Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.

Spoilers: None for the true arc of the show.

A/N: The Supernatural Virtual Seasons is an AU storyline that was imagined by kittsbud in 2006 when Supernatural's first season ended with such a harrowing cliffhanger. Partnering with a rotating group of several talented writers, kittsbud created the Virtual Seasons team, bringing to life a plotline that has now completed three seasons.

This story was aired as Episode Eighteen during Virtual Season 2. It is a "stand-alone" episode, meaning not pivotal to the central VS2 story arc, but there are some things you need to know in order for this story to make sense.

1) John is alive, though not always a central character.

2) In the VS, the YED was called "Haris" after a particular demon that is pivotal to later stories.

Unseen Heroes picks up well after the deal Sam made to free Dean from the demon possessing him was thwarted, and is probably the most stand-alone-ish episode of the three I've posted.

I'd call this one a dark comedy. Or maybe a dramady? Anyway, you decide. It's the last of my Virtual Season stories. I haven't edited or changed this story from when it was posted on 's Virtual Seasons site back in September of 2007. I will post a new chapter each day until the story is completed.

I hope you enjoy!


Navajo Indian Reservation, Casa del Eco Mesa, dusk

Eyes creased by years and shadowed with knowledge stared calmly into the dancing orange light of a campfire. He'd purposely built the fire just outside of the Joshua Trees, where the surrounding halo would combat the growing darkness. Where he couldn't see, but could be seen.

Though what he was prepared for was an act of ancient Navajo tradition, he was not dressed in the ceremonial garb of his ancestors. He would meet the fate he'd called up on himself dressed in the denim, flannel, and leather of the white man. He would face it without a weapon, without a fight, and with no remorse in his soul.

As the dark grew, the stars above him snapped and sparkled with their cold light. He lifted his dark eyes to the heavens, his mind carefully blank. He did not want the spirits to doubt his conviction. He simply wanted to see the light from those celestial bodies as they teased the black sky with promises of wishes granted.

He dipped two fingers into the shallow wooden bowl and scooped out some of the red paste he'd made earlier that evening. Whispering the words of his forefathers, he spread the red stain across his cheekbones, under his eyes, the gritty substance sinking immediately into the lines framing his time-worn eyes.

He was ready.

The cry of the screech owl split the darkness and immediately all other night sounds ceased. The world was quiet, still, breath held in anticipation of the moment to come.

From the shadows a boy stepped out and stood at the edge of the firelight. The old man saw his youth, saw his eagerness, and for one brief moment, sadness enveloped him and he felt himself tremble with it. The old man saw himself, fifty years ago, in this boy. The tall, broad-shouldered youth was more a man now than the old man had been when he made this choice. The dark hair was cut short as modern times dictated, not hanging in a plait down his back as the old man's had been.

But the moment was the same. The inhuman silverfish gleam in the eyes was the same. And the end result would be the same.

"You decide, old man," the youth said, his deep voice holding none of the respect this moment called for.

The old man's lips folded down in a frown, the sadness he'd felt before growing stronger. He was too far down the path to change course now, but he knew that once the ceremony was done, the youth would be lost to the hunger and there would be no one in the tribe to stop him.

Sighing, giving in to the inevitable, the old man uttered one word. "Ma'iitsoh." Wolf.

The youth exhaled, a feral smile twisting his handsome features into a mask of darkness. Without sound, without warning, the young man dropped his head back, his mouth raised to the night sky in a silent scream. The muscles along the flat planes of his stomach and across his shoulders tightened and he thrust his hands from his sides, his tendons straining as if an invisible force was pulling his arms from their sockets.

His hands curled slowly into fists and as the old man watched, he began to shake. The tremors wracked his body so violently the old man felt it travel across the sand and travel up his folded legs into his grieving heart. With a sound like a wine bottle uncorking, the young man's body snapped backwards, viciously, and he dropped to the ground. He began to writhe, his muscles straining, his face contorted in pain, but he didn't make a sound.

The old man watched through the fire, his face impassive. With a sickening sound, the young man's bones began to crack, his arms and legs bending and twisting into an unnatural shape. The old man closed his eyes. He listened to the sound of silent torture, the panting, the resistance. And then he heard the sounds change. The panting became more rhythmic, less pained. The movements were slow, steady, sure.

He opened his eyes to find himself face-to-face with the yellow, untamed eyes of a black wolf. The old man blinked once and whispered, "Ma'iitsoh."

The wolf raised its head, howling at the half moon cresting the horizon in the infant stages of night. An eerie, desperate, wild sound, it traversed the silence of the mesa, filtered through the Joshua Trees, and sent the desert animals searching for safety and shelter.

As he stared into the animal's eyes, the old man knew that the wolf remembered. The eyes were knowing, aware. And the old man smiled.

"Naaná." Again.

The wolf howled once more. The old man sighed. It was time.

"Hágoonee." Goodbye.

The wolf's mouth descended from beseeching the heavens and in one quick swipe of teeth, it tore the old man's throat out. The killing didn't take long. With blood saturating its muzzle, the wolf slashed the delicate tissues of the old man's chest and devoured the heart as it beat its last. Satiated, the wolf, coated in the blood of its first kill, moved into the darkness, leaving the body of the old man staring with sightless eyes at the night sky.

Soon, there was nothing but the wind and the sounds of the desert as it slowly returned to life. The campfire crackled and sparked, fading orange embers danced up on the zephyr and died. And then another man, younger than the old man, older than the young man, stepped out from the shadows of the Joshua Trees, carrying a shovel. He paused next to the body, staring down at the gore surrounding the old man.

"Happy now, Azhé'é?" His voice was choked with horror and emotion as he regarded his father. "He became what you believed him to be. And now I am alone."

The blade of his shovel buried into the ground like a judge's gavel.

www

Middle of Nowhere, Utah, one month later, night

"Just admit it."

"Quit pouting. I'm not lost."

Sam shook his head, the useless road map crumpled in his fist. "We haven't seen a road sign… or a building… or a light in like… an hour, Dean."

"I know where we are, Sam," Dean snapped.

"Yeah? Where?"

"Arizona. Or, uh, New Mexico… maybe," Dean shifted his eyes to the side, checking his mirror. No lights behind them. No lights in front of them. It was as if the desert had swallowed the Impala.

"Swell," Sam rested his elbow on the sill of the window and tipped his head into his hand. "Somewhere in the Southwest, USA."

"Exactly," Dean nodded, glancing at Sam with a forced smile.

Sam rubbed his head on the heel of his hand, not lifting it from the support. "Dean… it's only been like three days since we left Alyssa."

"So?"

"I just," Sam pulled his bottom lip in, unsure how to frame this next statement. "You haven't had a lot of time to… get back to yourself."

"I'm fine, Sam," Dean stated flatly, his mantra of denial smoothly masking any doubts he may have had about residual effects of the whammy Alyssa had placed on him. "Hitting on all eight cylinders. Promise."

Sam lifted an eyebrow. "Dude, even before the white light of doom you weren't hitting on eight cylinders."

"Says you," Dean scoffed good-naturedly. "I'm actually rather proud of my cylinders."

Sam rolled his eyes, leaning forward to stuff the map into the glove box, careful of any random knives that may or may not be stored there. "I'm sure you are."

Dean reached over and turned up the music when the familiar sounds of AC/DC's Hells Bells reached his ears.

"It's about time we picked up a radio station," he muttered.

