Rating: PG-13


Chapter 5

One man's quiet is another man's din.

Carrie Latet

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He had been shaking.

Dean, who was always smooth, always in control, always with the confident outward appearance masking any fear or uncertainty, had been shaking. The cuts mended by Mike had been artfully covered by bandages, but the wounds breached the edges of the white, and the heat of his skin made it difficult to touch.

And Sam had left him.

Left him lying, eyes closed against reality, ears deaf to danger, body wounded and bleeding. Left him with a stranger.

I had to.

Sam sat on the small couch in George and Wren's hotel room, elbows braced on knees, punishing his right fingers with the grip of his left hand. I had to, he repeated to himself. Dean was convinced that the ala was back. That Wren was a killer. That the job that Sam had practically forced them into wasn't as simple as they'd first thought.

Birds. Dead birds. Dozens of them. All over that room. Wren's room… And the ala… with the true form of a bird… what the hell are we dealing with here?

"She'll be out in a minute," George said, suddenly appearing in the narrow doorway that separated the small living room area from one of the two bedroom suites. "Just needed to, uh, freshen up a bit."

Sam nodded, straightening up. He rubbed his sweaty palm on the top of his thigh, holding his bandaged hand close to his waist.

Mike is a professional. Dean's gonna be okay. Pissed… but okay. Mike'll look after him better than I could… Sam's internal justification did nothing to ease the cinch around his heart or quiet the rolling of his stomach.

"Bit late to come calling," George commented, his wiry gray eyebrows lowering over his watery blue eyes, judgment spilling silently around his words.

"I know," Sam said, swallowing a smile at the sweetness of such an old-fashioned, and out-of-place, term. He glanced down at the tightly-woven red and beige carpet,

"But, I really need to talk with her."

"You don't have a gun on you, do you?" George gruffed, his lips quirking just enough to show Sam he was kidding.

"Yeah, uh, I'm sorry about that," Sam offered George an apologetic look. "I wish I could explain that better. Dean's just… not himself."

It was odd to think of his brother as…less. Broken. Not whole. But that was the direction Sam's thoughts strayed. To a place he didn't want to linger. A place that left him living this life—hunting, fighting, surviving—without Dean in front of him. Without Dean's eyes watching for the demons outside and inside of him.

George rubbed a hand across his lips. "Seems almost familiar in a way."

"How so?" Sam frowned.

George shook his head slowly, memory creeping into his eyes, drawing shadows on his face. "Camy, she… she wasn't acting like herself that day. Was anxious and… nervous. Kept telling me she wanted me alone to talk, but… I thought she was just… y'know, worried about Wren being at the picnic. In public…"

Sam, the ala is back… Dean's words had been so certain. So sure. But Sam wasn't sure. He had no memory of an ala before the cemetery a few days ago. He had only Dean's word that their father had fought one years before—that it's true form was that of a bird, and that Wren, of all people, could be involved.

"George, how did Wren come to live with you and Camilla?" Sam asked, watching the old man's face intently.

"She was at the state home," George said, going over old information. "Didn't really fit in there, they said."

"Who's they?"

George shrugged, his eyes clouded, confused, as if the details Sam was digging for were hidden too deep. "Um, you know. The… ones in charge."

George shifted, his aged hands trembling as they clenched. Sam felt pity stir in his heart. He was tempted to let George off the hook, quietly sit and wait for Wren, but there was something inside of him pushing for answers. Something not satisfied with seeing the Coopers as victims. Something that sounded an awful lot like his brother's voice.

Someone planted oleander around the house, Sam…

"Don't worry, George," Sam said softly. "I'll just talk to her. Figure some things out."

"You figure out the deal with that poem?" George looked away from Sam, his gaze seeming to penetrate the curtain-covered window.

Sam frowned, tilting his head a bit to the side in confusion. "Poem?"

"The spirits and veils thing," George moved slowly from the doorway and lowered himself into the diminutive armchair across from Sam. "It's a poem."

"I, uh… didn't realize," Sam quietly chided himself. It hadn't even occurred to him to look up the words he and Dean had heard. Closing his eyes, he rubbed his fingers roughly across his forehead. "You know which poem?" He asked, hearing the rough tang in his voice that betrayed his weariness.

"Not sure, actually," George said. "I remember the writer was something… Crutch? Cran?"

"Cranch," came Wren's soft voice from the doorway. "Christopher Pearce Cranch."

Sam stood as she slid around the edge of the doorway, her fingers playing along the wall to feel her way forward.

"It was… a favorite of… someone I was close to," Wren continued, her voice catching.

Sam blinked. "I, uh… I thought George said you didn't—"

"She said it came to her when we got back from the house," George interrupted. "That business with your brother and his damned gun… scared it out of her, I guess."

Wren simply nodded, seeming to take them both in with a sigh, her empty, luminous eyes burning an odd light in the dimly lit room.

"Thanks for talking with me so late," Sam said, watching her glide forward, her movements so quiet it was as if she were more ethereal than human.

Wren lifted a shoulder. "I'm happy to do it. Is your brother okay?"

Sam glanced at George, then back to Wren. "He's… been better."

"You two don't stay out long," George huffed, pushing himself to his feet. "I'm too old to be watching the clock."

Wren put out a hand, waiting for George to catch it. "Thank you, George," she said softly, tipping her cheek for an expected kiss. George complied, nodding at Sam, then retreated to his room, the door closing behind him with a decisive click.

They were alone. But Sam felt George listening. Something about his proximity made Sam feel off balance, protective… jealous.

"Want to, uh… take a walk or something?"

Wren smiled, looking in the area of his throat, her vacant eyes following the sound of his voice. "I'd love to."

She reached out a hand, and Sam instinctively took it, feeling the intoxicating softness of her skin, the warmth of her fingers trailing across his palm, up the inside of his wrist, resting on the curve of his forearm, flexing over the muscle there.

For one insane moment he wanted nothing more than to seek out more of her skin, bury himself in the warmth of her flesh, listen to the catch in her voice as she said his name.

"Sam?"

Sam shivered, physically shaking himself free of the freakish hold of desire.

"Yeah."

"You okay?" Wren asked. "You felt… like you went somewhere else for a minute there."

God, don't guess, don't guess…

"I'm okay," he said, trying to concentrate, feeling a vague fog seeping through the corners of his focus. "Just, uh, worried about Dean."

Wren's mouth formed a perfect bow of sadness as she frowned, nodding slightly. "He seems to be in a lot of pain," she sighed. "And I don't mean just from the explosion."

Sam led her to the door, escorting her through with a hand on the small of her back, then letting her take his arm once more as he closed the door behind them. They walked quietly out of the hotel, letting the silence say more than unfilled words. Sam's thoughts tripped over reason, Dean's desperate voice hammering against his ears. She's not right…

"Where do you want to go?" Wren asked when the night settled around them.

"Doesn't matter," Sam said looking around the nearly-empty parking lot, eyes catching on signs at the entrance to the hotel. "Slaughter Beach isn't far."

Wren smiled slightly. "What a terrible name for such a beautiful place."

Sam moved forward, the light from the half-moon illuminating the sidewalk that stretched from the hotel parking lot, along the slip of road, to the rock-strewn path that led to the beach.

"Beautiful?"

"I remember," Wren said, her voice sad. "I remember the sea."

Sam swallowed. "You, uh… think you'll ever see again?"

Wren shifted against him, her fingers tightening. Sam felt his skin quake, pulling away and reaching out at the same time. He hadn't felt this aroused since… Jessica. He glanced down at Wren's porcelain skin glowing in the moonlight, her eyes half-mast, her mouth bowed in memory.

He was hungry for her. And he had no idea what to do with that. Or where it came from.

"I don't know, Sam," she was saying. He tried to track back to what he'd asked her. "I don't know that I want to see this world again. Not after…"

Sam cleared his throat, guiding her from the sidewalk to the rock-strewn path, letting his hand linger on the base of her spine. He could smell the ocean: salt, fish, wet sand.

"Do you remember the accident?"

"I remember… a different life. I remember feeling whole." She shuddered slightly. "And then… I remember pain and screams."

"But not what happened?"

"I dream about it. I see it then. Clearly." She swallowed convulsively. "I see bodies. I see blood… so… so much blood. It… they hurt, the memories."

Sam nodded in sympathy, the pain of his visions very real even days after they'd passed.

"It's almost as though I can see too much when I dream. But…then…" She lifted a shoulder. "Then I find peace in darkness."

Sam heard the steady breathing of the ocean as the tide climbed the earth, reaching keen fingers further inland, looking to conquer. Instinctively, he lifted Wren at the waist, enjoying the feel of her small hands gripping his wrists, and set her up on one of the larger boulders.

Looking to his left, he saw stringy tendrils of pumpkin-colored seaweed shimmy as the salty water teased it with the illusion of motion. It wrapped around the base of the grayish boulders, clouding the water. Beyond that, he could only see the silver path of the moonlight on the black water and the lacy edges of the waves as the water curled back in on itself.

"It has no memory, you know," Wren said softly, sliding her hands up Sam's arms to rest on his shoulders. Her face was turned from his, in the direction of the water.

"What doesn't?"

"The sea," she said, her voice drawing him in, making him want to rest his forehead on her chest, nuzzle close to her throat and breathe her in. "It simply is. It breathes, taking what it wants to, seducing, captivating, capturing, but the moment the conquest is over… it forgets."

"Yeah?" Sam asked lazily, reaching up to twist one of her short wisps of black hair around his index finger. The motion reminded him of something… Something he was supposed to be doing…

Somewhere he was supposed to be…

He tried to grab the memory, but words seemed to fall from his mind the moment they surfaced. Almost as if he could watch them vanish. Words like brother, hunt, ghost… words like solve, pain, fight, protect… words like blood and fever.

He sighed into the night, letting the peace and coolness of the salty ocean air settle into his skin, letting everything that had wound him so tight simply drift away with the forgotten words. Letting the amnesia of the ocean sift through him as comforting as Wren's touch.

Wren moved her right hand from his shoulder to his neck, her palm soft and warm. Sam stepped closer to the boulder, her height now even with his. She turned back to him and he registered that there was something about her eyes… something unusual about the way she was looking at him.

"Sam," she whispered, her lips parting ever-so-slightly as his name tumbled free. "I never wanted to hurt anyone."

