Dean huffed audibly and closed the cell phone with a
click, dropping it into the seat beside him while his
left hand clenched the steering wheel and kept them
safely on the nearly deserted highway. The sun was setting
and he’d taken off his sunglasses a bit too early,
it seemed, as he squinted into the fading light, a crease
in his forehead that Sam knew was more than just defense
against the dying glare.
no luck reaching, Dad?” Sam asked, looking up
from the phone in his lap at the sound of his brother’s
Dean answered, and from the intonation, Sam knew he
wanted to offer an explanation but had already given
every one he could possibly come up with. They hadn’t
heard from their father in almost a month. No phone
calls, no voice mails, no coordinates, nothing. Dean’s
hand tightened on the steering wheel under his little
brother’s quiet scrutiny. “And no one else,
either.” He gestured toward the cell distractedly.
“I’ve tried everyone on the contact list.
Half of ‘em go directly to voice mail and don’t
return the calls, and the other half say they are temporarily
out of service.” He bit the inside of his lower
lip contemplatively. “I’m starting to think
something big’s going down, and we haven’t
gotten the memo.”
pursed his lips and looked at his brother, nodding slowly
and wishing he could offer some explanation himself.
But his mind was a blank. Truth be told, he’d
been thinking the same thing himself. It was one thing
for their Dad not to answer, but when Bobby didn’t
pick up, or Joshua…well, Sam had to agree, something
was definitely up. He tapped the phone in his hand against
his thigh distractedly. “I’m sure we’ll
get someone eventually.”
Dean said with a small grin that Sam knew was as much
an acceptance of the younger brother’s reassurance
as it was an attempt to offer some in return. Hell,
what was brotherhood if not the mutual sharing of false
hope? Dean flicked his eyes in Sam’s direction,
fell to the phone in the younger brother’s lap,
and back to the road in the smooth manner of someone
who’d spent years trying to check up on someone
else without the second party noticing. As prone as
Sam was to playing the mother hen, he was certainly
stubborn when it came to accepting the watchful protectiveness
Dean doled out in return.
a moment to digest Sam’s hunched posture and nervously
fidgeting fingers, Dean said, “How ‘bout
Sam asked, drawing his gaze back inside the car from
whatever distant nothing he’d been staring at
for the last couple hundred miles.
nodded toward the phone in Sam’s lap. “You
having any luck reaching anyone?”
no,” Sam said, moving his hand to the phone as
though he’d meant to keep it hidden and forgotten.
“’Ts my old phone from Stanford. No service
on it,” he mumbled. He took a deep breath, obviously
trying to compose himself, and reached decisively for
the glove compartment door. He popped open the box,
pulled out the cord they used to charge the phones,
and plugged it into the cigarette lighter. “I
was just getting ready to charge it up, take a look
at some of my old video that’s stored in it.”
eyes darted out the window and back to the road as he
bit back the urge to tell his brother what a bad idea
that seemed to be. The older Winchester often put on
a show of careless nonchalance, but he knew that Sam
had been thinking about Stanford and Jess a lot lately.
He’d been letting it slide, because he had come
to accept that, yes, there were some things that Sam
needed to keep for himself. He couldn’t help but
wonder, though, if this might be a line Sam ought not
to be crossing. He refrained from saying anything, but
psychic boy seemed to already know what was on his mind.
know what you’re thinking,” Sam began, voice
edging on confrontational.
raised his eyebrows in mock amusement, not wanting to
fight with his brother, especially when they seemed
to have lost contact with anyone and anything else familiar.
“Oh you do…?” He grinned wryly. “Then
you owe me a dollar.”
leaned back against the passenger door, turning toward
his brother incredulously with a questioning smirk dancing
across his face and lighting up his eyes. “A dollar?
spice boy, porn ain’t free.” He pointed
to his head, raised his eyebrows, and grinned lewdly,
“And this is the good stuff. Which one were ya
watching? Huh? Was it the one with the two hot chicks
from New York? Or maybe the police babe from Chicago?
Ooh, the hair wash girl from when we stayed with Bobby…”
Sam’s head rocked back against the window as a
soft chuckle bubbled out of his chest. “Dude,
TMI. Anyway, I thought peep shows were a quarter.”
shrugged. “Inflation,” he said, “it
ain’t just the easy way to get a date without
leaving the motel room anymore.”
