annabethbigbang: (Sam & Jess: memories never fade.)
[personal profile] annabethbigbang



Sam wakes up. His bed is infinitely empty, and the curtains on the window are snapping in a stormy breeze, leaving him to blink his eyes and focus muzzily on the open pane.

Five days ago he was forced to tell the authorities that his wife and two sons were the bodies lying on the cold metal tables, mangled and broken, limbs bent and faces—their dearest faces—crunched from the accident. But Sam could recognise his family anywhere.

He doesn't want to get up, but today is the day he set for his friends to come and look through his furniture and other easily-gotten-rid-of belongings for anything they may want and would be willing to pay for. He hasn't told them why; they just assume that he's moving to an apartment because the reminders are too painful.

But Sam is doing more than moving. He reaches for the bedside table and, in his groggy just-woken state, almost knocks the cell phone to the floor. This is a new phone. This is a phone he purchased, complete with a new number, after the last time Dean called.

Sam had blithely and naïvely thought that perhaps Dean was drunk, sodden with melancholy over their father's predicament. He's of a different mindset now.

He's barely past the funerals and the shock; he's still wearing his wedding band and expecting Jess to unlock the door and come in belly first, the baby that he never even got to meet.

He taps the phone and squints, trying to clear the sleep-fog from his eyes so he can see the numbers. He already knows, though, that Dean will have changed his number. It's all right. Sam can find Dean again—Sam doesn't have to slip very far back in time to sink back into the boy he'd been before the slice of life that, now it's been cruelly wrenched away, seems less like reality than all those years before, hunting monsters in gritty darkness.

He moves the cursor beyond Jess's name and he doesn't flinch, still numb inside and out. He can't feel the coolness of the wind or the spatter of rain the wind brings in through the window from the storm, though the thunder and bleakness of the sky fit his mood perfectly.

He drops the phone to the bed. He doesn't need to see Dean's name; he just has to find his laptop in the untrodden mess of the previous days and start searching for his brother. Shouldn't be too hard to find him, really: look for a news report about something unusual happening, then look for the resolution wherein everyone is baffled but pleased.

And then figure out where Dean's headed next. This he can do by tracking his aliases, each and every one as familiar to Sam as his own name.

Sam swings his feet over the side of the bed. This is a new phone, but he won't be needing it any longer. He's just going to get another new one as soon as he finds Dean—that way he doesn't have to carry any reminders around besides those scratched into his heart like scars. Like the scars that Jess used to trace on his body; the remnants of every other loss in his life.

Sam makes coffee by rote, barely looking at anything beyond his bare feet and the grey sky, and even those things he doesn't really see.

Instead he sees what he's dreamt every night since the horrific news: Jess, swilling down the liquor from the bottle—which is still turned on its side in the living room, the one piece of unbroken glass when he'd woken up from his vision—then strapping their children into the car. Jess driving far beyond the location of her appointment, car weaving as she fought it in her drunkenness. His kids crying in the backseat as they realised there was something wrong with Mommy. Then the car's tires squealing and Jess aiming straight for the bluff's edge—Sam has seen this last bit over and again, every time he closes his eyes.

Jess driving the car deliberately over the side. He can never see, in his mind's eye, the carnage that follows; he doesn't witness the car as it must have bounced down over rocks and the like, but he can hear the screams. They never let up. Even now, the soft burble of the brewing coffee is couched in the sound of his children as they went to their deaths.

Sam is still in shock.

He takes his coffee into the living room, bare feet crunching broken glass into the soles, and oblivious to the blood smearing across what was once a very expensive carpet, he picks up the bottle and turns it.

It's smudged with what looks like a fingerprint, and he closes his eyes, sees Jess's thumb against that place, the mouth of the bottle at her lips.

Sam hurls it at the wall; it shatters with a musical trill that slowly descends back into ringing silence, the noise undercut still with the sound of Tyler and James. He doesn't think—no, he's sure: he doesn't hear Jess scream. In his mind, she's silent, a void where once there used to be a bright and laughing girl who made his life feel invincible.

Sam sits down on the floor amid the glass, still in boxers, and drinks his coffee quickly, insensate to the burn on his tongue.

He may never know what she was thinking. In some ways, that is the worst part: that Jess seemed to have planned the entire accident and he's left with only pieces that don't click together of why on earth she might have wanted to do so. He wonders for an instant if she was still angry about Dean, but that had been almost a year ago.

There's a shard of glass creeping up the leg of his boxers, pressing sharp and insistent against his ass as he moves.

He takes another sip of the coffee. There's at least two hours to go until his friends arrive.

Sam doesn't intend to clean up the mess. He's just going to make a bigger one.

A tiny, obstinate voice in the depths of his craven soul says snidely, just like the mess you made with your life.

Sam doesn't disagree.

:::

Sam fills his ancient duffle with a couple of pairs of jeans and his favourite shirts, some of which he's had since college. He doesn't really dwell on the fact that the reason they're favourites is because he got them from Dean when Dean had outgrown them.

He takes off his wedding band and leaves it on the sink. He packs his laptop in its case and pulls a brand-new toothbrush out of the mirrored cabinet. He drives his car down the bank and makes a withdrawal, then folds and re-folds the bills before stuffing them down into the toe of his shoe—the same shoes he wore onto a bus nine years ago on his way to California.

Sam stops at a gas station and picks up several gallons of gasoline, situating them in the trunk of his car. He goes to the cell phone store and gets a new phone, this one under the name of 'Lars Burton'. He figures that once he's back with Dean, his brother will appreciate it.

He drives back to his—their—house and parks in the driveway, gets out of the car and empties out his purchases.

He waits until the middle of the night, then gathers up the things he's packed. His wedding ring is still on the porcelain sink, and Jess's diamond is sitting right next to it.

He stashes his duffle and his laptop bag in the bushes a few feet away from the house, then walks through it and pours gasoline throughout every room. He's not coming back here, anyway. California is a bust for him now, a sunny graveyard for the dreams he'd once had. At the last second, he makes a detour for the bathroom, before leaving the house and, feeling kind of lame, locks the back door.

The house catches and burns and Sam turns away and collects his stuff, walking down the street without looking back. He walks on battered feet down to the nearest train station and searches through the rows of cars in the parking lot for the ones that look like they've been there longest, then breaks into one and steals it.

Sam has learned a trick or two from Dean, and before he left, he made it look like the car he owned had been gutted by thieves—the license plate stolen—before setting his house alight. He knows the police will suspect arson, but they won't suspect him, because he's learned to go throughout life like a ghost, even once he'd settled down into one place.

