Sam woke when the sun began to rise and even though he felt like he'd been wrung out and hung up to dry, he still felt better than he had the day before. His stomach growled insistently and he figured it was time to get back on his feet. Not that he had any great desire to face the world such as it was right now.

He got into the shower and stood under the hot spray for a long time, letting it massage his back while he tried not to think about how he had felt the last few days. The moment he had seen that first text message, he had felt his mood drop through the floor like a damned boulder. And when Dean had found out and B innocent as it had been B had dragged him to California to actually meet up with Kate, he had started to question whether his brother actually liked him at all. He had known already then that it was a stupid thought, that Dean had no idea what had happened and he had sworn to himself that he would never tell. But it had been like trying to stop an avalanche with his bare hands. Once the ball started rolling, there was no stopping it. The meeting with Kate had rattled him to the core of his being, no matter how he had scolded himself, no matter how many times he had tried to convince himself that it was in the past, that she could no longer hurt him.

Dean had been right that it would help to talk about it, but the chain of events that had led them to this spot in time made Sam wonder if someone up there wasn't trying to teach them a lesson or make a point or something.

With a sigh, he turned the water off, grabbed one of the towels from a hook just outside the shower cabin and dried himself off. Then he stopped in front of the mirror B which was incredibly free of condensation despite the hot water and the lengthy period he had spent in the shower stall B and just stared at himself for a moment. He gingerly touched his chest, tracing lines that hadn't been there in five years, his brow furrowed. Turning, he eyed his back in the mirror and saw the two small scars, one smack in the middle of his lower back, the other just below his right shoulder blade, and he once again recalled why he generally avoided looking at his own back in the mirror. It reminded him of this ordeal he had gone through and how the biggest emotions had been shame and embarrassment.

A guy like him should have been able to avoid a situation like that. He was convinced that Dean would never have ended up in this position and that his brother would find a way to make fun of this at some point. Dean also had to be pretty damned disappointed in the fact that Sam still couldn't deal with it. It raised a suffocating wave in him every time he even thought about Kate and it made no difference to him that she had done this to other guys as well. It actually made it worse.

Dizzy from no food, he grabbed the edge of the sink with both hands and dropped his head for a moment. "Ding dong, the witch is dead," he whispered and smirked joylessly at the reference, then raised his head again and met his own haunted eyes in the mirror. "Gotta get past this," he muttered to his reflection, then straightened up, wrapped the towel around his waist and opened the door to the room.

Dean was still asleep, his face half buried in the pillow, and Sam took a moment to study his brother. As per usual, Dean had saved the day in his own peculiar way and the thought that Kate Mayor was gone for good, that she would never pop up to haunt him again, did make him feel better. He didn't like the way she had died, but he figured it was karma in the end.

He got dressed and then just sat on the edge of his bed for a bit, trying to gather himself enough to get up and get moving. Slowly, he got to his feet, grabbed his wallet and headed out the door to find them some breakfast. At present he felt it was the least he could do for the effort Dean had put into avenging him.

The thought made him smirk a little helplessly. He made his way downstairs and stepped out into the street, feeling more than a little unsteady. He made a face and glanced either way, searching for some kind of direction to go in, then sighed and turned back to face the office of the motel. He would have to ask for directions here.

"You look lost," someone said behind him.

His shoulders rose a little and he had to force himself not to shudder before he turned back to face an elderly lady. "Uh ... I was just wondering where would be a good place to get breakfast around here."

The old woman eyed him closely. "You look like you could need it too," she agreed, then nodded along the street. "There's a Burger King about 3 miles that way. They've got breakfast," she said. "There's restaurants along the way too, but they're pretty fancy and not open this early."

Sam eyed the road, then sent a longing look toward the Impala in the parking lot before he nodded. "Thanks," he said, shoved his hands into his pockets and started walking. He didn't know where the keys to the Impala were, nor did he think Dean would appreciate him taking off in his car. So he decided to walk the distance, well aware that it would probably take him two hours flat to get there, get some breakfast for both of them and get back again.

