The chicken house might have been abandoned long before, but it still smelled like…well, chicken. Chicken manure, to be precise. It appeared that, at some point, somebody had started to dismantle the cages, stacking them in floor-to-ceiling piles along both sides of the building. Several of the piles had fallen, or been knocked, over, scattering rusty, wire cages across the filth-and-feather-encrusted floor.

Never eating chicken again.

Kelly and Sam went down opposite sides, checking out every possible cubbyhole that might hide a human body. About half way down the long, rectangular building, Kelly suddenly cried out.

"Found it!"

There, behind a jumbled stack of cages and crates was the headless body of a woman, dressed in a gray business suit and lying on a quilt spread neatly on the dirty floor. The neatly manicured hands rested across the stomach. The top of the neck was covered in a membrane similar to the one he'd seen on the head. Except that this one was only moving only slightly – like a pulse.

"Huh."

Kelly looked up at him, "What'd you expect?"

"I don't know – it just doesn't jive with the face I saw."

"The head changes into its true form while hunting prey."

I knew that.

"Right. Guess we'd better get finished here."

They had agreed earlier to destroy the body, rather than hide it, to be sure the Nukekubi died. As the body could be killed any way that a human could, they chose a gunshot to the heart. Kelly had a noise suppressor on her handgun, so that was the weapon of choice.

Quick and quiet.

Just as Kelly pulled her pistol out of the holster on her hip and started screwing on the suppressor, the Nukekubi's head flew silently from out of the darkness behind a nearby crate! It had used its own body as bait.

Kelly looked up and froze in shock.

With its black hair trailing behind, its translucent skin nearly white in the pale light of the flashlight, it hurtled straight toward its biggest threat – Kelly. The creature bared its teeth and aimed for her throat.

Acting purely on instinct, Sam lunged in front of Kelly just in time to take the full force of the Nukey's charge on his bad shoulder. The impact from the insanely powerful head knocked him backward into Kelly and sent them both into a pile of cages.

It took Sam a few seconds to realize that the scream he was hearing was his. Blinding pain ripped through his injured shoulder, chest and arm. For several seconds, he couldn't think, couldn't see, couldn't do anything but curl up in a ball. He did manage to stop screaming, but he couldn't suppress a few groans.

"Sam! It's coming back!"

He managed to get his eyes open and realized that Kelly was tangled up in the cages. The impact had knocked his pistol out of his hand and it now lay on the ground a dozen feet away. Ignoring the pain and forcing his body to move, he lunged for the weapon, but was brought up short by a hard blow on the back accompanied by an ear-splitting shriek from the Nukey.

Ok. Enough of this crap!

Anger welled up and Sam struggled to his feet, gasping for air, looking around for the head.

"Kelly…finish… the job!" He yelled between breathes. He was vaguely aware of the girl untangling herself and crawling to her feet.

It was coming back. He sensed it more than saw it. Sudden inspiration hit.

The Nukey screeched and streaked toward Sam from the far corner of the building. Sam grabbed up one of the three-foot-square cages with his good hand, and swung it up just in time for the head to fly through the open door and smash both itself and the cage into Sam's chest. Unable to stop the impact, but better prepared, Sam managed to maintain his grip on the cage as he fell onto his back on the ground. He immediately rolled up onto his knees, flipped the cage door side down and threw his weight on top of it.

The Nukekubi threw itself from side to side, forcefully enough to almost jerk it out from under Sam – almost. When it failed to do that, it tried to attack Sam through the cage. It sunk its teeth around the mesh wire, through his jacket and into his arm.

"AAHHH! Kelly! Hurry up!"

There was a sharp spitting sound, the Nukekubi screamed, and then it fell to the cage bottom. It rolled around a bit and then grew still.

It was dead.

Sam laid his head down on the cage and closed his eyes, trying to catch his breath. He was having difficulty drawing in a full breathe against the agony raging through his body. He discovered he was shaking. But it was over.

