Zortman Motel & Garage
Zortman, Montana

The following morning, Dean woke up slowly. He was lying on his stomach, his right cheek on the very edge of the bed. The room was generally still dark, but his eyes slowly adjusted to the light filtering in through a crack in the heavy curtains which spilled a ray of sunlight onto the floor between the beds. He just lay there, his eyes on the brightly lit piece of worn carpeting, his mind still idling, until it slowly dawned on him that he'd had an uninterrupted night. Considering that he'd fallen asleep before twelve last night, that thought sent a shiver down his spine and he pushed himself up on his elbows, suddenly very afraid of what he might find on the other bed.

Sam was on his back, his head turned so he was facing Dean, and he was sleeping soundly. The rise and fall of his chest was a comfort to watch and Dean took in that his little brother's sleeping pose was a hell of a lot more relaxed than it had been at any point over the past two weeks. Added to that, Sam's skin tone had definitely improved. Dean sighed and let his head drop for a second, then glanced at his watch. It was a quarter past eight. For a moment he considered what he should do first, then decided to get maybe an hour more before he started the preparations for this day's job.

He slid bonelessly back down on the bed, burrowing his face into the bedspread he had never gotten around to pulling off the night before, and faded out almost instantly.

The next time he woke up, he first glanced at his watch, noted he'd slept two more hours, and then pushed himself up on his elbows again. Sam was still asleep, which in and off itself should have been a worrying thing if it hadn't been for the lack of proper rest the kid had been able to get since this shit had happened.

To afford Sam the opportunity of sleeping as much as he could before the undoubtably painful wound finally woke him up, Dean kept all noise to a minimum and managed to shower and get halfway through the preparations for this job he had to finish before Sam stirred.

Dean only became aware that Sam had rejoined the living when he glanced over at him and found him watching him. "Good morning, sunshine," he said with a crooked grin.

Sam blinked a little sluggishly. "Hey," he muttered and made a face. "Man," he added and raised his head a little to send a look along his own lanky frame, "it's the first time in forever that I've woken up without the pain."

That was great news. "Good to hear," Dean countered. "Can I get you anything?"

Sam frowned a little, then carefully pushed his elbows backwards, raising himself up a little. As of yet, it would seem that he hadn't used the damaged muscles and therefore wasn't feeling the strain. He looked very concentrated until he stopped moving again, then he sighed lightly and focused on Dean again. "Still no pain," he said, a hopeful look in his eyes.

"Don't overdo it, dude," Dean warned. "That sort of thing doesn't pass over night. Especially not with the road trip we were forced on last night."

For a moment he had the impression that his incorrigible little brother would not leave well enough alone, but then Sam slowly lowered himself back down on the bed and closed his eyes. "I never imagined that pain could be so exhausting," he muttered.

Dean smiled vaguely. "Yeah, well, you learn something new every day," he countered, then glanced back over at Sam, who's breathing had evened out again. He'd promptly fallen asleep again. Dean grinned and returned to his preparations.

He dropped one of the salt tins into the duffle when Sam suddenly groaned and shifted a little. He glanced over at him with a slight frown furrowing his brow. Sam shifted again, rolling his head from one side to the other, muttering under his breath. There was something wrong with this scenario. Sam had nightmares, sure, but he didn't talk in his sleep. He never had.

Dean rose, but stayed put while watching him intently.

"No," Sam muttered and made a vague gesture with one hand. He shifted a little and groaned, then raised one arm, palm out as if he was trying to ward off something. Then his arm flopped bonelessly back onto the bed. "No," he rasped. Then his entire body jerked and he reared halfway up off the bed before the pain this obviously caused him stopped him in mid-motion.

His lids snapped open and both hands instinctively went for the injury, which set Dean in motion at once. He launched himself at his brother, grabbing his wrists and pushing him back down on the bed to prevent further agony. "Easy, buddy," he cautioned him. "It's okay, Sammy. I've got you," he added.