"I'm telling you, we're lost," Sam grumbled, watching Dean's hand travel from the radio back to the steering wheel. "We took a wrong turn back there at—"

"Sam," Dean interrupted, exasperation plain in his tone. "We don't even know where the hell we're going, how could we have taken a wrong turn?"

"Dean, last time we didn't know where the hell we were going we ended up in the town that time forgot," Sam twisted in the seat to stare at his brother, his lips pursed.

Dean frowned, "First of all, that wasn't a wrong turn. That was a detour." He glanced over at Sam. "Second of all… how was I supposed to know that it would lead to the religious cult from Hell?"

Stretching his arms out in front of him, grasping his right hand with his left, Sam let out a soft sigh. He rolled his shoulders, working the kinks of the ride from his upper body. He glanced over at Dean. "I just don't want you to… y'know, push yourself."

"Dude, enough already," Dean shot him a look. "I. Am. Fine. I am me, I remember you, I'm eating, I'm sleeping… the whole nine yards."

Sam clenched his jaw. "Fine."

"Fine!"

In the distance, a faint, yellowish glow of lights caught their attention and Sam sat forward eagerly.

"Do you see that?"

"It's either a town or a space ship," Dean nodded, peering through the windshield into the night. "Where's Area 51?"

As they approached the lights, the Impala's beams caught a sign at the side of the road.

Bluff, Utah. Population 340

"Utah!" Sam exclaimed.

"Good," Dean nodded, tapping his ring on the steering wheel. "Not enough people to cause trouble."

"We're in Utah," Sam said.

Dean glanced over at him. "What's with you? Some kind of Mormon-phobia I should know about?"

"I just… I always wanted to see Utah," Sam said, an almost boyish smile on his face as he settled back against the seat. "Y'know, Monument Valley, the Four Corners…"

Dean grinned. "Check you out."

"What?"

"You're all... like a kid on his way to Disneyland."

Sam reached out and shoved at Dean's shoulder. "Shut up."

Dean frowned as the radio succumbed once more to static. He reached over and turned it down, glancing once at the box of CDs that they had listened to one too many times in the last year. He looked over at Sam, still leaning slightly forward, looking out into the darkness as if he hoped the starlight would reveal some of the wonders of the desert to his prying eyes.

Dean felt a slight pang for the kid that Sam used to be, the childhood that he'd tried so hard to allow Sam to have. His little brother had been through hell in the last year.

"Hey, Sam," Dean said, clearing his throat. "Maybe we should… take a break. See the sights."

Sam tilted his head, thinking. "We just took a break not too long ago."

Dean barked out a quick laugh. "Sammy, I'm not so sure a romp in the Louisiana swamp dodging black magic voodoo snakes qualifies as a break."

Sam grinned in agreement. "Yeah, maybe that's not the best example of a vacation."

"I guess we just don't… do vacations, Sam," Dean said, squinting slightly as they passed under a streetlight, his eyes unaccustomed to anything but the dim interior of the Impala and the complete darkness of the desert night. "Our lives are…"

"Weird," Sam concluded.

"You can say that again." He slid his eyes over to Sam, catching the hesitant hope on his brother's face. "Still… even bad-ass demon hunters deserve to sightsee now and again."

"Yeah, I guess," Sam nodded, his shoulders relaxing at the idea.

Dean scanned the sparse street, looking for anything that might resemble a good place to stop. "You hungry?"

"I could eat."

"Cottonwood Steakhouse, beware," Dean said, rotating the wheel with the flat of his hand and pulling into a parking spot near the front door of the restaurant. "The Winchesters have arrived."

"Steak sounds good," Sam nodded, gripping the door handle.

"Mmmm… and pie," Dean said stepping out of the car and shutting the door with a creak of the old hinge.

"You're impossible," Sam shook his head, walking around the front of the car to join his brother.

"Easy to please, Sammy," Dean said, clapping a hand on his brother's shoulder as they approached the door. "I'm just easy to please."

Sam pulled the door open and stepped back as Dean walked through, thinking about how true that statement was. Give Dean his car, his music, the open road… and me, Sam thought, and Dean was happy. The last few days of aimless driving after the events in Phoenix had shown Sam a softer side of his brother. A Dean content to simply be alive, breathing, waking up every morning and going to sleep every night.

He'd actually seen his brother smile—a true, unguarded, genuine smile—yesterday.

As they stepped into the Cottonwood Steakhouse, however, it was not a smile that graced Dean's features. It was a grimace of misery as the sounds of steel guitars and pure country twang ran sideways across their ears. Dean glanced back at him, his expression pained.

"Take it easy, Dude," Sam laughed. "Steak and pie, remember?"

"Right," Dean said in a strained whisper. "Steak and pie. And beer."

"Help you?" A middle-aged woman with a large white dishtowel tied neatly around her waist stepped up to them. Her faded brown hair was pulled up in a short ponytail and her eyes were soft as she let her gaze touch on each of them briefly.

"Uh, yeah," Sam smiled disarmingly at her. "Two, please."

"This way," the woman grabbed two menus and turned, leading them past several tables filled with couples enjoying plates filled with steak and potatoes. She motioned to a booth in the far back corner.

They slid into the seats, accepting the menus with nods of thanks.

"Busy place," Dean commented, glancing back over his shoulder through the small restaurant to the front door as someone else entered.

The waitress shrugged. "When you have two restaurants in town, people don't get much of a choice. Plus we get a lot of tourism traffic."

Dean flicked his eyebrows at Sam. "Sightseers," he said in a stage whisper.

Sam nodded with a small grin.

"Get you something to drink?" The woman pulled out a pad of paper and flipped the top sheet over, then reached up and pulled a stub of a pencil out from behind her ear.

"Two beers," Dean said.

"Got local brew on tap or bottles of Coors and Heineken."

Dean glanced at Sam who shrugged in return. "Whatever you got on tap is fine," Dean said, offering the lady a smile, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

"Be right back, Sweetie," the woman said, suddenly tapping the back of Dean's hand lightly and turning from their table.

Dean blinked in surprise at her retreating form, then looked over at Sam. "What was that about?"

Sam just grinned. "Maybe you looked like a sweetie to her."

Dean shook his head, looking over the menu. "Whatever, Dude. You're the motherless lad, I'm the bad boy."

"Uh-huh."

"Hey, I've worked long and hard on this rep," Dean lifted an eyebrow. "Have to say it has some distinct advantages."

The waitress returned with their beers and took their orders. As she stepped away, the music shifted to a George Strait song and Dean winced.

"Dad absolutely hates this song," he said.

"Yeah?" Sam asked, intrigued.

Dean nodded. "You want to hear that man swear like a sailor in a whore house, just turn on some George Strait."

Sam chuckled. "I don't think I ever noticed that."

Dean shrugged, not wanting to dig too deep into the battle lines that often separated Sam and John. "Y'know how he always had music playing, wherever we went?"

Sam nodded.

"He'd listen to anything… dude, anything… even that Top 40 crap. One day I'm flippin' channels on this little radio in some motel and this song comes on," Dean pointed up, indicating the invisible speakers that filtered the sad, mellow tones of loneliness and love gone wrong down to their table.

Dean's face relaxed in a slight smile. "Dad… he launches himself across the room, pulls the cord friggin' out of the wall trying to turn the music off. Then he goes into a litany of words even I would never use."

