Dried leaves swirled in the cold breeze coming up off a distant lake. It whistled over and around the monuments that stretched out before him like a nightmareish garden. The path led downhill, so he followed it. Something else guided him, something intangible, an invisible thread. He'd never been there before but he knew where he was going and he knew what he had to do. In his hand was a shovel, in his bag a box of salt, lighter fluid and matches.

At the end of the path, at the bottom of the hill, he jogged left. It was three headstones in from the path. The grave was fresh, but enough time had passed that the mound had sunk as the loose dirt settled down around the casket within.

The name etched deeply into the marble stone was all the confirmation he needed.

Charles Allen McKeon


He took up the shovel and began to dig.


"Leave me alone."

"Sam please...don't do this to me!"

"It has to end, Dean!"

Angrily he turned around to face his brother, but there was no one behind him. He was alone with the dead. His determination grew stronger. He turned back to the grave to finish his work. The bones had to burned. That's the only way it would stop.

A flicker of motion attracted his attention. His blood ran cold as the words on the stone began to change. Letters writhed and twisted into new formations, spelling out a new name.

Samuel Winchester

Beloved Brother



His head jerked around. The figure of a man stood beside him, holding out a lit match. Dark brown eyes bore into his own as bloodless lips parted.

"Burn him."


Sam jerked awake, eyes opening on a worldscape much different from the one he'd just left. Light flashed bright all around him, scenery zipped past at whirlwind speed, and nausea rose up from the pit of his stomach.

"Dean..." he gasped.

"Oh, so Sleeping Beauty awakes. I was just..."

"Pull over."


"Pull over!" Sam bellowed.

"All right, all right!"

Tires squealing, the big car slid to a screeching halt, but even before it had completely stopped moving, Sam was out the door and into the ditch. On hands and knees he lost breakfast, lunch and possibly everything he'd ever eaten for the past ten years - at least that's what it felt like. When it was all over he felt as if someone had punched him in the gut. The sour taste of bile filled his mouth. His throat burned. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and slowly staggered to his feet and up the side of the dtich. Sweat trickled down the sides of his face. He wiped that away too, and sucked in great gasps of cold air as he headed back to the car.

He got in and sat down in silence. A bottle of water stuck up from the bag at his feet. He swirled a little into his mouth and spat out the still open door. That accomplished, he pulled the door shut, wincing at the squeal of the hinges.

"You okay?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah."

Dean regarded him skeptically. "You realize that if you do ralph in my car I'll have to kill you, right?"

"I'm okay."

With a doubtful look, Dean put the car back into gear and back onto the road. He drove on less than a mile before asking the question Sam knew would be coming.

"So you want to tell me what that was all about?"

"Combination of junk food and your lousy driving," Sam muttered. He rubbed his forehead with one hand. A headache was brewing. Flipping open the glove box he rummaged for a packet of Aspirin.

"Uh-huh, and I'm the Pope. You were dreaming."

"People generally do dream when they're asleep Your Holiness." Ah, there was the Aspirin. He tore open the packet and washed the tablets down with the remainder of his water.

"Note to self," Dean said, to himself. "Barfing makes Sam cranky." He stole a glance over at his brother. "But you know, it's in the best interest of this organization for me to ask if it was one of those kind of dreams."

I sincerely hope not.

Sam shuddered.


"I don't know."

"What the hell kind of psychic are you anyway? You don't know. Com'on!"

"I said I don't know. They don't come with a disclaimer."

Dean snorted. "Well what was it about?"

Sam sunk lower in his seat. "Nothing."

"Nothing made you yell in your sleep?" Dean casually thumbed through his box of cassettes as he drove one handed - at seventy miles an hour. Sam double checked to make sure his seatbelt was tight.

"Just drop it, Dean. It was just a regular dream."

Sam didn't look, but he knew Dean had shot him a look that clearly indicated he didn't believe it. Instead he plucked a folded newspaper off the dashboard and began reading the story Dean had circled.

"A fire? So what, now we're arson investigators?"

"Not just a fire, but several, over the course of a couple of centuries. Nearly every building on that site burned to the ground within five years of construction. I find that a little too much of a coincidence."

"Hmm." Turning the paper over in his hands, Sam fought off a chill. He still could hear the voice in his dream whispering the words "burn him." Maybe it was too much of a coincidence that they were on their way to investigate a series of mysterious fires. "Are you sure this isn't just regular arson case? I mean maybe the original owner of the property sold it unwillingly, or had it taken from him, and he's just being pissy about it."

Dean shook his head. "The original owner died in 1932." He raised an eyebrow at Sam. "In a fire."


"Okay, yeah, that oversteps the boundaries of coincidence. So what do you think it is?"

"Could be anything. A spirit, demon, an Elemental..."

"Man, I hope it's not an Elemental." Sam stared at the picture that accompanied the article. It showed flames shooting out of the window of a building. He bit his lip. "Dean?"


"What if this has something to do with Mom, and Jess."

There was no answer at first, but Sam felt the Impala surge forward into an even higher rate of speed.

"Well," Dean said finally. "We're going to go find out, aren't we?"

The place they sought was on the edge of town, in a strip of old buildings that now housed antique and gift shops, a cafe and a laundry mat. Standing out like a sore thumb in between "Susie's Gifts" and the "U Wash It" was the white pine skeleton of a new building under construction. Workers drifted in and out of the site carrying various building materials. The sound of hammering filled the air.

Dean peered out at the site. "Looks like they're rebuilding. Someone's not intimidated." He raised an eyebrow and nodded toward the laundry mat. "Cool. We're about due."

"No kidding. You smell like mildew."

"Speak for yourself barf breath."

Sam automatically sniffed his t-shirt. Dean chuckled, but his concern ran much deeper. Something had set Sam off, and it wasn't the first time. Okay, so it was the first time he'd become physically ill, but something had been bugging him for weeks. The nightmares were back, and so was the moodiness. If the dreams were of the prophetic kind it might be important for Dean to know what they were about. Sam, however, wasn't saying.

He looks exhausted, Dean thought. And I wish he hadn't brought up Mom. I'm not ready for that yet.

In all likelihood these fires sprang from a different source. There had been no deaths, save the first, just minor injuries. Nobody had been found pinned to the ceiling. This was something different. At least Dean hoped it was something different. He gave Sam a little shove.

"Come on, let's go talk to some people."

They got out of the car and crossed the road toward the construction site. Dean headed for a man in a hard hat holding what looked like blueprints. He was obviously in charge as he shouted orders to another man smoothing out a freshly poured slab of cement. Considering his options, Dean chose probably the most benign. He made a show of scratching his head and looking perplexed.

"I could have sworn this is the place," he remarked loudly. Hopefully Sam would pick up on his game. Usually he did, but who the hell knew where Sam's head was lately. He was just as likely to completely miss the hint.

Luckily he didn't.

"Are you sure?" Sam said. "Maybe it's down another block."

"Nuh-huh. I recognize the cafe."

"Why don't you ask someone."

Their overly loud conversation eventually attracted the attention of the work foreman, who rolled up his blueprint and tossed it into the window of a pick-up parked nearby. He tipped back his hat as he approached.

"You boys looking for something?"

Dean resisted the temptation to say, "Duh?" Instead he cranked up the charm and smiled. "Yeah," he said, nodding toward the new building. "Isn't this supposed to be Diamond Hardware?"

"It was Diamond Hardware." The foreman put his hands on his hips. "Burned down not six months ago."

"Whoa, that's too bad. Knew a guy who worked there. We thought we'd drop in and say hello on our way through town." Dean frowned. "Nobody was hurt were they?"


Sam had been studying the work site over the man's shoulder, now he posed his own question. "Did they say what caused it?"

There was a shrug. "Not really. Could have been anything though. Hardware store sells paints and chemicals, electronics and fertilizers. Knock one thing over into another who knows what could happen."

"Well, uh, thanks." Dean glanced at the work site. "Say, you don't mind if we take a look around, watch ya'll work do you?" He clapped Sam on the shoulders. "My brother here is studying architecture at Stanford."

The foreman looked skeptical, but then shrugged and reached into the back of the pick-up. "Sure, just keep out of the way, and put these on."

Dean caught the hard hat that was tossed to him. Sam caught a second, and the foreman went back to work. Sam settled the hardhat on the top of his head and looked over at his brother. "I don't even know if Stanford has an architectural program."

"Don't be stupid. What kind of dumb-ass college doesn't have an architectural program?" Dean regarded the hard hat with disgust. "Man, I'm gonna look like the dorkus from the Village People."

"What's wrong with that?" Sam remarked wryly. "If the hat fits."

Dean glared at him. "Do I look like I belong in a gay review?"


"Oh, shut up." Dean shoved the hat down on his head, and then stopped, cocking his head to the side. "Really? Do I?"

"No Dean, your secret is safe." Sam chuckled and punched him in the shoulder. "Come on, let's go."

They crossed the sidewalk into the construction area and spent several minutes looking around the site for any sign of anything unusual. Aside from tossing out a few hellos and some stares, the men working on the project ignored them. Sam and Dean went about their business unmolested, but Dean was conscious of Sam regularly glancing over in his direction. Dean wasn't surprised.

