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On the Surface
Title: On the Surface
Show: Supernatural
Author: [info]gaelicspirit
Genre: GEN
Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language
Spoilers: Set in Season 2 dove-tailing the end of Episode 2.12, Nightshifter. If you're just joining the fun, spoilers up to then.
Summary: On the run from the FBI, the brothers are sidelined by a snowstorm and find themselves at the mercy of a sheltered town filled with secrets. Staying alive means staying together as they fight to stay on the surface.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
A/N: Thanks for coming back! And thank you so much your reviews and comments. Your time is a gift to me. I'm really pleased you've enjoyed the roll-out of this particular ghost story. I hope you're entertained by this next chapter; I've been looking forward to writing it. Neither of our boys get out of this mess unscathed. There will be scathing. Oh, yes. There will be scathing. *grins*

Thanks go to thruterryseyes for giving me a much-needed sanity check on this (and every) chapter. She reads for impact and I can't tell you how much of one she makes on me. Thanks, T.

 

Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
Now, cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.

~When the Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin

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Dean ran.

Cold, silver moonlight cut through the canopy of branches like a blade, creating a strobe-like effect of black and white as he tore across the snowy ground between the trees.

He could feel his heartbeat at the base of his throat. It tangled on the air hammering upward from his weakened lungs and forced him to stop his head-long rush from the water's edge toward where he remembered the cabin to be. Small clouds of condensed air puffed out before him, crystallizing almost instantly in the frigid night.

Thrusting out a hand to brace himself against a tree, the other hand on his knee, Dean doubled over, coughing roughly. He spat, staining the snow red.

Clearing his throat, he looked up and around, suddenly realizing he was alone.

"Sam?" He called, his voice echoing, rusty and used, in the snow hush of the woods.

His brother hadn't followed him.

For a moment Dean simply stared behind him, his surprise too great to click through logic. There hadn't been many times in their lives where Sam hadn't followed him, no matter what it was he was heading into. There had been plenty of times when Sam had left him. But he usually always followed.

Closing his eyes, Dean sagged against the tree, shifting until his spine was aligned with the bark. He slowed his breathing, trying to calm the trigger to cough, aggravated from his run through the cold night.

He dropped his chin to his chest, feeling the pull of aching muscles along his neck, and replayed the last few minutes in his mind. The moment he'd seen the dog tags, the image of Wallace's helpless form, lying on the bed in the attic room, flashed across his vision.

The old man had been helpless, trapped in the dying cabin with the ghost of his son, all these years. And Dean had left him there. He'd missed it.

The memory of Ronald's face caught in the beam of the searching spotlight seconds before the sniper's bullet cut him down floated over Wallace's staring eyes and gaping mouth in Dean's memory. He couldn't let another innocent die because he hadn't been quick enough; because he hadn't seen every angle, every possibility.

He needed to be one step ahead. He needed to save this one.

"Wait…," Dean muttered to himself, dragging his gloved hand down his sweaty face. His breath puffed out in a cloud in front of him. "Wait…it's been like four years…."

So why did Colin start killing now?

Josephine. Dean knew the discovery of her body had to have been the catalyst. But who had been watching over Wallace all this time?

"Something hinky's going on here," Dean said to the darkness, rolling his shoulder along the tree and peering in the direction of the cabin. He glanced back over his shoulder.

Sam wasn't coming.

Taking a shallow breath, Dean looked down at the snow, ignoring the pink splash. He knew his brother wouldn't have just not followed. Something had to have happened with the cops on the beach. In which case, Dean going back now could only make things worse.

Squaring his shoulders, Dean pushed himself away from the tree and started toward the cabin at a slower, more controlled pace. There was nothing for it. He needed to get the old man out of there, then figure out a way to get Sam away from the cops. They were going to have to bring up Colin's bones from the lake before they could stop his spirit anyway.

"One thing at a time," he said to himself, working to keep his breathing controlled, pressing a hand against his aching chest. "One thing at a time."

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"You need to bring up the bones," Sam said in immediate response to Cooper's inquiry as to what they could do. "Just…," he darted his eyes past Cooper to where Mead and his men were watching their exchange. "Just bring them up and take them to your morgue."

"What about your brother?" Cooper asked, holding a hand out as Mead stepped forward, mouth opened to speak. The sheriff stopped in deference to Cooper's raised hand, which surprised Sam.

"I'll go after Dean," Sam said, catching his bottom lip with his teeth. His cheeks were stiff with cold and his nose was beginning to run.

"You said he was going to catch our killer," Mead reminded him. "You think I'm letting some kid go after this guy alone, you're crazy." Mead flattened his lips, his whistle cutting through the night. "Johnson! I want you to head up to the old Sanderson place. Check it out."

A man whose face Sam couldn't see nodded then headed up the hill. In moments, Sam heard the diesel engine of a hefty pick-up truck roar to life and saw headlights bouncing through the trees. He started once more to turn from Cooper and swore under his breath when the M.E. caught his arm again.

"What about me?" Cooper asked.

Sam turned back. "You really want to help us?"

Cooper pulled his wiry eyebrows together, his eyes appearing almost angry as he answered. "I'm not standing out here for my health, kid. I want to stop this just as much as you."

Thinking quickly, Sam said, "We'll need to get the bones dry enough to burn. You got something at the morgue that can help with that?"

"Burn?" Mead barked. "What the hell is this?"

Cooper arched a brow, ignoring the sheriff. "We can't just put them in the incinerator?"

"Oh." Sam blinked. "Yeah, of course."

"I'll head back," Cooper said. "Get it ready. I'll drop you near the cabin on my way. You have Mead's man bring you and your brother there. With…," he glanced at Mead, pushing his lips out. "With Wallace Sanderson."

Sam saw Mead look away, training his flashlight on the lake. Whatever had happened between Wallace Sanderson and Matthew Mead distracted the sheriff from inquiring further about burning the bones.

"You alright with that, Matthew?" Cooper asked, tilting his head to peer at his friend.

"Sheriff!" Called one of the men peering at the monitor. "You're gonna want to see this!"

Cooper started to follow as Mead moved toward the monitor.

"Hey, I can't wait for you," Sam said. "I gotta go after Dean."

