Disclaimer: Not mine. Thanks to Kripke for the loan.

Spoilers: Set during Season 2, sometime after Hunted.

a/n: I was recently on a week-long family "vacation" with four children—including my 12-month-old. I had a moment where my mind escaped (because it was the only part of me that could), and as has been the case since last October, it fled into our world of the Winchesters. Soon after returning home, I stayed up until the wee hours one night and wrote this. The story is complete, and I'll be posting it in three sections this week (because I highly doubt anyone wanted to wade through the whole thing in one sitting…).

Thanks go out to those wonderful souls who have offered me confidence and assurance by checking my thinking and sanity with this one when I got it done. And Kelly, I always appreciate your efforts, even if I go back through and mess around with it after you've beta'd.

 Chapter 1

No matter how long we exist, we have our memories. Points in time which time itself cannot erase. Suffering may distort my backward glances, but even to suffering, some memories will yield nothing of their beauty or their splendor. Rather they remain as hard as gems.

- Anne Rice"Blood and Gold"

www

He could smell fire.

It clung to him, wrapped around him, burned him. Something was moving him backwards. He tried to pull in air, relieve the ache in his chest, the pressure in his lungs. He felt himself gasp weakly, his body full of smoke, his lungs no longer willing to do the one act for which they'd been created. His eyes rolled behind the blackened shades of his lids, but he couldn't open them.

A dull, shooshing sound shimmied through his ears and into his head, reverberating in his brain and echoing back so that if he could have moved his hands he would have pressed them tightly to the sides of his head. He ached. Darkness teased away the heat, beckoned with promises of peace, and he rolled into its waiting arms.

"…didn't pick the wrong one… Winchester… your eyes… at me…"

A woman's voice drifted in through the filter of the dark. Like a buoy riding the ocean, he sank under the waves of peace and surfaced into a world of pain. Her voice followed the hot roll of agony that broke over his arm and his face. As he descended once more into the dark, a small, cool hand pressed gently against his cheek, holding him, keeping him.

"Open your eyes," she whispered. "Look at me."

The voice was enticing, pleading, captivating. He wanted to do what she asked, but his eyes burned. His face burned. His arm…

"Listen, it's okay, you're not on fire, I promise. You're not on fire."

He realized suddenly that he'd been talking. He'd been trying to tell her—tell someone—that he was burning.

"Look at me," she said again, and this time he obeyed.

Slowly, as though exhaustion and pain had physical weight, he opened his eyes—first one then the other. He was outside, he realized, propped up against a tree. He rolled his eyes downward and saw that his coat and shirt were charred on his left side. He blinked as tears pooled in his stinging eyes, streaming down his face, combating the smoke that still wafted and curled around him.

"That's it… keep 'em open," the woman said, her voice low, throaty.

He blinked slowly, the blurry edges of her face coming into sharp focus around her eyes. They were blue. Vivid blue, searing in their intensity. Dark hair hung in bangs just above those eyes and swung in a long sweep of a tail over her shoulder, brushing the top of his hand as she moved to pull his blackened shirt from his arm.

Hissing with pain as the material brushed against the scorched skin of his arm, he closed his eyes, trying to swallow. His heart beat time in his head, shooting through his eyes and echoing in his ears.

"No!" She tapped his cheek with a quick slap. "You keep them open, you hear me?"

He tried, but pain rocked through him, stealing his air, capturing his will, and the darkness beckoned, its pull like gravity. As he slipped again under the wave he heard her calling a name, anger and desperation warring for dominance in her voice.

He was sliding, the black shifting to gray, the ringing in his ears fighting with the woman's voice for supremacy. He felt arms wrap around his chest and he drew in a stuttering breath. Impossibly, the woman was lifting him forward, up, his legs rocking beneath him, his arm across her shoulders. As he felt himself shifting, he forced his eyes open. His chin rested on the top of her dark head.

"Wha—"

"Oh, great timing," she said, her voice betraying the effort lifting his dead weight had actually been. "Help out a little here."

Walking… we're walking…

"—happened?" His voice sounded foreign to his ears, like razorblades sliding over rocks. His throat burned from the effort of speaking. The pain in his arm shot waves of icy-hot pain through him. He felt it in his teeth.

"Explosion," she answered, one hand bracing him at the chest, the other gripping his waist. "We'll go slow."

He swallowed. "Where's—"

He felt her still beneath him, felt her wait for him to finish.

"Where's that guy?"

"Which guy?"

"T-the one… the one you were calling," he finished, blinking in the darkness, slowly becoming aware that the gray of the late evening was illuminated by the burnt-orange of a nearby fire.

"Dean?"

"Yeah," he coughed, and the force resounded through his head, slicing through his left eye. "Him." He gripped her shoulder tighter, squeezing his eyes closed tight against the hot pain.

He felt her twist beneath him and he blinked, sliding his chin from the top of her head so that he could see her face in the shimmering light. She had high, prominent cheekbones, a small, pert nose, and full lips. And she was staring at him with eyes full of shock.

"Are you serious?"

He swallowed, suddenly desperate for water. "He didn't make it… did he?"

"Shit." She twisted again, moving her hand from his chest to clasp the arm draped over her shoulders. "We are in serious trouble." She stepped forward, tugging lightly on his arm.

He stumbled forward, trying to remember that there was an order to the process of walking. She continued slowly, taking on his weight, head down.

"W-why are we…" He hissed as another stumble jarred his eggshell-fragile head. "Why are we in trouble?"

He felt her sigh. She paused, leaning him against a tree. He fought the urge to allow his knees to buckle, allow his battered body to slide into a boneless heap at the base of the tree. He slid smoke-burned eyes to her face, slowly taking in the surrounding wooded area, the increasing darkness, the chill that seemed to creep through his skin and burrow into his bones.

"Because," she sighed, keeping one hand on his chest to help hold him in place, grabbing the long tail of hair, tossing it back over her shoulder. "You are Dean."

He blinked. "What?"

"You are Dean," she repeated, tipping her head forward, her eyes seeming to soften to gray in the waning light.

