The Garden

Disclaimer: Don't own them. Kripke and the Gang would have those honors.

A/N: Set after Heaven and Hell. I've already written the entire thing and there will be six chapters. I will post one every two or three days. It's got my usual: a hunt, a laugh or two, somebody might get hurt, a couple of brothers, some pain… Thanks to my beta, MAZ101. I was so reluctant to finally accept help from a beta and, to be honest, having MAZ on my side has been as cool as finding the people in this fandom. I love the marks you leave, MAZ. No matter what color they are.

Chapter One: Ginger Snaps

Christmas Eve 2008

"Sam!" Dean's voice boomed into the night air. He swiveled to the left, spun to the right. Goddamn. No Sam. He had just been right there, walking with him. Hell, he had been talking - being a pain in the ass - and then… nothing. Just silence. There had been no sounds of struggle, no one calling out his name. Just nothing. What the…

Dean traced the area again, his third time, the flashlight in his hand now, beaming from above, scanning the area quickly and methodically. He crouched down, looking for clues. He'd take anything – rumpled brush, drag tracks, blood. Anything. Nothing was worse than vanishing into thin air. But that's what it looked like so far.

His brother was just gone.

"Shit," Dean breathed, rising back to a standing position. He tilted his head up. Just the endless black sky looking back down. Way down. No stars. Not even a moon tonight. It was suddenly too dark. Each time he shifted his sight, shifted his body, his eyes had to refocus to the pitch black surrounding him.

"Sam!" From his gut that time. He meant business. If Sam didn't hear him, he'd make sure whatever took him did.

But the only thing that answered him was his own voice ricocheting back to him.

He took a few reluctant steps away from the last spot where he had seen his brother. He tramped through a patch of dead sunflowers, hanging taller then his own build. They moved stiffly against his push and seemed to pull back to him. Dormant florets acted like miniature daggers as they pricked the sides of his cheeks. The smells were everywhere, some sweet, some sour as he forged on, trying to ignore the assault on his senses. A group of holly bush scraped his thighs to the right as he emerged from the dead flowers back onto the beaten path he and Sam had followed in the beginning.

Fresh dirt. Right there in front of him the whole fucking time. The path the angel had directed them to. Damned arrows.

The air changed directions as Dean's boot hit the ground and the foliage around him fussed noisily, stirring uneasily. A bulky figure off to the left caught his immediate attention. It moved like a human, well balanced and graceful for its size. It stood quiet and cool, with its back to the hunter. Dean raised his Colt out in front of him and pulled back the hammer.

"Don't move," he warned bitterly, closing the gap between himself and the misty shape. He kept his hand steady, the gun held comfortably in his grip like it belonged there. His eyes narrowed and he canted his head to the right.

What he saw almost took his breath away. The thing turned its body slowly around, letting Dean Winchester get a good look at its true form. When it spoke, it was unrecognizable, its voice a husky rumble. "I'm sure you have a lot of questions for me."

God, did he ever.

Dean swallowed, flashing a feral smile. "Just one. Where the fuck is my brother?"

***

The day before…

It had been over six weeks since it happened. Over six weeks since Anna had entered their lives for too short of a time. Sacrificed herself for the greater good and flew back to the city of angels. Wherever that was. Whatever that was. Definitely not here. The earth seemed somehow smaller without her in it. Less colorful. Things didn't taste as good. Birds sounded flat. She must have taken part of life with her in that bright light.

It had been a quiet six weeks as well. They'd helped Bobby on a couple of occasions, but besides a Thanksgiving acheri that was taken down, the only other job in their laps had been a haunted house. Turned out to be just a family of raccoons. Scared the shit out of Dean. What the hell do we do? Call an exterminator? They actually did try to get rid of them, but in the end they put bullets inside them all.

Some things were just easier to shoot.

There hadn't been any sign of Castiel or Uriel. Even Ruby was God knows where, doing God knows what. No mention of Lillith or the sixty-six seals. It was as if the world had returned back to normal for a while, everyone still gone on holiday. Taking a much wanted vacation.

So Sam and Dean went back to work. Back to being useful. Keep busy. Keep our heads in the game, Dean had pressed. So Sam scoured newspapers and articles online, checking for anything that would help them on their mission to save mankind.

Because for the Winchesters, it was all about the saving.

"So… what?" Dean's brows lifted, perplexed at Sam's explanation. They were headed out of Colorado, east into Nebraska, a small town called Galila. Big enough to have a high school, a small hospital, two hotels and twelve churches. And about four thousand God-fearing residents.

"Twelve churches? Doesn't that seem like a lot to you?"

Sam shrugged, matching his brother's stare. "Maybe it's a religious melting pot."

Dean smirked. "In Galila, Nebraska?" Dean's eyes drifted down to where Sam's finger held the town's spot on the map. "In the middle of nowhere?"

His brother scratched at his forehead, his long fingers rubbing at an unspoken headache. Dean didn't miss it as Sam let out a breath. "I don't know, man. It's a small town."

"And how many people have kicked it?"

