The readings were definitely strongest in the kid's room, but they were all over the house, fluctuating in the bedrooms, flickering in the kitchen and bathrooms, almost off the charts in the living room and basement. Something or several somethings had definitely taken up residence in the old Winchester homestead.
Sam couldn't help wondering if it had anything to do with him, with his past as a demon-chosen prodigy, that other reality bleeding into this one the way Azazel had bled into his mouth as a baby.
Because if Sam knew anything, he knew it was dangerous to underestimate the curse of his existence, even if in this reality he didn't even exist.
Except that he was here, and he was still himself, so somehow whatever Gabriel had done hadn't completely obliterated Sam's existence after all.
Whatever that meant.
When he finished his sweep of the house, Sam got his laptop and did some research on the house, but came up with zilch. Nothing unusual had been reported in this house before or since the death of the baby in 1983, and Sam had to assume that any ghostly activity had only begun once Dean and his family moved in five years ago.
Sam knew what he would need to do next, and he wasn't about to include this mild-mannered version of his brother in those plans.
"There's something I gotta do," he told Dean as he closed his laptop and grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair.
Again, that look of expected rejection in Dean's eyes nearly sent him to his knees. How had this Dean survived so much when he seemed so vulnerable?
"Right now?" Dean asked. "Can't it wait till morning?"
"No, actually, it can't," Sam said.
"Ok, then I'm coming with you," Dean's jaw set in a stubborn clench and Sam knew there would be no arguing with him.
Besides which, he really couldn't leave him here by himself. Not after the display of angry spirit he had witnessed earlier. This house was simply not safe, and the hunter in him refused to allow Dean, or anyone, to be put in that kind of danger if Sam could help it.
"OK," he agreed reluctantly. "But you're not gonna like what I have to do."
* * *
In the car on the drive to the cemetery -- Sam's car this time, trunk full of tools -- Dean said nothing for awhile after Sam explained what he was doing, just stared out the windshield with that set jaw, frowning.
"And this is what you do," he said finally. "You investigate ghosts and then you salt and burn their remains. And that stops them."
"Most of the time," Sam agreed. "Not always. And I don't think the salt and burn will end this thing completely. I just know it's something I can do, and it needs to be done. Once that baby's spirit is out of the house, whatever else is there may leave too. The baby's spirit seems to be what attracted the other thing, so once it's gone hopefully there won't be anything to hold it and it may just leave on its own."
"But you're not sure about that," Dean clarified.
Sam shook his head.
The fact that he knew exactly where to go -- exactly which part of which cemetery -- sure, Dean may have assumed that Sam had looked it up on his laptop -- but really, Sam knew exactly where they'd be without looking it up, and of course in this reality it was just as he'd assumed. John must have purchased those plots when the baby died. Or else Mary's father had done it, since he and Deanna Campbell had died ten years previous. Sam was willing to bet the circumstances were tragic, but different. No yellow-eyed demon deal, no grandson visiting from the future.
Nevertheless, they were all there. John, Mary, and baby Sam.
Sam tried not to think too much as he sunk the shovel into the grass over the baby's grave. Dean had got over his initial shock and was right there beside him, rubbing shoulders as he drove his own shovel into the ground.
It felt beyond strange digging this grave in this cemetery with this man who had no real understanding of what he was doing, was just trusting Sam -- a stranger he had only just met -- with this macabre task. That was weird in itself, Sam knew, and not for the first time wondered if there was something supernatural at work in the way Dean just accepted everything Sam told him, just trusted him implicitly.
And when they finally unearthed the little grave, opened the casket to find the bones and soft little baby clothing which were all that was left after thirty years, Sam couldn't help the gasp that escaped his lips at the notion that this -- this was all that remained of him in this reality.
Dean watched him pour salt and lighter fluid over the body, silent and grim, but when Sam pulled out a book of matches and started to light them, he felt Dean's hand covering his. Turning a questioning look at his brother, Dean tugged the matches away, meeting Sam's eyes with a determined look that Sam knew well.
"He's my brother," Dean said, and Sam surrendered the matchbook and stepped back, suddenly overwhelmed by the notion that this was his own end. That he would just disappear when Dean did this.
But of course he didn't. He and Dean stood side by side, watching the flames shoot up, devouring all final trace of baby Sam Winchester, dead in a house fire at age six months.
And when the fire died down and it was clear that the job was done, Dean and Sam worked side by side to fill the little grave again, then returned to the car as the first light of morning was peeking across the horizon.
"I need a shower," Dean announced when they pulled up to the house.
"Dean, you can't stay here," Sam reminded him. "There's still something malevolent here. We need to find out what it is, how to get rid of it. Until then, it's not safe for you or your son."
"What do you want me to do, Sam?" Dean demanded angrily. "Live in a motel?"
When Sam tipped his head in a doubtful affirmative, Dean glared.
"No way," he said firmly. "This is my home. I'm not scared of some ghosty. I don't care how dangerous it is. This is my home."
He glared at Sam for a minute, daring him to argue, then announced, "I'm gonna take a shower."