Dean… the name rattled in his head like a single penny in an empty Mason jar. It echoed, slid, rolled, grabbing nothing, holding nothing. Dean…

"I-I…"

"Your name is Dean Winchester," she said. "We were caught in an explosion."

He shook his head numbly. "N-no…"

"Yes." Her eyes shifted up to his forehead, then down to his left arm, hanging limp at his side. "And I need to get you out of here before…"

He stared at her, waiting. Waiting for something to click, for something to trigger familiarity, for something to seize him.

"Before…" he prompted when she didn't finish.

She ran a slim hand over her lips, and he saw a flash of a narrow, silver ring.

"Before the guy that set the trap—the explosion—figures out we made it out of there." Stepping close to him, she wrapped his arm around her sturdy shoulders once more. "You ready?"

Dean…

"I-I don't… I can't…"

Dean felt an odd tremble shake loose in his chest. It spread quickly to his belly, settling low and worrisome in his gut. Something was wrong. Something was missing…

"Listen," she said, her voice strained with the effort of pulling him along with her. "I'll explain everything, I swear to God. But we have to leave. Now."

He stumbled forward again, his left arm swinging loose, the raw, burned skin brushing against his jeans and shooting electric currents of pain from his fingertips to his teeth.

"Holy shit," he breathed, biting back a groan. "This sucks out loud."

"You're telling me," she muttered. "I got stuff back at my place for your arm and your face…"

"M-my face?"

"Easy, there." He heard a smile in her voice. It calmed him. "You're still prettier than you've a right to be."

"Good to know," he muttered as they breeched a thick cluster of trees and approached a dark shape tucked into an alcove of a large oak. Motorcycle?

"I know it's not a muscle car," she said, panting slightly, "but it's a classic."

Dean glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes. "Muscle car?"

"Forget it."

The bike was a sleek, stripped down Harley, black with sliver lettering. The leather seat was worn and looked to be barely able to carry two. Dean slowly pulled his arm from the woman's slim shoulders, finding his balance in a stance that felt natural: legs shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bowed, cushioning his weight, arms at his sides with hands open, ready.

"Think you can hold on?"

"To what?" He pulled his eyes from the bike to the woman. The wind picked up slightly, carrying with it the smell of the fire, of burning wood and memories turning to ash.

"To me," she said, swinging a leather-clad leg over the seat, and lifting her eyes to his. Her leather jacket brushed the seat with her movement, the thigh-length material scrunching slightly around her waist as she sat.

Clouds traveled over the rising moon, light hitting the clearing, giving the edges of the trees, the bike, and the woman a soft, silver-white halo. Dean felt himself sway and pulled in a lungful of air, grimacing as he felt his chest pull and stretch, fighting back the cough that licked the heels of his breath.

"Dean?"

He blinked. Empty. He felt empty; the name didn't fit, it didn't sound right in her voice.

"Yeah, I can hold on," he said.

"Put your feet here and here," she said, pointing. "Lean forward, and wrap your arms around me."

Dean did as she instructed, wrapping his right arm around her slim waist, leaving his left arm to hang. He didn't want to think about moving that arm more than he had to; he was not going to let it rest on the buckles and zippers that adorned the woman's leather jacket. The hot sear of pain had dulled somewhat to a numbing ache that threatened to curl him into a ball just to ride it out.

"Who are you?" He whispered into her ear, his chin on her shoulder as he leaned forward. His trembling body rested against her strong back. He leaned back slightly as she raised from the seat to kick start the motorcycle.

"My name is Sophie," she shot over her shoulder, reaching to pull her long hair out of his way. "Sophie Emerson."

She shifted, turning slightly sideways to look at him. The thrum of the cycle vibrated under Dean's thighs. The rumble was low, haunting, powerful. He simply looked back at her. The name meant nothing.

At his continued silence, Sophie turned around and Dean curled his fingers around her waist. She pulled away from the cove of the tree onto a gravel road, the back tire of the bike fishtailing slightly as it worked to grab the rough surface. Dean bit the inside of his lip as the rocking motion rippled through his wounded body. One more of those and he knew his head would simply roll from his shoulders and bounce down the road of its own accord.

He closed his eyes, forcing himself to breathe through his nose, to focus on the night air rushing past his face, on the smell of the gasoline and oil he could detect from the machine beneath him, on the feel of the woman he rested against.

Dean Winchester…

She'd said the name as though it were heavy in her mouth. He turned his focus inward, thinking, trying to pin down ghosts of thought, after-images of memory. He felt like something was tickling the back of his mind… an itch he couldn't scratch. He was chasing mist.

Sophie took a corner sharply, her body angling to accommodate the tilt of the bike, bringing Dean with her. His face slid against her shoulder until his nose was buried in her hair. Who was she to him? She'd pulled him from an explosion… she'd saved his life…

She doesn't smell like fire, he suddenly realized. The charcoaled smell of ashes and soot clung to him in a suffocating, invisible cloud. Yet Sophie smelled like Ivory soap. We were caught in an explosion…

He felt the bike shift again, then slow. He tried to lift his head, to look around, but it was lead. He pulled in a breath, the scent of her, and tried again. He was able to curve his back away slightly—just enough that his forehead rested between her shoulder blades.

The bike stopped and Dean's head bounced lightly against Sophie's back. He bit back a groan of protest. She shut down the engine, then slowly straightened, pushing his body back with her movement. Dean slumped, the void from the sudden absence of Sophie's body immediately filling with night air and reviving him.

"We're here," Sophie said, rolling her hip and dismounting, sliding her leg free without jostling Dean.

Dean looked up and around. They were parked in an alley next to a warehouse; lights from several large windows cut through with rectangular frames shone down, throwing them into shadow. The bricks were worn, aged, and Dean could barely make out the lingering letters on the side that read Beckett's Cotton in faded yellow and blue.

"Do I…"

"You've never been here before," Sophie said, frowning, her soft eyes running down his hunched form.

Dean tipped his chin up. Leaning his weight onto his right hand on the worn seat in front of him, he swung his leg back and over the rear of the bike, intending to stand next to Sophie. Her arms saved him from landing in a heap of sooty limbs on the damp alley floor.

