Title: The Weight of All Things
By: toneskis
Rating: PG-13 for cursing; Gen.
Characters: Sam and Dean, Gordon Walker, OMC.
Words: 5,800
Notes/Disclaimers: Complete. Season 2 -- post "Bloodlust" but pre "Hunted."
Summary: Gordon Walker will do anything - and recruit anyone - in his pursuit of the Winchesters.

***

"Well, I'll be damned."

Lee Moore's hand froze. The peanut shell balancing on his thumbnail, which he'd been attempting to catapult into his half-empty Budweiser, seesawed a few wobbly seconds before toppling onto the bartop.

He took a deep breath, feeling the air strain against his ribs. Maybe if he stayed very, very still the man standing behind him would lose interest. Or, better yet, not even see Lee at all - just like that nearsighted dinosaur in Jurassic Park. Yeah. That sounded like a decent plan. Ignore the voice, and maybe the person who sounded suspiciously like Gordon Walker would simply stroll off into the night, never to be heard from again.

Keep walking; this isn't the drunk you're looking for.

"Lee? Lee Moore?"

Well. Fuck a duck.

Lee swiveled in his barstool and all remnants of hope faded. It was Walker - older, a little thicker around the edges, but still sporting that berserker barracuda grin Lee remembered all too well.

Gordon slid onto the next stool over, his arms splayed across Lee's peanut massacre.

"You old sonofabitch, it is you! How long's it been, Moore? Twenty years? Jesus H., man."

Lee could only blink. Did Walker seriously think they were going to play this game? Lee hadn't crossed paths with another hunter in over 15 years - been retired for even longer than that - and now Gordon Walker, on a random Tuesday night, suddenly moseys into the same shithole dive bar in the middle of Phoenix?

Coincidence? Right. And wendigoes wore Victoria's Secret.

Lee crossed his arms and hoped the gesture was enough to advertise his skepticism. He waited, watching the gears turning - and then reversing - in Gordon's head as the other man seemed to take the hint that Lee wasn't buying the Mr. Rodgers act.

Walker finally shrugged, relenting. "Okay, cut the small talk. I'm working a hunt and I need your help, Lee."

"I'm out."

"If you'll just..."

"Out means out, what more do you need to hear?"

"What if I told this hunt involved you?"

"Walker..."

Gordon leaned forward, leather jacket crackling. "What if I told you your daughter didn't die in some freak house fire. What if I told you she was murdered... and I know who did it."

There was no moment of pause, no second thoughts or ruminations on his next course of action. Lee reacted the instant Walker stopped talking.

Seizing two fistfuls of Gordon's jacket, Lee pulled him from his seat. The counter was too tall to outright throw the bastard on top, so Lee settled for a forceful slam into the side of it instead, pinning Gordon to the mahogany bar like a butterfly. Lee shoved him again, just for the hell of it, and found he enjoyed the pained oofh forced from Walker's lips.

"You leave Jessie out of whatever game you're playing or you'll pray you were staring down a vamp instead of me."

Gordon winced at the pressure on his back, but didn't struggle. Behind them the bartender and a few of the barflies shifted, noticing the tryst, but none looked willing to interfere.

"Sam Winchester."

Lee baulked.

Of all the things Walker could have uttered, he hadn't expected that. Kris Kringle, Jerry Springer, Yakov Smirnoff. Anyone. Anyone except Sam. Lee released Gordon with a final push.

"What did you say?"

Walker sat down, motioning with placating hands for Lee to do the same.

"Sam Winchester murdered your daughter."

Quiet, intelligent, tall as a fucking redwood - all words that could describe Samuel Winchester. But murderer rang blasphemous to Lee.

Barb used to tease him mercilessly about Sam Winchester; said her husband had turned all marshmallowy by not treating Sam the way he had all of his daughter's previous boyfriends. Lee's first instinct had always been to intimidate the little pissants who'd set their sights on Jessie, but Sam had been different. He'd wanted to dislike the kid; tried to. But, goddamnit, the boy Jessica had brought into their kitchen four years ago had won him over. She'd been safe with Sam, protected. He'd felt it in his bones.

Of course, that was then. Now his only child was ashes, and Sam...

Lee swallowed. "I don't believe you."

