Sam's idea of passing the time while being cooped up in Grace's house was beginning to crumble around the edges and by the time the third week had passed, he was as tetchy as Dean. He tried to keep a lid on it, but it kept slipping out. Not toward Grace though. But Dean got the short end of the stick to such a degree that he actually stopped talking for half a day. And Sam was in no mood to apologize either. And while the snow had withdrawn a bit, there was still enough of it out there that he wouldn't risk a walk that might end in disaster.

On the first day of the fourth week, Sam was close to his breaking point. He was tired, because he slept too much and moved too little. His head hurt most of the time because he spent way too many hours in front of the computer screen, and somewhere along the line he had developed a very unhealthy craving for Grace's chocolate chip cookies.

Grace had left early to do some shopping and Dean had taken over the computer much to Sam's annoyance, which left him with nothing to do other than roam around the house in search of something to do. He found nothing though, other than the cookie jar in the kitchen, which he raided for the last three cookies, then trailed into the living room, nearly tripped over Pebble, who gave him a rather disdainful look before disappearing upstairs, and he ended up staring at the front door with the overwhelming urge to go for a walk. The temperatures were back down below the freezing point and Grace had warned that it was slippery outside. This had mainly been aimed at Dean, who had been moaning about wanting to go out for a bit, but Sam took it to heart too. The last thing he needed right now was another broken bone.

With a deep sigh, he stepped closer to the door and touched the dark wood. Cabin fever was annoying to the extreme. He would kill for an hour at the gym, but physical exercise was out of the question until that deadweight of a cast was off his arm again. "Shit," he muttered and leaned his brow against the wood of the door. "I'm gonna go crazy."

"Sam?"

He actually groaned and refused to answer. Dean was stomping on his last nerve right now, being bossy and grouchy and annoying and Sam knew he shouldn't let it get to him, but he couldn't help it. "Leave me alone," he muttered.

"SAM!"

He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his brow harder against the unyielding wood of the door, the fingers of his right hand clawing into it while he felt his temper rising on a tide of darkness.

"DAMMIT, SAM! WHERE ARE YOU?"

"WHAT?" he finally yelled and pushed back from the door, then froze. "What the hell?" he whispered. There were four deep gouges in the wood.

"GET YOUR ASS UP HERE," Dean yelled, but Sam didn't really hear him right now. All he could do was stand there and stare at the now marred wood of the door. Then he glance down at his fingers and noted a few splinters under his nails. They hadn't broken the skin, were only stuck under the upper part of his nails.

"SAM?" It took a bit, but eventually, Dean came down the stairs, precariously balancing on the crutches. He stopped short when he saw Sam standing there and Sam registered that he was there, but couldn't really respond to it. "Are you deaf?" Dean asked.

Sam continued to stare at the door for a moment longer, then finally turned his head and eyed his brother. "I tore the chain of police issue cuffs, Dean," he said and found that his voice had become scratchy.

Dean stared at him. "What?" he asked. "What are you talking about?"

Sam pointed at the door. "I put those scratches in the wood," he said.

Dean blinked, focused on the door for a moment, then looked back at Sam. "What the hell are you talking about, Sam?" he demanded.

"I do things that aren't humanly possible, Dean. That cop said as much to Grace. I tore the chain apart. I've just gouged a hardwood door with my damned fingernails. What the hell is going on with me?" It was a question he hadn't dared ask before, but it was becoming abundantly clear to him that something was off.

"Relax, man," Dean tried and glanced at the door for a second. "There's a logical explanation for all this."

"Like what? Huh? How do you wanna explain that? The wood was soft? Or ... or the chain was rusted through?" Sam couldn't stop himself from shouting. "The cop said the cuffs were new, Dean. You don't tear through something like that."

Dean eyed him for a second, then made his way past him and touched the gouges in the door. He picked at the edges for a moment, then slowly turned back to face Sam. For some reason, Sam was expecting something other than the blank look in his brother's eyes. He was expecting Dean to deny this, to make a big thing out of how this was nothing, but all Dean did was stare at him, his expression carefully bland. "Well ... there could be a lot of explanations for it," he finally said, his tone wavering.

