The next morning heralded a certain realization in Dean. He had invited Harry to carpool with him and Sam. The other hunter was kind of cool, freaky magic aside. No, it was the addition of the coyote mutt that had him confused as he mulled the situation over while sipping coffee at the kitchen 'table'. Normally the very notion of having a dog in his precious girl would have him throwing a fit and declining. Yet the situation had him oddly unemotional. It was easy enough to chalk up to just getting back from Hell, but something did not sit right with him. Then there was Harry's motorcycle. It was a sweet ride, but impractical for a hunter. Maybe he had to ditch the Camaro.

Letting out a weary sigh, he scrubbed a hand over his face and shook his head. There was no use thinking on it too hard. It was not like he could revoke his invitation after agreeing. Not only would it make him look unstable, but it would make Sam make the bitch face at him. He hated bitch-face Sammy. Repressing the urge to startle at a noise from the 'living room', he composed himself with a grimace as Harry wandered in. The guy was looking surprisingly good after being used as a ghost's punching bag. Even the bruising around his neck was gone, although he figured that had more to do with the guy's freaky magic than much else. Seeming to ignore him, Dean watched as Harry groggily made himself a cup of coffee and toast, only acknowledging the other presence after gulping down half the cup as he waited for the toaster to pop.

"What did Castiel want?"

Rubbing the back of his neck, Dean grimaced, using his own coffee to stall. The wizard took a seat across from him after a moment, staring at him with a raised eyebrow, "I could feel his grace." Heaving a sigh, Dean felt inexplicably guilty at those words. The other hunter was in obvious agony the last time the angel didn't mind his aura thingy. Pausing to observe the smaller man, he bit back a look of surprise. Somehow he had failed to notice the shave. The dude cleaned up nice, the lack of stubble making him look more his age. Coughing quietly as he caught himself staring, he shrugged.

"Just dropped in to say 'hi', I guess." The man looked disbelieving, but thankfully did not pursue the topic. They sat in slightly awkward silence while the wizard slowly demolished his toast and coffee, seeming to perk up after several minutes.

"So when are we heading out? Not that I mind beer and soggy sandwiches for every meal, but I'm thinking we should get on top of this apocalypse thing."

The question made Dean sigh, rubbing a hand over his face. "Probably as soon as Sam finishes his beauty sleep. Looks like we might have a case already." He shoved a news paper towards the other man, pointing at a small article highlighting the drowning death of a man nowhere near water. Harry whistled quietly after reading, "That sounds like a doozy... Listen, if you want I can take my bike... you'd just have to take the mutt since it doesn't have a side car."

Mentions of the bike made something nag at the back of Dean's mind again. Shrugging, he finally gave into curiosity, "What happened to your camaro anyway?" For a fraction of a second, the wizard looked horribly confused, before the expression closed off.

"Oh, it's around here somewhere... I'd better go get packed." The contradiction caused Dean to frown, wondering if something was going on with Harry. Then again, with a wince, he recalled the condition the guy had been in when he returned from Hell. Forgetfulness could be forgiven since it seemed he had been working non-stop on saving Dean's bacon. Shaking his head, he returned to nursing his Irish coffee, savoring the bite of alcohol under the bitter brew.

Upstairs, Harry was engaged in a staring contest with an all too amused canine. Dean's question about the camaro had caused far too much confusion for comfort, and it was with great suspicion that he questioned the trickster still lounging on one of the beds. "What happened to my camaro?" The dog rolled lazily to its back, tail wagging as it stretched. "What camaro?" The tone held hints of sleep and innocence, making Harry's eyes narrow dangerously. "Now isn't the time for tricks. Dean said that I have a camaro, but I know I only have a bike. Right now I'm more inclined to believe him than you." After several moments of staring, the dog finally huffed and rolled to his feet, stretching lazily before sitting on his haunches.

"Oh, fine. I knew I should have made the illusion deeper." Harry's glare intensified, almost seeming to make the coyote nervous. "Okay, yes, I was tricking you! Boom, there, everything's back how it should be. But just so you know, I was only trying to help... you loved your godfather's bike before you had to leave it behind." The trickster sounded sincere, staring at him with puppy eyes. After a moment of racking his brain, the location of the camaro came to mind, making him nod in satisfaction. He sighed heavily and sat on the edge of the other bed, scrubbing his hands over his face.

