Midnight at the Majestic
Summary: Post Devil's Trap. John's gone, the winter was bitter and there's healing that needs doing.
Notes: for the spn_50states challenge. Georgia.
The characters and situations portrayed here are not mine, they belong to the WB. This is a fan authored work and no profit is being made. Please do not link to this story without appropriate warnings. Please do not archive this story without my permission.
(word count: 4,112)
They headed south before the winter had loosened its grip on either the north or midwest. Sam spent a couple of days coughing and clearing his throat and looking patently miserable before Dean agreed.
Sam hadn't missed the tightness of Dean's mouth when he was cleaning weapons or fumbling for change for tips; how he had to flex and tighten his fists to loosen his fingers, or how much longer Dean sat on the edge of the bed in the morning before pushing up to shower or get dressed. Or how easily he'd lie under Sam's hands when his muscles were tight and knotted.
There was a limp there, too, that Dean wouldn't let show, and a click to his knee when he climbed stairs. He paled too quickly, like there was blood missing still or bleeding somewhere and his breath came tight and hard in his chest if he ran too hard, too far, too fast. Sometimes when he put a hand on Sam's face or his arm there was a tremor in the muscles; fatigue or pain. Sam didn't know and Dean wouldn’t admit to it.
So, if sometimes Sam favored his own left leg or his shoulder, or rubbed at his head like it hurt (which it did, but less than before,) and was sure to let Dean see it; he figured it was a small deception to set against Dean's unwillingness to let grief or repeated injuries slow him down.
A year since they'd nearly lost their lives to the demon, in the crash, in the aftermath. A year since they had lost their father, but accomplished their mission, their goal. The victory was bitter. The healing was slow.
The road was still theirs.
Sam's subtle protestations about the cold wasn't enough by itself -- it never would be. But he also wasn't quite up to letting Dean hurtle headlong into another dangerous situation if he could find things less dangerous but just as interesting one to occupy his attention.
Early March found them in south Georgia, following rumors of selkies and mermaids in the Okefenokee Swamp. Capsized boats and a couple of missing locals, which Sam suspected had to do with less supernatural and more mundane and likely criminal culprits.
They spent a week in an off season cabin, hiring a barely-out-of-high-school kid named Billy with a flat boat to take them into where the report of babies crying and mournful singing had been reported. Mostly they saw nothing, but it was early enough yet that there were few mosquitoes. The water glistened black and silent among reeds and cypress and the occasional egret.
There was an alligator that had taken up residence near the dock by the cabin, and Dean would take his coffee out in the mornings to stare it down. Usually Dean won.
"There's nothing out here, Sam," Dean said, at twilight on the fifth day. It had rained earlier and the air was heavy and thick, warm but not so hot and humid as to be difficult to breathe, cooler at night. Around them was the scent of stagnant water and rotting vegetation, lanced through with the soft sweet scent of water lilies and early jasmine, honeysuckle, and hyacinth.
Sam wasn't so sure. He had a dozen other filed reports along the southern coast and further inland, a few more popping up every day, like some season had opened on the world of spirits to let them out for some kind of otherworldly spring break.
"Give it a few more days," Sam asked, hands to Dean's shoulders. The cabin was cheap and they had money enough for now. "There's an islet in the center of this, Billy says. We can stay the night. Maybe we can hear the crying. There's something out there," Sam said and Dean turned to him, studying his face.
He might suspect Sam would lie about some things, but not this. He nodded and went back to studying the cricket laden darkness.
There was something out there, Sam knew. Something old and waiting, but not necessarily evil. He could hear the clicking of bones in the darkness when there was no breeze; the soft murmur of voices between the whines of insects. He expected shades or ghosts but nothing that lingered here had left that kind of impression on the stillness.
When the rain started up again they ducked inside, not surprised when the power went.
Sam listened to the barking of 'gators and the taunting of owls and noticed that when Dean's hand moved over his skin Dean didn't have to fist and clench them at all.
It was neither a selkie nor a mermaid, but a manatee and calf that had made their way along the waterways.
