Author: Mirrordance

Title: Crossing

Summary: 3 versions of the final hunt that could have pushed Sam to leave for Stanford... The lines blur between good and evil on (1)a job that forces John to choose between his sons; (2)a mission to kill another hunter; and (3)a job that requires Sam to kill a child to save his brother.

Hi guys!

Thanks to all who read, alert-ed and favorite-d and especially all who reviewed the first 2 chapters of Crossing. Part 3 took a long time coming, and I hope you still find it interesting, haha... I was out of the country again - hence the delay - but I hope the quality did not suffer and that you will still enjoy the read and let me know what you think. A bit of a warning though: the topic of this third installment will be fairly controversial (the case is about a suicide cluster and what will probably be a debatable kill at the end) and I have come to expect a very discerning, mature frame of mind from the SN fandom, so readers, please heed this content warning :) Without further ado, the last installment of Crossing:

" " "

3: The Line

" " "

New York

Late Spring 2001

NOW

" " "

"There's no way around this, Sam," his father told him quietly, "You gotta do it."

Sam could have sworn his entire body was shaking, but the gun that leveled at the back of the oblivious little boy's head was remarkably steady.

"Don't you do it, Sam," his older brother countered, making him look up at Dean, "Not for me, man. Not for me."

Then the hand started to shake.

Dean looked and sounded like a mockery of himself, all wide-eyed and teary and just so darn sorry. It was jarring to see his face so unmasked. That, and the fact that he was standing on the jumping, business-end of a building balcony, looking like he was damn serious about taking a dive.

"He'll keep the kid alive if you just step off that ledge," John told him, stepping toward Dean.

Dean jerked away as John came closer, and Sam's heart dropped to his stomach when Dean slipped for a breathless moment, regained his footing, and then slammed an even tighter grip against the metal railing behind him.

"Get away from me!" he yelled at his father.

"Okay, okay," John said softly, opening his palms up to placate Dean, "Okay, Dean-o, whatever you want, you got it. Just... let's all just be calm, all right? No one do anything crazy."

Dean laughed at the wind, and tears leaked from his eyes, "Yeah. Sure thing, old man. That's fricking hilarious."

The macabre humor was an echo of his old self, Sam reflected, and he clung to that, that maybe they can still get out of this mess somehow. Besides, Dean's observation was astute 'cos yeah, maybe the situation was a little bit more demented than normal: Dean about to jump off the balcony of a Manhattan high-rise to his death, Sam about to shoot an innocent kid in the head.

" " "

Newark, New Jersey

One Week Ago

THEN

" " "

"The rate these babies are going," Dean whistled, "Even we could afford to live in one. Only dad could find a hunt in the real estate section of the paper."

Sam wasn't as impressed, "High-rise condo in New York City with a doorman and a view of Central Park for $4,000 a month? I guess that's what counts as supernatural nowadays."

"The man is a master," Dean shrugged, "I'd never have known to check why the damn apartments came so cheap. I didn't even know four grand was cheap for anything."

"You'd have found it, Dean," Sam argued, "So would I. It's no big deal."

Dean looked at him glumly and sighed in resignation. Sam was pissed at their dad again. It was a fairly common occurrence since he hit thirteen, but a bigger body, a louder voice and a whole lot of long-repressed rebellion has been giving him the guts to bubble over more and more lately.

"It's a big deal," Dean insisted, finding himself yet again in that familiar position of trying to sell their father's attributes to Sam in an effort to cool him off and make him look at their father's good side. Sometimes it worked, but since Sam graduated from high school a couple of weeks back, mostly it didn't.

"I wouldn't have known," Dean said, "Or if I knew, it's only because he trained us well."

"Training," Sam scoffed, "It's more like child labor. Or Pavlov's dogs. Or--"

As if on cue, their father slid into the booth of the diner, sitting next to Dean. He had parked the car as Sam and Dean went ahead to order their food. Dean had suggested it, saying it would get them back on the road sooner. But it had been a guise to pry Sam and their dad apart for two minutes, just so they could have a civil lunchtime.

John and Sam had an argument in the car about... shit, Dean forgot. The days and the arguments melded together in a miserable time-lapse montage that looked and sounded more and more alike every time. There was that fight about the name on a credit card, some commentary on the slogan of a diner that they passed by and didn't even eat in... the only thing John and Sam could agree on was that Dean put the music up too loud in the car. He's been dying to tell them for years that he'd bust his eardrums if that got them both to either shut up or just agree on something.

John sat next to Dean; it probably didn't mean anything, really, just that Dean was slightly smaller in built now and that he had a habit of making room for his father. But Dean's gaze shot to Sam's, because his younger brother's expression went steely and he wondered if Sam sometimes thought about any of that.

"So this job," John said, invitingly. The case briefing was safe conversation most of the time, and Sam eagerly accepted this Winchester-style peace-offering.

"So the rent hits the floor 'cos people living in three apartment units on the same floor all committed suicide at roughly the exact same time," Sam narrated, "A single woman jumps to her death, the couple living next door slash their wrists and bleed out, and a three-person family also living next door overdose on sleeping pills."

Dean winced, "That's a serious body count for a short amount of time."

A waitress placed three steaming cups of coffee on top of the table; some sort of mocha-ish concoction for Sam, dead-black for their dad, and black with an overload of sugar for Dean. Three hands reached out knowing exactly which cup was his own, maneuvering around each other with their sleeves not even touching. The movement was as effortlessly coordinated as the best kind of Winchester hunt, and Dean wondered why on Earth the two stubborn idiots with him had to keep fighting when things could go this smoothly.

"Lindy Astley," Dean led on after a sip of coffee, "Is vic number one from Apartment Unit 15-B. 'Creative Acquisitions Director at G Clef Productions Inc,' says the obit. Cops report that she piped in some music, grabbed a glass of wine, and then just jumped off her fifteenth-story balcony. The doorman recognized her right away, and then management gave the NYPD access to her apartment shortly after. There was no evidence of foul-play, but no suicide note and no history of psychological problems."

"I got the couple," John said, "Unit 15-A is Michael North and Bronson Hitt – life partners, together since '99."

"'Life partners?'" Dean repeated.

"Yes," John snapped, "What?"

"It's just that some words kind of sound different when you're the one saying it," Dean replied before belatedly adding, "Sir."

"Dean," their father growled at him in warning before moving on, "North's a successful architect and the other guy's a wannabe artist. Same as Astley's case: they seemed all right, and nothing's changed for them to want to suddenly off themselves."

"Then there's the family in 15-C," Sam rounded up, "The Marins are as clean as a whistle. WASP-y mom writes an on-line column for gardening, the dad's a lawyer, and their son is a straight-A student and varsity soccer player. Mom and dad are active in the church community and the PTA, kid's a volunteer for a food aid program, they have tons of money, and they still spend Sunday mornings in Central Park eating hotdogs together. Like in all the other cases, no foul-play, but no reason to do the deed themselves either. The kid... he was only twelve."

Dean shook his head in dismay, "These people have absolutely nothing in common except they live in the same floor in the same building, right?"

"Different ages," Sam expounded, "Different genders, different civil statuses, careers, industries... they didn't even really know each other. It's gotta be the property. It's the only thing tying them together. But there has been no history of violence in the building or the land where it stands, not before the suicides and not after."

"No suicides after could be just because no one lives there anymore," Dean pointed out.

"That's about as far as the initial research can take us," John decided, "Especially if the crime or accident that resulted in this haunting was unreported. We're hitting that place right after we eat lunch."

"I'll call up the realtor," Sam said, "Set up an appointment to check out the properties. Security's gonna be pretty tight for a place that upscale, and we need the initial recon to see who they would let in, and to get a layout of the place."

The food arrived, and the discussion softened from the hunt to other things.

"It's getting pretty hot already," Dean said, "Summer's coming in damn early. And outdoor street-parking in New York is just the pits. We're gonna be driving around in an oven, mark my word."

"Well I ain't paying for the overpriced garages," John said sternly.

"We don't pay anyway," Sam said, "We use other people's money."

"You think all that is easy?" John snapped.

"Are you two serious?" Dean groaned, "Are you gonna ruin my lunch fighting about parking here?"

"We're not fighting," Sam said, primly, "It's a discussion."

"Tomato, to-mah-to," Dean sighed, but his brother and his father did let the topic go, at least for the moment.

The temporary peace was cut off by a ringing cell phone, and all three Winchesters struggled with their respective pockets to check if the call was theirs.

"Mine," Sam said in a clipped tone.

"That better be about work," John warned him, "I ain't paying that thing for your vices, Sam."

"You don't pay for anything," Sam pointed out again, "The money's someone else's!"

"Aw, crap," Dean sighed. Their voices were escalating, and the phone kept ringing and ringing. He was getting a headache. "Sam, just answer the damn thing, will you?"

Sam shook his head in annoyance, but rose from his seat and did as he was told. He walked all the way out the diner to speak to whomever was calling.

"Who the hell is he talking to?" John asked Dean.

"Oh you know the little squirt," Dean shrugged, "Gathers friends around him like he picks up viruses. It's probably just some buddy of his from high school. You get calls for hunts, I get calls from chicks, and my geek-boy little brother over there, is probably getting a lowdown on what happened at last week's Book Club or something. Exciting stuff."

John frowned, "He liked that last town, didn't he?"

"It's where he graduated with his fricking honors," Dean said, "Where he got to go to the prom with the hottest chick in school. It was a place where we actually stayed and used our real names, dad. Of course he liked it there."

"It was a bitch getting him back on the road," John admitted, "I thought he was gonna bury his feet on the ground and grow some roots and kill his old man in his sleep and use me for fertilizer."

"It was the longest place we've stayed in awhile," Dean said, "He didn't just fit in, dad, they all loved him there. Besides... you know him and his fixation with this 'normal' crap."