Cooper nodded. "What's your cell number?"

Sam told him.

"We'll call if anything causes us to veer from the plan, yeah?"

Sam nodded, glancing once over at the cluster of law men.

"Take this," Cooper ordered, grabbing the flashlight from the hand of the closest cop and handing it to Sam.

Sam accepted it gratefully, then took off down the beach, scrambling up the snow-covered hill and ran through the darkened forest, the silver light from the moon his only guide.

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Running through the snow was like running in sand. The harder Dean pushed, the slower he went until air was his enemy, cutting through his chest with scalpel-sharp knives. He was forced to walk—trudge, really—the last several minutes of his journey, weary even before he found the cabin.

It was a shadow against the dark. Had he not been looking for it, he could have run right past. As it was, the sight of the cabin pulled him up short, causing him to skid a bit on the snow. He stumbled and fell to his knees, coughing as he caught his breath.

There were no lights shining from within—just as he'd found it the night before, though Sam had been inside then. And a fire had been burning. For all Dean knew, Colin was throwing a party in there, cloaked by ghostly darkness. He frowned, studying the house. Sam told him that Colin saved him from Marshall and his friends; how had Colin managed to get Sam back to the house?

He immediately recalled abbreviated passages from his father's journal, trying to pinpoint the information he needed to make all of this make sense. His brain was sluggish, his memory betraying him, his focus shot by the pervasive cold as the night wind picked up speed, pressing cloying fingers against his exposed skin.

Doubts he normally didn't bother with swirled around him. His natural instinct to shoot first, ask questions later was failing him; it was hard to keep hold of his purpose, to center on what it was he was doing here, why he was fighting so hard. He shook his head roughly, needing to dispel the cobwebs of uncertainty. He narrowed his eyes, blocking out everything—every doubt, every question—but the sight before him.

Snow soaked through his jeans as he knelt staring at the dark cabin; shivers slipped along his skin. Licking his dry lips, Dean looked around, trying to remember where they'd left the duffle. He was at the West side of the cabin, facing the kitchen window. He remembered stepping out through the front door that morning and heading to the right when hiding the duffel—closer to the main road.

Pushing himself to his feet, he staggered around the side of the small building, looking for the cluster of trees. He blinked in surprise as a sliver of moonlight gleamed off of something metallic on the far side of the cabin. His eyes caught on the bed of a pick-up truck; he could barely make out the emblem of the Lethe Sheriff's Department painted on the side.

"What the hell?"

He hadn't heard a truck pass him; but then again, he hadn't reached the cabin via the most direct route, either. Tugging his hood up to further shadow his face, Dean moved through the cluster of trees, swallowing almost convulsively as he worked to keep from drawing the attention of whomever had arrived in that truck.

Finding the group of trees where they'd hidden the duffel of weapons, Dean hunkered low, keeping his eyes on the back-end of the pick-up. He unzipped the bag, removed the shotgun, and glanced down, breaking the barrel to check the load: two rounds of rock-salt-filled shells. Snapping the barrel closed, he stood, his brow furrowed as he glanced from the quiet truck to the quiet cabin.

Something was wrong.

He moved forward at a crouch, the hairs on the back of his neck standing at attention. Eyes darting back to the cabin, Dean made his way around the back of the truck, toward the driver's side. The door was standing open. Swallowing as pressure built in his chest, Dean continued forward, grasping the door as he peered inside.

The cab of the truck was empty.

His gloved hand slid on the edge of the door as he leaned in, causing him to lose his balance. Catching himself on the seat, he buried his face in the crook of his elbow and coughed, the ragged breath tearing through his chest and up his throat. Flashes of light dancing at the corner of his vision left him dizzy; the sound of his hoarse coughing eliminating any cover his stealth had bought him.

Taking a breath, he tucked the shotgun under his arm and pulled off his gloves, stuffing them in his pockets before he rubbed his hands over his face, trying to center himself. He felt the heat of his own skin, knew he was pushing it, but he needed to keep moving.

If he didn't solve this….

For a moment he stopped, one hand braced on the hard vinyl of the truck's bench seat, the other gripping the cold barrel of the sawed-off shotgun. It was so hard to think; the cold of the night seemed to climb inside of him, adding to the ache brought on by the cough. He had to remember that he had a job to do. There was always a job to do. No matter how bad he felt or how tired he was.

There was always a job to do.

Straightening, ready to face whoever came his way, Dean grasped the door, preparing to shut it, when he realized what his hand had slipped on.

Ice.

The entire interior of the door was coated in a thin film of ice.

"What the hell?" he muttered, swinging the door closed.

The squawk of a radio startled him, dragging his gaze to the front of the truck. Caught in the shadow of the building, the moonlight doing more to hide than illuminate, Dean could see legs sprawled in the snow. He moved quickly, reaching the body as a voice on the radio called out, "Johnson. Come in."

Dean knew the moment he touched the leg that the man was dead. There was something too still about the give of flesh beneath his grip, the thrum of life completely absent. Crawling forward in the dark, Dean reached the man's shoulders and rolled him to his back. The radio was clipped to a strap of material on the man's jacket, an insistent voice continually calling for a report that wasn't going to come.

Hesitantly, Dean's felt along the man's neck, checking for a pulse he knew in his gut he wouldn't find. The skin was wet, ice forming quickly in the frigid night air.

Dean pulled his hand back. He knew how this man had died: the same way the lawyer Dean had watched drown at his office desk had died; the same way Mayor Jones had died.

Gripping the shotgun, a surge of indignant strength fueling him, Dean stood, slipping around the front of the truck and feeling his way between the truck and the cabin until he reached the building's edge. The shadows lessened in the front, his eyes wide enough in the dark to take in both shadow and pale light. He saw the front door and felt his body shift, settling into a recognized stance, his jaw tightening, his eyes hooded.

"This ends. Now." He gripped the door knob and twisted, pushing his way into the dark interior.

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Sam ran.

Using the flashlight Cooper had given him, he was able to follow Dean's wavering path through the trees to the cabin. It would have been more direct to jump on the road that the cop's truck had followed, but Sam was worried that Dean might not have made it all the way to the cabin, so he went the same way his brother had, hoping to catch up.

Only, Dean had too far a lead on him.

