Rating: PG-13


Chapter 3 - Look

"And if you feel that you can't go on
In the light you will find the road."

- Led Zeppelin, "In the Light"

"Long as I'm around, nothing bad's gonna happen to you."

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The world was delicious.

Hate and fear and sadness were abundant here. The darkness grew and with it came strength, power, corporeality. Once doomed to only watch, now it could see, taste, feel, touch.

Possess.

It was no longer bound by commands, no longer slave to another's wishes. Climbing inside skin, it relished the feel of the scream of denial, let laughter trip over insanity as the brief rebellion failed and the human will succumbed to acquisition.

It would draw out every painful memory, snapping the synapses of the fragile mind in its parasitic way until there was nothing but a hollow husk of a person remaining, then, crawling free, it would look for more. It would eat its way through each of them until it was satiated, spent.

Combing through the maze of dark memories, it nibbled on loneliness with a cackle of childlike glee.

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Cold.

Confusing, bone-aching, teeth cracking cold slammed into him like a freight train when he hit the water. Air fled his body and he was tumbled under the current, breathing liquid, disoriented, unable to discern up from down. Arms not his own tangled around his body, legs bumped and flailed and suddenly he could feel rocks below him, scraping, skittering along his hip and ribs.

Fear in its purest, paralyzing form gripped him as his lungs screamed for air and he beat frantically against the body wrapped around his, pressing his arm, his leg, his foot against the river bottom until he was moving up through the water, finally, blessedly breaking the surface.

Coughing viciously, feeling his lungs stripped of their lining and his throat scraped raw with the sound, Dean tried to kick his legs. He fought to keep from bobbing once again below the surface even as the river slapped him in the face, fingers of water climbing down his throat and into his nose and eyes. The current of the river was swift and he felt its motion pulling at him.

"Hel—help me!"

Sal's weak bleat came from his right and Dean felt clumsy hands pull at him, yank him beneath the surface once more. He pushed against the panicked embrace and broke into the swiftly darkening night.

"G-get…'way…" Dean gasped, trying to free himself. His head pounded, the cold from the river searing the slice on his forehead, chilling the blood that pounded slowly, heavily behind his eyes. "Lemme…go…"

"Can't swim!"

Not my problem…

Dean felt himself dragged down once more and knew as the water closed over his head that Sal was going to make it his problem. If the river didn't kill him, the hustler's terror would. He gasped as the night air once again stroked his wet skin, gagging on the water that seemed to be slowly filling his body with every fall into its clutches.

"Hold-hold on…" Dean panted, wrapping a trembling arm around Sal's chest, trying to keep them both above water. "Kick…man, kick with me…"

"Can't swim!"

"No shit, a-asshole." Dean spat water as the current splashed him. "Kick."

Dean's growl seemed to break through Sal's panic and Dean felt his heavy legs move in hesitant scissors against the current of the water, swimming for a shore Dean prayed was there. He couldn't see anything in the shallow canyon of night. Stars that danced in the corners of his vision could have been real or imagined.

The rock came out of nowhere. Dean had one second to gasp before the force of the water threw him against it, the weight of Sal's body pinning him from behind and suffocating him all at once. Currents of water wrapped around them and Dean felt himself fading even as his numb fingers clutched desperately for some kind of hold, some way around the granite jutting into his belly.

"Edge!" Sal cried.

"Wh-wha…"

"I see the edge!"

Dean felt Sal move against him, using Dean's body as an anchor to push himself around the large rock. Dean cried out weakly as Sal's efforts pressed him harder into the surface and he felt a sharp, tearing pain slicing through him, searing length-wise down his stomach. Not good…

"I can…can touch…"

Good, gimme a hand out of here…

Over the low roar of the rushing river, Dean was amazed that he could actually hear splashing as Sal moved away from him and clamored through the shallows of the river to the water's edge. Digging his fingertips into the sharp edges of the rock, Dean rolled his body around so the he could see the dim outline of Sal reaching safety. He didn't have the air to call out. The thought of it sickened him. But he was drowning.

He reached out his hand toward Sal and was rewarded with a quick flash of teeth and a departing back.

Sonuvabitch…

The surge of the water pulled at his legs, drawing him away from the rock without Sal's bulk to hold him there. Dean's hands were too cold to keep his grip. With the image of Sal's escape blending with the memory of Sam's frightened eyes, Dean tumbled into the arms of the river once more, fighting valiantly for air as the water carried him away from any idea of safety.

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Who's your brother Sam

Sam stumbled over another root, this time going to his knees. He brought his head up, making sure he could still see Abe. The man moved like quicksilver.

How the hell is he seeing anything? It's pitch dark out here…

"Sam?"

"Right behind you."

"Don't fall too far behind," Abe said, sounding barely winded. "It's going to take both of us if we're going to save him."

"I said I'm here," Sam snapped, surging to his feet and catching up quickly. "How do you know where to go?"

Because I'm an awesome big brother…

"I don't." Abe shot him a look that Sam couldn't make out in the dim starlight. "The river will tell us where to go."

"The river?" Sam dodged a tree, keeping up the near-jogging pace that Abe had set. The wooded terrain was sloping downhill and the river seemed increasingly closer.

First, you tell me that you've got the Shining and then you tell me that I have to go back home?

"Everything has a voice, Sam."

"Even water?"

I've seen what Evil does to good people…

"Especially water," Abe shot back. "It travels many miles from origin to destination. It destroys, gives life, shapes rock…too little of it can kill just as quickly as too much."

Sam just shook his head. "So what's it telling you now?" He could hear the water's flow below and to his left. He strained his ears for any sign of Dean perhaps calling out, giving him hope.

We're stronger as a family, Dad, we just are. You know it.

"It's telling me that it will soon slow." Abe stopped suddenly, jutting his arm out and halting Sam with its pressure against Sam's chest. "Listen."

"What?" Sam licked his dry lips. "I don't hear anything." Except Dean's voice in my head…

"It's getting shallow." Abe started to shift around and Sam kept his eyes on the older man, trying to draw the conclusion before Abe did. His mind felt like molasses. He was wading through a murk of memories, images of his brother fighting, laughing, head dropped back in pain, bleeding. He imagined he could feel Dean next to him, close, but too far away to touch.

"The river narrows there." Abe pointed off into the distance and Sam felt a shiver shake through him. Abe had the eyes of an eagle; there were aspects of this man Sam knew he shouldn't take for granted. "We'll go down. Here," Abe slid the strap of his rifle from his shoulder, hefting the gun in his grip. "We'll climb down."

"How the hell—" Sam's incredulous protest was cut short as Abe went to his knees, then swung a leg over the cliff edge. Swallowing an insane rush of vertigo, Sam joined him on the ground, crawling to the edge. To his immense relief, he saw that they had indeed been traveling downhill: the distance from the cliff edge to the river was barely a quarter of the distance Dean had fallen.

As he heard Abe's rifle crack against the side of the rock face, Sam thought of Dean's empty .45 lying forgotten back in the woods.

"How did you know the Three Stooges were there?"

Abe looked up and Sam saw the starlight glinting in his dark eyes. "What?"

Sam swung his leg over the edge when Abe was low enough that he wouldn't kick him. "Sal and his bunch."

Abe actually chuckled. "Stooges…"

Sam concentrated on not falling. His toes skidded down the rock face and his fingers cramped as they gripped tightly.

"I dropped you off," Abe continued, grunting as he dropped to the narrow strip of ground that doubled as a shore, "went inside the Hideout and Yeats was loading his rifle. He had one for me. I could just tell…there was something about the way he…" Abe shook his head as Sam landed next to him.