"Get up, Winchester."

Or not.

Sam struggled to his feet, swaying a bit, trying not to groan. The sling on his left arm had been ripped off at some point and the Nukey's bite had left a ring of bloody puncture wounds on that arm.

Kelly was pointing the pistol at him.

"Over there." Kelly nodded toward the body on the quilt, her face as still and cold as stone.

"Kelly – please. I…"

She put a bullet in the floor mere inches from his feet.

"Shut up and move."

Sam started moving – slowly, trying to think his way out of his predicament.

If I can get close enough to her…

"You starting the party without me, Sis?"

Kelly's face flickered with irritation. "This isn't the plan. You've already screwed this up once. I told you…"

What? Tony shot Dean! While trying to kill me.

"Plan's changed." Tony appeared in the circle of light provided by the flashlight lying on the floor. He pushed Tommy ahead of him. The boy's hands were tied in front of his body.

Kelly's cold gray eyes flickered from Sam to Tommy and then back.

"Tommy? Tony, what are you doing? Why is he tied up?"

Sam stood stock still. Tommy had his eyes fastened on Sam's. Tears streaked the boy's face. His eyes were filled with terror – and pleading with Sam for help.

Tony shoved the boy toward Sam. Tommy stumbled and Sam caught his arm, and then pushed the boy behind him, shielding him.

Tony pointed his own pistol at Sam and Tommy. "He's one of them! One of the freaks!"

So this about…that. Not their dad. Crap.

Kelly's gun wavered – but she shifted it only to move it away from Tommy and line it up with Sam's head.

"Tony…"

"He talked to me, Kelly. In my head! The little freak forced his thoughts into my head! Tried to talk me out of ganking this monster." Tony pulled the hammer back on his revolver. "He's one of them. We have to put him down, too."

Sam's heart pounded in his ears. This 10-year-old kid had figured out what was going on and put his own life on the line to try and save Sam – in spite of what Sam had done to his father. Sam shifted to the side a bit, trying to put himself more between Tony's pistol and the boy. Sam felt Tommy grab a double fistful of the back of his jacket. The kid was shaking.

This is his nightmare come true – and he put himself into it for me.

"I'm sorry, Sam. I'm sorry. I tried to stop them."

"It's okay. You did good."

"I'm scared."

"Me, too. Stay behind me -It'll be okay."

Kelly was wavering. Sam could see it in her eyes.

"Kelly, listen to me…"

"Shut up, Sam!"

"What are we waiting for, Kelly? You know we have to do it."

The sound of a shotgun shell being chambered rang out from the darkness behind Kelly and Tony.

"You don't want to do that."

Dean! Thank God.

"Stay out of it, Dean. If you were half the man your reputation says you are, you would have done this a long time ago."

Dean walked into the light, shotgun trained on Tony. Tony shifted his revolver from Sam to Dean and back again. Kelly kept her gun on Sam, but the she was starting to crack.

"Look at yourselves," Dean said quietly, calmly. "You're ready to kill your own kid brother. This isn't hunting. This is murder."

Tony barked a short, hard laugh. "You're just ignoring the truth. It's our job to stop freaks like them before they bring the world to an end!"

Sam saw Dean wince at that.

If they only knew.

Tony took a step toward Sam, but continued to address Dean. "Put the gun down, now - or he dies slow."

Dean didn't waver. "Then you'll be next."

Kelly swung her gun over to point it at Dean. "Put it down, Dean." Something in her voice had changed. The hard edge in it was gone. She was begging, not demanding.

Dean glanced at her. Sam could see he was making the same conclusions about her that he had.

"All right, take it easy!" Dean slowly lowered the shotgun to the ground.

Tony stepped over and kicked the gun away. "Now, get over there where I can see you. And don't try anything or you'll end up just as dead as they're going to be." He stepped back so that his and Kelly's guns formed two corners of a triangle, with Sam and Tommy at the third. Dean was in the center of the group.

