Rating: PG-13


Chapter 2 - See

"Oh, did you ever believe that I could leave you, standing out in the cold
I know how it feels 'cause I have slipped through to the very depths of my soul.
I just wanna show what I'd give you it is from every bend in the road"

- Led Zeppelin, "In the Light"

"But you're…you're okay, and that's what matters. Everything else, we can deal with."

www

It watched. Waited for its moment.

The power it gained from darkness was intoxicating. Feeding off hate gave it form, substance, made it tactile. Brought life to the impossible, reality to the non-existent.

Silent eyes drifted across empty landscape, searching for another, for a reason. Existence that began through vengeance persevered because of the weakness in humanity. It knew there would be a moment when darkness would fill it up; deeds better left buried deep in abashed psyches would feed it, degrading thoughts would sustain it.

And there would be blood.

www

For a moment, Sam couldn't remember where he was.

Awareness came to him in stages and he lay very still while he waited for his memory to catch up with his senses. He felt the give of a soft mattress beneath him, the tangle of sheets and a light blanket between his jean-clad legs, the sour-smelling pillow case pressed against his cheek.

Slowly, he ran his tongue across his dry lips, pulling them against his teeth and resisting the urge to suck in the saliva that had trickled from the corner of his mouth during his drunken slumber. The dull pound of his blood hummed menacingly behind his eyes, gathering at the back of his head and preparing an assault.

Forcing his heavy eyes open, he slid a clumsy hand up to his face and rubbed stiff fingers over his skin. Rolling over very slowly, he dug grit from his lashes and sighed deeply as he stared at the wooden slats of the exposed ceiling above him.

Safe house…

Bar fight…

Dean… gun… bullet… pier… water…

Sam squeezed his eyes shut as the battle his body had been gearing up for began between his head and his stomach. His mouth tasted like something had crawled inside, made a home between his teeth, and died. He vaguely remembered a white bucket and a blonde woman. Covering his face again, Sam breathed in through his nose, his hands filtering the scents of the morning.

Coffee… bacon… Dean… gun… bullet…

Trying to stifle the repetitive loop of memory, Sam shoved the covers free from him, dropping first one leg then the other over the side of the bed, pushing himself upright. He paused as the world caught up, tipping and rolling lazily around him, causing him to immediately regret any ambition of actually being functional.

Resting his elbows on his knees, he dropped his forehead to his palms, curling his fingers in his loose, shaggy hair.

I've tried so hard to keep you safe…

The memory of Dean's eyes, his voice, his naked belief that Sam wouldn't do those things, that Sam was innocent, that Sam could be redeemed made him want another drink. Licking his lips once more, Sam raised bleary eyes to search for his brother.

He found him immediately, and stared in wonder.

Dean sat in one of the curved-back wooden chairs from the small kitchen table facing the opened doorway, feet propped up on the doorframe, chair tilted back on its rear legs. He held a cup of coffee in a white mug at his waist, his arm protectively tucked against his side, and was chewing on a piece of bacon, tossing every other bite out of the doorway.

Sam followed his toss and blinked in surprise as a large gray and white dog, sitting on the porch with its paws on the edge of the opening, caught the bite mid-air, swallowing it whole. He looked back at Dean and saw his brother grin openly.

"Atta boy," Dean said softly, evidently unaware that Sam was awake.

"Hey," Sam said, his voice husky with abuse and sleep.

Dean jerked slightly, then looked over, maintaining his casual balance on the chair's spindly legs. "Hey yourself," he returned. "How you feeling?"

"Stupid," Sam replied, trying to read Dean's eyes. They were shadowed in the morning light filtering in from the doorway. "We have toothpaste, right?"

"Already in the bathroom, man," Dean looked back at the dog. "We got a friend."

"So I see," Sam stood up, immediately realizing he had to pee. "Be right back."

"Take your time," Dean said, not looking at him. "Want s'more? Yeah, you do, dontcha?"

Sam watched him talk to the dog, shaking his head as he marveled at the years that stripped away from his brother's face when it relaxed in a genuine smile. He turned toward the bathroom, making quick business of showering and shaving, all the while avoiding looking directly in the mirror.

Snatches of images, like moments of a nightmare, slid across Sam's vision. Breaking into a blue VW… hotwiring it… turning up music that would have made Dean cringe and swear… The taste of menthol cigarettes suddenly coated the back of his throat, making him gag. He leaned forward, gripping the edge of the sink, spitting into the basin, then turned on the water to wash the taste down the drain.

Lifting his head, he faced his reflection for a moment, staring hard at his own eyes, trying to see something there, anything residual from the demon inside, anything to show that he could break, that he could hurt Dean again.

My plans for you, Sammy… and all the children like you…

The memory of yellow eyes taunting him from the familiar features of his father shot fingers of horror down Sam's spine. He wondered if, in the moments of silence offered to him in the hospital, John had remembered feeling the being shove him aside and climb inside his body, using his arms, moving his lips, raping his mind, molesting his voice. He wondered if John had wanted to turn himself inside out, shake himself clean… or if there hadn't been time between shoot me in the heart son and can we just not fight for John to have looked in the mirror.

An unfamiliar sound drew Sam's attention. Out in the main room, Dean was laughing.

The noise brought Sam around, turned him away from the mirror and his guilt. He searched his memory for the last time he'd heard Dean laugh with delight and came up empty. Balling up his dirty clothes, he stepped out into the open room, heading for his duffel. Dean had moved from the tipped-back chair to stand on the porch. He was leaning against one of the posts that led down the steps to the ground, throwing a stick toward the woods and watching as the dog grabbed it up and brought it back.

"Good boy, Lobo," Dean complemented, waiting until the dog dropped the stick on the top step and jumped back. Sam noticed his brother didn't touch the dog, and the dog didn't get close enough to allow it.

"You named him?"

Dean glanced at Sam over his shoulder. "Abe did, kinda," he said. "Told me that's what he is, so… figured it worked as good as anything else for a name."

Sam pulled a T-shirt over his head, tugging it down to cover the waistband of his jeans. He grabbed a long-sleeved shirt from his bag, dropping it on the bed to put on later, then moved over to the doorway, pulling the fresh morning air into his lungs, letting it clear his muddled head.

"He won't come inside," Dean said, tossing the stick again, and Sam noticed he kept his left arm pulled close to his body with the motion. "But he was still here when I got up this morning."

"Sat outside all night?" Sam asked, watching Lobo return with the stick between his teeth.

"That, or he just came back before I got up," Dean shrugged. He looked at Sam from the corner of his eyes. "You hungry?"

Sam shook his head. "I could use some coffee, though."

Dean tipped his head toward the small kitchen. "Help yourself."

"You're in a good mood," Sam observed, moving to the kitchen, grabbing a mug and filling it partly full with coffee, searching the cabinets for sugar and creamer.

"Why shouldn't I be?" Dean grunted as he threw the stick again, favoring his wounded shoulder.

"No reason," Sam said, finding sugar but no creamer and deciding that would have to do.

"We got a place to stay," Dean said, glancing at Sam as he joined him once more on the porch, "met up with an old friend, you're sober…"

"Ha, freakin' ha."

"Seriously, Sammy," Dean turned to face him fully. "You doing okay?"

Lobo stopped at the base of the steps, sat, and dropped the stick in front of him, his dark eyes darting between Sam and Dean.

"Yeah, I guess," Sam said, leaning on the opposite post from his brother. Their bodies made a 'V' with the toes of their boots practically touching, their backs against the wooden supports. "Just… remembering stuff. Comes in weird… flashes. A week's a long time."

Dean bobbed his head back with a quick exhale of air through his nose. "Tell me about it."

Sam sipped his coffee, frowning at the small space between their feet. "I know it was hard on you."

Dean looked away. Sam traced his eyes along the bruises framing Dean's face, the healing cut on his lip, the butterfly bandages above his brow. He knew he wasn't to blame for every mark, but he also knew that the ones he was responsible for had hurt the worst.

