The demon slashed the boy’s throat with a practised gesture and held the ornate cup to the wound, gathering fresh, warm blood as the boy bled to death. When he had enough blood, he dipped one finger into the cup and stirred the warm liquid. He murmured the Latin words that would create a safe conduit between his mind and Hell itself.
Immediately, he felt his father’s response.
“Everything went as planned,” he reported. “Sam Winchester protected the girl. The tragedy of losing the slut has bound them closer than ever.”
He waited and was pleased to receive his father’s approval. A question followed.
“There were no difficulties,” he confirmed. “When the time comes, the Winchester boy will be exactly where we want him.”
John Winchester looked down at the polished floorboards. Though the floor had been cleaned, he could still see clearly where the girl’s blood had spilled. He stood in that spot, his feet straddling the place where the girl breathed her last. He looked up.
“Sammy said she was on the ceiling when she fell?”
Dean looked up from his examination of the stairs. “That’s what Brady claimed. Sam didn’t see it,” he reported.
From this spot, John could see all the way up the narrow stairwell to the attic. If the girl did fall from the ceiling directly above him, she fell the equivalent of between three and four storeys. She’d probably been dead the moment she hit the floor.
“I need to take a look up there,” John decided. “Dean, check out the EMF readings.”
“Yes, sir.” Dean produced his EMF meter and began to sweep the room.
John climbed the stairs quickly. He was a little winded by the time he reached the attic: those stairs were steep. He looked up at the ceiling first.
He understood why Sam and Dean had both connected this death to what happened to their mother. He’d thought the same thing when Dean first mentioned it. But though finding Mary’s killer was always his first priority, John knew that not everything was about that. There was no sign of a fire here and poltergeists did sometimes…
John stopped, running his fingers along the rail. He looked at the streaks his fingers had left in the dust, then rubbed his fingertips together, feeling the fine powder clinging to his skin. He brought his fingers closer to his nose and sniffed.
That wasn’t dust.
“Dean!” John called urgently.
Dean ran up the stairs with a youthful energy John envied. “What is it, Dad?” he asked as he reached the top. He was breathing hard, but hadn’t broken a sweat.
“Check here for EMF,” John instructed.
Dean held the EMF meter where John indicated, but there was no reading.
“It’s been too long,” Dean suggested.
“It hasn’t been that long,” John disagreed, “and that proves it wasn’t a poltergeist. There should still be a residual reading. Look here.”
He watched Dean gather dust onto his fingers. “What is it?” he asked.
Dean’s eyes went wide. “Demon? A demon killed Claire?”
John hadn’t talked about demons much; he was pleased Dean remembered. “It looks that way,” he agreed.
“But…that means someone in the house was possessed. Who?”
That Dean didn’t know was a really bad sign. It was hard to spot a demon; but hindsight usually helped. Knowing that one of the people he’d spent time with was possessed, Dean should have been able to at least guess which of them it was. Most demons were not, in John’s experience, particularly subtle.
“Most likely it was Claire herself,” John suggested. “If you didn’t test anyone we might never know.” And why would Dean have tested anyone for possession if he thought he was hunting a poltergeist?
But Dean surprised him again. “It couldn’t have been Jessica. She crossed a salt line. But so did Claire…I think. And Brady. They were all in the protected room the night Claire was hurt.”
“Or it could have been Sammy.” A cold hand squeezed John’s heart as he spoke the words. He didn’t want that to be possible.
Dean stared at him. “No fucking way!”
“Why not?” John pressed. “Did you test him? Did he cross a salt line?” Damn it, John didn’t want to think of these things. He had no choice. Considering the worst-case scenario was his job. It was Dean’s job, too.
Dean made an impatient gesture. “Do you think I wouldn’t have known if Sam wasn’t himself?” he demanded.
John badly wanted to reach for his son, to reassure and comfort him, to chase that defensiveness from his eyes…but he clamped down on the gesture: his hand merely twitched. He met Dean’s angry eyes and wondered – worried – whether Dean would ever lose this dangerous blind spot.