Sam knew that even with weakened lungs and working on a fever, Dean wouldn't slow, wouldn't stop. Not unless something stopped him—took his choice away. He'd focus on the job to the detriment of all else.

Sam was convinced that this job was going to get his brother killed one day. There would be one sacrifice too many, and the job would ultimately claim Dean. Pausing to lean against a tree, Sam dragged his arm across his dry mouth as a chill shot through him that had nothing to do with the cold.

He looked over his shoulder; he'd gone far enough that he could no longer see the lights from the beachhead. He spared a thought to what the cops had seen on the monitor, then trained his light toward where he knew the cabin was. The beam of light illuminated something on the snow just ahead of him.

Sniffing, the cold air dragging moisture from every place it could, Sam shone the flashlight on the dark stain.

Blood?

Dean hadn't been bleeding. Could it have been an animal? Sam looked up and around, turning the flashlight on the trees around him as he did so. He hadn't so much as heard an owl's cry. It occurred to him that the woods had been ominously silent the whole time—since he'd left the diner in search of a shovel. None of the regular noise he expected to hear in a sparsely populated, wooded area had met his ears. He'd blamed the snow dampening the sound, but….

He looked back down at the red stain. It wasn't an animal. It had to have been Dean. It was Dean's blood. But how…?

And then it hit him: pneumonia. Dean wasn't bleeding—not on the outside anyway. His lungs were getting worse.

"Dammit, Dean," he cursed and started to move forward.

The ring tone on his cell phone startled him so greatly that he yelped before pulling off a glove to dig it from his pocket.

"Dean?" he bit off into the phone, ready to ream his brother for his bone headedness.

"What? No. No, it's Cooper."

Sam blinked, shaking himself. "Sorry, I—skip it. What's up?"

Cooper sounded shaken, his voice quavering with uncertainty and an underlying current of fear that rippled across Sam's skin like the touch of cold fingers.

"There's, uh…they cleared away the debris," Cooper said, clearing his throat, "from around the bones."

"Good," Sam nodded, walking in the direction of the cabin once more. "Sooner we get him pulled up, the sooner—"

"Sam." Cooper interrupted him.

Sam stopped, the beam of light dropping to illuminate a small circle of snow as he stood waiting for the M.E.'s next words.

"There were two."

"Two?" Sam repeated, not comprehending.

"Two bodies. There were two." Cooper's breath rushed out across the mouthpiece of the phone in an exhale of disbelief. "Two sets of bones all…tangled together."

"Two."

"I'll have to get them back to the morgue to positively identify them, but…I don't think we can assume—"

"Oh, shit," Sam breathed, bringing his fist up and pressing the butt of the flashlight against his forehead. Realization made him dizzy as the facts suddenly added up. "Shit!"

"What?" Cooper asked, the unfamiliar ground of doubt edging his voice.

"I know who it is," Sam told him, his boots crunching the snow as he picked up speed, shining the flashlight on the trees to keep from crashing into them in the dark. "I know who it is."

He clicked the phone shut on Cooper's bellow demanding answers and stuffed it back into his pocket as he ran. He had to get to Dean.

Now.

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The smell of mold and rust was stronger than before as Dean stepped into the cabin.

Keeping the sawed-off shotgun at his waist, barrel preceding him into the room, he blinked, his eyes working to draw in as much of the room as he could in the dark. The moonlight barely penetrated the murk of night inside the cabin and his heart beat hard against his ribs in anticipation of what he might find.

He remembered the layout of the room and started toward the door to the attic door, stumbling when his left leg caught on the back of the couch—the couch he'd remembered being positioned in front of the fireplace. Frowning, he dug into his pocket and pulled out his lighter, flicking it on and holding it up while balancing the shotgun across his other arm.

The pale yellow glow of the flame was barely enough to illuminate beyond where he was standing, but what he could make out chilled him. There was no way Wallace had been living here for the last four years—ghost caretaker or not.

The cabin was no longer a rough-hewn retreat for father and son. It was dead, abandoned, rotting.

The place he and Sam had seen, had stayed in, had been an illusion. A memory strong enough to make them believe. The couch next to him had been gutted and looked as if some kind of animal had nested within its coils and stuffing at some point. The fireplace was empty, bird or squirrel bones littering the hearth. Cobwebs draped in morbid blankets across a crumbling pile of logs.

Dean tilted his head, though, as his eyes caught on a stack of blankets—untouched by the décor of dust and decay and completely out of place within the confines of the dead house. He started toward them, letting the flame go out as it started to burn his thumb. He'd only taken two steps, away from the front door, when the gust of wind blew through the house like a disenchanted moan, slamming the door shut behind him.

He whirled, dropping his lighter and bringing up the shotgun.

"Colin!" he bellowed. "Give it up, man!"

He could hear whispering, too low to pick out the words, too consistent to be just one voice. Rolling his lips against his teeth, he used the couch as a marker and made his way through the dark cabin toward where he remembered the attic door to be. As he passed the ornate mirror, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye.

Pausing, he looked over, surprised the he could see anything in the darkness, let alone his reflection.

Only it wasn't his reflection.

It wasn't even a face.

He saw the back of someone's head and shoulders—as if they were looking out through the kitchen window. Instinctively, he looked back over at the window, though he knew no one would be standing there. Turning back to the mirror, he jerked away when he saw a woman staring now out at him—young, sad eyes, her skin bluish in the light caught inside the mirror.

He blinked, wanting to move away, but feeling rooted to the spot. The whispering increased until he could make out one word, over and over.

Dean.

The woman's face faded slowly, leaving only the after image of a skull. As he stared, the mirror began leaking, water slipping from the edges of the frame and running unchecked down the wall.

Dean…Dean…Dean.

"Shut the hell up!" He yelled, cocking the shotgun in a desperate show of power.

The whispering ceased. The mirror went dark. The water was gone—as if it had never been there.

"You damn ghosts and your damn freak shows," he growled, his voice rough as the urge to cough pressed against it. "This is not gonna work—you're not gettin' inside my head."

He stormed forward, tripping over a wooden kitchen chair in the dark. He grabbed it and threw it toward the fireplace. With a frustrated grunt of effort, he shoved the rickety kitchen table across the small kitchen, feeling a splash of satisfaction when he heard it crash against the counter.

