Standard Disclaimer: Supernatural is the creation of Eric Kripke and property of Warner Bros. Entertainment. No copyright infringement intended.


Down Softly

by Liz Bach

Part I

Dean awoke to the sound of his brother begging, but he didn't realize until later that's what it was.

The thick, brocade curtains were still drawn tightly across the windows, but a thin sliver of bright afternoon light found its way through, setting aglow one small corner of a cracked mirror beside the armoire. That piece of sunlight reflected across the room at a forty-five degree angle, illuminating a vaguely disturbing amount of floating and drifting dust, before it came to rest in a warm line against Dean's sleep-mussed hair, over one eye, and down his left cheek. He squinted for a brief moment, then clumsily lifted a hand and laid it, palm-up, against his face.

The room was warm to the point of stuffiness. He'd slept in only his boxers, and the bedspread lay crumpled in an unused heap at the foot of his bed. Not removing the hand from across his face, he pushed himself up on the other elbow and frowned in drowsy confusion. He rubbed a knuckle against his eyes and licked at dry lips. A tepid draft breezed in through the front door, which he realized had been left open a crack, and nudged the curtain enough to lengthen the shaft of light that now ran the length of his shoulder and down his bare chest. The clock on the bedside table was analog, and the second hand clicked noisily with the slow passage of time. It was already one o'clock, and the Arizona late-springtime heat was making its imminence known, even at their current elevation.

He was still sticky and clammy from their successful hunt and his subsequent celebration the night before. Salt and burn effected, he'd been hopped up on residual adrenaline and stale heat that continued to rise off the sun-kissed asphalt. A rowdy local bar with a broken neon sign that might once have read Bab's beckoned, as did the promise of a cold beer, the smoothness of a pool cue in his hands, and possibly even the feel of small hands with long nails scratching seductively against his back.

Sam had declined to tag along, so Dean had gone alone and basked in the anonymity. It had felt inordinately refreshing to pay with cash, to not hustle, to know he had nowhere else to be in the morning for the first time in months. He was looking forward to sleeping in late, to as many solid hours as he could get, during which his inactivity made no difference in the grand, dire scheme of things.

He'd finally rolled in at half past three, and the lights appeared to have been out for quite some time, but one of the curtains was slung open in an optimistic attempt to usher in a nonexistent breeze from the parking lot. The shoddy window air conditioner had conked out on them the night before, and the motel manager had grumpily agreed to knock twenty dollars off their bill in lieu of repair. A faint yellow glow emanated from a single lamp out on the deserted sidewalk and lit the room enough for him to shed his smoky clothes and slide soundlessly onto his bed.

Beside him, Sam was a long lump under a thread-bare top sheet, the edge of which was pulled tightly against his muscular shoulder. It didn't matter how warm the night or how muggy the room; Sam had never been able to sleep without something covering him. He'd been that way since he was a child. Whether it was the old ragged blanket he'd toted everywhere for the first five years of his life or his brother's protective arm before they'd grown too big and too old to cohabitate a single motel room full. It was something peculiarly Sam, something predictably Dean's little brother, that sent a chill down Dean's spine to notice how true it had remained after twenty-four years. He'd watched Sam breathe quietly for several completely still moments, then tucked his arms beneath his pillow and buried his cheek into the worn out down. He gripped the hilt of his bowie knife tightly, and the second-hand of the clock had softly ticked him to sleep.

Now he sat with his back pressed up against the pleather-lined headboard, one side of his hair mashed down against his skull, and Sam's soft but urgent voice floating in through the open window. Friday afternoon traffic was relatively light but steady as it hummed along the stretch of road out front of the single-story motel. It was racket enough that Dean couldn't make out words, but he was instantly attuned to the unveiled dolor of his brother's tone.

