Disclaimer: Characters aren't mine. More's the pity. Title comes from Led Zeppelin song of the same name.

Spoilers: Set in Season 2, after Crossroad Blues.

a/n: This story was originally written for the zine Brotherhood 2. This was my first zine experience and I sincerely thank K. Hanna Korossy and Yum for the opportunity to contribute not only to Brotherhood 2 but also to the upcoming Brotherhood 4 release.

I had never written for a zine before, and this story was originally much too long for print. I know. You're shocked. But, because of that, and because it was written over a year ago, I've gone back through and "tweaked" a bit. I don't want to send anyone reading this into a coma, so I've broken it up and will post in sections.

I hope you enjoy. Thanks to all who read the printed version and took time to send me emails. You guys are my reason.

 

Chapter 1

What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sam waited. It began with a frantic rustle of sheets, escalating soon after to rapid breathing and sometimes low, pain-filled moans in the back of the throat. If Sam didn't intervene, Dean would pull himself forward into a sitting position, his right hand outstretched, gasping, choking on a word, always the same word.

Don't.

Sometimes Sam couldn't wait; sometimes he woke him with an, "Easy, Dean, it's just a dream… wake up."

If Sam caught him in the early stages of the dream, he would be met with a familiar sleepy grumble, perhaps a thrown pillow, and then Dean would roll over and curl himself up into his bizarrely angular sleeping position, his hand snaking under the pillow to grip his knife. If Sam waited too long, though, he would be met with an unguarded look of heartbreaking loss in his brother's eyes.

Sam learned that he either woke Dean early or he let the nightmare run its course. Otherwise, he had to face that look and the emptiness that resulted when Dean forced the pain from his eyes. The dead look was almost more painful for Sam than the raw intensity of a broken heart laid bare.

When Sam suffered from nightmares, Dean always asked what kept him from peace, what kept him staring at the ceiling even a year later. Sam didn't always answer, but Dean never failed to ask. But every time Sam opened his mouth, every time he attempted to discover the source of his brother's nocturnal torment, Dean would somehow sense it and avoid him with an irritated growl, a dead-eyed stare, or a swift change of subject.

So, Sam waited.

He lay on his side, left arm tucked under his head, watching as the nightmare captured his brother once more, watching as Dean struggled, fought, as his face pinched with a pain that went far beyond physical, far beyond emotional. Sam could see this pain was something a simple discussion wasn't going to fix. The weight Dean had carried since Dad died was crushing him, and Sam didn't know how to help him, dying a little more inside each day as he watched his brother struggle to live with a burden Sam didn't understand.

"Don't!"

Sam watched as Dean slowly pulled himself from the grip of the nightmare, his breathing rapid, his hand trembling. He dropped his outstretched hand, then covered his face for a moment, his body shuddering once. Taking a breath through his fingers, he lifted his head and rolled his neck. Sam heard the joints crack. He didn't bother to feign sleep. He used to when the nightmares began, shortly after going to Bobby's, worried then what Dean might think if he saw Sam watching him. Now, he worried what would happen if he didn't watch.

Dean didn't look over at him. He tossed the covers away from his bare legs and scooted from the bed, padding softly to the bathroom. In moments, Sam heard the water turn on and rolled to his back, left hand shifting behind his head, staring at the ceiling. This day had begun like so many others.

Dean had started to act a little more like himself after their quick return to Lawrence, had even opened up to him slightly, confessing his fear of what their father had done. But since the week before in Mississippi, since the demon at the crossroads had confirmed what his brother feared most… since Dean revealed to Sam that Dad was in hell… because of him… Dean had started to slip.

And Sam was afraid he wouldn't be able to hold on tight enough.

www

Dean leaned forward under the spray of the shower, letting the hot water beat on the back of his neck and run down his spine. Sometimes he imagined he could feel it hitting each scar, washing them away like memories he wanted to erase. He let the pressure of the water work on the tight muscles in his neck, then tipped his face back so the water hit his forehead and eyes, beating a staccato rhythm of light on his closed eyelids. The water ran down his face, poured from his chin, and raced itself down his body to swirl and drown in the drain beneath his feet.

The dream always left him confused, scared, and shaky. He couldn't remember details. It was a tangle of images, like childhood memories he manipulated or abbreviated clips from movies he'd never seen. He'd felt Sam's eyes this morning, knew his brother was worried, knew he was waiting for him to ask for help, to talk, to break. But Dean knew his job. He knew that he could not fail. Not with this.

You have to save him, Dean. Nothing else matters…

He lifted his hands from the tiled wall and rubbed his calloused fingers over his face, pushing the water from his eyes and blinking them open. The water stung them, but he allowed it. He embraced it. Pain meant feeling something. Pain meant he was still present. He was still alive. He could still do his job.

It was the ache he didn't want to feel. The hollow, bone-deep ache that wrapped around his heart, wrung the breath from his lungs, stunted his strength.

Sam pounded on the door.

"Keep your pantyhose on, Francis," Dean growled. "I'll be out in a minute."

He ducked his head under the water, letting it fill his ears and drown out his brother's reply. It wasn't anything he hadn't already heard before. He'd been listening to Sam for twenty-three years. He never tired of his brother's voice, his leaps of logic, his contrary dramatics. But he was tired. And he was scared. And he couldn't let Sam know… not now… not yet.

Nothing else matters…If you can't save him, you have to kill him.

He stepped from the shower, wrapped a towel around his waist, and wiped the steam from the mirror to regard his reflection. Near as he could tell, Sam would have to look pretty damn close to see anything different from what he'd been seeing the last few months. Dean's eyes were carefully empty, his face blank. He took a breath and squared his shoulders.

"Game time," he whispered, then stepped out into the motel room. "Holy shit, Sammy, it's freezing out here!"

Sam scowled at him. "No, it's not. You're wet and naked. Get some clothes on." Sam brushed past him heading for the bathroom, pulling the plastic sleeve he'd fashioned over his cast to protect it from the water. "You better not have used all the hot water, man."

"There's a few drops left. 'Course, with all that girly hair of yours…"

"Shut up." Sam closed the bathroom door, and Dean felt his shoulders drop.

He knew the aftereffects of the dream would leave him as soon as they were on the road, the Impala hungrily chewing up the pavement, putting another town in their rear view mirror. He'd forget that he couldn't remember as soon as he was moving again. As long as he kept moving, kept his eyes up, he could keep his promise, he could do his job… he wouldn't be pulled under, consumed by a phantom fear he didn't understand.

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"Here I come again now, baby, like a dog in heat. Tell it's me by the way now, baby, I like to tap the streets…"

Ted Nugent's Stranglehold riffed its electric-guitar beat through the interior of the Impala as they pulled away from the nameless motel in yet another small town. Sam sighed and leaned back against the seat. He had no idea where they were going: west was all he could tell. He'd stopped asking Dean about a week before. He simply followed as Dean kept moving, day after day, night after night, as though if his brother stopped too long, he would drown in time and memories.

It had been over a week since they'd worked a job. Since Evan Hudson. Since the crossroads. When Sam found a hunt he thought was possible, Dean found an easy reason why it wasn't their kind of problem. His hard voice and empty eyes left little room for Sam to push.

As he stared out the window, his head beginning to throb to the beat of the music, Sam saw Leaving Nebraska float past the car, followed closely by Entering Wyoming – Forever West. He knew his headache was brought on by the constant beat of the music, but he found himself almost wishing for the migraine-inducing flash of pain brought on by a vision.

A vision, Dean couldn't deny. A vision had to be followed. A vision gave them a purpose again…

"There has got to be something else on the radio, man," Sam sighed, propping his cast on the open window of the passenger door and tipping his head back against the seat.

"You jonesin' for some Britney Spears, there, Sammy?" Dean shot a sly look at Sam.

Sam rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Forget it," he sighed.

"Naw, it's okay, I'll flip." Dean shrugged, his lips pursed in a deceivingly innocent frown of acceptance. He punched the silver buttons on the radio until another familiar beat echoed through the car.

"Now you're messin' with a… A son of a bitch… Now you're messin' with a son of a bitch…"

"Happy?"

Sam slid his eyes sideways to Dean's face, watching as a cocky half-grin pulled at the corners of his brother's mouth. "Yes, Dean. Thank you. Hair of the Dog is a definite improvement over Nugent," he said, amping up the sarcasm to drive his point home.

Dean pressed his lips together and shook his head. "Never did have much taste in music, Sam."

Sam looked back out the open window. "Better than you and Dad," he grumbled without thinking, and felt his stomach clench at the sudden silence that almost drowned out the rhythmic beat of Nazareth in the confines of the car.

Sam fought the urge to apologize. He had the right to mention Dad in casual conversation. Dean said it himself; he was Sam's dad, too. But the suffocating stillness that seemed to swamp Dean when Dad was mentioned these days was more than Sam could handle. He hurriedly changed the subject.

"Where're we goin', man?"

"West," was Dean's husky reply. Sam heard his brother swallow and waited to look over at him until Dean had a chance to pull his mask back down.

"Yeah, I got that," Sam replied, rolling his head to watch Dean's profile.

If he hadn't been watching him so closely for the past couple of weeks, he would never have noticed anything wrong. But Dean's freckles stood out just a little more against the subtle paleness of his features. A slight dusting of purple shadows colored the soft skin under his hazel eyes. And his mouth was tight. Sam recognized the look from his own reflection in the mirror months after Jessica's death.

"So, why'd you ask then?"

"West where? What's there?" Sam sighed, rotating his head so he was looking back out the front window. He absently scratched at the back of his right hand where the cast rubbed against his skin.

Dean just shrugged. "Dunno, Sam. It's someplace else."

The Impala suddenly jerked, and Dean's eyes, previously unfocused and staring at the empty, open highway, immediately narrowed and stared at the dials in front of him.

"What is it?" Sam asked.

"Not sure," Dean muttered. The Impala jerked again, a cough of motion. "She's trying to tell me somethin'…"

Sam lifted an eyebrow but didn't dare question his brother's affectionate address of the car. Rebuilding this car helped put Dean back together. Helped him build that internal wall Sam had become convinced Dean would crumble without.

He would never again scoff at the sanctity that was the Impala.

"Want to pull over?" Sam asked, his dark eyes lighting on an exit sign for a town called Wells. Didn't look like there was much there, but at least it was a town.

Dean nodded, and his fingers gripped the wheel as he turned immediately to the right when the exit came up. Sam heard his silver ring click against the steering wheel as he adjusted his grip. Dean coasted to a stop just beyond the town sign, checking over his shoulder for traffic, then pulled forward as the Impala jerked roughly.

Sam gripped the dash to steady himself. "Whoa!"

"Easy, girl," Dean whispered.

He pulled into a gas station just off the exit, bypassing the pumps and backing into a parking spot so that he could get to the hood. When Dean slid the gear into Park and turned off the engine, the Impala shuddered and sighed ominously. Dean looked over at Sam, concern evident on his face.

"That did not sound good," he muttered.

Sam felt the chill of worry at the uncertainty of that sound. John had included him in the many lessons he imparted on the maintenance of car engines, but Sam never absorbed the information. Not like Dean. While Sam looked at the engine and saw an engine, Dean looked at the engine and saw each individual part that sustained the car and, in turn, sustained them.

The Impala was the only place that truly pulled them together. It had carried his father, his brother, and Sam safely through many nights of terror. Its sturdy metal body had saved their lives when the demon-driven semi endeavored to shatter them all in one moment of violence. It was their escape, their home… and Sam suspected it held a little bit of Dean's soul.

"Uh…how can I help?" He felt strange asking; the Impala was Dean's car. But he couldn't just hang around while Dean worked on it—her. Again.

Dean lifted surprised eyes to meet his. "I'll, uh…," Dean started, then looked away, his hand on the door latch. "I'll take a look and let you know."

They opened their doors in a stereo echo of creaking metal and shut them with dual finality. Dean slid his fingers under the lip of the hood, shifted the release, and eased it up into the air, propping it up on the brace. Sam watched his brother more than the engine. Dean's eyes darted quickly, knowing what he was supposed to be seeing and what he wasn't. Sam watched his eyes pause, his expression folding into a pained sort of disappointment.

"Sorry, baby," he whispered. "I should have seen this coming."

"What is it?"

"See this here?"

Sam looked as Dean gestured to a piece of car guts that, to Sam, seemed like every other piece of car guts under the hood. Sam started to nod, then lifted a shoulder. At his silence, Dean looked up, meeting Sam's eyes.

Sam shrugged. "It's all ball bearings nowadays," he said, the corner of his mouth pulling back into a rueful grin.

Dean shook his head, ducked back out from under the hood, and closed it gently. "Funny, Fletch."

"Think we can get what we need here?" Sam asked, shoving his left hand into the pocket of his jeans and looking over his shoulder at the silent gas station.

Dean shrugged. "Hope so, 'cause she ain't goin' far unless we do."

They walked across the deserted lot and up to the glass door of the station. Sam pulled open the door, and Dean stepped in under the clatter of a cowbell tied to a string at the top. There didn't appear to be anyone behind the tall counter…which was at a level just below Dean's shoulders. It took mere seconds to look around the small station. Empty.

"Hello?" Dean called.

"Be with you in a minute," came a deep, rheumy-sounding male voice from behind the counter.

Dean tossed Sam a confused look, then stepped up to the counter and boosted himself up so he could lean over and look down the other side. Sam saw his eyebrows shoot up, and Dean pushed himself hurriedly back across the counter and to his feet.

Curious, Sam stepped forward one pace, then nearly backed up two paces when the person behind the counter stood. The man was easily seven feet tall and twice as wide as Sam. His dark hair seemed to seep down his forehead into his eyebrows and then spill across his wide cheeks in a tangle of curls, short braids, and multi-colored rubber bands. His eyes were a bright gray, almost false in their richness of color.

"Help you?" he asked, then coughed violently into the crook of his arm.

"Yeah." Dean's voice broke on the word. Working to mask his obvious surprise at the size of the man, Dean shoved his hands into his jacket pockets, ducked his chin, and repeated, "Yeah."

Sam just nodded, not trusting his voice. He fought the childlike urge to hide behind Dean.

"We, uh, we're lookin' for a part," Dean cleared his throat again. "For a '67 Chevy Impala."

The giant tilted his head to the side, and Sam was reminded of the grizzly bears he'd seen on the Discovery Channel. Just before they demolished their prey with one massive paw. Sam held very still, hoping the giant wouldn't notice him.

"'Kay" the giant said, his voice sounding less rheumy after his coughing fit. "What is it you need?"

Sam shifted his eyes to Dean as his brother explained the problem. He had always admired how easily Dean slid into whatever skin was required for a moment with a stranger. He could charm or threaten, draw them in or send them away. Despite his initial surprise at this stranger's size, Dean spoke to him as one mechanic to another. He spoke as his father's son, caretaker of their home.

The giant shook his head, and Sam tuned back into the conversation. "Not a lot of call for that 'round these parts," he rumbled, one large hand reaching up to pull worriedly at his tangled beard. "Gonna have to order it. Might take a couple days."

Days. Multiple twenty-four hour periods. In one place. Sam couldn't hide his swift grin of delight.

"Name's Kelly," the giant said, holding out his massive hand toward Dean. Sam watched as Dean reached out to grasp it, his entire hand and most of his wrist completely disappearing in Kelly's hand.

"Dean. This is my brother, Sam." Dean jerked his head in Sam's direction.

Kelly nodded to Sam, releasing Dean's hand. Sam nodded back.

"Couple days, huh?" Dean sighed. He dropped his chin and looked over at Sam out of the corner of his eye. Sam lifted a shoulder. "Any suggestions on where we might stay, Kelly?"

Kelly shook his head. "You boys don't want to stay here."

Dean lifted a brow. "Not like we got a lot of choice, man."

"No one you can call? No… no people?" Kelly sounded slightly desperate.

Sam licked his lips, feeling his chest tighten. It was a thought he didn't like to dwell on too long. He had people. He could name seven off the top of his head back in Palo Alto who, if he called, would have a place ready for him. But they didn't know about Dean. No one did. His brother had no one, really. Unless you counted a hunter here or there that had known their Dad, Dean was alone, save Sam. Time had seen to most of the friends they'd had in their youth. Meg had seen to the rest.

"No, man, it's just me and my brother," Dean was saying, the strain in his voice evident to Sam's ears but expertly masked to anyone else who might actually be listening to him.

Kelly looked away from the brothers, out into the vacant lot, toward the Impala. They waited, unsure as to his hesitation. He looked back at them, blinking his sterling-silver eyes, and sighed.

"I'll do my best to hurry up that order," he said. "You take yourselves to Maxine's up the road a piece."

"Maxine's," Dean repeated.

"Next to Becket's Diner. Can't miss it. You tell her Kelly sent you."

Dean nodded and turned to go.

"Make sure you tell her Kelly sent you!" Kelly called after them, his tone once again verging on desperation.

The hairs on Sam's neck rose as he looked back over his shoulder, nodding their understanding. Kelly was leaning over the counter, staring after them.

"Will do," Sam said.

"Make sure," he repeated again, then stepped back, looking down at the countertop as though it held the answer to a question he'd forgotten to ask.

Sam followed Dean out to the Impala to grab their bags and lock her up. "Okay, that was weird on so many different levels," he muttered when he was sure they were out of earshot.

Dean looked up at him as he unlocked the trunk and lifted the lid. His eyebrows were pulled together in puzzlement. "What do you mean?"

Sam whipped his head around to look at his brother incredulously. "What do you mean, what do I mean? You didn't think that was weird?"

Dean shrugged, reaching for the latch that popped up the false floor, revealing their weapons. "Don't know what you're getting your boxers in a twist for, Sam. It's a small town. Don't keep parts for classic cars on hand, that's all."

"Are you serious?"

Dean looked over his shoulder as he started to gather weapons: two sawed-off shotguns, his bowie knife, rock salt, and regular ammo. As he pulled them from the trunk, he handed them to Sam, who automatically stuffed them into their spare duffel.

"What the hell are you talking about, Sam?" Dean's voice had grown impatient.

"You didn't notice anything weird about that guy Kelly?"

"You mean aside from the fact that he's actually taller than you?"

Sam shook his head and zipped the weapons duffel with slightly more force than necessary. "Yeah. Aside from that."

Dean closed the false floor, reached for his duffel, and waited while Sam grabbed his. "Not really."

"Not even his insistence that we tell this Maxine he sent us?"

"So?" Dean closed the trunk. "He wants to make sure she puts us up. What's the problem?"

Sam dropped his chin in a quick gesture of disbelief. "And the fact that he repeated it no less than three times… that he didn't want us to stay here in the first place… none of that seemed weird to you?" He kept his eyes on Dean as he reached into the car for his laptop.

"What's your deal, Sam?" Dean walked to the front of the car, opened his door, and rolled up his window, gesturing for Sam to do the same. "A month ago, you were ready to have me committed for seeing a hunt that wasn't there that really was, and now you're all bent out of shape because I'm not seeing a hunt that isn't there?"

Sam blinked. "Dean –"

"Just…" Dean sighed, a sound that seemed to double his age. He locked the car, pocketed his keys, and shifted his duffel to his shoulder. "Let's just walk down to Maxine's, wait out the part for the Impala, and get the hell outta Dodge, okay?"

He picked up the second duffel of weapons, leaving Sam with just the one to carry, mindful of Sam's broken hand. He turned then and began to walk slowly away. Sam watched him as he'd done so many times before. Watched the loose-limbed control of each step, the set of his shoulders, the way he dropped his chin but somehow managed to keep his head up—always aware—the grip on his duffel in one hand and the weapons bag in the other, bouncing away from his leg with the weight of their guns.

Sam had watched his brother his whole life, and it was only recently that he realized he'd never really seen him. Not like this. Not the way he did now.

"Sammy, you coming or what?" Dean called over his shoulder, already several lengths ahead.

Sam jogged up to him, slowing his long-legged stride to match Dean's shorter one as soon as he was next to his brother.

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Up the road a piece, Dean thought with a scowl after they'd been walking about an hour. Right. Just up the road. Hop, skip, and a jump… if you're a GIANT.

In all that time, Sam hadn't said a word, but Dean felt the weight of his silence. He knew his brother was working out a way to get Dean to talk, get him to share, get him to confess that Kelly the Giant's actions had weirded him out. But if he did that, he'd have to reveal his reasons for avoiding the hunt, for always moving, for keeping Sam away from evil, from the very possibility of—

"Think we're, uh, here."

Sam's voice broke into his thoughts, and Dean was grateful. His brother had become uncomfortably good at reading his expressions, forcing him to become better at masking them. Sometimes, though, he just didn't have the energy to support the disguise. He lifted his eyes to the horizon and was surprised to see an actual town in front of them. A town that looked like it hadn't seen an upgrade since the 1950s.

The main street was about double the size of a normal two-lane road, allowing room for cattle to be guided through. Cars were parked at angles in front of the stores, un-metered. Here and there, a person walked down the sidewalk, eyes downcast, expression carefully blank. As the boys approached the main street, they saw several faces at random windows peer out, then drop the curtains swiftly when the brothers caught their eyes.

Dean pulled his eyebrows together and cast a glance at Sam, noting his brother's equally puzzled expression. He saw Sam's eyes track along the length of the street and land on something beyond the series of buildings. He lifted his head to follow Sam's eye line and blinked. At the end of the road, set up on a slight rise so it looked over the town, was a large house. It was at least five stories tall and literally sprawled over what appeared to be two acres. Additions had been tacked on with no real order or planning; the wood was different shades, the windows different shapes.

As Dean stared at the architectural tangle, he felt as if someone were watching him, close enough that he felt breath on his neck. He looked quickly over his shoulder and saw only more worried, anxious expressions on the people of the town, pausing in their slow sojourn down the sidewalks of Wells.

Sam jostled him with an elbow, nodding to a building with a tall false front, the name Becket's Diner scrawled across the front in faded red-paint script. Remembering Kelly's instructions, Dean looked to either side of the large building and saw a smaller one with a sign in neatly printed black letters: Maxine's Sleep-Inn.

He jerked his chin toward the sign, and they angled their path toward that building. As they stepped up onto the wooden sidewalk leading to the two buildings, Dean couldn't shake the feeling he'd stepped onto the set of an old western. Shifting the duffel full of weapons in his grip and rotating the one of clothes over his right shoulder, he mimicked his brother as he looked around at the small collection of restaurants and businesses along the main street. Not one stoplight. Not one stop sign.

Dean paused just outside the door of Maxine's, still looking around.

"Weird," Sam whispered.

Dean squared his shoulders and shook his head, consciously halting his scan of the time-frozen town. "Just a small town, Sam. That's all."

Sam peered at him, his dark eyes that were so like their father's staring at him with obvious disbelief. "Are you kidding me with this?"

