Title: Shadows and Dust
Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language
Spoilers: This story is set in Season 2, following Episode 2.03, “Bloodlust.”
Summary: Written for zine, Blood Brothers 2. Ghosts from the Civil War wrap around Sam and Dean and take them through a different kind of vanquishing.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Story title a line in the movie The Gladiator.
Sam slammed into him with the force of fury and panic, shoulder ducked so it rammed his chest, driving the remaining air from his lungs. His vision swam as Dean felt his back connect with the solid bedroom door, crashing it open with a splintering of old wood and the rusted, bent metal of the weak lock.
They tumbled inside in a tangle of limbs, breath, and blood.
Sam left him lying in the dust, gasping, spinning, bleeding. Dimly, Dean was aware of his brother’s movement as he shut the broken door, spreading their remaining salt across the length of the threshold.
“Stupid, stubborn son of a bitch.”
“I had ’em.”
“You’re gonna bleed to death and I’m gonna owe you the biggest I told you so.”
“Had to…” Darkness swept over him, washing him in a wave of chilling vertigo. Whoa…where’d the lights go…
Hands at his face, fingers on his chin. Knuckles curling in to his chest, lifting him, moving him. Sliding along the floor. Back against a wall. Dust choking him.
“Dean, don’t you do this. You open your eyes right the hell now.”
“We covered that part.” Dean blinked.
Sam knelt in front of him, face smeared with dust. Fresh, dark blood trailed from the slice on his forehead, making Dean’s stomach clench in needless panic. The upper portion of Sam’s left arm was bound tightly with the floral curtain they’d torn down in the other room, a small patch of blood seeping through the knots in the field dressing.
“Where’d they hit you?”
Dean swallowed, taking stock. Sam’s eyes bored into his, bright in the filtered moonbeams curling through the dust-saturated air. Boards covered most of the window at the far corner of the room, glass long ago broken out.
“Forget it,” Sam grumbled, manhandling him onto his side so he could find out for himself.
“Easy!” Dean gasped as his brother’s large hands made contact with his skin, an aura of neon pain almost doubling him over. “Okay, okay, Jesus Christ, Sam.”
“We don’t have a lot of time, Dean.”
Dean drew in a breath, frustrated to hear stuttered air mirror the staccato skip of his heartbeat.
“Side,” Dean exhaled. “Hand. Thigh.”
“What were you doing, spinning?” Sam asked, lips tight, teeth clenched as he turned Dean—gently this time—to find the sources of the blood now smeared across the floor.
“Kinda, yeah.” Dean lifted his eyebrows, hoping his heavy lids would come with them.
“You keep your eyes open,” Sam snapped. “Keep them on me.”
Dean obeyed, lacking the strength at the moment to do more than stare at his brother. Sam sat back on his haunches, his hazel eyes sliding quickly around the room in search of something they could use for bandages. Outside their barely-impenetrable fortress, the sound of gunfire cracked, musket balls digging grooves into the walls and breaking the glass wall sconces.
“They’re not going to stop until midnight,” Dean gasped, sliding his hand to his wounded side, pressing down on the cut and pulling a groan from his gut to punch the air.
“I know that.”
“We…we can’t…stay here…until midnight.”
“I know that, too.” Sam’s eyes caught on something, and he pushed clumsily to his feet, crossing in a crouched lope to the bent closet door and wrenching it open. Inside, Dean could see, were three long, white dressing gowns.
Dean raised an eyebrow. “Always knew…you were the…girl in this…partnership.”
“Shut up before you pass out, smart-ass.”
Sam pulled two of the dresses from their hangers, leaving the wooden crossbeams swinging empty on the bar, and hurried back to Dean. The seams gave easily under Sam’s hurried grip as he rent the material into strips, breathing heavily. Vaguely, Dean remembered there had been a reason he’d been alone in that hallway.
“Hey…hey, Sammy. Y’okay?” Dean slurred.
“Gimme that, then.” Dean lifted heavy fingers to reach for the makeshift bandages Sam was fashioning, staring with dull-eyed amazement at the blood dripping from the tips of his fingers.
“Had to go and be the hero,” Sam was muttering, an end of a strip of cloth clenched between his teeth. “Couldn’t just let me stand with you, not even this once.”
Dean swallowed, blinking in a slow gaze up from his bloody hand to his brother’s tense face. “You’re always…with me.”
Sam froze, hands paused in the act of reaching for Dean’s thigh. “What’d you say?”
Dean pulled the corner of his mouth up in a tired, lazy grin. The edges of the room were fading to soft gray. “You’re always with me, Sammy.”
Sam dropped his head, and Dean saw his chin tremble slightly. Keeping his face lowered, Sam silently reached for Dean’s leg, lifting it to slide the cloth beneath it and wrapping the bandage tightly around the bullet graze, wincing in sympathy as Dean hissed in pain.
“Could be worse,” Sam muttered, then caught his bottom lip between his teeth.
Dean lay still, pliant, allowing Sam to tie off the ends of one bandage before moving to his hand. Sam’s motions were slowing, his body swaying with exhaustion. When he reached for Dean’s side, balance apparently escaped him and he fell forward, catching himself on one knee and one hand, stopping just short of landing in Dean’s lap.
“It’s worse,” Dean asserted.
Eyes slipping closed in a pain-pale face, breath pulled in through clenched teeth, Sam pivoted slowly to sit next to his brother, shoulders touching. “I, uh…I just need a minute.”
