Rating: PG-13


Chapter 2

"Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."

~Albert Einstein


Maera, Texas 2005

The problem with killing was that he could never get rid of the blood.

No matter how much he washed, he was never really clean. He smelled it on his clothes, felt it on his skin, tasted it in his food. As he sat at the counter now, listening to the low hum of conversation around him, he forced himself to swallow another mouthful of blood-flavored coffee.

He was losing them; he could feel it. They'd stayed with him over these past several weeks, their eyes dulling, their skin paling, their smiles vanishing. This morning had been the fourth life—if one could call it that—he'd taken, this afternoon would be the fourth hide they'd have to skin from a live calf, and tonight would be the fourth attempt at this goddamned ritual that had thus far left them all shaking, weak, and winded, but still in this town, in this time.

They'd tried it inside the Devil's Trap in the middle of the open plain. They'd tried it in the confines of his motel room. They'd tried it in the graveyard of the old church. Tonight they'd go to the Mission. San Jose de Valero was, for all intents and purposes, abandoned. Once a place of refuge and healing, the building began to crumble when the last priest died. Now and then, a candle or two could be seen burning, but without the funding and tourist trade of Missions like the Alamo, the old Missions were dying and would soon be nothing more than a name in a history book.

But it was still holy ground.

And that was the element Jake was sure they were missing. That and the blood of an innocent. The first three times, he'd been convinced that he'd had to get the blood of a virgin; it was one place he'd drawn the line. He'd been unable to cut a child and had replaced that bit of the ritual with lamb's blood.

It had been good enough for washing away sins in the Old Testament.

But he wasn't working from the Bible. These were rules written by devils and he knew now that he had to be truly devious if he were to succeed. Innocent didn't necessarily mean young; it could simply mean someone who had not taken a life.

The bell above the diner door bounced and Jake looked up from the cup of coffee cooling in his hands. Leo entered and nodded once, acknowledging him, then veered to the left, away from the counter, to sit alone at a booth. Jake watched from the corner of his eyes as a waitress brought his friend a menu and a cup of coffee. He turned back to his own cup, feeling the cold arms of solitude squeeze tighter.

When the bell bounced against the door a second time, Jake didn't look up.

"Help you?" The waitress' drawl was slow and sleepy and made Jake want to drop his head into his arms on the counter top.

"Two coffees, please," returned a rough-edged, young-sounding voice.

Jake sensed the motion of two men sliding onto the stools at the far end of the counter. He began to trace the swirled pattern in the Formica countertop, mentally repeating the steps to the ritual, trying to convince himself it would work this time. He had the coin from 1870. He had the piece of human brain that controlled the body's perception of time. He had the map marked with the location. He had the herbs and the—

"Get you anything else?"

—symbols and the blood and the words and the time—

"Yeah. Guy at the gas station said you might know where we could find a Leo Dent?"

What the hell?

Jake jerked his head to the right before he could catch himself. Two seats down, near the exit, sat two young guys—no older than Sean had been—dressed in jeans, boots, and T-shirts, looking road-worn and hungry. One wore a leather jacket that gave him an edge and was watching the waitress expectantly; there was something in lines on his face that Jake recognized. Something familiar.

The guy was a soldier. Or a cop. He wasn't asking out of simply curiosity.

"That's him, there," the waitress said, pointing to the table where Leo sat, back to the door as always—a habit neither Max nor Jake had been able to break him of—calmly reading the latest USA Today.

Jake watched the guy smile, a warm thank-you that held just enough possibility he'd be welcomed back for more should he need it. The quiet one—obviously younger of the two—stood first and his hazel eyes tracked the room quickly, instinctively as his partner paid for the coffees. Jake felt his heartbeat quicken. He needed to get Leo out of there. Somehow, they'd been found out. Somehow, they'd been caught.

And he wasn't about to let Leo take the fall.

As the duo crossed the small diner, Jake tensed, working out just how quickly he could snatch his friend and get back to Max's truck before—

"Leo Dent?"

Same voice as before. The shorter one did all the talking for this pair, it seemed.

"Somethin' I can do for you boys?" Leo replied, calmly.

In their trio, Leo was the cat in a roomful of rocking chairs. He was always the first to throw down a statement of doubt, uncertainty, caution. During the war, the men in their unit had nicknamed him What If. But when the situation called for it, Leo played it as smooth as any hunter Jake had ever met. That chameleon-like quality that had saved Jake a time or two. He almost wanted to turn and watch ol' Leo grind these two into mush.

