After a fairly hefty breakfast and no conversation at all, they checked out, stuffed their duffels in the trunk and got in the car. Sam called Bobby for a quick update and found out that the manager of the factory had been in touch with Bobby, stating that although the ghost seemed to be gone, he was not very happy about the destruction the boys had left behind and hence wouldn't pay them.

Dean arched an eyebrow and pulled the Impala out of the parking lot. "Like we were expecting that in the first place," he growled.

"Yeah, well, it's the same as always, isn't it?" Sam said with a sigh. "We don't get thanked, we don't get paid and we have to put up with this crap too."

"Yeah, well, that's life for ya," Dean countered in a drawl and smirked.

Sam gave him a look that took the fun right out of it before his little brother let his attention drift.

 

"Man, what is eating you, Gilbert Grape?" Dean finally demanded. "You haven't cracked the shadow of a smile since yesterday."

Sam sighed lightly and watched the landscape drift by for a bit and Dean had the distinct impression that he wanted to talk, but didn't know how, which in and of itself was disturbing.

With a frown, Dean sped up and decided to let Sam stew in whatever the hell was bothering him for now. In part he wanted to tell him where they were heading, but generally he just felt like giving Sam the silent-treatment for a bit. Maybe that would change his brother's mind about the sulking-routine.

They breezed through Aspen an hour later and still Sam had said nothing. He occasionally checked his phone, which had been remarkably silent since Dean had talked to that Kate-chick and that had to be good news in general, but the fact that he remained mum was bothering Dean.

"So, for once neither of us got our heads bashed in," he finally said, no longer able to handle the silence. And for some reason he didn't much feel like cranking up the volume on the music either.

"No," Sam agreed and that was it.

"And that's a good thing," Dean tried again. "Right?"

"Yeah, it is," Sam said and fell silent again, shifted a little, then dug out his laptop and opened it.

Half an hour later they hit Interstate 70 and Dean turned them due West and made a face. Sam was engrossed in whatever he was doing on the laptop and his silence was beginning to tick Dean off.

"So, where are we going anyway?" Sam suddenly asked and looked up to eye the road ahead as they roared through Funston.

It would be a while before they hit another town on this stretch and Dean saw that as a good sign in case Sam had a fit over him poking through his messages. He took his own sweet time before he replied. "California," he finally said and glanced at Sam from the corner of his eyes.

Sam's attention was still on the laptop, no sign of any tensing or that he caught on to what Dean had in mind. "What's in Cali?" he asked, looked up again and then glanced at Dean, still mildly curious.

For some reason Dean couldn't readily put a finger on, having to tell Sam where they were heading seemed like a bad idea right now. Not so much because Sam was going to have a fit that Dean had checked his messages. It was his reaction to the received messages that had Dean slightly worried. Once again, he took a moment to answer that question and when he did, he did so reluctantly. "Kate's haunting," he finally said.

For a brief moment it seemed like Sam wasn't going to respond to that at all. Then his eyes widened a little and the color drained from his face. "What?!" he asked, his tone carefully controlled.

"Look, man, your mood has been in the crapper ever since you started getting messages from that chick. So I took the liberty of checking the messages and ... it's a job, dude. And it's in Palo Alto. I figured you could catch up with Becky and ... some other old friends and we can deal with this chick's problem at the same time."

Sam closed the laptop almost carefully and pushed it back into the bag he lugged it around in, then braced one hand against the dashboard. "Pull over," he said quietly.

Dean frowned. "What?" he asked.

"Pull over, Dean," Sam insisted.

"Dude, we're in the middle of nowhere right now. What ..." he tried.

"PULL OVER!" Sam yelled. "RIGHT NOW!"

Dean wasn't used to being yelled at by his brother and the surprise over it happening now made him reconsider anything he'd thought of saying and pull over to the side of the road.

Sam was out of the car before the Impala had stopped entirely and strode away. But he didn't go far. He stopped ten paces in front of the car and just stood there.

For a long moment Dean just remained where he was and watched Sam while he tried to make sense of Sam's response to their destination. There had been no issue the first time they'd gone back to Stanford and he couldn't help worrying about Sam's over-the-top response to it now.

After a moment, he pushed the door open and got out while never taking his eyes off Sam. "Hey, Sam," he called, slammed the door and walked slowly closer. "Are you putting down roots out here?"

Sam didn't move, just stood there and stared ahead of himself.

Dean glanced back at the somewhat sparse traffic racing by, then paced a little closer. "Sam?"

"You had no right." The words were spoken softly, quietly, and Dean wasn't sure he'd heard him right at first.

