Wolf and Man

Disclaimer: We don't claim them, and are eternally grateful to the Kripke for creating them.

Spoilers: This is set during Season 2, directly after Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things. Anything before that is fair game.

a/n: This story is co-written by Freyja529 and Gaelicspirit. We hope you enjoy. Many thanks to Kelly for the beta. Story title and chapter excerpts are from the Metallica song "Of Wolf and Man."

Bright is the moon high in starlight,

chill is the air cold as steel tonight.

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It's later than you realized

"Whoah...we're halfway thay-er! Whoa-oh...livin' on a pray-er!" The driver of the lone vehicle traversing the dark stretch of back road thumped her hand on the steering wheel. Caffeine coursed through her veins, fueling her solitary road trip. Her eyes flicked to the side of the road as she sang, taking in the green sign that read Asheville, 15 miles.

"Take my hand and we'll make it I sway-er..." The girl grew silent as the car suddenly shuddered and stalled. She swore as her view shifted to the gas gauge. The red E seemed to mock her. "Goddammit...you have got to be kidding me," she muttered, cursing herself for allowing this to happen.

She tried in vain to will the car back to life, turning the key in the ignition and pressing her foot repeatedly on the gas pedal in an ineffectual gesture of frustration. Slamming her hands on the dashboard she felt a brief moment of panic, then relief washed over her as she reached into the purse on her passenger seat. Just call for help, dumbass. Isn't that why you got Triple A? She held her cellular lifeline in front of her in disbelief. No service? Great...just great. What the hell do I do now?

She couldn't just sit there, that much she knew. She hadn't seen another car for at least a half hour and she knew the likelihood of someone coming along this time of night was slim to none. Besides, she wasn't one for sitting still even in the best of circumstances. She exited the car and slammed the door behind her.

Surveying her surroundings, the girl took in the dense forest on either side of the road. She paced around her vehicle, silently calculating how long it would take to walk the fifteen miles to Asheville. She glanced down at the wedge sandals on her feet and rubbed her hands along the gooseflesh rising on her arms. Shivering, she peered into the darkness.

Was that a light? She squinted and peered into the gloom. A light glimmered from somewhere within the dense forest. The girl's sense of hopelessness began to lift at the thought of help nearby.

Seeing no side roads leading toward the light, the girl scanned the trees and discovered an opening she hadn't first noticed. A narrow path parted the brush and she hesitated only briefly before stepping onto it and entering the forest, hope sanding the rough edges of apprehension.

The girl wrapped her arms tightly around her chest, warming herself against the chill night air. Smoky purple clouds slithered across the face of a full moon overhead. The wind whispered dark secrets through the barren tree branches that stretched out on either side of the path, and the girl quickened her pace. She thought briefly of turning back but the light beckoned her onward.

The sound of her own footsteps sounded in her ears. In the distance an owl hooted a mournful call. From somewhere deep in her memory, the girl found the words from a children's song running through her mind. If you go out in the woods today you'd better not go alone. It's lovely out in the woods today but safer to stay at home...

She shuddered and glanced behind her, her heartbeat accelerating, her breath coming faster. The light seemed to be getting closer now and she forced herself to keep moving forward, despite the gnawing sense of foreboding that raised the tiny hairs on the back of her neck.

Suddenly something rustled the bushes to her left and she felt hot fear prickle the skin on her forehead. Her pulse sounded like a drumbeat in her ears and she began to wonder if leaving the road had been such a good idea. Her hand snaked into the pocket of her jeans and gripped her car keys like a weapon.

Something darted across the dirt path before her and she stifled a scream, chastising herself as a rabbit turned to regard her with frightened eyes. She relaxed her grip on the keys and drew a deep breath, chuckling at her own paranoia. Easy, girl. Just a bunny. Your imagination's getting the best of you.

The rabbit darted into the brush and the girl continued toward the light, shaking her head at what too many nights spent watching horror movies had done to her. A few more steps down the path she stilled as an eerie sound shattered the silence. It sounded like a child's cry, a baby screaming. Her breath came in shallow bursts and she felt her stomach cramp at the thought of someone--or something--behind her in the woods. Something bigger and stronger... something that could bite and claw... Being raised in the country allowed the girl to recognize it as the cry of a rabbit caught by a predator, but for a moment, she couldn't think beyond the skin-crawling sound.

The screaming finally stopped, leaving a deafening silence in its wake. Rabbit probably just got caught by a fox or a coyote, she told herself, though the cold stab of fear she felt in her gut contradicted her.

A twig snapped several feet behind her as a large cloud shifted to block the moon's glow. In a primeval corner of the girl's brain a realization began to dawn. She fought to squelch the panic rising in her throat like bile. Darkness seemed to wrap itself around her in a suffocating blanket of terror and she abandoned all rational thought and began to run.

She could now see that the light she'd sought was in fact coming from a dilapidated farmhouse settled in a clearing up ahead. The muscles in her legs burned with exertion. Stumbling on a root, she faltered momentarily, listening to the approaching footsteps behind her, smelling something rank and cloying, hearing muffled grunts and what sounded like... panting. She couldn't stop herself from glancing back.

The strangled sound that escaped from her throat might have been a scream. It might have risen on the night air and betrayed the horror that lurked in the quiet forest. It might have reached the house up ahead and alerted anyone inside that something was terribly wrong. It might have been a cry for help if her throat had not been torn out before it had a chance to escape.

The last thing she was aware of was a pair of sickly yellow eyes, a flash of teeth and claws, and the sound of ripping flesh as her life drained from her in a crimson flow.

