TV Shows » Supernatural » Lunatics

Author: Scullspeare

Rated: T - English - Hurt/Comfort/Family - Reviews: 67 - Published: 05-25-14 - Updated: 05-25-14


SUMMARY: In the midst of snowstorm, a stranger runs into an injured and hypothermic Sam. His memory is spotty; he knows that a hunt went sideways and that Dean's in trouble-he just doesn't know where he is. Outsider POV.

SPOILERS: Set mid-to-late Season 6 (after Sam gets his soul back) and in-between canon hunts.

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Supernatural belong to Eric Kripke & Co. I am playing in their sandbox, with their toys with much gratitude.

RATING: T for swearing.

GENRE: Gen/Hurt-Comfort

A/N: This is a very, VERY late response to a LJ fic challenge. RL has not been kind to my writing time of late so mea culpa. But I've never yet not finished a fic so here it is, hopefully better late than never. The prompt asked for an outsider POV and given that the brothers were at odds for a big chunk of this past season, it seemed like a good opportunity to show the magic of the brothers' bond (in better days!) as seen through the eyes of a stranger. Beta-ed by the always awesome Harrigan (many thanks, my friend!), I kept tinkering with it post-beta so any remaining mistakes are mine and mine alone. I hope this little bro-mo fic helps ease the pain of hellatus a little. Enjoy.

PROMPT: Outsider POV. Anytime during the series except season 8/9. No wincest please, anything else is fine. He has no idea who this guy is or how he got this way. All he knows is it's freezing outside, the man is already on the verge of hypothermia, and he is clearly not in touch with reality. He also has no idea who this "Dean" is he keeps mistaking him for, but if it'll help get him off the bridge/street, he will play along. ETA: He can also be she, whatever works.


"Sorry, Danny. This is as far as I go. Side streets still aren't cleared."

I was a regular on Harry's bus route, so he knew that my stop was still a good three blocks away.

He flashed an apologetic smile as he pulled the bus to the curb, or at least as close as the massive snow bank allowed. "Looks like you'll have to hoof it from here."

"No worries." I pulled on my hat and began riffling through my backpack for my scarf. "It's New England, it's February–that means a little snow now and then."

"A little snow?" Harry surveyed the street outside and shook his head; the high winds were creating whiteouts, reducing visibility to almost zero. "You and me have different definitions of little, Danny boy."

The nor-easter had slammed into the Boston area mid-afternoon, burying the city under almost three feet of snow. Schools and businesses had shut down early, giving everyone a chance to get home ahead of the storm, but I'd lost track of time and stayed at work later than I meant to, especially since I lived in Danvers–two train rides and a bus transfer from my office downtown. By the time I flopped into my seat on Harry's bus, I was the last passenger in one of only a handful of vehicles still on the road.

Zipping up my jacket and slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I slid out of my seat and grinned at Harry. "I put myself through school working search and rescue, remember? In all kinds of weather. This? It's just a cold walk home."

"Famous last words." Harry reached for the lever to open the door, then hesitated. "Look, they're pulling us off the road until the worst is over. You could always ride back to the depot with me–play some cards 'til I head out again. Anything happens to you out there, that's on me."

"Nothing's gonna happen." I gestured to the fleece-lined, windproof pants I wore over my work clothes, and to my sub-zero jacket. "Forecast said it might get nasty so I dressed for the occasion." I offered my best reassuring smile while jamming my hands into my gloves. "I'll be fine. Really."

"Uh-huh." Harry obviously wasn't convinced. "Do me a favor–once you're home, call the depot and leave a message so I know you're good." His brows knitted together in that universal look of fatherly concern. "No message, I'm calling in the National Guard."

"Yes, sir." I clapped him on the shoulder, my grin widening. "You worry more than my mom, and that's saying something."

"Smartass." Harry opened the door, shuddering at the blast of frigid air and blowing snow that quickly forced its way in. "Last chance to change your mind."

"I'll see you tomorrow–if they ever clear these roads." With a final nod to Harry, I jogged down the steps, scrambled over the snow bank and away from the protection of the bus.

Fuck, it was cold. Coughing as icy air filled my lungs, I pulled up my scarf to cover my mouth and nose, ducked my head, and set off. Behind me, I heard the muffled squeal of brakes releasing as the bus pulled away from the curb but the rumble of the engine was quickly lost in the howl of the wind.

Like the roads, the sidewalks had yet to be cleared. The snow was up to my knees in most places, thigh-high where it had drifted; thank god for long legs and long johns. Still, the trek home would be brutal, although I could at least cut down the alley that ran behind the Main Street storefronts; that would shave ten minutes off the walk and offer some protection from the wind.

My head was down as I turned into the alley so I didn't see what barreled into me–although it felt like a fucking freight train. One second I was exhaling in relief as I escaped the wind; the next, I was knocked off my feet and slammed into the snow bank, a crushing weight landing on top of me.

For a moment, I didn't–couldn't–move, but as my head cleared I saw what had turned me into a human bowling pin: a guy–a big guy–who was now lying on top of me. "Dude, that tackle…." I clapped him on the shoulder, signaling there were no hard feelings. "That…was NFL caliber."

He rolled to the side, coughing.

"Y'okay?" When he didn't answer, I sat up with a groan, pulling down the scarf that covered my face so my words weren't so muffled. "Hey–you still in one piece?"

The man seemed far more dazed by the collision than I was. He was about my age, and of similar height and weight, although his dark, snow-crusted hair was much longer than mine, almost shoulder-length. He was shivering noticeably, but no surprise there–he had no coat, no hat, no gloves. His jeans were soaked and crusted in snow, as was the gray T-shirt beneath an open blue-checked button-down. The skin on his face and hands was bright red from the cold.

I thought at first that he was drunk, that he'd wandered out of some bar, but I smelled no alcohol. He didn't look homeless, either. "Dude, seriously–where the hell is your coat?"

The man's wild eyes widened as he turned to face me. "Dean?"

"It's Dan, not Dean. Have we met?" I studied his face, trying to place it, as I offered a hand to help him sit up. "More importantly, what the fuck are you doing out in a blizzard dressed like that?"

"Getting help." The stranger grabbed my hand and sat up, a look of confusion crossing his face. "G-getting you help."

"Me? Why would–" Oh fuck. It was then I noticed the blood staining his forehead and matting his hair above his left temple. Mix a head injury with the onset of hypothermia and no wonder the poor bastard was confused. "You're hurt. You–"

"No." The man shook his head and almost toppled over. "I'm f-fine, Dean." He grabbed my arm to steady himself and, this time, held on. "You're the one who n-needs help."

There it was again: Dean. At first I thought maybe we'd met somewhere and he'd simply misremembered my name, but it was quickly becoming clear that when he looked at me, he was seeing someone else. "I'm good…really. Let's just get you-"

"No!" Now he was getting angry. "You've b-been looking out for me m-my whole life. Ju-just let me take c-care of you for once."

My stomach lurched; this guy was obviously in rough shape and yet his focus was totally on this Dean, on getting him help. Damn; what if Dean had also been hurt in whatever accident had caused this guy's head injury? If that was the case, I suddenly had two men in trouble to deal with–one in front of me and another one God knows where.

I tried a smile to prove I was no threat. "Did your car go off the road?"

"Dude, your c-car's fine." Now he just looked annoyed. "Worry about yourself for a ch-change."

"I'm worried about you." I gestured to his forehead, then reached into my coat pocket for my phone. "You're bleeding–you know that?"

"What?" The look of confusion was back. He raised his fingers to his forehead, wincing when he found the injury. "It's…it's n-nothing."

"Head injuries are never nothing, tough guy." Damn it; there was no signal on my phone–although no real surprise given the storm. Shoving the phone back into my pocket, I reached for my backpack. "What's your name?"

"R-right." The stranger snorted. "You're f-fine, but you d-don't know your own b-brother's name. G-good one, Dean."

OK, Dean was his brother. I had three brothers of my own so that nugget gave me a better idea of how to play this. "Standard concussion drill, genius. Play along. Name?"

"S-Sam. Sam Winchester. Hap-py?"

"For now."

Sam's speech was becoming slurred, his shivers more violent, but in the grand scheme of things, that was not all bad; it meant the hypothermia was still in the early stages. He'd be in bigger trouble when the shivers stopped.

"How 'bout an address?"

"S-seriously?" Sam looked at me like I'd lost my mind. "Whatever. How 'b-bout Singer Salvage, S-Sioux Falls, South D-Dakota."

"South Dakota? You're a long way from home, pal."

"Home is parked over…." Sam squinted into the alley, the look of confusion back. "Damn…. I c-can't…I c-can't remember where we p-parked the c-car."

"OK–how 'bout where you're staying here in Danvers? You remember that?"

"Danvers. We're at th-the…." Sam's frown deepened. "We're at the…. Fuck."

At this point it was hard to know whether the head injury or the hypothermia was to blame for the memory loss and confusion. Didn't really matter; it was the same bottom line–I needed to get this guy warmed up, and fast. Clear his head, and maybe we could figure out where the brother was. In the meantime, I'd just play along and pretend I was Dean; Sam would be a lot more co-operative if he thought his brother was hovering over him, rather than some stranger he'd literally run into on the street.

I pulled a hoodie from my backpack. "Here, put this on."

Sam stared suspiciously at the sweatshirt, making no move to take it from me.

"Look, you're gonna freeze to death dressed like that. This'll help a little until we can get you out of the storm. Take it–it's even clean. I didn't make it to the gym today."

"The gym?" Sam slowly reached for the hoodie but his hand was shaking so badly he would have dropped it had I just handed it over. "Why w-would you–"

"Never mind the gym." OK, maybe the brother wasn't the workout type. I yanked my glove off with my teeth, unzipped the hoodie and held it open for Sam. "Come on. Put it on."

Sam clumsily threaded his arms into the sleeves. As he turned around to face me, I zipped it up. There was a definite eyeroll when I next jammed his hands into my gloves. "S-seriously? Dude, I'm not f-five."

"Yeah, your size kinda gave that away." I took a chance. "But you'll always be my kid brother, right?"

I bit back a smile at the huff that elicited; Dean was apparently protective of his brother–maybe even overprotective. Sam was a big guy and in good shape; injuries notwithstanding, he definitely seemed the type who could take care of himself–but once a little brother, always a little brother. I was beginning to like this Dean guy.

"How…how d-did…." Sam studied me, his expression a mix of guilt, worry, and confusion, but it was clear it wasn't me he was seeing. "You…you were…t-trapped."

"Trapped?" I pulled off my scarf, wrapped it around Sam's neck, then tucked it inside the hoodie before brushing the snow off his hair and pulling up the hood. "In the car, you mean?"

"No, n-not the car. We were in the…the…. I left to g-get help s-so…." Sam winced again as his gloved fingers ran over his head wound, the blood now a strange pinkish shade as it frosted on his skin. "Damn it, I c-can't remember." He looked up at me. "What the h-hell happened?"