"Easy, there, soldier," she muttered. "Let's just… hey, no, no, d-don't fade on me yet, Dean. That's it, there y-you go… lemme just… get your arm… there."

As she pulled his arm over her slight build, the edges of Dean's world softened and blended until there was only the ground, his boots, and the silver flash of Sophie's ring as she reached across to hold him up at his chest. A dull hum began in his ears once more, deadening the intermittent sounds of traffic, the clump of their shoes as heavy steps led them to the doorway, the beating of his heart.

Sophie's voice cut through the hum, guiding him, moving him, forcing him to move with her until finally, blessedly they stepped through a doorway and into a cluttered apartment. Sophie kicked the door shut behind her, stumbling slightly as she moved him to the couch. With a grunt of effort, she leaned to the side, dropping him unceremoniously into a seat.

Dean groaned as he head dropped back against the soft cushion of the furniture. The darkness was calling him—and it wasn't using an empty name. It was beseeching him like an old friend… as if he were one with it, as if he'd been there before.

"Dean!"

His eyes snapped open and his body jerked as if it belonged to someone else.

"You can sleep later," Sophie said, standing before him and shrugging out of her long leather coat. Dean caught a glimpse of silver from the lining of the jacket before she tossed it over a nearby chair.

"Just… gimme a minute," he muttered, allowing his head to sink back into the giving cushion of the couch.

"No." Her hand was in his hair, fingers sliding back, pulling his face up, eyes on his. The soft gray of before snapped back to vivid blue. "I need to take care of that arm."

"'M fine."

"Don't give me that," Sophie all but growled. "I saw you do that Superman imitation."

Dean squinted at her. "Huh?"

"Oh, right," Sophie sighed, shaking her head. "Well, you were thrown back pretty far, and if we're gonna finish this, I need you all there. Or… as all there as you can be."

Dean Winchester…

Dean sighed. "Finish what?"

"This job," Sophie released his head and turned from him, moving through the cluttered apartment to a back room.

He heard music; a gruff, lonely voice filtered through the apartment with a consistency of a heartbeat. Dean looked carefully around, trying not to move his head too much in the process. Directly across from him was a stone fireplace, white candles of various sizes filling the hearth and dried wax spread on the floor and hung in stalactites from the mantel. The large windows he'd notices from the alley flanked either side of the room, and the multiple panels of glass were decorated with papers covered in writing.

Peering closer, he saw that the writing wasn't English. In fact… it looked like… Latin.

I know Latin?

With a trembling arm, Dean pushed himself up from the couch, balancing on unsteady legs. Shuffling to the wall, he leaned carefully against it, using its solidarity to guide his sojourn to the windows. He narrowed his focus on the closest paper. Hic vos mos subsisto, hic vos es specialis…

"Here you will stay…" he whispered, "here you are secret…"

You gonna read me a story? A woman's taunting voice, the tilt of a head… He died screaming... I killed him myself…

"AH!" Dean cried out, clutching his head as a white-hot slice of pain shot through his eyes, searching for an escape and finding none. He saw blonde hair, a sassy, evil smile… and eyes… eyes like night, like oil on water…

"Dean?"

Oh, you're just going on a little trip… way down south…

His voice. His voice. He cried out again, not even feeling when his knees hit the floor. The pain in his head grew, blazing in its intensity. The smile shifted, the hair was dark, the eyes red…

"Hey, hey… take it – take it easy… what—"

Say it in Latin… In Latin it's Christo… Dark hair, easy blue-green eyes, a crooked smile.

"Aw, God," Dean breathed, falling forward, barely catching himself with his right arm before his face greeted the floor. "What the hell…"

"Dean, let me help—"

A cloud. A black cloud shooting to a ceiling marked with white. A black cloud shooting from the mouth of a girl as she screamed… screamed in agony and resistance and betrayal… Her scream tore from Dean's throat as the image faded and he finally greeted the welcoming darkness like a friend.

www

He smelled coffee.

The rich aroma was enticing enough to draw him from the dark in increments. He allowed awareness to approach. Rolling his head, he felt something soft give beneath him. As he rose one further level away from the dark, he realized he could hear music.

"You in the dark, you in the pain, you on the run. Living a hell, living your ghost, living your end. Never seem to get in the place that I belong. Don't wanna lose the time… lose the time to come…"

The soulful, tear-stained recording was accompanied by a throaty female voice coming from very nearby. Coming closer. Cool hands ran a light touch on his forehead, lifting as they reached his left eye; that area of his face that was suddenly burning. Nimble fingers moved to his left arm, lifting it carefully.

Dean groaned.

"I knew you were awake." The singing stopped and a smile was in her voice. "Faker."

"What…" he blinked, feeling sluggish, slow, like he'd had one-too-many the night before.

"You fainted."

"I don't faint."

"Yeah?" She smiled, her eyes a soft gray. "How do you know?"

Sophie…

He remembered. Sophie Emerson. Explosion. Bike. Dean Winchester…

"Pretty sure I don't faint," he said, darting a thick tongue out to wet parched lips.

Sophie slid a hand beneath his head, tilting his head up and lifting a glass of water to his mouth.

"Easy, easy," she soothed. "Not so fast. There's more where that came from."

"Thanks," he breathed as she lowered him carefully.

"Well," Sophie sighed, sitting back a bit, her hip resting against his thigh. She laid her hands on her knees. "You shot Plan A straight to hell."

Dean pulled his eyebrows together. "How'd I manage that?"

"You fainted on me… try to keep up, Winchester."

He pulled the side of his mouth up in a grin. It was immediate and natural and he felt himself wake further. Sliding his eyes past Sophie's form, he saw that the light filtering in behind the papered windows had changed.

"Time is it?" he asked, working to sit up.

Sophie reached for him, grasping his bare shoulder and helping him ease forward. It was then he realized that she'd managed to get him from the windows to the couch. Not only that, his burned shirt was off, and his left arm was bandaged. His eyebrows went up, impressed.

"Nearly five."

"In the morning?"

Sophie nodded. "You've been out all night." She yawned, the rest of her sentence stretched by her gaping mouth. "I couldn't w-wake you."

