glasslogic: (Requiem)
[personal profile] glasslogic







Chapter Seven


Come here
Pretty please
Can you tell me where I am
You won't you say something
I need to get my bearings
I'm lost
And the shadows keep on changing
                                   ~Haunted, Poe

"Louisa Ann Cartwright," Sam announced finally, almost ten hours later in the local library. He'd insisted on heading straight over after they left the house, and then promptly disappeared into the stacks. He'd barely noticed when Dean finally located him, just shoved a pile of old books in his direction and muttered a last name to look for.

"She's the spook?"

"Possibly. She may have died in the right time frame." Sam turned the huge portfolio so that Dean could easily see it as well. Centered on the page was a very serious picture of a very serious girl. She looked to be about nine or ten.

"'May have died?'"

Sam flipped to another page. "She went missing when she was about seventeen. Her family insisted she had been sent to live with relatives overseas for some kind of nervous complaint, which could mean just about anything for a girl back then, but it kind of looks like the locals thought something else had happened to her."

"Is there police reports or anything?"

"No," Sam sighed and closed the book. "Honestly, I doubt there ever were. I can't find anything but some vague rumors and a few notes in some historical recollections about the Cartwrights at all. Interesting stuff, but not fleshed out at all. I asked the librarian, but she says what they've got is all here. This is the city archive for these old historical texts. The internet has even less than this."

"That's kind of odd, isn't it?" Dean closed the book he'd been flipping through as well. "A big, wealthy family like that loses a kid, the local rumor mill is churning, and no one prints up anything about it at all?"

"They had money, and apparently liked their privacy." Sam shrugged. "You can buy a lot of silence and forgetfulness if you know where to apply the cash."

"Great." Dean glanced at a clock on the wall. "They're going to close in about five minutes. You ready to go?"

Sam waved a hand helplessly over a stack of books almost three feet tall on the chair next to him.

"Why do half of those looks like occult titles?" Dean asked suspiciously.

"I was getting to that. Remember those rumors I told you about?"

"The ones you said weren't recorded anywhere?"

"I said I couldn't find much in the way of details. But we may not need details to put the pieces together. Apparently one of the most popular rumors flying around when Louisa disappeared was that Ellis Cartwright, Louisa's father, made a deal with the devil to make his money. And sacrificed Louisa to pay his debt."

Dean snorted. "That's not how that works at all."

"No," Sam agreed grimly, "but the Cartwrights struck it rich in nineteen seventeen on some long-shot foreign venture. And Ellis Cartwright died of some unspecified injury in nineteen twenty seven. The same year Louisa went missing."

"Ten years." Dean leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers over his stomach. "That is interesting."

"Yeah," Sam agreed. "I thought so too."

"Not terribly helpful though; if Cartwright had a deal, then he's definitely not the ghost. And we still don't know any more about this Louisa chick."

"I know, but Rufus calls us in for a hunt and one of the principal players just happens to be a likely victim of a demonic deal? That's… quite a coincidence, don't you think?"

"First of all, if he made a deal with a demon, that doesn't make him a victim, that makes him a moron."

Sam cast him an irritated look. "You ever heard any sayings about glass houses, Dean?"

"Secondly," Dean spoke over him, "if it's relevant at all, it's not a coincidence. We're following your psychic roadmap. Every scenic spot along the way had better be related to our mission, and not just to getting Joe Selman settled into his crappy money pit in domestic bliss."

"I'm just saying, Dean."