"You're all the same." He headed toward the attic door, though in the back of his mind he knew it was pointless—Wallace wasn't up there. Not in the flesh in any case. "Holding on to something that isn't yours anymore."

He ripped open the attic door and the smell of decay that wafted down made him gag, bowing him with a ragged cough that nearly sent him to his knees. His eyes watered as he gasped for breath, looking up the stairway, the top of the stairs lost in impenetrable darkness.

Dark ate dark and the longer he looked, the smaller he felt.

"Just let it go," he whispered, almost listlessly, sound too much of an effort.

He worked to spark up the fire, the indignation at the dead daring to walk among them, wreaking havoc on their lives. He wanted to blast the spirit away, put it in its place. But he couldn't seem to find the strength to lift his arms, to move forward. His energy, his will, was being slowly siphoned away by the cold, sucked up into the dark of the attic.

I tried to save them….

Dean turned, the voice coming from the living room. He couldn't see anything there.

I tried to stop it….

"Whatever you tried it didn't work," Dean said back to the empty cabin. "It didn't work and now you gotta let it go."

Taking a shallow breath, he moved up two stairs. "What are you doin', Dean?" he muttered to himself.

He should turn around, head back to Sam, burn the bones.

Instead he moved up another step.

And that's when he felt it: the cold hand reaching out, slipping up his body like a lover's touch, wrapping around him in a greedy embrace.

The darkness from the lake. It was here. Waiting for him. It had been waiting all this time; it was ready to take him, keep him, hold him under until he stopped kicking, until he surrendered.

"NO!" Dean bellowed, firing one of the barrels up the flight of stairs into nothingness, the rock salt peppering the dark as a scream of anger echoed around and inside of him.

He was thrown backward, a force of power and air slamming against his chest, tossing him off his feet and down the stairs as easily as if someone were flicking away a fly. He landed hard on his back, the shotgun skidding from his hand, out of reach, air rushing away in a panicked escape from his lungs.

His ears rang and he could feel the grit of salt from the shotgun blast powdering his cold cheeks and dry lips. He gasped in, lungs desperate for air, and pulled the salt into his mouth, coughing weakly as he tried to roll to his side, meaning to push himself up.

He never made it.

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"NO!"

Sam heard Dean's bellow just as the beam of his light hit the side of the cabin.

"Dean," Sam breathed, rushing forward.

The unmistakable boom of a shotgun being fired had him finding another gear, reaching the door just as a scream tore through the night. It was heartbreak, denial, and fury rushed together in a surge of sound and power. The door shook with the force of the cry and as Sam reached for the handle he saw to his amazement that ice had formed around the knob—growing and spreading until it encased the entire door.

"What the…."

Stumbling back a step, Sam swept the beam of his light over the front of the cabin, watching as the ice grew, trapping Dean inside with the ghosts.

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The same surge of power that had thrown him down the stairs grabbed him around the middle and pulled him along the dirty, rotting floor, slamming him forcibly into the mess of kitchen table and chairs he'd shoved to the side.

Dean had one second to grab a breath before the same unseen power collected him as if he were no more than a scrap of paper and slapped him against the wall next to the mirror. He grunted as his body absorbed the blow, unable to fight back, unable to move. His eyes searched the darkness, seeking the source of this power.

Because there was always a source. There was always a being abusing the supernatural powers it gathered by crossing over into a world that didn't want it anymore.

"Okay," Dean wheezed. "You got my attention."

"I thought your brother was like me." The voice came from the shadows of the living room, but Dean was surprised at its fullness. It was real, there. As if there were really someone else standing in the room with him.

"Like you?" He coughed, swallowing the fire crawling up his throat from his wounded lungs.

"A soldier," the voice replied.

Dean frowned, "What?"

Footsteps filled the quiet cabin as the figure moved closer, still not free of the dark, not close enough for Dean to see.

"I saw something in him. Recognized…myself, you could say," the voice continued.

And then the figure stepped out of the darkness, so close that if it breathed, Dean would have felt the air trace across his skin. Dean's heart shivered at the sight, his muscles—frozen and pinned against the wall with unnatural force—turned to water with the base reaction of fear.

The Reaper.

The pale skin, the deep lines, the bottomless eyes, the wide grin spread over too many teeth. It was the specter he'd seen standing over Sam at the edge of the lake.

He couldn't breathe. His lungs had been pressed flat, his throat closed. He simply gaped as the figured stared at him. And then it tilted its head in a very human, inquisitive motion and Dean saw the features shift, reform themselves into a face. One he hadn't seen before, but knew instinctively.

"Colin?"

"I thought your brother was their enemy." Colin's eyes narrowed. "I thought he was like me."

Dean's sluggish mind fought to keep up. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Colin turned away and Dean closed his eyes, trying to breathe, trying to swallow. The fear, the very real horror that had knifed through him thinking he had seen a Reaper had all been a mistake.

He had been seeing Colin's true face—the face Sam had been unable to see.

Dimly, as if from far away, he heard a repetitive pounding, an insistent crash. Flinching, he remembered the thunder of bullets through ice, the colliding of reality into the darkness that had been working to take him under.

"It's all I can do," Colin was saying. "I fight them off, keep them away from us. Every time they get close I find new ways to send them running. And then…suddenly, your brother came and I thought I had an ally."

Colin turned, facing Dean once more with his fathomless eyes. "Only he wasn't, was he?"

"My brother hunts things like you," Dean stated, his upper lip curling in disgust. "Sends you back to where you belong."

"So do you," Colin said, his face close to Dean's once more. "I can hear you, Dean."

Dean worked to keep his eyes flat, knowing instinctively that Colin was somehow seeing farther inside of him than anyone living had ever looked.

"I can hear your fear. I can hear you crying out for help."

"How about you go fu—"

His words were stolen, choked off as a hand of ice wrapped around his throat. He felt Colin's fingers tighten, though the figure itself hadn't moved.

"You want to kill all of us." Colin's voice bounced in a strangled whisper inside Dean's head, though the figure's lips never moved. "And you don't even know what they did to us. You don't even know why I'm here."