They loaded the car and pulled away as the news trucks were pulling in, and the park service was readying a rescue and transport effort to return the animals to the more protected part of the park
"That's not what you sensed out there, is it?" Dean asked him as they headed up the coast.
"No. Something older…nothing we needed to worry about," he flipped over his notes. "There's ghosts in Savannah."
Dean snorted, and let his free hand surf the air outside his window. The air was just the right balance between warm and cold. They had both windows down, and Sam found himself staring at the ghostly waving of Spanish moss and low hanging creepers as Dean drove. The air smelled of molasses and asphalt.
Savannah smelled of brine and sulfur, but oleanders and the heavy orange blooms of ornamental honeysuckle distracted and tricked the eye into convincing his nose that everything smelled of flowers and damp.
There was no place in the city they could afford to stay, but they found a Day's Inn beyond the river and drove back in at nightfall.
The riverfront seemed too crowded and noisy to harbor ghosts, but they edged their way into a crowd of people and snagged beers without paying for them, Dean tapping his foot to a band playing a mix of southern rock and Irish pop.
Sam sat on the seawall and watched a half dozen transparent couples stroll along the riverwalk and listened to the clop of horse's feet on cobbles that had been replaced a dozen times since carriages first made their way down this avenue.
Dean brought him another beer and a mint julep, straddling the stone wall that faced the river and laughed when Sam made a face at his julep. "That's foul," Sam said and chased it with the beer, the cloying taste of bourbon and sugar-sweet mint lingering on his tongue.
It tasted better from Dean's mouth, and they got applause from a passing group of very tipsy art students. "I guess we're outed," Dean said, quietly, a smile still in his eyes but he chewed on his lower lip.
"We aren't brothers to anyone but each other," Sam said, just as quietly, and watched a barge move along the river.
"Fatherless sons." Dean downed his beer and dropped his gaze, but when Sam tucked his knees outside of Dean's, Dean only nodded and offered Sam the sweet-bourbon malty-beer taste of his mouth in a silent apology. Whether it was for his bitter words, or for the loss of their father Sam didn't know and didn't care.
They spent two nights prowling the streets, joined a couple of ghost tours without expecting anything but to gain a better feel for the city. Dean's EMF maintained a constant low register but nothing flared, nothing surged, and the only things Sam saw were echoes of the past, nothing to be alarmed about.
On a whim Dean picked up a couple of lottery tickets. "Pick a set of numbers," he said, form and short pencil in hand. Nothing came to Sam but birthdays; his parents, his own, Dean's. The last one he gave was not Jessica's birthday which was the same as Dean's but her age when she died.
They got four out of five, a little over five hundred dollars. Dean's birthday was the number that didn't come up. The number that did, that they missed, was his age though, not his birthdate.
"Random chance," he said and pocketed he money.
Sam wasn't so sure, but it gave them another week in Savannah, and in the morning when Dean got up, he would slap Sam's leg and challenge him to a run before it got too hot or too wet.
They left two days before St. Patrick's day, with never a sign of a ghost that needed their attetnion.
"That's two for two, Sam," Dean pointed out as they headed up I-16, across the state. "For a state with so many ghosts, we're not seeing many."
"We've got galloping horsemen in Madison, witchlights in Decatur, and a Vampire in a nightclub in Atlanta," Sam offered.
Dean eyed him suspiciously. "Vampire?"
"So they say," Sam said with no hint of humor.
"That's the rumor," Sam said. There'd been no mention of a nest and no bodies drained of blood.
"Madison is on the way, right?"
There were no horsemen in Madison although there were plenty of horses and even more cows. They'd went for gas at the exit, on the state road that became main street, houses spread sporadically along the road. Oaks and pine trees framed the road and a few cows stared at them placidly from across the blacktop. "Who knew Georgia had so many freaking cows?" Dean groused, but didn't whine too much. At least the gas was cheaper here.
"Dairies," Sam said, returning from the meager Stop'nGo with cold sodas, chips, and a half eaten apple.
