Sequel to "Underground."
Note to our Magnificent Seven Readers: This is primarily a
Supernatural story. Vin Tanner appears in it, and it is also a sequel
to a story featuring the Seven, however, the main characters are Sam and
"Well, it's got to be connected to the house," Dean Winchester said absently.
Dean looked up at his brother's flat voice. "Or we could do research in the library one more day." He pushed the journal from his lap and sat up on the bed.
"Uh-huh." Same tone.
Focusing his attention on Sam, Dean took in the tightened eyes and the fingers surreptitiously rubbing at his temples. "Or, if all else fails, you can put on a grass skirt and dance the hula."
He'd had enough. "Sam!"
Sam jumped, gaze snapping to Dean. "What?"
"What's going on?"
"Nothing," Sam said, "I'm fine."
"Bullshit. You've been walking around like a zombie all day, and you're still fighting that headache."
"I'll take another pill."
"That'll be, what, your third, fourth? In four hours."
Sam shrugged, not wanting to admit anything.
"A normal headache would've been taken care of. This one isn't."
"It's just a headache, Dean. Even I'm entitled to one once in a while."
Now it was Dean's tone that had an emotionless quality. "Uh-huh."
"It's probably hanging around because I skipped breakfast."
"And lunch," Sam conceded. He picked up his jacket and shrugged it on. "I'm going to grab something to eat. You want anything?"
Staring at his brother's effort to make everything seem hunky-dory, Dean nodded slowly. "Yeah, a burger sounds great, thanks."
Sam was too good to let a sigh escape, but he couldn't hide his relief. "Be back in a few."
As soon as the door closed behind him, Dean was up and searching. He looked in Sam's laptop satchel, but didn't find what he was looking for. Next he hit Sam's duffel. Taking out all the contents--mindful he would have to replace them exactly--Dean found it stuck as a bookmark between the pages of a novel: Vin Tanner's OSIR business card. He memorized the number, then put everything back.
By the time Sam got back, the room looked just as he had left it.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Sam sagged as soon as he shut the door behind him. He was lucky his brother hadn't pressed him any harder about the way he was acting. He hadn't done as good a job as he should have hiding his headaches, but he'd damn well tried.
He just didn't want to worry Dean any more than he already was. His brother was always on high alert for any psychic weirdness, but it wasn't as if Sam was having visions. He would tell his brother if he were. It was just a headache.
Well, not just.
It happened to be a hellacious headache. It was the kind of pain that pressed in from all sides of his head, never letting up or relenting. Ibuprophen did absolutely nothing to stop it, or slow it down, no matter how many he inhaled. That was when he'd realized it was psychic, not physical, in nature. But no crazy images or flashes accompanied the pain. So this was apparently another delightful aspect of his crappy power--no sense in worrying Dean about it when there wasn't anything his brother could do. He had enough on his mind with the possible haunted house. Sam would deal with it somehow.
By the time he returned with the food, Dean was watching television. Sam tossed the burger bag over and sat down at the table to force himself to eat something. He just hoped it would stay down.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Dean quickly polished off his burger and shrugged on his coat.
"Where're you going?"
"Sammy, don't tell me you didn't see that hottie three doors down checking me out. How can I live with myself if I deprive her of the chance to make her dreams come true?"
"Don't forget protection," Sam called.
"Got it right here." Dean smiled and patted the gun stuck in his back waistband. He ducked outside and his smile faded instantly. Walking around the corner, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed.
It rang twice, three times, four. Dean was just about to give it up as a bad idea when a voice answered.
"Hey, Vin, it's Dean Winchester. I'm not sure if you remember me"
"'Course I do; how are you? How's Sam?"
"Actually, that's kind of the reason I'm calling you."
Vin must've picked up on his unease. "What's wrong?"
"I'm not sure. I think Sam's powers are acting up, but he won't talk to me."
"Do you think he'd be willing to talk to me?"
"I don't know, man. He can be stubborn."
"You both can be."
"Point. So, is there anyway you could I mean "
"Where are you?"
Relieved, Dean gave Vin their location.
"I'll be there as soon as I catch a flight."
"Are you sure? I don't want you to go to any trouble."
"Don't worry about it; I'm glad to help."
Dean thanked him again and hung up. He felt immeasurably better now that he would have some backup. He walked back to the room. Sam was lying on his bed, his arm over his eyes.
"No luck?" he asked.
"The hottie?" Sam prompted.
