2005


"So, tell me again why I had to pass up a private consultation with the most exquisite ATF agent in all of D.C. to come out to Cali and hang with my lame ass little brother?"

"A hunt," Sam answered, as he backed his Honda out of the tight airport parking space. As soon as he threw the car in drive, he handed Dean a folder. "Six women have been attacked in Palo Alto in the last two months. Five have died."

"And your conclusions?" Dean asked, indicating the folder that he hadn't opened.

"Twenty-five percent chance that it's a Spring Heeled Jack." It/They (no one was sure if there were several or if the one just regenerated itself after being "killed") had immigrated from London and showed up irregularly around the country, mostly scaring people with death-defying leaps over fences and buildings, but sometimes killing if bored.

"And the other seventy-five percent?"

Leave it to Dean to quickly get to the heart of the matter. "Serial killer--one-hundred percent human."

Dean sighed and pushed his seat back. Jess was probably the last one in the passenger's seat, so yeah, Dean needed to push it back. "Which is why I had to fly all the way out here even though Dad's in Nevada working a mine haunting."

"Yeah."

"'Cause Dad would say we leave human scum to the cops."

"Yeah."

"And you say?"

"Jess is due back from her folks in two weeks."

Dean opened the folder.

*

"Nice place."

Sam nodded and locked the door behind his brother. The apartment he and Jess were going to share was kind of tiny and, at the moment, way under furnished. Jess had just had enough time to agree to the apartment before she had to go home to be a bridesmaid in one of her high school friend's wedding. Sam was under strict orders not to purchase anything before she got back. He was renting a place to sleep by the week and a table was built into the breakfast nook/kitchen.

"Not all of us can have a country manor."

"Peon," Dean sneered, tossing his duffel into a corner. "So what's the plan?" he asked around a yawn.

"You okay?"

Dean nodded. "You know me; I never fly completely sober. An hour's nap will get the pill completely out of my system."

"That's good because I have a law school orientation session to get to. I'll be at least a couple of hours. Let me show you to the bedroom."

Dean dragged behind him, then snorted. "Bedrooms usually have beds, little bro."

"It's a futon. Just as good as a bed and cheap to rent."

"God bless the American taxpayers that I was never a starving college student," Dean quipped with another yawn. "You got an extra key to this crib? I may go out and do a little recon before you get back."

"Recon?"

Dean sat gingerly on the futon and heeled off his shoes. "I read your research, dude. Ain't no way in hell we're dealing with Spring Heeled Jack."

"It jumped over stuff when it was fleeing," Sam said carefully.

"Trashcans, Sam. And a bum."

Sam looked down at his feet.

"It's okay," Dean said quickly. "This is a danger to Jess. I get it. Taking care of this slime is not a problem for me. Ghosts and Spring Heeled Jacks aren't what I trained against at the Academy, anyway."

"Nothing too over the top," Sam clarified. He wasn't looking to add to the local body count, which would be easy enough for his brother. The Army had taught Dean that if you brought an enemy down, you made sure the fucker stayed down. That's why, although he'd never come out and said it, Sam was pretty sure the Afghani who'd taken Dean's team were no longer among the living. Not that he'd begrudge Dean that. It was always a risk when you tried to take something from a Winchester; one day down the road three men at Ft. Leavenworth were going to learn that lesson the hard way. After all, Dean had taught him well about payback. "I just want to get him, then hand him over to the authorities."

"Sure thing, Clark Kent."

Sam frowned. He didn't want to be goody-goody Superman. Still... "You and Batman like to blow things up too much."

"And your point is?" Dean turned over on his stomach and sank his head into the pillow.

"There are rumors this guy may have hit other college towns. He needs to be questioned."

"I hear you, Sammy. As long as he doesn't make it personal."

As long as he doesn't come after you, Sam heard as clearly as if Dean had spoken. He smiled at the protective Big Brother streak Dean was never going to lose and turned out the light. "Rest up, bro. We hit the streets tonight."

*

"And at the top of the hour, our story of the hour here on Channel 5: two brothers apprehend a suspect in the recent murders of young women in Palo Alto. One brother, a law school student at Stanford, and his visiting brother, an Army officer, heard a scream, rescued what certainly would've been the next murder victim, then took down the suspect with a stun gun. According to Captain Dean Winchester, the weapon had been purchased for student Sam Winchester's girlfriend for protection against the killer."

