Rating: PG-13


Chapter 3

Only that in you which is me can hear what I'm saying.

- Baba Ram Dass

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For a moment, he almost forgot.

The pain upon waking the first time was enough to encourage him to roll back into the black, floating on a gentle ebb of whispers, cradled in shapeless arms that simply felt safe.

The second time he woke, however, the peace of darkness eluded him. The aches in his back and legs, across his shoulders and neck, in his jaw all cried out at once, demanding attention.

Now.

He worked to stifle an immediate groan, only realizing when it wouldn't be quieted that he'd once again gained awareness in a world that was, for him, wrapped in silence.

Opening his eyes a fraction, Dean found that Sam had turned all lights off except the small lamp in the far corner of the room. With the heavy curtains pulled, he had no concept of time, no idea how long he'd been sleeping.

"Sam?" he called, feeling the edge of his voice dig into the soft flesh of his throat. He was so thirsty.

He blinked, his vision swimming, and raised a heavy hand to bat at what felt like cobwebs strung across his face as the remnants of drugged sleep began to slowly fade away.

I hate those damn pills, he moaned silently. Feel hungover without the party…

"Sam!"

Pushing himself carefully over onto his back, Dean flung out his hand to rid his sweaty, grimy, smoke-saturated body of the covers Sam had apparently wrapped him in after he'd fallen asleep.

Passed out is more like it…

"Where the hell… Sam!"

Raising himself to his elbows, he looked around the slowly spinning room, feeling the sensation of fluid shifting and rolling in his ears. Knotting his face up in disgust, Dean reached up and wiped at the wetness that seeped from his left ear, looking down at the pillow where he'd been laying on his right side. It was damp.

"Swell."

Using the back of his hand, he dried the remnants of the drops Sam had put in his ears, noting how tender his neck was to the touch, just below his earlobes.

Shuffling drunkenly to a sitting position on the edge of the bed, Dean catalogued the protests of his muscles, promising himself the heat of a shower as soon as he could get the earth to cooperate. It spun lazily, tipping first one way, then the other. Dean closed his eyes, breathing deeply through his nose, working to steady himself, stilling the trembles that began in his belly and traveled through his chest to escape from his fingertips.

Curling over, he propped his elbows on his knees and dug furrows through his short tufts of hair, resisting the growing pressure on the inside of his head by holding his fragile skull together with his palms. His ruined suit pants were bunched uncomfortably around his calves, his white button-down un-tucked and twisted around his waist.

The odd, ozone-like smell of the air conditioning unit met his nose and once again he felt the kick in his gut at not having heard the all-too-familiar snap-click of the unit switching on when the room became too warm.

He felt a rumble at the base of his throat, somewhere between a growl and a moan. He needed to take control, to regain his balance. Rolled in a semi-ball, he felt himself rocking a bit with the rhythm of his own heartbeat as it pounded through his body, timing his breath to the throb of his head, trying to mask the pain with motion.

Hospital… Mike's truck… Impala… music… hotel room… birds…

Dean froze.

Birds?

There hadn't been… birds in the hotel room.

He pressed his fingertips over his eye lids, feeling the soft, fragile skin, the sting against his eyes. He had seen birds. A bird. Big and black with yellow eyes and talons that had been ready to rend him apart. Wings… wings had spread from beneath the arms of someone reaching for him. Someone he thought he knew…

"Sam!" he called once more, not understanding why his brother hadn't responded. Straightening up, Dean looked around, locating the bathroom on the other side of Sam's empty bed. He could see by the reflection in the mirror that the bathroom door stood open, the interior of the small room dark.

Frowning, Dean started to push himself out of bed, his hand landing on something different in texture from the cotton sheets. He looked down, finding a piece of paper with Sam's unmistakable handwriting scrawled across it.

"What the hell…"

Squinting in the dim light of the shadowed hotel room, Dean held the paper close, trying to make out the words.

Dean—

Didn't want to wake you. Found Camilla's grave. Taking care of this now so you can heal up. Don't worry, I'll be right back.

"Son of a bitch!" Dean balled up the paper, throwing it across the room at the intense protest of his shoulder muscles. "You gotta be kidding me!"

Pushing himself to a wavering stance, Dean stumbled across the room to the curtained windows. Light from a half-moon illuminated a nearly-empty parking lot several floors below, showing him that just as Sam's note implied, the Impala was gone.

Gripping the curtains in tight fists, Dean leaned his forehead against the cool glass of the window. His eyes down, he saw the line of salt stretching across the length of the windowsill. Without looking, he knew another one would be at the base of the door, despite the fact that it opened into a hall and not the outside. Sam had been taught well.

Damn you, Sam, I am a part of this.

Twice before, Sam had left him. Once of his own accord. Neither time had there been a note, but the hollow feeling that scooped out his lungs was the same now as it had been then. Sam was gone, leaving him behind when he couldn't protest.

And this time, Dean was wrapped in silence.

Growling, Dean stepped back, ripping at the heavy, dark curtains, popping them from the metal fasteners. He tumbled to the floor with their weight, the brightness of the moon illuminating the room around him, bathing his face in quiet light, dazzling his eyes.

Pressing the palm of his hand against his head, he swore roughly, viciously. He couldn't hear the venom in his voice, but he felt the words vibrate in his chest, bounce at the base of his throat. He tried it again, pressing the air out harder, faster, meaner.

"FUUUUCK!"

Spots of white light and dark blurs of shadow danced at the corners of his eyes and his pulse hammered against his temples. His instant of euphoric release was replaced with the unmistakable taste of bile at the back of his throat. Scrambling on his hands and knees, Dean made it to the bathroom, slamming the toilet lid up and gripping the cold porcelain sides as he heaved.

The muscles across his back and along his ribs protested the violent motion and sweat coated his skin, chilling him. He kept his eyes closed and when he was once again hollow, he reached up and depressed the lever, flushing the evidence of his weakness away.

His body empty, his mouth sour, his throat dry, Dean fell limply back against the stem of the pedestal sink, pressing his sweaty palms flat against the small tiles of the floor, digging his fingertips into the grouted edges.

Taking care of this now... dammit, Sam...

Logic told him the nausea was from the concussion, but frustration had him blaming Sam. For the pain, for the sickness, for the whole damn reason he'd been hurt in the first place.

Get a grip, Winchester.

Reaching above him to grip the edge of the sink with a shaking hand, Dean pulled himself slowly to his feet, then twisted the faucet. The water fell silently into the basin. He stared at it in the dim light sneaking around the corner of the bathroom from the now-exposed window.

It sparkled. Tilting his head to the side, Dean let his eyes lose focus as he watched the water separate into individual drops catching the luminescent glow of the moon and fall in quiet slow motion to swirl around the outer edge of the drain, tumbling down the pipe in a rush to whatever reservoir would capture it for eventual return.

Carefully lifting his head, wary of too swift a movement, Dean's eyes skimmed over his rough reflection in the mirror and looked at the shower. Turning off the water in the sink, he used the tiled wall for balance and stumbled toward the curtain, pulling it back, knowing there was a metal-on-metal shink, but not hearing it. He twisted the larger faucet and pulled the shower tab.

In the shadow of the bathroom door, hidden from the moonlight, the water fell from the shower head. He knew what the sound should be. Knew the waterfall rush it should have made, knew the hollow plunk each drop should have echoed in the plastic cavern of the bathtub.

The world was muted.

Staring at the almost-invisible water, Dean felt his breath pump through his chest, increasing in speed and forcefulness as panic took hold. He began to pant for air, pressed his bracing hand as flat against the wall as the curve of his palm would allow. His vision dipped and his throat rasped.

When you can't figure out which way to go, take away one of your senses. Use the others.

"Aw, fuck, Dad…" Dean gasped aloud, closing his eyes against the memory of his father's voice. "Fuckfuckfuck."

The panic drew fresh beads of sweat across his upper lip, spilling it in a spider-like crawl down his neck. The silence was so loud it seemed to press on him; the air itself was pushing him to the ground. Falling to his knees, Dean wrapped his arms around his head tucking his chin to his chest.

