Bobby waited until the front door had clicked shut before he turned and strode into the living room. "What the hell are you up to?" he demanded.

Sam turned a little, flinched briefly, and then frowned. "What do you mean?"

"You know damned well what I mean, son," Bobby said. "I know you're planning something, Sam. I've only seen you this obsessed once before and it never bodes well when either of you think you have to do something alone. So spill it. What are you planning to do?"

Sam blinked, then looked away. The fact alone that Sam hadn't even made an attempt at a smile yet was troubling in itself, but Bobby knew these boys well enough to be able to read them and he knew when they were up to no good.

"Sam," Bobby said and settled down on the couch next to him. "Whatever you're planning, don't do it. Or at least talk it over with your brother first."

"I can't," Sam nearly whispered, staring into the space above the coffee table.

"Why not?" Bobby demanded.

Sam made a face, then glanced at him. "Because he doesn't need any more to worry about, okay? Just ... stay out of this, Bobby. And leave Dean out of it too."

"If you think I'm gonna back down on this one, you've got another thing coming," Bobby said, lending his tone as much of an edge as he felt was wise at this point. "You're insane if you think you'll spare your brother any more pain this way. Dean is worried sick as it is. If you go off half-cocked to deal with this demon yourself, you're just as crazy as he was for selling his soul in the first place."

Sam flinched, his expression tightening.

"I'm not saying that having you back is a bad thing, Sam. But you boys have got to stop this. You're destroying each other over this. Don't you see that?" Bobby asked. "I know this whole mess started with your daddy and his damned pigheadedness, Sam, but you can't continue like this. Neither of you. You gotta stop this before it kills you both."

"Dad had a saying and Dean always believed it. Until I got killed," Sam said quietly. "What's dead should stay dead. That's why dad never tried to bring mom back. But it killed him inside. And he did everything he could to alienate us so we wouldn't try to do this for him." He grimaced painfully and shifted a little. "But I know Dean considered it after dad died. He considered bringing dad back."

"We're not talking about your dad or Dean right now, Sam. What do you intend to do? Find her and exorcize her?" Bobby asked while watching Sam intently. The kid was beginning to adopt his brother's ability to change the subject.

The frown that slipped over Sam's brow spoke more than words to Bobby, but the kid said nothing, just sat there and stared ahead of himself.

"I know what you've been through, Sam. Believe me, I understand how you feel. I was married once. And my wife got possessed. This was before I got into this whole thing, long before I met your dad. I didn't know what was wrong with her, only that she was trying to kill me and that nothing I did could stop her. So I killed her. It's just about the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life and I've been kicking myself ever since because if I had known how to drive that demon out of her back then, I could have saved her. But I didn't know. I did the only thing I could and it was all done in the name of self-preservation. Believe me, I've considered bringing her back about a million times. I would give my damned soul to have her back. But, the fact remains that she's gone and bringing her back would only condemn her to the same life I've had. The doubt, the anger, the sorrow." He sighed and shook his head sadly. "I know what a cliche this is, but she was the light of my life. I think that's why I bonded with your dad, why I decided to help that stubborn ass out. Because we shared this on some level." Bobby knew, without having heard it from Dean, that he hadn't shared this with Sam. But Sam's expression didn't change much. He just continued to sit there and stare ahead of himself.

"Does Dean know this?" he suddenly asked and glanced at Bobby. There was something in his eyes that made Bobby frown. These boys kept secrets from each other, and they were big, whooping secrets.

"Some of it," Bobby agreed. "He knows enough not to talk about it," he added. "I generally don't like to remember it. It wasn't the brightest period in my life."

"I can imagine," Sam said and sighed deeply. "I need to do this or I'll never sleep again," he added and Bobby got the distinct impression that the kid was about to open up about his plan.

And then the front door opened and the excited yipping of Rumsfeld cut anything else he had wanted to say short. Bobby cursed under his breath and got up. "Now what?" he asked and met Dean halfway.

"Nothing. I'm hungry," Dean countered and disappeared into the kitchen.

Bobby glanced back at Sam, who hadn't moved, and felt like slapping Dean upside the head for barging in when he was just about to make some headway. And now he could literally see the curtains being drawn, the shutters closing, the walls coming back up. "Well, you know where everything is," he said, directing this to Dean.