Sam was desperate for answers I didn't have. It looked like the head injury had screwed with his short-term memory; he knew his name, family history, basic stuff that allowed him to function, but events surrounding the blow to the head were either missing or scrambled. That sure as hell complicated things when it came to finding his brother. The sooner I could call 911, get Sam to the ER and the cops looking for Dean, the better for both these guys.

"Look, you hit your head, you're hypothermic–that's why your memory's messed up." I riffled through the outer pockets of my backpack; I'd used it on a ski trip on my last visit home and was sure I'd dropped some chemical heat packs into…bingo. "We get you out of this storm and warmed up, everything should fall back into place. In the meantime, we take it slow…back things up a bit, find out what you do remember. What were you–we–doing before the storm hit?"

Sam frowned, eyes darting back and forth as he searched his confused mind. "Playing p-pool." A small smile creased his face. "You w-won us five hundred b-bucks–then spent t-two hundred of it on a b-bottle of Johnny W-Walker Blue. Said you wanted the g-good stuff for a ch-change."

"Blue, huh?" Dean had good taste in Scotch; another reason to like the man. I gave two of the heat packs a twist to activate them, then shoved one inside each of the hoodie's pockets to help warm Sam's core. "And after he–I–finished fleecing the locals? Then what?"

"We went b-back to the r-room."

"Room? At a hotel? What hotel?"

Sam ignored the question, focused on another memory. "We needed t-to do m-more research–on the as-sylum."

"Asylum?" The Danvers Lunatic Asylum had been built in the 1870s and remained a town landmark for well over a century, although it later changed its name to the more politically correct Danvers Psychiatric Hospital. As an architecture student at Boston University, I'd moved to Danvers to join the fight to save it when it was scheduled for demolition, a fight we'd ultimately lost in 2005. The asylum buildings were razed and the property sold to a developer.

"Yeah–and I t-told you this c-case was a b-bad idea." Sam winced as he shook his head. "Doc Ellicott…Nurse C-Crazy Brains... Winchesters and asylums d-don't play well t-together."

This case was a bad idea. Case. Were Sam and Dean cops? Lawyers, maybe? A few months back, the four condo buildings under construction on the Asylum property had been targeted by vandals, one completely destroyed by fire. Maybe that's what they were investigating.

Sam coughed, then retched, spitting into the snow before dragging the back of his sleeve across his mouth.

Whatever the hell they were, figuring it out would have to wait; without help, Sam would only get worse and sitting in the snow was doing neither of us any good. "Come on. We need to move." I lurched to my feet, then again offered Sam my hand.

Sam grabbed my arm, hauled himself up and what little color he had left drained quickly from his face. For a god-awful moment I thought he was going to pass out on me. I was no weakling, but given the size of this guy, we were going nowhere fast if he went down.

"OK, new plan." I slipped my arms through the straps of my pack, moving it onto my back, then wrapped an arm around Sam's waist and slung his arm over my shoulders. "Come on. We'll keep banging on doors in this alley till we find someone to let us in. We get to a landline, we'll be able to call 911."

"No. No hospital." Again, Sam shook his head. "We MASH this. Just get us b-back to the c-car."

"Half the streets aren't cleared, so cars are going nowhere. We're getting you help." Whether Sam saw the logic in that or was just too tired to argue, I wasn't sure, but he stopped fighting me.

I urged him forward, toward the first door in the alley–which quickly revealed the big flaw in my plan: this door, and each one I knocked on after it, was a service entrance to a business–businesses that had closed early because of the storm. There was no one home.

As I hammered on the fourth door, Sam scowled down at the handle "P-pick it."

"'Scuze me?"

"P-pick the lock." Sam's free hand slid to his back pocket. "D-damn. I d-don't have the k-kit. You?"

"Uh…no." I tried to ignore the warning bells going off in my head; Sam seemed to be talking about lock picks, and I highly doubted that cops or lawyers carried those. Who the hell were these guys? "Besides, um, you've got my gloves. My hands are a little numb for lock picking." I squinted against the blowing snow to survey the upstairs windows, but there were no lights visible. If there were apartments on the second floor, they were apparently unoccupied. "But I promise you this–I find a brick and a window without bars, I'm up for a little break and enter. We set off alarms–even better. That should bring the cops running and that's just what we need."

Sam snorted weakly. "Never a c-cop around when you n-need one..."

"Yeah." Again, I glanced around the alley. "Hey! Can anybody hear me! We need help!" I held my breath, waiting to see if any lights came on in response to my shouted plea, but nada. Son of bitch. We were in the middle of the city but might as well have been in the backwoods of Vermont.

I started moving again, pulling Sam with me. "You see any lights, start yelling. In the mean time, let's keep trying to jog your memory."

Sam scowled at me. "Dude, y-you were there. Just t-tell me what happ-pened."

"I'm not the one who needs to reboot his brain." I had to keep pushing, find out as much as I could about where Dean might be. "Sorry, pal–you need to do the heavy lifting here. You started to research the asylum, then…."

Sam huffed in annoyance. "We w-were right about the v-vandalism."

OK. Maybe my cop hunch was right after all.

"But we had th-thousands of s-suspects."


Sam nodded. "G-going back over a c-century."

How the hell was that possible? "Sam, what–"

"We had to n-narrow it d-down." Sam was leaning heavily against me as we moved through the alley. "So we w-went up there." He turned suddenly toward me, stumbling in the process. "We w-were in the asylum. Th-that's where th-things went s-sideways."

I studied Sam worriedly, his head injury apparently more serious than I'd initially suspected. "Sam, the asylum doesn't exist. It was demolished six years ago."

"No…no." Sam shook his head adamantly. "W-we went to the asylum…."

The non-existence of the asylum wasn't the only thing off with Sam's memories; if the brothers had gone to the asylum site, how the hell had Sam ended up downtown in this alley? On a good day, it was at least an hour's walk; injured and dressed as he was, no way had he made that trek in the middle of a storm like this. "You sure you–"

"How did I g-get here?" Sam stared at me, confusion giving way to guilt as he wrestled with the same questions. "How did you get here?"

"Look, you bashed your head. Maybe you–"

"I shouldn't have left." Sam looked like he was about to heave. "They…they c-could've killed you."

I shuddered, and this time it had nothing to do with the cold. "What could've killed me, Sam?"

"I…I…." Sam's free hand slid behind his back and under his hoodie, a look of panic suddenly crossing his face. "My gun's g-gone."

Gun? I was moving cop back to the top of my guess list. Something slightly less aboveboard was always a possibility, but my gut told me Sam was one of the good guys. There was an edge to him, sure; definitely something dangerous–but I didn't fear him and I didn't feel threatened. Right now, I was more scared for him, than of him.

Sam lifted his head. "You've g-got yours, right?"

OK–Dean had a gun, too. Yeah, I'd just hang on to the belief that they were cops. My mom always said that I was a good judge of character–well, except when it came to women. "People wear all kinds of masks," she'd told me once. "You can see behind them. That's a gift. Always trust that instinct." Well, that's what I was doing here. What I saw in Sam was a man more worried about his brother than himself, a man willing to put his own life at risk to save a loved one who, in turn, was incredibly protective of him. That didn't sound like any of America's Most Wanted, so how could I turn my back on them?

I forced a smile, still playing my role as this man I'd never met. "We don't need a gun right now, Sam. We need to get out of this storm. Just keep moving."

Sam took a step forward, stumbled, and fell to his knees, almost taking me down with him. The snow was deep enough that it was an easy fall, but it was amazing how much energy we both expended just getting him back on his feet. And it was energy we could ill afford to waste; it would soon be dark and the temperature was dropping even further.

"Hang in there, big guy." I nodded encouragingly at Sam, again urging him forward. "We turn this corner and cross the street, there'll be more doors to knock on. Somebody's gotta be home at one of them. We–whoa." I yanked Sam to a halt as we rounded the corner. There was an open manhole just ahead of us, the bright orange City of Danvers Roads Dept. barricades surrounding it toppled and shoved aside, leaving a gaping black hole in the midst of the snow-covered alley.

"D-damn." Sam's gaze was locked on the open manhole, on the warm air from the tunnels below escaping through it and quickly frosting over into a plume of smoke before dissipating in the wind. "We're going in c-circles."


Sam's focus stayed on the open grate. "I…I c-came out of th-there."

"Out of where? The sewer tunnels?" I stared at him for a moment, trying to process this latest curveball, then glanced behind us to study Sam's footprints, trying to compare them to the much fainter wind-scoured ones all around the open manhole. The deep snow didn't make it easy but the evidence seemed to support Sam's memory; the spacing and size of the two sets of prints sure as hell looked the same. And the large indentation in the snow at the side of the manhole appeared to be where Sam had hauled himself out of the tunnels.

But what the hell had he–they–been doing down there?

Son of a bitch - the answer suddenly became clear. A labyrinth of sewer tunnels ran under the entire city, from the downtown all the way to the outskirts–all the way to the asylum property. I turned to Sam. "The tunnels–were you in the tunnels under the asylum? Is that where Dean's trapped?"

My slip out of character went unnoticed because at that moment Sam's knees buckled, his head lolling forward. "I…I need to s-sleep."

"Oh, no way, dude–not here, not now." I tightened my arm around his back, grunting as I hauled him up. "On your feet, soldier."

"Yes s-sir." His words were mumbled, but his immediate response a conditioned one. Maybe it was police academy training, or maybe a family member–a dad or a grandpa–had been in the military. My own granddad was a career army man and my brothers and I had learned to 'Yes, sir' around the time we'd learned to walk.

Sam was on his feet again, but just barely.

"Hey!" Again I waited until his focus was on me. "The asylum is gone, but the tunnel system underneath it is still there. That's where you were, right?"

Sam nodded. "They used the t-tunnels to move out the d-dead without anyone s-seeing."

"OK. For a guy with a Swiss cheese memory, that's a strange thing to glom onto but, yeah, they did."

A few pieces of the Sam and Dean puzzle were starting to fall into place. The asylum was actually a complex of buildings; given the difficulties of moving often uncooperative patients from one building to another, especially in weather like today, a series of tunnels had been constructed, linking each of the structures. In places, the tunnel system made use of the city's existing sewer tunnel network, permanently linking the two.

Above ground, the asylum had been razed but, as far as I knew, the tunnel system was mostly intact. From the sounds of it, the brothers had been down in the tunnels, investigating the vandalism. Something had happened and Dean ended up trapped. Sam left to get help but got lost and ended up heading deeper into the tunnel network, which ultimately led him all the way to the alley where he ran into me.

I stared again at the open manhole; I'd heard stories about local merchants at the turn of the century delivering their goods to the asylum and other places on the outskirts of town via this underground network in bad weather. Some tunnels were as wide as a road and in winter especially, it was a warmer, faster and safer way to travel around town.

