It had been a slow month. Their father's trail had grown cold and so had the weather. The brothers Winchester found themselves holed up in a smallish town, an offshoot of Kansas City, for Thanksgiving. Denny served dinner. The greasy food gave Sam gas, which resulted in a flood of off-color jokes and a lot of boyish laughter. Neither of them had laughed so hard in a very long time.

The light hearted feeling didn't last long. An early November blizzard rolled through the next day and the Impala's radiator froze up solid. Dean bitched and moaned about his car. Sam bitched and moaned about being stranded for days on end while it was being repaired. They fought - Sam didn't even remember why - and Dean stormed out into the night.

He didn't return. Sam figured he'd found a good poker game at one of the bars nearby. That rationalization lasted only an hour or two. As time passed, and dawn got closer without Dean's reappearance, Sam began to get worried.

Just as he decided his brother was officially AWOL, he received a phone call regarding Dean's whereabouts. It was not good news.

Sam hated hospitals. Maybe it was the smell, that "way too clean" smell that just told you something nasty was hidden beneath it. Maybe it was the weird light that gave everything a faintly green tinge. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the prickly sensation he got up the back of his neck just thinking about the ghosts who had to be wandering the winding corridors.

He shuddered, and turned his attention back to the police officer who walked beside him. "I don't understand, Sheriff Larson, my brother is familiar with at least half a dozen forms of martial arts. Both of us have studied hand to hand combat since the age of five."

Sam ignored the weird look the sheriff gave him over that little tidbit. Let him think John Winchester had raised a pair of militants. In a way, they were, only they weren't the slightest bit interested in over-throwing the government or stockpiling guns and wives in their compound in the woods.

"Oh, he put up a fight," Larson said. He halted before the nurses station and stood leaning on the desk. The nurse behind it gave him a look, and then went back to her work with a shrug. "We've got the boys who did it locked up, and not a one of them doesn't look like he went swimmin' in a blender."

"So he was outnumbered."

That made more sense. There was no way one, or even two, good ol' boys could have put Dean Winchester in the hospital.

"Five to one, and according to the witness at least two of them had tire irons."

Sam winced. "Man..."

"Your brother is balkin' at pressing charges, which ain't goin' over too well. We've had trouble with these boys before. This is being chalked up as a hate crime and the DA is foamin' at the mouth to have at them." The sheriff shrugged. "Politics." He snorted, but looked up (and up - Sam couldn't help noticing how short the man was) at Sam earnestly. "But I'm in agreement. We don't need this kind of stuff in our town."

Cocking his head, Sam frowned. "I'm not following. I thought this was just a barroom brawl, a poker game gone bad."

Which had happened before. Dean was a crack poker player, and he picked up a game whenever and wherever they could spare the time. It kept gas in the Impala and food in their stomachs. They'd discovered, however, that the locals sometimes resented a stranger joining their games, especially when said stranger then proceeded to relieve them of their paychecks. Dean's cocky manner didn't help either. Sam had plucked him out of many close shaves wherein Dean's smart mouth turned a minor disagreement into a fistfight.

"No son, this was a case of gay bashin'."

Sam's first thought: "This is the 21st century, that still goes on?"

Second thought: "Wha!"

He looked at Larson and laughed. "You're joking, right?"

"No joke."

Shaking his head, Sam pressed his fingers to his forehead. Dream. He was having a really weird dream, right? "Sheriff, my brother isn't gay."

"Suit yourself." Larson reached into a back pocket and produced a notebook. He flipped it open. "But the fact is, your brother was attacked leavin' the Phoenix Club. It's a gay bar."

"You're mistaken. I swear to you, my brother isn't gay."

Larson shrugged. He gave Sam a patronizing look. "Whatever. All I know is that those five were seen fleein' the scene by the guy your brother was with not a half hour earlier - at the Phoenix Club."

"I'm sure there's another explanation," Sam spluttered. "Dean wouldn't. He's not..."

Is he?

Several pieces of a puzzle Sam had been kicking around for weeks, suddenly fell into place. He stood there, startled, until the sheriff clapped him on the shoulder and brought his mind back to heel.

"Go see your brother, son. Ask him to fill you in, and see if you can't talk him into pressin' charges. Make my day go a lil' bit easier."

"Didn't I warn you about playing in traffic?" Sam asked softly. The joke disguised the horror he'd felt when he first walked into the room and seen his brother. If they hadn't told him it was Dean's room, he would have called them liars.

Dean looked like he'd been run over by a truck. Strike that - run over and dragged by a truck. His face was bruised and swollen from forehead to chin. One eye was, quite literally, black and would not open. His upper lip bristled with stitches and so did a long gash over his left ear. The livid bruise purpling his left cheek could have easily resulted in a broken or dislocated jaw.

And the damage didn't end with his face. Dean's right arm was in a cast. The protruding fingers were bruised and swollen from nail to knuckle. If they'd beat him with a tire iron (or two) Sam guessed a few broken ribs topped it all off. When Dean spoke, the raspy, somewhat breathless tone of his voice confirmed the broken rib theory.

"Sam! You better be here to bust me out."

"Do you think you're ready?"

Dean scowled as best he could. "Sick of Jello."

Sam eyed the I.V. "Good drugs?"

"No. Still hurts. Stingy bastards."

After a pause, Sam pulled up a chair. "What the hell happened?"

"I pissed off the wrong people, what else is new?" Dean mumbled. His one functioning eye shifted sideways, a sure indicator that he was lying out his ass. "Just get me out of here, Sam. It's time to go."

Reaching over to the foot of the bed, Sam plucked a manilla folder out of its plastic holder. Dean regarded him suspiciously.

"What're you doing?"

"Reading your chart," Sam replied. He frowned. Dean had been worked over pretty good, and given the weather, it was a good thing someone had called 911. He'd been unconscious and nearly frozen when they'd brought him in.

"I thought you were pre-law, not pre-med."

"I had a choice of either, or. You still pissing blood?"

"I'm fine, Sam. Nothing that won't heal in the back of the Impala..."

"Which is still in the shop, you know."

Dean's head fell back against his pillow. He groaned in frustration, or it might have been pain, Sam wasn't sure which. A small part of him admitted to enjoying having Dean incapacitated for a little while. Maybe they both needed to stop and catch their breaths.

There were also few things they needed to discuss, and this time Dean couldn't get away from him.

"The local DA wants to prosecute this as a hate crime," Sam said quietly. Before Dean could formulate an appropriate (lie) response, he added: "You want to tell me the truth about Charlie McKeon?"

