“That’s it!” Dean said, staring at three different newspapers laid out in front of him.
Sam made an inquiring noise from the other side of the bunker table, buried in an old text with a Sanskrit dictionary at his elbow. He hadn’t turned a page in five minutes.
“The common theme. The ghost attacks people getting married under false pretenses. The first couple were a gold digger and her latest rich vein... For the second couple the guy was already married, and then the third time, she said she converted to Christianity, but it was really just to please his mother.” Dean waved his tabloid triumphantly. “The guy was a total nonbeliever, he couldn’t have cared less if she believed in God or not, but they put on this whole conversion charade so his parents would come to the wedding. And then the ghost took them both out.”
“Sounds like a good theory,” Sam said. “I can put someone on it. Only thing is, it might be hard to get the ghost to come out. Maybe wait till the next time there’s a fishy-looking wedding coming up in that town?”
“Too big a chance we’d miss whatever was wrong with the next couple until too late, and the ghost kills them,” Dean said, frowning down at his articles. “We need to get out in front of this thing instead of relying on random chance...” Then a look of unholy glee crossed his face. “Hey, Sam. Will you marry me?”
“It made sense at the time,” Sam said defensively to his mother. “What better way to lure the ghost out than give it a nice big horribly inappropriate marriage to target?”
“I’m not trying to criticize your hunting strategy, honey,” she said, eyeing several people who were industriously carting around huge arrangements of flowers in the atrium of the haunted church. “I’m just wondering if all this…” she waved around at the inside of the church, decked out with swaths of white draperies, “... is really, um, necessary?”
Sam tugged uneasily at his fancy new tuxedo. They hadn’t been quick enough to change out of their fed suits on the last case, and the suits had gotten thoroughly slimed, bloodied and charred by the end of it. And the attempt to buy replacement suits for the occasion of getting married had resulted, Sam still wasn’t quite sure how, in formal evening dresswear that no one was ever going to believe a FBI agent would be wearing.
“We’re never going to wear these things again,” he’d attempted to protest to Dean.
“Never?” The saleslady had raised a manicured eyebrow as she pinned the sleeves of Dean’s tux. “You never know when you’ll have an occasion, but it’s best to be prepared when you do,” she’d said firmly, and patted Dean on the ass. “Now turn around so I can see how the pants fit, honey.”
“Sure thing, sweetheart,” Dean’d said happily, eyeing her tastefully displayed cleavage. “She’s right, Sam. We’ve been to formal shindigs before on the job.”
Sam had sighed but not argued too hard. It was true. And besides, they did look damn good in them. Almost like normal people with respectable jobs. Like his classmates from Stanford. Sam had allowed the side of his mouth to lift as he’d looked in the mirror one more time.
“This town doesn’t have a justice of the peace to get married in front of, Mom,” Sam said now. “It’s this church or nothing, and this is where we know the ghost can find us.”
“And the church was fine with strangers showing up out of the blue wanting to get married?”
Sam smiled a tiny bit. “Pastor Frank’s been really nice, actually. We told everybody we were paranormal tourists. And that the rumors of a ghost here sounded so romantic, and we couldn’t wait to show the world there was no reason for us not to be married.”
Mary considered this with her head tilted. “It’s a good story. And it would let you do all the EMF scans you wanted.”
“Exactly,” Sam nodded happily. “The first two attacks were too many years ago for there to be any residue, but we got great traces from the most recent one.”
“As long as you know what you’re doing,” she said, shaking her head.
“We do,” Sam said. “Anyway, what brings you into town? We told Cas where we’d be, he must have told you...?”
“No, actually... Cas told Jack, and Jack sent out invitations.”
“Invitations?” Sam looked discomfited for the first time. “How many...?”
“This was not what I had in mind,” Dean hissed to Sam as they stood looking out over a sea of people. Everybody who’d ever been in the bunker was there, if they were still alive, along with most of the hunters they knew (ditto) and even a few ex-lovers. Also a few curious townsfolk were sitting in the back.
“Why are Amelia and Don here?” Sam asked, looking pale. “I don’t understand what Jack was thinking.”
“I want to know how he found Cassie," Dean said.
“I didn’t know we knew this many people,” Sam said. “Is it too late to pick a different plan?”
“We are gathered here today...” the pastor began in a sonorous tone, and the crowd fell silent. “...to bear witness to the holy bond of matrimony, that what God has joined together no man may sunder...”
Dean fingered the iron bar tucked into his pants, scanning the rafters for ghostly signs. “Not a flicker,” he mouthed to Sam. “And I’m sweating.”
No cold spots, no electrical disturbances... for the first time Sam wondered what would happen if the ghost didn’t show.