"Why does he hate it so much?" Sam laughed, watching Dean remember.

"You got me," Dean said, his fingers tipping up in a shrug of his hands. "I think I was too afraid to ask after that."

Sam nodded. For all of his obvious love for his sons, John Winchester could be a scary individual when provoked.

"Mom had a favorite song, though." Dean continued. "She'd play it over and over… I think it was an album, actually."

"Yeah?" Sam sat back as their plates of food were set in front of them, then leaned forward once more, eager for Dean to keep talking. He didn't know where this was coming from—this infusion of words, this explosion of memory—but he didn't want it to go away.

"Yeah, I remember it had this… scratchy sound, y'know?"

"What was the song?"

"Night Moves," Dean replied around a mouthful of steak.

"Mom liked Bob Segar?"

"Yup," Dean nodded, washing the food down with a gulp of beer. "They used to dance in the kitchen."

"Dude, how do you remember this stuff?" Sam said, cutting his steak and laying the knife across the top of his plate.

Dean shrugged, "I don't know, man. I don't always. Sometimes it just… y'know flashes clear like I saw it yesterday."

"Think it's a… side effect of Alyssa's… powers?"

"Nah," Dean shook his head, shoveling potatoes into his mouth. "It just happens once in awhile. Always has."

Sam paused, thinking, his eyes on Dean's hands as they moved food around his plate and up to his mouth. This was not an easy life they lived. On either of them. But more so, Sam thought, on Dean. It was good to see his brother eating. Good to hear his voice. Good to simply be around him.

Dean had called them demon-hunters earlier… but they were more than that. They hunted evil… and Sam had learned over the last two years that evil was everywhere, in everything, and that no matter whom they thought they had defeated, the hunt would never go away. And yet… they'd managed to live their lives around that fact.

"Can't picture Dad dancing," Sam said.

"Who do you think taught me?"

"You don't dance," Sam scoffed. "Usually…"

"Well, I did once," Dean lifted his eyebrows, his eyes alight with good memories.

"What? When?"

"You remember Megan Jones?"

Sam started to shake his head, then stopped. "Wait, yeah. That dark-haired girl that used to play ball with us… where the hell were we?"

"Somewhere in Ohio… Akron, I think."

"Right, yeah. You danced with her?"

"Dude, eight grade, she asks me to the spring dance—uh, Stephen Hawking or something."

"Sadie Hawkins," Sam corrected, grinning around his food.

Dean pointed at him, "That was it. Anyway, I was scared to death."

Sam laughed. "Some bad boy. Scared of a girl."

"I was twelve, man, cut me some slack."

"So, what happened?"

"Night before the dance, Dad comes home from a hunt, and I told him what I had to do. He gets real serious with me, like he does right before he's gonna move us, or tell us something big."

Sam nodded, finishing his plate and picking up his beer.

"Then he tells me that the most important thing is to always keep my hands at her waist, and to watch her eyes."

"You're kidding me."

"Swear to God. I never forgot that. Came in handy, too," Dean said, reaching for his pie.

"What, in case the bad boy rep didn't work for you?"

"Aw, that always works, Sammy," Dean grinned. "Well, y'know, except with your girls."

Sam quirked his eyebrows. "What do you mean?"

"Sarah hated me when we first met her," Dean grinned.

"She didn't… hate you."

"Well, she was certainly more impressed with your art history shtick."

Sam smiled softly, thinking of the dark-haired beauty that held a piece of his heart.

"Yeah, well, Jess wouldn't have gone for the bad boy, either," Sam agreed.

"See? You got your girls, I got mine. All balances out."

"Did you kiss her?"

Dean brought his head up quickly. "What?"

"Megan Jones," Sam said, chuckling at the look of horror that had crossed Dean's face.

"Oh! Uh… yeah." Dean nodded, his lips tipping up at the sides, eyes crinkling at the corners.

"Jeeze, you started early," Sam laughed, nodding his thanks as the waitress brought them more beer.

"You only get this good with practice," Dean said, bouncing his eyebrows and pushing back his empty pie plate with a satisfied sigh. "Plus, living this life… I guess I kinda figure I have to take what I can get when I can get it."

"But you didn't know you'd be living this life in the eighth grade," Sam protested.

Dean pressed his lips together, shrugging. "Maybe I did."

"Whatever, man," Sam shook his head. "You had to have had a different idea about what you wanted to be back then."

Dean sat back, one arm across the back of the booth, beer in his opposite hand. He looked down at the amber liquid thoughtfully.

"What about you, Sam?" He said, deflecting the attention. "When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?"

Sam sat forward, turning the pint around slowly with the tips of his fingers. "I dunno… I think maybe when I was in high school."

"What triggered it?"

"Watching you," Sam said, almost shyly. He flicked his eyes up to Dean's face, then back to his drink.

"Me? Why me?"

Sam pulled his bottom lip in. "It's kinda… tangled."

"I got nothin' but time, man," Dean said, relaxing his jaw and keeping a watchful eye on Sam's bent head.

"Well, I'd watch you take care of me, and Dad, and then I'd watch you go out there and get beat to hell hunting evil… and no one knew about it."

Dean remained silent.

"You and Dad… and I guess me eventually, only not really until after… after Jess… you never once acted like you should be doing something else, something… safe."

Dean pushed out his lips, turning the pint of beer around with the tips of his fingers in a mirror image of his brother.

"I just saw you… giving your time to me, and to strangers… and I thought… well, people should know, y'know?"

Dean lifted an eyebrow. "And so you thought… lawyer?"

Sam chuckled softly. "I told you it was tangled."

Dean took a drink of his beer.

"I guess I just thought that there had to be something out there where I could do something that made a difference in people's lives—and they knew about it." Sam finished his beer. "Sounds selfish when I say it out loud."

"Nah," Dean lifted his mouth in an understanding smile and shook his head. "That's kinda why I wanted to be a fireman."

"Yeah?"

"Those dudes are real heroes, y'know?" Dean rolled his neck, then sat forward. "They charge into the fire, don't think of themselves, and people love them for it."

Sam blinked, the image of Dean suddenly standing in his apartment doorway as Jessica's body burned up the ceiling and heat rained down on him flashing across his vision. Dean hadn't even paused; he'd simply grabbed Sam up and used his entire body to shove him out of the door and to safety.

And Sam loved him for it.

"Y'know, it's weird," Sam said rubbing the heel of his hand against his right eye. "We spend hours in that car and… we never talk like this."

Dean lifted a shoulder. "Sometimes it's good to get out of the house once in awhile."

Sam blinked at him, a surprised laugh filling the space between them in the booth. Dean signaled the waitress for another round and rubbed the back of his neck. He watched as Sam settled comfortably into the corner of the booth. Neither of them were eager to move anytime soon.

"Y'know," Dean said as they started in on their third pint. "This middle of nowhere thing is good for more than just a break."

"How do you mean?" Sam tilted his head.

"Gives me a chance to try out my new gun."

Sam laughed, his dimples showing, and tilted his head back against the wall behind him. "That piece of junk?"

"It's not a piece of junk! It's a classic!"

"Classic? Are you serious?"

"I mean, sure, maybe it needs a little TLC, but… that baby has some kick to it, I guarantee you."

"And you know this how? You've never even fired the thing."

Dean tapped his thumb on the table top. "I got an eye for these things."

