Vampires Were People Too

Disclaimer: Not mine. Theirs.

Beta'd: With special thanks to Carocali, Muffy and Phx.

Time Line: Snuggled between Houses of the Holy and Born Under a Bad Sign.

AN: Okay, it's the truth this time. This is the very last chapter of Vampires. I almost can't believe it is finished. For those of you who took the time to read and hang in there for it – I hope it was worth the wait. Thank you for your patience.

It's been forever since I posted so I put in a fairly lengthy rewind. If you are reading straight from chapter 8 or have an excellent memory (LOL) scroll down about a page. Hee.


"Father Rodriguez tells me you stopped whatever was taking the kids," Sheriff Brady said.

"I'm not…" Dean started.

"I'll spare you the trouble of lying," Brady said, holding up his hand. "I know what happened on the mesa, what was wrong with your brother." The older man turned his attention to Sam. "How're you doing, Sam?"

"I'm fine," Sam said, pressing his hands against the mattress to push himself higher in the bed. "Have the kids returned?"

A wounded look crossed the older man's face. "No, not yet." He pulled a rumpled map out of his pocket. "I've been checking the places near where they disappeared, but I haven't found any signs."

Dean snagged the map from the Sheriff's loose grip and smoothed it out on Sam's bedside tray. Red lines circled each spot of the five spots where a child was presumed to have disappeared. Sam ran through the areas, trying to find some way to correlate them. "Pen," Dean snapped, holding out a hand.

Brady dug in his pocket, handing Dean a pen. "What is it?"

Sam waved at the sheriff to silence him and watched his brother's face as he poured over the map, drawing lines, connecting sites. The two closest dots formed feet, another a bent triangle, a sloping back and then it came together. "It is," Dean said under his breath.

"It is what?" Brady asked, standing up and walking to the table.

Sam shot Dean an incredulous look; he never would have spotted that pattern, the connecting lines forming a stylized Aztec hummingbird. "It still doesn't tell us where the kids are," Dean growled.

"What doesn't?" Brady asked.

"Here's the church," Sam said, pointing to the bird's eye. "What's here?" He tapped a finger on the map over the spot where the heart would be.

"The old silver mine," Brady supplied. "Why?"

"Because that's where the kids are," Dean said, his voice rough.

"Could they still be alive?" Sam asked.

"If they had water," Sheriff Brady nodded. "Maybe." He was standing, moving out the door, cell phone in hand. Sam could hear the muffled conversation taking place just outside the room.

Dean's face was pinched, concern etched in every line. "Go," Sam said.

"No," Dean said, his mint green eyes deepening to mossy with worry and residual fear. "I'm going back to the motel for clothes for you and to grab a quick shower. The experts have this one, Sam."

"Dean, I know you want to," Sam said. "Just go, I'm fine." His older brother looked torn. "I'm fine," he repeated.

Sheriff Brady stepped back into the room. "I have two deputies and the volunteer search and rescue headed out to the mine. It's only an hour away, Dean, do you want to ride out with me? With any luck, they'll have found the kids by then."

Dean glanced back in his direction and Sam smiled. "Go."

………………………………………………………..Chapter Nine……………………………………………………………

The city of Lordsburg, New Mexico had disappeared from the rearview mirror nearly an hour ago. Although it was only mid-morning, the orange-pink sand glittered like small jewels. Cacti and hardy, shrub-like, chaparral dotted the red and brown rock landscape. Dean scrubbed a hand down his face, stifling a yawn.

He was tired, no other word for it. Two all-nighters in a row and no real hope for any sleep until late tonight seemed to have caused his brain to swell, pushing against the confines of his skull and forcing his eyeballs out of their sockets. At least, that's the way it felt.

Dean glanced over at Jeff Brady. The rough and ready Sheriff had extended him the offer of accompanying him on the rescue effort. You couldn't turn down an offer like that without insulting the man who'd made it. Small, remote towns were a closed society all their own and the fact that Father Rodriguez, Maria and now Jeff were inviting them in was a miracle all its own.

He blinked rapidly trying to clear his blurry eyes. Coffee or sleep, he definitely needed one of those things. "There's some coffee in the thermos," Brady said, jerking his head towards the backseat. "Help yourself."