For a second Sam didn't even breathe. He just stared up at Dean, his eyes too wide, his complexion too pale.

"Breathe, Sam," Dean said sternly, but it yielded no response from his stricken sibling. "Dammit, Sam. BREATHE!"

It took the anger in his voice to elicit a response. Sam hauled in a breath, then dissolved in agony. "Aw god," he pressed out.

Dean released his wrists, grabbed the box with the painkillers, filled one syringe with the dictated two ccs and injected it into the shunt in Sam's arm. In the meantime, Sam had started sweating while his complexion went from pale to ashen. Although he did breathe, it was erratic, shallow and rapid, a sure sign of intense pain. Dean counted down from ten in his mind, expecting the painkiller to kick in by then, and he was rewarded when Sam's breathing evened out slowly and he began to relax. Slowly, the color returned to his pale face.

"Better?" he asked and Sam nodded once, briefly closing his eyes. "What the hell was that all about?"

"Nightmare," Sam muttered under his breath, then opened his eyes almost forcefully and stared up at the ceiling.

"Wanna talk about it?" Dean asked.

"Not really," Sam countered.

"Okay, well you're gonna," Dean said and folded his arms over his chest as a sign of determination.

Sam glanced at him, then grimaced and gingerly touched his stomach, hissing when it obviously caused him pain. "I ... can't," he muttered.

"Yeah, you can. And you will. I'm not going anywhere until we've got this out in the open," Dean said sternly. "This is eating you up and I'm not gonna stand by and watch that happen without doing something about it."

"Dean, you need to finish the job," Sam said quietly.

"I need you to be okay while I'm out there finishing it. And you're far from okay. If this had happened while I was gone, what would you have done? I doubt you'd have been in one piece right now," Dean countered a bit aggressively. It scared him how easily Sam could have hurt himself. "Come on, man. Talk to me. Tell me what's going on so I can help you fix it."

Sam sighed lightly, then draped his left arm over his face.

"Look, Sammy, I know you've been through hell and I totally get that it's not exactly the best type of story to retell, but you need to talk about this, man. Why are you having panic attacks when I leave, but you hardly seem affected at all while I'm with you? You go from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde in a flash if I even indicate I might step outside for a second. That's not normal. Not even under these circumstances. So frigging talk to me," Dean insisted.

"It wouldn't have happened if you'd been there," Sam muttered into the crook of his arm.

"What?" Dean asked.

Sam pulled his arm away from his face and blinked a few times, then focused on Dean. His eyes were oddly glassy right now. "If you'd been there, he wouldn't have gotten the drop on me," Sam insisted. "I ... didn't see it coming. I messed up."

"How did he get the drop on you, Sam? You've got all these uncanny senses. How the hell could a bastard like that get the drop on you?" Dean asked. He wanted Sam to talk about it, to spill the beans and let him in on what exactly had happened. Something in that story would tell Dean exactly why Sam was behaving the way he was. He focused on that mainly because it subdued the burn of guilt in the pit of his stomach. Even Sam thought that he shouldn't have left him alone and had said as much now.

Sam drew in a shuddering breath, then returned his attention to the ceiling above him. "I ... don't know. It was dark. I ..."

"Start from the beginning, Sam. You left the bar, went back to the motel, and then what?" Dean said, urging him on.

For a moment, Sam remained silent, his eyes glued to the off-white ceiling above him. Then he sighed lightly. "I checked the parking lot. But there was noone there. Nothing out of the ordinary. I was so damned tired, I didn't even get under the covers, just fell asleep on top of the bed in my jeans," he started. "And then I woke up and it was dark. And I saw ... a shadow. I tried to get up, but he got the drop on me, knocked me out with ... I think it was chloroform. And that's all. It happened so quickly, I didn't have time to react."

Dean nodded. "And then what?"

