One week later

Dean stood by the window in the livingroom, arms folded over his chest while he watched Bobby unwrap something he had just picked up somewhere.

Sam was sitting on the couch, elbows resting on his thighs, hands clasped together, and he too watched Bobby intently.

"Are you boys sure about this?" Bobby asked and dropped the cloth the branding iron had been wrapped in on the coffee table.

"It's better than getting possessed again," Sam said, his tone tight.

"I'm with you there," Dean agreed.

Bobby made a face, obviously not happy about their decision, and Dean wasn't sure he liked the thought of this being done to Sam. But the fact remained that Bobby had the same branding and he hadn't been possessed even once. Of course, Dean hadn't either, but he figured it was only a matter of time before it happened.

"Better safe than sorry," he added.

"This is gonna hurt like a bitch," Bobby countered and fixed his gaze on Sam, who looked a little pale right now.

"I've had worse," Sam countered and gingerly rubbed the fading scar on his arm where the binding link had been.

Bobby glanced at his arm. "Do you remember getting that?" he asked.

Sam shook his head and briefly glanced at Dean. "No, I don't. I must have been out when she ... did that."

"So you haven't had worse, Sam. You have no idea how much this is gonna hurt," Bobby said.

Sam made a face. "Maybe not that, but I do remember what it felt like when you broke the link," he countered and focused on Bobby again.

Dean couldn't help a smirk. There was a little devil-may-care attitude there. Sam wasn't an innocent after all.

"Fine. As long as you're sure. I don't wanna hear any bitching about this afterward," Bobby countered. "Got two choices in painkillers," he added. "Booze or morphine."

Dean glanced at Sam, who frowned lightly while staring ahead of himself. "What wears off faster?" he asked.

"The morphine," Bobby said. "And I don't have much of it. Just enough to tide you over for the first day."

"That'll do fine," Dean said. "Lets heat this baby up and get cracking."

With a grimace, Sam rose. It was obvious that he was nervous, but truth be told, so was Dean. He wasn't much in favor of marring his skin with a branding iron, but on the other hand, it would be a hell of a lot easier to bear than having to endure a possession.

Bobby spent the next hour heating the damned thing up in the workshop out back until it was glowing and during that hour, Sam's resistance to this grew. Dean could almost feel it. But he never said anything and when the time came, he didn't back out.

"I'll go first," Dean said.

"No, you won't," Sam countered. "Not this time." He pulled his t-shirt over his head, grabbed the belt he had brought with him and sat down on the chair Bobby had pulled over. "Just do it," he said and bit down on the belt.

Dean scrubbed a hand over his lips, not happy about Sam doing this before him. Rather than stay back, though, he grabbed Sam's shoulders from behind. Sam grabbed his wrist with his right hand and nodded to Bobby, who raised the red-hot iron out of the coals of the barbeque. He looked rather reluctant. "Are you sure?" he asked again.

Sam nodded and his grip on Dean's wrist tightened.

To obtain maximum effect and prevent the scar from fading into nothingness after a few months, the branding had to drag out, so when Bobby finally got his act together and pressed the smoldering hot iron to Sam's shoulder, Dean was convinced that Sam would pass out. But he didn't. Every single muscle in his entire body tensed and he bowed his head forward while his grip on Dean's wrist became crushing. But he said nothing, didn't make a sound, not even after Bobby finally pulled the iron away from his skin again.

Dean was ready with a cold, wet cloth that would stem some of the pain and prevent the burn from deepening too much, but he could only use one hand to drape it over the burn, because Sam was still holding onto his right with a vengeance.

It took him another ten minutes before his grip on Dean's wrist finally lessened and he raised his head and let the belt drop into his lap. "Ouch," he muttered.

Dean grinned. "Ouch?" he asked. "Van Damme has nothing on you, dude. You're the frigging Terminator."

Sam managed a jittery little smile, then got to his feet to leave the chair to Dean.

"Excuse me if I can't be as tough as my badass brother here," Dean said, pulled his t-shirt off and sat down while Bobby reheated the iron. "It's amazing what we'll go through to prevent those bastards from winning."

"Yeah," Bobby agreed. "You ready?"

Dean nodded with a grimace. "Not even close. Let's do this," he said, grabbed the belt that Sam had abandoned and clamped it between his teeth. "Hit me," he said around the belt, trying to bolster himself up enough to take this the same way Sam had. He knew he couldn't. Pain always had to be vocal with him.