"I think it's more what we can do for you."

"Oh?" Leo said. "And what's that?"

"You called our dad," came a different voice. The taller of the pair had a softer tone, a gentler quality in how he presented his words.

"Son, I don't know what you're talking—"

"Name's Winchester," interrupted the gruff-voiced partner. "I'm Dean. This is my brother, Sam. You called our dad," he repeated.

"You're…," Leo's voice caught as he tried to find the words. "You're John Winchester's boys?"

"Yessir," the two replied in unison.

Jake realized he'd stopped breathing. His lips began to tingle. He focused on the coffee cup, watching the ripples roll toward the center as the cup bounced off his suddenly shaking hand.

They'd turned on him. No way Leo did this on his own. They'd called for help. They didn't trust him anymore.

"Let's…we gotta…how about we take this outside?" Leo was saying, his voice shaking almost as much as Jake's hands.

Jake held perfectly still as the door bell bounced once, twice, and then he turned, making sure his best friend, his partner, a man as close as any brother, saw the betrayal sitting heavy in his eyes as he turned.

With a now-familiar sense of cold satisfaction, Jake turned back toward the counter, not watching as Leo left with John Winchester's sons.


"You okay, man?" Dean asked, reaching out to steady the other man as he stumbled free of the diner.

"Fine," Leo replied tersely. He pulled off his round glasses, his eyes appearing smaller without them, and used the edge of his buttoned-down shirt to clean the lenses. "You got a car nearby?"

Dean nodded, then led the way to the Impala. As Leo climbed into the back, Dean shared a look with Sam across the roof of the car before sliding behind the wheel.

"Drive," Leo ordered.

"Any particular—"

"Just drive!"

"Alllrighty then," Dean muttered, turning on the engine. Both he and Sam flinched as Boston's Don't Look Back pounded from the speakers. Dean darted a finger quickly at the power button and shut it off. "Sorry about that."

"Where's John?" Leo asked as Dean backed out of the parking space.

"He's, uh," Dean shot a look at Sam, noting how his brother kept his eye on the side mirror, angled at just the right slant to see into the backseat from the passenger side. "He's on a job."

The main street of Maera was wide, slanted parking on either side of the main road offering the illusion of increased width. The buildings were stone, brick, or stucco with years dating back to 1868 carved into the worn fronts. Dean saw one stop light hung low over the street roughly two blocks up. It was blinking yellow.

"Close by?"

"Not exactly."

"Son of a bitch," Leo muttered, slamming his back against the rear seat. "I shoulda known that bastard wouldn't have—"

"Hey!" Dean snapped, a frown pulling his brows low and puckering the nearly-healed cuts on his forehead. He jerked the wheel to the right, stopping the Impala along the side of the road. "You got about ten seconds to tell me why my brother and I just hauled our asses down here."

Leo met his eyes in the rear view mirror. "My guess is because your daddy told you to."

Pressing his tongue against his teeth, Dean looked over at Sam who shook his head in return.

"Okay, we're done." Dean jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Nice chattin' with you Leo. Get out."

"What? No!"

Dean twisted in the seat, registering in the back of his mind that the motion tugged uncomfortably on the sutured skin along his side, and slung his elbow over the back, pinning Leo with a don't bullshit me look.

"What is your problem, dude?"

Leo's eyes slipped from Dean over to Sam and back. Dean knew his brother had fixed the same stone-cold stare on this man as he had, and would have smiled at the ease in which they'd returned to the natural pattern of breathing for the other one if it wouldn't have totally ruined the impact.

"How…how do I know I can trust you?" Leo asked.


"You can trust us," Sam replied, his tone matching Dean's.

Leo rubbed his face, his fingers pushing his glasses up onto his sweaty forehead. "Son of a bitch," he repeated, this time with a note of exhausted defeat in his voice.

Dean felt his resolve softening at that tone. "Listen, man," he said, ducking his chin to catch Leo's eyes with his. "Dad said you were in trouble. Said you wouldn't have called if you weren't. He'd be here if he could. He can't, so he sent us."

"The next best thing," Sam chimed in.

Dean sent Sam a mental fist-bump, but kept his eyes on Leo. They waited, silently watching, as Leo looked out through the side window, down at his hands, past them, then back at their faces.

