Disclaimer: The boys belong not to me. More's the pity.

Spoilers: This story is set in Season 2, after the events of 2X12, Nightshifter, and before 2X13, Houses of the Holy.

A/N: This is a zine story, written in January of 2009 and printed in March of 2009 in Rooftop Confessions 4, published by GriffinSong Press. Many thanks to Jan for the opportunity.

I have a confession, however. The version printed in the zine was really not my best work. This is just a story; a long one-shot, really—not really pivotal to character development, not even boasting much of a plot. Just a hurt/comfort story with some added ghostie, supernatural elements. And in a fit of stubbornness, I resisted making some changes to the zine version of the story simply because I took offense to how the requests for changes were made.

Now, a year later, it's eligible to post for you all to read and with latent humility I decided to revisit it and make adjustments that I saw fit—for the sake of telling a better story. So, this version is, basically, the "director's cut" with somewhat of an alternate ending. To those of you who read the story in the zine, I both thank you sincerely and apologize for not thinking of you when I dug my heels in.

It's still no Hemingway, but I hope that it entertains you. Slainte!


When I tell any truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do.

~William Blake

www

Now

The muscles along the back of his neck strained against the weight of his hanging head. His mouth was dry, sticky, and there was a strange coppery taste on his tongue. He wanted to relieve the burn across his shoulders. He wanted to open his eyes. He wanted to take a deep breath.

But all three took a coordination of effort and actions that he felt incapable of at the moment.

"Dean," he whispered, feeling his tongue scrape against the back of his teeth, his lips cracking slightly with the motion of forming his brother's name.

Silence returned his call and Sam forced his heavy eyes to open. If he hurt this badly, then Dean was either not there or…

Mildew and moss-covered stone greeted his blurry vision. He slowly brought his head up, grunting as the aching muscles down his back protested savagely. The scent of disuse and decay assaulted his senses and he worked not to gag. It took him a moment to focus; he was inside, underground, surrounded by mildew-covered, dank, stone walls. The steady pounding of water on glass drew his gaze up higher.

At the top of the wall was a single, narrow window.

Beating on the outside of the window was a torrent of rain.

Running down the slimy wall from beneath the saturated wooden window frame was a stream of water.

"Swell," he croaked. Think, Sam.

He'd been at the bottom of a grave before. Many of them, in fact. Every time he reached the standard six-foot depth and broke through the lid of a coffin, a crawling, suffocating feeling of being trapped, of seeing his own end would etch itself into his psyche until it was all he could do to keep from screaming as he leapt out and away.

Swallowing, Sam looked blearily around his immediate vicinity. This may not be a grave, but the sensation was the same. The cloistered feeling of dense earth just beyond the slimy walls of the room told him that he was in a basement. A basement of what, he couldn't be sure.

His legs were tied at the ankles, stretched out before him, his jeans smeared with mud and something else that looked alarmingly like blood. His shirt was torn, and from what he could see, more blood matted it against his ribcage. He took a cautious breath, trying to remember a wound that would have caused such a stain.

He felt a pull and the distinct sensation of ripped skin rubbing against cotton as he expanded his lungs. He caught his stuttering breath and closed his eyes as a wave of dizziness washed over him. Tipping his aching head back, he realized that he was tied to a post—a large post, wide enough that his hands were stretched behind him, but not attached to each other.

Wait.

He frowned, twisting his nearly-numb fingers in his rough bindings. He was tied to someone, though. Someone on the other side of the post. Someone whose hands were limp and unresponsive to his clumsy, exploratory fingers.

Someone who wore a ring on his right hand.

Aw, shit… Sam closed his eyes and skimmed his fingers across the back of the left hand, going cold when he felt the wound. Seven stitches, just beneath the knuckles.

Dean…

Thunder cracked, the sound jerking Sam's eyes open and his attention upward. The waning light from the window had turned gray. Blinking, Sam realized that the rain was no longer beating against the glass. It was covering the glass as the rainwater saturated the ground above them. The ancient wooden frame was beginning to bow.

"Dean," he called, rattling his wrists, trying to rouse his brother. "Dean, man, you need to wake up."

Pulling air in through his nose and huffing it out through his mouth, Sam worked to ignore the now fire-like pain in his side and rotated his wrists, trying to get some play in the ropes. His memory was foggy, but he did recall the struggle; the unexpected and vicious fight that had pitted them against a seemingly incongruous force of nature.

The wood above him creaked ominously and Sam swore, trying to see into the dark corners of the basement that was currently their prison. He closed his eyes, trying to visualize the ropes, trying to angle his hands just right

"Sonuvabitch…"

"Thank God," Sam breathed when his brother's raspy groan hit his desperate ears.

"The hell?"

"We're, uh…in a basement…I think." Sam felt the slight tug on the ropes around his wrists as Dean started to move. "You okay?" Sam asked, feeling more alert by the second.

Having Dean really present offered Sam the shot of adrenaline he needed.

"No, I'm not okay," Dean growled. "I got a hole in my leg."

"Shit, I forgot," Sam breathed, dropping his head back against the wood beam. "Is it bleeding?"

"No, Sam, I have magical healing powers."

"Don't be an ass, Dean."

"Well, stop asking me stupid questions."

Sam drew his legs up, tenting his knees, and tried to see the knot that held his feet together.

"How'd she get us down here?" Dean asked, his voice still sounding as though he'd been screaming lyrics at a Metallica concert.

"She?"

Sam felt Dean's body go still—it was slight, almost imperceptible, but it was enough that Sam realized he was forgetting a vital piece of information.

"The witch? Hex bag? Dead guy on hood of Impala? Any of this ringing any bells?" Dean rasped.