Sam's voice had been tainted by a modicum of distress for the past couple weeks, ever since their final run-in with Gordon Walker. It had been enough to stir up a trace of concern, but not yet enough to warrant discussion. It was unnerving, but Dean's perilous assumption was that Sam would eventually open up about anything that proved too significant to handle on his own. Dean figured it had something to do with the shock of severing a man's head from his body with his own bare hands, hadn't missed the look on his brother's face or the tremble of his hands as they walked away from that dark warehouse. He refused to consider it might relate to old Yellow Eyes' sinister insinuation back on that cemetery floor that Dean's sacrifice had only served to resurrect something not quite his brother. Something Dean might not know anymore.

In time, Sam stopped talking, and only the noise from the old highway echoed off the papered walls. Dean shifted in the bed, snatching up the television remote. A static-riddled picture popped into view a split-second before the sound caught up, and then he was watching a bouncing contestant elect to spin the Wheel.

The motel room door jerked open with a whoosh that sucked the curtain through the window. It settled back inside as the door swung shut.

Dean scratched absently at his chest and eyed his brother's entrance without moving his head. He frowned at the hunch of Sam's shoulders beneath a t-shirt that had once hung loose but now stretched taut against firm deltoids and traps. Recent loss of life aside, Sam only appeared to be getting stronger; his physical fortification incongruous with his nascent emotional deterioration.

"Whaddyou got?" Dean asked over the bing of a few well-placed letter P's. Live, studio audience applause erupted as somebody deftly solved the puzzle.

Sam stopped next to the small work table beside the window. He let his new phone hang loosely in his hand for a moment before setting it down gently – almost reverently – onto the tabletop. His fingertips pressed lightly against the wood, and he let out a soft puff of air, then wiped the back of his free hand over first one eye and then the other. Almost like he would had he been crying outside; although from where Dean sat it wasn't apparent if he had.

"I, uh…" he said, then shook his head and frowned.

Remote still in hand, Dean folded his arms across his chest. "Is it a hunt? Was that Bobby?"

"No." Sam shook his head again. "No. Nothing like that." He was still looking down at the table, seemed unable or unwilling to meet Dean's eyes. He cleared his throat, but his voice was still a bit husky when he next spoke. "Just a mistake, that's all."

Dean sat up straighter and turned off the TV. He tossed the remote onto Sam's unmade bed and pulled one leg under himself. "You saying we screwed something up?" he clarified, feeling a bit like he was grilling Lassie for details. "Are you sure? 'Cause I'm pretty positive we covered all our bases last night."

He saw Sam glance in his general direction out of the corner of his eye.

"No, that's not what I meant." Suddenly, Sam snatched up the phone and shoved it into his pocket. Then he grabbed his duffle off the floor and started cramming a wad of dirty, sweaty clothes inside. "Dude, you ready to go? We can grab something to eat on our way out."

"Yeah, man. Sure." Dean shrugged and rubbed at the back of his neck. "Just lemme grab a quick shower, and we'll hit the road."

Sam was nodding, as if they'd just made some major decision and he was gearing himself up to follow through on it. "Okay," he said to no one in particular. "Okay."

SN

Word spread fast in this tiny Arizona town, and suddenly they were local celebrities. The accolades suited Dean just fine, and he leaned back in the lumpy, vinyl bench with a smugly satisfied smile on his face as the waitress set down two pieces of freshly-sliced peach pie.

"Thought maybe I could interest you boys in a couple free slices of pie," she said, leaning deeply forward, ostensibly to place Dean's dessert plate to the far left of the gratis meal he was still working on. Her bare arm brushed against his, and the skin of her elbow and triceps was soft and smelled oddly intriguingly of fry grease and yellow cake.

Dean's smile blossomed into a full-blown, slightly lascivious grin.

"Mmm…" he winked. "You know, free happens to be my favorite flavor."

The waitress clutched her small tray with both hands against her chest and broke into a nervous laugh, as though now that Dean was flirting back, she wasn't quite sure what to do with herself. She wiped a now-sweaty palm down the front of her short green apron.

