A/N: Crap, this was a hard chapter to write. I'm terrified everyone will hate Nick, and would love to hear some feedback on her. I also want to let people know this isn't about bashing Mormons, this is a story about Sam and Dean and their wild and woolly exploits. Oh, and this chapter does have a sex scene – nothing NC-17, all of it nice and romantic and fade to black. Let me know if it works for you.

Usual disclaimer, let us bow our heads reverently and say hallelujah to Kripke's genius.

ooooOOoooo

Dean was running, borrowed fear chill on his neck, breath coming in harsh gasps. His heart pounded in his ears, his legs ached with strain and dread, and he kept up the low chant of not mine not mine like a shield in his brain. Sam was ahead of him, lean frame stretched out low to the ground like a greyhound, his head slightly turned to keep Dean in his peripheral vision. Sam turned his head fully, met Dean's eyes, both men seeing with a shock the outright terror in the other's face.

The mountain meadow stretched ahead of them, curving downhill gently, bushes of sage and low pinion scattered picturesquely across its breast. At the bottom of the hill, nearly a hundred feet away, the Impala wavered optically in the mild afternoon sun. Dean's thoughts were breaking up, the mantra of not mine becoming where's mommy and need to hide. He began to flag, his eyes darting in search of shelter, his gasps for breath becoming sobs.

He saw Sam check his headlong flight, saw his brother veer to the right, Sam's face looking over his shoulder toward Dean. "Dean!" Sam's call touched with panic, his eyes wide with fright. "Dean, man, not yours! Not yours!" But Dean did not heed the call at first, still thinking gotta hide gotta hide, and then Sam yelled, "Impala! Dean, there's the car!"

And abruptly Dean's unanswered calls for mommy turned to Impala Impala, his eyes going to the shine of it in the spring sun. Inside was leather and vinyl and tapes and safety, his safety, his, his, his own. Possessing more important than breathing, at that moment.

Sam's direction corrected itself, pointed like an arrow towards the small gravel parking lot where they had left the Chevy, and together they pounded down the incline into the parking lot, gravel spurting from under their shoes. They collided with the Impala, the car rocking from their movement, arms and bodies open and pressed against chrome and metal and rubber.

"Oh, thank God," Dean whispered voicelessly into sun-warmed metal, his lips brushing the hood of the car.

They were quiet for a long while, willing away the after effects of fear over a hundred years old, stilling their gulps for air and the tremble in their knees. Spring sun beamed benignly down, the sky pale and dappled with cumulus. Bird song occasionally punctuated the silence, and very distant, the hum of traffic on the interstate.

"Well," Sam tried, and his voice broke. He leaned his head against the doorframe of the car, his palms flat on the roof. Dean did not look up, his chest flat on the car's hood, admiring his brother's sheer courage in speaking. A cautious clearing of his throat, and Sam spoke again, his voice stronger. "Well, that didn't go like we planned."

Dean's responding chuckle was both soundless and humorless. He still didn't trust his voice, only turned his head, his cheek warm on the black metal, and looked at his brother. He knew Sam was using words to recover, to push away whatever terror he had borrowed, but Dean just wanted the Impala, wanted to curl up in the glove box and feel Impala all around him. Echoes of needing mommy so bad his chest hurt haunted the corners of his mind and he squeezed his eyes shut against loaned tears.

Sam looked away from his brother's too-bright gaze, his eyes roaming the countryside, carefully avoiding the meadow they had just retreated from. He squinted against the sun. "Is it always that bad? I mean, didn't you and Dad check this place out before?"

Dean finally found the courage to push himself off the Chevy's hood, step around to the door, open it, and slide inside. The slight taint of coffee reassured him more than anything else. He took a deep breath, leaning his head against the neck rest, feeling the car rock slightly as Sam slid in next to him. Dean finally trusted his voice enough to answer. "We've been here plenty of times, checking up. It's always been creepy, but this –" He could only wave his hand in the direction of the meadow. "This is bat shit crazy."

Sam picked a map off the seat next to them, jostling the box of rock salt with a shaky hand. He ignored it, concentrated on opening the map. Neither brother commented on how long it took or the extra rustling from the paper. "The first victim was killed just a dozen miles from here, there's dozens of farm roads all over the back country." He paused, took a quick peek at the serene meadow in the spring light. "Do you think one of these – "

But Dean was shaking his head, thoughts of where's mommy and someone help rattling around like bones in his mind. "Scare him to death, yeah. But that guy had his arm torn off. Little too physical for – uh, whatever that was." Again, the vague wave toward the meadow, Dean not able, or willing, to express the sheer terror that had engulfed him.