A little uncertain about the whole deal, Dean scratched the back of his head, then wiped a hand over his lips. "Look ... I'm sorry about butting into your privacy, okay? But what the hell was I supposed to think? You went from a hundred to zero in no time flat. And don't tell me it's nothing. You don't get this angry about nothing."

Sam glanced back at him, but didn't turn. "I'm not going back there," he said, his tone tight.

"Sam, come on, man. What the hell is this about?" Dean tried, hoping that this at least might have opened the lines of communication on this particular subject.

"I don't wanna help her," Sam stated evenly.

Dean pursed his lips. "Why not?"

This caused a twitch in Sam's expression that made Dean realize that he wasn't even at all. There was a lot of anger underneath that was just itching to get out. "Because ..." Sam paused, his back still turned. He turned his attention forward again and just stood there for a moment and Dean figured it might be a good idea to not push him right now. "She's a bitch. I don't wanna help her," he finally said and his voice nearly cracked with the anger hiding underneath.

The only thing Dean could possibly imagine might be at the root of this problem made him grin a little helplessly. "What? You had an affair with her or something?" he asked.

Sam's stance changed, going from slightly tense to bowstring tight in a flash. He swirled back to stare at Dean, the anger now very visible. "THAT'S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS," he roared, suddenly blistering mad. And he didn't regret it the second he had yelled at Dean. Instead, he once again turned his back on his brother and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

Dean just stood there for a moment, totally taken aback by Sam's violent reaction, and for the first time in a good long while he considered carefully what to say next before he actually opened his mouth to speak. At first, he was all in favor of treading on eggshells, of watching his step. "Come on, man. I was only kidding. What the hell is this, Sammy? What's going on?"

"Nothing," Sam pressed out, obviously through clenched teeth. "I don't want to talk about it and it's none of your business anyway. Just keep your hands off my stuff," he added, his tone biting.

Dean frowned lightly. Sam was pissed, no doubt about it, but whatever was at the bottom of this was more than Dean suspected. He just knew it. This wasn't about an affair or cheating on Jess. If that had been it, he would have been mortally embarrassed, not blistering mad like this. Dean knew his brother well enough to know that anger of this magnitude wasn't just anger. It was hiding something else, something that was probably embarrassing, but was more than just that too. Because Dean had heard fear in Sam's voice and his attitude since he had started receiving those messages had been that of a beaten and kicked dog. Whatever this Kate had done, it had instilled some sort of fear in him.

For a moment, Dean considered pushing the subject, but then figured it might be best to let sleeping dogs lie for now. "Whenever you're ready to go on, I'll be in the car," he said, turned around and strode back to the car. He more or less threw himself onto the seat and slammed the door for good measure, thereby telling Sam that his behavior was not appreciated. Turning a cold shoulder on Sam had always worked before and Dean had no doubt that it would work now. He just wasn't so sure he wanted it to.

It took almost half an hour before Sam had calmed down enough to move at all and when he eventually returned to the car, he slid onto the seat without a word and completely avoided looking at Dean.

Dean eyed him for a moment, then revved the engine and pulled them back out into traffic. It was rare that Sam remained angry for long, but this had certainly hit a nerve and Dean was set on finding out what was going on.

In their time moving from school to school, from town to town, never staying long enough for anywhere to really matter, Dean had experienced his share of stuck-up cows that had been intent on making him feel like a loser for not having a decent home or money, but he had always managed to put it behind him because he knew the likelihood of ever running into these girls again was pretty much zero. Apparently, this specific female had somehow managed to get under Sam's skin, though, and whatever had happened between them, it had left its mark on Sam. And Dean intended to erase that mark any way he could.

***

When they reached Elsinore in Utah some four hours later, Sam hadn't said a word and Dean was still trying to get a grip on what the hell was going on with him.

He pulled the Impala into a gas station to fill the tank and stretch his legs a bit, since he had the distinct impression that he was going to be the one driving the entire trek to Palo Alto and twelve hundred odd miles wasn't exactly something he relished doing in one go.

A quick glance at his watch made him decide that they could do another few hours before they'd have to stop somewhere for the night. He went in to pay for the gas and grab a few essentials before heading back to the Impala. He tossed a bag onto Sam's lap when he got in, slid the key into the ignition and revved the engine.

"What's this?" Sam asked. His tone was pretty subdued and he didn't look at Dean.

"Provisions," Dean countered evenly, making sure his tone held no intonations in any directions.

Sam opened the bag and eyed the contents for a moment, then pulled an apple out. "Fruit?" he asked and glanced at Dean.

"I know how much you hate candy," Dean countered without the slightest indication of humor.

"I don't hate candy, Dean. It's just not decent food," Sam said and dropped the apple back into the bag, then dumped the whole thing on the backseat.

