Kripke's and the WB/CW's. I'm not any of them. Written for Yuletide 2005.
"I think I got one."
Dean looked up from the tabloid he was reading to where Sam was sprawled on the faded hotel comforter. Sam had his own stack of newspapers beside him and a map resting on his belly.
Sam handed the paper across the aisle between the two beds.
"That article on the haunted house."
It wasn't hard to find, what with the glaring, Buffy-esque font and the slightly grainy photo of a rundown ranch-style house with an obviously photoshopped white blob in the window. Dean indulged himself in a moment of eye-rolling before skimming the article.
"Got all the signs," he agreed a few minutes later. "Weird noises, strange animal phenomena, unexplained deaths. Sounds like our kind of house."
"Your kind of house," Sam said dryly. "Mine doesn't need an exorcism before you move in."
"What's the fun in that?" Dean scanned the article again. "Great."
"House is in Wherethefuck, Texas. I hate Texas. It takes all day to get anywhere."
"I remember that time in Texas with that girl. You sure liked her."
"Took forever to get anywhere with her, too." Dean shook his head, remembering all he'd gone through to try to get her attention. She'd been worth it, though, at least until her father had found out she was dating trailer trash. "Let me tell you something, Sammy. You've got to watch out for Texas women. Just when you think you've got them where you want them..."
"Well, I'm more interested in Texas ghosts." Sam was studying his map, tracing a line with his finger. "Looks like we could probably get there by sometime tonight if we leave now."
Dean tipped an imaginary cowboy hat. "Then let's head 'em up and move 'em out."
For some reason, Sam didn't look too impressed.
Wherethefuck, Dean was not happy to discover, was like a lot of small towns across the United States: once the sun went down, the entire town went to bed, and they didn't have a motel to leave the lights on for anyone. They cruised the dark main street lined with glass-fronted brick buildings a couple of times in case they'd missed anything, but eventually Dean was ready to resign himself to another night of sleeping in the car.
"Why don't we just go out there?" Sam asked when Dean said as much.
"Um, because we don't know where it is?"
Sam's flashlight flickered on, shining on what looked like a computer printout.
"That last truck stop had wi-fi access. When you were playing that arcade game, I googled the names of the town and the previous owners that were mentioned in the article. It didn't take long to get an address and directions."
"What? It was Pac-Man. That's a classic. How could I not play it?" Dean shook his head. Sam never had appreciated the finer things in life. "I don't know about doing our first investigation of a possibly haunted house at night, Sam. Not without knowing what we might be getting into."
Dean shrugged. In his experience, there was usually something.
"But I wasn't saying to go in. Just go park, maybe take turns sleeping and watching the house to see if we observe anything from the outside."
"Huh. You know, Sam, sometimes you're not as dumb as you look."
"Well, they do say we favor each other."
Dean glanced over in time to catch the faint smile on Sam's face before he ducked his head to read the directions.
Sam's internet directions worked fine right up until the last turn. Three narrow, gravelly roads later, Dean found a house that, in the moonlight, looked like the picture from the tabloid. It also looked deserted, so Dean didn't have any worries about pulling off the road across from it and turning off the engine.
"What do you think?"
The indistinct form that was Sam shrugged. "Don't most dark, empty places look haunted? I mean, I'm not seeing any neon arrows with Beetlejuice on them, but I'm not ready to write it off, either."
"Yeah. Good movie, though."
"I thought the special effects were cheesy."
"When you were six you hid under the covers."
"Key word: six."
"And when you were eight."
"I was sleeping!"
Dean grinned. He fell for it every time.
Sam mumbled something that Dean probably would have had to swat him for if he'd heard it, and then said, "Look, there's no point in both of us staying up. You've been driving, do you want to take the second watch and sleep now?"
"Yeah, unless you're tired."
So Dean got as comfortable as possible--not very--and closed his eyes, letting the rhythm of Sam's breathing and the chirps of crickets and hoots of owls lull him under.
The flames roared all around him, reaching for him and for Sammy with ravenous hands. He clutched at the baby as he tried to find the stairs. He had to get downstairs and out to the sidewalk; that's what he had practiced with Mommy and Daddy when they did fire drills. He'd never practiced carrying Sammy, though, and Sammy was heavy and crying and squirming around so that it was hard not to drop him.