***

Dean woke up with the taste of feathers in his mouth and started the day by grimacing. "Shit," he muttered. A feather was sticking out of the pillow he was burrowing into. "Yuck," he muttered and pushed himself up on his elbows. "Sammy, you awake?" he asked and glanced over at the other bed ... which was empty. Then he glanced over at the door to the bathroom, which was open. He sat up and pulled his legs over the edge of the bed and sent a long look around the room. "Sam?" he tried again, but still there was no answer.

Suddenly worried, he rose and walked over to the bathroom, but it was empty. It was obvious, though, that Sam had showered.

Dean turned back to face the room and considered how ludicrous it really was that he got upset about not finding his brother when he woke up. "He probably took a walk or something," he muttered to himself and ruffled his hair while yawning heartily. "Soft-hearted tree hugger," he added and made a face. Then his eyes settled on the electric kettle and the complimentary instant coffee. Well, at least he could still his cravings for caffeine.

Half an hour later he had showered and was sitting at the small table by the window, having the day's first cup of coffee which again made him grimace because it didn't taste of anything other than hot water and the vague indication of coffee. He set the cup down and eyed it with distaste, then glanced at his watch and then sent another look around the room. "Where the hell are you, Sammy?" he muttered.

As if in reply to his question, the door suddenly swung open and Sam stepped in. He looked pretty much like a hanged cat, pale and tired, but at least the kid was up and moving and by the bags he carried, he had gone for supplies.

Dean rose. "Where the hell were you?" he demanded.

In true Sam-fashion, this should have spawned either surprise or sarcasm, but when it produced neither and Sam furthermore refused to meet his eyes, Dean sighed lightly.

"What's that?" Dean asked, nodding at the bags.

"Breakfast," Sam countered and dumped one bag on the table while setting the other one down more carefully. "And coffee."

Dean eyed him, trying to catch his gaze, but Sam wasn't looking at him. "Hey," he said. "You okay?"

"Yeah, just ... hungry, I guess," Sam countered and sank down on one chair.

Dean settled down on the other chair and kept eying Sam. "Look at me," he finally said.

Sam pursed his lips and glanced in his general direction.

"Sam, come on, man," Dean exclaimed. "What's this about, huh? The fact that you told me the truth? You think I'm gonna use that against you?" he asked.

A light shrug was all the answer he got.

Dean slumped back in his chair and wiped a hand over his lips. "Look ... if you wanna talk about it, I'm all ears. And if you don't ... we'll just pretend it never happened. You'll never hear a word about this from me ever again. Cross my heart and hope to die," he said and crossed his heart just for good measure.

Sam shifted a little, then brushed his fingers through his hair, pushing it away from his brow. "I don't wanna talk about it," he finally said.

Dean gave him a moment to reconsider, then he smirked. "Talk about what?" he asked, grabbed one of the bags and retrieved a big, Styrofoam cup from it. "Which one's yours?"

"The one with the dot on the lid," Sam countered quietly.

Dean shoved the first cup across to him, retrieved the second one for himself and then opened the second bag, well aware that Sam was watching him suspiciously. "Dig in, dude. You haven't eaten in two days ... almost," he finally said and laid the contents of the bag out on the table. "I say we finish up here and get the hell out of Dodge as soon as we can," he added and unwrapped one of the sandwiches.

Sam nodded, took one of the wrapped sandwiches and eyed it, then put it down again.

"Eat something," Dean pushed and took a sip of the coffee. It wasn't the best he'd had, but it was way better than that thin dishwater that this motel provided as complementary coffee.

Sam eyed the wrapped sandwich for a moment, then finally got his act together and started eating.

Once they were done, they packed up the car, checked out of the motel and took off. An hour later, Dean pulled the Impala onto the 140 and headed due East.

"Where are we going?" Sam asked.

Dean glanced over at him. "Bobby's of course," he countered. "I think we need to lay low for a bit and where better than Bobby's? Besides, my baby needs an overhaul and that's the best place to do it."

Sam glanced at the dashboard as if it would reveal where Dean got that idea from, then frowned and glanced back at Dean. But he said nothing and he still didn't meet Dean's eyes.

