Rating: PG-13

 

Chapter 9

Half of writing history is hiding the truth.

~ Anonymous

www

Maera, Texas 2005

He couldn't open his eyes.

The world was intent on drowning him in noise and suffocating him with motion. Pain wrapped around his head in a vise-like grip, pushing against the backs of his eyes and digging claws into his neck. Thoughts slipped through his grip like vapor, half-truths that frightened him with their lack of substance.

"Dean…help him…."

Sam?

Dean tried to wrap his lips around the word, but the pain in his head grew until it was white-hot and blistering.

"Aw, Jesus…fuck me…what the hell did you do, Jake?"

He didn't know that voice and his instincts were a live wire, screaming for action. He tried to turn, to roll, to reach…. There was a hand in his, fingers curled into his palm and gripping, hard.

"Dean!"

"Sammy…."

There. He'd done it. He'd said the name.

"I'm here, man."

"Where…where…." His tongue was too big for his mouth.

He could feel himself lying on a stone floor, feel the contact with the ground at his head, shoulder, elbow, hip, knee. He could feel cold seep through seemingly shattered skin, feel the contour of the stone sloping and dipping to meet and mesh. Dust coated the air, lacquering his throat and he dragged in breath after breath through his parted lips.

He fought to open his eyes, battling the crazy rush of sound that seemed to actually press against him. Through the slits of his eyelids, shadowed by his lashes, he caught a blurred glimpse of a person crouched over him.

A rush of memory twisted in his gut.

Demon…black eyes…Sam shot…blood…firefight…Ivers burning…Jake…Jake….

"Jake?" Dean called, confusion turning his voice thick.

He suddenly realized he could hear someone crying. Gut-deep sobs of remorse and regret came from the blurred man who was on his knees next to him—between him and Sam, Dean now realized. It was sorrow beyond comprehension, regret wrapped in loss. The hand gripping Dean's tugged and he slowly turned his head to see the large, scared eyes of his brother.

"Dean, hey, hey, stay looking at me, okay?"

"What…," he tried once more. The word caught in the back of his throat and began to dissolve. It was becoming increasingly impossible to keep more than one thought clear.

"We're back," Sam informed him, tugging his hand once more to keep his wavering attention. "We're back, Dean."

"Back?" Dean rolled his eyes to look back at the blur. He recognized him now: Max Thomas, the man who looked like Sam Elliott in The Roadhouse. Jake's friend. "Aw, shit. Jake…."

Max was on his knees between them, the bloody body of his friend caught up in his arms, rocking back and forth, his face pressed against Jake's neck. Dean looked back at Sam who hadn't taken his eyes from Dean's face.

"Dean…hey, don't close your eyes, man."

He wanted to, though. He really wanted to.

"We're back?" he asked his brother again, watching Sam's pinched face as his brother's eyes searched his. "Are you okay?"

Sam shook his head. "I don't know. Leg hurts like a mother…."

Sam shot…branding iron….

"Jesus, Sammy…," he groaned.

"Dean, we're in the Mission."

"What?" Dean turned his head once more, but the world took a second to catch up, spinning around him and trying its level best to toss him off. He groaned again, closing his eyes. Something sticky and wet trailed across his lids.

"Max," he heard Sam saying. "Max, we need your help."

"Where's Leo?" Max asked in a thick, choked voice. "What the hell happened? I was only gone for a minute!"

Dean swallowed and blinked his eyes open once more. The blood that had trailed down the side of his face stung his eye and he reached up with a clumsy, uncooperative hand to wipe it away, trying to clear his vision.

He worked to take stock: dizziness, pain, nausea…. He had a concussion; he'd had them before and recognized the signs. He didn't know if it was from Ivers' attempt to shove him through the ceiling of the ranch house or the jerk-your-guts-out-through-your-nose sensation of falling through time, but he was in trouble.

"Sam," he tried, but the world spun around him again and he focused simply on breathing and not throwing up.

"Easy, man," Sam said, giving his hand a gentle tug of reassurance. "Just breathe, okay?"

"We're in the Mission?" Dean slurred.

"Goddammit," Max sobbed, looking at the empty face of his dead friend. "It worked, didn't it? You crazy motherfu—"

"Listen, Max," Sam soothed, his voice tight and trembling from pain. "I'll explain everything, but we. Need. Your. Help."

Dean blinked his eyes open wide, the fear in his brother's voice as sobering as a cup of black coffee. He had to pull it together, help Sam. The kid was hurt…he had a bullet hole in his leg, and he…he needed to…, dammit, why can't I think straight?

"Did you say you were…only gone…for a minute?" Dean asked Max.

"I took that girl out to the truck," Max said, still gripping Jake's body against his, still rocking. "There was this…sound…like a fuckin' tornado ripped through the building. I came back and…Jake's dead…Leo's gone…and you two are a bloody mess."

"We've…been gone three days," Dean whispered, closing his eyes once more.

"What?" Max's voice was a crack of disbelief.

"Okay, listen to me," Sam barked in a rough, worn voice. Dean jerked in surprise: if he hadn't known better, he would have sworn their father just showed up. "The ritual worked. We all got caught in it. Leo died. Jake died. I got shot. My brother got beat up by a demon. You want more details? Get us the hell out of here."

Dean opened his eyes and blinked in wonder at his brother. Sam's face was tense, his jaw tight enough that a muscle bounced along his jaw line, and his skin was milk-pale.

"Sammy?"

Sam looked at him and his face fell. "Aw, dammit, Dean…."

"What?" Dean frowned.

He felt oddly light as he looked back at Sam. He heard Max curse and slid a bleary glance over at the older hunter. Max visibly paled, then gently released Jake's body, laying him on the ground near their feet.

"Dean," he rumbled, "you just stay awake, okay? Stay talking to your brother. I'll be right back."

"Whasss…," Dean tried, his mouth uncooperative. "Dude…."

He blinked rapidly, his stomach turning with the rotation of the Earth. He rolled his head toward Sam as Max stood and hurried to the door of the abandoned Mission. For a brief moment, the brothers were alone, the body of a disillusioned hunter their only companion. Dean stared at Sam, watching tears fill his brother's eyes.

"Don't cry, Sammy."

"You don't look so good, Dean," Sam informed him. "You're too pale…your eyes…something's not right with your eyes…."

"'S gonna be okay," Dean said, attempting a reassuring smile but not certain he made it. "We're back, man."

Sam squeezed his hand. "Yeah, we're back. You ready to get back in the Impala?"

At that, Dean did grin, briefly. "Yeah."

"Don't close your eyes, Dean," Sam pleaded suddenly.

Dean popped his eyes open hurriedly. He hadn't realized he'd let them shut. "Head hurts."

"I know," Sam said, tears leaving tracks down his dirty face and dripping onto the stone floor.

"You okay?" Dean asked again, feeling reality begin to fold and fray around the edges. Something was wrong with Sam…he just couldn't remember what.

"No," Sam whispered. "I'm not okay."

"Hang in there, kiddo," Dean whispered back, his eyes slipping shut.

"Dean, please…."

There was something he was supposed to do. Something Sam was asking him to do.

But it could wait. It could all wait.

It could wait until there was enough light to chase the darkness away.

www

Lying helpless on the dusty, cold stones of the abandoned Spanish Mission, Sam felt his heart crack as Dean's eyes rolled closed. He shook Dean's arm, calling his brother's name, but Dean was limp, unresponsive. He tried to pull himself upright, but the fire in his leg caught him and held tight.

Sam dropped his head back against the stone and gave in to exhausted emotion. His tears were hot against his chilled skin, his shallow gulps of breath echoing dully off the empty walls. He couldn't keep his mind wrapped around the fact that just one day earlier he sat in this very place, holding onto Dean while a priest cleansed his brother's Daeva wounds with Holy Water.

One day and a hundred years ago….

"Sam?"

Sniffing, Sam brought his head up and watched Max stumble back inside, a flashlight adding to the dim light from the candles Jake had lit for the ritual.

"You gonna help us?" Sam asked, his voice watery.

"Yeah, kid. I'm gonna help," Max reassured him. "I called a friend—he's about an hour away. He's gonna meet us at the clinic outside Maera."

"Clinic?" Sam asked, hope striking hot and fast against his heart.

They were back. There was medicine here.

"Hospital is too far," Max said, setting the flashlight down and crouching next to Dean. "And I don't know how I'd explain all this anyway."

Sam nodded and watched as Max gently lifted Dean, tipping him forward, and hefting him over his shoulder. Just as before, the trip through the claws of time had ripped apart their clothes. The black shirt and pants Dean had borrowed from Bird were shredded, hanging from his limp body in frayed strips, exposing the flesh of his arms, chest, and legs in quick glimpses as Max stood and turned.

"I'll be right back."

Sam lay back, holding his breath for a moment, listening. Maera and the Mission were miles outside of a major city and yet…it was so loud. He could hear the rumble and hum of semi trucks on the Interstate that ran, he remembered, several miles to the West. Somewhere in the distance a train whistle blew. And underneath it all was a buzz of electricity that he'd never really noticed before.

Add to that the thunder of his hammering heart and Sam wanted clap his hands over his ears, shut out the cacophony of the modern world, return—just for a moment—to the silent stillness of where he'd come from. It was too much…too much.

Max returned, panting slightly, and reached down for him. Sam gripped the man's arm, gritting his teeth as he sat up. The heat from his wounded leg intensified as his bare skin made contact with the stone floor. He shivered in the night as his shirt did nothing to protect him.

"Can you stand at all?"

"Uh…," Sam thought quickly. "I don't think so."

"'S okay, kid. Hang onto me."