The hard tile bruised his already battered legs, the chill from the air conditioning in the outer room seeped through his now-sweaty clothes, but Dean didn't move. He curled as tight as his wounded body would allow, trying to block out the quiet, the lack of balance… the absence of Sam's voice.

Forcing himself to breathe in through his nose, out through his mouth, Dean narrowed his focus to that one memory: the sound of Sam's voice. He'd know his brother anywhere. Know him in the dark. Because he could hear Sam. Could hear him think. Knew the pattern of his breathing, knew the level of worry by the way Sam said his name.

Slowly uncurling, aware of the humid cling of steam now filling the bathroom, Dean squeezed his closed eyes as tight as he could, focusing on the way Sam's face looked when he said Dean. The way his lips seemed to stretch flat when it was said in panic, the way his chin dropped with a slight tick when he said it in annoyance, the tremble of his bottom lip when he said it as a plea.

Dean knew many things by touch: guns, ammunition, the Impala, women. But his brother had always been sound to him. The cry of a nightmare, the bubble of a laugh, the nasal tones of a discontented whine. The crash of a slamming door. The whisper of a promise, an apology.

The sound of need.

"Focus," Dean said, just to feel his lips move. To feel the caress of air across his sticky tongue.

Shifting up in a sitting position, back against the base of the tub, feet against the tile, elbows on knees, fists pressed into his eyes, Dean drew a mental picture of his brother.

Sam's hands poised over a keyboard, fingers flying, eyes darting as information on a printout or monitor was absorbed. Lip curling in anger. Arm raised to strike, eyes full of wonder as an angel spoke to him.

"Okay… okay," Dean nodded frailly, filing more away as he continued to narrow his focus.

Carhart jacket, denim shirt, jeans without holes, sneakers, too-long hair. No rings, no amulet, nothing else that made him Sam except… except those eyes. Those damn cat eyes that showed too much and not enough. Those eyes that could gut Dean while simultaneously pissing him off. Those eyes that were all Sam.

The cool hand on the back of his neck sent Dean's heart shooting from his chest to the top of his head. He jerked violently back and away from the unexpected touch, bouncing off of the edge of the tub and slipping on the now-damp tile floor.

"Jesus Christ!"

Crouching in front of him was a pale-skinned girl with short, dark hair wisping away from her face in tufts. Trying to catch his breath, Dean put a hand up, keeping her away.

"What fu—"

It wasn't until she moved forward, despite his warning hand, that he saw her eyes. Clear, china-blue, wide, and completely blank. They stared just over his shoulder, reflecting no light or awareness of any kind.

"Wren?"

She paused, and nodded.

"How the… what are you… is Sam with you?"

Dean pushed himself to his feet, still backing away from her until he was pressed into the corner between the pedestal sink and the bathtub. Wren shook her head, a line appearing between her dark brows. She started to speak, her face animated, lips moving, and stepped toward him once more.

The spill of silent words between them, offering him explanation, offering warning, telling him what he needed to be ready for, what he needed to fight, was too much.

Dean broke.

Launching himself forward, he grabbed her arms, forcing her back against the opened bathroom door, bouncing the handle against the wall as the weight of their bodies collided with the wood.

"How the hell did you get in here? Where is Sam?"

Wren jerked back from the velocity of his words and pulled her face away, twisting in his grasp, trying to escape. Her lips moved rapidly, only serving to infuriate him more with their empty meaning. He shook her.

"Where is Sam?"

Twisting her arm roughly with a surprising display of strength, Wren pointed toward the hotel room. Dean looked away from her too-pale face toward the dimly lit, still empty room and saw that the door was standing open, the line of salt he'd known would be there now scattered in a sweeping arc at the base.

He looked back at Wren. "How'd you get it open? Thought you were blind."

Wren didn't look up. Her eyes rested on the button of his shirt just below his throat, her fingers nervously twisting in his sleeves as he held her arms in an iron-like grip. His jaw began to ache as he worked to maintain some semblance of control.

He shook her again, but not as hard.

"Are you blind or not?"

She flinched at his voice and spoke, pointing again to the door. Anger began to build, hot and tight, in his chest. He felt the pull of his muscles across his back and tightened his grip on her arms in rebellion.

"Hope you're not telling me the door was freakin' open, 'cause I know that's not true."

Wren lifted her face, her eyes still not on his, the bend of the moonlight casting odd, wing-like shadows across her face from her hair. Her expression was serene and oddly, completely still. Everything about her was suddenly still.

Dean frowned, stepping back and slowly forcing himself to release her arms. If he closed his eyes in this moment he wouldn't know she was standing here. What the hell?

"I… can't even… smell you…" he muttered, realizing that his own scent—ashes, fire, sweat, leather—permeated the entire bathroom.

Dean watched the moonlight dance across her features and whispered, more to himself than to her, "What are you doing here?"

Her throat flashed as she took a breath, a quick heartbeat of movement, and Dean froze. Wren closed the space between them, stepping close enough that her coolness combated with the steam wafting around them. She reached up, fingers fumbling first at his collar, then glancing across his throat to meet his jaw line.

Dean caught his breath. For just a moment as she touched him, he heard the wind. He heard it rushing through his ears like a familiar friend, the calm before the storm, the cool on a summer's day.

Wren's fingers wavered a bit, skipping over the coarse stubble that framed his chin, sliding softly across his lips. Her other hand followed in a twin path until her fingers found his cheekbones, her thumbs almost caressing the upward path of his nose to the bridge between his eyes.

His lids fluttered closed as the tips of her fingers brushed his lashes, smoothing the worried creases at the edges of his eyes. She finished the journey of his face as her palms found his temples, pressing gently and easing the incessant ache there.

Dean parted his lips to ask her what the hell she was doing when inexplicably he heard a voice, a whisper of words, as if it was already inside his head.

"We are spirits clad in veils…"

He opened his eyes and sound slammed into him. Everything—his heartbeat, his breathing, the sound of Wren swallowing, her feet shuffling back away from him, the water hitting the tile in the bathtub, even the stir of salt in the open doorway as the air conditioning reacted to the steam from the shower—hit him with painful immediacy.

"Son of a bitch," Dean gasped as the pain rode over him, bringing his hands to his tender ears and his knees once again to the tile floor. "Oh, damn…"

It was too much.

There was no filter, no guard. He couldn't hear anything over the noise of everything. His head filled with sound until the pressure would surely make it burst. Crying out once more, he curled in, pressing his forehead to the damp floor, oblivious of Wren's stumbling flight from the room, uncaring of her ability to break into their hotel room.

Lost in the cacophony of noise he cried out for the relief of the one thing that frightened him most: silence.

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Minnesota, 1994

I am watching Sam sleep.

I can hear the repetitive tick of Pastor Jim's round-faced alarm clock marking the seconds that I sit here, awake, aware, while Sam is at last wrapped in oblivion. It was another bad one, this nightmare. It took everything in me not to call to Pastor Jim to help.

But I did it. I got him quieted down and now I'm watching him sleep. I find myself wondering if I will spend my life watching Sam. If I'll be sitting up, reading something to pass the time, one eye on him while he sleeps, peacefully or trapped in a nightmare, when we're in our twenties. Our thirties. When we're old.

I can't imagine anything else. How could we know what we know, do what we do, and ever live differently than this? This will be my life. Sam's life. I'll always have my brother.

And I hate that with a fierceness that I can't even explain to myself.

"Dean."

Pastor Jim's soft call from the doorway startles me and I have my hand beneath my pillow before I've fully registered that it's him.

"Come here," he commands, and I hear an endearment swallowed. He used to call me 'son' when I was a kid, but I stopped that. I'm not his 'son.' Only Dad can call me that. Only Dad.

"What?" I whisper back, belligerently.

"Just, come here."

"Sam's sleeping," I say.

"Exactly," Jim replies.