Dean had forgotten about his excuse to get out of the room. "Nah, she wasn't around."
"That's for sure," he automatically answered. Trying not to let his concern show, Dean nevertheless continued to split his attention between surreptitiously watching Sam and whatever lame show was on TV. Help was coming. He would wait patiently for now.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
A steady knock echoed the pounding in Sam's head. He rolled over with a groan, wishing both would go away and let him sleep.
He heard his brother roll out of bed and pad to the door, opening it with a quiet murmur.
"Did you get room service?" Sam mumbled sarcastically into his pillow.
"In a manner of speakin'."
Sam jerked up at the new voice, brushing the bangs from his face. Vin Tanner stood by the door, a grin on his face.
"Vin?" Sam cleared his throat. "What're you doing here?"
"I'm gonna grab a soda," Dean said, jumping into a pair of jeans.
Sam shot a glare at him, ineffectual as it bounced off the closing door.
"He shouldn't have called you," Sam said, sliding out of bed to dress. He felt at enough of a disadvantage without being in his boxers.
"You're right," Vin agreed, easing himself into a chair and watching Sam in mild amusement. "You shoulda called me."
"There was no reason to," Sam insisted. He dropped back on the bed to pull on his shoes. "I'm fine."
"I don't believe that for a minute, and I know Dean doesn't, either." Vin's eyes narrowed. "He doesn't seem to be the type to call for help for no reason. Now spill."
Knowing he wasn't going to get out of it now that he was being tag-teamed, Sam shrugged. "I'm not getting flashes or images like before," he said. "My headache isn't brutal, just persistent."
"And that hasn't got you worried?" Vin shook his head in wonder.
"Well, I just figured it was me not having a handle on my gift. I tried to hide it so Dean wouldn't worry."
"Either your brother is more perceptive than you give him credit for, or you're a piss-poor actor."
Sam ducked his head.
"It might not be your powers," Vin said. "It could be something you're around affecting them. What're you guys working on?"
"We think it's a haunted house. There've been a number of suicides there over the years, but it's ramped up lately to three over the past two months."
"All right." The go on was unsaid.
Sam grabbed a stack of papers. Leafing through them, he placed one on the table in front of Vin. "Well, we've traced the deaths back to 1943, a man named John Drake." He cleared his throat. "We think his spirit is in the house, reliving his death through others."
"Okay, that might be something." Vin thought for a moment. "What have you been feeling?"
"I told you, I have a headache."
Vin leaned forward. "I know that's what you said, but I want you to think about what I'm asking: What have you been feeling?"
Sam refrained from rolling his eyes, but only because he knew Vin had come a long way to help him. He closed his eyes and tried to work past the headache to see what lay beneath.
His eyes shot open in surprise.
"What'd you get?" Vin asked.
"I think someone's trying to talk to me," Sam said in wonder.
"It's like someone, or something, is trying to communicate--push its way into my head."
"Do you remember when your pain started?"
"Not long after we got here." Sam shrugged. "I think it was after we visited the house. Do you think John Drake's trying to reach me?"
"Sounds like a possibility," Vin said. "But now you have to learn how to let things in, filter them to allow what you need inside but keep out what you don't."
"And how do I do that?" Sam asked.
"Mostly by trial and error. Sorry." Vin gave wry grin. "The bad news is you're going to mess up. The good news is, every opportunity's a chance to learn."
"Do you get these things out of a fortune cookie?"
"Yep." Vin grinned wider. "But they still apply."
Sam was still wondering whether to take Vin seriously when there was a soft knock.
Dean leaned around the door. "Is it safe to come inside?"
"Yeah, we're all done hugging and weeping," Sam snapped.
"Thank God." Dean closed the door and leaned against it. "So, is he all fixed?" he asked Vin.
"Not yet, but we're working on it."
"Um " Sam waved. "Right here, guys."
"What's the plan?" Dean asked, still ignoring Sam.
"I think we need to go back to your haunted house," Vin announced.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"You know," Dean remarked, almost hitting a lawn jockey as he parked, "haunted houses shouldn't be allowed to look so damn cheery."
They got out of the car and stared at the house, its solitary existence broken only by the three men. It hadn't been able to keep a tenant for far too long, the suicides scaring potential renters away, but the owners were obviously trying their damndest to make it presentable. The flowerboxes were full and in bloom, and the gardens well-tended. Apparently, someone had thought the two-story Victorian would look better trimmed in day-glo colors.
