Chapter 3

Grace's house, night

Dean swallowed, watching Sam's face, seeing the blood, the bruising, and the resolve in his brother's eyes. "What do you mean… insane?"

"I don't know what we're dealing with," Sam said, his voice growing stronger, "but whatever it is, it's…ah… it's crazy."

Sam winced, gripping Dean's arm tighter, trying to pull himself up.

"Hey, take it easy, Sam," Dean put a hand behind Sam's bare shoulders, easing him into a sitting position. Sam curled over, wrapping an arm around his middle.

"Dean, we gotta go after her," Sam whispered.

"We will," Dean said, shrugging out of his jacket and wrapping it around Sam. His head jerked up at the sound of the sirens. Sam looked over at him, then they both looked at Grace.

She was still staring at Sam, her hand on his leg, her fingers visibly trembling. She looked at Dean, then back down to Sam. "What? I called my brother."

"Your brother's a cop?" Dean asked, surprised.

"When?" Sam said at the same time.

She raised an eyebrow, ignoring Dean's question, and addressed Sam. "After you locked me in and before he let me out."

Dean shook his head and wrapped his arm tighter across Sam's back. "C'mon, man, we need to get out of here."

"What?" Grace shot to her feet as Dean carefully eased Sam to his, pulling Sam's arm across his shoulders. "He needs a doctor, Dean."

"I'll take care of him," Dean muttered, turning Sam toward the bedroom door.

Grace sprinted around them to block the doorway. "Look at him…"

"I said I'll take care of him," Dean snapped. He knew she was trying to do what was best for Sam, but he didn't have the energy to explain what he didn't think she needed to know.

"It's okay, Gracie," Sam said softly, leaning heavily on Dean.

"No, it's not okay," she spat, refusing to budge. "You're beat to hell, Sam, let my brother…"

"Listen," Dean said, his voice strained. Sam was getting heavier and Dean could feel the muscles in his back protesting. "We don't have time, okay? Sam and I know how to take this guy out, but we have to go now or your friend back there? She doesn't stand a chance."

"Grace!" The bellow caused Sam to jump slightly against him.

"Nick's here," Grace said softly.

No kidding, Dean thought, realizing what the busted in door would have looked like to her brother. Her brother the freakin' COP. He started to move forward again, forcing Grace to back up. She frowned, but rotated away, allowing him room to move through the bedroom door and into the hall.

"Grace!" Nick called again, and Dean could hear that he was moving through the living room toward them. He knew Nick would round the corner in a matter of seconds.

"There a back door to this place?" He whispered to Grace.

She was chewing on her lip, glancing over her shoulder toward the living room. Stalling, Dean realized.

"Gracie," Sam whispered, drawing her eyes back to them. "I'll be okay. We can't deal with the cops right now… not if we want to save Addison."

Dean gripped Sam's wrist, his arm around his brother's waist, the tired muscles in his back clenching viciously with the effort of keeping them both upright. Releasing her lip and nodding, Grace gestured for Dean to follow her and led him down the hall away from the living room. Dean felt Sam pull slightly away from him as they walked down the hall, but the limp in his left leg was more pronounced and he kept his arm across Dean's shoulders.

Grace pointed to a small back door and Dean nodded at her. She shot anxious eyes to Sam, her chin quivering slightly.

"I'll come back," Sam whispered. "I promise."

Dean opened the door and helped Sam through, hearing the near-panic in Nick's voice when he shouted for his sister a third time.

"I'm here!" She finally called back. "I'm right here, Nick."

Dean pulled Sam up close to the outside wall when he heard Nick's feet echo a beat of fear as he rushed down the hall to his sister. Holding Sam upright against the house with his right arm, Dean reached over with his left to push the door closed. He closed his eyes, listening, waiting for Grace to maneuver Nick away from the windows so that he could get Sam to the car.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Just a little shaken up. He got Addison, Nicky."

"It's okay, it's okay, we'll get him… Jesus, Gracie, you scared the shit outta me – hey, what the hell are you wearing? Is that a guy's shirt?"

Dean didn't hear Grace's reply as their voices faded away down the hall and he opened his eyes, breathing out a sigh of relief. He turned back toward Sam. Sam's eyes were open, staring vacantly at a spot on the ground, his face pale and bloody. Silently, Dean gripped his brother's chin and shifted Sam's face until his eyes slowly blinked up to meet his.

Leveling his eyes, Dean asked without words if Sam was with him. Sam nodded tiredly and pushed himself away from the house. Shoving his shoulder under Sam's arm, Dean hauled him to the Impala.


Motel, night

"She said that the killings haven't all happened in the same place, but that the pattern of three pointed to a serial killer. She couldn't figure out - ah, easy, man…" Sam sat on the edge of the motel bed, Dean's jacket beside him, a towel full of ice pressed against his jaw with one hand, and the other gripping the edge of the bed while Dean stitched up a deep cut just above his left eyebrow.

"Hey, you're the one that decided it would be a good idea to use your face to stop his fist," Dean said, focusing on the final stitch. Sam's gaze started to lose focus. "You with me, Sam?"