***

They stopped just outside Lakeview, Oregon for lunch and by that time Sam was actually getting a little tired of hearing Dean jabber on about nothing. He had more or less talked constantly, about everything and nothing, commenting on stuff they passed, on people, on animals, on the weather, on the sky, the air, how much he looked forward to just crashing at Bobby's for a few days, and even now, after they'd picked up some sandwiches at a local diner and were eating them at a pit stop outside of Lakeview, he kept going on and on about nothing in particular.

"Dean," Sam suddenly said and finally met his brother's eyes. For some reason that made Dean shut up. "Could you ... not talk for a bit?" he asked.

Dean arched an eyebrow. "What's wrong with me talking?"

"Nothing. As long as you don't do it twenty-four-seven, dude, and you've kept up an ongoing narrative since we left Weed," Sam countered and glanced at his watch. "Which makes it four hours of non-stop nonsense."

Dean smirked. "Well, you could add your two cents now and again," he suggested.

"Are you kidding me? I can't get a word in edgewise," Sam said and shook his head. "Look, if you want to talk about this, let's talk about it and get it out of the way, okay? But once we've done that, I don't ever want to hear about Kate Mayor again. Deal?"

Dean eyed him for a moment, then nodded once. "No problem."

Sam sighed. "I know you're dying to ask me questions about this, so ask."

For a moment Dean just sat there, a half-eaten sandwich in his hands, then he made a face and glanced up at the sky. "It all makes sense now, you know," he said and looked back down to face Sam. "I didn't get why you were so ... prudish about everything. I mean, before you went to Stanford, you were able to let loose and have fun. I just kinda thought that your relationship with Jess had sucked all the fun out of you. But now I know better."

"I don't like losing control any more, Dean. I don't like the buzz of the alcohol because it reminds me ..." He trailed off and grimaced.

"Yeah, I get that," Dean said, saving him from having to put into words what it reminded him of. "As I said, it makes sense now. I know it's not the thing to talk about, Sam, but ... I do wish you'd told me something about it. Man, I wish you'd called me."

"I couldn't. First I didn't have the stamina, to be honest. I was trying to beat the addiction. Jodie and her brothers helped me there big time. I would never have made it through without their help. I had the flu for about a month after that, you know. Best excuse for why I kept looking like I'd been run over by a steamroller," Sam said. "And after that ... well ... I vowed never to talk about it again. I swore Jodie and Greg to secrecy and from what I know neither of them ever mentioned it again. I was trying to forget it, trying to put it behind me, and then I met Jess. Jodie totally mediated that one, too. I think she had a thing for Jess, actually. I don't know what she told Jess, but ... well, things worked out between us and that was all I needed to know."

Dean smirked. "She was hot," he agreed, then made a face. "So ... she didn't know?" he asked.

Sam shook his head and eyed the soda for a moment. "No, I didn't tell her and I don't think Jodie did either. We never talked about it and ... well ... I managed to forget it most of the time. The only times I ... remembered, was when I saw Kate at a distance. Fortunately, she didn't seem the least bit interested in me or anything I did, so ... it really wasn't that hard to pretend. But there was one time ..." He swallowed, trying to both remember and forget at the same time. "I didn't go back to Charlie's after that ... night. But Jess wanted to go there to meet a friend and ... well ... since she didn't know and I couldn't get out of it without telling her ... and there was Kate. And seeing her that close up ... I nearly panicked. I had to tell Jess I was feeling sick all of a sudden to get the hell out and ... in general it wasn't a lie either. It was the first time since the ... incident that I'd actually been outside alone. And I totally get how a phobia is created. I could barely breathe. And then Todd and Terry turned up."

Dean eyed him thoughtfully. "And I thought you were tall. They tower over even you, those two," he countered. "Are they older or younger than Jodie?"

"Older, but not by more than a year," Sam countered. "I went with them to the Underground. My first visit to that bar. And after that ... well, Jess and I hung out there a lot."

"You know ... I must admit that your reaction to seeing Kate sort of threw me," Dean confessed. "I don't think I've ever seen you respond this way to anyone before ... except for clowns."