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The Impala hummed down the blacktop, the white dashes that divided the road disappearing as the tires ate up mile after mile. Dean tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as strains of Black Sabbath's Paranoid filled the heavy silence within.

Sam looked toward the radio, listening.

"I need someone to show me the things in life that I can't find; I can't see the things that make true happiness, I must be blind..."

He shook his head at the subtle irony. After spending the past week without a game plan, they were simply putting distance between themselves and Kansas, between the weighted quiet of the past few days and the conversation by the side of the road that had opened a Pandora's Box of emotion.

Sam regarded his brother from the corner of his eye, taking in the lines of worry that creased Dean's brow, the shadows that gathered beneath his eyes, the rigid set of his jaw. He'd meant what he said in Lawrence. Lately Dean had been downright reckless, self-destructive even, and it scared the hell out of him to see his brother on a downward spiral he had no idea how to stop.

Sam still felt the pain of losing their father. He woke every day to the realization that he was now an orphan. He knew that the often turbulent relationship he'd had with his dad would forever haunt him, that he would spend the rest of his life wishing for one more moment, one more day, one more chance.

But Dean... Dean carried a weight greater than loss, greater than regret. Sam had watched it build with each passing day, pressing down on him. The only thing Sam had seen relieve the weight had been the Impala - repairing it, driving it. Even hunting wasn't enough to work out the slow burn of rage Sam could feel rolling off of his brother. Dad's dead because of me... Sam knew that what Dean suspected was, in fact, probably not far from the truth. And that terrible knowledge was slowly consuming Dean from the inside out.

So tell me...what could you possibly say to make that alright? The question had pierced Sam like a dagger. What response could he have given that would have granted Dean some measure of comfort, would have made it alright? It ate at Sam - knowing that he had been helpless when faced with his brother's raw emotion. Dean normally betrayed nothing of what was actually going on inside; his honesty left Sam feeling hollow, helpless.

Careful what you wish for, Sam thought. He'd given Dean one week... one week after they burned their father on a pyre of memories before he started pushing Dean to open up, to admit to his pain, to talk with Sam about how Dad's death made him feel. He pushed each day, slowly driving Dean to a breaking point, hoping that, like him, Dean would heal through words. And then, when Dean had finally responded, Sam had been speechless.

Turning toward the window, Sam absently picked at the edge of his newly acquired cast. He chided himself for allowing the silence of the past few days to continue. There had been so many times he had wanted to tell Dean that he understood, that it hadn't been Dean's choice, that it wasn't his fault. But words seemed futile now.

Instead he let the music soothe his brother. He knew that the guitar riffs and drum beats were like a balm on Dean's wounded spirit. Dean could lose himself in the noise and lyrics and find solace in the familiar rhythms. Sometimes the only thing that seemed to make sense to his brother anymore was music - it kept the demons away.

Communication between them had become compulsory. Gotta' fill up. You want anything? Pull over up here...gotta' take a leak. Staccato beats of sound forced into existence out of necessity.

Dean's voice broke Sam's reverie. "Dude, I need some coffee. You feel like stoppin'?"

"Yeah, sure."

Sam stretched his impossibly long legs and shifted his neck from side to side. Dean turned into the parking lot of a roadside diner just as the sun began to tinge the edges of the surrounding trees the deep red-gold of evening. A few moments rest might do them some good.

Dean slid into the cracked vinyl booth and tapped his hand impatiently on the table, his silver ring clinking against the Formica. Sam had gone to find a restroom and Dean found himself with the unfortunate companion of his thoughts. Sam had no way of knowing, but Dean heard too much when he was alone, heard things too loudly - things like his father's voice, his father's command, his father's pride. Things that were too heavy to carry by himself, but that he couldn't afford to share with Sam.

He craned his neck and tried to catch the eye of a waitress with bottled-blonde hair who was leaning against the counter next to a couple of gray-haired men in coveralls. Coffee... C'mon, sweetheart, that's all I need... black, hot, and plenty of it... He stopped short of waving a hand when he saw the expression on the waitress's face. Morbid fascination mixed there with just enough pleasure that Dean was intrigued. Leaning back casually in his seat, he cocked an ear towards the conversation taking place a few feet away.

Blondie was shaking her head, her fuchsia lips pursed together in an expression of distaste. She leaned forward, her breasts looking as if they were ready to make an escape from the tight red shirt with the diner's logo stitched provocatively across her chest, and spoke in a stage whisper, her expression horrified, her tone delighted at sharing such a gruesome bit of gossip.

"D'ya hear they found another one? Same deal...girl was torn up somethin' awful. Looked like a pack of wild dogs got her."

One man shook his head slowly and clucked in mock sympathy, licking his lips, eager for the gory details. "You don't say? Where'd they find this one?"

"Sheriff Rawlings was in earlier and he said it was only 'bout a quarter mile from the last one." She paused for dramatic effect, put a hand tipped with hot pink talons to her breast and looked from side to side before continuing.

Dean pretended to check the clock on the wall behind her as she spoke, a smug expression on her face. "He also said her heart was missin'. Just like the last girl. Do ya'll realize that's six dead in three months? I tell ya', I watch enough CSI to know that we are dealing with a serial killer. Right here in Asheville."

Dean looked down, thinking. Serial werewolf is more like it... He'd been on a few werewolf hunts with his dad when he was a kid, and then again when Sam first left for Stanford. Mutilated body, missing heart, same area... the pattern fit. Still listening, Dean glanced out of the window to the left of the booth where he sat waiting for Sam. If he thought about it for too long, the speed with which his brain could solve the formula of death to a supernatural end might scare him.