"... Thank you, for trying to make me feel better... But right now isn't the best time for such things. Every trick you pull only heightens suspicion, and I doubt the Winchesters would forgive me for keeping company with a trickster." The dog licked his snout in contempt at mentions of the brothers, but gave a shrug, "I suppose you're right. Old dog, new tricks, and all that." Harry got to his feet after a moment, gesturing for the mutt to follow him, "Best you're not in here when they come to collect their things. We're leaving soon."

Heading down the hallway to a much smaller bedroom, Harry ignored the trickster in favor of collecting his own belongings, shoving clothing into his duffel haphazardly and snagging a pistol from beneath his pillow. Even in Bobby's house he found it impossible to sleep without a weapon in easy reach. Giving the room a once-over, he heard Sam's heavy footsteps coming up the stairs and surmised that they would be leaving sooner than he thought. It was fine by him, as he itched to get on the road and sort out the mess. Murmuring quietly, to avoid having the others think him crazy, he addressed the dog once more, "I think it's safer if we take the camaro. Do you need to eat and... do business like a real dog?"

The trickster seemed to grin for a moment, before shaking his head, "Nah, just give me table scraps every once in a while and I'll be a happy pooch." Harry grunted in acknowledgment as he levered both bags over a shoulder before heading downstairs, Sam not far behind doing the same. After stowing away his gear in the camaro, which had mysteriously replaced the bike without notice by the others, he and Sam waited in awkward silence for Dean to join them. The wizard was actually grateful Dean helped him see through the illusion, as it would spare him having to listen to sibling spats during the drive. Perhaps that had been part of the trick; forcing Harry to listen to the arguments and chick flick moments. It would certainly fit into the more innocent side of practical jokes. He could not buy into the trickster giving him Sirius' old bike out of the kindness of his heart.

Several minutes later, Dean joined them, carrying his own bag from where it had been left in the living room. Bobby followed close behind, giving them all serious looks. "You all watch your backs out there. And stick together! I don't wanna get any calls bitchin' about not being able to do this or that because one of ya bailed." The last seemed to be directed squarely at the brothers, but they all nodded solemnly. They knew better than to go against the older hunter. To his face, anyway. They exchanged parting waves with Bobby before hopping in their respective cars, Harry following the black impala with the coyote riding shotgun.

It surprised Harry to discover that the trickster actually made a fairly good road companion. He remained quiet for the most part, but spoke up with raunchy jokes whenever the silence got too stifling. The wizard was almost expecting the demi-god to be an annoyance, but he seemed to be taking his new job seriously. Such was a good thing, as he thought he saw Dean eyeballing him from his rear view mirror a time or two. He had to wonder what was going through the Winchester's mind, since he had been rather bipolar since getting back from Hell. And verging on alcoholism, if the scent of his morning coffee had been anything to go by.

They drove on well into the afternoon with no breaks, making the wizard glad he still had a small stockpile of snacks stashed away. He shared potato chips and candy bars with the mutt, feeling rather awkward for doing so, but more at ease with it the more he thought about it. The enemy of your enemy is your friend rang true. Despite the ample snacks, they were both relieved to see Dean pull off at a motel shortly after dusk. The trickster barreled over Harry to exit once he attempted to open the door, prompting Dean to laugh and Harry to fight not to kick the dog in public.

"Two rooms?" The older man wandered off before either companion could agree. Sam looked annoyed as he stretched his legs near the trunk, waiting to see if he should pull out their bags. They stood in awkward silence, watching as the coyote sniffed around the building, lifting his leg a time or two. Harry grimaced and averted his gaze from the sight. "So... ah... I'm sorry." Sam was getting well versed in apologizing to a lot of people, it seemed. The shorter man sighed, shaking his head, "Don't worry about it. He's back now and that's all that matters."

They didn't get much more opportunity to speak, as Dean wandered back over, tossing Harry his own key. "Room 28, we're right next door." Nodding, the wizard turned to collect his own bags, whistling sharply to get the trickster's attention. While not meaning to seem anti-social, he needed a beer and a nap. For once, he forwent his normal over-the-top protections and settled upon salt lines and hex bags. He figured the trickster would warn him if anything tried breaking in. The coyote watched him putter around from where it had settled on the single bed, and once the door was firmly locked and sealed with salt, he shifted forms, stretching out lazily in his human form. Harry only spared him a glance, raiding his duffel bag for the six pack he had kept stocked since his first chats with the angel.