Shouts echoing from time past slid in a Doppler effect through their ears. Another crack of a musket and a cry of rage, then silence once again held sway as the battle journeyed away from the room where they lay hidden.
“No regrets, okay?”
“Don’t talk like that. We’ll get out of this. We’re gonna…get out of this.”
“I mean it, brother.”
A pause. Heartbeats echoing, slowing, matching.
More cries. More gunfire. A scream shattered the subtle peace of the moonlit room.
“Can you hold your gun?” Sam asked.
“I think so.”
“’Cause I don’t want to die here.”
“You got someplace else picked out?”
Two hearts beating with the rhythm of brotherhood, of time, of family.
“Hand me the gun,” Dean wheezed.
“Want me to tie it to your arm?”
Ignoring the sting in his side, the sticky wetness that saturated his t-shirt and plastered it to his skin, Dean held his hand out for the sawed-off shotgun and positioned his stiff finger in the trigger guard. Sam tied one of the bandages around the butt of the gun, lashing it safely to Dean’s shaking arm.
“You ready for this?” Dean asked, ducking his head to catch his brother’s eyes once more.
Sam looked up, and Dean caught his breath. He saw their father hiding behind the determination reflecting back at him. He saw himself in Sam’s eyes. He saw fierceness and loyalty. But most of all, he saw love.
“As I’ll ever be.” Sam nodded, then twisted his lips into a rueful grin. “Always thought we’d go out…guns blazing.”
“Pull me up,” Dean commanded as Sam wavered to a stance. Sam gripped him under his arm, hauling him to his feet. For one moment, Dean leaned heavily against his brother.
Straightening with the strength breath offered him, Dean grinned, feeling his eyes crinkle at the corners as true joy shot through him. “First one to the Impala picks the music.”
“Oh, it’s so on.”
Two Days earlier…
“Dude, what the hell?”
“Don’t give me shit about this, Dean. It’s a job. A week ago you were giddy about a job.”
Unconsciously, Dean darted his tongue to touch the still-healing cut at the corner of his mouth courtesy of Gordon Walker’s fist. The bruises around his eye had faded to a greenish-yellow, but the ire he felt from Gordon’s treatment of Lenore—of Sam—still curled like burning paper at the base of his gut.
“That was different,” Dean attempted to argue. “That was vampires, cattle mutilations, y’know…cool stuff.”
“And this is…?” Sam asked, hand on the door of the newly restored Impala.
Dean sighed, squinting up through the sun-washed windshield at the graying porch that sagged around the dilapidated, circa-1850 plantation house situated near the banks of the Green River in Sacramento, Kentucky.
“This is like…dumpster diving for spooks.”
“Ross is a friend of Jim’s,” Sam reminded him, opening the passenger door with a creak.
Dean smiled at the sound. The feel of the car, the confines of space, the familiarity of the smells—even with mostly new parts putting her together—made him feel close to whole again. Filled up part of the abyss in his heart where his world had fallen away with his father’s final words.
“Was a friend,” Dean corrected, joining Sam outside the Chevy.
Sam rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Pastor Jim was family.”
“Yeah, okay.” Dean sighed. “Too bad we don’t get hazard pay out of this.”
Sam moved around the front of the car, heading to the door of the old house. He shot Dean an irritated look. “Since when do you worry about getting hurt?”
Not me I’m worried about… “Since you stuck me in the backwoods of Kentucky on a wild ghost chase,” Dean snapped. “Seriously, Sam, what have you got against Florida? The beach? Bikinis…”
Following his brother’s lanky, lumbering strides up to the house, Dean let his voice fade, feeling the fine hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention the closer they got to the building. Frowning, he shoved his fists into his jacket pockets, hunching his shoulders slightly against an imagined coldness in the air.
Sam knocked the back of his knuckles against the peeling edge of the screen door. Dean stood just behind him and to his left, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet. Sam shot him an abbreviated settle down look. Dean tilted his head and looked off to the side, a huffed sigh on the edge of his lips as the door opened.
“Ross Bethel?” Sam asked, his voice gentling, chin tilting down as his eyes met those of the smaller man through the wire mesh of the screen door.
“Name’s Sam Winchester, sir. This is my brother, Dean.” Sam pointed over his shoulder.
Dean pressed his lips flat in a false smile, nodding at the man. He resisted the urge to squirm as a sensation of spider legs on the skin of his neck spilled down his back.
Cataract-covered blue eyes shifted from Sam’s face to Dean’s, then back. A worried line appeared between gray, wiry eyebrows in need of a trim.
“Didn’t ya’ll get my message?”
Sam tipped his head in question. “Message?”
“I changed my mind.” Ross took a shuffling step back, moving to close the door.
Dean lifted his shoulders. “Suits me.”
Sam pulled the screen door open, thrusting his long arm inside and slapping his palm against the flat of the door. “Wait.”
Ross paused, looking back at Sam.
“You said you hadn’t been able to…clear the house yourself,” Sam reminded him. “Did you…” Dean watched Sam’s profile as he searched for a logical reason why this man would no longer need their help. “Did you find the bones?”
Ross nervously darted a tongue over thin, age-spotted lips. Dean ticked his head to the side, intrigued suddenly by the man’s obvious anxiety. Tossing a look over his shoulder, Ross slipped out through the narrow crack of the large door, pulling it closed behind him. He grabbed the screen door from Sam’s grip and indicated with a silent nod that they should precede him down the stairs.