"Thanks," Dean said, twisting around to snag the thermos. The rich aroma of coffee wafted out of the canister, filling the car's interior. "Oh yeah, that's the stuff," Dean said with a moan.

Sheriff Brady chuckled, brushing graying locks off his forehead. "Are you going to make love to that coffee or drink it?"

"Who says I have to choose?" Dean asked, taking a large whiff of roasted bean steam before taking a noisy sip. He closed his eyes as the heavenly liquid made its journey down his throat. He opened them and grinned at the older man. "Thanks, man. I needed this."

"You're welcome," Brady replied. He squinted against the sunlight, retrieving sunglasses from the visor. "Listen, Dean, the old mines are dangerous. You need to stay with me. If you think of something that will help us find the children, you tell me and I'll send the boys in that direction. I don't want to be the one to tell that brother of yours that you got yourself killed out here."

Dean winced. They'd had enough close calls this hunt to last him for a lifetime. "Got it. I'll be an annoyingly persistent shadow."

One of Brady's thick, bushy eyebrows rose over the top of his sunglasses. "You better mean that, kid."

"Scout's honor," Dean said, holding up three fingers.

"Now, why don't I find that terribly reassuring?" Sheriff Brady chuckled. He pulled the car to a stop in a makeshift parking lot in front of an old shack with a rusting roof.

Sun glinted off the metal roof and Dean could tell, just like every other day so far, it was hot already. Sure, it was a dry heat unlike the humidity of the Midwest, but dry only bought you so many degrees before it was simply unbearable. He decided then and there, the next hunt was somewhere on an ocean beach or in mountains that still had snow, at least somewhere where the tarmac didn't literally soften as the day wore on. He shaded his eyes against the sun and stepped out of the car to join the sheriff who was already walking to the mine's entrance. "Everyone else already inside?" Dean asked, briefly jogging to catch up.

"Yep," Brady said, handing Dean a flashlight as he switched another one on, "we'll meet up with them later. Watch your head." At 5'10" the sheriff had to duck to walk through the stone entrance. Dean, three inches taller, had to hunch his shoulders and bend forward at the waist. He laughed lightly picturing Sam, who had three more inches on him trying to walk in the mine. Heat radiated off the rocks, instantly causing sweat to roll down Dean's back.

"Feels like an oven in here," Dean complained under his breath.

"It gets better once the shaft opens up," Brady called back. Dean wasn't sure if the sheriff meant the heat or the ability stand upright, but he'd take either right about now. The ground sloped slightly downward, the ceiling up and soon the men found themselves with plenty of room to stand and the temperature was decidedly cooler.

The air had a distinctive mineral-mold scent to it. Dean wrinkled his nose, pushing the odor away, ignoring it as something that wasn't useful to the task at hand. The main shaft was wide enough to walk abreast as they searched the dark rock interior. Crunching footsteps broke the heavy silence between them. Dean shined his flashlight down the first adjoining shaft to his right, the light reflecting off metal. "What's that?" he asked.

"It's a storage area for gear," Brady said, adding his light to Dean's. "The miners stored expensive equipment, gear, and first aid supplies in these locked cages. There're several shafts like this throughout the mine."

Dean raised an eyebrow at the barrel-chested sheriff. He jerked his head in the direction of the metal fencing. "Some deeper down?"

"Yeah," Brady said, drawing out the word. His face dawned with the realization of Dean's implication. He unclipped his walkie-talkie. "Deputy Chad, this is Sheriff Brady."

"Yes, sir," came the reply over the walkie.

"Concentrate on the old storage cages in the supply shafts. We think the kids may be in one of those locked areas." Brady gave Dean a knowing glance. "Travis, it's been over a week for Tommy, and we don't really know what supplies they were given, so be prepared."

"Roger that, Sheriff," Deputy Chad responded. The line went dead and Brady clipped the walkie-talkie to his belt.

"We'll check the ones near the front in case they didn't," Brady said.

Dean nodded, falling into step beside the sheriff. "We'll find them," he said, his tone certain. "They're fine. We'll find them."

"Son, I appreciate your optimism, but we're just taking a shot in the dark here," Brady said.