Warmer and faster. The sewer tunnels offered protection from the storm, and walking down there would be a helluva lot easier than through the knee-deep snow that covered most of the roads and sidewalks, especially for Sam. I had no idea how much longer he could stay on his feet; if he passed out up here, leaving him to get help would be a death sentence. Down there, he'd be protected which at least gave him a chance if I had to take off to call 9-1-1. And the sooner I got help, the better–for both brothers.

Decision made, I guided Sam toward the sewer entrance. "OK, change of plan. We're going into the tunnels."

"No." Sam lifted his head, snow-crusted hair falling over his eyes, as he stared again at the open manhole. "I mean..."

He seemed conflicted, but I had no idea whether memories or my prompts were the cause.

"Move, Sam." I gently pushed him toward the open manhole. "You're not gonna last much longer out here. This'll be better, trust me. I've got a compass on my watch, it'll lead us in–"

"There was an explosion. They knew what we were t-trying to do... t-tried to stop us." Sam turned to face me, guilt again clear in his expression. " c-couldn't get clear."

I felt sick. Explosion? "What the fuck went on down there, Sam? Who tried to stop you?"

"I saw you lying th-there..." Sam's eyes were sliding closed. "I thought y-you were d-dead."

Son of a bitch. What if Dean was dead? If there was an explosion of some kind…what if he didn't make it?

Sam's knees again began to buckle.

"Hey! Hey! Stay with me." I gave Sam a gentle shake to rouse him. Whatever had gone on down there, the tunnels were still our best shot. We had to take the risk. "Look, you're too damn heavy to carry down that ladder. You're gonna have to climb down yourself. Got it?"

Sam gave a brief nod, his eyes fighting to stay open. "Climb now…n-nap later."

"Good man. I'll go first." I exhaled slowly as I moved us both toward the manhole; whatever had happened to Dean, I needed to first focus on Sam, on getting him to safety. Then we'd find out what had happened to his brother. "You ready?"

Again, a brief nod.

"Good." I kicked aside the Road Dept. barricades, and quickly maneuvered myself onto the ladder which led to the tunnels below, ignoring the bite of cold metal on bare hands. "Sit down first, swing your legs into the hole, then grab the ladder."

"You're…b-bossy." Sam sat down–although technically, it was more like fell down. With mumbled protests, he allowed me to guide his feet and hand onto the ladder. Then we moved downwards, me using my body to shield him, prevent him from falling backwards. It was slow going but after a few minutes, we safely made it to the tunnel floor.

Once in the tunnels, it was noticeably warmer. Much like caves, the tunnels maintained a pretty constant year-round temperature–around sixty degrees Fahrenheit, I'd guess–positively toasty compared to the subzero weather above ground. I turned to Sam and ventured a smile. "Piece of cake, right?"

"Pie." Sam's eyes were glazed over now but he still attempted to return the smile "Piece of pie–cause pie's not the same as cake."

"Sure." Obviously that was some inside joke I wasn't privy to. I led Sam down the tunnel a bit, away from the draft of the open manhole and the pile of blowing snow turning into slush below it. Blinking as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I surveyed our surroundings. Caged lights every twenty feet or so along one brick wall offered basic illumination and a double-stack of sewer pipes, each about eight inches in diameter, ran on the wall beneath them. During the spring runoff, when all the snow above melted, these tunnels might be flooded but we were in luck; the stone floor was relatively dry, with only the occasional puddle visible. I turned back to Sam. "OK, first things first–a little triage. We need to get you out of those wet clothes."


I slid my pack off my back and reached in to find my gym T-shirt and sweat pants. "Your shirts and jeans are soaked. Trust me, they're doing you body temperature no favors. Now we're out of that mess up there, we can get you into some dry clothes."

Sam tried to help but by this point, his coordination was shot. Still, in just a few minutes, we'd stripped off his wet clothes and redressed him. In the process, I checked his pulse, which was slow but not dangerously so, and his breathing, which was shallow, but that would hopefully improve as he warmed up. I was about to ask him to sit so I could change out his soaked, snow-filled boots for my gym socks and runners, when he slid down the wall, landing heavily on his ass, long legs splaying out in front of him.

"I, um…." Sam looked up at me, seemingly puzzled by what had just happened. "I need to s-sit…just f-for a minute."

He needed to recharge his batteries, no question there, but left sitting too long, I doubted I'd get him going again. "OK, but I'm holding you to that just for a minute." I crouched in front of him to pull off his boots and socks; his feet were like ice to the touch but at least there was no sign of frostbite. I dried them off as best I could, then pulled on the dry socks and sneakers. His feet were about a half size bigger than mine but a little temporary discomfort was a hell of a lot better than trench foot.

Sam smiled tiredly, lids sliding down over glassy eyes. "Last t-time I was this c-cold was on a ski tr-trip with J-Jessica."

"A ski trip?" Jessica was likely a wife or girlfriend. "Where?"

"T-Tahoe. Sh-she tried to t-teach me."

"Tried, huh? So you were no good?"

"Dunno." Sam snorted. "N-never got the ch-chance to try. Ch-chair lift broke d-down. W-we were stuck halfway up the m-mountain for t-two hours. It was f-fucking f-freezing."

"Ouch." I pulled off my coat. "But at least you had someone to share body heat with, huh?"

"Mmmmmm. But hot tub b-back at the lodge was m-more f-fun." Sam's smile at the memory faded when he realized I was trying to put my coat on him. "Dean, n-no. You n-need it."

"I'm good, dude." I gestured to my sweater and snow pants. "As long as we're down here, I'm fine like this. You, however, are far from it, so get this on."

Sam gave an audible huff, but stopped fighting me. I guided his arms into the sleeves and zipped up the jacket, moving the heat packs from the discarded wet hoodie into the coat's inside pockets, then pulled off my hat and gave him that, too. He now had dry clothes, dry shoes, a heavy coat, hat, gloves and a scarf and was out of the storm, all of which would help boost his body temperature. The head injury, however, was still a problem.

"How's your vision, Sam?"


"Your vision–you seeing double? Halos around anything?"

Sam snorted. "Last thing I n-need is t-two of you–although an angel right n-now might be h-handy." He ran his hand over his ribs. "T-too bad C-Cas can't find us."

I had no clue who Cas was but I'd be thrilled if anyone found us; for Sam, the immediate crisis was over but we still needed help, and we still needed to find Dean.

Sam's eyes were again sliding shut; it would be good to get some fluids into him, but I had no water with me, so that would have to wait until we got to my loft. I checked my watch compass, then began stuffing Sam's wet clothes into my pack. "We turn left up there to get to my…to a friend's place. It's not far. We can rest there and–"

A sudden noise from deeper in the tunnels snapped my head to the left. It was brief and muted, but easily cut through the underground silence. "You hear that?"

Sam clearly hadn't; his eyes were closed, his chin lolling on his chest.

My chest tightened; Sam could only recall bits and pieces about what had happened to him and his brother, but those bits included guns, an explosion and something that had almost killed Dean. He wasn't completely in touch with reality but if any of that was true, then there was a good chance that something was still in these tunnels.

I pushed myself to my feet and hesitantly walked a few feet toward the origin of the noise, but all I could hear was the steady dripping of water and the occasional clang from the pipes along the wall. Then there it was again, this time a little louder. Damn, it sounded like a voice, but masked by some kind of static.

The tunnel made a sharp right about fifteen feet ahead; the noise seemed to originate around that corner.

"I'll be right back." My glib crack to Harry the bus driver–"Nothing's gonna happen"–and Sam's scrambled memories–"Knew what we were trying to do...tried to stop us"–spinning through my head, I walked quickly down the tunnel. Then, chest tightening further, I stepped around the corner, peering ahead.

The only thing visible was the continuous string of dull yellow lights along the wall, the only sound the echo of dripping water.

I studied the tunnel for a few moments more but I could see nothing–certainly nothing that might have generated the noise I'd heard. Puzzled–and, yeah, a little relieved–I turned to go back to Sam but stopped when I caught sight of something half hidden in the shadows on the tunnel floor. It was an abandoned backpack, a bottle of water visible in an outside pocket. It was dusty but relatively clean and dry, suggesting it hadn't been there long.

As I crouched to pick it up, I glanced down the tunnel to where Sam sat, slumped against the wall. From this vantage point, you could clearly see the pool of light spilling in through the open manhole. If Sam had wandered through the tunnels for a while, lost and confused, that light must've seemed like a beacon. Maybe this pack was his; maybe he just dropped it and ran when he saw that light, realizing it was a chance to get back aboveground.

I turned over the pack, looking for some kind of identification, and discovered a flashlight in another outside pocket; that would come in handy the further into the tunnels we went. I flipped up the top of the pack, then jumped at a burst of static behind me, followed by a single word.


My head snapped around, my heart slamming against my ribs. There was no one there but the voice sounded like it was being broadcast over some kind of radio.

"Damn it, Sam. When we get out of this mess, I am gonna kick your ass every day for a week and not even feel bad about it–not even a little bit. Disappearing like that–not cool. Now pick up the damn radio."

That had to be Dean–and there was nothing I'd like better than to pick up the radio, but first I had to find the damn thing. I yanked the flashlight from the pack, clicked it on and aimed the beam in the direction of the voice. On the first few passes, I picked up nothing more than the stone floor. Then, disturbingly, the light glinted on metal; a gun, a slick-looking piece with a pearled grip, lay just under the lower of the two pipes that ran along the wall. Just beyond it, a walkie-talkie lay on its side. Both looked like they'd simply been dropped.

"Son of a bitch... Where the hell did you go?" The voice sounded both tired and worried. "OK, dude–signing off…save the battery and all that shit. Try again in five–and, damn it, you better be there. I wasn't kidding about that ass kicking."

"No…no…damn it. Don't turn it off." I scrambled up the tunnel floor, grabbed the radio and clumsily jammed down the talk button. "Hey…is this Dean? Hello? Can you hear me?"

At first I thought I'd missed him, but then the deep voice came back over the radio, worry replaced by suspicion. "Who the fuck is this? Where's Sam?"

"My name's Dan…Dan Caldwell. Sam's with me. You're Dean, right?"

"Sam OK?"

"He's…he's hanging in there."

"Put him on."

I grabbed the gun, shoved it into the pack, then pushed myself up and began walking back toward Sam.

"Put my brother onnow!"

I glanced down the tunnel; Sam hadn't moved. He was still slumped against the wall, his eyes still closed. "He's got a head injury, Dean. Between that and the hypothermia, he's kind of out of it." This was more than a little awkward. "He, um–he thinks I'm you."

"He what? I know he got dinged but...Wait–hypothermia?"

"Yeah. He has no coat and was fighting his way through a blizzard to get you help. How you doing, by the way?"

The radio went silent and for a moment I thought I'd lost him. "Dean? Sam said you were trapped. You OK?"

"No." A sarcastic snort came clearly over the radio. "First my brother goes AWOL, then I find out he's half frozen and thinks some stranger is me. Oh, and I've been stuck under a pile of rock for going on…six hours now, so I'm pretty fucking far from OK."

Six hours. Damn. "Sam said there was an explosion."