Dean led the way, stopping when his boots hit dust and turning to watch Ross shut the screen door and virtually scurry down the stairs, past them and around the corner of the rambling house. Eyebrows up, Dean looked at his brother. Sam folded his lips down in a beats the hell outta me look, lifting his shoulders.
“C’mon,” Dean grumbled, following the old man.
Ross led them to a new-looking shed, flicking a switch on his left as he stepped inside, illuminating the small space with one overhead light. Dean eyed the equipment neatly stacked and organized by size and use on the large, clover-shaped table in the center of the room.
“Nice.” He nodded appreciatively. “How’d you get this thing in here?”
Ross shot him an irritated look, slipping between one of the points of the table and the wall. “I built it in here, dumbass.”
Dean frowned. “Hey!”
“Mr. Bethel,” Sam quickly interceded, “you found us through Jim Murphy’s contacts. Said you had a spirit you couldn’t handle. What’s changed?”
“Everything’s changed!” Ross snapped. He turned his back to them, shoving trembling, arthritic hands through his sparse gray hair. “Jim’s dead. Annabelle’s gone. Frank’s insane. And now she thinks these things are going to be good for business.”
Sam opened his mouth to question further. Dean heard his teeth click as he closed it again, apparently unable to come up with anything.
“Okay.” Dean stepped in, lifting his hands in surrender and parting his lips slightly in a small smile. “We’re all friends here, man. Why don’t you just start at the beginning?”
Ross whipped around, near-blind eyes snapping to Dean. “There’s too much. Too much. You want to end up like Frank?”
Dean licked his lower lip and took a step forward, ducking his head slightly to find Ross’s eyes with his own. “Who’s Frank?”
Ross swallowed. “My…my brother.” His voice cracked. “He’s my brother.”
Dean nodded slowly, his face carefully blank, his shoulders tightening in an unconscious reaction to the pain in the man’s voice. “Where is he now?”
“In McLean County General. With a bullet wound.”
Dean frowned, eyes askance. “Thought you said he was insane.”
“He is!” Ross snapped.
Dean sensed Sam slowly moving around in the small amount of free space their side of the wide table of weapons and tools.
“Okay, so,” Dean raised his eyebrows, “wounded and insane. What about Annabelle?”
“Aw, damn it.” Ross rubbed his face, sinking quickly onto a three-legged stool propped directly behind him. “Okay, you ready for this? ’Cause I ain’t telling it twice.”
“Go on, Mr. Bethel,” Sam said, not looking at him. Dean glanced at his brother. Sam was holding a Mason jar up to the light, scrutinizing its contents.
“Annabelle is—was—my wife. We bought this place from Serena Morehead to turn it into a B&B.”
Dean opened his mouth.
“Bed and breakfast,” Sam translated.
Dean closed his mouth with a click of teeth.
“Serena wanted a share of the business, though,” Ross continued. “Been in her family since before the Civil War, so…she didn’t want to really let go.”
“So you’re being haunted by Serena’s ghost?” Dean guessed.
Ross looked up at him. “What? No!”
Dean tipped his fingers up. “Sorry. Keep going.” He looked over at Sam in time to see his brother roll his eyes.
“You boys know anything about your Civil War history?”
“Oh, swell,” Dean groaned.
“Yes, sir.” Sam nodded. “We’re from Kansas,” he said, as if that statement offered Ross Bethel proof of their knowledge.
Dean was surprised when Ross nodded sagely. “Well, then you probably know that this area is famous for Forrest’s First Fight.”
“Uh, sure…” Dean rubbed the back of his neck, flicking his fingers through the short hair. The feeling of spider legs suddenly intensified and he stepped to the side of the table and glanced up at the bare bulb in the ceiling. “Wait, wasn’t that in Alabama?”
Sam’s sigh drew Dean’s eyes. “Not Forrest Gump, Dean. Nathan Bedford Forrest.”
Dean pressed his lips together, raising his eyebrows, clearly confused.
“Forrest led a raid on Union troops at Camp Calhoun. It’s reenacted every May...even though it happened in December,” Ross said, shaking his head.
“Okay, so, fine. Civil War. What’s this got to do with—”
“We started renovations over a year ago,” Ross interrupted him. “Things didn’t start happening until we began to tear out walls. We started hearing gunfire and screams in the night. Started at sunset, lasted until midnight. Never saw anything, though, until…”
Sam stepped up next to Dean, listening intently.
“Until…,” Dean encouraged.
“Annabelle came home late one night. Some woman’s book club thing in town. We were living in one of the rooms of the house while we renovated. I went to bed early that night.” Ross covered his eyes with his hand. “I found her the next morning.”
“What happened?” Sam asked softly.
Ross shook his head helplessly. “I still don’t know. She…she just died. Heart attack, they said. But…she had a strong heart, I’d always thought.”
“I’m sorry,” Dean offered sincerely.
Ross pulled his hand away. “Yeah, me, too.” He stood up, leaning his hands on the table, looking down at the weaponry. “That’s when I built this place. Pulled everything I’d ever had for hunting together.”
“You were a hunter…before?” Sam asked, surprised.
Ross nodded. “I quit. About twenty years ago. For Annabelle.”
Dean felt his brother's eyes. Turning his back on hunting—regardless of the reason—was simply unfathomable to him, but he knew Sam was not only capable of it, he looked forward to it at times. That understanding cracked something inside Dean, and he worked to keep his face still, his eyes vacant, the broken feeling of loneliness hidden from his observant brother.
“What about Frank?” Dean asked, shifting Sam's attention from him.
“Frank came out here when he found out about Annabelle,” Ross answered Dean. “We hadn’t…talked much. Since I quit hunting.”