“If anyone knows of a reason why these two men should not be joined in marriage, let them speak now or forever hold their peace,” the pastor intoned, clearly not expecting any answer. Sam and Dean exchanged slightly panicked looks, wondering if they were actually going to have to go through with this without any ghost.
“Somebody better say something,” Dean scowled at the audience, who were sitting there silent and unhelpful, like bumps on logs. Sam was pretty sure half of them were silently and unhelpfully laughing at them.
Bobby stood up. “Way I always heard these boys tell it, they were brothers, not lovers,” he drawled out. “But I ain’t known ‘em for long. Maybe they were just saying that.”
“This is a serious charge, if true,” Pastor Frank said, looked startled and alarmed. “What is your answer to it?”
Sam cringed and thought about what he could possibly say to answer that. His mind was still drawing a blank when Dean apparently gave up on the entire question and toppled over into Sam’s arms, alarming everybody in the room who had never seen a full-grown man pretend to faint before.
“Um…” Sam said, inwardly cursing Dean’s dead weight. Coward. “I’m sorry, maybe we should do this some other time?”
Mary stood up from the first row. “They are definitely brothers. I should know; I’m their mother.”
The room went from murmured whispering to everybody talking at once; Sam could barely hear himself think.
The pastor, unfortunately, seemed much more functional. “This would indeed be shocking, if true. I’m very sorry, ma’am, but may I ask your age?”
“That’s—not relevant,” Mary faltered.
“It’s only that you don’t look any older than these gentlemen,” the pastor continued. “I hope you’ll take it as a compliment when I say it appears impossible for you to be their biological mother.”
Mary opened and closed her mouth in frustration. “This is an incestuous, forbidden union,” she finally said loudly to the back wall. “I’m surprised your ghost isn’t already here to stop it.” Then she sat down again and folded her hands primly.
There was an awkward silence in the church as everybody seemed to hold their breaths.
“Would you like to say anything in response to the statements from these congregants?” the minister finally asked Sam. Dean was just beginning to stir ‘awake.’ “Or if you prefer, we can have them thrown out.”
“No, they can stay.” Sam looked around kind of desperately. Then he exhaled, and a sudden chill made his breath visible. Finally. “It’s true,” he said. Dean jerked in his arms, and his eyes opened. “We’re brothers, and all we wanted was to see your ghost…”
“You lying bastard!” Dean exclaimed, really going all out on the theatrics. “I thought you really loved me! How could you keep a secret like this from me?”
With a rush of icy air, the ghost solidified behind Sam. She was a plain-looking woman, long dark hair loose over her wedding dress. “You dare make a mockery of sacred wedding vows with your unholy relationship,” she snarled. A few people in the audience screamed, but most of them knew what Sam and Dean did for a living. “This place is for those who take their lifelong partnership seriously...”
“Yeah, sorry, it ain’t for murderous spirits, either,” Dean said, pulled a gun out of the ringbearer’s pillow, and shot at her over Sam’s shoulder. The ghost dissolved into wisps.
“I think that was Amalphaba Etrude,” Sam said. “She was in the top five list I pulled up before we got started.”
“Great,” Dean said. “Got a gravesite?”
“The cemetary right next to this church, in fact,” Sam said. He turned to address the assembly. “Thank you all for coming, but as you can see, the wedding’s off,” he said. “So unless you all want to stick around and help dig up a grave…”
Dean watched, bemused. It turned out that everybody did really want to stick around and help dig up the grave.
“Wow, I’ve never had a job go this smooth,” he said out loud to Sam, as people took turns three at a time with shovels while another two stood watch with shotguns to disperse the ghost as needed. Every twenty minutes fresh guests swapped in.
“It’s weird,” Sam complained. “I tried to get the salt and gasoline out of the car, and Bobby told me to sit down and keep my suit clean, they had this.”
“I’m happy to let someone else move the dirt for a change,” Dean said, but he was fidgeting like he wasn’t sure what to do with himself.
The minister came up to them on the outskirts of the crowd around the grave. “So, the wedding was just a con from the beginning.”
“Pretty much,” Dean leaned back against the church to bolster his supremely unconcerned tone. He’d taken off his suit coat and left it in the backseat of the Impala, and loosened the tie around his neck.
Sam looked apologetic because one of them had to. “Making sure this ghost can’t hurt anybody else had to be our highest priority, Pastor.”
The minister nodded. “I appreciate what you boys are trying to do for our community,” he said. “It was quite the ruse, I have to admit. Brash enough it’s going to be in the local paper all week. You certainly sold it well.”
Dean opened his eyes that he’d closed at some point. “Whaddya mean, sold it? Not like we got all kissy or lovey-dovey.”
“My mistake,” the pastor hesitated, then said mildly, “How long will you be staying in town?”