The response was quick, and the annoyance in Dean's voice was unmistakable. "This isn't a good time to bring that up, Sam."

It had been weeks since Charlie McKeon's death, and despite Dean's blase response to the tragedy, Sam knew it was still bothering him. Sam wasn't the only one to have nightmares. Dean's might not be prophetic by nature, but they were enough to make him talk in his sleep. He frequently called out Charlie's name. Sam bore the burden of Jessica's death, Dean apparently had taken on Charlie's, and if Sam had loved Jessica enough for her to haunt his dreams...

Admit it Sam, you had your suspicions all along.

"I think it's an appropriate time, considering."

"Considering what?"

"Considering what the sheriff told me."

Dean rolled his eyes, or tried to anyway. The gesture made him wince. "That boob? Com'on, Sam. Roscoe couldn't find a clue if it poked him in the eye."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Doing what? Sam, I've been beat up, drugged up, and accused of being gay - by my brother no less - I think I have a right to be cranky."

Sam leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "Who said anything about you being gay?" he asked quietly. "I never got to what the sheriff told me about the witness."

He had to give Dean credit for being quicker than Sam anticipated. It was only a second that Dean appeared flummoxed. He recovered with the tried and true method of turning things back around on Sam.

"You learn that trick in law school?"

"I never made it to law school, remember?"

Dean sighed. "Yeah, I remember."

He suddenly looked so profoundly sick and tired, Sam felt a feeling of foreboding. Dean had always been like a surrogate father to him as well as a big brother. When John was off on his Hunting trips, it was Dean who had made sure the house was clean and warm and there was food on the table. Dean played Santa on more than one Christmas Eve, and who could ever forget the lopsided birthday cake he'd made for Sam's tenth birthday? Dean didn't get sick, he didn't get hurt, and he most certainly didn't have any hidden issues. He was an open book, and always had been. Self assured, cocky, devil-may-care...

"Tell me the truth, Dean."

"You can't handle the truth," his brother shot back, and grinned. "Ow." He gingerly felt the stitches in his lip. "Okay, no Jack for a while. I get it."

Sam sighed. "Dean, I'm serious."

Dean looked him in the eye. "So am I."

There came an impasse, and it was Sam who yielded. He nodded, knowing he wasn't going to get Dean to open up to him at this point. "All right." he said. "So just tell me your version of the story."

Under some circumstances Dean liked picking a fight with Sam. They could bicker with the best of them, and it was sometimes fun to see if he could out do his brother. Street smarts versus book smarts - more often than not they wound up in a draw.

This time their fight was senseless, stupid, and simply borne of the two of them spending way too much time together. They'd been on the road for months, holed up in seedy hotels together, and whereas their relationship was becoming stronger, it was hard to be in each others faces so much. When the Impala broke down and they got snowed into this po-dunk offshoot of Kansas City, things came to a head.

Dean had to admit a good deal of it was his fault. He had been short tempered with Sam since Charlie died. Every time he looked at Sam he thought of Charlie and the last night they'd been together - the night after Charlie's death. The fact Dean knew Sam a little more intimately than he should made him feel decidedly uncomfortable. The fact that it had been Charlie's mind but Sam's body threw in a conflict Dean's brain just couldn't process.

The troubling incident had changed what Charlie looked like in Dean's mind's eye. The line between Charlie and Sam had become so blurred every time Dean looked at Sam he expected him to be Charlie. Of course the illusion was shattered every time Sam opened his mouth and Dean, who missed Charlie more than he would ever admit, started to become irritated at anything Sam said.

They both wanted to get on the road again. The Impala's breakdown and the subsequent snow, forbade immediate travel. Sam spent his time watching television or putzing around on the Internet. Dean paced.

The fight started over something insignificant and was fueled by conflicting personalities. Sam had a tendency to get patronizing. Dean got bossy and his barbs got sharper. One too many, "Well, at Stanford..." comments finally sent Dean over the edge. If he stayed any longer he would end up punching Sam in the mouth, and that wouldn't do either of them any good because Dean knew full well Sam would come right back at him. Verbal jousting was one thing, beating the shit out of each other was a whole different ball game.

Trudging down the sidewalk from the hotel to where a row of bars and restaurants stretched out to either side of the street, Dean considered his options. He knew there was pool at the Garage, and sometimes a good poker game could be found at Carl's. The Busby had the best beer at good prices and if he wanted food, he could find that there too. Last if not least he could always take a stroll down to the very end of the block, hang a left, and go shoot the bull with the guys working on the Impala.

He stopped walking in front of a nondescript brown building wedged in between an "All For A Buck" store and a beauty parlor. A blacked out window faced the street, beneath which was a faded painting of a bird and a sign, "entrance at rear of building," the irony of which did not escape Dean's attention.

Their first night in town Dean had picked up a poker game at Carl's, winning more than enough to take care of the Impala's repairs and their hotel bill. The blue-collar boys at the table were impressed by his card handling, though no less irritated that he'd pocketed most of their spending money for the week. They told him about the town, and pointed out places he and Sam might want to avoid.

One of these was the Phoenix Club. If Dean recalled correctly, the place had been described in no uncertain terms as a "faggot's nest." There was talk of fumigation, and Dean had laughed along with everyone else, but the conversation etched itself into his memory. Over the course of time he began thinking of the place more and more.

If there was any time Dean really felt like investigating the Phoenix, it was now. He was bored, and Sam was back at the hotel being an asshole. Admitting he was also feeling rather lonely and insecure came with more difficulty. He'd fallen victim to the "what if" game too much lately, wondering what would have happened if he'd stayed with Charlie when he'd been asked to, where they would be now if Charlie had lived, how would John and Sam react to Dean coming out? He felt like there was a hole in his life that couldn't be filled with a fast car, loud music and dangerous paranormal encounters.

He smiled slightly as he quickly made his way around to the back of the building. Loud music and dangerous encounters were probably what awaited him inside.

Sam wasn't satisfied with Dean's account of what happened. Dean swore the witness was mistaken, that he had not come out of the Phoenix, but rather another bar nearby. He'd been drunk, the guys he'd run into were drunk, and words were exchanged. The next thing Dean knew fists were flying and from out of nowhere a couple of them showed up with tire irons. They'd pummeled him good, gave him a good whack on the head, and left him unconscious on a snowy sidewalk

"Ruined my career as a model for Abercrombie and Fitch," Dean concluded, poking at his lip with the tip of his tongue. "That'll leave a scar."

