Rating: PG-13


Chapter 4 - Appear

"Though the winds of change may blow around you, but that will always be so
When love is pain it can devour you, but you are never alone."

- Led Zeppelin, "In the Light"

"Any chance you've heard from him? I swear it's like looking for my dad all over again. I'm losing my mind here…"

www

It was ravenous.

Hunger like tentacles of need drove it forward, searching, tasting touching, devouring. It fed on pain, on hate, on darkness. And there was so much to be had. It could smell it. Sense despair all around.

It was giddy.

Climbing inside the host and curling up in the pain had never felt so rich, so fulfilling. It drank deeply, greedily, wanting more, taking. It felt the desperate panic of the host clawing with searching fingers, working to stop the overwhelming madness, the abyss that surrounded without remorse. It consumed, playing chess with the memories buried deep, rooks defeating queens, pawns checking kings, chasing sanity with licks of heated desperation.

Then suddenly, with a scream of psychotic sorrow, the host reached a breaking point, releasing a jolt of power unlike anything the being had ever experienced.

It was free.

www

Dean forgot that it was actually day time.

The bar had two windows flanking the door. Narrow windows, covered by neon signs proclaiming the beer on tap within. The staccato burst of light from the raging storm outside did little to illuminate the room. Lightning acted like a hesitant strobe, teasing up images that were both familiar and frightening.

"Dean?" Sam's whisper was that of a lost child.

"I'm here."

"Where's here?"

The darkness was almost palpable. Dean held his right hand up in front of his face, wiggling his fingers. Nothing. It was as if he'd been struck blind.

"To, uh…to your left." Dean felt his heart hammering at the base of his throat, felt the heat from his cauterized wound radiating through his torso and down into his legs, turning them to rubber. He reached out, searching for something to brace himself on as a tremor worked its way through his body, and found only air.

"Okay, stay there," Sam whispered again. "I'm coming to you."

"Why are you whispering?"

"Oh." Sam's voice returned to normal. "I dunno."

"Sam."

Dean heard a dull thud and the scrape of wooden legs against the floor.

"Damn. What?"

"The body?" Dean prompted.

"It's Jones."

"Who?"

"One of Sal's buddies."

"Not Yeats?"

"No, it's Jones," Sam said with certainty.

They didn't follow him out of the window… Abe's words came back to Dean.

"How did he—"

"I don't know," Sam interrupted, and Dean heard him inching closer in the dark. "But there is a helluva lot of blood." His voice shook slightly.

"Where the hell are Maggie and—"

The sudden, capricious cackle caught Dean off guard and he flinched violently, pressing a hand to his wounded belly.

"What the hell?"

The cackle turned into a giggle of child-like glee. It filled the room, bounced from left to right, then settled directly in front of Dean. The laugh escalated, spiking to a frenetic screech before stopping abruptly. Dean took a step back, keeping his hand pressed protectively against his middle. His skin felt thin, transparent, heat radiating through him and causing his shirt and jeans to stick uncomfortably against him.

"Sam?" He whispered.

"I can't find you." Sam's worried voice came at him from the opposite direction.

"Abe?"

Dean listened in the oddly pulsing silence for the Indian's reassuring rumble. He heard only a gasp, a shuffle of feet, and the cock of the rifle Abe had carried with him into the bar.

Dean took another step back. The air around him grew quickly cold, making him shiver in his rain-soaked clothes. Lightning slammed through the dark and in the first quick flash of light, Dean saw the small, pale face of a child, a shock of black hair dusting the forehead, and two tar-black eyes staring up at him with cold heat, not two feet away. In the second flash, Dean saw the being's small mouth curl into an empty smile and his heart rolled over in his chest, turning to ice in the process.

Oh, shit…

"Mine."

The voice was like a croak of static on the radio. And it was in his mind. He heard it like the memory of a dream.

Dean felt fingers, cold and brittle with the paper-thin skin of the dead, trace a line down his forehead and he pulled back, hitting the door with the back of his head. Surprised, he shoved his hands behind him, gripping the worn wood with his fingertips.

A buzzing sound like a bee trapped against the glass of a window began to fill the room. The frenetic noise carried with it an anxiety that pulsed through the empty space formerly occupied by air.

"Mine."

This time it was a harsh, hag-like whisper and Dean could smell blood on what passed as the creature's breath. He couldn't tell if the word was audible to the others in the room, but the insistent throbbing static would have drowned it out regardless.

The fingers skimmed his lips, skipped over his throat as he pressed his head, hard, against the door, trying to get away, unable to move. He felt the small hand spread wide across his sternum, fingertips digging in through his shirt. In the flash of a heartbeat, he knew what the creature intended, knew what the fingers were seeking.

"Like hell," he growled, trying to open his eyes wider, hoping to see, unable to pull further away.

"Mine."

The possessive whisper shot a flash of heated anger through him and he grit his teeth as the fingers tried to dig deeper. His heart stuttered. His spirit shook. It was an invasion, a take-over. The searching fingers mocked his resistance and Dean slid shaking hands to his pockets, hoping desperately for a weapon, something to stop this rape of his soul.

You can't have me.

Abbreviated images slid through the dark. It took him a confused moment to realize that he wasn't seeing the bar; he was seeing his own past. Nothing was clear, images were cloudy, half visible, barely there, but he saw fire, and tears. He heard screaming and sobs. He felt the distinct sensation of weapons and flesh weighing him down. He felt desolation claw at him with a tentative, curious touch.

Dean shoved his trembling fingers into his jeans pockets and found them despairingly empty save the small round charm miraculously still tucked deep into the folds of cotton. His fingers grasped it like a life line and he arched against the door as he felt the small, tenacious fingers push deeper.

Then suddenly, everything stopped. The growl of frustration from the creature curled Dean's lips into a satisfied snarl.

Can't… have me…

The small, brittle hand dropped and Dean pulled in a shuddering breath.

"Dean. Get down."

The words were barked with the authority of his father. But it wasn't John Winchester's voice that caused his knees to instantly obey, his legs collapsing beneath him, compelling him to drop to the floor of the bar. It wasn't even Sam's.

"Nagazh!"

It was Abe's.

Dean heard the creature hiss, felt the fingers brush across his cheek, leaving a sensation of burning ice in their wake, and resisted the urge to reach out and push it away, afraid to voluntarily touch it. A fine dusting of something scattered across his hands and he heard the particles hit the floor in the near silence.

Salt… Atta boy, Abe.

"Nagazh!"

In the next moment, Dean felt his skin crawl with the realization that the creature was moving over him—traveling up the wall. Twisting his head around in the black, he heard what sounded like dry corn husks scraping across wood. Lightning flashed once more, drawing Dean's eyes up and he saw a pair of pale legs skittering along the ceiling from the main bar into the shadows of the adjoining room.

"You okay?" Abe called from across the room.

"Dean?" Sam's voice undulated as his brother turned circles in the dark.

"It's not gone," Dean rasped, the chill of the room shaking him once more with vengeance. "It's in there. In the other room."

"I know," Abe answered.

"What is it?" Sam exclaimed, his voice nearer to Dean now. "What was it doing? I heard you…It sounded like it…"

Dean reached out a hand in the direction of his brother's voice, waving in the black, finding only empty space until at last his finger tips closed over the cloth of Sam's wet jeans.

"Jesus!" Sam jerked, almost causing Dean's fingers to lose their grip.

"Sorry," Dean said, tugging Sam closer.

"Scared the shit outta me." Sam knelt next to Dean. "You okay? Did you see it?"

"Help me up," Dean commanded. "Gotta find a flashlight or a candle or something."

"Dean, the body—" Sam's voice thinned out.

"In a minute." Dean cut him off. He didn't want to think about dealing with a dead hustler until Sam was safe. Until that… thing was gone. "We got some freaky-assed… dead thing climbing around on the ceiling."