"You okay?"

Sam blinked, then nodded. Dean finished the last stitch, putting the suture kit back into their first aid pack, then handed Sam a glass of water and three ibuprofen. Sam took them obediently, his eyes on a spot on the carpet near the door of the room. Dean dipped his chin, looking at Sam's beaten face, thinking.

"So, you were saying?" he asked, trying to help Sam focus.

Sam blinked up at him.

"She couldn't figure out… what?" Dean prompted.


"You were telling me what amazing pillow talk Grace has," Dean commented in a wry voice, his eyes roaming expertly over the bruising on Sam's chest, his fingers carefully checking for broken ribs.

Sam winced a bit, but Dean could tell nothing was broken. His words, though, cut through Sam's fog and his eyes cleared, looking down and away.

"Y-you know what we… what I…"

Dean sat back, looking at Sam. "Are you kidding me with this?"

He glanced pointedly at Sam's bare chest, then with a raised eyebrow met Sam's sheepish eyes again. Sam shifted the ice to his left eye and slumped a little, cradling his arm around his bruised side.

"You know it was so… I didn't really even think about it. I just let it happen. I don't really even know… why."

Dean clapped his hands on his thighs, shoving himself to his feet and flipping the chair he had been sitting on back around to face the small table. "Well," he said, going to their duffel full of weapons. "That's where I come in. 'Cause I just happen to have the answer."

"Oh, really?" Sam asked dryly, his voice steadier.

Dean pulled his lips down in a slight frown, looking over his shoulder at Sam as he checked the clip of his .45. "Yeah, really."

He turned back to the weapons so that he didn't have to look at Sam's bruised face and wounded eyes. He ejected the full clip of bullets, tossed it back in the bag, and started to fill an empty clip with silver bullets. He heard Sam shift on the bed behind him, felt his brother's eyes drilling into the back of his head, waiting.

"You miss Jessica," he stated matter-of-factly. "Your visions are screwing with your head. And Grace is…"

"What, convenient?" Sam asked, his voice hard.

Dean turned back around, forcing himself to face Sam. "I wasn't gonna say that."

Sam stood up, dropping the towel of ice on the bed. He swayed a moment and Dean tensed to catch him, but he was able to balance himself.

"So, it's okay if you get laid by the cute waitress in whatever town we're in because it's fun, but if I sleep with someone, I have to be emotionally troubled, is that it?" Sam's voice held an edge that wasn't quite anger, wasn't quite pain. He almost sounded like he was truly asking Dean if that might be right, if he might be that screwed up.

Dean brought his eyebrows together in a frown, unconsciously pulling his head back and away. "No, Sam."

"'Cause it wasn't about that, man." Sam moved around Dean gingerly, holding a hand against his bruised side. He leaned over and dug into his duffel bag, pulling out two clean shirts.

"I know it wasn't, Sam, I just meant that-" Dean shoved the clip of silver bullets into the .45, flicked the safety on, and set the gun on the table, "-there's something hinky about this hunt. Nothing about it has been… well, normal, especially for you. And I…"

Sam was gingerly pulling the T-shirt over his head. "What?"

"Well, look at you. Grace is right, you're beat to hell, and these visions," Dean rubbed his fingers along his right eyebrow in an unconscious gesture of frustrated thought. "These visions are taking a lot out of you – more than usual, Sam."

Sam pulled on his outer shirt, shrugging. "So?"

Dean licked his lips. Instinctively, he knew he was about to step into dangerous territory, but this time he was unable to ignore the incessant voice inside his head that had been screaming at him for weeks… since the Jersey Devil… since the demon inside of him had just… disappeared. The voice that taunted him with a nagging doubt… you're gonna lose him… you won't be able to stop what's coming…

"So, I think you should…" he took a breath, his eyes on Sam's profile."I want you to stay here."

At that Sam turned to face him. "What did you just say?"

"I don't want you on this one with me, Sam." Dean leveled his eyes on his brother's bruised face, noting the heat in Sam's blue-gray eyes.

"Whatever, man." Sam shook his head. "I'm coming with you." He took a step toward Dean.

Dean squared his shoulders, balancing his body in a gesture he knew Sam would recognize from endless hours of sparring practice. "I can keep you here."

Sam's eyes grew hard, his lips thinning, the bruising on his cheek and forehead standing out vividly in stark contrast to the angry paleness of his features. "You can try."

He moved toward Dean, challenging him to make good on his stance. Dean reached up and caught him, fisting his hands in the front of Sam's opened shirt, pushing him back a step. Sam's brows pulled together and he reached instinctively to grab Dean's arms, gripping him for balance as Dean pressed forward again, forcing Sam back another step.

"You're not going, Sam," Dean said, his voice low, commanding. "I can't risk it."

"You can't take this guy by yourself, Dean," Sam protested, gritting his teeth and shoving back, forcing Dean to brace himself.

Sam's height gave him the advantage of balance, but he was hurting, and tired, and sore, and Dean knew it, and he hated himself, but he used Sam's weakness for his benefit. He shoved again on Sam's chest, once, causing Sam to sit hard on the bed directly behind them. Leaning close so that Sam had no choice but to look in his eyes, Dean shook his fistful of Sam's shirt gently against his chest.