Sam was not looking at him, and not looking in a way that roused Dean's suspicions, Sam's gaze everywhere but anywhere close to where Dean sat. "Why do you say that? What did you feel out there?"

Dean gripped the wheel, the solidness of the car around him calming him, watching the remaining tremors move through his hands. "Fuck." His voice was low, but the soft tone did not hide his intensity. "I couldn't find my mom. And no one was helping. Someone fell by me, and he had blood coming out his head. I just wanted my mom."

Sam was silent. A spring breeze flattened the grass outside, whispered around the edges of the Impala. Sam turned his head toward the meadow, his gaze steady and unflinching, and again Dean was impressed by his brother's sheer will in not giving in to fear. "We have to go back."

Dean was aghast. "What? Why?"

"Dean, it's on the map. People stop here." Sam gestured to the flagpole and small historical marker in front of them, the flag snapping lightly in the breeze. "Someone come out here with a heart problem? They'll drop before they get a yard away from the parking lot."

Dean's eyes were narrowed, staring at Sam, feeling the total unfairness of it, but already steeling himself to step out into the mild wind. "Fine. Goddamn son of a bitch."

Sam grinned in response, acknowledging Dean's mix of emotions. Still, they sat quietly, neither moving to leave the car, the small spot of comfort warmed by their body heat and breath. The wind picked up, voicing a small moan at the corner of the Impala's trunk.

"Shit."

"Double shit."

A shared look, and as one they opened their doors, bodies moving in synch, ignoring the faint smell of gun smoke and blood in the air. They did not venture into the heart of the meadow this time, but skirted the edges, measuring by the skitter of fear across their skin exactly where the phenomenon began. Dean pushed it, weary of the constant challenge of dread in his brain, and Sam found him kneeling in the grass, hands fisted in the soft earth. Soft coaxing, which did each brother good, brought them back to the Impala.

Sitting in the car again, slumped against the seats and eyes closed against the wide emptiness that surrounded them. Dean spoke, ignoring the stutter in his voice. "What did you feel, the first time?"

"Give me a sec." Sam bent one knee, the joint giving a small pop.

"Okay."

"About 30 feet in diameter, with that one little spot over by the pinon grove. Give or take?"

They both still had their eyes closed, sun becoming too warm for comfort in the enclosed space, small patches of heat on their legs. "Give or take," Dean echoed.

"What do we do?"

Dean sighed, moved his knees out of the sun, opening his eyes and pushing keys into the Impala's ignition. "Like I said, it's always been creepy, but never dangerous. Remains are long gone." He squinted out over the meadow, the small pinon grove a dark shadow at the hill's brow. "It's like something stirred it up. We gotta figure out how to unstir it."

"Some sort of ritual."

"Yeah. Binding, banishment."

Dean started the car; the sound and feel of it straightening Sam out of his slump, making him open his eyes. Dean put the car in gear, turned the Impala's nose toward the interstate. The flagpole and historical marker were briefly framed in the rearview mirror as they drove way.

Sam's indrawn breath was either a sob or a soft laugh. "I was shooting people." He paused, cleared his throat, and spoke casually. "Trying to control my horse, the bastard going crazy underneath me. No one would stop me. I wanted someone to stop me. No one would stop me."

And it was thirty minutes later, the Impala rolling smoothly on the interstate, when Dean punched the dashboard, hard. "Fuck, Sam! I mean – "

"Yeah," Sam said, smoothly.

"Ellicott, and this –"

"Uh huh."

"Dude, you're too open. You gotta stop this."

"Oh, is that what I have to do? Good idea, Sherlock." The sarcasm startling coming from Sam's boyish face.

Dean's eyes sparked, but he kept his mouth shut, counted to ten. "Do you wanna talk to Missouri?"

"God, no." Sam paused, looked out the window, staring down the driver in the minivan next to him. "It's tied to Dad, somehow. I think if we find him, maybe he can –" He looked away, the minivan slowing next to him, dropping out of sight. "Maybe he knows something, can do something."