"You sure this is the house?" Vin asked skeptically.
"Yep." Dean nodded. "The back of this place hangs out over a cliff, and all the victims have been found on the rocks below."
"Not spooky enough for you?" Sam asked. "Maybe it needs a few more cobwebs and broken windows?"
"And a few less flowers and wind chimes," Vin added.
Dean's smile dimmed as he glanced sideways. He could tell Sam's headache had lessened, his brother no longer needing to force his eyes open. Now they were naturally wide, staring at the house as if trying to figure out a puzzle. Dean moved next to Sam. "What is it?"
"I don't know. It feels different." Sam turned to Vin. "You picking up anything?"
"Something, but it's kinda indistinct. More like something's brushing past m' mind."
"Thank you for that creepifying visual." Dean gave an exaggerated shudder. "We gonna do this, or what?"
"Yeah," Sam said. "We need to."
Moving to the rear of the car, Dean opened the trunk. He took out two rock salt-filled shotguns, passing one to Sam. He shot a questioning look to Vin. "You?"
"Um no thanks."
Sam walked to the front door, bending to pick the lock while Vin and Dean blocked him from sight. Even though the house stood alone on this stretch of road, they didn't want to take the chance on anyone driving by and seeing them breaking the law.
A click, and the front door swung open. Sam stepped inside, casting about with a wary glance. Vin moved to follow.
Dean caught him as he was thrust violently backward. They were barely able to keep their feet.
The front door slammed shut.
Dean regained his balance and threw himself against the door. The handle turned easily, but it refused to open. "Sam Sam!"
There was no answer.
He was getting really sick of doors slamming in his face, especially when Sam was trapped on the other side. "Enough of this shit," Dean growled, punctuating each word with a fist on the door. He kicked it but it didn't budge. "Sammy!"
Shoved roughly aside, Dean put his indignation on hold when Vin placed his hands on the obstruction.
"What is it?" Dean asked.
Swallowing a curse, Dean attempted to keep his limited patience as Vin pressed his forehead against the door. "Come on," he softly pleaded, not wanting to be shushed again.
Vin snapped up. "We need to get him out of there."
"No shit, Sherlock."
Vin's eyes narrowed, his face becoming grave. "If we don't get in now, he's dead."
The statement shot straight into Dean's gut and he balled his hands into fists to stop their shaking. Looking at the barrier between him and his brother, he made an instant decision. "Stay here, keep trying," he barked as he ran for the car.
Popping the trunk, he bypassed the axe and the sledgehammer, grabbing the rope. He tossed it at Vin, keeping one end tight in his grip. "You know what to do!"
Tying his end to the bumper, Dean had just enough sense to make sure Vin was done attaching his end to the doorknob. Jumping in, he started the car and threw it into drive, gunning the engine. The car lurched as it ripped the door off its hinges, but he didn't slow down, pulling a u-ey in the lawn and careening back up to the porch.
Getting out, he followed Vin into the house.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Sam turned when the door slammed shut behind him.
"Not again," he bemoaned. Cautiously, he glanced around, but he could see nothing. He started to retreat, but stopped when he heard his brother's shout.
Pain blinded him, shooting through his head, taking him to his knees. He closed his eyes as the world went hazy.
Then it stopped. He paused, hands still holding his head, waiting for a resurgence.
He heard another call. "Sammy!"
It was coming from upstairs.
Sam's confusion was whisked away at the thought of his brother in danger. There was fear in Dean's voice and Sam responded without hesitation. He picked up the shotgun and ran up the stairs and down the hallway.
The feeble cry froze Sam to the spot. "Dean?" He needed a location.
Slower now, Sam crept forward, checking each room to see if his brother was there. Finally, only one room remained at the end of the hall.
Sam threw open the door, looking everywhere as he entered the room.
"Sam, you're here."
Sam could almost feel the relief in Dean's tone, but he still didn't see his brother. He slowly turned, squinting through vision that had become cloudy when he entered the room. He rubbed his eyes, trying to clear them.
"Sam, you have to help me," Dean continued.
"Anything," Sam answered instantly, sincerely.
"You need to go over to the balcony."
The request startled Sam. "Why?"
"Sam, do it now!" Dean ordered.
Sam automatically moved to obey, knowing, after years of hunting with Dean, every command could mean the difference between life and death. He walked to the French doors, opening them inward and stepping out onto the balcony. Forcing his eyes to focus through the haze, Sam saw the jagged cliffs and the rocks below.