Sam pulled his research out from the seat between them. Photocopies of articles from the town's newspapers, a few police reports he was able to obtain staring back at him in Helvetica. "Since May, three. They were all murdered. And the town hasn't seen a murder for twenty-five years."

"Maybe the word of God is getting to them."

Sam ignored the comment. "First guy killed his wife and then himself. Another guy killed his best friend. A lady killed her mother. The two surviving are awaiting trial, but they say it wasn't them. They said it was like a force inside them drove them to kill. Like they were full of hate."

Silence. Sam took the hint and continued on, "They both describe it the same way: like a wave of hatred washed over them."

The seat of the Impala creaked beside him and he watched as Dean shifted his position, his hands reattaching to the wheel. His eyes stayed glued to the road. "But, what about the other part?"

Sam shuffled through his papers. "Well, there's also been an increase of good things, too. Happy accidents."

"Happy accidents? Since when are accidents happy?"

"Not real accidents, Dean. It's theoretical. One lady gave her life savings to the…"

"Church?"

"The library," Sam's voice was sharp, a purposeful edge. "There was a guy who donated his kidney to some girl he didn't even know. A group of kids sold lemonade all summer long and mailed their profits to the troops."

"Okay, that's weird. Kids selling lemonade? We gotta check this out." His lips pressed tightly together; his hands repositioned again, his ring giving the rim a dull clunk.

"People are murdering people they know and then claiming they didn't do it…"

"That's what murderers do, Sam! They kill people and then say they didn't do it!"

Sam let out a huff. The quiet headache was starting to yell, a steady throb over his left eye. The old Chevy was still gliding them into town, though. It wasn't the job. Sam knew Dean believed there was something worth checking out, but in the past six weeks, he wasn't sure what version of his brother he was going to get. Mostly it was this, though. Defensive, passive-aggressive. So not in the mood for a hunt or a chase through the woods. It didn't make for a great traveling companion.

And the silence from above and the calm from down below was driving them both softly insane with wonder.

www

The kid was playing a video game. An early Christmas present, his mother had explained, shaking her head in defeat. She walked around the console so she would be in his direct line of sight, but he just moved his body to the left, his eyes curling around her large body. And her Santa hat. It jingled to her body's natural jiggles.

"Paul!" She hollered to him for possibly the fourth time. "These men want to talk to you!"

"Jus' a sec," came the quick reply as his fingers flew over the buttons, his right hand slamming into a plastic handle, causing his avatar on the big television to jump back and hit its opponent in the face. It was a hairy monster with spikes on its back. Should have been able to crush the cartoon soldier with one blow. A few clicks of a button and the twist of the kid's body, however, proved wrong. Blood smeared across the screen, the monster's computer generated nose broke and smashed, causing the creature to fall. The words "HIGH SCORE" beaconed like a neon sign back to the viewers. The kid dropped the console and raised two fists into the air, whooping out a well deserved, "Yesss!" He grabbed a box of store bought cookies to celebrate, twirling on his butt to face the investigators in front of him. The kid was maybe sixteen, oily black hair, way past needing a cut. He shook his bangs out of his eyes, greenish-blue, and tipped the box of cookies to the men in a surprise offer.

Sam's hand waved them away, Dean's was already plunging into the box. He brought out two. Ginger snaps. The kid shook the box to Sam again and the younger brother rolled his eyes and took a couple, holding them in his warm palm.

"Tommy?" The kid asked them after he took a cookie for himself.

Sam nodded, bending down to where the boy sat Indian style. "Yeah, your friend Tommy said you came after him a couple of months ago." Sam took a breath. "With an axe?"

The kid nodded. His eyes constricted, his face grew somber. Even the remembrance upset him. "Yeah, but it wasn't..." he stopped.

Dean was watching him closely, his mouth still chomping on the brittle cookie. The kid looked like Sam had when he was that age. Except the hair. The hair was too dark. "What?" he asked around the crumbles.

A one shoulder shrug, his eyes were somewhere else now. "It wasn't me?" His voice raised on the last word. Even he didn't understand it. Too much for the young to muddle through. "It was like…" his hands moved in front of his chest, trying to grab words out of the air, "like a rush. Like I was so angry and I wanted to kill Tommy."

Sam's eyebrows bunched. "Why'd you want to kill him?"

The kid glanced up, shame and confusion meeting his eyes. "He was the first person I saw that day."

Sam kept his body language open. He remained crouched down, his arms easily draped over his knees, his stare not wavering, his voice strong and understanding. "What happened next?"

A sweet smelling breath was released from the boy as his body settled a little, his back hunched and his youthful eyes ventured over to Dean. "Tommy talked me out of it." He ping-ponged back to Sam. "He was just so nice about the whole thing. I don't know, it's like he just… won me over some how." The kid reached into the box and pulled out another cookie, chomping on it. "Thing is, I never have liked the guy. Part of me wonders why the hell I didn't chop him up. I really, really wanted to." He looked guilty then. "But don't tell my mom that. It's been really hard on her."

There was a jingle behind the brothers and Sam smiled and nodded to the kid.

www

Two additional victims/witnesses down and the brothers crossed a few possibilities off their list. Shape shifter? No. Demon? Unlikely. Possession? Maybe. They just weren't sure.

