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Written for the family_secret challenge with the prompt:

Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it. - Herman Melville

~~~

Sam walked out of the motel office towards the car, holding two keys in his hand, a map of the local county collected by reflex, and some advice about where to eat the world's best pancakes for breakfast. It was identical to a thousand other motels and towns he'd ever been to; he couldn't quite drum up either interest, or cynical disinterest.

He would have liked to think he was still focused on the last job, the mess the poltergeist had left and the family that would be picking up the pieces of their nearly destroyed home for months to come. But no one had been hurt and the ghost was laid to rest, and Sam really hadn't given it another thought since they'd driven away that morning.

As he neared the car he could see his brother still asleep in the passenger seat. They'd traded several hours ago, Dean claiming that with no jobs pressing it didn't really matter if Sam got them completely lost. Sam knew it was just that Dean hadn't gotten much sleep the last several days and was willing to go along with the charade if it meant Dean didn't drive them into a light pole.

As he opened the driver's door to move the car around to their room, Dean's head jerked up and he looked around, blearily. He seemed confused by the lack of daylight, as well as the lack of motion. It wasn't nearly as late as it seemed, Sam knew, because of the thick cloud cover. He hadn't felt like risking a drive through the rain that was threatening, so he'd stopped -- knowing from how deeply his brother was sleeping beside him that Dean wasn't likely to object.

"Nice of you to join in," Sam said, letting sarcasm he didn't truly feel drip into his voice.

Dean looked at him, blinked twice, then frowned. Sam grinned; the best part about driving while his brother slept was messing with Dean's mind while he woke up slowly.

"Where are we?" Dean finally managed, slurring his words like he was drunk.

"Missouri. The state, not the person," he added. He waited while Dean blinked at him again, then his brother ran his hand over his face, rubbing the sleep away. It always made him look five years old -- something Sam tried not to ever point out, because he knew Dean would make himself stop doing it if he knew.

"We're in Missouri already?" Dean looked around again, sounding more awake. Sam waited for more commentary, but all Dean said, was "Huh."

"Exciting, isn't it?" Sam put the car in gear and drove the fifty feet to park in front of door number 5 of the Double Tree Motel. He wasn't sure exactly which of the dozens of trees surrounding the motel were the double ones.

Dean made a grunting noise in reply, then when Sam killed the engine, Dean climbed out of the car. It didn't take them long to haul their duffels into the room; Sam was pleased to find the room was clean and tidy, and smelled only lightly of cigarette smoke and cherry-scented cleansers.

Dean made another grunt of comment -- Sam suspected it was approval of the room -- and dumped his duffel beside one of the beds. Before Sam could ask if he wanted to grab any dinner, Dean tipped over, falling face-first onto the bed. He tugged the pillow out from under the comforter, bunched it up under his head, then was out like a light.

Setting his own duffel down, Sam waited until his brother had a chance to fall deeply asleep, then went over and kicked the bed.

"Whazza?" Dean pushed himself up, looking around frantically for whatever was attacking. When he saw Sam, his eyes narrowed. "Fuck you. Let a man sleep."

"And leave me to do all the dirty work? I don't think so. Get up and help me with the room, then you can sleep until winter for all I care."

It wasn't that Sam would have minded salting the room and sketching a few simple runes of protection in the doorways. But it was the principle of the thing -- rules set down by Dean himself, who took perverse pleasure in doing to Sam exactly what Sam had just done to Dean.

His brother grumbled, but got off the bed. Sam smiled cheerfully when Dean glanced over; the more Dean grumbled, the more innocent an expression Sam schooled on his face as though he hadn't a single clue why Dean would be annoyed.

"Fine, all right, give me that," Dean finally said, snatching the canister of salt from Sam's hand. "Fucker," he said, not at all under his breath.

"Jerk," Sam replied, as he set about to do his share. As he expected, as soon as they'd finished setting out the protections for the room, Dean fell onto his bed again, kicked off his boots this time, and fell asleep.

Sam took a shower, then browsed the internet for any likely suspects for future jobs, and killed an hour looking at websites he never really wanted Dean to know about. He didn't think Dean would care if he was watching old episodes of GoBots on YouTube, but with Dean one could never tell what would turn out to be fodder for years' worth of jokes.

Finally, sleep beckoned and Sam shut down the laptop. He went over to Dean's bed and looked down at his brother, sprawled on the bedspread with his face mashed against the pillow. It looked like the most uncomfortable way to sleep possible, but Sam knew from experience that Dean could sleep curled up between two wooden rafters and not bitch about it the next day.

Regardless, he leaned down and carefully pulled Dean's jacket off, making sure he didn't let Dean's arms flop back onto the bed. He briefly considered trying to get Dean out of his jeans, but discarded the notion. Nothing worse than the teasing that would come if Dean woke up during that. He did pull the bedspread out from underneath Dean, then laid it out on top of him.

He held his hand back from ruffling the top of Dean's head, and sat down on his own bed, dropping his sneakers one at a time on the floor.