"I know," he replied, his eyes on her mouth. Watching it move, absorbing the sound that seemed to blend with the breath of the ocean.

"I so hate to be alone."

Her sorrow ate at him, made him want to wrap around her, protect her, own her. Keep her with him so neither of them would ever be alone.

"Me, too," he confessed, his voice catching on something that tasted like truth.

"Are you alone, Sam?"

More words surfaced, bold and black in his mind. Like projected light on a movie screen, they tried to burn into him, draw him back from the peace her darkness offered. Family… brother… Dean…Dean… Dean…

He leaned close, her breath soft on his face. His eyes fluttered closed; the night pressed close, as if there were hands at his back, encouraging him closer to her. Her hands slipped up his neck to cup his jaw, her thumbs skipping along the time-rough stubble on his cheeks.

What had she asked him? Was he alone? Wasn't everybody?

He felt the silky caress of her lips as they glided across his. Odd, unsettling flashes, like a strobe light in his brain, hit the backs of his eyes. Smiling blue eyes, long blonde hair, innocence shattered by hidden truth. Sharp green eyes asking nothing, giving all… waiting, knowing.

"Wait, I—"

She swallowed his protest as her fingers threaded through the thick tangle of hair at the back of his head, pulling his mouth onto hers, crushing his lips close. He sucked air in through his nose, slipping his hands around her, feeling her legs close around his waist. Her tongue stroked the back of his teeth, the roof of his mouth, erasing his resisting and leaving pieces of him behind.

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Dean paced.

He wasn't sure when he'd picked up this habit, but now, movement was the only method he had to combat the fog his taxed system worked to wrap around him. The only way to channel the scream that rolled from his belly through his heart into something productive and not simply primal.

He'd taken Sam to a zoo once, when he was eight and impossible to entertain in the confines of a motel room. Slipped in with the maintenance crew to avoid the entry fee. Kept his little brother occupied for several hours wandering around. Sam had been captivated by everything, but Dean had been haunted by one sight. The Siberian tiger pacing behind the bars that were secured in place to both protect the world from it, and it from the world.

The muscles under that sleek colored coat had rippled as the large animal watched them through sullen yellow eyes, its black lips pulled up in the slightest hint of a snarl, as if showing its disdain for those with the audacity to think they could hold it captive forever. Dean had been rooted to the spot, oblivious to Sam's tugs on his clothes or insistence that they see something else. He'd stared at that pacing animal, felt his stomach tighten with recognition and his heart recoil with denial.

He'd seen his future in that cage and to this day could only emulate it, no matter how badly he wanted to resist. The heat in his shoulder and at the back of his neck was nothing compared to the heat in his heart, climbing his throat to rest with wiggling satisfaction behind his eyes. He'd been wrong about something.

About something vitally important.

The ala had nothing to do with this. It was a mistaken memory, an imprint of a vanquished foe, the only connection his fractured mind had been able to make between the void of before and the reality of now.

Talons, wings, feathers, the sharp yellow eye of pitiless death. It hadn't been the ala as he'd told Sam. As he'd been so sure

"A fuckin' siren," Dean spat out on stride six as he continued his soon-to-be worn path across the hotel room. He turned when he reached count eight and headed on increasingly unsteady legs back toward the laptop.

The screen saver had not yet taken over and waiting for him was the last bit of information he'd pulled up about the enemy they were apparently facing. Sirens were not the thing of myth and history as he'd thought. They were as real as vampires. As real as spirits. As real as he was. They were immortal, endless, drawn back through time to the era of pagan gods.

They wanted nothing more than companionship at the price of a human soul. They knew only need, and were nearly impossible to satiate. They didn't bow to convention, or hold to any truths save desire; if they decided that they wanted someone, they manipulated their environment to win.

The siren's song destroys will, defeats reason, and crushes hearts. Those who hear the true voice of the siren will cry tears of blood before their life is stolen. And the only way to defeat the siren was to return them to the sea.

"How the hell are we gonna do that?"

The words on the monitor mocked him, swimming, letters mixing and blending as the room tunneled in front of him, sweat breaking out on his upper lip, the back of his neck, his forehead.

"No!" He barked into the empty room. "No, I can do this… I can do this."

He gripped the back of the chair placed before the laptop until his knuckles turned white. Sam was with a siren. He was not going to pass out now. Not when his brother needed him. His shoulder burned and he felt his stomach cave as he gave in to the quick release of a moan. He was so fucking tired of his body betraying him.

The motion of the door opening into the room, shifting the line of salt he'd taken for granted, caught his eye and Dean straightened. Too suddenly. He was on his knees before he registered the change in elevation, his vision graying out, heat wrapping around him with a chaser of cold chills.

Dean blinked, his lashes fluttering against his cheeks as he worked to banish the haze overtaking his vision. Mike's face surfaced through the fog, his lips moving, dark eyes worried as his sure hands seemed to move over Dean like a wraith. He instantly registered the tangy scent of Mike's warm skin.

"Ge'off me, man," Dean slurred, pushing Mike's hand from his face with a clumsy swipe. "What the hell?"

It took him a moment to register that he was flat on his back, on the floor, that the collar of his T-shirt had been torn, and that Mike was doing something with the wounds on his shoulder. Mike spoke again, lines folding around his mouth and sketching darts between his brows.

Dean blinked. It didn't take him long to realize that Mike was asking him a question.

"I'm fine," Dean spat out. "Quit messin'."

Mike shook his head once, trying to keep Dean on the floor.

"I said I was fine," Dean roughly pushed Mike away, rolling carefully to his side, swiping out blindly again when he felt the weight and warmth of Mike's hand on his side. "Get. Back."

Mike frowned, his brows meeting and shadowing his eyes, drawing lines through his face that gave him an air of danger. Still working to at least get to his knees, hating the helpless feeling of being down while an almost-stranger loomed over him, Dean glared back.

"Dude, don't even try," he said, feeling the weakness in his voice as the air crept through his throat. "In the poker game of attitude, I will win every time."

Mike rocked back on his heels, a muscle jumping in jaw, his hand still resting on Dean's arm. Dean pushed harder against the hand extended in help and resulting in restraint. He felt the sigh that slipped between Mike's lips as the older man backed away, leaving Dean to his own devices as he tried to get to his feet.

Fisting his fingers in the bed covers, Dean gritted his teeth, using the bed as leverage to pull himself to his knees, ignoring the feel of Mike's eyes, the tremble in his own limbs, the sweat on his brow, and focusing instead on the new sound thundering through him as he moved.

He could hear his heart beating.

It's about freakin' time…

Lips parted, Dean drew in breath in a quaking, shuddering gasp, hearing it echo slightly at the back of his mouth before tumbling down his airway to fill his lungs. His head felt hollow, his body gutted, but he could hear his heart. He could hear his breath.

I can do this… he coached himself as he pressed his hands on the edge of the bed, rising slowly to his feet. I will do this.

Swallowing, moving carefully, afraid to shake the sound of life away, he turned to face the glowering Mike, belatedly realizing that another figure hovered in the doorway, arms wrapped around her body. Dean tracked the form of the jean-clad legs, to the darkly painted nails adorning trembling, tanned hands, past breasts that were shaped for touching, to a throat that flashed as she breathed.

"Sadie," he acknowledged, his eyes lingering a moment on her lips before meeting her, large, worried eyes. "What the hell are you doing here?"

He could smell the sweet, cinnamon scent that seemed to tiptoe from her and drift through the stale hotel room air to tease his mouth dry. She darted her tongue out in what he now recognized as a nervous gesture and wetted her bottom lip. Her mouth trembled up in a hesitant smile, and he saw her eyes dart to Mike for reassurance.

Dean felt his lip curl. The last time he'd seen her, he'd been kissing her. He imagined in a town where everyone knew everything about everybody, she simply wanted an update. He looked at Mike, too, aware that he owed the man a debt of gratitude, and hating both that he was compelled to thank him and that he still needed him.

"Where's Sam?" Dean asked, wondering what it was in his voice that caused Mike's lips to tighten.

Mike looked back toward Sadie, and Dean rested his leg against the end of the bed, pulling the destroyed cotton of his T-shirt closer together when he felt Sadie's eyes drop from Mike's face to his chest. He saw her eyes catch on his scars, the history of his life, and had the urge to hide the evidence of his fight.

Sadie blinked, her lips moving, her eyes softening as she skipped them from his exposed chest to his face. Mike was still turned from him and Dean watched Sadie look at him, shaking her head forcefully, negating something he was saying. It was like watching an argument through binoculars. He could see the battle of wills, but was living in a muted world. Watching them talk, Sam nowhere around to help bridge the gap of understanding, was a suffocating feeling. He started to sympathize with Camilla Cooper rolling over in her grave, wanting to turn away from the hope of escape when the reality was, there was no way out.

Mike turned back to Dean, his face a dark cloud of frustration. Hands waving at his sides in an attempt to convey whatever he was saying, Mike stepped forward. Dean felt his muscles tighten as he resisted the urge to back away.

"HEY!" Dean pushed out, hoping it was as loud as it felt. "Just… just stop, okay? I don't know what you're trying to tell me, but… it doesn't matter."

Sadie stepped forward, hand reaching out, lips pursed in a shushing motion. Mike turned to her, catching her arm, stopping her from approaching Dean. Growling with a dismissive wave of his hand, Dean turned his back to the duo, shrugging carefully out of his tattered T-shirt and grabbing a gray Henley from his duffel.

He hissed slightly as he pulled the shirt over his head, crinkling the stitched cuts at the top of his shoulder. He had no memory of the person who'd hit him, no memory of being hit. He remembered only Sadie's lips, blinding pain, then Sam.

Sam…

He didn't know how long his brother had been with Wren, if he'd come to the same conclusion Dean had, if he were safe… Dean shook his head, adjusting the edge of the shirt over his waistband. He'd know if something had happened to Sam. He'd know.

Sitting gingerly on the edge of the bed, his back to the rest of the room, Dean leaned over and pulled on his boots, slipping the small throwing knife he was never without into the homemade sheath on the inside of his left boot. He straightened slowly, hating the rough slosh of fluid in his ears as he lifted his head, but relishing the harsh slam of his heart against the back of his eyes. It hurt, but he heard it.