"What? Did he say something?"

They started to walk along the swiftly widening shore, following the river as it tripped and tumbled away from them.

"No, but…" Abe stepped in front of Sam, his face turned to the water. "There was just something there… in his eyes. Something I wasn't able to understand."

"Everybody has secrets," Sam said.

"True," Abe agreed. "I grabbed the rifle and went to find you. I heard your voice and I knew you were in trouble."

"Dammit, where is he…" Sam muttered, eyes searching the sparkling flash of rapids flowing over hidden rocks. "Could we have missed him?"

Abe shook his head. "I don't know."

I've tried so hard to keep you safe…

"Dean!" Sam called out, desperate for an answer. "DEAN!"

The odd non-silence of the rolling river mocked him.

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Dean had stopped fighting the river and was now focused on keeping his lips above water. If he could keep them in the air, he could breathe. Breathing is good. Breathing means I can get out of here… His arms were lead, his heavy, frozen legs bounced and skittered against rocks sheltered by the flowing water. The water changed in depth, but never seemed shallow enough to get a foothold. He was coughing water out of his lungs with more frequency then he was pulling air in. He knew he was weakening, he was going under, and there wouldn't be a return.

Sam…

He was going to leave Sam.

Oh, God, Sammy… Dean saw images of Sam flash like a movie on fast forward. Scraped knees and training wheels, homework and haircuts, shaving and learning to drive, fights for each other, fights with each other, laughing and crying, grabbing and holding, surviving…

Feeling him self sink once more, Dean worked his arms against the churn of the water, and just before the water closed over his lips, the howl of the wolf caught him. It was the sound his heart made when he watched his father burn. It was the sound of Sam's tears and his own helplessness as he beat against his car.

Fighting to keep his head up, Dean felt his legs drag against the bottom of the river once more. He pressed his feet against the sandy bottom, roughly shoving himself to the side, toward the sound. The wan starlight seemed to brighten for one brief moment and Dean saw Lobo dancing at the edge of land downriver from him.

Fight, dammit…fight this.

Willing his heavy arms to move, he dug his toes into the earth, trying to push sideways against the rush of the water. He was so cold he was no longer shaking. His blurry vision faded and he felt himself sink forward, felt his lips go under. As water rushed gleefully forward to fill his nose and mouth, he detected a slight tug at his collar, just below the nape of his neck.

Coughing, choking, he brought his head up, but was unable to do much more. His body ebbed with the flow of the river, but he could suddenly tell he was moving against the rush, and not with it.

Atta boy, Lobo…

The pebbles that peppered the shallow, sandy shore dug into his knees as his water-saturated body was pulled forward, then dropped. Rocks dug into his cheek and cold encompassed him. He dragged his arms forward, the backs of his hands skittering across the rocky shoreline. He felt himself choking on river water, his abused lungs waving the white flag of surrender. The tug on his collar was more insistent this time and Dean obeyed, crawling forward until all but his legs were free of the water.

There, he retched water from the hollows of his body, unable to do more than drag in air. As he surrendered to the oblivion that had tracked him since falling into the river, he felt Lobo's heavy, wet body press against his side.

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"Sam," Abe started, knowing he had to prepare the boy for what they might find.

"No," Sam pushed ahead of Abe. "No, don't."

"You need to be ready—"

"NO!" Sam snapped. "He's not dead. He can't be." He walked faster.

Abe swallowed. "I want him to be okay, too, Sam, but—"

"Shut the hell up!" Sam whirled around, gripping Abe's jacket with iron fingers, surprising him with fierce strength born of desperation. "Dean is too strong, okay? He's survived too much."

You both have, Abe thought.

"Okay, Sam," Abe nodded, wrapping a warm hand over Sam's trembling grasp. "Okay."

Sam nodded once, releasing Abe, then reached up and gripped the bridge of his nose. Abe couldn't see his eyes, but worry stabbed through him.

"Sam?"

"It's okay, just… my head…" Sam stumbled back a little. "Not… a vision, but… Gah, jeeze, what the…"

"Vision?" Abe reached for Sam's shoulder, trying to brace him. Vision? Sam had visions? "What is it?"

"I can't see anything." Sam fell to his knees. "Usually… when it hurts like this…I can see…"

"What? See what?" Abe leaned closer.

"Guh, something… anything… it's just… it's black…"

And then he heard it. A howl. In the distance, quiet, almost indiscernible, but it was the lonely howl of the wolf.

"Sam." Abe gripped Sam's shoulder tighter. "Sam, get up."

Sam was trembling under Abe's hand. He suddenly cried out, falling forward to catch himself with his hands. Abe stumbled back.

"Dean," Sam whispered, breathing as though for the first time. "Dean…"

"Sam listen." Abe grabbed Sam's jacket sleeve. "The wolf."

Sam brought his head up. Again, Abe wished he could see the boy's eyes. So much was held in the eyes of secret keepers.

"Wolf?"

"The wolf cries for lost spirits trying to return to earth."

"You mean Dean?"

"Get up," Abe said again, pulling at Sam's sleeve. "We have to move. Now."

Sam stumbled to his feet, rubbing roughly at his forehead. Gripping his jacket sleeve, Abe propelled them both forward, following the shore as the river twisted slightly east. The night had swallowed them whole, allowing for only tiny pinpricks of light, but Abe could see the shapes and shadows of the ground before them, a gift of night vision granted to him since birth.

He kept a tight hold on Sam's arm, maneuvering the boy around rocks and over fallen branches from the forest to their right. The shoreline had widened as the river narrowed creating a sluice of water through the flat canyon. The tension of the moment built inside of him until he felt thin, wrapped taut, well-strung like the instrument he was meant to be. It was no accident that he had found this hunt, that he had found this place, that he had crossed paths with these boys once more.

Fate had a way of weaving people together when they needed each other, despite human efforts to the contrary.

"Oh God," Sam suddenly breathed, drawing Abe's eyes up from the ground that seemed determined to grab hold and pull them down. A short distance from them, he could see a dark lump—decidedly not rock-like—at the edge of the river.

"It's him." Sam started forward.

"Wait." Instinct had Abe tightening his grip just before the growl raised hairs on the back of his neck.

He couldn't see the Lobo in the darkness, but he was upwind from the animal. The feral scent was unmistakable. He felt Sam tense next to him, and knew that Sam was concentrating only on the fact that the creature was between him and his brother.

"Lobo," Sam said softly. "It's…it's me…"

"He doesn't recognize you," Abe said.

"Can he see me?"

"I don't know."

As if in answer to a silent prayer, a dim, blue-green glow danced over them and skipped across the water to illuminate the wolf-dog crouched before them. Abe could see the hair along Lobo's back at attention, his upper lip curled, exposing the vicious white fangs that betrayed his mixed breeding. He was spread out in an aggressive stance, ready to spring and protect his adopted charge.

"What the hell?" Sam whispered, keeping his focus on Lobo.

"Aurora borealis," Abe replied.

"It just shows up like that?"

"Sometimes, yeah." Abe stepped forward as the light from the humming gasses above them built, increasing in beauty and intensity and casting a greenish hue over the body at the edge of the water. "Easy, boy," he said softly. "We're not going to hurt him."

Lobo bent lower, his muzzle nearly to the ground and Abe tensed. If the dog sprang, there would be little he could do but shoot him. Please…

Sam stepped forward boldly and Abe drew in a breath.

"Lobo." Sam's voice crackled with the command for attention. "You did good, boy."