He suddenly remembered the pain. The flashes. Memories?

"I-I saw…"

Sophie looked at him, waiting.

"Never mind," he said, unsure what he'd seen, unsure how to tell her.

"You want some coffee?"

His mouth instantly watered. His skin tingled. His fingers flinched. He wanted coffee more than he wanted to take his next breath.

"Oh, God, yes," he nodded, pleased when his head stayed where it was supposed to. The hours of darkness had helped to heal him enough that his aches were tolerable, the pain present, but less intense.

Sophie smiled, patting his knee and stood. She moved through a far doorway and he tilted his head enough that he could see a small galley kitchen. Just outside of the kitchen, against the wall facing him, he saw a steamer trunk with a stereo system and several hundred CDs stacked on and around it. He could see another doorway on the opposite end of the room that he assumed led to a bedroom.

The apartment was small, but had a worn, lived-in feeling. It both fit Sophie and seemed at odds with her. He glanced over to the chair across from him where she'd tossed her coat, remembering the flash of silver. Before he could stand up and inspect the garment, Sophie returned with a mug of coffee.

"Black?"

"Absolutely."

"You sure?" Her full lips tilted up in a slightly teasing grin.

"Huh," he said, meeting her eyes. How about that… black coffee… "Yeah. Yeah, I'm sure."

As he reached for the mug, his eyes fell on the white bandages wrapped around his arm. It felt better, the ache still present, but the raw, exposed, burning sensation had lessened. Tentatively reaching up to his face, he felt a bandage across part of his forehead.

"Thanks," he said, indicating both the coffee and the bandages.

"No problem," Sophie said, yawning again. "You think you can stay out of trouble for a couple of hours?"

"Where'm I gonna go?" Dean replied, trying not to gulp the steaming beverage. "Only thing I know is that I'm alive and I like my coffee black."

The music rotated.

"When we die, we go into the arms of those who remember us…"

"And I'm pretty sure I'm not a fan of this emo rock shit," he muttered.

"Hey!" she protested. "Don't knock Bush!"

"Are you drowning or waving? I just want you to save me…"

"Really pretty sure," he said, finishing the coffee.

Shaking her head at him, Sophie stood. "It keeps the rats away," she said. "You want something else, food or something, help yourself." She tipped her head toward the kitchen, her long hair sliding over her shoulder and swinging across the front of her chest with the motion.

"Hey… Sophie?"

She seemed to flinch a little at hearing her name in his voice. Turning, she distractedly grabbed the end of her dark ponytail and tossed it back over her shoulder. Her eyes remained steady, waiting.

"I… you said that you would… I can't…" Dammit, finish a freakin' sentence…

Sophie dropped her head, her shoulders slumping, seeming to understand what he was trying to ask. "Well, if we're gonna do this now… I need some coffee."

She disappeared into the kitchen. Dean stood slowly, relieved that his legs seemed to be steady, although now that he was upright he realized that the ache in his back and entire left side hadn't abated all that much. He made his way over to the steamer trunk, lowering himself down in front of the music collection. Methodically sorting through Sophie's eclectic collection, he periodically shook his head and grinned.

Lyrics shifted through his head as he scanned different song titles, melodies tuning in and changing stations as easily as if there were a radio dial in his head. He knew so many, and they were all so real, so close, so familiar. I know this… I know S&M, I know Back in Black, I know Kansas, I know Zeppelin… but Dean Winchester means nothing to me…

He selected a CD and started to reach toward the stereo when he caught his reflection in the clear glass surface of the stereo face and nothing suddenly turned inside out.

"Holy shit," he breathed. He could only see his silhouette, but he knew this face. He knew the features.

"Dean?" Sophie's voice held an understandable note of concern. He knew she'd already seen him keel over once.

"What color are my eyes?" He looked up at her.

"What?"

"My eyes!"

"Green."

"Not brown?"

Sophie shook her head. "They're green. Rather pretty, actually."

"I could have sworn…" He remembered brown eyes, dark, full of mixed emotions, shifting to pride, then sorrow.

"C'm here," Sophie said, leaning down for his hand.

He let her haul him to his feet. She kept his hand in hers and forced him to follow her to the second door off of the living room. It was a small bedroom, with a large, unmade bed and a dresser against one wall, the door to a bathroom directly across from them. She pushed him gently into the bathroom, and he turned to face the mirror above the sink.

"Meet Dean Winchester," she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

He saw large green eyes stitched to his face by thick, dark lashes. The whites of his eyes were tinged pink from where smoke had burned them. He saw freckles across his nose. He saw the scruff of beard beginning to frame his jaw. He saw raw scrape marks on his left cheek, and a white bandage covering a larger wound above his left eye.

He looked harder and he saw a scar below his right eye, another scar nearly dividing his forehead, a third scar below his bottom lip. He leaned closer and he saw the beginnings of lines between his eyebrows, around the edges of his eyes. His eyes traveled down and he saw a black cord supporting a gold amulet. Egyptian he suddenly knew. Protection.

He reached up with his right hand and touched the cord, seeing a silver ring on his finger. From Dad. Made partly from… something… a… bullet? Dammit… so close…He could practically hear the information humming, feel the weight of it in the back of his mind. He knew the memory was there, sliding through the hollow of his mind like mercury.

"We're gonna need to get you some clothes," Sophie said suddenly and Dean looked over at her, realizing that she had been scrutinizing him as closely as he had been studying himself. She met his eyes unflinchingly, and he found himself expecting her to blush, to turn coy, to… flirt.

She did none of those things. Her search had been for reasons he didn't yet know.

"Sophie," he turned from the mirror. "You need to tell me what's going on."

"Let's go back to—"

"Now." Dean dropped his chin, his eyes hard, steady on hers.

"Fine," she snapped. "But let's go back to the living room."

"Here's good." Dean sat down on the edge of the bathtub, resting his hands on his knees. Instinct told him that she would use the change of scenery to hedge further, to delay. He wanted to know now.