"C'mon," Dean said, not elaborating, effectively shutting Sam down when they entered the public building.

The slight bit of noise from a slim, white-haired clerk at the desk and a tall, dark-haired woman cleaning the drapes of the front room ceased as they stepped through the door. Attempting to look like movement stopped every time he walked into a room, Dean approached the desk.

"How are ya?" He nodded at the man behind the desk, who was staring back at Dean with what could only be described as complete fear. "We, uh, need a room for a couple of nights."

The clerk continued to stare.

Dean canted his head to the side. "Kelly sent us."

"Here? Kelly sent you here?"

Dean nodded, feeling Sam's presence close behind him, feeling Sam's silence scream of I told you so like a hawk about to pounce on its prey, victoriously digging into the heart of his denial.

"Yeah, man, he said Maxine would have a place for us." Dean shifted his eyes over the man's shoulder as if looking for Maxine.

"I'm Maxine," said the woman, turning from the drapes and stepping up to the counter.

Her hair was a wiry tangle of natural curls that didn't look like they'd seen a brush in a while, and her eyes were a familiar sterling-silver color with a hard edge that Dean felt could slice him if he looked directly at her for too long.

Dean turned the corners of his mouth up in a slight smile. "Kelly said–"

"Don't believe you," she barked, her voice betraying a habit of cigarettes and liquor. "Kelly would have sent you packin' the minute you pulled off the highway."

"W-why do you want to stay here?" the clerk stammered, looking from Dean to Sam and back again. "Casper's not too far. Or Riverton. Or Cheyenne."

Dean sighed. "Yeah, we, uh, we realize that, but you see, our car broke down and Kelly's getting us a part. Said it could be a couple days." Dean looked back over at Maxine, shifting his smile into cold charm and leaning forward onto the counter. "Now, I'm sure we could sleep in the car while we wait but, if memory serves, it gets pretty cold at night in these parts."

"Y-yeah," the clerk stammered, his eyes wide as he looked over at Maxine. "Yeah, it does."

Maxine's eyes narrowed. "You actually talked to Kelly, then?"

"Yes, ma'am," Dean answered. "Big guy, beard, lots of colored rubber bands."

"He sent you here, did he?"

"He did." Dean blinked, turning his smile slightly shy. "Said this place was the best place in town. Said you'd take real good care of us."

Maxine's eyes actually softened at Dean's smile. "Heh. It's the only place in town, big dumb ox."

Dean tipped his head down in a single nod. "Okay, then… about that room?"

Maxine tilted her head toward the nervous clerk. "Take care of the boys, Clancy."

The clerk's hand shook as he traced the back of his fingers along the row of brass keys in front of him. "We, uh, we just don't usually have, uh… guests."

Dean suddenly sensed Sam still, as if he'd stopped breathing. He kept his eyes on Clancy but listened for Sam, wondering at the change he'd felt from him. "How do you stay in business, then?"

The clerk shifted frightened blue eyes to Maxine. Dean didn't miss the warning look she shot him back. He leaned more of his weight onto the counter, pulling closer to the clerk in a conspiratorial manner.

"C'mon, man," he whispered. "You guys built on top of a gold mine or somethin'?" he teased. He wasn't prepared for the look of complete terror that crossed the clerk's face. "Whoa, easy," he said, easing back and tapping the air with his hand. "Seriously, we just need a room. Won't be any trouble." His eyes darted from the clerk to Maxine. "Once our car's fixed, we're outta here."

"Dean," Sam whispered.

Dean realized he'd been waiting to hear his brother's voice for what felt like several minutes. He started to shift his attention from Maxine to Sam, when a voice like mercury slid through the silence and down his spine.

"Clancy, are you keeping paying customers waiting?"

The man appeared like a product of the darkness from the room behind Clancy. He seemed to be made of shadow…except for his eyes. They were the same silver as Kelly and Maxine's. He was extremely tall, thin, dressed in a black suit with a black shirt and black tie; his dark hair was cut military short and he was clean-shaven.

His hooked nose cast a shadow over thin red lips, and he leaned against the doorframe with his spider-like fingers clasped in front of him, regarding Dean with a measured coolness that instantly stood the hairs on Dean's neck at attention. He realized this man was what had caused the change in Sam. His brother had seen him before the other three in the room had been aware of his presence.

"N-no, sir," Clancy stammered, quickly grabbing a key and sliding it across the counter to Dean.

Dean slapped his hand down on the counter, stopping the key's slide. "I gotta sign something?" he asked.

"Oh, yeah," Clancy said, looking frantically around on the desk. "Right."

He tore off a piece of paper and handed it to Dean. Dean filled out the top part with bogus, nonsense information, then paused at his signature. He glanced up at the shadow of a man leaning against the doorway, narrowing his eyes. The man's silver eyes rested on him, steady, calculating. Dean felt his back tighten, his stomach clench. He recognized it as the automatic reaction of his muscles to an impending fight. He didn't look at Sam. He didn't look down. He kept his eyes on the shadowed man and signed his name.

His name.

When he set the pen down, the man shadow walked over, and Dean saw his pallor was practically translucent. He clenched his jaw. Vampire? The man reached forward, through a slice of sunlight, and grasped the paper Dean had just signed, pulling it to him.

Okay, maybe not a vampire, then, Dean thought.

"Winchester?"

Dean felt Sam step up behind him, not close enough to touch but close enough that he felt the comforting weight of his brother's presence. Dean tilted his head to the side, waiting.

"Fitting, I suspect. Strong, historic, bringing both death and peace." The voice became whiskey-smooth, the eyes alight with intrigue as they rested on Dean's.

Dean blinked slow, not speaking, and carefully emptied his eyes of all emotion. He had become quite good at that in the past few months. The shadow-man held his gaze a long moment, then seemed to come to a decision.

"Silas Wells," he said, stretching out the last name as though tasting it. "Welcome to my town."

Dean lifted an eyebrow but remained silent.

"Maxine, a word?" Silas looked over at Maxine. The tall woman seemed to shrink under his cold gaze. Keeping his cold eyes on Maxine, he then addressed Dean. "Clancy will show you to your rooms," he said, then stepped back into the darkness of the room behind Clancy, his slim, pale hand beckoning for Maxine to follow him. The moment he was out of sight, Dean felt an aching cold seep into his bones and resisted the urge to shiver.

"Lead on, Clancy," Dean said in a thin voice, nodding at the desk clerk, sympathetic to the guy's fear of his creepy-ass boss.

Clancy stood, his lanky frame moving slowly around the desk to stand in front of Dean. Sam shifted his weight from one leg to the other just off to Dean's right. They stared at Clancy. He stared back. Dean raised his eyebrows, tipping his head forward.

"Right," Clancy muttered, then turned around and led them from the front room, down a long hallway lit by what looked like gas-powered lamps flickering firelight and dancing shadows along the corridor, and to a room. He inserted the brass key and turned, swinging the door wide and stepping back.

"Thanks." Dean smiled tightly. Clancy pulled the key from the door, handed it to Dean, then practically sprinted back down the hall.

Shaking his head, Dean stepped in behind Sam, kicked the door shut with the base of his foot, and tossed both duffels on the bed nearest the door. Sam dropped his bag on the empty bed, and Dean saw him put his hands on his hips, looking at the duffel as though he had more chance of getting it to talk back to him than he did his brother. He waited. It was coming…he could practically feel the tension rolling off Sam.

Five, four, three, two

"What the hell, Dean?" Sam finally spat at him. "You gonna tell me that wasn't weird?"

Dean lifted a shoulder, setting the duffel of weapons on the floor next to his bed and unzipping his bag of clothes, rifling through it for something clean. He had the sudden urge for a hot shower; he couldn't seem to shake the cold ache that had settled in him.

"Takes all kinds," was all he said.

"Takes all—are you serious? Dean, that man was… not normal. Like our kind of not normal. Don't you even think we should look into it?"

Dean didn't answer.

"Dean!" Sam lifted his arms out to his sides in a frustrated, impatient gesture.

"What, Sam?" Dean asked, grabbing a grey T-shirt and a pair of boxers. He looked up at Sam and was mildly surprised to see through the window behind his brother that the sun was beginning to sink in the western sky. He hadn't realized how late it was; neither of them had eaten yet that day.

"What the hell's the matter with you?" Sam's eyes were worried, his face tight.

Dean pulled his eyebrows together. "Nothing's the matter with me." He started to move toward the bathroom.

Sam stepped forward, putting himself between Dean and his destination. His jaw clenched, and Dean took a tired step back so he could look up at Sam, his eyes empty, his mouth hard.

"What?" he sighed, hearing how dead his voice sounded, and inwardly winced, knowing that, more than anything, would trigger Sam.

"You are ignoring…everything. You won't stop…moving. You're not sleeping. You won't hunt." Sam's left hand clenched into a fist, his right hanging loosely at his side, fingers curled against his cast.

"That should make you happy," Dean said, leveling his empty eyes at Sam.

"What?"

"Thought you said… what was it? I was downright scary when I was hunting."

Sam pressed his lips together in frustration. "Well, there's a difference between that and avoiding it altogether."

Dean just looked away.

"Why can't you just… just talk to me?"

Dean tightened his jaw, shifting his gaze to his brother's eyes. "Nothing to say, Sam."

Sam's upper lip bounced in barely restrained anger. "Like hell."

And in that moment, Dean had had enough.

He took another step back, practically daring Sam to move forward. To give him a reason to explode, even if it wouldn't make sense to Sam. Even if it wouldn't be fair to Sam. He wanted to hit something. To hurt something as badly as he hurt when he allowed himself to feel. He felt his fingers tighten their grip around the clothes in his grasp.

"Dammit, Sam," he said through clenched teeth. "Why can't you just leave it the hell alone?"

Sam looked almost triumphant. "Because I care about you, man."

Dean narrowed his eyes. "If you cared about me, you'd Leave. It. Alone."

"No," Sam said, bitterness creeping into his voice. "That's what you'd do."

Dean knew Sam was angry, knew he was frustrated, and knew he sometimes said things purposefully to get a rise out of him. But it didn't stop the words from sucker-punching him. He turned away from Sam and threw the clothes back at his duffel with extra force. He no longer felt cold, no longer needed the shower. He was actually too hot, too wired. He needed a drink. Without a word to Sam, he walked to the door.

"Where are you going?" Sam asked, sounding more than a little concerned.

"I'm gonna go get a beer." Dean pulled the door open. He tossed the key to the room over his shoulder at Sam, who reached out and plucked it from the air. "Don't wait up."

Dean closed the door on Sam's protest, hoping he wouldn't be followed. He just needed a minute. Just a minute to breathe, to get a grip on his emotions, to get his game face back. He walked through the now-empty lobby and out the door. Caleb used to call this the witching hour, when the day was not yet dead, and the night was clawing for dominance. He said it to them as children to scare them into giggling and as teenagers to get them to pay attention.

Dean turned and walked toward the building with the false front and the red letters scrawling the name Becket's Diner at the top, trying to force back the bitter taste at the back of his throat when he thought of Caleb… and Meg… and the way she'd taken his life. He grasped the iron handle of the entry doors and pulled, ignoring the fleeting thought that everyone leaves… no matter how badly they might want to stay, everyone would eventually leave… including Sam.

The raucous noise of the diner surprised him as he walked into the smoky, dimly-lit interior. He blinked as he looked around, taking in the unexpected environment. Calling the place a "diner" was decidedly deceptive. It was more like… a saloon. Complete with a massive leaded mirror behind the bar, dancing girls on the stage bouncing to an out-of-tune piano, and two billiard tables toward the back.

Dean made his way to the bar, swinging a leg over the barstool and hooking the heels of his black boots on the brass runner. He glanced down and was not surprised to see an actual spittoon a few feet off to his left. The bartender stepped up to him, tossing a white bar towel over his shoulder.

"Get you somethin'?"

"Beer. Whatever's on tap," Dean said, looking at the wiry grey hair and beard, and noticing the man didn't meet his eyes. He looked like a cross between Santa Claus and Grizzly Adams.

The bartender tipped his head down. "Comin' up."

Dean nodded once, then flicked his eyes up to the mirror, surreptitiously looking at the other patrons of the bar. He noticed Maxine off in the corner talking to another man about her age and Clancy the desk clerk. As he cautiously ran his eyes over the other patrons of the saloon, he realized something very strange. He looked over his shoulder at the dancing girls, thinking he was surely wrong, but, no… no, even they looked… older. He was the youngest person in the room by at least twenty years.

"Eyes down, boy," the bartender said in a low voice.

"'Scuse me?" Dean looked back at him, startled.

"People see you looking…"

Dean blinked, lifting a shoulder and offering the bartender a sideways grin. "Just gettin' a lay of the land."

"You know what's good for you, you'll drink your beer, head back to Maxine's, then walk back to Kelly's tomorrow."

Dean narrowed his eyes, sipping his beer, not bothering to ask how the man knew of his situation. "Waiting on a part for my car," he said.

The bartender met his eyes then, and Dean suppressed the urge to shudder. There was a look of such complete hopelessness in the pale brown depths that Dean had to glance away.

"It's not in tomorrow, you find a way to get that car to run without it," the bartender said, then moved back down the bar to wait on another person.

Dean watched him go and shook his head. Dammit, he groaned inwardly, continuing to sip his beer, keeping his eyes down as instructed although it went against every instinct. He couldn't lower the hairs on his neck, couldn't quell the tightening in his gut. There was something going on in this town—something the Winchesters were trained to deal with—and he was purposefully turning his back on it… because of Sam.

On cue, Sam's voice broke into his thoughts.

"1962," he said, his voice low and just off Dean's right ear.

Dean lifted his eyes and met Sam's in the mirror. He said nothing, simply sipped his beer and looked at his brother.

"After you left, I did some checking. News reports, historical records, legal documents, all of it. They stopped in 1962."

Dean kept silent. If he opened his mouth, it would be to agree with Sam, and he needed to keep Sam out of this…whatever this was. Keep him safe. Save him. Watch out for Sammy… Nothing else matters…You would never have pulled that stunt if you knew… The Winchesters boys, together again… Don't be scared, Dean…

"Dean, hey." Sam's hand was on his shoulder, steadying him.

He hadn't realized he'd closed his eyes until he felt Sam's hand. His beer slid out of his grasp and clunked on the bar. The sudden feeling of vertigo passed as quickly as it had hit him.

"You okay, man?"

Dean licked his lips and nodded once.

"You sure? You looked like…" Sam didn't finish.

Dean felt his brother's eyes on his profile and took a few shallow breaths. He looked back up at Sam in the mirror. Feeling his gaze, Sam slid his hand from Dean's shoulder and met his eyes in the reflection.

"You want me to find out more? I'll find out more," Sam said softly. "You need proof? I'll find proof. But we can't ignore this, man."

Dean dropped his eyes. "Sam," he said, hearing the slight desperation there, and tried again. "Sam, look. Just take it easy, okay?" He slid his eyes over to his brother's face.

Sam was practically radiating nervous energy. Dean could see that if he weren't trying so hard to keep Dean focused on him, he'd be bouncing on the balls of his feet, he was that eager for this hunt.

"There is something going on here, man," he whispered fiercely.

Dean saw the bartender flick his gaze their way, and the muscles in his stomach clenched in warning. He needed to get Sam to shut up, or they were going to be in trouble with the locals.

"Dude, grab a beer, get some food, just… just ease up, okay?"

Dean looked from the bartender back to his brother. He saw a slight flicker of understanding light Sam's eyes. His look telegraphed Are you back? Are you with me?

Dean blinked slow, looked down, then back up at Sam as his brother swung his lanky frame onto the barstool to the right of Dean. He met Sam's pleading gaze and nodded.

I'm with you. I never left you.

"If we're gonna do this, we need some more intel," he said softly so that only Sam could hear. "I'm gonna go hunt up a game." He shifted his eyes to the billiard tables toward the back.

Sam looked over his shoulder, nodded, then back at Dean. "Yeah, okay. But info only, dude. No hustling."

Dean spread his hands wide and grinned an easy grin that he saw Sam reflexively respond to. "Hey, it's me," he said.

"Yeah, that's what worries me." Sam shook his head, his grin staying in place as he signaled the bartender for a beer.

Dean stood, clapping Sam on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Sammy. I won't mess them up too bad."

He stepped away from Sam's incredulous look and walked across the saloon to the billiard tables. He walked up to the nearest table and reached for a cue in the rack against the wall.

"You don't want to do that, boy," said one of the pool players, currently stretched across the table, lining up a shot.

"Oh?" Dean replied, his fingers wrapping around the neck of the cue.

"What you want to do is get your brother and get on out of here."

"Do I?" Dean asked with a lift of his eyebrow, ignoring how spot-on the man's sentence actually was. "And here I thought I wanted to play a friendly game of pool. Go figure."

"There's no winning this game," the man said, sinking the nine ball neatly and straightening up to look at Dean.

Dean felt his chest tighten at the same stark hopelessness in the man's blue eyes that he'd seen in the bartender's. It was as though the town was slowly being strangled to death and the people were powerless to get out, to stop it. They simply had to sit, watch, and wait to die. That was it, Dean realized. The man's eyes held the look of the condemned.

Dean gave him an easy smile but kept his eyes wary, watchful. "Dunno, man. It's not always about winning, you know?"

The man let his pool cue slide through his grip and thump once on the wooden floor, stepping purposefully around the table toward Dean. Dean felt his shoulders tense, but kept still. In his periphery, he saw the other players straighten, turn, and watch.

"It's always about winning," the man said, looking Dean up and down, setting him on edge, readying him for battle. "Especially when you got nothin' to lose."

Dean lifted his chin, eyes darting from the man advancing on him to the three other players who were now approaching. "Is that a fact?"

The man nodded once. "You've been warned. You've been asked to leave. And here you are."

"My mistake," he said, making a move to slide the pool cue back into its rack.

"Buddy, if he shows up," the man glanced quickly from Dean to the player directly across the table from him, then back to Dean, "if he shows up, that mistake could be your last."

"Who?" Dean asked, but he already knew who held the town by its throat in his cold, pale grip.

"There a problem here, gentlemen?" A voice slid past Dean's ears from behind him and, as Dean watched, the four men approaching him froze.

Dean pivoted slightly, wondering briefly where Sam was and if he could see this situation unfolding, and looked at the steely-eyed man standing behind him. He was part of the shadows still. The only things visible were his face and his hands. His eyes blinked calmly at Dean, not looking at the other men.

"Just someone thinking we needed a fifth, Silas," the man who'd been speaking to Dean said in a thin, dead voice.

"Four is a perfect number," Silas murmured, still looking at Dean. "Don't you agree?"

Dean clenched his jaw and lifted a shoulder. He kept his eyes on Silas but didn't pull his attention from the four pool players. "I was always partial to eight myself."

"Interesting," Silas said, his eyes growing hard. "Interesting that you don't agree."

Dean lifted an eyebrow. "I was born disagreeable." Especially if it's with a freaky-assed zombie-vampire man…

He couldn't help himself. The very air the man exhaled was cloaked in darkness. He was the definition of everything Dean hated in a person: controlling, unreasonable, arrogant.

"That will be your downfall, Dean Winchester," Silas said, matching Dean's raised eyebrow.

Dean dropped his chin, not liking the way his name sounded in the man's slippery voice. "That's anyone's guess," he said, keeping his eyes on Silas.

"Well, then," Silas said, his lips tilting up in a cold smile. "You know what to do, gentlemen. We can't have interlopers disrupting the balance of the town, now can we?"

He flicked his gaze to the man who'd been speaking to Dean, and Dean felt the same cold ache flow over him. He blinked once, and Silas was gone, melting back into the shadows as if he'd never been standing there.

Dean pivoted slowly back to the four pool players and gave them a shaky, insincere smile. For the briefest of moments, he saw something close to regret pass through the eyes of the man closest to him, but it was swiftly ejected by the blind obedience and impotent rage that flooded his gaze seconds later.

Dean swung the pool cue that had thus far been held loosely in his left hand into a solid two-handed grip and had just one moment to take a breath and drop into a crouch before they came at him in a rush of anger and desperation. He didn't even have a chance to call for Sam. He was completely focused on staying alive.

He was able to block the first swing of a pool cue with his own, but they came too fast and there were too many of them. The second swing took his wind as it cracked across his back and brought him to his knees. Dean gripped his cue like a bat and swung upward from his disadvantaged position, catching the man who'd talked to him across the face at the temple, felling him.

A blow from behind knocked him off balance, and he fell to his side, the cue rolling out of his grasp. Another blow from a cue hit him across the top of his left arm, and a third caught him on the side as he quickly rolled away from that attacker and into the legs of another, tripping him and bringing him to the ground.

Dean was on him in a flash, straddling his belly and slamming his fist into the stranger's face repeatedly until the man no longer offered resistance. He noticed then that there were other noises above him and looked up from the two bodies he was sprawled between. Sam was there.

He held one man by the shirt collar, twisting it tightly until the man was purple, unable to pull in enough air to do more than claw helplessly at Sam's grip. Sam ducked the swing of the fourth man's pool cue, dodging twice as the follow-through nearly caught him across the temple but missed. Dean stood and grabbed the cue from behind, pulling it from the man's grasp and slamming his bruised fist into the man's surprised face. The man fell, sprawled across his friend.

Sam released the collar of the one he was suffocating and allowed him to pull in a breath. He drew back his left fist and paused just long enough for the man to hold up his hands in surrender and step away. Sam lifted his eyes to Dean, matching his brother pant for pant.

"Told you I wouldn't mess them up too bad," Dean gasped, swaying slightly on his feet as the blows and bruises started making themselves known.

Sam stepped toward him, shaking his head. "I can't take you anywhere," he muttered, putting a hand on Dean's shoulder and turning him toward the door. "Just walk out, man. I'll keep you in a straight line."

Dean nodded appreciatively and began to move forward, realizing for the first time that the other activity in the bar had ceased. As he passed the dancing girls standing still and silent on the stage, he offered them a dazed grin, and one actually smiled back. That made him chuckle. Even in a dying town, he could work the Winchester charm. Maybe he wasn't as far gone as he sometimes feared.

"Hey, Sam?" he said in a low voice as they reached the door, Sam's hand on his shoulder subtly making sure he didn't run into the wall.

"Yeah?"

"I think there's something weird goin' on in this town," he said.

Sam's frustrated curse in response made Dean smile. He pushed the door open and they stepped outside. The night had completed its takeover and the surrendering day given way to a chorus of stars.

They walked the short distance to the inn with the light of the stars guiding them. Once at their room, Dean leaned tiredly against the wall under the flickering light of the gas-powered lamp while Sam unlocked the door. When Sam pushed the door open, Dean rolled his shoulder around the doorway and literally stumbled to the bed, pushing his duffel to the floor and falling face-first onto the covers.