Dean glanced at him briefly before returning his attention to the road. "Would you care to tell me what the hell that little temper tantrum back there was about?" he asked. So far, he had refrained from making any reference to this, which had left him with nothing to talk about, but since Sam had finally started talking again, he figured he had a right to ask.

"Kate Mayor is not a person I want to have anything to do with. Let's just leave it at that," Sam grumbled, folded his arms over his chest and stared ahead of himself.

"Yeah, well, you may not like her, but she's got a problem and I've promised we'd handle it," Dean countered.

Sam frowned. "Promised? How could you ..." He trailed off, looking downright uncomfortable now. "You ... talked to her?" he asked.

"Yup. Called her up while you were in the shower. We're going to meet up with her tomorrow at five p.m. at Charlie's," Dean confirmed and sent him a quick look. Sam's expression didn't bode well, but not in an angry way. He generally looked like Dean had just shot his favorite dog by mistake.

Then Sam shook his head. "I'm not. You can go if you're so damned eager, but no way am I ... nope, not gonna happen," he said.

"Look, Sammy, she may be a bitch, but even so, this is what we do. We help others. And if what she's got is more serious than a haunting, we have to deal with it before it becomes something more," he said.

Sam looked away and lapsed back into silence and Dean gave up on talking sense to him right now. He was itching to bully Sam into spilling the beans, though. The not knowing why Sam responded so out of character was killing him and his imagination kept popping up with one unlikely scenario after another. His immediate idea had been that Sam had cheated on Jess with this chick, probably while drunk or some crap like that, but Sam's response did not indicate that at all. What Dean couldn't wrap his mind around was what exactly Sam's response indicated, though. He couldn't for the life of him figure it out and it annoyed him.

A few hours later, the Impala rolled into Las Vegas of all places and Dean watched the glimmer, the flashing lights, the limousines and the scantily-clad ladies while driving past without really registering it. He wasn't in the mood to go all gooey over this place, even though Las Vegas was high on his list of places to visit.

Instead of stopping in the gambling town for the night, he drove through it and continued onward instead until they stopped in Mojave in California, where they got a room for the night in Motel 6. Dean briefly contemplated going out for a drink, but decided against it. Sam's anger had transformed into something that reminded Dean of a depression and he had noticed that the change had come on gradually the closer they got to Palo Alto.

Dean dumped his duffle on the bed closest to the door and glanced around the decidedly plain room, then shrugged out of his jacket and threw that on top of the duffle before he sat down on the foot end of the bed.

Then he glanced up at Sam, who had come to a stop in the middle of the room, seemingly lost in thought.

"Tell me about this Kate," Dean tried.

"No," Sam countered and dropped his duffle on the second bed.

"Why not?" Dean asked.

"Because I don't want to talk about it," Sam stated, his tone taking on that hard edge again.

Before Dean could think of anything else to say, Sam disappeared into the bathroom and didn't come out again for a bit. So Dean decided to leave it be until they reached Palo Alto. He was tired from the drive, a little cranky too, and figured the best thing he could do right now was to hit the sack, get a good night's rest and haul Sam back to his old haunts tomorrow. At some point on this trip, though, he needed to find out what was going on with his brother. He had never seen Sam behave like this before, even around their father, and it rattled him.

They were still about five hours drive from Palo Alto and any and all fun had gone out of this trip since they'd stopped on the highway back in Colorado. "This is as much fun as being kicked in the jewels," Dean muttered, shoved his duffle off the bed and stretched out on top of the covers.

He was halfway asleep by the time Sam reemerged and he wasn't really in the mood to start questioning his brother. Sam dropped down on his bed and then just lay there. "What kind of ghost?" he suddenly asked.

Dean squinted up at the ceiling above him, then turned his head to face Sam. "I don't know," he countered. "That's why we're going to meet up with her tomorrow."

Sam was staring up at the ceiling, not at all happy about this. "Fine," he muttered, then sat up.

"Fine?" Dean asked and propped himself up on his elbows. "You're through fighting me on this?"

"Not even close," Sam grumbled, got off the bed again and pulled the covers down, then got properly into bed. "I just don't want to talk about ... her."

This whole thing was really starting to bug Dean beyond his ability to tolerate and he envisioned himself shaking Sam until he told him what he wanted to know. But he knew that no amount of violence or anger would turn this thing around right now. Sam would probably tell him what the hell this was about when he was good and ready. At least Dean hoped he would.

Too tired at this point, Dean settled for getting out of his jeans and losing his shirt before he slipped under the covers as well and switched off the light, plunging the room into darkness.

Despite his good intentions to get a good night's rest, he spent a long time lying there, listening to Sam sleeping, while his mind kept going in circles about how he was going to get the truth out of him. At some point he finally drifted off, though, and had disturbing dreams about all the possible reasons for Sam's behavior.