I stare at him a moment and he stares back. I can't read his eyes. It is one of those things that unnerves me about Pastor Jim. He has dark brown eyes, like Dad's, but they aren't sheltered. I see no judgment, no pride, no expectation in them. Just peace.

I don't know what to do with peace.

Sighing, I rise and shove the tangle of flannel sheets behind me, moving on silent feet past the foot of Sam's bed. He's snoring slightly, his thick hair stuck to his forehead in sweaty strings left over from the fight against the dark.

"We won't be far," Jim says to me. "You'll hear if he needs you."

Nodding, I follow him from the room, down the short, dark hall, and to the front door. The screen is open and the cement stoop is almost white from the light of the full moon. Jim leads the way outside, sitting down next to what looks like a tackle box, his legs hanging over the edge of the stoop, toes touching the ground.

"Sit," he says.

I stay standing, watching him. It's just after midnight, and the air is chilled. The moon allows for enough light that I can see the whole area around Jim's house. I shiver slightly as the night wind stirs the treetops. I'm wearing a pair of Dad's old sweats, cut off just below my knees, the draw string pulled tight, and a black AC/DC T-shirt with a cannon on the front. My feet are bare and the cement is cold and rough against my toes. I shuffle my weight.

"Dean, sit down."

I move to the edge, putting the tackle box between us and sit on the stoop. My feet don't come close to touching the ground. At fourteen, my body has started to betray me in ways I hadn't expected and have little experience dealing with. The most disconcerting aspect being clumsiness. I feel like my legs and arms are too long, and the muscles that my Dad makes Sam and I work each day are wrapped around bones and protected by skin—but nothing else.

I'm skinny and awkward and I do my best to hide it.

"You remember the first time you came here?" Jim is asking.

I pull my attention away from my bony knees, the muscles from my thighs jutting out around the edge.

"I was five," I say.

"I didn't ask how old you were," Jim says, lifting his face up as if asking someone for patience. I feel slightly contrite, knowing I push him.

"Yeah, I remember," I say.

We had gone to stay with Mom's relatives for a bit after the fire, but something happened. I know now that Dad started looking into the demon, but at the time, all I knew was that the adults were yelling and words filtered into the room where I sat in Sam's crib, holding him.

Words like, "take them away from you" and "never see them again."

I was scared the first time Dad put us in the truck, Sam's car seat in the middle between us, and we started driving into the night. I wanted my bed, my room, my Mom. I got Pastor Jim instead. We didn't stay here long, but back then, as now, while we're here, Dad isn't.

And I am always lonely.

"You had bad dreams, too," Jim says.

"So?"

"You still have bad dreams, Dean?"

I don't answer him.

"You remember what I gave you?"

"Yeah."

"Still have it?"

"It's in the Impala," I reply.

Everything is in that car. Everything that matters.

"I want you to make one for Sam."

"Huh?" I look over at him, surprised out of my sullenness.

With the tip of his blunt finger, Jim reaches over and taps the gold face of the Egyptian amulet Sam gave me for Christmas a few years ago. He'd meant it as a gift to Dad, but, disappointed once again that Dad didn't follow through and live up to Sam's almost-impossible expectations, he'd changed his mind and given it to me.

I never cared that I wasn't meant to be its original owner. I never take it off.

"That's a symbol of protection," Jim states matter-of-factly.

"Yeah, so?"

"So, your brother gave it to you, right?"

"Right," I hedge, not tracking.

"He wanted you protected, even if he didn't realize what he was doing. He wanted a way to show you that you are necessary in his life. Needed. A way for him to know that no matter what, you'll always come back to him."

I nod stiffly, not sure what I might be walking into if I agree too quickly. I'm staring at him. At his casual clothes and rebellious hair. He may dress like a hunter, but a stranger would know it isn't his day job. There is just something about the way he…breathes. The way his hands move. As if he has a secret.

Jim takes advantage of my attention. "Listen to me, Dean," he says, his voice like Dad's. Gravel-rough but somehow mellow. Comforting and chilling at the same time. "You are just his brother."

I pull my head back. "I know that."

"You are not his father, not his savior."

I frown. He has said something like this to me before. When we came here after the shtriga. He tried to convince me that Sam almost getting killed wasn't my fault. I didn't believe him then, either.

"What's your point?" I snap.

"One day, Sam's going to be able to take care of himself."

I shrug. "Okay…"

"You're going to have to let go when that happens. You're going to have to…not come back."

"He's just a kid," I shake my head, dismissing the notion of not being around Sam with a quick wave of my hand.

Adults can be so dramatic sometimes. One day and now are worlds apart. So Sammy is going to take care of himself one day, that's not now. Why do I have to think about letting him go now when he still needs me?

"I just want you to realize that it's okay."

"That what's okay?"

"To let him go."

I sigh. "Listen," I shift on the cement, resting a hand on my thigh. I never call him 'Pastor Jim' to his face. It feels too separate, too removed from what he was to me. I just make sure he's aware that I'm talking to him. "I know you care about us, okay? I'm real grateful for that. I knew this is where Sam needed to be after we saw… well, after. I just… I don't need you telling me this stuff, okay? Sam's mine. We're okay."

Pastor Jim blinks at me. I settle my mouth in a straight line, amazed that I surprised him. He just seems to… know everything.

"You wanted to come here?" he asks.

I nod.

"What did you see, Dean?"

I look away. The image of that…thing…reaching for Sam, only pulling away when Dad hit it with the blood-tipped arrow…I swallow.

"Doesn't matter," I say.

"Maybe it does," Jim offers.

"It doesn't," I assert. "I just knew that if Dad was going to… to leave again," I find it strange that my mouth is suddenly dry, "Sam needed to be where he could… y'know, get over the dreams. Like I did."

"Did you?"

"Yes," I answer quickly. "I'm fine."

"It's okay to need someone once in awhile, Dean."

I roll my eyes. "God," I mutter. "Why are you always giving me permission to be weak?"

Jim blinks again. I almost smirk, but catch myself. I've caught him by surprise twice in one conversation. This is a new record for me.

"Weak?"

"Telling me things that I did wrong aren't my fault, or that it's okay to need someone… you're like… Obi-Wan to Dad's Darth Vader."

Jim frowns.

"Forget it. You've probably never seen Star Wars."

"Actually, I've seen it several times," he says, surprising me this time. "I'm just wondering why you compare your father to Darth Vader."

I close my mouth with a click. I hadn't meant it that way, but when he says it, I realize that part of me thinks it's true. We sit in silence for a few moments, Jim not bringing up my slip, me not venturing further into what that might mean.

I feel Jim letting his words sink into me, and I resist them. I know my job. I've known it since I was six years old. Watch out for Sammy. Dad fights the monsters. We fight the monsters. I watch out for Sammy. I just wish…

"What do you wish, Dean?" Jim asks softly.

I jerk slightly, not realizing I'd said that out loud. "Nothing."

"No, it's okay," Jim encourages. "You can tell me."

"I wish…" I whisper, afraid to speak the words out loud, afraid of their implication. "I wish that Dad saw me when he looked at me."

Jim lifts a hand as if he means to rest it on me, but changes his mind. I'm relieved. I don't want his comfort at the moment.

"He sees you, Dean."

"Yeah, sure. Okay."

"Your Dad loves you more than you'll ever know," Jim says softly. "More than anything."

I nod, finding it difficult to swallow. I want to talk about something else. I want to open that tackle box. I want to go to bed. I want…

"How about we work on Sam's dreams a bit?"

I nod, curious what we could do here in the moonlight at midnight to help my brother sleep. A ritual? A spell?

Jim opens the tackle box and pulls out a slim, green stick, still damp from cutting, strips of leather, fishing line, and three green beads.

I lift my eyebrow. "Dude… arts and crafts?"

Jim chuckles slightly. "Protection. You said you remembered your dream catcher—the one that's in the Impala," he reminds me.

"Yeah…"

"I made that for you," Jim says.