"It's true, Moore. I'm sorry, I wish I didn't have to tell you, but Winchester's a freak: an honest-to-god monster. I had a run in with Sammy and his brother a few months back--" Gordon's cheek twitched, the memories he was conjuring clearly not happy ones.

"Why in the hell would you of all people run into Sam?"

"Vamp nest in Montana," Walker answered, absently flicking a peanut onto the other side of the bar.

Lee raised an eyebrow, and Gordon looked at him as if he should be filling in the blanks. What blanks though, Lee couldn't fathom.

Suddenly Gordon's mouth twisted into a grin and he laughed so brightly it sounded borderline manic. "You have absolutely no idea who they are, do you? Hell. Sam is John Winchester's boy. Kid's a born and raised hunter."

Lee looked down at his beer, shells floating leisurely inside the mug.

Should he be surprised?

Yes, it startled him, no doubt there, but he wasn't surprised - at least, not as surprised as he should have probably been to find out that Sam knew the hunting world. He'd never suspected, but he'd always sensed something about the kid. Sam hadn't been just another liberal lollygagger at Stanford who'd talked shit. The kid had been wise to the world, the kind of thing that went beyond a subscription to TIME. It was the way he moved; the way his body shifted, taking in his surroundings when he entered a room. He listened when his eyes were on you, and even when they weren't. Sam never talked about his family, and Lee had always assumed it was the reason for the kid's idiosyncrasies.

He wouldn't have connected Sam with John Winchester though. Lee knew next to nothing about the man; it had been a name he'd heard in passing at the end of his run, nothing more.

"Anyway," Gordon continued, letting Lee chew on that tidbit a little while longer, "after our powwow I did some research on him, talked to a few... sources."

"Sources?"

Gordon hesitated. "Doesn't matter who, just that I know the info is legit. The kid's a physic, and not some gentle, tea leaf-reading soothsayer. I'm talking powers, dangerous powers, and he's not alone. He and his kind are meant to be soldiers in coming demonic war, fighting shoulder to shoulder with the hellspawn."

"That's ridiculous," Lee blurted, unable to believe he was still sitting here listening to this fanatic's story. Time hadn't changed Gordon Walker. Once a nut, always a nut.

"Yeah? That kid - that monster - used his powers to kill your daughter. Don't know why; maybe she got in the way, maybe she found out what he was. Tell me something, Lee. Why did they find some of Jessica's crispy remains embedded in the ceiling?"

"Get out," Lee growled. "Get out, or I swear--"

Gordon raised his hands. "Fine, man. I'll leave, walk right out that door and never speak to you again. But I have one last question: Don't you want to know how Winchester's mother died?"


... ... ...



Even relaxed, Sam Winchester walked as if he carried the world on his shoulders.

Parked across the street, Lee watched as the kid left the Portersville's library and wandered over to a corner Starbucks, holding the door for a woman juggling two coffee cups and a toddler.

It was a nice gesture... for a monster.

It had been over a year since he'd seen Sam, at least outside of those frilly scrapbooks Barb had scattered all over the house. Their last contact had been at the graveyard, minutes after they'd lowered Jessica's nearly empty coffin into the ground. Sam had stood next to Lee's family, a sullen young man in a dark suit, eyes downcast and void of anything resembling life.

If it had been an act, it had been a damn convincing once. Or, maybe he'd felt sincerely upset; that in some twisted way he had loved Jessica, at least until he'd turned on her. Maybe his mother's end had been an accident, some infantile emotion that had unknowingly sparked death. But to kill again, this time fully aware of what lurked inside him? Wherever Sam Winchester went, death followed, and his daughter had found out the hard way.

The kid hadn't spoken to Lee the day of the funeral. He'd looked like he'd wanted to, but he'd never seemed to find the will or the words. When the service was over, Lee had watched as someone he didn't know - Sam's brother, as one of his daughter's friends would later tell him - pulled Sam into a big black car. They'd driven away and that was that. Sam broke all ties and never looked back.

Now, in the middle of downtown Portersville, Arkansas, Sam exited the coffee shop in possession of some over-priced concoction in his hand. He hefted his bag, glanced around, and took off down the sidewalk at an easy pace.

Well, now or never.

Lee stepped out of his truck. He let Sam get a half-block away before picking up his pace and calling out.

