Salt Lake City, UT
Two days later

Considering that he had basically spent the past week on the road, Sam had to admit to himself that he was getting a little tired and his hopes of finding help with the witch Maria weren't very high.

She was thirty-two and the very image of a witch, albeit a pretty one. With red, curly hair down to her waist, emerald green eyes and a preference for what Sam considered hippy-clothes – all natural fibers in other words – she got very close to being a caricature. And she laid it on thick too until he stated his reason for turning up.

For a moment she stared at him. Then she glanced toward the front of the curiosity shop she ran, strode over to the door and locked it, then turned the closed sign around. Then she pulled the shade down in front of the door and turned back to face him. "Raise the dead?" she asked, her demeanor suddenly very much changed. "Are you insane? That's dark magic. You can't raise the dead."

"I just so happen to know that you can," he disagreed. "Josh Parker claims you know how."

She eyed him for a moment, then sighed. "Look ... uhm ... what's your name again?"

"Sam," he said.

"Sam, this is no game, okay? I'm a Wiccan. Generally, I practice white magic. But I have dabbled in dark magic and it always, always comes with a price. And something like this ..." She shook her head, her long earrings jangling. "No, I'm sorry."

"Do you know how?" he insisted. His patience was running very low right now. He knew he shouldn't get angry with her, knew that she was probably right in what she said, but he couldn't let go so easily.

"No, I don't. I know there are practices, spells, but ... no. They involve human sacrifices, all the dark stuff. There is no way I will get involved in that," she said with conviction.

For the briefest of moments he considered forcing her to tell him what he wanted to know, but then he shook his head lightly and let out a deep sigh. He would have to appeal to her humanity to get her help, not threaten her into submission. "My brother died nearly two weeks ago," he said quietly. "And ... I can't ..." He trailed off, well aware that this was no longer a game, no longer pretense. He could play on her sympathies or show her the real thing and he knew he would have to go with the latter, because he was heading toward the breaking of the dam very quickly.

"Look, Sam, I'm sorry, okay? I wish I could help you. I wish there was some white magic spell that you could use, but ... there isn't. It's not ... natural to bring people back from the dead. Which is why only black magic can do it. You might find witches in the Bayous that dabble in this sort of thing, but it could end up costing you your soul if you go that far. You don't want that. Trust me on this."

He felt like he had been sucker punched. In general, he felt like he was seven years old again and was having the crap beaten out of him in a new school and Dean wasn't around to defend him like he always had been. He fought the anguish rising in him, pushed it back down, but he knew he wouldn't be able to hold it back for much longer. "Do you know anyone who can help me?" he asked and met her eyes dead on.

Maria eyed him for a moment, her eyes full of pity and sadness. "There is a witch in Maine. Maybe ... but I ..." She shook her head sadly, stepped around the counter and scratched a few words down on a pad, pulled off the page and handed it to him. "Look her up. But be very, very careful. She's very old and she doesn't like young people. She's deeply involved in black magic. She may know how to do it or at least I'm pretty sure she knows someone who can."

He took the piece of paper, but froze when she grabbed his hand.

"Do me a favor. Hole up somewhere and think this through. Use her only as a last resort. They don't come much darker than her," she added.

Sam almost smiled despite the way he felt inside. "Is she human?" he asked.

Maria frowned. "Yes, of course she is. What else would she be?"

"A demon, maybe," he said and couldn't stop the joyless smirk from spreading over his lips. "No, my last resort ... is Lucifer," he said quietly.

She released his hand as if she had burned herself and stared at him. "Don't even joke about that," she said, fear in her voice.

"I'm not," he countered. "Thanks for the address."

With that, he left the shop again and didn't look back.

***

El Palomino Motel
Sidney, NE

After an eight hour drive, Sam was pretty much worn out and needed some downtime. But the second he got out of the car he got antsy and it took him a good long while to calm down enough to even think of sleeping.

He stretched out on the bed by the window, folded his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. But after a moment, he opened them again and stared up at the ceiling of the room. It was too damned quiet, too lonely.