Sam glanced at him and there was pain in his eyes; not the physical one, though. It was the mental anguish of being forced to relive the worst event in his life and Dean cringed inwardly, on the verge of telling him it was okay, he didn't have to talk about it. But he knew Sam needed to get this out and he would have to bear the burden of knowing what that bastard had done to his brother. But if it took the weight off Sam's shoulders, it would be worth it.

"Come on, Sam. Talk to me," he urged him on.

"I woke up ..." Sam closed his eyes and clenched his teeth together, the muscles in his jaw jumping with the pressure. "I had no idea where I was," he finally continued. "I couldn't ... move. My mind was fairly clear, but I couldn't move. It took a while before I could do more than just stare up at the ceiling. I was ... kinda paralyzed." He cleared his throat and made a face. "But it wore off ... a little. And I heard these sounds," he continued and squeezed his eyes shut. "And muffled screams," he whispered.

"The other kid?" Dean asked and Sam nodded tensely, keeping his eyes shut.

"He ... was screaming. But he was gagged. Couldn't ... really get it out. And he was terrified." Sam pressed both hands against his face for a moment. "He was ... that man ... he ... cut him open and ... and he ... pulled his intestines out. All of it." He raked his fingers over his face, then balled his hands into fists, pressing them against the underside of his chin while he kept his eyes firmly shut. "And he ... dug around inside that kid, like he was looking for something," he whispered hoarsely. "And all I could think about was that this would happen to me too if I didn't get out. I ... I didn't even feel sorry for the kid. I was just ... scared for myself."

"And you had every damned right to be, Sam. There was nothing you could have done," Dean tried.

Sam opened his eyes and stared at him for a moment. "I didn't feel sorry for him, Dean. At all. All I wanted was to get out, to get away," he insisted.

"Yeah, Sam, I get that. And even though you may think that's not what you're about, this was a question of basic survival, man. In a situation like that ... you couldn't have helped that kid. You were drugged. You were next in line," Dean persisted. "Don't beat yourself up about this, Sam. Don't you dare." He eyed Sam sternly, hoping to get his point across. "So, what then?" he added.

Sam just stared at him for a second longer, then looked back up at the ceiling, a light frown on his brow. "I regained mobility, so I got off the damned table," he said, his tone flat while his voice wavered. He grabbed his left shoulder, touching the scar there. "He cut me," he muttered. "Stuck me with a knife before he drugged me."

Dean glanced at his shoulder. The suture on that wound had been neat even though the twine used had been corse. It made him wonder if the perp had been a doctor before his common sense had gone bye-bye. "So, you got off the table," Dean said, trying to direct Sam's attention back to what he needed to talk about.

"I got halfway across that basement before he caught me again," Sam said. His tone of voice had changed dramatically. He sounded like he was retelling a movie he felt nothing for and Dean wondered if he was doing it on purpose or if it was a subconscious response to having to relieve this nightmare. "He drugged me again, then finished off the other kid. He died, that kid. He died screaming." His voice hitched and he closed his eyes again. "And then he came for me. And he never said anything. To either of us. He just carved us open like he was dissecting a damned frog in biology class," Sam said, his tone now dead. "And then you turned up. The rest you know."

Dean just sat there and stared at him, his stomach in knots. Not that he would ever show that to Sam. But it scared him a little that Sam was so calm right now. "So, he never said anything?" he asked.

Sam shook his head lightly, but didn't look at him.

"I called your cell at one point," Dean said almost thoughtfully.

"Yeah, he heard that. He stomped on it until it stopped ringing," Sam countered. What little color he had regained had once again left his skin. Then he glanced at Dean and Dean realized that he hadn't been able to hide the pain under a cloak of indifference as Dean had thought at first. Sam might have been able to keep the emotion out of his voice, but there was no doubt in Dean's mind that his little brother was scared shitless of this guy, dead or alive. Not that he blamed him.

"So, now shit-for-brains has moved on to another plane of existence and you're still scared of him," Dean surmised. "You think he's still out there?"

