Kalliel (kalliel) wrote,
Kalliel
kalliel

[Fic] Leave This Place - Sam, Dean, Kat; case!fic, post-S8

Title: Leave This Place [AO3 Link]
Genre: gen, case!fic, samndean, the requisite amounts of Dean H/C
Characters: Sam, Dean, Kat
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~14,000
Warnings: Choose not to warn.
Summary: Either you dismiss simplicity or you hide your timebombs in it, but nothing's ever really simple. Sam and Dean are forced to come to terms with the scorched earth they're not actually leaving behind. And after an unceremonious reunion with the Winchesters, Kat contends with the grisly future. Set post-S8.

This fic was written for desertport at spn_summergen 2013. The prompt was "Dean is cursed to hear everything said aloud about him." It was originally posted here. I've also written a director's commentary to this piece.






opening credits: "What Makes a Good Man?" - The Heavy



SOUTH TUCSON, ARIZONA / SANTOS, BRAZIL

"Okay, so my mom was definitely not wearing that hat," says Gavin. He bobs off screen as he reaches for his soda, and the sudden movement forces the video into blocky pixels.


"Why's that so hard to believe? You're the one who told her it looked funereal--and it was a funeral. I swear to god, she was wearing it the whole time!" Katherine's topcoat is almost done on her toes. A new OPI, glitter finish. She blows on them lightly, waits for the feed to get over itself and bring Gavin back. "Hang on, Skype's fucking up, I can't hear you."


"I said, can you turn another light on?"


Katherine laughs. "Why, you don't like the dusky sultriness of my bedroom the way it is?"

"I don't like all the shadows."

She sighs. "Just trying to save a little energy. Here, is that better?" She's grabbed the switch with her toes, works at it that way until the floor lamp floods the room. She turns the bedside table lamp off.

"No, keep that one on, too."

"Gavin, you're such a freak."

"No, that one just lights your face better."


"Yeah, because you totally want to see my gross bed face." He does, actually, and she knows it. "Chris had his baby shower," she continues. "It was only a little bit awkward."

"Awkward?"

"'Cause, you know, kind of a weird pre-party for a funeral. Even for your family. And like, Chris with a baby on the way? Dude, that's crazy."

Gavin stops swaying in and out of the window, and his picture comes into clear focus. "It's not that crazy."

Katherine looks down at her toes and, satisfied, puts her toe spreader on the bedside table and curls into the covers. "This is going to sound dumb, but I kinda like falling asleep with you on Sky--"


"--need to leave soon. There's an--oh. Sorry."

"Whatever, it's fine."

"Are the doors locked?"

"No, Gavin, I decided to switch it up tonight. Of course they're locked. I am capable of living alone, you know--been doing it for a year."

"Two ghosts, Kat."

Three ghosts, actually, but Gavin doesn't need to know about that.

"Just because Auntie Jenn didn't understand personal boundaries doesn't mean her ghost's gonna remember me, come on."

"You're right, forget it, forget it. Thanks for that, by the way. All the funeral stuff."


"It's no problem."

"I'll reimburse you for all that shit, just e-mail me the invoice or whatever. I don't think Mom's gonna remember, or she's gonna pretend to not remember or something, so…"

"Right, I meant to ask. So for the whole extension thing, does Fulbright just mail you a check? Or is it direct deposit, or--? Just let me know if you want me to do anything stateside."

"Stop, I want you to stop," Gavin mutters.

"What?"

"Nothing. Must gave been static, or feedback or something. I'll take care of it."

Katherine sighs. "Don't freak out; I've got it covered. Just because you're not here--"

"Don't be like that, Kat; you're not stupid. You know things go wrong."


"If you're not here, it just means I'll have one less person to accidentally shoot with rock salt, right?"

"Kat--"

"You don't remember, do you. See, this is the problem--you just never pay att--"

"Babe, I really do have to go. Tomorrow, though. We're not gonna have Wifi for the next few days, but I loaded my calling card, so…"

"I'll check in," says Katherine. The laptop is suddenly too hot against her chest; the fan kicks in and drowns out Gavin's platitude or whatever it is he's saying. And you know, fuck him. Whatever. "I'm gonna be busy tomorrow. Prepping."

"I said, I love you," Gavin repeats.

The window fills with Gavin, gray-green blocks of jagged color, and then he's gone. Katherine snaps the laptop shut, but keeps the weight of it on her until the fans have whirred down and it begins to pulse on standby. She takes a deep breath, and doesn't turn out the lights.