"Dean," Sam said, shutting the door.

Dean ignored him. His back hurt, his shoulder ached, his hand burned, and his side was throbbing. And he was cold. Cold from the inside out.

"Dean, you can't sleep like that," Sam continued, gently jostling Dean's boot. "We need to check you out. Make sure they didn't break anything."

"Didn't break anything," Dean mumbled, his mouth pressed into the comforter. He didn't want to move, to open his eyes. Even the mere act of breathing seemed monumental.

"Dean," Sam said again.

"Oh, for the love of God, Sam," Dean said, exasperated. He rolled carefully onto his back, suppressing the overwhelming urge to groan. "I. Am. Fine."

"I saw that guy hit you with the pool cue, man." Sam raised an eyebrow. "You're not fine."

Three guys, three pool cues

Dean knew this was another battle he wasn't going to win. His big brother is always right track record was teetering on dangerous ground. He blinked twice at Sam, who stood at the foot of his bed, his knees resting against Dean's boots, blinking back.

"Fine," Dean grumbled and slowly pushed himself up, giving in to the low groan of pain as he did so. Damn his back hurt. "Nothin's broken, though."

He struggled out of his jacket, dropping it onto the floor, followed by his long-sleeved blue shirt. A darkening mark had appeared just below the sleeve of his t-shirt on his arm where the cue had caught him. He knew that was going to be a bruise by morning. Taking a deep breath, he reached up with his good arm and grabbed his shirt behind his head, between his shoulder blades, and pulled it off.

He heard Sam hiss in sympathy before the shirt hit the floor. He braced himself for the pressure of his brother's fingers across his back as he verified that no ribs were broken. To distract himself, Dean let his mind wander, thinking about what Sam had said when he came into the bar, thinking about the fact that the town was just… just old. The youngest person he'd seen so far had to be in their late forties. The make and models of the cars. The gas-powered lamps in the hall. And, finally, Silas—

"Dammit, Sam! Easy!" he gasped as Sam's fingers probed directly over the bruised skin.

"Nothing's broken, but you're gonna be pretty sore tomorrow," Sam said, straightening up.

Dean glared at him. "You did that on purpose," he complained as Sam sat on the opposite bed, shrugging out of his own coat.

"What?" Sam asked innocently, his eyes betraying him.

"I admitted to the weird. You should be happy, not torturing me." Dean toed off his boots and shifted out of his jeans. He pulled the covers back and slid between the sheets in his boxers, enjoying the feel of the cool cotton against his skin.

"Why'd you fight it so hard?"

Dean eased his head back into the pillow. His stomach growled once, reminding him that all he'd had for nourishment that day was a pint of beer. He ignored it, shifting his eyes to Sam, who sat fully clothed on his bed, his eyes on Dean, waiting.

Dean sighed. What could he say that would satisfy his brother? That would stop the questions, even if just for a little while?

"I don't know, man, I just… how many bullets can we dodge, you know?"

Sam narrowed his eyes, tilting his head to the side. "Dean, you were the one… you're the one who is always telling me that this is our job."

Dean sighed and lifted his bare arm to rest over his eyes. "I know. It is. But…" It only takes one time, Sam… one wrong move, one bad choice… And I lose… I lose you…

Dean felt Sam hold his breath, felt him wait, and remained silent. He breathed a silent sigh of relief when Sam seemed to concede the match for the moment. He reached over to flick off the light next to Dean's bed, then stood.

"Get some sleep, man," he said, looking down at Dean. "We got some work ahead of us in the morning… if that part for the Impala isn't in."

Dean blinked once at Sam and felt his eyes slide shut. It was rare he actually felt himself fall into sleep. He was such a light sleeper that it was simply a change of perception for him. But tonight he felt the tumble and the weightless sensation that accompanied the loss of consciousness.

The dream seemed to start right away, although in reality hours had passed. Enough hours that Sam had left him to run across the street to the small market for sandwich fixings, returned to research a lead on Wells, Wyoming, and crawled into bed himself, working his wired body into a state of rest.

I think I was in a car accident… I need to find my dad and brother…

That's your MO… mask all that nasty pain… mask the truth…

The images were disjointed, blurry, the words alternately increasing and fading in volume like someone had their hand on the dial and wanted to torture him by letting him hear only parts of the song.

I won't hunt this demon… not until we know Dean's okay…

How do you think angry spirits are born…

They don't need you… not like you need them…

He saw his father, he saw Sam, he felt pain, he felt confusion, he saw a dark-haired girl with yellow eyes, he saw another dark-haired girl with red eyes.

You did that… and you didn't complain, not once…

It's my sandbox… I can make you see what I want you to see…

I am so proud of you…

He tried to move, tried to breathe, tried to fight his way free, but he was pinned to the wall, he was trapped in a bed with a tube burning his throat, he was backed against a wooden beam, he was standing beneath a devil's trap.

Today's your lucky day, kid…

You're all lit up with pain… After all, you loved him so much…

It's an honorable death…

He knew what was coming; he could see it. In his dreams, he remembered. He knew the girl with the yellow eyes and remembered the haunting words at the crossroads.

Killing this demon comes first, before me, before everything…

You wake up and the first thing you think is, "I can't do this anymore"…

You shouldn't have had to say that to me, I should have said that to you

It's good to hear from you, man—it hasn't been the same without you…

You wouldn't have pulled this stunt if you knew…

He knew he'd lose the memory when he woke, that he had to stop it now, in the dream, but it hurt… it hurt so much. He felt his lungs tighten… he felt as though something were digging into his chest, pulling his heart from him with fingers of vengeance.

It's all your fault…

Dean is dying, and you have a plan…

You took care of Sammy, you took care of me…

I can bring him back, just as he was… you would get ten long years together…

You're not the first soldier I've plucked from the field…

I think you're here and, if you are, don't make fun of me for this, okay…

It was coming. He knew what was next. He knew…

Aren't you gonna do anything… Aren't you even gonna say anything…

Don't be scared, Dean…

I gave everything I ever had…

No, sir… not before everything…

He didn't want the truth, he didn't want to see it again, to hear the silent screams of his father in a hell he couldn't imagine, but he was powerless, he couldn't move, couldn't fight against the pain as he was made to watch, made to hear, made to understand, and he screamed as the fingers tightened, fought against the pain with everything in him, finally able to reach, to grasp, to wrap his fingers around his father's wrist as his still-beating heart lay in his father's hands.

"Don't!"

www

Sam had watched Dean fight the dream again, pulled from sleep by the tortured sounds coming from the bed next to him. He wanted to wake him, to stop it, but he couldn't. He couldn't bear to see that destroyed look in his brother's eyes. Eyes that had steadied him through the worst moments of his life: through physical pain, through heartache, through loss, through disappointments. And now… Sam was cursed to sit by and helplessly watch as Dean fought against a force that couldn't be exorcised.

This time when Dean sat forward, reaching out, Sam held still in the dark, keeping his breathing measured and even, his eyes closed. He heard Dean's shuddering breath as he worked to orient himself, his quiet groan of pain as he eased back on the bed, and the rustle of sheets as he adjusted himself back to sleep. Sam waited until his brother's breathing evened out once more, then rolled to his side, his eyes on Dean's still form.

Dean lay on his stomach, one hand under his pillow, the other canted at an odd angle across his back. He always looked to Sam like he was prepared to grab anyone sneaking up behind him. How he ever relaxed was beyond Sam.

He watched the faint starlight dance across Dean's features and forced himself to match his brother's rhythmic breathing. In minutes, he was asleep.

Sam awoke to the sound of the shower, groggily blinking his eyes at his wristwatch: 6:07. It was early, even for him. Then he realized that he'd actually slept, through the night, no nightmares. As he heard the shower shut off, Sam grimaced. Dean was the one holding the corner on the nightmare market these days. He rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes, yawned, and sat up, watching the bathroom door. Dean exited in a billowing cloud of steam, a blue towel wrapped around his waist and water beading on his chest and shoulders.

"'Bout time you woke up, Princess," he said, his voice rough from lack of use.

He padded over to his bed, turning his back to Sam and digging through the duffel for clothes. Sam winced at the large bruise that spanned his brother's back from left shoulder to right hip.

"Dude, your back," he said in a tight voice.

Dean didn't look over at him. He simply lifted a shoulder, dropped his towel, and pulled on his clothes in the same quick, efficient manner he did everything that simply had to be done.

"Looks worse than it feels," he said, zipping his bag, then reaching stiffly for the duffel of weapons with his bruised hand. "If you're gonna get a shower, get goin'."

"You in a hurry?"

At that, Dean did look over his shoulder at Sam. "You bet your ass," he said, lifting an eyebrow. "You practically sprained something convincing me that we're stuck in Weirdsville, Wyoming. So, let's get to un-weirding it."

Sam grinned and scooted out of bed. "I found some stuff last night," he started as he moved toward the bathroom.

"Yeah, I know," Dean said, walking across the room and reaching for the bread and peanut butter Sam had set on the small table in the corner of the room. "I saw it this morning."

Sam paused in the doorway. This morning? "How long you been up?"

Dean shrugged, stuffing half the sandwich into his mouth and chewing noisily. "A while," he said around the peanut butter. "Go on, man. This town isn't going to get any less creepy waitin' on you."

Sam stared at him another moment, watching as he stuffed a second sandwich into his mouth. He looked normal; he looked fine. But there was something… hidden in Dean's eyes.

"Sam!"

Sam blinked. "What?"

"Quit staring at me like that, dude." Dean took a swig from the water bottle.

Sam shook his head and started to duck into the bathroom. "Sorry," he muttered automatically.

"They have any coffee at that place you picked this stuff up?"

"No," Sam said.

He suppressed a shudder at the thought of coffee. He'd never said anything to Dean, but he didn't think he'd be able to drink coffee again anytime soon. The smell alone triggered the memory of Dad lying still and quiet on the hospital floor.

"And I don't think we'll be welcome back at Becket's anytime soon," he continued as he closed the door.

"True," Dean answered.

Through the door of the bathroom, Sam could hear the smile in his brother's voice. He shook his head. Those men could have killed Dean, but because he walked away in one piece, he was grinning about it. Sam finished showering and stepped out into the main room to find Dean peering at the screen of the laptop. He blinked. Dean wasn't the 'sit still and research' type. That was Sam's role.

"Who are you and what have you done with my brother?"

Dean pulled a face at him. "Shut up," he grumbled. "You think he's a zombie?"

"Who's a zombie?" Sam stepped over to his bed and pulled out a blue T-shirt with a greyhound on it, a long-sleeved white shirt, and the cleanest pair of jeans he owned.

Need to find a laundromat sometime…

"Silas," Dean said, taking another drink of water.

"As in the Silas that pretty much told those guys to kick your ass last night? That Silas?"

"That'd be the guy."

"Okay, fine. Well, not a zombie… no sign of unholy ground," Sam said, pulling on his clothes and heading over to the table for his own peanut butter sandwich breakfast. "A vampire?"

Dean shook his head, tapping the down arrow on the laptop. "Already thought of that."

"We're sure he's not human?" Sam needed to be certain. He needed to know Dean had felt the same aching cold around the man that he had.

Dean lifted an eyebrow and glanced up at Sam, "Are you seriously doubting it, man?"

Sam shook his head. "Nah, just throwing it out there." He sat down across from Dean, pulling the pad of paper he'd scrawled on last night toward him and stuffing part of his sandwich into his mouth.

Dean tipped his chin toward the pad of paper. "You jotted down a bunch of stuff there about 1962," he said.

Sam shoved the rest of his sandwich into his mouth and nodded, flipping the pages until he found a clean sheet. "Figured on doing a timeline," he said around a mouthful of peanut butter. He started drawing a line and began numbering at 1900.

"So…" Dean said, squinting back at the screen. "Near as I can tell, Wells, Wyoming, was a prosperous town back in the day until someone came in, bought up all the businesses, and started running things his way. Built that freaky house on the hill and everything."

"Sound familiar?" Sam said, watching Dean shake his head slowly.

"Yeah, like every friggin' western I've ever seen," Dean mumbled, scrolling more. "Dude…"

"What?" Sam stopped writing, his head coming up.

"You are never gonna believe this," Dean said, lifting a brow.

"I wouldn't bet on that," Sam answered, resting the pen against his cast.

"Wells wasn't always Wells," Dean said, his eyes flicking up quickly to meet Sam's and then back to the screen.

"Come again?"

"Prior to 1957, the town was named Sweet Water. Until…" Dean paused, cocking his head to the side as if he'd heard something.

"Until what?" Sam prompted.

"Until Silas Wells came to town," Dean said, eyebrows up.

"Huh." Sam tipped his head back, absorbing that information.

"Says here he and his wife, uh… Jenny, and their twins moved to town shortly after the babies were born and… oh, nice, Silas inherited a large sum of money." He glanced off to the side, his brows pulling together, then returned to reading. "Dead grandparent, apparently. He became obsessed with control and power, building the House On Haunted Hill and buying up all the businesses." Dean pulled his eyebrows together and looked over his shoulder. "What is that?"

"What's what?"

"Don't you hear it?"

Sam shook his head. "What?"

"That… scratching." Dean turned his head back toward Sam, reaching for the top of the laptop screen and pulling it toward him. "It sounds like—" His eyes widened.

Sam blinked at the look of shock on Dean's normally guarded face. It wasn't until he saw Dean looking at the pad of paper on the table that he looked down himself and saw it. His right fingers were gripping the pen and his hand was moving over the paper, his cast creating a rough sound as it slid over the paper.

Sam gasped and shook his arm. He couldn't let go of the pen. He shook his arm again, and Dean reached over and pulled the pen from his grip. Released from the bizarre hold, Sam shot to his feet, knocking his chair back to the floor.

"Dude, what the hell," he breathed, holding his right hand in his left.

"You okay?" Dean asked, throwing the pen in the wastebasket quickly, as if afraid it would take over his hand next.

"I-I didn't even... feel anything, man," Sam said, looking at his own hand in horror. His eyes went from Dean's worried face back to his hand, then to the paper. "I didn't even know…" He started to breathe harder, trying unsuccessfully to calm his racing heart.

"Easy, Sam, take it easy," Dean said, standing slowly, patting the air with his hand. He took a step forward and grabbed onto Sam's upper arms, rotating him so he could sit down on the bed.

"Dean, I—I didn't—"

"Just take it easy," Dean said. "We've seen this before, okay?" Dean crouched in front of Sam, forcing him to drop his gaze in order to meet his brother's eyes.

"We have?" Sam felt the trembling in his chest ease as his eyes were caught and held by Dean's steadying gaze.

"Automatic writing," Dean said, pressing his lips together.

"But, Dean," Sam shook his head, "that's usually people in… catatonic states, or daydreaming, or…something."

"Well, let's just see what message you channeled from beyond the veil, Zelda," Dean said, clapping a reassuring hand on Sam's knee and standing up. He pivoted toward the table and reached for the pad of paper.

Sam kept his eyes pinned to his brother's face, watching for a sign of reassurance. Instead, he saw fear. "Dean?"

Dean's throat worked convulsively and, for a moment, Sam was afraid the three peanut butter sandwiches his brother had inhaled were going to reappear.

"Dean, what is it?"

"Sam." Dean's voice was thin, strained. "Did I say anything last night?"

"What do you mean?"

"When I was sleeping." Dean didn't lift his eyes from the pad of paper. His hand was frozen in the act of reaching.

"No." Sam shook his head, dropping his right hand from his protective grasp and standing up. "No, man, nothing."

"But I-I know I… I know I dreamed." Dean's voice was soft, but he still didn't look at him.

Sam watched the muscle in his brother's cheek twitch as he stepped closer. It was the first time since the dreams began that Dean admitted to having them…to knowing that Sam was aware he had them.

"Yeah," he said softly. "Yeah, you dreamed. Just like every night… Why?"

Dean didn't answer. Sam looked down at the pad of paper. Written in a scrawl that was decidedly not Sam's handwriting, at odd angles on the paper, was the phrase: It's all your fault. Over and over until the page was practically filled.

Sam looked at his brother, then back at the paper. "Dean, tell me about your dream," he said softly, reading the scrawl again.

"I can't," Dean whispered. He had yet to drop his hand, to blink, to look away from the words.

"It's okay—"

"No, man," Dean said, and Sam pulled his eyes up to his brother's pale face. "I can't. I don't remember."

Sam pulled his eyebrows together. "Then why did you say…?"

As he watched, Dean's hand began to tremble. Sam started to reach out to him, to offer some kind of connection, some kind of balance, but Dean fisted his trembling hand and dropped it at his side. He pulled in a breath and took a step back from the table. Then he lifted his eyes to Sam, and Sam felt his stomach turn to ice at the emptiness he saw there. It was the look he avoided every night.

"I remember parts of it," Dean said. "Sometimes. But those words," he jerked his head to the paper, "are from the crossroad demon."

Sam swallowed. "Oh."

So Dean dreamed about the crossroad demon… Sam had suspected as much, but he knew that wasn't the whole of it. Dean had been suffering in the night since they had been at Bobby's. Sam knew it was more than just the confirmation of his father's deal that disturbed his brother's sleep.

Dean turned his back to the table and walked across the room, crossing his arms over his chest. He began to pace, a set eight-step pattern back and forth across the far end of the room. Sam slowly sat down at the table in the chair Dean had vacated, watching, waiting.

"So, what are we dealing with here?"

Sam took a breath. "Vengeful spirit?"

"A spirit that knows what the crossroad demon said to me?"

Sam lifted a shoulder. "Maybe… maybe there's a way it sees us… sees you…"

Dean pulled at his lower lip. "Well, that's a cheery thought."

"I'm reaching, man, but… automatic writing is usually a way for the spirit to communicate, right? To try to tell the physical world something?"

"Yeah, so?"

"So, what if what this spirit wants to tell us is that it can get to us?"

Dean paused halfway through his pattern. "Okay, that's just all kinds of wrong."

"You're telling me."

"Why would it care?"

"Maybe," Sam looked over at the screen on the laptop, the newspaper article Dean had left onscreen catching his eye. It was about the construction of the house up on the hill above the town. "Maybe it's threatened…" he said, scrolling down the article.

"What?" Dean asked at his silence.

"Dean, you notice how there isn't anyone around here younger than us?"

Dean nodded, turning to face Sam, his legs braced apart as if waiting for a blow. He didn't come closer to the table, though, Sam saw. Sam casually reached over and flipped the pages of notes from the night before over to cover the lines of text. Dean stayed where he was, but his stance relaxed somewhat.

"Well, you want to know what happened in 1962?"

"I'm guessing old Silas got himself whacked," Dean muttered.

Sam tilted his head. "Only, he did the whacking. Says here that he called a town meeting, cursed the town for thinking they could thrive without his, uh, influence, returned to his house where his wife and children were waiting… then… hung himself in front of them. Ew." He looked up at Dean. "Guess the house has been deserted ever since."

"Does the article say what the curse was?"

Sam scanned the article, then shook his head. "But I'm willing to bet on black magic. I mean, if you think about it, that was…what, forty-four years ago? You see anyone that could be younger than forty-four?"

Dean shook his head.

Sam sighed, then flipped the lid of the computer shut, looking over at his brother. "We need to go check out that house."

Dean was chewing on his bottom lip, staring a hole into the floor. He nodded. "After we head back and check on the car."

"Dean, it's, like, an hour walk in both directions."

"So?"

"So, we could check out the house first, get that out of the way, then go check on the car," Sam lifted a brow at his brother's stubborn expression. "We could have this whole thing wrapped this afternoon if we find this guy's bones and burn 'em."

Dean stared at him a moment longer, then shook his head. "You better be right about this, Sam."

As they grabbed the weapons they thought they'd need, neither vocalized the doubt they felt that this job was going to be that easy. Sam couldn't quell the feeling they were being watched, and the automatic writing… the words that shook his brother… how had the ghost known? As they walked down the deserted corridor, a thought struck Sam. "Dean," he breathed.

"What?"

"He… he touched the paper." Sam reached out and stopped Dean's stride by grasping his arm. Dean winced slightly, and Sam remembered his bruise. "Sorry."

"What paper? What are you talking about?"

"When we checked in," Sam said, dropping his head so his eyes met Dean's. He saw Dean remember, saw him realize the possible implications…

After a second, Dean shrugged and waved a dismissive hand in the air. "Doesn't matter, Sam. He died at the house. The house is where we start." He moved forward through the empty lobby and to the door. "But if we get to Kelly's and there is one scratch on my baby, I'll have your ass for making me wait," he tossed over his shoulder.

The walk out of town was much like their arrival the night before. When they reached the end of the street and continued walking, Sam heard some commotion behind him and turned to look over his shoulder. Maxine stood just outside of Becket's Diner, her flinty eyes on them. She wore the same clothes she'd had on the day before. He saw her cross herself, then turn and walk quickly up the street, past her hotel, past the rest of the buildings, in the opposite direction of the boys. He realized after a moment that she was walking to Kelly's.

"Dude, I feel like John Wayne in High Noon," Dean muttered.

Sam turned back to pay attention to where they were walking. "Gary Cooper," he said automatically.

"Huh?"

Sam looked over at his brother. "Gary Cooper was in High Noon."

"Whatever," Dean scoffed, twisting his mouth into a disbelieving grin.

Sam lifted his eyebrows, slightly buoyed by actually knowing a movie Dean didn't. "Dude, I'm telling you, Gary Cooper saves the town. Marries Grace Kelly. Rides off into the sunset."

Dean shook his head. "Are you high? It was John Wayne."

They were getting closer to the house, and Sam saw there was a set of four stairs leading up to a wraparound porch. The double front doors were filled with leaded glass, and there were ten-foot double windows flanking either side of the front doors.

"Bet me," Sam said as he scanned the windows on the first floor before lifting his eyes to the stories above. He could see Dean doing the same out of the corner of his eye. Both pulled their shotguns from the protection of their jackets and held them loosely at their sides.

"Fine," Dean said. "But it's a fool's bet."

"We'll see about that," Sam muttered as they reached the stairs. "When I win, I get to listen to whatever music I want… in the Impala… for a week."

Dean looked at him, a slight grin pulling up his mouth. "All right, Samantha. What about when I win?"

They climbed the wide staircase in unison. "What do you want?"

"You called the bet, man."

Sam thought quickly. "Okay, if you win… I'll, uh… wash and wax the Impala."

Dean's eyes widened, and he looked like a kid who had been denied the one Christmas present he always wanted. Sam might as well have just said he'd paint the Impala purple.

"It's like you don't even know me," Dean said with a shake of his head.

He put his arm out, automatically moving Sam behind him, and lifted his right foot, slamming it against the locked double doors. Standing in front of Sam, he paused for a split second to check for anything coming out at them before entering the room.

That second saved their lives.