"Like what, Dean? Huh? That wood's as hard as rock," Sam countered and held up his hand. "All I got was a few splinters under my fingernails and they didn't even penetrate the skin. And I wasn't even aware of doing it," he added and waved toward the door. "And another thing. My arm. It doesn't hurt any more. At all."

Dean glanced at the cast. "It's in a cast, Sam. It's not supposed to hurt anymore."

"Does your leg hurt?" Sam demanded.

"Yeah, but ... I'm walking on it. You're not ... using your arm." He was trying to justify it, but Sam could hear it in his tone of voice. Dean was spooked by this almost as much as he was.

"I killed three people, Dean. I bashed their damned heads in," he persisted. "And I felt nothing. I feel nothing. I don't ... regret doing it."

"Of course not. They were trying to beat us to death," Dean countered a little aggressively.

Sam stared at him for a moment while the fact came back to him that Dean had no idea what these guys had done to their victims. "That's not all ... they were after," he finally said, his voice a little weak.

Dean paused. "What?" he asked. "What are you saying?"

"You didn't see what they did to ... that kid," he said and had to admit that he felt physically ill at the mere thought.

"What ..." Dean trailed off. Sam could literally see the pieces clicking into place and Dean's expression changed. "Are you telling me ..." He stopped again and it was obvious what he thought of that idea now that he had realized where that attack had been heading. "Holy crap, Sam. No wonder you went ballistic."

"What? No, Dean. It's ... I didn't ..." Dean was doing it again, explaining away everything and making it sound sensible too. "It doesn't change the fact that I tore through police issue cuffs, Dean. I broke the damned chain and I didn't even try very hard."

"There's plenty of that out there, Sam. A woman lifting a damned truck off her kid, stuff like that. It's not freakish. It's ... normal. And you had plenty incentive to do it too, man. I mean ..." Dean shuddered. "That's just ... wrong." He glanced at Sam. "They were gonna ...?"

Sam made a face.

"Really?" Again Dean shuddered. "Damn, that blows."

"Yeah, that's one way of looking at it," Sam agreed and grimaced at the duality of his words.

Dean gave him a look that made him shrug one shoulder. "Dude, that's gross," Dean growled.

"Whatever. It still doesn't explain this freakish strength," Sam countered and glanced at the door again. "It's like ... whenever I get ... I don't know ... upset about something, I ..."

Dean eyed him closely. "What were you upset about before?" he asked and nodded toward the gouged door.

Sam rolled his eyes. "You yelling at me," he admitted. "And being cooped up in this house. I mean, Grace is all that and more, but ... dude ... I need to come up for air. I need to get out of here."

"Me too," Dean agreed and eyed Sam up and down. "Why don't we?" he asked.

"Why don't we what?" Sam thought he knew where this was heading.

"Go out. Find a bar somewhere. Have a few beers and some input from the world? I mean, come on, man. We're entitled. We've been stuck in this house for nearly four weeks. And yeah, Grace is awesome on so many levels, man, but ..."

The front door opened suddenly and nearly rammed into Dean, but Sam stopped it by throwing out a hand and grabbing the edge. "Careful!"

Grace stuck her head in and glanced at first Dean and then Sam. "Why are you standing around behind the door?" she asked, her expression full of surprise.

Sam glanced at Dean, who looked a little clueless. "Uh ... we were just ... talking," he tried.

Dean gave him a look that said more than words, then he rolled his eyes and backed up to let Grace in. "We were talking about going out," he said. "Honest to God, Grace, I'm going stir crazy around here."

She stepped in and dropped the bag of groceries on the floor just inside the door, then closed it behind her. "I don't blame you. And it's not like I can ask you to do the shopping for me," she said and smirked when Dean looked a little confused by that comment. She looked from one to the other, then back again. "Okay, we've got three options. There's the N8 here in St. John or the Border Lounge, which is technically also in St. John. And then there's the Viking Inn in Rolla. It all depends on how far you want to go for a beer."

