North Forty Resort
Whitefish, MT

Apprehension had taken hold and Dean found himself glancing at his brother now and again, actually expecting to see some physical manifestation of the change he was becoming more and more aware of.

By the time they reached Whitefish in Montana, their next stop, he was just about worn thin with worry.

The cabin they pulled up in front stumped Dean for a few seconds. He just sat there and stared out at it. It looked too damned much like a suburban house with a white picket fence around it, even though the cabin didn't have a fence.

Sam was out of the car already and glanced around for a moment, then grabbed his duffle from the trunk and stepped up on the porch to open the door.

Dean followed him after a moment and almost groaned when he saw the interior, which consisted of white and pink with frills and lace. "Nightmare land," he growled and tossed his duffle onto the closest bed.

"Like we're gonna stay very long," Sam countered. "Let's go over the next ..."

"The box. You still got it?" Dean interrupted him.

Sam gave him an annoyed glare. "Yes, I do," he said.

"Show me," Dean insisted.

With a heartfelt sigh, Sam opened his duffle and pulled the box out of it. "Here. Happy?"

Dean grunted instead of replying, opened his own duffle and pulled the map and dad's journal out of it. "Let's take a look at where we need to go," he said instead and dumped both things on the round table by the window.

"Can we ... like rest a bit first?" Sam asked. "You know, I haven't been driving for fifteen hours straight and I'm worn out. You need to slow down, Dean."

"Your concern is touching. Get with the program, Sam. The demons aren't gonna lie down for a nap," he countered, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

"We don't know if this is demonic either," Sam pointed out. "Bobby said it was most likely that it wasn't. Why not go after the sure thing? The one in Oregon sounds much more like something up our alley."

"We'll get to Oregon when we get to it," Dean countered. "And this is on the way, so we're taking this too," he added and dropped down on a chair to study the map. Admittedly, he was tired, but he had so far attributed it to being constantly vigilant for any change in his brother.

"Don't be stupid, Dean," Sam tried.

"I'm not being stupid, okay?" Dean snapped and just then realized how tired he really was. "Just ... back off, Sam."

With that expression on his face that Dean knew so well by now, Sam clammed up. He grabbed something from his duffle and left the cabin a second later. He didn't slam the door, but he did close it behind him.

Dean just sat there for a moment, the map suddenly seeming incomprehensible to him, while he tried to sort through his tumultuous emotions. Sam hadn't brought up their talk in Grafton again, but Dean knew he hadn't changed his mind on the subject. Frustrated, he scrubbed both hands over his face and tried to settle the emotional storm raging within him. Most of all, he felt abandoned with the impossible task of making sure his little brother didn't turn evil. And how was he going to do that? Sam was right, after all. They were up against impossible odds, fighting a losing battle.

With a sigh, he slumped back on the chair while his gaze settled on the journal. "Thanks a lot, dad," he muttered, drew in a deep breath and hauled himself back to his feet. Sam was right. They did need some downtime before they tackled this particular demon ... if it was a demon at all.

Suddenly feeling very dead on his feet, he made his way over to the door and pulled it open. Most of all he had expected Sam to be gone, but his little brother was sitting on the steps leading up to the small porch, the curse-box in his hands. He didn't look up when Dean stepped outside and leaned one shoulder against one of the supporting beams on the other side of the stairs.

"You're right. We should rest before we go after this one," he said.

Sam said nothing, just kept turning the box around and around. He paused briefly, staring at the bottom of it, then started turning it around and around again.

"I'm sorry, okay?" Dean tried. Apologies did not come easy to him, but he knew he had to make amends for this one. "I screwed up. I know that. But ..."

"But what, Dean?" Sam asked and glanced up at him. "Is this how it's going to be from now on? I'm starting to think you regret making that deal."

Dean eyed him for a second, then sent a quick look out over the immediate area. There was nobody else around. The other cabins close by were unoccupied for the time being. "I do. But only because I didn't think of the consequences. All I could think of ..." He sighed and shook his head, dropped his gaze to the stairs and stared at them without seeing them. "I can't do the Lone Ranger thing, Sam. I can't do this alone."

"So now I have to?" Sam asked, his tone bitter. "You know, I understand why you did it, Dean. I really do. I would probably have done the same thing. But ... couldn't you have wrangled that deal so you didn't have to die? I mean ... a year? What the hell is a year worth in all this?"

"Not much," Dean admitted. "She screwed me over big time, that bitch. But there's nothing I can do about it. The rules are clear. So you're gonna have to stop interfering, Sam."

