Author's Note: This story was written for SFTCOL(AR)S Secret Santa Round Two fic exchange. Specifically, it's for you, Bayre . . . I hope you enjoy it!







Two weeks after the possession, Sam was in the shower when memories started to come back in short, bursting flashes: a bottle of malt liquor smashing against a gas station counter, Jo hitting and scratching his shoulder in a bar, Dean chasing him through a warehouse.

Another week passed, and he was in a convenience store when he remembered shooting Dean, and heard the splash when he fell into the water. There were vague memories of people shouting at him, of being kicked out of a restaurant. Sam couldn't connect all of the details, but that didn't really matter. What mattered was that he knew without a doubt that he had been evil. He'd been what he was most afraid of, and weren't people supposed to face their fears?

For a stretch of time Sam found himself thinking constantly about Meg—not the demon, but the girl, the one who died on Bobby's floor. He wondered about who she had really been, the people she had left behind, what she had done. Her words echoed in his head.

I've been awake . . . for some of it. I couldn't move my own body. The things I did—it's a nightmare.

He knew the feeling she described. It had become a familiar thing coiled in the pit of his stomach as a sharp ache, a belief that he was a ticking time bomb, that he would become Dean's nightmare one day no matter how hard they tried to stop it.

It was a thought that swam around in his head, pausing in every corner of his brain at least once an hour every day. Sam knew that Dean guessed what he was thinking, even though neither of them brought it up.

Sam kept almost everything to himself now, and for the first time in their lives Dean allowed him to retreat. Maybe once upon a time, when he wasn't at risk of losing soul, they would've had a chick-flick moment, but those days were long gone. His brother was going to have to kill him one day, and he wouldn't bring up anything that reminded either of them of it.

They swept it all under the rug whenever possible and started driving across the country, their normal rhythm unaltered. It seemed like they found something supernatural in almost every town they stopped at. They took care of things as and kept going south, where police and hunters were less likely to find them simply due to the lack of urban areas.

Sam spent most of his time staring out the window, letting Dean guide them while he wondered where they would end up and what would happen to him. If he sometimes caught his brother staring at him out of the corner of his eye, he ignored it. It was just easier that way.




xXxXXxXx



Two months after the possession, they found themselves in a rundown motel in the outskirts of New Orleans researching weird occurrences in a sorority house near the Louisiana State University campus. It was as far south as they could go without driving right into the Gulf of Mexico, and because of the devastation from the hurricane they could easily blend into the disorder. It was the perfect hiding spot, and it seemed like a fairly straightforward case.

The sorority house seemed to be haunted, with incidents that ranged from accidentally getting locked out of rooms and electrical surges to girls mysteriously getting injured. At first they had suspected a pre-existing spirit, but further investigation seemed to indicate that the incidents started happening about the time a college student named Melinda Deveraux disappeared from the house.

Sam spent the better part of a day trying to find out where Melinda was from, if she had family, where she lived . . . not for the first time, Sam was annoyed that he couldn't just be paid like a regular private investigator. Lord knew they did enough of the work, and they did it better than most PIs, too. All in all, he was tired, irritated, and had a stomachache that he didn't even try to attribute to anything specific. Instead, he pretended he wasn't annoyed and chewed on Tums while trying to ignore Dean's noisy attempts to do research using the laptop.

"Seriously, eat any more of those and you'll need your stomach pumped, Sammy." Dean informed him, reaching across the table to try to snag the antacid bottle. Sam yanked it out of his reach, glaring, and Dean scowled. "C'mon, dude. If your stomach is really that upset maybe you should see a doctor."

"I'm fine." Sam responded. He glanced at the pile of clothing on top of his duffel bag that didn't belong to him, then back at his brother. "It's just the stress of living with you, jerk."

Dean scoffed and turned back to the computer, vigorously poking the page down key. "I am a joy twenty-four seven. You've stressed yourself out, bitch."

Sam glared but remained silent, shifting his gaze back to his book. Several minutes of uninterrupted peace passed before Dean shifted in his seat, clicked hard on the spacebar several times, and then gave a disgruntled sigh.

"Man, I can't find anything. Not even a missing persons report. This is totally our kind of weird."

Sam looked up from his book and shook his head. "Considering that she doesn't have family it's not surprising that no one has filed a report."

"Yeah, you'd think she'd have a friend or two looking for her, though, especially with all those people in the sorority house." Dean responded.

"So either someone doesn't want her found, or she doesn't want to be found. Maybe this is something for the police to check into?" Sam questioned, earning a hard look from his brother.

"Nah, the occurrences at the sorority house are too weird." Dean said, leaning back in his chair and running a hand through his short hair. " I'm telling you, Sammy, it's connected to this girl. Maybe she's like the Marie Laveau of sorority chicks, you know, practicing voodoo on them all to piss 'em off."

