|You Say the Dead Need No Physician, 3/4
||[Aug. 14th, 2010|07:02 am]
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On the drive home, in the backseat this time, Sam listens to Dean and Joe chat amiably about the triple-strength protection mojos, which are apparently made triple-strength by the addition of about seventy million botanicals. Dean sounds proud of himself, and Joe sounds pleased. Sam leans his head against the window and tries not to think. He catches Dean out of the corner of his eye; Dean is glowing quietly, happy. Sam realizes that while he was tearing his heart out, his brother was making friends, and shedding one more fear along the way. Sam wants to be jealous, wants to have been the one to put that look on Dean’s face, but that petty spark is quashed by a flare of hope: for the first time, Sam thinks he sees Dean the way he – no, not what he was before. But this Dean, he’s actually alive, not just breathing.
Sam doesn’t want to be the one that takes that away. He can see it, plain as if it had happened: Dean flinching away, his eyes shutting down, his back turned cold and solid against Sam.
He won’t. He won’t.
After dinner, Sam and Dean head over to Eric Rutledge’s shop on Broad Street. Eric himself is short and slim, with fair hair, startlingly blue eyes, and worried lines at the corners of his mouth. He ushers them into the shop, where Maggie and Joe are waiting. The shop reeks of understated old-money elegance, but still manages to be lovely and inviting; the walls are a delicate robin’s- egg blue, which sets off the furniture, much of it richly carved mahogany. Sam’s eyes are drawn to a charming wall display of old keys, each one tied with a silk ribbon and mounted in a gilded frame.
“Thanks for coming,” Eric says, gesturing to some chairs upholstered in a cheerful magenta. Sam and Dean sit, and Eric stands, nervously twisting his hands like he can’t think what to do with himself.
“Eric, man,” Joe says, softly, “It’s okay. They’re here to help.”
Eric’s shoulders slump, and he leans against a desk. “I know. I’m sorry. Just… Ben, Stacy, Steve. I knew them, and whatever’s in that house, I don’t want it hurting anyone else. I’m sorry I ever bought the damn place.”
“It’s not your fault,” Dean says, unexpectedly. Sam looks at him. “It isn’t. You didn’t know, there was no reason to suspect that there was anything wrong – you all said that the house had been quiet for years.”
“He’s right,” Maggie says. “Eric, you can’t beat yourself up. Whatever’s going on here, we’ll fix it.”
Sam nods. “Why don’t you tell us what you do know, and we’ll go from there.”
It wasn’t much. Eric had first noticed the smell outside the house about four months ago, not long after he returned from a trip to England, but thought it nothing more than a blocked sewer – apparently, the smell started out quite weak, and got stronger over time. Stacy Vanderhorst had gone missing not long after that, when Eric had returned to London; a few weeks later, while Eric was in Nice, Steve Hasell and Ben Legare had disappeared within four days of each other. Ben’s disappearance provided the first real clue that it had something to do with the house, so Eric called Joe and Maggie, who discovered that Stacy and Steve were also linked to the house.
“The rest you know,” he finishes. He runs a hand through his hair, spiking it up at odd angles. “Please, whatever it is. Be careful. I’ll burn the damn place down myself if that’s what we have to do.”
“It might not come to that,” Maggie says. “How’s Greg taking it?”
Eric’s mouth twists. “He thinks we’re all nuts. ‘Southern self-dramatizing,’ I think he called it.”
“Wait, Greg? Who’s that?” Dean asks.
“My boyfriend,” Eric answers. “He’s a sturdy Midwesterner, doesn’t hold with all this moonlight-and-magnolias nonsense. He’s humoring me.”
Dean opens his mouth, reconsiders. Maggie understands, and says, “It’s okay, Greg checks out – he was with Eric in Europe during the disappearances.”