"Make me," Sam countered, his eyes on that damned box again. "I'm not gonna sit by and let you die for me. And I don't really think that they can include me in that deal. I didn't agree to stay out of it. You did. I will find a way to get you out of that deal, no matter what it takes. And if Ruby is the answer, then I'm going with her."

"She's a demon, man," Dean said, still a little rattled by the fact that Sam would put his faith in the opposition.

"So what? We found out the hard way that not all vampires are evil, Dean. Why shouldn't that go for demons as well?" Sam asked and looked up at him.

Dean stared at him for a second. "Dude ... they're demons. By default, demons are evil. They don't want to help us, they want to destroy us. Why should Ruby be any different?"

Sam returned his attention to the box. "I just think she is different. She helped us out when we were up against the sins."

"You," Dean interrupted. "She helped you out. She didn't do squat for Bobby, Tamara or me."

Sam grimaced and fiddled with the box for a bit. "I don't know why, Dean, but I trust her. At least as far as solving this problem goes," he said. "I'm sure she wants something in return, but ..."

"Whatever she asks for, you turn her down, Sam. You can't give her anything," Dean said.

Sam smirked lightly. "Yeah, like you turned the crossroad demon down when she offered you that impossible deal?"

"Just because I did it doesn't mean you have to," Dean tried.

"Why not? You did what dad did. Why shouldn't I do what you did?" Sam countered a bit aggressively. "All my life I've been trying to live up to you and then you go and do something braindead like that?"

"Can we stop this?" Dean begged. He was starting to feel sick of the whole thing, sick and scared.

Sam remained silent for a moment, then suddenly rose and turned to face Dean. "You shouldn't have brought me back," he stated, his tone calm, unaffected. "Because I don't want to live with your death on my conscience, Dean. Do you get that? How the hell can I go on living when I know you're in Hell, suffering because of me?" The latter he yelled and he looked pretty damned distraught.

Before Dean could come up with anything to say to that, Sam turned and strode away and all Dean could do was let him go. "Shit," he muttered.

***

Sam was angry, but he knew his anger at this point was misdirected. He was more angry at the situation than at Dean. Actually, when he really thought about it, he wasn't really angry at Dean at all. He was scared like hell that time was running out and that he would lose Dean too. Out of sight of the cabin, he slowed down and stopped next to a fallen tree trunk. The forest surrounding the cabins wasn't too dense and the sun was gaining strength now. But even so it was still pretty nippy.

He settled onto the tree trunk and tried to sort out how to handle this impossible situation. With the box in one hand, he pulled his cell phone from one pocket with the other, scrolled through the numbers and stopped at Ruby's. What would it do to their precarious balance-on-a-knifes-edge relationship if he called her and demanded her help? She would know he was desperate, but she knew that already. He hadn't put a bullet in her head when he'd had the chance because she had dangled Dean's salvation in front of his nose. So what did that make him?

"Not a lick better than him," he muttered and smirked joylessly, shut the phone off and slipped it back into his pocket. He wasn't going to call her. Not yet. Chances were, she would turn up before he did. She seemed to have an uncanny ability to track him down, which made him wonder.

Again he eyed the box. It was smaller than the one that had contained the rabbit's foot. It was big enough to sit in the palm of his hand and generally reminded him of a miniature jewelry box. Jess had had one of those, made out of mahogany, which had been about three times as big as this one. The lid was like a miniature roof, probably with an edge that fit into the box. There were no hinges on it and the lid was pretty tightly wedged into the box itself. The box had short little legs that arched out on either side and ended in miniature lion paws. But that was all the decoration on it apart from the double L carved into the bottom.

He turned the box over and eyed the letters, then ran a finger over them, tracing each letter in turn, while he wondered what they meant. L was fifty in Latin. Fifty-fifty? He made a face. That made no sense. It had to be initials of whoever had created the box. He turned the box around and looked at the letters upside down. If the carving had been more ragged, he would have been able to convince himself that at least the first letter could have been an incomplete J, but there was no way the second one could pass for an incomplete W. So it couldn't have been his father's box. So where had dad found it? And what was it about? And why the hell was he so intrigued by it? And, more importantly, who in their right mind would pay over ten million dollars for a curse-box?

"Are you lost?"

That voice came out of nowhere and startled him so much, he nearly dropped the box. He looked up and blinked rapidly a few times before he focused on the woman standing out on the road leading over to the cabins. She was tall, with a mane of dark curly hair framing a slightly angular face with bright blue eyes and high cheekbones. "Uh ... no," he said and rose.

The dark blue coat, which reached all the way to her ankles, covered her body effectively, but her face was familiar. He just couldn't place her. She smiled kindly. "Which one of the Denholm brothers are you? Arthur or Jake?" she asked.