Sam copied his support by grabbing Dean's right shoulder and Dean figured he could return the favor by grabbing Sam's wrist too.

Truth be told, the idea of that branding iron scared the shit out of him and he most of all wanted to refuse the treatment, but there was no way he would seem that weak in his brother's eyes.

The pain was as bad as he had expected it to be, but it got a hell of lot worse only a split second later. "SON OF A BITCH!" he yelled, dropping the belt in the process while he pressed his back into the chair in a subconscious need to get away from the searing pain. Sam's grip on his shoulder tightened in sympathy and Dean squared his jaw against the pain, which seemed to drag on for hours and into eternity while the branding itself lasted mere seconds.

When Bobby finally removed the iron, there was no release. The wound kept burning like there was no tomorrow and Dean gritted his teeth against the surging pain the burn caused.


It took several days before Dean felt comfortable enough to wear anything but a t-shirt. Sam either seemed to heal faster or was a hell of a lot better at tolerating pain that Dean had ever thought, because he was back to wearing t-shirts and shirts the following day.

"How's your shoulder?" Dean asked when he stepped into their room and found Sam sitting on his bed while tentatively prodding the bandage covering the burn.

"Still sore like hell," he admitted and glanced up at Dean. "What about you?"

"I'll live," Dean countered. "But the chafing is driving me nuts," he added.

Sam smiled halfheartedly. "I wonder if this works in the long run," he said and returned his attention to the bandage. "I mean ..."

"... with the rate we're healing up? Yeah, but I think these suckers will stay with us for quite a few years," Dean finished for him.

"I hope so," Sam said and made a face. "So ... what are we up to next?"

"Back to what we do best. There's still a truckload of demons out there that we need to expedite back to Hell or, for that matter, snuff out of existence for good," Dean countered and sank down on the edge of his bed. "I'd aim at the second option. I know it means killing a lot of people, but a lot of those poor bastards are dead already or will be in therapy for the rest of their lives. We'll be doing them a favor."

"What, you're trying to save them the expense of therapy?" Sam countered. "You are so full of shit sometimes, Dean."

"Look who's talking," Dean shot back. "I'm serious, dude. Look what it did to you to get possessed. I nearly frigging lost you there. And that's so not funny, man."

Sam pursed his lips in contemplation, then sighed. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Guess it wouldn't be such a bad idea if I toughened up a little, huh?" he asked and managed a halfhearted smirk.

Dean arched an eyebrow. "Toughened up? After how you handled that branding, Sam, you don't need to toughen up any further. That's plenty." The thought alone that Sam could lose himself again like he had before made Dean shiver inside.

"Relax, man. I was only kidding," Sam countered.

"Funny, ha-ha," Dean said, flexed his left shoulder a little and made a face. "Bobby wasn't kidding about the burn. It just keeps going, doesn't it?"

Sam glanced down at his own shoulder, then eyed Dean with a slight frown furrowing his brow. "It's not that bad, Dean," he claimed.

"Not that bad? What are you? Invulnerable now?" Dean countered, unable to keep an edge out of his voice.

"Did you use the ointment Bobby gave us?" Sam asked and eyed him closely. "You didn't, did you? Dean, you idiot! You'll make it ten times worse. No wonder you're bitching about the chafing all the time." Sam rose, his movements purposeful.

Dean leaned back a little when Sam stopped in front of him, laden with the tube of ointment and fresh bandages.

"Take your shirt off," Sam ordered.

Dean eyed him for a second, then did as he said. "I get all tingly when you take control, Samantha," he joked.

Sam rolled his eyes, peeled the bandage off Dean's shoulder and made a face. "Dammit, Dean. It's infected," he chastised.

Before Dean could do more than huff at the idea, Sam grabbed his arm and bodily hauled him to his feet before pushing him toward the door. "Bathroom. That has to be cleaned out. And don't make a fuss or I'll call Bobby," he said.

"Snitch," Dean huffed, but made his way to the bathroom without further comment.

Sam cleaned the wound out as best he could, then covered it with the icy gel and then taped a new bandage in place. "Keep it clean and keep using this stuff. It works," he said and pressed the tube of ointment into Dean's hand.

"You're such a hen, Sammy," Dean countered and reared back when Sam lashed out at him. "Hey, easy. I didn't know it was time for PMS again."

