debbiel66: (BB psychic boy)
[personal profile] debbiel66
Part 1 / Master Post

Sam pulled his t-shirt over his head as carefully as he could. It hurt like hell, but the stitches held. Sam had to say one thing for his father—the man probably did a better job patching his sons up with bandages and dental floss than most doctors did with a full ER. Sam reached for his flannel shirt and winced as he tried to get his arm in the sleeve.

“Look—I already said that I’m sorry.” With practiced efficiency, John rolled a pair of jeans and fit it in his duffle.

Sam gritted his teeth, still struggling to put on his shirt. “We lost a night.”

“Well, we’re losing daylight now.”

“You should’ve woken me up. I could’ve slept in the car.”

“You weren’t in any shape to get on the road.”

Sam buttoned up his flannel shirt, not caring that every movement hurt like hell. “You promised me it was going to be a one day job.”

John turned, his face unreadable. It was all Sam could do not to slouch under his stare. He was taller than his father, had been even before he left for Stanford. But John could make a giant feel like he had some growing left to do, and Sam was no giant.

He snapped, “And I told you to stay out of the way. If you hadn’t let that ghost get the jump on you, we’d be in Portland by now.”

Sam stared in disbelief. “I was doing research! You’re the one who was hell-bent on us taking the job, and you’re the one who freaked out all the witnesses. I swear Dad, a military inquisition isn’t the way to get a bunch of theater workers to open up and share.”

Scowling, John took a step forward and pointed his finger at him. “You let yourself get stabbed in the back. A couple inches in either direction, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It’s like you forgot everything you’ve ever been taught—you should never leave yourself open like that.”

Sam wanted to be morally outraged about the accusation, but his father was right. He had screwed up. He had been so excited about finding the ghost’s blood on the script that he hadn’t been paying attention and had let the ghost sneak up behind him. Always keep your back to the wall. There was no excuse for a rookie move—four years in college shouldn’t erase a lifetime of training.

When the ghost had stabbed him, the pain had almost taken him down. That would have been the end of everything right there, and in that moment, Sam had been sure he was going to die on a job after all. After working so hard for so long to start a different life for himself, he was going to end up being killed center-stage in a John Winchester Theater Production.

But he’d stayed on his feet, and the ghost had come at him again. Sam had blocked the dagger and had taken a deep gash to his forearm. There had been blood everywhere—he’d forgotten how much stab wounds could bleed. Groping in his duffel, he’d found the bag of salt his dad insisted he carry. Hands gritty with blood and salt, he’d managed to lay down a salt perimeter. Then Sam had hunkered down in the center of it until the ghost had gotten bored and had sort of shimmered away.

It was in that circle of blood-soaked salt that Sam had his epiphany.

He’d realized he couldn’t die, not yet. There was too much he needed to do. For one thing, there was Jess. Sam had already picked out a wedding ring. He was waiting to propose until he chose his law school, but he’d made up his mind. Sam was in love with Jessica Moore, his smart and pretty girl—she was the one. So it would have made sense if Jess had been the one he’d thought about first.

Instead, though, it was Dean.

Sam’s biggest regret had been not getting to say goodbye to his brother, which was all messed up because what kind of guy thinks about his brother more than his girl when he’s dying?

Sam had never even said goodbye when he left for Stanford—just stormed out the door, leaving behind John Winchester and all his ultimatums. Dean had thrown in his lot with Dad…always had. He and Dean had talked a few times over the phone the past couple years, and Dean had claimed they were good—said not to worry. Sam had wanted to believe it could be that simple because Dean was his brother, as much a part of Sam’s world as the air he breathed.

“Sam, are you even listening to me?” John was giving him a look.

Sam sighed. “I’m sorry, Dad.”

It was the truth—he was sorry. He wanted to stop fighting and get back on the road, so he could make things right with Dean.

“Well, okay then.” John cleared his throat. “You gonna be okay in the truck?”

No, not really. The vinyl seats of the truck were going to be every bit as unforgiving against fresh wounds as the Impala had ever been, but Sam could deal with it. His need to find Dean overrode everything else.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

John aimed a quick smile at him. “And stay away from sharp objects.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Yes sir…but Dad…”

John was zipping up the ammo bag. “Yeah, what is it?”

“I need you to tell me everything, Dad.”

John turned and looked at him calmly, but Sam noticed his fingers tighten on the bag.

“Sam, I’ve already told you what I know.”

“Bullshit.” Sam was gambling that his father wouldn’t tear him from limb to limb after he’d just put him back together again, but from the look on John’s face, he could have figured wrong.

“Mind telling me what you mean by that, son?” John asked with deceptive mildness.

“Dean’s your minion, Dad. There’s no way he would have gone off for some job, if you hadn’t okayed it first.”

“Don’t talk about him that way,” John snapped. “You think you’re the only one with a mind of your own? Don’t you dare look down on your brother.”

“I’m not looking down on Dean,” Sam retorted, fiddling with the bandage on his arm. John came over and swatted his hand away, and Sam was tempted to pick at it just to piss him off. He continued, “I’m sorry—I shouldn’t have said that about Dean. I didn’t mean it. It’s just that…why won’t you tell me what you know—why did Dean take off?”

John sighed heavily. “Sam, we don’t have time for this.”

“What? You mean we have enough time to take a job, but not for you to tell me what the hell you know about my brother?”

Dad was staring at him, and Sam realized he was being studied. He had seen his dad aim that look at countless monsters and freaks, but it was disturbing to have it focused on him—like a hunter staring down his prey.

John held the silence for a couple minutes before seeming to come to a decision.

He said quietly, “Dean went after the thing that killed your mother.”

Sam felt like the air had just been sucked out of the room. The Thing That Killed Your Mother was the Winchester’s Holy Grail—the reason Sam’s whole childhood had been one freakin’ nightmare after another.

“I…I don’t understand,” he stammered. “How would Dean even know…?” Sam let his voice trail off because he suddenly understood. Dean knew because Dad knew and had not let on—maybe he’d known all along.

