getting it for him again. The salad that came with avocado was Sam’s current favorite, and he eyed the cartons hopefully as he waited.

“You ready, Sam?” Dean picked up the cartons one by one and put them into a bag with the store’s logo on the side.

Sam grabbed up his book bag and gave Darcy a wave as he followed Dean to the door. Outside, they didn’t have long to wait. The Impala pulled onto Main Street, the low purr of her engine unmistakable. Sam glanced at his brother, smiling at the open appreciation on his face. She was soon going to be Dean’s, or so John had promised back in January on the day Dean had turned eighteen.

“Two more weeks,” Dean muttered almost to himself.

“Huh?”

“Two more weeks and she’ll be mine. Soon as this hunt’s over …” Dean trailed off, biting back the words Sam was trying not to think on.

”As soon as we leave town.”

Sam scowled as John pulled up beside them. If no-one said the words, he could pretend that this was their life now. That he could hang out with the friends he’d made over the summer and go back to the same school in the fall. That Dean would stay working at The Bean, that John would pick up handyman jobs and they could stay in the small house that Sam had come to think of as home.

He knew it was futile, knew that they’d be on their way within weeks, and everything he’d found in Albion would be left behind. Resentment twisted in his gut. He wrenched open the back door of the car and slung his book bag onto the seat, pushing it out of the way so he could climb in beside it.

“Sam,” John greeted him, short and to the point.

“Hey.” Sam’s reply was the same, and he stared out of the window as Dean got in and John pulled away.

“Hey Dad,” Dean was more cheerful. “Did the supplies arrive for the porch?”

Sam tuned out the conversation, and watched the town go by as they headed out, further on to where the houses thinned out and the trees thickened. Theirs was one of the smaller homes set back into the woods, the third one along the curve of road that disappeared deeper into the trees.

It didn’t matter how much Sam pretended it was theirs, in reality it belonged to Mrs Amanda Curtis, who’d lost her son fourteen years earlier to whatever it was that kept emerging to take victims. Sam had been fascinated that it’s hibernation time halved after each time it emerged, like it was on a countdown to something. He’d worked out the dates, doubling the figure every time. Dean had pointed out that they had no way of knowing how early it had started taking victims, but Sam continued to list the years. 1983, 1955, 1899. John had gotten a copy of an account in a diary dated 1787 and Sam had shivered at the thought of some ancient evil lurking in or around the small town.

Mrs Curtis and John had met through Caleb, and she’d given them the house to live in while John made preparations to hunt and kill the monster that had killed her son.

“No-one else. Promise me, John, no-one else will go through what I went through.” Mrs Curtis had taken John’s hand and held it tight.

Sam saw a rare moment of compassion when his father had nodded, and sworn that he would make sure no-one else would lose a son to it. He’d glanced over at Sam and Dean as he said it. Fierce protectiveness shone in his eyes, a reminder to Sam of how much John had already lost when he’d lost Mary.

The house hadn’t been lived in for several years, so a deal had been struck. Mrs Curtis would provide the basics so they could live in it if John and Dean would do the repairs that were necessary. It was something that fitted between Dean’s shifts at the Bean and John’s research. In fact it had helped with his research, as he didn’t have to come up with an excuse to talk to the locals. Mrs Curtis was happy to make sure that the neighbors got to know him, and that the store owners in town recognized him so he could get the supplies he needed for the house.

This time, they were posing as regular people, and it was working surprisingly well. Maybe that was why Sam couldn’t help feeling settled in the small town.

John pulled onto the driveway, and Sam clambered out.

“John!” Julie from the house next door hurried towards them, and Sam tensed.

Maybe she had found out that they were frauds, or maybe something terrible had happened before they’d expected it to. But she was smiling, and waving, so Sam relaxed a little.

“We’re having a get together for all the neighbors tonight and we’d love it if you’d join us.”

“Thanks Julie, but me and Dean were going to get some prep work done, now the boards have arrived.”

“Now John, you and your boys have got to eat, right? We’ve fired the barbecue up, and there’s beer chilling.” Julie grinned at both men, her gaze lingering on Dean.

“You’re right, Mrs M, we’ve gotta eat.” He held the bag in his hand up. “I’ve got chicken and salads from the Bean to go with whatever you’re cooking up.”

Sam rolled his eyes. Behind closed doors he’d heard Dean refer to her as the neighborhood cougar.

“Bring them on over.” She beamed. “And Dean, haven’t I told you to call me Julie?”

“That you have, Julie,” Dean winked.

“Okay, we’ll be over soon.” John gave in.

“Good, I’ll be waiting.” Her eyes raked over Dean again as she left.

“We could have done without that tonight,” John grumbled as they walked into the house.

“It’s all in the name of research,” Dean grinned, sobering when John scowled at him. “Darcy told me that Julie’s husband is rumored to have seen one of the abductions take place fourteen years ago. He was just a kid and he doesn’t like to talk about it unless he has a belly full of beer.”

“Huh. Good work. I’ll see if I can get him talking tonight.”

Dean beamed, basking in John’s praise. Not for the first time, Sam wondered if Dean would have been different if Mom had lived. Sam loved his Dad, but rebelling against the way of life that John had brought them up in was something that Sam couldn’t help doing. It itched under his skin, the need to question every decision, the need to force a reaction from John. He didn’t know where it came from, this craving to provoke his father into snapping at him, but he couldn’t help himself.

Dean had never done that. Sam couldn’t remember Dean ever asking John why they were doing something, or questioning his methods and Sam wondered why they were so different. The only time he could remember Dean talking back to John had been the previous summer, when Sam had stumbled during a hunt and ended up getting a deep wound the length of his forearm. John had begun lecturing him on where he’d gone wrong even before they’d gotten him back to the Impala. Once they were there, Dean had crawled into the back seat with Sam, and when John had chided him again, Dean had rounded on his father, growling that it could wait, that Sam was bleeding all over the seat, and John needed to drive.

The only time Dean had stood up to John had been when Sam was in danger.

Sam sighed and wondered if he could get out of going with them if he faked a headache, but he knew Dean would fuss, so he changed into his jeans and a clean t shirt as Dean and John went over strategy for the evening in the kitchen. The low rumble of their voices was somehow soothing, and Sam picked up his history book and read quietly until they were ready to go.

“Just don’t do anything stupid, okay?”

Sam looked up to see John staring pointedly at Dean.

“When I say keep Julie occupied, try and make sure she keeps her hands off you.”

Dean just grinned and grabbed the bag full of food. Sam had a pang of regret that he wouldn’t get to eat his favorite salad in peace.

“C’mon, Sammy, time to get us some barbecue.” Dean wiggled his eyebrows.

“It’s Sam,” Sam grumbled, and followed them out of the door.

 

Sam made sure he got the lion’s share of the avocado salad, then made his way over to the swing set at the back of the yard. It gave him the perfect spot to experience something he’d never thought he would. A neighborhood cook off. He sat on the swing, watching the younger kids playing, and watching Dean and John sharing beers and talking with the other guys as if they did it all the time. Sam wondered if he’d woken up in an alternate universe that morning, but grudgingly admitted that both Dean and John had to be good to pull this off.

He watched as they cut the herd, John corralling Julie’s husband with the offer of a decent whiskey, and Dean lassoing Julie, turning on the charm, flirting and flattering to keep her attention as John got the information he wanted.

Sam made a strategic strike at the cheesecake as the sun dipped low and the lights came on in the yard. He slunk back to the safety of the swings, with dessert and a beer that no-one had seen him take. Julie’s cheesecake wasn’t as good as the one he’d had at The Bean, but Sam ate it anyway, then raised the bottle to his lips. He’d tasted beer before, and wasn’t really keen on it, but he felt as if he were getting away with something he shouldn’t as he gulped down a few mouthfuls.

“If Dad sees you drinking, he’s gonna be pissed.”

Sam jumped as Dean’s hand landed on his shoulder. He pulled away and glared at Dean, but his brother reached out and took the bottle out of his hand.

“I swear, you do whatever it takes to piss him off.” Dean shook his head.

“I thought you were keeping Julie busy.”

“Dad gave me the nod. He must have what he needed.”

They both glanced around and saw Julie talking to another neighbor who’s name Sam couldn’t remember.

“So what’s with the beer?”

“Felt like it.” Sam shrugged.

“Look, I know you’re into this whole teenage rebellion thing ...”

“You’re still only eighteen, Dean!”

“Yeah, but I’m over it.”

“You never rebelled.”

“Course I did!”

“No, you didn’t.” Sam scuffed his shoe into the dirt under the swing, watching the little puffs of dust that eddied around his toe. He startled when the bottle appeared in front of him. When he didn’t take it, it jiggled until he did.

“There. I’m rebelling. I’ll get it in the neck if Dad knows I let you drink.”

Sam took the beer and drank down another couple of mouthfuls.

“Julie likes you.” Sam observed, a pleasant mellow feeling spreading outwards from his chest.

“Yeah, but she’s married, and she lives next door. This gig isn’t like any of the others.” Dean shook his head.

“I like it here,” Sam admitted, keeping his voice down in case the gods of hunters heard him and demanded they leave right now for the crime of getting attached to a town.

“I know you do.” Dean wiggled his swing closer, and bumped Sam. “I wish we could stay.”

“But we can’t. I know, it’s okay,” Sam tried to rationalize the situation. He didn’t want Dean to feel bad because they had to leave. He’d lay that blame firmly at John’s feet every time. Sam knew that there were so many things out there in the dark that could rip families apart. It had become their job to stop as many as possible from doing just that, and the sacrifices they made were worth it, even if it was hard for him to accept that he had to sacrifice his happiness for that right now.

“No, it’s not.” Dean shook his head. “You should be able to have a normal life, Sammy.”

For once, Sam didn’t correct him. There was so much longing in Dean’s voice that Sam almost choked up. He blamed the beer. As it got darker, they sat in silence, Sam half heartedly swinging backwards and forwards as Dean sat sentinel.

 

“Happy birthday dear Sammy, happy birthday to you!”

Sam blushed and squirmed in his seat.

“Candles, Sammy,” Dean reminded him with a grin.

Sam took a deep breath and let it out, extinguishing all fourteen candles. He smiled as his classmates cheered and fell on the cake as Dean doled out slices.

“Happy birthday, Sam.” Suzy appeared at his side, and before he knew what was happening, she kissed him on the cheek. Sam’s blush deepened and the small party hat on his head slipped forward. He fumbled at it to keep it from falling all the way off and smiled at Suzy.

Sam tried to duck out of the way when Dean pulled out his phone and took pictures, but Tom and Martin, who were fast becoming his best friends, held him fast.

 

John was back home by the time Dean and Sam got there. He hugged Sam and gave him his present. Sam’s eyes widened at the sight of the pile of old books, and he dug into them straight away. He was impressed that John had remembered which books he’d been looking at the last time they visited the bookstore. Now he’d be able to add a local flavor to his history report.

He carefully turned the pages of a book bound in worn red leather, stopping to study faded sketches of places that he was familiar with. But as engrossed as he was, he couldn’t help overhear the conversation in the kitchen.

“I messed up,” John sighed. “I thought I’d be able to stop it before it started. Fuck.”

“So we go back, go over everything, and make sure it doesn’t take anyone else.”

Sam peered around the corner, watching as John and Dean spread maps over the table and poured over them.

“Kirby Woods.” John got up and fetched two beers from the fridge.

“Looks like.” Dean sat back, rubbing a hand over his face.

“It’s a lot of ground to cover. They’re old and deep. I’ve asked Caleb to help out and he’s bringing a couple of hunters with him, but they won’t be here until the day after tomorrow.”

Sam edged into the kitchen, a book in his hand. “Look what I found.”

“Later, Sam, we’re in the middle of something.” Dean’s look said it all Don’t disturb him, not now.

“Yeah, I know. I heard you talking about Kirby Woods.” Sam laid his book on the table on top of the maps.

“Sam,” John warned, but Sam ignored his father and pointed at the open pages.

“There were mines in Kirby Woods.”

“No, there weren’t. Even old mines would be marked on the maps,” Dean explained.

“Not these. There’s no mention of them anywhere but here. Back in the early 1800s, there was a small mining operation out in the woods, but it was abandoned after a year because of the low yield. After all this time, there wouldn’t be any sign of mine workings left above ground. The forest would have reclaimed the land.”

John reached for the book, and read the entry. There was a small map that looked to be hand drawn, and John compared it to the more detailed modern map they’d been using, slowly nodding his head. Finally he looked up at Sam and smiled.

“You did good, son.”

Sam beamed at his Father’s praise.

“Okay boys, early night. I want to be ready to leave at 4am.”

“Yes sir,” they answered together and Sam headed to the small bedroom they shared. Sam was still awake when Dean followed him half an hour later.

“How was your birthday?”

“The best!” Sam enthused.

Dean smiled. “Okay, well, try and get some sleep,” he paused. “And tomorrow, on the hunt, stick close. We don’t know what we’re dealing with yet.”

“I will, Dean. I always do.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam stood, watching the scene in front of him with a detachment that didn’t make sense. He could see himself, his body broken and bleeding, limbs bent at impossible angles, lying in a clearing in the woods. Sharp flashes of memory cut across his line of sight making him start and step back.

Arms closed around him, lifting him off his feet as easily as if he’d been made of paper, then he was flying through the air, screaming as wicked talons slashed open his belly as he arced towards a tree which he hit so hard and so fast he heard the sickening crunch of bones breaking …

Then everything was quiet, a movie playing out in front of him without a sound track. John threw a flare at the monster, and scrambled to pick up the fallen homemade flame thrower, but it was gone by the time his fingers closed around it.

John let out a wail as he ran to his fallen sons. It set the hairs on the back of Sam’s neck prickling to hear such a broken sound come from a man he’d always thought of as indestructible.

Sam patted at his stomach and chest, but there wasn’t any pain. His fingers came away clean, and when he investigated further, he didn’t find any wounds. There was nothing that linked back to the scene he was watching unfold, and he began to feel lightheaded.

"Sammy! You okay?" Dean was suddenly there beside him, his hands settling on Sam’s shoulders. Then he pulled Sam closer, wrapping him up in his arms as if he were trying to keep him safe from further harm.

"Dean?" Sam looked up and Dean’s dazed and confused eyes looked back at him. "Yeah, I'm fine, but what happened, how are we … okay?"

Dean let Sam go, but kept a hand on his shoulder. "I dunno, something's not right. It's too quiet. Where the hell are we?" Dean’s attention was drawn to the grisly tableau under the trees and he watched, fascinated, as John worked on his body.

Sam glanced around. Something was walking towards them, out of what looked like the dawn, but that couldn't be right. The sun had already risen as they’d walked into the woods. A vague figure walked out of the light, solidifying as it got closer, until Sam could see it was a woman walking towards them.

"Dean," Sam hissed, digging his brother in the ribs to get his attention, and tugging him around so he could see the stranger.

Automatically, Dean pushed Sam behind him and glared at her.

"Who are you?"

"I've come for Sam," she smiled and Sam was struck for a second at how beautiful she was, but then her words permeated his brain and he gripped Dean’s arm tight.

"He's staying here with me," Dean growled.

“It’s his time.”

“Like hell it is, lady. Back off!” Dean yelled.

“It’s the way of things,” she tried to explain gently.

Sam glared at her from behind his brother, but Dean doubled over, clutching his stomach. He turned to Sam, panic on his face, and reached for him.

“Dean? What’s happening?”

“I don’t know! Hold on to my hand. Something’s pulling me away.”

Sam grasped his hand tightly, but he could feel Dean being taken away from him.

“No! Dean! Don’t leave me!”

“Never! Never gonna leave you!” As Dean fought against the pull, he tried desperately to hold on to Sam. “Stay with me, Sammy, promise me!”

“I swear!! Together, forever, right?”

“Forever! I swear!” Dean yelled, then his hand was wrenched away. “Sammy ……”

Sam was left standing on his own. In the clearing, he could see John pull Dean into his arms.

“Sammy, I’m Tessa, and it’s time to go,” she smiled and held out her hand.

“No.” Sam stood firm. “He’ll come back for me, he wouldn’t leave me.”

“You and Dean were hurt,” Tessa explained. “You died, but Dean didn’t. He can’t come back for you, Sam. He’ll live out the rest of his life, and perhaps you’ll see him again when it’s his time to die. But it’s time for you to move on.”

“No.” Sam wrapped his arms around himself as he shook his head. He looked over at his family. John wrapped a shirt around Dean’s torso, and carefully picked him up.

“You don’t have a choice, Sam.”

“Wanna bet? I know I can choose to stay, and that’s what I’m doing. I promised Dean I wouldn’t leave him.”

“It won’t be the same if you stay. You’ll be a ghost and eventually, you’ll turn into one of the things that you hunt. A vengeful spirit. Come with me. In time, Dean will understand.”

“NO!” Sam yelled, and threw himself backwards, out of the quiet place, back into a world full of blood and pain. It was his world, his and Dean’s, and he wasn’t about to let his brother down.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Sam sat curled up in the corner of the hospital room, knees pulled up to his chest. He’d tried sitting on the chair by Dean’s bed, but nurses would move it when they came to check on Dean and the last time John had visited, Sam had to jump out of the way, forgetting for a moment that his father couldn’t see him. And if he hung around in the room, busy nurses walked through him, which, although it didn’t cause him any pain, was a really disturbing experience. So the corner was safest. He could watch over Dean, watch the rise and fall of his chest, study his profile and try to wish away the bruises that marred his features.

Getting to the hospital had been the stuff of nightmares, not that Sam dreamed or even slept anymore. John had moved as fast as he could through the trees, abandoning the flare gun and other weapons they’d all carried into the woods, even leaving Sam’s body behind. He’d cradled his wounded son to his chest as if Dean were small again. Sam followed, unable to help, fretting until John had laid Dean down on the back seat of the Impala and Sam could see that Dean was at least still breathing.

The drive to the hospital had been frantic. When John took the road away from Albion, Sam screamed, holding onto Dean and cursing his father. He thought for long minutes that John was taking Dean away from medical help, but understood when the Impala hit the freeway and roared off in the direction of the city.

Dean shuddered, not quite gaining consciousness, but Sam saw John look in the rear view mirror and mutter under his breath.

“Hang in there, Dean, you gotta hang on in there, son.”

As soon as they pulled up in the emergency bay in front of the hospital, John was out of the car and shouting for help. A blur of nurses pulled Dean onto a gurney, gentle despite the urgency of the situation, and wheeled him away. Sam paused, seeing John sag as Dean was taken away from him. He should stay with his father, offer comfort, but John didn’t know he was there. Dean might, and Dean needed him too. Sam took off after the gurney, dodging between nurses and orderlies until he caught up with it just as it was being pushed into an operating room. Dean’s clothes were cut and pulled away, leaving him bared to the bright lights of the operating room. The three deep wounds across his stomach looked worse under the harsh lighting, gaping so dark that they were almost black, seeping blood and revealing things that should never see the light of day. Sam could have looked away, but he kept watching, making sure that Dean was put back together again.

And now Dean lay in recovery. Sam stayed by his side for the longest time before retreating to his corner. Sam didn’t feel tired. He knew that if he’d still been alive, he would be aching to sleep, but fighting it to watch over Dean. In this new state, he guessed he didn’t need sleep, so he watched, and waited for Dean to wake up.

Four hours later, Dean’s eyes moved beneath his lids. So intent was Sam’s scrutiny that he noticed it immediately. It was as if Dean were dreaming, and Sam wondered what he was seeing, if he was tracking monsters, or if he was reliving the attack. Then they stilled, and Sam could see the growing tension in his muscles. Dean’s eyes cracked open, no more than slits at first as he fought the drugs that had knocked him out.

Sam unfurled himself and walked towards the bed. There was another second of peace in the room before Dean shot upright, his injuries ignored as he looked around frantically.

“Sam! Sammy!” Dean screamed, dark memories dancing in his eyes.

“I’m here, Dean, right here. Please see me, please!” Sam pleaded, but Dean couldn’t hear him.

“Sammy!” Dean pulled the drip out of his arm, the pain not even registering, then he ripped the heart monitor from his chest, causing it to flat line and begin beeping loudly. “Sammy! Where are you?”

Sam reached for him, but his hands slipped through Dean’s shoulders. He wondered if Dean could remember everything, or if he thought that Sam was somewhere in the hospital, in another room being cared for and recovering.

Dean swung his legs over the side of the bed, wincing at the heavy cast dragging his left wrist down.

“Sammy!” Dean’s voice was hoarse and Sam realized that he hadn’t had anything to drink for a day or so. His throat must be sore on top of everything else, but he didn’t stop, he screamed at the top of his lungs as nursing staff poured through the door, easing him back into bed despite his struggles.

Sam retreated to his corner, sliding down the wall as Dean lashed out, his damaged arm hitting someone, his cry of pain mingled with their grunt. Sam saw one of the nurses slip a needle slip into Dean’s skin, and felt guilty relief that seconds later, Dean stopped screaming and lost the battle to stay awake.

Sam stayed in his corner until eventually, Dean was alone in the room again. He made his way to the bed, and climbed onto it to lie beside his brother. He reached out to touch Dean’s arm, steeling himself against the sickening lurch that had come last time he’d tried and failed to touch Dean. He concentrated hard, insisted to himself that his hand was solid, that he could do it, and let his hand rest on Dean’s arm.

Sam let out a sob when it worked, when he could feel Dean’s warm, dry skin beneath his fingers. It was a comfort, but also a lesson. If he could do that, then he could learn to do other things and maybe he could learn how to make Dean see him.

Sam didn’t know how long he lay there before he heard the low rumble of John’s voice out in the corridor in slivers of conversation with a nurse.

“... yelling for Sam.”

“... died recently, Dean’s not over it yet.”

“It won’t be long before he wakes up.”

The door opened and Sam raised his head to look at John. There was a fragility in the man, something he’d never seen before, and John’s hand trembled as he reached out and touched Dean’s face. He sat down in the chair next to the bed with a heavy thump, and took Dean’s hand.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” John repeated over and over. “I want him back too.” John’s voice cracked and Sam threw himself off the bed, and ran around it, throwing himself at John. When he impacted with a solid shoulder, Sam held on, hoping that in some way, his presence would help.

A nurse came in to check on Dean an hour after John arrived, and Dean began to wake up as she checked his dressings. Again, it took him a minute to remember where he was.

“Sammy?” Dean struggled to sit up, but John pushed him gently back down to the bed.

“Could I have a moment alone with my son?” John asked the nurse.

“Sure, I’ll be at the nurse’s station if you need me.” She left, closing the door behind her.

“Dad? Where’s Sam? Is he okay?” Dean croaked out.

John pressed a glass of water to Dean’s lips and helped him drink down enough to ease his throat.

“Dean, son ...” John looked at Dean, his eyes full of pain.

“No.” The scant color drained from Dean’s face and Sam thought he was going to pass out. Dean shook his head, refusing to accept what John was trying to tell him. His hand flew out, knocking the glass from John’s hand. It fell onto the bed, water splashing onto the blankets. “No, where is he? Where’s Sammy?” Dean began to yell, struggling as John pulled him into his arms.

“No, no, no ...” Dean chanted against John’s shoulder, hitting his father’s back with his good hand, raging at the world.