The explosion from the tripwire behind the doors was meant to obliterate anyone standing in the entrance of the house. As it was, the blast hit Dean first, knocking him with force into Sam and propelling both of them off the porch and over the stairs, landing them in a tangled heap of limbs in the yard below.

 

Chapter 2

There were such moments when the world chose thus to reveal itself not, as it might seem, to mock our plight or our irrelevance, but to simply affirm, for us and for all life, the very act of being.

- Unknown

www

His ears were ringing. He could smell the dusty remnants of a campfire. His head pounded, and he couldn't pull the jumbled fragments of his memory together to form one coherent thought. He tried to blink his eyes open, but something lay across his face… an arm? Not Jess… too heavy… damn, how much did he have to drink last night?

He sluggishly shifted his head to the side, and the pain of the movement slammed memory back into him with a blinding rush. The blast… a weight on him… holding him down… saving him…

Dean.

"Dean," Sam tried, but his brother's dead weight was too much for his tortured lungs to get any sound past.

With an effort, he pulled his left arm free and pushed Dean's weight off his head and chest, shifting sideways so his face and shoulders were free of the cover of his brother's body. He pulled in several deep breaths, blinking at the sight before him. They were lying in the yard, about five feet from the base of the stairs. The entryway was still smoking, but the trap must have been designed to flame out because the house was still intact, as were the double doors. As he blinked, shocked, at the smoking interior of the entranceway, the doors slammed shut of their own accord.

"Dean," Sam croaked, looking down at his brother.

Dean lay partway across his lap, his face turned away, his chest a mess of tiny cuts from the shrapnel he'd taken full-force. Sam coughed, blinked his eyes, and shifted Dean's legs off of his so he could crawl across him. He reached up and turned Dean's face to him. His eyes were closed, his expression lax. More small cuts littered his face, two on his right cheek, one in his right eyebrow, and one at the base of his lip.

Sam blinked away his blurring vision and searched with trembling fingers along Dean's neck for a pulse. He found one, faint but there. Then he felt the rhythm stutter and belatedly realized Dean wasn't breathing.

"Shit," he gasped, leaning over Dean and smacking his unmarred cheek once, twice. "Dean! Hey, hey, man. Don't you do this to me…"

He gripped Dean's jacket, shaking him once hard, wincing as Dean's head snapped back loosely on his neck like the end of a whip.

"Dean! Hey! HEY!" he yelled at his brother frantically. "Please, don't… don't do this."

Releasing his hold on the jacket, Sam took a deep breath. Think, Sam, he admonished himself. He felt for Dean's pulse again. It was barely there.

No no no no no…

The edges of his vision blurred and he blinked once, hard. He needed help. He needed Dad. He needed Dean… he needed Dean…

Suddenly, as if the world had been brought back to him in startling clarity, Sam knew what to do. He tipped Dean's head back, pinched his nose, and opened his mouth. Breathing into it a lungful of air, he pulled back and shook Dean again, roughly.

"Dean!"

Nothing. Sam tried again, and this time when he shook him, he actually lifted Dean's head off the ground.

"Dammit, you don't do this. You don't." His voice was a rough plea of emotion and panic.

Sam leaned in once more, breathing life into his brother's mouth, past his closing throat and filling his lungs. His own heart pounded behind his eyes, threatening to launch itself from him. Lifting his face away from Dean's mouth, Sam silently pleaded with his brother to please please don't do this… Gripping Dean's jacket once more, Sam shook him quickly as if that repetitive motion would convince Dean to breathe. To open his eyes. To come back to him.

Dean trembled when Sam released him. His hazel-green eyes flew open, shocked and vacant, as he gasped for breath.

"There, yeah, that's it," Sam panted, pulling Dean's head and shoulders up onto his lap. "That's it, keep that up, okay?"

Dean pulled in more air and coughed it out violently. He blinked blankly.

"Sam?" His voice was a hoarse burst of noise.

"I'm here," Sam soothed, his eyes burning with restrained tears of relief. Dean lay still in his arms for a moment, dragging in air and coughing it out. Sam held his shoulders, breathing with him as he waited for the confusion to clear.

"Wha—" Dean couldn't continue, coughing and pressing his hand against the various cuts on his chest. He slid his eyes up to Sam's face, hunched close to his in worry. "Y'r lips bleedin'," Dean wheezed, blinking rapidly and shifting in Sam's arms.

Sam felt Dean tighten his muscles, felt him try to sit forward. "No, yours is," he said without thinking, trying to help Dean adjust without hurting him further.

Dean reached up and pressed the back of his hand to his bloody lip. His eyes were cloudy, confused. "What the hell…?" He coughed again, closing his eyes and pulling his brows together in an expression of pain.

Sam cleared his throat. "There was a… a booby trap or something. Inside the door."

Dean opened his eyes, shifting his gaze to the house, the residual smoke, and the closed doors. Sam tried to grip his shoulders to keep him steady as he saw the realization shift into Dean's eyes. The anger immediately reflected there scared Sam a little.

"Oh, hell no," Dean ground out, shoving away from Sam, trying to stand.

"Dean, hey," Sam tried, but Dean wasn't hearing him. Sam could see he wasn't interested in listening, either.

Dean stumbled to his hands and knees, coughing, his arms visibly trembling as they attempted to keep him from landing flat on his face. He lifted his watering eyes to Sam and wiped the smoke- and cough-induced tears away with the blood that trickled down his cheek.

"This fucking ghost has seriously pissed me off," he said, his voice rough. "I want him dead, Sammy. For good this time."

"Take it easy, Dean." Sam rolled to his knees and reached for Dean's shoulder.

For just a moment, he reminded Sam of the old Dean… the Dean before Dad died… before the accident… before the cabin. The Dean who had said I want him dead, you hear me when the shtriga had gotten to Asher right under their noses.

When Sam touched Dean, the look in his brother's eyes shifted. The angry fire was extinguished and replaced by concern with an immediacy that shook Sam.

"You okay?" he asked Sam.

"Fine—little rattled, but fine," Sam said.

Dean rolled from his hands and knees to a sitting position. His legs were spread out in front of him, and he curled over himself, one hand wrapped around his middle. He kept his eyes on Sam.

"You sure?"

Sam shook his head in bewilderment. "Dude, you were in front of me. You got most of the blast."

Dean reached up and gingerly touched his lip, then the cuts on his cheek. "Damn," he whispered. As Sam watched, he looked down at his shirt, bloody with a half a dozen cuts. "We were lucky, Sammy," he said.

At that, Sam sat back on his heels, tilting his head to the side. "How do you figure?"

"That bastard must've thought we'd barrel in, guns blazing." Dean's tongue darted out to touch the cut on his lip from the inside. "Thought he knew us."

Sam nodded. "He was wrong."

"This time." Dean shook his head. "We've done that before, though."

Sam lifted a brow. "You've done that before," he corrected.

Keeping one hand wrapped around his middle, Dean waved dismissively at the air. "Semantics," he muttered. "Point is what made him think he knew what we'd do?"

Sam pulled his knees up so he could rest his elbows on them, and tilted his head into his hands. If his head hurt this badly, how did Dean's feel? He watched the small slices in Dean's grey T-shirt turn red from the cuts beneath the fabric as Dean wiped impatiently at the trickle of blood running down from his eyebrow into his eye. Dean looked back at the house that had so forcefully denied them entrance. Sam purposefully blanked his mind as he watched Dean stare at the house.

Sam's mind had a way of untangling knots, finding paths through mazes, working through impossible problems if he didn't think about it too hard, if he just… let it happen. If he tried to find the solution, it was as though he were continually reaching for something that remained just out of his grasp.

He watched Dean blink, watched him think, knew his brother's mind worked differently. Dean searched out the answer, pursued it relentlessly until he found it and pinned it to the wall of his memory. He rarely forgot anything. Once the answer was there, it was in Dean's mind for the duration.

Suddenly, Sam knew. He gasped, blinking, looking back at Dean's wide eyes.

"The paper," they said in unison.

"You signed your name to the hotel registry," Sam said.

Dean nodded. "And he asked Maxine to come back into that room just before we walked away."

"He must have made her… I don't know… check into us, our past…" Sam pinched the bridge of his nose against the headache of realization. "Dammit…"

"What?"

"Dude," Sam looked back at him. "You're wanted. You're in the system."

Dean closed his eyes, pressing the heel of his hand against his forehead. "Oh. Yeah."

"Oh, yeah? Why did you sign your real name, anyway?" Sam asked, irritated.

Dean sighed, pulling his hand away and looking at Sam. Sam regretted his harsh tone when he saw the pain and weariness in his brother's eyes. "I don't know, Sam. He—he triggered me. Something about the way he… watched us. I wanted him to know who we were."

Sam sighed. Dean never could back down from a dare…spoken or implied. Sam narrowed his eyes. "You knew then, didn't you?"

"Huh?"

"You knew then he was the reason for all this." Sam tipped his head back, watching Dean. "You knew it was our kind of weird and you ignored it."

As Sam held his brother's eyes, he watched the emotion vanish and was amazed at Dean's ability to simply shut off, shut down. He couldn't do that, didn't want to do that. He would rather feel everything than nothing at all. He hated the defense mechanism Dean had crafted for himself and wondered what could possibly be so heavy that Dean wouldn't allow himself to feel in order to be able to carry it.

"We're hunting it now, Sam," Dean said, his voice hard.

"Yeah," Sam sighed, dropping his head and rubbing the back of his neck. "So, what now?" he asked, his voice muffled by his position.

"Now," Dean said, tapping the flats of his fingers against his forehead. "We talk to Maxine."

"She's at Kelly's."

"How do you know?"

Sam lifted his head. "Saw her walk that way when we headed into the house."

"Oh," Dean said, then his mouth pulled up into a quick grin, until his cut reminded him that was a bad idea. "We'll get to check on the car, at least."

Sam looked back over at the doors, then stood. He walked slowly to where their shotguns had landed, about five feet on either side of their bodies. Gathering them up, he walked back and looked down at Dean.

"We might still have to get into this house," he said.

"Yeah," Dean sighed. "Yeah, I know." He slowly pushed himself up, swaying slightly when he made it to his feet.

Sam shifted the guns under his arm, then reached out with one hand and steadied him.

"I got it," Dean muttered and started walking in front of Sam, down the hill.

"Always gotta go first," Sam said.

Dean waved him off, stumbling with his next step. "Only 'cause I need you to catch me when I fall on my ass," he retorted. He purposefully kept himself in front of Sam, placing one foot carefully in front of the other.

They reached the sidewalk, and Sam stepped up next to Dean, wavering between worry and amusement when Dean's unsteady steps had him bouncing lightly off his shoulder. They ignored the guarded stares of the townspeople, walking in beat toward the gas station at the end of town.

"Damn," Dean said suddenly as they stepped off the wooden sidewalk and started to walk down the edge of the road.

"What?"

"This was my last clean shirt." He was looking down at the marks of red staining his chest.

"We need to check those out?" Sam asked, unable to believe it had taken that long to think of it.

"Nah, they're just scratches," Dean said, looking back up and dabbing at his lip with his tongue. "They can wait. But, uh, Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Next time I say leave it alone? Leave it alone."

"Next time," Sam smiled, looking down, knowing he wouldn't do any such thing. Knowing Dean knew that, counted on that.

Their life was about hunting evil. He used to think that after The Demon was gone, that would be it for him. He would go back to Stanford, become a lawyer, maybe marry…someone. But since Dad… He looked over at Dean when his brother's shoulder lightly brushed against him again. Since Dad died, Sam wasn't so sure. He knew Dean would never stop. He would continue to bring light to the darkness of the world until it killed him. There was no after for Dean. There was just this.

"Dude, you friggin' kissed me," he heard Dean mutter suddenly.

Sam laughed. "You'd rather I hadn't?"

Dean was silent for a moment. Long enough for Sam to look over at him. Dean was looking down the road, a strange expression on his face. A scary expression. As though he were giving the idea some thought.

"Nah." Dean shifted carefully guarded eyes his way. "Breathing is pretty important to that whole living thing."

"So I hear," Sam bantered back, keeping with the easy tone Dean had crafted, with the act that everything was fine. Inside, he trembled with the realization that he'd almost missed the silent plea for salvation in Dean's empty eyes.

www

He heard Hendrix.

He was sure of it. The opening riff to All Along the Watchtower. Dad used to listen to Hendrix on Saturday mornings, cleaning the weapons. Dean could still see him perfectly, sitting in the sun, a couple days' growth of beard on his face, shotgun held carefully across his legs, lips pursed in concentration, head bouncing lightly to the beat those nimble fingers danced out of the electric guitar. Dean could even smell the gun oil, hear the soft shushing of the rag as it ran over the barrel.

"Dean?"

Dean blinked, startled out of the memory. He looked up at Sam, who was standing several steps ahead of him. Dean hadn't even realized he'd stopped walking, so lost was he in the image of his father. It had been so long since he'd seen an image of John in his head where his father wasn't screaming in pain, wasn't staring coyly at him with the yellow eyes of a demon, wasn't asking him to watch over Sammy, wasn't telling him—

"Dean, hey," Sam said, suddenly right in front of him. Dean blinked and took a step back. "You okay?"

No, I'm not okay.

He swallowed."Fine, Sam."

His head was spinning slightly, and his chest ached with every breath. He pressed a hand to his sternum, holding in the ache, brutally reminded of the feeling of rock salt slamming into his chest and propelling back through a wall in Roosevelt Asylum.

He saw Sam peering at him closely and clamped down on the urge to just let it all go. Just sit down right there in the dirt on the edge of the road. Just stop moving. Just tell Sam. The music flowed over him as he stood still in the road and stared back at his brother's open, trusting eyes.

"You hear that?"

"Hendrix?"

"Yeah." Dean nodded, his eyes staring vacantly at Sam's shoulder, not really seeing it, not really seeing anything. "Just, uh… just made me think of Dad."

Sam nodded, but Dean could tell his brother was looking for something else. He was looking too closely. Dean blinked and moved forward, gently brushing past Sam so that he was compelled to turn and follow.

"Hey, Dean." Sam took two steps to catch up. "Maybe we should, y'know, have someone check you over."

Dean pulled a face at him. "In this town?"

"I'm sure there's someone…"

"For the last time, Sam. I. Am. Fine," Dean said, continuing up to Kelly's door and the source of the music.

"No, you're not," Sam whispered behind him. Dean ignored him and pulled the door open. The sound of the cowbell was muted under the hypnotic strains of Hendrix's guitar.

"Kelly!" Dean yelled over the music.

He felt Sam step up behind him and walked farther into the small room. A man the size of Kelly couldn't easily hide. Sam stepped up to the counter, setting the shotguns down on the top of it. Dean started to move toward the back of the store, looking over his shoulder as he did, noticing Sam doing the same.

"Kelly, it's–"

Dean turned his head and froze mid-step, the barrel of a 9mm pointed directly between his eyes, the click of the safety audible even over Jimi. He pulled his gaze from the uncomfortably large opening of the gun barrel and met the angry silver eyes peering at him from above the wild black beard.

"You know," he swallowed, trying to even out his breathing, "if you shoot me, you're liable to lose a lot of those humanitarian awards."

Kelly's head tilted to the side with a confused, "What?"

It was exactly the reaction he'd been hoping for. Twenty years of training and countless battles had honed his reaction time to half-seconds. Before Kelly had time to straighten his head, Dean had reached up and grabbed the gun from the big man's grip and was shifting it behind himself into Sam's waiting hands.

Kelly blinked, then a low rumbled growl rolled from his mouth as he fisted his large hands in the front of Dean's jacket. He pulled Dean to him, then turned and slammed him hard against the counter. The air rushed from Dean's lungs, and he bit back a cry as his bruised back hit the counter with a flash of hot pain.

"Hey!" Sam protested at Dean's abbreviated cry.

Dean's desperate eyes sought Sam's and he shook his head once.

Don't tease the bear, Sammy…

"What are you doing here?" Kelly asked, shaking Dean once.

Dean groaned as the tiny cuts across his chest twisted in Kelly's grip. "Why don't you ask your sister," he gasped out, watching Kelly's eyes.

"What?"

"She's here, right?" Sam asked, his eyes frantically darting between Kelly and Dean's pain-stiffened form held up off the floor against the counter

"Maxine?"

"How many sisters you got, man?" Dean asked. "She headed here when we started up to the Big House."

Kelly took a step back, and Dean breathed a sigh of relief as his back lost contact with the counter.

"How did you know?"

He released Dean's jacket, and Dean felt his knees buckle the minute he was left to support his own weight. He would have hit the ground in a heap had Sam not suddenly materialized next to him and caught his elbow, balancing him, steadying him. Sam eased him back to the counter so he could lean there without touching any bruised surface. Dean hooked an arm over the countertop and let it bear some of his trembling weight. All Along the Watchtower faded into Purple Haze.

"Lucky guess." Dean breathed shallowly, willing the pain in his back to ease up, willing the sting in his chest to go away. "So, what's the story? You're his kids, aren't you?"

Dean saw Sam look from him to Kelly, waiting expectantly. He knew Sam had come to the same conclusion.

Kelly rubbed his hand over his face, pulling at his beard and twisting the tiny braids between his massive fingers. "How did you know?" he repeated.

"Because it's what they do, Kel," came Maxine's rough bar-voice from the back. "They're hunters."

Dean looked up and saw a half-opened door in the back of the store, Maxine leaning against the frame, her head mere inches from the top of the doorframe. He quickly looked over at Sam, who was watching Maxine.

"There's three of them. John, Dean, and Sam Winchester," she continued, stepping out of the doorway and walking toward them, her eyes shifting from Dean's haggard appearance to Sam standing ready, the 9mm held loosely but confidently in his left hand.

"You ain't left-handed, honey," she muttered, lifting a brow in a slight challenge.

"You want to take that chance?" Sam answered in a hard voice. Dean grinned at his brother's sass, then looked over at Kelly.

"We hunt evil," he said, pulling the big man's attention to him.

"Evil what?"

Dean lifted a shoulder. "Demons, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, zombies. If it's evil, we kill it."

He watched as Kelly and Maxine shared a look. Dean waited. He knew the answer would come with patience. Sometimes waiting just the right amount of time saved their lives. He unconsciously darted his tongue out to touch the cut on his lip.

"He rigged the house," Maxine said, looking back at Dean.

Dean nodded. "Yeah."

"But you got out?" Kelly asked, incredulous.

"Yeah," Dean repeated, unconsciously pressing his hand against his chest. "He thought he knew how to get us, but…"

"He knows what I know," Maxine interrupted.

"And what is that?" Sam chimed in.

"That you're wanted for desecrating grave sites, for credit card fraud, breaking and entering, and murder," she said, lifting a brow, shifting her eyes to Dean. "And that's just you, handsome."

Dean waved a hand at Sam, "Eh, he's harmless."

Sam shot him a glare.

"You here to kill him?" Kelly asked.

"Actually, we're here to get our car fixed," Dean said with a raised eyebrow. "Any chance that part came in?"

Kelly shook his head once.

Dean sighed. "Was afraid of that."

"You want us to kill him?" Sam asked. "I mean, he's your father."

Maxine snorted. "He stopped being our father when he figured out how to bring himself back from the dead and killed our mother."

Dean slid his eyes to Sam. "And we thought we had problems."

Sam frowned at him.

Purple Haze reached a crescendo, blaring from speakers too small to hold the sound of Jimi's guitar.

"Dude, seriously," Dean finally said. "What is with the music?"

"He can't hear us," Kelly answered.

"I can barely hear you," Dean retorted.

"No, the music, the guitar, something about it… he can't hear us, can't find us," Maxine supplied.

"Can't hear you over the music?" Dean lifted his arm from the counter and stepped away slowly, testing his legs. They trembled but held. The pounding in his head and the ache in his body didn't abate, but he could handle it.

Kelly nodded. "We figured it out when we were kids…"

Sam looked over at Dean. "Makes sense. Ultra-high frequencies can block spirits."

"Or give them a medium to communicate through," Dean muttered, lifting his eyes to Sam.

Sam grimaced.

"What does that mean?" Maxine asked, shifting her eyes between the brothers.

Sam sighed. "He might be listening to you—"

"What?" Kelly cried. "No… no that's impossible."

Dean looked from one sibling to the other. Almost half their lives, gone. Lived in the same town, under the evil rule of the crazed spirit of their father.

"He always leaves us alone… he never comes in when we play the music." Maxine shook her head.

Dean looked down. "'Cause he's listening. Like a… spirit spy."

Maxine looked at her brother. Kelly blinked twice and swallowed. He reached across the counter and shut off Hendrix just as Wild Thing began. He looked back at his sister with a scared expression that seemed out of place on his intimidating face.

Dean shook his head. In some ways, the twins were fifty year-old children. Dean looked at Sam. His brother was half their age and yet so much older. He'd lived five lifetimes in his twenty-three years. And if Dean couldn't do his job… if he couldn't save Sam from whatever The Demon had planned…

"What?" Sam had caught him staring.

He shook his head. "Nothing." He looked back at Kelly and Maxine. "He's not a normal spirit, your father."

Kelly shrugged. "What's a normal spirit?"

Dean saw Sam actually smile at that.

"Well, for one, he's corporeal," Sam said.

Kelly tilted his head again, and Dean couldn't help but picture a big, confused bear. "Cor-what?"

"Corporeal," Dean repeated. "He's solid. He has a form. He can touch things."

"He did that on purpose," Maxine said. "I heard him. He wanted a way to…stay in control."

"Dean," Sam said suddenly. "Gimme the keys."

"Keys?"

"To the Impala."

"The broken Impala?"

"Dude, just gimme the damn keys!" Sam slid his eyes over to Dean.

"Fine!" Dean dug into the pocket of his jeans, pulled out the keys, and tossed them to Sam.

He watched in puzzled amazement as Sam pivoted and ran to the car. Dean mirrored Kelly and Maxine as they all leaned sideways to look out the doorway and watch Sam climb into the passenger side of the car, fish around in the glove compartment, pull out a leather-bound book, and close and lock the car, then come sprinting back. The trio straightened at the same time when Sam burst back inside.

"What?" Sam asked, slightly out of breath from his quick sprint, seeing them all staring at him.

Dean spread his ams wide. "The hell, Sam?"

"Dad's journal, man." Sam waved it in front of Dean's face.

Dean dropped his hands. "Oh." He swallowed. How did I forget that? For over a year, he marked his life by that book. And he'd left it behind. "Oh," he said again.

Sam was furiously flipping through the book. He stopped on the page he was looking for, turned the book and showed Dean. "He's a revenant."

"A what?" Kelly and Maxine asked in unison.

"Shit," Dean breathed at the same time.

Sam shifted his eyes up to the dark-haired siblings. "He's a spirit that can take corporeal form." He looked down, reading from the journal. "Revenants typically have a goal, a purpose. They resemble a zombie or a vampire, but can switch from corporeal to spirit form at will."