"This isn't easy," he started.

The brothers remained quiet.

"I didn't tell the others that I called John," Leo continued, looking back down at his hands. "And Jake," he shook his head. "He's not gonna understand."

Dean adjusted his position, the burn in his side becoming distracting, and caught the sympathetic look on Sam's face. Three, two, one…

"Why don't you just start at the beginning," Sam encouraged, his voice pitched low.

Dean looked back at Leo, expecting the older man to tumble head-first into Sam's invitation. He was surprised when instead the man's face tightened with anger.

"The beginning? You want me to start from the beginning?" Leo snapped, his eyes going dark and dangerous.

Dean resisted the urge to put a hand on Sam's arm and draw him out of harm's way.

"Boy, this all started before you were an idea. Your daddy might be a good hunter, but compared to Jake…he's a fuckin' rookie, get me?"

To his credit, Sam simply blinked back, waiting. Dean took his cue from his brother, tempering the urge to shove his fist down this guy's throat for speaking about his father in such a way.

"Max and me have been hunting with Jake since before either of you were born," Leo said, sagging with the words, "and I'm about to... I can't…I don't even know why I called John…."

"Because you need help," Dean supplied. "Help we can give you."

Leo looked at him. "You don't want any part of this, boy."

"Why?" Sam pressed. "What's going on, Leo?"

Leo swallowed; the force of it echoing loudly in the confines of the car. "You boys know anything about demons?"

Dean glanced quickly at his brother, watching with cold fear as Sam's face paled slightly, his eyes widening as he registered the significance of the question.

"We know enough," Dean replied.

Leo huffed out a merciless laugh. "Well, that answers my question." He put his hand on the door handle.

"Wait!" Dean reached out to stop him. "We aren't gonna just…go away, y'know. Either you tell us, or we'll figure it out on our own."

Leo rolled his lips against his teeth. Time sifted between them as the brothers watched Leo decide. Without looking back at them, directing his voice to the floor, he said, "Jake, Max, and I…tortured and exorcised a demon about a month ago."

"Tortured?" Sam asked in a hushed voice. "Why?"

"So that we could get the elements of a ritual from it."

"A ritual for…," Dean prompted.

Leo looked up. "Time travel."

Dean barked out a quick laugh; he couldn't help it. At the bleak look in Leo's eyes, he sobered quickly. "Oh, wait…you're…you're serious?"

"It's a ritual that calls for the suprachiasmatic nucleas of an immortal—"

"Hold up, the what now?" Dean interrupted.

"—the hide of a live calf, blood of an innocent, agrimony, mandrake, and patchouli—"

"Okay, now, that I recognize," Dean mumbled.

"—and it all has to combine at midnight with a phrase spoken over it in Latin."

"So, what, no DeLorean? No space-time continuum? You run out of flux capacitors?"

"Dean," Sam warned.

"What, Sam? Tell me you don't think this is crazy. Even for us."

Sam sighed and faced him. "It doesn't matter what I think," he said patiently, his eyes level as he tossed familiar words back at Dean. "He believes it and right now, that's all that matters."

Shaking his head, Dean looked back over the seat at Leo. "So, you're saying all these…these cattle mutilations and symbols burned into the ground and that shit—that's you guys?"

Leo nodded. "Tonight will be the fourth attempt."

"Well, this is just…freakin' fabulous."

"Why did you call Dad?" Sam asked. "Not…not to…help you with the ritual?"

Dean blinked in surprise. The thought hadn't even occurred to him.

"No," Leo shook his head, sadness aging his face with lines drawn from his eyes to the bow of his mouth. "I called him," he took a shaking breath, his voice barely audible, "to help me stop Jake from doing this."

"How are you planning to do that?" Dean asked.

Leo opened the door. "Kill him," he said, then exited the car, slamming the door shut behind him.

Dean gaped at Leo's retreating form, unable to string together a coherent reply.

"Oh…boy," Sam breathed.

"You can say that again," Dean eased around to face the front. He slid the gear into drive and pulled out onto the road, continuing down the block.

"You think we should call Dad?"

Dean started to nod, then shook his head.

"Why not?"

"He's got a lead on the demon, right? Or the way to kill it?"

"So he said," Sam conceded.

