Actions

Work Header

Now I Know My ABC's

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

A is for Assault Rifle -

"We should really think about this, Dean." Sam followed his brother across the huge parking lot toward Wal-Mart and sighed when Dean's stride didn't falter. "What if this guy's bad news? There are civilians in there."

"No one's dead, Sammy," Dean said easily and shrugged. "I don't think the dude even knows what he's doing. Look, we'll find him in here, pull him into one of the service hallways or somethin', and have a nice friendly chat and ask him to please give us the cursed pendant and have a nice day."

Sam shook his head. "I have a bad feeling about this."

"Ok, Han. Chill out." Dean chuckled and slowed at the wide, glass doors as they slid open for them. "It's two in the morning. There's like ten people in the whole store. Everything's gonna be fine."

"Famous last words," Sam muttered and followed him inside. "You remember what he looks like?"

Dean sneered over his shoulder at his little brother and rolled his eyes as he walked past a row of empty registers and then stopped, looking at them. "Shouldn't there be somebody up here?"

"Hello?" Sam called and ducked the swing Dean took at his shoulder.

"Shuddup! You wanna announce to the bad guy that we're here?"

Sam snorted. "We're just customers looking for a cashier. How is he going to know any different?"

"Because he's a bad guy and they always know." Dean rolled his eyes as if that should be obvious and strode further into the store. "You wanna announce us any louder or can we get on with the stealthy hunting now?"

Sam chuckled and followed behind his brother. "You know you're not a ninja, right?"

"Ninjas are lame, Sammy. I'm Batman." Dean plucked a Barbie off the shelf beside him and turned, giving it a toss to his brother. "You, on the other hand..."

"Shut up, Jerk."

"Bitch." Dean grinned and rolled out his shoulders. He took a deep breath and heard Sam blow out a long breath behind him, in sync as they quieted and turned their senses into the massive store for any sign of their quarry. It was quiet. There were no sounds of people talking anywhere, which wasn't completely unusual at that hour of the night. What was unusual was the total silence; the music that should have been playing and making Dean's teeth itch was nowhere to be heard. You could have heard a pin drop.

"Too quiet," Sam whispered and even that sounded too loud to him.

Dean gave a nod and stepped cautiously out into a wide aisle that ran the length of the store from front to back. "Ok, I'm with you. I don't like thi..." The sound of a woman's short, sharp cry came from somewhere in the store and Dean froze.

Sam tapped his brother's shoulder and pointed off to their left. He quirked a brow, got a nod in response, and started off to the left, angling at a diagonal toward the back corner of the store. He drew his gun and released the safety and knew without looking that Dean was doing the same. Whatever they had planned to do, the man they were after had just upped the ante if he was hurting civilians.

Dean snapped a hand out and pulled Sam to a halt in front of him before he could step out into a new aisle. He put his head close to his brother's and frowned. "He knew before we even came in here. This asshole knew we were coming in here for him." His voice was a harsh whisper and just loud enough for his brother to hear.

Sam gave a firm nod of agreement. He couldn't understand how Malcolm knew they were after him, but Sam's sixth sense assured him that Dean was right. "How you wanna play this?"

Dean shook his head, thinking furiously. Thanks to the scream, they had a rough idea where Malcolm was but little else. He pulled Sam around and then tapped his own chest, flicking his fingers out to the left towards where they had heard the scream, then tapped Sam and pointed to the right. Sam shook his head with a scowl, and Dean rolled his eyes before shoving Sam off to the right.

Sam inwardly growled as Dean moved away from him and out of sight. He had a bad feeling that splitting up on this job was a mistake. He opened his mouth to call his brother back, snapped it closed, and started off to the right under silent protest. The store was once again eerily quiet and it made Sam's skin crawl. He moved around a display taller than himself and eased out to a narrow aisle. His eyes scanned the racks of clothes and shelves of cheap knick-knacks for any sign of movement but could spot nothing. Still, the little hairs on the back of his neck stood up and insisted there was something he wasn't seeing.

He swallowed down his nerves, brought up his gun again and stepped out into the aisle. Sam froze as Malcolm suddenly appeared, standing up from where he had been hidden behind racks of clothes. "Shit," Sam groaned and took aim at the man. "Malcolm, you don't want to..." Sam's words trailed off as another man and then another rose into view, and Sam's eyes blew wide. Each of them was Malcolm, or a damn perfect copy of the man. He took an involuntary step back as three more appeared and felt his heart thump in his chest as all six men leveled assault rifles at him.

"Oh, crap. DEAN!" Sam bellowed his brother's name and dove out of the aisle as gunfire erupted and echoed through the store. Bullets whizzed past him, hitting shelves and knocking clothes from racks. Sam ran hunched down to keep his head out of sight and went toward the last place he'd seen his brother. He broke out into another aisle and slid onto his back as another Malcolm stepped over him and lowered the muzzle of his assault rifle into his face.

Sam grabbed the man's hand and pulled the gun to the side as it went off. He yelped when he felt the hot metal of the round go into and through his arm. He heard the bullet thunk into the floor behind him, felt chips of tile from the impact slam into his back with sharp, burning pains, and then there was another shot. Malcolm's hand went loose in Sam's grip and the man toppled to the side.

"Sammy." Dean jogged up the aisle and kept his gun trained on Malcolm as his eyes shifted to his brother, narrowing when they saw the blood on Sam's shirt and spreading on the floor. "You alright?"

Sam sat up and slumped forward in relief. "Holy crap, Dean."

"Hey, come on." Satisfied that his brother hadn't received immediately life-threatening wounds,Dean reached down and grabbed Sam's uninjured arm, dragging him to his feet. "We're too exposed here. You see the freakin' pod people? I mean, what the hell?"

"Guess we know what the amulet actually does now," Sam gasped as they moved quickly across the aisle and back among the racks. He let Dean tug him down to the floor as more shots rang out.

"Shit." Dean jerked reflexively. He caught the corner of a counter beside them and overturned it to give them more substantial cover. He flicked his eyes around the jungle of clothing racks and resisted the urge to shoot uselessly each time he saw a hint of movement.

Sam slid his right hand over his lower back and sighed, feeling blood, pain, and the unmistakeable sensation of little bits of tile stuck into his skin. "Well, this was a bad idea," he said softly.

"Gee, ya think?" Dean rolled his eyes and resisted the urge to slap his brother for the massive understatement. "We gotta get outta here."

It was Sam's turn to snort. "Why didn't I think of that? Oh, right. I did! Ten minutes before this went to hell!"

"Not helping!" Dean did slap Sam's shoulder then, careful to hit the uninjured one, and smirked at the grunt of pain. He knelt up and peered around the edge of their cover, the overturned counter. "Why'd that Malcolm asshole have to run into friggin' Wally World at two in the damn morning?"

Sam chuckled and reached out to the clothing rack across from them. He caught an elastic strap, jerked it down and flung the lacy, pink bra into his brother's face. "Try a disguise. Maybe you can make it to the front of the store."

"Knock it off." Dean yanked the bra out of his face and smirked as he tossed it aside. He looked back over at Sam and frowned. "How you doin'?"

"Fine," Sam said dismissively and glanced down at his left arm. He was still bleeding and the little holes in the left sleeve of his jacket let him know he was going to be feeling it as soon as the adrenaline wore off. "Bullet went through. It's not that bad."

"Right, 'cause being shot is totally normal." Dean rolled his eyes. "Just let me know if you're gonna pass out or something." He ignored the bitchface Sam shot him and glanced around again, still seeing no sign of any activity. "Alright, I'm tired of this crap." He jerked his head up at the sound of screams from somewhere further back in the store. "Dammit. Come on."

"We need to get the pendant off of Malcolm." Sam followed Dean out into the aisle, steadying himself on a display rack when his head swam, evidence that he'd lost more blood than he thought. He shook his head and drew his gun. "As long as he's wearing it..."

"We're screwed. Yeah, I got that." Dean snorted and kept his own gun up and ready. It was bad enough that some unsuspecting guy had stumbled onto a cursed object, but in typical Winchester fashion, that unsuspecting guy had also been one sick bastard who took way too much pleasure in using it. Dean stiffened when he heard a footstep on the tile at the end of the aisle ahead of them. He waited and fired when the man appeared. The shot took him between the eyes but, rather than topple to the floor and die like a person, the man burst into a cloud of shadows and vanished. "How many of these damn clones can he make?"

Sam shook his head. "No idea; but there's no way he didn't hear that shot."

"In this place?" Dean waved a hand around the massive store. "He'll never pinpoint that with the way it echoed." He scowled and rather than staying in the aisle, he angled in among the racks of clothes and ducked lower. "Probably."

"Reassuring," Sam grumbled and followed along. He had to bend nearly in half to even attempt to keep himself hidden between the racks as they moved. It made his back burn and the bullet holes in his arm pound with renewed pain. It wasn't every day they ran into a guy that could create copies of himself solid enough to hold a damn machine gun. "Where are we going?"

"Last time I saw that jackass, he was heading that-a-way." Dean flung a hand toward the other side of the store, toward the back. "Don't know why he didn't just stay in the damn gun department."

Sam ducked and pulled Dean down with him as gunfire erupted and bullets sprayed over their heads. Screams of terrified shoppers rang out from somewhere in the store. Several displays shattered with the impacts, and clothes and bits of wood and metal rained down on their heads. "'Cause they're already armed?"

"Shuddup. Come on, move." Dean got back to his feet and stuck his head up for a look. He didn't see any of the clones. "Must have been random fire."

Sam picked up the pace, moving past his brother and narrowed his eyes when he heard the heavy tromp of booted feet heading away from them. He reached an aisle and cautiously ducked his head from behind a display for a look. He frowned to find it clear. "Huh."

"Where'd they go?" Dean whispered as he came up alongside Sam and saw no one.

"I don't like this." Sam stepped out into the aisle, started across and ran for it as bullets began to fly. "Crap!" he shouted as chunks of dirty, scuffed linoleum flew up at his feet and ran for the opposite side.

"Go! Go! Go!" Dean followed Sam across the open space and jerked to the side when he felt the sensation of hot metal brush the side of his left ear. He dove between a rack of clothes with his brother and rolled back to his knees with his gun drawn, putting himself between Sam and the aisle. "You good, little brother?"

"No new holes," Sam groaned and rolled up to his own knees. "Few new bruises though. They set a trap for us?"

"This guy is pissin' me off," Dean snarled softly. His head jerked around at the sound of muted laughter from somewhere behind them. "Ok; I am done playin' around. Come on."

"Dean..." Sam sighed and rolled his eyes as Dean took off in a crouch toward the sound of voices. He climbed back to his feet and followed Dean as they moved toward the back of the store. His arm burned with pain, but he pushed it from his mind with their father's voice in his ears. "Put the pain away, Sammy. You can worry about it later when it won't get you dead." That had been one of the louder arguments they had had with Sam demanding to know how being forced to hold two buckets of water out at shoulder height for two damn hours could possibly be a useful skill. Sam smirked to himself as he and Dean moved soundlessly through the forest of clothing racks.

Dean ducked low behind a display and kept moving. His knees and back were starting to complain about the hunched over walking and he refused to consider that he might be getting old. He reached a ceiling-height panel and cautiously stood, using it to hide his presence as he peeked around the side. He narrowed his eyes and ducked back to look at Sam as his brother reached him. "Sporting goods ahead. I can see the fishing rods."

Sam groaned softly. "Awesome. Try not to get a lure stuck in your ass. I'm not pulling it out."

Dean snorted and gave his brother a lopsided grin. "You so would."

"Just... ew. Can we go get the bad guy now?" Despite the pain, Sam couldn't help the smile.

"Stay low," Dean warned his brother unnecessarily and moved away and back among the racks. He reached the edge of another wide aisle and paused, wary of stepping out in the open and making targets of them again.

"We'll move fast," Sam whispered at Dean's back. "Couple seconds to cross..."

Dean scowled but there was little choice. He nodded and stepped out into the aisle. Every hair on his body felt like it stood on end as he moved with quick steps across the six-foot aisle. He reached the other side, turned to check on his brother, and four of the copies of Malcolm popped into view. "Sam!" Dean reached out for him even as the assault rifles began blaring. Bullets whizzed over and around him, tearing through the clothes next to him, and Dean saw Sam throw himself to the side and into the racks as Dean rolled away on his own. He came up in a tangle of track suits and hangers and jerked to his feet. He put two rounds in the nearest copy and ducked away as another hail of gunfire sounded.

"Sammy?" Dean called, seeing little point in trying to sneak up on their target now. He stopped and looked back, glaring at all the clothing racks around him as though they would vanish and show him his brother because he demanded it of them. "Sam!"

"Sporting goods! Aisle five," a man's voice echoed from nearby. "Better come quick or we may need a clean-up here."

Dean flinched and dropped his head. Somehow, Malcolm's goon squad had gotten a hold of Sam during the firefight. Dean could only hope his brother was still alive. "Son of a bitch," Dean ground the words out and started moving again.

"Tick, tock, Winchester!"

"Dean, don't..."

Dean heard the snarl that left his mouth at the sound of something heavy hitting flesh and his little brother's bitten off cry of pain. He rolled out the tension in his shoulders and did his best to swallow back the protective, murderous rage that rose up in him. He straightened and stood and wasn't surprised to find four of the goon-copies waiting for him. He fired at each of them, moving his pistol in precise motions and watched as they burst apart into shadows before he started forward again.

The narrow path between shelves of fishing reels gave way to an open area, and Dean stopped. Sam was on his knees on the other side. Blood trickled from Sam's hairline down the right side of his face, and Malcolm - the real Malcolm Dean guessed-stood behind him with the muzzle of a .45 caliber handgun pressed to the back of his brother's head.

Dean's eyes narrowed dangerously, and he brought his own weapon up to sight between Malcolm's eyes. "Let him go."

"Soon as he does," Malcolm said with a dark look.

Dean frowned in confusion and looked at his brother again. Sam's left arm was raised up over his right shoulder like he was holding on to something. Malcolm was bent slightly forward and Dean caught on. He met Sam's eyes and gave him a small nod before looking back to Malcolm. "Got a death grip on your lucky charm, doesn't he? Attaboy, Sammy."

"You have to make it sound dirty?" Sam said in a deadpan voice and managed a smirk over the spinning going on his head. Malcolm had come damn close to knocking him out, but Sam knew his grip on the cursed charm was the only thing keeping him alive. Malcolm couldn't afford to lose it while he was using it.

"Shut up." Malcolm nudged the back of Sam's head with his gun and looked over at the other man. "Tell him to let go of the amulet or I will put a bullet in his brain."

Dean shook his head. "Nope. You shoot him, he yanks that thing off your neck as he goes down, so I know you're not gonna shoot him. Let him go and maybe I don't kill you." He watched Malcolm's face darken angrily and then flinched as Malcolm's clones suddenly stood and strode out of the racks to surround him. Dean turned his head and did a quick count; there were nine of the bastards, all with assault rifles pointed at his chest. Dean took a slow, deep breath and knew he'd never survive it if they fired.

Sam's eyes widened in fear as his brother was surrounded, and he tightened his fingers around the amulet in his hand. He felt the muzzle of the gun behind him dig painfully into the base of his skull. "No."

"Let go of the amulet, and you and your brother can walk out of here." Malcolm spoke softly and calmly as a smile spread across his face. "Or you can watch my boys shred him into a red cloud right here. Let go."

"Don't you do it, Sammy," Dean said fiercely and watched Sam's eyes rise up to meet his. He frowned when he saw the look on his brother's face, in Sam's eyes. Dean started to shake his head, half in denial and half in terror. "Sam." He could see exactly what Sam was going to do. "Sam, give it to him!" Dean's voice was pleading. He couldn't watch his genius little brother's brains be blown out. "Sam!"

Dean could do nothing but watch helplessly as Sam suddenly jerked his arm forward. He heard the the movement of the clones as they tensed, ready to shoot, around him, saw the chain of the amulet snap from around Malcolm's neck, and then in the strange silence, Dean heard the obscenely loud strike of the hammer on Malcolm's gun. "Sammy!"

The gunshot never came. Dean watched Sam flinch in expectation of the bullet tearing through his head, and then Sam was turning, pulling away. Dean stared for a moment in shock. Malcolm's gun had jammed. It hadn't fired. Sam was alive. He let that knowledge burn through him for only a second before he dropped to his knees and spun to try and save his own life from the clones. Dean fired into the first and was aiming at the second when all at once, all of the clones burst apart in the now familiar cloud of dark mist before vanishing altogether, the rifles clattering harmlessly to the ground.

"Nice," Dean muttered and jerked back to his feet. He spun around in time to see Malcolm slam the butt of his gun into Sam's head once and then again. Sam toppled to the side and Dean leveled his own gun. He fired and took Malcolm in the shoulder. He took some small satisfaction as the man howled in pain and dropped to the floor.

"Sammy." Dean ran across the open area and slid to his knees beside his brother. He picked up Sam's bloody head and cradled it in his hands. "Come on, Sam." Dean spared a glance for Malcolm, still curled around his bleeding shoulder and looked back down at his brother when he groaned softly. "That's it, Sam. Come on. Wake up now."

Sam followed the sound of Dean's voice and slowly blinked his eyes open. He looked up blearily at his brother and frowned. "M'I dead?"

"What?" Dean asked in a horrified voice and then forced a grin. "Hell no, dude. The idiot's gun jammed." He slid an arm behind his brother's shoulders and slowly hoisted him up so he was sitting. "Easy. Easy. There you go. See? All those times I yelled at you about gun maintenance, I was right."

Sam snorted a soft laugh and then winced, bringing a hand up to his pounding head. He startled to feel blood covering the side of his face. "You sure he didn' shoot me?"

"Yeah. Tried hard to crack your skull open, though." Dean ran his fingers through the slick blood and found the open gash at Sam's hairline. "Doesn't look too bad." He glanced down and nodded. "You wanna do something with that?"

Sam followed his gaze and realized he was still holding on to the cursed amulet. "Shatter it."

"Got it." Dean plucked the amulet from his brother's hand and turned away. He set it on the floor and took his gun back up.

"No! Don't!" Malcolm cried out suddenly.

"You got all the mercy you're gonna get from me, asshole," Dean said angrily, aimed, and fired. The bullet slammed into the amulet and broke it apart in a spray of wood and crystal. Dean's eyes jerked over to Malcolm when the man screamed. He seized on the floor for several moments and then went still. "What the hell?"

"Oh, God," Sam breathed and forced his abused body to move. He crawled to Malcolm and put his fingers to the man's throat. "He's... He's dead."

Dean closed his eyes and dropped his head for just a moment. "It's not your fault, Sam."

"I should have thought." Sam shook his head and stared sadly down at the dead man. "We should have... we could have put it in a curse box or..."

"Sam, you didn't know destroying the amulet was gonna kill him." Dean went to his brother and took Sam's good arm, levering his brother to his feet. "This ain't on you." He tugged Sam's arm over his shoulder and started them away toward the front of the store. "Now, you wanna talk about somethin', how about you pullin' that suicidal hero bullshit?" Dean's voice rose as they walked and he couldn't seem to stop it. He tugged Sam to a halt, letting him stagger for a second as he turned and glared into his face. "He could have killed you! The only reason your brains aren't paintin' the damn floor back there is because his gun jammed!"

Sam watched Dean's face and the fear flitting across it in complete understanding. He gave a wan smile and a one-armed shrug with his good shoulder. "Couldn't watch them kill you, Dean."

Dean opened his mouth to say something and closed it in the face of the pure conviction on his brother's face. He stared a moment longer and then pulled Sam's good arm over his shoulders again. "Never do that to me again."

Sam nodded but said nothing, not wanting to give voice to something they both knew would be a lie. Instead he closed his eyes and allowed Dean to lead him out of the store. He cracked his open when they reached the front and found a small group of panicked shoppers and employees. "Dean."

"Yeah, I got it." Dean tightened his grip around Sam when his brother swayed and smiled at the civilians as they went through them. "Nothin' to worry about folks. Just some crazy redneck shootin' himself back in sporting goods. Probably oughta call the cops or something."

"He's dead?" One woman said in a terrified voice and looked up at them through her long, brown hair. She put a hand over her mouth and trembled. "What about the others? There were... there were so many of him!"

"Only saw one guy lady," Dean said and did his best to look innocent. "Fear'll make you see crazy shit."

"Wow. Way to clear that up, Dean." Sam chuckled softly as they stepped out into the night air. He swayed again as the ground seemed to roll beneath him. "Cra... crap."

"Just keep it together until we get to the car." Dean half-carried Sam across the parking lot to the Impala's gleaming back form and poured him into the passenger seat. He knelt beside Sam in the passenger door and looked him over critically before meeting his eyes. "There's a clinic a few miles down the road. We're goin'."

"What? Dean, no." Sam sat up straighter and then slumped back as his head continued to spin from the blows he had taken and the blood loss. "Can't. Police..."

"Aren't gonna be lookin' for us," Dean said firmly. "You've been shot and that asshole damn near cracked your head. Suck it up. We're goin'."

Sam blew out an aggrieved breath as his brother stood and closed his door with a squeal of metal on metal. Sam's eyes slammed closed in response to the sound and he settled back further into the seat. "Fine."

Dean climbed behind the wheel, started the car and smiled at the familiar growl of her engine. He glanced over at his brother's face and snorted. "Don't gimme that look." He grinned and pulled out of the parking lot. "Bitch."

"Jerk."

Dean smiled and stretched an arm across the seat to rest on his brother's shoulder as Sam started to list toward him over the seat. It settled his lingering nerves, but he knew he would be seeing that moment in his head for many nights to come, hearing the fall of the hammer of that gun at his brother's head. "I gotcha, Sammy."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: B is for Baseball Bat

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

B is for Baseball Bat -

Sam glanced up from his laptop as he took a sip of his steaming coffee and couldn't help rolling his eyes when he realized where his brother had vanished to. Dean was standing at the counter. Actually, he was leaned half across it, making serious eye contact with the attractive brown-haired waitress behind it and showing an incredible lack of subtlety as he held her pendant in his fingers and tugged on it until her face was only inches from her own. She was clearly enjoying the view if her flushed cheeks and the giggle Sam heard were anything to go by.

"Man whore," Sam muttered under his breath. He shook his head in fond exasperation at his brother and took another sip of his coffee, sure in the knowledge they would now be spending an extra night in this town. He closed his laptop with a soft 'snick' and decided he could wait and tell Dean about the case tomorrow. Sam made a show of giving his brother a disgusted look when Dean spared a glance for him and snorted a soft laugh at the triumphant grin Dean shot him before putting his attention back on the waitress.

Sam rubbed his left hand over his right wrist for a moment and savored the sensation of finally being out of the cast. It had seemed to take forever to heal, and it still felt a bit odd to not have that heavy weight there, throwing off his aim. He smiled, flexing his wrist and sighed. He put his laptop back in its bag and finished the rest of his coffee. He'd just walk back to the motel, since they were only a few blocks away. He had no doubt Dean would have somewhere else to spend at least part of the night. He stood, shouldering the bag and looked up as the door behind his brother opened and a large, burly, bearded man stepped into the diner. A trucker's cap was pulled low on his forehead, and his face, as he took in Dean all but kissing the waitress at the counter, darkened with rage.

"Oh, crap," Sam groaned. He knew that look all too well with Dean's lifelong need to flirt with everyone. It wouldn't be the first time a woman had failed to mention a significant other to his brother in the face of Dean's charisma. The trucker advanced on Dean, and Sam blew out a breath. "Here we go." He straightened his shoulders and strode the ten feet to them, stepped in between his brother and the trucker, and knocked the man's hand away before he could grab Dean by the back of the neck.

"Just calm down," Sam said in as calming a tone as he could. He towered over the trucker by several inches and used them all to good effect as he put his shoulders back and stared down into the man's surprised eyes. "There's no need to do something stupid here."

"That jackass puttin' the moves on my girl a friend of yours?" The trucker asked, his anger giving him the courage to stand up to the behemoth in front of him.

"Oh, my God. Randy?" The waitresses high, surprised voice came.

Sam rolled his eyes again and felt his brother turn behind him. "Randy, look. My brother didn't know she was taken. It was just some harmless flirting, and we're going now."

"Bullshit." Randy snarled.

"Dude." Dean asked in surprise and shook his head at the wall of little brother that had appeared out of nowhere. Between the two of them, "I got your back," was not just a figure of speech. He looked back at the waitress, Sally, and raised his brows. "You might have mentioned you were dating Grizzly Adams."

"Oh, man. Dammit, Dean." Sam groaned and put a hand out when Randy tried to sidestep him. "Randy, I mean it. We can leave peacefully, but if you put a hand on him, you're going to regret it."

"Sammy, I got this." Dean stepped out from behind his brother. He wasn't going to hide behind Sam. He could face his own mistakes and besides, it was supposed to be him protecting Sammy, not the other way around. "No harm, no foul, man. We were just talking."

"Talking my ass!" Randy shoved Sam to the side and threw his other fist into the other man's face.

Dean's head snapped back and he staggered back a step in surprise. "Son of a bitch." He brought a hand up to his nose and felt blood beginning to drip. He hadn't expected things to escalate that quickly. He rolled out his shoulders and met Randy's eyes. "You asked for it. I'm done playin' nice guy. Let's do this."

"Dean, no! Randy, stop! Oh, my God!" Sally's voice rose in fear as the two men squared off and she watched in surprise as Dean's brother came in from the side and his fist plowed into the side of Randy's jaw like a wrecking ball. Randy's head jerked away from the blow, and he seemed to fall in slow motion, twisting to his left until he was lying on the floor and blinking up at the ceiling in a daze. "What did you do?"

Dean stared down at Randy and then looked over at his little brother and couldn't stop the grin. "Damn, Sammy. You been eatin' your Wheaties?"

"Shuddup. Can we go now, please?" Sam picked up his laptop from where he'd let it fall and put it over his shoulder. "Before she decides to call the cops. Come on."

"Yeah, yeah." Dean grabbed a pile of napkins off the counter and smiled down at Sally where she was crouched next to Randy. "Sorry, honey. Could have been fun. Promise I'll stop in we're ever back this way again." He winked at her and headed for the door with Sam in tow.

Sam looked back at the waitress and Randy when he reached the door. "Uh... sorry about this." He didn't wait to hear if Sally was going to blame them and let the door close behind him. "You know, you should start off by asking women you flirt with if they're taken."

"Where's the fun in that?" Dean held his wad of napkins to his nose and strode to the Impala. He slid in behind the wheel and then held out the hand with the bloody napkins so they were in Sam's face. "Don't start with me, dude. That was not my fault."

"Ew." Sam slapped his brother's hand away and shook his head. "You were practically humping her on the counter, Dean. You're lucky some local didn't decide to defend her honor on principle alone."

Dean chuckled and put the napkins back to his nose as he pulled out of the diner. "You're just jealous." He headed down the road toward their motel and flicked his gaze to his brother. "Think we can risk tonight here?"

Sam shrugged. "Probably, although I found a case two hours north of here in Indianapolis."

"Why didn't you say something sooner?" Dean demanded.

Sam snorted and gave a pointed look to his brother's nose. "Because I thought you were going to be bumping uglies tonight."

"Bumping... are you twelve?" Dean laughed and pulled in to the motel. "Alright. Fine. Let's pack up and you can tell me about this job while I fix my nose." He saw Sam's knuckles in the lights from the motel as he parked and shook his head. "And you can clean up those knuckles, slugger. Damn."

Sam looked at his right fist and flexed his fingers with a grimace as his bleeding knuckles stretched. "Felt like punching a tree."

Dean laughed as he got out of the car. "Took his ass down though! Timber!" He called the last word out loudly, elongating the syllables until Sam was red-faced with embarrassment and waving him toward the room. Dean chuckled and gave in. "Spoilsport." He couldn't help the smile as they entered the room. It felt good to be like this with Sam; normal. A moment in their lives now without Dad's cryptic warning hanging over them. It felt like the old days, before Sam left for Stanford and Dean's world started spinning off its axis.

"Go clean up your nose." Sam waved a hand at the bathroom and grabbed the ice bucket, dunking his hand into the melting ice and water. "I'll start packing."

"Yeah; you better take care of that." Dean shucked off his jacket and tossed it on the bed. "Just got your gimp hand back. I don't wanna have to listen to you whine if you break it again. Can't believe you punched that guy. I could'a taken him." He didn't wait for Sam's retort and closed the bathroom door on his laugh instead.

Sam smiled, shook his head and took his hand out of the ice bucket. He plucked one of Dean's dirty t-shirts from the chair and used it to clean off his knuckles, satisfied that he hadn't done any real damage. He quickly packed up the room and had their duffles and the weapons bag sitting on Dean's bed ready to go by the time his brother emerged from the bathroom.

"So, what's the case?" Dean asked as he came out and poked gingerly at his face now that he'd gotten the bleeding stopped.

"Ghost, I think." Sam ducked into the bathroom and grabbed the first aid kit from the sink, packing that away too. "It's a children's museum in Indianapolis. Some of the after-hours staff, janitors, and a couple security guards have been attacked, but the security cameras always go on the fritz right before it happens, and no one's managed to give a clear description of who or what attacked them."

"Huh. Ok, sounds hinkey. Anything else?" Dean plucked his duffle off the bed and picked up the weapons bag as well, in deference to his brother risking his newly healed hand for him.

"Yeah." Sam grabbed his own bag and followed Dean out into the cool night air. "I did a little digging, and they just opened an exhibit right before the first attack." He tossed his bag in the trunk and leaned against the car while Dean rearranged them to his liking. "It's in the National Geographic exhibit. They just put out a whole display of ancient African ritual and burial artifacts. Made the newspapers even because they had to get all sorts of releases from the African consulate to display them."

"Now I know there's something hinkey going on. Sure... why not display a bunch freakin' ghost magnets in a place you're gonna have a bunch of kids running around?" Dean nodded once he had the trunk the way he wanted it. He gave his brother a shove off the car and pulled it closed. "Anybody dead?"

"Not yet, as far as I can find." Sam went around the car and folded himself into the passenger seat.

"Let's hope we can keep it that way." Dean gunned the engine and pulled out of the motel parking lot. "Case in a museum. You get to be a happy nerd."

"It's a kids' museum."

"And your point is?" Dean grinned over at him and aimed the car north.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam sighed and didn't have to look over to see the look of glee on Dean's face. "Just don't, Dean."

"Sammy." Dean looked at the front of the Indianapolis Children's Museum and grinned.

"Shut up."

Dean began to laugh and took the punch to his arm with a smirk. "Now I know why you wanted to wait until tonight and go in the back entrance without having a look around first. You didn't want me to see this!"

"I hate you," Sam groaned and started walking, leaving Dean to get his laughter under control.

Dean eyed the front of the tall, glass-fronted building and followed his brother. A massive dinosaur sculpture, at least forty feet tall, stood leaning against the front of the building. Off to the right, still more dinosaurs had been sculpted to look as though they were breaking out of the side of the building -which even Dean had to secretly admit looked pretty cool -and even from there, he could see the skeleton of what had to be a Tyranosaurus rex inside the glass building. "Dude! Dude!" He caught up to Sam and grabbed his arm. "You would have loved this shit as a kid! Damn! You remember when you went through that dinosaur phase? You were what? Twelve?"

Sam shook Dean's hand off his arm but couldn't stop the smile as he looked up and up at the Brachiosaurus stretched above them. "I remember."

"Man, you loved these things." Dean chuckled and patted Sam's shoulder, snorting a laugh when it too was shrugged off. "You even had the doll."

"It wasn't a doll."

"Ok; it was a dinosaur, but suck it up, Sammy. It was a doll." Dean danced away from the next punch and followed him to the entrance. "What the hell was that thing? Had a hammer on the end of its tail."

"Ankylosaurus," Sam supplied grudgingly and pulled open the doors. "It was an Ankylosaurus."

"Right!" Dean strode into the museum and gave a wink to the woman at the desk ahead of them. "You carried that thing around for years!" He turned, walking backwards and enjoyed the look of little brother anguish on Sam's face. "They were small but fierce, you said. Could even take on a T. rex."

"Please be quiet now," Sam begged as they neared the counter.

Dean slid an arm over his brother's shoulders as they reached the counter and smiled fondly. "The little guy beatin' up the neighborhood bully. He was your hero."

"Was not," Sam muttered and stepped up to the desk, refusing to give Dean the satisfaction of telling him HE had been Sam's hero. "Hello. We'd like tickets for two, please."

"Good morning, sir! Would you like tickets to a particular exhibit or all access passes?" The young woman flicked her blonde braid behind her ear and smiled up at Sam.

"Uh, all access, please." Sam returned the smile and ignored the elbow Dean jabbed in his ribs. "Can you make one of those a child's?" he asked and hooked a thumb at his big brother, making her laugh.

"Shut up. Your face is... a child." Dean finished lamely, glared at Sam, and smiled at the woman.

"Wow." Sam grinned at his brother and shook his head. "Sad, dude."

"So, brothers then." The woman smiled warmly at them, enjoying the view and printed out two passes, taking the money from the taller of the two and giving him his change. She looked up at him, smiled, and flipped her hair again. "You could always drop him off at the daycare on level one."

"Hey!" Dean protested with a laugh and grabbed Sam's arm. "Come on, Romeo. Geez."

"Thank you," Sam called as he was dragged away and he laughed.

Dean rolled his eyes and shook his head as they walked, but still he smiled. "Hey." He slapped a hand into his brother's arm with a smirk for his grunt of discomfort and pointed. "National Geographic, Treasures of the Earth. That's what we're looking for. I thought it was upstairs."

"The exhibit has two floors." Sam stopped inside the entrance and blew out a breath. The exhibit stretched back from the door with dozens of display cases and dioramas. "How about you take this floor and I'll go upstairs. Otherwise we're gonna be here forever."

"Anyone get jumped during business hours?" Dean asked and turned to look at him.

Sam shook his head. "Only once the museum is closed for the night. We'll be safe enough."

"Oh, that's comforting. Safe enough." Dean snorted. "Yeah, ok. You take upstairs. Call me if you find something. Of course, it would help if we even had a clue what we're looking for in here."

Sam smiled. "Well, my money's on burial relics. Probably pissed some poor dead guy off moving his prized possessions around."

"No one likes having their family jewels taken away, Sammy."

Sam groaned and walked away from Dean's big, shameless grin. "You're disgusting. Go. Look. Use the EMF meter."

Dean snickered to himself and strode into the exhibit space. It was warmer inside with the sun hitting the glass wall, and he felt a trickle of sweat begin to ease down his back. He reached into his pocket and took out his homemade EMF, keeping it low in his hand and hopefully out of sight as he flicked it on. It was early enough in the day that the museum wasn't packed with people yet. There were only a handful of others scattered through the exhibit that he could see, and Dean did his best to keep away from them.

"Hope you register on EMF, Casper," Dean muttered and started running the meter near each display case as he passed. There was a case of pottery where his meter didn't even take notice, and a case of small jars and a few urns, and for those the meter whined softly but barely tipped the needle. Dean frowned and moved on to the next and the next. He stopped at a case displaying a collection of bone knives, and the EMF started a low whine of noise.

"Huh." Dean gave it a shake and held it closer over the case. The knives registered but not with the strength a haunted object should have. He decided that while one or more of the knives may have been buried with their ghost, none of them was the thing he was actually attached to. "Dammit." He walked across to the first of the dioramas along the side wall and shook his head at the little dolls posed behind the glass around their little huts and caves and fake fires. "Sam would be eating this up," he muttered and chuckled and ran the EMF along the front of the case as he passed but got nothing worth mentioning.

Dean jumped when his cell phone rang in his pocket and tucked the meter away as he pulled out his phone and saw Sam's name. "You find something?"

"Yeah. I think maybe I've got our artifact up here. It's some sort of totem that must have been buried with the body. The EMF went nuts when I got close to it." Sam paused. "Well, it's either this totem or the chipped bone knife thing next to it."

"I'm coming up. You get it out of the..." Dean broke off when he heard a crash through the speaker. "Sam?" He started running toward the escalator and took the moving steps three at a time. He hopped off at the top and turned, sliding on the marble floor until he could stop and jerk in the other direction toward the exhibit. Dean followed the sound of raised voices and pushed through a group of people until he found his brother.

"What the..." Dean stared down at his brother. Sam was sitting on the floor with another man. A ladder lay beside them, and both men, as well as the floor around them, were coated in splatters of baby blue paint. Sam turned, craning his neck to look up at him, and Dean slapped a hand over his mouth in an effort to hold in the laughter that bubbled up. "Uh..."

"Shut up." Sam looked over at the man beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. He quickly yanked it away when he left a hand print and heard the first of his big brother's muffled laughter behind him. "You alright?"

"Yeah. No. I'm, uh... wow." The man shook his head and got carefully to his feet. "Wow, man. That could have been bad. Thanks for helping break the fall. You're not hurt are you?"

Sam smiled and got to his knees. "No, I'm ok. Just... you know." He hooked a thumb over his shoulder at Dean who was now openly in hysterical laughter. "I'm never going to live this down."

The man chuckled and brushed paint-covered hands down his coveralls. "I'm really sorry about that."

Sam turned around to his brother and threw his hands up in defeat when Dean laughed so hard he doubled over and there were tears leaking from his eyes. "You're not funny."

"No... No." Dean gasped and glanced up, only to start laughing again. "But your face is! Holy crap!"

Sam's face reddened under the covering of paint as he looked around at all the onlookers who were themselves beginning to dissolve into chuckles and laughter now that they knew there was no danger and no one hurt. Sam ran a hand through his hair and snarled in rage when his fingers caught and stuck in the strands and paint. "I am done with this day," he grumbled under his breath and started out of the exhibit.

Dean straightened and followed Sam, trying to get his laughter under control but his untangling paint-sticky fingers from hair combined with the squishing sound of his left foot every time he took a step all worked against him. Dean ended up leaning against the wall outside the exhibit, gasping for air while Sam glared death at him.

"Are you done yet?" Sam demanded angrily and turned away without waiting for an answer to stalk-squish to the escalator, leaving a single trail of blue footprints in his wake.

Dean wheezed for breath, wiped the tears of laughter from his face and hurried after his brother. He had to lag behind to reassure the girl at the ticket booth that Sam was fine and jogged to catch him in the parking lot before he could lay a hand on the handle of the passenger door. "Oh, hell no." Dean slapped Sam's hand away with a laugh. "Stand down, soldier. You're not gettin' that baby blue crap all over my baby. Just hang on."

Sam dropped his head back and stared up at the sky, resisting the urge to scream out of frustration and waited while Dean popped the trunk and dug out an old tarp. "If you laugh one more time..."

Dean snorted, sucked it back and choked a little on a laugh as he spread the tarp over the passenger seat and down into the foot well of the Impala. "Just, uh... don't... don't look at me. Oh, man."

Sam ground his teeth together and carefully got into the car, making sure to stay on the tarp. He had a brief urge to purposefully smear the robin's egg blue paint on some part of the interior but sighed and let it go. He didn't want to mar the car any more than Dean did. She was home, after all. "I think our ghost is responsible," he said instead once Dean slid behind the wheel and started the car. "The EMF went nuts right before the guy's ladder shook itself down."

"So, Casper didn't like you getting so closed to whatever he's tied to." Dean nodded and then smirked. "Sure paints him in a bad light."

"You suck!"

Dean roared with fresh laughter and then saw his brother raise a paint-covered arm toward him. "I am armed and I will shoot you if you touch me."

Sam's bad mood evaporated slightly with that, and he chuckled before letting his arm fall back into his lap. "I think it's the little totem doll. The thing's kind of creepy, and there's this thatch of black hair stuck to the top of it. What do you wanna bet it's from the dead guy?"

"Sounds right. So, we do a smash and grab, salt and burn it, and the museum's back to entertaining snot-nosed kids in no time." Dean smiled. "Easy. Go in tonight?"

Sam shrugged and nodded. "May as well. Shouldn't be more than two or three people in the whole museum after midnight. We should be able to avoid them and get the totem."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam ran a hand through his hair for the hundredth time while Dean worked at picking the lock on the service door at the back of the museum. It still felt stringy and a bit like doll's hair from the paint thinner he'd had to use to get the paint out of it.

"You keep doin' that, it's gonna fall out, and then where will we be the next time I need your shaggy mop to distract the bad guys?" Dean grinned up at Sam and then turned the knob, pushing the door open as he stood.

"My hair's not gonna fall out," Sam said grumpily but couldn't stop himself from running his fingers through it yet again to feel if it were thinning.

Dean snorted a soft laugh as he stepped into the semi-darkness of the closed museum and the door snicked quietly closed behind his brother. "Security office is that way," Dean whispered and pointed to the left. He adjusted the strap of the bag over his shoulder with a grimace. "This thing's heavy. You're carryin' it out."

"There's a set of stairs up to the second floor in the Dinosphere that we should be able to use without getting busted." Sam started off to the right.

Dean snickered. "Dinosphere."

"Can you be twelve later?" Sam slapped at Dean's shoulder behind him and stopped at the end of the hall to peer out into the wide gallery. He heard the faint sound of rubber-soled shoes on tile from the left at the front of the building. "Ok, now." He jogged out into the gallery and headed toward the entrance to the Dinosphere as quickly as he could. Dean was a dark shadow at his left shoulder, and they reached the door just as the lazily swinging beam of a flashlight appeared at the other end of the gallery.

Dean shoved Sam inside the door and smiled when their feet sank into plush carpeting. He took the lead and broke into a run up the long hall, his eyes only glancing at the dinosaur murals painted on the walls. The hall stopped at a set of double doors and Dean eased one of them open. "Whoa," he breathed it out as he got a look at the skeleton of what had to be a Tyransaurus rex in the center of the floor. "That's some Jurassic Park shit right there."

"You know the T. rex wasn't actually from the Jurassic?" Sam said softly and headed around the skeleton toward the spiral staircase at the back of the massive, circular room. "Actually, most of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were from the Cretaceous. Michael Crichton didn't pay a lot of attention during his research phase."

Dean laughed and smothered the sound when it started to echo as they climbed the spiral stairs. "Wow. You're still a nerd for the giant lizards." He reached up and patted his brother's shoulder. "That's kinda sweet, Sammy."

"Get off." Sam smiled and slowed as he neared the top of the stairs. He eased up to the top and looked out but couldn't see any sign of movement within the Dinosphere. "Think we're good, and the entrance for the National Geographic exhibit is just past the food court."

"Ooh. Dinner. Kidding." Dean grinned and took the lead once more as they crossed through the small forest of dinosaur skeletons, eggs, and life size models. He cautiously entered the hall leading out and scanned the rows of little collectible dinosaurs on his left. Dean flicked a glance back at Sam and palmed one of them into his pocket before his brother could see.

"Keep moving." Sam gave Dean's shoulder a nudge and followed him at a jog down the carpeted hall. "The guard was still down on the first floor, so we should have plenty of time before he checks out this floor."

"Let's boogie." Dean opened the door and stepped boldly out into the atrium. It was a huge, open-air space that extended up through the floor above with night sky just visible through the glass ceiling high above. He moved off to the right with Sam close on his heels, walking softly and ears attuned for the sound of the security guard, but the museum was silent. Sam tapped his shoulder and pointed ahead and Dean nodded. They crossed the open arch to the food court and just beyond was the door to the exhibit they had used earlier in the day.

Sam went ahead of Dean and quickly across the room. He noted paint still on the floor, though it was dry now, and it was still splattered over the display case as well. He moved around to the back of the case and took out his flashlight, flicking it on. "Oh, crap."

"What?" Dean moved up alongside him. "Hurry up and grab the thing before we get jumped."

"I can't. Dean, it's gone." Sam shone his light through the spattered paint and groaned. "They've emptied the case, probably so they can clean it up. Oh, man."

"Son of a bitch!" Dean ran a hand back and forth through his hair and scowled. "Well, now what?"

"Uh, artifact storage is in the basement, I think." Sam shrugged. "I'm guessing. It's not on the official maps, and I couldn't find blueprints for this place online, but that's usually where museums stash things, so... basement?"

"We even know how to find the basement in this place?" Dean moved back to the door and peeked out into the hall, but there was still no sign of the security guard on his rounds.

Sam closed his eyes and pictured the public maps for the building in his head. He nodded after a moment. "Yeah. I think I do. There's an elevator - well there's like five elevators in the building, but the biggest one is near the planetarium. Big enough to move exhibits from floor to floor."

"And right where we last saw the security guard. Awesome." Dean sighed and pulled the door open wider. "Come on, then."

They moved quickly toward the planetarium, and Sam pulled Dean to the left at the escalator. "Over here," he whispered and went to the elevator doors in the corner. He pushed the button and cringed as there was a deceptively loud 'ding' that seemed to echo around them when the doors opened. Sam ducked inside and looked at the control panel and smiled. "Got it." There was a keyhole at the base of the panel beside a button that did nothing when he pressed it. "Just have to pick this to unlock it."

"Hurry it up." Dean moved away from the elevator and toward the escalators. He peeked carefully over the side to the floor below and frowned. "Where the hell is the security guard? Slowest damn patrol route ever."

"Dean," Sam hissed as loud as he dared and waved his brother over as he stood.

"Somethin's up," Dean told his brother as he stepped inside and the doors closed. "My spidey senses are tingling. That guard should have been on us by now, or we should have at least seen the guy again."

"It's a big building. He could be anywhere." Sam pressed the button for the basement level and put a hand on the wall when the car began to drop.

"Yeah. Right." Dean pulled the heavy bag off his shoulder, unzipped it, and pulled out a sawed-off shotgun.

"Dude, we can't fire that in a museum." Sam pushed the gun away and reached into the bag himself, coming out with an iron bar instead. "We're trying not to get caught, remember?"

"I promise to only shoot in emergencies." Dean smiled but refused to put the gun away and hitched the bag over his shoulder. He made sure it was loaded and rolled out his shoulders as the elevator came to a stop. "Let's rock and roll."

The elevator doors slid open with another ding onto a stone hall that stretched away ahead of them. Each wall had three sets of double doors that Sam could see. The lighting was probably better before an angry spirit began exploding bulbs. Every other light along the ceiling was dark and fragments of glass littered the hallway, glittering in the pools of light that remained.

"Ok. This is not good," Sam conceded. He narrowed his eyes and stepped out of the elevator, knelt down and pointed. "Those look like footprints. Someone walked through here."

"Our missing security guard?" Dean sighed and brought the shotgun up. "Man, I really hope that guy's just having an extra long donut break somewhere. Come on."

Sam ducked ahead of his brother and took the lead. He checked the signs by each set of doors as they passed and shook his head each time.

"Why aren't we checking these?" Dean ask and rapped his knuckles on the door Sam had just skipped over.

"Mostly? Because the padlocks on the handles have dust on them." Sam smirked at his brother. "Been a while since anyone went in there."

Dean scowled, picked up the lock with a soft of click of metal against the door's handles and snorted. "I knew that."

"Uh huh." Sam kept moving down the hall and realized that the guard's footprints in the pulverized glass went all the way to the doors at the end. "Pretty sure that's gonna be the one we want."

Dean nodded and moved quickly around Sam, determined to be the first one into danger if the ghost was waiting for him. It had, after all, already taken a shot at his little brother earlier in the day, even if it hadn't done any real damage. He pushed the door open until it caught and stayed against the wall behind it and led inside with the shotgun. "You hear anything?"

Sam shook his head as he eased in behind his brother. He tightened his grip on his iron rod. "No."

Dean stuck his left hand into his pocket and flicked the EMF meter on. It began a steady whine as he took it out and watched the needle climb toward the red. "Our ghost is definitely in here somewhere. Watch your ass." He started into the room among the rows and towers of ceiling-height shelves.

"You take this aisle. I'll take the next one over." Sam moved away into the next aisle. "Yes, I'll be careful."

"Damn well better be, Jeopardy-boy," Dean grumbled and tried not to twitch as Sam moved out of his line of sight.

Sam listened for the soft whine of the meter in Dean's hand, using it like a locator so he knew where Dean was. He looked at the shelves as he passed. They were cluttered with tagged items - boxes and dolls, statuary and sculptures. There were shelves of knives and one with clubs, but nowhere did he see the African artifacts he was looking for.

"Damn." Sam moved more quickly down the aisles, still with an ear out for his brother.

"Whoa!"

Sam stopped when his brother's voice sounded. "Dean? You alright?"

"Dude! I found the sports memorabilia aisle!" Dean crowed.

Sam could practically hear the grin in his brother's voice. "Priorities, Dean!"

"Sammy, they've got a vintage Georgia driver with Lou Gehrig's name on it! This is like a Yankees holy grail!"

Sam chuckled and started down the aisle again. "Don't play with the museum knick-knacks!"

"Spoilsport!"

"Giant child," Sam muttered fondly. He tensed as he heard the whine of Dean's EMF climb in pitch, and a moment later there was a crash from his direction. "Dean!" Sam ran, heading down the aisle toward the next junction of aisles and every crash and shout from his brother drove him faster. "Dean!"

"Son of a bitch!"

"Hang on!" Sam grabbed the end of a shelf and used it to swing himself around, and he picked up again, turning into the next aisle. He found his brother in a small open space, and Dean was on the floor with one hand on his head. A spirit hung in the air above him wielding, of all things, a baseball bat. The bat rose up menacingly as the spirit's blackened eyes fixed on Dean's prone form beneath him.

"No!" Sam sprinted the remaining distance. He slid to a stop over his brother's head and raised his right arm with the iron rod toward the ghost as the baseball bat fell toward Dean's skull. The bat glanced off Sam's rod and slammed into his wrist with a horrifying crack. White-hot pain flooded through Sam and he staggered back, the rod falling uselessly from his now numb fingers. He stumbled into one of the shelves and went to his knees with tears in his eyes as he cradled his right arm to his chest. "Shit. Shit. Shit." He panted for air and managed to reach out and catch the end of the rod with his left hand. Sam lifted it and threw it at the ghost. It passed through the spirit, dissipating it at least temporarily, and the bat clattered to the aisle and rolled away.

"Dean?" Sam asked in a voice gone hoarse with pain. "You ok?"

"Uh..." Dean squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed hard around a lump of nausea in his throat. "Friggin' hurt. Used m'head like... like a baseball. Ow." He blinked and opened his eyes. The world swam around him for a moment before finally setting and he narrowed his eyes when he realized that Sam was huddled back against a shelf with his right arm held tight against his chest. "Sammy? You ok?"

Sam shook his head. He was too far into the pain just then to get a word out. The ghost had broken his newly healed wrist for him. He'd felt the bones snap and, even then, as he heard Dean move toward him over the pounding of his own heart, he could almost feel the bones shifting with each breath he took. He was in serious danger of throwing up.

"Sam." Dean got to his knees and eased across the floor to his brother. He looked over, saw his shotgun and pulled that with him. "S'goin' on, dude? Talk to me." Sam's posture and face screamed 'pain'.

"Ghost," Sam whispered between panted breaths. "Broke... my wrist."

"Shit, again? Man, that just healed!" Dean groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face. "Lem'me look at it." He reached out, but Sam only curled more into himself defensively. "Sammy, come on. I gotta have a look."

Sam shook his head again. "No point. Find... find the totem. Then hospital."

"Yeah," Dean blew out a breath and rested a hand on Sam's shoulder for a moment. "Ok, little brother. You stay put. I'm gonna go roast that asshole." He climbed to his feet using the shelf and held on to it until the world steadied around him. He looked down and used his foot to nudge Sam's iron poker over next to him. "Dude, keep your other hand on that in case cranky comes back before I find the damn thing."

Sam nodded and slowly forced himself to let go of his right arm and reach down, curling his fingers around the cold iron instead. "Go. Go."

"I'll be back." Dean headed down the aisles once more, and every footstep away from his injured brother made him twitch, but there was little choice. If Sam was that uncommunicative because of the pain, then the break had to be even worse this time, seeing as the first time, his brother had walked it off with a laugh.

"Alright you bastard. Where's your hairy heirloom?" Dean stalked down the aisle, steadying himself on the shelves as he went each time his head spun. He was pretty sure he had at least a slight concussion, but there was nothing he could do about it just then. Ghost slugger needed to be stopped and he was the only game in town at the moment. He kept an ear out for the EMF in his pocket. It was going at a steady low whine meaning the ghost was still there but wasn't coming for him just yet. "Come on. Come on." Dean moved faster, letting his eyes scan across each shelf as he went. He knew they were on borrowed time, and the last thing he wanted was for the spirit to return and go after his brother. He wanted the bastard focused on him.

Dean was jogging between the shelves, picking aisles at random, and as he passed a junction of aisles, his eye caught on a vase he had seen upstairs on display earlier. "Yes!" He turned back and ran to the corner and grinned as he found the collection of African artifacts. "Now we're talkin'." The meter in his pocket began to whine more loudly as he started rifling through the tagged items- knives, bowls, little statues, and bones - in search of the totem they had spotted. "Where are you, dammit? Sammy! He's comin' back!"

Sam jerked his chin up from his chest as Dean's voice echoed to him. "Shit." He tightened his left hand around the iron poker and scanned the aisle to either side of him. He hoped the ghost would wait just a little longer, but even as he thought it, the air around him suddenly cooled. "Dean!" he yelled and moaned as it drove a fresh wave of pain through him. "Hurry up!"

"God," Sam groaned softly and tried to get his legs under him. The pain in his arm made his whole body hurt, and he did his best to push it down. There was no more time for him to wallow in it. "Move. Gotta... move."

A scream of rage preceded the reappearance of the ghost. It appeared several feet away, and Sam pushed with his feet, using the shelf behind him to try and stand and still keep the iron poker between them. "Dean," he tried to shout, but it came out a hoarse bark of sound. The ghost roared again and Sam finally gained his feet. He brought the poker up to swing it through the apparition and shouted in surprised pain as something hard slammed into his knees. He went down to the floor again and rolled to his side. Behind him, the baseball bat rose up, clattering along the side of the shelf as it readied another attack.

"No." Sam kept his right arm tight to his chest and rolled frantically away as the bat fell. It slammed into the shelves where his head had been and shattered what was no doubt a priceless urn. The pieces rained down on him as he picked his head back up to watch for the next attack.

Dean heard the mayhem explode behind him and cursed, knowing the ghost had gone for his injured brother rather than him. "Gonna cost you," he muttered as he moved to the next shelf and threw its contents this way and that as he searched. "Just givin' me the time I need to make sure you regret hurting my little brother, you son of a bitch. Hang on, Sam."

Dean raised his head toward the ceiling and shouted. "You hold on, Sammy! Almost got it!" He looked back down to the shelf. "Please tell me I almost got it. Where are you?" He shoved a pile of tattered fabric of some kind aside and shouted in relief as his hand closed around the totem.

"Gotcha." Dean lifted it up and wrinkled his nose at the thatch of dark hair, gone wiry with age, that was tacked to the top of it. "Yech." He dropped the thing to the floor and knelt as he pulled his bag around and dug out the holy water and salt.

"Here we go." Dean sprinkled holy water over the totem then coated it liberally in salt before pulling out the lighter fluid and coating it. "Hey, asshole!" he bellowed up toward the ceiling and took out his Zippo. "Time to die!" Dean spun the wheel, flicking the flame to life, and then dropped it as he stood. Flames erupted from the totem and rose far higher than they should have.

"Shit!" Dean backed away hastily as the flames continued to grow until it was a bonfire nearly as tall as he was. Just as he thought the fire was going to start spreading to the shelves around him; an unholy scream pierced the air and the flames puffed out. The EMF meter in his pocket went silent and Dean heaved a sharp breath of relief.

"Sam!" Dean called. He hastily repacked the bag, grabbed it and the shotgun, and started back toward where he'd left his brother. "Sam, talk to me!" He listened as he walked and every moment of silence drove a little slice of fear deeper into his heart.

Dean rounded the last corner of shelves at a run and slid to a stop. Sam lay in the center of the aisle surrounded by broken pottery, and the Gehrig baseball bat Dean had drooled over was in two pieces beside him.

"Oh, God." Dean dropped to his knees, grabbed a hold of Sam's left arm and carefully rolled his brother up into his own arms. "Sammy?" Fresh blood coated the side of Sam's face and a fierce bruise was even then beginning to color along the right side of his neck. "Jesus, I never should have left you. Sam." He gave Sam a soft shake and put a hand to his throat. The rhythmic thump of his brother's heart there gave him a small measure of peace, and Dean smiled when Sam moaned softly and twitched.

"That's it, little brother. Come on. Open your eyes." Dean reached down and gently picked up Sam's newly broken right wrist, situating it so it laid across his chest again and was as straight as he could make it. Sam's face scrunched up in pain and Dean rubbed a hand along his left biceps to soothe him.

"Sammy." Dean waited and was rewarded as Sam's eyes slowly fluttered open. They were dazed and filled with pain, but he was awake and Dean would take it. "Dude, what the hell happened?"

Sam moaned softly and brought his left hand up to hold his right arm. "Ghost. Bat. Ow."

Dean snorted. "Well, that was eloquent. You hurt anywhere not obvious?"

"Uh..." Sam closed his eyes for a moment and tried to take stock. He hissed in a breath as he straightened his legs. "Took... took out m'knees from... from behind. Think s'ok, though. Just hurts."

"Damn. Ok. Hang on." Dean moved Sam into an upright position as carefully as he could and grimaced in sympathy as Sam whimpered pitifully and let his head fall forward. "Easy. Breathe, buddy. Gotta get you outta here, alright?"

Sam took a couple deep breaths, or as deep as he could manage and raised his head again. "Yeah. I can... I can walk. Just get... get me up."

"I gotcha. Just let me do all the work." Dean moved and knelt behind his brother and shook his head. "This is gonna suck. Just keep breathin' and you'll be ok. Ok, going up." He slipped his arms under Sam's shoulders and was as careful as he could be of the broken wrist before he pulled and dragged Sam back to his feet.

Sam's groan of pain was loud and long and echoed in his own ears along with the pounding of his heart by the time he was vertical again. His aching knees threatened to go out on him and he locked them stubbornly in place.

"Sam? You still with me?" Dean shifted so he was supporting his brother with an arm around his waist and got a look at his pale, blood-splattered face.

"Y-yeah." Sam cracked his eyes open and nodded. "Not... not gonna last though."

"Just to the car, Sammy. That's all you gotta do. You can do that." Dean turned him around and started herding Sam toward the doors as quickly as he dared. He'd seen no sign of the security guard anywhere, so either the guy was out cold, dead, or just wandered off somewhere. Right then, Dean didn't have the patience to look for him. Sam was more important. "Just to the car. That's all. Come on. Keep moving. You're ok."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean looked over at his brother for the hundredth time and rearranged his booted feet on the end of Sam's bed. He heard a disapproving sniff and looked up with a raised brow to find the nurse frowning at him yet again. "What?" he asked innocently.

"Boots belong on the floor, not on my patient's bed," The nurse informed him disdainfully and came over to slap the side of his feet. "Drop them."

"Look, sister. He may be your patient, but he's my little brother and I can put my boots wherever I damn well please."

"Sister!" The nurse glared at him, her eyes heavy with insult.

Dean grinned again and crossed his arms over his chest as he leaned back. "Oh, I'm sorry. How about Nurse Pain-in-my..."

"Ch... charming the nurses... as usual?"

"Sam!" Dean rocked forward, dropping his feet to the floor with a thump at the soft sound of his brother's voice. His face lit with a wide smile, and he reached up to palm the side of Sam's head as his eyes slowly opened. "Hey, buddy. How you doin'?"

Sam waited for his vision to adjust and managed a smile up at his brother before looking over to the nurse. "He's not always a jerk." Their voices had pulled him finally out of the half sleep he'd been drifting in. Dean's voice in particular had drawn him back to make sure his big brother was alright.

"I withhold judgement on that," The nurse said with a severe look at Dean, and then her face softened as she leaned forward to adjust the narrow tube running under Sam's nose and feeding him oxygen. "How do you feel, young man? Any pain?"

Sam shook his head carefully. "Feel kinda loopy."

Dean chuckled and patted his shoulder softly. "They got you on the good stuff."

The nurse smiled and checked her patient's vitals as she spoke. "We've set your right wrist. The surgery went very well."

"Surgery?" Sam asked in surprise and looked over to his brother.

"Dude, that guy who jumped you?" Dean quirked a brow to let Sam know they were going with the random mugging story. "Your wrist was a mess. They had to put it back together."

"You have three pins in your wrist now, Sam." The nurse told him and smiled again as she patted his good arm. "Don't worry. They're small. Won't even set off a metal detector at the airport. And with the pins, your recovery time should be much faster." She tapped a light finger on the cast now covering his right arm from elbow to hand. "This should be able to come off in three or four weeks depending on how quickly you heal. The doctor will be in later to explain it all to you."

Sam groaned and closed his eyes. "I just got that off."

"Don't worry about it, kiddo." Dean waited for Sam's eyes to open and pulled a Sharpie out of his pocket. "I get to practice my art skills all over again!"

"Nurse? Can security take the marker away from my brother? Please?" Sam looked up at her with his best puppy dog eyes and the nurse couldn't help but laugh.

Her gaze softened as she watched the brothers interact and decided she didn't hate the older one quite so much, given how well he handled his younger brother. "I'll just see if I can't bribe them to hide the markers."

Dean grinned up at her and waved as she left. "Knew she couldn't stay mad at me forever. She secretly likes me."

Sam laughed and rolled his head toward Dean. "So's that it? M'ok?"

"Yeah, well, you got a mild concussion and the backs of your legs look like a Rorschach test, what with all the bruising." Dean shrugged. "All in all, not too bad. Might even break you outta here tomorrow."

"Could go now," Sam said quickly and started to try and push himself up.

"Knock it off." Dean put a hand to the center of Sam's chest and pushed until his brother collapsed back into the bed. "Not goin' anywhere tonight. Just lay back and enjoy the morphine, dude. Meantime, I'm gonna go find some coffee and maybe draw on nurse grumpy-pants desk."

Sam chuckled and nodded with his eyes closed. "M'kay."

"Lightweight," Dean said affectionately.

Sam felt his brother pat his chest heavily and listened to the sound of his boots moving away and out the door. He took a deep breath and then another and felt something shift on his chest. Sam opened his eyes and looked down and they widened in surprise. Sitting atop his chest and looking at him was a scale model of an Ankylosaurus.

Sam couldn't stop the goofy grin that spread over his face as he brought his left hand up and gently picked up the little figure. He began to chuckle even as tears gathered in the corners of his eyes and he held the little dinosaur in his closed fist gently. "Best big brother ever," he whispered and let the painkillers start to lure him back to sleep with his protector.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: C is for Claustrophobia... and probably Cattle Prods as well. Heh.

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

C is for Claustrophobia -

Dean glanced over his shoulder at his little brother, smirked and looked back to the dart board. "Hope you got your wallet ready, Sammy."

Sam rolled his eyes. "I never should have convinced you to throw darts."

Dean chuckled and lined up his last dart. He bit his bottom lip in concentration, pulled his arm back, and made the toss. The little dart flew through the air and thunked into the bullseye at the center of the board with finality. "Oh, yeah!" He threw his arms up and turned around to his brother, victorious and ready to gloat. "Twenty bucks, bitch. Cough it up."

"Dammit." Sam dug in his back pocket and came out with a twenty. He held it up so Dean could snatch it out of his hand and grabbed his beer and smiled. "You're a sore winner, you know that, right?"

Dean nodded and tucked the money away after giving it a theatrical kiss. "Yep. Big brother prerogative. So, you wanna try your luck at pool?"

Sam looked on fondly while Dean waggled his brows and finished his beer. "Uh, no. I think I'm done losing for the night."

Dean snorted and looked around the bar. It was more empty than full and there weren't even any good prospects for a fun night left in the place. The few attractive women had left much earlier. "Yeah, what the hell. I could sleep. Come on." He slapped a hand to Sam's shoulder and gave him a push toward the door when he stood.

"Knock it off, jerk," Sam said but without any real heat. A pang of sorrow hit him as they crossed the bar that, in two short months, he wouldn't have this anymore. He scrubbed a hand quickly over his face to hide the sudden swell of panic and sadness and pulled the door open.

Dean wasn't an idiot. He saw the sudden tightening across his little brother's shoulders and the jerky motion that said he was trying to control himself. He knew exactly what Sam was thinking. Dean was thinking it himself, but he pushed it away and forced himself to smile instead. There was no other choice and they'd been having a good night, dammit. He wasn't going to let either of them ruin the good mood they had going that night for a change. "Ok, how about some poker back at the room?" He heard Sam's chuckle and saw his brother shake his head, but Dean knew he'd get his way and probably the rest of the cash in Sam's wallet. "Might even let ya' win a couple hands."

Sam looked over his shoulder and arched his brow. "You know I have to kick your ass now."

Dean snorted a laugh. "As if. Dude, you couldn't..." he broke off when Sam jerked and slapped a hand to his neck. He laughed again. "Aw, did a nasty mosquito take a bite outta you, sasquatch?"

Sam pulled his hand away with a frown and turned to look at Dean. "Uh... No." He held out his hand.

"What the hell is that?" Dean's sense of something wrong flared to life as he looked at the small, metal dart in Sam's hand.

"I... I, uh..." Sam swayed. The ground seemed to be tilting under him and Dean was blurring in his vision. "Dean."

"Crap. Sammy?" Dean caught Sam's elbow trying to steady him and grunted when something sharp bit into the side of his own neck. He put his free hand up and came away with an identical dart to the one that had struck Sam. "Son of a bitch. Easy." He was forced to slow Sam's descent to the parking lot as Sam's legs gave way. Dean eased him to the ground, leaning him against the car beside them and then drew his gun.

"Whoever the hell you are, GET out here!" Dean shouted into the night. He glanced down and watched Sam's eyes roll up and close; out for the count. "Come on!" He gritted his teeth as his arms began to shake. His hands wavered, the barrel shaking as he lost his balance. Dean staggered to the side and then went to a knee beside his brother. "No," he snarled and fought to keep his eyes open even as his vision began to tunnel into blackness.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean groaned. His head was pounding and his eyes felt as though they were weighted down with sand bags. There was a fog hanging over his thoughts, and he struggled to clear them and remember what happened. First he remembered the bar, playing darts with Sam and owning him. He remembered leaving and trying to convince Sam to play poker. Dean's brows drew together as his breathing sped up with the memory of the darts striking them.

"S'mmy?" Dean slurred and forced his head up. He cracked his eyes open and realized he couldn't move his arms. He was tied tightly to an uncomfortable chair. He blinked in the glare of the single light above him and tried to clear his vision.

"You're a hard man to track down, Dean Winchester."

Dean jerked his head over to his left at the sound of the strange voice and glared at the fuzzy outline of a man a few feet away. "S'm'brother?"

"You know it took us two months to find you?"

Dean watched the man step slowly out into the light and stared angrily up at him. He shook his head and swallowed a couple times. "Don't... don' know you. The hell d'you want me for?"

"We've never met." The man knelt in front of Dean and gave him a pitying look. "And we weren't after you."

Dean's mouth opened in surprise and no small amount of fear as the man nodded and rose. "What the hell's that s'upposed to mean?" he demanded as the man pulled open the heavy, wooden door and stopped. "Where's m'brother? If you've done anything..."

"We don't hurt humans, Dean," the man said simply and shrugged before looking back to meet the elder Winchester's eyes. "Problem is, your brother ain't been human in his whole life, from what I understand. We're going to do you and the world a favor. You just sit tight now. We'll let you go when we're done. Got no call to hurt you. You're innocent."

"Hey! HEY!" Dean bellowed as the door clanged closed with finality and he was left alone. Fear and rage did the job of burning the lingering effects of the drug out of his system and he strained against his bonds. "You sons of bitches! Let me out! SAM!"

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

He couldn't breathe. That was the first thought that passed through Sam's sluggish mind. The air seemed close and heavy as he panted. Sam opened his eyes at last, blinking slowly while confusion and pain overwhelmed him in the darkness.

"Dean?" Sam's voice was scratchy and hoarse. The memory of what had happened in the bar parking lot flooded back to him. He jerked his limbs, trying to stand and groaned as his head struck something hard.

"Wha'?" Sam pulled one hand up to his head and found cold bars. He tried to stretch his aching legs out and again ran into bars. "S'goin' on? Hello?"

Sam gasped and slammed his eyes closed, covering them with his hand as a glaring light came on over his head and blinded him. He listened to the sound of a door opening and footsteps moving near him, several sets, and then they stopped. The room fell into silence again except for his labored breathing. After his eyes adjusted to the light, Sam opened them again and a sickening feeling settled into his gut. He was squeezed into a cage made of sturdy iron bars that couldn't be more than four feet square. His knees were up by his chest, his ankles crossed and someone had taken his shirts off, leaving him bare-chested in the damp room. Three men stood around him. They were simply watching him with cold faces, like they were observing an insect rather than a man they had caged.

Sam sucked in a short breath and then another in an effort to stay calm and take stock of the situation. He needed to know what was happening and, more importantly, where Dean was. "Who're you? Wha'..." Sam swallowed and tried to wet his dry mouth. Whatever drug they had used to take him down left him feeling like he had chewed on cotton balls. "Where's m'brother?"

"Dean is fine."

Sam twisted his head and watched the speaker move until he was more in Sam's line of sight. "Where is he?" Sam demanded and spoke slowly so the words were clear.

"He's safe. We aren't interested in hurting humans, Sam." The man nodded at the sudden look of surprise on Sam's face. "You can call me George if you want. But we're here for you."

Sam scowled and tried not to be hurt by the intimation that he wasn't human. It wasn't as though he had never wondered all on his own if he was some sort of monster thanks to the plans of one dead demon and being resurrected by another. "What do you want? I don't know anything."

"This isn't an interrogation, Sam." George crossed his arms and looked down at their prisoner. "We're on a mission from God. We're protecting the world."

"From what?" Sam asked angrily.

"From you, Sam."

Sam jerked in surprise and stared up at him. "What the hell are you talking about? Who are you people?"

"We're the faithful, Sam." George waved to the other men in the room. "Our brother, Kubrick, came to us with the word of God's wrath delivered to him by another who saw your evil for what it truly was. That wrath is on you, Sam. A lost son of Satan, protected by demons and born of them." His voice grew with fervor as he spoke and pinned Sam with his gaze. "It is our calling to end their unholy plan, and the only way to do that is with your death. You know you're not human. I know you do. You're a monster, Sam, and we're going to stop you."

Sam's mouth hung open in shock while fear coiled tightly in his stomach, making him swallow to keep it down. Chills raced along his skin as he looked up at George and realized just how screwed he really was. He shook his head slowly. "I don't... who's Kubrick?"

George gave a small smile. "He is... was... a man of the faith. Like us. He was brought the word of God's wrath for you from another man I think you'll know better. His name is Gordon Walker."

Sam's mouth fell open again and then he remembered who Kubrick was - one of the two men who had tied him up and tried to kill him while he and Dean had been after the rabbit's foot. "Gordon was crazy! He was nuts, alright? You don't understand!"

"Was?" George's expression darkened and he stared down at Sam, taking a step closer. "We already know about Kubrick. Gordon called to tell us how you hunted and murdered him."

"What?" Sam exclaimed in dismay. "I have no idea what you're talking about!"

"So Gordon is dead as well," George studied Sam's face for a moment and felt more anger. "You killed him too, didn't you?"

"He was a vampire!" Sam shouted and slammed his hands against the bars over his head in frustration. "If your pal Kubrick is dead, then it was Gordon that killed him. He was turned!"

"And yet, we have only your word for that." George shook his head. "The death of another righteous man won't save you, Sam. If anything, it proves to me that you need to die before more good men fall before your evil."

"You're crazy," Sam said at last and shook his head. "As crazy as he was."

"You'll confess before you die, Sam." George nodded to the other men. "You will lay out for us your sins, confess yourself a monster, and your tainted soul will pass from this world and leave it safe."

"Jesus," Sam breathed fearfully. He strained against the too-small cage surrounding him, but it was no good. It was too solid. "Don't do this, please. It's murder."

"No, Sam. This is holy justice." George smiled again. "Justice for Kubrick and Walker and for the world that would be destroyed if you're allowed to live." He nodded to the men behind Sam.

Sam's voice erupted from him in a howl of pain as something jabbed into his back on either side of his spine. An electrical current tore through his body. He spasmed uncontrollably inside the cage. It seemed to go on forever and when it finally stopped, Sam's body collapsed as well as it could inside the cage. His muscles twitched. He could feel fresh pain from where parts of him had slammed into the bars, and his chest burned as he tried to catch his breath.

"Confess," George ordered softly and knelt beside Sam. "We don't have to go any further than this, Sam. It can end right now. Confess."

"You... you're... cr-crazy." Sam glared weakly at the man. He smiled then, faintly and closed his eyes. "Dean... s'gonna kill you."

"Maybe," George shrugged. "I think he's going to understand eventually. In fact," George leaned forward and waited until Sam's opened and met his again. "I think it's going to be a relief for him to not have the weight of your sins hanging around his neck, don't you?"

Sam flinched and looked away. That one hit a little too close to home. It was his fault, after all, that Dean was headed to hell soon. If he had just been faster, been paying more attention, if he hadn't let himself be taken in the first place...

"There it is." George smiled. "Guilt. See, Sam? You know we're right. You'll confess."

"No." Sam shook his head and closed his eyes once more. He would hold on and fight these bastards for as long as he had to. He could hold on, because he knew Dean would come. With the faith of a ten year old in his big brother, he knew. Sam spat out between the bars at George and smiled.

George sighed and wiped the spittle from his chin as he stood. "Hit him again."

On the other side of the building, Dean strained at his bonds until his wrists bled as his little brother's agonized cries echoed from beyond the door again. "Sam!"

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam jerked awake as frigid water fell on his head and down his body, choking him as he coughed and gagged. He tried to lift his head, but it was too much effort and he let his forehead thump into the bars again instead. He was slightly turned and twisted in his cage, tilted a bit to his right side. Somehow, it was even more uncomfortable than where he'd started, and he wouldn't have thought that possible.

"Back with us, Sam?"

Sam shuddered at the sound of George's voice. He hated that voice. He cracked his eyes open and watched George's shoes step into his field of vision. "Not... gonna... go... go to hell."

"You know this can all stop, Sam." George knelt down and had to tilt his head to be able to see the young man's face. Sam's body had seized itself into an ever more pretzel-like position with each touch of the cattle prods. "Confess and I promise you I'll make the pain stop. It'll all stop forever."

"N-no." Sam shivered harder as the icy water and the cool air on his bare upper body conspired to make him even more miserable. He supposed he could add hypothermia to his list of complaints, or maybe he was going into shock. He had no idea how long they had been trying to make him 'confess'. Each time he passed out, they woke him up, and there were no windows in the little room; just the bright light above him that was beginning to make his eyes burn each time he opened them. He was so thirsty.

"It doesn't get any better from here, Sam." George shook his head and held out a hand. One of the other men handed him a cattle prod and stepped back.

"George, there's water all over him and the cage now. If you hit him with that..."

"His pain's what we're doing here, Ron." George looked up at his fellow faithful and scowled. "If you're developing a weak stomach for the Lord's work, then I suggest you step out and let the rest of us handle it." He paused and quirked a brow. "And we'll all have a nice long chat with you later about having the strength of God's convictions."

Ron trembled and shook his head. "No. No, I'm good. Just didn't want him to die without confessing his sins is all."

George nodded and turned back to Sam. He lowered the cattle prod and tapped it on the floor until Sam's eyes opened and blearily focused on it. "What do you say, Sam? Confess."

"N-never." Sam let his eyes fall closed and waited. He felt the cold tip of the cattle prod a moment before a new wave of agony shot through him. He screamed, distantly feeling his arms and legs slam uselessly into the bars, and then a new smell intruded - the smell of singed flesh and something burning. A moment later, the pain stopped and Sam collapsed with a muffled sob. Air was tight in his chest, and he felt tears he was helpless to stop coursing down his cheeks. He cracked his eyes open and it took him a moment to understand that the denim of his jeans covering his legs was steaming lightly with smoke from the electrical charge.

"Well, he didn't die," George said with a smile and handed the cattle prod back to Ron. "Now, Sam. I want you to understand. We're not doing this because we like it. We're here because it's the right thing to do. You have too many victims for us to just let you walk away." He watched Sam's head shake minutely in denial. "No? Sam, your own brother is on your list. I mean, because of you, hell owns his soul! Dean is just your latest victim. He's going to burn for eternity because of you. You know we're not hurting him. He's an innocent. He has to be protected." George sighed and showed the cattle prod to Sam again. "Protected from you, Sam. You're not his brother. Not really. Maybe you were once, but those demons, they made you into something else and now Dean is going to pay the price for that."

Sam shook his head, but George's words were opening the wounds that guilt had torn into his soul anew. It was his fault. He knew that. Dean was going to die, and every day that ticked away toward the end of his brother's year only made Sam more desperate and more hopeless. He would do anything to save Dean; anything. Even die if that was what it took. If he knew that his death would void his brother's deal, Sam would eat his own gun with a smile and Dean would just have to live with it. Live, not die screaming and spend eternity being torn apart.

"Just confess, Sam," George said quietly. He could sense the weakening of Sam's resolve. He could see the guilt moving across the young man's expressive face like a storm cloud. Clearly, his brother's imminent demise was the way into Sam's blackened soul. "Let Dean go knowing the truth. Give him that, at least. I can't stop him dying. No one can. But you can let him go knowing the world will be a better place, a safer place, without you in it."

Tears leaked from Sam's eyes again as he clenched them shut. He strained against his unnatural position, cramped in the cage, to no avail. It frightened him that, as the torture went on, George began to make more and more sense; and, really, he wasn't wrong about Dean... or Sam. Sam could understand it from George's point of view. Sam had brought nothing but misery to everyone he loved since the time he was six months old. They all died. Everyone died for the love of him - his mom, Jess, their dad who had believed Dean could protect Sam better... could save him, Madison, and soon even Dean would fall victim to the dark nightmare that was Sam's life.

"Dean," he whispered brokenly and flinched when he felt the end of a cattle prod press against his chest. "S-stop."

"Confess, Sam." George leaned in, pressing the prod harder into Sam's flesh. The boy's back, sides and arms were covered in raw burns from the kiss of the cattle prods. The addition of the water had only heightened the effect, and there was a large, growing blister of burnt skin from the last place he had used it. Sam was breaking. It wouldn't be long. "Let me bring Dean in here and you tell him the truth. Can you do that for me, Sam? Just tell your brother the truth and I'll make all of this stop."

Sam listened to the calm, reasonable voice that he hated and latched on to the one thing that didn't hurt; Dean. George would let him see Dean. "Dean." Sam sucked in a short, sharp breath, unable to take a deep one with the way he was scrunched together. He bit his bottom lip and nodded.

A wide smile spread across George's face and he pulled the prod away from Sam. "That's it, Sam. You're doing the right thing. You just wait here now. Boys? Let's go get Dean."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean heaved for breath as he took a break from trying to free his hands. His wrists were torn up enough that he'd never hear the end of it from Sam. Dean swallowed hard with that thought and vowed that Sam would have the chance to chew him out for turning his wrists into burger meat. He had been listening to his little brother shout and scream for several hours now, and whatever mercy Dean had for humans was long gone. If he got the chance to off the sons of bitches torturing his little brother, well, he was going to earn his trip downstairs.

He started pulling again, leaning to his right in the chair as he'd found the most give in the ropes holding his left wrist. It wasn't much but it would be enough if he could just get his damn thumb to move. Dean gritted his teeth, tipped his head back and pulled furiously. Finally, his left thumb was popped out of joint by the pressure. Dean groaned, fighting to keep the sound quiet, and with a few more twists, his left hand slid in a wet, bloody slide out from the ropes holding it.

"Son of a bitch," he gasped and bent forward with the relief of having one hand free. "M'comin' Sammy." Dean reached over to his right hand and grabbed hold of his left thumb. He braced himself as much as he could and gave a short, sharp pull. The joint snapped back into place, and he felt the sting of pained tears in his eyes as he moved his left thumb gingerly. He didn't allow himself time to wallow in the pain; Sam couldn't afford it with whatever they were doing to him.

Dean started on the ropes binding his right wrist with the fury of desperation. He had just managed to loosen them, allowing him to tug his hand partially free when the door to his room was shoved open. "Son of a BITCH!"

"Damn, you are resourceful as hell," George observed as he took in his nearly escaped prisoner. He stepped aside and let Ron and another man into the room. He smiled as Dean all but snarled and threw a fist out at Ron as he got too close. "Calm down, Dean. We're taking you to your brother."

Dean stopped. He gave the arm of the man he had grabbed a last, strong twist, making the man grunt in pain and then let go. "Fine. Let's go." He sat back and waited as though he were conferring an honor on the men by not beating their asses while tied to a chair with only one arm free. His eyes, however, never left George's. "I'm gonna kill you," he said in a soft voice full of promise.

George began to smile, but it faded as he studied the sure knowledge in Dean Winchester's eyes. He felt the first thrum of fear and ruthlessly squashed it. "Untie him and let's go. Sam has a confession to make before we finish this."

"What confession?" Dean demanded and resisted the urge to break the nose of the man who untied his right hand. He stayed calm, though it was a monumental effort. He needed to get to Sam first, then the violence could start.

"You're brother's a monster, Dean." George watched his men release Dean and drag him to his feet. He tsked, seeing the state of the elder Winchester's wrists. "Done a number on yourself there. Hate to do it considering, but... cuffs."

Ron nodded and moved behind Dean, pulling a set of handcuffs from his pocket. "Hold still."

"You were saying?" Dean watched George while his wrists were bound behind him and ignored the fresh spikes of pain as the metal cuffs moved and caught on his broken, bleeding skin.

"Sam has to confess his sins before we can kill him." George did smile now. "He's agreed to confess them to you."

"Bullshit!" Dean spat and lurched forward a step in rage. The men caught hold of him and dragged him back. "He'd never give in to you and he's got no damn sins to confess! My brother's innocent!"

"He's demon spawn," George said succinctly and a bit of loathing oozed out into his voice. "The blood of the damned runs in his veins and the blood of the innocent is all over his hands, yours included."

"More bullshit." Dean glared at him. "You can't blame him for something that was done TO him when he was six months old! He's my brother and he's human and you are one delusional son of a bitch if you think I'm just gonna stand by while you kill him and thank you for it later!"

"We're wasting time." George pulled the door open all the way and stepped aside. "I think Sam's had long enough on his own to think now. He's ready. Let's go."

Dean let the men pull him forward and didn't fight. They were taking him where he needed to be and he could be patient until then. He carefully took hold of his left thumb with his right hand and then made a point of staggering sideways. The men yanked him upright again and Dean succeeded in pulling his left thumb back out of joint with them none the wiser.

"What have you been doing to him?" Dean asked and couldn't help the rage that bled into his voice. There was no hiding it. "'Cause at this point, whether I kill you quick or slow depends on that."

"You know we're going to kill him." George led the way down the wide hall. "We don't go easy on the monsters, Dean. And I know you've heard him."

"He's not a monster, but you are," Dean snarled.

"You'll understand once Sam confesses," George said surely. "I promise, Dean. He's not what you think he is. And when he's done, you'll be just as ready to put him down as we are."

"Never gonna happen." Dean glanced at the men on either side of him and noted the carefully blank expression on the man to his left. He was the weak link. Whatever they'd been doing to Sam, that was a man who wasn't entirely sure they were in the right anymore. "Sam's never done a damn thing his whole life but try to save people; save them from the monsters. He's the best damn person I've ever known. He's put his life on the line time and again for self-righteous pieces of shit like you, and he's never once wondered if he should. He just does it 'cause it's the right thing to do." Dean felt the grip of the man on his left loosen slightly as though he were truly listening. "So what the hell could he possibly have done that makes you think he deserves to be tortured and murdered? Huh? You tell me?"

"It's what he will do, Dean." George flicked a glance over his shoulder at the man and then turned back as they neared a door. "Not that he hasn't earned justice a dozen times over already for the deaths of the innocent. Even your life is going to be on his hands soon. He's seen the light. Sam's come to accept that he is a monster and he's ready to unburden his soul to you before we send him on. You be kind now. The boy's been through a lot today."

"You bastard," Dean growled it out as the men stopped and George opened the door. Words failed him for a moment as they walked him into the room, and even the breath in his lungs seemed to seize up and leave him dizzy with both fear and rage. The room was bare but for a far too small, metal-barred cage in the center of the floor, and stuffed inside it was all six and a half feet of his little brother. He was twisted and mashed against the bars, and Dean could see Sam's back shuddering as he fought to breathe inside the cage in spite of the way he was bent up. What really made Dean see red, though, were the cattle prods lying on the floor a few feet from the cage. Those and the clear burns that peppered his brother's bare back and arms.

"Sammy," Dean breathed out at last. He jerked his elbows away from the men holding him. "Get off me!" He kicked the instep of the man on his right, and he was free. Dean moved quickly around the cage, relieved that they were letting him and stopped when he found his brother's head. Dean dropped to his knees and ducked lower to try and get a better look.

"Sammy?" Dean wished he could free his hands and touch him but it wasn't safe to do that yet. "Come on, buddy. It's me. I'm here. Sam." He was rewarded a few moments later when he heard Sam's breathing pick up and his brother's head slowly lifted as his eyes cracked open. "Hey, little brother."

"Dean?" Sam felt fresh tears gather in his eyes and then fall as he looked at him.

"Hey. Come on, take it easy," Dean soothed as best he could and ignored the other men in the room. "You gotta try and breathe a little better than this, dude. Sound like an asthmatic."

Sam nodded and swallowed, trying to even out his panicked breathing, but it was a hopeless cause. He just didn't have the room to straighten his chest out and get a proper breath. "Gordon," he whispered, needing Dean to understand just how screwed he was and he saw Dean flinch in surprise. "They're... Gordon set 'em on us. On me."

Dean turned away from Sam slowly and let his eyes rake over the men until he met George's. "You came after my little brother like this on the word of that fucking lunatic?" His voice had risen to a shout at the end and Dean lurched to his feet. "The man put civilians in the line of fire! He took pot shots at Sam with a damn sniper rifle and nearly killed another woman doing it! He got turned into a damn vampire for cryin' out loud!" Dean stalked forward toward George and only the other two men grabbing hold of him stopped him from attacking. "You wanna know what he did then? He kidnapped a girl, turned her, and used her as bait to get to my brother. That sound like a guy firin' on all cylinders to you?"

George backed up defensively when one of Dean's feet flew out and landed a solid kick to his hip. "Ron, dammit! Hold on to him!"

Dean was breathing heavily, the rage thrumming through his veins and he glanced sideways at the man on his left. The same man and now he had a name for him. "You really down with this, Ron? Torturing and murdering an innocent man on the word of a guy who'd slit his own mama's throat if he thought it'd help him?"

"Don't talk to him," George said angrily. He rubbed a hand over his hip and moved carefully around Dean. "We're here about Sam. Whatever Gordon may have been at the end of his life, he was a man of God."

"My ass!" Dean yelled and pulled at the grip of the men holding him. "He didn't give a DAMN about God! If he came to you, it was because he figured you were all too damn head-in-the-sand stupid to know he was lying to you! Well, joke's on us! That bastard was right! You are!"

"Sam." George knelt down beside the younger Winchester and picked up a cattle prod.

"Get the fuck away from him!" Dean bellowed and jerked hard enough to stagger both men holding him, though as before, Ron's grip on him was the weaker of the two.

"Your brother's here, Sam. Just like I promised." George ignored the enraged shouts coming from Dean and focused on Sam. "It's time to confess. You need to tell your brother the truth now. Tell him everything, Sam. Tell him you're a monster."

"Sammy, don't! You're not!" Dean yelled and readied himself.

Sam heard Dean's voice; heard the anger and the fear in it, but most of all, he heard the underlying love that told him Dean had faith in him, even when he had none himself. He closed his eyes and swallowed with a throat gone tight with emotion. "No," he whispered it. "Not a monster." Sam opened his eyes and met the growing frown on George's face. "You are."

"Sam, I'm disappointed in you." George hefted the cattle prod and slid the end through the bars. "I thought we were past this. You're only making this harder on yourself. It's time to confess."

"Don't you do it!" Dean warned. The sound of Sam's voice raised in agony as his body thrashed helplessly inside the cage was the only signal Dean needed. He slipped his dislocated thumb out of the left handcuff along with his hand, shoved Ron into the wall, and turned on the other man. Dean slammed the heel of his hand into his nose and then swept his legs, sending him crashing to the floor senseless.

Dean spun, expecting Ron to be coming next and instead found the man sitting on the floor against the wall, taking himself out of the fight. Dean dismissed him and turned all that rage to George as the man rose from Sam's cage with the cattle prod held out before him. "You son of a bitch."

"Dean, we don't want to hurt you. You're an innocent in all this." George tried to speak reasonably, to appeal to Dean's rational side, but he could tell from the look of fury in the man's eyes that it wasn't working. "I don't want to hurt you."

"Oh, you won't," Dean promised darkly. He took a step forward and was ready when George lunged ahead with the long stick. Dean sidestepped the prod as it spat and sizzled with a live charge. He caught hold of the shaft, wrenched it free from George's grip with a twist, and then spun it. Dean jammed the prod into the man's stomach with a sense of righteous fury.

George screamed and crumpled to the floor in a twitching heap. Dean didn't let up. He kept the cattle prod against the man's skin and watched him suffer.

"Dean."

The sound of Sam's voice brought him back to himself and Dean looked over to find Sam watching him. He could read the look in Sam's eyes easily enough. Sam didn't want Dean to kill George; not because he thought George deserved to live, but because he didn't want Dean to have a human's blood on his hands.

"Don't," Sam gasped and watched some of the rage fade from his brother's eyes.

Dean clicked off the cattle prod and tossed it aside with a snarl of disgust. George stayed where Dean had left him, unconscious. He went back to the cage and knelt next to Sam's head. Dean put his hands through the bars, ignoring the clang as the dangling cuff on his right wrist went through them. "Sammy. Gonna get you outta here, ok?"

"There's a... there's a key."

Dean spun on his heels and looked at Ron as the man got slowly to his feet. "You got it?"

Ron nodded and dug in his pocket. He took a step toward them and then thought better of it. He tossed it to the floor beside Dean instead, and, after a moment, pulled the key to the handcuffs from his pocket and tossed that over as well. "I, uh... I really believed him, you know? I thought he was righteous. But this..." he waved a hand toward Sam and shook his head. "This isn't righteous. This is... I'm sorry. For my part in this, I'm sorry."

"How many more are there?" Dean asked as he picked up the key to the cuffs and tossed them away before grabbing the key to the cage and looking for the lock.

"It's on the far side, near his head," Ron supplied. "On the floor. The cage lifts up and over." He rubbed his hands together and sighed. "There's only one other guy. Pete. He'll be outside somewhere having a smoke. George... he hates that shit and, uh, Pete sneaks off to hide it from him."

Dean nodded and unlocked the heavy padlock keeping the cage in place. He looked up at Ron again. "There a car around here somewhere you got the keys to?"

Ron nodded and went to George. He cautiously rolled the man to his back, grateful that he was still unconscious, and reached into his pants pocket. He came back out with a distinctive key ring and tossed it to Dean.

"You drove my baby?" Dean asked angrily.

"That Impala of yours is parked just outside the south entrance." Ron pointed a thumb over his right shoulder. "Out this door, take a left, go up the stairs and left again. You can't miss it. Pete, he's on the other side of the building. You should, uh...you should be safe."

Dean slipped a hand into the cage and clasped Sam's cold, bare shoulder for a moment. "Sammy? I'm gonna get this off'a you now, but it's gonna suck." He saw the small nod Sam gave him and drew his hand back. Dean took a deep breath and lifted. The cage was a hell of a lot heavier than he'd thought it would be, and he grunted with the effort of lifting it. It moved slowly upward on a hinge in the floor at the other side of the structure, and he looked up in surprise when some of the weight vanished. Ron had finally found the courage to come closer and was pulling from the other side.

Sam let out a shout of pain as the cage slipped against and over him and he slumped out onto the concrete floor. Pain flared throughout his body

"Shit. Hang on, Sam." Dean gave the cage a shove and let Ron catch it so he could get his hands on his brother. He rolled Sam carefully to his back and up into his chest. Dean grimaced in sympathy as Sam hissed painfully at the movement. "How long was he in that damn thing?" Dean asked, noticing that Sam's legs were curled up, even without the confinement of the bars.

Ron swallowed and backed away again. "You guys were, uh... well, the tranq put you down for about twelve hours."

Dean glared at Ron's paling face for a moment and then looked away. "I want everything you took off us, and then you wanna make sure I never see your face again. We clear?"

Ron nodded quickly, understanding that he was being shown the only mercy Dean would ever allow him, and Ron didn't even think he was wrong anymore. "Crystal. I'll be back."

"Ok, Sammy. How you doin'?"

Sam gulped and coughed with a low groan. "Thirsty."

"Yeah, I'll bet. Got water in the car." Dean looked down at him and wished Sam hadn't stopped him from killing George. He was a mess of blisters and bruises, and Dean was pretty sure the kid hadn't realized yet that the repeated electric shocks had made him pee his pants. Dean could smell it and hoped Sam wouldn't notice. It was just one more humiliation that he didn't need.

"Gotta get you outta here, dude." Dean eased Sam up a little further. "How about you try straightening out those legs?"

Sam nodded again and carefully began stretching first one leg and then the other. He was panting by the time he'd managed it. He shook in Dean's arms and curled a little more into the warmth of his brother and was too damn exhausted emotionally and physically to be ashamed of it.

"Easy," Dean soothed. He wrapped his arms a little more tightly around Sam's shoulders and offered him the only comfort he could. Dean tensed when the door opened again and watched Ron come in. There jackets were bundled in his arms with his and Sam's guns stacked on top.

"This is everything." Ron set the pile of belongings down next to Dean.

"Good. Grab those cuffs." Dean nodded to the pair he'd escaped earlier. "Cuff your buddy over there before he wakes up and has an attack of stupid."

"Yeah." Ron didn't argue. He quickly secured Malcolm's hands behind his back and then looked over at George. Ron frowned and went to him, kneeling beside the older man. He put his fingers to George's throat and blew out a breath, though he wasn't really surprised. "Well, damn."

"What?" Dean asked, distracted as he tried to gently get Sam's jacket on him. His shirts were gone, probably in pieces somewhere.

"George had a pacemaker," Ron said softly. He crossed himself and stood. "I figure the charge from the cattle prod must have killed it. He's gone."

"He's dead?" Sam said softly. He rolled his head to look at George's body and flinched a little in remembered fear. It comforted him when Dean's arm tightened reflexively around him.

"He was lookin' for justice. He found it. Brought it on himself, Sam," Dean said firmly and with no remorse. In truth, he was relieved. He wouldn't have to worry about the psychopath coming after Sam ever again.

"Get... get me up." Sam tried to push himself up but his body wasn't cooperating yet. "I want to get out of here. Now."

"We're going." Dean pulled his own jacket on, tucking both guns against his back. He propped Sam against his knees as he stood. "Take a deep breath, Sam."

Sam sucked in a ragged breath and somehow managed not to cry out in pain as his brother dragged him up from the floor. The moment he tried to put his weight on his legs, his vision whited out and he heard a sharp cry echo in his ears. Sam slowly came back to himself and found he was still standing. He blinked and opened his eyes and found he wasn't actually standing so much as being propped up between his brother and Ron with his face held in the gentle grip of Dean's hand and his big brother's worried face looking at him.

"Sor... sorry," Sam gasped.

Dean shook his head. "Don't worry about it. All you gotta do is let me..." he stopped and looked over at Ron who gave him a firm nod and adjusted his grip on Sam's other side. "Let us get you to the car. That's all. No big deal. Ok?"

Sam lifted his head and turned it to look over at Ron. He frowned. "Remember you," he said softly and saw the way Ron's eyes dropped from his. "Thought maybe you were... were going to stop him."

Ron sighed sadly. He figured he would be doing a lot of penance for his part in the things that had happened to Sam Winchester and he deserved it. He knew that now. "I'm sorry. I really... I'm just sorry."

Dean felt slightly better about letting Ron help him with his brother knowing that, at some point, the man had made an impression on Sam as well. He was happy he'd been right about him. "Let's move. That other guy can't stay on a smoke break forever."

Ron was surprised into a small laugh as they started dragging Sam to the door. "That guy can vanish for more than an hour. Trust me. We're not gonna see him."

"Good. Here we go, Sammy."

Sam focused all his energy on just breathing as he was half-carried through the halls and up a flight of stairs. His whole body hurt. His chest still felt tight and there was a part of his mind that had yet to accept that he was actually out of the cage. Each time he tried to take his own weight to help them, the pain slammed into him and took away what little breath he had until Sam finally gave up trying. He closed his eyes and just breathed, letting the men maneuver him. He startled in surprise when he stopped moving, and Sam opened his eyes to see the Impala gleaming in the morning sun. He frowned as Dean pulled the passenger door open.

"But... it was night. What?"

Dean smiled and took most of Sam's weight from Ron. "We were out for a while, dude. Don't worry about it. Here we go." He didn't need any help getting his Sasquatch of a brother into the car. That he had a lifetime of practice with and had Sam curled into the passenger seat in no time. He pushed the door closed and looked at Ron again. "I appreciate what you did here, helping him; helping me. But I mean it. I ever see you again..."

"I'll deserve whatever you do to me," Ron said seriously and stepped away. "The way we tortured him... it wasn't human. It was evil. I know that now. I can't ever make it right. Just... take care of him."

Dean nodded, studied the man for a moment and then turned away. He walked around the Impala and slid behind the wheel. He smiled with relief at the comforting rumble of her engine as he pulled away from the building where they had been held and stretched a hand out across the seat to rest on Sam's shoulder. "You still with me?"

Sam nodded but kept his eyes closed, letting his head rest on the back of the seat. He could feel the motion of the Impala as she shot forward and knew Dean had found a long, clear stretch of road, his favorite. Normally, the Impala was a refuge for them, but not today. Today, Sam felt like he was back in the cage; surrounded by metal and trapped. The air was clogging in his chest as he tried to stay calm so they could get further away. It wasn't working.

"Sammy?" Dean felt the almost constant tremble in his brother's shoulder and could hear Sam's breathing becoming more ragged, like the breaths were being punched out of him. "Dude, ease up."

Sam shook his head. He opened his eyes, but seeing the car all around him didn't help. It made it worse. Panic had lodged itself under his pounding heart. He opened his mouth wide, trying to get air, but it felt like there wasn't any to be had. He lurched up and scrambled a hand at the door. "Out. Stop, Dean. Need..."

"Whoa! Hang on! Shit!" Dean kept his right hand fisted in the shoulder of Sam's jacket with visions of his little brother spilling out onto the road at sixty miles an hour. He swerved the car toward the shoulder and saw a narrow, old road leading into some trees. Dean tightened his grip as Sam continued to paw at the door and slammed on the brakes once they were in the screen of trees. "Jesus."

Sam got the handle finally and shoved the door open. He tumbled out in a painful sprawl of limbs, half on pavement and half into soft grass and bent double as he wrapped his arms around himself.

Dean tore himself from the car and ran around to find Sam huddled on the ground. "Fuck, Sam. What the hell?" He knelt and put a hand on the back of Sam's neck, feeling the still-chilled skin there. "Slow it down, kiddo."

"Can't... breathe," Sam gasped with his eyes squeezed shut. "No air!"

"Plenty of air, Sammy. All the air in the world. Come on. Open your eyes." Dean tugged until Sam toppled in against his side. He rubbed his hand up and down his brother's back and said nothing when Sam caught hold of his other sleeve and held on to his arm with a painful grip. "Sam."

Sam felt the world closing in around him. He opened his eyes and could actually see blackness creeping in at the edges of his vision and then Dean was there. "Dean."

"Right here, Sammy. Hey." Dean took the hand Sam had on him and put it to his chest. "Feel me breathin'?" He waited for Sam to nod and smiled. "Ok, just follow along. Breathe with me, Sam. You can do this. In and out. Now, Sam. Come on." Sam was moments away from passing out, Dean could see it. He was relieved he could even reach Sam in the midst of his panic attack, and the kid had certainly earned the right to one after the last twelve hours.

Sam tried to focus on the feeling of Dean's chest rising and falling under his hand, on the rhythm of it and took a breath as Dean's chest rose.

"That's it, Sammy. With me." Dean coached him calmly, helping his brother learn to breathe all over again. It took the better part of a half an hour as they sat there in the grass on the side of the old road until at last, the tension seemed to bleed out of Sam all at once and he collapsed in against his brother. "Whoa. Sammy?"

Sam curled his fingers in Dean's shirt and felt tears on his face. "Thank you."

"Don't worry about it." Dean smiled and kept up the slow rhythm of his hand rubbing up and down Sam's back. "'Course you keep cryin' on me, you're doing laundry."

Sam was surprised into a small laugh. He took a deep breath, then another and very carefully moved until he was sitting more or less on his own. He opened his eyes and looked around and let the green grass and trees soothe him. He looked up at the blue sky above and closed his eyes, letting the cool breeze play over his face.

"Yo. You wanna commune with nature or get back to the motel so we can fix you up?" Dean was perfectly content to sit in the grass all damn day if that was what it took to make Sam feel better, though he really did want to get a better look at the damage the men had done and get the kid patched up and into a bed.

Sam nodded and cleared his throat. "Yeah. Yeah. I'm good now." He flushed a little with embarrassment and let Dean help him back up so he was sitting in the passenger seat. "Water?"

"Got it." Dean pulled open the back door and reached into the foot well, digging around until he came out with a bottle of water. He twisted it open and handed it to his brother before he closed both doors.

Sam took small, careful sips of the water though all he wanted to do was guzzle it. But the thought of throwing up in his current state kept him from being an idiot. He smiled when Dean slid back behind the wheel next to him and smiled more widely when they started moving again, backing up and out toward the road they had left.

"Dean?"