A small silence from Dean. "Dad knows Nick, Sam. I haven't asked, 'cause – I dunno, I was tired of it. Tired of pursuing him." He chanced a quick glance at Sam, who was watching him warily. "We could ask Nick if Dad's checked in, or called, or something."

Sam nodded, his jaw working, brow furrowed. "Dad's the key."

Dean wasn't sure he was meant to hear that last whisper, and there was a mental stumble as he struggled with what to do, what to say. His brother, for a brief moment, had been Dean's calm, Dean's respite, a place to go to stop the ever spinning wheels of his mind. In Jericho. As when Sam's walls came tumbling down.

And now? After Ellicott, and a dream of a twisted tree in Lawrence? After Sam lit up with dead certainty, saying watch me and standing by his hospital bed, scaring Dean worse than the rawhead ever had? Still Dean's calm, turned midnight. Still Dean's respite, the eye of the storm.

"What was that, back there?" Sam, changing gears, bringing the focus back to the hunt.

Dean wasn't sure he wanted to address it again, his knees still giving occasional shakes, like an old man's palsy. But he answered doggedly, knowing talking about it would put distance in it; give him a chance to back away from the experience. "Mountain Meadows. Back in the 1800's a group of settlers from Arkansas on their way to California was ambushed and attacked there. Most of them were killed."

Sam's face was stoic. "Who did the killing?"

Dean raised an eyebrow, considering, suddenly weary. "Mormons."

ooooOOoooo

"Well, yeah," said Nick defensively, her arms crossed, the pale light from her monitor catching the points of her cheeks, the edge of her chin. "But there was Haun's Mill Massacre just a handful of years before that."

Nick's bedroom was a tornado of purple and pink and black. Pictures of her and nameless family members mixed with art deco and touches of punk rock on the walls. Sam had found an overstuffed chair in the corner, next to Nick's desk, and shifted books and boxes to sit and look over her shoulder at the monitor.

Dean prowled the room, touching knick knacks, rifling through a forgotten make up kit, raising eyebrows at the whimsical concoctions of leather and plastic that were Nick's shoes. Nick's eyes went to him often, even as she worked at the computer, soft touches of blue. Her gaze, when she looked at Sam, was less soft, though still open and friendly. Whatever electricity that had built up at their first meeting seemed to have dissipated, drawn off by whatever stalked the gardens of Gilgal.

Sam was still hearing the report of the gun in his hand, smelling gun smoke, and was itching to stretch his fingers over Nick's keyboard. He nibbled at a cuticle, watching Nick's defensive posture, the way she curled into herself. "What's Haun's Mill?"

"Back in 1838, seventeen Mormons living in Missouri were rounded up and killed at Jacob Haun's mill in Missouri. It touched off a chain of events that eventually led to the expulsion of Mormons from Missouri." Nick did not glance at the website still up on the monitor.

"So that makes it okay to turn around and slaughter a bunch of settlers?" Sam's jaw was tight, his brown eyes hot on Nick's face. He didn't care about Haun's Mill, hadn't felt massacred Mormons, just murdering ones. He recognized the unfairness of it, but was unable to curb his anger.

Nick physically flinched from Sam's anger, drawing one leg up underneath her, her face turning to Dean. "I wasn't trying to excuse it, I was just trying to – " She broke off, met Sam's gaze again. "I'm sorry, about whatever happened down there. That place is – not a fun place to be."

"Doesn't matter why it happened." Dean had finally circled in to land, finding an edge of Nick's bed not covered by clothes, falling back on the bed amongst t-shirts and bras. "All kinds of shit in the history of whatever church you're looking at." He found an invention of lace, elastic and satin, and rubberbanded it across the room at Sam, a half-hearted attempt at humor. "We just gotta figure out how to stop it."

Nick sighed, turned back to the monitor, Google's bright colors filling the screen. "Still haven't found a real, solid connection with all the Mormon stuff. This last incident sure screams some sort of connection."