"They're here," Dean said, aiming his flashlight down another side shaft. Nothing. Dean bit back frustration. He wasn't returning to Maria without Carmelita.

The duo walked in solemn silence, beams from their flashlights jutting into every dark corner and crevice. Dean's empty hand clenched into a fist as his anxious desire to find the children mounted. Sam had explained how the civatateo sucked the life force from its victims the way vampires drank blood to survive. He knew they would find the kids here, he just desperately hoped it was in time to find them alive.

Distantly, the hunter heard the high-pitched squeaking of bats. He suppressed a shiver. As far as Dean was concerned bats were essentially rats with wings. The sheriff's radio crackled to life. "Sheriff Brady, we found 'em," Deputy Chad said, excitement in every note. "All of them. Little Tommy's in pretty rough shape, we're on our way back to you."

"Copy that," Sheriff Brady said, a wide smile cracking his face. "I'll organize the EMTs." He clapped Dean on the shoulder. "Looks like you were right, Dean."

While Brady walked away to radio for medical assistance, Dean peered into the darkness, waiting for the lights of the rescuers. It wasn't a long wait, the bobbing beams indicating the others were drawing close. Two deputies and a local man came into sight. One of the deputies carried a young boy in his arms, the other two men led a child by the hand. Carmelita's round, brown eyes and pale, tear-streaked face cut Dean to the quick. He knelt down in front of the girl, grasping her shoulders. "Carmelita?"

The young girl's expression didn't change, but she reached out, wrapping thin arms around Dean's neck. He returned the hug, scooping her up. He nodded to the deputy before turning around to walk out of the mine. Getting through the low hanging entrance wasn't easy with the young girl hanging off his neck, but Dean wasn't about to put her down. Clearing the mine, he stood and bright sunlight assaulted his eyes. Carmelita groaned, and he pulled the girl closer, shielding her face from the unforgiving rays.

The waiting paramedics were being directed by Sheriff Brady. A smiling woman with blonde hair and bright blue eyes tried to peel Carmelita from Dean. The youngster tightened her grip, pulling on the fine hairs on the back of his neck. "It's okay, I gotcha," Dean said, patting her back, trying to soothe Carmelita.

"Sir, we need to examine her," the woman paramedic said, attempting once again to pry Carmelita away. "We'll be taking her to the hospital and you can meet us there."

Carmelita shook her head, burrowing deeper into Dean's shoulder. "She's okay," Dean said, turning slightly to break the paramedic's grip. "Sheriff Brady and I will see she gets to the hospital."

"Sir, I can't…"

"We got her, Jenna," Brady interrupted.

"Yes, Sheriff," Jenna said. "We're getting ready to head out. Try to get her to drink some water on the way in, okay?"

"Will do," Brady answered. He placed a hand on Dean's shoulder guiding him back to the cruiser.

Dean climbed into the backseat finding it easier to stretch out with the young girl still clinging to him like a spider monkey. Brady started the car, rolled down the windows, and turned on the air conditioner. The cruiser followed a discrete distance from the ambulance, minimizing the chances of any dry, metallic dust blowing into the car kicked up from the emergency vehicle.

Carmelita cried against his shoulder. "I just want to go home."

"I know," Dean said, "but you need to let a doctor check you out. Your mom will meet us there, I promise."

Carmelita lifted her head to look him in the eyes. "She will?"

"Absolutely," Dean said, "she's been frantic."

The girl nodded, her dirty face streaked by drying tears. "What about Sam?"

Dean smiled, dropping a hand onto the top of her head. "He's at the hospital, but he's going to be fine."

Scraggly brown hair brushed his face when Carmelita nodded against his shoulder. "I missed my mama."

"She'll be there," Dean said again. He opened a bottle of water, but the young girl only took a few sips before refusing more and literally collapsing against him, asleep with exhaustion.

"Thank God you boys were here," Sheriff Brady said, looking at Dean through the rearview mirror. "It's a miracle we found those kids alive."

"I don't think God had anything to do with it," Dean said, unable to keep the tone of bitterness out of his voice. "And most miracles I've seen come with a price tag." He couldn't help the swelling of guilt remembering the cost of his 'miracle.' Layla hadn't received her second chance and an innocent man had died. He didn't blame Sam, he couldn't. He already knew he'd do whatever it took to save Sam's life, just like his brother had done for him, not that Sam had known. Dean would pay the price, whatever it was, and pick up the pieces later. This hunt had proven that to him.