"I wouldn't have…" he started, searching for an apology that Dean would accept. "You know I didn't—"

"Sam," Dean shook his head slowly, peering into the bottom of his near-empty coffee cup. "You gotta cut this out, man. I mean," he looked up, his green eyes soft and serious, "it's enough already. I told you I don't blame you."

Sam tossed the rest of his coffee over the porch rail, causing Lobo to skitter sideways to avoid it. "How can you not?"

Dean's eyebrows folded together, his lashes effectively hiding the expression in his eyes from Sam's probing glance. "What do you mean? A friggin' demon was in you, dude. She's the one that shot me."

Sam felt the emotion build, hot and fast. He felt his throat close and his lips quiver. He felt his eyes burn. "You saw my face, Dean."

Dean looked away once more, silent.

"Just like you saw Dad's."

"That was different." Dean's voice was low, guarded.

"How? How was it different? I keep hearing what she said to you, man. What I said—"

"Jesus Christ, Sam, just let this go!"

Dean turned on his heel, stalking back into the cabin. Sam followed, not bothering to close the door behind him.

"No! No, I don't want to let it go. I keep remembering—the stolen car, the cigarettes...it's more than just killing Wandell and… and attacking Jo…"

Dean dropped his empty mug into the sink and gripped the edges of the counter, his shoulders bowing outward as he pressed his palms hard into the surface. He dropped his chin, but not before Sam saw the skin around his mouth tighten.

"I hit you with your gun, Dean. I shot you. I beat the shit out of you." The insane urge to push Dean, to back him against a wall, to force him to admit that he was angry at Sam was almost physical. Sam curled his fingers against his palms.

"You got a point to all this, Sam?" Dean's head came up swiftly and Sam resisted the urge to back away from the heat he saw in his brother's eyes. "Because if it's just more of the same, you can save your breath."

"More of the same?"

Dean stepped around the counter, approaching Sam with a prowling, purposeful stride, his shoulders rolling, his hands fisted at his side.

"I wasn't about to let you kill yourself in Oregon," he snapped. "I was ready to go down with you—"

"You… you were what—"

"I gave you that whole someone bigger is out there with Father Vengeance," Dean continued forward, waving his right arm through the air, causing Sam to back up several steps. "And I told you—I told you—I was going to save you."

"Yeah, Dean, but—"

"But freakin' nothing!" Dean bellowed, finally stopping when he'd backed Sam up to the foot of his bed. "You need to Let. This. Go. You need to shake it off and believe me, for Christ's sake!"

"I don't not believe you, Dean!"

"Well, you coulda fooled me!"

"You're just one person, man," Sam leaned forward, not backing Dean away, but bringing his brother's eyes up to meet his. "You weren't able to stop it before—you weren't able to stop it from happening to Dad or to me!"

Dean flinched, pain flashing through his eyes like quicksilver. Sam's lips curled against his teeth as he heard his own voice mocking him, twisting his stomach with the same sour taste from earlier.

"I can see it in your eyes, Dean. You're worthless. You couldn't save your dad and deep down, you know that you can't save your brother. They'd have been better off without you."

The words beat against Sam's memory and for a moment, he saw Dean's bloody face twisted in sorrow and pain, body crumpled below him as he pressed his hand into the tender flesh of his brother's wounded shoulder, hate seething hot and bright inside of him. Sam swallowed, blinking, and the image was gone.

"It's not gonna happen again," Dean growled, turning away.

Sam grabbed his arm, stopping his escape. "How do you know that?"

Dean glared at him a moment, then dug his hand into his pocket, pulling out the small charm Bobby had given them. "Because of these!"

Sam rolled his eyes. "Seriously?"

Dean jerked his arm free and stepped back. "Bobby said they'd work."

Sam pulled his charm out. "You think this is going to keep us safe? This?"

"Why the hell not?"

"It's a charm, Dean. A hope. You're hanging our lives on… on a possibility."

Dean's face went still. Sam felt the air around him draw close. Dean was shadowed by the light spilling into the room from the opened door and in the doorway Sam saw Lobo gain his feet, dropping his muzzle.

"Who's your brother, Sam?" Dean asked softly, reminding Sam of the old game played in their youth. The game that had always steadied Sam. That drew him through the dark.

"You are, Dean," Sam echoed Dean's cadence in an automatic response.

"You're damn right," Dean nodded. "Long as you remember that… nothing's just a possibility."

The shrill whistle of a train drew Dean's eyes and Sam juggled the charm loosely in his grip. They both noticed the dog's at attention stance and Dean stepped forward, his voice low, soothing, easy.

"Take it easy, Lobo. We're just talking."

The dog looked at Sam, then back at Dean, visibly relaxing, then turned, trotting down the steps and off into the cluster of trees. Dean watched him go, saying, "We need to go talk to Abe about this hunt. Some kinda… witch or something."

As if emotions were no longer churning him up, as if the conversation they had just had were about gunpowder and car engines and not about betrayal and pain, as if nothing were wrong, Dean turned away from Sam. He grabbed his knife from the top of the table and tucked it and its sheath into the back of his waistband, stepping out of the small house and onto the porch.

"You comin'?" He called back to Sam.

Frustration slammed into Sam, causing him to turn quickly from the open door and face his bed. Life had been an unending series of accidents—both good and bad—since their father had died, and Sam was quickly tiring of trying to keep one step ahead of fate. With clenched teeth, he threw Bobby's charm against the wall, listening as it bounced free, hitting the floor and rolling beneath the bed.

"Sam!"

"I'm comin'," he grumbled.

"Well, so's Christmas," Dean snapped. "Get a move on."

Sam shook his head helplessly, retrieving his long-sleeved shirt and following his brother out, locking the door behind him.

www

"Breakfast was over an hour ago." Maggie's greeting was quick and to the point.

"Already handled, Mags," Dean grinned at her.

Her instant frown had him drawing back protectively.

"What?" he asked, wary of the spark in her eyes.

"It's just that no one's called me that…in awhile."

"Oh," Dean exchanged a cautious glance with Sam who shrugged, his lips tilting down in a beats the hell outta me look.

The door to the kitchen swung open and Yeats stepped in to the bar, nodding at them.

"Boys."

Dean had the impression that Yeats growled everything. They returned the nod and Dean swung a leg over one of the bar stools, curling his back in a cat-stretch and resting his forearms on the surface in front of him. His bruised face still ached from the beating it had received yesterday, but his shoulder felt better than it had in days. Maggie's wound treatment far surpassed Jo's, as far as Dean was concerned.

"Either of you seen Abe this morning?"

"He'll be around," Yeats answered, running quick eyes over the interior of the room. "I'm gonna walk the perimeter." He glanced at Maggie, who nodded.

Dean met Sam's expression of surprise. When the front door banged shut behind Yeats, Dean turned to Maggie. "What's his story, Maggie?"

"Yeats?"

"Yeah," Dean nodded as Maggie poured them each a mug of coffee, her motions looking as though the offer was more to have something to do with her hands than to be hospitable.

"He was a Marine. Overseas somewhere."

"How'd he come to know about hunters?" Sam asked, sipping the black coffee with a grimace.

Maggie lifted a shoulder. "How do any of us come to know? There's some bad shit in this world. It touches you and…you're never quite the same."

Dean looked down at the marks in the worn surface of the wood beneath him. Names, initials, sigils, signs. All had been polished down by hands, cleaning, and time.

"You two pretty close to Bobby?" Maggie asked suddenly, drawing Dean's eyes.

He heard the front door open, but ignored it.

"We've known him pretty much all our lives," he said, looking into the middle distance, remembering. "He used to be Uncle Bobby."

"Until we stopped being cute," Sam grinned.

Dean pointed at him. "Right there, brother."

"You saw him recently?" Maggie hedged.

Dean nodded. "Coupla days ago. Ran into some… some trouble," he looked at Sam, who looked down. "Bobby helped us out. Gave us directions to your place to hide out for awhile."