Narrowing her eyes at him, Sophie leaned against the doorway. The music from the other room shifted tracks. In the moment of silence between songs, Dean heard voices from the apartments that sandwiched Sophie's, scuttling feet above them, running water banging through pipes around them. He didn't drop his eyes. He held her with him, watching as her resistance softened.

"You gave me this, made me give. Your silver grin still sticking it in. You have soul machine, soul machine…"

"You work for me," she said finally. "At least you do at the moment."

He felt his body instinctively still, waiting for what came next.

"You're an assassin, Dean." She tilted her head, watching his reaction. He didn't move. His eyes were carefully empty. He gave nothing away. "You kill for a living."

"Yeah? And who am I killing for you?"

Sophie's lips twitched. "A man named Ben Rena. A man who has been… hunting me for a long, long time."

Dean held still. "Hunting you?"

Sophie shifted, her eyes darting to the side, her hands curling into fists across her waist. "Stalking, threatening, pick your pleasure."

"Something wrong with the cops?"

"Oh, the fuckin' cops," Sophie scoffed, pushing away from the wall. "This is beyond them. That's why I need you."

Dean watched her walk from the room, face the bed, then turn and walk back toward him. Her face was in shadow, but her eyes had phased again, as he'd noticed they did with emotion. They were ice-blue once more, and no longer soft.

"I have a niece," she said. "She is the only family I have left."

Dean felt a sharp stab in his head at that, but didn't react. His focus was on Sophie. He knew there was more. Something was off… something was… missing.

"Rena found her and is planning on using her to get to me."

"Why?"

"Because he wants me dead, that's why."

"What did you do to him?"

"Nothing!"

Dean lifted an eyebrow. "People usually need a reason for wanting someone dead, Sophie."

"I promise you," she crossed over to him, crouching down so that she was looking in his eyes. "Dean, I promise you, I did nothing to him. He is a wicked, evil... monster. Twisted with hate and corrupted with power."

Dean tipped his head back, keeping his eyes on hers. "Sooo… what you're sayin' is… you want me to kill Darth Vader."

"This is serious, Dean," Sophie frowned, pushing at his knee in frustration. "If he finds me, he will kill me and anyone who gets in his way."

"What were we doing back in the woods?"

"What?" Her brows met over the bridge of her nose.

"When the plan blew up in our—well, my face."

"He, uh… lured us there," Sophie said, her eyes shifting to the side once more. She stood up. "You set a trap, it backfired."

She's lying… He suddenly knew it as clearly as he knew he loved black coffee and Metallica. As clearly as he now knew the ring he wore had been made from the silver of a bullet. A bullet his father had removed from the body of a…

"Holy shit," he breathed, rocking back slightly on the edge of the tub, reaching quickly to grip the cool porcelain and steady himself.

"What?" Sophie looked down at him.

"N-nothing," Dean said, rubbing at the pressure in his head.

"You okay?"

"Yeah," Dean nodded, not looking at her. "You, uh, care if I take a shower?"

She shook her head. "Just be careful of that arm," she admonished. "We'll go get you some clothes later."

Nodding again, Dean stood and waited until she left the bathroom, closing the door behind her. He leaned over and gripped the edges of the porcelain sink. Werewolf…

"What the hell?" He whispered.

Images slammed into him like physical blows, sweat breaking out on his forehead, upper lip, back. Impossible, unrealistic images of wolves shifting, twisting, turning into man, of a sweet-faced woman suddenly sprouting menacing, deadly fangs, of a wasted, withered man in a hooded robe leaning over a child, of an ancient, hollow-eyed figure turning away from him and fading.

Nausea rolled through him, causing him to press his lips together. He began to shake, sweating and freezing at once. His hands slipped on the edge of the sink and he went to his knees gasping for breath, the pressure in his head growing.

He bit his lip until he could taste the slick copper of blood in his mouth. Pale, haunted faces shimmered and shook toward him, skeletal remains burned, furniture flew across rooms, giant creatures with talons for hands roared in a darkened cave…

"Who the hell is Dean Winchester," he gasped aloud, digging the palms of his hands into his eyes.

Maybe he was a movie producer, an actor, a writer. Maybe these images were pieces of an imagined world. Maybe his Swiss-cheesed brain was simply misfiring… he wasn't remembering, he wasn't reliving…

But as he shakily pulled himself up to the closed toilet lid and eased his jeans from his body, he saw more evidence that the horrific images buffeting his mind like razors was indeed his reality. Thin, white scars dashed a Morse code of war across his chest and down his legs. He looked at his hands, spreading his fingers wide, noting their strength, noting the calluses.

He slowly unwrapped the bandage around his left arm from wrist to elbow. The burns there were brilliant red, blistered, and covered in a clear salve. His arm ached, the skin pricking with sharp pain as the air teased it like a touch. He knew the water would be worse, but he suddenly needed the water. He wanted to lose himself in the feel of it over his skin, forget that he couldn't remember.

Dean stood, turning on the shower. He pulled the bandage from his forehead, then stepped in, his back to the water, and let the heat of it ease the tension from his corded neck. It ran in a silky trail down his back, over his shoulders, down his arms. He hissed when it saturated his wound and pulled his left arm forward, out of the spray of the shower, then rolled his head so that the water filled his ears and ran in rivulets down his face.

An assassin… kill for a living… It seemed to fit. The idea settled on his shoulders, at home there. It would explain the numerous scars. Kill for a living…hunting me for a long, long time…

I think Dad wants us to pick up where he left off… Saving people, hunting things…

Dean gasped as the words hit him, shooting a dagger through his eyes. He dug his fingers into the closed lids, the water from the shower running over his neck and into his nose and mouth. The images sped up, the film in his mind on fast forward. He curled his fingers into his short, wet hair as he saw a pale, dark-haired girl in white fall into an open coffin, felt the impact of the spike as he drove it through her chest.

"Guh…"

He saw a sewer, heard the pleas for help from women trapped in metal coffins; he saw a piece of paper…Dana Shulps… he saw the sassy-eyed blonde tied to a chair switching swiftly to another dark-haired woman in white screeching as two children grasped her then melted with her into the floor, he saw the ghastly gray face of a boy peering at him from the surface of a lake…

"Stop," he whispered. He staggered forward, his arm thrust out, supporting his body with the flat of his hand against the tile wall of the shower. "Stop…"

And like the blast from a rock-salt filled shotgun, the memories ceased, leaving a spinning silence in their wake.