"Right, okay." Sam's long fingers wrapped around Dean's arm, lifting him to his feet. "Got any idea what we do about that?"

"Yeah, sure," Dean tried, then balanced himself as Sam released his arm. "Okay, no."

"Salt sent it away from you," Abe reminded them, his voice materializing from nothing.

Dean felt Sam share his jolt of surprise as they both gasped at Abe's sudden closeness.

"Should tie a friggin' bell around your neck," Dean hissed in the direction Abe's voice came from. "What'd you say to it anyway?"

"I told it to leave." Abe's voice held a shrug. "I didn't know what else to say."

The empty, childlike laugh teased them from the adjoining room. The frantic buzzing kicked up a notch, compelling Dean to shake his head as if the motion would rid his ears of the cloying, claustrophobic sound.

"Mine." The voice was like wrinkled paper, echoing hollowly in his head.

"Selfish little bastard," Dean growled. Mentally shaking himself he addressed the seemingly empty space in front of him where black ate black. He knew his brother and friend were there, but the inky darkness camouflaged them completely. "Salt scared it away from me, but it's not gone. Got any idea where Maggie keeps the flashlights?"

A low roll of thunder began. The power of the air masses colliding shook the windows and vibrated the wood floor beneath their feet. Dean felt his stomach tighten as he waited for the crash of lightning that was sure to follow. When nothing happened, he reached his hand toward where he'd last heard Sam's voice and was surprised to feel his brother reaching back.

Their forearms bumped and hesitated, both frank in their need for the reassurance of each other's presence, both embarrassed by the confession of movement. Dean dropped his arm first. As he ran his chilled fingers along the damp seam of his jeans, the lights of the bar hummed and flickered, struggling to life as the storm faded to the east.

Light changed everything. The bar still looked like a battleground; blood was still splattered everywhere, broken glass littered the floor, but light allowed for the possibility of success where darkness siphoned hope.

Sam's hesitant fingers plucked at Dean's sleeve. "You okay?"

"I will be when we figure out what that thing is…and how to kill it."

"What did it, um…" Sam frowned, still holding Dean's sleeve between is index finger and thumb, as if reluctant to relinquish even that tenuous tether. "What was it doing to you?"

Dean swallowed. "I think it was…uh, trying to…get inside."

"Inside…what?"

"Me."

"Possess you?" Sam whispered, barely audible over the constant hum.

Dean heard the horror in his brothers voice, and the sick realization that Sam knew what that felt like made him temper his answer. "Maybe."

The three men shared a glance as a hiss of anger sounded from the adjoining room. The buzz suddenly stopped, the ensuing silence louder than Dean thought possible. The light nearest them, hanging over the bar devoid of its protective stained-glass covering, suddenly brightened. Without further warning, the bulb exploded, showering Abe with tiny particles of glass.

Dean reached for Abe, instinctively pulling the man toward him, trying to shove him behind him next to Sam. Abe resisted, looking with dangerous eyes toward the pool room. Dean saw that he held an opened salt shaker in his hand. Another bulb burst, further dimming the light in the bar.

Without warning, the jukebox began to scream. No music, no static, just a deafening, terrified scream. The three men jerked away, ducking their heads. Dean covered his ears, jumping a second time when two quick blasts from Abe's rifle silenced the scream, obliterating the jukebox in a smoky, sparking mess.

"I never did like that music maker," Abe grumbled.

Dean dropped his hands, straightening slowly as he looked at Abe, a baffled, congratulatory laugh tumbling from his full lips.

"Not enough Zeppelin in the mix," Dean chuckled a little maniacally.

Chaos held sway over normalcy and he was caught up in the ride. Abe kept his eyes on the husk of electronics that once held the symphonic voice of their mystery guest, nodding in agreement with Dean.

A small fire sparked up from the back of the machine, and Abe set down his rifle, stripped off his coat, and beat it against the flames until only smoke remained.

Dean felt time slipping past them. They didn't know where Maggie or Yeats were. The thing that had tried to crawl into his chest was lurking in the other room waiting for God knew what. And there was a dead body behind the bar. He looked at Sam, tipping his head at the salt shaker in Abe's hand, then glanced up at the bar. Sam nodded and moved over to grab a couple of the salt shakers from the top of the bar, twisting off the lids and handing one to Dean.

"There is a door," Abe said softly, nodding toward the pool table. "I could go outside…come around the back…"

"Crossfire?" Dean guessed.

Abe nodded. He looked back over his shoulder at Dean. "We may not be able to stop it, but we can buy ourselves some time."

"To figure out what the hell it is," Sam agreed, finishing Abe's thought.

"Stay with your brother," Abe said, unaware of how his words jarred through Dean.

Watch out for Sammy… shoot first ask questions later… take your brother outside as fast as you can…

"Wait," Dean reached out. "How will we know when you're coming in?"

"Listen for the wolf," Abe said cryptically.

Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Dean nodded as Abe slung his rifle strap over his shoulder, stepping between the brothers, and quickly exited the bar. They were alone. With the…dead thing.

Good, Dean thought. Less to protect is less to lose.

"You got a weapon?" Dean looked at his brother, feeling naked with only a salt shaker gripped in his hand. He tapped the fingers of his empty hand against his leg.

"Why does it keep saying that?" Sam suddenly spat. Dean looked at him out of the corners of his eyes. Sam's hand was clenched around the shaker in fist, his upper lip bouncing with barely contained disgust.

"What?" Dean asked, knowing only what he'd heard.

"It keeps…laughing and saying soon." Sam jerked his eyes to Dean, his fingers flying up to his temple as if in an effort to block out the sound. "You don't hear that?"

He'd heard something else. He'd heard ownership. He'd heard now. No way was he going to let it get Sam soon.

"Screw it," Dean whispered fiercely. "Focus. We need a weapon, Sam."

"I…I don't have anything."

Shit… Dean shot his eyes around the destroyed bar, flinching as another light popped, leaving them with two overhead lights and the neon glow of the beer signs. Dean closed his eyes, trying to focus, trying to think. The dull throb in his head, the ache in his shoulder, and the insistent, searing pain across the skin of his belly vied for his attention.

Weapon…I need a weapon…

He opened his eyes, looking at Sam. His brother was looking back with clear eyes.

"The body," they whispered in unison.

Sam turned and moved around the edge of the bar quickly. Dean followed at a slower pace, his chilled bones stiffening up during their time inside. When he rounded the corner of the bar, he brought his chin up in automatic reaction to the sight of the body before him.

The features on what was left of the face were frozen in terror, paths like fingernail gouges separating the skin in eight even tracks. The chest was a gory mess, ribs exposed, flesh stripped aside, internal organs splayed across the belly and legs, blood painting the floor and lower walls a deep crimson.

"The fuck?" Dean's whisper was laced with disbelief.

The second to last light bulb brightened momentarily, then exploded.

"It…" Sam had the back of his hand pressed against his mouth. "It looks like something…exploded out of his chest."

"What, like in Alien?"

Sam nodded, pushing the mangled body over onto its side. He pulled a pistol from the waistband, showing it to Dean.

"You keep it," Dean said. "Gimme the salt."

"You're the better shot," Sam said.

Dean raised an eyebrow. "True," he allowed. "But—"

"Take it, Dean." Sam, crouched low on the ground beside the body, lifted the pistol up to him in a two-fingered grip, held by the butt.

You hate me that much? You think you can kill your own brother?

"Wh-what?" Dean stuttered, blinking. His ears were ringing.

"I said take it," Sam repeated.

Dean heard the last light blub begin to hum as it burned through its death throes. His stomach punched a hard throb of pain, stealing his breath.

"Dean?"