"You're too old anyway," Sam muttered.

"Yeah, all washed up at the age of 26."

A nurse came in, and as if to reassure Sam that he was telling the truth, Dean flirted with her mercilessly until she gave him her phone number. He brandished it with the biggest grin he could muster, and tucked it under his pillow. It was "normal" for Dean to do such a thing, but Sam was no suspicious of his brother's motives. Was it a smokescreen? Dean wasn't telling.

"Look," Sam said, rising from the chair. "Let me see when and if I can get you out of here. Meanwhile, try to rest, okay?" He still did not like how weary Dean looked, and although he was quiet regarding the pain, Sam could see it in his eyes.

"Have you ever tried to rest in a hospital? It's virtually impossible. People are always coming in and out sticking you with needles."

"Well try."

"Is that an order? I guess you're the boss of the operation while I'm down and out."

Sam grinned wryly, "Opportunity of a lifetime," he quipped. "Yeah, consider it an order." He headed for the door. "I'll be back this afternoon."

"Check on my car!" Dean called after him.

Shaking his head, Sam exited into the hallway where he drew a deep breath and tried to figure out what he would do next. He definitely needed to see about freeing Dean from the clutches of the medical profession, something which he could possibly use as a bargaining chip later. He also wanted to get hold of the sheriff's report on the incident, and perhaps interview the detainees involved. If Dean wouldn't tell him the truth, Sam would dig it up for himself.

Sam stopped at the nurses station to ask about getting Dean released. The nurse, the same pretty one who had given Dean her phone number, was busy with another man. What she said, as she pointed down the hallway, made him prick up his ears.

"Dean Winchester, room 346, right down that way."

"Thank you."

The man started to pass Sam, heading toward Dean's room. He didn't get far before Sam caught him by the arm. He turned his head sharply as Sam brought him up short. The look in his blue eyes was one of annoyance.

"Excuse me," he said. "What..."

Sam cut to the chase. "I'm Sam Winchester. Who are you, and what do you want with my brother?"

Dean wasn't a vain man, and didn't go over the top when it came to taking care of his overall appearance, but he wasn't stupid either. He knew he was good looking.

The Phoenix wasn't any different from any bar or club Dean had been in before, and he'd been in a lot of them. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting. It was the first time he'd ever dared set foot in a gay bar and maybe in different locals they were different, but the Phoenix was simply a laid back juke joint with a mix of music playing in the background. The only difference between it and someplace like Carl's was the shortage of women. There were also noticeably small personal spaces between many patrons, something which clearly said "couple" and not "good buddy."

He went up to the bar and ordered a beer. The bartender gave him a sideways look, presented him with his brew, and moved away to take care of another patron. Dean settled down at a table to do some observing.

Within minutes he had two guys vying to pay for his drinks.

Well there's a perk anyway.

He fended off the advances of both his admirers, uneasily thanking them for their attention but making it clear he wasn't interested. One went off in a huff. The other found someone else who was more than happy to get some up close and personal attention. Dean fidgeted in his chair and wondered, not for the first time, what the hell he thought he was doing.

"You stand out like a sore thumb."

Dean's head snapped up. He regarded the tall man standing over him with a wry look. "Is that your pick-up line?"

"Hmm, no." The man held out a hand. "Paul Phillips."

There were choices to be made about what Dean would call himself, and all of them rolled through his head, but ultimately he clasped Paul's hand and shook it without falling back on an alias. "Dean Winchester. You want to elaborate?"

Paul gestured to the other chair at Dean's table. "May I sit?"

"Knock yourself out."

A waiter approached. Paul ordered another of whatever he was drinking and did not offer to buy Dean's. It was somewhat of a relief. Despite already feeling a little bit of a buzz, Dean had his mug refilled.

"You have 'closeted' written all over you," Paul said finally. "It makes you stand out, and if you don't mind me saying so, makes you hella desirable." He considered. "Let me put it this way - what do you think would happen if someone dropped a good looking blonde bombshell into the crowd at Carl's and she had the air of a virgin about her?"

"Feeding frenzy."

"You got it." Paul tipped his glass in a salute and drank.

Dean shook his head. "But I don't consider myself a bombshell, and..." He cursed his cheeks for growing hot. "I'm definitely not a virgin."

"Doesn't matter. You're good looking and you're not one of the same old crowd that comes in here week after week. You're a diamond in the rough, and there are a bunch of guys in here who would love to give you a polish."

This made Dean laugh. "Oh, is that what they're calling it these days?" He raised a brow at his companion. "And I suppose you're one of the wannabe polishers?

Paul only shrugged, but the hint of a smile played across his face.

Dean stared at his companion for a moment before taking a long draw from his freshly arrived drink. "So," he said finally. "What's your story?"

"Same as yours in a way, only I've been here before. I'm a teacher out of Kansas City. I come here where I know I won't be recognized. My district has a don't ask don't tell policy and I teach elementary school Phys. Ed."

"Lethal combination."

With a nod, Paul lazily stirred his drink. "Oh yeah. The closet door is firmly closed and locked. Parents definitely wouldn't like me teaching their little boys about health and hygiene. If I came out I'd be tarred and feathered and drummed out of a career before you could say 'give me ten'." His expression turned downcast. "Gay is not synonymous with pedophile, but try convincing the general public of that fact."

It was probably like trying to convince the general public that there was such a thing as the closet monster, Dean thought. He gave Paul a sympathetic look.

"Mine's not quite so complicated," he said. "It's a family thing. I don't think they'd understand. My father, God, he's a good man but..."

"Tough love?"

Dean closed his eyes, picturing John teaching a six year old Sam how to shoot, and himself a black belt by the age of ten. He'd grown up knowing the feel of a gunstock in his hand, the give of a man's flesh beneath his boot, and the sweet sound of a knife burying itself deep into its intended target.

"You could say that."

Dean's visitor was only slightly shorter than Sam, something that Sam found unnerving. At his height there weren't that many men who could look him in the eye. This guy not only looked Sam in the eye, but made him back down from confrontation mode, and that wasn't easy to do to a Winchester.

"I'm a friend, Paul. I wanted to see if he was all right."

Sam let go of Paul's arm. "You're the one who called 911, aren't you?"

Paul glanced uneasily at the nurses station. Turning, he led Sam out of the nurses' earshot before replying. "Yeah, I did. I was just in time to see the bastards run off, and I got down their license number."

"Thanks," Sam held out a hand. "Sorry. It's been kind of a rough morning."

