Disclaimer: It's Kripke's world. I drabble in it. Ok, this is a really, really long drabble, but oh well. :D

Author's Note: This will be a two-shot. The first one's in Dean's point of view, and the second one's in Sam's. This story's been done for a couple of weeks, life just got in the way. But, I'm thankfully posting it before the new episodes start airing again next week.

Note: this story is not necessarily how I see things happening, but my imagination ran away with me. It does that. It will have Hurt Dean in the second chapter, for those of you who like that. And I know a lot do (including myself, sadly). And if anyone reading is actually from Hell, Michigan, I mean no offense.

A big thank you to Sweet-destiny3 for reading and for her thoughtful comments. Also, to hopeAndDreams, for just asking if I was gonna write a tag to this episode. It was that question that led to this.

For those who choose to read, I hope you enjoy it! Feedback is always welcome as well! Now, on with the story….

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Finding the Gravel Road

By: Pinkchick

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They were in Hell, Michigan this week.

The irony was not lost on Dean as he and Sam sat exchanging facts about the case at a local diner.

The town was dark, there were too many forests, a murky river, and they hadn't been there long, but the sun didn't look to be shining any time soon, either.

Dean didn't think it resembled actual hell in the least, but that didn't mean he hadn't already developed a disdain for the town.

"Says here that Mr. Mulligan was always gone and his wife died along with their third child shortly after giving birth," Sam read, taking a bite of his pancake and swallowing it down with coffee.

"The man left a ten and thirteen year old alone in a house while he was off God knows where?" Dean didn't know why he was pissed, but… okay, he did know why he was pissed off, and the long dead father of the case they were on was now the main target of his anger.

Sam gave him a questioning glance, but Dean didn't look him in the eye. Couldn't. Not after… well, he knew he wouldn't be visiting any strip clubs or drinking with anyone but himself for awhile.

"Dean, Dad used to leave us alone all the time," Sam said, glancing back and forth between Dean and his laptop.

"Yeah, and?" Dean raised his eyebrows, looking at his sausage and swallowing heavily.

"Don't be a hypocrite, man," Sam admonished.

"Whatever." Dean pushed his plate away and began fiddling with the handle of his cup of coffee. "What else d'you find?"

Sam grimaced and rubbed his temples. "Well, uh, it's not pretty."

"Yeah, well, neither are you," Dean deadpanned. He sipped his coffee, made a face and drank again. "And please, leave out the gory details. I wouldn't wanna lose my lunch."

Sam eyed Dean's full plate, but didn't comment, his eyes returning to the screen. "Uh, well, it says here that Howard and his brother Jacob were playing together when Jacob took Howard's journal and began reading out of it."

Dean made a sour face. "What the hell would a ten year old want with a journal?"

"Dad had one," Sam pointed out.

"Sam," Dean warned. He wasn't in the mood for whatever Sam was trying to pull. Maybe he was trying to ease the tension, but it wasn't working. Dean was just too worn out and busy trying to act nonchalant towards his bother.

With a sigh, Sam continued, "Howard tried to grab the journal, but Jacob ran onto the staircase and dangled it over the railing. Now, the railing wasn't secure and when Howard made the final reach…"

"It snapped and Jacob fell and died. Now the kid's haunting the place," Dean finished, suddenly feeling depressed. He put his coffee down and stood up, rolling his stiff shoulders. "So, what're we waiting for? Let's gank this sucker."

Sam closed his laptop, placed a couple of dollars onto the table, and followed Dean out the door.

He was simmering with energy.

The truth was Dean needed to hunt. He needed to do something, anything so he wouldn't have to think. So he wouldn't feel so alone, even though Sam was standing right within reach. He wouldn't think about hell, impending doom, or even Sam's backstabbing words.

Hunting meant Dean could pretend that this was where Sam wanted to be. Here, with him. Maybe then it wouldn't hurt so much to look at his own brother.

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"Why do all haunted houses look the same?" Dean asked, his flashlight lurking into the corners of the foyer.