As Max pulled him to his feet, the pain in Sam's leg ricocheted through his body and he cried out helplessly. Max shifted quickly, rotating a shoulder under Sam's arm and took most of his weight. They staggered through the doorway; Sam was spinning with pain, but aware enough to see they were headed for the red pick-up.

"Our car…," he started.

"We'll have to come back for it."

"Jake?"

"I'll get him," Max grunted as he opened the front door. "I ain't leavin' him here."

Sam whimpered aloud as Max hefted him into the front seat of the truck. When the door closed behind him, Sam gripped his thigh, feeling the heated swelling of his skin from the damage there. Breathing through his mouth to try to calm his racing heart, Sam twisted carefully to look over his shoulder to the back seat.

The girl Max had carried from the room was sitting behind the driver's seat, face tear-streaked, eyes wide and shocky, staring straight ahead. On the seat next to her, lying curled on his side as if he'd simply gone to sleep, blood from his head wound leaving a path on the fabric and marring that illusion, was Dean. Sam tried to reach him, to check to see if he was breathing, but he could barely lift his arm over the seat. Even the slightest shift sent shocks of pain through his already taxed system.

"Hey," Sam said softly, hearing the tears in his voice. He hadn't even realized he was still crying. "Hey, there," he repeated, trying to get the girl's attention.

She looked over at him, her breath hitching in a hiccup, her eyes terrified.

"Can you…would you make sure he's still breathing?" Sam asked. "Please? I can't…I can't reach him."

"Am…," she swallowed. Her voice was slightly rough, trembling. "Am I dreaming?"

Sam stifled a sob. "Yeah. Yeah, this is all a dream. I swear. You're gonna wake up and it's all going to go away."

Somewhat mollified by his lie, the girl reached out a shaking hand and rested it gently on Dean's neck.

"I…I feel his heartbeat," she said.

"Is he breathing?" Sam asked.

She carefully shifted her fingers to Dean's face, hovering them in front of his mouth and nose.

Nodding quickly, she said. "He's breathing."

Sam felt dizzy with relief. "Okay, you can close your eyes now."

She obeyed immediately, dropping her head back and closing her eyes. She kept her hand resting on Dean's neck, and the sight that someone was touching his brother, anchoring him in the now, reassured Sam. He faced forward, catching a glimpse of the bed of the truck in the rear-view mirror as he shifted.

Max stood back there holding Jake's broken body. Sam watched as Max curled his friend toward him, smearing Jake's blood on his face in his grief, the rolled Jake from his arms into the truck bed and lifted the tailgate, keeping him tucked safely in the truck bed.

Sam closed his eyes. He'd had enough death. Enough pain.

He wanted to go away somewhere inside himself, wake up when he didn't hurt anymore and when Dean was his usual, pain-in-the-ass brother. He wanted to sit next to Dean in the Impala and complain about his brother's taste in music while a zephyr cut through the open windows of the car and carried them safely through the night.

He wanted to go home.

The driver's side door opened and closed. Sam didn't move. He felt a hand on his neck, checking for pulse. He stayed still.

"Son of a bitch," Max Thomas cursed as he revved the pick-up to life. "How did we let this get so fucked up?"

Sam knew the man wasn't talking to any of the broken people still breathing in the truck with him. He knew he wasn't asking for an answer, either.

But he gave him one anyway.

"Because you got to the end of what you knew and you ran out of places to run."

www

The first time Dean opened his eyes he was overwhelmed by light.

It shone in his eyes, surrounded him, and practically lifted him up from the stiff confines of whatever held him. Voices swam around him, bobbing to the surface of his understanding then sinking back into undecipherable murmurings. He felt hands on his skin, some gentle, some demanding. He felt himself pulled and shifted, turned and pushed and he wanted them all to go away.

Leave him, let go.

The only thing clear in the chaos was a thought. A single heartbeat of thought that thrummed through him and kept him from releasing the scream he could feel bouncing in the wings of his control.

Sam.

The next time he opened his eyes it wasn't as bright, but it was loud. There were voices—clearer this time—calling out instructions, saying his name, demanding that he answer them. He didn't recognize a single one of them, and it scared him.

And when he was scared, he reacted.

He thrust out a fist, feeling it contact solidly with skin and bone and used that momentum to try to propel the rest of his body away from the voices. But his movement spurred the world's rotation and he slipped and slid until he fell off, tumbling head-first into darkness.

He opened his eyes a third time and there was soft light around him, the smell of soap and coffee, and the sound of one voice.

"Dean?"

He blinked, staring up at the strange face without comprehension. There were very few faces that were immediately recognizable in Dean Winchester's life. His was a rather small circle of friends. This face—though benign and peaceful—was not one of them. Dean felt his mouth pull down in an automatic, resistant frown.

"Do you know where you are?"

Dean swallowed, looking away from the placid brown eyes and calm, nondescript face. His eyes rested on a dark TV sitting on top of a small chest of drawers. It took him a moment to connect why seeing a TV was so significant. And then it hit him in a rush, a flood of overwhelming sensation and emotion and he was spinning with it.

He reached up in automatic reaction, covering his mouth, the nausea building with terrifying swiftness. A hand was suddenly on his shoulder—an unfamiliar weight—and a slim, pink basin appeared in his field of vision. The complete ridiculousness of the basin's size replaced his nausea with hilarity and he felt a quick blast of insane laughter build in his chest.

"Take it easy," the stranger encouraged, his voice soft, soothing. "You've been through a lot…just breathe."

The laugh dissolved quickly and Dean felt the heated burn of tears kick the backs of his eyes. He looked away from the TV, focusing on the man leaning close to him and tried desperately to dig his fingers into the series of thoughts he felt were clamoring for attention in his memory.

"We're back," Dean said.

He meant for it to be a statement, but heard the almost child-like search for reassurance lingering around the words. It didn't occur to him until after the man nodded that this person might not have any idea what he was talking about.

"You're back," the man confirmed. "My name is Joe. I'm a friend of Max's."

"Joe," Dean repeated, looking around himself again, gathering his grounding. Taking a steadying breath, Dean registered that he was not at a motel or a hospital, but there was something very medicinal about his surroundings. "You know where my brother is?"

Joe nodded. "He's in the next room."

"He okay?" Dean pushed against the soft bed, trying to sit up.

Joe slipped a hand behind Dean's shoulders and helped slowly ease him up. "Easy," he said softly. "Don't go too fast. Any pain? Nausea?"

"My brother?" Dean returned.

Joe nodded. "He's fine, Dean. We did some minor surgery on his leg to repair some of the internal trauma, but there's no permanent damage. He's getting some more antibiotics right now, just needs some decent rest and he'll be up and around."

Dean gingerly leaned his head back against the pillow that Joe put behind his head. He closed his eyes, steadying the tremble inside of him. "He had a good doctor," Dean said softly.

"I need to examine you, if that's okay," Joe told him. "You've been in and out a bit over the last few days."

That brought Dean's head up. "Few days?"

Joe nodded, pulling a small flashlight from his pocket. He shone it first in one of Dean's eyes, then in the other, before clicking it back off. "How's the pain?"

Dean bit back his built-in, automatic reaction of denying he was in pain. "Not bad," he said.

"Can you give me a number?"

"Less than eight," Dean assessed. "Where are we, Joe?"

"Any nausea, dizziness, halos around objects?"

"No, yes, no." Dean stared at him, slipping a wall in place in his expression until he got the answers he sought.

Joe sighed, then sat on the end of Dean's bed, which surprised him. It was a familiarity that Dean wasn't accustomed to in the medical community. He shifted slightly away, feeling the tug and pull of reluctant muscles.

"You're in a clinic just outside of Maera," Joe told him. "Max brought you here two nights ago—this is your third day here."

"Clinic?" Dean frowned.

"The nearest real hospital is about two hours away," Joe informed him. "People who can't be treated here get life-flighted out. Max wasn't sure he could…explain…."

Dean nodded. "You work here?"

Joe shook his head. "I actually work back on the East coast—Boston. Max is a…friend of the family, you might say."

"You…came out here from…Boston?" Dean asked, reaching up to scratch distractedly at a pinch of skin along the side of his face.

"Don't mess with that. You've got a few stitches there," Joe informed him, causing Dean to drop his hand and wish for a mirror. "And, no…I was out here anyway. Max called me about a week ago. He was worried about Jake. I decided to come by, visit some family that lives around here, see if I could track Max down. He found me instead, turns out."

Dean huffed. Leo had called another hunter, Max had called a doctor…and still, everything fell apart.

"Jake and Leo are dead," Dean said softly.

"I know," Joe nodded. "Max, he…well, losing both of his friends like that after all they survived together…it really messed him up."

"Where is he?"

Joe glanced toward the curtained window. "He took Jake's body back to where they buried Sean."

"Sean?" Dean frowned, the motion pulling at his stitches.

"His son," Joe clarified. "Said it wasn't too far. He should be back today."

"Why's he coming back?"

Joe looked at him, surprise leaving tracks on his face. "To make sure you guys are okay."

Leaning his head back again, Dean had to wonder about that. Max hadn't been the one to call them for help, and, ultimately, they hadn't helped anything. As far as Dean was concerned, the older hunter had done all he needed to by getting them to the clinic.

Getting us to the clinic….

"Joe, my car…uh…," Dean rubbed at his aching forehead. "We left her…."

"It was back at the Mission," Joe informed him. "Max and I brought it back to the motel yesterday."

Dean opened his eyes. "You did?"

Joe nodded. "Your brother told us where the spare keys were."

Dean processed that for a moment. His keys had been lost along with almost everything else he owned, aside from his boots, in the first pass through time. He was just glad he hadn't been wearing anything he really valued—like his Dad's leather jacket, or the amulet his brother had given him—when they initially went to the Mission after Jake.

