The following night

"You could have told me, you know."

Sam draped an arm over his face and tried to pretend that he was sleeping, although he knew it was in vain. As if to prove the point, a pillow hit his elbow. "Leave me alone, Dean. I'm tired," he muttered into the crook of his arm.

"You're such a girl sometimes. I don't need protection from that bitch. She needs protecting from me," Dean claimed heatedly.

"Yeah, I know. I heard you the first ten thousand times you said it," Sam said, pulled his arm away from his face and stared up at the ceiling of the room. "Do you have a thing for her?"

The other bed creaked, telling Sam that Dean had just sat up. "What? Are you nuts?"

"No, Dean, I'm not. It's commonly known that if a guy gets this upset about a woman like that, it indicates ..."

"Nothing!" Dean snapped, interrupting him. "It indicates nothing other than the fact that I want to wrap my hands around her throat and throttle her to death. She's a menace to society. She shot you, for heaven's sake. You think I'd find a woman like that attractive?"

With a heartfelt sigh, Sam pressed both hands against his face. "Sometimes I wonder," he muttered into his hands.

"What?" Dean asked.

"Nothing," Sam countered and yawned. "Can we do this tomorrow? I'm really tired."

"Yeah, must be all the secrets you're keeping," Dean said.

Sam flinched, glad that Dean couldn't see him right now. "Well, you weren't exactly truthful either, were you? About that damned deal you struck. Would you have told me if Jake hadn't pointed out that I should have been dead?"

Now it was Dean's turn to sigh. "Do we have to get into that again?"

"You started this," Sam said.

"Yeah? Well, then I'll finish it too. Good night, Sam," Dean replied.

Annoyed, Sam rolled over on his side, turning his back to the room, and realized that despite being tired, he wasn't going to get any sleep anytime soon. This was definitely one of the times when he envied his brother's ability to just lie down and sleep anywhere.

Eventually, he rolled back on his back and blinked up at the ceiling, which he could barely make out in the darkness.

"It was probably a good idea that you didn't tell me, though," Dean suddenly said, showing that he was no more able to sleep than Sam was.

"Why? Because we don't kill innocent people?" Sam countered.

Dean snorted, half amused. "She's no innocent. But it could get messy if I did shoot her, so I guess I'd better not. I mean, I've got enough on my hands avoiding Hendriksen and his gang of misfits for something I didn't do. I don't need to give them a real reason to hunt me down."

"No, you really don't," Sam agreed. "I just wish we could find out what's in it. I mean ... it must be something pretty powerful for someone to want to pay that much money for it."

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Dean countered. "So, what do you think is in it, brainiac?"

Sam thought about it for a moment. "I don't know. But I doubt it's another rabbit's foot," he said.

"Yeah, it's probably a key to another gateway to Hell or some crap like that." Dean sighed. "Well, Bobby will probably find someone who can identify it or something. As long as it gets destroyed and that witch can't get to it anymore." He chuckled. "When the time comes, I want to be the one to tell her that she's out a couple of million."

"Be my guest," Sam said and smirked.

"Oh, and next time you have a secret little rendevous with her, you can let me know. She's a bitch, but she's pretty," Dean said.

Sam rolled his eyes. "She's a persistent pain in the neck, Dean," he said. "It's like Murphy says, dude. Never sleep with anyone crazier than yourself."

"Murphy?" Dean asked. "Oh, you mean Murphy's Law?"

"Yeah," Sam agreed.

"You know, you've got me pecked wrong here, bro." Dean shifted and the bed creaked. "I don't find her even vaguely attractive."

Sam couldn't help a chuckle. "That would be a first," he countered.

"Honestly, though. She's completely nuts. I'd just as soon shoot her as look at her again," Dean persisted.

"Yeah, me too," Sam agreed and shuddered lightly at the thought of that woman. Man, he really didn't like her.

"Right. Glad that's settled. Now let's get some shuteye. I'm wasted," Dean said and again the bed creaked.

Sam listened for a bit until Dean's breathing evened out and it didn't take long before Sam started to drift off as well.

***

Motel Leonard
Grafton, ND

Another motel, another town. Dean was losing track of where they were and where they were going in their hunt for the escaped demons wrecking havoc on the world and he felt the distinct need to curl up in a corner and stay there until this crap was over. But that was not an option. They had a job to do and an obligation to do it right.

He dropped his duffle on the bed by the door and glanced up as Sam passed him and threw his onto the second bed. "So, we find out where this weirdness began and then try and track down the demon behind it," he said.

"Weirdness? Dean, three people are dead," Sam countered and gave him a dark look.

"I know that," Dean said. "So ... three people are dead under mysterious circumstances. But ... as Bobby said ... might not be demonic."

"They were burned to death, Dean. I think that pretty much spells hellfire, don't you?" Sam countered.