"Climb over the edge, Sammy."
"No." Sam shook his head again. He knew this wasn't right. Dean wouldn't ask this.
Dean's pleading voice stabbed into Sam's head, disrupting all conscious thought. "If you don't, I'll die."
Sam had meant it when he said he would die for his brother, and if this was the only thing he could do to save him, he would do it. Ignoring his internal warning bells, Sam's long legs easily slid over the balcony's railing. Normally, he wasn't affected by heights, but, as he looked down, he was assaulted by the woozy feeling of vertigo and his stomach churned.
Just one step and his brother would be saved.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Dashing through the gaping doorframe, Dean quickly scouted the house, hopeful for any indication Sam was okay. Seeing Vin disappear around a corner, Dean followed. Before he could catch up, he heard a crash, followed closely by a cry of pain.
Dean swept toward the sound, shotgun raised, anxious and alert, and saw Vin lying on the floor, a shattered lamp beside him. He roused at Dean's touch.
"You okay?" Dean eyed the blood dripping down Vin's face as he helped him to sit.
Vin grimaced at the movement, clearly trying to focus. His eyes snapped wide and he pushed at Dean. "Never mind me, I'm fine. You have to save Sam."
"Upstairs, end of the hall." He gave another shove, this time unneeded.
Dean sprinted up the stairs, heart pounding in his ears, and ran the length of the hall in an instant.
This closed door was no match for him; he kicked it down without a thought. Dean saw Sam on the outer edge of the balcony, leaning out as if to jump.
His brother paused, one hand holding the railing, head canted to the side.
Dean moved slowly, cautiously, having no idea what was going on in Sam's freaky head and not about to startle him into letting go. "Sam, look at me. You have to come back over the railing."
Sam flinched, shaking his head. He raised his free hand to massage his temple, but refused to look. "I have to do this," he whispered, raw.
"Do what, Sam? Scare me to death? Already done, so come back on this side with me." Dean kept his voice soothing, clamping down on his fear. He took a step forward, out onto the balcony.
Seeing Sam's hold relax, Dean sprinted forward, dropping the shotgun and grabbing Sam in one motion. Clutching his brother's sleeve, Dean held on for dear life even when he felt something in his shoulder give as Sams full weight jerked on his arm.
Blinding pain shot up his arm and Dean struggled to retain his grip on his brother. He clenched his jaw, swallowing a scream. Dean couldn't let the pain get in the way; he pushed it aside. He leaned over the balcony, keeping a solid grip on the nearest metal baluster. "Sam, snap out of it!" He knew he couldn't pull Sam up alone, and Vin was nowhere to be seen.
Dean's desperation gave him strength, but he knew it wouldn't last.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Sam fought against the fogginess of his mind, trying to focus on a train of thought and only finding confusion. What was he doing on a balcony ledge?
Dean! The answer came in a flash. Dean needed him, Dean was in trouble.
But from what? How? He couldn't answer.
"Let go," Dean said.
Sam looked down and shuddered. He didn't want to do this, but if this was the only way to save Dean . He let his grip relax fractionally.
Sam tightened his grip again, but he was confused. Didn't Dean want him to jump? Maybe he'd changed his mind.
"Sam, look at me. You have to come back over the railing."
Spikes of pain shot through Sam's skull. Why was Dean's voice causing him pain? He rubbed his head, trying to alleviate the agony.
"Sam, you need to jump, now!" Dean's voice demanded urgently. "It's the only way."
Dean's other voice kept talking, but it was drowned out by the commands in his head. The pain increased, and he had to make it stop. "I have to do this," Sam managed to get out, as much to convince himself as the voice.
He released his hold and let gravity take him down
then jolted to a stop. Sam watched with unseeing eyes as he floated in midair, not understanding why he wasn't falling.
"Sam, snap out of it!"
The pounding in his head mounted to an unbearable beat.
"Sam, I'm not letting you go. I won't let you go, but if you dont help me, we'll both fall."
Dean's pleas. He was supposed to be saving Dean, but it sounded like he was killing him. He had to protect his brother. In a blazing instant the pain was gone and he opened his eyes to clarity.
Sam looked down and realized he was suspended high above a rocky cliff. "What the hell?"
"My arm's about to fall off, and I will drop your ass if you don't grab onto the fucking railing and lift yourself up."