Huh…

He made a dream catcher for me, to help me with the bad dreams. Thinking back, the only time I can remember not having nightmares is when I am in the Impala.

"Yeah, okay," I nod, eager to have something to do that's not diving head first into my psyche. "Let's get started."

With Jim quietly directing the motion of my hands, I bend the green twig into a circle, slowly wrapping the loop in the soft, pale leather. As I work, I think about my brother. I think about my father. I stop just short of Mom. Our family is what it is. And keeping this family together will keep the nightmares away.

I find myself murmuring this promise as I twist the fishing line into the intricate net that will catch Sam's nightmares.

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For a moment, he had no idea what to do.

Staring at the back of Camilla Cooper, her dark blue burial dress slit up the spine, her legs crossed at the ankles, her hands tucked under herself, Sam felt his world shift.

"This isn't right," he said out loud, unsure why but needing for a moment to connect with reality. Of course it's not right, you idiot, he chided himself.

Had she been alive when she was buried? Had she tried to get out, only to give up and roll over?

"What the hell…" he shook his head, hesitating before reaching for the body, grasping it with the fingers of his wounded hand, and rolling Camilla to her side in the silky confines of the coffin. His breath stalled in his chest—not even reaching the base of this throat.

Camilla's eyes were open.

"Jesus!" Sam gasped, pulling back his shaking hand as if the body had burned him. Camilla's body dropped back into the hollow of the coffin where it had been resting with a dull thunk.

"What the hell?" Sam wiped his hand nervously on his pants, smearing blood on top of the dirt that was already present. Closing the coffin lid, Sam clambered out of the messy hole, stumbling away from the open grave with a shudder.

He was cold. Bone-cold.

Her eyes were open, Sam shook his head, automatically looking up and around for his brother. He suddenly, desperately wanted Dean's you gotta be kidding me to precede an entirely inappropriate comment. The quiet chirping of the night mocked him.

What the hell would have made her open her eyes and roll over…after she was buried?

A sharp stab of pain in his palm grabbed his attention and he looked down. His wound had torn open and was bleeding freely, filling the creases and life-lines on his palm, spilling between his fingers, dripping to the ground. Pulling his lips up in disgust, Sam made a fist, feeling the blood squish between his fingers.

He couldn't leave her like that. But he wasn't burning her, either. Struggling with the now-slick shovel handle, Sam began the laborious effort of filling in the grave, hissing through clenched teeth at the pain in his hand.

"Didn't want to wake you… you stay there, I'll go dig up the body… by myself," he grumbled, panting as he worked. "Damn you and your stubborn… idiot… hero... complex," he growled, hefting dirt into the hole. "This is all your fault."

He knew Dean would have drive to the cemetery half-conscious rather than let Sam go alone, but for a brief moment, it felt good to blame his brother for his exhaustion, his pain, his ruined clothes.

Half-conscious…

The image of Dean, limp, bloody, in the remnants of the burning house shot through him like a stab in the gut. What was he going to do if Dean didn't get his hearing back? He needed his brother, needed him whole and annoying and present. He needed him to watch his back, keep him sharp. He needed Dean to be there when he fought free of his tangled dreams and visions into the clear space of a reality where nothing made sense.

Panting, Sam leaned on his shovel.

"Dean's gonna be fine," he muttered to himself, wiping the sweat from his upper lip with the back of his hand, smearing more dirt across his face. "He's gonna be fine."

"Sam?"

Sam spun at the sound of his name, nearly toppling back into the partially dug-up grave. The beam of a flashlight caught him across the eyes, making him squint and look away as he raised a hand to cut the glare.

"Mike?"

"What the hell are you doing out here?" Mike exclaimed, moving closer.

Scrambling, Sam sputtered, "I, uh, could ask you the same thing."

Mike stopped a few feet short of Sam, the beam still focused on Sam's face, his body a dark silhouette against the night.

"I'm here with George," Mike said, indignation plain in his voice. "Visiting his wife's grave, man."

"George is here?" Sam squeaked. "Now?"

"He's at the truck," the shadowed image of Mike jerked as he angled his head back. "I told him to wait a minute…'cause I thought I…dude, are you… did you dig up Camilla's grave?"

Mike launched forward until Sam was able to see his dark features in the backwash of the flashlight. His eyes were wide, his mouth set in a grim line of disbelief.

"I can explain," Sam started, belatedly pushing the shovel behind his back.

Mike bounced the beam of light from the rucked up grave dirt to Sam's face. "Oh yeah?"

"Well, okay, maybe I can't, but I swear it's not what you think."

"You better hope to hell not, man, because I'm this close to calling the cops." Mike held his index finger and thumb up together.

Sam rolled his lips in, tasting the tang of the salt sweat coating his skin. "Listen," he held out a placating hand, oblivious of the blood dripping from his fingertips. He jumped slightly when Mike's hand flashed through the beam of light to catch his wrist, just above the wound.

"What the hell'd you do to yourself?"

Sam looked down at the contrast of skin color and blood. "Oh… I, uh, tore my stitches."

Mike tipped the beam up so that Sam had to squint against the light once again. "You're telling me that getting into that grave was so damn important you did it with a bloody hand?"

Sam swallowed. "Yes?"

Mike dropped Sam's wrist, took one step back, and shone the light on the ground. "Start talkin'."

"You're not going to believe me."

Mike crossed his arms, the beam of light shooting off into the nothing that he'd materialized from. "Try me."

Sam shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Time was ticking like an audible clock in the back of his mind. Time away from Dean. If Dean woke up too long before he got back…

"Y'know how I said to George that, uh, the thing with his wife was what my brother and I did?"

"Come again?" Mike, once again shadowed by night, tipped his head to the side.

"Yeah, that didn't make much sense. Okay," Sam stabbed the shovel head into the earth. "George's wife is haunting him. The best way to get rid of a ghost is to salt and burn the bones."

Mike was silent. Sam heard the night sounds rush in to fill the space the absence of words left behind. He waited, sweat trickling down his back to gather at the base of his spine.

"So… what you're saying is… not only do you believe George," Mike's deep voice broke the quiet with disbelief. "But you decided to help him out by… torching his wife's body?"

"Well," Sam shrugged a bit helplessly. "I tried, but… something's hinky about this case."

"Define… hinky."

"The body—Camilla—is on her stomach, and her eyes were open."

"What?"

"Yeah, that's what I thought, too," Sam nodded, steamrolling over Mike's slow saturation of the truth. "See, I think there's more going on here than a simple haunting… Something or someone tried to kill George and Wren, and—"

"Ease up there, cowboy," Mike waved the flashlight in the air. "A… simple haunting?"

Sam sighed. His hand was throbbing and his body was starting to join in. "Is there any way we can finish this conversation later? I left Dean back at the hotel and when he finds out I'm out here—"

"At least one of you has sense."

"—without him he's gonna be mad enough to spit nails and kick my ass. In that order."

"Okay, scratch that."

"Seriously, man, I'm beat, and my hand is killing me," Sam almost whimpered. "Let me just finish filling the grave and I promise I'll explain everything."

Mike held still for a moment, then finally sighed, shaking his head. "I gotta be outta my mind," he muttered. "Hand me that shovel."

Sam traded Mike the shovel for the flashlight, gratefully standing at the graveside while Mike helped him complete the task he'd started.

"I'm surprised George and Wren are still waiting for you," Sam commented as Mike patted the small mound of earth with the back of the shovel.

"Not Wren. Just George. And he's a good ol' guy. He trusts me."

"Not Wren?" Sam took the shovel back, slinging it over his shoulder like a rifle and resting his uninjured hand in the handle. "He left her behind?"

Mike nodded. "That's why he's out here so late. Said he wanted to wait until she was asleep so that he could," he tossed a look over his shoulder as they started for the truck, "talk to Camilla alone."

"Huh."

Mike looked over at him. "What?"

"Just surprised he'd leave her alone, is all. After how scared she was in the ER."

Mike shrugged. "Their business, not mine," he said.