"He did, huh?" Dean's response was more wary than tired. "The tunnel caved in. Sam took a chunk of the ceiling to the head. He was out for almost an hour. When he came to, things were a bit…scrambled. You, um, need to take anything he says with a grain of salt."

Given that Sam thought I was Dean, that wouldn't be hard. "That's how you got trapped–in the cave-in?"

"Yeah." Now Dean just sounded tired. "Sammy tried to get me out but couldn't…not by himself–especially not running on all cylinders."

Sammy. That wasn't the first time Dean had used the diminutive form of his brother's name; that was definitely big brother privilege at work. "OK. The storm's screwing with cellphones, but as soon as I get to a landline, I'll call 9-1-1–get help for Sam and for you. Where are you?"

"You're not a paramedic?"

I was back at Sam's side now and fishing the water bottle out of the pack. "Dude, I'm an architect. I was just coming home from work when I ran into your brother–or, technically, he ran into me. He needed help so…here I am." I glanced down at the walkie-talkie. "What's the range on these radios?"

"About two miles–give or take."

Good. That meant he wasn't too far away. "And you're in the tunnels?"

"Yeah, on the asylum property. Where are you?"

"In the tunnels, too–but downtown. If Sam was gone six hours, he either got seriously lost, passed out, or"

"Both. Son of a bitch…. He was headed for the car–right above us. He was gone so long I thought…I thought…."

He thought the worst. "Dean, in all seriousness, what kind of shape are you in?"

Dean's response was terse. "I'm trapped under a pile of bricks beneath an old nuthouse. I've been better."

And he'd been trapped there for hours, alone and in the dark, not to mention worried that something had happened to his brother. "I need triage information–are you bleeding? Can you feel your arms? Your legs? How's your breathing?"

"They teach you that in architecture school?"

I was getting the sense that Dean didn't like opening up to strangers. "I paid for school by working search and rescue. Dude, I'm just trying to help."

"Yeah…. I know, but…it's been a bad day." Dean coughed, then cleared his throat. "Sam pulled some of the crap off me. My arms are free…they're fine. My legs are kinda numb–mostly from sitting on my ass this long. Think I got skewered by something, though…right side, mid ribs. Pretty sure I'm leaking–but it's slow, so I'm least for now."

Fuck. "How's your breathing?"

"I don't think whatever spiked me went through a lung if that's what you're asking. Look...just take care of Sammy–then have someone come dig me out."

Apparently Sam wasn't the only Winchester who worried more about his brother than himself. I reached for Sam's shoulder and gave him a gentle shake. "Sam, come on–we've gotta move."

Sam jumped at my touch, his eyes sliding open.

"Better yet, once you get Sam help, call Bobby Singer–area code 605-555-2947. He'll know someone local who can come here, dig me out…leave 9-1-1 to take care of the real emergencies."

"Real emergencies?" I retrieved my phone from the pocket of the coat Sam now wore, punched the number Dean had just given me into the address book, then turned my attention back to the walkie-talkie. "Dude, we're in the midst of the biggest storm of the winter, you're trapped underground, buried under a pile of rubble and by the sounds of it, impaled. As far as emergencies go, that's about as real as it gets."

A sardonic laugh came over the radio. "Trust me, I've been through worse."

At the sound of Dean's voice, Sam's gaze slid from me to the walkie-talkie and back again. Whether it was because he was warming up, had just heard the real Dean or some combination of the two I couldn't be sure, but reality suddenly seemed to break through the mental fog that had plagued him since we met. And as he looked at me, seeing a stranger for the first time rather than his brother, a mask dropped into place, veiling previously easy-to-read emotions. "Who the hell are you?"

It was time for a real introduction. "My name's Dan. You're hurt, and I'm just trying to get you help. That's all." After opening the water bottle, I offered it to Sam. "Drink this–you're dehydrated."

Sam never broke eye contact with me, even as he took the bottle and gulped down the contents.

"Whoa, whoa…. You're just gonna throw it up if you drink too fast. Take it slow."

"Hey, search and rescue-architect guy–you still there?"

I picked up the radio. "Yeah, Dean. I'm"

"Dean?" Sam wedged the water bottle between his legs and gestured to the walkie-talkie. "Gimme that?" His shivers were still noticeable but less exaggerated as he snatched the radio from me. "Dean? You there?"

"Sammy…. It's about fucking time."

Sam glanced up at me, distrust now clear in his expression as he continued talking to his brother. "Where the hell did you go?"

"Where did I go? You're the one who went walkabout."

Sam screwed his eyes closed. "Dude, you were just here."

"No, Sam, I wasn't. I wish I was, believe me, but the asylum kinda fell on me, remember? I've been stuck under this pile of bricks since you left."

"I left? But…." Sam's face crumpled in confusion; his grasp on reality may have taken a turn for the better, but there were obviously still major gaps in his memory. Again, he stared at me, his brow deeply furrowed. "You were…. I was sure…" His thumb slid off the radio's talk button and his hand dropped to his lap.

"You got your bell rung so you're a little messed up–more than usual that is." The jibe was a good-natured one, the kind brothers always hurl at each other."Go with architect guy. Let the docs check you out."

"No." Sam struggled to his feet, managing it only with the help of the wall behind him but almost dropping the radio in the process. The recapped bottle of water tipped over, abandoned at his feet. "I'm coming to you…to get you out."



"No." Sam quickly cut off both our objections. He gave me a glare, making it clear I had no say in the matter, the emphatic tone telling his brother the same thing. "I'm coming to you. Now."

Dean's huff of frustration came clearly across the radio. "Newsflash, asshat–you got lost trying to get to the car a few hundred feet away. Now you're all the way across town. Try to find me and I'd say the odds of you getting lost again are pretty damn high. You–" His rant gave way to a painful cough.

Now Sam looked nauseous, worry more than injury the likely cause. "Dean?"

"I'm…fine." The weakened voice made it clear he was anything but.

Dean was right, of course; his brother's place was in the hospital–but if Sam didn't want to go, there was zero chance of me getting him there against his will. And Dean was in bad shape–no question there; if he stayed buried under that rubble much longer, especially if he was impaled and bleeding out, who knew what condition he'd be in when paramedics eventually got to him. As far as I could see, that left only one card to play. "I can get us to Dean."

Sam turned so quickly towards me, he overbalanced, the tunnel wall again coming to his rescue and preventing a fall. "How?"

I tapped my watch. "This has a compass and I know where the asylum is. Unless any tunnels are blocked, we should be able to get there pretty quickly."

Sam nodded slowly. "Good." He picked up the radio. "The guy I'm with…Dan–he knows the way. He'll make sure we don't get lost. We'll be there soon."

"Give him the radio–now!"

Sam's jaw clenched; he offered me the walkie-talkie, then pulled it back as I was about to take it. "I don't care what he says–I'm gonna get my brother, with or without you." With that warning, he slapped the walkie-talkie into my hand, turned and began walking drunkenly down the tunnel.

"I'm here, Dean."

"In case you missed it, my little brother is a stubborn pain in the ass…. Any chance you'll just knock him out and drag him to the ER?"

Despite the seriousness of the situation, I had to smile at Dean's attempt to protect Sam. "Your little brother is a big guy. It'd be pretty hard to drag him anywhere he didn't wanna go."

"Yeah, yeah…." The fight was gone out of Dean's voice. "Just…just keep an eye on him. He…he doesn't know when to quit."

Yet another thing that appeared to be a family trait. Sam was still moving down the tunnel, his gait unsteady, his right hand on the wall, using it for balance. I grabbed my backpack, slung both it and Sam's pack over my shoulder, and jogged to catch up with him.

The radio went silent, a lengthy pause that had me worried that either the battery had died or, worse, Dean had passed out. "Dean? You still there?"

"Yeah…. I was just…just checking something." He exhaled audibly. "Look, I'm gonna ask you something–and I need you not to freak out. Does Sam have his gun?"

Overhearing the question, Sam reached behind his back, then stopped in his tracks, scowling first at the radio, then down at the coat he wore. "These aren't my clothes."

I shook my head. "No, they're mine. Yours were soaked. We changed them when we got down here in the tunnels, remember? I did find a gun though. It was with the walkie-talkie. Maybe you dropped it?"

"Dropped it?" That concept didn't go over well. "No. I wouldn't just leave it…I wouldn't."

I slid his pack off my shoulder and offered it to him. "It's in here." I was handing over a gun to man I barely knew, a man with a head injury who just minutes earlier believed I was his brother. Dumb move? Absolutely, but I was totally going on faith.

Sam's frown deepened as he took the proffered pack. "Why the hell would I"

"Hey! This thing still working?"

I clicked the talk button on the radio. "Yeah, Dean. Sorry. Sam didn't have a gun with him, but I found one on the tunnel floor. He's got it now."

"He left the damn thing behind? Son of a…." There was nothing accusatory in Dean's reaction just the same worry that I still saw on Sam's face.

It was clear that in his right mind, Sam abandoning his weapon was unthinkable. Like Dean, he'd been playing the I'm fine card, but the lost gun was just more proof he was anything but.

Sam used the wall to keep himself upright as he opened the backpack. His expression remained stony as he withdrew the gun and dropped the pack to the floor. I knew a little about handguns but the way Sam handled the weapon, checking the chamber and the clip, suggested its use was second nature to him.

"That a Beretta?"

Sam shook his head. "Taurus PT-92, nine millimeter–based on the Beretta M92, though."

OK; there was zero hesitation recalling that information, those details obviously well-entrenched in long-term memory and unaffected by the head injury. Reflexively, Sam reached behind his back, attempting to slide the gun into his waistband but was quickly stymied by the thigh-length coat he now wore. He cursed under his breath, clicked on the safety and jammed the gun into his pocket.

My curiosity got the best of me. "Um…you guys are cops, right?"

I had my thumb on the talk button of the radio as I asked the question so it was Dean who answered.


That was a surprise. So was the sawed-off shotgun Sam next pulled from the pack. "So two armed federal agents are crawling around tunnels underneath an old asylum investigating a vandalism case?"

Dean snorted. "Let's just say that me and Sam–we don't always play by the rules. That gets us the cases no one else wants–and crawling around sewer tunnels looking for a firebug? Not a lot of hands went up for that one. How you doing there, Sammy?"

Sam looked up from the pack, his open palm now displaying three or four shotgun shells. The shivering had diminished at least to the point where he wasn't throwing the shells all over the floor; that was a good sign. He straightened up, cracked open the pistol-grip shotgun, fed in the shells, then snapped it closed. The extras went into his pocket. "Good to go."

Despite that assertion, the effects of his injury quickly became apparent again when he stooped again to pick up the pack; he overbalanced and crashed to his knees. I moved forward to help but as he lifted his head, a glare clearly told me to back off. Sam exhaled slowly, transferred the shotgun to his left hand and reached for the wall with his right, using it to help haul himself to his feet. Once upright, he leaned back against the wall, then gestured for me to give him the radio. He lowered his voice when he spoke into it but in such close quarters, it was impossible not to overhear. "Dean…what the hell are we hunting? I've got nothing, man."

