First order of business - This story is set in the 'verse of Zatnikatel's opus magnus, The Woods and Killing Moon. If you've not read them, then WTF are you doing here? She's a much better writer than I, head that way and read.

Secondly - This is set in mid-season 3, post-deal, pre-descent. The boys are still searching for a way out of Dean's deal.



Also, I have no beta. So if there are any mistakes, I was probably drunk, and I have no one to catch me on my errors. Also, I don't own jack.

Finally, I answer all reviews at my Livejournal site. So there you go, a shameless plea for traffic over there. :P Please review, it feeds me!

The past is never dead. It's not even past.

-William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

It watches as she sleeps. Watches as unconsciousness smooths away the lines of age and weariness and worry, and youth returns to a face long past it.

Watches, waits. Thinks of what came before. What was lost.

It thinks of what could have been. Should have been. If not for the actions, or inactions, of a precious few. Betrayals.

It thinks of the unfairness, the pain, the unjustness of it all. The failure.

It swears that there will be blood. There will be penance paid for all of it. The streets will run red with the payment for past wrongs. The guilty will be brought to account.

There will be justice.

Dean woke with a start as the Impala drifted over the rumble strips into the plowed snow that was piled on the shoulder of the highway. He overcorrected wildly, swerving back into the driving lane and narrowly avoiding a huge patch of gleaming black ice, his arm instinctively shooting out and bracing Sam across the chest. "Holy shit!" yelped Sam as he woke, and he clutched at Dean's hand, digging his fingernails into the flesh of his palm. "What the fuck?!"

The car skidded to a stop sideways, tires crunching in the frozen snow that had drifted across the pavement. Dean took a deep, quivering breath, swallowing down the surge of adrenaline that had gripped his stomach and jumpstarted his heart, then shook his head, blinking away the cobwebs of fatigue that were strung across his brain. Realizing he was still bracing Sam against the seat, he yanked his arm away and scrubbed it across his face.

"Fell asleep," he muttered, examining the red half crescents that Sam's nails had left in the skin of his hand. "Fuckin' exhausted." He rolled a shoulder up to his ear, cracking out the kinks in his neck. They'd just finished a helluva hunt, a blood-and-guts throwdown that left Sam with a broken pinky finger and a hugely colorful shiner, not to mention a piss-poor mood that left Dean relieved when he finally fell asleep and shut the hell up about it. Dean fared slightly better, with only a few ugly bruises and sore muscles to show for the meeting. More than anything else he felt a crushing fatigue. Fuckin' creepy crawlies, always with the violence.

He glanced blearily at his watch. 2 fuckin' AM. Can't remember the last time he slept…Sam had been dragging him from town to town, searching, checking and double-checking, sussing out each and every clue that might lead them to an answer, to salvation. This hunt was no different than all those before; another lead on a deal-breaker, another dead end, with the added bonus of an asswhooping included, compliments of the house. To be followed shortly by another round of mopey-Sam to round out the failure. Sam, with his puppy eyes and his trembling lower lip and his wibbly chin…fuckin' girl, drivin' me nuts, needs a punch in the throat.

"You want me to drive?" Sam knuckled the sleep from his eyes and squinted out the windshield into the darkness. "Where are we?"

"We're a little ways out of Holman." Dean bit down around a yawn.

"Holman," Sam repeated. Leaning his head against the back of the seat, he closed his eyes, but after a split second he opened them again and frowned. "Wait, isn't Hibbing near Holman?" He poked his tongue out, prodded at the split in the skin of his lower lip that he had gotten as a remembrance of their brawl with the beastie.

Dean couldn't stop another yawn, so he succumbed, nearly dislocating his jaw, and shrugged, but then the light bulb clicked on and a slow smile crept over his face. He glanced slyly at Sam. "Yes, I do believe it is, Samuel."

Sam grinned despite himself, suddenly unable to hold onto his general grouchiness. "Think a soft bed with some clean sheets could be found?" He could barely contain a chortle of delight at the mere thought of it. Cushy mattress, extra pillows, sheets that smell like detergent instead of ass and sex, fluffy towels that you can't see your own hand through, enough hot water to take an actual shower instead of a two-minute-marathon scrubdown…bliss…

"Maybe even someone to share it with," leered Dean in return. But the dirty sneer didn't last, just softened into a slight smile. All his weariness was suddenly gone, and there remained only a warm glow of anticipation at the thought of a reunion with an old friend, a comrade in arms, and, in more than one way, a savior.

Sam snorted. "God, always such a gentleman." He faked a shudder at the memory of hearing Dean's indiscretion, as reenacted by a wendigo in a far-gone forest. It seemed to be lifetimes ago, but even that wasn't long enough, as far as Sam was concerned. Brain needs a boiling hot bath with bleach. And Ajax. "Try not to use the headboard so much this time, huh?"