Keeping his hands out and open, palm up, Sam stepped ever closer to the snarling dog. Abe gripped the rifle tightly, ready to bring it up if Lobo lunged. To his surprise, the dog relaxed when Sam drew close enough to reach out and touch him. He sniffed Sam's hand, darted a quick tongue out, then sat, allowing Sam to pass.

Abe stepped carefully around the dog, keeping a respectful distance as the Northern Lights echoed wildly in the animals large brown eyes. Once on the other side of Lobo, Abe hurried to join Sam next to Dean's inert form.

"He's breathing," Sam reported, his hand on his brother's neck. "I can feel a pulse—it's slow, but it's there."

"We need to get him away from the water." Abe slung the strap of the rifle over his shoulder, gripping Dean's other shoulder and together with Sam, pulled Dean's sodden body free of the icy river and as far up on the shore as they could go.

The cliff face tapered quickly at the narrow point of the river, joining the forest with the shore and offering them an alcove of protection. The ground was soft and sandy, pebbles left behind at the edge of the river.

"God, Abe, he's like ice." Sam rolled Dean's wet form into his lap.

"We have to warm him up. Now." Abe dropped his rifle, and pulled his survival knife from its sheath in his waistband. "Start getting his wet clothes off. Wrap him in our coats."

"Gotta warm him from his core out," Sam was saying as his fingers fumbled with Dean's jacket, the surreal light that tripped over the sky casting an odd light on Dean's lax face as his head lolled against Sam's leg. "So the warmer blood doesn't shock his heart."

"Right." Abe handed Sam his jacket, then unscrewed the end of his knife, emptying the hilt of waterproof matches, fishing line and hook, and a tiny compass. "I'll find some wood. Make a fire. Hurry, Sam."

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He's not even shivering…

Sam's worry was complete as he pulled Dean's wet jacket from his brother and Dean's head dropped back. With fingers shaking from fear as much as cold, Sam worked the buttons of his brother's shirt free, rolling it away from his shoulders and off his arms. He worked the T-shirt off over Dean's head, wincing as his brother's body shifted back against the sand.

The bandage Maggie had applied to Dean's wounded shoulder slipped off with his shirt, exposing the raw bullet hole to the air. It wasn't bleeding, and for that Sam was grateful. He wrapped Abe's smaller coat around Dean's torso, noticing a gash running vertically down Dean's belly, beginning just under his ribs. It started as a small slice a few inches below Dean's sternum and ended in a jagged-edge hole next to his navel that caused Sam to wince with empathy.

Amazingly, it wasn't bleeding either. Fear born of blue-tinged skin around his brother's full lips had Sam dismissing the wound and fumbling with Dean's button-fly.

"Now would be a good time to wakeup and give me hell about personal space, man," he muttered. Dean was too quiet, too still. He worked Dean's sodden jeans off, tossing them aside with his socks and boots and wrapped his larger coat around his brother's pale legs.

Dean rolled limply in his arms, his head falling back to rest in the crook of Sam's arm. Face fisted in tight worry, Sam shrugged his shoulder, moving Dean's head up until it rested against his collarbone.

"C'mon, man," Sam gathered Dean up against him, rubbing at his chest, Dean's back against his front. They had sat like this once before, Dean's blood seeping into him from wounds inflicted by the vicious claws of a wendigo. "Please, Dean…"

"Body heat, Sam," Abe panted, returning with an arm-load of firewood. "Give him yours, as much as you can."

Sam frowned. "How?"

"Get your shirt off." Abe started stacking wood into a pile, balancing it over a small stack of dried leaves. "Hurry, Sam. He's not even shivering."

"I know," Sam leaned Dean forward, pulling his own long sleeved shirt off and adding it to the make-shift blankets, then pulled his T-shirt over his head, dropping it on the ground next to him and pulled Dean's icy back against him. "Holy shit, he's cold," Sam gasped.

"Have to get him warm or we're going to lose him," Abe said, using the water-proof matches to light the leaves, adding fuel to the fire as soon as the flames caught.

"Like hell we are." Sam pulled his brother close. "Dean, don't you do this to me," he whispered against his brother's ear.

As he moved his hands across Dean's chest, his biceps working against Dean's upper arms as he moved, Sam realized he could feel the slow thud of Dean's heart through his back. It wasn't nearly fast enough. "C'mon, big brother, give me a sign here."

Sam felt the heat from Abe's fire lick his face and scooted as close as he dared, clutching his brother's body tightly. As he focused his efforts on Dean, everything faded into the background. The liquid light caressing the earth, Lobo's anxious pacing, Abe's worried face.

There was nothing but Sam and Dean and the fire. Nothing but moments and memories and time.

"You remember when you taught me how to swim?" Sam asked, his lips close to Dean's ear, knowing that somehow in his brother's frozen state he could hear him. Dean could always hear him. "I was just a skinny kid, littler than everyone else at that public pool. Some dude pushed me in and I freaked out."

Hands moving back and forth. Arms moving up and down.

"After you gave that kid the scare of his life, you took me to the deep end of the pool. I thought you were insane. But you said if I was gonna learn something, I was gonna be able to do it as good as or better than anyone else. Even you."

Dean started to shiver. Sam felt the tremor shake through him and started to move his hands from Dean's chest to his arms, then his legs, vigorously encouraging his blood to flow, to warm.

"We were in that water all damn day. Until my fingers were pruney and you could barely move your arms from treading water for so long. But I did it. I swam the length of that pool."

Sam felt Dean's heart skip, then pick up, felt his jaw tremble as his teeth started to chatter.

"You never gave up on me, Dean." Sam's throat twisted tight for a moment. "Never. Not once. Not even when you should have."

Dean's shivering increased and sparks from the fire before them caught Sam's eye, drawing him back to the present, reminding him that there were others around.

"He's shivering," Sam said softly.

"I know," Abe replied, equally as soft.

"That's good, right?"

"We need to get his body temperature up," was all Abe said.

Sam continued to rub his brother's legs, the cold skin of Dean's back melding with the skin of Sam's chest and chilling him. He felt his own jaw tremble and was soon aware that Abe was moving around him. He frowned, trying to follow his movements. He felt Abe's flannel shirt drift across his shoulders.

"Gotta keep you warm, too," Abe explained, crouching down by Dean's legs. "I'm gonna work on his legs, okay?"

Sam was aware that Abe was speaking very carefully, as if wary of Sam. His frown deepened. "Okay."

He moved his arms back up to Dean's torso, working over his brother's body, trying to return the warmth the river had sucked away. Between them and the river, Lobo continued to pace. Sam suddenly realized that the firelight seemed to brighten and glanced up to see the lights of the aurora borealis fading.

"It's going away."

"It does that," Abe nodded.

Lobo sat, raising his nose to the sky and cried out a sound that wrapped around Sam's heart.

"He saved Dean," Sam whispered, his voice stuttering with the efforts of his movements.

"Animals sense kindred souls," Abe said simply.

"What?"

"The wolf…" Abe worked on Dean's calves, his large hands moving swiftly over the muscles there. "It is a symbol of devotion to family and pack, a consummate hunter, known for its endurance and stoicism. My people emulate it, revere it."

"Huh," Sam shifted, adjusting his grip on Dean as he felt his brother's shivering increase.

"The dog is loyal to a fault. It will return to a master time and again, regardless of treatment."

Sam swallowed, feeling Dean's cold face against his neck.

"As he has both hearts beating inside of him, the Lobo searches for peace. But I don't know that he will ever find it."