"Shut up, jerk," Sam growled, packed up the things he'd used and left the bathroom.

Dean merely chuckled until Sam was out of hearing range. Then he gritted his teeth and sent his shoulder a murderous glance. "Son of a bitch," he muttered. Despite the discomfort of the burn, Dean couldn't have been happier. Things were back to normal, Sam was his good old self, and the deal was off. What more could he want?


Two months later

Life had pretty much returned to normal, as far as their lives could be called normal. They hunted, they kicked ass and they celebrated when it worked out. Dean did his share of the celebrating, but Sam was, as always, a little more reluctant. He didn't hook up with any girls, mainly because he didn't really feel like it and mostly because he didn't want to get involved in anything that couldn't go anywhere. Dean kept telling him to live for the moment, but Sam couldn't really wrap his mind around that idea, so he didn't.

With the colt back in action, they took out demons left and right and they never saw hide nor hair of Bela Talbot on the way. They were both aware of the potential danger of running into her, though. Dean had picked up a few scraps of news on her here and there and she wasn't a happy camper. Apparently, she had lost just about everything she had acquired throughout the years she had lived with the deal she had made and was now forced to spend much of her time on the run because the guy who had wanted to buy the box of her had only narrowly missed her a couple of months back and had put a few bounty hunters on the job to find her.

"Dude, check this out," Dean said and turned the laptop for Sam to see.

Sam leaned in to read the e-mail his brother had received and arched both brows in surprise. "Twenty-five million dollars?" he asked. "What the hell is worth so much about this damned box?"

"No frigging clue, but it's no wonder Bela's buyer got a bit pissed at her. He paid her twenty-five million to get it and now she doesn't have a cent to her name? That's actually kinda sad," Dean countered and shook his head in disbelief. "I talked to Bobby earlier. He said the sighting is confirmed. There are a couple of demons holed up in this town and they're making life miserable for the locals," he added.

Sam sighed. "What town are we in again?" he asked and smirked at the somewhat stunned expression that slipped over Dean's face.

"Dude," Dean exclaimed. "You're the walking encyclopedia and you don't know where we are? Sheesh!"

Sam gave him a saying look. "Do you?" he countered.

Dean made a face. "Of course I know where we are. We're in ..." He frowned and glanced around the motel room. "Uhm ..." he added and shrugged.

"Thought so," Sam said with a laugh and dropped back down on his bed. "So, where are they holed up?"

Dean gave him a withering glare, then sighed and returned his attention to the laptop. "Somewhere in town was Bobby's guess. What do you think?"

Sam scratched the back of his head. "From the research I've done ... probably in the old church outside of town. It's been abandoned for close to fifty years. The locals say it's haunted. Would be an ideal place," he countered.

"Yeah, sounds like it," Dean agreed and glanced out the window. "It's nearly dusk. Let's get moving," he added and got up.


They fought hard and they fought dirty. There was no other way to fight when it came to demons. What got to Dean were how many of them they were up against. He hit the wall of the old church with a resounding crash that sent a shiver of pain through his back, but he still managed to raise the colt and blow that bitch away.

Sam let out a grunt when he hit what remained of the pews and broke the wood with the impact. But he was back on his feet in no time and hammered a fist into the guy's face, knocking him off his feet.

"SAM!" Dean yelled and tossed the colt to his brother, who caught it in midair and finished the job.

"Three down, three to go," Sam called back. He was bleeding, but grinning and Dean countered that with a grin of his own.

"Keep dreaming," one of the demons hissed, this one possessing an older woman, and she threw herself at Sam, knocking him backwards into the pile of debris on the floor.

Dean plowed his way through the two guys going for him, reached Sam and grabbed a handful of the woman's hair, yanking her backwards off his brother, who brought up the colt and blew her away.

"DEAN, DUCK," Sam yelled and Dean hit the floor instantly, barely avoiding the wooden beam being swung at his head. Without hesitation, Sam blew the guy away.

They both got to their feet to face the last remaining demon, who stood a few feet away, staring angrily at them. "You may have won this round, but that's all you'll win," he snarled.

Dean grimaced, grabbed the colt and put a bullet in the guy's heart. "End of the line, asshole," he countered.

For a moment they stood still, battered and bleeding but victorious nonetheless, then they glanced at each other.

"Six demons, dude," Dean said and couldn't help a smirk. "Take that, you bastards," he added and let out a triumphant shout. "And they thought they had us licked."