It was hard to reconcile the man who could handle weapons so expertly, who could recall details about them without hesitation, with the one who couldn't recall simple facts from earlier in the day. But Sam's fall and confusion were just more reminders that he was a long way from healthy and we needed to get him help–ASAP. Ditto for his brother.

Dean tried jogging his brother's memory. "Think, Sammy. What happens when a century's worth of crazy people suddenly have no place to call home?"

The question made no sense to me, but for Sam the meaning seemed clear. "Son of a bitch."

"Yeah. So heads up when you cross onto the asylum property, capice? The explosion should've…closed the door, but it went off too soon. I have no clue how many are still on the loose."

"Um…." I walked up to Sam. "Am I allowed to ask–"

"No. We're on our way, Dean. Hang in there." Sam slipped the walkie-talkie into his coat pocket, pushed himself off the wall and resumed his unsteady walk down the tunnel.

The guarded nature of their exchange was obviously because of my presence. Fine; I could understand that certain aspects of FBI business were confidential, but if something or someone was still on the loose down here, and Sam needed a gun to protect us from it then, damn it, I needed to know what the hell it was. "Sam, I–"

"So you know where we're going?"

Apparently, Sam's head was clear enough to know what I was about to ask, and to cut me off. "Yeah. See that?" I pointed to a name sprayed onto the wall below one of the lights, the white paint of the block letters peeling badly.

Sam squinted at it. "It's barely legible. What is that–ABBOTT?"

I nodded. "Yeah, that's the street above us and that tells me we're going in the right direction. The asylum's northeast of here on Sanatorium Road. Let's just hope there are enough of those street names still clear enough to confirm we're on the right track."

Sam pinched the bridge of his nose, wobbling slightly as he screwed his eyes closed.

"Hey, you-"

"I'm fine." He cleared his throat, then again set off down the tunnel. "Stay close."

I fell in step beside him. "Any chance you remember where you were when the tunnel caved in?"

Sam's jaw muscle twitched. "Under the asylum. You know that."

"I mean exactly where. Look, I know you have some…memory issues, but the asylum's massive. There were east and west wings, each made up of five buildings, there was a south wing and several ancillary buildings. The tunnels connected all of them. We could spend hours searching that place if we don't know exactly where Dean is."

"And Dean doesn't have hours. Fuck." Sam shook his head, anger and frustration over his inability to remember easy to read in his expression. "Dean'll know. We'll ask him."

I nodded then motioned to the pack slung over his shoulder. "Let me carry that."

Sam again shook his head, more emphatically this time. "I got it."

"Yeah, tough guy, I get that. But if it's all the same to you, if whatever you need that shotgun for shows up, I'd just as soon you had both hands free to deal with it, keep us both in one piece." Not to mention lightening his load might make his waning strength last just long enough to get us to his brother. I'd much sooner carry his pack, than him.

Sam stared at me, stubbornness wrestling with the logic of my argument; eventually. And reluctantly, he nodded. He handed over the pack, then fished the radio from his coat. "Yo, Dean–still awake?"

"What's up?"

"Where exactly are you–on the asylum site, I mean? I'm…drawing a blank."

"Right about where 'C' block would have been." Dean's voice was noticeably weaker, like the sudden call from Sam hadn't given him time to slip back into his I'm fine pretense. He cleared his throat, now sounding a little stronger. "Toward the east end."

Sam glanced at me, eyebrow raised, and I nodded. "I can find that."

"Good." Sam turned his attention back to the radio. "Any signs of company?"

"Not for the past hour. But a leak from the ceiling is kind of eating away at my protection, if you catch my drift, and I've got three shells left. Bad guy number four's gonna show up at some point so just…haul ass, alright?"

"Roger that–hauling ass." Sam slid the radio back into his pocket before shooting a glance at me that clearly said we needed to pick up the pace. "You seem to know a lot about the asylum."

I shrugged. "I'm an architect–it was a beautiful building."

Sam snorted. "What happened inside it was anything but beautiful. Danvers Asylum–the birthplace of the frontal lobotomy."

"So they say." Yet another curious piece of trivia Sam's battered brain had held onto.

"And god knows how many experiments they got wrong before eventually getting that little procedure right." Sam suddenly went on high alert, gun raised, as we rounded a corner. He relaxed only slightly when he confirmed the way was clear.

Exhaling in relief, I followed him around the corner. "Look, there were a lot of questionable practices at that asylum, at any asylum at the turn of the century. But there was a lot of good work, too. And the building itself was was a landmark in this town for a long time, and deserved to be saved."

Sam's brow furrowed. "But you didn't–save it, I mean?"

I shook my head. "No. By the time it went up for sale, most buildings had gone without any regular maintenance for years–decades even. Restoration costs would have been in the tens of millions. No one was willing to put up that kind of cash so–"

"They destroyed it." Sam's eyes narrowed. "And all the tortured souls trapped inside, all the angry spirits of a century's worth of mental patients suddenly had nowhere to call home–except these tunnels."

"Scuze me?"

Sam ignored the question. "The asylum–how did they demolish it?"

"They imploded the main buildings, bulldozed the smaller ones, then hauled away the debris. The clean-up took months."

Sam nodded as he mulled that information. "The intense heat from the explosions would have taken care of some of them. Hauling away debris gives some of them a new home, making them another problem for another day, and today's explosion should've locked up the rest, but…." He came to a halt, then unsteadily turned towards me. "Look, you've been dropped in the middle of this–it's only fair you know what's going on."

As much as I wanted–no, needed–to know what the hell was going on, something told me that I wasn't going to like whatever it was Sam was about to tell me.

Sam was moving again, constantly surveying the tunnel as we walked. "There's a good chance you're gonna see some…some stuff down here–stuff you'll find a little hard to swallow."

I frowned. "You think the…the vandals are still here?"

"In a manner of speaking." Sam's jaw muscle twitched as he glanced over at me. "The vandals–they're ghosts. More specifically, angry spirits."

"Ghosts?" I couldn't help myself; I smiled. "Now I know you have a concussion."

"Trust me, there are plenty of days when I wish I could blame what I was seeing on a blow to the head." Sam chewed his bottom lip. "Look, when someone dies, their spirit, their soul, their…essence–whatever you wanna call it, is supposed to move on–to Heaven, to Hell, to Valhalla, to its next life, whatever your belief system suggests. But some get stuck…between this world and the next–especially if they died a violent death or were wronged somehow. And the longer they're stuck, the more violent they become."

My frown deepened. "Sam, I read ghost stories too when I was a kid. But that's all they are–stories. You…you can't seriously believe they're real?"

"I do…and they are." Sam's right hand was back against the wall, steadying him as he walked; we weren't even halfway to the asylum and he was clearly exhausted. "Hunting them down, that's what my brother and I do."

Until this point, Sam had simply been confused, not…crazy. What the hell was I supposed to think now? "So, you hunt ghosts? With a gun?"

Sam almost smiled. "Sounds nuts when you put it like that, but yeah. The bullets, the shotgun shells, they both hold rock salt–it'll get rid of a ghost, at least long enough for you to get out of its way."

It was more crazy talk, but spoken with such earnest conviction it was hard not to buy into it. "Sam, I-"

"Look, I know how all this must sound and I'm not expecting you to take it as gospel on my say-so." Sam picked up the pace, but his gait was increasingly unsteady. "Hey, if we're lucky, we won't see any spirits. Then, after we get Dean out, you can head on home, safe and sound, believing you rescued a complete nutjob. I'm fine with that. But since the only luck Dean and I tend to get is the crap kind, you need to be ready. Ever handle a gun before?"

I nodded, still struggling to fully comprehend what Sam was telling me. "For target shooting with my grandpa–that's all."

"Good enough." Sam shoved the shotgun into my hands, then yanked his Taurus from his pocket. "Just think of them as moving targets. You see anything that's not me or Dean, you shoot it."

I stared at Sam incredulous over his directive but said nothing. I mean, what could I say? This man I'd just met, a man with a serious head injury, had just told me that ghosts were real, that I would likely see one before the day was over and that I'd probably have to shoot it. Not exactly how I'd seen my day playing out when I'd stepped off Harry's bus.

But there was no point in arguing with Sam; he clearly believed what he'd just told me to be fact. My best plan was still the original one; find Dean and then get both brothers help. I'd do whatever it took to get us to that end goal.

We walked for close to a half hour; Dean may have been less than two miles from us as the crow flies but the tunnels took numerous twists and turns that almost doubled that distance. No wonder Sam had gotten lost.

Every five minutes or so Sam checked in with his brother. Dean put up a good front but he wasn't fooling either one of us; the man was in pain.

As we crossed onto the asylum property, the peeling paint of the words SANITORIUM ROAD confirming the fact, Sam gave me the heads up sign, then called his brother again.

"We're here, Dean–should just be a few minutes more."

There was no answer.

Sam came to sudden, unsteady stop. "Dean?"

For an agonizing few seconds, there was still nothing.

Then came a burst of static. "I'm…good."

I jumped as the sound of a shotgun blast echoed over the walkie-talkie.

"It's fine…. But I'm down to my last shell."

"Fuck." Sam took off in sprint, with me close on his heels. He'd covered about fifty yards before his pace slowed to a jog, then an erratic walk. He stumbled, slammed into the tunnel wall, then crashed to his knees, his gun flying from his grasp and skittering along the brick floor.


He pitched forward and puked, chest heaving as he threw up water and bile. When he had nothing left to throw up, he collapsed back against the tunnel wall. Eyes watering, still breathing heavily, he dragged the back of his sleeve across his face. "Son of a bitch."

I was on my knees at his side, dragging my gym towel from my pack and pouring some of the water onto it. I handed it to Sam, who took it wordlessly and scrubbed it over his face.

"Maybe running isn't such a hot idea–you know, for a guy with a concussion." I offered a sympathetic smile. "I think what we need here is more tortoise, less hare–know what I mean?"

Sam did, but he obviously didn't like it. He wanted to get to his brother as fast as possible, and who could blame him for that? He took a sip from the water bottle. "How close are we?"

I glanced upwards, trying to picture the asylum property above us. "Near as I can tell, we're around where the main building stood. Depending on the number of detours, I doubt he's more than…ten minutes away. I–"

"Grab the gun!" Sam's eyes widened, his face suddenly illuminated by a cold light.

My head snapped around as I reached for the shotgun on the floor beside me. It felt like someone had tightened a vise around my chest; I couldn't breathe…I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Walking drunkenly towards us was something out of childhood nightmares: a tall, painfully thin man, dressed in a hospital gown and open robe, the untied belt dragging along the tunnel floor at his side. His head was shaved, stitches crossing his skull, his skin pale and sickly, and his eyes sunken and wild. He lurched towards us, semi-transparent and flickering like a television signal shorting out. As he moved closer, studying Sam then me, his face darkened with rage.