"Yeah, I'm sure." Paul gave his hand a firm shake, but continued to be somewhat wary. "Hey, look. I reported what happened anonymously. I'd prefer..."

"To stay anonymous? I'm down with that." Sam saw relief flood Paul's bespectacled blue eyes.

"So, how is he?"

Sam put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "He's...okay...for what it's worth. They really did a number on him." He regarded Paul out of the corner of his eye and decided to stop beating around the bush. If anyone knew what had happened besides Dean, and the gang that did the deed, it was Paul, the only witness. "I need you to clear something up for me, Paul. Dean's lying to me, and I don't know why."

"Don't you?" Paul asked quietly.

The two of them stared at each other for a long time before Paul looked away. He shifted his coat from one arm to the other before meeting Sam's gaze once again.

"Sam, I think what you're wanting to know would be best coming from your brother, not me."

"Well he's not talkin'." Sam let out a sharp breath. "Look. Dean hasn't - been himself lately. We each lost someone close to us recently, and I think, despite the different circumstances, we're shuffling through the same head crap that follows a loss like that. I want to be there for him, like he's been for me, but I can't if he doesn't let me in."

"And again," Paul remarked. "What does this have to do with me?"

"You were at the Phoenix Club last night weren't you? And so was he."

The uneasiness returned to Paul's demeanor. He turned as if he were going to leave. "I told the sheriff everything I know. Ask him."

"I did," Sam grabbed his arm again, stopping his flight. "Just confirm it. Let me hear you say it, because damn if that doesn't make a difference."

The two of them stood unmoving, silently staring each other down before the jangle of the phone at the nurses' station broke the impasse. Paul closed his eyes and nodded. His voice was quiet and every word he said seemed to take a lot of effort.

"Dean was at the Phoenix when I got there. I saw him, talked to him a while. along. We got along very well in fact." He stopped, and met Sam's eye with an intense expression. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Sam's voice was rough. "Yeah, yeah I do."

"I have never before broken a confidence." Paul's voice wavered with a mixture of sadness and anger. "I've prided myself on it. But I also usually don't get so...attached." Pulling his coat off his arm, Paul put it on with short, jerky movements. "On second thought, maybe I should go. Don't tell him I was here."

"Are you sure?" Sam's conscience kicked in and proceeded to kick him in the gut. Maybe Dean would benefit from the visit.

But Paul was already halfway down the corridor toward the exit. He paused and looked back briefly. He seemed to waver, making it clear that he wanted to return, but as he looked at Sam something changed in his expression. A faint smile played across his lips as he shook his head slowly. Something pinged on Sam's radar - something sad, something slightly sour.

"I'm not the one he wants," Paul said, turning. "Take care of him, Sam."

Sam blinked. Something had just happened, and he was fairly certain he'd missed it.

For a price, the Phoenix Club offered privacy. It was a pretty decent room too, better than the one Dean and Sam were currently calling home, and much better than some of the digs he'd been in on some of John's Hunting trips. Why worry about dust on the lampshades when the heater worked, the mattress was dry, and there was a semi-hot shower to be had in the morning? Dean was used to fleabag hotels. The private rooms at the Phoenix were luxury accommodations in comparison.

"Is this a bar or a brothel?" he quipped upon entering. He had a good buzz going, and inhibitions be damned, he had a good looking companion too. Someone was getting laid, and it was going to be him.

Paul thought he was funny. He came up behind Dean and murmured in his ear. "I only top."

"Whatever floats your boat, buddy."

"When do you drop the straight-boy bravado?"

"Never. Get used to it."

"Anybody ever tell you it's a turn on?"

"No. Is it?" Dean warbled.

Good-bye bravado, hello Paul.

The sex was good, very good, and it occurred to Dean to wonder if coming out was worth losing that build up of sexual tension. There was something to be said about clandestine meetings and making the best of what you got when you got it. Sometimes the secrecy involved gave him the same sort of high as the Hunt did when they were hot on the trail of the boogeyman and closing in for the kill.

The drawback? Like most highs it didn't last long, and as he lay staring up at the ceiling with sweat running down into his eyes and his heart still beating fast in his chest, he could feel it fading. Guilt and self-doubt rushed in to fill the void. Perhaps here were the answers to his "what if" questions. How long would it have been before life with Charlie grew dull, before Dean began craving other experiences and the Hunt called him home again?

It was good while it lasted. Paul's presence was comforting. He was a nice guy, bookish and smart like Charlie had been. Not hard on the eyes either with his silky brown hair, blue eyes, and long, lean body. Dean turned his gaze from the painted ceiling with its constellations of blue and gold to look at Paul lying beside him. Yeah, that part he could get used to; waking up beside someone comforting and familiar every morning, lying down beside them every night.

He closed his eyes and sighed. Wasn't that what he already had with Sam? Different beds of course, but God what a relief to look over upon waking to see Sam there. He knew Sam had his back - at least when he was himself anyway - despite their fussing and bickering. Most of all Sam understood the call of the family business. Sure, maybe he didn't like it, but he understood it.

Dean closed his eyes, and found himself dozing. It was Sam who invaded his dreams. In them Dean floundered between shame and desire until the twilight of semi-sleep gave way to the waking world and Paul whispering "round two?" in his ear. Dean's guilty frustration made him aggressive. Things got awkward. He apologized, and the knots untangled under Paul's gentle touch.

Sleep was the last thing on Dean's mind after that. Not so Paul, who slumbered peacefully, sprawled out across the bed, limbs and sheets tangled together. Dean watched him sleep as he himself dressed, admiring the body he'd gotten to know so well in so short of time. Paul's blue eyes were closed. His hair fell boyishly down over his forehead in a manner that was all too familiar.

Dean froze, staring.

It could be Sam lying there.

Oh my God.

The similarities were of build and coloring mostly, except Paul's large, round eyes were blue, not hazel. Up close no one would ever mistake him for Sam, but from a distance they could have been twins. That Dean hadn't noticed sooner was alarming. He had to remind himself that Paul had chosen him, not the other way around. Had Paul somehow known? Had Charlie come back to claim another body?

"Charlie?" Dean whispered. "Are you here?"


Dean didn't believe in coincidence, it wasn't in his job description. Paul had picked him, but there must have been something working beneath the surface, because Dean had been attracted to him almost immediately. They'd known each other for only a few hours. Dean was inexperienced in this kind of one night stand. He might have hesitated, but he hadn't. Why? The answer was obvious. His subconscious had betrayed him.