"Oh. Okay then." She tucked a stray strand of shiny black hair behind an ear. "Well, all right. You let me know if you need anything else."

Dean acknowledged the innocent offer with another wicked smile and a little lift of his head.

She started backing away, her eyes still on Dean's face as she stumbled over the leg of an empty chair and dropped her tray. She froze for a brief moment, her eyes widening and her cheeks flushing a rather fetching shade of pink, before she reached down, abruptly grabbed the tray, and hurried off to the sanctuary of the kitchen.

"A little graceless, but I've definitely seen you do worse."

Dean turned to his brother, who had been observing the exchange with a fondly incredulous look in his eyes. Dean blinked, and in that span of time Sam managed to school away the fondness and focus on the incredulity.

Dean stabbed the last bite of meat off his plate and dunked it into a dark puddle of steak sauce. "Brother, you ain't never lied," he agreed soberly.

Sam shook his head and rolled his eyes. He was leaned forward in the seat with his arms folded and elbows on his thighs. The relatively tight quarters caused the edge of the Formica tabletop to press against the fronts of his upper arms. His chin was practically nestled atop his untouched pile of fries. He sighed, and a piece of lettuce fluttered on his plate.

Dean sunk back into the booth and rested both forearms against the edge of the table, fork sticking straight up from one fist and a steak knife protruding from the other. He chewed thoughtfully for a long moment, his eyes on his brother's meal.

"So," he started nonchalantly, then swallowed. "How's that burger treatin' ya?"

Sam looked down at the cheeseburger, which was a mess of greasy black Angus, runny cheddar, a surprisingly crisp leaf of iceberg, and two grill-toasted hunks of sourdough. He pulled an arm from under the table and proceeded to lift the top piece of bread, as if to inspect the sandwich more thoroughly before committing to a response.

"It looks okay," he concluded.

Dean nodded and ran his tongue over his molars. Then he looked up and caught his brother's eyes. Sam stared back with a quizzical quirk to one eyebrow.

"What?"

"Well, are you planning to eat it or just watch it grow?" Dean demanded in exasperation.

Sam pressed his lips together and gave the burger one more disinterested appraisal before sighing again and nudging the plate across the table.

"You're like a bottomless pit, Dean."

"Dude. I gotta keep up my strength. Body this ripped consumes a lot of fuel." He shrugged indifferently. "You wouldn't understand."

He opened the ketchup and poised it over an empty spot on the plate just next to a pickle spear. Both brothers watched as nothing happened, and after several moments Dean took to slapping the side of the glass bottle. He managed to slap until his palm started to sting before Sam reached across and yanked the bottle from his hands.

"Would you give me that?" he muttered self-consciously. "You look like a freakin' monkey, and people are staring at us."

Dean glanced around the restaurant and then turned back to his brother. "Don't worry. They're looking at me, not you." He leaned forward conspiratorially, an arrogant smirk lifting the corners of his lips. "And it's got nothing to do with the ketchup."

Sam rolled his eyes for the umpteenth time that morning and landed a well-positioned thump over the letter "H" on the Heinz label, dislodging a large blob of ketchup that plopped inelegantly onto the plate. Sam recapped the bottle and thunked it down onto the table out of Dean's immediate reach. He slouched back into the seat and propped an impatient elbow on the window ledge beside him.

"Eat that so we can get out of here," he said toward the window.

"Christ, Sam." Dean frowned and shoved a fry into his mouth. "You're mean when you're cranky."

"I'm not cranky," Sam informed the window solemnly, and Dean's playful frown suddenly dissolved into something much sadder.

Outside, a young couple was getting out of their little red Civic hatchback. The woman was tall and thin with soft brown curls that hung down her back. She dropped the front passenger seat forward and leaned into the rear of the car. When she stood again there was a new baby in her arms, swathed in a tiny pink blanket. The man jogged around the vehicle and grabbed a froggy-green diaper bag off the front floorboard. He shouldered the bag and slammed the door closed. Then he wrapped a lovingly protective arm around the woman's waist and led her to the restaurant door.

