Dean rolled down a foggy window and leaned outside. "This is the place?" He sounded doubtful.

Sam squinted through the fine layer of mist on the windshield. "This is the place," he said, nodding to the intersection where the street signs rocked gently in the wind.

Dean snorted. "The intersection of Love and Hayte. That's real cute. You think they planned it that way, or--" He broke off as Sam pushed open the Impala's door. "Hey, Sammy! Where you going?"

"I just want to have a look around." Sam slid around the car and into the damp night.

"Sam! Sam-- Dammit." Dean killed the engine and scrabbled for his coat, and then he was following his brother into the tree-lined ditch on the other side of the road.

They crouched down in the tall, wet grass. The smell of rain and old leaves was strong here, along with the bite of rich dirt and the acrid stink of gasoline.

"Thought this place was empty," Dean said, voice low. "So why're we out here skulking in the friggin' rain?"

Sam shook his head but didn't look away from the tall white house. "I just want to make sure--"

A light went on in an upstairs window.

Dean hissed and automatically ducked lower, even though they were easily camouflaged by the dragging branches of the trees. "What now? No one's supposed to be in there! Who the hell would wanna be in a house where two people got killed?"

Sam wet his lips, distractedly. "I, I dunno. Police? Relative?"

"No squad cars," Dean said, glancing back to scan the road and the field beyond it. "No cars anywhere but ours. How'd they get out here?"

"Could be parked out back," Sam ventured, reasonably. "...Let's go check."

"Sam!" Sam was already making his way down to another copse of trees. Dean followed, keeping as low as possible and feeling far too exposed on the road-side. "Sam," he hissed again as soon as he caught up, "what is with you tonight, man?"

Sam gave him a good-natured (and kind of dirty and grass-stained) smack on the shoulder. "What's the matter, Dean? You scared?"

Dean set his jaw and lifted up as much as he was able without actually standing. "I am not. Why do you even-- Wait a minute," he shifted, tone dipping low and mouth tugging up into a grin. "I see what you're trying to do. This is because you're pissed about last week, isn't it?"

"No," Sam said immediately, all huffy denial, exactly as if he were lying.

Dean grinned wider. "You so are, Sammy. You're tryin' to get back at me for ruining your shirt."

"Dean, that's petty and childish." This came in a tone of prim and proper aloofness. "We're just here to check out the house, see if it's our kind of gig, and--"

"Right, right. So us, out in the mud, ruining our clothes, this has nothing to do with your incredibly gay shirt?"

"It was not gay."

"It was pink!"

"It was faded."

Dean spit out a laugh. "Sam, it made you look like Richard Simmons at a tea party. Kelpie blood all over that shirt? I did the world a favor."

Sam's jaw tilted into a stubborn line. "I really, really liked that shirt," he grated between clenched teeth.

Then he was moving again, and Dean had no choice but to crawl after him.

***

There were no other houses close enough to worry about-- just the field across the road, the birch trees, and then the wide rolling expanse of the lawn. Sam and Dean cut a careful path through the roadside trees, following them around in a rough semicircle until they could see the back of the house.

A silver Oldsmobile sat parked in the gravel drive. The lawn rolled wet and grassy all the way down to a still, murky pond.

"Out-of-state plates," Dean murmured, close to Sam's ear. "Not cops, then."

"I'm betting on relatives," Sam said. "Maybe someone's here to start cataloging the estate?"

"Well, whatever they're doing, I'd rather they didn't catch us hiding in their shrubbery." Dean rose to his feet and started brushing at the mud and leaves stuck to his jeans. "You comin', Sammy?"

"Dean, what're you--" Sam froze as Dean started boldly across the lawn. "Dean, what the hell?" He scrambled after, grabbing for the sleeve of Dean's jacket. "Are you crazy?"

Dean was already reaching for the doorbell as he tossed off a lazy grin. "Crazy like a fox."