The first name slowed the kid, but it was the last name that put the brakes on. Sam turned, forehead wrinkling in confusion.

"Sam!" Lee called again, panting for theatrical effect as he neared. "I can't believe it! I was heading in for coffee and suddenly, wam! There you were. Took me a few seconds to realize who I was even seeing!"

"Mr. Moore," Sam said, mouth hanging open. "I can't... I can't believe it."

"It's Lee, son, you know that. How've you been? "

"G-good," Sam answered, flustered. "I've been good."

"What are you up to nowadays?"

"Um, I'm still on the road with my brother."

"Bit of a long trip, idn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess." Sam smiled weakly, scratching at the back of his neck. "Lots of stuff to see. What... what are you doing in Portersville, sir?"

"Oh, visitin' my niece. She lives just outside of town."

"Is Barb with you?"

"Nah. She had some craft fair gig back home, and you know how I feel about those. I came by myself. My niece's husband and I like to do a little family fly fishing once or twice a year."

"Oh."

"What are you up to now, Sam? In Portersville, I mean?"

"Nothing special really, just passing through on our way up to Ohio."

"Will you be here long?"

"Just the night, we're heading out in the morning."

"Well, hey," Lee said, "I'm staying in the Windmill Hotel across town. Nice little place, fantastic bar. I was just on my way back. Why don't you come join me for a drink? I mean, if you're not busy. I'd love to catch up."

"I don't know," Sam hedged, fiddling with his bag's strap. "I kind of have some research I was working on..."

"My treat. And I'll even throw in some appetizers, maybe some of those mini taquitos I know you like. Those are always fun, right?"

Lee's enthusiasm seemed to work because the wariness he'd been tracking in Sam's eyes finally faded.

"How could I possibly turn that down," Sam answered, dimples going full force. "Do you mind if I drop this off at my motel first? It should just take a minute."

"No problemo. My truck's just down the street. I'll drive you."

"There's really no need," Sam said, throwing a thumb behind his back. "It's just a couple of blocks down that way, and it's a nice night. If you don't mind, of course. It'll give me time to finish my six-dollar coffee." He gently waved his drink and the siren on the outside of the paper cup stared coyly at Lee.

"Sure, son. Lead the way."

"Great. I should call my brother though, let him know I'll be busy."

"He's more than welcome to join," Lee offered, biting his tongue.

Sam chuckled, digging into an oversized jean pocket. "Nah. He's out with some waitress we met this morning at breakfast. He's been with her all afternoon."

"Well, that's okay. Just the two of us then."

Sam fiddled with his cell and Lee kept his eyes diverted into a nearby shop window selling antiques rockers. Something about his own reflection bothered him, and his gaze fell to a Doritos bag on the ground.

"Hey, it's me," Sam said into the phone, rolling his eyes at whatever response his brother gave. "Yeah, everything's peachy, man. Look, I ran into Jess's dad in town... yeah. Yeah. We're going for drinks, but I'm going to drop those books off at the room first. Yeah. Well, in case you get back before midnight, they're there for you to use. Riiight. Fine. Have fun. Okay, you too. Bye, Dean."

Sam slid the cell back into his pocket and glanced over, smiling tiredly. "Yeah, he's not going be back until late. When it comes to brunettes, Dean's sort of predictable like that."

"You must get along with your brother pretty well, huh?" Lee asked. "I mean, you've been roadtripping with him for so long now. You'd think you two would be sick of each other."

"Not really," Sam said, shrugging. "Sometimes the cramped quarters get a little tense, but we spent so many years apart when I was at school, I feel like I'm making up for lost time. And after Dad, well..."

"Your father? He's--"

"He, uh, he died a few months ago. Car accident."

"Oh, Sam, I'm so sorry to hear that. Are you okay?"

"It's been rough." Sam glanced over, eyes downcast. "How have you been, sir? The last time I saw you and Barb, it was the funeral. I... I miss Jess. I think of her every day."

Lee didn't want to talk about his daughter in front of this thing. Didn't want him using her name, or pretending he cared.

"One day at a time I guess," Lee said, settling on the first Hallmarkian response he could think of as they began a slow pace in the fading purple dusk. "You never realize what you have until it's taken from you. But I guess you know that more than most folk."