"I don't know," Sam confessed. "I know you blew him full of holes. I know he's dead, Dean. But ... whenever I'm alone ... I can feel his eyes on me. I ... I know it's stupid, but I can't help it."

"It's not stupid, Sam. After all we've seen, you should know better than calling something like that stupid," Dean said quietly. "You're going to be okay. I'll make sure of that," he added and rose. "Because I'm going out there to salt and burn the remains of that bastard. Just for the hell of it."

Sam blinked and a single tear sidled down the side of his face. "I don't think I've ever been this scared in my life," he whispered as he voice cracked.

Dean knew without the shadow of a doubt that any kind of joke would not only be inappropriate right now, it would be downright cruel. Sam was suffering the torments of Hell and there was no way he was going to add to his brother's agony by making fun of this. He sank back down on the edge of the bed and eyed him darkly. "I can totally follow you there, man," he said and grabbed Sam's upper arm. "You'll be okay, though. I'll make it go away."

Something about his words set Sam off and it took Dean a little by surprise when Sam wiped his arm over his face, but was unable to subdue the sobs. It had only been a matter of time before it came to this, Dean realized, but he still felt a little unsettled by this sudden and complete breakdown. Unsure of how to handle it right now, he struggled against his own surging emotions.

"Hey ... dude ... come on, man," he muttered. What the hell could he say in a situation like this? He reached out and rubbed Sam's shoulder, uncertain of how to alleviate Sam's distress. "Sammy, come on," he tried again, but his brother kept sobbing into the crook of his arm, his whole body shaking with the violence of his agony. "Shit," Dean muttered, then grabbed Sam's arm and pulled it away from his face. "Hey, Sam, come on. It's okay. It'll be okay. I won't let anything like this happen to you again. I swear," he insisted. He knew he would have to get over himself at this moment and be there for his brother in every way he possibly could, so he gathered Sam into a hug, pulling him close. "It's okay, Sammy. I've got you."

Sam wrapped his arms tightly around Dean, his fingers clawing into the back of his t-shirt, and he completely dissolved into ragged sobs that spoke volumes about the fear and the pain he had endured and still was enduring. It seemed to take forever before his heartbroken sobs tapered off again and all the while Dean just held fiercely onto him. It broke his heart that his brother had to suffer so much. He sniffed and tightened his grip on Sam, not trusting his own voice right now, so he remained quiet, his own eyes swimming with unshed tears.

It took a while longer before Sam finally released his harsh grip on Dean and sank back down on the bed. He looked embarrassed and didn't meet Dean's scrutinizing gaze. "Sorry," he finally whispered. "I know you hate this sort of thing."

"Oh, shut up, Sam," Dean countered sternly. "Everybody needs a hug now and again," he added. "Nothing to be sorry about."

Sam wiped his face with one hand glanced self-consciously at Dean. "I thought you hated chick-flick moments," he muttered.

"Yeah, if you're expecting them from me I do," Dean countered and gave him a small grin. "You're entitled to a little breakdown, dude. I would probably have trashed this room into oblivion. That's the way I get rid of it. There's nothing wrong with crying, though. So don't you be sorry about that, okay?" Again he reached out and rubbed Sam's shoulder. "Do you feel better?"

Sam nodded vaguely. "A little," he admitted.

"Good," Dean said and rose again. "Now, let's get this over with. I'm going out there to bury that son of a bitch once and for all and then we'll call Bobby or Ellen, whoever has time and space for us right now," he added and eyed his duffle for a moment. "But ... just so you feel safer, dude," he added, grabbed the second tin of salt and eyed the room for a moment. Then he laid down salt lines along every opening he could find, including the bathroom window. Then he laid down a salt line around the bed too.

And then he laid out two guns on the night stand, one loaded with salt rounds, the other with silver-tipped bullets. Next to this he placed a bottle of holy water and two bottles of normal water from the mini-fridge.

