Crossover with "Smallville" and "Supernatural"
Supernatural: Sam and Dean Winchester; Smallville: Chloe Sullivan; The Seven: Chris Larabee, Buck Wilmington, Vin Tanner, Ezra Standish, Nathan Jackson, Josiah Sanchez, JD Dunne; OMC - Mathew Tanner
Disclaimer: The characters you know and love all belong to their respective creators. Mathew Tanner is mine
Summary: When Sam Winchester begins having visions about Vin Tanner, the brothers return to Four Corners to investigate. In New Mexico investigating the latest Luthorcorp activities, Chloe finds a possible lead while reading about the legal battle for the town of Four Corners and decides she needs to talk to Mathew Tanner.
Author's Note: The is the sequel to Ghost Town which should be read first.
Woodward and Bernstein had uncovered the Watergate scandal by following the money. Chloe felt that if she could just do that to with Luthorcorp, she would find Lex's latest version of 33.1. The paper trail of the latest Luthorcorp land deals led to Albuquerque. She was sure Lex was planning some new version of those illegal laboratories under the guise of land development in the southwest. Unfortunately it had turned out that the company's latest acquisitions were legitimate, at least as far as she could tell. But then she'd been stonewalled at every turn.
Frustrated, she decided it was time for coffee and a major regrouping. Chloe was unwilling to return to Metropolis empty handed when she was sure there was something illegal going on. She just needed to find a way in.
Grabbing a local newspaper, she settled in with her coffee at the Starbucks around the corner form her hotel. It wasn't until Chloe started in on the State section that she felt her reporter's instinct twitching. There was an article about Alex Saunders and his legal woes in southern New Mexico. She read with growing interest about his land deal for the town of Four Corners.
An explosion at the site a few days before had been ruled accidental but it had refocused attention on the town and its bid for historical preservation. Chloe snickered as she read about the haunting but ultimately it was Alex Saunders who captured her attention. Gathering up her things, she headed back to her hotel room. The name Saunders had been mentioned in several of the documents she'd uncovered in connection with her recent investigation into Luthorcorp.
She was determined to find out everything she could about the Four Corners situation. Chloe smiled as she headed back to the hotel. This might be the break she'd been looking for.
+ + + + + + +
Travis Witt knocked on the door frame as he entered Mathew Tanner's office. "Got a minute?"
Mathew looked up from his desk at his law associate and nodded. "What's up? Did you find anything?"
Travis shook his head and dropped a file in front of Mathew as he seated himself into one of the guest chairs. "I'm at a dead end. Saunders's covered his tracks and everything about his purchase looks legitimate," Travis sighed.
Frowning, Matt opened the file and stared at the documents that claimed the Tanner family was the rightful owner's of Four Corners. "Did you get back the authenticity report?"
"Yes, and they are legitimate land deeds from when you ancestor bought the town. But it doesn't matter unless we can prove that Saunders' current claim is falsified." Travis reminded his friend.
Mathew sighed. It had all seemed to come together when Sam Winchester had found the deeds in the old Clarion Newspaper office. Travis had warned him that it wouldn't be as easy as presenting the papers to the proper authorities and asking for the ownership to be transferred to the Tanners.
"We have a week before we're due to present our case for preservation. If I'm going to walk into court and accuse the man of stealing my family's land, I'm going to need proof of his illegal activities."
"I know!" Travis huffed his frustration. They'd been having this conversation for days ever since Matt showed up with his miracle papers and they weren't any closer to a solution. "What we really need is some kind of forensic accountant or maybe just a really good hacker."
"Hacker? I don't want to gather information about Alex Saunders' illegal activities by performing more illegal activities."
"Boy Scout, this is a dirty fight. Time to play a little fast and loose with the rules."
"Let me think about it?" Mathew had hoped to come out of this fight unsullied. It seemed that wasn't going to happen.
"Fine. Go commune with the town and get your answers." Travis teased as he stood to leave. "I'll compile a list of people who might be able to help us once you come to your senses."
Mathew laughed. "I don't exactly commune with the town."
"Talk to your ancestors; have a séance. Don't care. Just come back ready to give me the green light. We're running out of time," he said as he exited the office.
Mathew ran his hands through his hair in frustration. He chuckled as he realized he needed a hair cut. Focus, he scolded himself. Travis was right, he needed an outside perspective.
He gathered his things and walked to the receptionist desk. "Annie, I'm heading out to Four Corners. Anybody needs me they can find me there."
"Off to consult with the great beyond."
"You have been spending too much time with Travis," he chided.
Annie smiled. "It is peaceful out there. I hope inspiration hits."
"Thanks," he said as he headed to the elevator. He wondered what Travis and Annie would say if he told them he was off to consult his moral compass, and oh, by the way, they're ghosts.
+ + + + + + +
Mathew pulled his car up the path and parked in front of the graveyard. Four Corners was deserted. Once the explosion had been confirmed to be the result of faulty wiring the fervor over the town being haunted had died down. It seemed the gawkers as well as the media were no longer interested in the town and Mathew was grateful for their absence.
He was just exiting his car when his cell phone rang. He fished it out of his pocket and looked at the unfamiliar number.
"Hey Mathew, Sam Winchester here."
"Sam, didn't expect I'd ever hear from you guys again." Mathew smiled. He'd had lunch with the brothers the day after the 'exorcism' and found that he and Sam had a lot in common. They'd exchanged numbers and Mathew had joked that the younger Winchester should call him if he ever finished his law degree. He could use someone with his research skills.
"Kind of surprised myself but I wanted to call and see how you were doing." Mathew could hear the concern in Sam's voice. "We know how much those guys meant to you and we just wanted to make sure that you were okay."
Mathew had to stop himself from laughing as he looked up the hill to see the six waiting for him. "I'm doing better than I thought. Thanks for asking," he said.
As the silence stretched on, Mathew realized that this was the epiphany he was looking for. "Sam, I was wondering," he paused. This was crazy; the last thing he needed was the Winchesters back in town to find out they'd been punked by ghosts and their lawyer.
"You need something?"
What the hell thought Mathew. "I'd pay you of course and you wouldn't have to come back just - you know- email what you find."
"I don't understand?"
"I need to find proof that Alex Saunders obtained his ownership of Four Corners illegally. Unfortunately Saunders covered his tracks too well- " he paused hoping Sam would pick up on his request.
A burst of laughter came over the phone. "You want to pay me to hack Saunders' company files and see what I can find."
Mathew winced. "Yeah, I guess I do."
"Dean wants to know how much?"
Now it was Mathew's turn to laugh. "So does that mean we have a deal?"
"I'll see what I can find out and call you back."
"Thanks Sam," he said as he hung up.
"Making deals with the devil?" Chris growled.
Mathew jumped and whirled to face the ghost. "Damn it Chris, I hate it when you sneak up on me like that."
The others had moved closer and were laughing at Tanner's expense. "Boy looks like he's seen a ghost," Buck chuckled.
"More like six," Nathan laughed and elbowed Buck.
"Very funny guys." Still he couldn't help but smile even as Chris continued to glare his disapproval about the phone call.
"Thought you were gonna stay away for a while?" JD asked.
"I was but we have a bit of a problem and it might require some illegalities on my part." Mathew admitted.
"So you thought asking the Winchesters to do it was a good idea," Chris fumed.
"That wasn't my intention. Sam called me and the opportunity presented itself."
"Now Chris, you know our boy here won't do anything illegal on his own, too much Tanner in him," Josiah said as he winked at Mathew.
"As we are no longer in any danger from the Winchesters, I see nothing wrong in using them to further our cause and protecting Mathew from any connection to those activities," Ezra agreed.
"Fine, but what's this all about," Chris said as he waved the others into silence. Mathew held back a sigh of relief and proceeded to tell them all about the problems with the deeds.
+ + + + + + +
Chloe parked in front of the sawhorses that still barricaded the main street of Four Corners. She'd been informed by Annie that Mathew Tanner was gone for the day. When she'd pressed, the secretary had admitted he'd gone out to look at the old town.
Chloe figured she should see what all the fuss was about and decided to drive the fifteen miles to check out the supposed ghost town. The sun was just setting as she arrived casting a bright glow over the town that she found quite pretty.
She walked down the wooden sidewalks impressed by the state of the buildings. Someone had kept the town in pristine condition. As she reached the last building, Chloe noticed a graveyard that sat on a small rise, just outside of the town.
Seven men were gathered there, obviously in deep discussion, but what really caught her attention was their old style western dress. Chloe moved deeper into the long shadows cast by the setting sun as she realized what she was seeing. The seventh man had on jeans and a modern sports jacket: Mathew Tanner. She recognized him from the pictures she'd found during her research into Four Corners.
It seemed the local lawyer was perpetrating a haunting hoax and she had stumbled onto their latest meeting. With conserved motion she drew her camera out of her bag and hoped that there was enough light to capture the scene. This wasn't the story she had been chasing, but it was definitely a story worth writing.
Chloe debated confronting Tanner here with his cohorts but ultimately decided that the odds were not in her favor. She had no idea what men who would resort to this type of deception would do to a reporter with this kind of evidence. She needed to download the pictures to a safe place and then confront Tanner in the morning with the photos.
"How could you?"
Mathew didn't recognize the voice. He forced his eyes open and found himself looking into blue ones identical to his own.
The man in front of him was shockingly familiar. "How could you?" He shouted again.
"Vin?" Mathew asked tentatively. Or was he looking at himself dressed in Vin's buckskin coat and wide brimmed hat.
The figure grabbed him by the front of his shirt. It was then Mathew realized he was wearing the t-shirt and boxers he'd gone to sleep in. "This is a dream," he said as he tried to fight against the iron grip on his clothing.
"I trusted you," Vin growled as he yanked Mathew around and gestured at their surroundings. "They trusted you."
Mathew looked to where Vin was pointing, they were outside in the desert and he baulked when he realized where he was. Though he'd never been here, he knew instinctively that this was where the six had died.
As things came into focus he saw the bodies of his friends, Vin's friends, lying in the dust. "I don't understand!" Mathew wailed.
Vin threw him to the ground and pulled out his gun. "You betrayed me."
"No I didn't!' Mathew shouted. "No I didn't!"
"No I didn't!" Mathew stopped as he found himself sitting bolt upright in bed. His T-shirt was soaked with sweat and his heart was pounding. Another nightmare.
Mathew threw off the covers and stumbled to the bathroom. Turning on the taps, he splashed cold water on his face. He'd had similar nightmares several days running; ever since the little display he'd put on for the Winchesters.
He stared at his reflection. The memory of Vin's anger was like a hammer pounding in his skull. Josiah hadn't been exaggerating when he said he looked like his ancestor. Or maybe he was really angry at himself and that's why 'Vin' looked so familiar.
"Damn it," he muttered reminding himself why he hated this psychoanalysis crap. Mathew straightened and scrubbed his hands through his hair. Sleep was a distant memory as he wandered back into the bedroom.
As he'd done on the previous nights, he opened the small wall safe and checked on the leather pouch. It was still there and he breathed a sigh of relief.
Mathew's attention was drawn to the wooden box that had held the heirlooms which sat on his dresser. The nightmares had to be a result of the guilt he felt in allowing the Winchesters to burn the mementos of the six.
While he had told his older siblings of the fortuitous turn of events concerning the town's deeds, he'd left out the part about the Winchesters and had yet to acknowledge the loss of the heirlooms. He was going to have to tell Jason and Rebecca the rest of the story. Luckily they lived out of town and he wouldn't have to face them when he confessed. Then maybe the nightmares would stop.
+ + + + + + +
Mathew still had his sunglasses on as he tried to enter his office undetected. He looked like hell and felt hung over. Lack of sleep would do that.
"Rough night?" Travis chuckled from behind him, taking exceptional glee in catching his friend like this.
So much for stealth. "Not feeling well," he mumbled and continued toward his door. He should have just stayed home but there was too much prep work that needed to be done. His head ached and the nightmare was making him feel unsettled.
Mathew looked toward his assistant. "Annie, anybody wants to see me send 'em to Travis."
She nodded her eyes full of concern
"Mathew, seriously. You okay? You don't look so good." Travis asked as he joined him at the door.
"Nothing a few more hours of sleep and the magical key to Saunders' downfall wouldn't cure." He unlocked his office and stepped inside.
"So about that," Travis paused waiting for Mathew to enlighten him as to his decision about the hacker.
"I've got someone working on that," he replied. "Not your problem."
"You found a hacker?"
"Travis, I won't involve you. Trust me it's handled. Now if you don't mind," Mathew said as he indicated he'd like to close the door.
Travis nodded and backed away.
Mathew settled into his chair, threw off his sunglasses and girded himself for the call to his older brother. Well confession was good for the soul and maybe Jason could help him understand why he was dreaming about Vin.
He had just picked up the receiver when his door burst open and a petite blond woman barged in with Annie hot on her heels.
The blond stopped in front of his desk and waited.
"I'm sorry, Mathew," Annie said, exasperation clear on her face. "I told her you weren't available - "
"It's alright Annie," he said, replacing the receiver and motioning that Annie could leave. As the door snicked shut, Mathew stood and offered his hand. "Mathew Tanner," he said as he waved her to a chair.
"Chloe Sullivan, The Daily Planet." She shook his hand but did not sit.
"What can I do for you, Miss Sullivan?" Mathew asked congenially, clenching his teeth behind his fake smile as he too continued to stand. Inside his mind was railing against having to deal with the press. While he had a few supporters in the ranks of the media, most of the articles he'd read recently had painted him as an opponent of progress.
Alex Saunders had friends in all the right places and the mudslinging was in high gear. The woman's combative stance and hard look convinced him that most likely his opponent had figured out a way to turn the national media against him too.
"I'd like your take on this," she said as she thrust a manila folder at him.
Mathew took the proffered material and opened the file. The color drained from his face as he looked at the photograph. It was of him and the six standing in the graveyard.
He lowered himself into his chair as he flipped through the other pictures. It was clear that she had been at Four Corners yesterday evening. Crap. He looked up at the reporter and she had a knowing smile on her face.