Are you that desperate for his approval?

"This isn't you talking, Sam," Dean breathed, his eyes fluttering closed as he fell into the hazy memory. He felt his knees buckle and had it not been for Sam's quick catch, he would have fallen face-first into the gore of Jones' body.

"Whoa!" Sam breathed as the last light bulb exploded, leaving them with a dim illumination of the Budweiser, Coors Light, and Heineken neon signs as the gray light of day struggled for survival midst the storm clouds outside.

Sam knelt in front of him, gripping his upper arms with large, iron-like fingers, his brows pulled together in worry, his hazel eyes searching. "Dean, what's going on, man?"

Dean blinked, trying to pull himself back, trying to bring reality around. "Real bullets…" he muttered, shaking his head once.

"What?" Sam asked, his brows knotted in confusion. He ducked his head, trying to catch Dean's eyes.

Real bullets worked a helluva lot better than rocksalt, Dean thought, reaching up to grip his throbbing shoulder.

"Nothing, Sam," he rolled his shoulders out of Sam's grip, sitting back on his heels. "Nothing. I'm okay."

"You sure?" Sam asked. "You're awfully pale."

Dean pulled back, steadier as the memory faded and reality returned. "Well, damn," he snapped. "Guess I wasted that hundred bucks at the spa then."

Sam studied him a moment more, then picked the pistol up from the pool of blood, grimacing and wiping the sticky crimson mess on Jones' pant legs. A stuttering, staccato yip, followed by a mournful howl echoed quietly outside. Dean's head snapped up.

"That's Abe," he said.

He reached up, grabbing the edge of the bar, and pulling himself to his feet, coming face-to-face with the pale visage and tar-black eyes of the being. Before Dean could jerk back, it hissed, launching itself at him, latching on like a monkey, legs around his waist, arms at his neck, face descending toward his.

"Dean!" Sam barked, jerking the hammer back on the gun and stumbling to his feet, thrusting his hand behind him to catch his weight before he slammed against the scattered liquor bottles as he slid in the blood pool.

"Son of a—" Dean pushed at the slight, powerful body, slipping on the blood, sliding into Sam, feeling his brother's arms instinctively gripping him from behind. "Shoot! Shoot it!" Dean twisted his head away as the stench of rot and gore wafted over him from the creature's mouth.

"Where?" Sam gripped Dean, moving them back away from Jones' corpse toward the other side of the bar.

Dean worked a hand between himself and the burned-paper skin of the body latched onto him and pushed, groaning as the small fingers dug harshly into the back of his neck.

"Head…arms…chest… pick a feature, Sam!"

Pushing against the thrust in front of him, falling into the pull behind him, Dean felt the spin of the world. He wanted this fucking thing off him, away from Sam. Curling his fingers into claws, he snaked his hand up to the small, child-like face before him, and began to shove his fingertips into the gaping eye sockets inches from his own.

The creature released him on a breath of fetid air, launching up from his chest to the wall and scrambling once again along the ceiling with a static-like laugh.

Dean gasped, unbalanced, falling back into Sam, who wasn't braced. The gun went off, bullet ricocheting into the Heineken sign across the room, killing it with a burst of sparks, and the brothers fell through the doorway that led to the kitchen, tumbling in a pile of arms, legs, and groans on the kitchen floor.

"Shit…" Dean gasped, curling his arms around his wounded middle, unable to do more than drag in shuddering gasps of air.

Sam's pants for breath echoed his own, and they lay still for a moment, unable to roll apart in the wake of their struggle. Carefully, Sam pulled his arms from beneath Dean, rolling his brother away from him, and pushed himself to his knees.

"Dean?"

Not yet… not yet…

"Dean, you okay?"

"Fine."

"Promise?"

"I'll live, Sam."

Dean opened his eyes, pulling every last drop of waning strength still humming through his battered body and let it hover in his gaze, let it persuade Sam to step away. The heat that filled him, the ache that threatened to consume, the tremble that rattled his teeth were all nothing in the wake of the need to convince Sam that he was okay. He could still fight. He was still here.

Sam nodded, looking doubtful, as if he could read something in Dean's eyes that Dean wasn't sure he'd allowed to lurk there. He pushed himself to his feet and reached for a shelf laden with canned food and boxes of beer bottles.

"What are you doing?" Dean breathed, trying in vain to push himself to his knees.

His clothes felt crispy against his skin, his stomach burned. On the other side of the door, they could hear the obvious sounds of a struggle, the crash of something against glass.

"Blocking the door."

"Abe's still out there, Sam."

"I'm not letting that thing in at you again," Sam declared.

Dean gained his knees and felt his jaw tighten. Without warning, the memory of Sam's head whipping around with unnatural speed, of his brother's soulful hazel eyes being replaced with inky black orbs that had seen Hell shot across his vision. He bit back a gasp.

"Sam, no," Dean breathed, reaching with a trembling hand for the nearest countertop and gripping it tightly, pulling himself to his feet, one arm wrapped around his middle.

"Dean," Sam snapped, turning, his eyes, blessedly, normal. "We don't know what the hell this thing is—"

"Abe's out there!" Dean repeated, his protest stronger.

"I don't care!" Sam bellowed.

"I do!" Dean yelled in return.

"I'm getting you out of here," Sam gripped the shelf and began to push.

"We're not leaving him!" Dean growled dangerously, stepping toward his brother, his entire body clenched against pain and with anger.

"He's dead already," came a defeated, fear-laden voice from the shadows.

The brothers froze, Sam's hands on the shelf, Dean reaching for Sam's arm. In unison they turned in the direction of the voice.

Parting the darkness with a sigh, Yeats stepped forward. Gripped in his hand was a sawed-off shotgun.

"Yeats?" Dean breathed, dropping his outstretched hand and turning to face the weathered bouncer. He unsuccessfully tried to hide the wince that the movement shot through him.

"We're all dead." Yeats' voice was a dull echo of his former bravado. "That thing is going to kill us all."

www

"Yeats?" Sam stepped away from the shelf. "You know what this thing is?"

Yeats simply stared at a point on the floor between them, his eyes glinting, his lined face blank.

"Yeats," Dean tried, his voice rough. Sam looked over, worried. Dean's arm was wrapped tight around his middle and Sam could see a fine sheen of sweat along his brother's jaw line in the strobe of the kitchen's fading light. "Yeats, where's Maggie?"

"Dead."

"What?" Sam gasped, blinking. "You're sure?"

Yeats slid his raw eyes to meet Sam's, finally seeming to come back to himself. "N-no," he shook his head. "But how could she… how could…"

Pain exploded behind Sam's eyes without warning. He cried out, tipping forward, felt his knees crash against the floor, felt a hand grip his arm as he pressed his fingers tight into his eyes. Dizziness followed the slam of pain, nausea rolling through him like a wave, sending him forward.

Soon.

"What—gah!" Sam cried out again as the pain threatened to push his eyes from his head.

"Sam!"

Dean's voice cut through the suffocating black, commanding attention. He felt his brother's hands gripping his arms, pulling him up closer. He felt Dean's calloused fingers on his face skipping quickly over the stubble that had grown along his cheek. He allowed Dean to tip his chin up, but he couldn't yet open his eyes.

"Sammy," Dean pleaded. "Take easy, take it easy, I gotcha, it's okay, I gotcha."

"B-black," Sam managed.

"It's black?"

Mentally, Sam nodded, but the pain was too great. If he did more than pinch the bridge of his nose, he was certain his head would fall from his shoulders and roll across the room.

"C-can't see anything… it's just… just black."

"This happened before, Sam," Dean said, his voice solid, strong. "Remember?"

"Yeah."

"And you felt me, right?"

"Yeah."

"Well, I'm here, little brother, okay? I gotcha."

Soon.