Sam raised his eyebrows at his brother's analogy, and Dean grinned and barreled on. "You know, the Queen of Voodoo. Lived in New Orleans in the 1800s and combined voodoo and Catholicism to create a new sort of voodoo."

"Yeah," Sam said, rolling his eyes and reaching for the antacids again. "I know."

"Hey, don't act so surprised. I know things." Dean informed him, smirking and shutting the lid of the laptop. Sam rolled his eyes for a second time, not responding, and Dean's grin grew. "I say we go to Melinda's place, check it out, and then talk with some of her housemates."




xXxXXxXx



"What the hell is this?" Dean asked, turning towards his brother and holding up something with his knife that resembled a wishbone. "Looks like something from a voodoo spell to me!"

Sam frowned and took a step closer, examining the shriveled item Dean was holding towards him. "It's a toad leg."

"Dude, that's nasty!" Dean exclaimed. He grunted in disgust and tossed the offending item onto the floor. "Seriously, how can anyone do any activity involving a frog leg? This girl is cracked."

"It's a toad leg, Dean, not a frog leg." Sam corrected, leaning down and picking up the leg with his own knife and examining it.

"Toad, frog, whatever," Dean grouched. "It's all disgusting. They cause warts, man."

"Actually, it's dried up so it's not like –"

"Sam!"

Sam grabbed a Kleenex off the dresser beside him, rolling the leg up and putting it in his pocket. He ignored his brother's horrified look. "You know, I think you may be right. The powder, the jars, this toad leg. They're all ingredients for gris-gris. Dean, she was using some powerful voodoo magic."

"Powerful enough to kill her?"

Sam shook his head. "Maybe. But normal gris-gris spells are mainly used to attract good things to you – love, money, fame – not to harass or harm others. There's something we're missing."

"Maybe it didn't work?" Dean suggested.

"Or she cast another spell? Gris-gris can be used for evil as well as good if you change a few ingredients. Maybe she didn't know what she was doing?" Sam said, glancing around the room for any more clues.

He zeroed in on the bottle of liquid in the corner of the bookshelf across the room and walked over to grab it. The liquid was pale green with what appeared to be, for lack of a better description, pulp floating at the top.

"What's that?" Dean asked.

"No clue." Sam responded, wiggling the bottle a little and watching the pulpy pieces shift back and forth. "The internal organs of the toad, maybe?"

Dean made a face and took a step back. "What, was she catching frogs in the back yard and boiling them for dinner?"

"Toads." Sam corrected again. He frowned and wiggled the bottle once more. "I can't see her taking apart a toad in her room. So either she knew how to produce these things, or she purchased it from somewhere."

Dean paused at that and raised his eyebrow. "A college student looking for a quick fix to something? I'm guessing she purchased them."

"Makes sense." Sam agreed.

Dean smiled and got out his car keys, jiggling them. "Maybe if we find out what spell she cast we can figure out what she wanted. How about you go find a voodoo shop, and I'll talk to her friends."




xXxXXxXx



The scent of herbs and candle wax was so overwhelming when he stepped into the store that Sam had to hold his breath for a few seconds and then slowly start to inhale and exhale through his mouth again. After a few moments of making sure his sinuses wouldn't explode, he looked around.

Dean had dropped him off and gone back to Melinda's apartment to search for more clues, and he appeared to be alone in the store, despite the crude wooden open sign that hung on the door behind him. Sam quickly took the opportunity to investigate, examining the various containers on the shelves that lined the small room. He recognized a few basic herbs, and was slightly disgusted to identify several different animal parts in various jars along the back wall.

It took him several seconds, but his gaze eventually landed on a jar of toad legs sitting in the back corner of the shelf. He was getting ready to grab the jar to examine a leg to compare it against the one they found at Melinda's when a small elderly man with dark skin and curly grey hair suddenly materialized behind the counter.

"What may I help you find?"

Sam jerked and spun around, startled by the man's sudden appearance. Quickly covering his surprise, Sam flashed his"trust-me" smile and made his way over to the counter.

"Hi, uh, I was wondering if you've seen this girl." he said, sliding the picture he'd gotten off the internet across the wooden countertop. "She's a friend of a friend, and we haven't heard from her in awhile."

The old man studied the picture, not looking up as he asked, "And you have not called the police? They would be a much better source than I for information."

Sam shuffled a little and tried to look sheepish. "Well, we did, but you know how it is, they take forever. And, uh, I know that she had been doing some things that the police maybe wouldn't understand."

The man made a noise of acknowledgment and nodded, sliding the picture back across the table. For a second Sam thought he wasn't going to respond, but finally he looked up and pointed towards the table in the back, where several black pouches were lined up.

"She came in several weeks ago. I recall because she wanted to know how to use gris-gris. Most people who come in my shop already know such things. She did not understand what she was doing."