John said thickly, “I got a lead. I wrote about it in my journal. Dean must have found it. It’s a demon, Sam.”

“A demon? I don’t understand—”

“This demon…it’s one bad sonofabitch. Powerful. Not like any we’ve dealt with before.”

“But why? I don’t get it. Why would a demon want to kill Mom?”

John rubbed his hands on his jeans, and Sam could tell that he was trying to cover up how uncomfortable he was with the conversation. “It’s complicated. I’m still trying to figure it out.”

Sam had watched the man face off against every damn thing that went ever bump in the night, and he’d never seen him shaken up like this.

“Why would Dean go off without you? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Think about it, Sam. What is the one thing that would make Dean go AWOL?”

Sam couldn’t even imagine anything that would make Dean defy their dad and just go off. “I don’t know.”

John snorted. “You’re smart enough to get a full ride to Stanford, but you still can’t figure out something so obvious. The only thing that would make Dean take off is you, kiddo.”

“Me? What—what the hell would a demon have to do with me?”

“I got reliable intel that the demon was after you, Sam. Dean read my journal, and he took off.” John added dryly, “Obviously, your brother decided he was the only one who was competent enough to protect you.”

Sam’s brain couldn’t deal with that right now. None of this made any sense. “Why would a demon be after me?”

John’s expression went flat. “I’m working on that.”

“But you found out enough to freak out Dean.” It was almost funny—the idea of a powerful demon gunning for a Stanford undergraduate, until a horrible thought occurred to him. “Mom died in my room. Mom’s death…was it because of me? Did Mom die because of me?”

To his surprise, John came over and sat next to Sam on the bed. He placed his hand firmly on Sam’s arm—Dad always forgot about wounds after they stopped bleeding—but Sam didn’t pull away.

“This isn’t your fault, Sam.”

“Dad…”

“Sammy, please. We can talk about it later. We don’t have time right now. Your brother needs us.”

Sam nodded, could feel that Dean was in trouble in some desperate way that he really didn’t understand. But then Sam had to add, “Dad, you gotta promise me you won’t keep stuff from me that I need to know. This is Dean we’re talking about.”

John looked him in the eye and said, “I promise. You gotta trust me, son.”

There was so much Sam wanted to say, but the words just died in his throat. Instead, he managed a quiet, “Yes, sir.”

“Good boy.” John nodded and clapped him on the shoulder. “Now let’s go find your brother.”

John got up to finish up with the packing. Sam watched him, trying to figure out what his dad was holding back. Something had him rattled—even the way he was packing wasn’t right. John and Dean packed like Marines, while Sam just crammed everything into his bag and figured he’d sort it out later.

But John wasn’t paying attention to organization…was almost sloppy, mixing socks with shirts and pants.

It wasn’t just Dean being in danger. Dean was always in danger. Something had changed, and Sam wanted to know what it was.


*******



Sam slipped his phone back in his pocket and stared out the window, wanting to keep the sound of Jess’s voice in his head a little bit longer. During his childhood, he had come to hate the open road, and it was no different now. Every mile took him further away from her and the life they had made together.

It was already November. The fields on either side of the road were flat and barren, making him miss the gold hills around Palo Alto even more. Sam had fallen hard for Northern California—he loved the last weeks of fall before the rain started and turned everything green again.

Sam thought back on the phone call. Jess had been upset—confused and worried mostly—but really just upset. She couldn’t understand why Sam would risk the future he’d worked so hard for. There was so much at stake. Couldn’t understand why his father and brother all of a sudden couldn’t make do without him, when he hadn’t even seen them in years.

“Your girl all right?” John sounded almost indifferent, but Sam knew he’d been listening to every word.

“Yeah. Why wouldn’t she be?” But even as Sam said it, the dream passed before his eyes with horrible clarity.

Jess on the ceiling…the blood-soaked nightgown…her beautiful, beautiful face…fire circling, consuming her…Sam sobbing and screaming her name…the smell of smoke…of sackcloth and ashes…the blood of the innocent falling down onto the guilty-born…

“Sam? Sam!”

Sam came back to the world and realized that his hands were braced on the dash. He was holding on so tightly, his knuckles were white. John had his eyes off the road, a Winchester taboo, and was staring at him.

“What the hell, Sam—what just happened?”

“I’m fine,” Sam retorted defiantly. But his voice was hoarse, like he’d been screaming for hours.

Shake it off, let it go. Just a dream. Just a really, really bad dream.

John was looking at him sharply. “Like hell you’re fine. What’s wrong with you?”

Shit. Sam needed something to throw his father off his track, so he landed on the easiest excuse—the law school interview. It was one of the things he’d been talking about with Jess. She had told him the committee had taken into account his unfortunate “extenuating circumstances” and was willing to reschedule for the following week.

Sam muttered, “It’s a little upsetting to have to formally postpone the interview that I’ve been working for my whole life, that’s all.”

“Huh.”

Only John Winchester could reduce Sam’s lifelong dream to a bored monosyllable.

“That interview is a big deal, Dad. It wasn’t easy to reschedule.”

“I’m sure you thought of something. You’ve always been good at getting out of your commitments.”

As a kid, Sam would have blown up over that one, but he could hear the teasing in his father’s comment and decided to let it go.

Keeping a straight face, Sam said, “Yeah, I told them I was getting you into a special rehab center for aging unemployed drunks. It could end up bringing me an extra ten grand a year—pity scholarships are awesome.”

“I’m gonna kick your ass when this is all over,” John shot back, but he sounded more amused than pissed.

Sam had actually missed the half-serious threat of physical violence that passed for affection in his family. Dean always threatened to kick his ass on a regular basis even though he never did.

Damn but Sam missed his brother.

“So tell me again why we’re going to Bobby’s? I thought you wanted to check in with Caleb.”

John shrugged. “Caleb says Bobby’s been collecting some intelligence on demons. Thought maybe he’d share, help us track down Dean. Besides, I figured it was about time to make peace with the jackass.”