I jumped when the shotgun was wrenched from my hand. In one smooth move, Sam raised the weapon, pumped it and fired, the spirit dissipating with a scream. The cold light disappeared with him and the tunnel was again lit only by the dull yellow lamps along the wall.

I looked at Sam in shock, my heart still slamming against my ribs.

"Told you our luck was crap." Sam's arms collapsed to his sides, the shotgun dropping into his lap. "But we see another ghost, you can't hesitate, man. That one was slow–most aren't. You see one, you shoot–capice?"

I nodded numbly.

He smiled. "You can do it. You've got good instincts–just follow them."

Suddenly our roles were reversed; since we'd met, I'd been Sam's crutch to lean on. But with this abrupt entry into the nightmare world that Sam and his brother apparently lived in, now he was mine.

"Now let's go. In case you haven't figured it out, my brother's not a patient man." Sam clapped me on the shoulder, pressed the shotgun back into my hands, then began the struggle to get up. With my help and the wall's, he made it. This time though, when I'd gathered our stuff and returned Sam's Taurus to him, I slung his arm over my shoulders and wrapped an arm around his back without asking.

He didn't object, which clearly said he knew that his gas tank was pretty close to empty, and that if we were going to make it to his brother, he needed the help.

This last stretch was completed in silence, Sam channeling every ounce of his remaining energy into simply putting one foot in front of the other, me still struggling to process what I'd just seen. And I kept seeing it…that ghost–God, it was hard to even think that word in relation to the events of a few moments earlier–as if it was on some loop in my brain. Sam wasn't nuts; ghosts were real–and just how batshit crazy was that?

As we rounded yet another corner, there was a noticeable drop in temperature. Sam's breathing rate escalated, each labored exhale frosting over. He tensed, peering into the darkness ahead. "Head's up. When a spirit breaks through, it takes a lot of energy…sucks all the heat from– No…no, it's not a spirit. We're here."

I was still scanning the tunnel nervously, expecting to see another ghost of a mental patient, when Sam lurched forward, pulling away from me. Just ahead, there was a large black hole in the ceiling, the bricks and mortar that had once covered it now forming a pile of rubble in the tunnel below.

Sam smiled. "Dean!" His deep voice raised to a booming shout startled me.

"And the c-cavalry's finally here." The voice from just up ahead was weak but characteristically caustic, at least as I'd come to know it. "Bout f-fucking time–you take the s-scenic route?"

This time, Sam's smile was genuine. "Yeah, but we took pictures. Wanna see?"

"Shut up. Just…just get me the hell outta here."

Sam was still smiling as he stumbled toward the cave-in and his brother.

I squinted into the dim light, scanning the brick pile as I followed Sam. It suddenly clicked that I had no idea what Dean looked like. Only as we got closer was I able to pick out the head and shoulders of the man whose voice I'd grown so familiar with, whose personality was so obviously larger-than-life but whom I had yet to officially meet.

And then I saw him. He was covered in dust and dirt, his face streaked with blood and partially hidden in shadows but, even beneath all that, I could make out a family resemblance. Dean's hair was much shorter than Sam's but the intense hazel eyes were the same. He was clearly cold, exhausted and in pain, but his gaze was locked on Sam, tracking him as he moved closer, assessing his condition. And he obviously didn't like what he saw. "You look like crap, Sammy."

The same concern now clouded Sam's expression. "I should get you a mirror." He turned to me and waved a hand towards his pack. "Check in there–there should be a canister of salt. Use it to fix that line across the tunnel floor…fill in any gaps. That'll keep the spirits away while we get Dean out."

Dean raised an eyebrow. "Listen to you–and you c-call me bossy."

"It's fine–I got it." I glanced down to where Sam had gestured; a thick, haphazard line of salt stretched the width of the tunnel, although dripping water from the tunnel ceiling had dissolved the salt in three places. I had no idea how a salt line kept ghosts away but after what I'd seen earlier, I wasn't questioning Sam's directive. If he said it kept out ghosts, that was good enough for me. I found the salt and created a new solid line.

Just in time, too. I was shoving the canister back into the pack, when I heard an electrical buzzing. My head shot up to see a cold blue light once again fill the tunnel and an apparition form on the far side of the salt line, not five feet away from me. This one was female, her long pale hair half shaved on one side and matted with blood. She had the same hollow eyes as the first spirit. She stared at me for a moment, head cocked to one side, flickering in and out–then charged at me. Startled, I lurched backwards but when she hit the line, it was like she'd hit a brick wall. It stopped her cold. Her face darkened with rage and she screamed, a bloodcurdling sound that chilled me far more than the temperature.

But she couldn't cross that salt line. Still screaming, she vanished. I turned back to Sam and Dean, chest heaving, shock obviously painted across my face.

Sam nodded at me. "Like I said, salt works–so keep an eye on that line."

I didn't trust my voice so I just nodded.

Dean was lying on his back, half propped up against the pile of bricks behind him, his head resting on a makeshift pillow–a jacket that was likely Sam's. That explained why his brother had been wandering around in the storm without one. Only Dean's head, shoulders, and arms were visible, the rest of him hidden beneath a huge slab of old bricks that had fallen from the ceiling in one piece. The sleeves of his denim jacket were torn and bloody in places, but there was nothing at first glance to suggest any major injury to his upper limbs. A shotgun similar to the one I now held lay on top of the rubble by his right hand, the walkie-talkie by his left; he'd used both during our trek over here. But as for his torso and lower limbs, we'd only know the extent of any damage there once we freed him.

Dean raised his left hand as Sam dropped to his knees beside him, and Sam grabbed it in an unspoken greeting. Sam scowled the moment their hands connected. "Dude, you're freezing."

"I've been warmer." Dean glanced upwards. "T-temperature dropped p-pretty quickly after th-the roof caved in." The forced smile was back. "It's k-kinda like s-sitting in front of a fridge with the d-door open."

Like Sam, I squinted into the dark chasm where the brick ceiling had once been. We obviously weren't under one of the new buildings currently under construction; above us was nothing but dirt–dirt frozen solid by three months of winter. That explained the drop in temperature; the moment the ceiling caved in, the insulating seal of the bricks was broken and the outside temperature started seeping in. Now hypothermia was a concern for all three of us, Dean most of all. "Damn."

"Yeah." Dean dropped his head back, his focus still on the open ceiling above him. "Been k-kind of expecting it to c-cave in on me for the last s-six hours."

I shook my head. "I actually think luck is on your side on this one. This far into winter, the ground's frozen solid–pretty much has the density of concrete. As long as it's stable, it should stay where it is."

"As long as it's stable." Now it was Dean's turn to study me. "S-so you're architect-s-search-and-rescue guy?"

I smiled. "That's kind of a mouthful. Call me Dan." I watched Sam pull off his glove, check Dean's pulse, then press his hand flat against Dean's chest, assessing the rise and fall. "How is he?"

"He's fine." Dean's jaw set stubbornly. "But I'll be a lot f-finer when you get me out f-from under this crap."

"I think fine is a bit of a stretch." Sam looked puzzled. "But your breathing's a helluva lot better than it should be–just like your pulse." Sam sat back on his heels and studied the rubble pile. "Don't take this the wrong way, but how are you not–"

"A pancake?" Dean swallowed, worry again evident in his expression as he studied his brother. "You already figured this out, Sammy–the first time you tried to get me out."

Sam's eyes widened, another crack in his I'm fine façade revealed. "I don't–" His fingers subconsciously traced the gash on his forehead. "I don't remember."

"And you're giving me grief?" Dean turned to me. "How 'bout you fill me in on how S-Sammy here's really doing?"


"I'm asking Dan." Dean gave me a look that demanded an answer.

"His body temperature is definitely rebounding–at least it was before we landed in this deep freeze. But, like you, he needs a doctor and a hospital, not a part-time SARTech in an old sewer tunnel. As for the head injury–"

"Obviously, that's a problem." Dean raised an eyebrow at Sam, as if daring him to deny it.

Sam's jaw set stubbornly. "I've got a headache, you're bleeding under a ton of bricks. You really wanna argue about which problem we need to address first?"


"Look, we get you out, we both get outta here. Where's the flaw in that plan?" Sam was still studying the rubble pile. "Now, fill me in–why aren't you shortstacked?

Dean shot Sam one of those brother-patented 'We'll talk about this later' looks. "Underneath this big hunk of rock, there's a smaller piece." He closed one hand into a fist, then gestured to the rubble on top of him "This big piece is on top of it." Dean placed his other hand flat on top of his fist."

Sam nodded. "So the smaller piece is displacing some of the weight off you, keeping it off you."

Dean nodded. "What we need to do is tilt up the top piece." He raised his flat hand to a 45-degree angle. "Shove supports underneath it to keep it raised–"

"Then pull you out." Sam glanced to his right, then his left, staring at two largish pieces of rubble, sitting in front of the giant slab trapping Dean. "These things–they're the supports?"

"Yeah–you rolled those into place before." Dean's worried expression was back as he stared at his brother. "You just couldn't lift the big slab by yourself–not and move the supports into place at the same time."

"Well, now there's two of us. But before we move anything…." I studied Dean closely; he'd mentioned earlier he had been skewered by something and was bleeding. Sure, he was pale, but seemed far stronger than he would be had he been bleeding out for six hours. "You said something had stabbed you, that you were bleeding. You feeling woozy…light-headed?"

"Never–unless I've been roofied." Dean glanced up. "Here, I've just been…roofed."

Sam's frown deepened. "Whatever stabbed you–did it get you from above or the side?"

"Side." Dean grunted in pain as he shifted slightly. "Yeah, definitely the side."

Sam nodded. "That's good." When Dean shot him a WTF look, Sam raised an eyebrow. "Dude, think–if you were impaled from above…."

"You'd yank it out of me when you lifted the rubble." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "And that would hurt, wouldn't it?"

Sam glanced up at me. "You ready?"

I nodded and dropped to my knees at Sam's side. "We both lift, then I hold it up while you slide those supports into place?"

Sam looked doubtful. "You think you can hold–"

"I don't see that we have another choice." Given Sam's current state, I was the stronger of the two; that put the heavy lifting on me. "Let's just do it."

"OK." Sam gave me a curt nod. "On three–two…three."

There was a collective grunt as we lifted. Fuck, it was heavy. I was aware of Dean yelling, of a curse from Sam, but the rush of blood to my head gave those sounds a weird, distant echo. When the rubble was shoulder high, I shifted my body to allow my back and shoulders to take the weight.

Sam glanced over at me, his face also showing the strain. "You–"

"Go." I nodded curtly, giving him the signal to release his hold. "And make it quick."

Sam let go. I groaned audibly as the full weight of the rubble was transferred to me. I screwed my eyes closed, hissing out breaths between clenched teeth; I could hear Sam moving around, sliding the supports into place but didn't dare look, needing every ounce of concentration to keep the rubble suspended.

"OK." My eyes snapped open to see Sam scramble back to my side and again take a share of the weight. "OK, lower it–slowly."

