Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: Ownership is a fantasy we have about the corners of our lives that sustain us. The muse belongs to no one but its creator. Which is certainly not me. More's the pity.

Spoilers: Season 2, set after 2.15, Tall Tales and before 2.16, Roadkill. Anything prior to the first appearance of that darn Trickster is fair game.

a/n: This story has been outlined, but this time I didn't do it by chapter, I just did it by concept, so I have no idea how long or short it will be. The first chapter is intended to set the stage a bit, but I hope you'll be intrigued enough to return and find out how I'm trying to weave it all together.

I wanted to play in the idea that a story could be tactile. I don't know if I will succeed with this one–ya'll will be the judge on that. But I decided to give it a go.

Plus…Terry told me to.

Kelly, thanks for what you do.

turns music up and settles in...

 Chapter 1

Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought.

Henri Louis Bergson

"That seem weird to you?"

Ozone hung thick and tangible in the air, teasing Sam's lips with the acrid taste of lightning as he swiveled his head on his shoulders, his hair rustling against the unyielding stone of the grave marker, and looked with incredulity at his brother. Another flash of light revealed Dean with his back pressed flush against an imposing monument to the dead, his lower body hidden by the wide base of the obelisk. His strong, calloused hands were sliding down the barrel of his empty shotgun, his lower lip caught between his teeth, his eyes narrowed against the sudden brilliance.

"You're gonna have to narrow it down," Sam called back.

Dean's hasty fingers slid another shell into his sawed-off shotgun and he darted green eyes Sam's way. "Lightning. But no thunder."

"We have an ala on our asses, Dean."

Sam checked his clip. Empty. He shoved the useless weapon into his jacket pocket, shifting its cold weight deep into the hollow of material with a lift of his shoulders, and tightly gripped the bow in his left hand.

"What's your point?"

He heard Dean chamber a round, ignoring his brother's sarcasm. Night lay like a blanket over the small cemetery, peppering the leaf-cluttered ground with intermittent streams of moonlight as clouds scuttled across the wide expanse of sky, making Sam feel insignificant. The ala's deep-throated groan rolling toward them from the other side of the cemetery made him feel too big. The grave marker he crouched behind was clearly insufficient as cover.

"Storm demon, man," Sam continued, pulling his lanky body close to the minimal protection of the tombstone, his heavy boots dragging tufts of grass along in his wake. "Lightning is like… its Impala."

Dean looked over at Sam, an eyebrow raised in appreciative amusement. His eyes were narrowed, his face pale in the quick flashes of electric light, but his lips were cornered in a grin.

"Guess we have to shoot the tires, then," Dean almost cackled.

Sam slid long fingers along the ground searching for the arrows. The arrows they needed to defeat the ala. The arrows he 'd had them moments before. He'd had them before the ala tossed Dean away from him with a howl of frigid air. He'd had them as he'd rolled for cover behind the tombstone, eyes frantically seeking the familiar shape of his brother in the dark. He'd had them until the lightning started, dazzling his vision with white-hot light, slamming pain to the back of his skull like a ricocheting bullet, causing him to cower.

His fingers brushed pine needles, mulched leaves, minuscule twigs.

No arrows.

"Shit," Sam craned his neck to shoot a look over the top of the tombstone. A bolt of lightning cracked five feet from him, drawing an inadvertent cry from his throat and sending him forward, body curled instinctively in projection.

"Keep your fuckin' head down, Sammy!" Dean's growl was audible over the cacophony of the sudden wind.

Sam gaped momentarily at the shadowed figure now hovering above the scorched earth the lightning had just seared.

"I lost the arrows!" Sam screamed at him, hoping his renegade of a brother was grounded enough to remember that they needed the blood-tipped weapons to take down the Serbian demon.

"I know!" Dean yelled back. "I found them!"

"Why the hell didn't you tell me?" Sam twisted around to try to get a look at the figure pelting them with wind and energy.

"Just did!"

Dean stuck his arm around the protection of the stone monument erected to honor the life of a man they didn't know, firing their last two rounds of salt into the human-shaped black cloud. The utterly inhuman shriek canceled the wind and left the brothers panting in the vacuum. Sam reached up and pushed a tangle of hair from his eyes, watching carefully as Dean pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, both working to steady their breathing.

"Here it comes," Dean whispered in the sudden quiet of the night.

Sam nodded, though he knew his brother's eyes were not on him. Not anymore. They were watching the sky as the shadow of the earth slowly ate the luminous silver of the full moon in an unnatural eclipse.

Twilight spread quickly over the surrounding land, and a creaking, stretching groan began to build from the belly of the shadow-like beast positioned on the other side of Sam. It was growing, stretching, lengthening, drawing power from the eclipse, feeding on the night.

Sam heard it draw breath.

"Sam. Come here." Dean's order was as compelling as if his brother had reached out and pulled him close.

Sam gripped the bow and crab-crawled through the ground debris to crouch next to Dean, not taking his eyes from the imposing figure of the ala.

"Give me the bow."

"I'm closer," Sam shot back. "Give me the arrows."

"Sam! Give. Me. The. Bow!"

"Dean! Stop trying to—" A sudden infusion of fetid air halted his argument.

He looked over at his brother's face, pale in the oddly shimmering blue light save the scruff of beard that edged Dean's jaw and framed his tightly-drawn lips. Dean's wide eyes filled the hollows of his face with horror as he looked toward Sam's feet. His stomach tightening in a nameless fear, Sam followed Dean's gaze.

The ground was crawling.

"Holy shit," Sam breathed. "What the—"

Staring in awe at the unreal sight, Sam felt Dean's hand on his arm, fingers curling in the fabric of his jacket, desperation yanking Sam as his brother shot upright from his crouched position.

"Climb!" Dean ordered, pulling Sam up the side of the wide base of the obelisk as if he weighed nothing.

Sam shook off his shocked horror and dug the fingertips of his left hand into the grooves of the letters etching the name Martin Victor into the stone, climbing quickly to the narrow part of the obelisk behind his brother so that they both clung several feet above the now shuddering earth.

"What the hell!" Sam gripped the stone that jutted between himself and Dean, parting them and protecting them. He darted his eyes around the base of the monument, staring as the earth came alive with the dead. "Ale don't create… zombies!"

"It's not," Dean said, slapping at his pockets with one hand while clinging to the narrowing point of the obelisk with the other. "It's bringing up the roots and stuff—look!"

Sam peered into the gloom and saw that Dean was right: the storm demon was using its power over the birth and destruction of earth-bound life to jump start the root system of the trees throughout the cemetery, shoving the caskets and coffins up through the dirt and into the night air.

Sam gagged as coffins fell open, spilling their contents onto the ground.

Never seems this bad when we're burning them…

"Where the hell is my lighter!" Dean exclaimed.

Sam couldn't pull his eyes from the image of the earth spewing her dead at the bidding of a shadow. "Rear left pocket," he called back.

"Son of a bitch," Dean breathed. "How'd you—"

"You always put it there," Sam replied, eyes on the nearly-perfect mummified face of a teenaged girl

"Huh," Dean commented, his voice muffled as he gripped an arrow between his teeth, flicking his lighter and holding on. "Yeah, okay, this is gonna be interesting."

"We could… climb down," Sam suggested, eyeing Dean warily. That last place he wanted to be was on the ground surrounded by decomposing bodies as the ala harnessed the power of the moon.

"And have a grave open up and swallow us whole? No thanks." Dean lit the tip of the arrow he had gripped between his teeth.

Without prelude, without remorse, rain fell in a suffocating sheet of water. The fire at the tip of the arrow was extinguished and Sam's hair was instantly plastered to his skull, the deluge making even blinking difficult.

He was breathing rain.

Flooding torrents ran with murderous intent along the ground, around their tenuous position of safety, blinding Sam and cloaking Dean. The only way he knew his brother was still balanced on the other side of the obelisk was by the feel of Dean's fingers pinned between Sam's chest and the monument where they both clung.

Sam felt his own grip slipping on the wet stone and wrapped a leg around the obelisk, catching Dean's leg between his and the stone as he did so. He felt Dean shift as his brother used that anchor to his advantage and released the obelisk with his arm, clutching the pillar with his knees, and lit another arrow, his body curved over the struggling flame.

"Bow!" Dean called, reaching for Sam, the tips of his fingers parting the curtain of rain that separated them.

Sam handed the bow over without argument, knowing the fire needed to burn away the blood before it pierced the cloud of the ala. Roots broke through the muddy earth. The ala groaned in heady anticipation.

They didn't have time to screw around. He could feel Dean's leg shaking from tension and effort beneath his.

"Shoot it!" Sam yelled through the torrent of water. He could barely make out Dean's face as his brother protected the weapon with his body. "Shoot it, Dean!"

Dean didn't answer and Sam felt his brother's muscles spasm again. He gripped the obelisk with his left hand and thrust out his right to grasp the edge of Dean's wet shirt, trying to balance him. The stench of the blood burning away from the metal tip of the arrow could be detected through the wet air.

"Shoot the son of a bitch!" Sam pleaded, choking on rain.

Dean's shoulders rolled back as he straightened, his eyes blinking through the rain, jaw set, determined. One arm extended, the other drew back. Sam focused on his brother's hands, fingers curved and holding the notched arrow steady.

"C'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon…" Sam chanted.