Eric smiles, ironically. “For once, the gay stereotype worked in our favor; I’m an antiques dealer, and Greg is a fastidious even for a lawyer, so the police never seriously thought we’d do anything as messy as kill three men, even before our alibis checked out.” He pauses. “Well, and my name helped. This is Charleston, after all, and the police think twice about harassing a Rutledge, even a queer one.” Not a little bitter, that. He turns to the drinks tray, pours two glasses of bourbon and hands them to Sam and Dean, before things get awkward.
“So,” Joe says, “What are you boys taking into the house tonight?”
“Well, Dean has our mojos,” Sam says, and Dean digs two little red flannel bags from his pocket, and tosses one to Sam. “I’ve got the usual – salt, holy water, a couple exorcism rituals that usually work. We’ve both got flashlights, pistols loaded with rock salt, and silver knives. Do you think we’ll need anything else?”
Maggie grins, and opens her handbag. She hands Sam and Dean two plant misters.
“My favorite: Van Van Oil and holy water. Much easier than trying to splash from a bottle,” she says.
Sam can’t help but laugh. “Clever,” Dean says, smiling. And it is – the plant mister allows them to direct the spray much more carefully.
“It will be better for Eric’s antiques if we don’t have too much random slopping around,” she says. “Plus, Van Van Oil can be used as a floor wash, so it probably won’t be hard on the furniture anyway.”
Eric waves dismissively. “This will likely get me kicked out of the guild, but I don’t care, as long as you can get rid of whatever’s in the house. But thank you for thinking of that.” He smiles at Maggie.
“Great,” Joe says, “Sounds like we have everything. We were thinking that Maggie and I would guard the front of the house, in case there’s trouble, and that Eric would hold the fort here – from the top floor, he can see into the back garden of the doctor’s house. Sam, Dean, that okay with you?” Sam and Dean share a glance, and nod.
Maggie adds, “Eric, you haven’t done this before, so if you see anything weird, call us – don’t rush out there, you can get hurt if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve warded your place, and that top room in particular, so you’ll be safe.”
Sam looks at Dean, wondering how he’s taking Joe and Maggie’s easy assumption of authority – Dean would normally give those speeches, or allow Sam to – but Dean is just nodding agreeably. It isn’t often that they work with competent hunters other than Bobby, and Sam’s enjoying the experience. It’s a relief to not have to think of everything. Too, Joe and Maggie are not the usual, meaning borderline sociopathic, hunters; they’re kind, decent people with normal lives, who have educated themselves on how best to protect their turf. Sam feels a sharp stab of hope – maybe not now, the road is too much with them, but maybe someday, he and Dean can have what Joe and Maggie do.
“Well, let’s get this show on the road,” Dean says, and Sam comes back to the present. They gather their equipment, and head out with Joe and Maggie, Eric calling after them, “Be careful!”
They head around the corner, to the Ryngo house, and there it is, there’s the smell again; even prepared for it, they all choke and dash to the other side of the street. Maggie pulls out two handkerchiefs, and motions for Sam to hand her the plant mister. She squirts some of the Van Van mixture on each handkerchief, and hands them to Sam and Dean. Sam puts it over his mouth and nose, and is assailed with the scent of lemon; it suddenly becomes easier to breathe.
“The great thing about Van Van,” Maggie says, “is that it doesn’t just ward off evil, it smells good, too. That should help.” She’s right; the smell is not overpowering anymore, no worse than sour breath in a closed room. He and Dean tie the handkerchiefs over their noses and mouths, gunslinger style. Thus fortified, Sam turns his attention to the house.
The black door sits silent, a closed mouth. Everything is still, too still, and the air is heavy and thick around them. Dean’s and Joe’s voices, just behind him, are shaky and muffled, coming from a far-off place. Maggie presses the key into his hand. When he looks at her, her eyes are kind.
“Go on, honey,” she whispers. She gives his hand a final squeeze. “We’ll be right out here.”
Dean puts a hand on his back, and Sam almost jumps away, already keyed up, and they haven’t even entered the house yet. He needs to focus, and Dean’s warmth at his shoulder isn’t helping. He forces that away, forces it away and slams the door, and he slides the key into the lock that will open Ryngo’s narrow house.