"Guess she won't be needing it now," another reporter chimed in.

"Guess she won't."

*****

"Dean, what the hell's going on?"

Dean crammed folders into the safe in his office as he struggled to keep the phone pinched between his jaw and shoulder. "I don't know, Sammy. I expect you got the same phone call I did: Son, I need you to come home. I tried calling Missouri but she didn't answer her phone, which means she knows I'm calling and she doesn't want to talk to me. That tells me it's not a life or death situation, but it is serious. I'm clearing my desk as we speak while Evelyn's getting me a plane ticket."

"Think she can get me one that'll get us into Kansas City International at about the same time?"

"Hold on." He walked to the outer office. "Evelyn, Sam needs a ticket, too," he said, handing her his phone. "Put them both on my card."

He finished putting away sensitive material and grabbed his jacket and cap. Evelyn held out his phone as he walked to her desk. "Your flight leaves in two hours from Dulles. Sam's flight is scheduled to arrive half an hour behind yours. There's a car on call for you at the Avis desk. I didn't book any return flights."

"Thanks, Evelyn. I don't know what's going on with Dad, but as soon as I get an answer, I'll be in touch."

"Go. Your dad wouldn't call on a whim. If you need anything, call my cell--anytime, okay? Ed and I'll be praying for you."

"Thanks." He glanced at the calendar. "Oh, damn. I need to call the Children's Home. I'm supposed to chaperone at the Halloween carnival tonight."

"I'll handle it, Captain. Go take care of your family."

Dean gave a tight nod and left.

*

"You think a hunt went bad?"

"I don't know, Sam."

Sam gnawed on a fingernail as Dean drove to Lawrence. The rental was in Dean's name and Dean's single Tylenol PM--his current remedy for short flights--had completely worn off by the time Sam's plane had landed, so he was good to drive. "I have an interview for a summer internship on the third. It sounds bad that I'm worrying about getting back there in time, doesn't it? But these things usually aren't offered to first year law students and I'm really excited."

Although he'd visited the law schools in the D.C. vicinity, Stanford had come up with another full ride and he wasn't about to turn down their generosity. Also, since Jess was a year behind him, it made sense for him to stay. Jess, however, had already decided that she'd be going The Art Institute of Washington, which was in Arlington. She and Dean had already made plans for her to stay with him until Sam graduated.

"This may be nothing," Dean pointed out optimistically.

"This is Dad we're talking about."

"Well, maybe it's something that won't take a long time."

Sam watched the sky darken. He missed the long days of summer. "How'd he sound to you?"

Dean shrugged. "Tired."

"You seen him lately?" No, he wasn't going to feel guilty because he'd spent Fall Break with Jessica's family. Dad had probably been on a hunt anyway.

"End of September, I got together with him, Bobby, Jim, and a couple of the other guys and went down to New Orleans. Katrina got a lot of shit stirred up down there. It was like a tag-team match most of the week we were there. We were replaced by a relief team, and they'll have a relief team and so on. Very unstable situation. It's a good thing the hunter network is larger than what Dad led us to believe when we were little."

"Why didn't you tell me? I would've--"

"We know, but you'd just started law school and were just settling into your classes. Besides, it was like putting a Band-Aid on a punctured artery. There'll be plenty left for you to do if you wanna go down during Christmas break."

"I'll be sure to remind you about that." Jess was just going to have to understand he was needed at home. "So, Dad. He seem okay to you?"

"Geesh, Sammy! Did he look like he was dying? No. Did he seem depressed? No. He just seemed like--Dad."

"Okay." Sam chewed another nail. "He's getting older, you know."

"No shit."

"I don't think about his age. He's been the same for so long."

"He's fifty-one, Sam, not ninety-one."

Sam fiddled with the power side-mirror. "Maybe he got bit by a werewolf."

Dean groaned. "One more word from you, Sam, and you're going to use those Plastic Man legs of yours to walk to Lawrence."

"You watched way too much TV as a kid." Dean flicked the turn signal as if he was going to pull over. "I'm just saying," Sam muttered. "You ever have dreams, Dean? Dreams so real that you're not sure if they're dreams or not?"

"You been dreaming about Dad?"

"No. Jess. About Jess dying."

Dean shot him a glance. "You two doing okay?"