"So…she's okay, then?"

Joe chuckled slightly. "Yeah. The car's fine." He stood and moved to the bedside table, filling a plastic cup with water from a sweaty pitcher. "Make sure you drink plenty. You're really going to need to build your strength back up."

"When can I see my brother?" Dean took the water and sipped it gratefully.

"Whenever you want," Joe informed him. "He'll be back in here as soon as his infusion is done. I wanted to give him a final bolus of antibiotics and we don't have a lot of equipment around here. Had to move him into the next room—it's where any local oncology patients are given infusion treatment. Easiest way to get the medicine into his system quickly."

Joe moved to the other side of the bed and leaned over Dean, turning his head gently by grasping his chin. "Stitches look good."

"I hate stitches," Dean grumbled.

"So you've said," Joe informed him. "Several times, in fact."

"I did?" Dean looked at him in surprise. "I…I don't remember…."

"It's perfectly normal," Joe said. "We woke you up several times to do a concussion check. You weren't always…cooperative," he smiled slightly, working his jaw back and forth.

"Did…did I hit you?" Dean frowned, flexing his fist as the memory surfaced.

"You did indeed," Joe nodded, moving around to foot of the bed. "One time I asked you who was President and you said you knew it wasn't Lincoln, 'cause he was dead, but you couldn't remember who the other guy was."

Dean closed his eyes with a groan. "Dude, if you only knew…."

"Oh, believe me," Joe chuckled. "I'm in no rush to find out how hellish time travel can be."

Dean blinked his eyes open, staring at the doctor in shock. "What did you just say?"

Joe rubbed the back of his neck, turning toward the window. "Max told me what you two had been through—or as near as he knew, anyway. Sam helped fill in a bit of the rest." He pushed the curtain open with two fingers and spoke to the glass. "There's been at least one hunter in my family as far back as the Civil War. Not everyone…believed, I guess you could say. Those that did, kept it quiet. I never really liked that much." He turned to face Dean. "I understood it…but I didn't like it."

Dean watched him, willing the grind of remembered pain in his head to hold off, just a bit longer.

"I don't…do what you do. What Max does. But I know what you do, and I know why." He tucked the tips of his fingers into the front pockets of his jeans and shrugged. "I've known Max a lot of years; I was happy to be able to help."

Absorbing that, Dean leaned against the pillows once more, his eyes on the quiet TV.

"Your bother has a bullet wound in his thigh that was cauterized by a branding iron. You have a concussion and bruising on your neck indicative of someone's hand trying to squeeze the life out of you. Both of you have some pretty severe contusions and abrasions. Not to mention exhaustion, sunburn, blisters..."

"What's your point, Doc?"

Joe sighed, moving slowly toward the door of the room. "My point is that if you'd shown up in a hospital with that list of wounds, someone would have called the police and someone else would have had a lot of explaining to do. Especially considering you were both practically naked when you got here—and you were wearing a pretty authentic-looking gun holster." His eyebrows went up in a sign of admiration. "You two live a very dangerous life…one that I don't envy. But…I think it's necessary. And," he shrugged, reaching for the doorknob, "I'll do what I can to make sure you stay in the game."

Dean watched him leave. As the door clicked shut behind the doctor, Dean let his body relax back into the bed. His head swam with information, and he felt each bruise and pulled muscle Joe had listed off.

He wanted to get back to his car, his weapons, his brother, his normal.

He didn't want to think anymore.

Not about then and now. Not about Dad. Not about what ifs. Not about spells and rituals or a little girl's large gray eyes. Not about promises made and kept.

Not about death…so much death.

He reached for the remote control, seeking distraction and a way to cement him into the current century.

He was asleep before he was able to press the 'power' button.

www

"He's awake?"

"He was, for a little bit."

"Awake awake? Or just had his eyes open?" Sam winced as Joe removed the infusion catheter from his arm, then placed a small bandage over the hole.

"Awake," Joe said, smiling. "No surly punches, no smart-ass cracks."

"He ask about his car?"

Joe chuckled and nodded. "Right after he asked about you."

Sam smiled. "Good," he said. "He's getting back to normal."

"He's gonna need some time, Sam," Joe cautioned him. "You both are. That leg needs some down time. Just because it was through-and-through doesn't mean it didn't damage you pretty good. I'll help get you to the motel when Max gets back, but you can't just…head off into the sunset."

Sam reached for the crutches leaning against the wall near the lounge chair where he'd been resting. He didn't reply, knowing that it wouldn't matter anyway. Once they were outside of the clinic, it was up to them how quickly they moved on to the next hunt.

Us…or Dad.

He rose stiffly, situating the crutches under his arms and winced as he put a small amount of weight on his leg.

"I mean it, kid," Joe said, stepping in front of Sam. "You need to let that leg heal—and riding around in a muscle car is not the way to do it."

"I rode a horse like two minutes after—"

"I don't need to know that," Joe lifted his hand, stopping Sam's words. "That man shoulda been shot for letting you do that."

"He didn't have a choice, Joe," Sam said. "I keep telling you, people were going to die. He had to get us back to town."

"Whatever," Joe shook his head, holding up a hand in surrender. "I know the story. I just didn't know…y'know…the whole story."

Sam shook his head. "He saved our lives, Joe. Both of us. Him and Father Ramirez."

"Yeah, I never knew about Ramirez," Joe said, shifting out of the way so that Sam could lumber toward the door. "He's not even in any of those books I told you about."

"Oh, right, where are they again?" Sam stopped, looking askance at Joe as the man leaned against the wall, eyes downcast in thought. "I want to take Dean there when he's better."

"Inside the town library—which is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it building—there's the Maera Historical Society. My Aunt Jane organized it."

"Thanks," Sam started to turn toward the door again, then a thought hit him. "Hey, Joe, did you tell Dean your name?"

Joe looked puzzled. "Sure. What'd you think I'd make him guess? Twenty questions?"

"No," Sam breathed out a small laugh, "nothing like that. I just…I wondered how reacted."

"To the name Joe?"

"You didn't tell him your last name?"

"McAdams? No," Joe shook his head. "I didn't…think about it."

Joe looked concerned, so Sam waved him off. "Don't worry about it," he said. "I'll handle it. We got a lot to talk about anyway."

"Max should be back in a couple of hours," Joe said as Sam opened the door. "We'll get you two settled at the motel. Where you will rest up before you head out."

Sam lifted his chin in a non-answer and made his way around the corner to the room he'd been sharing with Dean since they arrived. He opened the door carefully, peering in at the shadowed beds. Dean lay slightly slumped to his side, the TV remote in his hand, sound asleep.

"Yeah," Sam smiled to himself. "Definitely getting back to normal."

www

"Don't pull at those," Joe called to him from the other room. "They need to stay in a few more days."

"I think I got the hang of stitches, Doc," Dean replied, rolling his eyes at his own reflection.

"Is he always this impossible?" He heard Joe ask Sam.

Dean lifted an eyebrow and glanced out through the open doorway, meeting his brother's eyes.

"Yep," Sam nodded, sharing a smile before shifting back up against the headboard of the bed, stretching his wounded leg out in front of him. Joe lifted Sam's leg carefully and slid a couple of pillows beneath it, taking the weight off of the thigh wound.

Dean saw Max standing off to the side of the room, a silent, lurking shadow, before he returned his focus to the mirror and his somewhat unpleasant reflection. He looked rough. Worse than rough. He looked beat up, worn out, and rode hard.

He hadn't shaved in about a week and a half and scruff had turned into a soft, light brown beard with some red tints glinting off of the overhead bulb. The cut along his hairline—courtesy of Ivers' ceiling thrust—sported eight stitches that ran down the length of his temple like ants. His eyes looked bruised and sunken, and his lips were chapped and peeling.

He glanced once more out at Sam as he heard Joe giving his brother instructions about medication and rest. Sam had evidently shaved at some point while they were at the clinic. The three-day-old scruff he'd been sporting when they were back at the saloon was gone, his eyes were clear, and his smile was relaxed.

Sighing, Dean reached down and turned on the hot water faucet. And then he laughed.

"Sam!"

"What?" Sam's reply was anxious.

Dean looked out through the doorway, turning the water off and on repeatedly. "Running. Water."

Sam grinned. "Showers," he replied.

"Power," Dean said, flicking on and off the bathroom light.

"TV," Sam countered, picking up the remote and turning on the television situated on the dresser across the room.

A car commercial came on; a shiny silver vehicle pulling impossible 180-degree turns in the middle of the desert, a familiar song playing in the background behind the announcer's deep voice.

"Metallica!" they shouted in unison.

Dean grinned at his brother, not even bothering to complain when Sam shut off the TV. The two other men in the room stared at them in confused wonder.

"I cannot freakin' wait to get back behind the wheel of my car," Dean said with a downward glance, his grin hidden in the growth of beard.

"No driving," Joe stressed. "Not for a couple more days. You had a serious head injury, Dean. You don't want to make it—"

"Easy, man," Dean held up a hand. "I'm not gonna do anything stupid."

"You mean anything else stupid."

Dean frowned. "I haven't done anything stupid," he protested. "Yet."

"You mean…aside from getting caught in a spell that sent you back in time," Joe pointed out.

"Hey, now, that wasn't—"

"Or how about getting on the wrong side of a demon?"

"We didn't know that he was a demon until later," Dean snapped. "And who pissed in your Wheaties this morning anyway, Doc?"

"I'm just saying…be careful," Joe relented.

"Holy hell," Dean shook his head, rubbing the back of his stiff neck. "He remind you of anyone, Sam?"