"Before I printed the story about the faux haunting you are masterminding, I thought I'd at least hear your justification," Chloe said as she finally sat down and pulled out her note pad.
"I have no idea what you're talking about. These are obviously faked," he protested but it sounded weak even to his ears.
Chloe snorted. "Is that the way you want to play this?"
Scrubbing a hand through his hair, he studied the blond. "What is it you think you saw?" he asked.
"You and your six cronies recreating the ghost heroes of Four Corners in an attempt to generate sympathy for the preservation of the town."
That's what he'd thought she was going to say. If he denied it she'd run the story and accuse him of duplicitous acts which would completely undermine his efforts to reclaim the town for the Tanners. Not to mention bring Sam and Dean back to town once they saw the photos and realized they'd been played.
"What do you want me to say? It's not what you think."
"I must admit I was surprised to find that you had stooped to these kinds of theatrics. Everything I've read about you indicated that you were supposedly an honest lawyer trying to stand up against Alex Saunders."
"And what do you think of the illustrious Alex Saunders," Mathew asked. "Are you one of his paid publicists?"
"First this is not about me," Chloe said indignantly. "And second I resent the idea that I write for anyone. I tell the truth Mr. Tanner. That's all I do. Alex Saunders is small potatoes compared to the Luthors and if they don't scare me - well," She quirked a smile at him leaving him to fill in the blanks.
At the mention of the Luthors, Mathew paused. Travis had suggested that Saunders and the Luthors were connected. Now he remembered where he'd heard her name before. "Wait. Aren't you the reporter who's been writing that series of articles about the Luthors' land holdings?"
"You've been reading my work?"
"This is New Mexico, not the moon," he scoffed and went on to explain. "We've been trying to show that Saunders obtained his claim on the Four Corners land illegally, but so far my people have been unable to gather the proof we need. In our research, my associate, Travis Witt, came across you exposé on the Luthors. Truthfully, we weren't sure how it all related but it still didn't give us what we were looking for."
"How do you know that Saunders obtained his rights illegally if you don't have any proof?" Chloe asked. Mathew smiled as he studied the blond; her excitement was showing.
He'd been impressed by her articles. She'd gone up against the Luthors and was still here to talk about it.
"You interested in Saunders?" he asked trying to gage his ability to trust her.
"Absolutely. He's why I came down here in the first place," she admitted. "I thought maybe your situation was somehow connected to my investigation."
"You really believe Saunders is connected to the Luthors?" Now Mathew's excitement was showing. If she was already investigating Saunders, maybe he could turn that tenacious ability for uncovering the truth to their little dilemma.
She smiled as she realized they were working toward the same goal. "I think that if you tell me the truth about what you were doing last night, we might be able to help one another."
"I may be out of my mind but I think I can trust you," he said as he reached for the folder on Four Corners.
Mathew handed her the file that contained everything he had on the land deals surrounding Four Corners including the original Tanner deeds. He leaned back in his chair waiting for her to peruse the rather thick folder anxious to see what she would make of it.
Chloe studied the documents, paging through them. She bit her lip in concentration. A gesture that Mathew found entirely too endearing in someone who ten minutes ago was accusing him of fraud.
Chloe's eyes went wide as she worked her way to the end of the file. "So what this is telling me is that your family still owns the land. Saunders claim has to be falsified but you can't prove that your family didn't sell it all off at sometime."
"You're quick. I'm impressed."
"I know shady land deals when I see them."
Mathew leaned forward. "You know how to prove what happened?"
"Oh, I think I can help you." She sent a blinding smile his way as she pulled a document from her bag. Chloe stood and spread the blueprint across his desk. Mathew walked around to view the document from her side.
"I've seen this before," he said. "These are the plans for the housing community that Saunders wants to build. How can this help me?"
"Look again." She smirked.
Chloe pointed to the area that was identified as future development on every version of the plans he'd seen but on these there was the outline of a large factory.
"I don't understand. This is supposed to be a housing community."
"It won't be. It may have started out that way but there's something bigger going on. Eventually they will change direction and by the time anyone figures out that the housing development has become an industrial park it will be too late."
"Where did you get these?"
"Trade secret," Chloe quipped. "And speaking of trading secrets. You owe me one before I go any further."
He looked at her confusion on his face. "But I don't know anything about these alternate plans."
Chloe rolled her eyes at him. "Your little ghost town. If you want my help, I'm going to need to know everything that's going on."
Mathew sighed. Chris was going to be furious but he could see no other way. She had the answers he needed and while he'd enlisted Sam's aid there was no guarantee that the hunter would ever even call him back. "Let's take a little drive, Miss Sullivan there are some people you need to meet."
Chloe had assumed they were headed to some clandestine meeting place in Cornerstone so that Mathew could introduce her to the actors playing the ghosts. She was little surprised when he turned his car toward Four Corners.
"This is the way to your 'ghost' town," She said stating the obvious.
"I know. This is where they live."
"You have them camped out in the town?" Chloe thought about this. "Makes sense, then they're available for last minute performances."
"Not exactly," he said cryptically.
"So who are these guys? Out of work actors?" Chloe asked. Mathew was awfully closed lipped about the situation which was putting her reporter's instinct into overdrive.
"You're not very patient are you," he said smiling. "And I'm guessing silence won't work either."
"Didn't get to be at the top of my game by sitting quietly on the sidelines."
"Fair enough but I have to admit I'd rather have your unbiased assessment of the situation."
"Little late for that."
"Patience and you will see that I am that honest lawyer you thought I was."
"Oh really?" Chloe couldn't wait to see the rabbit he was going to pull out of his hat to turn this into a positive situation. Still, she wasn't above using a few underhanded techniques in dealing with the Luthors and she hadn't become a top notch hacker because she always did things above board. If she were being honest, the idea of winning against Saunders using a bit of movie magic didn't seem so bad compared to the stunts she knew these billionaires were not above pulling. "I'm envisioning a bit of a Scooby Doo-type haunting."
Mathew laughed. "I promise no rubber masks or projections of pirate ships."
He made the final turn and the town came into view. Mathew debated taking her to the graveyard for the big reveal but it seemed a bit over the top. Instead he pulled up to the cordoned off main street and parked the car.
As he looked down the deserted street, Mathew realized that he'd never arrived unwelcomed; one of the six, usually Chris, was always there to greet him. At least they were behaving themselves and staying out of sight. He hoped they would come when he called or Chloe was going to be one pissed off reporter.
"Come on," he said as he maneuvered around the sawhorses and headed for the saloon. The sun was still high in the sky so the building would be fairly well lit.
"How do you keep this place so well preserved?" Chloe asked as she followed him down the main street.
"Not me. The caretakers you're about to meet. They take the preservation of this town very seriously."
"Caretakers? Is that what you're calling them?"
Mathew paused to hold open the bat-wing doors and ushered Chloe inside the saloon. It was empty. Chloe turned to glare at him silently demanding an explanation.
Mathew held up a finger and prepared himself for the confrontation to come. "Chris," he called out. "It's Matt," he chuckled as he called out his own name. He was very insistent to the point of obsession that everyone called him Mathew. Only the six ever called him Matt and in some quirky way he felt it made him part of the group.
"Seriously, Chris. I know I told you guys to stay out of sight but if you don't want the Winchesters back here after this lovely lady publishes some very damning photos, one of you needs to make an appearance right now.
"Why would they hide from you? Don't they work for you?"
"Actually it's more the other way round, ma'am," came a deep voice from behind them.
The two spun around to see a tall mustachioed man standing in the door way. "Buck," Matt said. He wasn't surprised that the infamous ladies man would be the one to make 'first contact' with Chloe.
"Chris is as mad as a hornet and wants to know 'what the hell y'ur thinking, boy?'. I figured it was best I came instead," Buck said before turning his attention and his megawatt smile on Chloe. "Lovely lady, who might you be and what brings you to our humble little town?"
Mathew got the distinct impression that if he could have, Buck would have grabbed Chloe's hand and kissed it. He knew that touching people required a lot more concentration than handling inanimate objects and usually they didn't have the finesse to do that delicately. Mathew had found himself on the ground more than once when Buck had tried to clap him on the back.
"Impressive costume and the likeness to the photo I saw of Buck Wilmington is remarkable," she said as she studied the ghost.
"So you know me," he said seductively. "I wonder what I might call this vision of loveliness standing before me." Buck returned her scrutiny until Chloe found herself blushing under his naked approval.
Mathew had to stop himself from snickering because Buck was completely aware of the affect he was having on Chloe.
Chloe cleared her throat and stuck out her hand. "Chloe Sullivan. I'm a reporter for The Daily Planet."
Buck looked down at her hand and then at Mathew who shrugged. "Go for it," he encouraged the ghost.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am," he drawled and successfully focused enough to bring Chloe's hand to his lips without hurting her.
Much to her chagrin, Chloe giggled and pulled her hand away.
"I'm impressed. Buck. The last time you tried to shake my hand I ended up with a sprained wrist."
"You ain't worth the effort to be gentle," Buck chuckled.
"Buck, Chris says to stop flirting and get to the point or he's coming out himself. Not sure how much longer Josiah can keep him under wraps. He's - ,"
"Yeah, I know JD, he's mad," Buck huffed. "When ain't Chris mad these days? I'm working on it."
Chloe looked to her left at the new arrival. "How'd you get in here?"
"You ain't told her?" JD asked.
"I was kind of hoping she'd figure it out," Mathew admitted, "but you guys keep popping up out of her line of sight. Can you just get everyone here, please? Chloe needs to know the truth."
"And what truth would that be, Mr. Tanner?" Ezra asked as he appeared right in front of Chloe.
She took a startled step back. "How did you do that?" Without waiting for an answer, Chloe stepped forward again and reached out to touch Ezra but her hand passed right through his shoulder. He flickered before becoming solid again. Not understanding exactly what had happened, she pushed her hand through him and waved it around, finally causing Ezra to blink out in disgust and come back on her other side.
"Now was that entirely necessary, Miss Sullivan?" he said as he tugged on his coat as if to straighten imaginary wrinkles. "I believe that my instantaneous arrival should have put to rest any thoughts about my current state."
Chloe whirled on Mathew. "I thought you said no Scooby Doo projections."
Mathew threw his hands up in surrender. "I swear Chloe. They're the real deal. Ghosts of the town's heroes."
"You're saying that that is Ezra Standish and that is the real JD Dunne," she said pointing to the men behind her. While it wasn't beyond her personal experience, having been possessed once herself, she hadn't ever expected to find this type of supernatural occurrence outside of Smallville.
"Well, I have been accused of being many other people in the past but I assure you that I am and have always been Ezra Standish."
Chloe threw him a look that said he needed to be quiet now.
Buck laughed. "She's a feisty one," and shut up when she shifted her glare to him. Turning back to address Mathew, she was startled by a stocky, gray haired man that appeared between them.
"And I am Josiah Sanchez, lovely lady."
Chloe stepped back. "I don't - "
"Nathan Jackson, ma'am" said the African American man who appeared next to him
"Josiah, you were supposed to watching our fearless leader. I do not believe his presence would be prudent at this time," Ezra chided.
"Enough," Chloe shouted thrusting her hands out as if defending the space in front of her "All right you've had your fun. I get it. They're ghosts. But if one more of you tries to startle me, I swear I'm going to pull out my gun and start shooting."
"Ooh, I like her," Buck cooed.
"Shut up, Buck," Nathan snapped.
Mathew ignored the ghosts. "I'm sorry Chloe. I had told them to stay out of sight - "
The arrival of the last ghost was not aimed at Chloe. Chris Larabee appeared right in Mathew's face, backing him up against the bar. "What were you thinking? We finally get rid of those ghost hunting Winchester brothers and you bring her here," he shouted as he pointed at Chloe.
"Now Chris, calm down and let me explain," Mathew begged.
"That's enough, Chris," Josiah said as he pulled their leader away from Mathew. "That boy's never let us down. If she's here, he has a good reason."
Chris jerked away from the preacher. "Stay out of this Josiah."
"No, I won't. You're out of control. So just take a deep breath and listen to him."
Chris stared at the older man who gave equal to what he got. Most times Chris won these battles of wills but not today. He broke contact with Josiah and turned to look at Mathew, the anger having receded only slightly.
"Explain yourself, Matt," he demanded.
Chloe studied the latest arrival. Unlike the others he looked a bit deranged, almost manic. This was more like how she expected a ghost to behave. She found Chris Larabee to be a bit on the scary side.
Silence filled the room as the ghosts waited for Mathew to enlighten them. Into that void came the ringing of cell phone. Horrified, Mathew dug into his pocket and groaned when he saw the caller ID.
"Sam Winchester," he announced as he held up the phone. "I should take this he might have information about Saunders."
Chris threw up his hands in disgust. "Take it," he said as he stormed out of the saloon.
Buck moved as if to follow when Josiah stepped in front of him. "I got this," he said. Buck nodded as the preacher followed the man in black out of the building.
Mathew sent an apologetic look to the remaining group and moved off to the side so that he could answer the call in relative privacy.
Chloe turned her attention to the four who remained. She was still trying to wrap her head around the fact that they were ghosts and that Mathew appeared to be friends with them.
Ezra had seated himself at one of the tables and had produced a deck of cards. "Well, gentlemen it appears we have a respite in the festivities. Shall we play?"
"Hell Erza, ain't no fun ta play with you when we always lose," Buck groused but sat down across from the gambler anyway.
JD grabbed the seat to Buck's right. "Sure was fun watching Dean beat him though," he said.
"I allowed Mr. Winchester to win. I do not understand why I must keep explaining the sound logic in that decision to ya'll."
"Not from where I was sitting. He had your number but good," Nathan laughed as he took the seat to Ezra's left.
Ignoring the teasing from his companions, Ezra looked up at Chloe. "Care to join us Miss Sullivan?"
Chloe was studying the men as she approached the table. They seemed so normal. "So, ghosts?" she asked.
"Yep darlin' but that don't mean we can't be sociable." Buck smiled and patted the empty chair next to him.
Chloe returned his smile and took a seat. "I was so convinced that you had to be some kind of projection. The ghost thing kind of took me by surprise."