Sam did. As soon as he was gripping it tightly, Dean released him for a moment, grabbing him with his other hand, none-too-gently, to help him over.
A few seconds later, they lay panting on the floor of the balcony.
Once he could breathe again Dean asked, "So, what was that about?" with a casual air. As if saving his brother from being smashed into oblivion was an everyday occurrence.
Sam shook his head. "Um, I thought you needed me to " He waved vaguely at the balcony.
Dean took it well. "Okay, well, next time I need you to take a flying leap, ignore me."
"All right." Sam paused. "Sorry."
"Don't let it happen again, and we'll call it good. How's your head?"
Sam blinked wide in surprise. "Headache's gone." He propped himself up on his elbows and looked around. "Where's Vin?"
"Oh, shit." Dean struggled up, keeping hold of his arm.
"What's wrong with your arm?"
"Dislocated it." Dean winced. "You know, for how freakin' skinny you are you weigh a ton."
"Oh, my God, I'm sorry."
"You should be."
"It needs to be put back in."
"Aww, Sammy "
Sam gave a sympathetic shrug. "It'll get worse the longer we wait."
"All right, just do it."
It had happened to both brothers before and Sam knew it would hurt like hell. Even though it was his fault, he couldn't let guilt stop him from doing what needed to be done. To wait would only damage Dean's shoulder more, and a hunter couldn't risk such a debilitating injury.
Dean sat up and braced against the doorjamb, clutching it while Sam took hold of his wounded arm.
"No. But do it anyway."
Quickly, to avoid prolonging the pain, Sam lined up the arm and yanked hard.
A muffled shout burst out of Dean. He started to tilt.
Sam crouched next to Dean, a hand on his good shoulder keeping him upright. "You okay?" Sam asked.
"Ask me after I finish off a bottle of Jack," Dean panted. He gave himself a minute to regroup, then, "Let's find Vin." He pushed against Sam, motioning to help him up.
Tanner was sprawled on the landing, apparently unable to go any farther. But he smiled when he saw the Winchesters coming down the stairs. "You made it in time," he said to Dean.
"Was there any doubt?" Dean said with a smirk.
Vin's smile widened slowly. "Not really."
Carefully, Sam pulled Vin up. He held on for a moment when Vin swayed, helping him find his feet.
"Let's get back to the motel," Dean said. He took Vin's other arm. "That head of yours needs some stitching, and Sammy's a pro."
"No, that's okay, I'll go to a hospital."
"Dude, don't be a wuss."
The brothers helped Vin down the stairs and out to the car.
Glancing from his brother to the door still attached to the Impala, Sam smirked.
Shaking his head, Dean growled, "Don't ask."
Sam's smile remained as he untied the knots and tossed the rope back in the trunk. Dean sat in the driver's seat, but was roughly pushed aside when Sam got in.
"You're not driving with that arm."
"Control freak," Dean shot back.
"Nope, just someone who wants to get back in one piece."
Slouching in the back, Vin wisely remained silent.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Dean watched Vin walk over to the mirror and inspect Sam's workmanship. Seven neat stitches ran along his hairline. "You are good at this."
Ducking his head, Sam didn't respond. Unfortunately, all of the Winchesters had gained their talent through years of experience patching each other up. He'd also wrapped Dean's shoulder, securing his arm to his abdomen.
Wincing, Dean moved to the side, trying to get as comfortable as possible with a reduced dislocation. "Now we have to figure out who put the whammy on Sammy." Dean smiled at the gesture his brother sent his way and returned it in kind.
"Actually, I know who did it," Vin said, startling the brothers. "I got her name when I was inside the house."
"Her?" Sam asked.
Dean laughed. "You couldn't tell? Man, you've been out of action way too long."
"Bite me." Sam turned back to Vin. "It was a woman?" He picked up his notes and started reviewing them. "I don't remember any mention of a woman dying on the premises."
"Can't do anything about that," Vin said, "but I know it was a she, and her name was Catherine Collingsworth two C's."
Sam's brows drew together in a frown. "What about John Drake?"
"Maybe he was the first victim," Dean speculated.
Sam looked up and waved a sheet of paper. "The Collingsworth family did own the property nearly a century ago, but I didn't find anything " He stopped and looked again.
"What?" Dean asked, leaning over.
"I need to go back to the library."
"Let me get my jacket."
"Don't bother; you're not going anywhere."
Dean shook his head. "You're not going alone."
"To the library?" Sam scoffed. "I think I can manage. Besides," he added, before Dean could argue any more, "you and Vin are hurt and need to take it easy."