Sam blinked. “He hunted, too?”
Ross lifted a shoulder. “We’re brothers. Used to be not much one of us did that the other didn’t know about.”
Dean shifted, sliding between the point of the table and the wall, looking at the weapons.
“He came out to help me end this,” Ross said, moving in the opposite direction of Dean, toward Sam. “We almost had the fuckers, too…until…”
“They got Frank,” Dean concluded.
“So, wait, there’s two spirits?” Sam asked.
Ross nodded. “Don’t know who they are, though. All I can tell is that they hate each other.”
“Oh, terrific,” Dean muttered, picking up a double-bladed claw knife but turning the blade slowly so it reflected the light. “Feuding spirits.”
He rolled his neck, working to rid himself of the sensation of crawling down through his hair, across the skin of his neck, and into the collar of his shirt. What the hell is that…
Sam remained silent, aware in his periphery of Dean picking up different knives and admiring them, balancing them on the flat of his finger, spinning them around in the palm of his hand.
“And they don’t use conventional weapons, either,” Ross informed him. “Frank got hit by a musket ball.”
“The ghost shot him?” Sam asked, incredulous.
“One of them.” Ross nodded, stepping around Sam and up to a shelf filled with small glass vials. “We trapped one in a room with salt, and Frank, he…he stepped in front of the bullet. Just walked right up to the room and…took it.” He shook his head. “I grabbed him back, but the ghost was gone. Frank just kept saying that I wasn’t with him.”
“What was that?” Dean asked.
Sam looked over at him, frowning at the intent look on Dean’s face. He was leaning into the table, thighs pressed against the wood, head tipped to the side as if straining to hear. The room wasn’t big enough that Ross’s voice was difficult to pick up.
“He said ‘you’re not with me,’” Ross said with a shrug. “It’s all they can get him to say in the hospital.”
Sam was still watching his brother. Dean shook his head, bouncing the flat of his hand against his ear. He opened his mouth wide as if trying to pop his ears, working his jaw around.
Dean blinked over at him. “Weird.”
Dean shook his head. “So, lemme get this straight…” He addressed Ross, setting a knife down and picking up a shorter-than-legal sawed-off shotgun. He tapped the barrels in his open left palm. “Serena Whatsername sold this place to you, but kept her hand in the pot. Annabelle died, Frank lost his marbles, and now you’ve got two renegade ghosts and one pseudo landlady who thinks that ending them would end a potential money train.”
Ross’s eyebrows lowered over his cloudy eyes. “That about sums it up.”
“Why’d you give in, Ross?” Dean said, making his way around the table, still tapping the gun in his hand.
Sam took a breath, noticing for the first time how pale his brother appeared in the harsh overhead light. The air in the room began to feel tight, as if God-like hands had grasped either end of the shadows framing the table, and pulled. Sam licked his lips.
“Be-because without her money…I-I have nothing,” Ross stammered.
Dean cleared the table and took a step closer. “So, you betray your brother…turn your back on all he believed in, just for…money?”
Sam stepped forward. In the faded edge of the center light, Sam could see goose bumps framing Dean’s smooth jaw and crawling up his cheek. He reached out without a word and wrapped his long fingers around the barrel of the shotgun.
Dean’s eyes flinched to his, and Sam held them, pulling the gun from Dean’s grip. The room seemed to relax, and Dean looked back at Ross. Color crept back into Dean’s face, followed by a fine sheen of sweat.
“We’ll, uh,” he said in a low, hesitant voice, “we’ll look into a few things. Get back to you.”
Pushing past Sam, Dean stepped out of the weapons shed, leaving the door open behind him. Sam looked back at Ross.
“You gonna be okay here?” Sam asked.
“Yeah,” Ross whispered.
Sam nodded and started to go after Dean.
“Sam, wait.” Ross grabbed his arm.
Sam looked back.
“Don’t let anyone—anyone—know what you’re doing,” he cautioned. “If Serena Morehead finds out—”
“We know what we’re doing,” Sam assured him.
“I ain’t kidding!” Ross insisted.
Sam pulled his arm away. “Neither am I,” he retorted. “We’ve lived our whole lives in the shadows.”
Stepping from the cloistered space of the weapons shed into the fading light of the Southern day, left Sam with a reeling sense of vertigo. His legs ate up the ground between himself and Dean in long, anxious strides, boots hitting the worn patchwork of Bluegrass and dust in a dull rhythm of thud thud thud.
“Hey, hold up,” he called, reaching Dean’s side.
“What the hell took you so long?” Dean muttered, looking away from him and continuing with his bent-into-the-wind escape to the Impala.
“What’s going on with you?” Sam reached out for Dean’s arm. His brother shied away, and Sam’s fingers brushed the back of Dean’s hand. It was like ice. “Dean!”
“What!” Dean’s irritation was evident in the set of his shoulders, his swing around the side of the car, the way he wrenched open the driver’s door.
“Geez! Someone sure pissed in your Wheaties this morning,” Sam grumbled right back at him, slouching into the passenger seat of the car and slamming the door in unison with his brother.
The moment they did so, the interior of the car echoed with one thought, one feeling, one truth: safe.
“Holy shit,” Dean breathed.
“You feel it, too?” Sam whispered.
“It’s what I don’t feel…”
“Yeah.” Sam nodded, running a hand over his upper lip, then looking out at the run-down house just as Ross stepped through the front door and back inside. “It’s like…some kinda pressure is…gone.”