The house was probably beautiful in its day. Now, it was practically falling apart. The large foyer led into a few rooms on the first floor, and about a hundred feet from the door stood the large, looming staircase. Downstairs was a basement. Above, there were three stories and Jacob fell from the very top.

Everything was covered in dust, cobwebs, and mold. Which meant Dean could've really used a shower right then. He shuddered, feeling unclean.

"I dunno, 'cause they're haunted," Sam answered from one of the rooms nearby.

Dean rolled his eyes, pursing his lips. They had no clue what they were searching for, but Dean was pretty sure that whatever it was, they wouldn't find it here. He peeled back and looked at the stairs, craning his neck upwards and trying to imagine anyone falling from such a height.

Dean grimaced and went back to exploring the house. They had found no listings stating where Jacob Mulligan had been buried, so they were grasping at straws. It was dank and cold and Dean had a headache.

Now, they had to find something, an object maybe, that had belonged to Jacob so they could burn it and move on. Everything indicated that Jacob had probably been cremated. Dean was really starting to get sick of the whole non-burial thing.

Maybe Jacob could have had a gravestone saying: "Here lies Jacob Mulligan. You found me."

Really, it would make their jobs a lot easier.

"I think I found something," Sam called.

Dean turned around and headed towards the rear of the stairs where a room he assumed to have been a small playroom still stood.

When he walked in, Sam was sitting, hunched over something that looked like a journal.

"What's that?" Dean asked anyway, aiming the flashlight at it and placing his gun on the desk.

Sam didn't look at him, busy flipping through the worn pages. "Looks like Howard's journal."

"Huh." Dean peered over Sam's shoulder and held out his hand to take it. That's when the EMF meter started whining noisily. Dean quickly picked up his sawed-off shotgun just as the spirit appeared behind them. Sam whirled around and was one step behind Dean, still holding the journal, his own shotgun in the other hand.

The spirit was as they'd expected him. It was of a young boy. What they hadn't expected were the sunken eyes and bruises marring his sad features. What was once dark hair was now sticking out in odd and unruly angles. There was also a long scar running down his chest.

The ghost flickered in and out of sight as it moved toward them, its eyes on the journal in Sam's hand.

"That's mine." Jacob reached for it. "Give it back to me." Dean thought his voice was much too hostile for such a small kid.

"Hey, ok, chill." Dean held up his hands innocently. "We just wanted to borrow it for awhile, is all."

"No!" Jacob shrieked. "You can't. It's mine and no one can have it."

"Look, Jacob…" Sam started.

The ghost's features went from almost hurtful to angry in less than a second. "Jacob was my brother. Now give me my journal."

Dean's eyes widened and he glanced at Sam quickly. Apparently, they had gotten the wrong brother. It was Howard who was in front of them. Yeah, they were definitely into that whole, "shoot first, ask questions later," deal.

Sam stepped in front of Dean, hands up in a placatory manner. Leave it to his brother to bring on the sympathetic, innocent victim face.

"Sam," Dean whispered.

Sam assured him he knew what he was doing with a hand motion.

"We're here to help you, Howard," Sam declared, correcting the name and stopping right in front of the boy.

"No!" Howard yelled. "No one can help me."

"Sam," Dean warned. He moved forward, but the ghost moved quicker.

Howard grabbed the front end of Sam's shirt and threw him into the bookcase across the room. His brother landed with a thud and a muffled cry as books came raining down on top of him.

Dean immediately pulled up his shot gun and aimed at the ghost, shooting the rock salt straight into his chest. Howard dissipated quickly. Grabbing the journal quickly, Dean went over to where Sam was sprawled against the bookcase, looking dazed.

Dean bent down and patted his cheek. "Sam, hey. You alright?"

Sam narrowed his eyes, focusing his gaze blearily in Dean's direction. "Huh? Yeah, I'm fine."

Dean didn't argue, just helped Sam up and grabbed his brother's gun. "C'mon. Let's get outta here 'fore emo-child gets back."

Howard appeared again, face full of a rage not belonging on a child's face. He advanced quickly, not taking time to play nice this time.