"I thought if I just shut up and let him finally graduate from high school that he'd get it out of his system," John winced.

"But he's still a bitch?" Dean chuckled, before his eyes softened, "Come on, dad. Can you blame the guy? You got decades of 'normal' before... before mom. I managed to steal four years. Sam? He's never had a lick of the thing. He deserves to bitch. Besides, he still does the job, doesn't he? Let him run that mouth, he does what he has to anyway."

John looked over at Sam from the glass windows lining one side of the diner. The youngest Winchester was smiling, making grand gestures with his arms. Dean followed his gaze, and then looked back at his father. John could look so disarmingly wistful sometimes, and Dean wondered what he was thinking. Did their father feel regret? Did he feel the occasional jealousy Dean himself sometimes got when someone else can light up Sam like that? Did he really feel as pissed as he claimed about having to pay for a non-hunt-related call?

"He should let those ideas go," John said finally, "He's just wasting his time."

"It's okay, dad," Dean said, "It's just a few calls from a few friends once in awhile. It keeps him sane, which keeps me sane, huh?"

John forcibly looked away from Sam and quirked an eyebrow at Dean, "I think that ship has already sailed, son."

"Yeah, yeah," Dean waved at him carelessly, "Just go back to picking on me, why don't cha."

" " "

John reflected that maybe there was something to Dean's 'it keeps Sam sane' theory.

Sam returned from his phone call looking slightly... blitzed was the only term that came to mind. He looked mildly bothered but also unabashedly lighter, looking a little bewildered but very much in better spirits. It was his best mood in weeks, since John had tossed out his threats and coerced the youngest Winchester into the backseat of the car that ultimately took him away from a town he had grown to love, just to go back to the road he hated.

Sam ate his food without further complaint, took notes on their upcoming job, said nothing about John's use of a fake credit card to pay, pliantly stepped into the car when it was time to leave, even pumped the gas at his father's experimental request on a station stop.

When they got back on the road, John watched Sam from the rearview mirror suspiciously, and then turned his gaze to Dean, who was driving – theoretically driving that is, because Dean also kept glancing at his younger brother too.

"Dean," John growled at him.

"Yeah, yeah," Dean said, focusing his eyes on the road instead of at Sam.

John glanced up at the rearview mirror again to find that the exchange momentarily caught Sam's attention, but the youngest Winchester went back to smiling to himself as he gazed out the window.

"So was it a woman?" John asked, unable to help himself. He was always a curious man, which was a good trait for a hunter, and a not-so good one for a father. All parents should expect a modicum of secrecy from their children, but Sam seemed to have tons.

Sam actually barked out a laugh, "Yeah, dad, it was. But she's just a friend."

"Like Dean has friends?" John asked.

Dean rolled back his eyes miserably.

"Eww, god no," Sam said quickly.

"What do you mean 'Eww-god-no?'" Dean snapped.

"It's nothing like that!" Sam insisted, "Whatever 'that' is. It was just some news from hom- from that last town. Nothing you'd care about."

" " "

Midtown Manhattan

" " "

Sam called the real estate agency and got them a viewing appointment to see the apartment with an agent. Her name was Janet, and she was two heads shorter than Dean and talked a mile a minute. She bobbed her head like a bird on crack, and her movements were quick, small and precise, like a Red Bull-ed ping-pong ball. She met the three Winchesters at the basement garage of the midtown high-rise and introduced herself and shook hands with each of the three hunters.

"I love your car," she gushed, "A '67 Impala, is it? Oh... I can send my kid to college on that."

Sam's brows rose thoughtfully, and realized that her offer to meet them at the garage had been both courtesy, and a way to gage what they could possibly pay for.

"So LeBeck, LeBeck..." she murmured, "I know your name from somewhere. You wouldn't be one of those Texas LeBecks, would you?"

"How'd you figure?" Dean asked her with crinkling, smiling eyes. Sam noted that his crafty older brother let slip a hint of fabricated accent there too, just to see how far she'd take it.

"Oh the fancy car," she said as she led the way into the basement lobby and used a card to key-in the elevator to the 15th floor, "The effortless kind of..." she waved absently at their clothes, "Tough-guy look."

Sam looked up at the ceiling and sighed quietly; he had tried to convince his father that they should change into more presentable clothes, but the stubborn oldest Winchester had insisted that charm usually works when coercion doesn't, with or without a costume. While Sam was relieved that his father's stubbornness had no bearing on the investigation, he still hated it whenever his father was right and he was wrong.

"You Texas oil men," she said with an amused shake of her head, "I had to look for a house for Trevor when his wife kicked him out. You know him?"

"Good ol' cousin Trevor," Dean said.

"Cousin?" she asked, "He died in '93 and he was 77."

"His grandfather's cousin's sister and my aunt-twice-removed is related," Dean said swiftly, "Big family, crazy people, long story. You've met Trevor; you know what I'm talking about."

The elevator bell rang, and the doors opened to the fifteenth floor. Janet led the way out. John followed her and smacked Dean at the back of the head with some amusement, as Sam took the rear.

"So four grand a month, huh?" John asked, "Is she a fixer-upper?"

"Oh no," Janet said enthusiastically as she walked past one door, and then stopped at the second apartment on the floor, 15-B, "The property is practically brand new."

She opened the door, and the apartment inside was just aglow with the light of late afternoon. It was from a wide array of glass windows and doors that led to a balcony attached to the living room. As promised, it did have a view of a considerable length of Central Park, now in all of its verdant spring-glory. The apartment was partially-furnished in simple, modern pieces and clean lines. The centerpiece of the room was a baby grand piano, stark and gleaming black against the light of the space.

Janet started talking about the area in square feet, about the building amenities the residents could take advantage of. She talked about the view and the closet space, and a whole lot of other things that kind of died against Sam's ears as he glanced at the EMF reader in his pocket. His eyes met his older brother's, and he shook his head in a negative; no readings of any kind.

They went on a complete tour of the place; master bedroom, guest bedroom, walk-in closet, an office that could be converted to a small bedroom (at Janet's suggestion, since there was three of them), kitchen, dining room, the three bathrooms, blah, blah, blah, and Sam thought that there was nothing remotely normal about having this much space or property or money. But that was the extent of the weirdness of the place; the EMF remained silent.

"So why's this place so dang cheap?" Dean asked her flat out, phrasing it as a joke, "Did someone die here?"

She bit a corner of her lip, "I wish you didn't bring that up, Mr. LeBeck. But I was informed that if asked, then I would have to be completely honest with you. We at New York Properties, Holdings and Real Estate Ventures Incorporated value the trust of our clients, and we only want you to be completely satisfied with our level of committed service and excellence."

Dean just blinked at her, and Sam almost laughed. The response was a whole lot of words and not a single decent answer between all of them.

"So that's a 'yes,' I take it," Sam said.

"Not exactly," she said, "Someone jumped from the balcony, and some people died next door. So technically, no one died here-here. Do those count?"

"Do you have any other properties like this?" Dean asked suggestively, hoping she would also tour them to the two apartments next door, "My brother's really scared of ghosts."

"Oh there are no ghosts here," Janet guaranteed them, looking earnestly at Sam, "But sweetie, that's just really so sad for you."

Sam's jaws set in irritation at Dean, "What about other vacancies in this building?"

"We had some up 'til last week," she said, "But the two others on this floor have been snatched up, I'm sorry."

"The new tenants didn't mind the history of the place?" Sam asked.

"They're out-of-state folk, didn't get to see all the hoopla in the news," she replied, "They didn't bother asking me why the place hasn't been snatched up so I didn't bother saying. This is actually the nicest one of the three apartments, but one family said it wasn't baby-proof so they picked a house that used to be owned by another family, and then these newlyweds really liked the one on the other side of this. So... what are you boys thinking? This is a real steal, immediate occupancy, and I swear there are no ghosts, I've slept in all three places at least once to make sure. And this apartment in particular, the last owner was in the music industry, and she wired it with serious sound-surround, just wound up around the house linked to an entertainment system. Pretty awesome stuff; neighbors next door complained it was too loud sometimes, but this'll be great for you Texas oil boys. I know you like to party."

"I love parties," Dean grinned at her, glinting eyes flicking to his father, "I don't know... I like this place, and we don't really scare easy."

"Oh goody!" she screeched, and it really sounded like something inhuman and something the Winchesters should start to hunt, "Just between us, the building owners are just dying to get any kind of cashflow on this property, to be honest – the developers have overexposed themselves but then again that is neither here nor there right now. If you give me the go-signal, I can give you the details of the contract immediately."

"Get them ready," John said.

"Great," she said enthusiastically, already grabbing her phone and making her way to the door as she dialed, "You boys take in the view over there, let me just call a few people in my office to get the papers drawn up..." her voice kind of just drifted away the further she got, until it finally, finally quieted.

"She's a talker," Dean commented, "What are you thinking, dad?"

The three Winchesters looked at their EMF meters, which still read nothing.

"I thought we'd get a look at the two other places," John winced, "But that ain't happening now."

"And because this place has a doorman and security is tight because it's pricey," Sam said, "It's going to be hellish trying to get back in by our uh... usual style."

"Which is why we're staying," John said, "Take a good look at the place, and then get to know the neighbors a little bit too, which can get us in their houses."

"And if there's anything going on here," Dean added, "Those people will be sitting ducks without us around."

"The checks I'm issuing for the lease will bounce around a little but the con'll get back to them in a month," John said, "We'll be well out of here by then."

"Great, we get to live here for a while," Dean stretched out on the luxurious couch with a rakish grin, "We need a place to stay anyway. It's not much, but I'm easy to please."

" " "

John signed the lease agreement he didn't read with a name he didn't own, gave Janet an ingeniously fraudulent check that should bounce back to them in a month for the security deposit and another for the first two months, and gave her all of LeBeck's fraudulent social security and credit details.