“Not long,” Dean said warily. “Once the job’s done, we’ll leave you a number in case anything crops up. But we got places to be.”
“Then you should at least take advantage of the coffee and refreshment tables laid out for the party before you go,” he said, every inch the welcoming clergyman.
Sam smiled and put a hand on Dean’s shoulder. “We’d love to. Your hospitality has been great, thank you.”
“What kind of ingrate would I be if I got more upset over your little ploy than about the six people who have died under my roof because of an unquiet spirit?” he said seriously. “You’ve done this whole town a great service, and I’ll just remind anybody who wants to clutch their pearls in the newspaper about that as many times as I have to.”
Before Dean could formulate a response, the temperature dropped and the ghost appeared. it pulled a spear from a cemetery statue and tried to run them through with it, screaming bloody murder. Sam shoved the pastor out of the way while Dean cursed and realized the shotguns were too far away for him to grab, on the other side of the gravesite. Jack and Garth, whose turn it was to hold them, appeared to be trying to wait for a clear shot.
“Just shoot already! Salt rounds aren’t deadly!” Dean bellowed at them, and grabbed at the spear as it came around for another pass. He had nothing to block a strike with, but the ghost was strong enough to drag him along the ground as they wrestled over the spear, covering his new white dress shirt in mud and grass smears. He was never leaving his machete in the trunk again, not even for a wedding.
“Dean!” Sam yelled, urgently but pointlessly. “Hold on!”
The ghost tried to shake him loose again and Dean wrapped both elbows and a knee around the wooden shaft, trying to stay away from the oversized metal point on the end. “Hurry up and burn it!” Dean yelled back.
The ghost finally stopped trying to stab Sam or the pastor or shake Dean off, and started raising the spear, tilting the pointy end into the air above it so that Dean was dragged closer and closer to the ghost. He let go just before he would’ve hit arm’s reach, not interested in the ghost being able to reach into his chest for his heart. He got chills just thinking about it.
But now Dean was too close for the ghost to stab him with the spear and too far for it to reach out and touch him. They took a couple goofy-looking steps forward and back before the ghost got frustrated and spazzed through the air, losing its grip on the spear in the process.
Sam was right behind, grabbing the spear off the ground and swinging the head straight through the ghost’s chest. “Iron tip,” he said, when the ghost vanished. “You okay, Dean?”
“How’s that gravehole coming?” Dean called to the crowd around the dirt hole, and had the pleasure of watching Don and Amelia guiltily flinch and start shoveling again. “Bodies don’t dig themselves up, you know.”
“Well…” Sam considered him. “I can think of a few times, actually.”
“Let me rephrase that,” Dean said, pretending to inspect his hands for damage but really just flipping Sam the bird. “Bodies that dig themselves out of the grave are way worse than this piddly little ghost.”
The ghost got offended by that for some reason, and made a screaming comeback swooping for their heads. This time Mom was able to grab a shotgun from Jack, who had frozen up last time, unable to pull the trigger when it would have hurt Sam or Dean. She fired and the ghost vanished before it could touch them, hard little pellets of salt spattering them. They stung more through their fancy dress than they would have through a leather jacket and heavy jeans, but…
“Better than being dragged in circles on the ground,” Dean said. “I’m fine.” One of them had hit near his eye because he hadn’t ducked away in time, and a thin trickle of red was going down his cheek. Sam wiped at it with his thumb, which mostly just smeared it, but after examining the wound intently his shoulders relaxed.
“He’s right, it’s just a scratch,” he confirmed to everybody watching them.
Just then, there was a series of distinctive thunks as the diggers started to break through the top of the coffin. They had kept up the pace this time instead of getting distracted when the ghost reappeared, and now it was paying off: a thoroughly uncovered skeleton, laid out in its final resting place.
Not restful enough. “Salt it,” Dean said.
“I usually just burn ‘em,” Claire argued. “Works just as well, why bother with a bunch of salt?”
Mary poured salt liberally into the grave. “Because the salt keeps any particularly enterprising spirits from running off with their own remains while you’re trying to burn them,” she said. “Most of them aren’t thinking that clearly, but how screwed are you going to be when even one manages to squirrel away their fingerbone?”
“Really damn screwed,” Sam scowled, remembering Crowley and how they never had found his bones a second time. Sarah wouldn’t be dead if they’d burned them properly the first time.
“I’ve never had that happen…” Claire wavered, but then caved. “Probably because if it had I’d be dead,” she admitted.
“We’re likely to be dead if we don’t stop talking shop and torch the damn thing,” Dean growled, running out of patience. He grabbed the lighter fluid and poured half the can out.
The ghost made one last desperate appearance and knocked the can halfway across the graveyard, making Dean curse and spin away, just as Sam flipped his lighter open and tossed it in. Flames went up with a whoosh, lighting the sides of the pit, and Amalphalba Etrude blazed screaming out of existence.