Sam fully expects the police to search for him, his tragedy too high-profile to simply let moulder in someone's outbox. But he also knows that without tracking skills far superior to the resources they possess, they will never find him. Hell, Sam is still shocked anyone ever managed to catch his father—and Sam's out-of-practise, but lessons learned at John Winchester's knee aren't easily forgotten and Sam uses his not inconsiderable wits to get him out of the state and halfway across the country before he settles down someplace for more than one night, using WiFi he's stolen, to begin his search for Dean.

:::

Sam finds Dean just outside of Metamora, Michigan. His brother is crouched outside an abandoned cemetery, staring intently into the darkness, when Sam walks up to him; he makes a lot of noise on the road and Dean turns by degrees, as if he's not quite ready to stop stalking whatever it is he's looking for.

But when he sees Sam—and Sam knows Dean can recognise him even at night—he jumps to his feet and his entire body actually shudders. He grabs the video camera next to him, and the flashlight, and he turns both on Sam and says,

"Great, find a spooky old cemetery that people say is really disturbing, and turn around and start seein' shit that ain't really there."

Sam smiles, even though he knows Dean won't be able to make out the expression. "It's me, Dean," he says, and his brother nearly jumps out of his skin.

"Okay, fuck. If that really is you, you think you could not sneak up on a guy hunting ghosts?"

"What are we hunting?" Sam says mildly, as if asking that question will banish the need for explanations. He's not quite ready to talk about Jess—not yet.

"Jimmy Hoffa," Dean replies, and looks over his shoulder at the cemetery. "I hear he disappeared around here somewhere, and, you know, people keep seeing his ghost—"

Sam cuffs Dean on the shoulder, and his brother flinches in a strange way. Like maybe he's still thinking Sam's just another apparition. "And next you'll be hunting Elvis?" he asks.

"Dude," Dean says. "This cemetery? Brick house built right on it burned down. Weird, huh?"

"Yeah, but... it's a graveyard. You should be expecting ghosts. And there's thousands of cemeteries around; why this one?"

Dean leans away from Sam, a if trying to get out of reach. He scans the area again and then shrugs.

"Mostly thrill-seeking at the moment," he says finally. "I'm on another hunt up around here and someone told me about this cemetery, so I thought I'd check it out, see if I could find anything interesting."

Sam walks around Dean and gazes out over the crumbling tombstones. There's a heavy weight to the air, warm and solid, as if the cemetery itself is breathing. He can tell why Dean would think it was cool—Dean's not afraid of anything, and if he doesn't think there's anything dangerous here to hunt, he might spend all night just poking around. Sam gestures back towards the camera.

"See anything?" he asks, because even though there's that strange quality to the air, he doesn't see anything himself. Or he might just be out of practise.

"Orbs," Dean says. "And I was around here yesterday morning taking pictures, and, dude, it was only a little bit cloudy but every picture turned out pitch black except for the orbs—like it was the very pinnacle of nighttime."

"Pinnacle?" Sam asks wryly, and he can feel Dean's glare against his back.

"Not the only smart one, college boy," Dean grumbles.

"Okay, so—" Sam starts, curious to find out what Dean is actually hunting, when Dean puts a hand on his shoulder. He turns around to ask Dean what's up and discovers his brother is actually a few feet away, circling towards the cemetery. Sam shivers and whirls, looking for the source of the feeling, but instead of encountering anything alive, he feels eyes on the back of his neck and is suddenly acutely aware that all of the weapons he'd taken out of storage and packed at the bottom of his duffle are still in the most recent stolen car he used to find Dean.

"Uh, Dean?" he says, and his brother doesn't respond. Sam speaks louder. "Dean!"

There's no response; it's as if Sam is speaking aloud but no-one besides himself can hear him. It's been at least eight years since the last time he tangled with a ghost, and Sam is actually starting to feel disconcerted.

He starts a slow jog towards his brother, but speeds up fast when he can feel someone—or some thing—following him. He comes up beside Dean and his brother looks up, and then his eyes widen.

"Dude," he says, and Sam turns, but there's nothing there. He gives Dean a quizzical look. "Fuckin'—" Dean stops, shifts so that his body's in front of Sam, and Sam catches sight of the shotgun half-hidden under Dean's arm. And then Dean lifts it and aims, though Sam still doesn't see anything.

"What is it?" he says, and the very atmosphere around them swallows his voice, making it hushed and indistinct.

"Fuckin'—" Dean says again, same aborted sentence. And then, "Thought I saw somethin' behind you, comin' up after you. Like, red fucking eyes, dude, and half crouched over with clawlike fingers. Don't see it now, though."

"Okay, I wanna get the hell out of here," says Sam, and unconsciously sways a little closer towards Dean. He should be used to shit like this, but living in sunny, uncomplicated California with Jess and his kids had taken him so far from weird happenings like this that he's a little freaked.

"Yeah," Dean says. "Yeah." He lowers the shotgun and turns to Sam.

Sam is still looking at Dean's eyes—the slight silver of light catching in them from the moon, but otherwise dark like pools of brackish water—when he sees whatever Dean saw, just for a split second. He grabs Dean's arm.

"Whatever," he says, panicked. "If this ain't your hunt and nobody's dying, then we really should get the fuck out of here." It's amazing how easily the curses come back in Dean's presence, how much he can feel Dean as though Dean's heart is beating right behind his own. His brother nods.

"Right, time to go," Dean agrees, and they both take off at a sprint towards where Dean left the Impala, Sam hot on his heels because he doesn't know where Dean parked.

They get into the car, and Sam is surprised by how comfortable and natural it feels to slide onto the bench seat next to Dean. He locks his door and sits, breathing hard, out-of-shape lawyer in ripped old jeans and a sweaty t-shirt.

They hear the rapping at the same moment and turn to look at each other, and something glimmers and moves through Dean's eyes for a second, like a living shadow, and Sam only has a brief second to wonder if that's part of the haunting before Dean heaves a deep breath.

"Sam," says Dean. "You just got me to run out of a haunted cemetery like I was some stupid untrained kid who doesn't deal with the paranormal all the time. Now I feel like a pussy."

Sam looks out the window, way back down the road towards where he left the stolen car. "I need to get my stuff," he says.

Dean turns the key in the ignition and yanks on the gearshift, and the Impala doesn't start.

"Goddammit," he says. "We might be hunting that thing after all," he adds. "Somethin' doesn't want us leaving just yet."

