5 a.m.

Dean had expected this whole thing to last an hour or two, but definitely no more than that. When Sam hadn't returned by midnight, he had started getting anxious. By two a.m. he had been on the verge of storming out of there to find his brother and shoot that bitch. But something held him back. He couldn't for the life of him say what it was, though.

By the time the horizon started to brighten, Dean was going out of his mind with concern. A very, very small part had dared throw up the suggestion that maybe Sam was enjoying himself, but he severely doubted that. The way the kid had looked when he had left the night before had not promised anything good. And the length of his absence made Dean jittery to the extreme.

He glanced at his watch for the umpteenth time, then sent a look out the window. "Son of a bitch," he growled and decided that now was the time. He needed to find Sam.

Just when he reached for his jacket, he heard the key in the door and it made him angry. Angry that he had to be so worried about Sam, angry that Demon Dawn had dared suggest something like that and implicate Sam in it. He strode over to the door and ripped it open, intent on giving vent to his frustration even though this wasn't Sam's fault, but he never managed to say a word, because Sam stumbled forward, deprived of the support the door had obviously offered him, and nearly fell into Dean's arms.

Dean's first response was to support him and his first thought was that Sam was dead drunk. But when he pushed Sam back a little, the kid whimpered in pain and Dean froze when he finally laid eyes on Sam's face. "Jesus Christ," he exclaimed.

Keeping a hold of Sam's right shoulder, he cupped a hand against Sam's cheek. "What the hell?"

Sam generally looked like someone had beaten the crap out of him. He struggled to steady himself, grabbing onto the doorframe with one hand while he braced himself against Dean with the other. And at no time did he look up to meet Dean's eyes.

He had bruises on his throat, a big purple bruise on his right cheekbone that had made the skin under his right eye swell and what looked suspiciously like deep gouges made by fingernails on the sides of his neck. And that was just what Dean could see. He had no doubt that his brother's clothes hid further bruises.

"Sam, what the hell?" he tried again, stumped.

Sam swallowed hard, released his harsh grip on the doorframe and pushed past Dean. He was limping heavily, dragging his left leg, and Dean found that he was too rattled to respond in any sensible way right now.

"Sam?" He closed the door and turned to follow Sam's less than straight bee-line across the room. "Where are you going?"

On the way toward the bathroom, Sam stripped his jacket and shirt off, letting both drop to the floor. "I need a shower," he rasped hoarsely before he shut the door behind him.

Dean just stood there for a moment. "Holy hell," he muttered, then picked up Sam's jacket and shirt and threw both things onto his own bed. Then he stepped up to the door, grabbed the doorframe on either side and leaned a little closer. "Sam? Are you okay?" It was a stupid question. It was obvious that Sam was anything but okay, but he didn't know what else to say. "Sam?"

The water started running and for a moment Dean considered the option of ignoring Sam's privacy and barging in there. There was really no other way he would be able to see how much damage had been done. But he stopped himself. Whatever Sam had gone through, it was unlikely that he would want to share it and Dean had a fairly vivid imagination. He had to reign it in to not let it go overboard.

Instead of following the urgent need to check up on his brother, he turned back to the room and ran his eyes over the interior, restlessly searching for something to distract his mind. Then his eyes settled on Sam's duffle. He picked it up, opened the door to the bathroom and shoved it inside before closing the door again.

It took Sam exactly an hour to get out of the shower again and almost half an hour more before he finally emerged from the bathroom. His skin had the hectic redness of too hot water and he looked positively wasted. He was dressed in a t-shirt and loose sweat pants and from what Dean could see of his arms, they were mottled with bruises too. But the physical signs of the abuse he had gone through were rivaled by the look in Sam's eyes which made Dean almost queasy.

Sam eased down on the edge of his bed, his movements indicating soreness in all the wrong places. Dean remained seated on his bed and just watched Sam intently for a moment. When he made no move to speak, Dean leaned forward a bit. "What the hell happened to you?"

His question hit a nerve and Sam closed his eyes for a moment, then ran a somewhat shaky hand through his still wet hair. "I don't wanna talk about it," he muttered.

"Did she ..." Dean stopped when Sam's jaw muscles tightened. And he still wouldn't look at him, which was answer enough. "Never mind. Forget I asked," Dean said and focused on the deep furrows along Sam's neck. "You need to put something on that," he added, rose and got the first aid kit. Sam didn't oppose him when he cleaned out the scratches, then covered them with gauze pads and taped them down. "Get some rest if you can," he suggested.