"Yeah, I know."

~~~~~

"Did you tell Rufus we're going to take a run at the house tomorrow?" Dean asked later that evening. Sam was eating a slice of pizza and flipping slowly through one of the books Dean had managed to borrow from the library through a skillful combination of innate charm and outright lies.

"Yeah," Sam said, making an effort to hold the pizza away from the book. "He said to try not to break any of the intact windows, and that if we have to bleed on something, try not to make it the wood floors. Apparently Joe thinks he can just have those refinished. The carpet's fine though, or the tile."

"Rufus's concern for our well-being is really overwhelming," Dean snorted.

"I think Rufus is mostly concerned with getting Selman away from his current home so he can discreetly shovel everything into a dumpster, have the place knocked down, and claim it was a freak windstorm."

"He should do that for both houses. Maybe the shock will kill Selman and that solves all his problems."

Sam's look was withering.

Dean grabbed the pizza box from the bed Sam was laying on and perched with it on a low dresser that had probably seen better days sometime in the forties. "So, we have a plan for tomorrow or are we just going to wing it?"

"It sounds like a pissed off ghost, and if that's the case then it has to have bones or something around there anchoring it here. But there's not enough information available to say for sure who it is. Which in the case of Louisa might make us really screwed, since she was supposedly sent overseas and doesn't even have a grave. And if we don't know for sure who it is--"

"--Then we don't know whose bones need seasoning, and we're digging up the whole cemetery and still doing jack squat. I get it, Sam. This isn't my first ride at the rodeo. So, you just want to barge in and see if it's in the twenty questions kind of mood before it tries to turn us inside out?"

"You have a better idea?" Sam asked hopefully.

"Nope.

"Head on it is then, I guess."

~~~~~

Noon the next day found them standing on the broken walk again, looking up at a house that seemed, if anything, more ominous than the day before.

"We probably should have just done this yesterday," Dean commented casually, kicking at a loose chunk of concrete at his feet.

"Done what?" Sam asked. He had a sawed off shotgun loaded with rocksalt tucked under one arm and was preoccupied with patting his pockets in search of the lighter he was certain he remembered shoving into one that morning. There was a small bag of loose salt tied to his belt and his jacket was weighted with extra shells for the gun.

"You sure you packed enough?" Dean asked, watching the search. "I mean, we're only going to be here for a week. Two tops."

"Ha, ha. Not all of us are reality-rending demons from beyond the grave, Dean. We have to work with what we've got, and I've got extra rounds of rock salt because it really sucks when you run out in the middle of a fight and have to resort to trying to club the angry spirits with an empty gun, remember?" Sam scowled in frustration, he was sure he'd brought a lighter…

Dean rolled his eyes and stepped in close enough that their thighs pressed together. Sam could feel the heat of the contact even through two layers of denim. Before he could step back from the blatant invasion of his personal space, Dean wrapped an arm around him and slipped a hand into one of Sam's back pockets, fishing out a cheap Zippo they'd picked up at a gas station a few states back. Dean stepped gracefully back in the same movement and held the lighter out.

He answered the question before Sam could ask. "I could see the outline through the fabric while we were walking up here."

"Uh… thanks." Sam blinked and had to force his mind back on task. "What were you saying we should have done yesterday?"

"This." Dean glanced back at the building. "Just stomped in there and finished the job right off, not wasted half the day and all of last night on research that didn't pan out anyways."

"We didn't know it wasn't going to pan out, and I don't know why you're complaining," Sam added impatiently. "I did research, you spent the evening watching some kind of Japanese game show you couldn't even understand."

"Some things transcend language, Sam."

"Yeah, like the dead," Sam said pointedly. He looked reluctantly towards the mansion. "Window or door?"

Dean shrugged and held up a key chain. "May as well start with what's easy."

"Yeah." Sam drew a deep breath, feeling cold to the bone even with the July heat baking through his jacket. "Let's go then." He started down the walk towards the house, but Dean caught up after a moment and grabbed his arm, pulling him to a stop.

"You don't have to do this, Sam."

Sam pulled his arm free. "This is kind of the entire point of being here, Dean."

"No, I mean you don't have to do this. Whatever's in that house is seriously pissed, and seriously powerful."

"You can feel it?"

"Yeah, I can feel it. And you can feel it too," Dean said impatiently. "It's not rolling out the welcome mat for us, and there's no reason for you to tempt fate by barging into this kind of hostile territory. I can do it alone."

"You wouldn't let me go in there alone," Sam said flatly.

"I'm kind of on the edge of not letting you go in there at all," Dean said pointedly.