"Could she have done something wrong?" Sam asked, eyeing the pouches. He guessed one of the items inside them were toad legs.

The old man shook his head. "No. The pouch I gave her, she was missing an ingredient. The spell would not have worked properly."

"So you sold her a bad product?"

The man glared, offended. "No. Most think voodoo is a game, and play it as such. Many shops sell incomplete spells, it is not unusual. Regardless, your friend was not a good person, and it would not have been in good hands."

Sam raised his eyebrows. "How could you tell she wasn't a good person?"

"I touched her."

"You touched her?" Sam repeated, confused.

"No one leaves my store who I do not know. I touch you, I know you." The man explained, raising a hand. "I will show you."

"Oh, uh, no I'm not –" Sam froze, stopping in mid-sentence as the old man reached across the counter and grasped his right hand before he could stop him.

They stood there for a second as Sam recovered from his shock, and he yanked his hand back, but not before the old man's eyes had widened and he gasped. He dropped Sam's hand as if he'd been burned and took a step back, putting extra space between himself and Sam.

"You!"

Sam shook his head, forcing a smile. "I don't know what –"

"You have touched evil. It's been inside you."

The smile dropped from his face, every muscle in his body locking up as Sam felt the weight of the words. If he could've moved he would have headed for the door, but his legs seemed to have stopped working. For a second he could feel blood on his hands, could see Dean falling over the edge of the pier.

"Here, leave this place." The old man demanded, grabbing a small wooden carving from beneath the counter and shoving it into his right hand. "Take this and go."

"What? No, I'm not evil. I'm just trying to find answers." Sam said, jerking his hand away from the small block of wood the old man had pressed against it. He took a step back and immediately turned for the door.

"You are not, but you will be. You've been the darkness. It still lingers inside you, waiting. You will be the darkness again one day soon." the man called out as Sam tried to leave.

Something inside him twisted, the knot that had been perpetually in his stomach coiling so tightly Sam thought he might throw up. "No, I won't."

"You cannot help it. It is your destiny, to save the one you love."

At that, Sam smiled grimly and shook his head. The old man was caught in his lies. "The woman I love is already dead." he informed him, smirking.

The old man didn't seem at all perturbed by the revelation, and Sam felt a chill lodge itself in his chest at his next words.

"That may be, but I did not say the one you love is a woman."

Sam stopped moving and turned slightly to stare at the man. Maybe it was his imagination, but his eyes seemed to be glinting, small slivers of grey flickering in them as he continued.

"You assume romantic love, but . . . don't you love your brother?"




xXxXXxXx



"So get this," Dean called out, barreling into the motel room and slamming the door shut behind him, startling Sam out of a restless sleep. "Melinda was stalking this frat boy named Daniel Elliot – I hate people with two first names, by the way."

"Uh, what?" Sam asked, slightly disoriented from his abrupt jolt into the waking world. He didn't remember falling asleep, but obviously he'd dozed off at some point while he'd been research potential backlashes from gris-gris spells—the laptop was still humming beside him, the low battery light flashing.

Dean frowned at his brother's grogginess and brought his voice down a notch in case Sam had a headache; Sam always got quiet when his head hurt. "You know, dude?"

"Yeah," Sam responded shortly, sitting up and rubbing his eyes, grimacing at the ache that had settled in his stomach. Damn, he needed more Tums. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just fell asleep."

"Grandma," Dean snarked.

Sam scowled and swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Bite me. Who's this Daniel Elliot guy?"

"C'mon, Sammy, keep up. A guy from one of the fraternities; apparently this guy's frat and Melinda's sorority throw joint parties a lot. Melinda was obsessed with him. Her roommates say she was stalking him. She locked herself in her room for hours the night she disappeared, and then left and went over to Daniel's fraternity. No one has seen her since."

"She must have been using the gris-gris for a love spell." Sam guessed. "So why didn't her housemates call the police when she didn't reappear?"

Dean shook his head and dropped onto his own bed. "They said that she called two weeks ago to say she was taking a break from school and no one has heard from her since. I guess they didn't like her, so no one has checked up on her since then. But the day she disappeared is definitely the day weird things started happening in the house. Flickering lights, doors opening and closing, scratching noises . . ."

"So she's probably dead and is haunting the place." Sam surmised, sighing at the realization. God, he was tired of dealing with death and dying and everything related.

"Probably," Dean agreed. "And someone in the house probably had something to do with it."

Sam frowned, remembering the old man's words about Melinda. "It's a good assumption. I found the voodoo shop she used. It was about half a mile from the house. There was this freaky old guy who said he sensed she was bad and didn't give her the right ingredients. He said she would've done damage."

Dean's eyes widened, and he snorted in disbelief. "Wait, he said she was bad?"

"Yeah. He said he touched her and could sense she was evil."