"Are you still brooding?" The hunter huffed and flopped onto the bed, using a pocket knife to pop the top off a long-neck. He steadfastly ignored the trickster, even though he felt the being shift closer to him. "You know, alcoholism doesn't suit you." Taking a long drink, he flinched instinctively when fingers darted into his view, smacking them away when the demi-god tried to steal the bottle. "I don't see how it's your business, so long as I keep your toys from being destroyed." He was both satisfied and strangely sorry when the man looked as though he'd been slapped, good mood gone. The wizard should have felt more alarmed at possibly upsetting an omnipotent being, but after the emotional roller-coaster of the past week, he could not bring himself to care, beyond grudgingly reaching into a pocket and offering the man a candy bar.

After several minutes of mutual brooding, Harry sighed, setting the bottle aside and glancing at the mutt, who was staring at the candy bar with a pout. "What do I call you, anyway? Are the names in lore even accurate?" That seemed to finally break through some of the foul mood permeating the room, as the being gave a slight smile. "Nah, you were dead on, actually. Loki... Coyote... Anansi... Call me Loki, though. It's the name I'm fondest of." The admission caused a raised eyebrow from Harry, "Is it true you gave birth to an eight legged horse?" The question shocked the god into laughing, finally moving to eat the candy.

"Well, when you live for long enough you get bored with the usual way of things." That caused Harry to chuckle, reaching for the TV remote on the nightstand as a loud argument started up in the room next to theirs. No doubt it was Sam and Dean. The wizard would have to remind them later how thin hotel walls are. Switching through the channels listlessly, he finally gave the remote over to Loki after the second cycle through. "I don't understand how normal people can watch this rubbish." Almost predictably, the trickster settled on a children's cartoon featuring a cat and mouse trying to kill each other. Harry grimaced and sat up to undo his boots, considering catching some shut-eye to escape the horrible program and the escalating drama next door.

"Aww, it's not that bad. Think about it, stuff like this teaches kids how to handle life!"

"By hacking each other up with cleavers or bludgeoning pets to death with hammers?" He didn't have to look up to know Loki was pouting again, but was surprised by the response. "Well, when you put it that way..." Harry heard the channels flip to settle on some type of soap opera, making him wince. Not that he could complain, the god had changed the channel when he expressed distaste for the cartoon. They heard a door slam one unit over, and Harry knew that one of the brothers had stalked off in a self-righteous rage. He rolled his eyes, "You'd think they were married." The trickster laughed in agreement, cheerfulness back at the thought of Sam and Dean angst.

Laying back against the pillows, Harry squirmed, trying to get comfortable. Normally he slept on the side of the bed where the trickster was currently situated. As if sensing the problem, Loki spoke up, "We can switch places if you want." The wizard shook his head, not wanting to displace the being. "I'm fine." He heard the other man scoff, but ignored it, rolling to his side and burrowing into the pillows but not bothering with the blankets. It only took a few minutes before he was snoring quietly.

His dreams were troubled, as per normal, however they were devoid of divine beings. Nightmares plagued him, of various failings throughout his life, causing him to toss and turn where he lay. The god frowned at the fuss the mortal hunter was putting up in his sleep, reaching over to press two fingers to his forehead. The action made the smaller man crinkle his nose and flinch, but calmed his dreams. Letting out an aggravated sigh, Loki bounced to his feet and leaned over to pull the human to the other side of the bed, taking the opportunity to also cover him up. This one was far too charitable for his own good, and it wasn't often that the demi-god got to think that of any mortal. It was sad, even to him, to think that the small man laying next to him had yet to realize his own self-worth. Oh sure, he acted like a dick sometimes, but that was all bravado in the face of danger.

Shaking his head, the trickster shut off the TV, and after making sure the wards were still firmly in place, he disappeared. Just because he was the canine companion of a hunter didn't mean he had to neglect his own amusements. There was a wife-beater across town who needed to get a taste of his own medicine, and a dentist in the next town over who liked copping a feel on knocked out patients. Their egos were so huge he was surprised the town was still standing.