Sam arched an eyebrow at Dean, who looked equally surprised. They had both expected her to put up a fight about this, that they weren't supposed to go out yet or some such thing. "Uh ... how far is the N8?" he asked.

"Well, technically, you could walk there, but with Dean's cast, that's not advisable," Grace said. "So, here's my suggestion. I'll take you guys wherever you want to go and you give me a call when you're ready to head back and I'll pick you up again. How does that sound?"

Sam could almost see the light going on in Dean's eyes. "Awesome," he exclaimed, putting a lot of undue pressure on the word.

"Great," Grace said, picked up the bag again and disappeared into the kitchen.

"Dean ..." Sam started, but Dean held up a hand, stopping him.

"Not while she's around," he whispered. "We'll talk about it at the bar," he added. "Man, I can't wait."

Sam felt like he should get more upset about this, that it should bother him more, but it didn't and he had to admit to himself that he was looking forward to a night out too.

***

Grace did as promised. She took them to the N8, which was right up Dean's alley where bars were concerned, and dropped them off after letting them know that they didn't have to think about the time, she was going to be up anyway.

Despite Sam's concerns over the opposite, the bar was crowded and it didn't take long before the female part of the clientele took notice of Dean. Sam was used to that, of course, and didn't obstruct the course of events, but Dean actually felt the need to dig his heels in a little. So he flirted, but he didn't hook up with any of the girls.

After having turned down the third girl seeking his attention, Dean leaned back and watched the humdrum of the bar for a bit before turning his attention to Sam, who was still nursing his first beer and seemed lost in thought while he picked idly at the label on the bottle.

"Let's have it," Dean said after a moment.

Sam glanced up at him, frowned lightly, then returned his million-mile gaze to the bottle again. "Have what?" he asked.

"Your concerns about your freakish, supernatural powers," Dean clarified, well aware that Sam's mind had to be wearing grooves in the floors of his mental filing room by now.

"What if ..." Sam paused and sighed, took a slow and rather pathetic sip of his beer, then set the bottle down again and continued peeling the label off little by little.

"What if what?" Dean asked. He was already feeling less antsy. In general he was dying for a game of pool, but he knew his limits when it came to a full cast. "Sam, come on, man. Talk to me. What's going on in that freakish head of yours?"

Sam blinked, shifted a little uncomfortably and opened his mouth when someone set a new bottle down in front of him. The girl was blonde, blue-eyed and rather cute and it was obvious to Dean immediately that she only had eyes for Sam. Since that didn't happen very often, Dean was always interested in how his brother behaved around women that showed him any kind of attention. Most times the kid managed to pull it off without a hitch, but sometimes he seemed to stumble over his own feet and turned into a major klutz for reasons that were completely out of Dean's reach. "How about I buy you a beer?" she asked.

The way Sam looked up at her nearly made Dean choke on his beer and he struggled valiantly against the urge to spray-laugh it out over the table. "Sounds like a fabulous idea, honey," he said when Sam made no move to reply and managed to look like he'd just been doomed rather than offered a harmless little flirt.

The girl glanced at Dean. "Can't he talk?" she asked and nodded toward Sam, who started looking a little constipated there if the tightening of his features was anything to go by.

"Sure he can. He's just shy," Dean clarified with a grin and winked at the girl before toasting Sam with the bottle and draining the rest of his beer in one go.

Apparently, shy appealed to this chick, because she instantly returned her attention to Sam. The look Sam shot him spoke volumes and Dean arched an eyebrow at him, letting him know he wasn't impressed with that murderous glare. "Uh ... I don't mean to be rude or anything, but we were just having a discussion here and you're kinda interrupting it," Sam finally said and gave the girl a half-assed attempt of a smile.

She frowned, glanced at Dean, then back at Sam, then arched both brows. "Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't realize. No harm done, huh?" she asked and took off, leaving the beer behind.

"Are you out of your mind, Sam?" Dean sputtered. "You finally get a half decent stab at a girl and you send her away?"