"I'll—" Sam hates the idea of getting back out of the car, hates the fact that he's even returned to a point where shit like this has the power to frighten him. But he unlocks and pushes the door open anyway. "Gonna go pick up my stuff from that car," he says, gesturing.

And the whole way there, he can sense something at his back, keeping pace just a few steps behind him. He grabs his things quickly and takes just a moment to wipe at his prints, even though he's been wearing gloves most of the time he's been driving the stolen vehicles. He can't even see the Impala any more through a slight fog that's suddenly blown up, and he's concerned he'll get lost in it as he walks back towards the direction he came from.

But he finds the Impala again, climbs back into his seat—the passenger seat where he spent so many of his teenage years parked next to Dean—and throws his stuff over the back of it.

Dean tries the Impala again and this time she starts, and Dean drives back down the road away from the cemetery. Sam looks back only once, and red eyes track them all the way down the road.

:::

"So," Dean says when they get back to the M-21 Motel. The proprietor sees them walk down the cracked sidewalk to Dean's room and raises his eyebrow, and Sam sort of sighs. It's not unusual to get weird looks when they're together, but he still doesn't get why they get those looks.

Dean starts unpacking his duffle and rummaging through looking for what Sam hopes is clean clothes. His brother smells like cemetery and ozone, and Sam wishes that he had his washer and dryer again just long enough to be wistful before he pictures Jess at the dryer, folding tiny little shirts and jeans, and his entire chest clenches up, taking his breath and his heartbeat with it. And he remembers the fact that his appliances burned before he even got completely out of Palo Alto.

"There's this road," Dean continues. Sam nods distractedly; he's still trying to banish thoughts of Jess smiling at him as she does the laundry that he didn't get around to doing because he was too busy taking his work home.

"There always is," Sam comments dryly. He plops down onto the double bed and wonders for the first time where he's going to sleep, especially since Dean's been kind of twitchy since he showed up. His brother heads for the bathroom, but he leaves the door open even as he's pissing, the sound of it ringing against the bowl, as he goes on,

"Yeah, well, Morrow Road. It's haunted, the locals say; some chick and her baby were murdered, and sometimes, if you drive down that road at night, in the morning the police find your car, but they don't find you. And they never find you."

"Sounds like our type of thing," Sam remarks, surprised by how easy it is to fall back into line, like slipping into his old shoes had been.

"Yeah, I know. I'm not sure exactly what we're dealing with, but I figure it's a coupla ghosts and some haunting and burning ought to clear up the problem. Happens every few months, the locals say. All of a sudden there will be a rash of disappearances, and then it stops."

"So..." Sam starts, listening as his brother starts running the water in the sink and, from the sound of it, splashing it on his face, "how will we know if we've stopped it?"

"Because I did my homework," Dean says, louder to be heard over the water. "You weren't the only one who knew how to do homework," he adds a little spitefully.

"And?"

"And the last few disappearances were a few months ago, up until recently; there's been exactly one, a woman named Mara Gillian, and so it's starting up again. We find the bones, we salt 'em and burn 'em, and then we hang out a couple of nights and see if anyone else goes missing. And if no-one does, we move on, and then keep an ear to the ground in the future just in case."

"Sounds like fun," Sam says, sluggishly as he collapses backward onto the bed and starts to fall asleep. He'd driven for hours to find Dean, most of it in the middle of nowhere, Michigan.

Dean comes out of the bathroom towelling his face. "Dude," he says indignantly, "that's my bed."

"So come sleep on it," Sam mumbles as his eyes close. But Dean doesn't get on it, and eventually Sam cracks an eye as wide as he can get it while this sleepy and finds Dean on the floor, one of his shirts around his shoulders, his duffle—weapons on the little table—under his head as he lies in front of the door, the salt line visible just beyond his shoulders.

Sam wants to get up and insist Dean take the bed after all, but he's so tired, and Dean always did like to be the martyr and sleep by the door, which Sam figures is what he would be doing if Dean were on the bed, and that has to be the reason why Dean didn't just push him off onto the floor and reclaim the bed for himself.

Sam is surprised he can do that much logical thinking when this tired, but after another moment he's overwhelmed by sleep and he succumbs gratefully to the oblivion of darkness and lack of emotional pain.

:::

Dean wakes Sam up simply by being in the same room with him. Sam's used to someone puttering around early in the mornings, but Dean's routine is different: he showers first, then brushes his teeth, and before he does either of those things, he circles the room checking the windows and the door to make sure the salt lines are unbroken.

Sam is swimming slowly up towards awareness and hears Dean moving slowly through the room; he thinks of Jess first, of how she'd kiss him awake with toothpaste on her breath, and how she'd be in the shower, singing when he finally stumbled into the bathroom. Dean does sing in the shower—but unlike Jess, who could actually carry a tune, Dean's ability is awful, even if his voice is nice enough.

Sometimes, on really special days Sam would get particularly lucky and Tyler would leap onto his bed, dragging James along, and they would smother him with cuddles and kisses. Sam groans before he realises he's doing it and Dean immediately pauses in the room. Sam flicks his eyes open and meets Dean's one-quirked-eyebrow-gaze. It's that funny way his eyebrow seems pointed in the middle when he raises it that makes Sam smile even though inside he still feels like his internal organs are being dragged over a cheese grater.

Dean's hair is spiky but drops of water are still rolling down his forehead, and he's giving Sam a Look like he doesn't even know what to make of him, as if they didn't spend their entire childhoods together.

Then again, it's been nine years, and Sam didn't know what he expected; he does know, though, that Dean's routine is the same as it was the day Sam left. It's kind of comforting somehow, in that utterly familiar way that your entire life can change and yet some things just stagnate forever.

"You okay, Sammy?" Dean asks, and Sam wants to snap out a retort about how he's twenty-seven years old—almost twenty-eight, Jesus—and Sammy is so fifth grade, but he can't. All he can do is try to fool Dean with a smile that would have worked on Jess but he knows will never, not in a thousand lifetimes, work on Dean.

"Sure," he says, and his voice sounds foreign even to his own ears. "I'm fine."

Dean swipes at the water collecting at his temples and then scrubs his hands on his jeans, standing there awkwardly and still shirtless, with his over-washed gray t-shirt in his other hand.

"My ass," Dean says, and comes over to the bed, but he doesn't sit down. Sam is surprised. He doesn't really remember Dean having boundaries, yet this Dean—this thirty-one-year-old incarnation of his older brother—seems to have found some along the way somewhere.