"You drive him everywhere?"

"Nah." Mike shook his head. "He has his own wheels. He's just been shook up a bit… I thought I'd, y'know, look after him a bit."

"Nice of you," Sam commented.

"Yeah, well, I'm a nice guy. Who should still call the cops on your ass."

"But you won't?" Sam asked, pulling his bloody hand close to his grimy shirt. The throb had increased and he could feel it dig into his bones, travel up his arm, and sink into the base of his teeth.

Mike sighed. "I won't. If you explain to George why he can't go talk to Camilla right now," he continued as the truck came into view.

Sam smiled tightly. "Swell."

"Mike?" George's confused voice met them from the dark and Sam looked over to see Mike's F-150 parked under a street light.

The dusty yellow cone of light drew moths and motes and turned the blue of Mike's truck a teal green. Sam braced himself as George stepped from the truck to balance on the running board.

"That Sam with you?"

"Hey, George," Sam called wearily.

"What are you doing out here?" George stepped down and hurried over. Sam saw that the bruises on his face looked almost black in the surreal light. "And what the hell happened to your hand?"

Sam licked his dry lips. "It's a long story."

"C'mere," Mike ordered, heading to the back of his truck bed. "Both of you."

Sam sighed, wanting to bow his shoulders, not looking forward to the pending conversation. Their lives were unbelievable enough in the living of them; explaining reality in a world that twists truth was not easy. Shuffling to the now-open tailgate of the truck, Sam tried to think about how Dean would handle this situation.

With a quick hop, Mike was up inside the truck bed and pulling a silver-studded toolbox toward them. Sam realized that George was staring at his mud and blood-covered shovel with trepidation.

"Sit up here," Mike said to Sam, indicating the edge of the tailgate with his head.

"What are you going to do?" Sam asked warily.

Mike lifted an eyebrow and Sam watched his full lips quirk in brief amusement. "It's not what you think," he teased.

"Good, 'cause—"

"What are you doing with that shovel, Son?" George broke in.

"Give him a second, George," Mike said, indicating once more to the tailgate. "He's gonna explain everything. I just need to take a look at that hand before it gets much worse."

Sam used his good hand to leverage himself up on the tailgate, his added weight sagging the truck slightly, the toes of his muddy boots scuffing along the ground as he swung his feet.

"You got a med kit in there?"

"Yup," Mike answered, flipping the toolbox open.

Sam peered inside, his eyes going wide. It was more than a med kit. It was an entire ER supply closet, complete with syringes and bottles of medicine Sam couldn't begin to pronounce.

"Holy shit."

What they wouldn't give for a set-up like that in the back of the Impala. The hurried escapes from hospitals, the bathroom sutures, praying that all the blood on the outside wasn't more than what was left on the inside. Half of what Sam was seeing in Mike's toolbox would be enough to keep them on the road for months.

"I moonlight as a Justin Healer," Mike said, pulling out soft rags and antiseptic and snapping the edge of latex gloves.

"A what now?" Sam drew his eyebrows together.

"Mike was a rodeo cowboy," George bragged. "Rode bareback. Best in the state. Went to the finals."

Mike grunted. "Finals in more ways than one," he grumbled, gently cleaning the dirt and blood away from Sam's torn skin.

Sam hissed and tried to hold still, feeling his mouth go wet as the cleanser filled the punctured hole at the base of his palm. "P-put you out of the… game, did it?" He managed through clenched teeth.

"Broke my left leg in four places," Mike said, reaching into the box for a needle and clear bottle of liquid. "Was in traction for eight months and spent almost a year learning how to walk again."

"Ouch," Sam muttered. "Uh, what's that?"

"Lidocaine," Mike said. "Stitching this isn't gonna be easy."

"You have to stitch it?" Sam winced as Mike inserted the small-gauge needle near the wound and injected the numbing agent.

"You want a hole in your hand?"

"Not especially," Sam grumbled.

He darted his eyes over to George who was standing with his hands in his back pockets, shifting his gaze from Mike's task to the direction of Camilla's grave. Sam opened his mouth to attempt to reassure George that he was going to fix this, when he felt a cold swab on his upper arm. Looking over in confusion, he had two seconds to register another needle before Mike jabbed it into his arm.

"Ow! Hey! What the hell, man?"

"Antibiotics," Mike capped the needle, twisting it from the syringe and tossing it into a small, mobile sharps container. "Usually I'd give it to you through a saline IV port, but well, we can't have everything."

"What's this Justin Healer thing you do?" Sam asked, gripping his wrist to hold his hand steady and relishing the warm numbness that spread slowly through his aching fingers.

"I put broken cowboys back together," Mike said, getting the suture's ready. "They bust themselves up, I pick up the pieces."

"Huh," Sam muttered, watching him. "We could use a… Winchester healer," he said, laughing a bit at himself.

Mike raised an eyebrow, then gripped Sam's hand. "Start talking, Winchester."

Sam chewed his bottom lip a moment, then looked over at George. This is not going to be easy. "George," Sam started. "My brother and I… we have an unusual job."

George pulled his wiry gray eyebrows together, holding Sam's eyes relentlessly. Sam ached at the innocence he saw there.

"We take care of the bad stuff out there that no one else believes in."

"Bad stuff?"

"Ghosts. Demons. Werewolves, vampires…"

George looked at Mike, who didn't slow in his sewing, then back at Sam. "You're serious?"

"Wish to hell I wasn't, but, uh… yeah. We grew up doing this. Our father taught us."

George looked back toward Camilla's grave. "What's this got to do with me?"

Sam took a breath. "You said that your wife was haunting you."

"Yeah, but," George's face drew together, lines growing deeper before Sam's eyes. "Camilla's ghost isn't bad. She's… she's my girl."

Sam nodded. "I know, that, George, but a restless spirit is a restless spirit, and—"

"She's trying to tell me something, that's all. I just haven't figured it out yet. That's why I'm going to talk to her tonight."

"I wouldn't do that, George," Sam said, halting George's movement.

"Why?" George's innocence vanished with the hardness of that word. Sam shivered slightly, knowing that he'd messed with something precious.

"When you have a restless spirit," Sam tried to explain. "The best, most efficient way to, uh, get rid of them is to… to salt and burn the bones."

"Come again?" George tipped his head to the side, cupping a hand around the edge of his ear.

"Salt purifies the spirit and the fire releases it from this… plane of existence."

"Are you telling me you… you burned my Camilla?" George stepped forward and Sam felt his entire body clench up in reaction. The look in George's eyes caused Sam's skin to shiver, his being wary, prepared for attack.

Okay, Dean, I'm sorry I left you behind.

"No! No, George, I didn't. I swear!" Sam felt his thigh muscles bunch as he worked to not scoot away from the angry older man. "But… I did dig her up for that reason. I was… I wanted to help you."

"You should have talked to me first," George spat and Sam heard his knuckles crack as he curled his fingers into fists. "Don't matter how long you been doing this… this job of yours… you're always dealing with people, Son, and people matter. My Camilla mattered."

Sam swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. "I know," he said roughly. "And I'm sorry."

George's eyes shone with angry, unshed tears, and after a minute of staring fire into Sam, he turned away, rubbing his mouth.

"What am I supposed to do?" he asked softly, helplessly.

Sam sighed. "I need to get back to my brother," he said. "This… there's something not quite right here, and I, uh… I need him."

"He better at this than you?" George asked, glancing back at Sam over his shoulder.

Sam huffed out a laugh. "Depends on who you ask," he mumbled. "But Dean's pretty damn good at everything he does, I can tell you that."

"You gonna tell him the rest?" Mike asked softly, finishing up the wrappings on Sam's hand.

Sam looked down, flexing his numb fingers. Mike had wrapped it from the base of his fingers to his wrist, like a boxer ready to pull on gloves.

"George," Sam asked, still looking at his hand. "Do you know anyone who might want to, uh… to hurt you or maybe Wren?"

George blinked, surprise showing clear in his eyes. "Hurt us?"