Shortly after being left alone, Harry jolted awake with a pained cry, biting neatly through the inside of his cheek as what felt like ten cruciatus curses coursed through him. Jerking and tangling with the blankets, he tumbled from the bed and curled into a ball, shaking uncontrollably even as the agony slowly dissipated. His nerves felt raw, and every twitch of muscle made him wish to cry. Several moments passed, before a hand on his arm forced his eyes open. Castiel stood over him, actually looking a bit worried.

"I am sorry. I did not realize you were still with the Winchesters."

"W-what-" Harry cut himself off and ground his teeth hard, attempting to force himself up. The angel took a step back to give him room, for which the wizard was grateful. Sitting up was no easy task, but he managed with a pained grimace. "Dean needed to be shown something important. It required I use the full scope of my powers."

"Important?" His voice was hoarse from sleep and pain. Steeling himself, he struggled to his feet only to collapse onto the bed, muscles refusing to cooperate. The angel watched him with passing interest, nodding almost hesitantly at the question. "Nothing to concern yourself with. He will be fine when he returns." The cryptic words did little to set Harry at ease, but he chose to ignore it. "There anyway to keep you lot from trying to kill me every time you decide to let loose?" There went the head tilt again, as the angel processed the request. "No. Not without sacrificing a pregnant virgin."

Harry grimaced, "I'll pass... At least try to warn me before you do it again." Castiel sighed and nodded slightly, "I will... try to warn you. It will not always be possible, but I have no wish to cause you such discomfort unnecessarily." Though the words were not as comforting as they should have been, the wizard took what he could get. "You will feel it again in two hours, when I bring Dean back. I can send you elsewhere, if you wish." Scrubbing a hand over his face, Harry shook his head.

"No... I'll deal with it." Reaching over to snag the abandoned beer, he took a deep swig despite it now being luke warm. He made a nasty face at it, but took a second, smaller, drink after a moment. All the while, the angel stood staring at him. It was a bit creepy. Coughing quietly to break the silence, he blinked up at Castiel before looking away, "So, there's something I've been wondering since the day you popped into my dreams..." When no reaction was forthcoming, Harry shouldered on. "Why were you assigned to guard me when I was a child?"

Silence reigned, making him look up again from trying to work the muscles in his leg. The angel was gone. Scowling, Harry forced himself to his feet, making a slow shuffle towards the bathroom. After relieving himself, he went about donning his shoes and jacket, painfully shouldering his bags, intent on escaping the motel before the angel could cause more damage. Driving himself out of town, he stopped at a water side park overlooking a lazy river. Letting out a noise of pure exhaustion, he eased his seat back and reclined. He was asleep in minutes.

When he awoke next, sunlight invaded his eyes and his cell phone was going off, causing him to wince as if he had a hangover. His muscles ached and were stiff from the previous night, as well as the uncomfortable sleeping position. Groping blindly for the phone, he blinked groggily at the number before answering.


"Hey, where'd you go last night? Me and Sam are halfway to Pittsburgh by now. We found a case." Letting out a ragged sigh, the wizard pulled the phone from his ear to stare at the time. It was nearly noon. "Castiel used his grace." There was a long pause as the meaning sunk in, "Jeez, dude, that guy's a dick." Making a noise of agreement, Harry started the engine, taking a long minute to assess if he was awake enough to drive.

"Yeah, he is. What was it about anyway?" Deciding that he was indeed awake, he paid no attention to Dean as he tried side-stepping the question. Honestly, he almost didn't want to know what had caused that much pain. Shaking his head after a minute, he cut the older man off before he could finish an obvious lie. "Listen, I think I'm going to shop around a bit, maybe follow up on that drowning. Keep me posted and let me know if you need anything."

"... Alright. Same to you." They both hung up without much more being said. Honestly, what was there to say? They had an angel stalking them and the apocalypse hanging over their heads. Calling up Bobby, the wizard secured the location of the supposed drowning on dry land. Although he noted the absence of a certain trickster, he was certain the being could catch up with little trouble. Only following the traffic laws enough to not get pulled over, it only took five hours to get to Paint Lick, Kentucky from where they had left off in northern Illinois. Harry had to wonder who named the town, but shrugged it off as he took in the small village. It was barely a blip on the map, with main street sprawling for all of one block.