Sam thinks he hears – not a sigh, but an outrush of breath just the same, breath where there shouldn’t be any. He turns the key.
The door swings open. He crosses the threshold, Dean right behind him.
Nothing. Nothing at all. He flicks on the flashlight; it’s a tight, narrow room overfilled with handsome furniture. There’s a doorway in the rear leading to what Sam thinks is a kitchen, and a stairwell. The smell is stronger here, but so far the Van Van-soaked handkerchief is holding off the worst of it. He and Dean circle the room, but nothing happens. Dean reaches the stairwell up to the second floor, and gestures upstairs. Sam joins him, follows him up. It’s stupid, but he’s always hated this the most – even after everything he’s seen, fear of the dark at the top of the stairs always clutches at him. He concentrates on Dean’s broad shoulders and the watery illumination from his flashlight.
Dean turns to Sam, and his eyes flick to the first room on the right. This must be the main bedroom, where Ryngo was keeping the thirteen chests. The door is open. After some silent squabbling, which Sam wins, he pulls out the plant mister and Dean draws his gun. Sam will go first: the Van Van and holy water will purify the space in front of them, creating a pocket of safety; Dean will cover him with the pistol. Sam edges up to the door frame, flashlight and mister at the ready, and peers inside.
Cool light from the streetlamps pours through the French doors that open onto the balcony, dimly illuminating the room. There is a tall hutch along the left wall, displaying china plates, and a small secretary in the far right corner. The center of the room is taken up with a long, narrow dining room table displaying an assortment of objets d’art; Sam spots several vases, a large brass candelabrum, and a few antique keys. Even with the light streaming in, the room is claustrophobic, oppressive. Sam can’t bear to think about Ryngo sleeping in here, thirteen coffin-sized chests surrounding him, grave dust sliding into his throat with every breath.
Sam backs away, centers himself. He holds the plant mister before him like a gun, flashlight balanced over it in his other hand. He draws a breath. Dean is behind him, a hot steady presence, and Sam fancies he can hear Dean’s heart speed up.
He steps across the threshold.
Quiet, all quiet. The room is keeping its secrets. He edges past the door, intending to squeeze along the right of the long table. Dean is a step or two behind him, tense and ready, and –
– ohgodogodnonoohgodnodon’tdothisdon’tiloveyoupleasenomyloveohgodohgodi’msorryi’msosorryhelenmylovenoNOPLEASENO –
– Sam can’t breathe, he can’t, great gasping breaths of air, his chest is cracked and his heart is being crushed, and this, this, this is kneeling at Dean’s grave scrabbling uselessly at the ground, this is dirt in his mouth, his throat, if he covers Dean’s grave with his body maybe Dean will feel his warmth –
– and over this, over his own memories, he sees another pair of hands, long, thin, pale, and another grave, he sees a grave and a brick wall and a burst of pink azaleas, and it’s the same, all the same, the same despair, the same need to claw down through the cold earth to touch him her one last time, he can’t live through this, never to see him her again, he’ll do anything, anything –
– Sam squeezes the trigger on the plant mister, wild, uncoordinated, he can’t see, tears blind him, so he sprays the Van Van and holy water in a crazy circle, to drive it away, away, far away –
– and Dean’s hands are on him.
Dean’s hands are warm and solid and real, and he drags Sam out through the door. “C’mon, c’mon, Sammy,” he shouts, down the stairs, through the front room, out the front door, and they get halfway across the street before they collapse, Sam going down hard on his knee. Dean’s right there, he never let go, and Sam clutches him and buries his face in Dean’s shoulder and sobs, great racking sobs that tear through him, and Dean holds him, holds him tight, clutches right back and whispers “Sammy, Sammy,” into his hair.