"And you think that's why he saved Dean?"

"Maybe," Abe lifted a shoulder. "Maybe."

Kindred souls, Sam thought, sliding his hands from Dean's arms to his torso once more. He jerked back when his left hand contacted something sticky and wet.

"What the—"

"Is that blood?" Abe's voice cracked in time with the fire.

"Where did it come from?" Sam scrambled through the clothing that he'd wrapped around his brother, pulling them aside to get to the skin underneath. "Oh, shit."

"Did you see that before?"

"It wasn't bleeding before." The gash on Dean's belly had suddenly seemed to open up, spilling copious amounts of precious blood.

"Maybe he was too cold."

"What about his shoulder?" Sam asked hurriedly.

Abe slid the top of the coat away. "It's just seeping."

Dean groaned, stirring in Sam's arms as Abe pressed a hand against the wound on his belly to staunch the flow of blood.

"Dean?" Sam encouraged.

Dean groaned again, his face contorting with pain.

"Can't… can't…" he muttered.

"It's okay, Dean. You don't have to."

"Sam…" The name was hissed through clenched teeth.

"I'm here."

"S-so cold."

"I know, I know," Sam wrapped his arm tighter around Dean's shoulders, careful of the wound there, resting his chin on his brother's head. "Hang in there, big brother."

"Gimme your T-shirt," Abe ordered.

Sam handed it to him. Abe pressed it against Dean's side, causing him to cry out in pain, his eyes snapping open.

"Jesus Christ," Dean gasped. "What the friggin' hell…"

"You're bleeding."

"So… you decided to stab me?" Dean slurred.

"Gotta get it stopped, man," Sam said.

"God, Sam." Dean's eyes slid closed and his jaw muscle bounced as he clenched his teeth against another cry of pain.

"Abe—you got fishing line in that knife, right?"

Abe nodded, grabbing his knife hilt. "It's awfully thick," he said, regret in his voice. "And the hook…" He held it up for Sam to see in the firelight.

"You ain't stickin' that th-thing in me," Dean said, peering at the dangerously tipped, curved piece of metal. He shivering was so violent now Abe was having trouble holding the wadded up T-shirt against his belly.

"No," Sam shook his head. "That's not gonna work."

"Aww, fuck, Sam." Dean arched against Sam's leg, pushing away from him and from Abe's pressure, trying to break free.

"Hold still, man," Sam held him. "Please. We have to stop this bleeding."

"How?" Dean panted.

"Working on that."

"There is one way," Abe said, looking over at the fire.

"What?" Sam frowned, following Abe's eye line. "Burn him?"

"What?" Dean squeaked.

"Not him. The wound."

"Oh shit," Sam and Dean breathed together. Silence surrounded them for a moment as Dean lay trembling in his brother's arms.

"Sam," Dean whispered finally, his eyes blinking shut, lashes stuck together from the gritty river water.

Sam leaned close. "Yeah, Dean."

"Sal's…" Dean swallowed, his jaw muscles tightening against a shivering wave of pain. "Sal's out."

"Out?"

"Climbed out."

Sam went still. "He climbed out of the river?"

"Yeah."

"Did you help him?"

"Yeah."

"I'm gonna kill him." Sam felt his lips draw back against his teeth in a snarl.

"Get in line."

"There won't be a line if you bleed to death first," Abe pointed out.

Sam felt Dean shift against his chest so that he could look up at his brother's face. The firelight snaked tendrils of shadows across the familiar planes of Dean's face, throwing light into his unmistakable green eyes.

He peered down at Dean, both wanting to know and fearing the truth he saw very clearly on Dean's face: his brother thought this would end him.

"No." Sam just shook his head.

"Sam—"

"No. You're tougher than that."

"Cold." Dean's eyes slid closed. "Hurts."

"Open your eyes," Sam commanded, seeing Abe shift and knew he was thrusting the blade of his knife into the fire. "Dean, dammit, open your eyes."

Dean blinked his eyes open. "Jesus, Sam." Sam felt his brother's back muscle tighten against his leg once more, felt his shoulder press helplessly against his chest.

"I know it hurts. I know you're tired. But you fight, dammit. Fight this."

At those words, Dean's eyes widened. "'Kay."

"I'm not going anywhere, man."

Dean's eyes were pinned to Sam's face, the struggle to keep them open apparent in the creases fanning out from the sweep of his lashes. Sam tightened his hold, nodding emphatically.

"You just look at me, Dean. Keep your eyes up."

Dean blinked.

"Keep them on me, okay? I'll be right here. You can kick his ass tomorrow."

"W-we… we kick his ass… together."

Sam's smile shook. "You bet we will."

"'kay."

"Abe?" Sam looked up, watching as Abe studied the knife glowing in the depths of the heated coals. "This gonna work?"

"It better."

"That's not exactly what I was looking for."

Abe met his eyes. "It's all I got."

Sam swallowed, feeling his heart rate kick up a notch, then nodded. Abe used Sam's T-shirt and wiped away as much of the blood as he could.

"Hold him, Sam." Abe voice was edged with fear.

Sam fumbled his hand down to grab onto Dean's fingers, thankful to find warmth there after the numbing cold that had seemed to cocoon his brother earlier. Dean gripped back. Sam wrapped his other arm around the front of Dean's chest, anchoring him. Dean reached up and gripped Sam's wrist, the muscles of his forearm coiling tight.

"Look at me, Dean."

Dean eyes blinked up, lids appearing to weigh a hundred pounds each, but he looked at Sam.

"That's it," Sam nodded, tightening his grip. "Keep them on me."

"Ready?" Abe asked softly.

The brothers shared a quick nod, not breaking eye contact.

Wrapping the bloody T-shirt around the hilt of the hot knife, Abe withdrew it from the fire, then laid the glowing blade against the torn, sensitive skin of Dean's stomach.

"AHH!" Dean's scream of pain tore through Sam.

The cry echoed off of the river and shimmied through the air in an almost visible wave. It was echoed by a soul-searing howl from Lobo.

Sam tightened his arm as his brother bucked against the intense pain, swallowed the nausea that rippled through him at the scent of burning flesh. Abe withdrew the knife quickly, not wanting to cause further damage. The wound was blackened at the edges, but closed with red, puckered skin.

With a surrendering whimper, Dean's eyes rolled back in his head and he sagged in Sam's arms, silent, spent.

"Dean?" Sam pleaded as he felt Dean's fingers slid from his wrist and go limp in his hand. He reached up to shakily check his brother's pulse, breathing once more when he felt the stutter of a heart beat slam a staccato rhythm against his probing fingers. "He's…it's still beating."

"We…" Abe pressed the back of his hand against his mouth, and Sam saw the older man was shaking as badly as he. "We need to wrap this somehow. Can't let him go into… into shock."

"He's still shivering."

"I know," Abe said, turning and putting more wood on the fire. He grabbed Dean's wet clothes and spread them on the rocks that surrounded the small encampment, close to the fire. "I'll be back."

"Wait—where are you…"

But Abe had stood and was gone, leaving Sam alone with his wounded brother. Taking a breath, Sam adjusted the coats around Dean so that he was covered shoulder to ankle. He slouched until he felt a boulder at his back. Abe's flannel shirt kept his warmth in and Dean's body was slowly beginning to heat up against him.

Dean's shivering began to calm as they sat in the sandy dirt of the night, illuminated by the orange glow of firelight. Unable to do more than hold him, Sam rested his chin once more on the top of Dean's head, relishing the rarity of contact, the physical closeness with his brother he hadn't felt in a long time.