Ever since he'd come out to Sam a few months earlier, Dean had sensed his brother watching him carefully whenever they were in a crowd. This was no exception. He honestly believed Sam thought he would hit on any one of the men working around them, and Dean had absolutely no intention of doing so. Playing straight was so much a habit with him that he rarely payed any attention to other men. He was more likely to flirt with the pretty secretary he saw coming out of the construction trailer set up in the alley. Even had he wanted to break old habits, it would be difficult for him to do. Frankly, he just wasn't ready yet.

"I got nuthin'" Sam remarked, as they met at the sidewalk after a final go around. "The rain and all these guys tramping around probably destroyed any evidence we might have found."

Dean pulled off the hard hat. He tossed it into the back of the foreman's truck and gave the man a nod of thanks. He and Sam turned back toward the Impala parked across the street.

"I say we come back here tonight and do an EMF sweep." Dean searched around in his pocket for his keys. "There may be something left that the rain couldn't get rid of. Meanwhile let's round up some quarters and get some laundry going."

"Sounds like a plan."

Sam stood in front of the mirror in the darkened hotel room, studying his reflection. The room behind him was barely visible. He'd been wary of mirrors ever since the Bloody Mary incident but this one had called to him for some reason.

He looked tired and pale. Reaching out with his fingertips he touched the cool glass surface, touched his own hand. Maybe he was getting a the flu or something? That would explain a lot of things.

Dean's reflection appeared in the mirror behind him.

"Hey," he murmured.

"Hey." Dean smiled faintly but his overall expression was somewhat sad. His eyes were locked upon Sam's reflection. "You look like Mom sometimes, more than I do."

"You think so?" Sam whispered. "I don't remember her." He cast his eyes downward, away from the mirror. "I wish I did. You're lucky to have memories of her."

"I'm lucky to have you."

Arms encircled him. Sam raised his head, startled at the touch. Dean still stood behind him in the mirror, but his own reflection had changed. He was shorter, with broader features, full lips and large eyes the color of dark chocolate. Dean embraced him tighter, and kissed his neck.



He sat up. He'd fallen asleep while Dean was in the shower. Now he stared wide eyed at his brother who stood before him wrapped in one towel and rubbing his hair dry with a second. Sam let his breath out with relief. This time the dream had been more benign, a play on one that he'd experienced many times before over the last few months.

"Yeah?" he murmured. "I fell asleep."

"Good," Dean barked. He rummaged around in his bag for some of his freshly laundered clothes. "You need it."

"I think I'm coming down with something." Sam rubbed at his eyes. Despite the few minutes of sleep he'd managed to catch, he felt utterly exhausted, and like his dream self the image in the mirror looked pale and weary eyed.

"I wouldn't be surprised, given the puke-fest you held back on the interstate." Dean pulled on his jeans and hunted down a t-shirt. He paused, however, to put a hand on Sam's forehead.

Sam pushed him away. "Cut it out."

"Hey, I'm checking for a fever."

"I don't have a fever, and besides, that's not an accurate way to tell."

Dean appeared somewhat hurt. He shrugged and finished dressing. Sam felt a pang of guilt and mumbled an apology.

"Just looking out for you, Sam. What's with the hostility?"

"I'm just tired," Sam sighed. "Where to now?"

"EMF sweep, remember?" Pausing in the act of slipping on boots, Dean gave him a solemn look. "Dude, seriously. If you're sick why don't you stay here. There's no reason why both of us have go. I'm perfectly capable of reading an EMF meter by myself."

"Nah, I'll go. Besides, I am hungry. On the way back let's find food."

The two of them headed out, and Sam felt a little better after the cool night air hit him. It woke him up and chased away some of the cobwebs mucking up his thoughts.

It was definitely starting to be more than a coincidence that he was dreaming about Charlie McKeon night after night. The dreams had started just after his death and Sam had seen too much weird shit to discount the fact that the guy might be haunting him. Why was obvious; after being Dean Winchester's friend and lover for four years, Charlie obviously wasn't ready to let go. What Sam was going to do about it and how he was going to get rid of Charlie without making a mess of things with his brother, were more difficult questions to answer.

He was going to have to figure it out quickly, too, because he sensed things were being stepped up a pace. It might be because they were getting closer to Illinois, Charlie's home state. If Sam's dreams were getting stronger and more frequent now, he didn't want to know what would happen if he stepped over the border into Illinois.

Adding to the haunting scenario was how the ghost had taken vengeance on some toughs who had roughed Dean up in November, nearly killing him. It could very well be that Charlie was acting on Sam's suppressed emotions. Sam had dreamed of the mens' deaths far in advance of the actual occurrence though, and that was more like a warning.

And that worried him more than the possibility of a haunting, Was Charlie was trying to warn him about something? Charlie's own death had been warned of by his family's Bean Sidhe. Had he latched on to the Winchesters in a similar role?

If he had, things didn't look good for Sam. The sense of foreboding he felt when he woke from his dreams of Charlie was centered upon himself. That in itself was odd, because precog didn't work that way. People with the Sight rarely, if ever, foretold their own deaths, despite all the fictional accounts of them doing so.

Sam glanced over at Dean, who was humming along with the stereo and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, totally oblivious to Sam's distress. He wanted nothing more than to discuss all this with his more experienced brother. Dean could solve the problem, but the operative word was "could." Whether or not he "would" might be debatable. Dean didn't always think clearly when it came to Charlie.

Like you don't always think clearly about Jessica.

He sighed in frustration. Months had passed, they'd chased their father's trail all over the country following obscure clues and weird messages, and were no closer to finding Jess' killer than they'd been when they left California. Sam was beginning to wonder if the elder Winchesters weren't taking advantage of Jessica's death just to drag Sam away from college. John was getting older, maybe he couldn't keep up anymore and Sam was needed to take up the slack.

Sam felt a surge of anger. How dare they!

Cool it. That's sleep deprivation talking.

No. He'd have to figure out what to do himself, leave Dean out of it for now. Anyway, they had this whole fire thing to take care of and Sam needed to pay attention.

Some caffeine would help.

He turned to Dean with pleading query. "Coffee?"

The EMF sweep was a bust. Furthermore they almost got bust-ed when a cop spotted them hanging around the construction site and thought they were stealing. Sam came up with the idea of pretending to be drunk, and Dean, having had a beer earlier, smelled the part. Instead of arresting them the cop gave them a warning and escorted them down the street to the cafe for a cup of coffee.

Sam drank the coffee too, his third cup since that afternoon. Contrary to what he'd said earlier he did not eat dinner. They went straight back to the hotel where Sam parked himself in front of the laptop and Dean sat down to watch a CSI marathon of viewer's choice episodes. When he finally fell into bed it was past midnight.

The last thing he remembered before drifting off to sleep was the sight of Sam still hunched over the computer. The room was dark, but the laptop's LCD screen illuminated Sam's face, highlighting the sharpness of his bones, the hollows of his cheeks and the dark circles under his eyes. It made him look almost skeletal. Dean fell asleep with a decidedly uneasy feeling.

He didn't dream, or if he did, he didn't recall what those dreams were. He woke with the sense of having missed something important, but whatever it was fled quickly and he could not recover it. It was still dark when he opened his eyes. The computer was off, and the lump in the next bed told him that Sam had finally called it a night.

Dean closed his eyes again. An instant later they popped open.

The covers were thrown back and he left their warm hollow for the cold bathroom tile. He danced a little as he conducted his business. The floor was damn cold! In fact, he realized, as he exited the bathroom, the entire room was cold.

"Damnit Sam, you got to stop messing with the heater," Dean growled softly. "Next time I'm getting the bed on that side."

He crossed the foot of Sam's bed to check on the temperature. The heater was set to the on position, and in fact it was running, sending a steady stream of warm air out into the room. Dean warmed his hands on it. Why then, was the room so cold?

A thought occurred to him.

Nah. No way! What are the odds of us getting stuck in a haunted room?

Still, he had to check it out. As quietly as he could he sought out his coat and withdrew the EMF meter they'd been using earlier that evening. He plugged in the headphones, stuck the buds in his ears, and switched the machine on ...

...only to jerk the buds out of his ears when the thing went off like a tornado siren.

"Ow, ow, ow!"

He glanced over at Sam. His brother still slept, but not quietly. He was moaning in his sleep, moaning and whimpering . That not being unusual, Dean ignored it and turned his attention back to the EMF meter. Whatever was bothering Sam would have to wait. There was something weird going on in the room and Dean was going to figure out what it was.

Once the volume was adjusted to a level that wasn't going to render him deaf, he began sweeping the little machine around the room looking for "hot spots." The squealing decreased as he neared the bathroom, and increased as he went toward the door. Typical of most hotel rooms the heater was by the door too and that could explain everything, including the EMF meter's freak-out. They probably had a faulty electric heater.