Well, that was ok for Dean because he didn't feel like playing nice, either. With one swift shot, Howard was gone again and he and Sam were heading out the door, journal in tow.

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They'd spent the entire next day researching what had happened to Howard and how he'd died.

Dean had always thought he'd seen it all when it came to hunts, but it was always the kids that he hated dealing with.

No child should have ever had to deal with what Howard had to deal with. The ghost's journal was filled with sadness and guilt over his brother's death.

Apparently, Howard's father hadn't felt any guilt about leaving his sons behind only to come back and find his eldest dead. Of course, in his deranged mind, the blame didn't befall good old Mr. Mulligan. No, he immediately pointed fingers at Howard, who was much too young to understand why his father was suddenly being violent towards him.

Dean only understood that no parent should take their rage out on their children.

So, Mr. Mulligan had killed his youngest in the accusation that Howard had killed Jacob. He was stabbed right through the chest in the playroom they had recently visited.

Dean shuddered. The stupid town hadn't even said anything about the murder, just turned and looked the other way.

"Stupid old geezer, probably friends with the stupid authority figures," Dean muttered angrily, shutting the journal and rubbing his eyes.

If that's what authority was for, letting guilty men go, then Dean thought the town deserved its name. As far as he could tell, there was no charm in Hell.

He hated the town anyway. Who called a freaking town Hell?

Dean leaned forward in his chair and put his head in his hands, feeling the adrenaline leave his body. When he had the resolve to lift his head back up he heard Sam finishing up a conversation with someone, probably Ruby, and click the phone shut.

Dean wanted more than anything to have Sam's trust again. He knew, somewhere deep down, the reason Sam wasn't willing to trust him with some information was because he kept shutting him down. But Dean just wasn't ready to deal with everything yet. That, and the last two times they'd willingly gone after both Yellow Eyes and Lilith, nothing good had come of it.

When Sam came back into the room, Dean played it cool. "So, apparently, Howard was cremated. This journal looks like the only thing keeping him here, so we sh—"

"Dean, I think we should hunt Lilith down," Sam cut in. Dean glanced up but avoided Sam's eyes. The look on his brother's face looked like someone had just deflated a balloon.

"Hunt down Lilith?" Dean asked uncertainly, his clasped hands tensing, body going rigid.

"Yeah. Ruby says she's close to finding her, and if we leave now…" Sam ran a hand through his hair.

"So, I'm finally part of your in-club, Sam?" Dean stood up, the anger at the surface rolling over in waves. "Do I get a t-shirt now? I don't know about you, but three's a crowd."

Sam breathed in a huff, looking close to blowing right back up. "Dean…"

Dean held up a hand. "And what is it you plan on doing when you find her, Sam? Kill her?"

"Yeah," Sam replied, moving forward, his hand out. "I'm honing my… powers to do just that, Dean. Why can't you just be with me on this, man?"

"That's not the point, Sam." Dean began pacing. "She's always one step ahead of us, and you know it. 'Sides, we're on a hunt. We can't just leave."

"This is more important," Sam declared, voice low, nose flaring. "Howard Mulligan isn't gonna hurt anyone as long as no one bothers him. And why are you so against finding Lilith, anyway? I thought you of all people would be happy when we get rid of her."

"Oh, don't worry, I'd like nothing better than to wipe that sickly, girly smile right off of her face," Dean retorted, hands clenching and unclenching. "But remember the last time we found her, Sam? I died!" Dean spat angrily, enunciating the last word with a slam of his fist against the table. He sat down heavily on the bed, his hands braced on the side.

Sam opened his mouth to say something, but quickly closed it.

"Lilith's one evil bitch, Sam. She's not stupid. If she wants to rendezvous with us, she knows where to find us."

Sam had something to say about that. "We'll be unprepared if she does. We should go offensive, Dean. Find her first. We'll be better prepared this time."

Dean shook his head, his headache throbbing against his temples. "We were prepared last time and she still got the better of us, Sam," he said more softly.