"That guy in Phoenix totally snowed you," Sam shook his head, rubbing his too-long hair against the wall with the motion. "Classic…"

"Hey, don't knock it, man," Dean lifted his chin watching Sam out of hooded eyes. "Steve McQueen carried one just like it in Wanted: Dead or Alive."

At that a genuine, full-bodied laugh erupted from Sam. He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed a hand against his chest as his body shook with the motion. Watching him, Dean couldn't help but join in. Laughing was a rare occurrence, and when it happened naturally, Dean wanted to freeze the moment, hold it close to him so that nothing broke in and destroyed it.

"HELP!"

The cry was dead on the heels of the slam of the restaurant door against the wall as a lanky, dark-haired man in his mid-twenties burst into the room. Sam's head shot up and Dean twisted in the booth.

"What the hell—"

The man was dressed like a movie extra from a bad western. His Wranglers were so new they looked starched, his white Brush-popper shirt stood out in stark contrast to a tan vest and his shiny black cowboy boots squeaked on the hardwood floor as he threw himself at the nearest table and grabbed a restaurant patron's arm, wringing it desperately.

"HELP!"

All conversation in the restaurant ceased. Everyone was still. The tinny-voiced country singer carried on oblivious to the man's panicked gasping and eyes that darted frantically behind thick-rimmed glasses. The woman who had been waiting on Sam and Dean broke free of her shocked stupor and approached the man.

Reaching out to lay a gentle hand on the man's upper arm, she started, "Sir, you need to calm down—"

"I will not calm down!" He snapped back at her, backing away from her hand and turning to the table on his other side. "Please, you gotta help me!"

His hands trembled as he reached for the man sitting at that table and Dean could see from across the restaurant that he was sweating. Chewing on his lower lip, Dean started to push himself free from the booth.

"Dean, no, wait, don't—" Sam reached for his brother, but he was too far away. Dean was standing and starting toward the man before Sam could get out of the booth.

Dean approached cautiously, his hands up and open, waist level. "Hey, Dude, take it easy, okay?"

The man whirled away from the table where his grip was currently being dislodged by a diner whose arm he was digging his fingers into and confronted Dean. "You don't understand! He's a monster! I saw… I saw him turn into a MONSTER!"

The man turned to another table and Dean dodged quickly in front of him, preventing him from grabbing another diner. The man was quickly tumbling off the deep end.

"Hey!" Dean barked. "Hey, take it easy, okay?"

Dean reached out and grabbed the man's arm, turning him roughly to face him, forcing him to look Dean in the eyes.

"What's your name?"

Dean watched the man's eyes dart from his face to just over his shoulder and knew instantly that Sam stood behind him. His brother's formidable height was frequently tempered by his sympathetic eyes. Dean hoped that Sam was turning on the puppy-dog charm at the moment because this guy was two blinks from a full-on freak-out.

"Hey, guy," Dean snapped his fingers in the man's face, redirecting his focus. "What's your name?" He repeated slower, his voice soft.

"Eugene," he said, shivering slightly. He reached up with his free hand and pushed his glasses back up his nose. "B-but my friends call me Clint."

Standing out of Dean's line of sight, Sam quickly reached up and covered his mouth, hiding his instant grin. He caught Dean's slight head tilt and realized his brother was trying to do the same, settling into the seriousness of the situation and not the sad humor Eugene was opening up for them.

"Okay, uh, Eugene," Dean said, the tremor of humor in his voice expertly quelled. Carefully moving them to the side of the room, nearer the booth they'd just vacated, he continued to question Eugene. "Why don't you tell me what you saw?"

"I was, uh," Eugene's voice squeaked as he looked from Dean to Sam and back. "I was walking over here from the Kokopelli Inn—it's this place just up the road, nice place, good beds… hard to get good beds in some motels, you know—"

"Eugene," Dean dropped his chin, his eyes calm on Eugene's.

"Right, well," Eugene swallowed. "I was gonna meet this Indian guide I talked to earlier… was, uh, gonna meet him for dinner over here, and I thought I'd walk and I was almost here and I heard something and I turned around and the guy—the Indian guide, well, Native American, y'know not really Indian, that's just our lazy way of…"

Sam watched Dean's shoulders visibly tighten. Evidently the motion was carried through his arm to his fingers because Eugene squeaked again.

"Hey! This isn't easy, man!"

"Just take a breath," Dean said, his voice a forced calm that warned Sam of a pending explosion. "You said he turned into a… monster?"

The restaurant tittered slightly at this. Sam realized suddenly that every eye was turned, focused on Dean and Eugene in the corner of the room, waiting to see how the drama would end.

"H-he stopped, right in the middle of the road, and he started to like… twist and bend all… well, you just can't bend like that and then he turned into a…"

Dean dropped his head, then lifted it again, his patience rice-paper thin. "Dude, seriously. Just spit it out already."

"Wolf," Eugene squeaked.

"Wolf?"

"He turned into a wolf," Eugene said, deflating, his confession finally over.

The restaurant patrons started to chuckle a bit at this, turning back to each other and their conversations, the dull hum of disinterested background noise blending seamlessly once more with the country music. Dean straightened up, but didn't release Eugene's arm. He looked over his shoulder at Sam, an eyebrow raised.

Sam wanted to deny the inevitable. He wanted to return to the booth and the beer and the banter. He wanted normal for just a little bit longer. But the look in Dean's green eyes, and the way Eugene was trembling in his brother's grip, couldn't be ignored.

"Here we go again," Sam whispered. He dug some money from his jeans pocket and set it on their table, then nodded to Dean.

"C'mon," Dean tightened his grip on Eugene and started to turn him toward the door.

It took Eugene a second to realize what was happening, but the moment he registered that Dean was taking him out of the restaurant, he quite literally dug his heels in and actually managed to stop Dean's forward motion. Sam nearly slammed into Eugene's back, so surprised was he that the skinny man had halted his brother's muscle.

"No!" Eugene shook his head vigorously. "No way, man. I'm not goin' back out there!"

"Eugene—" Dean started, tugging on the scared man's arm.

"Didn't you hear me? There is a GUY that turned into a friggin' WOLF out there!"

The eyes of the people in the restaurant once again started to turn to them. Dean rotated to face Eugene, his strong hands gripping Eugene's shoulders. Sam watched his brother's eyes soften, all irritation and anger simply drained from him in the wake of Eugene's abject fear. He'd seen this look before—had seen it directed at Lucas, had seen it directed at Michael… had seen it directed at him. Dean just seemed to instinctively know when fear reduced you to a child and you needed to be told that there was nothing under your bed and the closet was monster-free.

"Listen to me, okay," Dean said, his voice soft, his eyes steady. "You listening?"

Eugene's nod was stilted, scared.

"We believe you, okay? My name is Dean," he flicked his eyes over Eugene's shoulder to Sam. "That big guy back there's my little brother Sam. We're gonna help you."

"B-but—the guy…"

"Hey, listen, I promise," Dean shook Eugene once. "I promise nothing bad's gonna happen to you, okay?"

Eugene brought his eyes up, meeting Dean's. He seemed to be weighing something as he paused, then looked back at Sam who smiled tightly. He looked back at Dean, his throat working, and Dean felt slightly heavy as the trust he saw in the dark-brown eyes was handed over to him.

"Eugene?"

"O-okay," Eugene said and allowed Dean, albeit reluctantly, to lead the way to the restaurant door.