Sam's smile was sharp and unfriendly. "That's not your decision."

Dean grabbed his arm again and leaned in close. "You might be surprised at how much my decision it can be," he said in a low, warning tone.

Sam scowled. "Don't threaten me, Dean." Tension was humming in the link between them, tension and… genuine worry. Sam suddenly wondered what exactly it was Dean was picking up from the house. His own body was almost vibrating with nerves, and the cold just seemed to be burrowing deeper and deeper into him.

"What makes you think this place is any worse than half the other hauntings we've dealt with?" Sam asked instead of forcing the other issue. Dean, surprised at the change in direction, released him.

"I'm not sure," Dean said slowly, turning to look at the house again. "It's there, and it's aware of us… maybe just too aware. Spirits that have this much presence usually don't know they're dead. This one is… waiting. Like a big, nasty spider hunched in its web. It's a rule of thumb in the spirit world that ghosts don't anticipate, Sam. They're reactive or cyclical -- but when nothing is tripping their sensors, they should be almost completely inert in this world. Like that children's hospital you almost died in down in Florida," he added pointedly. "The place was alive with spiritual activity, but only because it was being stirred up by those teenagers poking around."

"Maybe Rufus and Joe stirred it up when they checked the place out?"

Dean shook his head. "No, I could feel it like this yesterday too. It's fully self-aware, and you just don't get that in human ghosts."

"There's other kinds of ghosts?" Sam asked absently, giving the house another assessing look.

"There's things a lot older and darker in the world than humanity, Sam." Dean said grimly.

"So what then -- you don't think this is human?"

"No, that's what's so weird, it is human," Dean said, baffled. "It's got all the flavor of a human ghost, just-- it's wrong."

"Maybe not a natural haunting, then," Sam suggested after a minute. "The book said the locals thought Cartwright had sacrificed his daughter in some kind of demonic ritual. Maybe whatever he did to her… did this."

"Yeah." Dean turned his attention back to his brother. "And you think you should come with me to check it out."

Sam checked the shotgun and made sure it was ready. "Actually, Dean, since it was my vision that warned us about the call, and me that Rufus actually called for help -- it's more like this is my hunt, and you're the invited guest. But feel free to wait in the car if you want. I'll let you know what I find." Sam sent his determination twisting through the link and knew from Dean's scowl that he was getting the message loud and clear.

"Fine," Dean said. "But if you wind up in the emergency room again, I reserve the right to store you in the trunk the next time one of these fun little side projects crops up. And I'm really not going to care how bitchy you get about it either."

