Robbie sighed as he let himself in to his small clapboard home. It wasn't much, but at least it was something he could call his own. He'd been renting it for the last couple of years from Brenda, but it was almost as if he owned it himself. Brenda never stopped by; she let him be and only asked for the rent to be on time, which Robbie was very diligent in doing.
It was sparsely decorated with only the necessities. In the living room, there was a couch, a small recliner and a television tray that held a small thirteen-inch television. He didn't have a dining room table because he always ate at Moe's or zapped something quickly in the microwave. His bedroom was just as sparse with a twin-sized bed and small particle board dresser. But Robbie didn't need much—he didn't need all that stuff to make it seem like a home. As long as he had a place he could come home to every night, then it was home enough for him.
As he threw down his keys on the counter, he walked to the small mini-fridge and plucked out a beer. He popped the top, tossing it carelessly over his shoulder and went into the living room to sit down. Taking a sip, he let a smile play on his lips.
Today had been a good day and it had only just begun. He had to admit, he'd been very happy to see Dean come into the motel office this morning. And to top it all off, he was going to get to tag along with Dean tonight—of course, the only downside of it was going to be that the little brother would be with them as well. While it bothered Robbie a little, he also knew it wouldn't be long before he wouldn't have to worry about Sam anymore.
The more he thought about it, the more he felt Dean came into his life for a reason. It was getting closer and closer to James' birthday; he would have been twenty-five this year. Robbie was looking for something to fill the emptiness in his heart. Something told the motel clerk this was fate—Dean coming into his life, especially at this time, was meant to be.
But it didn't mean Robbie still didn't think about his brother's death. It haunted him everywhere he went, but it was even worse two times of the year—James birthday and the anniversary of his death. He didn't like how it stuck with him and he could do nothing but let the events play over and over in his mind.
It was a brisk and chilly November day but it was fifteen year old Robbie Mallette's favorite time of the year. The air was fresh and as he inhaled in the scent of the wilderness around him, he felt free, like there was nothing holding him back. It was deer season and he and his older brother, James, were making their annual weekend hunting trip. Robbie always looked forward to these trips. They allowed Robbie time for just him and James—no parents, no school, no friends.
"Hey, you coming or what?"
Robbie looked up to see James was staring at him, an amused smile on his face. The younger teen nodded eagerly, and after hiking his rifle up farther on his shoulder, he hurried to catch up to the well-built, brown haired man.
The seventeen year old ruffled his brother's hair. "Dude, I did not bring you out here to daydream. Give that imagination a rest for one day."
"Sorry, James," he said, sheepishly.
"Ah, it's okay, little brother. I wouldn't have you any other way."
Robbie smiled and they continued their trek further into the woods.
"So, I wanted to talk to you about something," James said after several minutes of silence.
Robbie felt a small alarm go off in his head. His brother rarely ever started a sentence like that and when he did, it usually meant the news wasn't going to be too good. But Robbie shrugged it off and said, "What is it?"
James took a deep breath. "I got a letter in this week and I got accepted to play football at the University of Tennessee on a full scholarship."
The alarm bells grew louder as Robbie realized what that meant. "Wait, does that mean you're moving?"
"It's a great opportunity, runt. This is something I've been working hard for and Coach thinks I can go really far."
Robbie knew his brother was a great football player—he'd been his personal cheering section for the last few years. James never missed a game and was named Most Valuable Player every year since he got into high school. Robbie was so proud of James and practically worshipped the ground the older teen tread. He wanted James to go far in life, he was happy James would have this opportunity. But the selfish part of him, the part of him that was screaming in his head was telling him that his brother was going to be out of his life. He just couldn't handle that.
"But James, that means you're going to be away from me. Why can't you go to school around home?"
"I don't want to stay in Travers forever, runt. I need to get out there and see what else the world has to offer." James looked over at his sulking brother. "You can understand that, right?"