Sam followed, nodding at the waitress and offering a salute-like wave to the last of the diners that stared after them. Dean kept hold of Eugene's arm and opened the back door of the Impala, half-tossing him onto the seat. He joined Sam at the trunk.

Eugene swung his legs out of the car, bending at the waist to look around the end of the car and listen.

"You think two extra clips?" Sam asked.

"How many silver bullets do we have?"

Sam shrugged, "Enough for two extra clips."

"Okay, smartass, why're you asking me then?"

"Just want to make sure you're on board," Sam said. He looked up at the darkened sky. "Cloud's are covering the moon."

"Yeah, well, it's the right time in the lunar cycle—tail end of it anyway."

"You got your knife?" Sam looked over and saw Dean flip up the tail of his shirt to reveal the knife sheath he'd fashioned to hold his Bowie knife behind him. "Good."

"I'm bringing the gun." Dean reached into the depths of the weapons cache for the large, sawed-off shotgun. The barrels had been cut down lower than the required 18 inches and hollowed-out. Dean liked the extra bang for the buck the highly-illegal 15 inch barrels promised.

"What? No way!"

"Yes, way," Dean said. "We can use those silver pellets you melted down awhile back."

"We've never even tried out the silver pellets, let alone fired that gun. You don't know how accurate it is."

"Dude, it's a shotgun… stand close enough, accuracy doesn't really matter."

"What are you guys doing?" Eugene piped up. "Silver bullets? Shotguns? What the hell?"

Dean and Sam exchanged a glance. Sam tilted his head, lifting a shoulder.

Dean pulled in his bottom lip and shook his head. Sighing, he glanced around the end of the Impala.

"Hate to tell you this, but, uh your friend? Is a werewolf," Dean stated flatly.

"Way to break it to him gently," Sam remarked dryly.

"What?!" Eugene shot upright, cracking the crown of his head on the doorframe of the car and sat down again, rubbing his head. "What?" he repeated, softer.

"Where'd you last see this wolf?" Dean asked.

Still rubbing his head, Eugene leaned low out of the car door and looked at Dean, watching with wide eyes as Dean shoved shells into the shotgun and clicked the chamber shut.

"In the middle of the road," he said.

Dean looked over at Sam, who shut the Impala's trunk, rolling his eyes. Dean squared his shoulders and with a slow tilt of his head, slid his eyes back to Eugene.

"Which way did he go, Eugene?" His voice held a measure of patience that Sam didn't always give him credit for.

Eugene dropped his hand and looked up at Dean. "I didn't wait around to find out," he shook his head, pushing his glasses up his nose. "I just ran for help…"

Dean rubbed at his forehead, then glanced over at Sam. "Well, it's gotta be around here somewhere. Between here and that… Coca-Cola Inn."

"Kokapelli," Sam and Eugene corrected him in unison. Dean headed to the driver's side door, tossing Sam a whatever, Frances look.

"Get in, Eugene," Dean set the shotgun on the seat and waited until Eugene had closed the back door before starting up the engine. "Which way is this motel of yours?"

"Uh, that way," Eugene pointed behind him. "So, what, are you guys like… Buffy?"

Sam's laugh made Eugene jump slightly, and Dean simply shook his head as he hooked his elbow over the back of the bench seat, watching out of the back window as he reversed out of the parking space and turned in the direction Eugene had pointed.

"Wait… Buffy was vampires… who kills werewolves?" Eugene said, frowning.

"We do," Dean said, watching the road for the motel. Seeing it only a half mile away, he turned in and parked in an empty space. He shoved the gear into park and turned sideways in his seat. "Out."

Eugene shook his head.

"I mean it," Dean jerked his thumb over his shoulder. Eugene sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. "I can drag your ass out of here, man."

"What if it's waiting for me?"

Sam dropped his head, his chin tucked into the chest, content to let Dean handle their stubborn passenger.

"It's not going to be waiting for you."

"How do you know?"

"Because…" Dean rolled his eyes, staring daggers into the side of Sam's head. "Werewolves can't… open doors, okay?"

"I'm staying with you," Eugene shook his head.

"Dude, we're going after the wolf," Dean said. "If you're scared, the last place you want to be is with us. You'll be safe here. I promise."

"But—"

"Out! Now." Dean made a move for Eugene's arm, causing the skittish man to back up.

Sam bit the inside of his cheek.

"Fine! Fine, I'll go," Eugene sputtered, shoving the door open. "But I don't like it."

"I'll try to live with that," Dean shot back.

Eugene slammed the door, and stormed up to the front of the building. He glanced back once, then dug out his room key and unlocked a ground-floor room, slamming the motel room door behind him. Sam started laughing the minute the door shut.

"Don't you start," Dean said, hefting the cannon of a shotgun in his right hand and grabbing two small Maglight flashlights as he got out of the car.

"I think I'm beginning to like that guy, man," Sam chuckled.

Dean glared at him. "We can leave the car here and head back to the restaurant, see if we can pick up the tracks."

"You take left, I'll take right," Sam said and Dean nodded, tossing one of the flashlights to Sam.

They walked slowly, unconsciously in-step with each other, scanning the dirt on the quiet roadside.

"I can't believe no one in the restaurant's come this way yet," Dean commented.

"Hey, Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"When's the last time we hunted a werewolf?"

Dean paused. "Don't think we have since we were kids," he replied, then froze at the sound of rocks skittering across the road. Without glancing at Sam, he whirled, his gun up in point position, facing the threat approaching from behind.

Eugene squeaked, stumbling backwards, hands raised. "Don't shoot! It's me! Eugene!"

"Son of a bitch," Dean breathed, lowering the gun. "Are you crazy? I could have killed you. What the hell are you doing here?"

"Following you."

"I can see that, Eugene." Dean considered pointing the gun at him again. "I told you, man, we're Going. After. The. Wolf."

"Yeah, I know," Eugene tossed a look over to Sam waiting silently on the other side of the road. "And you got the guns. I'm sticking with you."

"You'll be safer back in your room, man," Sam offered, his voice kind.

"That… thing… knows who I am," Eugene pushed his glasses back up on his nose, looking at Dean. "It—he—was meeting me for dinner." A shaky, nervous laugh colored Eugene's next words. "I'm not safe anywhere."

Dean sighed. "Oh, hell." He handed Eugene the flashlight. "You just stay close to me, okay?"

"Dean! What the hell?"

"He'll be okay if he stays close, Sam," Dean called over to his brother.

"You aren't seriously letting him come with us," Sam shook his head.

"I got him."

"Damn right, you got him," Sam grumbled. "He's just gonna get in the way."

"Hey," Eugene piped up. "Right here, guys."

"Shut up," the brother's snapped in unison.

"Right, gotcha," Eugene nodded, grimacing slightly as the wind picked up and the cloud cover vanished to reveal the silvery light of the full moon.

"Hey," Sam called.

"Find something?"

"Yeah," Sam motioned toward the open mesa on the other side of the road. "Tracks head toward those… weird looking trees over there."

"They're Joshua Trees," Eugene offered.

"C'mere," Dean grabbed the front of Eugene's shirt, pulling him closer than his shadow as he crossed the road and followed Sam.

"Y'know the Native Americans used to use the leaves from the Joshua Trees to weave sandals and they'd roast the seeds for food—really rather tasty, so I've heard… kinda like pumpkin seeds…"

"Eugene."

"Yeah?"