In a spinning rush of recollection, Sam pulled the missing information from the hidden places in his mind. Images assaulted him in Technicolor until he remembered exactly how they'd ended up tied to a post in what was probably the most disgusting basement in the Midwest.

"Sam?"

"Yeah." It was barely a whisper of air.

"You still with me?"

"Yeah, I'm here," Sam replied, twisting his hands to brush Dean's fingers in a gesture of solidarity. "I don't… don't know how she got us here. Last thing I remember was being pinned against that wall."

"You know what we need?" Dean said, his tone casual, sounding as though he was contemplating what to order for lunch. "An anti-pinned-against-the-wall charm."

Sam felt a chuckle erupt from the base of his throat.

"Seriously, dude, 'cause that happens way too much," Dean continued.

"We'll get Bobby on that when we get out of here," Sam replied.

"If we get out of here," Dean said, softly.

"We're getting out," Sam declared. "I'm not dying in some skanky basement."

A minute of silence filled with unspoken words surrounded them, until Dean cleared his throat. "You going to listen to me next time I say we ditch the hex bag and head to TJ?"

"No."

"Didn't think so," Dean sighed, and Sam felt his brother relax back against the beam.

He frowned. "Dean?"

"Hm?" Dean's reply was soft, groggy at best.

Sam felt his panic rise, his thoughts run cloudy. "Hey, don't get comfortable here, man."

"Just need a minute, Sammy," Dean slurred.

Fear sliced into Sam's breath and slid out through the wound across his ribs. "Dean!"

"Wha—?"

"Move your hands," Sam ordered.

"Just… need t'close—"

"No!" Sam barked, feeling Dean startle against his bindings. "You keep your eyes open. Dean!"

"'Kay." Dean's voice was barely there.

Sam felt a rush of tears at the back of his eyes, a sour, wet taste in his throat. "You keep them open, okay?"

Sam was suddenly terrified as he recalled the fight that preceded their entrapment. The desperate struggle between Dean and the witch while he watched, pinned to the wall by her magic, helpless. The image of the fireplace poker slicing through the air toward his brother's leg was the last thing he remembered clearly.

How much blood has he lost? "Dean?"

"They're open." Dean's words were now clipped with alertness.

"Tell me what you see," Sam requested.

"Don't think you're going to like it," Dean said, his voice laden with dread and danger.

Sam craned his neck, trying vainly to see from Dean's viewpoint. "Why?"

"'Cause I'm looking at that damn witch, that's why," Dean replied tightly.

Shit. Sam closed his eyes.

And in that moment, the window frame above them gave way, releasing a torrent of icy water onto the stone floor.

www

Two Days Earlier

The little girl's brown eyes seemed to take up half of her face; her thick, dark lashes gave her an exotic, innocent look. Sam watched her count the rotation of the clothes spinning in the dryer next to his, the hypnotic hum of the Laundromat's background noise lulling them both into companionable silence.

As if she felt his eyes on her, the girl slowly turned to face him, her gaze open, curious. Sam smiled at her, feeling his eyes relax even as his face tightened. Dean was always better with kids. They made Sam feel self-conscious and guilty. Of what, he was never quite sure.

"Where's your mom?"

Sam blinked. "What?"

"Your mom," the little girl repeated, her voice holding the lazy twang of the Midwestern states that he'd learned to tune his ear to. "My mom's over there." Without looking, she pointed to a table in the corner.

Sam glanced to the side, seeing a dark-haired woman of about thirty, sitting on top of the table, flipping through a fashion magazine and chewing gum loud enough that he could hear it pop and crack between her teeth over the cacophony of dryers. She looked like a larger version of the pixie-faced girl standing in front of him.

"She's the one that washes the clothes."

Sam nodded sagely. "Not you?"

The girl shrugged. "I help."

Sam smiled, looking back at the tumble of clothes.

"So, where's your mom?" the girl persisted.

"I, uh…," Sam pressed his lips together. "She's not here."

"You mean…you're washing the clothes?" The girl looked slightly shocked.

"Yeah." Sam nodded feeling his brows pull together over the bridge of his nose. "Why?"

"'Cause the girls wash the clothes. The boys fix stuff."

Sam chuckled. "Boys can wash clothes," he argued, looking at her. "If they have to."

The little girl lifted an eyebrow, turning back to the dryer, pulling her eyes from him reluctantly. "You need to find a girl," she said.

You can say that again, Sam sighed inwardly as his dryer buzzer sounded. He opened the door, reaching in and scooping out the warm garments, hissing as the zipper from a pair of jeans branded his arm, and dumped the clothes on the waist-high table. As he opened the duffel, he heard a stage whisper to his right.

"Mama, that boy is washing his clothes."

"Hmmm... well, maybe he doesn't have a mama to do it for him."

"Do you think he's sad 'bout that?"

"Maybe."

"I should say sorry, then."

"Why?"

"'Cause I told him he needed to find a girl."

Sam bit the inside of his cheek as the mother's throaty chuckle reached his ears. He stuffed boxer shorts into the duffel and began organizing the shirts into four piles: Dean's hunting shirts, Sam's hunting shirts, Dean's good shirts, and Sam's good shirts.

There were more shirts suitable for a hunt than for eating out in public.

"Hey, mister."

Sam looked down. The large brown eyes triggered something in him and he found himself crouching down to her level, one shirt still clutched in his hand.

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry I said you needed a girl. If you want to wash the clothes, you can."

Sam smiled. "Thanks."

"What's that?"