“Did you hear that music?”
Sam looked over at him. “Music?”
“Yeah, like…I don’t know. Not humming. But…music.” Dean’s eyes were on the center of the steering wheel, his fingers white-knuckled on either side, the muscle in his jaw bouncing to a beat only he felt.
“No.” Sam shook his head. “No music.”
Dean shook himself, then leaned forward and started the engine. “Weird.”
“Where’re you going?” Sam asked as Dean flipped the car around in a fan of dirt and gravel, heading away from the house with a plume of dust obscuring their rear view.
“Town, I guess.” Dean shrugged. “You got any better ideas?”
“Not really.” Sam leaned an arm on the door, looking out the window at the fence-lined acres spreading out and miniaturizing the houses built at the back of the plots of land. “Library?”
“Sure.” Dean folded his lips down in reluctant agreement. “Good a place as any.”
“I, uh…I got a bad feeling about this.”
Dean shot him a bemused glance. “Now you tell me.”
Filtered beams of faded sunlight danced across his knuckles as Dean pulled out yet another drawer in the old card catalog in the McLean County Library.
“Y’know what I don’t get?”
“Rules?” Sam hissed. “Dude, seriously, keep it down.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, Sammy,” Dean shot back in a stage whisper, not turning around. “There’s, like, two other people in this ancient hellhole. And I’m willing to bet they’re both deaf.”
Sam’s sigh bounced between the shelves of card catalogs they were standing back-to-back between.
“What don’t you get?” Sam offered as a truce.
Dean continued to idly finger through the drawer of yellowed index cards peppered with faded typewriter ink indicating a Dewey decimal system of books he wasn’t convinced would help them.
“This reenactment shit. I mean, the war happened, we know who won, why playact over and over?”
Dean listened as Sam slid shut the drawer he was looking through. He felt his brother move farther down in the stacks and allowed a secret smile to linger on the edge of his lips. He couldn’t remember a time when he was unaware of Sam. Even when Sam wasn’t around, he was always simply there.
“Well, lots of reasons, I suppose,” Sam said, his voice buried in the depths of the card catalog. “Getting a historical perspective on an event that literally tore our country apart, or maybe out of respect for ancestors that fought in the war, or maybe political reasons.”
“Political?” Dean huffed, turning his back to his row of drawers, leaning on it and crossing his arms over his chest. “Like, the South will rise again?”
Sam’s back worked up in a shrug as he pulled a pen from his jacket pocket. “Maybe.”
“What was that whole ‘we’re from Kansas’ crap?”
Sam pulled a card free and wrote a number down on his palm, the cap balanced in the corner of his mouth. “The Kansas and Missouri border was the bloodiest area of battle in the War, Dean.”
Dean lifted an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
Sam capped his pen, put the card back, and closed the drawer. Turning, he said, “Yeah, I mean, Lawrence was burned to the ground by Southern raiders.”
“Seriously?” Dean’s other eyebrow followed.
“Dude, what did you do in history class?” Sam started past him. Dean just grinned. “Forget it, I don’t want to know.” Sam waved a dismissive hand at him.
“What’d you find?”
“McLean County Census.”
Dean followed Sam to a small desk, coughing and waving his hand through the rising dust motes as Sam dropped the large book in front of them.
“Hush!” a harsh whisper sounded to their left.
“Sorry!” Sam called back.
“Old bat,” Dean muttered under his breath, eyeing the shrewd brown eyes tipped up at him over narrow glasses pushed down to the tip of a slim nose.
A shocking sweep of white fell to one side of the woman’s thin face that was otherwise framed by chin-length black hair. She held her gaze on Dean a moment longer, then went back to the book she was chewing through.
“Okay.” Sam pulled his attention back to the task at hand. “So, what do we know?”
“A whole bunch of nothing.” Dean sighed, dropping into the chair at the end of the table.
“Not true.” Sam sat as well, opening the book to the middle and ticking off his fingers as he spoke. “We know the spirits use muskets. We know the house was built around the time of the Civil War. We know, uh…”
“Oh, shut up,” Sam grumbled.
Content to let Sam settle into his element, Dean’s eyes roamed the library. Dark wood stained black with years of polish framed small, curved doorways leading those in search of literature through a virtual maze of shadowed shelves, yellowed paper, time, memories, and age. Breathing deep, Dean imagined he could feel ghosts of the historians and writers drifting around them, gazes lingering on unseeing eyes that drew in the words they’d spent a lifetime crafting.
The chill he’d felt at the Bethel house crept quietly up his spine and teased fingers through the hair on the back of his head. Shifting his shoulders, Dean sat forward, unnerved. He simply didn’t get spooked. Not by spirits. Not by things he knew he could fight. Rats, sure. Planes, definitely. But not ghosts.
“Hey,” Sam whispered. “What was the name of that woman…the business partner?”
Dean rested his elbows on the table, scooting closer to Sam and the book. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”
“Ross said the house had been in her family for a long time, right?”
Dean nodded, watching Sam’s eyes as they darted in thought. “Whatcha got?”
“In 1861, a woman named Mollie Morehead lived in McLean County.”
“I know that name.”
Before Dean could comment, Sam was up and heading back to the card catalog. Dean let him go, knowing that when it came to research and theorizing, Sam was not only in his element, he was happy.
A sudden bark of noise caught Dean’s attention, drawing his eyes as well as the eyes of the woman with the white stripe in her hair. Both frowned in the direction of the front door.