“The way I remember it, Bobby called you the jackass. Said he’d shoot you if you ever set foot on his property again.”

“Yeah, but Bobby likes you and Dean, always did. He’d have run me off even sooner, if weren’t for you boys.”

John cracked a grin just thinking about it, and Sam smiled back. He had missed Bobby. It would be good to see him again. It had been kind of silly, but Sam had mailed Bobby a copy of his transcript his first year at Stanford. He had done well, and it felt important to share it with someone. Dean had always been the one who punched him on the arm and called him geekboy when he brought home good grades from school. Somehow, success didn’t seem real if his family didn’t know about it, but Sam had learned to live with it.

John eyed him. “Get some rest. We’ve still got a while before we get there.”

Sam closed his eyes and tried to get comfortable, but the stab wound on his back was starting to act up again. John had found a couple expired Vicodin in the glove compartment, but it was starting to wear off. John said Bobby would have painkillers, and Sam figured he was probably right. Sam remembered Bobby’s house like it was a candy store for hunters—plenty of kickass ammo, good drugs, and eggs and bacon for breakfast. Bobby always had everything.

Sam shifted his weight so his back wasn’t pressing against the seat, but it didn’t help. His arm was also hurting like a bitch but he wasn’t about to complain. His father already thought he was a liability as it was…Sam didn’t need for Dad to think of him as weak on top of it.

Sam knew the drill. Winchesters don’t whine.

A couple dozen stitches was the Winchester equivalent of a stubbed toe. Sam had watched his father get ripped apart, shoulder to sternum. He’d seen Dean’s leg break in half, exposed bone poking through the skin. A stab wound was nothing to bitch about, but it still hurt like hell.

“How’s your back?” John asked casually.

Sam wondered if he’d accidentally said anything out loud. “Fine.”

“You’re sitting like it hurts.”

Great—even being stoic, he was still the wimp of the family.

Ironically at Stanford, Sam had been notorious for having an insanely high pain threshold. The time he broke his wrist playing intramural basketball, his roommates had hauled his ass forcibly into the school clinic. Sam had argued that he was fine—he was sure it was just a sprain, no big deal. When it turned out to be a compound fracture, everyone said they’d never believe his “just fines” again.

His pain tolerance had been the main reason Jess had dragged him into the ER against his will when he’d come down with an agonizingly stiff neck and a high fever.

“It’s just the flu,” he’d protested, sweat-soaked and miserable, and he’d been so sure he was right. Nobody went to the hospital just because they were sick, but Sam was admitted an hour later. The doctors said Jess had saved his life by not waiting until his symptoms got worse.

Sam had no idea how he was going to explain the stitched-up state of his body when he got back home. Jess was going to kill him.

God, he missed her—

Sam’s head cracked against glass, as his body bounced on the seat. He looked out the window and realized that John had veered sharply to park on the rough shoulder of the road.

“Tell me what’s wrong with you,” John demanded.

Sam stared, not understanding what he’d just missed. “What’s wrong with me? What the hell is wrong with you? I was fine until you decided to go off-road.”

“Sam, don’t lie to me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Something is going on with you, and I need to know what it is. The stakes are too high. I can’t afford to have you holding out on me. Dean can’t afford it. Do you understand me?”

Control freak, Sam thought but had the good sense not to say it out loud. Instead, he decided to use the active listening strategy he’d learned from his counseling center psychologist.

“Dad, I understand that you’re frustrated. You want me to tell you everything. But I don’t understand why.”

John stared like Sam had lost his mind. “What the hell’s to understand? I want to know what’s wrong with you.”

Sam choked back an incredulous laugh. “Since when? You couldn’t care less what was wrong with me as long as I toed the line and kept my mouth shut. What’s different now?”

“Your brother is missing. That’s what’s different.”

“Yeah, thanks for enlightening me,” Sam muttered under his breath.

“Don’t be a smartass.”

“Then don’t patronize me.”

“Sammy,” John said warningly.

Sam sighed and thudded his head against the truck’s window. He didn’t know how he was going to survive five hundred more miles to South Dakota.

“Dad, I swear, I just want to find Dean. That’s all that’s up with me. I’m worried about my brother, okay?’ It was the truth—just not all of it. The same kind of “truth” he’d been doling out since he’d been at Stanford.

“You lying to me, Sammy?” John asked quietly, fists clenched tight around the steering wheel.

“I’m not lying,” Sam insisted, and that’s when it happened.

Sam’s world broke apart into splinters of red and black. And then came together again, but he was no longer in the truck with his father…

…It was dark, moonlight coming in silver through the window. Sam was lying down on his own bed—the broken spring was digging into his back. Home…he was home. Home smelled like chocolate chip cookies.

The shower was still running. Poor Jess…it was so late. She was going to be tired, and she had a class first thing in the morning. Sam was sorry she’d been waiting up for him, but he couldn’t help but be glad. He’d missed her… didn’t know what he would do without her.

Sam closed his eyes and sighed, smiling. It felt good to be home. Good to have a home. Jess knew he hadn’t had one growing up and was always trying to make it up to him. The evidence was all around—the curtains she’d put up last year while he’d been studying for midterms, the framed photographs of the two of them that adorned every flat surface, the warm cookies that waited on a plate—all of it had turned a crappy apartment into a home.

Jess knew what Sam needed before he did. He owed her everything. He owed her the truth. One of these days, he was going to tell her…

Something warm dripped onto his forehead. Sam brushed it away, but there was another drop and then another. Warm like rain falling down, which made no sense until he opened his eyes, and—


“Sam! Sammy! Open your eyes, son. You’re okay—I got you.”

Rough hands were shaking him hard. The world roared back in, violently bright, and Sam cried out with how much it hurt. It was the same fucking dream, except for the fact that it had ripped him wide open, and he was not asleep.

“Breathe, Sam! I want you to breathe for me. In and out, you can do it.”

His father’s face was too close. Sam could smell his coffee-bitter breath and his fear. It was too much, and Sam started heaving. John was out of the truck almost immediately and had the passenger door open, hauling Sam out by his sweatshirt so he could puke onto the shoulder of the road.