And he was out of the car and striding across the lawn before Sam could stop him, could do more than just watch helplessly until Dean got to the front door, turned back.
"You comin'?" he demanded.
And damn if Sam was gonna let Dean just walk back into that haunted house alone.
So yeah, he found himself back inside the Winchester home, waiting his turn for the shower. And when Dean came down wearing nothing but a pair of sweatpants and a soft grey tee-shirt Sam was overwhelmed with a need to protect and take care of this gentle, good-hearted man whose normal apple-pie life had so recently been disrupted by grief and tragedy.
"Shower's all yours," Dean said, still toweling his hair. "I left some duds in the bathroom. They're probably too small, but at least they don't smell like a graveyard."
Dean gestured toward the kitchen. "I'm gonna fix us something to eat."
As Dean turned to head into the kitchen Sam watched him for a moment until he realized he was staring at his ass, then he hurried up the stairs to wash off the night's escapade.
The clothes were indeed too small, and Sam was uncomfortably aware of how little they left to the imagination. But he knew he didn't have much choice. Hadn't planned to be here so long so hadn't even packed a change of clothes, so he would just have to make due while he used Dean's washing machine to clean the ones he'd had on.
Sam was aware of Dean watching him, noticing everything while trying not to stare as Sam walked into the kitchen carrying his pile of clothes and mumbling his request to use the machines. The smells of home-cooked bacon and eggs, toast and coffee, were so comforting Sam almost forgot he and Dean still barely knew each other. It was easy to forget as he filled the washing machine, returned to the kitchen to take the cup of coffee Dean offered, his fingers brushing his brother's, eyes lifting to gaze into Dean's.
But when Dean reached up to push the hair back from his face, then left his hand tangled in it so that Sam only had to lean down a little before their lips met, tasting coffee and bacon and smelling Dean's aftershave -- Sam felt himself moan and press closer, needing the familiar heat of Dean's body wedged up against the counter, aware of every line and angle, pushing his knee between Dean's legs so he could feel his hardness against Sam's thigh as Sam deepened the kiss, putting his mug down so he could use both hands to gather Dean closer, hold him tightly as he ran his hands over Dean's back, down over his ass, pulling Dean away from the counter so he could get a grip on the muscled cheeks, yanking him in so he could grind his hips against Dean's.
Dean's hands were in his hair, holding his head as he kissed back, tongue hot and wet and needy, perfect lips bruising Sam's. As Sam began grinding against him Dean made little moaning sounds that sounded almost like sobs, felt desperate and pleading so that Sam had to tear his mouth away from Dean's just to bury his face in his neck, to feel those perfect little sounds vibrating against his lips and cheeks.
"Sam -- " Dean expelled the word on a gasp that was almost a sob, punched out in a strangled cry.
Then the doorbell rang and Dean jumped, tensing in Sam's arms, pushing against him with palms against his biceps.
Sam released him reluctantly, his body crying out in protest, every muscle clenching with the need to pull Dean closer. Dean pushed steadily until Sam stepped back, catching a glimpse of the desperate, lost look on Dean's face the moment before he shut down, cleared his throat, turned away toward the living room, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth.
Which did nothing to alleviate the swollen, reddened lips or flushed cheeks, the bright sparkling green of his eyes.
Sam couldn't tear his eyes away as Dean turned away from him. Dean had always been gorgeous, even when he was a little boy. But Sam was quite sure he had never seen him look so -- beautiful was the only word that came to mind. Like something almost otherworldly, every feature accentuated, every color vivid and focused like some kind of super-high-definition photograph. Not real.
Sam was dazzled, couldn't stop watching as Dean moved away from him, down the short hall to the front door. Part of his brain -- the rational, experienced-hunter part -- knew there was something a little off, but it wasn't until Dean opened the door and Sam could see Missouri Mosely standing there, could read the stern, disapproving look on her face, that he knew his instincts were correct.
Something supernatural was going on with Dean.
The short, round woman standing in Dean's doorway was older than Sam remembered, but otherwise she looked just the same. And she clearly felt comfortable in the Winchester home, because she brushed in as soon as Dean opened the door, staring up at him with a suspicious look as she demanded,
"Where is he?"
Dean stepped aside to let her pass, which was when she saw Sam and stopped short, eyes narrowing. She looked him up and down, and Sam was uncomfortably aware of how undressed he was, muscles squeezed under too-tight cotton, tan arms and legs sticking out awkwardly. Barefoot.
Missouri put her hands on her hips and pursed her lips.
"Did you tell him?" she demanded, and when Sam looked blank she stomped her foot. "You didn't, did you? And now look what you've done."
Missouri waved a hand at Dean, who glanced up at Sam helplessly, his too-bright eyes and lips making it hard for Sam to look at anything else. And those ridiculously long eye lashes --
"Tell me what?" Dean demanded, finally finding his voice, getting his brain back on line faster than Sam for once.
Missouri shook her head disgustedly.
"Mm, mm, mm," she scolded. "Boy knows, but he's keeping it to hisself. Now, that just ain't right, Sam Winchester, and you know it."
Sam started at the use of his name. He felt panic rising in his chest.