"I'm sorry I made you promise me," Sam whispered. Lobo padded closer, pacing anxiously back and forth by the fire, eyeing the flames. I've tried so hard to keep you safe… "I should never have asked that of you."

The big dog paused, staring at Dean in Sam's arms, then hesitantly closed the space between them.

"You're the bravest person I know, man." Sam closed his eyes.

He felt a slight whoosh of air as Lobo sank into the sand, resting his head on Sam's leg, his muzzle on Dean's arm.

www

Abe was sick the minute he was out of earshot. He shivered when he was done; his thin T-shirt not enough protection against the cold grasp of night, stars offering little light and zero warmth. Stumbling toward the river, he scooped up a handful of the icy water and rinsed the taste of his weakness from his mouth.

Grab hold of yourself, Migizi

Abe had held his own father as he died, looked into the eyes of his lover as she slipped away, and killed both man and beast when necessity called for it. But nothing had hit him like that cry of anguish from Dean. The echo of the Lobo had wrapped around him, suffocating him with the need to fix this, save them.

Resting back on his haunches for a moment, Abe lifted his gaze to the stars, knowing their dead light offered comfort to some. They chilled him tonight. Closing his eyes, he tucked his chin close to his chest, his silver earring sliding along his cheek. His dark plait shifted across his back. Slowly pulling air in through his nose, he called the peace of his people to him. Reaching down, he dug his fingers into the damp earth on either side of him, grounding himself. He listened to the rush of the river, the call of the crickets, the stir of wind in the tops of the trees.

He felt the scant warmth of the earth seep up through his fingers, building inside of him, stirring memories. He'd been on a path, in search of purpose, when he first found these brothers. Encountering them those many months ago—before they lost their father, had their lives irrevocably changed for the second time, and had been asked to survive an impossible promise—had shown him what true strength and selflessness meant.

Always did work best as a team, those two…

John Winchester's words tossed their way back through his memory.

Dean doesn't know how to quit. He just doesn't.

The difference in the boys now, though, was that pain was laced through their every word, every deed. He saw their spirits clinging to each other even as their hearts were silent. He knew his path had veered this way for a purpose. He'd thought it was to stop the witch—spirit—but he now knew it was to help save these brothers.

Pushing himself to his feet, Abe gathered more firewood and, using an impeccable sense of direction, returned to the fire. He stopped cold when he saw the brothers. Another step and he felt he would be intruding on a moment of peace rarely seen in the lives of these two warriors. Dean lay against his brother, his head resting on Sam's collarbone, his eyes closed, mouth tight even in unconsciousness. Sam's eyes were on the fire, his cheek against the top of Dean's head, his arms wrapped in a protective, almost possessive, embrace. His body language told Abe all he needed to know: Sam may be Dean's purpose in life, but Dean was Sam's anchor. His connection to reality.

It was more than getting them out of the woods this time. Much more.

Abe stepped forward. Lobo brought his head up at Abe's approach, but was silent. The animal was pressed against Sam's leg, his body between the brothers and the opening to the alcove. Guarding them. Abe nodded once into Lobo's eyes.

"Sam," Abe said softly, dropping the wood next to the fire. Sam jerked, startled, and looked up.

"What?"

"Easy, it's okay." Abe tapped the air. "We need to bandage Dean's wound."

Sam blinked, looking down at his unconscious brother. "Right."

Abe pulled his T-shirt over his head. Sam looked at him with surprise.

"You're gonna be cold."

"I'll, uh, rinse out your shirt. Put that on once it dries. We can use mine for Dean until we get back to Maggie's."

"Abe?"

"Yeah?"

"He's warm."

"That's good."

"No," Sam said, bringing Abe's head around. "I mean, really warm."

Abe frowned, watching Sam's hand on Dean's face. "His body has been through a lot, Sam."

"We gotta get him back to Maggie's."

No argument there.

"One thing at a time," Abe said, hurrying to the river's edge and rinsing his bloody, blackened knife in the water as best he could. Returning to the campfire, he cut his shirt into strips, and began to carefully wrap the make-shift bandages around Dean's middle.

The soft touch of the cloth across his burned, wounded skin caused Dean to flinch and stir. A line appeared between his brows, causing Abe to want to smooth his thumb there, easing the worry from the young face. He tied off the bandages, then moved to Dean's seeping shoulder. Padding the puckered hole with a clean bandage, he wrapped the last strip of cloth under Dean's arm and held the bandage in place.

By the time he'd finished, Dean was blinking his eyes open.

"Sam?"

"Hey."

Abe heard the same sleepy surprise in Sam's voice that had been there when the younger man had first greeted him—God, was that just last night?

"Am I… why am I layin' on you?"

"Well," Sam shifted as Abe tied off the bandage. "For starters, you did a Butch and Sundance into the river."

"Oh… riiight." Dean drew the word out as memory surfaced in his large eyes. He started to sit up, then hissed, his hand shooting to his belly. "Oh, yeah."

"You remember now?"

"Unfortunately. Friggin' rock."

"You're hot, man."

Abe watched Dean blink and swore he saw a smirk tease the corner of his lips.

"Not something I want to hear from my little brother when I'm lying half naked in his lap."

"You're such a friggin' jerk." Sam said affectionately.

Dean just smiled and closed his eyes. Abe scooted over and checked Dean's clothes. Still damp. Lobo had made himself comfortable next to the brothers, quietly adding his body heat.

"We'll head back to Maggie's at first light," Abe said, watching the dog curiously. It wasn't like a wild thing to allow such closeness. To allow touch. Abe had said Lobo sensed a kindred spirit in Dean, but again there was more to this than what his eyes were allowing.

"How long is that?" Sam asked.

Abe lifted an eyebrow. "I'm good, kid, but I can't tell time by starlight."

Dean chuckled fragilely.

"We just need to keep you warm, Dean. We'll get you back to a doctor at Maggie's." Abe didn't want to think about the bacteria his wound could have collected while he'd been tossed about in the river. He was counting on the hunters indomitable will to get him back to safety before nature turned against him.

Dean was silent, his expression unreadable in the firelight.

Sam sighed. "Too bad we didn't grab something to eat before we dove through that window."

"What'd those assholes even want?" Dean muttered. Abe saw a latent shiver flow through him.

"Their money," Sam answered.

The group was quiet for a moment and Abe added more wood to the fire. He watched Sam reach up and rub at his head, remembering the pain that had driven him to his knees earlier.

"How's your head doing, Sam?"

The line that Abe had wanted to smooth away earlier immediately returned and drew Dean's eyebrows close. "What happened to your head?"

"Nothing. It's fine." Sam answered both of them.

"You have a vision?" Dean pressed.

As worry increased his volume, Abe heard the damage the river had done to Dean's throat. The roll of sound from Dean's full lips was reminiscent of John Winchester—water over rock, focused, but rough. Abe swallowed, needing to wet his own throat in reaction.

"Not… exactly."

"How do you not exactly have a vision?"

"It felt like one, but… I didn't see anything. It was all just… dark."

"Dark?"

"Yeah, dark. I couldn't see…anything. And then I—"

"You what, Sam?" Dean's rough voice commanded an answer. Abe felt himself sitting up straighter at the sound of it.

"I felt you."

"You…felt me?"

"I know how it sounds, okay, but…yeah. I felt you."

The fire snapped, sending sparks into the silence.

"You okay now?"

"Yeah, Dean. I'm fine. You don't have to worry about me."

"It's my job," Dean said softly.

"Maybe that's the problem," Sam replied.