"Projection?" JD asked.
"You know like a movie,"
"Saw one of them once." Buck said. "Remember when Matt brought that silver box and showed us - what was it - a DVP."
"A 'DVD'," Ezra corrected.
"Oh yeah. 'Magnificent Seven'. That was funny," JD said as he and the others laughed at the shared memory.
"Ridiculous tripe," Ezra said dismissively. "I do believe the only thing it got right was Mr. Larabee's penchant for wearing black."
Chloe raised an eyebrow at the gambler. "Are you saying that movie was based on you guys?"
The four nodded. "At least that's what Matt told us," Nathan explained.
Chloe couldn't believe it she was sitting here with real live - well not live - heroes from the old west. The stories they could tell would be amazing. She definitely needed to find time to come back and interview them about their experiences. "This is just so unbelievable," she said and as if to prove that they really were ghosts she poked at Ezra's shoulder, again.
When he finished flickering, he slammed the cards down on the table. "Miss Sullivan could you please refrain from doing that? If you find it necessary to continue to test the nature of our existence, may I suggest you poke Mr. Wilmington. I assure you he will not mind the attention."
Chloe turned to face the ladies man, who favored her with a wide grin. "Poke away, darlin'."
Unable to resist his offer and because the idea of sitting around a card table chatting with ghosts made her giggle, she reached out her hand toward the big man and it passed right through.
"That is so weird," she laughed.
"Glad you find us so amusing," Ezra quipped.
"Ezra, don't be snippy. She's trying to get used to the idea," Buck said and smiled at Chloe. "If it makes you happy, you can do it again"
"No, I think I'm good now."
"It's obvious that you're not a ghost hunter like the Winchesters, so why'd Matt think he needed to share the truth with you?" Nathan asked.
"Ghost hunter? I don't understand. Who are the Winchesters?"
The four took turns sharing the story of the brothers' recent visit and their failed attempt to send them to the great beyond.
"Guess they aren't very good ones, if you all are still here," Chloe laughed.
"Oh, they think we're gone," JD explained. "Performed some funny bonfire thing and burned our stuff."
"It was a masterful moment. A better con could not have been played if I'd planned it myself," Ezra acknowledged.
"You didn't answer Nathan's question. Why have you been let in on our little secret?" Buck asked.
Chloe quickly explained what she'd seen the night before and how she was going to be helping Mathew.
"She's a reporter. Like Mary," JD said smiling.
Chloe mentally sorted through the information she'd collected on Four Corners. Mary Travis had been the owner and operator of the Clarion Newspaper. She smiled. "Yes, exactly like Mary Travis. She's was quite the newspaper woman from what I've read."
The four nodded their agreement and seemed impressed by her knowledge of their long departed friend. Chloe knew at that moment she'd won their trust.
"Then we are much appreciative of your help." Ezra spoke for the group. "But the important question is, do you play poker?"
Chapter 4 Arizona
"You sure about this, Sam? You think Matt's in danger?" Dean asked his brother as he watched him hang up the phone with the lawyer.
"I can't be sure. It's not like my visions are in high definition but I definitely saw someone who looks a lot like him being shot in the head." Sam shrugged. "For all I know it could have been Vin Tanner, they look enough alike. And the guy was dressed in Western gear but a vision of Vin doesn't make as much sense."
"At least, Matt gave us a good reason to be back in town." Dean smiled. "We get to save his ass and get paid for delivering the info he needs. That never happens." He stood and began collecting their things.
"I just don't understand why I didn't get any visions while we were there working the hunt."
"I'll call the vision fairy and ask," Dean snickered.
"Seriously, maybe we did the wrong thing banishing those ghosts."
"Dude, you did not just say that," Dean snapped.
Sam looked sideways at his brother, surprised at the emotion of his response. "I got the first vision right after we left town and the ghosts were in this last one. That can't be a coincidence."
"I wasn't thrilled about moving them on and now you're saying you agree. Tell the vision fairy her timing sucks."
"Maybe we upset some sorta balance when we got rid of the six."
Dean considered this. "Then we still have work to do," he said as he slung his packed duffel over his shoulder and headed out the door.
Four Corners, New Mexico
Mathew rejoined the group at the table, slumping into the empty chair between JD and Nathan.
"Who kicked your dog?" Buck asked noticing the pained expression on Tanner's face.
"The Winchesters are coming back," Mathew said. "I couldn't really talk them out of it without it sounding suspicious."
Chloe watched as the same pained expressions ran across each of the ghost's faces. "What's the big deal? Just don't let them see you if they come to town. I sure won't say anything about the switcheroo you pulled."
"I suppose so." Matt sighed and then sat up straighter as the rest of her words penetrated. "I'm guessing the boys filled you in. Does that mean you're going to help?"
"Absolutely. The guys explained everything and I'm pretty sure I have some documents that will support your claims" She said and grinned at the ghosts. "Plus you guys are worth helping."
"I knew I liked her from the moment I saw her," Buck said.
"You like all women form the moment you see them," Nathan teased.
Buck just shrugged and smiled at Chloe. "I just have a way with the ladies."
Chloe returned his smile. "I bet you do."
"Guess we better be getting back."
"Come on Matt, stay. Chloe said she'd play poker with us," JD pushed.
"Next time, JD," Mathew said. "To be honest I'd like get going before Chris gets back."
"Me too," Chloe said. "He's a bit scary. What's his problem?"
"Chris ain't been himself lately," Nathan admitted. "He's just been getting angrier all the time."
"And he was pretty angry to begin with," JD added.
"Now Chris ain't no different than he's always been," Buck insisted and glared at the others for not defending their friend. "He ain't that scary once you get to know him, Chloe, I swear. He's just - well he's under a lot of pressure." Buck said sounding as much like he was trying to convince himself as Chloe.
She just nodded at Buck but silently wondered what kind of pressure would be enough to trouble a ghost that much.
"Do not worry yourself, Mathew; we will inform Mr. Larabee of the reason for Miss Sullivan's visit." Ezra assured him. "But I agree. It is best you both vacate the premises before he escapes Josiah's care."
"Well, it was very nice to meet you all. I hope to get back here very soon. I really want to hear all about your experiences as the law in this town," Chloe said.
As she rose to leave, the four ghosts stood. "It was a pleasure to meet you too darlin' and we look forward to your return," Buck said with a tip of his hat.
The others echoed Bucks sentiments and copied his gesture of farewell
"Such gentlemen," Chloe said as she nodded her head in response and followed Mathew out of the saloon.
"Now that was one classy lady," Nathan said.
"Very pretty, too. I'd sure like to get to know her better," Buck said as he watched her through the saloon window, his meaning clear to the others
"Ain't gonna happen, Buck," JD said and laughed when the big man glared at him. "Since you like Chloe so much I say you get to tell Chris about her."
"Not me. I think you just volunteered, JD. Right guys?" Nathan and Ezra nodded in agreement.
"Now wait a minute."
"He'll be here soon, JD. I suggest you prepare your presentation," Ezra said as he and the others blinked out.
"That's not fair guys," he shouted at the ceiling.
"JD, what the hell is going on and where's Matt?" Chris growled as he reappeared in the saloon, glare fixed on the youngest of the six.
JD did the only prudent thing he could think of and disappeared.
+ + + + + + +
Chloe spent the entire drive back peppering Mathew with questions about the ghosts and the town while sharing some of her more unusual experiences having grown up in Smallville, Kansas.
Mathew shared all he knew about the events that he believed led to the creation of the ghosts. "Of course, the guys themselves might know more, but they don't talk much about it."
Chloe nodded. "I'm sure it would be a painful memory. That is if they remember the actual event itself. I wonder why Vin never went ghost."
Mathew shook his head. "I really don't know that much about him, but don't bother asking them. I guarantee they won't talk about Vin. You think Chris is scary now, just try and ask him about my ancestor."
"Bite my head off?"
"More likely glare you to death," Mathew laughed.
"He does have one heck of a stare. Might even get me to shut-up," she said returning his laugh.
"The woman who stood toe-to-toe with Lex Luthor cowed by one of Chris Larabee's glares? Now that I'd like to see."
"Don't hold your breath. I may be reckless sometimes but I'm not stupid."
"Now, about the Winchesters?" he pushed.
"No worries. My lips are sealed. I understand you don't know me very well, but I promise I'm very good at keeping secrets."
Mathew took his eyes off the road momentarily to glance at Chloe. It was hard to believe he'd known her less than twenty-four hours and yet he felt a connection to her; trusted her. Maybe because she was the first person who shared his secret about the ghosts and seemed just as invested as he was in keeping them out of the public eye. "Of that, I have no doubt. I want to make sure you understand the danger they represent to the six."
"I do," she promised. "Though I'd like to know more about what the Winchesters do. Cross country ghost hunters. Sounds like an odd way to make a living."
"I don't think they get paid."
"So - what? They do it for the adrenaline rush?"
Mathew shrugged. "You'd have to ask them. They'll be here in the morning."
He maneuvered the car into the circular driveway of the hotel. "See you in the morning," he said as Chloe opened the door and retrieved her bag.
She leaned back into the open window, "I'll collect everything I have and be at your office by 9:00AM."
"It's a date," he said. She stepped back and they exchanged a polite wave as he drove off.
+ + + + + + +
At 3:00AM, Mathew found himself once again staring at his reflection in the bathroom mirror; awoken by the nightmares that would not let him rest.
He stepped back into the bedroom. "Damn it Vin. What are you trying to tell me?" He shouted at the empty room. Collapsing onto the bed he stared at the ceiling.
Silence answered his inquiry. He'd called his siblings earlier and there had been no recriminations. Jason had even offered to come help run interference with the Winchesters but Mathew had insisted he could handle it. If it wasn't guilt, then what was the reason for his nightmares?
With a resigned sigh, he rose and pulled his jeans from the pile on the floor. He needed answers and the only people who could help him were the ones who wouldn't talk about Vin. This time he wasn't backing down. A few more nights like this and it wouldn't matter. Hell, they'd be carting him off to the loony bin soon, he thought. Lack of sleep was making him crazy.
He snatched his car keys off the dresser and headed out to Four Corners.
Five of the ghosts had settled themselves onto the benches in front of the jailhouse. Their leader was noticeably absent.
"Chris was a might out of control today," Nathan observed.
"You don't think - I mean - that maybe - "
"Spit it out JD," Buck said.
"Well, the Winchesters said that ghosts can go bad; become dangerous. You don't think maybe Chris has - you know - gone that way."
"Don't be ridiculous, kid. Ain't nothing different about Chris," Buck insisted.
"I must disagree." Ezra offered. "I do think our fearless leader is becoming a danger to himself and others."
Buck sat up straighter in his chair and stared at his friends. "Ya'll forget what time of year this is."
As understanding dawned on the other four, Buck nodded smugly. "That's right, it's April. Chris ain't never right until May rolls around. He just needs some time to hisself. So stop talking this way," Buck snapped.
The others looked properly chastised. Chris Larabee's wife and son had been murdered; burned to death in a fire. When he'd been alive Chris would disappear for a week long drinking binge reemerging with the advent of the new month. Being a ghost had prevented him from the alcoholic haze he craved but hadn't done anything to stem the anger or the pain.
"Even so," Nathan said. "It seems to get worse every year."
"Maybe we should have crossed over, Buck. Then Chris could be with them and he'd be happy again," JD speculated.
"You crazy boy. You want to go there to - to that place. Josiah, help me out here tell him what's waiting for us."
"Hellfire and brimstone," the preacher intoned dramatically.
Buck gestured at the grey haired man. "Thank you Josiah." Then he turned back to JD. "Don't know about you but I ain't anxious to go."
"Neither am I," Ezra agreed.
"You don't know that's where you'd end up," Nathan said.
Buck just chuckled. "Oh, I have no doubt."
"Nathan's right, Buck. We done a lot of good. I don't think we would - that I would," JD said quietly.
Buck looked at the youngest of them with sympathy. "No JD, I'm sure you wouldn't."
"Besides Chris ain't the only one missing family," Nathan reminded him as he glanced at JD.
"Nathan, I'm sorry I forgot," Buck said feeling a bit selfish in his bid for self preservation.
They all teased JD a lot about his haplessness with women but it wasn't entirely fair. He and Nathan had been the only ones to leave wives behind. Together, the two of them had put that pain aside figuring that one day they'd be with them again.
"'Sokay, Buck," Nathan said. "I'm not necessarily in a rush to face judgment either."
"Unfortunately our fates are tied together and to this town," Josiah said, his voice a low rumble. "I am not afraid to crossover but I will not condemn my brothers to that fate if they do not wish to go."
"And for that, we thank you Josiah," Ezra said.
Silence descended between the old friends when the sound of a car engine caught their attention.
"You think that's the Winchesters?" JD asked.
"Don't sound like their car," Josiah said.
"I'll check," offered Nathan and he blinked out. He returned moments later. "It's Matt."
"Now what could possibly bring young Mr. Tanner out to see us in the dead of night?"
+ + + + + + +
Mathew stood on the main street, one foot propped up on the wooden step that lead to where the five were gathered. This was going to be a difficult conversation and he was relived that Chris wasn't there.
"Have a seat, kid," Buck pointed to an empty chair, "and tell us why you're out wandering the town."
Matt shook his head. "I think I better stand for this one."
"What's troubling you, son?" Josiah asked.
He took a deep breath. "I've been having nightmares and - Vin's been in every one. Madder than hell about something I did," he said cautiously not sure what their reaction would be to the mention of their missing friend.
He'd promised Josiah he'd never bring his ancestor up again but they were the only ones who might understand what Vin wanted of him.
The five had exchanged silent glances but said nothing so Mathew forged ahead relaying in detail what had occurred in his dreams.
Ezra cleared his throat. "Well, that's - uh - all very interesting but really not something we can help you with. I don't recall any of us being trained in dream interpretation."
"Vin was real quiet most of the time but he sure did have a temper when he thought something wasn't fair," JD said and allowed himself a small smile at the memory of his long departed friend before the others glared him into silence.