***

By the time they rolled into Palo Alto, Sam's attitude was as close to a clinical depression as it could be. He hadn't said a word since they'd left the motel and Dean had the distinct impression that nothing would cheer him up right now; nothing short of Dean actually shooting that Kate-chick. And that worried Dean. Not that Sam had said anything along those lines. He was, after all, more the leave-it-alone-type of guy as opposed to the an-eye-for-an-eye type.

Dean found a nice, cozy little motel for them to stay in, then checked his watch. "Where's this Charlie's?" he asked and turned to face Sam, who had dropped down on a chair by the table and was staring morosely ahead of himself. "I'll go alone."

"You don't know what she looks like," Sam countered, his tone tense.

"I'll figure it out," Dean tried.

"She won't speak to you. She's expecting me," Sam said.

Dean eyed him for a moment, then stepped up in front of him and hunkered down, placing his hands on Sam's knees. "You have got to tell me what the hell happened with her, Sam. I wanna help, okay? But how can I if you won't talk to me?"

Sam met his eyes and Dean almost flinched at the look in his brother's eyes. He looked like he was being dragged to his doom and had no other choice but to go freely. "I already told you. I don't want to talk about it," Sam insisted.

With a sigh, Dean got up again. "Okay, fine. Don't talk about it. Chances are, Kate will hint at whatever it was and I'll find out anyway," he said.

"She won't," Sam said and he sounded pretty damned sure of it.

Dean rubbed his brow. "This thing is so far from okay, it's almost painful," he growled. "We'll go meet her, find out what the hell her problem is, deal with it and blow this joint. And our next gig better give me something to shoot," he added.

The next half hour Dean spent with watching television without really seeing it while Sam remained on that chair, his eyes on nothing. Angry Sam he could handle. Sad Sam he could handle. But this ... this was cutting Dean deeply and he vowed he would find out what this was all about and deal with it once and for all. And if it meant putting a bullet in that chick's head ... hell, he was already wanted for a murder he hadn't committed and there was no way in Hell that the feds would drop the charges on that one, so he might as well give them something real to put on their damned wanted posters.

He glanced at his watch again. "How far is Charlie's from here?" he asked.

"About ten minutes," Sam countered almost absentmindedly. He was tense as a bowstring, though.

"Okay, she was pretty specific about meeting her at five sharp, so I say we're late," Dean countered. "We'll leave here at five."

Sam glanced at him, but his expression remained the same. It was obvious that he mostly didn't want to go at all, but for Dean this was no longer just about the gig. It was about finding out what that bitch had done that had been so bad and do something about it.

"She's not a demon, is she?" he asked when sudden inspiration hit him.

Sam frowned and met his eyes. "Who?" he asked.

"Kate, duffus," Dean clarified.

Sam rolled his eyes. "No, she's not a demon," he growled and made a face. "Demons are nicer."

Dean arched an eyebrow. "What?" he asked.

"Nothing," Sam muttered, got up and disappeared into the bathroom, closing and locking the door behind him.

"Demons are nicer?" Dean asked the empty room. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" A sound from the bathroom made him glance at the door with a frown furrowing his brow. "Sam? Are you okay?" He was certain he heard sounds of retching. If this meeting had Sam so tense that it made him throw up, Dean was really beginning to think that coming here hadn't been the best idea he'd ever had.

When Sam didn't answer, he rose and stepped up to the door. "Sammy?" he called.

The sound of the toilet flushing was the only answer he got. A moment later the door opened and Sam just stood there, looking like a damned ghost.

Dean took a step back to get out of his way and he walked back over to the chair and sank down on it. "Okay, that does it. You're staying here," Dean decided.

"No, I'm not. You'll never get to meet her if I'm not there," Sam countered and grimaced.

"Look, man, if it's got you so much in knots that you throw up ... dude, that's not cool," Dean tried.

"Whatever. You dragged me here. Let's just get this over with," Sam countered, glanced at his watch and got up again.

"Sam, as your brother, I think I have a right ..." he began, but Sam cut him off by turning back to face him, his eyes burning with retained anger and fear.

"No, Dean! You don't have the right to know what happened. I don't want to talk about it, okay? Get that through your head!" he snarled, trying to contain the anger without much luck.

Frustrated beyond compare, Dean raised both hands, warding off another explosion. "Fine," he said. "Let's get this show on the road," he added and strode over to the door. Sam followed him silently, his head down. 'Shit', Dean thought. He really didn't want Sam to come on this one, but apparently Sam knew this chick well enough to know she wouldn't approach Dean if he came alone.

***