"Aw, hell, Myrna," the second man said skeptically, "It's prob'ly a cougar. You hear 'bout them attackin' joggers and such. Somebody just needs to take a rifle up there and shoot the damn cat."

The first man was quiet. After a moment he asked, "They found both those girls this month up by Will Randall's place, didn't they?"

Myrna shrugged. "Yeah, guess so. Why?"

"Dunno. There's just somethin'... somethin's not been right about him since his son took off. You ask me, that guy's got a screw loose."

"Can't blame a man for takin' it hard when his only son up and disappears without so much as a howdy-do."

"'Spose you're right, Myrna." The man glanced at the clock and nudged his companion. "Earl, we best be gettin' back."

The waitress said her goodbyes to the two older patrons and began wiping down the counter without glancing in Dean's direction. Dean spotted Sam striding towards the table, a newspaper rolled up in his hand and a grim expression on his face.

Dean raised an eyebrow at the newspaper. "Dude, you weren't in there that long."

Sam screwed his face up and dismissed his brother's comment as he folded his lanky frame into the booth. "Very funny. Listen to this..." Unfurling the paper he read a headline aloud. "Second Victim Found Dead in Woods; Police Suspect Wild Animal Attack."

He looked up expectantly. "This article goes on to say that the victim, a young woman, was found mauled to death. With her heart missing," he added pointedly.

Dean lifted his shoulders and held his palms up. "And?"

He forced himself not to grin at Sam's earnest expression. Sam shook his head and leaned forward, his voice lowered.

"Dean, this is our kind of weird, man. Animal attacks where the victims' hearts are removed? Come on, Dean! Do you seriously not see this?"

Dean pouted his lower lip and tried to look genuinely confused. "See what, Sam? That this town has an animal control problem?" He could feel the frustration emanating from his brother.

It's just...stumbling onto a hunt...here...of all places... Look, maybe you're imagining a hunt where there isn't one so you don't have to think about Mom or Dad... Just working my imaginary case...

Sam might be frustrated now, but as far as Dean was concerned, his little brother had some catching up to do in that department. He was not about to make this a slam-dunk sale on a hunt, regardless of how real it felt.

"Dean, I think we need to stick around and check this out. I'm telling you...this is more than a wild animal attack."

Sam slapped his hand on the table for emphasis just as the waitress stepped up to take their order. He ran a hand through his hair and exhaled, giving her a halfhearted smile. "Two coffees, please."

"Anything else?" she asked, shifting her gaze to Dean.

Dean gave her a wink and said, "I guess I'd better try some of that homemade pie..." He glanced down at the name tag fixed to the left side of her red, low-cut shirt and back up to meet her eyes. "...Myrna."

Blushing, she gave him a smile in return and tucked a wayward platinum strand of hair behind her ear. "Sure thing, Sugar. Be right back with that."

Dean flattened his lips as Myrna sashayed away. Sam was staring holes into him, willing Dean to see what he saw. He thought he could wait his brother out, string along the torture a bit longer, but the weeks without a hunt had worn him down. The second Mynra was out of ear-shot, Dean's face broke into a wide grin.

"Had you goin' there, huh, Sammy?"

Sam's brow knitted together. "Had me going where?"

"Myrna there," Dean tipped his head toward the counter, not taking his eyes from Sam, "just talked with Sheriff Rawlings. Guess your newspaper victim," Dean tapped his index finger on the print, "is number six. In the last three months."

As he talked he saw understanding dawn in Sam's eyes.

"Wait, so you knew? I'm goin' on about these attacks... and you already knew?"

"Yup."

"Jerk."

"Bitch."

Neither brother stopped to acknowledge how good it felt to banter, to have a conversation that wasn't heavy with sorrow or underlying pain. For a moment, they were simply brothers, getting ready to do what they knew, what they'd been taught, what was in their blood: hunting evil.

Sam narrowed his eyes at Dean, tipping his chin as he checked in. "So you're up for this?"

Dean looked offended. "Hell, yeah, I'm up for this. Something's out there killing people. And it's pretty obvious that it's no cougar... if we don't stop it, who will?"

"So, it's on?"

Dean's lips curled in to a semi-maniacal smile. "It's on, man."

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"Dude, one of these days we're gonna find us a place where the sheets don't smell like cigarettes."

Sam lifted an eyebrow at Dean's grumble, watching as his brother pulled his face into a frown and dropped the second duffel onto the bed, releasing a waft of rather unpleasant scents. Motels were simply a stopping place on their journey for Sam; he never put much thought into it. In the back of his mind, he'd kept hold of the belief that motels were always temporary. He wouldn't be living his life in motels; he was going to have a real house one day. A place to call home, a place to go to when the work day was done.

Or so he'd once thought.

Until the Demon had taken Jessica from him, possessed his father, destroyed walls twenty-three years in the making around his brother's fragile heart, and turned his own life inside out. He pulled out his laptop, setting it on the small table in the corner of the motel room. Shifting his jacket off over the cast on his right hand, he sat down, preparing to look into the possibilities... wendigo, wampus cat, black dog... maybe even werewolf.

He shot a curious glance in Dean's direction, noting that his brother didn't immediately assume the position: back against headboard, remote in hand, shoes toed off and sitting next to the bed for easy access.

"Dude... what the hell are you doing?" Sam asked.

Dean hadn't removed his jacket and was busy filling a clip of his .45 with what appeared to be silver bullets.