Pulling over to chat with one of the locals, he was kindly informed that the nearest motel was five miles out, near Berea. While annoying, it was certainly better than some towns Harry had seen in his travels. Middle of no-where Oregon came to mind. During one hunt in the mountains, he had spent an entire week sleeping in his car because lodgings were down to camp grounds or small, expensive, cabins.

Getting himself situated in a motel, he got to work on the case, hitting the tiny library first to check their records. As it turned out, the township of Paint Lick had experienced similar "accidents" in the past, occurring in twenty year intervals. Jotting down notes on the previous victims, he racked his brain trying to figure out what may have caused it. There were a few creatures he knew of who used water to kill, but most of them were purely aquatic and the victims had all been found in their homes. It was possible a spirit was the culprit, but none of the victims appeared connected.

Regrouping at the motel room, he grimaced as he conjured a suit and tie, along with an FBI badge. He loathed wearing the pristine clothes, but he needed to look into the most recent victim. It was possible the body held clues. Stripping down to his boxers, he glared at the innocent suit, barely breaking his stare-down when a familiar voice piped up from behind him. "I see how it is. You ditch me the second I wander out for snacks."

"The angel nearly killed me with his grace. I decided it was best not to stick around. What do you know about these?" He finally turned to face Loki, picking up the pad of stationary and offering it over. The god looked confused as he read the notes on the victims. "I dunno. Great view, by the way." The trickster cheerfully nodded towards Harry's boxers while tossing the notes aside. Frowning, the wizard shook his head before turning to get dressed, making a face as he adjusted the collar on the shirt. A small illusion spell later, and he looked like any other clean-cut agent he had ever seen.

"Oh, you clean up well. Not digging the illusion, but hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do." The man pulled a candy bar from his pocket and unwrapped it, chowing down while still talking, "I'll tell ya what, I'll sniff around the houses these were found in, help ya out a little." He made an inappropriate noise as he finished off the chocolate bar. Harry was hardly fooled, raising an eyebrow at him, "What do you want?"

"I was going to help you out of the kindness of my heart, but since you asked," Loki pretended to pout, before smirking. "How about a date?" The offer caught Harry by surprise, making him freeze in his tracks. The reaction seemed to amuse the trickster, and for a moment he thought it was a joke, before recalling their conversation about the eight legged horse. Resuming his movements, he remained silent as he pulled on his shoes and double checked his guns, lost in thought. After a while, Loki coughed to get his attention.

"If you don't want to-" Harry cut him off with a head shake, "No, it's not that... I just don't think I'm all that into men, and it would be weird if you just... went female, or whatever it is you do." That caused the god to frown, "How do you know if you've never tried it? You only live once. Come on, one date, and if you don't like it, I'll never ask again." Seriously thinking over the offer, Harry shrugged neutrally, "I dunno... maybe after this case."

The non-commitment seemed to satisfy the demi-god, making him grin in satisfaction, "You won't regret it, promise." With that, he was gone just as quick as he had popped in, presumably to investigate the homes of the victims. Having little else to distract him, Harry finally committed to visiting the morgue, pushing Loki's odd behavior to the back of his mind as he slipped seamlessly into business mode.

Agent Harry "Rutsey" gained easy access to the mortuary after some haggling with the attendant, insisting that he was investigating because of recent similar deaths in neighboring states. Thankfully the body had yet to be embalmed, pending a full investigation. For being such a spec of a town, the police seemed intent on doing their job thoroughly. It was a relief, since it meant the only real issue he could run into was if he needed a look at the police reports themselves. Glancing over the coroner's report, he frowned at seeing nothing out of place. It looked like a standard drowning. Grimacing, he pulled on rubber gloves before diving in.

An hour and a half of combing over every inch of a corpse was not Harry's idea of a good time, so it was with much relief that he finally admitted defeat and high-tailed it back to the motel for a shower and a beer, stopping by a diner for food along the way. While he had yet to figure out what caused the deaths, he felt satisfied with the progress he had made. He had not been able to find any physical indications beyond what the report had already stated. By all accounts, the man had drowned in his living room and nothing more. He had even managed to get the attendant to admit the police had found no evidence of the body being moved at the scene, and no struggle.

