Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG

Synopsis: A hunt goes wrong, life takes a dark turn and Dean is left teetering on the brink of sanity. But not everything is as it appears to be.

Spoilers: This story is AU. John is dead, but not in Hell. Sam never died, so Dean wasn't forced to make a deal to bring him back. The brothers are fighting a losing battle against the increasing demon population.

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet
from Romeo & Juliet
by William Shakespear

MacKnee Ranch State Park
Montara, CA

"SAM! WATCH OUT!" Demons were a bitch to fight on any given day, but this one was a hell of a lot tougher than any other they'd ever come across.

Sam ducked the park bench hurled in his direction and barley managed to get out of the way of it before it would have caved his head in.

Dean hurled his latest invention – water balloons filled with holy water – at the demon and narrowly missed it. "Stay the hell away from my brother, you freak," he roared at it, ripped his shotgun up and pelted the demon-possessed man with rocksalt. Keeping an eye on Sam at the same time, he shifted his position and had to dive to the ground to avoid a man-sized boulder hurled in his direction. "Son of a bitch," he spat, rolled over on his back and bounced back to his feet, ready to take another shot at the demon.

But the guy had stopped moving, his black-tinted gaze fixed on something off to one side. Dean followed his line of sight, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Up above, the previously sparkling night sky clouded over rapidly and within moments even the moon had been obscured while the wind began to pick up. The air pressure dropped while the humidity climbed and Dean figured there might be a hurricane on the rise somewhere.

"Sam?" he yelled. In the increasing darkness, he had lost track of his brother.

"I'm okay," Sam yelled back from to the other side of the demon.

"Get your ass back over here," Dean yelled. The wind started whipping around them and a few discarded papercups jumped and danced across the grassy ground while the North Pacific was being whipped into a frenzy by the rising storm.

Lightening flashed across the sky and thunder boomed in the distance and all the while the demon-possessed man stood stock-still, his gaze fixed on something Dean couldn't see. It was at that moment that he started getting the feeling that the demon was causing the weather in some odd way and he couldn't really wrap his mind around that one.

To his immediate surprise, a bolt of lightning touched ground no more than a few paces from the guy, blinding in its intensity and strong enough to blow everything over within a half mile radius. The shockwave hit Dean full force and knocked him off his feet and it took him a few seconds to gather his senses enough to get back up. Blinded by the sudden flash, he blinked rapidly into the suddenly star-filled darkness while the wind around him died down again. It took forever before his eyes finally adjusted and he could make things out again and he was a bit stunned to realize that the demon-possessed guy was gone. "Shit," he snarled and scanned the area. "SAM?"

There was no reply from his brother and that was always cause for concern. "SAM!" he yelled again.

The cloud cover above parted again and the full moon shed its light over the scene, giving him more than enough illumination to see by. And what he saw made him just stand there and stare for a moment. There was no sign of Sam. And there was no sign of the demon either. And there was nothing within half a mile that either could hide behind.

"Sam?" He started moving, almost on auto-pilot, while he scanned the area for his brother, and he didn't abandon his search until the horizon had a rosy gleam to it and the moon had set again. And even then he didn't leave the park, just stopped next to the burned spot on the grass where the lightening bolt had hit while he sent a long look around for something he already knew was no longer there.

Only when the dawn turned to day did he dig out his phone and dial Sam's cellphone. It switched to voicemail at once, but he didn't leave a message. He dialed the number again with the same result. Then he dialed it a third time and got voicemail again. It was a bit frightening how he lost all purpose the second his brother was gone from his side, but it was not something he was consciously aware of when he dialed Bobby's number.

"Talk to me," came the instant gruff reply.

"Bobby, it's Dean. Have you heard from Sam?" He was aware of how his voice sounded, like he'd been bludgeoned with something heavy and was still gathering his wits about him.

"Heard from Sam? I thought you were on a gig together in California somewhere," Bobby countered. "What happened?"

"No clue," Dean admitted reluctantly and kept scanning the area visually. "He's just ... gone."

"Talk to me, Dean. What happened?" Bobby pressed.

He blinked rapidly a few times while the seconds before Sam's disappearance ran through his mind again. "Uh ... we were ... there was this demon and ... a lightening bolt," he tried and looked down at the scorched spot again. "He's gone," he repeated, unsure of what exactly this all meant. "One second he was here, the next he ... wasn't."