"I'll get the job done, Sam." And I won't lose you in the process…

Looking at Sam, Dean felt a brief pull of memory and was reminded of the devastating emptiness that had filled him when Haris had convinced him that Sam was dead – that he had killed Sam. He had gone through hell in that moment, and he knew he would do anything to prevent that from ever happening… he would do anything to keep Sam safe…

Sam dropped his hands, staring right at Dean, his eyes twin pools of misery. "Why are you doing this to me?"

Dean winced. Sam could cut right to the core of him.

Dammit, I'm doing it for you, Sammy… He released Sam's shirt and straightened up. "Sam… please. Just… just go with me on this one."

His voice held a slight tremor that he wasn't able to quell. Sam's eyes flickered once at Dean's tone, his head cocking to the side.

"Why, Dean?"

You're gonna lose him… you won't be able to stop what's coming…

"Because you're not thinking clearly." Dean clenched his jaw, his hands opening and closing into fists. "You aren't seeing this for what it is."

Sam narrowed his eyes, leaning forward. Dean took a step back, reaching behind him for the chair, for something to lean against, for something to hold onto.

"And what is it, Dean? What do you think this is?" Sam's voice was angry, challenging.

Dean pulled his lips in against his teeth, biting off the instant retort of I think it's you looking for the impossible - a way to save Jessica… "I think we're dealing with a… a possession."

"Why? You find any sulfur at the crime scene?"

"No, but –"

"You think I was lying to you about the guy's eyes back at Grace's house?"

"No, Sam." Dean snapped, irritated. "You got a better explanation? I'm all ears." He spread his arms wide, inviting Sam to correct him. "We've got a serial killer that the cops aren't even going after, who is killing with methods pulled from a dozen different satanic rituals, on a lunar cycle." He shook his head. "What the hell is it if it's not demonic?"

"But why? What is the reason, huh?" Sam pushed himself to his feet, turning away from Dean and resting a hand on his hip.

"Since when do demons need a reason?" Dean argued.

"Since I started having visions of girls being slaughtered," Sam said softly. "Girls who look just like Jessica."

Dean dropped his head, staring blankly at the worn motel room carpet. He couldn't put into words why he was so sure Sam needed to stay away from the woods tonight. He knew nothing he could say would be compelling enough. All he had was a nagging fear deep in his stomach that there was something very wrong. Something bad that was going to pull his brother down if he didn't hold on tight, didn't keep Sam from the edge.

With a sudden fierceness that almost made him gasp, Dean wished for John in that moment. He hadn't felt a need for his father's presence this sharply since they'd returned to Lawrence. Sam wouldn't listen to John any better than he was listening to Dean, but there was a quiet strength about his dad that Dean had always been able to draw from. Whether from the need to not let John down, or the complete focus on keeping Sam safe, Dean felt stronger when his father was present. He knew, though, that calling John wasn't an option. Not without risking the rest of the hunters finding them.

Dean pulled in a breath and lifted his head. "Sam," he said, surprised to hear how raspy his voice sounded. He cleared his throat. "I'm tired, man."

Sam looked over his shoulder at him, waiting.

"I can't get this guy and make sure you're okay at the same time," Dean met Sam's eyes. "Not tonight."

"I can take care of myself, Dean," Sam argued, turning to face him.

Dean lifted a brow, looking pointedly at the fresh stitches on Sam's forehead. Sam swallowed hard, shook his head once, and stared at Dean. His eyes filled with tears.

"I gotta do this, man," Sam whispered, emotion choking the volume of his voice. "I can't just… sit here and wait."

Dean turned away, leaning both hands on the table, his head dropping low between his shoulders.

"Dean," Sam continued. "I need you to let me do this. I need you to help me do this. We're… we're better off together, man, you know that. And I… I have to finish this."

I know, Dean thought. He felt the weight of the passing of time. Addison's life was hanging on what he said next.

"Well, if we're gonna do this," he muttered, "we're gonna have to do it now." He looked over his shoulder at Sam, seeing him sag visibly with relief. "We go get Addison. That's it."

"Right," Sam nodded.

"We get her out of there and then," Dean looked toward the dark window. "Then we figure out how to get this… whatever the hell it is."

Sam swallowed, nodding again silently. Dean looked back over at his brother.

"But, I swear to God, Sam…" Dean shook his head. He couldn't finish.

"Nothing's gonna happen to me tonight, Dean," Sam said, his eyes serious, answering the unspoken words that rested in the silence.

Dean regarded him for a moment, then turned toward the bag full of weapons. Sam stepped up next to him and watched as Dean began to pull weapons from the bag: extra bullets, holy water, and his Bowie knife. Sam lifted one of the silver bullets, raising his eyebrows in question at Dean.

Dean shrugged, Why not?

He looked sideways at Sam, then handed him the knife. He grabbed his jacket off the bed, tucked the extra clip of bullets into one pocket and the flask of holy water into the other.