If you're going to shoot – shoot. Don't talk.

Where'd that come from? Right. Bobby said it once.

Hope began to grow in Sam, tentative and fragile. Kelly and Tony had hesitated. And the longer they waited, the harder it was going to be for them to pull the trigger - for Kelly, anyway. Tommy's presence seemed to be forcing her to reconsider; or at least, making her hesitate long enough that maybe Dean could talk her down. And for all Tony's bluster, he still seemed willing to let his older sister take the lead.

Dean was near enough now that Sam could see how close he was to collapsing onto the floor. He held his hands away from his sides in a gesture of surrender – and they were trembling. A dark stain was spreading across the side of his shirt under his jacket. The gunshot wound was bleeding again. He was standing with his feet apart as if trying to keep his balance.

Lifting that damn duffel bag must have torn something loose.

Sam's heart rate kicked up another notch.

"Kelly," Dean said, "Think about this. Our brothers – they're different. That's true. They have abilities that we don't understand. And we're terrified at what might be coming down the road at them. But monsters? I don't think so. Sam has put his life on the line for me too many times to count…"

Sam saw Kelly's face soften.

I just saved her life a few minutes ago – and she knows it.

" …and I think Tommy just proved he's willing to risk his own life to keep you from doing something you'll regret for the rest of your life."

Tommy peeked cautiously out from behind Sam at his sister.

"Look at them! Forget what you think you know and look at them, Kelly. Go with your heart – you know Tommy's not evil – just like I know Sam's not, either."

Does he mean that?

Kelly looked at Tommy and made her choice. She lowered her gun.

"Damn it, Kelly!"

Kelly turned on Tony. "Stop. We're not doing this. He's right. They're people. They're family. We don't kill our own kind."

"So, what – you're just gonna let them walk out of here because your mothering instincts have kicked in? They're monsters, Kelly! We have to do this."

"Sam saved my life, Tony."

"Oh, right. Like that changes the basics. He's still a freak – he's still a danger to us – to the entire world! So's the retard. Putting them down is what Dad would have done."

Putting them down – we're not animals!

"No - it isn't. Put the gun down. "

Tony pulled himself up a bit and squared his shoulders. His face set in grim determination.

"Fine. I'll handle it." He steadied the pistol with both hands.

"Tony! No!"

The next few seconds were a blur for Sam. He saw Tony's intent and spun around, intent on shoving Tommy to the floor. Before he was even half turned, a gunshot sounded, followed by another, muffled one, and then he was on the ground, huddled over the boy.

Silence.

"Tommy, are you okay?"

"Yeah."

Sam took a quick inventory of his own hurts and discovered nothing new. He glanced over his shoulder, taking in the scene around him. Tony lay sprawled on the ground, arms flung wide. Vacant eyes stared up at the ceiling. A bloody hole adorned the center of his forehead.

Kelly cried out in a choking sob, as she fell to the ground beside Tony.

Dean was on his knees, clutching his injured side.

The brothers' eyes met, each silently asking the other if they were okay. In one quick motion, Dean nodded and then tilted his head toward Kelly.

"Tommy, stay here." He gave the boy what he hoped was a reassuring pat on the back, and then awkwardly crawled the few feet over to Kelly. Sam wasn't sure what to do.

How do you comfort someone who just killed own brother to protect you?

"Why?" she screamed, hugging herself and rocking back and forth on her knees. "Why did you make me do this? Why wouldn't you listen to me?"

Sam reached out and placed his hand gently on her shoulder. "Kelly?"

She pulled her shoulder away from him and then buried her face against her dead brother's chest.

Sam heard movement beside him and glanced up to see Tommy standing there, staring wide-eyed at Tony's face. Sam pulled out the small silver knife he always carried and cut the boy's hands loose. The instant he was free, Tommy wrapped both arms around Sam's neck and collapsed against him, sobbing. Sam held him close with his good arm.