"C'mon c'mon c'mon…" Dean echoed, and let the arrow fly.

The rain stopped with the sound of a scream shaking through the air like a heat wave. Dean's arrow buried itself deep in the heart of the ala, the effect rolling the earth, sending the tree roots into retreat, sliding the shadow free of the moon, and tumbling the brothers from the obelisk to the saturated cemetery floor.

For a moment they sat in silence, sputtering as the water abated in its flow, sinking slowly from around their waists to splash against their thighs. They stared as one at the empty space the Serbian storm demon had occupied.

"Now that's what I'm talking about!" Dean suddenly exploded. He pounded a wet fist into a puddle of muddy rainwater and whooped. "Mess with the bull you get the horns, baby!"

Sam shoved his wet hair from his eyes, looking over at his brother in wry amusement. "You done?"

"Dude," Dean blinked water from his lashes. Moonlight illuminated his eyes and reflected off the water running in crooked lines down his face. "We just took down an ancient storm demon. It's okay to celebrate a little!"

"Hooray," Sam intoned.

"You're hopeless, Sammy," Dean shook his head, water skipping from the tips of his short hair to splash into Sam's eyes. He pressed his hands into the suctioning mud and struggled clumsily to his feet, reaching down toward Sam.

"You okay?" Sam asked, reaching up to grip his brother's mud-covered hand.

"Need to get me another Thigh Master if we do this again," Dean grimaced, rubbing at the inside seam of his soaked jeans.

"Another Thigh Master?" Sam asked, bending over to pick up the discarded bow and arrow.

Dean smirked. "It's not all about exercise, Sammy."

"I'm sorry I asked."

Dean limped forward, snatching his shotgun from where it came to rest against Molly Fitzpatrick's tombstone. "Thanks, Molly."

"What are we gonna do about…" Sam looked around the dark, muddy cemetery, gaping graves like wounds in the earth, the bodies strewn and tangled like hap-hazard stitches.

Dean sniffed, shaking himself roughly, then tipped his head to the side, tapping water from his ears. "Nothing."


Dean lifted an eyebrow. "You want to re-bury them all?"

"Uh… no, not really," Sam confessed. "But, Dean—"

"We leave, Sam. Same as we always do," Dean started forward, away from Sam, rotating his left shoulder as if to work out a kink. "Somebody'll write it up as a freak storm and flash flood. Tide came in. Something."

"Tide?" Sam followed as the white in Dean's wet flannel shirt began to fade from his sight. "Dude, we're like…a hundred miles from shore."

"So," Dean glanced back at him. "No tide then?"

"No tide."

"Well, they'll think of something," Dean sighed as the Impala came into view, ensconced safely in a copse of trees well away from the ala and any prying eyes. "They always do."

They removed the branch coverings from the trunk of the car, then Dean unlocked and lifted the lid, dropping his shotgun and the bow next to their two green duffels.

"Hey, I never asked you," Sam said, pulling his pistol from his jacket and setting it inside carefully. "Where the hell did you find dragon blood in Delaware?"

Dean chuckled, a low rumble from his chest that said more to Sam than the usual torrent of words his brother often used to cover emotion. Slowly shrugging out of his sopping flannel shirt, Dean glanced sideways at Sam with a, "Who said it was dragon blood?"

Sam paused in his attempt to wring out his jacket, peering at his brother through clumps of wet hair hanging like beaded curtains before his eyes. "Thought Dad's journal said—"

"That the dragon was the enemy of the ala, yeah," Dean nodded. "But that's not what Dad used."

Sam propped his foot on the bumper of the Chevy, mirroring his brother as he worked the tight, wet knot loose on his boot. "Dad fought an ala?"

"Man," Dean shook his head. "For all your studying you sure did miss stuff."

"Wait… you're telling me Dad fought an ala when we were kids?" Sam asked, wringing his socks out and grimacing at his long, pale feet shining in the moonlight. He'd always hated the sight of his feet. His habit was to keep them covered at all times, but stepping mud-covered and drenched into the Impala was not an option. This much he knew without Dean saying a word.

He paused in his disrobing to wait for Dean's answer. He watched his brother reach over his head, a grimace of pain skirting the edges of his face, and grab his wet T-shirt between his shoulder blades, pulling it over his head and balling it up in his fists.

Sam frowned at the long scuff and bruise that ran along the length of Dean's left side.

"You remember that houseboat we stayed at for awhile in South Carolina?" Dean started, shaking the T-shirt out and hanging it on the raised trunk lid. He started in on the button-fly of his jeans, glancing askance at Sam.

Sam peeled his wet shirt from his body, feeling his flesh raise in ripples as the cool night air slid across his bare skin. He mimicked Dean's motions to the smallest gesture as they squeezed rainwater from their sparse collection of clothing.

"Yeah," Sam nodded, the wet tendrils of hair sticking to his cheek. He brushed them away impatiently and shoved the wet denim of his jeans down past his knees. "I remember being pissed because it was a dump and reeked like dead fish."

"Well," Dean flicked his wrist, twisting his wet boxers into a coiled rope and letting the water run over his bare, muddy feet. "That's because we were squatting there, dummy. No one had lived there for awhile."

Sam shook his head, his eye-roll lost to the night. He reached into this duffel and grabbed a dry pair of jeans, pulling them on sans boxers. They would be stopping soon, anyway.

"Yeah, that sounds about right," he muttered.

Dean shifted his dry jeans over his hips with a small hop and grabbed a gray Henley from his bag, pulling it over his head. "You want to hear this or not?"

"Sorry," Sam tapped the air in surrender. "Go on."

He wiggled his shoulders into a black hooded sweatshirt, enjoying the feel of the soft, dry cotton as it fell across his chilled shoulders. Perching on the opened trunk to dry his feet and don clean socks and his sneakers, Sam watched Dean gently probe the bruise on his side, fingers skirting his exposed ribcage like a piano player.

"You were, what? Ten, eleven maybe?" Dean said, sitting next to his brother in the opened trunk and shoving his arms into the sleeves of his shirt, having apparently decided he'd survive the wound on his side. "As usual, he didn't tell us why we were there…"



South Carolina, 1994

I run the blade of the Bowie across the whetstone in the slow rhythm Dad has shown me without realizing he's showing me. It's hypnotic, this marriage of motion and sound. I fall into it, centering my attention on the curve of my fingers, the steady shink of metal against the coarse, gray rock, the soft whoosh of air against the fine hairs on my arm.

It is a moment of peace I don't often get and I soak it in, knowing that any minute—

"Dean! Where the hell is he?"

"Told you. On a job."

"Not a job if you don't get paid."

"Heroes don't care about money."

"Yeah, well, my stomach does."

I lift my eyes and meet his sullen hazel gaze. His chin is propped on the backs of his folded hands, pressing his lips together in a significant pout. His hair brushes the edges of his lashes, needing a trim. But Sammy is not a high and tight kid. His hair is a rebellion he would not soon give up, of that I am sure.

"You hungry?"

"Duh," he mumbles.

"There's a Long John Silvers down the street," I suggest, mostly for his reaction. He hasn't stopped complaining about the houseboat since we arrived.

"Gag! No way, man. No fish."

"Fine," I sigh, sheathing the knife reluctantly.

I stand, intending to cross to what passes for a kitchen in the dilapidated interior when a sudden wave rocks the house, slamming it against the pier with a harsh howl of wind and sending me tumbling against Sam's small body.

"What the fu—"

"Boys!" Dad's bellow is frightening and welcome. I feel the surge of relief and energy that always floods my senses at the sound of my father's voice.


"Get out here! On the double—MOVE!"

I stumble as the boat house rocks again, my arms swinging instinctively for purchase, and feel Sam's hands grab my wrist, small fingers clinging tightly.

"Dean, what's goin' on?"

Hurricane, I think. Has to be.


I hadn't noticed the darkness closing in, warning of the approaching storm. I hadn't noticed the build-up of wind. I hadn't noticed the growing ferocity of rain. But all were now pelting the fragile houseboat with tenacious anger, and my brother was in the middle of it.

"C'mon, Sammy," I yell at him over the storm rocking my eardrums like Angus Young.

I twist my hand around so that I am holding his wrist now and tug him close to me. He is small enough to fit beneath my arm, his head tucked into my chest as we stagger toward the door and Dad's voice.

I turn the knob, pushing the door slightly into the void, and gasp as the wind rips it from my hand, narrowly missing decapitating Dad as it flies into the slate-black sky. Rain rushes in, pelting us with viciously cold splats of water, soaking us. I cling to the frame, bracing my legs apart for balance.

"Get your brother outside and get to the car," Dad orders me, his dark eyes hot with panic and purpose. I take in his disheveled clothes, the blood on his hands, and an old-school bow and arrow clutched in his grip. I realize in that moment that this is no hurricane.


"Don't argue with me, Dean!"

"Dean, what's happening?" Sam asks me. Always me. Looks at me. Hair wet and clinging, eyes large and scared, face pale.

"We're getting the hell outta here, that's what's happening," I answer him, pulling his fisted hands from my shirt, and thrusting him forward.

Into the gap of water between the house and the pier. Into the empty space between places of safety.

I stare stupidly at the churning surface of the water closing over Sam's head as the houseboat rocks again, slamming against the pier and tossing me to the wooden slats on my ineffective ass. I land hard, air vacating my body in a speedy exodus.