"Yeah, man, we're great. I've even found the ring I want to give her."

"So, these dreams?"

"She dies. Like Mom."

"Oh." He could tell Dean was searching desperately for something to say. "Maybe it's the marriage thing. A Winchester wife thing. Latent fear and all that bullshit."

"Maybe."

*

"Say that again, Dad." Sam thought he heard his father correctly, but he wanted to be sure. He needed to be sure.

"There was a poltergeist in our old house. Missouri and I went to take care of it. That's when..."

"That's when you saw...Mom?" Dean asked, his voice breaking. "She's there? She's been there, trapped in that house all these goddamned years? Why didn't we know this? Why didn't you fucking know this, Dad!" He took a step toward Dad.

Sam grabbed his arm. "Back off, Dean!"

"Back off? He's been doing salt-and-burns for years now. Why didn't you--"

"Because there was nothing left to salt, Dean!" Dad yelled. "We didn't bury anything but an empty fucking casket!"

"Then how is she...?" Sam asked.

"Missouri says she's attached to the house."

"Almost twenty-two fucking years to the day," Dean muttered. "She's been there abandoned, goddamnit, for twenty-two years." He slammed his hand against the door jamb.

Sam flinched and looked worriedly around the room. It seemed that he was the least affected of the Winchester men. Dean looked ready to strike out at anyone who came near him. Dad looked--hell, he'd never seen John Winchester so shaken...so lost. Guess it was up to him to get the ball rolling. "How do we fix this, Dad? How can we make it right? How can we--how can we give Mom some peace?"

Dad looked grateful for the question. "Missouri thinks she's stayed to make sure the two of you are okay. She was happy to see me, but she was looking for her boys. I...I told her about you, and that I would bring you to her. We'll just go over to the house and--"

"I can't," Dean said softly before bolting from the house.

Dad sighed. "I knew he wasn't going to take this well."

"Mom's a lot more real to him than to me. I don't remember her at all, just stuff that you guys have let slip over the years."

Dad gave a bitter chuckle and sat down at the kitchen table. His hand shook as he reached out to fiddle with the salt shaker. "We're not a family of talkers. In fact, Dean barely spoke a word for months after her death. When he finally started talking, I figured I wasn't going to push my luck, so your mom became a non-topic. That was probably wrong. Wasn't the first time I screwed up being your father."

"You the did the best you could, Dad. And it was Dean who told me that, so I don't think he's really upset with you. He's just--reacting."

"I know. I don't blame him for being angry. It never occurred to me that Mary... Dean loved Mary with a devotion that only little kids can have. You'll find out when you and Jess... Oh, your kids will love you, but for the first years of their lives, you're gonna come in second to their mama. That's the kind of love that was ripped away from Dean."

"Maybe I should go--" Sam pointed toward the door Dean had used.

"Sure, son. You know, you gave that same kind of devotion to Dean."

"Yeah. He earned it, just like Mom."

"Just like Mom."

Sam shut the door quietly behind him.

*

"I want my car," Dean said quietly as Sam approached him. He was sitting on the hood of the rental.

"She's probably missing you, too." Sam looked up at the sky, seeking familiar constellations. When he was a kid, he'd checked out a book on the stars and annoyed his Dad and Dean with all his newfound knowledge. It's a wonder they hadn't smothered him in his sleep.

"You would've taken care of her if I hadn't have returned from Afghanistan, right?"

As if he could have stood the sight of the Impala without Dean. "You know it."

Dean stared off into the distance, eyes glinting in the glow of a streetlight. "I made sure to never even be on the street of our old house, Sam. The memory was bad enough in my dreams. I didn't want it in my reality."

"You know if Dad had any idea--"

"I know. We Winchesters are good with avoidance."

Sam climbed onto the hood beside his brother. Piece of Japanese crap was probably going to dent. At least his piece of Japanese crap actually had some metal in it. "She needs to be at rest, Dean."

"I know. Duty. Honor. Country."

"What?"

"West Point motto. It's my duty, Sam, to see to her rest. I want our mother at peace."

"We'll make sure that happens, bro."

Dean took a deep breath. "Go get Dad. This needs to happen tonight. Tomorrow is All Saints Day. I want her in heaven by then, or at least knocking on the fucking door."

Sam nodded. "Dean, do you think--maybe this is the reason I've had the dreams about Jess?"