The Sheriff interrupted his internal musings with a short bark of laughter. "That's the great thing about God, son. Don't matter none if you believe in him. He still believes in you."

Dean snorted. "You suppose Santa believes in me, too?"

The sheriff frowned, effectively ending their mini-theological discussion. Brady's words continued to poke at him, but Dean brushed them off. He'd been given two signs recently concerning God, and the nature of things, and while it had given him pause to consider the possibility, Dean knew what he believed. Life was full of random evil and pain. That was the real truth. The remainder of the trip continued in silence, save for the quiet strains of country western winding through the cruiser and an occasional soft whimper from the child snuggled in his arms.


Sam opened his eyes half expecting to see Dean sitting next to him only to find Father Rodriguez. "Good afternoon, Samuel," the priest said, a small smile playing across his face. "I see you have decided to have lunch after all. Megan said she would be by with it in approximately fifteen minutes." He looked at his watch. "That was seven minutes ago."

Sam stretched, mindful of sore muscles and bruises. He thought he'd be feeling better already, but the heavy weight of exhaustion and malaise continued to plague him. "I'm not really hungry."

"And yet, you will eat or I shall be forced to inform Dean." Father Rodriguez raised an eyebrow, tilting his head marginally in Sam's direction. "Something tells me he won't be pleased."

"Are you threatening to tattle on me to my brother?" Sam asked incredulously. "You are aware I'm an adult?" The priest merely smiled, settling back into his chair. Sam shook his head. The priest's threat was ridiculous. It was insulting. It was – going to work. He sighed. Damn.

He looked up when the door quickly opened, but it wasn't the nurse bringing his tray or his brother as he expected. It was an elated Maria, Roberto fairly jumping up and down beside her, the baby asleep on her shoulder. "Sam, the sheriff radioed ahead. They found Carmelita and the other children!"

The young hunter breathed a sigh of relief. "¡Loado sea Dios!" Father Rodriguez exclaimed, standing to embrace Maria, baby and all. "¿Cómo están los niños?"

"Two of them are very ill," Maria admitted, with downcast eyes. The brown depths glistened with unshed tears when she met the priest's eyes. "But Carmelita was asking for me." She turned to look at Sam. "And you."

"Me?" Sam scooted up higher in the bed. "Why?"

"You were very sick the last time Carmelita saw you," Maria explained. "She has been worried. She saw what it did to me. She knows what her father did to save me. Carmelita is very observant."

"I noticed." Sam cracked a smile. Some things about oldest siblings seemed to be universal.

"I have to go," Maria said, tucking a stray wisp of hair behind her ear. "They should be arriving soon. Good-bye, Sam."

"Bye," Sam said, waving a farewell. Roberto twisted around to return the wave even as he was pulled out the door by his mother. "You can go, too," he said to the priest. "I know you'll want to be there for those families."

"I will be," Father Rodriguez replied, steeping his fingers. "However, first I will wait for your brother."

Sam opened his mouth to retort, but he was interrupted by the nurse bringing his lunch tray. She placed it on the bedside table, walking over to his IV to check the bag. "Looks like you'll be getting this out soon. It's almost gone." She adjusted the tray over his bed and gave Sam a smile. "Assuming, of course, you prove you're willing to eat your food like a big boy."

He turned his head to glare at the priest who chuckled lightly. "Did you pay her to say that?"

"I assure you, that is Megan's own brand of wit," Father Rodriguez said. "I could not have planned it better."

"Thanks," Sam said sarcastically, turning back to the perky redhead.

"Any time," Megan said. "I'll be back to get your vitals when I pick up your tray."

"Perfect," he said sullenly. Sam lifted the cover on plate. White fish, mashed potatoes, and corn, it was the palest meal he'd ever seen. "Perfect."

He eyed the translucent meat, poking it occasionally with his fork, trying to muster up the desire to try a bite. He glanced over at the priest to see if he was still hovering. Unfortunately for Sam, he was. Once he finally tried a bite, he realized how hungry he was now that sand wasn't taking up space in his stomach, and the food began to disappear.