Dean clutched his little brother closer and looked around. The stairs should be right here. Oh. There, just passed that bright patch of fire. He pressed Sammy's face into his chest and ran, but as the heat built around him, Sammy started to slip.
Dean sat up, gasping, looking around frantically to get his bearings. He was in the car, nearly pressed against the steering wheel, with Sam beside him.
Sam. Grown up. Safe.
Clutching at Dean's arm and staring at him as wide-eyed as if he'd seen a ghost. And Dean would know.
Sam laughed shakily and unwound his fingers from Dean's arm.
"Sorry, man. That owl just spooked me. Ran straight into the car. I guess it didn't see us or something."
"Yeah." Dean swallowed and slumped back into the seat. "Weird."
Neither of them got much sleep for the rest of the night. Dean was relieved to see the first streaks of sunrise in the east. As soon as there was enough light to see, he and Sam pulled out their equipment and slogged through the high grass toward the house.
Long and low, the dinghy white house badly needed new paint and shingles. The windows were dusty but mostly whole. Two large cracks ran through the concrete porch and steps, leaving the whole thing to cant sideways. Even though there were no signs of life, Sam knocked on the screen door before he opened it and tried the handle of the wooden door.
It opened with the faint resistance of wood that had settled many times, granting them entrance into a musty, dust-coated, empty room. Layers of footprints marked the wooden floor, showing where people had walked through the house at different times. Probably the locals coming to investigate the haunted house, Dean thought, or drifters squatting for a night or two.
At first run-through, the house seemed normal enough. The front door led into a large rectangular living room; to the left of it was one bedroom and to the right, another bedroom and the bathroom off a short hall. The kitchen and a small back porch ran parallel to the living room. Each of the rooms were mostly empty, but a few odds and ends had been left behind: a chair in the kitchen, a mirror and some curtains in the left bedroom, and a mattress Dean didn't want to inspect too closely in the right bedroom. Nothing immediately screamed 'paranormal' or started leaking blood and gore. Dean shrugged philosophically; they couldn't all be easy. Flipping on the EMF meter, he began sweeping the rooms.
The needle started reacting in the left bedroom.
Sam was in the kitchen measuring the temperature for cold spots. He poked his head around the door, one eyebrow raised questioningly.
"Check this out."
Dean started moving in the direction the field seemed strongest, toward the wall with the mirror. The closer he got, the higher the needle pushed.
"That's something, all right."
Dean stopped in front of the mirror, frowning at it. It seemed to be ordinary, maybe a foot square with a gilded metal frame surrounding the glass. He'd be willing to bet it was pretty old, twenty or thirty years at least, and the reflective surface had darkened some, but he doubted it had ever been worth much. Yet it seemed to be the strongest source of EMF readings in the room.
Just as Dean started to turn away, he thought he saw something move in the mirror. But as soon as he turned back, there was nothing there. Frowning, he looked at Sam.
Someone proved to be Carrie Whitman, a weathered woman in her fifties or sixties on a much more spry-looking chestnut horse who said they were on her property and she'd thank them to get off.
"It doesn't look like anyone's living here, ma'am," Dean said, slipping into his most charming smile as they stood on the porch and craned their necks to talk to her.
"I didn't say I lived here, young man. I grew up here. Used to be Carrie Cooper. Inherited the place when my daddy died. Unless you're looking to rent it, I'd suggest you just leave."
Sam smiled his charming smile, which somehow always looked more sincere than Dean's. It wasn't fair.
"Ma'am, maybe you could help us then. We do research into paranormal phenomena. We were hoping--"
A look of what Dean could only describe as fear crossed Carrie Whitman's face.
"Get off my property before I call the sheriff."
"Ma'am..." Dean tried again.
"I said, get!"
Sam tugged at his arm. "Come on, Dean, let's go."
Knowing a losing battle when he saw one, Dean let himself be dragged, but he called over his shoulder, "We can help you get rid of it if you let us."
"Get out of here. Don't come back!"
"Way to go, Dean," Sam muttered as they jogged back to the car.
"I was just trying to help."
"You nearly helped us to jail."
"Come on. I think she liked me. Didn't you?"