Robbie kicked at a pine cone on the ground. "I guess so."
James reached over and wrapped an arm around Robbie's shoulders. "Everything's going to be okay, Robbie. It will all work out…you'll see."
Robbie wanted to believe his brother, he really did. But how could he? It was easy for James to say that, but he didn't know what could happen. James never thought of things like that. What if his brother went to Tennessee and found that he loved it there more than he did in Arkansas? What if James went over there and never came back? How was Robbie supposed to go on without his brother? How could James expect him to be okay with this? This wasn't something you just spring on a person and expect them to accept.
Ever since Robbie was born, his brother had been by his side. His mother told him how protective James was, going so far as to sleep beside his crib every single night when he was a baby. Robbie was born a few weeks too early and as a result, he'd been smaller than most kids his age. Robbie let James call him "runt" but it was a special nickname reserved only for his brother. James never let one single person pick on him, he never let anyone take advantage of Robbie. The younger boy never had to worry about a thing as long as James was beside him.
James helped him with his homework every night even though he had some of his own to do. He never hesitated to do anything Robbie asked of him and did it with a smile on his face every single time. Robbie trusted his life with his older brother and no one else. James was the only one who could give him what he truly needed, show him the ways of the world. But how was he going to do that now? Robbie was so used to seeing James every morning before he went to school and every afternoon when he returned. But he wouldn't have that now—he wouldn't have his constant companion, his protector any longer.
It was almost as if he was dying…as if he was falling into a deep hole with no hopes of getting out.
James stopped walking and held up a hand, telling Robbie to be quiet. He looked back at the younger boy and pointed ahead of him. Looking into the distance, Robbie could see a white-tailed buck that appeared to be an eight-point.
"Looks like it's our lucky day, runt." James smiled.
Robbie nodded as James brought his gun up and aimed at the deer. Silence surrounded the brothers but it was broken as a gunshot reverberated through the forest. As birds flew away in fright, Robbie saw the majestic buck fall to the ground.
"Got him!" James brought down his gun and began to make his way towards the fallen animal. "Come on, dude!"
Robbie hurried to catch up to his brother but tripped on a protruding root. As he fell to the ground, he lost his grip on his rifle and another gunshot rang out through the forest. Rising on his elbows, Robbie looked all around for his brother, but didn't see him anywhere.
"James?" he called out, but there was no answer.
A cold feeling made its way down his spine as Robbie rose to his feet. Where in the world could James be? If he was playing around with him, Robbie was going to let his brother have a piece of his mind. The gunshot freaked the kid out; he knew it came from his gun, but he was praying it was a wild shot that went up into the air. But the fact James wasn't answering scared the hell out of him.
"JAMES!" Robbie's voice echoed all around him, making him feel alone.
Walking up a few feet, he could make out a mound lying on the ground. Oh, God, no…please, please no! Robbie ran the rest of the way and his heart caught in his throat as he saw the mound was, in fact, his brother.
"James! Oh my God! I'm so sorry!" Robbie dropped down to the ground next to the injured man. James was lying on his stomach and the teen saw blood saturated his brother's clothing. Running his hand along James' back, Robbie saw a clear bullet hole right in the middle. Gingerly, he turned James over and into his lap.
"Robbie…what the…hell…happened?" he asked, his voice slurring..
"I'm sorry, James. I-I didn't mean for it to ha-happen. I tr-tripped and my-my gun fell. It-it must have gone o-off."
"Is this…'cause I said I…was goin' to c-college?" James joked, weakly. He coughed and blood splattered onto Robbie's face, but the kid didn't wipe it off.
He reached into his pocket to grab his cell phone. "Just hang on, okay? I'm going to call for help! But you have to hold on for me, okay, James?"
James nodded and coughed again, but this time it was harder for him to catch his breath. Robbie dialed 911 and waited for his call to go through. What the hell have I done?How could this have happened?