"Dammit, you idiot, what're we gonna--"

"Hello?" A sliver of face appeared in the barely-cracked-open door. "Can I help you?"

Dean put on his most disarming expression-- Haha, don't mind us, we're harmless as kittens, really. "Yeah, hi. Sorry 'bout the intrusion and all, but our car broke down--" he jerked a thumb back over his shoulder-- "and we were wondering if we could use your phone to call a truck."

"I don't know..." The door parted a little more, revealing a woman's face, square and small-featured and framed by lank blonde hair. Her eyes looked doubtful even in the wan porch-light.

"It'll only take a sec," Dean added, smoothly. He hooked a thumb at Sam. "I told this one we were running low on coolant, but does he ever listen? You'd think he'd never been in a car before."

Sam mouthed a few times and then scowled, picking up his end of the scam with practiced ease. "You didn't tell me 'til we were already puttering out on the side of the road. Besides, it's your fault we left the cell phones back at the motel." He gave the woman his most sheepish look. "Big brothers. What can you do?"

The woman blinked a few times, rapidly. "Ah. Yes. What can you do." The door opened wider and then she was stepping back. "Come in. You can use the phone. I'm Marianne."

Inside it was warm and dry, the air only a touch stale in the way closed-up houses get to be. The floorboards creaked just a little beneath their feet; the wallpaper was a cheerful pale gold.

"The phone's in the kitchen," Marianne said as they followed her slightly hunched form down the hall. She wore a plaid sweater that clashed badly with the floral print of her dress, as if she'd dressed in a hurry or simply hadn't cared.

Sam cast his eyes around, taking in everything as they passed. "This is a... nice place," he remarked blandly, frowning at the faded furniture and the dusty prints of ducks in flight adorning the walls.

"It's not mine," she said, automatically. "This is-- This was my brother's house. Him and his wife."

Sam shot his brother a look. Dean coughed and then said, carefully, "'Was'?"

The woman looked back over her shoulder with dull eyes. "Didn't hear about it? It was all over the news."

"We're just passing through here," Sam explained. "We've been sort of... out of touch for a while."

"Some of us more than others," Dean mumbled under his breath, earning him a sharp elbow in the ribs.

Marianne watched the exchange incuriously and then shrugged. "They died. Were murdered, rather."

Sam did an excellent impression of shocked horror when he needed to. "Murdered? Have they caught the killer? I'm so sorry."

She shrugged again. "Police say there's no leads." She folded her arms around herself, like she was cold. "Phone's over there," she said, motioning with her chin.

The brothers exchanged another look.

"I'll see about that truck," Dean said, moving past into the bright kitchen. The wallpaper here was decorated with folk-art chickens. After a moment he called out, "You got a phonebook in here?"

"Under the first cabinet. No? Try the second." She moved in to rummage through a cupboard, irritation making her look almost animated for the first time. "I don't know where anything is here," she said, blowing hair out of her face.

Sam eased back toward the doorway. "Hey, can I, uh... use your bathroom?"

Marianne shot him an annoyed glance. "Down the hall. No-- Wait. Don't use that one. That's where--" Her expression darkened briefly. "Use the upstairs room. It's at the end of the first hallway, on the left."

"Got it," said Sam. He turned on his heel and went immediately for the downstairs bathroom.

Behind him he could hear Dean: "So, chickens, huh? Real nice. Folksy..."

The bathroom door was painted plain white and swung easily on its hinges when Sam pushed it open. He clicked the light on and stepped inside.

There was no blood. Sam let out a tiny breath of relief. No blood meant less evidence, maybe, but it also meant that Sam had a reasonable chance of being able to stomach dinner tonight.

The floor tiles were a dark forest green that matched the color of the mallards flapping across the wallpaper. The toilet and sink were a pristine white, with only a little rust ringed around the sink's drain. The bathtub was white, too-- a giant claw-footed monstrosity, with a parchment-yellow shower curtain spotted with more ducks. It listed slightly, sagging on one side-- four of the rings had been pulled from the curtain rod above the tub.