Sam rolled his eyes and pressed on towards the house.

~~~~~

After they settled who was actually going into the house, the hunt itself was fairly slow, which was entirely to Dean's liking, since he was pretty sure that the spirit wouldn't have a lot of trouble rending Sam into so much confetti, given the desire to do so. But she, and from the eaves of the porch the flavor was definitely female, seemed less interested in Sam's presence than she did in his own. Amidst the shifting fields of lethal energy and barely constrained rage, Dean detected a hint of curiosity, and a thin tendril of what might have been loneliness. Whatever it was made her stay her hand, as they gained entry through the front door and moved cautiously into the mansion.

"This place is huge," Sam muttered as they stood in the foyer at the foot of a grand, curving staircase like something from a movie set. Dean gave a wary look up to a massive, tiered chandelier gleaming dully overhead under layers of grime and steered Sam to stand somewhere that wasn't directly below it.

"It's a mansion, Sam. What did you expect?"

"I don't know, Dean. Something more like a house, less like a hotel? I think I saw this place on television once. In The Great Gatsby or something."

"It's just another ruin, Sam. You picking up anything?"

"No, just freezing in my own skin. It hasn't thrown anything at us yet, though. That's encouraging."

"She," Dean said absently.

"Really?"

That luminous thread of curiosity brushed against his shields again. "Yeah, definitely."

"Louisa?" Sam asked.

That got the spirit's attention, and not in a good way. The filtered light through the open windows dimmed and the atmosphere thickened until even Dean's skin crawled with pinpricks. He needed her to ignore Sam, and tried to return the curious overture, but he was shut out by a blast of bitterness and anger. "Maybe we should just find it, and not talk about it," Dean suggested aloud. He underlined his words with a warning blown through their connection, and knew Sam had received the message from the sudden tightness to his face.

Dean could still feel her, a roiling ball of hatred and power churning somewhere in the center of the house. Indecisive, confused by Dean for the moment, but not even remotely safe. The desire to order Sam out of the house surged again, but Sam had made it clear he was going to be ridiculously unreasonable about taking the sane path, and Dean was afraid that the rebounding emotional tumult from a full blown argument about it could be the straw that set Louisa, or whoever she had been, completely off. In very unhealthy ways.

"This way," Dean said shortly. He picked his way through rooms layered with dust so thick everything took on a ghostly appearance, as if it nothing was quite as tangible as it should be. Sheet-draped furniture littered the rooms, and the only sound in the house at all was Sam breathing at his back. Dean himself had shut those functions down in his own flesh, not wanting the distraction while he kept all his senses open for the first sign their reluctant host had turned homicidal. He just needed enough warning to toss Sam through whatever window was closest. The spirit's territory was pretty clearly defined by the way the walls seemed almost to pulse with her power, so outside should be safe enough, and Sam could just take his chances with whatever broken glass and a rough landing did to him.

"Are you feeling this?" Dean asked quietly a few minutes later as they passed through a solarium, the room covered in thick plastic and the floor littered with shattered glass.

"I told you," Sam answered back in an equally low voice." I just feel cold."

Dean shook his head in disgust. "How can you be this badass psychic, and still be so completely dead to the spirit world?"

"I don't know, Dean, maybe ghosts just aren't my thing," Sam snapped back. "I've got other stuff on my plate, you know? Demons, apocalypses, angels. You."

The spirit surged again, china from somewhere under the sheets rattling alarmingly as a tremor, felt but unheard, vibrated through the floor. They both froze, then slowly relaxed when it died away

"Maybe if it's not unicorns or candy canes, we should just save it for later," Dean suggested with forced calm.

"Good idea," Sam agreed, looking around warily.

They ended up in what looked to be some kind of receiving room a short eternity later, after Dean followed his senses through the winding maze of the house. At first glance, it wasn't a remarkable room. Not at second glance either. Empty bookshelves lined one of the walls, and a sheet-covered piano took up one of the corners. A few wingback chairs and end tables were littered around the room with their own shrouds. Unremarkable landscapes decorated the walls, with one or two areas of discoloration showing where other pictures had probably once hung.

Dean was unhappy that the room was an interior one with no convenient exits, but it seemed to exist in the eye of the storm churning through the walls. Whatever there was to find, it was here. Only there didn't seem to be a lot of 'here' to the room. They checked under the sheets to find nothing but bare table tops and clean leather. At a loss, Dean even dug into the piano, but it quickly proved just as uninteresting as everything else. The ghost was growing restless. Dean let her taste a hint of his nature and she recoiled, but he could feel her hesitancy wearing thin.

Behind him, Sam was using his flashlight to inspect the empty shelves.

Dean watched for a moment, frustrated with his own search. "What are you looking for?" he finally asked.