And the pain was gone. Sam fell forward, his chin on Dean's right shoulder, his arms limp at his sides, his chest pressed against Dean's. He felt Dean's arms tighten around him convulsively, not quite a hug, but not a release either.

"Sam?"

"It's… it's gone. It's over."

"Over?"

Sam felt Dean's jaw move against his ear as he brother spoke. Taking a breath, he pushed away, Dean's hands loosening and sliding along his back to his shoulders, as if unwilling yet to let go.

"I'm okay now," Sam nodded. "I'm okay," he repeated, then softer, "helluva non-vision, though," and sank back to his haunches, making him eye-level with Dean's belly. "Dean! You're bleeding again!"

"Huh?" Dean dropped his worried eyes from his scan of Sam's face to his middle. "Crap."

"What happened to you?" Yeats finally spoke up, having said nothing during Sam's vision.

Sam scrambled to his knees just as the door behind Dean that led to the bar swung open and Abe staggered in, pale, blood trailing from a cut above his eyebrow, eyes dangerous.

"Abe," Sam breathed.

Dean twisted to look, then cried out at the movement, clapping his hand over his bloody middle.

"It left," Abe breathed.

"Left?" Yeats asked, moving toward Abe with the stagger of a drunken man.

"The sun… hit it and it… it left," Abe explained. "Don't think it's really gone, though."

"No," Sam shook his head, rubbing at his temple. He could still feel the weight of the black in his vision, the weight of failure and sorrow. "No, it's not gone."

Abe moved past Yeats, sparing him a glance that Sam couldn't read, then crouched down next to Sam in front of Dean. "You two okay?"

"He's bleeding."

"I'm fine."

"Dean," Sam exclaimed, "you are so far from fine—"

"I'm okay, Sam! I know the line, all right? I won't cross it."

Sam shoved a hand through his hair, sputtering. "Won't cross it? Are you… dude, you crossed the line so long ago…the line is a dot to you!"

Dean ignored him, looking at Abe. "It got you."

Abe shook his head. "I got me," he said. "Slipped in something and cracked my head on the whiskey shelf."

"Blood," Sam guessed. "You slipped in Jones' blood."

Abe nodded, looking over his shoulder at Yeats. "What happened here? Where's Maggie?"

Sam and Dean lifted their eyes to the bouncer, watching as he slowly released his death grip on the shotgun, lowering the barrels to the floor, and leaned heavily against the wall. A large, scarred hand brushed across the wiry, white eyebrows, then smoothed the wide mustache, pulling at his bottom lip.

"I caught those two in the safe house," Yeats began, his voice trembling. "Brought them back to the bar at gun point. Grabbed the phone to call Maggie and… the music started up. Lloyd flipped out, tried to get out of the door, but it wouldn't open. I… I put the gun on him and I saw this… I don't know what it was…"

"A kid," Dean supplied. "A pale…dead kid."

Sam looked over at his brother, saw the shiver trickle through him. As Yeats talked, he cast about, found a clean, folded towel on a shelf beneath the sink, grabbed it and leaned close to Dean, lifting his T-shirt. Dean didn't look down, but allowed Sam access to his belly, tightening the muscles there when Sam pressed the towel against the wound seeping through the make-shift bandage.

Yeats nodded. "Yeah… yeah, that's kinda what it looked like. But I only saw it from the corner of my eyes. I turned to look at it and it was gone. And then Jones—" Yeats paused, swallowed, cleared his throat and stood up straighter, visibly pulling himself together.

Sam blinked, seeing the Marine Yeats once had been ghosting over the broken man before his eyes.

"Jones kinda…gasped like he'd been shot and then he…jerked and started to back away, into the corner, babbling all kinds of nonsense. Couldn't make much of it out, but whatever he was saying, he was scared shitless. The music stopped and Lloyd, uh, he turned to try to help Jones and Jones, he… he broke a bottle over Lloyd's head. Can't believe he didn't kill the mother."

Yeats pushed away from the wall and began to pace, his voice growing steadier as he recounted the nightmare he'd lived through while they'd rescued Dean.

"Lloyd blasted out of here like the Devil himself was after him…and for all I know, he was, 'cause… I started…I saw things."

"From your past," Abe supplied.

Yeats nodded.

"So did I."

"You did?" Dean and Sam exclaimed in unison, eyes flying to meet the Indian's serious, sad face.

Abe nodded. "I saw the loss of my father. The woman that was to be my wife. I saw them as though they were happening again. Now."

"Yeah," Yeats nodded. "Yeah, like that."

"What happened to Jones?" Sam asked, surreptitiously reaching out a hand for Dean's shoulder and carefully pushing his brother back to his rear, feeling Dean relax under his hand.

"He," Yeats flopped his hands away from his sides in a purely helpless gesture. "He went batshit-crazy, man. He started to claw at his face, his neck. I reached for him, tried to hold him, but he was strong. He started to… convulse and scream and… Christ, this went on for hours… all over the bar…"

Yeats lifted his eyes to the group staring at him in various seated positions and Sam knew he'd never seen eyes as devastated as the ones staring at him now.

"I couldn't stop him. I couldn't leave him. I didn't want to call the police because, hell, I didn't know what we were dealing with. I've been to battle," Yeats continued, his tone devoid of emotion. "I've seen men choke to death on blood and vomit. I've seen men blown in half and somehow live for hours afterwards. I've lifted a man onto a stretcher and felt his burned skin peel away from his fuckin' legs, but I've never seen anything like what happened to that boy."

Sam swallowed, sinking down to sit next to Dean. His hand slid away from Dean's shoulder.

He threw me back and…and then he just…tore his chest apart with his own hands…" Yeats literally shuddered, his hand coming to his mouth, "when he finally stopped struggling… I shit you not, that thing crawled out of him."

"Alien." Dean glanced at Sam, eyebrows up in a told you so look.

Sam frowned at him.

"It didn't come after you in here?" Abe asked.

Yeats looked at the door, then shook his head. "You guys came in pretty soon after that."

"Why did you say Maggie was dead?" Sam asked, looking over at Dean when he felt his brother shift, then back at Yeats.

Yeats rubbed his mouth. "I didn't see where that…thing went. And she never came down to the bar…"

"We need to get up to the house," Abe said. "Get Dean patched up. Check on Maggie—who I'm sure is fine—figure out what to do next."

"What about Jones?" Sam asked.

Abe took a breath, then pushed himself to his feet. "We leave him for now. We'll take care of him when we've…eliminated this creature."

Dean nodded, trying to gain his feet as well. Sam stood, bracing Dean's elbow and lifting him by the back of his jeans, balancing him.

"Salt," Dean said.

Sam nodded, looking at Abe. "Around the perimeter of the building."

Without question, Abe turned, crossing to the shelf Sam had been trying to move, and began searching through canisters and boxes until he found the industrial-sized carton of salt. He looked at Yeats.

"You have keys to this place?"

"'Course."

"Go around the outside and lock the front door." Abe pried open the carton of salt. "We don't need anyone wandering in to this mess while we're up at the house."

"Got it."

"You boys," Abe looked at Sam, then leveled his eyes on Dean. "Get outside to my truck. I'll be right behind you."

"Abe—" Dean protested.

"Dean, stick with your brother," Abe interrupted.

"But—"

"Just stay with him. Don't let him out of your sight."

Sam felt cold from the weight in Abe's voice, the look in his eyes as he stared at Dean. He felt Dean straighten, taking back his own balance, pulling away. Before Sam could say anything, Dean turned, putting a hand on Sam's shoulder and pushed him toward the back exit. He suddenly moved as if he were whole. As if he weren't bleeding. As if fever wasn't radiating off of him through the heat in his hand resting on Sam's arm.