Sam threw up everything he’d ever thought about eating in his life and then a little more.

“Sam!” John gripped him hard by the shoulders and turned him so they were facing each other. “Sammy, listen to me. I’ve got you, and you’re safe, but I need you to listen. You need to tell me exactly what you just saw.”

All Sam could think was—Dad knows.

Sam started crying like he was never going to stop, and it was awful—crying like this in front of his father. He wanted Dean. He wanted Jess. But Jess…

Jess was dead. She had bled and burned on that ceiling. His mouth tasted like ashes and warm cookies.

“Sam?”

“Dad,” he choked out. “What’s wrong with me?”

His father held on and didn’t answer.


******



“Take it slow, boy.” Bobby’s voice was gruff, but Sam knew he was worried as hell.

Sam tried to swallow another mouthful of holy water. It wasn’t hissing in his mouth or doing anything overtly demonic, but Bobby said he would feel better if Sam could keep some of it down. He would have been more worried if not for the fact that Sam hadn’t been able to keep anything down, not since they’d finally pulled into Bobby’s junkyard.

“He’s not possessed,” John said roughly, which did more to reassure Sam than anything else. If his dad thought that Sam was possessed, he would have had the shit exorcised out of him by now.

Instead, John was sitting at Bobby’s table, feeding a bore brush through the barrel of his gun. His father always took care of his weapons when he didn’t know what else to do.

“You need the bucket?” Bobby asked, and Sam shook his head, ignoring the pain that immediately lanced through it. At least his stomach was starting to settle down, but the stitches on his arm had opened back up when John had hauled him out the truck.

“You’re a mess, kid.” Bobby shook his head as if in awe at how badly Winchesters could screw themselves up.

“Yeah,” Sam managed. “I’m fine.”

“That’s a load of crap,” Bobby said amiably. “How about you tell us what’s going on?”

John snorted. “Good luck with that. See if you get more out of him than I have.”

It seemed weird that his dad and Bobby weren’t at each other’s throats. Sam wasn’t sure when it had happened, but somehow during the screaming and puking and a half dozen more visions, the two of them had bonded.

Now they were both studying him like he was any other piece of evidence on the table. It made Sam feel even more alone than he had before. He wanted Dean. There was no way Dean would put up with them staring at him like that—like he was some kind of freak or monster. Dean was the one who had always told him everything was going to be okay.

Sam pushed his hair out of his eyes. “Dad, I swear—I don’t know what’s happening to me.”

John set the gun down on the table. “I believe you, Sammy. But I need to know how long you’ve been having these visions.”

Sam gratefully took the beer and painkillers Bobby was offering. Jess would have killed him for taking both on a wretchedly empty stomach, but Sam didn’t care. Anything to blunt the pain sounded like a very, very good idea.

“Sam,” John prodded.

“I didn’t know they were visions,” Sam said quietly.

“But you’ve been having dreams.”

“For a couple months,” Sam admitted.

“All about Jessica?”

Sam looked up sharply. “How did you know?”

“Screaming her name for hours on end gave us our first clue,” Bobby said dryly.

“Sorry,” Sam mumbled, not sure what he was apologizing for. There was so much he was sorry for, he wasn’t even sure where to start. Sam had called Jess on the road, as soon as he’d been able to get himself together enough to manage a phone call. Jess had been freaked out by Sam’s broken voice, telling her again and again…sorry, sorry, sorry…

But he had needed to hear her voice. It was a thin comfort, but he needed to know that Jess was okay.

“Tell me what happens in the dreams,” John said, learning forward. Sam recognized the expression on his father’s face. John was a hunter now, more than a father. He was playing it cagey, but Sam didn’t blame him. That was the way it had to be. The man had a job to do.

Sam took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Dad and Bobby were waiting. Sam couldn’t shake off the feeling that somehow they already knew what he was going to tell them.

He wondered if they and everyone else—Dad, Bobby, Caleb…maybe even Dean—knew more about what was happening than he understood about himself. But Sam had no choice—he just couldn’t keep this to himself anymore.

So for once, Sam started with the truth. “I’ve been having these dreams…”


******



The dreams had started in the middle of the summer. Sam had always been bedeviled by nightmares—the cost of a childhood spent chasing down pure evil. But these weren’t ordinary bad dreams. Jess had wanted him to talk about them, but he couldn’t—he just couldn’t. Talking about them would have only made them more real.

Finally, she had been freaked enough to make an appointment for him at Stanford’s student counseling center. Jess had been surprised when Sam was willing to go in for the initial evaluation, given how much he hated going to see any kind of a doctor.

But John always said that psychology was an opiate for the weak. Knowing his father would disapprove probably made Sam more amenable to seeing a psychologist than he would have been otherwise. He could just imagine how pissed John Winchester would be at the idea of a son of his being in therapy.

But after the first few visits, Sam had to admit that his dad was probably right. Sam never told the psychologist about the dreams. Instead, they talked about a lot of other stuff—stress at school, the death of his mother, his estrangement from his family.

The psychologist attributed the nightmares to stress and exhaustion, compounded by early childhood trauma, and he prescribed Zoloft and Ambien. Sam ignored the prescription for the anti-depressants but gladly took the sleeping pills until he realized that they only made it harder for him to wake up.

So he went back to the tried and true Winchester method for coping with the unthinkable—just don’t think about it.

It worked about as well as the therapy.

His dad and Bobby hadn’t said much when he told them about the dreams. Just stared at him like they were sizing him up, and Bobby had been the one to help him up the stairs and onto a bed. Beer and painkillers didn’t play together nicely.

Sam dozed almost immediately but woke to the sound of their voices from downstairs. He couldn’t make out actual words and was tempted to close his eyes. Stoned sleep wasn’t good sleep, but at least he hadn’t dreamed. But Sam knew they couldn’t afford to lose any more time than they already had. He wouldn’t be able to stand it if something happened to Dean while he was trying to get his shit together.

