Chapter one

"More shots!" Sam glanced up at the words, his eyes falling on a group of college aged kids at the table behind him. Two guys and a girl. They were laughing, having fun, celebrating something. The couple who were sitting down sat close to each other. And the kid standing up, swaying on his feet, held six empty shot glasses in his hands, the grin on his face glaringly drunken. "More shots!" he repeated and then headed towards the bar, against his friends' protests. But the couple just laughed and kissed and joked and when the shots were brought back, they drank them and went on being happy and normal.

It reminded Sam of this past Halloween when he'd been doing the same with his friends. With Jess. When he'd been celebrating his unremarkable score on the LSAT's and his inevitable full ride scholarship and job offers that would follow. It sobered Sam for a moment, thinking back on the last normal day he'd had. After all these months on the road, all these months seeking revenge on the thing that had killed Jess and their mother, Sam was starting to forget what it felt like to wake up for class in the morning, to spend long nights in the library studying, to have a weekend to do nothing but have fun with friends or sit on a couch and relax. And he couldn't help but be upset that, as much as he missed normal, he was finding it hard to remember what it'd been like. It made him all the more ready to kill the thing that killed Mom and Jess and get it over with so he could go back to Stanford and finish what he started. Without Jess, but he would manage. He could move on. He had almost convinced himself of such.

It didn't help matters that just weeks ago they'd finally found their father, after months of searching for him, only to have to say goodbye to him again. Sam understood why it had to be done, he understood that they were a liability to their father, that if the demon ever got its hands on them, they would be used against their father. Hell, they'd seen it first hand. John had almost died five minutes after they'd found each other. So they'd decided it would be best if they went their separate ways. And Sam had watched John climb into his truck with a single glance back at them before driving off. Sam understood why it had to be done, but that didn't mean he agreed with it.

Sam thought that finding their Dad, finding John, would take away some of the pain. In a way, it had. When John had wrapped his arms around Sam and hugged him, held him close, Sam felt relief from a stress he hadn't known had been there. A veiled apology and Sam found himself once again included in John Winchester's life. And that should have been it. That should have been the relief Sam was looking for these months on the road. His whole goal had been to find their father, after all, he'd convinced himself of that. But it hadn't been the relief Sam was expecting. He still hurt. He was still confused and lost over why this was all happening, over why that bastard of a demon had stolen two of the most important people in his life. If anything, Sam had more questions now than he had when he'd started. And that hurt worse than anything. He just wanted this to be over with. He just wanted to go back to his life, the one he'd made for himself, instead of the one that was given to him.

"Please tell me you're not still on your first beer," Dean's voice broke into Sam's melancholy mood and he looked up to see his brother approaching the table, pocketing the winnings he'd just earned from the pool game he'd been playing. Sam saw the two locals Dean had just hustled still back at the pool table, shaking their heads and glancing towards his brother. "Where did I go wrong with you?" Dean asked, picking up Sam's beer and taking a sip. Sam scoffed and grabbed it away from his brother.

"How much did you get?" Sam asked, ignoring the jibe.

Dean grinned, motioning to a waitress for another beer. She brought one over and he smiled warmly at her. She blushed and scooted off. "Enough to leave our waitress a ridiculous tip," he said, winking when the waitress looked over at him. She grinned and turned away quickly. "You know she's got a tattoo on her lower back. I'm a sucker for the roses…"

"Dean," Sam warned and his brother turned to look at him, a dazed look on his face. "We're here for the missing persons case."

"Yeah, whatever," Dean said as he took a chug of his beer, eyes absently going back to the waitress who was wiping down the counter, purposely leaning over further than she had to, giving Dean, and anyone else who was looking, a nice show of her cleavage. "Damn," Dean whispered. Sam sighed and knew he was on the verge of losing this battle. Dean's hormones were an enemy Sam could rarely win against. And they hadn't dulled down with age. If anything, they only got worse every passing year.

"So," Sam said loudly. "Those missing persons…"

Dean held a hand up, signaling for him to wait a second as the waitress finished wiping the counter and the adjusted her top, her eyes drifting to Dean, who grinned and finally turned to look at Sam. "Yeah, right, missing persons. Two in the last week, right?" Sam nodded and internally commended his victory. Dean's attention, at least for the moment, was back on the case. It had, after all, been Dean's idea to check this one out in the first place. Six missing people in the last two months. Normally they wouldn't have paid any attention to it, but some of the eye witness reports had clued them in that this was possibly their type of job.