Sam stretched out on the bed and pulled the blanket from earlier over himself, then rolled carefully onto his side, turning his back to Dean.

Left with a ton of questions he most likely would never get an answer for, Dean settled back down on his own bed and watched Sam for the next hour. All he felt was an abysmal hate toward Dawn and her kind and he swore that if he ever saw her again – in her present guise – he would shoot her on sight, no questions asked.

***

Letting Sam sleep seemed to be the only thing Dean could do. It didn't diminish how angry he was or the fact that he found himself watching over his brother most of that day instead of doing something productive. Around noon, he briefly stepped outside the door and closed it behind him, pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed Bobby's number.

"Talk to me."

"Bobby, it's Dean. Uh ... about this demon infestation in Jackson. You said there were other hunters interested in the gig?" Dean countered.

"Yeah. Why?" Bobby sounded instantly suspicious.

"Sam twisted his ankle. Can't walk too good right now. And I'm not doing this alone. So I suggest you call those guys and ask them to take over. We're leaving town tomorrow morning," Dean said.

"Is it that bad?" Bobby asked.

"Nah, he just can't walk around too much for a few days. And I think it's unfair to the good people of Jackson if we postpone this," Dean said. He knew that Bobby could tell that something else was going on, but he figured he knew Bobby well enough to know that the guy wouldn't ask.

"Well, okay. I'll call them. You tell Sam to stay of that foot as much as possible. And put some ice on it," Bobby said.

"Will do. Just wanted to keep you up-to-date," Dean agreed.

"Why don't you boys come back here?"

Dean made a face and leaned back against the wall next to the door. "Nah, that's okay. We'll find a nice little spot somewhere to kick back and relax for a few days. We need the downtime anyway. We'll drop by soon. I promise," he said.

"Good. Make sure you do, Dean. I wanna see you before ..." Bobby trailed off, leaving the ending open.

"Yeah, don't worry. We'll drop by as soon as Sam's walking again," Dean promised and hung up. With a sigh, he pushed the phone back into his pocket and just stood there for a moment. He had purposefully refused to think too much about what Sam had just gone through because it was riling him up like nothing else could and the more riled up he got, the more he wanted to hunt that bitch down and put a bullet in her heart. But he needed a little more to go on before he went overboard on this and as long as Sam wasn't talking, he didn't know if the deal was over or not. One thing he promised himself, though. If Sam had just gone through this and the deal wasn't done, he was going to make her suffer for as long as possible before he popped her.

After a bit, he stepped back into the room and briefly eyed his brother's still form. Whether Sam was asleep or just faking it didn't really matter. What mattered was that he had time to work through this, to get over it in some manner or fashion. And Dean was willing to take the brunt of it if he got angry, which he had every right to.

Dean flopped back down on his own bed and just sat there. In part he wanted to switch the tv on and watch something mind-numbing, but he didn't. He didn't want to bother Sam right now and it felt kind of disrespectful if he indulged in something like that while Sam was feeling miserable.

When darkness started to descend over the town again, Dean figured Sam had been granted enough time to sleep and since the kid hadn't moved all day, he figured Sam wasn't sleeping anyway. He considered various approaches from a normal rude awaking to anything in between and settled on the one thing he figured Sam needed right now more than anything. He settled down on the edge of Sam's bed. "Sammy, I know you're awake," he said quietly. "Don't you think it's about time that you talked to me?"

For a long moment nothing happened. Then Sam shifted a little. "No," he muttered.

"Well, then at least pay attention to me. I'm feeling overlooked here," Dean countered, attempting a joke that fell flat because Sam didn't respond to it in any way. "You know that I have a pretty vivid imagination, Sam. So I'm kinda driving myself nuts here, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I get that she wasn't exactly gentle, but ..."

Sam rolled over on his back, stopping Dean dead in his tracks. "I don't want to talk about it, okay?" he pressed out, his tone tense, his expression strained. "There's nothing to talk about. The deal's over. You're free."

Being stuck between tentative relief and indignation that Sam thought this would be the first thing on his mind, Dean didn't really know how to respond at first. "There's plenty to talk about, Sam," he disagreed.

With a grunt, Sam pushed himself up on his elbows. "No, there isn't. I knew what I was getting into here and I did it to save you. Let's just leave it at that, okay?" It wasn't a demand, it was a plea, and how could Dean refuse Sam that? He wanted peace of mind through the act of forgetting and if he could pull that off, Dean would go along with it.