"You understand Mr. LeBeck," she told him, "That occupancy is immediate but if there are problems, we will have to consider everything moot and have to make arrangements to move you out while we sort things."

He gave her a devil-may-care grin, the one that he knew women liked. The one his late wife had once joked about barring him from using with anyone else.

"They'll check out," he guaranteed her, "If not, you know where to find me."

She actually blushed, and then left them to their new home.

" " "

"What a sweet deal," Dean exclaimed, as he and Sam lugged up their duffel bags from the car and into the elevator. He also juggled his father's bag in his arms, along with a shoebox of cassette tapes he wanted to test on the sound system, "Covered parking, damn fucking gorgeous house with a decent bed for a change, awesome jet showers and a tub without scum, and fricking sound-surround too!"

"It's kinda weird to think about," Sam said thoughtfully, "You know... that people live like this everyday. That people can live like this everyday."

"Yeah," Dean agreed, "But I mean it's nice and all, for a little while. Like, the time we have to finish this job before New York Properties, Holdings and Real Estate Ventures Incorporated Corporation Limited Shit Inc. catches up to the con. Longer than that and I'd be going nuts, I think."

"How do you know?" Sam asked, "I mean, look around you, Dean. Life can just be steady, you know. Nice. Calm, safe..."

"Living in a muh-muh-material world here, Sammy?" Dean teased.

"Madonna, Dean?"

"Whatever," Dean mumbled, "You know what I mean. All this is like, fairy-dust. It's not real. Our life... the hunt... that's what's real."

"I guess," Sam conceded quietly as the elevator doors opened to the fifteenth floor.

The brothers walked side by side and Dean juggled the things in his arms to open the door. He dropped most of the things in the living room, and then headed straight for the sound system with his shoebox of cassettes, rubbing his hands together eagerly.

Sam watched him with an amused shake of his head. His older brother sat cross-legged on the carpet, picked up a Led Zeppelin tape and then looked for where to insert the cassette, already humming. His head turned left, then right, then up and down.

"What the hell?" he exclaimed.

Sam laughed and patted him in the back to console him.

"It's the new millennium, Dean," Sam said, "Go buy a CD."

"Why the hell didn't you tell me this damn thing didn't have a damn..." he searched his mind in frustration, "A damn hole for my tapes?"

"The lady who had that installed was in the music industry," Sam shrugged, "I thought maybe she'd have everything. I guess some people draw the line somewhere."

Dean just growled at him, tossed the tape back in the shoebox, before picking it up again more reverently and putting it back in.

"Her loss," he muttered.

The doors opened again, and their father walked in. He came from a quick walk to a corner shop, and the fancy apartment suddenly smelled like warm peach pie.

"Holy crap," Dean breathed, "I think I died and went to—Dad? What the hell are you doing?"

John Winchester put the two boxes of pie he just bought on top of a table, and started toggling with the ribbon around one of them.

"Shit," John said, "We're gonna give 'em next door; damned things got caught on each other and I messed them up."

Dean's eyes nearly crossed with the improbability of what was happening, "The pies aren't ours to eat, and we're giving them away with ribbons?"

"Just get over here and fix this," John ordered.

"What makes you think I would know my way around-" Dean complained, but his father looked at him pointedly. Dean would know about ribbons for two very important reasons: he knew his way around women and therefore their presents and the dang things they put in their hair, and after he had taken a part-time job gift-wrapping in a toy store when he was a teenager, he would always fix up Sam's presents for his birthdays and in Santa's guise when they were kids.

"Yes sir," he sighed, resignedly.

"Sam," John ordered, "Be a good neighbor, go to the family next door and give 'em one of these."

"'Kay," Sam said with a shrug, slipping out of his outer shirt and picking up an overly-decent, earnest button-down polo from his duffel. He had last used it during graduation, a memory that normally would have made Dean grin to himself except he was presently annoyed about the no-eating-of-pie situation.

"Sammy, man," Dean said as he finished up the ribbons with a flourish, "Always with the costumes."

"Makes the con easier," Sam said with a grunt as he put his clothes on, "Let people think what they want based on the visual, and I got less to do."

"Make sure you get to invite yourself in," John said, "Stay as long as you can over there; keep track of the EMF, and in case we need to break in their house later to look around some more, check if they have surveillance or nanny cameras and find out some of their habits, when they're gonna be out, things like that."

"He's staying there?" Dean whined, "So if they offer him to share the pie he gets to eat it? Why not me?"

"It's just demographics, Dean," Sam sighed, "Next door's a family of three, a young couple with a baby boy."

"And what?" Dean sneered, "Sam has the look of that son everyone wished they could have? Because every parent hopes that one day their gooey little baby can grow up to be a gooey adult male? I'm awesome with babies, they'll love me! And I love pie!"

"You have a look that won't even let you through the door," Sam snapped.

"Is that a bet?"

"If the woman answers it then fine," Sam said, "But if it's her husband, you're out on your ass."

"Dean, just shut it," John said without heat, "I got the newlyweds."

"And where will I be?" Dean asked, "Why don't I get to share the pie with anyone? I can take it to the lovebirds."

"You're honeymoon buzzkill," Sam pointed out.

"I'm too good-looking?" Dean asked him, his look shifting seamlessly from annoyance to glinting humor, "Say it, Sammy. I'll kill the honeymoon-stage because I'm too good-looking."

"You're getting too damn fat to have any more pie, how about that?" Sam said wryly.

"Jealousy doesn't become you, Sammy," Dean said, "You really are a chick."

"You got a different assignment," John said, "Look up the detective that handles this case. His name's Mikhail Vlad; he usually grabs a beer at a bar downtown after work."

" " "

Downtown Manhattan

" " "

It took Dean more time to find parking than it took to look for Mikhail Vlad. The moment Dean stepped inside the bar, Vlad was so easy to spot there could have been a light shining down on him, bright and glowing especially against the dark of the room.

"What are you gonna do, Mac?" Vlad sneered at the bartender drunkenly, "Call the cops? I'm the cop 'ere! Gimme a goddamn glass!"

The slurred words were picking up volume, and people cautiously stared his way and began to back away. Even the conversations around the room lowered, and a jukebox at one end of the room fell quiet and no one bothered with putting up another song.

"Come on, Vlad," the bartender implored him, palms out earnestly, "You don't want to do this. You think this is how Ginny would have--"

Vlad pulled back his arm in what assuredly would have been a knock-out punch if Dean hadn't stepped in and grabbed it from behind.

"The hell--!" Vlad exclaimed, whipping around to face him. The quick motion, however, was a little too much for his inebriated, precarious balance. "Whoa," he said, before throwing up. The mess would have been all over Dean's boots if his reflexes were just a millisecond off.

"Shit!" Dean exclaimed as he stepped back. He didn't release the other man, though, because it was seriously clear that to let him go was tantamount to letting him fall to the ground and all over everything he'd thrown up.

"I'm sorry, man!" Vlad sobbed as he drunkenly grabbed at Dean. The hunter winced at the smell of his breath, "Oh my god, what a mess. It's all my fault! Everything is my fault! Ginny dead and the puke on the floor and the mess on your clothes--"

"You a friend of his?" the bartender asked Dean.

"Um," Dean hesitated. Did he really want to babysit a drunk detective? Then again, there were harder ways of getting information about a case.

"Yeah," he lied, grunting as he shifted Vlad to help him walk, "Yeah. I'll bring him home, get him sober."

"You wanna pay his bill too? And pay me to fix the mess?" the bartender asked, though it wasn't really a request.

"Shit," Dean muttered, "How the hell much is it?"

"Well he had eight bottles of--"

"Put it on his tab," Dean said instead, beginning to make for the door, "I don't have that much on me."

He dragged Vlad out the bar, and leaned him against the trunk of the Impala. The detective's knees caved, and he landed on his ass on the floor.

"This is how," Vlad rambled, "This is how psychos kidnap drunk party girls."

"Well at least you're only one of those things," Dean told him easily, as he grabbed at paper towels from the glove compartment and shoved them at Vlad, "You ain't getting into my car like that. You are a mess, dude."

"I didn't used to be," Vlad drawled, "It's all Ginny's fault."

"A chick, huh?" Dean asked casually, "What did she do?"

"She was my partner," Vlad said, beginning to cry miserably again, "We were working on a case together. Straightforward shit. Crazy, but not complicated, you know. We've gone through so much worse. And then she started acting weird, too-focused, too wired, always beating herself up for this or for that, anything, everything. I should have seen it coming. I should have stopped it. I should have seen it coming. It's all my fault."

"Seen what coming?" Dean asked.

"That she'd grab her gun and put it to her face and pull the trigger."

Dean stared at him long and hard, "Where did she kill herself?"

"What does it matter?" Vlad moaned.

"Where?" Dean insisted.

"Her house," Vlad sobbed, "She offed herself in her house."

The suicide trend jumped locations, Dean realized. It wasn't the property that was all wrong, then, it was probably something else.

But what the hell else could it be?

" " "

Dean couldn't get anything else from Mikhail Vlad after that. When the detective passed out, Dean grabbed his wallet to check his address, and then stuffed him into the passenger seat of the Impala and drove him home.

"My fault, my fault..." Vlad kept muttering, which Dean heard perfectly clearly because he mostly carried the weight of the semi-conscious man, arm slung over his shoulder as he searched for the keys to Vlad's duplex.

"There we go," Dean breathed when he unlocked the door. He shut it behind him and carefully lowered Vlad to a sofa in the living room. He sighed in release of the weight and looked around Vlad's house, recognizing the situation as an opportunity to get some information.

There were papers everywhere; no photos of kids or a wife or even a dog or his mother, nothing of anything that didn't involve work. He glanced up at Vlad – the man was passed out for real now – before leafing through the papers.