"Kinda, yeah," Sam said. "His Great-Great-Grandfather."

"Huh?" Dean leaned against the bathroom doorway and looked from Sam to Joe in confusion.

"Meet Joe McAdams," Sam said. "Great-Great-Grandson of Zeke McAdams."

"No shit!" Dean exclaimed, looking in shock at Joe.

"None," Sam shook his head.

Dean moved away from the bathroom doorway and perched carefully on the edge of Sam's double bed. He wasn't quite ready to be standing that long, but he didn't want to jostle Sam's wounded leg.

"How'd you know that?" Dean asked is brother.

"Well," Sam looked at Joe. "First clue was the name. McAdams? With family in Maera and in Boston? It couldn't be a coincidence."

Joe picked up the story. "Have to admit, it was a shock having some random kid asking about one of my ancestors. Knew his name and everything. I've seen—and heard—some crazy things after meeting Max, but that rattled me a bit. Then today, Max filled in some blanks about Jake's research…and it kinda came together."

"Blanks? Such as…," Dean looked over at Max who until this point had done nothing more than drive them to the motel, help them inside and then stand quietly brooding off to the side of the room.

"Leo…should have told you," Max rumbled, his eyes on the floor, his face gray with grief. "Hell, he shoulda told me. Jake had pulled together a shitload of information on this town…long before we ever got here. Long before Sean…." He swallowed.

Dean shifted a bit, his body protesting its awkward position. Without a word, Sam slid over, giving way to more of the foot of the bed. Dean settled, leaning against the pillow Sam shoved against his lower back. They did this without discussion, without acknowledgement. It was simply a natural care of brothers whose lives depended upon the other.

Max watched this, then took a breath, his shoulders settling as if he'd decided something.

"It started a few years back," he said, crossing his arms over his chest, his chin lowered, his voice seemingly emanating directly from his gut. "We heard this…rumor about a weapon…a weapon that could kill anything—even a demon. We'd heard rumors about other things over the years—knives, guns, spells…. Never really took it to heart. Jake talked about it a bunch, though. 'Specially to Leo. Guess we shoulda taken it more seriously."

"Sean died during an exorcism gone to shit. It was…well, it was horrible. Losing his kid broke something in Jake. He wasn't the same," Max shook his head. "I'd seen that man survive so much. But this…."

Dean listened patiently, though in truth he was tired. Of listening, of learning, of being patient. Of sitting up. He wanted a beer. He wanted sex. He wanted music. He wanted to talk to his dad. He wanted peace.

He wanted to forget what they'd been through, put it away as if it had never happened. Even if the scars would remain. Even if they'd never let him go.

He'll always have them…He'll hurt them forever.

The memory of Bird's voice and her plaintive words was so potent that for a moment he almost looked for her slim, strong frame standing in this modern room with him. Rubbing his face tiredly, Dean leaned his elbow on his knee and set his chin in his hand, waiting for the inevitable necessity of more.

"When we first got wind of this weapon, we called a few hunters we knew. Most of them shrugged it off. Except your dad," Max looked up at the brothers. "He said he'd heard something about it and wanted to follow up on some leads. Was gonna meet us in Denver at one point, make a plan. But then something happened and he never showed. Leo called him and he said to forget it. Said it was a hoax. Leo said he sounded real messed up."

"When was this?" Dean asked.

"'Bout…four years ago, I think."

Dean swallowed, looking over his shoulder at Sam. "Four years ago," he repeated.

Sam looked stricken. "When I left for Stanford."

"Leo took him at his word, but…I guess Jake never did. Just kept…collecting intel. Real quiet about it, too. I never knew…not until this whole…ritual thing." Max paused, ran a hand across his thick, white mustache, then turned to the door of the motel room. He opened it, letting dusty fresh air roll in, and leaned against the doorframe. "When I was…cleaning Jake up," he continued, clearing his throat, "to take him back to where we buried Sean, I found his journal."

"What did it say?" Sam asked.

"He had…timelines and genealogies. He'd traced our families back several hundreds of years. There were other names I didn't recognize—people Jake apparently thought were important to his search. He had Joe's family, too. I'd been the one to introduce him to Joe, so it was…well, it was weird to see him in there."

Dean frowned, not really liking where Max was going with this story. It ran too closely to Ramirez's argument that their being in Sulfur Springs was no accident, and echoed Sam's everything happens for a reason.

"And how does this fill in the blanks again?" Dean asked.

"I met Max at my grandfather's funeral, about eight years ago," Joe said. "Turns out, Max and Jake saved his life once upon a time."

Max lifted a shoulder. "It was a simple salt and burn," he rumbled. "Nothing life-saving about it. But…Samuel was a good friend."

"Your grandpa's name was Samuel?" Sam asked.

Joe nodded. "Named after his father. There are a lot of Joe's and Samuel's in my family."

Dean lifted an eyebrow at his brother. "Guess you made an impression."

"It's a common enough name," Sam shrugged, but Dean saw the pleased grin hiding in the corners of his mouth.

"Anyway, Max introduced me to Jake, took me out for a beer, and I…," Joe sighed, "got drunk and told them the family legend about how my Great-Great-Grandpa was a Civil War hero who helped his town stop this psycho from killing everyone. I…may have…embellished the story a bit, but they realized that Grandpa Sam wasn't the first in our family to have a supernatural experience."

"So…Jake hears this story about Joe's Civil War hero and…, what?" Dean pressed.

"And nothing," Max shook his head. "He never really even saw Joe again, never mentioned him. His journal was full of these arbitrary conclusions about weird omens and he'd made notes about people who might have something to do with the weapon. Hunters, historians, antique dealers…. He'd traced the weapon from when it supposedly was created to when it disappeared and then he found this…random story. It was in the record of a Bible from a Spanish Mission—written in Spanish—of a great evil that had plagued this little Texas town and said that the evil was destroyed."

Max glanced once at Joe, then back at Dean. "Same little Texas town that Joe's ancestor had help save from the psycho. Jake…well, from what I could tell, he latched on to that connection and…well, you know what happened from there better than anyone."

"So, Ramirez was right," Dean said, rubbing his face. "Jake knew about Ivers…he knew the whole time."

Joe and Max exchanged confused glances, but Dean ignored them and looked over at his brother. Sam looked at tired as he felt.

"Were we supposed to be there, man?" He half-turned to face Sam.

Sam shook his head helplessly. "I don't know, Dean. I just…I don't know."

"Did we change anything? Around here? In our time?" Dean continued, his left leg bent and tucked under his right, his elbow on his knee. He turned his hand in a helpless give me something I can work with gesture.

"The town is still Maera…Max is here…the Mission was still abandoned…," Sam shrugged. "I don't know what to think."

Dean swallowed hard, feeling sick. "Jake gave the Colt to Zeke," he remembered. "He…he said that he figured if anyone could protect it—"

"It'd be him," Sam nodded. He looked over at Joe. "And he knew who you were," he said.

"What do you mean?" Joe frowned.

"He had genealogies, you said," Dean looked at Max's back, willing the man to turn around. Max stayed where he was, staring out through the opened door. "He had Joe's history back a hundred years."

"Yeah, but it wasn't…everything," Max said. "Mainly dates, if there was a son or daughter born…. It was vague, but…well, as far as my history is concerned, it was right."

"Do you think he knew who Zeke was before he got there?" Dean asked his brother.

Sam paused, thinking. "I'm guessing he knew of him," he offered. "I mean, if he traced Joe back to the town, he might've known there was a Zeke McAdams who lived there. But…as for who our friend was in relation to his journal…."

"But…he gave the gun to Zeke," Dean pointed out. "He traced Joe back to this random story in a Spanish Bible and then ended up giving the one thing he'd been after to the only man he knew might be connected to our time."

"You're thinking Joe has it." Sam looked at the doctor.

"Has what?" Joe frowned, pulling away from the brother's prying eyes. "What are you two talking about?"

"You got a gun collection, Joe? Maybe a box with an antique Colt tucked away inside?" Dean asked, hearing the tired edge on his voice.

"No guns." Joe held up his hand. "Not even a shot gun. I spend too much time putting people back together after they mess with those things."

"How about anyone in your family?" Sam asked.

Joe opened and closed his mouth, caught by a thought. "Well, I can tell you with about a hundred percent certainty that nobody back in Boston does. As far as our family here…I only really know my Aunt Jane. And I honestly couldn't tell you what that woman does or doesn't have. We all kinda…grew apart over the years. I don't even really know anyone else."

"We need to see that journal," Sam said, looking over at Max. "Check out the names Jake listed there."

Max shook his head. "I buried it."

"You what?" Dean exclaimed sitting forward.

"I buried it. With Jake."

"What the hell did you do that for?" Dean almost bellowed, wincing as his own volume reverberated in his fragile skull.

At that, Max turned slightly, fixing a flinty stare on Dean out of the corner of his eyes. "Because he was my friend. My brother. The only family I had left. And this was his story."

"So why not keep it with you, then? Learn from it?"

Max turned away from Sam's question. "Because his story caused too much pain. And I needed to end it."

"Son of a bitch," Dean rubbed his face.

"What about your family legend?" Sam asked, looking at the doctor. "It say anything about a special gun?"

Joe lifted a shoulder. "Nothing like that. I mean, you can go look in the archives I told you about—the Historical Society. If there was a gun of note, it would be in there somewhere, I'd think."

"Forget it, Sam. It's buried." Dean shook his head helplessly. "Just like Jake and his damn journal."

"Why did you bury him anyway?" Sam asked Max.

Joe looked troubled. "What?"