Dean chewed his newly-acquired fries sullenly and tried to ignore the wistful look in his brother's eyes. He'd condemned his own damn self to hell only months before, but it was moments like this that were truly killing him. Moments when Sam looked so inexorably alone, even with Dean sitting right there across from him.

Dean was used to Sam wanting; it was what younger siblings did. And Dean was used to Sam not getting; it was how Winchesters lived. But Sam had legitimate needs, too, aside from the wants; and one of those had always been someone to look after him. Because as big and as strong as Sam had grown, as intelligent and self-sufficient as he'd become, he had always – always – been Dean Winchester's little brother. John Winchester's younger son. And whether he appreciated it – or even realized it – or not, he'd always been fiercely loved and protected. And in one moment of madness and grief-driven fear, one moment of incomprehensible, unthinkable pain and loss, Dean had stripped his brother of the only sure thing he'd ever had. Now Sam's life was one whopping shitload of frightening uncertainty, and he was facing it all by himself.

Dean abandoned the fries and wiped greasy fingers on the front of his jeans. "C'mon, man. Let's go," he said, getting to his feet. He pulled out his wallet and tossed a few bills onto the table.

Sam didn't move from the booth, but looked up at his brother questioningly. "What about your pie?"

"It's peach," Dean shrugged. "I hate peach."

Sam's brow furrowed. "But you said –"

"Let's go, Sam."

Dean was already headed toward the door. As he walked, patrons nodded and waved at him, smiles and words of congratulations and thanks on their lips. It was a tiny bit unnerving, to tell the truth. It was a rare occurrence that anybody – let alone an entire town – acknowledged their efforts even remotely positively after a hunt. Except, of course, those they'd helped directly.

"Dude. These people love us," Dean said, feeling before actually seeing Sam catch up behind him. He pushed open the glass door and stepped out into the hot sun.

"We exterminated a ghost that had been terrorizing them for over five decades," Sam pointed out dryly over the jangle of the entry bells. "What's not to love?"

"Well, we did manage to desecrate a town monument in the process."

Sam shrugged one shoulder, his eyes on the ground as they walked side by side. He kicked a small rock with his toe, and it tumbled along ahead. "Yeah," he conceded with a little smile. "I don't think they noticed that yet."

"Well, what do we have here?" Dean murmured, slowing his pace a little and unconsciously angling his path so that he moved slightly ahead of and in front of his brother.

Sam looked up and peered over Dean's shoulder to see what had prompted the remark. It was a lone man leaning nervously against one of the Impala's rear fenders, watching their approach from beneath the lip of an old faded and sweat-worn Diamondbacks cap. He was a small man, and his stone-washed jeans were ripped at the knees, although Dean suspected not on purpose. He wore a plain grey t-shirt with permanent sweat stains under the arms. His skin was prematurely weathered and deeply tanned. Everything about him looked worn and baked-in, like he'd been out in the sun his entire life working hard and earning little in return.

When Dean and Sam were within about ten paces, the man straightened. He sucked a quick last drag on the stubby remainder of an unfiltered Camel that had been hanging loosely from between chapped lips. He pinched the butt between a thumb and middle finger, then flicked it to the asphalt. It rolled, trailing a thin vine of smoke, and finally dropped through the metal rungs of a sewer grate near the Impala's left rear tire.

"Oh, this guy's got a death wish," Dean muttered under his breath. His entire body tensed, and he was poised for a confrontation when he felt Sam's hand on his shoulder. The touch effectively halted him in his tracks, although his eyes remained steely and focused on the man.

"Just take it easy," Sam cautioned quietly.

"I'll take it easy after he's finished buffing the ass-mark off my paintjob," Dean threatened loudly enough for the man to hear.