"You think you need a hospital?" Dean asked and quirked a brow over at his brother. "I don't even know how many times they zapped you, dude."

Sam shook his head. "No, I'm ok." He rolled his eyes at Dean's snort of disbelief. "Ok, fine. I'm not, but I'm not... not dying."

Dean nodded, sobered with the thought of how close he'd come to losing Sam. "That is the last damn time I ever wanna find you locked in a cage. Hell, the first time was enough," he said, remembering the Benders two years earlier. It wasn't lost on him that, once again, it was simple humans who shoved Sam into a cage like an animal. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel and took deep breaths, calming himself. "Seriously, though, hospital bad?"

"No." Sam knew how much pain he was in and it was bad, but it wasn't as bad it could have been. "Think it's mostly burns and bruises." He grimaced as he tried to stretch his legs. "And pulled muscles. Crap."

"Not surprised." Dean took the turn off toward the town they had been staying in. He looked over at Sam again and sighed. "Sammy, you know they were full of crap, right?"

"Huh?" Sam met Dean's eyes with confusion.

"You bein' a monster. That's bullshit," Dean spat the words angrily, still enraged that George had even come close to convincing his brother of something like that. "And you ain't got shit to confess for, Sammy. You're a good person." Dean rolled his eyes at himself but finished the thought. "Best damn person I know."

Sam sniffed, holding back a fresh round of tears with a mighty effort and aimed his eyes back out at the road to spare Dean. "Thanks."

Dean nodded at Sam's hoarse voice and tried to let the anger go now that they were free and Sam was safe... at least for the next couple months. He shook his head and pushed that thought away as well. "You're gonna be fine, little brother," Dean said at last and meant so much more than just his current injuries. He put a hand across the seat and back on his brother's neck in his habitual offer of comfort and took some of his own in their presence together, in his baby, as they motored down the highway; safe.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next up: D is for... I haven't decided yet. I'll figure it out. Too many choices!

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

D is for Defenestration -

"Come on, kid." Dave huffed and hitched the teenage boy's arm higher over his shoulders as he all but dragged him down the hall of the abandoned mansion. "Just... a couple more flights." He pulled his radio from his vest pocket as he started down the stairs and rolled his eyes. "Only me, huh, kid? What kinda park ranger gets stuck in a damn mansion with a bear?" Dave snorted as he moved as quickly as he dared down the dusty stairs. "Bear on damn steroids. Kid?"

Dave sighed when he got no response and held up his radio, hoping the local police were still paying attention. "Hey, this is Ranger Mathews again. I found the kid but he's in bad shape. That bear... thing... mauled him pretty good."

There was a crackle of static and a voice responded. "Ranger, can you verify your location?"

"The old Givens mansion on Maiden Hill." Dave panted for breath and stopped at the landing. He leaned against the wall and the wide window beside him wearily. "Gonna need a chopper or something or this kid ain't gonna make it. I stopped some of the bleeding, but... it's bad."

"Understood, Ranger. Help will be there in twenty minutes."

"Twenty minutes?" Dave exclaimed and turned his head to look out the window. "Are you guys not paying attention? This kid's bleedin' out and there's a damn mutant bear up here tryin' to kill us!"

"That's the best we can do. You'll just have to hold on."

"Yeah, you try holding..." Dave broke off as the sound of a soft scuff filtered into the stairwell. He looked around frantically and up to the landing above but saw nothing in the shadows hovering there.

"Ranger Mathews?"

Dave lifted the radio and spoke softly. "I think it's stalking us." He shook his head. "This thing doesn't act like a damn bear. It's weird. It's... SHIT!" A massive shadow detached itself from the wall above them and flew through the air. The sound of shattering glass echoed inside the empty building, broken only by a lonely voice calling from the radio left lying on the landing.

"Ranger? Ranger, answer me!"

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean pulled open the driver's side door of the Impala and huffed a laugh, shaking his head when he found Sam where he'd left him, hunched over his laptop in the passenger seat. He barely twitched as Dean sat down with a thump beside him.

"Dude. Did you even hit the head?" Dean asked and waved a hand out toward the gas station.

"Huh? Don't have to," Sam answered absently. His eyes stayed firmly on the screen, scanning back and forth down the page.

Dean rolled his eyes and slapped the laptop closed. "Earth to Sammy!"

"Hey!" Sam protested and heaved an annoyed sigh. "I was researching while there's actually wifi."

Dean pulled up the bag he'd brought in and upended it on the seat between them in a shower of candy bars, lollipops, and small bags of chips. "Road munchies."

Sam snorted a laugh. "Really?" He brushed a hand through the candy haul and pulled out a bag of sour gummy worms.

Dean shrugged with a smiled and started the car. "Call it a homage." He pulled out onto the road and aimed them east again. "I'm kinda sorry we had to gank the trickster." His smiled turned wistful. "He had style for one of the monsters."

Sam shook his head and laughed. "He threw women in lingerie at you and they kicked your ass."

Dean's smile grew into a grin. "Can you think of a better way to go?"

Sam snorted and opened his laptop again. "At least a dozen."

"That's your problem, Sammy," Dean said sadly.

"Sam."

"Sammy," Dean smirked and pulled back out onto the highway. "You're too uptight."

"Because my brother's a jerk." Sam slapped his brother's hand away from his laptop and quickly bookmarked the pages he was using before they were out of range of the wifi signal he'd found.

"Badass, little brother. Your big brother's a badass."

"Older, not bigger," Sam said firmly and grinned at the disgusted look on Dean's face. "Who got his ass handed to him by a couple strippers." Sam laughed at the punch Dean threw at his shoulder.

"How far out are we?" Dean asked, changing the subject before it got more embarrassing. "And does Bobby even know what he's sending us after?"

"About seven hours, and he's sure it's some sort of monster."

"Well, that's real helpful."

Sam chuckled. "Hey, I was working on that at the gas station." Sam smirked and closed the laptop as his internet connection died.

"Whine, whine whine," Dean said and shot them down the highway with a smile. Somehow the hunt with the trickster a few days before had left them feeling lighter, as though some of the weight of Dad's death had lessened. Oh, it still hurt like hell, but Dean could see daylight around it now. He supposed it was maybe the time they spent luring the trickster in, acting like the children they had once been to make him think they'd fallen victim. Dean smirked. It had felt good to be that kid again with Sam, even if it had mostly been an act.

"You're smiling," Sam said from the other side of the car. "You're freaking me out, man."

Dean enjoyed the discomfort in his brother's voice and grinned even wider. "Eat your candy, bitch."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean stretched back in the driver's seat and rolled his head around his shoulders as he drove in an effort to wake up. "Almost there, Sam." Dean looked over when there was no answer and chuckled. His little brother was asleep with his head leaned toward Dean and hanging at a funny angle. "That's gonna hurt when you wake up."

Dean eased back in the seat again and jumped when his phone started ringing. "Shit." He dug it out of his pocket while Sam stirred awake beside him with a groan. "hello?"

"Dean. Where the hell are you boys?"

Dean smiled at Bobby's gruff voice over the tinny speaker of his cell phone. "About ten minutes from an uncomfortable motel bed. Why?"

Bobby snorted. "You just couldn't pass up that diner with the fresh pie sign in the window, could ya'?"

Dean grinned. "Like I'm gonna miss out on... wait a minute." he scowled in confusion. "How'd you know about the diner and the pie?"

"'Cause me and my beater truck left you boys in the dust two hours back." Bobby laughed. "Moonlight Motel. You boys are in room twelve. The game's changed a little and you need backup. Get your asses in gear."

Dean stared at his phone after Bobby hung up and put it away with a fond laugh. "Hey, wake up, princess."

"Shuddup. I'm awake." Sam groaned again and tried to rub the ache out of his neck. "What'd Bobby want?"

"To tell us we're slow," Dean said with a chuckle. "He got here ahead of us."

"Huh." Sam straightened in the seat with a frown. "That can't be good."

"About to find out." Dean pulled in beneath the glowing blue sign of the Moonlight Motel and spotted Bobby's truck down at the end. He drove in, pulled up beside it, and parked.

Sam climbed out and stretched his arms over his head as the door to room thirteen opened and Bobby appeared. "Hey, Bobby."

"Nice of you boys to join the party," Bobby greeted with a smile.

"What's going on?" Sam caught the duffel Dean tossed him from the trunk.

"This is you," Bobby went to the door beside his own and used the key to open it. "What's goin' on is we got us a dead park ranger now along with the kid he was looking for."

"Crap," Dean groaned with feeling and followed his brother into the room. He stopped and groaned again more loudly. "Oh, hell no."

Sam chuckled. He hadn't turned the lights on yet, but the room was decorated in glow-in-the-dark crescent moons on all the walls and the ceiling; so many, they provided their own light. "This is..." Sam shook his head. "I may have nightmares."

Bobby laughed. "Bathroom's worse."

"Awesome." Dean reached over and slapped the lights on. The army of glow-in-the-dark stickers faded away to be replaced with light blue walls and silver trim, blue bedspreads with their own cadre of small moons, and on top of the little television stood a stuffed raccoon, posed as though it were a snarling bear on its hind legs and ready to make a kill. Dean laughed. "Hey, Sammy. You get lonely tonight, you can cuddle Rocky."

"Please grow up," Sam said wearily and ignored his brother's ridiculous grin as Dean went over to pat the raccoon's head. He tossed his duffel onto the far bed and looked over at Bobby. "What happened?"

Bobby sighed and pulled up a chair from the little table beside the television. He scrubbed a hand through his hair and resettled his ball cap. "Kid's parents realized he was missing and called the cops. The cops figured he was up at the house doin' the usual crap, went in on a dare or somethin'. Near as I can figure, about an hour after they went in, the local PD passed it off to the forestry service as soon as one of their rangers radioed in sayin' he saw a kid trampin' around this old mansion up in the hills. He radioed out for help that the kid was hurt bad and some kind of mutant bear thing was chasing them." Bobby nodded at the looks of surprise and wariness on the boys' faces. "Whatever it was caught up with him." he sighed. "With them both. They were dropped a couple stories out a window onto pavement."

"Well, so much for that witness statement." Dean kicked off his boots and opened his duffel to dig through for his trusty fed suit. "Hope they've got more info on file at the police station."

"Mutant bear thing?" Sam shrugged off his jacket and pulled his own suit from his bag. "I really need to see the bodies."

Bobby nodded. "Figured you'd say that. You head on over to the morgue. Me an' the princess'll hit up the local cop shop for their reports."

"Hey!" Dean protested and flicked his little brother his middle finger when he caught him chuckling. "I am not a princess, dammit!"

"Uh huh. Gear up." Bobby smirked and ducked out of their room for his own and a change of clothes.

"Shut it, Sammy," Dean warned and took his suit into the bathroom. "I hear one comment, just one!"

Sam raised his hands and swallowed hard around his laughter. "I'm just gonna... uh... yeah." He rubbed a hand over his face and quickly donned his suit. He tugged at the tie around his neck and stepped back out of the room to knock on the door next to theirs. "Hey, Bobby?" The door opened quickly and Sam smiled. "Can I borrow your truck to head over to the morgue?"

"Yeah, sure." Bobby reached in to the table beside the near bed and grabbed the keys, tossing them to Sam. "Try not to get in any trouble."

"Bobby, I always try," Sam said easily and backed away toward the Singer Salvage truck. "It just always seems to find me anyway."

Bobby rolled his eyes and smiled. "Yeah, I know it. We'll meet back here in an hour, pool our info, and get some sleep before we head out to the house."

"Got it." Sam pulled open the truck's door and stepped up into the cab. "Hey, you better let Dean grab some beer or something on the way back or you'll have to listen to him whine." Sam barked a laugh as a muffled shout of 'I heard that!' came from their room.

"Boy, you better run," Bobby said with a chuckle and watched Sam pull away hastily before his big brother could catch him.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean and Bobby looked up as the motel room door opened. Dean sighed. There was no mistaking the grim look on his brother's face as Sam stepped inside, closing it behind him. "That bad, huh?"

Sam nodded. He took off his suit jacket and tossed it over a chair. "Mauled doesn't even cover it. Whatever this thing is, it's packing some serious claws." He sat heavily on the end of the bed across from his brother and Bobby and ran a hand through his hair. "It tore their tongues out. The M.E. couldn't be positive if it was pre or post mortem."

"Jesus." Bobby shook his head. "Sure as hell hope those poor suckers were dead before that happened."

"Could be a sasquatch," Sam said and then rolled his eyes when his brother grinned. "Shut up, Dean."

Bobby smirked and then frowned. "I dunno. Those things don't usually go for the tongues. Hell, they don't even usually go for people most of the time, unless they're stupid enough to shoot at 'em."

"What else could it be?" Sam kicked the leg of his brother's chair and then reached over, stealing his half-filled beer.

"Hey!"

"Knock it off, you chuckle-heads." Bobby laughed and stood. "I'm not sure, but I'll know when I see it. We're gettin' an early start." He rose and straightened his vest. "Get some shut-eye."

"Bobby, Sam stole my beer." Dean made a grab for it and missed as Sam headed to the bathroom with a laugh.

Bobby gave a fond laugh of his own, relieved to see his boys relaxed with each other still. "Night, boys."

Dean snorted as the room door closed and pulled a fresh beer out of the little refrigerator. "You find anything else interesting?" he called through the bathroom door as he yanked back the blankets on his bed.

Sam came back out and shook his head. "Not really. Although, I think Bobby's right and it's something other than a sasquatch. What about you? Anything new at the precinct?"

Dean blew out a breath and pulled his shirts over his head, tossing them aside before he sat on his bed. "Nah. The cops kinda blew the whole thing off. They figure it's just a bear, kid shouldn't have been up there, yada yada." He shrugged and drank down half his beer before setting it aside and worked at getting his jeans off. "They pawned the whole thing off on Fish and Wildlife and they're real sorry the ranger died, but they still don't think it's their jurisdiction."

"Awesome." Sam pulled his sleep clothes out of his bag and headed back to the bathroom. "At least we won't be dodging cops while we hunt this thing down."

"Yeah, about that." Dean kicked his jeans off and slid under the blankets. "The forestry service is sending in a team of rangers to find their so-called bear. They'll be here by tomorrow night at the earliest."

"Well, damn." Sam groaned and leaned on the bathroom doorway. "And we aren't going up to the mansion tonight why?"

"Because the locals said the road out there washed out about ten years back, so it's a three-mile hike through dense forest to get there." Dean grinned. "Hope you brought your bug spray, Sammy. You know how the bugs love chewin' on you."

"Wonderful. This just gets more awesome by the minute." Sam rolled his eyes and banged the bathroom door closed behind him. "I think I hate this job."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The hot summer air was thick and heavy beneath the forest canopy. Sunlight dappled the ground from above and made Sam blink to clear his vision each time the light flickered in his eyes. It was a migraine waiting to happen. He slapped at yet another sting on the side of his neck and sent a dirty look to his big brother when Dean snorted a laugh.

"How much farther?" Dean asked with a grin, calling to Bobby a dozen feet ahead of them.

"Should be on it any time now." Bobby looked down at his GPS and back up to the screen of trees. "Friggin' technology. Where's the damn house already?" he muttered to himself. He ducked his head as he broke through the trees into bright sunlight. Bobby looked up once his eyes adjusted and stared. "Whoa."

Dean came out of the trees on Bobby's right and squinted in the sudden glare. He gave a low whistle. "You weren't kidding when you said mansion. Wow."

"Holy crap. No wonder you said we needed backup." Sam ogled the expansive mansion on the rise above them. Nature was slowly starting to claim the age-darkened stone walls with clinging vines, ivy, and moss. "How old is this place?"

"And who the hell builds something like this in the middle of nowhere?" Dean added and shaded his eyes for a better look. The mansion stretched up for four floors with a tower on each side. Half of the windows were open to the air, their glass long shattered, leaving them dark holes into the building's past. The rest glinted dully in the sunlight and gave the illusion of movement behind them. At least, Dean hoped it was an illusion.

They trudged up the rise until they reached the plateau the mansion was built on. Bobby wrinkled his nose when they reached the edge of what had once been a reflecting pond. It reached nearly to the base of the big house. He bent over to look at the water and grimaced. It was choked with weeds and a heavy layer of scum that stank and sent up an even stronger odor, making him cough when he kicked a rock into it. "Gah. Guess the pool boy quit too."

"Geez, Bobby. I think you pissed it off." Dean smirked and pulled his gun out at the same time, his humor fading in the face of potential danger. "How you wanna do this?"

"We should each take a floor," Sam suggested, drawing his own gun.

"That's what I figured." Bobby headed for the doors with his own gun out. "Otherwise, we'll be here all damn day, and we ain't got time for that shit before the rangers show up. I'll take the ground floor and the basement, assumin' there is one, and with my luck, there is."

Sam smirked and nodded. "I'll start at the top." Sam heaved one of the two tall leaves of the front doors open with his shoulder. The aging wood creaked and gave a loud, almost deafening squeal of protest that echoed through inside and out into the still air around them. Sam frowned and turned around to look back out over the stagnant reflecting pool and the forest. "Huh. You hear that?"

Dean quirked a brow and looked where his brother was looking and then he nodded in understanding. "Too damn quiet."

"So whatever it is, it's around," Bobby said with a grim smile and pulled out a flashlight. "And after that racket, it damn well knows where we are. You boys watch your backs."

"You too, Bobby." Sam smiled at him and walked into the mansion. He gazed around the entry hall and shook his head. "I can't believe someone built all this and then it just gets left up here to rot. It's beautiful, or it was." The entry hall was wide, like something you'd see in a castle or one of those really grand, old plantation homes in the south. A wide staircase swept up and curved away to the floor above while a balcony wrapped around the whole of the room, giving it a vaulted ceiling up through the second floor. Tall, narrow windows behind the stairs allowed sunlight to filter through the foggy glass in streamers that lit the vines and moss that had worked their way inside and clung to the crumbling plaster and curling wallpaper.

Dean shook his head and started for the stairs. "Check in on our phones every fifteen. Let's find this thing."

Sam followed him and tensed as the first few stairs creaked under their combined weight. "Uh... let's stay off the middle of the stairs." He moved quickly to the side, near the banister and saw Dean do the same on the other side.

Bobby started off toward the left wing of the mansion and sneezed reflexively as his boots churned up a heavy layer of dust from the floor. "Well, this is gonna be a barrel of fun."

Dean stopped when they reached the second floor and looked over at his brother as he headed for where he assumed the next flight of stairs would be, further down the hall. "You watch your ass, Sammy."

"I'll be fine," Sam said easily and gave his brother a smile.

"Famous last words," Dean grumbled and watched him leave and vanish further down the darkened hall. "I mean it, Sam! You get eaten, I'm gonna be pissed!" Sam's echoing laughter answered him and Dean rolled his eyes. "Jackass."

Sam chuckled as he climbed the next flight of stairs. Each landing had a tall, wide window letting in the early afternoon sun, lighting his way. He watched the stairs as he walked, staying close to the wall and frowned as his boots began to crunch on broken glass. There were signs that someone or something had moved through the layers of dust that coated everything. Sam reached the landing for the third floor and a sinking feeling started in his stomach. The moldy carpet was covered in shards of colored glass that obviously came from the now empty window above it. Spots of what could only be dried blood were splattered over the glass, the floor, the wall and, in some places, had dripped slowly from the window ledge until they'd dried.

"Damn," Sam whispered and knew in his gut that this was where the ranger and that teenager had died. He leaned into the window and looked out and down. More glass and grim pools of dried and spattered blood decorated the flagstones three stories below and he hoped it had been quick. He turned back to the stairs and started up to the fourth floor, now more wary than before. Sam took out his flashlight and balanced his gun with it as he reached the top floor of the mansion and stepped out into a long hall.

Sam startled slightly when his cell phone rang in his pocket and he rolled his eyes at himself. He backed up a step toward the stairs before exchanging his light for his phone and didn't even need to look at the display. "Dean, I'm fine. Just reached the top floor. No sign of the creature yet. Stop worrying."

"I'm not worried!" Dean protested and grimaced. He was worried but it was no fair Sam knowing that. "I'm sweeping the second floor now. Most of these rooms are empty, but something big's been through here. Lots of tracks."

"Yeah; here too," Sam said with a glance at the floor and the large, smudged footprints in the dust and grime. "Go call Bobby and worry at him."

"Shuddup, bitch."

Sam grinned and ended the call. He tucked it back in his pocket and took his flashlight out again. "Jerk."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean rolled out the tension in his shoulders and pushed open another door. He shone his flashlight into the room, seeing nothing but a broken chair and tattered curtains over the windows. He sighed and moved on to the next. "It's like searching a damn castle," he grumbled. He checked his watch and saw it had only been ten minutes since he'd spoken to his brother and Bobby, yet somehow, walking the empty halls and bare rooms made it feel longer. He was heading back toward the stairs steadily and stopped as he heard a soft sound from somewhere ahead of him.

Dean frowned and aimed his light and gun down the hall. "Sam? Bobby?" he called, but there was no reply. His instincts told him it was neither of them, and he let a slow smile spread over his face as the familiar rush of adrenaline began to course through him. He started forward toward the stairs and kept his footsteps light and soundless, all his senses focused on the end of the hall where the noise had come from.

He stopped as he came abreast of the last door and used the toe of his left boot to nudge it open. Dean swung into the room, leading with his gun and the light. It was another nearly empty room with only the decaying frame of a bed against one wall and an old steamer trunk beneath the window on the far wall. He nearly turned and left before his eyes caught on a door to his right. It was tall and narrow and probably a closet, and as Dean watched, it shifted slightly. He brought his gun back up and aimed at the door. He took a step further into the room and froze as something wet splatted onto his outstretched hands around the grip of his gun. It was warm, and Dean watched it slide off the back of his hand with a sinking feeling.

"Crap," he breathed. Dean swallowed and jerked his gun up toward the ceiling as he spun and threw himself backward and, he hoped, away from the thing about to kill him. Something massive and dark dropped from the high ceiling above the door nearly onto Dean's head. He fired a round where he hoped the head was and gasped in a breath as it spun with a roar and vanished through the open door into the hall.

"Holy shit! No, you don't!" Dean scrambled to his feet and out into the hall. He heard Bobby's voice calling from downstairs. "I got it!" he shouted. He ran, following the sound of thundering steps down the hall. Dean skidded to a stop on the landing of the stairs just in time to see the thing, whatever it was, vanish up them. "Shit. Shit! Bobby! It's going up! Sam!"

Dean broke into a run, shoving his flashlight into his pocket as he dug out his phone and kept his gun pointed up in case the creature turned back on him. He dialed Sam's number as he reached the first landing and turned toward the third floor. "Where'd you go, you bastard?" He ran up the stairs to the third floor and moved out into the hall, looking both ways for any sign of it. "Sam!" Dean looked down and back to the stairs and saw clear marks in the dust where the thing had continued up.

"It's on it's way up to you! South side of the house!" Dean started up the stairs again at a run, lungs straining for oxygen as he moved and heard his brother's voice in his ear asking if he was alright. "Just get over here!"

Dean pocketed his phone and used his free hand to steady himself as he reached another landing and started up to the fourth floor. "Hey!" he shouted, hoping to draw the creature's attention to him and away from Sam. "Hey, ugly! Come back here!"

Sam turned a corner and sprinted back toward the other end of the mansion. He could hear his brother's voice yelling now as it echoed along the hall. "Dean!" He kept his gun up as he ran. It slowed him a little, but he wanted to be prepared if the creature made a run for him as Dean seemed to think it was going to. He couldn't see anything between him and the stairs, and Sam slid to a stop as Dean appeared thirty feet away. "Dean?"

"Where'd it go?" Dean panted and turned to check behind him. "You see it?"

"No. Are you sure it came up he..." Sam lurched back and away reflexively as something large roared out of the door a few feet away to his right. "Crap!"

"Sam, look out!" Dean raised his own gun and snarled, unable to take a clear shot without hitting his brother. "Dammit!" He moved to the other side of the hall and tried to get closer.

Sam watched the creature as it rose up before him to its full height. It stood at least eight feet tall, and what he'd thought at first was matted, dark red fur was actually some sort of scaled hide. Vicious, yellow eyes stared down at him, and Sam grimaced as two long fangs descended from its mouth while small drops of drool dripped to the floor. It flexed its hands and showed him long, curved claws, and Sam knew what had eviscerated the teenager. He saw Dean moving closer and to his left and took his shot now that his brother was out of the way.

Sam aimed at the beast's chest, hoping for the heart, and fired. The bullet struck where it should have, but rather than piercing the thing's hide, it ricocheted off and to the left. "Dean!" Sam yelled when he heard his brother yelp and saw Dean stagger into the wall. "Shit! Dean!"

"I'm ok!" Dean yelled and hunched over for a look. Sam's bullet had just grazed along the outside of his right hip; bleeding but shallow. He straightened and ducked under a swing from the creature to reach his brother. "Freak out later! Move!" He grabbed Sam's arm and gave him a shove down the hall. "Go! Go! Go!"

Sam let Dean pull him along but kept his attention on the thing behind them. It was pacing them along the hall, snarling and dragging its claws along the walls but making no effort to overtake them though it easily could. It was playing with them, he realized. "I know what it is," he gasped.

"Great! How do we kill it?" Dean looked briefly in each room as they passed and shook his head each time, seeing nothing to defend themselves with since their guns were proving useless.

"It's a... duck!" Sam pulled Dean's head down as the creature reached for him and they moved faster down the hall. "A mapinguari!" He coughed as a putrid stench filled his nostrils and turned to find the thing only a foot behind them suddenly. "Dean!" Sam caught his brother before he could go further down the hall. He yanked Dean into the room beside them and slammed the door closed as the mapingauri crashed into it with a thump that rattled the aging wood in its frame and sifted dust down from the ceiling. "We can't... can't shoot it," Sam informed him as he leaned against the door and tried to catch his breath. "Won't penetrate the hide."

"No kidding?" Dean said ruefully and used the light streaming through the hazy glass beside him to look at his hip again. It burned, but it was manageable. "Got any ideas?" He startled and pulled his phone out of his pocket when it began to ring. "Bobby! It's up here on the fourth floor!" he snorted and rolled his eyes as Sam was jolted by another attempt from the creature to break in the door. "Yeah, I'm sure. Watch your ass, man. Bullets just bounce off this damn thing. Sam says it's a mop... a moppin... a muppet."

"Mapingauri, moron," Sam said with a breathless laugh. He looked at his gun and then jerked away from the door when a long claw speared through the wood beside his face. "Um... Bobby know how to kill this thing?"

"Beheading," Dean informed him and put his phone away. He tugged Sam over to him and snarled down at his useless gun before putting it away. They couldn't risk shooting if they had to worry about their own bullets coming back to get them, especially not in an enclosed space like the room they were trapped in. "Bobby's coming up the south stairs. He's got the weapons bag and the machetes."

Sam glanced out the window beside them and saw they were somewhere over the entryway far below. "Well, we better come up with something. It's gonna be through that door any second."

"Yeah." Dean ducked a splinter of wood that broke off and shot through the air toward him as the mapingauri slammed into the door again. He went to a closet door across the room and pulled it open. It was empty, like the rest of the house, but he narrowed his eyes and nodded. "Ok." He took hold of a rusted, metal rod hanging in the closet. Dean tore it loose with a grunt and moved back out into the room. "This should..."

The door burst in with a deafening crash. It tore from its hinges and hung at an angle as the mapingauri shoved itself inside with a roar. Dean brought the improvised weapon to fend the creature off until Bobby could reach them and then could only watch in horror as it barreled straight at Sam. "Sammy!"

Sam had only time to gasp in a single breath before the mapingauri slammed into him. He felt something sharp slice into his right shoulder at the same moment the creature's weight struck his chest and knocked all the air from him. He felt himself lifted up as his brother's horrified shout filled the room. His back struck something hard and he realized it was the window as the glass gave way behind him and then he was falling, looking up at blue sky in a dizzying view as the air rushed past him.

"SAM!" Dean rushed the creature as his brother vanished out the window. He slammed the rod into the side of its head and drove it back from the window. Bobby arrived at that moment, brandishing one machete and holding another. "Bobby!"

"Here!" Bobby slid the second machete across the floor to Dean and turned his attention to the creature. "Oh, you are one ugly sum'bitch," he grunted and ducked under a swing from the mapingauri's claws and took a swing of his own. The blade of his machete bit into the side of its neck and pulled out in a spray of blood as the beast screamed a cry so loud it made Bobby's ears ring. "Where's Sam?"

Dean shook his head, unable to answer. He resisted the urge to simply leave and go find his brother. It had been drilled into him since childhood - neutralize the threat first. He ducked quickly and came up with the machete as the mapingauri turned on him. A snarl of protective rage escaped his lips as he advanced on the creature and met its eyes. He saw Bobby getting ready to take another swing, and Dean used his own blade to lunge forward, spearing the point into the creature's mouth between its fangs as it howled. He drove the blade deeper and had to rear back and away to avoid being skewered by its claws. His back thumped into the wall, and the mapingauri went to its knees, scrabbling clawed fingers at the blade holding its mouth open while blood poured out to pool on the floor under it.

Bobby used the advantage Dean had given him and swung his machete with all his strength at the creature's neck a second time. It bit into flesh and through bone, and he put his whole body behind it, turning with the effort. The razor-sharp blade emerged out the other side of the mapingauri's neck in a wash of blood and Bobby stood back, letting the head, now severed, roll free while the body collapsed. "Balls," he groaned with feeling and looked over to Dean. "You alright?"

Dean shook his head and went to the window instead. "No."

"What... where's..." Bobby trailed off as he watched Dean lean out the empty window frame and fear squeezed his heart hard. "Oh, no. Don't tell me."

"Sammy!" Dean leaned out the window and looked down, his heart in his throat. Expecting to see his little brother dead and smashed on the flagstones, he stared in surprise when he realized that the creature had launched Sam just hard enough to send him out far enough that he had landed in the reflecting pool. He was floating there face-down and still, and Dean jerked into motion. "Come on!" He tore himself from the window and ran with Bobby on his heels.

"Is he..."

"No, he's damn well not dead," Dean said firmly, grimly, and refused to accept anything else as they pelted down the hall to the stairs. He thumped into the wall at each landing, bouncing off to the next flight down in a refusal to slow down and quickly outpaced the older hunter. Dean burst back onto the second floor balcony and raced down the curving stairs, heedless of them collapsing under his weight.

Dean sprinted the last few meters out into the sunlight and slid to a stop beside the pool. "Sammy!" He dropped the machete and stepped into the water. Dean wrinkled his nose as the smell of rotting plants assaulted his nose and grabbed his brother's arm. "Sam! Dammit, come on. Don't be dead. Don't you dare." He pulled Sam through the bracken to him and turned his brother over, grabbing him under the shoulders. He dragged Sam out of the pool and onto the flagstones, laying him down.

"Sam?Sam!" Dean's voice was strained with barely controlled panic. He leaned down and couldn't hear if Sam was breathing. "Shit!" He fisted his hands and pressed them just under his brother's sternum hard, in and up. He did it again, and was rewarded when, a moment later, Sam suddenly gasped and then began coughing up mouthfuls of the disgusting water. "That's it. That's it. Better out than in, dude. Come on and breathe, Sam." Dean pulled him up and supported Sam against his shoulder while he continued to cough and gag. He looked up as Bobby appeared. "He's ok. He's... I got him."

Bobby ran a hand over his face and took a moment to lean on the open door and just catch his breath and watch. He let the fear that had been choking him slowly drain away as he watched Sam gasping, coughing, and very much alive hanging on to his big brother's arm like it was a lifeline. "Takin' years off my life, you boys."

Dean smiled and put his attention back on his brother as relief blew through him and made him weak. "Sammy?"

Sam managed a nod and brought a shaking hand up to wipe his face. His eyes were watering and his nose burning with the stench of whatever he'd landed. The smell of his own hand made him groan and put him dangerously close to throwing up. "S'that smell?" he slurred and began coughing again.

Dean snorted and thumped Sam's back a couple times to help clear his lungs. "You landed in the reflecting pool."

"Gah," Sam groaned more loudly and his blurry eyes slowly focused on the fact that he was covered head to toe in stinking algae and slime. "Gon'puke."

"Dude. Two feet to the right and you'd have been a Sammy pancake." Dean nodded as Bobby knelt beside them.

"Not... not helping," Sam gasped and coughed up more of the brackish water.

"You smell like something died." Dean wrinkled his nose, but he didn't move away or let go, just grateful that it hadn't been Sam.

"Hey, Sam." Bobby put a hand on Sam's shoulder and then yanked it back as he felt something slimy against his skin. "Yech. You need a shower, son."

"Need..." Sam coughed, swallowed against the urge to throw up and gagged as more of the water he'd breathed in went down his throat. "G-god."

"Crap. Here he goes. Move, Bobby!" Dean turned his brother as Bobby scrambled aside and held his little brother as Sam heaved and threw up across the flagstones. Bile and dark water spattered onto the ground for several breaths until Sam collapsed back against his chest. "Easy. Easy. I gotcha."

"Creature?" Sam asked in a hoarse voice. He spit, rather than swallow another mouthful of the foul taste.

"Dead," Bobby assured him and knelt beside him again. "Took its head off upstairs."

Dean's humor and relief faded somewhat and he looked up to Bobby. "We need to get him cleaned off and get a look at him."

"Shoulder," Sam said and pointed to his right side. He could feel the burning pain from where the mapingauri had gotten its claws into him before he went out the window.

"Shit." Dean turned Sam slightly to reach the shoulder and try to get a look.

Bobby swallowed his revulsion at the odor coming from Sam and managed to wrangle the kid's jacket away from his shoulder. Beneath, he found blood soaked and torn flannel. "Well, that ain't good."

"M'ok," Sam protested and had a go at sitting up on his own. His head swam and he'd have flopped over backwards if not for two solid arms suddenly at his back to support him. "Damn."

"Yeah, you're just peachy." Dean rolled his eyes.

"Dude." Sam scowled, annoyed at being treated as though he were helpless. He didn't think he was hurt that badly, just a little dazed and banged up. "Not staying here. Rangers are coming. I can walk."

"Boy, you can barely talk in complete sentences," Bobby said repressively but he smiled. "But, you're not wrong. Dean, you two get started out of here. I'll go burn fugly and catch up."

"You sure?" Dean wasn't too happy about leaving Bobby alone, even for a little while. "What if there's more than one of those things?"

Bobby snorted. "Not damn likely. Go on." He helped Dean get Sam to his feet and steadied the younger Winchester when he swayed. "You good, son?"

Sam nodded and managed a smile for Bobby. "Yeah. Hurry and..."

"Watch my ass. Yeah. Yeah. Go on. Git' outta here." Bobby waved them off and headed back into the mansion.

"Ok, here we go." Dean pulled his brother's left arm over his shoulders and started off around the reflecting pond at a slow walk for Sam's sake. "You sure you're up for this?

Sam nodded even as his head was spinning and stayed stubbornly upright. "M'fine. I can... I can do this." As he walked, each stepped seemed to pull on small points of pain all across his back and shoulders. He held his breath most of the way down the hill and into the trees.

"Dude, breathe already," Dean ordered. "We can wait for the rangers, make up a story, and get you airlifted out of here." He shifted his grip on Sam and scowled as his right hand slid through something warm and wet on his back. Dean stopped and tugged up the back of his brother's jacket. "Son of a bitch. Why didn't you say anything?" he demanded when he saw the first of what he was sure would be many open, bleeding cuts from the window. And combined with the disgusting, vile water, those wounds were an infection waiting to happen, and Dean found himself hoping that they still had a stash of the good antibiotics on hand.

"Not that bad. I can do this," Sam insisted and started walking again, pulling Dean along with him.

"Not that bad, my ass!" Dean snarled but he didn't force Sam to stop. The sooner they got back to the car, the sooner they'd be back at the motel where Dean could clean him up and get a better look at him to fix the idiot.

It was less than a half hour later when Dean heard steps behind them, coming fast. He leaned Sam against a tree and held a finger up to keep him quiet. Sam nodded and Dean drew his gun as he put himself in front of his brother. He was fairly sure he knew who it was, but he wasn't going to take chances. A few minutes later, Bobby emerged from the trees at a slow jog and Dean grinned. "Damn, old man. I didn't know you could still move like that."

Bobby jogged up to Dean and slapped him soundly up the side of his head. "Got enough left in me to beat the happy outta your ass, idjit."

Dean laughed and rubbed his head ruefully while he tucked his gun away again. "You set the whole place on fire?"

Bobby rolled his eyes and went to Sam. "Hell no. I rolled it out the window and set it on fire next to the pond. Might help clear the damn air around that thing." He leaned forward and sniffed at Sam before helping the boy ease stiffly up from the tree. "You still smell like the ass end of a latrine."

"Gosh. Thanks, Bobby," Sam retorted tiredly, but he smiled and didn't argue when Dean slipped under his left arm again. He was exhausted and everything hurt, even if he wasn't going to admit to that until he had to.

"Still can't believe you got that lucky." Dean shook his head as the three of them started back toward the car again. It would be a long time before he got that image out of his mind, his little brother crashing through a window before falling from his sight. It made him shiver just remembering it, and he tightened his hold around his brother's wrist even as he gentled the arm across Sam's damaged back.

"Think my luck's debatable." Sam turned his head and sniffed his own shoulder. He sneezed and coughed. "That's just... that's really bad. Wow." He looked over at Dean and smirked. "And now you smell like it too."

Bobby chuckled. He snapped a hand out and caught Sam's right arm when the boy swayed alarmingly in his direction and steadied him. "Easy, Sam."

"Good. I'm good. Sorry." Sam assured both men. "Can't tell if it's the smell making me dizzy or the... if I hit my head. Did I hit my head?"

Dean groaned. "Probably. You were out when I got to you." He let go of Sam's left wrist long enough to hold his middle finger up in front of his brother's nose. "How many fingers you see?"

"Asshole." Sam slapped the offending finger away with a soft laugh and let Bobby take hold of his arm again.

"Well, I can see you two are gonna be a barrel of laughs the rest of the day." Bobby watched them both fondly even as a quick shudder worked its way down his spine for how close he'd come to losing one of them today. He looked away for a moment and swallowed because the truth was, if he'd lost one, he'd damn sure have lost the other soon after. He couldn't imagine Dean not finding some fool way to check out if he lost Sam on top of his dad. He cleared his throat, pushing the frightening thoughts away and smiled again instead as Sam swayed into his side once more.

"Ow," Sam groaned as his right shoulder was jostled. "Stop pushing me."

"Stop smelling like Bobby's old shorts," Dean fired back.

Bobby rolled his eyes. "Boy, I don't wanna know why you're sniffin' my old shorts."

Sam was surprised into a laugh even as the pain hunched him over, but the older men kept him moving. "Don't... don't make me laugh. Ow. Ow."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: E is for Elevator

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

E is for Elevator -

Dean's back thumped against the wall and he slid down it, letting the exhaustion take him for just a moment until he was sitting. "Son of a bitch," he gasped and tried to catch his breath.

"Is it always... like this?" Randy was trying to catch his own breath and went to his knees beside Dean. He shrugged his heavy fireman's coat apart to try and cool down and scrubbed a hand down his face. "I mean this ghost crap. This is what you guys do?"

Dean nodded and swallowed before working to push himself back to his feet. He narrowed his eyes at the closed elevator doors in front of them. "They don't normally piss me off this much. Come on."

"Dean, what are we gonna do?" Randy got back to his feet and matched the elder Winchester's fast pace. "You said yourself you don't know what that... that thing is tied to anymore."

"Oh, yeah, I do," Dean said firmly. He found the door for the stairs and slapped it open. "I figured it out just now." He started down at a fast walk and wasn't surprised that Randy was keeping up with him. "I know how to get rid of the asshole." He looked up at Randy as they rounded a landing for the next flight down. "Gonna kinda conflict with your job description, though."

"Huh?" Randy looked after him in confusion. He considered everything he had learned in the last hour, everything Dean had told him, and slowly realization dawned. His eyes widened. "I should probably tell you we can't do that," he said as he picked up the pace to catch up to Dean and his voice lowered. "Not going to. You just tell me where to light the damn match. I'm in."

Dean smiled grimly and nodded, moving even faster. "Alright. First, we need to get Sam the hell out of there. I've got an idea." His voice was a low promise as he moved, and he couldn't help but wonder just when he'd let this simple salt-and-burn get so out of control.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

~ One Hour Earlier ~

"You know, I kinda feel bad for this guy," Dean said and leaned back to take a break while watching his brother continue to shovel clods of dirt up and out of the grave. "I mean, there he is just doin' his damn job and trying to fix the elevator for all those asshole tenants, and then they go and ignore the out-of-order sign, use it anyway, and crush the poor sucker under it. That is one sucktastic way to go, dude."

Sam snorted and straightened. He arched his back to stretch the aching muscles and flicked some dirt off the end of his shovel at his brother's chest.

"Knock it off."

"You just gonna stand there?" Sam asked and smirked when Dean snarled and picked his shovel back up. "I feel for sorry for him, but it's still not a good reason to kill four people."

Dean tossed up a few more shovels of dirt and grinned when it clanged into the coffin at his feet. "Bet they're wishing they hadn't decided to renovate the damn building now, huh?"

"The building's been empty for twenty years." Sam shrugged and tossed his shovel up out of the grave. He gave a jump and climbed out beside it, pulling his rock salt loaded shotgun over to him as this was usually the part where the spirit showed up to protest being sent on. He stood and pulled the EMF meter out of his pocket, making sure it was on before slipping it back. "It had to be reopened sooner or later."

"Yeah, yeah." Dean cleared off one side of the coffin and used the end of his shovel to pry the lid open. He kicked it up with a creak of rotting wood and wrinkled his nose. "Dude is musty."

"Here." Sam knelt and handed the canister of salt down to his brother.

Dean grabbed it and quickly showered the bones and decaying dress suit with salt. Satisfied, he tossed the canister back up and then heaved himself out of the grave. He snagged the lighter fluid out of the bag and stood. He popped the top and squirted it liberally down into the open casket. Dean flicked a glance over to his brother as he closed the lighter fluid and tossed it down to the bag. "Seriously? He's not gonna show up for his own funeral?"

"You're complaining?" Sam smiled and stepped back from the grave as his brother lit a book of matches and held them until they were burning merrily.

"Nope. Rest in peace, Walter." Dean let the matches fall and the grave burst into fiery light. He waited for any sign or sound and shrugged when there was nothing as the flames slowly began to die away. "Huh. Well, that was anticlimactic." He sounded almost disappointed.

Sam lowered the shotgun and took the EMF meter out of his pocket to look at it. It was on and though the needle twitched slightly, it did nothing else. He clicked it off and put it away. "I really thought he'd have put up more of a fight."

"Well, let's pack up and go. I'm beat and I need a shower." Dean knelt and quickly bagged up their gear, taking the shotgun Sam handed him and adding that to the duffel. He pulled the straps and put it over one shoulder. He leaned over to his brother and sniffed dramatically. "You stink, dude."

"Do not." Sam gave his brother a shove and looked at the open grave. "Maybe we should fill it in before we leave."

"Nah. Let it burn out on its own." Dean looked around the cemetery and waved Sam forward. "Just another grave desecration for the locals to talk about for an hour. Let's boogie."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean balanced two cups of coffee in one hand while holding the bag of danishes in his teeth as he fumbled with the keycard and finally got the motel room door open. He gave it a kick with his foot and pulled the bag out of his mouth. "Rise and shine, Sammy! I got breakfast!" He stared a little in surprise to find his little brother already awake and up and sitting at the table with his laptop. He'd been sound asleep when Dean left. His smile slowly became a frown as he took in the unhappy look on Sam's face. "What?"

Sam sat back and waved a hand at the laptop's screen and the news article there. "Construction crew showed up this morning and..." he sighed sadly. "... another man was killed in the elevator shaft. We didn't get him. Walter's still haunting the building."

"Son of a bitch!" Dean snarled. He set the coffees and danishes down and dropped heavily into the chair across from his brother. Guilt curled into his stomach though he knew they had no way of knowing. "Bastard must be tied to something in the building itself. That's why he wasn't worried about us trashing his grave last night."

Sam nodded and closed the laptop. "He was crushed in the bottom of the elevator shaft. Maybe they didn't, you know, get all of him out before they closed the building down." He pulled over one of the coffees and took a sip. "According to the news report, the place is closed down again for a day or two. That's the official story. Unofficially, the reporter figures the crew's refused to go back in and they'll have to hire a new one, so that may give us a couple more days to figure it out and lay him to rest for real this time."

"Awesome." Dean shook his head and grabbed his own coffee. "At least we know where to start looking." He scowled. "But I don't like the idea of being in the bottom of that elevator shaft with a pissed off ghost just waiting to drop the thing on us."

"Yeah. We'll have to figure out some way to make it safe while we look." Sam stood and stretched. "I figure we should head over there as soon as possible since the building's empty right now. I'm gonna shower."

"Dammit." Dean scowled down at his coffee and rubbed a hand over his face. "Knew that asshole went down too easy last night."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean pulled up a block down from the formerly abandoned apartment building and stared at the firetruck and several pickup trucks parked in front of it inside the line of police tape. "Dude, I thought you said the place was going to be empty." He waved a hand out the window and looked at his brother. "That is not empty!"

"I don't know!" Sam looked around the rest of the uninhabited street and the empty parking lot and shrugged. "They're the only ones here. Maybe the trucks are just left here from this morning?"

"Damn." Dean pulled the Impala around the corner and parked next to a boarded-up drugstore. He leaned over and pulled the box of fake ID's out of the glove box and rifled through it, coming up with the two he wanted. He tossed one in Sam's lap. "Ok, Safety Inspector Cobb," he said to his brother with a smile and put the box back. "Anyone catches us, we'll just tell them we're checking the structural integrity of the building or some shit."

"Yeah, sure, Inspector..." Sam grabbed his brother's hand and snorted. "... Inspector Reynolds? Really, Dean? You are not cool enough to be Mal."

Dean scoffed. "Dude. Mal's not cool enough to be me. Let's boogie."

Sam laughed and followed Dean, taking the bag they had already prepared from the trunk and putting it over his shoulder while his brother tugged it open and shoved their sawed-off shotguns into it. In truth, Sam thought Dean was right and no one was cooler than him. He'd thought that since he was about three, watching his big brother with adoration bordering on hero worship, and had never completely outgrown it. He smirked, not that he would EVER be telling Dean that. "We good?"

"Yep." Dean put the lanyard of his inspector's badge over his head, letting it rest on his chest and closed the trunk. "Come on. Maybe we'll get lucky and we won't even run into anyone before we can toast Walter."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Because we ever get that lucky." He took long strides across the dirty street and ducked under the police tape Dean pulled up for them. He took in the ten-story building and nodded to the side. "Side door over there and it's propped open."

Dean took the lead and kept his eyes on the front entrance of the building. It was partially obscured with scaffolding and long plastic tarps that swayed and flapped in the wind, but he couldn't see anyone under it. Several of the floors above were open to the air and protected only by more of the plastic tarps while scaffolds and iron beams stuck out here and there like the building's broken ribs. The more he looked at the building, the more he didn't like it. "Why would anyone wanna live in a place like this?"

"Some people like having a home to come back to," Sam said and looked up at the building as they neared.

"Dude. I meant this place in particular." Dean didn't have to turn around to know there was a sad look on Sam's face and he resisted the urge to bristle at the comment... much. "And you have a home. She just has four wheels and a bitchin' engine."

Sam had to smile at that and nodded. "Yeah." It was true, but he still missed his home with Jess... missed her. Some days it was an ache in the center of his chest that made it hard to breathe, and he wondered if it would ever leave him, that feeling of having had his heart ripped out and burned along with her on that ceiling.

Dean reached the door and eased it open. It had been propped open with a brick, and he nudged it out of the way as he stuck his head inside and listened for a minute. "All quiet." He moved inside and further into the narrow, short hall. He glanced up and nodded. "We're in a stairwell. Cool."

"Head down then." Sam pulled the outer door closed behind him and followed his brother onto the stairs. Like everything else, they were coated in a fine layer of dust from the renovations. "There's an access panel for the bottom of the elevator shaft near the old boilers on the north side of the basement level." He smirked when Dean looked up at him and quirked a brow. "Yes, I looked at the blueprints."

"Of course you did." Dean snorted a laugh, amused at his genius brother and, really, he hadn't expected anything less from him. They moved quickly down the stairs and found a padlocked door at the bottom. "Damn. Gimme a minute."

Sam nodded and moved so he could watch up the stairwell in case anyone appeared. He put his hand into his jacket pocket and flicked the EMF meter on. It whined softly but otherwise proved they had nothing ghostly to worry about yet.

Dean slid his picks into the padlock and scowled. "Freakin' Master locks. Hate these damn things." He gently twisted one of the picks, trying to catch a tumbler and closed his eyes. "Pieces of crap that don't even... come on... open with the damn key half the time. There we go." He smiled and gave the lock a tug, grinning as it popped open. He unhooked it from the door and dropped it off to the side before pulling the door open and then coughed as he tossed his elbow over his face. "Jesus. It's hot as hell down here. And what is that smell?"

Sam chuckled and followed Dean through the door. "Probably some dead rats. Wow, it's a sauna down here. I didn't realize they'd turned the boilers back on yet."

Dean jerked his head to his brother's left pocket when the EMF began to whine more insistently. "Maybe they didn't. Let's move fast."

"I hope whoever's in the building right now isn't using the elevator," Sam said softly as they moved down a dimly lit hall. The stifling, damp heat broke him out in an instant sweat, and he wished he could take his jacket off right then.

"I hope the damn thing's not right at the bottom, or keeping us from getting squashed is gonna be a problem." Dean turned a corner with Sam's tap on his shoulder and smiled. "Yahtzee." Ahead of them was a door labeled 'elevator maintenance area'.

"The blueprints said there's an auxiliary control down here in case of emergencies. I should be able to control it and send it up a couple floors if it is down here." Sam reached out and pulled the heavy, metal door open and turned his face away as a stronger wave of hot air rolled out at them. "So, the boilers are in here too, I guess."

"This just gets better and better." Dean stepped through and squinted to see in the low lighting. He reached over to the wall beside the door and gave the light switch there a click. A fluorescent light above them flickered to life, illuminated the room brightly for about five seconds, and then popped once loudly before guttering out into darkness. "Well, that's just fantastic."

"It's ok." Sam went over to where he'd seen the access panel for the elevator shaft and set the bag on the floor. He stripped off his jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his flannel to mitigate some of the heat. "And these..." he turned and looked at a dust-covered control panel to his left and ran a finger through the dust, leaving a trail. "... are the controls." He leaned over and looked at the dials. "It looks like the elevator's up on the third floor right now."

"Ok, good. You stay here." Dean bent and pulled one of the salt guns out of the bag and tucked it under his jacket. "I'm gonna go up and see about making sure Walter doesn't drop it on us."

"I could help." Sam offered but Dean shook his head.

"You stay down here with that in case he goes all 'Christine' with the elevator on me while I'm working." Dean grinned and pulled the door to the hall open again. "And there's water in the bag. No passing out from heat exhaustion down here, sasquatch. I ain't carryin' you."

Sam chuckled as Dean left and found the bottle of water in the bag. "Yeah, you would," he said fondly and looked down at the access hatch. "Waiting doesn't mean I can't get this thing open while he's gone."

Dean reluctantly left Sam behind and moved quickly back to the stairwell. He heaved a sigh of relief as he stepped out of the heat and let the door close behind him. "Holy crap." He wiped the sweat from his face and started up the stairs, keeping an ear out for anyone who might be wandering around. He reached the first floor and cracked the door open into the building itself. The air was cooler out of the stairwell as he moved into the hall and headed around the corner for the elevator. If Sam was right, the car should still be one floor up. Most of the wall along the right side of the hall was already torn out. The rooms beyond were open, some covered with plastic, with the support beams, wiring, ductwork, and pipes visible.

"Now we're talkin'," Dean said with a smile and ducked through one of the open walls into what would eventually be a nice-sized apartment. He went to a collection of steel beams and set his shotgun down on the floor. He grabbed a beam, about as thick around as his thigh, and lifted. He grunted with the effort and set it back down.

"Damn." Dean looked over his shoulder and saw the doors for the elevator and sighed. "At least I don't have to go far." He picked up the end of the beam again and slowly dragged it across the bare wood floor toward the elevator. The noise it made as the metal scraped over the wood was painfully loud as it broke the silence, and he hoped it didn't bring someone running to ask difficult questions.

"Holy crap," Dean panted once he reached the hall and set the beam down. He ducked back into the apartment and quickly pulled up the end of a second beam and dragged it out to lay it by the first with a clang. He stretched, arching his back and then turned to the elevator. "Ok." Rather than press the button, which would bring the elevator down to him and ruin his plan, Dean pulled out a small knife and slid it between the doors. He turned the blade with a grunt of effort and pried the doors apart enough to get his fingers in. "Come... on." Dean wedged them open with the toe of one boot and then shoved one door back, relieved when the door on the other side followed suit. He knelt quickly and wedged his knife into the base of one door and cautiously stood back. He grinned when they stayed where they were.

"Nice." Dean dusted off his hands and turned, picking up the first of the two heavy beams. He slid it along the left side of the open doors and into the shaft, across the empty space. "Crap. Crap." Dean fought to keep the far end of the beam from sinking and falling down the shaft and finally managed to get it across and propped on a girder. He stood up, wiping more sweat from his face and stomped experimentally on the beam. It stayed solid and he grinned.

"Perfect." Dean leaned into the shaft and looked up. He could see the bottom of the elevator car on the floor above and turned back around to grab the second beam. With luck, the beams would be sturdy enough to stop the elevator if Walter the Angry Ghost decided to drop it on them. He slid the second beam into the shaft and angled for the same girder on the other side.

"Hey! What the hell are you doing?"

Dean jumped with the loud voice and nearly dropped the beam. "Crap!" he gasped. The beam began to tip down into the empty air and Dean hastily sat on it to bring it back up. He looked over his shoulder and saw a man dressed as a fireman coming down the hall. "Great," he groaned. "Just great."

"What do you think you're doing? You can't block the elevator like that! Someone might get hurt!"

"That's what I'm trying to avoid." Dean turned back to the beam and quickly slid it across the last few inches until it was secure like the first, then he stood. He raised his hands and tried to appear as non-threatening as possible. "Reynolds. Safety inspector," Dean introduced himself and tapped the badge hanging on his chest until the fireman looked down at it. "This elevator's a safety hazard. Thing could drop at any moment. I'm just making sure it doesn't crash into the basement until it can be properly fixed."

"Safety inspector." The fireman looked Dean up and down and quirked a blonde eyebrow at him. "With no hard hat?"

"It's my day off." Dean shrugged. "But when duty calls..."

"Right. I call bullshit." The fireman shook his head. "Let's go."

"No, look. This is important!" Dean backed up a step and scowled. "The elevator really is dangerous. Or did you miss the part where people have died here... Randy," Dean said, looking at the name tag on the man's chest. He smirked. "Randy the fireman? Really?"

"What?" Randy demanded and rolled his eyes. "So you just come in here alone and decide to toss a couple I-beams into the elevator shaft?"

"My partner's downstairs making sure the elevator's offline." Dean smiled and really hoped Randy would lose interest and get the hell out before things went south. "How many other people are in the building right now? Because it's supposed to be cleared out right now."

Randy's eyes narrowed. His gut was telling him this so-called inspector was full of crap, but the guy wasn't wrong. "Three. The foreman and two of his guys. I'm trying to find them and kick them out until the building gets the all-clear again after this morning."

"Well, you should go do that." Dean smiled again, trying for friendly and hoping it didn't look like the grimace of frustration it felt like. "We're just gonna finish locking up the elevator, slap up some signs and leave it for the repair guys."

"Right." Randy still wasn't sure he believed the guy. "Why don't you give me your boss' name and number. I need to check you out before..." He stopped and jerked his head around as the sound of screams came from somewhere above them. "What the hell is that?"

"Shit," Dean said with feeling. He looked around, realizing his salt gun was still across the hall. He started for it and then froze as the sound of the elevator moving screeched to life from inside the shaft. "Oh, no, no, no." He saw Randy moving to put his head in and look for it and Dean grabbed him. "Are you stupid?" he yelled and dragged the fireman back by his shoulder just as the elevator car dropped and slammed into the steel beams Dean had put in place. Before either man could move, the elevator shot up and out of sight, still with the sound of people screaming inside it.

"Oh, my God!" Randy gasped. "We have to help them!"

"Dammit! Stay away from the shaft!" Dean ran back into the open apartment and grabbed his salt gun from the floor. He was relieved his idea had worked, but he had to wonder just how long the beams would hold out if the ghost was going to start slamming the car into them. He dug his cell phone out of his pocket, dialed Sam, and ran back out to the hall.

"What the hell is that?" Randy demanded and his eyes widened in surprise at the shortened shotgun in the inspector's hands.

"Tool of the trade. Come on. It was going up. Sam! Walter's pissed!" Dean called and started for the stairs at a jog.

"I noticed!" Sam's ears were still ringing from the impact of the elevator car a floor above him. "What did you do?"

"Why's it gotta be me?" Dean smirked and yanked open the door for the stairs. "I'm going up a floor. Gonna see if I can box the car in and maybe get those people out. I've, uh..." Dean glanced behind him where Randy was keeping pace and rolled his eyes. "I've got a fireman tagging along, so you should take care of that thing before someone really gets hurt."

"A fireman?" Sam asked in surprise. "Uh, yeah. Ok. I'm going in to look for the remains now."

"And watch your ass, man." Dean flipped his phone closed and shoved it back into his pocket.

"Who the hell is Walter?" Randy huffed for air, jogging up the stairs in his heavy coat but kept pace with the taller man. "I thought it was just a malfunction with the elevator."

"Yeah, about that." Dean didn't elaborate. He tugged open the door to the second floor and ran out and around the corner toward the elevator. As he reached it, he heard the sound of the car plummeting back down to the bottom and grimaced at the resounding bang before it started screeching into motion and up again. The voices inside had gone eerily silent and he didn't have a good feeling about it.

"They've stopped screaming," Randy said, catching his breath. He saw Dean trying to pry the doors apart and nodded. "Here." He took out one of the screwdriver's he kept on his tool belt and handed it over. "This'll work better."

"Thanks." Dean grabbed it and shoved it between the doors. He put his weight behind it and soon had the doors cracked. He shifted a little to his side to make room for Randy and together, they shoved the doors apart and wedged them there with the screwdriver. "Don't try to stick your head in there again."

"Your idea isn't going to work," Randy said firmly and listened to the elevator rattling up toward the top of the building. "Soon as it shot back up, it'd just knock the beams away and keep going, maybe even tear it up some. You said you've got a partner in here somewhere?"

"Yeah. Down in the basement at the elevator controls." Dean nodded and pulled out his phone. "I don't know if it'll work, but he can try." He dialed his brother again and moved away from the shaft as Sam answered. "Sammy. See if you can use the controls to stop the elevator on two so we can get those people out."

"Won't work," Sam said sadly. "I already tried. The controls are fried. Probably Walter's doing."

"Dammit." Dean groaned and shook his head at Randy. "Then get the bones or whatever the hell is holding him here."

"I'm in the shaft now but I can't find anything." Sam grimaced, shoving through a pile of debris in the corner of the shaft and sneezed. "Lot of crap down here but nothing human."

"Well, there has to be something!" Dean stomped back to the elevator shaft and watched it shoot past them again, listening as it slammed into the beams on the first floor. He heard Sam's loud curse through the phone. "You ok?"

"Yeah. Going deaf, but yeah."

Dean wanted him out of there. He couldn't help envisioning the moment when the beams gave way and the elevator turned his little brother into a pancake. "Sammy..."

"It has to be here. Whatever's holding Walter in this building, it has to be here. I'll find it."

"I want you to get out of there. If you haven't found it by now..." Dean heard his brother gasp as the elevator climbed back up the shaft and held the phone tighter to his ear. "Sam? What's going on?" A moment later, Sam shouted in surprise, and Dean heard a loud thump from the bottom of the shaft and then a groan from his brother. "Sam! Answer me, dammit!"

"Dean."

Sam's voice was too soft, too hoarse. Dean clenched his hand around the phone and started back to the stairs at a run. "Sam, what happened? You ok?"

"Hey! Where are you going?" Randy called. He looked between Dean's retreating back and the elevator and groaned. He took off after Dean. "Hey! There's still people in there!"

"Nothing we can do for them right now but my broth... partner... something's happened." Dean slammed into the stairs and started down them at a run. "Sam! Talk to me!" He waited but there was no reply and he forced himself to put his phone away and move faster. "You and I both know the people in that car are probably dead by now."

Randy bristled at the grim, accepting tone of Dean's voice, but there was little room to argue. "Goddammit." He followed at a run and nearly ran into the man at the bottom.

"Friggin' door's jammed. Casper, you asshole!" Dean shouted up at the ceiling and planted a foot on the wall as he pulled at the door to the basement.

"Casper?" Randy gave Dean room to work and wasn't surprised when his sheer brute strength succeeded in wrenching the heavy fire door open at last. "You're not a safety inspector, so you better start telling me what the hell is going on here!"

"You wanna know?" Dean threw himself into the hall and started running again. "A ghost's been killing people in this building. We torched the bastard's bones last night, but it didn't take, which means there's something here holding him to this damn place, and if we can find it, we can stop him." Dean's nerves were screaming with fear for his brother as he turned the last corner and saw the door where he'd left Sam at last. "Walter Perkins. Died twenty years ago. Crushed at the bottom of that damn shaft, and he's a little pissed."

Randy staggered to a stop and stared wide-eyed as Dean moved away from him. "Ghost?" He frowned. "Wait, Walter Perkins?" He started after Dean again. "I know that name. But, a ghost?"

"Welcome to my world. Sammy!" Dean slammed into the door and snarled when, like the stairwell door, it didn't budge. "Supernatural friggin' lockdown. Come on! Help me!"

"Brother. You were gonna say "brother" upstairs weren't you? Not partner?" Randy asked and threw his shoulder into the door at the same time Dean did.

"Yeah." Dean grunted with the impact, backed up and hit it again. "He's my little brother and I left him down here, and if we don't get him out of that damn shaft, Walter's gonna flatten him with the car eventually."

"Shit." Randy put more force behind his hits until his shoulder and arm were singing in pain, and, at last, the door gave an inch and then another, and between the two of them, they rammed it open.

Dean staggered into the room and squinted in the low light. "Sammy?" He crossed the room and spotted an open panel near the floor.

"Access panel to the shaft," Randy said and pulled out his flashlight. He flicked it on and handed it to Dean. "Let me look."

"I'll look."

"I'm the fireman here, man."

"Yeah, and he's my brother." Dean took the flashlight and ducked down. "No offense, but he needs to see me, not a stranger. Just watch my back." He considered giving Randy his salt gun and thought better of it if Walter's ghost decided to make an actual appearance inside the shaft. "Sam! I'm comin' in!" He crawled forward and wondered how his sasquatch of a brother had squeezed into the tight space.

Dean inched through the tight space, his shoulders pressed into the warm metal and felt sweat pouring down his face from the boilers that were still running overtime. "Sam?" He reached the end of the short shaft and cautiously pulled himself out. He played the light around and easily found his brother. "Shit, Sam." Sam was trapped on the floor of the shaft. It looked as though some giant hand had torn several of the support struts from the walls and wrapped them down and over his brother's body and chest.

"Sammy." Dean looked up, shining the light above him and could just make out the I-beams. The sound of the elevator screeched to a sudden halt somewhere above, and Dean swallowed. "Great." He put his attention back on his brother and crawled over to him. "Sam. Hey, you with me?" Dean eased over one beam and knelt next to his head. He cupped a hand around the side of Sam's face and turned his head up so he could see him. "Sam, wake up. Come on. I need to know how bad you're hurt."

"Dean? You find him?" Randy's voice echoed in the shaft.

"Yeah, but he's out. Stay out there!" Dean patted the side of Sam's face gently and smiled when his brother stirred. "That's it, buddy. Come on. Wake up."

"Mmf. Dean?" Sam's voice slurred the familiar name as he struggled awake and cracked his eyes to find his brother kneeling over him. He took a breath and coughed, slamming his eyes closed as pain and pressure slammed through his chest. "Can't... breathe." He couldn't move his arms either, and that added a whole new level to his panic.

"Easy. Take it easy." Dean soothed and turned his light on the impromptu prison. He set the shotgun down and the flashlight next to it and grabbed one of the beams. No matter how hard he pulled or pushed, it didn't budge even a little, and he knew the ghost was keeping them in place. "Son of a bitch!" Above them, the elevator began moving again and banged into the I-beams across the shaft above. A shower of dust and rust sprayed down on them, and he leaned over Sam's head to protect him.

"Dean! You alright in there?"

"For now!" Dean leaned back and brushed some of the dirt from his brother's face. "Sammy? You hurt anywhere? Other than being stuck? I can't move this crap without getting rid of that asshole first."

Sam nodded. He was taking small, shallow breaths in an effort not to hyperventilate. He swallowed and managed a small smile. "M'ok." He took another breath. "Have to... find it. What's... holding him." He breathed again and shook his head. "Not down here... looked."

"Ok. Ok. You just... hang on, alright?" Dean smiled and patted Sam's shoulder. "I'm gonna figure this out and have you outta here in no time." He made himself move away from Sam and back toward the shaft. "I'm gonna go put a couple more beams across that shaft to keep you safe while I do that. So, you gotta hold on, ok?"

Sam nodded again and tried not to panic as Dean moved away and out of his line of sight. "Dean?" he called and swallowed hard around the lump of fear at being left alone. "Be... be careful."

"Ain't I always?"

"N-no." Sam would have laughed if he could get enough breath for it and settled for closing his eyes instead to concentrate on breathing.

"I'll be back, Sammy. I'm coming back." Dean turned away with difficulty and crawled back into the shaft. Randy was waiting for him and helped pull him out and back to his feet.

"How is he?" Randy could see grim determination and a little fear on Dean's face and knew it couldn't be good.

"He's trapped. Walter wedged him to the floor with a couple struts from the walls." Dean ran a hand through his hair and blew out a breath. "I can't get him out. Come on. We need to make sure that elevator's not gonna break through the beams I put up there."

Randy followed along with a last look over his shoulder at the access panel and couldn't imagine being trapped down there with an elevator car trying to break through and kill you. He shook his head as they jogged back up the hall. "I don't believe it, you know. That it's a ghost. You tell me a living, breathing guy is screwing with the elevator, and I get that. But a ghost? A freaking spirit? Come on, man. There's no way."

"Sometimes people get stuck." Dean tightened his hand around his shotgun and turned the next corner to the stairs. "Maybe they didn't finish something, or, in Walter's case, they just plain died pissed." He squeezed through the door to the stairs and took a couple breaths before jogging up them again. "Usually, we salt and burn their bones and that sends them on to wherever they go. and no, I got no idea where that is, so don't ask."

"But that didn't work this time." Randy was huffing for breath by the time they reached the first floor again. "So you what? Dug up some poor dead guy's grave last night?"

"And lit his happy ass on fire," Dean said with no remorse. "I just wish it had worked. Walter's holding on to something here in the building, and we've gotta find it and torch it to get rid of him now."

"That doesn't make any damn sense!" Randy protested and yet he followed the man, unwilling to let him out of his sight. "Ghosts aren't real! They're just stories, dude!"

Dean spun to yell and reared back in surprise as the EMF meter in his pocket screamed to life at the same moment the glowing and pissed off spirit of Walter Perkins erupted from the wall beside them with a howl of fury. "Shit!" Dean brought up his shotgun and fired as Randy fell backwards in surprise. The salt tore through the ghost and shredded it, momentarily sending him away and buying them some time. Dean cracked the barrels, pulled two more shells from his other pocket, reloaded and looked down at Randy's wide eyes. "Stories, huh?" He turned on his heel and headed for the elevator shaft.

"Shit. Shit. Shit!" Randy's eyes scanned the air where the spirit had been as if expecting it to come back at any moment. Shock made him dizzy. "That... that was a... fuck, that was a ghost."

"Hey!" Dean bellowed and waved an arm from down the hall. "If you're done havin' your little freak-out, how about you gimme a hand!" He ducked into the open apartment and grudgingly set the salt gun aside to grab the end of another of the steel I-beams. He didn't expect Randy to do anything - in fact, he expected the guy to take off screaming like most normal people would - and so he looked up in surprise when the man appeared at his elbow.

"So, ghosts." Randy bent and picked up the end of a second beam. "How do we kill it?"

Dean stared at him for a moment and then grinned. "First we keep him from killing my brother. Then we figure out what's keeping him here and torch it. Let's move."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam panted for breath and strained against the hard metal pressing in on his chest. "Shit," he gasped. The light from the flashlight Dean had left on the floor near his head gave him enough to light to see the support struts holding him down. He gave up trying to free his body and focused on getting an arm free instead, twisting and tugging his right arm. Sam groaned softly, coughing with the need to take a decent, deep breath, and finally his right arm slid loose from the metal.

"Thank, God," Sam breathed. He jerked and raised his tingling arm over his face as the elevator slammed into the beams on the floor above him and more dust and debris rained down on him. "Crap. Hurry... up, Dean."

Sam lowered his arm and wiped his face off. He opened his eyes and watched his breath puff out in a cloud as the air temperature plummeted. "Oh... shit."

The ghost of Walter Perkins appeared in the air over Sam. His glowing face was a snarl of rage as he lowered until his opaque feet sank into the metal holding Sam captive and lower.

Sam's breath caught in his chest at the frigid sensation of the apparition entering his chest. "S... stop. Please." He coughed and struggled as best he could. "Walter... stop. Stop!"

"Left me," Walter's voice groaned into the air and his furious eyes met Sam's. "Crushed me."

Sam threw his head back in distress as the metal binding him became heavier and pressed down upon him. He felt one or more of his ribs compress and then crack with a white-hot, blinding pain. "Ah, G... God. Don't!"

"Alone," Walter smiled and rose back into the air. "Die."

Sam blinked his eyes open and watched the spirit stare up into the elevator shaft for a moment before he vanished. "Dea..." his voice was a bare whisper, his chest having almost no room left to expand. Black spots began to crawl across his vision. "Dean."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean and Randy slid the first beam into place as the elevator rattled its way back up the elevator shaft again. Dean stepped back and watched the car lift out of sight. "I'm sorry about them, the guys in there," he told Randy seriously. He didn't say it, but there was little hope the men trapped in that car were anything but dead after so many trips slamming up and down the shaft. They probably wouldn't even be recognizable, and Dean wasn't looking forward to seeing the bloody aftermath.

Randy nodded and bent to pick up the second beam with him. "I told them they weren't supposed to be in here today. I told them to leave." He shook his head angrily at himself. "They just wanted twenty minutes. Have a look around they said, and... and I let them. I let them."

"Hey. This is not your fault," Dean informed him and groaned with the effort of holding the beam steady as they slid it across. The first two beams Dean had left had actually started to bend under the repeated assault of the elevator car, and he was glad he'd decided to come back up and reinforce them. "You had no way of knowing what was really going on in here, man. This ain't on you."

"Sure feels like it." Randy held the beam steady while Dean angled it to brace it on the opposite wall. He looked up into the shaft and heard the elevator change direction suddenly, not waiting until it reached the top. "Uh, Dean... I think the... I think Walter's onto us. Hurry it up!"

"Yeah, yeah. I got it... almost." Dean heard the car hurtling back down. He felt debris slap into the back of his head as he leaned out into the shaft to get the beam in place. As soon as he had it, he felt Randy's hands on the back of his jacket and he was yanked out of the shaft just as the elevator crashed into the beams again with a thundering sound.

"That was too close," Randy gasped and pulled Dean further back while a cloud of dust rolled out into the hall.

Dean staggered back and thumped against the wall. He slid down it, letting the exhaustion take him for just a moment until he was sitting. "Son of a bitch," he gasped and tried to catch his breath.

"Is it always... like this?" Randy was trying to catch his own breath and went to his knees beside Dean. He shrugged his heavy fireman's coat apart to try and cool down and scrubbed a hand down his face. "I mean this ghost crap. This is what you guys do?"

Dean nodded and swallowed before working to push himself back to his feet. He narrowed his eyes at the closed elevator doors in front of them. His eyes were caught and held by something at the base of the elevator as it rattled up a few inches; it was small, brown, and familiar. It was a piece of bone. "They don't normally piss me off this much. Come on."

"Dean, what are we gonna do?" Randy got back to his feet and matched the elder Winchester's fast pace. "You said yourself you don't know what that... that thing is tied to anymore."

"Oh, yeah I do," Dean said firmly. He found the door for the stairs and slapped it open. "I figured it out just now." He started down at a fast walk and wasn't surprised that Randy was keeping up with him. "I know how to get rid of the asshole." He looked up at Randy as they rounded a landing for the next flight down. "Gonna kinda conflict with your job description though."

"Huh?" Randy looked after him in confusion. He considered everything he had learned in the last hour, everything Dean had told him, and slowly realization dawned. His eyes widened. "I should probably tell you we can't do that," he said as he picked up the pace to catch up to Dean and his voice lowered. "Not going to. You just tell me where to light the damn match. I'm in."

Dean smiled grimly and nodded, moving even faster. "Alright. First, we need to get Sam the hell out of there. I've got an idea." His voice was a low promise as he moved.

"I thought you said you couldn't get your brother out until the ghost was gone?"

"Walter's spending a lot of juice playing whack-a-mole with the elevator." Dean reached the bottom and kicked the basement door the rest of the way open before moving through it. "Should be weakening him by now, at least enough that we can get Sam out."

Dean sprinted back to the control room, heedless of his own exhaustion. Sam didn't have time for him to take a damn breather. Sooner or later, Walter was bound to realize he could just move the beams blocking the car. Dean was sure it was only frustration that had kept the spirit from thinking of that so far. But they were Winchesters; eventually their luck was going to run out.

"Sam?" Dean yelled and dove for the access panel. "Come on, Randy. You can put those muscles to use if you don't mind potentially being flattened."

Randy didn't even hesitate to crawl in behind Dean. "Dude. Fireman. Risking my life to save people is my job."

Dean chuckled as he crawled. "Ours too." He snorted. "Except we don't get parades and medals or calenders."

Randy thought about how he'd first seen Dean and his impressions of him, how he'd instantly assumed the guy was up to no good and realized that must be an occupational hazard for them. The more he thought about it, the more it dawned on him that here were two guys working behind the scenes to try and protect people, risking their own lives for it, just like he and his fellow firefighters, and how often they got nothing but grief and disbelief for it. It frightened him a little to consider doing his job without any support system in place- no backup or police, hospitals, and the like. "Damn," he whispered sympathetically.

"What?" Dean asked, hearing the soft epithet from behind him.

"Nothing. It's... keep moving, man."

Dean took him at his word and crawled out into the bottom of the elevator shaft again. "Sammy. I'm back." He went quickly to his brother and frowned, seeing Sam's pale face in the beam from his flashlight. The frown turned to outright fear as he took in the blue tint to Sam's lips. "Shit! Sam?" Dean dropped to his knees and palmed his brother's face.

"Move. Dean, move!" Randy gave the man a shove and took his place beside his brother. "My job, remember? I've got EMT training." He pulled off his gloves and tossed them aside, then put his fingers to the side of the brother's neck. "Sam?" he asked, but wasn't surprised when he didn't get a response. "Pulse is weak. He leaned down near the young man's face and closed his eyes, feeling the too-soft puffs of air against his cheek. "And his respiration sucks. We've got to get him out of this. He's suffocating."

Dean knelt and took hold of one of the support struts. He planted his feet, bent his knees and strained, pulling up with a roar of effort until at last it shifted. It didn't move more than a couple inches but it was a start. "Get the other one."

"Yeah." Randy left Sam's head reluctantly and followed Dean's example. "We just get this one up... a little more..." he groaned with the effort of lifting the thing, and it felt like something was actively holding it down, pushing as he pulled. "Come... on!"

Dean straddled Sam's chest and grabbed hold of the strut with Randy. Together they inched it upward. He refused to give in and kept pulling until it felt like a pressure valve had been released. The strut suddenly rose, far lighter than it had seemed a moment before and Dean stumbled back, landing on his backside. "'Bout damn time." He scrambled back to his brother, leaving room for Randy and pushed Sam's bangs off his face.

"Hey. Sammy, come on." Dean put a hand on his brother's chest lightly.

Randy took Sam's jaw and tilted his head back just slightly to help him breathe easier and reached back to grab the flashlight. He angled it to see Sam's face better and smiled as the blue tint to his lips began to fade. "He's breathing better." He frowned. "Though not as good as he should be." He looked at the support struts now angled up into the air and back down to Sam's chest. "They might have broken something if they were pressing hard enough on him."

"Shit." Dean shifted the hand on Sam's chest and began carefully pressing along each of his brother's ribs.

Randy watched Dean check his brother and Dean's movements were precise and professional; clearly something he had done many times before and knew what he was doing. "Just how often do you guys have to triage each other like this?"

"Too damn often," Dean grumbled. "At least two broken on the right side and..." he pressed a little more firmly along the ribs on Sam's left side and sighed. "And another on the left. Damn. Hey. Hey." He quickly leaned back over his brother as Sam moaned softly and shifted his head in Dean's grip. "Sammy. I'm here." He watched Sam's eyes flutter open and smiled. "Hey, little brother. Welcome back."

"Dean," Sam whispered and then slammed his eyes closed when he tried to take a deep breath. His chest was on fire.

"Take it easy. Casper broke some of your ribs, but we're getting you out," Dean said and then threw himself over Sam's head when the elevator car crashed into the beams across the shaft above them again. This time, it was accompanied by a screech of metal and all Dean's plans of carefully carrying Sam out of there evaporated. "We gotta move him. Now."

"Dean, with those ribs..." Randy started and then shook his head. "You're right. Yeah."

"I'm gonna take his head and shoulders and pull him through the access panel. You get his legs. Sammy?" Dean palmed his brother's face again. "Need you to keep breathing, buddy, ok? This is gonna hurt like a bitch, but we're running out of time here."

Sam nodded silently. He took in as big a breath as he could and still cried out in agony when Dean shifted and lifted his upper body from the floor. The feeling of his broken ribs grinding inside his chest came close to making him pass out again.

Dean gritted his teeth and kept moving as the car slammed again above them. He backed into the access tunnel, pulling Sam with him and jumped when the first steel I-beam fell from above and into the bottom of the shaft.

"Shit!" Randy leaped back and away from Sam's legs as one of the beams they'd placed on the floor above crashed down beside him. "I think he figured it out! Move!"

Dean pulled harder, wincing in sympathy with every pained, gasping cry Sam gave as they moved. "Randy, hurry the hell up and get in here!"

Randy pushed Sam's legs ahead of him and all but dove into the shaft beside them as another beam banged and rattled down the shaft to the bottom. He felt the passing of air against his feet as it barely missed him and blew out a relieved breath. "Holy shit. I'm gonna die."

"You are if you don't move your ass. Come on. Little further, Sammy." Dean spoke calmly to his brother and backed out of the tunnel. He sat on the other side and pushed with his feet against the wall while he tugged on Sam's upper body and soon had a lap full of gasping, red-faced little brother. Dean wrapped his arms carefully over his brother's chest and held on to him. "Ok, easy. That's it. You're out. Just breathe, Sammy. Breathe. You got this."

Randy climbed out, nudging Sam's legs into a slightly less uncomfortable position on the floor and dropped to sit with a thump beside the men. "So. That was exciting."

Dean chuckled in relief and nodded. "Gonna get more exciting in a minute." He bent down to his brother and waited for Sam's eyes to open at last. "How you doin'? Think you can move if we help you?" There was little choice. He needed Sam to be able to get his on feet just long enough to get out of the building. As he expected, Sam swallowed hard once and gave him a nod. "That's my boy."

"Just... just... help me up." Sam wanted nothing more than to curl up and never move again, but he knew they didn't have that luxury and it wasn't like this was his first time playing injured with broken ribs. "Can help."

"Nope. You just need to be walkin'. That's all. Help me get him up." Dean slid out from under his brother's torso and locked his arms over his chest, careful to not put pressure on the broken ribs.

Randy shook his head in admiration as Sam didn't even argue; just gritted his teeth and prepared to move through the pain. "You two are something else."

Sam's brow furrowed a bit and he glanced quizzically at Dean as Randy moved beside him and took a position to help him up. No matter how bad things got, they usually made sure to not involve others in a hunt, especially one that had rapidly gone from simple to deadly in short order.

"Later," Dean cut off the question. He shot Randy a grateful nod, while at the same time indicating they were ready to move.

"I know what he's attached too." Dean told his brother as they lifted him and Sam's whimpers of agony filled the dimly lit room. "It's the damn elevator car. There's a piece of bone lodged in the bottom of the thing. Saw it upstairs the last time he tried to smash us with it."

"How..." Sam's voice cut out as a particularly painful twinge from his ribs rippled through him.

"I'm gonna torch the whole damn thing." Dean told his brother, knowing what it was he was asking. "Fireman Randy here's gonna help me, aren't ya?"

"Oh, yeah." Randy smiled at the surprised look on Sam's face as they got him standing and leaned him against the wall by the door. "I, uh... saw him upstairs. Once the shock wore off..." he chuckled but sobered quickly. "There are people in that elevator car." He swallowed and shook his head. "There were."

"Oh, God." Sam hung his head in sorrow. "How... how many?"

"Three." Randy put a gentle hand on Sam's shoulder. "Not your fault." He looked up and met Dean's understanding gaze. "Or mine. And we're gonna make sure Walter doesn't kill anyone else ever again, right?"

"Damn right. Sammy, you stay here. Just stay standing. This won't take long." Dean squeezed the back of Sam's neck once and went back to the access panel and their bag of supplies still sitting next to it. "Just so happens, we came prepared."

Randy left Sam there and went to kneel beside Dean. "So, what's the plan?" He slammed his hands over his ears as the third of the four beams was toppled from above with a loud clangor, echoing out into the room.

Dean pulled out a small bundle wrapped in one of his old t-shirts and held it up with a smirk. "We're gonna molotov the thing, and I just know this old building's gonna go up like a roman candle."

"Holy shit." Randy watched Dean unwrap the shirt to reveal an old bourbon bottle filled with something incredibly flammable, knowing Dean as he now did.

Dean unscrewed the cap from the bottle and tossed it aside. He took a corner of the old shirt and began working it down into the neck of the bottle as a makeshift fuse. "There's another one in there. Grab it and do what I'm doing."

Randy nodded and dug in the bag, easily finding the second bottle. "With all the walls torn out in this place and the exposed insulation all over..." He started threading a corner of the shirt into the bottle with a frown of concentration. "... this whole building is going to go up fast. We aren't going to have a lot of time to get out."

"We carry him if we have to," Dean said with a glance toward his brother by the door. He gave Randy a pointed look. "Whatever happens, Sam gets out."

Randy nodded,understanding, and held up his bottle. "That good?"

"Yep." Dean shouldered the bag quickly and pulled out his Zippo as the last of the I-beams banged into the shaft beyond them. "You ready?"

"Yeah." Randy held the bottle out. "Light me up."

Dean flicked the wheel on the Zippo and held the flame out. They lit the fuses on their bottles and Dean leaned down to wing his through the access shaft. He saw it clatter and roll and fall out of sight into the shaft and moved aside. "Your turn. Get it in there." He went to his brother and slid one of Sam's arms over his shoulders while he watched Randy easily toss the bottle out of sight. There was a soft tinkle of broken glass from the shaft and then a concussive burst of flame. "Time to go."

Randy ran across the room as the elevator car slammed into the base of the shaft. A ball of fire shot out of the access hatch and across the room, nearly taking him in the back. "I think he's a little angry!"

"Won't be much longer." Dean moved Sam through the door and allowed Randy to take some of his brother's weight so they could move more quickly. They were halfway to the stairs when fire alarms began to wail, creating a deafening shrill in the hall.

"Sprinklers are disconnected!" Randy shouted above the noise. "There's nothing to stop the fire!"

"Good!" Dean urged Randy and his brother faster when he heard the distinctive roar of flames behind them. They would travel up the elevator shaft, he knew, and the building would quickly be engulfed. They reached the stairs as the fire began to creep down the hall behind them. Sam was panting for breath in his ear, pale-faced and eyes closed. "Little further, Sam. One flight of stairs. Almost there."

Sam nodded, beyond speech. He didn't have the air to spare for it. The first few steps weren't so bad, but by the fourth and then the fifth, his ability to breathe while his ribs shifted where they shouldn't ended. He felt the blackness coming for him and could do nothing to stop it.

"Sammy!" Dean yelled when his brother went limp between him and Randy. "Shit!"

"Keep moving!" Randy took more of Sam's weight and ducked lower. "Dean, grab my arm and get under him!"

"Right!" Dean ducked as well and between the two of them, they got Sam up in a fireman's carry, lifting until his legs were clear of the stairs. They moved as fast they could, rounding the landing and up to the first floor. Flames licked out into the stairwell below them from the basement and it urged Dean on. He could hear the steady roar of the fire all around them and realized it was already in the walls. Smoke began to fill the stairwell as they reached the first floor, making him cough. "There!" Dean turned them toward the door he and Sam had first entered through.

As they reached it, a roar of sound went through the building behind them. It was a howl of rage that Dean felt in his bones, and then it was gone. He grinned over at the look of fear on Randy's face. "That was Walter signing off for good. Come on."

They emerged outside the building into the hot, afternoon sunlight, and rather than take a moment, Dean kept them moving until they were on the other side of the empty parking lot. "Ok. Ok. Here. Set him here."

Randy lowered Sam gently to the ground, settling the impressively tall man's body while his brother steadied his head in the brown grass. "Should I call an ambulance? He needs a hospital."

Dean sighed. "Yeah. This time he does." He looked over at Randy. "But I'm gonna drive him. I don't want anyone knowing we were here. Cops tend to get a little pissed about things like arson, and I can't exactly tell 'em a ghost made us do it."

Randy snorted a laugh and leaned back. "Yeah. No. I get that. Where's your car?"

Dean looked down at his brother and then at Randy. The man had impressed him in a short amount of time and he decided to trust him. "You stay with Sam and I'll go bring it around. I don't wanna carry his heavy ass a block away."

"Right. I got him." Randy settled beside Sam's head and nodded. He knew that what Dean was really saying was that he didn't want to risk hurting his brother more by carrying him that far. And that Dean would trust him, a relative stranger, with such a precious burden, given the glimpse of their lives he'd just had, was humbling. "He'll be safe."

Dean nodded. He patted Sam's shoulder and stood, looking back at the building. "Wow." The former apartment building was ablaze. Flames shot from every window, every missing wall. They curled around the roof high above and billowed from a spot atop the structure that Dean just knew had to be the elevator shaft.

"Go on, Dean. Sooner you get back, sooner we can get your brother some help." Randy tore his eyes from the burning structure and watched Sam instead. He took the young man's wrist and wrapped his hand around it so his fingers rested against his pulse to monitor him. "I got him."

"Yeah, ok." Dean turned and jogged for the Impala on the next block. He was so tired his legs felt like lead, but he could take time to rest later.

Randy glanced periodically around them as he sat there, sometimes looking at the building as it went up, others down at Sam and he shook his head. His world had drastically changed just in the space of an hour, and he wasn't sure what to make of it anymore. "You guys live one strange life, Sam," he said softly. Randy sat up straighter and leaned over to block the sun from shining directly into Sam's face as the man stirred.

"Sam?" Randy called and put his free hand on Sam's shoulder to keep him from moving too much. "Can you hear me?"

The unfamiliar voice did the job of pulling Sam up from unconsciousness. He cracked his eyes open and looked up at the blonde-haired man above him. "Dean? Where's..." he broke off on a gasp when he tried to sit up and fell back with the man's hands gently holding him down.

"Don't try to move too much, Sam," Randy warned him. "Dean's getting your car. He'll be back any second. Just sit tight. You're safe. We're out."

Sam craned his head when he heard the sound of something big burning, and his eyes widened at the sight of the apartment building engulfed. He couldn't help the smirk as he wearily closed his eyes. "Dean... always over... overcompensating."

Randy laughed and patted the man's shoulder. "Can't say I blame him." He turned his head when he heard the sound of an engine rumble to life and watched as a shiny black classic muscle car eased out onto the street and came toward them. "Damn. That a '67 Impala?"

Sam smiled, hearing the awe in the man's voice. "S'our home."

Randy looked down in surprise and then back up, watching while Dean parked right beside them. "Sweet ride, Dean," he said as Dean climbed out from behind the wheel and left the car idling.

"Yeah, she is. How is he?" Dean knelt beside his brother again and grinned when Sam's eyes opened to look at him.

"M'good," Sam assured him.

"You're full of shit," Dean retorted fondly and took Sam's left arm. "Let's get you up. Have you at the hospital and flyin' on the good stuff in no time."

"Ok, slowly," Randy cautioned as they lifted Sam up. "Try not to bend his torso too much."

Dean nodded, not needing the instruction. They were beyond familiar with how to deal with broken ribs. It didn't take long at all to have Sam stretched out in the backseat and propped on a duffel of dirty clothes. "You good, Sammy?"

Sam gave his brother a thumbs-up and let his head drop back to the window. He cradled one hand over his aching chest and took shallow breaths so as not to aggravate it and smiled. "Promised me... painkillers. Now... now would be good."

Dean chuckled and closed the door. He turned to Randy and reached out. "Thanks, man. You're ok for a civilian." His voice was sincere.

Randy was surprised into a laugh and shook Dean's hand warmly. "You know, it's usually me thinking that. Thank you," he said seriously. "You saved my life in there. I know it."

"You helped me save Sam's. That earns you anything you want from me." Dean pulled a card out of his back pocket and handed it over. "This is our number. You ever run across something hinkey like this again and need some backup, you call me. We'll be there."

Randy looked at the number scrawled on the back of the car and tucked it carefully away in his own pocket. "You boys be careful. And, hey," He looked in at Sam in the backseat and then to Dean again. "You're heroes, you know? Even if no one knows it."

Dean gave a small grimace and looked at the steadily burning building as sirens blared to life somewhere in the distance. "Naw, we're not. Real heroes would have saved those poor suckers in the elevator."

"Dean, there was no way." Randy shook his head in denial. "There was nothing either of us could have done."

"Yeah." Dean nodded and smiled again, though it was small. "Thanks for that." He gave a wave and climbed behind the wheel, pulling the door closed. "You ready to blow this pop stand, Sammy?"

"More... more than." Sam raised his own hand in farewell as they pulled away from Randy. "What do you... think he'll say... happened?"

"I don't know. I'm just glad he was there." Dean looked at Sam's face in the rear view and smiled and felt it this time. If not for Randy, he'd have never gotten Sam out of the elevator shaft before Walter started dropping steel beams on them. He leaned back more comfortably in the seat and headed for the nearest hospital. "Sure hope they've got hot nurses."

Sam snorted softly, careful not to move his ribs too much and reached out, landing a light slap on the back of his brother's head in the front seat. "Have them... kick you out... out of my room."

"As if." Dean turned and followed the blue signs. "Who else is gonna bribe the hot nurses for the good pudding for you?" The smile that graced his face that time was genuine, with his little brother safely laughing, albeit a little breathlessly, in the back seat. "How you doin'?"

"I'm good," Sam assured him and closed his eyes again. "We're good."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: F is for Frozen

Chapter Text

 

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

F is for Frozen -

John Winchester trudged heavily through the snow. He stopped to stamp some of the snow off his legs and checked over his shoulder for his boys. Dean was about ten feet behind him, dragging his feet purposefully and flattening the trail John was breaking, and five feet behind him, Sam brought up the rear. His youngest had his head down and his brother's old scarf wrapped around him like a turban and hiding most of his face except for his eyes. He shook his head and started walking again.

"You boys stay sharp back there!" John called over the bitter wind that blew at them from the left. He wished he could turn and put that wind at their backs, but the thing they were hunting left him little choice.

"Yeah, yeah," Dean grumbled. He stopped, stamping his own feet, and grunted when Sam walked into him from behind. He chuckled and turned, grabbing hold of Sam's shoulder before he could over balance into the snow. "Dude. Eyes up."

"S'cold," Sam argued but he lifted his head and looked up at his brother. He didn't have to look up as far as he had last year, but Dean still had several inches on him.

"Keep movin' and you'll stay warm." Dean grabbed the front of his brother's jacket tugged the zipper. He scowled when it didn't budge from its place half way down Sam's chest. "Aw, what the hell?"

"Zipper's broke." Sam shrugged and moved past his brother.

Dean sighed and looked past his little brother to his father with a grimace. He'd told their dad two days ago that Sam needed a better coat. Hell, they both did, but Sammy came first. "Dammit," Dean groaned and started after his brother. He outpaced Sam's shorter legs easily and took his place in the middle again. He smirked at the angry curse he heard from Sam behind him and stomped down the snow his dad missed.

John stopped his boys an hour later at the top of a low rise overlooking a valley and the abandoned village he'd been expecting below. "Alright, boys." He waited until they both moved up beside him and looked down into the valley below. Some of the roofs of the old buildings were just visible in among the trees, covered with snow and sagging noticeably even from their vantage point. And the sail of an old windmill drifted lazily back and forth near the center of the valley, the sail tattered and flapping forlornly.

"What are we after?" John asked.

"A Fext." Dean sighed, wanting to just go down and find it and kill it already, but he was impatient that way.

Sam elbowed his older brother in the side with a roll of his eyes. "It's a type of undead creature, probably where the whole zombie mythos came from. It's from Slavic mythology, and there are reports of packs of them roaming the battlefields of the thirty-years war in the seventeenth century." He coughed and rubbed a gloved hand over his freezing face. "And the only way to kill them, according to the lore, is with bullets made of glass."

"Glad one of you was paying attention," John said with a hard look at his eldest. Dean only snorted at him and John made a mental note to kick his ass in training tomorrow. "You both have the special rounds I gave you?"

"Locked and loaded," Dean said and pulled his gun from the pocket of his parka. He checked the clip and made sure the safety was still on with a nod while Sam did the same.

"Good. Last intel I had said it was sighted down there in that valley." John waved an arm over the village. "That probably means its got a larder down there, hoarding food."

"Bodies," Sam said softly in a grim voice and looked over the village that no longer looked peaceful and quiet to him. "Human bodies." It looked dangerous.

"Yeah." John dropped a hand onto Sam's shoulder for a moment, a silent gesture of reassurance and encouragement. He knew his youngest boy was still uneasy with the dangers of hunting, but Sam was dealing with it as well as he could, and that was all John could ask for at this point. He felt bad that either of his boys had to be exposed to this crap at all, but better for them to know how to face what was really out there than to remain oblivious and end up dead. But where Dean seemed to take to hunting like a fish to water, loving the danger perhaps a little bit too much, Sam was far more reluctant to embrace the life, and it broke John's heart a bit to have to push him into it. But push he would if it meant keeping Sam alive.

"You boys are going to go in from here. I'm gonna swing around and approach from the north. With any luck, we'll flush it out between us and we can be back in a warm bed before dark." He looked sternly at them both. "No heroics and no splitting up. You two stay together, you hear me?"

"Yes, sir," Dean replied. He had no problem at all with that order. He didn't plan on letting Sam out of his sight until the undead thing was actually dead. "I'll make sure he doesn't faceplant into a snow drift unless I push him in one."

"Knock it off, jerk." Sam shoved away the arm Dean tried to wrap around his neck. "I'm armed."

"Whatever."

"Boys," John said warningly, hoping they would both take such a dangerous situation seriously. "I expect you to both behave and don't screw around down there. This is dangerous. That thing tears people apart. You keep your guns handy, and if you see it, you unload those glass rounds into it. If you can't take it down, you break and run for me. You got it?"

"Yes," Sam replied and resisted the urge to roll his eyes when his dad stared at him. "Yes, sir."

"Alright. Eyes sharp, boys." John patted them both on the shoulder and then took off at a jog along the rim of the valley along the treeline where the snow was at its lowest.

"Ok, Short Round," Dean slapped his little brother on the back and smirked. "Let's go gank this bitch."

"Shuddup." Sam started down the hill, walking sideways to keep from slipping and sliding the whole way down. He didn't need to give Dean ammunition to tease him with.

"Hey. Hold up!" Dean quickly caught up to his brother and moved alongside him. As they neared the base of the hill, he slowed and pulled Sam up as well. He lowered his voice. "Ok, no screwin' around. You stay on me and be quiet. We're lucky, we'll hear it crunchin' through the snow before it finds us."

Sam nodded as nerves overwhelmed him for a moment and just barely stopped himself from leaning up against his big brother for comfort. He knew Dean enjoyed the hunt, but Sam just couldn't find the same joy in it that Dean did. He understood why they did it, and he even agreed because people needed saving; he just wished he wasn't one of the people who had to do it. He moved when Dean moved and kept a bare foot between them as they walked.

Every twenty paces Dean stopped with Sam and just listened, hoping to hear any sound out of place, but so far, all was silent. They reached the first of the low houses, and Dean leaned up for a look through an open window whose glass had long since shattered. It was empty and bare inside but for the shadows. "Come on," he whispered and started around the house, angling for the center of the valley and, hopefully, where their father would be eventually.

Sam's eyes swept the snow-laded trees and buildings around them. Some of the buildings had collapsed partially or completely, leaving lone walls standing amidst the snow or the occasional chimney, tilted as it slowly fell back to the earth over the decades. It was eerily quiet, and that only served to drive his tension higher. He couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched, that something had already spotted them and was even now stalking them as they moved.

"Easy, Sammy," Dean said softly when he saw the tension on his little brother's cold-reddened face. He slid an arm over Sam's shoulder for a moment and stopped them. "We're good. We're not alone, and this bitch is not gonna get the drop on us."

Sam nodded and looked up at Dean, then down at his chest. It bugged him that he couldn't see the amulet hanging around his brother's neck, and he wished he could be ten years old again and just grab hold of it to feel safe like he'd used to. "I'm ok," he said instead and tried to believe that himself as much as he hoped Dean would be convinced.

Dean wasn't buying it, but he appreciated Sam making the effort. "Yeah, I know you are, buddy. Come on. Let's get moving." He tugged Sam into a walk and they moved out from between two buildings into a small open area surrounded by trees. Dean stepped slightly away from Sam so he had both hands free for his gun and moved out into the open space.

Sam stayed as close to his brother as he could, less than a foot back, so he wouldn't foul his aim if the fext did jump out at them. They moved further out into the open area, and Sam turned, walking backwards to watch the trees behind them with a sense of something wrong. "Dean. I don't like this."

Dean nodded. He felt it too. His instincts were telling him danger was near. He looked up at the windmill on the other side of the screen of trees and back down. "Yeah, I feel it. Like it's watchin' us. But where?" He moved ahead again and checked over his shoulder, reassured that Sam was just behind him. Dean turned back and stopped as the ground beneath them suddenly shifted. "Oh... crap."

Sam gasped and staggered to a stop. He reached back and grabbed a handful of his brother's parka with his free hand. "Dean?"

"Just, uh... uh..." Dean swallowed hard. "Back up slow, ok? Back the way we came. Must be... I don't know, ice or something. Maybe a pond? Move back, Sammy."

"Not without you." Sam took a step back the way they'd come but kept his grip on his brother.

"Dammit, Sammy. You need to..." Dean's voice broke off on a shout as the ground suddenly gave way beneath them. He expected an icy plunge into water and was surprised when they fell through open air into darkness instead. He had only a moment to wonder what they were falling into before hard ground rose up to meet him. The breath slammed out of Dean's lungs when he hit, and just as he managed to protect his head with his arms, something heavy slammed into his legs. Dean felt something snap in his right leg and couldn't stop the scream that broke from his chest before the pain took him away into darkness.

Sam crashed down and heard his brother's voice raised in a shout of pain before Dean went silent. The impact knocked the breath from his chest, and Sam spent a panicked minute on his back staring up at the sky above them while he fought to take a breath. Finally, the pressure in his chest gave way and Sam heaved in a frantic, wheezing breath. He rolled to his side and thumped down onto a hard floor. It was at that moment he realized it was Dean he had landed on.

"De... Dean," Sam gasped and pushed himself up. He yelped when his left arm gave under his weight and sent him back to the floor. Pain flared hot and bright along his forearm, and Sam cradled it to his chest while tears filled his eyes and poured over. He could almost feel them freezing on his cheeks it was so cold. "Dean," he panted and got up using his right arm alone. He crawled to his big brother and looked at Dean in the light filtering down from the hole above.

Dean was pale and his face lax. "Dean. Wake up," Sam pleaded and put his good hand to his brother's neck. He could see Dean's chest rising and falling, so at least he knew he was alive. "Dean." Sam ran his hand over his face, dislodging frost and looked around. They had fallen into some large, deep room, and, as Sam's eyes adjusted to the meager light, he saw rows of blocks along one side of the space. He squinted and looked down at Dean. "Be... be right back." He patted Dean's shoulder and got shakily to his feet.

Sam staggered across to the blocks and out of the light. He tugged his glove off with his teeth and put his bare hand to one of them. His fingers slipped and skidded along a smooth, freezing surface and Sam's mouth fell open as he stared. "Oh, no. It's an ice house. We're... we fell into an old ice house. This is bad."

Sam went quickly back to his brother and looked up at the hole they'd come through. "DAD!" he screamed it up as loud as he could. The effort made his arm ache worse, and his voice, rather than echo, seemed to be muffled by the space they were in. "Dammit." He sank to his knees beside his brother again and patted Dean's shoulder.

"Dean, wake up. Please wake up." Sam sniffed back a wave of tears and shook Dean a little harder. "Really need you right now. Dean, please." Sam froze as Dean frowned and he leaned forward. "Dean?"

Dean heard his little brother's voice. He heard pain and fear, and it forced him to wake up. He groaned softly and, as Sam said his name again, he felt himself shaken and slowly opened his eyes. "S'mmy?"