--


PAROWAN, UTAH

"I Skyped you because a tiny prophet let me know, and I quote, that 'my presence was more persuasive than the things that come out of my mouth'--not so you could Sherlock your ass over--Sam, jesus christ, hey, I realize this must be difficult for you, Samantha, but don't get distracted. Look at me. See this body language? It's supposed to say, Fuck you, Sam. Kind of like the words that came out of my mouth, which were--"


"Fuck me, I know. But since I noticed you were at"--Sam cranes his neck to read the sign behind the bar once more, in person this time--"Big Greg's Gay Bar, I figured it was, you know, an innuendo or something."

"Go screw yourself." Dean turns away from Sam and directs his attention toward the blackboard behind the bar, apparently deep in thought.

Sam seriously doubts Dean's interest in Big Greg's mixed drinks, or--Greg's mixed anything, he amends, when he realizes the scope and variety of the menu. "You're only digging yourself a deeper hole every time you open your mouth, dude. Seriously though, what the hell are we doing here?"

Dean shrugs. "It was quieter. At least no one here, in this real, actual room, is talking about me."

Sam can feel the bass pulse through his stool. He also knows appraising glances when he feels them.

"Yes they are."

Dean grimaces. "Yes they are." He gets up, slips a few bills under his glass, and doesn't wait for Sam. He winks at a guy sitting a few stools away, with that dumb, "I'm so cool" smile that drives Sam up the wall. Scratch that, it's not Dean's smile Sam has an issue with; just the bizarre points at which Dean chooses to employ it.


"Pull your thong down, Sammy." Dean waves a scrap of paper in front of him, beckons toward the door. "Hear tell our favorite fruity witch--or what's left of him--got shipped back home about a week ago. Looks like Comrade Nikita Nekrasov's been causing plenty of trouble down south. We're golden."

Sam hoped the outside air would hit him like a cleansing shock, but it's a muggy, lukewarm 2AM, and he is disappointed. "You know, if this is such a game to you," Sam pauses, and sidesteps a slick of garbage on the sidewalk. "Maybe we should just let it go. You can keep this curse forever. Is that what you're getting at, Dean? Ditch me, live happily ever after?"

"I'd love that, Sam. But you know, we have to finish the job, since that's something you failed to do, remember?"

"You can be a real bastard, you know that?" Sam says, tight-lipped. Dean rolls his eyes.


"No, I'm serious, Dean. I'm tired of having to talk through all this attitude. What's it all for? Are you making yourself a homemade bodyguard or something?"

Dean whirls around, catching Sam off guard. He grabs Sam's shoulder to keep him from falling from the curb.

Dean takes a deep breath. "Fine, no attitude, Sam. If it's the truth you want: I ditched you because I didn't want to deal with you. Does that make you feel better?"

They finish the rest of the block in silence, until they hit the Impala. She's run up onto the curb, parking meter bent, a dull gray streak across her right side.

"What did you do?" Sam can't help but gape for a moment. The answer should be self-evident, but let's be honest, Sam's stunned. The obvious just seems...so unlikely.

Dean makes a noise, then heads for the passenger side. He tosses the keys at Sam's face. "This whole--it's surprisingly distracting sometimes. End of story. Just get in the car."

Dean's forehead is resting against the dashboard by the time Sam rounds the car and gets in.

"Hey," says Sam.

Dean slumps against the window instead.

"Dean."

Nothing.

They should go back to the motel, book a room for another night. It's been a long couple days. But Sam doesn't think he can stand any more down time; and he definitely can't survive having to start back up again in the morning. They're working off the momentum it took to get them into this close a proximity in the first place. If they shut down now they're only going to fly apart again, likely in a display of fury-charged, entropic fireworks. Sam clears his throat, and tries to settle in to the driver's seat as his phone finds its GPS satellites.

"Left," says Dean. "Turn left at the light. You'll see the signs for the freeway. You wanna take the 15 down, find 93 eventually."

"If you give me the address, I can just put it in. And you can try to sl--"

"Just take the 15."

Sam takes the 15. He's hoping for the freeway breeze, but there's night construction right out of the stating gate, and its orange lights coast over the windshield, advising caution. SLOW SLOW SLOW, as they crawl through a fog of asphalt dust and the sound of drilling.

"Dean," says Sam, six miles in, because Dean's not asleep yet. He looks faraway, dazed, the way Sam's come to associate with what Dean's imaginatively been calling "Dean Radio."

"They're thinking about closing the Sarah Blake incident," Dean replies. "Ruling it an acute allergic reaction, since their main suspects are dead. Were killed, actually. Multiple times."