"He means, why not burn him," Dean clarified. "It's just something…if you want to be sure you don't return as a vengeful spirit…." Dean shrugged.

"When Leo, Jake and I were in the war," Max said, his voice barely audible, "we were ordered to destroy a village. Burn it all. Everything. Every…everybody."

The other three men in the room held very still.

"We made a promise to each other that no matter what, we'd be buried. No matter what," Max repeated softly.

Sam looked over at Dean, his face pale and tight.

Dean shook his head once. Don't tell him. Don't say anything.

Sam swallowed and looked down. The tense pain in Max's shoulders seemed to echo through the motel room. Dean heard the rhythmic tick of the clock on the stand between the two beds. He heard the crunch of asphalt beneath tires of a passing car. He heard the swoosh-thrum of his own heartbeat.

"I'm sorry," Max said finally.

Dean watched the man.

"I'm sorry we didn't fix this. I'm sorry we let it get so far out of control. I'm sorry you got caught up in it." He bowed his head, his next words a quiet scream of sadness. "I'm sorry my friends are dead."

Dean felt a chill squeeze through him. He thought of how many people he knew—really knew in his life. Not people he'd bounced against or helped or hustled. But those whose names he knew, whose faces he could picture, whose lives he'd do just about anything to keep safe.

He could count them on one hand.

The thought of losing them—any of them—and being the last man standing was chilling.

"I'm gonna go," Max said suddenly.

"Where?" Sam asked, his voice hushed.

Max lifted his head and looked off to the West from the door of the hotel. "Somewhere that's not Texas."

With those words, Max stepped from the room. They could hear the creak of his truck door, the deep-throated rumble of the engine, and then he was gone. For a moment, no one moved. Dean sat slouched to his side on the foot of Sam's bed. Sam lay propped up against the headboard, his wounded leg stretched out before him. And Joe stood just to the inside of the opened motel room door, staring out with a stricken look on his face.

"Not exactly what you signed up for, huh, Doc?" Dean asked quietly.

"I've never seen him…in so much pain," Joe replied haltingly. "Not that I couldn't fix, anyway."

Dean didn't say anything. He had nothing left to say. He still didn't understand what it had all been for—all the pain, all the death, all the near-misses of the last several days. He didn't know if he wanted to understand.

And over it all, one thought hung heavy in his mind. What am I going to tell Dad?

"You did what you could," Sam offered Joe, ever-constant in his attempt to comfort.

Joe took a breath, then let his eyes roam the room, resting finally on the brothers. "Are you two going to be okay?"

"We'll be fine," Dean replied automatically.

"I could extend my stay," Joe offered. "My Aunt Jane would—"

"We got it, Doc," Dean interrupted. "We're good."

"I gave Sam some pain meds," Joe said. "With instructions. I meant what I said. Rest, build your strength. And no driving until you can walk without dizziness." This last he said with a finger pointing directly at Dean.

Dean tipped two fingers to his forehead in a salute. Sam nodded.

"Well," Joe sighed. "It's been…interesting."

"Thanks for taking care of us, Joe," Sam said.

Joe half-smiled. "Just keeping up a family tradition."

Sam returned his smile, but Dean looked down, unable to shake the feeling that he'd lost something with this return home. He'd lost people he could have added to his list.

Joe waved to them and closed the door behind him. With the door shut, the room felt darker.

The brothers didn't speak. After a moment, Dean rose stiffly and moved toward the bathroom door. Joe was right about being dizzy when he walked. He felt like he'd had one-too-many the night before and had to focus on reaching his destination in more-or-less of a straight line. Closing the door, he pulled off the gray T-shirt and jeans Max had brought to the clinic for him to wear to the motel.

He stood in his boxers in front of the sink, turning on the water as hot as he could stand. He watched the steam rise until it clouded the mirror above. Reaching up, Dean wiped the mirror with his forearm, regarding his rough, haggard expression.

This demon is a scary son of a bitch. I don't want you caught in a crossfire. I don't want you hurt.

He closed his eyes, shaking his head once as his father's voice came to him with startling clarity.

After everything, after all the time we spent lookin' for you…please. I gotta be a part of this fight.

Sam's plea slipped in between the cracks of sound in his head. Looking back at his own eyes, Dean took a breath.

It don't matter what you want...It matters what you're gonna do.

"What do I do now?" Dean whispered, thinking of Bird's large, trusting eyes, her unwavering belief that he'd find a way to make this right for her.

"Shave," came a voice from the doorway.

Dean looked over, startled. He hadn't heard the door open. "Dude. It's called personal space."

"Shave, Dean," Sam repeated. "Take a shower. Get something to eat."

"And then what?" Dean asked his brother, taking in Sam's tense stance as his brother held himself carefully against the doorframe.

Sam shrugged. "We'll figure it out."

"What, no plan?" Dean arched an eyebrow.

Sam gripped the doorknob and grinned at him. "I'm making it up as I go."

When Sam closed the door behind him, Dean felt his mind switch off. He moved as if on autopilot, trimming the longer parts of his beard, lathering up his face, pulled the razor down the skin of his cheek and along his jaw, ridding his face of the evidence that he'd been living hard the last couple of weeks.

Once his face was again his own, he shucked his boxers, turned on the shower, and stepped in. The water spilling magically from the overhead faucet onto his head, then flowing like silk down his neck and across his shoulders was nothing short of Heaven. He simply stood for a moment, tilting his wounded face away from the direct impact with the water and letting the heated liquid chase away the aches and gooseflesh.

Glancing down, he saw the pink tracks of still-healing skin where the Daeva had marked him. It was no longer tender to the touch, but he wondered if it would ever truly disappear. In the span of just a few months, he'd now felt himself dying twice. His whole life was a give and take between life and death. Kill one thing so another can survive.

And he'd been so close…so close to….

He was on his knees before he realized it, water splattering against his back and running in triple rivers on either side of his face and from his chin. He leaned forward on his forearms, folding himself and letting his forehead touch the water pooling on the floor of the bathtub. He knew he needed to get a grip, to stop shaking, to leave this room and be ready to take on the next thing and the next and the next.

But he couldn't get Bird's gray eyes out of his head, and he could still hear the rattle of Jake's last breath, and he could still feel the vise-like grip of Ivers' hand on his throat, and he could still smell the burning flesh of his brother's leg.

It was an impossibility that could not have happened to them.

And yet it did.

And people had died.

And he was going to have to find a place to put this. Somewhere inside of him where it wouldn't matter anymore. Where he wouldn't have to think about it every day.

The water began to cool and Dean pushed himself slowly to his knees, then finally to his feet. He used the bar of soap on the tray and washed his entire body, carefully avoiding the stitches and bruises, before rinsing off and stepping out. It wasn't until he was standing naked in the steam-filled bathroom that he realized the only towel available to him was a small hand towel draped over the edge of the sink.

"Fabulous," he complained.

Drying off as best he could, he pulled on his discarded clothes, the gray T-shirt sticking to the planes of his belly and chest with the excess water, and exited the bathroom ready to tear into Sam, despite the fact that it had been so long since they'd first arrived in town and checked into this motel room he couldn't remember who had used up the last of the towels.

It took him two angry strides into the room to realize that Sam was asleep. He stopped, mouth agape, and stared at his lanky brother, sprawled across the bed, wounded leg propped up on pillows, snoring softly through parted lips.

Sighing, the pointless anger sliding out of him, Dean approached the bed. He grabbed the blankets and tugged gently, covering Sam to the shoulders. Sam frowned slightly in his sleep, huffed a bit and turned, his wounded leg stopping him. Dean tensed, watching, but Sam settled once more. He straightened, his eyes on Sam, thinking about what his brother had been through in the last several days, how he'd fought through it, how he'd survived.

It was a strength Dean had always known was inside his brother, something he admired and was, in a way, envious of. Dean fought because he knew no other way. Sam fought because he knew this wasn't all there was.

"I'll be right back," he whispered to his sleeping brother.

He moved to his duffel bag. In the dim light of the room, he found his cell phone, the battery dead. Digging deeper, he located the charger and his keys. The only phone charger they currently owned pulled power from the cigarette lighter inside the Impala, not from a wall socket. With a glance back at Sam, he left the room and stepped in the lazy light of the Texas afternoon.

The Impala sighed as he sank into her seat, pulling the door closed behind him. For a moment, he simply sat in the quiet of his car, filling his senses with her familiar smell, the feel of her leather seats, the grip of her steering wheel. He turned the key one notch until the battery lit the radio and powered up the lighter. Plugging in the phone, Dean scrolled down his list of numbers until he found the one he wanted.

Dad.

Clearing his throat, he dragged his hand down his face, pinching his lip, then hit send. For the first time in recent memory, he hoped for voicemail.

"Yeah."

"Dad?"

"Dean? That you?"

"Yeah, uh…yeah, Dad. It's me."

"Where the hell have you been? I've been trying to reach you for—"

"Dad, uh, your friend…your friend Leo is…."

The silence on the other end of the phone told Dean that John already knew what he was going to say. He rolled his lips against his teeth, not finding the words inside him to continue.

"How?" John's voice felt empty with that word.

"It's…a long story."

"Is your brother okay?"

"He's gonna be fine. He, uh…," Dean hesitated. "He got hurt, but, Max knew a guy that was able to help us."

"How about you?"

Dean was ashamed to feel the burn of tears at the back of his throat choking off a quick reply.

"Dean?" John voice grew softer, gentling with the name. "Hey. C'mon, kid. You're scaring me."

"It was a tough hunt, Dad."

Dean knew his father could hear the tears in his voice and he pressed his lips tight to try to keep them at bay.

"But you're okay?"