"They said it was like a force," Sam recapped as they walked a half mile across the third guy's lumpy farmland. "None of them felt that strong of anger before in their life."

"That dude said it was like a rush," Dean chimed in. "Like he was high." They reached the Impala and looked back behind them to the grassy field. The guy they'd interviewed was coming back up towards the house, riding on his four wheeler. He was an older man, almost sixty, skin weathered from the sun and aged from farm life. He had threatened his forty-year-old neighbor, Julie, with a bat. She was a mother of five, way out of shape, but she had somehow managed to get the bat away from him and that caused a fist fight. He had broken her cheekbone, taken out two of her teeth out and left both her blue eyes purple. He had used the bat in the end. To kill her dog.

She didn't press charges, though. She forgave him.

"Hey!" The old farmer shouted out as he got closer. He held up a piece of scrap paper as he cut the engine off. The boys turned, car doors wide open. "Forgot to give you Julie's address and phone number. Easy to get turned around out here." He offered the paper with a regretful smile. "She really is just an angel."

Dean winced at the words. He took the information from the farmer and stuffed it into his front jacket pocket. The sun was setting on the horizon, the red and orange colors casting odd shadows, causing the meadow to look cold and empty. With the exception of the still cows grazing in the pasture.

Hmm. Beef. Dean's stomach growled.

"You know a good place to eat around here?"

The old man played with the short hairs on his chin. "Normally I'd say just go on into town, but this weekend it's crazy with Christmas and all. Lots of people coming in from out of town. Think most restaurants are pretty well booked." He scratched behind his ear, apparently thinking of an alternative place. His fingers snapped together. "There's The Garden. It's on the other side of town, to the east, off of Maple. Forget which street it's on…Suncrest or Bel Aire… should remember. Bought some canned tomatoes off them a couple months ago. Real good." He shook his head. "Anyway, it's a big old bed and breakfast." He chuckled, "It's pink. Believe me, you can't miss it."

Dean shot a look over to Sam. "Place to eat and sleep," he muttered.

The old guy was rambling. "Couple of kids own it now. Their parents, well…" His voice changed inflections, "The kids'll treat you real good."

They made the last stop, at Sam's insisting, to visit Julie. Dean complained of his growing hunger, Sam argued geography. We're already out here, let's get it over with. Dean slammed his open hand on the steering wheel in protest, but had pulled into the farmwife's driveway.

"Sure, I remember that day. Never forget it as long as I live." The farmer was right, she was out of shape but after five kids she still did well of her feet. Her father had been a deer hunter and her husband "hunted everything". The boys secretly wondered what that meant exactly. "So, I've been around guns and weapons my whole life." Uh, huh. They nodded. Kind of knew what she meant. "I got a hold of the bat... I could have killed him if I wanted to." She bounced a two-year-old on her lap. The little guy reached out with small hands, trying to grab the car keys off the kitchen table. She'd move them away and bounce him some more and move the keys back within his reach. It was game and he was in to win.

"Then why didn't you?" Dean asked. "It would have been self-defense."

She smiled then. Two teeth missing kind of smile. It was strange and small, but it held something few people in the world have the power to possess. Forgiveness. True. Pure. Forgiveness. "I'll never forget that day, boys," she said, staring them both in the eyes, "not because of what Luke did, but because of what I didn't do. Something happened to me that day. I can't explain it. It was like a…"

"A rush?" Sam's eyes lit up.

Her head tilted. "More like a… a peace. I knew I could help him. I was… empowered."

The little guy grabbed a hold of the car keys and burst into laughter, showing his mother the treasure. She wrapped her flabby arms around him and kissed him on the head. The sweet giggles drowned out the noises of the TV and the dishwasher. Julie lifted wise eyes to the brothers. "Best day of my life."

www

Dean got lost three times trying to find the pink house on the forgotten street off of Maple. When he did find it, though, it was unmistakenable. The house was a huge three story Victorian Tudor, sitting on an enormous lot. And it was pink. Bright, hot, fuchsia – screaming pink with cotton candy pink painted shutters. There was a grand wrap around porch, sporting an old wooden swing.

"This is so… wrong. On so many levels," Dean grumbled as they approached the front door. There was a sign announcing "The Garden", pink as well, swinging from the slots on the front deck.

Sam could feel the tension ripple off his brother's shoulders as they took each step.

"Sam…" was all he got out before Sam grabbed the knob and flung the door open.

The music greeted them first.

You had a hold on me/Right from the start/A grip so tight/I couldn't tear it apart

The Garden's door opened to a large restaurant. It was easy on the eyes with high ceilings, painted in gold, drop down lights hanging over fifteen seating areas. The tables were undressed, waxed in their natural oak with tall crystal vases sporting a different fresh-cut flower. The chairs matched, with high spindle backs and pretty lime and pink striped cushions adorning the seats.

It was inviting.