"From who?"

Abe's voice was a sudden interjection beside him, and Dean jerked right, surprised that the Ojibwa had been able to join them so silently.

"From the cops?" Abe continued.

Dean frowned. "Why do you ask?"

Abe pulled out a piece of paper from a worn manila folder and handed it to Dean. Taking it from him, Dean ran his eyes over the print, then showed it to Sam. "Pretty good likeness this time at least."

Sam just shook his head. "Well, we knew we were screwed…"

Dean took a breath. "That wanted poster isn't what you think," he said to Abe.

Abe slid onto the stool next to Dean. "Really? Because I think that the cops are basically misinterpreting your saving people from the random evils that haunt them as you being murderers and thieves."

Dean blinked. "Okay, so maybe it is what you think."

"We are… flying under the radar," Sam interjected. "But that's not why Bobby sent us here."

"Sam…" Dean warned.

"What?" Sam snapped. "They may as well know, Dean."

"Know what?" Maggie asked, sipping her coffee.

"Sam, we should talk about this—"

"Oh, now you want to talk? What happened to let it go?"

"That's not… you're twisting my words around."

"Boys," Abe broke in. "What's going on?"

There was a pregnant pause as Dean stared at Sam and Sam stared back.

"Sam was possessed."

"I killed a hunter."

They spoke in unison, as if drawing on each other in an old west shoot-out.

"The demon killed a hunter."

"I also shot Dean."

Jaw muscles flexed. Eyes steeled. Hands clenched at sides.

"Hunters might be looking for him."

Dean won the draw, allowing himself a momentary cocky grin, then slowly became aware once more of the other two in the room staring at them with a mixture of confusion and horror.

"So…" Abe breathed after the dust settled from the show-down. "Let me see if I've got this straight." He looked at Maggie, who nodded solemnly back at him. "A demon possessed Sam. Made him kill a hunter and shoot Dean, because…I don't get the because."

"Well," Maggie lifted a shoulder. "Demon killing a hunter I get. Use Sam—someone they might know—to get it inside a circle of trust, then take out the people that are dedicated to taking it out."

Abe nodded. "But… why shoot Dean?"

Maggie frowned, looking back at Dean and Sam. "Yeah…I mean, other than he's a hunter…"

"That's…" Sam looked away. "Complicated."

Abe sighed. "Well," he started, reaching for the coffee pot. "It's too bad your dad couldn't be here to help keep watch for the hunters."

Dean felt his body close up—his heart stuttered, his lungs curled up inside of his chest, his blood turned to jelly. He heard Sam suck in his breath as he dropped heavily onto the stool on the other side of Dean.

"He just had this air of strength around him when I spoke with him—" Abe turned to look at the boys, and stopped when he saw their faces. "What?"

"You… you spoke with him?" Sam asked, his voice strangled.

"Yeah, I, uh," Dean cleared his throat. Breathe, dammit. "I forgot to tell you that last night."

"When?" Sam pushed. "When did you see him?"

"Right after we left the reservation," Dean said softly. "Over six months ago, Sam."

Sam sagged a bit on his stool, staring at Dean with a child's eyes devoid of hope.

"What is it, boys?" Maggie asked, her voice cautious, her brows pulled close.

Dean licked his lips. He hadn't had to say it to Ellen. She'd guessed. He hadn't had to say it to Bobby. He'd been near. He'd yelled it at Sam in a desperate attempt to make his brother hurt as badly as he was hurting. Saying it out loud made it more real than watching the fire consume his father's body.

"Abe, Dad's, uh…" His stomach knotted. His throat closed. Breathe. Just breathe. "Dad's dead."

The room grew cold around him. Dean felt Sam's knee against his hip tremble as a shudder of memory shot through his brother. He felt Abe reach for air, search for words.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Maggie offered into the silence.

"How?" Abe whispered.

"Demon." Sam answered, giving Dean a break.

Abe was quiet for a moment, then, "A demon killed your mom."

"Yeah," Dean said, surprised he remembered that.

"Same one?" Abe asked. Dark eyes seemed to pull Dean near, offering him a safe place to fall.

"We think so, yeah," Dean nodded.

"There's more, though," Abe guessed. "There's something else." His eyes traveled from Dean to Sam, resting for a moment, absorbing, reflecting, then returned to Dean and demanded answers.

Maggie straightened. "Maybe I should put on some more coffee."

"It's… it's a lot," Sam said.

"You're here to heal," Abe said. "To heal in safety. Not to hide."

If we tell you… Dean looked at Maggie. Don't make us go… We've got nowhere else.

Maggie's quick, green eyes narrowed and she leaned carefully back against the display of whiskey bottles, crossing her arms and hiding the twisted Celtic tattoo on the inside of her arm.

"Dean," she said in a smoky voice. "Something you should know. I've lived a good life. I have seen war and peace and famine and prosperity. I've lain next to men I'd give my life for and have had men give their lives for me."

Her eyes were steady on his, her cadence an assertion of belief. "I've earned my scars and I'm proud that time has left its mark on my body. I believe there are things in the world at work around me that I can't and will never see. And I've seen both evil and justice. Nothing you could say in this moment will change that, and nothing will make me tell you to leave until you're ready."

Her declaration complete, Maggie uncrossed her arms, approached the inside of the bar, and pressed a warm hand on Dean's wrist.

"Besides," she grinned. "You're both kinda easy on the eyes."

Dean huffed out a quick, surprised laugh, relaxing slightly. He glanced over at Sam, asking silently if he was ready. Sam nodded, his face tight.

"Before Dad died," Dean said softly, still looking at Sam. "He told me something about Sam." Sam blinked back at him, not looking away. The trust in his brother's blue-green eyes gave Dean the balance he needed to continue. "He told me that… that I had to save him. And if I couldn't… I'd have to kill him."

"Save him from what?" Abe asked.

"He didn't say."

"There's more," Sam said, still staring at Dean. "We… we'd been through hell."

"That's putting it mildly," Dean said, finally breaking their visual connection and looking down at the bar. He knew what Sam was going to reveal. Living through it had been hard enough. Listening to it… having Abe know… it made him dizzy.

"The demon had… it possessed Dad," Sam continued. "It, uh… well, Dean was hurt pretty bad. We were on our way to the hospital—"

"Sam got the demon outta Dad—"

"—right, I shot him—Dad—in the leg and dispelled the demon. Anyway, we were hit by a semi and Dean…" Sam cleared his throat and Dean felt his muscles clench throughout his body. "Dean was… he nearly died. We learned some time later that…"

"Your dad saved him," Abe filled in softly, making the connection before Sam had to say the words. "Made a… a trade of some kind."

Dean nodded silently. The room was quiet as four people breathed around the truth and through the pain of that statement.

"Your father did what he had to do to save his son. He is a hero," Abe finally declared.

Dean brought his head up, gratitude filling his heart and releasing the tension in his muscles in a rush. His mouth relaxed, almost able to smile.

"You would do no less," Abe said, his eyes landing on Dean, then rising to rest on Sam. "Either of you. I saw that in the woods those many months ago. To save each other, you would sacrifice yourselves."

"Yeah, well," Sam said, pushing away from the bar. "Let's just hope it doesn't come to that." He started to wander aimlessly toward the pool table.

Dean felt the weight of Sam's words drift across his back and rest at the base of his neck. His brother's guilt was burrowing itself deep into his heart and it angered Dean that he couldn't find the right words, the right request, the right command to make Sam release it.

"So, Abe," Dean spoke up, desperate to climb away from the topic of Dad and death and sacrifice. "I see you picked up a few non-weapon-related hunting skills." He gestured toward the wanted poster Sam had left lying on the bar.

Abe nodded and Maggie moved away, grabbing up a bar towel and wiping down a set of pint glasses stacked at the end of the bar from the night before.