Dean chided himself for being paranoid as he moved back around the foot of Sam's bed toward his own. It was then that the EMF meter let out a shriek that reminded him a little too much of the McKeon Banshee.

He froze. Stretching out his hand he waved the meter over his bed. It responded with a series of mild beeps and buzzes. Tension crept up in his shoulders as he glanced over at Sam's bed. Sam had turned, twisting his body beneath the sheets as if something hurt him. His fingers were curled, digging into the mattress like claws, and even in the dark Dean could see his face etched into an expression of fear and pain.

Fearing the worst, Dean swung the EMF meter over Sam's bed.

It went off with a scream.

"Shit!" Once again Dean jerked the buds out of his ears. Tossing the meter aside onto his own bed, he launched himself at Sam's, grabbing his brother by the shoulders. "SAM!"

Sam woke up and promptly decked him.

"It's okay, I'm here now. Everything is going to be okay."


She stood there at the foot of his bed, dressed in white, with her hair down around her face as he liked it. The sight brought tears to his eyes and a flood of relief to his very soul.

"I had a horrible dream."

"And it's over now."

Sam reached up to her and she fell into his arms. She was warm and solid and real beneath his hands as he caressed her, beneath his mouth as he kissed her hungrily because he had been starved for her for so long...

He could even smell her perfume.

She straddled him, with the quirky grin on her face that told him she was up to something. He was up to something too and she had to laugh at him.

"You missed me, huh?"

He raised his head as she leaned down to kiss him again. His hands slipped beneath her nightgown, followed the warm curve of her thighs to her hips, sides, breasts. Oh she was real, so very real.

Her whisper was barely a breath in his ear.


She stretched her arms up over her head, drawing the nightgown up and away from her pale, lean body. He reached for her again but she gently pushed him away. Her smile broadened as she slid down his body. She kissed his chest, rubbing her thumbs across his nipples and Sam, lost completely, did not question where it was exactly that he ditched his clothes. He was conscious only of the woman making her way down across his belly, circling his navel with her tongue.

A warning bell, faint and muffled, went off at the back of his mind. He was dreaming, he had to be dreaming, because in all the time they'd been together Jess had never done THAT to him, and he had never even considered asking. He couldn't have stopped his moan if he'd tried, nor the way his hips rose up from the bed. The warning bell short circuited along with every other coherent thought in his head.

"Oh, God..."

He reached for her, entangling his fingers in her hair. He could feel her hands on his hips and was surprised at the strength in them as she held him down. Pain and pleasure intermingled. Sam felt as if he were dying. With great effort he raised his head to look at her...

Broad shoulders, muscular arms - Sam's overloaded senses struggled to understand what he was seeing even as Jess' hair melted from his hands like cotton candy on one's tongue. A pair of hazel eyes the same color as his own rolled up to meet his. Comprehension dawned with a surge of nausea, hurt, and anger.


He came up swinging, connected, kept swinging until he himself was backhanded - hard. Falling backward he hit the headboard with enough force to make him see stars until there was a burst of light and suddenly he saw nothing at all.


A hand grabbed his wrist. He jerked it back.

"Don't touch me!"

Silence descended save for Sam's own gasping breaths. He blinked rapidly as his eyes adjusted to the light. The first thing he saw was Dean, fully clothed in a t-shirt and sweats, sitting on the other bed. Blood was dripping from his nose as he stared at Sam in horror. Horror lasted only a second. It was replaced by fury.

"What in the HELL is wrong with you?"

Sam frantically scanned the rest of the room, and looked down at himself. He was wearing the same clothes he'd worn to bed, like Dean, a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. The t-shirt was drenched with sweat. His hands were shaking. He barely registered what Dean said next.

"Strike that. I think I know. Something was after you."

Jerking his head around, Sam stared.

Yeah, you.

"What? What are you talking about?" he croaked.

"I woke up and it was colder than a witch's teat in here. Played a hunch and did an EMF sweep. Right over your bed there was a spike that went off the chart. Something was in here, and it was going after you." Dean dabbed at his bloody nose with his fingers. "Saved your ass and look what I get for my trouble." He titled his head. "Is it broken? It better not be, 'cause if it is I'm going to take out the cost of rhinoplasty on your scrawny hide."

Sam ignored him. He unfolded himself from the bed. Without a word he made his way to the bathroom and shut the door behind him.

Sitting on the edge of the tub he turned on the tap, splashing cool water on his face as he swallowed down the urge to throw up again. This dream was a new one. Most if not all of them possessed some sexual element, but he'd never dreamed anything like this before, and Charlie had not been present this time. Was this one in the same ilk as the others, or something different entirely?

Had it been Charlie's spirit that Dean had picked up?

It had taken a lot for Sam to admit to himself that he was a sensitive, which is probably why he accepted Dean's recent confession so readily. He knew how tough it was to accept something you weren't sure you wanted but that sat there nagging at you until you couldn't deny it anymore. Dean could flirt with women all he wanted but he would still feel no desire for them. Sam could deny his gifts all he wanted, but that didn't make them go away.

His greatest fear since making that acceptance, was of losing himself. Untrained, he had few defenses. A clever spirit or demon could insinuate itself before he even realized what was happening.

Raising his head, he looked at the mirror on the back of the bathroom door. He saw only himself reflected in it and breathed a sigh of relief. Awake, and beginning to calm down, he left the bathroom.

Dean was sitting on Sam's bed with the EMF meter in h is hands and a shotgun under one arm. His clothes were rumpled and his hair stuck up wildly in all directions. When he heard the bathroom door open he turned around with a "I'm going to kick your ass" expression on his face...

...and toilet paper stuffed up both nostrils.

Sam busted up laughing.

Dean sat warming his hands over a cup of steaming hot coffee while the cafe waitress took their breakfast orders. Sam grumbled about the lack of cappuchino and ordered pancakes. That made Dean feel a little bit better. Obviously Sam's stomach issues were under the bridge. Still no less worrisome were the dreams Sam continued to have and the fact that he'd set off warning bells on the EMF meter last night big time.

Sam might not remember it, but Dean knew full well that something, someone, had gotten in Sam's head while he slept once before. That time the spirit had been benign, more or less. Dean did not want to find out what would happen if something malignant took over his brother. Almost absently he rubbed his chest, remembering the sting of rock salt exiting the barrel of a gun at point blank range. Having something malignant just toying with Sam's brain was bad enough.

Inquiries as to what Sam had been dreaming last night had been met with evasion until Dean finally gave up. He felt he deserved an answer given that his nose was still sore, but Sam wasn't talking.

"So," Sam said after the waitress left for the kitchen. "While you were praying at the altar of Gil Grissom last night, I was busy doing some research. Now we know whatever is burning those buildings down has to be tied to that location somehow. It can't be something physically tied to the buildings themselves."

"Like cursed building materials, etcetera."

"Right, and I think we can rule out the spirit of the original owner of the property. Not only did he not die in a fire, but he didn't even die in this state. He died in a nursing home in Ohio. The other story is just a local legend designed to explain the mysterious fires."

"Up, down and all around," Dean murmured. "So it's definitely the land." He shrugged. "So what is it? Forgotten cemetery, Indian burial ground?"


"Underground railroad? Com'on Sam, this isn't twenty questions."

Sam gave him a wry smile. "You were close. There are tunnels under this portion of the street. Originally street level was twelve feet below what it is now. Back in the early part of the twentieth century they had problems with this area flooding repeatedly. After the last one they decided enough was enough, and rebuilt on top of what was there."

Dean sat back in his chair. "So whatever it is that is causing the fires is underground. It could be the spirit of someone who died in the flooding. They're wanting to dry out apparently." The waitress reappeared with their food. "You find out how to get down there?"

"Not yet," Sam reached across the table for the syrup and proceeded to liberally drown his pancakes. Damn his metabolism anyway. If Dean ate like that he'd be a porker in less than a month.

The waitress had paused after setting down their plates, and now she gave Dean a curious look. "Ya'll aren't talking about the tunnels under this block are ya?"

The brothers exchanged glances across the table. Sam's cheeks bulged with pancake. Dean had to answer for him.

"As a matter of fact we were. My brother here is an engineering major. We thought maybe we could check them out."

The waitress, Dot, tucked her pencil behind her ear. "Most people don't want to have anything to do with those tunnels, say they're haunted. The kids around here though, they like to go down there and scare each other. Out back behind the laundry is a manhole. That's how you can get to 'em. Shimmy down into the sewers and you'll see where someone busted a hole through into one of the old shops." She patted Dean on the shoulder and winked. "But if you get caught, it wasn't me who told you about it, if you get my drift."

Sam chewed and swallowed. "An after hours visit?"

"You're a smart boy," Dot said, and moved off to one of her other tables.

"Well," Dean said, nipping off one corner of a piece of toast. "That was easy."

"I don't like it when stuff is easy 'cause invariably it gets harder later on," Sam said. He shrugged. "Still, you better tip her good."

Dean frowned.

"Dean, don't be stingy. It's not your money anyway, it's Dickie Rosemont's."

"Yeah, Dad gets credit for that one. Sounds like a freakin' porn star."