"Good," says Sam, and lurches the car forward another four feet.

"Good?"

"You know what I mean."

"Of course, they might have linked it to the murder of Nikita Nekrasov."

"Fuck."

"The current working theory is that it's not Dean Winchester, or Sam Winchester. It's a cult vengeance thing, and our followers are carrying on our legacy and placing our prints at all the crime scenes. Our version of the Zorro slash, or something."

Sam drums the pads of his fingers against the steering wheel; he hadn't realized they'd tensed up so much. He keeps an even tone. "Well, that sounds kind of ridiculous."

"Since ours is currently 'our dead witch isn't dead enough, and he cursed me with Dean radio, and now we have to go kill his already-pretty-melty corpse,' I'm willing to give the 5-0 a free pass tonight." Dean rubs at his temples, and screws his eyes shut.

"It's a dumb curse, anyway."

Dean makes another noise.

"Dean?"

"--uh?"

"You good?"

"Just--don't speak."

Sam sighs. This rate they'll hit town around noon, assuming they only stop for gas and Sam drives as fast as he's learned to, these past eight years; no rest for the wicked was right. Sam's beginning to understand Dean's especial distaste for witches. It's late-blooming--Sam's always been more concerned with tooth and claw--but witches were always bullshit. Sam doesn't have the patience for them.

"Remember when we used to hunt wendigo?"

"Crowley did."

Sam doesn't have an answer to that, and anyway, he's just as turned off to conversation as Dean is. That's the whole reason they're on the road right now, sitting in this absurd traffic. It's not like he doesn't have plenty to stew over without dipping into Dean's. They're in that crumple zone, where the state of the universe isn't quite settled, and whatever bullshit's waiting under the surface--because frankly, it's all bullshit--hasn't yet announced itself. He doesn't know how they're both alive and isn't at all sure how long they're going to stay that way. Part of him is almost certain one of the orange lights skating over his hands, the windshield, the wheel, his brother won't be benignly urging caution, but will be the sun itself, ripping across the horizon as they grind slowly into oblivion before the rest of the world has even woken up. And he hates Dean for bringing up Sarah again, though it's about time the police closed her case. If there's one thing he and the law have in common now, it's that neither of them know when to give up.

Finally the traffic picks up, and Sam drives past bullshit bullshit bullshit, entire counties, hours, states of bullshit, towards some bullshit southward city Dean won't even tell him the name of.

"Merge left," says Dean. "The freeway splits in a few miles and no one tells you."



They hit the city in gradations, a slow wheezing anticlimax as the speed limit shrinks from 60, 45, 30, 25. Dean's been interspersing information in between his directions, telegraphic and unevenly matched with stretches of silence. One of the local papers--and Dean scoffs--has been covering the Nekrasov homecoming with the energy of an overzealous but distant family member, one Alina Nekrasova. The family proper has not made itself available for comment. Dean figures Alina's their best bet.

"Let me handle this one," says Sam, as they pull into the corporate lot, the paper located in some office suite high above them. Dean's not listening.

Correction, not listening to Sam. "You can hear whatever people are saying about you, right? Well, let's not add to that. Just lay low on this one. Okay?


"--Okay?"

"I'm fine. Suite 314B." Dean exits the web browser and slides his phone into his pocket.

See, this is Sam's whole point. All of this was such bullshit. The lobby doors slide open for them--air conditioning, but old, and not that great--and Dean stops in front of the elevator as Sam makes for the stairs. Sam jerks back toward the elevator as Dean steps forward, toward the stairs.

"Fuck it." Dean keeps walking. Sam follows.

"Alina's not here," says the girl in the first cubicle they hit. "She's getting ready for the funeral. Which I assume you're here for," says the girl, which sounds like that's not at all what she assumes. Otherwise, her expression is probing and impregnable in turns. She's blonde.

"Katherine," says Dean. Apparently her name is Katherine. "You're an editor here, right?"


"Obituaries and local news," Katherine replies, without removing her graze from her screen or her fingers from the keyboard. "I also manage the paper's Twitter feed."

"So you'd have access to rough drafts, longer versions of all the articles in those sections."

"Not really. We're all online now, so length's not really a huge issue. If you're reading Alina's articles, you might have noticed."

Dean's got the charm turned up to eleven all right, but Katherine's not biting, isn't looking at them at all. "Is there any way we could see them anyway?" Dean asks, never mind that there's no conceivable, not-crazy justification for his request, as far as Sam can tell.