“Dean. Think. You weren’t here when the girl died. A demon was. It may have been here all along, but maybe it wasn’t. So think hard. Did Sammy do anything or say anything that would prove he wasn’t possessed?”
Dean frowned in concentration. “He was very protective of Jess. Not that I blame him: she’s smokin’.”
Focus, Dean. “Proves nothin’,” John grunted.
“Alright, I’m thinking. When we came back from the hospital after Claire fell down the stairs, Sam said Jess told him to clean up the salt. So we put the salt line under the carpet instead. Sam was in and out of the room after that. So if the line’s still intact, that would be proof. Right?”
John let out a long breath of relief. “Right. Go and check. Then we’re leaving. There’s nothing more to find here.”
“Yes, sir,” Dean agreed and walked away. The set of his shoulders and the slight stiffness of his walk said louder than words that John had pissed him off. Perhaps it was his questions about Sammy…or perhaps the dead girl mattered to Dean more than he’d admitted.
It was good that Dean defended Sammy, even to their father. That’s what John trained him to do: to be his brother’s protector, no matter what. But if Dean was this pissed just because John considered the possibility that Sam was possessed, that was not good. Dean needed to realise that if something evil got into Sam, refusing to see it was not helping him, but harming him.
John had to be sure of Sammy. And his new girlfriend. There was nothing else for it: he would have to go to Palo Alto.
Sam walked around the car to open the door for Jessica. The gallant gesture wasn’t his usual behaviour but he had noticed at the cemetery that the long, black skirt Jessica wore was making it difficult to get out of the car. He offered her his hand to help her up.
Jessica hesitated for a moment before accepting his help. She locked the car, pocketed her keys and gazed up at the apartment building.
“If you want to be alone…” Sam began.
“No,” she answered, “I don’t. It’s just…hard.”
“I know.” He hugged her briefly. It was nearly sunset and she’d had a very long day. They both had. “Come on. Let’s get inside.”
The little apartment Jess had, until now, shared with Claire was on the top floor of a building with an ancient elevator that rarely worked. They didn’t risk it, just headed up the stairs. While Jessica fumbled in her purse, looking for the key, Sam glanced around. He knew they were alone but this had become automatic; since Claire’s death he was seeing threats in every shadow.
But sometimes they weren’t his imagination.
Sam stopped Jess just as she reached toward the lock. “Jess, wait.”
She dropped her hand, scared by the urgency in his voice.
He didn’t want her to be scared. Sam pointed to the ground in front of the door. It was linoleum tile, dark with the ingrained dirt of decades, which made the light sprinkling of white grains clearly visible. It wasn’t a salt line, but it was salt, and it hadn’t been there when they left for Claire’s funeral.
Dean? No, Dean would have called, surely.
Sam decided there was only one way to find out. “Give me your key. Wait at least three minutes before you follow me in.”
“What are you going to do?” she whispered back.
“I’m going to make sure it’s safe.” Sam unlocked the door as quietly as he could and slipped inside, leaving the door ajar behind him.
The salt line was inside the door: a clean, straight line precisely two inches from the threshold. Dean hadn’t done that: he was never so precise. Dad had been here…he might still be here. Sam’s tension went up several notches. He checked each room in turn: living room, Claire’s bedroom (where her belongings were packed into neatly stacked boxes awaiting her father), bathroom, Jess’s room, kitchen. Sam had to move fast because Jess was outside and the last thing he wanted was for her to meet his father. But he needn’t have worried: the apartment was empty.
But that didn’t make sense. Sam knew his father too well, and Dad wouldn’t have come all the way to Palo Alto just to break into Jessica’s apartment and lay down some salt. If he’d been here, he had some other purpose, so Sam began a closer examination of the apartment. He began with the kitchen because, if Dean had been there with Dad, the kitchen would provide the evidence.
The four beers Sam had left in the refrigerator were still there. The open bag of corn chips in the cupboard appeared to be untouched. So was the small plate of cookies beside the coffee press.
“Sam?” Jessica called.
“It’s okay, Jess. Come on in.”