Dean smirked and swatted Sam in the shoulder. After a quick glance in his rearview, he swung a hard u-turn, fishtailing in the snow and bumping across the median. But as they roared back eastward, Sam's face sobered and a frown furrowed his brow. "Um." Dean glanced at him. "You sure you're up for this?"

Dean looked back at the road and put his thumb to his mouth to gnaw at a hangnail. "What do you mean?"

"Hibbing hasn't exactly been good to you, you know." Sam watched Dean out of the corner of his eye, knowing that direct eye-contact would mean an immediate end to any further conversation. It was a bit like approaching a wild animal…quiet voice, no eye contact, no sudden movements. "Don't think anything good ever came out of that town for us."

"Pssh." Dean pooched out his lips in an expression of disdain. "I wouldn't go that far." But his face turned a little grim and he fell silent, stared out at the road rushing by. Too many memories. His stomach clutched and he shook his head firmly, shut the emotion down like throwing a circuit breaker. Not going there. Nope. "Anyway, it seems to me that it's high time we took a vacation. I need a fucking break."

Sam shivered, suddenly chilled, and he leaned forward to kick the heat up to high, then hunched back into the seat, wrapping his arms up around himself in a hug. The stars wheeled overhead as they sped east, racing to meet the dawn with the rumble of the engine providing a throaty song to drive by.

Dean never ceased to amaze Sam with his memory and uncanny sense of direction, like he had GPS directly implanted in his brain. Even after several years since being anywhere near the area, Dean found his way unerringly to Hibbing, through the deserted streets of the town, and back out into the country. He had always been like that, even as a little kid…he was the Winchester Compass, always able to lead his dad and brother out of any thick wood or tangled swamp, just based on his own instinct and experience and some inexplicable sense of which way was which. Would have made a helluva Marine, John used to say, his eyes proud and sad at the same time.

Finally, just as Sam was about to drift back into dreamland, Dean turned down a nearly-invisible two track that snaked away into a thick copse of trees, and after a short drive the Impala's headlights fell upon a tidy clapboarded house. The darkened windows stared out like hooded eyes, but there was a slight glow in one of the ground floor windows, the flickering light of a fire in a hearth.

As Dean drove on toward the house, the car suddenly bogged down in the snow and ground to a halt. Dean gunned the gas, spinning the tires, but to no avail. The engine roared and the wheels screamed as they spun uselessly in the slushy snow, only digging themselves deeper into the muck. "Fuck," hissed Dean. He slammed the gearshift into neutral and glared at Sam. "Well, make yourself useful, Chumpstain, get out and push."

Sam growled and held up his mangled hand. "Um, broken finger, dude."

Dean rolled his eyes. "You big baby," he muttered. After a few seconds of staring out into the windblown snow, he huffed a sigh, pulled on a pair of gloves, and climbed out of the car. Sam smirked as he slid behind the wheel and waited until Dean was behind the back bumper, then slipped the gear into drive and revved the engine, sending a spray of snow and slush flying up into Dean's face. Dean's curses were lost beneath a sudden rush of winter wind buffeting the car, but Sam still barked a little laugh, not needing to be a lip-reader to get Dean's drift.

They tried to rock the car out of the snow, with Sam dropping the gearshift from reverse to drive over and over again, and with Dean pushing from behind until he was purple in the face and Sam feared he would burst a blood vessel from exertion, rage, or both. Finally, after falling into the snow one time too many, Dean stamped up to the driver's door. "Fuck it, we'll just walk up to the house. It's not that far. We'll get the car out in the morning." He tried uselessly to swipe the snow from his jeans and coat, but it was a losing battle and he soon just turned up his collar and buried his chin in it, swearing under his breath.

The winter air struck Sam like a slap as he climbed out of the car, and he was suddenly aware of an urgent need to pee. Stupid roadtrips. They trudged through the shin deep snow toward the house, hunching in their coats as the bitter cold cut through to their coats to their bones. A gibbous moon hung low in the sky, peeping occasionally from behind the scudding snow clouds and silhouetting the pine trees surrounding the house with an icy blue light. The only sound was the crunching of their footsteps in the snow and the occasional whistling rush of wind through the trees.

As they walked into the front yard, a motion sensor light on the garage clicked on, bathing the glittering snow with a warm glow that would have been picturesque, if not for the frigid bite of the wind. Sam jammed his hands into his pockets, grumbling, "'s cold as balls out here."

Dean brushed by Sam, bounded up the porch steps two at a time, and rapped loudly at the door. A sonorous woof and a deep growl answered from the other side, and Dean frowned. "That's new." He pressed his face against the door, peeking in the wrong side of the peephole. "Hellooo?" he called, falsetto, too cheerful for the middle of the damn night. Sam just tried to shrink deeper into his coat, shivering in the icy air. The clouds passed over the moon, casting a shadow over the snow-covered yard, dimming his sight to mere shadows.

After a long minute the porch light flashed on and the curtains of the window beside the door twitched as someone peeked out. Dean grinned as he heard the click and rattle of multiple locks and door chains, then the door swung open with a loud squeal of hinges.