"Hmm?"

Abe dropped his chin, watching them closely.

"Maybe if you worried about yourself more often—"

"Don't, Sam."

Abe closed his eyes, feeling Sam's frustration from denied absolution as acutely as he felt Dean's pain. And not the pain from his wounds. A pain that went deeper.

He needs you to forgive him, Abe thought suddenly, realizing he wasn't sure which brother he was referring to—the one who had allowed the possession, or the one that had been possessed.

"Dean, I just… I don't know what to say."

"About what?" Dean's voice was weakening.

"I can't let it go."

"I've noticed."

"I don't know how to let it go."

"You…" Dean licked his lips, his heavy-lidded eyes brushing lashes across his cheeks. "You just do."

Dean winced, starting to push away from Sam.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm still laying on you, Sam."

"Yeah, so?"

"So it's… weird."

"For God's sake, Dean, you were about half-frozen not more than an hour ago."

"I'm warmer now." Dean said, his lips pouting out.

"Yeah? Well, you probably have a fever."

"Dean," Abe said quietly. "Just lay still a while longer. I won't tell."

Sam smirked, then glanced down at his brother's profile. "You getting cold again?"

"Why?"

"You're shaking."

Abe watched Lobo crawl closer, pressing his thick body against the brothers, instinctively offering warmth.

"Atta boy," Dean whispered, reaching out a hand and sliding his fingers through the thick fur at the nape of Lobo's neck in a silent thank you.

Abe ran calloused fingers across his lips, watching the wolf-dog as its eyes glinted off the light from the fire. He had once walked the path of the shaman. Somewhere along the way, he'd lost that sight. He began to look too much with his eyes and not enough with his heart. Lobo stared back at him, his large body pressed close to the brothers, his gaze knowing and unnerving.

"You hear me tell Sal about his ring?"

"His ring?"

Abe knew Sam was desperate to keep his brother with him, but he could hear the exhaustion in Dean's voice. He opened his mouth to suggest Dean get his rest when Sam spoke again.

"He graduated in '92."

"Huh. Think someone's looking for him."

"That's what I said."

Abe saw Dean blink his eyes open, interest sparking there. "What are you thinking, Sam?"

Sam rolled his neck. "I think I need to research some more, but…"

"But what?" Abe prompted.

"Well, when I was looking up those names back at Maggie's, I tried to find something besides belladonna poisoning that might have killed them."

"I didn't know that," Abe confessed.

"I didn't get far," Sam shook his head. "I was just doing a quick search, but I came across something that I hadn't heard of before."

"An our kind of something?" Dean asked, shifting his head so he could look up at Sam.

"Yeah, definitely. It's called an ikiryoh."

"Of course it is," Dean muttered.

"It's created by hatred, evil thoughts. It kills by slowly draining the life from you—causing you to relive every horrible thing—Dean? You okay?"

"Yeah… just… hurts."

Abe shot his eyes to Dean, seeing sweat actually gathering along his face in the firelight. The temperature extremes his body had been through alone would be enough to weaken him, but coupled with the cut on his stomach and the river's brutality…

"Go on, Sam," Dean ground out. "Keep talking."

"You sure? You're—"

"Jesus, man, unless you got some… something to make this… go away… just keep talking."

Abe saw Sam swallow. "Okay, right, so…"

Dean arched slightly against Sam, clenching his teeth tightly as he tried to keep a groan inside.

"The ikiryoh eventually suffocates you—after it makes you feel cold and hopeless and see, or, like, relive all the bad things in your life. Sound familiar?"

"Sounds like belladonna poisoning," Abe commented.

"Or something out of Harry Potter," Dean wheezed, eyes closed tight.

"Dude—you read Harry Potter?" Sam replied, incredulous despite the moment.

"Who…who hasn't?"

"My ass. You saw it on Pay Per View."

"Yeah, well… When… they don't have… porn…"

"How do you stop it?" Abe asked, twisting his fingers in tense concern as he watched Dean reach out instinctively for Sam's arm, and Sam's return grasp of balance as he fought against a particularly harsh wave of pain.

"Uh…" Sam's face pulled together in a war of worry and memory. Abe could practically see him scrolling through the images of computer screens in his mind. "I didn't… I don't think I—"

"Fuck, Sam," Dean whispered. "I can't…"

"Easy," Sam soothed, his voice low, calming. "Just breathe with me, man. Slow, easy breaths, Dean. That's it. There you go."

Dean pressed his lips out, easing the breath from his body. "Sucks out loud…"

"Still thinking about no porn in the motel rooms?"

Dean tried to laugh, but ended up just gripping Sam's arm tighter.

Abe ran a hand over his mouth.

"Try to get some rest," Abe instructed. Sam looked up at him, an eyebrow lifted in disbelief. "The night can't last forever."

www

"Hi, Dean."

"Dad?"

"How ya been?"

He was dreaming. He had to be dreaming.

"Well…that's a bit of a loaded question."

"I imagine so."

His eyes were closed but he could still see. He couldn't feel the ground beneath him, though he knew he was standing. He felt the air around him. Literally felt it against his skin. The air felt like silk. Like the skin of a woman. Like he could simply fall into it and be safe.

"Where have you been, Dad?"

"Oh, around."

The grin was so familiar that it hurt. A slight pull at the side of his mouth, a curving of the lips, crinkles of skin around dark brown eyes that snapped with secrecy.

"Have you been watching us?"

"Sometimes. You've been busy."

Why did you say that stuff, Dad? Why did you tell me about Sam and then leave me alone? Why did you—

"I can't tell you why, Dean."

"You can't?"

"I'm sorry."

"Dad? Hey! Wait, no—Dad!"

The air suddenly heated up around him, scorching him and chilling him at the same time. Arms of safety turned into greedy fingers digging into him. He could see them, like bony black snakes crawling along his chest, across his ribs, digging into his navel and scorching him from the inside. He reached for the fingers, to pull them away, but he suddenly couldn't move his arms, couldn't feel his arms.

Throwing his head back once, he growled out his rage in a cry.

"Guurrrhhh!"

"Dean?"

Sam's voice cut through the heat, froze the black. Dean panted, blinking, relishing the feel of actually opening his eyes. It's morning… The gray light of dawn drifted over the alcove and revealed the tangled heap of coats piled on top of him.

"Sam?"

Sam was here. Sam was real. Dad was a dream. Dad was a dream.

"You okay?"

Am I okay… He licked his lips, taking stock. His head felt too big for his body, pounding relentlessly at the cut above his eyebrow, his shoulder throbbed with a teasing ache. His lungs were bruised. And his belly…God…The pain across the skin of his belly seared to a white-cold heat.

"Yeah. I'm okay." He turned his head, looking around the edge of the fire. He felt his short hair fan against his brother's chest. Did I actually sleep on Sam all night? "Where's Abe?"

"Went to get food." Sam yawned, making it sound like Abe had just run to the store.

Dean wanted to laugh. He tried to laugh. It came out like a small squeak.

"Think you can help me here?" Sam was saying. Dean felt his brother's large hands against his back, trying to push them gently apart.

Focus, Dean.

"Help you?"

"Dude, you sound like Bon Scott after a two-hour concert."

Dean had to grin at that. "I'm so using that name next."

"Your clothes are dry," Sam said, and Dean dug his fingers in the sand as Sam scooted out from behind him, drawing his long leg around behind Dean's bare back and kneeling next to him.

"Oh."

"C'mon, Dean. You should get dressed. You'll be warmer."

That means moving. Moving is not going to be fun. I'm not sure I like moving.