"Dean, you're not making any sense. What the hell are you talking about? What happened?" Bobby pressed, now decidedly worried.

The more he thought about it, the more confused he got. "He disappeared, Bobby. Into thin air. So did the demon. One second they were both here. And there was this ... storm or whatever. I think the demon did that. Lightning hit the ground nearby, knocked me over. When I got up again ... only seconds later ... they were both gone. Sam and the demon. He's ..." The mere idea was ridiculous. People didn't just disappear like that. "I've been searching all night. He's just ... gone."

Bobby remained silent for a moment, then he sighed. "Have you tried calling him?"

"Three times. Goes to voicemail every time," Dean said and fixated on the burn mark on the ground again. "Can a bolt of lightning obliterate someone completely?" It was a hair-raising thought and it made his stomach roll.

"No, not without some kind of remains," Bobby said. "The demon must have ... moved him or something. Do you know which one you were up against?"

"Uh ... no ... just a demon wrecking havoc on this community. We chased it out here and then ... if Sam could call me, he would have. Wouldn't he?" He could honestly admit that he felt like he had been split down the middle. One part of him was capable of thinking straight and was desperately trying to make the other part, the paralyzed one, do something other than think 'he's gone, he's gone, he's gone' over and over again.

"Sure he would," Bobby assured him. "Maybe it knocked him out. He'll call you if he can, Dean. Just stick around the area for a day or two. Just in case. And check the hospitals for any of your aliases."

Dean nodded. "Yeah, okay, good idea," he agreed and finally began to pull himself together enough that he could function again.

"I'll try and call around, see if anyone knows anything. There might have been some signs or something," Bobby said. "Stay in touch, Dean. You hear me?"

"Yes sir," he responded instinctively, then sent another long look around the area. "Talk to you later," he added and hung up, then let his hand drop. "Sam," he whispered. He felt completely helpless right now and he hated that feeling with a vengeance.


Country Inn
Redwood City, CA
Two days later

He hadn't slept, hadn't closed his eyes for more than a few minutes at a time and he was running on empty. Any and all attempts he had made to get in touch with his brother ended in failure. Bobby had moved heaven and earth to find any leads, but nobody knew anything. There had been no signs of any kind and that generally meant that Sam was gone and that was that. Dean couldn't accept that, of course. After two days in Redwood City, where he had been sitting on his damned hands without any idea of how to handle this, he felt like he was losing his mind.

Calling Ellen had yielded nothing. She had promised to call back if she heard anything, but he wasn't holding his breath on that one. Calling Bobby as often as he had was beginning to put a cramp in their relationship and he had to force himself not to call more than once every few hours. And still there was nothing. Nobody knew anything. The one person he could actually imagine might be able to help was the one he didn't really want to get in touch with. But at this point all bets were off. Anyone who could offer even a shred of advice, a sliver of a hint, was worth contacting. So when the sun set on the second day and there had been no change in this situation, he reluctantly got behind the wheel of his car and headed East toward Kansas.

He drove through the night, pulled over along the way to get an hour or two of rest, then continued onward and generally began to feel like he'd been beaten up with a baseball bat by the time the Impala rolled into Lawrence. Having to go back there was not his idea of fun, but this town held the only person he could think of who might be able to help him without being a demon.

In his presently depleted state, he knew that Missouri Mosely's sharp tongue would probably drive him to tears, but he was willing to risk the ridicule she offered in return for any indication of where Sam might be right now. The idea that he should have found a motel and slept for a few hours before going to see the tough psychic hit him the moment he cut the engine outside her house, but he couldn't wait, knew he wouldn't be able to rest until he had exhausted every possible avenue. And then only because he was too exhausted to do anything else.

There were not that many people in this world that could actually make him hesitate, but Missouri was definitely one of them. The fact that she could read him like an open book creeped him out on so many levels, he couldn't even begin to list them. That she seemed set on shooting him down was something he absolutely couldn't grasp. She made him doubt himself, caused him to stall where he would otherwise be shooting his mouth off, and it rattled him.

He wiped a hand over his mouth and fiddled with the key for a moment before finally shutting the door to step around the Impala and up to the steps leading up to her porch. There he stopped again, angry with himself for stalling, terrified of what she might tell him. It was generally the latter that held him back right now. In part, he was desperate to find Sam, but he was also scared senseless of hearing the one thing he didn't want to hear.