Stumbling to the sink, he tried to wake himself up all the way, with sloppy handfuls of cold water splashed against his face. Sam had forgotten what it felt like to sleep in his clothes, to feel his body’s unquiet ache, worse than any hangover he’d ever had.

He hadn’t planned on looking in the mirror but couldn’t help sneaking a glance. His mouth was swollen and bruised, his eyes bloodshot, like he’d bombed all his capillaries, and his hair was dirty, hanging in his eyes. God, he desperately needed a haircut.

Jess had been planning to cut it before his interview. She’d never been able to talk him into going somewhere to have it done. Sam didn’t like spending money if he didn’t have to—Dean had always cut it for him before Stanford. Sam had to admit that his brother had done a better job than Jess. Jess was always trying to do some complicated layered thing, insisting that it did something important for his cheekbones. Dean simply cut it short enough to stay out of the way. Even though Dean had teased Sam about the way he wore his hair, he never hacked away at it like he threatened he would. Never cut it short like John told him to. Dean was a good big brother that way.

Sam could hardly stand thinking about Dean without doing something. They’d wasted too much time on Sam’s friggin’ visions. Sam needed to get back in the game and find his brother before his brother found this demon.

Sam took the stairs carefully. It was a long way down, and each step let him know all the ways he’d abused his poor body. He hoped Dad and Bobby had figured something out while he’d been asleep. But they both fell quiet when they saw him stumble into the room.

Bobby waited until Sam eased himself down on the couch and asked, “Any more visions?”

Sam shook his head and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his palms. The pressure set off explosions of new pain, but Bobby’s painkillers were awesome, so he could deal with it, as long as he didn’t move too quickly.

John cleared his throat. “I’m gonna have to change those bandages, Sam.”

“Let him eat something first,” Bobby grumbled. “Damn kid has been puking up his guts all day.”

Sam frowned. “What do you mean all day—how long have we been here?”

He looked out the window and realized it was dark outside, which meant they had wasted another night. He shouldn’t have slept, should have stayed downstairs to help with the research. Sam had to get his head in the game because his brother was out there somewhere, trying to protect Sam from some freaky demon when—

The thought hit him hard.

He had to ask, “This thing. My visions ….do you think they have something to do with the demon?”

John and Bobby glanced at each other again, and damnit, Sam was starting to hate this whole silent conspiracy thing the two of them had going.

“Son, we don’t know what the hell this thing is,” John said slowly. “We don’t even know if your dreams are real, whether they’re going to come true or not. It’s just that…I don’t like the timing of this.”

“No such thing as coincidences,” Bobby grumbled. “Not with the stakes high like this.”

“But you have a theory,” Sam said, convinced by the way his dad wouldn’t look at him…he knew he was right. “You think this demon is connected to me. That’s why Dean went after it…it’s why you’re not telling me everything.”

“Son…”

“Damnit, Dad, don’t lie to me. Am I…am I possessed or something?”

“Holy water says no,” Bobby drawled. Sam was suddenly, shockingly grateful for certainty, for Bobby and all his old-fashioned tests.

“But my visions…if you think Mom was killed by a demon, and I keep seeing Jess killed the same way, then I need to get back to her. Protect her.”

“Sam.” John’s voice was as hard as flint. “In your visions, you’re there with Jessica, right?”

Sam nodded. “I’m on the bed. She’s…she’s above me—on the ceiling.”

John continued, “Seems to me that she’s not in any danger. Not as long as you’re here and she’s there.”

Sam felt his eyes fill up. Fucking painkillers were turning him into an emo basket case.

“So, you’re saying it is me? That I’m the reason she’s in danger.”

John just looked tired and sad, the way he had in the motel when he’d told Sam about the demon. “Maybe. It’s probably best that you stay away from Jessica until we figure out what’s going on.”

Disgusted, Bobby swore under his breath. “You sonofabitch. What kind of father says something like that to his own kid? You don’t know if that’s true.”

“It’s okay, Bobby. He’s right. I just want to know the truth,” Sam said quietly.

Bobby jammed his hat over his eyes. “Well, I don’t have to listen to it.” He glared at Dad before he turned back to Sam. “This ain’t your fault, boy. None of it. You didn’t sign up for it.”

Bobby stormed out the back door, slamming it hard behind him.


******



Sam stared grimly at John Winchester’s life’s work, spread out across Bobby’s kitchen table.

This was it, the family crusade, so it was a little mind-boggling to see it reduced to newspaper clippings, weather reports, aerial photos, textbooks, fairy tales, religious tracts, and crime scene photographs. God, the photographs….

His dad must have gotten them from police files because there were notes written all over them. Sam picked up a photo, eyed the scorch marks on the ceiling, the burnt frame of the crib, didn’t want to see what was left of the woman’s body. With a shudder, he tossed it back on the pile.

Every piece of evidence was unremarkable in its own right. Even the burnt-out nurseries were par for the course—arson, electrical fires, homicidal parents—all those things happened. It was a fallen world. That was what Pastor Jim always said.

Only in its entirety did the evidence paint the picture of what was happening. Sam had to admit that his dad was a genius at this sort of thing—piecing together coincidences, anomalies, and tragedies until they turned into something else altogether sinister, not random at all.

Sam heaved a sigh and asked, “Is this it?”

“Pretty much. There was nothing for years, and then about six months ago, signs started popping up all over the place. I started collecting evidence and found a pattern. It was always the same thing—cattle deaths, temperature fluctuations, electrical storms. Once I figured that out, I was able to pinpoint where he was going to strike next.”

“All these deaths,” Sam mused. “People burning on the ceiling. It’s just what I saw in my dream.”

Mothers burning on the ceiling,” John said quietly. “Always mothers, until you told me about Jessica. Up to now, I…I haven’t been able to stop any of them. Never get there in time. The damn thing’s always one step ahead of me.” He looked intensely at Sam. “I never told you how your mother died?”