Sam tried to sound offended, but it was impossible to
do through the ear-to-ear grin that had spread across
his face. He just shook his head and plugged the cord
into the phone.
grin faltered slightly as he saw Sam’s hands proceed
with the task of charging up the phone. He cleared his
throat and darted his eyes away to hide his disappointment
at the brief nature of their reprieve. “So, uh,”
he ducked his chin slightly, obviously uncomfortable,
“you wanna tell me about it?”
really,” Sam answered.
looked down at the phone for a long beat, and Dean knew
the part about not wanting to talk was just BS. His
instincts were confirmed a moment later when Sam spoke
just…” Sam paused, and Dean kept his eyes
fixed on the road ahead as though he wasn’t worried
about his brother and had all the time in the world.
“Well, it’s kind of an anniversary, or,
it would’ve been, you know, for Jess and me.”
He put his fingertips to his forehead as if willfully
smoothing the tense wrinkles forming there. “There’s
a few messages from her on this phone still. I had it
on me, when…” His voice broke off. “Everything
else burned. It’s all I have left.”
know.” And as much as it had hurt Dean when Sam
had left all those years ago, it hurt him more that
everything Sam had left for had been taken from him
so violently. He wasn’t about to take away what
remained. He pulled his eyes from the road and looked
at Sam, really looked at him for the first time in hours,
and Sam met his gaze. “Just so long as you’re
just remembering,” he swallowed, “not psyching
yourself up to do something stupid.”
gaze dropped, and they drove the rest of the way in
waited for the sound of the shower spray and the first
wisps of steam to come under the ill-fitting bathroom
door before he scooted back against the headboard of
the too-small bed and opened the phone. Now fully charged,
the screen displayed the prompt that he had three saved
video messages. He’d played them all a hundred
times before, but as he clicked play on the first, and
Jess’ smiling face appeared in the frame, he felt
like he did the first time he’d seen her.
chest clenched against a bubble of what could have passed
as acid reflux if it hadn’t been for the deep,
aching emptiness of the burn. He’d forgotten how
much he missed her; the bright gleam of her smile, a
smile that seemed to reach into his soul somehow, pierce
the shadow of growing up Winchester, and make it okay
to just be Sam, Jess’s Sam. The sight of that
smile again brought crashing back the sheer mass of
everything that had been ripped from him when Dean had
ripped him from the flames and left behind everything
he’d ever thought he’d wanted.
wasn’t that he wouldn’t have given it all.
If he’d known then what he knew now, he’d
never have been so stubborn about giving up the search
for Dad and returning to Palo Alto. If he’d known
then how much better off Jess and Becky and all of that
shining future-upper-middle-class crowd would have been
without him to bring the fire and darkness down on them,
he’d have never gone there in the first place.
He wasn’t a selfish bastard, just, well, somewhat
ill-informed. Had he known the Demon was hunting him,
not the other way around, he’d have passed on
the future until he’d dealt with the past.
flagged a test paper in front of the camera phone. “Look
baby,” she squeeed, her voice like ice-laden willow
branches tinkling together in the winter breeze, “I
got an ‘A’ on my Latin test.” She
focused the phone on her face and batted her long, dark
lashes while pursing her full lips. “You know
I couldn’t have done it without you. I am sooo
gonna thank you properly as soon as you get home.”
With another flash of her perfect smile, she pressed
her lips to the camera before it went dark.
let his thumb trace over the screen, the image of her
sweet kiss burned onto his retinas, despite the screen
being black. He was sorry to see it fade.
was sorry for a lot more than that, too. His eyes glanced
to the bathroom door and he could still see the worried
glance Dean had cast in his direction as he’d
slipped inside. He was sorry Dean worried so much about
him. He was sorry there were times, in the past, when
he’d taken Dean’s worried protectiveness
for smothering oppression. He was sorry that the Dean
that came to find him in Palo Alto was a broken, re-glued
porcelain replica of the mighty hunter brother he’d
left behind. He was sorry there were years of Dean’s
life that Sam would never know and that there were years
of his that Dean would never share. He was sorry Jess
would never kiss her own children with the soft lips
she’d brushed against the phone.
he wasn’t sorry he’d kissed those lips.
He wasn’t sorry he’d wanted Jess’s
children to be his children, or that he’d wanted
to build her that house and the picket fence where those
children could grow and be happy. He wasn’t sorry
that he hadn’t known he was never meant to have
those things. There was no way he could have known,
and if he had… If he’d known his life was
bound to the Demon, and that everyone around him would
suffer for that binding… Well, what would he have
been without hope?
despite what Dean may have thought about him replaying
these old messages, digging up these old bones memories,
Sam wasn’t sorry for doing it. He wasn’t
sorry that he’d been happy once. And he wasn’t
sorry he wanted to be happy again. He was only sorry
it had been such a long time since he’d believed
it was possible.
clicked on the menu and started playing the second message.