Dean fought to lift his hands, desperate to pull the fingers away from his throat.

"D-does…doesn't…ma-matter…."

"It does matter," Colin whispered, this time through his pale lips. "And I'll show you why."

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Sam beat his gloved hands against the ice-covered door, fury and exhaustion burning his muscle's energy. He stopped for a moment, catching his breath, listening. He couldn't hear anything—not one sound after his brother's cry and the shotgun blast.

His stomach was a block of ice, his fear a tangible thing thrashing inside of him. He couldn't lose Dean, not now. Not like this. Not after all they'd been through, all they still had to do.

Turning around he cast about with the flashlight, looking for a fallen tree branch, a rock, anything. His eyes fell on the canvass duffle bag and he ran over, thinking to grab the shotgun he'd spied in their earlier. His curse cut the frozen air like acid when he found it missing, realizing belatedly that it was the sound he'd heard inside the cabin.

"Oh, please," he whispered, hoping that meant Dean was fighting back.

An armed Dean was a dangerous Dean.

Grabbing his brother's 1911 from the duffle, he checked the clip and pulled his own Beretta from the waistband of his jeans. Slinging the duffle over his shoulder, Sam marched back up to the door and prepared to blast the lock open.

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Dean felt Colin's hands shift from his throat to his arms, pressing him against the wall; pinning him there with an impenetrable force, gripping tight enough to bruise.

"Promises were made," Colin said, his mouth next to Dean's ear. Dean wanted desperately to draw away, but was incapable of the slightest twitch. "They were so easily broken. We took him from the place where they put him, back to our house—our house empty of everything but the memories—to show him there was nothing left. It was all gone. We weren't supposed to be there, but he needed to see. And McAvoy had promised us time. The time we needed to say goodbye."

The droning words were a drumbeat in Dean's mind. The image of Colin—human or Reaper—faded to black.

"When he saw what had happened to his home he went insane. Maybe he already was…," Colin continued, his voice inside Dean's head as surely as his hands gripped Dean's body in iron. "All he wanted was to stay here…and he wasn't about to let us leave. He killed her first. Just one hit, but she bled so much."

Dean felt his body shaking, felt Colin shaking, as the image of the girl from the mirror crossed his vision, her head snapping back from the force of a blow, blood flowing in a fan of red. He struggled against the invastion of his mind, but he couldn't get away. He was trapped, forced to witness the death of this family through Colin's eyes. He could see what Colin had seen. Feel what the man had felt.

"I tried to leave—grab her body up and take her with me, but he held me. He wrapped himself around me with a strength I wouldn't have thought possible for a man in his condition."

Invisible arms seemed to encircled Dean, wrapped around him, pressing him back, anchoring him even more firmly to the wall as he tried to fight. He heard himself scream, curse, plead. He heard desperation in his voice as he demanded to be released. He couldn't tell where his panic ended and Colin's pain began.

"We heard the explosions as they blew the dam. They had to know we were still there…." Colin's hollow voice filled Dean's head.

The world shook around Dean and rumbling filled the air as he relived the last moment of another man's life, unable to see anything but the inside of a house that had been submerged beneath a lake for years.

His body shook with rage, felt fear build low in his gut, climb his ribcage like a ladder. And this, he knew, was his fear. His rage. And he clung to it, trying to break free.

"And then the water hit."

Dean felt the arms that were wrapped around him flex tighter, as if their owner knew exactly what he was doing. He fought harder, his air constricting, his body bucking as a torrent of icy water slammed through the windows, tearing away the casements, filling the room and washing over them all in a cold shower of fate, lifting the woman's body and sweeping it away.

He heard a voice—Colin's voice, but not the voice narrating his bizarre vision; a younger, terrified version—scream two words: "Pop, please!"

And then the water consumed him.

Dean thrust his chin up, instinctively looking to find air. But the water was stronger, fiercer. It crashed against him with intent, and Dean felt it filling his lungs.

He coughed, gagging, desperate for air. His body shook, but the water continued to fill him up until it had almost crested the top of his lungs, ending any hope of breath, any idea of survival. He choked, unable to draw air, water spilling from his frozen lips, splashing down his cold chin.

He was drowning, pinned against a wall inside a dead cabin.

www

The first shots were wholly ineffectual and Sam cursed the night, his voice echoing against the uncaring trees as the sound of his bullets had seconds ago. Taking a breath, Sam tucked the flashlight under his arm, aiming both guns at the seal of ice along the lock of the door and squeezed the triggers. The recoil of both weapons shook through his body, bruising his palms, but the ice began to crack.

He didn't know if he was making it happen, or if Dean was doing something inside, but at this point, he didn't care.

The ice broke from the seal of the door and Sam raised a foot, channeling his brother as he slammed his boot against the weakened frame. The door splintered, cracking enough for Sam to glimpse the blue-lit darkness within. He kicked at the wood once more, stumbling through when the rest of the door shattered, skidding to his knees as the duffle drew him off-balance.

The sight before him etched into his brain as an image that would haunt his vivid dreams for months to come.

Dean was pressed against the wall next to the mirror Sam had felt was so out of place. He was shaking, his body twitching as if attached to a live wire. His eyes were rolled back, lashes fluttering. A horrid, bone-chilling sound slipped from him as water poured from his mouth, down his chin, soaking his clothes.

And standing in front of Dean, watching him die, was Colin.

"Stop!" Sam screamed, the only word he could think of to articulate what he desperately needed to happen.

Colin looked over at him and Sam jerked as he saw the features of a specter, pale and lined, with eyes too-dark and mouth too-wide. As Colin stared, though, the image shifted into the face Sam knew—the ageless soldier with a haunted face, his expression slipping from pain to confusion.

"Sam?"

"Colin, let him go!"

Colin looked back at Dean as if just seeing him there. He took a step back and Dean slumped to the floor, his head and shoulders propped up by the wall. He tipped over, retching as his body instinctively rid itself of the water that had nearly killed him. Sam started to move to him, but felt himself held back, unable to shift from his knees, prevented from helping.

"Dean?"

Dean kept gagging, water pouring from his mouth, soaking the floor, his eyes closed.

"Dean!"