"Answer the phone, dammit!" But Robbie's request fell on deaf ears as the phone beeped in his ear, indicating the call had been dropped. He pulled the phone away and saw there was no longer a signal. "No, come on! Don't do this to me!"
Robbie turned back to his brother at his whispered name. James was incredibly pale now and blood was pooling all around him. "James, are you still with me?"
James weakly held up a hand and Robbie grasped it firmly in his. "It's going to be okay, James. You'll see…I'm gonna get you out of here."
"You…you did…what…you could."
"No, James! I'm so sorry, okay? I'm so sorry this happened. I didn't mean to." Robbie could feel the tears falling steadily down his cheeks, but he didn't care. He didn't care about looking weak in front of his brother.
"It's okay…runt…I'm not…angry at…you." He began to close his eyes.
"No, James! Don't you dare close your eyes, you hear me? Don't you give up on me!" Robbie sobbed. "I need you! I need my big brother!"
"Sshh…it's…okay. It'll be okay…"
James closed his eyes and when Robbie shook him again, they remained closed.
Robbie wiped away a single tear as he looked at James' picture. This time it would be different. Robbie wouldn't make a stupid mistake with Dean like he did with James. He would show Dean what a great little brother he could be. He couldn't let Dean down like he did with James. He'd been paying for his mistake for the past eight years, but not anymore.
Things were going to be different now.
Sam was a little more than irritated. It was bad enough Dean asked Robbie for help earlier this morning, but now the motel clerk had to tag along with them while they checked out the Eclipse. This was completely unlike Dean because his brother never liked to have anyone come with them on any of their hunts, so why was now any different?
They were waiting in their motel room for Robbie to show up and Sam wasn't hiding his disdain for Dean's idea very well. "So, tell me again why you invited the clerk along with us?"
Dean sighed. "Because, Sammy, I thought maybe he could help us."
Sam snorted. "You've never wanted help before. Why is now any different?"
Dean looked up from the supply bag he'd been packing. "I didn't see where it would hurt if he tagged along. He looked kind of lonely, so I figured why not. He won't get in our way." He rolled his eyes as Sam narrowed his. "What?"
"Who the hell are you and what have you done with Dean?"
"No, seriously, man. You've never wanted anyone to come with us on a hunt before. What makes this clerk so special?"
"I figured I would do something nice for the guy. Is that really such a bad thing?" Dean shoved his Bowie knife into the bag.
"It's just…weird, is all. It's not like you."
"Who knows? Maybe I'm under some kind of spell or something." At Sam's shocked expression, Dean added, "It was a joke, Sam."
"That's not funny, Dean, given with what we do."
Dean zipped up the bag and turned to look at his brother. "This isn't really a big deal. You have nothing to worry about, Sammy."
Sam nodded slowly. "Yeah…okay."
There was a knock on the door and Dean walked over to open it. "Come on in, Robbie."
Robbie walked into the room and glanced briefly over at Sam. "Hi."
Sam frowned at the tone of Robbie's voice. It sounded as if the clerk was being forced to speak to him, like someone was twisting his arm. What in the world have I done to piss him off? "Hey, Robbie."
Dean grabbed the supply bag off his bed and as he headed towards the door, he nudged Sam on the arm. "Let's hit the road."
Sam didn't miss the glare Robbie shot him as he followed Dean out the door. As Sam pulled the door closed, he could feel a chill running down his spine.
Dean didn't understand what Sam's problem was. He was acting as if Robbie was intruding on their life, but Dean supposed if the roles were reversed, he'd be thinking the same thing. Dean didn't know what it was about Robbie that called out to him, but something was there. Maybe it was the fact he sensed Robbie was a loner; someone who didn't have many friends, if any at all.
The older Winchester felt the same way while he was in school. All throughout his middle and high school years, Dean felt like an outcast. That could have been attributed to his dad moving them around so much, but even if they stayed at a place for a period of time, Dean never could make friends. Though he would never admit it to Sam, Dean wanted to have friends. He was always so jealous of Sam when his younger brother came home with a new friend. The kid could make friends with a snake if he wanted to. It was a trait Dean never seemed able to pick up on his own.