Dean tried to say 'yes.' He tried to simply nod. But all he could do was clench his teeth in frustration with himself as a tear escaped his lashes and trailed down his cheek.

"Dean."

He moved the receiver away from his mouth and cleared his throat, finding his control. "I'll be fine, Dad," he said, his voice once again steady.

"Why didn't you call me?"

"There wasn't time," Dean lied, roughly wiping the traitorous tear from his cheek with the palm of his hand. "We didn't realize we were in over our heads until—"

"Until you were already there," John finished.

"Yeah."

They were both quiet a moment.

"Jake and Max take care of Leo?"

Dean swallowed. "Jake's dead, too."

"What the hell?" John's exclamation was more surprised shock than anger, but Dean flinched just the same. It was a lot of information for his father to take in—and he hadn't even scratched the surface.

"Dad, the reason Leo called you was…he wanted you to help him stop Jake from doing something…crazy."

He braced himself for John's next question, expecting to be primed for details on exactly what level of crazy they'd been dealing with.

"And you weren't able to stop him?"

Dean shook his head, his, "No," barely a whisper.

John was quiet for a moment. Dean felt the chasm of opportunity open wide for him, heard the cue in the silence to offer details.

"You tried, kid," John told him, finally. "Sometimes…sometimes a man'll get something in his head and…and nothing short of death is gonna keep him from doing it."

Dean huffed out a laugh he knew his father couldn't hear.

"When that happens…you got two choices," John continued. "Hang on for the ride, or get the hell out of the way."

"Guess it depends on who that man is to you, which one of those you choose, huh?" Dean said softly, his voice slightly choked with emotion.

"Yeah, I guess so," John conceded.

Dean chewed on his bottom lip. It would be so easy right now to tell his father what he knew of the weapon Jake had been after. The weapon he guessed John was looking for now. It would be so easy to tell him how he'd seen the demon fall in a hail of bullets only to rise again. It would be so easy to tell him how he saw one bullet slam into that same demon, how it lit the figure up from the inside out, how he'd seen a demon die.

It would be so easy and yet…the words stuck in the back of his throat.

They snagged on the telling of how he'd nearly died from the Daeva cuts his father hadn't ever known about—hadn't stopped long enough to check on. They snagged on the telling of how he and Sam had been physically torn apart by time, falling and crashing through history until they were rendered helpless and hopeless and bleeding.

He wanted to tell him about Bird and Zeke and the Ghost, about racing the rushing water of a destroyed dam and of holding Sam so tightly while his leg was cauterized he almost felt his brother's skin meld with his own.

He wanted to tell him all of it. But he didn't say a word.

"Where are you headed next?"

"We, uh…we're gonna stay put for a bit. Gotta heal up some."

"We?"

"Banged my head pretty good," Dean confessed. "Nothing I can't handle."

"Good. You take care of each other," John said, and the cadence of those words echoed the last Dean had heard from his father before they'd left Gary for Maera. He allowed himself a smile and the luxury of thought that he'd been included in his father's standard missive.

"We will. You staying safe?"

"I'm good, Dean. Got a lot going on here."

It crossed Dean's mind to ask his dad where 'here' was, but he knew in his gut that if John had wanted him to know, he would have already said.

"Are we…y'know, gonna see you again anytime soon?"

"Yeah, kid," John said, and Dean heard the grin in his father's voice. "I'll find you."

"Okay," Dean swallowed. "You be careful, Dad."

"You, too," John said, and Dean heard a click.

He hadn't asked for more details about Jake and Leo, Dean realized. He hadn't demanded to know what had happened, how they'd died, why the hunt had been rough. He hadn't asked about any of it.

Frowning, Dean tried to remember if he'd heard any ambient noise around his father to indicate where he might've been, what he might've been doing, but it had been quiet. It was almost as if he'd caught his father in a rare moment of peace that John didn't want to disturb.

And, to be fair, Dean himself had been the one to argue that these three hunters who summarily changed the course of Dean and Sam's lives weren't really friends of John's. They simply shared a rare commonality of being soldiers and hunters, and in John's eyes, that bonded them. Perhaps it was simply enough for John to know that they were gone, that this life had claimed theirs.

Turning the engine off and unplugging the phone, Dean stepped carefully out of the car, knowing he was fooling himself. John would look into the deaths. He would look into this hunt. He'd find out the truth sooner or later.

Dean set his jaw. He can come ask me about it himself.

John wasn't the only one who could operate on a need to know basis.

Using that as his backbone, Dean returned to the motel room, glanced at his sleeping brother, pulled off his jeans, crawled between the sheets, and slept the dreamless, thought-free sleep of a pretender.

www

The first time Dean left it was to bring back food.

Though the diner was within walking distance, it took Sam too long to hobble on crutches and after several days of clear liquids, Dean was beyond starving. Sam wasn't able to stifle his laugh when his brother returned with four take-out dinners, a six-pack of beer, and one whole peach pie.

They passed the day eating, drinking and watching TV. Dean had entirely too much fun at Sam's expense when they stumbled across a rerun of Bonanza. Both were content to watch a marathon of CSI, but then turned the stations when the movie Gettysburg started. Sam saw the ghost of his grief reflected in his brother's expression when they thought of Zeke.

The man hadn't died—not with them present in any case—but they'd lost him just the same.

The next time Dean left it was in a fit of restlessness in the sleepy hours of the evening. He was gone an hour when he called Sam to say he'd made a friend, infusing into that word a meaning unique to Dean. Sam didn't expect him back the rest of the night and was surprised when just over an hour later, Dean returned, eyes cloudy, face tight.

"What? She wasn't your type?" Sam asked, shifting stiffly in the bed as he tried to adjust his position to accommodate his still-healing wound.

Dean tossed him a look and shrugged out of his leather jacket. Sam had noticed he'd taken to wearing it all the time lately. He also noticed that he no longer removed the gold amulet he'd given his brother when they were kids as he used to do when sleeping or showering. It never left his neck now.

"You weren't her type?" Sam prodded.

"It wasn't about type," Dean grumbled.

"What was it about then?"

Dean sat heavily on the edge of the bed and pulled off his boots. "You know…the only thing that stayed in one piece in that crazy ride were these damn things," he said, completely avoiding a direct answer.

Sam frowned. They'd spent two days in the motel room together, resting, healing up, and hadn't once brought up their trip to the past.

"And your lighter," he pointed out.

"Right. My lighter." Dean lay back carefully. "We've been here too long."

"You think you can drive without getting dizzy?"

"Dude," Dean groaned, closing his eyes. "I can't even get laid without getting dizzy."

Sam glanced away. "Sorry, man."

"Don't be too sorry," Dean muttered. "I closed the deal. I just did it like a teenager after his first shot of whiskey."

"I didn't need to know that," Sam grumbled.

"'S okay. She'll get over me. Eventually."

They sat in silence for a moment, the flickering light of the TV dancing shadows across their features.

"I called Dad," Dean said suddenly, not opening his eyes.

"I figured," Sam replied.

"I didn't tell him."

"Figured that, too," Sam said softly.

It was one of two explanations Sam had come up with for his brother's increased restlessness and inability to sleep.

"Not sure what to tell him," Dean confessed.

"Maybe nothing," Sam said. "Maybe…maybe this one is just ours."

"Don't want to share your toys, Sammy?"

Sam was quiet for a moment. "You know when Dad called us that time? From Sacramento?"

"Yeah…," Dean answered, his voice betraying his wariness at the direction Sam's words could be headed.

"He didn't trust us to help. Didn't tell us where he was. Just…told us it was a demon and that he was gonna take care of it and then sent us on another hunt."

"He was trying to protect us, Sam," Dean replied.

Sam swallowed. "And then in Chicago…I mean it was like…." He stopped, searching for the words. "I almost wish we hadn't seen him. Kinda made everything that much worse, y'know?"

Dean didn't reply, and Sam rolled on.

"You may have been the one to tell him to leave, but he was ready to go. He didn't even know about those cuts on your side. It's the second time since you came to Stanford to get me that you've almost died, and he had no idea."

"If we hadn't been back in True Grit, I wouldn't have almost died."

"Not the point," Sam shook his head. "He had his agenda. And it didn't include us. So I just think…this one is ours."

"I don't know," Dean rolled his head to look at Sam. "I know this lead of his…whatever he's working on to kill this demon…I know it's that gun. I know it, Sam."

"So?" Sam replied petulantly.

"So," Dean bit out. "We saw the damn thing, man. We could help him find it. Have something…legitimate to help get the demon that killed Mom. And Jess."

"Dean," Sam turned off the TV, dipping the room into darkness. "Do you even hear what you're saying? This is our fight—this whole thing. Not just Dad's, no matter what he says. We shouldn't have to have some…some token to bring him that lets us go after it with him."

"It's always gonna be like this, isn't it? You fighting Dad. Even when the man's not here."

"Listen," Sam relented slightly. "I'm just saying…we don't know where that gun is or even if it still exists. We saw it a hundred and thirty years ago—one time. For all we know it got buried with Zeke and no one's ever going to see it again. Is that what you want to tell Dad?"

Dean sighed heavily. "I feel like I saw the answers to a test I'm not even taking."

Sam rubbed absently at his leg. The scabbed-over skin had begun to itch, indicating it was healing quickly. The ache from the damaged muscle had waned to a once-in-awhile twinge. He knew that if Dean were able, they could leave tomorrow. And he was ready to go. He wanted to get back to what they knew, back to what had brought them together again. Plus, too much inactivity made Dean restless.

And a restless Dean was a dangerous Dean.

"I have an idea," he said into the darkness, light from the parking lot silhouetting his brother on the opposite bed.

"This can't be good."