On the far side of the eating area, a head turned in the direction of the opening door. It was such a subtle movement, it most likely would have gone unnoticed had it not been from the glint of the nose ring snagging the light from above. The young woman couldn't have been much taller than five foot, her body small and childlike, although her face said otherwise. She had straight, dark hair, cut short, stacked in the back and long in the front. Piercings filled most of her bottom lip, five sat in each eyebrow, and her ears were barely visible behind all the metal. Her nose had only the one. As did her tongue.

It was hard for the boys not to imagine where there might be others in hidden places.

There were too many tattoos to count. A snake on her neck, wrapped around from front to back. What looked like a small horn below her left eye and on her left arm, a yin-yang symbol in black and white with Chinese words underneath it.

She took a few steps towards the Winchesters, her small feet keeping rhythm with the noise piping out of the speakers.

Well, Romeo and Juliet/Samson and Delilah/ Baby you can bet/A love they couldn't deny

She reached for the menus, the boys catching her fingernails, nine were painted jet black. Almost as dark as the make-up outlined under the bottom of her eyelashes. The tenth nail was missing. Her breath released from her lips, the words forming elegantly around the ornaments tightly attached there, "Holy shit." She made her way to the door, clutching the menus to her small chest. "Sonny!" she yelled behind her shoulder.

There was a brief pause before the answer came from the back, "Yeah?"

The hardware spread from her mouth as she smiled at the two dollar bills standing in the entry way. "Customers!"

A loud thud followed by banging and thumping, sneakers hitting stairs, the brothers guessed, and then a screech as someone skidded to a stop.

The girl was staring at each guest, taking in one and then the other with her dark brown eyes. Her studded tongue flicked over her teeth and she chewed her upper lip for a second. "Two?"

Dean turned towards his brother, rethinking their choice in food. He was sure there had to be a fast food joint in this town. They could just take their chances with the Christmas shoppers and doorbell Santas.

But Sam was already nodding back to her. "Yeah."

My words say split/But my words they lie/'Cause when we kiss/Ooooh, fire

They followed her half way through the restaurant, almost to the back. The girl stopped and gestured for the boys to sit.

The back door opened and a young man materialized from a small room. He walked gracefully to the trio, his long thin body towering over the girl's small frame. His hair was bleach blond, possibly from a bottle and he wore it long, dancing on the tips of his shoulders. His eyes were pale blue and caught the light above in their own dance. His skin was flawless, his complexion darker than hers, but free of human vandalism. He smiled at the strangers, straight, white teeth gleaming back.

"Out shopping?" He ventured a guess at the reason for the visit.

Sam stole a look at his brother. "What?"

The man - Sonny - shrugged. "Visiting someone for the holidays?"

"No," the girl said before the boys had a chance to answer. "Not the type." She pulled out a chair from the table and sat down with the Winchesters, pad on the table, left hand ready to take an order. Her dark eyes shifted from one face to the other, peeling back one layer of mask at a time. "Something else," she contemplated.

"We're just passing through," Dean helped.

Her cheek ticked up. "If that's the story you want to tell."

The guy kicked her chair from behind. "Shut up, Cher."

She smacked his leg without even looking.

Dean's eyes narrowed, his body leaned forward. "Wait...what? Sonny and Cher?" He raised his eyebrows at Sam, who was grinning despite himself. "Seriously?"

The girl met his stare, though, solid and still. "That's the story."

He shook his head. "Parents flower children, huh? Or, maybe had a thing for…"

The pen tapped on the pad. "They're dead." That one always shut people up.

Dean's smile disappeared. Too much information, too quick. He looked down at his hand, his finger rapped the glossy table. "Sorry," he said it softly, but with conviction. His eyes brushed back to hers, holding her gaze, he wanted her to feel that he meant it.

Her eyes lowered, taking the apology with her. She sighed and moved on. "Couple of guys like you... only other thing we got going on around here are… the murders."

"Bingo," Dean smiled.

"Well, they've been weird. Neighbors turning on one another, people carving up people they've loved their whole life..."

"Weird," Sonny agreed.

Cher's metal grin returned. "Ghost hunters?"

"Nah," her brother's cool voice came from behind her, "Myth busters."

The boys looked at the brother/sister team speechless.

A blond head and a dark head nodded back to them. "Paranormal," they agreed in unison.

www

The food had tasted good. Beef pot roast piled high on thick Italian bread, open faced and topped with mashed potatoes and gravy. Pie for dessert. Lemon with whipped cream.

Two bellies were full. Introductions from the brothers had been accomplished and they had gained a lot of information from their host and hostess. For being complete opposites in appearance, their personalities were really very similar. It wasn't hard to get information from them, they both liked to talk - more over one another than with one another.

Cher loved mythology, enjoyed a good ghost story, and believed man was not alone in the universe. "Could be aliens. You know, coming down from the mother ship and inhabiting a vessel for a short time. Experiments on people."

Sam watched her. She sounded serious. She looked serious. He had to stifle his laughter.

All the murders, all the strange reports had began after the murder/suicide of the husband and wife, David and Abby Storm. They had both grown up in the area, both well known in the community, but not always well liked. Their house had been roped off and forgotten since the incident. No one had been granted access back inside the house. And no one was asking to go back in, either.

"Storm? Not a lucky name." Dean made a mental note.