Outside, Sam’s heart slows, the blood stops roaring in his ears, slowly, slowly. He draws one last, shuddering breath. The shoulder of Dean’s t-shirt is wet, soaked through, and he realizes he’s kneeling in the middle of the street, clinging to his brother like a drowning man, and they’re not alone. If he just closes his eyes, maybe it will all go away, maybe he can stay till he feels Dean’s heartbeat align with his, maybe he’ll never have to leave the warmth of Dean’s arms again.
Like everything he wants, it’s too much to ask.
He lifts his head and looks at Dean. To his shock, Dean has been crying, too. And not his usual barely-there tears; Dean’s face is a blotchy red mess, like Sam’s never seen before.
Sam lifts his hand, and he pulls Dean’s handkerchief down, he needs to see Dean’s whole face, make sure he’s okay. Before he knows what he’s doing, before he can help it, he cups Dean’s face in his hand, thumb skidding over Dean’s lips, and Dean –
– Dean’s eyes widen, but he doesn’t push Sam away.
Sam doesn’t know how long he sits, his fingers against Dean’s skin, forgetting how to breathe. But someone touches his shoulder, and he jumps, fear crackling through him.
It’s Maggie. Her eyes are gentle, apologetic, but worried. “Sam, Dean. Let’s get you boys home. Can you walk?”
Sam gets up, pain shooting through his knee, but Dean’s right there, arm around Sam’s waist, and Sam is selfish enough to lean on him, even though the pain isn’t that bad. Dean looks up at him, concerned, so Sam says, “I’m okay.”
Dean drops his arm from Sam’s waist, and Sam feels a stupid wave of panic crawl up his spine, but Dean isn’t leaving, and his fingers curl around Sam’s arm. Dean seems just as reluctant to stop touching Sam, and that. That is something.
Maggie and Joe help Sam and Dean get back to the hotel, Dean holding Sam’s arm the entire way. Joe opens his mouth once or twice, obviously wanting to ask what happened, but Maggie shushes him. When they reach the lobby, she stops them.
“You boys,” she starts. She studies their faces; Sam sees her deciding that they’re okay for now. “Take care of yourselves tonight,” she says. “Put your heads together, see if you can figure out what to do. We’ll talk in the morning.”
She herds Joe out the door before anyone can say anything else, and Sam is grateful. He and Dean climb the stairs to their room, shoulder to shoulder, Dean’s hand on Sam’s back.
Sam lets Dean guide him to the armchair in the corner, and settle him in. Dean pulls up the ottoman, and sits facing Sam. They’re close, intimate; if Sam spread his legs, Dean would almost be between them. Sam locks that thought away before it can escape and send signals to the rest of his body.
“Sam,” Dean starts. He stops, scrubs a hand over his face. “What. I need to know what you saw.”
“I’m not sure,” Sam says. Now that he’s out of the house, it’s all a jumble, a mass of half-remembered fear and anguish. Dean is so close, and Sam hurts with the need to touch him. He clenches his hands into fists, willing himself still.
“Hands,” he blurts out, almost unwillingly. “Hands digging into a grave. There were pink azaleas – I think it was the Unitarian churchyard.” He thinks. “It has something to do with Helen. I heard… I thought I heard someone pleading with her.”
Dean nods. He won’t meet Sam’s eyes, but his voice sounds confident enough. “I think it was Ryngo you heard. But he’s not causing the problem, this time. I think it’s. It’s someone else.”
“Why do you say that?” Sam asks.
“I… I felt it. Her. She’s lost. All I got were flashes, but. She’s looking for Ryngo, and she can’t find him.” Dean stops; Sam can tell that there’s more to the story, but Dean isn’t talking, and Sam won’t press him. If his experience was anything like Sam’s, he wouldn’t know how to put it into words anyway.
Dean looks away. The conversation is over. Sam’s body aches all over, and Dean is right there, and he wants to touch his brother, take his hand, something, but Dean has completely closed down. Sam sighs; this, at least, is familiar. Dean gets up, disappears into the bathroom.