"What's it look like I'm doing?"

"Looks like you're jumping to a conclusion, that's what," Sam said, turning in his chair and resting a hand on his knee. "We haven't even figured out what we're dealing with yet."

Dean tossed a glance at him without moving his head. "Werewolf, Sammy."

"What? How do you know that?" Sam pulled his head back with the question.

Dean turned to face him, arms out, empty .45 resting loosely in his right grip. "I know because I know, Sam."

Sam lifted an eyebrow and stood, approaching the foot of the bed with caution. "I'm gonna need more than that."

Dean dropped his hands to his sides and Sam saw his jaw set, a muscle in his cheek bouncing. "You want to play it that way?"

Sam pulled his head back, confused. "What?"

"You're the one that called this hunt, Sam. You can't claim it's make-believe this time."

"What are you talking about, man?"

"I was right about the zombie. I'm right about this." Dean pointed to the ground with the barrel of the gun, emphasizing his point.

Sam swallowed. Oh. "Dean, I didn't mean-"

Dean turned from Sam and shoved the newly-filled clip into the gun with more force than was necessary. "Six mutilations in the last three months? Hearts missing? All in the same area?"

Sam got it. Dean was pissed.

"Doesn't get much more obvious than that."

"Could be a wendigo..." Sam hedged.

Dean gave him a look, filling a second clip with silver bullets. "C'mon, Sam, you're smarter than that. First of all, wrong area of the country. Second, a wendigo would take its kill back and chew on it awhile." He shivered. "Believe me."

"Black dog?" Sam offered, knowing it was weak, knowing the only reason he was offering up alternatives was because he was afraid that Dean was right: they were going to have to face a werewolf.

"Fine, okay," Sam sighed, shoving his left hand through his hair when Dean didn't even bother to comment on his last suggestion. "So, if you're right, we need to think this through a sec."

Dean picked up Sam's Glock. "Why?"

Because I think you're trying to prove something and I'm not sure I like what it is...

"Because we need to be prepared, that's why."

Dean's actions, expressions, even the way he was breathing told Sam that he was on his own mission, and Sam felt the knot of worry that had been building at the base of his neck since they left Lawrence begin to tighten once more. I was dead... and I shoulda stayed dead...

Dean picked up a spare clip, shoved it into the base of the Glock, checked the safety, and handed it to Sam. "I'm prepared."

Sam sighed, but took the gun from his brother's outstretched hand. He put the gun between his waistband and his T-shirt at the small of his back.

"Dean, listen, I think we need to-"

"Sam," Dean leveled his eyes on Sam's, tucking his .45 into his waistband and sliding the spare clip into his back pocket. "What's with you? You couldn't wait to jump on this hunt."

Sam swallowed. "I know, it's just that..." He watched Dean slide a silver flask into his other back pocket. "It's like, what? Seven, eight at night? Let's think this through, research, y'know, figure out what we're dealing with."

Dean shook his head and turned toward the door. "Last night of the lunar cycle, Sammy. It's now or never."

Sam grabbed his jacket when it didn't appear Dean was going to turn back.

"Besides," Dean continued as he jerked the door open. "We know what we're dealing with. Tap on your keyboard all you want, Geekboy. It's still gonna be a wolf."

"Wait! Where the hell-"

"Hunting grounds, Sammy," Dean called over his shoulder, stepping out into the night.

"Goddamn stubborn..." Sam muttered to himself. He grabbed John's journal and followed Dean out of the motel room. Dean had already started the car when Sam slid into the passenger seat. "S'pose you know exactly where you're going, too."

Dean lifted a shoulder. "Sure."

Sam pouted, shifting his right arm so that his cast was resting on his knee, and turned his head to face Dean's profile with a disbelieving glance. "How?"

Dean poked a finger down on the folded newspaper resting on the bench seat between them. "It's more than just bathroom entertainment, man."

Sam frowned, picking up the paper and scanning the article he'd read earlier. His eyes caught on the tidbit of information that he'd missed earlier. "Huh. Highway 193."

Dean nodded, hooking his elbow over the back of the seat and craning his head over his shoulder to watch behind him as he backed out of the parking spot. The sun had set, but the gray light of evening still held sway over the earth, and Sam watched as Dean squinted to see behind him in the gloom.

"This guy... Will Randall, he's got a farm about 15 miles outside of town," Dean said, rotating the wheel with the flat of his hand and pulling the gear down into drive.

"When did you-"

"I looked on the map when you were checking us in," Dean lifted an eyebrow and glanced over at Sam.

Sam twisted back around front, and sighed. "Fine. If you're sure..."

Dean nodded, his jaw set. "I'm sure."

Sam picked up their dad's journal, thumbing through it until he got to part of the nearly illegible scrawl where John had noted most of the information on werewolves. Dean was right, Dad writes -wrote- like friggin' Yoda...

"So, if I'm reading this right," Sam said as Dean stopped at a light on the way out of town. He flicked his eyes up briefly as Dean switched on the overhead dome light, then back down to the journal. "It looks like Dad thought there were like... three different breeds of werewolf."

The fingers of his right hand curled around the top of the journal, Sam followed the line of text with the index finger of his left hand.

"There's the kind that's actually mostly human in form, but just as blood-thirsty, then there's the kind that's like... wolf wolf... and the kind that's like a... a monster."

Sam couldn't keep the sudden nervous tremor from his voice. John's journal had rough, amateurish sketches of each breed. The monster version was the stuff of childhood nightmares. In fact... he remembered...

"Hey, Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"Did Dad ever... ever fight one of the monster ones?"