"Bite me, Jerk."

"Bitch."

"You want to hear this or not?"

"Lay it on me," Dean said with a suitably dramatic sigh.

"I say tomorrow we go to the historical society thing that Joe told us about, see what we see."

"You mean, look up everybody?" Dean asked, hope flicking the edges of his words.

"Yeah, I mean…I don't know about you, but I kinda feel like—"

"We lost someone," Dean said softly.

"Yeah, exactly. So, let's go find out what happened to everybody…then we can leave the next day."

"And go where?"

Sam shrugged. "I saw a report online earlier. Might be our kind of thing."

"Okay." He heard Dean exhale in the dark. "I like this plan."

When Dean left the next day, Sam was with him—free of crutches but limping. The walk from the little motel to the town library wasn't far and Sam found himself purposefully stretching his stride to out-distance Dean's bow-legged gait just so that he could work loose muscle grown stiff from inactivity.

He almost missed the familiar smell of manure, grass, and equine sweat until Dean smacked him lightly on the shoulder and nodded to an open field stretching out behind the small library where three horses—a bay and two Paints—meandered munching greedily on grass. He glanced sideways at his brother and caught the mischievous glint in Dean's eyes.

"Don't even go there, man," Sam said, reaching for the door of the library.

"What?" Dean asked innocently, following behind. "One last ride? For old time's sake?"

Sam glared at him, shaking his head. "Never. Again."

They met up with Jane McAdams in the library and she happily led them to the closet-sized room where she'd filed and catalogued the history of Maera, Texas, back as far as 1845, when Texas first became a state.

"I'm gonna choke to death on dust," Dean complained.

"Let's haul this out to the main table out there," Sam suggested.

"I'll haul, you sit," Dean instructed.

Sam frowned at him. "I'm okay to haul, Dean."

"You're gimping along like a three-legged dog. You want to leave tomorrow? Go sit. And prop that leg up."

Sam raised an eyebrow and held up two fingers in front of Dean's face. "How many fingers do you see?"

Dean flipped him off. "How many do you see?"

"Fine," Sam huffed. "But if your head starts hurting, we take a break."

"Fine," Dean replied, loading his arms with books and files.

He deposited his load noisily on the table and looked around apologetically. Jane didn't even look up from her perch at the main table.

"There's no one else here," Dean observed.

"It's a library in Maera, Texas," Sam pointed out. "I'm surprised they have books."

At that, Jane did glance up and Sam saw her disapproving frown.

"Sorry," he muttered, then pulled a book close to him. "Check this out. The Story of Maera."

Dean sat and tipped his chair back on its rear legs, waiting.

"It goes back to when the town was called Henry Creek," Sam reported excitedly. "The town was founded by—"

"Let me guess," Dean said, eyes closed. "Some guy named Henry?"

"Nathan Henry," Sam nodded. "Guess he was the sheriff and established the town in 1866, after he got out of the Army. He was killed in 1868 in a botched arrest. Town was renamed Sulfur Springs by the new sheriff."

"Dawson," Dean remembered. "Who was one of Ivers' men. Think Ivers killed this Henry dude?"

"Doesn't say," Sam continued skimming the pages of the book. "Kinda hard to follow for a bit—the type is all scrunched together and there aren't any breaks in the paragraphs."

"Skip down to 1870," Dean suggested.

"Huh," Sam muttered.

"What?" Dean dropped his chair back on all-fours and leaned forward. "Good 'huh' or bad 'huh'?"

"It skips over 1870. Goes from this report about a…well, it's about Tom O'Maera, actually. When he built that dam on the river that ran through both his and Ivers' property. Next thing is a new sheriff being elected—huh, elected, that's interesting—in 1871."

"Say who it is?"

"No one we knew," Sam said. "Someone named Finch. First initial 'B.'"

Dean rubbed his face. "So it didn't matter," he said. "None of it. Just about the whole town watched a," he dropped his voice, "a demon get killed right in front of them and went right on about their business."

"They didn't know he was a demon, Dean," Sam pointed out.

Dean lifted an eyebrow. "Right, 'cause any old bad guy can get shot a dozen times and then get up and drag someone across the room using the Force."

"Well, okay, yeah, that was weird, but," Sam flipped a page in the dusty book, "Ramirez had a point about not assuming that the bad stuff inside a person is actual evil."

Dean looked away, not answering.

"I mean…what if I said…Joe is an angel," Sam continued.

Dean arched an eyebrow at him, a smile playing around his lips. "Something you want to get off your chest there, Sammy?"

"Shut up and listen a second. He's a good guy, right? Decent guy?"

Dean shrugged. "Yeah, I guess."

"So, what if I told you that he was really an angel?"

"Whatever, dude. He's just a guy."

"Exactly. Just a good guy. So, why isn't it possible to believe that these people just saw a bad guy, not a monster from their Bible stories?"

Dean sighed, leaning back. "Still doesn't explain how they just…ignored what they saw. But…I kinda see your point."

"People can explain away anything," Sam said, scanning the page in front of him and speaking distractedly. "It's just easier for us to see it 'cause we know it's out th—holy shit!"

Dean sat forward. "What?"

"Wanna know when Sulfur Springs changed its name to Maera?"

Dean lifted his eyebrows, waiting.

"1887. Wanna know why?"

"Dude, you're like this close to getting your gimpy ass kicked."

"They named it after their first mayor. A woman named Hannah O'Maera."

Dean's mouth fell open. "Bird?"

Sam nodded, grinning. "Says here she was instrumental in peace talks between the town and a local Comanche tribe. Through use of Indian sign, she was able to work out trade deals and commerce and even created the first community garden where they grew medicinal herb remedies used by the local doctor and tribal healers."

"Son of a bitch," Dean said softly, drawing the words out in a whisper of wonder.

"How about that? If you hadn't fallen practically in her lap…she might not have ever left that barn and…I mean, she could've been killed when Ivers raided the Mission."

Dean frowned. "We don't know that, though. I mean, the town was called Maera before we were there."

"There's all kindsa reasons a town gets its name, though. I mean, it could have been named after Rory. The kid might've been the one to take out Ivers in the original history for all we know."

Dean rubbed his face. "We don't really know what we did or didn't change, do we? I mean, we didn't know what happened to anyone in the first place, so how do we know if we made a difference?"

Sam sat back, tilting his head at his brother. "Which way do you want it to be?"

Dean brought his eyes in focus on Sam. "What do you mean?"

Chewing his bottom lip, Sam peered at him, his forehead creased in thought. "I mean, do you want all this," he pointed to the opened book, "to have happened because we were there…or in spite of it?"

Dean frowned, looking down.

"I know you said you wanted it to matter, Dean." Sam shook his head, his eyes directed to the words of the town's history but seeing instead the sardonic grin of a doctor-turned-saloon owner and the generous curves of his brothel sweetheart. "And maybe it does, but not in the way you think."

"What are you saying, Sammy?" Dean asked, not lifting his head, his voice husky with thought.

"Maybe Ivers was always killed by Jake. Maybe we were supposed to be there. Maybe if we'd done research before we left we'd've read about ourselves. I don't know. But I do know that before I landed on his back step, Zeke McAdams was a drunk who couldn't get over the war. And I know that after we left…after he'd had to be a doctor again…he changed his life enough to hook up with someone and have a kid and eventually…there was Joe."

Dean's lips tipped up in a half-hearted smile.

"And I know that it's possible Rory and Kate got free from Ivers some other way. And that Bird could've been saved by anyone," Sam continued, ducking his head to catch Dean's eyes. "But I also know that this Bird," he pointed to the book, "that grew up to become mayor and have a town named after her…I know she's the same little girl who thanked you for saving her mom and who about ripped her arms out of their sockets trying to keep you away from Ivers."

"She had a pretty tight grip," Dean acknowledged.

"So, maybe us being there didn't…turn Maera into a metropolis or open people's eyes to the fact that monsters are real. Maybe people died that would have lived or lived that would've died. I don't know," Sam shrugged. "But we never meant to go back there. And…well, we did the best we could, man."

They sat for a moment, files and books around them, more evidence, more stories, more history of the town they'd shed blood in over a hundred years before.

"I'm gonna…walk around for a while," Dean said suddenly. "Think you can get back on your own?"

Sam looked at him, worry pulling his brows close. "You okay?"

Dean pushed to his feet and tossed Sam an I'm always all right grin. "Just need some air. Dusty in here."

"Okay," Sam said, hesitantly. "Got your phone?"

"Jesus, Sam, I'm not five."

"Just checking," Sam raised his hands in surrender and watched Dean walk away, pushing through the wooden doors of the library and heading in the opposite direction of the motel.

Sighing, Sam closed the history book and stared at the other documents and books spread out before him, unsure how far he really wanted to go.

www

It took Dean a moment to realize why the Mission felt closer to town: there were more buildings.

In Sulfur Springs, the town ended about a mile shy of the Mission. But in Maera, the mercantile and grocery store, hardware store and diner, two-screen cinema and mom-and-pop coffee shops all stretched along the asphalt-covered road until he was left with only about a couple hundred yards of dusty path beaten into the crab grass to walk until he reached the front door of the run-down Mission.

The barn was still there, Dean noticed, just as it had been when he'd first parked the Impala next to it, but it looked as if something—a fire, he recalled—had taken a large bite out of it. The door to the Mission was open, the latch broken from where he'd kicked it in that fateful night.

Dead candles were scattered across the make-shift altar and at various points around the empty room. Cobwebs hung from the rafters and between the broken pews, blowing languidly in the weak breeze from the open door. Dean made his way to the front of the chapel area. Someone—Max, presumably—had removed the items from the altar that Jake had gathered for the ritual.