"Last time we called him for help we almost got him killed," Dean pointed out.

"But these are his friends," Sam replied.

Dean shook his head again. "I don't think so, Sam. I've never heard of them—have you?"


"I think they just know him," Dean continued. "Maybe they served with him, who knows. But…I don't think it's worth risking him."

"Oh, but it's okay to risk us, huh?"

Dean shot his brother a look as he rounded the block and headed back toward the diner. "You scared, Sammy?"

"You wish," Sam shot back, shoving a fist against Dean's shoulder.

Dean was about to fire back a barbed retort when he noticed Sam's gaze fixed on something through the front windshield.

"What is it?"

"That's Leo," Sam jutted his chin forward.

Dean pulled off to the side of the road in the shadow of a storefront and slouched low in the seat, watching. Leo had his hands on his hips, his head bent as another man confronted him, anger turning his face ruddy. As the unknown man continued to press his apparently Very Important Point at Leo, a faded red pick-up pulled up and a third man jumped out.

"Gangs all here," Dean whispered, watching as the third man pulled off a sweat-stained Stetson and revealed a thick shock of white hair to match his handlebar mustache. "Dude looks like that old bouncer from the movie Roadhouse."

"Patrick Swayze?" Sam asked, his tone doubtful.

Dean shot him a derisive look. "No, the old one."

Sam shrugged, then slouched lower in the seat as the white-haired man shoved his hat back on his head and turned in their direction to light a cigarette. "Patrick Swayze's kinda old."

"Somewhere along the line, I failed in your education," Dean whispered back. "They're on the move."

The man with the mustache and cowboy hat grabbed the red-faced man by the shoulder and shoved him toward the back seat of the truck. He pointed a finger at Leo and jerked his thumb at the truck. Head still low, Leo rounded the bed of the truck and climbed in. After pulling in a drag from his cigarette, the man in the cowboy hat dropped the butt on the ground and snubbed it with the toe of a worn boot. Moments later, he was in the truck and pulling away.

Dean slid the gear into drive and eased away from the sidewalk.

"Where are you going?"

"After them," Dean replied.

"Dean, we don't know what we're up against," Sam protested.

"Calm down, Sammy," Dean soothed. "We're not going to charge in and blast them all away. Besides, we have until midnight."

"How do you know—"

"After Leo rambled on about that super-sized nucleus thing," Dean said, easing up on the gas to increase the distance between the Impala and the pick-up, "he said that it all had to be done at midnight. Figures demons would be unoriginal."

"Okay, so…we follow them…then what?"

Dean shrugged. "I don't know. I'm making this up as I go along."

"We aren't going to kill his friend," Sam asserted.

Dean glanced over at him. "It's like you don't even know me."

"I'm not kidding," Sam pressed. "There's no way Dad would—"

"Jesus, Sam, calm down! No, okay? We're not going to kill anyone."

They were silent for a minute as Dean paused at the yellow light long enough that the red pick-up shrank on the horizon.

"I do know you," Sam said suddenly.

Dean looked over at his brother. "What?"

"I know you better than anyone." Sam was looking at him, his eyes so troubled they looked like weather. "But…sometimes I can't figure you out."

Dean looked away, undone by the stark honesty in Sam's statement. "Maybe that's how it's supposed to be," he offered quietly, keeping the truck in his sights. "Y'know? I mean…I'm willing to bet that most brothers don't know how many scars the other one has on their body—"

"Eighteen, not counting the Daeva marks."

"See? Not having each other figured out is…normal, Sam."

"You have me figured out, though," Sam replied, almost sullenly.

Dean huffed a brief laugh, then shook his head. "Don't count on it."

"He's turning." Sam straightened a bit. "Heading toward that Mission."

"The what?"

"Kinda like an old church—you've heard of the Alamo?"

"Of course I've heard of the Alamo," Dean snapped back, biting back a grin. "John Wayne played Davy Crockett."

"You're impossible."

"Okay, so, we need to find someplace to hole up and figure out what we're going to do next."

"Wish we'd had more time to talk to Leo," Sam sighed as Dean wheeled the car around.


Sam lifted a shoulder. "'Cause we don't know why they're trying this crazy time travel thing…I mean, what are they looking for? How far back are they going? What started all of this?"

"Sammy, Sammy." Dean grinned and shook his head. "Always with the questions."

"You don't care?"