"It's okay. It's over."

This was not a freak of nature, this was a little boy who had been orphaned and traumatized beyond what any child should have to endure. And much of it could be blamed on Sam. And yet, it was to him the boy turned for comfort; for him that the boy had nearly given his life – all because he was 'different like me'. The enormity of it made Sam's heart twist on itself and he found he couldn't keep the tears at bay.

"I'm sorry, Tommy. I'm so sorry."

******

After that initial outburst, Kelly pulled herself together and took charge of the situation.

With Kelly's help, Sam was able to bundle up the Nukekubi into the quilt, carry it out and hide it in the trunk of the Impala - for later burial - before the police were called. Then Kelly helped Dean back to the car. The fact that he let her help was evidence of just how done-in he was. She insisted that the brothers go back to her office and wait there.

"What are you going to tell the police?" Dean asked.

Kelly wouldn't meet his eyes. "The truth; Tony went crazy, tried to kill Tommy, and I had to stop him." She turned away before any more questions could be asked.

******

Kelly rejoined them by midnight.

She had been assured by the local sheriff – whose K-9 service dog's life she had saved not long before – that the investigation into her brother's death would show "a simple case of self-defense - tragic, but unavoidable."

She spent the next few hours tending to the brothers - in her house, this time, instead of the office. Dean's gunshot wound had required minor surgical repair under a local anesthetic, after which she'd ordered him to bed in her guest room.

Sam's shoulder had been dislocated again. This time, after setting it, she bound his arm to his torso with strict orders to keep it that way for the next few days, and then to keep it in a sling for another 2 weeks. The Nukekubi's bite had to be disinfected and bandaged. They both received tetanus and antibiotic shots.

She gave so many verbal instructions about how to care for their various wounds – all given as she worked– that Sam finally realized she was mainly talking to keep her mind off what had happened. Whenever she stopped, she would tear up.

When she ran out of instructions to give, she started talking about Tommy. How their mother had died in childbirth. How he'd lost his hearing to meningitis at the age of two. How he'd refused to come out of his room for days after they'd heard of their father's death – and how, when he did, his telepathic abilities were in full force.

Tommy hovered nearby the entire time, never more than a few feet from Sam – silent, pale, overwhelmed. At last, somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 a.m., he fell asleep, curled up on a blanket on the floor next to the couch Sam was stretched out on.

Sam watched the boy as he slept. He was struck hard by the child's innocence and vulnerability.

God, he's just a baby. Why him? What's his life going to be like? Is he one of YED's victims or are his abilities a natural phenomenon? How many other people have I hurt? His thoughts swirled, his heart ached.

Exhaustion finally overcame emotion, and Sam fell asleep with the sound of Kelly sobbing softly in her kitchen.

*****

Sam didn't want to leave. Not yet. He couldn't. There was something he had to do first.

It had been 3 days since the night in the chicken house. Dean was feeling well enough that he wanted to move on – away from the uncomfortable situation they had found themselves in; being dependent on a woman whose family they had destroyed, even if indirectly.

Kelly had treated them with nothing but care and concern, but there had been a number of times when Sam had caught her looking at him with that stony mask in place again. It worried him.

Sam was coming around the corner of the house with the last of their things when the sight before him made him pull up. Dean was sitting on the passenger side of the Impala with the door open. Kelly stood beside him with her arms folded across the top of the door. They were both watching Tommy who was some 30 yards away at a corral, feeding a carrot to his favorite horse.

Too far away to hear their thoughts.

"It's not going to be easy, is it?" Kelly was saying quietly.

"Never is." Dean's tone was gentle, understanding. "It's worth it, though."

Sam's heart felt like it was in his throat. He'd said that with conviction.

"I don't know if I can do this. I mean, how … what's ahead for him? How can I ..." Kelly swiped a stray tear away.

"You'll find the strength. I promise - you will. He's a good kid, Kelly. Don't forget that."

Kelly nodded as more tears slid down her face.