"Maybe that's why Dot was winking at you."

"Shut up."

Sam holed up in the hotel room for the day, drinking coffee and trying to read while the television bleated at him in the background - anything to keep from falling asleep. Dean had taken the car, off on God knew what kind of mission. Sam just hoped he didn't do anything stupid like get the shit beat out of him again. His confidence in Dean's ability to take care of himself had been shattered in Kansas City.

He also lacked confidence in his own ability to hold up his end of things on this Hunt. It was no lie that he was exhausted, and the possible portent of his recent dreams nagged at him. Sam had serious doubts he would be able to have Dean's back if something happened tonight. It would only take one little mistake, one hesitation, for him to get them both killed.

Is that what you want, Charlie?

With a sigh, Sam looked at his watch. It was four p.m. Oprah was on, and he had not gotten very far in the dog eared paperback he'd been attempting to read, possibly because he'd had the mystery solved by the first chapter. Irritated, he tossed the book onto Dean's bed and laid back on his own.

His phone rang. It was Dean.


"Hey, I'm downtown shooting a little pool. You alright?"

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" Sam asked wryly.

"I'm fine, Sam."

"And so am I."

"Good, keep it that way. Over and out..."


"What? I'm in the middle of a game here!"

"Don't get thrashed again, will ya?"

There was a pause, and Dean's voice softened ever-so-slightly.

"I don't plan on it little bro."

Satisfied that Dean was okay, Sam hung up and fell back to the bed again. Oprah's audience cheered at something she'd said (or perhaps she'd given them all another car) while outside a maid pushed past with her cart. The wheels of the cart on the concrete sounded like the wheels of a train click-clacking over the rails.

He closed his eyes, remembering a Hunt his father had told them about when the brothers were small. Strange lights were reported around railroad crossings in a small Texas town. Local lore told of a train conductor killed and beheaded who now walked along the tracks waving a lantern looking for his lost head. Stories like that were common. This one happened to be true. John had reunited head with body and that had been the end of that.

In the Winchester house ghosts were real, the boogyman was real, but you weren't afraid of them. They were afraid of you.

Dean had slept soundly that night. Sam had lain awake until dawn, convinced that there was a headless corpse under the bed just waiting for him to step out onto the floor so it could grab him and drag him into the darkness. He'd wet the bed. John had been furious. Dean teased him about it for years until Sam shut him up by pinning him down and pounding on him.

Sam hated trains.

He chuckled to himself and sat up on the bed. Rolling over, he leaned over the edge and pulled up the comforter so he could peer underneath. There was nothing there but dust, and darkness, and the faint glitter of a rolled up ball of foil; the wrapper from one of the burgers he'd had for lunch.

"Idiot," he murmured, and rolled back onto the pillow.

A man stood at the end of the bed, reaching out to him with one hand. Blood dripped from the ends of his fingers and left crimson streaks across Sam's white sock as it gently stroked his foot.



Sam's body jerked. His eyes opened. Back muscles protested as he sat up much too quickly but his heart was pounding and he couldn't breathe. He gulped air.

Nobody was in the room. Oprah had ended hours ago and it was as dark as pitch outside. A quick check of his watch confirmed that he'd been asleep a little over five hours. It was almost a relief. Not only had he gotten some sleep, but the dream had been relatively mild and best of all, he was still himself. Swallowing heavily, he let out a sigh and rubbed a hand over his face.

The door rattled. Dean came in with the scent of cigarettes and beer clinging to him. He looked a little buzzed and extremely pleased with himself as he flipped a wad of bills in Sam's direction. Sam caught it. There was probably about two hundred dollars there in fives, tens and twenties.

"Nobody out hustles me at pool."

Sam pocketed the cash. He had become the unofficial accountant after he determined that Dean sometimes lost as much as he won. It was better if his brother was only in charge of their collection of bogus credit cards and not cold hard cash.

"I spent some of it."

"So I smell. You sober enough to go Hunting?"


"Let's go then." Sam rolled off the bed and stood up, stretching. "Hang on a minute though, gotta take a leak."

"You get some sleep?" Dean called as Sam headed for the bathroom.


"Dream anything?"

Sam hesitated in the doorway to the bathroom. He looked back at Dean who was waiting expectantly for an answer. Unbidden came the memory of Dean's stricken expression when he'd learned of Charlie's death.

"No," he said quietly. "I didn't."

The look on Dean's face clearly indicated he knew Sam was lying. Sam ignored it. He ducked into the bathroom, shut the door behind him, started to unzip...

...and then froze in horror.

Across the top of his left foot was a handprint drawn in dried blood.

Dean was starting to lose his patience. He wasn't known for having a lot to begin with, and what little he had, Sam was seriously trying. The little cat and mouse game his brother was playing with his most recent round of dreams had gotten old very quickly. He felt Sam was being particularly hypocritical. Dean had spit up his secrets. It was time for Sam to cough up a few of his own.

Of course Dean was still sitting on a doozie, but that was beside the point. If Sam knew that secret he not only wouldn't reveal to Dean what was going on in his head, but he'd probably stick a rifle up his brother's ass and pull the trigger. Dean was sometimes sorry he knew it himself!

Sam was much too quiet on the way back to the cafe. Only when they'd hidden the car and snuck around back to the manhole did he seem to loosen up a little. Dean chalked it up to the thrill of the Hunt. With a grin he pulled a crow out of the bag slung over his shoulder and handed it over to Sam.

"You do it."

The request was borne both of wanting to distract Sam from his thoughts with some manual labor, and to spare Dean from having to wrestle with the heavy cover himself. His broken arm was newly healed and although he was gaining more strength every day, he didn't want to push his luck. It still ached sometimes.

Nasty reminder of how small minded people could be.

Said small minded gang had paid the price though, and that still made Dean uncomfortable. Had some vengeful spirit taken justice into its own hands? People just didn't drop dead of fright for no reason. Dean had a feeling it had been Charlie, but there was no way to be sure. Charlie had said he was passing over. Had he?

Dean glanced over at Sam who had pried open the manhole and levered aside the cover. Was it Charlie who was haunting Sam, trying to take him over again?

That scared him, for more reasons than one. Among them was the fear that he might not mind that so much.

Sam's voice distracted him from his thoughts. "Flashlight?"

Two were produced from the pack. Dean tossed one to Sam who flicked it on and gazed down into the dark hole in the pavement. Joining him, Dean peered down over his shoulder.

"It looks dry," he said.

"Yeah, pretty dry. There's been a lot of construction East of here. New homes, a shopping mall. I don't think it floods like it used to back when they had to build over the old foundations." Sam tucked the flashlight into his jacket pocket and shimmied down into the hole. "Come on."

Dean dropped the bag down to Sam, and then followed.

Pipes led off from the main shaft in three directions. Sam was crouched in the one heading North, and crouched was an appropriate description. The pipe couldn't have been more than three feet in diameter.

"Man, I hate this."

Sam grinned back at him. "Don't tell me you're claustrophobic."

"No, but I forsee some liniment in my future. Sheesh, now I know what a sardine feels like."

"Well at least it is dry, and maybe it gets bigger further along." Sam shoved the bag ahead of him as he began crawling up the pipe. "I hope it gets bigger further along."

"How do we know we're going in the right direction?"

"This way heads toward the shops."

Dean grumbled. He hoped no one in the cafe decided to flush the toilet.

They hadn't gone far before Sam stopped abruptly. Dean very nearly collided with his ass, and prayed to God that they hadn't found the source of the fires because staging a battle inside a three foot pipe could be tricky. Fortunately that wasn't the case.

"The pipe is broken up here. There's a hole leading down through what looks like a brick wall. It's a tight squeeze." There was a curse as Sam tried, and failed, to turn around. "I'm going to have to go in head first."

All Dean could see was Sam's rear. He heard a muffled thump - their bag of gear hitting the floor somewhere below them - and then had to scramble backward as Sam flattened himself out onto the bottom of the pipe. It was then he could see what Sam was talking about. One side of the curved pipe wall had been broken, revealing a dark opening surrounded by broken brick masonry. There was no way to back into the hole as ahead of it the main pipe had partially collapsed creating a dead end. Sam would have to angle his body sideways and go in head first. Tight squeeze was an understatement.

There was a loop of leather at the end of the flashlight. Sam gripped it in his mouth so he would have light going down through the hole. Dean looked back over his shoulder and saw nothing but darkness. Ahead of him Sam stuck his head and shoulders through the hole. His body curved into a backward "C" as he kicked his feet against the side of the pipe. Dirt rained down from above.

"Sam! Knock it off or you're going to bury us!" Dean hissed. He coughed as one sneakered foot thudded against the pipe once again and more dirt was loosened. "Sam!"

Suddenly Sam's legs vanished. One minute he was there, kicking his way through the hole, and the next he was sliding through at a rapid pace. There was an echoing yell, a thud, and then silence. Dean shimmied quickly up to the hole and stuck his head through.

"Sam? Sam!"

A flash of light answered him. His own flashlight picked up Sam standing below him looking up from the bottom of a drop of about ten to twelve feet. Blood glistened from a scrape on his forehead, but he grinned.