"Yup," Dean countered and opened the fridge, blissfully unaware of the conversation he had interrupted.

Bobby remained where he was so he could watch both of them. At the same time he wondered if it had been such a good idea to instill the idea in Dean that John had cared more for his oldest than his youngest. In truth, Bobby knew that John had loved both his boys and would have died for both of them. A man was generally more attached to his firstborn, of course, but John had geared everything in life toward the protection of Sam. Even down to the time when he had nearly begged Bobby to take Sam off his hands, to keep the boy safe and away from the Winchester legacy. But Bobby had refused him back then because he knew what that would have done to Dean.

He shook his head and only barely stifled a heartfelt sigh. All those lies were going to bury them all some day and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it.


The following day

The man-sized mirror in the bathroom had always confused Sam a little. Most guys he knew didn't have man-sized mirrors and he hadn't for the life of him been able to figure out why Bobby of all people did. Knowing now that the man had been married somehow explained that, though.

Sam stood very still in front of it while staring at his marred chest. He touched the pink new skin, skirted his fingertips around the remaining scabs, while he tried to decide which step to take first. His plan was simple enough and it was its simplicity that could make it work. All he had to do was keep his mind blank of the plan when he finally got around to it.

She was expecting him to call and he had every intention of doing so as well. That alone would have made Dean go bonkers, which was why he didn't share that bit of information. Her number was encoded in his phone and he had, for the hell of it, tried to erase it without any luck. It seemed to be hardcoded and would be there as a reminder for as long as he kept that particular sim-card.

He sneered briefly and trailed his fingertips over the remains of the wound under his right nipple. He would have the reminders of this encounter for a while, but eventually it would disappear. But the memories seemed as hardcoded into his brain as her number was in his phone. The only difference was that he could replace his phone.

The corner of his lips twitched a little and he felt the overwhelming urge to break something. But he remained where he was while his eyes traveled down his torso to the burn on his abdomen. "Bitch," he muttered and gingerly skipped his fingertips over the remains of the burn. It wasn't the idea of scarring that got to him. What really had broken him inside had been the total and utter sense of helplessness. She could have done anything to him and he wouldn't have been able to stop her.

He looked up to meet his own eyes and just stared at himself for a minute. "Never again," he whispered, then flexed his left shoulder. He went through a set of exercises before getting dressed that would loosen his shoulder up and make the joint more flexible again.

After two weeks of being in pain and unable to wear anything but lose-fitting sweats, he was relieved to be able to pull his jeans back on. But he left out the belt for now, not that he really needed it anyway. It had always been more of an accessory to hang things on than anything else.

The skin the waistband of his jeans touched was tender to say the least and he figured he could stand wearing his jeans for a few hours before he had to revert back to the sweats. "Crap," he muttered and pulled his stomach in a little to avoid the chafing sensation. Today was not the day that he could go after the conclusion of this miserable bit of his life.


Dean dropped down on his bed and kicked his boots off, then watched Rumsfeld bouncing around the room with one of his socks for a moment. "You are one nutty little guy, you know that?" he asked the dog, who yipped in reply and tossed his sock onto his right foot. "That's the left one, silly," he said and smirked, then reached down and scooped the puppy up in his arms. "But at least you got the idea, huh?" he muttered and scratched the little guy behind one ear. "Who in their right mind would give you up?"

Rumsfeld turned and enthusiastically licked his chin a couple of times, then slipped expertly out of Dean's grasp and down his legs. He picked up the sock again and repeated his wild romp around the room.

A moment later the door opened and Sam stepped in. He was moving very carefully, obviously still sore from the burns and the beating, but Rumsfeld tumbled right into his right leg and fell over his foot. Sam just looked down at the puppy, his expression painfully bland, and Dean hated that. "How are you feeling?" he asked and eyed his little brother.

"Fine," Sam countered, sidestepped the puppy and settled down on his bed. "Better," he added and shifted before pulling a little at the waistband of his jeans.

"A little early for jeans, maybe?" Dean asked.

"Maybe," Sam agreed.

"Sam," Dean started and wasn't entirely sure how to go about what he wanted to say. "Bobby seems to think you're planning something," he finally said. It probably wasn't fair to implicate Bobby right now, but he needed a little collateral to maybe change Sam's mind about whatever he was going to do.

