"Who could have been watching?"

"Man, all it would take would be someone out for a late jog or a wandering hobo or someone checking up on the stable," Sam dragged the weapons duffle from under the bed, moving to the bathroom to scoop up the last of their stuff. They weren't heading out just yet, but they needed to make a laundry run sooner rather than later.

Dean zipped his own duffle closed, eyeing the relatively small pile of clothes in need of a wash. I wonder if Justyna would let us borrow her machine? And they needed to find out if they could make the offering again, and what to do if it was a one-time-only deal. "Sam, do you have -"


The door exploded off its hinges, splinters flying and sunshine bursting in around the shouting, rifle-wielding bodies in black. "HANDS UP!"

"Down! On your knees!"

"On the floor, now!"

"Hands where we can see them!"

Wh – Dean froze, mind racing. Slowly, his hands came up, green eyes flying to see Sam copying his every move.

Unforgiving steel locked around his wrists, braceleting them together behind his back as he was forced face-first onto filthy carpet. Hands brushed over him, relieving him of the gun at his back and the knives secreted at forearm and ankle. Someone was snarling Miranda rights in his ear – and then he heard a voice he recognized from the other end of a phone line in Milwaukee, and a California prison's interrogation room.

"Well. Looks like you've been busy, Dean."

Oh fu-

"Get them out of here," Henriksen ordered. Dean could almost see the man's triumph, riding high over the unveiled disgust shooting at his brother and him.

Dammit, Hammond said he was going to take care of this!

Strong hands hauled him to his feet and out of the motel room; the clomping of feet behind him reassuring Dean that Sam was just over his shoulder. Outside the motel, three black-and-whites and two more unmarked cop cars were blocking off the open parking lot. Heads poked out of doors up and down the row of rooms. Great.

"Separate cars." Henriksen was shorter than Dean, dark skin flush with victory and covered, like the rest of his team, in Kevlar. A hand on his head roughly shoved him down and into the caged backseat of the police car.

He spared a glance at the rearview mirror, and saw unforgiving eyes staring back from the cop in the front seat. Dean couldn't twist to check on Sam, find out where his little brother was. Couldn't give them that weakness, even though it gnawed his soul not to know.

We are so screwed.

"Damn, we're good." Kevin Rubins kicked back, balanced on two chair legs by the feet he'd propped up on some displaced detective's desk. Hands folded behind his head, the only way he could have looked more comfortable was if he was popping the tab on a beer.

"Don't celebrate just yet," Victor shot him a glare. "We've got the evidence, the motel room, the car, and them -" Miranda rights and all, "- but we don't have a confession yet." Despite keeping the brothers in separate cars, separate cells on opposite sides of the jail, and providing separate council for what had been politely termed 'questioning.' It was an interrogation and they both knew it.

The younger brother was proving a problem, with his prelaw knowledge, and the older had given them nothing but attitude after insisting on getting his phone call. The kid was an impossible punk on top of being a hardened felon.

But not, apparently, the murderer here.

We had surveillance on them all night. They didn't kill Gary Nowak. The ninth homeless man to be found bleeding out over the concrete of New Britain's cracked sidewalks had died while the Winchesters played in a ditch a good two-hour walk away. Those charges would be dropped, no question – at least they still had Milwaukee and St. Louis to keep the bastards from posting bail and disappearing. Not that they'd have the money. Still.

"Ahhh, lighten up," Rubins blew a raspberry his way. "We've got them, and their friggin' arsenal. They're not going anywhere."

Irritation scratched up and down Victor's nerves. "Forget about Folsom so soon?"

It was gratifying to see how quickly the former college linebacker shut up. Not that he wanted to dwell on that disaster much either – they'd been in lockdown, and then they were out.

"You dropped the ball on that one, not me," Rubins shot back.

He unclenched his jaw enough to squeeze the words out. "And it's not going to happen again," Victor said forcefully.

"Right." But it was less a snort and more determined, even if Rubins didn't bother to put his feet on the ground.

Victor kind of wished Shane and Taylor were there; it would help him keep his distance from his irritating coworker. But their sleep-shift had been interrupted by the coup, so they were reclaiming lost hours now.

How in the hell did they know we were watching them?

Something he'd make sure to find out after they cracked and confessed. Victor didn't fool himself that it would be easy, but it would definitely be worth it.

He was leaning over an inventory of evidence from the motel room when the cell phone at his hip vibrated. "Henriksen."

"Agent Henriksen. This is General George Hammond, United States Air Force." Victor snapped upright, jaw dropping. The voice on the other end of the line continued. "I understand you have Dean and Sam Winchester in custody."

Just who the hell did they call?

"Yes, General." Victor waved Rubins down; the man's mouth had opened at the title. With one hand he snatched up a pen, searching for blank paper. "They were brought in this morning, and charged with crimes in -"

"St. Louis and Milwaukee, yes, I'm aware."

Gen. George Hammond? Victor wrote, turning the paper to Rubins. Blue eyes lit up, and he whipped out his cell, hissing lowly for Shane to pick the hell up, already. I knew there was a reason I worked with him.

"However, I'm afraid that there's some information regarding the Winchesters that you may be unaware of."

"And what might that be?" Until he got confirmation, there was no way he would believe this call was anything other than a hoax. And General or not, the Winchesters were guilty.

"They've been pardoned."

"What? What do you mean, 'pardoned'?" Don't you have to be convicted before you've been pardoned? And pardoned by whom, exactly? They would have heard something about this if it was true. So, lying then.

Rubins had finally gone silent, a good indication that Shane was chattering his ear off on the other end of the line.

"Exactly what it sounds like. They've been declared innocent by the President of the United States."