"Watch that first step."

"You okay?"

"Yeah. Just be careful. Once you get through gravity is gonna grab you."

Dean examined the hole dubiously. Sam was a hell of a lot narrower in the shoulders, but Dean wanted out of the constrictive pipe and into the small cavern Sam had found. He wriggled out of his coat in an effort to make himself a little smaller. Sam caught it as he dropped it down. He then shoved his head and one arm through the hole and gave a kick against the pipe wall behind him. The error of his ways became apparent almost immediately. His left arm got wedged tight against his side as the hole closed tight around his broad chest.




"I'm stuck."

"What? What do you mean, stuck?"

"Dude, how many definitions of the word stuck are there? I'm stuck!" Dean kicked again and only managed to wedge himself in tighter. He let fly with a round of expletives that would have made a sailor weep.

Sam came up under him and flashed the light in his eyes. "Uh, yeah. You're stuck all right."

"Brilliant, Einstein."

"Hang on, hang on."

"I'm not exactly going anywhere!" Dean raged. He squirmed and heard something crack. For one panicked moment he thought it was a bone, but it was simply the mortar around one of the bricks. It did not, however, get any looser.

"Here, catch."

Dean dropped his flashlight. Sam caught it, and set it on the floor shining upward. His own sat there too. He had in his hands a length of rope which he proceeded to toss up toward Dean's outstretched hand. Dean caught it, and wrapped it a couple of times around his wrist before grabbing on tightly. Sam took up the slack.

"On the count of three," Sam said. "Ready?"



Sam pulled, hard, and Dean felt his body lurch forward about two inches. He also felt the skin coming off his left arm and an agonizing pain shoot up his right.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!"

The pulling stopped. Dean winced as he felt blood running down his arm. It took him a minute to catch his breath.

"You okay?"

"Do I look okay? I'm wedged into a hole, Sam and you just tried to rip both my arms off!"


Dean grumbled for a minute and then nodded. "Come on. Try again."

"Count of three?"

"No, just pull. Get me out of here."

Obediently, Sam gave one huge tug on the rope. Dean didn't budge, but there was no going back. Sam pulled again, and this time, with a haze of pain obscuring his vision, Dean felt something give. He relished the small victory only a moment before Sam gave one last mighty heave and Dean began falling. His knee connected solidly with a brick as he tumbled through the hole with a shout. He braced himself for impact, struck something that immediately gave way, and came to a stop lying in a heap.

Whatever he was lying on moved. "Get off," Sam wheezed. "I can't breathe."

Dean hobbled to his feet, wincing. Both arms hurt and his knee was throbbing. He quickly recovered one of the flashlights that had been knocked aside by his fall and examined his left arm. A long bloody scrape glistened from shoulder to elbow.

"Man, my favorite shirt..."

Sam coughed, struggling to reclaim the breath Dean's fall had knocked out of him. "No more donuts for you."

"One day your mouth is going to get you in trouble."

"My mouth?" Sam protested.

"Never mind.Where's my coat?"

"You think you'll need it?"

Dean paused. Sam was right. The air was warm, very warm. It was still early spring and it should not have been nearly so warm underground. Regardless, Dean put on his coat and looked around carefully.

They were in a basement, a brick basement, with arches delineating spaces and niches for storage. A few still contained rotten sacks and moldy boxes. On the walls were vividly bright swirls of graffiti and empty beer cans and bottles littered the ground, evidence to support Dot's claim of kids sneaking down into the cellars.

"It looks like all the shops had a common basement. There are doors in between." Sam flashed his light toward one end of the room they were in, where a half rotted wooden door hung precariously from one hinge. He held up a hand. "The warmth is coming from this direction."

"Maybe it's just the dryer vents from the laundry."

"The laundry is behind us. This leads toward the construction site." Stepping over a pile of bottles, Sam went to the wooden door.

Dean followed. Through one dark room into another, they traversed the "tunnels" toward the site of the fires. It grew warmer as they got closer. All the room were about the same, with piles of trash and graffiti indicating occupation by kids and/or vagrants and all smelled of dust and mold. Each separating door was either hanging loose or completely gone.

"We've been going downhill," Sam said. "This part of the subbasement is way below street level. We must be at least twenty feet down." He flashed his light up toward the brick ceiling. Here and there a brick was missing. The mortar was crumbling. "Not a comforting thought."

"One big semi rolling down the street and all this could collapse." Dean looked around. The beam of his flashlight caught the far wall, where the wooden door had been replaced by one of steel. A graffiti artist had painted an elaborate mural of skulls and flames across it as well as the words "Here be dragons."

Sam saw it too. "You think that's a warning?"

"Do you?" Dean asked quietly. The flames were disturbingly realistic. They licked the bare bones of the skulls inside and out as if they were hungry predators. In a way, fire was a predator.

He thought of his mother, and Jessica, their bodies consumed by flames.

Or a scavenger.

"Maybe," Sam muttered. His face looked pale in the darkness. "I think we've found the right place anyway."

Dean brushed past him and touched the heavy latch of the door. He quickly withdrew his hand. "It's warm." With his thumb he pushed down on the handle. It resisted, but not badly. With a little effort they should have no problem getting it open. He pushed harder. The handle swiveled downward with a squeal and a shower of rust.


Sam reached into the bag. He withdrew a cylindrical red canister. He tossed the canister to Dean. Dean caught it one handed and was surprised that it was heavier than it looked. He grinned - it was a small fire extinguisher.

"Where did you get this?"

"Stole it from the hotel."

Dean couldn't resist grinning. "I didn't know they had a petty theft program at Stanford."

"Very funny. Let's just hope we don't need it." Sam took a firm grip on his flashlight and then nodded toward the door. "Open it."

The steel door groaned as Dean pushed it open, and more rust fell from its hinges. The sound it made was almost human, raising chills up and down Sam's spine. Beyond it the darkness of another room loomed like the open maw of a hungry whale waiting to swallow them up forever. Dean flashed his light inside and took a step backward.

"Crispy critter. I guess he didn't pay attention to the warning either."

Sam came up to the door and looked. A skeleton lay just inside the door, its bones scattered and charred by fire. A scrap of burned clothing clung to it still. Blackened boots, their soles melted, encompassed the skeletal feet. Dean leaned over and poked at it with the end of his flashlight.

"This is relatively recent," he said. "The clothes are modern."

"So he's probably not the culprit then, but a victim?"

"You never know. He could have set the fire and been caught by it."

Dean stepped over the skeleton into the room. Sam followed.

The room was bigger than any of the ones they'd been in before, with a high arched ceiling and deep wall niches. All the bricks were blackened and the door on the other side was warped. It led nowhere. Sam could see that the next room had collapsed. Dirt and rubble practically filled it, and some of the debris had flowed into the bigger room. There was no getting out that way. For the first time Sam wondered how they were going to get out. The hole in the pipe seemed to only work one way and Dean probably wasn't going to get back through regardless. There had to be another place to escape. It was obviously not at this end.

"Definitely signs of fire here." Dean swung his light around. "Start looking around."

Sam moved off to obey. "What are we looking for?"

"Hell if I know."

The floor was deep with blackened dirt, ash and soot. Their footprints marked their passage to and fro across the room as they searched for something, anything, that looked suspicious. Sam peered into some of the wall niches. The whole series of rooms reminded him of a crypt with its coffin niches, and the skeleton leering at them from across the room contributed to that feeling. In one niche, however, he found not a body but a collection of bottles. He rubbed the soot off one label with his thumb. It was champagne dated 1902. Remarkably the cork was still intact.

Sam put it back and went on to the next niche. There he paused, cocking his head to the side as he stared at what sat before him.

It was a small lizard, black, streaked with red and yellow stripes, barely three inches long including the tail. Its red eyes twinkled like rubies in the light of Sam's flashlight. It blinked slowly and stared back at him.


His brother replied from the opposite side of the room. "Yeah?"

"I think I found something."

Dean appeared at his side.

Sam motioned toward the niche. "Might save you money on car insurance."

"What insurance?" Dean grinned, and peered in at the lizard.

The grin vanished immediately.

"What is it?" Sam asked.

His brother hissed between his teeth. "Shit."


"I think we're in trouble."

Sam looked at him incredulously. "From a lizard? It's no bigger than my thumb!"

His brother met his gaze with a stern and solemn look. "That's no lizard. That's a Salamander. Salamander with a capital S."

"A fire elemental? Oh, shit."

"Exactly," Dean breathed. "We're definitely out gunned here. We need to get out, and get out now before we piss it off."

It was a stupid question, but Sam had to ask it anyway. "What happens if we piss it off?"

He stared at the little creature. It curled its tail around itself and rose slightly on its front legs, never releasing Sam from its gaze.

"Barbecue Winchester."

At that moment there was a scream, a metal upon metal scream. Dean bolted across the room just in time to have the big steel door slam shut in his face. Sam heard the latch fall with a clang. The door rattled as Dean struggled to open it but it would not budge.