Frowning, Sam followed the tip of her small finger to the shirt in his hand. Dean had worn it when he fought with the shapeshifter in the Milwaukee bank. The blood on it had stained a swath of flannel a deep brown.

"It's, uh…"

"Looks like blood," said an older voice.

Sam stood quickly, facing the little girl's mom, and stuffed the flannel into the duffel bag.

"Yeah, well—"

"A lot of these clothes look like there's…blood stains on them," the woman commented, eyes roaming the remaining pile on the table, her hands automatically moving to her daughter's shoulders and steering her smoothly behind her legs.

"You…okay?" The question was spoken politely, but with a hint of trepidation.

Sam nodded quickly, swallowing. He knew she didn't want an honest answer. She wanted to know if they should cut and run, calling for the cops as they retreated. Sweat broke out on his upper lip and he started to stuff the rest of the clothes into the bag.

"Yeah, fine."

In his periphery, Sam saw the woman back away from him, her daughter peeking out from behind her legs. Sighing, he zipped the bag closed, slung it over his shoulder, and headed out of the Laundromat, away from the woman's perceptive eyes and her daughter's innocent gaze. Away from a scene so normal it made him ache that the truth of his situation would never fit in that seemingly perfect mold.

"Boys fix stuff… girls wash the clothes," he grumbled under his breath. "Next time Dean gets laundry duty."

It took about ten minutes to walk the stretch of road back to their motel. The late morning sun warmed the side of his face, the breeze lifting his bangs from his sweaty forehead. The wind felt cool and crisp in the wake of the humid air surrounding the washing machines and dryers. Sam took a moment to simply breathe, allowing the idea of normalcy to permeate his skin and soak into his system.

If he wanted to, he could pretend for just a moment that they weren't wanted by the FBI. That they hadn't snuck out of a bank in stolen S.W.A.T. uniforms. That they hadn't had to go so deep underground they'd had to ditch their cell phones and hadn't spoken with Bobby in nearly a week.

That they weren't continually cleaning blood from their clothes, patching holes from weapons and wounds, hiding.

Always hiding.

Sam heard the unmistakable sound of Paul Rodgers' near-perfect voice rolling the notes to Bad Company's signature song as he rounded the back of the motel. In moments, as he knew he would, he detected Dean's harmony echoing from somewhere in the depths of the Impala's engine.

"Rebel souls. Deserters we are called. Chose a gun and threw away the sun…."

Sam dropped the duffel full of semi-clean clothes at the ground near Dean's feet. His brother pulled his head from beneath the hood of the car, a pink shop rag in one hand, a wrench in the other, eyes squinted up at him in reaction to the sun.

"Welcome home, brother."

"We need new clothes, Dean."

Dean lifted an eyebrow. "What's wrong with the ones we got?"

"They're all…bloody. And torn. And…bloody."

Folding his lips down in a don't get your pantyhose in a twist frown, Dean turned his attention back to the engine. "A little blood never hurt anyone."

"Dude, you are wearing the same jeans you were when you got fried by the Rawhead."

"I like these jeans." Dean shrugged. "Shocking, I know."

"Not funny."

"What's with you?" Dean looked at him over his shoulder.

Sam sighed, balancing his pockets on the edge of the engine. "I'm…."

"Hormonal?"

Sam pulled his lip up in a snarl. "Worried."

Nudging Sam away from the car with his elbow, Dean reached up and closed the hood, dropping the wrench into the toolbox on the ground by his feet and wiping his hands clean with the shop rag. "About what?"

"Everything."

Twisting the rag and snapping at Sam's hip with a playful grin on his face, Dean said, "Worrying gets you nothing but wrinkles, Sammy."

"How can you be so casual about all this?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "Jesus, if it means that much to you…" He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. Plucking free a card, he handed it to Sam. "Go buy yourself something pretty."

Sam slapped the card away. "What happens if we get caught again, Dean, huh? What happens if we get caught with clothes that have blood on them?"

"It's not all human blood."

"And that makes it better?"

Dropping his chin, Dean lifted his eyes to peer at Sam, his look one of measured patience that Sam recognized from years of watching his brother.

"So, we don't get caught," Dean said in a voice devoid of inflection.

"'Cause that's worked so great for us in the past." Sam couldn't temper the sarcasm that wrapped around each word.

Rolling his bottom lip against his teeth, Dean looked away.

Sam counted to three silently.

Dean looked back. "So, what do you want to do?"

Resisting the urge to sigh with satisfaction, Sam immediately proclaimed, "Second-hand store."

"Sammy…."

"Dean, I know you hate them, but, hey, we go in, look like college guys, pay cash, no trace, no questions." Please, just something normal. Something any guy our age might do. Something we don't have to hide…

Dean reached up and rubbed at the back of his head. "Yeah, but…dude, clothes that someone else wore…who knows what they did in them."

Sam shook his head and picked up the duffel, turning toward their motel room door. "Don't be such a pussy. You can wash them before you wear them."

"Me?" Dean exclaimed, and Sam heard the radio click off as his brother moved to follow him indoors. "I thought I worked on the car, you took care of the clothes."

Sam felt his lip bounce up in a snarl once again. "Yeah, well, you can be the girl this time."

"Huh?"

www

"You seriously need another hoodie?" Dean asked over the pile of jeans and T-shirts in his arms.

Sam looked back at him and Dean sighed. The petulant expression on his little brother's face was as familiar to him as the Impala's engine.

"Like you need another gray T-shirt."

"Gray hides stains better," Dean returned.

Sam thinned his lips, thrusting his chin forward. "Not. Blood."

"Fine! Let's just go, already."