"Where's Sam!" Dad yells at me, his eyes tearing from a vaguely human-like shape standing on the water to me, then back.

I stare, trying to breathe. It is as if the air has become blades, slicing my mouth, cutting my throat, shredding my lungs.


Dad grips my wet shirt in one strong fist and with minimal effort pulls me to my feet.

"Where's your brother?"

"He f-fell…" I stutter, shame at my trembling lips turning my stomach into a block of ice. "I got it," I promise. "I got him."

Dad releases me and turns to face the water. And the…thing. I scramble to the edge of the pier—away from the missile-like houseboat—and with one final glance at Dad, I dive into the churning water, an image of him curled over a flaming arrow burned into my brain.

I surface into a maelstrom, calling for my brother. The waves slam me, water climbing into my nose, my eyes, filling my ears. I somehow hear his voice, a small, tinny echo of sound that cuts into the heart of me. I instinctively follow the sound. Sam is beneath the pier, clinging to a support beam, his face lifted to the wood, sobbing my name.

"I'm here," I gasp, swimming up to him. "I'm here, Sammy."

"Gotta get out, Dean, gotta get out."

"We're out," I assure him, wrapping one arm around his waist, the other around the beam, and hold on. "We're out."

"Of the w-water," he chatters. "Get out of the water."

"Wait, Sam," I say, clutching him tighter against me. His body is small and trembling and I am the idiot who lost him to the water. "We wait for Dad."

Teeth chattering, Sam nods quickly and blends his body with mine, holding onto me as I hold on to the pier. I feel my legs slowly turn to lead, my bones freezing in their flesh casing. I feel my fingers become brittle. I feel my brother trembling.

I hear an odd, guttural groan, my father's curses, the shriek of the wind, but the only sound that matters to me is Sam's softly whispered chant of "We wait for Dad, we wait for Dad, we wait for Dad."

The sudden silence above us actually terrifies me. I want to call out Dad's name, to search for reassurance, but I wait. I wait for Dad.


"Here!" I call, my numb hands going slack with relief as his heavy boots rumble down the pier above us, toward us. I hear his ragged breathing as he lies down on the wood, hanging over the edge, reaching for Sam, pulling him up and away from me.

My arms feel oddly empty and I realize that I am letting go, unable to hold on to the pier with nothing to anchor me to a reason. I feel the water creeping up my neck, over my chin, filling my ears, and then, muffled as though calling me through sleep, Dad's voice is in my head.

"Atta boy, Dean."

Arms are around me, pulling me into the air, setting me on the pier, rubbing life back into my chilled body.

"You did good, you did good," Dad is saying.

"We w-waited for you, D-Dad," Sam chatters.

"You did good," Dad says and pulls me upright and into his chest, my nose pressing closed against his shoulder. I feel the unmistakable form of Sam's body at my back as Dad grips us both tightly to him, his voice rolling across the fear slamming his heart against his ribs and into my cheek.

"You did good."


"That was an ala?" Sam asked, standing with his left thigh resting against the Impala's taillight where he'd ended his pace as Dean's voice died away.

Dean kept his eyes down, shielding Sam from the force of his recollection, and studied his hands, stroking his thumb lightly over his callused palm, centering on the rough spot directly beneath his silver ring. He'd pinched his hand there a good many times when he first started wearing the ring.

"Yeah," he nodded. "Found out later when we were leaving."

Sam ran a finger over his upper lip. "I don't remember the storm."

Dean nodded. "You were… a little messed up by that whole thing." He blinked his eyes up at Sam, studying the set jaw line of his brother, remembering a much younger face, much larger eyes.

Sam pushed away from the car, his eyes tracking back to the small cemetery and, Dean knew, the after-image of the dispossessed bodies. "Was it like this one?"

Dean followed Sam's glance, nodding. "Yeah. Sudden and crazy."

"Did he, uh… y'know, tell you about it?" Sam looked back toward Dean, not quite at his eyes.

Dean heard what Sam wasn't asking. Did he trust you, did he open up to you, did he include you… like he never did with me? It had become Sam's way of saying that he wanted to know as much as he could about the mystery that was their father, but was afraid of the answers he might get.

Dean shook his head, lightly rubbing the backs of his fingers along the scruff at his jawline. "I found the arrows when we were clearing out the houseboat. They had dried blood on them. I just… waited." He pushed away from his position on the trunk, turned, and closed the lid, moving stiffly around to the driver's side. He was chilled and sore, but they were both in one piece. Successful hunt. "Couple of nights later, I saw him writing in the journal. When I saw the word dragon, I laughed."

Sam opened the passenger door, pulling up short. "You laughed?"

Dean dropped into the driver's seat with a punched-out breath. "Well, yeah. I mean, dude, dragons? They were Disney cartoons and storybook creatures as far as I knew."

Sam smirked. "Dad set you straight?"

Darting his tongue across his bottom lip and drawing it into his mouth, Dean nodded as the memory of his father's low rumble, like fingers plucking the strings of a bass guitar, slid through his ears.

"Boy, there are things in this world that we might never see, but that doesn't mean they aren't real. You remember that, if you don't remember anything else. It's what we can't see that we need to be ready for."

"He caught me looking, said I should know why we'd been there, told me about the ala." He shoved the keys into the ignition, pausing before turning them to catch the engine. "He said that evolution worked in our favor."

Dean twisted the keys; Bad Company's Crazy Circles echoed through the interior of the car.

"Come again?" Sam shifted sideways in the seat, his long legs filling the space beneath the glove box, his slim fingers spreading across his knees in a position Dean recognized as relaxed in the Book of Sam.

Dean shifted the gear to drive and glanced at his brother. "Komodo, Sam. Komodo Dragon."

"Komodo… Are you kidding me?"

"Nope. Snuck into a zoo, got what he needed."

"Tell me you didn't break into a zoo for this hunt," Sam groaned.

"What do think I am?" Dean replied, purposely not answering his uptight brother. He pressed the accelerator and the screech that greeted his ears drowned out Sam's bark of a laugh.

"Son of a bitch," Dean snarled, pulling the car free from the cover of trees. "I swear to God, Sam, if you messed with more than just her tires…"

"How many times do I have to remind you that it wasn't me?" Sam snapped, shaking his head and rolling his window down, propping his elbow on the open frame.

"Right, right," Dean growled. "Trickster. Sly son of a bitch… not enough to send us on a wild goose chase, slam me against some chairs, and let the air out of her tires… Fucker had to go and mess with the fan belt."

"Maybe it's just broken," Sam grumbled.

Dean spared him an incensed glance as he pulled out onto the empty road. "It's not broken. I rebuilt her myself."

"Things break, Dean," Sam huffed, turning his face to the night air.

"Not things that I fix," Dean returned, flicking the volume of the radio to the maximum level, drowning out the sound of the slipping fan belt.

Paul Rogers' silky voice declared, Life is like a carousel… you aim for heaven, and you wind up in hell. To all the world you're livin' like a king, but you're just a puppet on a broken string.

Dean curled his fingers around the steering wheel, drawing the bass beat of the music into him, letting his body rock with the feel of the drums, the caress of the night wind teasing his cheek from Sam's open window. His eyes took in the reflecting staccato of the yellow road dashes, guiding them into the night and into nowhere.

"You have any idea where we're going?" Sam yelled at him over the music.

Dean allowed himself a rueful smile that Sam wasn't complaining about the decibel of the sound, simply allowing Dean his temper tantrum that things were not right with the Impala.


"Think we should have some idea?"


"'Cause—" Sam stopped, mouth parted, lips working to form a word, a reason, any explanation as to why they had to have a plan.

Dean waited.

"'Cause, uh, you're going to want to get that fan belt fixed." Sam's shoulders visibly relaxed.

"I'll just stop at the next town," Dean shrugged.


When the DJ came on, Dean reached down and grabbed a scaled-down box of cassettes, having started to slowly replace his music collection after the accident. With one hand on the base of the steering wheel, his eyes darted between the dark road and the scrawled names on the spine of the cassettes.


Dean fingered the plastic, sensing more than hearing the click of the casings as he looked for something to draw his attention from the now, and from his memories. Glancing up, he saw the hood of the Impala eat the edge of the yellow line.


"I got it."

"For cryin' out loud. Let me." Sam reached for the box of tapes.

"I said I got it!" Dean snapped, jerking the car slightly. The wheels crossed back over the yellow line, into the safety of their lane. "Just need something else to—"


"What?" Dean muttered, irritated that Sam read him, that Sam knew how to see through the mask, that he could hear discovery in his brother's voice.

"What else happened?"

Dean straightened up, grabbing the wheel with his free hand as Sam rifled through the sparse collection of cassette tapes.

"What are you taking about?" Dean kept his voice purposefully even, tightening his jaw as he pressed his lips closed on the end of his words.

"Did something else happen back then—when Dad fought off the ala?"

"No," Dean answered, too quickly. He winced inwardly as Sam pounced on that tell.

"Tell me."

"Put in some music, Sam."

"Tell me." Sam sat back, letting the radio commercials poke through the air like the sharp end of an ice-pick at the base of Dean's skull. He crossed his arms, leaning against the door, staring at Dean with a dead-eyed, stubborn look that said I can do this all night.



"Dammit, just put in some music!"

"What happened?"

"You were there."

"I was ten."

"Not my fault you didn't pay attention."