Whipping his head back around, Sam trained his light on the Salamander as Dean continued to fight with the door. In just the span of seconds the creature had gotten bigger. It was now as long as Sam's arm from wrist to elbow. Now that he could see it better he realized it did resemble a lizard more than it did a true amphibious salamander. It had long , sharp claws and from between its narrow lips flickered a tongue.

Only it wasn't a tongue. It was a flicker of flame.

"Here be dragons."

Sam stumbled backward. He rushed to the door and joined Dean on the latch. Both of them frantically tried to get the mechanism to move, to free themselves from the room. It was not cooperating.

"Push it!"

"I am pushing it! It won't move!" Dean suddenly let go and moved away from the door. "Get back!"

Quickly, Sam moved away as his brother rummaged through their gear and came up with a gun. His eyes widened in alarm as he realized what Dean was planning on doing.

"No! Wait!"

The gunshot was as loud as an explosion inside the room. Sparks arced into the air from the steel door, created by the bullet ricocheting off its surface. Dean ducked, Sam dodged to the side but felt something hot buzz by his ear and into the darkness behind him. Whirling around he saw the Salamander in the center of the room, now as large as a small horse, its body awash in red, yellow, orange and blue flames. As Sam watched it swiveled its red jewel-like eyes toward Dean. It's tongue flickered.

"Dean, RUN!"

Dean didn't run. Instead, as the flames shot out toward him, he raised the fire extinguisher and let blast. The flames retreated but there came a cry of outrage from the Salamander. The fire around its body expanded until the center of the room was nothing but a roaring bonfire from floor to ceiling. Waves of scorching heat rolled out toward them. Dean pressed up against the door. Sam retreated to a corner.

"What happened to 'don't piss it off'?" he bellowed.

"It pissed me off!" Dean shouted back. He tossed the spent extinguisher aside. "There's got to be another way out."

"Yeah, if you're a mole!" Sweat dripped down Sam's forehead. The flames had not advanced, but the heat was growing in intensity and it was becoming more and more difficult to draw a breath. The Elemental was toying with them. They'd suffocate before they ever burned.

Dean had resumed his attack on the door, this time with the crowbar. When prying the door open failed to have any effect he began hammering furiously at the lever.

Sam looked back at the Salamander. He could no longer make out the lizard within the conflagration but the flames swirled and flickered around in a vaguely lizard-like shape. He could no longer see its eyes, but felt them upon him.

It's intelligent. An intelligent being might be open to negotiation.

Slowly, Sam shed his jacket, and his sweatshirt, stripping down to only his t-shirt. He was no longer quite so hot, and he hoped he no longer appeared threatening - not, he reasoned, that two puny humans were any threat to an Elemental in the first place.

Talk to me.

At first there was nothing. He repeated his request, this time out loud. His voice carried over the roar of the fire and the clanging of the crowbar against the door handle.

"Talk to me!"

The hammering behind him stopped, and in his mind the soft, sibilant voice of the Salamander spoke.

Sam nodded his reply, and with hands outstretched before him, he walked into the fire.

"Talk to me!"

Dean turned at the sound of his brother's voice. Sam stood before the fire, sweat pouring down his reddened face, with his hands held out toward the flames as if trying to soothe them.


Sam took a step forward, and then another.

"SAM! NO!"

The flames rushed forward, swallowing Sam and forcing Dean back into the furthest corner of the room, away from the door. He had no choice but to duck and cover his face. Like an ocean wave the fire retreated again leaving behind small droplets of itself here and there like tide pools. They slowly withered and died, bereft of the support of the primary blaze that roared and squealed in the center of the room. Of Sam there was no sign.

Dean's mind flashed back to another fire long ago. He remembered running down the hallway to his brother's room and seeing his father standing in the doorway screaming his mother's name. Flames had filled the room, obliterating the ceiling, but Dean had looked up into them and seen his mother's face. Her eyes were open even as the fire consumed her. She seemed to be staring right at him.

He had torn his eyes away when the fire surged across her face. It was then that he'd seen the burning crib and realized with a paralyzing fear that the baby was dead too. Anything that would kill a baby would not hesitate kill a little kid.

But then he had heard his father's voice, and felt a weight descend into his arms, and the next thing he knew he was running as fast as he could down the stairs.

"I can't let it get us, Sammy. I can't let it get us."


"You're just like the others. You've come to destroy."

"No. We've come to try to understand. The buildings above are burning. Why?"

"I must feed."

"But why here, in this place?"

"I am a prisoner. He called me, bound me here, and I completed the task he required. But he never freed me from my bondage. I have no other choice."

"What do we have to do to free you?"

"Find it. Find the talisman. Destroy it and I shall be free."

"Let me and my brother go, and we'll find it. I swear.."

"What is the value of a human oath to me. He pledged to me, and broke that promise."

"I keep my promises."

Sam held his breath, although in a sense he wasn't breathing. He was fairly unaware of his physical body at all, only the voice in his mind and the lights flickering before his eyes. The Salamander held him inside itself, in a world of fire and flame. It took its time replying. Sam had no idea how much time had passed.

"Swear by the one you love, the one you pledged to avenge."

Jessica. It had read his mind.

"I swear."

The lights went out, and suddenly Sam was breathing, sucking in great heaving gasps of air.The physical form of the Salamander was gone and so was the fire. It had left behind only darkness, the stench of sulfur, and Sam kneeling in a smoldering pile of ash.

"Dean?" Sam choked. He could see nothing. "Dean!"

There was no answer, but Sam could feel another presence in the room with him. It was a little frightening. Bereft of his normal senses his Sight was much stronger, bringing to him the certainty that the presence he felt was his brother. He could feel Dean's fear, his grief and his guilt, all of which were overwhelming him as he sat alone in the dark. The emotions played through in quick succession, over and over again like a never ending loop of video tape. Sam was alarmed.

Whoa, he's checked out.

Sam felt his way across the room toward the corner where Dean had taken refuge. Reaching out in the darkness he put a hand on his brother's leg. Dean flinched away with a gasp.

"Dean. It's me. It's just me."

The voice that replied was rough and more than a little shaky. "If that's you, Sam, you better be alive and not a spook"

Sam groped around in the dark. His fingers fell upon something cylindrical. It was a flashlight. With a sigh of relief he switched it on and let it illuminate his face.

"Alive," he said.

The light illuminated Dean too, and Sam frowned. He was deathly white beneath a layer of dark soot smeared across his cheeks like the mask of a raccoon. A quick swipe of his hand was not fast enough to keep Sam from seeing the tracks of tears cutting through the dirt. When Dean saw the sympathetic look on his brother's face he scowled angrily. A hand slammed into Sam's shoulder, knocking him over and sending the flashlight spiraling off into the darkness.

"Son of a bitch! Don't you ever do that again!"

It took them hours to find their way out, traversing back the way they came, past the hole they'd tumbled through to get there. At the other end of the block of sub-basements a drainage pipe led them through a maze of pipes and tunnels that slowly made its way back to the surface. They exited through a culvert under a freeway and had to walk for miles down a winding wooded road until they reached town again. By the time the blessed Impala came into view it was well past midnight.

Sam barely made it through his shower. As soon as he'd finished cleansing himself of blood, soot and sewer sludge, he'd stumbled out of the bathroom and collapsed into bed. By the time Dean finished his (cold, thank you Sam) shower, Sam was fast asleep and snoring softly.

Dean paused at the foot of the bed to look at him. He looked very young, much younger than twenty-two, and at the moment, extremely vulnerable. Closing his eyes, Dean thanked whatever entity watched over bone-headed little brothers for keeping Sam safe. For several agonizing minutes, as he'd sat alone in the dark, Dean had thought he'd lost his brother for good. He'd thought of rushing the flames, throwing himself in after because if anything had happened to Sam he wouldn't have been able to stand it.

And if I had survived, and I found Dad, how would I have told him I let Sam die?

It was over, for now. They'd both come out of things relatively unscathed. Sam was a little singed around the edges, Dean was scraped up here and there, but both of them were alive.

Emotionally Dean was pretty banged up too, certainly enough not to be able to sleep easily. He had too much on his mind. He was still fighting the odd, sometimes frightening feelings he had for his brother and their close call had brought all that up again too. Dean opened his eyes.

A chill made him shiver. He craved warmth. His eyes fell upon Sam, who lay stretched across the bed, his face slightly flushed. Here was warmth if Dean dared.

His hand strayed. He traced a path across the back of one of Sam's cotton clad calves, and down toward his ankle. The touch of bare skin against his fingers sent a sensation akin to an electric shock up his arm. It took his breath but it chased away the chill. He knew he would want more.

Slowly Dean withdrew his hand, leaving behind the warmth he knew he shouldn't savor. Sam had not stirred at his touch, and still slept soundly.

Weariness dogged Dean too, but he knew he wouldn't sleep. Instead he turned toward the table where the laptop was set up and sat down before it. The Salamander had told Sam about a talisman. It had even shown him a picture, which he'd hastily sketched on a piece of paper on the way back to the hotel. Dean studied it carefully. Now all he had to do was find it.