"Who the hell am I?"

www

Towel-drying his aching body, Dean realized that he had only his jeans and boxers. Sophie must have thrown his charred shirt away when she cleaned him up last night. He dressed carefully, conscious of the throbbing burn that had returned to his arm as the water and air tormented his tortured skin.

He stood before the sink, clad in the only clothes he owned, staring at his reflection. A drop of water fell from his short, still-wet hair and he watched it travel from his forehead, linger at his eyebrow, then run down his temple, tracing his cheek and separating into three separate tracks of water at the coarse stubble of hair at his jaw.

Saving people… hunting things… kill for a living…

Exactly what he killed was starting to become clear to him. But then how did Ben Rena—how did Sophie—fit into this new realization? Was Rena one of those creatures Dean kept seeing in brief, flickering flashes of memory as he regarded his own face? She'd called him a monster…

Sighing, Dean flexed the stiffening fingers of his left hand and opened the medicine cabinet behind the mirror, looking for a razor. He felt the itch of the new-growth of beard and knew instinctively that it was his habit to remain clean-shaven. Deodorant, Eternity perfume, toothpaste, toothbrush, ibuprofen.

"Oh, thank God," Dean breathed, tapping three pills into his hand and swallowing them immediately. Hesitating only a moment, he tapped several more into his hand and stuffed them in the pocket of his jeans.

No razor. No other medicines, either, which he found slightly odd.

"Must be a healthy girl," he shrugged, closing the mirror.

As the image slid with the motion of the cabinet door, Dean caught a face behind him. The flash was so quick that he jerked, startled, and turned. Nothing. No one. But he would have sworn that he'd seen a face, long blonde hair, blue-green eyes, a white gown… He shivered.

Stepping out of the bathroom, Dean started to call out to Sophie, when he saw her sprawled on her bed. She still wore her black leather pants and dark shirt, but her boots were off and her legs were curled up. She'd shoved her arms under her pillows and freed her hair from the ponytail so that it spread in a dark curtain over her back and spilled onto the sheets. Her body was curved into an 'S' and her face looked young, innocent, and sexy as hell.

Quietly crossing the room, Dean grabbed the end of the white down comforter that she'd shoved in a pile at the foot of the bed and pulled it up and over her shoulders. As he did, he let his eyes wander the smooth line of her face, the part of her full lips. Her breath was soft, almost imperceptible, her lashes dark smudges against her cheeks. Dean felt a low heat build, felt a tingle of anticipation, felt his mouth go slightly dry.

What the hell is wrong with me?

She was asleep, and he felt his body responding to her. He shook his head at his own base instincts. Straightening, he saw the open door of the closet just to the right of the dresser. Curious, he stepped over, easing the door open further.

As he expected, several pairs of jeans, pants, and shirts hung in neat rows with what looked like a few dozen pairs of shoes tossed in a pile beneath the clothes. Dean ran his finger carefully over the edges of the hangers. He stopped, suddenly, when he touched a soft, familiar fabric. Pulling out the garment, he saw that it was a large red-flannel shirt, obviously belonging to a man.

Frowning, he put the shirt back and delved further into that side of the closet. Black T-shirts, white suit shirts, dark pants, a uniform. Uniform? He pulled the uniform out, noting that it was old—like World War II old—and that it bore the rank of Captain on the shoulder insignia.

"Huh," he breathed softly.

Putting the uniform back, Dean grabbed one of the T-shirts. The red flannel shirt and suit shirts were very obviously too big for him, but the T-shirt felt just right. As he pulled it over his head, easing it across the exposed burn on his arm, he saw a brown leather jacket hanging on a hook at the very back of the closet.

He reached out, fingers sliding over the soft, worn material. After a moment of hesitation, he pulled the jacket from the hook and took it with him to the living room. Glancing over at the couch, he saw that Sophie had left the bandages from when she'd patched him up during the night.

Hearing another track on Sophie's CD begin, he looked over at the stereo, momentarily unsure if he should soothe his ears or his arm first. Dropping the leather jacket on the couch, he moved over to the stereo. He picked up the CD he'd almost inserted before his shower, and started to open it.

Well, for one… they're cassette tapes…

The voice was so familiar, so close, that Dean glanced over his shoulder. Nothing. No one.

It's the greatest hits of mullet rock…

"Driver picks the music," Dean muttered softly. Frowning, he set the CD down, and picked up another. Inserting the disk into the music rotation, he pressed play, then held his breath. The cords began and with it, no pain, no searing memories. Just the easy, rolling rhythm of Led Zeppelin.

"Close the doors, put out the light. You know they won't be home tonight…"

He went back over to the couch, listening, anticipating lyrics, smiling when he was right. He carefully spread the clear burn cream over his wounded arm, wincing as he did so, then wrapped the gauze back around from wrist to elbow. He left the cut on his forehead open, needing a mirror to bandage that and not wanting to go back into the bathroom.

Pulling on his socks and boots, which he found stacked next to the couch, he stood and started to head to the kitchen to forage for food. He paused at the chair where Sophie's jacket lay sprawled from her toss the night before. Remembering the flash of silver, Dean picked it up. Surprised at the unexpected heaviness of the garment, he held the coat open for a better look at the inside, whistling softly at what it revealed.

The jacket was leather-lined with a half a dozen built-in pockets on each side. Each pocket snuggly sheathed a small knife about four inches long with a cross-shaped hilt. He withdrew one of the thin, narrow blades laying it in the flat of his hand. The sides were almost dull, but the point was wicked sharp, drawing a tiny spot of blood when he touched it.

He carefully replaced the knife, frowning, and dropped the coat back where he'd found it. Why would someone need to turn their coat into a friggin' bandolier?How long had Rena been after her? To have so many she had to be either really good… or really bad. As the music played on, Dean left the knives behind and went into the kitchen.