Sam narrowed his eyes a little and swore silently that he was going to slug Dean one if he launched into another teasing about Sam's obvious dislike of clowns. But Dean's expression remained serious. He stared down at his sandwich for a moment, then put it down and looked up to face Sam again.

"I'm sorry you had to go through that, Sam. And I must admit that it hurts to know you didn't trust me enough to call me," he said. "But ... water under the bridge, eh? That bitch is dead now. She got what was coming to her."

Sam wrapped both hands around the paper cup and nodded. "Yeah, I guess. I just need a few days, you know?"

"Yeah, take all the time you need. I'll never mention this again unless you wanna talk about it," Dean promised, then glanced at his watch. "I think we should hit the road. I'd like to make it into Idaho before we find somewhere to crash for the night," he added and rose. "Oh, and we should call Jodie at some point and find out how badly the cops want my ass right now."

Sam arched an eyebrow and tried a tentative smile. He certainly wasn't feeling up to par yet and the nagging dread he had felt with Kate in the vicinity still hadn't let up entirely, but he did feel better and he was glad he could actually talk to Dean about this without risking his brother's otherwise merciless teasing. It would appear that Dean did have the ability to take things seriously. "I don't think it's your ass they're after," he said.

Dean gave him a surprised look. "Oh really? And how would you know? I will have you know there are at least a dozen ladies spread out over this country who'd disagree with that."

Sam managed an earnest smile at that and shook his head lightly. "You're impossible, Dean, you know that?"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Get a move on, Sasquatch," he countered good-naturedly and headed back toward the car.

***

They made it to Grand View in Idaho around ten in the evening before Dean decided to call it quits and find a place to crash for the night.

The motel they found just on the edge of the town consisted of individual cabins spread out over a fairly big area, which would afford them some privacy, and Dean liked it that way.

They hauled their duffels into the room and Dean stopped dead in the doorway, causing Sam to run into him and nearly tip him over. "Holy crap," Dean exclaimed.

Sam eyed the room beyond the door for a moment. They had stayed in some eyesores over the years, but this one certainly took the cake. "That's almost hellish," he muttered.

"Tell me about it, man," Dean agreed in a hushed tone of voice. "Holy crap," he repeated, drew in a deep breath as if steeling himself against the room's decor, and then stepped inside. Right across from the door was a half-wall. Behind the door was the room's closet. Chrome rods rose from the top of the half-wall to the ceiling, six of them in all, and the barrier into the rest of the room created the fairly weak illusion of a hallway.

To the left, the room opened up in a fat l-shape. A metal table with a fire-engine red surface stood under the front window, framed by two chairs with equally horrible seat covers. The walls were covered in brown and orange wallpaper with big circles on it. The curtains were brown and so were the bedspreads covering the two queen-sized beds sitting in what could almost be called an alcove on the right side of the room. Two windows adorned the left-hand wall and two butt-ugly shelving systems sat under each one. The door to the bathroom was set into the middle of the rear wall and opened up into a brown and beige horror of a bathroom.

"Pretty retro," Sam commented and dumped his duffle on the bed furthest from the front door.

The floor was covered in ankle-deep yet extremely worn, dark-brown plush. "Retro? This isn't retro, man, this is sick," Dean commented and dropped his duffle on the second bed.

"I wouldn't call it sick," Sam said and glanced around. "Ugly, maybe."

"Try butt-ugly and you're at least getting close," Dean countered and closed the front door, then looked around the room again. "First things first," he added and pulled his cell phone from one pocket.

"Who're you calling?" Sam asked.

Dean held the phone up to one ear. "Yo, Jodie," he said and smirked at Sam. "So ... what's the verdict?"

Sam sighed and shrugged out of his jacket, which he dropped on the bed next to his duffle. The room wasn't exactly warm, but he wouldn't be losing any sleep over that. The ugly decor, though, that might be nightmare material.

"You don't say?" Dean asked and arched an eyebrow. "Well ... that sounds almost too good to be true. Are you sure?"

Sam settled down on the edge of his bed and watched Dean pacing slowly around the room, engrossed in the conversation with Jodie for the moment.