"You know, Dean, you may think it's a class act, getting it on with a girl while you've got a busted chest and a broken leg, but that's not my idea of fun, okay?" Sam shot back. "Besides, I'm pretty sure we won't be bothered by the locals any more tonight," he added and his expression turned almost vicious.

Dean frowned. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he asked and sent a quick look over at the girl and her girl friends now sitting at the bar. They were whispering and glancing over at them. Then he suddenly realized what Sam's comment had done. "Oh, you bastard," he growled and glared at Sam. "You didn't."

Sam gave him a lopsided smirk for his trouble. "As I keep saying, Dean, you're overcompensating. It's an easy sell," he countered and waggled an eyebrow suggestively.

"That is so not funny, dude!" Dean snapped.

Sam chuckled under his breath, grabbed the bottle of beer and took a swig of it. "Maybe if you tried being less butch ..."

"Don't even go there, Sam," Dean warned. "Not ever. Do I make myself clear?"

Sam leaned back on the chair. "Perfectly," he agreed and grew serious again. "Dean, we need to talk about this deal of yours."

"No, we don't," Dean disagreed. He knew his reaction to Sam's little pun was childish, but the mere idea that any girl would think he wasn't into women made his skin crawl.

His refusal to play ball drew a heavy sigh from Sam, who had seemingly lost all enjoyment in the moment and had returned to staring almost sullenly at his beer bottle.

Dean watched him for a bit, then glanced at his watch. "Well, since you've been able to suck all the fun out of the evening, dude, we might as well call Grace and ask for a pick-up," he said.

"I thought you were dying to get out of the house," Sam queried without looking at him.

"To have some fun, yeah, which you've just totally ruined," Dean shot back. He leaned forward and snatched the new bottle away from Sam and drained half of it, before setting it almost gently back down on the table top. "Okay, fine, let's talk about the frigging deal," he added. "Or rather, let's talk about how you're not going to try and find a way out of this for me. I'm not taking the risk of you dying on me again, so just forget it, okay?"

"No, Dean, I'm not going to forget it. How can I? You think I like the idea of you going to Hell? You think I'm grateful you sacrificed you're damned life for me?" Sam snapped, suddenly angry.

Dean frowned while being well aware that this had been in the making for a bit. Sam didn't usually lose his temper that easily. He didn't know what to say to that and abstained from making a comment right now.

"You're always so damned stoic about everything, Dean. But I know you're scared," Sam added more calmly, his tone no less intense. "Nobody has something like that hanging over their head without being scared."

"It's not negotiable, Sam," Dean finally said. "There's nothing to be done about it. It's an iron-clad deal, end of story."

"Bullshit," Sam snapped, leaned forward and positioned his cast on the table. "There's always a way out."

"Really?" Dean asked sarcastically. "And how many demon deals do you know of that have been broken?"

"At least one, and you broke it," Sam shot back angrily. "So don't tell me it can't be done. There has to be a way."

"Sam ... I'm begging you here, okay? Leave it alone. I can't stomach the thought of you dropping dead again and you will if you keep messing around with this," Dean said and leaned forward too. "I'm not gonna lose you again."

Sam wasn't looking at him. He was staring down at his cast and picking idly at a loose thread on it. "But you expect me to accept that I've got to lose you?" he finally asked and glanced at Dean.

To Dean's immediate regret, the kid had tears in his eyes. He sighed deeply and scrubbed a palm over his face. "Could we just, for once, have a night on the town without having to launch into another bawl-fest? I'm fed up with this, Sammy. I don't believe there's a way out of this, okay? Can't we just ..."

"Go back to normal?" Sam finished for him, snorted and shook his head lightly. "How the hell can anything go back to normal after this?" He pushed the bottle away, then leaned back on his chair yet again. "I'm a demon-infested freak and you're going to Hell. You think that's normal?" he muttered under his breath.

Despite the still dull ache in his chest, Dean leaned forward and rested his arms on the tabletop to take the weight off a bit. "Sammy." He sighed, didn't know what to say to make a difference here.

