A/N - The Winchester boys are not mine, anyone you recognise is not mine, anyone you don't recognise - chance's are they're mine. Set sometime in Season One because I still haven't accepted that John's gone.

But is it Art?

It was the sight of blood that got to him first. The dark crimson stain behind her head, seeping slowly under the door and trailing down the stairs, had a perverse elegance about it that turned Sam's stomach. The pattern it made wouldn't have looked out of place in her latest collection. He raised a hand to his mouth in a vain attempt to suppress the gag reflex as he wondered at the vitriol required to commit such an act against a helpless woman. He silently cursed his brother once again for lagging behind. This barbarism was something he would never understand.

Before his brain could process the sight fully, his nasal passages were assaulted by the stench that had hitherto eluded him. The aroma of turpentine and oil paints was to be expected, after all they were the tools of her trade. The scent of rotting flesh, blood and bodily fluids was definitely out of place in the studio. His roiling stomach protested more vigorously and Sam found himself bolting from the loft apartment in search of fresh air.

Standing on the stairs, two flights down, examining the blood pattern, Dean was surprised to see his brother hunched over himself outside the door, hand over mouth, face pale and swaying ever so slightly. He knew that Sam wasn't a girl when it came to crime scenes, so whatever was behind the door must have been gruesome, to say the least. He abandoned his scrutiny and bounded up the stairs to Sam, resting a hand gently on his back, moving it in small, comforting circles as Sam tried to regain his composure.

"Hey, you alright?" It was a pretty academic question. Sam was quite clearly not alright but the Winchesters had always defined 'alright' in their own unique way. 'Okay' would quite often mean 'leg hanging off, barely clinging to consciousness' to the brothers.

Sam grunted and waved a hand in Dean's general direction. Taking a deep breath, he pulled himself up to his full height and sheepishly looked at his older brother.

"Just took me by surprise, that's all," he admitted.

Dean glared at the door as though it was fully to blame for Sam's current condition. Reaching out to it with one hand, he glanced back only once to check Sam was following him. As his hand made contact with the cool metal handle he felt a chill run through him. He couldn't help the involuntary shiver that coursed through his body. Dismissing the occurrence as a freak draught, he turned the handle and cautiously pushed it open.

The smell that had sent Sam reeling was all pervasive in the air and Dean could understand why Sam had made a hasty exit from the room. They had been brought up on a diet of bad food, bad hotels and bad smells, but this rated highly even on the Winchester scale of tolerability.

Elaine's paintings, completed and in progress, lay scattered on the studio floor. Her sculptures had been shattered into a thousand pieces and wet clay had been smeared on the walls and over workbenches. The destruction in the room was total and complete. If the aim of the game had been total annihilation then Elaine had lost big time.

Elaine herself was lying, crumpled, below the large window looking over the park. She'd told Sam the reason she took the apartment was the light and the views from the main room which she had converted into a studio herself. The cause of death was quite clearly a head wound, violent and wicked. Blood was still oozing sluggishly through her hair and onto the floor where it joined the existing pool. She hadn't been dead long, as Dean ascertained when he slipped a hand along her throat in a futile exercise to find a pulse. She was still warm and he half expected her to open her eyes, jump up and yell 'Gotcha!'.

Lifting his head from where he was crouched beside the body, Dean cast a wary eye around the room. Although he trusted Sam to have already scoped out any possible remaining danger, it was too well ingrained to keep his little brother safe. Happy that they were indeed alone, he straightened his knees, raising himself up off the floor.

"Whoever did this hasn't been gone long," he observed, absentmindedly wiping his hands on his ripped jeans.

"Or whatever," Sam returned, with a disgusted look marring his face. He joined Dean by Elaine's corpse and looked sadly down at her. "She didn't deserve this, Dean."

"Nobody ever does, Sam." It was little comfort but in their line of work comfort was a luxury rarely afforded.

Sam knelt down, carefully avoiding the spilled blood, and gently turned Elaine's head to the side. The back of her head was a mess of blood and grey matter. It looked to all the world as if she had been shot at close range but there was no evidence of an entry point. To all intents and purposes, the back of her head had simply exploded.

"This doesn't make sense. What would cause this type of injury?" If Sam was looking to Dean for answers, he would be waiting a long time. His brother had turned away and was idly picking up tubes and brushes, squirting paint onto palettes and running the fibres of the brushes through the blobs, making swirling patterns.

"Why make all this mess? What were they looking for?" he asked, spinning round suddenly, his eyes dark and angry. "It's all so… so messy."