"Married for three years," Sonny had supplied. "Different folks, but… hell, the whole town is kind of different." He shook his head, raised his eyebrows. "Their place is tied up in an estate, though. But if you want, I can get you in there." He looked at the brothers and shrugged. "I know a guy."

"Careful," Cher warned, reaching around her brother and cutting into the pie. "Sonny's always trying to help out. Thinks he's Superman and he can save the world."

Dean looked over at Sam. His brother was looking down, eyes nowhere in particular. Dean felt his silence.

The pie was devoured by all four of them. Sam and Dean each enjoyed their own piece, Dean taking two. Sonny and Cher used separate forks and attacked the lemony pastry directly from the tin. Cher continued to scrape the bottom long after the gooey goodness was gone.

Dean felt a twinge inside.

"Your place is… colorful," Sam commented, looking around the dining room. "Christmas is in a few days… no decorations?"

Cher glared at him. "I don't celebrate Christmas."

Dean chuckled. "Clash with the image?"

The girl started to speak, but Sonny interrupted. "Cher stopped believing in Santa a long time ago. Spiked eggnog, on the other hand, well, she wouldn't turn that down." He smiled at his sister and then back to the guests. "So, are you guys writing a book or investigating?" Sonny leaned back in his chair.

They had to give it to them. For as open as they had been, they had hardly asked anything about the guys sitting at their table.

"Investigating," Sam nodded.

"Knew it," Cher piped up, "You owe me Metallica tickets."

The twinge inside Dean started to spread.

Cher smiled, as though she could feel it. "They're playing in Omaha next month."

Sonny shook his head and smirked. "Ass."

"Wipe," she retorted.

Sam and Dean met each other's eyes across the oak table. Both grinned.

They weren't just brother and sister. They were twins. Sonny was "four minutes older" he teased with a hint of playful love. After their parents' death, they had settled with the insurance company and moved to Galila. Their parents had bought the house and the land years ago, dreaming they'd open a bed and breakfast and retire here. The kids thought they'd give it a whirl. Hadn't been as easy as they originally thought.

"A town like this, they just aren't open to strangers coming onto their turf," Cher sucked on her fork, the metal prongs clinking against the metal around her mouth.

"How did your parents die?" Sam asked carefully, cautiously.

Cher continued to nurse the fork, her eyes staring at the empty pie plate. Sonny's body stiffened next to her. "Accident," was all he provided.

The twins were nothing but delighted to learn the boys were setting up camp at the B&B. Sonny had refused the credit card, they could reconcile the bill upon their departure. It'll just be nice having someone stay here. He had retrieved the brass key for their room and then offered up the "big room" when Dean explained they would be sharing and he even hoisted Sam's duffel over his shoulders as they went up the stairway.

The room was big. And, thank God, blue. Blue striped wallpaper, solid blue comforters on two queen size beds, blue towels in the bathroom. Dean let out a great sigh. Blue never looked so good.

Sonny set the duffel down on the floor and backed towards the door. "Anything special you want for breakfast?"

Dean gave Sam a wicked grin, so many food items listed there Sam couldn't keep track. He gave the blond kid a small smile. "Anything that goes with syrup." He placed the weapons duffel on the hardwood. "Hey, Sonny, why's this place called The Garden?"

"There's a garden out back." He pointed towards the windows. "Can't see anything out there now, but in the morning..."

"What? Like herbs?" Dean asked, straining his neck to the darkened windows.

Sonny laughed. "Yeah, there's herbs out there."

Dean nodded. "You got a green thumb or is that Cher's department?"

"Neither. The garden… it's just always been there. You can take a look tomorrow, but don't go wandering out there alone. Cher and I have gotten lost a couple of times."

"In the garden?"

Sonny's head bounced up and down. "It's pretty good sized."

Sam rubbed at his head unknowingly, the headache trying to make a reappearance. This time, it was Sonny that didn't miss it. "You guys sleep well, okay? If you need anything, our rooms are at the end of the hall. Cher's on the left, mine's on the right. Just..." he held up a fist and batted the air, "just give a quick knock first."

The door clicked and Sam and Dean were in another temporary home. A place to stay the night, lay their heads down on blue pillows. Exhaustion was quick. With all the driving they had done to get here, the delicate arguing that had made communication a wordy jigsaw puzzle, sleep was one thing they both could rely on. Something they could welcome.

The quiet of the night, however, hurt deep inside.

Whispers down the hall between the twins had each set of Winchester eyes open, staring blindly at the black ceiling. Then came the sound of soft slippers scuffing on the hardwood, two siblings pushing against one another in a playful fight. The whispers rose to harsh, low talking.

"Shut-up." Cher. Her voice teasing, followed by a childish giggle.

"Go to bed." Sonny. Sharp. Serious. Not wanting to play around anymore.

"You're such a fucking…"

"Cher." A warning.

"Goody-two-shoes." She finished.

The voices lowered again, whispering too faded and foreign to make out.

"Fine. Fine." Angry now.

"Good-night."

"Dick."

There was a pause and then, "Wench."

Two doors quietly shut.