"Turns out the Internet is a fantastic place," Abe said with a craggy grin. "It's how I was able to figure out where to go next after the hunter died at the Roadhouse."

"Wait, what?" Sam called.

Dean waved a hand at him. "Tell you later. Okay, Abe, so you got a witch, you got belladonna poisoning…"

"Well, that's what it looks like, but what I can't figure out is how the victims are connected—and without that connection I don't know how to find the next one."

"How do you know there's gonna be a next one?" Maggie asked.

"'Cause he hasn't stopped the witch," Dean and Sam muttered together.

"So, how'd you end up here?" Sam asked, roving around the outer edge of the pool room, eyes on the floor as he thought.

"The last victim grew up here."

"So?" Maggie asked.

Abe shrugged. "It was a shot in the dark, really, but…"

"It felt right," Dean guessed.

"Yeah."

"Have you checked to see if there's anywhere in Plummer that grows or sells belladonna?" Sam asked.

"No, but I have found some antidote this time."

"Antidote?"

"Pilocarpine. If you catch the affects of the Devil's Herb soon enough, you can reverse it with pilocarpine. It will make you sweat and often times cry, but you will live."

"I think Dean would rather die from belladonna poisoning than cry," Sam snarked from the other room.

"Bite me," Dean tossed back.

"You wish." Sam's voice faded as he bent to retrieve something off the floor of the bar. "Hey, Dean?"

"Yeah." Dean stood, recognizing the tone in Sam's voice as more of a c'mere a sec then an I've been thinking. He crossed behind Abe, moving toward the pool table.

"That guy, the hustler, what was his name?"

"Sal something."

"Right, him," Sam stood up. "He wore a ring, right?"

Dean gestured casually to the butterfly bandages flanking his bruised eye. "Nice big ring."

"Kinda like this one?"

Sam held up a class ring, yellow stone glistening.

"Yeah," Dean tilted his head, reaching out his hand for the ring. "But bigger, and his stone was red."

"You sure?"

"Absolutely. Got up close and personal with it."

"Where did you find that?" Abe asked.

Sam looked up at him and Dean pivoted at the concern he heard in Abe's voice.

"Over here—by the corner."

"What is it?" Dean asked.

"Okay, tell me if this means something to you two," Abe stood, holding his folder open and approached them, his eyes on something inside. "The hunter that died at the Roadhouse doesn't fit this—he doesn't fit anything, really—but…with the last victim, Liam Grayson, there was a tassel with the number 92 on it found near the body."

"A tassel?" Dean's brow drew lines of confusion across his face.

"Like from a graduation cap?" Sam asked.

"Yes, exactly."

Dean turned the yellow-stoned ring around in his hand. "RLC. 1992," he read. "RLC?"

"Red Lake County Central," Maggie interjected. "Local high school."

"You said there were how many other victims?"

"Not counting the hunter, two more."

"Anything found near the other bodies?" Sam asked.

"I don't know," Abe confessed. "I never really saw the relevance until now."

"Might be something to connect your victims," Dean pointed out. "Maybe we should—"

The crack of sound from the jukebox made them all jump with surprise.

"Baby did a bad, bad thing…" Chris Isaak's sultry voice crooned out at them suddenly.

"What the hell?" Dean looked over at Sam, a fierce expression of angry confusion pulling his face together.

"Don't look at me!" Sam supplied helpfully.

Squelch like static from a CB radio filled the room, making the foursome wince and cover their ears.

"…so much hate for the ones we love… tell me we both matter, don't we…"

The words echoed through the room. Shoulders hunched, Dean stalked purposely over to the jukebox, gripping the edge and shoved it away from the wall as the static bounced around the room once more.

"…you hear me? Should I turn this up for you…"

"Hell, no!" Dean yelled over the angry voice inside the music. Locating the power cord, he tried to pull it from the wall. Sparks shot out, attacking his hand and making him jump back with a cry of surprise.

"Dean!"

"I'm okay," he called back to Sam over the static. "Stay back."

"I'm abandoned and alone, no easy road… leaves a man a tormented soul…"

"Shit!" Dean kicked at the power cord with the flat of his rubber-soled boot. "Where's my gun, Sam?"

"Back at the house!"

"Figures," Dean grumbled, kicking until the cord came free from the wall. The silence that followed was brief.

Static crashed into them, louder than before, knocking Dean away from the machine as he bent over and covered his ears. He felt his bones shake from the sound. Then, impossibly loud, Blue Oyster Cult screamed out a departing line.

"I'm living for givin' the devil his due…"

Silence surrounded them once more like a vacuum. Cautiously straightening, Dean lowered his hands slowly, looking across the room to Sam, Abe, and Maggie. They blinked at each other, speechless, until the front door banged open, causing all four to shout with surprise.

"What the hell is going on in here?" Yeats bellowed. "I been trying to get this damn door open for five minutes now!"

"The, uh," Abe pointed across the room to the jukebox. "Music…maker…thing was, well it was…"

"Possessed, Abe." Sam filled in. "It was possessed."

"Dude," Dean shook his head. "Something tells me you're not dealing with a normal witch."

"There's such a thing as a normal witch?" Abe asked, his owlish eyes on Dean.

"Good point," Dean nodded. "Think we should… I don't know… burn this thing?" Dean frowned at the jukebox.

"Did you listen to the songs?" Sam asked.

Dean simply looked back at him.

"I think something is communicating with us."

"Through the jukebox?" Dean drew his head back.

"Why not?"

"I don't know, Sam, just seems a little too…Steven Spielberg, y'know?"

"Baby did a bad, bad thing? Giving the devil his due?"

"A witch with an eclectic taste in music?" Dean offered with a shrug.

"I don't think we're dealing with a witch," Sam shook his head, looking at Abe. "I think it's a spirit or something."

"The hunter said—" Abe started

"So, he was wrong." Sam snapped, cutting him off.

"Hey, Sammy," Dean approached him. "Take it easy! You don't know for sure it's a spirit."

"He doesn't know for sure it's a witch!" Sam argued.

"We just need to look into it more, is all." Dean rested a hand on Sam's arm, surprised to feel the tremble there. "We'll look into it, okay?"

Sam searched Dean's face a moment, his eyes a war of anger, memories, and sorrow. "Yeah, okay."

"You boys hungry?" Maggie spoke up after a moment. "I don't know about you, but I've never been able to battle spirits on an empty stomach."

Dean dropped his hand from Sam's arm, looking over at her with a soft smile. "Sure, Mags, that would be great."

This time she smiled back at the nickname, turning and stepping past the whiskey display and head toward the kitchen. When the first bottle exploded, the trio on the other side of the bar looked up in confusion.

"What was—" Dean started.

"Maggie, get down!" Yeats growled, moving forward like mercury to pull her out of the way as the entire display shattered, scattering whiskey and glass bullets across the inside of the bar.

Abe, Sam, and Dean dropped at Yeats' warning, crouching low and covering the backs of their heads with their arms.

"Dean." Sam reached for his brother, tilting him close as glass rained down. "What the hell, man?"

"Well," Dean said, throwing a wild look at his brother. "I'm starting to think our safe house isn't so safe."

When quiet once again ruled the atmosphere, five heads appeared cautiously over the edge of the bar.

"Everybody okay?" Dean called, looking around.

"I think so," Maggie's normally commanding voice trembled.

"Abe? Yeats?" Dean demanded a role call.

"Fine," Yeats barked. "You want to explain this?"

"It's my fault." Abe's voice also shook. Dean looked over at him. The sturdy man had taken in a lot in the last couple of hours. "I didn't look into this far enough… figure enough out."

Dean opened his mouth to reassure Abe, but heard Sam instead.

"You couldn't have known, man." Sam's voice was soft, easy, carefully soothing. "Anyone would have drawn the same conclusion."

Dean took a breath, rubbing his face, his bruises deciding that now would be a good time to stand up and be counted. He closed his eyes, thinking. "Okay, well now we've gotta figure out what kind of spirit we're dealing with. And if the witch is controlling it—"

"Dean."