"Camilla's body… well, I don't want to worry you, but… it wasn't in the right… position for a spirit at peace."

George licked his lips. Sam desperately wanted his brother here for this. He could hear Dean's voice in his head. George, hate to tell you this, man, but your wife rolled over in her grave and we don't have a clue why… but I promise you we'll figure it out. Sam had always admired the fierceness in Dean's eyes when he said the word 'promise.' Not one person he said it to could doubt his sincerity.

"What do you mean, right position?"

"She was on her stomach, and, uh… her eyes were open," Sam said through dry lips.

George paled, taking a staggered step back. In an instant, Mike had hopped from the tailgate of the truck and was standing next to his friend, hand on George's elbow.

"Was she… alive?" George rasped.

Sam was tempted to automatically shake his head, his desire to reassure the old man heavy in his heart. But he didn't know anything… not yet. "That's what I'm going to find out, George. My brother and me, okay? We're gonna figure this out."

"You… you think maybe… maybe someone hurt her? Is trying to hurt Wren?"

"Or you," Mike interjected.

"But… we haven't… we never hurt anyone!"

"We'll figure it out," Sam slid from the tailgate. "We gotta get back to the hotel. To Dean."

"You can't drive with that hand," Mike frowned at Sam, looking menacing in the yellow light. Sam felt a chill as he was reminded of Gordon Walker's snarl as he held his bleeding arm over Lenore's fangs.

"Yeah, well, I'm gonna," Sam replied, hefting the shovel in his good hand.

"Climb in the truck," Mike insisted. "We'll come back for your car tomorrow."

"I'm not leaving her here," Sam shook his head. Dean would kill me.

"Her?"

"Our car," Sam clarified. "I'll meet you back at the hotel." He turned and started across the lot toward the Impala.

"Sam!" Mike called after him.

"I'll see you back there," he replied without turning around.

He heard their voices continue to argue as he moved further away, but he couldn't make out their words. As he reached the dark shape of the Impala hiding in the night, he heard the low rumble of the diesel engine. Dropping the shovel in the trunk, Sam opened the driver's door and slid gratefully behind the wheel.

The car smelled like his brother. Leather and sweat and a faint lingering smell of Old Spice. Dad has always worn that, and Dean picked up on it before he was even in high school. Only at certain times, though, Sam thought as he started up the car. Only when he wanted to leave behind a memory.

The radio came on with the car and Sam punched at the buttons, annoyed as each station brought him another commercial or DJ's voice. He wanted to drown for a moment. He was tired. Tired of moving and struggling and fighting. Tired of waiting to see what he was going to become. Tired of trying to fight the goddamned good fight.

What good was fighting when we just keep getting beat down? When good people get hurt?

Dave Grohl's voice punched through the air that wrapped around Sam and he tightened his one-handed grip on the steering wheel, taking a corner too fast.

"…I'm the voice inside your head you refuse to hear. I'm the face that you have to face, mirrored in your stare. I'm what's left, I'm what's right. I'm the enemy. I'm the hand that will take you down, bring you to your knees…"

The image of Dean's eyes, wide and scared, pain rolling in like the tide combated with the reflection of George's shocked expression, his panic at the thought of his wife having suffered. Sam clenched his jaw.

He wanted to get away, just leave. He wanted to fight them all. He wanted to find a way to win and he wanted to hide forever. His heart pounded painfully in his chest as he worked to regain control of his emotions before they won and spilled in hot, embarrassing tears down his dirt-streaked face.

The hotel loomed close and Sam whipped into the parking lot, an odd panic at having been away from Dean for so long gripping him at the throat and tightening its hold. He pulled past Mike's truck, parked in the front of the hotel, and found a space behind the building where they could see the car from their room window.

On autopilot, Sam grabbed the bag of weapons from where he'd stashed it in the back seat and locked the doors, his long legs eating up the blacktop as he headed for the side door. He saw Mike and George stepping on to the elevator, and without a word, yanked open the door to the stairwell and started taking them two at a time, thoughts pounding like relentless hammers in time with his steps.

Dad's dead because of me… what could you possibly say to make that all right?

Second floor… heart pounding. How long had he been gone?

When you were trapping that demon, you weren't…I mean, it was all a trick, right? You never considered actually making that deal, right?

told me that I had to take care of you… watch out for you… told me I might have to kill you, Sammy…

Fourth floor… hate this, don't want any more.

The more people I save, the more I can change.

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...

Almost there. What if Dean never gets his hearing back? How would they fight? How would they win? How would he make it without his brother always having his back?

Sam, when Dad told me that I might have to kill you, it was only if I couldn't save you. Now, if it's the last thing I do, I'm gonna save you…

He reached the landing for their floor just as George was inserting the key into his room. Mike stood behind George and looked up with surprise as Sam emerged, red faced and sweating into the hallway. Barely passing them a glance, Sam moved down the hall, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up when he realized the door to their room was standing open.

"What the hell—"

He started to reach into the weapons bag for his gun when his arms were suddenly full of a frightened, weeping Wren, trying desperately to escape the room. Sam felt himself start to click, as if his mind was immediately taking inventory as his body worked to hold on to Wren and not send them both to the ground.

Door open, salt scattered, curtains torn down, room empty.

"Where's Dean?" Sam asked Wren, gripping her arms tightly, turning her face toward him, her sightless eyes brimming with frightened tears.

"He's in the bathroom," she cried. "I'm s-sorry… I heard him yelling and I was t-trying to help!"

"Wren?" George's voice came from Sam's left, a Doppler of worry. "What are you… how did you get—"

"Hold her," Sam commanded. "And stay right here," he turned pointing a finger at George, his eyes hard. "Do not leave."

George wrapped Wren in his arms, nodding, his eyes wide and scared. Sam turned toward the room, stepping over the salt in a habit of protection and dropping the weapons bag on Dean's bed.

"Dean!"

"I'm with you, man," Mike said quietly from behind him.

Sam nodded without looking. "DEAN!"

He didn't think about the fact that his brother wouldn't be able to hear him, to call back any sort of reassurance. He simply acted. He reached the bathroom and felt his heart stop when he saw Dean, his damp clothes clinging to the curves of muscles taut across his back, his fingers laced through his hair, his face pressed against the tile floor.

Sam crouched next to him, carefully resting a hand on Dean's shoulder. "Dean?" he said softly. "You okay, man?" He felt Dean try to flinch away, but limply as if he simply didn't have the energy to fight anymore.

Mike stepped around them and turned off the water from the shower, flicking on the switch for the fan to pull the steam from the cloistered room.

"Tell me that's you, Sam," Dean's voice was a whisper.

"I'm here," Sam tucked another hand around Dean's bicep, carefully easing Dean up. "Easy, easy, that's it, go slow."

Dean's face was red, sweat sluicing the bruises and staggering through the stubble along his cheeks. His lashes met in points, giving him an almost endearing, youthful expression to battle his confused, pain-filled eyes. The green was almost non-existent with the size of his pupils.

"I'm here, Dean," Sam soothed.

"What the fuck did you think you were doing?" Dean snapped, closing his eyes and swallowing hard. "Leaving me like that."

Sam sighed, bracing himself. Mike stepped back out of the small room, waiting in the doorway. Dean opened his eyes, his focus on Sam's mouth.

"I'm sorry, man, I—"

"Don't you say it, Sam," Dean growled, his voice worn as if he'd been screaming. "Don't you fuckin' say you were trying to protect me."

Sam closed his mouth.

"Help me up," Dean ordered.

"Dean—" Sam started to shake his head, but one look stilled him. Dean's eyes were coming back to him, the pain leeching away as his pupils narrowed, determination and anger replacing confusion. "Fine."

Sam tucked his wounded hand under Dean's other arm and slowly lifted his brother to his feet. Dean leaned forward, his shoulder against Sam's chest, as he caught his breath and his balance.

"Where is she?" Dean asked.

Without thinking, Sam jerked back, looking at Dean's face. "You mean Wren?"