"Damnit, Charlie. What did you do to me?"

Incest, the poisoned apple. Dean had taken a bite and found he liked the taste. Jerking on his boots he made a note to check John's journal regarding sin and karma. If he kept up these fantasies involving his own brother, something was going to come around and bite him in the ass. God forbid another Bloody Mary show up. She'd just roll her eyes in Dean's direction and his head would explode.

It was Dean's darkest secret. Sam had no knowledge of what had happened between them, blithely going about his business while Dean struggled along with his horrible burden. Even if he dared to talk to Sam about it, what would he say?

Oh, yeah. By the way Sam, I slept with you, but it's okay, you were possessed by the spirit of my dead lover at the time.

It was a secret Dean planned on taking with him to the grave.

No edgy thrill came along with that secret either, just nausea, and the overwhelming desire to get the hell out of Dodge. The sooner he and Sam had something to chase and kill, the better things would be for the both of them.

Paul stirred as Dean opened the door. He propped himself up on his elbow, squinting into the light pouring in from the hallway. In that moment he looked so much like Sam, Dean had to close his eyes. When he opened them again Paul had put on his glasses and pushed back his hair, and Sam's presence was gone from the room.

"I didn't want to wake you."

"Mmm, i's okay. You going?"

"Yeah." Dean whispered. "My brother will be out looking for me if I don't get back and I really don't want him to find me. You understand?"

Paul made an "okay" sign with his thumb and forefinger before falling back on the bed.

Dean paused. "Hey, Paul?"

The tousled brown head popped up again. "Yeah?"

"Thanks." Surely there was more, but Dean couldn't find it. Paul didn't seem to need it. He only smiled gently.

"Sure. Take care of yourself, okay?"

"You too."

The door shut with a click. Dean heard the soft sounds of the clean up crew in the barroom downstairs, the thump and groan from another room down the hall, and the creak of the floorboards beneath his feet as he made his way to the side exit. Down a stairway, out a door, and he was on the street again, standing in a dark alley. After a quick glance around to get his bearings he started toward the hotel.

It had gotten colder. He blew on his hands before tucking them under his armpits. Cold, and exhausted, he hoped Sam wasn't awake when he got back to the hotel. The last thing he wanted to do was deal with that mess. Apologies were due, amends were to be made, but at this juncture Dean couldn't handle the intricate negotiations it would take to restore status quo.

His thoughts were on the fight though, trying to sort out exactly what they'd been fighting about and how they would fix it, and not on his surroundings. It was a mistake he usually did not make. He did not realize he was in trouble until he passed beneath a street lamp and saw six shadows in the snow. Only one was his own.

Abruptly he stopped walking and turned around.

"Aw, man, not now."

Sam sat in a chair in the corner of Dean's room, watching him sleep as he, no doubt, had watched over Sam many times before. His thoughts weren't about Dean, though. He thought about his father, the "business," and the death that had ultimately started it all.Why had this thing happened to their family? Why couldn't everything have been - normal.

He treasured the few times in his life when they weren't moving around from place to place because sometimes he needed that sedentary time to collect his thoughts. Four years was the longest he'd ever spent in one location, and that had been with Jessica. Their small apartment had been a home, a real home. He should have paid attention to the dreams. Nothing good ever lasted.

Raising his hand, he placed it over his chest, where the ache never had gone away. It was that ache that brought him closer to his estranged father than they'd ever been before, even though John was still AWOL and they had not seen each other for years. Sam understood now what drove his father.

Was this all just an exercise in futility? In twenty-two years John Winchester had not been able to find his wife's killer. Would Sam still be searching for Jess' killer twenty-two years from now?

And there was Dean, always along for the ride, his sense of duty keeping him from whatever life he truly desired. He was loyal to the cause, standing by Sam's side just as he had supported his father. A sense of guilt invaded Sam's musings. Was Dean just acting out the role John Winchester had chosen for him, never admitting to anyone that he wasn't really that person? It was that question that made Sam want to uncover the truth. He wanted to be the one to offer his brother freedom.

His eyes flickered toward the bed and he was startled to realize Dean was staring back at him. The swelling had gone down a little bit in his face and now both eyes peered out at Sam from across the darkened room.

"Hey," he murmured.

Dean waved two fingers at him. "Hey." He blinked muzzily, licking his lips. "What time is it?"

Sam pushed up his sleeve. "Nearly eight."


"P.M. You've slept all day."

"F'in drugs. Knock me on my ass. Help me up."

"Dean..." Sam stood quickly as Dean sat up with a groan and swiveled his legs off the edge of the bed. "You shouldn't..."

"Shut up and help me."


"I gotta take a leak, and unless you can do it for me, get your butt over here and help me to the bathroom."

Sam hurried to comply, wrapping his arm around Dean's waist and supporting his weight over one shoulder. Together they shuffled to the bathroom door, where Dean shooed him away and hobbled inside. Modesty be damned, he didn't shut the door, and Sam could see through the back of the hospital gown the ugly black and blue bruises over his brother's back and thighs.

"No blood," Dean reported. He swayed on his feet, prompting Sam to go to him once more.

The grip Dean held on Sam's arm was alarmingly weak. Sam put him to bed doubting his plan to get Dean released in the morning was going to fly. They didn't really have much choice either. Sam understood full well why, besides the obvious reasons, Dean didn't want to press charges against his assailants. A trial would dredge up some pretty nasty stuff including several counts of fraud and an unsolved murder. Dean could very well find himself in jail with the men who beat him.

"I hate seeing you like this," Sam said softly. Dean caught his eye and a faint smile flickered across his battered face. It was a smile Sam knew well- the "everything is gonna be okay" smile. It brought him some comfort.

"I hate seeing me like this too, believe me. I caught a glimpse in the mirror while I was in there. I haven't looked this bad since I crashed that chick's graduation party and got completely wasted on Tequila."

"Was that before or after Dad's punishment?"

"After. You try reciting Latin and doing push-ups with a hangover. It does nothing to improve your looks."

Sam couldn't help but smile. "You know what I mean."

"Yes, I know what you mean, I was just trying to circumvent a girly moment. College made you soft, man." Dean plucked at his I.V. "Tell me we're leaving tonight."

"Nothing wrong with getting in touch with your feminine side." Sam said lightly, ignoring the subject of leaving. Dean had just created a segue to the topic Sam really wanted to discuss, so Sam decided to press his advantage. Circumvention was not going to be an option. "Could do you some good, you know."