Dean stood, edging close to the entrance, watching a security guard work to calm an obviously agitated man in the vestibule between the main doors and the entry to the library. The man’s dark hair was cut short, his drawn face lined and pale, his hands clutching at the guard as he pointed up toward the entrance. A dark blue shirt hung loose on his lanky frame, and Dean could see from there that his boots were unlaced.
Keeping an eye on the situation for a moment, Dean leaned in the doorway.
“They better not let him in here,” the woman spoke up.
Dean slid his eyes to the side. “Yeah? Why’s that?”
She brushed the air with the tips of her fingers, her voice deep, husky, worn with years. “Just a stalker, that’s all. I come here to get away.”
Dean lifted an eyebrow. She didn’t look like the type to have a stalker. “But he finds you?”
She met his expression. “He did this time, didn’t he?” she noted, then pushed past him to seclude herself in another of the small rooms flanked with bookshelves and filled with small tables.
Dean turned at Sam’s call, glancing once more in the direction the woman had gone. “What?”
“Okay, listen.” Sam set another book on top of the Census, his voice eager with the idea of discovery. “Mollie Morehead was the one who warned Forrest about Murray’s troops hiding out on the other side of the ridge.”
“Whoa, slow down there, Encyclopedia Brown.”
Sam glanced up. “Sorry. Okay, in the battle that was fought here in 1861, Major Eli Murray was caught by surprise when Colonel Forrest attacked.”
“And Forrest was the bad guy.”
Sam’s lips quirked softly. “Well, he was the Confederate Colonel. Don’t think you want to qualify him as a bad guy just yet.”
Dean rolled his eyes. “Like it matters now.”
“Well, see, that’s just it. I think it does to these spirits. I think the spirits could be fighting that battle still…and they may have died on the Morehead property.”
Dean trapped his lower lip between his teeth. “And she…warned the Confederate troops?”
Nodding, Dean tapped the table. “Okay, so all we gotta do is figure out what Yankee and what Rebel died on the Morehead property, a little salt and burn, and Ross is free and clear.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be that easy.”
Dean sighed. “’Course not.”
Sam sat back in his chair, tenting his fingers against his lips. “For one thing, men died all over the place in that battle. Not all of them were buried.”
“Nice,” Dean muttered.
“And for another…it’s not like they kept really great records back then, you know?”
Dean stared at the table for a moment, thinking. The chill began to tease the backs of his ears. For a heartbeat, he could feel the bite of winter air in his lungs as he breathed. He blinked, the room shifting subtly around him.
“Are you…what are you humming?”
“Huh?” Sam’s voice brought Dean back to the musty smell of the library.
“You were humming something just now.”
Sam tipped his chin forward. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “Hey, I know you’re bored, but—”
“It’s not that.” Dean shook his head. He rubbed at his forehead. Get a grip, Dean. An odd feeling of familiarity seeped into him. Feuding spirits… “Hey, Sam,” he said, looking up. “What if they’re connected to Mollie somehow?”
“Yeah. What if she warned this Forrest guy because…her brother or father or lover or something was one of his men?”
Sam’s eyebrows went up appreciatively. “I didn’t think of that.”
Dean shrugged, feeling cold. “Just…let’s check it out.”
Several hours later, Sam keeping a subtly close eye on his brother, they had pulled all the books on Mollie Morehead or McLean County in 1861 they could find and were sitting side-by-side at the now dust-cleared table. Dean sat with his fingers bridged over his forehead, elbow resting on the table, face lined with thought. Sam leaned back in his chair, a book on his lap.
“Okay, here’s something,” Sam spoke up after what seemed like years of silent studying.
“It’s about time,” Dean breathed, looking over.
“Robert Martin.” Sam pointed to the words. “He was a scout for Forrest. He and Mollie knew each other when they were young.”
“Does it say they were, like, engaged or something?”
Sam shook his head. “Nope. But it’s something.”
“Okay, so maybe our Johnny Reb is this Martin dude. Who’s the other guy?”
“Yeah, there I got nothin’.” Sam shrugged.
“Maybe it doesn’t matter.” Dean sighed, leaning back. “No bodies means no bones. No bones, no burn.”
“You ever get rid of a spirit without burning the bones?”
“Not many.” Dean shook his head. “There are probably rituals and stuff, but—”
“HE’S NOT WITH ME!” The heartbroken bellow emanating from the main entryway startled them both. The legs of Sam’s chair hit the floor with a thunk.
“Frank, calm down, listen, you need to—”
“HE’S. NOT. WITH. ME.”
Dean looked at Sam. “Frank?”
“Frank Bethel?” Sam stood up.
Hurrying toward the door, they watched as the woman with the white stripe in her hair stood against one wall, a hand over her mouth, but the fire of hate in her eyes. The man in the blue shirt struggled weakly against the library security guard, yelling the one statement he’d been reduced to at the woman.
“I saw him earlier,” Dean whispered to Sam. “He was trying to get in; skunk-lady said he was a stalker.”
“Get him out of here!” the woman said, her voice a fair imitation of a tremble.
“Workin’ on it, Miz Morehead,” the security guard returned through clenched teeth, doing his best to hold Frank away yet not hurt him.
Dean stepped forward. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sam open his mouth, reach out as if to stop him, but then freeze, dropping his hand as a gesture of second thought. Good. Dean knew Sam would sometimes prefer that he step aside and stay intact rather than wade into danger, but as he moved forward, he felt Sam close by. His brother understood that taking the proverbial bullet so others didn't have to was sometimes the only thing that kept Dean going.