But then again, it was for the best. Once you got attached to someone, you had to let them go. It was a sad aspect of the life of a hunter's son and he'd seen one way too many times of the hurt Sam went through when he had to leave friends behind. Dean never wanted to deal with that so it was better he kept himself distanced from his peers.
Maybe Robbie was the same way, a loner, but Dean didn't know. And it wasn't as if he and the motel clerk were all of a sudden going to become buddy-buddy, but maybe he could give the kid something to be excited about. Dean just wished Sam would let it go and not overreact so much. It's not like Dean was going to ignore Sam and focus all of his attention on Robbie.
Dean would never do that to his brother. Sam was his flesh and blood, his ying to his yang and it wasn't something you just tossed aside. Ever since picking Sam up at Stanford, Dean couldn't imagine being apart from his brother again. They had too much at stake right now and their journey was only just beginning.
"So, Robbie, did you grow up around here?" Dean asked. He figured it couldn't hurt to get to know the kid a little better, and maybe it would put Sam's mind at ease a bit.
He saw Robbie's head bob up and down in the rearview mirror. "Yep, born and raised."
"How long have you been working at the motel?"
"About two years."
"You like it?"
"Yeah. Brenda, the one who owns it, is really nice. She lets me set my own hours and I get the weekends off."
"Do you have any family around here?"
"My folks live here, but we don't talk much. We kinda had a falling out."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"It's okay—it was years ago."
"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
Robbie didn't say anything for a few moments. "I had a brother," he said so softly Dean barely heard him.
"What happened?" Dean asked.
Sam looked sharply at his brother. "Dean." He looked apologetically at Robbie. "You don't have to answer that if you don't want to, Robbie."
"No, it's okay." He met Dean's eyes in the mirror. "He died in an accident."
Dean didn't know what to say to that. There wasn't anything he really could say to make it better. The only thing he could do was offer a lame apology. "I'm sorry."
Robbie gave a sad smile. "Yeah…me too."
The rest of the drive was made in silence as the boys were afraid to touch any topic that might bring them back to Robbie's brother. They finally pulled up to the Eclipse ten minutes later and got out of the car. Dean walked to the trunk and pulled out their supply bag. He also grabbed two sawed-off shotguns and handed one over to Sam.
Robbie eyed the guns nervously. "So, what exactly are you guys looking for in here?" he asked as they walked towards the gate entrance.
"Evidence," Dean answered.
"But you're not police. Why would two reporters need to look for evidence if the police have already been here and gotten everything?"
"The gate's locked. I'm going to see if there's another way in," Sam interrupted.
Dean nodded and turned around to look back at the mousy young man. "We're not exactly looking for that kind of evidence."
Robbie frowned in confusion as he watched Sam walk away. "Then what kind of evidence are you looking for?"
Robbie smiled. "You're kidding me, right?"
Dean shrugged and looked over to see Sam crouching on the ground a few yards away. "You find a way in?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, there's an opening down here we can get through."
The older hunter nodded his head at Robbie. "Let's go."
"Wait!" He hurried to catch up with Dean. "You two are out here for a freakin' ghost hunt?"
"Now, when you say it like that it sounds completely insane." Dean followed Sam through the opening and pulled out some flashlights from the duffel. He handed one to Sam and another to Robbie after he made it inside the gate. Dean then took the lead and directed them towards the front entrance of the abandoned hotel.
"I thought you were trying to find out what happened to that other reporter."
"That's exactly what we're doing," Sam said a little irritably.
"By looking for a ghost?"
"Yes!" Sam took off in front of Dean, giving his brother a scathing look on the way.
"Did I say something wrong?" Robbie asked, watching Sam's retreating figure.