"Okay," Dean agreed. "You don't wanna talk about it. Fine. I get it. Are you hungry?" he asked.

Sam stared at him for a moment, then let himself drop down on the bed and groaned, his expression twisting painfully as much as his bruised face allowed for. "Yes," he finally muttered.

"Good. I'll order room service. Tomorrow morning, we're leaving this dump and we'll never look back," Dean said and rose to grab the room phone.

"What about the gig?" Sam asked and squinted at him.

"Someone else is taking care of that. I called Bobby, said you'd twisted your ankle and couldn't walk. He put someone else on the case," Dean said and dialed the number for room service, ordered them a hefty dinner and hung up again.

"It is actually my knee," Sam said and frowned lightly, then grimaced and gingerly touched his swollen cheek. "Man, my face hurts," he added.

"I don't blame you. With a shiner like that?" Dean countered and eyed Sam closely. "Are you sure nothing's broken?"

"Don't think so. Just badly bruised," Sam countered.

"I'll get you some ice," Dean said, grabbed the complimentary ice bucket and left the room before Sam could say another word. He hurried down the hall to the ice machine, filled up the bucket and turned back to face the corridor. "Son of a bitch," he muttered under his breath. Sam was trying to ignore it, but he knew his brother. This was gonna come back to haunt the kid and he hated what it was already doing to Sam. And more so, he hated that he was the cause of this, that Sam had gone along with this insanity to save him.

The guilt was beginning to burn inside him now and he knew it would grow exponentially if he didn't put a lid on it. The worst would be if Sam began to blame him. He didn't really think he could handle that at this point. "Shit," he muttered and headed back to the room. The demon needed to pay for this.

Back in the room, he grabbed a plastic bag and filled it with ice, then wrapped a towel around it. "Let me see that knee," he said.

Sam grimaced and sat up slowly, his expression twisting with each sore muscle he had to move. He shoved the blanket away from his legs and pulled the pant leg up to expose a swollen, bruised knee.

"Jesus, Sam," Dean hissed. "That looks bad," he added and looked up to meet Sam's gaze, which shifted away instantly. "Maybe we should drop by the ER? Have it x-rayed? Just to be sure?"

"And how am I gonna explain how that happened?" Sam asked while a hectic blush crept into his cheeks.

"You lie your head off is how," Dean countered. "Sam, this could be bad if you don't get it treated. We're gonna swing by the ER on the way out of town."

Sam's gaze flitted all over the room, restlessly searching for something to latch onto. "Let's just see how it is tomorrow," he countered. "I don't wanna go unless it can't be helped. I have too many other bruises that can't be explained away by a fall or a stupid move."

Dean fixed his gaze on the hand-shaped bruises on Sam's throat and made a face. "Yeah, okay," he agreed reluctantly and carefully placed the wrapped bag of ice on Sam's knee, which drew a pained hiss from his brother. Dean fixed up a smaller bag of the remaining ice and handed it to Sam. "Put that on your face. You look like a price boxer after a big fight," he added.

Sam grimaced, laid back down and put the ice-bag on his bruised cheekbone.

***

The following morning

As expected, Sam deflected any concern Dean showed for his knee and claimed it felt much better and he didn't need the ER. Dean caught a glimpse of it and knew Sam was lying about it, but he kept his trap shut. Sam was embarrassed like hell about what had happened and quite obviously did not want others involved. And all Dean could do was vow to himself that he would never use this against Sam, not for fun and not in anger.

They packed up, paid for the room and were in the car by ten a.m. And at that point Dean couldn't help noticing the pained expression on Sam's face. "Get in the back," he said.

"What?" Sam countered and gave him a puzzled glance.

"Get in the back, Sam. You need to keep that leg stretched out. You're gonna kill yourself if you have to sit like that for any amount of time," Dean countered. "Besides, we're not going anywhere until you move."

Sam grimaced. "I don't need ..." he tried, but Dean cut him off.

"Yes, you do. Stop arguing." He gave Sam a look that would have made his father comply and despite the obvious annoyance this caused in his brother, Sam did as he was told. Dean opened the trunk and withdrew a pillow from his duffle that he had snatched on the way out and threw it to Sam. "Here. Make yourself comfortable," he added, then handed Sam a wrapped-up bag of ice. "And put that on your knee. And don't tell me it's doing better. I saw it when you got up."

With an expression only a mother could love, Sam grumbled something under his breath, shoved the pillow behind him and carefully positioned the bag on his knee. "I hate sitting in the back," he confessed.