He found the autopsies of the dead Midtown Manhattan neighbors, and there was no question about the manner of death: Lindy Astley broke everything imaginable when she jumped to her death, the life-partners bled out, and the Marins died of an OD. He found notes made by both Mikhail Vlad and his late partner, Ginny Anderson. He even found Anderson's autopsy report, which stated that she did indeed die from a GSW to the head. Additionally, there was a note that said that though she did not previously fit the psych profile for a suicide, she was handling a multiple-suicide case that could have affected her, especially because she was a single, professional woman on top of her field, just like one of the victims she was investigating.

"That's a lot of bull," Dean murmured under his breath, "Something's going on here, I just don't know what."

He leafed through the papers some more and found financial documents, medical documents, testimonies of friends and co-workers of the deceased. As he scanned through the pages, something fell from the pile and clattered to the floor.

Dean glanced at Vlad to see if he heard it and woke up – the man was dead to the world – and then he picked up the small, plastic cassette tape case. He turned it over in his hands, and saw that it was labeled: 'Lindy Astley – phone messages.' The case was empty, but he found the tiny tape itself inside a player that was also on the table. He rewound it a little, and listened:

"This is Marcus Conner from Queens, returning Lindy Astley's call," came the grave, low voice, "I'm sorry to tell you Miss Astley, but my wife – Solita Conner, you've been calling her a lot? She can't call you back. She uh... she recently passed away--" His voice broke, and he barely got to say, "I'm sorry I have to go" before he hung up.

Dean frowned again; this case was getting screwier and screwier. Why was everyone dying around this Astley woman? A person she was calling constantly is dead, so was the detective working her case and her two neighbors.

He leafed through the papers some more, and another empty plastic case, this time a CD case, almost fell to the floor before he caught it.

"You, Vlad," Dean said under his breath, "Are a damn messy workaholic."

The CD case wasn't labeled, but it had a note on its flap. It was addressed to Linda Astley at the business address of G Clef Productions Inc., and stated: "Ms. Astley, for your serious consideration. I have never heard anything like this before."

Dean figured that Astley's work in 'Creative Acquisitions' meant she was a scout of some sort for music talents, so this was probably a sample CD sent to her that she was working on just before she died. What got him searching high and low for the CD that wasn't in the case, though, was who signed at the bottom of the note: "Solita Conner" above a Queens address.

"The dead wife of phone-message-guy," Dean whispered to himself. He found the CD inside a player that was also on the table. He opened the discman, saw some penned-in notes on the CD itself matching Solita Conner's handwriting, and then he closed it, slipped on the earphones, and pressed 'Play.'

Music engulfed his senses right away, and he recognized that feeling he had when listening to something for the first time and yet knowing right off the bat that it was something great. The feeling was just visceral, something inside that was primal and beautifully secret responded to the unearthly sound.

There was a poet once, who had said that music soothed the savage beast. There was another piece that said it soothed the savage breast. To Dean, sometimes it soothed and sometimes it awakened. What was more alive than a good beat that made you walk a little taller, strut a little more? Or the gritty voice of a southern rockstar that can make the air seem a little bit hotter? Or the guitar solo that can make the atmosphere more kinetic? Or how a single, quiet violin can silence everything around it with a low moan?

Good music was creation at its finest – the human mind actualizing an idea that captures another person's, conveying it with the wood of the earth, the hair of an animal, a man's voice...

Dean closed his eyes and let the sensation wash over him.

" " "

"Wake the fuck up!"

"Five more minutes, dad..." Dean growled, until he realized that didn't feel quite right... his eyes snapped open and he started, especially at the feel of the unmistakably cold barrel of a gun pressed against the side of his head.

"Who are you and what are you doing inside my house?" Mikhail Vlad asked him, "Jesus, were you reading through my shit? That's all confidential!"

"Relax," Dean told him, raising up his hands in surrender, "Take it easy, buddy."

"You're not supposed to read all that!" Vlad said, breathing harshly, "This case is gonna get fucked up, and I'm gonna get the sack--"

"Relax," Dean told him again, "I didn't read anything, okay? You don't remember me?"

"I'm gonna fucking get the sack--"

"Dude!" Dean exclaimed, "You with me here? Do you remember me?"

Vlad stepped back cautiously, and looked at Dean carefully, "No."

"Well can you smell me?" Dean snapped, "You almost fricking barfed all over me last night! You were a mess! I saw your address in your driver's license, drove you home, stayed around to make sure you don't end up choking on your own vomit, listened to some music and fell asleep, all right? Sheesh, the thanks I get!"

"Yeah right!" Vlad exclaimed, "Who'd do that? You came to rob me or something?"

"You count the money in your wallet, genius?" Dean asked, "Or wonder why the fuck I'm still here when I could have run away with all your shit while you were passed out?"

"But no one would just do this," Vlad insisted.

"Well I'm not like everyone else," Dean said, "Live with it, all right? Can I go now?" he glanced at his watch; he's been out for over six hours. His father was gonna kill him.

"No!" Vlad said, "I wanna search you."

"Wow," Dean shook his head in amazement, "No faith, man. Seriously, but whatever. I gotta warn you though... I carry a gun, and my permit's in my house, not here. I also carry a hunting knife."

"And you're trying to tell me you're an upstanding citizen?" Vlad said as he felt at Dean's pockets.

"You've got a gun," Dean pointed out as he suffered the search.

"I'm a fucking cop!"

"And I'm new to New York," Dean snapped back, "So sue me."

Vlad did find the gun and the knife, left them where they were. He stepped back, and eyed Dean carefully, "You really just helped out some guy you didn't know."

"You can pay me if you like," Dean grinned at him silkily, "Or maybe you'd just be nice enough to put the goddamn gun away and let me leave."

Vlad hesitated, but put the gun down. He went from pissed and wary to profoundly apologetic, "I'm sorry, man. You know maybe it's just the New Yorker in me, hard to trust people. Or maybe I am an asshole. I puke all over you and pull a gun on you and... wow, I'm just so sorry. I'm a dick."

"Don't worry about it," Dean said, "Everyone's going through something, and you just gotta weather it out. And go talk to someone who can help you. I heard there's like tons of shrinks here."

"What?"

At Vlad's puzzled expression, Dean explained, "Your partner, Ginny. You told me about her last night. I'm sorry."

"I should have seen it coming," Vlad said, "I should have known. It's my fault, I should have known."

"So..." Dean considered leaving, especially since the late hour guaranteed that his father and Sam were already going nuts by now. But he smelled an opportunity to get more information, so he went for it, "So she was acting really different, huh?"

"She's usually so put-together," Vlad said, "Maybe it was that time of the month or something. Or it's because I keep giving her a hard time about being single. It's all my fault."

"When did all that start?"

"It was just so sudden," Vlad said, "Everything was normal, and then we started working on the suicide cases – you must have heard it from the news, it's all over the place – and a week later she was dead."

"You were just working on the cases," Dean said, "Did she do anything differently? Did her style change, did she go someplace weird, did she move houses?"

"Everything was the same," Vlad said, "Everything except she was whining a lot, so I made fun of her more. Oh god, this is all my fault."

"What was she working on, exactly?"

"It was three sub-cases," Vlad said, "I worked on a family of three, and she worked on three people too: a couple and a woman. Now that Ginny's dead, a few days ago I was given everything she was working on to fix so I can turn the entire job over to someone else. They said I'm not fit right now, I'm not in the proper frame of mind. I think they're just trying to get rid of me 'cos I'm not good enough." He paused, and looked at Dean suspiciously, "You a reporter or what?"

"Me?" Dean snorted, "No, man. I was just... maybe you just needed to talk about it, or something."

"Just," Vlad sighed, "Don't tell anyone, all right? And thanks for your help, but I think I'd rather be alone right now."

" " "

Midtown Manhattan

" " "

"You shouldn't have made him go down there by himself," Sam told his father darkly.

"It made perfect sense to send him and you know it," John snapped, "He could drink anyone under the table. Besides, on what universe is meeting up with a drinking cop in a bar more dangerous than what we usually do, for god's sake."

"Missing me already?" Dean asked, as he walked into the living room.

"Where the hell were you?" John asked.

"And why weren't you answering your phone?" Sam added.

"Wow, it's the Inquisition," Dean said mock-gravely, "Chill, I have some pretty solid leads. How was meeting up with the neighbors?"

"The EMF's weren't responding to anything," Sam reported, "There is no ghostly activity in these apartments that we could detect. Dad and I even chatted the people up – no weird sounds, no sudden drops in temperature, nothing strange or symptomatic of supernatural activity. They're all just ecstatic they got the place at a steal."

"I'm not surprised," Dean said, "'Cos the suicides have jumped locations so it's not just localized here."

"What do you mean?" John asked.

"When you looked up the detective handling this case," Dean said, "You came up with Mikhail Vlad, right? But he was working with a partner, a woman who iced herself with her own gun about a week ago. It was why his was the only name we found."

"What?" Sam asked.

"Yup," Dean replied, "Even the first detective working the case killed herself."

"What's going on here?" Sam asked, shaking his head in disbelief.

"That's not all," Dean added, "The cops were investigating everything in these apartments, so they got to Lindy Astley's phone messages. One of them is from a guy named Conner up in Queens, who said that his wife couldn't return Astley's calls because she recently died. Anyone wanna take bets on whether or not that was a suicide too?"

" " "

Queens, New York

" " "

The next morning, John and Dean posed as police officers making a follow-up on the death of Solita Conner, while they sent Sam – who looked a little young at his post-high school earnestness to be a detective – off to do research on other situations similar to the one they were facing. The two Winchesters sat on a couch across from the grieving widower in his home. They could hear the number 7 train buzz by overhead in a wild mess of violent metallic sounds, cutting off their conversation every few minutes.

"Why make a follow-up now?" Marcus asked, "It's been weeks since I saw any of you. I thought this was an open and shut case?"

"We like to be thorough, Mr. Conner," Dean said, trying to speak over the din of yet another passing train, "We really appreciate your time."