"Yes, it was," Sam threw back at him, his words reverberating through the sudden, quick silence as the commercials ended and Staind's Please beat out the quiet.

"What?" Dean looked over at him quickly, then back to the road. The quick flash of Sam's hazel eyes in the glow of the dashboard lights tightened Dean's heart, setting him on an edge of dread. "What are you talking about?"

"I don't remember because you made sure I was kept out of it."

"I was protecting you, Sam."

"I know," Sam shifted, turning away from Dean, his voice softer as Aaron Lewis pleaded, Tell me please, who the fuck did you want me to be? Was it something that I couldn't see? Never knew this would be so political...

"It's not important, Sam," Dean relented, remembering the way his brother shook, the fear in his large eyes, the confusion on his father's face. "It was a long time ago."

"It's important enough to get you all…edgy."

"I'm not edgy."

"The hell you aren't."

"What makes you think I'm edgy?"

"Maybe the fact that I can't hear myself breathe over this freakin' music?" Sam yelled, finally giving in and turning the radio off. "Jeeze, Dean."

Dean worked his jaw, his ears hissing, the squeal of the loose fan belt happy to fill the silence. He sighed, knowing that he wasn't going to be able to handle that sound for very long.

"What's the nearest town?"

"What do I look like, Rand McNally?" Sam returned.

Dean lifted a brow, glancing to the side. "You look like someone about to be walking, that's what you look like."

"Fine," Sam huffed, opening the glove box and pulling out a crumpled map.

Dean reached up and flicked on the dome light, darting his attention from the road to Sam and back.

"Looks like the nearest place is… uh… Lynch Heights. 'Bout ten miles up," Sam's long finger followed the thin green line on the map. "Looks big enough to have a garage or something."

"Okay," Dean nodded, turning off the light.

He suppressed a shiver of weakened muscles. They hadn't stopped moving since dropping Bobby off after they took out the Trickster. Sleeping in the car, washing up at rest stops, eating at gas station diners, the road had become their home and the job the cover that kept them from growling too loudly at each other.

The Trickster may have amplified annoyances, but it didn't fabricate them from thin air. There was nothing like living in his brother's pocket to make him see the things in himself that he hated the most. Dean heard Sam's sigh as he re-folded the map, felt the weariness roll from his brother and slide across the Impala to seep into him, joining with aches begging to be recognized.

They couldn't keep this up forever.

"You can pick the music."

Sam clicked the glove box shut, tossing him a surprised glance. "You feeling okay?"

"Fine, why?"

"What happened to driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole?"

Dean's mouth relaxed into a genuine grin. "So, you do pay attention."

"When it matters," Sam nodded. "I do when it matters."

Always matters, Dean's inner voice whispered as Sam reached for the radio tuner. He shifted stiffly in his seat, the muscles stretching along his ribs stiffening with stillness, the bruises offered a chance to deepen, digging dark purple blood into the thin shield of his skin, rolling discomfort—he'd not yet call it pain—through his system that he resolutely ignored.

The subtly sexy, melancholy beat of Soundgarden's Overfloater traded silence in for distraction as Dean watched the roadside for the Lynch Heights exit. Sam drummed his fingers against his thigh, his face turned away, eyes on the blurred terrain invisible in the night. Dean settled against the seat, falling into the backbeat as his memories took over.


 South Carolina, 1994

"Easy, Sammy," I rush in a shaky, whispered gasp. "Hey, it's okay."

"Gotta get out, Dean, gotta get out."

His arms are so thin. My hands seem to shrink them as I grab hold and pull him back into the room. I look over my shoulder, fear a lump at the base of my throat as I see Dad's tired eyes reflecting the blue light from the muted TV as he stands in the doorway of the adjoining room, staring at us with confusion.

"C'mon, Sam," I encourage, pulling him close to me so that he stumbles over his feet, tripping on mine, falling into me. I close the door, still holding him with one hand, and slide the chain lock into its notch. "Back to bed."

"Gotta get out, Dean…"

He is trembling, his eyes young, wide, and unseeing. I know he's still asleep, but he seems so aware that I question myself.


"Can't wait for Dad… gotta get out."

"We're out, Sammy," I reassure him. "We're okay. Dad got us out."

Sam is staring past me, not at me. I turn him, guide him to the bed furthest from the motel room door. My bed. It had been our habit to allow him to sleep close to the bathroom as he is an early riser. No more. I decide in that moment that regardless of the layout of our motel room, I will sleep between him and whatever waits for us on the outside.

"We're okay?" He asks me, cloudy eyes starting to come around, starting to wake.

"We're okay," I repeat, easing him back against the pillow, rolling him to his side, pulling the blankets up, tucking them around him. "Go back to sleep."

His eyes shut obediently, and I stand still, staring down at him, waiting.

"What was that about?" Dad's voice is a soft accusation. I don't hear curiosity. I hear how did you let him get outside? I hear I trusted you with him, Dean.

"Nothing," I say. "He was just sleepwalking. I got it."


I turn, meet Dad's eyes, watch as confusion drains and a measure is taken. A measure of me. I am fourteen years old and no longer a child.

"I got it, Dad," I assure him. He holds my eyes a moment longer, then blinks slowly, turning in the doorway and heading back to his room, his bed.

I take a breath, feeling a new weight in the air. Sam had always been mine. My job. But I feel it differently now. I feel responsibility chasing the heels of obligation. I feel duty frame the love I'd always known. I feel a future slip away and another slide smoothly into place.

I roll my neck, working to release sudden tension, aware that it is now a permanent part of who I am. I sink slowly down on the outside bed, roll to my hip and wrap the blankets around me.

The pillow smells like Sam.


"There it is," Sam calls out, causing Dean to jump free of his memories. "Lynch Heights."

"What's… Slaughter Beach?" Dean asks, pulling off the highway, not surprised that there's not another car in sight. They were square in the middle of nowhere, heading nowhere, leaving nowhere. At the intersection of been there, done that.

Sam shrugged, sucking in his bottom lip. "Dunno," he glanced sideways at Dean. "Sounds kinda like our type a place, though, huh?"

"Dude, that's just sad," Dean replied, but felt his mouth curl up into a smile regardless, knowing truth when he heard it. He winced as the Impala screamed at him as he accelerated through a green light at the base of the exit. "Damn, I hate that sound."

"Tomorrow, we find a garage."

Dean nodded. "I get dibs on the first shower," he said.

"Hey! You got the first shower last night," Sam protested.

"Gotta be quick 'round here, Sammy," Dean grinned, turning into the parking lot of the first motel he came to, a Vacancy sign blinking in yellow neon beneath an image of a fisherman cloaked in a rain slicker battling waves in an effort to reach a lighthouse. The bulb in the lighthouse was an eye-searing blue. "You check us in."

"Which card you wanna use?" Sam asked.

"Uh," Dean reached into his back pocket, came up empty, frowned, swung his arm over the seat and snagged his leather jacket, then retrieved a gray Visa from the inside pocket. "How 'bout Ian Willis?"

Sam snatched the card from Dean's fingers. "How's Ian's credit?"

"So far, so good," Dean grinned, bouncing his eyebrows. See the mask, not the pain.See what I show, not what I feel.

Sam shoved the door open with his elbow, the familiar creak covering his soft chuckle. Dean rubbed his neck, feeling the knots there that he was never without, and watched his brother cross in front of the Impala's headlights, the beams hitting Sam's knees and catching his bare knuckles as his hands swung loosely at his sides.

You gotta promise me…

Dean shook his head, the unbidden echo of Sam's drunken plea filtering between the cracks in his wall.

Promise me…

Dean closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose, pulling a breath into his lungs and working up the mantra to banish memories. Promising Sam that he would kill him—echoing the order John had left with him—had been the only way he'd been able to quiet his desperate brother.

His brother staring up at him with the same large eyes, the same unseeing stare. Reaching for him with the same clumsy grip, trembling with the same fear: that he wouldn't be able to get out. Get away. Get free. Of danger. Of his destiny. Of evil.

Dean jumped when the knock of knuckles against glass broke into his dark thoughts.

"Got the last double," Sam called through the closed door.

Dean pocketed the keys, pulling the Bowie knife from its sheath beneath the seat, and stepped from the Impala, heading around to the trunk with the slam of the driver's door punching the silence of the night.

"Weapons?" Sam asked, lifting the trunk lid and shifting the bow and arrows over to grab his duffel.

"Nah," Dean shook his head. "We got what we need."

Sam tipped his chin up in a nod, waited until Dean grabbed his bag, then closed the trunk. They turned as one, heading for the room.

"You better not use all the hot water," Sam grumbled as he crossed the darkened room, automatically heading for the bed furthest from the door.

Dean watched him, pulling his knowing smile inside, tucking it away where it was safe, and worked his lips around the expected snarky comeback.


Coffee was intoxicating.

He could clearly understand his brother's addiction to the beverage, and would go to his grave with silence his one marker of testimony to the same. Dean enjoyed giving him a hard time about his half-caf, decaffeinated mocha with a twist of lemon too much for Sam to burst his bubble and inform him that cream and sugar did it for him just fine, thanks.