Sam's eyes narrowed in the black, his mind wandering. Their Goth hostess seemed so mad. Why was she mad? He pulled the covers up, shaking the thought away. Why do woman do anything? He looked over at Dean, who seemed awake. He could ask him, but Dean knew less about how the female mind worked than he did. At least Sam had lived with… God. Hadn't gone there in a long time. Sam closed his eyes and willed away the dull thumping in his head. He listened to the kicking in the next bed, the restless figure tossing and turning with no relief. He felt his breathing slow, his lungs struggling to take in air. He closed his eyes and tried not to feel.

I wish I couldn't feel anything, Sammy. I wish I couldn't feel a damn thing.

Sam shook the memory from his mind. Stopped his thought process from going down that road. Stopped his mind racing through the million things he wanted to ask. Stopped breathing because sometimes the not breathing was easier. Roadside confessions were his brother's specialty, apparently. Give him a case, a little AC/DC, the Impala and there was no shutting Dean Winchester up. Ask him anything? You just screwed yourself.

So Sam lay quiet, eyes closed, breathing shallow, head hurting, listening to his brother rustle, shutting out his own fears. Because now more than ever Sam had to suck it up. He had to be the wall, had to be the strength.

It was the least he could do.

***

Christmas Eve 1996

"Think Dad will make it back in time?"

Dean stopped buttoning his shirt and looked at his brother. Sam was eye level now. It was a nice change from having to look down at him all the time.

"Yeah, sure."

There was a beat that was too long. Sam was reading him, reading in between the lines. "But you'll be there?"

The words tugged at the young hunter. Will I be there? How could I not? "What? You dressed up like an elf?" He honestly grinned at the thought. "Couldn't let you live that down."

He'd held his breath all day long. Dropped Sam at the church to get ready, promising, "I'll be back for the show." He'd driven home and waited until he couldn't wait any longer. Fifteen minutes and the show would start so Dean headed out the front door and looked up to see John Winchester pulling his truck into the driveway.

Dean let out a sigh in relief. "Sam's play is about ready to start."

John slammed the door to the truck, meeting his oldest son on the steps to the old house. "What play?"

"He's in the Christmas show at the church."

John scrubbed the back of his neck. "Got a lead on a couple of witches."

"Dad…"

"I'm gonna need a little help on this one."

Dean swallowed. His eyes glared at his father. Why the man didn't listen was beyond him. Why the man didn't care made no sense. Dean would never understand him. Never would understand this kind of denial. You are not like me.

"Sam's already at the church."

"Well," John looked down the street, in the wrong direction. Dean wondered if he even knew where the church was. "Go pick him up. We'll have some dinner and take…"

"No, Dad."

John looked up. "What did you say?"

There was a moment where Dean didn't want to keep going. Wanted to pedal back and eat shit before he got himself in deeper because he didn't talk back to his Dad. He followed orders. He did his best to please him. But this. This was Sam. This was family. "No, sir," he corrected himself. "I'm gonna watch Sam."

He pushed by his father and walked over to the Impala. He couldn't get the door opened fast enough. Don't look up. Key smashed into the ignition. Don't look scared. Rumble of his baby under his ass. Don't hold it against him.

He could see his father walk into the old house from the reflection out of the rearview mirror. Could see the reindeer bounce off the door as it slammed from the force of John's hands. And later when Sam met up with him, dressed back in his jeans and faded t-shirt, still sporting remnants of elf-make-up on his face, Dean smiled.

"Dad here?" Sam asked him. Why'd you have to ask?

Dean kept the smile plastered sickly on his face and shook his head. "Didn't make it back in time."

***

December 23, 2008

He had slept through the first part of the screaming of the sirens. By the time his eyes did open, they were passing by the closed window, red flashing briefly into the bedroom as the ambulance whizzed by. Dean sat up and looked across to the other bed. Sam was already standing, zipping up his jeans, he could see his mouth moving in the gray light.

"Come on, it's stopping down the street." He tossed Dean his jeans and started slamming his feet into his shoes.

Dean dropped his legs over the bed and shrugged into the familiar denim. "What happened?"

Sam cupped his hands over his face to look out the window into the night. "Dunno. Looks like someone is lying on the street, though."

"They moving?" He pulled his shirt over his head.

Sam backed away. "Can't tell."

They stood, side by side, grabbing their jackets, each subconsciously checking for weapons. Gun. Knife. Flask. Each mindless tick like it was nothing. "What about Sonny and Cher?" Dean made a face. "Did I just say that?"

Sam ignored him. "I think I heard them earlier. They're probably already outside."

Dean let Sam lead the way out of the house. They were on the second floor, the stairs heading up to the third roped off, the entire floor shut away from the public. Sam's feet moved faster than Dean's, taking two steps at a time and his younger brother was out the front door before Dean had ever hit the bottom.

He let out a short breath, Move it, Winchester.

By the time Sam had come to a stop, Dean had just caught up. They both stood behind the clutter of police cars, the ambulance, the brother and sister who were gawking over the vehicles to get a good look. No one else was out there on this night, though. The neighborhood literally consisted of the large pink house.

A body was lying motionless on the pavement, a white tarp covering it from head to toe. No way of telling who was under that blanket, old or young, woman or man, victim or murderer.