About half the people who had showed up for Dean and Sam’s fake wedding were backed against other gravestones, staring. Amelia and Don were on the ground, and most of the other civilians had fled. A couple younger hunters pumped their fists in the air and yelled, excitement overcoming sense. The more experienced hunters were looking around, bemused.
“I never dug out a ghost with twenty people before,” Garth said finally. “This was amazing, you guys!”
“Thank you, everybody, for coming,” Jack said brightly. “Refreshments will be back in the church, we have gluten-free and vegetarian options…”
“This is never happening again,” Dean grumbled. It was way too noisy, too many people, for the end of a hunt. And now they wanted to have a party?
Sam exhaled and shook his head, but then he grinned with half his mouth. “Oh, I don’t know, it was nice not having to do all the digging ourselves for once.”
“I don’t know how you can do this again and again,” the pastor said wonderingly. “Truly, you two are doing God’s work.”
“Somebody’s got to fill in,” Dean said, leaving unspoken since God’s checked out..
“No offence, he didn’t mean it like that,” Sam said hurriedly. “Your church seems really nice.”
“None taken. But perhaps we should head inside?” The crowd was starting to trickle back in, away from the still-smoldering hole in the ground.
Dean ambled over to the gas can and splashed the rest of it onto the fire, making sure the bones were thoroughly burned. “Sure, we can come back out and fill it in later.”
“Are there a lot of ghosts like this around?” the pastor asked, as they headed in.
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Sam said. “It was really bad a couple years ago, this asshole angel managed to lock the pearly gates so no one could get through, but luckily most of them were pretty well-behaved compared to your normal run of ghosts…”
“Anyway it’s all fine now,” Dean interrupted, noticing that their host was starting to look unsettled. It was amazing it’d taken this long. “I don’t suppose anyone brought pie, did they?”
“I hear weddings are supposed to have cake,” Sam said, mouth twitching. Bastard.
“In that case, I’m definitely never getting married again,” Dean said. “Let’s go see if there’s anything worth eating, then.”
Castiel, being a good friend, had managed to produce for the festivities a wide platter full of little individual-sized pies, with golden-brown flaky crusts and…
“Cas? Why’re they green?” Dean was brought up short, staring.
“They’re spinach pies,” Cas said smugly. “So both you and Sam will like them.”
“That does not count as pie!” Dean said, outraged.
Sam was too busy laughing to weigh in.
“I’m sensing a running joke,” Bobby muttered.
“I don’t get it either,” Jack assured him. “Sam and Dean usually like the same things, but there are many examples of foods that…”
“Dean did used to love Pat-a-pie when he was little,” Mary said doubtfully. “But I don’t think that’s it.”
“‘Pat-a—’ Do you mean Pat-a-cake?” Jody asked.
Mary looked startled and embarrassed. “Is that what it’s supposed to be?” she asked. “Oops.”
Sam’s laughter was winding down, and Dean’s indignancy was sputtering out. “Man wasn’t meant to live on vegetables alone, were they, Pastor?” he appealed.
“Something tells me you’ll be alright as long as you have each other,” the pastor shook his head fondly. “Spinach pies or no spinach pies.”
“We always have been,” Sam said quietly. “That’s not going to change.”
“Yeah,” Dean said, serious for once too. “Against all odds.”
“I get the feeling no words of mine could make your bond any closer,” the minister said, smiling. “Any more married than you already are.”
Sam turned to stare at the giant arched vault of the ceiling above them. He got a funny look on his face. “Did you… did you, as an ordained minister on sacred ground, just pronounce us married?”
Dean whipped around to stare at Sam. “No way, that’s not how it works!”
“It used to be,” Sam said. “Before the government invented marriage licenses, anyway.”
Dean scowled at the ceiling. “Damn it, God! Stop making people ship us!”
“I believe he has a twisted sense of humor,” Pastor Frank said, looking chagrined at the words that had come out of his mouth. “Would it make you feel better if I declared it null and void?”
“Why bother?” Dean asked. “I’m gonna just swear a blue streak at him next time—mphgh!”
Sam had just stuffed one of the spinach mini-pies in his mouth. “Hey, have you tried one of these things yet?” he asked brightly. He was eating one himself.
Just to stop Dean from letting slip to the nice pastor that they’d actually met God a few times. Dean folded his arms. “If you think your fake pie rabbit food is going to distract me…!”
Sam rolled his eyes. “They’re really good.”
They were, but Dean didn’t have to admit that out loud. “Hey, if we’re married now, does that mean we get a honeymoon? Because Cesar and Jesse were telling me about this werewolf cult down in Mexico that demands newborn sacrifices from the town…”