"A door, or a latch, maybe," Sam answered, preoccupied with his work. "You said this is the place, so there has to be something here. If we have to check this whole house room by room, we may as well give up now and wish Selman good luck."

A hidden door. That was a good idea idea. Dean left Sam to the bookshelves and reexamined the pictures on the walls. Nothing about them spoke to him, so instead Dean paced the perimeter, trailing one hand along the walls and listening with things other than his ears. After a second pass, a grim smile curved the corners of his mouth. Without warning he picked up a chair and hurled it through the far wall.

"Jesus, Dean!" Sam yelled after the initial explosion died down. He coughed in the cloud of dust and debris, and Dean felt a brief tinge of concern as a word surfaced in his mind, asbestos, but then dismissed it. He doubted cancer would be more proof against the power that flowed between he and Sam than anything else had been. Sam had certainly been exposed to more toxic things in his life.

Where the chair had gone through the wall, tattered wallpaper and splintered wood framed a gaping hole. Cold air whistled out of it, and Dean had the distinct feeling that their time had just about run out. He kicked out enough of the area around the gap to create an opening big enough for them to get through, then ducked inside, Sam following barely a heartbeat later. The dust from the chair's impact was still thick in the air, and while the narrow beams of their flashlight couldn’t take in the whole picture, they took in enough.

The room was small and the ceiling low compared to the others they had walked through. The walls looked to be masonry bricks and the floor was bare concrete. Through the gloom and dust, they could make out long tables along the walls. There seemed to be little on them, but it didn't matter because the real showpiece was in the center of the floor.

Sam sighed as his beam settled on the partially naked skeleton, still covered here and there by dried bits of mummified flesh and stretched out between rings driven into the cement of the floor. Leather straps still held the skeleton's wrists and ankles bound in place, and a long, vicious looking knife had been discarded carelessly to one side. Dark, flaky-looking blood covered the ground beneath the skeleton and ran all the way to the walls in some places. Dean scuffed at the edge of the dried mess and crouched down to get a better look.

"What is it?" Sam asked tightly.

"Sigils," Dean answered grimly. "The spell burned most of them out and the blood choked what was left, so I couldn't feel them until they were practically under my feet."

"Demonic?"

"Yeah, I think the locals were right. Ellis Cartwright was one twisted son of a bitch. Explains how the ghost got all the extra oomph."

Dean stood up just as the slowly sifting dust swirled in front of them and a figure appeared for a moment. The young woman who stood there looked familiar with her sharp nose and shallow chin, but her eyes were only empty holes in the mask of her face. The ribbons in her long hair fluttered for a moment, as if caught in a sudden wind, the world hovering on the heartbeat of her contemplation.

Dean grabbed Sam by the shoulder, spun him towards the opening in the wall and shoved.

"Out," he barked, knowing his panic was surging in Sam's mind, but it was too late. A tidal wave of winter rage flared to life in the room around them. Dean kept his footing in the initial blast, but Sam was hurled off his feet and into a table on the other side of the room with a bone crunching thud. A stack of books fell on top of his limp body. His presence in Dean's mind flickered for a moment and then died. Dean swore and lashed out, but the ghost matched his rage with her own and barely recoiled.

It was easier, Dean decided grimly as he forced his way through the radiating waves of her power, to fight other demons. They at least usually had a body he could sink his hands into. Even when the fight ranged beyond the strictly physical, he could meet them on even ground. Ghosts vibrated on a different plane, and every time he thought he had a grip on her, she managed to slither free.

She had the same problem though -- only his physical body was vulnerable to her influence, so Dean let it go, slipping free of his skin and into the sudden stillness of another state of existence. Louisa, and Dean had no doubt now of who she had been, was nonplussed at the sudden lack of resistance, and some of the unnatural pressure died away in her confusion.

In the corner of his mind that was always tracking Sam, Dean felt him stir back to consciousness and was flooded with relief. He felt Sam's pain and knew when he caught sight of Dean's lifeless body limp against the far wall. Dean sent reassurance flavored heavily with his annoyance at the entire situation. Now to keep the ghost occupied while Sam finished the job. He wasn't going to win a slugfest with her, maybe if he hadn't been… constrained, but he was, and so it was time to tackle the problem from a different angle.

She wasn't clever. She was angry, and powerful, and righteously pissed, but not clever. Easily confused by changes in her environment, Dean needed to keep her focus firmly on himself. Pushing her only made her push back, harder and meaner -- but didn't really engage her. Violence wasn't going to get them what they wanted, but there were other things.