The Sunshine Cafe could have been lifted out of a Hollywood cliche, complete with big-haired waitress and chatty old guys sipping coffee at the counter. Still, the food was good and plentiful, and the chatty old guys didn't cackle too much when the waitress gave Dean and Sam directions to the Lucky Strike Motel, located suggestively outside of town. They also bought the story that Dean and Sam were doing research into local history for a college class and pointed them in the direction of "Marge at The Herald".
The Herald turned out to be the town newspaper, and Marge turned out to be the secretary/archivist/town gossip. She had to be seventy years old at least, with iron gray hair in tight pin curls and faded blue eyes that peered out over trifocals.
"The old Cooper place? If I wasn't a Christian woman, I'd think that place had a curse on it, no doubt about it. I suppose you saw that article in that horrible paper? All nonsense, of course, Lord knows there's no such thing as ghosts, but I will say they got most of their research right."
She led them into the room that held the newspaper's archives. Dean swallowed a groan when he saw the boxes, and beside him, Sam's face fell. The tiny Herald hadn't made the conversion from paper archives yet.
"Don't worry, young men. I know just the articles you want. Why don't you go sit at that table in the center of the room while I pull them for you? And I'll tell you what I remember, if that would be any help at all."
So over the next twenty minutes, they learned all about the Coopers, a good Christian family with two daughters, Julia, who was twelve when her mama died, and Carrie, who was eight. Even after Mrs. Cooper died, Mr. Cooper brought the girls to church every Sunday and Wednesday dressed in pretty dresses with their hair up neatly in bows. Everyone always said how wonderfully they were doing in spite of their loss, bless their hearts, until Julia stopped coming to church and started missing school. Word began to go around town that she was causing her daddy all kinds of trouble at home. The townspeople shook their heads and clicked their tongues. What could be expected of a girl who was growing up without her mama? At least little Carrie was still going to church and minding her daddy like she should.
And then one day, the Coopers didn't come to church. When Carrie went to school the next day, she told her teacher that Julia had run away from home. With a boy. All the adults knew what that meant. Mothers looked in on their teenage daughters more frequently for a few nights and gossip ran rampant for several weeks, but then it passed as all things do. The only difference was that none of the Coopers came back to church, and Julia was never seen again.
"And I will admit, bad things have happened in that house ever since," Marge finished, placing a large box with several newspapers in it. "There you go. That should be everything mentioning the Cooper house or anyone living in it for the past fifty years. Just leave everything on the table when you're done, boys, and I'll put it up."
It was almost five when they left. Dean was ready to swear that his eyeballs were going to fall out of his head any second, but they had found some good information. After a quick supper at the cafe, they drove out to the motel--Free Adult Movies In Every Room!--and spread what they had out on the bed to look at it.
"There's the mirror," Sam said. "Another Blood--um. You know who?"
"But most of the deaths are infants. Six in the years since the Coopers lived there, all considered Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or unproven child abuse. And then there was that one where the wife killed the husband for cheating on her and the one where the mother committed suicide after her baby died, but I don't know if those are directly related."
"So what kind of spirit goes after infants?"
Sam asked the question musingly, just thinking out loud, but for some reason it struck a chord in Dean. He didn't think they were up against the same entity that had gone after Sam all those years ago; aside from the victims being babies, nothing matched up. But after his dream last night, he didn't want to think about how it must have felt for those families to lose their baby, to think about that night when his mom had died...
Sam frowned at him.
"Yeah." He shook off the memories and refocused on the notes in front of them. "Yeah. Well, most spirits that will harm an adult will harm a baby. It seems like I've read about a few things that go only after babies, but nothing's coming to mind right now."
Sam stood up and stretched. "I'm going to see if I can find a dial-up number for internet access out here. Maybe I can hunt down whatever it is you're not remembering."
"Sounds like a plan, Stan." Dean stood up, copying Sam's stretch and wincing as his back popped. Why didn't Sam get all twisted up in knots after a day of sitting around? "I'm going to go take a quick walk around. Need anything?"
Before Sam could answer, there was a hesitant rap on the door. Dean looked at Sam, who shrugged and shook his head; he didn't know who it could be either. Dean glanced over at the bed where he'd hid his pistol under the pillow, but decided against it. Some situations were easier to talk your way out of when you didn't have to explain the firearms.
While Carrie Whitman wasn't the absolute last person he'd expected to see on the other side of the door, she came pretty close to the bottom of the list. Dean couldn't quite stop himself from checking to see if the sheriff was behind her before he invited her in.