Sam pushed back the curtain just a fraction, edging around cautiously to get a look into the tub.

Nothing. Not even a ring of soap-scum stared back at him. He let out another breath.

"Excuse me," came a sharp voice from the doorway. Sam jerked, almost pulling another ring off the pole as he whipped around.

The woman glared up at him with hard eyes. "I said use the other room."

"Sorry," Sam gusted, "I just... was in a hurry. Sorry."

"A hurry. Right." There was nothing like trust in the pinched lines of her face. "I think you better go. Your brother's called the tow truck."

"The truck, right." Sam ducked hastily out of the room, rubbing at the back of his neck. "Thanks. I mean, for the phone."

She huffed and crossed her arms again as she followed them to the door. It slammed on them the second they were outside.

Sam sighed and shook his head. "That could've gone better."

"Could've gone worse, too. You get anything?"

They started across the driveway, the crunch of gravel loud beneath their feet. "No," Sam admitted, bleakly. "The room was totally clean. No blood, no anything. Just a tugged-down shower curtain and a really ugly waterfowl motif."

Dean snorted. "Like you got room to talk about other peoples' taste, mister pink."

"That was my favorite shirt," Sam growled, and he glared all the way back to the car.

***

"So what exactly do we know about this case?" Dean asked, sprawling across his motel bed, a little cardboard basket of chicken strips from the bar across the street balanced on his stomach.

Sam frowned at his laptop screen. "One: we know that the Bishops, Reginald and Darlene, were killed in their home late last Tuesday. Police say there was no evidence of forced entry and that struggle appears to have been minimal. All doors and windows were locked from the inside."

Dean let out a low whistle as he concentrated on dunking a gobbet of chicken into a little container of ranch sauce. "So something gets in the house, pops the couple, and then just disappears. Sounds like our kind of work."

Sam nodded. "And listen to this: 'According to forensics, the cause of death is still unknown, but foul play is suspected'."

Dean scowled and licked chicken grease from his fingers. "Unknown? What's that mean, unknown?"

"Means there were no cuts, no gunshots, no signs of blunt trauma, no signs of strangulation, I guess." Sam shrugged.

Dean shook his head and reached for the beer bottle condensating on the night stand. "Doesn't sound real good, Sammy. That's not a lot to go on."

Sam made a face and reached for his own beer. "I hate to say it, but this probably means a trip to the morgue."

Dean sighed and wiped his hand on his jeans. "Great, wonderful. Fun for the whole family."

"I hope not," Sam said.

***

"Boy are you guys lucky you made it in time," said the beady-eyed little man in the lab coat. He squinted up at them through glasses thick enough to stop bullets. "What did you say your names were, Detectives...?"

Dean was already tucking away his fake badge. "I'm Detective Richards, and this is Detective Jagger. We're investigating the Bishop case."

"We'd like to examine the bodies, if we could," Sam added.

The tech shrugged his drooping shoulders (in fact, most of him seemed to be drooping, as if he'd been sculpted out of wax that had started very slowly to melt). "The reports were already sent. Do you really think it's necessary--"

"Totally necessary," Dean said, quickly. "This is a strange case, and we just want to make sure nothing was missed the first time."

The tech (he wore a little name-tag that read only 'Cooper') sighed and shook his head. "Detectives," he muttered. "Never want to trust the reports. Well, come on-- Like I said, you got here just in time. We've done all we can here, and the family is having them cremated today."

They shuffled into the chilly room and stood back as Cooper pulled out the heavy drawers with the bodies.

"Strange case indeed," Cooper said, something uncomfortably like glee lacing his voice as he yanked on the body bag's zipper. "I've never seen anything like it."

Dean exchanged a look with Sam over the sunken grey-tinged corpse. "Just for memory's sake," Dean said, "why don't you give us a recap?"