~~~

When Sam woke, he found Dean's bed empty. He didn't hear any noise coming from the bathroom; turning over, he saw the bathroom door open and that the bathroom itself was dark. It was still late; a glance at his watch showed it was barely past midnight.

Dean must have woken hungry and gone for a late dinner or early breakfast at Annie's 24 Hour Diner across the street. Sam rolled back onto his stomach, intending to go back to sleep.

Then he saw the piece of paper, folded in two, standing up on the night table. His name was printed in big letters at the top, as if Dean was afraid Sam would think the note was for someone else. Sitting up, Sam grabbed the note and flipped it open, expecting to see a couple of snide remarks or insults, and a brief message about how long ago Dean had gone for food and how he wasn't bringing Sam back anything if he didn't get his ass out of bed to join him.

What he saw, though, was:

Gone to Mount Hope.

Sam turned the paper over and didn't see anything other than his name and the single line.

"What the hell, Dean?" Sam reached down and took the phone book from the shelf beneath the night table, and flipped though it. He found Mount Hope listed -- Mount Hope Cemetery.

He felt a slight twist in his stomach as he scanned the address then headed over to the table where he'd dropped the county map the night before. It didn't take long to locate the cemetery, then he scrambled into his clothes and grabbed his keys -- running out of the room to come to a dead stop as he saw the car was gone.

Of course.

Sam pulled out his cell phone and dialed Dean's number; he listened to it ring, then Dean's voicemail clicked in. He hung up, waited thirty seconds, and dialed again only to get the voicemail a second time. Sam called his brother names as he phoned for a cab; the town wasn't all that large but the cemetery was all the way on the other side of town. He didn't want to start walking only to miss his brother and have to walk all the way back.

As he waited for the cab he dialed his brother's cell again; this time he left a terse message on Dean's voicemail. "Answer the damn phone, Dean, or call me back, or when I find you I'm putting a load of rock salt in your ass."

He hung up and tried to wait patiently; by the time the cab showed up Sam had called his brother twice more, and on the drive to the cemetery Sam dialed three more times, each time getting only Dean's voicemail.

He didn't bother trying to talk himself out of growing worried -- even seeing the Impala parked beside the cemetery didn't ease Sam's concern. He paid the cabbie out of cash, telling himself Dean would owe him for the time and aggravation as well as cab fare. He barely heard the cabbie thanking him; Sam's focus was all on a figure kneeling in front of a headstone, barely visible in the city lights reflecting off the clouds.

Dean.

Sam felt his stomach clench again, this time more in annoyance than the fear that had gripped him. He started walking towards his brother, telling himself that Dean probably had what he thought was a perfectly good explanation. As he drew closer he could see Dean had his arms folded in front of himself and his entire focus seemed to be on the headstone itself.

When he got closer he could hear his brother's voice. Sam paused. He wasn't sure he should interrupt -- he had no idea who Dean knew who might be buried here. Dean had never even mentioned anything about it... but of course his brother didn't talk much about anything that was really important to him.

He took another step, angling to see the name on the headstone.

Angela Castle

It didn't strike a bell. He took another step forward then stopped again as he saw the dates below the name.

Born October 2, 2003. Died October 29, 2003.

Sam absently read the rest of the inscription, In loving memory for our baby girl. He looked at Dean again, wondering how -- possible answers occurring to him in a flash and he wanted to grab Dean, demand to know what was going on, who the baby was.

He could hear Dean talking as if to an infant. Telling her how pretty her smile was and laughing lightly. Then he heard Dean say softly, "Daddy misses you, too."

It was suddenly hard to breathe. Sam watched his brother, staring at what he could see of Dean's face. Dean's head was tilted down and he was holding something in his arms. He'd probably stopped to buy flowers, or maybe a stuffed bear -- Sam had seen all kinds of things decorating children's graves. He took a step backwards, intending to go wait by the Impala until his brother was done.

"Sammy."

Dean didn't look over, didn't raise his voice, but it carried just enough for Sam to hear. He took it as permission and he walked forward, intending to not ask any questions, not pry or push...for now.

He wasn't expecting to see the spectre of an infant cradled in Dean's arms.

"What the hell-- Dean?" Sam hurried over to kneel beside his brother, looking down at the ghost, looking up at his brother's face. Dean's eyes were all on the baby, his face set in a gentle smile; his eyes flicked up at him and Sam could read desperation there.

"Dean, what's going on?"

Dean looked back at the baby -- Angela -- and grinned at her, speaking softly. "She wants her daddy."

Angela -- Angela's ghost -- waved her tiny fists, smiling up at Dean. Her eyes were open, but Sam could see they were completely clear, devoid of colour. "What.. what do you mean?" Sam kept his voice calm, following Dean's lead.

He thought of other ghosts he'd read about, ghosts who trapped innocent bystanders into their own worlds, trying to re-enact scenarios from the lives they'd lost. It would make sense if the ghost of an infant reached out for anyone she could find, hoping to find a parent she missed.

Only there was the note Dean had left beside the bed. Unless Angela had the strength to reach for someone from across town... and why pick Dean, out of every resident in town?

And how would Dean know where he was going?

