"Charlie Ramsey is dead."

"Yeah, I worked that out on my own, Sam."

"This puts a different spin on things."

Dean cast a quick glance to his right, watching as Sam scratched the side of his head, then twisted his hand in mid-air, spreading his fingers as he talked, a movement of thought Dean had observed in John time and again.

"How do you figure?" Dean asked. "We still have a spirit out there drowning people."

"Yeah, Dean, but," Sam twisted in the seat, leaning toward his brother in his eagerness. "It's not just a spirit... I mean, right? Brad Sanders' body was burned. And there was the spirit that was after Charlie when Dad was here, and now Charlie..."

"We need to talk to Sanders' Mom. Find out what she knows."

"Now?"

"Why not?"

"It's late, man. It's dark out."

"I don't know about you, but I don't want to stretch this thing out longer than we have to," Dean grumbled, shivering in his still-damp clothes.

It was hard to get dry when the air that surrounded them was saturated with water... and hard to get warm when he couldn't get dry. Now he knew why his Dad had avoided the Pacific Northwest.

"Why don't we find a place to stay," Sam suggested. "Give us a chance to do some recon of our own."

Dean paused. Another shiver rippled through him.

"Yeah, okay," Dean conceded. "But I get first dibs on the shower."

"Whatever you say." Sam grinned slightly.

They pulled into the first motel they came across, checking in under assumed names, and hauled their bags to the ground floor room. Dean flicked on the light and they paused, surprised, inside the doorway. They'd seen a lot of motels, with varying degrees of interesting décor, but this one easily ranked among the top five on Dean's list of weird.

"It's like Herman Melville's wet dream," Sam muttered.

"Who?"

"Moby Dick," Sam clarified.

"Why didn't you just say so?" Dean grumbled, crossing to one of the aquamarine-covered beds and dropping his bag on top. He heard Sam kick the door shut behind him and immediately started shedding his wet clothes. "So, I say we go find this Sanders woman first thing tomorrow, find out whose bones we have to burn, then kick it."

"Works for me," Sam sighed, dropping onto the bed. "Man, I can't get that woman's voice out of my head."

"Voice?" Dean grabbed a pair of dry boxers and sweats, ready to step out of his clinging jeans. He hadn't been able to stop thinking about Charlie' blue eyes shifting in the picture to pin her father with accusation and desperation in one supernatural glance.

"The... one from the Volvo." Sam looked up. "She... God, she sounded... broken."

Dean looked down. She'd sounded like he'd felt as his father burned. She'd sounded like anyone who had someone taken from them too soon, too suddenly, would sound—whether they were able to voice the cry or not.

"Yeah," he said, turning from Sam to head to the bathroom.

As he let the water heat up, steam gathering around him and easing the frigid ache that had set deep into his bones, he looked at his face in the mirror, at his careful eyes, tight jaw, skin stretched over bone until it looked ready to crack.

I can't talk about this to Sammy. You know, I got to keep my game face on, but, huh...truth is I'm not handling it very well...

He'd been wrong about Gordon. Wrong about those vampires. Wrong about a lot of things. And if he'd been wrong... maybe Dad had been wrong. Maybe Dad was wrong about Sam, about what Dean might have to do. Maybe he was—

"Dean!"

"Yeah!"

"Hurry up, okay? I think I found something."

Bracing his hand on the sink, Dean dropped his head low, letting his neck muscles pull, stretch, then stepped into the shower stall and invited the harsh water pressure beat on him. The water drove away the last of the outer chill, turning his skin a glowing red and easing the ache in his lower back and neck. It stung the slices on his hand, and he found himself absently watching the blood seep from the still-open cuts, thin out when mixed with the water, and run in pink rivulets down his arm to drip from the end of his elbow.

When he stepped back out into the main room, clad in only a white towel and wrapping fresh gauze around the stinging slices on his hand, he saw Sam hunched over his ever-present laptop.

"What'd you find?"

"Y'know how Ramsey said Charlie wanted to leave?" Sam looked up, his eyes tired but snapping with the thrill of a find.

"Yeah..."