"Sam, I want to thank you for everything you and your brother did for us," Father Rodriguez said, after Sam had eaten nearly half his lunch.

He cleared his throat, suddenly very self-conscious. What they did was rarely something the locals knew about and they were thanked for it even less often. While it was nice to hear for a change, it made him uncomfortable. Sam shrugged. "It's what we do."

The priest nodded. "Yes, Ellen was very clear on what type of people she was sending me, but I am not sure I really believed you were the answer to our prayers until I met you." Sam suddenly found his hands very interesting. "You do not believe in prayers?" Father Rodriguez asked.

"I used to," Sam said, quietly. "I'm not so sure anymore."

The priest placed his hand gently on Sam's shoulder. "Well, if it helps you decide, I am sure. You are both proof of it."

Sam couldn't think of a logical argument against the priest's assertion, so the rest of the meal continued in silence, each man lost in his own thoughts.


He must have fallen asleep again after Megan had removed his IV, helped him to the bathroom, and situated him back in bed, because the next thing Sam knew he was waking up. "You awake, Sammy?"

"Mmm," he hummed. Dean was back.

"If you can keep your eyes open for ten minutes, they may let you go home," Dean coaxed him.

Sam peeled his eyes open. "I'm awake."

The older man laughed, tilting his chair backward then letting it fall forward to rest firmly on the floor. "So I see." Green eyes raked over him, gauging, evaluating. Sam squared his shoulders and opened his eyes wider trying to look like he felt better. Somehow he didn't think it was working. "Then again, maybe you should stay overnight."

"I'm going to the motel," Sam said firmly, crossing his arms. He felt every bit a five-year-old.

"Sam." Dean dragged a hand tiredly down his face. "You look like crap."

"I feel better."

"Don't get me wrong. A few hours ago you looked like crap that had been dragged through the desert, left out too long in the sun, and pulverized. It's a definite improvement. But…you still look like crap." Dean smirked. Sam wanted to pinch him.

"Thanks. Nice." Sam ran a hand through his bangs and it stuck out in all directions. Sweat, Mother Nature's best styling product. Dean snorted and Sam shot him a dirty look. "Shut up. You're not looking so great there either."

"Hey, I'm sunburned and sandy, not a melting crapcicle on a stick." Dean's smile widened. "But, I see your point. You don't look that much different than normal."

Sam was in the middle of an obscene gesture when the nurse walked into the room. He hastily shoved his hand under the blankets and blushed guiltily. "Dean, I'm going to get Sam ready to leave if you want to go to the cafeteria for a snack or coffee."

"I'm good," Dean said, his tone allowing for no argument.

"Go on," Sam said, pulling the blankets up higher. "Megan, uh, said something about a shower and getting dressed. I doubt you want to be here for that."

The crinkles around Dean's eyes deepened. "Wouldn't want to salt your game, Sammy." He stood, patting the younger man on the leg. He walked partway out of the room, then stopped, turning around to address Sam. "I'll be back in twenty."

"I know." Sam waited until Dean left before turning his attention to the nurse. "We can be done by then, right?"

"Don't worry, Sam, I'll have you ready to go," Megan reassured him.

"Thank God."

True to her word, Sam was sitting in a wheelchair, fully dressed with recently tamed hair before Dean sauntered back into the room. He looked haggard and Sam racked his brain trying to remember the last time the older man had slept. Maria followed closely behind his brother, stepping around him when Dean paused near the doorway.

"Thank you for bringing my daughter home," Maria said, hugging a startled Dean. The older man awkwardly returned her hug before she turned to Sam. "And Father Rodriguez says your plan is what vanquished the civatateo. I cannot thank you enough." She bent down, enveloping him in a heart-felt embrace. Sam patted her gently on the back.

"You're welcome," Sam said. He pulled back, hazel eyes gazing intently into chocolate brown. "We left something important to you with Father Rodriguez. He'll make sure you get it back."

Maria straightened, smiling wide. "Thank you." The words were spoken softly, but heavy with the weight of sincerity.

"You're welcome," Sam replied, dimples sinking into his cheeks. Maria gently squeezed his hand in acknowledgement. She started to walk out the door, but Dean stopped her with a hand on her arm.