"Right," Sam agreed and turned the laptop in front of him so Dean could see it. "And when the last person went missing, there was a witness who claimed she saw a dark figure hovering over her son's bed." Dean frowned around his beer and reached out to scroll down the article.

"Could be a phantom attacker," Dean shrugged. "Sounds like their type of deal."

Sam nodded. "Yeah but with phantom attackers, the victims are usually found. None of these victims have been. Cops don't have a clue where they might be."

Dean snorted and took another swig of his beer. "That doesn't surprise me," he muttered. "Cops aren't good for nothing except to entertain me at three in the morning when I get to watch them chase around half naked dudes on tv." Dean was mainly mumbling to himself as he scrolled through the article on the laptop. Sam wondered if his brother even heard himself sometimes. "So the last person to go missing was Alex Scott, sixteen."

"Yup," Sam confirmed and leaned forward. "His mother said she went to check on him before going to bed and when she opened the door to his room, she saw the figure above his bed, turned to yell for her husband, and when she turned back, Alex was gone." Dean leaned back with a puzzled look on his face. "The thing works fast, whatever it is." Sam paused and shook his head. "Have you ever heard of a phantom making someone just disappear like that? I mean, this kid wasn't dragged or anything, he was just...gone."

Dean put his beer down and leaned back, a slight furrow to his brow. "You know, maybe he didn't just disappear. Some spirits can mask themselves so people can't see them. It might be that this bitch is masking its victims. The kid could have still been in the room and the Mom wouldn't have even known it."

"Okay, but if that's the case, why wouldn't the kid have screamed or made noise? Let his Mom know he was still there?" Sam pointed out.

Dean shrugged. "Maybe he couldn't." Dean chugged the last of his beer before putting it down and announcing his readiness to go with a sigh. Sam just smiled and closed the laptop. "You know, we should go check out that kid's room in the morning. See if we can get a reading. Check for sulfur or ozone. Figure out what the hell we're dealing with."

Sam stood up and grabbed his coat. "Yeah and maybe the Mom saw something more than just a dark figure. She might have seen something that could help us out."

"Yeah," Dean said distractedly. Sam turned to look at him and saw that his brother had grabbed his coat, but still held it in his hands. Dean's attention was on something in the back of the room and he recognized that crease in his forehead as the one that always came up when Dean suspected there was going to be trouble. That scrutinizing look. Sam had come to rely on that look. He turned to see what had caught his brother's attention.

At the back of the room, the two locals Dean had just hustled in pool just a few minutes ago were both standing next to the pool table, one with his arms crossed over his chest and the other squeezing his hands into fists and relaxing them in rhythm. Their eyes were on Dean. "Looks like you've got some fans," Sam said quietly. "You had to pick the two biggest guys in the room, didn't you?"

"Whatever, dude," Dean brushed him off and turned towards the door, though he didn't take his eyes off the two at the pool table. "Let's get out of here." He started walking, coat still in hands, but as soon as he had taken two steps, the guys pushed themselves off the table and made their way towards Dean. Sam noticed the shark-like look in their eyes. He didn't like that look being aimed at his brother. Even if he was confident that Dean could take them in a fight. Didn't mean he wanted to find out.

"Dean," Sam warned needlessly. His brother had already put his coat back down on the table and now stood with his hands down to his sides, a cocky look on his face. Sam grit his teeth. This wouldn't be pleasant.

The two men came to stand right in front of Dean, one of them turning his shoulder to Sam, effectively blocking him out of the stand off. Sam just leaned forward, letting the guy know that he was still there and he wasn't afraid of him. Just maybe his smell...

"We want our money back," the bigger of the two lugs said, stepping closer to Dean, who looked incredibly little in comparison. But the height didn't seem to phase his brother. Dean just looked up at the guy with a fake look of consideration on his face.