The little man blinked confusedly behind his Coke-bottle lenses. "Well, um. As I'm sure you read in the reports--" he stressed the word reports, just slightly-- "the bodies were found on the bathroom floor. Blood loss was surprisingly minimal, until we found that most of it had pooled in the empty body cavities."

Sam swallowed hard. "Empty body cavities," he said, voice as neutral as he could make it.

"Yes, yes," said Cooper. "Organs were removed. Intestines, stomach, liver--"

Dean's eyes had gone tight around the edges as he looked down at the body. "That explains the deflated-whoopee cushion look."

"I don't get it, though," Sam said, thoughtful. "There aren't any wounds that I can see."

Cooper made a huffing noise which turned out to be his own weedy version of a laugh. "Of course not. Best as we can tell, the organs were pulled out, er. Rectally."

Now it was Dean's turn to swallow down bile. "Rectally," he repeated, weakly.

"Yes," said Cooper, "as in, right out the--"

"I get it, I get it!"

Cooper smiled up at them in a ratty sort of way. "But of course, you already know all this, since you've read the reports. Detectives."

***

They marched quickly back out to the car. Dean was tearing off his clip-on tie the second he'd gotten the key in the transmission.

"What the hell is goin' on here, Sammy," he said, not even bothering to make it a question. "This is some messed up business. What kind of monster goes right up your--" His face paled, tinging green in the misty sunlight.

"They said there was no trace of the organs anywhere in the house," Sam murmured thoughtfully. "So either something is keeping trophies..."

"Or something is having dinner." Dean scrubbed a hand over his face and started up the car. "What a way to go, huh?"

"Yeah." Sam drummed his fingers skittishly on the window until Dean finally snapped, "What?"

"I think we should go back and see Marianne."

Dean threw him a disbelieving glance. "That's a great idea, Sam, only she threw our creepy asses out last night, remember? We really don't need her to add 'calling the cops' on, too."

Sam fidgeted, sprawling wider on the Impala's passenger seat. "I just feel like... we shouldn't have left her alone in that house."

"You said there was nothing."

"I said there was no blood," Sam corrected. "We didn't exactly get to do a thorough investigation."

"So, what, you wanna go back and say, 'Hi, our car coincidentally broke down in exactly the same spot'? Sam, I don't think--"

"Dean." Sam tilted his head, expression earnest.

Dean glanced at him and then back at the road. "Oh, no you don't. Don't give me that look, Sammy, 'cause it's not gonna work. Your puppy-dog eyes are powerless here."

"Dean." Softer this time, gentler.

"Stop giving me that look! I'm serious, Sam--" Dean let out an explosive breath and then jerked the wheel, turning them down a side-street. "Fine. Just... quit that. You're totally creeping me out."

Sam's grin came out brighter than the early morning sun.

***

"Five-oh," said Dean, voice tight as they took in the swarm of police vehicles, their lights flashing off the house, the gravel, the trees.

"We're too late," Sam said, swallowing hard. "I knew we shouldn't have left her in that house alone."

"What could we have done?" Dean snapped. "She didn't want us there, Sam--"

"We left her in that house to die," Sam said, hollowly.

Dean breathed out heavily and pushed a hand through his hair. His eyes stayed focused on the squad cars.

"We messed up, little brother," he admitted at last.

"Big time," said Sam.

***

The house was cordoned off with bright yellow police tape when they drove back that night. It flapped in the breeze fitfully, snapping with each puff of soft spring air.

"I don't see anyone," Dean said, craning his neck as they rumbled slowly past the place. "No cops, nothing."

"Not much point in guarding an empty house," Sam murmured.

Dean shot his brother a steady look. "We going in?"

Sam sighed. "I don't like this. We don't know what's in there, Dean."

Dean shrugged, spreading his hands flat on the steering wheel. "So we can go back to the motel, do a little more research. Up to you, Sam."