Shock and… something, rippled down the tangling thread that bound him to Sam. Dean couldn't afford to split his attention and could only hope that whatever Sam was distracted by wouldn't stop him from doing what they had come to do. Dean went back to contemplating the immediate problem, wondered if it could really be as easy as just offering her something else to distract her senses with. He gave the mental equivalent of a shrug and decided to try.

The worst that could happen is he'd make her angrier and she'd smear Sam into a grease spot on the wall.

But she didn't.

Dean offered her his memory of the beach he and Sam had eaten breakfast beside that morning, the deep blue of the crashing waves under a lightening sky that was worlds away from the dark, dusty rooms of the house she had died in. She hesitated, and he added sound. The lonely cry of seagulls riding the ocean breeze, and the echoing boom of the surf. He tried to keep back anything that would be outside the experience of her time, offering her a window to a world she had been shut away from for almost a century. He wasn't sure what Louisa would make of the intruding honk of rush hour traffic, the power lines and billboards that littered the view, or Sam's surliness when Dean insisted on feeding the birds that hovered close enough to make threatening dives on their food.

Dean was aware of when Sam fished the small bottle of gasoline from the pocket of his own abandoned shell. He knew when the heavy reek of the accelerant filled the cramped room as Sam doused the skeleton and everything else in the circle of blood with the contents.

But Louisa didn't.

When Sam emptied the bag of salt over her bones, she had left the beach and was wandering along the loose stones and scrub at the rim of the Grand Canyon, staring in wonder at the vastness of a miracle of nature she had never seen in life. Dean added in some mule deer and the shadows of racing clouds, then backed carefully away, off the etheric plane, and slipped back into his body.

When Dean opened his eyes Sam was hugging a dusty book to his chest and looked like he'd been beaten to within an inch of his life. His face was expressionless, but there was an air of excitement to him that seemed at odds with the situation at hand. Dean really didn't think it was the time to be collecting souvenirs, but wasn't about to start an argument with the delicate balance between grease spot, and not grease spot still hovering in the balance. He motioned Sam back out through the hole in the wall and followed, taking care not to let even the broken drywall crunch under his feet.

Sam handed the cheap lighter to Dean in passing and retreated to the doorway of the sitting room. Dean wished Sam would retreat outside to the damn lawn, but figured if he was going to hold out for a miracle it should probably be something that had a chance in hell of happening. He clicked the lighter and tossed it into the room. The gasoline fumes caught instantly and the tiny, sad room exploded into smoldering ruin.

At some point, while they traced their way back to the nearest ground floor window and an exit that couldn't be found quickly enough, the Cartwright's missing daughter vanished from the world again, this time never to return.



Chapter Eight

I feel something so right
By doing the wrong thing
And I feel something so wrong
By doing the right thing
I couldn't lie, couldn't lie, couldn't lie
Everything that kills me makes me feel alive
                ~Counting Stars, One Republic


"Okay," Dean said when they were safely outside and making their way back to the car. "What is that?"

The bright, afternoon sun wasn't doing anything to make Sam's injuries look any better, but the worst of the real damage seemed to be a few cracked ribs and a sprained ankle. He didn't think he was bleeding internally, but that could be a fun surprise for later if he was. Dean himself had suffered worse in Louisa's second attack, but spinal fractures and a broken femur had barely slowed him down. He was still limping too, but only because he was actively remodeling a bone he was currently walking on.

Sam felt a helpless smile spread over his face despite the pain of roundly getting their asses kicked. "I found it."

"It?"

"The clue, what we were here to find. It fell in my lap, literally. Maybe on my head. It was a little confusing."

"In the room?" Dean asked sharply.

"Yeah, it was one of the books from the table. It's a scrapbook. I think. I didn't exactly get a lot of time to explore, what with the almost no visibility and the angry ghost trying to kill us."

"Yeah, that wasn't a good time for literary pursuits," Dean agreed. "Are you sure?"

"I knew the second I saw it. This is it," Sam said firmly.

"Well… okay then. Good. I'm glad it didn't go up in flames with everything else."

They stopped walking for a minute and looked back at the mansion, where a thin trail of smoke was just starting to rise from the back of the building.

"Do you think it will burn down?" Sam asked, feeling a tinge of regret for Joe Selman's dream home.

"No," Dean snorted. "That room was mostly brick work, and there wasn't that much in it to burn. I mean, he could get lucky and the place might raze itself to the foundations, but most likely he's just going to have an excuse for a whole hell of a lot of redecorating, and Rufus is going to be shoveling crap out of a house the size of a city block within a year. I bet he'll miss the double-wide then."

"His choice," Sam shrugged.

"Yeah. Idiot." He glanced over at Sam, who appeared to be having serious thoughts about trying to hop to the car, then moved in and wedged one shoulder under Sam's arm on his bad side. "You could ask for help," Dean pointed out acidly.

"You're limping too," Sam defended himself.

"I'm fine. Just don't drop the book."