With an effort, he forced himself up those steps and stopped dead in front of the screen door. He raised a hand to knock on it when the door opened so suddenly that he took a step back.

"What'd you doin', standin' around outside my door like that?" Missouri demanded and eyed him for a second. The spark in her eyes disappeared, though, and she pushed the screen door open. "You look like death warmed over, boy. Get in here," she added and stepped aside to let him in.

There was one word that fit very nicely on how he felt around her. Intimidated. She intimidated the crap out of him and it wasn't a pleasant feeling all around. Hesitantly, he stepped inside and made sure the screen door didn't bang shut behind him. He nervously chomped down on his lower lip, his gaze darting all over the cramped hallway of her house while he felt like he was five and being stared down by the bully of the neighborhood. "Uhm ... sorry to turn up unannounced like this, but ..."

"You're worried," she said, her gaze locked on him. "No, scared," she corrected herself and waved toward the livingroom. "Go on. Get in there. I ain't gonna bite," she added.

He tried a smile which failed miserably. "Missouri, Sam's missing. I have no idea where he is. I can't reach him. I need ... I need you to ..." He rubbed the back of one hand against his nose, not exactly sure what he needed her to do. 'Read' where Sam was? Make a mental connection?

"Go in. Sit down before you fall down," she suggested, her tone uncommonly mellow.

Knowing better than to antagonize her, he walked ahead of her into her livingroom and sank down on the couch there. Elbows on knees, he started turning his ring around his right ring finger between his left thumb and middle finger while he stared at the tabletop without seeing it.

Missouri stopped in the doorway for a moment, then made her way over to one of the chairs and settled down on that. "Now, tell me. What's got you so worked up? What do you mean, Sam's missin'?"

He sighed, considered how to relay what had happened when he didn't even know himself, and figured he might as well just tell her what he knew. It didn't take long and she didn't interrupt him even once. When he finally fell silent, all he could think of doing was stare at her while she eyed him closely. He was fully aware that she was reading him, maybe seeing things he wasn't even aware of, but anything that might lead him to Sam was worth doing right now.

Missouri leaned back in her chair and folded her hands while her gaze drifted across the room and settled in the middle-distance. "Missin', huh?" she muttered. "That boy is powerful. Should be able to feel'im."

Dean got the impression that she was talking to herself right now, so he kept his trap shut and waited impatiently for her to acknowledge him again.

"You got somethin' of Sam's with you?" she suddenly asked and focused on him.

"Not here, but I can get something from the car," he countered. "What do you need?"

She considered it for a moment. "Anythin' he's been in contact with recently," she said.

He nodded and rose to rush out to the car to grab the first thing he could find, which was Sam's t-shirt.

Missouri spent half an hour just sitting there, holding Sam's t-shirt while she stared into space and made no sound and Dean got more and more anxious. But he knew better than to push her. She would push right back and she wouldn't be friendly about it either.

Finally, though, she focused on him and the look in her eyes made him wither inside. She looked sad. "I get nothin'," she said. "Not a glimmer, nothin'."

He frowned lightly. "What does that mean? Does that mean he's ..." He couldn't even bring himself to ask the question, let alone get within a mile of acknowledging the possibility.

"No, I don't think so," Missouri said. "Maybe he's just too far away for me to connect with him, but ..." She shook her head and looked down at the t-shirt. "I should be able to tell you if he's dead or alive, but I get nothin'. It's like he never existed." She sighed, then held the t-shirt out to him. "More probably I just ain't strong enough to feel'im where ever he is. You just keep lookin' for'im and I'm sure you'll find'im."

Reluctantly, he accepted the t-shirt and bundled it up in his hands. "But you don't think he's dead?" he asked. Now that the balance spoke against such an atrocity, he could say the word out loud.

"I just don't know, Dean. But I do believe I'd be able to feel it if he was. So I don't think so," she said and rose.

Dean rose too and nodded. "Okay. Thanks, Missouri. I'd better get going. I need to ... uh ..."

She reached across the coffee table and laid a hand on his arm. "You just keep lookin', Dean. I'm sure you'll find'im eventually."

"I sure hope so," he muttered, then took his leave of the psychic.

He drove out of town and once he hit the city limit, he pulled over to the side of the road and just sat there for a bit. What the hell was going on? Where was Sam? Why couldn't he find him? People didn't just disappear into thin air like that.