The good news is, Sam's not the only one who doesn't know when to quit, and lost causes love company. He nudges Dean. "Hey, hey. Come on. Are you ready to leave this place?"

Katherine jumps. "Wait." Inspects them both.

This can't be good.

"I know you."

"No," is Sam's instantaneous response. At the same time, Dean says, "He's not actually Xena."

"From the hospital--"

"No," Sam repeats. Dean says, "I meant Hercules."

"That stupid asylum--"

"No," says Sam. And Dean turns to Sam. "Fantastic." Then back to Katherine: "You friends with Martin? He's dead. And we're leaving. Nice talk."

Katherine's rounded the cubicle partition in an instant, ready to confront them at the stairwell, which, by Sam's estimation, is much further away than it was on their way up. Dean heads briskly toward the elevator.

"You're the guys who taught us about the rock salt," says Katherine, and rides the elevator down between them.

Ground floor.

"You're that girl," says Sam, as realization dawns. "You're Kat."

"No one calls me that anymore," says Katherine, just as Dean says, "That was you last night. You were talking about me. You said you almost shot me."

Katherine goes rigid. "What the fuck--?"

Dean gives the parking lot a quick scan. "Get in the car." He pushes Katherine toward the Impala.

It's then, it seems, that Katherine begins to register her mistake. "No," she says, and backs into Dean's arm. He pushes her forward again. "No, what--"

"Get in the car," he repeats. "We're not killing you, we're not kidnapping you, we're not going to torture you. But we are not having this goddamn conversation in a parking lot, so get in the car."

Katherine's in the back seat before it looks like she's entirely clear on the idea, much less in approval of it. And Sam hates himself a little, but with her hair mussed and sticky from the maneuver, her eyes wide with surprise and fear, he does recognize her.

"Kat," he says as he slams his door shut and the engine turns over. "It's Kat, right? I promise you--"

"Katherine," mumbles Kat. She's punching something into her phone that Sam sincerely hopes isn't 911.

"Turn right," says Kat, and not Dean. "You wanna take Henry Street all the way down, then a left at the train tracks. The complex has guest parking."

Sam regards her in the rearview mirror. "You're taking us...home?"

Kat looks up from her phone. "You killed Nikita Nekrasov, didn't you," as though it's supposed to somehow explain her actions. "That's why you're here. They said it was some kind of gay thing--salt to 'purify'--but… But that was you, wasn't it."

Neither of them answer.

Kat's still on her phone. "You're those serial killers, from last year. And…from a couple…years ago, but how, but--"

Sam hates smartphones.

Apropos of--well, who knows--Dean whips forward, hisses an indiscernible collection of consonants. "Fuck!"

And Sam: "Dean--"



Kat finally looks up. Looks straight at Sam through the rearview mirror before Sam's own attention snaps to Dean.


She says, "But you're both dead."


--


Katherine comes to terms with two things the moment she lets Sam and Dean Winchester into her apartment:

1) They're not going to stop calling her Kat, and
2) Now they're worried, they have to be, because

it looks like she stole an entire funeral, never mind a body. A full collection of casseroles she'd left out all day, all the floral arrangements, slightly jaunted and wilting from their trip up the stairs to her complex. The large Kinko's prints of Auntie Jenn's portrait, an inexplicably large number of boxed sugar cubes--Costco, unused. Files, invoices, receipts, catalogues, all on the ground where they'd slipped from her arms the night before.

"Wow," says--she's pretty sure that one's Sam, as though he'd never seen the aftermath of a funeral before. Carcass of, really. (With all due respect, Auntie Jenn.)

"I didn't call the cops because I know what you do," says Kat, though they hadn't bothered asking. It sounds weird to her, because even as a child she'd never been a snitch, but her tactic had always been plausible deniability. I'm not gonna call the cops, because I can't prove I knew it was crack. Just--throw it away.

I'm gonna give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you have a license for that gun.

Maybe you really did think you'd already paid for that.

Now it was more like, I know you killed that man; so hey, let me take you to my place.

"There are a couple misdemeanors on my rap sheet," says Kat, even though they still haven't bothered asking--or answering. "I hope you earned your…felonies…the same way."


"We've probably got a lot more people killed than we've actually killed killed, if that's any consolation," says Dean, as he moves around Auntie Jenn's tribute in her entryway. He quickly flicks his gaze up and down the exhibit, then mutters under his breath, "Definitely the lair of a hardened criminal."