"I -- I don't know what you mean," he protested.
Missouri stomped up to him, tilting her whole body backwards and shaking her finger up at his face.
"You didn't tell him you two boys are soul-mates, of course," she said. "Even though you knew. Now the question is, how did you know that?"
"What did you call him?" Dean was registering her earlier pronouncement, albeit belatedly, confusion playing across his features as he followed Missouri into the kitchen.
"Sam Winchester," Missouri said. "Your brother. All grown up so pretty, too."
Sam felt himself grow small as Dean's look of shock replaced his earlier confusion.
Because Dean knew, he realized. Dean had known all along. He just didn't want to believe it because he wanted Sam so badly.
And because it was impossible.
"But we burned the baby," Dean protested, frowning as he struggled to make sense of Missouri's revelation. "Baby Sam. So how can this be my brother? We burned the baby."
"Ah, honey, you know there's things goin' on here I cain't explain," Missouri said, her tone sympathetic as she turned and patted Dean's arm. "I just know it's the truth. And this boy knows it too. I don't know why he was lying to you, but that's for him to tell."
She turned back to Sam. "You know things ain't always what they seem, Sam," she said. "Even with all your sharp hunter's instincts, sometimes things don't make the kind of sense you think they should. Especially when you done messed with the fabric of the universe the way you have. You can't just erase yourself, Sam. Even when you try, there's things left behind to prove you were here. You of all people should know that."
She put her hand on Sam's arm, and he could feel the tingle of her power.
"It's all right, Sam," she said gently. "You were just doin' your best to protect your brother. The universe knows that. It'll be all right in the end, but you and him still have some work to do."
She gave his arm another pat, then turned to go. Sam and Dean watched her, stunned, until she reached the open front door, where she turned to look at them one last time.
"Just love each other, boys," she said with a small smile, encouraging. "Don't let anything get in the way of that. It's the love that saves the world. Now, just remember what I tol' you."
Then she turned and waddled down the steps, down the driveway, and off down the sidewalk.
Dean watched her go from the doorway, and Sam watched Dean, waiting for the shoe to drop.
It didn't take long. Dean closed the front door, turned to Sam, his face blank, eyes hooded and dark.
"So when were you gonna tell me, Sam?" he asked quietly, but Sam could hear the underlying steel in his voice.
Sam took a breath, shifted his feet, struggling to put his thoughts into something coherent.
"I didn't think it mattered," he said finally.
Dean flinched, shook his head once.
"How could you think that?" he demanded. "You're my brother and you don't think it matters enough to tell me? What the hell's wrong with you?"
"In this reality, your brother died," Sam protested helplessly. "I just figured it was some kind of weird glitch that I'm even here at all. I'm supposed to be dead."
"Except you're not," Dean observed. "And you lied to me."
Sam hung his head, guilt sloshing in his stomach, making him feel ill.
"You made me think I was gay," Dean accused.
"I'm sorry," Sam whispered, staring at the floor, unable to raise his eyes, feeling really and truly terrible. He could feel Dean glaring at him, considering, furious.
"So now I find out I'm not gay after all. I'm just some kind of pervert who's hot for his brother," Dean clenched and unclenched his fists, and Sam could feel the heat rolling off him, the need to hit something. Someone. "How could you let that happen? What kind of asshole does that?"
Sam said nothing, heat rushing to his face, fighting the tears stinging his eyes.
"God, Sam," Dean breathed out, clenching his teeth now, and Sam waited for his fist to connect with his face. Knew he deserved it.
"I think you should leave," Dean said finally, obviously still fighting to control the urge for violence. "Just -- finish your laundry and get out. I'm going to work, and when I get back, I want you gone. Got it?"
Sam gave a small nod, still unable to look up, knowing if he looked into that accusing green glare he would lose all control. Start sobbing. Maybe never stop.
Dean turned away then, and Sam dared to glance up at his retreating figure, noting the stoop to his broad shoulders, the tension in his strong back.
Dean came downstairs a few minutes later, dressed for work in his EMT uniform. He walked past Sam with barely a glance, his jaw set and clenched, went out the door without a backwards glance, slamming the door behind him.
A moment later Sam heard the Impala's familiar motor revving up, stood helplessly at the front window, watching it pull out of the driveway. Watched his brother drive out of his life.
Sam finished his laundry and got dressed, debated about the chimera still probably haunting the house. It bothered him more than he liked to admit to leave without finishing a job, especially a job that had so much personal meaning for him. But he knew better than to try to fix things now. Dean would have to find a way to deal with this thing his own way. Maybe now that he knew about hunters he would find another one who could help, one who didn't have family ties clouding his judgment.
Nevertheless, Sam decided at the last minute to leave a note on the fridge with his number, if only to assure himself later than he'd done all he could to be available if Dean ever needed him.
Because he knew with all his heart that if Dean ever did need him, he'd be there like a shot. Hoped against hope that someday Dean would forgive him, maybe even see his way to understanding why he had done what he did, how all he'd ever wanted was for Dean to have a normal life.
NEXT CHAPTER | BACK TO MASTERPOST