"Not really," Dean said, barely pausing at the yellow light this time. "We got a bad guy doing bad stuff and it's our job to stop it."

"Yeah, but this time…it's different. The bad guy's human," Sam pointed out.

"The name Bender mean anything to you?"

Sam bobbed his head. "Okay, but still…these guys are hunters, Dean. Something really awful had to happen to get them to use the thing they've been fighting against all this time."

"You never know," Dean said, pulling into a spot in front of the diner. "I mean, think about it, man. Dad was a mechanic before mom was killed. He never thought in a million years he'd be hunting evil the rest of his life."

Sam nodded, but looked unconvinced.

"Tell you what," Dean offered, opening his door and slinging a leg out, his boot hitting the pavement with a thud. "We'll make sure we get the whole story out of them before we blow them away."

"Not funny," Sam grumbled, slamming the car door shut behind him and stomping into the diner.

"Oh, come on!" Dean called after him. "It was a little funny!"


"The suprachiasmatic nucleas controls the body's biological clock," Sam said in a hushed voice, his back muscles spasming as he sat bent over the computer screen at a table in the diner. He was surprised to find that it was a Wifi Hotspot, but pounced on that fact without hesitation.

Dean looked back at him, his face blank, mouth full of rhubarb pie.

"Did you hear what I said?"

"Ummm… I heard blah blah blah body, blah blah clock," Dean replied, scooping more pie onto an oversized fork. "Dude, it's true. Everything is bigger in Texas. Think I should get a Stetson?"

"Dean, seriously."

"I think I'd make a bitchin' cowboy, man," Dean continued, regarding his faded reflection in the diner window to his right.

Sam rolled his eyes at his brother, unwilling to feed quarters into his already inflated ego, and continued to Google everything he could remember Leo saying. "I wonder what he meant by immortal?"

"What?" Dean zeroed in on him, looking engaged for the first time in hours.

"Werewolf, maybe? What other kind of immortal is there?"

Dean shrugged and spoke around his last bite of pie. "All kindsa lore on immortals," he said, sipping his coffee to wash the bite down. "'Specially in Japanese lore."

Sam sat up, impressed in spite of himself. "How do you know this?"

Dean folded his lips in, then wiped his mouth on a small napkin he pulled from the dispenser. Without looking back at his brother, Dean said, "I'm more than just a blunt instrument, Sam."

Sam frowned, stung by the implication that he took Dean for granted. "I know that."

Scratching the back of his head, resting his other hand on his thigh, Dean continued, "Anyway, I figure all this stuff…all the why and what for shit? It doesn't matter. We go in there, we grab Jake, we hand him over to the cops for the cattle mutilations, and we get back on the road."

Sam sat back, tilting his head to the side. "That plan has more holes in it than a screen door."

"What's your bright idea, Genius?"

"We gotta…talk to the guy," Sam said. "Find out what he's after. Why he's doing this. Convince him to stop."

Dean shook his head. "Not gonna work."

"Why not?"

"You think Dad coulda been convinced to stop?" Dean leaned across the table, pressing the tip of his finger into the wooden top and lowering his voice as his tone became strident, clipped. "He had two little kids with him and he still found ways to kill these bastards!"

Sam matched him, position and tone. "You think he would've just stopped the first time someone took all his weapons away and tossed him in jail?"

They stared at each other a moment until Dean sighed, sitting back. Sam watched with a flash of concern as his brother snaked an arm across his ribs to rest against his wounded side.

"So what are we gonna do, then?" Dean asked aloud.

"From the sound of it," Sam said, turning his eye critical as he regarded Dean's posture. "They got everything they need to try this ritual tonight."

Dean rolled his neck. Sam could hear the vertebrae crackle with the movement. "And they've done it three other times, so you gotta think they're getting faster, if not better."

"How about we gear up with non-lethal weapons, bust up the party?"

"Non-lethal?" Dean frowned.

"Rock salt," Sam clarified, watching as Dean automatically reached up to rub at his chest. "Won't kill 'em, but hurts like hell, or so I've heard."

Dean flipped him off with the hand against his chest. "Then what?"

Sam grinned at him. "I'm making this up as I go along."

"Anyone tell you you're a bitch?"

"Only my brother," Sam said, his dimples digging into his cheeks as his grin widened. "Every damn day."