Kat's cell phone chirps in the pocket of her jeans. Gavin, finally, Gavin. "Please eat casserole. There are some extra plastic forks and stuff somewhere in there," she says, and gestures vaguely toward Auntie Jenn in grayscale. "I'm just gonna take this, and--"

Sam whispers something that sounded a lot like, "--the fuck are we here, then, Dean?"

Whatever. She's never been a fan of ice breakers. She and the Winchesters already know more about each other than she ever really wanted--that is, anything at all. Her phone chirps again. "Give me fifteen, and then we can talk shop."

Kat slips into the bathroom and props her phone up on her small toiletries shelf, leaning it against the mirror as she grabs a brush and tries to let it do its business.

hey sorry met ethnographer, says the first. last night was balls sry for that too

She slides a couple hair ties from her wrist--elastic broken, overstretched, but they still work and she can't let them go--and winds them into a functional ponytail.

rly hoping youll get back to me soon about decembr

i miss you

i want to see you

we can eat guavas

and cannd sardines

and hate fuckin bank of aerica together


She splashes her face with water, wipes loose angel wisps back from her face with the excess.

u there?

Then she pockets her phone, grabs the iPad from the bedroom on the way out, and finds Sam and Dean Winchester exactly where she left them, more or less.

"If you guys could sit closer together, like you were before, yeah, there we go. There we go… I can get this set up so that--" Her USB projector flicks blue, no signal, and shuffles back between her iPad screen and blue as she toggles the connector. "There." Balancing the projector on the sugar cubes, and the iPad against her knee, Kat brings her case notes into clear, if slightly slanted, focus. "If you're after Nikita Nekrasov, that's great, because I've been working backwards--towards him. First up, there's his two victims, Li Hing Ping, and uh. Well. Jennifer Williams, Auntie Jenn. Whom you've met. Sort of."

She scrolls down through her data until she hits bottom and it bounces up a few centimeters on the ricochet. "Never knew each other when they were alive. I'm guessing wrong place, wrong time. But they were all shown and cremated at the funeral home next door. And those are the highlights, I guess. Questions?"

"...You have a funeral home next door?"


"We also have vaulted ceilings and great natural light. Shut up."

"Can I see that?" Sam seems to be impressed by the color-coded hypertext she'd been using to link the three ghosts.

"We do it at the paper," Kat offers. "Good stuff. Great resume fodder."

Dean gives her set-up the same once-over with which he'd regarded Auntie Jenn's tribute. "Kids these days."

"May I?" Kat asks Sam, before she unplugs the projector from her iPad. Then she turns back to Dean. "And dude, I'm 26."


--


"Fuck, I really need to take this." Kat's phone chirps again, and with the promise that she'll be right back, she vanishes.

"Something's up." Sam's sure of it. It seems wildly unlikely that they pulled anyone into hunting--willingly, in any case. Willing and still alive. All of this about--and Sam scans the mobile funeral they're sitting in the middle of--Auntie Jenn, and the phone calls; it all had to add up somehow.

"Isn't this how most of our work relationships go?" says Dean. "We always team up with whoever pops out of the woodwork, don't ask too many questions, and mutually abuse each other's assets. Only difference for today is, no one had to beat information out of anyone first. This is the epitome of team work, Sam."

Except Kat's not--hell if Sam knows. He almost makes mention of surly backwater hunters who've spent too much time bleeding at the back of dark caves and not enough time editing local newspapers, but thinks better of it.

"Dean," says Sam. Dean's up and circling the perimeter of Kat's living room, probably doing the opposite of trying to find the proverbial 3G.


"Dean." He's losing him. Fuck it.

"Three ghosts," says Sam. "Judging from Kat's timeline, Nikita gets shipped back here, and Li and--Auntie Jenn--end up dead. And also ghosts. He's gotta be the key, right? Ghosts don't just--" See, this is why Sam's getting the witch hate now. They are bastards. Statistically, two deaths in the same town on the same night equalling two ghosts was way off the norm. Sam's all for the right to die, but this is an abuse of the buddy system.

Great, now he's thinking up his own annoying Dean quips. This whole thing was grossly unfair.

"Dean."

Whatever. Sam keeps briefing. "We know… that Li and Auntie Jenn were cremated. But we know they're still ghosts. And if Nikita's the link, then he must have tripped up their spirits and tied them here with something else. Any ideas? Dean."