Sam just sat there and stared ahead of himself like he had done practically ever since it had happened the first time. Then he focused on Dean and there was a quiet kind of fire burning in his eyes that made Dean cautious. "This is something I need to deal with on my own," he finally said and held up a hand when Dean opened his mouth to object. "For once in your life, Dean, hear me out before you have a fit." Dean closed his mouth again, concern once again rearing its head. Sam eyed him for a moment, then let his attention drift. "You have six days left if the contract isn't void," he said quietly. "I'm fairly certain that she holds the contract, that it's hers. Who she is and why she has it I don't know. But she knows we have the colt, she knows we can kill her. I don't think she would put herself on the line like that if she didn't have the contract." He paused, seemed to search for the right words, and Dean held his tongue because he didn't want to stop Sam's sudden forward momentum. "I haven't slept right since this happened," he said and blinked rapidly a few times. "If ever I want to sleep properly again, I have to deal with her on my own terms. I have to face her and put an end to her."

"How?" Dean asked.

Sam grabbed his phone from the night stand next to his bed and eyed it. "She put her number in my phone. I tried to erase it, but it won't come out," he said thoughtfully. "She wants me to call her. So I'm going to."

"Sam ..."

"Don't!" Sam cut him off. "This one is mine," he added and glanced at Dean. "She did this to me and I have to finish this." He eyed his phone for a moment. "I think I know how to do this."

"And what if it doesn't work, Sam? What if she ... does it again? What if she hurts you permanently this time?" Dean asked, already getting worked up about this – in his opinion – insane plan.

"I can't live with what if's for the rest of my life, Dean. I need to get back at her for what she did. And if it means freeing you from that damned deal too, it's worth the sacrifice," Sam countered quietly.

"Worth the sacrifice?" Dean stared at him. "Are you nuts? It's not your job to ..."

"To what?" Sam cut him off. "To put myself on the line for you like you've done for me for as far back as I can remember? You think I don't know what you've given up to be my protector? You think I don't know what you've had to forego to keep me safe?" His gaze burned with restrained emotion and Dean realized – reluctantly – that this was something that Sam needed to do. It was important. "You know, part of me hoped that dad would pay more attention to you when I went off to Stanford. I just kinda get the feeling that he didn't, did he?"

Dean grimaced. "Well ... he kinda did," he said somewhat reluctantly. "It was like ... we talked more." Then he focused fully on Sam. "Don't change the subject," he growled.

"I'm not," Sam countered almost indifferently. "Just ... you have to let me do this on my own, Dean. I have to ..."

"Prove yourself?" Dean asked. "Is that what this is about?"

Sam snorted. "No," he countered and shifted his attention to Rumsfeld, who had totally conked out at Dean's feet.

"Then what, Sam? I'm trying to understand this, you know. But right now ... it just seems to me that you're after revenge, that you want to eradicate her for what she did," Dean tried.

Sam continued to stare at the sleeping puppy for a moment, then glanced up at Dean. "Isn't that what you want to do?" he asked.

"Yeah, but that's me. You don't do the revenge-angle, Sam," he countered, hoping somehow to get through to Sam right now.

Sam just stared at him. "I do now," he said quietly.

"So, what's the plan? How are you going to do this? Call her up, tell her to come get you and then blow her away when she turns up?" Dean asked.

Sam shrugged lightly. "Pretty much," he agreed.

He had expected something like this, had even considered taking that path himself, but to realize that this was what Sam had in mind made his blood run cold. "Do you know how many ways this can go wrong?"

"Do you know how much I want to sleep without nightmares right now?" Sam countered, his tone suddenly sharp. "I - can't - sleep! I'm losing my damned mind here, okay? I keep ... dreaming about ... what she did. And it gets worse every time, more and more twisted every time. I'm heading full steam into another phobia here and I really don't need that right now."

"Another reason for you not to do this, Sam. Not now. You're not thinking straight," Dean tried.

"I need to end this before she ends you," Sam snapped and rose, apparently a little too quickly, because he flinched and doubled over.

"Sam?" Dean was off the bed in one smooth go and grabbed Sam's shoulders, steadying him. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Sam pressed out through clenched teeth and slowly straightened up. "Just got up too fast."