A gentle hand skimmed across his lower back, causing him to flinch, stand, and turn. Sadie stood behind him, her expression open, waiting.

"I have to find my brother," he said to her. "He's in trouble."

Dean looked up at Mike. "You can believe what you want," he said, noting the exasperation in Mike's expression. "But it's the truth."

He turned the monitor of the laptop toward Mike, watching the man's dark eyes skim across the information about the siren, his expression growing more concerned as he read. When he'd reached the bottom of the screen, Mike looked up, slowly shaking his head in disbelief.

"He's in trouble, man," Dean repeated, feeling the world swim as he found himself uttering words he hadn't said in a long time. Not since Kathleen and the Benders. Not since he'd been brought back from the brink of death for the sole purpose of saving his brother. "Help me. Help me save my brother."

Mike ran a hand over his face, looking at Sadie. She shifted her eyes from Dean, to Mike, clearly not following the significance of the conversation. Mike spoke to her and Dean ached to understand, to follow, to have some way of connecting to them aside from the smell of their skin.

Sadie nodded in agreement to whatever Mike asked her, then stepped in front of Dean.

Take care of you, he saw as she placed her hands on either side of his battered face, drawing his attention to her full mouth. With that, she pushed up on her toes, brushed her soft, warm lips across his, slid her face on a pillow of breath to the base of his neck and kissed the edge of the bandage there.

Drawing back she said, I'm so sorry.

Then she turned from him, nodded to Mike, and stepped from the room. For a brief moment, Dean was sorry to see her go. As quickly as that thought struck, another took its place.

Sam.

"You know where he is?" Dean asked, grabbing the room key from the table and following Mike from the room.

Mike shook his head and pointed to the door down the hall. Dean nodded, ignoring the heat, the pull of the cuts on his shoulder, the burn of his skin. He swallowed hard, combating the pressure building steadily behind his eyes with the force of his own will.

I will do this.

Mike knocked on the door, head hanging low, face sad. Dean watched him for reaction from the room within, feeling pity stir as the knowledge that the innocent his friends had been harboring was nothing short of a demon. That she was probably responsible for the death of George's wife, Mike's friend, the reason their lives had been turned sideways.

Mike frowned and knocked again. Sighing, Dean stepped back, fully prepared to kick the door in. As he did so, however, a thought struck him. As Mike pounded a third time on the door, Dean looked at the key in his hand, running his calloused thumb over the number printed on the plastic scabbard. Glancing up at the door he huffed out a slightly bemused laugh.

"Son of a bitch," he muttered.

Mike looked at him, and Dean placed his fingers at the top of Mike's shoulder, easing him back.

"Allow me," he said smoothly, sliding the teeth of the brass key into the lock, and feeling the satisfying click as the lock opened.

Stepping into the room, Dean was almost overwhelmed with the various scents of the people who had existed within. The peppermint smell of joint rub warred with the burnt aroma of old coffee and underneath it all rolled a quiet scent of flowers. Lilies, he thought. Or… something close to it.

"Where is everyone?" Dean wondered aloud, moving carefully through the room, eyes scanning, absorbing, cataloging.

He felt Mike brush past him, moving into the rooms. Following, Dean glanced around what was obviously George's room, noting, with a pang of sadness he'd never cop to, a picture of a young, smiling Camilla in a gilded frame on the stand next to George's bed. Turning, he crossed the narrow hall and stepped into the adjacent bedroom.

Wren's room.

He swayed in reaction to the almost non-existent feel of the girl who was supposed to be living here. Not a trace of scent, no scattered make-up, no sign of clothes tossed on the bed. Dean had been around enough women in his lifetime to know that even the most meticulous of them left traces of their existence behind.

Moving toward the bed, his eyes caught on something glinting in the faint light. Bending down carefully, Dean picked up a small silver locket from where it had snagged on the hem of the bedspread. Engraved on the round face was the wing of a bird.

Dean felt cold. Snapping the tiny clasp open, he saw that the locket was empty, except for an inscription.

we are spirits clad in veils…

"What the hell?"

Turning, he sought Mike, intent on showing him what he'd discovered. He saw the older man was standing in the space between the rooms, a cell phone pressed to his ear, his free hand rubbing his face in a distracted, worried fashion. Dean tilted his head, trying to catch the motion of the man's lips, but unable to do so.

He stepped toward him, catching Mike's eye and watching as he flipped the phone shut and motioned toward the living room. Dean followed, aware of the pressure behind his eyes increasing, the tattoo of his heartbeat loud in his hollow ears.

Mike searched the room quickly, coming around with a small pad of paper and a stub of a pencil that looked like something left over from a golf course. He began scrawling a message as Dean impatiently wiped away the sweat gathering on his upper lip. Colors seemed to intensify, sharpening to an unrealistic quality, looking almost psychedelic as they swirled and morphed around Mike's bent head.

Turning the pad around, Mike held it up, his eyes scanning Dean's swaying form carefully. Dean ignored him, reading the note.

George gone. Found Sam. At beach with Wren. Coming back. Stay here.

"Wait…" Dean swallowed, blinking wide to help refocus his eyes. "Where are you going?"

He rubbed at his pounding head as Mike scribbled something else.

Get you more meds.

"I'm fine," Dean insisted. "Sam's coming here? How do you know? Were you just talking to him?"

When Mike nodded, Dean felt his heart turn to ice. He'd known envy before—envy of John's affection with Sam. Envy of another way of life echoing in the smiles of someone he thought he could care about, if given the chance. Envy of peace. But this affirmation that someone else—someone capable—had found his brother hit him like a punch to the gut and chilled him from the inside out.

Do the job, man. Focus on the job. There is nothing else.

"He's, uh… with… with Wren?" Dean reached back and rubbed carefully at his neck. God he hurt. He was so ready to just be done with this hunt. To just go home, sit behind the wheel of the Impala and feel the rumble of his baby slide through him.

Mike nodded again, then reached out and pushed Dean back onto the couch. Dean dropped heavily, unable to force his legs to hold him upright. He blinked again, willing the earth to slow, willing Mike to stop breaking into two figures, willing the fucking heat in his head to just back the hell off already.

Crouching in front of Dean, Mike rested his forearms on his knees, his hands hanging loose between his legs. Dean watched the rodeo healer watching him and waited. He wanted to fight him, pushing back, resist the care he saw evident on the man's dark face, but he couldn't. His brother needed Mike right now. Not someone who couldn't even stay on his feet. Not someone who couldn't hear danger coming past the sound of his own heartbeat.

Taking Dean's wrist between his stocky fingers, Mike pressed the pad of his index finger against Dean's pulse. With a quick check of his watch, Mike shook his head slowly, then lifted his hand towards Dean's face.

Dean smacked him away. "Stop, man. Seriously. I'm fine."

Mike pushed to his feet and Dean caught the familiar words of stubborn ass on the man's lips before he turned away and grabbed the pad of paper again.

Mike held up the pad of paper and tapped his fingers at the words stay here.

"Just until… until Sam gets here…" Dean whispered, dropping his head back, and reluctantly retreating to the corner of safety inside where the beat of his heart kept him company.

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The road, 1994

"Get some sleep, Son."

"Not really tired," I say, looking over my shoulder to Sam sprawled across the back seat, his legs bent at a crazy angle to fit comfortably. Pretty soon he's not going to be able to fit there anymore.

"You're half asleep now," Dad comments and I hear amusement in his voice.

Instead of complying, I look at his profile. "How close did you get this time?"

I don't know what it is that he is hunting. But it's something. Something scary. Something he won't let us help him with. And I know that thing is why he left us. Again. Dad darts a glance my way, his fingers tightening on the wheel until I imagine he leaves imprints on the metal. I have often thought of fitting my fingers in the grooves he left behind, wondering if my hands will fit his.

Looking back at the road, Dad said on a growl, "Close enough to smell the sulfur."

"You think we'll ever get it?"

"I know we will."

It's quiet in the car once more, the radio humming static as we drive through a dead zone. I think of so many things I want to ask him. I think of so many things to say. I can't bring my mouth to release one of them. It's as if there is a giant canyon inside of me with truth at the bottom and Dad on the other side, and I want to cross to him, bringing honesty with me, but it's just so far down…

I begin to sweat. There is a knot in my neck that I ache to rub out, but refuse to give myself away. Dad will see. Dad will know.

"Dean."

"Yes, sir?"

"I know what you saw… that day."

The sweat trickles down the sides of my face. I stay silent, waiting.

"I know you saw it."

"I'm not the only one," I whisper.

"It was just a spirit, Dean. Just like any other."

No, it wasn't. It had wings under water. It had talons. It was reaching for Sam.

"You can't be afraid of these things, Dean," Dad says, sighing like he's reluctant to tell me something I should already know. "You have to be strong."

"I know."

"You know we're better than these things. You know they can't get us."

I don't know that. I don't know why he's telling me this, either. I hear Pastor Jim's words in my head, telling me that it's okay to need someone. It's okay to ask for help. I look over at Dad and see strength battle weariness in the lines on his face. I see him dart his eyes to me quickly, checking to make sure I am getting his point. His point that we can't ever be weak. That we can't ever let them see our fear.

But fear is all around me. Fear for Sam, fear for Dad. Fear that one step left when we should have stepped right will bleed us out. They can get us. And the fact that Dad won't admit that… scares the hell out of me.

"Dean?"

"I know, Sir."

"Good. Remind Sammy. When you give him the dream catcher."

"You know about that?" I ask, surprised.

Dad grins softly, and for a moment I see the man that used to tuck me in at night, ruffling my tangled hair and calling me his boy.

"Of course I know," he says. "I'm your Dad. I know everything."

Not everything, I want to say. You don't know what it's like to be me.

"I'll tell him," I promise, glancing once more back at Sam. I'll tell him that the ala was dead, that Dad saved us just like he always would. The bad things couldn't get Dad, and we wouldn't let them get us. That as long as I was around, nothing bad was going to happen to him. I would make him believe it.

Because, with Sam, I had purpose. I had a reason to keep the bad things away.

Dad turns up the radio as the music filters back in and I lean on the cool glass of the window, looking out into the night, suddenly missing the feel of the soft flannel sheets and the comfort of a place I called home for a short time.

www

Bells.