"No. It took some asking around to find you, and I need to be getting home." She hesitated, then handed him a small book. "Read that. Then if you still think you can help me, call me tomorrow. I put my number on a scrap of paper inside."
She was gone before Dean could say anything. He was less interested in stopping her than in investigating the book she had handed him, however; it proved to be a diary with a faded purple cover and girlishly round handwriting on the pages.
"What is it?" Sam asked, coming to lean over Dean's shoulder.
Dean flipped to the front page.
"It's Julia Cooper's diary."
I got so mad at Angela Nestor at school today!! She knew I wanted to sit by Jimmy...
I hate math!!! I don't see why we have to do it. It's not like we'll ever use it...
Mama died today. Daddy says I have to be the woman of the house now, but I don't know how! Carrie keeps crying and crying. I wish she would stop. I wish I could stop. I wish my mama would come back...
Daddy says I need to learn how to cook like Mama did. And take care of Carrie. And keep the house clean. It's not fair! I'm not a grown up! I don't want to work all the time! I told Daddy I won't, and he made me sit down and read that stupid Bible verse about children obeying their parents...
Daddy wanted me to do something else like Mama last night. I don't think it's something I'm supposed to do, but he told me I couldn't tell anyone. It hurt. Blood came out like when I have my monthly. I wish Mama was here.
Daddy called me Mama's name last night. He smelled like whiskey. I want him to stop doing the bad thing. He says if I tell, he'll do it to Carrie, too. Sometimes I hate Daddy.
I stopped having my monthly, and I keep getting sick. I'm going to have his baby, and then everyone will know what he's been doing to me. What am I going to do? And last night, he looked at Carrie funny and said it was time she learned how to cook. If he touches her, I swear I'll kill him. I will.
I went to Miss Ellie, the old Negro woman that everyone says is a witch. I wanted her to take this baby out of me. She said no. It's too far along. Who put it there, she said. I didn't tell her. You don't like that man, she said. I hate him, I said. You want a way to be rid of this baby and that man, she said. Tell me, I said.
Diary, my mama wouldn't know me anymore. She's been dead two years, and now her little girl is planning to murder a man and a baby. I don't know what I've turned into, Dear Diary. I hate what he's turned me into. I hate him, and I hate the thing he put into me. I tell myself I'm doing it for Carrie, so he won't ever do to her what he's done to me, but the truth is, I want him to pay. I want him to hurt like he hurt me.
I haven't written in a while because IT happened. Daddy took me to some doctor out of town and brought me back the next morning with the child. A boy. I feed it. Carrie handles the rest. I say I'm too tired, but I don't want to even look at it, much less hold it. It makes me sick. It doesn't matter. Tonight's the night for the ceremony, and then She will take it, and Daddy too.
Dean closed the diary and looked over at the other bed where Sam was sitting. Sam looked as shaken as he felt.
"Poor girl," Sam murmured. "Poor baby."
"She must have called something and used the baby as a sacrifice." Dean rubbed his thumb over the leather cover of the book, trying to imagine the girl who had owned it. How angry, how frightened, how alone she must have felt. "And whatever it was, it never went back where it came from."
Sam pulled his laptop closer and started typing.
"Julia said 'She'. I'm going to do a search for female entities that have a liking for babies or men or revenge..." His voice trailed off as his eyes flickered across the screen.
Dean grinned as he scooted down to lie flat on his back. That was Sam. Research was his forte, no doubt about it. Dean couldn't deny that the informational side of the job had gone much more smoothly with Sam back. Now if his little brother would just learn to relax a little...
Dean had run down the stairs a million times even though his mom had told him not to, but he'd never run with baby Sammy in his arms. He barely even walked anywhere holding Sammy; most of the time Mom wanted him sitting down because Sammy was pretty heavy and squirmy. But he couldn't sit down now because the stairs were on fire. The whole house was on fire, and Daddy had told him to get Sammy to safety.
And then Sammy slipped. Dean opened his mouth to scream and inhaled smoke. Suddenly he was coughing so hard he had to double over, and the bundle of baby and blankets rolled right out of his arms. He couldn't catch it. He couldn't see. He tried to feel around, but the only thing he touched was flame.
He'd lost Sammy. He'd lost his brother.