When Dean stayed silent, Sam looked over at his brother. The dome light threw odd shadows across the planes of Dean's face, casting light onto the clenched muscle in his jaw that was always a sure sigh of tension.

"Yeah," Dean finally answered. "Yeah...once or twice."

Sam looked forward, his hands still poised over the open book. "I remember this... this dream I had when I was a kid," he blinked, looking down with unseeing eyes at the only physical reminder - aside from him and Dean - that John Winchester had made a mark on the world. "There was a... creature. Huge, big as Dad... with these like... grotesque muscles over its shoulders and back... and yellow eyes." He spoke hesitantly, his eyes narrowed in concentration, working to pull the details from his foggy memory. "In my dream it attacked Dad... and, uh, you were there."

The car was quiet for a moment, then, "It wasn't a dream."

The words were spoken so softly that for a moment Sam thought he imagined them. He looked over at Dean.

"What was that?"

Dean cleared his throat and adjusted his grip on the steering wheel, his silver ring clicking on the metal. "I said it wasn't a dream," his voice was slightly raspy from memory.

Sam swallowed. He didn't know if he wanted to hear this. "What are you talking about, Dean?"

Dean licked his lips and shifted his eyes out of the side window. Sam watched him. The gray gloom was darkening to night and it seemed to wrap around the Impala, seep through the windows, and rest with cold dread on Sam's heart.

"You were about... seven? I think," Dean began, his eyes back on the road, but darting, not ready to rest on any one thing.

Sam stayed quiet, waiting for Dean to continue. He made sure to keep still, ignoring the odd twist in his back, the nagging itch under his cast, the little voice in his head that was whispering to him... too far... don't push him too far...

"Dad had been gone for a coupla days and I knew something was wrong."

"How?"

Dean tipped his head. "I don't know... I just knew. I mean, he could be gone for days at a time, but this one time... this time something was off. I almost called someone to help me go get him."

Sam looked forward, watching for the highway mileage sign the newspaper had said the last victim had stopped just beyond. "Call who?"

Dean pressed his lips together and lifted a shoulder. "Y'know, the usual. Caleb, Pastor Jim, Bobby..."

"But you didn't?"

Dean shook his head. "I knew he woulda been pissed, so..." He shifted slightly in his seat and the roll of his voice betrayed how uncomfortable he was telling Sam about this hunt. "I, uh... I took you with me to go after him-"

"Dude, you were, what? Eleven?"

"Yeah. So?"

"How did you-"

"Walked, Sam. We walked. I kept you close; we slept for a bit in a bus station... It was the last night of the lunar cycle, and I knew what he was hunting, and where. I was just afraid..."

"That it had already got him?"

"Something like that."

Sam shook his head. He wondered how often his brother had let himself be a kid when they were growing up. At eleven, Dean had been aware of lunar cycles.

"Anyway," Dean said on a tired-sounding exhale. "When I found the car, Dad wasn't there. I had to pick the lock of the trunk and get a spare gun, then I hid you in the back seat. I heard the werewolf... Dad was running toward the car, it was following him... friggin' thing was huge..."

"And it smelled," Sam said suddenly.

Dean looked over at him. "You remember that?"

"Yeah, I... I thought I was making it up, but it smelled like... I don't know... like..."

"Like rotting fruit."

"Yeah. Totally rank."

"Well, Dad saw me standing there and I swear, man... in that moment I wanted the wolf to get me. He was so pissed."

"What happened?" Sam asked when Dean paused.

Dean took a breath and rolled his bottom lip in against his teeth. "The werewolf got distracted by me, Dad turned around and shot it - emptied a clip into it before it finally fell back. Then it turned."

"Turned?"

"Back to a human. It was this young kid - some teenager." Dean shook his head. "Dad burned the body... made me watch. Told me that I needed to know that it wasn't over when the bad thing wasn't chasing you anymore. There was always one more step... You stayed in the car the whole time."

Sam rubbed his face. "I can't believe that was actually... real."

"Believe it," Dean said, then nodded off to the side of the road. "There's the sign."

Sam dropped his hand. "'K, well, she pulled over not too far from here, then."

"What else does the journal say?"

"Huh? Oh," Sam looked back down. "Well... all breeds apparently crave a steady diet of human hearts... uh... only a bite can turn you... guess the mutative gene is in the saliva... so we can get clawed to death and not wolf out," Sam drew his lips down in a mock-frown. "Good to know."

"Say anything about killing it?"

"Just what you already know," Sam said looking up as Dean pulled over near a barely-visible path through the woods that flanked the sides of the road.

"Silver bullet to the heart," they intoned in unison.

"Oh, there's something else here," Sam squinted at the tiny print in the margins of the werewolf page in the journal. "Guess the monster ones can, like... turn at will? That's just great."

"Well," Dean shut off the car. "That oughta keep things interesting."

Dean climbed out of the car and shrugged out of his jacket. Opening the back door, he tossed the leather jacket across the seat and grabbed the box of fake IDs off the floor of the car where he'd tossed it after they had met up with Neal in Lawrence. Grief counselors didn't need IDs...what would an old farmer like Will Randall buy... who would he talk to...

"You're gonna get cold," Sam said, laying an arm across the seat and looking at Dean over his shoulder.

"While I appreciate your concern, Sammy," Dean said, not looking at him as he rifled through the box. "A leather jacket doesn't exactly scream 'trust me'." He pulled out two badges. "And if we're gonna find out anything from this dude, we gotta get him to talk to us, right?"