Almost afraid to, he turned his head and eyed the second bed, then pushed himself up on his elbows and just stared at it. Part of him was up in arms about what he was doing, but it was a part that was dwindling fast and it hadn't been very big to begin with.

The not knowing was what killed him here. He didn't know where Dean was, didn't know if his brother was still around and if he wasn't, where he had gone. What if Bobby was wrong? What if the hell hounds had only scratched up Bela's corpse because they couldn't find Dean? What if they had found him in that hospital?

He sat up and pulled his legs over the edge, planting his feet squarely on the floor and just sat there. He would go to St. Agatha in Maine and find that old witch and, if necessary, force the information he needed out of her. He just needed to find a way to release Dean, to get him back. Because Sam had never really believed that Lucy had released him of the deal and by pretending to do so, she had set Bela up against Dean in a big way. First because of that damned box and then because of the deal.

With a tired sigh, he grabbed his duffle, routed through it and pulled the box out. He sat with it for a bit, uncertain of what to do with it. Some part of him wanted to open it and maybe he would if he found out that he couldn't release Dean. Maybe he would just open it and damn himself, if that was what this thing was. It was hard to say. If Lucy was right, then it contained a spell of some kind and that could be just about anything.

Before he could make any decisions on what to do next, there was a subtle knock on the door. He looked up and stared at the door for a moment, then grabbed the colt, set the box aside, rose and stepped over to the door. He didn't bother asking who it was, but just opened it.

"Sam," Ruby said and eyed him closely. She just stood there, arms folded over her chest, her expression stuck somewhere between annoyed and indifferent. Like always.

"What do you want?" he asked, released the doorknob and returned to the bed, where he settled down on the edge.

Ruby stepped inside, glanced around, then closed the door behind her. "You're hard to keep up with. Why the hell are you driving all over the country?"

"I don't really see that this is any of your business," Sam countered and looked down at the colt in his hand. He gently caressed the handle with his thumb.

"Not really, no. Not since you gave up your edge," she agreed angrily. "I hear your brother bit the bullet," she added.

Sam looked up at her, feeling nothing but contempt and annoyance over her presence. "Leave me alone, Ruby," he said.

"Or what? You'll shoot me with the colt that I helped you restore?" she countered and eyed him darkly. "That's gratitude for you."

"I'm not of any help to you any more. The demon essence is out, gone. Too bad, huh? You must have really been looking forward to serving Azazel," he countered a little tightly.

"I wanted to help you. You could have controlled him, could have used his abilities as your own. If you had, you might even have been able to save your brother from getting killed by that treasure-hunting bitch. But you boys have never been very good at grabbing onto a chance when it presented itself, have you?" Ruby bit back.

He shook his head and returned his attention to the colt. "Go away, Ruby. Unless you have some way for me to get Dean back ..."

"There's no way to get him back. Not from where he's gone," she countered and snorted. "Did you really think some common-assed witch with delusions of grandeur could transfer his deal to someone else? You really are naive, aren't you?"

"Witch? Lucy St. Clair may be a lot of things, but she's not a witch. If anything, she's a demon," he countered and gave her an annoyed glance in return.

Ruby laughed out loud. "Yeah, right. If you cut her, she'll bleed. She'll probably put a spell on you for it, but she's no more a demon than you are now," she said.

Sam narrowed his eyes a little, then rose. "Get out," he said quietly.

"Would you listen to me? You can't get Dean back. It's not possible. And even if it were ... he wouldn't come back right. Just like you didn't come back right. You could have used it to your advantage, but he won't be able to. It'll eat him alive and you'll end up with a demon with your brother's face. Is that what you want?" Ruby snapped.

For a moment all he did was just stand there. Then he raised the colt and aimed it at her in an almost lazy gesture. "You have two seconds to leave," he said calmly.

Ruby sneered. "Fine," she growled, turned around and left again. She slammed the door hard enough to rattle it in its frame and the lights started flickering for a moment, then steadied again.