Mathew knew that they weren't going to offer anything up without a fight. While he didn't know much about Vin there was one glaring hole in the family history concerning the bounty hunter. Without preamble he asked the loaded question that Chloe had posed earlier that evening. "Why isn't Vin a ghost, too?"
The five didn't respond instead seemed to find anything other than Mathew to occupy their interest.
The silence stretched until Nathan finally spoke. "He didn't die with the rest of us. Thought you understood that."
"I know the story, Nathan, but I just thought - I feel that there's somehow more to it than him simply dying of old age. Vin's haunting my dreams. I can't sleep and it - " he hesitated, "The nightmares feel so real; the heat, his grip on my shirt, the fear that he will shoot me and if he did, that I'd really die." Mathew stopped and waited for his friends to volunteer to help him through this; their own discomfort be damned.
"Mathew, I am sorry for your distress but I assure you that - ,"
"Don't Ezra. Don't give me the generic platitudes," Mathew interrupted. "I deserve better."
The gambler appeared appropriately abashed. Ezra looked at his companions; his green eyes finally settling on Josiah, imploring him to take on the task. The preacher nodded and stepped off the wooden sidewalk to speak with Mathew. Josiah looked back at the others. "Best give us some privacy."
Without another word the four disappeared and Josiah turned to face Mathew. "You sure you want to talk about Vin?"
Tanner nodded. "I know that you told me to stop asking about him but this is different. I want to know how he really died."
Sighing, Josiah began to walk down the main street toward the church that he had spent years refurbishing. Mathew kept pace and waited for the older man to share.
They stopped and Josiah looked at the old building as if drawing strength for the talk to come. "You're right, Vin didn't die of old age. Oh, he was old all right, past seventy, but his passing wasn't the simple tale that the Tanner family promoted through the generations."
Mathew waited but Josiah seemed lost in thought. "So what really happened?"
The preacher turned to him and Mathew was startled by the depth of sadness he saw in those blue eyes. "He committed suicide."
"I don't understand," he said, sure that he had misheard the statement.
"Vin took his gun and shot himself," Josiah explained and turned back to stare at the church.
Mathew was shocked. Of all the ways Vin could have died, suicide had never crossed his mind. "Why would he do that?"
Josiah hung his head and whispered. "He didn't want to leave us behind."
Understanding dawned on Mathew. "Vin thought if he died a violent death, he'd join you in the haunting."
Josiah nodded. "It didn't work and it's our fault that that boy is spending an eternity in hell."
Of course the former preacher would believe that Vin had committed the ultimate sin. "But I don't understand how that is your fault?"
Josiah looked at him, tears pooling in his eyes. "We didn't stop him. We knew what he was planning and we let him do it. Maybe -" he hesitated. "Maybe even encouraged him to do it."
"Josiah," Mathew said tying to pour all the sympathy he could into the man's name. "Vin made his own choice."
"No!" The self recrimination was clear in the tenor of his voice. "We were selfish. We didn't want him to leave us."
"You were still friends even though six of you were ghosts?" Mathew asked.
The older man nodded. "He could see us, interact with us. We still felt like we were seven but Vin was getting old and none of us wanted to face being six."
It was so clear now why no one talked about Vin. He'd made the ultimate sacrifice to be with his friends and it had failed. Even after one hundred years, the six still felt that they'd let Vin down. This was not the answer he'd been expecting.
"I'm so sorry," Mathew finally said. "I don't know what to say." But he knew that he wasn't going to find the answers to his nightmares here.
"There's nothing to say. We condemned our friend's soul to hell and we do our penance here every day."
Mathew arrived at his office to see Chloe already in the conference room. He felt drained from the night's excursion. The conversation with Josiah weighed heavily on his mind and he was still no closer to finding out why he was having nightmares about Vin. He did not agree with Josiah's pronouncement that his ancestor was in hell. That was something he wouldn't allow himself to believe.
He stopped to greet Annie and noticed the full coffee pot. "Bless you," he said as he grabbed a cup.
"Self preservation," Annie laughed.
"Funny," Mathew quipped. It was well known that he seemed incapable of making a decent pot of coffee. At least that was the prevailing opinion of the office but he never tasted anything wrong with it.
"Travis in?" he asked.
"He's in court on the Hanover case," she replied studying him. Mathew knew he had dark circles under his eyes but she seemed to sense he wasn't in the mood to talk about it. He also knew that if he didn't get some rest soon he'd be of no use to anyone. For the present, large amounts of caffeine seemed to be his best option until he figured out how to get a good's night sleep.
"Good." Mathew wanted to be able to talk freely with Chloe and didn't want his associate interrupting. He'd been so wrapped up in the Four Corners lawsuit that he'd almost forgotten that they had other clients besides The Historical Society.
"How is our intrepid reporter this morning?" Mathew asked as he entered the conference room trying to portray a cheerfulness he did not feel.
Chloe had made herself at home. Her laptop was fired up and her files were spread out on the table, including the blueprint that she'd shown him yesterday.
She raised her coffee in salute. "Better now."
He returned the gesture and settled into a chair opposite Chloe with an audible sigh.
"You look like hell. Didn't you get any sleep?"
"Gee thanks, and no not really."
"Well let me show you what I've found and maybe we can get rid of some of that stress."
As much as he wanted to see what she'd uncovered, he really needed to talk about the nightmares and what Josiah had told him. Chloe had shared some of her more colorful meteor freak adventures on the ride home last night and he thought maybe dream interpretation might be one of her skills. She seemed to be good at just about everything and accepting of even the most outlandish logic if it made sense to her.
"Chloe before we get started, I wanted to talk to you about something. Maybe you can help me understand."
"Sure I'll try. What is it you don't understand?"
"You already know what happened with the Winchesters," and when she nodded he continued, "After they left, I started having these nightmares." He went on to describe them in detail and didn't hesitate to share what Josiah told him about Vin's death hoping she might see a correlation.
Chloe listened intently and without interruption; often nodding sympathetically as Mathew imparted his story. "I'm not one for dreams as messages but considering what has happened over the past week, there might be some connection," She offered as he finished sharing.
"But what? And do you really think Vin is - you know." He couldn't bring himself to voice the possibility of that horrible fate.
"Raised Catholic so I know what I'm supposed to believe," she said sympathetically but failed to elaborate. "As for the rest," Chloe shrugged. "If it's not based on meteor rocks, I'm afraid it's a bit out of my realm of expertise. I hate to say it but I bet your Winchester friends would know," she suggested and when he frowned she continued, "I know you can't ask them because of the whole 'ghosts being gone charade'."
Mathew chuckled ruefully at the irony. The people best able to find a possible connection between his nightmares and the situation at Four Corners were the only ones he couldn't ask. "You know what. Forget it. Let's look at what you've found. Maybe I'm making too much of it and Vin simply represents my subconscious worry that we won't be able to prove Saunders claims are false in time for court next week."
"That's a good explanation too."
+ + + + + + +
For the past hour Chloe had been walking Mathew through her research and he was very impressed. "This is just brilliant."
"Thanks. But there are still some holes. I haven't had a chance to finish my investigation into the Tanners to solidify their claim on the land."
"I noticed that but then you only found out the Tanner part of the equation yesterday."
"True but there's more work to do," she said as she stationed herself in front of her lap top. "Land records form the turn of the century aren't always where you'd expect to find them."
"Then maybe I can help."
At the new voice, Chloe looked up from her computer to see a tall, shaggy haired man standing in the doorway.
Mathew jumped to his feet. "Sam! I wasn't sure if you guys were really coming."
"Are you kidding? Dean wouldn't pass up an opportunity to actually get paid," he laughed. "Plus -," Sam pointed over his shoulder toward the lobby.
Chloe looked past where the men were standing to see a stocky man with short hair, leaning on Annie's desk. Dean Winchester she surmised. He appeared more interested in chatting up the receptionist than joining their meeting.
"Is Dean still pretending to be Agent Raimi?" Mathew asked. Chloe snickered as she recalled the story Mathew had shared about how the Winchesters had tried to pass themselves off as government agents.
Sam shrugged. "I try not to think too hard about what my brother tells women."
Looking at Sam, who was clad in jeans, a blue stripped shirt and a worn tan jacket, she found it hard to envision him successfully convincing anyone he was a government agent. Plus he was too cute to work for the government. Chloe stilled mentally. She did not just say that. Focus Sullivan she thought.
Chloe stood and cleared her throat, turning the men's attention to her.
"Oh sorry. Sam Winchester, this is Chloe Sullivan. She's with The Daily Planet and an old friend who agreed to help with our research."
Mathew and Chloe had decided that since she wanted to talk to the brothers about their ghost hunting adventures, being an old friend would explain the reason she knew all about what had happened last week in Four Corners.
Sam shook the petite blonde's hand. "Wow it's nice to meet you. I've read some of your stuff about Smallville, Kansas."
"I guess our little town would be very interesting to a professional ghost hunter," Chloe said, enjoying the double take Sam threw at Mathew.
"I hope you don't mind that I told her," Mathew explained. "It kind of came up when she wanted to go say hi to the ghosts."
"Oh," Sam said sheepishly. "Guess you're kind of mad about that then."
"Mathew explained and I think ultimately it went down the only way it could," she replied sending him one of her blinding smiles and taking pleasure in the fact that the double meaning of her words was lost on Sam.
Sam smiled back. "Yeah, I guess so."
Even though he was smiling Chloe sensed hesitancy in his voice. She studied him trying to figure out why and then looked away when she realized she was staring.
"So, why don't we take a look at what Sam's found?" Mathew said and turned to call into the lobby. "Hey Dean you gonna join us?"
The older Winchester threw an annoyed look at Mathew before bidding farewell to Annie.
Chloe had taken the seat next to Sam and they exchanged folders. As she looked at the work he'd compiled she was very impressed.
Dean entered the conference room. "You already got Sam. You don't need me. Who's the chick?" He asked Mathew when he spotted Chloe.
"This chick is Chloe Sullivan, a reporter for the Daily planet and she doesn't appreciate being called a chick," Chloe snapped.
"Whoa sweetheart. Unbunch your panties," Dean smirked. Chloe felt her anger building. She glared at Dean who seemed to find her discomfort humorous
Sam must have recognized the brewing storm. "Dean knock it off," he commanded.
"Fine," Dean said as he plopped down into one of the chairs like a petulant child.
Chloe couldn't believe that this Neanderthal was related to Sam. They seemed so different. Ignoring the five year old in the room as he rearranged a small pile of paper clips, Chloe returned her attention to the material that Sam had collected.
Soon they were comparing the different ways they'd used to hack the information. "I hadn't thought to look at it that way," she said.
"Well it is relatively illegal," Sam admitted and they shared a conspiratorial grin.
"Ok that's it for me," Dean said after half an hour and stood. "Mathew, take care of the geek squad. I'll be back to pick Sam up for dinner; that is if you can tear him away from his new girlfriend."
Dean left, ignoring the glare Sam threw at him on his way out and with a wave to Annie, he was gone.
"Wow, you two are so different. It's hard to believe you're brothers." Chloe said.
"Sometimes I wonder if I wasn't switched at birth," Sam laughed.
"Definitely a plausible theory."
+ + + + + + +
Dean allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction. He could tell that Sam found that blonde chick - what was her name? Chloe -- attractive. Guy blushed up a storm; it was almost embarrassing.
The plan was for Dean to leave anyway. He was headed out to Four Corners to check on their handiwork and see if there was anything out there that might explain Sam's visions.
Dean wondered if it wasn't just guilt. Most ghosts would rather kill you than talk to you. But the six were nicer than some living people he'd met and all they wanted to do was swap stories and play poker.
Dean entered the saloon, gun held loosely in his left hand and EMF meter in his right. He was looking for anything else supernatural that they might have missed.
"I knew she couldn't be trusted. I knew you'd be back," a voice behind him growled.
The elder Winchester swung around to see Chris Larabee standing in the doorway and he didn't look happy.
"Son of a bitch. I had a feeling it didn't work." Dean said. Ever since Sam had mentioned his visions, he wondered if it wasn't a sign that they'd failed but he hadn't wanted to voice it until he was sure.
Chris didn't say anything. Just stood there, dark eyes filled with fury pinning Dean in place.
"Ooookaay," Dean said unsure of what Chris was waiting for. He glanced around looking for the others. Ignoring Chris, he called out "Hey Ezra, show yourself, I know -"
Dean was flung backwards to the ground as Chris threw himself at the hunter. His shotgun skittered across the ground out of reach. Looking up Dean only had a moment to register what had happened before Chris' fist connected with his chin.
"Knew she couldn't be trusted. I knew you'd be back," Chris repeated, while continuing to pummel Dean.
Dean's vision swam as he tried to role away from Chris' assault. Larabee was straddling his chest. He threw his arms up trying to block the blows but they passed through his hands to continue to land on his body and face. "Guys!" Dean shouted to the others he hoped were lurking out of sight. "Help! Ezra, Bu - "
Dean's cries were cut off as Chris's hands encircled the hunter's throat. "You have to die," he growled as he tightened his choke hold.
Clawing at the ghost's hands without success, Dean felt himself losing consciousness. "You have to die. It's the only way to be sure," the ghost repeated.
Dean's eyes rolled back into his head as the darkness began to over take him, and then suddenly he could breath again as the weight was lifted from his chest.
He lay there, coughing as he filled his oxygen starved lungs.
"Dean. Dean! Answer me."
He opened his eyes to find Nathan bent over him concern etched on his features.
Like a shot Dean was scrambling backward until he bumped against the bar. He sat on the floor leaning against the wooden structure. "Stay away," he croaked out, hand reaching up to massage his injured throat.
Nathan was on his knees in front of him. "I'm not gonna hurt you," the healer said; his hands held out in supplication. "I just want to make sure you're not hurt."
"I'm fine," Dean lied and looked past Nathan to see Buck and Josiah wrestling with Chris. JD stood in front blocking their leader's path back to Dean.
"I do hope that you are uninjured, Mr. Winchester."
Dean glanced to his right to find Ezra seated on the floor next to him, leaning against the bar in identical repose.
"Took you long enough," Dean snapped.