That meant one of three things. The body was planted, or it was a spirit, or it was a creature that the man had known or not seen coming. Either way, it narrowed it down, if by very little. The trickster would hopefully have better luck at the houses. Entering his room and checking the salt lines, the wizard dropped the cartons to the table before immediately jumping into the shower, crinkling his nose as the scent of days old rot clung to his hands despite the gloves he had worn. He loathed morgue duty. It was days like this that made him envy the Winchesters. The brothers could draw straws for the disgusting stuff.

When he emerged from the bathroom, Loki was helping himself to the food, honing in on the cake and pie slices Harry had gotten for dessert. Frowning, the wizard wandered over and smacked the man upside the head, earning a yelp and a pout. "Info first, then I'll let you have the cake." He sat down and dug into his meal, waiting for the trickster to stop sulking and get on with it.

"Well aren't you a bundle of laughs." The man sighed and lounged back in his seat, "You got yourself a rusalka." Harry stared blankly, mid-way through a bite of hamburger. The name didn't ring any bells. His slack-jawed stare earned him a raised eyebrow, "They're spirits. The good news is, they can be vanquished. The bad news is, the corpse is at the bottom of a well under a house." Harry sighed and nudged the container with the cake closer to the trickster, earning him a cheer before the god dug in.

"There any way to get it to show itself?" Waiting for Loki to stop being inappropriate with his food, Harry stared at his ring thoughtfully. The god picked up on the direction of his stare, making a thoughtful noise, "Well, they usually only go after married men and unfaithful maidens. You're neither." Tilting his head slightly, Harry chuckled, "Actually I am married by a technicality." Ignoring the trickster's surprised look, he explained, "Spirits aren't usually big on seeing the truth. The fact that I never signed the final papers should be enough even though Ginny's remarried by now." Leaning over to peer out the window, he got to his feet and went about getting ready for a potentially long night.

"Can you show me where the house is?" Hesitating for a long minute, Harry dug into a side pocket on his clothing duffel and pulled out a silver ring. Staring at it as if it might bite, he slipped it on his left ring finger hurriedly when the trickster spoke up, "No, but I can write it down... I have to take care of something." Glancing at the being, Harry raised an eyebrow, "Someone getting a fat head somewhere?" The god laughed and nodded, but something did not seem right about his eyes. They were veiled, as if he were hiding something. Loki scribbled on the pad of motel stationary before standing and offering it to Harry.

"Rain check on that date? Take care of yourself, champ. Don't wait up for me." Before the wizard could question the strange words, the god was gone. He frowned blankly at the paper; Loki almost sounded like he was saying 'goodbye'. Shrugging it off, he memorized the address before heading out. Who was he to analyze the oddities of demi-gods. Truthfully if it really was goodbye, it would be a relief and less likely to result in him being beaten to a pulp by other hunters, namely Dean Winchester. On the flip side, it meant that he might be losing an ally, which did not bode well with all the omens and hints he had been privy to. Not to mention the help Loki had promised in tracking down seals.

Growling quietly under his breath as he attempted to pinpoint a rout on a local map, he wondered for the first time whether it was a good idea to separate from the brothers, as Bobby had warned them against. Something about the air set him on edge the closer the sun inched to the horizon, and Loki's behavior had already left a shadow lingering in the back of his mind. This was shaping into a standard hunt, but the sense of foreboding refused to budge. Once the sun slipped out of sight the atmosphere took on a charged edge, making him grit his teeth. Something big was about to happen. Not one to dismiss such things out of hand, he pulled off the road a half mile from the house and got out, popping the trunk to rummage through his weapons cache.

Surveying the equipment, he snagged an empty pack from the side and loaded it up with a can of lighter fluid, a small bag of salt, and a sawed-off. After a moment of thought, he also added a blessed silver dagger to the collection. While Loki had stated the remains were out of bounds, it was better safe than dead. Double checking the gun holstered at his hip and making sure his wand and the cloak of invisibility were still tucked away safely in his jacket, the resurrection stone caught his attention as it glinted from his right index finger. Some very calculated wand-work later and it looked identical to his wedding band, which he slipped off and tucked into the back pocket of his jeans. Slipping the now plain band onto his left ring finger, he at last felt secure enough to proceed.