Sam sighs. It's a dumb curse anyway. If Dean would just ignore the extra white noise as well as he ignored Sam, maybe it would be less of an impediment. Not that Sam can blame him, exactly. Judging from Dean's updates, the bulk of conversations about Dean Winchester involve a growing number of federal conspiracy theories and a smattering of armed vigilantes who'd rather they were dead. Which is…inspiring. Generally they whip through town, cauterize the area, and try not to hit the same place twice; it's a big country with poor infrastructure and a lot of blind spots.

Even so, most things don't tidy up all that well, no matter what kind of precautions you take (and they don't, generally--Sam's calculated that by this point, it's a path of diminishing returns), and setting fire to a manipulative and domineering witch is currently topping the list of doesn't-clean-well. Sam counts it a blessing of divine intervention that no one noticed the Apocalypse that one time, because it feels like the entire damn world has been hearing about this one stupid witch.

Dean's making his rounds at Sam's back when Sam grabs his sleeve, gets up to cut Dean off. "Dean, hey. Hey. We are working a case. We're working a case--ignore him. Them. Whatever. It's just white noise."

Dean won't look at him, won't look up, like he's emerging from a dark place and it's suddenly too bright. "Fuck you, I can't," he says.

Again with the fuck yous. Sam regards him squarely. "Yes, you can."

Dean pushes him off, one part frustration and another disgust. Sam doesn't think the latter is entirely deserved. "I. Can't."

"Well, I don't know what to do." This is all Dean's fault. Except it's actually not this time. It's probably Sam's fault--a fact Dean certainly hadn't wasted any time pointing out. But when a witch's dying words were an--absurd, seemingly arbitrary--curse directed at your brother, obviously you're not going to wait around to see if his corpse had smoldered properly. If something could "smolder properly." And if there's something wrong with that, then Sam would like to have some words with triage, as a concept, so that they might discuss some of its more ambiguous cases.


"Then don't do anything, Sam. I'm not asking you to do anything. Just shut up."

Sam swallows. He can think of any number of insults entirely appropriate to the situation. And there are plenty of things he could say about Dean that he doesn't think he'd have any trouble justifying. Hell, a handful of them probably need saying. But what it boils down to is this: He doesn't know what to do. And it doesn't matter what he says. If he doesn't know exactly what to do, or exactly what to say, he's not going to throw in something half-baked, not if he has a choice. They have to do enough of that as it is.


"Fine," he says, which is not giving up, it's not.


"I did have a good thought, though," Dean offers.

"What."

"Since all the angels are, uh, excommunicated, angel radio has been cancelled for the season."

"Okay."

"So I figure, there's an eight percent less chance my ears will start bleeding, and then my head will explode."


--


"What do you mean, eight percent? Why only eight?" Sam.


"No one actually picks arbitrary numbers, Dean." Sam again.

"Lay it on me, 'cause I am wide open here. I've got all the time in the world." Sam again.

Kat asks Gavin to hold up; she can only handle a single one-sided conversation at a time. Gavin replies faster than she thought he could even type: ntbing one siderd.

She takes the hallway to collect herself, and tries to remember what the Winchesters were like, that first night. She tries to see if they are anything like that now. Generally, Kat hedges the existential--two years of editing op-eds for her journalism class in high school burned out her patience on the falsely philosophical early on--but they were strangers then, and are strangers now. If there's something about them that makes ghost-killing a rock solid character reference, she needs to know what it is.

Because when she looks at them, she doesn't trust them. Not really. She doesn't trust them with her secrets, her dreams, her love life. They aren't Tricia, Alex, Gavin--and let's be real, she hasn't seen Alex beyond Facebook in months and Gavin's been in Brazil for a year. She doesn't know the Winchesters, and she never did. To Kat they were a presence, a rescue team. But there weren't words of encouragement from them, no shock blankets, and she sent no thank-you letters scribbled in crayon, unlike the cards she had her church group kids write to the fire department. She can't even remember whether they said goodbye before they drove off in their fancy, creepy car.

Whatever happened eight years ago, the Winchesters aren't exactly her centerpiece for the whole experience.

She remembers the dark. She remembers losing Gavin, feeling a ghost's breath on her neck, its hands on her arm. She remembers feeling the sawed-off in her hands, heavy, instruction-less, and she remembers being terrified that she wouldn't remember how to shoot it--like getting back in your parent's minivan when you come home from college, or diving into a pool for the first time all summer. She remembers she had plans to guard lap swim the next morning. She remembers being stupidly concerned that if she died tonight, they weren't going to be able to find a sub in time. She remembers standing alone in that asylum (with Gavin, not alone), hoping that the cops would come, and wondering what they would think about her if they did. Holding a gun like that. (Alone.)