Dean reached out and laid a gentle hand on her arm and waited until she turned to face him. "No matter what - no matter how dark things get - don't ever give up, okay? You fight for him! And you stay together. You do that and you'll both be fine."

Sam swallowed hard at the strength of emotion he heard in Dean's voice. It was as if Dean were trying to convince himself of that as much as he was Kelly.

Kelly covered Dean's hand with one of her own. "Thank you," she whispered.

The conversation seemed over, so Sam finished his trek to the car. Kelly turned toward him as he approached. Her face was drawn, her eyes were puffy and red, but she managed a small smile.

"All set?" she asked.

Sam swung the duffel bag into the trunk of the car and closed it up.

Just man up and do it.

Sam stepped around the back of the car, closer to Dean and Kelly.

"Um, look, Kelly – I just wanted to say I'm sorry for…"

"No, Sam – I'm sorry. I almost killed you – intentionally - and I got your brother shot. I can never make up for that."

"No – I mean… you don't have to. It's just…that's not…"

Deep breath. You can do this. Sam ran a shaky hand through his hair, trying to get his thoughts a bit more coherent before trying again.

"Sam, I know about you and my dad."

Ok, didn't expect that.

"What?" was all he could manage to force of his mouth.

Kelly smiled sadly at him. "I've known for months. That's how I convinced Bobby to send you here." She took a deep breath. She seemed to think she owed the brothers a confession. "Tony went on a vamp hunt with Gordon Walker not long after … my dad died. When he came back, he was convinced that you were some sort of antichrist. Knowing Gordon, I dismissed it as lunacy at first, but then I put some pieces together and figured out what had happened with my dad. After that, it wasn't so hard for him to convince me. I never told Tony about Dad, though." She took a breath. "Anyway, when the Nukekubi showed up, it was too good a chance to pass up. So, I called Bobby and made him believe that I wanted you to do this hunt with me so that I could tell you I'd forgiven you. And then you had to go and save my life!" She gave a little ironic laugh. Tears wet her eyes then. "And there was the way you worried over your brother, how good you were with Tommy, how he looked up to you the way he used to do with Dad…" her voice caught. She took another deep breathe, regaining her composure. "And then when Tony put Tommy into the same category that we had put you in – I don't know. It was just … as if I was waking up from a bad dream and could finally see reality. You're no more a monster than Tommy is, Sam. I know that."

"Kelly, I'm sorry…"

She held up a hand to stop him. Her lip quivered. "Please, Sam. I know it wasn't really you. I know it wasn't your fault. I don't blame you – I never did - but please don't ask me to forgive you."

Sam's heart sank. Dismayed and hurt, he took a step backward, but Kelly reached out and took his hand. He was surprised to find that she was shaking even worse than he was. "Don't misunderstand me, Sam. I want to – I do." Tears trickled down her face. "And I promise you, I will. Just give me some time, okay?"

Sam nodded and was surprised to find that his own face was wet. He couldn't ask her for more than that.

And then she wrapped her arms around him in a heartfelt hug. "Don't worry, she whispered against his shoulder. "I won't take too long." She smiled amid the tears.

Sam returned the hug. "Thank you."

"Hey, Tommy," Dean said as the boy approached.

Sam and Kelly stepped apart to see Tommy watching them. The boy smiled at them and then looked at Dean. From the shocked expression that swept across Dean's face, Sam deduced that Tommy had used his abilities to speak to him.

"I told him it would be all right if he used his abilities with you and Dean," Kelly whispered to Sam.

Sam just smiled.

Dean recovered quickly and replied aloud. "You're welcome."

He suddenly smiled warmly at the boy. "You bet I will. You take good care of your sister, ok?"

Tommy gave Dean a quick hug and then turned to Sam and immediately wrapped both arms around his middle.

"Hey, Buddy – you okay?"

"She makes me keep it a secret."