Rumsfeld jumped up on Sam's bed and started whining while Dean held onto Sam's arm when he sat down again.

"Ow," Sam muttered.

"Ow? You stubborn mule," Dean growled and hunkered down in front of him. "If anyone had ever had any doubts about your parentage, dude, this would convince them. You're just as pigheaded as dad. Would you please listen to me here? You're in no condition to deal with that bitch. Let me handle her."

Sam looked up, a little pale, a light sheen of perspiration covering his face. "She's not gonna come to you," he said with conviction in his voice. "Besides, you can't keep bailing me out, Dean. I need to do this on my own."

Dean sat back on his heels for a second, then rose and started pacing around the room for a moment. He stopped by the window and looked down into the front yard, then turned back to face Sam. "Okay, fine. But you're not doing this without backup."

Sam eyed him. "How the hell are you going to back me up on this?" Sam asked.

"You go in, without the colt. That way she won't be suspicious. We agree on ... whatever ... a time, a sign, something. I barge in and blow her to kingdom come. That way we both go home happy," Dean countered.

Quietly, Sam considered that plan for a moment. Then he focused on Dean. "And how does that not mean you're bailing me out again?" he asked. "It's not going to work," he added.

Rumsfeld climbed halfway up on his lap and Sam wove his fingers into the dog's fur without even looking down at him.

"Sure it will," Dean countered and refrained from responding to the fact that Sam took to Rumsfeld the same way he did.

"No, Dean, it won't. She'll know," Sam said. "And it won't ... help me."

"Sam, you're not going up against her alone. Not after what she did to you. Twice. What makes you think she won't stop you from exorcizing her? With her powers, she could crush you in a second. Remember that witch demon we went up against? You went there with the colt and what did that earn you? She used you to put a hole in the wall," Dean pointed out.

"I won't show her the colt until I'm going to use it," Sam tried.

"Bullshit. If you have it on you, she'll know. I'll bet you money that she can read your mind. And anyone who knows you knows that you wear your heart on your sleeve, Sam. If you insist on doing this on your own, I'm going to tie you to a frigging chair until the end of next week." Dean could feel his temper rising, could feel the fear that came knocking every time Sam got in over his head, and he hated that feeling. He especially hated it when it put him in a situation where he could do nothing.

"This isn't your fight," Sam growled.

"It is my fight," Dean countered angrily. "And you know why? Because she's doing this to you only because you want to get me out of this deal. If it hadn't been for that damned deal, you would never have volunteered for this crap in the first place."

Sam stared at him for a moment, then dropped his gaze to the puppy on his lap.

"Sam, you know I'm right," Dean insisted. "And there is no way in Hell that you're going up against her alone again. We're ending this together."

For a long moment he had the feeling that Sam was ignoring him, that the kid would do what he felt he had to do anyway, but then Sam looked up again and he looked devastated. "Okay," he finally consented.

Dean nodded once. "And I'm keeping the colt with me from now on," he said.

Sam frowned. "Why?" he asked.

"Because I don't trust you right now, Sam. I know that puppy-dog look. You're trying to pacify me by going along with this. We do this together or not at all. Personally, I'd prefer not at all, but I doubt that bitch is done with you. She'll be back for more eventually. We just gotta beat her to the punch line. And when we do, we're not sending her back to Hell. We're blowing her away."

It took a moment before that earned him a response, but eventually Sam nodded and let his shoulders drop a little. "Okay, fine," he consented and this time Dean believed him.

"Good," Dean said. "Now, let's go get some breakfast. I'm starving," he added.

Rumsfeld raised his head and started wagging his tail, then bounded off the bed and started yipping excitedly.

"I swear to God, that dog understands every damned word we say," Dean claimed and opened the door to let the dog out of the room. Then he turned back to Sam. "Are you coming?"

Sam nodded. "Just give me a sec," he said.

Dean eyed him for that second, then nodded and left the room, followed by the eagerly bouncing bundle of energy.


Sam just remained seated for a moment longer while he listened to Dean heading down the stairs. Only when he was sure he wasn't coming back up did he reach under his pillow to retrieve the colt. He eyed the weapon for a moment, then sighed. "He's gonna have a fit," he muttered, shoved the colt back under his pillow, then picked up his phone.