"Fine." Dean slid out of the booth. "We've got…five hours until midnight. I say we get a room and sleep for three of those."

After finding out that there was a motel literally around the block from the diner, they left the Impala parked where she was, grabbed their duffels and walked over. They had their pick of rooms—apparently tourism wasn't the best in Maera as everyone went down to San Antonio. Dean chose the one furthest from the office and they dropped their bags on the floor inside the door.

Before Sam could say another word, Dean crawled onto the bed, fully clothed, emptied his pockets of a Zippo lighter, four bullets, three quarters, and a pack of gum, then slid his Bowie from its back sheath, tucked it beneath a pillow and fell asleep with impressive speed. Shaking his head, Sam sat on the other bed, stretching his legs out on a mattress that was actually long enough for him for a change, and began to flip channels, the TV volume turned low.

He was just getting into a Clint Eastwood movie when he heard the unmistakable sound of Dean in pain. Looking over quickly, he saw that his brother had turned to his back, but was twisted slightly sideways, his hand against his wounded side. Frowning, Sam sat up, leaning across the space between the beds and touched Dean's arm, intending to wake him.

He was surprised at the heat he felt there.

Standing, Sam leaned over the bed, the light from the TV dancing blue across Dean's features and giving him the illusion of paleness. Carefully, Sam rested the back of his fingers on Dean's cheek, inadvertently rousing his brother.

A sound that was more a tangle of consonants than an actual word tumbled from Dean's lips and Sam saw the flash of the knife blade two beats before Dean brought it instinctively around. Stumbling back to an awkward seat on his own bed, Sam raised his hands in surrender.

"Whoa! Easy!"

"Sammy?" Dean's voice broke across the word.

"I was…trying to wake you up, man," Sam said, his eyes on Dean's still-raised knife.

"Well, say something next time," Dean mumbled, dropping his hand and releasing the knife. He reached up both hands and rubbed at his eyes. "I was having a…freaky-assed dream."

"Nightmare?" Sam said, trying to calm down from the adrenalin rush of a near-miss.

Dean groaned as he rolled to a sitting position. "No…just…weird. I was…trying to…," he blinked and yawned, looking toward the TV with unseeing eyes, his hair sticking up around his head in hap-hazard tufts, "cut up these little black rocks with scissors and it was raining notebook paper."

"You were having a dream about…," Sam chuckled, "about rock, paper, scissors?"

"Laugh it up," Dean peered blearily at him. "You were trying to scrape ice off a window with a butter knife."

"No more pie before bed," Sam declared, watching as Dean stood stiffly, a hand at his side.

"Wasn't the pie," Dean replied, working out a kink in his shoulder. "It's this damn job. I hate going in blind."

"I know," Sam sighed, shutting off the TV. "We could still call Dad," he offered.

Dean shook his head. "No," he said. "No, we got this." He headed toward the bathroom.

"Hey, Dean?"


Sam scrambled, trying to pick his words carefully. "You need any aspirin?"

He waited through the pregnant pause. He knew Dean was working on a fever. He knew he was stiff and hurting. And he knew he was stubborn enough not to draw attention to it. Once they got through tonight, Sam planned on taking another look at the stitches he'd sewn into his brother's skin.

"Yeah, I could use a couple," Dean conceded.

Sam wasn't sure if he should be relieved or worried.


It wasn't a cool night, but Dean felt small shivers building as his skin rubbed against the soft cotton of his long-sleeved shirt. The aspirin he swallowed would kick in soon enough, he knew, and he'd stuffed several extra in the pocket of his jeans next to his lighter where he knew he'd remember them. When they got through tonight, he'd have Sam take another look at the stitches. He could feel the ache in his skin sinking low through his muscles and into his bones.

They parked the Impala next to a split-rail fence beside what might have once been a barn or grain shed about a hundred years ago. The half-moon was bright and practically spilled a silver path from the car toward the Mission. As they approached, Dean glanced to his left and saw the small town of Maera spread out in a strip of lights and structure, people having long-since retreated from the night.

Inside San Jose de Valero, however, it was a different story. Shapeless words floated up without meaning from voices raised in anger. Dean looked at Sam, instinctively checking that his brother was adequately armed and nodded toward the left of the main entrance. Sam took his post in a low crouching run. After a moment, Dean joined on the other side of the door.

They listened for a moment, trying to time their entrance.

"…not going to work this time either!"