Stepping up to the counter, Dean set down his clothes and waited while Sam added his to the pile. As if asked to complete a tremendously tedious task, the barely-eighteen-year-old girl behind the counter rang up their purchase, her painted black lips opening and closing rapidly as she massacred a piece of gum, her dark nails tripping quickly over the cash register keys. Dean skimmed over her Goth-like appearance, then casually spun the sunglasses display, grinning slightly at the '80's era aviator shades. As he was about to make a Top Gun-related comment to Sam, he looked closer at the reflection in the mirrored lenses.

It was a woman. A pale, lifeless-looking woman, white-blond hair, bruised gray eyes, and thin, almost non-existent lips. He turned, chilled by the sight, and was met by an empty store. Rotating back, he looked into the glasses, but the woman was gone.

"Dean?"

"What?" Dean turned back toward his brother.

"What are you doing?" Sam's face had rolled into a question mark, and even the ebony-haired check-out girl was watching him.

"Sorry, I, uh… thought I saw something…" Dean looked over his shoulder again. "Forget it."

"That'll be $32.47," the girl replied in a bored voice.

Dean pulled out two twenties, setting them on the counter.

"You guys want a bag for this stuff?"

"Sure." Sam smiled. "Thanks."

The girl sighed. "Wish you woulda come in like an hour ago."

Dean leaned lazily on the counter and grinned, fully aware of his smile's power over women. "Yeah? Why's that?"

Goth Chick didn't even twinge. "'Cause I just took all this shit—er, sorry—stuff out of the bag it came in."

Straightening, Dean tilted his head in question. "This stuff? Really?"

She nodded. "Yeah. Guy brought the bag of clothes in and said he wanted whatever we could give him for them. Didn't even wait for me to go through the bag. Coulda gotten a lot more if he'd waited."

Dean tipped his lips down in thought. "Too bad."

"Hell, yeah, too bad," she continued, still stuffing the clothes back into the bag. "You got any idea how long it takes to itemize all this crap?"

Sam nodded sympathetically, taking the bag from her. "Well, at least you don't have to deal with it anymore."

She slid bored eyes to him. "My hero."

"Okay." Dean grinned tightly, turning Sam and pushing him slightly to move toward the door. "Catchya later!"

Sam was shaking his head as he tossed the bag of clothes into the backseat of the Impala.

"I don't get people sometimes," he muttered.

"What? You mean Wednesday Adams back there?"

"Forget it."

Dean dropped into the driver's seat. "Don't worry about it, Sammy. You're too tense." He started up the engine. "You know what you need?"

"A vacation?"

"A poker game and a beer."

"We talking about you or me here?"

Dean grinned, backing out of the parking lot. "Hell, Sammy. If we were talking about me, I'd have added scantily-clad woman to the list."

"Right. What was I thinking?"

The sun was melding with the horizon, turning it to liquid gold and amber as Dean headed for the bar he'd seen as they'd driven to the second-hand clothing store. The neon Budweiser sign was a beacon in the wan light.

"Remember how Caleb always called this the witching hour?" Sam asked suddenly as they pulled to a stop.

Dean nodded, his mouth curving up in a small smile of memory. "Yeah. Dad gave him hell because the witching hour was supposed to be midnight."

"But Caleb said it was right now—"

"—'cause the world didn't breathe while it tried to hold back the night," they finished in unison.

"Caleb was a helluva guy," Dean said softly, fingers running idly along the interior of the steering wheel.

"Yeah," Sam answered. "Think Caleb knew Dad really had the Colt before he was… killed?"

"I don't know." Dean lifted a shoulder. "Miss him, though."

Sam nodded quietly.

Dean felt his brother working up to something; something deep, meaningful, heavy. He wasn't up for heavy. He was too busy with the weight he carried now. It was bad enough having shared with Sam what their father had made him promise. Now, they had a semi-psychotic FBI agent on their trail that thought he knew enough about their lives to sling insults and innuendos about their upbringing. Milwaukee had given him too much truth and just enough lies to send him spinning for weeks.

Before Sam could open his mouth and let fly a tumble of what ifs and do you think that's, Dean pushed the car door open and stepped out into the dusk.

"I'm gonna grab that hoodie," Sam said. "It's getting cold."

"Suit yourself," Dean replied, rolling his shoulders back and taking in the sound and smells common to every bar: loud music, the hum of humanity, the smell of beer and cigarettes and dust, and the feel of time slowing down around him.

Once inside, it didn't take him long to hunt up a poker game. Sam sat at the bar, off to the side so that they could make eye contact with a glance and signal if one or the other sighted trouble. Dean settled into the rhythm of the game, winning a few, losing a few, ready to gather back the money he'd spent earlier on clothes, and get their cash built up for the next several days on the road.

About an hour into the game, the music changed to Steve Miller's The Joker and the bar erupted into raucous laughter and singing.

Dean glanced around the table. "This the bar theme or something?"

One tall, muscular gambler shrugged a bare shoulder, pulling at his mid-chest-length red goatee. "All them college kids like it."

The other man at the poker table with them looked up, catching Dean's eyes.

"You gonna play, or what?" the man snapped.

Dean noticed the deep shadows of anxiety and sleeplessness haunting the man's red-rimmed eyes, turning his hazel irises an almost tawny color. His several days-growth of beard blended with his unkempt dark hair, and his lips were cracked and dry.

Dean pushed out his lips, nodding while he tossed several bills on the pile in the center. "I call."

The man slapped down his hand, spilling the cards from his grasp. "Pair 'a tens."

Keeping his eyes empty, Dean spread his hand smoothly in front of him. "Full house. Jacks over eights."

"Son of a bitch!" The man pounded a fist on the table, shoving his chair back with a loud scratch of wood-on-wood as he stood.