"—or if there even is a witch. Maybe it's just a spirit and the dead hunter back at the Roadhouse was…I don't know…hallucinating—"

"Dean."

"What, Sam?" Dean opened his eyes and looking at his brother.

Sam pointed wordlessly to the mess of glass and mirror and whiskey on the other side of the room. Dean followed his gesture and blinked in shock.

The spilled whiskey was running in smooth tracks from where it had landed on the bar, the floor and splattered across the wall to gather into puddles. As they watched, the temperature in the room dropped until their harsh exhales of breath could be seen as small clouds of condensed air billowing from their lips.

Dean felt Sam's hand clamp his arm.

"Dean…" Sam breathed, mouth agape, eyes wide, his hand rising to point.

Dean stiffened as his eyes followed Sam's finger. "Holy shit…"

Maggie gasped.

Before their astonished eyes, the puddles of whiskey began to slither over the floor, converging, until the pool of liquor hit the wall where it began to flow upward, joining the rivulets of liquid already splashed across there.

"It's… it's climbing." Sam murmured.

Dean felt the coldness of the room seep into his bones, Sam's hand on his arm trembling slightly with a shiver.

The whiskey drops that had been running down the wall reversed direction, joined by the liquid crawling up from the floor. An odd, shrill cry, soft at first, then growing in strength and intensity emanated from the liquid as it rolled up the walls, gathering to the side of the large mirror.

Eyes pinned to the anomaly, Yeats straight-armed Maggie behind him, backing both away from the wall slowly, joining the trio on the other side of the bar. Dean glanced furtively at Abe, Maggie, and Yeats, edging away from them and toward Sam, his instinct to place himself between the surreal image before them and his brother.

"What… what is that?" Abe suddenly breathed.

Dean looked back at the wall. He narrowed his focus, tilting his head, trying to see what the gathering whiskey was forming, searching for a familiar pattern.

"Oh, my God," Sam breathed. "They're eyes."

"What?" Dean looked at Sam, incredulous, his head swiveling back to the image on the wall. Then he saw it. Two almond-shaped, opaque eyes stared back at him through the amber liquid on the wall. "Holy…shit..." he said again, his skin crawling.

The shrill cry that seemed to be coming from the liquid itself suddenly blossomed into an eerie version of a child's laughter, bouncing through the room and disappearing. When the sound vanished, the whiskey eyes fell, showering the room and splashing the onlookers with a fine spray of amber.

Standing silent, Dean pulled in a careful breath, tasting an intoxicating mixture of Jack Daniels and Jim Beam on the edges of his lips.

"Fuck me," Yeats whispered.

"So," Maggie said, her exhale stuttering on its escape from her lungs. "I'm thinking the Hideout may be closed this evening. What do you say, Yeats?"

"Sounds like a plan." The grizzled bouncer nodded once.

"That ever happened to you two before?" Abe asked, calculating eyes drifting from Dean to Sam and back.

"No," they answered in unison, still staring at the wall.

"You have any idea what it means?" Abe continued.

"No," they replied together, not moving.

As if they were waiting for the next surreal moment, everyone stood still, simply breathing. Abe finally broke the silence.

"All right then," Abe nodded. "Maggie, I'm gonna need your computer again."

"Have at it," she replied, waving her hand in the air.

"You have a computer?" Sam asked, blinking free of his stupor.

"Back at the house," Maggie nodded.

"House?" Dean's brows pulled together. "You don't…live here?"

Maggie lifted a dark eyebrow, her storied face impassive. "This is a bar, son."

"Yeah, I know, but," Dean tried, giving in and waving a hand at her. "Aw, forget it."

"Can I come with you, Abe?" Sam asked.

"Of course," Abe nodded. "Need all the help I can get."

"I'll help you clean this up," Dean looked at Yeats who nodded his thanks.

"Do we know this is…over?" Maggie asked hesitantly.

"No," Dean shook his head. "But the sooner we figure out who belongs to those creepy-ass eyes, the sooner we can stop it from happening again."

"'Nuff said," Maggie tapped the air. "I'll get the mop."

"Dean," Sam jerked his head to the side. Dean stepped over to his brother, out of earshot. "It's not a witch." Sam's voice was decisive.

"You gimme what it is instead, and we'll both believe that," Dean replied.

"I will," Sam said, shoving his hands into his pockets. He opened his mouth slightly, words dancing on the edge of his tongue.

Dean dropped his chin, lifting his brows, waiting.

"You gonna be okay here?" Sam finally asked, his eyes darting from the dead jukebox to the dripping wall.

"Guess we'll find out," Dean shrugged, knowing there had been more lingering in that brief quiet, but not pressing the issue.

"Dean," Sam said, his eyes weighted with a burden Dean wanted to take from him.

"I'll be fine, Sam," Dean said on a sigh. "Soon as we figure out what the hell, we'll all be fine."

www

"Is there anything we can use against a spirit?" Maggie asked as she swept broken glass into a bucket.

"Salt," Dean shrugged. "But something tells me we're not dealing with a spirit. Not your garden-variety spirit, anyway."

"Which is…" Maggie glanced at him from the corner of her eyes as he held the bucket steady.

"Well, you know," Dean said, looking up at her through his lashes. "Ghost of a murdered person, or a hidden body. Somebody not willing to let go. You find the body, salt and burn the bones, easy as that."

"Is that before or after they beat the shit out of you for trying to kill them?"

"Usually after," Dean straightened. "But… you're right. We probably should have some kind of weapon."

The unmistakable sound of a round sliding neatly into a chamber of a gun brought his head around. Yeats stood in the kitchen doorway, holding Maggie's shotgun.

"You got regular shells in that thing?" Dean asked.

"Regular?"

Dean nodded. "Buckshot. Pellets. Lead."

"Yeah," Yeats tilted his chin, waiting for the punch line.

"Won't do any good if this is a spirit."

"And if it's a witch?"

"Shoot first, ask questions later," Dean replied, earning a small grin from the taciturn man in return. "Maggie, I'm gonna head back to the safe house and grab a few salt rounds."

"Don't be long." She frowned. "I don't like the idea of anyone being alone too long until this is handled."

"Okay, Mom." Dean grinned at her.

She narrowed her eyes at him, curling all but one finger into her palm and pulling a laugh from his chest as he left the room.

The cloud-covered, mid-day sun tossed an electric light around the clearing. Strands reflected off the nearby railroad tracks and glinted into Dean's eyes as he stepped outside. He tossed up a hand, shielding himself from the light, and glanced toward the woods for signs of Lobo. Other than the crickets and the birds calling to each other, the surrounding area was quiet. There wasn't even the repetitive click of train rails to disturb the eerie peace.

Dean jogged across the empty lot, curving around the end of the Hideout and headed toward the small brick house. In the light of day, the safe house looked even more like an afterthought. The wind through the tops of the trees at the back of the property teased him with thoughts of rushing water, and for a moment he thought he heard the quick, padded footsteps of their new friend.

He'd reached the porch before he remembered that Sam had taken the key that morning. Turning the doorknob with a gesture of impatience, Dean was surprised when the door swung open. His senses sending out instant cautionary feelers, the hairs on his neck raising, Dean took a step through the doorway, reaching behind him for his knife and wishing fervently for his gun.

"Sam?"

He took another step inside.

"Sammy?"

"Wrong," said a voice from the dark.

Hands grabbed his neck, his wrists, forcing him forward, pushing him down, knocking the knife from his grasp. Dean had a heartbeat of time to curse his lack of awareness, the ease at which he was taken off guard. He twisted, instinctively working to protect his shoulder, and saw the quick flash of the butt of his pearl-handled .45 before it crashed across his temple, effectively silencing the world and sending him tumbling into the black.

www

"So, our hunter is still nameless," Sam sighed, rubbing the back of his neck in a tired gestured he'd picked up from Dean. "But other than him, we have Liam Grayson, Sean Harper, and Lewis Wells, all from the class of '92, all from Red Lake Central."