“I’m sorry, Dean.” John’s tears soaked into Dean’s hair as he held him tight. “He died in the woods.”

Dean sagged in John’s arms, sobbing against his shoulder, and Sam watched from the outside of his family as grief tore his brother apart more thoroughly than any monster ever could have.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Dean lay in the hospital bed, curled up on his side. He was facing the window, looking past the chair where Sam was sitting, but despite Sam’s best efforts, Dean still couldn’t see him. He just stared straight ahead as if his mind was blank, and Sam wondered if that was deliberate. The more animated Dean was, the more it seemed as If insanity threatened to tip him over the edge. Sam had crowded against him as he’d cried until he couldn’t any more, as he’d yelled and raged at John until he’d needed to be sedated again.

John had held Dean tight, and whispered to him that he had to stay quiet, not to talk about Sam’s death. It would have been too hard to explain away to the authorities, and Sam could see that Dean got that by the set of his jaw, but it was hard for him to stick to the cover story.

Sam knew that John had spun the nurses a tale to explain Dean’s outbursts but Sam had pushed down his natural curiosity and stayed with Dean while John talked quietly to the nurses outside the room. He didn’t care what John had told them. He couldn’t bring himself to care about anything but Dean anymore.

“Dean, sweetie, you haven’t eaten anything,” Lesley, one of the nurses that had been taking care of Dean chided. “You need to keep your strength up.”

“Not hungry.” Dean didn’t move, and he didn’t react when she squeezed his shoulder.

“I’ll leave the fruit in case you get hungry later.”

“Thanks.” It was an automatic response.

Lesley cleared away the now cold food, and left the door open behind her. The nurses had all taken to looking in on Dean on their way past. Sam was grateful for their concern about Dean’s lack of responsiveness. He’d done his best to make Dean see him, to make his brother understand that he was still around, but nothing worked. Sam had concentrated so hard he’d given himself a headache he logically knew he couldn’t have, and still nothing. Sam sighed, bending forward and wiggling his fingers in front of Dean’s face.

“Back in black!” Sam sang, but there was still no reaction. He got up and strode towards the door, peeking out into the corridor. He didn’t know yet how it worked. Most spirits were tied to something, but Sam hadn’t worked out what he was tied to. If he didn’t know better, he’d have said he was tied to Dean. Sam took a couple of steps outside the small room that had become Dean’s world, then froze. Down at the nurse’s station were two men in suits and being the hunter’s brat that he was, Sam recognised them instantly.

“Feds!” Sam slunk back into Dean’s room.

He jumped on the end of Dean’s bed, trying a different tactic to get his attention.

“Dean, man, there’s Feds in the hall,” Sam hissed, then rolled his eyes at himself, and started yelling. It wasn’t like anyone could hear him anyway.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
At the nurse’s station, Lesley smiled at the two men who flashed IDs at her.

“I’m Special Agent Victor Henriksen, this is Special Agent Calvin Reidy. We’d like to ask a patient of yours some questions.”

“Who is it you want to speak to?”

“Dean Armstrong. It’s in connection with the disappearances in Albion.”

“I’ll go and see if he’s awake.”

Victor watched Lesley heading for Dean’s room, and hung back.

“What are the chances that this kid knows anything?” Reidy asked his partner.

“Slim, but the timeframe fits. He was attacked after the first abduction. Could be he was the intended second victim.”

“Could be,” Reidy speculated. “So what do you make of the similarities between these abductions and the ones fourteen years ago?”

“It’s a long time for a serial killer to stay dormant. The stranger thing is that there were three abductions twenty eight years before that in 1955 in the same town. There’s something weird about Albion.”

Nurse Lesley emerged from Dean’s room, and they walked towards her.

“He doesn’t want to talk to anyone.”

“Is there any medical reason he shouldn’t talk to us?” Henriksen asked. “It’s important to see if he can remember any details of his attacker. It might help us find the missing men.”

“Under the circumstances, you can see him for five minutes, but don’t expect much. He lost his brother a few months back. He’s still pretty traumatised about the loss and then there’s been the attack for him to deal with.”

“Thank you, we’ll keep it brief,” Victor smiled and turned to head down to Dean’s room, but he paused. “Do you know how his brother died?”

“No,” Lesley answered. “But he wakes up in the night screaming for his Sammy. It’s heartbreaking. So I’d appreciate it if you kept it brief?”

“Sure thing.” Henriksen smiled at her and waited until she walked away before turning to Reidy. “Sammy. Dean Armstrong’s brother was called Sammy.”

A shiver crawled its way down Victor’s spine. Two brothers, Dean and Sam. He knew it had to be a coincidence, that the Winchesters couldn’t have been the only ones to call their kids Dean and Sam, but the possibility that he was going to find something more than a possible witness lying in the hospital bed made him almost giddy with anticipation. He took a deep breath to steady himself, glancing at Reidy who was eyeing him with concern.

“So?”

“So what if his last name isn’t really Armstrong. What if it’s Winchester?”

“Vic,” Reidy started, but paused, then reluctantly nodded.

“Let me do the talking.”

“Don’t I always?” Reidy grumbled.

Victor walked into the room first. He immediately took in the handful of cards and a vase of tired flowers that stood on the nightstand. Who would send Dean Armstrong flowers, he wondered? And would anyone send Dean Winchester flowers?

“I’m sorry to disturb you. I’m Special Agent Henriksen, this is Special Agent Reidy. We’re investigating the disappearances of three men in the last few weeks.”

His introduction was greeted with silence, but Victor gave the young man in the bed a moment more, and was rewarded with little more than a whisper.

“What do you want?”

“Can you confirm your name for me? It’s Dean, right? Dean ...”

“Armstrong.”

It would have been too easy for the kid to mess up on something so simple, but Victor knew how to play the game. At the same time, he had to keep in mind that he might be wrong, although his well honed instincts were screaming at him that he was right.

“And you were attacked in Kirby woods, to the north of Albion?”

“Yes.”

Victor pursed his lips. Was he being made to work for every answer or was this an innocent kid who got caught in the woods by a predator?

“What can you tell me about your attacker?”

Dean sighed, and uncurled enough to sit on the bed. When he looked up, Victor was surprised by Dean’s eyes. Dull and listless, they were empty, devoid of all emotion.

“Like I told the cops, he came at me from behind, knocked me out. The next thing I know, I’m waking up in here. Broken wrist, slashed stomach and one hell of a concussion.”

“Who found you?”

“My Dad. I’d gone for a walk and when I was late back, he came looking for me.”

Which was what the police report said, but Victor couldn’t help reading between the lines. He wondered if knowing that Dean had a brother called Sam was making him project his hopes onto the case. His hopes that John Winchester was in some way involved with the abductions, and that Victor would finally be able to bring him in. But he knew he had to be one hundred percent certain that his hunch was correct before making a move.

“He’s got you on a tight curfew,” Reidy observed.

“Yeah, well,” Dean hesitated. “I’m all he’s got left.”

“Sorry about your brother.” Henriksen noted the way Dean’s eyes flickered downwards, the clench of his jaw and the way his mouth tensed. He could press the kid further, but he could see he was too close to the edge. Victor had dealt with his fair share of grief stricken relatives over the years, and Dean was reacting like he’d just lost Sam, not like he’d died months earlier. Henriksen wondered if the attack was to blame, or if there was more to the whole situation than appeared on the surface.

“How long have you lived in Albion?”

“Four months, and like I told the cops, I didn’t know the men who went missing,” Dean sighed. “I don’t know what else you want me to say.” He scrubbed a weary hand over his face.

Victor watched the movement. He took in everything he could about the kid; the slump of his shoulders, the amulet around his neck, the way he cradled his injured arm, and the way those dead eyes still scanned the room as if checking out escape routes. That was what sealed the deal. Whatever he’d been through, however his brother had died, there were deep survival instincts working in Dean. For the moment, Victor was the hunter, the one with all the advantages, but he had no doubt that the kid would prove to be as elusive as his father, given the chance. The interview was over, they both knew that.

“Well, if you think of anything else, give me a call.” Victor slipped a card out of his pocket and held it out to Dean. Dean looked up at him, but didn’t take the card from his fingers so Victor laid it down on the table across the bed and nodded to Dean. “Thanks for your help.”

Reidy opened the door, and Victor followed him out but paused in the doorway.

“Just one more thing. Do you know a John Winchester?”

Dean shook his head. “Never heard of him.”

Not a flicker of reaction or emotion, nothing. Victor wanted badly to believe that it was because Dean was too well schooled in deception to let anything slip and not because he was wrong about who Dean was.

“Okay, thanks.” Victor nodded and walked back up the corridor towards the nurse’s station, followed by Reidy, who caught hold of his arm.

“You really think that’s Winchester’s kid?”

“I don’t believe in coincidences, Cal. There was activity on one of Winchester’s known credit cards four months ago on the other side of the state, a state we’ve had no activity in before. Get someone to the address that’s on file for him. I want that town shaken until John Winchester falls out of it.”

Reidy pulled out his cell as they reached the nurse’s station on the way out. Nurse Lesley looked up as Victor approached.

“Thanks for letting us see Dean. Now, his father. What’s his full name?”

“John Armstrong.”

“And what’s he look like? We just need to rule him out of our enquiries.” Victor smiled.

“I’ve only seen him once, he’s not visited much.” The disapproval was plain in her voice. “He’s tall, dark hair, beard. Dark eyes, I think. Sorry, as I say, I only saw him the once.”

“No, that’s very useful. Thanks.”

He joined Reidy and as they left, he arranged for the hospital to be watched.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Before Henriksen got as far as the nurse’s station, Sam was peeking out of the door again. Dean needed to stay, to finish healing, but he was vulnerable on his own in the hospital. Sam yelped as the door to the room closed through him, and he jumped back inside, patting himself down to make sure he was still in one piece. Dean was leaning back against the now shut door hugging his stomach. He was obviously in pain, and Sam’s feeling of helplessness cranked up another notch. He should be able to help Dean, slip under his shoulder and help him back to the bed, or ask Nurse Lesley to give him more painkillers. But he guessed that right now Dean couldn’t afford to take anything that might dull his senses. Sam watched as Dean stumbled back to the bed, picked up his phone, and hit speed dial. He sat down to catch his breath as it rang.

“Feds. They know who Dad is. Is he gone?”

Sam guessed Dean was talking to Bobby or maybe Caleb. There was a pause, then Dean nodded.

“Okay, thanks, I’ll be there in ten.” Dean rang off, closing his eyes for a moment while he tried to focus on what he had to do.

“Dean, quick, before they come back,” Sam urged, ready to tear his hair out with frustration.

Dean snorted with laughter edged in hysteria, swallowing it down and composing himself.

“’kay Sammy,” Dean whispered and pulled his clothes out of the locker beside the bed, pulling them on and wincing when he fastened his jeans over the thick dressing around his middle.

“You ... you can hear me?” Sam stared at his brother, but Dean didn’t answer. “Dean!”

But Dean was engrossed in tying the laces on his boots and finding his jacket. Sam followed closely as Dean slipped into the corridor, heading in the opposite direction to the nurse’s station. An escape route from his room had been the first thing that John had made sure Dean knew, after Dean had finished crying over the news of Sam’s death. Sam had watched as his father gave Dean instructions, understanding that it was how John coped. He threw himself into the practicalities of hunting, of living like they did, always aware of danger, always preparing ways to counter it. John hadn’t visited Dean much in case he was recognised, and what may have sounded paranoia, had proven to be necessary caution.

Once he was outside, Dean pulled his jacket tighter around himself. It was a warm enough day, but Sam could see shivers running through him. Sam hadn’t been able to hear the other side of the conversation on the phone, so he didn’t know where Dean was headed. Sam ran ahead, looping back to check on Dean, watching out for any car or truck that he recognised or that looked like it might belong to a hunter. He was so busy looking for Caleb’s truck that seeing the Impala parked up on a side street came as a shock. He ran back to Dean, urging him on.

“It’s not far, Dean. Dad’s waiting for you.”

“Yeah, right,” Dean muttered under his breath.

Sam skidded to a halt.

“You can hear me!”

“Dunno who’s coming to pick me up, but it won’t be Dad,” Dean muttered. “He’ll be miles away by now. He wouldn’t risk getting picked up by the Feds.”

Dean rounded the corner and huffed out a sob at the sight of the Impala sitting waiting for him. He looked around as if the Agents from the hospital were waiting to jump out of the bushes as soon as John showed his face, but the door opened, and John stepped out, putting a hand on Dean’s shoulder as he reached him, and pulling him into a brief hug. Sam envied Dean the contact, and saw what John didn’t. The way Dean’s face softened during the short embrace, the way his eyes closed as he soaked up every ounce of comfort he could. John eased Dean away and helped him onto the back seat of the car.

“You shouldn’t have come, you should have sent someone else,” Dean chided as he slid along the seat.

“I wasn’t going to let anyone else pick you up. You’re my son, Dean.” There was a catch in his voice that he cleared away with a cough. “You hurting?”

“Yes sir.”

“Take two of these. They’ll help until we get to the safe house.” John passed a bottle of pills and a bottle of water to Dean.

Dean dutifully took them as ordered, and lay down, stretching out as best he could and pulling a blanket around himself. Sam curled up beside him, burrowing against his side, wishing he still had body heat to help keep Dean warm. Dean sighed and seemed to lean into Sam.

“Dean,” Sam whispered, but Dean was already asleep.

Sam hoped John had managed to grab all their stuff from the house before he’d left. Left their home. It had been the first place Sam had felt settled for a long time, and he knew that Dean had felt the same. In one way he was glad that he didn’t have to go back. It held so many memories from the four short months they’d lived there. But in another way, he wished he could have said goodbye to it, lingered for a while within the rooms he and Dean had laughed in together.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Victor strode into the small house in Albion, taking in the handful of forensics people going over every surface, opening every cupboard and drawer.

“What have we got?”

“Well, sir …” one of the techs stammered out.

Henriksen held up a finger in warning. “Don’t tell me there’s nothing here.”

The tall wiry man took a breath, bit his lip and tried to figure out a way to let Henriksen down gently, but there wasn’t one. He sighed as his shoulders slumped. “We’ve got nothing. Not a single print. There were a few hairs in one of the bedrooms, and we’re sending them for analysis, but that’s it. Looks like the place was cleaned. Professionally.”

Henriksen gritted his teeth, and looked around. The place was an empty shell. He stormed out onto the porch as Reidy came up the steps.

“Tell me you’ve got something. Anything.” Victor growled.

“Nothing that’s going to lead you to find Winchester any time soon, and I don’t know if he’s involved in the disappearances or not, but something doesn’t add up.”

Victor made an impatient ‘continue’ gesture with his hand.

“Dean said his brother died four months ago, right? Well, according to the neighbors, Sam Armstrong was alive and well and going to school here in town until the day before Dean was attacked.”

“What?” Henriksen thought back to how Dean had looked and acted, as if the loss of his brother had been very recent.

“No-one’s seen him since. According to Mrs Julie Brownlee across the way, John Armstrong told her that Sam’s gone to stay with relatives while Dean is in hospital. She said Armstrong seemed devastated, and withdrawn, and that they’d been such a nice family. They were living here and fixing the place up for the owner and Dean worked as a barista in a coffee house in town. I think we should go check it out.”

But Victor was already pulling his phone out of his pocket, cursing under his breath.

“The team watching the hospital? Get them inside. If anyone tries to get close to Dean Armstrong, arrest them, and he doesn’t go anywhere until I say so. Got it?”

When he got a call back ten minutes later, he knew it couldn’t be good news.

“Sir? Armstrong was gone when we got there. I’ve got a team out searching the immediate area, and I’ll let you know when we find him.”

“If he got out, you won’t find him.” Victor rang off and looked heavenward. “Damn it!”

“Let’s go talk to the owner of the coffee shop.” Reidy tried to placate Victor. “I’ll buy you a latte.” He slapped Victor on the back and headed off to the car. Victor turned to look at the house. John Winchester had lived there for months. He’d socialized with the neighbors, and acted like an ordinary man bringing up a family on his own.

Why? Why had he been in Albion. Victor doubted he was the person responsible for the abductions, it wasn’t his usual MO, but that meant there was something else going on in the town. Victor couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a connection, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it. And then there was Dean. Little more than a kid, he must have pulled himself out of his hospital bed soon after Victor had spoken to him, and disappeared.

The sound of Reidy turning the car’s engine up stirred Victor from his thoughts. He got in and slammed the door, wondering what other revelations waited for them in the town.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
The safe house that John drove them to turned out to be an apartment that Caleb had arranged for them through a friend of a friend.

John helped Dean out of the Impala and up the stairs, going back to get their stuff once he’d gotten Dean set up in the bedroom. Dean slept for hours, so Sam wandered round the apartment, and outside to lean over the railings and peer down into the yard below. He followed John as he set up a TV for Dean in the bedroom and then sat at the table in the small kitchen to eat a bowl of soup. Sam noted the dark circles under John’s eyes, the way his shoulders, usually strong and sturdy, hunched as he sat. His father looked exhausted, and Sam wished he could do something to make him feel better. Even just a hug, something that Sam wished he’d demanded more of now that he’d never be swept up in John’s arms again.

Sam wandered away, leaving John alone with his grief. He trailed his hand along the patterned wallpaper in the hall as he went back to Dean’s room and then walked through the door. He was getting a better grip on how to switch from being solid enough to touch some things to being able to pass through others. It was a while before Dean began to stir, and by that time, Sam had explored every corner of the bedroom, jumping in and out of the closet , seeing how quickly he could go from corporal to not and back again, occasionally slamming into the door so hard, it rattled on its hinges.

Behind him, Dean sighed and shifted on the bed. Sam raced over and jumped onto it, staring into Dean’s face, but Dean looked straight through him at the TV that hadn’t been there when he arrived. He reached out for the remote that John had left on the bed, and turned it on, flicking through the channels until he found some action movie that Sam didn’t recognise.

The sound of the bedroom door opening caught both their attentions, and Dean gingerly sat up, an arm protectively draped over his stomach. John carried a bowl of soup with him which he set down on the nightstand.

“I thought you might be hungry,” John said.

Sam found that his ghostly status gave him a vantage point that he’d never had before. He could really study what was going on with his family. The way John was standing, and the way he was alternately looking at Dean, then over at the TV spoke volumes. He was uncomfortable, unsure what to say. Sam wanted to take his hand, and tug him forward, make him sit down and talk to Dean. But even if he hadn’t been a ghost, he doubted he could have pulled off that particular miracle. Talking about feelings wasn’t something Winchesters did.

“Thanks.” Dean eyed the soup, but didn’t make a move to pick up the bowl.

“How’s your stomach?”

“Okay. Pain pills are wearing off.”

“Eat your soup and I’ll bring you more. I’ve called doctor Bob, he should be here tomorrow to check you over.”

John had his hand on the door handle when Dean spoke again.

“Why did you tell the nurses Sam died months ago?”

“I couldn’t risk them looking into his death. Explaining how you were injured was stretching things enough as it was.”

“So why tell them he died at all?”

John walked slowly back to the bed and this time, he sat down. Sam moved closer to them.

“I didn’t, Dean. Every time you woke up, you were screaming for him, wanting to know if he was okay, where he was, how bad he was. I had to come up with something that would explain why you were so distraught.”

Dean nodded.

“What did happen?”

“I told you Dean, he died in the woods.”

“Look, Dad, I can’t remember much, all I’ve got is a head full of broken memories. I need to know.”

John sighed and took a breath. For a moment, Sam thought he was going to refuse to answer Dean, but then he seemed to deflate and he looked down at his hands.

“It wasn’t a Wendigo, truth is I still don’t know what it was. It came out of nowhere. I saw Sam dance ahead, and you ran to catch up with him. Next thing I know … it picked him up and threw him against a tree, but it clawed him … clawed him open with its other hand and he was dead by the time he hit the ground. You ran straight for it, damn you Dean, I thought I’d lost the both of you,” John paused, visibly shaken. “It slashed you open and went in for the kill, but I had the machete in my hand, and forced it back. Then it disappeared as quickly as it arrived.”

“We were an hour in? You … carried me all that way out of the woods?”

“I patched you up as best I could and took you back to the car. I had to leave him behind.” A tear rolled down John’s cheek. “I called Caleb with co-ordinates and he went in and brought Sammy out. We … we gave him a hunter’s send off.”

Sam watched as Dean reached out and slipped his fingers under John’s hand, just like Sam used to do when he saw that Dean was upset about something. John’s fingers tightened, and they sat there together, nothing left to say.

Sam thought he would have felt something when they burned him, but he hadn’t even thought about what happened to what was left of him. He was too caught up in making sure that Dean was okay. Now Sam shuddered, the reality of his situation beginning to dawn on him. He snuggled up against Dean, and felt his brother relax a little, as if he could feel Sam was there with them. When Dean looked up at John, he gave him a sad smile.

“Okay kiddo, you must be hungry, and you need to keep your strength up. Eat your soup.”

“People keep telling me that,” Dean grumbled.

John nodded and got to his feet. He bent down, and kissed Dean on the forehead before he left the room. Dean closed his eyes, letting the tears that that had filled his eyes leak from the corners and run down his cheeks. Sam moved closer, miserable and frustrated at not being able to do anything to help Dean or John feel better.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Victor sat in his motel room going over his notes from the interviews at The Bean. He’d been glad when Reidy hadn’t suggested grabbing a beer because he really wasn’t in the mood.

“Dean’s been a wonderful employee,” Darcy had sniffled. “And Sammy’s never been any trouble.”

“You’ve met Dean’s brother?” Victor asked

“Oh yes. Most nights, when Dean’s working a shift, Sam comes by and waits for him to finish up. He does his homework at a quiet table.”

“And then Dean drives him home?”

“Sometimes, but mostly their father comes for them. We don’t see a lot of him, but he’s always very polite when he does pop in.” It was obvious that Darcy would have liked to see more of the elusive John Armstrong, as would Victor, but for very different reasons.

“Did Dean supply you with references before he started work?”

“Yes he did.”

“We’ll need to see copies of those.”

Darcy nodded.

“And is there anything else about the family you can tell me? Anything that stands out? Anything at all?”

Darcy thought for a moment then shook her head. “No, they were a nice family. There’s nothing else I can think of.”

“Thanks for your time.”

Victor and Reidy left after ordering more coffee. They walked along the marina towards their car.

“Well, that was a bust,” Reidy grumbled. “So who’s next? The landlady?”

“Yeah, sure.” Victor watched the boats bobbing in the harbour and sipped his latte.

“A little more enthusiasm? We’re on John Winchester’s tail here.”

“We won’t find him, not here. He and his boys charmed this town into believing they were regular people, and we have no idea why. There’s no motive, they weren’t running a scam, and the timings of the abductions is all wrong for Winchester to be involved. You know what I think? I think that Sam Winchester died in those woods.”

“You think Winchester killed him?”

“No, I don’t. Everything we know about him says he’s protective of those kids. Whatever else he’s done, he’s always kept them close. I think the three of them were out there and something happened, bad enough to kill Sam and put Dean in the hospital. Maybe they came across whoever’s been abducting people. I don’t know. This place is giving me a headache.” Victor pinched the bridge of his nose.