"He touched her and knew she was evil? What the hell, was he groping her?" Dean asked, eyebrows raised skeptically. "Sounds nutso to me."

Sam felt a wave of agitation at the fact that his brother was repeating everything he was saying. "Dude, it's not like it's the weirdest thing you've ever heard. Vampires ring a bell?"

Dean pursed his lips thoughtfully and shrugged. "Good point. So the voodoo shop owner is some kind of psycho, and the crazy is a totally separate thing."

"He wasn't crazy." Sam argued, his voice rising slightly.

"Whoa there. Why are your panties in a twist all of a sudden?"

"It's not all of a sudden, Dean!" Sam burst out. "Since when is the idea of someone sensing evil is crazy? That's nuts! Sometimes people can just sense it – it's that obvious!"

Dean jerked slightly at the vehemence in his brother's voice. "Hey, calm down. What is up with you?"

Dean looked confused for a moment, and then his eyes slowly widened as something clicked in his head. Sam knew what was coming next and inwardly cursed his brother's uncanny ability to figure him out almost instantly if he wanted to.

Forcing a calm façade, Sam let out an aggrieved sigh and moved to stand up. He only got halfway off the bed before he felt Dean's hand come down on his shoulder.

"What happened, Sammy? What did he say to you?"

Sam looked away, swallowing hard against the nausea rising in his throat. The idea of being evil, of being sensed as evil, was making his stomach turn.

"Sam."

"He touched me, too." Sam admitted quietly. He kept his head down, but he could sense the moment that Dean understood what he was saying. His brother stiffened, and pulled away just slightly, but enough to make Sam cringe despite the words of comfort he doled out.

"Hey, man, possessions leave markers. We know that. If he had any psychic ability he would've figured it out. Doesn't mean anything."

Sam nodded and stood up. "Yeah, you're right. Doesn't matter. It's not like I'm evil now."

"Sammy—"

"I'm gonna take a shower, then we've gotta figure out what happened to Melinda."




xXxXXxXx



The shower did nothing to calm Sam's nerves and additional research turned up nothing on Melinda's whereabouts. By the time they finished their search it was too late to go back and question more of her friends, so they opted to stay and scan police reports for police reports of dead bodies in the region. Secretly, Sam was glad for the break. He felt nauseous from the greasy pizza they'd eaten for dinner, and he was exhausted and totally freaked out by the voodoo shop owner. All he wanted was to sleep, preferably without any dreams.

Sam ignored his brother's glances and finally allowed himself to curl up on his bed at two a.m. He quickly drifted off to the sounds of Dean flipping through channels on the t.v., waking once when Dean turned the television off and went to bed himself, and then falling back asleep.

He wasn't sure what woke him the second time, but he knew he was uncomfortable. He was cold and felt sick and disjointed, like he was under water. Sam opened his eyes to see faint moonlight streaming through the cheap plastic blinds, and glanced over at his Dean, who was sound asleep. God, he felt bad. Groaning, he rolled over onto his back, and then instantly regretted the motion. His stomach rolled ominously, and he felt a cold sweat break out across his body. Crap.

"Sam?" Dean asked groggily, shifting slightly under his blankets.

Sam wanted to respond, he really did, but he was pretty sure that if he opened his mouth he'd throw up. He opted for ignoring his brother for the moment and jumped out of bed, making a beeline for the bathroom. He managed to slam the door closed behind him as he entered and heard Dean's exclamation of protest right before he leaned over the toilet and vomited.

His stomach and throat protested the abuse, but there wasn't anything he could do to stop it. Sam curled up against the stained toilet, waiting for the sickness to subside. It didn't last very long, but what it lacked in length it made up for in intensity, and after several minutes of retching Sam found himself dizzy and totally breathless.

He slumped over on his hands and knees, trying to catch his breath, and saw Dean's bare toes wiggling anxiously outside the door, visible in the two-inch gap between the cheap fake wooden door of the bathroom and the ancient linoleum floor.

"Dude, you okay in there?" Dean asked, his toes curling in anticipation of an answer.

Sam wasn't sure if he could actually respond, so he settled for a loud grunt and uncurled to let himself collapse back against the bathtub. He watched Dean's toes curl and wiggle again beneath the door as he paced back and forth.

"Sammy?"

"M'okay," Sam croaked out, coughing slightly and then groaning at the stimulation of his gag reflex.

"Yeah, you sound like it." Dean shot back. "C'mon, Sammy, let me in. I want to make sure you're still breathing."

Dean said it like a joke, but Sam knew it really wasn't, so he mustered up his strength, crawled to his knees and moved to turn the doorknob. He missed it the first time and brought a shaking hand up to his face to wipe at his eyes, preparing to try again, and that was when he saw it: in the middle of his right palm was a series of faded red lines in the shape of a pentagram.