"I think maybe it was with her boyfriend."

"I thought Brad Sanders was her boyfriend."

"I don't think so. Look," Sam turned the computer screen to face Dean. "I think she wanted to go with this guy."

Dean peered closer at the Local Boy Makes Good story. A fresh-faced kid with a guitar slung over his shoulder and a grin a mile wide stared out of the picture, a cowboy hat pushed back on his head. Dean was almost afraid to look directly at the picture, afraid this one would turn to look at him, too.

"Wyatt Abrams, 23... yadda, yadda, yadda... local singing contest... music contract..." Dean shook his head. "This is great, Sam. What the hell does it have to do with Charlie?"

"Keep reading," Sam prompted.

Dean trailed his eyes down the online article, pausing when his eyes caught on the name Charlene Ramsey who was quoted as saying she'd "believed in him her whole life and knew one day his talent would take them places."

"Them, huh?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, and get this... Abrams? Is missing. There's an article about how he defaulted on his contract or something because he just never showed up."

"How long ago was this?"

"About two weeks before Sanders died."

Dean ran his fingers across his lips in thought. "We need to talk to Mama Sanders tonight."

"Already on it," Sam said, waving a piece of motel stationary at him. "Address and directions."

"Well, aren't you a friggin' Boy Scout," Dean grinned. "Always prepared."

"Get dressed," Sam instructed.

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"Mrs. Sanders?"

"Yes?" The face that peered out at them through the half-opened door of the large house was unlined, brown eyes suspicious. She clutched at a red sweater, holding it closed at her neck.

"Agent Kilroy," Dean said, his face set in bored seriousness. He tipped his head back toward Sam. "Agent Shaw. We'd like to ask you a few questions about your son, Brad."

"Can I see some ID?"

In unison, the brothers removed the FBI badges Dean had created some time back, their fingers carefully positioned across the entry for their name, as it changed almost as frequently as their location. When Mrs. Sanders nodded, they pocketed the badges, and Dean stepped back, allowing her to push open the screen door.

"We're sorry about the late hour," Sam started.

"Oh, I don't mind, Agent Shaw," she said, ushering them into a front sitting room, marigold-yellow couch and love seat encased in plastic, and white doilies protecting a mahogany coffee table from the cluster of green candles displayed in the center. "After all the effort it took to get the police to take Brad's case seriously, I'm ready to talk whenever you folks need information."

Dean smiled tightly and eased down on the couch, plastic stretching and creaking beneath him. He didn't dare look at Sam, knowing the grimace on his brother's face would be too big of a temptation for laughter.

"Oh, my," Mrs. Sanders suddenly exclaimed. "You've hurt your hand!"

Dean shot his eyes down and belatedly realized that the wound on his right hand had started seeping again, turning the white gauze red. He looked at the couch and was suddenly thankful for the plastic covering the couch. Jerking his hand away from the seat, he pressed his lips together in a silent curse.

"Sorry about that, ma'am," Dean shook his head, cupping his right hand with his left. "Hazards of the job and all."

He could practically feel Sam roll his eyes beside him.

"Do you need—"

"I'll be okay, thanks," Dean cut her off. "We won't take too much of your time."

Mrs. Sanders' eyes darted from Dean to the small smear of blood on her couch. Clenching her hands into fists at her breast, she raised one finger, then darted through a swinging door behind her.

"You okay?" Sam asked in a low, tense voice.

"Fine," Dean hissed back.

Mrs. Sanders returned and handed Dean a wet paper towel. "If you don't mind," she said.

"Not at all," Dean took the proffered rag and cleaned up the smear of blood, handing it back to her awkwardly. "Uh, thanks..." He offered her another tight smile.

"Brad always liked to keep things neat, you know," she said, smiling a little. "I just... I don't have the heart to let it go even with him... gone."

"Can you tell us anything about how Brad was behaving before he... before the accident?" Sam asked, his voice soft, concerned.

Mrs. Sanders frowned. "How do you mean?"