Dean eyed him. "I don't know. You tell me," he shot back.

The expression that flitted over Sam's face admittedly made Dean a little cautious, but it vanished before he could fully determine what it was about. "No need to snap, dude," Sam said, his tone a bit defensive. "I'm just pointing out the facts."

With a sigh, Dean sank down on the edge of his bed. "Sorry," he muttered. "I'm just not having a very good day here," he admitted.

That seemed to confuse his brother a bit. "Why's that?" he asked.

Obviously, Dean put more stock in things right now than Sam did. "Because you frigging lied to me about that damned box, man," he finally said and rose again.

Sam rolled his eyes. "Weren't we done with that subject?" he asked, now decidedly annoyed.

"No, we're not done with it. Don't keep things from me, Sam," Dean persisted. "Your attitude lately is really starting to bug me, okay? I mean ... first the thing about that Ruby chick, then the fact that you go out and blow away the crossroad demon ... and you're more trigger-happy than the Dalton brothers now. What's up with that?"

Sam's expression tensed. "Maybe I've had enough of the nice-guy routine. You've spent my entire life reaming me about how I'm too soft and too girlish," he said, snarling the last word out. "Look what it brought me, Dean. Nothing! Mom died because of me, so did Jess and dad and now you're going the same way. And why? Because I'm too damned weak? Well, I've had enough, okay? I'm through being the nice guy." He rose, his expression almost twitchy now. "I am not going to let you die for me, Dean!"

Dean wasn't entirely clear on what he had expected, but this wasn't it. Sam's response was understandable. Dean had just never considered that side of things and it stumped him. He didn't know what to say for a few moments. "Dude ..." he tried, but didn't know how to go on.

"Don't tell me it's going to be alright and that you're not going anywhere, because you are, you dumb shit. You sold your damned soul for me, remember?" Sam snapped. He was angry now; beyond that, even. He was furious. He usually never turned to name calling.

"It was my fault, Sammy," he tried, suddenly feeling every inch of the height difference between them. Sam seemed to grow with anger. He was looming, his anger an almost tangible thing.

"Just give me a damned break, Dean. Not everything in this world is your fault!" Sam snarled. "I wasn't good enough, wasn't fast enough. I got distracted and Jake got the drop on me. You're up against forces you can't fight, Dean. We may have the frigging colt, but it only shoots one bullet at a time and that's never going to get us any closer to killing all these evil sons of bitches. You know that."

The anger came off Sam in waves in a way that Dean had never experienced before and, if he had been pressed to voice his present concern, he would have admitted that it scared the crap out of him. The fact remained that Sam was right and that in turn meant he didn't know what to say without having to admit defeat.

Sam drew in a deep breath and let it out again slowly, visibly calming himself down. "We need to find another way to get rid of these bastards, Dean. We'll both end up dead if we keep going this way. And you know very well that it wasn't our doing that the gate was opened. It was Jake. Because he was weak."

Despite the now calm tone of voice and the sincerity in Sam's eyes, Dean almost couldn't stop a shudder. That Sam was accusing anyone of being weak was a character breach that was unacceptable. Sam's empathy had always been something Dean had been able to rely on; that Sam would reel him back in when he got out of line. He made fun of his brother for his empathy, but truth be told, he needed it to stay on the straight and narrow. "So, you think all the other special kids were weak as well?" he asked.

Sam eyed him and it was obvious that he was aware of what Dean at present considered the slip-up. "No," he said. "Of course not."

"Then why would you think of Jake as weak?" This was not going the way Dean wanted it to go. He was getting a little apprehensive about his brother's motives right now and that didn't sit well with him.

"Because he was a trained professional, Dean. And still he caved just like all the others did," Sam said, his tone suddenly a little flat.

"So ... what does that make you? I mean ... he got the drop on you, as you said. What do you think would have happened if you had killed Jake instead?"

The expression on his brother's face was a study in duality right now. He didn't seem capable of settling on either defensiveness or anger. "I would have walked away," he said. "I would have told old Yellow Eyes what he could do with himself and I would have walked away."

"Right," Dean said quietly. "And what if old Yellow Eyes had used me as leverage? What if he had put the squeeze on me again like he did right before dad died? Would you still have walked away?"

The look in Sam's eyes made Dean uncomfortable. He had hit on something here, something Sam wasn't ready to talk about. "What's the point of discussing this? We can't turn back time and do it over again," Sam said and strode over to the window. He kept his back turned and Dean could only guess at what was going through his head right now.

"The point is, Sam, that you're different. Yeah, I get that you're tired of the nice-guy routine. But this isn't you. Remember the first time we ran into a ballybog? You didn't want to shoot it because it looked defenseless. And that was after it had clawed a long gash into dad's leg," Dean tried.

"Not a mistake I've ever made again," Sam grumbled.