Sam didn't say anything, just leaned back against the heating system, arms crossed, jaw working.

Dean was tired. He'd been scared of this. Of his brother not needing him anymore. But, at least he'd had the decency to tell him first before just leaving without a word. It wouldn't have been surprising if Sam had anyway, but still.

Dean rubbed his temples. With the silence as heavy as an elephant in the room, he knew it was going to be a long, tense night.

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"You're too weak to go after her,Dean. You're holding me back. I'm a better hunter than you are. Stronger, smarter."

The words still hurt when he thought about them. And it wasn't a physical hurt, but one that sat heavily on his heart. But, those were the words which inspired Dean to stop in front of a rental car shop before heading out to the Mulligan's house in an hour or so. He'd burned the journal, but had to go back and find the missing pages.

He was convinced Sam didn't need him anymore. His brother was different. Dean had never doubted Sam's smarts or his strength. Had never hated Sam for leaving for college, only hated being alone.

Now, he only doubted his brother's loyalty to him. It was like history was repeating itself. If only Sam knew how much alike he and John really were. Dean shook his head. They were both driven to get in, get out, and be done.

But where would that leave him?

He rubbed his face as he stopped the car in front of the motel. Why did it always feel like he was playing monkey in the middle? Always in between what John had wanted, what Sam wanted. Just stuck. And he hated it. So he was finally doing something about it. Even if the consequences weren't at all optimistic on his end.

Not that they had ever been anyway.

Heaving a sigh, he got out of the car and headed into the motel. Sam was putting things into his duffel, what suspiciously looked like clothing instead of weaponry. Dean pretended not to notice.

"If you plan on making it out to meet Ruby, you should get a head start." Dean hated how hollow the words sounded to his own ears. He covered his cringe and made his way to his own duffel.

Sam's head snapped up sharply. "What?"

"Sam, we're supposed to watch each other's backs, but having a distracted partner is like having none at all," Dean provided by way of explanation.

"No, I'm fine," Sam said. "We should just finish this hunt. Get it over with."

"You're not fine, Sam." Dean took off his leather jacket, which he never wore on hunts, and put it on the chair. "You're distracted and I don't wanna hold you back from what it is you'd obviously rather be doing, so go."

Sam stared at him blankly, obviously surprised. "What? Dean, I…"

He held up the rental car's keys. "Go to Ruby. Do whatever it is you feel you need to do."

"But, what about the—"

"Hunt?" Sam nodded. Dean ghosted a smile. "I'm a big boy, Sam. Routine salt and burn. 'Sides, I've hunted solo before, I'll do it again. 'S'no big deal."

Sam eyed the keys; his forehead creased, and reluctantly took them. "Uh, thanks." He turned the keys over in his hands and started to open his mouth.

Dean shrugged. "Yeah, well, there was no way in hell I was letting you take my car, so…"

"Yeah." Sam looked at him strangely, but didn't say anything else.

"Well, don't just stand there, I just spent the last of our pool money, so get outta here already." Dean shoved him softly. "Wouldn't wanna keep Ruby waiting," he added sarcastically.

Dean hoped Sam would stop and change his mind right there and then, but he knew it was too good to be true when Sam grabbed his duffel and jacket. He could still hope, couldn't he?

It was weird. He felt betrayed, but then Dean was the one who did it to himself. It was inevitable. He had just sped up the process. He wouldn't sulk. He wouldn't.

At the door, Sam stopped and turned around. "Hey, Dean? Call me as soon as you're done with the hunt, man."

"Yeah," Dean said nonchalantly, finding his boots very appealing all of a sudden. "Call me, y'know… if you find Lilith. And take care of yourself, Sam."

"Yeah, you too," Sam said. "And Dean?"

"Yeah?" There was a large void opening up in Dean's heart. One he was incapable of stopping.

"Thanks." With that, Sam walked out the door and closed it behind him.

Dean sat down on his bed and stared at the door, his hand clutching his chest. After ten minutes of nothing, Dean closed his eyes and let the large black void in his heart swallow him.

To be continued…