"Shut up," Dean growled, the fine hairs on the back of his neck sticking up as he followed about twenty feet behind Sam, keeping his eyes glued to his brother's back. The wind tossed the clouds haphazardly across the sky skittering shadows across the ground and playing tricks with Dean's eyes.

He watched Sam's flashlight play along the ground and kept his ears perked to the sounds of the desert. The chill of the night contrasted sharply with the heat he knew this area of the country could bring during the day. Sam's steps were slow, methodical, and Dean matched him stride for stride, keeping Eugene's shirtfront fisted in one hand, the large shotgun in the other.

When the wolf struck, it was silent.

Dean felt the impact before he heard a sound, the large, black body plowing into him from the side, driving him to the ground on top of Eugene, forcing the air from his lungs, knocking the shotgun from his grip. He had a moment to pull in a stuttered breath before the sharp claws raked heat across his left side and he cried out in surprised pain.

"Dean!"

Sam whirled at his brother's cry, his pistol up, flashlight trained on the back of the black beast that continued to swipe at Dean's struggling form. The wolf was monstrous, muscles bunching and gathering beneath its broad shoulders, paws as large as Sam's hands.

Sam drew a bead on the wolf's back as he ran, firing once. He missed.

"Dean!"

"G-get… get him…" Dean was struggling to say, and Sam saw that he was somehow, impossibly, keeping the wolf's talon-like claws at bay for the moment.

Eugene had scrambled out from underneath Dean and grabbed the barrel of Dean's gun. With a cry worthy of a Navajo warrior, he swung the butt of the shotgun at the wolf's head, knocking it sideways and freeing Dean just as Sam reached them.

Dean tried to roll to his side; Sam tried to aim at the wolf's head. Neither of them were fast enough. With the speed of the devil whispering a lie, the wolf grabbed Eugene's forearm between its massive jaws and turned, sprinting off across the mesa, dragging Eugene behind it, screaming bloody murder.

"You okay?" Sam reached for Dean.

"We gotta get 'im," Dean panted, struggling to his feet and pressing his arm tight against his side. "Where's my gun?"

"Here," Sam handed him the shotgun.

"Let's go," Dean took off after the wolf, the trail easy to follow even in the stammering moonlight. I promise… nothing bad's gonna happen to you… Dean shook his head, hard, banishing the thought. Intent on keeping his promise.

"He's close," Sam panted, running along side of him.

Dean looked over at him, drawing Sam's eyes with the moment they were in. They had hunted together, fought together, for so long that in moments of need Dean knew Sam could practically read his mind. Dean gestured to his eyes with the index finger and middle finger of his left hand, his right clutching the shotgun. He then pointed a finger in one direction and the flat of his hand in the other. I'll watch for you. You head that way, I'll flank it…

Sam nodded and veered to the left.

They came up on Eugene in about ten more strides. They were too late.

The wolf had slashed his throat, leaving Eugene gurgling and gasping wet huffs of useless air as his body jerked and thrashed on the desert floor. The wolf had a paw raised, ready to slash toward Eugene's heart.

"HEY!" Dean barked, bringing the beast's eyes up, its muzzle coated with blood, teeth bared, eyes gleaming in the moonlight. Dean brought the shotgun up, but a heartbeat before he could pull the trigger, the wolf turned away from Dean, spring-boarding off of Eugene's body, and slammed into Sam, knocking him to the ground.

"No!" Dean screamed and then his world went silent as Sam's scream pierced the air.

Dean brought the shotgun up, but dropped it an instant later, afraid he would hit Sam with the untested weapon. On a flat-out run, Dean pulled his Bowie knife from the sheath at his back and dropped to his knees as he approached Sam, sliding toward the wolf and his brother, knife raised, eyes wild. As his forward motion slowed, the wolf released Sam's arm, and without a backward glance, darted off through the cacti and Joshua Trees into the desert night.

Dean panted for air, his desperate eyes searching the dimly lit night for any sign of the beast. It friggin' aimed for Sam… Dean dropped his knife, and looked down at his bleeding, unconscious brother. A screech owl shook the silence of the desert, and as if its cry was a signal, the night calls returned, cocooning the brothers in sound.

"Aw, Jesus, Sammy," Dean breathed, his chest heaving with the effort to draw in air, his mouth dry, his side burning.

He reached down and carefully turned Sam's left forearm with gentle fingers. The bite was deep and bleeding freely. Sam hand was limp in his and as Dean's eyes flew to his brother's face, he noted the pallor of Sam's features causing his brother's lashes to stand out like dark shadows on his cheeks.

Dean knew he had to get the bleeding stopped before he did much of anything. He started to unbutton his green shirt to use as a bandage when he glanced down at his side. The wolf had nicely filleted him, slashing through both his shirt and T-shirt. His blood was beginning to stain the material.

"Shit," Dean muttered, looking back at Sam's face. Gotta stop the bleeding… how the hell… Belt! Sam always wore a belt. Dean reached for his brother's waistband and unfastened his belt, pulling the leather free from the denim loops. "Any other situation, that might feel awkward," he muttered.

He wrapped the leather just above the bite; as he pulled it tight, Sam opened his eyes with a gasp.

"Easy, Sammy," Dean soothed. "Take it easy, I'm here."

"Dean?"

"Yeah, Dean," he said, fastening the belt. "Who else would it be?"

"What… where'd it go?"

"Ran off," Dean said tightly. "Need to wrap your arm, Sam. You think you can sit up a little?"

Sam blinked at Dean, his eyes large in the moonlight. His gaze flicked down to the arm resting across his belly and Dean saw realization of what had just happened to him filter slowly in.

"Don't go there, Sam," he commanded.

"Dean—"

"No." Dean shook his head once. "Don't. Just… just help me wrap it and get you out of here."

"Where's Eugene?"

Dean swallowed. "He's, uh… over there."

"We…" Sam gasped as Dean pulled him carefully into sitting position. "We were too late…"

"Don't worry about that now, Sam," Dean said, working Sam's right arm out of his jacket and used the loose material to wrap around the wound on Sam's arm. Sam's jaw tightened, but he stayed silent as Dean finished field-dressing the wound.

"We… we gotta burn him, Dean," Sam ground out, sweat beginning to gather at his temples.

Dean swallowed, looking at Sam's pale face in the moonlight. "I don't have anything to burn… it."

"Attacked by a werewolf," Sam whispered. "No telling if he could still turn, Dean."

"I'll take care of it, Sam." Dean said, reaching out to cup the side of his brother's face and turned Sam's blue-green eyes to meet his, and away from the gore that was Eugene's body. "I'll take care of it, okay? You with me?"

Sam blinked, nodding.

"Let's get you back, okay?"

"We c-can't just…"

Dean sighed, knowing Sam was right. "You just keep your eyes open, okay? Sam?"

"Okay," Sam whispered, slumping forward and cradling his wounded arm in his lap.

Dean stood, looking down at Eugene's blood-soaked body. He swallowed the bite of bile that stung the back of his throat. Not allowing himself to think about what he was doing—or what he'd done—Dean leaned over and grasped Eugene's bloody arms and dragged him to the base of a tree.

He dug Eugene's wallet, and as an afterthought, his motel keys, out of his pocket. There would be someone to tell… someone out there that would be wondering where their son or brother was. He cast about the ground for something to cover the body and ended up with a few dried fronds from the Joshua Tree. It barely covered Eugene's face.