Sam eyed the house through the windshield, obviously debating. Finally he let out a heavy breath. "Let's go. If we don't go in tonight, it might move on. I'd hate to think we missed our chance to kill... whatever it is."

Dean slapped him on the knee, hard. "That's m'boy, Sammy. Ready to kick ass and take names?"

Sam rubbed his knee through the jeans and gave him a sour look. "Y'know, sometimes your enthusiasm is kind of creepy, Dean."

Dean was already pulling them off to the side of the road, parking the Impala as close to the trees as they dared without actually taking it into the ditch. "Don't be such a spoilsport. We're here to kill whatever evil sonofabitch is in that house before it decides to make a pizza run into town, and I don't mean the sausage-and-pepperoni kind of pizza run."

"More like the liver-and-rectum kind of pizza run?"

Dean shuddered hard and shouldered open his door. "Sam, do me a favor. Never say 'rectum' again, okay?"

They made their way to the back of the car and popped open the trunk.

"What're we taking?" Sam asked, surveying the haphazard jumble of weaponry and supplies the trunk-light revealed.

Dean pursed his lips in thought. "Dunno, but if we're goin' in blind, I say we go in armed for bear." He pulled out a shotgun, its muzzle sawed off short.

Sam grabbed another sawed-off and an extra box of ammo. "Rectum-eating bear?"

"Sam, seriously, if you say 'rectum' one more time--"

Sam grinned.

Dean shook his head. "Bitch."

"Jerk."

"Whatever. C'mon, let's get in there before somebody drives by and spots us."

They made their way up to the house by the wan light of the moon. Scudding clouds ghosted by overhead, high and thin, and the air smelled cool like rain.

"Back way," Dean murmured, low. They approached with caution, guns pointed at the ground, flashlights out but not on, not yet.

Moonlight rippled on the pond at the back of the house, and the leaves of the trees sang hissingly with every puff of wind. A weathervane (rooster-shaped, of course) creaked steadily in counterpoint.

"You get the door," Dean said, motioning with his chin. "I'll cover."

Sam nodded and slid his tools out of his pocket. The lock was just a simple deadbolt; twenty seconds, tops, and the door was opened. Staying crouched low, Sam carefully pushed it inward.

Dean had the gun raised and aimed. They peered into the dark as far as they could.

"Light," Sam warned, and then he flicked his flashlight on. He poured the light into the hallway, checking from floor to ceiling.

"Anything?"

Sam shook his head. "Clear."

Dean stepped cautiously onto the porch and then past Sam into the duck-bedecked hall. "I'll take point. Let's check it out."

The house was silent as they made their way inside, slow step by step. Dean cocked his head right-- Down the far hall? he meant.

Sam nodded. Together they followed the hallway down to the first-floor bathroom.

The door was ajar when they got there, and they paused outside it, one on either side.

Go in? Dean mouthed silently at his brother.

Sam nodded tersely.

Leading with the shotgun's muzzle, Dean gave the door a gentle push until it was flush with the wall. He stepped into the bathroom, slow and careful and ready.

It was empty.

Sam followed him in, gaze fixed on the floor. "Blood," he whispered.

Dean made a face. "Coulda told me before I stepped in it," he hissed. The blood was tacky-dry and brown in the glare of the flashlights, and as he moved to one side it stuck to his boot-soles with a faint tearing sound like velcro. "Dammit, these were new."

Sam ignored him, crouching low to examine the small puddle. "This isn't enough blood to kill someone," he said.

"You think it was like with the Bishops? Most of the blood stayed in the body?"

"Probably." Sam squinted and brought the flashlight closer. "...Does that look like a handprint to you?"

Dean dropped down to look. "You mean that mark I totally stepped all over? Kinda hard to tell."

Sam blew the hair out of his eyes impatiently. "Whatever it is, it's not all that big." His hand hovered over the mark; with his fingers outstretched he could completely cover it. "It looks weird, though."