He heard the soft tone of bells chiming through his hazy senses as Wren's mouth captured his again and again with heat and need and the dizzy sensations of release. It took him a moment, but the rhythm of the bells was suddenly familiar enough to break him from her.

Wren whimpered as Sam drew back, panting, his lips vibrating from her touch.

His cell… it was the ringtone from his cell phone.

"H-Hello?"

"Sam? Mike. Where are you?"

"At, uh…" Sam looked around, feeling as though he were waking from a dream. The rush of the ocean hit him with a grounding burst of reality. "I'm at the… the beach."

"What the hell are you doing there?"

"I'm…" Sam looked back at the slim figure of the dark-haired girl perched on the boulder, her lips puffy and red from his kiss, her eyes staring bleakly toward the sound of the water. "I'm with Wren."

"You need to get her somewhere safe and get back here."

"What?" Sam was suddenly focused. The strain in Mike's voice was more than obvious. His gut clenched. "What's wrong? Is Dean okay?"

"He's been better. Look, he is convinced that Wren's some kind of… mythical creature and that you're in trouble. He's hurt enough right now that he's not going anywhere fast, but you know him better than me…"

"Shit," Sam turned his back on Wren, feeling suddenly free. He pulled in a deep breath, rubbing his forehead in thought. "Okay, I'll bring Wren back. Stay with Dean."

"He needs more pain meds and antibiotics. His shoulder is inflamed."

"I won't be long." Sam dropped his hand and barked into the phone. "You stay with him."

"Listen, kid, you guys know what you know, and I know what I know. You guys do your ghost hunters thing, I'm gonna make sure your brother doesn't keel over on me."

"Wait, Mike!"

But the line had gone dead.

"Dammit." Sam turned back to Wren. Dean thought Wren was a mythical creature? He'd said he thought the ala was back… The true form of the ala was a bird… Sam shook his head. Dean was wrong. He simply was.

Wren might not be telling the whole truth, but Sam refused to believe that she was a Serbian storm demon in disguise. She was too… human… for that.

"We have to go back," Sam said, taking Wren's arm gently and pulling her attention back to him from the ocean.

"Back?" She asked, her voice dipping with reluctance. "But… I don't want to leave…"

"I can't let you stay here alone," Sam said. "And my brother needs help."

"I remember the sea," Wren said softly. "There's no screaming in the sea…"

Sam frowned. Her face had a wistful, longing expression. Sadness like sandpaper wore down the edges of her luminous eyes and Sam felt it seep into him.

"Listen, I'm sorry," he rubbed gently at her arm, raising goose bumps on her skin with his touch. "I am, but… my brother… he needs me."

"You're not alone," she said, her mouth hardening. "You said you knew—"

"I said I hated to be alone," he corrected her. Dean would never leave me… not like I've left him. I never have to be alone.

"I'll be fine," she said, her voice matching her mouth. "Just go."

"Wren, I'm not—"

"I said go!"

"I got her," came a soft, time-worn voice from behind Sam.

He turned quickly to see George emerge from the halo of the streetlight, lumbering up to them, his eyes on Wren.

"I'm here, honey," he said to her, wrapping his arm around her shoulder and allowing her to lean close. "You can go now, Sam."

"George? How did you—"

"Wasn't gonna let her out of my sight too long," George pressed his lips tight, stamping out expression. "Lost too many things in my life because I wasn't watching."

Sam took a breath, feeling lost, feeling as though he'd failed something he didn't even know he'd been tested on. Backing away, he felt the lure of her peace decreasing with each step.

He turned from the pair, hearing Wren's melodic voice bemoan, "I thought he knew."

"It's okay, honey," George comforted her. "I know. You're not alone anymore."

"Don't leave me, George."

"I won't, baby girl."

Sam broke into a run, needing to get back to his normal. Needing to get back to Dean. Needing a solution to this hunt gone wrong, this odd twist of reality. He was so wrapped up in his tangled thoughts that the truck was almost upon him before both skidded to a halt.

Sam reached out a trembling hand and rested it on the Ford emblem inches away from his body.

"Are you crazy, man? I almost hit you!"

Mike slammed out of his truck, stalking around the front and shoved his finger into Sam's chest.

"What do you think you're doing out here in the middle of the—"

"I was trying to get back to Dean!" Sam yelled, smacking Mike's finger away. "George has Wren, and I was trying to get back—"

"Wait, George? George is out here?"

"Back at the beach," Sam said, indicating over his shoulder.

Mike rubbed his close-cropped hair and huffed out an exasperated sigh. "You know I wasn't even supposed to be working that night?" He muttered, staring at the ground. "I picked up a shift for a friend so she could go to her kid's recital. And ever since I met you and your brother, my life has been… ghosts and graves and dead birds and sirens."

"Wait, what?" Sam grabbed Mike's sleeve.

Mike turned from Sam, heading back into the truck. "C'mon, I'll give you a ride."

Sam swung into the truck, slamming the door behind him. "What's this about sirens?"

Mike started the big diesel engine, turning down the radio. "Your brother showed me some stuff he had on his computer about sirens."

"Holy shit," Sam breathed, the realization that Dean had stumbled across the true root of their supernatural problem staggering him.

"Yeah! I mean, seriously… ghost… maybe, but this is like, something out of… Homer."

"Exactly," Sam breathed. "Exactly… oh, shit!"

"What?" Mike turned toward the pharmacy.

"Her voice, man. She… she seduces with her voice… she… she kills with it."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Mike shut off the engine, staring at Sam, incredulous.

"It's Wren," Sam looked at Mike, mouth dry, skin pulling close in horror. "Dean knew… he knew that she wasn't right and I didn't pay attention to him. I didn't believe him." He pounded a fist on the dash of the truck. "Dammit!"

"Hey!" Mike protested. "Ease up on the truck, dude!"

"We gotta get back to him," Sam reached for the keys.

"Just… hey! Just hang the fuck on!" Mike yelled at Sam, grabbing the keys back. "Greek myth or no Greek myth, your brother's not gonna be good to anyone without these meds. You asked for my help, so just sit on your hands for a minute while I give it to you!"

Sam clicked his mouth shut, watching helplessly as Mike exited the truck and loped into the pharmacy.

Hang on, Dean…

www

He traced the lines of his gun from memory.

He wasn't quite asleep, wasn't quite awake. Drifting in the gray world of fevered reality, Dean sought something he knew, one thing that didn't need him to hear it to work, to respond, to obey, to protect. His weapon. He mentally stroked its barrel, running the pads of his fingers down the grip and rubbing the etching with his thumb.

When he felt the soft touch of lips, his first thought was that Sadie had returned. He could still taste her kiss goodbye. Her lips were the last things that had touched him before fire exploded behind his eyes. Her skin had been soft, warm, inviting. He'd wanted more of it, wanted to touch, to savor.

He responded by leaning into the caress, letting the tongue slide into his pliant mouth and pulling the wet warmth close, letting the touch stir feelings of conquest and need. He instinctively reached forward, wanting the touch of skin, wanting the escape, wanting the ecstasy.

Breathing in, he froze. He couldn't smell cinnamon. He couldn't smell anything.

His eyes flew open, and he tried to draw back, but hands held him fast, pressing him against the couch. Soft fingers skimmed his jaw, and Dean growled low in his throat, trying to pull his lips away from those touching him, resisting the kiss.

Too close to focus, Wren's suddenly clear blue eyes met his in a blurred reality and her lips spread in a feral smile of achievement. She spoke, but was too close for him to even attempt to read her lips.

"You can't kill me, you freak," Dean spat, jerking against the restraining hands. He suddenly realized that he wasn't alone in the room with Wren. There were too many hands on him. Too many grips keeping him in place. "You won't win."

Wren blinked slowly, her eyes almost drowsy with desire. With a sudden rush of motion, she straightened and Dean's head was pulled roughly back by the hair. He groaned as the cuts on his neck protested and reached up to claw at the hands restraining him. Wren spread her arms, the expression on her face victorious.

"Don't… don't know what you're so fuckin' happy about…" Dean managed. "You can't sing to a deaf man."

Wren dropped her gaze and Dean watched her smile in triumph. Before his horrified eyes, her fingers spread, nails curling and hardening into talons, hands softening and blurring until feathers coated her from fingertips to shoulders, body rippling and shaking until before him stood the bird-woman of myth. The transformation was even more frightening as he thrashed against silent agony.

Dean had a moment of clarity blast through him like the pain that resulted from hearing everything at once. This is what he'd seen in the house the moment before the explosion. This was the evil that they had been combating. This was the reason Camilla was dead, the reason he was in pain, the reason Sam wasn't with him.

"You won't win," Dean breathed out in a harsh gasp.

And darkness brought a companion to the silence.

www

Strangely, the door had been open.

"Okay, where the hell did they go?" Sam blasted as he stomped through the empty motel room where Mike claimed he'd left Dean. "George was going to bring Wren back… you said Dean was here!"

Sam whirled to face Mike.

"Where is he?" Sam bellowed.

Mike lifted his hands helplessly. "I don't know! I left him right there—on the couch."

"Well, he's not there now!" Sam began to circle the room, searching, eyes darting. C'mon, man… give me something… "I'm going to check our room."

"He didn't have a key," Mike said.

"What do you mean, he didn't—"

"The key he grabbed… it was the extra one for this room."

"Dammit," Sam snapped and slammed out of the room.

"Sam, wait!" Mike called after him.

"WHAT?" Sam yelled. His patience was paper thin and his anger flushed hot in his cheeks. He imagined that if his skin were to be cut, his anger would bleed out like acid and burn him alive. "He's out there, somewhere, man, and I—"

"Would you just shut up a minute!" Mike yelled back, unwilling to back down. "Look."

"What?" Sam grabbed the silver filigree from Mike's grip. It was a locket. "What…"

"Just look," Mike insisted.

Sam opened the clasp of the locket.

we are spirits clad in veils…

"Wait… wait… I know something…"

"Well, that's a relief. I was getting worried," Mike said dryly.

Ignoring him, Sam flipped the chain around his hand, turned and headed to the room he shared with Dean. Unlocking the door, he stalked inside, directly for his laptop. His breath caught at the picture floating across on the screen saver. Dean and John, shotguns raised to shoulders, both grinning like idiots, aiming at something off camera. Sam remembered that day. Remembered the moment.