Sam tightened his stomach muscles, trying to fight against the force holding him still, the urgency in his voice seeming to penetrate the fog that wrapped around his brother. Dean gasped as his body was finally free of water. He lifted his eyes and the pain and grief caught there cut through Sam like a sharpened blade.

"Sam," Dean breathed, doubling over with the force of a wet, rattling cough.

"Hang in there, man," Sam implored, looking back at Colin. "Hey—Colin, hey!"

Colin looked at Sam again, tilting his head as if deciding which piece of him to cut off first.

"I can help you," Sam told him, needing to draw him away from his brother. "I can stop all of this."

"How?" Colin asked. "Are you going to go back and make them keep their promise? Stop them from blowing the dam?"

"No, but—"

"Are you going to keep them from stuffing my father in a retirement home? Forgetting about him, after all he did for this town?"

"I can't do that, Colin."

"Are you going to save my sister?" Colin was now standing in front of him. Sam hadn't even seen him move. "Are you going to ease her pain?"

"Colin—"

"You can't help me," Colin said, his voice low and devastated. "No one can."

Sam expected a blow; he anticipated an unseen force shoving him backwards as had happened so many times before. What he didn't see coming was Colin's hand—as real and physical as Sam's—reaching out, grabbing him by the throat, and pulling him to his feet.

www

Dean was in a pain-filled haze.

His lungs felt heavy, wet, and practically useless. He couldn't fill them with air, could only breath shallow, and they spasmed rhythmically with the desperate need to cough, though nothing came up, and nothing came out. The water that had filled him from the inside was gone, but he was no closer to relief.

He lifted weighted eyes from his slouched position on the floor, propped up beneath Josephine's mirror, and saw Sam drawing Colin away from him. Somehow he mustered up a half smile, hoping to catch Sam's eyes, hoping to encourage him, hoping to give him strength.

He didn't expect to see Colin reach out and grab his brother by the throat—actually touch him—and drag him upward. Sam reached up, grabbing at Colin's hands, pulling at the ghost's fingers, trying to breathe.

"I thought you would understand," Colin was saying to Sam as he shook him like a rag doll, Sam gasping for breath. "I saw you fighting them—I thought we were kindred spirits. I sent them away, confused them and turned them away—for you. I saved you."

"Y-you…," Sam tried. "C-can't…."

"I can't? I can't?" Colin shoved Sam back, releasing his throat and grabbing him up by the front of his coat.

Sam coughed, dragging in breath. Weakly, Dean pushed himself to a sitting position, eyes searching the dark cabin for something to help his brother. His eyes landed on the discarded shotgun, its barrel tucked up under the green duffle Sam had apparently brought in with him.

Colin gripped Sam's coat and slammed him against the wall. "You're here to stop me!"

"You can't bring them back," Sam finally managed to choke out, reaching back on instinct and grabbing Colin's shirt.

Dean gaped. He'd never seen a ghost become corporeal enough to touch before, let alone be touched. Any questions as to how Colin managed to get Sam back to the cabin were dispelled the moment he saw the spirit's ability to harness the raw power of hatred to the point of physical connection.

"No," Colin shook his head, pulling Sam up and close to his face, "but I can send a lot more to join them."

Before Dean could do more than drag in a limp breath, Colin threw Sam across the room, his brother's lanky body slamming into the side of the fireplace and crumpling to the ground in a heap of tangled limbs. Sam groaned once, but then went still.

"Sam!" Dean cried out in alarm, his voice barely a whisper.

Colin ignored him and turned to shove the decaying couch out of the way, marching toward Sam. Dean harnessed what remained of his strength and rolled from the wall toward the duffle bag, grabbing the sawed-off shotgun—which suddenly seemed to weigh a hundred pounds—and lifted it. Colin turned his way at the sound of the chambered round, but Dean didn't pause.

He aimed at the soldier's chest, the dog tags that had given him away hanging like a target over his heart, and fired. The rock salt scattered Colin's image and left the cabin filled with nothing but darkness.

Only Dean knew that darkness had a will—it had greedy fingers and a steadfast grip and if it got hold of them, he wasn't sure it would ever let go. Fumbling with shaking fingers, he dug into the duffle and pulled out two more rounds, reloading the shotgun and lifting it to point at the spot he'd last seen Colin.

"Sam?"

He could barely see the huddled mass of his brother across the room. The dark seemed to grow. He could hear it creak and groan as it spread across the room, climbing his legs like a living thing. Desperately, Dean fired into the darkest corner of the room—away from Sam—and felt a shaking grin of satisfaction relax his face when the cabin screamed around him.

"Mess with the bull," he breathed, firing the second barrel, only this time toward the dark kitchen, "you get the horns."

He shoved two more rounds into the shotgun, then with agonizing slowness, pulled his body weakly toward Sam.

"Sammy?"

He heard a welcoming groan as the Sam-shaped lump shifted, a pale face rising toward him.

"Dean?"

Dean slumped, reaching out a hand, lacking the strength to draw his body closer. His fingers tangled in the loose folds of Sam's coat. He coughed weakly, his chest constricting, his throat raw.

"Yeah. You okay?"

Sam crawled closer to him.

"Head hurts," Sam confessed, and Dean detected movement as Sam lifted a hand to his face.

He couldn't really see his brother, but he knew him well enough to feel his movement, sense his motion.

"You bleeding?"

"Yeah," Sam said. "He…grabbed me."

"I saw," Dean said, trying to keep his voice steady, though his body worked to betray him.

A different kind of darkness fought to pull him down—this one not easily fought back with rock salt. This one was inside of him, reminding him that he wasn't made of steel. That he could be broken.

"Need to get out of here," Sam said suddenly. "He's not gone."

"I know," Dean swallowed. "There's a truck. Side of the cabin."

The dark groaned again and Dean felt his heart drop. He knew this spirit…felt it as keenly as he felt Sam's motion. It had climbed into him—seen him in ways no one living had ever seen. It had known how to force his surrender.

He pointed the shotgun at the darkest corner of the cabin and pulled both barrels, hearing Sam cry out in startled surprise behind him at the sound. A wounded, sucking sound filled the rotting cabin and the darkness retreated once more. Dean dropped back, his head resting against the dirt-covered floor.