He eyed his handiwork for a moment, then gave Sam a grin. "There. That should make you feel a bit safer," he said.

Sam wiped his nose with the back of one hand, then carefully pushed himself up and backwards until he was halfway sitting up.

Dean handed him the remote for the tv, then grabbed a bucket from the bathroom and put it down on the floor within easy reach.

Sam frowned at the bucket. "What's that for?" he asked.

"Well, you have been drinking a bit since yesterday. And, to my knowledge, you haven't been to the bathroom yet," Dean countered.

Sam eyed him for a moment, glanced at the bucket again and made a face. "Dude," he said and almost sneered at the idea.

"Don't start going all coy on me, Sam. I don't want you getting off that bed, you got that? You're not strong enough for it and we really don't have room for your sensibilities right now. This is a one-step-at-a-time kind of scenario and you're damned well going to take it slow. We've run out of medical insurance and I don't think it would be very smart to have to check you into the nearest hospital again while we're still in Montana. I don't know how much Maryann could do to subdue this, but if it all goes to hell, the other hospitals in the area will be on the lookout for us. So don't you overdo it, okay?"

"Alright," Sam countered and rubbed one eye with the heel of his hand.

Dean eyed the setup he had created for a moment, then grabbed the box with the painkillers, filled two syringes with two ccs each and laid them out on the night stand as well. "Just in case. But don't take them unless you have no other choice, okay? I shouldn't be away too long, but ... just in case." Sam nodded, but before he could say anything, Dean raided the mini-fridge again, grabbing the mandatory crackers and candy bars. "Here. In case you get hungry. Or do you want me to go out and find you some sandwiches or something?"

Sam glanced at the pile of junk, then made a face.

"Okay, I'll get you something decent to eat," Dean said. "But then I have to leave. I'd rather not go out there after dark. That place is creepy enough as it is," he said and grinned. "Be right back," he added and dashed out the door to get Sam some sandwiches.

***

Sam just sat there and eyed all the precautions Dean had taken to make him feel safer, and he did feel safer for it. But it still didn't remove the undercurrent of gut-clenching fear of being alone. It had helped a little that he'd had the opportunity to let go a little, but it also embarrassed him, because he knew how awkward Dean considered such situations to be, no matter what he might have said about it.

Then he glanced at the bathroom door, then down at the bucket and made a face. "Like hell," he muttered. He'd have a few hours to practice before Dean got back and he was damned well going to be back on his feet by that time.

The door opened and Dean strode back in and placed a brown paper bag on the night stand. "That's a little bit of everything," he said. "Should keep you going for a bit," he added, grabbed his duffle and threw it over his shoulder. "Stay on that bed, Sam. I mean it," he said, giving Sam a stern look.

"Who are you? My boss?" Sam countered. "Get out of here. Finish the job. I'll be fine."

Dean grinned. "Looks like a good cry does make you feel better, eh, Sammy?"

"Shut up. Get going. You're burning daylight," Sam countered and pursed his lips.

Dean grinned and left again, closing and locking the door behind him. If Sam knew him right, he'd put the 'don't disturb' sign on the door too, to keep the motel staff out of his hair.

Sam listened for the familiar rumble of the Impala's engine and waited until the sound had died away in the distance before he focused on his, as of yet, useless legs. "Like hell am I staying on this bed," he muttered, squared his jaw and pulled his right leg up a bit. When that went fairly well, he tried the other leg as well and grimaced at the taut feeling in his mid-section. "I am not going to piss in a bucket," he told himself. "That's just not going to happen."

He eyed his surroundings for a second and figured his best bet was to get out on the side of the bed that was closest to the bathroom door. The wall was an arm's length away, which gave him something to lean against. "I can do this," he muttered, then carefully shifted around and managed to pull his legs over the edge of the bed. By the time his feet finally hit the floor, he was shivering lightly and he was already breathing hard. "That's what I get for lying flat on my damned back for two weeks straight," he growled and allowed himself a moment to settle down before he pushed carefully up from the bed, making sure he had something to hold onto at all times. His back was aching already, his muscle-tone was down to zero and protesting loudly at the abuse he was putting it through.