"What happened?" Dean cleared his throat from behind.

Cher's shoulders jumped, her hand spanning across her small chest. "Jesus Christ," she spat out, "you scared the shit out of me."

Sonny's right arm crossed her shoulders and he rubbed a few seconds, giving her comfort and warmth. "They found some lady. Dead."

Sam's face formed a frown. "You know who she is?"

A blond head shook his response. "Big lady. Kid cut her throat." He motioned to the curb where a dark haired boy sat, his head hanging down, bangs needing cut covering his eyes, his body shivering. Maybe he was sixteen. His arms were pulled back tight behind him. Cops already had him handcuffed.

Ginger snaps.

Dean nudged his brother with his elbow, but Sam was already pale, looking at Paul, the boy from earlier in the day.

"What do think is up?"

Sam grimaced. "Something bad."

Something bad. That's how Dean's mouth tasted. Like this whole case was a sour mess. People in love, killing each other. Children killing parents. Neighbors beating each other. Do unto others… A wave of hatred. A rush. A high.

Leaves crumpling and brush shuffling to their right had each brother turning their heads. It sounded odd, low to the ground, slithering. A snake, maybe?

"What is that?" Dean asked as Sam started making his way towards the noise.

"Probably a snake. There's a lot of them out here." Sonny was still rubbing his sister's shoulders.

Dean walked up the curb behind Sam, watching as his brother stopped. He'd come to a wall. A wall growing with life, filled with flowers. Flowers that were taller than them. Flowers neither had ever seen before.

"What is that?" Dean asked again, his voice raising an octave.

Cher's dark eyes shifted to the large row of flowery life. She gazed out into the field, her voice dreamlike, "The garden."

Dean gaped. His neck rotated to the left and the right, the wall continued as far as he could see against the long, narrow street. "That's the garden?" He looked hard, trying to see in through the dark, through the thick barrier of foliage. A breeze blew through, skimming off his flesh, causing goose bumps to pimple up on his arm. Dean's eyes narrowed. It felt wrong. I felt like something was watching him from the inside, hiding behind bushes and leaves. He quickly scanned the area but the only thing he saw was Sam, his hand out, fingers spread apart, at the edge of the garden, just about to step into the bushy flowers.

"Sammy," Dean called out and immediately regretted the urgency in his voice, the underlying tremor he thought he heard there.

But it got the job done. Sam stopped and turned around.

Dean shook his head and breathed a small sigh of relief as his brother retreated back to the safety of the curb.

"How big is the garden?" Sam inquired, joining the other three.

Cher shrugged. "I don't know. Pretty big."

"Like a couple of acres big or a couple hundred?"

She flashed Sam a sheepish look. He wasn't sure what she was thinking. Maybe what an acre was. "A whole bunch," she answered just as vague.

"Do you have a gardener?"

She huffed. "No."

"Who takes care of it, then?"

"Nobody does. It just… takes care of itself."

Dean looked over his brother's shoulder, watching the long and short stems sway, taking with them the full tops, which all looked too dark in the night. Sam turned, following Dean's stare.

"You ever notice anything out there?" Dean asked.

Cher turned to her brother and the two matched each other's eyes, expressions hidden from the hunters. They were sharing a conversation, which the boys noticed, but couldn't read. Sonny pulled his sister in closer under his arm. "Like what?"

Sam and Dean smirked and at the same time responded, "Paranormal."

"Oh." Cher thought about it. "We've been out there a few times, but I've never noticed anything." She looked up to her taller sibling.

Sonny was shaking his head, his mouth in an upside down frown. "No."

Dean scratched the top of his head, his hand brushing his spiky hair. Maybe it wasn't the garden. Maybe it was just the darkness that surrounded them right now. Maybe it was just the fact that there was a dead lady lying a few feet from them and her kid was going to be charged with killing her.

It was just a gut feeling.

Sam pushed his brother over to the sidewalk on the other side of the street. They ducked down past the ambulance and dodged three cops, talking amongst themselves, one filling out a pile of papers stuck on a clipboard. They shuffled through a yellow police line and crouched low, crawling over to the hunched over form of the sixteen-year-old boy.

"Paul," Sam called over, his voice a bit louder than a whisper.

The kid's head turned quickly, his dark bangs brushing off his forehead. He looked young and scared. He looked like he needed his mom. His eyes widened as he saw the brothers approach him. "You guys?" He looked around wildly, watching the officers buzzing around him. His attention turned back to the men crouching behind a police car. "What're you doing?"

Sam came closer to the boy. "Paul, what…" he lowered his voice, "what happened?"

Paul looked away, back to the ground. His bangs danced over his forehead again and Sam waited for this kid's response. He took in a shaky breath and it was then that Sam realized that the bangs weren't dancing, they were quaking. The kid had broken down before he ever got out a word.

Sam's face fell, sobering in the moment. "Paul." He stopped. Bloody, bloody hands were trapped in those cuffs. Stained fresh and red and not yet able to drive a car. Incriminating and they held all the evidence to put the boy away for life. What do you say?

What can you possibly say to make that all right?