"How do you… kill this… reverend?" Kelly asked.

"Revenant," Sam corrected. "You can weaken it in corporeal form with concecrated iron rounds…"

"Which we just so happen to have," Dean interrupted.

"But you kill it same as any spirit. Salt and burn the bones."

"Bones?"

Dean shifted his eyes to Maxine. "Yeah," he said. "Where's he buried?"

The siblings shared a look. Dean felt ice form in his belly as he watched Maxine pale and Kelly swallow.

"What?" he asked, his voice laced with dread.

"We, uh… we don't know," Maxine said, pulling her eyes from her brother and looking down at Dean. "Our mother buried him."

"And didn't tell you where?"

"We were just kids," Kelly protested. "Five-year-olds. She was trying to protect us."

Dean tapped the air. "Okay, okay, we get it." He looked at Sam. "Can't be too far from the house, though," he reasoned. "No way she was carrying him."

Sam nodded.

"She kept a diary," Maxine said suddenly.

"Yeah?" Sam asked. "You have it?"

Maxine shook her head. "It's still in the house."

"Of course it is," Dean sighed. He reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Got any idea where?"

"Her room. Fifth floor, west wing," Maxine said immediately.

"Fifth floor," Dean repeated slowly, looking at Sam.

"Think he rigged the whole house?" Sam pondered, watching Dean's eyes.

Dean knew if he looked anything close to how he felt, Sam was going to suggest he go after this thing alone.

"Guess we'll find out," Dean said. He looked Kelly. "You got any aspirin?"

Kelly moved quickly behind the counter. He grabbed a bottle and popped the top off with his thumb, handing it and an unopened bottle of water from the cooler behind him to Dean.

"Thanks," Dean said, ignoring Sam's stare. He quickly swallowed four with a large gulp of water.

"You need a… bandaid or something?" Kelly asked innocently.

Dean almost laughed out loud. "I'm okay, but I could use a towel, wash some of this blood off."

Kelly jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Back there. Washroom. Help yourself."

Dean made his way to the back room and splashed water on his face, cleaning the cuts there as best he could. Once the blood was gone, they didn't look so bad. He pulled up the shrapnel-peppered T-shirt and winced at the sight of his chest. It looked like he'd walked sideways into a bed of nails. He used the semi-clean towel hanging on the bar above the sink and carefully washed out the wounds with soap and water. Pulling down the T-shirt, he buttoned his outer shirt and looked at his reflection. Almost couldn't tell he'd just been blown up.

Almost.

He walked back to the main room with Sam's eyes on him. Dean looked back, his face carefully blank, his walk steady.

"You ready to take on Amityville, Sammy?"

Sam smiled a secret smile, a knowing smile. The one that he gave Dean when what he really wanted to say was you're not Superman, you don't have to do this, but you're my brother and I'd follow you to Hell and back.

"Here, Kelly," Sam said suddenly as he set the 9mm on the counter and picked up the shotguns, handing one to Dean.

Kelly looked up from behind the counter. He blanched when he saw the brothers watching him expectantly. Dean knew they would be going into this fight alone, just as they did every fight. But he could tell Sam had been hoping for some backup in the form of a giant.

"You're not coming with us, are you?" Sam asked, somewhat sadly, as though he were slowly becoming disappointed with people in general allowing them to take the hits, allowing them to put themselves in danger, allowing them to risk death just so peace could exist another day.

Maxine shook her head. "We can't go back to that house."

"Why?"

"If I leave… who's gonna warn people off?" Kelly looked at his sister. "And besides… Mom… Mom said not to." The childlike words sounded strange in the low rumble of his voice.

Sam sighed and looked at his brother. "Guess we're on our own."

Dean nodded, his eyes slowly traveling from Kelly's stricken expression down the counter and across the casette tapes and videos stacked on the shelf next to the cash register.

"You guys haven't left this town for forty years, but you got casettes and movies?" Dean asked, his eyes on the different titles of the videos.

Maxine chuckled mirthlessly. "We got microwaves and dishwashers, too," she said. "It's Silas's town, kid. He's in control."

Kelly nodded once. "He wants it, he gets it. Technology came to Wells, it just never went very far."

Sam shook his head. "And no one's crossed him… not in all this time?"

Maxine shook her head. "No one's ever been foolish enough or brave enough…" She shifted her eyes to Dean's battered face. "Until now."

Dean's eyes caught on a copy of Tombstone. He grinned and pulled it out, showing it to Sam.

"You tell 'em I'm comin'," he quoted. "And hell's comin' with me."

Sam returned his grin and shifted the shotgun barrel to rest on his shoulder. "Let's go get this son of a bitch," he said.

www

"When we get out of this town," Dean grumbled, wiping sweat from his forehead as they trudged back up the hill toward the house, "I'm never walking anywhere again."

Sam just shook his head with a small smile. He was loading the concecrated iron rounds they'd retrieved from the Impala into the shotgun. Dean watched him, shifting the small pack of lighter fluid, matches, and ammo into a more comfortable position on his shoulder. He was having a slight problem walking in a straight line. His chest ached and his vision blurred with every other step.

Sam noticed. "Want me to take that?"

Dean shook his head. "I got it," he said.

"Dean, are—"

"Sam, I swear, if you ask me one more time—"

"Well, you should see yourself!"

"I'm fine, okay?"

Sam cocked the shotgun like a curse. "I'm gonna have that put on your tombstone. No, really, I'm fine."

"Funny." Dean slid his eyes sideways as they stopped at the base of the stairs. "Think we should find a back door?"

"That way could be rigged, too."

Dean nodded. "Good point." He let his eyes scan the front of the house.

"What if we go through a window?" Sam said.

"Seriously?"

Sam shrugged. "You got a better idea?"

Dean blinked and lazily looked over at Sam. "Sam, at this point, pushing the Impala down the road to the next town sounds like a better idea to me."

"Okay, so we'll go through a window."

"Works for me." Dean nodded and motioned with his head to the side window.

He looked for a latch and realized it was one solid pane of glass. With a glance at Sam, who shrugged back in reply, Dean blocked his face with one arm and used the butt of the shotgun to punch out the window. When he'd cleared enough glass so they wouldn't get cut, Dean eased the shotgun through the window.

"What are you doing?" Sam asked, confused by the sweeping gestures his brother was making with the shotgun.

"Checking for motion sensors," Dean answered. "Technology came to Wells, right?"

"Are you serious?"

"I'm not taking any chances with you, Sam," Dean said without thinking.

Sam jerked his head at him in surprise. "What?"

"Forget it, looks clear, let's go." Dean swung his leg over the sill and eased inside.

Sam followed, equally cautious. They both knew booby traps could be under floorboards, the shift of weight triggering them like land mines. They moved carefully, watching for trip wires at their ankles and for anything that might come swinging at their heads. Sam leaned close to Dean, keeping his eyes up, searching.

"I think we might be clear," he said.

"Fifth floor, dude," Dean reminded him. "Long way to go."

The interior of the house was dim, the only light coming from the large windows flanking the front door and running the height and length of the house. The entryway was marked with blackened shadows from the explosion, and there was a faint, familiar scent of gunpowder in the air.

The front room ran the width of the house, with broken, dirty furniture on either side in piles like someone had once used them to try to barricade the door and they'd been shoved aside. The dual staircases wound their way up, twisting across each other so they created a center point. Sam and Dean looked up and saw a large chandelier at the very top of the house, centered between the staircases.

"Here goes nothin'," Dean said, still looking up.

The started up the stairs, Dean a half step ahead of Sam, shotguns out, eyes darting quickly trying to catch any movements.

First floor. Second floor. Third floor.

As they reached the stairs for the fourth floor, Dean felt the ache-to-the-bone cold creep over him, and he looked back at Sam. He could tell by the muscle that jumped in his brother's jaw he felt the same thing.

They continued up the stairs and, as they reached the fourth floor landing, Dean cocked the shotgun, looking left, then right, pivoting toward the final staircase.

"You've been talking with my children," came a voice from the shadows above them. "Not very sporting of you. I so enjoyed listening to their little secrets and lies…"

As he stepped from the shadows, Silas tapped his fingers together, a cold smile on his narrow face, his eyes like ice as they raked over Dean and landed on Sam. Sam stepped up next to Dean, pointed his shotgun at Silas, and shifted frantic eyes to his brother. Dean simply stood where he was, gun held low across his waist, staring at Silas.

"I don't get it," he finally said.

"I'm afraid I don't follow."

"Why do it?"

Silas stepped further from the shadows, cold eyes raking over Sam, then coming back to rest on Dean. "I would have thought you would understand," he said, his voice flowing through the air like oil over water.

"Understand what?" Dean's face twisted into an expression of disgust. "That you killed yourself, your wife, this town… for some kind of dead-guy power?" He shook his head once. "No way. I'll never understand that."

"Really?" Silas' mouth slipped into a thin smile. "I simply made a trade for what I wanted most. You wouldn't trade anything to save him?" His eyes slid over to Sam, who hadn't moved.

Dean unconsciously shifted to the side, just in front of Sam. Sam adjusted the shotgun so it was still aimed at Silas but was over Dean's shoulder.

"You leave him out of it," Dean growled.

He ignored Sam's shift. Ignored the shotgun that was now only a few inches off the side of his face. Ignored the logic that said the revenant was baiting him, triggering him, on purpose.

"That's it, isn't it?" Silas chuckled slightly. "If it weren't for your brother, you wouldn't even be here anymore. So they tell me."

"Shut the hell up," Dean snapped.

"Dean." Sam's voice was low, and Dean heard the worry, but also the request for permission.

He knew what Sam was asking him to do as though he could hear his brother's voice in his head. Dean felt the world slow for a moment. He blinked at Silas and stepped slightly to the side away from Sam. But just as Sam's finger squeezed the trigger of the shotgun, Silas vanished. The gun roared, and Dean clapped his hand over his ear in an automatic reaction. The iron rounds peppered the stairway wall where Silas had stood.

"Where the hell—"

The rattle of the large chandelier one floor above them drowned out the rest of Sam's sentence. They looked up at the same time just as the chandelier came crashing down, the crystals breaking, shattering, flinging glass bullets in every direction as it hit the stairway banisters on the way down.

"Shit! Sam, down!" Dean yelled, ducking, wrapping his arms around his head, curling up into a ball on the ground next to Sam as his brother followed suit. The noise of the chandelier hitting the floor four stories below was almost deafening.

"Go, go, go!" Dean pushed Sam in a crouched run up the last flight of stairs in front of him.

Just as they reached the top, they heard the echo of a laugh. Sam whirled and looked back at Dean, his dark eyes slightly wild. The laughter increased in volume until it shook inside Dean's chest.

"West wing," he said, running toward Sam, moving him beyond the stairway landing. Sam ran through the doorway that led to a series of rooms. Just before Dean crossed over the threshold, the door slammed in his face, cutting him off from Sam.

"Sam!" he yelled, pounding on the door. Faintly, he heard Sam's echoed cry of his name. "Sam, get the diary!" He heard Sam shout watch your back… and then he was gone.

Dean turned, pressing his back against the door, fisting his hands on the wood as if his body against the door would protect Sam from Silas. He looked around the empty, dimly lit landing. It was completely silent, save for his breathing.

He saw the cold before he felt it. His frantic puffs of breath condensed in front of his eyes. The cold seemed to seep from the door he was leaning against through his arms, into his chest, and wrapped around his heart.

It's all your fault…

He heard her voice, heard her. He looked to his right. Nothing. The cold seemed to grow, and he tried to step away from the door.

Dean couldn't move, couldn't pull his arms away, couldn't pull his head away. He'd felt this before. He'd felt this in the cabin. He felt this in his dream. His breath hitched, sped up. He blinked, his eyes burning. The shotgun clattered to the ground from his numb fingers.

It's all your fault…

"She does like to be difficult." Silas was suddenly standing in front of him.

He was so tall, that if he could have moved, Dean would have tilted his head up to glare into his cold silver eyes. As it was, he was forced to look up through his lashes.

"Who, your wife?"

"My Jenny," Silas said. He looked beyond Dean as though he could see through the door Dean was held against. "She was going to throw it away. Throw it all away. But she didn't know my connections."

"Your connections to demons, you mean," Dean ground out as the cold seeped into his neck, his jaw, made his ears ache. The cold was making him shake from the inside out.

Silas pressed his lips together in a thin line. "They have come through with their part of the bargain. I have to admit, I never thought I'd be able to pay them back so handsomely."

"With us?" Dean growled.

"With your brother," Silas murmured.

Dean's heart stopped. For a moment, he couldn't breathe. Then he felt the heat, the anger. Rage he hadn't felt since… since Meg. A desperate rage that shot through him from his heart to his head. He felt himself tremble with it, felt it burn his eyes. The muscles in his neck corded as he worked to pull his head from the door.

Silas raised a brow. "What are you trying to do, Dean Winchester?"

Dean didn't answer; he drew on the fire from his core, from his soul, and poured it into the effort of pulling his head away from that door.

"You do know where this power comes from," Silas murmured, tilting his head back and looking down his hooked nose at Dean. "You have felt this power before. I know you have."

Dean's head came away from the door with a harsh bob of muscles. He panted for a moment, then with his chin down, slowly lifted dangerous eyes to meet Silas's cold gaze. "You won't get him," Dean promised.

"I'll get what I want." Silas's voice was flat.

"You. Won't. Get. Him," Dean repeated, and began to move his arms away.

"What makes you think you can resist this? Their power is older than time. You cannot defeat them."

Dean didn't answer.

"I know you know that a deal is a deal," Silas murmured, his gaze flicking over Dean's form.

"You think I give a shit about your soul?" Dean panted.

"I think you know the dangers of a deal with a demon," Silas said in a thin voice. "I think you know they will collect."

Dean grinned a malicious grin. "Fuck if I care," he said, his voice rough from the superhuman effort of breaking the invisible hold on his body.

"They will collect on the town. They will collect on the people," Silas said, his eyes flinty, his arms crossed over his narrow frame.

Dean sneered, "What, you're protecting this town by giving the demons my brother?"

"Precisely."

"You don't give a shit about this town. Or the people."

"That's where you're wrong." Silas leaned closer, his eyes boring into Dean's. "They feed me. They give me power. She tried to stop that, but she failed. As will you."

The fire burned hotter, brighter inside of Dean. He felt the heat around his heart, in his eyes. He clenched his jaw with the effort it took to pull at his arms. He was trembling with the need to reach forward… just move his hand… just a bit…

"Dean!"

Sam's voice. From the other side of the door. God, no, Sam… not now, Dean thought desperately, working to keep Silas's attention on him, afraid for what could happen if Silas was able to get through him… get to Sam.

"Dean, I got it! Can you get the door open?"

"What does he have?" Silas lifted an eyebrow.

"Dean, listen," Sam yelled.

Dean didn't respond, focusing his energy into moving away from the door.

"Dean, Jennifer Wells—" Sam's voice was cut off abruptly.

Silas smiled at the sudden silence.

"What did you do to him?" Dean roared, still working to pull his arms from the door.

"I didn't do anything." Silas smiled a liquid-smooth smile that chilled the angry fire in Dean. "Perhaps my Jenny is in there and has finally learned her lesson. She knows we owe them… she knows if not for their… benevolence, she would be burning for all eternity." His eyebrow flicked once. "Though they tell me she wouldn't be alone."

Something snapped inside Dean. He felt the crack, heard it echo in his head, sensed the cavernous hollow suddenly inside him. With a gutteral growl, he pulled himself away from the invisible bonds holding him to the door and dove at Silas. The revenant let him come, let him get close enough to touch, to wrap his hands around its narrow throat.

The cold touch of Silas's skin burned Dean's hands. His rage-filled growl turned to a low howl of pain as the fiery cold traveled up his arms to his shoulders. He tried to let go, but the laugh that had overpowered thought moments before, echoed from Silas's black mouth and filled his head. Dean threw his head back, working to pull away, but the cold shook him, weakening him as much as the fire had strengthened him.

"A deal is a deal, Dean Winchester," the voice in his head murmured. "And I am not ready to go."

Dean tried to take a step back, tried to force his hands away, but his ears were ringing and he couldn't breathe and he was cold, so cold… The dark crept over the edge of his vision, the cold was taking over his body, extinguishing the fire. Then, suddenly, he felt the door open behind him.

"Dean!" Sam's voice carried warmth. Carried a promise. Carried salvation.

"Sam." The word was a gasp, a plea. And with that plea, he was released. Silas vanished, and Dean's arms dropped, his knees buckled, and he fell forward into the waiting darkness.

www

"No," Sam breathed as he saw the revenant vanish and Dean crumple in a heap. He stuffed Jennifer's diary into the interior pocket of his jacket and ran over to his brother, setting his shotgun down next to Dean's. He turned him over gently, noticing how cold his hands were. Pressing his fingers against Dean's equally cold neck, Sam felt his pulse, strong, steady. He lightly tapped Dean's face.

"Hey, man," he whispered. "You gotta stop doing this to me."

Dean came awake with a sudden startled gasp, his eyes wide, his hand reaching out in a hauntingly familiar gesture. Sam could feel him shaking, from cold, from effort, from fear.

"It's okay, it's okay, Dean." Sam held his shoulders, gripping them tightly. "Hey, I'm here."

"Sam?"

"Yeah, Sam. Who else would it be?"

Dean blinked and closed his eyes with a groan. "What did she do to you?"

"To me?"

"He said… he said Jenny…" Dean blinked his eyes open, seeming to realize he was almost lying in Sam's lap, and pushed himself away, working to sit up. Sam pressed a hand behind his shoulders, helping him balance.

"You stopped… stopped talking," Dean said. "Like something got you, right after you said her name."

Sam shook his head. "No, man, I was yelling at you the whole time. I was trying to get that damn door open."

Dean's eyebrows pulled together in confusion. Sam saw how pale he looked under the cuts from the blast, the dust from the house. "I couldn't hear you. He said she–"

Sam shook his head. "If she did anything, it was protect me. He's playing with us." He looked over his shoulder. He was crouched next to Dean, ready for Silas to appear. "It wasn't black magic like we thought, he—"

"Made a deal with a demon," Dean finished, rubbing at his eyes with the flat of his fingers.

"Yeah." Sam nodded, not even questioning how he knew. He could tell by just looking at Dean that Silas had been working him over from the inside out. "He stopped the progress of the town – no marriages, no children, no one leaves, no one comes." He watched Dean look at the floor, breathe, listen. "He kept control that way, and the longer he kept control, the longer he could stay corporeal. And, well, basically immortal. If someone doesn't do what he wants, he becomes weaker, more spirit-like."

"Talk about your power trips," Dean grumbled. He looked at Sam out of the corner of his eye. "What about Jenny? Why did he kill her?"

"That's just it," Sam said. "He didn't."

Dean's head jerked up, surprise evident on his face. "What?"

Sam pulled the diary out, shaking it. "She has entries in here for five years after he killed himself, after the deal with the demon."

"How?"

Sam shrugged. "She survived. She lived here, in this house."

"But –"

"She killed herself, after she made her own deal."

Dean lifted a brow. "Seems like there's a lot of demons in Wyoming," he muttered.

Sam shook his head. "Same one." He flipped the diary to the last entry. "Says here—"

The shriek that shot through the landing made them both duck instinctively.

Sam shut the diary and, crouching low, stuck it into his jacket. "C'mon," he said, his hands on Dean's shoulder, lifting him. He pulled the shotguns to him, handing one to Dean. They stood, hurrying to the stairs.

"Let's get out of here. We got what we–"

The force came from behind in a frigid rush of air. Before Sam knew what hit him, he was launched through the air, tumbling down the stairs, striking each as he fell.

The landing at the base of the stairs rushed up to meet him.

www

Dean watched, shocked, as Sam bounced and tumbled, landing in a too-still heap at the base of the stairs, his gun flying from his grip and sailing over the banister to land four floors below.

I'll get what I want… The voice seem to surround him and echo inside him at the same time. Dean whirled around, looking, searching. The landing was empty.

"Show yourself, you fucking coward," he yelled at the emptiness.

It's all your fault, the woman's voice whispered.

Dean shook his head once. "Stop!" he yelled. Sam groaned below him. "Sammy…"

Things were moving too fast, and he wasn't moving fast enough. He took the stairs two at a time, his head pounding with each footfall, his breath coming in harsh gasps. Sam was rolling to his side, working to sit up when Dean reached the bottom.

"Wait, easy, easy," he said as he crouched low next to his brother, hand on his shoulder, holding him down gently.

"Ouch," Sam muttered, gingerly rubbing his head, rotating his neck. There was a two-inch gash on his forehead and the blood that had been flowing back into his tangled hair started to run down the side of his face.

"Are you broken?" Dean's quick, practiced fingers started to check his shoulders, neck, arms, ribs.

"No," Sam said, holding his right hand up and looking at his cast. There was a smear of red on the back. "I think I hit myself—"

"He's mine, Winchester." The voice shook them, and Dean stumbled forward into Sam a little, his head spinning. Sam instinctively reached up and braced him. He sat forward slowly, his hand still on Dean, looking around.

"What is it?" Sam asked.

"He wants you, Sam," Dean whispered, looking up at the top of the staircase where he'd last seen Silas. He shook his head, working to clear the cobwebs, and searched the ever-increasing darkness for the corporeal ghost.

"Wants me?" Sam blinked, standing with Dean's help. He reached for his head, wavering a moment as he got his balance. Dean stepped forward on the landing toward the staircase that led to the third floor. He held his shotgun in front of him, low in a loose two-handed grip.

"Yeah—that's his part of the deal." Dean looked back to make sure Sam was right behind him. "Guess the demon was waiting to collect until it saw something it thought was… worth it."

"Swell," Sam whispered. "What, is there some sort of… demonic newsletter letting them know that I'm a commodity?"

"You know the price," Silas said, suddenly in front of Dean, blocking his path. "You know the price for dealing with a demon."

"Told you already," Dean said with a shake of his head. "I don't give a sh—"

"You will," Silas roared, his silver eyes molten, his pale face translucent, his figure trembling. "You will not deny me. You will not deny them."

Sam stepped slightly to the right of Dean. "That's where you're wrong," Sam said, his voice cold, dangerous. "We've been denying them our whole lives."

Silas's anger flashed at them like a stab of ice, and Dean flinched from the cold, hearing Sam also gasp in reflex. Silas took one step toward Sam, and Dean didn't even think. He pulled the trigger on the shotgun, still held low, and the revenant took the full load of concecrated iron rounds dead center. The spirit's scream of anger bowed them, both reaching up to protect their ears. Dean's hold on the shotgun slipped, and he tightened his grip.

It's all your fault

"Stop!" Dean yelled. "Stop it!"