Convinced that his legs would carry him, he arched forward, grabbed his knees and slowly pushed himself up. By the time his back was halfway straight, he stopped at the feeling that his abdominal muscles were too short for his frame. "Shit," he muttered and reached out for the wall, bracing himself against it. On shaky legs, he waited until his heartbeat slowed down a little and he stopped sweating so much, then slowly pushed himself up a little further before he stopped again to let his insides get used to him being upright again.

Although he couldn't straighten his back completely, he managed to at least stand as upright as he could, on his own two feet. There was pain, but it wasn't bad. It was more like a dull throb than actual pain and it wasn't something he couldn't handle. He made a face, then chomped down on his lower lip and shifted his right foot forward. Right now, he wasn't too keen on taking his weight entirely off his feet. The risk of him ending up on the floor with a ripped suture was just too damned big right now, so he decided not to push his luck. If he could get to the bathroom door and back to bed again without falling on his face, he would be happy.

The effort took everything he had in him and a little more he dug out of his reserves, but he somehow managed to accomplish what he was after and when he finally eased back down on the bed, he was grinning despite the pain, despite the fatigue. "In your face," he pressed out and pulled himself back up on the bed. He would rest a little and then he would try again.

***

One hour later
Wilder Trail
Montana

At the end of Wilder Trail, Dean cut the engine and got out, grabbed the duffle from the backseat and threw it over one shoulder before closing the doors and locking the car. Even though there was nobody out here, he had no intention of putting that to the test and maybe losing the Impala in the process.

As prepared as he would ever be, he turned to the footpath leading down to the river that ended up in Fort Peck Lake, and started down it without hesitation. It was only after he had walked for about ten minutes that he started to slow down and listen to the forest around him. There wasn't a sound to be heard. "What the hell?" he muttered and came to a full stop.

At first, the forest was completely silent. There wasn't a bird twittering or any kind of critter moseying around in the undergrowth. But slowly, as his hearing tuned into his surroundings, Dean began to hear something, like a soft moan on the wind. And it was whenever the light breeze wafted his way from the direction of the lake that he heard it. "Crap," he whispered and started walking again. It would seem that the perp's death had started a chain reaction of some sort and Dean couldn't help wondering if that was why Sam was so edgy about the whole deal; because his freaky supernatural abilities picked up on this.

The closer he got, the stronger the moaning became and when he broke through the tree line, he came to a stop again. The old waterworks was still standing, of course, and even though it had seemed creepy before, it was ten times creepier now. Even with the sun beating down on the old, overgrown structure, the feeling this place gave him was that of a massive haunting. That old asylum back in Rockford, Illinois, hadn't felt that bad and he was still a fair distance from it.

"Holy crap," he muttered and swallowed hard. "What the hell have I started here?" He was fully aware that his interference and subsequent offing of the perp had set this in motion and he wondered how much crap he'd have to go through to end it. "Suck it up, man. It's only ghosts," he told himself and was once again painfully reminded of how hands-on ghosts could be if they really wanted to. Like that Dr. Ellicott in Rockford. "Sick puppy," he muttered, shifted the weight of the duffle a little and marched on toward the run-down gates and the dirty old sign dangling from its post.

He had the feeling already that this wasn't going to be a walk in the park, but he knew how to handle ghosts and he would put this whole damned place to rest if that was what it took. "For Sam," he muttered, determined to see this through to the end.

The moaning transformed into distant screams of agony, wailing voices raised in lament over the horror they had endured in life and the horror they were still living through in death. But Dean walked on, unwilling to let the lamenters deter him from ridding this world of a few more things that went bump in the night.

***