The President – No. No way. If they thought he was going to fall for that . . . "According to the evidence I have in front of me, they're guilty as hell," Victor said bluntly. What the high holy hell is going on?

"You're lacking in crucial details that would make the situation clearer," the man on the other end kept his cool. "I'd like to enlighten you, but that's classified information. For now, I'll settle for you letting them go."

Right. His hand spasmed around the pen, plastic digging into Victor's palm. Classified? That's convenient. "Not gonna happen."

Rubins was waving a hand at him; an irritated harrumph hit his ear through the phone line. Victor covered the receiver. "What?"

Blue eyes were grave. "There is a General George Hammond in the Air Force. Clearance higher than God's, but Shane says he heads up a 'Project Bluebook', whatever that is. He's tapped to your phone and tracing the call now."

"Very well." Irritation had deepened the voice on the other end – and that more than anything else indicated military to Henriksen. Nothing pissed them off more than not being obeyed. Instantly. "I'm sending my people to you. You'll be getting a call from your supervisor."

If he thought they'd actually go through with it, Victor would be more worried. "In that case I'll be sure to keep my phone on," he replied snidely.

The response was a cold "Good day," and the click of a phone hanging up.

Was he on the line long enough? Victor nodded at the cell in Rubin's hand; the man was already shaking his head, buzzed blond catching the light. "Shane lost it."

Settling back into his appropriated chair, Victor shrugged. "We'll look into it later." They had the Winchesters – that was the biggest step. Taking down their support was only clean-up; he could wait to get to it.

She'd never met anyone who found trouble more easily than the Winchesters. Hmmm. Maybe Daniel. "Why are we doing this again?"

Said archaeologist was climbing out of the cab right behind her, tugging at one cuffed sleeve. He glanced up, grinning a little. "Because no matter how much you and Dean pick at one another, we're on the same side."

"We don't 'pick at' each other," Sam grumbled, adjusting her skirt and becoming Major Carter. It was a lot more like the squabbles she and Mark had had when they were kids. He'd better damn well appreciate this. She'd had to leave in the middle of a time-critical experiment, and it wasn't that Dr. Driscol couldn't complete it – it was that she wanted to be there. Sam wouldn't have a problem doing this for the younger Winchester, but his older brother was another story. Smirking, crude, irritating –

Colonel O'Neill had his moments of blockheadedness, but she'd never seen anyone take it to the level Dean seemed to inhabit. Kind of impressive, when he's not being a complete pain in the –

"Yes, you do," Daniel said calmly, dress shoes tapping on concrete as he moved to bend through the cab's window, digging for the correct amount. "You do have a lot in common -"

"I swear, if the next thing you say is 'why can't you two just get along', I'm going to -"

Daniel laughed brightly as the yellow car pulled into traffic, and Sam couldn't help her answering smile. She sighed, giving the police station an assessing glance. Checked one more time to be sure she had her briefcase, securely latched, and holding the important papers, CDs, and electronic documentation that would prove them to Henriksen. "Let's just get this over with."

Okay, bored.

At least in Folsom, they'd been busy working the case. New Britain's lockup was dingy and cramped, a remnant of the small-town it had been before people overflowed and turned the area into something that wasn't quite a city.

Sam dropped his head back against the wall with a painful thunk. There were only so many times he could go over his own legal defense and his brother's without getting stuck on the key point that, oh yeah, they were innocent.

Damn NID.

He didn't know a whole lot about the rogue organization, but he knew enough to be sure that they were gumming up the works once again. Most things the SGC wants, the NID doesn't, he remembered Daniel grumbling. Or they want to use a different means to achieve similar ends.

So naturally if the SGC was trying to get the brothers Winchester exonerated, the NID would be on the opposite side, slowing the beaurocracy to a standstill.

Like it's not slow enough already. The only way to speed things up at this point was to go public – which wouldn't happen, for many obvious reasons.

He was counting the bars on his cell when the door opened, and an irritated FBI agent walked in. "I just talked to your brother," Henriksen snapped, which would explain his sudden arrival at Sam's cell. And the fact that he looks like he's ready to strangle someone. Darn those pesky regulations about police brutality.

Sam didn't bother hiding his grin. Readjusting his slouch on the stained, thin pad passing as a mattress, he tilted his head.

"I want to know where you had these forged." Thick, creamy paper shone against the jail's bright, industrial lighting.

Sam stretched, taking his time unfolding long limbs from the cot and making his way over to the cell door. On closer inspection, he folded his arms over his chest. Our pardons. "We didn't."

"That's not what Dean said," Henriksen tried.

A laugh burst out of Sam. "That's exactly what Dean said. You didn't find those until after Hammond called and told you to let us go, did you?" Because if there was one thing Sam knew, it was his brother – and that his brother would contact Paul if they ever got into a situation like this was as silently understood as was the fact that Sam's phone call would go to Daniel.

Henriksen was watching him in the way that all investigators had – cataloguing every movement, parsing truth from lie. Sam had been on the receiving end of that look almost as long as he'd known how to turn it back on others. He could just imagine Dean's smirk when the agent found out it was true. "So why haven't we been moved yet?" Because the first thing Henriksen should have done was get them locked so far away they wouldn't see the sun for a month.

But he hasn't. Which means he's been ordered not to.

A good sign that help was on its way.

"Oh don't you worry about that." Henriksen accompanied the comment with a completely bland smile, oozing control.

Uh-huh. Sam would be more worried if he didn't have Daniel's assurance that he and Major Carter would be on a jet flying them to Hartford within the hour. Paul might be on his way too. Harder for the Major who worked in the Pentagon to get free, but it could happen.