He tapped the touchpad and removed the memory, ignoring the information about sirens Dean had left for him. He didn't need it now. He knew his brother was right. His brother knew people. He could read them. A skill Sam had yet to perfect.

I should have trusted you… Sam cursed himself as his fingers flew over the keypad.

"Oh, my God," he whispered.

"What? Would you stop with the cryptic exclamations already!" Mike circled behind Sam, peering at the monitor. "I don't get it."

"Enosis," Sam whispered. "She said it was a poem. By this dude Cranch. She's been trying to tell us… all this time…"

"Who has? Tell us what?"

"George said it was Camilla, but… I think… I think Wren has been trying to tell us…"

Mike's nostrils flared as he drew in a sharp breath, finger joints popping as he curled his hands into fists. "I went to medical school. I know how to take you apart. Slowly and painfully. Do not push me, man."

Sam tossed the locket on the table, turning to his duffel. "Wren has been trying to tell us that she's a siren."

"A siren."

Sam dug through the bag, searching for something, anything, that he could use as a weapon against a mythical monster. "A siren," he repeated. "Created by Demeter to find and protect Persephone. C'mon, man. You went to college."

"Demeter? Wren's last name?"

Sam rolled his eyes, smacking his palm on his forehead. "Oh, my God!" He turned and pointed the barrel of Dean's sawed-off shotgun at the monitor. "Look. Look at the poem."

Mike tore his eyes from the business end of the shotgun and read aloud, "…We are spirits clad in veils: man by man was never seen. All our deep communing fails to remove the shadowy screen…"

"She lost someone… maybe her parents, maybe her mate, who knows. And when she did, she forgot what she was."

"You got that from this poem?" Mike raised an eyebrow in disbelief.

Sam tossed the shotgun to Mike and reached back into the bag for another. "From the poem, from some stuff she was saying… it just makes sense."

"No… no it doesn't," Mike shook his head, surprising Sam by expertly checking the weapon in his hand for shells. "What was Camilla trying to tell George before the picnic? Why was her body rolled over? Why was George hearing their song?"

Sam sighed. "I don't know man, okay? I just… I don't think Wren is completely evil is all."

Mike shook his head. "You got a thing for her."

"I do not."

"Yeah, you do," Mike nodded, his face serene in his confidence. "You don't want her to be bad, so, you're gonna figure out a way to make it so she isn't."

"Shut up," Sam snapped, clenching his jaw. "That's not true." He stormed past Mike.

"Sure looks true from where I'm standing," Mike retorted, following him out of the room. "Where you off to, all loaded for bear?"

"Cooper's house," Sam replied.

"Why?"

"'Cause Dean's there."

"How do you know?"

"'Cause he's not here. And the Impala is. And he's determined to figure this out with or without my help. And that's where it all started. And if you don't stop asking me questions I'm gonna knock you out and tie you up in the back of your own damned truck, I swear to GOD!"

Sam's voice rose in volume as they walked ending with him facing Mike in the darkened parking lot, leaning forward with the effort to get his point across.

"All right then," Mike nodded, his calm a direct opposition to Sam's ferocity. "Your car or mine?"

Sam opened his mouth, then closed it again. He looked at the Impala, a tightness building in his chest at the thought of being in there with Mike… and not Dean.

"Yours. We may need the truck bed."

Mike climbed up, waiting until Sam had closed his own door before starting up the engine.

"Hey, Mike?" Sam asked suddenly, the flurry of unanswered questions beating against his mind like frightened birds.

"Yep."

"You know anything about oleander?"

Mike looked at him, brows pulled together in question as he exited the hotel parking lot. "Why would you ask me that?"

"It's planted around the Cooper's house. Dean saw it."

Mike seemed to pale in the sporadic light of the highway.

"What is it?" Sam pressed.

"I didn't… I never put it together until now, but…"

"But, what?"

"Camilla asked me about it once… she'd read some book she said and wanted to know if it was really poisonous."

"Camilla planted it?"

"I don't know!" Mike snapped. "Thing is… oleander sap, it… it can cause—"

"Heart attacks, yeah, I know," Sam said softly.

"What have you guys got me into?" Mike muttered, pressing the accelerator to the floor.

Sam let his head snap back, hitting the rear window with a soft thump.

www

At first, he wasn't sure if he was awake.

The pain convinced him. It was the kind of pain that had gotten comfortable in his bones, letting him know it planned on being around for awhile, so he should just get used to slices of heat and shivers of cold and an ache that made him want to scream from his gut.

Slowly raising his head, the cuts on his neck crying out from being stretched and abused, his head pounding at the motion, Dean opened his eyes to survey his surroundings. Everything was dark. Not simply dark. But black. No light. No relief. There were no ends, no corners of light, no grays to break up the pitch.

He had to blink several times to convince himself that he hadn't been blindfolded.

It was as if he'd been struck blind. The darkness was as complete as the silence. Even his heartbeat had quieted. He heard a rushing pump of air as his panic took hold and he wanted to lick his dry lips—until he realized that his mouth had been sealed by a piece of tape.

Easy, Dean, you can do this… he told himself. You've been through worse. You've gotten out of worse…

As awareness sharpened, Dean tried to reach up and pull the tape away. His hands caught and held fast behind him. The rasp of his breath picked up speed as he twisted his nimble fingers along the chains that were wrapped several times around his wrists, holding his hands behind him, trapping him against something solid.

He was on the ground, chains wrapped tight, securing him to a post or pole or a wall. Tight. So tight that he couldn't pull more than a few inches away without feeling the dig of chains against his skin.

Oh, fuck me… He couldn't do this. He couldn't see, he couldn't hear, he couldn't even call out. His hands were trapped and he was helpless. Fuckin' helpless.

A wordless scream drew up from his belly, climbed with volcanic intensity through his tight chest, and tore the lining of his throat only to beat itself to death against the tape sealing his mouth shut. He thrashed against the chains, feeling his skin pull and coil, twisting against the restraints and tearing itself as panic ate through him, tipping his world sideways, his breath slamming through him.

Dean.

He froze. That voice… he knew that voice. How had he heard…

Don't be scared, Dean.

He worked to calm his breathing, trying to slow the panicked crawl of skittering oxygen through his body and bring it back to where it belonged.

I am so proudof you.

Dean swallowed, stifling the insane urge to claw at his face until the adhesion of the tape was well away from his skin. He turned to roll the tape free on his shoulder, but the motion tugged painfully at the wounds on his neck and he bit back what felt like a whimper.

Okay, okay, he chanted silently. You can do this, Dean. Think, dammit, just think…

He turned his head, straining to see something, but the darkness seemed to eat itself around him, devouring even the hope of light. Feeling his breath begin to quicken once more, he shifted against the solid object he was chained to, and suddenly registered that he could move his legs.

They weren't tied or restrained. Eyes closing with a breath of relief, he pulled his knees close, easing the pressure on his lower back. As he moved, he could tell that his boots had shifted something with their movement. Something soft…

Breathing slowly, he focused on the scents around him. It smelled like dirt and metal, salt and rot. Like old tree roots and rain. Like worms and mold. It smelled… like a grave.

Dean groaned. No, no… you have not been buried alive. NO.

He shuddered remembering the cavalier way he'd dismissed Camilla's prone body, joked about the horror it would be to be trapped in a coffin.

You're sitting up, idiot. You're not in a coffin. You're chained to a freakin' wall. You're not buried. If you were buried, they wouldn't have to chain you…

Then where the hell was he? Unable to resist the instinct to see, he continued to blink, widening his eyes each time in hopes that they would adjust enough to give him something. He stretched out his fingers as far as he could, feeling along the post that his chains were fastened to. It felt like old wood, soft and worn. He wondered how hard it would be to yank the hook free.

Grunting, sweating, feeling the metal pull against his bruised wrists, Dean twisted slowly until he was able to position his legs beneath him. The strain on his shoulders as his arms pulled taut behind him tore at the stitches on his shoulder and Dean felt the warm blossom of blood seep through his Henley, the salty scent hit his nostrils, combating with the aroma of dirt and decay.

Okay, okay… focus Dean. Sam is with a siren. Your brother needs you. You can't be trapped in some…dirt box.

A dirt box… He turned his head, breathing deeply. It wasn't a box. Faintly, very faintly, he felt a stir of air. It was a… tunnel.

Holy shit. The realization burst upon him so swiftly, he was dizzy. He was under the Cooper house. In the Underground Railroad tunnel that Sam had told him about. He tried to take a deep breath, tried to calm his racing heart, but the tape made that nearly impossible.

Easy, Dean, just breathe. Just breathe. You can do this. You have to do this. There is no one else.

The fluid that had been shifting in his ears rolled again and then suddenly the sound of his breathing was painful. He closed his eyes tightly, curling in on himself as the pain crescendoed with the slam of his heart beat. He felt himself groan and the sound of it shook him, hard, causing him to pull at his chains, trying to get his hands over his ears.

The rattle of the chains was like a cacophony of noise and Dean felt himself falling inside the black, tipping over, twisting his arms painfully, tearing at his shoulder until his face hit the dirt floor of the tunnel and awareness made its escape.

www

Starlight illuminated the land in silver edging.

In an eerie rerun of the first night of the hunt, Mike parked his truck across the street from the Cooper's destroyed house. Sam looked at the destroyed structure in the wan starlight and suppressed a shiver. It looked like the house was grinning at him. Pieces of wood and furniture was still strewn across the front lawn, and one of the side walls had started to buckle.

"We're just gonna… talk to them, right?" Mike asked. "Not go in… guns blazing?"

"This isn't some western, dude," Sam grumbled, opening his door.

"With a name like Winchester, I just had to be sure," Mike retorted, sliding out of the truck and joining Sam by the side of the road. "We don't even know if anyone is here."

A beam of a flashlight shone in the detached garage.

"We do now," Sam moved forward.

"Think that's your brother?"

"Maybe."

"What would he be looking for in the garage?"

A muzzle… Sam suppressed the insane urge to reach out and belt Mike, recognizing the irritation as one he often felt around his brother. The thought was suddenly comforting. As they approached the house, Sam saw the beam start to bounce forward as its owner walked toward the garage entrance.

Instinct had him clapping Mike on the chest, pushing the big man behind the remnant of wall by the house, hiding them from sight. Mike opened his mouth in protest and Sam slapped his hand across it, silencing him.