She remembers Sam--because it was Sam, wasn't it--asking, "Are you ready to leave this place?" and she remembers not leaving. Not being able to leave.

Sometimes she'll close her eyes--in the middle of the day, in the suite's bright, noisy cafeteria, in the middle the busiest work weeks--and she'll still feel that breath on her neck. Her elbow will twitch, and she'll feel twiggy fingers around it.

And she knows: She still hasn't left yet.


"So, do you actually work for the paper? Or is this like, a hunter thing, or what?" asks Sam. "Not to be out of the blue."

All right, so it was out of the blue. Kat finds her bearings in reality again, and answers slowly. "Yes… I really do work for the paper. No, I wasn't actually working today. I just had a couple more things to look up for the--ghost. Thing. And I had some loose ends to tie up because I left early yesterday to prep for the funeral--right. Anyway. That's the whole reason we moved out here."

"The ghosts?" asks Sam.

Kat frowns. "The journalism."

Her phone chirps. im wide open here

"Need some air," says Dean.

"Keys?" asks Sam.

if i did smth youd tell me right? kat

Dean waves Sam off.


"Hey." Sam waits for Dean to turn back from the door and look at him. "You good?"

i hope you trust me that much, Kat texts back.

Dean's expression darkens. "I'm fine."

He leaves.

its just hard to tell ina text msg

i'm fine
, Kat texts back, and shoves her phone in her pocket.

Deep breath.

Another one. Sam's sitting on her coffee table, and the expression on his face kind of reminds her of a puppy that's been left behind.

"Sam," she says, with a nod toward the door. "I... don't think 'fine' always means--"

"I know what it means," Sam snaps. He's not facing her anymore, but immediately his shoulders slump with the burden of contrition. Under his breath, "Fuck," though Kat hears him anyway.

"I don't know," she says. "I'm sorry--I'm just. I'm kind of a mess, with the funeral, and then the ghosts, and there actually are deadlines at work and stuff, and, like-- I don't know."

She didn't even like her high school journalism class that much. And now she's an editor for the local paper? And obituaries, seriously? Everyone has their weird career story, and hey, any job is a happy ending, but she chose this. She chose all of it. She's never gone looking for ghosts, but she's found more than a dozen, and only within spitting distance.

Maybe they're right. Maybe she's here for the ghosts. Maybe--

"It's fine," says Sam. "No, it's really okay," he rephrases.

"And I'm--sorry for all the text messaging. My boyfriend, Gavin, my same--my same boyfriend. He's in Brazil right now and we're, just--"

"Still together, huh?" Sam says.

Does he not believe her? "Yeah," she says, more forcefully than she'd meant.

Sam chuffs. "No, I mean. That's gotta be, what, eight years now, at least? I mean, congratulations." Sam rises from her coffee table and circles back to her iPad. "To be honest, I can't… I can't even imagine--"

"Yeah," she says, softer now. "It's a long time." She decides Sam doesn't need to know about the "break" years, the "mutually agreed-upon exploratory months," the angry three-week break ups and stupid (stupid stupid) infidelities. She fingers her phone in her pocket. It would be wildly out of context to text him back, I FUCKING LOVE YOU, but she almost does. She almost texts him, the same way she almost really fucking loves him.

She snatches her hand from her phone and loops her thumbs into her back pockets instead. "So! Uh, you and Dean, you've just been going around, hunting ghosts and stuff all this time?"

"Some ghosts," Sam says.


"Any kernels of advice?"

He laughs, unconvincingly. "Only bad ones."


--


"Air, huh?" Sam crinkles his nose. Dean is dry-heaving behind the 2000-block Dumpsters, if the stenciled numbers are anything to go by. The white's begun to rust around the edges, fans out in a crackle of gray, orange, and blue. "And by air you meant sulfur and methane, not that sissy oxygen stuff."

"Ugh," Dean replies. Sam slaps him on the back.

There's a retaining wall that makes a nook for the Dumpsters. It faces away from the apartments, toward a gravel-paved service road bordered on the other side by a municipal chain-link fence. The set-up is meant to be aesthetic, Sam supposes. Sort of. Dean says he's glad he stayed away from that casserole, and slides down to sit against the retaining wall. Sam joins him.

"And I think I'm getting Telemundo now."

Sam comes to terms with the uncomfortable wetness seeping through the bottom of his pants, and hopes sincerely that it is weather of some kind. Morning dew. Muggy condensation. He tries not to think about the fact that this is Arizona, it's summer, and it's the middle of the afternoon. "It's probably Portuguese, actually," Sam replies, shifting up to a much safer squat. "Gavin's in Brazil."