"Dairy cows," Sam said, over enunciating impossibly around the crunch and slurp of the apple. "Timber, textiles, fighter planes, and dairy products. Chief exports of the state of Georgia."
Dean rolled his eyes and topped off the tank. "No mention of ghosts or monsters on the weekly geek report there, Francis?"
Sam took a final bite of his apple then pulled his arm back. The core sailed over the road and into the field about three feet from where the cow was watching them. "They don't export those. 'High to extremely high incidence of paranormal activity across the state', according to ghostwatcher's dot com."
Dean stared at him. "You are making that shit up," he said and Sam grinned at him, lobbing a plastic bottle of soda at him more gently than he had the apple core at the cow.
"Native American burial mounds, settled by former criminals, torched in the Civil war, repressive society, rapidly expanding tech culture…swamps, mountains and deep forests," Sam said, sliding into the car. "It's a wonder the damn state doesn't show up on our radar more often."
"Yeah, well, we've been here for what? Almost three weeks and the closest we've gotten to anything evil was the 'gator in the swamp."
"We've talked to three people who heard the horseman," Sam reminded him and sat down in the shade of the pump overhang. "Unless you've got something else, I say we hang out on Main Street and see if he shows."
Dean capped the tank and untwisted the cap off his soda. "Could be a woman."
"Could be a horsewoman," Dean said, and offered a hand to pull Sam to his feet. "Didn't Sherman miss this town when he marched to the sea?"
"You were paying attention on the tour. And I thought it was the guide's legs that had your attention," Sam said getting into the car.
"Naw…you've got better legs, Sammy. Although her ass…"
Sam punched him, but not hard. "So are we going back?" he asked.
"This horseman…it's just riding, right? It’s not lopping off heads or anything?"
"If anyone's been hurt it's not been reported."
Dean nodded and sucked air through his teeth. "Anything showing up on your radar, Sparky?"
Sam stared down the street at the antebellum home perched on the edge of town. There were visitors in the gardens, looked like a wedding reception or something. Behind the house were the faint shimmers of smoke and he scent of leaves burning even thought they were barely breaching spring. "There used to be an apple orchard there," he said.
"I kind of hate those, Sam. Like, a lot," Dean said and started the car. "Sure it wasn't a peach orchard?"
Sam thought of apples and sacrifices and felt a shiver run through him and didn't look at the faint scar over Dean's eye. "Yeah. Maybe it was peaches."
Dean's hand at the back of his neck was steady, not a trace of a tremor, or shakiness. Sam leaned into it as long as he dared. "We can be in Decatur in a couple of hours."
It was close to midnight and the temperature was dropping. Dean stared into the trees looming around the edge of the cemetery; they looked indistinct and unearthly. Spanish moss had long since given way to the kudzu that seemed to cover everything and erased any hint of individual trees. It left nothing but oddly shaped walls of deep green and black. They'd been here three nights in a row and the only lights they've seen were those of the light traffic reflecting off the windows of an office building not two hundred yards from the edge of the oldest part of the cemetery
Sam was a half dozen yards from him, stretched out on one of the raised crypts that was probably built a hundred years ago. It was a good foot shorter than he was stretched out, so he had his knees up and his hands laced under his head. Every now and then, Dean could see the glitter of light reflected in Sam's eyes, so he knew he wasn't asleep.
"Popular theory is that it's the ghosts of a confederate patrol," Sam had said as they'd pulled up onto a side road a few hours after the cemetery was closed. Although closed was kind of a misnomer. You couldn't get a car into the winding roadways but the cemetery wasn't fenced in.
The newer section was rolling hills and ancient oaks and poplars, all neatly kept. The old section was far smaller, but also neatly kept, the roads more gravel than asphalt.
"What is it about the south that even the ghosts are still fighting that war?" Dean asked as they walked in, past the duck pond and the benches set out for people to rest on.
"Massive destruction and turmoil. Tends to leave an impression," Sam said and Dean stared at him.
"That was rhetorical, Sam. I think I know why ghosts show up."