Sam fiddled with the lip of his coffee lid.

They talked odds-and-ins for a bit; things Sam had seen on his travels, what Barb was up to in Phoenix, how Jessica's grandparents were enjoying Alaska.

On the street ahead, a gaudy neon arrowhead pointed to the aptly named Arrowhead Motel. When they rounded the corner, the single story roach-motel spread itself out in all its dilapidated glory. Lee scanned the parking lot, looking for the black Chevy he knew Sam's brother drove, but the car wasn't there.

"Right over here," Sam said, pointing down the long line of rooms. At the last door, he pulled out an oversized key.

Inside, the motel room was dark, lit only by a weak glow coming from a cracked bathroom door. Sam stepped past the threshold and flipped the light switch a few times to no result.

"Damnit, Dean," Sam mumbled to himself. "I told--" He looked back at Lee and winced. "Sorry. He promised he'd get that fixed before he left, but he forgets to use his upstairs brain when there's a girl in sight. You can come in for a sec. I'm going to use the bathroom and then we can go."

Setting his coffee next to the TV, Sam dropped his bag on the bed and head for the bathroom. He shut the door and the room dimmed again.

Feeling unnerved, Lee glanced outside. Satisfied that there wasn't anyone approaching, he stepped into the room. He left the front door open for the faint light it provided and backed up, shoulder blades scrapping along the 105 on the door. His tension level eased a little. At this angle, he had both the bathroom and parking lot in his peripherals.

Lee shifted to another foot and the motion caused the pistol in his waistband to clunk loudly against the doorknob. Strangling a yelp, he jumped to the side, avoiding the obstruction. Jesus, he was jumpy. It had been a while since he'd worn his gun, and the weight that was once so familiar now seemed unnaturally heavy.

He knew he could take Sam right here and the boy probably wouldn't suspect a thing. But Lee needed time to ask questions, many, many questions, and there was no telling if the brother would tire of his playdate and return early. It was too dangerous.

No, he'd wait until they were in the truck and Lee would ambush him once they got out on the back road. It was the only way. Here would be easier, but he couldn't risk it.

In the bathroom, the toilet flushed.

One solid sucker punch should be enough to stun the kid, if not knock him out altogether. He had some rope in his truck, and a pair of handcuffs that should work if he could just --

Lee froze, a swallow caught in his throat.

Something pressed into his side with bruising force.

It wasn't the doorknob. This he was relatively sure of, unless the knob was capable of jamming itself deeper and deeper into his skin, at the same time it was nudging him toward the beds.

As the pressure on his side increased, Lee was forced to take a step forward, then two. Behind him the front door creaked to a slow close.

"You move," said a quiet voice behind him, "and I'll introduce your kidneys to the wallpaper."

Lee seethed.

The intruder hadn't come from outside. No, his uninvited guest had been in the room the whole time, standing just behind the open fucking door.

Lee was still processing this when the bathroom door swung wide and Sam stepped out holding a sawed-off shotgun. He came to a standstill in the center of the room, and with his free hand rotated the bulb in the fixture above his head. The light blinked on.

Lee felt the revolver pulled from his belt, and a second later the figure flanking him slid around to stand next to Sam.

"You okay?" Dean Winchester asked, two guns casually aimed at Lee's chest. One of which, Lee recognized, was his own weapon.

Sam smirked. "Just peachy, thanks."

Lee felt himself groan. He'd been played like a fiddle. Twice.

"Fine," Lee growled. "Get it over with. Kill me."

"Oh, but we will," Dean said, wiggling one of his guns at Lee. "Sammy, if you'll do the honors."

Sam pulled a thin book from his back pocket and began to read. Although Lee's Latin was a little rusty-downright corroded, really-the exorcism was as familiar to him as the Pledge of Allegiance.

"You're not gettin' out of this one," Dean chimed in, nodding toward the ceiling. "Drew that puppy myself. Not exactly Bob Ross, but it'll do the job."

Lee glanced up, eyes widening at the sight of a crudely drawn devil's trap encircling him. It was childlike in artistry, but it would do the trick to keep in any...

Lee's frown deepened.

Sam continued to recite the exorcism, every word spoken with a gusto his eyes didn't share. The longer the youngest Winchester spoke though, the warier the elder looked.