Sam slid his fingers down the grainy edge of the local newspaper, wrapping the dull drone of the coffee-house voices around him like a warm blanket, comfortable in the familiarity of strangers. When nowhere was home, home was everywhere. He had yet to find a small town without a local coffee shop. He had yet to find a local coffee shop without it's share of hurried, gasping gossip, newspapers printed on frayed recycled paper, and harried baristas anxious for eleven a.m. and the end of the morning rush.

Listening to the hum of Lynch Heights in the morning, Sam scanned the newspaper, knowing what he was looking for, eyes like a search engine. Unexplained, locked room, no murder weapon, strange noises… they all signaled something worth looking into.

And they needed something to look into. The ala had been a fluke. A chance. One in a million. They hadn't even meant to stop in Delaware. But it had effectively taken them past the pain of I was awake for some of it and through the ridiculous tangle of you're too precious for this world into a moment where they were once again side-by-side fighting evil. Once again hunting things. Once again saving people.

"Get you something else?"

Sam looked up, surprised, as the hard bite of the Eastern accent bounced against his ears. "Sorry, what?"

"Where're you from, honey?" The middle-aged woman, standing with hip cocked, glass carafe balanced in her gold-ring adorned right hand, studied Sam with shrewd brown eyes, pale lips pursed.

"Uh… Texas," Sam drawled, needing more of the beverage she held hostage before he could come up with a better story.

"Sure and I knew you weren't from nearby," she nodded. "Coffee?"

"Please. Thank you, ma'am," Sam ticked up his smile, feeling his dimples dig into her defenses.

"Don't you 'ma'am' me, now. You passing through?"

Sam swallowed, suddenly missing Dean's smooth charm and slow eyes. "On a road trip," he said. "With my brother."

"Your brother as pretty as you?" she asked, smiling slyly.

Sam blinked. "Uh…"

"Never you mind, sweetie," she patted his hand. "You just read your paper. No one'll bother you."

With that cryptic statement, she turned, sashaying back to the counter and the line of people. It was then that Sam realized their conversation had been observed by at least ten sets of eyes. Swallowing, he offered the faces turned his way an insincere smile, then returned his attention to the newspaper.

Dean, you had better have found that fan belt or—

His internal tirade was halted abruptly as his eyes caught on the words for which he'd been scanning. Words that could offer them a purpose. Words that gave them a reason for being.


God, he loved music.

He loved the cadence, the thrumming beat, the dance of nimble fingers on taut strings, the escape, the feelings… the fucking emotion injected into words that taken apart from the melody would be empty and hollow. Dean pressed the oversized earphones tighter against his head, drawing in the sound, letting it roll through him, churning his blood, beating his heart.

His eyes closed, Dean rocked forward to his toes, back to his heels, lost. Lost in a time long before he was a glimmer, long before he was an idea. Lost in a time when his mother was innocent and his father was a soldier. Lost in a time when the reality lurking in the dark crevasses of the world were relegated to ravings of lunatics and writings of the inspired.

Standing at the back of the small record store, walls framed with CD displays, floors covered with wooden crates of albums, ceiling papered with concert posters, Dean hummed low, uncaring who heard, uncaring who watched. There was no one in this moment but him, nothing but the magic of Page and Plant and Achilles Last Stand.

"Sending off a glancing kiss, to those who claim they know, below the streets that steam and hiss, the devil's in his hole…"

He felt a presence seconds before the hand dropped heavy on his shoulder. It took control almost beyond his measure for Dean to not squeal like a girl and jump three feet in the air. As it was, every muscle in his body tightened and released in a dizzying rush as he yanked the earphones from his head and turned with a jerk.

"Jesus Christ!"

"You're gonna go deaf!" Sam exclaimed.

"Dude!" Dean pressed a hand against his chest, recovering quickly. "Don't sneak up on me like that."

"I've been looking for you everywhere," Sam grumbled.

"Well, ease up! You found me."

"Listening to music in a tiny record store," Sam flicked his hand into the empty space between them.

"It's Achilles!"

"I don't care if it's Mozart," Sam narrowed his eyes. "It's too freakin' loud! I could hear it from the entrance, Dean."

"You're turning into an old lady, Sammy," Dean slid a bored look toward his brother and started to lift the earphones back to his head.

"Hey, hang on," Sam rested a hand on his wrist. "Did you find the garage?"

Dean nodded. "They don't open until noon." He tried to return the headphones once more.

"Wait," Sam said, pressing them back down.

"What?" Dean grumbled impatiently. "Zeppelin just released an anthology, Sam."

Sam darted his head forward, his eyes bland. "Zeppelin? As in the same group that's been around since God was a boy?"

"An anthology, Sam," Dean repeated, slowly, sure that if he articulated, Sam would see the importance of such a monumental event.

"I think I found a job," Sam said, grabbing the earphones from Dean's hands and thrusting the newspaper in the vacant space between his fingers.

Dean's eyes mournfully followed the departure of the earphones as Babe I'm Gonna Leave You danced in a tinny echo of salty sex through the air. He sighed, watching Sam place them back on the hook for the next user, then dropped his eyes to the paper in his hand.

"PTA Approves Increase in Lunch Charges?" Dean lifted an eyebrow. "Those bastards. You're right, Sam. Grab the holy water."

Sam rolled his eyes, a motion Dean would find amusing if he didn't see it multiple times a day, and flipped the paper over. 'There," he said, stabbing a small article with his index finger.

"Local Man Sees Spooks," Dean read. He pressed his lips together, raising his eyes slowly to meet his brother's earnest gaze. "You're kidding, right?"

"Read the article, Dean," Sam frowned, stepping aside as another customer wandered through the classic rock collection of CDs.

Sighing, Dean scanned the article, lips moving rapidly as he absorbed the information. "So… he thinks his wife is haunting him, huh?"

"Yeah, and he told the cops," Sam shook his head, frowning sadly.

"Poor bastard."

"I know," Sam rested his hands loosely on his hips. "They didn't waste any time labeling him a crackpot."

"You think there's enough here to check out?" Dean kept his chin down, lifting his eyes from the paper to study Sam's face. He was staring blindly across the stacks of music, his gaze inward, thoughts translucent to the discerning eye of a knowing brother. Dean heard the quiet echo of Sam's slurred confession brought on by too many deaths and too much alcohol.

The more people I save, the more I can change…change my destiny.

"Yeah, maybe," Sam lifted a shoulder in an exaggerated shrug, forcing a look of nonchalance, radiating need so strongly Dean wanted to take a step back.

I wanted to believe...so badly that... It's so damn hard to do this…what we do…all alone, you know? There's so much evil out in the world, Dean, I feel like I could drown in it. And when I think about my destiny, when I think about how I could end up...

Dean nodded once, shaking free the memory of Sam's broken voice, smacking his brother lightly on the chest with the backs of his fingers. "Okay, Research Boy, go… do your thing and find out where this, uh… George Cooper lives."

Sam tilted his head, his lips curving down in an exaggerated frown. "What are you gonna do?"

Dean felt the corners of his eyes pull up as he reached for the ear phones. "Listen to some Levee, then get a fan belt for my girl."

Sam folded his lips in on a suppressed grin. "You're such a softie."

Dean settled the ear phones on his head, tapping the arrow on the CD player until the low beat of When The Levee Breaks rocked through the hiss. Raising his eyebrows at Sam, he asked silently, What are you still doing here? Sam rolled his eyes, batting at the air with a returned, You're impossible.

He turned and lumbered from the music store. Dean watched Sam pause at the door as if wanting to turn and say something, but then he pushed the door open and headed toward where they'd left the Impala. Looking down at the newspaper still clutched in his hand, Dean read the article again.

Wife of 40 years died suddenly… hears 'their song' at night… cabinet doors standing open when he left them closed… lights on when he's turned them off…

The article spoke of George Cooper with sarcasm, writing his claims off to nothing more than the lonely ravings of a widower. Dean narrowed his eyes at the last paragraph.

The Cooper's ward, a blind girl in her mid-twenties, couldn't be reached for questioning. Neighbors claim that the girl is a recluse and rarely, if ever, is seen outside of the house. She apparently came to live with the Coopers last year when her parents were killed in the same accident that blinded her.

With Zeppelin rolling through his system, Dean looked back toward the entrance, Sam's image a negative burned against the backs of his eyes.


South Carolina, 1994

"You just got back," I protest in a stage whisper, Sam asleep with his head in my lap as Dad's black Impala rumbles across the dark road to somewhere else. "Why you gotta leave again?"

"I found something, Dean," Dad tells me, his eyes flicking up to the mirror, meeting mine, then returning to the road. "You know I have to go after it."

I lick my lips, knowing what I'm about to suggest will pull a snarl from my father, but unable to do less with Sam's body heavy against mine. "Take us to Pastor Jim's, Dad."

He looks at me in the mirror again, surprised. "What?"

"Don't stop at another motel. Take us to Pastor Jim's."

"Thought you told me you hated it there," Dad raises a brow, and I hear amusement in his voice. It triggers something in me that I recognize as anger.

"I do."

"Then why do you want to go?"

"Sam needs it," I say simply.

Dad drops his chin and I see his shoulders square. I want to say more. I want to point out that Sam hasn't slept a full night since the storm demon. I want to remind him that I had to sleep in front of the door last night. I want to tell him that I'd been scared, too. I'd been cold, too.

"Okay," he says, diffusing my anger with a simple word of agreement.


Dad nods, meeting my eyes in the mirror again. "Okay," he repeats softly.