Sam sincerely hoped they'd find something, because otherwise the cemetery might have another body in it that went unmarked if he had to put up with Dean's bored bitchiness another night. On the other hand, Dean bored was actually an improvement on the near ghost he'd been living with over the past few months. Maybe they had left that ghost-Dean up where it was still cold and hard. Here spring was already pushing through, the seasons starting over again.
"Well, I'm guessing that's why they are seeing them now…" Dean stopped on the rise of a hill, looking down to where construction equipment was silent and dark in its own schoolbus yellow way. "They must be expanding the grounds."
"Bodies no one knew about?" Sam asked, settling the bag of supplies on the top of a stone crypt. "If they've found any, they haven't made the papers yet."
"Maybe," Dean said settling in on grave marker while Sam stretched out.
That had been a couple of hours ago, and so far only the owls had shown up, that and a couple of kids so intent on each other they hadn't realized they weren't alone until Dean cleared his throat when they started kissing.
The girl squealed and the boy swore, then tried to be tough and brave. "What are you doing here?"
"Same thing as you," Dean said. "Making out. Only we were here first."
Sam started laughing as the couple walked quickly toward the exit gates. "I think the place is big enough to share," he called out.
They ran the last couple of yards...
"We weren't even making out," Sam said.
Dean's teeth gleamed in the reflected light. "We could be," he offered.
When Sam sat up there was room enough for both of them on the granite slab. He kind of thought he might actually have heard whoever was underneath them rolling over.
"Hey, Sam," Dean said sometime later. "Is your spidey-sense tingling?"
There were any number of Sam's parts tingling but that wasn't one of them, but he lifted his head and saw the thin traces of luminous vapor, rising up like smoke.
The lights didn't shift when they moved closer, and a swipe of a hand would dissipate the glow. Sam crouched low in the turned up earth near the tractors and earth movers and felt the slick-oily feel of freshly released loam mixed with the heavier natural clay.
"It’s the rot…swamp gas. Vegetation trapped under the clay base," he said.
"The excavation must have disturbed the layer beneath," Dean said, moving an arm carefully and watching as the glow wrapped around his hand then rose until the heat of his body disperse the faint fog. "So much for confederate patrols."
Sam didn't mention he could hear the creak of wagons or the shuffle of rag-shod feet, the clack of muskets and swords. From Savannah on they'd been following the trail of that older march and while the earth had healed from the scarring of the burn and long since taken back the blood, not everything had healed. He wiped his hands on his jeans and thought about peace and long wars and casualties.
Dean's fingers stroked through his hair and his legs braced Sam's back when he leaned a little.
"Are they hurting anybody?" Dean asked, quiet and still against the faint swish of cars on the road and the distant roar of cannon fire. Sam didn't ask him how he knew or for how long. He shook his head, and listened to the creak of Dean's knee when he shifted. Dean sighed and tugged on Sam's hair until he looked up, Dean's face was inverted but still readable for the mix of annoyance and understanding he saw there. His thumbs brushed along the outside of Sam's eyes. "Who else are you holding back for me, Sam?"
Sam closed his eyes and dropped his head, felt Dean crouch behind him, bracketing Sam's body with knees and thighs and arms. "No one you know," he said, promised, and it was truth. Their father hadn't made this trip with them, wasn't lurking in the shadows, or haunting anything but their thoughts. At least Sam didn't think so.
He hadn't meant to hold the ghosts back and away, hadn't even known he could until he stood on the edge of a swamp and felt something old press in. Old and curious, drawn by a grief other than its own. Sam felt guilty it wasn't his that drew it so close and warned it off Dean's. Surprised when it backed off, acquiescent and maybe amused.
It's all he's got left…leave him alone.
In Savannah too, along the paths and walkways, he could feel and see them in the shadows, shedding their own grief like leaves being pushed down by the budding paper oaks. They'd stepped back from him, from Dean. They hadn't meant any harm anyway -- but they drew together over loss, over pain older than the trees in the square. Dean drew them in and Sam pushed them back. He couldn't take Dean's grief, didn't know what to do with his own. But he could let Dean have it for as long as he needed it.