"Dean? Dean, it's okay, it's just a dream."
There was a hand on his cheek, another on his shoulder. A touch and a voice he knew.
The flames--no, the light was bright. Dean blinked wetness out of his eyes and looked around, understanding slowly that he was in a motel room, sitting up on the bed with Sam sitting beside him. Sam was holding on to him tightly, watching him with concern, and maybe that wasn't so weird because he was shaking and couldn't seem to stop.
Sam rubbed his shoulder in a gentle circle, a gesture Dean had used on Sam after many a childhood nightmare. It worked better than he'd hoped.
"You were having a nightmare. Pretty bad one, it seemed like. It took me a while to wake you up."
Dean shuddered as flames danced in front of his eyes and his arms ached with emptiness. He rubbed a hand over his face, grimacing as it came away wet.
"Yeah. That one kind of sucked."
"Kind of," Sam agreed. "You want to talk about it?"
Dean smirked. "Oh, the irony."
"Hey, if it's good for me..."
"Nah. I'd rather just get back to sleep."
Sam studied him for a minute, and then nodded.
"Yeah, me too." He stood up, leaving Dean feeling strangely cold without his touch. "Hey, I've got everything spread out where I can find it on my bed. Mind if I bunk with you tonight? Promise I won't kick. Much."
"Yeah, whatever, just keep on your side of the bed," Dean said, making his voice gruff to hide the sudden surge of relief. That dream had shaken him more than he'd admit out loud, but there was no way he'd be able to fall asleep again without throwing an arm over Sam and holding on tight.
Dean steered the conversation toward Sam's research the next morning. He didn't want to think about the dream again, much less psychoanalyze it over his eggs and toast. Luckily, Sam went along.
"Actually, I found something that seems to fit exactly what we're looking for," Sam said as he did that weird thing where he broke his bacon strips in exactly even pieces. Dean had never understood that one. "The Lilith myths that run through many different cultures, including Babylonian and Hebrew, where it was believed that--"
"Short version, Professor Winchester."
Sam rolled his eyes and sighed.
"Lilith is either a goddess or a demoness. Some say she's Adam's first wife, some say she's the mother of all demons, but the important thing is, she's known for stealing or killing children. And also being something of a succubus, but that's beside the point. She's ancient, extremely powerful, and not someone to be messing with."
"Huh." Dean took a bite of eggs and chewed thoughtfully. "Anything in all that research about how to get rid of her?"
"I have some ideas, but I need to know a few more things about what actually happened when Julia performed the ceremony."
"So we need to talk to Carrie." Dean took another bite. "After breakfast."
Carrie met them at the old Cooper house. Taking the diary from Dean, she ran her hand over it almost reverently.
"I read this, you know," she said as she started walking, making a gesture for them to follow her. "When I was a girl. I knew what was happening. I wanted to help, but I didn't know what to do."
She led them around to the back of the house, past the small, run-down shed to an area that had a few oak trees and a pair of rose bushes. Carrie sat on the stump of one of the oaks and picked idly at a few dead leaves on the bushes as she spoke.
"That night, Julia sent me to spend the night with one of my friends. I snuck back home. I thought I could stop her and we could all run away together, her and me and the baby. She never named him, but I called him Robert. Robbie. He was the sweetest little thing. I just knew if we could get away from there, Julia would see how beautiful he was and love him as much as I did.
"When I got home, I looked through the windows and saw her in our bedroom with Robbie. There were black candles lit, and she had our old mirror on the floor and Robbie was lying beside it in nothing but his diaper. He was crying, but she didn't pick him up. I'd never seen her face like that before, like a statue. She took a knife and sliced it down Robbie's forehead, and then she scooped up the blood and smeared it on the mirror and started saying words I couldn't hear for the baby screaming.
"I ran inside. By the time I got in the room, Daddy had come in to see what all the commotion was. He was yelling something about witchcraft and abominations, and she was yelling about Lilith and how Daddy was going to go to Hell, and nobody even noticed when Robbie stopped screaming."
Carrie stopped, her hand going to her mouth as her lips trembled. Above them, the leaves on the trees trembled in the wind, and the hooting of an owl seemed to be growing closer.
"What happened?" Sam asked softly.