Sam frowned. "Uh ... Arthur," he said, a little confused by the fact that she knew who he was – or rather knew his alias.

"I'm a friend of the owner's," she explained. "He doesn't get many guests this time of year," she added.

"Oh," Sam countered, not sure he really wanted to talk to her.

Her smile suddenly turned rueful. "Oh, where are my manners," she said and held out a hand. "I'm Lucy. Lucy St. Clair."

Sam just eyed her for a moment, uncertain of why he should care who she was, but then he decided it didn't really matter and stepped forward to shake her hand briefly. She had a fairly strong grip for a woman. "Hi," he said and tried a smile, which he wasn't so sure came out right.

"Girl trouble?" she asked and glanced at the box in his hand.

"Uh ... no. Just ... taking a time out," he countered. He certainly did not want to discuss his issues with a stranger right now.

She smirked. "I shouldn't pry. I'm horrible that way. You know, one of these silly suburban women who can't keep their noses out of other people's business," she said. "Well, I won't keep you. It was nice to meet you."

"Uh ... likewise," Sam countered and watched her walk back toward the main office. Okay, so maybe she was what she said she was; a nosy suburban woman. But he couldn't shake the feeling that he'd seen her somewhere before.

It took him a moment to realize that this meeting had chased away the lingering anger. He was more confused than angry now, and the idea that they had probably stayed in Whitefish as kids at some point suddenly popped into his head. He didn't remember it, not really, but he was sure Dean would.

***

Quite frankly, Dean hadn't expected Sam to return any time soon. As a matter of fact, he had more or less started to believe that Sam would leave and wouldn't come back and it stunned him to a degree when the door to the cabin opened twenty minutes later and Sam stepped back in. Obviously, something had changed. Sam closed the door behind him, dropped the box in his duffle and shrugged out of his jacket.

Dean watched him, waiting for him to say something, but when he didn't, he sighed. "You're still pissed about before, huh?" he asked. "Look, Sam, I get it, okay? I get that ..."

"Save it," Sam interrupted him. "Truth be told, I wasn't mad at you. It's just the whole stupid situation that ticks me off." He pulled out a chair and dropped down on it. "Have we ever been in this town before?" he asked.

Dean stared at him for a moment. "Way to change the topic, dude," he said.

"Have we?" Sam insisted.

"Uh ... we may have. Why?" Dean countered. Sam's one hundred and eighty degree turn worried him a little.

With a frown furrowing his brow, Sam leaned back on the chair and rolled the sleeves of his t-shirt up over both elbows. "I just met this woman ... out of the blue ... and she looked familiar. I was just wondering if maybe we'd been here when we were kids or something," he said.

Now that Sam mentioned it, Dean was starting to vaguely remember this place. "Yeah, I think we stayed here for a few weeks even," he said, grabbed the journal and leafed through it. "Yup, 1988. Dad wrote it down in the journal. He was hunting a poltergeist that could jump from house to house."

Sam took the journal when Dean offered it and briefly skimmed over the page. "You went to school here for that time, didn't you?" he asked and glanced up at Dean.

"Yeah, since we stayed that long ..." he began, but trailed off while an image of the past intruded on him and made him smirk. "Oh yeah," he muttered. "Yeah, now I remember this place," he added and focused on Sam.

Sam eyed him a little apprehensively. "What?" he asked.

"I had this teacher. Man, she was something different," Dean countered and sighed happily at the thought.

The expression flitting over Sam's face disclosed how he felt about that quite clearly. "What was her name?" he asked.

That caused Dean to frown lightly. "Uh ... Lucy something," he said. "Why? I doubt you would remember her. You were only four. I can't remember if you ever saw her."

"I think I did, but that's not the point. Was her last name St. Clair?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, why? You met her?" Dean asked back, stunned.

"Yeah, I did. That woman I just mentioned. She said her name was Lucy St. Clair," Sam agreed and glanced back down at the journal. "How old was she back then?" he asked.

Dean wiped a hand over his mouth and frowned while trying to remember. "Uh ... I don't know. About dad's age, I think," he said. "Maybe a bit older. Why?"

Sam shook his head lightly. "She didn't look very old," he said. "Actually, she looked like she was around thirty."

"Thirty?" That was not what he had expected to hear. If Sam thought she looked thirty, there was a big chance that she was just as hot now as he remembered her being back then. "Wow. She must really have taken good care of herself."

Sam arched both brows and pursed his lips in contemplation. "Of course, I'm lousy at guessing people's age, so she may be older," he said.