"No, but the fact remains that you've always stood up for the underdog, no matter where he came from. And now you tell me that Jake was weak?" Tired all of a sudden, Dean rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm sorry, but that just doesn't sound like you."

It took a moment but eventually Sam turned back to face him. "I thought I could talk him into doing the right thing, Dean. I tried. I told him we could walk out together, that we didn't have to ... but he didn't care. I think he liked the power that came with the position. As did ... you know." He settled down on the windowsill and buried his hands in the pockets of his jeans. "He was really strong. That was his deal. Strength. But mentally ... he couldn't resist. Hell, I don't think he wanted to when it came down to it. And when we ran into him at the cemetery ... he was high on power, Dean. You saw it. He nearly killed Ellen."

"And he would have if we hadn't stopped him," Dean agreed. "But that doesn't change the fact that you killed him, Sam. Not only that, you emptied the damned clip into him. One shot I could have accepted. But six?"

"So what? You think I'm going darkside?" Sam asked, his tone a bit clipped. "You think I'm turning into the monster that dad warned you about?"

"No," Dean said immediately. "But even you must be aware of this change, man. It's ..."

"What, Dean? It's what? Scary?" Sam asked. "You don't think I'm scared here? You brought me back from the dead, man. And now you're gonna leave me with the legacy that I got every single member of my family killed?" His tone was demanding, yet clogged up with unshed tears. He sniffed, wiped the back of one hand against his nose and turned away again to stare out the window. "You think I'm looking forward to being all alone? You think I like that idea?" he continued quietly, his voice quivering. "I won't stand a chance on my own, Dean. If you think the demons are gonna back off just because you're gone, you've got another thing coming."

This deal was going sour on him the closer he came to his cut-off date and the knowledge that he could do nothing about it ripped into him in a whole new way. Sam was right. He hadn't even considered what might happen to Sam once he was gone. Somehow, he had managed to convince himself that everything would turn out fine for his brother, that Sam would either go on hunting or find a girl and settle down. But, truth be told, nothing was ever that easy for them. Why should that change once Sam was alone?

Taken aback, he sank back down on the edge of his bed, rested his elbows on his knees, folded his hands and just stared at them.

"You didn't think about that, did you?" Sam asked and turned back to face him again. "You didn't think about what would happen to me once you were gone. You think they're gonna leave me alone? Because I don't. We can't kill two hundred demons in one year, Dean. The rest of them are gonna come down on my head the second you're out of the picture."

"Okay, I get the point. I screwed up. Big time," Dean countered a tad more aggressively than intended. "What do you want me to do about it?"

Sam stared at him for a second, then visibly deflated. "I don't know," he admitted. "You shouldn't have brought me back, Dean," he added quietly.

"How could I not, man?" Dean countered. "You're my brother." He knew it sounded flat, knew it was a well-worn phrase that was beginning to lose its meaning in the face of this situation, but he still meant it. He still clung to it, because having Sam back was better than the alternative, no matter the outcome.

Sam said nothing, just stood there while he stared ahead of himself.

"Aw man," Dean muttered. "What the hell was I supposed to do? Just leave you like that? How could I?"

"Maybe I was better off," Sam said and grimaced. Dean was fairly certain that it should have been a smile, but even Sam couldn't smile in the face of this type of adversity.

Dean had no answer for that. The thought had struck him since, mainly because of the change that Sam seemed to be undergoing, but being who he was, Dean managed to explain it every time he noticed something off about his brother. Only lately had it become more difficult.

"Well ... we can't go back and change it, so I guess we're gonna have to live with it," he finally said.

"Yeah, well, we'll see about that," Sam grumbled. "Let's find that damned demon and send it back to Hell," he added.

Dean nodded, but the enthusiasm he should have felt at the prospect of another hunt left him cold right now.

***

The 'demon' turned out to be anything but. The guy they tracked the killings to was a deeply disturbed man in his fifties, who claimed aliens had messed with his head and that they told him to kill certain people using a blowtorch.

Dean did the smart thing. He called the local cops, told them he'd seen this guy running around, waving a blowtorch around and muttering about burnt corpses. He and Sam pulled back and let the guys in blue handle the situation.

"Who'd have thought, huh?" Dean asked. "Looks like not everything nasty is demonic in nature."

"Well, Bobby did say it could be something else," Sam countered and glanced at his brother. Right now, they were 'innocent bystanders', watching while the nutcase was dragged off by the police, hollering at the top of his lungs how he had to carry out the work he was obliged to do. Sam was almost painfully reminded of their encounter with the ghostly priest and what that meeting had done to his faith.

Faith? That was a good one. How could he have faith in anything when everyone around him died?

"Fun's over, people. Go on home. There's nothing more to see here," one of the cops said and started ushering the curious bystanders away.

"It's too bad that not all jobs are this easily dealt with, eh?" Dean asked as they headed down the street toward where the Impala was parked.