“Hey, Frank.” Dean put a gentle hand on the struggling man’s shoulder. “You’re Frank, right?”
The security guard looked at Dean with a mixture of confusion and gratitude. Frank’s frantic blue eyes—the exact shade his brother’s would be were it not for the cataracts—met Dean’s beseechingly.
“He’s not with me,” Frank repeated.
“Hey, I know, man.” Dean took more of Frank away from the guard, then seemed to sink a bit as Frank grasped onto him, both hands clutching at Dean’s shoulders, trembling against his neck. “I know your brother. Ross? We’re here to help him.”
Frank’s eyes widened in panic, and he shook his head. His lips moved in silent, frustrated words.
“What?” Dean whispered, his knees bending slightly as he worked to keep Frank upright. “Frank, what is it? Tell me!”
“He’s…not…,” Frank whispered. Without another word, his blue eyes rolled up into his head and he went boneless in Dean’s arms, bearing both of them to the ground in a small heap.
“I’m here.” Sam moved around to the other side of Frank and eased him off Dean so his brother could get his feet under himself once more.
“Thanks,” the security guard said. “I sent him away earlier, but—”
“How’d he get out of the hospital?” Dean asked, looking at the guard.
“This man needs to be back in the hospital,” Sam said, his eyes spitting instinctive venom at Serena Morehead, who stood off to the left, surveying the scene with cold eyes.
“Don’t look at me,” Serena commanded snidely. “I didn’t get him out.”
“He was looking for you,” Dean pointed out. “Got any idea why?”
“I told you.” Serena lifted an arched brow at Dean. “He’s stalking me.”
Dean’s lip flinched with a barely controlled snarl. “Wouldn’t have anything to do with what’s happening to his brother, would it?”
“Dean,” Sam interrupted, “we need to get him back to the hospital.”
Dean ran a hand over his mouth. “Right. You got a radio?” he asked the guard.
“Uh, yeah.” The guard nodded. “I’ll, uh, I’ll call it in.”
Dean’s eyebrows rose and fell in a silent expression. He looked back over at Serena. “You might want to find some other places to haunt for a bit,” he said.
“Or?” she challenged.
Dean lifted a shoulder. “Or you may not have three guys around to keep away your…admirers.”
Dean sat on the double bed nearest the entrance to the motel room, guns spread out before his bent leg, grease-streaked white rag in his hand moving in a slow, repetitive motion along the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun. His eyes rested on the weaponry, unfocused in thought and memory. He felt his throat tickle but wasn’t conscious of the sound emitted; he was simply relaxed in the rhythm of a familiar pattern.
“I just realized what that song is.”
Dean blinked at the sound of Sam’s voice. “Huh?”
“That song you keep humming.”
Dean stopped stroking the gun. “I’m not humming anything.”
Sam looked at him over the screen of his laptop, the silver backing of the machine obscuring the lower portion of his face, the blue-tinged light from the monitor tossing Sam’s cat-like eyes into shadow. “Yes, you were.”
“Okay, then, Bill Cullen, name that tune,” Dean challenged.
Dean lifted an eyebrow, lips folded down in confusion. “As in…Bobbitt?”
Sam rolled his eyes. “As in a love song. A love song from the Civil War, to be exact.”
Dean stared at him a moment. “Your head is one scary place.”
“What?” Sam blinked innocently.
“How do you even know these things?” Dean rested the shotgun in his lap.
Sam laid his fingers on the top of his computer screen, pointing at Dean. “Hey, I’m not the one playing 1860’s Jukebox.”
A line appeared between Dean’s brows, pulling them close in concern. He looked down, hiding his too-expressive eyes from his brother’s exacting gaze, and continued to buff the barrel of the gun.
“Musta heard it somewhere ’round here.” He shrugged. “This place is lousy with Civil War memorabilia.”
“We’ve been exactly three places, Dean,” Sam reminded him.
“What’s your point?”
Sam sighed. “Forget it. Listen, I’ve been looking up stuff on Annabelle Bethel’s death.”
Dean set one gun down and picked up another, ejecting the clip and emptying the chamber, catching the flying bullet before it hit the bed, then began to break down the barrel. Cleaning their weapons relaxed him. Knowing their weapons balanced him. Using their weapons validated him.
“Well, I think there’s something hinky about it.”
Dean smirked. “Hinky as in Ross killed her and lied about it?”
“No,” Sam shook his head, “but that thought did cross my mind. I think someone brought on that heart attack.”
“Someone or something?”
“Says here,” Sam’s eyes went to his computer screen, “that there were unusually high levels of erythromycin in her blood.”
“What the hell is—“
“It’s an antibiotic.”
“So?” Dean kept his eyes on the gun in his hand, blocking out the sound of the melody, the low, sad bleat of tune crying for loss.
“So, there’s been some studies that show high dosages of erythromycin can interrupt the heart’s electrical pattern…cause a heart attack.”
“Someone killed her.”
“Wanna make a bet as to who?”
Dean lifted an eyebrow. “Call me crazy, but my money’s on skunk-lady.”
“Yeah, I didn’t get a good vibe from her, either.”
Setting down the last gun, Dean stood and stretched. “Well,” he said on an elongated sigh, his arms above his head, his t-shirt pulling high on his belly, “I don’t know about you, but I’m cooked.”
“We still don’t have a plan, Dean,” Sam pointed out.
“So we make one tomorrow.” Dean yawned.
“Yeah, Sam.” Dean began to put the guns back in the weapons bag with the salt and lighter fluid. “I need some shut-eye, and you’re looking a little rough around the edges.”