Sam eyed him for a moment, then made a face and glanced around the now totally demolished interior of the old church. "Yeah," he agreed and sighed. "And six dead people too," he added.

Dean sobered instantly. "Yeah, I know," he agreed. "But what could we do, man? I mean ..."

"You don't need to make excuses, Dean. I guess this is what they call collateral damage," Sam countered. "Let's burn this place and get out of here. Personally I need a long hot shower and an early night."

"That is so not gonna happen, dude. We're celebrating. This has been one hell of a victory for us tonight. Six demons, dude," Dean countered and slapped Sam on the back of the shoulder.

"Ow," Sam hissed and grabbed his obviously sore shoulder.

"Sorry, man," Dean countered, still grinning. "Let's clean this place up and get out of here," he added.

Moments later, they stood next to the Impala and watched the old church go up in flames for a moment. Then Dean slapped the roof of the car. "Let's haul ass. Don't wanna be here when the fire department arrives," he said and got in the car.

Sam followed suit and groaned lightly when he settled onto the seat. "I am so fed up with being thrown around like that, man," he complained.

"Stop bitching. It's part of the job," Dean countered with a smirk. "You should find yourself a girl to help you work out all the kinks. You're too tense, dude. You need to get laid."

"And you need to mind your own business," Sam countered, but couldn't help a grin.

They drove back to the motel and Sam had at that point decided to go with Dean to the local bar at least for a little while. "I'm not staying, though. I'm beat," he said as he shrugged out of his jacket and headed toward the bathroom.

"Yeah, yeah, grandma," Dean countered and beat him to it. "First dips on the shower," he added and slammed the door in Sam's face.

"Jerk," Sam muttered.

Dean grinned, stripped down and stepped into the shower.


Half an hour later, they headed toward the local bar, which was only a few blocks away from the motel. Sam still couldn't remember the town's name, but that didn't matter much right now. In general, he just wanted to go back to the motel and lie on his bed and watch television for an hour or so. But Dean was adamant about his need to party and he wasn't going without Sam. So rather than risking a night of Dean whining about him being a spoilsport, Sam had decided to come along, have a beer or two and then head back. By that time, Dean would probably be knee-deep in girls and wouldn't be interested in leaving.

The bar was crowded and noisy and Dean felt right at home. Sam found a spot off to the side at the bar itself, ordered a beer and just settled down to watch his brother work the room. And boy did he work it. It took him exactly ten minutes to hook up with two girls and Sam made a wager with himself about which one Dean would end up going home with. After studying the two girls for a moment, he shook his head and dropped his gaze to his bottle. Chances were, Dean would end up with both of them.

"New in town?"

That voice, though distinctly female, sounded older than Sam had any interest in. He glanced sideways at the woman sitting next to him and managed a halfhearted smile. She was old enough to be his grandmother and was so obviously coming onto him in her drunken stupor. He shifted a little to distance himself. "Just passing through," he countered and let his attention drift, hoping against hope that she would get the point and leave him alone.

No such luck, though. She leaned in closer and smiled openly at him, exposing teeth that hadn't seen a dentist in quite a few years. "What's a cute boy like you doing in a place like this?" she slurred, her words stumbling over each other.

"Back off, Emma. He could be your grandkid, for pity's sake," the barkeep said, reached across the bar and pushed her away from Sam.

She huffed and sputtered, got shakily off the chair and proclaimed that things most certainly weren't what they used to be, before she staggered out of the bar.

Sam nodded his thanks to the man, who nodded once in return and went back to his other customers.

"Don't mind Emma. She's just got an eye for good-looking guys."

Sam almost sighed, then glanced at the woman sitting on his other side. Now, that was more like it. She was a hell of a lot closer to his age, pretty like hell and she offered him a warm smile. "Oh, I don't mind. I'm just not ... you know ..."

She chuckled. "Believe me when I tell you, if you give her a finger, she'll take your whole arm and more. I'm Katie," she introduced herself.

"Sam," he countered.

"Nice to meet you, Sam. Are you here for long?" Katie asked.

"Nope. We're leaving town tomorrow," he said and was suddenly not so sorry he had come. He glanced over at Dean, who was obviously having the time of his life, and Sam suddenly felt inspired. Mainly because Katie had long, blonde, curly hair and deep blue eyes.