They turned as one and headed out of the motel room toward the Impala. As Dean started the engine, he looked over quickly at Sam. The muscle in Sam's jaw was twitching with an obvious mix of pain and tension. Dean looked forward, shifting the car into reverse. He hooked his elbow over the back of the seat to check his rear view.

"Y'know, it's okay to care about Grace, Sammy," he said in a low voice. He saw Sam flinch, then turn his face away from him to look out of the passenger window. Dean pulled out onto the road.

"Yeah," Sam whispered. "Maybe."


Woods, near midnight

Sam was hurting, inside and out. His face throbbed from the beating he'd taken at the hands of the hooded man. His heart ached for someone that would be forever gone and always right beside him. On the short drive to the woods outside of campus, he had tried to flip that switch – the one that turned him off inside so that he could do the job, move forward, breathe without thinking about what he'd once had.

He had been able to shut down so easily before… before he'd seen a demon stare out of his father's eyes. Before he'd seen Dean work to hold up his walls while his heart was being ripped from his chest. Before they'd found their father only to have to let him go again. Before Haris had taken his brother and turned him inside out…

"You ready?"

Dean's voice broke into Sam's thoughts and he pulled himself upright, realizing that they'd stopped. He felt Dean's eyes on him and nodded stiffly, opening the door and gritting his teeth against the ache in his side as he stood. He had temporarily lost control of the switch. But if he let Dean see… if he gave his brother any indication that he was not even close to ready, that he was nothing more than a raw wound, Dean would stuff him in the trunk and close the lid faster than Sam could say "demon."

"Can't believe this friggin' town," Dean was muttering, pulling his gun from his waistband and flicking the safety off.

"What do you mean?" Sam whispered back, mirroring Dean's crouched stance, his measured steps as they crept through the trees toward the clearing.

"Not one cop, man." Dean shook his head. "Even if they didn't believe it was the same guy, you'd think they would be at least staking out the place to make sure."

"Maybe they're scared," Sam offered.

He heard Dean huff as they moved in unison through the darkness.

"Wonder how many girls have to die before they find their spines," he almost growled.

Sam looked over in the direction of his voice, saw the glint of his gun barrel reflecting in the moonlight, and realized Dean had raised it level with his head, barrel up. At the sound of a low murmur, Sam shot his eyes forward, narrowly avoiding walking into a tree.

"Vestri cruor mos purgo mihi, vestri cruor mos solvo mihi…"

"Shit," he heard Dean mutter and saw immediately why.

Addison was strapped to the stone altar, her white tank gleaming in the moonlight. She wasn't struggling like her sister; she looked dazed, barely conscious. Sam couldn't immediately tell if her lips were glued as he'd seen in his vision. The hooded man had slit her left wrist and was moving around to her right side.

"Hey!" Dean barked.

The hooded man's head shot up. Dean didn't hesitate. The harsh report of his gun echoed through the night and the hooded man dropped out of sight on the other side of the altar from Sam.

"Sam," Dean's voice was a harsh command of action.

Sam nodded and moved from the shadows, Dean's Bowie knife out, as Dean advanced on the altar, his gun trained on the spot where the hooded man had been standing.

Sam stepped up to Addison, pulling off his outer shirt and wrapping it tightly around her wounded wrist. She blinked dazedly up at him. Her lips were sealed with a thin layer of clear glue. There was a large, red welt across her left temple.

"You're gonna be okay," Sam soothed. "We're getting you outta here."

He cut the leather strap from her wrist, then leaned down and cut the strap from the ankle closest to him. He saw Dean moving around the end of the altar, his gun focused on the ground, his mouth pursed in concentration.

Sam quickly reached across Addison, cutting the leather strap from her other wrist and ankle and was about to lift her when he saw Dean's expression change. Dean's eyebrows pulled together and his eyes darted quickly from the base of the stone to the empty ground around him, turned silver by the light of the moon.

"What the f-" Dean's eyes shot up, fear plainly etched across his face. "Sam, down!"

Sam immediately ducked over Addison's limp body; he could feel the rush of air as the bullet passed over his head. He didn't hear it hit, but the sharp silver blade of the dagger used to cut Addison's wrists landed with a clatter next to Sam's outstretched arm. Before he could pull Addison off of the altar, he felt the pressure of hands on his back as the hooded man used his body for leverage, vaulting over the altar and launching himself at Dean with an inhuman growl.

Sam's head snapped up and he saw that Dean had actually reached up and caught the man, his hand fisting in the front of the man's robe in a frightening mirror of their earlier position. Dean's gun had been knocked from his hand, and he was stumbling backwards trying to keep his feet. Sam looked down at Addison, rolling her into his arms and crouching behind the altar to adjust the bandage on her wrist, tightening it as best he could.

"Sam, get her outta here!" Dean yelled.

He was struggling, Sam realized. He tucked an arm under Addison's legs and cupped her head against his shoulder, rising to a crouch. He saw Dean then.