"Could be. Maybe we'll end a lot of nightmares tonight, Sammy."

*

"How you doing, Dad?" Sam asked as his father stumbled into the kitchen. "Coffee's made. I'll pour you a cup."

"How's Dean?" Dad rasped. He pulled a chair from the table and turned it around before sitting. He leaned forward against the tall back like it was the only thing keeping him upright.

"Out for his morning run. He's a closet masochist, you know."

"Charity told me that." Sam's jaw dropped to the ground and his dad laughed. "I'm just playing with you, boy."

"Don't do that," Sam complained. "It was bad enough when Dean told me you and Charity 'had a night.' I know I spent my childhood whining about you keeping stuff from me, but you were right, okay? There are some things I don't need to know." Dean had told him during the middle of a DVD they were watching. There had been popcorn and beer ejected from Sam's mouth. Jess had not been amused.

"You're admitting I was right about something? Quick! Find a calendar and write that down for me. I don't think I'm capable of holding a pencil at the moment."

At least his father was admitting he had a hangover. "You and Dean put a hurt on that bottle of Jack after we got back." Sam handed over the mug of coffee. "Did it help?"

"I got a few hours of sleep. Don't worry about me, though. Bobby's got a big hunt planned. Put a few silver rounds in a werewolf and I'll be as good as new."

"And you wonder where Dean gets his love of guns and explosives." Sam bent to look in the refrigerator. Eggs. He could cook eggs. Actually, he could cook a lot of things, thanks to begging Dean for lessons and pure necessity: Jess sucked in the kitchen.

"Your brother can be a very scary man. Listen, he's gonna stay until I leave for the hunt with Bobby. So, don't worry about missing your interview. The two of us will take care of each other and Jessica can take care of you." He gestured toward the living room. "If there's something you want in that box of photos the new owner found in the basement, help yourself."

Sam shook his head. He'd noticed how much the drinking had increased when they started going through the box last night. Although most of the time he resented it, sometimes it was kind of a blessing that he didn't have the memories of Mom that the rest of his family did. "I'm gonna let you and Dean have first shot. I'll pick out a couple later to show to Jess."

There was a clattering at the back door and Dean walked in, panting. "You finally make it back to the land of the living, old man?" he asked, clapping Dad on the back.

"Old man? You should've woken me up to make the run with you."

"You serious?"

"Hell, no." The three of them laughed. It was a good sound.

"You got your flight back yet?" Dean asked, grabbing a bottle of water from the cabinet. Refrigerated water would just make him cramp.

"I just found out I was getting kicked out."

The bottle was half-drained by the time Dean replied. "Hey, dude, if I had a hot blonde to get back to, I'd be the one leaving. But all I have is a PA who tells me I eat too much red meat and has banned meatloaf for the next month."

"Good for Evelyn."

"Good for Evelyn," Dean mimicked nasally. "My body is perfect just the way it is."

"Sure, Stubby."

"How's the view from the top of the Empire State Building, King Kong?"

"I don't know. What does the underside of a wee mushroom look like, Mr. Leprechaun?"

"Bitch!"

"Jerk!"

"Boys!"

Immediate silence, followed by laughter.

Sam chose to ignore the shiver that crawled along his spine.

*

"The red eye flight. Man, I hope you aren't making Jess come out and pick you up at the airport."

The brothers stood just past baggage check-in. The peak airport time was over and the terminal was nearly empty. "Nah, she has class in the morning. I'll just catch a cab."

"See? You should've been in the military. If the Impala wasn't back at the airport waiting for me, I'd just call Evelyn and she'd have some poor grunt come pick me up in a humvee."

"That's abuse of power, Dean." Sam adjusted his carry-on bag. Thankfully he wasn't traveling with Jess--even an overnight trip required suitcases.

"Sue me, lawyer boy."

Sam rolled his eyes. "What'd you tell Evelyn, by the way?"

"That the owners of our original house found some things of Mom's and it threw Dad for a loop."

"Pretty much the truth."

"Yeah."

He double-checked his ticket and glanced at one of the overhead flight monitors. So far so good. "You two gonna be okay?"

"I'm thinking about taking him downtown."

Sam's eyes widened. "You think that's a good idea?"