"I got it," Sam shrugged Dean's hand free and stalked toward the door, aware that he was pouting, but not caring for a moment. "I'm not four, man. I can take care of myself."

"Let's just go," Yeats grumbled, opening the door, glancing both ways, then hefting the shotgun, moving around the corner of the building.

"Where do you think Lloyd went?" Dean asked as he stepped up next to Sam, heading toward Abe's red truck.

"I can think of a few places I'd like to tell him to go," Sam said, "but that's just wishful thinking."

"Damn, Sammy," Dean pulled a corner of his mouth up in a grin, watching the ground as he walked. "Almost feel sorry for the bastard if you ever cross paths with him. Sal, too, for that matter."

"They tried to kill you, Dean."

"Tried, Sammy. I'm still here."

Better stay that way

When they reached the truck, Sam looked around and saw Abe had completed a circle of salt around the bar. Turning his head in the opposite direction Sam could see the safe house and the tail end of the Impala. The wet ground started to soak up the salt and clouds were already gathering on the western horizon once more.

"That's not going to trap it for long," Sam muttered.

"Let's just take what we can get," Dean replied, yanking open the truck door and climbing in, his lower lip trapped between his teeth.

Sam followed him, pressing close in the confines of the truck cab, Abe on the other side of Dean. Yeats swung into the truck bed. The drive to Maggie's was quick, but Sam knew Dean needed the break riding offered them. As they exited the truck, Sam heard thunder in the distance.

"Hope that rain holds off," he commented.

"I hate rain," Dean muttered, moving around the side of the truck, his shoulders hunched in what Sam imagined was a fair amount of pain.

"I know," Sam said softly as they stepped through Maggie's front door.

And stopped.

The bomb that had hit the bar had apparently gone off inside Maggie's house, too. With the exception of blood splatter, the destruction was similar, and widespread. Lamps in the living room area were shattered, light bulbs laid bare and glaring. Furniture overturned, books scattered from shelves.

"Maggie!" Yeats bellowed. "Answer me, girl."

Abe and Yeats moved as one, following the path of chaos from the entry way to the kitchen. Sam saw them pull up short, then Abe stepped through the doorway. He and Dean followed, apprehensively.

Maggie lay on the floor, face-down, midst broken crocks and plates, crushed vegetables and scattered flour and sugar, a dagger-like knife gripped tightly in her out flung hand. Sam couldn't see any blood, but she was very still. He swallowed as Abe crouched next to her.

"Is she…"

"She's breathing," Abe said. "Strong pulse."

Very gently, as if she were made of glass, Abe rolled the sturdy woman over to her back. Yeats eased the knife from her hand and laid it up on the counter. Abe tapped Maggie's cheek gently, then smoothed a hand over top of her short, spiky blonde hair.

Maggie stirred slightly and Sam felt himself release the air he'd been holding when he saw her bright green eyes blink open.

"Abe?" Maggie coughed out weakly. "What…" She slid bleary eyes from Abe's face to Yeats, then past him to Sam and Dean. "What did I miss?"

"You okay?" Abe asked, cupping the back of her neck.

Closing her eyes with a groan, Maggie breathed, "How much did I have to drink last night?"

"You're not hung-over," Yeats informed her. "Someone attacked you."

"No shit, Sherlock," Maggie snapped, opening her eyes. "Think I use this thing for cooking? Hey," she pushed herself to her elbows with Abe's help, looking at her empty hand. "Where's my knife?"

Yeats nodded to the counter.

"Give it to me."

"Maggie—"

"Yeats, gimme the damn knife."

"Maggie, did you see who attacked you?" Abe asked.

Maggie kept her eyes pinned to Yeats. "No."

Dean and Sam looked at Yeats, waiting for a reaction. Sam knew enough to recognize a blatant lie tossed out as a challenge. The destruction of the house, Maggie lying on the floor with a knife in her hand, the expression on her face all suggested that she knew exactly who had attacked her.

Yeats simply stared back at the sharp-eyed woman. Abe reached up and handed Maggie the knife. With a quick flick and turn of her wrist, Maggie slide the knife, blade first, into a sheath positioned under the counter, allowing Abe to help her to her feet. She pulled her eyes from Yeats and looked at the brothers.

"You two look like hell," she said. "You sleep out in the woods or something."

"Uh, actually, yeah," Sam nodded.

"Dean, are you… bleeding?" Maggie stepped forward, then wavered on her feet, reaching for the counter, the knife in her hand clinking against the tile surface.

"Easy, Maggie," Abe reached for her, but she pushed his hand away.

"Head's pretty hard," she said. "I'm not bleeding. Which is more than I can say for either of you."

Abe reached up and touched his head with an expression of mild surprise. Dean simply stared back at her.

"Sit down. I have a med kit in the other room." Maggie moved away from Abe, reaching for the doorframe as she stepped through, not completely steady on her feet.

Sam pulled a chair out for Dean to fall into, then sat on the other side quickly and obediently. The relief he felt at someone barking orders would have been humorous if he weren't so tired, so ready for someone else to be in charge again.

No one spoke. Sam rested his eyes on Dean's forearm, watching the muscles twist and roll as Dean scratched at a knot on the worn surface of the table with his thumbnail. Sam thought for a moment about the familiarity of family. About how he knew his brother's smell, the exact way Dean moved, how he could tell what Dean was feeling just by the look in his brother's eyes.

He wondered if others could see what he saw. He wondered if Dean knew how easy it was to read him. He wondered if Dean knew that Sam saw the shadow lurking in the corners of his expressions, the hint of doubt when he said he didn't blame Sam. When he said it wasn't his fault. He wondered if Dean knew how deeply that shadow dug into him. Because it hadn't been there before. Not even after Roosevelt Asylum.

"Sam."

Dean's voice made him jump.

"What?"

"You're watching me."

Sam dropped his eyes with a small smile. Watching Dean was something he excelled at. It was something he'd been doing all of his life.

"Sorry."

"I'm okay, man."

Glancing up, Sam saw the truth in Dean's eyes. The truth his mouth betrayed. I'm not okay, I hurt, I'm scared, I can't protect you and it's killing me… Sam sighed.

"You don't have to be," he said softly.

Maggie returned, dropping a large First Aid box in the middle of the table. Without saying a word, she crossed to the sink, washed her hands, swallowed three pain pills, then handed some to Abe with a glass of water. Sam cut his eyes between Maggie and Dean. His brother kept his eyes on the table in front of him, staring blindly at the swirling wood pattern. Sam wondered what he was seeing.

Maggie took the antiseptic from the kit, and with surprisingly steady hands, cleaned the cut on Abe's brow and put two butterfly bandages on his dark skin, pulling the edges of the wound together. Once done, Maggie ran a gentle hand down Abe's cheek. Their eyes met briefly, then they both turned to look at Dean. Sam felt Dean squirm even though his brother didn't move a muscle.

"Why don't you hand me those butterflies and I'll take care of this," Dean tried.

"Dean," Abe admonished as Maggie turned fully to face him.

Sam saw Dean steal a glance in his direction.

"Seriously," Dean lifted his hand, his fingers waving them off. "It's not as bad as it looks. Coupla aspirin and I'll be set."

"I can tell you have a fever from here, kiddo," Maggie said. "What are you afraid of?"

"I'm not afraid." Dean snapped. "I just don't like people poking around on me."

Maggie flicked a look to Sam. Sighing softly, Sam slid his hand to Dean's forearm, dismayed to feel the heat there. Dean tried to jerk away, but Sam curled his fingers tighter, suddenly rocked by a memory he couldn't quite place.

Don't let go… I'll fall if you let go…

"Dean, please," he said softly. "Just let them take care of you."

"Sam," Dean protested, equally as softly. "I'm…" He swallowed, looking down. When he spoke again, it was to the table and audible only to Sam. "I'm barely hanging on, man."