A small smile played out on his lips. Disneyland. He’d
had insisted on bringing Sam to Disneyland on their
last Spring Break. She’d made it quite clear that
she found it appalling that any child could grow up
in the United States of America and never visit the
Magic Kingdom. She’d practically dragged him kicking
and screaming from their apartment where he’d
been bound and determined to spend the entire break
studying for the friggin’ LSATs. He wasn’t
sorry she’d done it.
scene on the screen became more familiar as it played
out. Jess was grinning, her long blonde hair fluttering
in the breeze, and the sunlight glared off her white
short suit in a way that made her look downright angelic.
She was at one of the photo op posts that overlooked
Sleeping Beauty’s castle, chatting it up with
Prince Charming himself. Sam could vaguely recall the
dorky grin that had pulled at the corner of his mouth
as he’d filmed the conversation.
that handsome?” Jess teased, batting her eyelashes
and tossing her hair over her shoulder flirtatiously.
“You want to marry me and take me back to your
castle?” She turned and looked at the towering
castle with its spiraling turrets painted in pinks and
blues. “That castle over there?” She put
her hand to her mouth in mock wonder. “That would
be like a dream come true.” She feigned a swoon.
Then her eyes turned to look into the camera. “There
is just one problem with that plan, though,” she
said, eyes darkening.
problem would that be?” Prince Charming asked,
ducked her chin a little sheepishly, kicking the toe
of her sandal along the sidewalk. “It just so
happens, that I am completely…undeniably…irrevocably…”
She accented each word by taking a step closer to the
camera and gazing into the lens from beneath her lashes,
“…head over heels in love with my boyfriend.”
could remember how his heart had leapt at the precise
moment that the phone started to slide down as he’d
prepared to sweep her into his arms. Just as the frame
fell to her feet and the entwined shadow of his between
them, she skipped away playfully. The camera lifted
just in time to see her leap into the arms of some poor
dude in a Pluto costume. “Isn’t he dreamy?”
She laughed with a tease. And the video cut off.
smile still pulling at the corners of his mouth, Sam
clicked onto the next message. Jess re-appeared, this
time in a baby tee and boyshorts. She was sprawled on
her stomach across their bed, the phone clasped in her
hands as they dangled over the edge. He could just barely
see the freshly painted toenails, cotton balls still
tucked between the digits, as she kicked them around
behind her distractedly. “Oh baby,” she
whined softly, lips pouting out, “I’m so
bored here all by myself. Enough studying already. That
cranky old librarian sees you more than I do anymore.”
traced a finger over her bottom lip, along her neck
and just under the neckline of her t-shirt before letting
her head fall sideways onto one outstretched arm, long
hair pillowing around her face. “What’s
she got that I haven’t got?” She moved the
phone closer to her face so that all he could see was
her mouth. “Come home now. I promise, I’ll
make it worth your while.”
glanced around the room quickly. Even though he could
still hear the shower running, he wasn’t taking
any chances on Dean walking in and seeing that. Dean
had had escapades, trysts, interludes that Sam was sure
could make a sailor blush with shame. Sam had had a
lover, and the difference was the complete lack of shame.
Sam wasn’t sorry for that either.
was about to close the phone back up, knowing that Dean
would be out in a few minutes, when he noticed with
perplexing incredulity that the text prompt indicated
that he had one un-played video message. His brow crinkled.
He was pretty sure that he’d never seen that on
there before, and there’d been no service to this
glanced at the date on the display: November
1, 2005, and every ounce of giddy pleasantness
that had settled over him in his reminiscing was instantly
strangled by the wave of anguish that squeezed him from
the inside out. The day before she died…
thumb trembled visibly as he instructed the phone to
play the message.
face appeared onscreen once more, but Sam had to squint
to see it. It took him a moment to realize she was barely
backlit by several candles lined up on their kitchen
counter. He thought it might have been another one of
her romantic, come hither messages, but there was a
little too much white in her eye, a little too much
tremble in her voice, a little too much sheen to her
forehead, and he knew she was afraid.
she said, her voice barely a whisper. “I know
you’re not nearby, and I don’t know when
you’ll get this message, but I had to call anyway.”