"I'm fine," Dean and Vin chorused.
"Of course you are," Sam patronized. "And you'll feel even better after a meal and some rest." He'd already swept up the keys and was heading out the door.
Dean watched the door close. "I think I've been outmaneuvered."
"B'lieve so," Vin agreed. "He seems pretty good at it."
"He's getting better," Dean said with a proud smile.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Sam picked up some burgers and shakes and returned to the hotel, practically throwing them at Vin and his brother before running back out. Given a chance, Sam knew Dean would still try to go with him, but he really needed to take it easy. Where research was what Sam did best.
Once in the library, he headed over to the stacks containing local history. Now that he knew what to look for, it was easy to find. Articles about Catherine Collingsworth and her affluent family lined the pages of the town's history. Gossip rags, although more subtle back then, still existed, and they'd alluded to the fact her fiancé had skipped town. Catherine was dead within the week. Ruled an accident, but the closed casket made Sam think she'd been found on the rocks below the house, the event most likely covered up by her family.
Digging a little deeper, Sam found out their haunted house was to have been her honeymoon cottage. The most rewarding part of his research was finding out where her body was laid to rest.
Sam gathered his notes, and shoved everything in his bag before he headed for the door.
Outside, he checked his watch and was surprised at the early hour. It was already getting dark this time of year. The library wouldn't close for another couple of hours, and he was sure Dean wouldn't expect him before then. Maybe he could take care of Catherine first?
He looked around the small town, seeing that most of the population was already tucked in for the night. Sam got out the town's map to see exactly where the graveyard was. "No time like the present," he muttered. It would be easy enough to dig the grave, then salt and burn her bones. He started the car and turned it around. It wasn't as though Dean or Vin could help, anyway, being the walking wounded. Plus, he had the shovel, the salt, and fuel in the car, no need to wait.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Within ten minutes, Sam pulled the Impala past the front gates to Mitchell Cemetery and parked along one side. Luckily, the graveyard was well-removed from the main part of town, not much of a chance someone would spot him at work.
He snagged the weapons bag, making sure there was lighter fluid inside. Dean had a penchant to be pretty generous with it, so they tended to run out a lot. But the bottle still had plenty. Sam threw the bag over his shoulder, picked up his flashlight, and grabbed a shovel.
Hopping the low stone fence, he walked straight past the first few sections, ignoring the newer graves. What he was looking for would be toward the rear. Flicking the light over the older markers, Sam walked down six or seven rows before he found a member of the Collingsworth family. He kept going to Catherine's grave.
Sam deposited the bag on the ground, laid the flashlight on top, and began to dig. Shovelfuls of dirt and rocks flew through the air. No sound echoed in the graveyard except for the pitch of metal into dirt and his panting breaths. Practice making perfect, Sam hit his target, the shovel reverberating against the wooden coffin. He finished clearing it off and pried the lid open, waving away the stale air wafting from the coffin.
Sam threw the shovel out and pulled himself up after it. He opened the container of salt and shook it onto the corpse.
"Please, don't do that."
Startled, Sam almost slid into the grave. He whipped around. Standing a few feet away was an apparition, her dark hair framing her glowing face, set in a mask of sorrow. Catherine. She flickered in and out.
Sam felt a pressure starting at the back of his skull. "Stop!" he demanded. He lowered his head, eyes closed, and tried to do what Vin had said: filter it out. He imagined building a wall in his mind, blocking everything out. The force eased. Sam raised his head to look at her.
"Please, don't," she repeated.
"You tried to kill me," Sam said, working to tamp down his overactive empathy. "You succeeded with how many others?" He palmed the lighter fluid, flicking open the top.
"I was lonely. I just wanted someone to stay with me but they all moved on."
"Because they weren't supposed to be with you, Catherine." Sam squirted the solution into the coffin. "You aren't supposed to be here."
She nodded, biting her lip. "I'm sorry."
"I hope you find peace." He struck the match.
The ghost watched the fire flare. "I'm scared."
"You don't have to be." Sam tossed the match and it instantly ignited the lighter fluid. The flames leapt up high and bright before dying down to a low burn.
Sam turned around, and Catherine was gone.