Sam nodded, looking at the badges. "That one," he said, pointing to the press pass they'd made in Red Lodge when passing as reporters for Weekly World News.

Dean turned the press pass around in his hand, then grinned. "Good choice," he said, tossing one to Sam, who caught it awkwardly with his left hand. Dean backed out of the car and headed to the trunk.

Sam shoved the journal in the glove box and joined Dean outside of the car. "Don't suppose it occurred to you that going into a werewolf's hunting grounds, in the dark, on the last night of the lunar cycle isn't the best of all possible plans..."

Dean grinned at him, handing him a flashlight. "What are you talking about? It's the perfect plan."

"Perfect for getting us killed," Sam grumbled, following Dean down the embankment and onto the small, worn path. The trees were large and many of them were covered in Spanish moss, giving Sam the sensation that they were walking into some sort of Tolkien-like realm.

Dean shot a glance over his shoulder. "Lighten up, Sammy. You're way too tense."

"Tense this," Sam grumbled, holding up a finger at his brother's back.

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"Dude," Dean muttered as they breeched the woods and entered the clearing on the edge of the farm. "First you let a zombie chick break your hand, and now you can't use your flashlight?"

Sam stumbled, tripping on a branch for the third time, and turned to glare at the offending piece of forest debris. "Not my fault. How was I supposed to know the batteries were dead?"

Dean stopped and looked over at him, the beam from his own flashlight on the ground, unconsciously leading Sam out of the woods and into a clear path. "You check them, that's how you know."

Sam stepped up next to him, shoving the useless flashlight into his jacket pocket. "You're the one that wanted to go hunt monsters in the dark. I said to wait until morning, but no..."

"Not monsters...wolf, man."

"Wolfman?"

"No, not - forget it," Dean waved a dismissive hand at him. "You're hopeless."

Sam followed him as Dean approached the farmhouse. "Hopeless? We just trekked through a quarter mile of forest, at night, through werewolf hunting grounds heading to a farm house that looks like it's straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, probably walking right over the place the last girl was killed to get here... and after all that you're giving me grief about friggin' flashlight batteries..."

Dean paused just before climbing the steps. "You done?"

Sam sighed. "Yeah."

"Good," Dean raised his hand to knock on the doorframe around the screen door. He got three raps in when the light on the porch flicked on; he squinted in defense of his eyes.

"Keep your pants on," came a gruff, rheumy-sounding male voice from behind the heavy, white-washed door. "I'm coming."

The door was opened and a man of about sixty, grey hair sticking up in just-showered tufts, a red flannel shirt opened to reveal a white T-shirt, and square-toed brown boots sticking out from the worn cuffs of faded denim jeans, appeared at the screen.

"Yeah?"

Dean smiled pleasantly, pulling out an ID, noting that Sam matched his motion and timing. Raising his badge so that the man could see that it looked official, just not read what it actually said, Dean started, "Sorry to bother you at this time of the night, sir, but we're from, uh, the Asheville Citizen-Times, and we'd-"

"You're from where?" the man interrupted.

"The newspaper, sir."

"So?"

Dean cleared his throat and glanced quickly at Sam. "My name is Dean and this is my partner, Sam-"

"Your partner, huh? Is that what they call it now?"

"M-my partner, er, uh... fellow investigator. At the paper. Sir." Dean pressed his lips together, trying to plaster his smile back into place. "You're Will Randall, right?"

"So what if I am?"

"We, uh..." Dean shifted his eyes behind Will, looking for someone, anyone that he might have more luck sweet-talking. "We'd like to ask you some questions about the, uh, bodies that were found in the forest back there."

"You would, huh?"

"Yessir," Dean said, finally able to slide his smile back into place.

"Already told the cops all they need to know," Will said, lifting an eyebrow at Dean. "But I don't 'spect they were too keen on sharin' all the bits with some young pup reporter, now were they?"

Dean softened his smile and crinkled the corner of his eyes up a bit. He knew it made him look younger. "No sir, they sure weren't."

Will shifted his small, brown eyes from Dean to Sam, and Dean saw his focus narrow, his wild, wiry eyebrows drawing together. The look on Will's face surprised Dean; it almost looked like the man was about to snarl at Sam. Then the eyes shifted back to him, and the furrows in Will's brow smoothed.

"Well, come on in, then," he shifted the hook lock off its hinge and swung the screen door wide. "Might as well get a cuppa coffee before you head back."

Dean nodded, tipping a salute with two fingers. "Appreciate it." He handed his flashlight to Sam, who stuffed it in the other pocket of his coat, and they stepped through the door and into what looked like the parlor area of the old farmhouse.

The d├ęcor looked to have been stalled somewhere around 1922. Two spindly chairs faced an uncomfortable-looking, floral-patterned couch with deep woodwork along the back and arms. A dresser graced one wall, with yellowing doilies draped across the top. A credenza sat across from it with several black and white pictures resting on it. To their immediate right was a staircase, and just under the staircase was a small door that looked to lead to a storage closet.

Will looked behind them to the empty lot. "You guys walk here?"

"Uh," Sam shifted his eyes to Dean. "Yeah, we were, uh, trying to get a sense of the area where the bodies were found."

Will studied Sam once more, and Dean felt an odd crawling sensation shift over his skin. He didn't like the look that once again rested on his brother. Working to draw the attention back to himself, he moved across the room toward the pictures displayed in worn, wooden frames.

"This your family?" he asked over his shoulder. He heard Will turn from Sam and cross over to him. Dean looked more closely at the pictures and forced himself to bite back a gasp of surprise.