"Dean, what—?" Sam didn't get to finish.

Silas reappeared with a roar and launched at them. Dean brought the shotgun up, but Silas was too fast, too close. He hit the shotgun from Dean's hands with such force that Dean staggered.

Silas came at him again, the speed of the blows he rained down on Dean's face too fast for either brother to see. Dean backed up, throwing his hands up in defense as the hot slices of ice-cold pain slammed into his shoulders, hands, then, finally, his chest, the thrust propelling him back harshly into Sam.

Sam slammed against the banister when Dean's bulk hit him dead center. Caught off guard, Sam tipped, having time only to gasp and reach out his left hand as he fell backward over the edge of the fourth-floor landing.

Dean reacted on pure instinct. Feeling Sam fall, hearing his gasp, he thrust out his right hand, grabbing Sam's reaching arm at the wrist.

But it was too late. Sam was already going over.

His weight, and the blows that had already knocked Dean off balance, pulled Dean over the edge with him. With one last desperate motion, Dean's left hand wrapped around one of the wooden spindles holding up the banister. He held fast, instinctively tightening his grip as Sam's fall completed and the entire weight of his 6'4" frame jerked at the end of Dean's arm, pulling his shoulder from the socket with a sickening lurch and audible pop.

Dean screamed.

Sweat broke out all over his body, and a cold shiver of pain spread through him. But he didn't let go of the spindle. He couldn't feel his right hand and, with blurring vision, looked down at Sam's terrified face as they dangled four stories above the shattered remains of the crystal chandelier by just the strength of Dean's grip.

"Dean—" Sam's voice was strained. Looking down at him, Dean could see he'd felt the pull, heard the pop. He knew Sam realized his weight was hanging from Dean's dislocated shoulder.

Dean was panting, puffing breaths through clenched teeth. A muscle in his cheek trembled. He grit his teeth, trying to hold back the groan of anguish that tore through him, worked to weaken him further. He could suddenly feel each bruise on his body from the bar fight, each cut on his face from the explosion.

"Dean—" Sam tried again, trying to hold himself as still as possible so he didn't cause more damage.

"I'll get what I want, Dean Winchester." The voice was faint. Dean blinked hard, looking down, past Sam. Silas stood on the ground floor. Waiting. Waiting for Dean to fail. Waiting for Sam to fall. Waiting to appease his demons.

"You…can't…have… him," Dean panted through clenched teeth, his entire body shaking.

"Dean," Sam's voice was whisper-soft. With effort, Dean shifted his eyes to his baby brother's pale, bleeding face. "Let me go."

"No," Dean ground out, trying to tighten the fingers on his right hand. He couldn't move them. He couldn't move his hand. He realized that the only thing keeping Sam with him was Sam's grip. Instant terror seized him; the minute Sam realized that, he'd let go. "No, Sam."

"Dean, I'm pulling you apart," Sam almost whimpered.

"I can't," Dean ground out.

Darkness was beginning to collect at the corner of his vision. His left hand started to cramp. He couldn't get enough breath into his lungs, and his right arm was beyond pain, beyond agony.

"Dean, please…" Sam's voice wavered, and Dean heard his tears.

No, Sam, please… "S-swing to the stairs," he gasped.

"What?"

"S-swing," Dean said again, pinning Sam with his eyes, willing him to understand.

Sam shifted his gaze to the staircase just out of reach. He looked back up at Dean. "No! No. That would –"

"S-swing, Sam."

Sam's eyes darted to their clasped wrists, and Dean realized he knew. Sam's eyes shifted to his.

"Don't you do it, Sam," he said, his voice low and steady, his eyes hot.

"Dean—"

"Don't you fuckin' let go." Dean swallowed.

Emotion, for one moment unrestrained, flooded his eyes, his face. Every doubt, every fear, every wish, every moment of pain, every thought of the past, every hope for the future poured from their hiding place deep inside him into his eyes as he pinned Sam with his gaze.

"Sam," Dean's voice trembled. "Y-you c-can't let go."

"This is killing you," Sam whispered, tears thick in his voice.

"I got nothin' if you let go," Dean admitted, his voice barely audible, his body shaking. "S-swing, Sam."

Sam swallowed, blinked. He turned his head toward the staircase, took a breath, and propelled his body toward the railing. Dean's scream of pain tore through the house.

Sam caught the banister with his foot on the first try. Using his broken brother as a rope, he pulled himself to safety, getting his leg over the banister, getting his balance, and releasing Dean.

The relief from the loss of Sam's weight was dizzying. Dean's vision swam, and he panted through the pain. He couldn't see Sam, so he twisted his heavy head so he could meet his brother's eyes. Sam's image blurred, but Dean could see him, safe, on the stairs, reaching out for him.

"Hang on, Dean," Sam was saying. "Hang on, man, I'm going back up."

"Sam," Dean said weakly.

"I'm going back up," Sam repeated, starting to move.

Dean wanted to hold on. He wanted to wait for Sam. He had a job to do. Watch out for Sammy… He had to save him–

"I will not be denied, Winchester," Silas's voice boomed from below.

"Hurry, S-sam."

His left hand cramped. His right arm throbbed. He was tired… so tired… Sam was gone. He couldn't see him anymore. You took care of Sammy, you took care of me… you did that… and you didn't complain, not once. I wanted to do it, Dad. I needed to. Where was Sam? Why couldn't he see Sam? God, he hurt. Maybe if he just let go…

Something strong and warm clamped down on his left wrist. Dean blinked at the odd, comforting sensation. Tipping his head back as if it weighed 100 pounds, he looked up. Sam. Sam was there. His arm was through the spindles on the banister, holding his wrist.

"I got you. I got you, just… just hang on," Sam said.

Dean looked at him. Wondered. What if… what if he let go? What if it were over? Today. Now. Would he join his father in Hell? Would he see his mother in Heaven? Would he suffer for not saving Sam? Or would he sleep forever… sleep…

"Dean! Dean, don't close your eyes. Hey, I need your help, okay? I need you to help me get you up."

"Don' need me, Sammy," Dean said, blinking his blurry eyes at his brother. His strong brother. His smart brother. His powerful brother. I want you to watch out for Sammy, okay? Yeah, Dad, you know I will.

"I always need you, Dean," Sam was saying.

Dean focused on him, working to hold on… just a minute more.

www

Sam was leaning over the railing, his legs spread, feet wedged into spaces to brace himself. "Dean, I just need you to hold on so I can… so I can get you up here." He clenched his jaw with the effort of pulling Dean's weight toward him.

Gripping Dean's left wrist, Sam noted the dimming light in his brother's eyes, noted the complete slack of his body. He pulled the resolute grasp of his brother's fingers from the spindle, chanting that's it, easy, I got you, I got you

He worked Dean's left arm hand over hand, his cast working against him, making the job exponentially more difficult, and pulled him up the banister toward him until he could get a grasp under his left shoulder.

Dean cried out when Sam touched his right shoulder, and he moved his grip to his brother's right side. He shifted Dean's lax weight against his chest, backing away from the banister in a staggered motion until he'd pulled Dean's legs over the edge and the shift of weight toppled him to the ground, Dean in a heap in his arms.

"Sam," Dean whispered through clenched teeth.

His face was covered in sweat, his right arm at an odd angle to the rest of his body, his body shaking, his left palm bruised. He blinked heavy eyes at Sam, jaw trembling. Sam shifted him in his arms, and Dean suddenly looked over Sam's shoulder. His eyes widened.

"He's behind you," he said as loud as his stretched lungs would let him.

Sam felt a quick flash of panic and anger, then he released Dean, straightened, and turned, his arms up and warding off the swift blows of Silas's cold anger. Sam ducked below a frigid swing and grabbed Dean's discarded shotgun.

As he rose, he cocked the gun and pulled the trigger, advancing as he did so. Once. Twice. The revenant screamed in angry pain and jerked with each blow. He vanished just as Sam pulled the trigger a third time, once again peppering the wall with iron rounds.

"Attaboy," Dean muttered from the ground.

Sam dropped the shotgun and turned back to his brother, crouching and carefully shifting Dean's shaking, battered body into his lap. Dean lacked the strength to pull away. He gasped as the pain of movement hit him, but kept his eyes open.

Sam pressed his hand on top of Dean's head, tucking it protectively under his chin. "You're okay, Dean. You're okay."

"Thanks," Dean whispered, "f-for not letting go."

"I wasn't going to let go," Sam said, feeling his brother tremble. Watching the anguish play across his face.

"You almost did," Dean whispered, blinking rapidly, willing away the darkness.

"I won't, okay?" Sam promised, watching Dean's eyes, watching the emotions there. Watching as something undefinable crossed Dean's face.

"God, Sam," Dean whispered, his back tightening as he resisted the urge to close his eyes, to give in, his lips twitching as he forced the words out. "I can't…"

"What? What do you mean?"

Dean blinked hard, averting his eyes, hiding what Sam could almost see lurking there. Sam searched his face. Looking for something. Waiting. He watched as Dean clamped down on his trembling jaw, blinked again, and shook his head as his brother once again forced the emotion from his eyes.

"Help me up, Sammy," he said. "W-we have to –"

"Dean," Sam half-sobbed. "Please… let me help you with this... Why can't you just let me help you?"

Dean looked away. Sam knew if he were able to move, he'd pull away. He'd walk down those stairs, forcing Sam to follow. He'd walk out the door, close it behind them. For the first time since Dean had come to get him at Stanford, Sam could see he was willing to turn his back on a hunt, willing to leave this town to its dark fate.

And he didn't understand why, what had happened that had marked his brother so deeply that he was willing to abandon the one thing that Sam thought kept Dean going. Even after Dad…

Dean looked back at Sam. Sam's lips pressed tight, seeing the way his brother's freckles stood out against his pale skin, making him look younger than his years, younger than their life ever let him be.

"I can't," Dean whispered. Sam felt his muscles tense, felt him pull in on himself. "I can't, Sam."

Before Sam could stop him, Dean tried to sit up, tightening his stomach muscles to pull himself forward. He shifted slightly, working to move away from Sam. The movement caused Dean to gasp sharply, all color draining from his face, and Sam gripped him tightly as his eyes rolled back in his head and he bonelessly collapsed back against his brother.

He didn't hear Sam's sob, didn't feel his body pulled gently against Sam's chest, didn't feel the press of a forehead against his, didn't hear the teary question of Why? Why can't you trust me with this? Why do you have to carry it alone?


 

Chapter 3

To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other's hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.

Clara Ortega

www

They had what they'd come after.

Sam knew where Silas' grave was. Where Jenny had dragged her husband's body after sending her children away in tears. Where she'd made her own deal to protect them, protect the town, at the sacrifice of her own soul.

Sam knew how to defeat the revenant, save the town, defeat this evil. The problem was that he'd stopped caring the minute he felt Dean's arm give way, the minute he heard his brother's scream of pain. From that moment, it ceased to be about doing what was right and became about doing what was necessary.

Sam clumsily gained his footing, supporting Dean's weight against him. When he got his balance, he shifted Dean forward so he could slide him up and over his shoulder. Standing slowly and adjusting Dean's weight equally over his shoulders, Sam realized he couldn't hold Dean and pick up the shotgun.

"Screw it," he muttered, turning toward the stairs.

If Silas came, he came. Sam was getting his brother out. The stairs were an awkward, painfully cautious descent, but Sam hooked his cast through Dean's legs and gripped his brother's arm, holding him close and steady. Third floor, second floor, first floor… the door was directly in front of him. He only had to cross the empty room, across the millions of shards of shattered crystal chandelier.

A lounge chair flew across the room toward Sam, and it was only instinct that had him jumping back and avoiding the hit. The jump, however, threw him off balance, and he dropped Dean in a tangled heap behind him, twisting so the fall wasn't far.

"Dammit," Sam growled, looking over his shoulder at the empty expanse of the destroyed entryway. "You aren't gonna win!" he yelled.

"All I have to do is give you to them and I live forever." The voice was practically on top of him.

Sam whipped his head up and saw Silas standing just on the other side of Dean. Too close to him. Before Sam could move, Silas reached down for Dean, pulling his slack body away by his injured.

"No!" Sam was striding toward the revenant, following him as he dragged his brother across the shattered crystals, Dean's jacket the only thing keeping him from getting cut to ribbons. "You're not taking him."

"I don't want him." Silas's smile was slick. "I want you."

Sam's eyes caught on something Silas had missed—just to his left in the pile of crystal shards. His shotgun.

"So what did you do, Silas?" Sam asked suddenly, trying to ignore the fact Silas held Dean's dislocated arm in his claw-like fingers. "Did you bargain the town for your soul? Did you bargain Jenny?"

Silas lifted his lip in a sneer. "She didn't play fair," he said.

"She made her own deal," Sam countered. "She protected her children from you; she protected the town, too, for a while."

It's all your fault, the sad voice echoed through the house.

Silas's head jerked up, looking for the source. Sam took advantage of his distraction and dropped to the ground, picking up the shotgun. At the same instant, the doors behind him were kicked open with enough force that one came off its hinges and fell to the ground inside the room.

Sam instinctively ducked and held his breath, waiting for the explosion. Instead, there were three quick bangs. He looked up to see Silas jerk violently, holding Dean's arm for the first hit, dropping it for the second two.

When Silas didn't scream in angry pain, Sam realized he'd been hit by regular bullets. Sam leaned back, lifted up his shotgun, and fired twice. This time, the scream echoed through the house and the revenant vanished.

Sam swallowed, then looked over his shoulder to see Kelly standing in the doorway framed by the red-gold of the setting sun, his 9mm smoking, a dangerous look in his eyes. He tipped his head down to look at Sam sitting in the middle of the shattered chandelier with the shotgun across his lap, Dean lying near him.

"Better late than never, right?"

Sam nodded, relief flowing over him like a wave. He turned back to Dean, rolling him gently to his back. Dean's breathing was rapid, his pulse strong, but he looked too pale, too still.

"Can you help me?" Sam asked, unsure if his own battered body could pick up Dean's muscle again.

Kelly took a breath and stepped into the house he hadn't been inside for over forty years. Sam watched a journey of emotions traverse the big man's face, leaving tracks in their wake. He remembered seeing that expression before. On Dean's face as they sat outside the house in Lawrence. The house of his youth. The house of his greatest pain.

Sam heard a sound, a rush of air that could only be a sigh. Kelly heard it, too, and looked up and around.

It's all your fault.

The voice was so filled with sorrow that Sam's gut clenched as he looked at Kelly, his hands resting on Dean's chest, trying in vain to still his brother's shaking.

"It's her," Kelly whispered. "God, that's her, isn't it? My mother."

Sam swallowed and nodded. "Do you know who she's talking to?"

"Nobody," Kelly said, still looking around the room. "I said that."

"You?"

"I said that to her… the night he died… the night she sent us away…"

Sam pressed his lips together, feeling the pain roll off the giant man. Dean trembled under his hands. "Um, Kelly, I really need to get my brother out of here," he said.

Kelly blinked, then looked down at the brothers. Without another word, he stepped forward, crunching the crystal shards beneath his heavy boots. He leaned down and, with surprising gentleness, picked Dean up into his arms. Dean's head rolled back and hung from the crook of Kelly's elbow.

"He needs a doctor," Sam started, pushing himself slowly to his feet. His entire body ached. His heart ached. He hurt to his soul.

"I got someplace we can take him," Kelly said softly, looking down at the battered hunter in his arms with something close to affection. "C'mon," he jerked his head. "Let's get the hell outta Dodge."

Sam followed him from the house, unable to hide his tired grin at those familiar words.

www

"Uh, Kelly? This is a vet's office."

"That it is."

Sam had followed Kelly down the darkened street, eerie with the lack of streetlights, illuminated by the half-light of the moon and the pinpricks of stars in the blanketed sky. Dean hadn't made a sound, hadn't moved once during the trek down the hill and through part of the town. Not even when they paused at Maxine's Sleep-Inn for Kelly to kick the base of the door in lieu of knocking and ask Maxine to come with them.

They stood in front of a small building, Maxine leaning close in the darkness while she unlocked the door, Dean slack and silent in Kelly's large arms, Sam swaying from pain and exhaustion. The bag of lighter fluid, matches, and ammo was slung over his shoulder.

Sam shook his head. "You don't have a… a clinic? A doctor's office?"

Maxine finally got the door unlocked, pulled it open, and stepped back so Kelly could move sideways through the door with his burden.

"Did once," she said. "Doctor died."

Sam's eyebrows pulled together in puzzlement as he followed Kelly in. "What do you do when you get sick? Or hurt?"

Maxine shrugged, following them in, turning on the lights. "We take care of it ourselves, or we don't."

Sam looked at her, incredulous.

She met his stare with bleak eyes. "If you have no hope for a future and nothing really to live for, you're not gonna fight real hard to survive," she said.

Sam tipped his chin up, absorbing that, and followed the siblings through the barren clinic. There were empty glass cabinents and crates lining clean, white walls. Supplies of all sorts adorned the walls: shovels, spades, farming implements, shelves of ammo, and two different rows of shotguns and rifles. Sam shook his head, the abnormality of this town never being more obvious to him than in that moment.

"Why aren't there any animals here?"

Maxine looked briefly over her shoulder at him. "Nobody keeps pets anymore, kid."

Sam nodded and let them lead him back to an exam room. The tall metal table that was usually used for the examination of dogs and cats had been pushed to the back of the room and was being used to store various bottles of medicines and antiseptics. A narrow bed, raised up for easy access to a patient, was in the center of the room.

"You…what, consolidated?" Sam asked, thinking of the random assortment of supplies and materials in the front room.

"Pretty much," Maxine said, pulling a pillow from an overhead cabinet and placing it on the bed as Kelly lay Dean down.

Sam set the bag on the floor and walked over to the other side of the bed, looking down at his brother. He and Kelly eased Dean out of his jacket. Dean's face fisted in pain at the movement, and he uttered a low groan of protest, but didn't wake.

Sam watched the pain capture his brother's face, thinking he'd seen this far too often in his lifetime. The scattering of freckles across Dean's nose stood out. The exhausted bruising of the skin under his eyes was shadowed by his lashes. His mouth was closed, lips pressed together so that even unconscious, he looked as though he were holding on to something… something he couldn't share… not even with Sam.

"He's not dead, is he?" Kelly asked.

Sam's head jerked up, surprised. It took him several seconds to realize Kelly was talking about Silas and not Dean.

"No," Sam said. "We just weakened him." He looked back down. "Dean wouldn't give in… fought him…"

"Pissed him off," Maxine muttered as she pulled the metal table over. "He's gonna come looking for us."

Sam nodded, gripping the side of the bed as his vision wavered. "Hey," he said suddenly as Maxine approached Dean with a pair of scissors. "What the hell are you doing?"

"I called Nate before we got here, but we should start without him," Maxine said, pausing with the scissors poised over Dean's chest.

"Who the hell is Nate?"

"The vet."

"You called a vet to take care of my brother?" Sam was incredulous.

Maxine lifted a brow, staring coolly at Sam. "It's him or us. You pick."

Sam blinked. He was having a hard time keeping his balance, and he gripped the edge of the bed tighter. His head was pounding, and there were more than a few bruises making themselves known along his back and arms from his fall down the stairs.

"Hey, Sam," Kelly said suddenly. "You okay?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, I just—" He stopped when the room tilted. "Whoa."

Maxine kicked a chair over to him in one fluid motion. "Sit down before you fall down, kid."

Sam immediately sank into the chair, putting his head level with Dean's. Maxine stepped up to his side of the bed, laid a cool hand on the back of his neck and gently pushed him forward until his head was between his knees. Sam closed his eyes as the rolling nausea that threatened to swamp him.

"Just breathe, Sam," Maxine's voice was strangely soft, almost motherly. Her touch was feather-light on the back of his neck, trailing to the side of his face, her palm resting on his cheek and he found himself leaning into it. "You're okay."

"I know," Sam whispered. "I just need a minute."

Sam pulled in another breath, steadying himself and when Maxine pulled her hand away, he cautiously raised his head and looked at Dean, half-expecting to see his brother's eyes resting on him. His gut clenched at the still form and pain-laced features.

Maxine regarded Sam another moment, then turned to the bed and unbuttoned Dean's outer shirt, then began cutting both it and his T-shirt off from the waist to his neck, then across both shoulders. Sam winced, his stomach twisting painfully at the sight of Dean's shoulder. There was a large knot of the joint jutting out to the right of his collarbone.

"Can you set it?" Sam asked, watching Maxine's face tighten.

"Not without help," she said, then looked up at Kelly.

"I'm here," Kelly said softly, stepping up next to his sister. "What do I need to do?"

Maxine chewed her bottom lip, her eyes sweeping over Dean's pale face, marked from the blast, his chest flecked with tiny cuts, the bruise on his arm from the bar fight, and his hands.

Sam just noticed his hands.

"God, Dean," he whispered, gently picking up his brother's bruised left hand.

It looked like he'd beaten it against a brick wall. Sam turned it over and rested the bruised and bloody knuckles in his own hand, gently unfolding the curled fingers to look at the red, torn skin of his palm where Dean had held them, saved them.

"Maxine!" A voice called from the front of the clinic.

"Back here!" she hollered.

Sam looked up as a stranger walked into the room. He was of average height but looked tiny as he stopped next to Kelly. His white hair was cut short and his eyes were a crystal blue. He blinked, surprised, at Dean on the bed, then over at Sam sitting next to it.

"What the hell happened here?"

"They, uh, fought him," Kelly rumbled.

"Him? Him who?" Nate the vet looked from Kelly to Maxine, then back to Sam.

Dean stirred on the bed, his head rolling toward Sam, but he didn't open his eyes.

"Silas," Sam supplied.

"What?"

Kelly put a hand on the vet's shoulder. "It's their job," he offered. "They, uh… hunt… evil stuff."

Nate stepped up to the bed, looking down at Dean, his bloody shirts lying in strips beneath him, his shoulder swollen, bruised. He looked at Sam, and Sam saw him dart quick eyes over the gash on his forehead.

"You new at this job, kid?" Nate asked.

Sam narrowed his eyes, ready to protest, when he was surprised by a sudden smile and flash of humor on Nate's face. "You must not be from around here," Sam said, a slight grin pulling at the corner of his mouth. "Everyone else seems like they're in… y'know… a bad mood."

"Everybody here is from around here, kid. Lived here my whole life," Nate said. "I'm just a little crazy, is all."

Sam blinked. "If crazy can help, I'll take crazy."

"Let's see." Nate's eyes moved back to Dean, and his head darted quickly, reminding Sam of a bird. "We gotta fix that shoulder. Where'd he get these cuts?"

"We were, uh, caught in an explosion," Sam said, narrowing one eye, trying to ward off the ache in his head.