Ezra nodded. "I am sorry. It had not occurred to us that Mr. Larabee would so foolishly reveal our ruse and thus our response was delayed."
"You played us, Ezra. Not happy about that."
The gambler remained reticent refusing to justify what they'd done.
"Dean, are you sure you're alright?" Nathan asked as his moved to mirror Ezra's pose on Dean's left. "Chris left some nasty bruises on your face."
"Yeah. Just peachy," he said as he wiped some blood from his split lip. In truth his head was aching and he was still seeing stars. He decided sitting was the most prudent course of action. The three sat silently as they watch the others struggle with the man in black.
"Damn it, Chris!" Buck snapped as he jerked his friend to face him. "What in hell were you thinking?"
"That girl betrayed us. When you gonna stop thinking with you downstairs brain?" Chris shouted.
"That ain't true. Chloe wouldn't have said nothing. She promised," Buck insisted.
Dean recognized the blonde reporter's name, but said nothing. He wondered who else knew they'd been punked.
"You're a fool Buck. We won't be safe until he's dead," Chris yelled and pointed at the hunter.
"Thou shalt not kill," Josiah intoned as he kept a meaty hand on their leader's shoulder, restraining him. "Think about what you're saying Chris. You're threatening an innocent."
"Not gonna let you hurt him Chris. You'll go through me first," Buck said.
"Why are you against me on this? You know I'm right!"
"No Chris," Buck said trying to calm his friend. "You're the one who messed up our plan. You're the one who's put us all at risk."
Chris glared at the mustachioed man but Buck didn't back down.
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions. But you are wrong in this case," Josiah said; holding his own against the maniacal glare as it shifted to him.
Finding him self surrounded, Chris deflated, the anger running away from him as he lowered himself into a chair.
Buck took the opportunity to send Dean a look that held a wealth of sincere apology. Dean nodded finding he couldn't be too angry with the big man; not with the way he'd defended him to Chris.
As the realization of his stupidity weighed down on him, Chris sagged in the chair. Removing his hat, he ran a hand through his hair as if trying to dispel the madness. His gaze settled on the hunter. There was still crazy in those eyes as far a Dean was concerned.
Feeling a little recovered, Dean struggled to his feet. Nathan did his best to assist him. Nodding his thanks, the hunter went to retrieve the shot gun. Dean turned, cocked it and without preamble blew Chris away.
"Now let's talk before crazy boy returns," he said.
Sam was leafing through a pile of papers when he reached out and found himself holding Chloe's hand as she reached for the same document. Blushing, he released it quickly.
"Sorry." he stammered and wanted to smack himself for being so self conscious around her. He was just glad Dean wasn't here to see him stumbling over himself with a girl.
She gave him another of those blinding smiles as she laughed lightly. "Great minds." Chloe said as she handed him the paper he'd wanted.
"So, is all of this going to help you blow the lid off Luthorcorp's illegal activities in New Mexico?"
Chloe shifted her gaze to the article she'd been composing. "Well, it should make Lex very nervous. Once everything about Saunders comes to light, he's going to have to do some fancy footwork to distance him self from the fallout." And he'll definitely have to find a new location for his next 33.1 branch, she thought.
"I guess he's pretty good at that." Sam said.
"He's had a lot of practice. Unfortunately, he'll just move onto a new state and make new deals."
"But you're on his trail so eventually you'll bring him down."
"Well, I don't know that it's possible to actually 'bring him down'," she shrugged and found herself flattered by his faith in her abilities.
"I have no doubt," Sam said as he held her gaze. "You've done some amazing research here and taught me a few things about gathering information."
Now, Chloe found herself the one blushing. "It is what I do."
Mathew had been watching their flirtation with quiet amusement. "I hate to interrupt the mutual admiration society but what say we break for lunch? I'll send Annie for some sandwiches."
"Great idea, Mathew," Chloe said as she shifted in her chair trying to pretend that she and Sam hadn't just been flirting outrageously.
Sam nodded his agreement and looked at Mathew who gave him a knowing smile. Just when he thought his embarrassment couldn't be any greater he was saved from speaking by the ringing of his cell phone.
"It's Dean," Sam laughed. "Probably heard you mention lunch all the way across town."
"I got that impression about your brother," Mathew said. "Tell him if he gets back in time, I'll buy him a sandwich."
Sam nodded and flipped open his phone. "What's up?"
"You'll never guess who I'm chatting with?"
Knowing where Dean had been going there was only one answer to that question. Sam stared accusingly at Mathew. "We got played."
Mathew cringed at the harshness of Sam's tone but said nothing.
"Yep. You want to bring Mathew boy out here so he can explain himself?" Dean said.
"And tell him his best buddy Chris just tried to kill me so could he please bring the real tokens so we can finish this?"
"I'm fine. The others stepped in, but Larabee's gone dark side and we need to take care of this before he hurts someone."
"On my way." Sam closed his phone.
Mathew waited expectantly for him to share what had happened.
"Chris tried to kill Dean," Sam snapped.
"He did what?" Mathew sagged in his chair. "I knew he was upset about Chloe but I thought Josiah had talked him down."
Sam shifted his gaze to the blonde. "You knew they were still here. Did he attack you too?"
Chloe shook her head. "He was scary but not really violent. Well not violent to me. He was pretty angry with the others."
"Doesn't matter," Sam said. "He's officially dangerous. That makes what you did, Mathew, not only stupid, but life threatening."
"I know that now. I'm really sorry," Mathew said.
"Save it." Sam was in no mood for apologies; not when Dean had almost been killed. "I want that box that Vin carved and anything else you have tied to the six. We're going out there and we're doing it right this time."
"Sam -" Chloe started and then stopped when she saw the anger in his eyes. She didn't know what to say.
"You wanted to know what we do? Well you're going to have a ring side seat," he said darkly as he pulled Mathew to his feet and pointed him toward the door.
Chloe grabbed her things and followed the men out of the office.
+ + + + + + +
Mathew opened the door to his place. There had been nothing but icy silence on the way there. He knew there was nothing he could say to change the Winchesters' minds this time.
He headed back to his bedroom with Sam and Chloe close behind. The hunter grabbed Vin's box off the dresser and opened it.
"It's empty. But there was something else in here wasn't there? Something Dean and I never saw." Sam handed the box to Chloe as he waited for Mathew to produce the real tokens.
Reluctantly, Mathew went to his wall safe. Opening it he pulled out the leather pouch and handed it to Sam.
Sam opened the pouch to look inside. "Hair? From each of them."
"Vin collected that on the day they died. It had been in the box but I've been keeping it in the safe since that night you tried to banish them."
"This has to be the real part of their essence; the anchor that's keeping them here."
"What are these symbols?" Chloe asked as she ran her had across the top of the brown, wooden box. Did you look them up?"
Sam turned his attention to the carvings that adorned the box. "They're Native American, but no I didn't check them out. Obviously, I should have," he said as he glared at Mathew. "Do you know what they mean?"
Tanner shook his head. "I only know Vin specifically built the box to hold the mementos from the six, including that pouch."
"If he went to that much trouble then we should definitely find out what they mean before we go any further," Sam said. "Where's your computer?"
Mathew led them to his study.
Chloe pulled out her laptop while Sam seated himself in front of the desk top. "Let's see what we can find," she said as they settled in to do some research.
Mathew slumped into the coach along the opposite wall and waited. For a moment he thought he should tell Sam about his dreams, but he suspected that they were simply manifestations of this inevitability; that the Winchesters would find out the truth and put the ghosts down for good.
It wasn't long before Chloe found something. Turning her lap top to show Sam, "This symbol here," she pointed at the screen and then to the box, "it means guardian. Along with these small ones around the sides, it's a phase that invokes the guardian to protect something. I'm assuming whatever is placed in the box."
Sam studied the display. "I'm impressed. You're very good with translations."
"I've had some practice with dead languages before." She smiled as she wondered if Kryptonian really counted.
"Some protection," Mathew mumbled from his place on the couch. "The wards didn't stop you from burning what was inside and it won't stop you now."
"Might not be that kind of protection. It isn't clear exactly what Vin wanted to guard."
"It's not like you couldn't remove the contents." Chloe observed as she opened the container and ran her hand around the inside. "I really doesn't seem like a very effective way to protect things."
"But it did for a very long time," Sam reminded her.
"No Chloe's right. It didn't do a very good job of stopping you from destroying those objects."
"Then maybe the box itself is being protected," Sam suggested. "You prevented us from burning it. Without realizing it, you were protecting the real object of value."
Chloe examined the symbols again and pointed at the one on the lid. "This one - Guardian - is very specific. It suggests a person. So it must mean the Tanners, right?"
"I was the guardian of the box after my father passed away."
"I'm guessing you are the one who needs to destroy it as the designated guardian," Sam said.
Chloe thought about this as she chewed her lip. "I agree with Sam, it's the box that has the power, not the things in the box, like the pouch of hair - those were decoys and obviously that worked, no offense Sam."
"None taken. I think you've figured it out," Sam smiled at the petite blonde. She had a sharp mind that had impressed him all day long. "Dean and I should have been more insistent about burning the box."
Chloe returned his smile. "So this is what you do. Solve these great big Scooby Doo-like mysteries all around the country?"
"We've actually run into very few old men in masks looking for buried treasure," Sam joked. "But yeah, this is what we do."
"Very cool. Think I'd be any good at it?" Chloe asked. "And you should know: I can shoot a gun."
Sam laughed. "Yeah I think you would be. Thinking of giving up your day job?"
"So," Mathew said as he once again had to remind the two that he was still in the room. "You think if the box is destroyed then the ghost will move on but I'm the only one who can do it."
"That's what the research suggests," Sam said. He noticed that Chloe was trying to look busy. They kept falling into their own conversations and it wasn't fair to Mathew. On the other hand, Sam couldn't remember being this at ease with anyone in a long time and certainly not someone who knew all about his chosen profession. He definitely did not want to lose touch with Chloe when this was over.
"I suppose you'll want me to light a fire?" Mathew asked as he stood not really sure how he was going to stop Sam from forcing him to burn the box.
"Let's do this at Four Corners," Sam said sympathetically. "I know you'd want to say goodbye for real this time."
Mathew sent him a rueful smile. "Thanks. I appreciate that."
Chloe stood and began packing up her laptop. "Any chance you'll let me interview them before you do your thing?"
Sam sent her an incredulous look. "You're kidding right?"
"Heck No! They're a fascinating piece of Americana and you're going to just send them to the great beyond. I'd like to at least capture their story. That is what I do." Chloe insisted. This was a rare opportunity and she wasn't about to let it go without a fight.
He studied the woman in front of him; hands on her hips, a determined set to her stance, and blindingly beautiful smile on her face. Sam recognized that he was out gunned. "Alright, I'll give you some time but I don't guarantee that Dean will. He wasn't too happy on the phone," he warned her. "And no talking to Chris. He is definitely dangerous even if the others aren't - yet."
"I knew you'd see it my way," she said the excitement spilling out of her. There was a spring in her step as she grabbed her things, the wooden box and led the way out to the car.
The two men watched her leave and Mathew chuckled at Sam's loss of control.
"She's tough to say no to," Sam admitted awkwardly.
"I can see that." Mathew snarked and allowed himself some hope. If Chloe already had Sam halfway wrapped around her finger and he could convince her to join his side, he might still find a way to save the ghosts. Besides he had no intention of destroying the box willingly. As for Chris being dangerous, Mathew still wasn't convinced that Dean hadn't done something to offend the man.
+ + + + + + +
"Are you still so determined to kill us?" Ezra asked.
"You're already dead," Dean snapped as he slumped into a chair at one of the tables to wait for Sam; his shot gun at the ready and his eyes continually scanning the room for any signs of Larabee's return.
"True but this existence is our life," Ezra reminded him.
"Stop talking now."
"Or what? You'll shoot me too? I thought we were friends." The gambler smiled trying to regain the camaraderie that had flowed so easily between the two the last time Dean had been in the saloon.
Dean swung the shot gun toward Ezra who had seated himself across the table from the hunter. "Try me," he said the anger plain in his voice. "And we're not friends."
"But - " Ezra began and stopped as Dean cocked the shotgun.
Buck caught the gambler's eye and shook his head, indicating that silence might be the best course of action.
The southerner closed his mouth, leaned back in his chair and pulled a deck of cards from his jacket. Except for the shuffling of cards, silence descended upon the room.
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee stood silently in the Four Corner's graveyard trying to remember the last time he hadn't had to struggled to keep the anger and the rage at bay
He'd never been a particularly happy man in life; certainly not since Sarah and Adam had died in the fire. That day he'd lost everything that made life worth living and yet somehow he'd continued to survive.
Chris had become self destructive, but with the help of Vin and the others he'd found a purpose, protecting the town, to give his life meaning and another blonde haired woman, Mary Travis, with whom he thought he might find love again.
Then he'd died, for real this time. Lost the chance at love and the best friend he'd ever had. Sure, Buck was a good friend and he really did care about the others but he and Vin had shared the kind of friendship that couldn't be replaced.
Josiah believed that Vin burned in hell and they all thought they were equally to blame. But Chris knew the truth; it was his fault that Vin suffered and was lost to them. He'd been the one to encourage his friend to make that awful choice.
Chris had been thinking a lot about Vin lately; ever since the Winchesters had burned the mementos. Saying Vin's name out loud to Mathew had brought up a wealth of memories that Chris had kept buried for too many years.
He'd felt himself spinning out of control after that. Buck believed it was his annual dark time because of Adam and Sarah and that was part of it. But the bigger part was that he'd finally lost hope that Vin might somehow, someday join them.
"I failed you," Chris said as he stood, hat in hand, at the grave of his friend. "Twice. The Winchesters are back and this time there's no tricks left to be played."
Chris found it hard to care that his existence might be over. He was tired. Tired of the endless days, tired of trying to fulfill the promise that kept them tied to this dead town and very tired of existing without his friend. He wondered if his desire for the end was what had caused him to reveal the ruse that just days before they'd worked so hard to put in place.