Dean tipped his head forward, his eyebrows up in his interpretation of encouragement. "You know, leaving at odd hours of the night, maybe acting angry, threatening you—"

"No!" Mrs. Sanders sank quickly to one of the high-backed wicker-padded chairs across from them, a hand at her throat. "My Brad took care of me, he would never..."

"We didn't mean to insinuate anything, ma'am," Sam cut in quickly, trying to reassure her. "We were just wondering—was he seeing anyone?"

"Like... like a girl?"

"Sure, okay," Dean nodded. He felt Sam's foot press hard against his under the coffee table.

"Well," Mrs. Sanders looked over her shoulder at a thin table lined with pictures, then reached out to stroke the side of one that could only be Brad in his high-school graduation robes, grinning out at her. "Now that you mention it... he'd been talking a lot to that Charlie Ramsey."

Dean shared a look with Sam at the tone of distaste laced through Mrs. Sanders' voice.

"Was it serious?"

Mrs. Sanders laughed. "Oh, heaven's no. Charlie wasn't right for my Brad. And besides, everyone knew she was sweet on Wyatt Abrams. Even Brad knew that..."

"But..." Dean encouraged when her voice faded with doubt.

"Well," she looked away from the picture and back toward Dean. "It's just that... all of the other policemen... they never asked about Brad's relationships. I never really thought about it until now. It was always... why would he kill himself or... why wouldn't I accept that..."

Dean felt Sam shift next to him and resisted to urge to look over and check on him. "You don't believe he killed himself."

"No." Her quick denial was vehement.

"How do you think it happened?" Sam asked.

"He was pushed off the ferry."

"In his car?" Dean asked, disbelief plain in his voice.

"Why not?" She challenged. "Drug him, slide the car into neutral, push it off before anyone could see—"

"The autopsy showed no drugs in his system," Sam reminded her.

Mrs. Sanders shot up to her feet, her sweater falling from her shoulders and landing in a pile on the chair behind her. "Well, it's wrong then! I'm telling you that Brad did not kill himself! He wouldn't do that to me! He had everything going for him... to just... to just leave like that... throw it all away without even giving me a chance to..." She pulled in a quick sob, then squared her jaw, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "If it weren't for that slut not giving him the time of day—I mean, who is she to tell Brad that he's not right for her? He's right for anyone! She was lucky that he was even paying—"

She stopped suddenly, red-faced, trembling, and raised uncertain fingers to her lips as if to manually keep further words at bay.

Dean sat very still as she ranted, but could feel Sam tensing to stand next to him.

"Mrs. Sanders," Sam said, breaking the suddenly heavy silence. "Do you know where Charlie Ramsey is?"

"No," she whispered, her voice trembling. "I always assumed she left with Wyatt."

"Wyatt left two weeks before Charlie disappeared," Dean pointed out.

"Well, then she went to meet him!" Mrs. Sanders turned from them and stormed through the swinging door once more.

Dean raised his eyebrows at Sam, who echoed his look. They stood in unison, turning to head to the front door, when Mrs. Sanders blurred back in on the strength of an incensed tirade.

"You listen to me, Agents. My boy was a good boy. He wouldn't have hurt anyone unless he was provoked. And that Charlie Ramsey was a wild kid. She had... tattoos and piercings and her father let her roam with no rules or consequences..." She took a breath and darted her eyes from Sam to Dean. "You find out who killed my son... you find out who took him from me. You do that, and you'll find Charlie Ramsey."

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"Let me look at your hand," Sam demanded as they headed back to the car.

"It's fine, Sam."

"You want to get blood on the Impala?" Sam asked casually, biting back a grin as Dean literally stopped walking. "Just let me look, okay? I swear I won't think you're a baby."

Dean sighed, rolling his neck, then shoved his hand out like a petulant child.

"Well, let's get back in the car so I can actually see something," Sam said, grabbing his brother's wrist and hauling him toward the Chevy.

Dean tried to pull away, but Sam used his forward motion to propel them both to the driver's side door. Opening the car, he twisted Dean's wrist in his hand, then pulled him off balance, bouncing Dean's shoulder against the car and shoved him inside.