"Five months, Dean. You have five months left. You think that's okay? You're just gonna ... go about your business until they come for you?" Sam's tone was low, intense.

"What else can I do, Sam?" Dean asked and for the first time since making the deal, he allowed himself to consciously think about the implications.

"You shouldn't have made that deal," Sam said quietly. "What happened to the family motto? What's dead should stay dead."

"That went out the window when dad sold his soul for me," Dean shot back. "Well ... at least you won't be alone any more after ..."

Sam stared at him and Dean knew he had overstepped some invisible line. "You think that finding out Grace is our aunt is gonna make up for you going to Hell?" he asked, his tone full of disbelief. "This isn't about me being alone, Dean. This isn't about finding a replacement for you. This is about finding a way out of this fucking deal."

The anger was pushing back the tears, which was essentially what Dean was after. He had considered the option of pushing Sam away, of pestering him to such an extent that he would finally give up on him and leave. It would make the whole thing easier on Sam. But he couldn't do it. He had tried, but he just couldn't. Sam held on, took most of the verbal abuse Dean threw his way without flinching and bit back when it got too much. But he didn't leave. And, when push came to shove, Dean didn't want to face this alone. Hell, he didn't want to face it at all, but he just couldn't see a way out of this.

The clock was ticking and they were no closer to finding the solution than they had been seven months ago. Granted, Dean hadn't exactly made it easy on Sam either, but he was scared; scared that the demon holding his contract would tire of Sam's interference and revoke the deal. It would keep Dean out of Hell, yes, but it would also kill Sam and he couldn't live with that.

It took him a moment to respond in any way to Sam's words and he did so silently by pulling his phone out of one pocket and dialing Grace's number. "Hey, Grace. Don't think this bar-thing was such a hot idea after all. It's probably a little too soon," he said the second he heard her voice at the other end.

"I'll be there in five minutes," she countered and hung up again.

Dean glanced at Sam, who wasn't looking at him or putting up a fight over this, so he figured Sam wanted to go back to the house too. There wasn't much fun to be had right now anyway, so it seemed the sensible thing to do. "You ready to get out of here?" he asked.

Sam said nothing, just rose and then paused while Dean struggled to his feet. The cast was really starting to bug him now; not just because his leg itched most of the time, but because it was a pain to move around with. They got outside without any major incidents and Dean leaned back against the brick wall of the bar and put a little weight on his right leg. It sent a jolt up through the leg which wasn't exactly painful, but not entirely painless either. "I can't wait to get this damned cast off," he announced. The silence Sam had lapsed into made him antsy again. It wasn't the type of silence that spelled trouble. It was more the type where Sam was lost in thoughts while working through things on his own.

A moment later, Grace's four-wheel drive pulled up next to them and she got out to help Dean into the passenger seat. "You two look like you've been to a funeral," she said when she got back behind the wheel.

"Nah, I'm just a bit too sore to be hustling pool right now," Dean countered and sent a brief glance back at Sam.

The look Grace shot him made him cringe inwardly. She knew he was lying again and it actually bothered him on the same level as it would have if dad had caught him in an outright lie. Grace's reaction to it so far had been subdued, but she had made it pretty clear that she didn't like being lied to.

"Dean's just a buzz kill right now," Sam suddenly said, his tone a bit grumpy.

With a frown, Dean glanced back at him again. Sam was covering for him right now, which made him wonder why. Sam had been nothing but eager to share the sad course of their life with Grace. This was his chance and he wasted it?

Grace didn't respond to it, just drove them back to the house. It wasn't even nine yet and Dean mostly felt inclined to drop into bed and stay there. By the time he reached his bed, his arms were jittering with the effort of using those damned crutches and even though he wouldn't admit that to anyone else, he was actually glad that this little trip had been cut short.

Sam didn't follow and Dean figured the kid was ticked off at him right now. In part he understood and decided not to react to it at all, but another part of him was a little disappointed that Sam couldn't see things from his perspective. He eased back into the mattress, relishing the feel of it accommodating him like nothing else ever had, and just shut down his mind. He didn't want to think right now, about any of it.