Sam heard him, but didn't really feel like responding. There were too many things mulling around in his head right now and trivial conversation about things that would never be was not on his agenda today.

"Hey, what's wrong? You look like you're disappointed," Dean said after they had walked for a bit.

Sam glanced at him, then toward the shiny black car they were heading towards, and sighed. "Not so much disappointed," he confessed, "as needing to burn off some steam. A hunt would have helped do that."

Dean arched an eyebrow, fished the keys out of one pocket and unlocked the driver side door. "You're really starting to worry me, man," he said. "You're beginning to sound more like me than I do."

Sam couldn't help a rueful smile at that one. "Perish the thought," he said, barely managing to add the sarcasm needed to covey the words correctly.

Dean grinned and slid behind the wheel. "Let's get a move on, Sasquash. I wanna be out of this dull little place as fast as I can."

Sam got in on the passenger side and pulled the door shut.

"I'm actually relieved we don't have that damned box with us. The last thing I want is to run into Bela out here," Dean said.

Sam glanced at him and made a face, which caused Dean do narrow his eyes.

"You didn't," he said, a warning note in his voice.

"We need to find out what's in it so we can destroy it, Dean. How can we do that if we leave it at Bobby's?" Sam countered.

For a long, breathless moment Dean just stared at him. "At least tell me you have it on you," he finally said.

Sam nodded. "It's in my backpack," he said.

"Which you left in the car. Need I remind you that Bela stole that rabbit's foot out of your pocket, dude?" Dean growled, reached behind the front seat and grabbed Sam's backpack. He opened it and routed through it, then let out a small sigh. "Still here," he muttered and threw the backpack at Sam. "You keep that thing with you at all times. Do you hear me?"

With a light nod, Sam zipped up the backpack again and dropped it on the floor between his feet. "Don't worry. She's not getting the drop on me twice. I'd just as soon put a bullet in her head anyway," he said.

"Which is not gonna happen. She's a human being. Granted, not the nicest of people, but she's still human and – like you used to say – we don't kill humans," Dean said, revved the engin to such a degree that two elderly ladies walking past glared at him, and then he pulled the Impala out into the road.

The trip back to the motel was nothing short of an eye-opener for Sam. Although it wasn't that far, Dean said nothing for the entire drive and that gave Sam enough time to think things through. With the imminent danger of a hunt-gone-wrong out of the way, he could focus on other things and one of the things he focused on a lot at the moment was the way he felt inside. His behavior was off-putting to Dean and that had really started his alarm bells ringing. But he didn't know what to do with it.

He did know one thing, though. If Bela turned up and demanded to get the box, he was going to kill her. Dean's initial reaction had been spot on. She was not going to stop coming until she had stolen what she was after and Sam was just not going to put up with more of her crap. He was fed up with her smug attitude, fed up with her obvious belief that nothing she did could go wrong, and he wondered if she'd sacrificed a family member somewhere in her past to get this lucky.

To make sure Dean didn't witness any untoward expressions slipping over his face, Sam kept staring out the passenger side door's window. And he was glad he did, because he couldn't keep a sneer at bay when he thought about that bitch.

Before they reached the motel, Sam realized that he would find it all too easy to dispose of Bela and to some degree, it worried him too that he felt that way about her. Sure, she had shot him and she kept playing Dean for a fool, but that still shouldn't have warranted such unadulterated hatred to rise in him.

A quick glance down at his backpack made him frown. What if the box had something to do with the way he felt? He almost smiled at the thought. No, the box wasn't the reason. Being brought back from the dead by a frigging demon was. He was becoming more and more convinced of that, convinced that the crossroad demon or whoever held her leash had added a little extra something to his reawakening.

"Hey, sleeping beauty, we're here," Dean said while pulling the Impala into the parking lot in front of the motel.

"I'm not asleep," Sam countered a tad more grumpily than intended. He gave Dean a brief quirky little smile, then got out of the car and stretched his back.

"Sam?"

"What?" he asked and glanced at his brother over the roof of the Impala.

"Are you okay?"

Dean's concern would probably have been touching at other times, but right now it annoyed the crap out of Sam. "Yeah, I'm fine," he said, forcing the annoyance out of his voice. Truth be told, he was anything but fine, but he couldn't tell Dean that. Like he couldn't tell Dean about Ruby's revelation about Mom. So, right now he had two things on his agenda; one was finding out what the box contained and how to destroy it, which he needed to find a psychic for; two was finding out why exactly every friend or family member of his mother's had been killed prior to his birth.

"Great. So, what's next then?" Dean countered.

Sam glanced at him, fully aware that his brother was the master of the avoidance game. If something made Dean uncomfortable, he had a startling ability to ignore it. Sam hoped on some level that it would save Dean in the end, but he knew it craved stronger forces than just turning a blind eye to it.

***