Dean chose to ignore that comment and chuckled lightly. "She's the only woman I can remember who ever managed to rattle dad," he countered. "I bet you don't remember this. Dad dropped by to pick me up ... must have been the last day we were here ... and there she was with her mile-long legs and her long hair and she just looked at him and introduced herself and he couldn't get a word out edgewise at first. Only teacher I've ever had who actually praised me in front of dad." He focused on Sam, who was watching him closely. "She didn't mention where she lives, did she?"

"No, she didn't," Sam said, his tone full of caution. "I assume she lives in Whitefish, though." He rubbed his brow for a moment. "Dean, dad must have been around thirty back then, right? If she was just as old as him or older, that would make her fifty today. I may not be good at guessing people's age, but she was no fifty. No way."

"Some women are just better at taking care of themselves than others, dude," Dean countered, not the least bit worried about the prospect that Lucy St. Clair hadn't changed in twenty years. "Damn, I hope she lives in town. I would really like to see her again."

The expression on his brother's face would have been hilarious under other circumstances, but Dean was still reeling a bit from their previous clash and didn't want to risk shoving Sam further away than he already had. That still didn't change the fact that Sam looked like he considered Dean's interest in his teacher to be close to necrophilia.

"What?" Dean asked.

"Nothing," Sam countered and looked away.

They sat in silence for a while until the stillness began to bother Dean. "So ... if you weren't mad at me, why the hell did you take it out on me?" he suddenly asked and eyed Sam.

Sam made a face. "Could you just leave it be? Just for once?" he asked and got up. "We should figure out if there's a demon at play here and put an end to it if there is," he added and rose again to pace around the cabin for a bit.

Dean watched him. "Yeah, we should. I guess you're not tired any more, huh?" he countered.

"Yeah, I am. I'm dead on my feet," Sam said and came to a stop while trying to stifle a yawn in vain.

"Okay, let's catch a little downtime. Then we head into town and check out the neighborhood." Dean rose and arched his back.

Sam just stood there for a second, then turned to his bed and let himself drop onto it. Apparently, the suggestion was accepted, Dean thought, and smirked before copying his brother by throwing himself onto the bed.

***

A few hours later

Whitefish turned out to be a fairly lively town. Sam glanced around while they walked down what passed for the main shopping street, working their way toward the area where five murders had taken place within a very short distance of each other. That had been about two months ago and nothing had seemingly happened since, which led Sam to believe that either the demon had moved on or it hadn't been a demon at all. But there was something in the air in this town, something that ran like a current through the people, through the streets.

He grinned a little nervously when the thought crossed his mind that this town had a detectible heartbeat, that there was something going on underneath the streets, just out of hearing range. He got the somewhat jittery grin under control before Dean noticed anything.

Dean eyed the slip of paper he had jotted the addresses down on and came to a stop next to what looked like an old department store. It was a five storey brick building and every window facing the street had banners going across them with the words 'Closed due to reconstruction' printed on them in big, black letters.

"This is the first address," Dean said and looked up at the building. "Inviting," he added.

"Not the best time to break into a department store, Dean," Sam pointed out. It was late afternoon and the street was teeming with activity.

"Well, all the windows are blacked out. If we can find a back way in, there's little to no chance we'll be spotted," Dean countered and glanced at him.

"Except perhaps for the construction crew working inside," Sam said and nodded at the closest banner.

Dean frowned. "I don't hear anything from inside, dude," he said, then grimaced. "Okay, fine. We'll come back tonight. That should give us time to poke around without being disturbed," he added, glanced at the note, then around the area before pointing at a low, one-storey building further down the street on the other side. "That's the second location. When they say close, they obviously mean close."

"The bank," Sam said. "Which means security cameras. Which again means no-go. We can't go in there, Dean. You're likely to get recognized or something."

Obviously, it didn't sit well with Dean that Sam kept pointing out how this could go wrong. "Alright, already. Spoilsport," he growled, then inspected the note again. "Next address in line is a bit further down."

They started walking again until they found the third address. It was a pizza place and Sam figured Dean thought that was lucky. They stepped inside and realized that it was a restaurant and it took up the entire ground floor of the building.

"Guess we're having lunch here," Dean said and winked at Sam.

They found a place to sit and ordered before the waiter took off to tend to other customers.

Dean glanced around, then turned his attention to Sam. "You getting any weird vibes in this place?" he asked while spreading the white and red checkered napkin over his lap.

They were hard to ignore, those vibes, and Sam had a hard time sitting still. He shifted uncomfortably on his chair while he glanced around too. "This whole place is one weird vibe," he muttered.

"What?" Dean asked.

Sam focused on him. "Don't tell me you don't feel this ... current going through this town. It's like this place has a heartbeat," he said quietly.