He was on the ground, on the other side of the altar from Sam, his hands on the wrists of the hooded man, working to push him away even as the man pressed the advantage of his position and reached for Dean's throat. Sam stumbled slightly under Addison's weight. He looked from his brother down to the girl in his arms. She was pale, the bandage already turning a deep red.

"Sam…" Dean ground out. "G-get the hell outta here!"

Sam hesitated a moment longer, then as Dean brought his knee up into the hooded man's midsection, forcing him away and immediately turning to grip the man by the front of his robe, Sam took off through the trees. His breath beat out a harsh rhythm as he tried to hurry with Addison to the car, but also keep an ear out for Dean.

"Son of a bitch!"

When Sam heard Dean's curse, he stopped and turned back. He could barely see Dean in the wan light provided by the moon high over head. Sam paused briefly; the growl of pain that followed Dean's words the deciding factor. He set Addison down carefully against a tree and turned, running back to the clearing. The hooded man had Dean by the front of his leather jacket and was slamming him back against the stone altar. Dean was gripping the front of the man's robe, but was unable to get enough leverage to push him away.

Sam thought for one instant about throwing Dean's knife, but the possibility of missing his target and impaling his brother was too great. He reached down and grabbed a fallen stick from the ground, standing and hurling it at the hooded man's head with all of his strength. It struck a glancing blow, but it was enough to throw the man off balance. Dean shoved him roughly away, stumbling once to his knees, then scrambling up and running directly at Sam.

"Go go go!" Dean's voice was frantic.

Sam whirled and matched Dean's stride. They both ducked instinctively when the first shot rang out. Sam stole a quick look over his shoulder, seeing the hooded man standing on the altar, Dean's gun gripped in his fist. Sam looked forward and felt Dean's hand on his shoulder, inexplicably shoving him slightly to the right, toward the trees, as a second and third shot rang out. Sam lowered his head and saw Dean jerk at the sounds.

They reached Addison.

"Get her, Sam," Dean panted, bent forward at the waist, his hands braced on his knees. Sam bent over and scooped the unconscious girl up in his arms. He stood with a wince as her weight pulled at his bruised side.

"This is so not good," Dean said, swallowing and trying to catch his breath. "Psychotic bastard has my gun."

As if to prove Dean's point, a harsh cry echoed toward them from the clearing. The guttural explosion of impotent rage and then the quick succession of gunfire shook both of them. Sam hurried forward, heading to the car, compelling Dean to follow.

With a burst of speed, Dean rushed ahead of him and opened the passenger door. Sam climbed in, Addison on his lap. Dean slammed the door shut and Sam watched as he hurried around the front of the car, sliding partially across the hood of the car. He dropped behind the wheel, fired up the engine, and rotated the wheel, leaving rubber in their wake.

"You know where you're going?" Sam asked, checking the wrap on Addison's wrist.

"Hospital," Dean replied in a tight voice.

"You know where it is?" Sam looked over at his profile.

"Saw it on the way in," Dean replied. Sam could see a muscle jump in his cheek.

"You okay, man?" Sam leaned forward, peering closer.

"Fine," Dean looked over at Addison. "She hangin' in there?"

Sam pressed his free hand against her throat. "Drive faster, Dean."

His head bounced back slightly as Dean immediately pressed on the gas. They were pulling to a screeching stop in front of the ER in minutes, their arrival eliciting a flurry of action. Sam's door was pulled open and Sam climbed out of the car, easing Addison into the waiting arms of two men dressed in scrubs.

"We found her," he hurried to explain, "at that spot in the woods where her sister…"

"Holy shit, this is Addison Tyler," one of the men exclaimed as they laid her on a stretcher and shoved her through the opened doors.

"He cut her wrist," Sam attempted to explain. "And her lips are glued together."

A third man in scrubs nodded at him. "They'll take care of her," the man peered closer at Sam. "You okay, kid?"

Sam nodded, looking beyond the man to the figures moving in synchronized motion around Addison's still form through the glass doors.

"You need to come in and fill out some paperwork."

"Right, uh, can you call Grace Brookes? Here's her number," Sam dug his cell phone from his pocket. He gave the man Grace's number, saying, "She's Addison's roommate. She'll be able to help."

"Will do," the man said. "The police will probably have some questions for you."

"Grace knows where to find me."

Sam dropped back into the car, closing the door and leaning his head back against the seat as Dean pulled away. He reached up to gingerly rub the stitched cut above his eye. The adrenaline was starting to evaporate from his system, leaving him sore and shaking. He looked over at Dean.

"It's not a demon," Sam said.

Dean nodded, his lips pressed into a tight line. Sam looked back toward the front window, not really seeing it, just resting his eyes on the darkness beyond illuminated only by the Impala's headlights.

"I think it's a… person."

"Should have known," Dean's voice was thin, and Sam looked back at him. "Whole thing's way too screwed up to be supernatural."

"You okay, Dean?"

"Bastard was damn strong, though," Dean continued as if Sam hadn't spoken. Sam sat up a little straighter, turning to look more fully at his brother. "I know I hit him. Saw him get hit. He's hopped up on something… PCP, maybe."