I feel myself relax against the soft leather of the rear seat, letting the arms of the only true home I knew hold me in the darkness. Dad turns on the radio and Zeppelin's soft beat fills the car with a comfortable warmth.

"Always thought this was a sexy song," Dad says softly.

"Dad," I protest, looking out through the side window into the night.

"Kissed my first girl to Kashmir," he reveals, amused, it seems, by my vocal discomfort.

Me, too, I want to say, but keep that quiet. Dad needs to know that I can clean and fire any gun he hands me. He needs to know that I can heft and balance an array of knives. He needs to know that I can take care of Sam and me for days at a time. He needs to know that I can avoid the detection of authorities.

He doesn't need to know that Kelly was the name of the blonde in fifth grade with the shy blue eyes. He doesn't need to know that Kashmir was playing from the window of the teacher's lounge when we snuck out back to taste beer she'd swiped from her mom's fridge and ended up tasting the soft, fleshy feel of each other's lips. He doesn't need to know that she cried when we left two weeks later. He doesn't need to know that I wanted to.

"He'll outgrow it, Dean," Dad says suddenly, pulling my mind from the memory of kisses.


"This sleepwalking thing," Dad says, rubbing the back of his neck in a gesture I find myself emulating. "He'll get over it."

"I know," I say, not believing him. It didn't matter to me if he outgrew it or not.

Sam was mine. And as far as I was concerned, nothing bad was going to happen to him while I was around.


Her name tag said Sadie.

Her lashes were bare and framed the dark-chocolate of her eyes like smudges of charcoal, hovering low in a sleepy stare that caught him by surprise. As the silver rings on her right hand reflected the light from the afternoon sun, Dean let his eyes absorb the way the jeans she wore hugged her curves and the white button up shirt parted to reveal a tease of cleavage. She had three freckles between her breasts that looked like an arrow. Pointing down.

"That'll be 15.47," she said, her accent clipped with the rhythm of the East coast, her cupid-bow mouth quirking as she caught his eyes lingering.

"Right," Dean pulled a twenty from his pocket, stained with the sweat from the nervous poker player he'd taken it from, and laid it on the counter, keeping his fingers on the edge of the bill until she pulled it away.

"You boys need anything else?" Sadie handed him his change, tipping her chin toward Sam waiting by the Impala, talking on his cell phone. "I mean, you are…together, right?" Her tone implied uncertainty and interest.

Dean grinned, glancing down. "Yeah," he said. He dragged his eyes up to meet hers. "He's my brother."

"Oh!" Sadie's eyes lit up, flushing her cheeks a soft red and the corner of her mouth curled back invitingly. "Well, then…"

"Dean," he supplied, tipping his chin up to shield his eyes, watching as hers took him in.

"Dean," she laughed. "I'm Sadie."

"I know," he said on a rakish smile, then with a lingering glance, turned on his heel and headed outside.

Sam's head came up at the sound of the door and he held up a hand to pause Dean's immediate questions. Dean frowned, Who is it? Sam mouthed, Bobby. Dean nodded and grabbed a pink shop towel from the backseat, then moved to the hood of the Chevy, only to realize he'd left the fan belt on the counter with Sadie.


Her amused, citrus-bright voice drew his attention. He caught Sam's glance out of his periphery and dismissed the irritation he registered there.

"You forgot your belt," Sadie said, a laugh lighting up her dark eyes as she extended the belt toward him.

"So I did," Dean drawled, taking it from her slowly, letting his fingers brush hers, registering the softness of the skin there and knowing that light touch was the reason for the sudden intake of breath she tried to hide.

"You guys on your way then?" Sadie asked, her eyes falling to his mouth, then darting back up to his eyes.

Dean lifted a shoulder, glancing over at Sam as his brother clicked the cell phone closed, ending his call. "We actually thought we'd stop by and visit an old friend while we were in town."

"Oh?" Sadie shot a look at Sam, pulling her dark hair away from her face and holding it in a loose fist. "Who?"

Dean set his expression in an earnest question mark, knowing well enough that in a town the size of Lynch Heights, the girl manning the counter at the only garage in a fifty mile radius would more than likely know just about everyone.

"George Cooper," he said. "You know him?"

"You're friends of George?" Sadie said, blinking in surprise. "Oh, wow, I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" Sam spoke up, moving around the side of the Chevy to stand next to Dean.

"Well, no, I mean," Sadie released her hair to spread her hands open, then pulled it from her mouth as the wind tossed strands across her face. "I'm sorry about Camilla. If you know George, you knew Camilla and she… man, she was a sweet, sweet lady."

On cue, Dean and Sam dropped their eyes, nodding sadly. "Shame what happened," Dean said softly.

"Yeah, well, sure she was older and all, but," Sadie pressed her lips together, "she was always so healthy."

Sam shifted his feet. Dean chewed on his bottom lip.

"A heart attack just seemed so… unexpected," Sadie supplied on a sigh.

"Yeah," the brother's answered in unison, having the information they'd been waiting for.

"At least he's not alone, though," Dean offered, feeling Sam shift beside him, taking in the fact that Dean had picked up on a silent cue. Reading his brother's signals without actually seeing him was something Dean took pride in.

Sadie's face clouded, her lips pulling close like she'd just tasted a lemon. "You mean Wren?"

Sam nodded. "She's gotta be some comfort."

Sadie looked away, working her jaw as if trying to decide the best way to break bad news. "Yeah, I suppose having another warm body around is something."

"Not a fan?" Dean hedged.

Sadie shrugged, looking back at Dean, her face closed, eyes dull with caution. "I don't have anything against her. Don't know her all that well, really."

Sam nodded while Dean watched Sadie shift her weight from one foot to the other. He wondered what she was hiding.

"Well, I won't keep you," she finally said. "Gotta get back to the counter or Hank'll have my ass."

"Can't let that happen," Dean grinned, his eyes dropping to her legs, then slowly drawing back up to her eyes.

"Um," Sadie tipped her head. "If you're gonna be around awhile, I work the evening shift at Judo's. It's basically a biker bar, but it's decent enough. Got a jukebox. Pool table…"

"Sounds like my kind of place," Dean grinned, dropping his chin and keeping his eyes on Sadie's.

"Well, good," Sadie grinned. "See you around, Dean."

"Count on it," Dean replied as she turned and jogged back to the garage, hips swaying rhythmically.

Dean tilted his head to watch her leave. "Nice."

"Seriously?" Sam pushed away from the car.

"What?" Dean asked, blinking innocently as he lifted the hood of the Impala, laying the shop towel over the grill.

"Is there like a shot they can give you or something?" Sam stood close, peering down into the engine as Dean worked the broken fan belt free.

"Hey," Dean handed the broken piece to his brother, then wiped his greasy hands on his thighs. "Do we or do we not know more about this job of yours than we did this morning."

"This job of mine?" Sam took the belt from Dean and rested his leg on the grill of the Impala. "Thought this was a family business."

Dean pulled the cardboard packaging from the new fan belt, then began to wedge it in place. "It is," he grunted, his head buried in the engine, his nose filled with the scent of grease and heat and power. "But you found this one."

Sam turned away, his reply muted by the depths of metal.

"What was that?"

"Nothing," Sam turned back to him, his voice sullen.

Dean pulled out from under the hood, one problem solved. He checked quickly, automatically, that Sam's fingers were clear, then slammed the hood shut, turning to focus on the next problem.

"You gonna be pissy or productive?" he asked, wiping his hands on the towel.

Sam frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"You have that I'm gonna argue with you no matter what tone," Dean lifted a shoulder, forcing nonchalance, acting as if he could let Sam's attitude roll free and settle in the nothing that sat between them. "Just wanted to know where you stand is all."

"What's with you?" Sam drew his brows together, his lip curling.

"Nothing," Dean pulled his head back, eyes bland, expression passive, stomach burning.

"You're acting like that damn Trickster is still… around." Sam settled his hands low on his hips, hazel eyes boring into his brother.

Dean took a breath. Then another. Sam was right. He'd been looking for a reason for them to be off-beat. Looking for a reason to want to take another swing at Sam. He wanted to not need to be so in synch with his younger brother. He wanted to see where Sam ended and he began.

And he couldn't.

Their lives had created a unity that he now depended on. And the idea that Dad could be right—that Sam's destiny was to become something Dean would have to kill to save—physically hurt him. The simple truth of it was, there was no Dean without Sam and right now, that pissed him off.

"What did Bobby want?" he asked, changing the subject.

"He was checking on us."

"He was?" Dean felt his face soften.

"Yeah. Wanted to, uh…" Sam lifted a shoulder, looking up at his brother through apologetic eyes. "Make sure we weren't killing each other."

Dean grinned ruefully. Bobby had been an adult on the fringe of their lives growing up. Just one of John's friends, a name mentioned in passing until circumstance forced them on his doorstep. He'd been Uncle Bobby for Sam, and Damn That Singer for John. He'd been watcher and watched. Protector and protected. Hunter and friend.

And Dean loved the old man simply because he answered his damn phone.

Dean took a breath. "You ready to go check out your—this—job?"

Sam stared at him a moment, assessing, weighing, thoughts bouncing off the backs of his eyes and leaving question marks in their wake. Dean watched it happen, waited for the fallout.

"How are we gonna do this one?" Sam asked, curling his fingers into fists, then releasing them in an effort to calm himself.