"Yeah, well, you can't stretch out your freakishly long legs in the front seat, so stop whining," Dean countered, slammed the back door and got behind the wheel. "Let's see how far we get. Unless you wanna go back to Bobby's?"

"No," Sam said with a shake of the head. "He's got enough to worry about without having to play nursemaid to me."

The mental image that formed in Dean's head was not becoming and downright hilarious and he quickly turned his attention to the front to hide the smirk. "Yeah, well, Bobby asked. I just thought I'd throw it out there," he managed without cracking up. Even though the situation was anything but laughable, he knew his reactions would be over the top for a bit.

Dean got them on the road and contemplated for a while where to go. They needed time off right now, time to regroup and for Sam to get back on his feet again. It took him all of an hour to settle on a destination, a secret wish he'd harbored ever since he had heard of that damned place the first time. Smith Island in North Carolina. Or, as it were, off the coast of North Carolina. It would take some finagling for sure, but he was confident he could get them onto the island and away from society for a bit.

He pulled his phone out of one pocket, flipped it open and found the number he had in mind.

"Who are you calling?" Sam asked.

Dean didn't answer and instead held the phone up to his ear and waited for it to be picked up at the other end. It didn't take more than two rings. "Cindy," he said and smirked, then chanced a glance back at Sam, who made a face and redirected his attention to his laptop sitting open on his lap.

"Hey, it's Dean Winchester," he said.

"Dean? Well, that's a surprise. How are you?" She sounded happy to hear from him and he couldn't help smiling.

"Oh, I'm fine. Listen, Cin, you said at some point that your family has a place on Smith Island. Remember that?" he asked.

"Yeah, actually it's mine now. My mom passed away and I inherited it."

"Sorry to hear that," Dean countered seriously.

"Oh, it's okay. It happened two years ago. Besides, she was ill and it was a mess," Cindy said. "So, why are you asking?"

"Well, I know it's kinda out of the blue and all, but my brother got himself hurt and needs to recuperate for a bit and you did say that if I ever wanted to stay there ..." He trailed off, leaving the rest up to her.

"Sure. If you want to. I hardly have time to go there myself any more," she said and sighed. "I'll call ahead, let Mr. Jenkins know you're coming. You can stay as long as you want."

"Thanks Cindy. I appreciate it," he countered.

"And if you stay long enough ... I might be able to drop by over the weekend or something," she added.

Dean grinned. "Sure. That could be fun," he agreed. "Thanks again, Cin. I owe you one."

"I'll call you," she promised and hung up.

"Smith Island?" Sam asked when Dean flipped his phone shut and dropped it on the seat next to him. "That's ..."

"Millionaire heaven, yeah," Dean agreed. "It'll be fairly nice this time of year. Not too many people around. I've been wanting to go there since ... forever."

Sam refrained from answering that and Dean sent a brief glance back at him, noting the somewhat troubled expression on his brother's face.

"What?" he asked. "You don't wanna go?"

"No, that's fine," Sam countered. "But what about the job?"

"The job can wait until you're up and at'em again," Dean said with a shrug. "We're not the only hunters out there, Sammy, and you need to recover from this crap. End of story."

"And what if ..."

"Enough, Sam! We're going to Smith Island and that's it. It'll be like a real vacation for once," Dean said.

For a moment Dean thought Sam was going to contest this and Dean was already cursing his sense of responsibility when Sam sighed. "Okay," he consented. He didn't sound happy, but Dean didn't really expect him to right now anyway. He could easily admit to himself that it would shock the hell out of him if Sam would be able to even crack a smile for a few days. And he knew that the kid was going to be in for some rough nights ahead.

"Good. We haven't had a vacation in ... forever. It's time for us to kick back and relax a bit. Just in case," he countered. Sam didn't answer and Dean glanced back at him again. He was just sitting there, staring down at his laptop. "What's wrong?" he asked and returned his attention to the road ahead of them.

"Dean ... what if the contract isn't broken?" Sam asked after a moment.

It had crossed Dean's mind and he swore vengeance on anything that looked remotely demon-like if that was the case. "When you're back on your feet, Sammy, we'll hunt that bitch down and force some answers out of her. And generally those bastards can't lie when you're exorcizing them. That'll teach her," he said, his tone much more confident than he felt.

As expected Sam wasn't in favor of that. "I don't know," he muttered, and Dean knew what he meant by that. He didn't want to go anywhere near Dawn again, which Dean couldn't blame him for.