When the fire weakened to a smolder, Sam pushed and shoveled the dirt back into the hole. Grabbing his supplies, he hustled back to the car, sparing a glance at his watch. It had taken him longer than he'd thought; Dean would be worried. Sam started the car and drove back to the motel as quickly as he could.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Flipping his phone closed, Dean barely kept himself from slamming it down. Sam had been gone for over four hours, more than enough time for geeking, and he wasn't answering his phone. Dean had already left two voicemails and had called the library to find it had closed over an hour before.
Vin was stretched out on Sam's bed, staying out of Dean's warpath. He glanced at the clock now and then, but, apparently deciding to let Dean bare the brunt of the worrying, remained silent.
Working off his anxious energy by pacing the length of the room, Dean slowed only to shoot some curses at the world in general and little brothers specifically.
He was about two minutes away from calling for a taxi or stealing a car when his brother walked through the door.
"Where the hell have you been?" Dean demanded. "Why didn't you answer the phone?"
Sam drew his phone from his pocket and checked it. "Oops. I'd turned the ringer off in the library and forgot to turn it back on."
Looking closer, Dean noticed his brother was filthy. It didn't take a genius to figure out where the missing time had been spent. "You dug up her grave, didn't you?"
Sam ducked his head, but coughed out, "Yeah."
Vin slid off the bed and hooked a thumb toward the door. "Um, I'm gonna go grab a soda." He snatched his bag and quickly departed.
Fury twisting his face, Dean rounded on Sam. "You're an idiot."
"You would've done the same thing," Sam countered.
"You aren't me."
His face darkening, Sam snapped, "So what, I'm not as smart as you? Capable as you? What, Dean?"
Dean immediately realized his mistake. It wasn't as though he didn't think Sam could do the job, he just didn't like his brother being in danger without someone there to watch his back. Dean hadn't always had that luxury in the years Sam was away. He tried to diffuse the situation. "What would've happened if Crazy Cathy had shown up to stop you?"
Ducking his head, Sam flushed.
Dean caught on instantly. "She did show up?"
"Just to talk," Sam assured him.
"Are you kidding me?!" Now it was Dean's turn to lose his temper.
"She was scared, Dean. She didn't really want to hurt me."
"Oh, that's why she tried to get you to take a swan dive off the balcony earlier?"
"Kind of. She wanted company . She was lonely."
"Oh, my God." Dean slapped his free hand over his face. "Now you're emo-ing with ghosts."
"I was not. I got the job done and didn't get hurt. You're just pissed you didn't get to burn anything."
His brother didn't get it, didn't get him. Trying not to let his anger get the best of him, Dean remained silent, taking a step back.
A ringing broke the uncomfortable silence. Sam pulled his phone out and checked the ID, answering with a terse, "Hello."
Dean sat on his bed and glowered.
Nodding, Sam said, "Okay," and hung up. "Vin's sacking out in another room," he reported. "He'll see us tomorrow."
"Sure, you answer when Vin calls you," Dean grumbled.
Sam barked a laugh. Just like that, all the anger was gone. "Don't worry, Dean, you know I love you best." He ruffled Dean's hair and went into the bathroom.
Dean swiped at the hand and scowled at Sam until the door shut behind him. Then he let a smile curve his lips.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Early the next morning, Sam pulled on his shirt and answered the knock at the door.
"My taxi's here," Vin announced. "I'd better get going."
Sam shook the offered hand. "You didn't have to do that. We could've dropped you off."
"It's easier this way." Vin shrugged. "'Sides, once Chris sees my head, he's never gonna let me go anywhere alone again."
"Maybe you could stay until you heal. He'll never know," Dean suggested, shaking his hand as well.
"Nah, thanks. You guys don't need any more baggage, and I'd best take my medicine." Vin's gaze settled on Sam. "Now call if you need any help. I mean it."
"I will." Sam saw Vin's wary look and smiled reassuringly. "I mean it, too."
Vin nodded, apparently satisfied.
"Thanks for coming," Dean said.
"Anytime." Vin smiled. "Hell, maybe next time I'll be calling you for help."
"We'll be there," Sam promised.
Vin gave a jaunty salute as he stepped into the cab.
Dean watched it drive away. "Well, we might as well hit the road, too."
"Yeah, okay," Sam agreed readily. He started folding his clothes into his bag, but kept catching Dean eyeing him. Finally he could take no more. "What?"
"Nothing." Dean started laughing. "It's just that dude, you were possessed again."
"No, I wasn't. I was influenced."
"Influenced into jumping off a cliff?"
"It happens," Sam said defensively.
"Only to you, Sammy, only to you."