She looked around her as though she thought someone
might be sneaking up on her from out of the darkness.
“It’s just… things are weird here,
baby. The lights keep flickering out. The TV won’t
keep a signal. I asked around, but aside from some power
surges on the floor, no one else seems to be having
the same problems. I don’t know…maybe I’ve
seen too many bad horror movies, but I’m getting
seriously creeped out.” Sam could see her one
free arm wrap around herself protectively, long fingers
working worriedly at the flesh of her opposite arm.
“Sam, I’m scared. Please come home.”
phone jerked and Jess’ head turned quickly as
she looked at something off camera. “Who’s
there?” A beat. “What?” Another beat.
She turned back to the phone. When she spoke again,
Sam nearly let the gizmo fall from his grasp. His eyes
were focused on her lips which clearly said, “I
love you,” but no matter how many times he played
the message back, he heard something else entirely,
like a bad dub on one of those old Kung Fu movies Dean
used to watch when they were kids. He replayed the message
one last time to be sure, putting the phone directly
on his ear the second Jess turned to look into it that
iacta est.” What the hell?
the phone did fall from his grasp as the bathroom door
flung open and Dean entered the room, surrounded by
a steamy mist. He had one towel wrapped loosely around
his waist and was scrubbing another over his short hair,
large droplets of water still clinging to his eyelashes,
as he turned and froze at the sight of his baby brother,
pale and stricken atop the bed. He studied Sam silently
for several long beats, then began rubbing the towel
through his hair once more. He stalked over to the corner
of the room where they’d dropped their duffel
bags. Keeping one hand at his waist to prevent the towel
from slipping, he bent and grabbed Sam’s bag from
the floor. In one fluid motion he turned and flung the
duffel across the room onto his brother’s lap.
it,” he said authoritatively. “‘Nuff
reminiscing for one night. Get your ass up. We’re
going out.” Sam opened his mouth to protest, but
Dean’s jaw clenched and he tilted his head defiantly,
eyes boring through his younger brother. “That
wasn’t a request.” Dean flung the loose
towel onto his bed and began digging through his own
bag brusquely. Realizing that Sam still hadn’t
moved, Dean turned his head to look at him over his
shoulder, eyebrows raised expectantly. “Up!”
He demanded. “Now!”
turned back to his rummaging, mumbling under his breath.
“Might not have anything constructive lined up
to do in this town, doesn’t mean we gotta sit
here and rot.”
wanted to argue. He held the phone up, mouth agape in
preparation to tell Dean what he’d just seen,
but to his dismay, the message he’d just played
was gone. He spent several seconds randomly pressing
buttons and searching for it in vain, but all that remained
were the three original messages. Sam shook his head
in bewilderment. Maybe I do need a drink. He
grabbed his bag and stalked off into the bathroom silently.
leaned back in the chair, his long legs splayed out
carelessly under the table as he peeled at the label
of the beer bottle he’d been sipping on for the
last hour. He glanced up every now and again from under
his furrowed brow to watch Dean.
brother was in his usual hunter form, stalking around
like a big cat, the women of the establishment unaware
or unwilling to acknowledge that they were the prey.
Sam watched as Dean struck up a conversation with one
busty blonde, only to have his head turned by a curvy
redhead that paraded by and start a second conversation
with her. Sam swore the next time Dean ended up in the
ER, which , according to Sam’s watch, would probably
be, oh, anytime now, he’d hit the docs up for
a Ritalin script. If Dean didn’t have ADD, then
Sam was pretty sure there was no such thing.
caught Sam’s near-leer of disapproval in his direction,
rolled his eyes, and excused himself from the company
of the petite brunette he was currently charming. He
walked cockily over to his brother’s table, set
his beer down with a clunk, and dragged the chair out
from under the table, lifting it just enough to make
it scrape across the floor raucously. He spun the chair
around backwards, straddled it and leaned forward to
get in Sam’s face.
you keep looking at me like that, and people are gonna
think you’re my jealous boyfriend or something.”
raised his eyebrows, determined not show just how little
he cared about whether his brother got laid that night.
leaned back in the chair and threw his hands up. “Whatever.
You don’t wanna mingle, why don’t I go bring
someone over here to meet ya?” He leered over
his shoulder. “That blonde over there? Huh? I
bet she’d wipe that gloom and doom look off your
face.” He leaned closer as if to whisper in Sam’s
ear. “She’s got a tongue piercing,”
he said, pulsing his eyebrows.
glared back at him from half-hooded eyes.
shrugged. “Hmph, not your type then.” He
looked around the bar again, eyes rolling a little loosely
in their sockets to make Sam wonder just how many beers
he’d had already. “Oh!” He exclaimed.