"Nah…Sam just gets that way sometimes. Don't worry about it."
Robbie nodded and didn't say anything else as they made their way inside the Eclipse. Once inside, Dean set down the bag and pulled out the EMF reader and thermal scanner, handing the latter over to Sam. Sam, in return, passed the shotgun back to Dean. "Do you remember what floor Douglas was killed on?"
"The newspaper said it was on the third floor," Sam answered as he powered up the scanner.
"Let's head up there, then." Dean flicked on the EMF and led the way up the staircase, making sure to keep Robbie in between him and Sam. He wasn't entirely convinced something wouldn't go wrong, so it was better to be safe than sorry.
It took a few minutes, but they finally reached the third floor landing. Shining his flashlight all around, Dean could make out a door that was barricaded with yellow crime scene tape. He grabbed the tape and pulled it down. He reached for the knob and wasn't shocked to find it was locked.
"You have your lock-pick?" he asked Sam.
"Yeah." Sam reached into his back pocket and pulled out the slender black case. "Here you go." He tossed it to Dean.
Dean plucked it out of the air and bent down to get to work. Amazingly, the entire time Dean fumbled with the lock, Robbie remained quiet. "We're in," he said a minute later as he pushed the door open. He pulled out the EMF once more and cautiously led the way into the room. As soon as he did, the EMF lit up like a Christmas tree, the frequency chirping in the quiet room.
"I don't mean to ask any more questions, but what exactly is that thing?" Robbie asked, watching as Dean moved the meter back and forth.
"It's an EMF meter—or an electromagnetic frequency reader. It uses frequencies to detect the presence of spirits in a room."
"So those lights on the top…"
"Light up when there's a spirit around."
Robbie swallowed hard. "So, that means…"
Dean nodded. "Yeah, we've definitely got something in here." He looked over at Sam. "Are you getting anything?"
Sam nodded, but his eyes remained on the small screen in front of him. "I'm getting a couple of—" he never got to finish as he was suddenly flung across the room by an invisible force.
Dean shoved Robbie behind him. "Stay behind me!" He pulled out his shotgun and took aim as the ghost of Eli Nelson appeared in front of them. Dean didn't hesitate as he pulled the trigger and the spirit dissipated into the air. He waited for a moment making sure it was gone before he rushed over to Sam who was just starting to pull himself up from the ground.
Dean saw a small trickle of blood oozing down from a cut above Sam's left eye. "You okay, little brother?" he asked, gingerly touching the cut.
Sam hissed and nodded shakily. "Where is he?" he asked as his brother helped him up the rest of the way.
Dean never got to answer the question as Robbie's startled yelp filled the air. Looking over his shoulder, Dean saw Eli was holding a scalpel in his right hand as he slowly backed the terrified clerk into a corner. Dean raised the shotgun up once again. "Robbie, get down!"
Robbie didn't hesitate as he did exactly what he was told. Dean shot the spirit again and rushed over to Robbie, jerking him roughly to his feet. He pushed him towards the door where Sam was waiting. "Go, get out of here now!"
The three men made quick work as they hustled down the stairs and out of the Eclipse. As soon as they got to the Impala, Dean popped the trunk and threw in their gear as Sam and Robbie ducked inside the car.
"I thought you said this was supposed to be a simple salt and burn." Sam glared at his brother.
"Ah, Sammy…you know better than to listen to me!" As he pulled away from the hotel, Dean glanced back in his mirror at Robbie, who was wearing a wide-eyed expression. "You okay back there, Robbie?"
"That was a…that was a—"
"Ghost," the brothers answered in unison.
Robbie nodded numbly. "You saved my life."
Dean shrugged sheepishly. "All in a day's work." He looked over to see Sam was still glaring at him. "What's eating your ass now?"
"Still think it was a good idea to bring him along?"
Dean didn't answer as he let out a deep breath. He knew exactly what Sam meant by those words: I told you so.