"Looks like a duck-print," Dean said. He wiggled his fingers expressively. "You know, webby."

Sam sighed and got to his feet. "I doubt we're dealing with killer ducks here, Dean."

"You sure about that? Maybe Donald finally snapped and decided to go on a rampage."

"Very funny." Sam glanced around the bathroom. "We'd better check the rest of the house."

The rest of the house served up a hot dish of nothing-- no blood, no prints, and no homicidal waterfowl lurking in the closets or under the beds. The EMF meter stayed depressingly silent.

Dean scowled as he peered into an empty kitchen garbage bin. "Sam, there's nothing here."

Sam checked the fridge, just in case. "Yeah."

"Maybe whatever-it-is already skipped out."

"Maybe." Sam chewed his lip, expression distant.

"What?" Dean tapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, ground control to Major Sam. What is it?"

"Nothing, nothing." Sam shook his head and closed the refrigerator door. "Let's head back to the motel. I want to check something out."

***

"And you think it's a... what'd you call it?"

"A kappa," Sam said, peering intently at his computer screen. "It's a monster from Japanese folklore generally associated with rivers and streams and the like."

Dean leaned over his shoulder to get a look at the screen. "And you think that's our baby why exactly? I mean, sure, webbed feet and all, but we're in the middle of Nowheresville, Ohio. How'd it even get here?"

Sam shrugged. "Beats me. Could be it came over with immigrants at some point, could be migration..."

"Migration? Like a duck?"

"Dean, I'm just saying." Sam leaned back in his chair and took a swig from his tepid beer. "There's a pond behind the house, and it fits the pattern. Kappa are known for liking to snack on human livers--"

"Which they pull out through the back entrance?" Dean made a disgusted face. "I'll stick to Chef Boyardee, thanks."

"That's reassuring."

"So how do we kill mister Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?" Dean asked, gesturing at the screen.

Sam sighed. "There are various legends about kappa. One method is apparently getting it to bow."

"Getting it to what?"

"Bow. Apparently they have a deep sense of etiquette, so a kappa can't refuse to return a bow if you bow to it first."

Dean snorted. "And that helps us how?"

Sam moused over a link and clicked it, then angled the laptop to offer a better view. "They're said to have these bowl-like depressions on the tops of their heads," he said, indicating the picture on the screen. "They're full of water, and if you can get the kappa to bow and spill the water--"

"What, that kills it?"

Sam sighed. "Well, depends on the legend. Some say that kills it, others say it just immobilizes it or makes it run back to the water it came from."

"Doesn't sound like a real sure bet, Sammy. Anything else?"

Sam tapped his finger on the mouse as he scrolled. "Well... says they're also afraid of fire?"

Dean grinned. "Now that's what I'm talkin' about. That we can use. No way I'm playing Miss Manners with something that kills by fisting."

Sam looked up with a wince. "...Dude, that is totally disgusting."

"Yeah, well, consider it payback for all the rectum-jokes from before."

***

They pulled up to the house for the third time in two days, but this time they were prepared.

"I can't wait to try this baby out," Dean said, patting the jury-rigged flamethrower like a proud owner would pat his prize-winning show dog.

Sam grabbed it from him, inspecting the nozzle for the umpteenth time since they'd left the motel. "Are you sure this thing is gonna work? It looks like a weed-sprayer, Dean."

"That's what I made it out of," Dean smirked. "Genius, I know."

"Genius, right." Sam turned it in his hands one more time and then tucked it under one arm. "I get to carry it."

"Aw, c'mon Sammy--"

"Let's just get this over with."

They stalked up to the porch on careful feet, only to find the door ajar. Dean's boots made little splish noises in the hall as they slipped inside.

"Water," Sam breathed.

"Looks like our boy came back for dessert," Dean responded.

They followed the trail into the kitchen where it led to a thick but unbolted door.