"Yeah, that's my May... she's been gone a long time," Will gently touched the glass of the picture, almost caressing the two-dimensional cheek of his long-dead wife. "That one there," he nodded to the picture that had caught Dean's attention. "That's my boy, Henry."

"Is he here?" Sam asked, still standing over by the door.

Dean turned to him, staring intently at his brother, motionlessly beckoning him to approach. Sam frowned, and returned Dean's silent plea with an equally silent question. Dean pressed his lips together and slid his gaze deliberately to the display of photographs. Sam rolled his eyes, approaching as Will turned to face him.

"No," Will said.

Dean looked pointedly over his shoulder at Henry's picture. He watched as Sam's eyes hit it, widened, and then shifted to him.

"No?" Sam repeated.

Will turned away from them, casting a surreptitious glance at the small door just under the stairway as he did.

"No," he snapped. He walked away and stared out of the large picture-window just above the couch. "No, he took off. Left me here a coupla months ago..." Will looked over his shoulder at Sam, his eyes narrow and feral. "Left with his partner."

Sam swallowed. "Oh, I uh... I'm sorry to hear that."

Will's eyes shifted to Dean, and his expression softened. "Pretty heartless, don't you think? Leaving his father to deal with all this work? A farm don't run itself, ya' know."

He turned around, his back bowing slightly. Dean stayed silent, watching him.

"I mean, he knows what this job takes - it's not something you can do alone. It's... it's almost too hard to survive when you have someone fightin' it out with you, but alone..." Will shook his head.

Dean felt a chill. Will's words, innocent enough, and totally unrelated to his life, pierced him just as keenly as the demon's taunts in Missouri. You fight and you fight for this family... but the truth is... they don't need you... not like you need them... He heard both this distraught father, angry with his son's perceived betrayal, and his own accusatory heart screaming out at John for the choice he made. The choice he'd denied Dean.

He felt the cold start from the center of his chest, creep through his ribs, and begin to spread to his arms. His fingers had started to tingle when the weight of Sam's hand on his shoulder shot warmth through him again.

"Dean?" Sam's whisper shook him almost as if his brother had bellowed his name.

Dean blinked, drawing himself back to the present, mentally shaking off the dark memories. "Uh, yeah... d-did you, uh..." he licked his lips. "Did you hear anything last night?"

"What do you mean, did I hear any-" Will turned around to face him, a question on his careworn face. "Hey, son, are you okay?"

Dean blinked again. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."

Sam was watching him, too, Dean realized. He could feel his brother's eyes on him, searching... He watched as Will's eyes moved from his face to Sam's hand resting on his shoulder, and the flash of complete hatred that crossed Will's face shook Dean the rest of the way back to the present. He carefully shifted his shoulder so that Sam's hand dropped and then watched as Will's face smoothed out.

Okay, 'bout had enough of freaky farmer-dude... gettin' Sam outta here now is the new plan...

"I'm fine...sorry," Dean forced out an embarrassed laugh, looking down with an almost sly expression. "We just had a late night last night's all... guess it's catching up with me."

Will lifted a wild, gray eyebrow. "Oh, yeah? Late night with a lady, I'll bet." He waggled the lifted brow salaciously.

Dean grinned. "Two of 'em, actually." He shook his head as if in wonder. "Sure kept me busy."

Will chuckled. "I can imagine." His grin curled up slightly at the edges. "I was quite the ladies man myself, back in the day."

"Girl in every port, one on each arm?" Dean matched Will's grin. He felt Sam step back; he knew his brother had seen the look Will flashed him just as clearly as Dean had.

"Hell, yeah, boy," Will's grin widened until he was practically baring his teeth. "They couldn't get enough of ol' Will. 'Till I met May, that is."

"She was the one, huh?" Dean nodded at May's picture.

"She had it all, boy," Will shook his head. "Wasn't built for farm life... but she sure loved me. It woulda killed her, what happened with Henry... his leaving..."

"Sounds like a helluva woman," Dean said, pitching his voice lower, his tone respectful. He began to shift slightly to the left, sensing Sam behind him, doing the same, backing carefully toward the door.

Will nodded sadly, "That she was. That she was."

He lifted his head suddenly, and Dean and Sam froze. Dean regarded him innocently. "I'm sorry 'bout your son, man."

Will's eyes once again shifted toward the small door, then he closed them and dropped his head. "I didn't hear anything."

"Come again?" Dean asked.

"Last night... any of the nights. I didn't hear anything. Didn't see anything. Kept thinking if I had... maybe I coulda done something... I'm a decent shot. But, no. Didn't hear nothin'."

"Oh," Dean shot a look at Sam, who lifted a shoulder.

"I was proud of him," Will went on softly.

Dean turned his head back to Will. "Uh, who? You mean Henry?" he asked, trying to keep up.

Will nodded. "I was always proud of him... I just... I just never took a moment to tell him. There was always work to do, y'know? There was always something else to do..."

You took care of Sammy, you took care of me... you did that... I am so proud of you...

"Yeah," Dean said in a tight voice. "Hey, uh, listen, Mr. Randall-"

"Will, please," Will looked up, lifting a placating hand toward Dean and tapping the air.

"Will," Dean nodded. "We're sorry to have bothered you so late. I think we need to, uh, get back to the, uh..."

"Office," Sam supplied.

"Right, the office and, uh-"

"Regroup," Sam said, his smile thin, his nod quick.

"You didn't have coffee," Will protested, looking at Dean.

"We'll be back," Dean promised. "Next time, okay?"