Mrs Curtis was polite and completely uninformative. She’d hired John to do some work on the house, and the family living in it had been part of the deal. He was a quiet, polite man, who adored his children, and that was why she’d given a stranger a chance. Because she believed in helping others, and the family clearly needed a fresh start.

It seemed too rehearsed to Victor, and he wondered if she knew more than she was letting on or if he was being completely paranoid and in need of a long vacation.

Now stuck in his room with plenty of channels to surf and nothing of interest playing on any of them, he switched off the lights and wandered over to the window. The curtains were open, and he could see down the hill to the lights of the marina. He thought briefly about calling Carla, but he didn’t want to get into another fight, and that was all they did now. Fight and fuck. There’d never been a problem in the bedroom, but that had turned out to be the only place they were compatible and he didn’t think it was enough to keep their marriage together.

He stared down over the town and wondered where John Winchester was right at that moment.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Doctor Bob came and went the next day, leaving Dean with plenty of antibiotics to ward off any infection, pain meds and a warning to get plenty of rest. From what Sam had seen, that wouldn’t be a problem because Dean hadn’t shown any urge to get out of bed. He also advised no exercise and definitely no hunting for at least six weeks, and that he’d be back then to give Dean the all clear.

Sam spent the rest of the morning trying to turn the pages of a book that he’d found lying open under the bed. Now he could touch things, he wanted to hone that skill. He couldn’t pick things up yet, and turning pages seemed like a good place to start. He flicked his hand across the paper, concentrating on the motion and in keeping his hand solid.

“Sam?”

Sam yelped at the female voice, and jerked his head up, banging it in the underside of the bed. He guessed that was preferable to sticking his head up into the mattress. He crawled out to find Tessa the reaper waiting for him, arms crossed.

“I’m not going with you,” he snapped, glaring at her.

“Well that saves me asking if you’d changed your mind.” Tessa looked around the room, her gaze softening when it landed on Dean.

“Why can’t he see me?” Sam asked.

“Living people can’t usually see the dead. You know that more than most, Sam.”

“Yeah, I do, but he needs to be able to see me. He can hear me sometimes but he thinks he’s hallucinating.”

Dean lay on the bed, oblivious to the conversation going on in the corner of the room. Sam had seen him wounded, exhausted, dead on his feet, but he’d never seen him so bereft. Dull eyes gazed at the TV at the bottom of the bed but from the way he was letting the same infomercials cycle round and round, Sam doubted he was watching it.

“He’ll feel better if he can see me,” Sam insisted.

“Sam, he can feel you, and the longer you stay, the worse it’ll be for him. When someone dies, the ones they leave behind slowly move on with their lives, but Dean can’t do that while you’re still here.”

Sam bit his lip. They’d made a pact, sworn an oath, and he couldn’t break it. He walked over to the bed and waved his hand in front of Dean’s eyes. It went un-noticed, so Sam reached out and touched Dean’s shoulder, squeezing it.

Immediately, Dean blinked, focusing on the TV. His fingers twitched towards the remote lying on the worn blue quilt and closed around it.

“Give it a rest, George,” Dean grunted and changed the channel.

“Huh.”

Sam heard the soft sound behind him and spun around to face Tessa.

“See? If he could see me, he would feel even better,” Sam pleaded.

“I can’t make him see you, Sam. Only you can do that.”

“But how?”

She was gone before he could ask more questions. Something slinked around his ankles and he jumped away, staring around, wide eyed. A small ginger cat stared back at him.

“Hey kitty. You can see me, right?”

As if in answer, the cat trotted over on delicate paws and rubbed its head on his shin. Sam crouched down and ran a hand over her fur. He was rewarded with a throaty purr.

“Are you a ghost too?”

The cat butted his hand, then jumped onto the bed.

“What the … where did you come from?” Dean asked the cat as it padded up the bed towards him. As soon as it was in reach, he smoothed his hand over the same patch of fur Sam had touched seconds earlier.

“He can see you!”

Sam watched as Dean petted her and scratched behind her ears. She looked over at Sam, a smug smile on her face as she gave herself up to Dean’s attentions.

Sam was almost certain that Dean hadn’t been able to see the cat until she’d jumped on the bed. Until she’d wanted him too. Sam concentrated, thought about being solid, imagined that he was becoming visible, but Dean didn’t see him. When Dean found a movie to watch, some old western, he eased himself down onto his side. Sam jumped up on the bed behind him, and curled against his back as the cat curled up in front of him.

Dean dozed, watched over by two ghosts.

 

John didn’t get back until after dark, and Dean woke up as he came through the door.

“I brought pizza.”

John lay the offering on the bed. A still sleepy Dean opened the box, and took out a slice, biting off the corner and chewing it slowly.

That, to Sam, was another sign that Dean wasn’t himself. Dean always wolfed pizza down. Sam suddenly realized that he’d never taste pizza again. He sat down on the floor with a thud that only he heard. He’d never taste anything again. Not creamy ice cream or salty popcorn or sticky sweet pie. Nothing. Sam put his head in his hands. He’d never eat or drink or shit or piss again. He didn’t need sleep and the only person he could talk to was a reaper. Sam lowered his hands, pressing them against shoulders that didn’t really exist, then he wrapped his arms around his waist which wasn’t real either.
He didn’t realize he was crying until he hiccupped out a sob, hysteria bubbling in his chest because none of it was real now, he didn’t need to breathe, he probably didn’t even have lungs in his figment of a body, and he sure as hell couldn’t be producing real tears.

John stood up, and as he turned to go, he almost stepped right through Sam, who scooted away and looked up at his father. It was as though he was four again, looking up the long length of his Dad’s legs. Sam reached up, hands begging to catch John’s attention, for John to smile down at him and scoop him up, sit him on his hip and let him crush his face against his neck. Sam would have given anything to be safe in John’s arms again, knowing that nothing could hurt him, but that was something else that was gone forever.

Chest heaving, he let his arms fall back to his sides, and stared down at the old blue carpet. Above his head, the conversation went on, a conversation he couldn’t be part of.

“Yell if you need anything,” John instructed Dean.

“Can I have a beer?”

“You know you can’t, not yet.”

“I’m counting down the days.”

“G’d night, Dean.”

Dean didn’t answer.

By the time John left the room, Sam was back on the bed, shivering against Dean’s side, craving acknowledgement. Something, anything would do, but he didn’t know how to prompt it. He sank through the bedcovers, thinking it might soothe him, but it wasn’t the same as having a body to burrow underneath them with. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it didn’t feel right either, so he stopped trying and settled on top instead.

“I miss you, Dean,” he whispered, his heart breaking as he realized that this was how Dean must feel. Loss and grief pulling him further and further down.

“Miss you too, Sammy,” Dean mumbled.

A flicker of hope sparked in Sam’s chest. Dean might think he was hallucinating, but Sam knew better. He pushed away the hopelessness that had begun to smother him and resolved that however long it took, he’d make Dean see him.

 

For the first few days, John changed Dean’s dressings, but after that, Dean was able to manage it himself. Sam watched intently each time, needing the reassurance of seeing the wounds looking a little better every day.

And once John knew that Dean was okay on his own, he started hunting again and was away from the place more than he was there. The first time he left, Sam took a perverse pleasure in yelling at him, letting out all the frustrations and anger that had built up over the years, but his ranting came to an abrupt halt when John turned and looked back at the apartment. The depth of the sadness Sam saw in his eyes threatened to drag Sam back down again, but he couldn’t let that happen. He watched John leave, determined to make Dean see him, to show his brother that it was okay, he was still around. If he could do that, maybe it would help them all begin to heal.

So while Dean watched TV, gradually getting restless as the days went by, Sam threw himself into studying, only this time it wasn’t math or history or chemistry, it was himself. He left Dean alone, and worked in the rest of the house, so if he was successful in moving things, Dean wouldn’t see until Sam was ready for him to.

The small ginger cat often joined him, purring around his ankles and putting up with being picked up and cuddled when Sam managed to knock a spoon onto the floor. Its fur was warm, and Sam could feel the rumble of a purr in its small chest, which led him to more questions. Was it alive, and if so, the fact he could pick it up must be a major victory. Or was it dead like he was? Sam swung round, and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror that hung on the wall out in the hall. He walked towards it, still carrying the cat, and looked at himself, scrutinising every hair, every pose, every wrinkle in the fabric of the clothes he was wearing. Why could he see himself? How was that different from other people seeing him? He turned so the cat could also see herself. Inscrutable green eyes met their counterpart in the mirror, blinked, and she was gone. Sam was left with empty arms and no answers to his growing list of questions.

“Tessa?” Sam yelled, then again, then he decided it might not be the best of ideas to summon a reaper in case she got the wrong idea.

Sam went back to his practice, and by the end of the week, he could pick the spoon up. Not only that, but he could feel it in his hand as if both of them were solid and real. He let out a whoop of joy, brandishing the spoon as he leapt into the air. He landed, then looked around as if someone might have seen him being a dork. The fact that no-one could see him didn’t throw him into despair this time, it gave him a sense of freedom. He jumped up again, spoon still firmly in his fist, turning as he landed and shaking his butt. With a grin, he ran down the corridor that led to the bedrooms then back again, sliding to a halt on the polished tiles, and twisting his hips so he faced into the kitchen again. He laughed, not bothering about how loud he was being, and took a running jump onto the couch, rolling into a ball, and falling off onto the floor which only made him laugh harder.

He jumped back on the couch, bouncing up and down as hard as he could, arms waving, knees pulled up to his chest as if he were on a trampoline. Up and down and round and round until he began to feel dizzy, which only spurred him on to leap from the couch onto one of the chairs and back again.

“Dad? You back?”

Sam saw a half asleep Dean standing in the hall, and not expecting him to be up and about, Sam misjudged his next leap. He ended up in an ungainly heap at Dean’s feet. The spoon clattered to the floor, the noise drawing both their attentions. Sam instinctively reached for it, just as Dean bent down to pick it up, and their hands met.

It was different this time. Sam’s fingers closed around the spoon, then Dean’s closed around his. Sam’s face was only inches away from Dean’s and he saw the exact moment when Dean realised that there was something else there, not just the spoon. Dean’s eyes widened and he let go as if he’d been stung, rubbing his fingers on his sweatpants.

Dean straightened up and backed off, eyeing the spoon as if it was a cobra, tensed to strike again. He walked back towards his bedroom, but went into John’s instead, and when he came out, he had an EMF meter in his hand.

“No, no, no,” Sam whispered, and slunk off to hide behind the couch. Not that it would hide him, but he felt better putting it between them.

He wasn’t ready. If Dean didn’t know it was him, he might try to rid the house of spirits, and end up banishing Sam in the process.

Dean flicked the switch, and the meter flared into life, screeching and lighting up like a Christmas tree. Sam slowly stood up, and watched as Dean pointed the meter at the spoon, then back into the room. He looked around, eyes flicking over the corner Sam was in without seeing him. Sam braced himself. Now Dean would call Caleb, see if the place had a record of haunting or he would call John, and make sure they had enough supplies in to deal with it.

Sam didn’t expect Dean to switch off the meter, take it back to where it had come from, and wander back to the kitchen to make himself a coffee. Dean sipped on the hot black liquid, looking out of the window and off into the trees. Sam wondered if they stirred the same memories in Dean as they did in himself. Of the day their lives changed forever. When Dean shuddered and looked away, Sam got his answer.

Dean spent the day looking through the pile of books John had stacked in the corner of the room. He’d glanced at the current research that John had pinned on the wall, but had turned away from it, and Sam worried that something inside Dean was broken altogether. He’d never shown so little interest in a hunt. And after spending the afternoon reading up on ghosts, he tidied all the books but one away instead of leaving them in a sprawl on the table as he usually would. From that, Sam took it that Dean didn’t want John to know what he was researching. Another first.

Sam didn’t take much notice when Dean rang in an order to have pizza delivered. He was too busy reading the book Dean had left on the table. With supreme effort, he managed to turn a page, then spent the next few minutes working on turning it back again in case Dean noticed the difference.

When the pizza arrived, Dean’s face fell when he opened the box. Black olives littered half of it, and Sam realised that Dean must have been on autopilot when he ordered it. Dean hated black olives. They were Sam’s favourite. Dean ate the untainted half of the pizza, then picked them off, leaving a small, sad pile of olives in the corner of the pizza box.

Dean turned the TV on, but seeing South Park had Dean flicking away from it, then flicking back a couple of minutes later. Sam curled up on the couch close to Dean and pretended it was before he died, when they would watch it together.

Dean took his meds before he headed to bed, and stared out of the window again as he turned off the lights.

“It’s too quiet,” he whispered to the room, then raised his voice. “It’s too damned quiet!” he yelled.

Sam waited on the bed as Dean used the bathroom and slammed into the bedroom.

“Fuck, fuck,” he muttered to himself.

Sam got it. When there was no-one around to hear, you eventually gave up and started talking to yourself.

That night, he tried to sleep. It ended up being more like switching off, and he startled out of it when Dean woke up the next morning, thrashing about in the throes of a nightmare.

He pushed aside his concerns about how he would have snapped out of his off state if there hadn’t been anything to shock him out of it, and tried to calm a still half asleep Dean down.

“It’s okay, Dean, it’s not real.”

“It was real. You died.”

“You can hear me?” Sam shot upright, staring at his brother.

“Course I can hear you.”

“But why can’t you see me?”

“Because you’re not really here, squirt. Dreamin’.”

“I am, Dean! I’m right here!” Sam waved his hand in front of Dean’s eyes. But Dean had fallen back to sleep.

“FUCK!!” Sam grabbed handfuls of his hair and pulled on it, the frustration enough to drive anyone crazy. He jumped off the bed, ran through the door and went to mess with the cutlery again, using the rage to fuel his efforts. He was beginning to understand how ghosts got so mad at everyone.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Victor and Reidy left Albion swarming with cops and feds and rangers and headed back to DC.

“Carla?” Victor shouted as he let himself into his apartment.

“Vic, I wasn’t expecting you back so soon.”

“They brought us back to work on another organized crime case ...” Victor trailed off as he found her in the living room, surrounded by boxes. He dropped his bag and shook his head. “So you were leaving me while I was out of town? Real classy.”

“I’m sorry Vic, but we’ve talked about this.”

“Talked, yes, but ... never mind. Just, leave me enough to make coffee in the morning. That’s all I ask.”

He picked up his bag and took it into the bedroom, slamming the door behind him. When he emerged later, fresh from a long shower, an old pair of sweats hanging low on his hips, Carla and her boxes were gone. There was a pink post it note stick to the fridge door with “Call me” scrawled on it. Victor pulled it off, scrunched it up into a little ball and threw it in the direction of the waste basket. He grabbed a cold beer and a bag of chips and threw himself down on the couch, thankful she’d left the TV. He found a baseball game to watch which reminded him that it was a while since he’d called his folks. Even longer since he’d visited. He decided to put off the call home until he’d had a few days to process that his marriage just disintegrated. Right now he was surprised that he felt relieved that it was over without another fight.

He still cared for Carla, but as their relationship had begun to unravel, Victor had found himself more aware of the alternative. He’d never have cheated on Carla, but he wasn’t blind. He saw the looks a guy at the gym gave him, sizing him up, lingering on his ass. The last time, he’d picked the treadmill next to Victor’s despite there being plenty of free machines in the row. He’d smiled and nodded, pushing his blond hair back from his face as he began to run. Victor stole a glance or two, admiring the view, but had cut his run short and left for the showers with an almost apologetic shrug. Now, there wasn’t anything to stop him taking up offers if he felt like it. He’d not touched another man since before the academy, but maybe, he mused, it was exactly what he needed.

After another handful of beers, he fell asleep sprawled over the bed. Morning brought a mild hangover, and in a small act of rebellion against himself, he left the bed unmade when he headed out to work. One of his faults, according to Carla, was that he was too much of a neat freak. He grudgingly had to agree that she might have been right when it bugged him all the way to the office that he’d be sleeping in an unmade bed that night.

“We’re going to California!” Reidy greeted him when he arrived.

Victor eyed him. “Not until I’ve had another coffee and why are we going?” he grumbled.

“John Winchester’s been spotted by the local field office.” Reidy produced a picture which showed a man with a beard coming out of a store.

Victor snatched it off him and studied it. “Yeah, that’s definitely him. Have they picked him up yet?”

“No, they lost him, but the AD is confident that they’ll have him by the end of the day.”

Victor started to laugh. He put the picture on his desk and looked up at Reidy. “They won’t find him. He’ll be long gone by now. There’s only one reason he’d be out there. As a distraction. The family he took with him when he dropped off the grid is in tatters. One dead son, one badly injured, and he’s sunning himself out in California? I don’t buy it. And he knew he was being watched.”

“How can you know that?”

“Because he’s looking straight at the camera.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Two days later, John arrived home with a big new truck, and Caleb behind the wheel of the Impala.

Dean’s spirits lifted at having people around to talk to and at having the Impala back. John dropped the keys into his hand and gave him a fleeting smile.

“She’s all yours. Take care of her.”

“You know I will.” Dean smiled, the first time Sam had seen him smile since before the accident.

He headed for the door, Sam in tow as always, even if Dean didn’t know he was there.

“You can’t drive for another couple of weeks, Dean,” John reminded him.

“I know, I just wanna make sure she’s okay.”

He walked slowly down the stairs from the apartment to the parking lot, then paused as he reached for the door handle.

“Hey baby,” Dean whispered. “It’s good to have you back.”

Sam watched Dean’s fingers linger there for another few minutes as he looked her over. Finally he pulled open the door. The creak of the door opening was so familiar that Sam felt as if he was home. He dived in and sat in the passenger seat as Dean eased himself behind the wheel. Dean turned the engine over and let her purr while he dug out a tape to slip into the player. He let out a soft sigh, and let his head drop back to rest against the leather.

One hand slipped across the seat, to where Sam’s would usually lie if he were sitting in his usual place. Sam obliged, shifting around until it felt like it had before when he and Dean had the car to themselves. He slipped his hand under Dean’s and could have sworn Dean’s fingers tightened around it.

The next thing Sam knew was a rapping sound on the window, and Caleb peering in at Dean. Dean woke up, stretching and wincing when he forgot to take his stitches into account. Caleb pulled the door open and grinned at him.

“Something told me you’d be communing with her. Anyone ever tell you that being this attached to a car was unnatural?”

“Bite me,” Dean growled, but with the hint of a smile. “It’s good to have her back,”

“I know, man. Listen, I didn’t get the chance to say it before, but I’m sorry, about Sam. How you holding up?”

“I ... I guess I’ll be okay,” Dean muttered, then forced a smile. “Better now she’s back and she’s mine. Feels less like I’ve lost everything,” Dean admitted.

Caleb nodded. “Listen, Bobby was asking how you were. He’s got a whole pile of junkers in the yard and no time to work on them. I think he could do with some help.”

“Yeah?”

“Now John’s thrown himself back in the game, it can’t be much fun being here on your own.”

Sam wanted to hug Caleb. Sam couldn’t blame John for hunting again. It was how he dealt with things, losing himself in his work, but Dean needed someone to talk to. Dean didn’t do well on his own, Sam knew that, and he was glad someone else who cared about him knew that too.

Caleb came by more often after that. Sometimes to watch a movie, sometimes to take Dean down to a local bar, on the understanding he couldn’t drink for at least another couple of weeks.

On the odd night John stayed at the apartment, it was as if neither him nor Dean knew what to say to each other anymore. The loss of Sam hung between them, and Sam could only watch from the outside as they drifted further apart.

On Doctor Bob’s next visit he confirmed that the wounds had healed well and that Dean could ease back into working out and eventually hunting once he was back up to full strength.

“Remember, take it easy. Nothing too strenuous for a few weeks. You’ll have to build your strength back up.”

“Sure thing, Doc.” Dean grinned for the first time in weeks.

Doctor Bob rolled his eyes, shook Dean’s hand and left, muttering about the impetuousness of youth.

Dean set himself a training program. Running morning and evening, weights, kickboxing and strength training in between. Sam jogged along with him, and watched as he threw himself into getting back into shape.

He mentioned going hunting one night to John, and Sam expected him to agree straight away, but John didn’t. His suggestion that Dean find a job in town for a while was met with shock, and Dean sat stony faced for the rest of the night.

The next morning, there was breakfast and coffee from the nearby diner waiting for Dean on the table. John sat sipping his and going through a couple of manuscripts. Sam slipped onto a spare chair as Dean sat down and reached for his coffee.

“I’m going to head to Bobby’s for a few weeks,” Dean announced.

John looked up from his reading. He nodded slowly.

“Okay.”

“Okay? I was expecting to have to put up more of a fight.”

“It might do you good, taking a break from all this. And … I can’t lose you too.” John looked away, and it was Dean’s turn to nod.

“What about the poltergeist?” Dean pointed at the papers on the table.

“I’ll bring Caleb in on it.”

“Okay then.”

Sam didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed that John let Dean go so easily. And he wondered if Dean felt the same.

After breakfast, John helped Dean pack the car, and gave him a hug before he left that was longer than Sam could remember John’s rare hugs being.

“One thing,” John said. “Leave whatever’s in Albion to me. I screwed up, so it’s down to me. I’ll call you if I find out anything.”

Dean nodded and Sam wondered if John would call.

Dean took his time getting to South Dakota, letting the Impala have her head and sleeping late in run down motels after nights of hustling pool and poker. Sam rode shotgun and watched over Dean while he was sleeping. Now he knew what all those people he’d met over the years had meant when they said that they felt their dear departed loved ones were watching over them. And increasingly, Sam got the feeling that Dean really did know he was around, even though he wouldn’t acknowledge it.

When Dean slowed his journey down and picked up a girl in the next town, Sam stayed in the Impala until she left at dawn. Sam peeked his head into the room, but the sight of Dean in an ungainly sprawl across the bed, a contented smile on his face, was enough to send Sam out again and he spent the morning exploring the small town. After overhearing several private conversations more by accident than design, he thought that being a ghost held some advantages when it came to hunting. He’d be able to find out all kinds of things that people usually kept to themselves.

The next night, in a different town, Dean drank too much and wove his way back to the motel, stubbing his toe on the bed frame as he stumbled about pulling his clothes off. He fell onto the bed still more than half dressed, one boot on, one boot off.

Sam put his training into practice. When Dean woke up in the morning, he was tucked under the covers, both boots sitting neatly by the bed, his jeans and shirt folded at the bottom of the bed. He scrubbed a hand over his face and shook his head.

“I’m a neat freak in my sleep?” he wondered to himself.

Sam grinned, and set himself a goal. Before Dean left Bobby’s, he would be able to see Sam.

Finally, there was nothing to keep Dean from arriving at Bobby’s and when he did, he cried like a baby while Bobby held him. When he was done, Bobby fed him and made sure he knew he could stay as long as he liked and that he’d always have a roof over his head if he needed one.

Sam hugged Bobby and thanked him for being there to look after Dean. He may not have been able to make himself heard yet, but he hoped that some of the gratitude he felt would find Bobby in some way or other.

Sam could see the tension in Dean easing as he helped out around the place. He fixed up a car or two while he gave the Impala a once over, and manned the phones for Bobby now and then. Sam now had plenty of space to practice, and he ran around the yard, hollering and whooping just like he’d done when he was a little kid.

He skidded to a halt when he saw a dog sitting in the middle of the yard, it’s tongue lolling out of its mouth.