Dean stayed at the table, watching as the man stalked away bouncing against several shoulders in his haste to escape. When the man was well away from the table, Dean gathered his winnings. Never served him to gloat—he wanted to walk from the bar unscathed.

They needed a night off.

"What the hell—that's mine!"

Dean brought his head up at the stranger's tone: accusatory, angry, looking for a fight. He searched the crowd until he found the source of the shout. The same on-the edge poker player that had just vacated the table was now very much into his brother's personal space. Sam had half-turned from the bar, one hand still on his pint of beer, and was blinking in surprised confusion at the man's angry countenance.

Eyes on Sam's profile, Dean tucked the bills into his jacket pocket and stood. "Think I'm done for the night, fellas." He nodded to the rest of the players.

Goatee Man nodded. "You best get to your friend."

Dean moved slowly through the throng of people gyrating to the music, their beers held aloft, his eyes on the bobbing head of his brother as he attempted to talk to the angry, rough man who now had his finger pressed into Sam's chest.

"Listen, no big deal, okay," Sam was saying, his hands up and open. "I'll give it back. Just got it from a second-hand store—"

"No. No way. I didn't bring that in there."

"Sorry to tell you this, friend," Dean slid up next to Sam his back against the bar, his arms loose and ready, "but you did."

"What the hell do you know about it?"

Dean lifted a shoulder. "I know I paid for the damn thing."

The man shook his head, his eyes darting. "She must've…after she…but…why…"

Dean exchanged a quick look with Sam, eyebrow raised.

"No, no, man. Uh-uh. Something's wrong. You're lying." The rough look in the man's eyes intensified and Dean watched him clench and release shaking fingers. He took a sloppy sip from a nearly-empty beer, swallowing loudly before continuing with his staccato speech. "I got rid of everything she touched. But…she didn't touch that. I…she didn't touch that."

Dean nodded at Sam, signaling with a roll of his eyes to just give him the damn thing. Sam started to shrug out of the hoodie as the rough man stepped back, the widening of his eyes the only warning Dean had before a trio of gasps accompanied the swing of a beer bottle. Instinctively, Dean thrust his left hand up, blocking the swing, the glass bottle breaking across the back of his hand.

Without pausing to give his action much thought, he snapped a quick punch directly at the guy's nose, feeling the crunch of cartilage beneath his knuckles. More gasps and a shout of surprise accompanied the hit as the man staggered away, clutching his now-bleeding nose.

"We should go," Sam said, grabbing at Dean's jacket sleeve and hauling him toward the door.

The crowd surged against them, blocking their escape, eager to see what the commotion had been about. Dean felt the first burn of torn skin across the back of his hand and looked down as Sam pulled him through the crowd. Blood dripped from his fingertips.

"Dammit," he muttered, lifting his eyes to help his brother seek out an escape.

"Hey." The booming voice cut through the clutter, and the brothers paused, looking up.

Goatee Man stood just to their left, impossibly taller than Sam once on his feet, and indicated an alternate exit with the tip of his head.

Dean grinned. "Thanks, Fezzik."

"Yep." Goatee Man nodded, his wiry facial hair covering a grin.

The brothers cut through the path in the crowd created by Goatee Man's girth, exiting into the night.

"I'll drive," Sam stated.

"Like hell."

"You're bleeding," Sam pointed out.

"Oh. Damn."

Holding his hand out for the keys, a little-boy's I win grin on his face, Sam scrambled to the driver's side of the Impala. Dean tossed him the keys, reaching into the backseat for one of the new T-shirts they'd purchased, and wrapped it around his bloody hand.

Sam noticed, shaking his head as he started the car.

"What?" Dean snapped, ready to be challenged.

"Nothing."

"You want me to bleed all over the car?"

"'Course not," Sam grumbled, backing out of the lot and spinning the car in a hard right as he headed back down the road. "Just find our lives…ironic, I guess."

"Okay, what the hell was with Mr. Meth and that hoodie?" Dean spouted, biting down on his lip to keep from grunting as his hand throbbed.

"You got me," Sam replied. "How did he know it was his, anyway?"

"Good point. Seen one green hoodie, you've seen 'em all."

Sam pulled around to the back of the motel, shutting off the engine and turning to look at Dean. "You need stitches?"

Dean sighed. "Probably."

"'Kay. I'll get the stuff. Meet you inside."

www

"Wow. Seven whole stitches," Dean grumbled. "Not even worth writing home about."

"You were lucky."

"No, you were lucky. It was your head he was aiming at."

Sam frowned, watching Dean lay back on the bed, pillows propping him up, his bandaged hand draped across his chest. Standing, Sam grabbed the remote from the dresser and tossed it to his brother.

"You hungry?"

Dean nodded. "Too tired to go out, though."

"I'll go get us something."

Dean chuckled. "I told you—drive her once and you're addicted."

Sam rolled his eyes, grabbing the same hoodie from the end of Dean's bed and slipping it on. "Dude, please." He shook his head, dropping his hands into the pockets of the coat with an exaggerated shrug of disinterest. "I could care less about your—"

He froze, the fingers of his left hand brushing against an object that had gone unnoticed in the hollow of the soft cotton material. He looked quickly up at his brother.

Dean slid his eyes over when Sam paused. "What?"

Face carefully blank, Sam removed a small burlap bag about the size of a silver dollar from the pocket of the hoodie. Slowly untying the top, Sam opened the bag in his palm, shifting the contents, then twisting the top closed so that he didn't spill anything. Just as carefully, he looked back up at Dean, who had been uncharacteristically silent.

"No…" Dean shook his head.