"You sure?"

They continued to back toward the door as Will advanced, his apparent need for companionship seeming to suddenly overpower the odd hatred that was directed at Sam.

Dean nodded. "Absolutely. Just need to get some more, uh, facts together. You know how it is."

Will nodded, frowning. "Sure, sure. Gotta be accurate."

"Accurate, right," Dean stumbled slightly as he backed out of the door. He gave Will a friendly smile, not worrying that it didn't touch his eyes. "You take care, now."

Will tossed him a wave, and Dean turned to follow Sam's long-legged escape from the dilapidated farm house.

"Dude," Sam whispered fiercely. "That weirded me out on so many different levels."

"No shit," Dean said, unable to suppress a shiver.

"That picture, Dean," Sam shook his head, barreling toward the dark woods. "That picture of his son could have totally been you."

"That was full-on creepy, man," Dean said, hurrying after him. "He sure didn't like you."

"Yeah," Sam nodded vigorously. "I noticed. What was with you back there, huh?" Sam shortened his stride; Dean caught up to him and matched his brother's cadence.

"What are you talking about?"

"You went white there for a second, man. You okay?"

"I'm fine, Sam."

I want you to watch out for Sammy. You save him... if you can't save him... you'll have to kill him...

"I'm fine," he repeated, softer. "I just... got..." Got what? Cold? Scared? Caught in a loop of words and memories that he couldn't escape? "He just wanted his son back, y'know?"

Sam nodded silently. Dean felt his brother's eyes on him in the darkness. He shook himself.

"I think we're too late on this hunt, though, man," he said.

"I'm not so sure, Dean."

"What are you talking about? Two deaths a month, last three months. This girl last night was the second this month. You heard him - he didn't hear anything, didn't see anything."

"Yeah, I know, but," Sam shrugged in the darkness. He was walking so close that Dean could feel the rustle of Sam's jacket against his the soft flannel of his shirt. "I just got this...feeling."

"A feeling? Like what, a tremor in the Force?"

Sam ignored him. "If we're dealing with the monster kind, it can turn anytime, right? Moon or no moon?"

Dean lifted a brow, realizing with Sam's mention of the moon that he'd neglected to retrieve his own flashlight, but he could still see well enough to walk. He glanced up. The last phase of the full moon was shining down on them through the canopy of trees like a silver beacon of death.

"Theoretically," he replied, glancing carefully through the dense trees. "This one seems to be sticking to the lunar cycle, though."

"Yeah, and tonight's the last night of the lunar cycle..." Sam ran a hand through his shaggy hair. "Maybe it's not the monster kind... maybe I'm wrong, but... I don't know. I just think that we're not done."

"Well, until we get more information on it - or hell, see the damn thing, we don't know what breed we're dealing with. Good news is, they're all killed the same way."

"But if it is the monster kind...uh..." Sam paused, then stopped completely.

"What?" Dean asked, looking quickly behind him.

"Nothing... just thought I heard something," Sam muttered.

"Well, shit, Sam, don't do that!"

"Scare you?"

"'Course not," Dean grumbled, shoving lightly at Sam's shoulder. He forced his breathing to steady.

"Hate to break this to you, man, but, uh," Sam glanced at him. Dean shot his eyes to the side, meeting his brother's heavy stare. "I think it's Henry."

"Yeah," Dean sighed. "I think you're right." He rolled his shoulders. Henry's leaving, Will's cagey behavior, the hunting grounds... it made a tragic sort of sense. "Too bad, y'know? That guy really misses his son."

"Well, if I'm right, his son might not have been too far away this whole time," Sam said.

Dean looked up - they were about two hundred yards from the edge of the road and the Impala. He felt his shoulders begin to relax at the thought of easing back into the leather seats, feeling the rumble beneath his legs, turning up the music-as loud as possible-to drown out the voice in his head... the constant voice of his father saying words he never wanted to hear, wanted so badly to forget.

"What was that?" Sam paused again.

"Sam, I swear to Go-" Dean stopped, hearing it suddenly, too. A wet sounding growl... a crack of a branch under a heavy foot... rustling through dried underbrush... the click of teeth.

"Told you," Sam whispered fiercely, pulling his gun from his waistband at the same time that Dean did.

Dean stepped up to Sam. "Shut the hell up and figure out where the damn thing is, why don't you?"

They turned in unison as the growl came from the west. A blur flashed across their path and the growl sounded from the east. Dean held his gun out in front of him, trying to maneuver his body in front of Sam's. Sam, however, was working to do the same thing.

"It's circling us," Sam murmured. "Hunting us."

"This bastard's smart, Sam," Dean said, turning again. He forced down a gag at the burst of fetid air that rushed passed him.

Another flash, and this time the growl was louder and directly in the path between them and the Impala. Dean cocked the .45 and the creature shifted again, a shadow darting back to the trees. Dean felt Sam turn, tracking the sound. Dean turned with him and soon they were back to back, standing in the center of the path, guns drawn, cocked, and pointing out at the evil cloaked in darkness.

"Sam," Dean whispered.

"Yeah?"

"Stay close to me. Move backwards. Toward the car."

Sam's answer was a gentle pressure on Dean's back, moving them toward the Impala, keeping their backs together. They were able to gain a few feet when Dean heard the shift in the creature's pattern, a deepening of its growl. He turned immediately, gun up, facing the darkness just in time to see a flash of yellow eyes as the creature lunged.

Directly at Sam.

www

a/n: The cringe-inducing crooning at the begining is, of course, to Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer.

tbc...