To the quiet rise and fall of Sam's breathing, he settled down to search.

"Close your eyes."

"I can't."

"Close your eyes, don't look."

Sam huddled in the corner, knees drawn up to his chest, trying to make himself look small like he had when he was fourteen. Fourteen had been a rough year for Sam, who had grown big and awkward and interested in girls who were inevitably drawn to his older brother instead. Dean wasn't tall and clunky with a funny nose and hair that never seemed to want to behave itself. At eighteen Dean had been positively angelic, with a ridiculously clear complexion and a face that would stop traffic. Sam went to bed every night hoping a pimple would pop up on Dean's forehead, not his own 'cause no one would dare call Dean a unicorn and laugh at his knobby elbows.

"It's just a stage," Dean said, after catching Sam scowling into the mirror.

"Were you ugly when you were my age?"


He lied, of course. Sam had pictures. Dean had always been cute, save maybe for a brief stint when he was six and his eyes took up nearly his whole face. Sam thought he'd looked like an alien.

"But Sam..."

"Will never know."

Don't look. Don't look.

Sam wrapped his arms more firmly around his legs, ducking his face down against his knees. His vision went dark, then bright again, and he was forced to look through his own eyes. There was no escape.

Dean's face, Dean's hands, Dean's body against his and he...

Was not himself.


Liked it.

He raised his head and was gone again, huddled in the corner, observing instead of participating, watching the rise and fall of bodies against each other instead of feeling the sensations himself.

And God, was that what he looked like when he came?

He turned his head. Make it go away.

His eyes squeezed shut and the last vestiges of climax made him shudder. Teeth nipped at his collar. Hands caressed his face.



"Don't leave me."

It was in the town's history museum. They had dug it up while tearing down an old house at the edge of town. A piece of bone carved to resemble a lizard, wrapped in leather, and etched with odd symbols, it had been mistaken for an Indian relic and turned over to the museum. Breaking and entering would be on the itinerary soon. He and Sam could easily sneak in through a window and make off with the relic. Salt it, burn it, and Bob's your uncle.

Pleased with his success, Dean powered down the laptop and closed it. It was deep into the night, just a couple of hours shy of sunrise. His thoughts no longer crashed around in his head, but had settled back down to gentle, swirling eddies. He yawned hugely and stretched.

When he opened his eyes he noticed Sam standing beside the table, watching him.

"Hey. Sorry. Did I wake you?" Dean stood. Sam didn't move. "Sam?"

All at once Sam's lips parted. A soft intake of air sighed past his lips. "Close your eyes," he whispered.

Dean flinched. For a moment he couldn't speak, and when he did, his voice cracked. "What?"

Sam took step, closing the distance between them, invading Dean's personal space. He said nothing, but studied Dean's face with eyes slightly vacant. Dean backed up and turned his head away. A hand cupped his chin, and forced his gaze to return. Sam would never do such a thing.

"Charlie," Dean murmured. "What are you doing? I thought..." He bit his lip as he was backed up against the table. "Charlie, no. I can't."

"Not even if you close your eyes?"

His breath was coming more quickly. Sweat broke out across his brow, and trickled down his back. His fingers gripped the edge of the table behind him. If he let go he might touch, and if he touched he'd be lost.

"No," he breathed. "You shouldn't be here."

They stood only inches apart. Dean could feel soft breath against his cheek. If he turned his head only the slightest bit their lips would meet. He kept his eyes forward and his hands to himself, but with the greatest of efforts.

"Are you tempted?"

Dean laughed, a little high pitched and a little breathless laugh. "You have to ask?" Sam's body was pressed very close to his, spreading warmth though him. He felt the first hint of arousal and dug his nails into the table. "You don't know how hard it's been for me. I look at him every day and every night and...I want..."


Dean had been asking himself that question for months. The answer was something he'd been trying to avoid.

"Both of you," he whispered, turning his head, finally caving because he was weak, God he was weak. "Both of you."

He was released abruptly. Sam backed away, eyes downcast, fingers drumming nervously against the top of the dresser. Dean staggered a little. His heart was beating rapidly in his chest and for a moment he felt almost faint. He steadied himself on the table.


It was then that he saw the reflection. Reflections. One was visible in the mirror above the dresser, the other in the mirror above the sink. They both caught Sam at different angles and although the light was dim, Dean could clearly see that it was Sam, and only Sam, whose image could be seen. It was a telling vision. Frantically, Dean sought a way out.

"Sam, I can explain."

Sam refused to look up at him. "I'm sure you can. You're smart that way, Dean, always coming up with the convenient lie to make your problems go away."

Dean swallowed heavily, tried to grin, blow it all off. "Well, you know me." His voice turned pleading. "Come on, Sammy..."

The room reverberated with the sound of Sam's hand banging down on the top of the dresser. His expression had quickly gone from aggrieved to infuriated, and his eyes bore into Dean's like daggers.


Cringing , Dean quickly looked away. He tried to find anger, because that would be the best way to cope with this - fight fire with fire. It wouldn't come. There was only shame, and fear. Sagging into the chair, he rubbed his hands over his face, through his hair, and shook his head. His worse nightmare had come true. Sam had figured it all out. How, Dean didn't know, but here it was right in front of him.

"Charlie was here before. When?" Sam demanded, and when Dean didn't answer immediately he repeated the question. "When?"

Dean let out a long sigh. "The night after he died."

"He possessed me?"


The answer was quiet, barely there and he didn't need Sam's precog to know what the next question would be.

"Did you sleep with him?"

"Sam, please..."


Raising his head, Dean met his brother's angry gaze with a defiant look of his own and stoney silence. They glared at each for what seemed forever, before Sam spoke again.

"I saw it," he said gruffly. "I couldn't understand what he's been trying to tell me, so he showed me. He showed me everything." A muscle twitched in his jaw, as he spoke through clenched teeth. "You see, it hasn't been Charlie's choice to haunt my dreams. You've been calling him back every day since that night." Sam took a deep breath and withan angry,trembling voice concluded: "I know what you did to me, Dean."

Now Dean found his anger and he let it loose, rising up from the chair with a sharp wave of his hand. "Then what the hell do you want from me? Huh?" he shouted. "Okay, I screwed up, Sam. I screwed up royally and I'm sorry."

"No you're not," Sam shot back. "You were ready to go again just now!"

"Yeah, well, you're a good fuck."

As soon as the words left his mouth, Dean knew he was in trouble. He had absolutely no time to react as Sam rounded on him with his full body weight behind a cocked fist.

He went down.

And out.

Sam stepped back, wringing his hand. He'd never hit anyone that hard in his life, but then again, he'd never been so angry either. All the hurt, all the fear and anger at Dean's betrayal had just built up inside him until he couldn't take it anymore.

How could he? How could he have done that to me?

His knees buckled and he sat down heavily on the edge of one of the beds with his hands pressed over his mouth. It would have been so easy to brush off what he'd seen as a dream and only a dream but Sam knew better. Even had Dean not responded the way he had to Sam's little deception, he would have known. He should have known sooner.

His gifts made him vulnerable. He knew that, had always known that, but with Dean he'd always felt safe.

Sam glanced over at his brother, who lay crumpled on the floor with a bruise already purpling his jaw where Sam had hit him. He felt a surge of guilt and angrily pushed it away. Why should he feel guilty. He was the victim here. Dean had molested him.

Under duress.

"Uh," he smacked the heel of his hand against his forehead. He had no idea how to feel, what to think, struggling with both repulsion and sympathy. The urge to laugh rolled through at the thought of having to explain this to a therapist.

It was quickly followed by the urge to cry.

Nothing was safe anymore. Not even the one thing he'd always thought he could count on no matter what. Dean had tended to scraped knees and bloody noses, had taught him to ride a bike and throw a Frisbee, fed him and kept him clean, fulfilling the role of mother, father and big brother all at once. Even without a mother, and a father who was rarely there (and sometimes rarely sober) Sam had never once felt he wasn't loved by someone.

That thought made everything hurt worse, but it also put him into action. With a steely expression he rose from the bed and began to quickly pack his bag. He would be gone by the time Dean came around - long gone.

He lay on the floor looking up at the ceiling. He'd come to gradually, gathering consciousness bit by bit as if he were building a Lego house one brick at a time. Dean remembered Legos. He'd hustled some neighborhood kids out of their allowance money and bought the castle set. He and Sam had spent countless rainy days building castles and staging mock battles. Sometimes they staged real battles, when one opinion conflicted with another. They still did that, obviously.

Raising a hand he felt his jaw. It throbbed angrily beneath his fingertips. Yeah, this disagreement was a little more serious than Nickleback versus Metallica.

Dean sat up and groaned. He almost expected Sam to rush up and pound on him again, but the room was eerily quiet and there was no sign of his brother at all.

"Sam," he croaked. "We can work this out. Come on!" He levered himself up to his feet, using the end of his bed for support. "Sam?"

There was no reply. That was no surprise. He'd probably gone out for a drink., or coffee. It was just as well.