"Dean, I think this is—"

"No. Don't say it, Sammy."

"A hex bag."

"Dammit." Dean slapped the remote on the bed, swinging his legs over the edge and sitting up. "No. No witches."

"Dean—"

Dean stood up. "Ditch it, Sam."

"What?"

"Ditch it. Burn it. Get rid of the damn thing."

"Dean, this was meant for someone—I think it was meant for that guy in the bar!"

"I don't care." Dean stepped closer, reaching out for the bag. Sam pulled it out of his reach. "Witches are… dirty." He bounced a little on the balls of his feet, reaching higher for the bag as Sam stretched his arm above his head. "Skanky…spell-weaving…" Sam backed up a step. "Dude, gimme the bag!"

"No!"

Dean stomped on Sam's foot. Hard. Sam cried out in pain and surprise, bringing his hand down within reach of Dean's fingers. Grasping the bag with the deftness of a pick-pocket, Dean backed up quickly.

"Dean…" Sam warned, hissing air through his clenched teeth. "Put. That. Down."

"C'mon, man…." Dean held his wounded hand close to his chest, his face tight from the pain of the stitches. "Let's just forget this. We could…we could head to TJ…pick up a couple of senoritas and cervezas…."

"Are you high? It's a hex bag, Dean." Sam stepped forward. "This is our job."

Dean sighed, his shoulders sagging. He sat heavily in the orange and yellow covered chair next to the small motel room table. Tossing the bag onto the table, he dropped his chin to his chest.

"I know," he said softly.

Sam didn't move, watching him.

"You're right, Sammy, I just…."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"No, no." Sam sat across from him, the hex bag between them, his eyes on his brother's downturned lashes. "Don't close up on me, Dean."

Dean looked over Sam's shoulder, his eyes unfocused. "I guess I was, uh…I mean we haven't done anything but, y'know…drive around since Milwaukee."

"Yeah, and…."

Dean looked back down. "Nothing."

"What?" Sam's voice was purposefully gentle. Inviting an admission of need. Offering a soft place to fall.

Dean cleared his throat. "Just been a nice break is all." He shoved up higher in his seat.

"But, you're right. This is our job. We don't do it…who will, right?"

Sam waited a moment. Waited until he saw the green of Dean's eyes. Waited until he saw the walls return. "Right."

"Okay, so…hex bag…some dude walking around half tweaked…"

Sam sighed. "The only places we know he's been are that store and the bar."

Dean rolled his neck in what Sam had long ago come to recognize as a sign of weary frustration. "I'm gonna go out on a limb and say the bar is tapped."

"So," Sam proposed hesitantly. "We go back to the store in the morning?"

Dean turned his wounded hand over, looking at the red seeping through the white bandage. "I told you those second-hand stores were bad news."

www

There were times he dreamt, oblivious to the nuances of unreality, totally lost in the sensations of touch, scent, sight, bliss. There was usually a woman involved; the silken feel of skin, the slope of a hip, the molten sigh of contentment.

Then there were the other dreams. The dreams that happened without his control. The dreams that shoved him to the side, forcing him to watch as they carried on, uncaring, oblivious.

He knew he was twitching. Felt his legs move in a staccato sweep of the sheets as he worked to escape, felt the burn of his hand as the wound was pressed tight against the bed under his heavy body, felt the pressure of his breath stilled in his weighted lungs.

Images assaulted him, searing eyes that weren't open in the first place, teasing tears and taunting panic. Images that no matter the passing of time would ever be lessened in their horror and meaning.

Images of Dad with yellow eyes. Of Dad dying. Of zombies and heartbroken loved ones. Of jail cells. Of demons and death and duty and guilt.

Whispers of secrets, snippets of promises, moments of pain, they all flitted across his subconscious in a tangle of emotion and torment and he felt his head scream, his will all but bowing under the strain of waking.

And then, a hand. A touch. Fingers pressing lightly on his shoulder, brushing his bare skin and drawing him from the darkness. He followed the sensation, forcing himself to roll from the dream and into the light.

"Hey," he croaked, fully aware that he sounded like the rusty hinges of an ancient door.

"Mornin', Sunshine," Sam answered. "Did you win?"

"Win what?" Dean yawned, rolling to his back and stretching his hands out to the sides, working to loosen muscles that had stiffened in the night. He winced as the slightly swollen skin around the stitches on his damaged hand rebelled at the motion.

"Whatever fight you were having in your sleep." Sam sat on the edge of the bed, leaning over to pull on his boots. "Thought you were going to tear up the sheets."

Dean dug the heel of his hand into his early-morning-watery eyes, ignoring Sam's comment. He was awake now, that was all that mattered. Dreams were dreams. No use digging through that mess anytime soon.

"Need coffee," he mumbled, pushing the tangled sheets from his legs. "And shower."

"I left some hot water," Sam said, standing and moving toward the pile of clothes they'd purchased from the second-hand store.

"Swell."

"Careful with your hand."

"Dude, I'm not five."

"Just sayin'."

Dean knew as he closed the bathroom door on Sam's smirk that while he showered, his brother would be going through the new clothes, looking for any other forgotten remnants of the witch. Dean knew his efforts would only serve to confirm once again that the hex bag was the lone evidence of the presence of a witch. He grimaced slightly as he regarded himself in the mirror, tipping his scruff-covered jaw one way, then another. The contents of the hex bag didn't offer them a damn thing in the way of identifying the intended victim. It simply held bird bones, dried animal intestines, a sliver of glass, and a contact lens.