His brother shot him a nasty look made nastier by the state of his face. "Sam, if you're headed for that gay thing again you can just stop right now."

"Clearly you enjoy sitting around with a bare ass eating Jello. I want answers, and I'm prepared to use any means necessary."

"This is blackmail."

"You bet." Reaching into his pocket, Sam pulled out Dean's key ring and rattled it at him, revealing his ace in the hole. "Baby's fixed."

"Ah, God. You suck, Sam. You totally suck!" Dean threw his head back against the pillows with a wince.

"I know," Sam said gently. "But listen to me. I don't want you to sacrifice yourself for something you don't want. That thing killed Mom when I was a baby, in my room, over my head. It did the same thing to Jessica. It's obviously my problem, Dean. I'm the one who has to take care of it, not you. If you want out, just say so."

Dean shook his head. His voice was gruff. "No. It's our problem. We're family, we stick together..."


"It's all I know, Sam!" Dean snapped. He stopped abruptly, cutting off any further outburst. His eyes, on Sam's were filled with frustration and pain.

Sam realized he was at a turning point. If he backed off, Dean would tell him nothing more. If he pressed onward, Dean would either break down and talk, or clam up so tightly Sam wouldn't be able to get anything at all out of him, ever. It was a scenario he'd faced before in dealing with the supernatural. Push too hard and everything could blow up in your face.

"So you keep Hunting," Sam said finally, sitting back in the chair and regarding his brother with a casual shrug.. "No big deal, but meanwhile that thing, that secret, keeps eating at you, gnawing at you, weakening you, until one day you run into something that can see right through the walls, Dean. Don't deny that it doesn't happen. We've seen it before. The things we hunt prey on weakness, and right now, you've sunk so low I'm afraid I'm going to lose you any minute." He stood up and approached the bed. "Take a tip from your own playbook. Whatever it is that's been eating you for the last couple of months has to be dealt with before it kills you." Sam took a deep breath before issuing his closing statement. "So, you have three choices. Stay here and wait for something to show up and kill you, come with me dragging all that baggage and get us both killed, or let me help you get over this shit so we can get on with finding Dad."

Dean shook his head. "You wait until I get this cast off, I'm going to punch you in the mouth."

"Hey, I'm preaching your sermon, bro."

"Yeah I know, and that's why I'm so pissed off right now."

Dean fell silent, and Sam could see him struggling with the decision to talk or not. It took more than a minute before that decision was made and Sam still had to prompt him.


Dean looked up at him, still scowling. "Sit down, I can't talk to you if you're going to hover over me like a blimp at a football game."

Sam promptly sat.

"And stop looking so damned pleased with yourself."

He held his own until they broke his arm. It was virtually impossible for him to keep his eye on all five at once, and since they were all wearing dark hooded sweat shirts, they all looked alike. Somewhere in the melee he lost track of who had a weapon and who didn't. It was a bad mistake, a very bad mistake.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw something move. A kick, a follow through punch, and he was whirling to block what he thought was a fist.

It wasn't.

It was a tire iron, or a crowbar, something heavy and hard; certainly harder than bone because when it connected with Dean's lower arm there was a horrible cracking sound. He crumpled around himself, clutching his arm close to his body. Instinct told him to hide his weakness, but it was impossible. They swarmed him immediately. A knee drove the breath from him. A fist connected with his eye. Crippled and off balance his feet slipped in the snow and that perhaps saved him from a blow that could have broken his back. Instead it collided with his rib cage, breaking two, maybe three bones there.

Dean went down to his knees. He swung wildly with the one limb that still functioned while they continued to hit him, dodging in and out in turn like a pack of wolves. Maddeningly they said nothing. The fight was conducted in virtual silence save for panting breaths and muffled cries of pain when a blow connected. Even Dean's curses had finally been choked off by the blood streaming into his mouth. They'd split a lip, bloodied his nose.

When he finally went down someone kicked him in the kidneys. He would not know it until later but the kick left a bruise on his back in the same pattern as the sole of the boot. At the time he was only conscious of pain. It was the pain that finally stilled even his most feeble attempts to defend himself. The beating stopped but there was no relief. They'd broken him too badly.

He could only lay crumpled and bleeding on the snowy sidewalk, gasping for breath and moaning. Only when he could no longer fight back did they make their purpose clear.

He was grabbed by a fist full of hair, and a low voice spat in his ear.

"Say good-bye, faggot."

Dean struggled to voice a denial but his mouth was full of blood and it was all he could do to keep breathing. They hadn't gone through his pockets looking for money, nor inflicted any verbal abuse that might have indicated they knew him, and he now understood why. They hadn't been after him. Anyone coming out that side door would have been fair game. It could have been Paul, but it just so happened that Dean left first.

Paul would have been killed immediately.

His captor shoved his face into the snow. Dean raised it again, spitting blood at the punk's feet. Another one kicked him, hard, between the shoulder blades, and his brief show of defiance ended.

It was then that Dean realized they were going to kill him. He'd just made it a little bit more difficult.


There hadn't been a sudden revelation. Dean hadn't sat down one afternoon and said to himself, "I'm gay." It had been more like a niggling suspicion in the back of his mind when he hit puberty that never blossomed into full fledged acceptance. Never staying very long in one place didn't help, because as soon as Dean settled down to thinking about things like girls and sex, John moved them again.

They were home schooled for the most part, only attending regular school for a few months at a time, usually in the winter when travel became difficult. Sam made friends easily, Dean didn't. He was too serious, too odd. He spent more time with his father than his peers, and worried more about taking care of his little brother than whether or not he really liked girls.

He lost his virginity at sixteen to a girl three years older. They met one summer at a campground in Idaho. Her brother was more interesting but decidedly straight. He had left there feeling more confused than ever.

At eighteen he went on his first Hunting trip, and it was then that he decided to make playing straight part of "the job." Anything else would have only gotten in the way, made him vulnerable. His uncertainty regarding his sexual preference had to stop. He would not be gay, and that was that.

He learned the art of flirting. He dated, and sometimes slept with his girlfriends. Most of Dean's girlfriends were highly, if not over, sexed and purposely selected for just that reason. He let them take the lead in bed, let them give him what he needed - needed, not necessarily wanted. In turn he would let them show him what he could do for them, and he did it. It earned him a sterling reputation as a lover and an endless supply of female attention. No one ever doubted he was straight. Sam certainly hadn't, and he'd ended up with a few of Dean's ex-girlfriends.