“Tawnia over there…” he pointed to
a petite brunette, “…is a gymnast. Heh?”
glare of doom. “Dean, would you stop trying to
pimp me out, already?”
c’mon little brother. Is it so wrong for me to
want to put a little color in your cheeks?” He
quirked a smirk. “Preferably all four…”
Sam growled, lowering his gaze.
Sammy, wait…” Dean said throwing up his
hand to end the tirade. “Check this one out.”
He held the beer bottle in his right hand, took a long
swig off of it, and pointed across the room with the
pinky finger of the same hand. “Tall, well-built,
long legs…” Dean rattled on, taking another
drink off of his beer.
a sigh, Sam turned to see what poor girl his brother
was leering at now. He heard Dean’s snicker too
late as he met the gaze of one tall and very well-built,
long-legged indeed, MAN. The dude smiled back
at him flirtatiously, having obviously been eyeing him
up from behind for some time already.
almost choked on the last swallow of his beer when Sam
turned back and glared at him, eyes barely slits. “There’s
my color,” Dean laughed pointing at the flush
rising over Sam’s cheeks. After a few seconds,
the laugh faded and Dean shook his head, standing up.
“Fine, if you’re so intent on sucking all
the life out of the room, I think I saw another fine
drinking establishment a couple miles down the road.
Maybe I’ll head over there and leave your sorry
ass to sulk in peace.” He straightened and frowned.
“After I hit the john.”
could tell that Dean was in no condition to drive, but
he was pretty sure Dean would pass out in the bathroom
or, at the very least, forget about the other bar by
the time he came out. He wasn’t too worried. He
shook his head and watched his brother make his way
to the back of the bar.
Dean was out of sight, the weight of the phone in his
pocket seemed to grow by several tons. Unable to get
the thought of his earlier episode with the phone out
of his mind, he gave in to the temptation to fish it
out. He torqued his head sideways with a little smirk,
his brother’s happy drunk antics having succeeded
in lightening his own mood by several shades.
leaned forward, covering half the table with his large
upper body, the phone held out at arms length. He twirled
it around distractedly, warring with himself as to whether
he was going to open it again. Finally, the phone won
out, and he clicked it open.
original three messages were still there. Sam sat upright
quickly and looked at the screen more closely. For the
second time that night, an unplayed message prompt flashed
across the tiny monitor. He tried to check the date,
but that information was unavailable. His curiosity
piqued, there was no way he could ignore the mysterious
prompt, so he checked around to make sure that Dean
hadn’t come out of the restroom yet, and hit play.
first there was only some garbled sound, but Sam recognized
the song as “Invisible Man,” by Queen, and
he knew there was no way the message was from Jess.
After a few seconds, flashes of light and movement began
to appear on the screen. Sam realized that whoever was
holding the camera was either shaking or just moving
had a sensation of overwhelming vertigo as the entire
recording device flipped around, forcing him to place
a hand on the table. The image began to move back and
forth like a zoom lens alternating between macro and
panoramic view. Sam could barely make out a face in
the flashes of momentary clarity. Dean!
fingers tightened around the phone, willing the image
to still so that he could figure out what was going
on. He could make out the interior of the Impala, though
it was distorted somehow. Sam realized that Dean had
the phone on but apparently didn’t know that it
was in camera recording mode. He seemed to be trying
to see the numbers in order to place a call.
loud touch tones drowned out the music for a second,
several numbers apparently pressed simultaneously. Then
the whole phone shifted closer to Dean’s mouth.
“Hello?” Dean’s voice was weak, thready,
and his breathing seemed erratic.
hang it up and start again,” Sam caught himself
saying. He knew that there was no way that Dean could
hear him, but then, there should be no way he was getting
messages on a phone with no service, either.
shaking stopped suddenly, and Sam was finally able to
make out the predicament that Dean was in. The entire
passenger compartment of the Impala was filled with
greenery and branches, the windshield shattered, and
the door caved in. The phone slid slowly back from Dean’s
face, and Sam saw with horror that his brother was covered
in blood. He realized with a start the reason that the
phone had stopped shaking. Dean’s eyes were half-open
and fixed in a far-off stare. Dean!
Sam yelled to the phone. “Dean!” But Dean
didn’t move, and Sam could no longer hear him
the episode here!