He felt spent and was surprised to find that there was no malice left in his heart toward the Winchesters. They had a job to do and he respected that.
He looked out past the graveyard to see a car approaching. "Mathew's here," Chris observed as he knelt down to sweep away some dust that covered the brass plate. "I miss ya, Vin and I know now you ain't ever coming to join us; so I 'spect it's time to move on."
Straightening up, he placed his hat back on his head. "I'm sorry," he said before blinking out to face Mathew and the others.
Sam, Chloe and Mathew emerged from the car to see Dean and five of the ghosts headed their way. Sam exchanged a glance with Chloe that suggested they were both relived that Chris was not with the group.
"You okay, Dean?" Sam asked as the two groups met in the middle of main street. "You look awful." He reached up to examine the bruising that was so prominent on his brother's face.
Dean smacked his hand away. "I'm fine. Larabee's been making himself scarce." He looked over at Mathew. "Nice stunt. Almost got me killed."
"Dean, believe me if I thought that Chris was dangerous I would have never gone through with his plan."
"His plan, of course. It didn't occur to you that the psychotic ghost might not want to move on," Dean growled.
"Chris ain't psychotic," Buck said. "He's just a little out of sorts."
"We all agreed to Chris' plan," Nathan insisted. "None of us want to leave this place."
"No more plans. We won't be fooled again so you better get used to the idea that your ghost days are over," Dean said before turning to his brother. "Did you find anything?"
"I think we found what we need to move them along." Sam reached into his jacket and produced the leather pouch. He explained the contents to Dean. "Plus this," Sam said indicating the wooden box that Chloe held.
"That the same box Mathew wouldn't let us burn last time?"
"Yeah, it is."
"Why am I not surprised," Dean grumbled. "So now what?"
"First, we need to destroy the box which should undo whatever protections might be floating around and then we burn it and the pouch," Sam said as he reached to take the container from Chloe. As he touched the box, his hands began to shake as a vision crashed into him.
Sam toppled over onto Chloe who slipped under one arm as Dean dropped his gun to grab his brother from the other side. "Sam! Sammy!" Dean yelled as the younger Winchester fell to the ground.
Chloe was pinned against Sam and could fell the wave of tension coursing through his body. "What's happening? Is it Chris? Is he attacking him?"
Dean ignored her as he waited for the vision to pass. Sam was gasping for breath unable to respond to his brother's entreaties.
"Chris ain't doing this, ma'am," Josiah said. "I 'spect he's having a vision."
The elder Winchester glared up at the preacher. "What do you know about it?"
"Seen similar behavior before with some of the Indian tribes I knew." The preacher studied the brothers. Dean's lack of denial told him he was right.
"Maybe Sam's visions have something to do with your dreams," Josiah said as he looked to Mathew. "They might be connected."
"What dreams?" Dean demanded of Tanner.
Before Mathew could answer, Sam drew their attention to him as the vision passed. He was sitting on the ground trying to regain his composure. When he was ready, Dean and Chloe helped him to his feet.
Sam gave a small nodded and winced. "Monster headache though."
"Wait," said Chloe as she dug through her bag and pulled out a small white bottle. "Will these help?"
"Thanks." Sam dry swallowed the headache tablets. "We should really think about keeping some of this stuff around," he joked as Chloe rewarded him with a small smile.
"What did you see?" Dean asked, impatient for a report.
"Vin, pretty much the same as before."
"You're having visions about Vin?" Mathew asked. "Because that's who I've been dreaming about."
"Does this mean that Vin's coming?" JD asked excitedly. "Because we've been waiting such a long time - "
"JD," Buck hissed the younger man into silence.
"Most likely means that the time has come for us to join him," Josiah suggested. The other ghosts remained quiet believing that the preacher had spoken the truth.
"What about Vin?" Chloe asked. "What was he doing in the vision?"
Sam grimaced as he recalled the memory. "He was shot in the head and the other six were gathered round. He was holding the box. I don't remember if that detail was in the other visions."
Dean watched the ghosts as Sam told his story. If it were possible they all went a little pale. "Buck, you recognize the scene he described?"
"Well, I'm not sure," he stammered looking to his companions for guidance.
They knew something and they weren't going to share, increasing Dean's irritation. He turned to Mathew. "Are your dreams the same?"
He shook his head. "I dream of the day they all died and Vin is angry because I've done something wrong. I assumed it was guilt over burning the objects, but now..." the lawyer shrugged. "I don't know. I do think Sam's vision might be - "
"Really, does it matter who dreamed what?" Ezra interrupted.
Mathew realized that the gambler was not about to let him share their group shame and he decided to let the opportunity to tell the Winchesters about Vin's suicide pass out of respect to his friends.
"Can we please just get on with what you came here to do?" Ezra said as he removed his red jacket. "I don't suppose I will need this in Hell."
"Now wait a minute, Ez," Buck said. "You and Josiah may be ready to go but I ain't in any rush."
"I am not ready to go but I do recognize when it is time to fold my hand," the gambler said. "And Buck must I remind you again it is Ez-ra. You'd think after all these years you could remember that."
Buck smiled with a hint of sadness in his eyes. "Just thought after all these years you'd finally learned to loosen up about that."
"Yeah, Ez. What's the big deal?" JD teased.
"I don't know, John. Why don't you tell me why it matters to you?" Ezra replied.
The light hearted banter was tinged with an edge of finality that weighed heavily on the entire group.
Confusion creased Chloe's brow as she thought about what Ezra had first said. "You aren't really going to Hell? You were just kidding right? I mean you guys did a lot of good for this town and that just doesn't seem right."
The ghosts didn't answer but from their body language it was clear that they believed that was their fate.
"Sam?" She turned her question to the hunter.
"We don't really know what happens when we banish ghosts," he admitted. "Most are vengeful spirits that need to be put down and their destination seems fairly obvious."
"But not these guys?" Chloe pushed. She understood that Chris might be dangerous but the others didn't deserve that fate.
"That's not for us to decide," Dean said. "We need to make sure people are safe here and now."
"Well that's not good enough." The challenge clear in her stance.
"Listen sweetheart, they may seem nice now but spirits don't stay that way. Believe me I know," he said as he rubbed his neck; a reminder that just a short time ago he'd been the recipient of Chris' turn toward the dark.
Chloe took a step toward him. "I'm not about to help condemn these men to Hell. They don't deserve that. I think -,"
"You don't get to think. This ain't your problem." Dean responded as he closed the distance between them. "Now run along back to your newspaper."
Sam wedged himself between them. "Knock it off, Dean," he said as he pushed his brother back and turning to Chloe he continued. "Let's just calm down. I thought you understood; Chris tried to kill Dean."
"So just banish Chris," she said.
"No." Josiah said quietly. "We appreciate what you trying to do, ma'am but if we go, we all go together. It's time."
"Let the lady speak Josiah," Buck said. "I think she's the only sane one around here. Why is everyone in such a dang gone rush to go - down there?' He finished with a wave toward the ground.
Mathew stayed out of the discussion but he was pleased to see that Chloe had switched sides without any prompting from him. He wished Chris would appear and prove that he wasn't the crazy vengeful spirit that Dean described.
"Besides, Sam, you promised me that I could interview the guys about their life in the old west before you finished the ritual," the reporter reminded him.
Dean eyed his brother. "Sam, you didn't?"
He sent Dean a half smile. "She was very insistent."
Buck laughed. "I told you I liked this girl. What do you want to know, darlin'? I'm ready to talk you ear off."
"I find that I am happy to postpone our journey as well. If Miss Sullivan wishes to learn more, I agree that we should give her that opportunity," Ezra said as he pulled his coat back on, pleased that their demise appeared to be delayed.
"I think that we should head to saloon so that I can take some notes," she said. "And speaking of names, Ezra please, call me Chloe."
Ezra acknowledged her request with a tip of his hat.
"Now wait a minute," Dean started but was stopped by a look from Sam.
Chloe studied the Winchesters who'd begun a silent staring contest and smiled when she recognized that Sam was winning.
Dean shifted his gaze to the ghosts. Right before Chris had taken him down, there'd been a moment when he'd been pleased to find that the ghosts had survived. He hated to admit it, but Chloe did have a point and he found was reluctant to send the town's heroes to Hell. It hadn't occurred to him that they might be headed there. Give him a clear cut evil every time; this gray area shit was driving him crazy.
Sighing he nodded and waved them toward the saloon. "Fine, take your hour."
"Now yer talkin'," Buck whooped as he clapped Dean on the back causing the mortal to stumble forward. "Oops sorry there. Don't know my own strength."
Dean looked back at the big man ready to be mad but found himself smiling when confronted by Buck's sincerity and enthusiasm. He was starting to feel conflicted again about what had to be done.
"Does this mean you're interested in resuming our poker game?" Ezra asked as he witnessed Dean's positive response to Buck. It seemed that the tide was turning back in their favor and the gambler was not above using any means necessary to win Dean back over to their side.
Dean hesitated and then shook his head. "I don't think that would be a good idea." He needed to stay focused on the job and resuming friendships with any of the ghosts would just muddy the already gray waters.
"If you change you mind," Ezra said as he produced a deck of cards, "You know where to find me." He headed toward the saloon with JD, Nathan and Josiah following close behind.
Buck approached Chloe and with a gallant sweep of his hat he drawled, "May I escort you the saloon, darlin'?"
Chloe, smiling at Buck's shameless flirtations, nodded.
Dean watched his brother's face tighten as Chloe walked away. He shifted his gaze to see the blond laughing and walking close to the gunfighter. Shaking his head Dean realized that Sam had it bad if he was jealous of a spirit. "He may be a ghost but I think he's winning this competition," Dean teased.
"What are you talking about, Dean?" Sam said. "I'm not interested in Chloe."
"Of course you are," he scoffed. "You better step it up because Buck's got it all over you when it comes to that chick."
"You're being ridiculous. He's not even a real man," Sam said gesturing at the two as they entered the saloon.
"So, you are jealous."
"Can we not talk about my love life now?"
Chris stood in the shadows between buildings, silently listening to the exchange taking place in the middle of the street. He watched as his friends led the blonde into the saloon; only then did he emerge from his hiding place to face the three left behind.
Dean saw his approach and quickly retrieved his shot gun from where it lay discarded on the ground. "That's far enough Larabee," the hunter said as he pointed the weapon at the ghost.
Chris threw his hands up in surrender. "I'm not looking for a fight," he said. "I just want to talk."
"So talk," Dean snapped, his stance indicating that he was ready to fire at the first sign of trouble.
"I know what you're here to do and I don't plan on stopping you." Chris had thought about apologizing to Dean for his earlier behavior but figured the gesture would be lost on the man. Besides he really wasn't sorry that he'd beat the tar out of him; releasing all that pent up rage had felt good.
"What are you saying, Chris?" Mathew asked.
"It's time," he replied sympathetically, knowing how much the young lawyer would miss them. More than any other Tanner descendant, Mathew had ingratiated himself with the six. He visited often and thought of them as good friends. Sometimes when they were all gathered in the saloon swapping stories Chris thought it almost felt like they were seven again. Almost.
Dean's eye narrowed with suspicion. "What angle are you playing?"
Chris shook his head. "I'm not Ezra. I don't have any more tricks up my sleeve."
"Yeah right. Not buying it," Dean said as he hefted the shotgun for emphasis.
Ignoring Dean's implied threat, he addressed Mathew. "Before we do this, I just wanted to know if you are going to be able to save the town." Even though he'd resigned himself to his fate, Chris couldn't stop himself from worrying about the resolution of the legal battles.
"Yes, thanks to Sam and Chloe," he replied. "I couldn't have done it without them. There's no way a court would decide against us when they see the pile of evidence against Saunders."
The ghost cocked his head toward the younger Winchester in a gesture of gratitude. Sam nodded in return.
"So, let's do this," Chris said as he indicated the box which still sat on the ground where Chloe had dropped it.
Mathew's eyes went wide. "What? You mean now. Don't you want to say goodbye."
"I think it's best we do this without warning," Chris confirmed. "It will be easier on the others if they don't see it coming."
"Are you sure about that?" Dean questioned him. Chris couldn't tell if he was still worried about being fooled or if he really was reluctant to see the others go.
"What about Chloe?" Sam reminded them. "We promised her some time with the guys."
Dean fished his keys out of his pocket and handed them to his brother. "Why don't you grab the axe and other supplies from the trunk while we figure it out." He'd finally dropped his gun into an easy hold in the crook of his arm and Chris recognized it as a sign of their unspoken truce.
Sam took the keys and headed down the street to where the Impala was parked.
"Chris, I'm not ready to see you go," Mathew said the sadness evident in his voice. Hanging his head he added, "The town may be safe but I've failed the six of you."
"No you didn't. It was bound to happen someday." Chris wasn't much for sentiment but he sensed that the young man needed to be reassured. "I know that Vin - well - he would have been proud of you. You did good; returning the town to the Tanners."
A little overwhelmed by Chris' words, Mathew bobbed his head acknowledging the compliment as he bit back tears. Chris grasped him gently on the shoulder. "You ready now?"
Sam returned with the axe and handed it over to Mathew. "I'm not cool with this," he said. "I promised Chloe we'd wait."
"Tell Chloe she can find anything she wants in the Clarion Newspaper office. Trust me those articles will be as good as anything those liars'll tell her," Chris assured him with a rare smile. The prospect of moving on seemed to lighten his spirit and he felt almost happy to be going.
"You saying Buck might tend toward exaggeration?" Dean asked with faux seriousness.
Chris chuckled openly now as he recognized that Dean had felt the mood shift as well. The two men who just hours before were literally at each others throats could now share a joke.
Mathew stared openly at this relaxed Chris Larabee. "You feeling okay, Chris?"
"Not so much okay but maybe, relieved. I know this is the right thing to do."
Sam and Dean stood back as Mathew faced Chris, the box on the ground between them. Tanner hefted the axe and nodded goodbye to his friend before he swung the tool into the case that he'd protected for so long.
As metal contacted wood, the box shattered, literally exploding upon impact with the axe. Chris swore he saw electricity shoot out between the pieces and then it was a pile of toothpicks.