The end of Dean's sentence was punctuated with a grimace and his eyes closed briefly against an obvious flash of pain. Sam felt the car swerve and reached out to brace himself against the dashboard. He looked forward, noticing for the first time that they weren't heading back to the crime scene.

"Where are you going, man?"


"We need to track this guy, Dean," Sam protested as Dean turned into the lot of the motel. "We seriously pissed him off."

Sam bounced forward slightly as the Impala's front wheels hit the parking curb before Dean shoved the gear into park directly in front of their room.

"Just… just gimme a minute, Sam," Dean breathed out.

Sam was instantly focused, suddenly very aware that something was wrong, that he'd missed something. Dean reached over with his right hand to pull the door handle, clumsily pushing the door open with his left elbow. He slowly rotated his body and dropped his booted feet from the car to the ground outside with twin thumps. Sam realized that he was holding his breath.


Ignoring him, Dean grasped the opened car door and used it to pull himself up. As he did so, his jacket shifted away from him and Sam gaped in horror at the growing red stain now visible on his brother's left side. He scrambled out of the car and started around the front to help Dean. Dean didn't even look at him. Sam could see his brother's whole focus was the motel room door. He didn't even shut the car door behind him, simply moved forward, one foot in front of the other, wavering slightly, but propelling himself toward the motel room.

Sam reached for him, his fingers closing around Dean's arm. Dean pulled his arm roughly from Sam's grasp. Sam reached again and Dean leaned on the door jam.

"Just open the door, Sam," Dean said wearily. Sam turned the key and the door swung wide. Dean rolled out of the doorway and began making his way toward the bathroom at the back of the motel room slowly.

"I-I thought he missed," Sam whispered. Dean heard him.

"Well, he didn't," he muttered. "Bastard shot me with my own gun and it hurts like hell."

Sam blinked off his paralyzing stupor and closed the door of the motel room behind him, following Dean toward the bathroom. He didn't know how bad, didn't know where. Dean had moved okay through the woods… had slid across the hood of the car… had driven to the hospital…

"Dean, why didn't you say anything when we dropped off Addison?"

Dean shook his head, waving his right hand clumsily. "M'okay, Sam. Just need a little water's all."

"Water?" Sam stepped up behind his brother, reaching out a hand instinctively as Dean paused.

Dean turned in the doorway of the bathroom and Sam was shocked at how pale he was in the light of the motel room. His pupils were huge; there was barely any green around the edges. The freckles across his nose stood out like neon.

"On second thought," Dean muttered. "Y-you might wanna call… call Dad, S-Sam."

Sam didn't have time to form the question of why. Dean's eyes fluttered closed and his knees buckled. If Sam hadn't been standing so close, he would have crashed bonelessly to the floor. Sam lunged forward and managed to break Dean's fall, going to his knees with his brother bleeding in his arms.

"God dammit, Dean," Sam muttered, shifting Dean's limp form so that he could get a look at his left side. The red flannel shirt and white T-shirt beneath were soaked through, and blood was starting to seep into the waistband of his jeans. "You stupid, stubborn…"

Sam tried to shift Dean into his arms to stand, but his left leg began to tremble. He knew it wouldn't hold both of them. His side pounded a sharp protest as he stood, bending at the waist, his arms under Dean's shoulders, his hands clasped across the front of Dean's chest. He pulled Dean to the nearest bed, then with a growl of pain, he heaved Dean's inert form up on the bed so that he would have easy access to his wounded left side.

Panting and trembling from exhaustion, Sam steadied himself against the nightstand as a wave of vertigo threatened to engulf him. He couldn't lose it now. Not now. He blinked hard, his eyes landing on Dean's pale face. He hated to see Dean still. Dean was motion. Propelled by the need to see Dean's eyes again, to be comforted by his constant action, Sam went to the bathroom and grabbed all of the towels, soaking two in cool water.

Returning to the bed, he grabbed the first aid pack and set it next to Dean. Carefully, he pulled Dean's leather jacket from his right arm, then his left. When he rolled Dean to his left side to remove the jacket, he heard a low moan of protest, but Dean didn't wake. Sam looked quickly at the jacket; though smeared with blood, there were no holes puncturing the leather. He must have been hit on the run, he thought. Once the jacket was gone, Sam could see the wound better. He pulled the bloody shirts up to just under Dean's shoulders, exposing Dean's chest and the wounded side.

It was a graze, but a bad one. The bullet had cut a deep, three-inch furrow along his left side, just below his ribcage. From what Sam could tell, it hadn't hit anything vital; but the gouge was still bleeding freely, and stitches were going to be tough due to the length and width of the wound. Sam used one of the wet towels and gently cleaned the blood away. He winced in sympathy as his motions caused Dean to jerk away, even unconscious.

"Sorry, man," Sam whispered. "I hope you stay out for this… 'cause it's gonna hurt."

He reached into the first aid pack and grabbed the disinfectant. Folding a towel and easing it under Dean's side, he twisted off the cap and set it aside. He put one hand on Dean's chest as much for his own balance as to comfort his brother. Taking a breath, he counted silently in his head one… two… three… then poured the disinfectant over the open wound.