That night in bed, Sam lies awake. He can feel Dean’s heat, hear his almost-even breathing; Dean’s awake, too. They’re playing some kind of fucked-up game of chicken, here, and Sam doesn’t even know what the stakes are, anymore. But he won’t be the first to break, not yet, not with this case still hanging over them.
Defer, always eternally deferring: that’s what they do. There’s always time for happiness around the bend, at least that’s what Sam tells himself. But somehow, the bend never comes, and that promised happiness never materializes into anything but more road.
Sam turns away from Dean, and tries to sleep.
The next morning, they decide to return to the Unitarian graveyard. After Sam’s vision, it’s the next logical step.
The place is just as beautiful and peaceful as before, and he and Dean are not alone. An elderly couple lays flowers on a grave; a young family examines the carvings on a headstone; a college kid sketches the Spanish moss. He and Dean try to be unobtrusive, and decide to split up; they can cover the graveyard more methodically that way.
Dean starts in the northwest, Sam in the southeast, and they move clockwise, examining every headstone. The names on most of the stones are faded, and Sam often has to crouch down, decipher the worn text. It’s slow work, but the day is pleasant, the sun warm on his neck. The tourists murmur quietly, bees drift in and out of the flowers, the wind rustles the grass, and Sam wishes for a moment that they could just be here, enjoy the moment, not have a job to do, another soul to save. Like everything he wants, it’s too much.
The graves range from the late eighteenth century to the present day; Sam figures that their best bet is anything pre-1840s, but he makes note of all the instances of “Helen” he encounters, including the modern ones. Maybe there’s some kind of family connection.
Sam looks up, scans the graveyard for Dean; he spots a flash of leather jacket along the northeast wall, hidden behind some trees. Sam tilts his head, and realizes Dean is standing stock still; the tense angle of his shoulders is not natural, and Sam’s stomach drops. He quashes the urge to dash to Dean’s side, but instead makes a note of his own location, and saunters slowly in Dean’s direction, so as not to startle him.
Dean is staring at an old, old grave, the name and date of which are almost invisible. The angel on the headstone, though, is as clear as if it were carved yesterday. Dean’s face is impassive, but his eyes are wide; he seems to be in some sort of trance. Sam touches his shoulder, and Dean shakes his head, snaps out of it. He won’t look at Sam.
“I think this might be her,” he says. His voice is rough, and Sam looks at his brother for a moment before slowly kneeling to check out the stone.
Helen Armitage, 1787-1804, beloved daughter. “Death is the Golden Key that opens the Palace of Eternity.”
The dates are right. Dean makes a noise behind him, and Sam looks up. Dean’s eyes are wet, overflowing, and Sam can’t help it, he stands up and wraps his arm around Dean’s shoulder. Dean lets him. They look at the stone, Dean warm against Sam’s side. The sun goes behind a cloud, and the birds quiet overhead; Sam suddenly sees a flash of hands not his own, a different wall, different flowers, but here it is: this is the grave from his vision in the house. He feels a stab of fear, of anguish, and he knows, knows, that he’s right.
“It’s her,” he says. He’s sure of it.
He lets go of Dean, feeling the loss of heat, and pulls out his notebook. He forces his hands to stop shaking, and records the information. Dean’s face is white, and Sam needs to get him out of there.
He leads them out of the graveyard and down King Street; somehow, they wind up in an Irish pub a few blocks away. Dean doesn’t start to look like himself again until he’s downed a couple beers and eaten a truly revolting pile of fries.
“So what’s our next move, research boy?” Dean asks. His voice holds a bravado Sam knows he doesn’t feel.
“Well, I think we should call Joe. The Armitages are obviously an old family, and he might be able to tell us where to look for information, or hook us up with a surviving member.”
Dean nods, and looks down at his hands. Sam makes the call.
Joe knows a little bit: the Armitages were a family of rice planters, and owned quite a lot of land in the area up until the Civil War. They were never as wealthy or as prominent as, say, the Rutledges or Legares, but they were definitely comfortable. The family was still around, too.