When Sam high-tailed himself to college, Dean had more time to think about things, although he tried not to. During that period he and John visited Kate McKeon in Dellville, Illinois for the first time.

It was then, at twenty two, that Dean met Charlie McKeon, and everything changed.

Sam had listened without saying a word until that point in the story. He would have continued listening in silence, letting his brother carefully pick his way through what was a difficult confession, had Dean not suddenly stopped talking all together.

Charlie, then, was the fly in the ointment, just as Sam had suspected.

Dean had stared at his hands the whole time he was talking. Now he looked up with such a miserable expression Sam wondered where his brother had gone and who was this sad stranger here with him.

He raised an eyebrow, waiting to see if there was going to be more. Apparently there wasn't.

"Well?" Dean asked him.

"Well what? Are you done?"

"I think you can fill in the rest of it."

"Oh," Sam frowned. He didn't know what he'd expected, but he wasn't feeling any profound emotion. No bells and whistles went off, no bolt lightning shot down from the sky. Somehow he'd thought the reveal would be more - dramatic?

But then this was Dean, who tended to address nearly everything as if it were no big deal. Revealing something so exceptionally personal might have been a huge pothole in the road of life for someone else. Dean? He'd just rolled over a speed bump.

"Jesus, Sam. I just spent the last half hour spilling my guts out to you and all you can say is 'oh?' Come on!"

"What? What do you want me to say? I'd already half guessed anyway."

Dean went from irritated to apoplectic. "Then why'dju make me say all that?" he fumed.

"Because you needed to," Sam said quietly.

His brother stared at him for a heartbeat and then abruptly turned his attention to pulling out the I.V. "Where are my clothes? Get me the Hell out of here so I don't have to listen to any more of your psycho-babble bullshit." He stopped, and pointed a finger at Sam's nose. "If I ever catch you watching Dr. Phil again I'm going to kick your ass."

Sam shook his head. "I swear, I have never in my life met anyone more stubborn than you." He rose, and went to the closet where he had stashed Dean's clothes. The only thing that had survived the assault, and the subsequent E.R. visit, had been his coat and his boots. Everything else Sam had brought from the hotel.

He offered Dean his hand, supporting him as he got out of the bed. Dean quickly shook him off, illustrating Sam's point about his stubbornness. As Sam stood back, one last question came to him.

"Just tell me one more thing," he said.

Dean looked up from the bag of clothes. "What?"

"Did you love him - Charlie?"

The stubborn set of Dean's jaw slowly relaxed, and his expression softened. He looked tired, and wistful, as if he wanted nothing more than to say "yes." Sam got the impression that "yes" wasn't going to be the answer.

"I think I could have," Dean said quietly. "Maybe. If there had been more time, if I hadn't been on the road so much and seen him more often. I liked his company. And he..."

"And he what?" Sam prompted.

A reply came, soft as a whisper, laced with pain and exhaustion. "I think he understood."

"Understood what?"

There was no answer.


His brother looked at him sharply. Something flickered across his face, some odd emotion Sam couldn't easily define. When he finally did speak his voice was low and slightly hoarse.

"I'm tired of talking, Sammy. Help me get dressed. I want to go."

"Sure," Sam said, but he hesitated first, carefully studying the man before him and once again getting that odd feeling that maybe this wasn't his brother at all. Had he asked for too much, too soon, battering Dean down emotionally just as he'd been beaten physically? Talk about kicking someone at their lowest.

Dean struggled valiantly to simply unfold his shirt with one hand. The sight was pitiful. Sam felt his chest clench up with duel feelings of grief and guilt.

Gay, straight, or whatever, Sam loved his brother regardless, but they both knew he would never come right out and say it.

"Here," he said, taking the shirt himself. "Let me do it."

There was blood in the snow, washed out, faded pink, blurry. He stared at it for a long time, wondering how it had gotten there and from whom it had spilled. It reminded him of the cherry snow cones he and Sam used to get whenever they went to the carnival. The last time he'd had one he'd been what, twelve?

A voice cried out from somewhere above him. His thoughts shifted focus.


Hands. Hands were on him, turning his face up into the light. A shadow filled his vision, speaking words that ran together and - blurred - just like his vision.

"Dean? Oh my God!"

Sammy, help me.


"My phone's in the car. Damnit. It's in the car."


The light blossomed as the shadow withdrew. Fear rushed in to fill the void.


"I'm going for help, okay. Just hang on. Hang on!"

Don't leave me! Sammy!

Darkness ate away at the edges of the light.

"Suh-sam. Sorry. I'm sorry."


Dean jerked awake, the dream already fading from his memory as his eyes opened and he sat upright in his seat. The pain that immediately followed made him groan out loud. His vision swam, nausea made him want to lie down, but there was no where to lie down. Sick and dizzy, he swayed in his seat. Sam's alarmed voice drew him back.

"You okay? Dean?"

He blinked, and gradually things came back into focus. The car had stopped moving, but the engine still ran, powering the windshield wipers that flicked lazily across the view before them. They were in the parking lot of a motel, in God knew where.

"Yeah," Dean murmured. "Ribs just had to say hello." He shifted in his seat and raised a hand to carefully rub his eyes. "To my back, and they both got in a few bars of the hallelujah chorus."

"You were having a nightmare." Sam looked over at him with a wry expression and relief in his eyes. "Stop honing in on my act."

"Sorry, I didn't realize you had exclusive rights to nightmares. I'll try to do better next time." Dean sighed, leaning his head against the window. It was cool against his temple. "How long was I out?"

"Hours. We're in Arkansas and it's nearly dawn. I had to stop."

"I could have taken my turn."

"Are you kidding? I'm not trusting my life to a man who has a concussion." With a swift gesture, Sam turned off the car's engine. The wipers froze in mid stroke. "I'll go get a room."

"Concussion?" Dean carefully felt of the stitches over his ear. Yeah, that made sense. "So you let me sleep for hours? Thanks, Sam. I could have gone comatose."

Sam unfolded himself from the car but leaned down to peer back inside. The rain made a soft pattering noise across the back of his jacket. "You were muttering and moaning, I figured you were okay. People in comas generally don't make that much noise." He smiled, and straightened, slamming the door shut before Dean could come up with a rebuke.

He watched Sam lope quickly across the tarmac and his thoughts turned wistful. What had happened to them? It seemed like just yesterday they were kids. Hunting was what Dad did, not them. The boys stayed home, wherever home might have been at the time, taking care of each other because no matter how John Winchester tried, he always seemed to fall just a little short. John wasn't always there for Dean when he needed help with school work, but Sam was, and likewise Sam knew he could count on his older brother for anything.