Sam shook his head. Dad had actually never talked to him about his mother’s death—not in specifics at least. Dean was the one who had told him in the first place, and any time Sam had questions, he’d gone to his big brother, not his dad. But Dean hadn’t told him about the blood or the way she burnt alive on the ceiling. Until Sam had watched Jessica burn dozens of times over, he hadn’t even dreamed such a horrific thing was possible. Dean had spared him the worst of it.

“Does Jessica know anything?” John asked.

Jess had been calling him all day after his phone call after the vision. He hadn’t picked up. Wasn’t sure what he could say to make her feel better, but just seeing her name on his caller ID reassured him that she was still all right.

Sam made himself ask, “Have any of these signs showed up in Palo Alto?”

John shook his head. “No, I’ve been running surveillance around the area for a few months. There’s been nothing.”

“Then what made Dean think the demon was coming after me?”

John frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. Sam could see the tense line of his father’s shoulders, and it occurred to him that John was making a strategic decision. After a couple silent minutes, he reached into his bag and pulled out his journal. Flipping it open to the last entry, John slid it across the table.

“This is what your brother read before he left.”

Sam frowned, studying the entry. At the top of the page, John had written “SAM” in familiar block letters. Underneath it were cryptic notes—dates, coordinates, birthdates and obituaries, Latin that Sam didn’t recognize. But there was his own name as the heading.

Sam stared at John, cold inside, although he didn’t know why. “How is this about me?”

“I’m still trying to figure things out.” John sounded as infuriatingly calm as ever.

“That’s a load of crap,” Sam said. “You think this demon has something to do with me.”

“It’s starting to look that way.”

Sam stood up from the table, fists clenched at his side.

“So you’re saying Mom’s death was because of me?”

“I don’t know that, Sam.”

“But you think it’s possible.”

“It’s a possibility. But Bobby’s right. Even if you were the cause, that doesn’t mean it was your fault.”

Sam didn’t want to hear this. It made no sense. He had been a baby when his mom was killed, and he had stayed away from the supernatural for years. Why the hell would some powerful demon have a vested interest in him?

“Sam, I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to overreact. That’s why Dean went off, half-cocked. He let his emotions get the best of him, and he took off before he had time to think it through.”

Sam stared at John, wondering if his dad knew either of one of them at all. Of course, Dean would overreact. Protecting Sam was Dean’s birthright—if he even suspected Sam was in danger at Stanford, there was no way he would’ve stood back until he knew all the facts.

It was Dad’s fault that it had it had come to this— Dad and all his need-to-know crap. If he’d been up-front with them in the first place, then this would never have happened.

Sam clenched his jaw. “Dean didn’t just disappear, did he? He walked out.”

“He wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“He wanted you to come with him to hunt the demon.”

“The timing wasn’t right. It was too soon.”

“Too soon for what? Were you waiting for that thing to have a crack at Jessica? Or me?”

“I swear to you Sam, if you weren’t laid up right now, I would kick your ass. I’ve always tried to do right by you and your brother.”

“You let Dean go,” Sam shot back. “Why the hell didn’t you go with him?”

“I didn’t believe he was really going to leave—”

John broke off, but Sam heard some truth in that at least. It had been the same thing when Sam left for Stanford. He had been sure for a while that his father hadn’t really expected him to walk out that door, let alone slam it shut behind him.

Sam forced himself to calm down. “So how do we find him?” He gestured at his dad’s evidence. “All these things happened all over the country. Where would Dean have headed?”

John picked up a particularly grisly photograph. “This last one happened in Arizona three weeks ago. I figured that’s where Dean would’ve headed, but none of my contacts have heard anything.”

“If Dean doesn’t want to be found, nobody’s gonna find him.” Sam swallowed and looked down. Dean was better than Dad at covering his trail.

“Sam, get yourself together. I need your head in this. I have no reason to believe that Dean is hiding.”

“Sorry,” Sam snapped. “I apologize for getting emotional about the fact that I may have killed my mother, and that I might end up killing my girlfriend, and that my brother is facing off with some demon, which is most likely my fault too.”

“Damnit, Sam, I wouldn’t have told you if I thought you’d be so irrational about this.”

“Shut up, Dad. Please…just shut up.” Sam buried his face in his hands, his wounded arm throbbing at the sudden movement despite the lingering effects of the drugs.

“I wouldn’t have let anything happen. I’ve been…monitoring the situation for a long time.”

“You mean you’ve been monitoring me to make sure I didn’t turn evil. Dean found out you’d been spying on me and got pissed.” Sam didn’t even bother asking it as a question.

John sighed heavily. “Dean was concerned.”

Sam could just imagine Dean’s concern. Dean’s worry for Sam, like John’s need for revenge, was an elemental force, capable of wreaking as much havoc as any other natural disaster.

“He came to you with this.” Sam nudged the open journal.

John nodded. “He wanted to know what I knew—and I told him, same as I’m telling you.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”

John smiled ruefully. “I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to.”

“At least that’s honest,” Sam grumbled.

“Don’t take that tone with me.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Sam asked. “Aren’t you worried I might smite you?”

“Sammy, if you were going to smite me, you’d have done it a long time ago.”

That was probably true. Sam found himself smiling back.

Dad continued. “Whatever is coming, it’s bad. I haven’t heard from Dean in over a week. Your brother might be pissed at me for holding onto information about you, but he would never go a full week without calling unless—”

“Dean isn’t dead,” Sam said, suddenly knowing it was true. He was sure of it.

“How do you know?” John asked, frowning.

But Sam couldn’t answer. He pressed his fingers against his forehead and rubbed hard enough to bruise. Something was happening. It felt like a migraine at first, the kind he’d had his first year at Stanford, complete with tunnel vision and auras, pressure behind his eyes, but then it got worse.

Much worse.

Sam could hear his dad shouting his name, but he couldn’t answer.

Sam’s world shattered into glass. He could still see shards of it, and he grabbed for them with his useless human hands, but they just floated away before he cut himself. His brave new world was an amalgam of sensation and emotion, and Sam’s stomach rolled, trying to find purchase in it.