“One of the Armitages was a student in my folklore class last semester. I’ll try and get hold of her; if she’s available, she’ll be a great resource – as I recall, she knew a lot of family history. In the meantime, you should head over to the C of C archives, and see what you can find; I’ll call ahead, and let them know you’re coming.” He hesitates for a moment. “Sam, are you and Dean doing okay? You didn’t look so hot, last night.”
Even though the question isn’t welcome, and he has no idea how to answer, there’s a note of genuine concern – no, not just concern, compassion – in Joe’s voice that Sam is always startled to hear from anyone other than Bobby. Sam’s eyes sting, but he smiles, a little.
“We’re doing fine, thanks for asking. It was just a little overwhelming last night. Tell Maggie the Van Van-soaked handkerchiefs were genius.”
Joe laughs. “I will. Let me try and contact Sarah; I’ll be in touch when I hear from her.”
Sam passes the information along to Dean, and they head over to the library. Dean seems to be doing okay, even grumbling about more research.
When they get to the archives room, the librarian has a small pile of records books for them to look at. They quickly find Helen; she was the daughter of Ezra Armitage (1753-1820) and Mary Lee (1770-1832), and she had indeed died at age 16, as the gravestone said. She had had a brother, Micah (1790-1844), who carried on that branch of the family, marrying in 1811 and fathering four children: Samuel, George, Robert, and Elizabeth. Joe’s student must be descended from one of them.
At that moment, Sam’s phone rings. It’s Joe.
“Good news,” he says. “Sarah’s on campus, and she says she’s happy to help. When you get done in the archive, head over to 72 Coming St., the big pink house. She’ll meet you there. I told her you were grad students helping me with a local history project.”
Sarah Armitage is short, with curly red hair and sharp, pretty features. Normally Dean would be making an ass of himself, but to Sam’s everlasting gratitude, his brother doesn’t even leer at her.
She leads them to the student center, where Sam buys her coffee. The place is surprisingly quiet, and they’re able to grab a booth in the corner.
“Thanks for this, really,” Sam says. “Anything you can tell us about your family will be helpful.”
“No problem,” she says. “I’m glad to help out Dr. Bennett – he’s the best teacher I’ve ever had. You know, he actually believes in ghosts? I love that, it makes me feel less silly that even professors do too. You guys are lucky, getting to work with him; it must be so cool.”
Sam hides a smile; Sarah sounds like she has a bit of a crush. He pulls out his notebook, ready to record.
She outlines some basic information. The Armitages were a family of minor gentry, from Devonshire in England. They made their way over to the colonies in the 1750s, where they had some success as rice planters. They supported the rebels during the American Revolution, but maintained close ties with the mother country. The whole family even traveled back to England for a time once the war was finally over and things had settled down.
“So, what Joe – Dr. Bennett – especially wants us to focus on is the lives of young women, especially those who died unmarried. We saw the gravestone of a Helen Armitage, in the Unitarian churchyard – any relation?”
“Oh yes, great-aunt Helen! She’s something of a family legend. She was young, beautiful, died a virgin at sixteen. How tragic is that?”
“Awful,” Dean says, and he looks so normal that Sam can’t bring himself to kick his brother under the table.
Helen died after a fall from her horse broke her neck. This was tragic, but according to Sarah, the really juicy bit of family folklore involved her grave.
“Supposedly, some crazy guy actually dug her up, like 40 years later, in order to do stuff to her corpse. It was hushed up, and never made the papers, but the family knew. My cousins and I used to sit around speculating what anyone would want with a forty-something year old corpse. We decided that it was probably the Doctor to the Dead, and used to tease each other about her ghost walking, still looking for the bits the doctor stole.”
Here it was: this is the closest thing to confirmation they’re likely to get.
They make their excuses, and leave rather abruptly, but not before Sarah extracts a promise from them to pass on any interesting information they find. Sam bites his lip – he’s not sure that anyone would want to hear what he suspects – but agrees anyway.