"There was a--thing, a black thing coming out of the mirror. Like an arm and like a shadow all at once. It covered Robbie and, and drained him. He didn't look like a baby anymore. And it was reaching out toward us, toward Julia. Daddy shoved me back out of the room and slammed the door shut and didn't listen when I said Julia was still in there, Julia and Robbie were still in there. He took me into the kitchen and we read the Bible and prayed all night long. And then in the morning, we got up and carried their bodies out here and buried them, and I told everyone that Julia had run away."
"But the black thing didn't go away, did it?" Dean asked.
Carrie was silent for a moment, and then shook her head.
"I prayed that it did. I prayed every day, but when that poor young couple offered to rent the house from me and their baby died in the first month, I knew it was still here. So I tried to only rent to people without children, but they'd still get pregnant or something else would happen. I was afraid it would never end." She looked up at Sam and then Dean. "Can you really get rid of it?"
"We think so. We'll have to dig up Julia and Robbie's bodies, though, and burn them. It's the only way they can ever be at peace."
"Do what you have to do. I don't want to see this thing hurt another soul ever again."
It took another day of research--Sam researching and Dean digging up bodies--and a one hundred mile trip into Dallas to find a Kabbalah practitioner who could help them create amulets to bind Lilith before they were ready. Sam's research had suggested that Lilith was tied to the bodies she had consumed. If she could be bound to them while they were destroyed, then she should be banished back where she came from.
"Hopefully," Sam added.
"Well, either that or it will free our inner feminists and save us from having to shave our legs ever again."
Dean spit the coffee he'd been trying to enjoy all over the dashboard of the car.
Sam, naturally, was smirking. "It's a long story. Several centuries' worth, but you didn't have time to listen, did you? Are Julia and Robbie's bodies in place?"
Dean swallowed his next mouthful of coffee painfully and opted just to nod. There hadn't been much left, particularly of the baby, after all these years. His hands had shaken so much he'd nearly dropped the tiny bones before he managed to get them into the house.
"In the bedroom? Supposedly the connection will be strongest if we're in the same location as where she was called in the first place."
"They're in place, okay?"
Sam frowned at him.
"Is something wrong?"
"I'm just ready to get this over with. What are we waiting for?"
"You to finish your coffee? You were griping about it getting cold while we ghostbusted."
Dean drained his cup.
"Well, it's done now. Let's go."
The feeling inside the house was somehow more watchful and malevolent than Dean could remember it being before, as if the presence of the bones lent strength to the entity that had possessed them. Glancing at Sam, Dean saw his mouth drawn in a tight line, the same concern Dean was feeling reflected in his eyes.
"Maybe we should hurry," Sam said quietly.
Dean nodded and clapped Sam on the shoulder.
"Let's get to it."
The bones of mother and child were wrapped in tarp on the floor of the bedroom. Dean had thrown another piece of tarp over the mirror just out of general creepiness principles. He gave it a suspicious look before kneeling to set out the supplies, but it didn't do anything particularly spooky other than hang there.
"So, our plan here..." Sam trailed off as he opened the tarp.
The bones were so small. Not just Robbie's, but Julia's as well. She'd barely been fifteen. Dean reached out to squeeze Sam's shoulder.
"We're going to make it better, Sammy. As much as we can."
Sam cleared his throat.
"Yeah. Yeah. So we're going to wrap the amulets around the bodies. The myths say they protect babies from Lilith, but hopefully if her center of power is in the bones, the amulets will bind her to them."
"So that when we burn the bones, we'll get be sending her back where she came from before she can find a new host, right?"
"That's the theory."
"Hope it works, Professor."
Dean took charge of the amulets, for some reason reluctant to let Sam handle the bones. Not that Sam wasn't nearly as capable as him at dealing with paranormal entities. It was just that the dreams he'd been having had Dean a little off-kilter. He felt much better letting Sam light candles and draw an almost complete circle around the tarp while he gathered the bones into two piles.
The two amulets were circles of deerskin on deerskin strings. The circles were marked on the hairless side with Names of Power, according to the Kabbalah practitioner they'd talked to. The names of the three angels, Senoi, Sansenoi, and Semangloph, and the Names of God, the man had said, along with other symbols Dean hadn't listened to the explanation for. As long as it got rid of Lilith, he was good with it.