The look in his brother's eyes made him realize that Dean wasn't tuning into the same channel he was right now, which made him even more nervous. "This place is alive, dude. People are having a good time, spending money, crap like that. What's weird about that?" Dean asked.

Sam sighed. "Never mind," he muttered when the waiter turned up with their pizzas and drinks.

As soon as he was gone again, Dean leaned forward a bit while eying Sam closely. "What are you not telling me?" he asked.

Sam considered blowing it off, but knew Dean well enough to know he wasn't going to let it go now. "I don't know how to explain it, Dean, okay? It's just ... I feel like there's something wrong here, like there's something in the air or ... under the streets. It feels ... like danger."

"You're just nervous," Dean said and leaned back again, but he didn't sound convinced.

"No, Dean, I'm not 'just nervous'," Sam growled. "There's something in this town. Maybe it's the demon. Maybe it's ... something else. I don't know."

Dean eyed his pizza for a second, then sighed deeply. "Are you going psychic on me again?" he then asked.

"No," Sam muttered. "You know what, forget it, okay? Let's just check out this place and any of the others we can get to and get this over with," he added a little grumpily while eying his own pizza with nothing short of distaste. He simply wasn't hungry any more. The vibes this place gave off made him feel vaguely nauseous now.

"Are you okay?" Dean asked and leaned forward a little again.

"Yes, I'm fine," Sam insisted. "And stop asking me that all the time, okay? I'm not going darkside on you. I'm just ..."

"... a hell of a lot more sensitive than you've ever been before?" Dean finished for him. "You know what, Sam? You're scaring the hell out of me here."

Sam scrubbed both hands over his face, then glanced around the restaurant before facing Dean again. "I'm plenty scared myself," he admitted. "But that won't help us do our job. So let's just focus on that, okay?"

For a moment Dean looked like he was going to object, then he nodded. "Okay, fine, let's do that," he said. "Eat something, will you? It looks kinda weird that you order that big a pizza and don't even touch it," he added.

Sam grimaced. "Since when have you become such a stickler for protocol?" he grumbled and looked down at the pizza again. There wasn't anything special about it. He hadn't even gone for what he normally would have, but had ordered a plain pepperoni pizza with nothing added. And still the sight of it made his stomach turn. "I can't," he added, suddenly overcome by a wave of nausea. The sudden urge to barf made him shoot out of his chair and dash for the bathrooms at the back of the restaurant and he barely made it into an empty stall.

He hadn't realized Dean had followed him until he felt his hand on his back. "You okay?"

A little shaken by the sudden upheaval, Sam used the walls of the stall to get back to his feet and then wiped the back of one shaky hand over his lips while he grimaced at the taste of bile in his mouth. "Give me a sec," he managed.

Dean got out of his way so he could rinse out his mouth and splash some water on his face. Then he faced his brother in the mirror over the sink.

"Whatever's in the air in this town, it's affecting you in a bad way, huh?" Dean asked and tried a halfhearted smile.

Sam braced himself against the sink and briefly closed his eyes when a spell of dizziness overcame him. "That's one way of putting it. I've been feeling off ever since we came into town. Whatever happened here, it must be demon related," he replied.

Dean didn't look happy about that bit of information. "So, what? Now you get sick whenever a demon is close? I thought that connection was severed," he said.

"I'm not having visions. It's just ... there's this vibe that I seem to be able to pick up," Sam countered, splashed some more water on his face and then dried off. "It's like ... electric. And it's making me nauseous."

"Obviously," Dean agreed while still looking a little unsettled by the whole thing. "So, let's get you back to the motel and then I'll handle this one myself," he added.

"No," Sam said and shook his head lightly. "I'm fine now. I just ... can't eat while we're in town."

"Great," Dean muttered and sighed. "Okay, so whatever happened here and in these other places ... it left some residue? Or is the demon still around?"

"I don't know," Sam confessed. "But the closer we got to this place, the stronger the vibe became. So I'm ... assuming that means the demon is still around."

"Okay, so we can use your gut feeling here as a sort of ... EMF-meter, then. If you start feeling sick or the vibe gets stronger, that means it's close, huh?" Dean countered.

Just then, the door to the bathroom opened and their waiter stepped in. "Is everything alright?" he asked, looking a little anxious.

"Yeah, fine. He just has an upset stomach," Dean said.

The waiter still looked anxious. "I hope it wasn't the pizza?" he asked.

Sam wished he hadn't said that. The immediate thought of that pizza sent his already upset stomach into overdrive and he pushed Dean out of the way and dashed back into the stall.

***