"Yep," Abe nodded, looking over his shoulder at the younger hunter. Sam's eyes were shadowed, fingers of purple hanging beneath the blue-green irises. Abe tried to look closer, only to be thwarted as Sam suddenly stood and began pacing.

"This usually helps Dean think," Sam commented. "He counts a lot. Steps, beats, time… he doesn't even realize he's doing it."

"What helps you think, Sam?" Abe asked.

Sam lifted a shoulder. "Quiet, I guess. I don't know. I feel like I'm always thinking. Except…"

Abe frowned as Sam paused. He turned on his chair in Maggie's small office, leaning closer. "Except what?"

Sam shifted his eyes to Abe. "I was…gone for over a week. Did things that are only coming back to me now. And…well," Sam pulled his lips in, looking away. "It was really the only time in my life I can remember…not thinking."

Abe simply nodded, unsure how to offer reassurance, unsure if that was what Sam needed. As he watched, Sam shook his head, memories shaking free and tumbling from his eyes like cobwebs knocked from ceiling corners.

"So, what connects these guys besides High School?" Sam hedged, trying to deflect Abe's attention.

"Sam," Abe said, keeping his voice low, soothing. Sam kept pacing, his spasming fingers and restless eyes reminded Abe of a skittish colt, or a wild animal. Ready to run if the wrong thing was said, ready to lash out if he couldn't run. "What's going on with you two?"

Sam shrugged. "Already told you."

"You told me that your father made Dean promise the impossible before he gave his life to save his son. You told me you all had been through hell. You told me you were made to commit unspeakable acts."

Sam looked out of Maggie's office window. "Not much else to tell." His eyes blinked rapidly and Abe saw him reach out for the edge of the desk.

"Are you feeling okay?"

"Just…just tired, I guess."

"When's the last time you ate?" Abe stood from the computer, crossing the room to grasp Sam's upper arm. The muscles rippled under his grasp, leaning in and pulling away at the same time.

"Uh…yesterday sometime."

"Come with me." Abe tightened his fingers, turning Sam from the room and marching him toward Maggie's kitchen. Once they entered the small, sunny space, Abe pushed Sam into a chair, opened the fridge and grabbed a can of Coke, popping it open and set it in front of him.

"Drink. I'll find you some lunch."

"What about Dean?" Sam asked, gulping the sugary beverage.

"Maggie will take care of him," Abe said, opening cabinets and pulling out a pot and a large can of beef stew. "I never had to cook for myself until I left the reservation."

"What, you live with your mom or something?"

Abe spared him a glance. "Funny."

"Were you married?" Sam asked, resting his head on his fist, his elbow propped on the table.

"Nope," Abe opened the stew, pouring it into the pot and lighting the fire on the burner. "Never took the time to get to know a woman long enough for that. I hunted—game, you know—for the people and in turn, they fed me."

"You miss it?"

"Hunting?"

"Home," Sam clarified, burrowing his fingers deeper into his hair as he held his head erect.

"Sometimes," Abe nodded, watching the stew begin to boil along the sides of the pot. He thought of his home. Of his people. Of what he'd left behind to fight a battle he knew he had to win. "But sometimes a path is laid out for you, and you have no choice except to follow. You simply walk, trusting that each step forward will take you to your destiny…even as it carries you away from your heart."

Abe swallowed as the words drifted from him, carried on a tide of sincerity that few would hear. Sam lifted his head, wrapping both hands around his can of Coke, his eyes on the silver rim. Abe watched as shadows gathered in the haze of afternoon light that lit Sam from behind. This boy had seen his share of pain. Abe wondered how he'd borne up under the weight of it for so long.

"Dean always cooked for us," Sam said, his voice shadowed with memory. "You wouldn't know it looking at him, but he's a good cook."

Dean… Abe nodded once. The impact of the pain hits the guardian first, and what he's unable to absorb deflects onto Sam. Abe had seen it first hand, had watched them in action, and it made him hurt for both more acutely.

"I believe it," Abe said, pouring the stew into a bowl and digging a large spoon out of a drawer next to the stove.

"Yeah?" Sam leaned back as the bowl was set in front of him.

"Sure," Abe said, crossing back to the stove and pouring some stew for himself. "When I met you two, I knew instantly that you were brothers. You were unconscious, but just by his words, his movements, his actions—I knew you were the most important thing in the world to Dean."

Sam ate silently and Abe waited.

"I made him promise me," Sam finally confessed.

"Promise you what?"

"Promise to kill me."

Abe gripped his spoon to keep from dropping it back into his bowl. At last the reason for Dean's devastation became clear.

"Why?"

Sam tried to shrug, but it seemed his shoulders were too heavy for such an act. "Because…because I was—I am—afraid of what I'm going to turn into. What he's supposed to save me from."

"How do you know you're going to turn into anything?"

Sam lifted tragic eyes. "Why would Dad have said that if I wasn't?"

Abe was suddenly, viciously reminded of a moment in the woods. A moment when Dean collapsed and Sam held him. A moment when Abe reached to help and was pushed back by a power he couldn't understand…

"No, Sam," Dean's voice was calm, belying his trembling body. "Send someone back for me, but you get out."

"GodDAMMIT, Dean," Sam yelled, his teeth clenched, tears now coursing freely down his cheeks. Dean seemed undaunted by his angry outburst; he lay in Sam's arms, calmly looking at his brother, challenging him with his eyes to defy him, to dare tell him no.

"Dad," Dean said, not looking away from Sam. "Promise me."

Sam's head whipped over to Abe. "Don't you make that promise," Sam growled. "You don't."

"Dad," Dean repeated. "Please. Please, you have to get him out," his eyes shifted down. "I'll be all right if I know…"

"Sam," Abe said in a low voice that only Sam could hear. "What would he do?" He was somewhat afraid of this father of theirs, afraid that he would have slung Dean over his shoulder and pulled the travois at the same time.

Sam's eyes narrowed. Low blow. "He would leave him," Sam said… so that's why we can't

Abe felt his stomach turn to ice. He understood what Dean was saying—he would be all right if he knew his brother was taken care of. Abe knew then, knew that no matter how hard Sam fought it, if he took Dean to safety and left Sam behind, he would be killing them both. There was only one thing he could do.

"Sam, let go," he said, softly, attempting to reach out and grasp Dean's arms.

Sam faced him, hatred in his eyes. Abe gasped. He felt an energy ripple through the air. He reached out for Dean again and the energy increased. Abe felt as though something were pushing his hands back.

"Don't touch him," Sam growled low. Abe shivered.

"I don't know why he said it, Sam," Abe said softly, remembering how the power had ebbed when Sam gave in. When Sam released Dean.

"He wouldn't do it, though."

"Who, Dean?" Abe asked, trying to keep up with Sam's broken words.

"I killed a man—he watched it happen on tape. I threatened the life of one of our friends. I shot him," Sam swallowed. "And he never gave up on me. Not once."

"He loves you," Abe said simply. "He'd rather die than harm you."

"That's what he said," Sam shrugged. "But…if Dad made him promise that for a reason—"

"Then Dean will do the right thing," Abe said with certainty. "But not before he's exhausted every effort trying to save you."

"It's not fair," Sam muttered, stirring his spoon in the dregs of his stew. "He shouldn't have to...I don't know…sacrifice everything."

Abe sighed. "Would you?"

Sam lifted his head. "What?"

"If the situation was reversed…if your father had made you promise…could you have killed Dean?"

Sam blinked at him, his eyes wide, uncertain. Abe watched Sam's lips work around the form of words, watched his chest expand as he drew breath.

Abe leaned closer. "Sam," he said softly. "When I met your father, so many months ago, he was coming for you."

"He was?" Sam whispered.

"He was tired, dirty, looked like he'd just rolled down a hill with a pack of wolves, but he was there, asking about you, following the message you left for him."