Dean wavered at the loss of his brace and Mike's arm jutted out, catching him. Dean looked down at the dark hand on his sleeve, then up at the worried face.

"Denzel? What the hell are you doing here?"

Mike looked at Sam, but Sam ignored him, shaking Dean slightly and bringing his attention back. Speaking slowly, conscious of how his mouth formed the words, Sam asked, "Wren was here with you?"

Dean frowned, and Sam could see him filling in the blanks of what he couldn't understand from reading Sam's lips. "She got in somehow, went all Helen Keller on my face, and then…" Dean shrugged. "You walked in."

"All right, c'mon," Sam kept a hand on Dean's arm and turned them from the bathroom to the bedroom. Dean followed obediently, his body sluggish and heavy against Sam's. "George?" Sam called. "You and Wren come in. And close the door."

Dean sat on his bed, resting an elbow on the weapons bag, and rubbed at his glistening hair. Sam watched him scan the people in the room, his eyes shadowed and unreadable, his entire body tense and wary. Glancing at the clock, Sam sighed. It was past midnight.

He turned to the three people in the room. "Wren," he said, watching her body jerk in reaction. George had her tucked up against him protectively. "I need to know how you got into this room."

"She has a key," George answered.

"What?" Sam exclaimed.

"When we checked in, I thought it might be best to be able to have access to each other," George offered, "so we got extra keys. I have one for our room to give to you."

"Why didn't you tell me this earlier?" Sam demanded.

George shrugged innocently. "It slipped my mind."

"I need that key, George," Sam held out his hand. "I'm sorry, but… we can't have you coming in… y'know, whenever you want."

Wren held the key out and Sam took it from her.

"What's with the salt?" Mike asked.

"Protection," Sam answered, sitting down on the edge of the spare bed. Dean's tension was beginning to wear on him, radiating from his brother as he worked to follow the conversation that had to be like watching the world on mute. "Against demons and… stuff."

"Demons?" Wren squeaked.

"I'll explain later, honey," George assured her.

"An extra key doesn't explain how she got down here," Dean said, a little too loudly. Sam looked over, surprised that he'd caught the exchange. "How'd she know where we were?"

"Dean's right," Sam looked back at George.

"George said you were in 733," Wren answered, sniffing. Remnants of tears clung to her thick lashes and seemed to illuminate her blank eyes. "I knew we were in 729, and I just… felt the numbers on the doors until I found you."

"Why, though?" Sam pressed. He found himself calming as she spoke. Her voice had been a balm in the ER, when not shot through with terror. His muscles were beginning to ease in their tension and in his periphery, he saw Mike lean against the wall next to the bathroom, George sink into a chair.

Wren stayed standing, her eyes looking over Sam's head, her voice directed at him.

"I heard him," she said softly. "He was calling for you, and he sounded so… lost. I knew George was gone, and if he sounded like that, I knew you had to be gone, too. I guess I just thought… I didn't want him to be alone. I don't like to be alone," she wrapped her arms around herself, and Sam felt cold. "I wanted… I wanted to help him. I didn't mean to scare him."

"Sam?" Dean said.

Sam watched Wren, wanting inexplicably to smooth the dried tear streaks from her porcelain-like skin. Wanting to wrap her up as George had done. Wanting to save her.

"Sam!" Dean shoved at his knee. Sam blinked and looked over. "What is she saying?"

Sam blinked again, feeling oddly as if he were waking from a dream. "It's okay, Dean," he muttered.

"What?" Dean yelled, his brows meeting over the bridge of his nose. "Look at me. Sam! Look at me."

Sam obeyed, turning to face his brother.

"What the hell is going on, here, man? This…" Dean shot a look at the three guests in the room. "This whole situation is seriously FUBAR'd, Sam."

Sam shook his head, unable to argue. He looked back at Wren and George. "You're right," he sighed.

"Sam!" Dean lightly slapped his leg. "Don't turn away."

Sam looked right at Dean. Right into his eyes. Focusing. "You are right, Dean."

"Damn right, I'm right," Dean muttered.

Sam held up a finger to Dean, who nodded after a moment's hesitation. He turned to the other three. "George, take Wren back and get some sleep. We'll find you in the morning and figure this out, okay?"

George nodded, standing up and wrapping an arm around Wren.

"I'm really sorry, Sam," Wren said softly. "I won't scare him like that again."

"It's okay," Sam replied, gentling his voice. He reached out and brushed her bare arm with the tips of his fingers. "Thank you for caring enough to check on him."

"He tried to save me," Wren said. "And… well, you guys saved George. I don't have enough left in my life to lose anything else."

Sam curled his wounded hand into a fist, feeling the pins-and-needles tingle of sensation returning. "I know what you mean."

"What about me?" Mike pushed away from the wall.

"Go home," Sam said.

"I'm not leaving this alone," Mike declared.

"Yeah, I kinda figured," Sam sighed, "but there's nothing you can do tonight. Go home. We'll call you tomorrow."

"You don't," Mike pointed a finger at him, "and I'm coming after you."

Sam nodded. Mike looked at Dean. "Be good, you stubborn son of a bitch," he said, almost as if he enjoyed the fact that Dean couldn't hear him.

"See ya, Denzel," Dean returned, eyebrow arched in a slight smirk as if he had.

Sam followed them and closed the door at their backs, this time pulling the chain lock. He used the inside of his foot to return the salt line back to its rightful place.

"What happened to your hand?" Dean asked.

Sam rested his forehead against the door. He wanted to sink to the floor, curl up, and stay there for the rest of the night.

"I tore it open digging up Camilla's body all by myself because you're hurt and I wanted to protect you like you always protect me but I'm in over my head because she was rolled over with her eyes open and I don't know why and I hate to say it but I need you and I'm scared to death that I'm gonna get you hurt worse and won't be able to save you like you've promised to save me." Sam murmured the words in a quick, quiet rush, facing the door, his back to Dean, his eyes closed.

"Sam?" Dean persisted when Sam didn't move.

Turning to face Dean, he said slowly, "I hurt it digging up the grave."

Dean narrowed his eyes on Sam's mouth. It was almost disconcerting, his brother watching him so closely. Dean pushed himself to his feet, and Sam wanted to mirror his wince, knowing his muscles had to be protesting. He moved toward Sam as if he were ninety, not twenty-eight. His brother's body had seen a lot of mileage in his years.

"And…" Dean prompted.

"Mike fixed it for me."

Dean nodded, his eyes seeming to drink in Sam's face, thirsty for information, for control, for a way to stay in the game. "I'm guessing things didn't go well at the cemetery."

"FUBAR doesn't begin to cover it," Sam sighed, leaning his head against the door. He rolled his neck, looking over at his bag of clothes and laptop. "I need to do some research into the Coopers. Figure out who might—"

"Hey!" Dean snapped, grabbing at the front of Sam's shirt. "Don't look away."

"Jesus, Dean!" Sam pushed his brother's hand away. Exhaustion had worn his patience to a nub, and his brother was beginning to erase even that. "Quit pulling on me!"

"You gotta look at me," Dean snapped.

"I forget, okay?" Sam yelled back, pressing his face forward. "I freakin' forget that you're not—"

Sam stopped himself. He wanted to push Dean away. Wanted his brother to not need him so much. Wanted to unload onto Dean the fucked up facts of this hunt and have Dean tell him they'd figure it out. Wanted to be the little brother.

"It's just… this is hard, Dean."

"You think this is easy for me, man?" Dean yelled, and Sam knew that this time it was purposeful, not a matter of being unaware. The tendons in Dean's neck were taut and he was curling and uncurling his fists at his sides. If his body hadn't been so battered, Sam knew he'd be pacing.

"No," Sam shook his head. "I know it's not."

"I'm…" Dean swallowed, glancing away, then back again, and Sam felt his heart curl tight against his ribs at the lost expression bottoming out his brother's eyes. "I'm barely hanging on here, man. It's… too quiet."