But we still have to get rid of the polevik. And the offering has failed, which means we won't get a second shot at appeasing it. Hopefully they hadn't pissed it off enough to up its attacks, but even so they had to figure out a way to kill it.

"Tell you what, Sam."

Oh, here we go again.

"I know you're not a bad kid – you're just following your brother's lead, here." Dark eyes were serious, but Sam knew the ins and outs of the good-cop, bad-cop game. "It doesn't have to go badly for you."

Anger and tiredness and fear, all circling around Dean's stupid deal and now this, lodged in Sam's throat in a choking knot. "All I'd have to do would be to turn on Dean, is that right," he murmured, bitter.

"You're wouldn't be -"

No. No more. And the younger Winchester was suddenly furious at it all. Whirling, he grabbed the hem of his button-down and lifted, baring the heavy scar on his back to the FBI Agent's eyes. "You see this?" Sam demanded. "I'd be dead if not for my brother." Turning, he yanked his shirt straight, glaring. And he'll be dead because of it. I have to figure this out, and you're wasting my time. "Get the hell out of here."

Victor was pacing, the recording of his interaction with the younger Winchester muted on the screen. "So . . . that went well," Shane offered.

Taylor glared.

The techie shrugged, mouthing What?

He's gotta be doing it on purpose. Then again, Shane could talk to computers, not people. So dense.

"So we won't be able to divide and conquer," Kevin crunched the last bite out of his apple and leant back against the office wall, chewing loudly. "So much for the 'Prisoner's Dilemma'." Thick fingers spun the core into the trash.

Taylor rolled her eyes at the smugness that shot her way. I'm sure Detective Carlson will be happy. The detective whose office they'd appropriated had yet to put in an appearance – but the office was overrun now with equipment, evidence, and notes. Wouldn't recognize it if he did.

Fingers snapping recaptured her attention. "Did you see that scar?"

"Video quality wasn't the greatest," Taylor admitted.

Keys tapped as Shane pulled up a still image. The techie's eyes were fixed on the screen, manipulating a toolbar alongside the picture. "I can clean it up some."

She leant over his shoulder, rubbing at one bleary eye. What I wouldn't give for eight uninterrupted hours of sleep. Just me, my mattress, my blankets – "That's impossible."

Victor's finger landed on the image. "Talk to me, Taylor."

"Tell me that's not what it looks like," Kevin sounded impressed. "Who did they piss off to get on the wrong end of that?"

"Thoracic region." She groped for words, trying to make some sense of the fat white line cutting across the skin concealing vertebrae and a kidney. "The thickness of that scar – his spinal cord would have been severed."

"It's a killing stroke," Kevin agreed, bumping her shoulder gently as he approached for a closer look.

"Except I got some really convincing evidence that it's not," the orange-haired techie objected. Taylor dodged as Shane threw his hands up in exasperation. "Namely, him."

"Watch it," she grumbled. Ignored the indignant huff, eyes finding Victor's. "He should be dead, if that was as deep as it looks."

Victor rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. "Then it couldn't have been."

From behind them came the noise of a throat clearing. Taylor jumped; Kevin and Victor spun, hands reaching for their side-arms.

"Excuse us." Polite, firm, and standing in the open doorway. Blonde hair, short and neatly combed over a uniform jacket and skirt of dark blue. Brass buttons shone, and a few ribbons decorated the woman's lapel. "Major Samantha Carter, Air Force. My colleague, Dr. Daniel Jackson."

The man behind her, tall and suited in tweed rather than Air Force blue, nodded. Azure eyes assessed them from behind round lenses, but his hair was military-short.

"FBI," Victor replied, impatient. "Not to be rude, but we're a little busy at the moment."

"Actually, that's why we're here," the woman stepped forward, lifting a leather briefcase to the cluttered desk. "General Hammond sent us."

Puzzlement wrinkled Taylor's forehead. Who?

Suspicion. Wariness. Formality.

And confusion in the three other agents. If they didn't play this just right, Daniel had the sneaking suspicion that Henriksen would toss them into cells alongside Sam and Dean. And then the cavalry will need rescuing.

"Agent Henriksen," the archaeologist stepped forward. "We have some documents that we'd like to show you."

"What, no demanding that the murderers go free?" muttered the large man in the back, who looked almost as big as Teal'c.

Henriksen didn't so much as look his way. Giving the whole team permission to be as belligerent as they want. The woman with long honey-colored hair over a lab coat looked more confused than suspicious, and the skinny man next to the computers was poking a bulge in one cheek with his tongue.

"Here's our identification," Sam offered her Cheyenne Mountain pass; Daniel quickly did the same. "Run all the verifications that you want. They'll hold up."

Henriksen immediately passed shiny plastic to the man by the computers, saying, "Shane?"

"On it," he replied, voice surprisingly mellow. Immediately computer screens lit up, keys clacking.

"If you'll let her," Daniel interjected calmly, making eye contact with all the agents. "Major Carter will open her briefcase and show you a few more documents, and give you reports that will attest to the Winchesters' innocence."

At that, Henriksen finally responded. "'If we let her'?"

Daniel couldn't help his grin. "You've been tracking Dean and Sam Winchester. So naturally, you're expecting fake IDs no matter how high their quality, stolen identities, traps, and possible violence."

Surprise shone clearly from their computer expert, and the woman frowned before her face went blank. The other agents, probably from more experience in the field, didn't so much as twitch. But all of a sudden there's more tension than a suspension bridge. The only way to dispel it would be to give them time to verify Daniel and Sam's identities, and ignore the trigger-happy gleam in Henriksen's eyes.

"All right," the agent assented.

Sam was careful to turn the briefcase their way even as she opened it, displaying nothing more threatening than a file of papers.