"I know," Sam said. "I'll hang on for both of us, okay?"

Dean nodded, relaxing back into the chair, staring into the middle distance, mentally pulling away from the group, but keeping his arm perfectly still so that Sam's hand didn't slide off. Sam felt a small tremor slide through the muscles in Dean's arm and realized his brother was tapping his index finger against the table in a steady, measured beat.

Taking a breath, Maggie stepped forward and pulled up Dean's torn, bloody shirt, exposing most of his chest. Carefully, she peeled away the make-shift towel Sam had applied in the kitchen, then, flicking out the blade of her knife, she cut away the T-shirt bandage they'd used by the side of the river.

Dean closed his eyes and Sam felt saliva flood his mouth as his stomach turned over at the sight of the wound. The top part of the cut had puckered closed with barely any pink around the edges, but lower, toward Dean's navel, where the gouge widened, the cauterized seal had broken open slightly and blood seeped through the crusted skin. The edges were blackened and with swollen, red edging fading to bright pink.

Yeats coughed, and Sam heard his chair legs scrape as he stood up. Sam breathed through his mouth, his eyes shooting up to Dean's pale, tense face. He saw Dean pulling air through his nose, his jaw clenched so tight the muscle along the edge of his scruffy jaw didn't relax. His lips moved almost imperceptibly, and Sam tried to read the words forming there.

"Abe, go wash your hands real quick so you can play nurse," Maggie said, her voice controlled. "We'll get you patched up here pretty quick, Dean."

"'Kay," Dean breathed.

"Want some aspirin first?"

"Oh, God, yes," Dean said.

Maggie handed him three ibuprofen's, holding the water for him as he swallowed without opening his eyes. As she reached for the antiseptic, Sam felt the muscles in Dean's forearm roll as he curled his fingers into a fist of anticipation, softly beating his knuckles against the table.

Desperate to distract his brother from the pain, Sam blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "I hate S&M."

Dean blinked, looking at Sam out of the corner of his eyes. Sam ignored the three other pairs of surprised eyes that snapped to his face, concentrating only on Dean.

"Please tell me you're talking… about Metallica," Dean gasped out.

"'Course Metallica," Sam said, blushing. "I hate that album. You play it all the freakin' time. I hate that I know all the words to every song."

"Y-you know all the words?" Dean groaned, arching his neck up a bit as Maggie continued to gently clean the wound. "I didn't know…ah!"

"I think I actually prefer Zeppelin." Sam hurried to say when Dean gasped. "If you gotta play a classic, I'd pick them."

"N-never thought…aw, damn…never thought I'd hear you say that."

"One of these days," Sam tightened his grip as he felt Dean's muscles ripple beneath the skin of his forearm. "I'm gonna get you to put a CD player in that car. Open up a whole new world for you."

"Not a chance," Dean panted.

"I'm telling you, dude, there's music out there you would totally dig. I swear some of it's written specifically for you."

"My little brother… Emo Boy."

"Hang in there," Maggie said softly when Dean's growl turned into a slight whimper. "Almost done."

"Hey, Dean?" Sam continued, when Dean's breath began to increase.

"Yeah," Dean strained out.

"What do you hate?"

"Huh?"

"Of my stuff?"

Dean opened his eyes, turning to look at Sam as Maggie reached into the kit for salve to rub onto the burned skin. Dean's lashes were gathered in wet bunches from the sweat trickling into his eyes. When he blinked, drops of sweat trickled from his lashes to his face like tears.

"What are you talking about?"

"Seriously," Sam leaned forward, intent on keeping Dean's attention. "Tell me what just bugs the shit out of you."

"You don't want to hear that," Dean shook his head and Sam saw him tighten his muscles tipping forward slightly.

"Sure, I do! C'mon, what? Filter? Audioslave? Staind?"

"God! Fine, you freak!" Dean growled, gripping the table as Maggie slathered the salve on the cut. "That dude that used to sing with Creed. You always stop on that one freakin' Broken song on the radio and I hate it."

"Huh," Sam bobbed his head. "Good to know."

"Great," Dean leaned back against the chair once more when Maggie paused, reaching into the kit for bandages. "Now you're gonna probably request the song or something."

"Oh! Not a bad idea." Sam grinned when Dean rolled his eyes.

"Me and my big mouth. You almost done?" Dean asked Maggie.

"One second, there tough guy," Maggie returned. "Let me wrap some gauze around you so that cream has a chance of working. Abe's gonna check your shoulder."

Dean nodded, rolling his head to the side so that Abe could pull away the make-shift bandage and replace it with clean gauze.

"You need a hospital, Dean," Maggie said, stating the obvious.

"No," Dean shook his head.

"I'm serious," Maggie tried again, leaning close and rolling the gauze around Dean's middle, pulling it tight around a thick cotton pad she'd placed over the cauterized wound. "You're working on an infection here."

"No hospitals, Maggie," Dean sighed. "I'm not trying to be a pain in the ass."

"Doing a bang up job there," Maggie grumbled, using several strips of medical tape to secure the gauze.

"We've had some… trouble," Sam said, working his lips over his teeth nervously. "Dean just doesn't want to call attention to us."

"Dead bodies call a lot more attention than hurt bodies do," Maggie pointed out, making Sam wince.

"Speaking of," Dean lifted his head, looking at Abe. "We gotta do something about Jones."

"We aren't going back there until we know how to stop that creature." Abe took the tape from Maggie, finishing re-bandaging Dean's healing shoulder.

Dean rubbed his head. Sam peered at him, reluctantly releasing the hold he'd had on his arm.

"Dean?"

"Think we should call Bobby?" Dean asked him.

"Bobby Singer?" Maggie practically squeaked.

Dean nodded. "He could come help us—"

"No," Maggie shook her head. "No, we can figure this one out. Bobby doesn't need to come."

"What's the deal with you two?" Dean shot at her.

Maggie pushed to her feet. "None of your business. Call him if you want. But he doesn't need to come here to help you."

"Sam," Abe drew his attention. "Let's go back to the computer. Find out about this…ikiryoh."

"I'm coming with you," Dean said, pressing his palms flat against the table.

"No," Abe returned, causing Dean's eyebrows to bounce high. "You go rest. I'll watch him."

"Abe," Dean protested. "You just said I shouldn't let him out of my sight. You wouldn't have said that for nothing."

"He'll be okay with me."

"Hey!" Sam spoke up. "I'm right here."

Dean dropped his head and Sam saw the lines of exhaustion framing his brother's profile. "Fine," he relented. "But just for a few minutes."

Sam watched Dean struggle to get to his feet and stood, cupping his elbow. He felt warmth circling Dean like a cocoon.

"Here," Sam said, guiding his shuffling, stumbling brother to the couch. "Couch looks like it's in one piece. You can lay here."

"Sammy," Dean groaned as he eased down to the couch.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks," Dean said, his eyes up, pinned to Sam's face.

"You're welcome."

"Hey," Dean paused before laying back.

"Yeah?"

"You think Lobo's okay? We haven't seen him since last night."

"He's fine, Dean." Sam reassured him, though he really had no idea.

"Just doesn't have anyone watching out for him, y'know? Hard not to fit in anywhere."

Sam folded his lips down in sad smile, unable to ignore the similarities he saw between the animal and his brother. "He's fine," he said again. "I bet we see him again tomorrow."

"Hope so," Dean whispered.

"Go on," Sam encouraged. "Lay down."

"Wake me up, okay? Don't…" Dean grunted slightly as he sank back against the cushions. "Don't go off… and play hero."

Don't let go…I'll fall if you let go… Sam frowned, still unable to pinpoint source of those words. Dean's voice, saturated with pain and panic, hung in his memory.