“Buster?”

Buster yipped, picked up a toy that was lying by his paws and trotted over to Sam, dropping it by his feet and looking up at him hopefully. Sam bent down and patted him, making Buster squirm happily, then he threw the toy and Buster went chasing after it.

“I see I’ve been sending you the wrong tutors. Cats can be very cryptic but dogs are much more literal.”

“Tessa.” Sam wasn’t sure how he felt about the reaper turning up, but found himself glad to have someone to talk to. “It’s kind of good to see you.”

“Just kind of?” She grinned.

“Why’s Buster still here? He died years ago.”

“He’s waiting for Bobby. Dogs do that. Cats are more fluid. It has something to do with them having nine lives.”

“You said they’re cryptic. What did you mean?”

“Remember last time I told you that there are some things you have to work out for yourself? All I can say is that cats can come and go anywhere they choose at any time. They aren’t bound to life or afterlife like humans are. That’s one of the reasons they were worshiped in certain cultures.”

“Huh.” That was a lot for Sam to take in.

“How are you really, Sam? You know if you ever want to cross over, all you have to do is call for me.”

“I know, and thanks, but I’m fine, honestly. I can move stuff, and touch things, and I’m pretty sure he’ll be able to see me soon.”

“Good.” Her smile was kind, but Sam could see the sadness behind it. He wondered what it would be like, helping dead people crossover all the time.

“Do you give everyone this one on one treatment?”

“No, mostly those that choose not to cross over are left alone.”

“So why me?”

“Maybe I’ve got a soft spot for you.” She smiled again, and then she was gone.

Buster came charging back, and Sam got caught up in the game of fetch. On the far side of the yard, Dean was working on a car, putting his weight behind loosening a bolt. As the game progressed, Sam and Buster wove their way towards him.

As they rounded the corner of a pile of cars, Sam threw the toy which landed by the car Dean was working on. Dean jerked his head up, hitting it on the underside of the car’s hood. He turned around to see where the noise had come from and Sam saw him bend down to pick up the toy, and turn around. He knew the second Dean saw him because he visibly paled and dropped the toy to the ground. It squeaked again as it landed, and Dean yelped as Buster barreled towards it and snatched it up, racing back to where Sam stood. Dean shook his head and after a moment, he went back to work.

“Dean,” Sam called softly, but Dean ignored him. "Dean!" He yelled, his voice edged with annoyance.

Dean stood up straight, still refusing to turn around.

"I know you can see me and you can ignore me all you like, but I'm not going anywhere."

Sam stomped over to the car and stood with his arms folded. Slowly, Dean turned, dropping the wrench he'd picked up.

“Sammy?”

"'bout time." Sam grumbled.

Buster bounced around, still waiting for Sam to throw his toy. Sam obliged, and the dog bounded after it with a happy bark.

"Is that … Buster?" Dean asked, wide eyed.

Sam grinned. Of all the thing he’d thought Dean would say when he knew Sam was still around, Sam couldn’t have guessed it would be that.

"You can see him too? Cool! He's waiting for Bobby. That's what dogs do. They wait around for their owners to die, then they cross over with them. Dog ghosts aren't the same as human ghosts." Sam explained, matter of factly. "Cats are different though. Tessa says cats can come and go as they please."

"Tessa?" Dean choked out.

Sam nodded.

"Tessa's a reaper. She was there the night of the accident. You saw her before you went back. Don’t you remember?"

Dean shook his head. “Not really. I thought it was a nightmare. There was a dark haired woman who wanted to take you away.”

“That’s Tessa. I’ve told her I don’t want to cross over, but she keeps tabs on me anyway.”

"Sammy," Dean finally croaked out. "You're a … ghost?"

"Duh." Sam rolled his eyes.

"Where've you been?"

"Wherever you've been." Sam shrugged. "It's taken me this long to learn how to appear, and to do other stuff. I talked to you, when you were in hospital, but you didn’t answer me."

"Why didn't you cross over?"

"We swore to each other that we'd stay together, remember? I couldn't leave you, so I stayed."

Dean tentatively reached out. His fingertips touched Sam's shoulder, solid and flannel covered. Dean snatched his hand back, cradling it as if he'd been burnt.

"Neat, huh?" Sam grinned.

"Neat? Sam, Sammy, this is so fucked up."

"It doesn't have to be." Sam insisted.

"You should have gone with the reaper."

"If it had been the other way round, would you have gone?"

"No!" Dean yelled, then added softly, "No, I wouldn't."

"Then don't be such a hypocrite."

Buster arrived back, biting down on the toy in his mouth and making it squeak. Sam took it from him and threw it again.

"And it's not so bad. I get to have dogs. I always wanted a pet."

"But what happens now? What are you going to do?"

"What are you gonna do?" Sam shot back.

"I don’t know. Stay here for a while ‘til I figure things out, I guess, then head out. Dad gave me the Impala.”

“I know, I was there, and I came here with you.”

Realization dawned on Dean’s face. “You put me to bed that night!”

“And I slept in the car the night before.” Sam scrunched his nose up in distaste, then grinned as Dean blushed. "I'll come with you, when you go." Sam made it sound so easy.

"Will Bobby be able to see you?" Dean asked, looking fearful that Sam could be taken away from him again.

"I don't know. Why don't we find out?"

Sam ran off towards the house, Buster following behind, barking happily.

"Sam, damn it, come back!" Dean yelled.

"What's all the racket for, boy?" Bobby emerged from the house onto the porch.

"Um, nothing," Dean stammered as Sam danced around Bobby who walked down the steps and picked up the squeaky toy lying at the bottom of them.

"If I didn't know better, I'd say old Buster was haunting this place." He picked it up, and threw it, much further than Sam had. With a yip, Buster took off, chasing away through the cars.

Dean looked up at Bobby and wondered if he should tell him that Sam was dancing around on the porch, making faces at him. He decided against it.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
The first time Dean saw another ghost, he completely freaked out, which Sam found hilarious, given that Dean was a big bad hunter and all.

Dean had offered to pick up some supplies Bobby needed from a contact a couple of states over. Sam knew he was itching to take the Impala out on a long run. Sam rode shotgun, singing along to AC/DC. When Dean got hungry, they stopped in the next town and were looking for somewhere to eat when they walked past a graveyard. A freshly dug grave sat neatly at the bottom of a grassy bank and a man was standing beside it, looking down. He seemed confused, and Sam wandered towards him. Dean followed, grumbling about boy scouts and good deeds and wondering what Sam thought he could do for him anyway.

The man turned towards them, and glanced down at Sam, smiling and ruffling his hair. Sam smiled back, but Dean panicked.

“He can see you? He can see you! How the hell can he see you?”

“Because he’s like me. He’s a ghost, not long dead. A reaper will come for him soon.”

“So how can I see him?” Dean asked, paling. Sam supposed that although Dean had seen ghosts before, usually they were howling about, or throwing things, or threatening lives. None of them had just been standing around as if they were waiting for a bus.

“Maybe because you almost crossed over too, the night I … the night of the hunt,” Sam mused. “He’s here, but he’s also there, where we were. Remember the shadows and the quiet? He’s waiting, but he’s lingering here too.”

Sam reached out and took Dean’s hand, his eyes wide. Dean squeezed it, a reassurance that he was safe, that everything was okay.

“The reaper’s come for him,” Sam whispered.

The old man turned, face lit by a light that Dean couldn’t see. Sam noticed that the man wasn’t quite solid. If he concentrated hard, he could see the grass and flowers through him. The man smiled and nodded, and as Sam and Dean watched, he reached out, and slowly began to disintegrate on the breeze into a host of little lights which dissipated into the sunlight. Then they were alone in the grave yard again.

“Has the reaper gone?” Dean asked, worry in his voice.

“Yeah. No-one bothers me now but Tessa, and I know she only does it because she’s got a soft spot for me.” Sam smiled, but he shivered. “She won’t tell me what’s on the other side.” He pulled his hand from Dean’s and ran off, whooping through the grave yard. “And I don’t want to know!!” He yelled at the top of his lungs. He didn’t know himself if it was in defiance towards reapers or if he was making the most of not being able to be heard.

On their way back to Bobby’s, with a trunk full of boxes, Dean booked into a motel for a couple of nights. It felt almost like being home, Dean lying on the bed nearest the door, Sam on the other, watching bad movies and laughing together. On Saturday morning, Dean sat in a decent diner in the middle of town, sipping coffee and minding his own business.

Sam left him to it, wandering into a second hand book store a couple of doors down. He lost himself in the book stacks, hiding towards the back and pulling a couple off the shelf to flick through.

“Sam.”

Sam heard Dean’s whispered summons, impressed that he could hear Dean from where he was. He put down the book on ancient spirits he’d been reading and thought his way to where Dean was sitting. His brother was finishing his coffee, and smirked at Sam.

“You done? I’m bored.” Sam swung his legs, kicking the underside of the table.

Dean settled up, smiling at the waitress, and they wandered out into the sunshine.

“So I’m thinking once we get the stuff back to Bobby, it’s time we moved on.”

“Are we hunting again?” Sam bounced on the balls of his feet.

“I don’t know,” Dean sighed.

“So what? We’ll travel around and if anything supernatural happens to be around, we deal with it? How is that not hunting?”

“You’re a wise ass with a smart mouth.” Dean grumbled and stalked off.

“I learned from the best!” Sam yelled at Dean’s retreating back and ran to catch up. “You didn’t kill me, Dean, neither did Dad. It was the monster. Hunting’s what we do.”

“I know,” Dean huffed.

Sam walked side by side with Dean and dug his hand into Dean’s pocket, threading his fingers through his brother’s. Dean held on tight all the way back to the motel.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Back at Bobby’s, the debate raged over whether to tell him about Sam or not before they left.

“What if he sends me away?”

“He won’t, and if he tries, well, we’ll leave and not come back.”

Sam bit his lip, and nodded reluctantly.

They picked their time. After dinner one night, Dean got out the shot glasses and a bottle of decent whiskey that he’d picked up on the supply run.

“I need to tell you something.”

“I’m all ears.” Bobby watched as Dean poured them both a shot, and sat down opposite him.

“Sam’s here. Well, I mean he’s … well, he’s a ghost.” Dean spat out, slumping in the chair.

“You don’t say.” Bobby raised an eyebrow and downed his shot.

“Wait, what? You knew?”

“I had an inkling. It’s been kind of noisy around here since you moved in.”

“Oh, right.”

“Is he here now?”

Sam picked the shot glass off the table and tossed it from one hand to the other before placing it back where he got it from.

“Hi Sam.” Bobby smiled at Dean.

“I was worried that you might …”

“Want to get rid of him? No, boy. When it comes to your brother, I know there’s nothing on heaven or earth or even in hell that could keep the two of you apart.”

“Thanks Bobby.” Dean knocked back another shot.

“So what do you plan on doing?”

“Go back to hunting, I guess. It’s what I know. And Sam may be small. Ow!” Dean winced away as Sam swatted his head. “But he’ll be useful in a fight.”

“Just … be careful. And I don’t just mean with hunting. You know what hunters are like. Most of them see the world in black and white and if they get a whiff of a ghost, they ain’t gonna ask if it’s friendly before they try and deal with it. If you deal with other hunters, make sure Sam stays clear.”

Dean nodded, and Bobby went on.

“What’s he tied to?”

Sam looked at Dean. It was one thing they’d not discussed yet and he wondered what Dean thought.

“At first, I thought it was the Impala. He bled over her seats plenty of times, for all he was only fourteen years old.”

Bobby nodded. “Sounds about right.”

“But she was nowhere near the hospital when I was in there, and Dad took her on hunts while I was laid up. I think he’s tied to me.”

“That’s a rare thing, but you kids never did anything else by the book, so why would this be any different?”

Dean nodded with a smile and listened as Bobby gave him leads on a couple of small hunts.

“So you can ease your way back to it.” Bobby grinned.

Sam left them to it and spent the rest of the evening playing with Buster.

The next morning, Bobby helped Dean stock the Impala up with supplies.

“So we’ll maybe swing by in a couple of weeks?”

“Any time, you know that son.” Bobby hugged him, and waved them off.

As they drove away, Sam glanced back at the porch where Buster sat, his ears drooping as he watched Sam drive away. But Bobby picked up the squeaky toy and threw it. As Buster bounced around happily, and bounded away after it, Sam wondered if Bobby did know Buster was waiting for him after all.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
It was a year before they had another brush with the FBI. Sam was checking out the other cars in the parking lot of the motel when he saw Victor first. The tall man flashed his badge at Mr. Anderson, the motel owner, and showed him a photograph of Dean. For once, the motel owner was invested in keeping Dean safe. It had been his family that they’d saved from a poltergeist. He shook his head, shrugging when Victor asked him to make sure he hadn’t seen him.

“Try the diner a few blocks over,” Sam heard him say. “They get a lot of passing trade.”

Sam waited until they left, then focused on Dean and he was back in the room. He shook his brother’s shoulder.

“Dean, the Feds are poking around, asking about you. Mr. Anderson’s on his way to warn you too.”

“Sammy?”

“Move, Dean. Now.”

Dean shot out of bed and started pulling his stuff together. There was a soft knock at the door.

“Dean, open the door.” Mr. Anderson hissed. As soon as Dean did so, he slipped into the room. “There was an FBI agent looking for you. I got rid of him, but he was very persistent.”

“It’s okay, I was outta here anyway.”

“I sent Pete to open the back gate, save you driving onto main street.”

“Thanks. I’ll be gone in a few minutes and he won’t bother you again.”

“Okay. And thanks. Again. For everything.”

Dean managed a smile. “No problem. It’s in the job description.”

In the corner, Sam was hopping from foot to foot, waiting for Mr. Anderson to leave.

Dean shook hands with him, and the man slipped back out the door.

“He had a copy of your mug shot. We need to get out of here.”

“Okay squirt, quit bouncing around and go and start the car. We’ll head to Bobby’s. Lay low for a while.” Dean moved towards his bag, throwing the last of his clothes into it. He scoured the room, leaving it only when he knew there was nothing left to tie him to the place.

Outside, the Impala sprang to life. Dean ran out, pulling the door open. Sam teaching himself to mentally hotwire the Impala had been one of his best ideas. Minutes later, they were leaving the motel behind and heading towards South Dakota.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
When Dean stayed at Bobby’s, Sam liked having the run of the house. After Bobby and Dean fell asleep, he’d often hit the books, helping either or both of them with the research he knew his brother hated. But the last few hours of darkness were always spent the same way. While Dean slept in the single bed in one of Bobby’s rooms, with Sam curled against him. Sam didn’t sleep, but his presence soothed Dean, so he stayed with him.

Sometimes, Tessa would sit on the end of the bed, watching, trying to persuade Sam to cross over. Sam always asked the same thing.

“What is there for me to do there?”

And he always got the same answer.

“You know I can’t tell you.”

“Then I’m staying here.”

Sam liked it at Bobby’s. There was Buster, and Sam enjoyed running round the yard, yelling as Buster barked, no need to keep quiet. He’d never had a dog growing up and had always wanted one. It had been one of the drawbacks of living on the road. He often played with others that Tessa brought with her when he and Dean were on the road. They missed their owners and he was happy to be able to make the wait a little better for them.

He liked the cats too, but for a different reason. They intrigued him, the way they could cross over and come back between whichever life whichever life they happened to be living and the next one. The idea fascinated him. He wondered why they had that ability, one that would make things so much simpler for him. He watched as they slinked out of one world into the next and he envied them and he wondered if he tied a small camera around their necks, if they’d come back and reveal the secrets of the ages.

He was sitting on the roof of Bobby’s shed, watching Dean work on a car that looked as if it might run again, given a little attention. Sam liked that he could be anywhere he wanted to be, and not have to be afraid of falling off or getting hurt. That part of being a ghost was cool. He felt a tickle on his arm, and looked down to see a small black cat nudging him and purring. He smiled and petted it, scratching behind it’s ears. The cat purred louder, and looked up at him with green eyes slitted against the sun.

“Wonder what you were called,” he mused. “Or maybe you’re not a ghost.”

She mewed and jumped into his lap, curling up and settling there. As he stroked her, he got the vaguest impression of a kitchen, bright and clean, old wooden doors. He shook his head, but it was still there, even when he closed his eyes. In one corner was a small bowl on the floor, and he could just make out what was written on it.

“Lucky,” Sam said out loud.

The small cat stood up, and nuzzled her head against his chest, her purr now a deep grumble, as if she was pleased with him.

“Did you just show me your name?”

Again, he was softly butted and he stroked her fur. He sat very still and wondered at the possibilities. If he could learn a cat’s name, maybe he could learn more. He glanced down at his brother before lying back and letting the cat settle on his chest, wondering what else she had to show him.

After that, when he encountered cats, he played with them, petted them, and asked them their secrets. Some of them shared slivers of knowledge with him, some of them didn’t, and Sam didn’t know how to put it all together. Again and again, he watched as they moved backwards and forwards, smiles on their faces, and a sharp light in their eyes. If he could master that, if he could come and go as he pleased, then he could cross over, as the pull and tug always wanted him to do, but he could come back.

He asked Tessa about it once, if it was something he could learn to do, but she shook her head.

“It’s a gift they are born with, it can’t be taught.”

But Sam wondered anyway.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Two years after Victor first met Dean Winchester face to face, he jumped at the chance to do it again, and maybe this time bring him in. He arrived in the town first, and got a message from Reidy to say he’d been delayed and wouldn’t be there until the next day. Victor thought about waiting for him, but dismissed the idea straight away. He couldn’t take the chance that Dean might skip town. He didn’t even bother finding somewhere to stay before he headed for the local police department.

Victor flashed his badge, and pulled out a photograph of Dean to show to Sergeant Berrisford.

“Have you seen this man?”

“Agent Plant? Yeah, he was here yesterday. Keeping tabs on your own now?”

Victor stared at the sergeant for a heartbeat, then grinned. “Last time I spoke to him, he was still under cover. Can’t be too careful.”

“So you’re working on the Mercer case with him?”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m here, to take a look at the file.”

Berrisford led Victor through the office to a desk at the back, and brought him a slim folder.

“Like I told Agent Plant, there’s nothing worth investigating. The Mercer place is a wreck, has been since Tom Mercer was killed twelve years ago. Now that was a nasty business. His body was never found but his killer was convicted on the evidence. No-one loses as much blood as we found at the crime scene and lives. Dan Ross was the third kid to end up dead in that house, but there’s never been any evidence of foul play. You know what kids are like when it comes to haunted houses. All over it like bees round a honey pot. Doesn’t matter how many warnings get posted to stay out, there’ll always be one or two who’ll take on the dare to go in there.”

As the sergeant talked, Victor flicked through the folder, nodding in all the appropriate places as he examined the pictures. One in particular caught his eye. The one that showed the unfortunate Dan Ross’s lifeless body, skewered on a broken board.

Victor made a note of the address of the Mercer house, thanked the sergeant and left.

So Dean Winchester was posing as an FBI agent to investigate a case that was already closed? Victor shook his head and laughed to himself. Every time he thought he was getting closer to knowing what made Dean and his father tick, they threw him a curve ball. Out of all the people Victor had interviewed, a disturbing proportion of them were either elusive when questioned about the Winchesters, or insisted that they’d helped them in some way. Exactly how was always vague, even when it was cops he was talking to.

Victor pulled up outside the house, and stared up at it. The sergeant had been right, the place was a wreck but if one of the Winchesters was interested in it, there had to be something here that they wanted. Victor drove over a few blocks and walked back. He knew he should wait until Reidy arrived in town and he had backup, but waiting might mean yet another missed chance to see behind the mask.

Victor walked round to the back of the sizable property, and slipped into the yard through a break in the fence. He stayed within the tree line as he approached the house. For all he knew, Winchester could be in there already. The door to the back of the house was open, and he made his way through it, taking every step with great care. In the hall, he stood and listened, but there were no footsteps or other sounds that would point to someone being in the house. The haunted house, he remembered the sergeant saying earlier.

“Ghosts. Right.” Victor grinned and made his way up the sweeping staircase to the gallery above.

The spot where the Ross kid had met his grisly end was easy to find. Dark smudges still remained from where he bled out. Victor crouched down, looking up towards the ceiling and the spot the board must have fallen from to impale the kid at that angle. Although the house was a wreck, Victor couldn’t see where it could have come from. He was about to stand up again when the front door opened, so he shuffled to one side instead, out of sight of the hallway below.

Seconds later, Dean Winchester strode into sight, a spade slung over one shoulder and a bag in his hand.

“Okay, lets gank this motherfucker before he can hurt anyone else.”

Victor waited for Dean’s partner to step into view, hoping against hope that it would be his father, but no-one was following him. Dean walked off towards the kitchen and as he got to his feet as quietly as possible, Victor pondered on Dean’s statement. Who was he going to kill, and who had this person hurt? Was someone responsible for Dan Ross’s death after all, and if so, why would Winchester feel the need to kill the killer? Why not turn in whoever had done it?

Victor drew his gun, and edged down the stairs, across the hall and peered into the kitchen. It was empty, but the back door stood open and he could hear a voice coming from the garden.

“Yeah, under the yew tree. I know what a yew tree looks like.” Victor heard Dean say with a dismissive snort. And then, “I hope he’s not too deep, I’m still aching from the last one.”

The man was having a one sided conversation. Victor wondered who he thought he was talking too, and if this added another layer to the many psychoses that Victor reckoned he already had.

There was the sound of a spade hitting earth. Victor edged closer, keeping well out of Dean’s line of sight. More digging sounds, and Victor peeked around the corner of the doorframe to get a good look at where Dean was digging.

As if he’d triggered some unseen alarm, Dean stopped digging and swung round to face him, dropping his spade and pulling out a gun in one smooth movement that Victor would have appreciated more if he wasn’t suddenly face down on the kitchen floor as something swept his feet from under him and dragged him away by the ankles. His gun fired as he hit the floor, and he heard Dean’s yell from the garden, but it wasn’t what he expected.

“No!”

And as he tried to grab hold of something to stop being dragged back into the hall, Dean charged towards him, snarling and brandishing what looked like a poker. Whatever had a hold of Victor flipped him over onto his back. He expected to see a large man, someone capable of throwing him around like a rag doll, but the thing that had him was monstrous, it’s face contorted as it flickered in and out of view. It raised a sharp wooden board above its head in one hand while Victor struggled to escape the grasp of its other hand.

“Let him go!” Dean roared, and the poker sliced through the air, and the monster.

With a bloodcurdling scream, the thing vanished and the board it had been holding clattered to the floor. Victor lay stunned until a hand reached down to help him up. It was warm and human, and Victor held onto it for a moment longer than necessary.

“What was that?”

“That was a ghost, a pretty nasty fucker who’s killed a couple of kids. If you’re gonna arrest me, could you do it later? I need to make sure …”

“It doesn’t hurt anyone else.” Victor finished for him.

“Yeah. That’s right.” Dean eyed him. “So I’m gonna finish up in the garden.”

Victor snorted with laughter, only glad it didn’t sound hysterical, because inside, he was fighting a full on melt down. “You make it sound like you’re planting roses out there, not desecrating a grave.”

“It’s not desecrating if the body inside belongs to a vengeful spirit. It’s a service to the community.” Dean flashed Victor a grin and went back out into the garden.