"Well, I for one think she has to pay for what she did. I don't care if she got me out of that deal or not," Dean countered gruffly.

***

They stopped over just outside of Columbus for lunch and Sam tried valiantly to pretend that his knee wasn't as bad as it was. The fact was that it hurt constantly and he figured he had probably ripped a tendon or something. But he didn't dwell too much on how it had happened, because every time he did, he felt nauseous.

He had to give Dean credit for his ability to make everything seem okay. He chattered along about everything and nothing, was snippy with a gas station attendant who moved a little too slowly, and was almost gushing over the girl behind the counter of the diner where they stopped for lunch.

And Sam generally was able to distract himself away from the bitter taste in his mouth and the shudder that ran up his spine every time he saw red hair. He knew it would pass in time, that he would be able to resume what passed for normal living in the Winchester realm at some point in the near future, but for now he reserved the right to be withdrawn and anti-social. And Dean let him.

They arrived in Princeton in West Virginia around nine that evening and Dean checked them into the ominously labeled Gateway Motel, which turned out to be a nice little place with the right kind of privacy. The room was big, the tv set was bigger than in most places and the mini bar was stocked with all the right kind of booze. Dean was having fun, it seemed, but he did notice the furtive glances Dean kept sending his way whenever he thought Sam wasn't paying attention.

Sam let it slide. He knew Dean was worried, knew he was pissed off big time as well, and he didn't really want to change that. Besides, Dean was paying a hell of a lot more attention to him right now than he usually did and Sam figured he had a right to take advantage of that at the moment.

One thing that had started going through his mind after they had stopped for lunch though, did not bode well for the coming night. Since Dawn had said nothing about the contract before she had left, he couldn't help wondering if she had canceled it or would be back for more. And it was the latter that made his skin crawl. The what-if. He wasn't exactly afraid of a repeat performance, but it filled him with disgust to even think of it. He had no interest in repeating it, but he figured he would if she demanded it. But he would make it damned clear to her that she had to kill the contract on Dean after that or else there would be hell to pay.

As usual, the tough guy routine he sometimes managed to call up in his mind didn't work. He couldn't pretend he would go along with a treatment like this willingly once more, and couldn't help wondering if he'd been inclined to not step up to the plate and take this punishment, if he had known what she'd had in mind. The thought of having sex with a demon had turned him off. But now it was coupled with physical abuse on top of the unattractiveness of an encounter like that and it would make it damned near impossible for him to feel anything other than fear and loathing.

"Hey!" Dean snapped his fingers in front of his face, making Sam jerk back a bit. "Don't think about it, Sam. Just ... push it out of your head."

Sam focused on him, meeting Dean's eyes dead on for the first time since it had happened and he saw much more than he wanted to see in his brother's eyes. "Easier said than done," he muttered and looked away.

Dean wrapped a towel around another bag of ice and carefully placed it on Sam's knee. "Yeah, well, make an effort or you won't get any sleep tonight," he said, then handed him the bottle of painkillers and a glass of water while inspecting him visually. "How's your face?"

"Bruised," Sam countered, shook out two pills and swallowed them. "I'd rather not go to Smith Island, by the way," he added and glanced at Dean briefly.

Dean sat down on the edge of his bed. "Why not?"

"Because I want to keep busy. We can go after smaller stuff. Doesn't have to be demons. I just don't want to ..." Sam trailed off, then shook his head lightly. "Never mind. You really want to go, don't you?"

"I think it would do us both good to relax for a bit," Dean agreed. "But if you don't feel like it ..."

"It's not that," Sam said. He suddenly felt really bad about this because he realized how much Dean wanted this and all things considered, this could be his last chance. "As I said. Never mind. Let's go to Smith Island," he added.

"Sam, if you'd rather keep hunting, we can do that too. I'm okay with it," Dean tried.

"No," Sam said with a shake of the head. "No, let's go. You're right. We need some time off."

Dean looked unconvinced, but dropped it for now. "Okay," he said and got up. "You hungry?" he asked and glanced almost longingly at the phone.

"No, but that doesn't mean you can't eat," Sam said.

"True," Dean agreed, grabbed the phone and ordered room service.

Shifting a little, Sam tried to get more comfortable and suppressed a groan. He had the feeling that every ache he tried to hide still didn't escape Dean's attention, but he did what he could to keep any vocalization at bay. Besides, the worst weren't the bruises or his busted knee or his aching face. The worst was his pride. The sorest part of him was his ego right now.

***