Dean knew next would come a subtle finger-shake, then a quick bounce on the balls of his feet. His brother's habits were as well-known to him as his own. They were something he counted on, something he leaned on, something he knew.

Even as an adult, Sam was his, and he was proud of that fact.

"You want to be Mulder or Scully?" Dean asked, his face folding back in a relaxed, sunny grin. Mask in place.

"I got a choice?" Sam asked, returning the grin.


"Quit tugging on it."

"It's too tight."

"Hold still and I'll fix it."

"I can do it myself!"

"Well, then quit whining and do it already!"

Dean's lip curled as he met his brother's eyes in the motel mirror suspended on the wall over the wide double dresser. Sam stood behind him and to his left, deftly adjusting his tie and looking for all the world like the lawyer he'd wanted to be. His hair was slicked back, giving him a posh, serious appearance. His eyes were focused and intent. His mouth set in a grim line.

Dean pulled again on the too-tight knot of black, silky material at the base of his throat. His almost military-grade hair was fuzzy from towel-drying, and he was sweating from the weight of the suit jacket on his shoulders. He pulled a breath in through his nose, puffing it out through pursed lips, finally managing to loosen the knot and readjust the tie so that it fit snugly in his button-up white collar.

He reminded himself that he performed well under pressure. He reminded himself that lying was part of the job. He reminded himself that life was an act and the only thing that was real was standing behind him looking bored.

Turning from the mirror, Dean grabbed his .45, tucking it into his waistband. He picked up the fake IDs from the top of the dresser, having selected their cover story before returning to the motel to change into their 'costumes.' He tossed a slim black ID and badge to Sam, who caught it mid-air and slid it into his breast pocket.

Dean flipped his open, glancing at the name inside. The last time they'd used these it had been to fool Ronald Reznick into telling them about his 'Mandroid.' Poor Ron. This one has to go better than a dead believer and an agent on our asses. Sighing, Dean shoved the ID into his breast pocket, knowing he'd have to time the reveal of this false persona at the same moment as his brother.

Sam pulled on his overcoat, completing the look. He handed Dean the smaller coat, waiting patiently as Dean shrugged into it. For a brief moment, they stared at each other, tension and judgment dancing on the edges of their periphery, waiting for a chance to shove between the brothers.

Dropping his arms to his sides, Dean rolled his neck and shook his fingers out. "It's 106 miles to Chicago. We've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses."

He quirked his mouth, letting his best Dan Akroyd impression tumble free.

Sam licked his lips, one eyebrow bouncing in amusement. "Hit it."

Dean grinned, then turned toward the motel door, letting his chin lead his motion. "Told you I look like one of the Blues Brothers in this getup," Dean grumbled good-naturedly.

Sam pulled the motel room door shut and pocketed the keys. "Dude, no one is going to buy Paranormal FBI Agent if we show up in grease-smudged jeans and flannel shirts."

Dean glanced at him across the hood of the car. "All I'm saying is," he pulled the door open, pausing before sinking inside. "You pull off the whole suit look better."

Sam lifted a disbelieving brow. "You're just dragging your heels with this hunt."

Dean sat down, pulling the door shut, then shoved the keys in the ignition. "What if crazy is just crazy, Sam?"

"Dean, he was describing classic signs of spiritual interference."

Turning the car on, Dean frowned at the radio as The Rolling Stones' Paint It Black hummed through the car.

"He could have seen that on Ghost Hunters," Dean turned the volume down and shifted his elbow over the back of the seat to reverse from the lot.

"If you're so dead set against it," Sam turned to him, "then why are you going to see him?"

Dean faced forward once more, his eyes skimming over Sam's stubborn face as he did so. Because you believe, Sam. "I'm not dead set against it," he said, pressing the accelerator flat and gunning forward onto the road. "I just think that we should be careful is all. Not just…believe."

Mick lamented in the silence between them. Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts. It's not easy facin' up when your whole world is black…

"So… I guess that makes you the red-headed woman this time," Sam said slowly, a grin softening his accusation.

Dean barked out a surprised laugh, curling his fingers lightly around the steering wheel. "Okay, give me the skinny on George Cooper," he relented as they headed toward the Cooper residents in Slaughter Beach. "What did you find out?"

"Not much more than what the article and your girlfriend, Sadie, told us," Sam reached into the glove box and pulled out some hand-written notes he'd stuffed there just before they changed their clothes. "Camilla Cooper died of a heart attack at a church picnic about six weeks ago. George started calling the police about her ghost a couple of weeks after that."

"What did he think they were going to do?"

Sam shrugged. "Lots of people think the police are supposed to fix everything."

Dean sighed and shook his head. "What about this… blind girl?"

"Wren Demeter. Her parents were killed in some freak accident that left her with hysterical blindness."

Dean's laugh punched the air. "So… what she… cried herself blind?"

"No," Sam shook his head and glanced up. "You want to turn here. Hysterical blindness is a condition where you go blind due to a psychotic break or trauma, but with no damage to the eyes."

"So, she can really see?"

"Yeah," Sam nodded. "But she doesn't want to."

"Wonder what happened to her parents?"

"Couldn't find that out," Sam folded the paper and shoved it back in the glove box. "But George and Camilla took her in so that she didn't have to go to some home or something. Guess she didn't have any other relatives."

"Hmm," Dean chewed on his bottom lip in thought. "Sounds a little too…"



"That's what I thought, too."

"Think Camilla's haunting someone other than George?"

"Well, from everything I could find out—go right here—George and Camilla were the perfect couple," Sam smoothed his hair back as the house came into view. "In love, devoted, no skeletons in the closet, no secrets of any kind."

"Everybody has secrets, Sam," Dean mumbled, remembering the tears in John's eyes as he leaned in close to whisper his last order into Dean's ear, remembering the cold dread that had wrapped around his own heart and shook free through his fingertips as he relayed those words to his brother. He pulled the Impala over on the side of the road opposite the house. "Okay, so… you ready to do this thing?"

"Just answer me one thing," Sam said, grabbing Dean's sleeve and halting his exit. "If this hunt hadn't been convenient… would you have done it?"

Dean frowned, watching his brother's eyes carefully. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, this ghost… the ala… we just kinda fell on them. Do you still want to…quit?"

Dean sighed, looking out through the front window at the darkening sky. Evening drew close, filtering graying light through the overhang of trees that sheltered the car and gave the house a secretive look.

"No, Sam," he said finally. "I don't want to quit. This is all I know. I just… I want you to be…" He looked over at his brother, leveling his eyes. "Safe. I'm… I'm just tired of destiny and demons and all that shit. I just want to salt and burn and… ride off into the freakin' sunset."

"You don't think I want that?"

"I don't know what you want," Dean returned, his voice even, low. "I don't think you know what you want."

Sam pulled his lips in, looking closer to tears than Dean had seen him since Connecticut.

"So, what do we do?" Sam asked, sounding five, sounding hopeful and trusting and scared all at once.

"We cowboy up, go in there, and figure out why some old guy's dead wife is keeping him up at night." Dean let his lips pull away from his teeth, his smile hesitating before it reached his eyes. "We do the job. Just like always."

Sam nodded.

"Trust me, Sam," Dean said, reaching out and squeezing his brother's shoulder. "I won't let anything bad happen to you."

"Yeah, I know," Sam said, opening his door. "I know."


The house was white. Mostly. Sam could see paint peeling in large strips on the wooden boards flanking the wide front porch. The wind lazily tossed a porch swing against the side of the house, the coppery-colored rusted chains creaking quietly under the cacophony of wind chimes.

Sam shared his brother's low whistle of wonder as they slowly climbed the four worn steps leading up to the screen-covered front door. Dozens of wind chimes hung from the porch ceiling, all with a small, carved bird as the weight that bounced the tune from the wooden chimes. Some with wings spread wide, some with beaks open in a call, all dancing crazily against the hollowed-out tubes echoing a haunting melody.

"Hey, Sam," Dean said softly, drawing Sam's eyes from the ceiling.


"That tune sound…familiar to you?"

"N—" Sam stopped his protest, listening to the sound the wind teased from the wooden chimes. "Yeah… yeah, it does, kinda."

"Like something out of one of those old black and white movies."

"War movies," Sam nodded, "yeah."

"Weird." Dean shrugged, then rapped his knuckles on the wooden edge of the screen door.

When silence greeted them, Sam frowned and walked to the edge of the porch, looking at the detached garage. "No car," he reported.

"Huh," Dean walked to the other side of the porch, looking around the edge of the house, then back to Sam. "Just a garden hose."

"Want to come back?"

Dean lifted a brow. "Why would I want to do that?" he said, pulling the lock pick set from the pocket of his over coat.

Sam stood behind his brother, holding the screen door open as Dean crouched in front of the lock, checking over his shoulder for the one set of eyes that would trip them up. This used to be easier. Before Hendrickson. Before Dad. Just… before. The one thing Sam hated about this life—the solitude, the loneliness—was the one thing that had protected them.

Now, people knew about them. Exposure meant a whole different set of worries. Ones that Sam wasn't prepared to deal with. Ones that Sam would rather forget.

"Hurry up, man," Sam hissed.

The click of the lock was accompanied by Dean's glance of annoyance and they drew their guns as they stepped into the dark home, the din of the wind chimes at their backs.