Victor followed him unable to stop himself from admiring the view of Dean’s ass as he bent down to pick up his spade. Victor tore his gaze away and spied a shed down by the trees. He broke the lock and found a spade, hefting it in his hand as he walked back to join Dean. Ten minutes ago, he was ready to arrest the kid for a laundry list of crimes and misdemeanors and now, he was going to help him dig up a body. The rest he would deal with later. The only thing that he was certain of right now was that a monster, a ghost, had come incredibly close to killing him, and that Dean had saved his life. Dean Winchester, the top of his personal most wanted list, had saved his life.

Victor slipped off his coat and jacket, and hung them out of the way over a low tree branch.

“Need some help?” he asked.

Dean turned around, grinning when he saw the spade. “Be my guest.”

They dug in silence for a while, until they hit something solid about four feet down.

“So how does this work? We dig him up and burn him? With salt for purification, right?”

Dean stopped digging and stared at him. “How do you know that?”

“I didn’t, not really. But forensics from the sites we’ve found over the years point to bones being burned, using accelerant, and there were always traces of salt. It doesn’t take an FBI agent to find out that salt is used in rituals for purification. Course, until now, I thought you and your Dad were paramilitary survivalist types with an edge of Satanism thrown in to keep it interesting.”

Dean laughed, shaking his head, and went back to digging. Victor helped clear the top of the wooden casket clear of soil, then watched, leaning on his spade as Dean did the rest. He winced as Dean broke into the casket, and peered down at the strangely recognizable face of the ghost that almost killed him.

A sudden gust of wind billowed almost violently around them.

“Shit,” Dean muttered. “Grab the poker, and swing at anything that comes for you.”

“What? Why?”

“Because they hardly ever go down without a fight.”

Victor picked up the poker and held it with two hands, putting himself between Dean and the door to the kitchen. Behind him, he could hear more wood splintering, then salt being poured into the grave. The wind picked up, howling around his head and then it was back. The ghost snarled as it came straight for him. Close up, Victor could see rotting flesh hanging from its face, and could feel the malice hanging around it, but he didn’t have time to stand and stare. He swiped the poker through it, which sent it screeching away, but this time it reformed and came straight back, aiming not for Victor but for Dean.

Victor hurled himself between them, swiping and thrusting as Dean dove for the lighter fluid, poured it on top of the salt and dropped in a flaming lighter. Even as Victor was taking another swipe, the ghost burned up in front of him, fizzling and popping until there was nothing left but the stench of burning bones.

This time, Victor helped Dean to his feet.

“So this is your typical day at the office?”

“Pretty much. There’s more out there, but I think you’ve had enough Hunting 101 for one day.”

“Hunting?”

“That’s what it’s called.”

“So you’re a hunter?”

“Yep.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why do you do it?”

“Someone has to,” Dean shrugged. “Look, we should get out of here. If anyone saw the smoke or heard anything, the cops could be here any minute.”

Victor snorted. “First time I’ve run away from the cops.”

“First time?” Dean raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, second, but I was only eleven and stealing apples doesn’t really count.”

“Man, you do not want to know how many times I’d had to ditch the cops by the time I was eleven.” Dean grinned and stuck out his hand. “You’d make a decent hunter, Agent Henriksen.”

Victor shook Dean’s hand. “It’s Victor. I didn’t think you remembered me.”

“I never forget the face of law enforcement. It pays not to.”

“Look, I can’t make your file go away, or John’s, but I can stop looking into your cases and keep track in case anyone else takes an interest.”

“I appreciate it.” Dean fished a pen and notebook out of his jacket as Victor retrieved his coat from the tree. “If you find anything that looks like it might be more my thing than yours, give this number a call and ask for Agent Bonham.”

“I’m going to go out on a limb here and take a guess that you’ve got a thing for Zeppelin.”

“Classic rock all the way.”

Victor shrugged his coat back on over his jacket and nodded at Dean. “Thanks. For saving my life.”

“All in a day’s work.” Dean grabbed the bag and the spade he’d brought, saluted Victor with it and took off through the house.

Victor left the way he’d arrived, and drove to the nearest FBI approved motel. It wasn’t until he was in his room with the door locked behind him that it really hit him. He’d gotten a glimpse behind the mask, and the insights into Dean’s motivations that it had revealed were life changing. How could he go back to sitting behind a desk, knowing what he now knew about what was really out there. And what had Dean said? That there was more?

Victor sighed. Did it really make a difference? Sure, Dean had saved his life, and now he knew ghosts were real, but the man was still wanted. Now that the shock of his attack had worn off, Victor’s instincts kicked in, and it was all he could do to stop himself from going after Dean and dragging him back to the nearest field office. After all the years he’d spent fixated on both John and Dean, it wasn’t easy to let it all go, to give up his goal of bringing them in and finding out exactly what made them tick.

At least now, he had some idea of what they did, but why they did it still eluded him. He needed to know more before he gave up completely. He decided to declare a truce. He’d let Dean have this one, he owed him that much, but when he was ready, he’d insist on knowing more. He felt happier that he was shifting his focus, rather than giving up years of research without getting the answers he was looking for.

Victor fished the piece of paper Dean had given him from his pocket, and slipped it into his planner. He would use it when the time was right. Now, he needed a shower and to grab some sleep. He had to be able to face Reidy in the morning and flat out lie to him. He slipped out of his clothes, hanging them up in the wardrobe, then headed to the shower, letting the hot water pound on his shoulders. He thought, after everything that had happened, that he would be ready to sleep, but once he was in bed, he lay awake and stared at the ceiling.

He couldn’t get Dean out of his mind, and not just because he’d saved his life. He remembered Dean pulling him to his feet, the strength in his hands, the way the muscles in his shoulders and back had moved as he dug, the curve of his ass. Victor pushed his boxer briefs down to let his cock spring free, and wrapped his hand around it. He imagined it was Dean’s hand, that he’d pushed Dean up against one of the big trees in the garden and they’d jerked each other off. Victor panted as he imagined Dean’s dick in his hand, warm and hard and the needy sounds Dean would make as Victor worked him hard and brought him off. The idea of Dean’s come splattering over his fist did the trick, and he pumped up unto his fist, groaning as he came. He thumped his head back against his pillow with frustration of a different kind. For years he’d gone after Dean to bring him to justice, and now he wanted him for an entirely different reason.

He was so screwed.

~*~*~*~*~*~
It took less work than Victor thought it would to get Reidy out of town without plunging into a full scale Winchester man hunt. Victor took him to the house, where they “discovered” the burned out grave. Victor called the local PD in, and Sergeant Berrisford was pleased to finally have a grave for the poor unfortunate murder victim. Victor couldn’t help rolling his eyes at that, remembering how the ghost had almost killed him.

He asked for a copy of the forensics report, then dragged Reidy back to DC where his partner insisted on taking him out for a few beers, concerned at Victor’s lack of enthusiasm for a case that had all the signs of being Winchester related.

Finally home, Victor fired up his PC and spent the night researching ghosts. He gave up sometime after midnight, feeling like he was no further forward. Most of what he’d read sounded like fiction written to read like fact. There was only one way to get the truth, but he wasn’t ready to make the call. That night, his dreams were full of ghosts and spirits, and a green eyed man who fought his way through them.

The next morning he was at his desk before seven, sipping down the last of the coffee he’d bought on his way in when Reidy appeared, yawning, with more. Victor took the large paper cup from him gratefully as Reidy peered over his shoulder.

“Thought you were done with digging into the Winchesters.”

“I decided to go back to the beginning and start again.”

Reidy sat down at his own desk, and eyed Victor.

“I’ll let you know if I turn up anything new,” Victor told his partner, smiling when Reidy’s shoulders visibly relaxed.

It was, or had been, Victor’s crusade, not Reidy’s. He’d always been eager to follow Victor’s lead, but he wasn’t as driven as Victor.

For the next week, Victor turned his passion around, from hunting Winchesters to researching each and every case they’d been involved in or suspected of being involved in. But now he read between the lines, looking for clues to explain what had really happened.

As well as going over the case files, he researched anything out of the ordinary that happened in the area that John or Dean had been spotted in. As well as a whole range of grave desecrations, he turned up dog or wolf attacks where hearts had been ripped out, mysterious drownings, more than one suspect who claimed demons had made them commit unspeakable crimes, and a slew of exsanguinations.

Never happier to see a Friday come around, Victor bought a bottle of tequila on the way home, ordered a pizza and spent the night drinking himself into oblivion. If he was right, demons, water spirits, vampires, and even werewolves really existed.

He wished he’d never heard the name Winchester, wished that he could live his days in blissful ignorance of what was really out there, but he couldn’t go back. He wondered if the professor who’s lecture on serial killers had so inspired him had ever really seen behind a mask that altered his life as much as Victor’s had been altered. Or whether he lived his life still searching for something akin to Pandora’s Box.

“Werewolves,” Victor snorted and took another drink straight from the bottle. Of all the things he’d come up with, he was still holding out a scant hope that he’d been wrong about werewolves being real. That the next time he saw Dean, he’d grin and shake his head at the insane notion that they were real. Deep down, Victor knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Dean. Victor had tried not to think of him in anything but a professional way since he’d started going through the files again, and now when his mind strayed, he was too wasted to do anything about it. He passed out on the couch, curled around a cushion.

Monday brought reality with it, and an organized crime case that would take up a lot of his time. He resigned himself to several weeks of boredom, listening to recordings of wire taps. It was his job, but he itched to be doing something that made him feel as if he were making a real difference.

He was already wallowing deep in self pity when Reidy dropped a file on his desk.

“What’s this?”

“Exsanguination.” Reidy grinned at Victor. “I saw you looking it up last week, thought you might be interested.”

Victor flicked through the file. Three girls in their late teens or early twenties, all found dead close to their homes. The only injuries found were small cuts on their necks, and all three had been virtually drained of blood. The local PD’s report suggested that they had bled out through the cuts, but Victor thought differently.

“Thanks,” he smiled at Reidy, grateful that his partner knew him well enough to understand that their current assignment wasn’t Victor’s favorite way to spend time.

Victor read the file from cover to cover twice. When he got home that night, he dug out the number Dean had given him and called it.
After three rings, a gruff voice answered.

“Willis, FBI.”

“I need to speak to Agent Bonham.”

“He’s in the field right now. Who’s this?”

“Agent Henriksen.”

“I’ll tell him you called. Has he got your number?”

Victor gave the bogus agent his number and rang off. He had no idea how long he would have to wait. Minutes, hours, days or longer. He paced about the apartment for twenty minutes then gave up, annoyed at himself for feeling like he was waiting for a potential date to call. He busied himself in the kitchen, throwing together a large salad to go with the chicken he’d picked up from Wholefoods on the way home. He’d been letting his eating habits slide into too much take out lately, and didn’t want to have to up the time he already spent at the gym to compensate.

He’d almost given up on hearing from Dean that night, when the phone rang. The noise grated on Victor, and he snatched it up.

“Victor,” he stated, losing the edge of annoyance when he heard Dean’s voice.

“Hey FBI, you got something for me?”

“Only if vampires exist. Otherwise, it’s looking like some vampire wanna be who’s ramping up the body count towards serial.”

“Vamps? Yeah, they exist. So where are they?”

“Small town in Michigan. There’s three bodies so far.”

“You gonna tell me which town?” Victor could hear the amusement in Dean’s voice.

“Yes, but I want in. On the hunt.”

“What? No! You’re a civilian, Vic, it’s too dangerous.”

“I’m an FBI agent. I can handle myself.”

“So what’s the deal? You don’t give me the name of the town unless I say you can tag along?” The amusement had turned to annoyance.

“No, course not. I don’t want anyone else to die. But I want to know more, and I helped you deal with the spirit without getting myself killed.”

“It was a close call,” Dean muttered. “If I say yes, you have to promise that you’ll do exactly what I say. Even if that’s get the fuck out and run for your life.”

“I promise.”

“Okay, so where are we going?”

~*~*~*~*~*~
“You’re letting him come on a vamp hunt?” Sam yelled and scowled at Dean when he’d finished talking to Victor. “He’s a civilian who’s seen one ghost!”

“He can handle himself. You saw that.”

“But this isn’t a spirit Dean, it’s vamps. What if he freaks out, or freezes? What if he gets himself killed, or turned?”

“Everyone starts somewhere. It can’t be easy to live a normal life and then to find out what’s really out there. Look at Dad.”

“He’s not Dad!” Sam yelled, storming out through the wall, setting the papers Dean had been looking through swirling through the air and turning off the lights as he went.

He didn’t want Victor around, and not just because he might get himself killed. Victor liked Dean, Sam knew that from the way he’d looked at Dean last time they’d met. Victor could be the perfect hunting partner for Dean. Smart, and yes, able to look after himself, but that was Sam’s job, and he wasn’t about to let someone else take it away. Someone alive.

Sam hid in the Impala, keeping himself invisible, but he wasn’t surprised when the driver’s door opened and Dean got in.

“C’mon Squirt, I know you’re here.” Dean drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

Sam sighed and made himself visible again.

“What was that about?”

“Nothing.” Sam looked out of the window, feeling Dean’s gaze on him.

“It’s one hunt. He’s got a day job, and I’ve already got a partner,” Dean paused. “I don’t wanna replace you, Sammy, no-one ever could.”

Sam nodded, not wanting to say anything.

“So if you’ll fix the room, I’ll find us a movie to watch?” Dean coaxed, and slowly, Sam smiled.

He vanished from the car, appearing in the motel room, and with a thought, the lights came back on and the TV sprang into life. He was halfway through tidying up the research that was scattered over the floor when Dean opened the door and helped him with the rest.

Sam spent the rest of the night chattering away to Dean, making up for the coming days when Dean wouldn’t be able to talk to him until Victor left.

~*~*~*~*~*~
Victor was already miles away from DC when he called his Assistant Director and asked to take the rest of the week as vacation time. The request was approved, almost a given as Victor hadn’t taken a vacation for two years, and his leave was stacking up.

He got into town and booked into a motel, almost anxious as he waited for Dean’s call.

“This is a mistake,” he muttered to himself.

If anyone found out that he was associating with a known criminal, the life he’d built for himself would be over. He’d be dismissed from the Bureau, and probably arrested for being an accessory to whatever was about to happen. But he needed to know, needed to see for himself that there were more things out there than ghosts, needed Dean to talk to him, to tell him the truth about it all.

The shrill ringtone made him jump, and he snatched up the phone.

“Dean.”

“FBI. Glad you could make it. There’s a bar called Dante’s just off Main Street. Meet me there as soon as you can.”

“On my way.”

Victor decided against taking his weapon, and set off to walk the couple of blocks to the bar. Inside, he spotted Dean straight away, sitting at a table against the back wall, sipping a beer. Victor ordered one for himself, and joined Dean.

“So what happens now?”

“Straight to the point,” Dean grinned. “I like that in a weekend hunter.”

Victor rolled his eyes, but smiled and shook his head. It was way too easy to enjoy Dean’s company when he should be keeping his distance.

“We sit and watch and wait,” Dean explained. “This is the boring part, but you have to pay attention.”

“What exactly are we waiting for? The vampire to show?”

“Yahtzee. The crime scene photographs had two people in all three of them watching the forensics team arrive. I’ve ruled out Mrs Patricia Webster. She’s a well known crime buff who likes to follow cases from beginning to end. The other guy isn’t a local as far as I can tell. I showed his picture around all the bars in town earlier and this was the one he drinks at. So we wait. If he turns up, we follow him, see where he goes, make sure he doesn’t attack anyone else and if we’re sure he’s a vamp, we take him out. If he leaves here with someone, we do the same.”

“How do we ‘take him out’?” Victor was curious. There was so much information out there about vampires that he didn’t know what to believe.

“Decapitation. Most of what you’ve read before is useless. Sunlight won’t kill them, crosses don’t repel them, and garlic might not be one of their favorite pizza toppings, but it isn’t going to hurt them enough to make a difference.”

“Anything else?”

“Dead man’s blood is poison to them.”

“Dead man’s blood?” Victor’s eyes widened.

“Yeah, blood from a corpse. Does that solve another of your unsolved mysteries?”

“It does.” Victor now had his answer on why there were mortuary break ins on Dean’s rap sheet.

“I’ve got a couple of shots with me. Here.” Dean slid a syringe across the table.

Victor palmed it and slipped it into his pocket.

“Do I get a real weapon?”

“No. Decapitation is my job.”

“So what do I do?”

“You watch and learn and stay safe.” Dean’s attention was drawn to the bar. “And look who’s arrived.”

Victor took his time looking over, so it didn’t seem as if his focus was the slight man ordering a beer.

“We go for him now?”

“No, we wait for him to leave. We don’t want the whole bar to watch us manhandle him out of here.”

“Good point.” Victor wished he could wave his badge around and do this the legal way. And he hated waiting.

They had time to order another round of beers, which they sipped on, before the suspected vampire made his move on a girl who’s friends had left earlier. She was finishing her drink when he moved in and ordered her another.

“Soon as they leave, we go after them. I want to make sure he’s a vamp before I gank him,” Dean explained. “And one thing you need to know. If you swallow one drop of vamp blood, you’ll turn into one of them.”

“Okay. I wasn’t planning on it, but thanks for the heads up.”

“No problem. I wouldn’t want the next vamp I hunted to be you.” Dean stood, leaving a couple of bills on the table. “We’re up.”

Victor’s heart was pounding in his chest as they followed the pair at a distance. The potential vampire’s hands were all over the girl, who didn’t seem to mind. Victor wondered if she was really into it or if the vampire was coercing her in some way.

A few blocks later, Victor noticed Dean reach into his jacket as the man led the girl down an alley. It fit with the other locations. More visible than most murders, almost as if the killer wanted the bodies to be found quickly. Dean’s pace quickened, and he ran into the alley with Victor hot on his heels. In the shadows, they could just make out the man looming over the girl who was trying to push him away, and Dean pulled a long, wide blade from his jacket, pulling his arm back to strike a fatal blow. But the vampire ducked as he swung, turning to snarl at Dean, who sprang back just in time to avoid being hit in the chest by the girl, who was also snarling at Dean with a mouth full of pointed teeth.

“Fuck,” Victor blurted out, drawing their attention to him.

“Run!” Dean yelled as he threw himself at the first vampire, machete slicing through the air and catching its shoulder. Blood spurted, but it hadn’t been a precise enough blow to take its head off.

Victor tried to do as he was ordered, but as he turned, the second vampire was suddenly right in front of him, pushing him back with a force that went way beyond what would have been normal for a human woman. Victor hit the wall of the alley, his arm catching on something sharp as he slid down it. She was on him in a second, an inhuman glint in her eyes as she held him down and lowered her mouth towards her arm.

Victor fumbled in his pocket, fingers closing around the narrow cylinder full of poison. He almost dropped it as she bit into the flesh of his arm, pulling his tattered jacket and shirt apart to get to it. Somewhere to his left, he heard Dean grunt ‘motherfucker’, and there was the sound of something heavy falling to the alley floor. As Victor pulled the syringe out of his pocket and pushed the cap off, the vampire pulled back to look at him, and she bent down to tear open her own arm. Victor didn’t think, he plunged the needle into her shoulder and pushed down the plunger. She reared back, and Dean’s machete swept through the air and took her head clean off. Her body swayed before falling forwards, and Victor scrambled out of the way, refusing to be trapped under a headless corpse that was gushing with blood.

Dean reached a hand down to Victor and helped him to his feet.

“We’ve got to go, now. This way.” Dean took hold of Victor’s arm, and pushed him in the opposite direction to the one they came from, deeper into the alley.

They ran until they got to the end of it. One block over, and Dean opened the door of the black Impala that Victor had only seen in pictures before. Victor was suddenly very tired.

“You okay?”

“I’ll get back to you on that one.”

“Look, I know this is a lot to take in. I can drop you back at your motel; you can go on your way and never see me again. How’s that sound?”

Victor shook his head. “I’ve been on the edge of this for more years than I want to think about and I had no idea what I was really dealing with. I just followed the white rabbit, and I can’t stop now.”

Dean nodded, his face suddenly serious. “Okay, but this isn’t just some game, you’ve gotta understand that. The people who live this life, they’re good people, and they put themselves on the line every day. I have to know that I can trust you with this.”

“I can swear to you that what happens while I’m ‘on vacation’ will never make it back to the day job. It’s not like I could put in a report about hunting vampires.”

Dean nodded again. “Okay man, red pill it is.”

They drove in silence to a motel three towns away from the one they’d left the dead vampires in. Victor followed Dean inside wincing as he turned to close the door behind him. The wound on his arm was throbbing. Dean frowned at the wince.

“Do you wanna get that seen to at a hospital? It might need stitches.” Dean pulled a medical kit from his bag.

“What, now you’re a nurse as well as a hunter?”

Victor slipped his jacket off, wincing, and examined the damage in the mirror that hung in the room.

“Damn. I liked that shirt.” He mumbled. He knew he should head to the nearest hospital and get a professional to deal with the cut, but then it would go on record, and he didn’t want to have to start giving explanations about how it had happened. And honestly? He knew he should be marching Dean down to the nearest police station and throwing him in a cell, not hanging out and taking him up on his offer of minor surgery.

But he knew what he’d seen, twice now. Unexplainable things that Dean had taken in his stride as if it were a day at the office. He eyed Dean, who was staring straight back at him.

“Okay, let’s get it done.”

Victor undid half of the buttons on his shirt, wincing a little when the action pulled on his shoulder. He started when Dean moved closer and batted his hands away. Dean pulled the shirt free from Victor’s pants, then got to work on the buttons, not glancing at Victor’s face until he was done. Which was something Victor was very glad of. It gave him time to recover from the shock of such intimate gestures.

The last time someone had done that, they’d slipped to their knees and deep throated Victor’s cock, and he had to wrestle away the sense memory as the fabric was pulled across his skin, and nimble fingers grazed his chest as they finished unbuttoning his shirt. The thought of Dean slipping to his knees, and wrapping his fingers around Victor’s dick was one that almost caused him to panic because the last thing he wanted was to give the kid any indication he was attracted to him. Not only was Dean a wanted felon, but he also killed supernatural creatures, all of which Victor was still processing, so adding wanting to get into his pants into the equation just wasn’t going to happen.

Dean eased the shirt off Victor’s shoulders, looking at the wound.

“Sit down,” Dean ordered, and Victor sat on one of the chairs, draping himself over the back of it.

“Drink some of this.” Dean passed a bottle of whisky over Victor’s shoulder.

He took it and knocked back a couple of mouthfuls, shaking his head as the buzz hit. Dean took the bottle back and pulled up another chair to sit behind him. Victor couldn’t help that spike of want that hit him again at having Dean so close and seemingly unconcerned at being there.

“Hold still, this is gonna hurt.” Dean placed a hand between Victor’s shoulder blades, and poured whisky over the wound.

“Jesus, fuck!” Victor gripped the chair, tensing up against the pain.

“Can’t be too careful.”

Dean unconsciously rubbed Victor’s back until he began to relax just a little.

“And again.” This time Victor tensed up before the liquid hit.

‘Son of a bitch,” He snarled out through gritted teeth.

Dean grinned and patted his back.

“After that, this is gonna be a piece of cake.”