"These are copies of the pardons issued by the President of the United States, clearing Sam and Dean of any charges of murder or accomplice to murder."

"What about the grave desecration and credit-card fraud?" the large man asked snidely, pushing off the wall to come closer.

"Agent Kevin Rubins," Henriksen introduced him even as he reached for the documents.

"We'll get to that in a minute," Daniel answered. Gets right to the punch line, doesn't he?

Rubins leant around Henriksen, snagging one document and holding it up to the light, checking for the official watermark that would be one way of verifying the pardon's authenticity. Interesting dynamic. While Henriksen was clearly the leader, Rubins challenged him where the other two in the room did not. Team dynamics, definitely, but nothing like SG-1.

Which wasn't unexpected. But he was still intrigued by the interaction he could see – the small cues in facial expression and body language, in words spoken or held back.

As Sam was handing over the CD with the official debriefing from the skinwalker incident, declassified enough to be let out of the Mountain, Henriksen's cell phone rang.

"Excuse me."

The door had barely closed behind him when the computer guy looked up from his screens. "So. You're legit."

"You're sure?" Rubins spoke up before Daniel could respond.

"Sure as I can be, Kev. Ran it through the databases, got positive results. The IDs are the genuine article. You don't get embedded microchips at a Copy Jack. Even got some emails back to the query I sent out."

"That fast?" The woman turned to look over the screens; Daniel only noticed the CD she'd lifted from the desk when she handed it off. Okay, so maybe more than just the scientist on the team.

"It's what they do," the orange-haired man shrugged. "And their info's good as gold." Hazel eyes flitted their way, curiosity rampant. "Project Bluebook, huh?"

Daniel gulped. Glanced at Sam, and saw the lines around her tight smile. Um.

The office door banged wide, letting Henriksen back in. Daniel breathed out a silent sigh.

The computer guru tilted his head, glancing back as he uploaded the information from the CD. "Yo, Vic, what is it?"

"That was Director Zini." Henriksen shut the door, and Daniel relaxed a little; the suspicion was gone from his gaze, although he was still taking their measure.

"We did get in contact with the FBI," Sam said quietly. "It was necessary to find out where you were located, and to contact your superiors to clear up the situation."

"Your security clearance has been raised," Daniel added.

"What for?" Henriksen couldn't hide his bafflement.

Daniel shifted his eyes to the computer screens, waiting as a copy of the recording of Janet's autopsy of the skinwalker began playing. Rubins sputtered. "Holy mother of God -"

Henriksen turned, got a good look at the monitor where Janet was peeling flesh-toned scraps from the gray, leathery surface beneath, taking samples of gooey connective tissue. Color leeched from the agent's skin.

Even after seeing it twice, Daniel's face twisted up in distaste. Ew. "For that."


Friggin' finally. He knew that voice. Dean cracked open one eye, keeping his breathing steady. Couldn't look at the bars, see them closing in, trapping him –

Daniel was standing at the cell door, while a uniformed deputy fumbled with the lock.

He waited on the opposite side of the cell until bars swung open. No point in making the cop jumpy, even if he was a free man. "Where's Sam?"

"Sam – um, Major Carter's getting him," the archaeologist offered. "Jack and Teal'c couldn't make it."

Dean deliberately did not breathe a sigh of relief at that. Sauntering across the cell, he didn't miss the way the deputy's hand dropped to hover near his gun, face completely blank. He tossed a smirk the man's way, ignoring Daniel's raised brow. "Great. Let's blow this popsicle stand."

The archaeologist winced. "Actually . . ."

I really don't like the sound of that. Free of the long corridor partitioned by bars into boxes that looked bigger than they actually were, Dean stopped. Took in the busy police office, filled with cubicles, computers, people, and ringing phones. "What?"

"We kind of have to -"

"What Dr. Jackson is trying to say," interrupted an unknown voice, "is that all your belongings have been moved to evidence. You'll have to sign them out, and account for everything, before you can leave."

Dean turned, and came face-to-face with a guy almost as wide as he was tall. Holy – Assessment pulled him up short. It's all muscle. Green eyes narrowed. This was the guy who'd been manhandling his brother when they'd been arrested. Probably hits like a piledriver. At the glint in blue eyes, Dean readjusted his opinion . Sneaky SOB too, I bet. Dean could take him. Not without collecting some decent bruises and maybe a broken bone if he wasn't careful, but however smart this guy thought he was, Dean was faster. And meaner.

"Kevin Rubins," the guy stuck out his hand, smile all teeth. "FBI. But you knew that."

"Dean Winchester," he shot back, not taking the hand. Didn't bother to paste on a fake smile, despite Daniel's sigh at his back. "Not guilty. But you know that." What a dick.

Across the open room, he saw another door open and a familiar figure step out. Tension slid out of his shoulders abruptly. Dean pulled his hands out of his pockets, sidestepping the asshole. "Sam!" Two heads turned his way.

Three steps and he met up with his brother, reading the bruised expression in blue-green eyes. "What happened?"

"Nothing," Sam said quietly.

Major Carter scowled at him as she shouldered by, halting with Daniel and the Agent. Dean ignored her.

"You're not fine," Dean kept his voice low, but he wasn't letting this go.

Overlong bangs couldn't quite hide the strain. "Can we not do this here?"

Here, with dozens of wary eyes fixed on them, not quite believing the felons dangerous enough to bring the FBI to New Britain were really innocent. He's right. "So. Polevik. Offering didn't work. Any ideas on how to kill the son of a bitch?"

Something eased in his brother; Sam leant against the wall. "When we talked to Justyna, she mentioned an old legend – a flint knife to the heart."