Sam nodded. Dean reached up and ran a hand over his mouth, pulling at his lips.

"And then," Dean continued, his voice breaking. "Then it's not, and I hear… shit, I hear everything and I can't… I can't hold it all."

"It'll get better," Sam whispered. "It has to get better."

"I know that doctor lady said that it was temporary," Dean said, his eyes once again on Sam's face, "but we both know that… that our lives are destined to be screwed up."

Sam nodded, swallowing tears that screamed to be released. It's just not fair.

"So… I need you, Sammy." Dean confessed, his body visibly shaking with the confession. "I need you to… not leave me behind."

Sam dropped his chin, covering his face for a moment. "God, Dean," he muttered into his hands, then remembered and pulled his face up, meeting Dean's anxious eyes. "What if… what if you get hurt worse?"

Dean shrugged. "We could always get hurt."

"What if…" Sam licked his lips. "What if you can't…"

"Save you?" Dean whispered. "That's what you're scared about isn't it, that I can't save you like this?"

Sam nodded, clenching his jaw. He would not let the tears win.

"Aw, dammit, Sam," Dean shook his head, reaching for Sam's shirt and curling his fingers loosely in the dirty folds. "Don't you think I think about that? Every damn day. Every day since…"

Dean looked down. Sam could see the dried blood on his brother's ears, the blood in his sweat-soaked, matted hair. They were a collective mess, the two of them.

"I'm not going to let anything bad happen to you," Dean said to the floor, his hands still fisted in Sam's shirt. "But you gotta at least give me the chance to save you."

Sam reached up and rested a hand on Dean's shoulder, drawing his brother's eyes. When Dean was looking at him, he said very clearly, "Dean… you stink."

Dean paused for a heartbeat, and then as Sam hoped, the laughter burbled out of him in a pop of surprise and relief. "You want first crack at the shower?"

"It's too freakin' late to shower," Sam sighed, glad the sound of Dean's laughter had released the weight from the room.

He stepped away from Dean, moving to the table and picked up the bottle of pills. He held them up to his brother. Dean shook his head. "C'mon, Dean," Sam cajoled.

"No, Sam."

Dean's voice left no room for argument, and Sam was too trashed to even attempt it. He tossed the bottle of eardrops to his brother, stripped to his boxers, pulled back the sheets, and flopped face-first into the bed, his dirt-streaked, weary body crying with relief.

He heard his brother's clothes hit the floor, sensed Dean turning off the light in the corner of the room, heard Dean hiss and curse at the drops in his ears, then waited for the sound that he knew would lull him to sleep.

The steady rhythm of Dean's heavy, constant breathing.

www

Minnesota, 1994

"He's not coming back this time."

"He always comes back, Sam."

"It's been two weeks. Maybe he's dead."

"He's not dead."

"You don't know that."

"Yes. I do."

"What are you and Jim working on every night?"

"None of your business."

"I wanna work on something."

"Work on keeping your wrist straight in the follow through."

"I hate throwing knives."

"No, you don't."

"You don't know what I hate. I can hate this."

"You're too good at it to hate it."

"You… you think I'm good at this?"

"Hell, yeah, Sam, why do you think I make you work on it all the time?"

"I thought it was 'cause… Dad told you to."

"You think I do everything Dad says?"

"Well… yeah."

"Here, Sam. Try this one."

"That's your knife, Dean."

"I know what the hell it is; I gave it to you, didn't I?"

"All right, fine, but if I lose it…"

"You won't lose it."

"Oh, man! Oh, my God, Dean, did you see that? I totally nailed the center!"

"Told you."

"Yes! Thanks, Dean."

"Keep this up, Sammy, and you'll be better than Dad and me."

"I won't be better than you."

"Yeah? How do you know that?"

"'Cause you're the best, Dean."

www

He heard voices in his dreams.

They were memories of voices, snatches of conversations, the sound of his father singing. He liked that one best. His father had had a great, gravely voice. The kind that could get under the note and draw out the emotion from the word. It was one of the only times he ever really saw his father show emotion while he was growing up.

He heard Sam. He missed Sam's voice. He let the drowsiness of the dream roll over him more just so that he could listen longer. There were so many thoughts inside of Sam's voice that he never really spoke. But Dean heard them.

The light from the morning sun streaming in through the uncovered window beat a harsh tattoo against his closed eyes and the first thing he was aware of upon waking was the stench wafting off of him. His mouth felt furry and full of glue. He pried his teeth apart, feeling his tongue grip the roof of his mouth.

He rolled from his back to his side and once again felt the sensation of liquid in his ears, shifting the world around him until he was forced to drop a foot from the bed to balance himself. He opened his mouth and saw Sam, asleep, sprawled on the opposite bed, sheets and blankets twisted around his waist, one leg out and his mouth gaping open.

Dean let his mouth relax into an indulgent smile. Sam even slept big. Biting back a groan that could have potentially jostled his brother awake, Dean grabbed his bag and stumbled to the bathroom, closing the door carefully behind him. The overhead light bumped and sparked, causing him to squint against the brightness of it.

He peered at himself in the mirror, groaning at what he saw. Bruises traversed his forehead and puffed out the soft skin under one eye. Small cuts held together by butterfly bandages graced his cheek and he looked ten years older with the scruff growing slowly into a full-on beard.

"Pretty," he muttered sarcastically, digging into his bag for his shaving supplies. The automatic, repetitive action of shaving seemed to almost put the world into perspective for him.

As he lathered up his cheeks, he let his mind blank, watching only the flash of silver in his straight razor as it scraped the hair from his face. Each swipe left a clear path, each clear path felt like another plank in the broken bridge between where he was and where he had been.

He felt a soft rumble in his chest, relishing the feel of the vibration there as it ambled up through his throat and bounced from his lips. He couldn't tell if he was anywhere close to being on-key, but it felt good, so he went with it.

"It starts out like a murmur then it grows like thunder until it bursts inside of you…"

Scrape. Walking to the house. Feeling uncomfortable in his suit. Ready to flash the badge and tell the story. And then what?

"Try to hold it steady, wait until you're ready any second now will do…"

Face is smooth; might even pass for human. Bruises are bruises. Flash a smile and give away nothing. Ready for that water to beat down, wash away the aches, and the memories that are not quite there.

"Throw the door wide open, not a word is spoken. Anything that you want to do…"

Dean leaned forward, one hand on the wall, his head bowed as the surreal sensation of silent rain slid in slick rivers down his battered body, chasing itself along the dip of his spine and skipping across his gluteus to tangle in the coarse hairs of his legs. He opened his eyes, staring at his feet, making fists with his toes in the basin of the bathtub.

Talons…

He blinked as the image shot across his vision. Shaking his head, he tipped his face up into the water, running his fingers through his bloody hair, letting the pink wash away. He tipped his head one way, then the other to keep the water from filling his too-sensitive ears, massaging the blood from his lobes.

Wings spread, reaching…

"Shit," he muttered, turning his back to the water and letting it beat against the ever-present knots in his neck. He reached up, rolling his head and kneading the sore muscles there. The water beat against the small of his back, working on the tension, trying to release the ache.

Gotta get out, get Sam, we're in trouble, we're—

"Oh, my God," Dean breathed, throwing out a hand to brace himself against the shower wall. The memory of that last thought, that last realization, shot through him like an electrical current.

Shutting off the water, he stepped from the shower the chill of the air crawling in goose bumps across his bare skin, almost forgetting to grab a towel to wrap around him before stepping naked into the outer room. He opened the door of the steamy bathroom, the sunlight from the bare window reflecting off of the beads of water coating his chest and shoulders. He blinked the water from his lashes and looked to the bed for Sam.

Finding it empty, he looked over at the table where his brother sat, still clad only in boxers, dirt ground into his cheeks and arms, staring open-mouthed at his computer monitor. Dean had only to wait a heartbeat before Sam looked up, the expression in his eyes a direct reflection of Dean's own astonishment.

"Dude, I gotta talk to you," they voiced in unison.