Sam frowned at him.
“What? I say it out of concern as your big brother.”
“Whatever,” Sam grumbled.
Toeing off his boots, Dean slid his jeans off, letting them puddle on the floor, then crawled between the cool sheets, rocking a bit until the covers were cocooned around him. On a yawn, he commanded, “Don’t even think about waking me up before daylight.”
Sam grumbled a bit, but Dean stopped listening. The heavy drug of sleep pulled him low with a gentle embrace, and he sighed as he rolled into its arms. For long moments of peace, he heard and saw nothing.
Oblivion was his greatest friend, both healing and hiding pain.
The grass beneath his feet was crisp with frost. His stiff, knee-length boots left imprints on the land as he breeched the crest of the hill, looking into the vacant, snow-covered valley beneath him. The air held the bite of post-Christmas chill. The only thing marring the complete silence of early morning was an occasional cough or laugh from the men encamped behind him, the jangle of bits as the horses stomped themselves awake, and the snap of the morning cook fires.
He knew Mollie would be awake. She always woke with the dawn. Said the night was long enough, didn’t serve to waste any of the light. He pictured her standing in her doorway as she liked to do, mug of coffee clutched in small, cold hands, raven-colored hair spilling loose down her back. Twisting her hair up was the last thing she did before moving forward with the day.
He pictured her eyes sliding up at the sides, and warmth spread through his belly, banishing the chill of winter. He closed his eyes and mentally caressed her face, trailing slowly across her lips, feeling himself grow hard in response.
The breathless cry for Colonel Forrest startled him out of his morning reverie, and he turned, eyes searching out the unmistakable figure of Nathan Forrest. The world began to spin backward, working earnestly to bring him to his knees. Crittenden was encamped on the other side of the ridge. The Yankee felt safe in his location.
Joseph was scouting for Crittenden.
They were moving, riding, cresting the ridge. The morning exploded in a bloody wash of pain, and in the middle of the frozen ground stood Mollie and Joe, both staring at him, both pale, both dying. He couldn’t save both.
Mollie vanished, and he cried out, feeling the weight of his guilt hold him back, hold him down. Joe fell to his knees, the blue of his uniform blossoming to a darker, dangerous black. He reached for him, gray collecting blue in an embrace of regret.
“If you’d only stayed, Joe… why didn’t you stay with me…”
Joe’s eyes stared up at him, wide with shock, dark with hate. “You were never with me, Robbie.”
Dean jerked violently, struggling to open eyes heavy with sweat-matted lashes. Slowly, as if someone were ticking a dial in his head, he became aware of his surroundings, the gulping breaths being sucked into his trembling body, the death-like grip he had on Sam’s bare arms, the frantic movement of his eyes around the sparsely-furnished motel room.
“I’ve been trying to wake you up for about five minutes,” Sam said, fear turning back the clock and reducing his voice to a little brother’s search for steadiness. “What’s going on with you?”
“A dream,” Dean panted, forcing his fingers to release, forcing himself to sit up and away from his anxious brother. “Just a dream.”
“One helluva dream, man, you were screaming, calling out for Jo.”
“Joe?” Blue uniform, blood, cold ground…
“Yeah. I didn’t know you felt that strongly for her…”
“Her?” Dean ran a shaking hand over his eyes, forcing away mental cobwebs, then wiped the sweat from his upper lip with his knuckles.
“Jo.” Sam sat back, still staring at him with too-big eyes.
“Not Jo, Sam,” Dean rasped, shoving the twisted covers away from his trapped legs and stumbling to his feet. He staggered for the bathroom, not bothering with the light, and ducked his hands under the faucet, filling them with water and splashing his face.
“Dean, you said Jo. You screamed it.” Sam moved around the end of the bed to stand framed in the bathroom doorway.
“It wasn’t her…it was…” Dean pushed himself upright. “Hell, I don’t know…some guy.”
Dean shot a look over at Sam, water trailing down his face and dripping from his chin. “You’re giving me shit about this?”
“Just that…we don’t know a guy named…Joe.” Sam seemed to suddenly not know what to do with his hands as he crossed, then uncrossed his arms, resting them on his hips, then dropping them to his side.
Dean splashed his face once more, cooling his heated eyes and running wet palms over early-morning roughness on his cheeks.
“What time is it?” Dean asked, water spraying from his lips as he shut off the faucet.
“Early,” Sam said defensively in a not my fault you’re awake tone.
“Let’s talk about it in the morning.” Dean sighed, drying his face, pushing past Sam and stumbling back to the twisted sheets of his bed.
“It is morning,” Sam pointed out.
“Sam!” Dean snapped tiredly.
He’d been asleep almost six hours, yet his body felt used and worn. Weariness wrapped around him as he burrowed his arms beneath his pillows, his face turned away from the wan light filtering in from the window.
Settling into the sheets, Dean listened as Sam reluctantly moved around the room, sat heavily on his bed, and lay back. He could practically hear Sam staring holes into the ceiling.
“I don’t know, okay?” Dean answered Sam’s unasked question, his mouth pressed into the pillow, voice muffled by sleep and worry. Dean sighed, closing his eyes, hoping for oblivion.
“You said his name like you say…mine,” Sam revealed quietly.
“Don’t worry about it, Sam,” Dean muttered, hanging on the edge of awareness.
“Can’t help it.” Sam sighed, the bed squeaking beneath him as he rolled to his side. “You’re my brother.”PART 1B can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/59887.html