Carefully, he wound the deerskin string of the first amulet around Julia's bones, binding them thoroughly and leaving the inscribed circle on top. As he was reaching for Robbie's bones, a frantic tapping noise brought his head up sharply.
An owl hovered at the window, hitting the glass repeatedly with its talons. It was small, probably not as big as a football, with a gray and white feathered face and round yellow eyes that somehow managed to look angry.
Sam gave a startled laugh.
"I think that's the same little guy that hit the car the other night. I wonder if there's something wrong with him?"
Dean shrugged as he looked back down at the bones.
"Maybe he's got a bad sonar."
"Maybe he is bats. Maybe he's run into things too many times." Dean paused, touching the tiny skull with his thumb. "Rest in peace, Robert Cooper. Your Aunt Carrie loved you very much."
He started the binding. At the window, the crazy little owl crashed against the glass hard enough to rattle the mirror above Dean's head.
But Dean had finally figured it out for himself. As the window smashed inward and Sam ducked the frantically flapping bird, Dean lashed the deerskin around the bones as fast as he could.
"Almost done. Get the lighter ready."
Wind was picking up around the room. The candles Sam had lit were blowing out faster than he could relight them. The owl was attacking the tarp over the mirror with an unnatural determination. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Dean couldn't help but grin when Sam abandoned the candles with a curse and went to try to swat the owl away from the mirror. That little bird wasn't even as big as one of Sam's freakishly huge feet, but it was giving him a run for his money as it swooped just above his reach.
"Did I mention," Sam gasped, jumping for the bird and missing by a wide margin, "that one of the sites said that Lilith is either part owl or has owls with her?"
Dean started to wrap the deerskin into a knot.
"You're telling me this now?"
"I just remembered. It didn't seem," he ducked as the owl dove close enough to have scratched his eyes if he hadn't moved, "important before."
With a hoot that Dean couldn't help but think of as triumphant, the owl whipped in front of the mirror and caught the tarp in its talons. As the glass was revealed, Dean saw dark shadows swirling close to the frame.
"Sam, get that lighter now!"
"Get out of the circle so I can close it!"
Dean yanked the knot tight and stood. For a moment, he saw his own reflection in the mirror, and superimposed over that, something that was both a beautiful woman and something completely alien. She seemed to be coming closer, eyes as black as the night sky holding his gaze prisoner.
Come, a seductive voice whispered. You know me. Come to me.
Come. You know the feeling of loss, the loss of a child, the loss of childhood. You know. Come with me.
He resisted. Somewhere distant, a voice was urgently calling his name, and he wanted to go to that voice more than he wanted to go to the seductress. But then a small, quickly moving ball of feathered momentum crashed into his back and he stumbled forward. His head cracked against the glass, and for a moment, all he knew was a white explosion that quickly changed to pain.
Human hands were on his arm. Black shadow hands were on his cheeks, pulling him closer to the mirror. A black shadow tongue trailed across his forehead.
Dean was jerked away and pushed unceremoniously behind Sam. That was wrong in some fundamental way that his head hurt too much for him to explain even to himself, so he just gave up and let Sam handle things while he cradled his forehead in one hand and tried to keep the blood out of his eyes.
Sam seemed to be doing fine on his own anyway. He pulled their ace in the hole out of his jacket pocket and slid it over and around the mirror even as the half-emerged shadow woman did her best to pull him in with her. As the deerskin strings of the third amulet tightened around her, she screamed in fury and tried to rip at Sam's face with fingers like the talons on the owl, but she wasn't quite solid. The sight was enough to make Dean feel a little queasy.
Sam yanked the mirror off the wall and placed it in the circle by the two bundles of bones, then dowsed the whole thing with lighter fluid and lit a match.
I will not die.
Sam dropped the match, stepped back, and quickly closed the circle.
"You won't come back here again either. That's enough for us."
The flames flared up immediately. For a moment, there was an overpowering odor of spices and flowers, lighter fluid and burning earth. Dean gagged, and the movement made his head pound so badly he saw stars. Overhead, the little owl was making a horrible, distressed cry as it circled the fire; each sound shot like a bullet through Dean's brain.
Sam was in front of him, hands cupping his face and tilting it up. It hurt when Sam used his thumb to wipe the blood off Dean's forehead, and when he looked so worried and frightened.
"That cut's kind of deep. We should find a doctor to look at it. How's it feel?"