It took him a while to gather his wits about him enough to keep on driving and he headed toward South Dakota then, not knowing where else to go, not able to focus on anything other than getting help. He needed Bobby on this one, needed help to find his brother.


One year later

Time had the ability to run away from him these days, not that he really noticed it much. His main concerns alternated between killing as many evil sons of bitches as he could and trying to dry out any given bar he could find once he was done putting holes in the darkness of the world.

Some of the time, Bobby was with him on these hunts and those where the times when he made a conscious effort to not drink his brains out. When he was alone, though, he even hunted drunk. He knew it was dangerous and the part of him that had been growing steadily for the past year cheered him on when he did it. The only thing that kept him from taking it over the limit was the fading possibility that his little brother might still be out there somewhere. For one year he hadn't heard from Sam. For one year, nobody had heard from Sam and even the few demons Dean had taken the time to interrogate had either not been able or willing to give him the answer he was looking for. At this point in time, even finding out that Sam was dead would be a release. At least then he could end it and be done with this shithole of a world.

He poured the remains of the bottle of Jacks down his throat and tossed it out the window while driving full speed up the Byway toward Bobby's salvage yard. The box of bottles in the back rattled ominously while the cassette player blared AC/DC loud enough to nearly make him go deaf. He sniffed, corrected the less than straight line he was driving in, then stomped on the brake and ripped the car into the salvage yard where it came to a stop on screeching tires.

Both the rumble of the engine, which he could only feel at this point, and the thudding base of Highway to Hell were cut short when he killed the engine and yanked the key out of the ignition. Getting out of the car was always a daunting process when he was this blitzed, but he somehow managed without falling on his face. He sent a wavering look up at the porch and smirked joylessly when he found Bobby standing there, his arms crossed over his chest while he watched Dean with nothing short of exasperation.

"That right there," he said and pointed a finger in Bobby's general direction while he navigated his way around the car, "that rivals Sammy's toughest bitchface." He stumbled up the steps and came to an unsteady stop, wiped the back of one hand under his nose and squinted at Bobby. "So, what's so frigging important that it can't wait until I've nailed that demon bitch?"

"Another demon bitch," Bobby countered. "Tougher, harder to kill. Thought you'd want in on this hunt."

"Sure thing," Dean said, briefly closed his eyes and wavered a little. "After I sleep for a bit. I've got a headache from hell," he added and cleared his throat.

"You smell of old booze and cigarettes. Are you smoking?" Bobby asked.

"Nah, just spent the night with this hot little number. She smoked like a frigging chimney, but the sex was outstanding," Dean countered and sneered. All he could taste these days was either booze or bile. Not necessarily in that order.

"Spare me the details," Bobby said. "Get upstairs and sleep for a while. Then we can go over the details."

Dean growled under his breath and did as he was told. That was about the length of his compliance though. For the past year, he had done what he wanted, every step of the way. And all he wanted was to forget that he had lost the last family member he'd had left.


The first thing he wanted when he woke up again was a drink. That wouldn't happen in this house though. Bobby didn't interfere in what he did in general, just chastised him when he got too close to getting himself off'ed, but the second Dean set foot in his house, his rules applied.

"Aw man," he groaned and briefly burrowed his face into the pillow. There were, of course, two things that would not be denied at this point in time. His stomach was already cramping, getting ready to expel the worst of last night's binging, and his bladder was about to burst. He grimaced, then pushed off the bed and made his unsteady way out into the bathroom where he first emptied his stomach and then subsequently his bladder. Then he splashed some water on his face and very briefly met his own bloodshot eyes in the mirror. He couldn't stand to look at himself these days, couldn't stomach the failure he saw when he saw his own reflection. All he could think was how disappointed Dad had to be in him and how he had let Sammy down by not protecting him.

He sneered at his own reflection. "Screw you," he rasped to himself, pushed away from the sink and made his way back to the bedroom he had shared with Sam every time they had stayed over. He would forego a shower until he felt a little more clearheaded and Bobby would just have to put up with him until then. The first thing he needed was coffee. Not the best thing he could dump into his already abused stomach, but the sour taste in his mouth wouldn't go away unless he found something to overshadow it with.

Once dressed, he went downstairs and straight into the kitchen, picked up a slice of bread and took a bite before grabbing a mug to pour himself some coffee. It was at this point that he realized that Bobby was sitting at the kitchen table, the table top covered with papers and books. "Hey Bobby," he greeted halfheartedly, grabbed the mug and sank down on a chair across from him.