Dean worked fast, pulling the skin together with a neat row of stitches. He bent close over Victor’s back, close enough that his breath occasionally ghosted over Victor’s skin. Dean cut the thread, thankfully, Victor thought, with scissors and not his teeth. A last breath hit Victor’s neck, leaving a trail of goose bumps in its wake, then Dean patted him on the other shoulder, and taped a dressing over the stitched up wound.

“There ya go, FBI, good as new.”

“Thanks. So what now?”

“You’re done.” Dean threw a shirt at him as he stood up, and Victor pulled it on. He’d never been one for plaid before, but it was soft and comfortable, so he buttoned it up.

“Your turn.”

“I’m fine,” Dean shrugged.

“Fine is seeping through your shirt.”

“It’s not exactly seeping,” Dean grumbled, but he winced and Victor guessed there was more to the damage than grazed skin.

“Let me take a look,” Victor insisted.

Dean slipped off his shirt and pulled up his tee. Victor hissed at the extensive bruising over his ribs, and couldn’t help looking at the other scars that were revealed. He ran his hand over Dean’s ribcage, checking to see if there was anything broken. Dean panted, and let out a long breath as Victor stepped back.

“No breaks, but that grazing could do with seeing to.”

Dean nodded, and allowed Victor to tend to him, sitting down on the edge of one of the beds when he was done.

“Look, I don’t know what your plans are, but I need to eat, and I need to sleep.”

“Right now, I have no idea what I’m going to do.” Victor shook his head.

“I know it’s a lot to take in. There’s a spare bed, and I’m gonna pick pizza up, so if you wanna stay and put off any decisions until the morning, the offer’s there.”

“You trust me?”

“Not entirely, but as you said, now you know what’s out there.”

Victor nodded, and pulled his wallet from his pocket. He took out a couple of twenties and held them out for Dean to take. “Okay, but I’m buying. You said yourself, hunting doesn’t pay well.”

Dean hesitated, but he must have heard the humor in Victor’s voice because he smiled as he took the bills.

“Just because you’re buying me dinner, doesn’t mean I’m gonna put out.” Dean winked, and left, leaving Victor spluttering.

~*~*~*~*~*~
“You just left a Fed in our room.” Sam fell into step as Dean strode off towards the pizza place.

“Yeah, I know,” Dean shrugged. “I think he’s okay.”

“He’s okay, I suppose,” Sam admitted reluctantly. “He didn’t do too badly against the vamps.”

“”Glad you were there too. If you hadn’t warned me about the girl, neither of us would have made it out.”

“I didn’t see her face until the last minute.”

“You did good, Sammy.” Dean smiled at him.

“Victor would make a great inside man.”

“You’ve been watching too many movies,” Dean shook his head.

“Think about it, Dean. If he really is cool with all of this, think of all the information he could get you. He could send you X files to look into.”

Dean snorted. He ruffled Sam’s hair then looked around to see if anyone had noticed the odd gesture. To anyone else, it would look like he was petting thin air.

“He could be useful, but be careful, Dean.”

“I will. Why don’t you stay with him until I get back?”

Sam disappeared and left Dean to buy pizza and a six pack.

~*~*~*~*~*~
Sam watched Victor. He didn’t make any calls to turn them in, which Sam was glad about, and he glanced around the room. He spotted Dean’s bag, but Sam was pleased that although he could tell that Victor was itching to look inside, he didn’t. Instead, he picked up Dean’s gun, giving it the once over, then he pulled Dean’s knife from its sheath, whistling to himself at the well kept, razor sharp blade.

Later, after pizza, they lay on the beds, Sam curled up against Dean’s side.

“I still can’t believe we did that. Well, you killed them, but seeing them, seeing they were real and wanted to kill us …” Victor shuddered. “Are werewolves real?” he asked almost sheepishly.

“Yes, and no, I’m never taking you on a werewolf hunt. If it’s any consolation, Bigfoot isn’t real.”

“It’s not, but thanks,” Victor grinned and stole a glance at Dean who was lying on his back, eyes closed.

“Ask, whatever you want to know.”

“Excuse me?”

“I can tell you’re itching to, so ask.”

“Okay,” Victor paused. “What really happened to your Mom?”

Dean lay silent for a while. Sam nudged his brother. “Tell him, it’s okay.”

“When I was four and Sammy was six months old, a demon came into his nursery. It pinned my Mom to the ceiling and burned her up. My Dad got us out. He took us and ran, and he’s spent a good part of his life hunting it down.”

“Did he find it?”

“No, not yet. But he will.”

“So, demons. Ghosts are one thing, poltergeists , vampires, werewolves even, but demons? I’m having a hard time with that one, man.”

“Just hope you never run into one. Here.” Dean dug something out of his pocket and threw it at Victor.

“What’s this?”

“Anti possession charm. Keep it with you, and you’ll be okay.”

Victor looked at it, turning it over in his hand. “Looks like the same symbol as your tattoo.”

“Yeah, can’t be too careful.”

“So how many hunters are there?”

“You asking as you you or FBI you?”

“Me me.” Victor rolled his eyes.

“Honestly? I’ve no idea. It’s a loose network, there’s no real organization. Most people get into it like my Dad did, because they lost someone, or they saw something and they couldn’t go back to a normal life. There’s ways of finding others, if a job is too big for one or two to take on. A lot live on the road. I’ve met one or two who protect the towns they live in, but it’s not exactly something that fits in with a nine to five or a regular job. So …”

“So you use credit card fraud to finance hunting?”

“That and hustling pool. Others have other ways, but this is how I was brought up. If the credit card companies want to send me cards, then that’s up to them. I don’t steal cards from regular people.”

Victor sighed. “I’m still having a hard time processing all this.”

“Get some sleep.” Dean yawned. “We can talk more in the morning.”

Henriksen fell asleep first, then Dean until Sam was left alone in the dark. He willed himself away to a park on the edge of town where he sat through the night until well after the sun had come up.

~*~*~*~*~*~
Victor woke just after dawn. He rolled onto his side and watched Dean stretching, the shirt he was wearing riding up to reveal a strip of smooth skin at his waist.

“Mornin’.” Dean grunted.

Victor blushed at having been caught admiring the view so openly. Dean grinned, and slowly got out of bed, stretching enough that Victor wondered if he was putting on a show.

“I’m gonna take a shower.” Dean reached down and caught hold of the hem of his tee. He slowly peeled it off over his head and threw it back over his shoulder towards his empty bed. When he glanced back at Victor, he smirked as if he knew exactly what was going on in his head.

Dean didn’t give Victor any more encouragement. He sauntered into the bathroom, Victor heard him take a piss and turn on the shower. Victor hesitated, but there was a chance that they’d never see each other again, and Victor wanted to know what Dean sounded like when he came. Victor stripped off his clothes on the way to the bathroom, leaving them where they fell. When he pulled back the shower curtain, he saw that Dean had already soaped up his skin, and he pressed Dean up against the tiled wall, the full length of his body sliding against Dean’s. Dean shuddered and reached behind him, his hand slipping over Victor’s damp skin, across his hip and round to grab one of his ass cheeks, pulling him closer. Victor’s dick slid between Dean’s cheeks, so Dean canted his hips back and moaned as Victor ground against him. When Dean reached down to grasp his own cock, Victor pulled his hand away and replaced it with his own.

Victor mouthed Dean’s neck, nipping at the soft skin as he pulled back enough to push his dick between Dean’s thighs so that it scraped across the underside of Dean’s balls every time he thrust his hips. Dean moaned and Victor took the opportunity presented by Dean’s perfect mouth opening with a sigh and kissed him, something Dean returned with enthusiasm. Their bodies slipped and slid against each other Victor’s cock hard and insistent between Dean’s legs. Dean clenched his muscles, drawing a groan from Victor and after another couple of thrusts, he spurted over Dean’s balls, and pulled Dean’s orgasm from him with a relentless hand.

Dean turned round and wrapped his arms around Victor’s neck, kissing him lazily as Victor ran soap covered hands over Dean’s body, and through his hair. Dean returned the favor, making sure that the dressing on Victor’s shoulder didn’t get too wet.

They dressed in companionable silence, and Dean stuffed his belongings into his bag.

“So what now?” Victor asked.

“Call me if anything else comes up.” Dean shrugged. “What about you?”

“I find somewhere to stay for a few days and have a real vacation before I go back. As far as hunting goes, I haven’t decided yet. I can’t turn my back on this.”

Impulsively, Dean threw him a cell phone.

“What’s this for?”

“My number is programmed into it. If you need to contact me, use that.”

Victor turned it over in his hand, and Dean thought he was going to say he didn’t need it.

“Yeah, okay.”

~*~*~*~*~*~
Ten minutes later, Victor took off, and Sam came charging across the parking lot.

“Is he gonna do it? Be our mole in the FBI?”

“I didn’t ask,” Dean shrugged.

“Dean!” Sam whined.

“Can it, squirt. He’s gonna let me know if he sees anything that might be our kind of thing. That’s enough for now. Time to go.”

~*~*~*~*~*~
One night, Victor was about to head to bed when he got a call.

“Agent Bonham,” he grinned. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m in a bar half an hour’s drive from your place.”

The rough edge to Dean’s voice told Victor exactly what Dean really wanted.

“Give me the address.”

As he drove, he wondered what the hell he was doing, but he itched to get his hands on Dean again. The kid was addictive, and Victor couldn’t resist.

He spotted Dean sitting at the counter in the bar. He was slugging back a shot, and he motioned for the bartender to give him another one. She filled his glass and winked at him.

Victor felt a spike of jealousy as Dean grinned back at her and sat down next to him, glaring at her.

Dean arched an eyebrow, and smirked as Victor leaned over and drank his shot. The bartender brought another glass and filled them both up.

“Who’s your friend?” She asked Dean and leered at Victor.

“Someone who doesn’t like to share,” Victor growled.

“Possessive much?” Dean asked as she walked away.

“Is that a problem?” Victor didn’t know where it was coming from, but he didn’t want to think of anyone else touching Dean.

“No, it’s not.” Dean knocked back his shot, and stood up, looking over at the door.

Outside, he led Victor round the corner into a dimly lit alley.

“Wanna blow you.” Dean pushed Victor against the wall, sank to his knees, and freed his rapidly hardening cock.

Victor bit back a moan as Dean rubbed his lips over the head of it, parting them little by little, easing it into his mouth.

“Fuck,” Victor growled and dug his fingers into Dean’s short hair as he slowly deep throated him. Dean’s warm, wet mouth worked him, pulling off and slamming back down until Victor got the hint and held Dean’s head as he fucked his mouth. His initial caution receded as Dean groaned around him, and fumbled at the zipper of his own jeans. Dean was getting off on being used in an alley like a cheap hooker and it got Victor off so damned fast he would have felt embarrassed if Dean hadn’t taken away his ability to think straight.

Dean pulled off, licking at the corners of his mouth, and leaned back so Victor could watch him come, spunk splattering on the dirty ground. He licked his fingers clean, and tucked himself away as Victor did the same. He was still dazed when Dean stood up and kissed him, making sure he tasted himself on Dean’s mouth.

“Call me.” Dean smirked and left Victor standing in the alley, wishing he didn’t have a half hour’s drive ahead of him before he could face plant in bed. For a fleeting moment, he thought of going after Dean and taking him home for the night, but he shook his head and chided himself. That wouldn’t have been the wisest of moves. With a sigh, he headed back to the car, wondering when he’d see Dean again.

~*~*~*~*~*~
While Dean was waiting for Victor to show up, Sam stood in a park not far from the motel they’d checked into after they’d gone their separate ways from John. A small enthusiastic spaniel called Sasha had followed him as he walked through town, and was happily chasing after a stick that Sam obligingly kept throwing for her.

“Where’s Dean?” Tessa appeared by Sam’s side.

Sasha yapped at her, but stopped when Sam threw her stick again, and went chasing after it.

“Getting laid, hopefully. He was wired, so I left him alone.”

Sometimes, Sam would stay away, letting Dean have some privacy so he could hook up with someone. Women and men were attracted to his brother, Sam wasn’t blind. He knew when Dean needed the company, or just plain needed to get laid. Sam might not have grown up, but he knew the mechanics of sex and Dean was always less cranky if he was getting some every now and again.

Sometimes, Sam wondered if Dean would ever want to stop hunting and find someone to settle down with, have kids even. Or not. Sam had seen Dean leave bars with men as well as women, although they never usually ended up back at Dean’s motel room. And lately, he got the feeling Dean wanted to see Victor again, and not just for the company.

“You look sad,” Tessa observed.

Sam considered saying nothing, shooting the breeze and pretending everything was okay, but in the years since he died, Tessa had become what he supposed was the ghost equivalent of a shrink. As long as he kept in mind she had an agenda, she was always willing to talk with him about whatever was bothering him.

“I saw my Dad. He and Dean went hunting together.”

Out of the blue, John had called, asking for Deans help with a hunt. John was fast and efficient. And once they were done, he was gone as quickly as he’d arrived, with a brusque nod at Dean and a promise of a beer at the Roadhouse next time they met up. Seeing John always left Sam unsettled, and he wandered off as soon as they’d hit town.

“You miss him?”

“Yeah. So does Dean. He doesn’t say anything, but I know he misses him.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“Tired.” Sam thought of the Impala, and a second later he was sitting in her. He pulled a blanket from under the seat, curled up and pretended he was sleeping, just like he’d done so many times when he’d been alive.

~*~*~*~*~*~
“Grab your stuff. We’re heading to St Louis.” Reidy breezed past Victor’s desk, clearly a man on a mission.

“Do I get to ask why?” Victor saved the work he’d been doing and shut down his laptop.

“Dean Winchester is wanted for attacking a young woman. The local PD think he’s still in the area. Going by what we know, it’s doubtful he stuck around, but I want to interview her myself, and hey, we might get lucky. Maybe this is the time he’ll slip up.”

Victor regretted ever getting Reidy involved in his crusade to track down the Winchesters. He took his time getting his stuff together, until Reidy was looking at him as if he’d grown two heads, then tried to look as enthusiastic as he once had over a Winchester sighting. Half way there, he managed to sneak a call to Dean’s cell from a gas station rest room, but it went straight to voice mail. Victor left a curt message telling Dean to lay low and hoped that he picked it up before they arrived.

By the time they got to St Louis, there was a body on a slab in the morgue.

Victor stared down at Dean’s lifeless face. Once, he’d thought that one day, he’d be the one to put Dean away for his crimes. He’d imagined sitting opposite him in an interview room, triumphantly telling Dean how good it felt to know that he was the one to finally bring him to justice. Lately, he’d done his best to keep the young hunter safe from investigation. Either way, there was no victory in it ending this way, with Dean lying there dead.

“Tell me again, what exactly happened?”

“He went back to Rebecca Warren’s house, the girl he attacked, and she shot him. End of story.”

“Where’s his amulet?”

“What?” The cop looked mystified.

“He wears an amulet, never takes it off.”

“I don’t know. Maybe today he made an exception. Here’s the file.” The cop handed the folder to Victor and left him and Reidy alone with the body.

“I thought you’d be pleased. One down, one to go. Now there’s only Daddy Winchester to bring in.”

Victor flicked through the folder, brow furrowed, trying to keep the loss and grief from showing on his face. Dean had been a casual hook up, nothing more, he tried to tell himself, but it wasn’t working. So he did what he did best, he threw himself into the case and forced himself to think of Dean as no-one more important than a dead killer.

“Something doesn’t add up. Usually, he’s a ghost, he’s in and gone by the time anyone arrives on the scene. Torture isn’t his style. Why didn’t he finish the job the first time round, and why go back?” Victor mused. “I want to talk to the girl.”

They stopped by the medical examiner’s office on the way out, flashing their badges.

“You did the autopsy on Dean Winchester, correct?”

The examiner nodded. “I did. How can I help you fellas?”

“Was there anything notable about the body?”

“Well, you’ve got a copy of my report,” he answered and pointed at the folder. “It’s all in there.”

“Right, thanks. I’ve been chasing this kid and his father for years, and it almost seems like he went down too easy. But thanks for your time.” Victor turned to go.

“There was one thing. It doesn’t have any bearing on how he died, so I didn’t bother putting it into the report.”

Victor stepped back into the office, Reidy following.

“His skin was perfect. I mean it had scars in places, but the texture and composition? Not what I would have expected in a man in his twenties, even one in peak physical condition.”

“Perfect?”

“If I’d only gotten a tissue sample for examination, I would have said it was from a newborn. I didn’t even want to try and explain it, so I left it out.”

Victor pulled out a card and handed it to the examiner.

“Can you send me a copy of your findings? And if anything else comes to mind, anything at all, I’d appreciate it if you let me know.”

“Sure thing.”

Victor and Reidy strode out of the building into the sunlight and went to find Rebecca Warren.

 

“I really don’t know what else to tell you, Agent Henriksen. I was attacked by a stranger, and when he broke in again, I shot him.”

“Two shots, straight through the heart. You’re quite the markswoman, Ms Warren.”

“My Dad insisted we have lessons, me and my brother.”

“Your brother Zak?”

“Yes.”

“And the place was quite a mess when the police arrived.” Henriksen flicked through the report.

“I was fighting for my life,” Rebecca explained. “It got rough.”

Victor nodded, noting the way her hands trembled as she picked up her coffee mug from the table. He sipped at his too, and catalogued the healing cuts and bruises on her face. Whatever had happened, the girl had been through a lot, and he didn’t think it was worth making her relive it any further. He put his mug back on the table and smiled at her.

“Thank you for your time, Ms Warren.”

Rebecca saw them out, and they climbed back into the rental car.

“We should celebrate,” Reidy suggested.

“Celebrate what?” Victor threw the case file on the back seat and sighed.

“Celebrate a win. You can cross Dean Winchester off your most wanted list.”

Victor shook his head and stared out of the window.

“Look, Vic, I know you wanted to bring him in yourself, but we don’t get to do this very often. It’s a win for the good guys, and you need closure,” Reidy said solemnly, a grin breaking out on his face when Victor rolled his eyes.

“Okay, Dr Phil, but you’re buying.” Victor gave in. He couldn’t seem too upset in front of Reidy, and Dean deserved a wake, he decided.

~*~*~*~*~*~
In a diner two hundred miles away, Dean’s cell buzzed. He put his burger down and answered it, whispering “it’s Rebecca” to Sam.

“Yeah? Oh, right, thanks for letting me know. Yeah, you too.”

“Fuck!” Dean swore as Rebecca rang off.

“What’s wrong?”

“Victor. He’s just been to interview Rebecca. He probably thinks it’s me lying in the morgue.” Dean hit speed dial. “He’s not answering.”

Dean’s agitation lasted all day as he kept calling and getting no answer, and no call back from Victor. Sam had never seen him as worked up over anyone before. When Victor finally answered his phone, the relief on Dean’s face was plain.

“Vic! Where’ve you been?”

“Bastard! Motherfucking bastard. I thought you were dead.”

“Sorry, man. It was a shapeshifter.”

“Fuck you.”

Victor hung up on him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
The summer after they dealt with the shifter, Dean got a call from John.

Sam listened to the conversation as he went through a book on demons that Bobby had given Dean the last time they’d swung by.

“Hey Dad. You got it? I wish I could have been there. Sure, I’m on my way.”

The surprise and regret in Dean’s voice made Sam pay closer attention as his brother ended the call and put the cell phone down on the table.

“Dad found the demon that killed Mom and took it out.”

“He killed a demon?”

“Yeah, he did.” Dean’s eyes shone with pride. “I wish I’d been there.”

Sam sat back. It was a lot to take in. He closed the book he’d been reading with more force than necessary, knocking it off the table. He didn’t know what use it would be, him studying from a book that stated demons couldn’t be killed, not when John had done exactly that.

“How?”

“I don’t know. He’s waiting for me at the Roadhouse. I guess we’ll find out when we get there.”

Sam nodded and watched Dean pack. They were on their way half an hour later.

The Roadhouse was somewhere they usually avoided. Too many curious hunters and one small ghost didn’t seem like a good mix, so Sam became increasingly agitated the closer they got.

“Relax, Sammy. I’ll park right at the back and grab a drink with him to celebrate. You stay with the car, and if anyone gets too close, get as far away as you can.”

Sam nodded, but impossible butterflies raced around his insides.

Dean ruffled Sam’s hair before he left, and Sam settled down with another book which he lay down on the seat in case anyone came close and saw a book floating in mid air. He was so engrossed that he didn’t realize how long Dean had been gone until the light began to fade. There’d been no activity in the parking lot for an hour, so Sam slipped through the Impala’s door and towards the bar. He didn’t dare go in, so he stood on tiptoe so he could look through one of the windows

He could see Dean and John and a woman with long dark hair sitting at a table, an almost empty bottle in the middle of it. Dean was slumped back in his chair. Sam couldn’t ever remember seeing him as drunk before, and as he watched, John stood up, and helped Dean to his feet, manhandling him towards a door in the back.

John had no idea that as he picked Dean up and carried him to a room he could sleep it off in, Sam was watching through the window. Sam had been worried and hated being kept in the dark, but now he felt something worse. A deep longing to be included in what was going on. To be able to sit and talk to his Dad and the other hunters. And he couldn’t help the pang of jealously that stabbed him in the chest at the sight of John taking care of Dean. This was his existence. He was on the outside looking in. Outside his family, outside the hunting community and outside of life.

He thought himself away from the Roadhouse, to the limit of where he could go from Dean and sat by the side of an empty road wishing he could hitchhike away to some other place far away. He expected Tessa to appear, perhaps sensing that he was vulnerable, but even she left him alone. Just as he reached the bottom, when it was all he could do not to scream that he was ready, that he wanted to go, a large tabby cat walked towards him, purring when he reached out to stroke it. It stayed with him until he felt able to go back to the Impala and wait for Dean.

~*~*~*~*~*~
A few months later, John called asking for Dean’s help with another possible shape shifter, and Dean didn’t hesitate to say yes. Their paths were crossing more frequently now, with meets at the Roadhouse every couple of months and calls and texts creeping back into their routines. But Dean was always wary of how John would take the news of Sam still being around if he ever found out, so working with John came with conditions for Sam.

“You have to stay away, right? One hint of EMF and he won’t let it go, you know that.”

“I know, Dean. Quit nagging.”

Sam was sitting cross legged on the bed furthest away from the door in their latest motel. He was petting a large ginger cat that had appeared from nowhere. It even let Dean stroke it, but Sam knew that never having spent time with cats before, Dean couldn’t get used to how they would wander in and out of the place as if doors didn’t exist.

“I’m serious, Sam.”

“I know, okay?”

“I know you want to see him, but just in case …”

“Jeez, Dean I get it. Quit hitting me over the head with it,” Sam sulked. The cat purred and slinked around Sam’s back.

When John arrived, right on time, Sam and the cat were long gone, leaving Dean on his own to face his father.

~*~*~*~*~*~
Sam ran through the streets, dodging between the Saturday afternoon crowds on the main street of the small town he and Dean had found themselves in. He laughed as someone starts as he zips by, and leaves their hair blowing around their head.

He ran faster, stretching out his legs, and he wondered why it still felt as if his muscles and bones were working beneath skin when he didn’t have any of those things any more. He could be at his destination in the blink of an eye, fade out of one place and into another. It’s a skill that came in really handy on a hunt, but he liked to pretend sometimes that he was a real boy, so he ran. He could feel the sun warming him, and stretched his arms up, whooping as he went and causing the more sensitive souls around him to glance around. They could feel something, but he’s rarely come across anyone else who can see him.