Justyna, the kind, motherly woman who'd taken to his brother right away, stuffing Sam full of baked goods and bestowing smiles on them both. She was the sausage-seller's wife, and had helped them when they'd explained, in a roundabout way, what they thought was going on. "A flint knife." Where are we going to get one of those?

"Maybe Daniel can help."

"Yeah, I hope so." Dean rubbed a hand over his eyes, feeling the beginnings of a headache pulse behind his temple. Friggin' great. "'Cause next we gotta get our stuff back from Henrickson's lackeys. That's gonna be fun." Permits. They're gonna trip us up and want to see the permits. Which were probably in the evidence lockup too, if they'd gone through the Impala.

If they screwed up my car, I'll let the polevik have 'em.

"Lackeys, huh?" Sam quirked a grin at him.

"Shut up," Dean muttered, pushing away from the wall. Rubins was giving them both the evil eye, and from an open door beyond the FBI Agent and SGC personnel, he could see the familiar form of Henriksen, bent over a desk with a few items he distinctly recognized laid neatly out on its surface.

Son of a . . .

Dean gathered Sam up with a glance, and circled the stiff silence that formed a bubble around Rubins, Carter and Daniel, headed for the office. He got as far as the door before Henriksen looked up, the sudden anger in his face stopping Dean in his tracks. Just for a minute.

"What do you want?"

Dean's hackles went up, spotting a set of very familiar keys. "I'll start with my car." But right now? I'd settle for my guns, thanks. Stalking across the room, he scooped up the metal ring, sifting through the keys carefully. All here. Wonder if they took molds to make copies. He wouldn't put it past them.

Dean expected some protest when he reached for the first gun, and the silence had him lifting his gaze – to find Sam trying to laser Henriksen to ashes with his eyes. Dean blinked. Easy, tiger. "Sam."

Blue-green shifted focus, softening.

Dean waited until his brother's gaze turned questioning; then jerked his head toward the duffels lined up against the wall. "Check your stuff, make sure everything's there. Then help me get it all together before we pull the Impala out of the impound."

The Agent's jaw clenched.

Wicked amusement spun through Dean's veins. Can't wait to hear what he's got to say about this. Unfortunately, Henriksen looked lost for words.

Daniel leant in the doorway, Carter just outside. "So you said it was a polevik?"

"Yeah," Dean was surprised to see they'd kept the loaded magazines in the weapons, though the chambers were empty and safeties on. He poked through the papers on the desk, but none of them were their research. Gotta find that. "Offering didn't work, thanks to Dudley Do-Right and his posse, over there. You know anywhere we can get a flint knife?"

The archaeologist scratched one eyebrow, blue eyes thoughtful. "I could make one. It might take a few hours, and I'd need a core and hammerstone. Maybe a few cores, just in case."

Dean snorted. "Flint-knapping 101. Why didn't I think of that?"

"And what would you need this for, exactly?" Henriksen's voice, cool and clear and in-command.

Sam brushed shoulders with him, holding out the open – empty – weapons duffle. Dean let him fill it, moving to look over his own and make sure nothing was missing. Let Jackson explain.

His brother surprised Dean with the acid in his voice. "In case you haven't noticed, Agent Henriksen, people are being killed in this town."

This was like Jess all over again – Sam brimming with anger and despair and the need to lash out at something. "Man, it's not like you. I'm supposed to be the belligerent one." Yeah, Dean was. But this time, he couldn't help – because he knew exactly what was wrong.

Doesn't mean I won't try. "Sam."

Daniel stepped in, hands up. "The Winchesters are here to help, Agent Henriksen. Major Carter and I are going to lend a hand. There's a -"

"He's not going to believe us," Sam interrupted, angry resignation in every line of his body as he finished collecting and checking all their weapons. "None of them will."

"So let them come," Dean offered. In the corner of his eye he saw Sam's head whip around. "I'm not doing the whole the-truth-is-out-there spiel again. People believe what they can see with their own two eyes. And I'm pretty sure this tightwad's got enough nightmares already, job like his, that a few extra won't get noticed."

And suddenly Dean was catching glares from everyone in the room. He blinked. What?

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

"It would be better if they were nuts," Shane muttered grumpily. Fingers plowed through his hair, massaging away the strain of being overtired. No such luck. Man, this sucks.

"You're sure they're not?"

Taylor's befuddlement, from the woman who cared about nothing but numbers and precision and nuance, might have been funny if Shane hadn't checked their credentials. Twice. "Pretty sure," he said mournfully.

"Standing right here," the older Winchester pointed out snidely. But he didn't bother turning, instead focused on the motel wall where he and his brother had pinned up all the lose sheets of paper Shane had spent time painstakingly collecting and labeling for Evidence. There were ripped pieces tacked up as labels, papers grouped by victim and location, lines of tape drawing connections.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Shane had seen this particular brand of insanity enough to recognize the streak of genius buried in it. What the hell is going on? Complete explanations had been a little thin on the ground, beyond "There are things out there in the dark. Nightmare things. We kill them," and he could see the annoyance on his teammates as well. But the only reason Henriksen even let them out was because Zini called.

Yeah, there was evidence, and yeah, there were suddenly massive gaping holes in the files that would theoretically put the Winchesters away – holes in motive and chronological continuity and evidence. Bad things happen. They show up, and the bad things stop. The video they'd seen had been undeniable, coupled with the credibility of the source, but it still stuck in his head like science fiction rather than reality. And I feel like I'm part of the X-Files.

It was more than a little disconcerting. And it kinda sucks. If Henriksen was Scully, then Shane got stuck being one of the Lone Gunman. Which, cool, but seriously?