"I wish I'd… I wish…"

Abe kept his voice soft, filling the void of Sam's silence. "He loved you both, but I saw who you each were to him. Dean is his warrior. You are his gift."

Sam's lips trembled.

"Neither is more or less important than the other; both need each other to survive." Abe held still as Sam pulled his lips against his teeth, nodding.

"I miss him," Sam said, his voice strained with the effort of restraining emotion. "And…I don't know what to do…how to… I mean…"

"You shot your brother."

Sam nodded.

"And he won't blame you, so you can't apologize and be released from your guilt."

Sam nodded again, shifting his eyes away. With a rough, careless hand, he swiped at his face, banishing the moisture gathering there that betrayed his heart.

The kitchen door opened and Maggie walked in.

"I see you made yourself at home," she nodded. "Good."

"Needed some fuel," Abe explained, straightening up and giving Sam a moment to compose himself.

"Where's Dean?" Maggie asked, suddenly frowning around the kitchen.

Sam cleared his throat, looking over at her, puzzled. "What do you mean? Isn't he with you?"

Maggie shook her head. "He left awhile ago to get some weapons. Didn't come back. I thought maybe he'd hiked up here to check on you."

Sam stood, worry lining his boyish face. "Where's Yeats?"

"Back at the Hideout."

"Abe," Sam stepped around the table, leaving his empty bowl behind. "I need a ride back to the bar."

"You think something's wrong?" Abe grabbed his coat, following Sam to the door.

"Dean wouldn't be gone longer than he planned without letting someone know," Sam grabbed the door of Abe's truck. "Not without a reason."

"I'll just wait here," Maggie called after them. "In case he comes by."

"Drop me off at the safe house," Sam instructed, "then go check on Yeats at the bar."

"What is it, Sam?" Abe frowned, shoving the truck into gear. The lines framing the young hunter's face drew arrows of tension in Abe's chest.

"I've got a bad feeling about this."

www

Dust kicked up from the pick-up's wheels as Abe screamed into the lot after the short drive from Maggie's house. Sam jumped from the truck, heading to the safe house at a run. A quick glance told him the Impala was still where Dean had left it the night before. The front door was closed and he tried the handle, finding it also locked. Frowning, he dug the key from his jeans pocket and opened the door.

The room was unnaturally dark and it took him a moment to realize the curtains on either side of the far window had been pulled.

"Dean?"

The toe of his boot hit something and he looked down to see Dean's knife on the floor.

"What the—"

The door slammed behind him and something hit him, low at the waist, at the same time. With a surprised exhale of air, Sam stumbled backward, twisting around to grab at his assailant. His arms were pinned from behind and before he could throw a punch, he was shoved to the floor, held fast by his arms and felt someone sit on his flailing legs.

"Down, boy," came a voice from the darkness. It was oddly familiar—slightly high-pitched and nervous. "You better behave if you want us to keep your brother in one piece."

The overhead light flicked on and Sam blinked in the brilliance. Struggling against the hold, he saw Jones was sitting on his legs, snarling at him, a large white bandage covering one side of his head. Across the room, he saw Sal leaning against the wall near the light switch, arms crossed over his chest, lip curled in disgust.

"You can let go, Lloyd," Sam grunted, realizing who held his arms. "I won't mess up your buddies too bad."

Jones backhanded him, sending his head snapping to the side. Blinking away the stars, Sam suddenly saw Dean.

His brother was sitting on a kitchen chair, its back to the covered window, his hands tied in front of him, feet tied to the legs of the chair, upper body anchored to the back of the chair with several strands of rope. His head was bent, chin touching his chest, his body limp against the binding.

"Dean?"

"I think Lloyd hit him harder than we'd intended," Sal said, pushing away from the wall. "Thought he'd be awake by now."

He crossed the room and ran a finger down the side of Dean's lax face, tucking it under his chin and tipping his head back. Sam caught a glimpse of Dean's bruised face, blood running from his forehead through his eyebrow and branching down his cheek from his closed lashes. Sal clicked his tongue against his teeth, then let Dean's head fall forward again.

"Don't touch him, you son of a bitch!" Sam growled, surging against the hands holding him down.

Sal tsked at him. "Such language. Not really smart for someone in your position."

Sam growled and struggled again, trying to unseat Jones from his legs, earning another slap for the effort.

"Get him up, boys," Sal commanded, grabbing a kitchen chair and plunking it down next to Dean.

Sam grunted with effort as he was hauled unceremoniously to his feet. "You know, there's gonna be people coming."

"That so?" Sal asked, sounding thoroughly unconcerned.

"Just let us go now, and I'll tell them to go easy on you," Sam tried as Lloyd shoved him, hard, into the chair and Jones looped a rope around his chest. He pulled his lips tight against a curse as his hands were bound roughly behind him, the course braiding of a rope chafing his wrists as the knots were tied tight.

"Don't see that happening," Sal said, crouching in front of him. "But nice try."

"What do you want, then?"

"My money."

Sam pulled his head back. "That's it?"

"There should be something else?"

Sam looked up as Lloyd joined Sal, and Jones began to circle Dean like a hungry animal sizing up its prey. "No," he shook his head. "Take the money. Leave him alone."

"Warms the heart, don't it Jonesy? All this protective brotherly love?"

"Sure does," Jones agreed.

Sal flexed his fingers, catching Sam's eye. He heard the beefy joints pop and peered at Sal's red-stoned class ring.

"You graduate in '92?" Sam asked suddenly.

Sal paused, confused by this question from left field. "What?"

"I said," Sam spaced his words carefully. "Did you graduate in 1992?"

"Yeah, why?" Sal looked at Jones who frowned back.

"I think someone may be looking for you." Sam grinned menacingly, unable to help himself.

"Sam!" Abe's voice shot a cold current of panic down Sam's spine.

"Abe! Stay back!" Sam called as Sal, Jones, and Lloyd jerked in unison toward the door. "Get Yeats!"

Sam heard Dean's low moan of awareness in the very second he saw Sal pull his brother's pearl-handled .45 from his own pocket and turn to join his buddies.

"Dean?" Sam whispered fiercely.

"Wha—" Dean's voice was groggy and his movements sluggish as he attempted to raise his head. "Aw, Jesus."

"You okay?" Sam winced in sympathy as he watched Dean fight to open his eyes, lift his head, climb his way to consciousness.

"My head s-still on?" Dean slurred.

"For now," Sam said, darting his eyes to the trio approaching the door, the Winchesters' guns raised to attack their would-be rescuers. "We gotta get out of here, man."

"Right, yeah, okay." Dean blinked his eyes wide, lifting his head and Sam clarity slowly returning to his green eyes. "Who hit me?"

"Sal, I think."

"That son of a bitch."

"Yeah," Sam nodded. "You got any play in your ropes?"

"Ropes?" Dean squinted his eyes.

Sam frowned at him. "C'mon, Dean, stay with me here."

"You boys made a mistake," Sal said, turning from his cover of the door to point Dean's gun at him. "Telling that Indian to come here. Now he's gonna get a pow-wow of his own."

Sam looked at Sal, his expression one of disbelief. "What does that even mean?"

"You just shut up," Sal barked, stepping forward and kicking Dean's knife with his boot. He bent over, picked up the Bowie, and grinned. "That's no little pig-sticker."

"Put that down before you hurt yourself, Sal," Sam commanded snidely, desperately working at the bindings on his wrists. He shot a glance over to Dean and was dismayed to see his brother's head hanging low once more. A flash of panic shot through him.

Gotta get him out of here.

"Think we'll take a few other things in addition to the money you owe us," Sal leaned forward, waving the tip of Dean's knife just under Sam's eye. "Like this knife."

"Whatever, dude," Sam snapped. "Just quit breathing on me."

"Sal!" Jones barked. "He's coming back—and he's got that big fella with him."

Sneering at Sam, Sal tossed the knife at Dean. Sam gasped as the blade embedded itself in the wooden chair between Dean's legs.