"Dude, any time now."

Oh. Oh, hell.

Lee closed his eyes, relishing in his own idiocy. Embarrassed, he stepped out of range of the pictographs and dropped onto the nearest bed. He put his head in his hands.

After a few silent beats, Dean coughed awkwardly.

"I don't know, I thought--" Sam murmured, trailing off.

Lee lifted his head. "That I was a demon?"

Sam winched. "Someone from my past just randomly shows up? Claiming to have a niece he doesn't have? It's a tad suspicious."

Lee frowned. "What?"

"Your niece? You don't think I'd know something like that? Jessica's parents were only children, like she was. No aunts, no uncles, no cousins. We had this running joke that one day she'd leave me for some devote Catholic boy with--" He stopped himself, his enthusiasm for the memory conflicting with the current situation. He cleared his throat. "So, your cover story? Needs work."

Lee sighed heavily. "Shoulda gone with old frat buddy."

Dean stepped forward, ignoring them both. "Hand. Now."

Lee extended his left hand, palm upward, and watched as Sam drew a small blade from a sheath attached to Dean's belt. Both of Dean's weapons were still trained on Lee's head, and he didn't doubt for a second that one move toward Sam and the boy's protector would put a pair of bullets between his eyeballs.

He tried not to flinch as Sam slid the knife-silver, he assumed-over the top layers of skin, drawing a stripe of blood across his lifeline.

"Left pocket," Dean murmured, frowning, and Sam reached into his brother's olive jacket and pulled free a gray flask. Sam uncorked it and dumped a shot's worth of water onto Lee's exposed hand.

When he didn't react, the boys stared at one another for a moment.

Dean pursed his lips, than shrugged. "Okay, so you're not rocking the black eyes, and you're not a freakin' shapeshifter, so that's a plus. Still doesn't explain why you're here."

Lee reached over to the nightstand and pulled a handful of tissues from the box next to the alarm. With pink water dripping from his hand, he crumpled the sheets and used them to stem the blood flow.

"I was stupid. I was so goddamned stupid. I believed him; I should never have believed him."

"Believe who?" Sam asked.

"Walker."

Across the room, Dean's eyebrows shot up. "Please, please tell me you're talking about the Texas Ranger."

Lee didn't answer, and Dean swore loud enough to make a nun two counties over blush.

"How do you know Gordon?" Sam asked, glancing warily from his brother to Lee. "You... you're..."

"A hunter?"

Across the room, Dean shifted. "Guess it really is a small world after all."

Lee looked down at his hand, bits of tissue paper sticking to his wound. "I suppose we're all full of surprises today. To answer your question, yes, Sam, I was once, but it was a long time ago. Barb didn't know, at least at first. I kept it pretty well hidden after we married, lots of fishing trips on my own, camping with buddies. One night though, a Blackdog followed me home after a hunt. I was cocky, thought I'd lost it, that I'd done everything right. A few hours later I killed it a foot from Jessica's nursery. A foot. That's all it took to end my hunting career. I swore to never put my family in danger again."

Sam looked wary. "And you were friends with Gordon?"

"Friends? Hah. I met Walker a couple of weeks before I quit, back when he just a kid starting out. Helped him find some info on a vamp cult in Texas, that was it. Hadn't talked to him in almost two decades and then he shows up a few days ago, spouting things about Sam killing Jessica."

"And you believed that whack job?" Dean snarled.

"I didn't take him at his word. I did my research. Things checked out - the other children, the physics, what happened to your mother. I had to know for sure."

Sam looked like he was about to be sick. "You think I..." he closed his mouth.

"No," Lee answered, hoping his sincerity was enough. "I don't think you killed her. I'm a foolish old man who thought he might finally find some answers. Gordon said things, said you were a monster, that you had powers, and I... god help me, I started to believe him. I was so desperate for answers, I couldn't stop myself."

Sam moved around his brother and sat down on the opposite bed, shotgun dangling between his knees. He met Lee's eyes.

"I do."

"Sam!" Dean barked.

Lee shook his head. "Sam, you--"

"Gordon wasn't lying, at least about that part. I get visions; I see things before they happen. I don't know what they mean, I don't know why I get them. But we use them to help people."