"Oh, my God. Dean." Sam leaned forward and rested his forehead on his brother's chest in sheer relief, the pain in his arm momentarily forgotten.

"Hey," Dean said in a hoarse voice. He brought an arm up and patted Sam's head. The moment he tried to move, pain seared through his right leg and left him gasping and hanging on to the back of Sam's jacket in a death grip. "Crap!"

"Dean?" Sam reared back and looked at his brother. "What's wrong? Are you hurt? Where? How bad is it?"

"Wait. Wait." Dean heaved for breath, trying to calm himself and squinted his eyes open again after a few minutes. "Uh... right... right leg. Don't think I'm walkin' outta here. Holy shit."

"Ok. Ok. Let me look." Sam moved carefully down in a crawl until he was beside his brother's legs and tried to figure out how he was going to check Dean over with only one good arm.

"Sammy? S'wrong with your arm?" Dean narrowed his eyes, seeing the way Sam had his left arm held against his chest protectively.

Sam shook his head and instead took a careful grip on the bottom of his brother's jeans. He pulled the stiff fabric up as cautiously as he could, flinching with every muffled gasp of pain from his brother and finally managed to get a look. The line of Dean's calf under his jeans looked... wrong somehow, and Sam could see trickles of congealing, freezing blood dripping out of the leg of his jeans and onto the ground.

"Uh, it's uh... yeah, your leg's broken." Sam pulled the denim back down and moved back up beside Dean's chest. "So's my arm, I think."

"Shit, Sam. Gimme." Dean reached out, but Sam wouldn't extend his arm. "Sammy, come on."

Sam shook his head, training that had been drilled into him for years taking over. "Gotta find a way out of here. Yelling for dad, it's, uh... doesn't work. This place just eats the sound."

Dean frowned but nodded. "Ok. Where are we?"

"It's an old ice house." Sam shivered as he said it. "Dean, it's even colder down here than it was up there. We have to get out of here. I... I've gotta get you out. Just... stay there." He got shakily to his feet again. "I'm gonna find the door."

"Sam!" Dean wanted to follow him, but he made one short effort to move his leg and ended up panting up at the hole in the roof again instead. "Dammit!"

"It's ok, Dean." Sam moved away from him and toward the blocks of ice. "I can do this," he said more for himself than Dean at that point.

"Gun! Where's your gun?" Dean yelled after him. "What if that fext thing comes down after us?"

"Shit." Sam shook his head at himself and went back to Dean. He spotted his gun and Dean's a few feet away and picked them both up. He handed Dean's down to him. "Ok, I'm good."

"Take the safety off," Dean ordered him. "You don't wanna have to fumble around one-handed if it comes at you."

Sam nodded with the good advice and awkwardly flicked the safety off before he moved away again. It was a little unnerving as he moved away from the only source of light and into the darkness. His eyes slowly adjusted, and he could make out the rows of ice blocks five or six feet high.

Dean watched Sam moving away into the darkness and twitched with the need to be beside him. "How's all this ice not melted before now?" he asked. He needed Sam to speak so he could hear him and know where he was, and to keep his mind off the agony that was his right leg.

"It's because it's enclosed, I think." Sam moved slowly down the row of blocks toward the far end of the ice house. He saw a darker depression in the darkness and aimed for that. "Down here in the dark and, uh, completely enclosed, it'd just stay frozen, you know? Like permafrost."

"Right." Dean squeezed his eyes closed through a fresh wave of pain. "You... you see anything?"

"Maybe," Sam called back. He smiled when his eyes made out the long, narrow shape in the earthen wall. "I found the door!" He put his gun in his pocket, careful since the safety was off, and felt around the old, frigid wood until he felt a handle. Sam pulled on it but it didn't budge. He wrapped his fingers more firmly around it, planted one foot against the wall beside it and heaved all his weight into it. The door opened abruptly and sent Sam careening backward to land on the floor. The impact jarred his broken arm and he cried out, curling around it for a moment as fresh tears filled his eyes.

"Sammy?" Dean called frantically. He pushed himself up onto his elbows, but he could barely make out his brother's shape at the other end of the long room. He saw enough to know that Sam was on the floor. "Sam! What happened? You alright? Talk to me!"

"M'ok!" Sam gasped out and slowly uncurled until he was sitting up. He bit back a whimper. "I'm... I'm ok. I, uh... I fell. Door opened. I'm alright. Just gimme a sec."

"Jesus." Dean dropped back to the floor. It was killing him not being able to help his injured brother. "Just breathe, kiddo. Breathe through it. You can handle this."

Sam nodded but felt more tears fall down his cheeks. He didn't want to handle it. He wanted so badly for them to be normal kids with normal safe lives that didn't involve hikes through the forest in the dead of winter and undead creatures stalking them or broken bones in dark places underground.

"Sam, hey!" Dean leaned back up on his elbows. He could hear his brother's hitching breaths and knew Sam was upset. "We're gonna be alright. Just stay calm, ok? Sammy?"

Sam swallowed the tears back, feeling like a child and sniffed. "Yeah. Sorry. I got it." He made himself get back on his feet and choked down what he saw as his childish fears. He went to the door and took his gun back out before he moved cautiously around it. Where he had hoped to find stairs up to the surface, there was only hard-packed earth collapsed with just two stairs remaining free at the bottom. Sam leaned against the side of the door and fought the need to cry tears of frustration.

"Sam?"

"Yeah." Sam pushed himself away from the door and went back to his brother. He dropped carefully to his knees beside Dean but still managed to jostle his broken arm. He slammed his eyes closed and hunched over, protecting the damaged limb against his chest. Sam startled when he felt a hand tug his hood off and then settled when Dean's fingers slid into his hair in a gesture of comfort.

"It's ok, Sammy. We're gonna get out of here. Dad'll find us." Dean shuddered hard on a wave of cold- and probably shock setting in- and felt Sam shivering as well. "We just gotta wait. Come on. Come're." He pulled gently until Sam slowly curled down and slid so he was lying against him. Dean tugged the zipper on his parka down and turned as much as he was able to hold him. "Put your arm on my chest, Sam. The gimp one, come on."

Sam nodded and oh-so-carefully eased his broken left arm out so it lay on Dean's chest inside his coat. He curled more tightly up to his brother, seeking his warmth and tried to slow his frantic, pained breathing.

"Ok; you're ok." Dean soothed and kept carding the fingers of his other hand through his brother's hair while he held his broken arm steady. "He'll be here soon. When he doesn't see us, he'll know something happened and he'll find our tracks and find us. Don't worry."

"You're hurt," Sam said softly, afraid even speaking too loud would make his arm throb more. "Your leg."

"Yeah; it ain't no picnic." Dean rested his head back on the ground and looked up at the opening above them. His leg was a misery of hot pain and cold chills, and he was pretty sure he couldn't even feel his right foot just then. "But I'm ok. I got you," he said firmly.

Sam nodded his head under his brother's chin. He knew he was being childish, clinging to Dean like he was, but he just couldn't stop himself. It was too ingrained him to seek his big brother for comfort, especially when he was hurt and scared. And it made his heart clench that Dean would still give that to him even though Sam had been slowly trying to pull away and grow up over the last year. He sniffed, feeling tears in his eyes yet again. "Don't wanna do this, Dean."

"Sammy, I told you. Dad's gonna come."

"No," Sam shook his head slightly and opened his eyes to look down at his busted arm and Dean's broken leg. "Hunting. I don't... this isn't me."

"Sam," Dean groaned, but it wasn't out of anger. He knew Sam wasn't happy hunting the way Dean was. He knew Sam found happiness in other things - reading, research. Sam liked helping people, but Dean knew chasing monsters was probably never going to be something he was happy about. "We're Winchesters, Sam. This is who we are."

"Doesn't have to be," Sam whispered. "We could, you know, do something else."

Dean snorted. "Like what?" He grimaced as he shifted his right leg without thinking and worked to keep the gasp of pain to himself. "S'all... this is what we're good at. S'what I'm good at."

"School, college maybe." Sam had been thinking about that a lot lately, ever since he'd seen recruiters in his last school for Cal Tech and Stanford.

Dean tensed. It wasn't exactly a shock that his little brother was thinking about college – the kid was freaky smart and loved learning - but he'd always nursed this hope that Sam would stay with him; that they'd be partners. He took a deep breath and kept his fear to himself. "You'd... you'd kick ass at college, Sammy. But you know, we save lives this way. What we do... it's important."

"I know." Sam did know that. He just wished it didn't make him so damn miserable living with the constant fear that someday his dad or his brother or both were never going to come home. "Forget about it. I'm just... I hurt, Dean."

"I know, buddy. I know." Dean tightened his arm around Sam's back. "Me too." He closed his eyes and tried to focus on pushing away the pain. "Come on, Dad," he said softly.

Dean wasn't sure how long they laid there before he opened his eyes again and realized he'd been sleeping... or unconscious. He couldn't be sure. He blinked gritty eyes open and felt a whimper of pain crawl out of his throat. His whole body was shivering and cold while snowflakes drifted down from above and landed on his cheeks.

"C-c-crap. Sammy?" Dean swallowed and raised his head to look down at his brother. "Sam." He gave Sam's shoulder a shake and could feel the tremors passing through Sam's lithe body against him. "Wake... wake up. Sam!" Dean shook him harder and got no response. "S-sleeping's b-bad. Sam."

Dean groaned and leaned up on one elbow, an effort made difficult with the weight of his little brother over his chest. He moaned as fresh pain stabbed through his right leg and fought against the blackness at the edge of his vision before it could claim him again. He was pretty sure that if he passed out again, there was a good chance neither of them would be waking up. He reached down and shifted his brother's broken arm just a little, just enough. The pain did what he couldn't, and Sam startled awake with a gasp. "Easy! Easy. Sammy."

"Dean." Sam shook hard enough to rattle his teeth and tried to curl even more into his brother but there wasn't much warmth to be had. "C-cold. S-so c-cold."

"I know. I know" Dean murmured and leaned back again with Sam against him and pulled his brother's hood back up a little to try and keep him warmer. "N-no... no sleeping." His teeth chattered in his mouth painfully and he clenched them together to try and stop it.

"Wh-where's da... dad?" Sam ducked his head and pressed his face into his brother's shoulder, trying to warm the burn of cold on his cheeks and forehead.

"Don' know." Dean let go of Sam's bad arm gently. He honestly had no idea how much time had passed while he had been out, but it was long enough for a thin layer of snow to have accumulated, and the fact that John had not found them yet was really starting to worry him. If something had happened to him, too...Dean pushed that thought aside.

"S'comin'. He's coming. He's j-just..." Dean heard the sound of crunching snow from directly above them. He tightened his arm around Sam's back and picked his gun back up from the ground. He made sure the safety was off and raised his arm up. Dean opened his mouth to shout for their dad, and then instinct kicked in. If it wasn't their father, he'd just be letting the fext know they were there and they were too damn injured to put up much of a fight. "Dammit," he whispered and kept his eyes on the hole.

"Dean?" Sam's voice was muffled by his brother's shoulder.

"Stay still, Sammy. D-don't m-move." Dean was sure anything above them could hear their teeth chattering, and every moment their father's head didn't appear or call their names, he got a worse feeling. The sound of crunching snow continued and then stopped. A moment later, a small pile of snow was dislodged from the edge of the hole and fell down into the ice house to thump softly onto the ground near Dean's knees.

"Go away," Dean said softly and fiercely, willing what he knew had to be the creature to leave them alone. "Come on."

Sam felt tension singing through his brother's body, and it wasn't just the cold. His own head was muddled with cold, exhaustion, and pain, but he was clear enough to know that they were in even more danger. He forced himself to move and slowly inched up just enough to get his right arm down to his pocket. He pulled out the gun and rolled more to his side. He bit his own lip bloody to keep in the cry of pain as his left arm shifted, and at last had his own weapon clear.

Dean's arm shook so hard from the cold eating into his bones, he knew he couldn't count on his aim unless the creature was right in front of them. " You s-stay down, Sam."

Sam nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He held more tightly to his gun and watched above them. Another small lump of snow fell in, and then another. Suddenly a small avalanche of snow poured over the edge in a cloud of white. It fell in on them, blinding them and covering Sam and his brother. The cold was even worse, and Sam felt his grip loosening around his gun. He felt Dean's body give a violent shake and then there was a loud thump beside them.

Dean shoved himself up, ignoring the agony in his leg and the cold biting into his exposed skin. He shook his head, trying to clear the snow from his face and saw a dark shape not two feet away from them. It was hunched over and twitching, standing in a strange posture as though its spine were broken. Dean blinked furiously to clear his vision and brought his gun back up as the fext took a step closer. Its skin was like dried leather. It was a pale brown, and its eyes seemed to almost glow with an alien blue light as it leaned closer to Dean's legs.

"Shit." Dean tried to steady his shaking hand as the fext sniffed above his right leg. It gave an odd sort of sneeze and looked back up at him, showing its teeth. It knew he was wounded prey. Dean startled suddenly as Sam's gun fired right beside him.

Sam wasn't going to watch anymore, not with the creature sniffing his big brother like he was dinner. He fired and though he hit it, he knew he'd missed the heart with his shaky aim. "Dammit!"

"Stay down!" Dean wrapped his left arm firmly around his brother's shoulders as he forced his stiff body to move and sit up enough to shoot at the fext. It howled and backed away several steps as the glass round from Sam's gun had wounded it in the abdomen. Dean let off his own shot and cursed as it went wide with the trembling of his hand. He shot again when the fext darted toward him and hit it in the shoulder. It spun around and away into the dark of the ice house.

Dean felt the strength leaving his body between the pain,the fear, the cold, and the exhaustion. He felt Sam leaning more heavily into him. The fext lurked just outside the fading pool of sunlight, and Dean knew it was waiting. It would stay back there where they couldn't get a clear shot and simply wait for them to pass out and then they were dead. "S-sorry... Sammy."

Sam sniffed and let his shaking arm drop to the ground, unable to keep the gun raised anymore. "'least... not d-dying a... alone." His voice trembled a bit, but there was a quiet acceptance that broke Dean's heart.

"Not alone. I got you." Dean pulled him closer, swallowing hard and fighting back the burning he felt behind his eyes, as the fext hissed from the darkness. "S'ok."

A fresh fall of snow slid into the hole, covering Dean's head and Sam's body. Silently, Dean pulled Sam into him and shielded him from whatever was coming as best he could. Expecting a second fext to drop on their heads, Dean was shocked when their father's heavy boots slammed into the ground next to them. He looked up in awe as his father straightened from the crouch he'd landed in. "D-dad?"

"Where is it?" John said angrily and shook snow off his gun. He watched Dean's shaking hand raise and point into the darkness. He narrowed his eyes and saw the dark shape moving among the shadows. "Gotcha." He took careful aim and stepped out of the shaft of light so his eyes would adjust. John blinked and fired three successive rounds into the fext's chest as it suddenly charged at him. Its roar filled the ice house with muffled sound and then it collapsed in a heap. It seemed to crumble in on itself with old, age-whitened bones tumbling out from its skin onto the hard-packed floor.

"Dad," Dean breathed and collapsed to his back, taking Sam with him. He could feel his brother shaking and crying as Sam curled into him weakly.

John went to the fext and kicked the remains, satisfied that it was dead before he put his gun up. He went to his boys and dropped next to them. "Jesus, Dean. What the hell happened?" He put a hand on Dean's shoulder and the other on the back of Sam's head in his hair and startled to feel how cold they both were. "How long have you been down here? We gotta get you out of here. Come on."

"D-dad. Wait." Dean caught his father's hand and held on to him. "B-broke my leg... in the fall." He swallowed at the shock on his father's face. "And Sammy's arm. S'bad."

"Shit," John said with feeling. "Ok." He ran a hand over his face and then shrugged out of his backpack, setting the heavy pack on the ground beside him. "Ok. It's alright. I'm gonna have a look. "Sammy?"

Sam raised his head just enough to see his father and make eye contact, although John could see the glazed-over look of shock in those eyes as well as Dean's. "Dean... D-Dean's hurt bad."

"Yeah, buddy." John wiped snow from Sam's cold-whitened cheeks and smiled. "I know, but we're gonna take care of him. Let me look at this leg, Dean." He tapped Sam's cheek. "No fallin' asleep, you hear me, Tiger?"

Sam nodded and rested his head back on Dean's shoulder. "Yes'sir."

John took out a small knife and sliced up through the leg of Dean's jeans to the knee. He somehow managed to hold in the groan of dismay at the sight. Dean's leg was several colors it should never be, and the broken skin and blood told him that at least part of the bone had shifted and he'd probably see it if he looked a little closer. "Damn," he whispered instead.

"Dad?" Dean asked and saw a moment of fear on his father's face before it was smoothed away and John smiled at him.

"Nothing to worry about, Ace." John dug through his pack and took out a roll of bandage. He wrapped it around his son's leg as gently as he could, and still Dean was panting for breath with a white-knuckled grip on his brother's jacket by the time he was done. "Ok. Ok. Breathe, Dean. Sammy? Show me that arm."

Sam shook his head, no longer having the strength to move. Watching their dad drop in at the last second to save them and destroy the fext... the relief had overwhelmed him. "S'broke."

John frowned in concern and moved up beside Dean's chest. He brushed more snow off his sons and followed the line of Sam's shoulder and left arm into Dean's coat. He pulled it open and tried to decide the best thing to do; cut the sleeve open and risk Sam losing even more body heat or risk hurting him worse to take the jacket off of him.

"Hell." John pulled Dean's jacket back over his brother's arm and leaned back.

"Dad." Dean looked up at the hole and back to his father worriedly. "How we g-gonna get out now?"

"Got it covered." John rifled through his pack again and came out with an old, military issue radio. He switched it on and tuned it to the emergency channel. "Mayday. Mayday. Mayday."

Dean listened to his father reading off their coordinates in a daze. He gave a small smile of surprise and relief when a voice answered and he knew they were going to be rescued. "Gon'be ok, Sammy," he said tiredly and pulled his little brother closer again, too far gone himself to realize there was no response from him at all.

John set the radio aside and pulled a thermal blanket from the pack. He unfolded it and tucked it around his sons as best he could, then laid down along Dean's right side to try and add a little more warmth to them. He propped Dean's head up on his forearm and tucked the neck of Sam's coat more closely around his face. "Won't be long now, boys. Maybe an hour and then a chopper ride."

Dean groaned theatrically. "Don' wanna f-fly."

"Tough," John informed him. He looked over at the remains of the fext and shuddered for a moment before looking away. "Damn thing led me right to you, boys, you know? If it weren't for that thing, it could have been hours before I found you."

"Dad," Dean turned his head, leaning it against the top of Sam's and closed his eyes feeling the darkness overtaking him despite his attempt to fight it. "T-tired."

"I know." John reached behind him and grabbed the radio again as both his sons succumbed to the cold and their injuries, passing into dangerous sleep. "Rescue, you need to hurry the hell up." He swallowed hard. "I'm losing them."

"Half an hour," the response crackled through the radio. "Found a chopper twenty minutes from you. They just have to fuel up. Thirty minutes. Just hold on that long."

John allowed that promise to comfort him at least a little and set the radio aside again, wrapping his free arm back over his sons. "Thirty minutes, boys. You can hold on. I know you can. You're Winchesters. You don't know how to quit." If his voice broke a bit on that last sentence, there was no one there to hear it.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

John Winchester strode slowly down the hospital corridor with a fresh cup of coffee steaming deliciously under his nose. He smirked and sent a wink at the nurse behind the duty desk up the hall in thanks for telling him which staff lounge to find the good stuff in. He normally hated hospitals; hated being in them and hated needing them. Each time he had to drag himself or one of his boys to one, he felt like he'd failed somehow to keep them safe. This time was no different...no, actually, it was worse. He'd come so close to losing them both in that damn hole in the ground. He wasn't sure he would ever forget how icy white their skin had become, how their breathing had slowed as their shivering had stopped, and how he'd been thirty seconds from digging a way out of that ice house with his bare hands before he heard the first rhythmic thumping of the helicopter's rotor as it neared. One thing had become crystal clear to him in those terrifying moments when he had been sure they weren't going to make it – as hard as it has been losing Mary, he now knew with certainty that if he lost his boys, he wouldn't survive; not this time.

"Crap," John breathed and leaned against the wall outside his son's room. He was still shaken.

"Mr. Winchester?"

John looked up from his shoes and smiled at the doctor who had helped his boys. "Yeah."

The doctor returned the smile and patted John's shoulder once. "They're going to be just fine, you know? Dean's leg will heal in no time with the pins we put in, and Sam's arm, well, as long as you keep him from anything too strenuous for a while, he'll be right as rain too."

John nodded and straightened from the wall. "Thanks, doc."

"Speaking of strenuous..." The doctor waved a hand toward the door and chuckled. "I believe I can hear Dean harassing his little brother again."

John snorted a laugh and shook his head. "Yeah. Roughly every thirty minutes. You can set your watch by him. Thanks." He watched the doctor leave and went to the door. Inside, he could hear raised voices. Well, he could hear Sam's raised voice and Dean's laughter.

"Dammit, Dean! Give it back!"

"No can do, Sammy. Might make ya' pudgy."

"Jerk!"

John shoved the door open and rolled his eyes. Dean was balanced on one leg, steadying himself on the side of Sam's bed so he didn't bump the cast on his right leg and holding a cup of hospital pudding up high above his head while Sam glared at him from the bed. "Dean, give your brother back his pudding."

Dean grinned and let the little sealed cup drop so it bounced off of Sam's head and into his lap. "Don't like the butterscotch anyway."

Sam swatted Dean's hand away from his hair and set about trying to open the pudding awkwardly, as most of his left hand was embraced by the cast on his arm, immobilizing it. "Dad, can't you strap Dean into his bed or something?"

"I'm considering it," John said as seriously as he could manage and aimed a dark look at his eldest who had the grace to look surprised and then worried.

"Uh... I was just helping, Sammy." Dean shrugged and hopped back to his own bed.

"Uh huh." John gave in to the smile while Dean pulled himself and his broken leg up onto his bed. "You're not supposed to be up and around without help and without crutches, Dean. If you fall, you could re-injure that leg. Stay on the damn bed."

"Yes, sir," Dean said easily and leaned back, crossing his arms behind his head.

John sighed. The unrepentant look on Dean's face made it clear he had no intention of staying in the bed if he could help it.

"Hey, Dad?" Sam looked up from his pointless battle with the pudding cup and tossed it beside him. "How long are we staying here?"

John nodded and leaned forward. He plucked the cup from Sam's bed and peeled the lid back slowly. "Another day or two, kiddo."

"Wow, really?" Dean asked in surprise. "I figured you'd be busting us outta here prison style by tonight."

John gave a soft chuckle and shook his head. "I thought about it, but, uh, the doc wants to keep an eye on you two for signs of infection or pneumonia." He shrugged. "We can wait a day until he gives the all clear and then I figured we'd head to Sioux Falls. I'm sure Bobby can handle two stubborn invalids for a while."

"Are..." Sam stopped and cleared his throat, watching his dad carefully roll the foil back on the top of his pudding. "Are you gonna stay with us?"

John looked up and shook his head. "Probably for a few days. Got a job to do, Sam. You know that. The monsters don't stop just 'cause we need a time out."

Dean frowned, catching the sad look on Sam's face even as his brother tried to hide it. "Yeah, well. You and Bobby in the same house for more than an hour or two's a recipe for disaster anyway."

John snorted and nodded. "Yeah, it is. You boys rest up. I'm gonna head back to the motel and get some sleep." He stood and handed the open pudding cup back to Sam. "And Dean, stop annoying your brother."

"He'd have to stop breathin' first," Sam grumbled in annoyance. He yelped when a pillow thudded into the side of his head and glared over at his brother. "Knock it off!"

"Boys," John warned and nodded when they both settled. "Behave. I'll see you in the morning."

Dean waited for him to leave and looked over at his little brother. Sam's face was turned down, hair hiding his eyes as he stared at the pudding cup like it held the answers to the universe or something. Dean sighed. Thinking about those final moments before Dad had shown up, when he truly believed that the only thing left that he could do for Sammy was hold him and make sure he didn't die alone, still made something seize in his chest. He wasn't sure Sam remembered everything from down in that ice house, but Dean did. He remembered Sam's sadness and how much his little brother wanted normal. He wished he could give it to him. He wished their dad could give it to him, but it just wasn't in the cards; not for them. Not for Winchesters. He blew out a breath and eased his broken leg back over the side of his bed and got carefully to his feet.

"Dean, what are you doing?" Sam asked tiredly and looked over to watch his brother hop-step to the side of his bed again.

"Getting my pillow." Dean smirked. He snatched his pillow, tossed it back over to his bed and then reached down to pluck the open cup of pudding out of his brother's hand.

"Dude, come on!" Sam groaned. He sat up, made a grab for it and fell half over the side of his bed when he wasn't able to catch himself with his left arm. "Dammit."

Dean chuckled. "Easy, tiger." He put a hand under Sam's shoulder and pushed until his brother was sitting up again. "Fine. Here." Dean gave him back the pudding cup with a chuckle and went back to his own bed, satisfied that he had, at least temporarily, taken his brother's mind off their dad.

Sam settled back against his pillows while Dean climbed back into his own bed. "You're a real jerk, you know that, Dean?"

Dean nodded happily. He looked at Sam as his brother stabbed his little plastic spoon into the pudding like he was killing it and chuckled. "Hey, Sammy?"

"What?" Sam asked angrily and refused to look over at Dean.

"Dude. Let it go."

"Bite me, Dean."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: G is for Guillotine

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

G is for Guillotine -

Laurie Hughes rolled her eyes as she came in the house from work and found her husband's shoes sitting in the middle of the hall. "Dammit, George." She kicked them out of the way beside their son's shoes and took off her coat. "I expect that crap from Stevie, but at least he's five."

She hung up her coat and carefully slipped off her work heels, nudging them into the closet with her toes before she headed for the kitchen. "Stevie! George! I'm home!" Laurie called and frowned when she didn't get an answer. She checked her watch and wondered if maybe both her boys had opted for an early night.

"Don't suppose anyone left me dinner, huh?" Laurie said to herself and opened the fridge. "Of course not." She closed it and then stopped, hearing a strange sound from the living room. She moved into the doorway and listened, realizing that it was a sniffle. "Stevie, honey? Where are you?"

Laurie followed the sound of sniffling and found her son crouched behind the couch in the corner. "Stevie? Sweetie, what's wrong?" She reached down and pulled him gently out, sitting on the floor until she had him in her lap. She smoothed his blonde curls down and brushed her fingers over his wet cheeks. "Come on baby, talk to momma. Where's daddy?"

Stevie sniffed loudly and curled into his mother. He pointed one finger up to the ceiling.

"He's upstairs?" Laurie squeezed her son and rocked him gently. "Why isn't he down here with you?"

"Sore throat." Stevie sniffed again and turned wide eyes to his mom.

"Your dad has a sore throat?" Laurie asked, a little in disbelief and rolled her eyes. "Right. Typical man." She chuckled and stood, bringing Stevie with her until he was propped comfortably on her hip with his head resting on her shoulder. "Gets a splinter; thinks he's been stabbed. Come on, let's go find your daddy."

Laurie trudged up the stairs with Stevie, tired and hungry and ready to tease her husband mercilessly. "George! Where's daddy, sweetie?"

Stevie motioned toward their bedroom and then hid his face in her neck. "Daddy's in a baffroom." he sniffed and fresh tears started to fall, wetting his mother's skin. "He spilled stuff all over a... the floor, momma."

"Right. Ok, honey. Then we'll just make daddy clean it up, huh?" Laurie sighed and walked into the bedroom. She set Stevie on the bed, or tried to but he wouldn't let go of her. "Ok. Ok. Why are you so upset, baby?" She hitched him back up in her arms and went to the bathroom door. "George? You know our son's been crying in the living room for who knows how long? Way to parent, honey." She took the door knob, turned it and pushed the door open.

"George?" Laurie's eyes widened in horror while her mind tried to make sense of what she was seeing. She felt the air seize in her lungs and her arms tightened around her son. George's body sat propped atop the toilet, leaned back against the tank. Blood covered the tile floor around him and dripped with a soft splat-splat sound from the back of the tank. Her eyes were stuck on the floor near the bathtub; on her husband's head and glazed eyes in a paper-white, bloodless skin that seemed to stare up at her. "GEORGE!"

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean kicked in the motel room door, letting it thud into the wall behind it with a bang. "Sammy! Got food!" He went to the little table across from the beds and set the bag and six pack of beer down on it. Dean frowned and saw his brother was in the bathroom with the door closed. "Sam?"

"Yeah! Be there in a minute!"

"Hmmph," Dean shook his head and wondered what exactly his brother was doing so often in the bathroom these days. He started unpacking food, setting burgers out and smiled avariciously at a big, foil-wrapped bundle of chili fries he set on his side of the table. "Dude, shake it off and get out here and eat!" He looked up when the bathroom door opened and Sam appeared. He still looked like he hadn't slept in days, his hair was dripping around his face, probably from having water splashed on it, and he was clearing his throat. "You ok?"

Sam nodded and managed a smile as he went to the table. "Yeah. I'm fine." He looked over the food on the table and quirked a brow. "Did you get any real food?"

"Hey! This is real food," Dean protested. He pointed imperiously to the other chair. "Sit. Eat."

"Don't mother-hen me." Sam chuckled and dropped tiredly into the chair. He picked up one of the two foil bundles in front of him and his smile became real when he saw it was a chicken wrap, heavy on the lettuce. "Ok. This doesn't suck."

Dean snorted and dropped into his own chair. He opened the bundle of fries, resisting the urge to coo at them as chili sauce oozed over one of the sides and grabbed a fork. "I think I found us a job a few hours from here. It hit the local news just because it's so damn weird."

"Define weird." Sam took a bite of his wrap and tried not to look too closely at his brother's chili fries. The sauce had changed before his eyes the moment he looked at it. It was blood now, dripping out of the fries like they'd been stabbed. He stiffened with the sound of a low chuckle over his shoulder and did his best to ignore the devil.

"Guy got beheaded in his own bathroom." Dean grinned when Sam's head snapped up.

"Seriously?" Sam stared for a moment in surprise and then frowned. "Beheaded how?"

"That's the sixty-four thousand dollar question." Dean took another bite of his amazing fries and chewed happily for a minute. He swallowed and drew a finger across his neck. "No one can figure it out. Figure we'll drive up there after we eat and go have a look at the bodies."

"Wait. Bodies?"

Dean nodded and dug into his fries again. He noticed then that Sam was studiously avoiding look at them and saw the tightening around his little brother's eyes that said he was seeing shit that wasn't there again. Dean sighed, annoyed that Sam wasn't talking to him about it, but he let it go for now. As long as Sam wasn't holding a gun to his own head again, Dean would give him some slack. "The dude in his bathroom is the third. Other two died the same way - heads chopped off. One was at work in a storeroom and the other one in his own damn car."

"Wow." Sam sat back and set his wrap down, no longer hungry. "Could just be a serial killer. Not our thing."

Dean shook his head. "Don't think so. The guy who died in his car? All the doors were locked. And the dude in his bathroom was home with his kid. Had the house locked up tight before his wife came home and found him. There's definitely something screwy going on." He took another bite of his fries. "Our kind of screwy."

"Is the kid alright?" Sam asked. "God, he didn't see it, did he?"

"No idea." Dean shrugged. "Figure we'll talk to the wife and find out since she's the closest thing to a witness we've got, her or the kid."

Sam nodded and pushed his wrap away. "I'll start packing us up."

"Dude, finish eating first."

"I'm good." Sam smiled and turned away. He went into the bathroom and started packing up their toiletries. He flinched when Lucifer's hands shoved in front of his face, holding his severed head.

"Heya, bunk buddy! This sounds like it's gonna be fun!" Lucifer chuckled and tossed his head from hand to hand, watching Sam's eyes follow the motion in the mirror before jerking away. "Dismemberment is so much fun. You remember, don't you?" He frowned when Sam ignored him and put his head back on his shoulders, screwing it back in place theatrically before hopping up onto the counter and flicking his fingers at the end of Sam's nose. He snorted when Sam dug his right thumb into his left palm. "Think we've already established that that doesn't work anymore, haven't we? You let me in, Sammy. I'm back, baby!"

Sam groaned and dropped his head, leaning heavily on the counter. "Dammit," he whispered.

"Sammy?"

Sam jumped with his brother's voice in the door and he whirled. "Y-yeah?"

"You trippin' the devil again in here?" Dean asked bluntly. The guilty look on his brother's face was answer enough. "You tell me when it gets bad, Sammy, or I can't help you. We got a deal?"

Sam nodded quickly. "Yeah. Yeah. I'm good." He turned away before Dean could read anything in his face he didn't want him to see and finished cleaning up the counter. He went back out into the room, moving past his brother and pulled their duffels onto one of the beds. "So, where is this case?"

Dean watched Sam, studied the too-cautious movements and shook his head. Sam was snowing him, or trying to. "Two hours north of here in Lafeyette." He grabbed the weapons duffel from the top of the dresser and put it over his shoulder. "You sure you're up for this?"

Sam ducked his head in shame for a moment and then straightened. "I'm fine, Dean. I'm managing. I can handle this."

"Uh huh." Dean nodded and headed for the door. "Don't forget my dirty socks."

"Get your own dirty socks," Sam tossed back. He heard his brother's snort of a laugh and bent to find them anyway, tucked under the side of the bed.

"That's pretty much what he thinks you're good for these days, kiddo," Lucifer taunted and bounced on Dean's bed once before laying back and hooking his arms behind his head. "Picking up his socks and dripping crazy all over the walls."

"Shut up." Sam shoved the socks into Dean's bag and picked up his own. He pointedly didn't look at Lucifer as he left the room.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam stood beside the gurney in the medical examiner's cold operating theater and watched while the man- a short, dumpy fellow with a thatch of black hair-carefully rolled the plastic sheet back from the body. There'd been a time when he would have cringed at the sight of the open neck wound and the severed head lying beside it, but that had been before a hundred and eighty years in a cage being pulled apart and put back together over and over. "These wounds look really clean," he observed calmly as he bent down to look more closely.

The M.E. nodded and swung over a magnifying glass on its bendable arm. He slid it in front of the man. "Here, Agent Reed. Have a closer look."

Sam moved the magnifier into place until it focused and narrowed his eyes as he studied the bone and tissue of the neck. "Not just clean, surgical almost."

"There's very little trauma." The M.E. chuckled at the look on Sam's face. "I mean aside from the whole lost his head thing. It was done cleanly and quickly, and the gentleman doesn't appear to have had time to even put up a struggle."

"He was in his bathroom," Sam straightened back up and shook his head. "How does he not see someone coming at him to cut off his head in the bathroom? Was he drugged?"

"Nope. Tox screens were clear. Poor guy had nothing stronger in his system than a beer with dinner." The M.E. shrugged. "So, the FBI have some brilliant insight here?"

Sam smiled. "Not yet." He pulled the sheet back up over the dead man. "Were the other victims just like him?"

"Identical."

"Damn. Alright. Thank you." Sam waved to the doctor and headed out of the morgue. He rubbed his hands together to try and get some warmth back in them and headed upstairs to find his brother. He nodded to each officer he passed and worked hard not to flinch each time phantom fingers tugged the back of his hair while the devil whistled in his ear. Sam staggered at the top of the stairs when Lucifer's foot snaked out to trip him. He banged into the railing with a gasp and caught himself.

"Whoa, buddy. You alright?"

Sam looked up at a man in uniform and nodded. He straightened and ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah. Sorry. I, uh... tripped." He left the officer quickly and headed through the bullpen to where he'd left his brother. He reflexively slapped away the wet finger that pushed into his ear and hoped no one was witnessing his 'beautiful mind' moment. Sam pushed gratefully through the door to the office and closed it behind him. "Hey, Dean."

"Dude, they've got a whole lot of nothin'," Dean said and tossed the report he'd been reading up onto the table. "Six boxes of not evidence. No prints, no foreign DNA, and no idea what kind of weapon was used other than..." Dean grabbed the report again and looked down at it in disgust as he quoted. "... something really damn sharp." He snorted and tossed it away again. "That's Detective Simpson's expert opinion."

"Yeah, the M.E.'s stumped too." Sam helped his brother rebox all the reports scattered on the table. "The wounds are too clean. These people didn't even put up a fight against whoever attacked them. It's like they didn't see it coming or couldn't struggle. And no, they weren't drugged."

Dean slapped the lids onto the boxes and pulled his suit jacket back on. "Ok. Let's start from our side of the crazy tracks then. This is a dead end. Grab that one. That's all the personal info on the victims for the last two weeks of their lives. Might come in handy."

Sam picked up the box and followed his brother out. They climbed back into the Dodge Charger they were driving that week, and Sam missed the Impala as he tried to stretch in the too-small seat. "I'll have a look through this. There has to be something tying them together. Killings like these, it can't be random."

"Yeah, no way." Dean drove quickly through the city of Lafayette. It was a bigger city than he'd thought it would be, and he almost felt comfortable at the little, out-of-the-way motel he'd found for them. They'd paid cash, and, for once, Dean hadn't used a rock star's name for the check in. Frank Deveraux had given him an earful about being predictable. Dean smirked as he drove. Frank would no doubt raise hell with Dean and call him a moron for staying in a motel to begin with.

Sam let his eyes roam the buildings as they passed through the center of the city and ignored the off-key singing from the back seat. He watched the old, turn-of-the-century buildings as they passed, absently cataloging as he went - state house, court house, coffee house, library, newspaper, museum... Sam jerked his head around and turned in the seat to look back at the museum.

"Dude, what gives?" Dean asked in concern as his brother twisted in his seat to look behind them. "We being followed?"

Sam turned back around and looked over at his brother. "There's a museum back there."

"Ooo-kay. And that's worth whiplash? What the hell, Sam?"

Sam shook his head. "There's a museum and a big banner hanging down the front advertising their newest exhibit." He swallowed and tapped the box in his lap. "An exhibition of French Revolution era guillotines."

Dean's jaw dropped in surprise. He looked hurriedly back to the road at the sound of a horn honking and just barely kept from running a red light. "Son of a bitch."

"Coincidence?" Sam asked.

Dean rolled his eyes. "No damn way."

"The wounds on the bodies, they could be consistent with beheading by guillotine. They're precise and clean, no signs of hesitation..."

"Yeah but how's someone get one of those things into a dude's bathroom?" Dean turned the corner toward their motel. "Hell, how do you get one in a car?"

"I don't know," Sam shook his head. "But if all our vics have a connection to the museum, I say we go have a look."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The Hercheberg Museum was fairly empty as Dean and Sam walked through in the late afternoon. The followed the banners through to the back of the museum, and Dean kept a careful eye on the locations of the security offices and emergency exits. He nodded each time Sam tapped his shoulder and pointed to a camera placement.

"Gonna have to submarine the electronics in this place before we break in tonight," Dean observed after the fifth camera.

"Shouldn't be too hard." He looked around at all the little black domes in each hall and room. "You know, most of these might even be dummies. I'd need to get into the security office to be sure."

Dean looked up at a life size mannequin of some guy in a blue uniform atop a rearing horse and quirked a brow at the rifle the bearded figure was holding aloft. "Dude had taste." He tapped the barrel of the Winchester rifle.

Sam chuckled and then took Dean's arm, pulling him to the left. "There it is. Through there." He stepped through a set of wide, double doors and then stopped to just stare. "Whoa." The room was large with a tall ceiling. It had likely been some sort of conference hall before repurposed as an exhibition room. Glass cases on pedestals and tables of artifacts made the room into a sort of maze with the dark mahogany of the cases absorbing some of the light and making the room seem dimly lit. Spread at intervals through the room and rising above the other display cases like macabre sentinels were guillotines. There must have been at least a dozen, perhaps more, and Sam shook his head.

Dean went to the nearest guillotine and looked at it from behind the ropes cordoning it off. "Sam, I think these are real. Like actually, chopped-off-the-queen's-head real. Check this out."

Sam moved up beside him and saw where his brother was pointing. Dark stains that could only be from mass quantities of blood soaking into the wood covered the bottom half of the guillotine around the neck hole. "So, maybe it's a haunted object causing the deaths? Or a ghost. I mean, there's no telling how many pissed-off souls could be attached to one or more of these things."

"Has to be something more than that," Dean said as he moved around the exhibit, one death machine to another. "I mean, whatever it is, it's following people home. Are they all chipping off souvenir chunks of the things or what?"

Sam shook his head and moved away from Dean to start at the other end of the exhibit. He leaned in near one of the tallest guillotines and looked up at the dull, metal blade hanging high above, wondering if it was real. He moved closer, bracing a hand on the side for a better look. "Huh." Sam stepped back and brushed his hand off on his jeans.

"What?" Dean came over to look as well.

"The blade's bolted in up there."

"Same on the others." Dean shrugged. "Let's see if we can find one that's not bolted in. Or missing a blade. Maybe someone took that." He waved Sam on and went back to the other side of the room.

"We should come back tonight with the EMF and take some readings." Sam called. "That way we can find out which one of them is active."

"Active how?"

Sam spun and looked in surprise as an older man with slicked-back gray hair stepped into view from around one of the displays. "Oh, uh, just..."

"We were thinkin' about doin' this documentary thing for one of Sammy here's college classes." Dean appeared and clapped his brother on the back of the shoulder while grinned at the man.

"College class." The man said with disbelief written all over his face. "I'm the curator of this exhibit. Martin Selwen. You won't be doing any documentary of anything without my approval, and frankly..." he made a show of eying both men up and down from their work-worn boots to their flannels and scoffed. "... you're not going to get it. Look but don't touch, gentlemen, and then kindly stay away from my exhibition."

Dean watched Selwen leave and whistled softly. "Wow. How'd you suppose he got that stick so far up his ass?"

Sam chuckled and pointed up briefly. "Bet you ten he's going to the security office to watch us on those cameras and make sure we do leave without touching anything."

"Well, let's finish checking these things for bolts and blades and get outta here." Dean grinned shamelessly up at the camera and blew it a kiss before turning back to the guillotines. "And when we come back tonight, I'm gonna blow my nose on every display case in here just for him."

Sam couldn't stop the laugh and followed Dean as they checked the last few contraptions and then headed out having found all of the blades intact and bolted in place. He looked over his shoulder as they left and shuddered slightly, seeing Lucifer beside the tallest guillotine, holding the rope and drawing his finger across his throat with a grin as he looked at Sam.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

"Thank you for speaking with us, Mrs. Hughes," Sam said kindly as Laurie Hughes let them into her living room. "I know this must be very hard for you right now."

Dean nodded and sat on the overstuffed couch by the windows while he tucked his FBI badge away. "We just need to ask you a few questions about the night your husband died."

Laurie was pale and sat in a chair across from the men, her hands fidgeting aimlessly together in her lap. "It's been... Stevie's with my mom. He couldn't... he wasn't..." She stopped and scrubbed both hands over her face. "He saw... saw George. Saw him like... he won't go near the bathroom anymore."

"Mrs. Hughes." Sam smiled gently for her. "Did you or Stevie see what happened?"

"No." Laurie shook her head. "No, I just... I found him like that. Maybe Stevie... but he's not... he won't talk right now."

Sam felt for the woman and he handed her a tissue from the box of kleenex on the coffee table between them. She took it and began shredding it slowly without even realizing, as far as Sam could tell. "A few days ago, your husband went to the Lafayette Museum. Do you know if he saw anything strange while he was there? Maybe touched something?"

"What?" Laurie looked up confused. "I don't understand what that has to do with it. George, he always goes... went... to the museum on Wednesdays. He liked to eat lunch there, check out the new exhibits." She sniffed and smiled sadly. "I was always teasing him for being such a nerd."

Dean wasn't surprised when the woman dissolved into tears. He looked over at Sam and nodded at the shake of his brother's head. They weren't going to get anything useful out of her. "We'll see ourselves out, ma'am. Thank you for your time."

Sam stood and set the box of tissues beside Laurie in the chair before following his brother outside. "How does no one see anything when these guys died?" They had spoken to the other two victim's families as well and gotten the same-shock, grief, and nothing useful as far as information. The sun had set an hour ago and Sam shivered at the evening's chill.

"I dunno, man." Dean ran a hand through his hair as they reached the car. "We're just gonna have to figure it out for ourselves, and I know it's one of those death traps at the museum. I don't believe in coincidence."

"Museum closes in an hour." Sam pulled open his door and slid into the car, pulling his door closed at the same moment as his brother. "Give it another hour after that and we should be good to go in, once we kill the security system."

Dean chuckled as they pulled away from the curb. "One power outage coming up."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The museum was eerily quiet as Sam cautiously pushed open the emergency door, waiting for an alarm to sound and smiled when it didn't. He looked over and rolled his eyes at the smug look on Dean's face.

"Told ya'," Dean said happily. He brushed the rest of the dust from his hands and took out his flashlight. "If anyone notices, it should just look like a general power outage. They should really bury power lines deeper. You never know what kind of reprobate's gonna decide to dig 'em up and cut 'em."

Sam chuckled and followed him inside. It was dimly lit with only the illumination from the emergency lights, and also thankfully quiet. "Security guards?" he whispered.

Dean shrugged. "Little museum like this? Maybe one, and he's probably sleeping."

"Not everyone's as lazy as you, Dean."

"Hey! I'm not lazy!" Dean protested and stuck his head out into a new hall as they reached a corner. "I'm selectively energetic."

"Selectively... where do you get this stuff?" Sam asked with a soft huff of laughter. "You've been watching Dr. Phil again, haven't you?"

"What? No." Dean ducked his head away to hide the blush of shame before Sam could see it. "Can we please do our job?"

"Uh huh." Sam didn't buy it for a second. He took the other side of the hall as they moved toward the back of the museum and stopped when Dean did.

"Check it out." Dean's voice was the barest whisper, and he lightly tapped a plate on a door marked 'security'. With a smirk for the sudden apprehension on his little brother's face, Dean turned the knob and eased the door open silently. A security light in the room provided just enough illumination to show a lone security guard sound asleep, snoring and leaned back so far in his chair it was a wonder he didn't go over backwards. Dean pulled the door closed again and chuckled. "Told you."

Sam shook his head and they moved more quickly through the museum now that they knew they were alone. He shone his flashlight into each exhibit room as they passed, but the contents were just dark, backlit shadows in the emergency lights. And ever so often, Lucifer's head would pop out in the beam of Sam's light with that grin that still made him cringe.

"Sammy. Catch up," Dean said as loudly as he dared and frowned as his brother's eyes jerked to his. There'd been fear in them for a moment, but it smoothed away while Dean watched and Sam quickly moved up beside him. "Here." He handed his brother the spare EMF detector.

Sam flicked it on and listened to the low whine. "Huh. It's registering something."

"Not a ghost," Dean said as he leaned over for a look at the reading. "Low level, like background noise. Hell, could be picking up on the damn outlets or something. Come on."

Sam flicked his eyes to the devil and looked quickly away again.

"Come on, Sam!" Lucifer wheedled. He walked backwards in front of him as they followed Dean and reached out to grab Sam's throat lightly.

Sam coughed with the feeling of icy fingers along his skin. He rubbed his hand over his throat and ducked his head, following his brother quickly before Dean noticed Sam was cracking up yet again. He stopped beside his brother at the doors to the guillotine exhibit and went down to his knees to pick the lock. "Just give me a..." Sam trailed off as his hand touched the handle and it turned, clicking the door quietly open. "Huh. Wasn't locked."

Dean scowled. "As protective as that curator guy was and the door's not locked?"

Sam looked at the latch and stood. "The lock might have been magnetic and when we killed the power, it released."

"Yeah, maybe." Dean took out his own EMF meter and flicked it on. "You go right. I'll go left. Keep your eyes open. My spidey senses are tingling."

Sam smirked and moved away from Dean. He held his EMF out to the first guillotine, but the reading didn't change from the low level it was already registering. "Dean. Is yours picking up the same low charge mine is?"

Dean looked down at the needle and frowned. "No. Mine's not picking up on anything."

"Weird." Sam moved on to the next guillotine and worked to ignore the chuckling, humming devil over his shoulder while barely resisting the urge to scratch at the cold fingers scratching at his neck again.

Dean watched the dial on his meter as it twitched beside one of the guillotines but otherwise, made no response, and he sighed. He moved around a display case of macabre, blood-stained baskets that had once held severed heads. He rolled his eyes, seeing that the museum had placed a plastic mannequin head in the bottom of each for effect. "Lame." Dean held out his meter to the next guillotine, and the needle began to twitch. He moved closer. The needle inched further up the dial and then he froze. He could hear the sound of short, ragged breaths coming from behind the thing.

"Shit," Dean whispered. He looked across the room and waved an arm until he caught Sam's eyes. Dean turned back and moved cautiously around the guillotine with his right hand on his gun at his back. His eyes widened in surprise when he found the curator, Martin Selwen, sitting on the floor against the back of the thing. "Uh, Marty. I can exp..." Dean stopped as he got a better look at Martin and swallowed hard. The man had both hands around his throat and blood was slowly seeping out from beneath them, staining the man's white shirt a horrid red. "Holy shit."

Dean dropped to his knees beside Martin and took his flashlight back out. "Hey. Hey. What's goin' on?" He aimed the light at Martin's neck and met his wide, terrified eyes. "Talk to me."

Sam jogged across the exhibition space and slid to a stop in surprise. He tucked his gun away again when he saw what was happening and added his flashlight to give a little more illumination. "Dean? What happened to him?"

"Dunno. Marty. Dude, move your hands and talk to us." Dean tugged on Martin's hands and the man's panicked breathing became a panicked gurgle with bubbles of blood emerging from his mouth.

Dean grimaced and pulled harder. "You gotta let me see so I can help, man. Come on." He pulled a little more firmly and Martin's hands slowly inched away. His skin was pale, nearly white, beneath the blood and Dean's eyes went wide as he saw what Martin's hands had been covering. A thin cut ringed Martin's neck. Blood seeped and ran from as it Dean watched. Martin's head fell back against the guillotine he was sitting beside and the cut gaped obscenely.

"Oh, my God," Sam gasped. He dropped to his knees and stared in horror. Martin's gurgling breaths became even more frantic. He scrabbled his hands, trying to reach his throat and Sam grabbed one while his brother took hold of the other. "Call an ambulance, Dean."

"Yeah. Just hang on. We're gonna get you help," Dean assured him and set the flashlight and EMF down to pull out his phone.

Martin's mouth fell open. His eyes glazed over, and, as they watched, there was a sudden, soft crack from somewhere inside the man's neck and his head tilted unnaturally and then rolled off. It hit the floor with a wet thump and left both men staring in horror.

Sam startled when Martin's cold hand jerked in his grip and he let it drop. "Dean? That... Did that..."

"Son of a bitch!" Dean lowered his phone and stared while blood pooled on the floor and began to spread out toward him. He got to his feet and scrubbed a hand over his face. "What the hell just happened?"

Sam shook his head slowly and couldn't tear his eyes away from the stump of Martin's neck. "It's... it's just like the others," he whispered. "This is how they died."

"A friggin' ghost guillotine? Are you shitting me?" Dean spun away and turned back. "Hey. Get up." He grabbed Sam's arm and pulled his brother up and away from the body just before the blood reached Sam's knees.

"Is it a ghost?" Sam's eyes refused to leave Martin's body, flicking between his severed head and neck. "No," he shook his head, answering himself. "The EMF would have been screaming." He took his back out of his pocket and saw it was still registering a low level of... something. "I don't get it."

"Gotta be one of these things." Dean looked up at the guillotine above the dead man with a scowl. "We gotta figure this shit out." He took his own EMF back out with a last look at Martin. "We'll put in an anonymous call after we deal with this. Poor sucker. He was kind of an asshole, but he didn't deserve this. Keep looking." He watched his meter as he walked away from Martin and the needle dropped, registering nothing. It jumped up again as Sam moved past him and then dropped again. Dean jerked his head around to watch his brother walk away and a sickening feeling fell into his stomach.

"Sammy," Dean called. He walked toward Sam, watching the needle and swallowed hard as it began to rise again the closer he came to his brother. "Shit. Shit!"

"What?" Sam was confused by the almost fearful look on his brother's face.

Dean's eyes rose up to meet his brother's and stopped at his throat, going wide. "What the hell is that? You didn't feel this?"

"Feel what?" Sam asked while Dean reached a hand up to his throat. "Dude, what?"

"Sam, your neck." Dean brushed his fingers over a deepening red line that ringed Sam's throat and as he watched, a few spots began to seep spots of blood.

Sam frowned and felt his throat. He could still feel Lucifer's cold fingers wrapped around his neck and indeed, the devil was just behind him, snickering in his ear. "There's nothing, Dean. It's nothing."

"Dammit, Sam! This is not nothing!" Dean grabbed his arm and dragged him over to a long, eight foor mirror adorning one of the pillars. "Look!"

Sam looked in the mirror, but all he saw as himself, his brother, and Lucifer grinning over his shoulder with his hands irritatingly around his neck. He swallowed. "I'm fine, Dean. There's nothing..."

"Sam!" Dean gave him a shake and suddenly realized why his brother wasn't seeing anything. "He's here, isn't he? You're tripping the devil right now. You have been long enough not to notice this. Jesus." He grabbed his brother's left hand and dug his thumb nail into Sam's palm and the scar there hard enough to draw blood until Sam gasped and jerked his hand away. "Sam, look now!"

Sam shook his hand out and then looked in the mirror again. Lucifer actually flickered behind him and then faded. Sam's brows drew together and he leaned in. He still felt an icy touch on his throat, and then his eyes caught on the red ring around his neck, the spots of blood that began to appear as the ring slowly became an open wound and he felt dizzy with terror. "Oh, God."

"Yeah." Dean blew out a breath and pulled Sam around for a better look. "Whatever the hell's going on, it's latched on to you. So what have you done that I haven't? What did you touch?"

"Nothing!" Sam protested. He turned back to the mirror and hissed out a breath as he finally felt actual pain from it. He looked at the guillotines in the reflection and caught sight of Lucifer beyond them, stroking the side of the tallest guillotine. Sam stared. "Oh, no. I touched it."

"Touched what?"

"The... that one." Sam turned back and pointed, trying to ignore the devil who was now licking the side of the guillotine. "Earlier when we were here. I put my hand on it."

"Dammit. Ok, come on." Dean strode over to the guillotine with a healthy new respect for the thing and looked up at the blade bolted in place high above. He put his EMF meter next to it and the needle buried into the red as the high-pitched whine filled the room. He clicked it off and shoved it into his pocket. "They must have all touched it."

"Cursed object?" Sam coughed lightly as the pain grew in his neck and cold seemed to spread into his chest and up into his head. He'd thought it was Lucifer screwing with him, but all along, it had been the guillotine working on him.

Dean nodded. "There's no way we get this into a curse box. Gonna have to torch it." He looked back at his brother when Sam coughed and his gaze darkened. "Fast." An open, shallow cut completely circled his brother's throat now, and Dean swore he could see it getting deeper.

"How are we gonna get it out of here?" Sam looked up at the thing and back to his brother.

"We'll knock it over and drag it out." Dean eyed the thing and reached out for it, only to have his hands slapped away.

"Don't touch it!" Sam stepped between the guillotine and his brother protectively. "Dean, you can't touch it or this will just happen to you. I'll do it."

"No. No way." Dean grabbed a fistful of Sam's jacket and dragged him away from the thing. "You're not touchin' it again. What if that just makes this happen faster, huh? We're not taking that chance. You stay the hell away from it."

"Well, you're not touching it." Sam gave Dean a look to make it clear he'd wrestle his brother to the floor and knock him out to protect him if he had to.

"Then we're gonna roast it right here, dude." Dean nodded to himself. "I'm gonna run out grab the salt and lighter fluid. You're gonna stay here and not touch that damn thing, you got me?" Sam nodded and Dean glared at him. "I mean it, Sammy! Do not go near that damn thing."

"I won't. Trust me." Sam put a hand up to his throat, grimacing as his fingers slid through his own blood. "I do not want to remember what this feels like." He closed his mouth suddenly, realizing what he'd said and shook his head. "Shit."

Dean didn't say anything. It didn't surprise him in the least that his brother knew what it felt like to be dismembered. His own nightmares still haunted him at times. He had no doubt Lucifer had done far worse to Sam in the Cage. "Don't worry about it. Just stay clear. Back in two minutes." He headed for the door and turned back. "And if Sleepy the security guard actually shows up, just tell him you got jumped by the same sicko who killed the curator. You look like it."

"Yeah." Sam waved his brother off and went back to the mirror to look at his throat again. The neck of his shirts had been turned red with his blood. Sam could almost feel something slicing into his flesh in an agonizingly slow, cold slide. "Crap."

"Almost had ya', Sammy-boy." Lucifer tsked and shook his head as he patted the side of the guillotine and smirked. "Ten, twenty more minutes and you could have been free of me forever. Of course, you still could." He straddled the bench and slid his hand along the neck brace with a grin. "You just come over here and touch this little beauty again, I bet we can kick off this mortal coil before Dean the Righteous comes back. What do ya' say?"

"Shut up," Sam said angrily. He coughed and felt a burning sensation as the wound deepened. "I'm not gonna do that."

"You know, you can't go on forever like this, kiddo." Lucifer looked at him sadly. "Sooner or later, I'm gonna crack that melon of yours for good and the only question is if that brother you love so much will be caught in the fallout." He waggled a finger at the guilty look on Sam's face. "That what you want?"

"No."

"Because that's gonna happen. I mean, take this!" Lucifer knocked his knuckles on the old wood. "You had no idea this was actually happening. I had you completely snowed. What if something had attacked, huh? What if Dean had touched it? Would'a been your fault, bunk buddy."

"That's never going to..."

"Dean bloody and dead on the floor." Lucifer grinned and held a hand over his heart while he sniffed theatrically. "God, it's a happy thought. But not so much for you."

"Stop!"

"Sam!"

Sam jerked in surprise and looked over as his arm was taken and he was forcibly knocked off balance. He met his brother's frightened green eyes and swallowed hard. "Dean?"

"Yeah, buddy." Dean gentled his grip on his brother. It had scared the hell out of him when he'd come back in and found Sam yelling at the guillotine like he was talking to someone, but then, Dean figured he had been. "Just you and me, Sammy. That bastard's not here now. Button this up so we can take care of this before you're a head shorter." He tugged his brother's shirts away to get a look at his neck and the fear nearly choked him. "Shit. Ok. Here." Dean handed him a towel he'd grabbed from the car. "Try and... put pressure on that or somethin'. And stay over here."

Sam nodded and took the towel. He moved back to the mirrored pillar and leaned back against it. He slid down until he was sitting as his head began to swim uncomfortably, and he knew it was blood loss. "Sorry, Dean."

"Nothin' to be sorry for, Sam," Dean assured him gruffly and set his bag on the floor. He pulled out a big container of salt and went to the guillotine. He pulled the top open and began shaking it in a shower of white; even throwing some up high to scatter against the blade. Sam coughed behind him, and Dean turned to look. It frightened him to see Sam on the floor in the same position the curator had been in. He had the towel wrapped around his neck and was holding it as tightly as he dared to try and slow the flow of blood, but Dean knew it was hopeless until he fixed this.

"Just hold on, Sammy." Dean emptied the salt container over the guillotine until the bench and the floor around it were white. He grabbed the lighter fluid and took great care to make sure he coated every centimeter of the dark wood he could reach. "Almost done."

Sam nodded. He opened his mouth to speak, but the pain in his throat stole his breath. He pulled the towel more tightly, less concerned with breathing than keeping his blood on the inside. The room was rocking and tilting around him, black spots beginning to crawl across his vision and when he coughed again, blood flecked out on his hand. The pain at the back of his neck was a nightmare of pressure; like something was pressing harder and harder against his spine and trying to slowly crack through it. He didn't think Dean was going to make it in time. "De..." Sam coughed and choked a little, tasting more blood. "Dean... sor... sorry."

"No!" Dean yelled. He tossed the lighter fluid aside and took out his Zippo as he turned to glare at his brother's sheet-white face. "You don't check out on me, Sammy. You hear me?" He flicked the wheel, and when the flame lit, he tossed it at the base of the guillotine. The lighter fluid burst into flames that crackled and spread quickly up the wood until the whole structure was wreathed in fire. Dean backed away and grabbed his bag, tossing it over his shoulder before he went to his brother and knelt beside him.

"Ok. It's toast. You're gonna be fine in a minute. You're gonna be fine. Come on." Dean slid his hands under Sam's shoulder and muscled his over-tall little brother to his feet where Sam swayed dangerously until Dean steadied him. "Come on, we gotta get outta here."

"S... sprinklers?" Sam wheezed as they moved away toward the doors.

Dean shook his head. "Hit the shut-off valve for this room in the hall before I came back in. Rest of the museum's gonna get wet, but not here, alright?" He pulled Sam into a faster walk and reached the hall just as the fire alarms sounded and water began to rain down. Dean looked back and smiled grimly, seeing that the sprinklers in the guillotine exhibit weren't doing anymore than dripping uselessly. "We're good. Here we go."

"De..."

"Don't try to talk, Sam. Jesus." Dean put his left hand up around the front of the towel at his brother's throat as they moved. Sam's arm was heavy over his shoulders and Dean was sure it was only sheer force of will keeping his brother on his feet at that point. "Shit," he cussed when he heard the slap of rubber soles on wet tile coming toward them. "Sleepy woke up. Hang on." He pushed Sam into an alcove between two statues and propped him against the wall.

A moment later, the security guard ran past them, heading toward the guillotine exhibit. Dean waited until he was out of sight and pulled Sam back out and nudged him back into motion. "Couple more minutes, buddy. You got this."

Sam's head was filled with confusion. Water poured down his face, adding to the sensation that he was drowning as they moved. He was only vaguely aware of Dean speaking to him over the sound of the fire alarms droning in his ears. The pain at the back of his neck reached a crescendo as they neared the back exit of the museum and a cry tore from Sam's throat as his legs went out from under him.

"Sammy!" Dean went to his knees in the false rain with his brother and caught Sam as he toppled into him. "No. No. No! Don't you do this!" He pulled Sam's head up, shoving sopping hair out of his face and jerked the towel away from Sam's throat. "Sam?" Dean went weak with relief when his brother's back arched suddenly on a painful sounding gasp for air. "Holy crap." He pulled Sam in against his chest and leaned over him. "Dude, are you ok?"

Sam panted for air and blinked water out of his eyes as he looked up at Dean's frightened face. He brought a hand up to his neck and nodded. "Think... think so." Speaking set him coughing again, but the pain that had been ruthlessly pressing down on his throat was gone. "Worked."

"Damn right it did." Dean blew out a breath in relief and got one leg under him. "We gotta boogie before someone else shows up. Let's get you up."

Sam was weak with his own relief and a little giddy at being able to keep his head, though some of that giddy feeling might have been blood loss. He caught himself smiling as they splashed down the hall to the security door and stepped outside. It didn't even bother him when they reached the car and Lucifer was waiting in the back seat with his arms crossed over his chest like a petulant child denied his favorite toy.

"Here we go." Dean pulled open the passenger door and eased Sam down into the seat. "Hey. Let me look at the damage."

Sam wearily let his head drop back to the seat, exposing his throat for his brother. "Might... might throw up on you."

Dean snorted and leaned in to get a look. He pushed careful fingers along the cut ringing Sam's throat and blinked. "Huh. I think it's actually closing on its own." The bleeding had stopped from what Dean could tell, and that gave him hope. Sam's skin was still far too pale from blood loss and his little brother was definitely exhibiting signs of having lost too much, given the dopey smile that was still on his face.

"We'll keep an eye on it," Dean decided and shoved Sam's legs into the car. "Might not have to rush you to a hospital after all. That would have been a hell of a story to try and come up with."

Sam chuckled and then coughed, unsurprised when more blood splattered onto his sleeve; he'd swallowed quite a bit of it before the guillotine had burned. He listened to Dean close his door and then get behind the wheel a moment later. "Hey, Dean?"

Dean winced at the hoarse sound of Sam's voice and looked over as he started the car. "Yeah?"

Sam rolled his head over to smile at his brother. "Thanks."

Dean rolled his eyes and reached over to run his fingers over the wound again. He smiled widely as he found whole, unbroken skin that time and leaned back. "Whatever bitch. No more touching sharp objects in museums."

Sam nodded and closed his eyes, ignoring the disgusted gagging coming from the back seat and just enjoyed being alive.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: H is for Hobbits, Hiccups, and Hurricanes

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

H is for Hobbits, Hiccups, and Hurricanes -

Sam drove south along the Florida coast, going faster than he normally would and he wasn't concerned about a speeding ticket. All the traffic was flowing in the other direction in a slow, steady traffic jam away from the hurricane steaming toward the coast. He looked out to sea and then reached over to slap Dean's shoulder. "Dean. Wake up."

"Donut holes," Dean muttered and then blinked, sluggishly waking. He scrubbed a hand over his face and looked over at his chuckling brother. "What?"

Sam shook his head and pointed out the windshield. "Check it out. Looks like hurricane Aileen is going to make early landfall."

"Wow." Dean leaned forward for a better look. A wall of clouds was moving across the ocean toward land. The waves were rolls of white foam beneath the behemoth storm, and he felt the first buffet of storm-driven wind rock the Impala slightly. "I do not want my baby in that mess."

"We'll park her in one of the parking garages near the top. That should keep the storm surge from flooding it and any debris from hitting the car." Sam looked at the cyclone and blew out a breath. "Maybe we should have waited until this is over."

Dean shook his head. "Those things'll chew through whoever's left in the city, and I don't want that crap on my head. Do you?"

"No." Sam leaned back and pressed on the gas. "Don't suppose Dad will actually be here. I mean, backup wouldn't be a bad idea on this one."

"Dude, I am your backup," Dean snorted. "Or you're mine. Those little hobbit bastards won't know what hit 'em."

Sam chuckled. "Hrugnir, Dean. They're called dwarf hrugnir, not hobbits." Dean had been calling the little trolls that ever since he'd seen the artist's rendering Sam had shown him.

"Hobbits. You see their feet?" Dean grinned and straightened in his seat. "I'm just glad we don't need anything special to kill 'em. And no. I don't think Dad's gonna be here." He sighed. "He wouldn't have just sent us coordinates if he were planning on helping. You know that. Dad gets in on a hunt, he likes to pull the whole mission briefing thing."

Sam smirked. "Yeah. I remember." He looked up as they passed a sign declaring them welcome to Clearwater, and the sky began to darken as the leading edge of clouds, driven by the hurricane, began to take over the sky. "It's probably the storm surge that's driven them up out of the sewers. From what I read, they've lived underground here since the early 1900's and peacefully."

"Not anymore," Dean said grimly. He planted a hand on the dash as the wind rocked the car again, and he thanked Chevy for giving his baby such a low ground clearance; it would make her more stable in the high winds. "Pissed off, wet hobbits chomping on tourists is not good for business."

Sam didn't bother correcting Dean again and resigned himself to hunting 'hobbits'. He drove into the outskirts of Clearwater and it looked like a ghost town. "Shouldn't be too many people left here now; not with the projected flooding still to come."

"Just find somewhere high and dry to park my baby." Dean watched the taller buildings drawing closer as they drove and pointed across his brother's face suddenly. "Right there! That looks like a good one."

"Hey!" Sam batted his brother's hand away and rolled his eyes. "That's the parking garage I was going for, jackass. How about you not make me crash your pride and joy?"

Dean chuckled and then slid a sideways glance at his brother as Sam turned toward the garage. "You say that like you knew the parking garage was there already." He scowled. "Like you were planning on it before we even got here."

Sam cleared his throat at the suspicious tone in his brother's voice and slowed as he found the entrance to the ten-story garage. "Uh... well..."

"What didn't you tell me?" Dean demanded.

Sam looked at the bars covering the windows on the first four stories of the garage and then pulled inside. He headed up the first ramp and flicked a glance at Dean. "The last five attacks. They were, well... they were here. In this garage."

Dean rubbed a hand down his face and turned in his seat to glare at Sam as they continued higher into the structure. "You're gonna park my car in homicidal hobbit central? THIS is your plan?" He snarled when Sam shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest. "One scratch, Sammy. Those little bastards put even one scratch in her paint job, and I am draggin' you from the damn bumper when we leave here. We clear?"

Sam swallowed back the urge to laugh and nodded. "Clear."

Dean looked around the darkened interior of the garage with a fresh appreciation and began to notice things; things like strange, long scratches and gouges at knee height; like how the few cars still in the garage had the same damage along their bodies. "You're gonna be asphalt surfing outta this city. I just know it."

Sam did laugh then, but it was a nervous chuckle. He'd noticed the same damage on the cars and was rethinking how smart it was to park the Impala anywhere near this place. It had seemed a practical solution at the time, but now he wasn't so sure. As he rounded the ramp up to the eighth level, he looked out and had a perfect view toward the ocean. It was black. "Oh, man."

"Level eight is good." Dean tapped Sam's shoulder and pointed as they hit the top of the ramp. "Park her on the other side of the elevators. That'll keep the worst of the wind off of her."

Sam nodded and pulled across the empty parking spaces. He carefully maneuvered the Impala close to the bank of elevators on the side facing away from the ocean and parked.

Dean reached down and flipped the radio on, tuning it to the emergency channel. "See how much longer we've got."

"... and hurricane Aileen is beating all the storm projections, estimated to make landfall in the next several hours rather than overnight. Storm surge is reaching dangerous levels. If you are still inside one of the evacuation zones, seek high ground immediately. Do not shelter in your basements or garages. The surge is predicted to reach ten feet or higher. The national guard is warning..."

Dean clicked it off and shook his head. "This is gonna get bad fast."

"Well, we're in probably the safest structure we can be under the circumstances." Sam shrugged. "The wind is going to be an issue, but the flooding should actually drive the hrugnir up to us."

"Fish in a barrel. I like that. Come on." Dean opened his door and yelped when a gust of wind blew it closed on him with a slam. "Ok."

Sam pushed his open and had to hold on to it as he unfolded himself from the driver's seat. He closed it as gently as he could and swayed in another strong gust. "Ok!" he yelled. "Wind is REALLY going to be an issue!" The open structure of the parking garage was creating a wind tunnel effect.

"Shit!" Dean went to the trunk and popped it open. He looked at the shotguns he had planned on them using and shook his head. "Plan B!" He pulled out two machetes and handed one to his brother. "Use your gun for close encounters! You loaded?"

Sam took his gun from the small of his back and checked it, then slipped it away again. "Yeah!" he unbuckled his belt and quickly threaded the machete onto it.

Dean strode across to the edge of the garage and leaned out over the cement wall to look down. He jerked his head back as a National Guard hum-vee drove quickly down the street. "Guard's pulling out now too!"

Sam nodded and closed the trunk. They'd wait out the storm somewhere safe nearby and come back in once it passed to look for people in need of rescue. It was standard operating procedure, and he was thankful their dad had drilled those procedures into them as kids. It made working in conditions like a hurricane a little easier. They didn't have to worry s much about being picked up and arrested. "Ready to head down?"

Dean jogged back and nodded. He looked around and spotted the nearest stairwell. "You head over to the other side! Let's jam the doors as we go! Keep 'em from sneaking up on us that way!"

"Got it!"

Dean watched Sam take off at an unsteady jog for the other side of the garage and shook his head at the niggle of worry that they'd be separated. He still wasn't over their experience with the Benders, and letting Sam out of his sight for even a minute was going to be hard for a while. "Suck it up and do the damn job, Winchester," Dean berated himself. He rubbed a hand over the healed burn on his shoulder and headed for his own stairs.

Dean yanked the door open against the rush of wind, stepped into the stairs and his ears rang for a few moments once he closed the door and he was out of the wind. "Holy crap." He leaned against the door for a moment and then turned to consider it. He wanted to keep the hobbit trolls from using them but didn't want to cut them off as a means of escape for him and Sam if he could help it.

"Damn," Dean groaned, studying the door. It was a simple door with no latch and no lock. "So much for that idea." He snorted when his phone rang and dug it out of his pocket. He flipped it open and answered. "Yeah, I know. No way to block these damn doors."

Sam's voice echoed out into the stairwell. "I'm not seeing any evidence of the hrugnir in here. Hopefully, they won't bother with the stairs at all."

Dean smirked. "Yeah, when has our luck ever gone that way? Meet you at the bottom." He tucked his phone away and started down the stairs, listening intently for any sign other than the now raging wind outside the stairwell. He stopped at every floor and looked out the window in each door, checking the garage levels for signs of the creatures, but found nothing. When Dean reached the bottom, he pushed on the door to open it and grunted with the strain. The wind was making a good show of holding it closed. "Son... of a bitch!" He forced the door open and stepped out into the false twilight of the storm. Even the fluorescent lights of the garage seemed to have trouble breaking through. Dean squinted and coughed as a particularly harsh gust of wind tore his breath away for a moment. He yelled for his brother and the wind ripped the sound away.

Dean moved down the short ramp and startled when his boots splashed into water. "The hell?" He looked out across the first floor of the garage and saw a steady flow of water being driven inside from the ocean. "So much for trusting the weather guy!" Dean jerked his head up, hearing a voice raised above the noise and saw Sam splashing quickly toward him with his machete out. He went out to meet him and stared in surprise as he realized Sam was being chased. Seven of the hobbit trolls trundled awkwardly after Sam through the water, and Dean grinned as adrenaline flooded through him.

"You alright?" Dean yelled when Sam was a few feet away. He got a quick nod, and Dean drew his own machete as Sam turned at his side to face them.

"They were waiting for me when I came out of the stairs!" Sam gasped and watched the small creatures, no taller than his hips, come toward them. "Got three of them before I came for you! I think I pissed them off!"

Dean ducked to the side when one of the hrugnir threw a short spear at his head and grinned. "You take left!" He strode toward the creatures and swung his machete, easily lopping the head from the first to come near him. A cry went up from the little trolls that echoed even above the roar of the wind.

Sam blinked furiously to clear his vision as water blew into his face in a fine spray, and he felt the water rise up past his feet to his ankles. "Dean! We need to go up!" He kicked one of the hrugnir back before it could stab him in the thigh and cleanly severed the head of another. He started backing toward the ramp up to the next level while Dean dispatched two more of the hrugnir. "Dean!"

"Coming!" Dean danced away from the thrust of another tiny spear. He backed toward his brother and saw more of the hrugnir appear from around a parked van. "Found the sewer entrance! Come on! Come get some!" he shouted at the creatures and turned to run up the ramp to the next level. As he hoped, the creatures roared and followed.

Sam smirked at his brother's obvious glee in the hunt. He scanned the second level of the garage but didn't see any hrugnir; not yet anyway. He turned and faced down the ramp as Dean drew even with him. "You're enjoying this a little too much!"

Dean laughed and then yelped as a gust of wind blew him off balance. Sam's quick reflexes, snatching hold of the shoulder of his jacket, kept him from landing on his ass. He looked out to see and his eyes widened. "That does not look good!"

Sam followed his gaze, taking his eyes off the creatures for just a moment, and felt a thrill of fear. The hurricane was on them, the leading edge of it anyway. The world outside the garage had gone dark as night. Rain whipped sideways in through windows between the bars and pelted his face, feeling like ice crystals. Sam shivered. He couldn't see the ocean anymore. He looked away, back toward his brother and saw one of the hrugnir climbing up at the top of the ramp behind them. "Dean!"

Dean walked forward with the wind pushing at his back to meet the creature before it could find its footing. He grinned and swept his machete down and watched its head roll across the floor of the garage and out of sight under a car. He staggered back a step when four more of the little trolls climbed into view. "Damn! Don't you little bastards have a ring to throw in a volcano somewhere?"

Sam couldn't help but laugh at that. It quickly died as a wave of the dwarf hrugnir ran up the ramp toward them. "Dean! Stop screwin' around!"

"Little... pains... in my... ass!" Dean punctuated each word with a swing of his machete. He caught one of the trolls under his foot, pinning it down while he slammed the point of the machete into its heart. He kicked the body away and turned back to find his brother being surrounded. "Shit!" The seven or eight hurgnir he had expected had turned into somewhere around thirty, and they swarmed up the ramp from the level below inches ahead of the flood waters. "Not good. Not good! Sam! Retreat, dammit!"

"Trying!" Sam shouted above the gale winds screaming into the garage. He was coughing, facing toward the ocean, while water was driven into his eyes and mouth, but he couldn't turn away or the creatures would have his back. He hadn't expected there to be so many. Sam gasped when one of the hrugnir's spears sliced across his right hand. The machete dropped from his fingers to the floor and was blown behind him by the wind. "Shit!" He pulled his gun quickly and fired at the nearest. They were close enough that the bullet did its work, blowing out the back of the hrugnir's head in a puff of red mist, and Sam ducked his head, turning away when the wind blew it at him. It was a mistake. He heard his brother shout for him again, and something hard slammed into his legs from behind.

Sam went forward, expecting to hit hard concrete, but the storm surge was nearly on them and he tumbled into cold water. He managed not to gasp in reaction and choke himself and fought to get his head above the water while a strong current pulled and rolled him away from the ramp.

"Sam!" Dean cut the head from another hrugnir, kicked one away into a support pillar and ran to dive after his brother. Above the swirling wind, Dean heard a strange crackling sound. He raised his eyes from Sam and saw a hobbit staring at him from the water. It's hairy hands were raised and a ball of light glittered between them. Dean opened his mouth in surprise and a second later, the ball of light flew through the air and slammed into his chest.

Dean went to the ground on his knees. He coughed, forced himself back to his feet, and went after Sam again. He didn't have time to worry about what the creature had done to him, not until Sam was safe. He jumped into the water and his head went beneath the surface. He shivered at the cold, and then he hiccuped. Dean startled as the dark water rushed into his mouth and down his throat, and he hiccuped again and started to choke.

Sam caught the edge of the floor with his left arm and pulled his head up out of the water. He gasped in a breath and brought up his right arm, somehow still holding on to his gun. He coughed to clear his throat and looked around for his brother. "Dean?" Sam called and then saw his brother's arms splash out of the water a few feet away from him. Panic blew through him. It was clear Dean was struggling with something. The hrugnir were waiting at the edge of the ramp in the now-shallow water there. Sam scowled. He'd worry about them in a minute. He held on to the floor with his right arm and slapped his left out into the water. The current was bringing Dean toward him. Sam caught a fistful of his brother's jacket before it could drag him under the water, beneath the ceiling of the level below, and pulled him up.

"Dean!" Sam growled aloud with the effort of pulling Dean to the edge and was relieved to hear him begin to cough. Whatever else may be wrong with him, at least he was breathing. Sam heard him hiccup in between coughs and shoved Dean bodily up onto the floor of the second level, pushing his own head back under in the process. He hastily dragged himself back up and rolled through the water onto the floor next to his brother.

Dean was stuck between coughing to clear the water from his lungs and hiccuping to breathe it all back in again. He'd have thanked Sam for saving his ass if he could have caught his breath. He settled for giving him a thumbs-up and then waving toward the creatures that were moving toward them again.

Sam nodded and slapped Dean's back a couple times. "I know!" He turned and took aim at the hrugnir. This time, the roaring wind was at his back and he had no fear of his shots going wild. Sam pulled the trigger again and again and killed nine of the creatures as they rushed him with a chorus of roars. He quickly put up his now empty gun and jerked the back of his brother's jacket up. Sam pulled Dean's gun out and turned back in time to be tackled by two of the creatures. He slid along the water-covered cement until his head banged into the wall. Sam used the gun to punch one of them in the face and shot the second.

"Crap," he groaned. He regained his knees and looked up to watch one of the hrugnir holding a strange, glowing ball of light. His eyes widened fearfully, and Sam quickly shot the creature before it could throw it at him. The light exploded in the dead hrugnir's hands, and instantly the remaining five hrugnir around it burst into a flurry of hiccups. Sam looked over at his still hiccuping brother with new understanding. Sam got to his feet with the help of the low wall at his back. He fired at a hrugnir coming for Dean, but a sudden burst of wind whipping sideways through the garage tore the round off course and it went into the water instead.

"Shit," Sam cursed. He splashed back to his brother, grabbed the creature by the back of the neck with his left hand and shot it in the head. He let the body fall, and then there were four. Sam ducked low against the wind, going to his knees in the water and fought for his balance. One of the four remaining hrugnir launched a spear at him that was ripped away harmlessly. The hurricane roared in a deafening crescendo of noise around them and his head was starting to ring with it.

Sam fired, killing another. He took careful aim and waiting for the wind to shift to his back before he fired again, twice in quick succession, and then he and Dean were alone with a nest of dead hrugnir floating and bleeding in the water.

"Dean!" Sam yelled as he turned to his brother, but the wind stole the sound. He bent instead and got a hand under Dean's shoulder. He pulled his brother to his feet and started for the stairwell nearest to them. The water was rising too quickly for them to go the long way up the garage via the ramps. He only hoped the closed doors on the stairwell would keep them from flooding long enough for them to make it up another couple levels to safety. Sam grunted as wind-driven debris, a piece of roof tile from the looks of it, slapped into his back and decided that relative safety was a better description.

Dean stumbled and held on tightly to Sam under his left arm as they waded to the stairs. He couldn't stop the damn hiccups, and it was making him dizzy... or maybe that was the wind and the damn howling that was beginning to make him deaf. He stumbled and went to his knees on the stairs in reaction to the door closing and all that cacophony being muted suddenly. "Shit... hic... holy... hic... shit."

Sam leaned on the wall over Dean for a moment and caught his breath. As the ringing in his ears slowly began to subside, he heard the sloshing of water. The water that had poured in with them when he'd opened the door was pouring in a fall over the stairs. He leaned over the rail and saw the flood waters barely a few feet down from them and quickly rising. "Damn. Dean, we have to move. Come on!" He pulled his brother to his feet again and couldn't stop the smirk as Dean continued to cuss in between hiccups.

The rising waters followed them up the stairs to the third level, nipping at their heels, and then the fourth where they finally seemed to outpace it. Sam slowed their pace and looked over at Dean. "I think they're slowing," he said, noting the slightly longer pauses between his brother's hiccups.

Dean scowled at him. "Wipe... hic... that smirk... hic... dammit!"

Sam laughed and didn't argue when Dean pulled his arm free and walked on his own. "Yeah, you're breathing better." They reached the eighth floor and Sam looked out the window. The roaring of the hurricane was still deafeningly loud in the garage. Rain was blowing sideways, sometimes swirling, and flashes of objects shone as they were hurled past. "Hope the Impala's ok where we left her."

Dean nodded and sat down on the stairs. "Safer... hic... in here than out there."

"Yeah. And quieter." Sam blew out a breath and leaned back against the wall while he shivered. Like Dean, he was dripping from his swim, but there would be no drying off until the storm passed. He hunched over a little and hissed out a breath, bringing a hand up to his side. "Ow."

"Wha... hic... what?"

Sam shook his head and looked down at himself. There was a hole in his flannel, and he pulled his shirts up to look just as the lights in the stairwell flickered and died. "Dammit."

"Hang on." Dean dug in his pocket, relieved when he found his mag-light still there. He twisted it on and went to Sam, kneeling in front of him. "Let me... hic... look. Up."

Sam pulled his shirts up again and held them out of the way while Dean aimed the flashlight at him. "What is it? Bruise?"

Dean swallowed and shook his head. "Uh... no." One of the hrugnir's little spears had struck home at some point during the fight and had likely broken off when Sam had gone into the water. He could just see the end of the wooden shaft and groaned. "Can't believe you can't... hic... feel this."

"Well, I feel something." Sam reached down and put his fingers to where the pain was. He felt blood, and as he hunched further to try and see in Dean's light, his fingers brushed something hard that sent a shock of pain through him. "What..."

"Whoa. Easy." Dean jerked to his feet and caught his brother's shoulder when Sam swayed. "You need to... hic... sit down. Here." He guided Sam to the stairs and helped him lower carefully down, trying not to jar the spear. Still, Sam winced and grimaced in pain as he settled back against the treads.

"You need a hos... hic... hospital. FUCK these damn hiccups!" Dean yelled in frustration. He rubbed a hand over his face and calmed down for Sam's sake. "How you feelin'?"

Sam's hand hovered over the wound and he swallowed. "Uh, kinda wanna throw up right now." He smirked. "Not bad, considering. Not yet anyway."

Dean turned to the door and looked out the window. The hurricane was still raging. "We need the first aid kit."

"No way." Sam shook his head. "You'd never make it to the car in that. It's ok."

"It's really not." Dean had a better view of the injury than Sam did and knew it was too damn close to some vital areas. He went over and pushed his brother's hand away when Sam tried to touch it again. "Don't, Sammy. Leave it alone. That ain't comin' out until... hic... until you're in a damn ER."

Sam raised his brows and looked at Dean's serious face. "That bad, huh?"

"Well, it's not good." Dean sat on the steps beside him. He propped his flashlight between his knees so that it shone on Sam's side. He wanted to keep an eye on the bleeding. He hiccuped again, which set off a cough and ended with Dean hunched over on the stairs and tossing the Doritos he'd eaten for lunch into the rainwater seeping under the door. "Yech."

Sam watched him worriedly. "That doesn't sound good."

"Dude! I inhaled half the damn... hic... Gulf." Dean coughed and spat to clear his mouth. "At least the damn hiccups are finally leaving."

Sam smiled and chuckled softly. "Far as curses go, gotta say I kind of like that one."

"Shuddup, bitch."

"Jerk." Sam groaned at a sharper stab of pain and curled forward a little, trying to ease it.

"Careful, Sammy. Don't move too much." Dean picked the flashlight back up and took a look. More blood was seeping out around the wound, probably because Sam's body was warming up in the stairwell now that they were out of the rain and wind. "Crap."

Sam clenched his teeth to hold in the wounded sound he knew wanted to escape while he moved. "S'ok," he said, a little breathlessly. "The, uh... the eye should be here soon."

Dean nodded. "Yeah. And won't that be fun." The flooding from the storm surge meant they weren't driving out of there. He'd have to hope there was a rescue helicopter close enough to reach them before the eye passed and the fury of the hurricane was on them again. "I'm gonna call now, ok?" Sam gave him a nod and Dean pulled his phone out of his pocket. It struck him then as he held it up and water dribbled out of the case just how screwed they might really be. "Shit! Sam, where's your phone?"

"Oh, no." Sam pulled his jacket around and fished out his own phone but it was no better than Dean's after their little swim. "Dead."

"Son of a bitch!" Dean threw his phone into the stairwell. It struck the wall and shattered, some of the pieces tumbling down below with a splash. He rushed to the railing and aimed his light down. "Water's higher."

"It's, uh... pressure from the storm. Won't get this high." Sam took shallow breaths, trying to minimize how much his chest was moving. "Probably."

"I have to get the radio." Dean went back to the door and checked the window again. He wasn't sure, but he thought it looked a bit brighter out there than it had before. The rain was still blowing sideways. Dean pushed on the door and it opened slightly, letting a howling sound into the stairwell, but it wasn't as loud as before. "Sam, stay here."

"Dean, not yet," Sam protested but Dean just gave him that fearless grin of his and shoved out the door. "Dammit, Dean."

Dean let the wind slam the door closed behind him, and he yelped as it took his feet out from under him. His boots hydroplaned on the wet concrete and he fell, sliding several feet before he found some traction again. He ducked his head and aimed for the other side of the garage and the Impala. He took shelter behind the support pillars each time he reached one just to catch his breath, cough, and hiccup. He was perhaps twenty feet from the car when a sudden shaft of daylight appeared on the seaward side of the garage. The howling winds slowed dramatically and Dean straightened and stepped out.

"Whoa. That's dramatic." He broke into a run and had his keys out before he reached the car. Dean threw the trunk open. He dragged the small pack containing their first aid kit out and put it over his shoulder and then found the old radio they kept for emergencies just like this. He turned it on and tuned it to the emergency frequency.

"Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. We are civilians trapped in Clearwater." Dean had to stop and cough and clear his throat. "Two civilians, one wounded in need of immediate medical attention." He relayed what he hoped was the address of the parking garage and waited anxiously. Dean closed the trunk and started back across the garage to the stairs before there was a crackle of static and a man's voice responded.

"Message received. A rescue helicopter can be at your location in approximately seven minutes. The eye wall will reach your location in approximately eight and a half. Can you reach the roof for pick up? Over."

"Yeah. I'll get him up there. Just be there. Over." Dean shoved the radio into his back pocket and ran back to the stairwell. He found Sam where he left him, leaning back against the stairs and far paler than he had been when Dean left. "Ok, buddy. We're going up to the roof and they're gonna pick us up. Come on."

Sam looked up in the darkness and handed his brother the flashlight. "You? On a helicopter?" He chuckled and let Dean help him to his feet. "Must... be... be worse than I... crap."

"Take it easy, Sammy." Dean supported his little brother against the railing until Sam got his gasping breaths under control and took more of his weight. "Good news is, only two flights to the top."

"What's... the bad?" Sam panted as they moved up the steps as quickly as possible, though each movement drove a shaft of pain into his side.

"The storm's gonna be on us again a minute and a half after the chopper gets here."

"Awesome," Sam groaned. He braced a hand beside the wound and took a deep breath. "Move... faster."

"Yeah." Dean coughed, muffling the sound in his shoulder and urged Sam even faster up the cement stairs. He figured it had taken them five to climb to the top and Dean leaned Sam against the wall so he could open the door. He put a shoulder to it, gave it a shove and it creaked an inch before stopping. "Aw, what the hell?" He looked through the window, pushing his forehead against the glass to try and look down. "Something's blocking it."

Sam nodded and focused on breathing while his brother reared back and kicked the door. It moved another inch and Sam smirked at Dean's colorful cursing as he gave the door three more kicks before it was finally open enough. Sam picked his head up and listened. "Think... think I hear it."

"Yeah. Let's move." Dean took Sam's shoulder and helped him turn sideways to squeeze through the door. It looked like part of a roof was leaned against it, and Dean kicked it out of the way. He let Sam lean back against the wall and looked out to the ocean. He could see the wall of the hurricane swirling and churning out to sea, but it was coming uncomfortably closer as he watched. Their time was running out.

"Dean." Sam tugged on his brother's sleeve and pointed inland.

Dean looked up and smiled, seeing the old grey military helicopter zooming toward them. He looked up further and stared a little in awe at the clear blue sky above them, ringed by the dark storm walls. "No more hurricanes, dude."

Sam nodded. "Deal."

The helicopter turned in a tight circle around the roof and came in to land with a series of bumps. Dean was already pulling Sam toward it when the side door slid open and a man in a red and white jumpsuit climbed down and ran to them.

"Hey! How bad is he?"

Dean nodded to his brother's left side. "He's got something wood stuck into his chest, just below his heart, I think."

Sam looked over in surprise at that at his brother. "Dean?"

"Don't worry about it, Sam. They're gonna take care of it now." Dean reassured him and glared at the paramedic who quickly got with the program.

"That's right, Sam. We'll have you fixed up in no time. My name's Steve!" Steve yelled as they stepped under the still-spinning rotors. "Now, Sam! I want you to just sit back here and we're gonna pull you up and in, ok? Don't want you moving too much!"

Dean turned Sam and eased his back to the open helicopter door. "You got this, Sammy!" He looked into his brother's now frightened eyes and smiled. "You're gonna be fine!" He was so focused on helping Steve pull his brother into the helicopter and strap him down, so focused on getting in himself and making sure Sam stayed calm, he didn't even have time to really be afraid of flying in the damn thing until they were thirty feet above the parking garage, and the first curse came loud and clear from the cockpit. "What?"

Steve picked up a helmet and handed it to Dean, miming that he needed to put it on.

Dean slid it over his head, pulling the big black headphones down over his ears and blew out a breath in relief as they cancelled some of the noise from the helicopter. "What's he saying?" Dean asked, swinging the little microphone up toward his mouth.

"The eye wall's almost on us." Steve stayed on Sam's left side, leaving Dean to handle his brother on the right. "It's gonna get dicey here in a minute, but don't worry, ok? Frank's a kick-ass pilot. We're gonna be fine!"

"How's the kid?" Frank's voice shouted over the intercom.

Steve turned to look up at his partner. "Losing blood, internal bleeding; probably nicked a lung and maybe something else. He's gonna tank fast if we don't get him in!"

Dean's blood went cold and he grabbed his brother's hand to hold on to him. Sam's eyes were closed and his face pasty and grey in the artificial light inside the helicopter. And thankfully, he couldn't really hear anything being said without a helmet. Dean met Sam's worried gaze when Sam cracked his eyes long enough to look up at him and smiled, trying to tell Sam without words that he was going to be alright. He was going to be alright because Dean wouldn't allow him to be any other damn way.

"Hang on!" Steve shouted and lunged over top of Sam to brace his upper body.

Dean gasped as the helicopter suddenly lurched up and then dropped down. He braced himself between the seat next to him and the stretcher Sam was on, since it was clamped to the cabin floor. "Shit!" The shout set Dean coughing again as winds began to howl behind them, like the storm was trying to catch a lost prize.

The helicopter was suddenly on the ground as Dean blinked his eyes open and realized that there was an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth, and Steve was bent over him with concern on his face. "What?" Dean ask gruffly and coughed again.

"Hey. Just breathe easy, ok?" Steve leaned back and steadied himself against the helicopter's movements as it taxied inside the hangar. "Frank, tell them we need another stretcher for this guy. His O2 sats suck."

"My what?" Dean scowled and pushed himself up only to be gently pushed back. It struck him then that the howling of the storm sounded muffled. "Where are we?"

"Mercy General." Steve patted Dean's shoulder and leaned back to look down at Sam. "Hurricanes do a lot of damage around here every year, so Mercy had this hangar built about ten years ago." He smirked. "Half the city screamed about the expense just to house a helicopter, and then the first hurricane rolled in and they stopped complaining."

Dean chuckled and frowned at the wet sound he heard in his lungs. "No complaining from me. How's Sammy?"

"He's out." Steve looked over and reached to the door. "Passed out right before you did. He's still holding his own." He rolled the door open and pulled his helmet off and then Dean's."Just stay calm and let us do the work, man. Come on, guys!"

Dean's eyes caught on Sam's face. The harsh lights in the hangar made him look bloodless. Steve had cut Sam's shirts open at some point, and his brother's chest was bare and bloodied with just the end of the broken haft of the spear protruding from under his ribs on the left side. He moved himself to the door, following Sam as they slid his brother out, and then he was grabbed and man-handled onto a gurney of his own. His attempts to argue about the gurney and pull off the mask were ignored, and he was held down and rolled away behind Sam. Dean angrily lunged up, trying to sit and get off the damn thing and another coughing fit overcame him. The last thing he saw was Steve shaking his head with a smile, and he thought he heard the words 'stubborn idiot' before the darkness took him.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

A rhythmic beeping slowly drew Sam out of sleep and into wakefulness. He struggled to open heavy eyes and groaned softly when he felt a painful tug on his left side.

"Sammy?"

Sam blinked his eyes open at last and found his brother sitting beside him, leaning over him. "Dean, what? Where?"

Dean smiled and patted Sam's shoulder. "Mercy Hospital in Clearwater. They yanked that pygmy spear out of your chest and fixed you up."

Sam looked down and saw a mound under the thin sheet covering his chest that he knew would be bandages and then frowned, looking at Dean, really looking at him. Dean was pale with dark circles under his eyes, sweating with two spots of color riding his cheeks, and there was an IV line hanging from his right arm and attached to a standing pole behind him. "What happened to you?"

"Dude, I'm fine." Dean grinned.

Sam snorted. "Right. Then why do you sound like Death's pack-a-day smoking grandma?" He braced a hand over his wounded chest as the laughter made it hurt more. "Oh, and would you mind explaining the whole IV thing while you're at it?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "I'm fine. I am. It's just a little pneumonia."

"A little?" Sam's eyes shot open and he stared at his brother. "How did you get pneumonia?"

"Your brother swallowed quite a bit of sea water during your escapade."

Sam rolled his head over as a man in scrubs and a white jacket entered their room. "Is he alright?"

"He'll be fine." The doctor smiled and came to stand beside the bed.

"Hey! Sitting right here!" Dean threw his arms up at being talked over and about and resisted the urge to slap his the amused smirk off his little brother's face. "It's not even real pneumonia, dude. I'ts walking pneumonia."

"Which, as I've explained several times now, Dean, is no joke." The doctor raised a brow at the man. "Provided you follow the course of antibiotics, do the deep breathing exercises I have repeatedly told you to do, and stop getting out of your own bed."

"He will." Sam turned a weak glare at his brother and sighed when Dean only smirked at him. "Has the hurricane passed yet?"

Dean cleared his throat, looked over the doctor and then back to Sam. "Dude, we've been here for three days."

Sam's eyes went wide with shock. "How did I miss three days?"

"Sam." The doctor put a hand on his shoulder and smiled down at him. "Your wound was fairly serious. It nicked a major artery and very nearly got your heart. You had significant blood loss before we removed the piece of debris that had struck you. And after..."

"They lost you on the table once," Dean said softly and hoped he would someday forget the feeling of his world crashing down around him when he had heard that.

"Only for a minute." The doctor assured Sam. "Your blood pressure dropped too low, but we were able to get you back and stabilize you. As I said, you're going to be fine. Your wound is healing nicely, and your blood pressure is finally where I'd like to see it. It's why we allowed you to wake up."

"They've been keeping you knocked out until now so you wouldn't risk tearing something." Dean pushed the remembered fear away and grinned. "It's been quiet. I kinda liked it."

"Shut up." Sam slapped weakly at his brother's arm. "Jerk."

"Bitch."

The doctor chuckled. "I'll let you two catch each other up, and I'll be back to check on you both later."

Sam watched him leave and then looked at his brother. "Dean, seriously. Am I ok? I mean, I didn't even think it was that bad."

"Not gonna lie, Sammy. It was a little scary there for a while." Dean put a hand out and shoved Sam's ridiculous hair off his forehead with a snort. "You gotta find less stressful ways to get a few days off."

Sam smiled and heard what Dean wasn't saying, that Sam had scared him and Dean had been waiting for him to wake up to finally settle his nerves that Sam wasn't about to die on him. "I'm ok now. You should go to bed. You have a bed right?"

Dean chuckled and hooked a thumb to his left. "Got the next bunk over from yours." He stood and walked slowly back to his own bed. "You snore."

"Do not," Sam argued. He tried to keep his eyes open but they were fighting against him and slowly sagged shut watching Dean turn and sit back on the other bed. "Your face snores."

Dean laughed at the sleepily delivered insult. "Get some sleep, little brother." It comforted him knowing that this time, Sam would only be sleeping, rather than drugged into an artificial coma. He watched Sam's body relax into the bed and Dean turned, easing his own sore and tired body into his bed. He plucked his spare phone up from the little table, flipped it open and dialed their father. He listened to it ring, listened to dad's message to call Dean if there was a problem and left a message.

"No more damn hurricanes, dad. I don't care if Elvis' ghost is knocking over little old ladies on the Miami boardwalk. If there's a hurricane, don't bother sending us coordinates." Dean ended the call, tossed his phone aside and laid back with a sigh. He closed his eyes and chuckled softly. "Friggin' hobbit assholes."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: I is for Inebriation

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

I is for Inebriation -

Dean hiked up the trail into Green Mountain National Forest looking at the colorful trees around them with their yellow and orange leaves glowing in the early afternoon sun and scowled. Hiking in Vermont in September wasn't his idea of a good time, even less so with a little brother who was fixated on knowing their father had told Dean to kill him if he had to. He could hear Sam's long stride through the leaves on the trail behind him and swore he could hear the depression coming from each step.

"Dean." Sam lengthened his stride and caught up to his brother. He readjusted the straps of his pack and looked over, frowning at the dark look on Dean's face. "Dude, what?"

"What?"

"I asked you first." Sam raised his brows. "You look like someone ran over your dog."

"No, I look like I'm hiking through the damn forest after a damn tree faerie with my little brother who annoys the crap outta me." Dean smirked over at Sam and gave him a shove so Sam staggered into the trees lining the narrow trail.

Sam rolled his eyes and didn't rise to the bait. "It's not a faerie, not exactly. More like a dryad." He frowned and thought, going over the research in his head. "Or maybe a hamadrugad. You know the roman myth?"

"Nope." Dean hitched his pack higher and followed the turn of the path as it wound higher up the mountain. "I don't read dusty old books in dead languages for fun."

Sam chuckled. "Whatever, man. The radande isn't a faerie. If it were, iron would kill it and we could just shoot it."

Dean sighed. "Would have been too easy. I still say we just find its damn tree and torch the thing."

Sam strode up behind his brother and slapped a hand up the back of Dean's head. "We're not starting a forest fire just to kill the radande!"

Dean smirked. "Not like I could if I wanted to since you wouldn't let me bring the flamethrower."

"I know you," Sam retorted and he did. He knew if his big brother had brought his favorite, homemade flame thrower, they would have been trying to outrun a small forest fire before they were through, and he didn't want that on his conscience.

"You sure we're even after a ramada?"

Sam snorted a laugh. "Radande. And, yeah, sure as I can be. I mean, all the witnesses said the same thing- that they saw a skinny man with brown skin wearing bark and leaves who attacked them when they got too close to the grove near the lake. So, either it's some cracked-up Wall Street tycoon who's gone native or a radande. Bobby agrees with me."

"Yeah. Yeah." Dean actually had complete faith in his little brother's research skills, and Bobby's as well. He just liked the giving the kid a hard time. And it had the added benefit of distracting Sam from whatever dark place his thoughts had been in. He watched Sam slap a long branch out of his way with his casted, right arm and snorted. "Dude, you're gonna break it even worse."

Sam held the cast up, turning it, and shrugged. "Can't be any worse than taking that swim." The water had softened the cast, allowing him to twist his wrist in a direction he shouldn't have as they'd left the Pierpont Inn and thrown him into a whole new world of pain. His new cast was less than a week old, and he hoped it would survive better than the last.

"How much farther?" Dean asked and pulled the compass out of his pocket to check their bearing.