He scrolled down the list, found the number and stared at it for a moment. The area code made him grimace. 666 didn't exist, but he had no doubt that it would still go through. Before he could change his mind, he hit the dial button and raised the phone to his ear.


He could honestly admit to himself that the sound of her voice made him shudder inside and it took some doing on his part to force words out of his suddenly dry mouth. "I want to see you," he finally managed, his tone not very convincing.

"I knew you would," she claimed. "Where are you?"

"Recuperating," he replied and cleared his throat. "Fort Pierre," he added.

"Ah, what a quaint little town," she cooed. "I'll be at the State Motel Budget Host Inn on Euclid Avenue tonight. I'll be expecting you at 10 p.m., room 113. Don't let me down, Sam. If you don't come to me, I will eradicate your brother and your friend," she added and hung up.

He closed his eyes and let his head drop for a moment.

"Sam?" Dean called from downstairs.

"I'm coming," Sam countered in a voice much steadier than he felt. "What the hell am I doing?" he whispered to himself, then put the phone aside, got up slowly and made his way downstairs.


The rest of that day, Sam spent lost in thought, but it obviously didn't worry Dean too much. He hadn't really spoken much since this had happened anyway and both Dean and Bobby seemed to be getting used to the fact that he wasn't participating in the conversation.

The thought that he had lost any sense or reason and was going to get himself killed was foremost on his mind, but he felt that he had to do this and the sooner he did it, the better.

A quarter to nine, he was alone in the living room, slowly leafing through a book Bobby had handed him earlier. He couldn't even remember what it was called or what it was about. He was just trying to pretend that he was occupied with other things. Dean was in the kitchen with Bobby, doing whatever they were doing and Sam was relieved that Dean hadn't mentioned the colt again.

After a moment, he put the book aside and went upstairs. He knew he couldn't get out of the house unseen, but he had planned for that as well and figured he could probably get away with it for about half an hour before Dean started to worry.

In their room, he grabbed his phone, shoved it into one pocket, then grabbed the colt and stuffed it into the back of his jeans before shrugging into his jacket. He had padded the burn on his abdomen as much as he could and was fairly confident that he could make it all the way to the motel on foot. It would probably take him close to an hour, but he couldn't risk taking a car. Dean would be instantly suspicious, where as going for walks was something Sam did on occasion and it had never worried Dean.

On his way to the front door, he stopped by the kitchen. "Hey Dean?"

Dean, who stood next to Bobby and watched whatever Bobby was leafing through, looked up. "What?"

"I'm going out for a walk. I need some air. I've been cooped up inside for too long," he said.

Dean frowned lightly. "Okay," he said and returned his attention to what Bobby was doing for a second. "Sam?" he added and looked up again.

Bobby was watching him too now and Sam figured he had to get out soon before he started getting nervous. "What?" he asked.

"You got your phone?" Dean asked.

Sam rolled his eyes. "Of course I do," he countered.

"Good. See you later then," Dean said, gave him a brief smile and diverted his attention back to the papers on the table.

Bobby frowned briefly, then sighed and did the same.

Sam nodded and headed for the front door, purposefully moving as slowly as he thought he should. He let himself out of the house and made his way down toward the driveway and out onto the road, maintaining a slow, steady pace, his hands in his pockets, his eyes on the road in front of his feet. It would take a while before Dean caught on to what he was up to. When he finally did, Sam would probably already be at the motel and Dean wouldn't know where to find him. "Unless he tracks my phone," he muttered, pulled it out of his pocket and turned it off. It was probably a bad idea, but he was not going to be deterred from this undertaking.

Once he was out of sight from the house, he lengthened his stride and soon reached the bridge over the river. He chanced a quick glance back, then continued onward, feeling weighed down by the lies and the worry this was going to cause his brother. But he really had to do this on his own, had to finish that bitch off before she took his brother to Hell. He simply couldn't risk the wait, well aware that Dean would soon be looking for the colt and thereby stop his plan for revenge.

He stopped briefly in the middle of the bridge and eyed the town spreading out on the other side. Now he understood his father's motives so much better, understood the driven obsession with finding and destroying the thing that had hurt him. "Sorry dad," he whispered, then pushed himself forward and continued his walk toward what would quite possibly be his doom.