"Did Jessie --"

"She didn't know. I didn't know myself at the time." He paused, taking a breath. "I didn't kill her, but I know who did."

"Sam." Dean's voice had now taken on a warning tone.

Sam glanced at his brother. "He deserves to know."

The siblings glared at one another, some silent argument Lee wasn't privy to passing between them. Dean finally sighed and twisted one of his guns in a get-on-with-it motion.

"A demon," Sam said, turning back. "The same yellow-eyed bastard who killed our mother. We think my powers might be connected to it somehow."

Lee ran a hand over his mouth. "But why? What did... how did Jessie get involved?"

"I don't know." Sam looked down at his hands, guilt radiating off of him. "I think it was looking for me. And I wasn't there to protect her."

"Sammy, we're not going to rehash all this," Dean said, eyes boring into the side of his brother's head. "It wasn't your fault. There's nothing you could have done."

"I dreamed about it, I could have--"

"You didn't know! You couldn't have! Get that through your thick skull."

"Maybe if I'd just--"

"Stop!" Lee snapped. "Just stop. Enough. I've heard enough. I should have listened to my gut earlier, but I'm listening to it now. I know you didn't hurt my daughter."

Sam froze, looking gobsmacked.

"That said, I want in. Tell me what you know about this demon."

Dean stepped forward. "Woah, bucko, just hold on a second."

"This thing killed my child," Lee said, rising to his feet.

"And it killed my parents," Dean bit back. "I get it, I really do, but you can't just jump into this arms flailing."

"I have to do something; I can't just sit on the sidelines."

"You have to," Sam said.

Lee glanced down, the certainty in Sam's voice startling him. "Why?"

"We're going to kill this thing. We know of a weapon that can do it. But I need you to go home and live your life. If you get involved, it's like putting a bull's-eye on your back. No more casualties. Barb's already lost a daughter; don't make her lose a husband, too."

"How can I go back? Knowing what I know now? It doesn't work like that."

"You can trust us to get the job done."

Lee paced, fingers digging deeply into his hair.

In less than a week he'd gone from thinking his baby had died in a terrible-but all too ordinary-accident, to discovering she'd been murdered by some thing. The what-ifs overpowered him. Maybe if he'd kept hunting it would have been different. If he'd shown her what was out there, let her into that world of darkness to save her.

From the bed, Sam seemed to read his thoughts. "It's not your fault."

"I could have trained her! She could have defended herself!"

"And she probably would have died anyway," Dean added. The words were harsh, but the tenor was kind. "This SOB is old school. Ancient, powerful. Much more so than your garden variety demon. To this thing, holy water might as well be Old Spice."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"No. S'just a fact." Dean lowered his weapon, and offered the other gun back to Lee. "You gave her a normal life in the time she had. A happy life. That counts for something too."

Lee's anger boiled up into his throat. He wanted this kid, this punk who wouldn't see a gray hair for another ten years, to know how full of shit he was. To know --

Something in Dean's tone sapped the words from Lee's tongue.

Dean believed what he was saying. Wholly, without qualm, believed every word he'd just spoken. Lee hardly knew the kid from Adam, but the truth in Dean's eyes was unmistakable. Lee had never thought about what it would be like to be raised in this chaos. He'd been a young man when he'd gotten started, but these boys-these boys had been bottle-fed in the battlefield.

Across the room, Sam looked up at him with quiet conviction. He wouldn't say it aloud, maybe for his brother's sake, but he agreed. He'd tried to escape it all, and look at where it had gotten him.

The what-ifs still stormed inside Lee, but for the first time in a week, he finally took control of them. With a shaky hand, he accepted the gun Dean was offering. When the warn handle was back in his grip, he thumbed the safety and slipped it back into his waistband.

"You'll kill this thing? You swear?"

"Yes, sir. It's number one on the To-Do list."

Lee nodded, agreeing against a reluctant heart. He wasn't ready to forgive himself, but he would do this for Sam. He owed him that much trust, if not more.

"Alright, I'll let you have this hunt. But I'm going to be your second front." Dean opened his mouth to protest, but Lee cut him off. "I swear, no hunting. Just give me the thing's MO and I'll keep an eye out. I'll do my research discretely and pass along anything I find to you boys."