Sam abruptly stood, reaching his full height suddenly and quickly, and Nick gaped up at him. "Sorry," the apology swift and instinctual after a lifetime of looming over people. He gave Nick a smile, the full force of his emphatic brown eyes, and what he received in return dissolved most of the unearned antipathy he had felt toward her. She was so open, every emotion written across her face for all to see, totally opposite what he had lived with most of his life. Jess had been that way, eager to share happiness and tragedy, oblivious of any other way to be, and Sam had begun to unbend a bit himself before …

His mind shied like a horse hearing a rattlesnake, Sam's habit of pushing aside emotion in the Winchester way returning fivefold. After Jericho, it had seemed perverse, to go back to hidden emotions and calculation, but a lifetime of doing so had not been erased by four years of Jess. And it seemed equally perverse that Dean, the master of secrets and veiled looks, would be worshipped by a little slip of a thing so open sunlight practically shined through her.

But Nick was smiling at him like sun from behind a cloud, and Sam let himself respond, feeling somehow lighter. "I'm gonna get my laptop. I could help with the research."

She nodded, turning back to the monitor. "That'd be great. I have a bitch of a paper to finish tonight."

Nick's house was dark and thick with shadow. Sam roamed its halls with his own sort of haunting, letting one hand trail along walnut paneling. They'd been there nearly a week, never seeing anyone other than Nick, leaving in the morning with her dwarfed by the house, coming back to find her rattling around like a penny in a crystal vase. If there hadn't so much other effluvia swirling around him and Dean Sam would have asked. Plenty of family in pictures in her room, nothing in the empty house she lived in.

He found the bedroom he and Dean shared, something bigger and more comfortable than he had seen since visiting Jess' grandparents in Long Island. The beds were carefully made, their bathroom items neatly arranged, his laptop waiting for him on the desk in the corner. Sam had pushed aside the troubling thought of maid, preferred to think Nick did all the clean up, and lived in this state of denial happily.

He crossed the room, in the dark, one hand out, reaching – so close, he nearly made it, possessing more important than breathing at that moment. It was easier to just let his knees buckle, a kind of guided fall to the floor, the heft of a gun handle in his hand again, the thought of please, God, let someone stop me echoing in his brain.

"Sam."

He knew it was Nick before she called his name, knew it by the way her hand on the doorknob snapped out a spark of electricity. There were faint pulses of light in the corners of his eyes, random and irritating, like a staticky blanket being unfolded in the dark. The brief moment of connection in the bedroom, seeing past stranger and into friend, was instantly erased by the repelling feeling of two magnets, wrongly aligned, pushing away from each other.

He was still sitting on the floor, trying to push steel into his joints so he could stand again. He rested his wrists on his bent knees, peering up at Nick silhouetted in the open doorway. "What did you find?"

"His name."

Gilgal, again. The same face peering at him from a niche among tumbled boulders. The same eagles, too close to the Nazi eagle for comfort, looming over him. And the sphinx, gaze unreadable, staring into the middle distance.

They had clambered over the fence, Dean agile and clumsy at once, somehow graceful in the fact that he didn't break a wrist. Sam on auto-pilot, remembering the cold chain link in his hands, not remembering how he came to be standing in a muddy flower bed next to Dean, the night mild and cool and silent around them.

Nick had not joined them, the look on Sam's face as she stepped toward the car stopping her like a brick wall. Sam wasn't sure he could have handled Nick's static along with the chill in Gilgal, and still smelling gun smoke like he had bathed in it. And the thought of Nick touching something, her electricity being drawn into the sphinx, set him on edge. Nick in Gilgal was wrong, like mixing honey and blood.

He had to stop for a moment, and because it was just the two of them, he put his hands on his knees and took long gulps of air, the taste of spring in his mouth and running into his lungs. He straightened, meet Dean's gaze, and gave a half shrug. "Something about this place."

Dean nodded curtly, Sam skirting too near unknown places, legends of here be monsters flashing a warning. "Let's check out the sphinx." He turned and began to walk toward the sphinx, a mere dozen steps away, and Sam following, suddenly felt as if an icicle had impaled his heart.

"Wait." The word no sooner out of his mouth when a figure stepped out from behind the sphinx.

"… the hell?" Dean stopped, hands hovering at his side as he took stock, determining friend or foe or shoot the hell out of it.

"Brother?" The figure was a man, dressed in a white shirt and dark tie, the shirt stained with something unknowable in the dark. His face was pale and featureless with night and distance, the sphinx still five or six steps away.

Sam was frozen, Dean between him and the man with the sphinx, the icicle in his heart making it impossible to take a deep breath, to take a step closer to Dean. Dean's shoulder was partially blocking his vision, and all he could see was the man's head and shoulders, but he was wrong somehow, out of sync with the grass under his feet and the stone carving next him. The night sky seemed to bleed into him, or he into the sky, a toddler not able to keep one color in the lines.