"What for?" Dean asked snobbishly. Sam couldn't help the half quirk of a smile that touched his lips. He'd sounded like a teenager again, talking back to someone who was trying to give him orders but had no authority to do so. He'd never used the tone with their Dad, save for a couple of times when the rebellious teenage nature had managed to get a firm grip on him. But Sam had seen him use it on plenty of people.

The guy in front of him pointed a finger at Dean's chest. "You's a cheat," he drawled. Dean glanced at the finger once and then plastered on an innocent look.

"How'd I cheat? By practicing my game?" Dean asked testily. Sam tilted his head and glared at his brother. Dean sure wasn't trying to avoid this fight. He was taunting them. Sam would have to take initiative.

Stepping forward, Sam pushed Dean back a bit and took his place, smiling as friendly as he could at the two of them. "Look, I'm sure we can work this out without..." Sam didn't have time to finish. He was caught off guard by a right hook from the guy who'd had his shoulder to him. It surprised Sam enough that he didn't have time to catch himself before falling into the wall and then sliding quickly to the ground. He blinked a few times, realizing he'd just been slugged. He reminded himself to thank Dean later for that.

But there were more pressing matters at hand. Mainly, the fight that had erupted between Dean and the two locals. Sam watched for a second, always fascinated by his brother's skills when he saw them first hand. Dean landed in a quick few punches to both the guys before one managed to grab his arms and hold him still. But Dean brought up his legs and kicked at the other guy, snapping the guy's head to the side with brutal force and causing him to crash down onto a table. Dean slammed his head backwards into the guy's face who was holding him. He was instantly let go and he turned, breathing hard to watch the two locals regather themselves.

"You wanna try to hit my little brother again, bitch?" Dean yelled. Sam drew himself to his feet. His jaw hurt a little, but other than that, he was all right. He took a step forward, intent on pulling Dean away from the fight again. They didn't need this, and the bartender looked about ready to call the cops.

Sam's hand had just made it to Dean's shoulder when the man who'd been sent crashing into the table suddenly reentered the fight. Using a leg from the table he'd just broken, he swung out at both of them. Dean's arm came back instinctively to push Sam backwards, but the weapon hadn't been meant for Sam and when it struck Dean upside the head, the sickening crack that resounded through the bar was enough to make Sam shove aside his passive attitude towards the situation and spur himself into action.

As Dean fell to his hands and knees, Sam jumped forward and solidly kicked the man brandishing the table leg across the face. He wouldn't be getting up from that one any time soon. But Sam didn't have time to feel sorry as he soon found himself ducking under a series of punches and backhanded smacks aimed at his head from the remaining man. Sam had to give this guy credit, he was fast, and he knew his stuff. He ducked another punch and then took one of his own, surprised when the guy dodged it easily and used Sam's unexpected lack of contact against him. The guy swung around and brought a fist towards Sam's head. He managed to get an arm up to block it, but the strength was still there and it sent Sam back into the wall again.

But Dean had regained his feet and any altercation between Sam and this man was suddenly halted as Dean sacked the guy hard enough to send them both to the ground. Dean somehow managed to stay on top and didn't hesitate to land a few good blows to the guy's face before Sam rushed forward and wrapped his arms around his brother to pull him off. Dean struggled for a moment, but the cocking of a shotgun halted all movement in the room.

The bartender had a shotgun aimed at Sam and Dean. He looked furious and Sam wasn't about to test whether or not he'd actually shoot them. "You two hot shots get the hell out of my bar," he spat. Sam nodded, telling the guy that they would follow his wishes. "Now!" he yelled again, his finger twitching too much for Sam's comfort. Sam reached for Dean's coat, leaving one hand on his brother's arm, before looking once more at the two locals on the ground, each nursing their wounds, and then pulling Dean out the door.

Once out the door, Dean finally stopped huffing and snatched his coat from Sam. He put it on, angrily mumbling to himself, before stalking towards the car. Sam followed closely behind, noticing the stream of blood dripping down the side of his face from a nasty cut on his eyebrow from where the guy had cracked the table leg over his head. Sam took two long strides to get to his brother's side. He grabbed Dean's arm and put a hand to the cut.

"Get off," Dean grumped, shoving Sam away.

"Dean, you're bleeding," Sam said, reaching for the cut again. It didn't look too deep, just jagged and sore.