"Come on, honey," George was saying. "We have what we need… we can go now."

"You're not listening," Wren's soft voice washed over the two listeners. Sam heard the tears heavy in the words. "I do not want to go. I've always been here."

"No, honey, no, you only think you have. We need to go before that boy's brother comes looking for him."

Sam removed his hand from Mike's mouth, sending him an I told you so glance before looking back toward the garage. Wren was walking toward the house, her sightless, hesitant gait replaced by a focused, confident stride.

"Let him come," she said. "He's what I need."

"Wren, honey," George hurried after her, his flashlight bouncing along the ground. "You don't need anyone but me. You said so."

"I was wrong."

"I can take care of you," George caught up to her, grabbing her arms, turning her around. "I can watch out for you. Please, Camy—"

"George," Wren's voice chilled as it departed her lips, leaving an almost visible vapor trail in the wan starlight. "Camilla is dead. You made sure of that."

Mike gasped involuntarily, and Sam stiffened when Wren turned toward the sound.

"Go, go," Sam whispered, pushing Mike along the damaged wall, through the cluster of oleander, toward the back of the house.

In the shadow of the building, they pressed against the wall, catching their breath.

"What did I just hear?" Mike gasped, licking his lips nervously and looking over at Sam. "I did not just hear that."

"Yeah, you did." Sam leaned his head back against the wall. "Dean's here. He's here."

"Where?"

Sam craned his neck around the edge of the house. "Shit!" He turned, pushing at Mike with anxious hands, "Go, move, move."

Mike heeded Sam's frantic whisper, turning and sprinting around the edge of the house, skidding to a halt just before leaping over some debris from the blast. Sam saw what was about to happen even before Mike landed.

The pop of his right knee was audible in the quiet of the night; Mike's semi-stifled cry of pain ended when the big man came down on the rough tufts of grass, grabbing for his wounded appendage.

Sam sprinted close, trying to pull him up, trying to wrap an arm over his shoulder, trying to get away. He felt Mike tremble, felt the pain from his weakened leg shake through him. Sam couldn't lift Mike and hold the guns. He opted for Mike, leaving the shotgun in the dirt by the debris of the house.

"C'mon, man," Sam encouraged.

"M'bad leg, Sam…" Mike gasped, trying to push up on his left leg. "Oh, God, my leg."

"Sam?" Wren's voice drifted toward them in the dark and Sam looked up, seeing her pale skin reflect the starlight.

"Wren," he replied, wishing desperately that his voice didn't shake on her name.

"What… where are you going?"

Sam froze, holding the shaking PA close to him, realizing with sudden clarity that Wren was looking at him. Looking right at him.

"I see you've gotten your sight back."

Mike's head bounced up and he looked toward Wren, incredulous.

"It's amazing what remembering who you are will do for you," Wren said, stretching her arms to her sides as if embracing the chill of the night.

"You mean what you are," Sam snapped, trying to pull Mike back with him, conscious of the other man's haggard breathing.

Wren continued to move closer, her steps light, as if she were dancing in the dark. "Whatever helps you sleep at night, handsome. And you are, you know. So, so handsome. Everything about you is… desirable."

"Where is my brother?" Sam demanded, stumbling over a charcoal-covered piece of wood. Mike groaned as he put weight on his leg to help catch them.

"Around," Wren shrugged, lacing her fingers delicately in front of her body. "Remember that kiss, Sam? Remember how… amazing that was? How much you wanted to… climb inside of me?"

"Shut up," Sam snarled.

"You just wanted to wrap around me and keep me safe. Protect me."

"Stop it!"

"But I don't want to," Wren laughed. "That's just the thing. I forgot for awhile… forgot who I was and why I was here. Why I loved the sea. Why I needed George… but, Camilla, the darling, she helped me remember. For just a little bit, but then you, Sam… you brought it back. All in a… a rush." She wrapped her arms around herself, shimming her hands up her body to her face and tossing her head back in a thrilled tremor.

"Wh-where's George?" Mike gasped.

Wren's electric eyes snapped over Sam's shoulder at the same time that he heard the unmistakable click of a gun being cocked. He stopped his retreat, felt sweat break out on his upper lip and under his eyes.

"I'm right here, Mike," George's soft, mellow voice said from behind them.

Mike gripped Sam's arm, forcing them around, both staring agape at the old man holding a gun on them. Sam shook his head. How had he been so wrong about someone.

"I really thought you loved her," Sam said softly, feeling his sadness for Camilla's fate thick in his chest.

"I do love her."

"He's talking about Camilla, you bastard," Mike spat.

"I do love her," George repeated, stepping forward.

Sam held firm, the possibility of getting shot by a sixty-year-old man less of a threat to him than being seduced by a siren.

"Then why the hell'd you poison her?" Mike yelled. "You killed her, George. Killed Camy."

"No," George shook his head, looking confused, holding the gun steady. "No, I… the flowers were…"

"Deadly," Mike said, straightening up against Sam. "They were deadly, George. Camy knew about Wren, didn't she? She told you before the picnic. You didn't believe her, but Wren couldn't risk losing your trust. So she had you poison your wife."

"No…" the gun wavered in George's grip.

"George," Wren warned from behind them.

"No, I… she wanted to talk to me, she…" George brought his head up. "You hear that?"

Mike looked at Sam, who shook his head once.

"You hear that? Our song. I hear her. I can hear her!" George started forward, heading toward the house, cocked gun forgotten. He moved past Sam and Mike, who rotated to follow, and charged Wren, intent on getting back into his destroyed house.

"George!" Wren yelled. "You promised me! You said you would take care of me."

George faltered, listening to the honey sound of her voice, stumbling in his flight.

"I—"

"George," Mike said. "Camy's calling you!"

"You shut up!" Wren rasped at Mike.

Sam winced. Her voice, when she hissed at Mike, felt like the tips of sharpened nails scraping along his spine. Mike started to pull away from him, limping heavily on his left leg, intent on getting through to his friend.

"George, go to her, don't listen to this bitch. Go to Camy."

"George, don't you dare!" Wren whipped around, her hand reaching out, nails growing into impossibly long, impossibly sharp talons, grabbing George's arm.

Sam took one step sideways, thinking only that he had to find his brother, when the shot rang out. He jerked violently at the unexpected sound, blinking through the sulfuric haze of gun smoke at George's shocked face. It wasn't until Mike slipped completely from his grasp that Sam realized the older man had been hit.

"Oh, God," Sam uttered, dropping to the ground with Mike. "Mike, no, don't you do this."

Mike gasped, his hand on his side, looking almost gray in the faint light. He tipped his hand up and they both stared in horror at the stain of blood, black in the starlight, on his side.

"Mike…" Sam breathed. "You listen to me. Listen!" Mike blinked at him, his eyes wide. "You're getting out of this, you hear me? You're going home."

"Get your brother," Mike rasped. "Go find him."

Sam looked up at George. "Help me get him in the house," he ordered. George stared at the talon-slices in his arm, the gun hanging limply from his age-spotted hand. "George!" Sam snapped. "Get over here. Help me."

Wren took a step back, looking as torn and shaken as the rest of them over what had just transpired. Sam had to take a moment to remember that she had been living as a human—that she knew these people. She reached for her throat, delicate—human—fingers searching for her locket.

George obeyed Sam, helping to lift a groaning Mike to his feet, as Sam watched Wren flounder.

"You're not gonna find it," he grunted. "Whoever that charm belonged to, whatever they meant to you, it's as gone as they are."

Wren looked over at Sam and her eyes seemed to grow, widening, hardening until they seemed to take up half of her face, turning from the luminescent blue he'd become accustomed to, to a hard, cold yellow. He drew back with an involuntary gasp, tightening his grip on Mike's sagging form. With a shriek that shook all three of them to their core, Wren spread her arms wide.

The darkness blurred and when Sam blinked again, the three men were alone in the yard.

"Guys," Mike whispered. "A little help…"

"Right," Sam shook himself. "C'mon, man, into the house."

"She's in there," George almost wept. "She's going to take her from me again."

Sam was dizzy trying to figure out who George was referring to being taken: Camy or Wren? His pity only went so far.

"You two took something from me," he growled as they moved Mike across the rubble-strewn yard. "And I want him back."

"He's in the tunnels," George gasped as Mike slumped, forcing them to bear his weight. "She left him in the tunnels."

"Tunnels?"

"Underground," George said as they stepped over what was left of the threshold.

They eased Mike to the ground and Sam scampered to the back of the dark house, pulling down curtains and bringing them back. He pressed them against the hole on Mike's side, causing the healer to cry out.

"Sorry," Sam said sincerely. "I'm so sorry, man."

"S'okay," Mike gasped, putting his blood-soaked, shaking hand over the make-shift bandage. "Go—"

The figure dropped among them without warning. Sam felt the reverberations slide through the air a few seconds before her scream pierced his skull.

"Shit! Mike, cover your ears!"

Sam did the same, curling over himself and trying with his whole being to block out the sound of death.

www

Hotel, Nebraska, 1994

It took me a minute to realize that it was Sam's scream that jolted me out of a sound sleep. One minute, I'm dreaming about Ellie Walker and her sweet-tasting lips, the next I feel as though I've just fallen on top of my bed from a great height, landing hard enough to jostle my lungs free of air.

I pant for a moment, unsure why I'm conscious until I hear him whimper, his voice rough from the ragged edge of a scream I realize I missed.

I sit up, looking over at the bed next to the wall, thankful that he's still lying there and not moving toward the door. Dad must be out, or he would be standing at the foot of Sam's bed, the worry drawing lines on his face that I would want to erase.

I toss the heavy covers free and swing my legs over the edge of the bed, watching my brother thrash in the throes of a nightmare. His hair is sweaty, plastered to his face, his mouth turned down in a frown, his lower lip protruding and giving him an air of one years younger.

"Sam," I whisper, but am answered only by another whimper. I stand, move across the narrow space that separates us, then sit on the edge of his bed. "Sam."

He jerks roughly, pulling away from my comforting hand.

"Gotta get out, Dean, gotta get out… it's gonna get us… don't let it get us, Dean, don't let it get you… please, Dean, don't leave me alone…"

"Sam!" I shake him, forcing him free of terror's grip.

He opens his eyes on a gasp, pushing up in the bed on sweaty hands.