"God," Dean hobbled over to the vanity to examine his bruise in the mirror. "I probably deserved that."

He froze, and then quickly turned around to reassess what had just caught his eye.

Not only was Sam gone, but so was his gear. Nothing remained to tell the casual observer two people occupied the room.

"No, no, no, no!" Dean sprinted across the room and threw open the door. A blast of midday sunlight struck him in the face, temporarily blinding him. He peered out through splayed fingers at the parking lot, hoping to see Sam picking his way toward the highway on foot, and frantically trying to figure out what in the hell he could say to bring his brother back.

It was what he didn't see that made him sag heavily against the doorframe.

"Son of a...my car!"

Infuriated, he lurched back into the room, slamming the door behind him. When he caught up to Sam he was going to...

To what? What more could you possibly do to him?

Dean turned, and snatching up one of the table chairs, he launched it across the room. It left a sizeable dent in the drywall and he did not feel any better.

Dad left me.

Charlie died.

Sam is...gone...

Where? Where would he have gone? Back to California?

The answer suddenly became obvious.


A few minutes later Dean was in the hotel lobby, demanding to know where he could rent a car.

In his dreams it had been fall. Maybe because cemeteries always seemed spookier in the fall, when the shadows grew longer and the Day of the Dead was just around the corner. Halloween had never been celebrated in the Winchester household. When other kids dressed up as ghosts and goblins, going from door to door collecting candy, John and his boys warded the house and stood ready to kill anything that might get past their defenses.

It was spring now, and as Sam walked through the garden of granite and marble he could see the shadowy outlines of tulips and daffodils rising up against the cold stones. Out of death came life.

He tightened his grip on the shovel in his hand.

No directions were needed, Sam knew just where he was going because everything but the season was exactly as it had been in his dreams. Around a large tree, down a hill, and overlooking a small ornamental lake was the plot he'd been seeking. Sun bleached plastic flowers leaned drunkenly out of metal holder. A more recently offering lay beneath them - a half dozen wilted carnations, their stems tied up with a ribbon.

Sam stood there reading and re-reading Charlie's name on the headstone.

"He has to let you go," he said finally, his voice barely a whisper. "But you knew that didn't you?"

The answer came on a rush of wind that riffled his hair and appealed to his Othersenses. It was sad, but approving, and more than a little apologetic.

"It's not your fault," Sam said, but wasn't sure he meant it. The only thing he was sure of was that the ties between his brother and this spirit had to be severed and he could no longer be caught in the middle. As Charlie had warned, it could ultimately destroy him.

The breeze grew slightly stronger, tugging at Sam's clothing. He dropped the bag he carried to the ground at his feet.

"I want my brother back, and you out of my head."

Acquiescence, and the air grew still.

Sam started digging.

Sam might have had a head start, but Dean drove like a bat out of hell and knew all the shortcuts. Still, it was obvious as he placed a hand on the Impala's hood and felt the cool metal that Sam had been there for some time already.


He took off at a sprint, racing his way down first one path and then another,frantically looking for any sign of Sam among the monuments. It was as dark as pitch and Dean didn't have a flashlight; they were all locked up in the Impala's trunk. Abruptly he stopped at the crossroads of three converging paths and turned all around.


His voice echoed across the gently rolling landscape. The stillness would have been unnerving for someone who hadn't spend countless nights digging up graves. Dean felt nothing but a growing urgency to find Sam and stop him.

"Sam! Come on, Sam! Please!"

A flicker of light caught his eye and without thinking he ran toward it. It could have been anything, something dangerous, something deadly, but he didn't care. Let it take him.

But the light was only the beam of a flashlight sitting upon a pile of newly turned earth and the only thing that met Dean in the darkness was the tall outline of his brother. Sam stood at the foot of an open grave, filthy dirty and sweating from his labors. As Dean approached he turned slightly. In his hand was a box of matches.

"Stop," he said firmly.


"I said stop. Don't come any closer, Dean. Trust me, you don't want to come any closer." When Dean defiantly took one more step he added: "The service was closed casket for a reason."

Dean stopped, freezing in place as the full portent of Sam's words cut him to the core - cut him and twisted inside the wound. His eyes darted to the side of the grave where there lay a crowbar. Modern caskets were harder to get into than old wooden coffins, but somehow Sam had succeeded. Dean groaned.

"This has to stop," Sam said quietly. "You need to let go."

"I can't, Sam. I can't. You don't understand..."

"What don't I understand?" Angrily, Sam put a hand to his chest. "You don't think I feel the same way about Jess? That I don't miss her every minute of every day?"

"This is different."

"Because you're gay? Don't give me that. The only way it's different is that you..." Sam's voice broke. His face twisted with grief. "You...got to say good-bye."

Dean inhaled a trembling breath. "And you wouldn't have held on too, if it had been Jessica? He was here, Sam. He was real. I could have him back."

"You can't have us both, Dean." Sam said shortly. "So you choose. You choose right here, right now. Me, or him."

Angrily, Dean spat: "And if I choose him?"

Sam spread his arms. "He can have it."

Dean made no immediate reply, studying his brother's face to see if he were serious, and finding, to his horror, that Sam was dead serious. Anger fled as quickly as it had come, draining out of him like water through a sieve. If Dean chose Charlie, Sam would willingly give up his body to the spirit without a second thought.

It took a while for him to find his voice again. "It would kill you, Sam," he said finally. "If he stayed in control long enough."

Raising his head, Sam looked him in the eye and said softly, "I know."

There was no choice, then. Sam was right. It was Dean drawing Charlie's spirit back, back to the last body it had occupied and not the broken shell that lay in the grave. Dean had not been aware of what he'd been doing - until now. If he continued the spirit would gradually take over completely, and Sam's consciousness would cease to exist. Dean had come frighteningly close to committing murder on top of that little matter of incest.

And despite it all, this - Sam's offer, his sacrifice...

"You're my brother, and I would die for you."

Dean's voice broke badly as he made the only choice he really had.

"Do it."

Sam could not disguise the relief in his expression. Turning away from his brother, he pulled a match from the box and struck it into flame.

Dean closed his eyes, but he heard the fire flare up from the ground and smelled the acrid smell of the smoke. But he also felt Sam's presence beside him and heard his brother sigh. After a moment a hand wrapped itself around his arm.

"Come on. Let's go before the cops show up."

"Get off," Dean jerked his arm out of Sam's grip, and turned away, walking ahead, not speaking, all the way back to where the cars were parked. It wasn't Sam though, he wasn't angry with Sam. He was angry with himself.

I should have known better.

When they arrived back at the cars Dean locked the keys in the rental. Let someone else worry about returning it. Sam watched with faint bemusement. Dean had rented a Mustang, the only thing he'd found that would be fast enough to catch up to the Impala.

"That's a Ford," Sam pointed out.

"It's a piece of shit," Dean growled, and settled himself into the comforting curve of Baby's driver's seat. "Get in."

The faint wail of sirens underscored the urgency. Dean had the car in gear and was tearing toward the highway before Sam had completely closed the door. He ground his teeth, squeezing the steering wheel in his hands as he struggled to find some way to say what needed to be said. It was several minutes into the trip before he managed anything at all.

"Sam, look. About...what happened. That night, and last night..."

"Never happened."

Dean glanced over at him quickly. Sam's head was bowed over a pocket atlas, trying to decipher it in the dark.


"Didn't Dad ever tell you not to pick at a scab?" Sam said abruptly, and looked up at him sternly. "You're picking."

"Right, gotcha."

Silence descended again, save for the roar of the Chevy's engine and the faint bleating of music from a stereo turned down low.

After a minute, Sam flipped a page in the atlas. He did not look up as he spoke. "I'll say one thing though, and then I never want to talk about it again. Ever."

Dean cleared his throat. "Fair enough, what?"

There was a long pause, and then Sam said quietly:

"That was one hell of a blow job."


There was dirt in his hair, in his ears, and all over his clothing. As he walked out of the culvert he shook his head, sending up a cloud of dark dust that made his eyes burn. He sneezed repeatedly.

A car engine roared into life out on the road. Sam trudged through a tangled thicket of brush and bramblesuntil the sleek black vehicle came into view. From the driver's seat Dean peered out at him with a relieved expression that quickly turned into one of mock annoyance.

"If you're done spelunking, I'd really like to get on the road sometime this century."

"Bite me." Sam pulled the door open and sat down.

"God, you stink."

"Duh, sewer."

Dean looked in the rearview mirror for any traffic and then pulled out onto the road. "I'm gonna gas up before we get out of town and you're changing clothes 'cause I don't want your road-kill carcass stinking up my car."

Sam laughed a little. "Whatever."

"So did you do it?"

"Yeah, burned it and buried it in salt at the back of the big chamber. Charm busted, Elemental gone."

"Good deal."

Sam settled back in his seat with a sigh. In his head the Salamander's last words went around and around again, creating a nagging uneasiness that he knew he'd never shake.

"I know of the thing that killed your loved ones. It is an evil very old, very dangerous. It uses fire to frighten and intimidate. Take heed its warning lest the hunter become the hunted."