Warmth helped heal Dean's body but Sam didn't know how to get him warm enough to heal his soul.
"Do we need to worry about that vampire?" Dean asked him, finally unbending and tugging Sam up with him.
Given the club's musical reputation, Sam thought the only thing they might need to save anyone from was their taste in music, but still…
The club was closed and locked up. And too close to the police station for them to break in. "We can come back tomorrow," Dean said, studying the posted marquis, there would be band tomorrow, the rest of the week. "I'm hungry. We passed a diner on the way in."
The Majestic "Food That Pleases", Since 1929, it proclaimed in flickering neon, the "jest" more dark than lit, the deco styling mixed with fifty's restyling, plate glass and chrome, brightly lit and staring out the main drag. There was soul music playing in the kitchen and their waitress had the dyed and pierced gothic look that was less trendy than more of a holdover until something more shocking came along. Two rows of tables, three of booths, but Sam saw the "reserved" sign on the booth furthest from the door but close up against the glass. No one was sitting there. The food was cheap and hot, the coffee refills free. Under the booth, Dean locked his ankles around Sam's and offered him a bite of peach pie but wouldn't share his ice cream. Down the street was the Heart of Atlanta motor court with the vacancy sign flashing.
Their waitress moved past them carrying another slice of pie and a cup of coffee and she left both on the table marked "reserved".
Dean caught her eye. "Ghost," she said with a shrug. "Comes in every Monday." Like it was nothing.
"You've seen it?" Sam asked her and she tucked unnaturally black hair behind her ears and shook her head.
"No. But if we don't leave it, things happen. Plates get broken, stuff gets knocked over. Grill flares up. I'll get your check."
Sam stared but couldn't see anything, feel anything. The diner was warm, condensation forming on the glass and he shrugged out of his jacket, rubbed at his shoulder.
Dean watched him, expression coloring toward concern. Sam nudged him with his knee.
Their waitress brought the check and Dean paid it, left her a two dollar tip and put another five down. "For the pie and coffee for your ghost," he said and ignored Sam's chuckle.
At the front door, the bells over the glass jingled softly, though no one came in and no one left.
Dean's eyes were closed and he hunched forward like someone had laid heavy hands on his shoulders and Sam didn't feel it or know it, but he gripped Dean's hand and was surprised when Dean gripped him back just as tightly. When Dean's eyes opened, the green of his irises was brighter than usual and his mouth was set, but he shrugged his shoulders. He gripped Sam's hand again hard then got up. "Be right back," he said and headed for the men's room.
The "reserved" sign fluttered off the table, and outside the windows Sam could see the shadows moving along the street, the tipping of men's hats and the ducking of women's chins. The church across the street was no longer hidden by the huge oaks and magnolias on the lawn.
Something ruffled his hair and for a moment he sat there, closing his eyes.
Dean's hand repeated the pattern, left him chilled. "You ready?"
"Yeah," he said and followed Dean out, murmuring good nights to the waitress and the cook.
The night was warm and he left his jacket off as they walked past the front of the diner.
He had to look, but caught only a glimpse, the shimmer of broad shoulder and salt and pepper hair, back to the glass, the coffee and pie offered like sacraments, but going untouched. When he looked again, it was just a booth waiting for someone to sit there.
Dean's arm slid around his side, flat palm patting his belly twice. "There's nothing there, Sam," he said. "It's done. Let it go."
"I don't know how."
Dean's smile was blinding and white, eyes unshadowed even though there were shadows everywhere. "I'll show you," he said.
Dean's mouth tasted nothing like ice cream or coffee; no bitterness lingered.
Fires burned in the night sky from somewhere but it was old and drowned out by streetlights and haze. It wasn't up to the past to let go, only the present could do that. There was a rumble of thunder from a cloudless sky.
Spring was here. Time to start over.
They headed toward the motel and the flickering neon of the diner suddenly surged, all the letters bright and steady.
photograph ©slrobertson - used w/o permission