"Charity's good for a serious distraction. And have you met Deirdre? She was a gymnast until she got knocked up and kicked out by her parents and her coach." Dean leaned back against the wall, bending a leg to place a foot flat against the painted concrete.

Sam heard some indignant anger in his brother's voice. "You can't make everyone do right by their children, Dean."

"Or by their parents."

Sam shook his head. He'd spent all day trying to make Dean talk about what had happened at their old house. Leave it to the Master of Contrariness to wait until Sam's flight was about to be called. "You didn't let Mom down by not knowing she was trapped in the house, Dean."

"She looked just like she did that night, Sammy. And her voice... I didn't think I remembered, but I did. Closure's supposed to be good for you, right?"

"And time."

"Knew there had to be a catch."

Shit. He wasn't used to comforting Dean. "She liked your uniform." Well, that was incredibly weak.

"She was shocked by your ginormousness."

This was definitely more familiar territory. "That's not even a word, Dean," he pointed out, following Dean's lead.

"Yeah, it is. Look it up when you get back to that special college of yours."

"You are so full of crap." Maybe not his best bantering effort, but Dean seemed to appreciate it.

"I can't help it if Mom's jaw dropped because she had to look up so high to see your face. Probably was thinking it was a good thing kids didn't pop out fully grown or she'd have been in labor for twenty years just to get your big ol' head out."

"Dean, that's just so--"

"It would've been nice to touch her. She was so soft. Smelled like the flowers in the park we used to..."

Way to turn the conversation on a dime, bro. "She apologized to me."

"What?"

"Mom. The first thing she said to me was that she was sorry." It had bothered him, that she thought she had to apologize to him.

Dean frowned. "For what?"

Sam shrugged. "I guess for not being there for me, for never getting the chance to be my mother. I told her it was okay, that I'd been raised by two people who loved me." He smiled softly when he saw Dean's blush.

"Must be why she thanked me, thanked me for taking care of you and Dad. Said she couldn't have done a better job herself. But she could've, would've...should've."

"If she'd lived, I would've had a different life, but I doubt it would've been better, Dean." College had been an eye-opening experience. Taylor Wilson's family might have been an extreme case of a dysfunctional family, but there were a lot of students at Stanford who hated their families for stupid reasons. It'd shocked Sam to realize he was in the minority, that he not only loved his family, but he liked them. How could it have been better with a mom? Or maybe...maybe it would've been better for Dean. And Dad. He hadn't thought of that. "Of course, I'm talking about me personally. Maybe if Mom--"

"Don't over think it, Sam. What is--is. I guess last night just got to me, dragged me a bit into the past. But it's not a place I want to live. The present is good enough for me."

"Me, too. But what really got me..." he paused and bit his lip, wondering if he should continue.

"What, Sam?" Dean urged.

"How much she was like you, or rather, vice-versa. God, Dean, your eyes, your smile, hell, even the way she hugged me..." Dean had hugged him, really hugged him and not some of that wimpy guy-hug shit, when he returned from Afghanistan, so he didn't have to remember too far back.

Dean smiled weakly. "Who do you think I learned from? And Dad's said the same thing. That I'm a lot like her. I thought he was just trying to make me feel better."

"He wasn't. Lying, that is. He probably was trying to make you feel better."

The intercom announced Sam's flight.

Dean pushed off against the wall and gently shoved Sam toward the gate. "Go home to your beautiful girlfriend, bro."

Sam started to comment, then saw Dean twitch and attempt to hide it beneath a yawn. "Did you feel it, too?" he asked softly.

"Feel what, Sammy?" Dean's head lowered as he brushed at a spot on his khaki pants. As if the military allowed lint on their uniforms.

Sam waited until Dean looked up again. "When we were in the kitchen and everything was going really well... It was like someone walked over my grave."

"Just a residual effect from last night," Dean said firmly, folding him arms as if that would make him sound more sure.

"And your little shiver a second ago?"

Dean sighed. "Just...watch yourself, all right?"

He nodded and started to turn away. But he couldn't. "I dreamed last night. It didn't stop." Confession was good for the soul, right?

"Look, man, it wasn't just Dad who was thrown for a loop, okay? Maybe we're both just reacting to emotions. You know we aren't used to crap like that," Dean tried to tease.

Sam's flight was called again. He pulled Dean into a one-arm hug. "You watch yourself, too, big brother. And Dad."