Sam carefully placed his hand on Dean's arm when his brother hadn't responded to his question. Dean didn't look up, for the moment still spoke to the baby as though she were still alive -- as though he was nothing more than a proud father.

"Dean," Sam said again. "What's going on?"

Dean kept smiling happily, eyes still on the baby, but Sam could hear the strain in his voice as he said, "I can't let her go." He immediately followed with, "You have such a cute nose, too, munchkin. Going to be such a heartbreaker when you grow up."

Sam dug his fingers into Dean's arm, tugging at him a little. Dean's arm started to move towards him, then Dean pulled it back with a nearly audible snap. Dean's eyes flicked quickly up at Sam before going back to watching the infant in his arms.

"She's...holding you here?" Sam asked, looking down at the ghost, watching for any sign she knew what Sam was planning. The baby seemed to be only aware of Dean, however; just as Dean was barely aware of anyone but her. His brother managed a nod, and as he continued to speak to her, Sam could see the strain around his eyes and hear the slightest tremble in his voice.

For now there was no way to know how or why Angela had grabbed his brother, but Sam knew what had to be done about it. He patted Dean's shoulder and stood up, hurrying as fast as he could back to the car.

It didn't take him long to grab a shovel, salt, a can of kerosene, and book of matches. He made his way quickly back to the grave, pausing as he watched his brother holding what, from this distance, looked like an ordinary baby.

Dean looked happy. Overjoyed at the baby in his arms. Sam swallowed; Dean looked as though it really was his, as if she was alive and well and they were anyplace other than here, crouching above the baby's grave. Sam walked up and put his hand on Dean's shoulder.

"Dean, can you move to one side?"

His brother glanced up and his expression turned anguished. "Sammy, no...."

"Dean, I have to." Sam kept his voice calm, not wanting to startle the ghost or let on to what he was doing.

But Dean was shaking his head and Sam didn't know if it was Dean or the ghost making him protest.

"Dean... can you get free?"

Dean bit his lip, looking up at Sam with wide, desperate eyes. Sam watched him struggle to respond -- finally he whispered, "No."

Sam just nodded and set everything but the shovel down on the ground, out of Dean's or the ghost's sight. He waited for Dean to shift off the top of the grave and had to lean down to help, pushing gently as Dean quickly reassured Angela that Daddy wasn't going anywhere, everything was fine, nothing to worry about because Daddy was here, right here, he was going to hold his baby girl forever.

Sam's heart clenched and he had to force himself to push the edge of the shovel into the ground.

The sound of Dean's voice distracted him as he dug. Dean talked, telling her all about some of the things he'd seen -- things like sunsets and gorgeous cars and the best vanilla ice cream he'd ever tasted. He sang to her after awhile, and told her stories that Sam vaguely remembered hearing read to him as a child.

Sam dug until he reached the coffin -- so tiny he felt scared of smashing it with just his body weight from standing on it. He pried open the lid and found a small quilt wrapped around a body.

His brother's voice was singing again, a lullaby Sam knew was one their mother had sung to Dean. He was singing softly, as though trying to urge the baby to fall asleep. Sam looked up and saw Dean tuck his hand against the side of her face. Dean's own face was a struggle between love and grief as he fought to keep his voice calm.

With a whispered prayer, Sam doused the tiny corpse with salt, then gas, then climbed out of the grave and dropped the match in.

He watched it start to burn, not looking away until he heard Dean gasp. Then Sam looked over in time to see his brother falling forward, catching himself on his hands. Sam moved quickly, crouching down beside him, not surprised to see the tears on Dean's face.

He waited, saying nothing, until Dean composed himself. Then Sam helped him to his feet and they gathered the equipment. Dean paused and stared down at the fire, the light from the flames illuminating his eyes and making the grief in them far too clear.

Sam reached out and took Dean's arm, not quite pulling him away but reminding him that they didn't have time. When the cops investigated, they'd eventually find a cabbie who'd brought a stranger out here and it wouldn't take long for them to backtrack to the motel.

"Dean, we have to go."

Dean nodded slowly, then finally dragged his eyes away from the fire. He looked at Sam and opened his mouth, but said nothing.

"Come on," Sam said quietly, and he led his brother away, back to the Impala. He let Dean into the passenger seat of the car, then put everything back in the trunk before going around to the driver's side door.

Dean was staring ahead, his expression still stricken. Sam didn't try to say anything, just put the car in gear and drove away.

~~~

They got back to the motel, grabbed their duffels and headed out of town as quickly as they could. Neither brother spoke; Dean got behind the wheel and Sam didn't try to offer to drive instead. He was surprised when Dean left the radio off, letting the silence fill the car as they drove.

Finally, an hour away, Dean said, "I never went back until today." He said it as if believing his words held all the answers Sam would need.

"She was yours?" Sam asked anyway, needing to hear.

Dean swallowed, then nodded.

Sam knew that, someday, he would ask. How she'd died. Who her mother was, why Dean had never said a word about his daughter.

For now he simply turned the radio on, slipping a tape into the player and letting his brother drive into the night.

the end