"I'll help you."

Without the strong support of Sam at his back, Dean slouched forward, gritting his teeth against the groan, looking around as he caught his breath. The eastern sky was a brilliant pink, gold climbing the edges of the clouds. The fire still burned bright, warming the alcove they were tucked into.

"Where's Lobo?"

"Dunno," Sam answered, standing stiffly and sliding Abe's shirt from his shoulders. "I woke up and he was gone."

"Maybe he's getting food, too."

Sam reached down for his own shirt and Dean caught a flash of the burn across his forearm.

"Hey," he reached out and grabbed Sam's wrist before he could straighten fully. "When did you take the bandage off?"

"Huh?"

Dean twisted his arm.

"Oh, uh…" Sam frowned. "I don't know… shower maybe?"

"You don't remember?"

Sam shook his head. "It doesn't hurt. I'd almost…well, forgotten about it."

"It doesn't hurt?" Dean pressed his hand to his own branded skin.

"Not anymore." Sam said, sliding his arms into his long-sleeved shirt and buttoning it swiftly against the chill of the morning.

"Damn, Sammy. Lucky bastard."

"We'll get you some pain killers and medicine for your, uh, burn when we get back," Sam assured him.

"Whatever you say," Dean replied, remembering how Sam had screamed when Bobby pressed the fireplace poker on his arm. Of course, it hadn't truly been Sam, but it had been his brother's face screwed up in pain, his brother's voice he'd heard…

"Here—can you pull this on?" Sam asked, handing him his slightly stiff, dry shirt.

Dean grabbed his shirt from Sam. "I've been dressing myself since before you were born."

"Fine." Sam lifted his hands, but he didn't back away. In fact, his eyes never left Dean.

Dean stuffed one arm into the sleeve of his shirt, but as he tried to shift his left arm, sweat broke out across his chest. Yeah, not gonna happen…"Uh, Sam?"

"I'm here." Sam's voice was soft, his hands gentle.

With only a minimal amount of struggling and several well punctuated curses, Dean managed to get into his jeans, shirt, and jacket, sand gritting between his fever-sensitive skin and his clothes.

"I'm gonna go take a leak," Sam announced, standing and shrugging into his jacket. He laid Abe's shirt and jacket against the rock for when the older man returned.

Dean frowned. Dammit. "Uh, Sam?"

Sam looked down at him. "C'mon," he sighed, bending low to help Dean to his feet. "I gotcha."

www

There was something oddly comforting about being the caretaker when he'd been taken care of his entire life. When Dean was fine—cocky, confident, strong, capable—Sam knew there wouldn't be much asked of him. He knew he'd be free to pursue whatever he wished because Dean was taking care of the details.

But when Dean was down, when he needed help, when he couldn't do everything else, Sam was needed. He wasn't sure if it was healthy to feel good about that, but he didn't dwell on it too long. Dean needed him and that meant that Sam had a purpose… that he had a hope of making up for what he'd done.

When they returned from their trip to the trees, Sam eased Dean down onto a rock near the fire, watching as Dean rolled his neck, carefully worked his stiff shoulder, gingerly rubbed at his bruised forehead.

Let it go…it wasn't you…I don't blame you…

Sam tried to match Dean's repeated, vehement words with the hole in his heart. It was like forcing pieces from two different puzzles together. There was a groove and a hook, but no matter how hard he shoved, he couldn't match them up. Something didn't fit.

Abe returned with a rabbit and made quick work of skinning it, cooking it and serving it. Dean ate sparingly, working to swallow, hand over his belly as he licked the grease of the meat from his fingers. Sam made sure he didn't take more than Dean, though he was ravenous. Abe ate quietly, his dark eyes always on them, as if waiting for something.

Sam purposely didn't meet the Ojibwa's eyes. He'd felt caution and wariness from Abe directed at him since they'd begun the search for Dean and he couldn't pinpoint the cause.

They buried the rabbit carcass, rinsed their mouths out with river water, careful not to drink. The last thing they needed was intestinal parasites. Dean had moved as little as possible, and aside from a tightening of his jaw muscle, a quickening of breath, and narrowing of eyes, Sam would never know that there were nasty wounds hidden beneath his denim shirt.

The early morning light had quickly darkened with the drawing of storm clouds, and Sam felt humidity pressing around them. He glanced up, worriedly, at the sky hoping the rain would hold off until they got back to Maggie's. It had only taken them a little over an hour to find Dean, maybe there was a chance…

"Here's how we're going to do this," Abe said, once he'd buried the fire, making sure the coals couldn't ignite another. "See where the incline there meets the river? We start there so we don't have to climb anything."

Sam took a breath. "Dean—"

"I can do it, Sam."

"It's okay to ask for help." Sam glanced at his brother out of the corner of his eyes.

"Thanks for the permission, Sasquatch, but I'm fine." Dean didn't look at him; his eyes were trained ahead, his mind obviously on the task before them.

Sam gritted his teeth. Stubborn bastard.

They stood, Abe pulling on his shirt and jacket, sliding his knife into its sheath, and slinging his rifle over his shoulder. He led the way, Dean in the middle, Sam bringing up the rear.

"Think Yeats came after us?" Sam wondered aloud, watching Dean closely. His brother walked stiffly, his shoulders held tight, his fingers curled into loose fists.

"Doubt it," Abe replied. "He still had those two… what did you call them?"

"Stooges," Sam supplied. Dean huffed out a quick laugh.

"Right. Them. They didn't follow Sal out of the window," Abe finished.

"Wussies," Dean muttered.

"Yeah, well," Sam replied, reaching out, ready to steady Dean when he stumbled on a rock, his hand against his stomach. "I'm glad they didn't. We didn't exactly escape prepared."

"We escaped," Dean pointed out. "That's what matters….ah! Shit."

"You okay?"

"Yes," Dean snapped, continuing forward.

"Fine!" Sam huffed.

"Tell me more about that… Ikea thing."

Sam frowned. "Ikea—oh, you mean the ikiryoh?"

"Yeah."

"I think it's a Japanese spirit or something. I didn't get much else—really need to go look into it more."

"A Japanese spirit… in Minnesota?" Abe asked, turning to look over his shoulder.

Sam shrugged. "I'm guessing it has to be summoned. Or called or something like that. Maybe it was summoned by a Japanese person."

"A Japanese…witch?" Abe hedged.

"Maybe."

"Hey, Sam," Dean panted.

Sam reached out for him, but stopped when Dean paused to catch his breath.

"Yeah?"

"You remember that Death Spirit in Texas?"

Sam winced. He remembered driving across flat, treeless roads, finding the motel, pulling up facts on the hunt, feeling hungry, and then the strobe light of his memory blinked on and the nightmare took over until clarity returned with pain on the floor of Bobby's house.

"Sorta…"

"I'm thinking," Dean licked dry lips, hand pressed to his middle. "I'm thinking we might've been on the wrong track."

Sam frowned, looking up at Abe, then back at Dean. "Wrong track?"

"Don't think it was a Death Spirit."

"Why?"

"Abe was in Texas."

"Yeah, so?"

Dean rolled his eyes, closing them on a sigh. Sam bit his lip. What am I missing?

"I think that," Dean swallowed, waving his hand loosely in the air. "This thing was there. Whatever it is."

Abe grunted, shaking his head, an expression of wonder spreading across his craggy features.

"What?" Sam asked him.

"Fate has a way of creating intersections where we strive to build parallel paths."

Dean and Sam shared a glance.