"In the days before she died," John asked, "We know your wife was working on something with a lady named Lindy Astley. Do you know anything about that?"

"Lindy Astley," Marcus echoed, "Lindy Astley... Oh yeah. I remember. I went through Solita's phone messages a few days after she died, just to see if there were any loose ends I had to take care of. Lindy Astley left like, a gazillion messages for her."

"What did they say?" Dean asked.

"The first messages were okay," Marcus said, "Astley was raving about this music CD that I guess my wife sent her. Astley wanted to have a meeting with her. She left several messages like that, and then as the days wore on, the messages began sounding a little more desperate."

"How desperate?" John asked, leaning closer in rapt attention. The man backed off a little bit in unconsciously wary reaction. The move would have been imperceptible to most eyes – including the bullheaded hunter himself - except Dean, who sat next to his father, spotted the move and offset John's intensity by leaning back in the sofa in a relaxed manner, drawing the other man's eyes.

"Oh just that she thought the music was really good," Marcus said, "And that it would really be helpful to the record label, and that she really felt it would be epic if they could get the music out in the world. She kept saying it would help her contribute more to the label, help her with her work, help her be better. The messages were pretty old by the time I got to them, but she sounded desperate so I called up Lindy, told her Soli's dead."

"So your wife was a musician?" Dean asked.

"No," Marcus replied, "Oh she is-was- god-awful at everything remotely close to music, and I loved her for that."

"So where'd the music come from?" Dean asked. He felt his father eying him carefully, wondering why he kept harping on but trusting him enough to let the line run long. The music was the only solid connection between the two suicides after all.

"I don't know," Marcus replied testily, "There was some kid Soli was working with, I wasn't really listening all that much, all right? I wasn't that involved in her work, I wish I was. I wish... I wish a lot of things. My wife was very... very stable, you know, very balanced. Nothing could jar her, nothing could faze her or get her down. I mean that strength, that stability, that's one of the reasons why she was so good at what she did."

"What did she do for a living, exactly?" Dean asked.

"Soli helped out special kids at a home near here," Marcus replied, "She is-was very good. They all loved her. She had a big, big heart."

"And in the days before she took her life?" John asked, and mention of the suicide made the man wince, "She wasn't as put-together, is that what you're saying?"

"She was saying things I've never heard her say before," the man answered, "How her parents didn't appreciate her when she was growing up, how she accepted that because she was the least of her siblings, how she wasn't good enough at work, how ugly she was in college, it was just... it was just like she was going deeper and deeper and deeper in this hole and I couldn't pull her back out."

He swiped at the tears that started falling from his eyes, "She's never been like that, so I didn't know what to do. I teased her that maybe she's menopausal or something, just to make her smile again. When I said that, she said I was insensitive, started picking a fight. I didn't know what to do..." he started to sob in earnest, "I didn't have the patience, the know-how... god if I just knew then maybe I wouldn't have walked out, and she wouldn't have... wouldn't have..."

"I'm sure it's not your fault Mr. Conner," Dean said, "You couldn't have known she would do what she did." Which was to jump in the path of the subway train, but there was no need to go into that much detail at this point, he thought macabrely.

"What?" Marcus snapped, "Sometimes shit just happens?"

Dean wished Sam was here, he could always come up with something much more clever and comforting. Sam's absence left Dean holding the often-necessary sensitivity-basket of the victim-interview that his father hadn't touched in ages.

"You couldn't have known," Dean said again as he cleared his throat, and left it at that.

" " "

They picked up Sam from a coffee shop. He was already talking even before both feet were planted inside the backseat of the car.

"Slow down there, boy genius," Dean told him from the driver's seat, "Breathe first or something."

"I found a lot of stuff at the library," Sam said emphatically, "I looked up other instances of suicide clusters."

"Yeah?" Dean asked, "What about 'em?"

"There's a bunch of theories why the phenomenon happens," Sam shared, "One of the most accepted ones would be the copycat effect if a suicide is overexposed or improperly handled in the media. There's some theory on how psychologically it makes a person feel more relevant, like he's part of a club or something, or it makes him closer to a celebrity who committed suicide by sharing the experience. Sometimes they call it a suicide contagion, the way it spreads. There's lots of other theories, but there is one in particular that caught my eye 'cos it's more up our alley."

"Vengeful spirit?" Dean guessed, "A latcher of some kind? Maybe possession...?"

"Yeah but we don't see the usual signs of that this time," Sam said gleefully, "I am really good at this research thing."

"Douchey self-congratulations later," Dean snapped, "Work now."

Sam rolled back his eyes, "So Lindy Astley worked as a Creative Acquisitions Director at G Clef Productions Inc., right? That's what you said a couple days back?"

"Yeah...?" Dean said warily, beginning to get a very bad feeling about this, the same ill feeling that had him prompting Marcus Conner about the music of Solita Conner.

"Ever heard of the 'Suicide Song' urban legend?" Sam asked.

"The 'Gloomy Sunday' urban legend," John said, "I remember that."

"A Hungarian artist composes a song in the 30's," Sam expounded, "And it became a hit in a lot of places and was eventually covered by a good number of people. The most famous one was Billie Holiday in the 40's, but you've got renditions by Sinead O'Connor, Bjork, Sarah McLachlan--"

"Did you go to the last Lilith Fair, chick?" Dean sneered at his younger brother.

"Whatever, man," Sam continued, "Anyway, supposedly the song inspired so many suicides that a lot of radio stations and clubs put a ban on it. The urban legend is part of the reason why it's so popular. There's tons of movies and songs and novels that hint to it in some way, even an episode of The Simpsons."

"Dean, where the hell are we going?" John asked, when he noticed his eldest son driving a little too fast and a whole lot in the wrong direction.

"I think I know what this is about," Dean said tightly, "And unless I'm making a big mistake, I think we'd better get to Mikhail Vlad fast. I'll explain in a bit, but keep talking, Sammy."

"Okay..." Sam hesitated, but did as he was told, "So the number of suicides and the ban is pretty unsubstantiated; that's why it's an urban legend in the first place. But I think something like that is actually going on here because music is the only thing tying Lindy Astley to Solita Conner. I am also thinking that the detective who was investigating the case- Ginny Anderson- might have been a victim of the music too; Dean found the CD with the rest of the material that came from the things she was investigating before she killed herself."

"It makes sense," John conceded, "But how does it link to the neighbors?"

"That beautiful fucking entertainment system sound-surround," Dean guessed, "Didn't Janet say that sometimes neighbors complained? They probably heard Astley playing it. Shit. Damn it!"

"You think Vlad listened to it?" John asked.

"I know he listened to it," Dean said through grit teeth, "I found it in his discman. Shit! Shit!"

Sam's eyes met his father's from the rearview mirror, worriedly.

"Did you listen to it?" John asked, carefully.

Dean didn't say anything, just shook his head in dismay. They all knew the answer so he just floored the gas, and hoped they weren't too late to save Mikhail Vlad from killing himself.

" " "

Downtown Manhattan

" " "

"I should have known," Dean growled under his breath as the three Winchesters, along with a good number of other onlookers, watched Mikhail Vlad's body being taken from his apartment in a bag to the coroner's. They arrived in time to find the house already surrounded by emergency personnel.

"This is all my fault," Dean said, "I should have known something was up."

"You couldn't have known," Sam told him quietly, "You couldn't have known, all right?"

"I suck at this job," Dean said spitefully.

John looked at him with a quirked brow, and turned his worried gaze to Sam's. "Let's get out of here, boys. There's a whole lot more to do now."

" " "

John took the wheel, and Dean sullenly sank in the passenger seat, watching the city streaming past his window in slow traffic.

"We gotta break in there and grab that CD from evidence," Dean said quietly, "Make sure no one else listens to it. We gotta check with Conner if his wife sent it to anyone else before she died or if he himself listened to it. We gotta make sure there are no copies left in her house, or anywhere else she might have put it."

"We gotta find out where the music is from," John said determinedly, "Find out how to stop that son-of-a-bitch and make sure this never happens again."

"We gotta find out how much time we have," Sam said, looking sorrowfully at his older brother.

" " "

Midtown Manhattan

" " "

Retrieving the CD that Mikhail Vlad had in his house was too risky given the fresh case, and anyway John's primary concern was the answer to Sam's question. It was also the easiest to answer.

"Mikhail Vlad died a week after his partner," Sam said, "Who died a week after the apartment deaths. Solita Conner died several weeks before that. It's not really a pattern, unless we're missing some suicide reports in between that's spaced a week apart each."

"It doesn't make sense when you do it just chronologically like that," Dean pointed out, "This isn't a scheduled weekly killing, I don't think. I think they died a number of days after they listened to the music. Vlad died a week after he took over the evidence from his dead partner, which included the CD. Andersen died a week after gathering the evidence, which included the CD. The people in the three apartments died at the same time 'cos they all probably heard the music at the same time. Conner died weeks before anyone else because it might have taken some time before Astley got to listen to the sample CD she sent. It seems like the suicide happens one week after a dumb-ass listens to the music."

"So you listened to it last night?" John asked.

"Yeah," Dean winced.

"You probably shouldn't have done that," John told him.

"'Cos I'm supposed to suspect a demonic cursed CD to kill me, right?" Dean sneered, "'Cos every right-thinking hunter who's worth his salt would think about that, right? You probably wouldn't have made that mistake."

"I'm just saying you should be more careful next time," John said.

"If I live past the next week," Dean retorted.

"Dean, come on," Sam said quietly.

Dean tossed him a glare, but silenced himself.

"So what was it like?" Sam asked, "Did you detect any sort of weirdness about the music? Are we supposed to listen to it backwards or something like that?"

"It was just..." Dean thought back to sitting in Vlad's house, pressing 'Play' and feeling as if time had no meaning. "It was just someone playing the piano. No voice, no beat, no nothing. Just someone's hands flying on the keys. It was... it felt like a kick in the nuts, it just got to me."