"Uh-huh," Dean said, stopped and glanced over at Sam. "Yeah, Jodie, that at least is good news. Thanks for the update. Keep us posted, will you?" He nodded. "Sure thing. Hang on," he said and held the phone out to Sam. "She wants a word."

With a slight sigh, Sam rose and grabbed the phone. "Hey, Jodie," he said.

"Hey you," Jodie replied, a smile in her voice. "From what I've heard you guys are in the clear. The place was so messed up, the police couldn't find any prints anywhere. They've sent out a bulletin, asking for information. And it seems that Kate's father is set on hushing the whole thing down. Guess he wasn't too thrilled about his little girl's sick perverse side being on display," she said.

"That's good news," Sam countered. "Thanks for your help, Jodie. It really means a lot."

"I know. I'm your hero, right?" she countered with a chuckle.

Sam glanced at Dean, who was busy searching for something in his duffle while he muttered under his breath. "Yup, you are," Sam agreed. "Listen, say thanks to Todd and Terry as well, will you?"

"Sure thing, hon. Oh, and Sammy? Steer clear of the booze, okay?" She said it with affection and he knew what she meant, but it still hit a nerve, proving to him that he was still pretty sensitive. He took a second to respond and only because he didn't want to sound annoyed.

"I generally do," he finally said.

"I know, Sam. I'm just teasing. Guess your sense of humor's down the drain right now, huh?" she countered. "But that's okay. I totally get it. It must have been a bitch to relive that," she added.

Sam made a face. "Yeah, it was," he agreed. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to ... you know. It's just not entirely out of my system yet."

"Don't blame you. Just take it easy for a few days, okay? You just need to regain your composure. I'm sorry I shooed you out of town so fast. We could have hung out and done some mental healing together," Jodie said.

"Yeah, that would have been nice. I could have done with some hanging out," Sam countered and rubbed his brow pensively, then glanced towards Dean's bed. Dean had apparently given up on finding whatever he was searching for and had left the cabin to search the car. "So, what's gonna happen with ... you know?"

"From what I've read in the papers, the funeral is scheduled for tomorrow. Kate's dad is really set on getting her in the ground as fast as possible. Or rather what's left of her. She must have been one hell of an embarrassment to that family," Jodie said. "I wouldn't worry about it, Sam. She's gone. She can't do this to anyone else ever again. Go out and have some fun with Dean. I get the feeling he likes fun."

"That's the understatement of the year," Sam countered with a faint smirk. "Thanks for the update, Jodie. I'll call you soon, okay?"

"You'd better, hotshot. Don't wanna have to track your ass down if you don't stay in touch," she said and he could almost see her grinning.

"Got it," Sam countered with a grin of his own and hung up. Then he got up and stepped out onto the small porch in front of the cabin and watched Dean rooting through the trunk for a moment. "What are you looking for?" he asked.

"The journal," came the reply.

"Dad's journal?" Sam stepped off the porch and sent a quick glance onto the backseat of the Impala.

"Yeah, dad's journal. Who's journal did you think?" Dean countered almost grumpily. "I could have sworn I stuffed it in my duffle and now I can't find it. Damn."

Sam sent another glance onto the backseat at the journal lying there. "Are you going blind?" he asked.

Dean raised his head and eyed him. "Why?" he countered.

"Because it's on the backseat where you threw it right before we got to Twin Lakes," he said and nodded toward the backseat.

Dean stared at him for a moment, then closed the trunk and stepped up beside the Impala. He pulled the door open and retrieved the journal, then slammed the door shut again and eyed the compilation of their father's thoughts and activities with a frown. Then he glanced at the backseat once more, then up at Sam. "Funny," he said, his tone a bit uncertain.

Sam frowned. "You think I put it there?" he asked.

The expression on Dean's face would have been funny at any other time, but right now Sam had a hard time seeing the hilarity in anything. "Well ... I checked there," Dean said and scratched the back of his head. "At least I think I did," he added and made a face. "Aw, screw it. The main thing is, it's here," he said and headed back inside.

Sam shrugged and followed him just in time to see him stow the journal in his duffle. Sam made a mental note on that, closed the door behind him and locked it.

***