"I'll make sure you get to play, too," Sam said softly, watching Dean's heavy eyes drift shut. He cast about, finding a blanket tangled on the floor with a pile of books and shook it free, covering Dean from ankles to chin.

Watching his brother sleep for a moment, Sam realized how young he looked with his eyes closed. How untouched by their life he appeared. Dean's eyes held the worry of time past his years.

"You ready?" Abe asked.

Nodding, Sam joined him, darting a look into the kitchen. "What about them?"

"I think they have some…cleaning up to do," Abe said simply, leading the way to the office.

Almost an hour later, Sam sat back, pinching the bridge of his nose. Abe stood next to his chair, one arm crossed over his chest, supporting the other that was up by his mouth, fingers spread over lips.

"All this time," he whispered.

Sam squinted up at him. "What?"

"I had the solution all this time."

"You did?"

Abe nodded. "The hunter, at the Roadhouse," he said.

Sam just shook his head. "Hunter?"

"Oh, right," Abe hovered a hand over his brow, smoothing back his dark hair. "I forgot I'd just told Dean. The hunter that died at the Roadhouse, the one that sent me on the path of belladonna poisoning…he had a paper with Buddhist sutras written on it in his pocket."

"Did you keep it?"

Abe nodded. "It's in my truck."

"Could it be that easy?" Sam wondered. "Just read the sutra and…gone?"

"Why not?" Abe challenged. "Isn't that how it works for demons?"

Sam shrugged. "Sorta. I mean, Latin is an ancient, powerful language."

"It's not the only powerful language, though," Abe pointed out. "For my people, it isn't the language, but the belief behind the word. You read a Latin exorcism, you believe it will send the demon to Hell."

"True."

"Same thing here," Abe pointed to the computer screen. "The ikiryoh is a spirit born of evil thoughts and feelings. Energized by hatred and can become powerful enough to leave its source and assume the object of the person's hatred. Difficult to exorcise, but can be done by reciting Buddhist sutras."

Sam pushed away from the computer, rubbing the back of his neck in a gesture he knew he'd picked up from Dean. "Does it make you wonder what kind of evil thoughts and feelings manifests in the form of a… kid?"

Abe nodded. "But perhaps it's not a child. Perhaps it's a symbol."

Sam frowned. "A symbol of what?"

Abe lifted a shoulder, heading toward the doorway. "A childhood lost. Innocence destroyed. Duty before freedom. Responsibility outside of the realm of understanding."

Sam swallowed, looking blankly at the floor where Abe had been standing. Before Dad died…he told me something…about you…

"Hey, Abe?"

"Yeah?"

He said that I had to…watch out for you…take care of you…

"You think that whole language thing—about believing the meaning more than the words…"

"Yes?"

He said I had to…save you, and if I couldn't… he said…

"You think it works for all words? Any language?"

Sam felt Abe's hand on his shoulder, fingers gripping with gentle reassurance.

He said I might have to kill you, Sammy.

"Yes, Sam, I do."

"You think if someone says you didn't do anything wrong," Sam struggled to speak around the lump in his throat, still facing away from Abe. "You think that erases what you know you did?"

Sam felt Abe sigh as his hand became heavier. "Sam, I think that it's possible to forgive without forgetting. But just because you remember doesn't change how you need. Or how you love."

Sam paused a moment, turning sideways in his chair. "You think that's true for brothers?"

"I think it's specifically true for brothers."

www

At first Dean wasn't sure if the words he heard were real or faded moments in a dream. The voices were unfamiliar, the cadence angry. As he climbed up another level of awareness, he realized he could make out a female and a male voice. Another level still and he understood that what they were saying he wasn't meant to hear.

With that, he jolted completely awake, lying still, stiff from sleep and achy from fever. He couldn't remember where Sam was, except that he'd promised not to go anywhere without him. Rolling his eyes around the room, he saw the destroyed furniture around him and suddenly remembered that he was on Maggie's couch.

Maggie. Yeats. Knife. Shattered house.

"You don't know it was her," Yeats hissed in a stage whisper.

"I sure as hell do," Maggie snapped back, her whisper more controlled. "I saw her, Yeats. I saw her the same night the boys showed up. In the bar."

"It's impossible…" Yeats' voice faded a bit, then increased in volume. "They showed me a body."

"They lied to you. Or they were mistaken. She looked just like Riina, Yeats. It was Claire."

"And you think she's the one that… that did all of this?" Yeats sounded incredulous.

Dean rolled to his elbow, stealing himself for the tight pull that he knew would capture his breath when he tried to sit up.

"I think she's the witch Abe's been hunting. The boys, too, for all I know. I think she's the one that killed Jones."

"No, Maggie, I told you what killed Jones! Hell, Jones killed Jones."

"Not alone he didn't," Maggie spat. "That creature didn't just come from outer space, Yeats. Someone created it."

Dean managed to push himself to his feet soundlessly, biting back the whimper that teased the back of his throat.

"Claire died, Maggie. End of story."

"You're wrong," Maggie returned.

Dean moved slowly across the entryway, the skin of his belly hot and tight against the gauze bandage. He leaned in the doorway of the kitchen, watching Maggie and Yeats circle each other like Alpha wolves, lips pulled back over teeth, eyes snapping. Maggie spun a knife, gained from apparently another secreted sheath, between the fingers of her right hand in a distracted, unconscious manner.

"Who's Claire?" Dean asked causally.

Maggie jumped and Yeats whipped around, staring at him with pale-faced shock.

"Dean! You shouldn't be up. Let me help you—"

"Who. Is. Claire?" Dean repeated.

Behind him, Dean heard Sam and Abe approach from the office. Abe stepped through the doorway; Sam leaned against the other side of the door jam, his lanky body finishing the job Dean's had started of filling the empty space.

"I think my brother asked you a question," Sam spoke up.

"You find anything out on the ikiryoh?" Yeats asked Abe.

Abe stared back, stone-faced and silent.

Shifting flinty eyes between the three men staring at him, Yeats finally relented, sinking into the nearest chair. "Claire is… was… my daughter."

Dean's eyebrows went up.

"I met her mother when I was stationed in Bangkok. Didn't know about Claire until many years later, when Riina, her mother, died."

"How did you know Riina?" Dean shifted his eyes to Maggie.

"How did you—"

"You said Claire looked just like her," Dean pointed out.

Maggie sighed. "Yeats keeps her picture. I've seen it several times."

In no mood for excuses or lengthy stories, Dean turned back to Yeats. "What makes you think she's dead?"

Dean felt Sam glance at him, but kept his eyes on Yeats. He knew they looked dead, hard, and scary. He knew he'd leeched all emotion from them. He'd done so on purpose, to put himself at a level tougher than the Marine before him. Staring down a man who had stared down death was a skill John Winchester made sure his oldest son knew well.

"When they told me about her, she was twelve. I was a hunter…that's no life for a child."

Dean glanced quickly at Sam, then back at Yeats.

"So I sent her to live with some of her mother's relatives in Texas. After awhile…I realized I was wrong to have abandoned her and I went to look for her. I was two days too late. She'd been attacked by a group of guys who were apparently there for spring break and died as a result of her injuries."

"You ever find out who hurt her?" Sam asked.

"No," Yeats said. "The one witness they had disappeared and I guess they never got a full statement from Claire."

"They showed you a body?"

Yeats nodded.

"How could you identify her if you hadn't seen her since she was twelve?" Sam asked.

Yeats blinked. "Riina was Japanese. The body they showed me—"

"Was a young Japanese woman, and you just assumed it was Claire?" Sam scoffed.

"Don't judge him for something that happened sixteen years ago," Maggie broke in. "You have no idea what his life was like, why he decided to leave her. He thought he was doing the best thing for her."