"That's a pity. It's a nice place. Small but cozy," Katie said. "Buy a girl a beer?" she asked.

"Sure," he said and ordered two more even though he hadn't even finished his own yet.

They talked for a while and before Sam knew it, he had definitely had his fill in beer and had totally lost track of both time and his brother until someone grabbed his shoulders from behind and nearly tipped him backward off the chair. "Dude, I'm taking off. You okay here?" Dean asked.

Although nobody else would be able to tell at this point, Sam heard the slight slur in his brother's words and knew the guy was dead drunk. But he wasn't far behind himself and that made him abstain from commenting on the fact that Dean would be hung over in the morning. "Sure," he countered. "Have fun."

"Don't I always?" Dean asked, then caught sight of Katie. His grip on Sam's shoulders tightened and he leaned a little closer, his lips almost touching Sam's ear. "Atta boy," he whispered, pushed away and left the bar with two girls in tow.

Sam shook his head lightly.

"Who's your friend?" Katie asked.

Sam glanced at her and stifled the need to sigh. Whatever the hell it was Dean had, it worked like honey on bees, and he knew the battle was already lost. The tone of Katie's voice betrayed the instant lust and Sam almost felt inclined to send her after Dean. 'Let him try and juggle three girls at once', he thought and made a face. "That's my brother," he finally said and emptied the sixth beer bottle, then glanced pointedly at his watch. "Well, it's getting late," he added.

Katie eyed him for a moment, then smirked. "What, you think your brother has just outmaneuvered you?" she asked, slipped her arm under his and leaned closer.

Sam met her eyes for a moment and reassessed his previous opinion. "Uh ..." was all he could think to say to that. Then he ordered two more beers and they soon lapsed back into their previous conversation.


There were two things that pulled him out of sleep. One was his stomach's insistent growling. The other was the scent of the bed-linen under him. He cracked his eyelids open and instantly realized that was a mistake. The hangover asserted itself and it was a hangover from Hell. Naturally, his mind was the first thing to kick into gear and it complained loudly over the abuse of alcohol. He had completely lost count of how many beers he'd had. All he knew was that he could still taste them and ...

He trailed off in his mind while slowly becoming aware of his body. He was lying on his stomach, face half buried in a pillow that smelled vaguely of flowers, which just seemed so wrong for some reason. Slowly, he shifted a little, which caused friction in all the wrong places, and he realized that he was naked. Stunned, he pushed himself up on his elbows and squinted at the head of the bed. Dark wood, carved, expensive-looking. So not a motel room bed.

Frantically, he started groping for where he was and what had happened the night before. He remembered Katie, remembered Dean taking off with two girls, but that was all he remembered. Everything sort of swam out after that, a blur of alcohol and ...

He turned his head a little and caught sight of the cascade of blond curly hair on the pillow next to him. He knew why he had found her interesting. She was smart and she looked a little bit like Jess. 'Shit', he thought and tried to remember if he had slipped up at any point. She hadn't kicked him out, which probably meant that he hadn't. Or maybe she couldn't remember either? One could hope.

Katie moved, then turned her head and blinked up at him. "Morning," she said, sounding as sleepy as she looked while stretching languidly.

"Hey," was all he could think of saying. The situation had caught him by surprise to such an extent that the hangover was forgotten and the insistent growling of his stomach had subsided. He shifted over on his back and sat up, then glanced at the alarmclock. "Oh crap," he muttered.

Katie propped herself up on one elbow and eyed him. "What? You gotta be somewhere?" she asked.

"Frankly, yes," he agreed and grimaced. "My brother's gonna have a cow. I need to ..." He stopped short, then gave her an apologetic look. "I'm sorry about this. I usually don't do this sort of thing. It's ..."

"Sam, it's okay," she assured him and sat up. She made no move to cover herself and he found himself staring at her chest for a second before he could control the urge. It made her smirk, though. "Don't worry about it," she added. "Unless you wanna make it up to me?" she then asked and sat up on her knees, letting the sheet slip off her completely.

He blinked, unable to take his eyes off her for the moment. "Uhm ..." he tried, not sure what to say. Judging by his physical responses to her, there was no doubt, but he felt torn between what he wanted to do and what he felt he had to do. But too many times came to mind where he had been stuck in some motel room while Dean had been gone for hours on end, having fun with some girl, and he suddenly decided that Dean could probably wait another hour or so. "What the hell," he added and smirked back at her.