"We should start cutting through the forest just up ahead, I think." Sam gestured, waving the white cast toward the trail ahead of them. "If we head in below the ridge, we should come out near the lake and skip a half-day's hike on this trail going around."

"Perfect." Dean checked their bearing and then cut off the trail and into the thick stand of trees. "Less time we have to spend out here, the better. I hate camping."

"You don't say?" Sam chuckled and grinned at the dark look Dean sent him. He was hoping they wouldn't have to camp in the forest overnight either. Any love he'd once had for camping had fled after their near disastrous wendigo hunt a year ago. Sam would never forget the paralyzing terror he'd felt when he knew the creature had taken Dean.

"Dude, pay attention." Dean had stopped to check a log across their path for snakes before climbing over it, and Sam walked into his back.

"Sorry."

"Uh huh." Dean didn't ask him what had him distracted. He wasn't ready for another conversation where his little brother made him promise to kill him. He glared at the log as he climbed over it because that shit was never going to happen, no matter what Sam did. His little brother just needed to accept that and move on. "Hole on the other side here. Don't fall in."

Sam crouched on top of the log and jumped, landing agilely beyond the hole and beside his brother. He smirked at the surprise on Dean's face and took off down the path in the lead. "You coming?"

"Show off." Dean shook his head with a laugh. He reached out, grabbed Sam's arm and pulled him to a stop as the forest suddenly went quiet around them. Dean drew his gun, seeing Sam do the same. It wouldn't kill the creature, but it might buy them some time.

"The radande?" Sam asked softly.

Dean shrugged. "Maybe. Forest doesn't go quiet like that for nothin'. Stay sharp." He stepped out in front of Sam and took the lead again.

Sam listened carefully as they walked but couldn't hear any sounds other than their footsteps and the wind in the trees. The valley curved slightly, cutting between two spurs of the mountain range, and Sam shivered as the sun was temporarily blocked. "Peru Peak Lake is on the other side of this."

Dean nodded. His nerves were singing with tension. He couldn't shake the feeling that something was watching them and waiting. Waiting for what, he didn't know, but the feeling was there and he wasn't going to ignore it. It took them a half hour to cross the valley. They were hot and sticky in spite of the chill in the shade, and Dean had to shade his eyes as the sun greeted them, sparkling and glaring off a small lake ahead of them. He could hear water running over a waterfall nearby and moved back a few steps so the trees were shading him again.

"Wow. That is beautiful," Sam said reverently as he moved up beside his brother and looked out on the hidden little lake. "I'm surprised more people don't know this is up here."

Dean snorted. "Most people are smart enough to stay on the damn trails and not go wandering where something nasty can take a bite out of them. Come on."

Sam ducked his head, watching the ground at his feet for a few moments as his eyes adjusted to the sudden bright light of the sun above them. Once they were, he turned his gaze to the area around Peru Peak Lake. The trees were older and taller than other areas of the forest, likely because that particular area was wilderness; it was old growth and protected. "Its tree has to be around here somewhere, probably nearby."

"Yeah, but where?" Dean moved down to the water's edge and scanned the shoreline. The trees in most places grew right up alongside it, the roots rippling and twisting out into the water in others. "This valley ain't exactly small."

"We'll just have to go looking, but I'd bet it's somewhere near the shore." Sam waved a hand at the sparkling water. "The people who hiked in here, they probably didn't go far from this when they were attacked." He looked over at Dean. "Want to split up? You go that way, I'll go this way, and we'll meet on the other side."

Dean shook his head. "Oh, hell no. This thing's fast like a freak if the witness accounts are anything to go by. We're sticking together."

Sam shrugged and smirked. "Fine. It was just a suggestion."

"Yeah, well, it was a crap suggestion. Come on." Dean looked left and right and started off to his left, figuring one direction was as good as another at that point.

"It's still quiet." Sam moved closer to the trees to keep his boots out of the lake and braced himself on a trunk. "I think it's watching us."

"Pretty sure it has been since we came into the valley." Dean kept his gun ready and his eyes turned into the trees as they moved, trusting Sam to watch the lake. "Hope that means we're close to its damn tree."

"If we are, it'll try to stop us soon." Sam cursed as his right foot slid off a rock and into the water. He shivered and shook it out, ignoring the smirk on his brother's face. "Lake must be fed by runoff from higher up. It's friggin' cold."

"So no skinny dipping." Dean chuckled. They rounded a curve of the lake and reached a point where the trees grew right out to the edge and into the water. The sound of a small waterfall was louder just inside the trees, and there was a small stream feeding in between the roots. Dean looked back at his brother and saw Sam's eyes widen a second before something slammed into his back. Dean shouted as he was thrown forward and out over the water. He sucked in a breath and then splashed into the lake. The water was freezing, and the breath he'd taken exploded out from his lungs in a cloud of bubbles.

Dean floundered for a moment, then righted himself. His feet easily found the bottom and he stood up in a rush. He blinked water out of his eyes furiously and turned to aim in at the shore. "Sam!" he yelled and then watched his brother rise up from the water a few feet away. "You see it?"

Sam nodded and held his own gun up. "Yeah." He coughed and spit lake water. "Just for a second. I thought it was part of the tree and then it moved!"

"Great. Camouflage." Dean groaned and his whole body shuddered in reaction to the freezing water. "Gotta get outta here. Come on."

"S'colder than I thought." Sam waded through the water to the shore with Dean beside him. They climbed out cautiously with their guns aimed at the trees and a newfound respect for the creature that could be only feet away and unseen. His teeth chattered as his boots squelched up through the mud and onto drier ground. "Least we didn't lose our packs." Dean looked at his brother's and shook his head. "Both water-logged." His own felt ten pounds heavier on his back. "Come on. The trees thin up there a bit. Should have room to strip these off and drain the water out of them before we go find this bitch's home tree."

Sam moved quickly, wanting to be in a better spot to see the radande coming for them and preferably away from a spot where it could send them for a swim again. He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair, shoving the sopping strands back off his face. The shivering was having an effect on his gun hand, and he fought to steady it against his shaking.

"Can't see the bastard." Dean had to use both hands to steady his gun. "How big was it?"

Sam shook his head. "Four, maybe five feet?" He rubbed his left hand over his chest ruefully. "Packed a hell of a punch." He reached the open area and quickly shed his pack to the ground with a wet splat.

"Here." Dean let his fall to the ground as well beside his brother. "Get the water out of them. I'm gonna find some firewood."

"Be careful." Sam opened his own pack and then Dean's and started pulling the contents out - blankets, spare shirts, and the first aid kit that was all thankfully in a waterproof bag. That was a lesson their dad had drilled into them a long time ago, to always make sure things you needed dry, stayed dry no matter what. He emptied both packs and grabbed them. Sam stood, upending them to pour lake water out onto the ground and swayed.

"Whoa," Sam dropped Dean's pack and slapped a hand up to his spinning head. He looked around and the world was wavering slightly. It felt a bit like being drunk. Dean jogged back into view and he too was wavering and... bendy. Sam snorted a laugh and staggered a step. "Dude, you... you look funny."

"Huh?" Dean stopped beside his brother and dropped a load of dry wood to the ground. He looked at him curiously while Sam began to honest-to-god snicker. "What's wrong with you?"

Sam shook his head and dropped back to his knees beside the packs. "Uh... nothing." He scrubbed both hands over his face and couldn't stop a giggle. He coughed to cover it up and shook his head again. "I'm good."

Dean watched Sam and then knelt to grab his right arm. "Shit." He held up Sam's cast and sighed. "Well, this one's gonna be toast too. Be careful with it until we can get it replaced." He frowned when Sam snickered and pulled his arm back. "Sam... are you drunk?"

"Huh?" Sam snorted a laugh and pointed at his brother. "Your face's drunk."

"The hell?" Dean reached out to catch hold of Sam's head and missed. His vision swam suddenly and his hand went wide knocking his knuckles into his brother's chin instead, and Dean found himself laughing while Sam held his jaw.

Sam stared at Dean, amused and confused and a little concerned that he felt drunk and high and had no idea WHY he felt that way. "Hey. Hey, Dean? Are we bombed?"

Dean laughed and flopped over to his back with a wet splat as his jacket hit the ground, still water-logged. "I dunno, man, but it sure feels like it."

Sam sat back on his backside with a thump and shook his head. He stopped quickly as that seemed to make the world spin and waver more around him. "Um... this is dangerous, right?"

"Oh, hell yeah!" Dean said cheerfully. He rolled over and got to his knees, snickering. He closed his eyes and sat up. "Stop. Stop it." He opened his eyes and looked over at his brother, trying to remain serious. "We have to... we gotta..." Dean's attempt to be serious devolved into a coughing laugh. "Stop lookin' at me. Holy crap."

Sam grinned and then put his hands over his face. "Ok. Ok. We're... we're, uh..." He blew out a breath and fought to remember what they were up there to do. "We have to find a tree." That was hysterical for some reason, and he began laughing again.

Dean stood up unsteadily and looked out at the lake and then down at Sam. "Dude! Did we get... did the lake slip us a mickey?"

Sam had to laugh at that long and hard before he could answer. He was wiping tears from his eyes before he managed to speak. "The, uh... the lore said something about..." he laughed through his nose and shook his head. "... um, a welling spring? Maybe it's from the redundan... rodent... the thing's tree?"

"You said rodent." Dean chuckled and shook his arms out forcefully with a frustrated groan, knowing deep down, somewhere beyond the pleasantly buzzed part of his brain, that they were in trouble. "We gotta stop! Dude, we're gonna get ganked if we don't button this down!"

"S'shirt." Sam piped up helpfully and pointed to his flannel with a smirk. "Button down."

"No, that's not..." Dean turned his head away to try and avoid the laughter bubbling up. "Not... don't make me laugh. Dammit. DAMMIT!" he shouted and fell into a fit of laughter again. He got control of himself after several minutes and slapped the back of his brother's head. Well, he aimed for the back of Sam's head, but swiped his ear instead and threw his arms up. "Come on! We'll follow the water!"

Sam fumbled to pick up one of the axes. He nearly tossed it to his brother before rational thinking surfaced just long enough to tell him that was a bad idea. Instead, he picked up both and staggered drunkenly to his feet. "Here. Here." He pushed one of the axes to his brother with a grin. "Don't... don' fall and chop a leg off or, you know... your junk."

"What junk?" Dean looked at Sam in confusion while his little brother cackled. He wasn't coherent enough to move when he saw Sam's fist heading toward his crotch and the air punched out of his lungs with the heavy impact. He doubled over, clutching the axe between his legs, and wheezed for breath. "Not... not cool."

Sam had tears of laughter running down his face again, and he braced a hand on the back of his brother's shoulder. "I was aiming for... for your... not for that. Wow. Uh... sorry."

"Gonna be," Dean promised and slowly straightened. "Get off me." He shoved Sam's hand away and walked toward the stream feeding the lake, walking more bow-legged than normal. He shook out one foot and rolled his eyes at the cackle of laughter from behind him. "Come on!"

Sam swallowed enough of his laughter so that he could walk and followed Dean to the stream. They turned away from the lake and headed into the forest, toward the sound of the waterfall. It grew louder as they moved, though it was hard to hear over the continuous chuckles, snorts, giggles, and curses as they tripped and fell and staggered, banging into trees and bruising themselves as they went.

"Dude." Dean slapped a hand into Sam's chest, making his brother grunt. "It's like... it's like we mainlined the dentist's happy gas!"

"You 'member when you got your, uh... wisdom teeth out?" Sam asked and grinned, even as his shoulder slammed into a tree and bounced him away. "I said you didn' have any wisdom an'more. Any... you were dumb."

"Shuddup." Dean chuckled and pushed Sam into another tree with a grin. "Hey. Hey!" He pointed excitedly at a burbling fountain of water falling six feet over uneven rocks ahead of them. It was the source of the waterfall they'd been hearing. The water sparkled even though the sun couldn't reach it there. "S'gotta be it."

"I think... think we're getting drunker." Sam sighed, though he couldn't stop smiling. "S'not good."

"You said snot." Dean giggled and slapped a hand over his mouth. "Don' make me laugh! I told you!"

"Sorry. Sorry." Sam shook his head. He wasn't sorry. He stopped, wobbling where he stood and looked around. "You see a tree?"

Dean burst out laughing and threw his arms wide. "Whish one, jackass?"

"Oh my, God," Sam said and covered his face with one hand while he laughed again. "Ok. Ok. It'll be, um, old. Oldest tree in the... jus' look for the gnarly one."

Dean snorted yet again. "Gnarly. Right. Tubular, dude."

"Jerk." Sam waved his hand at Dean and turned to search the area himself. His eyes moved over each tree, though they seemed to be swaying in his vision and then he looked up above the little waterfall and his eyes went wide. "Wha... whoa."

"Yeah. What?" Dean looked over at Sam and followed his brother's gaze. "Tha's a... s'gnarly tree." He snickered and shook himself. "Get... get a grip."

"S'gotta be it." Sam moved toward the waterfall with purpose. "We kill the tree..." he had to stop and laugh again. "Sorry. Sorry. Kill the... kill that and the rhodo... radande... should die. Oh, man." He looked for the easiest way to climb up to the tree, grabbed hold of some of the rocks with his left hand and yelped when something brown and dark hurtled at him from the top. It slammed into his chest and knocked Sam back to the ground before scurrying away with a hiss. "Found it!" Sam yelled and raised his casted right arm, holding the axe aloft.

Dean couldn't stop the laughter at seeing Sam knocked on his ass, though the voice in the back of his mind was screaming at him to do something. "Uh, you ok?"

Sam leaned up and propped himself on his elbows before looking blurrily around. "Wha' hi' me?"

"The tree dude. He's wily!" Dean proclaimed and went to Sam. He reached down and grabbed Sam's left hand, giving a hard tug to get him on his feet. "Come... c'mon. Get up. S'gonna be back."

"Yep." Sam rose to his feet and looked down at his chest. He laughed and pointed. "Dude. M'leaking."

"Whoa." Dean saw red staining his brother's wet shirts and snickered. "Izzat that ugly dog shirt under there?"

"Not anymore," Sam said sadly and prompted Dean into more laughter. "Like this shirt."

Dean spun and nearly wobbled off his feet when he heard something crash in the woods behind him. "Uh-oh. Go toasht the tree."

Sam chuckled and nodded. "Kay."

Dean let him go start climbing the little waterfall again and watched as a dark shadow flitted through the trees. "Come on, Jackash!" He scowled and ran his tongue over his teeth. "Ash. Ass. Shit!" He flinched back as the radande ran from the cover of the trees into the small clearing around the waterfall. Like the lore had said, its skin looked like the bark of a tree and leaves and even small twigs grew out of it in places, adding to its ability to camouflage. "Whoa, ugly!"

The radande looked past Dean to Sam, watching him climb. It growled loudly and made to rush past the man in chase pursuit of the other.

"Nope!" Dean yelled and swung out with his axe. It bit into the creature's shoulder, sending a chip of something flying off through the air, and the radande screamed. "Damn! Not so loud! Oof!" He grunted as the radande crashed into him and bore him back to the ground. Dean shoved his axe under the creature's jaw, pushing its head back and couldn't stop himself from laughing at the strange, angry face glaring down at him.

Sam reached the top of the waterfall and used the gnarled, old tree to get back to his feet. The bark was oddly warm under his hands, and he looked down at his small axe. "S'gonna take a while." He shrugged, resigned, and started swinging.

Dean heard the first hits of his brother's axe biting into wood, and the radande became crazed. It tried to free itself from Dean's grip, but the elder Winchester wrapped his arms around it and rolled, trying to pin it to the forest floor. "Shtop... stop... squirming!"

Sam swung over and over at the tree. Sometimes the axe would hit true, biting deeply into the wood, and others it would slide and bounce off. He cursed and staggered back a few steps one of those times when the blade bounced off the tree and slid along the outside of his thigh. "Whoo... oops." He snickered and went back to chopping. "Hang on, Dean!" The only thing making his job easier was the fact that whatever wood the tree was composed of, it was soft, much softer than Sam would have given it credit for, and when he swung the axe true, it bit into the trunk like a knife into butter.

"Dammit!" Dean rolled again and kicked the radande off him before its claws could reach his throat. It flew back several feet and skidding on the ground, standing just as Dean reached his own feet. He stumbled, nearly going down again and just managed to right himself before the radande made another run to reach Sam and his tree. "Nu-uh!" Dean leaped and tackled the creature. They rolled into the stream from the waterfall and sank. He came up sputtering with the radande held in his arms and spit water out over its head while it snarled and spat, struggling to be free of him.

Sam stepped back to survey his handiwork and grinned. The tree was noticeably tilting toward him over the gaping hole he had chipped into it. "Nice!" He staggered around to the other side of the tree and started cutting there. Chips of wood flew out with each swing, stinging sometimes as they grazed his face. "Almost. Hey, Dean!" He stopped and looked down, laughing when he saw his brother in the water, holding the radande to him in a bear hug with its back to his chest. "Almost got it!"

"Move your ass!" Dean shouted and tightened his grip on the creature. He shouted when claws dug briefly into his forearms and gave the thing a shake. "Knock... knock it off!"

Sam made quick work of his new target and stood back when he thought he'd gone deep enough. He set the axe on the ground, took a few more steps back and then ran at the tree. "BANZAI!" Sam shouted and slammed his shoulder into the radande's tree. It shifted, tilting further and he stumbled back, falling on his ass and rubbing his shoulder. "Ow."

"Banzai? Seriously?" Dean yelled up to his brother with a snort of laughter. "Stop screwin' around!"

Sam gave a laugh of his own, nodding his head and got back to his feet. "Bish is goin' down." He reared back and slammed his foot into the tree this time. There was a loud crack that filled the little clearing, and the tree swayed dangerously. "Uh... uh-oh." Sam watched the top of the tree move wildly while the trunk rolled above the damage he'd done. He'd hoped it would fall away from him, but it suddenly swayed back and started coming down toward him. There was another series of loud cracks, and Sam yelped fearfully and leaped off the top of the waterfall into the water below with his brother and the creature.

The tree fell where Sam had been standing. The trunk splintered and sheared off, leaving a ragged stump and came to rest in a shower of orange and gold leaves. The radande screamed suddenly, an eerie, piercing noise that rose up and up until it was nearly deafening.

Dean released the creature reflexively and watched it flounder away from him while he clapped his hands over his ears. The radande splashed out of the water and scampered up the rock face to its tree where it laid across the destroyed trunk and went still. Dean watched in surprise as the creature's body seemed to shrivel and slowly crumpled into a pile of blackened bark and leaves.

"Huh. That was kinda cool. Hey, Sammy!" Dean rolled over and caught Sam's shoulder, pulling him over and accidentally dunking his head under the water. He chuckled. "Sorry."

Sam spit water into Dean's face and grinned. "You see that? I totally lumbershacked... lumberjacked that tree."

"Yeah. With your little axe." Dean smirked and climbed to his feet. He dragged Sam up with him and got them both out of the water and back on dry land. He shook his head, letting water spray out and shivered as the cold finally registered. He felt a sudden wave of overwhelming dizziness and fell to his knees before he even realized. Dean managed to blink his eyes open after several moments and looked up to find Sam sitting beside him, looking just as dazed. "Holy crap." The drunken high feeling that had been clouding his head was gone as quickly as it had come. "Damn, I think I'm sober again."

Sam gave a rueful smile and held his left arm over his torso protectively while looking at the mangled cast on his right arm. "Yeah. Me too. I think I liked it better when I couldn't feel this. That hurts."

"Yeah." Dean held up his arms and shoved the wet fabric of his sleeves back. Long scratches from the radadne's claws crawled down both his forearms in parallel rows. "Cleaning these is gonna suck."

"Shit." Sam looked down as a new ache made itself known in his thigh and stared in surprise. "Uh, I think I axed my leg."

"What?" Dean turned swiftly to him and looked, seeing fresh blood welling from beneath a long cut in the thigh of Sam's jeans. "Shit, Sammy."

"Yeah."

"How bad's your chest?" Dean vaguely remembered the creature tagging his little brother.

"Don't think it's too bad. Just aches like a bitch." Sam sighed and shrugged. "First aid kit's back at the lake shore."

"We'll get patched up and hike back down." Dean looked at his watch, thankfully waterproof, and nodded. "Might even make it before dark. Come on." He stood and took Sam's left arm. "Easy. Here we go."

Sam allowed Dean to help him to his feet and worked to not hunch over the burning pain in his chest. "I hate chest wounds."

Dean nodded and tugged up Sam's shirts before he could argue. He got a decent look and felt a little better. "Don't think they're too deep, but you're still gonna need stitches in a few places." He snorted and held up his arms. "So am I."

"So, coyote attack?" Sam asked, holding up his right arm and the now thoroughly disfigured cast.

"Yeah, we're definitely hitting up the hospital." Dean smirked. "May as well let the professionals stitch up your guts."

Sam smiled and did lean over slightly to put some pressure on the wound in his thigh while they walked. "You stitch better than they do."

Dean grinned and enjoyed the warm little hit of pride that comment gave him. "We'll get us patched up and then maybe stop by the roadhouse."

Sam looked at Dean in surprise. "Did you get hit in the head while I was drunk? Dude, Ellen is pissed at us. She kind of scares me." He shook his head. "I know she's talking to us and everything, but she's still pissed about something."

Dean chuckled. "What do you suppose Ellen's problem was?"

"You mean other than almost getting her daughter killed on a job?"

"What?" Dean waved that away. "We saved her. She's gotta be honked off about something else."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Why don't you go ask her? I'll hang back with the first aid kit for after she gets done with you."

"Whatever. I could take her," Dean protested.

Sam outright laughed at that. "You couldn't take her daughter."

"Shuddup." Dean didn't need to be reminded of how Jo had kicked his ass the first time they'd met. They came out of the trees and Dean gave Sam a shove toward the pile of their wet gear. "Dude, go sit down. You're bleeding all over the place."

"You're scared of her too." Sam grinned and eased down to the ground, stretching his wounded leg out with a huff of pain.

"Ok, so maybe not the roadhouse. Maybe we could go to Bobby's." Dean knelt down and pulled the first aid kit out of its protective bag. "Get your shirts off," he said and tossed the bag of his brother's spare clothes over to him. "May as well get some dry clothes on for the walk down.

Sam tugged his shirts off and grimaced at the furrows clawed down his chest. He looked out at the little lake and smiled. "Birds are singing again."

"Softie," Dean teased. He took out the peroxide and quickly poured it over Sam's chest and then his leg, making his brother yelp. "You did good today, Sammy."

Sam smiled at that and took the gauze Dean handed him, dabbing it over the worst of the claw marks until the bleeding stopped. "We both did, even though we were so drunk we could barely stand up." He chuckled. "We're lucky to be alive."

"Yeah. I know." Dean bent over Sam's thigh and tried to hold on to the humor of the hunt, rather than dwelling on how close he'd come to losing him. He turned a lopsided grin to his brother. "Kind of want a beer now though."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: J is for Jungle Gym

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

J is for Jungle Gym -

Sam stared out the passenger window of the Impala as they drove and stopped himself from looking at his brother for the thousandth time. Some days, it felt like if he didn't watch him, Dean would disappear on him, would die months ahead of schedule. He took a deep breath and let it out slow in an effort to calm himself. The events at the Mystery Spot the week before – or was it the four months before? - were going to haunt him for a long time, probably the rest of his life.

"Dude, relax." Dean slapped a hand out into Sam's shoulder and flicked a glance at him, quirking a brow when Sam looked back at him. "Sounds like you're hyperventilating over there."

'Sorry." Sam pushed up straighter in the seat and shook his head. "Just, uh, thinking."

"Uh huh." Dean knew exactly what Sam was thinking about. It wasn't like he was doing much of anything but thinking about it too. If there was a way to not be terrified into pissing his pants about spending eternity in hell, he hadn't found it yet. But he did his best not to let Sam know that. He kept up the brave face and the devil-may-care attitude. He could handle the terror and the nightmares just as long as he knew Sam was going to be alive and well at the end of it. That was all that mattered, whether Sam liked it or not.

"Hey, how about that one?" Sam pointed to the left.

Dean startled out of his thoughts, cleared his throat and followed Sam's finger to a motel just ahead. Dean angled across the road for it, leaning forward to look up at the Bearclaw Motel sign and snorted. "Bearclaw? Really? Do they like, give 'em out at breakfast or something?"

Sam chuckled as they pulled up to the rental office. He waved Dean off and opened his door. "I'll get us a room."

"Make sure they've got cable!" Dean called before Sam's door closed. He sat back and smirked. "Need me some Casa Erotica."

"You're disgusting," Sam informed his brother and closed his door with a roll of his eyes.

Dean laughed and leaned back over the seat, stretching his legs out a little. He watched Sam through the window into the lobby and his brother emerged several minute later with a smirk on his face. Sam got back in the car, looked over at Dean, and laughed. "What?" Dean demanded.

"Room fourteen." Sam shook his head and chuckled. "They have a bear claw breakfast bar. Starts at ten. They'd start it earlier but..." Sam had to stop and laugh again. "They'd start it earlier but the bear claws need time to thaw,"

"Ok. That's... that's kind of disgusting." Dean laughed softly and pulled the Impala down the lot, parking in front of room fourteen.

"We should check out the local precinct tonight," Sam said as he climbed back out of the car. "See if the cops have any information on the disappearances."

Dean pulled their bags out of the trunk and tossed Sam's to him. "They gotta have something. You don't just lose two dozen people over ten years and not generate some damn paperwork."

Sam opened the door, flicked on the light and snorted a laugh as he moved and let Dean in. "So, they really ran with the whole 'bearclaw' theme."

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me." Dean groaned and took in the room. The white-painted walls with hand-drawn, badly shaped bear claw pastries in giant size crawling across them, brown bedspreads that each had a hand-sewn image of a bear claw in the center, and the bright red microwave, table and chairs. "Who does this?"

"Bear claw enthusiasts?" Sam shrugged and tossed his bag on the far bed. "Let's suit up and get moving."

Dean pulled open his own bag and dug out his suit. "Kind of hoping this isn't our sort of job. Not sure I want to sleep in a room a bearclaw bakery threw up in."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam leaned back from the stack of papers on the violently red table in their room and stretched his arms over his head. "I don't know. I think Bobby was right. I'm just not sure what's doing it." He tapped a pile of missing persons reports from the police that he'd copied before they left the precinct last night. "We've got the seven Bobby found from the last five years, but I turned up another dozen over the last twenty. And there's this..." Sam picked up the reports and started tossing them down on the table one at a time to show how each was a single sheet. "The cops did almost no research or follow up on any of these!"

"I don't get it." Dean finished off the last of his beer, set it aside and grabbed another before he sat at the table and pulled some of the reports over. "How the hell do this many people go missing and no one investigates?"

"It gets weirder." Sam turned his laptop around and opened the screen so Dean could see it. "Turns out, the last known location for all of these people was near a children's park on the west edge of town. It has a reputation; local urban legend kind of thing. For the last twenty years since the park was built, some mystery sculptor has been dropping off new statues at random times, and no one ever sees the guy or has any idea who he is or where they come from."

"Statues?" Dean frowned and pulled the laptop closer. He reared back and shook his head. "Dude, those are some creepy ass statues of kids. Who does that?"

Sam chuckled. "I don't know but we should go take a look at it in the morning."

Dean frowned, a dark look coming over his face. "Statues are all kids?" he asked and looked over at Sam,who nodded, knowing exactly what his brother was thinking.

"Yeah. But none of the missing people are kids. They're all adults, and none of them are gracing the lawn."Sam shrugged and closed the laptop, then straightened up the missing person's reports, tucking them into a vanilla folder to bring along tomorrow. "I'm beat and this job is shaping up to be damn strange."

"Yeah." Dean looked at the beer in his hand, considering. He shrugged and put it back while his brother crawled into the far bed.

"You going out?" Sam asked and tried not to sound like it bothered him, but he was still nervous with Dean out of his sight. Even so, he knew his brother was dealing, if you could call it that, with his impending trip to hell via alcohol and loose women. And he couldn't exactly begrudge Dean if it helped keep him calm.

"Nah." Dean tugged off his t-shirt and tossed it onto the laundry bag in the corner. Sam only thought he was hiding his new-found insecurity about being left alone and Dean barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes. In truth, whatever had happened to Sam at the Mystery Spot had been bad. Dean knew that. He knew all his little brother's tells, and Sam was damn well traumatized about something more than just watching Dean be creatively offed for a few weeks; not that he was telling Dean what that something more was. "Sleep sounds good." Dean glanced over and saw the relieved look pass over Sam's face before his brother rolled down into the blankets.

"Night, Dean."

"Yeah. Night, Sammy."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

"Ok. These are even creepier in person," Sam observed as they crossed the grass toward the playground and found the first of the mystery statues. It was a child done in some sort of dark, grey stone, crawling through the grass with his head down like he was exhausted. He looked up to the jungle gym and unlike the statues, it looked like the sort of thing even he wouldn't mind playing on... if his big brother wasn't watching to torment him for the rest of his life for being a giant child.

"You wanna play on it. Don't you?" Dean elbowed Sam with a huff of laughter and watched his brother's face redden and look away. "Knew it."

"Shut up." Sam rolled his eyes and moved away.

"You see anything hinkey?"

Sam looked around, taking in all the other small statues, the jungle gym, and the two children playing on it. He opened his mouth to say no and then it struck him. "Where are their parents?"

"Huh?" Dean glanced up at the structure in the center of the park and shrugged. "Probably around the corner getting a frappa-whatever."

"Yeah; but who leaves their kids in a park alone?" Sam shook his head and scanned the edges of the park, but there was no sign of any adults. "That's just..."

"Weird. Like the rest of this job." Dean stepped around a statue of a sitting child, took a step past and then stopped. He turned back and stared down at it. The statue was sitting with its legs stretched out and head down, but it was the way the statue was dressed that caught his attention. "Sam. This kid is wearing a three piece suit." He looked up to the next statue, a child leaning on the edge of a park bench and scowled. The little boy was dressed like a construction worker, complete with hard hat, safety vest and heavy work boots. Dean's brows flew up and he jerked around.

"Give me the reports!" Dean caught up with Sam and tugged the folder out of his hands.

"What?" Sam looked on in confusion while Dean started sifting through the papers and then looked back at the jungle gym wistfully watching the children climb and play.

"I saw it. I know I saw it," Dean muttered as he pulled out one missing person's report after another, scanning through the meager information and then he found it. "Shit!" He went back to the child at the bench and knelt down beside it. "Daniel Katzman. Last seen seven years ago wearing..." Dean looked down at the report and back to the statue. "... exactly what he's wearing right here. How in the hell?" He looked up when Sam said nothing and then stood quickly. "Sammy?"

Dean saw his brother moving toward the jungle gym, only feet away, with an arm outstretched. "Sam!" A sudden horrible feeling washed through Dean, sending goosebumps skittering along his skin and he broke into a run. "Don't touch it! Sam, get the hell away from it!" Dean reached out to catch the back of his brother's jacket just as Sam's hand made contact with the metal of the jungle gym. There was a flash of light and Dean fell backward to the ground, completely disoriented for a moment. He blinked furiously, opened his eyes and searched out his brother.

"Sam?" Dean got to his knees and stared in utter disbelief. Where his over-tall brother had been standing a moment before, now stood a small child of no more than seven or eight but dressed in Sam's clothes. And Dean would recognize that child anywhere no matter how many years had passed. It was like his brother had somehow been de-aged, and his clothes had been shrunk down right along with him. "Sammy?" Dean breathed. He reached out and caught him as Sam - and it was Sam - crumpled into his arms.

Dean pulled him in and rolled him so he could get a better look. It was definitely his little brother, just twenty or so years younger, with his mop of shaggy, dark hair over soft, round cheeks, and Dean instinctively pulled him in closer to his chest. "Sammy?" He looked up and around at all of the statues of children he could see with a new sense of horrific understanding. Dean's eyes were drawn back to the jungle gym and the two children still climbing who had not even seemed to notice what had happened and he swallowed hard, knowing without doubt that those two 'children' were like Sam. Somehow, they had been adults before they touched that thing and eventually, they would end up as more mysterious statues in the park.

"Wake up, Sam. You gotta wake up." Dean gave his little brother a shake and sat him up a little. It was surreal, holding a Sam that small after so many years, seeing again the child he had practically raised. "Need you to wake up for me, buddy. Come on." Dean watched as Sam's eyes began to flutter, and finally they cracked open blearily and met his. Dean managed a wan excuse for a reassuring smile. "Do you... how are you feeling?"

"Dean?" Sam closed his eyes and shook his head. He felt like he had missed something important. "What happened? Why am I... what's happening?" He brought a hand up to rub his face, opened his eyes and stared in shock. "What?"

"Sam? You, uh... you touched the jungle gym. There was this flash of light and then wham. Instant midget. Do you... are you, you know, you?" Dean watched his little brother's childhood face scowl. "I mean adult you. Shit, this conversation doesn't even make sense."

"I'm me." Sam held up his hands and looked at them in shock, flexing his small fingers. He looked up at Dean and then down at himself and shuddered. "I, uh... I don't... oh, God, Dean."

"Hey. Hey. We'll figure this out." Dean put a hand on Sam's thin shoulder and pulled him in. He couldn't help it. His instincts for a child Sam had gone dormant, not dead, and he had the overwhelming need to bundle him up and carry him out of there away from the danger and keep him safe. "It's gonna be ok."

"I'm a midget!" Sam yelled and rolled his eyes at the sound of his own voice. He backed up a step and Sam threw his little arms wide and glared at his brother. "I'm like, ten friggin' years old, Dean! How is this gonna be ok?"

"I'd say more like eight."

Even with his face being that of a child, Sam managed to shoot his brother an epic bitchface. "Not helping, Dean."

Dean studied Sam and shrugged, trying for calm rather than give away just how freaked out he was. "We're Winchesters, dude. We'll figure it out. This is what we do." He stood and surveyed the playground and the jungle gym at its center. It had looked so innocent when they arrived. Dean scrubbed a hand through his hair and blew out a breath. "We'll head back to the motel and see if we can figure out where this thing came from. I mean, someone's gotta know who built it or installed it or whatever, right?" He looked down and realized Sam was staring at the gym too, and not just staring. His eyes were wide like he was in a trance, and, as Dean watched, Sam started walking slowly away from him and stretched a hand out toward the thing.

"Whoa! Sammy!" Dean bent and grabbed up his little brother, wrapping Sam in his arms and holding him tight. He cupped a hand around his brother's cheek and gave him a shake. "Sam!"

Sam blinked and felt like he was waking from a heavy dream. He looked at Dean's fear-filled face and swallowed. "I don't... I'm not sure it's going to let me leave."

"It?" Dean loosened his grip slightly, but he didn't put Sam down. Without conscious thought, he just settled him on his hip like he'd done a long time ago when Sam really had been a child. "Is the thing talking to you or something?"

Sam shook his head and looked over at the jungle gym again. He watched the children he knew now were its victims and felt real fear. "It... I don't know. It's like I need to go back to it."

"No way in hell. We're going." Dean turned resolutely and started walking away, holding Sam close. He felt Sam's arms wrap around his neck and could almost feel his brother's gaze locked on the jungle gym as Dean moved further away.

"It must be cursed," Sam said softly and tried to reason it out. "All these people, they go missing. They... they turn into kids, but no one notices. No one even thinks about it, so it must... it must be keeping people from looking too closely, like a perception filter."

Dean pulled Sam back enough to look at him and saw the sudden flush of embarrassment on Sam's face. "Dude. That's a Doctor Who thing, isn't it? Perception filter. You just nerd-referenced a case."

"It's..." Sam blew out a breath and shrugged. "The point stands. Something about the... the curse must be altering people's... perception of what they see... what they remember."

Sam's breathing started to pick up, hitching in his chest and Dean frowned when his brother started trembling. "Sammy?" They were nearly to the car and Dean picked up his pace. "You alright?"

Sam shook his head but didn't answer. He couldn't pull his gaze from the playground. He felt weakness spreading through him, his thoughts slowing and fading away, and his arms slipping from their hold, suddenly lacking the strength to hold on.

"Sam?" Dean eased him back slightly. He saw his brother's head roll back just as his eyes closed and Sam went limp. "Sam!" Dean panicked. He jogged the last few feet to the car and set his little brother carefully on the hood. He supported his head and tapped the side of his face lightly. "Sam, come on. Wake up. Wake up!"

Sam didn't wake. Dean held him as he began to shake so hard he was afraid it was a seizure, and then all at once, Sam went still. "No, no, no." Dean looked over his shoulder at the playground and snarled to himself. "Son of a bitch." He picked Sam up again, cradling him against his chest and ran back toward the playground. The closer they got to the jungle gym, the slower Sam's shaking became, the more his frantic breathing evened out, and when they were barely ten feet away from it, Sam's eyes slowly opened and he looked up at Dean.

Dean dropped his head and then dropped to his knees, holding Sam against him still. "Sam." He eased Sam down into his lap and brushed his little brother's ridiculous, floppy hair out of his face. "Dude, you can't leave. It won't let you leave without killing you."

Sam fisted his small hands in Dean's shirt and nodded. He knew Dean was right. He could feel it. Even then, he could feel the pull of the thing oozing into his mind again. "That's what happened to them." He waved a hand weakly toward the statues. "They must have... given up or something.." Sam looked up at Dean's eyes and sighed. "You have to leave me here and go figure this out." He felt Dean shaking his head and Sam nodded. "It's ok. I'll be ok. Check, uh..." He fought to clear his mind and frowned. "County records for donations to, um... to local parks. Bobby, maybe... he could... can... Dean."

"I know," Dean said in a choked voice. He could hear Sam's voice becoming more distant, less focused, and his brother's eyes were fixed firmly on the playground. Dean forced himself to set Sam down and back on his feet. "Little brother, I will be back. I'm gonna get you out of this," Dean promised him and then let go. It was one of the harder things he'd ever had to do, let Sam go and watch him walk back to that cursed jungle gym. Dean scrubbed his hands over his face, taking a few traitorous tears before he rose to his feet. He gave a last, long look to Sam as he scrambled sluggishly up onto the jungle gym and then turned away.

Leaving Sam to the mercy of that thing hurt. It caused Dean physical pain as he walked back to the Impala alone. He fisted a hand over his chest, over his heart and leaned heavily on the hood of his baby when he reached her. He looked in at the empty passenger seat and nearly ran back to try and get Sam away from the thing no matter the consequences.

"Can't lose him like this," Dean said softly and closed his eyes. "Not like this. Not after everything." After selling his soul to save him. Dean thumped a fist into the cool metal and straightened. He pulled his phone out as he went around the car and slid in behind the wheel. He dialed Bobby as he revved the engine and pulled away from the playground and tried not to see Sam's small form crawling over the cursed jungle gym in the rear view mirror.

"Bobby, we got a problem." Dean slowed and stopped at the end of the block. "We found the missing people. They're not missing. They've been there the whole time."

"What do you mean?"

Dean took some small comfort in Bobby's voice. If anyone could help him save his brother, it was the older hunter. "There's this damn jungle gym and yeah, I know how that sounds. But Sam touched it and, uh, Bobby he's a kid again. Like a little kid and the whole damn park is filled with statues of little kids wearing the same clothes the missing people were reported wearing."

"Balls. What the hell did I send you boys into? Sam's a kid?" Bobby asked in shock. "Is he - I mean is he alright?"

"No." Dean looked in his rear view mirror again and could just see the edge of the jungle gym around the trees. "Gets worse, Bobby. Sam thinks the whole damn thing is cursed. No one remembers seein' these poor bastards after they touch the thing. They're just gone. The cops don't even look for 'em. I got a stack of forgotten missing persons reports an inch thick here. Bobby... I'm gonna forget him." Dean swallowed hard as that lump of fear lodged in his chest. "When I drive away from here, I'm gonna forget we were here, that he touched it, that he's... that he's little again. Bobby, you gotta help me!"

"Ok, calm down, Dean. That's first." Bobby was just as afraid as Dean was at that point, but his fear wasn't what Dean needed then. "It's gonna be ok, son. We're gonna get Sam back. You know that."

Dean nodded, though Bobby couldn't see it and took a deep breath, blowing it out. "Sam, he said to check county records for donations to that park twenty years ago. That jungle gym had to come from somewhere."

"I'll find it. You know I will." Bobby knocked off his ball cap and ran a hand through his hair with worry. "I can be there in..."

"No, Bobby." Dean cut him off. "If you come here, you'll just forget him too. Someone has to remember him. You gotta remember him for me until we fix this, ok?" He leaned forward and pressed his head into the steering wheel. "Maybe... maybe I won't forget him. I mean, it's Sam. I can't just forget that."

"This is what I want you to do, Dean. I want you to write it all down, right now, you hear me?" Bobby leaned across his desk, grabbed his laptop and turned it on. "Write everything that's happened down, where the park is, what happened to Sam. You get it all down and stick it to the damn dash in your car where you can't miss it. Tell yourself not to throw it away and to call me. I'll set you straight. You got that?"

"Yeah. Yeah. I got it." Dean pulled the folder over and dug out a piece of paper. He hastily scrawled notes of the hunt and what happened to Sam and a note to call Bobby before anything. "You really think this will work?"

"We'll make it work, Dean. What are you gonna do?" Bobby asked softly.

Dean set the papers aside and stopped himself from turning to look out at the park again. "I'm afraid to leave him, Bobby. I can't... I don't wanna forget him. He has to be alright. He's gotta be. It can't end like this. It just can't."

"Hey, Hey! Nothin's gonna end, dammit! You hearin' me, son?" Bobby shook his head. "Go back to your motel, inventory the trunk or somethin' while I see what I can find from here. But I don't want you stayin' in that park, not if that jungle gym's puttin' people in trances and sucking them in. You stay the hell away from it until you're ready to get Sam."

"Yeah, ok." Dean put the car back in gear and slowly pulled away. "Don't you let me forget, Bobby."

"I won't, ya' idjit."

Dean gave a sad smile and closed his phone, tossing it on top of the missing persons reports that now included one little brother. "Dammit, Sammy."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean sat back against the open trunk of the Impala and looked out at the parking lot. He frowned and rubbed a hand over his face then turned to look into the trunk. "Why am I out here?" he muttered to himself. Dean shook his head and closed the trunk. He went into the motel room through the open door and stopped. His eyes fell on the far bed with its rumpled blankets and a flannel that wasn't his tossed atop the pillow and frowned harder. He went to the little red table and looked down at a stack of research and a closed laptop. He heard rock music begin playing and jumped.

"Shit." Dean turned and ran back outside. He pulled open the driver's door and sat down, plucking his phone off a pile of papers in the passenger seat. "Hello?"

"Dean?" Bobby's voice greeted him.

Dean smiled. "Hey, Bobby." His smile faded and he ran a hand over his face. "Bobby, hey. I, uh... I feel like I forgot to turn off the oven or something, you know?"

"Yeah, I know," Bobby said sadly. "Dean, son. Are you in the car?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Look around. You see a note in your handwriting anywhere?"

Dean scowled and looked down. His brows went up when he saw a long note in his handwriting sitting on the seat where he'd left his phone. "Got it right here. How'd you know?"

"Read it," Bobby ordered seriously. "I'll wait." He listened to the rustling of papers and heard the moment Dean's breathing began to speed up in distress or confusion or both, depending on what memories the note was jogging. "Dean? You there, son?"

"Sam," Dean breathed. He set the paper down and leaned back in the driver's seat with a thump. He had a brief flash of his little brother as a child, of Sam's vacant eyes as he turned away from Dean and toward a jungle gym. "Bobby, what?"

"We're gonna get him back, Dean," Bobby said firmly. "I found your jungle gym designer and I think I know how to break the curse."

"What do I do?" Dean scrubbed his free hand over his face and got back out of the car. Even as they spoke, he could feel thoughts of his brother begin to slip away again. "And we gotta make it fast, Bobby."

"I know, son. I know. Listen up." Bobby pulled his own notes over and leaned back as he read them. "So, William Mackey built the thing over twenty years ago after his son went missing. Kid was eight years old, and the local cops and the townsfolk all figured the mom had made off with him." Bobby blew out a sad breath. "No one even looked for the kid. Year later, the city was dredging the creek nearby, and they turned up little Joseph Mackey's body."

"Shit," Dean said with feeling.

"Yeah. Coroner's report said he hadn't been dead more than a month." Bobby's voice deepened with anger for a child that had died needlessly. "They followed the evidence and came up with one of Mackeys' neighbors who took the kid and-well, you don't need me to draw ya' a picture. Suffice it to say, I ain't exactly gonna cry that the asshole who took him got run down by Mackey's truck and killed. And a week later, Mackey offed himself in police custody."

"Wait." Dean went to the motel room and pulled the door closed before getting back in the car. "So this Mackey guy, he put up that jungle gym and cursed it to punish the town, didn't he?"

"Yep. Near as I can figure." Bobby set his notes aside and looked out his window. "I called in a few favors and that curse was used once before in the middle ages. The object steals life energy from the victims until they turn into stone statues. It takes a while, days; maybe as long as a week. It's how the thing just keeps goin'."

"Well, how do I gank this thing?" Dean asked angrily. He went back to the trunk and opened it up, pulling open the secret compartment and looked down at the arsenal there. "Can I just napalm the damn thing and melt it into slag?"

"Sadly, no," Bobby chuckled at the image for a moment. "There'll be a charm buried under it, near the center, probably uses one of Mackey's son's bones. You need to dig it up, salt it, and burn it. The trick is gettin' in there without ending up a damn lawn ornament yourself."

"There has to be some way to keep that thing from getting inside my head." Dean looked over the multitude of weapons and charms in the trunk. "What do I do, Bobby?"

"The legend on this curse says there was a deaf man who was immune." Bobby shrugged and adjusted the phone on his shoulder while he pulled over an old, battered copy of esoteric mythology he'd paid and arm and a leg for, no longer regretting the money. "According to this, he could walk right up to the cursed object and even touch it and didn't do nothin' to him."

"That's it? Seriously?" Dean bent and pulled out a set of heavy-duty, noise-cancelling ear plugs he and Sam had used once while hunting a siren.

"That's what I got." Bobby set the book back down. "Dean, you gotta get Sam off that thing before you torch the charm holdin' it together. Otherwise, it'll drain him dry tryin' to save itself."

"Not a problem." Dean took out a pair of handcuffs from the trunk with a heavy heart and tucked them in a pocket. "I'll call you back when I have Sam."

Bobby nodded. "I know you will. Good luck, Dean."

Dean tucked his phone away and slammed the trunk closed. He didn't wait, worried that he would forget what they were for, and pushed the ear plugs into his ears. All sounds of the outside world were cut off abruptly, and he swayed a moment in disorientation before he found his balance. Dean climbed back behind the wheel. He started the engine and couldn't hear it, but he could feel the comforting rumble through the seat.

As he drove, Dean felt as though there was a fog clearing in his mind. He hadn't even really known it was there, hiding his brother's memory from him, but now he could sense it like a physical thing and it was weakening.

"Huh." Dean reached up and made sure the ear plugs were firmly in place and then smiled. "Guess this really might work."

The drive back to the little park seemed to take longer than Dean remembered it, though his memory of being there the first time was hazy at best. He floored it, not caring if a cop came after him. Hell, he wouldn't mind if one did. It's not like the cop would even remember him once they reached the playground. Thankfully, there were no cops or sirens, just Dean and the Impala speeding down the quiet, early morning streets until he stopped in front of the park.

Dean climbed out and looked at the jungle gym over the roof of the Impala. It was still shadowed from the sun by the tall trees behind it, but he could just make out a small, dark form moving sluggishly over it. "Alright." Dean went to the trunk and took out a small collapsible shovel. He stepped onto the grass and stalked toward the jungle gym with a determined look. This thing was not going to take his little brother from him. He stopped beside the gym and looked up. Dean blew out a strained breath as little Sam came climbing slowly down the side toward him. Being unable to hear anything made him feel like his head was stuffed with cotton. It was uncomfortable and he wanted to pull the plugs out. Dean squashed that desire and dropped the shovel to the ground. He waited until Sam was even with him and reached out, plucking his little brother from the structure.

Dean could see Sam's mouth moving as he carried him away. Sam squirmed weakly in his arms, fought and reached out toward the jungle gym like a junkie in need of a fix. His face was tormented. Dean forced himself to ignore it and the cries he couldn't hear. He took Sam over to the park bench, dropped to his knees, and hastily handcuffed his eight-year-old little brother to the bench.

"Sorry, buddy. You'll be better in a minute, ok?" Dean watched Sam's eyes stare past him and shook his head. "I'll be back, Sammy."

Dean rose and went back to the jungle gym. He picked up his shovel and scowled. The day before, there had been two other children, two other adults like Sam, caught by the thing, but now, Sam was alone. "Shit," Dean whispered when he saw two statues, a boy and a girl, huddled together at the bottom of the slide. They hadn't been there before. He said a silent apology to them for not being in time to save them and ducked under a little bridge that Sam had been scaling.

"Gonna rip your damn heart out." Dean got on his knees and crawled toward where he figured the center of the expansive jungle gym was. He looked up and realized the structure spiraled out above him, leaving an open space in the middle and knew he was in the right place. He unfolded the shovel, dropped to his knees, and started to dig.

The earth was packed and hard, covered in a thick layer of brown weeds that Dean had to rip and peel away before he could dig in earnest. He ducked his head down and looked out and could just see Sam. His little brother wasn't struggling anymore; he was just lying against the bench listlessly and staring at the jungle gym.

"Shit." Dean dug faster. He gotten down perhaps two feet when the end of the shovel struck something hard and metal. He hastily scraped the dark earth back until he could get his fingers under it. "Come on." Dean tugged, and at last, a small, metal box came loose in a shower of dirt as he pulled it up into his lap.

Dean rolled the metal box in his hands and found a rusted clasp on one side. He pried it open with the shovel, or tried but it refused to budge. "Son of a bitch!" He set the box on the ground and used the blade of the shovel to slam the clasp into pieces. Dean tipped the box open and grimaced at what fell out. It was clearly some sort of charm; there was burlap gone brittle with age, several beads worked into it with dark thread, and he dimly recognized it as human hair and it was twined around a small bone, like a finger, that was brown with age.

"Sorry about this, kid," Dean muttered, offering his apology to Mackey's son and hoped he was already at peace. He pulled a small container of salt out of his jacket pocket and dusted it over the macabre charm, then added a few squirts of lighter fluid from the bottle in his other pocket.

"Sure hope this works." Dean stood in the center of the jungle gym, took out his Zippo, spun the wheel and dropped it onto the charm. It burst into flames, and, though Dean couldn't hear it, he could see a sudden inrush of air around him, pulling dead leaves and twigs. They swirled in around his feet and rushed up through the center of the jungle gym. The flames burned higher and a soundless thump to the air knocked Dean off his feet and back into the metal supports.

"Crap," Dean groaned and sat up. The flames flickered and died and all the debris held aloft fluttered slowly to the ground. "Shit. Sammy!"

Dean scrambled out from under the jungle gym. He rolled out onto the grass and turned to look at it. As he watched, the formerly shining metal began to dull and rust. Each moment that passed, the gym looked years older until pieces of it began to collapse. He risked pulling the plugs out of his ears, pocketed them, and went to Sam.

Dean sighed sadly and dropped to his knees. He'd been hoping to find his once more adult brother, but Sam was still in that eight-year-old body, handcuffed to the bench. "Sammy?" He fumbled the keys to the cuffs out and quickly unlocked them before pulling Sam into his arms. "Please be ok," he whispered and blew out a loud breath in relief to find Sam breathing if unconscious.

"Gonna get you outta here." Dean held Sam against his chest with his dark head tucked under his chin and stood. He looked over at the now crumbling jungle gym and its field of statues of the dead and turned away. He felt sorry for all the poor suckers who'd paid for the death of Mackey's son, but he was damn relieved that Sam wouldn't be one of them. He skirted two of the little statues on his way to the car and pointedly didn't look too hard at them. He couldn't help but feel a little guilt for their fates. For twenty years that jungle gym had been racking up kills, and not one hunter in all that time had caught on to it until Bobby.

Dean reached the Impala and looked down worriedly at Sam. The day before, this was where his brother had stopped breathing when moved too far from the cursed jungle gym. Now, Sam slept on peacefully, breathing evenly if a little quickly. Dean smiled and fumbled the passenger door open. He slid Sam into the seat and ran around to get behind the wheel.

They reached the motel, and Dean was laying Sam out on his bed before his brother finally began to stir. He'd even called Bobby during the drive back and Sam hadn't so much as twitched. "That's it, Sam. Wake up." Dean propped Sam's child body up against the pillows and sat beside him, keeping a hand on his shoulder.

Sam woke in a roil of confusion. He gasped and opened his eyes and found Dean leaning over him. He had the feeling it wasn't the first time he'd woken that way recently, and then it all came flooding back. "Dean!"

"Easy! You're good, Sammy. You're ok," Dean reassured him quickly.

Sam raised one hand up and his brows rose. "This is ok?" He tried to sit up, but he didn't have the energy and slumped back against the pillows. "What... what happened?"

"What's the last thing you remember?" Dean rose and grabbed a bottle of water from the little refrigerator along with the cup of applesauce his brother had tossed in there the day before. He sat back down, opened the bottle and held it out.

"Um, we were... at the park." Sam frowned. He took the water bottle and groaned when the weight of it dragged his little arm back to the bed. "Dammit. I remember telling you to leave me."

"Yeah," Dean said darkly. He took the bottle back and gently lifted Sam's head in his hand, holding the water bottle to his mouth. "Drink slowly, dude. You haven't had anything in over twenty-four hours."

Sam scowled at having to be helped just to take a drink, but there was little he could do about it just then, not in his current state. He swallowed several blissfully cool mouthfuls of water and would have drained the bottle if Dean hadn't pulled it away. "Fuck. Why do I feel so damn weak?"

Dean snorted and set the bottle on the nightstand. "Dude, I know you're, you know..." he laughed. "Do me a favor and don't cuss 'til you don't look like a toddler anymore."

"Shut the hell up, Dean." Sam would have yelled right then as his voice cracked. That was a part of growing up he had certainly not missed.

"You'll get to eat at the big kids' table again, Sammy." Dean patted Sam's knees and then grabbed his shoulders, pulling him up. "Come on. Let's get you more comfortable, huh?"

"You sure I'm not going to be stuck a kid?" Sam tried to keep his voice even, but even he could hear the emotional wobble, made worse by his brother peeling his jacket and then his shirts off him like he was a helpless, little kid again. "Dammit, I can do this."

"Yeah, when you can barely lift those stick-figure arms of yours, kiddo." Dean chuckled and let Sam rest back against the pillows. "Hang on."

Sam gritted his teeth and worked at getting his own damn pants off. The effort left him gasping and feeling ridiculous in his boxer-briefs by the time Dean came back. "What kind of curse... shrinks your clothes too?"

"Be glad it did, dude." Dean pulled Sam up again and wrangled his own, well-worn Metallica shirt over his head. Dean thought he had been doing well until that point of not treating Sam too much like the child he appeared to be, but sitting there wearing his big-brother's hand-me-downs and swimming in the shirt like it was a tent, Dean couldn't stop himself from carding his fingers back through Sam's floppy hair as he had done so many times what seemed like a lifetime ago.

"Quit it, jerk." Sam brushed Dean's hand away. He was so tired. He opened his eyes and looked down at his body. "Dean, what if..." He blew out a breath and put words to his fear. "What if I'm stuck like this? What if I have to grow up all over again? I can't do that. I can't do that without..." Sam's voice clogged in his throat and he swallowed hard because he couldn't even fathom having to grow up all over again but without his big brother to make everything alright; to keep him safe.

"This will wear off. Bobby figures your body needs to build up enough energy to grow back to moose size again." Dean smirked at the disgruntled snort Sam couldn't keep in. "Might take a week or so, depending on how much of your life force that thing sucked away from you."

Sam let his head thump back tiredly and closed his eyes. "Feel like I can't even move," he admitted in a small voice and somehow wasn't surprised when he felt his big brother moving and lifting him. A moment later, he was tucked against Dean's warm chest with his head under his chin. "Not really a kid, Dean. You get that, right?"

Dean chuckled but didn't let him go. He settled back into the bed with Sam resting against him. "Yeah, I know."

Sam's protest was token at best. It was comforting to have an excuse to be like this with Dean again; to be the little brother who could shamelessly ask for comfort and get it without argument. "Thanks for saving me, Dean."

Dean nodded but said nothing. There was no need to answer because saving Sam was what he would do every damn time, no matter the cost. He felt Sam go heavy against his chest and curled his arms more tightly around his little brother.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam woke slowly. He stretched on the lumpy bed and worked to get his heavy eyes open. "Dean?" he called softly. He rolled, or tried to, and realized arms were wrapped around him. He opened his eyes, jerked his head up and found he was lying half on Dean's chest and being held. And he was his adult self again. "Dude!"

Dean startled awake and looked up to find his once-again-over-large little brother lying on his chest. Then he took in his Metallica shirt stretched ridiculously tight over Sam's chest and gave him a shove off the side of the bed. "Get off me!"

Sam hit the floor and laughed. He held up his hands, ran them through his hair and grinned. "I'm me again."

"Way too much you! My eyes!" Dean groaned and threw a hand over his eyes while he tossed a pillow at his brother's lap with the other. "Cover that up!"

"Huh?" Sam looked down and began laughing harder. He hiccuped and cleared his throat, getting to his feet. "Wow. Ok, this is uncomfortable." He tugged at his boxer-briefs that had not gotten bigger with him. They were sized for a small child and squeezing parts of him hard enough to be painful as he walked, but still, he was laughing out of sheer relief.

"It's uncomfortable for me too!" Dean lowered his hand and watched Sam as he grabbed his duffel and walked bow-legged to the bathroom and tugging on the ass of his shorts. Dean snorted a laugh and flopped back on the bed once the bathroom door closed. "Holy crap." He blew out a breath and grinned up at the ceiling. There was a part of him that had been terrified he was going to leave his little brother stuck in a child's body when his deal came due. Dean shook his head, the smile faltering with that thought, but it quickly came back when he heard Sam cursing loudly and finally groaning in relief. "That sounded dirty, Sammy!" Dean yelled.

"Bite me, Dean!"

Dean chuckled, enjoying the return of the adult timber of Sam's voice and rolled out of the bed. He grabbed his cell phone, scrubbed a hand over his face and dialed Bobby to tell him good news for a change.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: K is for Kudzu

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

K is for Kudzu -

Dean backpedaled frantically and narrowly avoided falling on his ass as a four-foot-tall stuffed bear slid across the floor at him. He braced himself on the wall, the bear crashing beside him, and looked up with a frown when he heard Sam laughing. "Shut up."

Sam chuckled and waved a hand. "If you two want some alone time..."

"You know I can kick your ass, right?" Dean promised darkly and jerked away when the taxidermied bear rocked beside him. "Go plant your damn mojo bag."

"That raccoon over there is eyeing you. Watch out." Sam grinned and ducked out of the room before Dean could beat the poltergeist to hitting him with something. He found the stairs and started up them at a run while the house banged and rattled around them. The poltergeist had clearly figured out what they were up to. They had planted two of the gris-gris bags already, using Missouri's recipe, and Sam jogged down the upper floor of the house toward the north wall. He ducked into the last room at the end of the hall and then dropped to his knees as a stuffed squirrel flew at his head and out the door to crash in the hall.

"Why'd this guy have to pick taxidermy as a hobby?" Sam groaned of the house's owner. He went to the north facing wall and knelt with his hammer. He gave a long look to a lamp across the room with a shiver for the last time he had done this. Sam couldn't make himself turn his back on the seemingly innocuous appliance and crushed a hole in the wall while never removing his eyes from it. He grunted as something slammed into his back and banged his head on the wall. "Ow." He didn't look, instead opening the hole up just enough, and he shoved his gris-gris bag into the empty space in the wall.

"Hurry up, Dean!" Sam shouted. He turned around and found a taxidermied falcon on the floor beside him, rolled his eyes, and got to his feet. He made it to the door and heard a shout from Dean on the floor below. Sam ran. It hadn't been victory in his big brother's voice but pain. "Dean!" Sam pelted down the stairs and ran, orienting himself and headed toward the south side of the house. He found Dean knelt behind a couch in a large office. The laugh bubbled up without his permission. "Dude, are those... stuffed chipmunks?"

"Sam, I swear to God..." Dean snarled. He raised his head up and had to duck another volley of the taxidermied rodents. The entire opposite wall of the room was decorated in the things on little shelves, like a small army of chipmunks to watch over the home's owner while he worked. He heard Sam laugh even harder and grabbed one of them. Dean lobbed it out the door at Sam and smirked when it hit him between the eyes. "Get in here and draw some damn fire already!"

Sam pulled a decorative plaque off the wall beside him, took a deep breath, and stepped into the room. He flung it up in front of his face as the first of the stuffed chipmunks dove for him. "Move it!"

"I am!" Dean leaped out from his hiding spot and ducked low on the side of the desk. He pulled the gris-gris bag from his pocket and kicked at the wall opposite him. He threw his arms over his head as taxidermied rodents rained down on him suddenly, and then Sam was there, standing over him with his makeshift shield. Dean gave a lopsided smile and slammed the heel of his boot into the wall. The plaster gave with a crunch. He lunged forward, shoving the bag into the opening and then pulled Sam down with him as a wave of light blew out and through the house.

"Wow." Sam blinked as the light waned and looked around as chipmunks clattered to the floor. "Was it like that the last time? Don't really remember."

"Yeah." Dean sat up and pulled a stuffed chipmunk out of the neck of his jacket with a shudder. "You were kind of out of it at the time."

Sam nodded, seeing the sudden grim look on Dean's face. He smiled. "You've got a little chipmunk in your hair." He grunted a laugh when Dean's elbow caught him in the ribs.

"Come on. Let's get out of here before Mr. Wayland comes looking for..." Dean trailed off and dug out his cell phone when it went off. "Huh. Dad's number."

Sam looked over his shoulder and sighed, seeing a set of coordinates. "Of course. Why do I get the feeling he's ditching us yet again and just hasn't told us yet?"

"Don't start. He's just running down a lead and he'll be back in a week. You know that." Dean was about to put his phone away when it beeped again.

"Uh huh," Sam said and made an effort to let it go for Dean's sake. And his own. He really wanted to believe that this time dad wasn't lying, that he really was coming back and wasn't trying to leave them "for their own good" again. He'd sounded so convincing when he'd told them only days ago that they were going to stick together from now on. And then, of course, he'd gotten a call and left them to check out some information with a last warning to them both to stay together and wait for him.

Dean looked down at the new message and frowned. "He says, 'Sounds like vamps. Don't forget the dead man's blood.'" Dean snorted and rolled his eyes. "Like I'm ever going to forget that after the last time." He glanced at Sam and shook himself with the vivid memory of nearly watching his little brother's throat ripped out and the equally terrifying moment their dad had fired the Colt and Dean hadn't been sure if he'd hit the vampire or Sam or both.

"He's does remember we've been training to do this crap since we could walk, right?" Sam rolled his eyes and slapped Dean's shoulder. "I'll look it up when we get back to the motel."

"Probably oughta pack up and boogie before this dude comes home and sees his house." Dean chuckled and led the way out of the house. "And, dude, dust that plaster crap off before you get in my car."

Sam laughed and reached out to Dean's neck. He plucked something from his collar and showed it to him. "You might want to get all the dead chipmunk off you."

"Aw, that's wrong." Dean shook his jacket out with a body-wide shudder and grimaced at the severed chipmunk leg that fell beside him. "Dude needs to get a less creepy hobby."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean shoved his dirty shirts into his duffel bag, zipped it shut and looked over at his brother. "Dude, are you packed?"

"Hmm?" Sam said absently. Dean's question registered and he nodded, not looking away from his laptop screen. "Yeah."

Dean straightened and scowled. "What? Why are you wearing constipated face?"

"Consti..." Sam looked up at Dean and then rolled his eyes with a smirk. "Shut up. I got a hold of the coroner's report on a few of the victims. These bites are weird. The bodies are covered in them and they're small. There's no way these are made by adults."

"So, drained by pint-size bloodsuckers." Dean rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. "That's a little disturbing. Are we talkin' vampire kids?"

"I don't know." Sam ran his hands through his hair, pulling it off his face, and tried to avoid the sickening thought of maybe having to behead children. It turned his stomach. "It could be. It would explain why they're staying in the forest. They'd be noticed in public. People notice kids wandering around on their own, especially at night."

Dean grimaced. "I think I hate this job."

"We can hit up the morgue on the way out to the forest and stock up on dead man's blood. We still have the crossbows?"

"Hell, yeah." Dean grinned. "Swiped 'em out of dad's truck before he took off."

Sam chuckled. "He's gonna kick your ass."

"Only if he catches me. Let's roll."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

"Glad you found that rest stop on the map," Dean observed a little breathlessly as he hiked up another incline. He adjusted the straps of his pack and wiped the sweat off his forehead. "This would'a been hell from the other end."

Sam smiled to himself, following along behind his brother. He'd spent most of the drive to the forest studying topography maps for the area and realized they could cut three miles off their hike to the area where most of the bodies had turned up if they hiked in from a rest stop, cutting across the forest rather than following the winding trails. "Of course, coming in this way has its issues."

"Yeah, no shit." Dean groaned and used his machete to hack a hole through a wall of green vines. "This crap is everywhere."

"Kudzu. It's pretty much swallowed..." Sam ducked his head to get through the opening Dean had made and took a moment to catch his breath. "... swallowed this whole area of the south after it was transplanted here from Asia. It's a menace. Be careful where you cut through the stuff. Could drop a wall of it on top of us."

"No thanks." Dean brushed yet another spider from the sleeve of his shirt with a grimace. They seemed to enjoy breeding in the kudzu vines. He brought his arm and sniffed his sleeve, then sneezed. "This crap smells funny."

Sam moved ahead of his brother and took the lead to give him a respite. "It has medicinal qualities. At least, the Japanese think so." He smirked. "That farmer at the rest stop seemed pretty sure the only thing this crap is good for is burning."

"Gotta agree." Dean looked up at a pine tree, or what he thought was a pine tree, but he couldn't see it for the kudzu vine that shrouded it from ground to tree top. It was like someone had thrown a giant, green cloth over top of the tree. It hung in veils between all the trees around them and had choked off everything growing, even along the forest floor, except for itself.

Sam took the handheld GPS out of his pocket and checked the screen. "I think we're getting close. The bodies weren't all discovered in one place, but pretty much in the same square quarter mile."

"Good." Dean slapped a vine away as it slithered down from above and into his face. "'Cause I'm about ready to set this whole mess on fire."

Sam chuckled. He climbed a vine-choked log and slid down to the other side. He stumbled to his knees and had to free his legs from the clinging tendrils. "Frigging kudzu crap."

"Look out." Dean pulled himself up and knelt on top of the log for a moment before jumping off to land a couple feet ahead of his brother. The vines on the ground cushioned his landing, and he smirked back at Sam who was only then pulling himself free. "You done playin' Twister with that crap yet?"

"Shut up." Sam pulled his other leg free and climbed up to his brother and more level ground. He looked at the GPS again and pointed to their left. "That way, more or less."

Dean swung the machete and cleared them a path through another screen of hanging vines and whistled when they emerged into a wide open space. It was a clearing the size of a city block. The kudzu crawled across it in thick carpets in some places, while in others the ground was bare earth, and the forest surrounding the clearing was draped completely in the leafy vines. "This looks promising." Dean put his machete into the sheath at his hip and reached around to pull off his crossbow.

Sam followed his example and took out his own crossbow. He took out a bolt already dipped in dead man's blood and loaded it as he looked around. "I don't see anything but..."

"There could be six vamps five feet away and we wouldn't see 'em if they're hiding in this crap." Dean kicked the vines and headed out into the open space. He kept his eyes to the ground, trusting Sam to watch their backs, and stopped when he reached the first vine-clear space. "Hey. You see this?"

Sam moved up alongside his brother and looked. The earth at their feet was scuffed and marked. There were boot prints and clear signs of a struggle. He narrowed his eyes and moved toward the other side and knelt down at the edge of the kudzu. "These are drag marks."

"Yeah, and that's dried blood." Dean scuffed the toe of his boot through it and scowled. "Not much of it though."

"Well, vampires." Sam looked up and around the field of vines warily. "They probably drank most of it."

"Neatest damn vamps I've ever seen," Dean grumbled. He moved past his brother and back into the vines toward the next small clearing of greenery.

"These drag marks are... weird." Sam ran his fingers lightly over them and leaned closer for a better look.

"Define 'weird'," Dean called. He pulled his legs free from the clinging vines and looked at the next clearing. Like the last, there were a few small spatters of blood and drag marks criss-crossing it. "Why are they dragging the bodies around if they just leave them here? Doesn't make any damn sense." He dropped to a knee to get a closer look and shook his head. "It's like they flung 'em around like a dog with a chew toy. That's comforting." He frowned and looked around for his brother. "Sammy?"

"Dean!"

Dean jerked to his feet, adrenaline flooding his system, and followed the sound of his brother's shout. He saw Sam's back bent over and half-covered in the damn vines. He was struggling like something or someone had hold of him. "Sam!" He tripped in the vines and stumbled to Sam's side. He lowered his crossbow to aim below his brother and scowled; there was nothing there. "Sam, what's goin' on?" Dean took hold of Sam's shoulder and gave a tug, trying to straighten him up, but Sam made an odd, choking sound and stayed hunched over.

"Dean..." Sam gasped and turned his head toward his brother. "Vines!"

"What about the vines?" Dean knelt in the leafy things and finally got a good look at Sam. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw a length of the kudzu wrapped around Sam's throat. There were spots of blood as his brother pulled them away from his neck. "What the hell? How'd you get wrapped up?"

Sam reared back as far as he could as his air was choked off and gave Dean a shove out of the vines into the open space. He tore at the vine, but it was tough and refused to tear. He managed to loosen it just enough and pulled it up and over his head. He heaved in a gulp of air and threw himself after his brother.

"What the hell, Sam?" Dean grabbed his brother as Sam came tumbling toward him. "Why'd you..." His voice trailed off as the sea of kudzu around them moved. It rippled all across the clearing, the sound filling the quiet day. There was a sudden explosion of sound as birds in the nearby trees erupted up into sight like something had scared them.

"That... can't be good," Sam panted and kicked his feet, shoving back further to get away from the shifting vines.

"What's goin' on?" Dean got to his knees and somehow still had hold of his crossbow. He raised it toward the vines and felt a little foolish. "Tell me there's some midget vamp in there and he grabbed you."

Sam shook his head. "No. No. It's..." he watched the kudzu rippling around them and stared in confusion. "It's the vines. The... they grabbed me."

"Like freakin' tentacles?" Dean asked in disbelief and watched Sam nod. "You gotta be kidding me."

Sam flinched when the vines around them jerked and began to inch across the open space toward them. He ran a hand over his throat, feeling blood and then looked at his hand. There were wounds on his hand, and, as he pushed back the sleeve of his jacket, on his wrists as well, and it all fell into place. "Dean. The bite marks. It's not vampire children."

"What?" Dean looked away from the vines and to his brother. He followed Sam's gaze and grabbed his arm to look for himself.

"It's the kudzu. Those are the same marks on the bodies; the same size. The kudzu is feeding on the victims."

"Vampire fucking vines? Oh, COME on!" Dean yelled. He let go of Sam's arm and got to his feet. "We gotta get out of here. You walk?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Sam coughed to clear his throat and got to his feet. He looked at the vines where he'd been caught and blew out a breath, ruffling the hair on his forehead. "My crossbow's in there."

"Shit," Dean groaned with feeling.

"I'm gonna get it."

"Whoa! No you're not!"

"We might need it!" Sam argued and took a step toward the vines.

"Nope. Come on college boy, let's be smarter than the plant life about this." Dean tugged him back and aimed at the vines. He loosed the bolt from his crossbow. It pierced a thick tendril of kudzu and sunk in. The vines convulsed with a loud, slithering sound and then settled back, once more shifting closer to them. He slung the crossbow back over his shoulder and drew his machete instead. "No point in diggin' it out if it's not gonna do any good. Don't think these things care about dead man's blood."

"Damn." Sam looked around the clearing with a sinking feeling. "Dean, those vines are covering the forest all the way back to the rest stop."

"No shit. We just climbed up here through it." Dean took a couple steps forward and swung his machete through a knot of vines. They parted, and he grimaced as a blood-colored sap oozed out. "I can set it on fire. Flamethrower would be better, but that's back in the trunk because someone didn't want me to start a forest fire."

Sam couldn't help the snort of amusement when his brother glared at him. "Still don't. I need to think."

"We need to move. Our little island is shrinking." Dean rolled his head, stretching his neck and scowled. "No choice. We're gonna have to cut our way back down. Let's move."

"This is gonna be bad," Sam observed as he turned and looked at the kudzu covered trees in their way. The path they had cut through to get in was long since gone, and the entire forest seemed to be moving around them. "How does kudzu become vampiric?"

"Mutter to yourself later, dammit!" Dean leaned down and sliced off a tendril of vine that had snaked its way toward Sam's left foot.

"Right. Sorry." Sam followed his brother and stayed just to his left. "It's gonna wrap us up as soon as we get in there. We've got to have a better plan than this."

"Well you got any brilliant suggestions, I'm all ears!" Dean shouted and had to spin and slice several more vines before they could wrap around his own legs. "We are runnin' out of room to have this conversation!"

"I don't... ok, let's move." Sam swallowed and followed his brother as Dean began to slice through the writhing vines ahead of them. He waded in beside Dean and slashed left and right with the machete. He had to keep tugging the blade free each time the kudzu wrapped around the blade or worse, his wrist. Sam's legs were being wound up as he moved, and a quick glance at his brother showed Dean in the same predicament. Sam looked over his shoulder to see how far they had come from the clearing and groaned. They had moved barely ten feet. "Dean!"

"I know!" Dean shouted and gave in. They were never going to make it moving this way. "Back! Go back! Hurry up!" He knew they would have a slightly better chance of fighting the stuff off on level ground. On the slope, they were just slowly moving targets. He turned around and began hacking a path back up with Sam beside him. "MOVE it, Sam!"

"I'm trying!" Sam snarled and jerked his leg free with a gasp when he felt more than one sharp set of teeth slice through the leg of his jeans and into his flesh. He looked more closely at the vines moving around him and could see the small mouths that ran the length of each, each one baring rows of miniature vampire fangs.

Dean cut through vines as he slogged the ten lousy feet back to the questionable safety of the clearing. He could feel blood running down his legs beneath his jeans from more bites than he wanted to think about. He was nearly there when he heard Sam's voice cry out. "Sam!" Dean spun as well as he could and watched his brother go down, a length of kudzu wrapped around his chest. "Shit! Hang on!" Dean fought the few feet back to Sam and punched one length of vine away from him before it could latch on to his throat. He reached into the wriggling mass of vines until he felt his brother's flannel and latched on to Sam's arm. "Come on!"

Dean half-dragged Sam with him as he turned and fought the last few feet. He pulled Sam out and slashed away vines until his brother was free. "Holy shit." Dean pulled him a few more feet away into the center of the shrinking clearing and dropped down beside him. They were both covered in blood and sap from the vines, and Dean grimaced when he saw several pieces of vine still latched on to them both, severed and twitching like green tentacles while they continued trying to feed, and blood dripped steadily from the cut ends. "Jesus."

"That was... bad idea," Sam gasped. He plucked a piece of vine from his stomach with a flinch as the teeth pulled free.

"Yeah. Got that. Hang on." Dean unwound the vine from around his brother's chest and threw it away angrily. "Sam, you ok?"

Sam nodded and then shook his head. He was woozy from blood loss, and they hadn't had him for long. His whole body felt like it had been attacked by a school of angry piranha. "Can't... do that... again."

"Yeah, no." Dean pulled a still feeding vine from his own leg and glanced warily around them. The rustling sound of the vines was becoming louder by the moment and it filled him with dread. "Not gonna have much choice here soon." He looked back down at Sam and frowned for the pale, waxy look of his brother's face. "Dude, how bad did they get you?"

"Bad." Sam shifted with a groan and tried to sit up more. The machete slipped from his fingers to fall to the ground. His hands and feet were tingling, another symptom of blood loss. "I, uh... I'm not doin' so good."

"I can see that. Crap, how much have you lost?" Dean picked at the blood-sodden right leg of Sam's jeans and swallowed hard against a lump of real fear for him.

"Other leg's... just as bad." Sam tugged his flannel up and grimaced at his own chest and the bloody bite wounds there. "Not much better here." He slowly toppled to his back on the ground and panted, trying to catch his breath while the world did a lazy spin around him and his stomach threatened to revolt.

Dean wasn't feeling spectacular himself. He'd lost enough blood to make him a little nauseous, but at least the damn things hadn't managed to wrap him up twice like they had Sam. "There's gotta be a way out of this," he said while he pulled his pack off and dug through it for the first aid kit.

Sam nodded and tried to think it through. It was no small feat with his head feeling like it was stuffed with cotton. He felt something slithering up his ankle and jerked his head up in time to watch Dean slice another kudzu vine from him. "Thanks."

Dean set the machete down and pulled out his pocket knife. "They're gonna be on us soon." He slit the leg of his brother's jeans up to the knee and shook his head. Blood was still flowing from what had to be over a dozen bites. "Dammit."

Sam let his head thump back into the dirt. He went over everything he'd learned about kudzu in his head. "Researched it," he muttered and waved one arm weakly toward the sea of vines.

"Of course you did." Dean snorted and taped another bandage to Sam's leg. He was going to run out long before he got his brother patched up and he hadn't even started on himself. They were in trouble. Going out being eaten by a bunch of damn vampiric plants was not a way he had ever envisioned dying, and he had envisioned plenty. "So?" Dean asked as he leaned down and put pressure on a particularly heavy bleeder. "What do ya' got?"

"Um..." Sam hissed in pain and shook his head. "Kudzu. Hard to kill. Burning... shit that really hurts."

"I know. I know. Come on. Keep going." Dean had to pull one hand from Sam to scoop up his machete and cut another vine before it could reach them.

"Burning doesn't work. Doesn't, uh... doesn't kill it. Roots just burrow and... and come back up." Sam panted and forced his eyes open. Dean was going to need him if they were going to get out of this. "There's a... a crown."

"What? It's wearing a damn crown?" Dean smirked down at Sam while his brother shook his head and grinned at the look of annoyance Sam managed even in his state.

"Not a real crown, dumbass." Sam scrubbed a hand over his face. "The root ball, basically. It's like... like its heart."

"Heart, huh? That I can work with," Dean said dangerously. "Where is it and how do I kill it?"

"Cut it off." Sam took a couple deep breaths and forced his body to rise up onto his elbows so he could look around. "That's how the farmers do it. They cut the crown off and the kudzu dies. Kills the plant almost immediately." He blinked, trying to clear his blurry vision. "Should be about the size of a basketball. Maybe bigger with this mess."

Dean put the last of the bandages on Sam's leg. He had to grab his brother's arms suddenly and jerk him back and away as a tangle of vines lunged out toward Sam's legs. "Crap!"

Sam kicked and helped Dean until they were back in the center of their ever shrinking sanctuary. "All the kills... they're here. This area." He made his aching, weary body get to its knees and took the machete Dean handed to him. "Root crown has to be here too, or close by."

Dean stood up and over Sam and looked out at the disturbing, ever-moving green landscape. The constantly shifting vines were like a rolling sea, and made it difficult to focus on any one thing as he turned slowly in a circle with a keen eye. He worked at ignoring the kudzu as it creeped closer and closer and finally narrowed his eyes. "Hey, I think I got it. Get up here."

Sam took Dean's hand and let his brother pull him the rest of the way to his feet. He swayed and held onto Dean's shoulder until he was steady. "Where?"

"Right out there. About twenty yards." Dean pointed and was sure he'd found it. Some twenty yards into the clearing was a larger hump of the kudzu vines, and resting in the center was a huge brown bundle of roots about the size of a beach ball. Even as he watched, it lowered under the twisting vines and nearly vanished before being pushed gently up again.

"Yeah. That's it." Sam blew out a breath. "How the hell are we gonna get close enough to cut it off without getting sucked dry?"

Dean shook his head. "No choice, Sam. We're just gonna have to go for it. I mean, it's right there!"

"May as well be a mile," Sam observed and looked down at his bloody, tattered jeans. He squinted in the sunlight and tilted his head to look more closely, then brought his left arm up to peer at it. "Hey, maybe this will work like dead man's blood."

"What?"

"This." Sam angled his arm so Dean could see the sap and fluid from the vines they had chopped free of the giant plant. "Look. There aren't any bites where this crap covers the fabric."

Dean looked, glanced out at the vines and then looked again and groaned. He rolled his eyes. "Aw, man. I am gonna need six showers after we get done with this crap." He leaned over to sniff his brother's arm and grimaced. "And it smells! Dammit!"

Sam chuckled and shrugged. "Do the job."

"Yeah. Yeah. Just... stay here and try not to get eaten for thirty seconds." Dean rolled out his shoulders and moved toward the edge of their little clearing. It was much closer than it had been, and he sincerely hoped that Sam's crazy idea would work. Otherwise, some other hunter was going to be finding their bones out here someday. And damn, that was a sobering thought. He steeled his resolve to not let this be the end of them and went fearlessly to the vines.

Sam watched Dean and flinched in sympathy when several lengths of vine lashed out toward him. "Careful, Dean!"

"No shit, Sherlock!" Dean swung and sliced through two of them. He ducked under a swipe from a third and caught it on the back swing, severing it neatly. He ducked down and scooped up the wriggling things then dashed back to his brother. "Ok, here we go. Grab a tentacle and start smearing."

"Could you not make this weird?" Sam took one of the vines and began squeezing the viscous sap out of the end. He felt the sharp teeth from the little mouth-like holes grazing the skin of his hands and shivered; even as it died, it was still trying to feed.

"Aw, yech." Dean groaned and turned his nose away as he smeared a handful of the sap on his neck. It took them several minutes to cover what they could of themselves and they took turns trying to paint each others' backs with the stuff. Finally, Dean was satisfied they were as protected as they were going to get. "Just for good measure," he said as he used one of the remaining vines and slathered the blade of his machete with it. He nodded when Sam did the same.

Sam took a couple deep breaths to steady himself; his nose burned from the smell of the kudzu sap. He flicked a glance to Dean and looked away. "You gonna tell dad we got our asses handed to us by a plant?" Despite the gravity of their situation, he couldn't help the small smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth as he pictured THAT conversation in his mind.

"Hell, no," Dean answered quickly. "Pygmy vampires. We're gonna tell him that, and no one's ever gonna know we almost got ganked by the weird Japanese porn monster."

"Oh, ew. Nice, Dean." Sam rolled his eyes and then nodded. "Let's do this."

"Go straight in. No stopping." Dean took a step forward and firmed his resolve. He strode to the edge of the kudzu field and managed not to jerk back when the first leafy tendrils swung out for him. He cut easily through them and kept his eyes on the root crown.

The kudzu seemed to erupt around them as they moved. Sam stumbled more than once as they moved. Either his feet rolled on the uneven bed of living ground cover or the vines slammed into him in an effort to knock him down. "Dammit." He felt his body weakening with exhaustion with every foot they gained, and jerked each time he felt something sharp try and catch in his skin.

"Almost there!" Dean yelled. He stomped down on one thick coil of kudzu before it could strike like an angry snake and pulled the machete through two more after they wrapped around his upper thigh. The dead kudzu sap was definitely doing it's job though. They should have been lifeless husks drained of blood on the ground by now, but they were still up and still fighting. Well, Dean amended when he caught a look at his obviously flagging brother, mostly up. "Come on!"

Sam hacked at a bundle of vines trying to encase his left leg. He nearly cut himself open doing it but managed to free it for the moment. He pushed on tiredly, hacking and slicing around him in an endless fight. There were just too many; the kudzu too damn massive and widespread for them to even create a safe harbor for themselves. And worse, the sap was beginning to dry and flake off him and his clothes. Very soon they were going to be unprotected again, or close enough not to matter. He checked Dean's position and heaved a sigh of relief seeing his brother reach the crown at last. "Cut it loose, Dean! Just hack all the vines away from it!"

"Watch my back!" Dean jerked his right arm and the machete free from vines trying to hold onto it and slammed the blade into the first, thick root that spread from the crown. Up close, it looked more like a tree stump covered in mutated growths that branched and spread, becoming the kudzu that covered the whole of the forest around them. "Damn... ugly... piece... of crap!" He punctuated each angry word with a swing of the machete, either freeing himself or taking another root from the crown. He kicked out and knocked the crown up and sideways, giving him access to more of the vines springing from it. The ground was becoming slippery with blood and sap beneath his feet.

"Dean! Hurry up!" Sam stumbled and went to a knee with a kudzu vine suddenly wrapped firmly around his left thigh. He twisted to cut it free and yelped when he felt the teeth digging into him and his blood running anew. "Shit!" He looked up and saw Dean pause. "No! Keep going! I've got this!" Sam urged and went back to freeing himself. "Hope I've got this," he muttered under his breath.

Dean shook his head and kept hacking at the crown. "Die already!" He reared back for another swing and snarled as his left arm was caught and held. The vine holding him pulled hard and nearly toppled him backward into the seething mess. A moment later, his arm was freed and Dean jerked his head back to find Sam giving him a wan smile. "Thanks."

"Stop... stop screwin' around." Sam's voice was raspy and faint. It had cost him to free Dean, giving the length of kudzu wrapped around his own leg more time to feed. He bent at last and sliced it away and felt a fresh rush of warm blood down his leg. It was taking a monumental effort of will to keep moving and fighting and not just give in, but he knew the moment he did would be the moment he cost Dean his life, when his brother would try to hopelessly save him, and Sam couldn't do it. He could never be responsible for that. He grit his teeth together and kept moving.

"Almost... got it!" Dean yelled. The crown tumbled down suddenly to the ground, and Dean leaned on it, reaching over to reach the vines growing out from the other side. There were only two left. He sliced one and then it struck him that the kudzu on his right, the whole field of the stuff, seemed to be settling. It wasn't writhing as actively as the stuff directly around them. It spurred him on with the realization that they were almost done, just a moment more and they could walk out of here alive. "Suck it, ugly!" Dean bellowed and leaned over the crown to cut the last kudzu root free. "Sammy, I got it!"

"Dean!" Sam lost his footing on the blood and sap slick vines and went down hard. More of them slithered over and around him, finding all the spots where the dead sap he'd smeared himself with had worn away during the fight. He heard Dean's voice call out but his head was too fuzzy to make out the words.

"Sammy?" Dean spun, slashing several vines away from his own body and saw his brother on the ground being wrapped up. "These things need to hurry up and die!" He cut his way to Sam, hacking kudzu apart and stumbling and slipping until at last he was standing over him. "Hang on, Sam!"

"To what?" Sam asked hoarsely. The machete slipped from his nerveless fingers, and his body no longer answered his orders as he crumpled down, helpless with too much of his own blood lost.

"No, dammit!" Dean leaned down and cut three vines from around his brother, pulling them free with sick, squelching sounds and tossed them aside. The kudzu around them gave a sudden, violent convulsion. It threw Dean off his feet to land beside his brother, and he looked up warily and then began to grin as the kudzu slowly went still and settled to the ground. The little valley became quiet except for their ragged, harsh breathing.

"Holy shit." Dean pushed up with a grimace of disgust as his hands slid through the muck beneath them. "Hey, Sam?"

"Y-yeah." Sam's voice was little more than a whisper, and he couldn't do much other than roll his head over toward his brother's voice. "M'here. We get it?"

Dean nodded and got slowly to his knees. "Yeah, we got it."

"Help... help me up."

"Right." Dean wasn't sure Sam should even be moved, but there was little choice. He slid an arm under Sam's shoulders and slowly, carefully, pulled him up until Sam was sitting and leaning against his shoulder. "Ok. Ok. Hey, how you doin'?"

"Kudzu... lunch," Sam said wearily. He blinked his eyes open and looked around them with a small smile. "Nice... nice work."

"Friggin' took long enough." Dean looked down at Sam and wondered how the hell he was going to get his over-tall little brother back down to the rest stop and the car. "Damn, we gotta stop some of this bleeding."

"Dean. Look." Sam raised a shaking hand and pointed to the ground just below the root crown. He slowly pushed himself more upright and, with Dean's help, managed to crawl the few feet to it.

"Geez, take it easy. You're leaving a trail of blood, dude." Dean supported Sam under one shoulder and then his eyes went wide when he saw what he was looking at. "Is that a skeleton?"

"Yeah." Sam reached in under the edge of the crown and pushed some of the now dead kudzu away. He began to shiver with the effects of blood loss but ignored. Somehow, he knew this was important. "You see a sk-skull?"

"Let me look." Dean leaned in beside him and started digging through the vines and gore. He swallowed hard around the urge to throw up and then his fingers slid along something smooth and round. "Yeah. Got it. Ick."

Sam laughed softly and watched Dean pulled the skull out into the light. It glistened in the sun, covered in a mixture of blood and sap and Sam reached for it. "Ok, that's... that's nasty," he said as he took the bone in his hands. He sat back a little, grateful for Dean's supporting arm behind him and turned the skull's face up to the light.

"Holy shit," Dean breathed and leaned in for a closer look.

"Fangs." Sam ran the pads of his fingers carefully over the long row of vampire fangs visible on the upper jaw and then looked at the root crown. "That's how it happened."

"How what happened?" Dean asked and took the skull back, tossing it back to the ground.

"Someone, hunter probably, ganked a vamp here." Sam coughed and slumped back further into his brother. "The blood... gets soaked up by the crown and spread..."

"Spreads out to the rest of the damn thing and surprise! Blood sucking vines." Dean shook his head in a mixture of disgust and wonder.

"Need to burn... burn the crown." Sam's eyes slipped closed without him meaning them too.

"I'll go find our packs and torch it, but... Sam? Sammy?" Dean caught him as Sam's weight fell into him. He tipped Sam's head back, brushed his long hair out of his face and sighed. "Dammit." He took a moment and just sat there with Sam in his arms, exhausted himself. He'd managed to avoid the worst of the hungry kudzu, but he'd still lost enough blood to make him woozy and sick to his stomach.

Dean eased out from under Sam and laid him back reluctantly against a bed of now still kudzu. He stared down at several of the little, fang-filled mouths on the vines, waiting for any of them to move but they stayed still and he nodded. "Ok. Don't go anywhere." He got to his feet wearily and made his way back in the general direction of the clearing where he'd left their packs. Dean wiped a hand off on his shirt and pulled his cell phone out. He considered for a moment and then grudgingly dialed Bobby's number instead of their father's. Dad didn't exactly have a great track record of picking up the phone when he was into something.

"Dean?"

Dean smiled at Bobby's voice and knelt down when he found their packs. He shoved a tangle of limp kudzu off them and pulled them free. "Hey, Bobby. So, dad sent us on a damn forest hike with that marine crap of his."

Bobby snorted. "More coordinates? Thought your old man was stayin' close now."

"He was. He is." Dean refused to see it any other way; he couldn't. "He'll be back. So anyway, while he's, you know, wherever, me and Sam have picked up a couple jobs." He blew out a breath and got to his feet with both packs. "We're kinda screwed here right now. I mean, we ganked the nasty, but we're banged up. Well, Sam is."

"How bad?" Bobby asked and pulled over a map. "And where the hell are you boys?"

Dean rattled off the coordinates along with the mile marker of the rest stop they'd hiked in from. "He's lost a lot of blood, Bobby. Not doin' so hot myself," Dean said as he swayed and barely stayed on his feet while going back to Sam. "No way I'm dragging him down off this mountain. We could use backup here."

Bobby found their location on the map easily and nodded. "You boys hold out for about four hours? Or you need me to get search and rescue to you now?"

It was a serious question and Dean debated it as he knelt beside Sam again. His gut reaction was to say they'd wait it out, but Sam... "Ah, hell. Better send search and rescue, Bobby. I ran out of bandages the first time these things caught us. Got nothin' left to patch him up with now and some of these are still bleeding. I don't know that he's got four hours. Hell, I'm not sure I do if I can't get at least a little patched up myself."

"Ok, do what you can. Just keep him stable." Bobby was already looking up the number he needed and calculating if he had enough gas left in his truck to make it there without stopping. "I'll have you boys outta there in half an hour. You just take care of each other for a little while longer, ok, son?"

Dean smiled and let his head drop in relief. "Yeah, Bobby. Hey. Thanks."

"Idjits."

Dean hung up the phone and tucked it away, then settled in beside Sam. He tugged off his jacket and then his flannel before pulling over Sam's pack and taking out the lighter fluid. "Gonna roast this thing before help gets here." He looked down at Sam's disturbingly pale face and swallowed. "Be nice if you woke up so I wasn't talking to myself here." Sadly, Sam stayed still and quiet and Dean got reluctantly to his feet to finish the job.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean jumped and startled awake when something hit him in the face. "Huh? Wha'?" He blinked and looked up to find Sam's half-lidded gaze on him and a grin spread over Dean's face. "Sam! Hey!" He sat up and put a hand to his brother's shoulder. "About time you joined the party." Dean looked down and saw one of the pillows that had been resting under Sam's arm on the floor; Sam having used that to wake him. "You feelin' alright?"

"Hospital?" Sam asked and coughed around his dry throat.

"Hang on." Dean grabbed a cup of water and straw from the tray next to the bed and held it so Sam could get a drink. "Yeah. Search and rescue humped your gigantor ass down off the mountain on a stretcher." He chuckled and didn't mention that they'd carried Dean down as well.

"You ok?" Sam asked, studying his brother's face with a frown.

"Down a couple pints, but, yeah, I'm good." Dean smiled but it faded quickly. "You lost a hell of a lot more. They had to transfuse you twice, dude."

"Twice?" Sam asked and then looked up as the door to the room opened. His eyes widened in surprise when their father appeared and he quickly noticed the lumps of gauze taped to the inside of both of dad's elbows. "Dad?"

"Heya, Sammy," John greeted his youngest with relief. He handed one of the cups of coffee he'd gone for off to Dean and then reached out to brush the dark hair from Sam's eyes. "You're looking better."

"Dad, they gave me your blood?" Sam stared in surprise.

Dean snorted. "Offered mine, but they wouldn't let me."

John rolled his eyes and hooked a chair over with his foot. "He'd lost more than enough blood all on his own." He leaned back in his chair and smiled again. "Good to see you awake, tiger."

"How long was I out?" Sam asked and carefully sat up a little, not surprised when Dean was suddenly up beside him to help. "Dude, I got this."

"Whatever. Shut up." Dean shoved the pillows behind Sam's back more firmly and sat down again. "And it's tomorrow."

Sam looked over at his father and felt a nagging fear settle. He hadn't truly believed the man would come back, and yet there he was sitting beside him. "Where's my coffee?"

"In the coffee maker where it's gonna stay until the doctors say you can have some," John said firmly with a smirk. "No caffeine until your blood pressure normalizes."

"I feel fine," Sam said quickly and rolled his eyes at the looks of disbelief on both Dean and Dad's faces.

"Sorry, Sammy," John sipped his own coffee and shrugged when Sam gave him puppy-dog eyes. "Not gonna work. I'm immune."

"Dude. No one's immune," Dean said mock-seriously and studiously avoided meeting Sam's eyes while he sipped his own coffee and smiled happily. The doctor had given him the all clear right before Dad had gone to get it. "You should see him with witnesses. It's not even fair. He melts little old ladies. They suddenly wanna mother him and shit."

Sam snorted and leaned back further into his bed. "It's less risky than banging the information out of..."

"OH-kay then!" Dean cut Sam off with a worried glance to his father. "That's enough of that. You get some more sleep, Sammy."

Sam snickered and closed his eyes, satisfied. "It's Sam."

"Hey, Dean?" John met his eldest's eyes over Sam's bed and shook his head. "We need to have a discussion on practicing... safe interview techniques?"

Sam was surprised into laughter at that and curled his arms over his sore torso.

"Shuddup." Dean picked up Sam's discarded pillow and dropped it onto his brother's face. He met his father's gaze with flaming cheeks and cleared his throat. "Uh, no, sir."

"Uh-huh." John chuckled while his sons wrestled over Sam's pillow, and the fact that Dean let Sam win. He'd tell them what he'd discovered later, when Sam was recovered enough to get out of there. It could wait a day or two before he put their lives in danger again, he decided. He wanted them both to be fighting fit before he sat down and told them the truth; all of it. They were going to need to be sharp to follow the trail it had taken him twenty years to uncover. "Get some rest, boys. We've got work to do."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: L is for Labyrinth

Chapter Text

 

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

L is for Labyrinth -

"Are we sure there's a witch here?" Dean asked as he scanned the third article he'd turned up. He spun the laptop so Sam could see and pointed at it. "A witch sends this guy on Wonka's wild ride down the river?"

Sam peered at the article, scanning down the text and gave a snort of laughter. "'The victim stated to police that a man dressed in what he called a 'snazzy, purple suit and top hat' offered him a ride on his boat. After boarding, he alleges the ride became a sail of horrors with his worst nightmares flashing all around him like the boat was surrounded by movie screens.' Wow." Sam shook his head. "Ok, that is a little Willy Wonka, isn't it?"

"Oh, it gets better." Dean pulled the laptop back and smirked. "Got another one who says flying monkeys attacked him on the roof of his office building, so Wizard of Oz. And this one who says she was lured down into her own cellar and had to escape a flood of worms."

"Worms?"

"Worms. Little wriggly bastards that tried to drown her." Dean chuckled and sat back. "So, why do you think this is a witch? I mean that last one says cheesy, horror movie fan." He snorted. "You remember 'Squirm'?"

Sam laughed and nodded, turned and grabbed a file off his bed. He opened it, flicking through several pages and pulled out a glossy black-and-white photo, and handed it to Dean. "Because they found one of those at every crime scene."

Dean held up the picture and rolled his eyes. "Well, hell. Hex bags."

"Yeah. She may like cheesy horror films, but definitely a witch operating here." Sam tossed the file on the table. "But I have no idea how she's picking her victims. These people have nothing in common that I can find. A soccer mom, a filing clerk, and the dude on the boat is a waiter at some shitty little diner. On the plus side, they're all still alive, at least."

"Huh." Dean ran a hand through his hair and thought. "So, maybe the only thing they have in common IS the witch. Maybe they each did something that pissed this chick off."

"That's gonna make it a lot harder to find her." Sam groaned and stood, stretching out his back. "We should check out where they all worked. See if anyone remembers someone giving them a hard time recently."

"Ok, but we're sticking together." Dean shook his head when Sam opened his mouth to protest. "Witches are nasty pieces of work, dude. I'm not gonna end up with you turned into a newt or something."

Sam laughed at that. "I'm not the one who ticks off uptight women," he observed with a knowing look at his brother. "Pretty sure you're the one who'd get turned into something small and rat-like."

"Hey!" Dean flipped his middle finger at his brother and closed the laptop. "I hate witches. Not my fault the feeling is mutual."

Sam rolled his eyes and looked at the files again. "We could start with the law firm the filing clerk worked at. It's downtown. Should still be someone there and the police report said the clerk's coworker was with him when he went missing. Maybe he saw something, um..." Sam dug through the pile of papers until he found the report and nodded. "Norman something. Can't read the detective's handwriting."

"Yeah, why not." Dean stood and stretched. "Get the really boring one out of the way before we go talk to soccer mom." He waggled his brows at his brother. "You see her picture? She's kinda hot."

"Mom, Dean. She's married with kids." Sam shook his head at his brother and gathered up the papers they'd need.

"And? Desperate Housewives, Sammy." Dean grinned and ran his hands through his hair, spiking it up. "They can't get enough of me."

"You're ridiculous."

"No. I'm irresistible."

"And this is why you're gonna get turned into a rat." Sam waved a finger at him and grabbed up the laptop, packing it away too. "Ten bucks you piss off the witch and she screws with you."

"You're on." Dean grabbed the laptop bag from his brother, ducking Sam's attempt to get it back and headed for the door. "Saw you screwin' with my presets earlier," he called over his shoulder. "You can have your toy back when you fix my radio!"

Sam groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face. "My big brother is a giant child."

"I heard that!"

"No, you didn't!" Sam shouted out through the open door. He laughed softly and grabbed his jacket, hoping they'd get a break in this case before his brother really DID piss off the witch.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean looked around office of the law firm and gave a slight shudder at the sea of cubicles and the drones working in them. He couldn't imagine trying to go through life like that day after day with nothing but mindless busy work repeating over and over and over.

"Detective Fischer?"

Dean turned and smiled for the pretty, blonde receptionist, Terri with an 'I', as she'd informed Dean when she emerged from one of a row of offices and gave him a smile. "Did you find him?"

"I did, actually." Terri shrugged one shoulder and flicked her hair over the other one playfully. The detective was certainly a talk drink of water she wanted a chance to swall...

"Terri?" Dean quirked a brow at the dazed expression on the woman's face and smirked as her eyes snapped wide and she coughed.

"Um... him. Right." Terri giggled and could feel her face flushing a brilliant shade of red. How she was supposed to remember her own name with those bottle green eyes looking down at her, she had no idea. And every time the man swiped his tongue unconsciously across his plush, full lips, she could swear she felt IQ points falling away. "Norman. Norman, um..." She lost the name as Dean's tongue peeked out at her again and she swallowed hard. "Oh, uh... Norman Rockwell. The attorney you were... but he's not an attorney. He's an intern. One floor up."

"Norman Rockwell? Really?" Dean snorted and wondered if that was the guy's real name.

"Yeah," Terri said dreamily. "Can I take you?" She coughed and shook her head. "I mean take you... I mean can I take you upstairs and show you where... Oh, hell."

Dean chuckled at her breathless voice and took pity on her. He brushed his fingers through her blonde hair, tucking it behind her ear and gave her his best grin. "Would you mind if I gave ya' a call once this case is cleared up, Terri with an 'I'?"