Sam swallowed and pulled his arms closer to his stomach, almost wrapping them around his waist. He looked down at his actions. What am I doing? He looked back across the pavement at the shattered life and he wished. He wished he could have… stopped it. Whatever it was. Saved this boy. Saved his mother. What had they missed? Had there been something there?

"I… kill…ed her," came the broken words.

Keep breathing. Sam's arms wrapped around his middle tighter. Holding him there. Keep breathing. "Was it like before?"

The bangs shook back and forth. "No. It… w-was… worse."

A fat tear dropped from Paul's eyes and splashed onto the concrete. Sam had to look away. Had to forget what this kind of hurt was like. Had to forget what it was like to lose the most important person in your life. What it was like to lose your life. Your freedom. Become a prisoner. When all you wanted was to be part of the world. Part of something important. Make a difference. Not be the difference.

Not be alone.

Sam cleared his throat. "H-how," damn, his voice cracked. He cleared his throat again. "How was it different?"

The kid didn't answer. And Sam waited as long as he could.

"Paul, what was different this time?" He rushed through the words much faster than he would have liked, but the cops were gathering in twos and threes and soon there wouldn't be much more time and his feet were starting to fall asleep under him and goddammit, this was getting to him and he just wanted it to be over with. Skip to the end.

A firm, but gentle weight was pressed onto Sam's back and he knew. He knew without having to turn around, without having to ask that he could finish questioning the kid.

"I wasn't j-just m-mad," Paul cried, "I was angry. Cr-crazy angry." His sweet, youthful eyes looked at the hunters, wet and pained. "I slit her throat." The tears rolled down in a heavy rainfall. "She-she made meatloaf and…" he turned his head up the street. "She w-wanted to take…a walk. Get some applesauce. I st-started… I chased her."

Sam's eyes were burning. He blinked it back, swallowed it down, felt the pressure on his back move up to his shoulders and squeeze. "You had a knife?"

"No," he answered quickly. "I u-used my house key." And upon that confession the child's entire body started to shake. There was definitely no words now that anyone could say to him to make it all right. To make it even a little okay.

Anyway he looked at it, Sam realized one thing: the kid was fucked.

Two officers were starting to approach Paul again and Sam could feel the tugging on his jacket. He wanted to stay, he wanted to pull the kid with them as they crawled their way back through the police tape, down by the ambulances and cop cars until they were back on the darkened sidewalk. Sonny and Cher were still looking on, watching the EMT's move Paul's mother away. The cart hit the ambulance wrong and the bed tilted, resulting in her arm falling away from her body, out of the sheet. It was easily tucked back in, hidden under the white, but it was enough the make Cher cover her face in her brother's chest. Enough to brand the moment in the onlookers minds even more.

Dean sat on the curb, his brother a mangled mess next to him. He slapped his open palm on Sam's knee. "We'll go to the, uh, Storm's house tomorrow," he suggested.

"The first couple?"

"Yeah."

Paul was up, feet scuffing on the pavement, head being pushed through an open door of a police car.

"Sam..."

"I could use a drink."

There was a long pause and then a sigh. "Yeah. Me, too." Dean stood up and offered his hand down to his brother, pulling him up with ease and care. "I'm sure Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves over there got something stashed in that friggin' fugly house of their's."

Sam smiled, his head hanging low. "Sounds good." He wiped off some dust that had kicked up from the ground and led the way across the street to the twins, hopeful for some alcohol to sedate him this night.

Dean followed behind, his brother strolling ahead of him, but it was the tall flowers in the backdrop that caught his eyes. The way they moved against the wind instead of with it. The way they beckoned with thorny promises. All the leaves and the sticks and the flowers upon flowers. Asking to be touched, but wanting so much more. Thick and heavy like the lies they told. He blinked at the wall and still felt it. Something in there, looking back at him.

"They got gin!" Sam yelled over his shoulder as Dean met up with the group.

Gin and juice. That'd be just fine.

"Don't get this one drunk," Sonny joked, "She gets mean."

"I do not!"

"Pure evil. Mean and crabby."

"Oh, and you're a saint?" Cher elbowed her brother as they started the short jaunt back to the house. He tripped her and she jumped up, trying to slap him on the back of his head, but hitting his neck instead.

Dean could hear Sam release an uneasy sigh as he jogged up beside him. Smiling to the twins, but for his brother, he'd let him see some of the pressure. Dean brushed shoulders with his younger brother, bumping against his elbow. Sam looked down, his hands jammed in his jacket pocket. He gave his brother a slow smile and quietly pulled out a treasure. Two ginger snap cookies. He handed one to Dean, who tiredly accepted it. They each popped one into their mouth and bit down on the hard cookie. It crumbled immediately.

They followed the twins in silence, the garden following them from the edge of the street. It seemed to push away from the curb as the exterior of the house came near and soon they were beside the pink siding, the trees and flowers behind them and Dean tried to release the clenched muscles in his stomach.

It was, after all, just a gut feeling.

Playlist:

Fire performed by the Pointer Sisters

A/N: Thanks for taking the time to read. This chapter was the longest. Don't fret, the action is coming...