The eight of them were scrunched into two adjoining rooms, both painted in a shade of reddish-brown that might have once been striking. I think I wanna hurl. He couldn't tell if it was the thin brown carpet or the heavy smell of gun oil, overwhelming his senses. But Shane wanted his blinking screens and comforting layers of programming.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Four hours out of lockup and you'd never even know they'd been in; he'd hidden on the sidelines, watching as they repacked their repaired car with frightening ease, catalogued everything they owned, and inventoried weapons, gasoline, shovels, salt, and various odds and ends he'd left Taylor the job of sorting out.

"So, it's got to be located near the stables, d'you think?"

"Yeah," the younger Winchester sighed, leaving the laptop open and glowing across the room. Shane's eyes narrowed, but he was angled too far across the room to see anything. "The legends are really rough, but from what I can make out they'll take the country over the city – even one like New Britain – any day."

The older shifted toward one of the beds, ignoring the frown on Taylor's face as he moved around her, reaching for an open map. Henriksen's eyes never left him, and one dark-skinned hand rested one comfortable inch from the handle of his gun. "I think our best bet is to wait for him at the stable. He needs a horse to run down his victims, and the night guard's death seems to be the event that kicked all this off."

"It would be too easy if he was the replacement." Sam sank into the room's lone chair, blue-green zeroing in on the laptop screen.

Shane darted a nervous glance at Henriksen. Great. Our fearless leader is getting his money's worth out of that psychology seminar. Nothing but a chance to study his enemy up close would shut Victor up for this long; utter silence was the mark of his concentration. He needs to learn to loosen up.

"Nope. Guy's about five-eleven. So unless he's a dwarf that drank his milk, I'd say the new night watchman's in the clear."

The younger brother was slowly pacing back and forth, studying the wall, sneakers cat-silent on thin brown carpeting. "And he hasn't noticed any of the horses being taken out for a nice long run and brought back spattered with blood, why?"

Good question.

Dean Winchester stilled; Shane watched green eyes go distant with thought, covered with a careless shrug. "I dunno. Maybe he's got glasses."

One that apparently the older brother didn't have an answer for.

And into the thoughtful quiet, the noise came again. Tap. Tap. T-

"Okay, what the hell is that?" Shane demanded, shooting up from the bed. It was driving him friggin' nuts. Sporadic noise with no pattern, lying just under the level of conversation, and echoing from the adjoining room where the two military personnel were murmuring. Because no way were Kev and Henriksen letting the Winchesters out of their sight, pardoned or not.

"That's Daniel," the younger Winchester flapped a distracted hand. "We need a flint knife. He's making one."

He's making one? A flint knife?

Oh, yeah, these two were going to have a great shot at that insanity plea. Too bad they'll never see the inside of a courtroom. Presidential pardons tended to do that.

Kevin, suit long since discarded for more casual slacks and shirt, had lodged himself comfortably between door and window. "Yeah, run this by me one more time?"

"Polevik," Dean began, carrying the map to the wall and stabbing a pin through each corner. "It's a Polish field spirit. Looks like a dwarf, mostly."

Sam took over, shifting his attention from the wall to meet each of their eyes in turn. "Except its hair is prairie grass, and its eyes are different colors. They appear at twilight, and disappear at sunrise, and like to lead wanderers astray, or ride over them if they find them asleep. In this case, we think it's going for door number two."

Something in the way the two brothers fell smoothly into their explanation – like they'd done this hundreds of times – eased Shane, though it really shouldn't have. He's compelling. The team had focused on the older brother's charm, but it was clear to him now that Sam was the one who could lull and persuade, sincere in a way his brother's seemingly blunt honesty lacked. Dangerous.

Dean had finally settled, hands in pockets as he propped up the wall across from the open adjoining door. "They've also been known to murder people who spend too long at the bar before work, and then fall asleep on the job."

Pieces from earlier, recorded conversations fell into place. Shane chewed determinedly at the inside of his cheek, dropping next to Taylor on the bed. She sniffed, flipping blonde hair over one shoulder. "And you were – what – trying to appease it?"

"Well, that's the idea," the younger Winchester sighed, closing the laptop firmly. "Give it what it wants, and it'll go away. Unfortunately, one of the conditions of making the offering is that you have to do it while no one is looking."

"Which your long-range mikes and zoom lenses kinda screwed up," Dean grunted. "So, now we have to try to kill it. Flint knife."

So they believe this. Which is how they knew that we were watching them. That was . . . the odds on that coincidence were astoundingly low. Shane would have to put a calculation program to it once he got back to the office. "Nuts," he muttered to Taylor.

His fellow scientist-geek just nodded as the brothers murmured.

Sam moved across the room to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Dean. "Should we bless it, d'you think?"

Spiky hair dipped in a nod. "Just in case, yeah. I'll do it. Should bring the iron knives, too, and silver rounds just in case."

Shane glanced back at Henriksen, the adrenaline-fuelled euphoria of this morning's coup long since turned to something uneasy and cold, curling in his belly. But their team leader, dark eyes fixed on the Winchesters, made no move.

He could feel a bug making its way slowly up his ankle. Sam resisted the urge to squirm, closing his fingers tighter around the leather cords wrapping the handle of the flint knife.

"How long we gonna sit here?"

Frustration rose in a choking wave; Sam comforted himself with the knowledge that at least he didn't have to deal with Henriksen.

Still. Rubins was almost as annoying.

"Until it shows up," he whispered back, not willing to give himself away no matter how aggravated the agent was making him. "Be quiet." The man hadn't shut up on the ride here, poking questions and insinuations and demands for answers at them both. Dean had just cranked up the radio with an "I can't hear you. Music's too loud."

At least it had dried some in the hours they'd been locked in New Britain's jail, so lying in the open pasture to the west of Sunrise Stables wasn't as bad as wrestling with the crow in a muddy ditch had been the night before.