"Always, Sammy. Say hey to Jess for me."

"Will do."

*

"Keep the change." Sam closed the door of the cab and stared up at the apartment that he shared with Jess. There was a flickering light in the bedroom. Jess and her candles. Usually meant he might get lucky. He hurried up the stairs.

"Back already?" Ernie Keller asked. Ernie lived across the hall. He was a slacker who enjoyed living off his trust fund and telling everyone how much it was. Too bad it couldn't buy him a personality. "You didn't give me enough time to sweep the lovely Jessica off her feet."

"Ernie, I promise you, if Jess ever wants to leave me to be with you, I won't stand in her way." Because that was never gonna happen. Jess often paired the word Ernie with slime and other oozing forms of matter.

"You're a good man, Winchester. I'll even send you an invitation to our wedding."

"You do that, Ernie." Sam opened the door quickly and dumped his duffel on the chair. He sniffed the air. Smoke. Oh, God. Had Jess been trying to bake cookies again? He reached behind him to shut the door when orange light coming from beneath the bedroom door caught his attention.

"Jess! Jessica!" He raced across the room and threw the door open. Light drew his eyes to the ceiling. A drop of blood splashed across his nose.

And Jessica burned.

*

"I was gonna tell her, Dean. Tell Jess about Mom's death, about what Dad hunts. You were right; I realized that it was time, knew that it had to be done soon. I was gonna tell her everything. When we got married there were never going to be any secrets between us. That's the way it should be, right?"

Dean nodded and guided him through the door to their hotel room. Sam had been silent through the funeral and burial, but had started talking in the car on the way back and hadn't stopped since. He needed the noise of his own voice to keep him away from the big black hole sitting in the middle of his head.

"Maybe if I'd told her when we moved in together last year--" He moved the curtain aside from the window and stared out at the trees and power lines.

"No," Dean said firmly. "Don't start down that path, okay? Jessica knowing wouldn't have made a difference. You being here wouldn't have made a difference. All the blame--all of it--falls directly on that sonovabitch demon."

Sam blinked slowly. "Stop reading my mind, man."

"Stop being such an easy read."

"I was a fence," Sam said softly. He walked away from the window and stared down at one of the beds instead.

"Huh?"

"Jess...Jess saw differently than most people, connecting objects to her impressions of those she met--maybe that's why she was good with designing. She said I was a double-walled fence, all straight lines and solid metal, both physically and spiritually. But both fences were so in line with each other, so perfectly phased, that it was hard to tell there were two of them. She was impressed by that, impressed enough to ask me on a date." He grinned at his brother.

Dean gave a mock cheer from his seat at the hotel desk/table. "Yes! I knew she was the first one to ask. I always did think she was out of your league."

"I've gone out with more than just my fellow members of the geek squad, bro, but you're right. I never would've asked her out." He sat on the bed and heeled off his dress shoes.

"So you impressed her with your lines?"

"Yeah, but it was my hair that sealed the deal. Said it assured her I had a fun side."

"Fun isn't the word I'd use."

"She said Dad was a wood carving, dips and curves worn smooth in most places, but capable of giving you a splinter if touched wrong."

Dean laughed. "That sounds like the old man."

"You were an enigma to her." Sam took off his black socks. Colored socks gave him blisters if he wore them too long. Jess had asked him what he was going to do when he was a lawyer and in a suit every day. He'd told her he'd just wear boots. That produced a frown he wouldn't soon forget.

"A man of mystery, huh?"

"The closest thing she could come up with was those Russian nesting dolls, you know the kind where a doll nestles within another doll and so on. But she said that wasn't right because the layers inside you were bigger than the outer ones. I knew what she meant, but I couldn't come up with a word either." Dean got up and fussed with the duffel on his bed, and Sam knew his brother was embarrassed by the admission. For someone who intentionally drew attention to himself, Dean had parts he just as intentionally hid. He didn't like people seeing past his carefully created fašade. "She really liked the farm. Said she could see our kids riding horses there."

Dean nodded. "I was gonna offer the two of you some of the acreage in the south corner. Build your house the way you wanted. None of that cookie cutter crap."

"Jess...Jess would've liked that. Design school, you know."

"I know."

"What do I do now?" Sam choked out. Reaching up, he struggled to take off his tie. "What do I fucking do now that my whole future has literally...gone up...in flames? What do I do?"