Dean almost came off of the bed with a guttural scream that sounded as though it was ripped from him.

"Easy, easy, whoa, hey," Sam soothed as Dean's cry of pain began to taper off. His green eyes shot around the room, his breath coming in harsh, raspy pants. "Dean, hey, hey, it's okay. Look at me. Hey, look at me."

Dean's eyes tracked over to Sam's voice.

"That's it, you're okay," Sam nodded, moving his hand up to grip Dean's shoulder.

Dean's hand came up and grabbed clumsily onto the top of Sam's arm. Sam had a sudden flash of memory… Dean's hand, on his arm, in the woods, pushing him toward the tree…

"Holy, shit, Sam," Dean's voice trembled, thick with pain.

"I'm sorry," Sam swallowed. "But you're bleeding pretty badly. We, uh, we gotta stitch this up."

Dean nodded.

"You want me to give you something?"

"Like w-what?" Dean muttered, closing his eyes tight. "A stick to bite on?"

"We got some painkillers," Sam offered, knowing that was like offering to spit on a fire to put it out.

"After," Dean said, gritting his teeth.

Sam nodded, though he knew Dean couldn't see him. His eyes were pressed so tightly closed that his eyebrows almost met his lashes. Sam quickly gathered the bandages and suture kit so that everything was in easy reach. Taking another deep breath, and wishing desperately that he didn't feel so dizzy, he grasp the needle, preparing to stitch Dean's side.

"S-Sam," Dean gasped out.

Sam looked at him and saw that Dean's eyes were open, staring at him. Sam could see more green now, but they were glassy, and the pain in them caused Sam's heart to clench. As he reached out for Sam, Dean's hand shook in reaction to the pain in his side.

"Yeah, Dean," Sam said, setting the needle down on Dean's chest and reaching for his brother's hand. He caught it and gripped it in his, trying to quiet the tremors of pain and exhaustion that ran through both of them with the strength of that connection.

"D-don't call Dad," Dean whispered. "I know I said…"

"I'm not gonna call him."

"Good," Dean licked his lips, and rolled his head slightly away. "Good, keep him away. Keep him safe."

Safe, Sam thought. He knew without a doubt that if someone gave Dean Winchester one wish, it would be that his family was safe. Sam felt his chin tremble once, his eyes burning as he looked at his brother. Dean rolled his head back, his eyes resting on Sam's face.

"You okay, Sammy?" Dean asked, his voice weak.

Sam sniffed, shaking his head. "You stubborn bastard," he whispered, releasing Dean's hand. "You were gonna make me stay behind… and then you go and get yourself shot."

"Not like I planned on this," Dean lifted an eyebrow. Sam noticed his hand hadn't quit shaking.

"You pushed me out of the way."

"Couldn't let anything happen to you," Dean closed his eyes, reaching down to grip the quilt, his stomach muscles tightening along with his jaw in a spasm of pain. "Enough with the chick-flick moment, dude."

Sam rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth. "Yeah, well, you might change your mind when we're done here."

Dean shook his head. "No p-possible way."

Sam took a breath. "Ready?"

Dean nodded once. Sam blotted more blood away from Dean's skin, then, pressing the sides of the wound close, he began to sew his brother up. Dean clenched his teeth, his breath huffing out in painful bursts. As Sam worked, he heard Dean intermittently growl and groan through the pain.

Sam stayed silent, remembering from years of battle wounds and bandages that any outside noise would distract Dean from his internal mantra of music lyrics. Each of them – John, Sam, and Dean – had their own way to pull themselves away from the pain and fear of the moment. Dean's, he knew, was Metallica songs. Sometimes, they were the only thing that worked.

As he reached the end of the wound, the trembling in Dean's hand had spread to his body and Sam had to lean an arm across Dean's chest to steady him for the last few stitches. When he was done he sat up and Dean opened his eyes, gasping with relief that it was over. He was covered in sweat, his hair was wet with it, his white T-shirt soaked through.

"G-good job, Sammy," he breathed, looking down at his side.

Sam didn't trust his voice. He nodded, then carefully laid a large square gauze pad over the wound, taping all four edges.

"Help me up," Dean said, motioning Sam toward him with a clumsy hand.

"What! Are you high?"

Dean tilted his head, as if pausing to consider the question.

"You're not going anywhere, Dean. You could have bled to death." Sam stood up, gathering the bloody towels and the first aid pack and turned away from the bed.

He went into the bathroom and dumped the towels in the tub, then set the pack on the floor. He leaned over the sink to splash water on his face. He pulled in a shaky breath, looking at his reflection in the mirror. His face was nearly as pale as Dean's, the bruising around his eye had turned a deep purple and the cut on his mouth was still an angry red. He shook his head, trying to ignore the desolate look he saw in his own eyes.

He heard his cell phone ring, followed by a muffled groan escaping from Dean. He hurried back out into the room to see that Dean had managed to get himself into a sitting position, but was leaning heavily on his right arm, his head dropped low. Sam shook his head at his brother as he grabbed his phone on the third ring.


Dean's head came up at his voice. Sam waved at him to lie down. Dean lifted an eyebrow.