"Dude," says Sam, and lazily reaches out an arm to poke Dean. It's partly experiment, and when Dean recoils, Sam finds himself thinking maybe he has the plague and he just never noticed. "What, do I smell or something?" he asks, tone sarcastic and angry. Dean shakes his head.

"What the hell happened, Sammy," Dean queries instead, sounding angry enough himself. Sam shudders and closes his eyes again. He can hear, if he tunes out the rough cadence of Dean's breathing, the screams of his children all over again. He can see the spectacular crash in thrilling full-colour. He has to struggle not to pelt for the bathroom and throw up.

He realises after a moment that except for the sound of Dean's breathing and the heater clunking in the corner, he can't hear a single other thing. Dean isn't moving, he isn't fidgeting, he won't be put off. And then his brother says, just a little savagely.

"I call you and you fucking blew me off for years. You better fucking explain this, Sam. You didn't just show up here 'cause you wanted to hunt, and even if you had wanted to hunt something, there's an entire fucking country out there full of evil shit. But instead you tracked me down. Start talking."

Sam turns his head and cracks his eyes open to stare at the wall, which is painted white but has turned an ashy sort of gray over the years. He can count freckles in the paint. He doesn't—he can't speak. And Dean sighs gustily and finally he sort of plumps down onto the bed, right next to Sam's extended right leg.

"I know you married Jess," Dean says, a soft near-gentleness in his tone. "And I'm not blind, you're not wearing a wedding ring. C'mon, Sam, talk to me. It'll help."

Sam figures out right then that Dean thinks he did something stupid, like cheat on her; it's something Dean might've done if he'd ever thought to get married. Not that he would—he thinks hunting is too important. But it's either that or Jess left him, or he somehow deserted her; Dean can't guess at the truth.

"It won't," Sam says flatly. "She's dead."

It's almost worth the pain of having to speak the words aloud to see the stunned expression written across Dean's face. Sam counts more of the little marks and grooves in the faded paint.

"I—" Dean stops. Sam knows Dean wants to offer sympathy, but it's his older brother and he knows that Dean won't even know where to begin. "How?" he says instead, and Sam can feel the shudder wrack him, the tears that ache in his eye sockets even though he hasn't actually shed a single one since he heard the news.

Detached, as if he can divorce himself from it, he replies in a monotone,

"Went over a cliff in her car. Drunk. Don't know why she was drinking, we didn't keep liquor around because of the ki—" and he stops dead, dead like she is. He just can't believe he almost—

"You had kids?" Dean says, voice breathless and pained like he's just been shot. It's plain that Dean never expected that.

Sam can't really hold it in any longer. It hurts so bad it's like someone is skinning him from the inside out, every single thought of Jess or Tyler or James—or unborn baby Ella—rips another length of flesh off.

"Yeah," he says dully. "I had two. And one on the way."

Dean doesn't say anything for a long time, then he gingerly puts a hand on Sam's ankle and pats it awkwardly. Sam hiccups and chokes a little on his dry throat, the clogged feeling of tears he can't cry filling him up to an unbearable fullness.

"Had," Dean says at last. "I'm—God, Sammy."

There's nothing else to say, so Sam doesn't. He just lies in there in a perfect cocoon of misery, unbreakable by any outside force; there's not even a weak spot that could bend and snap to let Dean in.

Dean leaves his hand on Sam's ankle for a long time, not moving, just letting it rest there, gentle, reassuring weight of it. Sam forces himself to breathe and tries not to hear them screaming.

And then he's suddenly in the middle of a field of yellow flowers, which are waving in a slight breeze. Dean's standing next to him, and they're at a crossroads. Sam turns to say something and Dean stops him with a finger on his lips, the pad of Dean's finger rough and calloused and achingly familiar.

Dean's lips turn up at the corners and he leans up, and in. Sam opens his mouth again to speak, and Dean's finger falls kind of effortlessly inside.

Sam is still staring into eyes made vibrant green by the bright colours of the outdoors, the sunshine filtering through them and making them spark like green glass, the little specks of gold highlighted, when everything fades back to the washed-out colour of the motel room and the speckles on the wall suddenly remind him of the little brown flecks scattered across Dean's nose.

He sits up and Dean immediately retracts his hand as though he thinks he's crossed some invisible line somewhere.

"Let me get my laptop," says Sam. "Let's research the fuck out of this road and salt and burn something."

Dean nods, eyes lighting with enthusiasm. "Now that idea I can get behind," he says, and Sam, even as he's putting his feet on the floor, is kind of mesmerised by eyes he's looked into his entire life—yet never quite seen them the way he's seeing them now.

:::

After about an hour, Sam makes a frustrated noise and smacks the table with his open palm. Dean had been cleaning the weapons while Sam searched, and at the noise he gets to his feet and comes over to stand next to Sam; Sam counts every footstep, almost as though if he closes his eyes, he can catapult himself back to his house in California and pretend that it's Jess coming over with his cup of morning coffee as he works. He used to stay up some nights, and Jess would bring him coffee at one in the morning, on her way to bed, with her pretty blue negligee floating around her calves and her breasts pushed up enticingly by the neckline.

"What's the matter, Sammy?" Dean asks, and Sam snaps back to the present, wonders why he would think about that right now; Jess in her negligee has made his dick slightly interested, and he crosses his legs because he doesn't want Dean to see it—that'd just be weird. Really, really weird, like right up there with all of the stuff they used to deal with on a daily basis and that Dean is still working with years after Sam tried to get out of that life.

Sam can't believe the vagaries of life; he's sitting at a formica-topped table with one uneven leg and a rather alarming brown stain at the corner, in a motel in the middle of nowhere in Michigan, and he's with Dean—just like it always used to be—and he'd run as far as he could from this, yet somehow it seems like he'd been running right back into the place he'd left. Like he never left.

"I can't find much of anything," Sam says. "Just stupid legends and shit, and pretty much every single one is different."

"Well, that's not that unusual," Dean soothes. "Pretty much every hunt's like that, Sammy, you remember?"

"I'm gonna need a library," Sam says. Dean walks back over to the bed, and Sam can hear him efficiently strip one of the guns to clean it. Sam sighs and clicks through the webpage he's on, looking for some type of anomaly—besides the usual—that might stand out enough to give him something to work with.

"Wait—" he blurts out suddenly. "I think I found something."

"Yeah?" Dean efficiently strips and cleans a gun behind Sam on the bed, and Sam can hear the lilt of genuine interest in his voice.

"Well, there's a bunch of different versions—"

"Isn't there always?" Dean comments, the metal of the gun scraping as he begins to reassemble it. "But did you find anything conclusive?"