"I don't think tidiness was high on the list of priorities here." Sam theorised, gently running his hand through the dead woman's hair, brushing it off her forehead in a subconscious imitation of a lover's caress. Dean cast a sidelong look at the younger man, a flash of concern crossing his face and then gone as quickly as it had appeared.

"Sam," he paused, unsure of what he was going to say. Sam had become a little too involved with this one. Ever the professional, or pessimist depending on who's opinion was being voiced, he had kept his distance, maintaining an easy, yet outwardly aloof relationship with Elaine. Dean thought he might have wanted to stay on awhile after they had wrapped up the job but it was all academic now. Sam threw a quizzical glance up at Dean and seemed to realise where he was. He abruptly rose, suddenly all business.

"We need to wipe down and get out of here. Someone's bound to have heard something."

"Yeah." It was all Dean could do to agree as, in the distance, they both heard the faint wail of sirens cutting through the night air. Unseen by his brother, he surreptitiously pocketed a sheet of paper.

A swift two minutes of activity wiped the apartment clean of any evidence the Winchesters had ever been there and the reassuring roar of the Impala drowned out the sirens. The first flashing lights were screaming to a halt outside the apartment block as the tail lights of the classic car turned a corner and disappeared.

The bar was a typical out of town affair. It had its share of regulars, drunkards mostly by the looks of it, a higher than expected number of bikers and a fair few business men out to forget the rigours of the day. The table in the corner that Sam and Dean had occupied afforded them a clear view of the entrance and also the door to the rest rooms. It never hurt to have all your entrances and exits covered. Sam was steadfastly nursing the same beer that Dean had bought upon arrival nearly an hour ago. He twisted his hands around the glass, no longer cold, and swirled the amber liquid higher and higher to the lip of the glass. Dean was on his second beer, not wanting to get too far ahead of Sam, but unable to maintain the same slow pace.

After a long silence he sighed and slipped a hand into his pocket. He withdrew the paper he had appropriated from Elaine's place and slid it over the table to Sam, careful to avoid the dubious stains littering the surface. Sam raised his head and tilting it to one side eyed Dean curiously.

"What's that?" he asked.

Dean shrugged. "I picked it up earlier. Thought you might be able to make something of it." In all honesty, Dean had read through the contents as soon as they had returned to the motel but it made no sense to him at all. He was happy to defer matters such as this to his brother, content to let the supersized brain his brother seemed to possess work it's magic on the cryptic message scrawled in black ink across the page.

Sam moved a hand cautiously forward, seemingly uncertain whether to touch the paper or not. He gently rested a finger on top of the sheet, tapping it softly while eyeing it suspiciously. After what seemed like an eternity to Dean, he picked it up and unfolded it. Laying it on the table in front of him he let his eyes wander over the writing. He creased his brow in concentration, rubbing his thumb along his eyebrows. Finally he looked up and shook his head.

"I don't get it," he confessed, "it's just numbers and letters. It doesn't mean anything."

Dean sat back in his chair, surveying the crowd, disheartened that Sam could make no more sense of it that he'd been able to.

"It must mean something," he insisted. "Why would Elaine have hidden it, otherwise?"

"Hidden? You think this is why she was killed?" Sam enquired. "Dean? Where exactly did you find this? It wasn't just lying around, was it?"

Dean shook his head but was uncharacteristically reluctant to admit to where he had found it.

"It doesn't matter, Sammy. Point is, I found it somewhere Elaine obviously thought was a good hiding place, so it must be important." His refusal to look Sam in the eye though was as good as blasting a fog horn in Sam's ear.

"Dean. Where did you find this?" He waved the piece of paper in Dean's face to emphasise his point. Wherever it had been, it had been thoroughly hidden and part of him really didn't want to know where Dean had been poking around to find it.

Just as the silence between the two began to grow uncomfortable, Dean shifted slightly in his seat and, pointedly not looking at Sam, confessed, "It was in her shirt."

"What?! What the hell where you doing in her shirt, Dean?"

"I saw it poking out of her bra when I checked for a pulse."

"Oh my god." Sam sank back into his seat as far as he could, shaking his head. " I cannot believe you."

"Oh c'mon, Sammy. Give me some credit. I wasn't looking down there deliberately. I just glanced down and there it was. I'm not some pervert who gets his kicks out of feeling up dead bodies." Dean's pleading voice had unwittingly risen till he could be heard at the table next to them. Ignoring the disgusted glances of the patrons sitting around them, Dean fixed his gaze on Sam, willing him to believe what he'd been told. Sam huffed and, still shaking his head, stuffed the refolded paper into his jacket pocket and stood up. He spared a final look for his brother and left the bar in a flurry of righteous indignation.

TBC - reviews are loved.