"Dammit, Leo, you don't know that!"

"I do know it, Jake. I know it because it's wrong. This…this is all wrong!"

"So you called Winchester? Without talking to either of us?"

"You can't blame him for that, Jake."

"I can blame him for whatever the fuck I want! The demon killed my son. Mine!"

Dean shot a look at Sam and saw the flash of understanding cross his brother's features.

"You're supposed to be my friend, Leo."

"I am, Jake—"

"You called Winchester and let him…flaunt his boys in my face—"

"He doesn't know about Sean—"

"Shut the hell up!"

Dean heard a scuffle begin and nodded once at Sam. They straightened and Dean reared back, kicking open the heavy wooden door. In unison, they stepped through the opening and cocked the slide-action shotguns.

"All right," Dean called out, his voice layering an echo over the sound of the shotguns in the empty church. "What'd we miss?"

The interior of the mission was basically empty. Dirt coated the stone floor and what was left of a few wooden benches that had been shoved to either side of the room. Cobwebs hung in thick sweeps like ancient drapes from the overhead beams. The interior walls were crumbling and Dean could see a table of some sort shoved beneath a deteriorating corner as if holding it up somehow. The men had turned that table into an altar with candles, a wide bowl, and various small bags and pouches of unknown origin strewn across the surface.

"What are you boys doing here?" Leo gasped.

Another man—Jake, Dean assumed—had Leo's shirt tight in his fists and had pulled the smaller man up to his toes. The third man-Max, by process of elimination-stood back, close to the altar.

"We're, uh," Sam cleared his throat, "here to help."

Jake released Leo and took a step back. And that was when Dean saw her. A small figure, bound, gagged, and unconscious was lying on the floor at the foot of the altar.

"What the hell?" he demanded, his eyes shooting up to accuse the three men staring back at him.

"Blood of an innocent," Sam whispered next to him.

Dean's eyes flew to Leo, then back to the girl. "You crossed the line, man."

Leo looked at Jake. "Listen to them," he said.

"Go to Hell," Jake snarled.

"You kill that girl, you'll meet me there," Leo replied.

"You think I care about that? You think I give a damn about Hell? I'm living it. Now. Every day!"

"Jake," Max stepped in, "you don't have to do this. You don't have to use this girl. We can find another way."

"I found this way." Jake pointed at the girl. "It ends tonight."

"Please, Jake," Leo pleaded softly. "I'm saying this as your friend. Let it go."

"I should have realized it the first time," Jake spat, his face red with anger and indignation, his hand shaking as he curled them into fists. "It didn't work because of you two! You didn't believe!"

"Believe what, man?" Max bellowed. "That you could go back in time and find some weapon that doesn't exist—"

"It does exist!"

"—just so you can kill the demon that killed Sean?"

Jake took a step toward Max and Dean instinctively raised his shotgun.

"It's so much bigger than that, can't you see? I could change the course of history! That demon…that demon might never have a chance to get to Sean!"

"Or Sean might not ever be born," Sam pointed out.

Dean looked at his brother, letting his gun lower a bit. In his periphery, he saw Leo and Jake face them as Max bent down to the girl.

"What did you say?" Jake demanded, moving toward Sam.

"Think about it," Sam said, the barrel of his gun pointed at the floor, his eyes on Jake. "Think about all the tiny little accidents that had to happen for us to be here, now, in this moment. You change one thing, you risk a…a cascade effect. You risk your own existence."

"Listen to the kid, Jake," Leo implored. "This has gone on long enough. Max and me…we have your back…you know that. But this…I can't—we can't do this anymore."

"Then leave," Jake said in a dull voice, his eyes on Sam. Dean brought his gun up once more, stepping closer to the older hunter, not liking the way he looked at his brother. "I don't need you two. I never did."

"Jake—" Leo took a step forward, and in the moment Dean saw the knife in Jake's hand.

It hadn't been there before, Dean was sure of it, but it was there now and before he could pull the necessary warning together, Jake raised it, charging his friend. As if wired together, Dean and Sam raised their weapons and fired. The rock salt caught Jake on his side and he tumbled back against the altar, the contents of the alabaster bowl sloshing with the impact.

Dean instinctively advanced, his body programmed to ensure the threat was neutralized. Without looking, he bellowed at Max, "Get the girl! Get her out of here!"