Sam closed the refrigerator door. It was covered with magnets: colourful letters and numbers which Jessica and Claire had used to leave messages for each other. That was where Sam found it: a folded piece of paper pinned to the refrigerator door using the magnetic numbers 9 – 1 – 1.
Sam pocketed the note without looking at it and shifted the magnets around to hide the code even Jess would understand. He turned around just as she appeared in the kitchen doorway.
Sam smiled to let her know everything was okay. “I think Dean dropped by. I’ll call him later. How about a nice mug of hot chocolate?”
Jessica returned his smile. “Oh, that sounds heavenly.”
“Whipped cream or marshmallows?”
“Marshmallows. They’re on the top shelf next to the candy. Do you mind if I take a shower while you make it?”
“No, go ahead.” Sam didn’t suggest joining her. She wouldn’t be in the mood so soon after the funeral and truthfully neither was he. They needed a relaxing evening, a movie on TV perhaps, and sleep.
While Jess showered and milk heated in a pan, Sam changed out of his cheap suit. He transferred the still-unread note into the pocket of his sweats. He made hot chocolate for both of them, generously topped with marshmallows, and carried both mugs into the living room. He heard Jessica’s hairdryer start up and turned on the TV.
Sam was still flipping through the channels, looking for something undemanding they could watch when Jessica joined him on the couch.
They ended up watching Titanic on DVD. Jessica cried at the end. Sam held her and didn’t complain she was getting his t-shirt wet.
Finally, Sam switched the DVD for re-runs of Miami Vice with the sound turned down low and they cuddled together on the couch.
“Sam, I was thinking…”
He stroked her hair, enjoying the strawberry scent of her shampoo. “Mm-hm?”
“Would you like to move in with me?”
Surprised, Sam sat up. “Really?”
Jessica turned to look at him. “Well, the rent is paid until school starts again, because we – Claire and I – always paid quarterly. It’s cheaper. But I’ll need a new room-mate when the next rent cheque is due and hardly anyone stays in dorms after the first year. You could have Claire’s room if you want. Or we could turn Claire’s room into a study and both sleep in mine. What do you think?”
Sam smiled at her warmly. Jessica wasn’t even considering how awkward that arrangement would be if they broke up…which was very good, because Sam had no intention of ever breaking up with her. Their friends would tell them they were rushing things, moving in together, but Sam would not pass up this chance.
So he nodded. “A study sounds good,” he agreed, and kissed her as she began to smile.
A moment later he excused himself, telling Jess he needed to use the bathroom. He locked the bathroom door and opened the note Dad left for him. It was very short: just five words on a sheet of paper torn from his journal.
We found sulphur. Call me.
There was nothing else. Not even a signature.
Sulphur. Sam knew what that meant. There was a demon at the house. A demon killed Claire. The possibilities rushed through his mind one after another. Demon. Someone was possessed. One of his friends? Not Jess, unless everything he knew about salt as a protective barrier was wrong. Claire. Brady. Or even both of them…demons could jump bodies. Both of them at different times. But how to find out? He should call Dad and
Sam caught himself. What was he thinking? Dad had been here, and he left. Suddenly the salt at the apartment door made perfect sense. It was a test. A test for both of them. If either Jessica or Sam himself had been unable to cross that line, Sam would never have found Dad’s note. The double-think was typical of his father and suddenly Sam was utterly sick of it.
Call me, the note said, but typically John had left no number. It wasn’t likely he was still using the same phone he had two years before. Sam could call Dean, though…
But if he did, what of Jess? Sam looked over his shoulder as if Jessica would be visible through the locked door. She had already seen too much of his old life, and her best friend was dead because of it. The note presented Sam with a choice that was clear to him for the first time. He could make the call and track down the demon that killed Claire he could be a Winchester again or he could be the man Jessica loved. The man he longed to become.
Sam did hesitate for a moment but he had made his decision when he first came to Stanford. Now the choice was even easier.
Sam tore the note into pieces, dropped the scraps into the toilet bowl and flushed it away.
~ End ~