Then sight kicked in—the least important sense, because Sam already knew what he was looking at before he saw his brother…

Dean.

Dean is tied to a chair. There is lab equipment all around, safety gear, locked glass cabinets, warnings that read, “Property of Stanford University Biotechnology Laboratory.”

There’s a blond girl leaning over him. She turns on her heels and stares wide-eyed, like she can see Sam. She smiles—so pretty—but her eyes are black as night. Soulless…. Demons walking among us.

Oh God—Dad...you were right.

She steps back, and it’s too late. The worst has already happened. Blood drips from Dean’s mouth, out of his sightless eyes. There is blood and viscera and horror, and the girl is smiling at Sam when she reaches in and pulls Dean’s intestines out through the maw of his open chest—


Sam screamed.

He screamed like he had never screamed in his whole life. He could hear himself, his voice raw and terrible, but he couldn’t stop.

“Sam! Sammy!” Dad crouched over him with his hands pressed against either side of his face. “You’re all right, it’s okay.”

“Dad?” Sam tried to say more but realized he was crying—enormous, heaving sobs that racked his entire body.

“I’m here, Sam. I’m right here.” And when Sam’s vision finally focused on his father’s face, John asked, “What did you see, son?”

Sam could only stare at him blankly, not knowing how to put words to that kind of evil.

“Tell me, Sam.” It was an order.

He swallowed bile, wiped away tears. “Dean. I saw Dean.”

Sam started crying all over again.




******



Bobby didn’t like Sam going off with John. He argued that Sam was in no shape for a fight. Said that he should stay at the house and handle the research while Bobby and John went off to save Dean.

Like that was going to happen.

At least Sam had John backing him up on this one. His dad had already decided that he needed Sam with him. His visions were too important to leave behind.

Even if Dad hadn’t been on his side, Sam made it perfectly clear that there was no way in hell he was going to be left behind. For once, Dean needed him. Sam couldn’t let his brother down…he just couldn’t.

Bobby called them a pair of idiots. Then he helped pack the truck. Classic Bobby. Sam felt like a wuss, tearing up when Bobby carefully hugged him goodbye. Told him not to be a stranger.

Bobby told John to call as soon as they reached Palo Alto. He’d wanted to come along, but John said they needed someone out of harm’s way in case they needed to call for backup. Sam noticed that neither mentioned who the hell was going to back them up. It wasn’t like Palo Alto boasted a thriving hunter’s community.

Sam gingerly climbed into the truck, his entire body protesting despite the fact that Bobby had insisted on drugging him for the trip. Sam left the truck door cracked open, sucking in the fresh air while Dad finished up. The nausea wasn’t as bad as it had been right after the vision, but Sam wasn’t sure how he was going to survive the way his dad drove when he was on a job. And there was no way that Sam was going to be the one to slow him down.

Dad and Bobby were talking, far away enough from the truck that Sam couldn’t hear what they were saying. But Sam recognized the signs—fists clenched and furious. It was only a matter of time before they started shooting at each other. When the yelling started, Sam heard each and every word.

“Your boy ain’t a tool, John. Don’t treat him like one!”

“Don’t you dare tell me how to treat my son—”

“Well, somebody’s gotta tell you. It just ain’t right, and I know damn well you’re hiding something!”

Sam practically fell out of the open door of the truck trying to hear more, but the two of them noticed him and lowered their voices. By the time they made it over to the truck, things seemed to have settled down, and Dad cuffed Bobby gently on the arm.

“Thanks again, Bobby.”

Bobby just tugged his cap over his eyes. “Sonofabitch,” he grumbled. “You better call when you find Dean or I’m gonna track you down myself.”

He was still muttering under his breath as he walked back to the house, and Sam was surprised that it felt like a sucker punch to watch him go. As a kid, Sam had always felt safe at Bobby’s in a way that he’d never really felt safe with his dad. Being in the center of his father’s world had always been the most dangerous place Sam could even imagine. Being alone in it was even worse.

Sam just wanted Dean back.

It was probably pain and exhaustion wearing him down, but he had to turn his face toward the window when his dad got in and started the engine.

The miles between South Dakota and California felt like an eternity, even as John pushed ninety on the interstates, trying to make good time. Sam never thought he would actually miss the back seat of the Impala, but it was a helluva lot better than riding shotgun in the truck. With his knees jammed against the glove compartment, he couldn’t get comfortable—not to mention the crap suspension and the vinyl seats which were perfect for wiping up blood and puke but were hell on his stitched-up back.

“You all right, Sam?”

“Fine, Dad.”

The worst part about sharing the front seat was that there was nowhere to escape the intensity of his father’s attention. Apparently, John’s radar for freaky shit had gone into overdrive.

Every time Sam would so much as twitch, John would bark, “What’s going on? Another vision?”

It was almost like John was hoping that Sam would have another vision… although Sam knew better than to say that out loud. But Sam couldn’t forget his dad’s words—I’ve always been one step behind the demon. Maybe his visions were the universe’s way of leveling the playing field and giving them a chance to catch up.

John cleared his throat and asked, “Are you going to call your girl?”

The question startled Sam. He hadn’t really thought about calling Jess since the visions had started. Getting Dean back overshadowed everything else. He could hardly think about what was going to happen after that.

His dad’s warning still hung over him like a pall. Sam couldn’t endanger Jess by being with her. He just couldn’t…not after what he’d seen, what he’d felt and heard. Sam knew that Dad wasn’t telling him everything…even Bobby had said that. But he couldn’t risk Jess until he was sure that this was over—not until they got Dean back and killed the demon once and for all.

“I’ll call her when it’s over.” Sam fiddled with the bandage on his arm. John had sewn him up after he’d torn them open again during the last vision.

“Are you sure you recognized the building?” John asked gruffly.

“I’m sure,” Sam replied for what had to be the twentieth time. “Biotech is Jess’s major—I’m over there a lot.” Sam was glad they were going to get there in the middle of the night. Last thing he needed was to bump into Jess or someone else he knew while accompanied by John Winchester and his bag of ammo. But then something else occurred to Sam. “Do you think it—the demon, I mean—do you think it’s there because of me?”