Dean was quiet. Now was not the time to voice echoing pain and lingering resentments he felt toward his father, no matter how stinging the memories that resulted from Yeats' actions. Looking over at Sam he sighed.

"You find out how to get rid of The Grudge in the bar?"

Sam nodded. "You're not going to believe it, either."

"What is it? We gotta watch a bad Japanese horror flick seven times in a row or something?"

"Buddhist sutras."

Dean's eyebrows met over the bridge of his nose. "Come again?"

"Reciting Buddhist sutras will exorcise this thing, though apparently it's supposed to be difficult to do so," Abe informed them.

"Wait, why do I know…" Dean frowned.

"The hunter at the Roadhouse," Abe reminded him.

"Dude! You've had the solution all this time and we didn't even know it!"

"That's what I said."

"Okay, so, let's just—"

Sam gasped, clutching his head and going to his knees so suddenly that Dean barely had time to turn let alone catch him. Leaning over his brother, Dean tried to gather Sam up, but there was too much of him, and he was limp from pain.

"Sammy!"

"Aw, God, Dean… uh… I see… I see a man…"

"A man?"

"He's standing over me… looking down at me and… shit, Dean, he has… yellow eyes…"

"You see our demon?" Dean was starting to get frantic. The dark visions hadn't hurt Sam this bad.

Sam crumbled forward again with a cry of pain, the heels of his hands digging into his eyes. "Fire… God, Dean, Mom… Mom's on fire…"

With cold horror, Dean realized that Sam's vision wasn't of things to come; he was witnessing horror from his past just as they all had. Except Sam gets to see it in Technicolor…

"Hey, Sammy, easy, okay? We've already survived that, right? It's already over."

Sam panted, his eyes pressed shut. Dean clutched his arms, pulling him forward so Sam's forehead rested on his collarbone. Holding his brother as the vision shook through him, Dean looked at Abe.

"Get those friggin' Kama sutra things right the hell now. We're getting rid of this son of a bitch."

Abe nodded, then headed to his truck. Sam soon relaxed against Dean, dragging in breath. Dean held him until he felt the trembling ease, slowly pushing him away so that he could look at his face.

"You with me?" Dean asked, his thumb on Sam's rough cheek.

"Enough, man, okay? I'm done. No more. Game over."

"I hear you, Sammy."

"We're just going to go over there and…" Yeats started, his voice doubtful.

"Kill it," Dean said with certainty as Sam sat back, recovering.

"But," Yeats looked at Maggie. "If it is here because of Claire…"

"Could she just bring it back?" Maggie finished.

"I don't know," Dean answered honestly. "But until we find Claire, we deal with the problem at hand."

Abe returned. "I have them."

"Let's go," Dean said, using the door frame to pull himself to his feet.

www

As they approached the front of the bar, Abe realized two things: he'd seen too many old westerns, and it had started to rain. They walked five abreast, Sam and Dean in the middle, approaching weaponless and with a purpose. Yeats' face was lined with memories and doubt, a look Abe wasn't accustomed to seeing on the weathered bouncer's visage. Maggie's bright green eyes were focused, the light rain turning the tips of her blond hair silver. Sam nervously chewed on his bottom lip, his eyes shifting from the front door to Dean.

Dean's eyes were half-mast, ready, but weary, and Abe could see him shivering as his clothes once again became slowly water-logged. He knew Dean shouldn't be out in the rain, approaching a battle. Not with that wound. Not with that fever. But he also knew that Yeats was in no condition mentally to back him up, and there was no way Dean would have let Sam go alone.

Two halves of the same coin, Abe thought looking at the brothers a moment longer.

"I hate rain," Dean grumbled, almost as if he knew he was expected to say something in this moment.

"We need a rear guard," Abe said. "Yeats, you and Maggie stay out here, keep watch."

He slid the strap of his rifle from his shoulder and handed it to Maggie. Yeats checked the shotgun he had yet to turn loose.

"Dean and Sam, you're with me."

Abe took the keys from Yeats, then stepped across the salt ring he'd laid down just a few hours earlier. He laughed quietly at himself for expecting some oddly timed crash of thunder as he breached the protective barrier. Unlocking the front door, he pulled out the sutras, tore it twice so that each of them had several lines, and handed the papers to Dean and Sam.

"You ready for this?"

"I was born ready," the brother's answered in unison, blinking stone-faced back at him.

Taking a breath, Abe stepped into the bar, the stench of death and blood assaulting him immediately.

"It's dark," Dean said. "Suns out, but…it's still…dark."

Abe knew what he meant. It wasn't so much the lack of illumination; it was the palpable feeling of evil that permeated every molecule of air.

"Don't forget in the darkness what you learned in the light," Abe said softly, hoping to wrap both of the brothers in the words, infuse them with the knowledge that if nothing else, they had each other in this battle against wickedness.

He closed the door behind them. The brothers flanked him, moving easily to create a semi circle, Sam standing near the bar, Dean near the destroyed jukebox. They faced each other and Abe saw them lock eyes before holding their papers before them.

The sound of a wasted limb being drug across the floor in slow, halting steps reached their ears. Abe tensed, his eyes darting around the dimly lit interior, the fading sun filling the windows with gray light and spilling inside reluctantly. From the shadows jerked the quick, unnatural motion of the ikiryoh, its childlike visage marred by the inky black orbs staring death back at them.

Abe began reading.

"Throughout all the world there is nothing that's permanent. Even the Earth has the nature of transience. Bodies are centers of sorrow and emptiness. All of my parts are devoid of self, are dependent on causes and therefore impermanent, changing, decaying and out of control. Expectations of permanence cause disappointment, forming attachments that lead to wrong doing."

As he read, the creature hissed, shrinking back with a growl that sounded like a cat in heat. Abe looked at Sam.

"Uh…" Sam looked down at his paper. "Excessive desire only brings me to suffering. Birth and death, sorrow and weariness all are from greedy attachment to things of this world. But controlling desire cuts the root of unhappiness, leaving the body and mind to relax."

The creature began to whimper, twisting, its head turning completely around until it faced the front again, leaving its neck in a sickening corkscrew shape. The whimpers became full-on cries as Dean began to read.

"Insatiable cravings for things of this world only cause me to pile up more useless possessions, increasing my motives for sin and wrongdoing. A seeker of freedom should let go of craving and, seeing it's uselessness, grow in contentment. Rejecting life's baubles and seeking the Way I'll concern myself only with gaining release."

With a wail that sounded like a baby's cry, the creature shimmered, then vanished, leaving behind a distinct scent of ozone mixed in with the blood.

Dean blinked. "That was easy."

"Too easy," Abe frowned. "Something's not right."

"Well," Dean folded his paper. "At least it was in English this time. Latin gets old after awh—"

At his abrupt stop, Abe looked over and saw Dean staring at his brother. Shifting his eyes to Sam, Abe felt his heart drop. Sam looked pale and confused, his hand reaching for his throat like he was choking, though he was obviously pulling in great, gulping breaths.

"Dean?" Sam's voice sounded impossibly young as his eyes beseeched his brother.

"Sam. Sammy!" Dean crossed the room in three strides as Sam slowly slid down the side of the bar, landing with a thump on his rear. "Sam!" Dean gripped Sam's jacket sleeves, shaking him.

"Dean?" Sam reached up for his brother, his fingers clumsy against Dean's shirt.

"What's wrong with him?" Dean shouted over his shoulder at Abe.

"Oh, God," Abe whispered. "Oh, God, I failed. I failed you." He felt the heaviness of his heart wrap around his chest, slowly squeezing out all of the air in his body.

"Talk to me, dammit!" Dean growled.

"It…It took him," Abe stammered.

Dean looked back at Sam. "Took him?"

"The ikiryoh," Abe whispered. "It's inside of Sam."