"Okay, listen. There's the story that the woman lived on Morrow Road in the late 1800s, and her baby went missing one night. She ran out into a snowstorm searching for him, but she never found him, and the story goes that they both froze to death. That, though, wouldn't entirely explain the 'vengeful' part—so here's another version. The baby was kidnapped, and his mother searched for him, but she was murdered while she combed the woods looking for him. That would explain why she's vengeful—hey, Dean, is there a pattern to the victims?"

"Not that I could find," Dean says, sounding about as frustrated. "I mean, they vary in age and gender. Both women and men have gone missing."

Sam snaps his fingers and can feel excitement bubble up inside him. "That's it!" he exclaims, and turns in the chair, which makes it creak and lean alarmingly. "Think about it, Dean. Her baby went missing, right? So maybe she gets angry and does the same thing to others, like revenge for someone taking her baby."

Dean sets the gun down on the nightstand—Sam hears the metal hit the scarred table—and comes over, his footsteps this time heavier, more excited.

"Shit, Sam, that makes sense. I think—can you pull up the news story on Mara Gillian?"

Sam nods and a few clicks later he's found the story about how she went missing. It's short, barely a paragraph towards the back of the paper, as if the reporter is embarrassed to even have to write the story. Dean scans it quickly, then lets out a huff of breath and knocks against Sam's shoulder.

"Find the police report," he says, and Sam nods again, fingers flying over the keys, until he finds the police records for Clay Township, even though it's been recorded in Algonac, Michigan. And then they both stare at the page in shock.

"She had a baby," Sam says, amazement colouring his words. "They didn't put that in the paper because they didn't want people to panic, but look, Dean—" Sam points at the words in black and white on the laptop screen.

"A baby boy," Dean breathes, and leans so close to Sam that he can smell the gun oil on his hands and the aftershave on his stubble-encrusted cheeks.

"Yeah, I need a library," Sam says. "We gotta go back, look at the other disappearances. I bet each time there was a baby involved. Even with the men—and that would be the connection. She's trying to find her baby, still, Dean. And wherever these people are vanishing to, she has something to do with it, just like you thought."

"Other versions?" Dean prompts. "We still gotta get to the bottom of what really happened out there that night," he says.

Sam grins, settling back into research mode, amazed at how much he's missed the chance to solve this minor mysteries that no-one else has ever managed to solve—but then, those people don't do what he and Dean do for a living. Did for a living. Whatever.

"Okay, so there's also the version where the kid's mother had him out of wedlock—big no-no in those days—and abandoned him under the bridge on the road; that isn't there anymore, though. They tore the bridges down and replaced them with culverts. Anyhow, so the story goes that she left him there, and then was filled with remorse while she was walking back to her house on the road and returned to look for the baby, only he was gone. So now she spends the rest of her afterlife searching for her missing baby."

"And being generally obnoxious and killing people," Dean adds wryly.

"Well, yeah, that too," Sam agrees. "I think we have a good chance of figuring this out with some more intense research at the library."

Dean groans. "Man, I swear, you like get off on libraries. It's not healthy, dude."

Sam whaps him across the chest. "I do not," he says, like he's forgotten that he's too old to be suddenly engaging in childish games again—but then, Dean always did bring out the worst in him.

Sam Googles further and then sits back, saying,

"Okay, so the nearest library is in Imlay City, the Ruth Hughes Memorial District Library. Which is only a few blocks from here."

"Dude," Dean says gleefully, staring at the Google map Sam has brought up. "I think we should totally travel the route from Paradise to Hell."

Sam puts his face in his hands and shakes his head. Dean will never, ever change. Muffled through his fingers, he replies,

"Only you would want to go from Paradise to Hell. I think most people would want to do that the other way around."

"Hey, Sammy," Dean says cheerfully, "you should read some of the other Michigan legends. The Paulding lights sound like something we should check out on the days that we're just hangin' out here."

Sam unburies his head from his hands and peeks up at Dean from under the fringe of his eyelashes. "The Paulding lights?"

"Yeah, in Watersmeet, there's this forest where these lights just show up every night. No-one knows what they are. They don't seem to be dangerous, but it could be fun to check out!"

"I hope it's not 'fun' like—"

"Visiting South Attica Cemetery was?" Dean finishes, and Sam is quite unexpectedly caught up in the joy of just being with Dean, of Dean still able to complete his sentences even after all these years apart.

"All right, Sammy, might as well shag ass to the library and see if we can crack this case wide open."

Sam looks up at Dean where he's standing by his shoulder and grins. "Maybe you can look at one of the medical texts at the pictures," he says slyly, and Dean winces and looks guilty; Sam happens to know for a fact that Dean did that once when they were teenagers and he was bored while Sam did all the legwork.

"It was National Geographic!" he protests, and Sam shakes his head in mock dismay.

Sam gets up from the chair and Dean practically leaps out of his way; Sam pulls on his ancient khaki jacket with the bloodstain just underneath the left armpit, now faded and brown, and then packs his laptop into its bag.

Dean slides his broad shoulders into the leather jacket that Sam recognises as having once belonged to Dad—much like the Impala used to, too—and then he stashes his favourite ivory-handled pistol in the back waistband of his jeans. Sam doesn't grab for his own gun—shining and clean because Dean had made a hurt noise when he saw it and took care of it first—but he does slip his favourite, still incredibly honed knife into its sheath at his ankle, just under the cuff of his jeans.

"Oh," Dean says just as they're on their way out. "We should check into another room when we get back, because I don't think the locals really take kindly to the idea of gay people in their midst."

Sam stops dead on the threshold and half-turns to Dean. "We're not gay," he says incredulously.

"I know that, but you did spend the night in here with me with only one bed. What d'you think people are gonna suspect?"

"Good point," Sam says grudgingly, and he walks back into the room and starts collecting his stuff while Dean does the same.

They stop by the front office after dumping their stuff in the Impala, and Dean says, gesturing to Sam, "Hey, this is my brother; he showed up a couple days early and I need to check out of my room and get one with two double beds instead."

The proprietor doesn't look exactly convinced, leathery face permanently sunk in a scowl, but he hands over another key.

"One double bed and a cot," he says gruffly. "Best I could do on short notice."

Dean smiles, but the guy just gives him the same once-over glare, until Sam says, "Thank you so much, sir, for the kindness," and he loves that it still works; the guy almost smiles and gives them a curt nod. Sam doesn't grab Dean's arm on the way out because he knows it'll look suspicious, and they slide into the Impala and point it towards the library.