Dean dug up a grin, even though it felt a little wobbly.
"Ever been hit in the head by a bowling ball?"
"You mean other than that time you--"
Dean shouldn't have laughed. It brought the stars back and made Sam look worried again. Dean took a careful deep breath and did his best to look unconcussed.
"Hey, Sam, I'm fine. Just a headache and a little blood. Nothing aspirin and stitches can't cure." Seeing Sam wasn't convinced, Dean hunted for something that would distract him. "Come on, I told you Texas women were dangerous, right? But I know how to handle them."
Sam stared at him for a long moment.
"You're an idiot, you know that?"
Dean considered swatting him and decided it wasn't worth the agony. There would always be other times.
"Listen," Sam said, glancing over at the fire, which was burning swiftly, and at the owl, which was still circling over it, "I want to keep an eye on this thing. This house is old enough that it could go up in a second if the flames get out of control. Why don't you go sit in the car and rest for a while? This smoke can't be helping your head any."
It wasn't, but Dean wasn't sure he wanted to leave Sam alone with the fire. True, it was just a bonfire, not the raging inferno that had consumed their house. He was just being crazy, probably brought on by spooky shadow ladies and pounding headaches.
"Yeah, sure. Just yell if you need me, okay?"
Sam rolled his eyes, probably thinking that Dean was about as useful as the owl at this point, but he let Dean have his pride and nodded. Dean walked carefully out, not grabbing at any walls until he was out of the bedroom. The floor had started to sway slightly; by the time he got out to the cock-eyed porch, he wasn't sure which was leaning more, him or it.
Then things were happening all at once. A screech, high and eerie, a rushing boom, and Dean was flying...
His mouth was filled with grass, his eyes with shifting white lights, and his ears with the horribly familiar sound of fire devouring wood. Dean staggered to his feet and turned, already knowing what he'd see. The Cooper house was a mass of flames and smoke, and Sam was inside.
He couldn't run in a straight line for some reason, but he ran anyway, scrambling over the canted porch and crashing through the door without stopping. Smoke filled the air, leaving none for calling Sam's name. He didn't even try. Just crouched as low as he could and tried to find the bedroom door. He had to get to baby Sammy. He had to find him. Dean's eyes were full of tears from the smoke and fear, so he felt with his hands for his brother's tiny form. Sammy should be screaming his head off, but Dean couldn't hear him. Because of the fire, he tried to tell himself, but even though he was six years old he knew that might not be the reason.
He stumbled forward, not even sure where he was anymore. He felt someone grab at him, but a wild look at the smoky form told him it wasn't Daddy. Maybe a fireman, but it didn't matter. Dean was going to find his brother before he left the house, and no one could make him do any different.
Only the fireman was mean. He hit Dean in his stomach and then lifted Dean over his shoulder. Dean tried to get away, but he couldn't breathe and things went black for a while.
He woke up. As soon as he heard the popping roar of the fire, he lunged to his feet, only to find himself pressed back down by heavy hands on his shoulders. A voice kept saying, "Dean. Dean!"
"Sammy?" Dean stared into Sam's white face, man's image colliding with baby's in his mind. "You were in the house..."
"Yeah. I got out before you ever went in. That owl went nuts, started screaming and dove into the fire. I saw the fire start to flare and went out the window just before the whole place went up."
Dean blinked at him, not sure where owls and windows fit with stairs and Daddy telling him to make sure Sammy was safe.
"You were inside," he repeated, and didn't object at all when Sam pulled him into a tight, almost bruising embrace. It seemed like the only way he could breathe, the only way he could ever hope to stop shaking, was by holding on to his little brother as hard as his muscles would allow.
"It's okay, Dean. It's okay now. We're both safe." Sam rocked slowly, his hand rubbing up and down Dean's back. "God, you nearly gave me a heart attack when I came around the house and saw you running in. Don't ever do that again, okay?"
"No more fires," Dean agreed. He knew, from Sam's sudden stillness, that his little brother had figured out what had scared him, but for once he didn't care that his ultra-cool image was shattered. Sam was alive, safe, and anything else could just wait while he enjoyed what was important.
"Absolutely," Sam said finally. "Absolutely no more fires. Not for either of us."
Behind them, the Cooper house collapsed to the ground and a shower of sparks reached for the sky.