"Sorry," the man apologized in a vaguely southern accent. To his credit, he pulled a crumpled handkerchief from his back pocket and swiped it at the glossy black paint several times. Then he shoved the cloth back into his pants and took a couple tentative steps forward. "You guys're them, right? The guys that took care of that ghost lady? Millicent Roemer?"

Dean relaxed a fraction at the question, but it was Sam who responded.

"Who's asking?" he prompted, moving out from behind his brother.

"Sorry," the man said again. He pulled the baseball cap down from his head, exposing a tangled mess of dark, straw-dry hair. "Name's Cruz. Dylan Cruz."

He scrubbed an open palm against the cotton fabric covering his ribcage before starting to extend it in Dean's general direction. Mid-motion, he reconsidered and offered the calloused hand to Sam instead. Sam shook it briefly, but he still didn't answer the man's question.

"I don't mean any disrespect, and I'm not looking for any trouble," Dylan continued hastily, clutching his cap at his belt buckle and kneading the bill into a circle. The more he spoke, the younger he looked, and Dean realized this guy was probably only around Sam's age. "I just heard…you know, around town. How you guys can do that kind of thing."

"Yeah, well, we don't sign autographs, and we don't do pictures, either," Dean announced gruffly, openly eyeing the Impala for scratches.

"I'm not…I didn't…" Dylan faltered and wilted in confused frustration. He visibly paused to collect himself, and when he looked at them again it was with a mixture of dying hopefulness and rising skepticism. "I wanted to ask for your help. You do that, right? That's what people have been saying about you. That you help people. You…believe them."

Sam took one breath, and Dean knew they were letting Dylan Cruz off the hook.

"What is it you're asking us to believe?" Sam inquired in that soft, concerned voice of his; the one that had always – but especially since Cold Oak – made Dean want to reach over and grab him, just to be safe. It was a tone of voice that made Sam sound…well, certainly not weak. No, on the contrary, it spoke of an underlying trustworthiness and strength very few people could claim to posses. But at the same time, to Dean's ears, it made him sound disturbingly susceptible to being taken away. Or like, in some way only Dean could discern, he was already partially gone.

Dylan didn't answer right away, but looked steadily into Sam's eyes, as if he were searching for something that he might see very deep within the calming intensity of Sam's gaze.

Dean warily watched them watching each other. And just before the scrutiny crossed over from reasonable uncertainty into just plain weird, Dylan must have found what he was looking for in Dean's brother. He let out a long breath and looked down at the tarmac.

"I'm trying to find my sister," he said.

"What makes you think we can help you?"

"She, uh…she's been leaving strange messages on my phone. She was asking me to come here, but I couldn't right away. I was…too busy with something else. She…" He put a hand on one hip and pressed the back of the other wrist across his mouth. He kept his eyes on the ground. "She just wanted me to come home," he said quietly, his voice breaking the slightest bit.

"So why us?" Dean prompted, trying not to sound cruel, but needing to get to the point. They'd finished their job here, they'd gotten free pie, and he actually felt pretty good about leaving on such a high note. Now he felt like he'd just stepped into a revolving door. "If you think something happened to her, why not call the police?"

It was nearly two-thirty now, and the sun was beating down on the blacktop and the backs of Dean's and Sam's necks. In this light, the world around them seemed so starkly real, so solid and absolute. It was difficult to imagine what had brought them here in the first place could actually exist. They were following-up on reports of a ghostly specter haunting an old, dusty Arizona town. She appeared regularly on a seldom traveled stretch of road, every month on the night of the new moon. In such a small, humdrum place where curiosity and disbelief trumped common sense and self-preservation, a wandering apparition easily drew the stupid and the ignorantly brave. She hadn't killed a human yet, but she'd injured plenty. Those who claimed to have seen her typically left the experience either physically wounded or emotionally traumatized, or both. After several days of research, they came to discover she was Millicent Roemer, and she was one serious bitch. Once they knew what they were dealing with, however, it was a relatively simple task to dispatch her spirit, and they'd escaped this hunt rather notably unscathed.

