Author's Note: HUGE thanks to all my helpers: my muses, Amy, Carikube and Wolfpup, my beta Carikube, and thanks to every one of you who read this story. I am so proud that everyone liked it. This story started off simple but ballooned into a massive project and in the process, I learned a lot. Till next time, Emily


"You sure you're up for this?"

Sam glanced at the steering wheel in a gesture of acknowledgment. "I told you, I'm fine."

Dean's hands tightened briefly. "Your burns still look disgusting. You still putting that stuff on?"

Sam rolled his eyes and continued staring out the window. "Weren't you complaining about the smell of it last night?"

"Hey, you're my little brother. You make all kinds of funky-ass smells."

Outside, a pair of little girls on matching purple bikes rode down the sidewalk, flowery helmets strapped to their heads. Water sprinklers flung crystalline sprays over yards of green grass. Golden retrievers plodded happily down the sidewalk, leading their owners on long, leisurely walks. This was the picture perfect neighborhood, something that should be in a magazine or some lame TV sitcom.

Who would've guessed that an evil spirit was haunting 1204 Hummingbird Lane?

"What about your thumb?" Dean questioned. "Can you hold a weapon?"

Finally, Sam turned away from the window. "Dean, I'm fine. Seriously. I'm not going to break. It's been two weeks." They held each other's gaze for a few seconds, then Dean turned back to the road.

"Okay, fine. I just don't want to be killed because your thumb slips back out of joint." He glanced back to Sam. "I would so haunt your ass."

The words bordered on selfishness, but Sam knew when Dean was only masking his insecurities. "I'm fine," he sighed. "Let's just do this."

A comfortable silence fell over them as the scenery slipped by. Sam went back to staring out the window. Stan assaulted his memory only occasionally now: flashes of rainbow and white gloves and bright yellow hair, or phantom pain in his bicep, chest or thumb. The bruises were almost gone, the chemical burns on his arm scabbed and healing. The physical evidence of his time with Stan was almost gone.

But the mental aftermath haunted him still.

A 2:30 am Google search last week returned a news story and obituary on Stanley Finch, a 42 year-old man who'd been an employee of Barney's Traveling Circus for the past 10 years. Other members of the circus described him as 'strange', 'withdrawn', and 'contemplative'. None of the accounts held much sympathy.

Further reading told of Stan's horrible childhood. Struck by a car at age 14, Stan spent the following year in a coma only to awake and return home to a depressed, alcoholic mother and a sexually abusive stepfather. Stan left home and virtually disappeared until five years later, when he debuted as a clown in a small, freak show of a circus in Georgia. Pictures and small editorial blurbs portrayed the same evil-tinted image Sam had burned in his memory, but knowing the backstory doused his anger and twisted it into sympathy. The upheaval of emotions had left Sam sick and bracing himself over the bathroom sink.

It wasn't about clowns anymore. Clowns were scary because of the paint, the mask, the entire disregard for personal space that was considered standard- wasexpected- by every man, woman and child. No clown had every done anything bad to Sam. You didn't have to be bitten by a snake to fear them.

But Stan had been a real person, with real problems, and that realization brought with it a whole new set of complications. Sam was an adult, he realized that it was only a coincidence that Stan portrayed a clown. But that realization did nothing for his outlook on human beings.

"I told you, Sam," Dean said as if reading his thoughts, "people are crazy. Sometimes, you just can't figure them out."

The Impala rumbled to a gentle curbside stop. House number 1204 stood to the right.

Sam tensed, the words strong and so un-Dean-like that he had to replay them. "You want to have a heart to heart now?"

"I need to know you're with me. I know you, you like to brood and when you brood, you're distracted." Dean turned off the car and rubbed his neck. "Stan was a crazy son of a bitch. What happened to him is sad, yeah- but I'm not sorry he's dead. Who knows how many people he killed, or how many more he would have."

Sam nodded, tracing the Impala's stitching with his thumbnail. Dean was right- regardless of whose fault it was, Stan was undeniably psycho. Maybe even evil. And isn't that what they did, hunt down and eradicate evil beings? Was there a difference between the evil in a human and the evil in a spirit?

Sam didn't know if anyone was qualified to answer that.

At that moment, the signature song of ice cream trucks nationwide floated through the air. A large white van rolled slowly down the street beside them, its side decorated with the image of two small children accepting towering ice cream cones from a laughing clown.

Sam stared. He felt Dean's eyes on him, waiting, judging.

The truck continued to the end of the street and turned the corner, disappearing. The music faded.

Sam met Dean's gaze levelly, coolly, giving no tell of the hot blood surging through his chest or the discomfort in his belly.

One elbow propped on the doorframe, Dean asked, "You good?"

His heart knew what to believe, even if his brain wasn't sure yet. That would come later, with time and experience. For now, Sam could only believe in himself and his brother, and that they had only done what had to be done.

"Yeah," he said at last, wincing as the sun glared off the Impala's hood. "I'm good."