"Please." Terri pulled the slip of paper out of her bra that she'd already written her number on and handed it to Dean. "You better call, detective."

"Thanks, Terri." Dean winked at her and could almost see her knees going weak as he turned away and headed for the elevators with a satisfied chuckle. "Yep. Still got it." He took out his phone while he waited for the elevator to come down and called his brother. "Heya, Sammy. Got a name; Norman Rockwell. Yeah, I know. Can't be his real name, right? Anyway, eighth floor. I'm heading up there now to find him." Dean listened to Sam and stepped into the elevator as the doors opened. "I don't know. Maybe Rockwell's an alias. Could be hiding from our witch. Meet me up there."

Dean flipped his phone closed and stepped out on the eighth floor when the doors opened. Like the floor below, it was a sea of cubicles and unhappy looking people. He singled out a young man sitting at a desk nearby and flashed his badge as he neared. "Hey. Detective Fischer. I'm looking for Norman Rockwell."

"Whoa! Norman do something wrong?" The man looked up at Dean wide-eyed and maybe a little gleefully; fresh office gossip was hard to come by.

"Nothing like that," Dean assured him and put his badge away. "We just have some questions about something he may have witnessed. Can you tell me where he is?"

"Oh." The man deflated a little and shrugged. He waved a hand toward the back of the floor. "Last time I saw him, he was in the stacks."

"The stacks?"

"It's where they keep official documents, court case filings, research..." Sam's voice came from behind Dean. "Pretty much a room-sized circular file."

Dean smirked. "Trust you to know that, college boy." He looked down at the young man at the desk. "My partner, Detective King. Thanks."

Sam followed his brother and moved up alongside him as they walked down the row of cubicles toward the other side of the building and rolled his eyes. "Can't believe you named us Fischer and King and no one's figured out that it's bullshit yet."

Dean chuckled. "People hear what they wanna, dude. You know that."

"Yeah." Sam ducked under a low-hanging sign and ignored the knowing snicker from his big brother.

"There we go," Dean said and went to the door the guy at the desk had pointed out.

"I'm gonna hang back while you talk to him." Sam followed Dean inside and lowered his voice. "If he's just another potential victim, we don't want to spook him from giving us information."

"Stay close." Dean resisted the urge to take out his gun, though he always felt better having it in his hand. "Norman?" Dean called and turned down a row of shelves that rose up to the ceiling above. "Hey, Norm! Got some questions for ya'!" He strode quickly into the stacks and heard a shuffling sound nearby and to his left. "Norman Rockwell?" Dean turned a corner and looked down the next aisle. He saw a man, about six feet tall with shaggy brown hair in a white button-down shirt and black slacks standing there. "Mr. Rockwell?"

"Oh!" Norman frowned and turned, setting a thick file back on the shelf. "Who are you? You shouldn't be in here."

"Detective Fischer." Dean flipped his badge out and let the man have a look before he put it away again. "We're looking into the, uh, attacks. The local police report listed you as a possible witness. We were hoping you could tell us something."

Norman smirked. "A lot of people work in this building. What can I tell you? I don't even really know the guy who was attacked." He shrugged. "We just happened to be going to lunch at the same time."

Dean nodded. "So, Norman." He watched the man's face carefully. "Rockwell? That really your last name?"

Norman frowned harder. "Why wouldn't it be?"

"Norman Rockwell? I mean, you don't look like a turn-of-the-century painter." Dean smirked. He heard what he KNEW was a snort of disbelief from somewhere nearby and made a mental note to kick his little brother's ass later. "Aging pretty damn well for one if you are."

Norman gave a sudden laugh and waved a hand. "Right. No. My parent's sense of humor; mom actually." He shrugged. "She always said she knew when she married my dad she was going to name their first son Norman."

"Huh. Ok." Dean watched the man but couldn't get a read on him other than 'office drone'. "You sure you don't know anything else?"

"Sorry, detective." Norman grabbed his suit jacket from the shelf in front of him and gave it a snap, opening it out.

Dean's eyes followed the fall of a small, brown object that thumped softly into the floor at his feet. He saw Norman bending down curiously to pick it up just as Dean realized what it was. "Shit! No!" He bent and slapped Norman's hands away. "Don't touch that thing."

"Dean?" Sam's voice echoed in the room.

"Sammy, get over here. Got a hex bag." Dean nudged the bag with his toe and looked up at Norman. "That's, uh, detective talk for 'we don't know'." He smiled. "You should go back to work and let us handle this."

"Let you..." Norman's eyes widened when a taller man appeared at the end of the aisle.

"Here." Sam took out a lighter and tossed it to his brother. "Mr. Rockwell?"

"Go on. Get him outta here and check his desk for any more surprises." Dean took Norman's arm and gave him a nudge toward his brother. "Don't worry about it, Norm. You're gonna be fine." He knelt again and set flame to the hex bag.

"Come on, sir." Sam turned and started back toward the door.

Dean watched the hex bag go up in a gout of green flame and shook his head. "Man, who did these people piss off?" He turned when he heard a heavy thump and shot to his feet. Sam was in a heap on the floor at the other end of the aisle. "Sam? Norman, what happened?"

"This." Norman pulled another hex bag from the pocket of his jacket and tossed it to Dean who caught it reflexively. "Hunters. You guys need to work on your blending in."

"You're the..." Dean's voice choked off as a feeling of intense heat flowed through him from the hex bag. He fought to open his fingers and it rolled out of his grip to the floor, but the damage was done. He felt his knees collapse and he went to the floor and into darkness to the sound of Norman's laughter.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean groaned. His head felt like someone had crushed his skull. He brought a hand up expecting to find blood, but there wasn't any that he could tell. "Sammy," he whispered, in deference to his pounding head. He slowly convinced his heavy eyes to open and blinked sluggishly for a moment before it registered that he was staring up at a cracked, stone ceiling. He felt cold, hard rock under his back and shivered.

"Sam." Dean called and then jerked upright as he remembered. "Sam!" The sound of his own voice raised in a shout speared through his skull. Dean moaned in pain with a hand wrapped around his head. He looked down when he felt something land in his lap. It was a small hex bag, and he picked it up in shaking fingers with a snarl of anger.

"Oh, you son of a bitch!" Dean dug his lighter out of his pocket, ignoring the spinning, tumbling sensation that threatened to dump him back to the floor and quickly set the small cloth bag on fire. It went up in a burst of green flame. Dean dropped it, and the pain in his head instantly vanished. It went so quickly, he swayed with the relief and nearly fell over again before catching himself. "Holy shit." He put a hand to his head and cautiously got to his feet.

"Sam!" Dean yelled and listened to his voice echoing down the hall and away from him.

"Nine hours and twenty three minutes."

"What?" Dean spun in surprise as a voice sounded behind him. His eyes widened and then narrowed angrily. Norman stood a few feet away wearing an elaborate black cloak and had, of all things, a grandfather clock beside him that was taller than he was. "Where's my brother, you asshole?" Dean strode forward, intent on grabbing the idiot and grunted as he bounced painfully off an invisible barrier.

"Nine hours and twenty... sorry, twenty-two minutes now." Norman said after consulting the grandfather clock with a smile. "That's how long you have to find your brother before you lose him forever. Find him or Sam is mine."

"Look, pal. I know the hair's a little confusing, but Sam don't swing that way." Dean threw a fist out in front of him and snarled when it too bounced off. "Find another dance partner."

Norman scowled. "You're not taking this very seriously. I have Sam."

"Yep. Got that." Dean nodded and checked to see if he was armed. His gun was gone, but he could feel the weight of the knife secreted at his back and the second, smaller blade in his boot. He looked up to Norman and smirked. "You leave him alone?"

"What? Yes. He's tied up, of course." Norman gave what he hoped sounded like a menacing laugh. "The handcuffs are very tight."

"Uh-huh. You left him alone." Dean raised his brows and then snorted a laugh. "Only one person I know picks locks faster than me, man." Dean smirked when Norman suddenly looked concerned and twitchy. "So, tell you what. You let Sam go. We walk away. No harm, no foul."

"Nine hours and twenty minutes!" Norman yelled instead. He wouldn't be deterred. "I'd move quickly if I were you."

Dean yelled inarticulately in frustration when Norman vanished in a melodramatic cloud of smoke. "Son of a BITCH!" He reached out and the barrier that had protected Norman was gone. Dean pulled the knife from the back of his jacket and started down the tunnel. "Alright, you asshole. Let's dance."

The tunnel Dean followed quickly turned and split into two more tunnels, and, as he looked in either direction, they seemed to elongate and stretch on forever in front of his eyes with bare light bulbs making pools of light at regular intervals. "The hell?" Dean muttered in confusion. He shook his head and started jogging, choosing one direction and and quickly worked up to a run. No matter how far or fast Dean ran, the tunnel kept extending ahead of him until it seemed to go on forever.

Dean slid to a stop, sweating and winded. He barely resisted punching the stone wall beside him and turned to lean against it with a heavy thump instead. He spent a few moments catching his breath and looked left and right. Nothing had changed. The tunnels still went on far out of sight, which was impossible given that Dean knew they were under the public works building and there was no way the city had tunnels that long and straight.

"Dammit." Dean groaned and wiped a hand over his face, clearing the beads of sweat from his brow before they could run into his eyes. He froze as a small, flickering figure zipped into his line of sight. It swept up near his face and Dean saw translucent wings fluttering behind a tiny female body. Dean yelped as the fairy, it was definitely a damn fairy, darted forward and bit his thumb before streaking off and up out of sight. He looked up while shock and realization coursed through him. "No." Dean straightened and looked in either direction. He put a hand out to touch the cold, stone wall. "No way in hell!" It had all begun to seem eerily familiar and the clues fell into place with a rush; all their victims had been tormented with one movie or another and Dean had just worked out what film Norman had captured him in.

"Labyrinth?" Dean bellowed it and fervently wished he had his gun and Norman to shoot at. "Really?" He threw his arms out in frustration. "This is not a damn movie and you are NOT David Bowie!"

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam slumped on the stone floor in front of the chair he'd been handcuffed too. It hadn't taken him more than a few seconds to free himself once he'd managed to reach the safety pin he kept at the end of his jacket sleeve, just inside the cuff. What had taken a while was overcoming the effects of the damn hex bag that had been left in his lap.

"Crap," Sam groaned in relief as the flame from his lighter caught it and the bag went up in a flare of green fire. The pain that had been crashing through his head dissipated in a rush, and he sat back, rubbing his head. He looked down at the silver cuffs dangling from his left wrist and shook his head at how useless they were. He easily removed the second cuff and tossed them to the floor, then reattached the safety pin inside his sleeve.

"Now, where the hell am I?" Sam muttered and got to his feet. He looked around the room, but there was nothing to give him any idea; just the chair he'd been cuffed to, a table with a glass and pitcher of water, and the door. He went to the door and tried the handle, then shook his head again when he found it unlocked. Obviously, whoever had captured him hadn't thought he'd escape the handcuffs. "Amateurs."

Sam pulled the door open and stepped out into a long stone hall. He ran his fingers over the wall, feeling dampness and the scummy residue of seeping water. "Underground, then." He looked left and right, shrugged, and headed left not having any better idea of where to go. Sam moved quickly, wanting to be away before whoever had taken him - and it had to be the witch considering the hex bag - returned.

"I don't think so."

Sam startled at the sound of the man's voice and grunted in surprise and pain as he slammed into an invisible barrier. He bounced back and fell to the floor in a heap. "What the hell? Norman?"

"Ok, so your brother wasn't kidding." Norman appeared on the other side of the barrier and stared down at Sam angrily. "Get back in the room."

Sam rubbed his sore nose, disgusted to feel it bleeding and quirked a brow. "Nope. What the hell are you?"

"The man who can kill you with a thought if you don't obey!" Norman yelled.

Sam looked at the imperious finger Norman aimed down the hall and snorted. He winced as it sent pain stabbing through his nose and used his sleeve to wipe the blood off his chin. "Look. I don't think you're going to kill me."

"No?" Norman demanded.

Sam shook his head and got back to his feet. "No. Obviously, you're the witch or warlock or whatever, that's been traumatizing those people, right? Well, you didn't kill any of them. So whatever else you are, you're not an evil person."

"I can be evil."

"Sure, you can. Look. Just let me go." Sam tried for his most reasonable tone and resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the man. "Before Dean finds you. This doesn't have to get any messier."

"Dean has nine hours to find you," Norman said and shrugged. "After that, well..."

Sam waited for him to finish the sentence and when he didn't, Sam did roll his eyes. He scrubbed a hand over his face and tried to remain calm. "After that, what? Clearly, you want me to ask."

"You need to go back to your room." Norman ignored Sam's question, deciding to let the man stew in his curiosity and, hopefully, fear for a while. "You can go or I can make you."

Sam straightened his stance and readied himself. "Go ahead and try it."

Norman shook his head and made a soft tsking sound. "Physical force is so beneath me." He waved a hand and Sam was picked up from his feet and thrown backward down the hall.

"Oof," Sam grunted in pain as he hit the floor and slid along it. He shook his head, looked up, and had no time to react as something small and brown sailed through the air to land on his chest. He reached for it but his arm fell to the floor with a thump, then his head. It felt suddenly as though his body was weighted to the floor by an impossible pressure. He could only watch as Norman appeared in his line of sight and stared down at him. "Don't... don't do this."

Norman plucked a second hex bag from inside his robes and dangled it over the younger Winchester. "You could have walked all on your own. This is going to be a lot less pleasant."

"Wait. Wait!" Sam swallowed and coughed. "I'll... I'll walk, ok?" He felt like he was being pressed through the floor beneath him. Any moment, he expected to feel his ribs crack and break. Breathing was becoming a serious issue. He didn't know what the second hex bag was, but he was absolutely sure he didn't want to find out if he could help it.

Norman considered and, after a moment, he smiled and tucked the bag away again. He leaned down over the straining man and put his hand over the bag on Sam's chest. "Now, try to remember I can kill you with my brain and don't do anything stupid."

Sam heaved in a great gulp of air as Norman lifted the bag and the weight crushing him vanished. He rolled slowly to his side, relearning how to breathe and got cautiously to his feet. He looked over and saw that Norman had wisely backed up a few feet, but the man was still holding the hex bag ready. Sam raised a hand and shook his head. "Not gonna... try any... anything."

"Back to the room." Norman didn't let his guard down while Sam staggered back to the room he had left him in. He scowled, wondering just how Sam had gotten out of the handcuffs when he saw them lying on the floor.

"Probably should have locked the door," Sam observed sarcastically as he went to the chair he'd woken up in and sat down grudgingly. "It's like you weren't even trying."

"Look, you two stepped on my turf!" Norman slammed the door closed behind him and picked up the handcuffs. "What am I supposed to do now that you've found me, huh? Just let you go? You're hunters! I know what assholes like you do to witches!"

"Burn their altars." Sam looked at Norman steadily. "We don't kill witches. They're humans. You're human. We don't kill humans, moron."

"Right." Norman laughed with disbelief heavy in his voice. "And it's Norman, not moron. Don't make me hurt you to shut you up."

"What exactly are you going to do?" Sam leaned back in the chair and tried to look relaxed. "What's the end game, here?"

"Assuming you don't piss me off?" Norman smirked. "You two meat-heads spend the day in here, giving me plenty of time to pick up and leave town and start somewhere else where you won't find me."

"We will find you." Sam met his gaze steadily. "If you keep doing this, screwing with people magically, you're gonna set off alarms for us or other hunters. Just let us torch your altar and you won't have to worry about us again."

Norman snorted. "Not gonna happen. Do you know how long it's taken me to amass this much power?" He curled his fingers and flicked them out.

Sam gasped as a table appeared in front of him. It was set with a silver coffee service and steam curled gently from the carafe. "Uh... not bad."

"Have some coffee. Get comfortable." Norman pulled the door open. "And if you step foot outside this room again, you will regret it."

"This isn't going to end well for you!" Sam called and nodded when Norman stopped before leaving. "Dean, my brother? He gets a little... upset when the bad guys pick on me." Sam snorted and rolled his eyes. "It's annoying, but he goes full-on mama bear. And, believe me, man, you do not want to deal with him if I get hurt."

Norman shook his head. "That's entirely up to you and him. Stay in the room; don't get hurt."

"And what about Dean?" Sam demanded and stood. "What've you done with him?"

"Given him a puzzle to solve." Norman smiled. "Goodbye, Sam."

"Wait! Dammit," Sam groaned as the door closed. He dropped back to sit in the chair and looked at the coffee service. "Yeah, I'm not gonna drink that." He looked up at the door and blew out a breath. "Come on, Dean. Before I have to try that door again."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

"This SUCKS!" Dean bellowed. His voice carried down the tunnel and he scrubbed a hand through his hair in frustration. "Ah, dammit!" he cursed and felt the mud that had been clinging to his fingers now pulled through his hair and sticking it in clumps. He snarled incoherently and checked his watch. He had lost seven hours so far walking and running through what seemed an endless maze of tunnels.

"Labyrinth," Dean grumbled. "At least the asshole didn't put me in a white dress."

"I could arrange that." Norman chuckled when Dean cursed and spun to glare at him. "Although, you're no Jennifer Connelly."

"Can we just can the damn games now? Let me have Sam!" Dean started toward Norman and stopped, knowing he would just run into another invisible wall.

"You've got two and a half hours left to find him." Norman shrugged and snapped his fingers. "Maybe you just need motivation to move faster."

"What..." Dean growled in frustration as Norman disappeared. "Great. Really want to shoot that guy in the ass." He started down a new tunnel and stopped. He tilted his head and heard a grinding sound coming closer. "What the hell is that?"

Dean turned and looked behind him. His eyes widened as he saw something big moving up the tunnel toward him. It filled the width and height of the tunnel and glinted in the overhead lights. There was a muffled crash and pop each time it reached a light and the fixture exploded in a shower of sparks.

"Oh, you gotta be kidding me!" Dean turned away and ran. "I remember this bit! Not good!" He put on an extra burst of speed as the sounds grew closer and watched the walls to either side of him for any sign of a door or a new tunnel. He chanced a look over his shoulder and the contraption was closer; close enough for him to make out the whirling blades on the front and the 'snowplow' at the bottom crafted from gleaming knives that would shred his legs if they got close enough.

"Come on!" Dean yelled and then spotted a pair of vertical seams in the wall ahead of him. He slid to a stop, braced his back on the opposite wall and kicked. The section of wall between the seams shuddered with the impact and Dean kicked harder. There was a loud crack and the section of wall tilted slightly inward. Dean looked back and the machine was nearly on him. He ran and slammed into the wall. It collapsed away and he rolled out of the hall and into a room in a cloud of dust.

"Shit," Dean groaned and rolled to his back. He looked up in time to watch the machine reach the new hole in the wall. It rumbled past and he stared at the three, miniature Normans peddling behind all the blades as it moved on and out of sight.

"This is a bad acid trip." Dean got to his feet, brushing dust off his hands and shook his head. "That's it. Bad burrito maybe. I'm gonna wake up any minute now." He pinched his arm and groaned when nothing changed. "Fantastic." He looked around the room he was in and spotted two doors; one with a bright red cross on it and the other with a skull and crossbones. He stared gape-mouthed for a moment and then squared his shoulders, walking to the doors. "This shit is getting old."

Dean put a hand to the door with the red cross and jumped when the other door coughed. "The hell?"

"You sure you want to open that one, Sparky?" The skull grew out from the door until it could turn empty eye sockets to look at Dean and grin. "Might not be the best idea ever."

"Oh, you gotta be kidding me," Dean groaned and backed up a step as a face appeared out of the red cross in front of him. "What? You wanna talk some shit now too?"

"Just wanted to tell old Bonehead to can it." The red cross nodded its head toward the other door. "He's a little senile. Clearly, this dapper young gentleman knows what he's about. I am the right door."

The skull snorted. "Yeah, if he wants his loved ones picking his pieces up for a month. I'm telling you, you're picking the wrong door. Open me. You want to find your brother?" The skull grinned again. "Shortcut through me!"

Dean's hand itched for his gun. If he'd had it, he would have planted rounds in each of the doors just on principle. As it was, he looked between them and scowled. "So, what? I get to ask one of you one question?"

The skull snorted a laugh. "Hell no. I mean, you can ask, but we don't care. Just pick a door already so I can go back to my hundred year nap."

"See? Senile," The red cross chuckled. "Now, I am obviously a symbol for life-saving, recognized the world over while that grumpy ass has never meant anything but bad. Open me and you will find your brother."

"Uh-huh." Dean rubbed his hands on his pants and rolled his eyes. "When I get my hands on Norman, I'm gonna enjoy taking him apart." He turned and went to the skull and crossbones and grabbed the handle.

"Hey! Hey! Don't you even want to talk anymore?" The red cross called worriedly.

"Nope." Dean yanked the door open and let it slam into the wall behind it with a satisfying thud. He grinned when he heard the skull yelp. He ignored both doors shouting for him and strode into the darkened hall beyond. He hoped he was making the right choice and that he wasn't about to end up messy and dead. But something told him Norman didn't have that much imagination and that the whole labyrinth had been a spur of the moment creation upon nearly being caught by him and his brother. He felt sure of it since the doors, while being there as they had been in the movie, were different and didn't do the whole question thing.

"Sammy!" Dean shouted for his brother and wished for his flashlight. The further he walked, the darker the tunnel became as the lights came further and further apart. He checked his watch beneath one and scowled. Somehow, he had lost an hour. "Oh, now he's just cheating. Sam!"

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam paced the interior of his cell for the hundredth time and sighed. He sat in the chair again and looked at the door. "He's probably long gone by now," he muttered. "He said he was running. Bet the stupid door isn't even locked." Sam looked down at the table and its coffee service. He was damn thirsty but not thirsty enough to risk drinking anything Norman left behind. And he still had no idea where his brother was or what Norman had done to him.

"Screw it." Sam stood and strode to the door. He took hold of the handle and turned it experimentally. As he'd figured, it wasn't locked. He stood there listening and leaned in to put his ear to the door, but there was no sound at all to hear from the other side. "He doesn't want to kill us." Sam shook his head. "He could have done that already if he wanted to, so it's not lethal, whatever he left on the other side of the door. I just have to get past it."

Sam inched the door open and took a deep breath. "I can do this." He yanked the door open and tensed, but nothing happened. Outside was the hall as he'd seen it the last time - badly lit, dank, and empty.

"Huh. That was anticlimactic." Sam waited another moment, and when nothing happened, he relaxed slightly and smiled. "Guess he really was in a hurry."

Sam took a breath and stepped through the door out into the hall. He looked in either direction but didn't see any difference. "Dean?" he called. His voice echoed away from him. He shrugged and turned to his left, deciding it was as good a direction as any. He didn't get even a step away from the door before there was a loud clatter behind him in the room. He spun and his eyes widened in shock as what had been the metal coffee table was now a towering metal creature, reared back on two legs while the other two reached out and wrapped around his arms.

"Shit!" Sam struggled to free himself and grunted in pain as the metal bit into his arms. He shouted as he was picked up from his feet and thrown back into the room. He crashed into the coffee service that had somehow been set pristinely on the floor. Scalding hot coffee coated his chest, burning everywhere it touched and he rolled into and through the chair until he slammed into the back wall in a heap.

Sam blinked to clear his vision, that had gone fuzzy when he hit the wall, and looked up. A pint-sized copy of Norman was riding the back of the coffee table creature, controlling it. It gave a shrill war cry, and the coffee table loomed over Sam before stomping down into his side and hip. Sam yelled in pain and tried to roll away but the legs of the table were blocking him. He caught his hand around one leg and pulled to throw it off balance. The table wobbled and Sam crawled quickly out from under it while it righted itself.

He groaned, trying to get to his feet, but pain from his ribs robbed him of breath and he dropped heavily back to his knees. He could hear the table monstrosity clanging and stomping behind him. "Crap," Sam gasped and put a hand up on the wall to support himself. Metal wrapped around his wrist above him and yanked his right arm back and over his shoulder. He couldn't stop the scream of pain as his right shoulder was wrenched from its socket.

The coffee table threw Sam to the floor again, and he slid to a stop in the center of the room amidst the shards of the coffee pot and cups. He felt them cut into his legs and back but couldn't find the energy to do more than groan where he lay. Sam looked up as the construct loomed over him and mentally kicked himself for misjudging Norman so badly. Turned out the man wasn't above killing them after all.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean jogged as quickly as he dared down the dimly lit hall, senses alert for anything that might jump out and attack him. He checked his watch and picked up the pace. He was running out of time and didn't trust Norman not to speed things up again. "Sam!" Dean yelled and slid to a startled stop as the floor ahead of him suddenly gave way.

"Shit. Shit!" Dean fell backwards and slid. He rolled to his stomach, trying to find any purchase on the grimy floor to hold onto. His feet went over the edge, then his knees, and finally he managed to brace his hands on either wall and stop with his chest at the edge. His legs dangled down over the side and he couldn't look down to see what was below him without falling.

"Really startin' to piss me off." Dean worked to inch his chest further up on the floor and then groaned aloud as a hideous stench assaulted his nose. "What the hell is that?" He sneezed and blew out a disgusted breath. "Smells like Sam's old gym shorts!"

Dean inched further up and froze when the floor beneath him began to rumble. His eyes widened in horror as he remembered just what part of the movie came with that smell. "No, no, no. Come on!" he yelled and shouted as the floor crumbled beneath him and he slid backwards.

The fall was shorter than he'd feared, and Dean crumpled at the base of the wall with a grunt. His knees folded into the chunks of the floor from above, and he grimaced as he straightened and stood cautiously. The smell was even stronger, and he clamped a hand over his nose and mouth. His eyes watered as he turned to look. An expanse of twenty feet or so stretched out ahead of him to the wall on the other side. Between the walls, lay a field of thick, bubbling mud, making obscene farting noises as it spewed out the stench. Dean would have found the sound hilarious under any other circumstance, but just then, it was keeping him from his brother and he couldn't help but feel as though he were running out of time; that Sam was.

"Dammit." Dean looked down and saw he had only inches before his toes were in the mud. There were several large boulders in a haphazard line across the mud to the other side, and he shook his head. "If this shit makes me stink forever, I WILL find your ass, Norman, and bury you!" Dean shouted it up and then squared his shoulders, hoping the stink was all he had to worry about.

"Alright. I can do this without landing on my ass." Dean braced a hand on the wall, curled his knees, and jumped. He landed on the nearest boulder and swung his arms to stay standing as one foot tried to slide out from under him.

He grinned in relief once he had his balance and looked at the next. It was a little closer, and he made the hop over easily. Dean went from stone to stone, sweating with the tension of trying not to dip any part of himself in the mud, not even the toe of his boot. He leaped onto the last stone and yelped in fear as it wobbled beneath him.

"No, nope! Shit!" Dean's arms pinwheeled as he tilted precariously. He made a panicked jump from the shifting stone to the shore and pressed himself to the wall on the other side. "Holy shit," he gasped. When he'd caught his breath, he turned carefully on the spot, and saw that he was bare inches from the muck. Worryingly, he saw a spatter of three drops of the mud on the toe of his boot. Dean shook it off and leaned against the wall, letting his head thump back into the brick. "This is not happening."

Dean shook his head and looked for a way up. He found a questionable looking rope ladder and started up, seeing as there was no other choice. Every time the rope creaked or stretched beneath his weight, he expected it to fail and dump him down in the muck. He was surprised and relieved when he reached the top at last and climbed over the edge to safety. Dean rose to his feet and wrinkled his nose from the smell lingering in the air. He held his arm over his nose and moved quickly away from the impromptu bog. The light dimmed again as he jogged, the lights in the tunnel becoming further apart but never leaving altogether.

"Sam?" Dean called as he turned another corner. He could still smell the bog and rubbed a hand over his nose, hoping it was just temporary. The new tunnel stretched ahead of him, and Dean slid to a stop as a voice, Norman's, suddenly filled the silence.

"No! No, stop! What are you doing? You're killing him! You're not supposed to do that! Stop! STOP!" Norman's voice rose with hysteria and carried down the tunnel to Dean.

"SAM!" Dean bellowed his brother's name and broke into a run. He heard Norman begin to scream as there was a loud racket of metal on stone. Dean followed the commotion to an open door. He caught himself on the frame and lunged into the room into chaos. His eyes widened in surprise to find Norman the witch being held above the floor by some weird, metal contraption that kind of looked like a table standing on two legs. Blood dripped from Norman to spatter on the floor, only feet away from where Sam lay, and that pulled Dean further into the room. His brother was on his back and covered in blood; his or Norman's or both, Dean had no way to tell, but there was far too much of it.

Dean's eyes were dragged back up to Norman as the man gave a particularly pained scream that was cut off abruptly as the table monster wrenched Norman's head horrifically around and then dropped him to the floor with a wet splat.

"Holy shit," Dean breathed and braced himself as the thing turned toward him. He looked around frantically for any weapon to defend himself with, but there was nothing. Long metal arms reached for him, and Dean swallowed hard. He backed up a step through the open door with the intent of luring the creature in a run back to the bog. His only hope was to trick it over the side and hope it stayed trapped down there long enough. "Come on, ugly," Dean snarled at the thing as it advanced.

The metal monster took two lumbering steps toward the door and then stopped. Dean frowned, tensed in readiness to run, and he stumbled in surprise as the table collapsed to the floor in a pile of twisted metal. "The hell?"

Dean moved closer and kicked one of the legs. It shifted but didn't move on its own. He looked over at Norman's body and back to the destroyed table and understood; it had been a construct of Norman's magic and once he was dead, so was the magic. Dean looked down at the dead witch and shook his head.

"Got what was comin' to you. Sammy." Dean kicked the remains of the table out of the way and slid to his knees beside his brother. "Shit, Sam. Hey." He smoothed Sam's shaggy hair from his face, smearing spots of blood across his brother's skin, and put his fingers to his throat to feel for a pulse. He dropped his head, relieved, as Sam's pulse thrummed beneath his fingers. "Ok, Sammy. Ok."

Dean felt the room around them shudder suddenly. "What now?" he yelled. He bent over Sam, shielding him with his body and slammed his eyes closed as bright light flared blindingly through the room. There was a rush of wind that nearly knocked him over and a roar of sound until finally it all died away into silence. Dean lifted his head warily and looked around. The room had changed. They were still underground, but rather than the small room and maze of halls, they were now in a large basement, dotted with support poles and bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. There were stacks of boxes across from them, and each was labeled with the logo of the law firm Norman had worked for.

"Son of a bitch. We're under the damn law firm!" Dean shook his head, bemused, and bent back to his brother. "Sammy? Need you to wake up for me." He ran his hands down his brother's arms and both legs but found no obvious injuries before he turned to his chest. Dean lifted the blood-wet fabric of Sam's shirt and grimaced. His chest was a riot of bruises and cuts, and Dean could tell just by looking that he had to have at least one or two broken ribs. "Jesus, Sam. That thing did a number on you."

Dean leaned back up to his brother's head and looked angrily at the livid bruises beginning to appear around his throat. He narrowed his eyes as he looked along Sam's right shoulder and realized his brother's arm was lying funny. He pulled Sam's jacket back and slid his fingers under the neck of his shirt to the joint. Dean hissed between his teeth in sympathy, feeling the obviously dislocated joint.

"Well, hell." Dean moved around to his brother's head and took careful hold of his right arm above and below the shoulder. "Bet this'll wake you up, kiddo. Sorry about this." Dean gave Sam's arm a practiced jerk, popping the shoulder joint neatly and expertly back into place and wrapped his arms around his brother's chest when Sam lurched up with a choked cry. "Easy! Easy, Sammy! I gotcha!"

Sam slumped back into his brother and gasped, trying to catch his breath while pain burned through his right shoulder and around his chest and back from the beating he'd taken. He was beyond comforted to hear his brother's voice and feel Dean supporting him against his chest. "Dean," he panted and got his left hand up to hold on to his brother's arm.

"Yeah, buddy." Dean eased Sam a little higher against his chest and waited for his breathing to slow a little. "We need to get outta here."

"Norman?" Sam asked, still in a bit of a daze.

"Didn't make it." Dean told him calmly. "Near as I can figure, he set that thing on you to keep you from escaping and it got away from him. Damn near ripped his head off, but all the hocus pocus died when he did."

Sam nodded and let his eyes fall closed. "Used himself... to power it. Dangerous."

"No kidding." Dean eased out from behind his brother and held on to him so Sam didn't slide back to the floor. "We're under the law firm. Gotta get you outta here before someone finds this mess."

"Ok." Sam nodded again and didn't argue about letting his brother help him get to his feet. He knew there was no way he would manage it on his own. He hurt too much to even move without help, and his head was still swimming from banging into the wall. He leaned heavily on Dean once he was on his feet and wrinkled his nose. "What... what's that smell? S'awful."

Dean's eyes widened comically and he looked down at his boot. There were still several drops of the noxious mud clinging to it and he groaned. "That's just not fair."

"Smells like... like a sewer." Sam tilted his head into Dean's neck and sniffed, then sneezed. "S'you. How come you smell... smell like sh..."

"Shut it, Sammy," Dean cut him off with a bad-tempered snarl, but his hands were gentle as he pulled Sam's good arm over his shoulders and got him moving toward a door on the far side of the basement.

Sam smirked and then had to focus on just putting one foot in front of the other as they walked. It was all he could do not to cry when they went through the door and found a flight of stairs facing him.

"You can do this," Dean said surely. By the time they made it to the ground floor and found an exit door, Sam was almost out on his feet, hanging from Dean's shoulders like a drunk. Dean grunted with the effort of keeping him up and smiled when he saw the gleaming black shape of the Impala where they'd left her in the parking lot. "Here we go, buddy. Get you fixed up in no time."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam pulled another ice chip out of his cup and flung it across the room at his brother. He smirked as it struck between Dean's eyes and left a wet spot.

"Cut it out, bitch." Dean glared over at Sam.

"Said I didn't need a hospital," Sam said with a hoarse laugh. His voice sounded like it had been dragged over rock, thanks to the creature's efforts to strangle him before Norman had intervened.

"Dude." Dean stood and went to the bed. He plucked the cup out of Sam's left hand before his brother could dig out another ice chip. "Two broken ribs, two cracked, a bruised hip, bruised larynx, a bruised freakin' lung, and a concussion that had you callin' the doctor 'Bobby' for three hours." He rolled his eyes and sat next to Sam's hip with a snort of laughter. "Yeah. You needed a hospital."

There had been a horrifying moment just as Dean had pulled up to the emergency room when Sam's abused throat had finally had enough and closed up on him. Dean had all but carried his suffocating brother into the lobby and stood by and watched helplessly while they had shoved a tube down his throat to let him breathe. It had been barely an hour now since the tube was removed. "You kinda sound like Darth Vader right now."

"Shuddup." Sam slapped his brother's arm and let his still aching head drop back to the soft pillow and his eyes closed wearily.

"I'll bust you outta here tonight now they got you all patched up." Dean absentmindedly tugged the blanket up his brother's chest to his chin and then set the cup on the bed tray. "Figure we'll go hole up at Bobby's for a while, since you keep callin' everybody his name anyway. This way there won't be any confusion." He laughed as Sam's left hand caught him in the side and pushed it back.

"You still smell like a sewer," Sam observed sleepily and smiled. "S'bog of eternal stench. 'Course..." he yawned and rolled slightly so he was facing his brother without even realizing he was curled around him. "No way to tell the difference from how you normally smell." He snorted. "Jerk."

Dean considered all the ways he could make Sam hurt, as was his big brotherly duty, and decided to save it for when the kid could put up a fight. It was more fun that way. "Go to sleep, princess." He leaned his head over and sniffed his shoulder. "I do not smell."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: M is for Mistaken Identity

Chapter Text

Title: Now I Know My ABC's

Author: Disasteriffic Kaz

Info: A hurt/comfort romp through the alphabet, one letter at a time from A to Z. Each chapter is a stand-alone one shot. There is hurt, comfort, angst, humor, feels and all around fun.

Author's Note: Janice is a genius. :D I was having a bit of trouble deciding exactly where to put this one and she swooped in with the perfect premise! Now, I swear I started this one with the intent of mangling Sam. Yet somehow, this has ended up a hurt!Dean chapter instead. Lol

Also, expect slight delays on chapters as I have had a moment of insanity and am taking part in NaNoWriMo this year. For those of you who don't know, that's Nationl Novel Writing Month, where you commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. o.0 See? Moment of insanity. Lol

Beta'd by the always awesome JaniceC678 :D– Friend and Muse's co-conspirator.

**Follow me on Facebook as "Disasteriffic Kaz" for frequent fic updates or just to chat!
~Reviews are Love~

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

M is for Mistaken Identity -

Sam narrowed his eyes at the screen of his laptop. The steady glow of the screen in the dim lighting of the little roadside bar Dean had found was giving him a screaming headache. The blaring music wasn't helping either, and Sam wanted to find and beat whichever redneck asshole kept playing the Electric Slide on repeat. He rubbed the space between his eyes and grabbed his beer. Sam raised it to his mouth for a sip and looked up over the screen to find his brother. His brows rose as he studied the two burly, flannel-clad deer hunters Dean was hustling at pool. Even from across the bar, Sam could read the frustration and anger in their body language. It was clear as day, but his big brother was too busy running the table to recognize the danger he was about to be in. Sam gave a long, put-upon sigh when he saw the two men catch the eye of three more at the bar.

"Dammit, Dean," Sam groaned. He quickly drank off the last of his beer, closed the laptop and set it aside safely out of the way of potential flying beer bottles and/or bodies. He stood and rolled his shoulders out as the two men bracketed Dean at one end of the pool table. "Great."

Dean sank the last ball and straightened from the table, allowing a brief grin of triumph to stretch across his face. He chuckled, rapped the bottom of the pool cue on the floor, and then turned to look at his two opponents. He startled slightly to find them barely a foot away from him. His grin quickly faded as he took in the menacing glares on the faces of both men.

"Problem, guys?" Dean smirked and held out a hand. "You boys wanna pay up and I'll just get outta your bar?"

"You cheated," the taller of the two said in an angry rumble.

Dean let his brows rise up, trying for innocent. "Me? Did not. Not my fault if you two need to spend a little more time practicing on the kiddie table before you play with the big boys." He took a step back, knowing even as he spoke the words that he was being a cocky idiot, and still, he couldn't stop it from happening.

"Think yer some kinda comedian?" The taller man spoke again and slammed his right fist into his left palm with a dull thud to make an impression.

Dean snorted and raised his hands. "I'm hilarious, but I really just want my money, guys. You lost, fair and square. Now pay up like big boys." Dean caught a sliver of movement in his peripheral vision and turned his head to see three more men closing in on him. "Huh. Now, THAT'S not playing fair." He backed up another step, trying to decide who to take on first. "There's no reason this has to get violent, guys. We can just..." He broke off as the two men he'd been playing rushed him. Dean dodged to the side, trying to avoid being caught between the two groups of men and stared in surprise as his little brother appeared and barreled into the three men that had been coming at him from the bar. They went down to the floor in a tangle of limbs and angry shouts and Dean grinned, turning back to the first two.

"Figured he wouldn't jump in until the fight started to annoy him. Way to go, Sammy! Now, you could just pay me now before I have to hurt you." Dean shrugged as the men snarled and came for him again. "Can't say I didn't warn you."

Sam quickly untangled himself from the pile of bodies on the floor. He grunted as someone's elbow landed hard in the center of his stomach and rolled to his feet. He spared a glance up for his brother and shook his head as Dean dropped one man to the floor with a precisely aimed fist and then looked over at him with a grin. He looked back to his own opponents and readied himself as the three men regained their feet and glared at him.

"I don't suppose we could all agree my big brother's a jerk and walk away friends, huh?" Sam asked and chuckled when all three men shook their heads and advanced. "Yeah, I didn't think so," he said, resigned and kicked his leg out at the nearest man. Sam's foot slammed into his thigh and sent the man howling back to the floor. He ducked under a punch from another and landed his own fist solidly against the third man's jaw, whipping his head to the side and left him to stumble dizzily back toward the bar. Sam grunted in annoyance as the last man standing wrapped both arms around his shoulders. He rolled his eyes and took a solid grip on one arm.

"You're really not gonna win at this," Sam said and easily broke the hold thanks to years and years of wrestling with his older brother and father, not to mention various and sundry creatures who were trying to rip his throat out at the same time. He twisted, turned, and was behind the man before he even realized what was happening. Sam pulled one of his arms up behind the man until he yelped, kicked out a knee and knocked him down. He let the man fall and gave him a shove so his head banged into the jukebox and left him lying in a daze on the floor. "Sorry about this."

Sam stood, rolled out his shoulders, and turned to check on his brother. Dean had one man down for the count and was circling the other, waiting for an opening. "Dean, stop playing with him and let's go!"

Dean snorted. He looked at the last man standing and gave a little shrug. "Sorry, pal. He gets bored. But this was fun." He watched the man frown in confusion for a second, and then Dean snapped a hand out. He caught a fistful of the man's greasy hair and pulled his head down as he brought his knee up. Dean felt the satisfying crunch of his nose and let him topple to the side to curl on the floor, either unconscious or damn close to it. He knelt, ignoring Sam's irritated huff, and rifled the man's pockets.

"Dude," Sam protested. "Can we go now?"

"I win a game -" Dean found the man's wallet and dug it out. He counted a hundred dollars out and left the rest, tossing it down as he stood and smiled at his brother. "- and then I get paid."

Sam rolled his eyes and went back to retrieve his laptop while Dean strolled across the bar to the door. He looked back at the bartender who was just staring at them open-mouthed. "Uh... they started it." He ducked away before the bartender could snap back enough to say anything and shoved Dean out the door. "You're gonna get us arrested."

Dean laughed aloud at that and went to the Impala. He grinned at Sam over the roof. "Wouldn't be the first time."

"I found us a job while you were being a gigantic dick," Sam told him as he slid into the passenger seat and pulled the door shut.

Dean snickered and started the car, pulling away from the bar with a satisfied smile and ignored his brother's comment. "What's the job?"

"Shifter or ghoul maybe." Sam twisted and leaned over to set his laptop in the back seat and then settled back again. "The police reports are a little vague. Victims reportedly went missing, turned up alright, but then their families say their behavior changed radically; like they were different people until they disappeared again and then they turn up dead later on. The bodies are badly beaten, maybe tortured." Sam shrugged. "The medical examiner couldn't be sure due to the state of the bodies."

Dean frowned. "Kinda sounds like a shifter, doesn't it? Those assholes like to play with their food."

"Shifters don't actually eat their victims," Sam pointed out.

"Yeah, but they like messing 'em up and screwin' with their heads." Dean's voice was dark with the memory of the first time he and Sam had hunted one. He wasn't likely to ever forget seeing his brother beaten and nearly strangled to death by something wearing his own face.

Sam nodded, lost in his own memories for a moment. He shook his head and huffed out a breath. "I hate shifters."

"Where we goin'?" Dean flicked a glance to his brother, gauging his mood about the possibility of hunting a shifter again, as he did every time they had to go after those bastards. Sam met his glance and smiled to let him know he was alright.

"St. Louis." Sam smirked. "So you might want to turn around."

Dean looked at him more sharply this time. "Tell me you're freakin' kidding me. St. Louis? What, is that place, like, shifter central or something? They have a commune on the outskirts?

Sam gave a "what can I say," sorta shrug without answering.

"Really?" Dean rolled his eyes. He looked at the empty road and shrugged, executing a quick one-eighty with a squeal of tires. He gave Sam a satisfied grin. "Find me some tunes."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam rubbed his eyes tiredly as he walked out of the coroner's building. Looking at the bodies of the dead was never easy, but it was even harder when they had died violently. There was always that part of his brain that remembered his time in the cage that taunted him with the knowledge that he knew what those injuries felt like - all of them. He pushed the memories away and turned his face up into the sunlight with his eyes closed for just a moment, feeling the warmth on his skin like a reminder that he wasn't there anymore. Castiel had taken the madness, of course, but not the memories, and there were times when Sam felt infinitely old; felt every decade of the one hundred and eighty years he had spent being tormented.

"Sammy!"

Sam jerked his head down and opened his eyes to find his brother striding up to him from the direction of the police station. "Hey."

"Hey." Dean studied his brother with a little frown. He looked tired. "Something happen in there?"

"Huh?" Sam asked, confused, and then shook his head. "No. No, uh... I'm good." He started off toward the Impala. "I'm pretty sure it's actually a ghoul. I found some teeth marks on the bodies. They were really hard to spot but they were there."

"Yech." Dean shook himself. He tugged on his tie, straightening it, and dug his keys out of his pocket. "I'm gonna enjoy blowin' this asshole's head off. Got some addresses for the victims' families, see if maybe they know anything else, like where this thing might be livin'."

"Doubtful," Sam said with a shake of his head. "From what the coroner was saying, none of these people had any idea they weren't dealing with their loved ones; I mean not really. If it is a ghoul, though, I can't figure out why it didn't eat its way through the family members. I mean, that's like free lunch."

Dean grimaced. "Pleasant. But yeah, you're not wrong. Somethin' ain't addin' up here." He patted the hood of the Impala and opened the driver's door to slide behind the wheel. "One of the families is only a few blocks from here. May as well go talk to them and see if we get anything."

Sam pulled his door closed and shrugged. "Yeah, can't hurt. I'll see if I can get any maps of sewer systems under the city, and we should check out the local cemeteries for disturbed graves while we're at it."

"If it is a ghoul, yeah. They can't resist easy meals." Dean pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward the other side of town.

Sam watched the buildings as they passed. St. Louis was a big city that somehow managed to look like a small town once you got out of the city center. He frowned as they drove. Something was nagging at the back of his mind but he wasn't able to pin down exactly what it was, something beyond the fact that the last time they were here, his brother's doppleganger had tried, and very nearly succeeded, in killing him.

"Here it is." Dean pulled up down the street from the little green house. "Mr... uh... crap." He dug his notebook out of his jacket and ignored Sam's snicker from beside him. "Davison. His wife did the whole split personality thing, vanished, and turned up dead a few days later on the side of the freeway."

"Damn." Sam climbed out of the Impala and looked over at the house sadly. "How long ago?"

"Couple of weeks." Dean fell into step with Sam and took note of the wilting bunches of flowers gathered on the porch. They looked as though they'd been tossed there at some point by someone who just didn't want to deal with them.

"I've got the feeling he's not going to be very interested in talking to us." Sam climbed the stairs and knocked on the front door. "Looks like he's still grieving hard."

Dean nodded and waited. He took out his FBI badge, seeing Sam do the same and put on a smile as the door opened to reveal a dark-haired, tall man, with dark shadows under his eyes. "Mr. Davison?"

"Yeah." Mr. Davison eyed the two suits on his porch warily.

"Sir, I'm Agent Stokes. This is my partner, Agent Grissom. We'd like to ask you a few questions about your wife if you don't mind."

"We're very sorry, sir," Sam said sincerely. He watched Mr. Davison's eyes fly wide, as if in shock. "Mr. Davison?"

Dean jumped back as the door slammed closed in their faces. "What the hell?" He knocked on the door and when there was no answer, he knocked more loudly.

"Dean, stop." Sam grabbed his brother's arm and pulled him back and down the steps. "The guy's still torn up over his wife and he doesn't want to talk. We can't make him."

"Dammit." Dean nodded and followed Sam back to the car. "Ok, screw witnesses for now. Let's hit the town hall for sewer blueprints."

Larry Davison watched the two men from his window, peering out the side of the curtain. He saw them get into a distinctive, black, classic car and pull away from the curb. He sucked in a ragged breath and stumbled back from the window. "Oh, my God." He was shaking from head to toe and staggered across the room to the table where he'd left his cell phone. He picked it up and dialed his friend with trembling fingers. He had to swallow hard before he could speak. "James. It's them." He shook his head. "The men... the ones from the diner. The ones who killed our kids. The Winchesters. It's them. They were just at my door!"

Larry threw an arm up in frustration at the voice on the other end of the line. "NO, I'm not drunk, dammit! They were just here! Pretending to be federal agents or something but, they're supposed to be dead! What the hell is going on? How can they be here?" He listened again and nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, alright. Yeah. Hurry up." He ended the call and let his cell phone drop to the floor as his eyes went to a picture hanging on the wall of his daughter. "I don't know what's going on, baby, but I swear I'm gonna make it right."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam scrubbed a hand through his hair and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to back off the headache that had been brewing for the last two hours as he dug through dusty old records for blueprints of the sewer layout under the city. He climbed the stairs up out of the records hall and sneezed as he emerged into the wide entry chamber of the state house. He looked around for any sign of his brother but Dean was nowhere to be seen. Sam smirked. His brother had called it quits an hour before out of boredom and volunteered to wait outside and warm up the car.

"Lazy ass," Sam muttered under his breath as he strode across the lobby and outside. He squinted in the glare of the late afternoon sun and easily spotted the Impala on the other side of the parking lot where they had parked. He clutched his papers tighter against the wind and jogged down the steps and across to her. "Hey, Dean!"

Sam went to the passenger side and looked in. He frowned and pulled open the door. "Dean?" The car was empty. He straightened and looked around for his brother. "Where the hell did you go?" He took out his cell phone and dialed while he leaned on the roof and tossed his papers inside onto the seat. Sam listened to the line ring and scowled as it went to voicemail. "Dude, where the hell did you go? I'm at the car. Call me back."

He put his phone away and closed the passenger door. Sam went around to the driver's side and fished the spare keys out of his jacket. He reached for the door and something glinted in the sun, catching his eye on the ground. He knelt and his eyes went wide as fear dropped into his stomach like a stone. Sam reached down and picked Dean's keys up from the pavement under the door.

"You'd never drop these," Sam whispered. He stood and looked at the car anew, searching for any signs of what had happened but there was nothing; no blood or scratches, no shell casings from his brother's gun... just nothing. Sam turned in a circle and glared out at the world that gave him no sign. "No." Something bad had happened, he knew it. He could feel it in his gut. Somehow, his big brother, hunter extraordinaire, had been grabbed off the street in broad daylight without leaving a trace, aside from the dropped keys.

Sam stared down at the keys in his hand while he fought the urge to hyperventilate out of sheer panic. It wouldn't help Dean. "Ok. Ok." Sam opened the driver's door and slid behind the wheel. He started the car and then just sat there for a moment, holding on to the wheel as he stared out the windshield. It felt wrong to be sitting there while Dean was who knew where. He shook himself and pulled out, wanting to put as much distance as he could between himself and the state house before he stopped and started looking for his brother. He couldn't shake the feeling that someone was watching and waiting. They weren't of course. If they had been, they would have grabbed Sam like they did Dean when he'd just been standing there like an idiot beside the car.

"I can find you," Sam said firmly. He glanced in the rear view mirror and saw his laptop bag still there. He looked back out to the road. "I WILL find you, Dean."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean struggled in the ropes holding him. Whoever had nabbed him, they had done a damn good job of tying him up. He was close to losing feeling in his hands from the way the ropes binding his wrists and biceps were cutting off circulation. He ducked his head down, trying to dislodge the gag filling his mouth. He grunted as a foot banged into his ribs.

"Knock it off."

Dean rolled his head up to glare at the man above him in the back of the van. He tried to put every ounce of his desire to kill the man into his eyes and smirked as he saw some of it hit home and the man leaned away from him with wide eyes. He went back to trying to twist a hand free behind his back where they couldn't see it. He kicked himself mentally for being taken so easily. He'd felt something off only a second before he'd been slammed into the side of his car and taken to the ground under a heavy pile of bodies. He could still smell traces of whatever drug had been on the cloth they'd pressed over his face that had knocked him out.

The van bumped wildly and Dean grunted again as he banged into the floor. A moment later, it rolled to a stop and the side door slid open. He kicked out as his feet were grabbed and snarled when they simply dragged him out and let him thump painfully onto the ground. He rolled his eyes as three men picked him up and dragged him again with his feet dragging behind, toward a long, low building.

"Get him inside."

Dean looked over at the man who had spoken. It was the same man who'd held him down while he tried to fight the effects of the drug and called him 'Winchester'. That, more than anything, was what worried him. These people knew who he was, who he really was. His only consolation in the whole mess was that they hadn't gotten Sam. He was never more glad of his brother's ability to fixate on a problem and lose track of time. He looked up and saw a sturdy, metal chair bolted to a concrete floor. It was in the center of an impromptu room created by walls of ceiling high stacks of crates.

"Put him in and get a damn gun on his head before you try to strap him down."

Dean would have laughed if the gag wasn't choking him. He sighed a little in relief once they dropped him in the chair and it took some of the strain off his limbs. He felt the cold muzzle of a gun press into the back of his neck and then the other two men knelt beside him with knives. He saw manacles attached to the chair and figured he only had one chance to get out of this on his own, if he could avoid having his head blown off. Dean tensed to jerk his arms loose as the men started cutting the rope and then flicked his eyes up at the sound of a whistle. The man who had spoken stood ten feet away with a gun steadily aimed at Dean's head.

"Figure you know I can take you out from here before you get anywhere near me."

Dean considered trying as his arms came loose and then settled back in the chair as if that had been his plan all along while the gun behind him pressed harder into the base of his skull.

"Smart choice." The man kept the gun steady until Dean's arms and legs were shackled to the chair and waited while the man behind him strapped his chest down with a length of rope for good measure. "Lose the gag. Suppose we should hear if he's got any famous last words."

Dean held his head very still as one of the men leaned in with a knife and slid it between the fabric and his cheek. He didn't flinch as the blade pressed into his flesh and the gag fell away. He spit out the wad of fabric stuffed in his mouth and opened and closed his jaw several times to loosen it. His mouth was bone dry, but somehow he didn't think his captors would hand him a glass of water. "Who the hell are you and what do you want with me?" he asked.

"You're Dean Winchester." The man spoke again and lowered his gun now that Dean was safely restrained. "Where's your brother?"

"Dead. Next question?" Dean smiled, hoping they would buy it and not go looking for Sam.

"Bullshit." The man snorted. "If you're alive, so's that bastard. We'll find him."

Dean ignored the threat. "What do you want with me?" He looked around at the other three men and smirked. "I mean, you gotta have some idea who I am if you bring this much muscle to take me down."

"I'm James Carter. You already know Larry." James nodded behind Dean.

Dean craned his head around and his eyes widened in surprise. "Larry... the guy we tried to talk to earlier? What the hell? You just not like feds this much?"

"You're no federal agent." James said angrily. "You're a damn murderer."

"I don't know how you managed to fake your deaths like that, but you're not gonna get away with it." Larry moved around in front of Dean and his hand trembled around the grip of his gun.

"Larry. Back off." James moved and took the man's arm, then eased the gun away from him. "Don't want this to be over too fast, now do we?"

"Murderer?" Dean stared in surprise. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Sarah." Larry spit the word at Dean. "You killed my little girl. And his."

"Emily." James spoke her name softly. "And about a dozen others. Their parents..." He shrugged. "They didn't want any part of this. Oh, they want you dead, but they don't want to get their hands dirty doing it."

"I don't know those names. I've never met your daughters." Dean willed the men to believe him. "Look, I'm sorry you lost your kids, but it wasn't me or my brother."

Larry's face transformed with rage. Dean leaned his head back before the man could strike, but James held on and dragged him several feet away.

"You son of a BITCH!" Larry screamed and struggled to free himself.

"Calm down!" James ordered Larry and spun, giving him a hard shove well away from their captive. "You either get a handle on this or get the hell out and leave it to me."

Larry panted and forced himself to look away from Dean. He backed away a few more steps on his own. "Sorry. Sorry. I'm ok."

James watched him for a second and then left him to gather himself and went back to Dean. "You seriously gonna sit there and tell us you don't remember murdering an entire diner full of innocent people on camera just for kicks?"

Dean's eyes blew wide and the memory slammed into him. "Oh, my God," he breathed. It had to have been almost two years since it happened; since the leviathans wearing his and Sam's likenesses had gone on their cross-country killing spree . "Shit, you don't understand."

"Understand how you shot down everyone in there?" James demanded and moved closer, bending over so he was in Dean's face. "Understand how you pulled my baby girl up out of that booth and your brother shot her in the stomach?" He spit on Dean's face. "Shot her three times, and then you left her there screaming and bleeding out on the floor. I think I understand just fine."

"You snapped Sarah's neck," Larry said angrily from his place safely away from the man he wanted to rip apart with his bare hands. "I had to watch that video and watch you twist her head off like she was an animal, and you laughed. You both laughed."

"It wasn't us," Dean insisted. "We weren't... shit, it wasn't us. They were impostors, and the cops caught and killed those assholes. The men who killed your daughters are dead. I swear it."

"And yet here you sit." James pulled a pair of brass knuckles out of his pocket and slid them onto his right hand.

"They were impostors! I'm tellin' you!" Dean yelled and didn't like one bit where this looked to be going. "Call the sheriff in Ankeny, Iowa! He was there! He saw them die!" At least, Dean sure hoped the man would still be willing to hold up that story after all this time.

James shook his head and curled his fingers around the brass knuckles. "We tried to track you two down after... after the diner. So we know all about when you supposedly died; how you slaughtered the whole precinct in Ankeny. All the cops." James leaned in and smiled. "And the sheriff. Sucks when you can't remember your own lies, huh?"

"He's dead?" Dean stared in shock. "No, no, no. He was alive! When we left, he was alive, and he had the... the bodies of our doubles. How the hell'd he die?"

"According to the real federal agents?" James shook his head. "You killed him, right before they took you down." He threw a punch and smiled with satisfaction as Dean's head snapped to the side and blood flew in a thin arc through the air. "Guess they were lying too."

Dean spit blood onto the floor and coughed. The pain in his jaw pulsed up into his head, but he was grateful it wasn't broken. "Didn't kill him," he insisted. "You don't understand what was going on." He shouted in pain as James slammed the brass knuckles into the top of his left knee and was left gasping for breath. "Wasn't us."

"Honestly, I don't really care if you tell the truth." James considered and landed a solid punch to Dean's left shoulder, smiling at the fresh shout of pain. "We're gonna make you pay, and then we're gonna make you die."

Dean wheezed for breath, willing away the black spots that were starting to crawl across his vision from the pain. The men weren't going to listen to him. He felt a surge of hopelessness that this was how he was going to die, mistaken for one of the monsters, and he wasn't even sure he blamed the men hurting him.

"Ever had a broken cheekbone, Dean?"

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam drove with one eye on his laptop screen, his eyes never leaving the little red balloon that signaled the location of his brother's phone. He was pinning all his hopes on the bad guys not thinking to disable the phone. He turned and grimaced as the Impala lurched up and over a speedbump he hadn't even seen. With the time spent tracking Dean's GPS and driving out after it, he figured whoever had taken his brother had had at least an hour with him. Sam only hoped he got there before they did the unthinkable. He refused to imagine living his life without Dean in it again. He couldn't. He was never going to survive that again. He wouldn't.

Sam slowed the car and checked the screen. He was nearly on top of the signal and the only thing nearby was a long, low building, some sort of old warehouse by the looks of it. He pulled behind a a rusted-out shipping crate and parked. He checked his gun, making sure it was loaded, and slid the knife he'd grabbed from the trunk into his jacket. Just to be safe, he took one of their angel blades and got out of the car.

"Be there, Dean," Sam whispered and started toward the side of the warehouse and an open window. He stayed alert for any sign that someone might be standing guard outside, but it looked like whoever they were, they weren't too concerned about being found. He neared the window, easing up beneath it and stretched to see if he could get a look. Before he could, he heard the unmistakable sound of his brother's voice shouting out in pain. He had to stop himself from just running in blind to get to him. Being caught wouldn't save Dean. At least he was still alive.

Sam moved off down the side of the warehouse looking for a side door. He knew there was another way in, he just had to find it. Each time he heard the muffled sound of his brother's voice, it made him twitchy. Sometimes it was Dean shouting in pain, and others Dean was shouting at whoever had taken him. Sam stopped at a small door and cautiously gave the handle a turn. It opened and he thanked whatever fortune left the door unlocked. He eased it open enough to slip inside and took out his gun.

The warehouse inside was a maze created by crates stacked nearly to the ceiling. Sam used the angry voices - and they were louder now he was inside - to lead him toward his brother. He paused as he drew closer and listened and realized he could make out at least three voices other than his brother. He scowled and looked down at his gun; unless he was willing to go in shooting and possibly kill three humans, he needed a better plan. He took a deep breath and said a silent apology to Dean as he backtracked his steps to the side door.

Dean spat another mouthful of blood and aimed for James' shoes. He gave a bloody grin when his aim was true. "Asshole."

James shook the toe of his boot, looking down at the blood with disgust. "Keep that shit up and I'm going to gag you again."

Dean took in a few measured breaths in deference to his sore ribs. He was sure he was going to have the imprint of those damn brass knuckles on his chest for days, assuming he lived that long. "Torturing... an innocent guy. "S'at what... what your kids would... would want?"

"Don't talk about them." Larry stepped forward and slammed his fist into the side of Dean's head.

James chuckled and slipped the brass weapon off his knuckles. He tucked them into a pocket, uncaring for the blood that coated them and instead took out the knife they'd removed from Dean. "Time to get a little more creative."

"Why don't you just kill me already?" Dean looked up at James and Larry, and around to the other two men before looking back to James. "'Cause you're actually enjoyin' this, aren't you? Sick bastard. This is fun for you." He let his eyes move to Larry. "This ok with you? Huh?" He coughed and glared at the man. "You really gonna be ok with murder? With this?"

"Stop talking to him," James ordered and put the point of the knife to Dean's cheek just below his eye. "Or I'm gonna start right here. Get me an eye."

"Jesus." Larry swallowed and stared at the silver blade so close to Dean's eye. It made him uncomfortable, and the things Dean was saying started to sink in past his grief and his rage. "James..."

"Don't you get cold feet on me now," James said as he lowered the knife and turned to look at the man. "You wanted this."

"Yeah; but this..." Larry waved a hand toward Dean. The amount of blood and damage they had done to him was starting to sicken him. "We should just turn him in now. I think... we've done enough. I didn't want to t-torture anyone. Not even him. This isn't right."

"No way." James shook his head. "I saw the video just like you did. No way I'm letting this sick, son of a bitch get off that easy. The cops dropped the ball or he bought them off, I don't know. But I know he won't be walking away from us."

Larry shook his head. "This just... I don't know about murder, James. I mean, it's..."

"Larry, dammit." James turned on him angrily. He opened his mouth to threaten him and startled backwards a step as an explosion sounded from outside. It was strong enough to shake dust loose from the ceiling. "What the hell is that? Go on! Go find out!" He waved Larry and his two hired guns along with him. "Whoever it is, make sure they don't know anything. And if they do..." he looked at Larry with a smirk. "... tie 'em up somewhere and I'll talk to them when we're done here."

Dean watched Larry stare at James hard and figured the guy had to know James was going to kill anyone who could get them caught. "You think real hard, Larry!" Dean called as the man finally followed the other two out of sight around the boxes. "'Cause it won't just be me he buries in this place!"

"Shuddup," James snarled and turned, landing a heavy fist across Dean's jaw.

Dean's head was spinning with the repeated blows he'd taken. He shook his head slowly and worked his jaw open and closed to try and relieve some of the pain. "How many people you gonna kill, asshat?"

"Oh, I don't know." James shrugged and knelt down in front of Dean. "I'm in triple digits these days, so a few more aren't really going to bother me."

"Huh?" Dean looked up in surprise. "What the hell are you talkin' about?"

"Dean Winchester." James chuckled and ran his fingers through the blood on Dean's jaw, laughing again as the man flinched away. "When Larry called me and told me you and your brother were here, I thought I was screwed!" He smirked. "And then I realized what a golden opportunity this was." He leaned in and winked at Dean. "The brothers Winchester come to town hunting a ghoul and get wrapped up by local townies out for revenge." He nodded as Dean's eyes went wide in shock. "Just my luck I'd snacked on this poor bastard the day before Larry called him, or I would have missed all this."

"Son of a bitch," Dean breathed and instantly reevaluated just how screwed he really was.

"Soon as we're done with you..." James leaned in to breathe in Dean's ear. "... I'm gonna have me a little Winchester snack, make myself one handsome bastard, and go find that little brother of yours for some quality family time."

Dean reared in his bonds, ignoring the flares of pain through his chest as he roared out his denial. "You leave him alone!"

James leaned back and stood up with a grin. "He'll never even see me coming, your brother. I'm gonna be a superstar in the monster community. I mean, a lowly ghoul takes down the Winchesters? Angels, demons, freakin' Dick Roman – yeah, yeah; I know all about those freaky bastards who copied you, too – all of them tried and failed. But now you're mine and your brother soon will be."

Dean watched him laugh and struggled against his restraints with new motivation. He couldn't let his little brother fall victim to a ghoul; not again, not wearing the face of a brother. "Just kill me and leave Sam out of it. He'll buy the story that it was families of the leviathan's victims that did it and he'll leave them alone. I know he will. Hell, he'll probably turn himself in just to give them some closure if I'm dead. Just leave Sam alone."

James shook his head and held up Dean's knife again. "Sorry, Dean. But I really, really enjoy my work."

Dean twisted his already bloody wrists under the straps, trying to create enough give to free at least one. "Sammy's gonna kill you." He smirked. "We've got a personal beef against ghouls."

"Can't kill me if he doesn't know I'm coming." James grinned. He whipped his hand forward and sank the blade of Dean's knife into the man's shoulder just as a second explosion sounded from outside, followed by the sound of men yelling mixing with the shout of pain that Dean couldn't hold back. "Aw, what now? Dammit. Don't go anywhere."

Dean was panting for breath. He slid his eyes to the left and looked at the handle of his blade. It stood out from the meat of his shoulder and twitched with every breath he took. "Crap," he whispered and swallowed, working to keep from throwing up. He looked back up to watch James as he walked out from between the crates and sucked in a surprised breath as something big slammed into the man and bowled him from sight. Dean listened to the sound of fighting and then everything went silent. He considered for a moment and then dropped his head.

"Sammy?" Dean rasped. "Tell me you didn't... didn't walk in here... no backup."

Sam stepped through the opening in the crates and his stomach fell as he saw the damage the men had already done to his brother. "I uh, have a sort of a plan." He went to Dean and swallowed hard, seeing the knife stuck in his shoulder. "Blew up somebody's Saab out front." He smirked when Dean's eyes opened wearily to look up at him. "Thought you'd appreciate that. Dean." Sam put a careful hand to the hilt of his brother's knife. "I have to take this out first. Just... take a deep breath." Sam knew they were running out of time. Sooner rather than later, one of the men he had lured outside would come back in and they needed to be long gone before that happened. "On three."

"Sammy, wait..." Dean opened his mouth to tell his brother that the man he'd taken out was actually a ghoul but his brother chose that moment to pull the knife free. The pain made Dean shout but Sam's hand clamped over his mouth to muffle the sound. Dean lost his battle finally and slipped into unconsciousness.

"Shit." Sam took his hand from his brother's mouth as Dean went limp and checked his pulse. It was fast but beating steadily. "Ok. I'm getting you out of here." He quickly unbuckled the straps holding Dean to the chair and used the bloody knife to slice through the ropes around Dean's chest before putting it in his own jacket. He caught his brother before Dean could slide to the floor. Sam grunted with the effort of slinging him over his shoulders and hoped he didn't cause more damage just trying to help him.

Dean was dead weight as Sam moved quickly through the warehouse and away from the men. He held tightly to his brother as he moved, and fought not to flinch at every sound that echoed through the warehouse, worried at any moment the men who had taken Dean would leap out and kill them both. He found the side door he had come in through and slipped back outside silently. Sam peered up toward the front of the warehouse. A flickering glow from the car fires he had started lit the night. He could hear raised voices still, men shouting for more water, and Sam turned away and headed along the back of the warehouse toward where he'd moved the Impala.

"Almost there," Sam whispered, though his brother couldn't hear him. He breathed out a sigh of relief as he turned a corner around a high, stone wall and found the car where he'd left it, safely away from the prying eyes of anyone in or outside of the warehouse. Sam tugged open the passenger door and gently lowered Dean down, maneuvering him into the seat.

"Dean?" Sam tipped his brother's head back against the seat and brushed some of the blood away from his face. He hissed out a breath in sympathy and narrowed his eyes angrily as he saw the recognizable impression of brass knuckles along Dean's jaw. "Jesus, Dean. What'd they do to you?"

"Pretty much what I'm gonna do to you."

Sam gasped and spun to his feet but not fast enough as the man he'd beaten unconscious before tackled him into the car. The Impala shook with the impact. The air went out of his lungs in a rush as the man's shoulder slammed into his stomach. He grunted painfully when he was dumped to the ground and a booted foot drove into his ribs.

"Kind of figured if I played with big brother long enough, little brother would show up." James grinned. "You guys have a reputation." He took a step back and looked down at the gasping man.

"Why?" Sam coughed and eased himself up slowly so he was sitting against the back passenger door; acutely aware of his big brother, helpless in the front seat. "Why'd you take him?"

"Well, those meat sacks you lured out front?" James chuckled and hooked a finger back toward the warehouse. "They think you two murdered a bunch of people on video in a diner." He nodded with a smile when Sam's eyes went wide. "Of course, they've got no clue what a leviathan is, so they really think it was you two morons." He pulled the brass knuckles out of his pocket and slipped them comfortably back over his hand. "Now me, I can't even tell you how happy I am those bastards just up and vanished. "

sam scowled, confused. "How do you know about them? What they are?"

"Ghoul," Dean's voice came rough and soft from inside the car.

Sam craned his head and saw Dean's hand fall out into the open air. He turned his gaze back to James with dawning realization. "You're what we came here after." He shook his head and slid a hand across his aching stomach. "Wish I'd just killed you in the warehouse now."

"I was going to kill Dean, snack on him, and come after you but..." James flashed the brass knuckles to Sam. "I think I'm gonna make you scream for him, Sammy, before I kill him. Let him hear his little brother screaming for his help as he dies, knowing he's unable to do a damn thing but lay there bleeding out. That's my kinda dinner theater."

"It's Sam." Sam took that moment to kick one leg out, sweeping James' from underneath him. As the ghoul fell, Dean's arm whipped out of the car and grabbed the fist with the weapon, holding it firm. Sam pulled the small silver blade free from his belt buckle and lunged up over James. He buried the blade into the ghoul's heart and gave it a twist. James' body went limp against the ground. Sam leaned back, breathing heavily and got to his feet. "Don't go anywhere."

"S'mmy?" Dean slurred and turned his head and two swollen eyes in search of him. "Y'kay?"

"Hey. Yeah." Sam took a precious moment to lean down where his brother could see him and smiled. "I'm good. Just have to grab the machete."

Dean nodded and looked down where James the ghoul was valiantly trying to get his body to obey him with a heart no longer pumping blood. "Told you... not ta'... screw wi'Sammy."

Sam pulled a machete out of the trunk and returned. He looked down at the ghoul as it squirmed on the ground. It was slowly gaining more movement, and Sam knew it was healing the damage he'd inflicted. He didn't intend to give it any more time. "The only thing about killing you that bothers me is that those poor bastards you tricked into grabbing my brother are never going to know the truth." He sighed and raised the machete. "They're just going to have to find peace without you."

Dean watched with no small amount of pleasure as his little brother expertly severed the ghoul's head from it's shoulders with a single stroke. If he'd had the energy, he'd have kicked the bastard's head just to get it away from his baby. "M'on. Gotta... shag ass."

Sam nodded. "One more minute." He went back to the trunk and put the machete away, then took out lighter fluid and a book of matches. He pushed the passenger door closed before he doused the body liberally, making sure it would burn. He put the fluid back in the trunk, lit the book of matches, and tossed them down as he jogged around to the driver's side. "Alright, we're getting out of St. Louis. It's not safe."

Dean nodded. He agreed whole-heartedly and closed his eyes in exhaustion. "Not their fault. Th'other guys." He shook his head. "S'what I would'a done... been you."

Sam looked over as his brother passed out again and understood exactly what Dean was saying; that if he'd been in the place of those men, watching their children murdered, he would have gone seeking revenge. "I know." Sam put a hand on his brother's shoulder to keep him from sliding over to his side in the seat and watched the road as he turned away from the warehouse and headed out of town. "Me too," he whispered and kept his grip on his brother; needing the contact and the comfort of feeling him alive. "Me too."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next chapter: N is for Nukekubi

Chapter Text

 

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

N is for Nukekubi -

Jerry stopped walking and leaned wearily against an obliging building. He let his head hang and took deep breaths to calm the spinning in his head. He tugged his jacket closed against the wintry air once he felt a little steadier and started walking again. He looked up and nearly sobbed in relief at seeing his apartment building so close by.

"Hey, Jerry! You alright?"

Jerry groaned as his neighbor Gary jogged across the street to meet him and rolled his eyes when the man snickered.

"Dude." Gary grinned and gave Jerry's shoulder a light punch as the man stumbled. "How many have you had?"

"I'm not drunk, jackass." Jerry sneered and kept walking. "M'sick. Been feeling like shit for days. Please go away before I cough on you." He scrubbed a hand over his face and forced his legs to keep walking when all he wanted to do was fall down and sleep.

"Damn, dude. Uh... sorry?" Gary awkwardly patted Jerry's shoulder as he moved passed. "Feel better."

"Yeah." Jerry was glad his neighbor jogged away rather than try to start a conversation. Talking sapped his strength almost as much as walking did. If he didn't manage to kick this flu soon, he was going to have to start skipping work and lose his job.

"Dammit," Jerry groaned and climbed the stairs of his building. He let himself in, and the warmth in the hall after the frigid air outside was almost enough to knock him over. He used the wall to brace himself and staggered to the elevator, flipping his middle finger at the stairs as he went by them. He shambled slowly down the hall to his apartment and let himself in. He didn't bother turning the lights on once he got inside and closed his eyes in the blissful darkness now that the glaring lights in the hall were behind his closed door.

"Thank God," Jerry moaned. He shed his jacket on his way through the living room, leaving it in a pile on the floor. He braced himself on the wall in the hall and kicked off his shoes before finally going into his bedroom. Jerry collapsed on his bed with a whump, face down, and done.

"Never moving again," he muttered into the comforter and didn't even care that it was half smothering him. His whole body felt heavy and spent. He wasn't sure he could move again even if the building were on fire. Sleep quickly stole over him.

Jerry knew he was sleeping in that way you do just before you wake up. He thought he must be dreaming. He felt as though something heavy were pressing into his back. All his limbs felt weighted. His hands and feet tingled, but it was the sensation of something suckling at his neck that finally dragged him all the way into consciousness. He came awake with a gasp and couldn't move. The exhaustion that had plagued him for days now hung over him and pressed him down, paralyzed. His limbs barely twitched, and, with growing horror, Jerry heard something breathing in his ear. He could feel sharp teeth sunk into his throat and the pull of his blood being sucked from his body. His heart pounded in his ears as his mouth opened soundlessly. The fabric of his comforter muffled his gasped cries for help, his barely audible pleas for mercy. And the beat of his overtaxed heart quickly began to stutter and fade.

He could do nothing but lay there while something sucked the life out of him and listen to the sound of his own heart steadily slowing and then going silent as it ran out of blood to function with. He stared into the darkness, seeing nothing but black, while a soft voice crooned in his ear.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

"Dean." Sam's voice rose with exasperation. He looked over at his brother as yet another peanut M&M hit him in the side of the head. "Knock it off."

"Can't eat the brown ones, dude." Dean grinned over at Sam, completely unrepentant, and tossed another one, hitting his brother between the eyes. "They're like little candy turds. You eat 'em."

Sam groaned and started picking the small army of M&M's off his lap. He tossed them over the back seat one by one. "You're annoying."

"And you're cleaning out the car if you keep tossin' those little turds in the back seat, moron." Dean reached across and slapped the back of his brother's head.

"Stop throwing them at me then." Sam tossed the last one he could find at Dean's head and smirked when it bounced off into the back seat with the others. "You think you could try for serious by the time we get to town? Or are you planning on acting like a giant five year old while we hunt vampires?"

"I can do both." Dean rolled his eyes but did stop flinging M&M's at Sam. "Are you sure it's vampires?"

"As much as I can be." Sam was almost sorry to lose the humor of the moment. It was rare to see Dean acting so lighthearted since their father's death, and though he complained about it, he'd been enjoying it. "The bite marks definitely look like vampires, from what I can tell. The autopsy photos are crap. We'll have to go to the morgue and take a look for ourselves to be sure."

"Blood-sucking freaks." Dean shook his head and took the exit for Carthage, Missouri. "Don't they have anything better to do in winter? Gotta freeze our rocks off tracking these bitches down when we could be in Florida soakin' up rays."

"You know, it's cold in Florida too," Sam said and smirked over at his brother's dirty look. He leaned back and slid down his seat enough to rest his head on the back. It was getting late and he was tired. "Wake me up when we get there."

Dean snorted but he still reached over and turned the music down enough not to keep Sam awake. He figured he could give him a break for a while. The last few hours into Carthage passed slowly for Dean as his only companions were his M&M's and his brother's soft snores from the passenger seat. He had looked over more than once and considered screwing with him, only to change his mind and let the kid keep sleeping. He shook his head at himself. He didn't even begin to understand what the hell they were going to do about Sam's new-found psychic radar thing, and it scared him. He was afraid of what it meant for Sam to be connected to the demon like that; not that he could let Sam know. His little brother would stupidly think Dean was afraid OF him rather than for him, and that was a whole kettle of angsty crap he didn't want to even think about.

Dean drove through the outskirts of Carthage and easily passed the first motel. There was no way he was staying at a place with an exterminator's truck parked by the rental office and two flat tires he could see from there. He rolled his eyes and kept driving and finally nodded when he found the Moonlight Lounge motel. It was a little seedy looking, but all the letters were lit in the sign and that was pretty much four stars for a Winchester.

"Hey." Dean reached over and gave Sam's shoulder a shove, breaking him off in mid-snore. "We're here."

"Huh? Where?" Sam rolled his head off the seat and groggily pushed himself up. He looked out the windshield and quirked a brow. "You sure we can afford this place? The sign works."

Dean chuckled and parked by the rental office. "Go get us a room." He smiled over at his brother and stretched in the seat. "'Cause when I get outta my car, I ain't gettin' back in for a while."

"Yeah, yeah." Sam climbed out of the Impala and patted his pocket to make sure he had his wallet. "Room on the end?" he asked. "Or do you want one upstairs?"

Dean scrubbed his hands back and forth through his hair and shrugged. "Whatever's open. I don't care as long as it's got a bed." He watched Sam walk away and vanish into the rental office and leaned his head on the steering wheel for a minute, letting the vibrations through the wheel from the idling engine half lull him into sleep. He jerked upright when Sam's door creaked open and looked over in surprise as his brother got in and held up a key. "Whoa. More tired than I thought."

Sam laughed and pointed. "We're down at the end on the second floor. She said it was that or a king-size bed under a couple of newlyweds."

"Hell, no." Dean pulled out and headed down the building. He looked sideways over at his brother. "So... she? How hot was she?"

"Borderline granny hot." Sam waited for Dean to park and shoved his door open again. "She's at least sixty."

Dean sighed and climbed out of the car. So much for his half-formed thought of some easy fun when the job was finished. He stretched his arms over his head and went to the trunk where Sam already had it open. "So, she went all mother-hen on you, didn't she?" He grinned at Sam's disgusted face. "The mothers and grandmas always go soft on you, dude."

"Shut up." Sam pulled his duffel out of the trunk along with Dean's and left him the heavy weapons bag as revenge.

Dean crowed and pulled the heavy bag out of the trunk. "She DID hit on you! I knew it! Let me guess, she tried to feed you." The way Sam turned his back on him without a word told him he was exactly right, and he laughed loudly as he closed the trunk and followed Sam up the narrow stairs. The humor gave him the last burst of energy he needed to trudge up the flight of stairs, and, once Sam opened their door, Dean stumbled to the nearest bed across the room and flopped facedown on it without even really looking at anything else or getting his boots off. "Nigh', S'mmy."

Sam chuckled and shook his head. "Yeah. Night, Dean." He closed the door and set their bags down before he went to his brother and stood over him. He sighed and bent down, tugging his brother's boots off and let them thump into the floor. He yawned wide enough to crack his jaw and then wrestled Dean out of his jacket as well before pulling the red comforter out from underneath him and covering him.

"Better bring me coffee..." Sam yawned his way to the weapons bag and pulled out a container of salt to ward the room. "... in the morning." He just barely found the energy to drag his own shoes and jacket off, along with his flannel before dropping into the other bed. He rolled himself into the comforter and fell asleep listening to the sound of Dean snoring softly into a pillow.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean leaned over the body of the latest victim and wrinkled his nose. "Well, that's certainly distinctive," he said. He pointed to the bite mark on the man's throat and looked up at his brother meaningfully. Sam gave him a nod.

"There are more," The coroner said cheerfully. "If you just grab hold of his shoulder, I'll get his hip."

"Huh?" Dean leaned back up and saw a pair of blue gloves being held in front of his face. "Uh, sure." He took them and pulled them onto his hands, flicking his gaze over to his snickering little brother. "Shut up, agent."

Sam watched Dean and the coroner roll the dead body to its side and then onto its stomach. He pushed off the wall he'd been leaning tiredly against and moved in for a better look. "On his back?" There were four bite wounds identical to the one on the man's neck, littered across his back."

The coroner nodded. "It's odd though." He frowned. "Usually, wild animals actually take some meat from a body. They were just nibbling this poor man, though." He patted the dead man's hip absently. "He might have lived if not for that bite at his throat. That one severed the carotid artery and he bled out."

"He died where you found him?" Sam asked curiously.

"We assume so. There was heavy rain that night, so not a lot of evidence left at the scene." The coroner grabbed the sheet and pulled it up to cover the body once more. "But the detectives seem to think so. The rain washed most of the blood away."

"Right. Thanks." Dean shook the man's hand and stripped off his gloves. He grabbed Sam as his brother yawned and pulled him out into the hall. "Dude, what the hell? Do you need a nap, princess?"

"I'm beat," Sam confessed. He scrubbed a hand over his face and couldn't shake the weariness that had settled into his bones. "Coming down with something, I guess. I slept hard last night."

Dean snorted a laugh because that was certainly true. "Gotta say, I enjoyed draggin' your ass out of the bed onto the floor this morning." He chuckled and elbowed his brother. "Remember when you were twelve and you hated that school? Used to try and hide under the covers."

"You were, and are, the biggest jerk on the planet." Sam elbowed Dean back and ignored his continued laughter. "So, it's definitely a vampire, nothing else we know leaves bites with radii like that."

"Radii," Dean said and grinned. "Nerd. Only you would know the correct plural of radius."

Sam looked sideways at his brother and smirked. "You knew I used the right word. What's that say about you?"

"Shuddup." Dean gave him a shove toward the stairs and then snatched Sam's left shoulder to steady him when he staggered.

"Crap. Sorry." Sam rubbed a hand over his face and started down the stairs slowly with Dean a solid presence at his side. "Got dizzy for a sec."

"Don't you give me your damn flu," Dean warned.

Sam chuckled. "I get sick, you get sick."

"Family friggin' curse," Dean groaned with a roll of his eyes because Sam was right. All their lives, whatever one of them caught, the other would always come down with it later, a nearly unavoidable outcome considering the close quarters they were in pretty much all day every day. "You know, there is such a thing as sharing too much."

"Whatever." Sam put a hand to the back of his neck as it began to ache and rubbed it. "We need to find out what all the victims have in common, see if we can figure out where the vampire..."

"... or vampires."

"Are nesting." Sam scowled. "Hope it's not a whole nest."

"If it is, we got this." Dean gave him a cocky smile and jogged down the stairs ahead of him. "Come on, plague boy."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam leaned forward over the library table and rested his forehead against the cool wood. He was exhausted. His flu or whatever the hell he had was sapping all of his energy. Dean had dosed him with cold medicine the night before, and Sam had once again slept hard and sound. But rather than wake feeling better, he'd woken feeling even worse than the day before, more wasted and spent.

"Dude, don't get snot on the city maps." Dean tapped the back of his brother's head, but he frowned worriedly. "This bug is takin' you down hard."

"I know."

Dean smirked as Sam's voice came up muffled, his little brother refusing to even move his head. "Lift your melon. I need that map." He tugged on the paper beneath Sam's cheek and chuckled as he lifted his head just enough for Dean to pull it out. He shook his head fondly and checked another victim's address on the map. He sighed and sat back. "Think we can safely say where all the victims lived or worked has nothing to do with how the vamp's picking them off. They're all over the damn place."

Sam groaned again and slowly lifted his pounding head up from the table. He rubbed his eyes and dropped his hands to the wood with a thump. "So it has to be something else. Maybe somewhere they all shopped?"

"Dude, you are pale," Dean observed with the harsh fluorescent light above them shining down on them. "Like, back-from-the-dead pale. How you feelin'?"

Sam gave him a dirty look. "Like I kinda want to puke on you right now." He leaned back and stretched his legs out under the table. His head felt a little foggy, and he really wanted to sleep some more. "We can, uh, talk to their families. See where the victims liked to hang out, friends, that kind of thing."

Dean nodded. He gathered up the papers they'd brought in with a careful eye on his brother. "I'll go talk to the first couple on the list. You're gonna go back to the motel and get some damn rest." He raised a finger when Sam opened his mouth to argue. "Nope. You look like hell. No one's gonna buy a federal agent on their doorstep who looks like a stiff wind is gonna knock him over."

"Fine." Sam didn't want to admit it, but falling into bed for a few hours sounded like bliss to him. For form's sake, he scowled at his big brother as he stood and then had to make a grab for Dean as the floor suddenly spun dizzily beneath him. "Whoa."

"Hey. Hey." Dean wrapped an arm around his brother's shoulders and held on until Sam's eyes stopped rolling in their sockets. "Yeah, you're done for the day. Come on."

Sam didn't have enough energy to even argue when Dean put a palm over his forehead, shoving his hair aside to check for a fever as though he were a child. He just slumped into his brother's side and let Dean lead him outside and pour him into the car.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean pulled up outside their motel. He climbed out of the car and saw the woman who owned the place pushing a cart along the second floor balcony. He answered her friendly wave. He wondered if she'd cooed over his sick brother while bringing them fresh towels. Dean smirked, closed his door, and dug his phone out when it began to ring. He saw the number of the coroner's office and quirked a brow.

"Agent Crosby," Dean said easily and leaned against his baby.

"Ah, Agent. Glad I caught you." The coroner's voice was friendly over the phone. "I found something a little odd on the last two bodies. I'd have checked the others but they've already been returned to their families."

"What did you find?" Dean asked curiously.

"Well, the marks on the last victim's back were actually older than the one on his neck that killed him."

"How much older?" Dean knew it would make a difference if the vampire had been snacking on his victims before he actually killed them.

"Few days, from what I can determine," The coroner told him. "They run a course over several days. It looks like whatever animal killed them actually harried them for several days prior to their deaths, but there are no defensive wounds on the body. It's very strange."

"Yeah. Very." Dean shook his head. "Thanks. We'll look into it." He snapped the phone closed and jogged up the stairs to their motel room. Dean opened the door and found his brother where he'd left him, planted face first into a pillow. "Dude." Dean went over and gave his shoulder a shake under the blanket. "Hey, Sammy." Dean frowned worriedly as he put a hand to Sam's neck. His brother's skin felt cold and clammy. He was somehow even more pale, and, as Dean watched his eyes flutter open, Sam began to swallow convulsively. "Uh oh. Ok, hold on. Not in the bed!"

Sam was barely able to help as Dean quickly and expertly rolled him up out of the bed and dragged him into the bathroom. He held on to it just long enough to get his head over the toilet and then heaved for all he was worth.

"Yech," Dean groaned in sympathy and supported Sam while his brother puked up what little he'd eaten that day. "Breathe, buddy." He rubbed his free hand across Sam's shoulders, offering him comfort, remembering all the times he had done this very same thing for his little brother when he was sick as a child, wishing he could magically make him feel better. He startled when he felt something warm and wet under his hand. "What the..." Dean lifted the neck of Sam's t-shirt while his brother gagged uselessly into the toilet, and his eyes went wide in alarm. "Sam, you're bleeding."

Sam jerked in surprise. It took him several long moments to push back the nausea, and he slumped into his brother's grip once he had. "What... bleeding where?" he asked breathlessly.

Dean reached up and flushed the toilet. He closed the lid and then carefully maneuvered his pliant brother up to sit on it. "Gimme your shirt." Dean pulled and tugged and had to help his uncoordinated brother get his shirt off over his head. Once he did, he leaned Sam forward and peered around at his back. His blood ran cold.

"Dean?" Sam asked when he felt Dean's arm tense across his chest. "S'goin' on?"

Dean looked down at the marks on his brother's back and tried to make sense of it. "Sam... you're being munched on." He moved a little so he could get a better look and shook his head. He used his free hand to take his phone out of his pocket, flipped it open and took a quick picture. "Here." He handed it down to Sam.

Sam stared at the picture in shock. There were three bite wounds on his back, one of which was still trickling blood. Each of them looked exactly like what they had thought were the vampire bites on their victims. His head swam with confusion. "Dean, how..."

"I don't know." Dean took his phone back and tucked it into his pocket. "Come on. Let's get you lying down." He eased Sam up from the toilet and took him back out into the room. Dean settled him in his bed on his stomach. "I need to clean these."

"Call Bobby," Sam said into the pillow. He had felt an ache across his back but had chalked it up to sore muscles from his 'flu'. "How did I not feel that? I don't understand."

"Neither do I, but I'm going to. And it explains a lot." Dean said darkly. And he would enjoy ganking whatever had been snacking on his little brother. "You're not sick. It's blood loss." He wanted to slap his forehead for not seeing the symptoms for what they were sooner - the dizziness, confusion, headaches, nausea, pale and clammy skin. Of course it was blood loss. He had been watching Sam slowly be drained dry and had nearly let it happen.

"Not your fault," Sam mumbled, easily reading the tension in his brother's hand on his back.

Dean snorted fondly. "Dude, get outta my head. Stay put." He went and grabbed the first aid kit, taking out the holy water and the peroxide. He set the peroxide on the table between the beds and uncapped the holy water, hating what he had to do considering what was probably coming. "Deep breath. This might suck."

Sam nodded wearily and braced himself. The first drops of holy water on the bite marks felt like battery acid being poured into his skin. He shouted out the pain and would have twisted away from the well-meaning torture if Dean hadn't planted his free hand on his shoulder and forced him to not move.

"Hold still. Breathe. Just breathe through it." Dean glared down at the marks as the holy water bubbled and sizzled in each of them. He grimaced in sympathy as Sam continued to jerk and shout into the pillow. It seemed to go on forever before the water ran clean and was no longer smoking gently up from his skin. "Ok. Ok. It's over. Hey, it's done. You're good." He set the holy water aside and grabbed the peroxide. "That's the worst of it."

Sam was close to hyperventilating and might have if not for the steady thrum of Dean's voice over his head, and he was grateful the pillow hid the tears of pain that had escaped despite his best efforts to hold them back. He twitched while the peroxide stung into the wounds, but it was nothing compared to the pain the holy water had caused. When Dean was finally finished, Sam slumped bonelessly into the bed, too weak to even turn his head out of the pillow.

Dean taped bandages over each of the three marks and then just sat with a hand resting on his brother's bare shoulder. "Hey, you still with me?" Sam gave him a low grunt of assent and Dean nodded. "Turn your head before you suffocate, dumbass." He nodded when Sam slowly did as ordered and patted his shoulder. "I'm gonna call Bobby, cause if this isn't a vamp, I don't know what the hell we're after."

"Me'either," Sam slurred, never opening his eyes.

Dean got up and sighed. "Need to get you some juice, maybe some oreos." He smirked at Sam's groan. "We need to counteract some of the damn blood loss, dude. Don't move. I'll be back in ten." He went to the door, opened it, and then scowled. He closed it again and turned to look back at his brother while a bad feeling skittered down his spine.

"Dean?" Sam managed to roll to his side and then sluggishly sat up a little so he was propped against the wall. It hurt his back, but he could ignore the ache. He looked curiously at his brother while Dean just stood there and stared at him. "What is it?"

Dean stepped away from the door slowly. "You've got three bites on your back. We've been here for three days." He took another step closer while the tumblers clicked into place in his mind. "And you've been sleepin' like the damn dead for the last three nights in this place and wakin' up feelin' even worse than the night before."

Sam's eyes went wide in shock. "But the door and the window are salted. And, we'd know! We'd wake up!" He raised a shaking arm and let if fall back. "You'd wake up if someone... something came into the room."

"Yeah, maybe." Dean shrugged his coat off and tossed it on his bed. "But I'm not leavin' you alone here." He grabbed Sam's laptop bag, pulled out the computer, and set it on the table. He sat down and dialed Bobby. "I'll order out somewhere and get juice and shit delivered."

Sam nodded and let his head drop back against the wall. He shivered, cold and exhausted. His entire body felt heavy, weighted down, and even opening his eyes was an effort. He startled badly when he felt a blanket settle over him.

"Dude, I can see you shaking from over there." Dean said it with a smile as Sam crumbled back into the bed. He sat back down and smiled again when he heard they're adoptive father's voice on the phone, feeling reassured just by the older hunter's presence on the other end of the line, knowing they were not alone in this. "Bobby, we got a problem."

"Thought you boys were after a vampire?" Bobby asked with a scowl.

"Yeah, so did we. We were wrong." Dean quickly outlined what they knew. He lowered the phone and sent off the picture of Sam's back and put it back to his ear. "Bobby, whatever it is, it's been drainin' him dry."

"You learn anything from the victims' families?" Bobby asked and he was already at his wall, looking through his collection of books with the image of Sam's wounded back in his mind.

Dean shook his head. "Not much. One guy said he was on the outs with his wife; she wasn't even living at the house with him anymore. Last victim's girlfriend said she thought maybe he was cheating on her, but she wasn't sure."

Bobby nodded. "That ain't much. Look, gimme some time. I'll find something."

"I know you will." Dean looked over at his brother and swallowed. "Bobby, I think this thing is getting to him in our room while we're sleeping."

Bobby stopped and closed his eyes. "You'll keep him safe."

"Damn well haven't so far," Dean grumbled. "Sorry. Yeah, I will. Thanks, Bobby." He ended the call and set his phone down. "Sammy?"

"Mmf," Sam groaned. He forced his tired eyes to open and twitched a hand under the blanket. "Still here." He swallowed hard. "Thinkin' about throwing up again too."

Dean ran into the bathroom and grabbed the trash can. He brought it out and slid an arm under Sam's shoulders, lifting him up just as his brother's stomach revolted again. "My least favorite symptom of blood loss."

Sam nodded in agreement but couldn't spare the breath to speak. When it finally eased, he slumped back into the bed with Dean's help. "Thanks."

Dean set the trash can aside with a grimace. "Don't mention it. Ok, juice and food for the hemoglobin impaired." He grinned when that got a chuckle out of his brother and grabbed his phone again. He checked the salt lines at the door and window while he ordered some take out and looked back at Sam worriedly. "This bastard ain't getting to you again, Sammy."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean jerked his chin up from his chest, pulling himself out of the light doze he'd slipped into. He looked across the room at his brother in the light from the open bathroom door and sighed. Sam's skin was still pasty white where the light hit him. He was sleeping easily at least. Dean shifted his legs on the chair across from him and resettled his ass in the seat, slumping a little lower tiredly. He reached out and picked through the pile of empty cookie wrappers until he found one still full and smirked.

"Nice," he whispered. Dean eased the package open with the slightest crinkle of plastic and popped the Oreo in his mouth with a satisfying crunch. He shook the two bottles of orange juice but they were both empty. He knew he'd need to get more for Sam or they'd end up in a hospital soon. He wasn't sure they shouldn't be there already, but Sam had out-stubborned him on that one so far. If they could keep whatever it was from getting to him again, Sam's blood count would gradually recover on its own, so he had given in.

Dean shifted uncomfortably in his chair again and sighed. He got to his feet and crossed over to his brother's bed. He put his fingers gently to Sam's neck to feel the not-strong-enough thud of his pulse, but at least it was steady. Dean shook his head and sat on the other bed, leaning back against the wall. He looked at the clock, seeing that it was nearly two in the morning, and wished Bobby would call him back with his customary stroke of genius insight since Sam was temporarily down.

Dean felt his eyes closing again and let them. He rested his head against the wall and let himself drift without slipping into actual sleep. He wouldn't feel safe doing that until he knew what was after his brother. He'd checked the salt lines and they were intact. Still, he'd poured them thicker and added cat's eye shells to bump up the level of protection. He shifted slightly to make room for the pistol at the small of his back.

As he reclined there, drifting, and listening to the slightly too fast sound of Sam's breathing a few feet away, a new sound made him tense. It was faint, so faint it nearly went unheard and would have if Dean had been asleep. He heard it again and forced himself to remain still. Dean cracked his eyes open just the barest sliver. His long lashes blurred his vision as he looked around the room. The light from the bathroom was just enough to make out Sam's bed, the table, the chairs, the window, the door, and the closet beside it. He started to pull his eyes back in another circuit of the room when he caught movement in the closet.

Dean's heart began to thunder in his chest. He couldn't imagine how something was in the closet. He'd looked in there. He'd even checked under the damn beds. Yet as he let his hooded gaze rest in that direction, he saw movement again. It took all his willpower not to leap to his feet and start shooting, but he damn well wanted to know what they were dealing with. However, a few moments later, Dean couldn't help the way his eyes shot open or the low gasp of surprise that gave him away as a head with long, black hair floated out of the open closet door. And only a head. There was no body.

"Son of a bitch!" Dean cussed and rolled agilely to his feet, drawing his gun. The head swooped toward Sam's bed, and Dean fired a round at it. It screamed, and the sound was distinctly female. Dean put himself between Sam's bed and the head and fired two more times. He squinted his eyes, trying to get a clearer look in the dim light, but before he could turn on the room lights, the head screamed back into the closet and out of sight.

"Dean?" Sam's voice came hoarsely from the bed.

Dean turned around and found his brother holding his Taurus out in both shaking hands, trying to back him up. "Hey. You good?"

Sam nodded. He lowered his gun and used a hand to try and push himself up higher in the bed. "What happened?"

Dean went over to the door and turned the lights on with his gun out. "It was here." He moved cautiously toward the closet.

"It's still in here?" Sam asked in surprise and brought his gun back up. "What did it look like?"

"A head," Dean said and moved so he could see into the closet. "The hell?" It was empty. He moved in further and scoured the interior. He let his eyes rise up the wall and he ground his teeth together in anger when he saw it. "There's an attic hatch in the closet. DAMN it! That's how it's been getting in."

Sam tried to steady his shaking hands and keep the gun steady but it was a losing battle. "A head?"

"Yeah, like the thing we chop off vamps. A damn head!" Dean backed away from the closet. He swallowed hard and grabbed the salt, pouring a hasty line in front of the closet door. "Ok, we're outta here."

"We don't know what it is," Sam protested, but he still managed to find the energy to pull the blankets off his body. He slowly slid his legs off the side of the bed and sat up.

"We'll figure it out, but not here while the damn thing's tryin' to use you for a slurpee." Dean looked over at his brother and Sam's gun that was still pointed toward the door. "You watch it?"

"Yeah," Sam said firmly and kept his eyes on the closet.

Dean moved methodically around the room, packing them up. He had all three of their bags on the bed in no time and turned to look at Sam. "You keep your gun on that closet while I load the car."

Sam nodded and braced his gun hands on his knee. "Go. I got this."

Dean grabbed up all the bags and opened the motel room door. He stepped out, careful not to disturb the salt line and jogged down the stairs to the Impala. He had the bags in the trunk in record time and was running back upstairs to their room when he heard a gunshot. "Shit!" Dean jumped the last few steps three at a time and skidded into the room to find Sam standing shakily and aiming carefully into the closet.

"Heard a thump." Sam slid his gaze over to Dean with a rueful smile. "Figured better safe than sorry."

Dean smirked. "Good thinking. Whoa." He leaped forward and caught Sam as his brother sagged on rubber legs. "I gotcha. Ok, let's go."

Sam kept his gun out while Dean helped him down the stairs. He was panting for breath at the bottom but nerves kept the gun firm in his grip until Dean eased him down into the passenger seat. He looked up at their room while Dean dashed around the car and slid in behind the wheel. "Where's my phone?"

"Uh..." Dean looked around for a moment as though he would see it and then rolled his eyes. "In the pocket of your jacket... in the bag. Here." He took his out and gave it to his brother, knowing who he wanted to call.

Sam dialed Bobby while Dean burned rubber out of the parking lot and away from the motel. He wrapped his free arm around his bare chest and wished he'd thought to put a shirt on before they left. "Bobby."

"Cripes, Sam. You sound like hammered crap." Bobby cringed hearing the weak, hoarse quality of the kid's voice. "You alright?"

Sam gave a breathless, annoyed huff. "I've been better. Dean saw it. It came for me again."

"Did it get you? Either of you? You boys hurt?"

"Bobby, we're fine," Sam told him and then rolled his eyes. "Well, Dean's fine. I feel like I don't have any blood left, but Dean said it was a head. Just a head."

Bobby's eyes blew wide. "Holy shit. He sure?"

Sam looked over at his brother. "Bobby wants to know if you're sure about what you saw?"

"Am I... gimme that." Dean snatched the phone irritably out of Sam's hand and put it to his ear. "I know what I saw, Bobby. It was a damn floating head! Female, long black hair, and lookin' to make another snack of my brother. Do you know what it is or not?"

"Don't get your panties in a bunch," Bobby said with a short laugh. He sat at his desk and opened one of his books. "Now I know what it is, and I'm not surprised you mistook the kills for a vamp either. It's a..." Bobby paused and chuckled. "How about you give the phone to Sam?"

"Bobby." Dean growled into the phone. "Now is not the time to screw with me."