Dean rotated on his heel and turned back to Sam. Can't think about that now… gotta take care of Sam… He grabbed his knife, returning it to the sheath at his back, picked up his shotgun, then leaned over Sam.

"C'mon, kiddo," Dean said as he bent over his brother, hooking and arm under Sam's right shoulder. "Gotta help me out a little."

"You okay, Dean?" Sam's voice was strained.

"I'm good, let's just get you back, huh?"

"Saw it get you," Sam slurred.

"Never touched me," Dean shook his head, wrapping Sam's arm over his shoulders, ignoring the burn in his side, the image of Eugene's sightless eyes.

The journey back to the road was silent and arduous. By the time they reached the Impala, Sam was sagging against him, his feet trailing weakly in the dirt, and Dean was trembling with the weight of him. Pausing only a moment to consider his alternatives, Dean propped Sam up against the side of the motel and dug Eugene's key from his pocket.

"Hang on, Sammy," Dean whispered, licking his dry lips. "Hang on, man."

He unlocked the room and maneuvered them into the room, dropping the shotgun inside the door. He managed to wrestle Sam to the closest bed. Sam's eyes fluttered closed and his breath started to come in short bursts. Dean ran the back of his hand over his mouth, trying to catch his breath.

"N-no… no hospital, Dean."

"What?"

"Don't take me," Sam blinked bleary eyes up at Dean. "Don't wanna go."

"Sam—"

"I mean it," Sam's voice was stronger. "No hospital. Not like last time."

Dean's heart caught painfully in his chest. He'd never been as scared in his life as the moment he realized Sam had been shot with a poison bullet. He'd come so close to losing him…

"Werewolf bite—"

"Don't, Sam," Dean barked. "We don't know anything, yet, okay?"

"W-we know…"

"Just… just shut up, okay? Just let me think." He couldn't let Sam see that he was shaking.

Sam closed his eyes, turning his face away. Dean took a breath.

"I'll be right back, okay?"

Sam didn't move. Dean headed out to the Impala, opening the trunk and pulling out their duffels. As he leaned in to grab the bag of weapons, his side shot a hot spark through him, stifling his breath and bringing him up short. Stuffing the pain back, denying it the attention it sought, Dean closed the trunk and hauled all three bags back into the room.

He dropped the bags with the clothing and first aid kit on the spare bed, sitting the weapons bag on the small table in the corner of the room that was currently strewn with papers, brochures, notebooks and fliers all on Navajo Code Talkers. Dean's flitted over the items, registering them, but not taking them in. He set his knife on the table next to his .45.

He gathered the supplies from the first aid box and eased down on Sam's bed. His brother's eyes were rolling wildly under closed lids, his jaw trembling as chills wracked his body. Dean swallowed, closing his mind to what lay back in the desert, to the moment of peace they'd been afforded just one hour before, to his unmitigated failure to protect an innocent, to protect Sam.

"Okay, man," Dean whispered, more to keep himself balanced as his vision swam than to reassure Sam. "You're gonna hate me, but I gotta cut your jacket free. Uh, and this… belt. There. Okay, let's look at… damn, Sammy, that's… that's a bite alright… okay, this might sting a little…"

Sam cried out, his head pressing back into the pillow, neck arching slightly as Dean doused the bite with antiseptic. Keeping up a steady stream of inane words, a monologue meaningless in its specifics and deep in its purpose, Dean cleaned and wrapped the bite, pulled Sam's boots off and wrapped his shivering brother up in the comforter. Sam didn't open his eyes.

Running a shaking hand over his own sweaty face, Dean pushed himself unsteadily to his feet. He gathered up the first aid supplies and stepped into the motel bathroom. Eugene's toiletries were organized in descending order by size along the countertop. Dean closed his eyes, leaning his forehead against the cool tile of the bathroom wall. He'd promised…

"Stop it," he admonished himself.

He swallowed, looking at the red stain of blood on his side. He eased the outer shirt off of his shoulders, reaching behind his head and grasping the T-shirt between his shoulder blades and pulling it free. He used the end of his green shirt and carefully cleaned the blood from his side, then turned and dropped the tattered garment on the floor.

The cuts weren't too deep and he was able to staunch the bleeding and apply patches quickly. Returning to the bedroom, he dug out a gray T-shirt from his duffel and pulled it over his head.

"Sam," he whispered, shaking Sam's leg gently. "Sammy, wake up."

Sam blinked groggily at him.

"I gotta… I gotta go back out there… take… care of it," Dean said, hoping Sam would understand.

"Be careful," Sam whispered, closing his eyes again. Dean watched him a moment more, then grabbed the motel keys and headed for the Impala's trunk and the supplies he needed.

The walk back to Eugene's body didn't seem to take as long as the walk to the motel had taken. He reached the sad, slumped form and only then realized that Eugene's glasses were gone. He pulled the body away from the tree, trying in vain to blank his mind to the fact that he'd talked to this guy just a little bit ago, that he'd promised to take care of him.

He poured lighter fluid over the body, gagging over the smell he normally didn't notice. He gripped the match between his fingers for a moment, staring down at Eugene's torn face.

"I'm sorry, Eugene," Dean whispered. "I'm sorry, man…"

He gave his head a hard shake and forced himself to strike the match, hesitating only a second before dropping it onto Eugene's body. He threw up a hand to shield his eyes as Eugene's body went up in flames with a whoosh. Dean backed away from the heat and the smell, tucking his nose into the crook of his elbow and pressing his other arm tight against his side.

He waited until the embers burned low, then retrieved the shovel and buried the remains. As he started to return to Sam, he realized that he was shivering. He swallowed. It was just the chill of the night, the release of adrenalin from the fight. That's all. He wouldn't let it be anything else. By the time he reached the motel, he was desperate for water. But when he saw Sam, all thoughts of his own comfort vanished.

Sam was twisted in the comforter, his long hair plastered to his face from a feverish sweat. He muttered incoherently about angels and demons, sinking ships and snakes. Dean rubbed his face. After the lives they'd led, dreams were never safe territory. Fevers simply heightened the experience. He sat heavily on the other bed, digging out John's journal from one of the duffels.

"C'mon, Dad," Dean whispered, his arm pressing tightly against his side. "Don't let me down." He scanned the pages of the journal where his father had written everything he'd known about werewolves. The only thing he found about werewolf bites was the possibility of severing the bloodline: kill the sire and end the curse.

"Dean," Sam muttered. "Don't—"

"I'm here," Dean whispered, reaching for Sam's flailing arm. He gripped his brother's hot hand tightly. "I'm here, man."

Sam settled slightly at the sound of his voice, but Dean could feel the shiver of fever through their connected hands. He knew he had to get Sam's fever down, but he suspected that Tylenol and ice packs weren't going to cut it this time. He needed something else. He needed help. He reached into his pocket, digging out his cell phone. He paused for one second on Dad, but continued down the list until he reached Bearwalker.

He felt weak with relief when the older hunter answered. His hasty explanation was met with calm instructions.

"You're gonna need to write this down, Dean," Bearwalker's rumble floated across the distance and settled in his ears. "You sure you're okay, kid?"

"'M fine," Dean mumbled, wiping sweat from his eyes. "I'm ready. Lay it on me."

Bearwalker recited a list of ingredients for a poultice and remedy to bring Sam's fever down.