Leaving the car where it was, he trekked the distance to the house, staying under the cover of the forest as he scouted it out. It was an old farm house that looked in disrepair, windows shattered or boarded up. There were no lights or cars apparent, so it was likely abandoned. He wondered if the ghost had scared the previous owners away. Or killed them. Frowning as the hair on his arms stood on end, he carefully closed the distance to the back door and skillfully picked the rusted out lock. A thin layer of dust coated the floor and spars furniture, making him repress the urge to sneeze as his boots kicked particles into the air. Doing a careful sweep of the lower floor, he spotted footsteps in the dirt leading upstairs. He got the distinct feeling that they had not been left by accident.

Treading cautiously, he ascended to the upper floor, grinding his teeth at every creek the steps made. Wise to the potential trap, he slipped the shot gun from his bag and began drawing energy into the Resurrection Stone. Whatever was in the house had manifested to the point of leaving a trail, which meant it was likely stronger than he had originally anticipated. Drawing in a steadying breath, he followed the tracks until they disappeared through a closed entry at the end of the hall. Bringing the gun up, he wasted no more time as he kicked the door open, finger already beginning to squeeze the trigger.

Pure agony erupted through his frame as a familiar crawling sensation washed over his skin, making him let out a strangled cry. Shaking uncontrollably, he fought to keep the gun up as he squinted desperately into the dark room, trying to spot the source. The pain intensified sharply, driving him to his knees and unable to keep his arms from dropping to brace himself as his muscles convulsed. Red and white spots flashed in his eyes and they began to sting, forcing him to snap them closed with an enraged snarl.

"Typical little feral monkey. At least you know your place." The voice caused Harry to jerk, instinctively trying to move but unable to through the mind-numbing torture wracking his frame. Barely registering the sound of footsteps, it took him by surprise when what felt like a semi-truck hit him in the side, driving him to his back and adding to the discomfort. Hardly able to think, he was dimly thankful that Castiel had taken more care with his grace in the past, if this is what pure and unfiltered angelic power felt like.

"Oh, don't flatter yourself. If I used my full power you'd be a drooling, mindless, shell by now. If you didn't still serve a purpose to us, I would take great pleasure in showing you what we can do." The pain had apparently shot his mind-to-mouth filter, since he did not think he spoke the thought. Unable to struggle against a hand suddenly gripping his, he could only utter a pathetic whimper as it was forced flat against the floor, something sharp pressing the skin just under the Resurrection Stone.

"Be thankful I'm only here for this... What a pathetic illusion. Did you really think this would stop me from seeing it? Not that I expect more from bottom-feeding filth." A sickening crunch registered to Harry even as the additional pain was lost among shattered nerves. Bile rose in his throat as a wet sensation trickled over the skin on his left hand, shudders wracked his frame as his magic registered the loss of the Hallow. Just as abruptly as it all started, the agony vanished, leaving him gasping for breath and trembling as he futilely struggled against deadened nerves. Wrenching open his eyes, he blinked unshed tears away and gazed at his left hand. The stump where his ring finger used to be bled steadily, staining his hand and the floor crimson. His last thought before darkness claimed him was that Bobby was going to kill him for splitting from the Winchesters.

Four Days Later...

"Hey, have you heard anything from Harry?" Sam grimaced and looked away at Dean's impressive display of talking with a mouthful of hamburger. The elder Winchester was delighted to see his brother's grimace of disgust at the behavior, although the good mood he found himself in was quickly heading down the drain with the current topic. After ganking the Dracula wannabe he had been calling the British hunter every few hours to check in, but the calls were going straight to voice mail. "No, I haven't. Do you think something happened?"

Shrugging and getting to his feet, Dean left a wad of cash on the table before motioning for Sam to follow. "I don't know. He does seem to be the accident-prone type." Considering the list of injuries the wizard had sustained since they met him, the younger Winchester had to agree. "Think we should call Bobby?" The thought of the chewing out they would get if they called the older hunter had Dean shaking his head.

"I know where he went. Let's go check it out before we call in the calvary." During the three and a half hour trip Sam tried calling the MIA hunter's phone, to no avail. The lack of contact made them both worry, considering the angels and demons gunning for all three of them at the moment. As it turned out, the other hunter was rather easy to track down once they reached the tiny village and discovered there was only a single inn within 30 miles. Although any sign of the camaro was absent, the receptionist in the office informed them that he saw Harry stumble into his room looking like death warmed over two days ago.