Bobby rolled his eyes and smirked as he found the page he wanted. "Alright. Sounds like you boys found yourselves a nukekubi. Japanese nasty. Used to be exclusive to Japan, but then the bastards started migratin' around the damn world a hundred years ago, and now they pop up everywhere."

"A nuke-a-what?" Dean asked.

Sam's mouth dropped open. "A nukekubi?" He let his head drop and covered his face. "Of course. I should have seen it."

"Ok, someone start talkin'." Dean glared over at Sam since he couldn't glare at Bobby. "What is it?"

"These things can detach their heads from their bodies and go free roamin'." Bobby quickly scanned the entry in his book. "Usually women, though there's a couple cases of 'em bein' dudes, but that's rare. Anyway, you can't kill the head. You gotta find its body, move it so she loses her connection to it, and kill that while the head's off somewhere else."

"And that kills it." Dean grinned. "I can do that."

"No. The sun rising after you kill the body will kill the head." Bobby leaned back in his chair. "So until first light, you're gonna have one pissed off, immortal, blood-drinkin' head on your hands."

"Awesome." Dean sighed and looked over at Sam worriedly.

"Did you see her face?" Bobby asked. "They don't change when the head detaches. If she's after Sam, then odds are you already met her somewhere. They latch onto men that attract them."

"Men that..." Dean stared out at the road, shocked. "Son of a bitch. It's her!"

"Who?" Sam asked curiously and looked at Dean's stunned face. "You know who it is?"

"It's the..." Dean waved the phone at him. "... little old lady runnin' the damn motel with the gramma hots for you! Damn! I thought that head looked familiar!" He hadn't gotten more than a fleeting glance at her twice, the last time when he'd seen her walking away from the direction of their room.

"Mrs. Pittman?" Sam shook his head. "Dean, she's like seventy and harmless. It can't be her."

"It was her," Dean said firmly. He slowed the car and turned around, doing a wide u-turn in the road before parking on the shoulder. He checked his watch. "Bobby, we'll take care of her. Thanks for the intel."

"You boys be damn careful. And don't let her get her fangs in Sam again." Bobby warned. "She'll probably drain him dry the next time."

Dean put his phone away and looked at Sam. "We gotta go back."

Sam groaned and nodded. "Yeah. If it is her, she'll be scared now. She might even run." He shifted in the seat, feeling the wounds beneath the bandages on his back pull painfully. "We can't let her kill anyone else."

"Alright." Dean started the car moving again and truly hated the plan he knew they were going to have to go with. "You're gonna have to be the bait, Sammy." Dean glared out at the road like that would change anything. "We already know she's hot for your blood, so while you keep her head occupied, and I'll go find her body and toast it. And for the record, I hate this idea, but I can't think of any alternative."

Sam nodded and tried to push the exhaustion borne of blood loss aside. "She's gonna be pissed once she realizes what you're doing."

"I know." Dean couldn't see any way around it. "You'll have your gun. Gonna give you one of the machetes too. You can use the bitch for batting practice."

Sam managed a smirk but it quickly faded as the motel came back into view. He shivered, not entirely from the effects of blood loss. "Be fast."

"Damn right I will," Dean assured him. "I'll gank the body and come back and help you keep her busy 'til the sun comes up. We got this." He sounded sure of himself for his brother's sake, but he certainly didn't feel it. He hated the idea of leaving Sam alone with the monster, one that had already sucked far too much of his blood away without either of them knowing.

"I'll be alright," Sam said into the silence, not needing to be psychic to know exactly what his brother was thinking and feeling, as Dean approached the motel and turned into the parking lot.

Dean nodded but said nothing. His eyes raked the darkened rental office as he drove down the building to the stairs next to their room. He parked and climbed silently out, meeting Sam's eyes over the roof. "Sammy..."

"No choice, Dean." Sam gave a wan smile. "Let's do this."

"Yeah, ok." Dean went to the trunk and pulled out two machetes. He handed one to Sam, and then slipped under his arm to help him up the stairs. Every huff of exertion from Sam drove the wedge of guilt deeper that he was giving his little brother to the monster with a damn bow on him. They reached the top of the stairs and Dean looked at the door of their room. It was still open. He moved away from Sam, took out his gun and went into the room. It was as they'd left it, including the bullet holes in the closet. "Alright."

"Don't let her see you." Sam walked into the room and gave Dean a smile. "I've got this." He understood the hesitant, almost haunted, look on his brother's face as Dean backed out of the room, and Sam closed the door, then locked it. He went to the window and made sure that was locked as well. He wanted to be sure that the nukekubi would have only one way to come after him or to escape - the closet.

Dean ran back down to the car and climbed in. He backed out of the space and revved the engine loud enough to draw attention before he left the motel and drove out of sight. He ground his teeth together as he drove far enough away to park and hoped the creature bought that he'd left Sam behind.

"Alright, you bitch." Dean got back out with his machete in hand. He jogged at a near run back toward the motel. He ran up along the back and slipped between two buildings. There was no telling how long they would have to wait, but he knew he only had to listen for the sound of Sam's gun going off again. It struck Dean then that no one had called the police after the first round of gunfire. There should have been cops all over the motel.

"What the hell?" Dean broke from his cover, now determined to find out exactly why none of the other motel guests seemed to care about guns being shot off. He crept around the side of the building toward the rental office and ducked low into a bush when he heard several thumps coming from inside. Dean raised up just enough to peek in the bottom of the window above him and his brows flew up. Inside, the woman who owned the motel was sitting in a chair. He could just see her through a crack in the curtains. Her arms rested in her lap with a crazy, multicolored quilt covering her. One of her feet kicked out, thumping into the table in front of her, and then her body went still. The silver hair that hung around her face gradually darkened to black from the bottoms up to the roots, and the head rose from her shoulders to float in the air. It was probably one of the strangest things Dean had ever seen, and that was saying a lot.

Dean ducked back down out of sight, afraid to let her spot him and ruin the plan. He was just happy she was taking the bait so fast. His hands itched to go in firing right then and there, before she got a chance at Sam again, but he knew he needed to wait. He could almost hear his father's voice in his ears telling him to bide his time; not to jump the gun and ruin a good opportunity. He swallowed around the sudden lump of guilt and pushed it away. He moved toward the front of the motel and looked around the corner. There was no sign of the nukekubi, but there were three cars parked in the lot still. He frowned. The same three cars that had been parked there for three days, now that he thought about it. He hadn't seen any of them come, go, or even move since they'd checked in. He got a bad feeling about the owners of the vehicles, but checking it out would have to wait for later.

Dean's head jerked up as he heard the sound of Sam's gun firing three times. "Showtime." He got to his feet and went to the rental office. It was locked, but Dean easily kicked it in. He strode into the front office and looked around but there was nothing to see other than the desk, the wall of small mailboxes and keys, and a couple green overstuffed chairs that had seen better days. He moved quickly, aware that every moment he wasted, his little brother was fighting the nukekubi alone.

"Gotcha," Dean said with a satisfied grin when he found the woman's body right where she'd left it, sitting in the chair and completely helpless... and headless. Dean shuddered, looking at the stump of her neck where her head should have been. "That is just wrong."

He leaned down and grabbed her under the arms, pulling her up from the chair. Distantly, he heard the muffled sound of a scream. "Crap." Dean tossed her body to the floor and took his gun back out. He fired three times into her chest, destroying her heart. Blood quickly pooled under the woman's body, spreading out across the wood-paneled floor. "Rest in pieces, bitch."

Dean turned and ran for his brother. A quick glance at his watch told him they had two hours still until dawn; two hours with the creature's pissed off head no doubt doing her level best to get some revenge before she died. "Hang on, Sammy," he panted as he ran and two more shots rang out.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam sat on the side of the bed closest to the closet and kept his gun trained on it. He wasn't sure how he knew, but he knew she was coming. He could almost feel it, almost sense that she wasn't able to walk away with Sam so temptingly close once more. He shook his head and wished he didn't feel like he was two minutes away from passing out where he sat. He had that uncomfortable floating feeling that only came with losing too much blood. He shook his head and straightened his back.

He checked his watch and realized it had been nearly ten minutes since Dean had left. It didn't feel like it had been that long. Sam jerked his head up when he heard a soft thump from the closet and stood. He trained his gun on the open door and waited. A few moments later, the macabre floating head appeared, sinking down from the hatch in the ceiling, and his eyes widened in surprise. He hadn't truly believed it was the nice old woman who ran the motel until that moment. Despite the fact that her gray hair had turned black, there was no mistaking her face. It had looked so kindly before, but now there was nothing but malice in her cold blue eyes as her head floated free and came toward him.

"Stop," Sam warned her and aimed between her eyes. He knew he couldn't kill her, but he could make her hurt. She hissed and came closer in a fast swoop. Sam fired. His first shot went wide as she ducked, but the next two hit, one in the left temple and the other between her eyes. Blood sprayed out behind her as her head flipped end over end, hit the far wall, and slid to the floor. Sam ran to the closet and slammed the door closed to cut off her escape.

He turned back to shoot her again and yelped to find her head a mere foot away. Before he could fire again, she slammed into his chest. Sam crashed into the room's door with a grunt. "Crap." His head was spinning with the impact as he tried to get his bearings. Between the blood loss and the bizarre nature of the creature he was fighting, the whole scenario had taken on a surreal quality. He felt his gun still in his hand and brought it up as her head floated near him once more.

She hissed at Sam again and, as he looked in her eyes, he felt a sudden lethargy steal over him. His arms began to tingle and went weak, and the arm holding the gun dropped to the floor with a thump. "What..." he groaned, trying to move. His eyes began to feel heavier even as the nukekubi's head came to rest against his chest. He moaned in pain when he felt sharp teeth slide into his skin over his collarbone but was unable to fight back.

Sam began to understand how he hadn't woken up any of the times she had fed from him; she was using some form of magic to subdue him. It was why none of the other victims had had defensive wounds. It had been impossible for them to fight back. He felt her drawing his blood in gulps, could feel the muscles of her mouth and jaw shifting against his skin, her tongue lapping the blood as it pooled. It was sickening, and his urge to throw up returned in full force. He'd have gagged if he could have moved.

The nukekubi reared her head back suddenly and screamed. The sound was shrill and piercing and seemed to drive a spike of pain straight through Sam's skull. It had to be Dean, he thought; his brother had found her body and moved it, killed it. As her scream echoed into silence, he felt her hold over him weaken. Sam fought to bring his right hand back up as the creature turned maddened eyes to him and screamed again. He fired into her mouth and had the satisfaction of seeing several of her razor sharp teeth break off and spin away. She darted toward him, and Sam fired again, blowing away a chunk of her cheekbone that left the creature howling.

Sam tried to lift his arm higher to follow her movements as the head rose up into the air defensively but he had nothing left. His tank was almost literally on empty. His arm fell back to the floor again as his head lolled to the side, and this time he wasn't sure if it was blood loss or the creature's power making him helpless.

"Dean," Sam gasped and could only watch the nukekubi while it grinned, hissed, and dove for his neck. He knew, this time it would kill him. Dean wasn't going to make it in time. He felt a wave of grief sweep over him at the thought of leaving his brother alone so soon after losing their dad. He could feel the darkness swimming around the edges of his vision as unconsciousness tugged at him. "I'm sorry, D'n" he murmured, feeling his eyes closing for what he fully expected was the last time.

Sam flinched as the door behind him rattled in its frame. The movement knocked him sideways and he toppled to lay on the floor on his side, knowing it was his brother trying to get in.

Dean heaved his shoulder into the door once he realized it was Sam's body that was blocking it. He could see his brother's arm stretched across the floor inside the room. "Sam!" Dean shouted fearfully. He braced his hip into the door and shoved hard enough to slide Sam across the floor and give him room to squeeze through.

He saw the nukekubi's head settling against Sam's neck and Dean snarled. He kicked her loose to fly across the floor and into the bathroom. Dean ran after her and pulled the door shut just as she slammed into it and rattle it in the frame. "Shuddup!" he yelled at the door and then turned and went to his brother. "Sammy?"

Sam moaned softly and managed to turn his head and force his eyes open enough to see his brother. He gave a weak smile while the room seemed to spin around him. "Hey. Got... got her."

"Yeah, I see that." Dean knelt down and gently rolled Sam up from the floor, supporting his head and shoulders against his knee and the crook of his arm. He looked over as the creature screamed and the bathroom door rattled with each heavy thump of her head. "That might actually hold her ass... head... until dawn. How you doin'?" Dean grimaced when he saw fresh blood high on his brother's chest and at his throat. "Ah, hell, Sammy."

Sam nodded and let his head roll into his brother. "S'not so good."

Dean put his fingers to Sam's neck, sliding through the blood there and could feel the faint, too-rapid flutter of his pulse. Sam's skin was like ivory, his eyelids and lips becoming a faint shade of blue and Dean swallowed. "Think we're gonna risk a hospital this time, buddy."

Sam wanted to argue but he didn't have the energy. It was taking everything he had simply to stay awake. "Kay."

"Shit." Dean pulled Sam in tighter and considered. He couldn't exactly call an ambulance with a pissed-off, flying head in the bathroom. "I'm gonna have to carry your ass down to the car. I... shit." Dean groaned, remembering he'd left the car two blocks away.

"Can... I can... walk," Sam said weakly and finally managed to open his eyes to prove it. He smirked. "Look drunk but... s'good."

Dean wanted to argue with him, but as the alternative was leaving Sam alone in the room with the creature again, it wasn't even a decision. "Alright, let's go." He sat Sam upright and slowly dragged him to his feet.

"What... can't leave her." Sam let his head droop, unable to hold it up. "Other guests... if she gets... she could kill them."

Dean steered Sam's rubbery legs to the door and pulled it open with his foot. "Hate to tell you this, Sammy, but I think she already ate the other guests." He nodded when Sam managed to look up at him in surprise. "None of those cars out there have moved in three days. Pretty sure there ain't anyone here but us. No one called the cops either."

"No," Sam breathed, horrified for the other lives lost that they hadn't even known about. "How... how long?"

"No idea." Dean all but carried Sam down the stairs and then propped his brother heavily against his side to start the walk to the car. "I'll make an anonymous call to the cops once the sun comes up and fries the headless bitch and they can check it out."

Sam felt a wave of guilt. "We... we should have noticed."

"Hey, we had no way of knowing we were staying at the monster lunch buffet, Sam." Dean pulled him along as fast as he could. His worry over his brother was growing with every passing moment, and the ever more shallow breaths panted against the side of his neck where Sam had let his head roll. "We didn't know to look." Dean looked down at Sam's lolling head, wondering how he could keep him awake. "Hey, how'd that thing get the drop on you anyway?"

"She..." Sam huffed out a breath and felt his face flush with embarrassment. "She, uh... head-butted me in the chest."

"Head-butted." Dean started laughing and tightened his arm around Sam. "Oh, man." He heard Sam's soft snort of laughter and then his brother suddenly went a lot heavier against him, and Dean grunted as Sam's legs gave out. "Sam? Sammy?" He stopped and shook his brother. "Come on, dude. Stay with me. Sam!" But there was no response. "Dammit! Ok."

Dean bent and drew Sam's limp body across his shoulders. He groaned with the effort and started into a fast walk toward the car, only half a block away now. "I gotcha, Sammy. You stay with me. You're ok."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean strolled through the hospital hall toward his brother's room, sipping his steaming cup of crap coffee. He'd scouted out the best exit to sneak Sam out and avoid the few security cameras and the one lone, very bored guard; just as soon as Sam woke up anyway. He reached the room and looked over at the nurse's station. It was empty, as it always was at the top of the hour, and he nodded. He liked it when everyone had a set routine he could work around. He pushed open the door to his brother's room and stepped inside.

Sam lay in the bed looking impossibly small and young for someone his size. He wore the white gown of a patient after they'd cut his t-shirt off of him, and he was still attached to a bag of fluids and a dwindling bag of blood, transfusing some of the massive volume he had lost twelve hours ago. Dean went to the window and tugged the curtains closed more securely to keep out the bright, late afternoon sun. He went to the bed and set his cup down on the tray beside it.

"Hey, sleepin' beauty. Anytime you wanna wake up and rejoin the land of the living." Dean hitched a hip on the side of the bed and brushed Sam's ridiculous bangs off his forehead since he wasn't conscious to bitch about it. Dean blew out a breath, relieved to see more color in his face and hear the steady beep of the monitor beside the bed. He'd had a moment in the emergency room to live out his worst nightmare when the heart monitor they'd hastily attached to Sam's chest had started screaming out a single tone. He had felt his own heart practically give out at that moment and wondered if it would ever restart if Sam's had not. Dean rested his hand lightly over Sam's heart to feel it thump-thump against his palm comfortingly.

"That was a close one, dude," Dean said softly. He narrowed his eyes as he saw a slight frown appear on his brother's forehead. "Sammy?" Dean leaned over him and rubbed his knuckles firmly against Sam's chest. "Hey, Sam. Come on. Wake up now. Sammy."

Sam followed the sound of Dean's voice out of the quiet place he'd been floating. He felt an annoying pressure rubbing his chest and cracked his eyes open. "Knock'i'off," he slurred tiredly up at his big brother's face that was looming over him.

Dean grinned and patted Sam's chest. "About time you showed up. How do you feel?"

Sam frowned. He licked his lips and swallowed. His mouth was painfully dry. "Thirsty."

"Ok, I can fix that." Dean grabbed the cup of water off the table and put the straw to Sam's lips. "Slowly, dude. You do not wanna throw up again."

Sam gave a slow nod and sipped gratefully at the cool water in the cup. When his parched mouth and throat felt less like a desert, he let his head drop a bare inch back to the pillow and looked up at Dean again. "Hospital?"

"Oh, yeah. You were running on empty." Dean held out his left arm and showed Sam the band aid there with a smirk. "Donated a couple pints of liquid awesome to you myself."

Sam snorted softly. He raised a hand to his face and scowled at the energy it took just for that simple gesture. He brushed his hair away from his eyes and groaned. "We breakin' out?"

"Soon." Dean promised. He put the water down and shrugged. "Once the last transfusion's done, I'll wheel you outta here. Found us a monster-free motel ten minutes away." He smiled. "You can rest up until I think you can make the drive to Bobby's without pukin' in my baby."

"Bobby's?" Sam asked, confused. "He need us for something?"

Dean rolled his eyes and got up. He didn't go far and dropped into the chair he'd pulled next to the bed. "Yeah, he needs us to take a break while you recover. You're not doing anything more stressful than lifting a coffee cup for a week." He raised a hand when Sam got that stubborn look on his face. "No bullshit, Sammy. You lost way too damn much blood and you're gonna feel like hammered crap for a while. We're takin' a break."

Sam relented and sighed. "Kay."

Dean grinned. "Good. Go back to sleep for a while." He watched Sam's eyes fall closed and his head tilt toward Dean as it always did. "Hey, Sammy?"

"Hmm?" Sam wasn't even able to open his eyes, he was so tired.

"You finally got some head, little brother." Dean grinned and laughed at the loud groan that earned him, though even that didn't get Sam's eyes open again.

"Jerk," Sam mumbled.

Dean nodded and leaned back in his chair; relaxed at last. "Bitch."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: O is for Obelisk

Chapter Text

 

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

O is for Obelisk -

Dean tossed his shovel up and out of sight, then gripped the packed earth sides of the grave and pulled himself out. He grunted and rolled his legs back up onto the grass. "Alright, you cranky bastard." He pulled over his bag, took out the salt and lighter fluid and upended both in a shower over the broken-open lid of the casket and the bones revealed inside.

He yelped when something struck him in the backside and took him to his knees. Dean tossed the cans aside and whipped around to find his own shovel lying on the grass behind him and the ghost a mere ten feet away. "Not funny, asshole." He rolled his eyes and picked up his shotgun. He aimed before the old man's ghost could reach him and fired, sending rock salt in a shower of spray through the air to temporarily dissipate the spirit.

He rubbed a hand through his hair and got back to his feet. Dean took out a Zippo and spun the wheel as his phone rang. "Rest in peace, jackass." He watched the flames burst to life and gave a satisfied smile, knowing the ghost was gone for good. He took his phone out of his pocket and answered without looking and a roll of his eyes. "Yes, Dad. Casper is toast. Yes, I'm fine. No, I'm not comin' back to the motel. I need a beer."

"Dean?"

Dean's eyes blew wide in shock and he pressed the phone harder against his ear. "Sammy? Holy shit, Sam! Is that you?"

Sam gave a soft laugh. "Uh, yeah. Unless you've got another brother."

Dean grinned. "One midget's enough." He leaned against the dead man's headstone, letting the fire warm his legs and frowned. "Not that I'm complaining or anything, but why are you calling? I mean, I figured you were out and you wanted to stay out, you know?" He remembered the last time he'd been in a room with his brother and the harsh pronouncement their dad had yelled at Sam as he'd left. "I don't like it, but I wouldn't blame you."

Sam smiled sadly and was remembering the same night. "I am out. but, uh... I think I may have a problem here."

Dean straightened warily. "Our kind of problem? Dude, tell me you are NOT hunting without backup. Are you cracked? Do you wanna die?"

"Dean! Calm down!" Sam rolled his eyes. "No, I'm not hunting. Believe me, I have a normal life now and I like it, alright? I don't WANT to be hunting. It's just... I think a job found me and I need your help. And, by the way, what are YOU doing hunting alone? Dad's hanging out at a motel nearby and you're out roasting bones by yourself? What the hell, Dean?"

Dean let out his breath and his anger along with it. It was the first time in two years he'd gotten to speak to his brother and he didn't want to ruin it by being angry and stupid. "I'm fine, Sam. Long story. Let it go. I can be at your dorm in about two hours. You still in Wilbur Hall?"

Sam's jaw dropped open. "How could you know where..." he let the sentence trail off and groaned. "You asshole! You followed me?"

Dean snickered and began collecting his things, stuffing them back into his bag. "Like there's any way I'd let you outta my sight and not know where you're living." He snorted. "Please. Good thing you moved outta that shit hole room in Crothers hall too. That place had some serious roaches, dude."

"I..." Sam shook his head and couldn't decide whether to be warmed or annoyed by Dean's attention to his life, even from a distance. He settled for warmed. "Just get here, alright?"

"Two hours, Sammy." Dean promised him.

"Dean, you won't... don't tell dad, ok?" Sam asked softly.

"Yeah, no." Dean pulled his bag over his shoulder and started back toward the Impala. "I do not even wanna listen to that rant. You safe right now?"

"As I can be," Sam said uneasily. "But it's... I'll explain when you get here."

"That does not fill me with confidence." Dean tossed the duffel and the shovel in the trunk and got behind the wheel. "Just try not to do any bleeding before I get there." He peeled out of the cemetery and dialed his father. "Hey, dad. I'm takin' a few days off." Dean rolled his eyes at the expected shout. "I am not lazy, and you damn well know it. Something came up. I got a couple things to take care of. I'll meet you in Missouri next week. Stay safe, Dad." Dean ended the call in the middle of his father's confused yelling and knew that his dad would assume Dean was taking time off for a girl. He smirked. There were a lot of pretty co-ed's at Stanford; he could just get lucky. He wouldn't even have to lie when he got back.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam sat on the floor of his dorm room with his back to the wall. He leaned against the end of his bed and kept his eyes covered. It had been just over two hours since he'd spoken to his brother. He was excited to see Dean again, and a little terrified. Two years was a long time to let things fester the way they had, and he didn't want to fight with Dean. He knew that the child in him just wanted his big brother to do what he had always done and make everything alright; but the young adult he was now wanted his independence and freedom to live his own life as he saw fit, without being berated and made to feel guilty about wanting to do something as simple as go to college.

Sam jumped when someone pounded on the door to his room. He slowly took his arm from in front of his eyes and opened them. He let out a whoosh of relieved breath to see only his room and got to his feet. "Hang on. I'm coming!" he called and took the four strides across the room. Sam pulled the door open, expecting his brother, and found Brady there instead. "Brady. What's up?"

"Heya, Sam." Brady grinned and landed a light punch against the front of Sam's left shoulder. "Me and the guys are heading out for some adult fun." He waggled his brows. "Alcohol and girls; the only way to spend Thanksgiving properly. You in?"

Sam smiled but shook his head. "Uh, no. I'm good here. Thanks, though."

"Dude, Jess is in friggin' Milwaulkee or whatever! She's never gonna know you got wasted and looked at stripper's tits!" Brady chuckled. "Besides, you only started dating last week. Don't let her suck all the fun out of you until after the first year."

Sam rolled his eyes. "I'm just not feeling well, ok? Go on. Have fun. Don't catch anything."

"Your loss, Sam." Brady shrugged and left.

Sam closed his door and then rested his forehead against the wood with his eyes closed. He wondered if Dean would laugh at him for just how much he missed his girlfriend. He snorted and decided he wouldn't even tell Dean about her. The last thing he needed was advice from Dean about women.

"You gonna sleep standin' up over there?"

"Shit!" Sam startled badly and spun to find his brother sitting in his open window with one leg in the room and a ridiculous grin on his face. "Jesus, Dean. Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"

Dean chuckled and swung the other leg in. He stood and surveyed the small room. "Just keepin' you on your toes, little brother, and, man, I gotta say, you're slackin'. Didn't even hear me come in behind you."

"I was distracted," Sam said defensively. He sighed and ran his hands through his shaggy hair, pushing it out of his eyes. He did feel a little ridiculous for not hearing his brother sneak in. "You can't use a door like a normal person?"

"Where's the fun in that? Come on." Dean saw a backpack under the edge of the definitely too-small bed, pulled it out and tossed it to Sam. "Pack up and let's go. Got us a room at a motel a few blocks away." He shrugged again when Sam gave him a puzzled look. "Figure you wanna keep the freaky stuff on the down-low from your college besties."

"Jerk," Sam grumbled but started putting clothes into the bag.

"Bitch," Dean retorted easily and smiled. He looked at Sam, really looked at him, and decided college life seemed to be agreeing with him. Usually when he saw his brother, Sam was several blocks away through the lenses of his binoculars, where he'd have no idea his big brother was checking up on him. He'd filled out, added some muscle, but he was still lean and Dean wondered if he was getting enough to eat. It was a habit he had picked up from too often being left with a hungry, growing kid to take care of and not enough money to restock groceries when Dad was delayed on a hunt. More than once Dean had gone to bed hungry to make sure Sam was getting enough.

"My tuition grant has a subsidy for food," Sam said suddenly into the silence and looked over at his brother, highly amused and raised his brows.

Dean glared at him. "Stay outta my head." It never ceased to amaze him how Sam could know exactly what he was thinking about at any given time. And it was a little comforting to know that connection between them hadn't weakened since the last time they'd been a family. "Now, you wanna tell me what you need me for?" He had noticed the careful salt line on the window sill, and been equally as careful not to disturb it. He saw specks of white in a line at the edge of the carpet in front of the door and knew that Sam had hidden that one beneath the edge of the carpet so prying eyes wouldn't get curious why he was throwing condiments all over the room.

Sam pulled on a green hoodie over his t-shirt, zipped it up, and put his backpack over his shoulder. "Let's get out of here and I'll tell you, before someone else comes looking to get me drunk."

Dean grinned and followed his brother to the door. "You doin' college right finally, Sammy?"

"It's Sam, and I pretty much spend my days studying."

Dean groaned and clapped him on the back as they went down the hall toward the stairs. "Dude, you're supposed to get drunk as often as possible, find loose women, play the 'where did I leave my pants' game..."

"Shut up, please?" Sam reddened as two female students passed them in time to hear his brother's comments.

Dean grinned shamelessly at the women. He turned, walking backwards and winked at the one who looked over her shoulder at him for a last view. "Hey," he said easily. He turned nimbly back around, expecting to see the patented 'Sammy disgust' all over his little brother's face and had to make a grab for him when Sam gasped, slammed his eyes closed, and nearly fell down. "Whoa! What the hell?"

Sam sagged into his brother's grip for just a moment before he pulled himself free and stood on his own. He opened his eyes grudgingly and looked at Dean. "This is part of that thing I need to tell you about."

Dean scowled and grabbed Sam's arm, giving him a shove toward the door. "Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam sat on the edge of the far bed in the motel room Dean had chosen. He looked aroud at the peeling, lime green wallpaper, the giant, multicolored plastic cheerio looking things that hung as a divider between the beds and the front half of the room, the faded yellow carpet... and he felt a little homesick. He wasn't sure what that said about his upbringing and he couldn't decide if it was the room or Dean standing it, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest looking every bit the dangerous big brother who knew something was screwing with his 'Sammy'. Maybe a little of both.

"So, spill." Dean nodded to Sam.

"Ok. The history department is putting on this big exhibit next week. Ancient Egyptian artifacts." Sam smiled. "It's a big coup for the school. They were going to loan them to Harvard, but the dean manage to wrangle it for Stanford. Harvard's pissed, and I'm pretty sure there's going to be blood at the next football..."

"Sammy. Focus," Dean said though he smirked at the enthusiasm Sam was showing. Some things would never change. "What happened?"

"I don't really know." Sam shrugged and rubbed his hands together with a frown. "Brady's trying to get lucky with one of the seniors, and he volunteered us to help them unpack the exhibit and set it up." He looked up at Dean with a smirk. "Bobby would drool, man. Some of the things they've got in there..." His face lit up. "There's an actual page from one of the original copies of the Book of the Dead, carved in stone and everything. It's beautiful."

Dean rolled his eyes. "You can call him and geek about it some other time. Get to the part where you need me and you start fallin' over for no reason. Are you in danger?"

Sam shook his head. "Maybe. I touched a lot of stuff in there helping them to set it up. But I'm pretty sure it's an obelisk causing my problem."

Dean growled and threw his arms out. "What problem?"

"I'm seeing things," Sam admitted slowly. He raised a hand. "I'm seeing the obelisk. Awake; asleep. Doesn't matter. Sometimes it's just a stone column, but sometimes it's... it's covered in blood. Sometimes it screams in my head. I turn and I see it out of the corner of my eye, and when I blink, it's gone, and it's always there and it's driving me...

"Whoa! Ok, slow down." Dean went to his brother and put a hand on his shoulder. Sam was babbling, and he just didn't do that; not since he was a kid. That told Dean just how freaked out about the whole thing he really was. "So, okay. I'm gonna go with cursed object." He sat on the other bed and looked at Sam. "Is it doing anything else? 'Cause what happened in the hall, that looked like it hurt."

Sam nodded. He pinched the bridge of his nose to back off the headache that hadn't left him for three days and sighed. "It feels like..."

"What?"

Sam shook himself and looked over at Dean. "It's like, I don't know, like I can feel my skin being peeled off of me." He closed his eyes moment, drew in a breath, and opened them again, looking directly into Dean's. "And yeah, it hurts like hell."

"Jesus." Dean could see the pain in Sam's eyes and felt the urge to kill something, preferably whatever was screwing with his brother. "Alright. So we go find this obelisk, and I say I go at it with a sledge hammer."

Sam shuddered lightly. "I'm not sure if that would make it better or worse. I need to get a better look at it. There was some writing on the base, but the guy curating the exhibit was so freaked about it almost falling over that he wouldn't let anyone near it after that."

"How big is this thing?" Dean asked and rose to pace. "Can we do a smash-and-grab?"

Sam shook his head. "It's only a little taller than me, but it's heavy. I barely managed to keep it standing. Almost got squashed."

"Damn. Ok. How good's the security where they're keeping it?" Dean went to his bag and dug through for his lock pick kit. "Electronic or is Stanford old-fashioned?"

"Both I think." Sam scrubbed his hands over his face and stood. "I just need to read the inscription. There are, like, a hundred pictures of the thing, but none of the inscription." He looked over at Dean meaningfully. "None that are clear, anyway. It's like it doesn't want to be photographed."

Dean looked at the clock and grabbed his leather jacket. "No time like the present."

"Yeah; it's late enough the building should be locked up now." Sam stood and flinched. The obelisk stood in the corner of the room; from the corner of his eye he could see it. He saw something dark and viscous dripping to pool on the yellow carpet beneath it. Everything around him fell away - the room, his brother - until the obelisk was all that was left in his field of vision. The familiar burning pain began. It spread along his limbs, into his chest, and made his heart pound against his ribs. It screamed across his nerve endings and he felt himself falling.

"Sammy!" Dean caught his brother as he collapsed and went to his knees with him. Sam's eyes were open and staring. He propped Sam's face up and watched his brother suddenly wheeze in a long breath. He flinched as a scream tore itself out of brother's throat and Dean gave him a shake. "Sam!"

Sam blinked and found himself on his knees being held up by his brother. His throat hurt and he could feel the moisture of unshed tears in his eyes. "Dean," he gasped and clamped his hands around Dean's arms to ground himself.

"Yeah, take it easy. You're ok." Dean loosened his grip and eased Sam back a little.

"We really need to figure out what's going on," Sam said breathlessly. He took a hand back from his brother and rubbed it over his aching chest. "That really hurt."

"No kidding." Dean shook his head and stood. He pulled Sam up, steadying him and watched him for a moment to see if there was going to be a repeat performance. He let go once he was sure Sam would be alright, at least for now. But it made his teeth grind knowing something was hurting him. He was at college. Sam was supposed to be out of the game and safe. And as much as it had killed Dean to watch Sam walk away and as much as he desperately missed the one person who had been pretty much a constant presence in his life for eighteen years, part of him had relaxed for the first time in pretty much forever with the feeling that at least Sammy would be safe.

"Let's go figure this crap out so you can get back to your boring college experience." Dean opened the door and looked back at him. "Seriously, dude. NO girls? No keggers?" He groaned when Sam smiled and shook his head as he walked out. "Dude, you're blowing it!

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

"That's it," Sam whispered and pointed to a set of double doors at the end of the hall. Getting into the history building had actually been dead easy, considering the many priceless artifacts inside. They had climbed a tree to the second floor and gotten in thanks to a teacher who didn't close his office window before leaving for the day. "You get the doors and I'll go to the security office and get the cameras turned off."

"And the alarms," Dean said with a grin. "Don't get me busted 'cause you forgot to hit the damn off switch."

"Dude." Sam glared at his brother.

Dean shrugged. "You been outta the game for two years, Sammy. Gotta make sure you haven't lost your edge."

"It's Sam, jackass. And I can still take you." Sam turned away before Dean could protest and jogged back toward the security office.

Dean smirked and moved into a better position where he could see the doors and the softly, blinking red light on the security camera overlooking them. He got comfortable against the wall, crossed his arms over his chest and waited. He looked down at his watch, clocking his brother. "Going on two minutes, Sammy," he whispered and chuckled as, at the three minute mark, the red light on the camera went dead. He gave a grudging smile. "Not bad, kiddo." God, he hadn't even realized up until now just how badly he had missed this, hunting the bad thing with his brother at his side. Yeah, he could do the job by himself or with his dad, but it wasn't the same. And part of him longed to think they could somehow go back to what they had been, even though he knew it would probably never be. He shook himself mentally and got back to work.

Sam found Dean kneeling in front of the exhibit doors working on the lock and jogged up to him. "Two minutes, forty-eight seconds."

"Fifty-three," Dean corrected him and snickered at the angry, inarticulate growl from behind him. "Here we go." He pulled his picks out of the lock and eased one side of the doors open, then squeezed inside with Sam behind him. "Where is this thing?"

Sam walked into the crowded room and frowned. "Well, it was right here." He gestured to an empty pallet on the floor. "Look around. You'll know it when you see it."

Dean sighed and took the right side of the room while his brother went left. There were crates lining the narrow aisles, their tops open and packing straw littering the floor around them, and tables and pedestals, some with artifacts already on display. Dean stopped and tapped the handle of a jeweled, golden dagger. "That'd break the first time you stabbed someone with it."

"Dude. Focus," Sam called in a loud hiss, hearing his brother's comment easily in the big room.

Dean chuckled and moved on. He eyed a jeweled and gilt sarcophagus, wondering if the mummy was still inside. He rapped his knuckles on the lid and looked up into the white eyes. "Creepy."

"Dean. It's here." Sam rounded a collection of gilded spears and looked at the obelisk warily. The stone was nearly black with age and wear, with several chips taken out of the pyramidal point at the top. "It didn't look creepy when I first saw it. Does now."

Dean looked at the thing as he came up alongside his brother and nodded. "Wasn't trying to kill you before." He waved a hand at it. "Go on. Do your thing." He caught Sam's shoulder when his brother moved closer. "But, uh, how about you don't touch it again."

"I've already touched it."

"And we're not gonna tempt friggin' fate! Hands off, monkey boy."

Sam rolled his eyes with a fond smirk and knelt in front of the obelisk. He took a flashlight out of the pocket of his hoodie and flicked it on, aiming it at the base. For a moment he just stared at it unseeing and then took a breath. "I've missed you."

Dean would never admit the warm feeling that spread through him with those three simple words. "No chick flicks, Sammy. Do your homework already."

Sam smiled more broadly, hearing the gruff affection in his brother's tone. "It's Latin." He scowled. "That means this isn't as old as I thought it was."

"Does that matter?" Dean asked and wondered if it wouldn't be easier and simpler to just take a sledgehammer to the thing.

"No, you can't pulverize it." Sam looked up and caught the startled glance on his brother's face. "Dude, your face is so easy to read sometimes." He chuckled and looked back at the inscription. "Latin means this thing is probably from the Ptolemaic period, at least a couple thousand years younger than they said it was."

"We need to find you a Latin desk reference so you can read that?"

"Dude, please." Sam gave Dean a scornful look. "You act like I couldn't speak this when I was twelve…. fluently." He leaned a little closer to the obelisk and angled the light so the carvings were more clear. "Ubi enim sunt duo stabit, commovebitur terra."

"I got 'two' and 'earth' out of that." Dean snorted and felt a little pride at Sam's still flawless accent.

"'Where both shall stand, the earth shall quake,' basically. Both?" Sam frowned and read on. "Si unus ceciderit altera tollet. Animum qui ultimo tetigit fratris. Invenies date illi tormentum et desperatio sed consistitis sude. Ruina paritar et manet in morte."

"Ok, none of that sounds very pleasant. That time I got 'torment' and 'death.'" Dean sighed. "What's the bad news?"

"I'm not really sure. I think it says 'If one should fall, the other take the mind of he who last touched… uh, mate, or brother." Sam ran the words through in his head again. "Brother. Who last touched brother shall find torment and despair of fate. But if stood together side by side or fall together, in death abide." He rocked back on his heels and stood. "There are two of them. Two obelisks."

"And you touched one so now you're screwed?" Dean asked angrily. "What the hell kind of curse is that?"

Sam shook his head. "I think… I think if we find the other one, the brother to this one, and put them together, it'll leave me alone."

Dean scowled at the obelisk and couldn't help but see the obvious parallel between him and Sam. "Wonder what idiot decided to split them up?"

Sam flinched slightly at that, feeling the sting of guilt. "Maybe they didn't have a choice."

Dean snorted. "Someone always has a choice. Where do we find the other one?"

Sam opened his mouth to snap back and then closed it. He didn't want to fight with Dean. It had been so long since he'd seen his brother and it made his heart ache with how normal and 'right' it felt to be working a case with him again. He had never imagined he'd miss hunting the tiniest bit, but now… "I, uh, I don't know. For all we know, it could have been destroyed a thousand years ago. I need to check the manifest."

"Alright, where's that?" Dean worked at swallowing back his hurt, but it was difficult.

"In the office. Back…" Sam cried out as he was wrenched off his feet. His body flew at the obelisk as his vision darkened, and he saw it covered in blood again. The air punched out of his lungs as his chest slammed into the stone. He felt hands on him, heard his brother calling his name, and then he mercifully passed out.

"Shit!" Dean grabbed for Sam as he flew through the air past him and missed. He watched as his brother crashed into the stone obelisk with a sickening thud and then seemed to hang there. "No you don't!" Dean grabbed a hold of Sam and pulled. He braced a foot against the stone and leaned backward, yelling out with the effort and finally Sam came free all at once. Dean fell backward to the floor with Sam a dead weight against his chest. "Sammy!"

Dean scooted further away from the obelisk with Sam and shifted him so he could see his face. "Hey. Sam. Come on." He curved a hand around his face worriedly. He looked so damn young all of a sudden. Dean brushed Sam's floppy bangs out of his eyes and for a moment, all he could see was the ten-year-old who begged him to make the monsters go away. In that instant, Dean didn't begrudge Sam one second of his normal life at college; he just wanted him to be safe. "Come on, Sammy. Wake up. Hey." He held on a little tighter when Sam moaned and finally blinked blurry eyes open and up at him. "Hey, little brother."

"Dean." Sam groaned and wrapped his arms around his chest. "Hurts."

"Shit." Dean eased Sam up a little and pushed at his brother's arms. "Move and let me look."

Sam grudgingly lifted his arms, letting his brother tug his hoodie and t-shirt up to get a look at his chest. He looked down himself and groaned anew, seeing the bright red line that ran up the center of his chest. It was quickly darkening into one massive bruise and the pain radiated out from it. "Ok. That really hurts. What happened?"

Dean pulled the hoodie back down and helped Sam to slowly sit up more. "I'm starting to think it's not just a cursed object. Something picked you up and tossed you at that damn rock."

Sam's eyes went wide. "Ghost?"

Dean nodded. "It's haunted. That inscription said something about brothers. So maybe…"

"Maybe it was being literal. Crap." Sam got stiffly to his feet with Dean's help and looked at the obelisk again. "We have to find the other obelisk."

"Yeah, not like we can go to Egypt and find something to salt and burn." Dean glared over at the stone. "Get your own damn brother, you asshole."

Sam smirked and braced a hand over his chest. It felt like something was broken though he knew it wasn't. He'd have been in a hell of a lot more pain if it were, though he was in enough. "Shipping manifest."

"Let's go." Dean kept a firm grip on Sam's arm, unwilling to let him go in case something decided to use him for batting practice again.

Sam swayed once in Dean's grip and led the way to the office at the back of the exhibit. He pushed open the door and went to the old oak desk. He sank wearily into the chair and pulled a thick, black binder over to him. He opened it up and started going through the pages. "Has to be here somewhere."

"Why hasn't this thing kicked someone's ass before now? Plenty of people must have touched it packing it up and getting it here." Dean asked as he poked through the books on the shelf behind the desk. "Dude, he reads Voltaire. This professor's kind of a douche."

Sam chuckled and nodded. "He uses a monocle too."

"Giant douche."

"Artifacts are almost never touched with bare hands," Sam glanced up at Dean. "Everyone wears gloves to protect them from damage, oils from human skin, moisture, that kind of thing." He shrugged. "But when it fell, I wasn't wearing gloves. I just grabbed it."

"So, typical Winchester luck then." Dean turned and leaned over his shoulder. "Find anything?"

Sam ran his finger down a page and found the entry for the obelisk. "Got it. Obeliscus ex veo cruciarus. Obelisk of the Tormented."

"Fantastic."

Sam snorted and then frowned. "It says here there were two crates, but I only saw one."

"So where the hell is the other one?" Dean asked angrily.

"Maybe it was never shipped from the warehouse." Sam closed the book and stood, grateful when Dean's hand steadied him as he wobbled. "I know where it is."

"Let's go get our Indiana Jones on." He smirked and swaggered a bit more than usual as they left the room.

Watching him, Sam smiled. "You want the hat and the whip, don't you?"

Dean stopped and looked at him. "Okay, dude. This is just getting weird. When did you start being able to read minds?"

"Yours? When I was about twelve. I just never told you." He pushed past Dean and led the way with a smirk of his own.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The warehouse loomed up in front of them as Dean parked the Impala and he looked up at it and frowned. "Hey, here's a question. How the hell are we gonna get this thing back to campus?" He looked over at Sam and raised a brow. "'Cause we are not strapping that thing to my roof."

"Oh. Crap." Sam considered as he got out of the car. "We'll figure it out."

Dean rolled his eyes and got out with him. "'Cause that always ends well for us. Come on." He strode to the warehouse and the small door set in the side. "Doesn't look like this place is too high tech."

"Yeah, it's old. There probably aren't any silent alarms." Sam leaned against the wall beside the door in deference to his bruised and aching chest while Dean bent and picked the lock. "Can't believe this is happening because someone forgot to ship both obelisks together."

"Only you, Sammy." Dean shook his head and stood. He pushed the door open and stepped inside. "You stay close." He took his EMF meter out of his pocket and flicked it on. "Figure this might help us track it down if it is haunted and not just cursed."

"Good idea." Sam followed his brother and nodded when the meter began to whine softly as they walked deeper into the rows of twenty-foot-high shelves. They were lined with boxes and crates of every size, and it did make him feel like they were in a bad Indiana Jones rip-off. "If you see the ark of the covenant anywhere, don't touch it."

Dean chuckled and turned down a new aisle when the signal became stronger. He slowed when the meter began to whine loudly, the needle burying itself in the red. "Yahtzee." He looked around the aisle they were in and spotted a tall, wide crate. "That looks like it."

Sam went to the crate and checked the stickers. "Yeah, this is it." He put a hand out and jumped when Dean knocked it away. "Hey!"

"Think we've already established that you touchin' these things is a bad idea."

"It's the crate, Dean." Sam shook his head. "I'll be fine."

"Uh-huh." Dean snorted in disbelief and at the bitch-face that Sam threw at him. "Just don't get handsy with the damn thing until we find a way to get it out of here."

"Whatever. I'm going to look around. See what I can find." Sam waved a hand and then a pointed a finger at his brother. "And don't YOU touch the damn thing or we're both gonna be in trouble." He ignored the middle finger Dean flicked at him and headed to the end of the aisle. He went back to the front of the warehouse and on the opposite side from where they came in, he found a forklift. "Nice." He patted the side of the machine and went to a long row of narrow windows behind it. Sam looked out and grinned. "Dean! I got it! There's a forklift up here and a pickup truck outside!"

Dean jogged up the aisle and found Sam standing beside the machine. He grinned. "Awesome. You go hotwire the truck. I'm gonna drive this bad boy back there and load up our souvenir."

Sam found the latch for the garage door behind the forklift, opened it, and pushed the door open enough to make room for Dean. The pickup was an old blue Ford that had definitely seen better days, but the driver's door was unlocked and Sam smiled as he climbed into the driver's seat. He started to bend down to hotwire the engine and then looked up. "I wonder…" he hooked a finger on the sun visor, flipped it down, and the keys fell out into his lap. He chuckled. "Damn, I love trusting people." He put the keys in and nodded happily as the engine turned over and sputtered to life. "Dean's going to hate you." He patted the steering wheel and climbed back out. A wave of pain suddenly rolled over him. The ground seemed to ripple beneath his feet and Sam's knees buckled. He fell to the gravel, feeling it bite into his knees, and grabbed his head as the obelisk filled his vision once more. The blood dripped and poured down the smooth sides of the stone but this time, there was a second obelisk in shadow behind it. They loomed above him in his vision and he felt like a weight was pressing down upon him, stealing his breath.

Sam came back to himself and realized he was sitting on the ground, bent forward over his brother's arm, and Dean pounded on his back again.

"Take a damn breath already!" Dean yelled and slapped Sam's back again. He stopped when his brother took a deep, wheezing breath and rested his forehead in the back of Sam's hair for a moment, just listening to him pant ragged breaths. "Holy crap."

Sam fumbled his hands up and held on to his brother's arm, trying to ground himself. "Dean… what?"

"I don't know. I drove out here and found you on the ground." Dean tightened his grip on his brother for a second and then made himself loosen it and sit Sam up on his own a little. "You weren't breathing." Sam had been seizing on the ground and clawing at his own throat, oblivious to Dean beside him. It had shaken Dean hard. "Come on. Get up and get in the truck." He got to his feet and brought Sam up with him, then walked him around to the passenger side.

"What about the Impala?" Sam asked as he sat down and wrapped his arms around his chest.

"No way in hell you're drivin' with that thing knockin' you on your ass with no warning." Dean closed his brother's door and sighed. "I'll drive this piece of crap back later and pick her up. Stay."

"Not a dog."

"Well, you look like the Shaggy Dog so…" Dean smirked at Sam as he walked away, though he didn't feel it; Sam was in far too much danger. He went back to the loader and climbed in, making quick work of driving it around the back of the pickup and sliding the obelisk in its crate into the bed. He backed it away and jogged back to the truck. "How you doin'?"

Sam groaned softly and nodded. "Been better." He tried to straighten up in the seat but his chest was in too much pain for that much movement. "Really glad it's Thanksgiving break and I don't have class tomorrow."

Dean startled and looked over as he pulled away from the warehouse. He had completely lost track of what time of year it was. "Huh."

"What?" Sam glanced over but Dean was focused on the road.

"Nothing. You got a way to get this thing into the exhibit?" Dean asked and made the turn toward campus. "Because there's no way we're carrying it. It's too damn heavy."

"There's a loading dock. It's where all the deliveries were made." Sam pointed a hand out to Dean's left. "We should be able to get in that way, and there'll be equipment for moving it."

Dean drove, following Sam's directions and kept a watchful eye on his brother the entire time. He kept expecting Sam to collapse again at every moment and his nerves were stretched to the breaking point wondering how bad it would be the next time it happened. They reached the building and had the truck parked at the loading dock in no time, though it seemed to take forever. Dean was relieved to find a forklift as Sam had said he would and drove it out to the truck with Sam standing in the bed and a hand resting on the crate.

"Thought I told you not to touch that damn thing!" Dean yelled as he slid the bars of the forklift under the crate and eased it out.

Sam rolled his eyes. "It's the stone that's dangerous. Stop worrying."

"I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear you say that. Get in there." Dean waved a hand at Sam and watched as he stiffly climbed down from the bed and headed into the building through the loading dock. Dean followed, driving along slowly behind him. How they managed to get through the building and to the exhibit hall without being busted was a mystery to him until he remembered; it was Thanksgiving. Most of the college was away spending quality time with their families. Dean watched Sam lean heavily on the door to the hall before opening it and stepping aside. He smiled to himself as he drove inside. He had a few more days before he had to meet up with dad. He'd make the best of them.

"Go left around the sarcophagus," Sam told him and followed the forklift through the aisles that were barely wide enough to allow it through. He stood by while Dean lowered the crate to the floor several feet away from its mate and frowned. "Is that it?"

Dean climbed out of the forklift after backing it off and shrugged. "I don't know. You feel any different?"

"No." Sam sighed. "We're going to have to open it."

"You stay the hell over there." Dean checked around the open crates until he found a crowbar. He went at the side of the tall crate with purpose. "If this doesn't work… I'm blowing them up. Fair warning. I don't care how old the damn things are." He pried the side loose and let it fall to the floor with a clatter. Dean took a firm grip on the crow bar and hammered it up at the top, knocking it off. He kicked one of the remaining three sides and the crate fell apart; the sides dropping to the floor. The second obelisk stood revealed and looked nearly identical to the other, except that it was slightly lighter in color. "Well?" Dean glared between the two things. "Now what?"

Sam felt a curious pulling sensation begin in his stomach. "Uh… Dean?"

"Sam, what…" Dean gasped as his brother was yanked from his feet. The obelisks began to glow and Sam was jerked forward until he was suspended in the air between them with his arms and legs outstretched. "Sam!"

Sam struggled in the invisible grip that held him tight. He shouted as his arms and legs were pulled painfully tight in their sockets and felt two cold waves of air wash over him from either side. "Dean!"

"Dammit, let him go!" Dean bellowed. He reached out to pull Sam clear and grunted as he was picked up and thrown across the aisle into the collection of spears. He went to the floor in a painful sprawl and scrambled back to his feet.

The obelisk overtook Sam's vision again. This time both of them stood together, and in front of each was a man. They looked alike, one younger than the other, with dark skin, dark hair and dressed in white shifts. They looked angrily at him, and Sam cried out as the pressure on his limbs increased. His vision was beginning to go red and black and he knew he was almost out of time.

"Habitas fratrem tuum!" Sam shouted the Latin as loud as he could. "Ne derelinquas me ad laban fratrem meum!"

Dean gritted his teeth, prepared to go flying again but too desperate too care, and ran for Sam again. He reached out to grab hold of Sam and was surprised when his hands connected. He all but tackled Sam out from between the two obelisks and they slid across the floor for several feet before coming to a stop. Dean leaned up and rolled over quickly to look back. The obelisks each flared once in a bright pulse of light and then went still and dark, looking like harmless stones once more.

"Shit. Sam?" Dean turned and looked down at his brother. Sam was gasping for breath and lying on the floor barely moving. He put a hand to his chest to feel his heart thudding frantically. "What happened? You alright?" Sam gave him a slow nod and Dean slid an arm behind his back, easing him up until he was resting against Dean's knee. "What was that you shouted at them?"

Sam coughed and groaned softly. "Uh, you have your brother. Now leave me to mine." He shrugged and winced at the ache in his shoulders. "Basically."

"Holy crap. I'm glad that worked." Dean shook his head and looked over at the stones. He glared at them. "Don't you assholes touch my brother again."

"Can we go now?" Sam asked wearily, though he wasn't sure he could actually stand at that point. He would damn well try.

"Yeah. Here we go." Dean gently helped Sam to his feet and ended up supporting most of his weight when Sam's legs threatened to give out. "We'll go grab the Impala and I'll pour you into a bed. Think you earned some naptime."

Sam groaned and took a few shaky steps with Dean there to support him. "Not a kid."

"Yeah, I know, tough guy. Been hearin' that since you were twelve too. Come on. Keep walkin'." Dean smiled as they made their slow way out of the exhibit and back to the ratty old pickup. Sam was alive, mostly in one piece, and safe again. At least he would be if Dean had anything to say about it. "Keep those flamingo legs movin', dude. I ain't carryin' you."

Sam chuckled, walking with his eyes closed, and grinned. "Would too."

"Shuddup."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam pulled his t-shirt on slowly, groaning at the effort it took to get his arms over his head. The spirits in the obelisks had done a number on his shoulders, not dislocating them but coming damn close. The long, hot shower had helped some. He braced a hand over the ache in his chest. The bruise from his impact with the obelisk the night before had darkened and purpled. It looked like he'd been hit by a truck.

"Sammy!"

Sam jumped as his brother pounded on the door. "What?"

"You gonna move in or get your ass out here sometime tonight?" Dean smirked, imagining the bitch face Sam was sporting and went back to the table.

"I'm coming." Sam shook his head fondly and finished pulling his shirt down. Dean had dumped him into the far bed when they'd gotten back from picking up the Impala and refused to take Sam back to his dorm until he could walk on his own again. He sighed. That would be tonight. He was looking forward to getting back to normal and a little loathe to lose Dean's company at the same time. He didn't miss hunting, not really – his multitude of aches and bruises had reminded him of that - but he had missed his brother horribly. Hell, if he was honest with himself, he missed his dad too.

"Sam! Get the lead out!"

Sam rolled his eyes. "Impatient much, Dean?" He pulled the bathroom door open and then stopped and stared. "Dean… what the hell?" The little table was covered in food; turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, biscuits, coleslaw… Sam's mouth fell open in shock.

"Happy Thanksgiving, Sammy." Dean said with a smile and nudged a chair out toward him. "If you're gonna leave your mouth open like that, at least put some food in it, geez."

Sam sniffed, watching Dean sit down and start dishing up a plate of food. He went stiffly to the table and eased himself down into a chair, then looked at Dean over the top of the small feast. "Dean…"

"What?" Dean looked at him and the expression on his face was clear - don't make this weird.

Sam sniffed again, cleared his throat and grabbed a plate. "Uh… just… where did you get all this?"

Dean grinned in gratitude to his brother for not turning it into a chick flick and tossed him a biscuit. "Lady who runs the motel. I may have batted my eyes a few times."

Sam laughed and sat back, chewing on the biscuit. His eyes were suspiciously wet and he knew Dean could see it. It made his heart hurt how much he was going to miss him once he went back to his normal life. "This is awesome," Sam said quietly and passed the mashed potatoes to his brother.

Dean nodded happily. "Yeah. It is." And he knew they both meant something other than the food.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: P is for … possibly poison? It'll come to me. Lol

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

P is for Pendulum -

"Dean!" Sam shouted his brother's name hoarsely. He tipped his head back and yelled as fresh pain burned along his chest, and he could feel his heart beginning to try and pound out from behind his ribs. He struggled against the bindings holding him tight but there was no give in them even as he felt fresh blood oozing from the torn skin at his wrists. The sound started again, low, the rhythm steady, and he could feel it tapping against his crumbling sanity. "DEAN!"

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

*Twelve hours earlier…*

Sam leaned back from the computer screen in front of him and rubbed his tired eyes. He turned his head slightly, expecting to see Lucifer, and let out a soft breath of relief when all he saw was the empty records room. He closed his eyes and scrubbed his hands over his face. They had barely started researching the case, but the sight of the last victim's body in the morgue had been enough to turn his stomach and make him twitch.

"Hey." Dean slapped his brother's shoulder as he stepped into the records room and didn't miss the slight flinch of Sam's shoulders as he did. "What's up?"

"Nothing." Sam waved a hand at the computer screen. "I haven't found anything that ties the victims together yet. At least, nothing obvious."

"Uh huh." Dean dropped into the chair beside him and scanned Sam with a critical eye. "You doin' alright? 'Cause you look a little twitchy."

Sam bristled at the question but he let the irritation go. Dean certainly had a reason to wonder about his mental health. He rolled his eyes and shrugged. "I'm fine. It's just… the whole gutted body thing. I can handle it."

Dean nodded. "Yeah. I know you can," he said firmly. "Trust me, man. I almost lost my own damn lunch there for a sec. And right in front of the hot intern. That would have been a disaster." As he'd hoped, his little brother snorted a laugh and some of the tension visibly eased from Sam's face.

"I just wish we knew how the victims were being eviscerated." Sam reached over and closed his research. He shut off the computer and stood, stretching. "I mean, what kind of creature slices someone's chest open so their hearts and lungs spill out?"

"We'll find it. Come on." Dean stood and gave Sam a nudge toward the door. "I'm friggin' starving, and we need to investigate the dude who owns that diner anyway."

Sam smirked. "You mean you want to investigate the pie case in the front window."

"Shuddup." Dean grinned and rubbed his hands together. "Nothin' says we can't do both."

Sam opened the doors and let Dean out ahead of him into the sunlight. "I'll bet half the town eats at that diner once a week. It may not even be a real connection." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "As much as I hate to say it, we need a live victim to talk to."

Dean nodded, his humor evaporating as he turned down the street toward the diner. "Gotta be a reason these poor suckers are just letting someone slowly cut them open an inch at a time. We'll figure it out."

"Before someone else dies?" Sam shook his head and waved a hand when Dean looked over at him. "Sorry. I know. Forget it." He ducked ahead across the parking lot and pulled open the door of the diner for his brother. The parking lot was fairly empty for which Sam was thankful. Crowds were harder for him these days with Lucifer riding shotgun. He looked around the cozily lit interior of the diner, noting the handful of patrons and snorted. The walls were covered in mounted catfish; a small army of them. And paintings of them swam across the dented, dingy bar that Dean walked up to. He smiled when his brother turned and eyed the massive display case of pies that covered the wall between the bar and the front window. "You're hopeless, dude."

"It's pie." Dean shrugged as though that explained everything and grinned. "Love me some pie."

"Can I help you gentlemen?"

Sam looked over and smiled at the older man who appeared behind the counter from the kitchen. "Yeah, we're hungry. Well, I'm hungry. He just wants to empty your pie case." He gestured to his brother and then pulled his fake FBI badge out of his pocket. "Also, we'd like to ask you some questions if that's alright. It's about an ongoing investigation."

"Whoa. Feds, huh? Cool." The man ran a hand back through his short black hair and waved both men to seats at the bar. "I'm Jim. I own this place. So what do you want to know?"

Dean grudgingly left the pie case and sat on a stool beside his brother. "First, a slice of apple and a slice of cherry." He smiled at the owner. "And then we need to know about some of your patrons."

"Former patrons." Sam took a folded collection of papers from his jacket pocket, opened them, and spread them on the countertop. "We're trying to trace the movements of our victims prior to their deaths, and quite a few ate here."

"Well, hell. Half the damn town eats here every week. That's nothing special." Jim shrugged. "Don't know that I can tell you much, but I'll try." He looked over at the other agent and smirked, seeing the man's eyes fixed on the pie display. "The blueberry's fresh. Just took it out of the oven an hour ago."

"Sold." Dean flashed Jim a blinding grin and got comfy on a stool.

"Let me get you boys something to eat and then I'll look through these." Jim waved a hand to the pictures Sam was spreading out and headed back to the kitchen.

"I think he knows something," Sam said softly once Jim had vanished.

"Spidey senses tinglin', Sammy?" Dean asked, only half in jest and quirked a brow.

Sam shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe." He stacked the photographs of the victims neatly and loosened his tie. "Most people either dive into the pictures or turn green and tell us to piss off, you know?" He shrugged a shoulder. "He's awful friendly and helpful to two strangers."

"Two strangers with badges who are also going to eat his food." Dean slapped Sam's shoulder. "Could be right though. We'll keep an eye on him."

Sam frowned but didn't say anything. He had the feeling that Dean was humoring him, and, really, it's not like he could blame his brother. Sam himself couldn't guarantee this wasn't another case of his personal 'crazy' spilling over into reality, the devil in his mind twisting his perceptions yet again. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to back off the ever-present headache.

"Hey."

Sam jumped when Dean's hand slapped into his shoulder. He rolled his eyes over and scowled. "What?"

Dean studied Sam's annoyed face for a moment and then nodded. "He's comin' back. You do the pictures; I'm gonna investigate the pie." He grinned as Sam couldn't help but chuckle at that.

Sam watched Jim come back with two plates in his hands. He smirked when the man set a thick slice of blueberry pie in front of his brother and then stared in surprise as Jim set the other plate in front of him and Sam saw it was piled with leafy greens, thin strips of chicken and surrounded by tomatoes. He looked up at the man and gaped. "How did you know I wanted a salad?"

Jim laughed and slapped a hand on to the counter. "Son, I been doin' this a long damn time. You learn to read your customers."

Dean moaned long and loud around a mouth of possibly the best blueberry pie he had ever eaten. "Oh my, God. I'm gonna live here."

Sam took a bite of his salad, almost cautiously, and his mouth watered at the light flavor of some sort of vinaigrette dressing. It was exactly what he would have ordered for himself. "Wow. You have a gift."

"It's been said." Jim shrugged and smiled happily. He sobered quickly as he looked down at the bar. "Now. Let me look at these." He pulled over the stack of photos Sam had laid on the counter and started going through them slowly, taking time to look at each one.

Sam ate his salad, savoring the flavors, and watched Jim's face while the man studied the pictures and the documents attached to each of them. He had nearly finished by the time Jim laid the last one down on the bar. "Well? Recognize any of them?"

Jim nodded sadly and met the man's suspicious, blue-green eyes. "Most of them. I know most of these faces. I've seen them in here a time or two, obviously. Most of them, I couldn't even tell you their names." He sighed for the sad truth of that. "Didn't even realize they were gone. Now, a few of them…" Jim took the top three pictures off the pile and set them aside. "These ones I do know… did know, anyway. Only one I knew was dead was Gena. She was a sweet little thing. I've had a few cops in here since she died, but they wouldn't tell me anything, wouldn't give me any details. Typical. Maybe you boys will, huh?" He looked between the two men earnestly. "Just tell me how she died. Was it quick? 'Cause that little lady sure didn't deserve any suffering."

Sam bit his bottom lip and flicked a glance at his brother. Dean gave him the barest shake of his head and Sam sighed as he looked back at Jim. "I'm sorry. We really can't give out details of the cases like that." He looked back down at his empty plate and pushed it away. "I can tell you, it… it wasn't fast. I'm sorry."

Dean watched Jim's face fall and finished off his pie. "What can you tell us about her? Or the other two. Do you remember anything strange happening to them before they died? Any new people in town that might have taken an interest in them?"

"No one I can think of." Jim tapped his fingers on the pictures and tried to think back. "It's a small town, you know? Everyone kind of knows everyone and knows everybody's business. I don't remember seeing anyone new around, aside from the usual people passing through. No one who stuck around anyway." He sighed. "I'm sorry I can't be of more help."

"How about anything they might have had in common?" Sam tapped the pictures Jim had set aside. "Did they all visit the same place or person? Do anything different? Have the same hobby?"

Jim opened his mouth to say no and then frowned. "Huh. You know…" He looked up and met Sam's gaze. "Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure they all went to the college last week. The little one next town over. There was a literary festival or something." He gave a sad smile and tapped a woman's picture. "She was a big reader. Him too," he said and tapped another face. That's all I can think of really."

"Thank you." Sam gathered up the pictures and files and then took out his wallet. "How much do we owe you?"

Jim waved Sam off. "Forget it. You boys figure out what happened to all these people and we'll call it even."

"The federal government thanks you." Dean smiled and stood, patting his belly. "And so does my stomach. I'm gonna be back for more pie."

Jim chuckled and shook the man's hand. "I'll keep it warm."

"Come on." Dean gave Sam a nudge toward the door and waited until they were several yards away on the sidewalk before he spoke. "So?"

"I still think there's something weird about him." Sam shrugged and glanced back at the restaurant over his shoulder. "But I don't think he's a bad guy."

Dean nodded in agreement. "Yeah, something's hinkey there, but we'll figure it out later. Let's go over to that college, see what we can find."

"It's a dinky little arts college." Sam smirked over at Dean. "Nothing but nerds as far as the eye can see."

"So, you'll feel right at home." Dean chuckled at the roll of Sam's eyes. "How dinky?"

"Less than a thousand students from what I read online when I was researching the area. It's very exclusive." Sam tucked the pictures back into his jacket as the wind picked up and plucked at them.

"What the hell kind of trouble could all these people have found at a damn book geek convention?"

"Literary festival, Dean." Sam rolled his eyes. "Some people actually enjoying cracking a book for more than just research."

Dean chuckled as they reached the car. "Don't I buy you books for Christmas every year? I know that."

Sam outright laughed as he slid into the passenger seat beside his brother. "Skin mags do not count, jerk."

"Quality articles in those things, Sammy." Dean grinned, unrepentant and pulled out onto the street with a cheerful smile for the fact that, at least for now, Sam was his normal little brother again, easy to get a rise out of.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean leaned against a pillar outside the college offices and watched the small student body as they dashed through the hall to classes and tests and some who dropped into deep chairs on the other side of the hall with a gaggle of friends and laughed. He snorted a laugh and shook his head, finding it hard to remember that Sam had once been one of them, albeit in a much larger college. It seemed like a lifetime ago that his brother had been that… innocent. He shook his head again a bit wistfully. Even after all these years, part of him still wished things could have been different for the kid. He straightened as he saw Sam coming down the wide stairs opposite him and waved him down. "So? Anything? 'Cause no one's home in the offices."

Sam nodded and brushed his hair out of his face. "Yeah. I found the literary club upstairs." He rolled his eyes and raised a hand toward Dean as a grin spread over his face. "Don't say it. They said the festival is over, but some of the exhibit is still here in Halliwell Hall on the other side of campus." He started for the doors before Dean could snicker. "The girl I talked to said they use the building mostly for storage. There isn't much of a student body."

"Some of the student body ain't bad," Dean said with an appreciative smile as a trio of coeds went past them, eyeing them over their shoulders and giggling.

Sam looked over at his big brother and quirked a brow. "You're probably old enough to be their dad." He grinned when Dean groaned and threw him a dirty look. "Still want to flirt with them?"

"Shuddup, Sammy." Dean slapped the back of Sam's shoulder and followed him outside. He tugged his jacket closed when the wind whipped into his face. "How does this place even function with no students?"

"They have students." Sam led them across the quad and up the steps to Halliwell Hall. "The college is almost exclusively funded by the parents."

Dean chuckled and moved to block his brother from view as Sam pulled out his lock picks to open the door. "Richie Rich and his pals' private playground, basically."

"More or less, yeah." Sam easily picked the lock and pushed the door open. He tapped the back of his brother's shoulder and slipped inside. "Come on."

"Do we know where we're going in here?" Dean asked as they moved down the long hall, their footsteps echoing in the silence.

"Think so, yeah." Sam listened for any sign that they weren't alone in the building but heard nothing apart from themselves. "Should be down here on the left, if the guy I talked to was right." He shook his head as they passed each closed door. "It seems weird for a building on a college campus to be this empty. Maybe whatever's killing people is affecting anyone near it too. Like it makes people not want to be near it."

"Gotta be a cursed object." Dean listened to the silence around them, paid attention to the way the building felt as they moved. "You know, I do kinda feel like I'd rather be somewhere else." He smirked when Sam looked back at him. "Somewhere with pie."

Sam rolled his eyes and stopped at a door with a handwritten sign duct taped over a small, frosted window that said 'storage'. "This should be it." He turned the handle and his brows rose, finding it unlocked. "Huh." The room was dark, but he could tell from the sound of his footsteps that it was big. He stretched a hand out to the wall on the left of the door and found a bank of light switches, flicking them on. Halogen lights flickered to life above them, moving steadily away to reveal a cavernous room, more like a small warehouse, and filled with packed, eight-foot shelves and boxes stacked everywhere, cluttering the aisles. "This is going to take a while."

"Awesome," Dean groaned. "We don't even know what we're looking for."

"Well, it was a literary exhibit so… books. Book related things." Sam shrugged. "I'll probably know it when I see it." He headed off to the left and waved a hand. "Start over there."

Dean rolled his eyes and scrubbed his hands through his hair. "Great." He took out the EMF meter in his pocket and turned it on as he searched down the first aisle. "I hate this job." He ran his fingers over the spines of rows of books and ducked to check the labels of the boxes along the bottom. "This is gonna take forever."

"Stop whining and it'll go faster!"

Dean jerked up with a growl as Sam's voice carried through the room. "Don't make me kick your ass, little brother!" He rolled his eyes hearing Sam's chuckle and shook his head, though he smiled fondly. It felt nice, normal even, to be on a case with his brother heckling him. And for too long, Dean had been afraid he'd lost that forever. He moved on to the next aisle and chuckled. "Hey, Sammy! I found Winnie the Pooh!" Dean picked up the stuffed animal with a grin, remembering a little brother who had once never slept without the honey-addicted bear. "Wanna trade?" He set the stuffed animal back on the shelf and then frowned when there was no annoyed response. "Sam?" He heard things tumbling to the floor and a bad feeling swept over him.

"Sam!" Dean yelled and ran to the end of the aisle. He slid out, catching a hand on the side of the shelf to turn and ran, slowing only to look down each aisle for his brother. "Sam?" Dean found him kneeling in the middle of the second to last aisle amid a pile of books and several boxes. "Hey, dammit. You answer when I call. What the hell, dude?"

Dean walked to him and looked down. Sam's eyes were closed, his arms lax at his sides, and he showed no sign of being aware of Dean's presence. "Sammy?" His bad feeling grew as he dropped down beside him and put a hand on Sam's shoulders, giving him a shake. "You're startin' to freak me out here. Sam!" Dean gasped as Sam crumpled into him and wrapped his arms around his brother to keep him sitting, supported against his chest. "Hey, hey, hey. Come on. Talk to me." He slid a hand behind Sam's head to support him and looked down at his face. "What the hell did you touch?" Dean asked suddenly and looked down at the books scattered around them, then up at the shelves, but he had no idea what could have caused such a reaction.

"Sammy." Dean gave his brother another shake and tried not to panic. He was breathing and Dean could feel Sam's heart beating under his hand on his brother's neck. Sam's heart was pounding; that much Dean could tell. He felt a tremor pass through his brother and watched as Sam's eyebrows drew together in a frown. He was disturbingly reminded of the seizures Sam had used to have before his wall had been destroyed, how helpless he had been. It was no easier to deal with now. "Come on, Sam. Dammit. Wake up and tell me what the hell's goin' on with you." He held on a little tighter when Sam jerked in his arms suddenly. "That's it. Come on. Come back." He rubbed a hand vigorously up and down his brother's arm and grinned when Sam's eyes flew open. "Hey, hey! Take it easy! I got you," he soothed as Sam gasped.

Sam wrapped his hands around Dean's arm across his chest and took a moment to just breathe. "Shit. Shit," he panted softly and tried to will away the fear that still gripped him. He held his hands up then and looked, needing to be sure.

"Sammy?" Dean watched his brother study his hands and frowned. "You ok? What happened?"

"Tied down. I was… I was tied down. Couldn't move." Sam closed his eyes and shook his head. He could feel his entire body shaking.

"Dude, you've been right here the whole time." Dean assured him. "No one tied you down."

"No. No. It…" Sam's voice trailed off, and he felt another wave of terror, no longer sure what was real and what wasn't. "No ropes?"

"No ropes." Dean eased Sam up and when he was sure his brother could support himself, Dean stood. "Come on. Hey." He took Sam's arm and waited until Sam gave him a nod before he pulled him to his feet. Dean steadied him when he swayed. "What happened?"

Sam looked down at his body and then over at Dean. "I, uh… I don't know." He shook his head. "I was here and then I was… somewhere else. I think. I don't…"

"Did you touch something?" Dean asked and waved a hand at the books on the floor around them. "A book? A box? What?"

"I, uh… I don't know."

Dean scowled, and just as he was about to release Sam, now that he was steadier on his feet, he realized his fingers were warm and wet against his brother's wrist. "What the hell?" He pulled Sam's arm up and shoved the sleeve of his jacket back. Dean's eyes went wide. "Sammy."

Sam looked down at his wrist and sucked in a shocked breath. The skin was worried and torn, bloody, and he knew those marks came from struggling against rope bonds. He'd been in that position too many times in his life; they both had. "Oh, my God."

Dean grabbed Sam's other hand and found the same damage. "But you weren't tied up," he whispered angrily, confused and trying to reconcile how Sam's wrists could have possibly been damaged. He glanced up at Sam and saw a tightening around his brother's eyes that he was beginning to become all too familiar with. "Hey." Dean purposefully pressed his fingers into the bloody wounds on Sam's wrists to cause him pain and gave a wan smile as Sam's eyes jerked to his from whatever he'd been staring at. "You're good, dude. I mean, this is some freaky shit and we're gonna figure it out, but you're not losin' it, alright? Sam?"

Sam took a deep, steadying breath and nodded. "Yeah. Yeah. I'm good." He shook himself and pulled his arms back from Dean, then looked at the shelves around him. "We need to find out what it is. It's here." He gestured to the books and boxes on the shelves. "Most of this, uh, Edgar Allen Poe. Books, some artifacts." Sam looked more carefully and gently nudged a heavy, leather volume on the floor. "My money's on that."

Dean knelt and looked, being careful not to touch it. He frowned. "The Pit and the Pendulum? Why?" he asked as he took a handkerchief from his pocket and carefully folded it around the book so he could safely pick it up.

Sam let a breath shudder out of him as Dean stood. "There was a… wherever I was, I saw a… a pendulum. Above me. It…" Sam swallowed hard and met Dean's eyes. "Think I know what cut all the victims open." He held up his hands. "And why they couldn't save themselves."

"A pendulum?"

Sam nodded. "Big, swinging blade." He shivered and scrubbed a hand over his face. "I was tied down to… to something, a table, I don't know. I couldn't move, couldn't see anything but that thing above me."

Dean lunged forward suddenly with fear closing his throat, letting the heavy book thump to the floor forgotten, and jerked his brother's shirts up. "How bad? Did it cut you?" In his head were the images of the victims, their chests sliced open and their insides grotesquely on display.

"Hey! Knock it off." Sam slapped his brother's hands away and pulled his shirts back down. "I'm not hurt. It was above me. It didn't touch me."

"Yet," Dean finished darkly and allowed Sam to straighten his clothes while Dean tried to control his own fear. He bent down and carefully retrieved the book. "Alright, come on. Let's go see what we can dig up on this thing."

"We should call Bobby." Sam rubbed at his wrists as they quickly left the store room. He turned for a last look over his shoulder and shivered, seeing Lucifer there, leaning against the wall and smirking at him. Sam resolutely turned his head away and followed his brother.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam leaned against the wall of the motel and looked out, watching the lights of passing cars. He shivered a little in the chill night air, but he wasn't ready to go back inside the room just yet. He'd had to make a hasty exit when he simply couldn't stand the sensation of warm blood dripping on him like rain anymore, or stand to listen to the macabre rainfall that had slowly covered the entire motel room in red and all the softly hummed soundtrack of 'Singing in the Rain' courtesy of the Devil stretched out on his bed and grinning. Dean had given him a look but let him go without a word.

"Dammit," Sam muttered. He scrubbed his hands over his face roughly and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. He listened to the sounds of a normal world around him and tried to let them settle his nerves. He couldn't afford to be distracted. He startled badly when the door beside him creaked open and turned wide eyes to find his brother leaning out.

"Hey. Get in here. Bobby found something." Dean watched Sam visibly settle himself and bit his tongue as his brother slipped into the room behind him. He frowned when Sam stopped in front of him. "Dude, you gonna take a nap there?"

Sam shook himself into motion. "No, uh… sorry." The room was thankfully free of raining blood at last and even Lucifer seemed to have moved on, at least for the moment. "What did Bobby fi-"

Sam gasped as the world went black around him. He threw his arms out with the sensation of falling and grunted when he felt something hard slam into his back. The impact dazed him, and when he could think again, he felt ropes binding him tightly as they had before. He opened his mouth to yell for his brother, and the world snapped back into focus with a flash of light. He shook his head in denial. He was once more tied down to something hard; ropes crisscrossed his body and wrapped his arms and legs tightly leaving him no room for movement.

Against his will, his eyes rose up above him to find the massive, glinting steel of the pendulum. "No," Sam whispered. He struggled when it began to move, beginning its slow swing through the air. He jumped in his bonds when it visibly dropped lower. "No! Dean!" He threw himself against the ropes, trying to twist free, to loosen them enough, but there was no give. He could almost feel them growing tighter as he struggled. They bit in to his flesh painfully as he threw his head back, eyes closed in distress and fought. His arms came free in a rush, and Sam's fists swung up through the air.

"Hey! Hey! Hey!" Dean caught his brother's fists before they could slam into his face and wrapped his arms around him. "Sammy! Stop! You're good, dude! Hey!"

Sam gasped in a breath and opened his eyes to find himself sitting on the motel room floor with Dean holding him. "Dean?" He stared around the motel room, letting it sink in that he was there and safe while his breaths punched in and out of his chest.

"Yeah. Shit." Dean loosened his hold on his brother and frowned when he felt something warm and wet on the front of his brother's shirt. "What the hell?" He leaned Sam back and tugged up the front of his t-shirt. His eyes went wide and he heard Sam's panicked breathing hitch to a sudden stop. "These look like…"

"Rope burns," Sam whispered. He stared at the marks the crisscrossed his chest and could feel similar burns on his arms and shoulders.

"Ok. Alright. Just… come on." Dean was fighting to remain calm and got to his feet. He helped Sam up and sat him in the chair next to the table. "Get your shirts off so I can see the damage."

Sam nodded silently and convinced his trembling hands to pull his shirts off over his head. The sight of raw rope burns climbing his arms did nothing to help his calm, and he couldn't stop the flinch when Dean's hand landed briefly on his shoulder. "Shit."

Dean set the first aid kit on the table and then sat down, taking a good long look. Anger burned through him for whatever or whoever was putting his little brother through this. It didn't take an idiot to see that Sam was having trouble reconciling what was happening to him with the crazy in his mind. He shook his head. "Same thing again?"

"Yeah." Sam watched Dean soak a washcloth in alcohol and took it from him. "I can do this."

Dean wet a second washcloth, ignoring Sam's scowl, and helped him clean the various rope burns. "Big swinging blade of doom over your head again?" Sam's flinch was answer enough for him.

"What did Bobby find?" Sam asked, in a bid to distract himself from the cleaning process.

"Says we need to take a closer look at that damn book." Dean took his brother's right arm and grimaced, swiping the rag as gently as he could over the bleeding abrasions and inwardly seething with anger that he couldn't protect Sam from this. "He's figuring cursed object, but he didn't rule out haunted. Apparently, that book has a history, if it's the one he thinks it is."

"Which… crap." Sam hissed and resisted the urge to yank his arm away from his brother's well-meaning torture. "Which does he think it is?"

Dean glanced up at Sam and quirked a brow. "He said check the lithium."

Sam was surprised into a snort of laughter and rolled his eyes. "You mean the lithographs?"

"Whatever."

"The pictures in the book, Dean." Sam smiled fondly and tossed his bloodied rag to the table.

Dean smirked and nodded. He'd hoped his comment would finish the job of pulling Sam back from the fear and was happy it had worked, if a little smug, though he tried to hide that. He sat back finally and sighed. "That's as good as this is gonna get." He slapped his brother's hands when he reached for the book on the table, still wrapped in the handkerchief. "Put gloves on, dammit."

"Right, Sorry." Sam shook his head at himself and decided to put a shirt on first as he rose from the table. "Did Bobby say why the lithographs are important?"

Dean tossed the first aid kit back together and watched Sam tug on a t-shirt. He pushed down the knee-jerk kick of anger that came with seeing his little brother hurt. "He said if the pictures in the book are authentic, they could be haunted by the artist who painted them. Bobby said the guy was some whack job who used his own blood in the ink."

"Ok, that's disturbing." Sam picked up the latex gloves his brother had discarded on the table and pulled them on before he pulled the book over and opened the cover. "We could try a cleansing ritual." He turned the pages with gentle fingers and a small smile, feeling the age of the paper even through the thin layer of latex. He could smell it too, that musty smell of old pulp that permeated the air of every used bookstore he'd ever loved.

Dean chuckled at the look on his little brother's face. "Dude. You are such a nerd."

"Bibliophile, jerk." Sam gave him a smile. He slid his fingers into the pages and opened the book randomly near the middle. He pulled the book closer to him and felt his heart race. The image was a black and white vision of a man bound to a table, the terror evident on his face even in the drawing, and a massive, deadly pendulum just above his chest.

"Sam."

Sam startled when Dean's hand landed on his shoulder. He leaned back and tore his eyes away from the image. He cleared his throat, not looking at the concern on his brother's face. "What were the odds, huh? First page I open it to."

"Yeah." Dean caught the edge of the cloth beneath the book and used it to pull it closer to him. The look on his brother's face had been fear and it frightened him too. "This what you're seeing?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, I… yeah. That's it." Even with the gloves on he was wary of touching the image. He turned instead and pulled Dean's jacket over, taking his brother's homemade EMF meter out of the pocket. He turned it on and held it over the book. The needle twitched and then rose steadily into the red as the sensor whined. He turned it back off and set it aside. "So, haunted."

"Looks like." Dean shook his head. "We could just salt and burn the thing."

Sam stared at his brother in shock. "Dude! This book is an antique! You can't just… just burn it!"

Dean snorted. "Cool your jets, Fahrenheit 451. It's just a suggestion."

"It's…" Sam's ire faded into amusement and he quirked a brow at Dean. "You made a literary reference."

"So? I read."

Sam's smile grew as his brother stood and headed into the bathroom. "Bradbury."

Dean rolled his eyes and stopped in the bathroom door. "Mom. She uh… she used to read them to me." He laughed softly, and there was sadness in it. "Dad always fell asleep."

Sam was surprised, watching the bathroom door close, and stared. It stunned him that even now, all these years later, he could learn things about his own mother. He felt the familiar melancholy at never having had the chance to grow up with her and the sadness for his older brother who had lost her even more. He looked back down at the stark image of the pendulum and shuddered. "This is screwed up," he muttered. "Even for us." His eyes caught on the bandages wrapping his wrists and it took all his willpower not to tear them off. He could suddenly feel the restriction of the bandages as though they were the ropes restraining him again. Worse, for a moment, all he could see was the room Becky had confined him in, the sensation of being tied down to that bed, gagged, and helpless while waiting for her to drug him just a few weeks earlier.

"Sam?" Dean asked as he emerged from the bathroom to find his brother hunched over himself and gasping for air as though he'd been running. He grabbed Sam's shoulder, worried that he was slipping back into wherever the damn pendulum was. "Hey!" He was surprised when Sam jerked as if struck, and Dean scowled as Sam pulled away from him and stumbled out of the chair. "Whoa! Hey! Take it easy. It's me, Sammy. Just me. What's goin' on?"

Sam's back banged into the wall and he closed his eyes, trying to steady himself. He heard Dean moving closer and flinched. "Just… gimme a second."

Dean watched Sam slowly pull himself back together. It was fear on his brother's face, and somehow Dean knew that this time it wasn't the book causing it, or not only the book. "Talk to me, Sammy." He moved closer once Sam's eyes found him again. Dean kept his movements slow, understanding that whatever was wrong, Sam was jumpy. "You're gonna make that worse," he said calmly and reached out to brush his fingers over the bandage around Sam's left wrist that his brother was even then scratching at absently. "Come on. Stop. Let me look, alright? Sit down."

"Crap." Sam stopped pulling at the bandage on his wrist. He hadn't even been aware that he was doing it, and went back to his chair on shaky legs. He scrubbed his hands over his face, disgusted with himself. "Sorry."

"For what?" Dean grabbed his brother's left hand before Sam could shy away and straightened the bandage as gently as he could. "What the hell was that?"

Sam shook his head. "Nothing. It was nothing."

"I call bullshit." Dean released Sam's hand and looked at him. "Talk to me."

"It's… it was the ropes." Sam rolled his eyes at himself. "It just… I couldn't move and it was too much like…"

"Like what?" Dean asked when his brother faltered and turned his head away.

"Becky."

"Shit." Dean sighed and he understood. He wasn't sure he would ever forget hearing about that incident, his little brother tied down to a crazy fangirl's bed. At the time, he had teased him. Now… Dean kicked himself for giving Sam grief about something that could have gone very differently if Becky had been just a little more unhinged. "Should'a shot that crazy train when I had the chance."

"Dean. You can't kill her."

"I said shoot, not kill." Dean gave Sam a grin. "Kneecap. Totally survivable."

Sam chuckled, feeling more of the stress bleed away in the face of Dean's typical outrageous sense of justice. "You're ridiculous."

"It'd make me feel better." Dean turned and used the cloth beneath the book to flip it closed. "See if you can find a cleansing ritual that'll work for this thing, since you won't let me torch it." He figured putting Sam's attention on research would do a good job of distracting him. "We need to fix this, 'cause there is no way I'm just gonna watch while you get your chest cracked open. I'll burn it first. Understood?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah. Research fast. Got it." He smiled and pulled his laptop over.

Dean reached out to pick up the book when his phone rang. He frowned and answered it, then frowned harder hearing one of the sheriff's deputies. He looked up to see Sam shrug his shoulders, a silent request for information. "Uh-huh. Yeah. I can be there in ten. Don't let him go anywhere." Dean tucked his phone back into his pocket and sighed. "Looks like this thing…" he thumped a fist into the covered book. "…has more than one victim on the hook. According to the deputy, there's a guy holed up in the back of a convenience store screaming about ropes and blades, and he's bleeding. From his chest."

"Shit."

"Yeah." Dean ran a hand over his face and back through his hair. "I'm gonna go grab him. You find a damn cleansing ritual. And don't touch the thing again."

"I should come with you." Sam rose and wasn't surprised when Dean's hand shoved him back into the chair.

"No way. That thing yanks you back into nightmare land again while we're out there, the cops are gonna think you're crazy, or in on it." Dean shook his head. "Stay here. Try not to get sliced up before I get back."

Sam watched his brother's cocky smirk and knew it was meant to hide his fear and help alleviate Sam's own. "I'll be fine."

Dean looked at his brother for another moment before he grabbed his jacket and reluctantly left him alone. It made him itch with every step he took away from Sam, but he gritted his teeth, climbed into the beat-up Dodge they were driving that week and went to do the job. It killed him that he couldn't protect Sam from the crazy in his head, let alone from some possessed damn book intent on slicing him in two. "Dammit," Dean growled and slapped a hand into the steering wheel. He blew out a breath as he drove and worked to get his emotions under control.

The drive to the convenience store took barely ten minutes and Dean wasn't surprised to find it surrounded by police cars and flashing lights. It was going to make his job more difficult if he couldn't convince the locals to let him take the guy out. He parked away from the cruisers and took a moment as he got out to scan the area. Five officers stood just outside the convenience store with what looked like the clerk, and, thankfully, the tension level seemed to be fairly low. That would make it easier.

Dean walked over and smiled at the group. "Officers. Where's the victim?"

"Victim?" A tall, balding officer snorted a derisive laugh. "The nutbar is still in there and who the hell are you? Get back behind the cars."

"Agent Coulson." Dean pulled out his fake badge and flashed it, enjoying the looks of surprise on all their faces. "Your lieutenant around?" He leaned forward. "Officer Vetters."

"Inside." Officer Vetters hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Heard the feds were sniffin' around."

"You know what they say about us. Big noses…" Dean grinned and walked through the group to the door. "I'd appreciate it if you all could take off. I don't think I'm gonna need you for this. Thanks." Cops with attitude got on his nerves. He stepped inside the store and instantly heard a woman's voice talking calmly.

"Peter. I need you to come out now, alright? No one's going to hurt you."

"Lieutenant?" Dean followed her voice to the back of the store and found Lieutenant Roma standing beside an open door. He smiled at her long, black hair and brown eyes as he had every time he'd seen her. She was an attractive woman for a cop.

"Agent Coulson." Lieutenant Roma gave him a relieved smile. "He's still in there and refusing to come out. Frankly, I'm about to grab a couple of my guys and just overpower him and get him to the nearest hospital. He obviously needs to be restrained." She smirked. "And maybe some medication."

"I'll handle it." Dean smiled again and waved to the front door. "It'd make my job a lot easier if you and the rest of the officers could leave. He'll come out sooner if he knows he's not going to get pounced."

Roma shook her head. "Agent, he could be dangerous. I'm not leaving you alone with him."

"He's not dangerous." Dean assured her. "He's just scared. Let me do my job. Please." He watched her weigh the options and saw the moment she decided to let him have what he wanted.

"I'll let the rest of my officers go, but I'm staying." Roma gave him a firm look.

"Then wait outside." Dean moved to take her spot at the door. "I mean it. I don't wanna lose this guy because all the uniforms freaked him out."

Roma rolled her eyes but she stepped away. "Fine." She watched the agent, Dean, as his eyes flicked to the door and shook her head. "You're not going to let me arrest him, are you?"

"For what?" Dean smirked and shrugged. "Having a harmless freak out in a storeroom? Nope. I got this. Go on." He watched her leave, waiting until he heard the jingle of the doorbell, and then cautiously stepped through the door. "Hey, Pete. How's it goin'?"

Peter was on his butt at the back of the storeroom with his back against the wall. His hands covered his face, spattered with blood, and Dean could see more spatters of red on the dingy, white tile around him. "Hey. I'm here to help you, buddy." Dean moved closer and knelt a few feet away so he could get a better look at him. "Peter." He watched as the young man slowly lowered his hands and Dean could clearly see the blood and torn flesh of rope burns peeking out from beneath the cuffs of the man's jacket sleeves. "Hey."

"It won't stop." Peter breathed. Horror was in his voice and in his eyes. "Make it stop."

"We're gonna try, alright? But you gotta pull it together long enough to come with me." Dean gave him a small smile. "Can you do that?"

"It's the noise." Peter lowered his arms and let his knees fall. "The sound of it… back and forth. Back and forth. Please." He looked at Dean desperately. "Make it stop. Make it st… stop."

"Peter?" Dean lunged forward when he saw the man's eyes roll back the same way his brother's had. "No. No!" He caught one of Peter's arms as it dropped and pulled the man's jacket apart. The white t-shirt beneath was soaked in blood. Dean pulled it up and his jaw fell open as he watched the already deep slice across Peter's chest become wider and deeper. He could hear the flesh and muscle parting, and he grimaced in disgust when the sound of crunching bone echoed in the room. "Shit!" Dean took Peter's shoulders and shook him, hard, then slapped a hand over the open wound in his chest as though he could somehow stop it.

"Come on! Snap out of it!" Dean pulled Peter's shirt up again as blood began to pour from the side of the man's mouth and could only stare. The mystical wound sliced again beneath his palms. Dean jerked his hands away, revealing Peter's still beating heart as something unseen sliced through the center of it crosswise. Peter snapped back to himself in that moment. His scream filled Dean's ears as he held on to the terrified man. He could do nothing but watch the light fade from Peter's horrified eyes.

Dean released him and stumbled back to sit on the floor. He stared at the bloody mess of the man. "Jesus." He brought a hand up to cover his mouth and stopped, seeing his fingers coated in blood. Dean swallowed hard around a lump of nausea and got shakily to his feet. "Shit. Shit." He backed away from Peter and back out into the store.

"Agent Coulson?" Lieutenant Roma's voice carried to him. "I heard a scream. Is everything alright?"

"No." Dean left the dead man behind and headed for the door. He wasn't surprised to see her standing there inside, in spite of what he'd asked. "He's, uh… he's dead."

"What?"

"Roma." Dean caught her arm before she could walk past him and shook his head. "He's like the others."

"How?" She demanded. "You were with him. How?"

Dean shook his head again. "I don't know, alright?" He couldn't very well tell her the truth. He saw a towel on the counter beside the register and grabbed it, using it to wipe Peter's blood from his hands. "Who was he anyway?"

Roma stared hard at him, glancing toward the storeroom, and then back. "Another college kid. You're sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. You'll see." Dean tossed the blood-smeared towel back to the sink. "I have to go. My partner will want to know."

"I don't like this," Roma told him angrily. "How does that guy just die in front of you and you don't know how?"

Dean shook his head. "I didn't see. I was comin' to get you, and then he screamed. I'll be in touch." He left before she could stop him again and was relieved to see all but one of the police cruisers outside had gone. It made for fewer questions. He went to his car before the lieutenant could chase after him. He took out his phone while he pulled away from the convenience store and dialed his brother. He listened to the phone ring, and every second that Sam didn't answer drove a wedge of fear into Dean's stomach. He could still see Peter's beating heart being sliced in two. "Dammit, Sam. Answer the phone!"

The Charger surged forward down the road as Dean pressed on the gas. It seemed to take even longer to reach the motel than it had when he'd left, and he squealed the car into the parking spot outside the room and threw himself out of the car. He fumbled the key in the lock once and threw the door open, slamming it behind him.

"Sam!" Dean shouted when he didn't see his brother at the table or in his bed. The bathroom door was closed and he went to it. He banged his fist on the door. "Sammy?" The sound of water running in the shower filtered through the thin wood, but there was still no answer. "Dude, you don't answer me in the next five seconds, I'm comin' in!"

Dean rested his forehead on the door, waiting. "Dammit. Alright, hope you got your pants on!" He turned the knob, opening the door. It swung into the bathroom and then stopped suddenly. Dean squeezed in and found his little brother lying on the tile floor. The shower was running, and he could tell from the lack of steam that the water had long gone cold. And Sam lay shirtless, in only his jeans and socked feet, on his back on the floor.

"No. No. No. Sam, don't you do this." Dean dropped to his knees beside him. Fresh rope burns began to bleed across his chest and arms as Dean watched, and worse, a long shallow slice opened horizontally, crossing his brother's sternum. Dean slapped his hands over it, fingers sliding through the warm, fresh welling of blood as if he could stop it from happening. "Sam. Sam!" Sam's eyes were open but vacant, nearly rolled back in his head. Dean could feel the panicked thud of Sam's heart beneath his hands and feel his chest hitching for air from whatever was happening to him in his mind.

"Come on, Sammy." Dean leaned over for a better look at his face. He palmed Sam's jaw and picked his head up, ignoring the red smears he left on his brother's skin. "Sammy, please." He flinched, feeling the flesh beneath his left palm part further as the phantom blade swung lower, apparently affecting only its specific victim, not the hands held protectively over the wound. "Dammit, come on!"

As if in answer to his plea, Sam blinked and then sucked in a loud, wheezing breath as he lurched up into his brother. "That's it. That's it. Hey. Hey. I got you." Dean wrapped an arm behind his brother's back and held him. Sam's hands latched on to his jacket; his forehead thumped into Dean's shoulder and his gasping breaths filled the small room over the sound of the shower. "I got you."

"Dean," Sam gasped into his brother's shoulder. "Shit. Shit."

"Yeah, I know. Just breathe, Sam. You're alright."

Sam shook his head. "No. M'not." He shuddered and could feel the blood dripping down his chest and abdomen from the new wound. "S'gonna kill me."

Dean jerked and pulled Sam back. He dragged his brother's head up with a hand around his jaw and glared at him when Sam's eyes found his. "Like hell it is. You hear me? Not gonna happen, Sam. Not on my watch. We're gonna get up and we're gonna go out there and fix this." He looked down and grimaced. "First, we're gonna clean up all this blood. You look like a reject from an Elm Street movie, dude. Come on."

Sam looked down at himself while Dean stood and pulled and forced him to his feet. He brought a hand up, shaking fingers tracing the edge of the cut across his chest. "It's… if I…" He shook his head and looked at Dean. "I won't survive the next time. You know it."

Dean gritted his teeth together but said nothing. He knew Sam was right, especially after watching Peter die in that convenience store. "Sit down." He gave his brother a nudge to sit on the closed toilet lid and grabbed a washcloth from the counter, wetting it before he knelt in front of him. "Lean back a little." He reached into the tub to turn off the shower and then bent to his task.

Sam was sinking in quiet horror. Lucifer lurked over his brother's shoulder. He could see the devil just outside the bathroom door, hand over his mouth, failing to hide a gleeful smile and eyes crinkled in malevolent humor. He dropped his eyes back to Dean, his stone number one. He curled the fingers of his left hand into his palm and dug his nails in as hard as he could in an effort to not let Dean know how tenuous his grasp on reality was just then. "It's bad."

"You've had worse," Dean said easily. "We both have." He wiped blood from the long gash as gently as he could but still saw Sam's chest flinch in reaction. "Sorry."

"No. It's good." Sam eased out a long breath of relief as the flickers of pain from Dean's ministrations served to drive the devil out of his sight, at least for the moment.

Dean watched Sam's face closely for a moment and saw everything the stubborn ass was trying to hide. He rolled his eyes and pressed the washcloth harder into the wound. Sam hissed in reaction and Dean eased up. "Better?"

Sam jerked his eyes back to Dean's in surprise and then smiled even as he felt like an idiot. "Yeah. It's… yeah. Thanks.

"Don't mention it." Dean finished cleaning the wound and stood. "Better yet, do mention it the next time the devil's riding shotgun. You don't need to deal with that alone. You know that."

"I know. I do." Sam stood on shaky legs. "But I can handle it."

Dean groaned softly in frustration as Sam went past him out into the room. "Right. Cause' one of us sayin' that bullshit line has never gone wrong," he muttered and followed him out.

"I called Bobby." Sam pulled a bandage out of the first aid kit still on the table and sighed, realizing it was nowhere near big enough. "He didn't answer. I left a message."

"Gimme that." Dean plucked the bandage from his brother's hand and tossed it to the table. He pulled a rolled bandage instead. "Arms up. How long ago you call him?"

"Right after you left. I found a cleansing ritual that might work."

"Well, what are we waiting for?" Dean tucked the end of the bandage in after wrapping it around Sam's chest and stared at him. "We get lucky, it works, and problem solved!"

Sam shook his head and sat, turning the laptop toward his brother. "If it doesn't work, the ritual could have side effects."

"What kind of side effects?" Dean hooked a chair over with his foot and sat to look at the open page on the screen.

"The spirit haunting the book, if it is a spirit, could be released." Sam looked down at his bandaged chest grimly. "Unless you know where his body's buried, we'd be screwed."

"Well, shit." Dean read through the ritual.

"I need to talk to Bobby." Sam ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "He might have a better idea." He rested a hand softly over the ache in his chest. "I don't want to die like this."

"You're not." Dean took out his own phone and dialed Bobby. The longer they waited, the better the chance Sam would get sucked back in, and he couldn't let that happen.

"Dean?" Sam caught hold of his brother's right wrist and pulled his hand up. "Why is there blood on the cuffs of your sleeves?"

Dean swallowed and lowered the phone. "Peter. The guy at the convenience store. He, uh… he didn't make it."

Sam let go of Dean's hand and sat back with a thump. He sucked in a breath and stood, feeling the need to do something, anything, until they could get a hold of Bobby and get some answers.

"I'm not gonna lie. It was bad." Dean watched Sam's shoulders hunch as he turned away and couldn't help but look at the rope burns covering his brother's arms, some still slowly seeping blood. "But that's not gonna happen to you."

Sam snorted a miserable laugh. "Pretty sure 'because you said so' isn't going to save me."

"Like hell. You watch me." Dean smiled when Sam turned to look at him with a raised brow. He dialed Bobby again and put the phone to his ear while Sam paced over to the window and leaned dejectedly against the wall beside it.

Sam twitched the curtains apart to look outside. The daylight was beginning to fade to dusk. He couldn't help but wonder if he would be alive to see the dawn. And with that thought, there was almost a sense of relief. The thought that he wouldn't have to fight anymore, to spend every moment of every day trying to hold on to the fraying threads of his sanity… Sam sighed and closed his eyes. It's not that he wanted to die, but he was just so damn tired…

"Sammy? You good?" Dean asked, seeing his brother suddenly slump against the side of the window.

"Yeah." Sam opened his eyes and looked back as Dean muttered a curse and dialed Bobby again. He straightened, knowing that there was the reason he was going to keep fighting. He couldn't leave Dean alone; not like that. He turned and took a step toward his brother, and then it was like the world slid sideways beneath his feet. The familiar darkness covered his vision as the sense of vertigo made him want to throw up. He came back to himself with a thump he felt all across his body that knocked the breath from him. He opened his eyes, and what little breath he did have clogged in his throat. He was back. The ropes dug painfully into his flesh and, above him, the pendulum swung into view. "No. No! Dean!" It dropped suddenly, making Sam strain against his bonds in fear. Some small part of him had felt faith that Dean could actually save him, but he knew now that he was lost as the wicked blade dropped again and brushed the already open wound.