"Where the hell am I gonna find this stuff?" Dean asked, looking at the list of unusual items. "Not like a pharmacy is gonna carry arrowroot."

"I know," Bearwalker said. "You're gonna have to find an Indian reservation, Dean. Can you do that?"

Dean shivered, blinking bleary eyes. He ran a shaky hand over his mouth, watching Sam twitch and struggle against the nightmarish images assaulting him.

"Yeah, I can do that," Dean said, thanking Bearwalker and hanging up before the hunter could pry deeper as to his own wellbeing. "Where the hell am I gonna find an Indian reservation…"

"You're standing in one, man," said a voice to his left.

Dean jerked, wincing as his movement of surprise pulled at the cuts on his side. He stood, automatically reaching back to his waistband for his gun and grabbing air. Where the hell is my gun? He looked in the shadows of the room for the speaker. Did Eugene have a roommate? Had someone gotten in while he was away?

"Who's there?"

"Oh, big, bad-ass hunter," said the voice. "Did I scare you?"

Dean gaped and thought for sure he was hallucinating when Eugene stepped from the shadows and into the wan light cast from the lamp between the beds. The right side of his face and nearly his entire throat was slashed, the wounds no longer bleeding but open and raw-looking. His features were pale and blue-tinged, and his shirt and vest were shredded.

Dean's eyes darted from the ghoulish figure to the small table in the corner of the room where he'd set their duffel of weapons. His .45 gleamed in the yellow light, taunting him.

"Y-you… you can't be here… I… I burned you…"

"Yeah, I know, I was there." Eugene tilted his head. "Why the hell did you do that, anyway?"

"You can't be a spirit," Dean stuttered, backing away from Eugene, putting himself between the figure and Sam.

"Pretty sure I'm not a spirit," Eugene agreed, looking casually around the room. He reached out and traced a finger down the wall. "I tried walking through things and kinda… bounced off. Not really sure how I got in here. I saw you in the desert, followed you home. Next thing I know…"

Dean swallowed, shaking his head. He looked down at the faded brown and gold carpet of the motel room, running the tips of his fingers across his forehead. The Alp had played with his head too much. He was imagining things.

He's not real… notrealnotrealnotrealnotreal…

"Y'know, I feel different," Eugene said, stepping closer to Dean. "I mean, sure, I'm y'know… dead… but it feels different than I thought it would. For one, I don't need those damn coke-bottle glasses. Guess there's an upside to everything." He smiled.

Dean could see the sides of Eugene's teeth through the hole in his cheek.

Eugene stepped closer; Dean stepped back, his knees hitting the bed, jostling his wounded side. "I mean, except for these really annoying flaps of skin," Eugene flipped the offending bits of skin with his fingertips, "that I'm sure are rather unattractive… frankly, I've never felt better."

"No… no, you're not real. You're not here." Dean gasped, glancing back quickly as Sam groaned low. Holy shit, he thought, I really have lost my mind.

"Hate to tell you this, Dean," Eugene said, stepping forward and forcing Dean to either sit on the bed or step aside.

Dean sat, unwilling to open Sam's unconscious form up to Eugene's approach.

"But I am real. I'm DAMN real."

Eugene pressed forward, his hands planted on either side of Dean's legs, his torn face inches from Dean's. Dean could feel the bed sink and leaned back despite himself.

"And you'd better get used to it, Dean, because you PROMISED that nothing bad was going to happen to me and, well..." Eugene straightened and spread his arms, stretching the torn skin so that the red gave way to a deep purple. "THIS LOOKS PRETTY DAMN BAD!"

"Alright!" Dean yelled, standing and pushing Eugene's figure away. He stared in shock when his hands didn't go through Eugene's body.

Eugene stared back, fascinated. A grin lifted the slightly-less destroyed side of his face. "Hey, how'd you do that?"

"Back off, man," Dean growled. "Just… just back up." This is just friggin' nuts…

"Okay, okay, don't get so touchy. I'm the dead one here, remember?" Eugene replied petulantly, holding up his hands.

Dean opened his mouth to retort when the phone between the beds rang, startling them both. Dean turned to it, running his hand over his mouth as it rang again.

"You gonna get that?" Eugene prompted, gesturing toward the instrument.

"Shut up a minute," Dean snapped, glancing at Sam's sweaty, pain-twisted face. He picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"It's your five o'clock wake-up call, Mr. Eastwood."

Dean glanced at Eugene, then said "Thanks" into the receiver and hung up. "Mr. Eastwood?" he smirked.

"I don't want to hear it," Eugene said, looking uncomfortable. "We all have our secret identities."

"Dean?" Sam's weak voice shot reality back through Dean.

"Sam, hey," Dean turned, wincing slightly and bent over his brother. "You okay?"

"Thirsty," Sam whispered.

"Hang on," Dean said, and turned from the bed, brushing past Eugene, and returned quickly with a glass of water. "Here you go, man."

He helped Sam drink slowly. "I talked to Bearwalker, Sam."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, he had some ideas for helping you, but I gotta go find an Indian, um…"

"Shaman," Eugene supplied, looking at the back of his hand with a frown. "Hey, do you think I'm starting to rot? You can be honest."

"Shaman," Dean said to Sam, ignoring Eugene. He noticed that Sam didn't even react to Eugene's voice. He must really be out of it…

"A shaman?"

"Yeah," Dean nodded. "There are some herbs and stuff that will help your fever and I think I have a way to, um, keep you from… y'know…"

"Wolfing out?"

"Yeah," Dean's smile mirrored Sam's weak attempt. "I just need to find the nearest Indian reservation, get this stuff, and you'll be good as new."

"That plan has more holes in it than I do," Eugene grumbled, rolling his eyes.

Dean tipped his chin down, directing his voice over his shoulder, but not turning. "Just shut the hell up, okay?"

Sam frowned. "Dean?"

"I'm just saying it isn't easy to find an Indian shaman," Eugene said, stepping up behind Dean and peering over his shoulder at Sam. "You're gonna be lucky if you can find the reservation, at the rate you're going."

Dean stood, turning from Sam. "Thought you said I was standing in one," he challenged.

"Dean?"

"You are, but an Indian reservation covers miles and miles. I mean, you gotta find the right settlement where the shaman lives, first."

"Y'know, I've had enough of you," Dean started to move past Eugene and head for his cell phone, intent on calling Bearwalker back, getting a better idea on how to help Sam. Eugene dodged to block him. "Get the hell out of my way."

"Make me!" Eugene grinned. A flap of skin on his cheek fell loose with that motion and Eugene reached up to try to put it back in place. "Dammit," he grumbled.

"Dean!"

"Just a minute, Sam," Dean shot over his shoulder. He turned back to Eugene, gesturing impatiently with the flat of his hand. "I am trying to figure out how to help you, but this freakin' guy won't—"

"What guy?" Sam weakly pushed himself up in bed.

Dean froze, staring at Eugene, his hand extended. Eugene froze, staring at Dean, still trying to adjust the loose piece of skin back onto his cheek. In unison, they breathed out one question. "What?"

"Who are you talking to?" Sam asked, his voice trembling slightly.

"Y-you don't see him?" Dean asked, rotating slightly, the room tilting slowly around him.

"There's no one here but us, Dean," Sam swallowed, holding his wounded arm carefully against his chest.

"And the hits just keep on comin'," Eugene whispered.


a/n: Part 2 to come tomorrow. Hope you're enjoying!