The three mortals stared at Chris waiting for some sign that the protections were gone but he didn't feel any different.
"Chris?" Mathew asked. The ghost just shook his head indicating that nothing had changed. There was no white light or any indication that he was being draw into another dimension.
"I don't think it worked," Sam said as he crouched down to examine the remains of the container.
"Guess we still need to burn it and the pouch of hair," Dean said as he and Mathew knelt next to Sam and sifted through the pile of wood slivers.
"But I thought the destruction of the protection spell was supposed to send them on their way or at least change something," Mathew said.
"Maybe the box was just a box after all," Sam replied. "I am getting tired of being wrong on this hunt."
Dean snorted. "Tell me about it. We're batting zero."
"Does this mean you can't send them on?" Mathew asked as he collected a handful of the wooden splinters. "The way it shattered - didn't that seem odd to you?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, that was strange. Maybe we should hold off on the salt and burn until we know why that happened."
Chris stood half listening to the debate between the men at his feet and wondered if the others had felt anything when the box exploded. He thought about heading to the saloon to check on them when his attention was caught by movement to his left. He turned and felt his world tilt. Speechless he continued to stare at the figure of a man he hadn't seen for over one hundred years.
"What's the matter, cowboy? Ain't you happy to see me?"
At the sound of the strange voice, Dean, Sam and Mathew rose to their feet to study the new arrival.
Mathew stared with disbelief at the figure dressed in a buckskin coat and wide brimmed hat; bandanna slung loose around his neck and a sawed off shotgun at his hip. He was struck by how young he looked; as if he'd just stepped out of the framed picture Mathew kept on his shelf.
"Looks like those symbols were protecting something else," Sam said.
Chris still hadn't moved or said anything. His mind was trying to register what he was seeing; what he was feeling.
"Best shut your mouth, Chris, 'fore you start catching flies."
Finally finding his voice, Chris whispered, "Vin?"
The figure laughed and nodded.
In one swift motion, Chris moved past the others to grasp Vin into a bear hug. "I can't believe it," he choked out; the emotion of the reunion spilling out of him.
Vin returned the embrace. "Believe it, Chris," he said quietly.
The two held the embrace and then Chris stepped back, leaving his hands clutching at Vin's shoulders. He studied the face before him as if waiting for the ruse to be over and his friend to disappear.
"Ain't goin' no where," Vin said as if reading Chris' mind.
Chris let out a joyous shout as he pulled Vin into another embrace. The two spirits were laughing and reveling in the reunion as they separated. "Damn, I've missed you," Chris said as he squeezed the younger man on the shoulder, holding on as if still afraid Vin might disappear at any moment. "What the hell took you so long to get here? Thought you never got lost."
Vin smiled. "Took the long way." He looked past Chris to where Sam, Dean and Mathew stood watching the emotional moment.
The younger Tanner took a tentative step forward. "Vin Tanner. Wow, this is unbelievable," he said. "That's Sam and Dean Winchester," he indicated the hunters before pointing to himself, "and I'm Mathew - Tanner."
"I know you Matt. My descendant," Van said as he studied the lawyer.
Mathew cocked his head as confusion crossed his face. "But how do you know me?"
"Can't explain it. Just do, you're one of mine. I feel a connection," Vin replied before leaning over to Chris. "Boy, looks a lot like me, don't ya think?"
Chris nodded. "Spittin' image. Was spooky the first time I noticed but I always knew it meant something."
"I 'spect so and I suppose I owe my release to you, Matt. Thank you," he added sincerely.
"More to the Winchesters," he said.
Vin tipped his hat in acknowledgment of what they'd done. " 'Preciate it fellas. I'm glad to be back."
"Usually we send ghosts on not bring them back," Sam said. "But it does explain Mathew's dreams and my visions. You were trying to contact us; trying to tell us how to release you."
The bounty hunter shrugged. "I can't really say, but I'm here now." Vin wasn't much for introspection.
"Does this mean he wasn't in hell after all?" Mathew asked.
Vin chuckled. "Think I'd remember that."
"I doubt he was. Because Vin's appearance coincided with the destruction of the box that he carved, probably means that he never crossed over in the first place," Sam explained.
He turned to Dean for his input but his brother was intent on studying Chris. "What are you thinking?" Sam asked.
"I'm thinking that maybe we don't have to worry about Larabee going vengeful anymore," Dean said as he observed that the once dark spirit was practically glowing with happiness.
Chris let out another laugh. "I've never felt better."
"So it seems," Mathew observed.
"Sam, Dean, I just want to say - " Chris hesitated not knowing how to express the profound gratitude he felt for the return of their seventh man.
Dean waved off the sentimental moment. "Hey we get it," he said. "But more importantly, I get to finish that poker game with Ezra. I need to show him that I'm the better player."
"Where is everyone else?" Vin asked looking around. "Sure would like to see 'em."
Chris got a mischievous gleam in his eye. "Wait here," he said as he blinked out.
Mathew looked at his companions who were similarly bemused by Chris' demeanor. "This new Chris is going to take some getting used to." The Winchesters nodded their agreement.
+ + + + + + +
"I've read a little about you adventures in some of the historical records," Chloe said as they settled around one of the saloon's tables. "I got the impression that you really didn't know each other before Judge Travis hired you to protect the town."
"Best to start with the story about the Indian village," Nathan suggested. "That was the first time all of us rode together, though Josiah and I had known each other for a while."
"And I'd been friends with Chris for years," Buck added.
"But the rest of you?"
"We just kind of found each other. There were these Confederate soldiers. Well, the war was over but they sure didn't act like it." JD explained, growing more animated as he got into the role of storyteller. "They were threatening to kill everyone in the village if they didn't give them gold but there was none. 'Cept their leader he didn't believe it and..."
"Hold up," Chloe said raising a hand to stop JD's rambling. "Why don't you start at the beginning; how you actually met." She took out her notebook, ready to capture all the details.
Buck took over the narrative and Chloe sat fascinated by the tale of the adventure that had forged them into a team. She wasn't sure how she was going to turn their stories into an article but she was glad she would have the opportunity to preserve this history.
"What about the gold? Was there a mine after all?' She asked as the story ended with the safety of the village assured.
"Sadly no," Ezra replied. "It had long since caved in when I found it."
"I knew it," Nathan said. "You did go off looking for it."
"Now Nathan, I don't think this is the time to bother Chloe with that aspect of the story."
The healer laughed. "I guess not but I always wondered."
Chloe watched the easy camaraderie between the men; they had so many stories to tell. Somehow she was going to have to convince the Winchesters that she needed more time.
"But you all chose to stay in Four Corners after that?"
"Judge Travis made us an offer we couldn't refuse," Ezra said.
"You mean you couldn't refuse," Buck laughed and explained. "Ezra got himself a pardon from some charges pending up north. The rest of us really had nothing better to do."
"I assure you it was a simple misunderstanding that we need not share," the gambler insisted.
Chloe laughed. "It seems to me, Ezra, that there are many things you don't want to share."
Ezra was about to respond when the bat wing doors flung open and Chris strode in. Buck sprang immediately to his feet and placed himself between their leader and Chloe.
If Chris was here to make trouble, Chloe knew that there was no way she'd be able to stop the brothers from completing their ritual. She hoped Buck could convince their leader to make himself scarce.
"Now Chris, I won't let you near Chloe," he said, holding his arms wide ready to push the other man back if he charged. Josiah and Nathan stood to flank Buck while JD and Ezra position themselves on either side of the reporter. "It ain't her fault that Dean found out."
"I promise I'm not here to hurt Chloe," Chris paused, a small smile played across his face as he thought of their reaction to Vin's resurrection.
"You feeling okay, Chris?" Josiah asked as he studied their leader.
"Been asked that a lot today. I never felt better," Chris laughed, enjoying the confusion on his companion's faces. They'd been waiting over a hundred years for this reunion and he wanted to savor the moment of revelation. "Ya'll need to all come outside right now."
"We're not finished," JD protested. "Chloe had lots of questions and we ain't ready to go."
"It's okay, JD. I promise I'm about to make you all very happy. Just come outside." When none of the ghosts moved, he finally grabbed Buck by the arm and thrust him through the doors of the saloon.
Buck stumbled down the two wooden steps to the street, "Damn it Chris, -" Buck stopped as he came face to face with Vin.
"Howdy, pard," Vin quipped as he enjoyed the stunned look on the big man's face.
Without hesitation Buck let out a whoop of joy and grabbed Vin into spinning bear hug. At the sound of Buck's laughter the others spilled out of the saloon.
"It's Vin!" JD exclaimed and rushed forward pushing Buck aside to have his chance to hug their lost companion.
"Hey JD," he huffed as the younger man impacted him. Vin untangled himself and was immediately embraced by Josiah.
"The Lord has answered my prayers," the preacher said before stepping aside for Nathan.
"We've missed you. Where have you been?" The healer asked as he took his turn.
"Couldn't say." Vin shrugged. "Seems like I've been waiting a long time 'sall I know."
"Mr. Tanner your timing is impeccable. You have snatched victory from the jaws of death," Ezra said.
"Good to see you too, Ez," he laughed as he stepped forward to embrace the gambler.
Ezra broke the brief clinch and stood smiling at his friend. Vin smiled back and then with a mischievous gleam in his eye, reached past Ezra to snatch the bowler off JD's head.
"You still wearing this stupid hat?" Vin chuckled and then tossed it to Buck as JD reached for it.
"Very funny, give it back."
"I tried to tell him a real man don't wear such a prissy hat but you know JD," Buck said as he pitched the hat to land in Chris' hands. It was soon a full-fledged game of keep away with JD the good natured man in the middle.
Chloe walked over to join the Mathew, Sam and Dean. "How did this happen?" She asked the Winchesters.
"We're still trying to figure that out," Sam admitted but told her of their destruction of the wooden box.
"I'm guessing that whatever ritual Vin did to try and join the six upon his death backfired. Once the items in the box were destroyed, something changed that allowed him to reach through to me and Mathew," Sam speculated.
"So he was trapped in the box?" Mathew asked.
"Looks that way," Dean said.
"If he wanted me to destroy the box, why didn't he just say so," Mathew groused. "His cryptic messages were driving me crazy and I haven't had a decent night's sleep in a week.
Sam chuckled. "Welcome to my world. Visions never tell you what you really need to know. But afterward their interpretation seems so obvious."
"Guess that's true because Vin got what he wanted in the end," Mathew said. He smiled as he watched his ancestor reconnect with the men who'd meant so much to him that he had risked damnation for them.
"What about the pouch?" Chloe asked.
Sam pulled the article from his pocket and handed it to Mathew.
"Protect that," he said. "If they ever do become dangerous, you will have to burn it. That is the real anchor that's keeping them here."
"You sure this time?" Mathew chuckled as he tucked the pouch into his jacket.
Smiling Sam, shook his head. "I suppose not but it's all that's left, short of burning down the town."
"Does this mean you're not going to try to send them on?"
"No reason to now," Dean said as he watched Chris laughing with the rest. "I don't think Larabee's a danger any more."
"I'm very relieved to hear that," Mathew said.
In silence, the four continued to watch the happy reunion. JD had finally retrieved his hat and the seven were laughing and talking over one another in their joy at being together again.
Ezra broke from the circle at the prodding of the other six and walked over to the mortals. "Thank you all," he said. "We are quite grateful for everything you've done that has returned Vin to us, but we are curious as to what your next move will be."
"I'm thinking poker," Dean grinned.
Chloe, Sam and Mathew sat with Chris and Vin at one of the round tables in the saloon. Across the room, the rest of their group was occupied by the ultimate poker game. Dean and Ezra were determined to crown themselves champion and the others were gathered around to watch the epic struggle.
It hadn't been hard for Mathew to talk Chloe and the Winchesters into staying around until after the trial. While Chloe had her reporter's agenda and Dean wanted to play poker, Mathew was sure Sam's motivations were more serious; making sure the ghosts were no longer a danger.
Now that the legal battle was over and they were victorious, they'd come back to Four Corners to celebrate the return of the land to the Tanner family with the Seven.
"Historical Landmark status is just a formality at this point," Mathew explained as he finished detailing the success of the courtroom drama to Chris and Vin.
"Seems my grandson has done the family name proud," Vin said.
"Grandson?" Mathew asked, flattered that Vin had accepted him as family so quickly.
Vin nodded. "Seems appropriate. 'Sides it's too much trouble to repeat all them 'greats' every time."
"We always did like this Tanner best," Chris added, smiling at Mathew.
"Well, he is a good looking fella,"
"Now, I wouldn't go that far," Chris said.
"Don't go insulting my kin, pard," Vin teased.
The others at the table laughed, enjoying the playful banter between the old friends.
Chloe had been visiting daily since the reunion, gathering stories and detailed information about life in the old west. "I'm kind of sorry this is all coming to an end," she said.
"You got all the stories you want, Chloe?" Chris asked
"I think there may be a book in there somewhere," she said indicating her notebook which lay open on the table. "Once I get started, I'll know if I need to come back for more."
"You always welcome here and I know Buck'll be sorry to see you go." Chris sent her a knowing smile.
Chloe laughed. "Buck is still trying to figure out how a ghost and a human can - well you know," she stopped, embarrassed about what she was implying.
"That's Buck. He'll move mountains if it means he might win the girl," Vin said.
Chloe blushed. "So many of the stories he told would seem like exaggerations if I didn't have the rest of you to back him up. He was quite," she paused searching for the right word, "inexhaustible when he was alive."
That caused Vin and Chris to burst out laughing. "That's one way to put it," the bounty hunter said.
"So Chloe, are you heading back to Metropolis now?" Sam interrupted, purposefully turning the conversation away from her seeming fascination with Buck.
Chloe quirked an eyebrow at him. "I don't know. I do hate to break Buck's heart," she teased. "Maybe I should stay a little longer." When Sam's face fell, she allowed herself a small internal smile of victory.
"Oh," Sam said quietly.
Mathew exchanged a knowing look with the ghosts who just shook their heads. "He's worse than JD when he was courtin' Casey," Chris whispered to Vin who nodded his agreement.