"Dean!" Sam shouted his brother's name hoarsely. He tipped his head back and yelled as fresh pain burned along his chest and he could feel his heart beginning to try and pound out from behind his ribs. He struggled against the bindings holding him tight, but there was no give in them, even as he felt fresh blood oozing from the torn skin at his wrists. The sound started again, low, the rhythm steady, and he could feel it tapping against his crumbling sanity. "DEAN!"

"Bobby, dammit. Would you answer the phone? We're runnin' outta time here." Dean glared at the cloth covered book on the table angrily. "Sam's about outta time, so if you got a miracle, now's the time. Call me back. Now." He put the phone down, looked over to his brother and surged up from his chair to catch him as Sam crumpled to the floor. "No!"

Dean settled to his knees with Sam against his chest. "Sammy." He caught his brother's head, stopping it from rolling limply over his arm. Sam's eyes were rolled back as before. His body felt loose, pliant, even though Dean could hear the frantic breaths wheezing between Sam's lips and the pounding of his heart under his arm at his back. "Shit. Shit! No." He laid Sam down on the carpet while fresh blood stained the bandages around his brother's chest.

"That's it." Dean dashed across the room to his duffel bag and pulled out salt and lighter fluid. "If that ritual of yours is too dangerous, we're doin' it my way." He grabbed the book, careful to only touch the cloth covering it, and ran into the bathroom. Dean tossed it into the bathtub. "You are not getting my brother, you asshole."

Dean poured salt down on the book until the cover was nearly white with it, then popped open the lighter fluid and squirted a steady stream over top of it. Every moment he waited, he knew Sam was getting closer to death. He forced himself to take the extra few seconds to be thorough before he took out his lighter. He spun the wheel and dropped it into the tub once it lit. Flames burst into life and Dean left it there to burn. "Sammy?"

Sam lay where Dean had left him and Dean dropped beside him. "Sam?" He untucked the end of the bandage and pulled it down. "No!" he shouted as he watched the invisible force of the pendulum deepen the wound. "Son of a bitch!" As he'd done with Peter, Dean pressed his hands over the wound. He felt the frantic, terrified rhythm of Sam's heart hammering beneath his right palm and pressed harder. Dean glanced over to the bathroom door and could see the light flickering from the fire inside. "Sammy, come on. Come back, dammit."

Dean felt Sam's heart skip a beat and couldn't bring himself to move his hands. If the pendulum was about to cut open his heart, Dean didn't want to see it. He put his weight over his hands, trying to stop it and felt the moment Sam came back to himself. Tension sang through Sam's body and his chest arched suddenly, even beneath Dean's weight. "Sam?"

Sam's eyes flew open. He dragged a long, painful breath into his chest and shouted in pain and relief when he found himself back in the motel room, on the floor, with Dean's terrified face staring hopefully down at him. "Dean."

"Holy shit." Dean moved his hands grudgingly when Sam's came up and pushed at him.

"Oh… fuck," Sam groaned and slammed his eyes closed. "That… that hurts."

"Yeah, no kidding." Dean's voice was a breathless whisper. He slid an arm under Sam's shoulders and slowly helped him to sit up and lean against one of the beds. He watched fresh blood drip and trickle down his brother's chest and knew he had been moments from losing him. "Sammy?"

"It was on its last swing," Sam said and closed his eyes, unable to stop himself from picturing it, the way the pendulum had cut through his skin and swung back up, how he had known that, when it came back, it would open his chest and cut his heart in two. "How did you…" he stopped as the smell of something burning came to him. He looked up and leaned to see around Dean's shoulder. His eyes went wide at the sight of lazy curls of smoke coming from the open bathroom door. Sam looked back to Dean. "You burned it?"

"It was you or that damn book, Sam. You're damn right I torched it." Dean rested a hand on his brother's shoulder, taking a moment to let the contact settle him. "Didn't have a choice."

Sam nodded and then smiled, even as he winced at the pain he was in. "Not complaining. Believe me. Help me up."

"Yeah." Dean took Sam's arms with a grimace as his fingers slid through fresh blood. "Easy. Take it easy," he coached softly while Sam's eyes slammed closed at the movement. "Here you go." Dean set Sam on the side of the far bed and gave his shoulder a push. "Lay down. Gotta see if you need a hospital."

"I don't." Sam glared up at his brother but didn't look too closely at his own chest. "We'd never be able to explain all the rope burn."

Dean dragged the first aid kit over and set it beside his brother, then went to the bathroom. He ducked under the smoke and turned the shower on. "Good riddance," he muttered to the charred, blackened remains of the book as he dragged the curtain closed. He took a fresh towel and wet it before going back out and sitting beside Sam's hip. "This is gonna hurt."

"I know. It's fine."

"No, it's not," Dean snarled. He took a deep breath, pushing back his temper and his fear and bent over his brother's chest, beginning to clean away the new blood. He didn't bother to look up. He didn't have to see Sam's face to know his brother was giving him that girly, forgiving look of his. He smiled to himself, where Sam couldn't see it, because he was damn glad to still have that around. "Didn't hit the bone," he said instead as he pressed carefully on either side of the cut crossing Sam's chest over his heart. "I'm gonna have to stitch this up though. Get comfy."

Sam groaned and let his head thump back into the pillow. "Awesome."

Dean left the tube of topical anesthetic stay in the kit, taking out the suture kit instead. He knew Sam could take it without the pain relief, and, more than that, he knew pain helped him cope with the devil. "How you feelin'? You've lost enough blood."

"Alright." Sam blew out a breath and held up his arms to look at the rope burns spiraling up each. "Don't feel like throwing up yet, so there's that."

Dean snorted and sterilized the open wound quickly. "Bet that changes. Five bucks says you're pukin' by stitch ten."

Sam chuckled softly. "Deal." He shoved an extra pillow behind him to lift his head and watched Dean deftly thread the suture needle. "Hey, Dean?"

"Huh?" Dean bent and slid the curved needle into Sam's chest, noting absently that he didn't even twitch. It was a sad commentary on their lives that getting stitched up with no anesthetic barely registered on their personal pain scales anymore.

"Thanks."

Dean looked up and met the look of sincere relief in Sam's eyes. He rolled his eyes fondly and bent back to his work. "No chick flick moments, little brother."

Sam chuckled and then jumped when Dean's phone rang suddenly. "Bet that's Bobby."

"Shit." Dean laughed. He laid the needle on his brother's chest and pulled his phone out. "Don't move. Hey, Bobby." He smiled at the worried stream of cussing echoing out of his phone and saw an answering smile on his brother's face. "Yeah, he's good. Had to torch the book. We'll call you in the morning. Yeah. Thanks, Bobby." He hung up, tossed his phone onto the end table and picked up the needle again. "He says he was gonna tell us to burn it."

Sam sighed and closed his eyes. "At least it's over." He twitched, feeling the touch of phantom fingers along his neck. Then Dean jabbed the needle in particularly hard, the pain making him grit his teeth, and the touch was gone as quickly. Sam looked over at Dean's face and the knowing expression in his eyes. "I'm good."

"I know you are." Dean gave him a small smile and bent back to his work. "Cause I damn well said so."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: Q is for Quetzalcoatl

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Q is for Quetzalcoatl -

Dean leaned his head out the window as he drove, letting the warm wind ruffle his spiky hair and sighed when it brought little relief from the sticky heat. Two days driving east through Arizona and into New Mexico in the dead of summer had been more than the Impala's air conditioning could handle. He was kicking himself for not realizing a problem had developed. He should have taken better care of her. He ran a hand softly over the uncomfortably sun-warmed steering wheel in apology. Dean flicked his eyes to his right and snorted. Sam was asleep leaning back against the passenger door, head hanging out the open window and his legs nearly on the driver's side with Dean, with his freshly casted arm resting in his lap.

A smirk spread across Dean's face. He pulled a strawberry Twizzler out of the pack between his thighs, checked the empty road, and then stretched quickly across the seat. He snickered softly as he managed to get the end of the candy strip up his brother's nose on the first try. Dean straightened, checking the road again, and took out his phone. "Worth gettin' my ass kicked," he muttered and grinned while he opened the camera feature. He flicked his eyes between the camera screen and the road as he held it up, trying to get it to focus and groaned theatrically when Sam suddenly woke up, batting at his face. "Dammit."

"Wha?" Sam frowned, pulled his head up, and slapped at his face when he felt something in his nose. He saw Dean snorting with laughter and pulled a red Twizzler out of his right nostril. "You ass!" He saw his brother pocketing his phone and glared. "If you took a picture of that, I will break your phone."

Dean burst into laughter and had to wipe a hand over his face. "Dude." He shook his head fondly and laughed again when the Twizzler hit him in the temple. "You woke up too soon. Relax."

Sam rolled his eyes and straightened up, rubbing the back of his neck with his good hand. "Where are we?"

"About ten miles from the ass end of blistering nowhere." Dean chuckled. "Almost to Aragorn."

"Aragon."

"That's what I said."

Sam laughed softly. He dug around under the seat for a bottle of water and grimaced when he found one but felt how warm it was. "As long as they have an ice machine and air-conditioned rooms, I'll be happy."

Dean quirked a brow as they passed a cluster of small, dilapidated stone pueblos off the side of the desert highway. "Not sure they've even heard of electricity out here."

Sam shook his head fondly and leaned over to hang it out the window again. The desert air was warm and didn't do much to cool other than drying the sweat on his face. "Can you fix the A/C in here?" He smirked when Dean's face fell and his brother patted the steering wheel once.

"'Course I can. She just doesn't like all this damn sand. Do you, baby?" Dean ignored Sam's snort of laughter.

Sam had to admit, as they drove into Aragon, that it didn't look like much of a town. It seemed to be almost completely confined to one street. The sand gave way to brittle, brown scrub grass, and if it weren't for the cars and the few people braving the mid-day heat, he might have thought it was abandoned.

"Church." Dean pointed to a steeple off to their right. "Cemetery, couple houses." He smirked. "There's a bar."

"Of course there's a bar." Sam chuckled and slapped a hand into Dean's shoulder. "There it is. Only motel in Aragon. Huh." He eyed the long, brown building dubiously. "Looks more like an old mill or something."

"That's encouraging," Dean said sarcastically. "Where's that old fort?"

"By the river." Sam hooked a thumb to his right. In the distance between the sparse buildings, he could see where the brown grass slowly gave way to green in the distance. "It's far enough outside of town we should be able to look around without being spotted by the locals."

"Not that there's many of those." Dean snorted and pulled in to the motel's small parking lot. He looked at the four other cars, each with license plates from different states and sighed. "Looks like we're bunking with our victim pool."

"Maybe we could just lock them all in their rooms until we figure this out," Sam said, only half in jest and opened his door. "I'll go grab us a room."

Dean turned off the car and listened to the engine tick over before he got out. He patted the hood and quickly pulled his fingers away when the hot metal threatened to burn his fingertips. "Friggin' desert." He went to the trunk and opened it to get their bags. The sun beat down on the back of his neck uncomfortably as he tossed the strap of his bag over his shoulder.

"Hey." Sam walked across the parking lot and ducked his head against the sun glare. "We're around the side here." He pointed to a door and then caught his bag when Dean tossed it to him. "The manager said it's the last available room too. We got lucky."

"It's only lucky if there's air conditioning." Dean added the weapons bag to his other shoulder and closed the trunk before following his brother. "Is there air conditioning?"

"According to the manager." Sam shrugged and unlocked the door. He pushed it open and sneezed as the hot, musty air hit him in the face. "If there is, it's definitely not on."

"Awesome," Dean groaned. He tossed his bags on the near bed and blinked to clear his vision once he was out of the glaring sun. "Well, this ain't so bad." It was brown paneling and brown carpet, with multicolored blankets on the beds.

Sam went around the small table and its chairs to the air conditioner mounted on the wall behind it. He flicked the switches and scowled when nothing happened. "Come on." Sam banged his fist into the side of the unit and smiled when it rumbled to life. He straightened as a burst of warm air hit him in the face. "Ok, hopefully we'll have cold air in a few minutes."

"Go get the cooler out of the car. I need beer for this." Dean stripped off his sweaty t-shirt on his way into the bathroom and closed the door. He turned the water on and snarled as it came out of the faucet warm. He splashed it over his face anyway and let it run through his hair, washing away some of the travel dust before turning it off and leaning on the sink. Dean looked at himself in the mirror. He scrubbed a hand over his face, taking the water with it, and sighed. He stared at his own eyes and still couldn't understand why he was alive. Dean shook his head and closed his eyes. He couldn't accept it, no matter how badly Sam wanted him to.

"Dean?"

Dean jumped with the sound of his brother's fist thumping the door. "Yeah. Out in a sec." He straightened, grabbing one of the hand towels to rub it through his hair and over his face. He did his best to wipe the morose look from his face before he opened the door.

"Here." Sam handed his brother a cool beer with a smile. "A/C's actually working now. It's cooler in here." He snorted. "A little anyway." He watched his brother take a long swallow from the beer and frowned. He could tell something was bothering Dean, and he had no doubt it was the conversation they had had three days ago. He wasn't sure how to deal with it yet, the revelation that his big brother wanted to be dead. He swallowed the lump of fear in his throat and filed that worry away for the moment. "So, the manager said they don't usually have a full house this time of year, but…"

"Let me guess." Dean rolled his eyes and dug a fresh shirt out of his bag. "A few gruesome deaths hit the newsstands, and the lookie-loos gotta come check it out."

Sam nodded. "Yeah. They've all pestered him for information about where the deaths happened, where the bodies were found."

"Vultures," Dean said disgustedly. He set his half-empty beer down and pulled on his shirt. "The manager give 'em anything?"

"Not according to him." Sam smirked. "I think he's kind of hoping some of them end up on the menu." He pulled his laptop bag over and took out the thin file of research he had brought. "We should be able to find the kill sites on our own with the GPS coordinates the sheriff's office in Apache Creek gave us."

"At least we don't have to worry about the local cops getting in the way."

Sam laughed. "According to the manager, the local police force consists of Bill, the guy who runs the bar down the street, and his cousin Fred who's pushing sixty and has a limp. We're good."

Dean gave a laugh of his own and sat beside the air conditioner. "Wish we had a clue what we were hunting here. That'd help."

"Well, it's not a werewolf." Sam shrugged. He pulled his right arm into his chest as he sat with his research, trying to ignore the persistent ache of the broken bone. "Obviously, since the killings are happening outside the lunar cycle."

"What else takes hearts?" Dean stretched his legs out and watched the pained expression on his brother's face. "Dude, take the damn painkillers."

Sam looked over in surprise and then shook his head. "It's fine." He purposefully rested his cast on the table to prove he was alright. "Doesn't hurt that bad."

"Uh huh." Dean didn't believe him for a second, but Sam was even more stubborn than Dean himself when it came to admitting his level of pain.

"It's taking blood too, don't forget." Sam pulled out the autopsy reports and handed them over. "The bodies are nearly drained. We can't really narrow it down until we know what the blood's being used for."

"Human slurpees," Dean said irreverently.

"Ew." Sam shook his head at his brother and leaned back. "I think that old fort is our best bet for a den. That or it's living in the Gila National Forest and hunting here." He reached out a finger and tapped a map printout on top of the pile. "It's a big area and not a lot of fresh water outside of the river. Searching that big of an area would suck."

"No camping." Dean glared at the map. "We should go check out the fort now. It's hot enough all the tourists are probably cuddling the A/C in their rooms."

"Yeah, I guess." Sam didn't want to leave the relative comfort of the room either, but Dean was right. "Maybe we'll get lucky and gank the thing first time out"

"Right." Sam snorted a laugh and got up, careful to keep the wince off his face as his arm throbbed. "When does that ever happen to us?"

"Don't be such a Debbie-downer. Come on." Dean gave the dial on the air conditioner an extra crank, hoping it would be arctic cold in the room by the time they returned. "Let's get moving. It ain't gonna get any cooler out there."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean leaned against the rough bark of a leafless tree and wiped the sweat from his face. He heard Sam puffing behind him as he neared and shook his head. "Think we should have left this hunt 'til winter."

"And let it keep eating people?" Sam shook his head. "You can sweat off all that pie you ate yesterday." He grinned and dodged away before the fist Dean lashed out with could hit his shoulder. "Keep up."

"Pain in my ass," Dean grumbled. Still, he rubbed a hand over his stomach and then shook his head. "I do not eat too much pie." He didn't have the energy to catch up with too-long-legged little brother and beat the smart-ass out of him; not in that heat. "Kick your ass later. Hey! Wait up!"

Sam slowed as he neared the top of a rise and shaded his eyes. "There's the fort." He drew his brows together as he took in the scene. "Or what's left of it. The river's even lower than I thought it would be." The fort stood on a slight rise below them, surrounded by sand and the scrub brush they were becoming all too familiar with. It looked like a cross between an old cantina and a turn-of-the-century church with its central tower and huge scaled roof that rose to a point high above an arched, wooden door. The stones were brown and gray, weathered with age, and in some places covered in the bare, clinging branches of vines.

"Bigger than I thought it'd be," Dean said and frowned at the building. "Lots of tight places to hide in there. Underground?"

Sam nodded. "Probably. Old forts like this dug food storage and powder rooms underground to keep them cool." He pointed to the left. "And there's the cemetery." Just visible around the left side of the large structure were a few weather-beaten crosses. "Should be a whole field of them back there."

"Right. Come on." Dean started down the hill with Sam at his side. His eyes scanned the surrounding area for any sign of a threat, but there was nothing apart from the oppressive heat slowly roasting them alive.

"Won't be much cooler inside," Sam panted. "But at least we'll be out of the sun. Two of the bodies were found inside the fort." He drew his gun as they neared, seeing Dean do the same, and stopped cautiously outside the wide entrance doors. He put his ear to them for a moment and then shrugged. "Don't hear anything."

Dean nodded and gave the right of the pair of doors a shove with his shoulder. It swung slowly in with a loud creak of wood, and Dean stepped out of the sun and into the gloomy shadows. The air was thick with heat, nearly stifling to breathe, but still gave a small measure of welcome relief from the sun. The wide room was empty of all but a few ramshackle chairs and overturned table, and he waved his brother inside. "Looks clear."

Sam groaned softly in relief once he was out of the sun. He leaned against the wall beside the door for a moment, cradling his broken arm, and closed his eyes. "Holy crap."

Dean heard the soft whisper and shook his head. "You gonna be able to do this with that broken wing?" He held up a hand when Sam glared at him. "I'm not sayin' you can't take care of yourself, Sam. But it's only been three days since you broke the damn thing."

"Since Angela the zombie broke it." Sam corrected, rolling his eyes, and forced himself to straighten. "I'm fine, Dean. I can handle this. It's just a little sore." He looked at his cast and sighed. It was dusted with sand and grime and, as he pressed the fingertips of his left hand into it, he'd swear the heat was actually softening the thing. "There's a chapel on this floor where both bodies were found. Should be near the back in the sacristy."

"Hell of a place to butcher people." Dean took out a flashlight and clicked it on. "You go left, I'll go right. Meet in the chapel. Scream like a girl if anything jumps you."

Sam glared at his brother's cheerful grin and flipped his middle finger at him. "Try not to get eaten. I don't want to have to clean blood off the car keys."

"Bitch," Dean said over his shoulder and smiled, hearing the muttered 'Jerk' in response. He swept his light around the new room and shook his head at the pile of empty, crushed beer cans left in the corner, most likely from some group of idiot teenagers. He shoved through a half open door into a new hall. A window overhead let sunlight stream in, making dust motes dance in the beam of light. He stopped beside a massive hole near the base of the wall and knelt down.

"What the hell is this?" he muttered. The hole was easily big enough for a large man and tunneled into the floor. He shone his light down, but it failed to cut through the gloom below. It made him nervous. If it had been made by whatever was killing tourists… "You are one big son of a bitch. Shit." Dean stood and brought his gun up with his sense of 'something wrong' beginning to tickle at the back of his neck. He debated turning back and following Sam or just moving ahead to meet him in the chapel before whatever it was found them first.

"Dammit." Dean groaned softly and went through the hall toward the back of the fort. He had to trust his brother to take care of himself or he'd never hear the end of it. The thought of Sam whining at him made Dean smirk as he walked. He paused beside the door at the other end, hearing a heavy thump through the walls. "Sam?"

Something was wrong; he knew it. That inner sense of his that had been attuned to his little brother's well-being since childhood was rarely wrong, and it was screaming at him now. Dean turned and sprinted back along the hall, past the hole, and into the entry of the fort. "Sam!" he yelled and took the door Sam had gone through only minutes before. Sam had yet to answer him, and Dean knew he should have. There was no good reason for his brother to remain silent.

Dean slid through a door his brother had left open and into a wide room with tall weapon racks lining one wall; an old armory, long since emptied of its weaponry. "Sam!" His voice echoed as he stopped and stared. Streamers of sunlight from cracks in the crumbling wall to his right and the beam of his own light showed him another large hole in the center of the floor. Rubble surrounded it, and even then, dust floated in the air as though it had only been created moments before. Lying beside it was Sam's gun, discarded. And his brother's flashlight, now dead with the glass from the light scattered around it.

Dean was frozen with fear and then shook himself out of it. "Sammy!" He knelt beside the hole and yelled down into it. He knew that's where his brother had gone, where he had been taken. "Dammit, no." He growled in frustration under his breath. Did he dive headlong into the hole after his brother or finish searching the rest of the fort in hopes of finding him? It took a long, agonized moment before Dean could move away from the hole. He had to assume it went down into the rooms under the fort. And if so, there had to be a safer way to reach it than sliding through a tunnel he knew nothing about and risking its collapse in the process. No to mention the possibility of sliding headlong into whatever it was that was doing the killing.

"Ok. Alright." Dean backed away toward the far door, collecting Sam's gun as he went, and tucked that into his jacket pocket. "You hold on, Sam. You hear me?" He wished he at least knew what they were hunting, how to kill it. "Don't you die on me, Sammy."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam groaned softly as he slowly woke. His head hurt, and, as he lay there, he realized the rest of him was pretty damn sore as well. He blinked and had a moment's panic, fearing he had gone blind when his addled brain finally informed him that he was simply in the dark lying on his stomach. He tried to remember what had happened. He knew he had walked into the armory, and he had a vague impression of the floor giving way beneath him… or maybe exploding up from beneath him; he wasn't really sure which. He frowned and pulled his arms beneath him to push up.

"Ah!" Sam's voice rose in a pained, cracked shout as agony tore through his left side and his right arm. He carefully rolled onto his right side and pulled his casted right arm to his chest. He didn't need light to feel that his cast was no longer straight. It felt cracked. "Damn," he moaned and huffed pained breaths through his nose until he could breathe somewhat normally again. Sam tentatively put his left hand over the pain in his side and gasped when he felt the wet cloth of his t-shirt. It was warm and thick, and he knew it was blood.

He coughed as dust from the floor tickled his nose and had to brace an arm around his middle in pain. "Dean," Sam gasped into the silence. He fumbled his left hand into his pocket and pulled out cellphone. He pressed the button and groaned when there was no answering light. He ran his left thumb over the screen and could feel a spiderweb of cracks. "Great." He put the phone back and dug instead for his Zippo. He pulled it out, spun the wheel, and slammed his eyes closed in the glare of sudden light. He blinked slowly, letting his vision clear and looked around to see where he was. The earthen floor and heavy beams crossing the ceiling above him, cobwebs hanging like drapes near the wall, and the darkness told him where he was.

"Great. Cellar." Sam set the lighter on the floor carefully and then pushed up slowly until he was sitting. He looked down at his chest and groaned. His once-gray t-shirt was red with his own blood on the left side. He lifted the hem and grimaced. A row of punctures curved along his ribs and he could feel matching wounds on his back. He let his head rest back against the wall for a second then picked up the lighter. It was warm in his hand as he held it up, trying to get a better look around him. His gun was gone. That made him nervous. He still had no idea what they were hunting or how it had grabbed him so easily and now he was unarmed.

"Shit." Sam used his good arm and the wall to slowly gain his feet. The effort left him leaning hard against the stone wall, breathing heavily with his eyes closed until the pain at last dropped back to a manageable level. He opened his eyes and looked down, finding that he'd dropped the Zippo. It guttered on the floor at his feet and he groaned. He looked down at it and out into the darkened room and decided he really did have to bend down and pick it up.

"This is not my best day ever," Sam muttered and began the painful process of bending over enough to reach the lighter. It was warm in his fingers and he narrowly avoided singeing them when he picked it up. It was a meager source of light, but it was all he had until he could let Dean know where he was. That, of course, meant finding out where he was for himself first. "Move, Sam."

He walked haltingly along the wall to his left and kept his right arm pulled protectively in to his chest. The pain radiating from his broken wrist was a new level of agony that seemed to pulse in his ears with each beat of his heart. It was near deafening in the silence. The flame from the lighter only illuminated a couple feet around him. It made him feel like he was walking in a bubble, and he had the growing sensation that he wasn't alone, that something was watching him. Sam stopped for a second and tried to listen over the pounding of his heart for any sound that didn't belong.

"Dean?" Sam called as loud as he dared. He slumped when there was no response. His head was beginning to spin a little between blood loss and the heat. He squeezed the lighter up a little higher in his fingers to avoid burning them. "Crap." He took another shuffling step and staggered to a stop. Something soft slithered in the room somewhere behind him. Sam turned and held out the lighter. He squinted into the darkness and froze as the slithering, dragging sound came again.

"Shit," Sam whispered. He started moving again, sliding along the stone wall to his left, desperately hoping to find a door. He shook his head at his luck when he instead found himself at the corner of the room and started along the wall again. The sound, whatever it was, was becoming louder. Sam's eyes went wide as a low hiss carried through the room. It was stalking him, toying with him. "What are you?"

The creature hissed again more loudly, and Sam jerked hard to his left; it sounded as though it was beside him. He whipped the lighter around and cursed when the flame guttered and went out. He flicked the wheel, blinking as it sparked twice without lighting. "Come on. Come on!" He heard Dean's voice then calling his name.

"Dean!" Sam shouted at the same moment the wick finally caught. The lighter flared and Sam reared back in shock, faced with a glistening black snout and a mouth full of pointed, brown- and red-stained teeth. The flame of the lighter wasn't bright enough to give him more than a fleeting look at the creature before Sam threw himself to the side, avoiding the rush of its head. It slammed into the wall behind him as he hit the floor and rolled. The impact knocked the breath from him and made his wounds scream with fresh pain, but he couldn't allow himself the luxury of passing out. He pushed himself away from where he thought the creature was, but he had lost the lighter when he fell. It flickered faintly on the floor a few feet away. "Dean! Down here!"

Sam grunted as something heavy slammed into him. He rolled again and panted, trying to breathe under the weight of whatever was lying across his chest. He slammed his eyes closed as bright light streamed into the room suddenly and had a moment where he saw the creature close above him clearly.

"Sammy!" Dean took in the scene with a blink; his little brother on the ground, weighed down beneath the body of some screwy, feathered serpent. He brought his gun up and fired quickly at the creature's head, trying for an eye as the best way to kill it, if he was lucky. If not, he could at least scare it enough to turn on him and get the hell away from his injured brother.

Sam felt the creature's weight collapse more heavily on him as soon as the gunshot rang out, and he pushed at the length of the serpent's body on his chest, heedless of his broken arm, shoving with his feet until it rolled off of him. He started to get to his feet and felt his brother's hand slide under his left shoulder and pull as the bizarre monster began to stir again. "Dean."

"Yeah, I know. Come on." Dean pulled Sam behind him and fired at the creature again before it could rush them. "Door's behind me! Move!" He was overwhelmed with relief at having found Sam alive and seemingly in one piece, but he knew they weren't out of danger. "We do not have the firepower for this bitch! Hey!" Dean shouted and shot. He saw the serpent's head fly back with the bullet's impact and used that moment to grab Sam and run. Dean pulled his brother along the hall as fast as he could, flicking the flashlight behind them every few feet to make sure it wasn't following them.

Sam hunched over his arm and wounded side as well as he could. He could hear the angry hissing and thrashing of the serpent behind them and it spurred him on. "Never even saw it coming," he panted as they ran.

"Left up here. Stairs." Dean gave him a nudge and followed with a last look behind them before they rounded the corner out of sight. "You ok?"

Sam nodded out of habit. "I'm fine."

"You're full of crap." Dean pushed him up the stairs ahead of him when Sam started to slow. "We need a hospital?" He didn't believe for one second that Sam wasn't hurt; his only concern was just how much he was hiding. "Don't you bullshit me, Sammy."

Sam huffed out an annoyed breath and collapsed against the wall at the top of the stairs. The sunlight coming from a small window over his head blinded him when he looked up, and he groaned. "Uh… bit me. Left side." He didn't argue when Dean slipped an arm around him and started him moving again. "Also, think it re-broke my arm."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Awesome. No, this way." He stopped him when Sam tried to turn toward the front of the fort. "There's another of that thing's tunnels in the hall up there. Not gonna risk it." He half-carried Sam through the hall, into and through the small kitchen, and kicked open the door to the chapel. He shoved it closed behind them and took Sam over to the altar. It had the benefit of sunlight filtering down from three windows, long empty of their stained glass, high above. "Sit down. Easy."

Sam slumped over himself on the dais beside the altar and closed his eyes. He was exhausted and in danger of throwing up his breakfast. "Think I'm gonna be sick."

Dean nodded as he knelt beside him and got a good look at the blood-soaked left side of Sam's t-shirt. "No shit. Probably blood loss. Move your arms. I need to look at this." He moved his brother's arm and lifted his shirt. Dean shifted to let the light illuminate his chest, and he ground his teeth together. The serpent thing had done a damn good job at trying to take a chunk out of Sam. Blood still seeped sluggishly from the puncture marks, and already deep bruises were appearing around the wounds and even across his chest, likely from where the thing had rolled over him. "Jesus, Sam. This is bad."

"It's not so… uh-oh." Sam grabbed a fistful of his brother's shirt, moved him aside and bent forward as his stomach rebelled.

"Crap." Dean held on to Sam's shoulder to keep him from toppling to the floor as he heaved and spat vomit onto the dusty floor. "Breathe through it. That's it." He raked his eyes around the room while Sam calmed, relieved that there didn't seem to be any of the creature's tunnels, at least not that he could see. There was, however, a disturbing stain in the center of the room that was no doubt from their victims.

Sam gasped to catch his breath when his stomach finally settled and leaned into the arm behind him. "Ok. Maybe lost some blood."

"Ya' think, Sherlock?" Dean patted his shoulder and stood. "Stay put. Gotta be another door outta' here. Here." He pulled Sam's gun from the back of his jeans and handed it down. "Don't lose that."

Sam smiled and settled the grip of the gun in his left hand, wishing he could hold it with his right instead. He looked around the room and tried to make his sluggish mind work. "Ok. So, feathered serpent."

"Freaky snake thing, yeah." Dean glared around at the stone walls. "Thought there was supposed to be another room back here."

"Uh, yeah." Sam raised his head up and looked blearily around. "The sacristy. Door's probably hidden. Old fort like this, sometimes they were paranoid."

"Great. Go on. Snake thing. What the hell is it and how do I kill it?" Dean started tapping the butt of his flashlight along the walls.

"This part of the country, feathered serpent that big…" Sam's eyes went wide in recognition. "Holy crap. I think maybe it's a Quetzalcoatl."

"A huh?" Dean spun and aimed his gun toward the doors at the front of the chapel, hearing a thump from somewhere further into the fort.

"It's Mayan." Sam rested his gun on his bent knee. "He was the patron god of learning." He looked up at the room they were in and snorted. "Also priests, so maybe that's why it's hanging out here."

"Why is a Mayan snake god offing tourists? Couldn't find any rats big enough?"

Sam chuckled and shook his head. "I dunno."

Dean watched his brother, the expression on his face, and smirked. He knew that look; Sam was sifting through the library in his head to figure it out. "Keep an eye on those doors," Dean warned him and turned away to look for the hidden entrance to the sacristy again.

"The victims." Sam leaned back so he was resting against the alter. He was dizzy with blood loss and pain but determined to watch his brother's back. "The hearts are taken and they're drained of blood."

"Which means what?" Dean could hear his brother weakening. He needed to get him the hell out and soon before Sam was too weak to make the walk back through the sand and heat.

"It's a ritual, I think." Sam shook his head, trying to dispel the dizziness that was making it feel as though the floor was spinning beneath him. "There's lore about, uh… Quetzalcoatl and his brother creating the earth and the sky; that they killed and devoured a couple female… I don't know, reptilian monsters of some kind. Bobby's got a book on it. The Mayans used to appease them by giving sacrifices of blood and hearts." He looked around at his brother in sudden worry. "Dean, this thing wouldn't just do this on its own."

"Ha!" Dean grinned when he found a hollow section of wall and gave it a push, smiling even more widely as it spun to the side. "Found the bastard! And?"

"Someone's controlling it. Dean!" Sam stumbled to his feet when his brother was pulled out of sight through the newly revealed door. He staggered across the chapel and went through the door with his gun up. "Dean?" Sam stared in shock. The sacristy was half the size of the chapel, lit by the light of dozens of candles along a long table at the back of the room. The table was covered in bowls and jars. Blood stains darkened the table and the floor beneath it, and in the center of the room, Dean knelt. His brother's face was furious as the man behind him held a wicked, curved stone knife beneath his jaw just hard enough to draw a line of blood.

"Next time, how about a little more warning, Sam?" Dean gritted his teeth and tightened his fingers around the gun he still held. The man had caught him completely off guard, and he wouldn't be forgiving himself for that any time soon. He wasn't yet willing to risk having his throat torn open so he could shoot the bastard.

"Give me the gun," the man demanded.

"Not gonna happen. Sam, shoot him!"

Sam watched the man's dark face above his brother. Brown eyes watched him with a hard glare. "You don't have to do this. Just let him go."

The man smiled as he took in Sam's bloodied appearance. "The god has already chosen you. But this one…" he pulled Dean's head back a little further with the knife. "… this one I'll kill myself if you don't give me the damn gun. Now!"

"Sammy, don't!" Dean grabbed a hold of the man's wrist with his left hand and tried to pull the knife away enough so he could move. "Son of a bitch!"

"Don't!" Sam shouted. He could see that the man had no issue slitting his brother's throat, and Sam couldn't watch that. "Alright! Dean, give him your gun." Sam lowered his own slowly but didn't hand it over. "You let him go, you can have my gun." He glanced down at Dean and back up. "And me, alright? Willing victim."

"Like hell! Get off me!" Dean snarled when the knife bit painfully into the flesh beneath his jaw and was forced to sit still. "Don't you do this!" he yelled at Sam and fixed his little brother with a desperate look. "I can't do this again, Sam! Don't you fucking dare!"

Sam was confused for a moment and then he understood; Dean was afraid of having someone else he loved trading their life for his as their dad had so recently done. He gave Dean a sad smile. "You think I can just watch you die? Not if I can stop it." He ignored the curious look on the face of the man holding his brother, and willed Dean to understand that he deserved to live. He saw a growing sense of horror in Dean's eyes. Sam shook his head slightly and took a step toward them, ready to hand the man his weapon. Dean's eyes went even wider, now in shock, and before Sam could understand the change, something heavy slammed into his back.

"NO!" Dean bellowed it as the serpent, the Quetzalcoatl, appeared behind his brother and took Sam to the floor from behind. He watched the sinuous coils of black scales and blacker feathers roll and wind through the open door. The creature's appearance seemed to have startled the man holding Dean hostage as well. He felt the blade at his throat move away and the grip at the back of his neck slacken. Dean wasted no time in taking advantage of it.

Dean jerked the knife away from his neck and spun, delivering a hard elbow into the man's groin. He rose quickly to his feet, grabbed the hand holding the stone knife and twisted until it clattered to the floor. "Asshole. Stay down," he warned the man as he slammed the butt of his gun into the side of his head. Dean left him hopefully unconscious on the floor and turned to find his brother. "Sam!"

The Quetzalcoatl had a loop of its body wrapped around Sam's chest, and Dean could see his brother's mouth hanging open in a desperate bid for air. The creature opened its mouth wide, displaying the long, pointed teeth and looked down at Sam as if sizing him up for dinner.

"Nope." Dean fired two quick rounds into its head, and this time saw the beast's right eye explode in a wash of red. It screamed, and Sam slipped out from its hold to slump to the floor beneath it.

"Knife," Sam gasped and waved his left arm vaguely in the direction of the man who had summoned the creature. "Brain."

"Right." Dean didn't need to hear any more. He scooped the stone knife from the floor. The obsidian felt warm in his hand as he approached the Quetzalcoatl. The creature had its head reared back, still roaring in pain and fury. Dean ducked beneath a thrashing coil and grunted as part of it caught him in the shoulder and nearly spun him around. "Stay down, Sam."

Dean jumped over Sam's prone body, slid to a stop beneath the Quetzalcoatl's head, and lunged his right arm up beneath its jaw. The stone blade slid up into the bottom of the creature's head smoothly and made Dean appreciate just how close he had come to being dead himself with that thing at his throat. He jumped and wrapped an arm over the Quetzalcoatl's head before it could pull away, holding it to him as he twisted the blade and drove it deeper and hopefully into its brain.

"Die already!" Dean yelled. He pulled the blade out while the beast slammed him into the wall, but he kept his grip and pushed the knife home again. This time he knew he had struck true as an inhuman scream erupted from the creature's mouth. It filled the small room and deafened Dean, but he refused to let go. He twisted the knife again and felt a shudder pass through the serpent before it slowly collapsed to the floor and, at last, lay still.

"Son of a bitch," Dean gasped. He left the stone knife in the creature's head and stood slowly, wary in case it wasn't quite dead, but the creature stayed where it was. He turned instead to his brother and snarled in rage to find the man who had attacked him beside Sam and picking up his brother's gun. Dean didn't think twice. He drew his own gun and fired, taking the man in the heart. He felt no remorse as the man fell backwards dead with a small gasp of surprise.

Dean stepped over the Quetzacoatl's body and collected Sam's gun from the dead man's hand, then knelt beside Sam. "Hey, you with me, buddy?" He rolled Sam gently to his back and sighed. He was unconscious but thankfully still breathing. Dean tugged up his brother's shirts and saw a fresh round of bruising beginning to appear from where the creature had nearly crushed the life out of him. "Shit, you're gonna be miserable for a while, Sam." Some of the punctures were bleeding again as well. Dean looked around for something he could use and cursed softly that they hadn't brought the first aid kit in with them. After all, it was just supposed to be a daylight reconnaissance. They hadn't planned on walking right into the creature.

"Shit." Dean yanked his t-shirt off over his head and took the knife from his boot. He deftly cut the soft fabric into long strips before carefully lifting and propping Sam up against his shoulder. "Ok, buddy." Dean wound the strips around Sam's chest to cover the punctures and hopefully give some support to what he was sure were sprained ribs at the least. He tugged Sam's own shirt back down when he was finished and tapped his brother's cheek.

"Hey. Wake up, Sammy. We gotta get you outta here. Come on." Dean frowned when there was no response and started rubbing his knuckles firmly along the center of his brother's chest. Sam scowled and then twitched and Dean smiled. "That's it. Wake up. Come on. Hey. Hey. Easy." Dean soothed as Sam's eyes flew open and he jerked hard. "I gotcha. You're alright. Big nasty's dead and so's the asshole that called him."

"Dead?" Sam looked blearily around the room, taking in the dead man and the Quetzalcoatl's carcass. He blew out a slow breath of relief and shamelessly slumped forward to rest his head on his brother's shoulder. "We go now?"

Dean chuckled softly. "Yeah, we can. Nice job figuring out how to gank that thing."

Sam smiled, feeling a rush of pride at Dean's words. "Thanks." His smile was short-lived as Dean stood and brought Sam up with him. The pain that radiated through his chest was all-consuming, and he had no idea how much time had gone by before he realized he was kneeling on the floor, held up only by Dean's arms around him, with his brother's worried voice in his ear urging him to breathe. "Crap," he said and the sound of his own hoarse voice made him cringe.

"Yeah." Dean rubbed a hand up Sam's back one last time before he eased him slowly away. "Alright. Let's try this again, but this time with you actually breathing."

Sam nodded and held on to Dean's arms as he was pulled gingerly to his feet again. He felt himself swaying but locked his knees and managed to stand mostly on his own. He nodded. "Kay. M'okay. I can… I can walk."

"Uh-huh." Dean snorted and shook his head. "Gimme." He took Sam's left arm and pulled it over his shoulder to support him. "This walk is gonna suck, but I don't wanna wait around here for another seven or eight hours 'til the sun goes down, not with you still bleedin'. Come on. Nice and slow."

Sam took a deep breath to prepare himself, but it was a mistake as his wounded ribs protested the movement. He hunched over, using Dean to keep himself standing as he coughed and finally was able to take a breath again. "Ow."

"Shit, Sammy." Dean looked at his brother's pale face and wondered if waiting wouldn't be the better option after all.

"Can't call for help." Sam glanced over and easily read the expression on Dean's face. "Couldn't explain the bodies. It's not that far to the car. I can do it."

"Alright." Dean had to take him at his word and started them moving again. It seemed to take forever to reach the front of the fort, and it felt like it had been years since the last time they had stood there.

Sam looked at the bright sunlight spearing in the open door and then at his shirtless big brother with a smirk. "You're gonna… gonna fry like a fish out there… with no shirt."

"Shuddup." Dean groaned and hitched Sam's arm a little higher, knowing Sam was right. "Aw, this is gonna suck."

The walk through the sand back to the car sucked every bit as much as Dean thought it would. The sun burned down, and he could feel it baking across his bare back. It was actually something of a relief when Sam passed out and he had to carry him over his shoulders, even if the sasquatch weighed as much as his damn car. He was nearly ready to cry in relief when they reached the Impala, and Dean carefully lowered Sam down into the back seat. He picked Sam's legs up and got them inside, then ran around to climb behind the wheel. He didn't bother driving back to the motel. Sam's injuries were beyond his meatball medical skills, and he floored it toward Apache Creek and the nearest hospital instead. He kept an eye on Sam in the rearview, but though he moaned occasionally, Sam never woke up.

Dean squealed into a space beside the doors of the emergency room and dashed out of the car and inside, yelling for help before he ran back out. It took less time than he would have thought for the nurses and one confused looking doctor to have his not-so-little brother out of the car, on a gurney, and inside. He let himself be pulled along and was happy as one grey-haired nurse shoved him down onto a stool beside his brother's bed.

"You stay there while I get something for that sunburn." The nurse tsked at Dean and shook her head. "Were you trying to cook yourself? Where's your shirt?"

Dean nodded to his brother as the doctor cut Sam's blood-stained shirt away and revealed the makeshift bandages. "Had to improvise."

"Good lord." The nurse breathed out a little horrified breath as the bite wounds on the younger man's chest were revealed.

"Yeah." Dean leaned over, hissed in a breath as his back yelled at him, and straightened up again. "His right arm's broken. The, uh… the mountain lion that got a hold of him did a number on his cast."

"I see that." The doctor peeled the last of the other man's shirt from his patient and narrowed his eyes. "Mountain lion?"

"Big cat. Lots of teeth." Dean shrugged and groaned as it caused his burnt skin more pain.

"Never seen a bite radius like this." The doctor set the confusion aside in favor of helping the young man. "What's his name?"

"Sam. I'm Dean. He's my little brother so, you know, hurt him and I kick your ass." Dean gave the man a small grin.

The doctor chuckled. "Don't worry. We'll get him fixed up."

Dean listened as they called for a portable x-ray machine and winced in sympathy while they carefully cleaned the bite wounds. He smiled when the grey-haired nurse returned and narrowed his eyes at the non-descript white bottle in her hand. "What's that?"

"Cream for your burn." The nurse smiled and twisted off the cap. She pulled on a pair of gloves and nudged Dean around to face his brother again. "Trust me, you want the cream or that sunburn is going to leave you crying."

Dean considered arguing but decided screw it. He leaned a little forward, rested a hand on the side of his brother's bed, and waited. He yelped when the cold cream hit his over-heated skin. "Holy crap!"

The nurse laughed softly. "Don't worry," she assured him. "It'll feel better in a minute."

Dean tensed as she slathered the cream across his shoulders, the back of his neck, and down his back, and then let out a long, relieved breath when it began to numb the pain and kill the heat. "Wow." He bent forward enough to rest his forehead beside Sam's elbow and groaned happily. "Can I take that stuff home?"

The doctor chuckled again. "We'll get you a tube. You'll need it." The older brother's skin was beet red and looked near to blistering in a couple places. "Kathy, go grab these guys some water, would you? Fred, hand me that gauze. Let's bandage these and then see about getting that cast off so we can replace it."

Dean floated in a haze once the cream numbed the burn. He came back to himself with someone tapping the top of his head. "Huh?"

"Drink this." The nurse smiled at him and handed over a cup of water. "Finish that and I'll pour you some more."

"How's he?" Dean asked as he slowly straightened back up and looked at his brother. He realized with a shock that he'd been out longer than he thought. Sam's injuries were bandaged and clean, and the cast on his right arm had been replaced. An IV was dripping a clear fluid into his left arm. "Whoa."

"Heat exhaustion, dehydration, and sunburn will take a lot of you." The nurse shrugged and tapped the water cup in his hands. "Drink. Slowly. I'll be back shortly." She nodded to the bed. "He's getting fluids and antibiotics intravenously. He'll wake up anytime now."

"Thanks." Dean sipped at the blissfully cool water while he watched Sam and smiled, seeing his brother's eyes begin to twitch beneath his lids. He scooted his stool forward and rested a hand on his brother's chest. "Hey, Sammy. You missed all the fun."

Sam woke slowly. He opened his eyes and looked about, confused. The last thing he remembered was stepping out of the fort into the sun with his brother. "Where are we?"

"Apache Creek Hospital." Dean patted Sam's chest. "They patched you up. Dude, you were a mess." He smirked. "And I don't think the doc bought my story of a mountain lion attack."

"Mountain lion?" Sam rolled his eyes. He tried to sit up and slumped back to the bed instead. "Thirsty."

"Here." Dean took the second cup of water the nurse had left and held it up for his brother.

Sam took it in a shaking hand and managed to keep himself from gulping the cool liquid. He didn't want to throw up again. "Thanks."

"No problem. Go back to sleep." Dean waved a hand at the pole standing beside Sam's bed and the bags attached to it. "We're not going anywhere until they're done medicating you. May as well get some beauty sleep. You were starting to look rough anyway."

Sam gave a soft, sleepy laugh and let his eyes close. "Jerk."

"Bitch." Dean smiled. He waited until Sam was asleep once more before he took his hand back. It was comforting to feel his brother's heart beating, and he knew how close he had come to losing him. He looked at the bandages across Sam's chest, the bruises he could see peeking out from beneath them, and shivered a little in the air-conditioned room. For just a moment, he was grateful that he was still there, that their father had sold his soul to save him. He wanted -and needed - to be there for Sam, with Sam. That was the way it was supposed to be. The moment was quickly overshadowed with the familiar grief, but he pushed it down. He couldn't change what Dad had done, but he could make it worth it. He could make sure that Sam was safe and alive, no matter what the cost.

Dean finished his water and folded his arms on the side of Sam's bed. He rested his head on his arms and closed his eyes. Keeping Sam safe would have to be enough. It would be. It was his job after all; take care of his pain-in-the-ass little brother. Dean smiled in spite of himself and dozed off listening to the sound of Sam's deep, even breaths.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next up: R is for Rebar

Chapter Text

 

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

R is for Rebar -

Sam leaned back on the picnic table. He looked out over the valley stretched out below the little drive-in park and breathed in the spring air deeply. For a moment, as he closed his eyes and tipped his face up to the sun, he could imagine it was ten months ago and any second, Jess' soft fingers would slide across his face, her chuckle in his ear. It made his heart hurt. He shook his head and sat up, turning away from the view to look back toward the car instead. Dean was there, hunched over the hood with what looked like the map from the glove box. Sam frowned and hopped down off the table. Just then, Dean turned and waved a hand at him.

"Hey, Sammy! Get over here!" Dean called. He tucked his cell phone back into his pocket and took a deep breath as Sam drew up beside him.

"What's going on?" Sam asked, looking down at the map and a city several hours away that his brother had circled. "You find a hunt?"

"Kinda." Dean tapped the map and leaned against the car. "Dad sent coordinates." He held up a hand when Sam opened his mouth. "He didn't say anything except meet him there."

"Dad's going to be there?" Sam scowled and picked up the map. "What happened to it being too dangerous for him to be with us?"

"Don't ask me, man." Dean waved his brother around the car. "Let's move. Sooner we get there, sooner we can ask him. And Sammy…" he rolled his eyes as he opened the driver's side door. "Could you try not to bite the guy's head off for five minutes?"

"I'm not gonna…" Sam stopped and groaned. He got into the car and waited for Dean to start her up. "Ok, fine. I'll try not to pick a fight, but you know how he is."

Dean snorted and pulled out of the rest stop and back on to the highway. "You realize you two are completely alike, right?" He quirked a brow and looked over at Sam's disgusted face. "There's a reason you've been butting heads since you were two feet tall."

"Shut up, please." Sam shook his head, refusing to rise to the bait and looked out the window instead. He didn't deny it though. There were too many similarities between him and his father for comfort.

Dean gave a smug grin and flicked on the radio, hoping he'd be able to keep the peace between his dad and brother long enough to find out what dad thought he needed them for. The drive to Paulander, Minnesota went quickly and peacefully with his little brother asleep against the passenger window. He startled when his phone chirped an incoming text and he pulled it out. Dean rolled his eyes, seeing another text from their father, this time with the name of a motel and a room number.

"Awesome," Dean muttered and spotted the motel ahead. Winchesters, it seemed, gravitated to the same seedy areas in search of motels. He easily picked out their father's big black truck near the end and drove down to park beside it. He turned off the Impala and gave Sam's shoulder a nudge. "Hey. We're here."

Sam rolled a crick out of his neck and sat up to look around. He caught his breath a little, seeing their father's truck parked beside them, and nodded. "Alright. Let's go see what he's found." He even managed a small smile for his brother. He really did plan on trying not to argue with his dad at every turn.

Dean shook his head as he got out. He could practically see the frustration spilling out of his brother, but at least Sam was making the effort of trying to keep it inside. "Room fourteen. Go see if he's got a room for us too and I'll grab the bags."

"Yeah." Sam shrugged his shoulders in an effort to loosen some of the tension and then went to the door. He raised his hand, but before he could knock, it opened to reveal John Winchester. "Hey, Dad."

"Sammy." John smiled and quickly pulled his youngest in to a hug. He thumped him on the back and let him go to look over his shoulder at his eldest. "Dean, you boys are in thirteen. Here." He handed a key to Sam. "Go drop your stuff off and then get in here. Got a job I need backup for."

Sam opened his mouth to start asking questions but he heard his brother clear his throat behind him. He nodded instead. "Ok. Back in a sec."

Dean watched Sam open the door of the next room over and blew out a relieved breath. He'd fully expected Sam to give dad the fifth degree right there in the doorway and was a little impressed that he hadn't. He tossed their bags on the near bed and looked around. As motel rooms went, it wasn't that bad. Although, and he snorted, he could have done without the little pink paisley border running around the ceiling above the brown wallpaper.

"Dude." Sam stuck his head in the bathroom and then looked at his brother. "The shower curtain is pink."

"Long as the water's hot, I'll take it." Dean pulled two containers of salt from one of the bags and tossed one to his brother. "Get the bathroom window." He turned around and poured a careful line of salt in front of the door, then went to the window to do the same. He pushed the heavy, green curtains open and found a decrepit looking air conditioner/heating unit with a layer of dust caked on top of it. He shook his head, hoping they wouldn't need to use the thing and lined the window in salt. He tossed the container onto the night stand and looked up as Sam came out of the bathroom and did the same. "What?"

"What? What?" Sam asked in confusion.

"You're not gonna say anything?"

Sam smirked and opened the door. "We don't know anything yet. Let's go before he comes looking." He walked next door and through the door their dad had left open. He wasn't surprised to find the back wall of the motel room papered in pictures, articles, and handwritten notes. His brows rose as he quickly took in the wall of hunter's research. "Cerberus? Really?"

John chuckled softly at Sam as Dean came in behind him and closed the door. "Always were damn fast, Sammy. Yeah."

"How many people has it killed so far?" Sam moved to the wall and started scanning down the handwritten notes to see what dad had learned about the creature so far. "And why are you so sure it's Cerberus?"

"I caught a glimpse of it a couple days ago." John resisted the urge to bristle at Sam's demanding tone. He knew his youngest could be just as single-minded as himself when it came to research.

Sam noticed a few blank spots on the wall, places where papers could have been pinned up before being removed. However, he opted not to call their father out on it just yet. He had promised Dean to not pick a fight first thing, and he was going to try and keep his word. Besides, he wanted to be with Dad; needed to be, even. He was the one person who could truly understand what Sam was feeling with the loss of Jess.

Dean went to the little refrigerator and smiled, finding a six pack of beer. He pulled out three and turned to hand one to his brother. He frowned and recognized that lost look on Sam's face. "Hey." Dean nudged him in the shoulder with a beer. "Stop thinkin' so hard."

"Yeah. Sorry. Thanks." Sam took the beer and twisted the top off as he went and sat at the little table to look at the rest of their dad's research.

John watched Sam's always expressive face, and he had no trouble seeing what his son was thinking of. God knew, he'd seen that same look on his own face in the mirror enough times. He scrubbed a hand down his face and took the beer Dean held out to him, wishing he had a clue how to speak to his youngest, but sadly, that had always been Dean's area of expertise. He shook his head and pulled a map out from under his pile of research. "I've narrowed its hunting ground down to two places, but I'm leaning toward this one."

Dean leaned over Sam's shoulder and frowned again. "What is that?"

"New hotel going up, and several of the workers were scared off by a big, weird-looking dog." John chuckled. "I'm guessing the guys didn't think anyone would believe them if they told the truth."

Sam nodded as he read the research on Cerberus their dad had amassed. "I always wondered if it actually had three heads or not. The lore never seems to agree, but the classical literature doesn't give Cerberus multiple heads until somewhere in the sixth century, I think."

Dean chuckled and saw the same look of amused pride on his father's face. "You're such a nerd. Any idea how we kill it?"

"We don't really." John said and held up a hand when Dean opened his mouth to protest. "Not in a traditional sense. It can't die. We're going to send it back to Hades, or Hell if you like. There's a ritual."

"Hercules was supposed to have kidnapped Cerberus once." Sam leaned back in his chair and looked at their dad. "Souls could come and go in Hades until Cerberus was brought back. He closed the gates." He met his father's eyes with suspicion in his own. "This has something to do with the demon that killed mom and Jess, doesn't it?"

"Not exactly." John sat down and gave a small shrug. "The theory is that if Cerberus is sent back, he'll drag any earthbound demons with him and shove them back into hell for good."

Dean raised his brows. "And we believe that? 'Cause that sounds a little 'Disney' to me. If it were really that simple, you'd think someone would have done it by now."

"It's worth a try," John said firmly. "Best case, all the demons here get pulled back and locked away forever. Worst case, none of them do, but there's one less creature up here snacking on civilians. It needs killing. You know the job, Dean."

"Yeah, I do." Dean looked over at Sam and waited. His brother gave him a small nod and Dean sighed. "Alright, we're in. What's the ritual?"

John looked between his two boys and had the distinct impression that they had just had an entire conversation with a look and a nod that didn't include him. He shook his head, dismissing the thought. "The ritual isn't complicated. There's an incantation, a red candle, and a plank made of ash wood, all of which I have." He smiled grimly. "The only difficult part is that the plank has to be floated on a slick of an offering's blood, like water. It's to represent the ferryman, Charon, bringing souls to Cerberus."

"We have to kill someone?" Sam asked and couldn't keep the disgust out of his voice.

"No, of course not. Give me some credit, Sam." John felt the familiar frustration welling up and fought to keep it down. "I'll donate the blood. It just has to be enough to lay the plank on. Now, the site is closed after the attack yesterday so we'll go in tonight. We can come at it from three directions and catch it between us."

"Catch?" Dean was liking the sound of this plan less and less.

"Like I said, we can't kill it. We need to catch it and hold it while I do the ritual and sent it back." John gave his sons his best, unconcerned smile. "There are plenty of places in there we should be able to pen it in for a few minutes. It's a construction site. Lots of materials to work with."

"And lots of ways for things to go sideways," Dean said unhappily. He definitely wasn't comfortable with the idea of splitting up while hunting something they knew they couldn't actually kill.

"I trust you boys to handle yourselves." John stood and tossed his empty bottle into the trash can. "We should go grab something to eat now and head over in a couple hours."

Sam bristled at being pushed into the hunt so quickly. He had barely had time to read all the research or do any of his own. It wasn't that he didn't trust his dad's ability to do the research, but he didn't trust him to have actually given them all the information. The man had a lifelong habit of only giving them what he thought they needed and nothing more. And he could tell by the look on Dean's face at that moment that his brother was just as suspicious.

"Anything you're not telling us?" Dean asked. "'Cause if you're gonna pull more of that marine, need-to-know crap, tell me now."

John was a little taken aback to hear that tone in his eldest son's voice. It was the sort of question he would expect from Sam. "No, Dean. The research is all right there. We can skip food and go through it if you really want to hunt this thing hungry tonight. Your choice."

Dean ground his teeth together in frustration, but in the end, he had to trust his father. "Fine. Let's go." He slapped the back of his brother's shoulder and headed to the door. "I could use some pie." He gave Sam a look as his little brother passed him to say 'don't start.'

Sam rolled his eyes and went to the Impala, hoping this wasn't going to be another job where their dad's inability to be up front came back to bite them in the ass, as it had so many times in the past.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam adjusted the machete attached to his belt, then braced his left hand under his right to steady his gun. The construction site was a lot bigger than dad had made it out to be. He knew vaguely where his father and brother were coming from but it would be at least five minutes, maybe ten, before he got near them. His nerves were singing with tension. The moon had risen brightly above and provided plenty of light to see by; he didn't even need his flashlight. That gave him a small measure of comfort. They wouldn't have to make targets of themselves while looking for Cerberus. He crossed through the open frame of a room and stopped, hearing the sound of gravel crunching from somewhere ahead of him.

A gust of wind blew Sam's hair into his eyes, and he moved out of the open ribs of the room and climbed a pile of dirt as high as his head. He knelt at the top to make a smaller target of himself and looked out over the site. A yellow crane and a backhoe were parked below him on a gravel-covered stretch of ground. Several trailers surrounded the area, but the center of it, in an area blocked by the large construction equipment, seemed to be empty.

Sam moved cautiously down the other side of the dirt hill and approached the crane. He heard the crunch of gravel again, closer this time. He put his back to the cold metal of the construction machine and listened for any other sign. He didn't want to come out leading with his gun if it was his brother or dad. He moved silently toward the back of the crane and sucked in a surprised breath when he heard Dean's voice call out in surprise.

"Dean!" Sam broke from his cover and ran around the huge piece of machinery. His voice had been close, and he watched his brother emerge from between two of the trailers across from him. Fear twisted his stomach into knots when Sam saw what was between them - a pit dug into the ground, no doubt for the foundation of whatever they were building. It was a good fifteen feet square and at least ten deep. He saw his brother backing toward it. "Dean, stop! Look out!"

It seemed to happen in slow motion for Sam. Dean was faced away from him, with his gun trained between the two trailers, and Sam could only watch as his left foot went back and found only open air. The next moment, Dean's arms were flailing and with a short cry, he fell from sight. "NO!" Sam shouted. He sprinted around the hole and heard the snarling of a creature from the direction Dean had come from. He slid to a stop and waited. A massive dog, standing as tall as his head, emerged into the moonlight. Its hair was dark, perhaps black, and three sets of glowing red eyes blinked at Sam from its face.

"Shit," Sam breathed. He shook his head and fired into the head of Cerberus. It howled, filling the air with the angry sound and then retreated between the trailers. "Dean." Sam turned and looked down. He could see his brother lying too still below and felt a knot of fear twist in his gut. "Dean? You hear me?" Sam tucked his gun in the back of his pants. He dropped to his knees and slid over the side. He held on and dropped the last couple of feet. His shoes sank slightly into what he realized was not completely hardened cement.

Sam turned and his eyes caught on something wet and glistening beneath his brother's side. "Oh, God." He dropped beside Dean and put a hand to his chest. Low on Dean's left side, something was tenting up his flannel and t-shirt. He pulled the fabric up and away and swallowed hard. A piece of rebar was impaled through his brother's body. Sam looked around and saw more exposed lengths of rebar around them poking straight up out of the foundation, and, somehow, Dean had miraculously missed all but that one piece. One was enough, however.

"Dean." Sam leaned over his brother's face and saw the frown between his eyes. "Hey. Dean, you need to wake up, man." Sam looked up at the edge of the hole and back at his brother. He took out his cell phone and called their father. It was a long thirty seconds before he answered. "Dad. Dean's in trouble. We're near the center of the site. It's bad. Cerberus is here. I scared it off, but it'll be back. Get here." He ended the call before his dad could ask questions and bent back over his brother when Dean moaned softly.

"Hey. Hey, I'm here." Sam steadied Dean's head and put his other hand on his brother's chest to keep him from moving. "Dean. No, don't move!" He held him down when his brother's body jerked and a strangled cry was torn from Dean's throat. "Take it easy and don't move."

Dean coughed and forced his eyes open to find Sam leaning over him and staring down with fear on his face. "Sam… hurt?"

Sam gave a short, miserable laugh understanding that Dean was worried about him rather than himself. "Jesus, Dean. I'm fine. You're the one I'm worried about."

Dean lifted his head, thankful for the hand Sam slipped behind his neck to help and stared in shock at the piece of metal sticking out of the left side of his abdomen. "Holy shit!"

Sam lowered his brother's head back down. "I called Dad. We need to call an ambulance."

"Dude, I can…"

"No way. Dean, there's no way we're pulling you off this without an ambulance." Sam glared him down. "I'm not watching you bleed out for some stupid, Winchester stubborn bullshit about never needing a damn hospital." He patted his brother's chest with a strained grin while Dean stared at him in surprise. "Get comfy. I'll make Dad agree with me."

Dean let out a breathless laugh. "Good… good luck with that. Shit. Hurts."

"I know. Stay still." Sam stood and reluctantly went back to the wall of the hole. He jumped and with a little effort, managed to roll himself back up to the top. He let out a relieved breath as his dad appeared to his left and jogged over to him. "He's down there." Sam pointed and watched his dad's eyes blow wide when he took in Dean. "He's alive, and he's alright for the moment but we can't move him." Sam me his dad's eyes firmly. "Not without help. He'll bleed out, Dad. We need to call an ambulance."

John took another look down at Dean. "Did Cerberus get him?"

Sam shook his head. "No. He fell backing away from it. He never saw the drop."

John nodded and swallowed hard before he met Sam's eyes once more. "No. No ambulance yet. We need to get rid of that thing first."

"What? Dad, look at him!" Sam pointed down to his brother again and was more than a little horrified. "He needs help now, not an hour from now! Do you want him to die?"

"Don't backtalk me, Sammy." John stared angrily at him. "We can't call civilians in here with that thing running around. You want one of their deaths on your hands? We finish the job. Then we take care of Dean. You used to know this."

"This is bullshit!" Sam barely resisted yelling. He didn't want to draw Cerberus back to them if it had left. "It's bad, Dad! He needs help right now!"

"He can wait. Dean's strong." John backed away a step and checked his gun. "You stay with him while I finish this. I'll come back once the creature's gone and we'll call the ambulance. Keep him safe. Think you can manage that?"

Sam jerked as if slapped. "Better than you, apparently." He waved a hand out at the construction site. "Go on. Go finish the hunt. I'll keep him alive, no thanks to you." Sam fixed his father with a glare that spoke volumes before he added, "But so help me, if he starts crashing or bleeding worse than he is, I'm calling 911. I'm not going to stand by and just watch him die. I won't!" He watched his father start to respond, but the older man finally gave a curt, silent nod and vanished between the trailers. Sam scrubbed his hands over his face and then climbed back down into the hole with his brother. "Hey."

"Heard that," Dean gasped and lifted his head to get a look at Sam. "Promised… no fightin' with Dad."

"I promised I'd try." Sam knelt next to him again and checked the bleeding. "If he's not back here in five minutes, I'm making the call."

Dean nodded, understanding that Sam was going to give their dad all the patience he could that didn't involve risking Dean's life. "See that thing?" He coughed again and braced a hand on his stomach below the rebar. "Freaky-ass eyes. Like six… six of 'em."

"Yeah." Sam pulled his jacket off and spread it over Dean's chest to help keep him warm. He was careful to avoid the iron bar and scowled as Dean hissed in pain. "Stop moving."

"You try… not movin'… with a pole shoved in your… through you. Crap." Dean panted and closed his eyes. He could feel his head swimming either from blood loss, hitting his head in the fall, or both. It was making his stomach churn dangerously and he didn't even want to imagine what throwing up would feel like with that thing pinning him to the ground.

"Easy," Sam soothed, lightly rubbing a hand lightly over Dean's shoulder and chest to try to calm him. It was hurting him, being forced to watch his brother bleed and suffer while their father was more concerned with finishing a hunt.

"Stop it." Dean slapped lightly at Sam's arm and scowled. "S'right. He's… he's right, dude. Cujo… eat the paramedics."

"You don't know that," Sam argued. He looked up at the edge of the hole above them. "I just… sometimes I want us to be normal, you know?" He looked back down at Dean sadly. "Why is that a bad thing? Normal people get hurt, they call 911."

Dean sighed and grabbed the hand Sam had rested on his chest, holding on. "Gonna be fine. 'Sides… normal people are… are boring."

Sam smiled but he didn't feel it. He tucked his jacket more securely around Dean's shoulders and heard a sound from above them. "Remember. Don't move," he whispered it and stood. "I mean it. You try to pull yourself off that thing and you'll bleed out."

"I got it." Dean waved a hand. "Go." He had heard the sound as well. It killed him to stay there, lying on his back and helpless while Sam faced the danger, but his little brother was right. He knew how screwed he was if he moved too much. "Be careful, dammit."

Sam nodded and went to the wall. He leaned against it, listening for a repeat of the sound, hoping it was Dad having changed his mind. He knew it was the creature a moment later as he heard a soft growl somewhere above. Sam drew his gun and looked back at his brother. Dean had his head up, looking at him, and Sam hooked a thumb up toward the ground above. Dean gave him a nod and let his head fall back.

"Son of a bitch," Dean groaned softly. He realized he didn't even have his gun and figured it must be up top somewhere, dropped when he fell. He was so tired and wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and go to sleep, but he knew how dangerous that was. In addition to blood loss and a possible concussion, shock was rapidly becoming an equally deadly threat. Every minute that passed impressed on him just how right Sam was about him needing help; needing an ambulance. He jerked his head back up as a low growl came to him. He could see Sam, at the wall of the hole in the shadows, waiting.

Sam looked up and his mouth fell open as the demonic dog appeared. It leaped into view, sailing through the air, and landed on the other side of the hole across from him. "Shit!" Sam moved quickly to stand between the beast and his brother. "Dean, stay down," he warned and aimed at Cerberus' head. "Dad!" Sam shouted it up, knowing their father had to be nearby. "Dad, it's here!" He hoped their father would suddenly appear, but as the seconds ticked by and the creature snarled at him, John Winchester failed to appear.

Cerberus growled and hunched low to the ground. Sam gasped as it leaped again directly for him. He managed to fire two shots into its chest before it slammed into him and bowled him backward. Pain bloomed across his chest as he rolled and came to a stop with the heavy bulk of Cerberus on top of him.

Dean couldn't lay there any longer, not with Sam's life at stake. He tried to sit up, to lift himself off the rebar, and the pain ripped a short cry from him before he collapsed back to the ground.

"No!" Sam yelled. He turned his head and saw his brother fighting to free himself. "Dean, no! Don't!" He had to put his attention on the creature as its jaws snapped mere inches from his face. He used his left hand to hold its teeth away from him and with his right, pressed the muzzle of his gun into its chest and fired. Cerberus jerked and howled a flood of death-flavored breath into Sam's face. Sam yelled in pain when he felt claws dig into his chest and more sharp pains in his right thigh.

"Sammy!" Dean shouted and could only watch in horror as the creature drew his brother's blood. He snarled and pulled his arms under him. He wouldn't sit back and watch Sam die; he couldn't, even if it cost him his own life. Before he could try to lift himself clear, a set of booted feet slammed into the ground to his left and Dean turned his head to find their father standing there.

"Dean, stay down," John ordered and moved toward his other son. He knew what he wanted to do and figured he had one chance while it was distracted. John put his gun up and moved wide around the fight. He judged the distance, took a deep breath, and reached in to grab Cerberus from behind as Sam's voice rose in a near scream. He wrapped his arm around the thick throat, heaved and spun as he went to a knee. He gave a roar of effort as he managed to throw the heavy beast. John spun to his feet, panting for breath and rubbing his aching shoulders. He grinned. The creature was impaled on several lengths of rebar and wouldn't be getting off them any time soon.

"Check Sam! Dammit, dad!" Dean was seconds away from tearing himself free when his father finally looked at him.

"I got him, Dean. Stay put." John went over to Sam and knelt beside him. His youngest was lying on his side, curled around his stomach, and gasping for breath. "Sammy?" He rolled him carefully to his back and gritted his teeth at the sight of all the blood on his shirt and jeans. "Ok, buddy. Just stay still for me. Almost done here."

Dean watched his dad swing the pack off his back and start pulling out the items he had packed for the ritual. A sick feeling began to wash over him as he watched his dad reach down and use his hand to smooth Sam's blood along the unfinished concrete. The feeling intensified as John laid a small, wooden plank on top of the blood and set a red candle atop it.

"You bastard," Dean rasped softly. "You wait… waited. You let him… get mauled."

John looked across at Dean's accusing eyes and away again. "It was supposed to be me, but the ritual was specific. The blood had to be spilled by Cerberus to work. I have to do this."

"Used us." Dean let his head drop back and closed his eyes miserably. "Bait."

"Not on purpose, son," John protested, but it was weak even to his own ears. "It just worked out that way. Two minutes, alright?" He lit the red candle and began softly chanting the ancient Latin spell. The flame of the candle grew quickly, and, as John reached the end of the incantation, the blood he had used was sucked into the wood, darkening the plank to near black, and gone. The candle burst in a spray of light and John turned to watch Cerberus roar. It struggled against the bars impaling it and then vanished with a loud boom. The smell of sulfur washed over him so strongly, he gagged and heard both his sons do the same.

John sagged in relief and quickly stuffed the candle and wood back into his bag, then took out his phone and dialed 911. "Hang on, boys." He patted Sam's shoulder and then went to check on Dean. "My sons were attacked by a wild dog at the construction site. They're hurt bad." John rattled off the address to the dispatcher and hissed in a breath as he moved Sam's jacket from Dean's chest to get a better look. "My oldest, he fell. There's a piece of rebar impaling him and he's lost a lot of blood. You need to hurry." He hung up and bent over Dean's face. "Hey, Ace. You still with me?"

"You're… you're a bastard." Dean glared weakly up at his father. "Any... anything for the… the job. Right, dad?"

"Dammit, Dean. I had no choice." John felt guilty for the way things had happened, but he shook his head. "I didn't plan this. It happened. I'm sorry, but it got the job done. You boys will be fine."

Dean rolled his head over to see his brother and suffered not being able to go to him. "Better be. HE better be, Dad, or you and me? We're finished." He felt another wave of exhaustion roll through him on top of the shock of realizing what his father had done. It was too much, and this time, he didn't fight it. He closed his eyes.

"Dean? Dammit, no! Stay awake!" John took a hold of his son's head. "You need to stay awake. Dean, that's an order! Open your eyes!" There was no response, Dean having given into unconsciousness. John set his head back and checked the injuries. There was far too much blood on and beneath Dean for John's peace of mind, but he couldn't even put pressure on the wound without the risk of making it worse. "Shit." He got up and went back to Sam, but his youngest was just as unconscious as his brother. Sam's head lolled in John's hand, his pulse beating too quickly beneath his fingers, and Sam's blood coating his hands. He looked back at Dean and closed his eyes, praying that his reckless gamble had not cost him both of his sons as the first faint siren echoed in the air.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean woke slowly and frowned. He felt a pain in his abdomen, but it was distant and muted. He opened his eyes and realized he was lying in a hospital bed. He could hear a soft, steady beeping beside him from a heart monitor and felt the pinch of a needle in the back of his wrist. He sucked in a breath as it all came back to him and he lurched up in the bed. "Ah!" Dean groaned loudly and hunched over his stomach. He heard a door open and a moment later, a warm hand was pressed against his back.

"Shit, Dean. Lay back down." John watched the pain moving across his eldest son's face and supported him back down to the bed. "You're not gonna be getting up for a day or two. You've got a new Winchester record for internal stitches."

"Great." Dean coughed hoarsely and sent a stern look up to his father. "Where's Sam?"

John nodded, expecting that question, and moved to his left. "Right there. Look."

Dean rolled his head over and took comfort in the sight of his little brother laid out in the next bed over. He was too pale, with his head turned toward Dean, and there were lines of pain around his eyes. "How bad?"

John smiled grimly. "New Winchester record for external stitches. It clawed him up good. He'll be fine once he gets over the blood loss, same as you."

Dean nodded. He cautiously pushed up a little in his bed and allowed his dad to tuck a pillow behind his back. He took a minute to breathe deeply and let the pain subside and then looked at John again. He studied his father's face and saw what he was looking for. "You're taking off again."

John didn't bother to try and deny it. "I am. It's safer. I needed backup for this one, but it's dangerous. We know that. Every second I'm with you puts you boys at risk."

Dean felt anger welling up and ground his teeth together. "You should probably get going then. Wouldn't want to put your kids in danger again."

"Dean…"

"No." Dean held up a hand to stop him. "You and I both know you used us for bait. I heard you." He glared at his dad and felt a dent appear in his hero-worship of the man. "You didn't ask Sam if I was alright. You asked him if the damn dog had made me bleed. And when he told you no, you took off. You needed that thing to bleed one of us, and it's just bad luck it wasn't me first. Dammit, Dad. He nearly died. An inch or two deeper…" Dean trailed off staring over at his brother.

He could feel the angry glare on his face as he looked back at his father. "You know, I chewed Sam out after the shtriga. You know why?" He glanced over at his little brother and back to their father. "He accused you of using us for bait, and I told him he was full of shit. I told him you would never do that, that you'd never risk us like that." Dean shook his head. "I'm gonna be apologizing for that for a while."

John swallowed hard around the lump of guilt in his throat. "You weren't bait." He stared Dean down, willing him to see the sincerity in his eyes. "Not back then. I swear it." He ignored the anger still boiling off of Dean, knowing there would be no absolution offered for this level of betrayal. He squeezed his oldest son's shoulder briefly before he went over to the other bed. John smoothed Sam's shaggy hair out of his closed eyes. "I'm sorry, Sammy," he whispered. He rested a hand on the side of his son's head for a moment and then headed for the door. "Take care of each other."

Dean watched his father leave and closed his eyes as the door shut behind him. "Dammit." He groaned softly and flicked the thin blanket off his body. It took him several long, pain-filled minutes until he was able to swing his legs over the side of the bed and sit up. He cradled an arm over his abdomen to brace it over the bandages and carefully stood. Dean shuffle slowly across the few feet to his brother's bed and sat gingerly on the side. "Hey, Sammy." He pulled the blanket down from Sam's neck and felt another spurt of fear and anger at the heavy bandages covering his brother's torso. He looked over and saw a similar lump beneath the blanket over Sam's right thigh and knew the creature had gotten him there too. Sam gave a low moan and Dean wrapped a comforting hand around the side of his brother's neck. "Hey, buddy. You're alright."

Sam cracked his eyes open and found Dean sitting up beside him. "Hey." His voice was a cracked whisper and he coughed lightly to clear his throat. He frowned up at Dean. "Y'ok?"

Dean nodded and smiled. "Yeah. I'm good. Couple new holes. You too." He lightly patted the bandages on Sam's chest.

Sam looked around and frowned as he met Dean's eyes again. "Dad's gone, isn't he?"

"Yeah. Said it was still too dangerous." Dean gave a tight smile. "He stayed to make sure we were alright before he left."

Sam nodded and sighed. He remembered everything that had happened during the hunt; he knew their father had used them as bait. But he also knew Dad loved them, as frustrating as it was to reconcile the two things. "You should get back in bed." He managed a smile for his brother and swatted his arm. "I've seen ghosts with more color than you, dude. Go lay down."

"Shuddup." Dean stood cautiously with a soft laugh. "You ain't exactly rockin' the tan either there, Casper." He crawled gratefully back into his bed and rolled to his side before letting himself sink down into the bed. "We're good, Sammy. Go'sleep."

Sam smirked as his brother's voice slurred and closed his own eyes. It hurt, knowing what their father had done for the sake of the hunt, but not as much as it could have… as it probably should have. Because he knew he had Dean to keep him safe. His big brother would always be there to have his back and Sam would have his, whether Dean liked it or not.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next up: S is for Starvation, Sleep Deprivation, and Stoning.

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

S is for Starvation, Sleep Deprivation, and Stoning -

Dean strolled slowly along the square, sidestepping people while they wandered in and out of the long line of small tents at the local craft and arts festival. He rolled his eyes at the collection of knick-knacks and dust collectors on display, the woven art in all the colors of the rainbow, and the gaudy jewelry twinkling in the sunlight. He stopped and looked out over the sea of people and snorted when he easily picked out his little brother's head towering above everyone around him a hundred yards away. He took out his phone and dialed him.

"Hey, Sammy. Anyone try to climb you yet?" Dean chuckled at his brother's disgusted snort over the line. He looked around at the crowd again and sighed. "We're not gonna spot shit in this, you know that? Too many people."

"It's our best bet to catch whatever's been kidnapping people."

"And killing them. Don't forget killing them." Dean moved so his back was to the wall of one of the tents and watched his brother's head move out of sight behind a collection of brightly colored tents. "The victims didn't die easy, dude. I saw the crime scene pics too." He remembered the images of blood and bruises on bodies that looked like they hadn't been fed in weeks. "You watch your ass." He rolled his eyes again. "Still say we should be focusing on finding Amara. Bigger fish, Sammy."

"People are dying, Dean. This is what we do."

Dean couldn't help the small smile at the tone of Sam's voice; it was full of Sam's concern for him. "Yeah, right. I know. Think I'm gonna have to investigate the fried dough stand while I'm over here." He laughed and ended the call before Sam could make a joke about his weight.

Dean had taken only one step to his left when chaos erupted around him. He put a hand into his jacket, taking hold of his gun, and ducked instinctively as the first scream tore through the air. "What the hell?" He grunted and backed up against the nearest tent while people screamed and shouted and ran, bumping into him and nearly taking him off his feet. "Hey!" He grabbed one man before he could slide away and tugged him to a stop. "What's going on?"

"There's these weirdos with knives over there!" The man waved a hand toward the other side of the fair, tugged his arm free and took off again.

"Shit." Dean pushed into the swarming, panicked crowed and left his gun in his jacket not wanting to add to the fear. "Sam!" he shouted. His eyes roamed over the mob, looking for his brother's head above the rest but not finding him, and a bad feeling began to come over him. He tried to move faster and had to stop as a woman fell to the ground a few feet away. He grimaced, seeing several feet stomp across her back as she cried out. "Dammit!" He ducked down and caught a hand under her shoulder, pulled her to her feet and clamped his arm around her waist when she swayed.

"Hey, hey, easy. I've got you." Dean steadied her and looked down at her dazed eyes. He gritted his teeth together and began to drag her toward the edge of the fair grounds. She was in no condition to make it on her own. "Come on. Make a hole, dammit!" Dean yelled. He shouldered through a group of people gathered at the edge of a sidewalk and pulled the woman up and beyond them. "Here we go. Come on. Sit down." Dean helped lower her to a patch of grass beneath a tree and leaned her back against the trunk. He smiled when she looked up at him with wide, blue eyes. "You alright?"

"Um…" She coughed and ran a hand over her face. "I… I think so. Thank you."

"Don't mention it." Dean patted her knee and stood. He looked around and spotted two police officers trying to calm down a group of people. "Stay put. I'm gonna get you some help." He jogged over to the officers. "Hey! I got a woman over here who got trampled!" He pointed to the woman he had left and felt relief when one of the officers immediately waved a hand to him and ran to her.

"Good." Dean turned, took a breath, and waded back out into the still-panicking crowd. It was slightly easier as many of them had fled the fairgrounds, but he still had to dodge and weave to avoid being knocked down as the woman had. "Sammy!" he shouted. Dean made his way across to the last place he had seen his brother. As he neared the center of the fair, the area cleared and he took out his phone, dialing his brother when he still found no sign of him. Dean moved at a slow jog, his eyes scanning each tent, and sometimes he stopped to lean over and look behind the covered tables. But though he found several people hiding, he didn't find his brother, and he snarled as Sam's phone rang itself into voicemail for the third time.

"Dammit! Sam!" If there had to be trouble, leave it to Sam to get himself caught up smack in the middle of it.

"Hey, mister. Who you lookin' for?"

Dean turned and saw a very tall, teenage girl with short, curly blonde hair looking at him with frightened brown eyes from between two tents. She had to be nearly six feet tall though she still had a baby-face. "Hey. You alright, sweetheart?"

She nodded and cautiously stepped out. "They didn't get me."

"Who? What happened?" Dean demanded and tried not to growl the question and frighten her even more.

"There were these weird men. They had hoods and knives." She wrapped her arms around herself and trembled.

Dean put a hand on her shoulder and smiled. "What's your name? I'm Dean."

"A… Amanda."

"You're safe, Amanda. Alright? No one's gonna hurt you." Dean squeezed her shoulder to offer support and met her eyes. "I really need to know what happened with the freaks in hoods."

"I think… I think they were going to take me." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "But then this guy - he was huge, you know?" She looked up at Dean with big eyes. "He started yelling and he… he pushed me between the tents and he wouldn't let them near me."

Dean's eyes fell closed for a moment and he took a breath to steady his nerves. "This big guy, he have shaggy, brown hair hangin' in his eyes? Blue jeans and a jacket?" She nodded and Dean's bad feeling grew. "Did you see where they went or what happened to them?"

"I think…" She paused and met Dean's eyes with true fear in her own. "…I think… they were carrying him away. I don't know if he's… if they… he wasn't moving." She shivered at the look of cold anger that washed over the face of the man in front of her. "I'm sorry. He saved me."

"He'll be fine. I'll find him. Go that way." Dean gave her a nudge back the way he had come and started away on his own. He scoured the ground for any signs, but there had been too many people. "Dammit!" Dean spent over an hour searching every inch of the fairgrounds until he was finally run off by the police in favor of their investigation. He sat behind the wheel of the Impala, staring out at the fair tents in the fading light with their protective wall of police and tried not to feel hopeless. Sam was out there and he would find him. "You're not goin' out like this, Sammy. No way."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The cold woke Sam. He shivered in a fog, trying to remember why he was asleep and why he was so cold. He moaned softly as a dull pain went through his shoulders and neck. It was a sad testament to their lives, that he instantly realized what it meant without even thinking – his hands were bound to something overhead. It took a huge effort to lift his head and even more to convince his heavy eyes to open. When they did, he blinked furiously several times in an effort to make sense of what he was seeing. He was outside and surrounded by a group of people in gray robes. Gone were the fair and his brother, and, as he looked down at himself, he realized his clothes were gone as well.

"What?" Sam coughed to clear his throat and watched the figures around him shift. "Let me go." He pulled at the ropes binding his hands above his head to no effect and glared angrily at his captors as his head cleared a bit more with the sudden surge of adrenaline. "And why did you freaks take my clothes?" His face was burning with embarrassment to be naked in front of so many people. He felt exposed and helpless - two things he no longer dealt very well with, and he could feel the first stirrings of panic.

"The offering has no need of earthly coverings."

Sam jerked his head to the left as the soft voice carried to him. He frowned and watched one of the robed figures step closer. "What do you mean, offering? Let me go!" Sam yelped as his arms were jerked more forcefully above him. He was pulled higher, just high enough that he could barely keep his balance on the balls of his feet and felt something hard behind him, likely a wooden post from the way it felt scratching harshly along his back. "What… what the hell are you doing?"

"The darkness is coming."

Sam's mouth fell open at that. "How do you know about that?"

"You will be our offering to our great lord." The man drew closer and rested a hand on Sam's chest. "To bring him forth and cleanse the darkness from our world with his light before it destroys us all."

Sam struggled and wished he could see the face beneath the hood, but a sheer, gray veil the same color as the robe hid the man. "Look, you're making a mistake. Just… let me go and we can talk about this. We're trying to fight it too."

"You cannot fight the darkness." The man swept his arms wide to encompass those with him. "We cannot fight the darkness. We are but mere mortals. Our lord is all that can stand in its way." He placed his hand on Sam's chest again, heedless of the man's vain attempts to pull away. "Through the Perikathairo, we will purify you. With the Oxuthumis, we will cleanse your sins. All that you are shall be as new and our great lord will rise to bring his light and defeat the darkness. Be honored, brother."

Sam frowned as the man moved away. "Perikathairo? That's…" Sam's eyes widened. "That's Greek. It's from… hang on, I know I've read it. Uh... from the world of… of Prometheus!" His head jerked up and he stared at the people gathered around him in sudden fear and understanding. "Oh, no. You have to listen to me! This won't work!"

"Be still, brother."

Sam watched as each of the people around him bent to pick something up from the ground; stones. "Oxuthumis. Sharp anger." Sam tensed as their arms went back and he yelled in desperation. "Listen to me! I know what you're doing! You think you're going to raise Prometheus, but you can't!" He stared at the veiled faces hopelessly. "He's dead! Prometheus is gone!" He wouldn't soon forget Prometheus dying along with the god Zeus. It wasn't often you got to see Greek gods take each other out.

"He will return. A titan cannot die. Now."

Sam yelled in pain as a hail of stones slammed into his body, and he hoped his brother would find him soon. He didn't think there was any way he was getting out of this on his own.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The thump as the cheap motel chair slammed into the wall wasn't nearly as satisfying as Dean had hoped it would be. He ran his hands through his hair for the hundredth time and only barely resisted the urge to roar in frustration. He grabbed his phone from the table and dialed Castiel. He glared up at the ceiling as it went to voicemail yet again.

"Dammit, Cas. I need your help, man." Dean paced around the room and kicked the end of the bed. "Sam's been missing for two damn days now. I can't find him. I can't even find the whackos who took him! Call me back, dammit!" He shoved his phone into his pocket and wondered what the hell the angel was doing that he couldn't answer a single call. He closed his eyes, feeling slightly ridiculous. "Oh, Castiel. If you could get your feathery ass down here and help me save Sam, that'd be damn nice. Amen."

Dean opened his eyes and looked around the room, waiting. He blew out a frustrated breath when the angel failed to appear. "Dammit!"

He was beyond the point of desperation and stuck in a loop remembering all the times Sam had gone missing over the years, with special note of the Benders who had tried to hunt him, and – he shuddered – what had happened at Cold Oak. The previous victims that had brought them to this case in the first place had obviously been kept alive for some time, which was giving him some hope, but what they had gone through and suffered in that time…

Dean shook himself and stalked outside, slamming the motel door behind him. He had no other favors to call in. Sam was going to die because Dean was failing at finding him. Whoever or whatever had taken him had done too good a job covering their tracks, and Dean was going to fail him. He felt the air backing up in his lungs. Dean leaned down on the hood of the Impala gleaming under the moonlight, and tried to catch his breath, tried to force the gut-wrenching panic back.

"No," Dean gasped and closed his eyes. He thought through anyone else he could call for help and realized there was nothing. Even if he were willing to talk to Crowley, if he could even get a hold of him, he wouldn't lift a finger to save Sam. Dean figured the bastard would laugh in his face. "What do I do?" Dean straightened and stared out into the dark field across from the motel. He narrowed his eyes and clenched his fists as an idea, as desperate as he was, came to him.

"Sam would kill me," Dean muttered. He went around the car and climbed behind the wheel. "Probably get myself killed first." He turned the engine over and pulled out quickly to the empty road, then started driving away from the city and out into the fields and forest. He couldn't stop the knot from twisting in his gut, but he was desperate. He could not let his brother go through the torture and slow death that the others had suffered, no matter the cost… no matter the promises he had made. "This is a bad idea." The headlights cut through the gloom and low wisps of fog drifting across the road as he drove, and Dean said a silent apology to his brother, wherever he was for what he was about to do.

He drove for nearly an hour before he finally pulled off and parked near the center of an overgrown field. Dean climbed out and brushed a hand over the warm hood of the car before looking out into the night.

"Can't believe I'm gonna do this." Dean closed his eyes and for the second time that night, he prayed. "Amara. Darkness, whatever the hell you are. I, uh…" Dean groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face. The monumental ways it could all go wrong began to beat down on him, and he realized he couldn't do it; not even to save his brother. Sam had been right. Some risks were just too big to be taken, even for this. Too many other innocent lives at stake. "Shit." Dean opened his eyes, turned back to the car, and staggered back a step in shock.

"Hello, Dean." Amara smiled serenely at him.

"Shit. Shit." Dean's heart hammered in his chest. "I, uh… never mind, you know?"

"I heard you call to me." Amara reached out and brushed her fingers lightly over the stubble on Dean's jaw. She frowned. "You sound… upset."

Dean scowled and tried to look away from her eyes, but it was difficult. "So, what? I call and you come running?"

"Don't be flippant." Amara looked around the field they were in before meeting his green eyes again. "I told you, Dean. We will always help each other."

Dean shook his head and managed to back away another step from her, though it took an effort. Resisting her was damn near impossible. "What's the price tag for your help?"

Amara smiled that infuriatingly calm smile of hers and moved closer to him, amused at his attempts to put distance between them, as if that would help. "No price, Dean. Not for you. Now, tell me what you need. What is so dire that you would pray to me?" She chuckled softly and rested a hand on his chest over the thumping of his heart. "I don't think anyone's ever prayed to me before. I liked it. That was…" She dragged her nails softly over his chest and enjoyed the way he shivered in reaction. "…intimate."

"Cut it out," Dean said but with no real heat. As before, she was beginning to overwhelm his senses, and he had to hold on tight to the thought of his brother. "Sam."

Amara's indulgent smile faded. "What about him?" The warmth was gone from her voice, replaced with disinterest.

"He's… I need to…" Dean huffed out a breath and took Amara's hand before it could slide into the neck of his shirt, holding it away from him. "He's been taken. I need your help to save him."

"Why would I help you do that?" Amara moved away from him. "I don't care about your brother, Dean." She smiled without humor and looked up at the night sky. "Brothers only hurt you in the end. You know that."

Dean twitched as she moved behind him and forced himself to stay where he was rather than turn to keep his eyes on her like a lovesick puppy because it pissed him off. "Look, lady. I get that you've got some issues with your brother. He's a dick. Trust me." Dean snorted a disgusted laugh. "I got no love for the guy and all his dick angels. But this ain't about them. Sam is my brother. He's my blood and I'll die for him if I have to." Dean stared down at the ground and shook his head. "Hell, I have." He looked back up when she moved into his line of sight again and met her dark eyes. "Keepin' him safe is my job. I don't expect you to understand that."

Amara leaned in and brushed her lips over his jaw, near his ear. She smiled, hearing his breathing hitch for a moment. "You don't need him, Dean. You have me. We're going to be together forever, and there's no room for anyone else. Just us. You'll forget about Sam eventually. I promise."

Her words lit a fire in his soul that gave Dean the strength to push her back. "I killed Death for him!" Dean yelled and let the protective anger for his brother burn through him. "You think I won't do any less to you? To anyone who tries to hurt him?" His chest was heaving with emotion as he glared at her and he worked to get himself back under control. "Listen." He fought to speak more calmly. "You want my good will or whatever? You want me battin' for team 'Darkness'? That's never gonna happen if I lose Sam." In his heart, he swore it would never happen no matter what, but she didn't need to know that.

"He's that important?" Amara watched the anger and fear warring in Dean's eyes. She could feel an echo of the terror in his heart for his brother. She studied him, trying to see why Sam meant so much, but all she could feel was her rage for her own brother. "Fine. I will help you find him." She gave a small nod and watched relief flow into Dean's green eyes. "Only because it isn't time for us yet." She leaned into him again and this time pressed a kiss to his lips. She could feel his inner battle to resist and it amused her when he helplessly gave in and returned the kiss. Amara leaned back and rested her fingers along his jaw as she watched his eyes flutter open again. "But I want you to remember this, Dean." Her gaze became fierce. "I do not share." She punctuated each word with a tap of her nails against his skin and then smiled. "Stay here. I'll find your wayward brother and return."

"I…" Dean's breath came out in a heavy gust as she was suddenly gone from in front of him. He staggered and leaned against the side of the car, suddenly bereft of strength. "Fuck, what am I doing?" He rubbed his hands over his face and looked out over the empty field. "You gotta be alright, Sammy."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam wheezed air in and out, pointlessly trying to catch his breath. His legs felt like they had no strength left, but he fought to keep his balance. It was all that kept him from suffocating. His arms had long gone numb above his head. He looked up at the ring of torches around him and flinched as the robed figures all rose as one.

"God," Sam gasped and let his head drop. He knew what was coming. For two days it had been the same; at predetermined times Sam couldn't understand, they would stand as one and pelt his defenseless body with stones. At first, the pain had been easy to ignore. He'd suffered much worse after all. But as the hours wore on, the pain became larger and harder to ignore as it seemed to take over his senses. He was so hungry. They hadn't fed him since they took him, and the rain the night before was the only reason he'd been able to drink anything, hungrily licking the rainfall from his lips even as it made his abused body shudder with cold.

Sam yelped as the first hail of small stones hit him. He truly understood what oxuthumis meant now; sharp anger. "Stop!" he yelled, or tried to. His voice was little more than a hoarse croak, but the hail of stones stopped and he lifted his head. "I told you." He panted to catch his breath as one of them, probably the man who always and only spoke to him, came forward. "Prometheus… he's dead. I'm sorry. This won't work. You're… you're doing this… for nothing. Please, stop."

"Lies will not save you." The man nodded his head. "We expect the offering to plead for its life." He reached out and rested his palm against the cold skin of Sam's chest and then against the rabbit-fast pulse in his neck before backing away. "Another day at most and you will be worthy. Then you can sleep forever."

Sam groaned as the man moved away and let his head drop. Two days of being woken with buckets of frigid water over his head or his own lungs refusing to work if he sagged too far in his bonds… he was beginning to lose his grip on reality. He could see colored lights flashing in the periphery of his vision each time he opened his eyes and even when they were closed. Sometimes, he heard voices, usually his brother's, as though Dean were calling him and begging him to hold on. He was no stranger to having a shaky grasp of reality, and he could take it all, manage it all, except when the voice in his ear belonged to Lucifer. Those were the moments that nearly brought him to tears with the hopelessness of it all.

"Dean," Sam breathed his brother's name into the air, a desperate plea that he knew was never going to be answered. Sam was on his own. "Castiel." The angel's name was a soundless whisper. "Please. You have to help Dea…" His voice broke off as a fresh wave of stones slammed into him, battering rational thought from his mind. Darkness crept across his thoughts, and just when he would have given in to the peaceful blackness, cold water shocked him back to wakefulness so violently, he strained in his bonds and arched his back as he sucked in a breath before slumping forward once more.

"The wicked do not sleep."

Sam wanted to kick the bastard. He was so tired of hearing that line, but his legs had barely enough strength left to keep him standing and breathing. "Go… go to hell." The stoning started again. He turned his head into his arm to protect his face and hoped the pain wouldn't last much longer.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean sat on the hood of the Impala, aimlessly turning a half-empty can of beer in his hands. He glanced behind him to the expanse of black hood, and it felt like a piece was missing without Sam there, taking up far too much space. "Dammit, Sammy. Where the hell are you?" He took another sip of beer while guilt and failure swirled sickly through him. It felt like Cold Oak all over again, and he didn't know if he could survive the death of his little brother because of his failure to protect him one more time.

"You haven't failed him yet."

Dean startled badly and coughed beer as Amara's voice sounded nearby. He slid off the hood and wiped his face clean while he stared at her. "Wear a damn bell or something! Holy crap." He saw the minute tilt of her mouth that was definitely an amused smirk and scowled. "You in my head now? Do I need to invest in tin foil hats or something?"

Amara's smirk became a smile. She reached out and brushed a last drop of liquid from Dean's chin. "Sometimes you think very loudly."

Dean stilled as her first words registered and the beer can fell from his nerveless fingers. "You said I haven't failed him. He's… Sam's alive? Where is he?"

"He doesn't have long, I don't think." Amara shrugged and looked Dean up and down. "Are you armed?" She chuckled. "Of course you are."

"I've got a damn arsenal in my trunk. You tell me where he is." Dean gasped and stumbled as the scenery changed suddenly. One moment, he was beside his car in a field and the next, he was near the top of what looked like an old quarry. "What the hell?"

Amara pointed one, pale arm down. "Sam is there. You'll have to hurry."

"Where did you take me?" Dean demanded. "And what, God's sister couldn't bring the damn car too?" He looked away from the humor in her face and down instead. Below, in the base of the quarry, was a ring of guttering torches surrounding a pitiful, naked figure tied to a stake, and his heart clenched in fear and rage, knowing it had to be Sam. A dozen or more figures in robes were standing around his brother and Dean looked back to her. "So, are you gonna smite them all?"

Amara chuckled. She cupped a hand around Dean's face and indulged herself with another kiss before stepping back. "Dean, I promised I would find him for you. There he is. How you save him is up to you."

"What?" Dean asked in surprise. "There's at least twelve of those assholes!"

"Thirteen."

"And you're just gonna leave me to twist?"

Amara smiled. "You'll figure something out."

Dean gaped at her for a moment and swallowed. "What if they kill me? You think of that?" He waved an arm to the gathering below. "You just gonna find a new date for the post-apocalypse?"

"They won't kill you."

"How do you know they won't turn me into a grease stain?" Dean pulled the gun from the back of his jeans. "I've got twelve shots and a damn knife. Not exactly odds in my favor."

Amara gave another small shrug and stepped back. "They won't kill you because you need to save him." She looked as though the thought was distasteful. "You will live, Dean. Go. Save your brother. We'll see each other again."

Dean blinked and she vanished, leaving him standing alone and woefully unprepared. "Son of a bitch," he groaned and turned to look down at his brother again. "Great." He started moving along the narrow road he stood on, following the curve as it angled down, and took in every detail he could see below in the moon and torchlight. "Should have known God's sister would screw me and not even buy me a damn drink first."

Now that he had Sam in his sight, regardless of his condition, Dean found he could think and breathe again. Sam was there and Dean would damn well reach him. Amara wasn't wrong about that. He was not going to fail his little brother again.

"Alright, you assholes," Dean muttered as he stopped a bare ten feet above the ground. He knelt down and braced his gun arm along his knee. His gut- hell, every big brother instinct he had - said 'shoot to kill'. But he didn't know if they were monsters or humans; and if they were just people, he knew what Sam would say, regardless of what they'd done to him. Dean snorted softly and took aim. He wouldn't kill them, not yet, but he would damn sure make them hurt. He chose the robed figure closest to his brother as his first target. The man, if it was a man, stood barely five feet from Sam. Dean frowned as the man raised an arm and then snarled in righteous rage as the figures behind him began throwing rocks at Sam, pelting him like they were tenderizing a side of beef.

Dean fired and took great satisfaction in watching the man near Sam drop to the ground and howl in pain. "You hold on, Sammy."

Sam flinched hard where he hung as the sound of a gunshot rang out over the stones striking him. He looked down blearily at himself, searching for a wound, for blood, but found nothing. He frowned in confusion as more shots were fired and the people around him began to scream and yell. He dragged his head up to look but could make no sense of the bodies either running or lying on the ground around him.

"Wha…" Sam's voice died on a cough and he dropped his head again, waiting for whatever torment they were going to visit on him next, his muddled mind unable to make sense of what was happening around him. He was so thirsty, so hungry, his stomach was cramping painfully, and so tired his eyes felt as though they were packed with sawdust. He looked out again and squinted. The world around him was a blur of motion. For a moment, his vision cleared and he thought he saw his brother's face. Sam choked on a sob and let his head fall, knowing it wasn't real.

Dean shot five more of the men before he sprinted to the bottom of the quarry. The remaining people were scattering with screams of terror. He grabbed one by the arm, swept his legs and ripped the hood from the man's head. Dean glared down into blue, human eyes. "Who the fuck are you people? What'd you do to him?" he demanded with a nod toward his brother.

"We… we're… the cult of Prometheus!" The man flinched back as Dean shoved the gun beneath his jaw. "The man is a sacrifice! We… we're cleansing him! You have to let us finish! Our great god is the only hope against the coming darkness! His light will…"

Dean punched the man in the side of the head with his gun and let him fall. "Prometheus? Jesus." He looked around as the last few unharmed cultists ran up the path beyond him and away and suffered for his little brother, kidnapped and tortured for a god who was already dead. He crossed the flat, stony ground to his brother and saw Sam's head fall. "Sammy?"

Dean skirted the first man he'd shot and glared down at him. "Don't you move, you bastard. I got three bullets left, and I will put one in your brain. That's my little brother. You got me?" The man gave him a terrified nod and scooted back from him. "Sam. Hey." He went to his brother, sliding his gun into the back of his pants and took Sam's head, lifting it carefully. He grimaced seeing all the damage, and didn't care that his brother was naked. "Hey, little brother. Come on. Give me a sign here." He brushed Sam's overlong hair out of his face and smiled as Sam's eyes slowly cracked open to meet his own.

Sam felt tears gather in his dry eyes, faced with the image of his brother as though his own mind were taunting him. He could even convince himself he could hear Dean's voice, feel his hands on his face. He closed his eyes again and a sob worked out of him. "Not real… not r-real. Not here."