Now he could see it, a wide green strip towards the edge of town. He often wondered why grave yards are so well kept, when all that was left in them was bones and the occasional lost soul. He’d found that he was drawn to them and he thought it was because there were often others like him to be found. Unlike Sam, most of them are waiting to go, needing a pause between life and death. Sometimes, they stay by their graves, lost without the people they’d left behind. Unintentionally, Sam had gotten into the habit of acting as reassurance for those that need it in wherever he and Dean happen to be. Some, especially the older ones, will smile at him, and talk about their lives. Some appreciate him slipping his hand into theirs.

In the last town, he walked through the graveyard with Doris Walton. She held on tightly to his hand and told him about her grand children. Her face brightened as she told him how they loved playing in her yard and climbing into the tree house in the big oak out back. By the time a reaper arrived to take her, she was ready to let go. She hugged Sam, and kissed his cheek and when she turned to go, the reaper nodded at Sam over her shoulder. Some reapers seemed to appreciate his presence, some ignored him altogether, but only Tessa talked to him.

Sam ran through the gates, and straight off the path onto the grass. Several geese were sitting around the place, some on head stones, and Sam ran into them, hollering. They scattered, honking in protest, and Sam chased them, grinning.

“Can you see me?”

Sam ground to a halt at the sound of a girl’s voice, letting the geese waddle off and settle further down the bank. He turned slowly around, but he couldn’t see anyone.

“I’m right here,” a girl grumbled.

Sam swung round and looked deeper into the shade. Sitting with her back against a large tree was a girl who looked about eighteen. Sam walked over, taking his time. Girls still mystified him and he wasn’t sure what to say.

“Hey,” he said as he got closer.

“Hey? You can see me and all you can think of to say is ‘hey’?” she rolled her eyes and got to her feet, smoothing down a pretty flowered dress. “You think they would have buried me in something I liked,” she grumbled.

“Um …,” Sam wished Dean was there. He’d know exactly how to talk to a hot girl, even a dead one.

“It gets better!” Her words dripped sarcasm. “I’m a ghost you know. Gonna run away screaming now?”

“No,” Sam shrugged. “I’m a ghost too.”

The expression on her face changed dramatically and she walked up to him. “Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

“How long?”

“Five years.”

“No way!” she yelled, and spun away, turning back, wide eyed. “I’m going to be here for years? Like this?” she panicked.

“Oh, no. There’ll be a reaper along to take you to the other side soon.”

“A reaper? Like the grim reaper?”

“Not exactly,” Sam explained. “There’s hundreds of them. Has to be for all the souls they take care of.”

“So why are you still here? Did they forget about you?”

“No, I had to stay. My brother, he needed me.” Sam bit his lip.

“So I get a choice? I can stay if I want?”

“No, you have to go. It’s the natural order of things,” Sam quoted Tessa.

“But you stayed.” The girl glared at Sam.

“It’s different,” Sam shrugged. “My family isn’t exactly normal.”

She snorted, then eyed him from under long lashes. “What’s your name?”

“Sam. What’s yours?”

“Rachel. So what was wrong with your family?”

“Nothing.” Sam looked affronted.

“You said they weren’t normal,” Rachel shrugged.

“I didn’t mean there was anything wrong with them. My brother and me, we were … we were attacked. We promised each other that we’d always be together. He lived, I died, but I couldn’t leave him. I swore I wouldn’t.”

“That’s so … noble,” she sighed.

“I suppose.” Sam didn’t know what to do with the compliment so he sauntered over to the tree and threw himself down on the grass. He crossed his legs and sat with his back against the scratchy bark, staring up through the branches into the soft afternoon sky.

“How old are you?” Rachel sat down beside him, close enough to make Sam feel uncomfortable.

“I’m, well I was, fourteen.”

“So if you’d lived, you would be …” she paused to calculate. “Nineteen. You’d be nineteen. Don’t you wonder what you’d look like now if you were still alive?”

“No,” Sam lied.

“I would,” Rachel paused again, her face thoughtful. “I’m never going to get older.”

“I guess not.”

“Never going to fall in love or get married,” her voice was rising and her eyes were getting wider.

“No, but you’ll get to do other things.” Sam wasn’t sure about that, but it was the only reassurance he had to give.

“I … I’m never going to see the world or have kids or …” Rachel burst into tears.

Sam didn’t know what to do. Dean would know, he was used to dealing with girls, but Sam was out of his depth. He reached forward and put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently.

“It’ll be okay,” he said, and wondered why it was the first thing that came to mind, because he knew it could never be okay, not as far as having the life she thought she’d have went.

“It won’t be!” Rachel threw herself into Sam’s arms.

Sam put his arms around her slowly, as if she might rip herself away when he touched her, but she continued to sob on his shoulder. They sat there for a while, Sam stroking her back, for longer than it took for her to stop crying. Calmer, Rachel settled, and it seemed natural for Sam to leave his arm around her.

“Don’t you want to know what’s on the other side?” she asked.

“Yeah, but the only way to find out is to go there, and I can’t leave Dean,” Sam stared off into the distance. “He doesn’t do well on his own, and I promised. If I could go and come back when I wanted, then yeah, I’d do it.”

They sat for a while and watched the clouds go past.

“Did you have a girlfriend?” Rachel suddenly asked.

Sam snorted. “I was fourteen, am fourteen, whatever.”

“But you’d kissed a girl? Before you died?”

“No not a real kiss,” Sam squirmed under her intense gaze.

“Never? Really?”

“It’s no big deal,” Sam shrugged.

“Course it’s a big deal!” Rachel squawked. “Do you want to kiss me?”

“No!” Sam shuffled backwards, shocked at the suggestion, but curious at the same time. Then he realized he might have hurt her feelings. “Not that you’re not pretty and if I was nineteen, then, of course, but I’m not.”

Rachel bent forward, smiling. “But you are.”

Her mouth was on Sam’s before he had time to object, and by then he didn’t want to object. It wasn’t the best kiss in the world, but for Sam, it was amazing. When she sat back, he stared after her, blushing.

“That was … nice.”

“Rachel, it’s time to go.” Tessa appeared and they both scrambled to their feet, Sam’s face still red.

Rachel grabbed Sam’s hand and stared fearfully at Tessa.

“But I don’t want to go,” she whispered. “I want to stay with my family.”

Tessa raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly at Sam.

“It’s time,” Sam smiled sadly. “You can feel it inside, can’t you? Something’s pulling you on, and you know that’s where you need to go. Let it happen, let go.”

“You feel it too?” Rachel asked.

“Yes, but I can’t.” He hung his head.

“Because of your brother.”

“Yeah.”

Tessa held out a hand, and Rachel took it, holding on to Sam’s for a second longer.

“If you ever do decide to cross over, I might see you again,” Rachel smiled, and Sam had to look away as Tessa wrapped her arms around her and took her to where she was meant to be.

Sam started when Tessa came back.

“I heard what you said, Sam. Do you want to go?”

Sam shook his head, but swallowed and looked down, his face miserable.

“Sam?”

“Sometimes I wonder what it’s like, on the other side. I can feel the pull, like a tug on a piece of string and I wonder …”

No, he didn’t want to go, and he didn’t want to think about it anymore. Without a word, he took off, running fast and hard, tears streaming down his face. He ran all the way back to the motel, and straight through the door, curling up in the corner until Dean got back. He could hear John’s truck pull away as Dean let himself in, and made himself invisible until Dean was settled in bed. He didn’t want to talk, he just needed comfort. He threw himself onto the bed beside Dean.

“Jeez, Sammy, some of us need our beauty sleep,” Dean mumbled and curled around his brother, asleep again in seconds.

Sam closed his eyes and tried not to think of Rachel.

~*~*~*~*~*~
Reluctantly, Victor was persuaded to take a vacation and he headed to Florida. He reckoned a week in the sun might help him come to terms with the dark side of life he’d been on the edge of for years now.

He called Reidy.

“Cal, how’s it going?”

“It’s quiet. I haven’t got you around to find me things to do. You do remember you’re on vacation, right?”

“Yeah, I’m heading down to Florida.”

“Nice! Don’t for get to bring me a present.”

“Idiot.”

“Moron.”

“See you when I get back.”

“Sure thing, Vic. Take care.”

He felt better after talking to his partner. He was a link back to a normal life. Knowing what he knew, it was getting increasingly difficult to do a job that brought him into conflict with hunters. And after he’d made it his ambition to bring John and Dean down, it was difficult to let it go without causing suspicion.

Victor didn’t get far. That night when he stopped, he treated himself to a decent hotel which had a good restaurant attached. He dined on surf and turf, and felt oddly out of place. Everything was too shiny too bright. He’d once aspired to a life with money, a life with status. A decent house in a good neighborhood and a perfect lawn. He’d partly given that dream up after two failed marriages and now he could see it for the sham it would have been. Now he knew what lay beneath the surface of a world most people took for granted.

He sat in the bar later, a handful of empty shot glasses on the counter in front of him. When he looked up he saw a woman looking back at him from across the bar. She smiled, and Victor smiled back, but even though he could see she was interested, he downed his last shot and headed to bed alone. There was only one person he wanted, and it wasn’t her.

In the morning, he dug out the cell that Dean had given him, and sat and stared at it all the way through the sumptuous breakfast he had room service deliver. It took him until he was on his last cup of coffee to make the call. It was hard for him to keep what he had with Dean casual. But it wasn’t like they could ever have much else together.

“Dean, it’s Victor. No, there’s nothing wrong. I’m headed north again. Where will you be tonight?”

~*~*~*~*~*~
They met in a bar, grabbed a few beers and headed to Dean’s motel room. When Dean closed the door behind them, and pushed victor up against the wall, Victor expected it to be a quick, hard fuck. They hadn’t seen each other for a while, and Victor felt hunger for Dean clawing at him, but Dean undressed him slowly, pushing his jacket off, then taking his time unbuttoning his shirt, kissing him in between buttons, his mouth curved into a smile. Victor followed Dean’s lead, undoing his jeans and pushing them down over his hips. He sank to his knees, rubbing his face against the bulge in Dean’s boxer briefs as he untied the laces on Dean’s shoes, so he could slip them off, followed by his jeans and boxers.

Victor nuzzled Dean’s dick, drinking in the scent of him before opening his mouth and tasting. Small licks at first, then full swirls around the head, which made the length of it twitch. Victor grinned as Dean’s hands ran over his head.

“Please,” Dean begged.

Victor rewarded him by opening his mouth and leisurely sucking his cock, until Dean’s hips began to pulse forward in search of more. But that wasn’t how Victor wanted him to come. He pulled back, working just the swollen head, running his tongue over it then sucking on it, enjoying the effects it had on Dean as he whimpered and moaned. Victor slipped his hands over Dean’s ass cheeks, cupping them and pulling him closer, so close that the thatch of hair at the base of his dick tickled Victor’s nose.

One last lick from root to tip, and Victor pulled off, standing and dragging Dean towards the bed. He shed the last of his own clothes and tugged Dean’s t shirt off over his head, turning him over as soon as he was naked. He kissed his way down Dean’s back, his intent plain, which made Dean writhe and tense up in anticipation of the warm, wet tongue swiping down the crease of his ass. As Victor pulled Dean’s cheeks apart, he dove deeper, pushing the tip of his tongue against Dean’s hole, running it over the furled muscle, which quivered as he licked it.

“Vic, please, you’re killing me,” Dean groaned, canting his hips back in such a wanton display of lust Victor couldn’t help slapping his ass. Dean instantly stilled, but then pushed against the hand that was still lying on the reddening skin. Victor raised his hand again, bringing it down with the same force, and Dean whimpered, his hands clenching in the bed covers. Victor smoothed his hand over Dean’s ass, and slapped it again, watching as Dean gasped out, his eyes closed.

Victor couldn’t wait any longer. He slipped off the bed and grabbed lube and a condom from his jacket. He got back on the bed between Dean’s spread thighs, and nudged them wider with his knees as he stroked his neglected dick, rolling the condom on and slicking it up. He pushed a lubed finger inside Dean, as deep as it would go, twisting it and turning it, grazing Dean’s prostate, but not lingering, teasing him until he begged again.

“Fuck me?” Dean groaned. “Please, Vic?”

Victor pushed another finger inside, drawing out his preparations which made Dean squirm and pant and so when he finally gave Dean what he wanted, Victor slipped straight into Dean’s body, sighing as it gripped him, hot and tight. Victor pulled Dean onto his knees, fucking him slowly, holding Dean’s hips steady so Dean couldn’t push back against him. He stroked his thumbs over Dean’s pale skin, and took one hand away to wrap around Dean’s dick. He worked it hard, stopping briefly to raise his hand to his mouth and lick at the salty pre come that had leaked from the slit. He moaned at the taste and let go of Dean, fucking into him as Dean pushed back, demanding more. Victor bent forward, covering Dean’s body with his, kissing his neck until Dean turned to kiss him. Victor’s tongue slid over Dean’s lips as he tugged on Dean’s cock, pulling an orgasm from him as he kissed him, feeling Dean’s mouth soften as he came over Victor’s hand, come dripping down onto the bed.

Dean’s body pulsing around his dick had Victor straightening and grabbing Dean’s hips so he could power into him, thrusting harder with each stroke until Dean’s head snapped back, and Victor came with a growl, his hand grasping Dean’s shoulder.

Exhausted, sweaty, stuck together, they lay wrapped around each other and Victor stroked Dean’s hair until the young hunter fell asleep.

He woke up to find Dean watching him. He guessed from the lack of light coming in through the curtains that he hadn’t been sleeping long.

“Hey.” He reached up and traced a finger down the line of Dean’s jaw.

Dean closed his eyes and leaned into the touch. When he opened them again, he bent down and kissed Victor. It wasn’t a hot and dirty kiss, it was tender, gentle almost, the kind that lovers shared. Victor lay quietly and soaked up the affection Dean gave him until Dean sat back and began to talk.

“Sammy died in Kirby Woods. We were hunting what we thought was responsible for the abductions in Albion, and Sam had the idea that it was holed up in some disused mine workings. We were only an hour in when it came out of nowhere. It picked Sammy up like he was a doll, and as it threw him away, it disemboweled him. He was dead before he hit the tree. I ran at it, and that’s how I got these.”

Dean ran his hand over the faded scars on his stomach.

“Dad carried me back to the car and drove me to the hospital. A friend went in and brought Sammy’s body out and he was given a hunter’s send off while I was still out cold. Salted and burned, even though he hated the life. He only ever wanted to be a normal kid.” Dean’s voice had died down to a whisper.

Victor reached for him and pulled him close.

“I’ve never told anyone that before.”

“You didn’t have to tell me.”

“Yeah, I did.”

Victor held him until he fell asleep.

 

They went their separate ways in the morning, but not before Victor caught hold of Dean’s wrist and pulled him close, kissing him goodbye. Dean left with a grin on his face, and Victor drove back to DC thinking that his vacation had been a good thing after all.

Two weeks later, Dean got a call from Victor.

“Hey, FBI. What’s up?” Dean couldn’t help grinning.

“I came across something today that seemed more like your thing than mine.”

“The FBI needs my help? Wow, that’s a first.”

“No, I need your help, because this case is dripping with all kinds of crazy and David Duchovny doesn’t actually hang out in the basement here.”

“Okay man, give me the details.”

“It’s a big file. Is there anywhere we can meet?”

“I’m heading towards South Dakota. Should be there by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Okay, I’ll head in that direction, and call you when I get close.”

“Sure, man. See you then.”

Dean rang off, and grinned at Sam, who’d been listening to the conversation with curiosity.

“Looks like you’ve got your inside man after all.”

~*~*~*~*~*~
Dean missed a call while he was in the shower, and picked up his voicemail as he dried himself off.

“Dean. Can’t make South Dakota. I’ve been pulled onto a task force looking into more abductions in Albion. I’ll call you when I can.”

“Damn it.” Dean cursed. He called the cell number, but it went straight to voicemail.

“Vic, watch your back. You know this is more my thing than yours. I’m on my way.”

Dean immediately began stuffing his things back into his bag.

“Sammy!!” he yelled into the empty room.

“What’s up?” Sam appeared in the corner.

“Vic’s headed to Albion on an abduction case.”

Being a ghost didn’t stop Sam from blanching. “It’s early. Are we going? Dad told you …”

“I don’t care what he told me! That was seven years ago and I’m not letting anything happen to Victor.”

Sam nodded and they worked together, gathering their stuff and packing it into the Impala. Dean left a message for John before they set off, and he drove like hellhounds were on their tail, his mouth set in a grim line. Sam knew how much Victor had come to mean to Dean, even if he didn’t talk about it. Dean didn’t have friends. His family wasn’t exactly normal, with a ghost for a brother, a father he stayed away from out of necessity and a grouchy adopted uncle in Bobby. Now he had Victor too, and Sam was determined that no matter what happened, Dean wouldn’t lose Victor.

They drove through the night, to a place they’d never returned to after Sam was killed. Sam sat beside him, staring at Dean’s journal as he reread everything they had on the thing that had ultimately turned him into a ghost.

He glanced in the rearview mirror. If he’d lived, he’d have been twenty-one now. Perhaps he’d have been tall, given his genetics, and the way he’d just about started to sprout before that had all been taken away from him. He turned his face to the side and back again. He looked like the same kid he’d been before he died, but he wasn’t. He found it easy to act like a kid, bouncing around, getting excited when Tessa found him a dog to play with, but there was another side to him. The side that had fought side by side with Dean for almost seven years. The part that was a store of knowledge built up over years of hunting. He wasn’t a kid anymore, but he’d never grow up. Sam shook his head and went back to reading.

They got into Albion and holed up in a motel on the far side of town from the small neat house they’d been living in the first time around. Memories hung in the air, and Sam shivered. He was antsy, and disappeared when Dean went to get something to eat.

Sam materialized on the edge of the woods where he’d been killed. He remembered the monster, the screaming, he remembered flying through the air and then the silence as he and Dean stood together looking out their bodies in the trees.

“It’s probably too much to ask, but did you come here because you feel it’s time to cross over?” Tessa asked as she appeared by his side.

“No,” Sam said, shaking his head. “The thing that we were here to kill the first time round is awake again. Unfinished business, you know how that is.”

“I do.” Tessa smiled.

A cat curled around her ankles, purring and looked up at Sam. He squatted down, and held out his hand. The pretty grey cat with amber eyes slinked around his wrist, rubbing her head against him.

“What’s she called?”

“She hasn’t told me yet.”

“Where does she belong?” he asked.

“You know the answer to that,” Tessa smiled. “Anywhere she pleases.”

Sam sighed, glad of the warmth of the cat’s fur under his fingers.

“It’s getting harder to stay,” he whispered. “But I can’t leave him alone.”

“Would he really be alone? It’s harder for him to be around other hunters because he doesn’t want them to find out about you. And what about your father?”

“Go to hell!” Sam yelled, startling the cat so much she hissed at him and arched her back.

He silently apologized even as he was storming away. She was right and he knew it, but it was him and Dean against the world, and he couldn’t leave him, especially not now.

“What about when this is over?” A traitorous thought slipped through his mind. When the monster was dealt with, this time for good, would it be time to move on?

Sam kicked at a rock, then fizzled into nothingness.

~*~*~*~*~*~
Victor recognized the Impala parked outside a motel, and wandered over to her, stretching his arm down along the line of the windshield.

“Victor? You okay, man?” Dean’s voice made Victor smile.

“Hey, Dean. Yeah, I’m fine, I think.” He reached up and touched his head, frowning when his fingers came back bloody. “Almost fine.”

“What happened to you?”

“I was following up a lead.”

“What kind of a lead?” Dean reached him, and gently pulled him towards the motel room door. “C’mon man, let me look at that for you.”

Victor looked at him for a moment then shrugged. “Okay.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“Not on duty. Never on duty.” Victor looked offended.

“Okay.” Dean held his hands up. “You just look out of it.”

“It’s been a long day. And I saw the car. I thought you were heading to South Dakota.”

Dean sat him down on the bed, and cleaned the small cut just above his ear.

“I got your message and had to warn you. This case is my kind of thing, not yours.”

“Sorry, but we’ve got jurisdiction.”

“Doesn’t matter. The monster that’s taking people doesn’t care about who’s got what, it’s gonna take two more victims then disappear for another three and a half years if we don’t stop it this time around. It halves it’s hibernation each time it wakes up, and I’m guessing it’s getting stronger every time it feeds.”

“Three more. The first one was a false alarm. The guy was found wandering round a parking lot at a mall on the edge of town.”

“False alarm? That can’t be right.” Dean sat back. “What happened?”

Victor laid it out for him. The assumed missing person was a man in his twenties. He lived an ordinary life, no enemies, no family money that might attract someone looking for a ransom. His family had been distraught, his fiancée in tears. The last time he’d been seen was three days earlier after he left work to head towards home. His car was where he’d left it at work although it wasn’t unusual for him to meet a friend after work, and go home from there, only he’d never turned up, neither at home or in the local bar. Then he’d been found and Victor had headed out to take a look at the area.

“Okay, well, we’ll start there.” Dean brought up a map of the town on his laptop. “Now, make nice with your FBI pals while I check it out. And get some rest. You really do look like shit, man.”

“Whatever.” Vic hand waved him away, and called his assistant director. It went straight to voice mail, so he left a message.

~*~*~*~*~*~
After Dean left, Sam appeared in the motel room. Sam liked Victor. He was smart and funny from what he’d seen so far, and Sam could feel the affection he had for Dean. They were more than friends, Sam knew. Dean had stopped bringing girls back their motel rooms a while back and Victor was the first man his brother had slept with who’d been allowed to stay. Sam knew Dean liked men too, he’d seen the sidelong glances Dean would give sometimes, but no-one else had ever been more than a casual thing.

So Sam sat down on Dean’s bed, and watched Victor sleep. He hummed to himself, an AC/DC track he’d gotten stuck in his head. He got louder as he sat there, studying Victor’s face, then he started singing off key.

“She’s a whole lotta woman!” Sam wailed.

“Keep the noise down, will ya?” Victor pulled one of the pillows over his head and snuggled back down to sleep.

Sam clamped his mouth shut, putting his hands over it and staring at the pillow. He looked warily around. There were no other sounds, bar the quiet hum of the occasional car as it passed the motel. He began to sing again, quietly to start with, no more than a whisper, then ramping it up again.

“She’s a whole lotta Rosie!”

“If you wanted me awake, there are better ways to do it …” Victor muttered sleepily, emerging from under the pillow and looking over at Dean’s bed. He froze.

“You’re not Dean.”

“You can see me?” Sam threw himself over the bed, and onto the floor on the other side, peering over it at Victor.

“See you? Course I can see you. Now scram. The room’s already taken.”

“I, er …” Sam panicked, and blinked out of sight straight into the Impala.

Back in the motel, Victor blinked, now fully awake.

“That wasn’t quite what I meant,” he said to an empty room. He sat up, and fumbled around on the bed for his jacket.

Outside, Sam decided that it couldn’t possibly have been true. Victor must have been dreaming, he couldn’t have seen him. So he strode back in, straight through the wall, whistling. Trying to be confident that Victor wouldn’t see him.