"Okay, so add 'blown up' to the list of injuries," Nate said. He pulled a small flashlight out of his coat pocket, leaned over, and checked Dean's eyes and pupil reaction. "How long has he been out?"

Sam swallowed. "Um, about 30 minutes now."

"Concussion," Nate murmured. "These cuts aren't deep. Where'd this bruise on his arm come from?"

"Bar fight. Yesterday. He's got another bruise across his back."

Nate gently eased Dean away from him to look at his back. He whistled, then carefully set him back on the bed. "What did they hit him with, a bat?"

"Pool cue," Sam sighed, rubbing his eyes.

"Hands look pretty bad, too," Nate murmured.

He suddenly clapped his hands together, rubbing them vigorously. Sam couldn't help but remember The Karate Kid and thought for one insane moment Nate was going to fix Dean's shoulder with the heat from his hands.

"Let's get started." Nate shucked his jacket and motioned with his head to Kelly. "Gonna need your help here, big guy." He looked at Sam. "You okay to stand, there, kid?"

Sam nodded silently.

Nate narrowed his eyes. "Maxine, give the kid some aspirin for that five-alarm headache he's pretending isn't there."

Sam blinked, surprised. He gratefully took the aspirin and water from Maxine, swallowed the pills, then stood up, shifting out of his jacket and setting it at the foot of Dean's bed.

"I want you to hold onto your, uh, frien—"

"He's my brother," Sam whispered, looking down at Dean.

"Okay, hold on to your brother," Nate said, his slightly manic eyes steady as he spoke. "This is gonna hurt like a bitch, and I can guarantee he's not gonna wake up happy."

Sam nodded. John had dislocated his shoulder once and talked him through setting it. Sam had almost thrown up at the sound of his father's scream of pain. He took a breath and steeled himself.

Nate positioned his hands on Dean's shoulder, motioning for Kelly to grab his lower arm and wrist. Sam listened to Nate's instructions to Kelly, his eyes on Dean. He put a steadying hand on Dean's other shoulder and one on his left wrist, ready to hold him however he had to.

"Ready, kid?"

Sam nodded. Nate took a breath. Kelly pulled.

Dean's cry of pain was immediate and jarring. His neck arched up, his back bowed, the muscles along the flat planes of his stomach tightening. His left hand curled into a tight fist. He clamped his teeth shut on the end of the scream, the gutteral growl causing the tendons on the sides of his neck to stand out.

"Jesus!" Dean cried out. "Oh, fucking hell…" He panted, blinking, his eyes frantically searching the hovering faces of strangers.

"Dean! Hey, it's okay."

"Sam," Dean breathed harshly, looking for Sam.

Sam eased into his line of sight. "I'm here, it's okay," Sam said, tightening his grip on Dean's other shoulder. "They just put your shoulder back."

"Hurts like a bitch," Dean groaned, squeezing his eyes shut against the pain, his body shaking in reaction.

"Told you," Nate said.

Sam flicked his eyes up to the vet. "Dean, this is Nate," he said. "He, uh, he's gonna get you fixed up."

Sweat ran down Dean's face in reaction to the pain. He blinked it from his eyes, looking at Sam. "What about you?"

"Me, too."

"Can we give him something?" Maxine asked, looking with a pained expression at Dean. She'd noticed his shaking.

Nate nodded. He looked at the bottles on the table, checking the labels. He picked one up and instructed Maxine to fill a syringe with a specific amount, then turned back to Dean.

"This will help numb your arm, Dean," Nate said. "It's like… novacane, okay? You allergic to novacane?"

"Hell if I know," Dean panted.

Sam shot his eyes to Nate, watching the vet frown, consider, then gently grasp Dean's bruised arm and slide the needle beneath his skin, apparently deciding that was the lesser of two evils. Sam shot his eyes to Dean's face, noticing that the lines of pain that framed his brother's eyes didn't diminish, but the almost violent tremble of his right arm eased.

"Gotta wrap this shoulder, buddy," Nate said.

"What about my brother?" Dean asked, looking at the dried blood on Sam's head.

Sam opened his mouth to protest, but Nate interrupted him. "Triage, dude. Unconscious broken people come before no-longer-bleeding head wounds. He'll get his turn."

Dean's eyebrows went up, and Sam saw his lips twist in a surprised grin. He shifted tired eyes to Sam as if to say I think I like this guy. Sam sat back down but didn't move his hand from Dean's shoulder. Dean didn't shrug away, and Sam suddenly found he needed the contact. He could feel the fine tremor of muscles beneath his fingers reacting to the torture his brother's body had been subjected to over the last twenty-four hours.

Nate gently eased Dean's arm up and with practiced swiftness born of dealing with patients not keen on holding still, had his shoulder bound and imobilized in minutes. Dean was still sweating and pale from the motion, but he stayed silent. Nate moved quickly and efficiently around the bed, whistling, his eyes darting swiftly between Dean's face and his task. Dean closed his eyes, and Sam saw his jaw clench as Nate cleaned and wrapped his left hand.

"You know, once you two waste that bastard," Nate said in a casual tone. "You really should go get checked out by a real doctor."

Dean opened his eyes. "You're not a real doctor?" His voice was rough, his words slightly slurred from exhaustion.

Nate finished with his hand and flicked his quick eyes up to Dean. "I am, if you've got four legs and a tail."

Dean's lips turned down in an ironic smile. "Yeah," he sighed, looking over at Sam. "That sounds about right for us."

"Here." Nate picked up another syringe, filled it with a pale liquid from a brown bottle and approached Dean. "This is a painkiller, Dean. It's gonna burn a lit—"

"Wait," Dean said, lifting his banaged hand before Nate could put the needle in his arm. "Just, uh…" He swallowed. "Just give me some aspirin or something."

"Dean," Sam said, wanting his brother to have some peace, if only for a few hours. "It's okay. I'll stay here."

Dean pressed his lips together and shook his head. "That's not it, Sam," he said in a low voice. He looked down until his lashes brushed his cheeks, then lifted his eyes to his brother's. "I just… I have to be able to wake up."

Sam's lips pressed into a thin line and he nodded. "Okay." He looked over at Nate. "Give him some ibuprofen."

Nate looked from Sam to Dean. "You're sure? That shoulder—"

"Will be fine. You did good, Doc," Dean said, his eyes already drooping heavily. "Take care of Sam."

Maxine handed Dean the pills and helped him tip his head up for the water. Nate cleaned out the gash on Sam's head, shaking his head as he did so. "What did you hit, kid?"

"Stairs," Sam said, wincing as the antiseptic did its work. "And my cast."

"So coordinated," Nate commented.

Dean huffed out a quick laugh, his eyes closed.

"Jerk," Sam said in a low, amused voice to Dean.

"Bitch," Dean replied, his voice betraying his exhaustion.

"Ah, the dulcet tones of brotherly love," Nate said, turning to the table and grabbing the suture materials. "Gonna need some stitches here," he said, peering at Sam.

Sam stared back. "What are you waiting for?"

"You want anything for the—"

"Just get it over with, man," Sam said tiredly. He watched as Maxine whispered something to Kelly and he left the room. Nate started stitching, and Sam clenched his jaw against the pinch of the needle.

When Nate was done, Sam felt the same fevered flush he remembered from every time he got stitches, as though his skin were reacting to the intrusion of the needle. He looked down at Dean. His face was pulled into a slight grimace of pain, and his breathing was more rapid that usual, but his trembling had almost stopped.

"I could give him something now," Nate offered, watching Sam's line of sight.

Sam shook his head. "No way. He'd have my ass for that."

Kelly pulled in a cot with some bedding and set it up next to the bed Dean currently lay on.

"I think you two should stay here tonight," Maxine said. "Get some rest."

Sam shook his head again, but his eyes were on the cot. "We have to keep watch–"

"I'll watch," Kelly interrupted. "You rest, kid."

Sam tensed, ready to protest again when he heard Dean's low voice.

"Listen to them, Sammy," he mumbled.

Sam looked down at him. "You sure?"

"Just…" Dean rolled his head toward Sam, his eyes still closed. "Just want to stop moving… just stop for a while…"

Sam sighed, unable to hide his relief. He looked up at the others, nodded his thanks, and moved around to the cot. Nate pulled a blanket up over Dean's bare chest, looked at Sam for a moment, then he, Kelly, and Maxine left the room. Sam heard a chair move and a few muttered words, then it was silent outside the door.

He lay back on the cot, looking up at the bed and his brother's recumbant form. Listening to Dean's even breath. Measuring his breaths by that rhythm. In minutes, Sam was asleep.

The rustle was less pronounced. The low, pain-filled moans softer, weaker. But the suffering of his brother was as evident as ever and pulled Sam from a sound sleep hours later. He blinked, confused. This time he heard words; Dean had never spoken before, not once. Sam sat up, wincing as his stiff back and sore muscles protested.

"…say anything… everything I ever had…"

Sam blinked. The words were mumbled, disjointed. He stood and approached the bed. Dean's face was pinched with pain; sweat rolled from his forehead and down his cheeks like tears. Or… wait… Sam leaned closer.

"…this really you talking… why're you sayin' this stuff?"

Sam swallowed, watching as Dean grimaced and his mouth opened in a silent scream, then clamped shut, his teeth grinding from the effort of keeping it in, keeping silent. Sam had to stop this, had to ease Dean's suffering.

He reached out. As he did, Dean suddenly sat forward, his left hand coming up, reaching out and wrapping bruised fingers around Sam's wrist in a death grip.

"Don't!"

"Dean, easy," Sam said, holding still as Dean's sleep-clouded eyes began to clear. "Easy, it's me. It's Sam."

"Sam?" His voice was ragged. He blinked, and sweat, or tears—Sam couldn't be sure—flicked from his lashes.

"Yeah, it's okay. You're okay."

He carefully twisted his hand in Dean's grasp, and Dean looked at Sam's hand with horror. As though he expected something to be held there, something awful. Sam relaxed his fingers so Dean could see his hand was empty. Slowly, ever so slowly, Dean released Sam's wrist. He slumped slightly, wincing. His left arm snaked around and lightly cupped his right elbow, and he tried to get his breathing under control.

"I can't…" Dean swallowed, stopping himself.

"Can't what?"

"Nothing," he muttered, rubbing his face with his bandaged hand.

Sam pulled a chair over to the bed and sat down, slouching back, looking at Dean. "Hey," he said. Dean didn't react. "Dean, look at me."

Dean turned his head to face Sam.

"Talk to me," Sam pleaded.

Dean shook his head. "What good would it do, Sam?"

"Maybe nothing," Sam shrugged, "maybe everything. But at least I wouldn't be alone anymore."

Dean blinked at that. "What?"

"You shut me out, Dean." Sam waved a frustrated hand in the air. "All this shit with Dad, the deal he made… there's something weighing you down, man, I can see it. I see it killing you."

Dean pressed his lips together, just looking at Sam.

"What do you want me to do, Dean?"

"Nothing," Dean said, surprised.

"Well, I can't do nothing. I can't not know that you're hurting. I can't not watch you, every day. You…" Sam sighed, looking away from Dean for a moment, then looked back. "You get this look in your eyes, man. This… dead look. I see that, and it's like you're not even there anymore."

Dean dropped his eyes. He didn't say anything.

"Dean," Sam said, blinking, looking at the bed, at Dean's knee, at the floor, at his now blood-stained cast. Anywhere but Dean's face. "I miss Dad. I meant it when I said that. I think about him… a lot. At the weirdest times, too." He saw Dean nod in his periphery. "But… I think he knew. I think he knew that I need you." He brought his eyes up to meet Dean's surprised face.

"What?"

"I'm sorry Dad's gone," Sam said. He looked directly at Dean. "But I'm not sorry you're here."

Dean just held Sam's eyes. For a second, Sam saw his chin quiver, but the movement was supressed. Dean looked down once more, and Sam felt himself still, his eyes on Dean's face. When Dean spoke, it was in a low, haunted voice as he stared at his bandaged hand.

"It never makes any sense," Dean started. "It's every night, but I can't… I only remember parts of it. I, uh… I see all these faces. You, Dad, the demon at the crossroads... some others I don't even recognize... I've never even seen them before."

Sam almost stopped breathing. He waited, not wanting to even blink, not wanting to stop Dean's words.

"It's like… memories, kinda. But not really. Or if that's right, then it's memories of dreams because I know some of these things I see didn't really happen…"

"Like what?"

Dean shook his head. "Like… in the hospital… a glass breaking… a dark-haired girl… weird blurry stuff like that."

Sam clenched his jaw. He remembered the glass. He remembered it flying off his Dad's tray, shattering on the floor, stopping their argument just as Dean had all his life. Just before Dean flatlined…

Dean continued, his eyes staring blankly at the empty space on the bed between his legs, his voice soft and hesitant as Sam watched him try to pull the disjointed images from his dreams into words.

"I see Dad in the cabin… I feel a… a tube in my throat… it, like, comes in waves, and I remember the, uh, demon… and I remember… I remember Dad… just after you left the room…"

Sam heard a strange catch in Dean's voice and he watched closer.

Dean shook his head slightly, not lifting his eyes. He pulled his brows together. "There's this… this pain in my chest… and, I can feel someone reaching in and I try to stop them… but I can't move…" His breathing picked up, his fingers flinching unconsciously as he relived the nightmare. "It's like when we were in the cabin… against the wall, and I can feel it tearing inside of me and I know… I know what's going to happen…"

Sam swallowed. He barely breathed. His eyes burned as he watched Dean remember, watched the anguish play across the features that were more familiar to him than his own.

"And then… I can finally move and… I grab him… but it's too late… he's holding it."

"Who, Dean?"

"Dad." It was a whisper.

"Dean… what's he holding?"

Dean clenched his jaw, his lips twitching. He lifted his eyes to Sam, and the pain there, the complete heartbreak, took Sam's breath away and left him trembling with the need to look away.

"My heart."

www

It had taken Sam a while to fall asleep, but Dean exhaled in relief when he finally heard his brother's breathing even out. Sam was sprawled on the cot, one long leg hanging over the edge, his booted foot canted at an angle to the bed. His long hair clouded the pillow, and Dean could still see dried blood there from the cut on his forehead. His left hand lay across his chest and the cast rested against his leg.

Dean watched Sam sleep for a moment, thinking about how many times he'd done that very thing. Standing on a chair looking over the edge of the crib. In the bed next to him when Sam was still in footed pajamas. After a hunt, just to make sure he was still there, still breathing, still alive…

Watching Sam sleep had become his only peace.

Dean eased himself slowly off the bed and waited until he was sure he could stand without falling over. He had lost his last clean shirts to a pair of scissors, but he was happy they'd been cut from him. His shoulder was throbbing with a steady beat of pain. He moved over to Sam's jacket, reached into the inside pocket, and pulled out the diary. Dean sat on the chair between the bed and the cot, flipping open to the final entry, and pulled the book close to read in the dim light of the room.

I hear him all the time now. Every day. The children have probably forgotten about me… I hope they've forgotten about him. But they will see him, I know. They will see him and recognize their eyes… They will have to live with the knowledge that they come from evil…

I shudder to think what I've done, who I've bargained with. But I had no choice. No one in the town now, no one who has lived under his rule, has suffered by his living hand, will die by his evil hand. No one. As long as… as long as I live up to my part. As long as I offer them my soul.

Which I will do. Where I buried him. He will have to live with me for eternity. Because it is the one thing he did not want. It is the one torture I can effectively bring. I will go to the orchard in the back near the tree the marks his body, the tree I've stared at every day… knowing that it stares back…

He's coming. He must not find this… I must protect this accounting of days, so that my children know that they also come from good, that they can make a difference, that he can't… he won't live forever.

He is here.

"Orchard in the back," Dean whispered. He set the diary up on the bed and looked down at Sam again. "I hope you understand this, Sammy," he said softly so as not to disturb his sleeping brother.

I have to save you. I promised.

Dean searched the countertop for something to write with. He found a stub of a pencil next to a small pad of paper. Clutching the pencil awkwardly with his left hand, he scrawled a note across the last blank page in the diary.

He didn't want Sam to wake up and wonder. His brother would be pissed, but Dean couldn't bring himself to let this be the evil that took his brother away… the evil that could mean Dean would have to do the unthinkable. Would have to kill his reason for living.

Casting his eyes around the room, Dean looked for something he could wear that would cover the cuts on his chest, the bandaged shoulder. He grabbed Sam's jacket from the foot of the bed, sliding his left arm in and adjusting the empty sleeve over his right. Using a combination of his teeth and his left hand, Dean managed to zip up the front over his bare chest. He shook his head ruefully at how large it felt on him. His big little brother. Dean grabbed the bag of ammo, lighter fluid, and matches, then, on stealthy feet, crept from the room.

Kelly sat propped on a chair just outside the room, head back, mouth agape, snoring. Dean stepped past him and moved toward what he assumed was the entrance to the clinic, not having been in a position to notice his surroundings when he came in. As he approached the door, he saw the shelves of supplies and shook his head.

"This town just gets weirder and weirder," he muttered.

Dean set the bag down and stepped over to the guns, taking down a shotgun. He clumsily broke it over one knee, freezing as the click of the barrel seemed to echo through the clinic. When he didn't hear any movement, Dean balanced the open shotgun on his knee and reached into the bag, pulling out several rounds of consecrated iron and loading it. Carefully shutting the gun barrel, he shifted the pack back to his shoulder, tucked the gun under his arm, and stood.

He looked over at the supplies again, and his eyes caught a spade with a two-foot handle. One that looked light enough that he could actually carry it with his bandaged hand. Couldn't burn any bones if he couldn't get to them… Dean set the loaded gun against the wall and took down the spade, seeing a red sticker on the flat of the blade that claimed it was the best pooper-scooper on the market.

"Well, if you're good at scoopin' shit, I could sure use you," he whispered.

He held it against his chest with his chin, picked up the shotgun and tucked it under his arm, then grasped the handle of the spade. Hoping the door didn't have a cowbell tied somewhere he couldn't see, he stepped out into the night.

There were no lights along the streets. The only thing illuminating his way was the Cheshire-cat moon high overhead and the stars winking coyly at him.

Dean was always amazed at what nature showed him when the false light of the city was removed. The whole town spread out before him, darkened windows shadowing over forty years of secrets. He looked up at the hill and saw the hulk of the sprawling house. Dean clenched his jaw.

We won't let them win, Sammy.

Making a conscious effort to ignore the tired beat of pain thrumming through his body, Dean began to make his way up to the house, the night air reviving him, his purpose giving him strength.

Almost unconsciously, he found himself singing Metallica's No Leaf Clover in a low, steady beat, using the rhythm to dull himself against the shaking pain in his shoulder. Numbing his heart against the possibility of failure.

"Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel was just a freight train comin' your way…"

He was ready. He knew his job. He knew evil. And he was damned if he'd let it get his brother.

"Don't it feel right like this, all the pieces fall to his wish. Sucker for that quick reward... boy, sucker for that quick reward, they said…"

And then he was there. Staring again at the house. Lip curling at the sensation that the house stared back.

Orchard in the back…

Dean turned right and made his way around the house in the shadows. He saw the orchard almost immediately, overgrown with weeds, rotted fruit littering the ground. There was a sickeningly sweet smell permeating the air, one Dean often associated with death. He approached slowly, noting how large the trees seemed, reminded of the last orchard he'd been in, tied to a tree, offered as a sacrifice to a pagan god, until Sam appeared.

He swallowed. He couldn't let Sam save him this time. He had to do this. Sam couldn't be any part of it. It was his own mistake that had gotten them in this mess… with Sam's life as a bargaining tool between a demon and a ghost. His cockiness, the use of his name. His name could spell the end of his brother, and Dean would not let that happen.

He almost tripped over the slanted wooden plank. Stepping back, Dean saw it was a makeshift grave marker. The initials J.W. were carved deep into the wood. He dropped the spade and shifted the shotgun to his grip in an easy bounce of his arm.

Jenny. Who had buried her?

She'd said offered herself where she buried him, but Kelly and Maxine hadn't known where their father's body was buried. He looked around, wondering what he could see that might be invisible to children. If he were Jenny, where would he… Dean's eyes caught the large fruit-bearing tree looming to the left of the rotting wooden marker. As he stared, he realized an S and a W were carved into the trunk.

"It's a marker," he realized. She'd buried him with the tree as a marker.

He took in both graves and felt a chill. S.W. and J.W.; the similarities were not lost on him. The universe has a fucked-up sense of humor, he thought. Setting the shotgun against the tree within easy reach, he picked up the spade and started with Silas's grave.

The approach of the revenant was silent.

The attack was not.

www

It was the silence that woke him. He'd become so used to listening for Dean, breathing with him, that he woke as soon as he was aware he was alone in the clinic exam room. Sam blinked groggy eyes, looking around from the vantage point of the cot.

"Dean?"

Nothing. Sam sat up, noting two things immediately. Jennifer Wells's diary lay on the empty bed formerly occupied by his very wounded brother, and Sam's jacket was missing. Sam stood up from the cot and looked down at the diary, open to a blank page, Dean's clumsy, left-handed scrawl across the paper: Hell's coming with me.

"Son of a bitch!" Sam shouted. He immediately moved around to the other side of the bed, his eyes scanning the floor.

Kelly stumbled into the room, his dark hair flying haphazardly around his face, his eyes pinched with sleep, and a fleck of drool hanging precariously from his bottom lip ready to disappear into the depths of his wiry beard. "Wassamatter?"

"He took the bag!" Sam slammed a fist on the bed.

"Bag? Who? Took what?" Kelly blinked owlishly at Sam.

"Stupid bastard… gonna get himself killed…" Sam stormed past Kelly and toward the front of the clinic.

When he reached the shelves of mismatched supplies, he saw the empty bracket in the row of guns and swore again.

"How the hell did he get all of that out of here without me hearing?" Sam growled through gritted teeth. He reached up and snatched another shotgun off the rack. Searching through the boxes of ammo, he kept up a steady stream of muttered curses. "…think I would just stay here when I found out he was gone… stubborn bastard… thinks he has to be a superhero… thinks he has to protect me…"

"Um, Sam?" Kelly cleared his throat behind him.

"What!" Sam snapped, whipping his head over his shoulder.

Kelly lifted an eyebrow and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Can I help you find something?"

Sam clenched his jaw. "I don't know," he sassed. "Got any consecrated iron rounds?"

Kelly shook his head once. "Don't know about that first thing you said, but I got iron rounds."

"Oh." Sam was taken aback. "Well, point them out to me."

Kelly pulled down an unmarked box of ammunition and handing it to Sam. "You think Dean went after… after Silas?"

"Yes."

"By himself?"

"Yes."

"Hurt like that?"

"Yes," Sam snapped. "Yes, he went by himself to kill that… thing… because it's evil and that's what he does and he thinks he has to protect me but he's an idiot because the only way he's going to be able to do this is if we do it together and I can't fucking believe he left like that!"