John chewed at his lower lip thoughtfully, "So how are you feeling?"

"Pissed and stupid," Dean said wryly, "But that sound, dad... it was just... I don't know, it just felt right. Even now, even when I know I'm probably screwed, I just can't regret hearing it."

"You boys find out where Solita Conner got the music," John said after a thoughtful moment, "Her husband said she was working with a kid in a home in Queens or something. I'm gonna find out how to stop this thing, get in touch with some contacts."

"Maybe Sammy and I can split up," Dean said, "He'd get into the research and I can break that CD out from evidence."

"Stick together," John said gruffly, glancing at Sam in the rearview mirror, "Take care of your brother."

Dean was looking out the window, couldn't tell that his father was talking about Sam taking care of him instead of the other way around, "You know I always do, dad. You don't have to keep telling me."

" " "

They dropped their father off at the Penn Station on 34th Street, which was a major hub for a myriad of train lines like the New Jersey Transit, the New York Subway, the Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak. It stood short and stocky in the middle of the city especially next to Madison Square Garden and a high-rise office building, but most of its bulk was hidden underground. John claimed he was meeting a cop-contact who could break the CD out of evidence, and was meeting with a couple of hunters from upstate who might know a trick or two.

"I'll see you at the house," John told them when he stepped off the car. Sam took over the driving over Dean's grumbled complaints.

"How are you gonna get back?" Dean asked his father, always with that streak of worry in his green eyes that made John smirk.

"I'm not gonna get lost in the big bad city, Dean," John told him, "I'll take the subway."

"Be careful," Dean said, before he and Sam drove away. Not a single one of the three Winchesters enjoyed being in big cities; it was crowd and congestion, noise and hard, cold lines of buildings and concrete. It also meant the best-equipped cops and the quickest emergency response times, so they couldn't quite move around as freely or have an easy time of talking their way out of the inevitable scrape.

"This place is a mess," Dean said, when they stopped at a light and like, a hundred people took to the pedestrian lane in front of them, "Goddamn tourist trap."

"It's not so bad," Sam shrugged.

The brothers drove on.

"Hey listen, Sammy," Dean said hesitantly. He was shy in his own way, and found himself looking away and scratching at the back of his neck. "This music thing... the people were whiny sons of bitches just before they offed themselves, weren't they?"

"Yeah...?"

"I'm gonna be saying a shitload of things, aren't I?" Dean asked, "While riding this funk?"

Sam looked on at the road thoughtfully. Dean was a hunter through and through and a damn good one, and he was self-aware enough to know that he was not immune to the rules of the supernatural, and not immune from being hurt by them himself.

"Yes," Sam said.

"I'm gonna be miserable," Dean continued, thinking of sobbing Mikhail Vlad and all his guilt eating at him, "I'm gonna be self-pitying and depressed and all that shit. I'm gonna be annoying as hell, more than the usual. If... if I live through this, you're not allowed to use all that against me, okay? We're not gonna talk about any of that ever again, okay?"

"I'm not allowed to tease you about it?" Sam asked him lightly.

"No," Dean said with finality, "'Cos it won't be me talking. It's like being possessed or drugged, right?"

"Don't worry Dean," Sam sighed, "I won't make fun of you or anything. I won't use it against you when you finally get better."

" " "

Dean stood by an entrance of Central Park, across the street from the fancy apartment the Winchesters/LeBecks currently called home, and wondered what Lindy Astley was thinking about when she jumped to her death.

The building had a modern facade of sharp white concrete and long, heavily tinted windows. The apartment balconies looked like sporadic decorative accents against the otherwise flat, windowed face. They made the building look like a giant chess board, with the balconies spaced apart in perfect symmetry.

His eyes trailed up along the building's considerable height, counting 1, 2, 3... all the way up to the 15th floor balcony from which Lindy Astley had jumped. There was another balcony three floors above it, and another one three floors below it. He wondered what she was thinking, standing on the edge and looking down at the world below.

"Hey," Sam said, coming up beside him. The younger Winchester had bought them sandwiches from a hotdog vendor in the park.

"It was a long way down," Dean commented.

"Yeah," Sam agreed.

"I wouldn't have the balls to go out that way," Dean mused, "I'd think of something easier, something faster, something--"

"Don't start thinking about that," Sam told him quickly, grabbing him by the arm, "Come on, Dean. We've got work to do."

" " "

Queens, New York

" " "

They found out in short order that Solita Conner was especially close to a nine-year-old boy with autism named Chuckie Baer.

"He's an orphan," Sam had read aloud from the research they had done before driving to the home, "Only child lost his mom and dad in a suspicious car wreck – the insurance company pretty much refused to pony up anything because it seemed like either mom or dad tampered with the brakes. Two other possible suicides there."

"How'd he end up here?" Dean asked as he made a neat turn at the street where the special kids' home was.

"He was placed in the care of an aunt," Sam went on, "Nice lady by all accounts, but whose husband and two young kids died shortly after the adoption."

"Possible suicides too?"

"Yeah," Sam winced, "I don't know what it is about this kid. She sensed it too, unloaded him right after."

"How the hell is he doing it?" Dean murmured as he pulled over to a park.

"I don't know," Sam said, "But we gotta... we gotta..."

"Ice a kid?" Dean snorted.

"I dunno, man," Sam admitted, "Chuckie's aunt lives a couple of hours upstate, in Hudson. I'm calling up dad. He's in the station anyway, he may wanna grab a train over there, go interview her."

"Let's go see this kid," Dean said.

They walked over to the receptionist. Sam had a lie even before Dean opened his mouth: they were visiting uncles from Connecticut, just wanting to speak with Chuckie's case worker to see if the little boy needed anything, because she hasn't been returning their calls.

"She passed away recently," the receptionist told them with deep regret.

"Oh no," Sam said, "Soli? Soli died? No wonder she hasn't been calling. How long now? We thought maybe something was going on; Soli usually returned our calls. That's why we had to drop by, see for ourselves what's what. How's Chuckie doing?"

The use of the dead woman's name was horrible, but they've always had to do whatever they needed to do. Still, Dean stood next to his wonderfully earnest, shamelessly effective younger brother and marveled at his skills.

"He's the same as always, Mister...?"

"You can call me Mitch," Sam said, flashing her a small smile, "This is my brother Danny. We'd really like to see Chuckie if we could, and if you can link us up with whoever took over his case?"

The receptionist led them to one of the many playrooms, and told them to go ahead and say hi to Chuckie while she fetched his new caseworker. Sam's brows furrowed as he looked around the room full of children, but Dean knew which one was Chuckie right away.

Chuckie Baer had green eyes and a shock of strawberry-blond hair that curled at the ends. His cheeks were pinked out, and he was perfectly beautiful, almost alarmingly enchanting. He sat on his own in a corner, on the carpeted floor right beneath a window that let in the rays of the afternoon light. He looked haloed and perfect, his gaze absent and his head tilted just so, like he was listening to something only he could hear. His fingers tapped against the thick rug; the movement looked random and spasmodic, but Dean recognized the beat. He heard the music in his head, even as he just watched the soundless tapping.

"Don't follow," Dean told Sam quietly, fearing what his brother might hear and what even that slight tapping might be capable of doing. He stepped forward, as Sam anxiously waited for the caseworker to arrive.

Sam watched his brother sit in front of the child, watched Dean study the young boy's perfect face. He didn't know what Dean was looking for; something evil? Something malevolent and wrong? But Dean searched hungrily, his own green eyes deep, boring into the kid like lasers. Chuckie paid him no mind, not until Dean pursed his lips, looked around him as if to make sure no one was within earshot, and then started to hum.

Sam could not hear them, but he knew that look; the gaze Dean gets, and the way his neck works when he hums to something for whatever random reason. Music tended to calm Dean, hell, it calmed Sam too when Dean hummed to him when they were younger, and possibly even now if they both gave it a shot.

Chukie stopped the tapping, and looked up at Dean slowly. Sam almost drew out his gun when the kid jumped into Dean and wrapped his small arms around his neck.

"You're Chukie's uncles, huh?"

Sam jumped too, at the voice that came up behind him. It was a middle-aged woman, pleasantly plump and smiling at the scene gently.

"Chuckie doesn't connect like that to just anybody," she told Sam.

He's killing my brother, Sam thought, Connect better than that if you can.

" " "

Midtown Manhattan

" " "

They met up with their father back at the condo to figure out what to do next.

"I've been hunting long enough to get a good feel about what's what," Dean told his father with a wince, "Gimme some credit here."

"I'm not questioning your judgment, Dean," John said patiently, and it sounded like reined-in wild horses, "But odds are--."

"You tell him, Sam," Dean demanded.

"I'm with him on this one, dad," Sam implored--

"Of course you are," John said mock-gravely.

"The kid... there wasn't anything wrong with him," Sam insisted, ignoring the commentary, "You know, nothing evil. He's a good kid, dad – it's not his fault he has this... this thing, this ability."

John pressed his fingers over his eyes, "Gimme some credit here too, boys, I'm not saying we ice the kid here and now. We just gotta be ready for the possibility--"

"No fucking way," Dean said vehemently, "We just gotta find out what's causing this. Maybe someone cursed the kid, maybe there's some evil link manipulating him, maybe he gets possessed, maybe his damn piano is possessed, I don't know. But icing the kid is not an option. Have you lost your damn mind?"

John's eyes sparked dangerously in warning over the tone, but he held his patience, especially knowing his eldest son was ailing, "Listen, Dean. You have to be ready to make choices like this because I'm telling you now – things don't have to be evil for them to be dangerous. This is not new to us; think of the kid like he was any other animal we hunt just because they are trying to survive, like werewolves and wendigoes and black dogs. This is not new, you understand me? He doesn't have to be evil to be dangerous.