"I tried the police, but they won't help," Dylan explained. "Her car is gone, too, and they say there's no sign of foul play at her place. They think she left on her own, and they told me to just give it a few days."

"But you think otherwise?" Sam surmised.

"My sister…Ana…she believed in some really weird things," he continued hesitantly. He retrieved the handkerchief from his pocket and wiped it over his neck, then let out a weak, uncomfortable laugh. "I mean, the shit she used to go around talking about…? I thought it was insane." Then suddenly he squared his shoulders and his hesitation faded away. He looked up at them unapologetically with clear eyes and an earnestness even Dean couldn't deny. "Look, guys. I left her here almost five years ago, right after I graduated high school. I moved down to Phoenix, and I begged her to come with me, just to get her out of this Podunk place. But she wouldn't come. And I just…I couldn't stay. I left her here by herself, and I haven't heard anything from her since. Not until a few weeks ago when she started leaving messages. And her last message…it scared the shit out of me."

"What did it say?" Sam asked cautiously.

Dylan licked his lips. "She, uh…she asked what I was doing. Said she was worried about me. And she said…she said something might be after her. Then she just started rambling. Some crazy shit. Weird stuff that I didn't understand. I thought she was just…being Ana, jumping at noises and pretending to see things. The last thing she said was…that she loved me." He paused, shaking his head, his face burning with shame and regret. "She was scared. Like out of her mind. And I didn't want to believe that she had a real reason to be. My god. I should've just come home."

Dean was listening to Dylan, but he was watching Sam closely. He found himself doing that a lot lately: gauging a situation by the effect it had on his brother. Sam's expression gave nothing away, though. In fact, he seemed to be someplace else, despite the grim but sympathetic look in his eyes that bled down to the sad curve of his lips. There was a fine tremor along his shoulders now, that hadn't been evident back in the diner. And Dean was suddenly concerned.

Before he could say anything, a hand clamped down on his shoulder from out of nowhere, and all three men standing beside the Impala jumped in surprise.

"Boys! Boys! Don't tell me you're leaving so soon?"

Dean spun around. He imagined he was going to give the body attached to the hand on his shoulder the what for for managing to sneak up on him. What came out of his mouth, however, was more like a garbled, "Whaagh!"

"Whoops!" the body exclaimed, pulling its hand back abruptly and holding it up in the air in a gesture of surrender. "Sorry about that, son. Didn't mean to startle you."

Dean straightened his back and frowned indignantly. "Didn't startle anybody," he muttered inanely.

The newcomer leaned back slightly, putting a hand on either side of his comfortably round belly. His white shirtsleeves were rolled somewhat sloppily up to the elbows, but his blue paisley tie was knotted impeccably and his Italian leather shoes polished to an impressive shine. He was taller than Dylan but shorter than Dean, and the hems of his tailored brown slacks hung just the tiniest bit too far off the ground. He was grinning like an idiot, his eyes and entire head wagging back and forth between Dean and Sam and then back again.

"You boys aren't leaving yet, are you?" he bellowed jovially, his voice carrying across the parking lot. He clapped a strong paw back onto Dean's shoulder. "We haven't had a chance to thank you yet."

"Actually," Dean said, glancing down briefly at the hand before looking up again and smiling a little ambivalently at the man, "we're good." He shrugged the arm without the hand on it. "We already got a couple free pieces of pie."

"Nonsense!" the man scolded, giving Dean's shoulder an affable shake. "You two put an end to fifty years of terror in this town. Hell, you might've saved scores of lives. You can't just take off without letting us show you our gratitude."

"Look, Mister…?" Sam spoke up from behind his brother.

The man turned his face up to gaze at Sam, and his smile seemed to intensify, if that was possible.