"Don't think so," Dean was saying, Sam's wait still fresh in the night air. He kept his hands loose and close, watching the man in front of him. "I'm not your brother."

There was no response from the figure. He reached out a hand, caressed the stone chest next to him, his face unmoving, watching Sam and Dean. He began to whisper, the sound carrying easily in the thin air, the whispering a song that neither of them knew. "We thank thee, oh God, for a prophet…" A slight hitch, like breathing done wrong, using something other than lungs. "To guide us in these latter days."

"Dean." Sam whispered the name, and Dean turned his head, looking over his shoulder at his brother. Sam's eyes were darting from sphinx to the man to Dean, trying to watch everything at once. "I think that's him."

The song the man was whispering abruptly cut off, and the man had taken a step toward them. "Brother?" he asked again, head cocked, his arms dangling at his side.

"Like I said, I'm not your brother." Dean's voice louder, but he had heard Sam, and was slowly backing away. Neither had a weapon beyond the hunting knife at Dean's belt, thinking only of reconnaissance, salt and guns tucked safely away.

"Not my brother." The man's voice louder, mimicking Dean's tone and he took another step, only three of four between him and Dean now.

And the icicle still in Sam's chest, beating in time with his heart, Sam barely able to think around it. The night was still mild, still bursting with spring, but underlying it like a worm in the heart of a rose, a taint, a sense of foulness. Sam could taste it on the back of his tongue.

Dean again eased back slightly, his shoulder bumping into Sam's chest. "That's him?"

"Not. My. Brother."

And the man was standing right next to them, a nearby streetlight picking up the shine of his eyes, the spit on his lips. Dean was on Sam's far side, Sam's shoulder between him and the man, and the coldness radiating off of the thing was arctic intense. His head was slightly cocked, looking at Sam, his face still vague and unreadable, the stains on his shirt showing rust at the edges.

"Someone stop me," he said, as if starting a conversation, and the icicle had melted and spread through Sam's bloodstream, frost limning his heart. The thing raised an arm, reaching out in a gesture of let's shake hands, open palm ready to grasp.

"ZELPH!" Dean's voice, harsh and loud in the still air, and Sam flinched from the force of it.

The thing reacted instantly, turning to Dean and stepping back, away, his face surprised and hurt. His hand was still open, still wanting to touch Sam, but Dean's knife was out, threatening and pathetic at the same time. "You," said the thing, said Zelph. A breath, the thing's chest moving wrongly. "You should have died."

Sam didn't know if the thing was talking about Dean's heart and the reaper or whatever spirit Dean had tapped into at Mountain Meadows. Dean's face was stone, his shoulder overlapping Sam's, his hand gripping the knife confidently. "Zelph," he said again, soft and ruthless. "Zelph, the White Lamanite."

Zelph snarled soundlessly, his lips twisting in a smooth, unremarkable face.

There was a soft grunt from Dean, and the irritating rub of his shoulder on Sam's chest was suddenly gone. Sam turned his head to see Dean thump solidly against the sphinx, the knife at Sam's feet, Dean's face caught with left over pain.

Still cold, still frozen, but Sam turned back to Zelph, painful gravel in his neck. "Zelph the White Lamanite," he said, thinking of magnets pushing away, the bite of electricity.

Zelph turned, strode away across the pale grass of the garden, vaulting the chain link fence easily. The hum of traffic and darkness soon swallowed him. The chill in the air seemed to dissipate a bit, Sam's sluggish thoughts picking up heat, able to move again.

He went to Dean, knees popping, wrists stiff and arthritic. Dean had pushed away from the sphinx, digging fingers into the sore spot on his back, watching the darkness where Zelph had disappeared. "You okay?" Sam asked, moving blue lips.

Dean nodded. "He doesn't like the sound of his own name." He moved past Sam, scooping up the hunting knife discarded in the grass. He wiped it on the back of his leg, held it up to inspect the blade. "Wish we knew more about him."

"How do you unsay a word, Dean?" Sam was next to the sphinx, caught again by it's almost movement, the secrets in its gaze. "They found him buried, dug him up, and Joseph Smith said the Lost Word. Claimed they had found Zelph, the White Lamanite, a great warrior on the side of God.