"Ah, this is going to sound weird," he said. Sam cocked his head, wrinkling his brow. Dean continued, "When I was sighting my gun up there, I swear I saw a man with a blue face and feathers and then he was gone. You ever hear of anything like that?"

"Huitzpotchtl," Maria said, incredulously. "Dean, you saw him." She patted him on the arm, reaching up to give him a quick peck on his cheek. "Ce toltecatl ihuan ce ocelotl," she said, with something akin to awe in her voice. She smiled at them both, resting her hand on Sam's shoulder. "A good match for two heroes." She waved a good-bye as she walked out the door.

"The god?" Dean asked, his face scrunching in disbelief. "She doesn't really believe that, does she?"

"Dean, we just got rid of an ancient vampire with an obsidian knife and a blood sacrifice, but the Aztec god thing is tripping you up?" Sam nearly laughed at Dean's 'what the hell?' face. "The legend says only the bravest of warriors could look directly at Huitzpotchtl and they had to view him through the hole in their shields."

"Now, you're talking," Dean said. "It makes perfect sense." Sam threw his head back laughing, as Dean pushed him out the door.


Dean walked out of the bathroom, freshly showered, only to find Sam seated at the table typing away on his computer instead of nestled in bed as he had been for the last two days. Dean raised an eyebrow, questioning whether Sam should be up at all only to get a huff of annoyance from his brother. "It's not like I'm doing anything strenuous, Dean, and I've slept enough."

He took a seat across the table from the younger man, pleased to see his brother's color had returned to normal. Sam's eyes were alert, and other than the impressive case of bed-head he was sporting, he was finally looking like Sam again.

The cool stone tiles chilled his bare feet as Dean padded over to the carafe to retouch his coffee. He took a sip, grimacing. It was cold. Sitting down at the table again, Dean nodded in Sam's general direction. "Whatcha doing?"

"Surfing for porn," Sam deadpanned. Dean spluttered, causing coffee to spray everywhere.


Sam smirked over the top of the computer. "I'm trying to find us a direction to head in next." Dean gave him a look that was well-interpreted by his brother. "Look, we're going to go stir-crazy if we stay here much longer and so help me, Dean, if you pull another stunt like you did in Portland…"

"Dude, that was classic," Dean interrupted, amused at the memory of the confused expression on Sam's face after Dean had hemmed his jeans a half inch higher every day for three days. "How much taller do you think you need to get, anyway?"

Sam pursed his lips and shrugged his shoulders. "Doesn't really matter. I'm already taller than you."


The smile on Sam's face slowly faded as his expression grew thoughtful. He tapped his thumb on the table several times. The younger man rubbed his hands on his jeans before finally speaking. "You should have let me go," he said, finally broaching the subject they'd been dancing around any time they were both awake at the same time the last two days.

Sam's eyes were wide, his eyebrows arched. It was the look that usually broke through Dean's defenses and made him fold like a house of cards. This time, however, it just made him angry. "That's never going to happen, Sam," he growled, tapping the table with his finger for emphasis on each word. "Not now, not ever. You can't ask me to do that."

"Then, Dean?" Sam paused, continuing only once he made eye contact. "Try to understand why I couldn't, can't either. Ever. I know what I'm asking from you."

Dean felt annoyance flare up into anger now that he understood what point Sam was actually trying to drive home. He wasn't the one who had looked his brother in the eyes and begged him to kill him if he ever turned dark side. He wasn't the one who made his brother promise. Sam had done that. Dean stared at his brother, not saying a word, trying to form a response that wouldn't land them in an argument.

Sam's eyes were imploring him to understand something more than what he was saying, Dean could tell. He hadn't spent a lifetime learning to speak Sammy only to miss the big, puppy dog eyes. When the pieces slid into place Dean swallowed down a lump in his throat. Sam was asking Dean to forgive him, for what he'd asked, but he wasn't taking it back. He understood just how impossible the request was, but Sam trusted Dean with his life – and his death.

Dean shook his head. "Sam, it's not going to happen."

"It could," Sam pushed back.

"It won't," Dean insisted, his voice rising.