When Sam left for college, it felt like losing a limb. He took part of Dean with him. Maybe that's why he'd been so enamored of Charlie, who had been more than a crutch during the four years Sam was at Stanford.

And yeah, Dean was sorry about what had happened with Jessica, and he desperately wanted to make sure their father was all right, but it was nice to have Sam back again.

The door creaked open. Sam ducked back into the car, bringing with him the smell of the rain. "It's pouring," he said breathlessly. He ran his hands through his wet hair, flinging water droplets into the air where the light from a streetlamp made them shimmer like jewels. Outside, Dean could see the rain falling into the light in a steady stream.

"No kidding."

"Let's go. I'm beat."

Sam put the Impala in gear and they drove around to their room. He unloaded their bags before coming to help Dean out of the car. Dean brushed him off brusquely, and despite the fact his legs felt like spaghetti and every step he took made him catch his breath, he made it into the room on his own power. Still, he sat down very quickly on the edge of the bed nearest the door. Sam noticed it.

"You're in pretty bad shape. I should have let you stay in the hospital one more day."

"I'll live," Dean said quietly. "I'm still just a little tired."

In truth he felt utterly drained, physically, emotionally, spiritually. What little trust he'd once had in his fellow man had been shattered. Maybe the things they Hunted were doing the world a favor by taking out a few people. Maybe they were on the wrong side of this battle, destroying the innocent instead of those who were truly guilty. How much did they really know about the supernatural? Were they laboring on in ignorance, destroying what they simply didn't understand? If that were the case he and Sam were no better than the men who had beaten him.

I can't let myself think like that. The thing that killed Mom, and Jessica, it was evil. I felt it. There can be no comparison.

Sam came back into the room from his inspection of the bathroom and fell face first upon the other bed. The springs in the aged mattress protested, dipping low beneath his weight with a groan. "I'm wiped," he murmured. "I don't think I'm gonna have any trouble sleeping tonight."

"It's been a rough couple of days," Dean replied. He cleared his throat. "You know, whatever it was that we fought about that night...I'm sorry."

The bedsprings creaked again as Sam rolled over and lay there propped up on his elbow. Dean had an uncomfortable flashback to the last sight he'd had of Paul lying nude in a tangle of sheets. This time the eyes that met his were light brown, not blue, but the quick flutter of desire he felt was achingly similar. He looked away quickly. Sam didn't seem to notice his discomfort.

"It was just a stupid disagreement," Sam said. "We're both guilty, and maybe me more than you."

"Why do you think that?"

"I'm not the one with a broken arm."

"You don't sleep with men," Dean said. "That's why I have a broken arm, not because you always have to win an argument."

Sam scowled. "Me?" he snorted. "Yeah, right. And it's not because you suck at hand to hand?"

Dean looked over at him sharply, but saw the grin and knew Sam was teasing him. "I still owe you a punch in the mouth. When I get this cast off, we'll see who sucks."

"You're on."

It was weird how the silence descended, how they ended up staring at each other with matching expressions, solemn expressions. Twins sometimes shared a silent communication, maybe that's what it was, Dean wasn't sure. He only knew that he sensed Sam waiting for something, and Dean definitely had something to say, something to get off his chest. Maybe it was Sam's precog kicking in that made the connection. Pity it hadn't kept Dean from getting ambushed.

"Sam," he said. "About...that."

He bit his lip and winced. Even after their talk in the hospital it was hard. He'd shuttered that part of himself away for so long, kept it hidden, that he was finding the habit difficult to break. Maybe he didn't want it to break. He cleared his throat and tried again.

"I don't want things to change, Sam. I don't want us to change just because I' know."

Sam regarded him quietly a long moment before he replied. "Dean," he said finally. "It hasn't, and it won't."

Dean nodded slowly. He wasn't convinced, but could not, could never, explain that things really had changed and Sam just didn't know it.

Epilogue: Six weeks later

"No. This can't be right," Sam murmured. He scrolled back, and re-read the news story he had found. It didn't change from the first time he'd read it. Nor did it upon the third. "I don't believe it."

A hand on his shoulder made him jump. Dean's shadow fell over the computer screen and Sam let out his breath in relief.

"Find anything?" Dean sipped the coffee he held in his hand, held a second cup out to Sam, who accepted it gratefully.

"Yeah. But I'm not sure we want to get involved."

"Of course we do. No job too big or too small. Seriously, what is it?"

Sam scowled into his coffee. "There's no cream in this."

"Forgot," Dean said unapologetically. He leaned over Sam's shoulder to look at the article. "Five unexplained deaths in five days? Sounds right up our ally, Sam. What's the problem?"

"Well for one, they're really not unexplained. According to the coroners report all five died of heart failure possibly due to the fact that they suffered a massive shot of adrenaline to their systems. Tests indicated extraordinarily high levels in their blood." The coffee was bitter. Dean had apparently forgotten the sugar too. "The man was quoted as saying it was as if they'd been badly frightened, so badly frightened it killed them."

"I repeat," Dean said, straightening. "Sounds right up our ally. I mean what could possibly scare five people to death? Maybe we should go find out."

"I dunno. Did you happen to notice where they were?"

"Yeah, in jail. Saw that."

Sam put the coffee aside and turned around, looping his arm around the back of his chair. "Dean, all five were in jail, accused of assaulting a gay man, in a town just outside of Kansas City."

The hesitation of Dean's hand as he raised his cup for another sip, lasted only a fraction of a second. His voice remained perfectly neutral. "Sounds like they got what they deserved."

"But what do you suppose they saw?"

Dean snorted. "Maybe nothing. Maybe they just self destructed at the idea of being someone's prison bitch." He finished his coffee and pitched the cup into the trash. "Come on, let's roll. We'll run into something somewhere."

With a long suffering sigh, Sam began powering down and packing up the laptop. He was actually relieved Dean had blown off the story, or at least seemed to, and he was certainly relieved not to have to explain his own theory as to how the men died. His brother was finally back to his normal, if irritating, self and Sam didn't want to mess that up.

Revealing that he'd dreamed of those men dying in their cells, long before they actually did, might not have gone over very well. Sam also knew what, or rather, who, had killed them. In his dreams Sam had seen the killer, standing out side each cell door looking very much the part of the malevolent spirit.

Or vengeful spirit, as the case might be.

There was no need to trouble Dean with it. It was probably better for him not to know Charlie McKeon visited Sam in his dreams.