"It's Wallace," Sam almost whimpered; Dean knew his brother's strength was depleting.

"I know," Dean said again, trying to piece together enough of the right words to get his brother out of there, get him safe. "Sam—get to the truck. There's a cop…out in the snow."

"No way I'm leaving you," Sam declared.

Dean heard him sliding closer. He was afraid—afraid of the darkness touching Sam. Afraid of it seeing Sam.

Afraid of what would happen if the darkness climbed inside of him again as it had done in the lake. Afraid that this time, there would be no hand pulling him free, no fight left.

He was desperate to get Sam away, keep him safe, keep him close. It was a familiar fear, so real he could almost touch it.

"We gotta burn the cabin," Dean said, sensing his brother close to him.

Sam's hands were at his shoulders, lifting him up. Dean barely had the strength to tilt his head forward so that it didn't hang back as his shoulders left the ground.

"The bones are going to the morgue," Sam said in protest.

"We gotta burn those, too," Dean said, leaning against his brother's chest. "But the only way…the only way he could touch you…."

"He's getting strength from here," Sam followed his reasoning.

Dean nodded, another chest-rattling cough silencing any response.

"C'mon," Sam grunted, wrapping his arm around Dean's chest and pushing himself to a shaky stance, pulling Dean with him.

Dean shoved his feet under him, locking his knees in an effort to stay upright. He hadn't been able to keep hold of the shotgun, but at this point, he almost didn't care. They had more weapons—as long as they lived long enough to get back to them. Sam lifted his arm and slung it across his shoulders, wrapping his other arm around Dean's waist.

"Let's go."

"Sam, the cabin."

"I'll come back," Sam said. "Need to get you out of here."

Dean wanted to protest, wanted to help, but he had nothing left. He felt himself shaking as if he were once again watching someone else's body.

He could barely force his legs to move as Sam led them toward the destroyed door. His muscles were tense and tired, expecting a blow from behind with every halting step. As they stepped clear of the cloistered gloom of the cabin in the bite of the night air, Dean began to cough once more, the force of it folding him, turning him into trembling dead weight in his brother's arms.

Sam stumbled, trying to hold him. They ended up on their knees. Dean barely felt the chill of the snow; the night air cut through his wet clothes with a frigid pain.

Dean felt his brother's arms gripping him, heard Sam's voice murmuring meaningless words meant to comfort. His eyes watered and his head spun, desperate for oxygen. As the cough abated, he felt the thick fluid in his mouth, the coppery taste of blood on his tongue. Turning his head he spat it out, dragging a heavy hand across his mouth.

"God damn," he whispered. "Sucks."

"Hang in there," Sam encouraged. "We'll get you back to Cooper, get you fixed up."

"Gotta burn…burn the bones," Dean gasped as Sam pulled him to his feet once more. His feet dragged in the snow as Sam hauled them forward.

"Jesus, Dean."

Something caught in Sam's voice—a sob, a curse. Something that pierced Dean's haze of pain and weakness. Something that had him rolling his head to peer at his brother in the filtered moonlight.

"You think any of this shit matters if you die?"

"What?" Dean blinked, reaching up a clumsy hand to grab at Sam's coat as they approached the passenger side of the truck. "What are you…talking about?"

He saw Sam's eyes hit the out-flung hand of the dead cop lying in front of the truck. Turning him clumsily in his arms, Sam shoved Dean against the side of the truck and held him there with one hand while he opened the passenger door with the other. Dean felt an automatic instinct to push Sam's hand away and to follow the motion with a sarcastic remark about Sam's take-charge attitude.

But then he saw the blood matting his brother's hair, collecting in his eyebrow, tracing lines down his cheek and crystallizing with the cold.

And he couldn't move. He could barely draw breath, the pain in his chest was so great. And it was a pain that had nothing to do with being sick.

"We shouldn't even be here," Sam snapped, grabbing Dean's arms and moving him to the side, toward the now-opened door. "But you saw a job—"

"You saw it too—"

"—and you couldn't say no. You couldn't let it go. Even after it almost killed you." Sam shoved him into the cab of the truck.

Dean fell sideways, pushing himself upright on trembling arms to look over at his brother.

"And I went along with it," Sam said, reluctant admission drawing his eyes low. "Because it's who we are."

"Sa—" Dean tried, doubling over as his chest worked to explode outward.

He wrapped his arms tight around his chest, feeling the warm splashes of blood on his lips as his lungs ripped upwards. He dragged the back of his hand across his lips, smearing the blood on his skin. Sam sighed, his hands gentle as he eased Dean up onto the seat.

"I'll be right back," Sam said, closing the door.

Dean leaned against it, watching as Sam moved to the front and grabbed the dead cop under the arms, dragging him through the snow to the bed of the truck. The vehicle shifted as Sam hefted the body to the bed of the truck. Dean turned, hearing his own rasping breath hit the window as a cloud of condensation appeared. He pressed his forehead against the cold glass, watching with anxious eyes as Sam disappeared around the corner of the cabin.

It felt like hours passed, nothing but the sound of his too-loud breathing ticking away the seconds. His heart shook, his hands shook, his body shook. Shivers ran through him without ceasing and still he watched, unable to tear his eyes from the window, wanting to be the one inside, spilling the salt, spreading the fuel, striking the match.

The only thing that kept him from following Sam was the simple fact that he had nothing left. He could barely stay upright, eyes pinned to the window, breath clouding the window.

And then Sam returned, his lumbering stride lagging with fatigue, the blood dried on his face. He tossed the duffle in the back with the cop's body and moved around to the driver's side of the truck, pulling the door open and climbing in.

"You have any help in there?" Dean rasped.

Sam looked over at him, his face pulled into a pained pinch at the sound of Dean's voice.

"No," he shook his head. "It was quiet."

"Something tells me…that's not good."

"Yeah, I know," Sam grumbled, feeling around for the keys. "You see any keys?"

Dean shook his head. "Cop?"

The sound of popping came from inside the house. Dean looked over and saw flames climb through the small window at the side of the cabin, the fire gorging itself on the brittle wood. The truck was parked too close for safety.

"No time," Sam said, tipping Dean forward and pulling his knife from the sheath at his back.