Sighing with the resignation of another hunt without easily plotted parameters, Dean unwrapped his hand, studying the cut with a practiced eye. The skin around the stitches was bruised, but there was no indication of infection. Stripping bare, he turned the faucet all the way to hot, knowing the heat wouldn't last. He stepped in, ducking his head under the flow, and let the pressure beat away the last cobwebs of his nightmares.

Two cups of coffee and a bagel later, the brotherswere walking from the brisk morning air into the slightly stale environment of the second-hand store.

"You back for more?" Goth Chick glanced up at them, sliding a cross-shaped bookmark into the middle of a book and setting it down. "Mess them pretty clothes up already?"

Dean stepped close to the counter, leaning a hip against the roughened edge and flipped the book around with the tips of his fingers. Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. He glanced at Sam, eyebrow raised, and Sam shook his head once, a clear don't say it look in his eyes.

He slid his eyes from Sam to Goth Chick. He tapped the book once, the side of his mouth pulled up in a rueful grin. "You're trying too hard, sweetheart."

"'Scuse me?" She straightened her shoulders, placing her hands flat on the counter.

With a sigh of resignation, Sam stepped up, shouldering Dean slightly aside. "We need to ask you a few questions."

Goth Chick didn't take her steely-eyed gaze from Dean.

"You said that the clothes we got yesterday had just been dropped off by some guy," Sam prompted.

"Yeah, so?"

"Can you tell us where to find him?"

She switched her glare to Sam, running her eyes over his frame. "Why would I do that?"

Dean moved forward. "Listen," he started, putting a subtle hand out to reassure Sam that he'd behave himself. "We think the guy might be in trouble. We found some… stuff in the clothes."

Goth Chick's eyes lit up. "Stuff?"

Sam shook his head quickly. "Not that kind of stuff…just…listen, we need to find him."

"Well, maybe I don't know where he is," she hedged, her head tilting slightly in suggestion.

"Are you kidding me with this?" Dean asked, incredulous. "You want money?"

She lifted a charcoal-colored eyebrow. "Only if you want an address."

Dean shot Sam a dead-eyed stare. Sam dropped his chin, meeting his brother's glare. Dean looked away, then sighed, drawing from his jeans pocket a twenty dollar bill.

"You're going to have to do better than that…."

"Son of a…." Dean slapped another twenty on the counter.

"He lives behind the diner. Two blocks down. Name's Lewis. Lewis Stacey."

Sam nodded, turning, but Dean had one more question. "You know his girlfriend?"

Sam paused, looking back. Goth Chick picked up the money, folding it, then tucked it into the black corset she wore over a deep V-neck white T-shirt. She kept her black-cherry lip-sticked mouth shut, waiting.

Dean quirked his lips, pulling out another bill and holding it up between two fingers; when she reached for it, he jerked it away.

"Fine," she huffed, pressing her pelvis against the counter and crossing her arms under her breasts. Her lips pouted down when Dean didn't drop his gaze from her eyes. "She's not his girlfriend. She's some…freak he was stalking or something."

"Got a name?" Sam asked.

"Something weird like…Vertis or something."

Dean frowned. "Ver-wha?"

Goth Chick reached for the money again, and again Dean jerked it back. "You gotta give us more than Vertis if you want this," Dean said. "What did she look like?"

"I didn't take a picture! She was…I don't know…pale. Blonde. Skinny. Think total opposite of me."

Dean chewed thoughtfully on his bottom lip. Sam shifted from one foot to the other.

"Can I have the money now?" She tilted her head, her lips creating a heart as she pressed them close together.

Dean angled the bill closer, releasing it fully only when her expression softened with doubt.

"Thanks," Sam said, thumping the counter with the tip of a finger.

"Whatever." Goth Chick shrugged. "Just made more money offa you mooks than I have all week."

Dean shook his head, tipped her a two fingered salute, and walked from the store to the Impala.

"It's two blocks down, Dean," Sam pointed out.

Dean lifted a brow as he opened the driver's door. "Think I'm leaving her here to get keyed by that Dark Angel wannabe?"

Rolling his eyes, Sam got inside, and they drove around the block. As they reached the back of the diner, Dean braked suddenly, lurching the car to a harsh stop.

"What the—"

"Isn't that him? Meth Man?" Dean jutted his chin forward at a slouched figure jogging down three steps, then dropping to a crouch in front of a mountain bike.

"Yeah." Sam nodded, eyes forward. "That's him."

Lewis Stacey glanced once over his shoulder and Dean grimaced slightly at the sight of the white bandage spread across his nose, flanked by very purple shadows under each eye.

"Where's he off to in such a hurry?" Dean tilted his head, his lips curling down in a bemused frown. "On a…bicycle."

"Think we should follow him?" Sam narrowed his eyes.

"No." Dean shook his head. "I think you should follow him. I think I should check out his digs."

"What? Why me? How?"

Dean pulled into a spot just below a tall, narrow window covered by what looked to be newspapers, just to the left of the door Lewis had exited. Shutting off the car, he shoved playfully against Sam's shoulder. "You oughta put those mile-long legs to good use once in awhile, brother. Just… borrow one of those other bikes."

"But—"

"Better hurry." Dean flipped his fingers toward the now-retreating form that they could see through the window of the Impala. "He's getting away."

"You're a freakin' jerk," Sam muttered, pushing the door open and sprinting toward the bike rack.

Dean watched, lips twisted into a smirk, as Sam efficiently located a bike not chained to the rack, swung his leg across and took off after Lewis.

"Atta boy." Dean nodded, patting his pocket to check for his lock pick kit, then stepped from the car. Glancing around quickly, he slipped up the steps and to the covered entrance of the apartment quickly and quietly. He picked the lock inside of thirty seconds.