"Mullins," he supplied. "But you can call me Timothy. I certainly think you've earned that courtesy. I'm the mayor of this little town, but don't hold that against me."

Mullins laughed out loud, his grip tightening on Dean's sleeve, and Sam forced a weak, dubious chuckle in response.

"Now, I insist you stick around just one more night. We've got a little celebration planned, and you…well, you just need to be there, boys. You're the guests of honor. Jenny and her crew over at the restaurant have already started whipping up one of her famous Polish buffets in honor of the occasion."

Dean's eyes lit up. "D'ya hear that, Sammy? Jenny's whipping up a buffet."

Sam frowned. "Dean…" he hedged.

But Dean was grinning widely at Mullins. "Tim, my man, you had me at buffet."

"Well, all right, then," Mullins smiled back. "You meet us at the Civic Center around five o'clock this evening. Oh…" he nodded in Dylan's direction. "And be sure to bring your friend along with you."

Dean spun on one heel and eyed Dylan critically. He'd almost forgotten the guy was standing there. "He's not our friend," Dean informed the mayor.

Dylan ducked his head and unconsciously inched a little further from the Impala.

Mullins' smile didn't falter, but for the briefest flicker of time, something about it rang slightly false. "Well. Bring him anyway." In the blink of an eye, the affectation was gone, and he started to back away. "Five o'clock, boys." He pointed a finger at Dean and winked. "We'll see you there!"

Dean gave him a double thumbs up, his smile crinkling the corners of his eyes. Then he turned to Sam and Dylan, his back to the diner and Mullins. He rolled his eyes. "Talk about laying it on thick," he muttered.

Sam shifted his weight to one leg impatiently. "Dean, why did you tell him we would stay?"

"C'mon, Sam. You're being about as fun as a stick. How often do we have a whole town trying to thank us for taking care of their shit?" He cast Sam a rueful half-smile, his eyes reflecting the smallest bit of wistful yearning. So small that had Sam not known his brother better than anyone else, he might have missed it. But Sam did know Dean, and that look on his brother's face evoked a sudden rush of anticipation and dread in the pit of his stomach. Dean never asked for anything in return for the things he did; not from the many strangers they'd helped over the years, nor from his own family. He'd always given, and John and Sam had never hesitated to take. So maybe Sam owed Dean this much.

"Besides, dude," Dean pointed out almost reverently. "There's gonna be a Polish buffet."

"What's on a Polish buffet?" Dylan asked tentatively.

Dean's brow furrowed in thought for several seconds before he shrugged. "Dunno. But it sounds like there's gonna be a lot of it."

Sam sighed and rolled his eyes, a grudging smile touching his lips. He supposed he could suffer through one awkward dinner if it would make Dean happy.

Dean knew the moment the decision had been made and tried to smother his triumphant smirk for Sam's sake. He turned to Dylan.

"You got a car?" he asked.

Dylan nodded, a renewed spark of hope in his eyes. "Yeah. I'm parked over there," he said, gesturing toward a beat-up '76 Nova that looked like it had been pieced together from scraps.

"We'll follow you," Dean said, grabbing the back of Sam's shirt and giving him a little shove toward the passenger side. "We'll need to see Ana's place and listen to that message."

The look of relief on Dylan's face struck Dean in a way he hadn't expected it would.

"Yeah. Okay," Dylan nodded, smiling as he dug a thin set of keys out of his pocket.

Sam was sitting stiffly, drumming his middle finger distractedly on his knee, by the time Dean sank into his seat and turned the key in the ignition. The engine rumbled to life, and he shifted into reverse.

"You okay?" he asked evenly as they pulled out of the spot.

"You think something supernatural happened to his sister?" Sam countered, staring through the windshield at the brief but thick cloud of exhaust that spewed from Dylan's tailpipe.

"I think he thinks so," Dean speculated, with a quick, noncommittal tilt of his head. They pulled out onto the main road. "I guess we're gonna find out."