Dean reached over and gently removed the tie. Then he handed Sam one of the sets of casual clothes they'd picked up for him at a local discount store since everything else had been lost in the fire.

Sam stood and began changing out of his suit. "What do I--I'm so lost, man. I don't remember Ernie pulling me out of the apartment or the paramedics giving me oxygen and sedating me. Ernie says they did."

Dean nodded and changed clothes, too. Sam found it easier to talk about what was really troubling him when Dean wasn't so focused on him.

"I remember seeing Jess. I remember you and Dad getting me from the hospital. I remember standing at the grave. I don't...I don't remember the between times, Dean." Dean tossed him a pair of thick, white athletic socks.

"It's okay, Sammy. There's not going to be a quiz or anything, okay? You might remember later or you might not. Either way is okay. If it starts to bother you, just come ask me. I remember. I'll remember for you." Dean folded Sam's suit and put his own dress uniform in its carrier bag.

Sam rubbed his arms at a sudden chill. "Another empty casket for the Winchesters. Do you think Jess..."

"We won't let what happened to Mom happen again. We know what to look for now. Dad and I will keep an eye on the situation. I promise you, Jessica will have peace."

"Good," Sam sighed. "Good that one of us will. Where's Dad?" He'd had the room next to theirs.

"Changing. Probably already down at the front desk checking us out. I think he wanted to give us a minute to talk."

"About what, dude? I...I'm not exactly operating on all cylinders right now." He shoved his feet into the white socks, wiggling his toes before putting on his battered pair of Timberlands. They were the ones he'd worn to Lawrence, the only ones not burnt to a crisp.

Dean opened the drawers and took out underwear and socks. My new things, Sam thought, because all the old was gone. Dean began packing it efficiently into the bag on the bed, his own duffel already in order by the door. "I know that. That's why I'm going to spell out your immediate future for you, and you're gonna listen. You have two options, Sammy, and only two. One, you go home with Dad, go to law school at KU, and train like hell. Or two, you come home with me, go to one of those George-fucking-something law schools, and train like hell. Because once my contract is up with the United States Army, the three Winchesters are going to hit the road and we're gonna kick some demon ass. They wanted our attention; they got it. Unfortunately for them, it's gonna be the last damn want they ever have."

Sam nodded and scanned the room for anything they might've missed. "I'm sorry you guys have to--."

Dean stopped what he was doing and leaned against the dresser, his eyes capturing Sam's. "There are no 'have to's, Sam. You're my brother and Dad's son. That's it. That's all. Now, I have two tickets to Kansas waiting at the airport and two tickets to Virginia. What's it gonna be? Because there ain't no way in hell you're doing this alone."

Sam knew it wasn't really a choice. Not being alone meant one thing. "Virginia, Dean."

Dean nodded and hefted Sam's duffel to his shoulder. "Gee, and I had this big speech planned to convince you to come with me. And by the way? I didn't really have two tickets to Kansas."

Sam smiled, not the least bit surprised. Dean knew him best, even better than Jess...had. He frowned as another thought occurred. "Can I leave? The state, I mean. The police--"

"Ever the anal lawyer, bro. The police have already ascertained when your flight arrived and that you were indeed on it. They also interviewed the taxi driver who took you to the apartment and your seriously deluded neighbor who testified that you hadn't even shut the door before...That's how he saved you, by the way."

Sam gave a weak laugh. "I owe my life to Ernie Keller. No one should be uttering words like that."

"Hey, even losers win on some days."

"Wow, that's so deep, Dean."

"Bite me."

Sam opened the door to the hallway. "Oh, and, Dean, if I'm the anal one, why is it that you know everything about the investigation?"

"I knew you'd want to know and--" Dean stopped when he saw Sam wasn't buying it. "Fine. But if we're both anal, we come by it honestly. Dad cleans his weapons like it's a fetish."

"Dean?"

"Yeah, Sammy?" He checked to make sure the room door locked behind them.

"Don't ever mention the words 'Dad' and 'fetish' together again."

Dean just gave an evil grin, and Sam started to believe that maybe, one day, everything would be okay.

Onward to Infrangible Road 2006

U-Turn to 2004, 2003, 2001, 1997, 1995, 1993, 1991, 1984, or Infrangible Road On-Ramp

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