I felt like I was being crushed as we lowered it into place, but suddenly the supports, not me, were carrying the weight.

Sam was studying the supports suspiciously, like he didn't really believe they'd hold. "You first–let go…back away."

Breathing heavily, I let go with my left hand; the rubble didn't move. I let go with my right and sat back on my heels. Sam then did the same.

For a moment, none of us moved, none of us spoke, each fearing the worst, but the supports held.

Dean was the first to break the silence. "Still stuck here, fellas. You wanna quit admiring your work and finish the damn job."

That made Sam smile. He dropped onto his stomach and army-crawled under the suspended rubble. "Before we do anything we need to know what skewered you."

Dean groaned as he shifted his left leg. "Look…never mind–I can get myself out."

"Whoa, whoa." Sam grabbed Dean's arm, preventing him from moving. "If whatever is stabbing you is attached to something, you could bring all this down on top of you."

Dean exhaled loudly in frustration. "Son of a–"

"Just hold tight. Won't be much longer–I promise." Sam turned to me, then motioned to his pack. "Outside pocket, there should be a–"

"Flashlight? Yeah, I've seen it." I grabbed the pack, quickly found the small Mag-light that had helped me find the radio earlier, and handed it to Sam.

Sam wriggled further under the rubble. I moved to his right and also lay on the floor so I could see and reach Dean. I pressed my fingers to his neck, checking his pulse; it was sluggish but not in the danger zone. "How're your legs? Any pins and needles?"

Dean nodded curtly.

"Try moving your feet a little, just up and down." I shifted to see past Sam; Dean's feet moved slowly up and down. "Any pain?"

"Nothing I can't handle." The look on Dean's face told me he was well aware of the risk of compression injuries. His scowl darkened when he turned his attention back to Sam. His brother was now arched over Dean's legs, pulling rubble from his right side. "This is a bad idea, Sammy. You suck at Jenga."

Sam snorted, and kept tossing aside rubble. "The last time we played Jenga, I was, what, five?"

"So you suck and you're out of practice. How is that good?"

"Shut up." A few more rocks came rolling out from under the rubble as Sam tossed them out. "OK, I see it. It's a piece of rebar. But it snapped off a larger piece so it's not attached to anything."

"It's attached to me." Dean groaned as Sam inspected the wound.

"Yeah." Sam carefully backed up. "But the good news is we can pull you out."

Dean, breathing heavily, stared at his brother suspiciously. "When there's good news, there's usually bad."

Sam slid out from under the rubble and sat up slowly, screwing his eyes closed until he regained his equilibrium. "It looks like it got you good. It's in pretty deep. If we pull it out here and it's done any major damage–"

"I'll bleed out before we get topside." Dean's jaw muscle twitched. "So we don't take it out."

Sam scrubbed a hand down his face. "Then we risk infection."

"You're a real buzzkill, Sammy." Dean huffed impatiently. "Just get me the hell out."

Sam turned to me. "Thoughts?"

I leaned in to study how Dean was lying. Before we started moving him we needed to rule out any spinal injuries. "Any pain in your back? Your neck?"

"No." Dean's patience had clearly worn out. "This piece of metal is a pain in my side, and you two are a pain in my ass. Other than that, I am just cold and tired and really need a drink. So if someone doesn't get me out in the next five seconds, I'm gonna rescue myself. We clear?"

"Crystal." I turned to Sam. "I lift his head, you pull him towards you?"

Sam nodded. "Then once he's clear of this support, we can pull him out the front."

Of course, the reality was a tad more complicated. Pulling Dean down the rubble that had served as his backrest sent an avalanche of pebbles and dust with him, leaving us all coughing. More worrisome, there were some ominous sounds as we worked that suggested the big piece of rubble we'd hoisted off Dean was not quite as stable as we'd hoped. Sam and I exchanged a glance which clearly said, "We need to speed things up, get us all the fuck out of here."

Once Dean was flat on the ground, I slid an arm under his shoulders and Sam took hold of his legs. As quickly as we dared we backed up, pulling Dean with us.

And then, it was done. Dean was free.

Sam barely had chance to smile at his brother before a rumble behind us snapped our attention back to the rubble pile. The small piece that had kept the weight of the ceiling rubble off Dean slid forward. The larger piece on top of it dropped at the back, dislodging the two supports Sam had wedged at the front and the entire thing crashed to the floor, sending up a cloud of dust.

In my peripheral vision, I saw Sam dive forward, throwing himself over Dean. He was pelted by pebbles and showered with dust as the rubble pile collapsed but when, quite literally, the dust had settled, he pushed himself up, seeming dirtier but otherwise no worse for wear.

Ditto for Dean, although he seemed even more pissed. "You were right, Sammy." He grimaced as he stared down at the piece of metal protruding from his side. "Asylums really don't like us. They are officially off my to-do list."

I sat up slowly, spitting to the side to clear the dust from my mouth, and wondering what the hell else could happen. Fate, cruel bitch that she is, quickly showed me.

An electric buzz and crackle cut through the dust that filled the tunnel, a cold blue light illuminating all the particles still swirling through the air. Right behind Sam, an apparition appeared–this one a fifty-ish man in a lab coat wielding an ancient-looking scalpel. He grabbed Sam by the hair, yanked him away from Dean and drew the blade across his forehead.

Sam's yell was quickly muffled by a gunshot; Dean had somehow got his hands on Sam's Taurus and easily dispatched the spirit; it vanished with a scream and Sam crumpled to the ground. Barely had he hit the floor when another ghost materialized behind Dean; this one was the woman I'd seen earlier, a demented smile now on her face. She was behind Dean, and Sam had no weapon, so this one was up to me. I grabbed the shotgun, aimed high and fired. She dissipated as she was reaching for Dean's head.

How the hell had they gotten to us? My attention snapped to the salt line and the answer became obvious; when the rubble collapsed, several pieces had slid through the salt, breaking the line. I scrambled to my feet, grabbed Sam's pack and the salt within it and quickly restored our protection. The irony didn't escape me; only an hour earlier I'd been questioning Sam's sanity when he'd told me that ghosts were real; now here I was shooting them and laying down salt to keep them at bay without question or hesitation.

Sam, now back at his brother's side, dragged a hand across his forehead, smearing the blood from this latest injury, then nodded his thanks. "You're a quick study."

"And a decent shot, thank god." Dean made an exaggerated show of brushing salt from his shoulder, then winced as Sam ripped open his shirts to assess the wound in his side. "You owe me a new shirt, Sammy."

"Put it on my tab." Sam glanced up at me and gestured to his pack. "There's a first-aid kit in there. Grab it, would you?"

I quickly found the kit and cracked open the tin box. Sam pulled out a square of gauze and after pouring the last of the water onto Dean's side, began cleaning away blood from the wound site.

I dropped to my knees beside Dean and opposite Sam. After rechecking Dean's pulse and breathing, I examined his legs, searching for any evidence of internal bleeding or broken bones. Miraculously, there was none, the only obvious damage being a slightly swollen left knee. "I'd say that's a sprain but–"

"Get me on my feet and let's find out." Dean started to push himself up.

"Dude, seriously." Sam placed a warning hand on his brother's arm. "You can't be walking around with a piece of rusty metal stuck in you." He was still studying the wound, obviously not liking what he saw. He glanced up at me. "It's infected. So…take it out, and risk bleeding out or leave it in and risk the infection taking hold?"

"Hey, talk to me." Dean's scowl deepened. "It's stuck in me, so whatever the hell we do–my call."

I leaned in to look at the wound; the skin around the puncture was red and puffy, the rust and dirt from the rebar obviously feeding infection. That danger was real. Bleeding out was a possibility, maybe even a probability, but which was the lesser of two evils? "You have a pressure bandage in that kit of yours? Antiseptic?"

Sam nodded.

I turned to Dean. "Then I say we take out, flush it and bandage it. That will help keep the infection in check. I don't like how fast it's progressing. And if you stay still, we should be able to control any bleeding. Sam here can keep an eye on it, and you, while I go for help, then–"

"No." Dean shook his head. "You leave, we leave. I'm done with this place." He started to sit up.

"Dean, stop." Sam again held him down. "You're in no shape to hike out of here." He suddenly looked exhausted, all the events of the past few hours finally catching up with him. "And neither am I. I…I think Dan's right–we stay, he's goes for help."

Dean's eyes narrowed as he studied his brother. Sam admitting weakness was clearly out of character and an obvious ploy to get Dean to stay put. But it was a ploy based in truth; adrenaline had kept Sam going while we rescued Dean, but that was waning rapidly. Beneath the blood and grime that covered his face, he was disturbingly pale and his hands shook with cold and exhaustion as he worked on Dean's wound.

None of this escaped Dean's attention, and from what I could tell, was the sole reason he gave up the fight. These brothers seemed hard-wired to look out for the other. Not surprising, I suppose, if what we'd been through this day was just another day at the office for the two of them.

"Whatever." Dean dropped his head back, staring up at the ceiling. "Just…get it over with."

Sam looked over at me, his glance an unspoken request to distract his brother.

I nodded. "The, um, spirits–think there are any more of them to worry about?"

Dean shrugged. "More than likely. We didn't shut the door like we wanted to."

"Yeah, about that…." I was still a little unclear about the series of events that had caused the cave-in. "The explosion–what caused it?"

"We did."

Oh. "Why? How does that get rid of ghosts?"

"It doesn't–but it puts'em on lockdown. A few lines of salt, a few well-placed charges and we keep the spirits in and potential victims out." Dean snorted. "Kinda like what Sammy's doing here–stop the bleeding until we can deal with the bigger problem. A full-scale clean-up was gonna take more than the two of us. We–" He winced as Sam wrapped his hand around the rebar. "Son of a bitch. Would you just–argh!"

Dean's yell echoed through the tunnel as Sam yanked out the rebar.

"Sorry." Sam tossed aside the metal rod. "And this is gonna be even less fun." He poured antiseptic into the wound.

Dean's back arched, muscles cording in his neck as he bit back another feral groan. By the time he slumped to the floor, completely spent, Sam already had the pressure bandage over the wound and was taping it in place.

Dean's eyes stayed screwed shut, his hands curled into fists, knuckles white. It seemed like another distraction might be called for. "You said full-scale clean-up. So you can you get rid of them for good–the ghosts I mean?"

Dean hissed between clenched teeth, then shot a glance at his brother. "Your turn, Sammy. I'm kinda busy here, trying not to pass out."

Sam smoothed the last piece of tape into place. "The only sure way to free a spirit is to salt and burn their bones. But for that we need to know who they are, where they're buried–and it not to be winter." He grabbed a square of gauze and began wiping Dean's blood from his hands. "We called in a few favors, have got hunters lined up to torch their way through two graveyards and an illegal body dump behind the asylum in spring." He glanced around the tunnel. "This was just a stopgap, but should allow construction to continue without anyone else getting hurt."

It was all so hard to process, a kind of covert military operation but with ghosts as the target. "Look, I've seen you two in action. If you don't mind me asking–how the hell did the spirits get the drop on you?"