Sam lowered the colt again, then sank back down on the edge of the bed. His gaze shifted to his phone lying on the night stand and he briefly considered calling Lucy, but he didn't trust her any more than he trusted Ruby now. He didn't think Ruby was right about her, but she knew how to plant the doubt. "Stupid bitch," he muttered under his breath, put the colt on the night stand next to his phone and stretched out on the bed again.

***

Iowa City, IA
The following evening

After another ten hour drive, Sam stopped over in Iowa City for the night and he had promised himself that he would blow Ruby away if she turned up again. There was nothing he needed less right now than her interference.

The Iowa City Travelodge had what he needed, which was basically a bed for the night and somewhere to get breakfast in the morning. Not that he was plagued by hunger these days. He generally went from driving to going straight to bed and had planned on that now, but moments after he had checked into his room, his phone rang.

It rattled him and he half expected to see the text 'Dean's cell' on the display. His hand was shaking just a bit when he managed to pull the phone from his pocket and he realized he'd been holding his breath when he saw the caller id. "Hey Bobby," he said.

"Sam. Where are you?" Bobby asked.

"Iowa City," Sam countered and sank down on the edge of the bed closest to the window.

"What are you doing in Iowa City? I thought you were going to New Orleans?" Bobby asked.

"Yeah, well, I've been cross country a couple of times already. Morgana knew nothing. She sent me to Michigan. The guy in Michigan sent me to Salt Lake City and ... well ... now I'm on my way to St. Agatha in Maine," he said while scratching the back of his head. He was tired enough to drop.

"Maine?" Bobby asked. "What the hell is in Maine?"

Sam knew Bobby wasn't going to like it, but he didn't really care at this point. All he cared about was finding the answers he needed. "A witch," he said.

Bobby was silent for a moment. "Not Lorelei I hope," he said hesitantly.

Sam fished the slip of paper out of his pocket. "Yeah, that's the one," he confirmed and braced himself for the rant that was sure to follow that.

"No, Sam. You can't go see her. Nothing good will come of it," Bobby said, his tone sedate, almost quiet. "From what I know of her, she's worse than a crossroad demon. She may be human, but I think she sold her soul a long time ago."

"I don't care, Bobby. I need to find a way to get Dean back. It's tearing me apart that he ... that he's ..." He stopped, unable to say the words out loud. It hurt too damned much.

"Sam, I know how you feel. Trust me, I do. But this is not the way to do this. Morgana, yes. Josh, maybe. That he sent you to see Maria wasn't the smartest move. But you cannot go see Lorelei. She's ... just trust me on this one, okay? Just come back here and we'll figure something out. Don't go to Maine, Sam. It's too dangerous."

The thought that anything could be considered more dangerous than Lucy St. Clair almost made him smile, but he figured Bobby hadn't meant Lucy. He sighed lightly. "What if she knows a way?"

"She probably does. But it will cost you a price you can't pay, Sam. Whether she wants your life in return or someone else's, you can't go there. She's not the right choice," Bobby persisted.

"Oh, and Lucy St. Clair, who's considered to be Satan, is?" Sam countered. He was getting a little fed up with being told what to do right now.

"Whoever Lucy St. Clair is, Sam, I severely doubt she's Satan. Why would she live among humans if she was?" Bobby asked.

Sam found it hard to argue with that right now, but he blamed that on him being overtly tired. "Why not?" he countered and knew that was a lame answer.

"Sam, I know I can't tell you what to do. I'm not your father," Bobby tried and snorted. "Hell, you wouldn't even listen to your father right now, would you? But Dean would tell you the same thing. Lorelei is not the answer. If ever there was a human being on the face of this Earth who is evil incarnate, it would be her. She will demand a price you won't be able to pay. I suggest you go see Lucy St. Clair before you see Lorelei."

Sam rubbed his brow and closed his eyes. "Look, I'll sleep on it, okay? I'll call you tomorrow morning. I'm beat," he finally said.

"Just promise me you'll stay put until we've talked about this some more, Sam. I really do not want to have to bury you too because it went wrong. And it will," Bobby said.