It was small, well-organized. There was a mini-fridge next to the regular refrigerator. He tilted his head, curious. Leaning down, he tried the door of the mini-fridge, only to see a padlock on it. Okay… random.

He found the makings for a sandwich and sat in her breakfast nook to eat. Leaning back, he started to prop his feet up on the chair across from him when he saw something attached to the underside of the table.

Setting his sandwich down, he slid his hand under the table and felt a sheath. Pulling the weapon free, he whistled low. It was a knife, the blade nearly as long as his fully extended hand, the hilt covered in dark, worn leather with a silver Celtic knot embedded where his palm gripped.

He automatically checked the knife's balance, holding it where the blade and hilt met with the flat of his middle finger. He cocked an eyebrow. Nice. Spinning the large knife carefully, he shifted the hilt back into the palm of his hand.

That's not fear… that's precaution…

Dean rubbed at his forehead, forcing the sudden pressure back. He set the knife on the table, glancing up at the clock on the wall above the table. It was nearly noon. He wondered how long he should let Sophie sleep. Something was ticking inside of him, something telling him that he was running out of time. Something was wrong

Finishing his sandwich, he wandered back to the living room. He paused by the stereo, looking at the paper-covered windows.

"Okay, Dean," he reassured himself aloud. "You know Latin. This is not a big deal. Lots of people know Latin. No sissy-girl fainting."

He found himself oddly surprised by his fear of approaching that window. Intuition told him that he didn't fear much. And what he did fear couldn't be fought with guns or knives. Zeppelin crooned in the background, encouraging him.

"I see the smiling faces; I know I must have left some traces…"

He stepped closer to the window, running his eyes over the text, the scrawl changing from legible to frantic depending on the pane he was looking at. Poems, Bible verses, spells—all in Latin. He narrowed his focus on one with neat, particular writing.

Usquequaque vigilo , usquequaque animadverto , vacuus vulnero is ero , ut vos moror teneo is verus , is mos nunquam exsisto tutus vobis…

Dean frowned. "Always watch, always see, free from harm she will be, as you linger, know this true, she will never be safe from you..." he whispered. "Screw Dean Winchester. Who the hell is Sophie Emerson?"

"I see you made yourself at home."

Dean jumped, turning. Sophie stood in the doorway, her eyes narrowed and puffy from sleep. She was barefoot still, her hair falling over both shoulders, her bangs pushed away from her face. Dean felt the pull in his gut and an almost physical need to touch her. His eyes shifted to her mouth, then back up to her eyes.

"Uh," he swallowed. "Yeah."

"Where'd you get the shirt?" She asked as though she knew.

"I'm guessing… old boyfriend?" Dean lifted an eyebrow.

Sophie snorted, then turned back to her room. Dean pressed his lips down, looking uncertainly around the room. He could feel a familiar pull of weariness. It felt like a slow crawl of greedy fingers working their way up his legs. He rolled his neck slowly, listening to his body, curling his hands into loose fists.

He knew he'd felt this before—this state of constant exhaustion, of perpetual pain—and while his body called to him to please, please just sit down, just stop moving, his mind reminded him that there was a job to do and nothing stopped until the job was done. Sophie returned in a few minutes, dressed in jeans, boots, and a white T-shirt, her hair pulled once more back in a ponytail.

"Listen—" she started when she was interrupted by the ringing of her phone. She looked over at the instrument, startled.

"You gonna get that?" Dean asked, chewing on his bottom lip.

"It never rings unless…" she whispered, then crossed the room, picking up the receiver and barking, "What?"

Dean watched as Sophie remained silent, then slammed the phone back on the cradle. "Son of a bitch!" she spat.

"What is it?"

She looked to the window, frowning, then turned to him. "He's got her. Or is on his way. We gotta go. Now."

Dean reached out, catching her by the arms as she moved to storm passed him toward the front door. "Wait, whoa—"

"No, Dean," she shook her head, struggling away from him. He gripped tighter, feeling a weak tingle in his left hand. "He is going to get her, do you hear me? This is why I need you." She jerked roughly, pulling her arm free, her eyes flashing up at him. "This is your job!"

"Okay, hotshot," he snapped at her. "You just gonna bust in there, toss some knives, save her ass?"

"Yeah!" She yelled, stepping back from him. "That's pretty much what I was thinking."

"How do you know it isn't a trap?"

"What?"

"Who was that on the phone?"

"A contact."

"You trust this contact?"

"Yes," she growled. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Dean pulled his head back, his brows twitching. "What?"

Sophie grabbed her knife-lined leather jacket, swinging it across her shoulders and shoving her arms in the holes. "You should be out that door two beats ahead of me."

"And do what, Sophie?" Dean challenged. "Stare him to death? I don't have any weapons, no idea who this dude is, no idea how to take him down."

"I do!" Sophie's eyes were hot, her lips set, her jaw trembling.

Dean stared at her a moment, thinking. He took a breath. "What is he?"

She blinked at him. "What do you mean… what?"

"I remember, Sophie," he said softly. "I know about the… creatures."

She narrowed her eyes. "What else do you know?"

Dean felt a pang bounce through his head. "I know that I hunt them… I think my Dad does, too…"

Sophie sighed. "He's… he's just a man, Dean."

"Human?"

"Yes."

Dean frowned, regret filling him. "I can't kill him for you, Sophie."

"Evil is evil, Dean." Sophie dropped her chin, rubbing her forehead. "He is a monster."

"I can't kill a person for you," he repeated.

Lifting her head, she swallowed, looking again over at the paper-covered windows.

"Fine." She brushed passed him, heading to the door. "I'll kill him—you just save Kat."

Dean rotated, following her movement. "Who the hell is Kat?"

"Katherine Martin. My niece."

"Oh," Dean nodded. He glanced down at his hands. "I need… I need a gun."

Sophie froze, her hand on the doorknob. "Why? You already said you're not gonna—"

"I'm not going in there naked," Dean interrupted, lifting an incredulous eyebrow at her.

"I don't have a gun," she said, not turning.

"Well, we need to make a pit stop, then," Dean reached for the brown leather jacket. He pulled it on, cautious of his burned arm, and lifted his eyes to meet Sophie's gaze.