Dean, seeming to realize for once he couldn't charm his way out of the argument, just nodded.

"I have to ask though," Lee said, frowning slightly, "so I know your priorities. What's number two on this To-Do list?"

Dean looked surprised, as if it should be the most obvious thing in the world.

"Buy milk," he answered.

The unexpectedness of the deadpan broke the tension and Lee actually snorted. Stop an apocalypse, eviscerate an imp, sure. But milk?

Dean threw Lee a shit-eating grin, clearly amused by his own macabre joke.

Lee smiled back, but it didn't last. The levity had lightened his mood, but he knew it wouldn't help with what came next. He turned to Sam, taking a steadying breath.

"I don't really know where to begin. All I can say is that I'm sorry my faith in you wasn't absolute. If you can't forgive me, I understand."

Quicker than he imagined possible, Sam darted up. "There's nothing to apologize for."

"Sam--"

"Please. I mean it. You did what you thought you needed to. For her."

Amazed at the boy's capacity for kindness, Lee stretched his uninjured palm out and Sam accepted, wrapping a warm hand firmly around Lee's. Using the leverage of the handshake, Lee pulled Sam into a hug. Sam froze under the embrace, seemingly unsure the next step, until Lee squeezed harder and the boy in his arms reciprocated, his grip tight around Lee's collar.

Reluctantly, he pulled away. "You'll be okay?"

Sam didn't speak, but the glint in his eyes said enough. Lee'd be lying if he said his own weren't a little watery himself.

"Kid, this wasn't exactly the reunion I would have liked, but I think sticking around now is bound to be a bit awkward. I'm gonna get out of your hair, but I want you to promise me, when you're near Phoenix, you stop by. I know Barb would love to see you again. That goes for me too, of course."

"I promise."

"One last thing," Lee added, looking at Dean in particular. "Gordon Walker. I don't know what you boys did to him, but he's gunning for both of you. Sam especially. Don't underestimate him."

"He won't lay a finger on Sammy," Dean said quietly.

"I believe you. Just know, he might not be alone. He's got a way about him. He can be persuasive. It's likely he'll find others to help in his crusade. Hell, I was close to helping him, and I hate his damn guts. Be careful."

Knowing he'd imparted as much as he could, Lee gripped Sam's elbow a moment then released it. He crossed to the door and opened it, catching a gust of wind that smelled faintly of asphalt. He'd taken a single step when something stopped him, almost like a hand to the chest.

He couldn't leave, not yet. There was one more thing, and though he knew it could bring more pain, it needed to be said.

"Sam, do you remember the last Forth of July party you spent with us before she died?" Lee asked, turning slightly.

Sam frowned but answered, "Yes, at her grandparent's house."

Lee nodded. "When you were out on the deck, tossing back what had to be your third plateful of grub, Jessie ran in for more soda. I was standing at the window and I made some offhand comment about you eating our family out of house and home, and she-she just smiled and said to me, "˜Well, Daddy, you'd better get used to it.' They were just words, Sam, simple plans for the future, but I could tell right then that they were more than that. She knew, kid. That night, she told us you were going to ask her to marry you. She'd known for a while."

Lee watched Sam swallow, his shaggy brown hair not quite covering the misery that blazed in his eyes. For all the sadness, there was remembrance in there too; bits of happier times that Lee hoped would someday overpower the grief.

Above it all hung a question Sam clearly couldn't bring himself to ask.

He couldn't ask, but Lee could answer.

"She would have said yes," Lee said. "She would have said yes in a heartbeat, Sam."

Tears filled Sam's eyes, and across the room, Dean watched his brother's face, ready to handle any fallout.

Lee swallowed, peace settling within him. It was over. It was time for them both to move on. Nothing left to say, he nodded in finality to both Winchesters and closed the door softly behind him.

Outside, Lee stood silently on the room's frizzy welcome mat, a soda machine grouchily humming a few doors down. His soul was a wreck and would probably remain that way until the day he died, but for the first time in a long while, it simply felt good to breathe.

Clearing his cheeks of tears long overdue, Lee stepped away from the door and down the short drop-off into the parking lot. As his boots found purchase on the chunky pavement, he gazed into the coruscated vault above and smiled, offering thanks.

For her.

To her.

Always.

***