Despite everything, though, exhaustion was tugging at Sam's limbs, beckoning him down. Can't sleep. It's gonna come right out this way, Dean and Henriksen are gonna herd it out towards me if it tries to take the east entrance.

His watch gleamed at him in the growing darkness. 8:49 PM. All the victims had been run down well after full dark had crept over New Britain's streets. Maybe fifteen minutes.

And they didn't even know if this was going to work. Which would really help our credibility with Henriksen. They'd be back in jail before they could say polevik.

Flint or not, at least the knife was blessed.

"– Per Dominum. Amen."

The silence that fell as Dean spoke the last word felt like an indrawn breath held at its zenith. Sam was the only one close enough to see the holy water his brother had carefully measured out soak into stone, without leaving a drop behind.

It wasn't the blessing. Dean did it.

Remnants of Gabriel's healing, like the way the air trembled when Dean swore by God's name. Not taking it in vain – but taking it as witness. But it won't stop that Crossroads bitch from dragging him to hell.

Green slanted his way. "Ready to go?"

Movement from the stables yanked him free of the memory; lights were coming on as the watchman made his first rounds in darkness for the night. A shadow stretched along cement, giving the man's position away.

"Makes his rounds every half-hour like clockwork until ten." Rubins crawled further up the small incline they were hiding behind. They'd found a place just outside the fenced-in pasture; which meant Sam didn't have to worry about manure.

Against the yellow light shining on the stable's concrete floor, the black outline of the man's form was moving, from one side to the other across the corridor where the horses were housed. What's he doing? "Then he monitors the cameras until four." Was the shadow getting . . . bigger?

Rubins apparently noticed it too, perking up a bit. "What is -"

"Shut up!" Sam dragged him down again, eyes straining against the night. A soft neighing snort reached them, followed by the clop-clop of iron horseshoes. This is it.

And as he'd thought, the polevik wasn't bothering to circle around, leaving the stable and heading straight for New Britain. Straight for the two men hidden in the grass.


Gravel crunched under heavy hooves; in the half-light spilling from the open stable, Sam got his first good look at the polevik.

It wasn't . . . round, as he'd somewhat expected. Instead, the little figure was stocky, but too perfectly proportioned to be a child. The skin poking out from the cuffs of white shirt and pants was a coarse red-brown; long, stiff hair poked ridiculously high off its head, pushed back in the breeze like stalks of grain in a field. If he was close enough to see its face, Sam knew one eye would be electric blue, the other deepest brown.

Closer. Come on.

But for all the horse was trotting easily westward toward New Britain, it was going to pass too far by them for Sam to kill it. Not without moving, anyway. Dirt cold against his chest, the younger Winchester brother started worming quickly across the field. Got to head it off.

"Henriksen's circling around," came the low whisper from the FBI agent. Which wasn't comforting – but Dean would be with him. No time.

Move, move, move.

Behind him, something crackled in the growing darkness. Sam froze.

On the horse, the small figure pulled up straight from where it had leant close to the animal's neck, whispering in one ear. The silhouette thrown against the backdrop of stars was suddenly ominous. Sam saw it shift, a little, horse moving with it, and knew that with a flex of leg muscles the polevik would throw the horse into a gallop and they'd be too late. No time!

Lunging up from the ground, Sam ran the distance to the horse in near-silence, but as he got within range, the polevik turned, facing him.

Oh shit!

One blue eye seared him, snarl cutting the air. Startled, the horse let out a loud whinny, reins pulling it back and the polevik was swearing in harsh cadences and it was going to get away

Sam's reaching fingers caught on loose cloth, clenching in desperation.

At that moment the horse reared, throwing them both to the ground and he rolled, desperate to get out from under flailing hooves; someone shouted, panic thick in the air. Dean.

Gunshots ripped the night, and the mare screamed, a high horrible sound.

Weight landed on his ribs – Sam had a moment to think horse and heavy and the clear clarity of I'm dead, when fingers tightened around his wrist, trying to pry the knife free. Polevik.

Heels kicking against his sides; Sam bucked, twisting against the dirt as a rush of sound filled his ears. Fingers landed on his throat, digging painfully into skin. Strong!

He had a few minutes until his air would run out – Sam heaved, struggling to bring up the hand clenching his knife. A roaring filled his ears – and then the weight was gone, familiar hands tugging him upright. "Sam?"

His eyes caught on the polevik, crouched feet away where the shotgun blast had blown it off him, hissing through sharpened teeth as muscle coiled. Sam shoved his brother, bringing up the knife as the creature leaped. "Down!"

Stone slipped through cloth and skin, nicking off bone and sinking deep before snapping, leaving him sprawled half on top of his brother clutching the useless handle. Sam kicked out, sneakered foot finding purchase to push the writhing dwarf back, but not far enough. We are so screwed –

A scream rent the air, deafening him, as the polevik fell back onto the grass. Reddish fingers blackened with blood as it clutched the gash in skin and clothing. A hand hooked in Sam's collar, dragging him back with Dean as his brother scrambled away.

The polevik was in pain, but that didn't mean - "Is it working?" Sam gasped. "Did it -"

Which was when the dwarf-like creature melted.

What the fu-

"Okay, that wasn't part of our regularly scheduled program." Dean Winchester hauled his brother to his feet, brushing at the dirt spotting his jeans.

Kevin rubbed at his eyes again, aware that the Winchesters were staring as slack-jawed as he, but still feeling like he was an extra in a B-rated horror flick. Ding, dong, the wicked – whatever – is dead.

The ooze burbled, just a little, and sank further into the dirt.