"The damn music..." John went on, "The kid's a savant from what I can figure, right? The music is just... perfection, you know? Like something so damn good it makes you feel so damn small. It's not evil, it's just not for this world. When people who hear it kill themselves... it's almost like even now, the music is trying to end itself, take itself away from this life. No one is supposed to hear it, it's not supposed to be here – and neither is that kid."

" " "

The compromise had been to wait until the absolute possible last moment and exhaust all possible avenues before even considering that they had to kill Chuckie Baer.

Dean had a week, and the Winchesters made efficient use of every single possible second. There were few library resources and diverse sets of supernatural thinkers more expansive than what was available in New York, and the family turned the City upside-down and inside-out in search of a way to stop the suicides.

Dean started out in the mold of the other victims, whining and ranting about his personal miseries when he was not melancholy and quiet. Painful truths poured from his mouth unchecked, and the recklessness was a perversion of himself and the quiet dignity of everything he's closely held up to this point.

He was tired of Sam and his father fighting all the time. He was tired of getting caught in between. He was tired of the life on the road and he wanted to settle down and have a family. He was scared of what their future would be. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this life would kill them all. And then he would apologize to his father and brother and lie and say he did not mean any of that shit. Sam and John bore it quietly, lied back and said that they knew that; it was just the damn music. Besides, they were just words, weren't they? Just words...

But the reality of the fact that their time was running out, and the gravity of the consequences of failure came down on them all one day, when Dean vanished into the bathroom for a few minutes, and then started crying out for Sam's name.

Sam kicked in the door, blinked at the sight of Dean looking agitated and afraid as he stood in front of the mirror by the sink. Their eyes met and for a moment, Sam could not begin to figure out what was wrong. His gaze drifted down to the once-pristine white sink, specked with blood, and then at his brother's right hand, which was almost rhythmically cutting at his left wrist with his razor.

"Jesus," he muttered as he stepped forward, pulled apart Dean's hands, and then grabbed two towels and pressed them against his bleeding wrist.

"Sam..." Dean said, and the younger Winchester could feel him shaking from their proximity as Sam applied pressure on the cut.

"Here we go," Sam said quietly, calming, "You're all right, Dean."

Their father stood by the door of the bathroom as he watched them, looking dark and dangerous and... decided.

" " "

They put Dean to bed, hid away anything remotely sharp and weapon-like, and then stood next to each other by the wide windows of the beautiful, neat living room and before the panoramic views of the City.

"Tomorrow's the seventh day," Sam said quietly.

"We're not gonna find solutions other than what we've always had," John said, "That one from the very beginning."

To kill the kid....

Sam was going to argue, but he wasn't a fool.

"I know."

"You know what that means," John added.

Sam nodded, shortly.

"I'm not..." John hesitated, "I'm not sure if getting the kid out of the equation will do anything for your brother, Sammy. We can't get around a curse like this. But what I do know is that I can't not try it, for Dean. And I do know that it will save people from hearing the music in the future. But I can't ask you to be a part of this."

Sam didn't want to be anyway. But if he was going to let his father kill this child, then it was tantamount to doing it himself.

"I already am, dad," Sam said quietly, because this is what being in this life meant. As his father said days ago, this wasn't supposed to be new to any of them...

...Things don't have to be evil for them to be dangerous. This is not new to us; think of the kid like he was any other animal we hunt just because they are trying to survive, like werewolves and wendigoes and black dogs. This is not new...

But the decision and the reality left Sam feeling dirty and wrong. For the same reason that things didn't have to be evil for them to be dangerous, things that were right and real also weren't always good and beautiful.

" " "

Day seven dawned, and as if he knew what his father and younger brother had already decided, Dean kind of just... vanished on them. Gone from the building, along with his fancy car. Sam had a sinking feeling about what Dean may have done, and so he called the home where Chuckie Baer lived, and was told that Chuckie was taken out for a day trip by his uncle Danny.

" " "

New York

Late Spring 2001

NOW

" " "

Night had already fallen by the time they found Dean, who had decided to take Chuckie and hide him from his father and brother's intent to kill. But John had his own connections within the NYPD, and it was with their help that he and Sam finally located Dean's hiding place, a storage building under construction downtown.

The kid was nowhere in sight, but Dean shown like a beacon, standing on the business-end of the fourth-floor balcony, the lights of the city below him dancing on his lonely face.

"I couldn't even get hide-and-seek right," he said quietly, hearing his father and brother come up behind him. He turned his head slightly to see them.

"Sure you did," Sam said breathlessly, "When we were kids... you hide, I seek, right? I've always found you."

Dean smiled a little, "I always let you." He sighed heavily, "Just 'cos you're a sore losing bitch to deal with."

"Dean," John said, "Come on over here and let's talk about this."

"You?" Dean sneered, "Talk? Come on."

"This isn't you, son," John said, "Now get over here and calm down."

"This isn't me," Dean echoed quietly, "You don't even... there's just this 'me' in your head that you wished... but I'm not... you know what? Nevermind. This can all be over--"

"Don't talk like that," Sam said quietly, "Dean, you're strong, you can fight this. Now get the hell back from there."

"Four floors down," Dean murmured thoughtfully, "I told you I was a wuss. That chick went down fifteen, imagine that. I wonder what she was thinkin' about."

"Where's the kid, Dean?" John asked, "Where the hell is it?"

"Chuckie," Dean said emphatically, "Is safe from you. I'm not gonna let you hurt him, dad. Not for me. Not for this job. It's not his fault, he's really just a kid. You find another way."

"We'll find another way," John promised, "But I need you to be on this side of the damn rail."

"I can't," Dean whispered, turning his face back to fall, "It's so high up here, dad. And I'm sick of being scared. I think I can do this--"

"Dean!" John barked and Dean froze, "You hold that goddamn thought." He turned to his other son, "Sam. Look for that kid."

"Where--"

"Up and down this building," John ordered, "Wherever the hell you need to. Dean hides and you find shit, right? Do it."

"And then what?" Sam retorted, "Kill him?"

"Just find him, Sam."

"But Dean needs me he--"

"He needs us to do our job," John said, "Go."

Sam looked at his brother, whose back was to them now. He held on to the railing behind him, but he was leaning forward, head tilted just so, as if the height was fascinating, and something he wanted to get closer and closer to.

"Dean just hold on," Sam called out, "We'll fix this."

He sprinted away, ran like a maniac because he realized without a shred of doubt that he knew where Dean would be hiding Chuckie. It would be the Impala, because it had always been their safe place. And the car was a hell of a lot easier to find. The car was sitting quietly in a corner on the basement carpark, cloaked in shadows. Sam peered into the windows and found Chuckie asleep in the backseat. Dean's jacket covered half his body like a loose blanket. His face was unlined, incredibly young and incredibly peaceful. He really, really was just a kid.

But Sam... he was only human too. He was only human, and he had a brother he needed to save. He picked at the lock and lifted the kid up into his arms, and then ran back up to where Dean and his father was.

" " "

"Dad, I got him," Sam said breathlessly, laying the kid on the ground. Chuckie started to stir, "What do we do now?"

"Sammy...." Dean said softly, before barking at his father, "You stay right where you are, dad, or I jump. I'm telling you right now don't you fucking come near that kid."

John froze, and his hands curled into helpless fists at his sides. He remained rooted to the halfway point between Dean on the railing, and Sam and Chuckie.

"Get your gun, Sam," John said calmly, "I told you I did not want you to be a part of this, but there are just some choices we gotta make--"

"Old man's lost his mind, Sam," Dean insisted, "This ain't right and we all know it."

"There's no way around this, Sam," John told his youngest son quietly, "You just gotta do it."

Sam could have sworn his entire body was shaking, but the gun that leveled at the back of the oblivious little boy's head was remarkably steady.

"Don't you do it, Sam," his older brother countered, making him look up at Dean, "Not for me, man. Not for me."

Then the hand started to shake.

Dean looked and sounded like a mockery of himself, all wide-eyed and teary and just so darn sorry. It was jarring to see his face so unmasked. That, and the fact that he was standing on the jumping, business-end of a building balcony, looking like he was damn serious about taking a dive.

"He'll keep the kid alive if you just step off that ledge," John told him, stepping toward Dean.

Dean jerked away as John came closer, and Sam's heart dropped to his stomach when Dean slipped for a breathless moment, regained his footing, and then slammed an even tighter grip against the metal railing behind him.

"Get away from me!" he yelled at his father.

"Okay, okay," John said softly, opening his palms up to placate Dean, "Okay, Dean-o, whatever you want, you got it. Just... let's all just be calm, all right? No one do anything crazy."

Dean laughed at the wind, and tears leaked from his eyes, "Yeah. Sure thing, old man. That's fricking hilarious."

The macabre humor was an echo of his old self, Sam reflected, and he clung to that, that maybe they can still get out of this mess somehow. Besides, Dean's observation was astute 'cos yeah, maybe the situation was a little bit more demented than normal: Dean about to jump off the balcony of a Manhattan high-rise to his death, Sam about to shoot an innocent kid in the head.

"We're so high up," Dean said softly, "I'm so fucking scared. I'm so sick of being scared. It can be over real quick. All I gotta do, is just..."

Sam watched the fingers of Dean's hand loosen from the railing, one by one by one by one. There were ten of them, and they looked like a countdown in his head. Pinkie, and the the ring finger, and then the middle finger Dean liked the best, and then the index--

Sam's finger tightened on the trigger the same moment Dean's loosened from the rail.

Chuckie Maynard dropped, lifeless to the ground.

Dean looked up at Sam, stricken.

Sam had hoped the curse would end with the death of the kid.

"Why'd you do that?" Dean whispered, just before he let go.

"Dean!" John yelled, jumping forward in a useless, desperate grab that caught nothing but air. Sam was already on his feet, running for the stairs before Dean hit the ground. His feet pounded on the steps, echoing his heart in a mad thud. He burst out of the stairwell on the ground floor, straight toward Dean's body, writhing on the floor and his head looked like the epicenter of a growing, rippled puddle of blood.