"Dean?"

"I'm here, man. I'm right here."

"Where are we?"

I shrug. "Motel somewhere. Nebraska, I think."

"Dad here?"

"Not right now," I say, watching fear turn his face ghost-white. "But he'll be back."

He wipes the sweat from his face with trembling hands and my heart quakes. He's just a kid. His hands should not tremble in the dead of night. Not from fear.

"You thirsty?" I ask.

"Yeah."

"Don't move."

"'K."

I stand and fill a small plastic cup with water from the bathroom faucet, then turn to my duffel, digging out the newspaper-wrapped dream catcher. I return to him, handing him the water first. He finishes it in one breath.

"I got something for you," I say, sitting once more on the edge of his bed.

"Yeah?" He looks at the package warily. "Did I forget a birthday?"

I grin. "No, dumbass. I made it for you."

"Why?"

"'Cause I'm an awesome big brother," I say. "You want it or not?"

"Yeah, I want it," Sam snaps.

"You gotta do something for me, though."

He lifts an eyebrow. I know he's picked this up from me, but the baby face that still rounds his face makes him look comical, not threatening.

"Oh yeah?" He says.

"You have to forget about that night."

I expect him to question which of the many nights of terror we've experienced I could possibly be referring to, but he doesn't. Instead, he drops his eyes, and I see his chin tremble.

"Sam?"

"I was so scared, Dean. I've never been scared like that before."

My chest tightens when a tear falls.

"I know, man," I say softly.

"I thought… I thought it was going to get you 'cause you wouldn't leave me."

I blinked. He'd been afraid for me?

"It didn't get me, Sam. Dad got it first."

"Yeah, but—"

"Listen to me," I say, rough enough to draw his eyes. "They can't get us, okay? We're the good guys."

"The good guys," he repeats, sniffing.

"Let that bastard go, Sam," I order. "It's gone, and it's never coming back."

"Gone," he nods, doing his best to reign in the tears.

"Forget it ever happened, okay?"

"Okay," he agrees. "Can I have my present now?"

"You gotta promise first."

He sighs, and I smile inside as I'm rewarded with the eye roll I'd been waiting for.

"I promise."

"Okay, here."

I watch nervously as he opens the dream catcher. It's not as nice as the one Pastor Jim made me, and even I can see the clumsy knots in the resin-covered thread. But Sam's eyes light up and his remaining tears slip down his face to disappear in the corners of his smile, filling his dimples with gossamer.

"Cool, Dean!"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks, man!"

"Wherever we go, you keep this with you, and you won't have any more bad dreams, okay?"

"Promise?"

"I promise," I say with the conviction bred of those who know that lies have to be told to preserve the innocent. "And if any ever slip through, I'll be here to fight 'em back."

"I know you will," Sam says shyly. "Good guys, right?"

"All the way, man."

www

There was dirt in his mouth.

He spat, irritated, before he opened his eyes, knowing instinctively that the darkness would be waiting for him.

Son of a bitch, he thought as the tape denied his lips movement.

His fingertips tingled from the tension his position put on his chained hands. Using his forehead as leverage, he pushed himself up.

Enough of this shit, Dean growled silently. He was done with being in pain, being freakin' helpless. He was getting out of this hell. Pushing himself to his knees he puffed air through his nose, trying to wiggle feeling back into his fingers. He could feel some play in the bolt that held him against the post.

Swaying back and forth, he ignored the now-dried blood on his shoulder as the cuts pulled with motion and worked his chain against the bolt. To distract himself from the pain, Dean reverted to the only thing that had saved him in the past.

"Prison gates won't open up for me. On these hands and knees I'm crawling… I reach for you. I'm terrified of these four walls, these iron bars can't hold my soul in…"

His lips stuck tight to the tape, his breath puffing out in what was most likely a tuneless hum, the lyrics and melody memories only, trapped in his muted head. He felt the bolt give slightly and pulled his feet beneath him, sweat beading on his face and rolling in rivers down his already-slicked back. He panted as he hummed, the words thumping inside of him like a heartbeat.

"Show me what it's like… to be the last one standing…teach me wrong from right… and I'll show you what I can be…"

The bolt gave with a suddenness that felt like a physical pop, dropping Dean unceremoniously on his face. He spat dirt, sniffing the wet spring of blood back as he turned his face in the dust, laughing in pained triumph.

Take that you feathered FREAK!

Panting slightly, he caught his breath and on an elongated groan of pain, pulled his hands as far apart as the chains allowed. Taking another deep breath through his nose, he pulled his legs as close to his chest as he could, stretching his sore arms long and pulled the chains over his feet, falling on his back with his chained hands on his chest the moment he was able to de-pretzel himself.

The second he caught his breath, Dean reached up and pulled the tape from his mouth, calling out into the darkness with a guttural cry, "FREEDOM!"

For a moment, he lay panting, pulling stale air into his mouth, rolling it around, licking his lips, laughing maniacally.

"That was for you, Sammy," he rasped, thinking of the song he'd chosen to encourage himself. "Damn emo rock."

Rolling to his side, he pushed himself to a trembling stance on his hands and knees, head hanging low. He concentrated on the sensations left to him: touch, feel, taste.

His mouth was dry, the copper taste of blood at the back of his throat. His fingers were buried in centuries-old dirt, and he wouldn't be surprised if he encountered a bone or two if he continued to explore. He could smell dirt, metal, and the stir of stale air.

"You can't beat me, you bitch," he muttered toward the ground, panting through a dizzying wave of heat. "I won't let you."

Don't be scared, Dean.

His hands tethered to the heavy metal of the chain, Dean inched back to where he remembered the post to be. Feeling along in the dirt, the tips of his fingers hit the worn wood. Nodding simply to feel himself respond, he felt along the post until he encountered what felt like a wall.

Pausing, he listened to his heart. Literally. The steady beat shushed through the hollow of his wounded ears, pushing pain against his temples, heat behind his eyes, and reassuring him with the sound of his life. Taking a breath, he put his bloody shoulder against the wall, keeping his fingers against the rock and dirt littered ground, then moved forward.

"Please don't let there be anything down here but me," he whispered to the silence wrapping around him as thick as the dark.

Don't be scared, Dean.

www

His swore hi ears were bleeding.

He could almost feel it seeping like sap from a cut oak, running down the sides of his neck, trickling along the insides of his wrists as he pressed his hands harder against his ears.

And suddenly, there was silence.

Tentatively, Sam removed his hands, blinking, looking around in a daze.

"Wren?" he called, just to reassure himself that he could still hear his own voice.

"Think… think she's gone," Mike gasped.

Sam looked down at the medic, pressing the cloth curtain over his wound once more.

"Hold that there, man," he said, wincing as his jaw popped with his words. "You're going to be okay."

"Who… who you trying to convince?"

Sam turned from Mike's gray face to look for George.

"Oh, God," he whispered, finding the slumped form of the old man against what was left of a bookshelf. "George…"

Crawling across the broken pieces of the Coopers' life, Sam reached the elderly man, turning him over and drawing back in horror and sorrow. George's eyes were open, staring blankly up at Sam, doll-eyes that saw no more pain. Blood had streamed from the tear ducts, flooding his face, burying itself in the creases time had worn across his skin.

A dark trickle of blood seeped from the corner of his mouth, and as Sam rested his hand on the old man's chest, he felt the bones give as if George had been hollowed out.

"I'm sorry, man," he whispered. "I'm sorry we couldn't save you."

"He… okay?" Mike gasped from across the room.

"No," Sam replied, raising his voice so that Mike could hear.

"Dammit," Mike cursed, and Sam heard him drop his head back. "He loved her, man. He loved both of them."

"One tried to save him, the other destroyed him," Sam agreed, easing George down to lay among the broken pieces of his life with Camilla. Frowning, he ticked his head to the side, hearing what he thought was a radio. "You leave the radio on in your truck?"

"No," Mike shook his head. "I hear it, too."

"What is it?"

"Wind chimes?" Mike guessed, pushing himself up on a shaking elbow.

Sam stood, wiping the sweat from his upper lip with the back of his unbandaged hand. "No… it's… humming."

"Your brother?"

Sam looked sharply at Mike. "The tunnels."

"You know where the entrance is?"

Sam shook his head. "I never got that far."

The sound increased, seeming to fluctuate like the sound of waves hitting the shore.

"Holy shit," Mike breathed. "It's their song. We're hearing their song."

"What?"

"Moonlight Serenade, man. You ever hear of Glenn Miller?"

"Sure, I've heard of him, but—" He stopped, listening hard. "I'll be damned."

"Follow it," Mike ordered.

"What about you?"

"Dammit, Sam," Mike groaned, pressing his hand tighter to his bleeding side. "Do you always have to argue? Just follow the damn music! Get your brother back."

Sam stared at him a moment longer. "You better be here when I get back."

"Hurry it up, then."

Sam turned, holding his breath, following the sound of the humming. As he moved through the house, he stepped over books, glass, pieces of chair and couch… and dozens of dead birds. It was as if they were drawn to this place, but slammed into a barrier of resistance the moment they encountered the power within.

As he listened, the humming led him to the back room, a mudroom it appeared, and an almost-hidden door in the wooden floor. The moment he wrapped his hand around the clasp, the humming ceased. Sam lifted his face to the empty room.

"Thanks, Camy," he said. Around him, he felt the house sigh.

Lifting the creaking door, he grunted, holding it up with his shoulder, and searched for a ladder. If there had been one, it was long gone. He had no idea how deep the hole was; the bottom was covered with the light-swallowing emptiness of black. But Dean was down there.

"Here goes nothin'," he muttered, tipping the door up all the way, grasping the edge of the floor, and swinging low. He dropped about four feet to the dirt floor below.

Even with the door above him open letting in the shimmer of the night, it was pitch dark around him. Sam swallowed, trying desperately not to think of his brother trapped in this darkness, silence his only companion. He wanted to call out, to search for Dean through the only means at his disposal—his voice.

But it was useless in the suffocating stillness of sound that encompassed Dean's reality. Crouching low, Sam began to crawl, feeling his way toward a wall, then putting his shoulder against the wall, and crawled through the darkness as fast as he dared.

"Please let Dean be the only other thing down here with me," he whispered to the darkness.