"George?" Dean called, glancing to the side, then waving Sam toward the opened door leading to what appeared to be a parlor. "George Cooper? FBI. We're here to, uh… help."

No sound returned Dean's call. Sam stepped away from his brother, keeping him in his periphery, and moved through a room that hadn't been used in quite some time. He noticed a layer of dust on the tops of the tables and cobwebs lacing the pictures together. His boots were heavy on the seemingly fragile floor, creaks following in his wake as he continued through the room.


Dean's voice was tight, his need evident. Sam abandoned his search and turned on his heel, heading back to where he'd last seen his brother.


"I found George," Dean was down the hall, his curved back and the heels of his boots sticking out of a doorway. Sam hurried to him, skidding to a halt when he saw his brother bent over the prone form of a silver-haired man. "He's breathing. Looks like someone clocked him a good one."

The room looked like ground zero. Glass and splinters of wood were strewn along the floor. Sam could see a few small carving knives embedded in the doorframe. Books had been pulled from shelves, lying open and torn. And as Sam bent to help Dean with George, he smelled it.



"Just help me get him up—"

"Dean, we have to get out of here. Now."

"What—" Dean shot a look over his shoulder, his eyes irritated, until he saw Sam's face. His expression registered understanding and fear in one blink. "Oh, shit."

Dean turned, all action, rolling George over quickly. The older man groaned; blood from a wound on his forehead slipping into the cracks time had dug into his face. Sam stepped carefully over George's sprawled body and helped Dean set him upright.

"Wha…" George mumbled.

"We're gonna get you out of here," Dean declared.

"Wren…" George blinked, weakly lifting his head. "Get…"

Dean looked up at Sam over George's lolling head. "The girl must still be in here somewhere. Take him out."

"Dean!" Sam protested, but his words were lost as his brother stood and turned, heading further down the hall, leaving Sam with the limp, bleary-eyed widower. "C'mon, George," Sam grunted, trying to lift the older man to his feet. "Gotta get out of here."

Wait… wait for Dean… Sam's heart screamed at him as George's weight filled his arms. He slid the man's hand over his shoulder and stared from the chaotic room. As they stepped into the hall, Sam hazarded a look to his left, hoping to see Dean.

"Wren…" George groaned.

"Dean's getting her," Sam assured the wounded man. "C'mon…"

He half-dragged, half-carried George down the now-chilly hall. As they reached the end, just before the opened front door, Sam saw a digital wall thermostat, looking utterly out of place in the centuries-old house.

His eyes caught and registered the temperature just as the digital read-out clicked. Seventy-one. Automatically, he looked at the gauge. It was set to seventy-two.

Oh, shit…


Sam knew that the second the furnace kicked on, it would trigger the gas filling the interior of the house like a bomb, taking everyone and everything in its wake along for a very hot ride. George sagged in his arms. Sam shot another look over his shoulder, panic turning his stomach to ice and slamming his heart against his ribs. His legs felt watery as he stalled in the doorway between safety and savior.


When he received no answering call from his brother, Sam considered for one brief second dropping George where he stood and heading back inside.

"Son of a bitch," he growled, teeth clenched tight, as the instinct to protect pulled him outside with his cargo. Stumbling down the steps, the wind chimes teasing him with a barely remembered tune, Sam hastened to the edge of the yard and dropped George groggily on his backside. "Stay there."

"Who—who are you?" George peered up at him.

Sam didn't wait around to explain. He turned, heading back to the house at a run.

The explosion slammed through the air, slapping Sam with heat, tossing him off of his feet and depositing him on his back near George.

Sam blinked blindly at the evening sky, the silver grin of the moon canceled out by blurry pain. His eyes watered, his lungs bleated for release. He tried to pull in air, but it was as if his chest cavity had been turned paper thin. He felt a hand on his wrist, shaking his arm.

The gasp of air he was finally able to pull in was littered with ash and debris. He rolled weakly to his side, trying desperately to draw in a breath as a clumsy hand pounded his back.

"…the hell happened, kid?"


"You okay?"

Sam blinked at the red-rimmed blue eyes staring down at him, firelight flickering oddly-shaped shadows across the face.

"What?" he asked again.

"My house just blew up," George said, voice dazed, as he sat back on his heels, his hand still resting on Sam's back. "Oh, God… Wren…"

"Dean," Sam gasped, pushing himself to his knees. The world rushed around him, blood like voices pounding his ears. He swayed dizzily.

"Easy, kid," George's hand rested heavier on Sam. "You're in no shape—"

"Get the hell off me," Sam growled, his voice a deep rasp, anger and fear turning it into one much older, one that had seen more than its share of tragedy. "My brother's in there."

Struggling out of his cumbersome overcoat, Sam staggered to his feet, unable to maintain his balance. He walked in an exaggerated diagonal line toward the ruined house. The explosion had blown out most of the fire, leaving behind a smoking rubble with sparks of flame peppering the foundation. The front door was gone, the parlor reduced to a pile of wood beams and broken furniture.

The back of the house seemed relatively intact, and Sam could see the gutted second floor framed in the orange light from the dying fires.


Groans of wood and crackles of flames met his ears. He stumbled forward into a surreal landscape of splinters and smoke, falling debris and littering paper.

No… no no no no… Sam staggered. Not like this… not this way… you're supposed to watch out for me… you're supposed to stay…

"DEAN! Answer me!"

Sam coughed as he lurched over a broken table, pushing shards of a papered wall out of the way. Please please please…

"Dean! C'mon, man… Answer me!"

Sam coughed again, tripping, catching himself, driving a splinter deep into his palm. The stab of pain was instant and fierce, causing a sour taste to gather at the back of his throat. He went to his knees with a cry of surprise, grabbing his right hand in his left and hissing with the pain of the intrusion of wood. He blinked burning eyes, feeling tears spill over the edge of his lashes.

It was then he saw the glimmer of silver. A silver ring shining in the wan firelight. A silver ring on the right hand of his brother. A hand that hung limply over a beam of wood.

Dean's hand.

"Oh, God…"

Sam surged forward, his eyes pinned to his brother's hand.

"I'm here… I'm here, Dean. I'm gonna get you out. You just wait, okay. You wait for me."

Sam's hands shook as he started to unbury his brother. His legs seemed to disappear from the knees down, supporting him by will alone. His stomach twisted and his heart pounded and his lungs refused to function normally. He panted with stubborn panic, his body moving, his mind screaming, blood beating so loudly in his ears that he wanted to cover them.

Fear gripped him more completely than when he'd watched the doctors shock his brother back to life. More completely than when he'd found his father sprawled on the floor.

"I'm here, Dean," he gasped with the effort it took to lift another board. He saw the rest of Dean then, face-down, overcoat twisted around him, one arm tucked under him, the other flung out as if he fell reaching.

"Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit," Sam panted, not hearing his own voice, not realizing he was even speaking. He reached a trembling hand for Dean's neck, holding his breath. The steady thrum of his brother's pulse left him dizzy with relief.

"Okay, okay, I can do this," he told himself. "I can do this."

One ceiling beam, darkened with heat from the blast, lay across Dean's body, kept from crushing him by the edge of a parlor chair. Sam took a breath, folded his lips against his teeth, and with a guttural grunt of effort, pushed the beam aside, leaving Dean exposed.

Taking another deep breath, Sam stepped around the wreckage, kneeling close to his brother. Logic told him not to move Dean. Need canceled logic and he reached for his brother's shoulders. Carefully, his inhale captured in the caverns of his lungs, Sam rolled Dean over, cradling his brother's limp body in the crook of his arms.

Blood trailed from the corner of Dean's mouth, his nose, and a deep cut across his forehead and one cheek. Sam could feel it matting the hair at his left temple, and it darkened his neck where it ran freely from his ears.

"Oh, Jesus," Sam whispered, easing Dean's inert body against him, his thumb brushing carefully at the blood coming from Dean's ears. "Oh, God, Dean."


Sam looked up, sniffing, tasting the salt of his own tears on the edges of his lips. George stood in the remnants of his front porch, a beautiful, young girl standing next to him.

"I used the neighbor's phone. Ambulance is on its way," George pulled the girl close to him. She lifted blank, china-blue eyes and Sam caught his breath. "I found Wren," George said simply.

The girl must still be in here somewhere… Sam caught his breath in a stuttered sob as he looked at Wren's unlined, porcelain face staring innocently back at him. Dark hair framed her face like wings and her small mouth was parted in what looked like a gasp. He went back after you, Sam wanted to say. But he could only stare at her.

Wrenching his gaze from Wren's eyes, Sam looked down at the blood covering Dean's face, using his splinter-impaled, trembling hand to wipe it from the hollows of his brother's eyes. He ended up simply blending their blood, smearing the sticky substance across Dean's cheek and darkening his brother's hair with his trembling strokes of attempted reassurance.

"Is he…" George hedged as the wail of the ambulance siren split the night.

"He's alive," Sam said, his voice thin, his breath stuttering. "He's alive."

Wait for me, Dean…

Sam felt the world roll around him. He felt the fine spray as the water from the firemen's hose blew at him on the wind. He felt the hands of the EMTs try to ease him away from his brother. He felt the arms pull Dean's limp body up. He felt the darkness close in, sucking the air from inside of him and ejecting it into the night.

He felt empty, hollow, and alone as he slipped quietly into oblivion, sagging into the arms of a stranger as his brother was taken from him.

Wait for me…