"Dean, ignoring it won't make it not happen," Sam said in an all too patient voice. "It could happen."

"Okay, if you suddenly, inexplicably turn evil," Dean said, his voice indicating his true feelings. "I'll somehow manage, despite everything, to pull the proverbial plug." He looked up, knowing his eyes were giving away more than he wanted, but he couldn't bring himself to look away. He took a deep breath and threw all the sincerity he had into his next words. He needed Sam to hear him, too. "If I can't save you, or bring you back from whatever darkness you think you've landed in. Then, we'll talk."

Sam's face softened with relief. "Thanks, Dean."

The older man raised an eyebrow, leaning across the table and pointed a finger at his brother. "As long as it goes both ways."

"What?" Sam's eyebrows pulled in confusion. "Dean, you're not, there's no chance, you aren't evil and you never will be."

Dean sat back in his chair. "I'd say it's just as likely as you turning into a card carrying member of the Sith. Sam, we've only met a few hunters other than the ones Dad trusted when we were kids and they've all been freaks. Hard men, sometimes women, with lines of black and white that can't even begin to see the gray. They've lost some part of their humanity; they're so close to meting out justice without mercy that it's downright scary. Hell, after Dad died, I was pretty close to the line a couple of times myself."

"You weren't anything like them, Dean, and you certainly weren't evil," Sam said sharply, closing the laptop with a hard click.

Dean shook his head. "I was close, Sammy, to that line. All it takes for anyone is one loss too many, one hurt too deep, anyone can slip over the edge."

"It doesn't mean you can't be helped back over," Sam said. "It's all about choices."

Dean nodded, a sad smile spreading across his face. He stood, dragging his chair around the table to sit next to his brother, shoulders barely brushing. "Exactly. That's why I said only if there's no other choice, and only if it goes both ways." Sam was shaking his head, so Dean added his last punch. "I trust you with my death, too, Sammy."

Sam slowly nodded, making eye contact with Dean. "Yeah, okay. It goes both ways." There was a lengthy period of silence before Sam cleared his throat and continued. "So, I uh, found something that looks like it could be our kind of weird over in West Texas."

Texas, if they took it slow stopping often to rest for the night, Dean could stretch it to a week's traveling time. That should be long enough for Sam to be almost back up to par. Except, it definitely sounded hot and Dean wasn't okay with that. "Too hot."

"You're kidding me?"

"Not even barely."

"Dean…" Sam hit him with the tone and the eyes again. It wasn't worth the struggle.

"Fine, okay."

"Great," Sam said, easing himself to standing. He walked over to get clothes to put on after his shower. Dean was pleased to see that while Sam was still moving slowly and carefully, he no longer appeared to be in pain or shuffled like an old man. The younger man disappeared behind the bathroom door and the water started running.

One week should be just about enough time for them to get back to normal. Dean couldn't hope for more than that. Enough time for all the recent events to fade, and conversations like the one they'd just had, wouldn't be sitting on the surface waiting to be rehashed. It should be enough time for him to get over his fears regarding Sam's brush with death.

Dean would continue to believe all those things were possible, until eight days later Sam made a burger run in West Texas and he didn't come back.


AN: TraSan does a happy dance. Woot! Woot! Thank you to all who have read this story (and for your extreme patience!). It's been a great trip!

This story was stalled for many weeks (more than once) only perking to life with consistent poking from Leaving Slowly.

And to both Carocali and Wysawyg who offered feedback not only on what was written, but what was not written, consistently pushing me to add more, clarify, expand, remove, or change. A huge thank you to you both!

As well as Phx who pushed me past a yet another writer's block by saying, "Look I don't see what's so hard. Just say, 'xyz' and be done with it." I laughed at the time, but you'll notice girl – I pretty much used what you said verbatim. LOL! Seriously, all your words of wisdom were very much appreciated (as well as all the feedback).

Also to Muffy Morrigan who put up with me playing twenty questions about desert landscape, bugs, heat, plants, animals, noises, smells, etc. etc. Thanks for being so patient and for great feedback. Thanks for asking for the scene to be played out!

To any and all of you who read and patiently waited for me to pull my head out of the sand, wipe the dust from my eyes, and finish the story – many, many thanks.