"Okay, Obi-Wan, you wanna repeat that in English?" Dean asked, moving forward once more as thunder rumbled low in the distance.

"I don't think it was an accident that we found each other at the Hideout."

"Yeah, well, I don't believe in fate," Dean grumbled, then swore loudly as he stumbled once more. "Son of a bitch!"

"Hey, take it easy, Dean."

"You take it easy, Sam." Dean pressed the heel of his left hand to his forehead and Sam saw the tremble of his jaw line. He was pale, and Sam could see his fingers shaking.

He's scared. Being in pain meant being out of control. Being out of control was next to hell for Dean. Sam pulled his lips tight against his teeth. He knew Dean would skitter away if he tried to touch him right now. He thought for a moment, then began to hum as they walked.

After two bars Dean paused, looking at him. "Dude," he said in a gasp, turning, his hand pressed across his belly. "Are you… singing… Highway to Hell?"

Sam just grinned and in his off-tune cadence started to sing. "Living easy, loving free, season ticket on a one way ride…"

Dean shook his head and turned away, continuing after Abe. After a moment, Sam heard his brother's voice, halted with pain and effort, but still tuned to the melody of the song.

"Asking nothing, leave me be, taking everything in my stride…"

Sam stepped up beside him when Dean stumbled again, this time nearly going to his knees. Stooping slightly to account for their four-inch height difference, Sam slid Dean's arm across his shoulders, ignoring the instinctive way Dean held himself away from him.

"Don't need reason," Sam started again, ticking his head toward Dean. "Don't need rhyme…

Dean gave in, leaned on his brother, and moved forward with a breathy, "Ain't nothin' I would rather do, going down, party time, my friends are gonna be there too…"

The beat of the song set the pace of their footsteps, guiding them forward, keeping them moving. Sam almost laughed out loud when Abe's tenor joined them.

"I'm on a highway to hell, on the highway to hell, highway to hell, I'm on the highway to hell…"

www

With an impressive crash of electrified air and earth-trembling thunder, it began to rain.

I'm never going to be dry again.

They continued to walk, no shelter to be had, across terrain that Dean was certain had been built specifically to cause him pain. After the first minute of the downpour, Dean was vocally cursing everyone and everything except Sam, and he was close to cursing his brother because he was too freakin' tall. Every forward step pulled at Dean's wound and it was all he could do to grip the material of Sam's jacket and keep his brother close.

"I hate rain." Dean muttered.

Minutes passed.

"I hate water, period."

Left, right, left right, stumble.

"Fuck."

"Easy, Dean," Sam said, water dripping from his lips and running down his face to fall from his chin in a steady beat.

"Quit telling me to take it easy! I'm not friggin' four," Dean snapped. "We're supposed to be…aw, dammit… we're supposed to be at a safe house, Sam. Not falling into rivers and friggin' camping in the middle of nowhere—"

"Yeah, I wondered when you'd bring that up," Sam muttered.

"I hate camping," Dean muttered, shivering as the rain soaked through his clothes, making the ache in his bones more prominent, causing the pain to twist harshly across his belly.

"I know you do."

Left, right, left, right. Time passed. Time ceased to exist. Time was nothing. There was only pain and water and Sam.

"We're close," Abe announced.

You got Spidey sense now, too? Dean thought grumpily. He was tired of hurting, tired of struggling. Tired of being tired.

"You ever just want to hide, Sam?" he asked suddenly, expecting Sam to respond with surprise, shock, remorse.

"Yeah," Sam sighed, his voice soft and honest. "Yeah, I do."

"We can't though, can we?"

"Don't think so."

"That sucks out loud."

"You can say that again."

God he hurt. The pain spiked from his belly suddenly and he gasped. He felt the ground sway under him, and knew that Sam's arms were the only thing that kept him upright.

Think of something else, focus on something else…

Impala's engine…intake manifold, carburetor, battery… Rain ran into his eyes and he blinked it away, shaking it free from his lips. Song's on Metallica's S&M album…Master of Puppets, The Thing That Should Not Be, No Leaf Clover, Hero of the Day, Nothing Else Matters… Sam shifted his arm and Dean felt his brother's eyes on his face. The hunt, the job…dead hunter, dead '92 grads, belladonna poisoning or…

"When… we get back, we need to find what stops a…" Dean paused, trying to find the word.

"Ikiryoh." Sam supplied.

"Yeah. That."

"I know we do. I know right where to search."

"Swell," Dean whispered. How close is close, Abe? 'Cause, seriously…

"There's the safe house."

It's about friggin' time.

He wanted a bed, a bath, and a beer. Not necessarily in that order. And aspirin. And coffee. And then some more aspirin. The sand trapped in his clothes from the river irritated his skin even through the soaking deluge of the rain. He shivered and felt his sore muscles protest.

The rain splashed in through the broken window into the safe house. Sam slipped out from under Dean's arm, leaving him propped against the side of the building, and peered into the window.

"Looks empty," he shouted back over the downpour. "Think most of our stuff's still there."

"Fantastic," Dean called back. "Any reason we're still standing out here?"

"Let's get into the bar." Abe waved them forward. "Get you some help."

"I'm good with that," Dean nodded, keeping his right shoulder against the side of the brick house and moving around the building. He saw the Impala tucked into the cluster of trees where he'd left her. God, baby, you look so good.

Sam's fingers wrapped around his upper arm, leading him down the slight incline and around to the front of the bar. As they approached the door, Dean frowned.

"You hear that?"

"Music?" Sam looked over at him.

Over the steady beat of rain against the blacktop and dirt, he heard the ear-splitting cry of rock and roll angst.

"You think she opened up?" Dean asked, doubtfully.

"No cars," Abe shook his head, worry aging his face. He stepped up to the door and tried the handle. The music spiked.

"Crawling in my skin, these wounds they will not heal, fear is how I fall, confusing what is real…"

Abe stumbled back. "It's locked."

"Try again," Sam stepped closer, releasing his hold on Dean's arm.

Abe rammed his shoulder against the door, turning the handle again and again.

"Sam," Dean grabbed his brother's attention. "It's in there."

"Oh, shit."

"What?" Abe looked wildly over at them.

"Just like before," Dean said to Abe. "Remember? Yeats couldn't get in when the jukebox was—"

"Oh, damn," Abe looked back at the door. Taking a step back, he heaved a mighty kick against the wood. It didn't give.

"Let me try," Sam offered, pushing Abe aside. Just as he slammed his foot against the door, the music ceased and Sam tumbled inside. He caught himself on one of the bar stools and straightened just as Dean and Abe stepped across the threshold, closing off the rain behind them, ready to call out.

The sight that met their eyes shocked them into silence. The room looked like ground zero after an explosion. The blue and red glass in the overhead lights was broken out and scattered across the floor. The large mirror behind the liquor display was cracked in three places, sending distorted reflections of light around the room. Blood was splattered across the bar and jukebox and the scent of gunpowder drifted heavy in the air.

Abe pushed past Sam. "Yeats! Maggie!"

Dean stepped up next to his brother, his pain momentarily forgotten in the wake of the destruction before him.

"Maggie!" Sam echoed Abe, moving away from Dean and around the other end of the bar from Abe. "Yea—"

Dean looked over at Sam's abbreviated cry as thunder rolled through the thick rain outside. "What? What is it?"

"A body." Sam's voice was thin.

"Maggie's?" Dean felt cold.

"No."

"Well, who?"

Before Sam could answer, lightening crashed across the sky in a deafening roar and the lights inside the Hideout blinked out leaving them standing, separated, in darkness.