"Grace?" Sam turned his attention to the phone, listening. He saw Dean reach for the painkillers and water that he'd left on the nightstand. "That's good, Gracie, that's real good."

He watched Dean set the empty glass back on the nightstand and then use the furniture to try to pull himself to his feet. In three quick strides, Sam was next to him and had pushed him back down on the bed.

"You stay with her, Grace, okay? No, no, just stay there. We, uh, we didn't get him… no, Dean's… Dean's hurt." Dean shot Sam a look of irritation. Sam glared back. "He'll be fine, I think. Just stay with Addison. Don't go home. Grace? I'm serious. You're safer at the hospital."

Dean was watching him, a fevered flush on his face. Sam nodded once into the phone, his eyes dropping to the still-white bandage on Dean's side. "We'll be careful. I promise."

He hung up the phone, then dropped down on the bed opposite Dean.

"Addison's stable. She's not talking…"

"Could be 'cause a psycho glued her lips shut," Dean said with a wince as he pressed his hand to his side.

"… but they think she's gonna be okay. Grace is gonna stay with her. I hope."

Dean nodded, and Sam saw him working up to the effort of attempting once more to stand.

"I think we need to call the police on this, Dean."

Dean's eyes shot up to his and he lifted an eyebrow. "That'll do a helluva lot of good, Sam."

"It's not our kind of problem anymore, Dean," Sam argued. He stood up and went to the duffel of clothes, fishing out a gray Henley for Dean.

"Well, you're right, Sam. They've done a bang up job so far," Dean said, slowly pulling his red flannel shirt off. "I'm sure what we have to say will just seal the deal."

"Stow the sarcasm, dude," Sam grumbled, leaning over Dean and helping him roll the bloody white T-shirt up over his wound and then lift it over his head. "It's not a demon… it's not even a possession. There's nothing we can do."

"We can waste the bastard, Sam."

Sam sat down across from Dean once more, looking at him with surprise.

"We can't kill a person, Dean."

Dean's eyes met his and Sam felt like he'd been gutted by the look he saw there. Dean was visibly trembling, pale, and the muscles in his jaw were working overtime. But his eyes were hard, and deadly. Sam had seen that look before. In the cabin, when Haris had been staring at Dean through their father's eyes. Dean had the same look on his face then as he did now.

"This is no person, Sam. You said it yourself. He's insane."

"Insanity is a defense, Dean, not a reason to kill someone."

"I can't believe you're saying this, Sam." Dean clenched his jaw, his eyes on Sam, a line of sweat trickling down the side of his face. "You saw what he did to those girls."

Sam swallowed, flashes of his vision slamming with quick succession through his head. He looked down, pulling his bottom lip in. "I know what I saw. Doesn't change the fact that he's a human being…"

Dean pushed his hands into the bed, finally able to gain his feet, reaching out with an unsteady hand to the wall between the beds for support. Sam held still, waiting to catch him if he fell, but didn't move to help. Frustrated anger was rolling off of Dean in almost physical waves; Sam knew enough to stay clear of it. He moved away from Sam, toward the small table on the other side of the room. Sam held his breath; he was sure that Dean was seconds from collapse.

"Sam," he said, his voice carrying a weight of responsibility far beyond his years. "We have to do this. We are the only ones who can."

"No, Dean," Sam shook his head, even though Dean's back was to him. "We do this… there's no going back. You're talking about taking someone's life. It's not worth what it will do to us."

Dean turned slightly and looked at Sam over his shoulder. "Not like it's the first time."

Sam swallowed, remembering the man in the alley, remembering Dean's hollow voice… for you and Dad, the things I'm willing to do or kill… scares me sometimes.

"It would be for me."

Dean looked away again. "Told you before, you can stay here."

"Don't be an idiot. You're barely on your feet." Sam stood up and walked around to the side of the table so that he could see Dean's profile. "We'll go after him, but when we find him, we call Grace's brother. We let the police handle this."

He kept his voice low, but firm, pulling as much of John Winchester into his tone as he could. Dean shifted his eyes to look at Sam.

"We can't kill a human, Dean," Sam repeated, firmly. "Nothing's worth that."

Dean sighed, closing his eyes, and Sam saw him tip forward to lean a hand on the table. He pressed his other hand against the bandage on his side, and Sam knew by the droop of Dean's shoulders that he had won this round. Sam handed him the gray shirt and Dean pulled it carefully over his head, easing it down over his wounded side.

"Freaky-assed human, anyway," he grumbled. "No wonder he wears that hood."

"What do you mean?" Sam asked.

Dean sat slowly in the chair next to the table. "Had those creepy blue eyes and this weird fold in his lip. Made him look like that dude from Gladiator."

"What did you just say?" Sam felt himself go cold. He leaned on the table, looking hard at Dean.

Dean pulled his head back from Sam slightly, his brows folding into a frown. "You know, the Caesar from the movie—"

"You said he had a cleft in his lip?"

Dean nodded. "What is it, Sam?"

Sam grabbed his cell phone. "You just described Grace's roommate."