John kept his eyes on the road, but his hands tightened on the wheel. “I don’t know, Sam.”

“Do you think it’s after Jess now?”

“I said I don’t know.”

That wasn’t what Sam wanted to hear. Frowning, he stared out his window and worried.

Sam kept mulling over the conversation he’d overheard between his dad and Bobby. He knew his dad considered him a tool in this fight, but that didn’t bother him. If his visions led them to Dean, kept Jess safe, then Sam would gladly endure more visions, a thousand times over.

“Sam, about your brother…are you sure—”

Sam didn’t let him finish. “Dean’s not dead.”

“But how do you know?”

“I just do.” And Sam did know. He just couldn’t explain how.

John sighed heavily. “Okay, then.” If anything, he pushed even harder on the gas.

Sam pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. It helped, but the whole getting hit by a freight train thing was getting old fast.

“Tell me about the demon,” John said, and Sam took his hands away from his eyes..

“I’ve already told you.” Sam didn’t want to think about that thing any more than he had to.

“You said it looked like a girl. Have you seen her before? Maybe someone on campus?”

“You think a Stanford student is a demon?” Sam asked, eyebrows raised.

“No Sam,” John said, like he was talking to a child. “But it could be a Stanford student who is possessed.”

Sam recalled the dead black eyes and shuddered. “I would have remembered her.”

He felt something heavy thump on his lap, and he looked down to see that Dad had tossed him a book. It was a big, leather-bound volume, one of Bobby’s.

“What’s this for?”

“Is your Latin as rusty as your hand-to-hand?”

Sam glared—he was sick of this. “Look, I’m sorry about the freakin’ ghost, but I didn’t try to get stabbed.”

“Save it…I want you to find the most powerful exorcism in there and memorize it. No poetic crap—just something that’ll get the job done.”

“How the hell am I supposed to know which exorcism is the best?”

John rolled his eyes. “Four years of college…figure it out.”

Sam glared, but he opened the book. With his luck, he’d probably get carsick.


******



Being at Stanford with Dad was more than a little surreal. But Sam didn’t have time to think about it. They’d parked a block away from the Biotechnology building, which was probably unnecessary given that it was the middle of the night, but John had never liked taking chances. Get in and out—don’t give anyone reason to call the cops—it was the way they did things.

At the side entrance of the tall brick building, John looked impressed when Sam pulled out a department security key card out of his wallet.

“Where the hell did you get that?”

“I took a course last semester—Biotechnology, Law, and Policy, so Jess was able to get it for me. She’s a TA and she said I needed access for labs. But really, she wanted me to be able to visit at night when she’s working.”

John shrugged, and Sam was struck again the discordance of his college life compared to the one he had left behind. At the moment, he was having a hard time remembering which life was the real one after all.

Sam reached over to swipe the card across the scanner, when John grabbed his arm. “No. Let’s get ready first.”

John started rummaging through his duffel. Sam spotted the basics—salt, flask of holy water, EMF meter, and guns—there was Dean’s old Smith & Wesson, as well as his dad’s favorite Colt. John hauled out the old sawed-off double-barreled shotgun. That was a surprise—Dad had always been partial to his Colt.

Sam wasn’t armed with anything more than the exorcism textbook.

“Just read the damn exorcism and stay out the way” were John’s exact words.

Sam normally would have given his dad hell for that, but this was too important. He knew what he had seen in his vision and knew it was big—a helluva lot bigger than any ordinary salt and burn job—and Sam had screwed up during his run-in with a simple ghost. There was no way he was going to let his ego get in the way when Dean’s life was at stake.

John zipped up the bag and slung it over his shoulder. Sam noticed that Bobby had drawn sigils up and down the side of it. From what Sam had seen in his vision, it was probably unnecessary. He doubted the demon was going to go for their weapons. Her fingernails were apparently lethal enough.

Sam shuddered and felt sick all over again.

“Sam?”

“I’m fine,” he said automatically. “Let’s get Dean.”

Sam swiped the card, and the door opened silently. It occurred to Sam that if this went bad, he could be in a lot of trouble with school authorities. He was using his own security card, and the cameras would be picking up everything.

His diploma, the interview, everything he had worked for… Sam was risking it all. But Sam swallowed and took the lead, expecting his dad to follow. For once in his life, Sam knew where he was going.

“Are you sure this is the way?” John asked, and Sam rolled his eyes.

They hurried to the stairs that led down to the labs in the basement. Shoulder to shoulder, Sam could smell his dad’s sweat. John was calm and steady, the same as he always was on a hunt, but they both knew this was different. As they reached the foot of the stairs, Sam could feel a shift in the air, almost electric like it got in the Midwest before a summer storm.

“Do you feel it?” Sam whispered urgently.

John replied grimly. “It’s here.”

The feeling got stronger as they made their way down the long hallway. There were doors on both sides, but Sam kept shaking his head.

No. No. Not that one either.

Sam wasn’t sure how he knew. The feeling of pressure, of wrongness, behind his eyes was intensifying. They were getting closer, he was sure of it.

They were almost there, almost, there, there, there….

There!


Sam grabbed John’s arm and pointed to a closed door. Lab 301B. John raised his eyebrows, and Sam nodded. Yes, he was sure. His dad gestured with the sawed-off, which Sam interpreted as, open the door for me, and stay the hell out of the way. John Winchester’s communication style hadn’t changed much while Sam had been at college.

Sam held his breath, waited a beat, thought about saying a prayer.

And then he heard his brother scream.

Sam forgot about everything else and yanked open the door.

In the middle of the bright white lab with its gleaming steel cabinets and its polished white tile floor sat Dean, tied to a metal chair. The demon stood over him, frowning. Blood dripped from her manicured nails down Dean’s jeans and onto the floor.

She looked up and saw them, her frown slipping into a slow, pleased smile.

“Sam! Dean and I were just talking about you.”

Part 3
Master Post



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