"Okay. I promise I won't go anywhere until we've talked some more," Sam said. "I'll call you when I get up."

"Make sure you do, Sam. Good night," Bobby said and hung up.

Sam pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it for a moment. Then he put it on the night stand, got ready for bed and was asleep half an hour later.

***

The following morning, Sam got as far as getting behind the wheel before he remembered his promise to Bobby. He sat there for a moment and stared out at the parking lot while he debated with himself whether he should heed Bobby's warning or just go on to Maine. What actually swayed him to heed the warning was that he could hear the argument Dean would put up about it. And Ruby's visit had something to do with it as well. Her adamant denial that Dean could be brought back had put him off. He didn't want to deal with her or anyone like her and he had the distinct impression that this witch might be what Ruby was; namely a demon. Eventually, he pulled his phone out of one pocket and dialed the number.

"Sam?" came the answer almost immediately.

"Yeah," he replied.

"Have you thought about what I told you last night?" Bobby asked.

"Yeah," he said.

"And?" Bobby sounded anxious, not a normal tone for him, and it solidified the decision of turning around and heading back to South Dakota.

"I'm coming back," he said and glanced in the direction he would have to take if he had continued toward Maine. "But only for a pit-stop. I'm going to go see Lucy St. Clair."

Bobby was silent for a moment. "Good. It's a whole lot better than going to see that witch," he finally said.

"I'll be there in ... about nine hours, give or take," Sam said. Some part of him desperately wanted to go to Maine, to find that old witch and get the answers he needed, but he figured he had just as much chance of ending up in a fix if he went to see Lucy.

"I'll be expecting you. Drive safely," Bobby said.

Sam hung up and dropped the phone on the seat next to him, then fixed his eyes on the dashboard of the old classic. "You're not mine," he muttered and ran his fingertips over it. "I'll get him back. I promise."

It made him smile vaguely that he was talking to the damned car as if it had a soul, but in general he felt like it did, that it was a little part of Dean and a little part of dad as well and right now, he wanted both of them back. He didn't like feeling the way he did, hollowed out and empty. There was a screaming void inside him and with every passing day, it became bigger and stronger and he needed it to stop before it devoured him completely.

With an effort, he pushed the pain back, pushed the anger and the sorrow back, and got back on the road. And for some reason, his mind snapped back to Jess and for the umpteenth time, he wondered how she would have responded to what he really did for a living. She would probably have taken it in stride, like she had taken everything else, and he was suddenly desperate to hold her again.

He got as far as just past Newton before he had to pull over. He turned off at a crossing road, pulled over to the side and just sat there for a while, his hands cramped around the steering wheel, his eyes on nothing. He couldn't breathe, couldn't think straight. His mind was swirling with terror, the fear of being alone, the fear of never being able to get attached to someone again because he would be afraid of losing them. And he kept snapping back to that dad had probably felt the same way, that it had shaped how he had evolved as a human being, and suddenly Sam understood his father so much better.

With that realization came the anguish, which washed up in him like a tidal wave threatening to drown him. He opened the door and got out of the car, walked to the front and settled down on her hood while he desperately tried to control the fear, the anger, the hatred, the resentment and most of all the bottomless grief that was threatening to rip him apart. How could he exist without his family? What the hell kind of life was he supposed to have without the support of Dean? "I can't do this alone," he whispered. "I can't."

And still he shed no tears and he wondered if he ever would again. He felt dry inside, like there was no life left but that vague hope that a woman who claimed to be Satan in disguise could bring his brother back to life. And what price would she demand? His soul? His life? She had liked Dean, so maybe that would be enough. Maybe it would do that she had cared about his brother to whatever extent she could care for others? Whatever the price was, Sam would pay it, because anything was better than this and he now understood Dean's reason for making the deal in the first place. This, truly, was Hell on Earth.

It took him an hour to calm down enough to get back on the road and by that time, he felt more numb than ever before. He was afraid to hope and afraid to give up and it left him in an emotional limbo.

***