Sam realises, as they're cruising down the highway, that he hasn't really thought about Jess for the past little while and the rubber band of pain around his heart as eased a little. He's not sure, but he thinks being with Dean might just be banishing some of the ghosts latched onto him.

:::

The library is a lot bigger than Sam was expecting. When they get inside, there's a huge computer lab, and Sam, while attached—possibly more than is healthy—to his own computer, is excited about the possibility of free WiFi.

"All right," he says. "I think we should hit the newspapers first. See if we can turn something up about this woman, like anything that corroborates her disappearance. I'll take that; you take the search for the other victims."

Dean winks at Sam and takes off towards the computer lab, while Sam goes in search of a librarian to ask where the really old newspapers are kept.

While walking towards the service desk, he spots two little boys running around a table, a couple of years apart; one dark-haired, one blonde, and there's a terrible stab into his heart as he thinks of his own lost kids. His children, who should be with him right now, the ones playing with the toys, running around that table, even if he'd scold them for running in a library.

He spends all afternoon rifling through ancient papers, then scrolling through the microfiche machine, but he doesn't find anything useful. His eyes ache after a while and he's got his cheek smushed up under his hand, slowly falling into an unseeing haze, when Dean drags up a chair across from him and waves a hand in front of his face.

"Wake up, Sammy," his brother says. "I found something."

Sam shakes his head to try and banish the fog, and focuses on Dean's face. He finds himself suddenly acutely aware of Dean's green eyes and freckles again, which is just weird. He can't figure out why he can't stop noticing that, when it's never been something he paid attention to before, and even though logically he knows it's just a side effect of the vision making him notice it, he's creeped out by the fact that his vision drew his attention to it at all.

"Yeah?" he mumbles, still trying to wake up from the microfiche-machine-stupor.

"Every single victim had a baby that went missing too. It's never been reported in the papers or the news, but it's always an afterthought in the police records—I think it's because the police had no reason to think that the baby would be important to why the people were disappearing, which makes sense, because the police don't know how to do our job."

Sam widens his eyes a couple of times to try and get them to be less dry, and to wake up some more. He can see the sun setting through the window over Dean's shoulder, and it's picking out golden highlights in hair that Sam is used to thinking of as light brown.

He forces himself to concentrate on Dean again, almost ready to pinch himself hard to fucking snap him out of whatever this thing is, this fascination with Dean.

"And the babies were all around the same age," Dean says triumphantly. "That piece of information was harder to find, but it was included in enough of the reports that I think we can safely conclude it's true for the others as well."

Sam waves a hand at Dean to show he's paying attention and starts scrolling through the news articles again, and he's just about to roll his shoulders and twist to work the kinks out of his back when something catches his eye and makes him stop thinking of anything but the case.

"I've got something," he says. "I've been sitting here the whole time and I couldn't find a damn thing on a mystery ghost, but I think this is a clue." He motions to Dean, who comes over and reads the little three line notice over his shoulder.

Dean whistles. "Dude, you're like, Houdini," he says. "Who also died in Michigan, by the way. In the middle of his act. On Halloween."

Sam lets the remark slide without comment and just stares a little bit longer, before reading out loud in hushed tones, "This was the first house built on this road. It was a two-story and it belonged to I.C., who had it built in 1829. The house is now abandoned as no-one knows what happened to Miss C., who has not lived in there in several months."

"Sounds like gossip of some sort," Dean says, his breath hitting the side of Sam's face as he leans closer. Sam can smell coffee on his breath, and the slight sourness that comes from not having anything to drink in hours. The thought reminds him of just how thirsty he's gotten while sitting amongst the dancing dust motes and staring at this machine.

"It doesn't mention a baby," Sam says excitedly, "but it gives us her initials! We just have to look a little further back and see if anyone ever reported on her disappearance."

"And she wasn't married," Dean says. "So that lends some credence to the 'abandoned the baby' version."

"If she did abandon him," Sam points out, "it's possible no-one even knew she'd had a baby. Though that does confuse me as to how—"

"The legend of the missing baby got started?" Dean says, finishing another sentence. "That's easy enough," he goes on, and Sam figures it out and chimes in along with Dean:

"The baby crying on the bridge."

Dean grins in Sam's peripheral vision. "Exactly. Not bad, little brother. People heard the baby cry, and they tried to come up with explanations."

"Or," Sam adds, "there were at least a couple of people who knew about the baby, and left behind some kind of information that was discovered much later."

"All right," Dean says, standing up and stretching. "So we find out who she is, and then we find out where she's buried."

"And the baby? How are we going to put his ghost to rest—if his mother never found him, I doubt we're going to find him either."

Dean gives him a wicked grin. "We can cross that bridge when we come to it."

"Very funny, Dean," Sam says, feeling his mouth tighten like it tends to do when Dean thinks he's being particularly clever.

But he scrolls back even farther, Dean retreating back to the chair he pulled up, and Sam can feel the eyestrain setting in, even though he ought to be used to it from all of the legal briefs he read as a lawyer.

And then he pumps his fist in the air, thrilled beyond belief at solving a little bit of the mystery, even though he once promised himself he'd never be doing this type of thing again.

"Isabella Cartwright," he says to Dean, who is sprawled in the wooden chair with his legs open and his eyes half-shuttered. "She was very specific about how the house was built, the two-story aspect especially. And one of the builders was her cousin—and back in that time, she might have had an illicit affair with someone, maybe even that cousin, and when she had the baby, she thought she had to get rid of it. Anyway, this is the news about that being the first house on that road, but now that I know her name, I can probably find out what happened to her. Or at least some mention of something weird happening to her."

"Dude, hurry up," Dean says. "Or I'm gonna be the next person to disappear."

"Jesus, Dean, I would've thought you'd learned some patience in the last ten years."

"Yeah, well, I waited for you to drag your sorry ass back to me, didn't I?"

That remark strikes a strange chord in Sam's chest and he looks away from the machine and at Dean, and there's flags of colour high on his cheeks.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Dean shrugs, but Sam doesn't buy his mask of nonchalance. "Just that you belonged in this job, Sammy, not a fuckin' lawyer. Pissin' people off and makin' everyone hate you."

"Seems to me that this job is just as good at pissing people off and making them hate me," Sam says, trying to rein in the bitterness.