It took Sam a second to figure out what the boy was talking about. Ah – the abilities. He rubbed the kid's back a bit.

"You remember how scared you were in the chicken house?"

Tommy nodded.

"Well, your sister is scared, too. She's afraid if people find out, then they might think you're evil and try to hurt you."

"Like Tony did?"

"Yeah."

"But I'm not evil – neither are you."

"No, we're not."

"Then why did Kelly almost shoot us?"

Sam sighed. How do you explain something so confusing?

"When that happened, she really thought maybe we were evil, but now she knows better. Listen, Tommy, all you have to remember is that she loves you and doesn't want anything bad to happen to you. She's only doing what she thinks is best – she's trying to protect you. You should let her."

He was talking to Tommy, but his eyes were on Dean. If only it was that simple with you. The look on Dean's face told Sam that his brother was going to grill him over this private little conversation later.

"Why am I like this? Why did Tony hate me so much?"

Sam sighed, "I don't have all the answers, Tommy. I wish I did. Just try to remember the good things your brother did."

Tommy nodded miserably and sniffed. "I don't want you to go."

"I know, but I'll come back to see you. I promise."

Tommy squeezed him tighter. Sam found himself blinking back tears. Saying good-bye shouldn't be so hard.

"Hey! You know you saved my life, don't you, Kiddo?"

"I did?"

"Absolutely; and that means I owe you - big time!"

Tommy pulled back and looked up at Sam curiously. He seemed to brighten a bit. "Really?"

"Really! It's in the Freaks' Code of Honor– 'When a man saves your life, you owe him big favors for as long as you live.'"

Tommy looked at him for a moment and then grinned hugely. "I like the Freaks' Code!"

Sam smiled back.

He's gonna be okay.

"We gotta get going," Sam said aloud as he gave Tommy a last pat on the back and moved around to slide into the driver's seat.

Kelly closed the passenger-side door and bent down a bit to see into the window. "If you boys need anything – rabies shot, deworming, ear mite removal, anything - give a holler, okay?"

Dean grinned at her, "Think we'll pass! Thanks, anyway."

"Seriously, if you need anything – med supplies, backup, whatever, don't hesitate to call me."

"You do the same."

*****

Sam pulled onto the highway.

"Hey, Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"Did you mean those things you said back there – about knowing I'm not evil… and being worth it?"

Sam saw a snarky reply coming, but then it died away and Dean's face grew serious. "Yeah, I did."

He hasn't given up on me yet. The distance between himself and his brother seemed to shrink just a bit. It felt good.

"Thanks for that."

"Welcome."

An awkward silence floated between them for a few minutes.

"So, where are we going?"

"Thought we'd go to Bobby's for awhile. Neither of us could fight our way out of a kindergarten class right now," Sam answered.

Dean nodded approval.

"Wait – you're not still mad at him, are you, Sam? I mean, come on, it's not the first time a man's been conned by a pretty girl with a sob story."

Sam thought a moment before answering. "No." Then he grinned. "But I guess that makes him the idjit this time."

Dean laughed.

Sam kept grinning.

"What?" Dean suddenly got it. "No - you wouldn't!"

Sam's grin got wider.

"You're really gonna do it, aren't you?"

Sam laughed. "I think we've earned it."

Dean shook his head, laughing, and then wadded up his jacket and stuffed it between his head and the car window.

Settling in, still chuckling, he said, "Well, wake me up before the fun starts!"

Dean closed his eyes and was snoring softly within minutes. Smiling to himself, Sam used his knee to hold the steering wheel steady as he fished around in his right-hand jacket pocket. Pulling out a small, white object, he shifted it carefully over to the left-hand pocket –he wanted it out of sight in case Dean awoke- and snaked the tiny, padded attachment up to his ear. Then regaining his hold on the steering wheel, he guided the Impala down the highway, as strains of Collective Soul's The World I Know drifted up from his IPod.

Tomorrow may bring the apocalypse, but for today, everything was good.