"You look like death warmed over, boy," Bobby said and shook his head. "I can't stop you from trying to destroy yourself, Dean, but you gotta cut back on the booze if you wanna keep hunting."

"I'm gonna go down swinging, Bobby, so spare me the sermon," Dean countered and took a sip of the coffee. "What's this gig you've got lined up?"

Bobby eyed him for a moment longer, then sighed and turned his attention to the papers spread out over the table top. "Demon from what I can tell. A few hunters have gone after this one with no luck. Three of them are dead. Two are in the hospital. Seems this one's speciality is bringing buildings down on people's heads," he said.

"So where do we find this sucker?" Dean asked.

"Wichita, Kansas," Bobby said and looked up to meet his eyes. "Are you up to this?"

"When are we leaving?" Dean asked.

"Tomorrow morning. Gotta go into town and pick up a few thing before I'm ready," Bobby said.

Dean nodded. "Gives me enough time to get my act together here," he said and smirked joylessly. "What's one more demon, after all?" he added and stuffed the remains of the slice of bread into his mouth.

Bobby shook his head lightly again, his most verbal way of disapproving. "No booze on this trip. If you get shaky, you're out. You got that?"

"Got it," Dean said and mock-saluted him.


Two days later
Wichita, KS

Two days without booze nearly did him in, but by the time they rolled into Wichita, Kansas, Dean felt pretty much in control. The shakes wouldn't come until later and he had supplies in the trunk to counteract that. All he had to do was scale it down, get enough booze in his system to avoid the shakes, but not enough to get drunk. He'd done it before and he could do it again.

The old warehouse on West Harry Street was abandoned and condemned, probably ready to be torn down, but this was where the demon was supposedly hiding. Dean squinted up at it even with sunglasses on and made a face.

"You ready?" Bobby asked and gave him a scrutinizing glance.

"As ready as I'll ever be. Let's find this bastard and send him back where he belongs so I can go out and get a drink," he countered and smirked.

"Let me see your hand," Bobby said.

Dean raised his right hand, which was steady as a rock. "See? No jitters," he said. "Let's get this show on the road."

"Be careful, Dean. I am not going to bury you today," Bobby said, which was nearly a mantra with the man these days.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Dean growled, grabbed his shotgun in one hand and a bottle of holy water in the other and pushed through the opening in the fence and onto the yard surrounding the warehouse.

They made it through nearly all of the warehouse, which was in six stories and smelled of rot and death and old dust, before they met up again on the ground floor. "I think your source was misinformed, dude," Dean said and glanced up at the ceiling.

Bobby, who stood a few feet away and kept glancing around, didn't look happy. "Unless the demon knew we were coming," he countered and glanced over at Dean. "How're you doing? Got the shakes yet?"

"Don't worry about me. I've got it covered," Dean said and pulled a second flask out of his back pocket. "One for holy water and one for whiskey," he said and smirked.

A sudden sound distracted them both away from this heavy topic. Bobby motioned toward the rear of the ground floor and Dean nodded. He took one step forward when a part of the ceiling collapsed above Bobby and buried him in the debris.

"Son of a bitch," Dean snapped, dropped the flask of whiskey and rushed toward the spot where Bobby had just been. "Bobby?" he yelled. "Bobby?" He circled the pile of debris, his heart thudding painfully in his chest. In his humble opinion, which wasn't worth much these days, nobody could have survived a cave-in like that. "Shit," he hissed, dug his phone out of one pocket and flipped it open. "Bobby?" he tried again and continued searching for any sign that this pile of bricks and pieces of concrete hadn't come down right on top of Bobby. Despite the trouble this would get him in, he called 911. He reported the cave-in, said someone was trapped under it and they'd better hurry, then he hung up again before they could ask his name. "Stupid," he muttered, pocketed the phone again, dropped the bottle of holy water and the shotgun and started digging.

Before he got very far, he stopped when he heard another sound that resembled the first. With a suddenly very bad feeling brewing in the pit of his stomach, he tilted his head back and looked up through the hole. Up there, a few floors above him, stood a shadowy figure. The glowing eyes were a dead giveaway, but before he could even so much as think of going for his shotgun, what remained of the ceiling above him shifted and then came down on top of him. The last thing he managed to think was 'Son of a bitch!'