Dean slapped his hand away when they reached the Impala. "Yeah, well..." Dean struggled to find some witty retort. When he couldn't he just made a face and pulled open the car door, getting into the driver's seat. Sam shook his head with a chuckle. Dean was obviously fine. Just a scratch. He hopped into the car and looked at his brother. Dean was inspecting the cut for himself in the rear view mirror. He frowned at it and let out a sigh. Noticing Sam's eyes were on him, he turned and cracked a grin. "Still got my money."

Sam just shook his head, but managed to see the humor in the situation. "Yeah but you almost got shot," he pointed out.

"What?" Dean squawked. "I had it all under control."

"Uh huh," Sam said as Dean started up the car and pulled out. "And the whole getting cracked in the head thing?"

Dean grinned. "Had to make it look authentic," he replied. Sam just scoffed and shook his head, looking back out the window. "Besides, you got hit in the head, thought it was only fair if I did too. Didn't want to feel left out."

"Ass," Sam spat playfully.

Dean just chuckled. "Well I'll sleep good tonight," he said. "Bar fights always make me tired."

"Are you sure that's not the concussion?" Sam asked, half serious.

Dean put a hand to his ear and leaned a bit towards Sam. "Dude, I can't hear you. The ringing in my ears is too loud." Sam shoved Dean away and shook his head at his brother's sense of humor. He leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes, the smile still on his face. Nothing like this ever happened back at Stanford. Wounds weren't regarded with humor and disagreements weren't defused with witty retorts. He didn't know which he preferred. At Stanford, he always got the straight truth from his friends, no matter how much it hurt. But here, on the road with Dean, the straight truth was almost as big a myth as any.

Once the brothers were back at their motel, Sam patched up Dean's cut with a couple butterfly bandages and Dean made sure Sam iced his jaw, no matter how much he'd protested that it didn't hurt. Sam had hopped in the shower quick, not liking the thought of going to bed smelling like smoke and beer. And true to his word, when he came out, Dean was already in bed, under the covers, asleep. Sam grinned and then climbed into his own bed, trying not to think of the hunt they would be starting in the morning.


Sam woke in a panic and he didn't know why. He'd shot up, heart in rapid fire, arms held up defensively. It scared him that he couldn't remember why he was panicked. There hadn't been a nightmare, Sam always remembered his nightmares in vivid detail. And there wasn't anything in the room that shouldn't be there, no ghost or demon looming over his bed. Sam sent his eyes to the ceiling almost subconsciously. He took in the plain whiteness of it and then realized what he was doing and looked away. No, nothing there. There was no woman left in his life to be there. He tried not to think about how that did nothing to comfort him.

Letting his hands fall back down onto his lap, he shook his head and gave a nervous huff. There was no reason to panic. Everything was safe. No one was trying to get him. There was nothing else in the room.

And there was the problem right there.

Sam's eyes fell on Dean's bed, his empty bed. He frowned and then looked towards the bathroom. The light was off and the door was open. He wasn't in there. Shoving the covers off, he trudged over to the window and peered outside. He could see the Impala parked close by, and his brother wasn't inside or leaning against it, or anywhere near it. Sam's heart began to race again. He turned back around and looked at the missing bed. "Dean?" he chanced. There was no answer.

Racing to the nightstand, cussing when he hit his shin on the corner of the bed, he scooped up his cell phone and quickly found Dean's number. He jumped when Dean's phone rang behind him. He turned and saw it laying tauntingly on the table. Sam tried to stay calm. Dean wouldn't go anywhere without his phone, he knew better than that. Throwing his phone down, he looked at Dean's bed. The covers were pulled back messily. One pillow lay at the end of the bed, a large rip in the middle of it that Sam had missed when he'd first glanced at it in the dark. But the thing that caught Sam's attention the most, the thing that screamed out to Sam that he should be screaming and crying and losing his mind, was the knife that lay there in the middle of the bed. The knife that Dean kept beneath his pillow. The knife that he only took out when he was either packing it away until they reached the next motel or when he woke up to find something unfriendly looking down on him.

The knife told him everything he needed to know. And the worse part was, he didn't know what the hell to do about it.

Dean had been taken.