Dean sheathed the knife, the movement pulling at his banged up shoulder. He grimaced, reaching for the spot. "Should have brought the Glock." He searched again the shadows where Zelph had gone. "Wonder if we could shoot it?"

"It's a zombie, or a revenant. Something like that. I'm still wondering about the Masonic word though, if it gives it something other than just zombie skills." He held his hand out and over, much like Nick had done, inches away from the stone paw.

"Zombie skills?" Dean slightly amused, quirking an eyebrow at him.

And Sam's mouth curved slightly, heat bringing humor. He dropped his hand, and walked toward Dean. "Can we go?"

They stopped at the Impala, Sam taking the shot gun and Dean the Glock, grabbing the smaller Beretta and pushing it into the waistband at the small of his back. Gilgal straddled both residential and urban zones, so Dean searched through alley ways and bar parking lots while Sam clambered over fences and avoided dogs in backyards. They searched for nearly two hours, and the dark was lightening into sepia tones when Sam's phone vibrated in his pocket.

"Yeah."

"I'm done with this shit. Some drunk tried to pee on me."

Sam found the strength to smile. "Meet you back at the car."

They sat for a small moment as the Impala idled, staring through the windshield into Gilgal gardens. Zelph had disappeared. Sam looked away, up at the granite mountains that ringed the valley. Cold and electricity had drained away under the constant throb of exhaustion, and he knuckled his eyes like a child.

"We still gotta figure out Mountain Meadows," mumbled Dean as they pulled away.

Sam ran his fingers through his hair, yawned, and checked his watch. "It'll be dawn in a few hours. Let's get back to Nick's, catch some sleep."

And Nick like a kitten in the rain, wan face and blue eyes warily watching Sam. She was sitting in the breakfast nook as they entered, a pot of freshly brewed coffee before her. She held her mug before her face, coffee smell and steam a poor substitute for hiding. "Any luck?"

Sam shook his head, not trusting his voice, the smell of a blanket hot from the dryer making the hair on his arms stand up. Snaps and crackles sub-audible, someone dragging their feet through shag carpet.

"Saw Zelph." Dean's voice husky, the day and night spent in near total terror smudging his eyes.

Nick's mug hit the table, coffee slurping over the sides. "So you know its Zelph?"

Dean nodded. "It reacted to the name." He winced, stretching his shoulder out, and plopped down in the chair next to Nick. "Coffee." The word whispered reverently.

Nick's face went from drawn to concerned, brows furrowed over blue eyes. She was silent, pouring coffee, her eyes going from Dean to Sam to the mug.

Sam was still standing, the itch of static keeping him on his feet. "I'm sleeping," he said, unable to meet Nick's gaze. He looked at Dean, slumped over his mug, steam wreathing his face, and Nick watching him, concern softening the blue of her gaze into something warm and unnamable.

Nick and Jess were not alike at all, because Jess had a core of strength and determination that he didn't see in Nick, and the only way they were alike was in the light touching them, shining through them. Light that existed as if darkness did not; innocent and almost naïve and Sam wanted Jess so much his chest felt hollow. He turned, making for the bedroom, holding hurt to him like a blanket, snaps of electricity sharp on his cheek.

ooooOOoooo

Coffee smell. Nick's eyes on his face. Sam safe in bed.

Comforting, all of it, and another thought of the Impala in the garage capped it, almost stopped the thread of missing mommy that still ran through his brain. He bent over the mug of hot goodness on the table, nearly too tired to lift it.

"You okay?" Nick's voice soft and warm.

He nodded, closed his eyes. "Yeah. Just tired."

"Dean. I know about the reaper."

His reaction was slow, and subdued, opening his eyes and straightening a bit in his chair. He stared at Nick, remembered this about her, how she would know about things, call him or Dad up out of the blue and point them in the right direction. Dad's eyes always shadowed and suspicious after, wary of things unnamed and unknown. Dean caught between Nick, the person she was and the skill she used, and unwilling to throw one over for the other.

Which had been good practice for Sam suddenly dreaming of their old house in Lawrence.

He sighed, stretched out a leg under the table. "So if you know about it, why do you want to talk about it?"

"I don't want to talk about it." Her voice was low, tears threatening, and Dean looked at her. "It was terrifying, is all. I knew you would be okay, but all I saw was the reaper, looking down at you. Not fun." She tried a shaky smile, blinking.