"Ohgodohgodohgodohgod..." Sam said under his breath, as his brother's body jerked spasmodically. Sam tore off his over-shirt, the sleeves getting stuck on his long arms as he trembled in panic. He set himself free, and pressed the cloth against his brother's wound. He watched Dean's legs stiffen, then tremble and shake violently as his body arched up from the ground and seized.

"Jesus," he heard his father mutter from behind him, "We g-gotta get him outta here, get him to some help."

"Have you lost your mind?!" Sam retorted, already fishing for his cellphone with the one hand he was not using to stem the bleeding.

"There's a dead kid up there, Sam," John said, "Shot in the fucking head. There will be cops crawling around all over and they might look at where he jumped from."

There was no way Sam would allow his older brother to be moved from there save by a professional. John Winchester's eyes were clouded – unbearable worry and also that inalienable fear of the law. They argued for a second before Sam decided to drop the bomb: "Goddamnit, dad. Look at him, for crying out loud. He dies here, like this, and you'll have mom to answer to."

His father looked stricken, "You have no right to say that."

But he said nothing else as Sam called 911.

" " "

"That kid..." Sam said to his father quietly as they sat in wait for word on dean's surgery, "I killed him for nothing. It didn't work. Dean still--"

"We knew that was a possibility," John said, "We knew killing him might not have an effect on Dean after he heard the music. It's just how curses go."

"So what," Sam asked, "If Dean comes out of this, he'll still be... be suicidal like that?"

"I don't know," John admitted.

"What do you think?" Sam pressed.

"I don't know," John replied stubbornly, "But what I do know, is that we can deal with that somehow. And with the kid dead... no one else will be harmed after... after Dean."

"I killed a kid," Sam said after a long moment, "I killed an innocent kid."

"I know Sam," John told him, "And it ain't easy. But this job... someone's gotta do it. You saved lives by what you did, you gotta know that."

And the truth was that he understood that. His father was right; things did not have to be evil for them to be dangerous. But similarly, what was right was not always beautiful, and their life... steeped as it may be with good intentions and honest work and sacrifice and all that shit... was a steaming pile of crap.

Gimme delusion any time, Sam thought. That delusion where the evil are the ones that are punished and the innocent can be saved, where the truth can bring about justice and fairness and balance. Where righteousness is just plainly right, no more shades of gray, no more blood of innocent kids on his hands and the understanding that it was somehow the better thing to do.

" " "

The doctors said that the likelihood that Dean would ever be the same again was poor.

Sam found the phrasing ironic because days later, Dean would wake up calling for his brother, not remembering anything of how he got there. Sam patiently explained the situation and mistakenly thought that things were finally getting better. Except... Dean would wake up every morning after asking the exact same thing in the exact same way. For weeks.

He supposed in some sense it was a good thing; Dean's recent memories were shot to hell, including all recollection of Chuckie Baer and the music that had made him want to kill himself. If Dean ever came back to normal without the memory of that music... then he had a very real chance of not returning to that suicidal mode that John and Sam had feared.

Still, as the days wore on... it was harder and harder to see anything else that was good about the situation other than Dean being alive and Dean not-being-suicidal.

Sam was... frayed to the core. Sharp focus had turned to weary, worn corners. Every damn morning, saying the same damn things. He blamed their lifestyle and so consequently he blamed their father, at the start. But then weeks of that and he couldn't even bring himself to be angry about the situation anymore because it was too tiring. It was like harsh wind and sand grinding down stone over centuries in the same, plain and tired, over-bright desert scene. It was a far more dangerous frame of mind, he reflected, this numbness. Anger had a fighting chance against despair. It was how his father survived their mother's murder, after all. But lately he was just... tired.

"Things aren't going to change with Dean for awhile," his father muttered weeks after Dean's fall, and Sam reflected that the old man didn't even have the grace to pretend he was ashamed about leaving, "And this thing is killing kids up in--"

No more arguments, Sam decided. "We need you here," he said, plainly, without fire, "Dean needs us. If you're gonna go..."

"I have to go..."

"You never have to do anything," Sam said, "We need you here, dad. And I'm telling you, right now: if you go out that door, don't you even think about coming back."

He said it in the most plainly truthful way, matter-of-fact, like saying the sky was blue. John left nevertheless, saying, "You can't mean that. I'll be back in a couple of days. And Sam--"

"I know, I know," Sam said wearily, "Don't mention anything about this last case. We don't want him to remember the music or anything related to it."

Sam wept when he was left alone with Dean. He wept because he missed his brother. He wept because he needed his father. He wept because he meant very monumentally alone: he had shot an innocent kid, and the only person who could comfort him about it – his older brother – had a memory with holes in it that he wasn't supposed to fill.

And then he wept too because he hated this thankless life that they lived. And he wept because if his dad left, he couldn't.

A week before Dean got hurt, back in that diner in New Jersey, he was told that the acceptance letter from Stanford came into his friend's address. A few hours before Dean got hurt, while he was busy searching for his brother, the same friend left him voice mail saying another letter came in from the school, this time informing him of his scholarship grant.

He hasn't broken the news to either his brother or his father, couldn't find the words to. Couldn't find the strength to... or maybe it was the other way around. He'd been trying to be strong, tried to keep it to himself. He only tried for college just because he knew he deserved a shot; hunting life was necessary and not all bad, after all. He never really thought he could just... go. But this last case... it just wore him down, showed him truths in the harshest, most unflattering light: this life was killing them, and he could get out, if he wanted. Now he lost the strength to hang on. Now he found the weakness to let the words go.

"Please get better," he begged of Dean, gripping his brother's forearm with one hand and clutching desperately at his sleeve with the other. He rested his head on Dean's shoulder, "Please, Dean. I need to know you're okay. I gotta leave. I'm dying, here. But I won't leave, not until you're okay."

Dean heard him – Dean almost always heard him – and blinked awake, turned his head toward Sam's. Dean didn't ask where he was, or what happened to bring him here.

"I got accepted to Stanford," Sam told him, warily, not sure what was going on with his brother, "But I won't go, not until you're better, okay? I won't go until you're better. I'll take care of you. Would you please remember this tomorrow?"

Dean nodded carefully, before going back to sleep.

" " "

Dean did as he promised, and Sam was unsurprised. Dean always did as he promised.

Their father returned days later, just as he promised, stunning Sam into letting him back in to their lives.

Sam left them weeks later, as he promised.

You walk out that door... his father had threatened.

But he did. Bag slung over shoulder, he left them. Dean's stricken look behind him, he left them. He left them. He left them because he was angry and determined. But he left them because it had to have been a lie...

Don't you ever come back?

It had to have been a lie.

The End

January 5, 2010

" " "

Afterword

" " "

The Original Version of Crossing

Crossing was originally supposed to be several long fics, particularly Chapter 2: Dean Man Walking and Chapter 3: The Line. The similarity in theme, though – What could have been that last hunt that finally pushed Sam to leave for Stanford? – got me deciding to put all of them under one banner. I added Chapter 1: Departures to make the story into a quasi-trilogy, just to give it a sense of balance; 3 is a pretty good number, haha. Also, for those who have read my work before, Chapter 3: The Line is the extended version of Part 2 of The Bough Breaks :)

The Structure of Crossing

Note though, that aside from the common theme, there is also an underlying structure that unites all three: the first fic Departures is about Sam realizing what John was willing to do and what he was willing to lose for the hunt – sacrificing a son. Dean Man Walking was about what Dean was willing to do and what he was willing to lose for the hunt – killing a man. The Line was Sam's turn – killing a child. The message of the three fics is really just Sam seeing all the angles that their job could be very profoundly ugly and unseating, no matter how good their intentions are.

The Characterizations of Crossing

I think from cannon it's well-established that no one takes it further than a Winchester to get an objective done, haha, so in Crossing we have all three of them willing to do something drastic for one reason or another. What I wanted to do most here though, was to focus on a particular depiction of Sam. I didn't want him to just be a whiny teenager who simply wanted to get out; he was good at his job and he was always willing to do what he saw was right. But bad events happening to his family that heightened the difficulties of their situation, coupled with the possibility of an exit, ultimately resulted in him leaving.

Thanks and Acknowledgments

I would like to thank all who read, alerted, favorite-d and especially all who reviewed and consequently encouraged me to continue this fic. It took me awhile and I haven't had a chance to comprehensively respond to queries, for which I apologize, but I've been out of the country again over the last month and I'm only getting back into the fandom just now. But I am working very hard to get my affairs in order, beginning with the conclusion of Crossing, and following it up with a big, hearty shout out to:

AmyNY, Anne1013, annie200, Aranna Undomiel, asdfjkl;, badaiwind, cursedgirl, Death-Muncher, enid18, greeneyedelf001, Kritty, Mandy, masondixon, Maz101, Nong Pradu, Ophium, sunnyjunedays, Twinchy and zuimar.

Thanks so much guys, and I hope that this third installment offers you as much enjoyment :)

Next Project/s: Ever This Day and Lightning and Thunder

I am actively working on several at the same time (which is probably why it takes me awhile to finish anything, haha) but right now, I am most involved in another one of these 'three-one-shot' series like Crosssing above:

Title: Ever This Day

Summary: "We have been through much together, you and I," Castiel had said. This is Dean through the eyes of his overburdened, self-appointed guardian angel, set in OTHAP, The End, and Abandon All Hope.

And another fic, which will be a long adventure-type endeavor:

Title: Lightning and Thunder

Summary: When Sam gets that call he's always dreaded while being away from his family in Stanford – your brother is missing and he could be dead – he had no idea he would find Dean in the middle of a case, somehow trapped in the final weeks of World War II.

Anyway, C&C's welcome as always and 'til the next post!