Sam was lost in his thoughts when he felt the ghosts looking at him. "You say something, Chris?"
Chris shook his head and covered his mouth trying to contain his amusement at the cluelessness of the younger Winchester.
Vin elbowed him before answering Sam's question. "Just wondering when you and your brother were taking off. Gonna be hard pressed to drag him away from Ezra and the boys," he said nodding toward the other table.
"I suppose as soon as Ezra officially beats him," Sam smiled.
"No faith in your brother's abilities?" Vin asked.
Sam shrugged as he watched the other table. "Ezra's a professional."
"My money's on Ezra, too," Chloe laughed.
"Dean doesn't seem to have any fans at this table," Mathew observed as Chris and Vin threw their support behind their old friend.
"You know Sam," Chloe began. "I was wondering how you might feel about me tagging along with you and Dean for awhile. I think there's a great story in what you guys do."
Sam's face lit up with unabashed joy. "Really?" he asked, trying to give a nonchalant edge to his voice. "You're not thinking of writing about us, are you? We kind of like to stay under the radar."
"I can change a few details to keep your identities safe," she teased knowing that she was practically a professional when it came to protecting someone's secret identity. "So what do you say?
"It would mean being trapped in the Impala with Dean for days on end. That's not exactly a lot of fun even for me and I have to do it"
"I can handle your brother."
"I don't know" Sam looked at her skeptically. Most women couldn't resist Dean, and his brother certainly wouldn't make life easy for Chloe. As much as Sam liked the idea of her coming along, it could be a real disaster.
"Best not to doubt her, pard," Vin said. "I think she can take him."
Chloe nodded her agreement. "Plus, I have my own gun," she reminded Sam.
Sam smiled. "Then I think we have room in the back seat for you."
"Great," she smiled in return. "Knew you'd see it my way."
+ + + + + + +
Dean slammed the cards down. "No way!" He shouted.
"Is something wrong, Dean?" Ezra gave him a lazy smile.
"I was sure you were bluffing."
Ezra leaned forward to slide the pile of chips toward him. "You assumed incorrectly, I fear," he said as he nodded toward the three Jacks prominently displayed on the table. "Three of a kind will always beat two pair."
"I know the rules," Dean growled as he tossed his five's and ten's at the gambler for the next deal.
Dean had supplied a set of poker chips for the game and while they weren't playing for money, there was no doubt in the minds of those assembled that the bragging rights at stake were significantly more valuable.
"I was just checking," Ezra chuckled. "Because it seems you continue to make that mistake."
"Ha ha, very funny," Dean groused good-naturedly but noticed that his pile of chips was significantly smaller than Ezra's. "Shut up and deal. A few more hands and you'll be the one needing lessons."
Ezra smiled sweetly and began to shuffle the cards.
"You think it's wise to let Ezra deal?" Nathan asked.
Dean gave the gambler a wolfish smile. "Oh I think Ezra knows I'd shoot him repeatedly with rock salt if he cheated."
"I can assure you that I will win this without any chicanery, Nathan. I need only skill to take Dean down," he said as he returned the hunter's predatory smile.
"So how about that story you were going to tell us about Sam?" Josiah asked as Ezra dealt the cards.
Dean laughed. "I think all you have to do is watch how he's been stumbling over Chloe to understand exactly how bad my little brother is with women."
"He does get a bit tongue-tied," Josiah observed.
Dean examined his cards and made his bet before responding to Josiah's comment. "There was this one time when he was in high school, he had it bad for this really hot girl."
"Hot?" Buck interrupted.
"You know, sexy," Dean explained as he gestured with his hands to indicate the girl had a great body and the others smiled. "Any way, he tripped over his tongue so badly the girl thought he was retarded. He finally blurted out some nonsense and ran away."
"How'd you find out?" Nathan wondered. "I'm betting Sam never told you."
"I spent some alone time with her, if you know what I mean, and she told me how sweet my 'slow' brother was."
While the others laughed at the image of a hapless Sam, JD was indignant. "You stole your brother's girl?"
"First, she wasn't his girl; Sam never could complete a sentence in her presence. And more importantly, she was too much woman for him anyway," Dean said.
"It's like I always told you JD. You have to know how to sweet-talk a woman," Buck teased.
"How's that working out for you and Chloe?" JD tossed out.
"Kid, Buck maybe a ghost but he has a better chance of hooking up with Chloe than Sam does." Dean and Buck exchanged a knowing smile about the ineptitude of lesser men when it came to women.
"If you are done sharing, Dean, I believe the pot is mine," Ezra said as he laid down his hand.
"Not again," he grumbled and watched Ezra sweep the pile of chips away.
Sam had approached the table during Dean's moment of defeat. "Looks like you pretty much done here," he said eyeing the few remaining chips lying in front of Dean."
"Well hey there, stud," Buck smiled. "You done talking to Chloe."
The others around the table chuckled. "What did you tell them, Dean?" he asked eyeing his brother with suspicion.
"I am happy to explain the details of your brother's conversation and I shall endeavor to use small words if necessary," Ezra said.
"Don't think that's possible for you Ezra," Nathan laughed.
"I'm not leaving yet, Sammy," Dean replied ignoring his brother's glare. "Why don't you head back with Chloe? I'll catch a ride with Matt once I'm done with Ezra." Dean pulled the Impala keys out of his pocket and tossed them at Sam.
"You sure?" Sam said glancing from the keys to where Chloe sat in conversation at the other table.
"It is unlikely that this game will continue much longer, Sam," Ezra laughed. "Maybe you should wait for you're brother's inevitable defeat."
"I suppose that might be fun to watch." Sam smiled at the gambler. It was time someone took Dean down a peg.
"I won't be losing," Dean insisted. "And we could be here for a long time. You should take Chloe home."
When Sam didn't move but stood waiting for the next hand to be played, Dean rolled his eyes and looked at Buck. The ladies man just snickered. "He really is clueless, ain't he?"
"Give it a shot Buck. I'm not getting through," Dean laughed.
Buck stood and walked over to Sam. "You need to rethink your priorities," he said. "Let me show you how it's done, kid."
"What are you two talking about?"
"Chloe darlin', can you come over her for a minute."
Then, understanding dawned on Sam. "No hey, Buck. It's okay, really." Sam was panicking. It was bad enough that Dean felt the need to interfere with his love life, now it seemed he'd recruited Buck to help.
"Relax, stud," he said. "I just want to say goodbye."
Chloe, Mathew, Chris and Vin headed over to join the rest of the group.
"Seems Dean ain't ready to admit that Ezra has him beat," Chris said eyeing the lack of funds in front of the hunter.
"A chip and a chair 'sall I need to stage my comeback," Dean replied.
"The song of the defeated," Ezra quipped as he waited for Dean to deal the cards.
"What's up Buck?" Chloe asked.
Buck smiled at her. "Seems you're taking off and I just want to say how sorry I'll be to see you go." His voice had a breathy quality that added a deeper layer of meaning to every word.
Chloe cleared her throat and looked up into his deep blue eyes. "I'll miss you too Buck," she said and added quickly, "All of you." Acknowledge the others around the room.
"Not so much as our Mr. Wilmington, I'll wager."
"That's not true Ezra. I've enjoyed getting to know all of you."
Buck reached down and took her hand. "I am crushed Chloe. I thought we'd made a special connection."
"I - well yes but - " she stammered as her eyes locked with Buck's. He flicked them over toward Sam and smiled.
Chloe smiled in return, understanding what Buck was planning and happy to play along. She was curious to see what Sam would do. "You are right Buck, I will miss you terribly. I've never met anyone like you."
"And you are a most fascinating woman. I would love to spend forever learning all the things that make you happy," he said his voice as soft as caress.
"Ready to go, Chloe," Sam interrupted, jealousy etched on his face. "It's been a long day and I can take you back in the Impala, now."
Chloe nodded but didn't break her gaze with Buck. "That sounds wonderful." Inside she was trying not to giggle. Even though she knew Buck was trying to make Sam jealous, he seemed so sincere.
Dean laughed. "Maybe Chloe should stay." The others murmured their agreement except for Ezra who kept trying to get Dean's attention to deal the cards.
Sam glared at his brother. "Just play your game and mind you own business."
"Yes Dean, I believe it's your deal." Ezra pushed the deck toward him.
"Buck, what do you think you're doing," JD hissed as he came to stand by Sam in a show of solidarity. He had spent some time commiserating with Sam about how infuriating well-meaning friends and big brothers could be.
"Chloe knows what I'm doing. Don't you darlin'?" he said giving her his best megawatt smile.
"But I fear it would never work between us," she said with exaggerated sincerity while trying hard not to snicker as the syrupy and clichéd words spilled from her mouth.
"Okay very funny," Sam said finally realizing what he hoped was going on.
Chloe leaned in to whisper loudly to Buck. "I think he's on to you."
Buck laughed. "Don't mean it's not working."
JD looked at Buck, confusion on his face. "Am I missing something?"
"JD, you're always missing something," Vin said. "Nice to know you haven't changed."
"That's not true. I have changed."
Laughter came from around the table. JD was indignant as he once again found himself in the middle of a joke he didn't get.
"It's okay JD. Buck just thinks he has something to teach me about women," Sam said and turned to Chloe. "I'm sorry that you're being used in Buck and Dean's little game."
"Hey, I'm not part of this," Dean said looking up from his cards as he made his bet. The poker game had continued in spite of the other distractions in the room. "I've got you this time, Ezra."
"So it would seem," the gambler said with disgust as he tossed his cards into the middle.
"I'm making a comeback, Sam."
"Yeah that's great Dean. Happy for you." Sam mocked as he looked back to Chloe.
"I don't feel used," Chloe said picking up the thread of their conversation.
"Well then maybe you might be up for a little experiment before you leave?" Buck asked.
She swung her gaze back to the ghost. "What did you have in mind?" she asked.
"Just hold still," he said, a look of profound concentration on his face.
Without another word, Buck reached out to embrace Chloe and pull her close. He shifted her into a dip as he captured her mouth for a kiss. Caught off guard Chloe retuned the kiss as she reached up her arms to encircle his neck.
"He sure ain't lost his touch," Vin said.
Chris smiled. "Seems even when Buck's dead, no woman is safe."
When the ladies man finally set Chloe back on her feet, she was flushed and out of breath. "Wow. Um, how -"
Buck was grinning. "I've been working on my control. What do you think?"
Chloe was still a little flustered as she put her fingers to her lips, "Good control," she said absently.
"Don't you ever stop, Buck," JD chided him.
"You're a ghost. That kind of - of -," Sam stammered as he waved his hand at Buck who just stared at him, mischief in his eyes. "That shouldn't be possible."
"With Buck and a pretty girl, anything is possible," Chris informed him.
"Well it shouldn't be," Sam snapped.
Buck walked past Sam and whispered, "That's the way it's done, stud," as he headed back to his seat on the other side of the table.
Sam was dumbstruck and just watched the big man walk away.
Chloe was smiling. "I think it's time I left before Buck tries any more of his experiments."
She circled the room as she said her individual goodbyes, carefully avoiding a repeat performance with Buck by simply sharing a final smile with him.
When she returned to Sam's side he was engaged in a familiar battle with his brother.
"Not funny Dean," he said.
"What, that you can't compete with a ghost? That's hilarious."
Sam glared at Dean and then blushed as he realized Chloe was standing beside him.
"Ignore him," he pleaded.
"I been doing that for days," she quipped. "It'll be good practice for later."
Dean's ears perked up. "You have something in mind for later?" He asked suggestively.
She rolled her eyes at him. "With you, nothing?"
That elicited a few snickers from those gathered.
"I invited Chloe to tag along on our next hunt," Sam said figuring now was as good a time as any to tell Dean what he'd done.
Dean smiled. "That's a great idea."
"Wait. You agree?" Of all the reactions he'd expected, immediate acceptance hadn't been one of them.
"Sure why not," he said as he refocused his attention on the poker game.
"But I thought-" Sam studied his brother as he dealt the next hand. "What's the catch?"
"No catch. Blondie can come along as long as she stays out of trouble." Dean said not taking his focus off Ezra.
"He's going to have to stop calling me blondie or I may shoot him," Chloe said. "But otherwise I can handle myself.
"Okaaay then it's settled," Sam said still unsure of what had just happened.
Sam then turned to Mathew "Guess this is goodbye."
"I was serious before, Sam," Mathew said. "You ever want to quit this crazy life I could use someone with your skills."
"You never know," he replied. "And call us if you need anything and especially if - you know." Sam said indicating that Mathew should keep an eye on the ghosts.
Sam finished his goodbyes to the ghosts ending with JD.
"Nice having you around," JD said.
"Don't let them gang up on you," Sam said.
"Don't worry, I've been handling them for a long time," he assured Sam. "Don't let Dean screw that up." He tilted his head toward Chloe. "Most times their help ain't that much help."
Sam laughed. "That is very true."
He wandered back to Chloe and with a final wave the two headed through the door.
"Have fun kids," Dean yelled as the doors swung back.
Sam stepped back in to glare at Dean one last time and then at Buck for good measure; before leaving for good.
Once they were sure that Sam was gone the men all broke into uncontrollable laughter. Dean looked over at Buck. "Nice work, Buck. Not sure it'll help."
The big man shrugged. "I can only share what I know can't force 'em to learn. Never helped JD either."
"If you gentlemen are finished fixing Sam's love life, we are still engaged in this battle of skill," Ezra said reaching for the cards. "And it's my deal."
+ + + + + + +
Hours later the Seven gathered in the street to watch Mathew and Dean drive away.
"That was quite the comeback Dean had," Josiah remarked.
Ezra laughed. "But I still won in the end. Even so, he may be one of the most skilled opponents I have ever faced in an honest game."
Nathan snorted. "There's a difference?"
Ezra rolled his eyes. "Of course there's a difference."
"So," Vin asked "What do you guys do around here for fun?"
Chris clapped him on the shoulder. "Anything we want. We got all the time in the world."
"Saloon?" Vin chuckled.
"Saloon," Chris nodded.
The Seven turned and striding abreast, headed back down Main Street.