"Hey, what—"

"Just shove over," Sam commanded, pushing his way into the car so that he sat behind the wheel.

"You're not as smart as you think you are," Dean grumbled quietly, allowing Sam to pull the blood-saturated wrapping from his hand. "I let you get behind the wheel."

"Uh-huh," Sam muttered. "This is pretty bad, Dean. The butterflies aren't closing it up."

"We can take a look at it later."

"Oh, and when would that be?" Sam raised an eyebrow. "When infection makes you too sick to move, or when you pass out from blood loss?"

"Don't be such a drama queen," Dean shook his head, twisting forward and pulling away from Sam's grip. "Just head back to the motel and we'll wrap it up."

Sam sighed, holding his hand out for the keys, which Dean dug out of his pocket, slapping them hard into Sam's palm.

"Want to hear my theory?" Dean offered.

"Why not?"

"I think Brad was harassing Charlie, and I think he was going to mess up Wyatt's career. I think Charlie and Wyatt killed him."

"And Charlie is a spirit because..." Sam lifted a brow.

"I wasn't finished," Dean backpedaled.

"Sure, sure," Sam glanced at Dean. "I think you're right about Brad messing with Charlie."

"But not about the killing?"

Sam paused at a stop light and glanced sideways at Dean, frowning slightly at his brother's hunched figure. The only reassuring thing about Dean's weary-looking posture was the constant bounce of his fingers against his leg to a beat audible only in Dean's head.

"I don't know... I don't get the psycho-killer vibe off of Charlie."

Dean glanced back at him. "Not even after the picture deal?"

Sam shook his head, blinking as the red light turned a brilliant green and glared into his eyes. "I guess I just saw more of a... you did this to me... expression on her face."

Dean huffed.

"What?" Sam asked softly.

"You sure you're not projecting?"

"Projecting?" Sam shook his head, trying to relax his mouth into a grin and failing. "That's it. No more Dr. Phil for you."

"I'm serious, Sam." Dean pushed himself upright in the seat. "This isn't about Dad."

"Hell, yeah it is," Sam replied sharply. "Everything is," he continued, his voice softening.

Dean was quiet and Sam felt him waiting. Sam might be able to out-stubborn his brother, but no one knew how to use silence as a weapon better than one who usually made the most noise. Shifting his shoulders, Sam glanced out of the side window, then back to the front, seeing the motel sign in the distance.

"There's nothing I can do to make it up to him," Sam tried. "Except do what he'd been trying to get me to do all of his life."

"You got nothing to make up for, Sam," Dean said softly as Sam stopped the car, turning off the engine. "You hear me?"

"You were the one that said it, Dean... I fought with him the last time I saw him," Sam stared hard at the steering wheel. "You were right. And I... I just feel like I need to... I don't know, make him proud, I guess."

"He was proud of you, Sammy," Dean assured him.

Sam cast a look at him. "Yeah?"

"Hell, yeah. It practically rolled off of him," Dean grinned.

"What... what do you think happened?"

"With this case?"

"With Dad," Sam's voice broke, and he lifted burning eyes to Dean. "He was... I mean, I thought he was okay and then... then he's just... gone."

"I don't know, man," Dean whispered, looking away, his jaw working to hide a tremble, his lips twitching as he restrained himself from saying more. Sam knew Dean was holding something back, keeping something from him, but he could feel fragility in the air, the sense that one more push and his brother was going to literally shatter before his eyes.

"I know there was nothing more important to him than finding and killing that demon," Dean said, clearing his throat. "I know that he wouldn't have... wouldn't have gone down without a fight..."

"Unless he didn't have a choice," Sam finished.

"Yeah."

They sat in silence another moment, then Sam dropped his eyes to the almost-black haphazard bandage covering his brother's wounded hand.

"Let's go," he said, opening the driver's side door. "Get you fixed up."

"'K," Dean agreed. "Hey, Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"I think we need to stop checking voicemail on that phone," Dean tossed him a too-casual grin as he headed toward the motel.

Sam saw the echo of pain in his brother's shadowed green eyes. "Yeah... you could be right."

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