~~~~~

"All right," Dean said firmly, when they'd secured a motel room. Sam had immediately shrugged off his jacket and settled himself gingerly on the bed, the pain from his ribs and his foot quickly becoming a lot more than he could ignore. Dean stuffed a pillow under Sam's bad ankle and managed to pry his boot off, ignoring Sam's swearing, and declared the ankle "probably not broken." He got Sam some water and tossed him a bottle of aspirin before settling cross-legged onto the bed beside him. "Spill."

Sam was flipping slowly through the book, looking for what had grabbed his attention in the house. "It looks like a collection of newspaper articles and photographs."

"About what?"

Sam paused on one particularly lurid image. It took his eyes a moment to make out a human form in the disconnected shapes and swaths of red. "Murders. Disappearances. Fires. Accidents."

Dean scooted over until he could see the pages too. "So just your every day creepy scrapbook of pain and misery?"

"Yeah. Some of these are clipped from papers, but some of these pictures are actual prints. You think Ellis took them?"

"Maybe," Dean shrugged. "I don't think it matters. You see a pattern to any of this?"

Sam turned a few more pages. "No. it's just all…." His voice trailed off and he let the pages fall flat on his lap. "This is it. This is what I saw in my vision. This page, exactly like this. We have to find this, Dean," he said intently. "We have to go there."

Dean looked down and they both examined the page in silence. The nineteen twenties photograph was black and white, and seemed to be taken from outside a small, windowless room. The pale plaster of the walls had been mostly burned grey and black by the fire that had reduced everything else in the room to charcoal ruin. It wasn't the starkness of the architecture that caught the eye though -- the photograph was focused on the remains of an elaborate painting that could still be seen, despite the smoky damage that had destroyed most of the work and the wall it was on.

"Does this look like an angel to you, Sam?" Dean finally asked, pointing to one of the mostly ruined figures still discernible at the edge.

"Yeah," Sam said grimly.

"You sure this is important?"

"We have to go here, Dean," Sam repeated.

"Okay. Where is it?"

Sam frowned and skimmed the articles on the opposite page, but none of them referenced a fire and all came from different states. At a loss, he carefully pried at the edges of the photograph until it came free of the page. Sam turned it over, relieved to see spidery writing at the bottom corner. Then he made out the words and groaned.

"St. Mary's Asylum, Ilchester. Nineteen twenty-five," Dean read aloud beside him. "You don't by any chance think that this place might happen to be on the same grounds as St. Mary's Convent, do you?"

It was barely a question, and Sam's stony silence was answer enough.

"Yeah," Dean agreed. He flipped the book closed on Sam's lap and carefully moved the entire thing over to a bedside table. "I don't know why we're even surprised by this crap anymore."

"At least Lilith won't be there this time," Sam allowed.

"We hope," Dean corrected. "Didn't your penpal say she could spring herself at any moment?"

"No, he said she might be able to break herself out a little early. Not this early."

"That's not what it sounded like when you told me about it the first time."

"It doesn't matter," Sam said firmly. "The Cage doesn't open there anymore. It's just like any other place in the world now. We just need to drive up there and… see what the deal is with this place." Sam paused for a minute, looking like he was struggling to find the right words for something before finally settling on, "It's real now."