"Who?"

"Kat's been texting her boyfriend, Gavin, in Brazil. He's what's up with her weirdness--not, you know, something supernatural. She probably didn't leave out the part where she's feeding dead serial killers her Aunt Jenn's cass--"

"--No casserole." Dean knocks his head back against the retaining wall and takes a deep, slow breath.

And what's Sam supposed to do? Hug him? Sure, Sam doesn't know what to do, but he's also not entirely sure what he's supposed to be doing anything about. The best explanations Dean's offered are "Dean radio" and "Go outside, no just--go. Go! Now say something about me. I'm gonna close the door. There. You said it was 3AM and that I'm a dick." Honestly, pretty juvenile as far as curses go--just a bunch of bullshit. So Sam doesn't understand why this is slamming Dean so hard. Even if there were a hundred people talking about Dean, if Dean has ever needed a quiet place to be able to think, he's never shown it--and he's in the wrong profession. And it's not like he's Justin Timberlake; Sam's not even sure they know a hundred people who aren't dead yet. But maybe they do. He'd forgotten about Kat. And now even Brazil, or some infinitesimally small piece of it, knows about Dean, too.

"So, Dean radio, from the 80s, 90s, and now. It's like…a roomful of extra voices?"

Lame, Sam. Very, very lame.

"More like multiverse," says Dean. He furrows his grow. "Non-consensual multiverse. Which I guess is pretty much Nikita's spe--"

"Multiverse," repeats Sam. "So like…?"

"It feels like I'm in all these places at once, like I'm actually in the room--with every goddamn person who decides to mention me. How hard is that to understand? Jesus."

Sam closes his eyes. "You're the one who said multiverse. Which that isn't, by the way."

"Garth just gave my phone number to someone in Havana," Dean interjects. "And those hunters from Philly? Yeah, they're still pissed. And the Ghostfacers are 'blogging' now."

Sam flexes his calves, and wishes Dean could've had this conversation inside, sitting on chairs or something. "Hey, at least they love you, right?"

Dean nods. "Yeah, and so does Hell," he mutters, without elaboration.

See, that would be multiverse. Sort of. "What about Purgatory?"

A shrug. "Not really that articulate over there."

"Like I'm supposed to answer to all of these fucking people," Dean continues. "That's what it feels like. Like I'm supposed to have some kind of, I dunno, response. Plate's full with what we have right in front of us, I don't-- What the fuck am I supposed to do? Write an empathy card to our goddamn atom trail? What?"

Dean slams his fist against the retaining wall.

"Oh, and East Hall Middle School can't figure out where to send my invitation to their 20-year reunion."

"Jesus."

"I know. What kind of middle school has reunions?"

"--Look, I'm sorry. This one's on me, I should've--" Should've what? Made sure Nikita Nekrasov was really, really dead before he checked on the murky alley heap that at some point earlier, had been Dean? Seriously? "No, never mind," Sam breaks off. "Like hell. You know what? Like hell I'm sorry about that, I--"

"No, you know what, Sam? Fuck it. I'm tired."

Fuck, not this again. Apathetic devastation is one of Dean's default modes, but that doesn't keep Sam's stomach from twisting, keep every joint in his hands from feeling like snapping glass when he reaches for Dean's shoulder.

"--I'm tired of slogging through all this bullshit--"

Sam yanks Dean back down when he tries to rise, and ends up almost facedown in the trash that didn't quite make it before he catches his own balance. "Stop, look. Dean."

Dean stops and looks. The focused precision of Dean's scrutiny is searing; Sam almost regrets asking for it.

"Look. Our one crazy witch turned into a crazy witch ghost, which is now three ghosts, and potentially a growing army of new ghosts. That's called a pattern of escalation." Dean shakes Sam's hand from him, and Sam rubs the gravel out of his other palm, smearing god-only-knows down the seam of his jeans.

"You may have noticed, that's basically our life. And that sucks."

Dean gets up again. Fucking hell; he's not even going to let Sam finish. "But this one? We can put an end to it--tonight. That we can do."

Dean extends Sam a hand up. "Or Kat can. She's got this, Sam, she really does."

"No she doesn't. That's why she asked for help. She asked for our help, Dean. So if you're not gonna do this for me, at least--"

Dean doesn't reply, but he does start back toward Kat's apartment building. It's better that he doesn't ask, Sam thinks. It's not Kat who called for help.

To Part 2...
Tags: fic: spn
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