Dean doesn't reply and Sam starts moving forward again, and when he finds the article, he's amazed he missed it the first time around: it's on the front page and proclaims that Miss Cartwright was found underneath the bridge on Morrow Road, dead under unusual circumstances. It was clearly a big story, and a big mystery; Sam scans the article for any mention of a baby, but if the man who wrote it knew anything about a baby, he didn't mention it in his article.

"We gotta figure out where she's buried—" Sam starts, then grabs his head, feels the blood drain from his face. It lasts only the length of time it takes him to blink twice, trying to clear away the pain, but when he opens his eyes the second time, Dean's on his knees in front of him, looking worried.

"You okay?" Dean asks, but he doesn't touch Sam. Sam files that away as being weird but probably to be expected after ten years and blows his hair out of his eyes.

"Yeah, I just—I dunno, had a pain in my head. It's gone now, though." He looks at the screen. "I don't think—" and then he stops, feels like the proverbial light bulb has just flickered on above his head. "She's probably buried behind her house. Or where it used to be."

"So, tonight," Dean says, and for a world-tilting moment Sam thinks Dean sounds like he must when he's about to ask some chick out on a date, but then it passes and he's back in his body again and feeling less like he's off-balance even with both feet firmly on the ground. "We should check out this road. See if we can see her."

"When you talked to the locals," says Sam, "what did they say they saw?"

"Well, this is the really weird part," Dean replies. "I was told to talk to a couple of teenagers who'd sworn to have seen her in the last few weeks, and they said she has no eyes, wears a blue nightgown, and has bloody hands."

"She killed it," Sam breathes, mouth falling open. He closes it and swallows, feels his nostrils flare. "She must've gone a little crazy, killed the baby, and then thought she'd just left him there. Went looking and he was gone."

"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" Dean asks.

"I'm thinking the baby's father, whoever he was, found it and buried it. And by the time she got back there—wow, they must've just missed each other. I wonder how she actually died?"

"That's not that important," Dean says. "What makes you think she's buried behind the house? Because I think she's buried by the road. Otherwise she'd be haunting the site of her house."

"Not necessarily," Sam responds, surprised that Dean wouldn't think of this himself, when Dean's the one who's been hunting all these years while Sam went soft in mind and body, at least where the supernatural is concerned. "If she was searching for the baby, and died during the search like everyone claims, then she'd haunt the road, no matter where someone buried her."

"Which means Jimmy Hoffa could still be anywhere," Dean cracks. Sam sighs.

"Anyway, I don't know, I just think she's probably somewhere near the house. Maybe where the backyard is."

Dean gets to his feet with the sound of his knees creaking, and Sam is reminded that they're both getting older, and hunting is a very physical activity. He wonders if Dean suffers from aches and pains from years and years of hunting, and whether or not Dean would ever admit to them; it's strange, though, for him to be thinking so much about Dean. In the latter years of his marriage, he'd finally gotten to a point where he could lock the door in his mind with Dean behind it and leave it thus for months without much more than an occasional stray thought getting through.

"Let's walk to the site," Dean says. "I don't wanna take my car down that road."

"Shit," Sam mutters. "I don't know if I can go with you."

"You got some other plans, in Michigan, that I don't know about? A lover hiding out in the woods, maybe?"

"No, Dean, but I did have a baby. Well, she wasn't born yet, and—"

"You don't fit the profile," Dean tells him. "And even if you did, I'll be there, and we'll both have shotguns full of rock salt; you know how to do this, Sammy. You've done it a hundred times."

Sam sighs again, gustily. It makes the tails of Dean's shirt flutter where he's still standing way too close to Sam.

"Why do I get the feeling I'm going to wind up injured," he asks the room at large, and Dean quirks his lips.

"If you do, you know I'll take care of you," he reminds Sam, and they start to gather up their things.

Sam thought he'd be spending all of his time trying to banish memories of Jess, but instead he's constantly getting distracted by Dean.

He wonders what it all means.

:::

Sam is shivering a lot in the wintery Michigan air; it's mid-December, and Sam can feel every breath of the cold wind as it slices through his thin jacket and abrades his skin. He's too used to the mild weather of California, where the sun would shimmer over the hills and the blacktop would heat beneath his shoes even in the cooler months. He shivers again and wishes he still had the coat with the fur lining Jess had bought him as an anniversary gift.

Peeking towards his left, he can see Dean sitting cross-legged next to him, wrapped in the leather jacket that used to belong to their father; his cheeks are lightly tinged pink and his nose is endearingly red, but besides that, Dean doesn't really seem to be cold. He's not shivering every two seconds like Sam is, and Sam is jealous. Sam is unsettled by the emotion, because he long ago learned that he keeps his darker emotions on a stringent tether, locked up inside on a low simmer that he tries not to acknowledge, and jealousy is one of those less-than-pretty emotions that he hates to ever admit to feeling.

Dean blows into his bare hands to warm them, and Sam wishes he still had the gloves that matched that coat. He wonders why, in all of the years they'd hunted together, Dean never wore gloves, even in the colder areas of the country. Why Dean doesn't have any now.

It's blisteringly quiet; even the whistle of the wind is muffled into almost non-existence, which Sam recognises as part of the eerie preternatural quality of the place, and he knows Dean is aware of the same thing.

Sam is almost afraid to speak, afraid that if he does the sound of his voice will be just as easily banished by the phenomena surrounding them. Dean, though, proves that he has no qualms about disturbing the dead and no fear of anything really.

"This sucks," Dean grumbles, shifting on the edge of the road. He's staring into the woods, and Sam's eyes have long since drifted out of focus from peering into pitch blackness where nothing is happening. "My ass is totally numb."

"Yeah," Sam murmurs. His ass isn't just numb from sitting on it, it's frozen to the point where he's not even sure it's there any more. Even though they're blanketed by unnatural silence, Dean's voice broke through the frigid air like shattering crystal. Even odder, though, is the moment his voice fades away, it's as if that bit of crystal is unbroken again, pressing in on Sam. Everything seems to be pressing in on Sam; he's suddenly struggling to breathe, and the air that reaches his lungs sears it with stunning coldness. He tries to move, unconsciously leaning towards Dean, and the atmosphere around him moves with him like he's trapped inside a fluid bubble, contracting and he manages to turn his head towards Dean, eyes frightened, when Dean leaps to his feet in a motion Sam almost can't follow, he does it with so much grace.

Sam tries to speak and his tongue sticks to his mouth as though there's ice on his teeth keeping it fixed in place.