Mmm. Ugh. Kevin swallowed as his gorge rose, moving away from the steam slowly rising into the air. He really wanted to avoid smelling that. Just in case.

Henriksen took a step closer, stick in one hand and cell phone in the other. Great. Couldn't let their fearless leader face the goop alone. Kevin squared his shoulders and stepped to the older agent's side. "Who you calling?"

"Taylor," Henriksen prodded the mass with the stick, surprise spilling across his face as it turned out to be more liquid than solid, more viscous than runny. "She might want a sample for analysis."

"Yeah, no kidding." Girl got giddy over her samples and experiments and labwork. Right now, she was holed up with Shane in the surveillance van with the two Air Force types, monitoring both the situation at the stables via remote camera, and the streets of New Britain.

Approaching conversation pulled Kevin's eyes from the gloopy mess that had, five minutes ago, been a living, breathing – something. Yep, this gets a ten on the wierdometer.

"Did you know that was going to happen?" The older Winchester was carefully checking over the marks on his brother's neck, face a mix of anger, fear, and displeasure.

Sam's wince wasn't quite hidden by the deepening shadows. "Not . . . exactly."

"'Not exactly'? What does that mean?"

The younger Winchester was touched carefully at his throat, where red prints were blossoming that would undoubtedly darken to finger-shaped bruises in the next day. "Justyna said something about the polevik returning to the Earth if it was killed."

"As a patch of prairie grass and mud?"

Huh. It does sorta look like mud. Maybe really thin clay. If clay came in blackish red. And the patch of what he had taken for hair at a distance was the only thing still intact, and obviously a thick thatch of prairie grass.

My brain is going to break.

This was un-friggin'-believable.

Kevin strapped some mental steel onto his spine, resisting the growing urge to butt-plant right in the pasture and blank out. Shit like this isn't supposed to exist. It's supposed to be all fairy-stories and folklore.

But if Henriksen could take it with the bare batting of an eye, so could he. That didn't mean he was going to get closer than he had to. Kevin had seen The Blob, with a horde of screaming nephews, but still.

Victor folded his phone away, finally rising and moving away from the unidentifiable, sticky mass. Kevin followed. "Now what?" So glad I'm not heading this one up. Definite benefits to not being the guy in charge. He smirked.

A sigh emerged; Henriksen pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes with a soft groan. "Now we find a way to explain this case to Zini, without her dumping us all off for a psych eval."

Coffee in hand, Dean shoved the motel room door closed with one booted foot. The undistinguishable lump under the blankets of one of the beds twitched. "How you feeling?"

He got a cough instead of an answer.

Good thing I hit the diner.

Dean settled the cup of soup carefully on the nightstand, grimacing at the herbal tea he'd drizzled with honey. Cannot believe they had some with elm bark. "Got some stuff for your throat, Sammy. C'mon, sit up."

"It's Sam."

The rasp wasn't intimidating in the slightest. Shakin' in my boots, here, bro. "Sit up."

Tousled hair edged free from the blanketed mound, and Dean choked back his anger at the deep bruises on his brother's throat. He held out the cup. "Here. Loaded it with sweet stuff, too. Small sips."

The grimace that crossed Sam's face could have been from either the bitter taste or the irritation against his throat; the younger Winchester's features relaxed as more tea coated his esophagus. "Thanks," he breathed.

Dean plunked down on his bed, eyeing the fading marks. Two days, and the bruises were shading from blue-purple into green-yellow. "So I got a call from Dr. J while I was out. Seems like they've finally managed to get us officially removed from the FBI's most wanted list."

"Bet Henriksen loved that," Sam whispered back, voice scratchy.

A snort escaped him. He knows what he saw. "I hope he had a lot of fun trying to explain to everyone else in the Bureau why his case is suddenly nonexistent." Officious dick. The others hadn't been quite as bad, as Feds went, but they were bad enough. Even if that Taylor chick was hot. Regardless, she fell into one of his automatic turn-off categories, which consisted of demons and authority figures. And she was a bit of a bitch.

Women who looked at him like they'd be happier to see roadkill didn't exactly get his blood pumping.

"He also said that they should have cleared everything up the NID was stalling in getting our pardons out and wiping our records, but he couldn't be sure."

"So we need to be on the watch for them, now, too?" Weariness shone from blue-green; Dean let the anger curl through him, even though it wasn't aimed at Sam. Sam, who was showing the wear from trying to figure out the deal, and all the whispers of danger from demons and hunters alike. This . . . sucks.

"Probably not." Dean wanted to lift that burden. It helped that he was being honest. "Daniel thinks they're going to be fully occupied with Cheyenne. We're only a footnote to them anyway." Exorcisms aside.

"Some good news," Sam snarked. He was probably well enough to get out of bed, but Sam always slept for crap and he was still getting over a near-strangulation, so why make him?

Dean reached for the first of the weapons he'd been laying out during their chat, gun oil, rags and the rest of their cleaning supplies close to hand. He had a few hours of work ahead of him, making sure their gear was in order, and Sam had a book he'd picked up at a used bookstore before they'd skipped town. Not like we needed to be there to see Henriksen pull out.

And mornings after – sex, hunts, whatever – were always awkward. Might as well avoid it.

A grunt caught his ear; Sam was kicking free of blankets, heading toward the laptop perched in the far corner of the room. Half his attention on the blade whicking over the whetstone in his palm, Dean watched carefully, but Sam dropped into the chair no worse for the wear. "You gonna find us another job?"

A nod as the laptop opened, screen's glow barely noticeable against the sun shining in from open drapes. He's feeling better.

Dean continued sharpening his knife. With the Devil's Gate releasing a scattered army into the world, they'd have work to do soon enough.