"I'm gonna enjoy taking you apart," Sal sneered.

Sam just stared at him, his jaw tensing. Sal stepped away, heading back to the front door and peering up through the glass. Sam watched as their three captors' attention was held by whoever was approaching.

"Sam." Dean's soft voice was like a scream in Sam's mind.

He whipped his head around to stare in wonder at his brother. "You were faking?"

"Sorta," Dean confessed, rubbing the rope binding his hands against the blade between his legs. "Head hurts like a mother…"

"I'll bet it does." Sam split his attention between Dean and the trio at the door. "Hurry up."

"Trying not to slice my wrists open," Dean whispered. "There," he pulled his hands apart, twisting until he got the ropes around his chest loose, and then pushed them over his head, bending sideways until he was able to free his legs.

Dean tried to wrestle the knife free from the chair, but it was stuck tight. He stood carefully, eyes on the men at the door, and moved behind Sam. As he crouched to work on Sam's ropes, the floor beneath him creaked.

Sal whirled around.

"Hey!" He brought Dean's gun up.

Sam pulled in a breath and felt Dean move instinctively. He shoved Sam's chair to the side; Sam landed hard on his arm and cried out as Dean dove over him, avoiding the bullet that bit into the wall behind him.

"Sam! Dean!" Abe's frantic voice filtered in from the outside.

Sam craned his neck, trying to see where Sal was, but Dean was pulling at him, dragging him horizontally off of the chair, not bothering to untie his bound hands. Sam kicked his legs free from the chair, pushing against the floorboards to help his brother's backwards escape.

He caught sight of Sal and his cronies once again focused on the door, Sal's hand on the doorknob. Dean's hands were clumsy on Sam's shoulders, trying to pull him to his feet. Sam managed to get to his knees, stumbling forward, feeling Dean's arm slide around him gripping his shirt in what felt like an attempt to get Sam up as well as a search for balance.

Sam heard the front door swing open and glanced over his shoulder just as Sal fired two quick shots outside toward Abe and Yeats, the powerful .45 kicking back and tossing Sal's hand up, sending his shots wide.

"Sal!" Jones cried out, catching sight of Sam and Dean's attempted escape.

Sal turned, Dean's gun following his movement clutched in the hustler's meaty hand, and in that moment Sam saw his life ending just as Meg had wanted it to. Shot by his brother's gun.

"No," Dean uttered, wrapping an arm across Sam's chest and propelling them both toward the curtain-covered back window.

They crashed through the canvas-padded glass, falling the three feet from the window to the ground. Sam tried to pull in a breath, but Dean was already up on his feet, grabbing Sam by his bound arms and tugging at him.

"C'mon, Sam," Dean panted. "Get up. Now!"

Sam struggled to his feet and, driven by his brother's insistent hands, began running awkwardly alongside Dean through the woods behind the safe house. He didn't know how Dean was still moving, let alone able to propel them both forward.

"Fuck!" Sam heard Sal's cry and hazarded a glance over his shoulder once more to catch sight of the man jumping through the broken window, Dean's gun raised, running after them.

Dean wouldn't let up, despite the fact that Sam knew his head had to be a relentless hammer of blood behind his eyes. If anything, he seemed to run faster when he realized Sal hadn't stopped his pursuit.

"Who is this guy, Forrest Gump?" Dean gasped as he tucked Sam behind a particularly wide tree, trying to untie the ropes holding Sam's hands behind his back. "Never seen anyone run so fast."

"Why are we running from him?" Sam asked angrily.

Just then a shot ricochet off the tree to their left and Dean pulled Sam around, hands still bound, pushing him ahead as they continued to run through the woods.

"'Cause he's got our guns, that's why!" Dean managed.

"SAL!"

The brother's shared a quick, thankful glance as they heard Abe's bellow and the unmistakable sound of a rifle shot echoed through the woods.

"Sal, stop, or next time I won't miss!"

No answering comment graced their ears. Sam worked at the ropes Dean had managed to loosen as he ran, finally able to work one hand free. The use of his arms gave him speed and he pushed himself to the next cluster of large trees, grabbing Dean as he ducked into momentary safety and pulling him close.

The evening pressed close around them, the leafy canopy blocking the radiance of the dying sun, filtering color through to the ground. Dean bent over, hands on knees, drawing in large gulps of breath.

"Think…" he tried, coughing into the crook of his arm, then standing up to peer around Sam into the gloom. "Think he gave up?"

Sam simply shook his head, licking his lips, his throat winded.

"I know you're close," Sal's voice taunted, disorienting in the copse of trees. "I can smell you."

Dean wrinkled his nose, sniffing at the shoulder of his T-shirt, then leaned close and sniffed Sam's chest. "You shower today?"

Surprised, amused, bewildered, Sam looked down at his brother. "Yeah. You?"

"Yeah," Dean whispered. "Must not be us he's smelling."

"You're crazy," Sam shook his head.

Dean smacked Sam's arm with the back of his hand. "C'mon, Sam," he said, turning on silent feet to head further into the woods and away from Sal. "He can kill us, but he can't eat us. That's against the law."

Shaking his head, Sam took off after Dean, following him through the waning light, following him into the unknown, realizing he'd follow him anywhere. After a moment of running in silence, Dean paused, turning to face Sam, barely more than three feet away.

"Think we lost him?" Dean panted.

"Sam! Get dow—"

The shot interrupted Abe's warning, but the call was enough for Sam to dive to the side. He looked up wildly to see that Dean had jerked in the opposite direction, landing on his knees, and was looking back at him, seemingly unharmed. Sam watched relief cross his brother's features in the fading light and started to grin in return. Dean pushed himself to his feet, his left arm once again tucked close, blood from his head meeting the corner of his mouth.

"ARRGGGHHH!"

Sal's yell of frustration was accompanied by the thunk of Dean's empty gun as it landed on the ground next to Sam's sprawled form. Dean seemed to fold inward as Sal slammed into his midsection, plowing them both backwards as Dean grappled for purchase, arms swinging, fists connecting, feet scrambling.

"Dean…" Sam breathed, scrambling to his feet, trying to assimilate what he was seeing.

Time seemed to stand still as Sal and Dean froze for the fraction of a second it took them to realize that the ground they had been fighting for was no longer beneath them. Dean's quick breath was overshadowed by Sal's scream of realization.

And then they were gone.

"Dean!" Sam hurried forward, unable to comprehend what had just happened.

"Sam, no!" Abe called out, and Sam registered the sound of the Ojibwa approaching him as the toes of his boots breeched the edge of the cliff, the sound of Sal's scream ending abruptly with the sound of a dual splash of water.

Sam felt himself tipping forward, intent on following Dean, willing to fall into the black abyss below him. The hand that gripped his arm and pulled him back shook him from his shock.

"DEAN!"

"Sam! Hey. HEY!" Abe wrapped a strong arm around him, holding Sam back against him, keeping him from the edge.

"I gotta go after him!"

"Sam, it's twenty feet down—into the river," Abe said, pulling him back harder.

"Lemme GO!" Sam roared, pushing against Abe. "I gotta go after him!"

"HEY!" Sam heard Abe's rifle hit the ground as two mighty hands reached for his shirt front turning him around and shaking him harshly. "Not that way. SAM! Not that way!"

Sam blinked, gripping Abe's wrists for balance. "What?" He couldn't focus, couldn't breathe. His world spun. Dean… gun… bullet… pier… water…

"You want to save your brother?"

"Yes."

"Then pull yourself together and come with me." Abe released Sam, staring at him in the light left behind in the witching hour between evening and night, his eyes dark, unreadable. He bent, picked up his rifle, and started to follow the cliff edge at a jog.

I've tried so hard to keep you safe… Dean…pier…gun…bullet… Who's your brother, Sam?

"I'm right behind you," Sam called after Abe, breaking into a run along the cliff, following the tumbling cry of the river as it carried Dean away from him.