Dean's shotgun is in his hands, and Sam discovers that he can gaze into the woods again, that, in fact, it's as if his eyes are drawn there automatically. There's a faint greenish light in the woods now, amorphous and shifting, almost an orb but at the same time shapeless. It's coming closer at a clip most men with their sports cars would be envious of, and Sam wishes he could stand up. He doesn't even know whether he wants to run away, to grab for his gun by his thigh, or walk towards it.

He's not even afraid, actually; he's fascinated by the way the greenish light elongates and moves elastically, until it's a human outline, the edges blurred, and then, just like that, she's in front of Sam. Like he has no control over his own body, a puppet with the strings pulled by someone else, he's suddenly on his feet, and he's looking right into her translucent face.

Her eyes aren't just missing, they're deep impossible wells of blackness that are dripping streaks of bright, bright blood down her face. Her hands are gnarled into claws, fingernails vicious-looking, and she's wearing the light, long blue night dress she has been purported to wear. There're ribbons of blood splashed across the front of it, and as Sam stares, unable to move, he can see the way the moonlight hits and passes through her, the way it makes the blood spatter look fluorescent.

"Drop!" he distantly hears Dean yell, but the sound is swallowed up by her sudden unearthly shriek:

"Where's my baby!"

It doesn't actually come across like a question; it's more like a demand, like she's searching not only for the missing child but the person who killed him. Sam doesn't think she knows—not by this point, anyway, perverted and vengeful spirit that she is—that she's likely the one who killed him.

"Sammy, drop the fuck down!" Dean shouts wildly, and this time Sam hears him more clearly, but he finds he can't move to fall to his knees to give Dean a clear shot at the spirit.

"Isabella," Sam says, finding that he can speak, and even more startling is that her depthless eyes focus on Sam almost as if she can see him enough to communicate beyond simply replaying the same loop of her tragedy over and over.

"My baby," she moans, and her hands come up, grasping, and Sam finds his chest feels like it's being compressed, and he's afraid—

And then he hears the sharp, brutal sound of his rib cracking, and that, out of nothing else, sends him crashing down to his knees, the gravel tearing through his jeans, and the loud report of the gun follows, and she vanishes into mist.

Sam is gasping, clutching at his side, shocked by how easily she snapped his rib. He's barely able to breathe, though the supple confining web seems to be gone.

"Goddammit," Dean curses, going to his own knees and shoving Sam's hand out of the way so that he can ruck up Sam's shirts—and God, that's freezing—and probe gently at his side. "It's not bad," Dean says finally, sounding relieved. "You're going to have a nasty bruise and I'm pretty sure the rib's cracked, but not broken. Should bind it up anyway."

"We gotta," Sam says breathlessly, "still dig her up and burn 'er."

"Not tonight, not any more," Dean says grimly. "I'm taking you back to the M-21 and binding that rib before you do something stupid like shatter it and pierce your lung."

"Not gonna—" Sam says, but Dean wraps one arm around his shoulder and places the other under Sam's armpit, levering him back up to his feet.

"And you're gonna rest," Dean tells him sternly. "Why the hell didn't you drop down when I told you?" he asks, and he sounds vaguely furious, like he'd be ripping into Sam cleanly with the honed blade of his tongue if not for Sam's injury.

"Couldn't," Sam says, trying to manage the pain. "Something was stopping me. I mean—"

"You know what, nevermind. Save your breath," Dean says, helping Sam walk down the road. It's faint, but as they move away from the place where they saw Isabella, Sam thinks he can hear a baby crying.

They hobble down the road to where Dean parked the Impala, and he arranges Sam in the passenger seat like Sam is seventeen years old again, and then pats his shoulder once before flinching away like Sam had done something like reach for him. Sam is starting to get woozy from pain, and he wonders, blearily, if he did try to cuddle up to Dean while they were walking stitched together like they were, and if Dean's angry.

It's tense and silent inside the Impala for the first few miles, and then Dean, almost as if he can't will the words back behind his teeth, says,

"Tell me about Jess."

Sam feels a searing pain trace through his body and he's pretty sure it's not the cracked rib.

"Fuck you," he says, but it doesn't carry the weight of his anger because he's too weak.

"I just wanna know—" Dean stops. "Why the hell you left us and never came back."

Sam's head is lolling back against the seat and he's surprised that he's this drained by such a simple injury. The pain isn't even that bad, but he's barely keeping conscious. Yet Dean's words keep shredding that veil of numbness clinging to his skin. He wants to turn his head to look at Dean, but instead his eyes close, and Dean's next words sound as if they're coming through a tunnel that is a thousand miles away. Like Dean is talking through the tin can with the string that represented a telephone when he was six years old.

He can tell there's something here, something underlying Dean's actual words. Something Dean is saying without saying, but he can't figure it out.

"She was so pretty," he slurs, and that's when he realises that he'd been without oxygen for awhile there too. He only hopes the fog taking up residence in his brain isn't permanent. "Tall and blonde and so pretty."

"Jesus," Dean says, that same distant quality to it, like he's on another planet even. "You're so wasted," he says.

"'m not wasted," Sam mumbles, and he can feel the saliva in his mouth, the blood running along his veins. It's a string quartet in his ears, beautiful and musical.

"Shouldn'ta gave you so much," Dean mutters, and Sam has a split second of perfectly clear recollection: Dean handing him the bottle of water and the pills in his hand. Sam laughs, and the sound of it froths and bubbles and fills up the Impala to the roof, until he can't breathe because the wet quality of his laughter is drowning him. Somehow that makes it even funnier.

Dean sighs and Sam hears it like Dean is singing. He tries to sing along, but the sounds garble in his ears and he stops, going silent. His speech slowed and stretched out like taffy, he says,

"Dad—Dad said never t'come back."

"But you could've called me," Dean says. He sounds vaguely irritated, like he's annoyed that Sam isn't getting the clues Dean is leaving around like bread crumbs.

"I did," Sam slurs again. "Called ya once but I didn't have—didn't have enough—" he gives up.

"I think I'd remember that," Dean says, voice raised and out-of-control, wild and anxious. Sam wonders what the problem is.

"It didn't connect," he manages finally, and it even sounds human when it leaves his throat.

"I still," Dean says so softly Sam almost can't hear it over the symphony of his blood in his ears, "still can't understand what she had that was so compelling. That you'd leave and never write or call or anything. That you'd cut us out of your life for ten fucking years like you didn't want us any more."

Sam is staring at the ceiling of the Impala and the headlights coming down the road keep strafing the roof and it's so pretty. He blinks and muzzily tries to focus, but it's gone.

He's not even consciously aware of the last faint string of curses that follow him under.


Book Two, Part Two >>
<< Book One, Part Four

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