"Aw, Sammy." Dean leaned his forehead against his brother's for just a moment. "I am here, kiddo. I swear. I'm gonna get you outta here. Just hang on." He turned around and bent to the man he'd shot. Dean dragged him up, ignoring the man's pained cries, and dragged the man's robe off, letting his body roll back to the ground with a heavy thump.

"Please! We need him!" The man begged as he huddled over the bleeding wound in his knee.

Dean laid the robe out on the ground and gritted his teeth together. "I'm workin' real hard to not shoot you dead, so you'd probably be smart to shut the hell up." He looked over at Sam, taking in the state of him - pale skin with an almost blue tinge, the shuddering of cold or exhaustion or both that was constant, the bleeding welts and bruises that covered every inch of him from the stones, and Dean swore he could count his brother's ribs. "Have you even fed him since you took him? Huh?" He kicked the man's knee, taking a bit of satisfaction from his agonized cry. "Food? Water? A damn blanket?"

The man wept with pain and shook his head, refusing to meet the look of cold death in Dean's eyes. "He… he has to be pure." He heard the snarl a moment before a booted foot slammed into his head.

Dean's hand itched to grab his gun and to shoot the now unconscious bastard, but he didn't. He turned away with difficulty and drew his knife instead. He reached up above Sam, wrapped one arm around his waist, and sliced through the ropes holding him in place with the other. "Easy." He wasn't surprised when Sam simply collapsed like a puppet with no strings. Dean grimaced in sympathy when his brother gave a choked scream as his arms dropped. "I gotcha. I gotcha. Easy." Dean knelt and carefully laid Sam out atop the robe to get a better look at him. "Sammy." He frowned as Sam's head turned into the hand he put to his cheek but his eyes didn't open.

"Sammy, I swear it really is me. I need your help to get you outta here." Dean patted Sam's cheek lightly. "I know you hurt and you're tired, dude, but I need you. Come on, Sammy."

Sam fought to listen to the voice, Dean's voice, and opened his eyes again. He blinked, trying to clear his vision, and took comfort in the warm, rough palm against his face. "Dean?"

"Yeah, Sam."

Sam blinked again. He coughed lightly and frowned. "Real?"

Dean felt sympathetic tears well in his eyes as he nodded. "Yeah, buddy. I'm real. You're safe, alright? We just gotta get outta here now. Think you can stay on your feet long enough for that?" He hated to ask that of Sam, especially in his condition after nearly three days with no food or water, but there was no way he could carry his too-large little brother up out of the quarry, and he sure as hell wasn't going to leave him alone long enough to go find a car; not with those freaks still lurking around somewhere.

Sam's fingers twitched, but he couldn't lift his arms and he looked miserably up at his brother, still unsure it really was Dean and not another sleep-deprived hallucination. "Can't… I can't move m'arms."

"Don't worry about it. Here. Come on." Dean slowly eased Sam up so he was sitting, leaning against his shoulder. He pulled the robe up over Sam's back and threaded his arms into the loose sleeves. It felt so much like when he had dressed Sam as a child that Dean wished he could bundle him up and hide him away from all the death rolling downhill at them. Sam gave a particularly violent shudder, and Dean wrapped both arms around him. "Hey, you still with me?"

Sam nodded and shamelessly let his weight lean against Dean. "Warm."

Dean snorted softly, realizing Sam was huddling against his body heat. "Promise I'll get you warm soon. Now, come on. Here we go." He disentangled himself from his brother and got to his knees. He wrapped his arms around Sam's chest and hoisted him up from the ground until he was standing, though still leaning all his weight on Dean. "You get your legs under you?"

Sam fought to make his legs cooperate. He breathed heavily, trying to stand on his own, but after so long supporting himself at near tip-toe just to keep breathing he was done. They collapsed under him and only Dean's hold on him kept him from slamming into the ground. He grunted softly as his brother lowered him back to the ground and sat beside him. "Sorry."

Dean squeezed the back of Sam's neck sadly. "Don't worry about it, ok? I got this." He pulled his phone from his pocket and was relieved to find he had service. He made a hasty call to emergency services, telling them of the cult and his brother's condition and sagged a little in relief when the operator was able to find their location from the cell signal. He ended the call and sat back a little more comfortably, wrapping Sam in the robe as best he could. "They'll be here soon. I got you."

Sam slumped into his brother and finally allowed himself to believe that he was safe. "So tired."

"Yeah." Dean rubbed a hand briskly over Sam's arm, trying to help keep him warm. "You get any sleep since they took you?"

Sam shook his head. "Wouldn' let me. Kept…" He shuddered. "Buckets of… of water on my h-head. Kept me 'wake."

Dean stilled in horror. "You've been awake since they took you? Three days?" The small nod of Sam's head drove a wedge of guilt further into Dean's heart. "No wonder you thought I wasn't really here. I'm surprised you even know my name right now."

Sam gave a lazy smile. "Jerk."

Dean was surprised into a laugh and wrapped his arms around his brother. "Bitch." He felt Sam's shivering start to ease a little and tucked his brother's head under his chin. "Go ahead. Fall asleep. I can handle these pinheads." He could still hear the occasional voice whimpering in pain from the few he had shot and heard the echo of other voices shouting from above, but he didn't care. He'd shoot them all if they were stupid enough to come after Sam again. He'd given them all the mercy he was capable of at that point. "You're safe, Sammy."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean followed his brother's gurney up the road to the top of the quarry. He glanced down to the bottom and felt no remorse for the cult members being tended by paramedics for the gunshot wounds he had given them. He flicked a glance to the police officer beside him and caught the man eyeing him. "What?"

"Kind of surprised you didn't kill any of them."

Dean snorted. "Sam would'a kicked my ass. He's the moral center, not me."

The officer gave a soft laugh and sobered quickly as he looked back to the tall, young man being wheeled away. He had been first on the scene and saw the damage the cultists had done to him. He figured it was a miracle the guy was even still alive. "Better man than me. If it'd been my brother…"

"Yeah." Dean blew out a breath and started toward the ambulance. He stumbled to a stop when he saw a familiar, sleek black shape beyond it. "Son of a bitch," he breathed.

"What?" The officer looked around, expecting more cultists and frowned.

Dean coughed and shook his head. "Uh, nothing. Just…" he waved a hand out. "That's my car. I, uh… just glad they didn't mess her up when they ran." He grinned at the Impala and was surprised that Amara had bothered to zap it to him at all. It both amused and bothered him.

"I noticed that one when I came in." The officer glanced over at Dean again. "Weirdest thing. There's not a single tire track in the gravel around that one. It's like… like it just dropped out of the sky."

"Yeah. That's weird alright." Dean ignored the implicit question and played dumb. "So am I good to go follow him to the hospital?"

The officer studied him a moment longer and then shrugged. He didn't even know why he had a strange feeling about the car. "Yeah. Hope your brother's going to be alright."

"He will be," Dean replied firmly. He wouldn't allow any other outcome. He jogged ahead and stopped the paramedics before they could load the gurney into the ambulance. Sam was wrapped in blankets with an oxygen mask covering his face, but his eyes were stubbornly open and blinking in a daze. "Heya, Sammy." Dean leaned down so Sam could see him and gripped his shoulder gently. "They're gonna take you to the hospital now." He saw Sam's eyes widen fearfully and Dean smiled. "I'm gonna be right behind 'em. I'll see you when they open the doors again, alright? Don't give these guys any trouble." He waited for Sam's face to soften, for the momentary panic at being left to fade and then stepped away. "You take care of him," he told the paramedics and forced himself to leave Sam there and head to his car.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

One hospital was pretty much the same as another, Dean mused, while he stood outside his brother's room waiting for the doctor and watched nurses bustling back and forth. He was just about to bust into the room, his patience at an end, when the door finally opened and an ageing man in a white coat with a shock of curly, silver hair came out and smiled. "'bout time," Dean muttered.

"You must be the brother. I'm Dr. Svenson."

Dean shook the man's hand and tried not to let his impatience show. "So, how is he and can I go the hell in there now?"

Dr. Svenson smiled and nodded. "Your brother's going to be alright with time. There's a… long list of injuries, I'm afraid."

"I saw him in that damn quarry, Doc. I know." Dean glared at the man in a silent bid for him to stop screwing around.

"Right then. Well, Sam has two cracked ribs and three more bruised, no doubt from the stoning the officer mentioned." The doctor shook his head as he pulled Sam's chart off the wall beside the door and looked down at it. "Honestly, in this day and age. Anyway, most of his body is bruised really. His shoulders were on the point of dislocation, and we've immobilized them for the next couple days while they heal. He's going to be very sore for the next couple of weeks. The dangerous part was actually the exposure. Sam's malnourished and dehydrated. He was hypothermic when they brought him in. I'm told he was out there for three days with no protection from the elements?"

Dean nodded. "They had him tied naked to a damn pole."

"Good Lord." The doctor shook his head in disbelief. "That explains the deep rope burns around his wrists. Those are going to take time to heal as well. You'll have to be studious in keeping them clean so infection doesn't set in. He's also fairly badly sunburned." He lowered the chart and looked at Dean. "What I'm really concerned about at this point is getting him to sleep. He's suffering from sleep deprivation - delusions, blurred vision, loss of time." He sighed. "But the poor man can't seem to stay asleep. As soon as he does, he wakes right back up in a bit of a panic. I'm about ready to sedate him at this point, though I hate to do that in his condition. His system is very weak."

"He'll sleep." Dean scrubbed a hand over his face for the litany of Sam's injuries and moved to the door. "Thanks, Doc. I got him from here."

"I want to keep him for a couple days to make sure there aren't any complications from the exposure." The doctor gave Dean a firm look. "He needs to stay at least that long."

Dean looked at him in surprise and knew the man had somehow understood that Dean wanted his brother out of the hospital and away from that city. "No problem," he said easily and meant it. He waved a hand and stepped into Sam's room. Dean blew out a breath as he went to stand over his brother. Bandages wrapped Sam's chest and shoulders. His arms were tucked across his stomach and wrapped as well to keep him from moving them and irritating his shoulders. He was still far too pale, but the blue tinge was gone from his skin, and, even as Dean watched, Sam flinched and then rolled his head over to look at him.

"Dean," Sam breathed and managed a small smile. He tried not to pull at the bandages restraining his arms, but it was hard. It made him feel trapped all over again.

"Take it easy." Dean saw the rising panic in Sam's face as he tried and failed to move his arms. He rested a hand along the side of his brother's neck and smiled. "Your shoulders need a day or two. No one's tyin' you up. You good?"

Sam swallowed and forced himself to relax and nodded slightly. He settled back in the bed and took comfort in the weight of his brother's hand on his neck. "You alright?"

Dean snorted. "Yeah, buddy. I'm fine. You're the one who went ten rounds with the crazy train." He sat carefully on the side of the bed and watched his brother's eyes blink tiredly. "Dude, go to sleep."

"No." Sam shook his head. "Not tired."

"Bullshit." Dean would have given him a shake if he could have figured out how to do it without hurting him. "Three days with no sleep, Sammy. I remember the last time you couldn't get any." Sam, predictably, flinched at the reminder of going slowly insane with the devil riding shotgun in his brain "Not doin' that again. Close your eyes and sleep."

Sam closed his eyes and then quickly opened them again. "I keep…" He breathed out heavily and looked up at his brother again. "I keep forgetting what's real." It burned to make that admission to his brother, but he really was trying not to keep secrets from him anymore.

Dean smiled and knew Sam was being painfully honest for a change. In a gesture he had not used for many years, Dean reached over and gently took Sam's left hand in his, pressing his thumb firmly into the long-healed scar on his brother's palm. "You're safe. You're out." He watched Sam's eyes widen in surprise, but then his face relaxed into a soft smile, the old-but-not-forgotten gesture still able to ground him with his brother's steady presence.

Dean stood and slid his hands under Sam's hip and shoulder. "Budge over, Bigfoot."

"Dean, what?" Sam grunted and gritted his teeth through the discomfort as his brother carefully pushed him to the other side of the bed and he stared a little in surprise as Dean then climbed up to sit beside him, back resting against the wall as though he were going to be there for a while. "Dude."

Dean smirked and plucked the television remote off the bedside table. "Take a nap, princess. You need your beauty sleep, and I don't wanna miss Oprah."

Sam craned his head to see his brother and felt moisture gather in his eyes. He looked quickly away and closed them as the television hummed to life on the opposite wall. "Dean." He wished he could move his arms, or anything really. He felt Dean lean just a little heavier against his left side and sniffed softly. "Thanks."

"Awesome big brother, Sammy." Dean chuckled and folded his arms behind his head. "I keep tellin' ya'." He looked down and watched Sam quickly drop off into much needed sleep, and with a soft smile on his pale face. "Got your back, little brother," Dean whispered. He would tell Sam later about Amara and how he had found him, once the guy could actually stay awake and think clearly. He took a deep breath, now that Sam was finally safe, and let his own eyes drift closed, sure that he would stand between Sam and whatever came after him.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Up: T is for Tsukumogami

Chapter Text

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

T is for Tsukumogami -

Sam came out of the bathroom and looked across the diner to his brother. Dean looked pale still and Sam sighed. His attempts to convince his big brother to take a week off while his shoulder healed had been met with typical Winchester derision. Not even a gunshot wound was enough to make him take a break. Sam flinched internally with the memory of watching his own hand fire the gun that nearly killed his brother. He shook his head and pushed away the horror of that moment. It lived in his nightmares and had kept him awake the last three nights since it happened, each time jerking himself out of sleep to turn to the other bed and make sure Dean was really there and breathing.

"Stop starin' at me. It's weird." Dean raised a brow at his little brother as Sam reached the table and rolled his eyes. "Could you stop lookin' like a kicked puppy for five minutes, dude?"

"I don't look like a puppy." Sam dropped into the booth and reached out to tap the paper in front of his brother. "You checking current events or being stubborn and looking for a case?"

Dean smirked. "Neither." He flipped the paper around and dropped it in front of Sam. "Found a case."

"Dean…"

"Dude, I'm fine. Stop mothering me." Dean glared at him and pointed to the newspaper. "Check it out."

Sam opened his mouth to argue further and then closed it, knowing there was no use. "Fine." He picked up the paper and scanned the page for whatever had caught his brother's attention. He chuckled and looked up at him, holding the paper out so Dean could see it. "It's an ad for washing machines. What? Cursed object?"

"Shuddup, smart ass." Dean grunted and grabbed the paper back, then flipped it and handed it over. "Three people dead. Last one died last night. All suffocated in the house over the last week. Definitely something hinky going on there."

"Huh." Sam read quickly through the article and noticed how, while no explanation for the deaths was given, the police had been quick to point out that they weren't ruling out 'foul play'. That usually meant they had no idea and something strange had happened. "Ok, maybe. It's not a whole lot to go on though."

"We've gone on less." Dean shrugged and instantly regretted it. He gritted his teeth and somehow managed to keep the pain off of his face. His right shoulder was a screaming misery, especially after having Jo dig a bullet out of the muscle. "We'll hit up the local cop shop and see what they're not giving the public." He smiled. "My money's on vengeful spirit, and if you're so worried about my shoulder, Nurse Nancy, you can do all the digging."

Sam groaned but took the offer for what it was - Dean's way of appeasing his worry and guilt. "Fine. We'll look." He glanced up at Dean and then shook his head. "You realize we both still look like we got our asses kicked by a heavyweight? Well, you do."

Dean snorted a laugh and tossed a twenty on the table for their lunch. "We'll just tell 'em a perp got out of hand. It'll earn us 'cop cred.' Come on. I'm bored."

Sam watched Dean slide out of the booth and had no trouble seeing the stiffness of his movements. Dean was hurting a hell of a lot more than he was letting on. Sam would just have to watch him and make sure he didn't get hurt worse because of his stubbornness.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean leaned back in his chair and tossed the report he'd been reading across the table to his brother. "Check it out. It is our kind of job." He smirked as Sam picked it up. Dean tugged on his suit tie and nodded as an officer passed by the window of their little room. "Coroner said the victims were definitely strangled and suffocated." He held up a finger when Sam looked up at him. "Both. It's in there. He found cotton fibers he can't identify and according to this…" Dean pushed a few folders aside and came out with the one he wanted. "… they haven't found anything at the crime scenes that matches, no signs of forced entry, and my personal favorite – no one heard a damn thing."

Sam sighed and nodded. "Alright. You're right."

"I know." Dean gave him a satisfied grin. "I've got the address of the house. I'm gonna go clear it with the chief, and we can go take a look. Don't want any of the locals spotting us and trying to roust us out of an active crime scene."

"Got it." Sam waved him off and started gathering up the files. "I'll put these back and meet you outside." He heard Dean pause in the doorway but didn't say anything, preferring instead to pretend he didn't know his big brother was hovering as though afraid to let him out of his sight. He heaved a relieved sigh when the door opened and closed again and leaned down on the table to close his eyes for a moment. He heard the door open again and Sam groaned. "Dean, I'm fine. I swear. You gotta stop trying to babysit me."

"Didn't think federal agents needed to be babysat."

Sam jerked upright and spun around at the unfamiliar voice. His heart was pounding in sudden terror with the realization that he had let a stranger sneak up behind him. "Shit. Uh… can I help you?" He watched the officer smirk at him and decided he didn't like the guy.

"Came to get the case files. So…" The officer looked Sam up and down as he moved to the table. "You got special needs or something?" He chuckled at the insulted look on Sam's face. "Feds ain't too popular around here. No offense to your fancy suit."

Sam glared at him and quickly backed away. "Offense taken." He could still feel his heart pounding and his breath backing up his lungs. He was heading toward a panic attack and didn't want it to happen in front of anyone else. He left the room, banging the door closed behind him to the officer's laughter and walked as quickly as he dared out of the station. He ignored the looks he got from each uniformed person as he passed. He burst outside in a rush and went around the corner to the Impala. He slid to a stop when suddenly faced with his brother who had beat him there.

"Sammy?" Dean narrowed his eyes as Sam staggered to a stop and gaped at him. Sam's eyes were too wide, his breathing too fast, face pale and if Dean didn't know better, heading straight for a massive meltdown. "Dude, what happened? You alright?"

Sam nodded. He slammed his mouth closed and fought to get his breathing under control. "Sorry," he gasped.

"I only left you alone for five damn minutes. What the hell?" Dean watched him fighting for control. He knew he was having trouble leaving Sam alone for any length of time. After losing him for an entire week to demon possession, he didn't think anyone could fault him for that. A sudden burst of fear went through him and Dean reached out. He tugged the neck of Sam's suit-shirt wide and fished out a length of brown, leather cord with the other. Dean let out a breath of relief when he saw the anti-possession charm dangling at the end.

"Dammit, Dean. I'm not…" Sam flicked his brother's hands away and anxiously straightened the collar. "I'm not possessed again, alright? I'm fine. It's nothing. Let it go."

Dean watched Sam drop his eyes and skirt around him to the car. "You'd tell me if something weird was goin' on with you again, right?"

"Yeah, Dean." Sam slid into the passenger seat of the Impala and closed his eyes with relief. It felt safe in the car and he slowly felt his hammering pulse begin to slow.

"Right." Dean shook his head and went around to the driver's side. By the time he was behind the wheel and pulling away from the station, Sam looked almost normal again if a little pale. "You gonna tell me what caused that little melt down?" He saw Sam's back stiffen for a moment and his brother's eyes never turned toward him.

"I didn't hear him come in," Sam murmured reluctantly. He shook his head. "One of the officers. Heard the door open and I thought it was you but, uh… It was stupid, alright? Nothing."

Dean nodded but he could tell it was anything but nothing. He took a moment and tried to imagine it from Sam's point of view - after being possessed, murdering a man, nearly murdering his own brother and other people he cared about, having zero control of himself and being able to see some of it… Dean coughed around the sudden lump in his throat. "It's not stupid, Sam. You just need some time." He could understand then how it might have been terrifying to turn around and find a stranger behind you.

"Yeah. Time." Sam gave a pained, soft laugh and decided he really didn't want to be talking about that again. "So, uh, the police chief alright with us going to the crime scene?"

Dean let Sam have his change of topic; either he'd work through it on his own or Dean would be having a chick flick at some point down the road to help him out. "Yeah, he gave us the all clear. Well, he didn't want to. Pretty sure he wanted to toss my fine ass out onto the street with prejudice, but I sweet-talked him."

Sam was forced to chuckle as Dean grinned at him. "You threatened him with your non-existent superiors."

"Non-existent, my ass." Dean laughed. "I was gonna sic Bobby on him. Almost sorry he gave in. Would'a been fun to watch." He glanced over and noted that some of the tightness around his brother's eyes had gone away and mentally patted himself on the back.

"So, the reports said something about a delivery or a shipment or something." Sam studiously put his mind on the case and away from the fears plaguing him. "Could be a cursed object or a spirit."

Dean made the turn toward the victim's house and nodded. "We'll go in with the salt guns just in case."

"In broad daylight?" Sam chuckled. "I'm sure the neighbors won't mention to the local cops how they saw two guys in suits carrying sawed-off shotguns."

Dean scowled and rolled his eyes. "Fine. But I get my ass kicked by a cranky Casper and I'm beatin' yours next."

Sam laughed at that and felt a little lighter. "Deal."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The house was more of a mansion, Dean thought as they walked up the curving, cobblestone drive. "Well, this guy was loaded. That wasn't in the paperwork."

Sam studied the three story house, the turret poking up from the back, and the latticework in the windows. He gave a low whistle. "Loaded and definitely had a thing for classic English architecture." He walked up the wide front steps and ducked under the yellow crime scene tape stretched between the pillars.

"Should have the place to ourselves." Dean flicked the tape before ducking under it along with his brother and glanced back out at the lawn. "The chief said there's a son and a friggin' butler still among the living, but they're both staying somewhere else until the cops clear the house."

"Huh," Sam said as he tried the ornate, brass doorknob and it swung in easily. "They didn't lock the place up before they left? Seriously?"

"Small town cops, dude." Dean snorted a laugh and stepped through the open door. He drew his gun as he did because, humor aside, there was always a chance someone or something else had left the door unlocked and he wasn't going to take that risk with their lives. "Hello?" he called and stopped to listen. After several moments without a reply, Dean shrugged and turned to glance at his brother. "Where you wanna start?"

"Wherever this mystery shipment is." Sam drew his own gun, holding it loosely and started toward the back of the house. "I'm betting that's where the killing started. Has to be some sort of cursed or haunted object. The police report said the crates were in the study, wherever that is."

"You take that side." Dean waved him to the left. "I'll take this wing."

Sam laughed. "Try not to get lost."

"I never get lost."

"Wyoming, 1997."

"Hey!" Dean turned and caught the smug grin on his little brother's face as he vanished through a door. "That was a scenic route, jackass!" Sam's laugh echoed through the quiet house and Dean rolled his eyes. "I was not lost. Bitch," he grumbled under his breath. He took his EMF meter out of his pocket and turned it on as he moved into a parlor at the front of the house. The heavy, brown leather chairs looked like he could sit down and never get back out of them. Dean ran his fingers over the top of a wide, oak desk and tapped his knuckle against a nutcracker soldier with a smirk.

"People collect the weirdest shit," Dean muttered and didn't even bother to try and count the small army of nutcrackers that lined the walls on shelves. He stopped at a set of closed pocket doors and cautiously slid one side open, leading with his gun. He shook his head and found himself in a library. Shelves occupied every wall from floor to ceiling. Every other shelf was filled with books, but every shelf between them had row upon row of nutcrackers. "Ok, that's a little creepy."

Dean tensed as the meter in his hand began to whine. He held it up, scanning along the shelves of collectibles in the hopes one of them would register, but the whine stayed steady. "Huh. Sam!" he called and flicked his eyes around the room warily. "You pickin' up anything over there?" He heard a muffled thump from somewhere in the house but no reply from his brother. Dean frowned and went to the door and out into a hall. "Sam?" There was another thump and then the sound of something crashing and shattering.

"Sammy!" Dean ran the length of the hall toward the back of the house. His gut was screaming at him that something was wrong, and he had long ago learned not to question it when it came to his little brother. He found himself in a kitchen decked out with brown granite countertops and bronze appliances. Dean went to his left, hearing another, louder thump and pulled open a door. "Shit!"

Sam was on the floor on his stomach in the center of what had to be the dead man's den. His head and upper torso were wrapped in an off-white, dusty cloth, and, even as Dean watched, one of his brother's legs swung out to thump weakly at the floor. "Hang on!" He dropped to his knees beside his brother and pulled angrily at the fabric to try and free Sam's head. "Jesus, this shit is tight. Sam?" The kicking had stopped and Dean could see his brother's body stuttering before he went still suddenly.

"Shit. Shit!" Dean rolled Sam to his back and frantically pulled at the cloth. He cleared Sam's face and knew the blue tint to his brother's lips meant he wasn't breathing. "Don't you do this!" He tugged Sam up from the floor and dug his fingers beneath the cloth until he had enough slack to unwind it from around Sam's neck. The skin was reddened beneath, evidence of just how tightly it had been wrapped. "Son of a bitch! Come on!" Dean laid Sam back down, pulled out his knife, and quickly sliced the cloth along his brother's chest. He tugged the lengths of it clear and threw them away before bending over his brother.

"Sam?" Dean put his ear beside his brother's face and his fingers against his throat. His own heart thumped painfully when he realized Sam still wasn't breathing. "No. No!" He tipped Sam's head back, opened his mouth, and blew two quick breaths into his lungs. "Breathe, Sammy. Just breathe." He repeated the process, and just when panic started to steal his own breath, Sam's body jackknifed up from the floor, his eyes flew open, and he wheezed in a long, painful breath. "Holy crap. Easy. Take it easy." Dean caught his brother against him and held on while Sam leaned heavily into his shoulder and re-learned how to breathe. "I gotcha. Slow it down. Hey, you with me?"

Sam nodded, still too busy taking in much-needed air to actually speak. He put a hand to his aching throat and closed his eyes.

"Scared the crap outta me, dude," Dean admitted softly. He eased his brother away from his shoulder to get a look at him. "Casper jump you?"

Sam coughed and shrugged. "Don't… I dunno. Something…" he stopped and tried to clear his throat again. "Cloth over my face from behind. Never saw it. Meter was screamin'."

"Jesus. Ok, come on. Let's get you up." Dean got to his knees and pulled Sam up with him. He steadied him when his brother swayed and leaned him up against an old desk. "You hurt anywhere?"

Sam frowned and shook his head. "Don't think so." His voice was a painful rasp. He braced a hand against his chest and groaned. "Whoever… whatever it was… had a hell of a grip. Crap. Happened so fast."

Dean pulled his meter out of his pocket. It was registering, but barely. "Looks like the spook wore itself out tryin' to suffocate your happy ass."

"Still not sure…" Sam coughed again. "'sa ghost."

"Pretty damn sure," Dean argued with a shake of his head.

"Boxes." Sam waved a hand toward the wooden shipping crates haphazardly stacked at the other side of the room. "Check those."

"Yeah." Dean glanced down and saw Sam's EMF meter. He picked it up and sighed. "Gonna have to fix this later." He flicked the broken wire dangling from the corner and handed it to Sam.

Sam tucked the meter into his pocket and allowed himself to hunch over his sore ribs. "Feel like… got hugged by Andre the Giant." He smirked when Dean chuckled. Sam bent and picked up the cloth that had been used to try and kill him. He shook his head and tossed it into the trash can a few feet away.

"Not a lot left in here." Dean stood and came back to the desk holding out a collection of papers. "Shipping receipts. Most of this stuff looks like it came from Japan." He shuffled through and handed them to his brother. "This one's from India. Looks like the dead dude was collecting relics. You should see the collection of creepy in the other room." He snorted. "Nutcrackers everywhere, dude. Kinda want to take a baseball bat to them."

Sam laughed and stuffed the receipts in his pocket. "We should check the rest of the house."

Dean's gut reaction was to get the hell out of there, and, after a moment of internal debate, he went with it. "We'll come back and we're bringing the damn salt guns next time." He raised a hand when his brother opened his mouth to argue about how 'fine' he was, Dean was sure. "We need to check out those shipments since it looks like most of the stuff has been moved and you look like hammered crap, little brother. Don't tell me you ain't hurtin'. You weren't breathing, Sam."

Sam snapped his mouth closed at that. He had no trouble imagining the panic Dean must have felt at that moment; Sam remembered all too clearly thinking he had lost Dean after the incident with a taser and a bloody bones. He sighed. "Alright."

Dean grinned and took his arm to pull him off the desk and nudge him toward the hall. "Think our odds are good of finding a haunted object. "Gotta still be in the house somewhere if the spook is trying to off random strangers."

Sam nodded. "Upstairs maybe." He coughed again with his throat feeling as though it was swelling and wrapped a hand protectively over it. "Need a drink."

"Got water in the car." Dean hurried his brother down the hall and back outside. He couldn't shake the feeling that the longer they were in the house, the more they were in danger. Danger was their job description really, but that didn't mean taking stupid chances with Sam's life if he could help it. He was still shaken. He couldn't believe how close he had come to losing Sam right there. "Easy."

Sam let Dean steady him when he stumbled down the stairs and turned to look back at the house as they walked back to the car. "Something about this job is weird."

Dean snorted and pulled open the passenger door. "That could be said about most of our jobs, Sam." He ignored the eye roll when Sam huffed and muttered, "Not what I meant, Dean, and you know it."

"Yeah, well…whatever. Next time, we're not splitting up; not if Casper can take one of us down that fast." He guided Sam's head down into the car and closed the door with a last look at the house.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

"So, get this." Sam tapped his computer screen as Dean emerged from the bathroom and his shower, hitching his jeans up on his hips.

"You still sound like you gargled glass," Dean observed with a smirk for Sam's gravelly, abused voice.

"Shut up." Sam glared at him and shook his head. "The last victim was survived by his butler and his son, right?"

"Was?"

Sam nodded. "They found the butler this morning. Asphyxiated in the son's penthouse apartment."

Dean sat down on the end of his bed and tossed his towel back into the bathroom. "Well, shit. That means sometime after we left, one of them took whatever Casper's attached to out of the house."

"Yeah. We need to get to the son." Sam closed his laptop and stood. "I've got his address."

Dean grabbed a fresh shirt and pulled it on, then fixed his brother with a look. It had only been eight hours ago that he had nearly been killed. "You up for this?" The look of derision on Sam's face was answer enough, and Dean chuckled. "Ok, fine. Yeah, you're good. Let's get moving then before we run out of people to talk to."

Sam let Dean drive in silence while his stomach rolled with guilt. He watched the buildings pass in a blur and knew that he was at least partly responsible for the butler's death. If he had been watching his back better and not allowed himself to be nearly killed, they would have stayed at the house and found the object their spirit was attached to. The man would still be alive if not for him. "Ow!" Sam yelped and held his shoulder as he glared over at his brother who had just punched him. "What was that for?"

"Wasn't your fault, Sammy." Dean quirked a brow at him and snorted a laugh for the surprised look on his face. "Dude, your face is like a book. Stop wallowing. The dead guy's not on you."

Sam rubbed his shoulder and looked away. "Maybe."

"No maybe about it. You wanna blame someone, blame me." Dean shrugged when Sam looked at him. "I'm the one who made you leave. I made that call."

"You couldn't have known."

Dean nodded and looked over at Sam until his brother rolled his eyes and smiled. "Exactly."

"Think you're so smart," Sam grumbled but he was still smiling.

Dean grinned and parked the car in front of the apartment building. He climbed out of the car and looked up to the top of the tall building. "So, penthouse, huh?"

"Yeah." Sam came around the car and tugged on his flannel. "We maybe should have worn our suits. This guy's a little loaded and we look like were in a street fight." He gestured to the bruises still healing on both of their faces.

Dean scoffed audibly and headed for the door. "He's the last man standing. He can't afford to not listen to us. Come on."

Getting past the front desk was pitifully easy, and they found the special elevator for the penthouse level conveniently off to the side and blocked from view of the lobby by a massive, potted rhododendron. Dean kept watch, peering through the leaves while Sam picked the lock on the inside and stepped inside with his brother once Sam tapped his shoulder. The doors slid closed and Dean smirked.

"Security in this place is crap." Dean braced a hand on the safety rail at the back of the wood-paneled car as it rose. "He alone up there or are we gonna have neighbors to worry about?"

"Just him now with the manservant dead." Sam straightened his denim jacket, tugged the collars of his flannel straight and rolled his eyes at his brother's snort of laughter behind him. "We want him to take us seriously, remember? Try not to be, you know, you for five minutes."

Dean slapped Sam's shoulder as the doors opened. "Dude, I'm awesome. Now, let me do the talking." He smirked and strode down the short hall to the only door. The hall was painted white, and the door was a solid looking, steel plate with gold trim. Dean quirked a brow as he rang the bell. "Betcha this door cost more than my baby's whole friggin' transmission assembly."

Sam chuckled and managed to school his expression as the door opened and swung inward. "Mr. Shades?"

The young man looked both men up and down and narrowed his eyes. "I'm Dominic Shades. They don't usually let pizza delivery guys up here. How did you get up here?"

Dean stared and shook his head. "We're not delivery guys. We need to talk to you about your family and your butler. It's important." Dean met the man's confused and irritated brown gaze firmly. "Might even save your life, seeing as you're the only one left."

"Are you threatening me?" Dominic demanded and started to slam the door closed.

"Shit. Wait!" Sam caught the edge of the door and slid his foot in to keep it open. "We're not here to hurt you. We want to help you if we can. Please." He met the man's now frightened eyes and looked as sincere as he could. "People have died, Mr. Shades and we're afraid you're next. We want to stop that. Let us help you. Just listen to us." The pressure of the door against his foot eased slightly, and Sam let out a breath of relief when the man opened it all the way.

"Alright, but… so you know, I have a panic button and security can be up here in thirty seconds." Dominic moved back and waved the two shoddily dressed men into his penthouse. "Try not to track anything on the marble. Thanks."

Sam elbowed his brother before Dean could make a biting comeback and gave him a push toward what turned out to be a living room done all in white - white marble floors, white walls, even the couches and tables were white. It was almost blinding. He sat gingerly on the edge of the white couch and didn't miss the way Dominic's eyes tightened. Sam felt sure the man was going to call in a steam cleaner after he and his brother left. "We need to ask you about the shipment your father received before he died."

"Were you two in a fight?" Dominic asked instead, ignoring the question for the moment as he took in their bruised faces. "You don't exactly inspire confidence."

"Your dad's shipment?" Dean pressed. He deliberately sat on the arm of the couch just to annoy the man and smiled. "We need to know what he got and where it all went, specifically anything you might have taken out of the house and brought here."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Dominic shook his head and sat in the chair across from them. "How does that have any bearing on what happened to Robert?"

"The butler?" Sam asked and the man nodded. "We aren't sure yet. We need to know what was removed so we can figure it out."

"You think they were killed because of something in those crates." Dominic rubbed a hand over his face. "Robert, my dad, my brothers… it's like a nightmare."

Sam listened to Dominic's voice trail off and he felt for the man. He glanced over and saw a sudden burst of sympathy on Dean's face as well. They knew what it was to lose family, and losing a brother was something they both feared intensely. "I'm sorry about your family."

Dominic nodded and cleared his throat before his emotions got away from him. "Uh, mostly they were knickknacks. Dad called them artifacts." He smiled sadly and shook his head. "He was always importing crap from the Orient." He chuckled at the amused look on Sam's face "Yeah, he was kind of a romantic about the whole thing, like he was some Victorian era collector. He has… had a whole section of the upstairs devoted to it. Display cases and all sorts of shit. He spent an obscene amount of money on it. We were always trying to rein him in, but Dad loved that stuff."

"What kind of knickknacks?" Dean asked. "We found a manifest, but it doesn't give us much to go on. What we're really interested in is if you or the butler took anything out of the house and brought it here. It's very important."

"I didn't, no." Dominic shook his head. "Robert, though… he probably did. He and Dad were good friends. The guy should have retired ten years ago, but he stuck around for Dad. He even went on that last trip with him to Japan. If he brought anything back, it'll be in his rooms here. They're back there." Dominic pointed down a hallway and then looked away. "Last door on the right. I, uh… I don't think I can go back there just yet."

"Don't worry about it." Sam rose and put a hand briefly on his shoulder. "We'll have a look. Is there anyone else in the penthouse?"

Dominic shook his head. "No. Just me. Dad was always getting on me about finding a girl, settling down, but…" He closed his eyes and turned away. "I'll wait while you have a look."

Dean watched the man go to a small bar on the other side of the room and didn't begrudge him the healthy dose of whiskey he poured himself. "Come on, Sammy." They went down the hall and Dean sighed. "You know, I was all set to hate the guy, but…"

"Yeah." Sam felt sorry for Dominic. Whatever kind of person he may be, he was in a living hell and everyone he loved had been taken from him. "That's probably it." He pointed and went to a door at the end of the hall, opening it. His brows rose as he realized it looked more like the entry of a spacious apartment than just the room he had been expecting. Unlike the rest of the penthouse that was ultra-modern, in there they found warm, wood floors and walls, vintage wallpaper with deep burgundy flowers, antique furniture, and what Sam was sure was an authentic Persian rug worth thousands. "Guy was definitely more than just the family butler."

"He was family," Dean said softly, thinking of Bobby.

"I'll check in here. Looks like a study." Sam looked at the wall of books as he stepped through a door and smiled, running his fingers over the leather spines.

"Geek." Dean chuckled. He wasn't entirely comfortable splitting up from his brother after the events in the house, but he knew Sam would pick a fight about it if Dean tried to hover. He walked away with stiff shoulders and resolved to listen hard for any sound out of place this time.

Sam rolled his eyes fondly as Dean finally walked down the hall out of sight. He knew his big brother was twitching at leaving him alone again. Dean's need to protect him always went into overdrive after an incident. He would just have to do his best to make sure Dean didn't smother him. "Ok, Robert. Where would you put a cursed object?" Sam muttered and went to a floor-to-ceiling shelf lined with objects, most of them of Oriental origin. Like Dean, he was hyper aware of the room around him, determined not to be caught off guard again. He rubbed his still sore throat and coughed reflexively. "Wish I knew what we were looking for."

Sam poked gently at each figure and little statue on the shelves. He rubbed the pads of his fingers together, feeling a thin layer of dust and smiled. He went to the door and stuck his head out. "Dean?"

"Yeah?" Dean appeared from the end of the hall. "You good?"

"All quiet. Look for something without dust on it."

Dean's brows rose. "That's it? That's your expert advice?"

"Shut up, jerk." Sam flipped him off.

Dean laughed. "Bitch."

Sam went back to the shelves and carefully examined each piece for something new, something that hadn't had time to earn a layer of dust. He made a complete circuit of the room and sighed when he didn't find anything. "Dean? I've got nothing," he called and headed out into the hall.

"Me neither." Dean emerged from the butler's bedroom and shrugged. "Whatever he brought from the house, it ain't in here."

"Dammit. Ok, let's go ask…" Dean's voice broke off when they heard a muffled shout and he ran. "Come on!" He ripped open the door back into the main penthouse. "Dominic!"

Sam easily outpaced his brother, heading for the living room where they had least seen the man and gasped. "Dean! He's here!"

"What the hell?" Dean stared seeing Dominic in the same state he had found Sam, a white cloth tightly wrapping the man's head and shoulders.

"Get it off!" Sam shouted and dropped to his knees beside the man. He pulled at the cloth desperately. Dominic was still struggling, but he was beginning to fade, his movements weakening.

Dean pulled his knife free and started sawing at the cloth around Dominic's head. "Looks like the same damn cloth that was wrapped around you."

Sam nodded and pulled at each section his brother freed. He pulled it free of the man's face, but Dominic's eyes were open and staring, holding a look of terror even as his eyes stared up at nothing. "No. No! Come on!" He slid his fingers under the fabric wrapped lethally tight around Dominic's throat and pulled harder as Dean cut. "Hurry, Dean!"

"I'm tryin', dammit!" Dean grimaced as he nicked the skin beneath Dominic's jaw and didn't miss that there was no response from him. "Get it off his neck!" he ordered as he cut the last piece clear and then bent to slice straight down Dominic's chest and free his lungs.

"Breathe," Sam begged. He tilted Dominic's head back and breathed for him. He repeated the action again and again and shook his head when he felt his brother's hand on his shoulder. "No."

"Sammy, he's gone." Dean pulled his brother back and looked sadly down at the young man. "We tried."

Sam let Dominic's head go and closed the man's eyes. "This shouldn't have happened. We were right here. We should have saved him."

"I know, buddy." Dean squeezed Sam's shoulder, put his knife away and stood. "Come on. We need to search this place. Whatever it is, it's out here somewhere. Sammy."

Sam rubbed a hand over his face and nodded. He gathered up the cloth lying in pieces around Dominic, balled it up, and threw it across the room angrily as he stood. He looked around the sparsely decorated living room and shook his head. "There's nothing out here."

"Come on." Dean took his arm and pulled him toward the hall. "We stay together." Sam gave him a silent nod, and Dean knew he was blaming himself for not being fast enough; Dean was blaming himself. They moved quickly through the penthouse searching every room, but there was no sign of the Oriental artifacts they had found in the butler's rooms or the father's house. The EMF meter remained stubbornly silent, only whining softly a few times near outlets. "It's not here."

"How can it not be here?" Sam resisted the urge to plant his fist in the wall as they walked back into the living room. He looked at Dominic's body on the white floor and swallowed hard. "It has to be."

"I don't know." Dean scowled and turned resolutely away from the man they had failed. "Maybe we're wrong and the ghost or whatever it is doesn't need to be near the object. We need to go back to that house. It started there."

"Alright." Sam pulled open the front door and closed it behind them softly. "We shouldn't just leave him there. We should call someone."

"Can't." Dean went to the wall to the left of the elevator and looked up at a small emergency exit sign. He checked the wall and found a small, rectangular panel and gave it a push. A section of the white wall moved inward and to the side, revealing a stairway. "We call and they'll think we had something to do with it. We need to get out of here."

Sam followed him down the emergency stairs. "We have to figure this out."

"We will." Dean wasn't sure how they were going to do that, but he was damn well going to.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam slapped his laptop closed and leaned back in his chair. He ran his hands through his hair in frustration and blew out a breath. "I can't find a damn thing." He looked up and stared in confusion for a moment with the realization his brother was nowhere in the room. For just a moment, he panicked and then remembered his brother saying something about coffee and Sam hadn't even looked up from his research. He scrubbed a hand over his face and laughed softly. "Jesus."

He stood and stretched the kinks out of his back then went into the bathroom. Sam splashed water on his face, dried it off, and then looked at himself in the mirror. He stared at his eyes and shivered; there was still a part of him that expected them to turn black again at any moment. He turned his head back and forth, watching the light glint in his eyes and memories of the things he had done… the things Meg had done while wearing him… flowed into his mind - blood and pain and fear. He saw Jo's face, heard the absolute terror in her voice as the demon had trapped her against the bar. Sam shuddered. Meg had been laughing at him inside his own mind. The demon had allowed him to watch and let Sam suffer for the moments it had considered raping the girl. Bile crawled up the back of his throat, and he dropped hastily to his knees and bent over the toilet to heave.

Dean found his brother that way when he returned. "Shit." He set the coffees on the table and went to him, bracing a hand on the back of Sam's neck. "Hey. It's just me, dude," he soothed when Sam startled but continued to heave into the bowl. He snagged a washcloth from the bar next to the sink, slapped on the cold water and got it wet before laying it over the back of his brother's neck. "Just breathe, Sammy."

Sam felt the heaving ease at last, and he slumped back into the hand Dean had on him. "Sorry."

"For pukin' your guts out?" Dean shook his head fondly. "Come on." He pulled Sam up, flushed the toilet and nudged him toward the sink. "Brush your teeth before the taste makes you yak again."

Sam burped and swallowed and gave his brother a disgusted look as the taste was beginning to make him want to throw up yet again. "Not funny, jerk."

Dean grinned. "Bitch. Hurry up." He went back out into the room and closed the bathroom door behind him to give his brother a little privacy. He ran his hand over his face and picked up his coffee. Dean looked over and studied his brother once Sam emerged. "So what brought that on? You gettin' sick on me?"

Sam shook his head miserably. He picked up the other coffee and took a cautious sip, grateful when his stomach didn't churn. "No, just… nothing. It's fine."

"Right, 'cause you pukin' your guts out in the middle of the day for no reason is totally normal. Come on." Dean sat in the chair and raised a brow, waiting.

"I, um…" Sam blew out a breath and sat across from him. He looked down at his coffee cup and closed his eyes. "I keep seeing things; remembering things. It… it threw me a little, ok? It's no big deal."

Dean watched his brother and could visibly see him straining for composure. "Shit that Meg did while she was in you?" Sam gave him a nod and ducked his head, refusing to look at him. "Like what?" He didn't miss the flinch. Dean rubbed a hand over his still painful shoulder and sighed. "'Cause I was there when she shot me, Sammy. And that wasn't you." He frowned at the look that crossed Sam's face and sat forward. "What else? What else did that bitch do while she was wearing you?"

Sam shook his head and rubbed his knuckles over his forehead in a bid to soothe his pounding headache. "Doesn't matter."

"It damn well does." Dean kicked his brother's foot gently. "Come on, Sam. Talk to me."

"It was Jo." Sam's words strangled in his throat as he was once again faced the memory of Meg nearly raping his friend. "Meg… she was going to… she wanted… shit."

Dean watched his brother lurch up from his chair and back into the bathroom. It only took him a moment to figure out what Sam couldn't seem to say aloud. "Holy crap," he breathed. He knew just how much worse it could have been for Sam. He followed his brother back into the bathroom and rested a hand on Sam's heaving back as he leaned over the sink with his head down. "You gonna hurl again?"

Sam swallowed convulsively several times and then shook his head. "No. No, I'm good."

"Yeah." Dean didn't believe him for one second. "Ok, come on." He pulled Sam out of the bathroom a second time and gave him a nudge toward his bed. "It didn't happen, Sammy. Whatever that demonic bitch may have been thinking, it didn't happen. And even if it had…" Dean paused as the potential horror of that image overwhelmed him. He shook his head and resolved to make sure Jo never knew just how lucky she had been. "… even if it had, it still wouldn't be your fault. There was nothing you could do. You know that."

Sam rolled stiffly into his bed, cradling his arm with the still-blistered burn against his chest and closed his eyes. "Doesn't make it any easier."

"I know." Dean tugged a blanket up over his brother and patted his shoulder. "Try to get some sleep. I'll wake you up if I find anything."

Sam rolled stiffly into the blanket, burying his face in his pillow and groaned. "Can't sleep," he grumbled tiredly.

Dean nodded and moved away to sit at the table with the laptop. He watched his brother, listening as his breathing slowly evened out and smiled a little in relief that Sam had actually managed to fall asleep, even if it wouldn't last.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean leaned back from the laptop screen and rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes. They were burning from spending so long staring at the screen in the darkened room. He'd long ago turned off the light and left just the light from the bathroom to keep him company while his brother slept. He picked up his beer and groaned quietly, finding it empty and knowing that it had been the last one.

"Awesome," he muttered. Dean stretched his arms over his head and stood. He pulled on his jacket and headed for the door, stopping for a quick check to make sure Sam was still sound asleep. "Beer run, little brother," Dean whispered with a smirk and grabbed his keys. He slipped out of the room and went to the Impala, ducking his head against the stiff, cold wind. The streets were fairly empty as Dean backed out of the motel. His eyes were drawn up to something light fluttering in the breeze above the motel's roof. Dean narrowed his eyes, watching the wind-blown object, some sort of white cloth, until it floated out of sight behind the building.

Dean shook his head and headed down the street toward the convenience store. The further away he drove from the motel, the more his gut began to nag at him with a sense of something wrong. He slowed the car as he considered and realized it was the cloth or whatever that he'd seen. He shook his head, trying to dismiss it, and couldn't.

"Dammit. What the hell?" Dean did a hasty u-turn on the empty street and sped back to the motel. He parked in front of their room in the empty lot and got out. Dean looked around the roof of the motel and along the quiet, darkened building, but saw nothing out of place. He went to the room, unlocked the door, and stepped inside to darkness. "Sammy?" He'd left the bathroom door open, letting the light filter out, but it was closed now. He flicked on the room lights and saw his brother's slept-in bed. He scrubbed a hand back through his hair and was just about to leave again, chastising himself for being uselessly paranoid, when he heard a loud thump from inside the bathroom.

"Sam?" Dean went over and banged on the door. "Sam, you ok in there?" His response was another, louder thump and Dean's patience was done. He tried the knob, finding it locked, and stepped back to land a well-placed kick. The door flew open to bang into the wall. Dean rushed in and stared in shock. His brother was wrapped up in white cloth again while a cold wind blew through the small, open window high in the wall above the shower. "Sammy!"

Dean caught him as his brother's legs gave out. He pulled at the heavy fabric around Sam's face, trying to give him room to breathe and snarled with the effort. "Come on!" He dragged his brother out of the bathroom and pulled his knife out. He sliced the fabric along the side of Sam's head, watching as his brother's straining face appeared. Sam's eyes were wide and frightened and his mouth was open, gaping in a bid for air he wasn't getting. "Son of a bitch! Hang on!"

Sam fought the cloth's grip around him tighten as Dean fought to free him. His head was swimming with the lack of oxygen. He stared up into Dean's eyes and wondered if this would be the time that Dean had to watch him die for good. Blackness was starting to creep across his field of vision; he had only moments left, he knew, and then the fabric holding him suddenly gave. Sam wheezed in a desperate breath. For a moment, he thought Dean had finally cut him free, but then he could only watch in horror as it tore itself from around his body and flowed through the air toward Dean instead. Sam was rolled violently across the floor and gave a breathless grunt as he slammed into the foot of the bed and heard his brother yell.

"Holy shit!" Dean yelped and fell back as the cloth unwound itself from his brother so quickly, Sam was rolled away from him. He brought his knife up and slashed through the cloth as it tried to wrap around his face. He backpedaled on the dingy rug until his back hit the frame of the bathroom door and slashed the air around him, even as he felt one end of the cloth whip around his chest and tighten. "No… you don't!" He winced, the cloth straining around him, and felt his ribs creak under the pressure. He slipped the tip of his blade beneath the edge and it parted.

"Dean," Sam gasped. He rolled to his stomach and looked over to find his brother still trying to avoid being smothered by whatever malevolent force was animating the fabric. He stretched an arm beneath his brother's bed and tugged out the weapons' duffel. Sam thrust his hand inside the bag and came back out with the container of holy water. He twisted the cap open with fumbling fingers, rolled to his back, and splashed the water across the space between them so it rained down on Dean and the cloth.

Dean reared his head back, trying to hold the cloth with one hand and cut it with the other before it could cover his face and smother him but it was a losing battle. Every piece he cut somehow reknit itself and came at him all the harder. The length around his chest was already squeezing hard enough to grate his ribs together and he was barely breathing. His arms were weakening. The first loop of material coiled around his head, covering his mouth and nose, and then he felt water splashing on his head and face and body. The fabric convulsed around him. Dean gasped in a grateful lungful of air as the cloth released him without warning, swirled into the bathroom and out of sight.

"Dean?" Sam crawled over to his brother and grabbed his knee. "You alright?"

Dean coughed and nodded. He had to convince his body to allow him to sit up as his gunshot shoulder had apparently taken more of a beating than it could stand, and pain radiated all the way down to his fingers. "Yeah. S'it still here?"

"Dunno. Hang… hang on." Sam wrapped an arm around his aching chest and made it to his feet. He stepped over Dean into the bathroom with the bottle of holy water held out in front of him and stared. "It's gone." He climbed into the bathtub long enough to shut the open window and looked mournfully at the broken line of salt they had laid in front of it. "Salt's obviously not gonna cut it here."

"Shit." Dean groaned and slowly inched himself up until he was sitting against the wall beside the bathroom door with a hand braced below his wounded shoulder. "The hell is happening? The hell kinda ghost…" he stopped to cough as Sam reappeared. "… uses a damn tablecloth to kill people?"

Sam lowered himself into the chair beside the table and looked down at his brother. "I don't think that's what's going on. Can you get up or do you need help? How bad are you hurt?"

Dean glared up at him. "How bad are you hurt? I'm fine. Just catchin' my breath."

Sam chuckled and then thought better of it as his ribs screamed at him. He slumped forward a little, moaned as his ribs protested, and sat back up with his eyes closed. "Might, uh… might have some… cracked ribs, yeah." He opened his eyes when he felt his brother's hand land on his knees. "How's your shoulder?"

"Pissed off." Dean snorted and got to his feet. "Kinda like me. Stupid piece of sheet is kickin' both our asses. What the hell?" He looked at the bottle in Sam's hand and quirked a brow. "Holy water?"

Sam nodded. "Only thing I could think of, since the salt in the window didn't even phase it." He set the bottle on the table and ran a hand over his sore neck. "I don't think it's a ghost or a cursed object. I think it's something else."

"Like what?" Dean went to the bag on top of the dresser and dug out the first aid kit. He could feel fresh blood leaking from his shoulder beneath the bandage and given the way Sam looked, he was going to have to wrap his ribs before they did anything else. "You get your shirt off?"

"Yes," Sam said unhappily. He loosened his arms from around himself, tugged his shirt up to his armpits and then froze as the movement shifted his ribs enough to take his breath away for a moment. He slammed his eyes closed and focused on trying to get his breath back. The sensation of being smothered in his own body yet again slammed through his senses. His heart began to pound in his chest and his breaths came short and fast.

"Sammy?" Dean frowned. He dropped the first aid kit on the table beside the laptop and knelt in front of him. "Dude, slow it down. Hey." He braced his hands on Sam's shoulders, lowering his brother's arms, and gave him a gentle shake. "Hey. Hey. Come on. You're gonna pass out if you don't get a handle on this."

Sam opened his eyes enough to see Dean and gave his head a little shake.

Dean tightened his grip on Sam's shoulders and understood that his brother was having a panic attack. "Hey, look at me. Come on." He waited for Sam's frantic eyes to latch on to his. "You're safe, alright? You're safe. You got it? Look at me. You're safe, Sammy. Just breathe." He maintained the eye contact and waited, nodding when Sam's too-fast breathing slowly began to approach normal. "That's it. There you go. Just keep breathing."

Sam leaned in to the hands on his shoulders, letting Dean's presence comfort him even though it made him feel weak. He let his eyes close again at last and slumped a little, grateful to Dean for keeping him upright. "Sor… sorry."

"Don't worry about it." Dean took a hand from his brother and plucked the rolled up ace bandage out of the kit. "Hold your shirt up for me. Here." He tugged Sam's t-shirt up under his arms and let his brother loosely hold it in place. "I'm gonna check those ribs. You just keep breathing. That's all you gotta do."

Sam nodded tiredly. He rested his free arm on his brother's shoulder and tried not to flinch while Dean pressed carefully along his ribs. "Sorry. It was… I just…"

"Meg. I get it." Dean cut him off and looked up to give Sam a small smile. "Dude, ever since it happened, you been havin' nightmares and talking in your sleep about not being able to move or breathe." He looked back down at his brother's bruised chest sadly and shook his head. "There's no way this shit wouldn't set you off. Now hold still while I strap these. I count three cracked, maybe broken. You have any more trouble breathin' and we're going for x-rays."

"Yeah." Sam sniffed, touched that his big brother would be able to so clearly work out for himself what was happening and then wondered why that should be a surprise. No one knew him better than Dean. "Thanks," he said softly as his brother wrapped the bandage firmly around his chest.

Dean snorted. "No chick flick moments, Sammy. You know the rule." Nevertheless, he carefully finished wrapping his brother's damaged ribs and gave him a parting, comforting squeeze to the side of the neck before he stood and pulled his own shirts off over his head.

Sam gave a short, breathless laugh. The long-standing joke did the job of settling his nerves. "Is your shoulder alright?"

Dean peeled the bandage off and craned his head to get a good look at the bullet wound. "Yeah. Jo's stitches held. Just banged it up a little." He pressed gingerly around the wound with a grimace. "Seepin' some blood, but it's no big deal."

"Sit down." Sam raised a brow at his brother's mutinous look. "It's in a weird spot, and it'll be easier if I do it." His face softened a little as he held his hand out for the gauze. "I can handle looking at it, Dean. I'm not gonna have another meltdown. Let me help."

Dean sighed and sat grudgingly in the chair beside his brother. It annoyed him sometimes that Sam could read him so easily. "Fine."

Sam smiled, pleased at having gotten his way so easily and set to work carefully cleaning the blood from his brother's shoulder. He scowled as he worked and studied the wound. "Remind to give Jo lessons on how to stitch. Wow. It's like a five-year-old on a sugar high worked on you."

Dean snorted a laugh and nodded. "She's like a little, blonde Dr. Mengele, dude. She's got fingers like sledgehammers."

Sam chuckled and started taping a fresh bandage in place. "Did she hit you?" He sat back when he was done and braced a hand over his ribs. "Where's my phone?"

Dean went to his bag and grabbed a fresh shirt, pulling it on before he handed his brother his phone. "Who you callin'?"

"Who do you think?" Sam dialed and put the phone to his ear.

"Bobby's morgue. You stab 'em, we slab 'em."

Sam grinned at Bobby's voice. "Hey, Bobby."

"Sam, son. How you boys doin'? Dean's shoulder still a hot mess?"

"Uh, yeah." Sam glanced up at his brother and shook his head fondly. "Look, we've got a problem here. Our simple ghost hunt may not be a ghost."

"Gimme what'cha got."

Dean listened to his brother fill Bobby in on the case so far while he checked to make sure the door and the windows were securely closed. He didn't want a repeat of earlier. Nothing was going to get in and attack them again if he could help it. "Tell him that damn cloth repaired itself after I sliced it up too."

"You hear that?" Sam asked into the phone.

"Well, holy shit." Bobby's voice breathed in surprise.

"Bobby, you know what it is?" Sam waited, listening to papers rustle on the other end of the line.

"I've only seen one once before and that was twenty damn years ago."

"Hang on." Sam put the phone on speaker and set it on the table, giving Dean a nod to pay attention. "Go on, Bobby."

"Sounds like what you're dealin' with is a Tsukumogami."

"A suki-what?" Dean leaned over the phone on the table. "Just tell me how to gank the thing before it comes after us again."

"Keep your pantyhose on. Tsukumogami are a type of yokai. They're objects, like tea pots and crap, that have been around for over a hundred years and gain their own souls. They're really damn rare these days. Think what you boys have found is an ittan-momen. And lem'me tell ya how rare THOSE are."

"Ok, never mind the screwy Japanese words." Dean rolled his eyes. "How do we fight this thing?"

"You lay it to rest. There's a ritual. It's called a Jinja ceremony. Basically, you're consoling the thing and it'll go dormant after that. Then you can destroy it. Since you're after an ittan-momen, I'd suggest burnin' it after the ceremony. Those things are the worst of the bunch. Damn vicious."

"Yeah. We noticed," Sam said ruefully, rubbing a hand over his aching throat. "Send me the ritual."

"You two watch your backs with this thing. You're gonna have to trap it for the ritual, and there ain't no easy way to do that."

"So these things get souls and turn Christine?" Dean rolled his eyes. "What the hell's up with that?"

"Not all of 'em. Not even most of 'em. Just the ones that get discarded and are honked off about it."

"Great. Our killer sheet has separation anxiety. And we have to CONSOLE it? This sounds nuts even in our line of work." Dean shook his head and ran his hands through his hair in frustration. He turned the problem over in his mind and went to the window to look out while Sam talked with Bobby about the ritual. He twitched the curtain aside and looked out into the parking lot. He scanned the night darkened lot and the street beyond but saw no sign of the killer cloth. He didn't trust it. The thing seemed determined to kill them now. "Wonder why it's got such a hard on for us?"

Sam put his phone in his pocket and pulled his email up on the laptop with a snort. "I threw it in the trash can when we were at the house the first time. I remember now. I was looking at the crates and I pulled out this wad of packing cloth and tossed it into the trash." He looked over and smiled sadly at his brother. "And then you cut it off me. So yeah, we kinda pissed it off."

"Great. Alright. We need a way to do this that isn't gonna get us dead." Dean looked around the room. He grabbed the weapons bag off the floor and set it on his bed as he mentally sifted through the inventory. He was, frankly, a little nervous to even open the room door to go out to the car. Somehow, he knew the Tsukumogami was waiting for them out there.

"I've got the ritual." Sam tapped the laptop screen and quickly read through it. "It's not even that long which is comforting. We need holy water. Got that." He picked up the bottle he'd set on the table. "Uh, candles; three of them."

"Yeah. Yeah. Lucky us I tossed a pack of emergency candles in here the other day." Dean pulled the package of six, thin white candles out of the side pocket of the bag and tossed them to his brother. "Ok, what else?"

"That's it, really. But, uh…" Sam sighed and gave a stiff shrug in deference to his damaged ribs. "I need the omamori charm from the trunk."

Dean frowned. "The wha'?"

"It's that red cloth, tag-looking thing dad kept in the box in the back." Sam smirked. "You always said it looked like he swiped it off a Chinatown Christmas tree."

"Crap." Dean groaned and went to the door. "Must have it or just want it?"

Sam shook his head. "Must have. It's a requirement for the ceremony. I have to wear it."

Dean dropped his head back and stared at the ceiling for a moment then took a deep breath. "Right. Ok." He took his keys out of his pocket and took hold of the doorknob.

"Maybe it's gone off somewhere," Sam offered but he didn't believe it.

"Nope. That bitch is still out there. I know it." Dean rolled out his aching shoulder and looked back at Sam. "Here goes nothin'." He yanked the door open and quickly slammed it closed behind him. Dean didn't waste time looking for the thing. He ran to the trunk of the Impala and was thankful he had parked almost against the door. A lifetime of practice let him get the key into the lock on the first try, and he wrenched it up, opening the hidden compartment before he risked a look around. The cold breeze still blew stiffly. He couldn't see anything out of place, but he could hear the flapping of cloth from somewhere close by, like someone had left a sheet out on the clothesline. It made his teeth itch.

"Shit." Dean dug into the back of the compartment, looking for the box of small charms at the back. He grinned as his hand closed around it, yanked it out, and slammed the trunk closed only to stare in shock at the rippling, white cloth waiting for him on the roof of the car. "Oh, crap." He saw the motel room door open behind the cloth and his brother's tall form appear, silhouetted in the light. "Sam, get back inside!"

"Run!" Sam ignored his brother and instead used the bottle of holy water once more, flinging arcs of water through the air to splash onto the gleaming black of their car and the rippling cloth. The water had the same effect as before, seeming to enrage it. It twisted upon itself atop the car, and Sam watched his brother duck around the side and sprint for him.

Dean yelped as a tail of cloth whipped out and slapped him hard in the face. He shoved Sam back through the door ahead of him and slammed it closed. He leaned back against it and brought a hand up to his face when he felt something warm and wet drip from his chin. "Shit." He looked at the blood on the end of his fingers and rolled his eyes. "How bad's it?"

"You've had worse." Sam leaned in and brushed some of the blood away from Dean's cheekbone and ignored his brother's hiss of discomfort. "It's not that deep; just bleeding like hell. You alright?"

"I knew that thing was still out there." Dean brushed past his brother and into the bathroom to grab a towel, holding it to his face. He tossed the box to his brother. "Your what's-it better be in there, because we are not goin' back out there until that thing's spittin' sparks and I'm roastin' a damn marshmallow."

Sam gave a soft chuckle and opened the box. He smiled and pulled out the old, red silk talisman. "This is it." He set the box on the bed and untangled the omamori's cord, then hung it around his neck. "How are you gonna keep that thing busy while I do the ceremony?"

Dean tossed his bloody washcloth to the bed and pulled a rolled up, leather bundle out of the weapons bag. He smirked and opened it up, revealing a set of ten throwing knives. "I'm gonna staple that thing to the floor while you do your thing."

Sam blew out a breath and nodded. "Alright. Let's do this." He took the candles Dean had given him and set them on the floor. "Basically, I'm gonna call it in here. It'll have to come, so it's probably going to try and squeeze under the door." He waved an arm at it while he went to look at the ritual on the laptop again.

"Got it." Dean moved and shoved his bed away from the door to give himself room to work. He got down on a knee and set his knives out. "Good thing I sharpened these last week. Kiss our security deposit goodbye after this."

Sam leaned over and grabbed the box from the bed, rifling through it again and sighed in relief when he found a small statue of Buddha inside. He set it in the center of the three candles. "Couple more minutes and, uh…" He rubbed a hand over his head and gave his brother a glare. "No teasing me about this ritual."

Dean quirked a brow at his brother. "You're not gonna have to get naked, right? 'Cause I don't think I can take that."

Sam rolled his eyes and went into the bathroom. "No, jackass. Just be quiet while I do this. A lot of Buddhist ceremonies are about being clean and purifying your heart, body, and mind." He washed his hands quickly in the sink and then filled a plastic cup with water, bringing it back out. "So, you're definitely not doing the ceremony."

Dean snorted a laugh and nodded. "Well, get on with it. I'd like to get sleep sometime tonight."

"Alright." Sam pulled the laptop off the table and knelt down in front of his impromptu altar. He set the cup of water in front of the Buddha statue and the laptop to his left where he could see the screen, then put his hands together, bowing his head. "Hail to the jewel in the lotus flower." He looked up long enough to glare at his brother when Dean snorted loudly. He shook his head and glanced at the laptop and the ritual there. "I take refuge with the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. I practice generosity for all sentient beings and ask an audience of the Jinji." He picked up the cup of water and held it between both his hands in front of the statue. "May this water be clean and dedicated to the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha." He paused when they heard a rustling sound against the outside of the door.

Dean picked up two of his knives, one in each hand, and gave his brother a nod to keep going.

Sam swallowed his nerves. "Bless this water so it may nourish and cleanse my body." He lifted the cup and quickly drank down the contents then set it aside. "Give me the vision to see the path of peace for the tsukumogami." He took out a lighter and lit the candles. "I seek an audience for peace." Sam stood and purposefully didn't look at his brother. He knew there was no way Dean wouldn't harass him about the next part. He bowed stiffly and gritted his teeth when his ribs protested the movement. Sam straightened slowly and then clapped twice as loudly as he could. He could hear Dean snicker and then heard a series of thumps against the door as he painfully bowed again. "I petition the kami to commune with me. I offer my thanks to the tsukumogami. I offer my praise for a life long-lived and gratitude for a century of service. Please hear my prayer."

Dean watched Sam straighten and clap again, before bowing stiffly, and shook his head in amusement. He put all his attention on the door instead as the leading edge of the tsukumogami slithered into the room between the floor and the bottom of the door. As Sam clapped again, Dean slammed the point of the first knife down through the cloth and into the floor below, pinning it. He expected the cloth to retreat, as it had the last couple times they'd cut it, but instead it kept shoving itself under the door as though it couldn't stop. Dean grinned. "Keep going!"

Sam had to wrap an arm across his ribs as he bowed a third time and kept his eyes on the cloth and his brother. Dean had four knives stabbed through the fabric into the floor and it kept coming. Sam could almost feel the thing's desperation to get inside the room and reach him. He straightened and clapped again. "We beseech you be at peace." He bowed again and coughed as his ribs shifted. The pain nearly took him to his knees and he fought to stay standing and finish the ritual.

Dean reared back as the last bit of the tsukumogami whipped beneath the door and into the room, narrowly avoiding a strike to the eye. "Son of a bitch! Stay down!" He slammed his last knife through the end to staple it to the floor. Dean backed away as it fought to free itself and stood. "Sammy?" He looked over at his brother and didn't like what he saw. Sam was sheet-white, and Dean could see him fighting to stay on his feet as he broke into Japanese and started chanting softly. "You got this, Sam," he reassured him and went to the duffel on the bed to get the lighter fluid. "You just tell me when."

Sam nodded but stayed where he was, bent over in a low bow, both because he could read the words on his laptop screen better that way and because he wasn't sure he could straighten up again. He struggled not to stumble over the Japanese words and blew out a breath when he finished. He raised his head enough to see the tsukumogami by the door. "Be at peace, kami. You have…" He stopped, coughing and wheezed to catch his breath. "… have earned your rest. We thank you for your serv… service."

Dean watched in surprise as the pile of angry cloth suddenly went still and settled to the floor. He smiled and kicked it curiously with the toe of his boot and was relieved when it didn't move. "Nice." He turned back to his brother and lunged forward to catch him as Sam went to his knees, still in his bowed position. "Whoa! Easy. Take it easy." He lowered Sam to the floor and leaned him against the wall. "You good for a minute?"

Sam nodded and closed his eyes. "M'good. Go torch that thing."

"One BBQ comin' up." Dean patted his brother's shoulder and went back to the door. He knelt and cautiously yanked each knife out of the floor and the tsukumogami. He set them aside and felt his nerves jangle in warning as he gathered the cloth up in a ball. Now that it wasn't trying to kill them, he could feel the soft texture of silk. He pulled open the room door and checked outside, finding that no one had noticed anything. Dean jogged to the end of the building and dropped the cloth in a pile beside the dumpster.

"Happy trails." Dean liberally covered the silk in lighter fluid. He took a book of matches from his pocket, lit them, and dropped them on the pile. He took a step back as flames billowed up and shook his head. "Well, that was weird, even for us."

Sam groaned and managed to lift his head and leaned it back against the wall with his arms wrapped tightly around his chest. "Crap," he groaned softly. He took one arm from his chest and placed it on the floor, trying to push himself up and winced, thumping back into the wall as his ribs protested loudly enough to make him see stars.

"Hey. Whoa." Dean tossed the lighter fluid on the nightstand and kicked the door shut. He knelt beside his brother again and took his arm. "Let me do the work."

Sam nodded and let Dean pull him to his feet. "Not… not that bad."

"You're a shit liar, Sammy." Dean rolled his eyes fondly and steadied Sam against the wall once he had him standing. He looked at him seriously. "Dude, I think…"

"No hospital." Sam cut his brother off and got his eyes open enough to glare at him. "M'fine."

"Bullshit." Dean considered. He leaned down and listened to Sam's heavy, short breaths. He pulled up his brother's shirt after knocking his arm away and ignored the weak protest. "Shut up and let me look." He checked the bandage wrapping Sam's ribs and nodded, finding it still secure. He leaned back, letting Sam's shirt fall and sighed. "Sorry, Sammy. We're gonna hit up that clinic down the road."

"Dean…"

"You're breathin' for shit and your ribs are wrapped." Dean shook his head. He caught the red, silk talisman still hanging around his brother's neck and lifted it off over his head, tossing it to the bed. "That ain't good and you know it. Come on."

Sam wanted to argue but he didn't have the breath to spare for it, which really meant that his brother was right. He didn't have to like it though. He shuffled along beside Dean back outside and to the car. "Gonna…" Sam worked to catch his breath as Dean leaned him against the Impala and opened the passenger door. "Gonna ask… why…"

Dean snorted. "Why we look like we got our asses handed to us by Andre the Giant?" He chuckled and eased Sam down into the passenger seat. "Don't worry about it. I'll think of something."

Sam sighed, resigned to being mother-henned by his big brother. He placed a steadying hand atop his chest and then frowned. He patted his t-shirt and then put a hand to his neck and his eyes went wide. "Shit!"

"What?" Dean looked over from the driver's seat as he turned the car on and there was outright fear on his brother's face. "Dude, what?"

"It's gone!" Sam sat up straighter, suddenly not feeling his damaged ribs as panic tore through him. "Where'd it go?"

"Where'd what go? Sammy?"

"The charm!" Sam looked over at Dean. His breaths were becoming shorter and shorter and block spots were beginning to crawl across his vision. "The anti-possession… Dean, I can't lose that!"

"Whoa, take it easy!" Dean wrapped a hand around the back of his brother's neck, but Sam was well and truly having a panic attack before his eyes. "Breathe! Come on, buddy. Slow it down! Sam!" Dean caught him as Sam's eyes suddenly rolled back into his head and he slumped over toward the driver's side. "Son of a bitch!" He cupped a hand around Sam's neck and let out a small breath to feel his heart beating. Sam's breathing was still shit though. Dean settled Sam against his shoulder and pulled out of the motel lot quickly. "We're gonna talk about this, kiddo." He listened intently to Sam's labored breathing as he drove and tried not to worry that each breath might be his last. He couldn't stand that thought; not after Dad. "Just hold on."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Sam watched the buildings of the city go by in a blur and shifted in his seat, trying to get comfortable. He flicked an annoyed glance at his brother. "Still don't think you had to leave me in there for two days."

Dean snorted and gave a one-armed shrug in deference to his healing shoulder. "You know me, Sammy. Doc says things like you nearly punctured a lung and I get annoyed." He snuck a look at Sam and saw the same tension around his eyes that had been there for a week. It made him hurt knowing his little brother still didn't feel safe in his own skin; that had become especially clear after Sam's panic attack in the car.

"Stop it. I'm fine." Sam rolled his eyes and didn't admit that it was nice to be able to take a breath again without feeling like his chest was going to implode. He smiled when Dean landed a weak excuse for a punch on his shoulder, no doubt being careful not to actually hurt him. "Where are we going?"

"You'll see," Dean said cryptically. He grinned at his brother's nervous look and hoped he was making the right call. He nodded to himself; he knew he was.

Sam looked out the window in surprise when Dean pulled up and parked in front of a tattoo parlor. A neon purple and blue sign flashed in the window, and he turned to look at Dean. "Tattoos? What are we doing here?"

Dean turned off the engine and faced his brother. He reached out and plucked the cord of the anti-possession charm from inside Sam's shirt, letting the tiny amulet fall against his chest. "These things fall off, dude. They can get lost, pulled off, torn cord, whatever. We can lose these." He watched his brother's face pale and how Sam's hand covered the amulet protectively. "Got a better idea. Here."

Sam watched Dean pull a paper from inside his jacket, unfold it, and took it when his brother held it out. He looked at the carefully drawn symbol, a larger version of the charm on their amulets, done in black. He ran his fingers lightly over the design and had to swallow hard around a lump of emotion in his throat.

"We're gonna go in there and get this. Bobby gave me the name of this place." Dean smiled. "Lot of hunters come through for ink, and the guy knows how to work holy water and crap into the ink to really up the protection." He took the paper back from Sam's shaking fingers, folding it carefully and patted his shoulder until his brother looked up at him with swimming eyes. "I promise, Sammy. No one's gonna ride you like that again. Not if I can help it." He smiled. "You up for this?"

Sam swallowed again, sniffed, and nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I… yeah." He opened his door and got out when his brother did, then looked at him. "Dean… thanks."

"Don't mention it. Come on."

Sam smiled and followed him into the tattoo parlor. "Hey, you know this means we're gonna have matching tattoos now. There could be talk."

Dean snorted a laugh and rang the bell on the counter. "Whatever, bitch. As long as everyone knows you're the girl."

"Hey!" Sam slapped the back of his brother's head.

Dean chuckled. "It's the hair, Sammy. You give me five minutes with that mop and some scissors…"

"Touch my hair and die." Sam slapped his brother's hand away from his head with a laugh. He looked down at the little talisman on his chest and let out a breath, a long, slow breath of relief, and finally felt like maybe he could feel safe again. He looked up and caught Dean watching him with a knowing look. He shook his head but couldn't wipe the smile off his face.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The End.

Next Chapter: U is for Undead

A/N: I realize I've taken a slight liberty with the tattoo timeline but it just fit so beautifully here. We'll call it author prerogative. Lol Shhh.

Chapter Text

 

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

U is for Undead -

The road seemed to stretch on forever as the Impala flew down the lonely highway at night. Sam watched the faded yellow line in the headlights as they drove and tried not to feel as miserable as he was; he tried not to be a 'baby' about it. He sighed and flicked a glance to his left and his big brother in the driver's seat. Dean was in his element, hands wrapped comfortably around the Impala's wheel and a small smile on his face as he pressed a little harder into the gas and she jumped forward. Sam's eyes went behind his brother's shoulder as a black pickup truck suddenly roared up alongside them. He didn't bother leaning down to see out Dean's window and waited. A moment later, the sound of a horn honking echoed into the car.

"Think Dad's telling you to slow the hell down, Dean," Sam said tiredly. He turned away to look out the passenger window instead.

Dean scowled and rolled his eyes but lightened his foot on the gas. He let their dad shoot ahead of them and snorted. "Thinks he's so bad ass in that hunk of scrap." He rubbed a hand lovingly along the steering wheel and smiled. "Ain't got nothin' on my baby."

Sam gave a soft laugh and shook his head. "He's gonna thump you harder in training if you keep speeding like that."

"He speeds." Dean aimed a finger out the windshield.

"He's dad."

Dean scoffed and watched their father's taillights pull away from them. "No fair." He sighed and resisted the urge to floor it, catch their dad, and shoot ahead of him just because he could. He glanced over at Sam instead. "What's got your britches in a damn knot? You look like someone pissed in your Wheaties."

Sam stiffened and then shook his head. "Nothing. Just tired." It wasn't nothing. His dad and brother had only just returned safely from a werewolf hunt not eight hours earlier, and Sam was relieved enough to have them back that he didn't bother reminding them that it was May 4th… or that his birthday had gone forgotten two days past while they were gone. He had spent the day alone and scared that he might never see his brother or father again, knowing that any hunt, no matter how simple it seemed, could turn deadly in a matter of seconds if something went wrong. But now he had his family back alive and well. He would just call that his birthday present and move on.

"Huh." Dean watched his little brother curl into the window and close his eyes and had the distinct impression he was missing something.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

John Winchester tossed the cleaning rag for his gun up onto the table and raised a brow at his eldest while Dean grinned at him. "Yes, Dean. Actual zombies."

"Dude." Dean clapped his hands together and damn near bounced on his toes. "Zombies." He turned to his brother and slapped the back of his shoulder.

"Knock it off!" Sam protested as Dean nearly made him drop the machete he was sharpening and sharpen his own fingers instead. It annoyed him that dad wasn't giving them any downtime, dragging them from one hunt to the next. To make it worse, his father saw no point in enrolling him in a new school with only a month of classes left in the year; Not to mention getting pulled out of his last school with only a month of classes left to go. The only consolation was that this time, he wouldn't be left behind. He was always torn; hating the job and wanting a normal life, but being consumed with worry and fear when his dad and brother were off on a hunt without him and having to wonder if they would even return alive.

"Ground rules." John set his gun down and waited for Dean to settle and stop acting like the teenager he was. "You two stay together. They're zombies, which means no higher brain functions. But they can still overpower you or outnumber you."

"That's why they eat brains. They're stupid." Dean leaned over his brother and grabbed his head. "Gonna have a fudging feast on your brains, geek."

"Dean," John bit off his son's name and pointed to the other chair at the table until he sat with a satisfied smirk and left his little brother alone.

Sam kicked his brother under the table and glared at him. He set the whetstone and his machete on the table and sighed. "You know, they were people once. The zombies." He shrugged at his father's quizzical look. "They had families and people who loved them." Sam glanced over at his brother. "I just don't think we should be so… excited about killing them."

"They're not people anymore, Sammy." John sighed for his youngest's soft heart. "They're walking corpses and they're killing people. We do the job."

"I know." Sam shook his head and huddled back in his chair.

John wished he could find a way to make Sam enjoy the hunt the way Dean did, but his boys were so different on that point that he didn't know where to begin. He knew Sam would do what needed to be done, but he felt bad that his youngest was constantly so unhappy about their lives. He shook his head. There was no way he was resolving that issue anytime soon, and in the meantime they had a case to take care of before more people got killed. "Get the heads. They don't stop unless you take off their heads. If you don't, they'll just crawl after you and keep trying to kill you. So, no screwin' around." He fixed Dean with a look at that one.

Dean shrugged and gave his dad his best innocent look. "What?"

"Uh huh." John shook his head again. "While you boys are keeping the zombies off me, I'm gonna deal with the Bokor that raised 'em." He raised a hand when Sam opened his mouth. "I'm gonna try not to kill him, Sammy. But the guy's probably not gonna go quietly, and I'm not risking my life or yours to take him in if he pushes me." He waited for Sam to voice yet another argument as he seemed to do more and more often lately, but he only nodded, and John gave a surprised, grateful nod that this once Sam wasn't going to pick an argument.

"Do we know how many zombies?" Dean asked and grabbed the whetstone Sam had been using and set to work on his own machete.

John shook his head. "I'm not sure. The county coroner reports six missing bodies, so hopefully no more than that."

"Have you checked police reports for all the cemeteries in the county?" Sam leaned forward. "There could be reports of grave desecrations that didn't include a report of a missing body. If the graves were filled in, they wouldn't think to look."

"He's one man, Sammy." John ran a hand over his face and stood. "The fact that he dug up six graves is surprising. You know how much work that is. We'll be fine." He slid his gun into the holster at the small of his back. "You boys finish up with those. Ten minutes and we're moving."

"Got it, Dad." Dean went to work on his blade in earnest. He looked over at the dour expression on Sam's face and frowned. "Hey. Why the long face? You get to come with this time. That's good, right?"

"Yeah." Sam looked up and managed a small smile for his brother. "It's great." He stood and quickly threaded the sheathe for the machete onto his belt and slid the blade home. "Let's get moving before Dad comes looking for us."

Dean's frown deepened, not buying the little smile. "Dude, you know you can tell me if something's buggin' you, right?"

Sam gave a sad snort. "Yeah, Dean. I remember the important things."

Dean scowled at the odd way Sam had said that as his little brother left the room. "Huh." Once again, Dean felt that he was missing something important but couldn't imagine what it was. He scrubbed a hand through his spiky hair. He was still tired from the werewolf hunt, still in need of more sleep, and he was sure their dad was too. That hairy bastard had led them on a hell of a chase through the backwoods and a trail of mangled bodies that had made Dean lose his lunch once. He wasn't proud of that. He shook his head at himself and finished sharpening his machete. He heard his father yelling their names and groaned. "So much for ten minutes. Sammy! Get the lead out!"

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Dean walked softly through the woods with Sam at his back. He saw their father's back, far ahead, vanish around a screen of trees. He glanced back to his brother, and Sam's gave him a tense but firm nod. He pulled his machete out of the sheathe and was ready when he heard the soft trill of their dad's whistle from ahead. "Showtime, Sammy." Dean grinned. He made sure his brother had his blade out and then started whooping loudly.

Sam jumped, even though he had been expecting the noise. He gave himself a shake to steady his nerves. "Not sure I like being the bait."

Dean chuckled and patted Sam's shoulder. "We're not bait." He gave his machete a swing as the first zombie shambled into view ahead of them. "We're the distraction. That's totally different!"

Sam couldn't help the soft chuckle at his brother's words. He moved up alongside Dean as a second, third, and then fourth zombie came out of the trees. "Shit."

"Easy. We got this. Come and get some, dead dudes!" Dean moved forward and caught the leading zombie. He turned his body and swung, sending the machete in a swift arc that separated the thing's head from its shoulders. He grimaced at the smell of rotting meat and blood and tried not to look too hard at the exposed muscle and bone exposed on each of the bodies through their tattered clothes. "Yech." He backed up a few steps and felt Sam's hand on the small of his back, letting him know he was there. "They reek."

"Well, they've been dead a while so…" Sam jerked to his right as a zombie emerged from the trees to his left. "That's five." He groaned, realizing the zombie was a head taller than his big brother and far too tall for him to reach the head. His growth spurt was taking its own damn sweet time to kick in. He bent instead and hacked into the undead thing's legs until it fell.

"Nice job, shorty!" Dean chuckled as Sam brought the zombie down to his height before beheading it.

"Shut up!" Sam yelled in a fit of annoyance. He hated being reminded how much shorter he was. "Someday, I'm gonna be taller than you, Dean."

Dean barked a loud laugh. He grabbed Sam's arm and pulled his back in against his chest as the sixth zombie stumbled abruptly into view only a few feet away. "Careful."

"I can handle myself, jerk." Sam shook his brother's hand free and waved. "You wanna take care of those before they eat us?"

Dean scowled, once again reminded that something was eating at his little brother and the kid wasn't talking about it. "You're a pain in my ass, Sammy. You know that?"

"Whatever," Sam grumbled. His eyes widened as four more zombies came into view behind them. "Dean? I think we should have checked the police reports for the cemeteries."

"Huh?" Dean beheaded another zombie, leaving only two ahead of them and looked over his shoulder to find reinforcements shuffling into the fray. "Oh, shit!"

"I told him," Sam muttered. He shook his head and jumped forward with a grunt of effort to decapitate the nearest zombie. "But does he listen? No."

"Save it for later!" Dean yelled, though he actually agreed with his little brother this time.

"You never listen to me! Either of you!" Sam kicked a leg out from under a female zombie as she reached for him with both hands, strips of flesh dangling sickeningly between her fingers. "Not even when it's important!"

Dean rolled his eyes, knowing that Sam was geared up for a nice, long rant, but this was so not the place for it. He sliced off an arm on the zombie to his left before it could latch on to him and severed the head on the one beside it to roll away into the dead leaves. "You can bitch at him later! Kill zombies now!"

"What do you think I'm doing?" Sam demanded angrily.

"I think… oh, you asshole. Come'ere." Dean broke off and ducked under the reaching arms of a zombie as it staggered to him. He pushed it back with a shoulder to its chest and gagged slightly as the smell overpowered him. "I think you're pickin' a damn bad time to have an emo meltdown! Focus!"

"Emo!" Sam turned on his brother with a glare.

"You're thirteen, not three, Sam!" Dean met his brother's glare with his own. "Grow up!"

"I'm not thirteen anymore, you ass!" Sam shouted it and felt tears well in his eyes despite their situation. He pushed them back and turned to lop an arm from a zombie before it could latch on to the back of his big brother's shoulder. "Pay attention, Dean! God!"

Dean was struck dumb, staring at his little brother. "Holy crap." A wave of guilt flowed through him, lodging in a cold lump under his heart. "Oh, man. Sammy." His eyes went wide in fear as two huge zombies loomed up behind his brother. "Sammy! Look out!" He reached for him to drag him clear but was a second too late as an arm covered in rotting flesh wrapped around Sam's neck and dragged him backward. "No!" The precariousness of their situation was suddenly driven forcefully home for him as Sam's head was wrenched back on a strangled cry, and Dean took in the five walking dead still surrounding them. "DAD!" Dean bellowed it into the night and hoped that wherever their dad was, he could hear it and would know they needed help.

"Dean!" Sam gasped. He turned his machete around and stabbed it behind him into the thigh of the zombie holding him. It didn't even flinch. Sam twisted the blade, feeling and hearing bone snap. The zombie stumbled to its knees but didn't lose its grip on him. He scrabbled the fingers of his other hand into the arm holding him and nearly threw up as the rotting flesh parted beneath his fingers and sloughed off with little, wet splats. It was another futile effort, however, as the pressure on his neck did not waver. He coughed as his ability to breathe was cut off. Sam fought desperately to free his machete, but it was firmly lodged in the undead thing's leg. He craned his eyes to his left when he felt another pair of hands on him and would have screamed for his brother if he had the air. A wide open mouth filled with blackened, rotting teeth filled his vision and he struggled harder to get free, even as he felt himself growing lightheaded and weaker by the moment with the lack of oxygen. As his vision started to blur, the thought ran through his mind that, if he lost consciousness now, he very likely would not be waking up again. He felt a rush of regret that what were very possibly the last words he would ever say to his brother had been said in hurt and anger. "I'm sorry, Dean" was his last thought as he felt himself sink into the encroaching darkness

"Leave him alone!" Dean screamed it and waded into the remaining zombies. He swung the machete desperately, fighting toward Sam. He lost sight of him for just a moment, and Dean snarled, gritted his teeth, and decapitated the zombie blocking him from his brother with so much force the head flew through the air to slam into a tree trunk. "Sammy! Hold on!" He reached Sam at the same moment one of the undead bastards sank its teeth into Sam's shoulder. Sam's silence terrified Dean. He should have been screaming. "Sam!"

Dean shoved one zombie to the ground and slammed the point of his machete through the eye socket of the one with its arm wrapped around Sam's throat. The arm loosened its hold and Sam slumped forward with the other zombie still gnawing at his shoulder. Dean wrenched his blade free in a spray of dark blood and grabbed the hair of the thing feeding from Sam. "Come on!" He wrenched the head up, the jaws away from his brother, and slid his blade under its chin, giving the weapon a twist and half-severed the head as he kicked the thing away.

"Sam." Dean caught his brother against him and looked up as five remaining zombies surrounded them. He looked down at the top of Sam's head, lolling beneath his chin and clenched his jaw. "Not goin' down like this, little brother." He carefully let Sam down to lay on his side in the leaves and got to his feet. He stood over Sam defensively and swung his machete in readiness. "Come on."

Dean startled as their father erupted from a screen of trees to his left. "Dad," he breathed in relief. He stood frozen for just a second as his dad beheaded the first of the zombies and then burst into motion with him. Dean spun and cut off the arms of the zombie behind him before it could catch him, and its head joined its arms a moment later. He ducked to the next and took it down quickly. He was moving to a third when his father slapped a hand into his shoulder.

"Get Sammy. I've got this." John ordered and put all his attention on the remaining undead heading for his sons.

Dean blew out a breath and dropped beside his brother, letting his machete settle to the ground beside them. He pulled Sam up, cradling him against his chest and tipped his brother's head back to get a look at him. "Sammy?" He grimaced at the blood on Sam's shoulder and the bruises already coming up around his throat. "Come on, kiddo. Gimme a sign here."

"Is he alive?" John asked and couldn't hide the crack of fear in his voice as he took down another zombie and moved in on the last.

"He's breathin'!" Dean called and lightly tapped Sam's cheek, then rubbed his knuckles into his brother's sternum. "Sammy. Come on, please." He looked up and watched his dad dispatch the last of the undead. "He was right. We should'a checked."

John looked around the ground, doing a silent count and found thirteen bodies. He swallowed hard around the lump of guilt and fear in his throat and nodded. "Yeah." He could have easily lost both of his boys tonight if he had taken longer to deal with the bokor. As it was, he had no idea what condition his youngest was in. He might still - John pushed that thought away and looked down at himself, brushing at spots of blood he knew weren't his own.

"Hey. Hey, Sammy." Dean refocused on his brother as Sam stirred and coughed. "That's it, buddy. Wake up. I gotcha. You're safe. That's it." He caught him as Sam rocketed up on a gasp and began wheezing for air. "Take it easy. I gotcha."

"Dean." Sam wrapped his hands frantically around his brother's arm. He watched his dad kneel down beside him and then slammed his eyes closed on a moan of pain as white hot agony flowed through his shoulder. "Zom… zombies?"

"We got 'em all," John reassured his youngest. He moved Dean's hand back from Sam's shoulder and carefully peeled the boy's jacket away to try and get a look at the damage. The amount of blood was worrying. He looked up at the night sky through the trees and wished more of the moonlight would filter down. "Can't see a damn thing."

"Here." Dean fished a flashlight out of his pocket and passed it over before wrapping his arm back around his brother. "You're gonna be fine, Sammy. Promise."

Sam let some of the tension flow out of his body and slumped wearily back into his brother in a silent plea for comfort. "Sorry."

Dean frowned down at his brother and brushed Sam's ridiculously shaggy, dark hair out of his eyes. "What the hell are you sorry for?"

"Let 'em get me. Sorry." Sam panted as his father poked at his wounded shoulder and only barely stopped himself from rolling into Dean's chest to escape the pain. "Dad…"

"Sorry, tiger." John leaned back and gently settled Sam's jacket and shirts back over the wounds. "It's not too bad. Might not even need stitches but we'll need to get it clean and get a better look at it." He blew out a breath and stood. "Let's get him out of here."

"I'll take him." Dean gathered Sam into his arms, slid a hand beneath his brother's knees and wasn't surprised when Sam made little protest other than a breathless groan. "You can salt and burn the bodies. I'm gonna take him back and get him cleaned up." Dean's voice held a sharp edge that John seldom heard directed at him.

John scowled as Dean got to his feet with Sam cradled in his arms. He felt like he was being dressed-down for something other than not checking the cemeteries and he wasn't sure what. "Dean?"

"Later." Dean turned away from their father and then turned back. "Gimme the light so I can see where I'm walking?"

"Uh, right. Here." John put the light in Dean's hand under his brother's legs and softly patted the top of Sam's head. "You'll be fine, Sammy."

"Yeah, he will." Dean turned away again and started through the forest with his little brother cradled safely against his chest, Sam's head rolled beneath his jaw and breathing warm puffs of air against his throat. "Y'ok, kiddo?"

Sam gave a short nod but didn't speak. It was taking everything he had not to cry like a baby over the pain in his shoulder.

Dean made the walk back to the car as quickly as he could. Sam would sometimes cough and then moan softly and miserably against him. He somehow managed to get the passenger door open without letting go of his brother and carefully lowered Sam down, sliding him onto the seat. Dean's heart thumped hard in his chest when he tried to move away and realized the death grip his little brother had on his amulet around his neck. He knelt down beside the open door and palmed the back of Sam's head.

"Hey, tiger. You wanna let go of me?" Dean smiled as Sam looked up wearily at him. He patted Sam's fist around his amulet and snorted a soft laugh when Sam only shook his head and closed his eyes. "Alright then. Hang on." He ducked his head and eased the cord up and off. Sam pulled his hand in against his own chest with the amulet held tight in his fist.

Dean jogged around the Impala and slid behind the wheel. He stretched his right arm across the seat and rested his hand on the side of Sam's neck above the blood and wound so that he could make sure the kid kept breathing.

Sam took comfort in the weight of his brother's hand on the drive back to the motel. He was swallowing repeatedly by the time they parked in front of the room as his stomach threatened to revolt on him. He knew it was probably blood loss making him feel so weak and nauseated, but the fact that Dean brought him to the motel and not a hospital made him feel a little better. It couldn't be that bad if Dean didn't have that panicked look in his eyes. He managed a small smile when Dean pulled his door open and reached in for him. But the smile quickly vanished as Dean pulled his legs out. The motion rolled through Sam and he lurched forward, losing what little he had eaten earlier on the pavement between his feet as he heaved.

"Crap." Dean supported his little brother and grimaced at the vomit spewing out from him. "I gotcha. You're ok." He rubbed Sam's back and caught him when Sam's heaves tapered off into painful sounding coughs. "You done?" Sam gave him a short nod, and Dean gathered him up. "Alright. Try not to puke on your awesome big bro," he warned as he lifted Sam up out of the car again. The soft, if miserable, laugh Sam gave him made him feel a little better.

Dean took Sam inside, kicking the door closed behind him, and took Sam into the back and the two beds there. He set him down as carefully as he could, but Sam still hissed in pain with the motion. "Sorry, buddy. Let's get these off before you lay down."

Sam nodded. "Kay." He let Dean do most of the work, pulling his jacket down his arms and then maneuvering his arms out of his shirt sleeves. He gritted his teeth together but couldn't stop the whimper of pain as Dean pulled them over his head and jarred his shoulder. Sam turned his head to get his first look at the wound and had to swallow hard again to avoid throwing up. There were clear teeth marks in his skin where the zombie had gnawed and torn at his flesh.

"Hey. It's not that bad," Dean reassured him and smiled to prove to Sam that if he wasn't worried, Sam shouldn't be either. He tipped his brother's jaw up with a knuckle and sighed. "I'm more worried about this bruising," he said as he took in the livid marks across the front of Sam's neck. "You breathin' alright?"

Sam gave a stiff nod. He cleared his throat and winced. "Uh… yeah. Think so."

"You start havin' trouble, you tell me." Dean fixed him with a firm look. "No suckin' it up, little brother. You tell me."

"Will." Sam let Dean lay him back and prop pillows behind him, and only then, as Dean went into the bathroom for towels and water, did he realize he was still holding on to his brother's amulet like a lifeline. He blushed with embarrassment and held his hand out when Dean came back and sat beside him. "Here."

"Hold on to it." Dean bent over his brother's left shoulder and held up a clean, wet cloth. "This is gonna hurt." He set to cleaning the bite marks as quickly and gently as he could. Even so, Sam was trembling on the bed with each pass of the cloth. Dean hated being forced to perform well-meaning torture on his little brother. It hurt him nearly, as much and his hands were shaking by the time he got the wounds clean enough to make him happy. "Ok, Sammy. Almost done." He spread antibacterial ointment liberally over each open wound after butterflying the worst of them closed. Sam would end up with an interesting pattern of scars later, and that made Dean clench his teeth together angrily. He watched as Sam huffed out a last, pained breath and went still.

"Sammy?" Dean palmed his brother's face and sighed; he had passed out. "Sleep, buddy. You're good." It wasn't good, not by a long shot. He hated that his brother – his fourteen-year-old brother - had very nearly been killed, and hated it more that they had both been in so much danger because neither he nor their father had listened to Sam. The kid was scary smart and they both should have known better than to discount what he said. Worse though, was the betrayal of forgetting Sam's birthday and having left him alone for it. Dean knew that his brother had spent his birthday miserable and afraid his family would be killed and never return. That was no way for a kid to live. He blew out a long, heavy breath and knew it was never going to change. All he could do was his best to keep Sam safe. He looked up as the motel room door banged open and his father appeared.

"How is he?" John asked. He tossed his duffel to the floor inside the door and went to the bed with his sons.

Dean taped a bandage over his brother's shoulder and shrugged. "He's alright. Little banged up and his throat's killin' him. I'm a little worried about swelling." He sniffed and turned a scowl at his father. "Dad, you smell like a forest fire and burnt pot roast. Go take a shower or somethin'.

John sat on Sam's other side with a snort. He brushed his son's hair off his forehead and softly tipped Sam's jaw up enough to get a look at his throat. "Christ," he muttered, seeing the bruising in the bright light of the room. He looked down and picked up Sam's right hand. It was clenched tightly in a fist against his chest with a black cord trailing out from between his knuckles. John pried his son's fingers open and sighed. "Think this is yours." He pulled the amulet out of Sam's hand and rubbed his thumb over the indentations the horns had left in Sam's palm, then handed the talisman to Dean.

"Yeah." Dean dropped the amulet's cord over his head, letting it rest on his chest and then sighed. "Dad, we suck."

"Huh?" John looked over at him confused.

"It's May fourth." Dean's brows rose as he looked at his dad and waited for him to make the connection. He nodded when John's eyes suddenly went wide. "Yep. We suck."

"Oh, shit." John looked back down at Sam and shook his head. He rested his hand in Sam's hair and hated himself just a little. "How the hell did I forget his birthday?"

"I did too," Dean said miserably. "Worst part is, he wasn't even gonna say anything if I hadn't'a pissed him off." Dean stood. He went to run his hands through his hair and grimaced, seeing his brother's blood all over them. He swallowed around a lump in his throat. "He was just gonna let it go." He caught his father's eyes with sadness in his own. "What kinda kid does that, Dad? Thinks he's gotta just suck it up and be quiet when we forget him, like it's normal."

"Go clean up." John stood, giving a pat to Sam's chest. He took Dean's shoulder and gave him a shove toward the bathroom. "Sometimes the job gets in the way, Dean. You know that. Doesn't make it easier." He looked down at Sam and sighed. "Or right, but it is what it is. Go on. I'll be back in ten."

"Where are you goin'?" Dean asked and hoped it wasn't to the nearest bar. He would never call his father out on it, the way Sam would, John's sometimes knee-jerk reaction to stress being to climb in the nearest bottle and paddle around for a night.

"Store. Sam's gonna need some things." John didn't miss the look on his eldest's face and was a little relieved that Dean didn't say what he was clearly thinking. "Promise, Dean. Store and back. Keep an eye on his temperature. That bite wound might get infected. If it does, we'll take him to the nearest clinic and score some antibiotics."

"Right. Got it." Dean turned on the water in the bathroom as Dad left and ruthlessly cleaned Sam's blood from his hands. It killed him a little to see it there, dug in under his fingernails. It was like a condemnation of his failure to protect the kid. "Dammit." He dried his hands and went back out to find his little brother blinking blearily up at the ceiling.

"Hey, kiddo." Dean smiled and bent down over him. "You back with me?"

Sam groaned softly and put his left hand cautiously over the burning ache in his shoulder. "Ow."

"Yeah, I know it hurts." Dean started pulling the blankets out from beneath his brother. "Kick your shoes off."

Sam considered actually sitting up and taking his shoes off, but he didn't want to find out just how much that would hurt his shoulder. "Fine." He toed off his sneakers while his brother pulled the blankets out from beneath him. "Can put myself in bed."

"Oh, quit whinin'." Dean grinned and pulled the covers up to Sam's chest. He shoved an extra pillow behind his brother, lifting him carefully and then setting him back. "We'll get some food in you when Dad comes back, and then you can take somethin' for the pain and pass out for a while. Sound good?"

"I'm alright, Dean." Sam looked up at his brother and slapped away the hand that came toward his hair, no doubt intending to ruffle it into a mess yet again. "Knock it off. M'not a kid."

Dean chuckled and sat down beside him. "Nope. You're fourteen." He gave a stiff shrug. "Sorry, Sammy. I should'a remembered."

"It's not important." Sam picked at the blanket over his chest. "You were hunting a werewolf. I'm just glad that, you know…" he sighed. "I was just really happy you came back."

"Always gonna come back, Sammy." Dean slid his hand behind his brother's neck and gave a comforting squeeze until Sam met his eyes. "You know that, right?"

Sam nodded but didn't say anything. It was comforting to hear Dean promise that, but Sam was old enough to know his big brother couldn't really make that promise. "Where's Dad?"

"Store." Dean got up and kicked off his own boots. He grabbed the remote off the nightstand and tossed it next to his brother. "Find us somethin' to watch. Your choice."

Sam looked up in surprise and then smirked. He turned on the television and started flipping channels. "What if I pick a chick flick?" He saw Dean's shoulders hunch and chuckled.

Dean rolled his eyes and smiled. "Driver picks the music, Sammy. I'll deal."

Sam grinned and set the remote aside with a grin. "Got it."

Dean grabbed a pillow off their dad's bed and sat down besid