"Okay." Kelly blinked. "Just asking."

Sam slammed the ammo into the shotgun and shut the barrel. He lifted angry eyes to Kelly. "You coming?"

Kelly swallowed, appearing undecided.

"I'm not waiting for you." Sam stepped forward, looking up at Kelly's face, into his fearful eyes. He paused a beat, then turned and shoved the door open, stepping out into the night.

How long had Dean been gone? He'd obviously read the diary, so he knew about the orchard. How the hell did he think he was going to dig up the bones and keep the revenant away with one arm?

"Sam!"

Sam didn't slow his stride, but he looked over his shoulder. Kelly was hurrying up behind him, a shovel in his hand. Sam lifted an eyebrow. He hadn't thought about a shovel.

"Thanks," he muttered, facing forward again.

"I've lived here all my life," Kelly said, his eyes up, on the house. "I want to see Chicago."

Surprised, Sam looked over at Kelly. "Well," he said, "I guess everyone needs a reason to do what they do."

Kelly nodded.

Together, they climbed the hill that led to Kelly's childhood home.

www

Apparently, Silas was done talking.

That, or his intense rage prevented him from throwing out any more snide remarks and taunting words. Because when the revenant slammed into Dean from behind, knocking him to the ground and sending the spade flying from his hand, it was with a scream of rage so shattering that Dean actually shook. He landed hard, his shoulder shooting white-hot fire through his body.

Dean rolled to his back, bringing his left arm up, looking desperately over his head at the shotgun propped against the tree just out of reach.

Shit, he thought. Shit shit shit.

Just as before in the house, the blows rained down on him with icy fire at a speed he couldn't protect himself from, let alone defend against. Taking a desperate breath, he rolled to his right, over his wounded arm, grinding out a guttural cry of pain, and used his momentum to gain his knees.

He immediately reached for the gun, but as if pulled by an invisible string, it flew away from his fingertips to the base of the marker for Jenny's grave. Silas rushed at him, causing Dean to pull back in surprise and disgust.

The revenant looked insane. His eyes were silver pools of manic light, his lips white and thin, and his skin a strange purple from his anger. He wrapped a long-fingered, ice-cold hand around Dean's throat, pulling him to his feet by his neck and shoving him back against the tree in one mighty heave.

"E-even if you… kill me," Dean wheezed, "you won't get Sam."

"You can't stop me if you're dead," Silas literally growled, his voice a deep echo of his normal tone.

Dean tried to swallow, tried to pull in a breath, but the grasp was too strong. "Y-you," he wheezed, his breath coming in strained, shallow gasps. "Aren't… the only one… who can… make… deals."

"You've made no deal," Silas snapped, his eyes flashing.

"Not y-yet," Dean gasped. But I will if you think you can take Sam…

He could hear his breath straining through shrinking airways as Silas tightened his grip. The edges of his vision darkened, and Dean could feel the cold, the bone-deep cold, begin to build in his chest and start to wrap around his heart as his lungs frantically beat against his ribs, begging for air.

"You should never have come to this town, Dean Winchester," Silas growled.

Dean could only blink; his lips had started to tingle, his fingertips numb. He felt his head spin as Silas tightened his grip even more.

"Now," Silas's thin white lips curled up into a sneer, "you'll never leave."

"I wouldn't be too sure about that."

The most wonderful sound in the world, Dean thought as his mind grew hazy and darkness completed its sojourn across his vision, was his brother's voice.

He blinked, trying to see Sam, trying to see anything. He heard two powerful blasts and felt Silas jerk, pulling at Dean's neck as his grip shifted but didn't release. Dean didn't hear the scream he expected and tried to keep his footing as his knees threatened to give out. He started shaking with the effort of staying conscious.

He heard another blast, felt another jerk. The he heard Silas laugh. The sound was chilling… and just before he succumbed to the darkness that had already taken his vision, Dean suddenly heard Sam's voice even closer to him.

"Hell is here."

Another blast accompanied the last sound Dean heard before he collapsed against the hard ground of the orchard floor: Silas's scream of enraged pain. Dean couldn't see anything, could feel only a numbing ache all over, a sharp pain in his shoulder, and the desperate fire in his lungs as he managed to shake himself into pulling in air. He tasted dirt in his mouth as he simply lay still and breathed.

"Dean?"

Gimme a minute, Sam…

"Dean, you with me, man?"

Sam pulled Dean to a semi-sitting position, holding him carefully around the waist against his chest. Dean couldn't answer. He couldn't do anything but pull in breaths of air.

"Dude, he did a number on your neck," Sam whispered.

Dean swallowed and winced at the pain that brought. But he could breathe. That was all he cared about at the moment.

"Is he gone?" Kelly's voice sounded small, and Dean forced himself to blink his eyes open and try to focus on the big man.

"No," he rasped, still lying against Sam. "Dig."

"Dig?"

"Tree," Dean gasped, lifting his eyes to the massive trunk above them.

Sam looked up and saw the initials. His initials. He exchanged a brief look with Dean, then turned to Kelly.

"Silas's grave," Sam said, "Gotta burn his bones."

Dean had yet to move away from Sam. He knew Sam should get up and help Kelly dig, knew he should let his brother up, but he wasn't ready to do more than hold his bruised neck and pull air into his tortured lungs. He felt Sam's grip tighten, felt in the motion how much Sam didn't want to let him go. But they had a job to do.

"Help him," Dean whispered.

Sam eased out from behind Dean, leaning him against the tree. He placed the loaded shotgun across Dean's lap, patted the barrel, and met his cloudy eyes. "Keep an eye out for any spooks," he said with an encouraging half grin.

Dean nodded gingerly. He pulled his hand from his neck and rested it on the trigger of the shotgun. Sam grabbed the spade that had landed next to Dean and joined Kelly in digging up Silas's grave. With the first shovel full of dirt, Sam saw the sticker on the blade. He lifted amused eyes to Dean, who answered his look with a crooked grin.

"Pooper-scooper?" Sam asked.

"Best on the market," Dean rasped.

Sam continued to dig, supporting the shovel with the back of his right hand while he scooped with his left. "Well, guess with the shit we shovel…"

"That's what I thought." Dean's voice was barely audible, but his grin was solid.

Ignoring the tremble of his muscles, Dean pushed himself slowly to his feet, using the tree for support as Kelly and Sam cleared away the dirt from the top of a rough wooden box barely three feet down. Dean figured it would have been hard for Jenny to have dug even that much. He stumbled slightly as he made his way over to stand next to his brother. Sam used the spade and pounded through the rotted wooden box. The moment the bones were revealed, Silas stepped out of the shadows.

"No," he said, his voice the same demonic growl of before. "NO!"

Dean stiffened and pulled the shotgun up into firing position. "Do it, Sam," he whispered.

Moving quickly, Sam bent, grabbed the salt and lighter fluid, and poured both over the bones. As he reached for the matches, Silas moved forward. Sam flinched; Dean fired. Silas screamed in rage and began to advance again, but something stopped him. They suddenly seemed to be looking through a strange, cloudy figure at the revenant.

It's all your fault.

Dean flinched at those words and looked up to see his pale face and wide eyes pinned to the revenant through the cloudy figure.

"Shut up, woman," Silas growled. "You will burn, too, if they succeed! You are bound to me!"

It's all your fault.

"Sam. Do it," Dean pleaded. Sam lit the match, stood, and dropped it into the open grave.

The revenant's scream was terrible. Kelly clasped his hands over his ears, closing his eyes and turning away; Sam and Dean curled in on themselves, keeping their eyes on the spirit, watching through the growing flames as the revenant twisted, burned, smoldered and, finally, with one last angry glare, vanished. The bones continued burning. The cloud began to coalesce.

Dean blinked and swayed as Jenny materialized before their eyes. Sam reached out a hand and steadied Dean as he, too, stared in silence. Jenny was small. She had wild curly black hair, dark skin, and large brown eyes. With the exception of her hair, Jenny looked nothing like her children. Sam nudged Kelly and watched out of the corner of his eye as the big man slowly pulled his hands down from his ears and turned to face his mother.

It's all your fault. Her voice was soft, sad, her eyes pleading. She reached out a trembling hand toward Kelly.

"Oh, God," Kelly moaned sorrowfully. "I was so young… you have to understand… I was so young…"

She didn't move, staring at him with eyes that held forty years of regret and pain.

"I'm sorry," Kelly whispered, pressing his large hand over his heart, his silver eyes tearing up. He blinked, and one fat tear traced a line down his cheek and buried itself in his wiry beard. "It wasn't your fault... It's not your fault."

Dean stumbled suddenly, bouncing gently into Sam. He tried to step away, needing to put space between himself and this scene, wanting to cover his ears. He saw Sam turn to look at him, and Dean swayed, his world beginning to tilt as Kelly's words hit him.

"It's not your fault," Kelly whispered again, sniffing as another tear rolled down his face. "You did the best you could. You did the only thing you knew how."

Sam reached out for Dean, grabbed his left arm, and balanced him. Dean felt himself begin to shake, felt Sam's worried gaze on him. He kept his eyes on Jenny, kept his expression empty, but he knew Sam could see the pain on his face.

He wasn't strong enough to hide it all. Not now.

Sam looked back when he heard Jenny sigh. It was as though all the hurt stored in her eyes dissipated with that sound and, with a tiny smile curving her mouth, she disappeared. Kelly sobbed once, his shoulders slumping.

"We have to burn… uh, the bones," Sam said softly.

"Even hers?"

"It's the only way to be sure she's at peace," Sam said.

"Fine," Kelly whispered, his eyes going to the marker. "I'll do it."

"You sure?"

Kelly nodded. "Maxine and I… we buried her here when we found her. I know where she is. I'll take care of her." He looked up at Sam, then his eyes shifted to Dean, his brows pulling together. "Get him on out of here."

Dean was staring at the dying fire in Silas's grave. Sam tugged his left arm forward to gain his attention. Dean turned his empty eyes to Sam.

"C'mon," Sam said, his voice sad and helpless-sounding.

"It was never about us, Sam," Dean whispered.

"What?"

"The words… the writing… it was never about us. It had nothing to do with the crossroad demon."

Sam shook his head. "No. It was never about us."

"They were the same words, though." Dean blinked. "The same words."

"I know."

Dean exhaled and Sam absorbed his brother's sorrow, confusion, and pain.

"It's over, Dean," Sam whispered. "Let's go get some rest."

Dean shook his head. "I'm starting to think that we'll never rest, Sammy," he said, his voice still raspy. He turned away from his brother and started down the hill.

Sam followed closely behind.

www

"Dude, I, uh, think I need your help, here," Dean said in his low, rough voice, working the bandages off his left hand.

They had walked back to the inn in silence, Dean allowing Sam to keep his hand on his arm, guiding his steps when he stumbled. Sam sat, exhausted, on his bed, staring vacantly at Dean as he worked himself out of Sam's jacket and tossed it on the back of the chair. He realized as he watched the action that the last time they'd eaten was that morning, before the explosion, before the house…

"Help with what?"

"This bandage thing," Dean said, tugging at the wraps holding his right arm against his body.

"What for?"

Dean sighed tiredly. "So I can take a shower."

Sam was about to protest, to tell him to let it wait the night, but he saw Dean's eyes and knew immediately he would do anything to get rid of that look. Even if it was replaced by pain, it would be something. Something Dean.

Sam stood up and went over to his brother, examined the wrap, then went to the bag, pulled out Dean's knife, and came back. As Dean stood still, he carefully cut the binding, easing Dean's arm down to his side.

"Try not to move it too much," Sam said.

"Gee, thanks for the tip, Sam," Dean remarked.

Sam shook his head at him. "I'll try to rewrap it when you're done."

As Dean went into the bathroom, Sam sat back down on the bed and stared at the door. He listened for Dean's normal movements, knowing his brother better than anyone…or at least as well as anyone could know Dean. He heard the shower turn on, heard a barely muffled groan of pain, then what he'd been waiting for. The staccato rhythm of a song as Dean counted his way through the beats to distract himself from the pain.

He listened hard, trying to discern the melody. Zeppelin, he realized. Friends.

"Bright light almost blinding, black night still there shining, I can't stop, keep on climbing, looking for what I knew…"

Sam sighed. He toed off his boots, removed his shirts and waited. He wanted to just crawl into the bed, turn off the light, shut out the night. Shut down and let sleep heal him. But he had to wait for Dean.

He didn't know if his brother realized how badly he'd beaten his body today. Sam could tell just by listening that Dean was barely hanging on. The water shut off and, minutes later, Dean came out, looking pale and visibly shaking. He held his right arm tight to his side and clasped the towel around his waist.

"Here," Sam said, reaching over and handing him his boxers and sweat pants. "You need any help?"

Dean shook his head; Sam knew Dean was done in when he didn't shoot back a sarcastic comment. He managed to pull on his clothes and sat heavily on the bed. Sam refashioned the bandages he'd cut so that Dean could slide his arm into a makeshift sling, taking the weight off his shoulder.

"Want some aspirin?" Sam asked.

Dean shook his head again. "Haven't eaten enough today," he said.

Sam looked at his throat. "That hurt?" The bruises had already started to form in the shape of long, thin fingers.

Dean nodded, blinking tiredly. He eased himself back, pulling the blankets up to his shoulders, his left arm snaking out of the covers. He exhaled, and Sam watched him literally fall to sleep as the breath left his body. It was slightly eerie. He stared hard until he saw Dean's chest rise and fall again, then he turned off the light, piled his jeans on top of his shirts, and climbed between the covers, willing sleep to claim him quickly.

www

That's your M.O… mask all that nasty pain… mask the truth…

I won't hunt this demon… not until we know Dean's okay…

They don't need you… not like you need them…

You did that… and you didn't complain, not once…

I am so proud of you…

It was all Dad. Every image, every voice. Dad with yellow eyes, pinning him to the cabin wall, tearing him from the inside out… Dad's tears… Dad's words.

Killing this demon comes first, before me, before everything…

You shouldn't have had to say that to me, I should have said that to you

You took care of Sammy, you took care of me…

Don't be scared, Dean…

He couldn't… not this time… not again. He couldn't take the pain again. He couldn't hear his father's screams again.

You have to save him, Dean. Nothing else matters…

He didn't want to fight anymore, he didn't want to... but it hurt… it hurt so badly… and Dad was screaming as he reached for him, as his fingers dug in, as he began to pull…

Then…

It stopped. The pain, the screaming.

He looked down and saw a hand covering Dad's. A hand pressing Dad's hand to his chest in a warm clasp of family. A hand pressing against his heart, keeping it safe, protecting it…

He wavered for a moment in the realm between waking and sleeping, where reality dawns while the dream still holds fast. He opened his eyes and saw Sam. Leaning over him, his hand on his chest, warm, heavy, solid.

"I can't take the weight from you," Sam whispered in the darkness. "But maybe I can help you carry it."

Dean swallowed, the bruising on his throat causing him to wince. He was grateful for the darkness that hid his eyes. He couldn't remove the feeling from them as he had done so many times before. He looked at Sam, and the heart his brother protected with just the touch of his hand rested in Dean's eyes like a beacon.

He saw Sam blink, watched his jaw clench, saw his throat work.

"Thanks, Sammy," he said.

Sam pulled a corner of his mouth into a shaky half-smile. "Guess I can be more than just a pain in your ass, huh?"

Dean nodded. "Yeah," he said softly. "A hell of a lot more."

"Want me to stay?"

Dean couldn't answer him.

"I'll stay," Sam said, shifting a hip onto Dean's bed, not removing his hand. He sat there, in the darkness, his hand over his brother's heart, until Dean fell asleep.

www

"Kelly," Dean said, his voice low but much less raspy the next morning. "Tell me you have good news."

"That I do," Kelly said, stepping from behind the counter.

Maxine had treated them to a full breakfast at Becket's since they no longer had to worry about being attacked by pool-cue-wielding gangsters. Dean had downed three cups of coffee and two bowls of oatmeal, his throat too sore for anything else. The bruising was more prominent in the morning, and when Maxine commented that he looked like hammered shit, Dean had to agree, even if the comment did make Sam spew orange juice at him with a grin.

They'd given Jenny's diary to Maxine, looking away politely as she brushed the tears from her eyes, then walked to Kelly's after breakfast. Maxine insisted on going with them to carry some bags. Dean was left with a set of sack lunches, while Sam hauled the weapons and his bag and Maxine carried Dean's. Neither would let him do more, and Dean found himself hard-pressed to argue against a stubborn brother and a woman who towered over him by a good foot.

"We had three families leave town this morning, including Nate," Kelly continued, "and Maxine and I have already found family in Chicago that we're going to see for the first time in our lives."

Dean exchanged a cautious glance with Sam. "That's great. Really great," Dean said, "But, uh, I was kinda hoping that the part for the Impala–"

"In and fixed."

Dean's eyebrows shot up, and his face relaxed into a sunny, sincere smile. "You're kidding."

"I would not kid about a car as fine as that."

Dean whirled and practically sprinted to the car. It was only when he reached the driver's side door that he realized he'd given Sam the keys that morning. He turned and saw Sam tossing them to him as though reading his mind. He plucked them out of the air, unlocked the door, and opened it.

"Wait, in and fixed?"

Kelly nodded, a small smile on his face.

"If I had the keys, then how did you…"

Kelly shrugged. "Tricks of the trade, kid. Don't question a master."

Dean slid in behind the wheel, leaning far over to stick the keys in the ignition with his left hand. The Impala roared to life, and Dean laughed out loud. He looked at the radio in surprise when Hero of the Day from Metallica's S&M practically blared from the speakers. He looked out through the open door at Kelly in surprise.

Kelly shrugged. "I looked through your tapes. You didn't have it."

Dean grinned. "Yeah, I, uh, I lost a few of them a while back. Thanks."

"Come on back inside a second. I got something else for you."

Dean shut off the car with reluctance, stepped out and followed Sam and Kelly back inside. When the boys reached the door, they both drew back in surprise when Kelly turned around, two shotguns in his hands, the stocks pressed against his hips, the barrels pointing up. Kelly grinned at the look of worry on their faces.

"Figured you lost two decent guns getting rid of… well, doing what you did," Kelly said. "Wanted to replace them. New ones."

Sam grinned in response. "Thanks, Kelly."

Dean pressed his lips together and nodded, taking one of the guns from Kelly gratefully. Sam took the other, and they looked between Maxine and Kelly, not sure what to say. They didn't usually stay around for a debrief. They did what they did and shut up about it. Rule number one came in handy when it was time to leave.

"We owe you boys," Maxine said in a softened version of her normal cigarette-and-whiskey voice. "If it hadn't been for you… well, this town… my brother… we could have all gone on living in the middle of two deals with a demon until we died. I think it was divine intervention that brought you to us."

Dean shook his head. "Just a broken car."

"More than that, kid," Kelly said gruffly, tugging absently at the multicolored rubber bands peppered throughout his beard. "Much more than that."

"Timing is everything, I guess." Dean shrugged, a tiny grin tugging the corner of his mouth reluctantly.

Sam looked down, sad his brother couldn't believe they were meant to come to this town, meant to do what they did. That they were continuing their father's work, his legacy, by saving people, hunting things.

He lifted his eyes to see Dean watching him, questions plain in his eyes. But Sam was tired of pushing. For the moment, he just wanted to be Dean's brother. If Dean needed to keep his silence to carry his burden, Sam wasn't going to get in the way this time.

"Hey, Kelly," Sam said suddenly, still looking at Dean.

"Yeah?"

"Who played the sheriff in High Noon?"

Sam watched Dean's eyes narrow, glaring at him, but didn't look away.

"Gary Cooper."

"You sure?"

"Sure I'm sure. Got the movie here somewhere. Want me to get it?"

Sam quirked an eyebrow at Dean.

"Nah," Dean said. "He believes you," he said, shaking his head at Sam. He nodded at Kelly, gave Maxine a smile that made her blush, then turned and walked out of the gas station, the cowbell clanging behind him.

Sam turned and followed, joining him at the trunk. He helped Dean lift the false floor, chuckling to himself that they were both essentially left-handed for the moment. He set the new shotguns in the vacant place of the ones they'd lost in the house, then joined Dean in setting the weapons from the bag into their slots. They shut the false floor, tossed their duffels in, and Sam closed the trunk.

"We need to do laundry, man," he said to Dean.

"Hell with that," Dean said. "We need to buy some clothes. I keep getting them cut off of me."

Sam grinned. "We did good here, you know," he said as he moved around to the passenger side, looking at Dean over the top of the car. "Lucky accident or not, we saved this town."

Dean rested his left arm on the hood of the car. "Maybe. Maybe we just released it." He looked back at Sam, his eyes carefully blank, his voice soft. "Sometimes I wonder if we can save anything, or if we're just meant to kill…"

He stepped away and slid into the car, pulling his door shut with a familiar creak. Sam stood for a moment, not sure where to put that, knowing he would have to continue to keep watch, keep his brother in his sights until whatever was eating through Dean's heart like acid was neutralized.

Dean reached over again with his left hand and started the car. Hero of the Day continued as he shifted into drive and pulled out of the lot with a nod at Kelly and Maxine. It was awkward at best with his right arm still pressed tightly against his chest to keep his aching shoulder immobile, but he wasn't about to move it yet. Even thinking of moving it made his teeth ache.

Sam reached over and ejected the tape.

"What the hell are you doin'?" Dean said, looking down at the radio as he pulled onto the interstate.

"New rules this week." Sam grinned. "Shotgun picks the music. Driver shuts his cake hole."

Dean glared. Sam hit a couple of buttons, searching. He paused when they heard Time in a Bottle,lifting an eyebrow in Dean's direction. Dean shot him a glare. "You have got to be kidding me," he said.

Sam laughed. "Take it easy, man. I'm not sixty." He continued to search until he heard a station claiming to play five decades of rock. He paused, waiting. A low rhythm of a familiar guitar came over the speakers, and Sam sat back.

"I try to breathe, memories overtaking me. I try to face them but the thought is too much to conceive…"

"Wait," Dean said, pulling his eyebrows together. "I know this."

"Yeah." Sam nodded. "Staind. I left this CD when I went to school."

"Yeah, okay, well." Dean shrugged. "Guess I can handle this."

"Oh, you get a week of handling, John Wayne." Sam grinned, looking out at the passing scenery as they continued to head west.

"It's just as well," Dean said with a flick of his eyebrow. "Because there was no way I was letting you wax my baby."

END


Playlist:

Stranglehold by Ted Nugent

Hair of the Dog by Nazareth

A Hendrix Triple Set: All Along the Watchtower, Purple Haze, and Wild Thing

No Leaf Clover by Metallica

Friends by Led Zeppelin

Hero of the Day by Metallica

Time In a Bottle by Jim Croce

Fade by Staind