Exchanging a look, the brothers made their way down the units until they came to Harry's. Knocking impatiently on the door yielded no answers. Sam scowled, making to try the knob, but paused and drew his hand away abruptly. Glancing around his shoulder, Dean grimaced and nudged him out of the way. The handle and jam were smeared with dried blood. Wasting no more time, the older Winchester knelt down and picked the locks, shoving the door open and drawing his gun in one swift move.

The room appeared empty at first glance. The wizard's belongings were absent, save one pack, and the only light was filtering in through the open door. Stepping carefully to avoid small smatterings of blood on the floor, he relaxed enough to stow his gun away when he realized there was messy black hair sticking up from under the bed covers. Flipping on the light switch as Sam followed him in and locked the door, Dean admittedly feared for the worst when he stepped over to the bed and pulled the covers back.

"Death warmed over" did not even cover the condition the smaller man was in. Dirt-stained and bloody, he made the grungy hotel sheets look pristine by comparison. Dean checked his pulse first to ensure it was not the case, letting out a relieved sigh at the thready but there heart beat. The next course of action was to lightly slap and shake him, which garnered no response from the seemingly comatose hunter. Exchanging a worried look, it was Sam who pulled the covers all the way back to reveal a gruesome sight. Harry's left hand looked red and swollen, veins tinted black and starkly visible through the skin. Most worrisome was the missing finger. The bone was plainly visible despite his body's obvious attempts to heal it over and it oozed green-tinged puss.

"Dean, we need to get him to a hospital. Now."

"This is why we can't have nice things, Sammy." Letting out a sigh, Dean carefully scooped the smaller man up in a fireman's carry while Sam combed over the room, gathering the wizard's belongings. A short drive to the hospital later, and they were playing the waiting game as the doctors attempted to decipher what was wrong with the young man, beyond the obvious. A few hours in earned them a scathing call from Bobby, who appeared to be Harry's emergency contact. The older hunter made their ears bleed, before informing them he would be on his way.

No doubt breaking several speed laws, Bobby showed up much sooner than the brothers would have liked. Predictably, they got even more of an earful once Dean was forced to admit they had split up to perform separate jobs. Once the berating was over, a meek nurse approached to inform them that they could finally see Harry. He had yet to wake up, but some healthy color was returning and his heart rate was normal. It seemed that the doctors could not figure out why he was still under, but suspected the infection in his hand in playing a part. The hunters were not quite convinced.

"Black veins?" Bobby stared at them incredulously over the inert frame, mind obviously working furiously after they described what they had seen of Harry's condition. "That ain't no infection I've ever heard of. Sounds more like poison."

"Yeah... Well, we ain't got a clue, and neither do the scrubs. It didn't seem like he was expecting much from the hunt either... No over-the-top anti-demon sigils in his room." Dean explained as even Sam looked confused. "We should see if we can retrace his steps."

"You two go do that. I'll stick around and make sure he stays put." Bobby nodded towards the inert figure. He sounded as if he genuinely expected Harry to wander off, not that they could put it past a wizard. Looking thoughtful, Dean shook his head.

"Actually, Bobby, why don't you go with Sammy? No offense, but creepy bed-side uncle doesn't suit you. Might scare the poor kid into staying knocked out." He cracked a smile when the comment earned him a scathing glare, but the older man nodded grudgingly, probably sensing that Dean had something in mind. The smile slipped away as soon as he was relatively alone, shoulders slumping slightly as he threw himself into the vacated chair. Honestly he had no plan whatsoever. He just wanted to get away from Sam's soulful staring and attempted prying.

"I could really go for a book right now." He stared at Harry, as if expecting an answer, before shaking his head and scoffing. "Really am losing my marbles. Sitting here talking to Shiavo." Heaving a deep sigh, Dean resolved to catch up on some sleep. If nightmares persisted, he could always steal some morphine to make it all more tolerable.




Note: Hopefully this chapter finds everyone well. It's been a while, but here it finally is. See my profile if you'd like to know why I haven't updated in nearly a year.