"Where did you get that?" she breathed.

"Your closet."

She stepped up to him, her hand reaching out, fingers trembling. She brushed the lapel gently, her face stricken. Dean held completely still, barely daring to breathe. He suddenly knew he'd seen a look of heartbreak cross a face so swiftly, so keenly, once before. Her pain was heavy in her eyes and his heart ached with the sight of it.

I don't know what it feels like to lose somebody like that… but I'd think she'd want you to be happy…

"This was Wade's…"

Dean was silent. His head began a steady thrum, a beat that built slowly at the base of his skull and rolled slowly to his eyes.

"He was wearing it when…" she stopped, lifting gray eyes to his and pulled her bottom lip in. "I kept it because…" She blinked. "Forget it."

"Hey…"

He whispered the word, reaching for her, grabbing her outstretched hand before she pulled it away. She let him, and he tugged her hand once, pulling her a step closer to him. His breath caught at the base of his throat, his body holding the air hostage until he finally stepped away from her. Damn, woman…

"I don't have any guns, Dean," she repeated. "Guns took almost everyone I love away from me." She turned from him, whispering, "Disease took the rest."

"You keep your knives," Dean said, his voice low, acquiescing to the inevitable. Rest would have to wait, pain could be ignored. "I know what I need – just take me to someplace… shady."

She shook herself, looking at him over her shoulder with a lifted eyebrow. "Shady?"

"Not like we have time to wait for permits."

"How you gonna pay for it, there, cowboy?"

Dean matched her look. "We'll just take it out of my fee."

Sophie opened the door. "Fair enough."

Leaving the music playing inside of her apartment, she headed to the exterior of the building. Dean followed her down the hall, taking note of the surroundings, amazed again that she had been able to practically carry him from the motorcycle in the alley into her apartment. As they stepped out into the alley, Dean noticed that the sky was heavy with rain clouds; though it was only mid-afternoon, the day held a gray, evening quality. When they reached the bike, Sophie swung her slim leg over the back, kicking the motor on. She looked at him.

"You waiting for an invitation?"

"How do I not have wheels?" he asked.

"You do."

"Where?"

"Beats me," she shrugged. "I didn't wait to look when I was pulling you out of the fire."

Lifting his shoulder in a works for me shrug, Dean swung onto the bike behind her, resting his hands on her slim waist, feeling the knives hidden in her coat beneath his fingers. Sophie swung the bike around, pulling into the afternoon traffic. She navigated the streets, eventually pulling into an alley lined with large, green trash dumpsters. The path was so narrow, Dean felt the metal dumpsters brush his pant legs.

She stopped in front of a battered door covered in yellow spray paint. It was obviously the back door to a business, and somehow he knew it to be exactly the kind of shady establishment where he could get what he needed without question. Dean dismounted, heading to the door. He paused, turning back, when he realized she wasn't with him.

"You coming?"

Sophie shook her head. She looked exhausted and Dean felt a pang of remorse. She hadn't gotten that much sleep after staying up with him all night. Reaching into her jacket pocket, Sophie pulled out a roll of bills. She handed it to him with a look silencing his automatic question. He nodded, then stepped through the door.

The interior was dim, lit from the light of a bare yellowed bulb hanging from an electrical wire from the ceiling. The smell from the alley garbage dumpsters permeated the air inside the "shop." Dean's expression hardened, his eyes emptying of questions. He dropped his hands into the pockets of the worn leather jacket, lifting his chin and scanning the room with hooded eyes. Across from him he saw a thin man with sparse, greasy hair wearing a wife-beater that hung loosely from his bony form sitting behind a glass counter reading a paper.

Dean approached, feeling the fine hairs on the back of his neck rise, aware of the multiple dark corners and crevasses that he couldn't see into. The man looked up when he stopped in front of the glass counter.

"Help you?"

"Looking for a gun." Dean's voice was hard, impersonal, focused.

"Got a few of them."

"Got a Ruger?"

The man lifted an eyebrow. "Got two grand?"

Dean looked down through the glass countertop. He figured the guy had to have a Glock—that particular weapon was the soda pop of the gun world. But it only held ten rounds, tops. He wanted something that he didn't have to worry about reloading as often, that he could conceal, that could kill a monster. Hence the 16-round Ruger.

"Got an HK in yesterday," the man said at Dean's silence.

Dean lifted his head, peering at him through narrowed eyes. "Yeah?"

"Two hundred."

"Gonna have to check it out, first."

The man shrugged, standing and limping into a room behind him. Dean pulled out Sophie's roll of money, flicking through it quickly. Five hundred. Dean wondered how she'd been able to pull this money together.

The man returned, handing Dean the black Heckler and Koch. Dean hefted the gun, relishing the weight in his hands. Without thinking, he started breaking the gun down before the man's shocked eyes.

"You can't get that back together, you still gotta pay for it."

Dean ignored him. His hands moved swiftly, evenly. He felt as if he were playing an instrument, as if he had been doing this all of his life, as if a skill that made him whole, made him Dean, was returning. In the space of five minutes, he'd taken the gun apart and had it nearly reassembled. The man behind the counter whistled low.

"I'll take it," Dean said, clicking the empty chamber. "And a box of ammo. And two clips."

"That'll cost you extra."

No shit… "I'll give you two fifty."

"Done."

The man clapped a box of 9mm bullets on the glass countertop and Dean filled a clip with sure, steady hands. He shoved the clip into the base of the gun, flicking on the safety, and slid it into the back of his waistband. With a sigh of contentment, he straightened, shoving the extra clip and bullets into his pocket, and handed the money over the counter.

"You be careful out there," the man muttered, eyeing Dean.

"I think I can safely say that careful isn't something I'm used to," Dean tipped the man a two-fingered salute and left the shop. The near-darkness of the outdoors was still bright enough in comparison to the gloom of the shop that he had to squint as he exited.

Sophie sat where he'd left her, staring ahead, jaw working overtime. She glanced over at him as he approached.

"Get what you need?"

"Yep," he swung his leg over the bike, handing her the remaining money. "Let's go get your niece."