Advancing on Jake, he saw Max lift the pliant girl from the ground and turn to run out of the Mission. He moved to kick the knife away from Jake's hand; just as he shifted off-balance to do so, he felt a mighty thunk against his leg and he flipped, landing hard on his back, his head cracking against the stone floor. Gasping, the air having vacated his lungs, he blinked in surprise as Jake knelt next to him.

"Sam…," he croaked, unable to get enough air for sound. Jake was whispering something, reaching for him. "Sam…."

Dean fumbled to his right, trying to find his shotgun. His hand closed around the hilt of Jake's knife instead and he lifted it. Jake continued to whisper, meaningless, muted, inconsequential words, as he grappled for the knife, climbing onto Dean to exert superior force. Dean gasped breathlessly, fighting to keep the knife away from his throat as he felt one knee press into his wounded side, the other against his shoulder.


Weak from empty lungs, Dean fought to find Sam, searching the edge of his vision for his brother. His chest burned, his side stabbed with a unique pain, and his head spun, but he found him. He saw Sam raise the shotgun as if in slow motion, reaching for one more blast at Jake. Inconceivably, Leo rushed forward and slammed against Sam, knocking him to the ground and sending his gun flying.

And then Dean felt the heat of Jake's blade as the tip found the vulnerable flesh at the base of his throat and the skin parted.

He cried out—the sound beginning as fury before melding into resistance and then finally thinning out into a scream of pain. With that pain came a strange clarity of thought and he finally recognized the words Jake was whispering: Latin.

He'd been muttering Latin as they struggled.

Dimly, Dean was aware that time was passing, and as he fought for breath on the stone floor of a Spanish Mission, the elements Jake needed were culminating into the ritual he'd been trying to realize.

"B-blood of…the innocent…," Dean gasped, trying to interrupt the man's train of thought.

He felt a sick roll of nausea shudder through him as Jake smiled. "You'll do."

Dean shoved at the knife with all his remaining strength, a weak cry of Sam, where the hell are you climbing through his subconscious, and growled, "I'm n-not…innocent…you s-sick fuck…."

"Have you ever taken a human life, boy?" Jake asked in a low, dangerous whisper.

Dean felt himself go still. The knife was suddenly easy to push away. Head spinning from pain and lack of air, Dean watched as Jake threw the knife—the blade wet with Dean's blood—into the sacrificial bowl and spoke the Latin phrase one last time.

Instantly, Dean knew something was wrong. Jake tumbled off of his chest, his hand gripping Dean's forearm in a convulsion, his eyes rolling back into his head. Coughing as air rushed back to him, Dean pushed himself weakly to his elbow, searching for his brother. Sam was mere feet away, fighting Leo for dominance of the shotgun.

"Sam!" Dean cried, finally finding the strength to add weight to the cry. "Sam! Go!"

He saw Sam turn panicked eyes toward him and then the room froze. The air seemed to crackle with electricity; it crawled across Dean's skin, lifting each hair until his body was like a live wire, tense and tight and stretched to bursting.

Then, as if the universe pressed a lit match to a fuse, heat exploded around him and he couldn't see Sam and he couldn't feel Jake and he wasn't lying on the cold stone ground and he wasn't in pain and he wasn't breathing and he wasn't anywhere or anything or anybody.

For what felt like the span of endless time there was no sensation.

And then just as suddenly as it departed, it returned, and he felt everything.

Every heady rush, every wound, every happy moment, every heartbreak, every laugh, every sob, every moment of anger, every moment of peace.

He began to scream. He couldn't stop. Air suddenly had texture, weight. It folded around him, pressing into him with the pain of thousands of tiny knife points. He screamed as the world fell in. Screamed as he was crushed by time. Screamed as he fell.

When he hit the earth he was sobbing, drinking in great gasps of air and choking on it. His body trembled uncontrollably. He tried to open his eyes but they felt swollen, beaten, bruised. He could taste the salt of tears mixed with dirt on his lips.

He tried to speak, to call out. Where's Sam?

Panic rose, bright and sharp, in his heart as he forced his eyes open, desperate to see his brother.

Instead he found himself peering at the face of a child; gray eyes blinking owlishly at him, dirt streaking a pug nose.

"You fell," the child whispered in a strangled, fearful voice. "You fell from the sky."

And Dean sank into the waiting arms of oblivion.