Dean slumped against the driver's door, watching as Sam used the large blade to strip the wires, cutting the two important ones, then tapping them to get a spark.

"This is…the only car thing…you ever wanted…to learn," Dean said, sharp gasps for breath punctuating his sentence.

"That's because it was cool," Sam said, straightening as the diesel engine roared to life. "And I could impress girls."

Dean shook his head, breathing shallowly, and leaning back against the seat as they pulled away, the glow from the burning cabin lighting up the interior of the truck. He closed his eyes against the sight, seeking the reserves of energy he would have to find in order to finish this.
 

www
 

Sam gripped the cold steering wheel, forcing himself to ignore the sound of the body bouncing against the bed of the truck as they traversed the ruts and ridges of the untreated road on the way to Lethe's cobblestone streets. He'd been able to see the man's face literally frozen in fear when he lifted the body into the truck and he nearly threw up remembering the sight of Dean pinned against that wall.

 

It had been too close. Too close this time.

Every time.

It seemed like they were never clear of danger; it was never just a hunt. He glanced over at Dean as they pulled onto Lethe's deserted main street. The sound of his brother's breathing was frightening—shallow, rough, rattling. It had been bad before, but after Colin—

"You okay?" Dean rasped, startling Sam into returning his eyes to the road and correcting the drift of the truck.

"Fine," he replied automatically, having no real idea if that would ever be true again.

His head was killing him, a sharp stab of nails at his temple where he felt dried blood itching his scalp. It had spread down to his jaw, making even talking difficult. It felt frighteningly close to the near-migraine-like pain his visions always bestowed upon him.

But, he reasoned, if he could survive that pain, he could survive this one. And they were in it now—there was no escape until they'd finished this. Otherwise, he was certain they'd be leaving the people of Lethe to die, whether or not they were connected to the Sanderson family fate.

"Almost there," he reassured his brother, watching as Dean's hands stretched to grip the edge of the bench seat, his body still shaking.

He took a right harder than he meant to and heard their cargo shift in the bed of the truck. He winced, nauseous once more at the thought of what had happened to that poor man. Slowing slightly in deference to their passenger, he pulled up next to the back entrance to Cooper's office, curbing the tires.

Shutting off the engine, he climbed out and made his way around the back end of the truck, grabbing their duffle as he went. It still had the empty handguns, shotgun, and rock salt rounds in it, as well as enough salt to pour over the bones. By the time he reached the passenger door, Dean had it open and was hanging on it and the seat, swallowing convulsively.

Sam winced in sympathy knowing his brother would do just about anything to not cough any more. Wordlessly he stepped in close, tucking his shoulder under Dean's right arm and helping him stand. They reached the back door of the office together just as Cooper pulled it open, standing in the warmth of the building, the lights behind him shining like a halo.

Continued in Part 4B, here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/110234.html 

Comments

( 6 Tall Tales — Tell Me A Story )
fangirl29
Mar. 3rd, 2011 12:11 pm (UTC)
ACK! The way you create suspense and cliff hangers so nonchalantly leaves me shaking with curiosity and frustration-all in a good way! I just about keeled over when Sam tells Cooper, "I know who it is!" You so totally threw me for a loop! I was sure I had the whole story pinned down, and though I must admit I was a little disappointed at having figured out your evil scheme so early on, you proved me wrong! Yay, you!!! Totally awesome twist! Poor, Dean :( He needs to come home to me so I can take care of him and make him better! I'll just send my husband away for a few days, or weeks, perhaps months ;) I will have to wait to read 4B after work :( Work is normally long and torturous knowing I DON'T have a hurtDean fic waiting for me at home. You're all I'm gonna think about today. ::shakes right fist in the air:: Darn you, brilliant writer!
gaelicspirit
Mar. 17th, 2011 04:05 pm (UTC)
Hi there -- sorry it took me so long to get back to you (again). I was working to get the next chapter written -- and it's posted now! Yay!

I'm glad I was able to fool you a little bit. :) The curve ball is the hardest pitch to master, and I'm still learning. ;)

Thank you so much for leaving me a review mid-chapter.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh! (Happy St. Patrick's Day!)
deangirl1
Mar. 24th, 2011 09:35 pm (UTC)
Ahha! Something hinky going on... Dean couldn’t have missed that, could he? Maybe that isn’t Colin’s body after all.... maybe Colin really is real and it’s somebody else’s body down there...

Ok... does that make a total of three bodies???

The cabin? I think that may well be the creepiest thing you’ve ever written!

Ha – Colin was the reaper – like that.... and of course Dean does care what happened to them...

I love that the only car thing Sam wanted to learn was to hot wire one....
I like the equation you use to get Sam to a pleading stare (which I’m seeing at the puppy-face)....

I love that Cooper gets them – that he understands their brotherly-bond --- in much the same way we do... Another richly drawn and fully realized OC....

“Dude, land your plane” – LOLOLOL! Awesome...

“a new standard not to be fucked with” – I think I need that on a t-shirt...

Hmmmmm.... I’m wondering what’s coming next – considering the hunt is over, right?
gaelicspirit
Mar. 27th, 2011 03:10 pm (UTC)
Ok... does that make a total of three bodies???

Yup. One rose to the surface, dislodged by the kids' anchor. And the other two were trapped in debris.

Thank you for sharing with me what you liked about this chapter and the quotes you pulled out. I got the "land your plane" one from the hubs. He used it on me; it stopped me cold, made me laugh, and I immediately wrote it down to be used later in a story. :)

And I think you do need that on a T-shirt. With a pic of Dean. ;)

Thank you for continuing on to the next chapter, despite the hunt being over in this one. The story just wasn't complete.
tobyanca
Mar. 28th, 2011 06:21 am (UTC)
"An armed Dean was a dangerous Dean" LOVED that line!

And OMG the cabin scene was horrific! A true nightmare that had my mouth hanging open and my eyes wide! If that scene was in a movie I probably would have my hands over my eyes, that's how scary you made it.
gaelicspirit
Mar. 28th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
*grins*

What an awesome compliment -- wanting to read with your hands over your eyes. I wanted it to feel "real" and your comment makes me think I accomplished that.

Thanks so much for continuing to read!!
( 6 Tall Tales — Tell Me A Story )

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