"You wearing your titanium tightie-whiteys, Sam?"

"Funny, Dean." Sam crouched, examining the muddy wet splotches on the floor. "Looks like it went down into the basement. I'm going to check it out."

Dean gave him a thumbs-up followed by a leer. "Just watch your ass down there."

"Dean, are you ever gonna stop being twelve?"

Dean hooked his fingers in his belt-loops. "Not if I can help it."

Sam shook his head and started down the old, creaking stairs. Water pooled in dirty greenish puddles on the first and second steps, but the flashlight showed that the rest were safe and clear. Which was odd, now that he thought about it. The trail should have gone all the way down.

Drip. Drip. Scummy water splashed against the side of his face.

He was already turning even as the door banged shut; Dean gave a sharp cry of "Sam!" just as something heavy and fish-cold slammed into him bodily from above the doorframe, knocking him down the stairs. Sam tumbled, reaching out blindly for the railing, the steps, any purchase at all, but he came up empty.

He hit bottom in a sore and breathless sprawl. Coughing, he took quick stock of himself-- Nothing broken. Shoulder hurts. Wind knocked out of me. He coughed again and groped for the flamethrower, but his fingers only found dirty cement. I heard it fall. Where did it go?

Over the pounding of his heart Sam could hear footsteps-- slow, fleshy-wet slaps on the floor that dragged close and then closer. It's circling me, Sam realized, and then: It's coming from behind.

He made it to his feet just in time to turn and take another body-rush from the kappa. His back hit the boiler with a metal clang and then the thing was in his face, hissing and chittering, a clammy wet horror with a lipless beaky mouth and bulging black eyes. Sam could smell water and rotted plants and something like dead fish as it snarled and snapped and shrieked, straining up like it wanted to bite off his nose.

Filthy water sloshed against his face and Sam spat, hands coming up to try and dislodge the thing before it could get its icy fingers around his neck. It wasn't that big, but it was squat and bulky and strong and Sam wasn't even getting it to budge. It shoved him hard enough to snap his head back; Sam hit the boiler and saw stars.

The kappa screeed and then did it again.

Desperate, Sam aimed a kick that connected-- it felt like kicking a bag of wet cement, but it made the creature back off just long enough for Sam to reach for a knife. He slashed out blindly, ears still ringing from the blows, and felt his heart sink when the knife hit home-- and then snapped.

"Oh, shit," he said, and then he was flying.

It took Sam a long, groaning instant to figure out he'd just been socked in the face. He struggled to his knees, groping for anything useful around him-- old newspapers, plastic bins, paint cans... Paint cans! He grabbed one and swung it by the handle, heard the heavy wet whump as it connected with the kappa's head. Water splashed loudly, soaking the front of his shirt, and then everything froze.

It stared at him, bulgy fish-eyes as startled as it was possible for fish-eyes to look. The crater of its head was lopsided now and leaking. Dark water and bits of pond-grass slid down the side of its face in a steady stream, and Sam thought, quite clearly, I did it.

Then it hit him again.

He didn't even have time to roll with the punch-- it was all he could do to try and hit the wall with his arms and body first before he hit it with his head. Pain sparked from the base of his spine to the top of his skull, squeezed red-hot fingers around his chest when he tried to suck in a breath. Sam's vision swam, and distantly he tasted blood. He slid down the wall on rubbery legs and could only tilt his head up to watch as the kappa swayed close, dead-fish arms outstretched, broken yellowed teeth bared in animalistic rage.

Something crashed and it took Sam a moment to realize it was one of the basement windows breaking. "Sam," Dean shouted, "out of the way!"

Sam didn't hesitate; he rolled as best he could just in time to hear more crashes, like breaking bottles. The air filled with the thick, harsh smell of gasoline.

The kappa hissed and charged the window as Dean crawled through it, but it was already too late. Sam saw the flicker of fire-- matches or Dean's zippo, he wasn't sure-- and then the monster was ablaze, sparking up with hungry blue and then yellow flames.