Sam shifted uncomfortably, then began packing away medical supplies. "I'm a little fuzzy on that."

Dean's eyes narrowed. "How fuzzy?"

Sam pulled a face at Dean. "Fuzzy…as in I don't remember."

"How much don't you remember?"

Sam exhaled slowly. "I remember why we came here. I remember researching the case. Then…then I remember waking up in the tunnels with Dan."

Dean didn't like that answer. "You skipped a few steps."

"Yeah, I get that." Sam closed the lid on the first-aid box "So how did they get the jump on us?"

"Swarmed us–and don't change the subject."

"Dean, I got dinged. Wasn't the first time, won't be the last." Sam blew on his hands, then rubbed them together to warm them up. "I'll be fine."

"With medical attention you will be." I pushed myself up. "Which means I need to get going." I frowned as Dean gave an involuntary shudder. "And as much as I'd rather not move you, the temperature here is doing neither of you any favors. If we go a few hundred feet down the tunnel, away from this cave-in, you'll be a lot warmer."

Dean glanced up at Sam. "A bit further than that and we're off the asylum property. You up for that?"

Sam had picked up his gun and was checking the clip. "Would now be a good time to mention we're almost out of ammo?"

Dean raised an eyebrow at his brother. "So that's a yes."

It didn't take long to gather up their stuff; the trickiest part was getting Dean on his feet without doing further damage to the hole in his side and his sprained knee. He wasn't happy about being supported between the two of us but he was also well aware that moving under his own steam just wasn't happening.

With Sam on his right and me on his left, his arms pulled over our shoulders and each of us with an arm wrapped around his waist, Dean hobbled up to the salt line. "Son of a bitch, let's get this show on the road. The sooner I see the ass-end of this place, the better."

We stepped over the salt line and, right on cue, a spirit appeared in front of us–more specifically, in front of me. It was the woman with the blood-matted hair I'd seen earlier and if possible, she seemed even more pissed than before. Eyes wide and wild, she plunged a spectral arm right into my chest just as the deafening sound of a gunshot filled the tunnel. Sam, his right hand free and tightly gripping his Taurus, took her out.

He shook his head and shoved the gun in his pocket. "OK–now we are officially out of ammo."

My left hand was still on my chest; it felt like someone had just jabbed an icicle straight into my heart and it was freezing me from the inside out. It was like nothing I'd ever experienced before–and nothing I ever wanted to experience again.

As I turned to nod my thanks to Sam, shock obviously still painted across my face, Dean winked at me.

"It happens to the best of us. You can't really say you've been hunting until you've been bad-touched by a ghost." He groaned as he limped forward. "Now do I lead this parade solo or are you two coming with me?"

It was slow going but we reached the edge of the asylum property without any more attacks. There, we lowered Dean to the floor, then Sam slid down the wall to sit beside him. There was enough salt left to lay down a thin line in front of the brothers–just in case–and then I was ready to take off. I glanced from one to the other worriedly. "You good?"

Dean snorted. "No. When I'm outta here, I'll be good. When there's a glass of scotch in my hand, I'll be even better. So go."

"I'll be back as fast as I can." I nodded at Sam, then took off down the tunnel.

Behind me, I could hear the brothers' voices.

"Ow–leave me alone."

"I need to check your side…check the bleeding."

"It's fine."

"The hell it is."

"It's as fine as your head."

"That kind of proves my point, Dean."

"Shut up."

I smiled as the brotherly squabbling faded from earshot. It would be a while yet before both Sam and Dean were truly safe, but for the first time since I'd collided with Sam, it actually felt like everything was going to be OK.


Four days later, when both brothers were on the mend, I stopped by the hospital.

When I walked into Dean's room, the head of his bed was propped up to a 45-degree angle and he was watching TV–or, more specifically, flipping mindlessly through the channels, looking bored out of his skull. "That bad, huh?"

"Worse." Dean glanced up at me, his scowl confirming the sentiment, then continued jamming his thumb against the remote, changing the channels. "Nothing but soaps and talk shows–and what they talk about makes my ears bleed." He turned off the TV in disgust and dropped the remote on the bed. "If a man's gonna heal, he needs more than basic cable."

Can't say I was surprised that Dean was champing at the bit; he'd been stuck in that tunnel for close to nine hours by the time EMTs got him out, and now he'd been bedridden for almost four days. He didn't strike me as a man used to that kind of down time. "They've already sprung Sam, huh?"

"Yeah, lucky bastard." Despite the snark, relief was evident in Dean's voice. "They won't let him drive for a week, but he'll be fine."

"That's good to hear. Oh, and speaking of driving..." I reached into my pocket, pulled out a set of keys and dropped them on the table at Dean's bedside. "Took a bit of digging but I got your car out. She's all cleaned off and parked out front. She's a beauty, by the way."

"That she is." Dean's expression softened briefly as he stared at the keys, then his scowl returned. "And she hates the snow as much as I do. Once Sammy gets back, we're outta here and heading south…not stopping 'til we see palm trees."

"Can't say I blame you." I glanced at Dean's side, picturing the bandages hidden beneath his hospital gown; doctors had kept the wound open while they got the infection under control, hence the need for Dean's extended hospital stay. "So you're finally stitched up?"

Dean nodded, then held up his left arm, an IV shunt still taped to the back of his hand. "The industrial strength meds kicked the infection's ass. Once this batch is done, they switch me to pills, and that means I'm free to go."

"That's great news. And to celebrate..." I held up the brown paper bag I'd brought with me, then set it down on the nightstand. "A little medicine of a different sort–for when you get home. I seem to remember something about you appreciating a good scotch."

"You remember right." Dean's expression brightened noticeably. "But screw the when you get home crap." He reached for the empty water glass on the table pushed over his bed, his arm wrapped protectively around his abdomen as he leaned forward. "Let's crack it open right now."

"Um..." I gestured to the IV in his left arm. "Scotch and antibiotics–is that such a hot idea?"

"No, it isn't." Sam walked into the room carrying a tall paper cup, and with a knapsack slung over his shoulder. He had three butterfly bandages holding together the cut across his forehead and was still pale, but he looked a helluva lot healthier than when he'd been wheeled into the ER a few days earlier.

He nodded a greeting at me, then set down the cup in front of his brother. "As long as you're medicated, coffee's the strongest thing you get–and even then, only decaf."

"Decaf." Dean's scowl returned. "Why even bother? It's just colored water."

Sam shrugged sympathetically. "Doctor's orders."

"Screw doctor's orders–that's just one more reason to get the hell out of Dodge." Dean reached over to yank the IV from his arm.

Sam grabbed his hand, stopping him. "No. You need–"

"I need to get out of here." Dean batted away Sam's arm, then scrubbed a hand down his face. "They patched me back together and the infection's under control. Now I'm just lying in bed. That I can do at home–but with good TV, good coffee and a glass of that good scotch our architect friend here just brought me."

"Scotch, huh?" Sam glanced up at me and smiled. "Great minds think alike." He reached into his pack, pulled out a brown paper bag and passed it to me. "As thanks–for putting your ass on the line to save ours."

I accepted the bottle gratefully, but shrugged. "I just did what anyone would have done."

The brothers snorted in unison.

Sam shook his head. "Trust me, there are plenty of people who would have seen me in the snow, written me off as a nutcase and just kept right on trucking."

"Ain't that the truth." Dean popped the lid off his cup of coffee and sniffed the contents suspiciously. "Tell me something–knowing what you know now, after everything you've seen..." He took a sip, grimaced at the taste, then glanced up at me. "Bet you wish you'd done the same–kept right on trucking, I mean?"

"No. No way." I shook my head. "I don't ever want to be that guy. Sure, I'm still trying to process everything I saw down in the tunnels, everything you told me–not sure I ever will fully, but..." I glanced from Dean to Sam. "Look, you see someone who needs help, you help them. End of story. I'd say that's a concept you two have a pretty good handle on."

Dean shrugged. "We do what we do." He glanced over at the bottle of scotch on the nightstand. "We just don't get thanked very often."

I smiled. "Well, consider this an official thank you. The condos planned for the asylum property will house hundreds of people. If you two hadn't…cleaned things up, well…a lot more people would've got hurt."

Both brothers looked uncomfortable with the praise.

"OK, things are getting way too chick-flicky for me." Dean set down his coffee on the bed table and turned to Sam. "You got my papers, right? We're good to go–without that WWE-reject of an orderly chasing after me again?"

Sam bit back a smile. "His name is Carl and that served you right for trying a middle-of-night escape–on crutches."

"Shut up." Now Dean just looked grumpy. "And if they hadn't just polished the floor, I would've made it."

Sam's smile widened. "Look, your doc's filling out the paperwork…said she'll swing by in less than an hour. Then we're good to go–officially. I'll even drive the getaway car."

Dean shook his head. "The hell you will, concussion boy. The only one driving my car is me."

Now I was smiling; listening to the two of them verbally joust made me miss my own brothers. I made a mental note to call my youngest brother, Cal, and hassle him for old time's sake.

"OK, peace offering." Sam reached into his backpack. "I got this from a bakery around the corner." He pulled out a clear plastic container. "An hour should be just enough time for you to polish it off."

Dean frowned at the container Sam placed on the table; it held what appeared to be a gigantic slice of cake covered in white frosting. "Cake? Sammy, we've had this conversation–cake is not the same thing as pie."

"This cake is." Sam turned the container so Dean could the inside of the cake. "Look closer–there's a slice of pie baked into each layer. They call it..." He peered at the label on the side of the container. "Cherpumple."

Dean snorted as he pulled the container towards him. "What kind of dumb-ass name is that?"

Sam grinned. "It's the three kind of pies it's made with–cherry, pumpkin and apple."

"Seriously?" Dean popped open the lid.

"As a heart attack." Sam set down a plastic fork beside the container. "Which is probably what that thing will give you, but at least you'll die a happy man."

"Son of a bitch." Dean picked up the fork and scooped up a big piece of the whatever Sam had called it. As he chewed, well, let's just say it was the happiest I'd seen Dean since I'd met him.

Dean pointed his fork at Sam. "Don't think I've forgotten–I still owe you an ass-kicking for scaring the crap out of me when you went AWOL. But for the next five minutes, or however long it takes me to eat this, you're off the hook. Damn, Sammy...this is like the best dessert ever."

These Winchester brothers; they were definitely one of a kind.



The Danvers Asylum is a real place and the history used in this fic all based in fact. The asylum was demolished, condos were built on the site–and they mysteriously burned down, before being rebuilt. Vandals were blamed; whether or not they were the supernatural kind, you can decide. :-) Oh, and the tunnels really exist, too. As for Cherpumple–yeah, that's also real. I couldn't make that up. Google it and you'll find pictures. How someone came up with the notion to put pie inside cake, I'll never know but I figured it's something Dean might like. *g* Hope you enjoyed the fic. If you have a moment, I'd love to hear from you. Until next time, cheers.