Dean had swung his feet off the bed and begun toeing off his own boots. He glanced up when Sam spoke. "What is?"

"This, everything. I don't know. Some random whatever isn't sending us back to freaking Ilchester, Dean. It's real now. This isn't some accident. We're on the path. We have finally fucking found it." There was a ferocity to Sam's elation that Dean heartily shared, and he was only a little surprised when Sam reached out to grab a handful of his t-shirt and dragged him in for a kiss. Sam was breathless when he let him go minutes later. The elation had burned into something else, something Dean didn't feel that often from Sam's direction and he watched, bemused, as Sam set to working himself free of his clothes with single-minded dedication.

"You're not going to be able to get that over your head with cracked ribs," Dean observed as Sam rolled his shirt up, only to pause halfway with a grimace of pain.

"I'll manage," Sam said shortly.

Dean knelt on the bed beside him, within easy reach. "I could help."

"You're still dressed." Sam managed to get an arm inside the shirt and shrugged it up on one shoulder. He shot Dean a triumphant look. Dean obediently started peeling off his own clothes.

"You want to call Rufus first and let him know we may have accidentally on purpose kind of burned down Selman's new house?"

"Later."

"You only want this because cracked ribs hurt, your ankle's the size of a grapefruit, and you don't want to suffer through it for the next three or so weeks," Dean said pointedly.

Sam paused halfway through unbuttoning his jeans and looked up, startled. "Do you care?"

"Nope," Dean grinned. "You think there was even the smallest chance in Hell that you were going back to Ilchester, of all cursed places, when you can't even run? I'm just glad it was your idea for once. I don't mind pinning you down for your own damn good, but a little variety is good for a relationship, you know?"

"You talk too much," Sam muttered. He paused in his undressing, unsure of how to get his jeans down off his ankle without more pain than he was really in the mood for. Dean rolled his eyes and solved the problem by just grabbing the bottom cuffs and dragging them off that way. It still hurt, but the pain wasn't as distracting as the promise of its relief was.

Dean rechecked the lock on the door and made sure there was a gun on the nightstand. "You want me to pull down the comforter?" he asked Sam, who hadn't bothered pulling down the sheets before he'd climbed onto the bed earlier, and certainly hadn't bothered afterwards. "It's going to be a mess if we don't."

"I don't care," Sam said. "Come here."

So Dean did.

~~~~~

"What time is it?" Sam mumbled against his shoulder some time later. They had ended up under the sheets after all, but only afterward, when the temperature in the room was raising goosebumps on Sam's cooling skin. His ankle was still swollen, but Dean had confidence it would be healed by dawn. Already Sam's breathing had lost the pained hitch of cracked ribs, and Dean was pretty sure that within a few hours they would just be another bad memory.

They had so many bad memories.

"Around eight," Dean answered. "You hungry?"

"Starving." Sam peeled himself away with a grimace and sat up, rubbing his eyes.

"You going to call Rufus now?"

Sam picked his phone up off the nightstand and frowned at the list of missed calls. "Did you hear this ringing?"

"Nope," Dean said easily. "I turned it off when I checked the room earlier. I figured someone might want to be tedious and interrupt, and we had other plans."

Sam tried to shoot him a glare, but the annoyance was tempered by post-coital lassitude and the best he could manage was a disgruntled frown. After a moment, he decided he wasn’t really in the mood to discuss arson with Rufus yet anyways, and tossed the phone back down on the nightstand.

Dean tossed a handful of takeout menus he'd scavenged from an informational display on the dresser onto the bed by Sam's knee. "Pick something for dinner. Then, if you can stand up, take a shower. Food should be here by the time you get out. We need to eat something and get some rest."

"Tomorrow's a big day," Sam said distantly, and Dean knew that a weight of portents and trembling vibrancy hovered on the edge of his mind. The instant before falling, a last glimpse of sun before night.

"Yeah, Sam," Dean agreed with a dark, anticipatory smile. "Tomorrow's a big day."

END

To be continued...


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