It shuddered and screamed and fell to the ground, thrashing and flailing as it was consumed. The air filled with rank, oily smoke. Sam coughed and dragged himself further away, watching with something like horrified fascination as the kappa slowly stilled and then crumpled in on itself like a deflated balloon.

Dean edged around the blackening husk and hauled his brother to his feet. "You okay, Sammy?"

Sam groaned miserably and swiped at the blood on his face. "I feel like I just got hit with a bag of doorknobs."

Dean clapped him on the shoulder, hard. "Aw, this was just a little slap and tickle, Sam. Trust me, it coulda been a whole lot worse."

Sam licked at his lip and winced at the taste of blood. "Good thing you got here, or..."

"Yeah." Dean grinned. "I saved your ass literally this time, dude. Where's my thank-you?"

Sam rolled his eyes.

"No, seriously. Where's my 'Thank you for preserving my ass-virginity, Dean'?" He hooked an arm around Sam's shoulders, steadying him and needling him all at once. "'Cause I totally did. You were about to be that monster's bitch."

Sam glared at him muzzily. "That's nasty, and also? Shut up."

The Dean-grin only cranked up another sly notch. "What? Sam, don't tell me you're not a backdoor virgin. Seriously?"

Sam managed to look horrified, pissed, and woozy at the same time. "Dean! I swear to god I'm going to key your car."

Dean's arm tightened; one hand slid up to grasp the back of Sam's neck, as if threatening to shake him like a bad puppy. "You touch my car and I will kick your ass from here to California and then back again."

Sam leaned against him, a solid drooping weight. "Jerk."

"Whatever. Let's get you out of here, Backdoor Betty."

"When my head stops spinning," Sam said, voice slow and careful, "I am going to murder you, Dean."

Dean laughed. "It's okay, Sam. You can thank me later. I take cash, beer, and generous contributions of porn."

"Jerk," Sam repeated wearily as his brother led him out of the house and into the cool, damp night.

***

"Dude, your face looks like a dog-meat sandwich."

Sam shifted the icepack and leveled a glare at his brother. "Yeah, Dean, thanks a lot." Even talking hurt, and he was pretty sure he'd cracked a molar in that last rush. "Aspirin," he said, holding out an expectant hand.

Dean slapped a couple of little white pills into his palm. "Still, I guess we can chalk this one up as a success. We got the beastie, we didn't die, your anal virtue is intact--"

"Dean." Sam winced at the throbbing of his head and shifted the icepack again. After a moment he sighed. "We didn't save the people, though," he mumbled, finally.

Dean shrugged casually, but it didn't match the far-away look in his eyes. "Can't save 'em all, Sammy. At least we stopped it from getting any more."

"There's that." Sam hobbled his way over to his motel bed and lowered himself gently to the mattress, hissing as every bruise shrieked protest. He propped himself up against the headboard and stretched out his legs, slowly.

"Seriously," Dean said, "you okay?"

"I'm fine." Sam winced again as he shifted around, trying to get comfortable. "I'll live."

Dean pursed his lips thoughtfully and then pulled two of the pillows off his own bed. He tossed them at Sam. "Here."

Sam shoved them behind his back, wriggled a little more, and then settled again with a long tired sigh. "...Thanks, Dean." He wasn't talking about the pillows.

Dean shrugged, mouth pulling up on half of a grin. "Don't mention it, Sammy."

They sat like that for a long time, companionable in their silence and in their shared reflection.

Then Dean broke the moment with a hopeful, "So. Wanna go half-and-half on a skin flick?"

Sam tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling, but he couldn't stop his rueful grin. "Yeah, Dean, okay. Whatever you want."

Dean's sound was pure triumph as he clicked the television on. Sam shook his head, eyes sliding shut, and let himself drift off into an easy dreamless sleep.