Pausing occasionally to hold his breath and listen, Sam made his way as quickly as he dared down the tunnel. When he heard the labored breathing ahead of him, he felt himself go dizzy with relief.

He'd found him.

Without thinking, he crawled faster, reaching out and grabbing Dean's ankle, feeling the predictable shape of the throwing knife in its sheath.

"Son of a bitch!" Dean bellowed, rolling quickly and thrusting his foot out in a desperate fight for freedom.

"Wait, Dean, don't! It's me—" Sam started before his brother's boot caught him in his mid-section and air vacated his lungs in a quick rush. Sam tumbled back, reaching up in automatic defense, knowing the next move would be Dean on top of him, hands at his throat.

He didn't anticipate the chains.

The heavy weight of metal at his throat, wrapped so tightly around his brother's wrists that Sam could feel the blood slicking the links, cut off his air, choking Sam with his own saliva.

"De—" he tried, digging his fingers into his brother's forearms above the bruising wrap of chain. The darkness was complete. He couldn't make Dean hear him; Dean couldn't see him. Desperate, Sam kicked his knee up, catching Dean between the legs and sending him to his side with a pained gasp.

"Dean," Sam rasped, holding his bruised throat and rolling toward his brother. "It's me, man."

Dean was groaning, but his fight wasn't out. Sam could feel his anger, his frustration for being cloaked in darkness in more ways than one. He heard the jangle of chains as Dean swept his hand out, and ducked one second too late, the swinging end of chains, and Dean's tethered hand catching him in a glancing blow across the cheek bone and opening his skin.

"Dammit, Dean!" Sam cried out, grabbing his face, feeling the wet slick of blood.

He swung his leg astride his brother's torso, putting his knees in Dean's shoulders, knowing he was causing his brother pain, but desperate to get his attention. In what he knew would be a familiar gesture, he pressed his knees down hard, then fumbled his touch down Dean's features until he reached his brother's nose, squeezing it lightly.

"Sam?" Dean squeaked, stilling.

Sam relaxed, collapsing forward, and rolled off of Dean, his back hitting the dirt wall.

"Sammy?"

Sam's throat closed at the name, the sound of youth and hope in Dean's voice. He reached out clumsily to grasp Dean's chain-linked hands, pressing his brother's fingers to his cheek. And smiled. Dean's fingers dipped once into his dimples and he felt his brother's whole being relax.

"You okay?" Dean asked as Sam felt him scoot closer in the darkness.

Keeping Dean's hand on his face, Sam nodded. They were completely cut off from each other, no hope of hearing, no way to read lips, no way to connect. Except, there was. Carefully, Sam felt along Dean's hands, his fingers tripping along the wrapped chains on Dean's wrists, hissing as he felt the grooved wounds in his brother's skin.

"Hang on, Dean," Sam whispered his chant aloud. "Hang in there, man."

Sam felt his brother go still, holding his hands steady so that Sam could unwrap the bindings. It took longer than Sam wanted, the knowledge that Mike lay bleeding somewhere above him heavy on his mind. But, his brother was bleeding in front of him. He'd felt the slick slide of sticky blood from the gouges the chains had created. He'd felt the wounds on Dean's neck and shoulder give as they wrestled.

"You believe me now?" Dean asked softly as the chain finally fell away, freeing his hands completely.

Sam put Dean's hand on the side of his face, nodding again.

"About freakin' time," Dean sighed. "You ready to get out of here?"

Sam nodded again, then froze.

"What?" Dean asked, as though he actually expected an answer he could understand.

Sam had been so focused on Dean not strangling him, he lost track in the dark of which way was out. He felt his breath begin to pick up speed as he turned one way, then the other, encountering pitch blackness from both angles.

"Sammy… hey. Hey! Sam." Dean demanded his attention, somehow sensing his panic in the darkness and silence around him. Sam put his brother's hand on his face again to show that he had it. "I know which way to go, okay?"

Sam tilted his head, asking Dean how? with the motion.

"I can smell the air," Dean said, and Sam heard the smile in his voice.

"Son of a bitch," Sam breathed.

Dean twisted his hand in Sam's grip, putting Sam's hand at the end tail of his shirt, then started to crawl forward. "Don't you lose me, man," Dean muttered as he pushed his shoulder against the wall, crawling forward.

Dean didn't like to be alone, that much Sam knew. Alone in the quiet in a crowd of people. Alone in the quiet, surrounded by darkness… it would be a version of hell for his brother that Sam didn't want to contemplate. He held tightly to Dean's shirt, shifting forward as Dean did, following in his brother's strides, as he'd always done.

After several minutes of measured breaths, pauses to gasp, inadvertent groans of pain and frustration, Sam realized that the air around him had turned gray. Dean had led them not back to the house, but to the exit of the tunnel. Sam could smell the sea. He could hear the rush of the water as it raced itself for shore.

It has no memory.

"You see that?" Dean asked, not expecting an answer. "We're almost out, Sammy. You just stay with me, okay?"

Sam looked at his brother's back, catching his breath at the gore there. Dirt and blood mingled to a paste and sweat plastered the whole mess to the shape of muscle along Dean's spine. As the gray continued to lighten, they pushed their way to their feet, stumbling along the cobwebby, cloistered space until the pre-dawn light greeted them.

They exited what looked like a moss-coved cave entrance, hidden from sight for all intents and purposes. Dean leaned on the entry way, his face drawn, his breath coming in stuttered gasps, blood from his wrists dripping from the tips of his fingers. But he was there. He was alive.

"We made it," Sam said weakly, smiling at his brother, for one brief moment, believing in miracles.

Until she hit him from above, her song folding his heart, her cry tearing at his eyes.

www

"Sam!" Dean cried as the figure slammed his brother to the ground. "Sam, don't listen to her! Cover your ears, man!"

But she'd struck too fast, Dean could see. Sam's mouth opened in a scream as Dean watched the siren's song sliced into his brother's heart, bleeding his will from his eyes. She wanted him, but Sam was denying her. And he was paying the price with his blood.

"Over my freakin' dead body," Dean growled low, charging the siren in an unsteady gait as his world swam around him. He body-slammed her away from Sam, landing hard on top of her slim, unnaturally strong body.

Wren's eyes were large, hard, her skin pulled taut against protruding cheekbones. Dean saw her mouth open in a cry, and smiled. "Won't work on me, sweetheart. You blew my ears to hell and back, remember?"

He grabbed at her neck, squeezing as her eyes widened, her talons reached for him.

"You want to be a fuckin' spirit clad in a veil?" He grunted, dodging her talons, rolling her further from Sam. "You want to hide in plain sight, pretending you're one of us? You want to forget what you are?"

Wren's eyes flashed and for one moment Dean was caught by her desperation, her desire to escape, her need for companionship, the eternal seeking for someone like her, someone to be with her, someone that wouldn't leave her lonely. That moment gutted him, turning him cold, left him hollow until the sound of his heart, the rasp of his breathing echoed through all of him, not just his ears.

"You want to be saved?" Dean whispered, knowing she heard him, knowing she took it in. Tightening his grip, he rolled again, feeling the rocks of the shoreline digging into his already bruised back.

Smelling the closeness of the sea, the salt and the brine and the freedom, Dean pulled Wren's delicate, human face close to his, his lips a breath away from hers.

"I'm two steps from being saved, sweetheart," he said, his mouth brushing her icy skin, her breath brushing against him as it stuttered from her captured throat. "But I'm only taking one."

Another roll and the salt water stung his back. Clasping her tightly against him, Dean watched as the siren cried, her song beating silent wings against his wounded ears, her fight one she wasn't going to win. Wren's skin folded away, shivering and shuddering and turning into slick, black feathers. Dean gripped harder, refusing to let go. Refusing to give in.

He felt her panic, felt her buck beneath him as the sea tugged them closer, felt the tide drag them together into the roll of the undertow. He caught his breath and held on as Wren's true form emerged, her talons, digging deep into his shoulders, her feathers slick against his skin, his face, her cold, yellow eyes staring into his as they were dragged under.

He held on, rolling with the sea as it caught her, seduced her, pulled her back into its embrace, drowning her scream, absorbing her into its history. As she was ripped from his embrace, arms reaching back toward him, Dean was amazed that the water buoyed him. He was suspended in the drift, lungs aching, eyes stinging, wounds burning, left to watch as the siren returned to the sea.

Dean kicked for the surface, thankful that it wasn't far, breaching the water with a gasping cough and a cry of, "Sam!"

He could barely move his arms. His chest ached to the point of tears. His cuts, old and new, were on fire. But still he pushed until he could touch, pushed until he crawled wet and shivering from the hold of the sea, pushed until the stones of the shore dug into his knees and his palms.

His back to the silent thunder of the most powerful force on earth, Dean crawled weakly toward the place he'd last seen his brother, nearly weeping when he saw Sam, face bloody, body trembling, crawling back toward him. The tears of blood Wren had drawn on Sam's face were now tracks of victory. When the brothers met on the rough, rock-strewn beach, they saw the badges of honor each had carried through the fight.

Sam reached up and gently clasped the back of Dean's neck, pressing his forehead against Dean's, closing his eyes. Dean kept his open, watching for some sign, some indication of Sam's words, not wanting to miss them. Not wanting to miss anything.

They won't get us, Sam said, his lips lazy with exhaustion, not completely closing around the words, parted with pain.

Dean nodded, his dirt and blood-smeared forehead rubbing against his brother's.

"They won't get us, Sammy," he panted. "We're the good guys."

Before Dean could protest, Sam grabbed him close, pulling him up hard against his shoulder, and clapped him once on the back. Dean was unable to bite back a quick bleat of pain, just as Sam dropped away, falling to his back, and closed his bloody eyes against the light of morning. Strength depleted, Dean collapsed gratefully to his side, his pounding head near Sam's hand, his burning gaze on the horizon.

Sam reached over blindly, grabbing Dean's hand in a thumb-to-thumb grip, and pressed the back of his hand against his chest. Dean smiled, feeling solace in the beat of his brother's heart.

It wasn't over, Dean knew. Not by a long shot. But they were alive.

Breathing in the sweaty, familiar scent of his brother, Dean watched the sun crest the eastern horizon, turning the sea into the coppery color of old blood and promises, as sound slammed through him, turning his gasps of recovered breath into cries for relief.