Staring down at the floor Dean thought about waking up in the rectory, seeing his brother and the priest who'd saved him. He remembered distinctly how empty he'd felt. How weak. Sam's book—at least the one he'd read from—hadn't mentioned Ramirez, or the Mission. But this building had played a pivotal role in all of this. It had become their last line of defense. Their salvation.

I wonder if Jake knew that when he picked this place for his ritual.

"I don't know where Max buried you," Dean said, the sound of his own voice startling in the echoing quiet of the building. "I, uh…I wanted to say…I'm sorry, I guess. I wish we could've…made some kinda difference. Figured out a way to help you that wasn't…all this."

He sniffed, looking over his shoulder self-consciously. It wouldn't surprise him at this point if Jake's ghost suddenly appeared. Another quick glance around assured him he was alone.

"I'd like to think I'd never do what you did," Dean continued, clearing his throat around his confession. "But the truth is…we're not that different." He swallowed, his heart trembling as he pushed out his next words. "If I lost Sammy or Dad, I…," he paused, then took a breath, "well, I guess I can see why you took it this far. Not saying I like it. I mean, you kinda turned my world sideways, man. But…I get it."

He lifted his eyes, looking around the crumbling interior. One day he might tell his dad about the weapon. One day he might tell his dad about everything.

But Sam was right: for now, it was enough that it was just theirs. They'd lived through it. They'd made it out on the other side.

"I hope you find Sean," Dean said softly, then turned and walked out of the Mission and back toward the motel.

www

Sam heard the music before he reached the motel parking lot. The opening chords of AC/DCs Hells Bells were distinguishable from almost a block away.

He was grinning by the time he'd limped into the lot, the setting sun catching on the Impala's raised hood and opened trunk, Dean buried waist deep in her engine humming along with Brian Johnson. Sam approached the car from the rear, noticing that the false bottom was in place inside the trunk, hiding their weapons cache from any wandering eyes. On top of the extra towels and discarded flannel shirts, Dean's inherited holster was resting, belt wrapped around the main rigging, black leather gleaming in the waning light.

"I didn't know you kept this," Sam said.

Dean jerked and cursed. Sam winced hoping his brother hadn't cracked his still-healing skull on the underside of the hood. Emerging from the engine, Dean wiped his hands on a shop towel and made his way around to the trunk with a scowl.

"Sorry," Sam offered.

"'S okay," Dean sighed. "Shoulda been paying more attention. Not like you should be able to sneak up on a guy limping like that."

"Hey, I'm getting better," Sam protested. "Besides, you're the one who can't walk in a straight line."

"It's the damndest thing," Dean replied. "On my way back here from the Mission—"

"Is that where you went?"

Dean nodded. "On my way back…things just got clear. No more fuzzy lines." He waved his fingers in the air to illustrate.

"It's the hand of God," Sam smirked.

"Whatever," Dean shrugged. "What's that?" He pointed to the bag in Sam's hand.

"Got something for you," Sam said, his mouth working around a smile.

Dean looked genuinely surprised for a moment, but Sam saw the sardonic mask slip quickly back in place. "Aw, Sammy. You like me. You really like me."

"Ease up," Sam chuckled. "It's for you, but…kinda for me, too. What are you doing?"

"You're not gonna give it to me?"

"In a second, jeeze, you're like a kid at Christmas," Sam made his way past Dean toward the front of the car. "She okay?" He gestured to the opened hood.

"Yeah, she's aces," Dean nodded, tucking the shop rag back into the rear pocket of his jeans. "Just figured, y'know, now that I can see straight, I should get her tuned up and ready to roll out tomorrow."

Hells' Bells ended and Sam heard the cassette click to the other side.

"From this day on I own my father's gun…."

Sam frowned at his brother. "What's that? Elton John?"

"Dude, check this out," Dean opened the driver's side door, the music's volume increasing. He turned the dial to soften the noise and not scream over it. "I found this in the trunk when I was looking for a place to put the holster."

"It's your box of tapes," Sam said as Dean slid behind the wheel. He leaned on the opened door, shifting his weight to his good leg and the bag he'd been carrying from one hand to the other.

"Not that, this," Dean lifted the empty cassette case from the box and handed it to Sam. "It's Mom's handwriting."

"How do you know?" Sam asked in wonder, staring at the song list writing in neat, tight letters down the front of the cardboard insert.

"Saw a letter from her to Dad once. He had it tucked in the journal and I…uh, borrowed it. Long time ago."

Sam arched an eyebrow. "You stole a love letter from Mom to Dad?"

"Yeah. I did." Dean stared back at him, challenging. "I gave it back," he amended.

Sam looked back at the cassette. "A Mix of Us," he read. "She made him a mix tape," he laughed.

"Yeah, in '82, see?"

"AC/DC, Doors, Sex Pistols, Beatles, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Rolling Stones…oh, my God is that Pat Benatar?"

Dean held up his hands and rolled his eyes as if to say, women.

"This was inside it," he said, handing Sam a business card. On the front was the name Guenther's Garage and a Lawrence, KS, phone number. On the back, Mary had written, Before there was anything else, there was us.

Sam smiled. "Mom was a romantic," he said softly. Elton John's distinctive voice filled the void as he regarded his mother's list of music.

"As soon as this is over we'll go home to plant the seeds of justice in our bones, to watch the children growing and see the women sewing. There'll be laughter when the bells of freedom ring…."

"Hey, Dean?"

"Yeah?" Dean's eyes were on the steering wheel, his gaze a hundred years away.

"You think this will ever…y'know, be over?"

"This?"

Sam lifted a shoulder. "This…fight."

Dean looked at him askance. "You mean so you can leave?"

Sam didn't reply.

"You know what I think, Sam," Dean said softly. "This fight…I mean, it's bigger than us. Always has been. And now we know that first hand." He ran his blunt, calloused fingers along the ridges of the steeling wheel in an absent-minded caress. "It's been going on forever. It's never going to be over."

You and me. We're all that's left. So, if we're gonna see this through, we're gonna do it together.

Sam swallowed hard, his own words echoing in his head.

Wait until it's really over before you leave...

It was such a simple request. All Dean wanted was for him to wait. He didn't ask him not to go. He didn't ask him to live this life forever. He just asked him to wait until this fight was well and truly done.

Sam sighed softly. He couldn't leave Dean now…not now when they'd seen so much, survived so much, and when there were so many questions still to be answered. And there was something…breakable inside his brother. Something he'd not seen before; not while they were growing up on the road, not when he walked away for college, not even when he almost lost Dean to the volts used to take out the Rawhead. In the hours before they'd found Ramirez, Sam knew he had been as close to feeling his brother die as he ever wanted to get.

And it shook him to his core. Dean was simply always supposed to be there. It was starting to resonate with him why it mattered so much to Dean that Sam stick around.

"You ever gonna show me what's in the bag?" Dean asked as Elton John gave way to The Rolling Stones.

"You're a good brother, Dean," Sam said suddenly.

Dean jerked his head to the side, unable to slide the mask in place this time. "Huh?"

"I just mean…you're more than a hunter. A lot more."

Dean frowned. "I think you spent too much time with those dusty old books."

Sam didn't back away, didn't back down. He wanted his brother to hear this.

"I'll keep my promise," Sam continued. "I won't leave until it's over."

Dean cocked an eyebrow. "And what if I'm right? What if it's never over?"

"Wild horses couldn't drag me away. Wild, wild horses, couldn't drag me away…"

"Then I guess we'll be spending a lot of time together," Sam said with a half grin.

Dean rolled his eyes. "Oh, great. Live a life hunting evil and get a pain-in-the-ass as a reward."

Sam's grin widened. "You say that now," he took a step back from the car door and reached into the bag he'd been holding. "But you'll sing a different tune the next time I save that ass."

"I always have a plan, Sam," Dean protested good-naturedly.

"Uh-huh," Sam intoned. "Here."

Dean took the clear bottle from him. "I don't get it."

Sam handed him a hand-written label with an adhesive back. On it he'd written Holy Water. Dean took the label and started to laugh. Sam handed him a bottle of antiseptic. Dean's laugh rivaled the volume of the radio, which had slipped from The Stones to Pink Floyd.

"So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain…."

"Figured…better safe than sorry," Sam explained smiling as he watched his brother wipe tears of laughter from his eyes.

"Yeah," Dean gasped. "Wouldn't want to…y'know…mix up the Nair and shampoo."

"Why you even had Nair, I don't want to know," Sam shook his head, taking the clear bottle back and turning toward the motel room door. "I'll get us packed. You finish up here."

"Hey," Dean called.

Sam paused and turned. "Yeah?"

"Where are we going?"

Sam lifted a shoulder. "Not too far. Richardson. Some haunted house thing."

"Nice," Dean grinned, climbing out of the Impala and muffling the music a bit as he closed the door.

Sam started for the motel room once more.

"Hey," Dean called again.

"What?" Sam sighed, turning to face his brother, irritation clear in his expression.

"Thanks, Sam," Dean said sincerely.

Sam glanced down, then back up again, his smile genuine. "Sure."

"Maybe we can stop by a church on the way to this haunted house of yours. Stock up," Dean said, pointing at the soon-to-be-labeled Holy Water bottle.

"Whatever you want," Sam replied. "So long as we drive there. I'm never getting on a horse again as long as I live."

"Never say never, Sammy," Dean grinned, turning his attention back to the Impala's engine.

Watching his brother lean head-first into the greasy heart of the machine, Sam heard the muted musings of Roger Waters from his mother's mix tape.

"Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?"

Sam turned toward the motel room, his smile soft and sad as he felt the weight of those words.