And Dean gazed at her, tracking the line of her cheek, the softness in her jaw, blue eyes too bright. He leaned forward, rested his forehead on the smooth skin of her upper arm, closing his eyes again. He felt her head turn, felt the soft kiss on his hair.

Nick had been a spot of warmth and humor and sanity in that first year after Sam had left, when Dean was holding on by his fingertips, both to himself and to his father. It had been hunt after hunt after hunt, salting and burning, shooting silver bullets, and every t-shirt he had was ruined by either blood or assault. John moved like he had every evil thing in the world behind him, and Dean could only follow, mute and hollow.

He moved closer to her, sitting on the edge of his chair, both arms going around her waist as she shifted, putting her arm around him. His head rested briefly on her chest, listening to her heart, soft and rapid under his cheek. He moved again, gently, leaving his chair and kneeling before her, and they were eye level, green to blue, and he was kneeling in the open vee of her legs.

But that was always how Nick had been, from the moment he had seen her, open and trusting that the world would give her nothing but light and joy. Dean, weighed down by dark, bone-weary from the constant battle of holding together the ragged edges of both his and his father's soul, wounded from Sam's sudden betrayal; all he could do was look her and see color and light.

Dean was kissing her, tiredness turning into tenderness, his hands curling into the chopped edges of hair at the back of her neck. Nick's fingers on his face, her palm on his chest, kissing back. He stood, drawing her up with him, and she wrapped her legs around his waist, his hands steadying her at the small of her back, and he broke off kissing to look at her.

"Your bedroom?" His voice low, calming, speaking to a wild thing.

She nodded seriously, her mouth and cheeks red from the roughness of the stubble on his chin. He kissed her again, smiling, and carried her down the hall to her room.

She hid her face in the crook of his neck, and he felt her smiling, breath on his skin as she laughed soundlessly.

"What?"

Her head moving, hair tickling his ear. "Nothing." Her voice small and husky.

He laid her down on the unmade bed, swept aside piles of laundry, and when he turned back, her face was lit up with that open look he had come to realize was his alone. He was the only one who could make her glow like that, make her mouth curve and tremble at once, make the grey in her blue eyes stormy and wild.

It ignited something in him, and he stretched next to her, one leg between hers, and he cupped her pointed chin with one hand and kissed her, nibbling at her lips and teasing her tongue with his own. T-shirts and jeans came off at the same time, soundless laughter again as they bumped each other with elbows and knees. Soundless sighs as he kissed her again, his hand cupping one small breast.

And suddenly he arched away from her, the small itch at the small of his back suddenly pain. "Shit!"

Nick blinked up at him, her mouth open in surprise.

Dean fell on the bed next to her, the pain on his back disappearing, but before he could breathe, there was a sharp sting on his chest. He looked down; saw the small flame dancing merrily across the smooth skin stretched over his ribs. Its blue heart was fluttering like a bird's, the tip of it shredding into nothingness.

Next to him, Nick gave a soft cry of surprise, and turned on her side to get a better look.

"Little help here?" Dean's voice came from between clenched teeth.

"Wait." Nick's eyes held something fey and wild, and she lowered her mouth to Dean's chest, kissing the scorched skin the flame left as it counted Dean's ribs. The contrast of sharp sting and soft wet was almost unbearable, Dean's head pushing back into the pillow, one hand clenching the sheet with white knuckles.

"…. god, Nick…."

The flame drifted lower, Nick following, and Dean was soundless beneath them, stretched taut and quivering. Pain won out finally, Nick's protectiveness of where the flame was heading, and a small dose of holy water allowed Dean to breathe.

Dean caught his breath, swallowed, and pulled Nick down to him, his kisses rough, hands demanding. He pushed her back, straddling her, and kissed a line of rhetorical questions between her cupcake breasts and down the soft round of her belly, rhetorical in that he knew the answer already, the affirmative answer that had been in her eyes since he had looked at her over his father's shoulder three years ago. But he liked the way she said yes to him, with her eyes and her mouth and her body, open and willing and yes yes yes, approval unique to Dean.

Her light was soft and organic, like a firefly on a humid summer night. Dean cupped the light in the palm of his hand, breathed on it gently, and was able to turn his back to the darkness.