“What the fuck?” Victor yelled, clutching his jacket against his chest like a shield. “This is what I get for keeping bad company.”

“Dean’s not bad company,” Sam scowled. “He’s a good man, and you’re lucky to be his friend.”

Victor took a breath to reply, then he stopped and peered at Sam.

“I know you.” It was a statement, not a question. “I’ve seen your photograph, in the glove box of Dean’s car.”

“Maybe you have,” Sam sighed. That Victor could see him could only mean one thing. “I’m Dean’s brother.”

“You’re dead.” Another statement, this one edged with fear. “You’re a ghost?”

“Yeah,” Sam replied, not wanting to tell Victor the truth, not yet.

And at that point, the door slammed open, and Dean stood there, eyeing them both. “I think we’ve got a problem.”

“No shit, Sherlock.” Victor glared at Dean.

“You’re missing.” Dean pointed at him.

“No, I’m right here.” Victor was getting really pissed at the way the day was turning out. “But I’ve just met your brother, your dead brother.”

“He can see me,” Sam said miserably.

Dean nodded, clearly upset. “Has anyone come for him yet?”

Sam shook his head.

“This is gonna sound all kinds of crazy, but I can’t stress how much I mean it. Don’t go into the light, okay? No matter how hot the chick is that comes for you,” Dean warned Victor. “We need to figure out what’s going on.”

“He’s dead, that’s what’s going on. He wouldn’t be able to see me otherwise.” Sam shook his head.

“Dead? I’m not dead, I’m right here!”

“Look, Vic, tell me everything you remember before you arrived in the parking lot yesterday.”

“I got up, had breakfast with Reidy, called in for more men, went to check out the parking lot on the edge of town …” he paused, frowning. “Then I, er that is we … then I was here, and you were walking towards me.”

“Ah crap.” Dean rubbed a hand over his face. “The FBI just asked for volunteers to sweep the area looking for you. You went missing from the parking lot. Did anyone know where you were going?”

“Yeah, I called it in, it’s in the logs.”

“Okay, so they’ll have checked out the parking lot and not found anything.”

“Wait, back up. I’m … here. With you. And your walking, talking dead brother. On second thoughts; I’m pretty sure I must be dreaming.”

“You’re a shade, a spirit. I can usually tell the difference straight off. ”

“But I can touch things, I … touched you.”

“Yeah, you did.” Dean blushed and glanced at Sam.

Sam slapped his hand down on the table. “Some of us can do that. Some stuff takes practice.”

“So whoever took me killed me? Ah no, I can’t be dead.” Victor got up and paced around the room. “Not dead, so not dead.”

“Sam, can you speak to Tessa? She might be able to help us find out where the body … where he is. He’s gotta be close.”

“You want me to ask a reaper here? She’ll have to try and take him.”

“Sammy, she’s got a soft spot for you.”

“Fine,” Sam grumbled.

All he had to do was think her name, and she appeared beside them.

“Who the hell are you?” Victor backed away, buttoning his shirt up, and looking around for his gun.

“This is Tessa. She’s a reaper,” Sam made the formal introductions. “Please don’t take him yet, we need to know where his body is.”

“Take him? He’s not ready to be taken, Sam.” Tessa peered at Victor. “He’s in between life and death.”

“Ask her if she knows where his body is,” Dean asked.

“You can’t see her?” Victor queried.

“No. Humans can’t see reapers. Not under normal circumstances.”

“I get the feeling things will never be normal again,” Victor grumbled.

“No, there’s a powerful aura around the woods, it’s muddying everything,” Tessa frowned.

Sam repeated what she’d said to Dean.

“Great. Damn it, we have to find you, and fast.” Dean whirled around and faced Victor. “How do you feel?”

“Apart from shell shocked and pissed off? Peachy.”

“No, do you feel the same as yesterday? When I first saw you, you were a little out of it, like you’d been drinking.”

Sharp memories lanced through Victor’s skull. Black, tree bark, the impression of a large bulk nearby, and a sharp slice to his arm. Then things became woozy.

“It drugged me.” Victor looked down at the crook of his arm and gasped as a ragged wound appeared.

Sam pulled the laptop towards himself as Dean grabbed his journal, both of them coming up empty.

“Venom?” Sam asked.

“That’s my guess.” Dean slammed the journal closed.

“Dean?”

Dean turned around just in time to see Victor flicker and vanish.

“No!”

The door behind them burst open and Sam leapt back as John ran into the room.

“Dean! You okay?”

He grabbed Dean by the shoulders and steadied him.

“Whatever killed Sam has a friend of mine. He’s still alive, but barely. You’ll have to trust me on that.”

John nodded, and Sam watched as he dug into his pocket and pulled out two small freezer bags full of powder.

“What the hell?” Dean questioned.

“If I’m right, this is how we defeat it. Blind it with this, and bind it with this.” He held up a page torn from a notebook with neat handwriting all over it. “Blow the powder into its eyes and use the spell to bind it back to its tree. I think it’s a dark dryad. Very rare, and fast growing in power. It was never living in the mine shafts, it’s connected to a tree.”

“If you’re right? You think? That’s not good enough!”

“I’ve spent every minute I could from the day it killed Sam researching and tracking down sources who helped me identify it. You have to trust me on this, Dean. You used to trust me, remember?”

Sam stared at John, shocked at the naked longing in his eyes, the need to have Dean rely on him again.

“I do. Trust you.” Dean nodded and took a bag from John.

“Okay, lets finish this.” John led the way outside, but Dean walked towards the Impala, and John nodded.

With Sam sitting on the back seat, the Winchesters drove off towards Kirby Woods. Sam fidgeted, nervous at having John in the car with them, but happier than he’d expected to be that his family was together again.

It was tough going, and Sam danced backwards and forwards, hating the sense of déjà vu he was having at being back in the ancient woods that he’d died in. He sprang back to Dean’s side.

“I’m gonna see if I can sense Victor.”

Dean gave him a small nod. Sam hung back, until their footsteps faded a little and he could concentrate. He thought of the man they were looking for. His easy smile, his quick wit, the affection he had for Dean …

Sam started, suddenly standing in a dank cave, hardly able to see anything.

“Victor!” he hissed.

Victor woke up, hardly able to say a word through chapped and parched lips. “Sam? You shouldn’t be here.”

“Dean’s coming for you.”

“I’m bait, Sam. It wants you and Dean. You got away last time.”

There was a creak behind him, and he spun around, coming face to face with the monster that killed him. It was ancient, gnarled and wizened, a tree spirit twisted and corrupted into something horrifying and wrong.

“I remember you,” it hissed. “You died, yet here you are. I’ll have you again, and then I’ll take your family. Suck every last cell dry, until all that’s left is ashes and dust.” It grinned, the gaping maw of its mouth twisted up at the corners.

Sam shuddered, but squared up to it, despite the way it towered over him.

“Nothing you can do to me.” He slammed his hands forward, but neither his touch nor his energy had any impact. The thing looked down at him, and shook in a mockery of laughter.

“Wrong, child. Even the dead can be mine.”

It reached towards him, and it’s hands slipped around his waist. Sam twisted to get away, terror striking his heart when he realized that he couldn’t escape. He thrashed and lashed out, but the thing held him tight.

“You hardly count as an offering. Lucky I’ve got him too,” it scoffed and glanced at Victor, turning towards him, its claws out stretched. Sam screamed as he felt himself begin to disintegrate. “Your brother won’t escape me again, nor will your father.”

“Sam,” Victor croaked. “Go. Warn them. Get them out of here.”

Through the haze of pain, Sam knew what Victor didn’t. There was only one way out for him.

“Tessa!!” He screamed.

Tessa was there, by his side, reaching out for him. Sam’s hands slipped into hers, and the pain stopped as she pulled him away, and into her arms. He sobbed against her shoulder, wishing that he could have seen his brother one more time.

“Dean!”

Sam opened his heart, letting his love for Dean fill the dank cave with a starburst of light that poured out of the cave, blasting up through the tree’s roots and the cracks in the earth, piercing the dark forest above, a beacon to light Dean’s way to Victor.

Sam sank into warmth. He’d always thought crossing over would be cold and lonely. That’s the way the idea of leaving Dean made him feel, but it was warm and comforting, like putting on a soft, worn shirt straight from the dryer and relishing the heat as it soaked into his skin. As he passed through Tessa into the unknown, he was embraced, wrapped in love and tenderness and surrounded by a scent he remembered from memories buried so deep, he felt like a baby again, cradled and safe in arms that loved him.

“Mom …” Sam breathed out.

And then he was gone.

~*~*~*~*~*~
Victor closed his eyes tightly against the blinding light, sagging forward against his bonds. They dug into his arms, making him whimper, and the dark thing swung round to face him. It staggered, and Victor wondered through the fog that filled his mind whether it had been the light, or the love that the thing couldn’t stand.

He’d felt it, pure and clean and powerful. It had made Victor want to be home, not his apartment, but to the house he grew up in, where his parents always welcomed him with open arms and smiles.

Victor felt a single tear drip down his nose. He was about to die in the dark, and he wished he could have seen them one last time.

~*~*~*~*~*~
Dean ran blindly through the trees in the direction Sam had been going, ducking under branches and cursing when others whipped across his face as he went. The flashlight in his hand wasn’t much use at the speed his was going, and he stumbled more than once on his headlong race to get to Sam and Victor in time. He could hear John behind him, heavy footfalls and following close behind.

Ahead and to the right, something lit up the woods, so bright Dean had to shield his eyes as John came to a halt beside him. For a moment, it was bright as day, sunbeams shining upwards through the trees instead of down, reaching out fast in all directions. It hit them both, wrapping around their hearts and blazing onwards, and as it began to fade, they could see where it originated.

“There!” Dean yelled, running towards the ebbing light and towards the base of the tree, which concealed the way underground. Together, they charged headlong into the gloom.

John’s flashlight lit the way, but they slowed by necessity to keep from tripping over exposed roots and rocks strewn over the uneven floor. The strong earthy smell was gradually overpowered by a stench that had them both retching.

“Jesus, that can’t be good,” John coughed and put his hand over his nose.

The cave opened out into a space that was smaller than Dean had expected. Something cracked beneath his feet and he shone the flashlight downwards, grimacing.

“Lives on the bones of the dead,” he muttered under his breath. “Fuck. Victor?” Dean looked around, not seeing the man he’d come for.

“Dean. You gotta … get out,” Victor gasped.

“Shit, Vic?” Dean crunched his way across the floor of the cave, following the sound of Victor’s voice. He paled when he saw Victor hanging by his wrists, the shackles bloody. “Let’s get you outta here.”

“No, go, it’s a trap. It wants you.” Victor passed out again, hanging from the shackles.

Behind him, Dean heard the crunch of heavier feet than his on the carpet of bones. He turned and swung the flashlight around.

“You’re uglier than I expected.”

“It matters not what you think. You escaped me once, and now your energy will feed me and sustain me. Every time I rise, I am stronger, and soon …”

“There’s not gonna be a next time, pal,” Dean snarled.

John ran at it, swinging the axe, and almost severing one of its cruel limbs. Moisture leaked from the wound, more sap than blood, and when it turned to go after its attacker, John blew the powder into its face.

With a roar, it reared back, hands clawing at its eyes.

“Blind it and bind it,” Dean muttered and started the incantation. “By earth and water, air and fire, you will be bound as I desire. By three and nine, your power I bind. By moon and sun, my will be done. By leaf and vine, your power decline, by ash and rowan, the goddess I summon. Let she who made you now enslave you. Back to the earth, back to the earth. Power be bound, power be sealed.”

As he said the words, the monster screamed its rage to the heavens, but the powder and the power of the words held it fast, and drew it down towards the floor of the cave, and the root system of the tree. It bent low, its back cracking and popping as it fell to its knees and its fingers dug into the earth, taking root and becoming as one with the tree that had given it shelter for so long. With the last of the words spoken, Dean took his knife, cut his hand and let a few drops of blood drip down onto the new root system. They disappeared, consumed by the spell that had turned the monster into wood for all eternity.

Dean turned, but John was there, hacking at Victor’s shackles with the axe. Dean caught him as he fell, and held him up, putting all his energy into getting Victor to a hospital. He couldn’t think of Sam. He’d felt his brother leave when the light washed over him, and he couldn’t think about that until Victor was safe. Dean felt his load lighten, and turned to see John slip under one of Victor’s arms, helping Dean get him to safety. Dean looked around at the bones on the floor.

“Once he’s safe, we’ll come back and torch it,” John growled.

“Yes sir,” Dean agreed.

The walk out of the woods took longer than Dean was comfortable with, but even with two of them carrying him, Victor wasn’t a small man. Dean had never been happier to see the Impala as he was when they finally emerged from the woods. John helped him lay Victor on the back seat.

“You’re John Winchester,” Victor slurred and blinked up at John. “I dunno whether to take you in or buy you a beer.”

“Let’s get you to a hospital first, then you can decide,” John said, and patted him on the shoulder.

“’kay.” Victor passed out again, much to Dean’s relief.

Dean drove to the emergency room in Albion, helping Victor inside, then telling the nursing staff he was going to move his car. He wanted to stay, to make sure Victor was fine, and be there when he came round, but he knew he had to go, to disappear from Albion again. And this time, once the bones were burned, he wouldn’t be coming back.

Dawn was breaking as he drove to the motel to pick up his stuff. John’s truck was already parked in front and Dean parked the Impala next to it. He packed his bag methodically, making sure nothing was left behind. Now he focused on the task at hand, and followed John to the edge of the woods again, one last time. Dean was running on empty, which must have been clear to John.

“I can do this. Why don’t you grab some sleep?”

“No, I need this.” Dean grabbed the bag of salt as John picked up the gasoline can, and they walked with purpose into the woods.

As deep as they were, not much light reached the forest floor until they got to the tree they were looking for. It stood in a clearing, surrounded by a ring of barren earth. Nothing grew close to it, and the closest trees seemed to be shrinking away, pulling their branches out of it’s reach. The handful of leaf springs growing from it were the only signed that there was life left in it. The rest was dry, brittle, and almost black with age.

As they reached it, Dean steeled himself and made his way into the cave. He took great pleasure in dousing gasoline on the misshapen lump he knew had been the monster that killed Sam. John scattered salt about the cave, over the bones on the floor, and as they made their way back into the woods, Dean flicked his lighter open, made sure there was a decent flame, and tossed it back into the depths of the cave.

He heard it take light, and scrambled the rest of the way out. John grabbed his arm, and pulled him into the clearing. As the roots burned, they did the same with the tree, and stood back to watch as it began to blaze. The barren earth around it acted as a fire break, and Dean was sure the woods were still too damp for the fire to spread. Even so, they kept watch.

Dean could have sworn he heard an inhuman shriek as the ground collapsed beneath the tree, forming a huge fire pit in the earth.

“That’s for killing my brother.”

“For Sammy,” John added.

They stood in silence for a while, then began to make their way out of the woods again.

“The light last night. That was Sam. I felt him.” John didn’t ask, he stated.

“Yeah.” Dean guessed it was time to come clean. “He didn’t cross over when he died. He stayed around. Took me a while to figure it out, and be able to see him, but yeah, that was Sam.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I thought you’d send him away, and I didn’t want to lose him again. He was a ghost, and that’s what we do. We get rid of them.”

“It would have been the right thing to do.” John shook his head. “But I couldn’t have done it either,” he admitted.

Knowing that lifted Dean’s broken heart enough to get him back to the Impala. They headed to Bobby’s, Dean continually glancing at the empty passenger seat, something he knew he’d never get used to.

It was dark when they arrived at Bobby’s. He fed them, and shooed Dean upstairs to sleep in the small room Sam and he had once thought of as their own. Only then did Dean let himself think about Sam.

Dean didn’t know what had happened in the cave, not yet, but he guessed that Sam had given himself up to save Victor, which was, Dean admitted to himself with a snort, the Winchester way. He buried himself under the covers of the small bed, wishing with all his heart that Sam would materialize behind him, sharp elbows digging in, but that was gone for good.

Dean slowly let it out, the loneliness and anger, the pain and the hurt. All he’d wanted was to have Sam with him, but not as a ghost. He’d wanted his brother alive, wanted to see him grown up. And when the chance of that was ripped from him, he’d gladly taken the next best thing.

As Dean silently cried, the bed dipped and for a moment, Dean thought it was Sam. But John’s larger hand soothed his back, never once lifting the covers off him, letting him have the privacy he needed to let out everything he’d held in side since Sam had died the first time.

John didn’t leave until Dean was done, and was breathing easier. He patted his shoulder through the covers and Dean heard him say, “sleep, son.”

Dean curled up into a tighter ball and slept for twelve hours.

When Dean finally climbed out of bed and hauled his ass downstairs, there was a pan of stew sitting on Bobby’s stove. John served him up a huge bowl full and he dug in as if he hadn’t eaten for a week.

“I called the hospital, or rather assistant Director Marshall did. Your FBI friend is going to be okay. It’ll take a while before he’s fully recovered, but he’ll be fine.”

“Good.” Dean nodded.

After breakfast, Dean pulled on his jacket and wandered out into the yard. There was a blue two door Impala standing by the sheds at the back, and Dean nosed around in her engine compartment, musing to himself that it wouldn’t take much to get her going again.

He jumped when he heard a squeak behind him, and he turned to find Buster panting up at him, his toy by Dean’s feet.

“You miss him too, huh?” he asked the dog as he picked the toy up and threw it as far as he could.

Buster woofed happily and chased off through the cars looking for it.

Dean turned back to the car, but there was someone standing beside it. He was tall, and he was gazing around with a wistful look on his face. Dean took a step back. The man’s shaggy chestnut hair hung down across his face and as Dean watched, he pushed it back and turned his gaze to where Dean was standing. A smile grew, causing deep dimples to appear on his cheeks.

“Sammy?” Dean’s voice was hoarse.

“Yeah, Dean, it’s me.”

“But you’re so … big!” He’d never expected to see Sam again, and seeing him all grown up was like a punch to Dean’s chest. Dean eyed his brother, estimating he was at least three inches taller than Dean was himself.

“Soon as I let go, I became what I should have been.” Sam walked closer, his hands deep in his pockets.

“Is it ... are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, better than fine. It’s … well, you’ll have to wait and see for yourself. But you’ve got a whole life to live first.”

“I miss you.” Dean found himself choked up, and blinked back tears.

“I miss you too.” Sam sounded like the kid who’d been driving around with Dean in the Impala three days ago.

Dean strode forward, and pulled him into a hug, clinging on to the solid form. Sam’s arms wrapped around him, and they stood there until Buster came back, impatient for their attention. Reluctantly, they let each other go.

“What happens now?” Dean asked,

“I have work to do.” Sam smiled again. “But I can’t tell you about it.”

Dean rolled his eyes.

“How’s Victor?” Sam asked.

“He’s going to be okay.”

“Good,” Sam smiled. “I guess I should be going.”

“I guess so.” This time, Sam grabbed a hold of Dean and wrapped his arms around him, while Dean held on tight, not wanting to ever let go.

Reluctantly, Sam backed away, beginning to fade into nothingness.

“Wait! If no-one can come back once they’ve crossed over, how did you get here?”

“I learned a lot from cats.” Sam winked. “See you around, Dean. And play with Buster when you’re here, I think he’s got a long wait.”

Dean raised his hand to wave, but Sam was already gone.

~*~*~*~*~*~
Victor stood by the window in his apartment and gazed out over the city. It was three am, and there was hardly anyone out in the neighborhood. It didn’t stop a shiver going down his spine.

“Take some time off, book an appointment to see the counselor.” His section chief had suggested. A politically correct way of saying, “pull yourself together”.

Thing was, if he talked about everything he remembered, he’d never be allowed to set foot in the FBI building again. He couldn’t talk about the thing that had taken him and held him captive. Even if he could come clean, he could only remember flashes of a monster with sharp claws and bad breath.

Victor threw back the contents of the glass he was holding, needing the warmth that came with the bourbon hitting his belly.

Truth be told, he was scared. His ordered life had been torn apart in more ways than one. A monster had almost killed him, and a dead kid had helped rescue him. Victor strode to the dining table where his jacket was thrown over the back of one of the chairs. He poked about in the pockets until he found the cell that Dean had given him.

He pressed the button, and it rang twice before a sleep roughened voice answered and damn if the sound of it didn’t catch deep in Victor’s gut.

“Hello?”

Victor closed his eyes and sat down at the table.

“It’s Victor.”

“Hey FBI. You know it’s the middle of the night, right? I mean, they teach you how to tell the time in the academy, don’t they?”

“You think you’re funny.”

“I know I am. So, what can I do for you?”

“What really happened? I’ve got memories … dreams maybe, of things that shouldn’t be real.”

There was a sigh, then silence. Eventually, Dean spoke, and Victor was flooded with relief.

“This isn’t a conversation I want to have over the phone. Can you meet me? I’m in South Dakota.”

“I can be there in a couple of days.”

“Okay.” Dean gave him a place and time.

~*~*~*~*~*~
Dean was already sitting in the diner when Victor pulled up in his new truck. They ordered and waited until the waitress had walked away before they talked.

“You doing okay?” Dean asked.

“Yeah, I think so. I’ve decided to take some time off and visit my folks. I haven’t seen them in too long. There’s nothing like a near death experience to put things into perspective.”

“I can’t argue with that.” Dean poured them both water from the pitcher, drinking most of his straight down.

“And I’m thinking need a hobby. You called me a weekend hunter once, so …”

Dean almost choked on his water.

“Don’t go dying on me now, I need someone to show me the ropes.”

“You’re not serious?”

“As a heart attack.

“You think you can pull it off? FBI by day, badass hunter by night?”

“I have to try. And if it doesn’t work, I can always walk away.”

Dean looked as if he’d been stung. Victor rolled his eyes, and reached out, brushing the side of Dean’s hand with his fingers. It was a brief touch, but a heartfelt one.

“From the FBI, not from hunting.” Not from you went unsaid, but Victor reckoned that Dean was as good as reading between the lines as he’d become. He wasn’t ready to make any sweeping declarations of love, but he liked having Dean in his life, and that was enough, for now at least.

The waitress came back with two laden plates and two large coffees.

“Eat your breakfast, we’ll talk later.”

“Least I’ll still have my inside man.”

“Your what?”

“Sam was all for you being some kind of double agent, feeding me information.”

“Yeah, Sam. Your brother, right?”

“Er, yes, my brother.”

“You’re going to have to fill in a few blanks. Everything after I arrived in Albion is more than a little hazy.”

“Sure, but it’s a long story.”

“I’ve got plenty of time.”

Dean grinned and tucked into his breakfast.

~*~*~*~*~*~
On the far side of the diner, a tall man with shaggy chestnut hair listened to them, and smiled to himself. He finished his coffee and left, walking through the parked cars, running an affectionate hand over the Impala as he passed.

“Sam.”

He stopped and turned around to find Tessa watching him.

“Are you ready?”

“I am.” He grinned. “So where do we start?”

“At the beginning.” Tessa smiled.

Sam glanced at the diner one last time, and then he and Tessa were gone. A small black cat rubbed itself against the Impala and followed them.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~THE END~*~*~*~*~*~*~