Sliding the kit inside his jacket pocket, Dean ducked into the darkened apartment, closing the door behind him with a click. Immediately, the stale, sour-milk smell of the room slapped him. Turning, he tucked his nose into the crook of his raised arm, gathering his wits so that he wouldn't gag, then reached into his jacket pocket and extracted a small, but powerful flashlight. The tall windows directly across the living room from him did not offer much by way of ambient light.

Though still daylight, he noticed quickly that Lewis had indeed covered his windows with newspaper, lending a grayish, dust-mote filled light to the small, sour-smelling room. Not wanting to gather unwanted attention, Dean twisted the flashlight on, and began shining it around the room.

"What the hell?" he whispered to the empty space around him.

The newspapers on the windows were for more than simply blocking out the light, he realized as he crossed to get a closer look. Each window pane was covered by a copy of the same article. Dean peered closer. The article told of the death of a 19-year-old college freshman named Martin Stacey in an automobile accident. His girlfriend, Alena Parsons, had been at the wheel.

"Martin Stacey, huh?" Dean muttered. "Brother, maybe?"

His eyes tracked to the edges of the paper, looking for a date. Nothing.

Dean moved away from the windows, careful not to trip over the clustered stacks of magazines and empty Chinese food boxes. Wrinkling his nose in disgust, Dean covered his mouth with the back of his hand and continued through the living room area to a galley kitchen covered with dirty plates, utensils, and empty beer bottles.

"Gah!" Dean jumped back, instinctively pulling his gun free from his jeans and aiming it at a small rat as it scurried from the opening of an empty milk carton lying prone on the counter. "Man, that's just gross."

Unable to suppress the shiver of revulsion, Dean moved into the bedroom, his stomach tight with the dread of what he might find in the semi-darkness. The smell that greeted him was more sweat and dust than moldy food. He paused in the doorway, finding the corner of the room with his flashlight, and blinked in surprise as the beam tracked frantic marks of protective symbols inked across the wall, window, and floor of the bedroom.

"Okay, I'll say it again," Dean muttered. "What. The. Hell?"

There was a mattress—no bed frame—on the floor in the corner of the room, sheets tangled and twisted on top of it. There were milk crates filled with books, a dozen or so candles, the wax dripping down the sides of the pillars and spread in a multi-colored, dried puddle across the floor. There were four spiral notebooks filled, Dean saw, with precise lettering that seemed to be chronicling days of observation.

He looked up at the marks and symbols on the walls. They were protection symbols from about twenty different faiths; protection against demons, spirits, witches.

Signs of obsession overtaking a life. He'd seen it before. He'd lived with it.

"Stalker? Yes," Dean said, chewing his lip. "Psycho? Maybe."

Grabbing a ball point pen from the spine of one of the notebooks, Dean started to sketch the symbols onto one of the empty sheets of paper when his cell phone vibrated against his hip.

He jumped slightly at the unexpected sensation—the phone he'd been forced to ditch had had a ringtone; this one he couldn't get off of vibrate—stuck the end of his flashlight into his mouth and grabbed his phone.

Get out. He's coming back.

Sam's text left no room for doubt. Dean twisted his light off, shoved his weapon into the back of his jeans, and stood, heading for the door. He made it to the rat-infested kitchen before the turn of the handle on the apartment door stopped him cold.

Lewis stepped in, flicking on the overhead light, momentarily blinding Dean with the glare of the bare light bulb, then shut the door behind him. He jerked violently back when he caught sight of Dean standing in his apartment.

"What the hell? What are you doing here?" Lewis demanded, his voice a mixture of fear, surprise, and anger.

"Lewis!" Dean held up his empty hands in a gesture of innocence. Up close, Lewis' face looked worn, mangled, and broken. And not just from the damage Dean's fist had inflicted. "We, uh, met at the bar. Remember me?"

Lewis immediately reached up to touch his obviously painful nose.

"Hey, I promise I won't hit you again, alright?" Dean offered him a shaky smile. "Seriously though, man. We need to talk."

Clattering and a few crashes could be heard on the other side of the door. Dean jerked his eyes to the side, prompting Lewis to turn and face the door just as someone pounded on it.

"Lewis?" Sam's voice was breathless.

Dean licked his lips, desperately working out the best way to calm down the obviously anxious man and get his brother on this side of the door.

"Go away!" Lewis yelled, his wild eyes darting between Dean and the door.

"Lewis," Sam called. "Listen, we know about…the girl. We know what she is."

"You don't know nuttin'," was Lewis' congested reply.

Dean winced, knowing too well the pain of a broken nose.

"We know more than you think, buddy," he said. "You need to let him in."

"I don't need to do shit," Lewis yelled. "Both of you go away! Just get the hell away from me!"

"Dean?" Sam called.

"Do it," Dean replied, quickly gauging the distance between Lewis and the door.

Sam's mighty kick blasted the door open, causing it to ricochet back against the inside wall. Lewis stumbled backward, gaining his balance once more in front of one of the long windows.

"Lewis," Dean tried, his voice soothing. "You need to listen to us, okay?"

Lewis' eyes darted between the brothers as they came together, creating a wall between Lewis and perceived freedom.

"I don't even know who you are," Lewis argued. Dean frowned as he saw the man shiver despite sweat gathering on his upper lip and trailing down the side of his face.

"Good point," Dean conceded. "We found your hoodie, remember? The jacket?" He tipped his head in Sam's direction.

"You stole it!" Lewis cried. "It was proof…proof."

"Proof about what, Lewis?" Sam asked, softly.

"Proof about what she is! What she did!"

The brothers took another step closer, and Lewis stepped back, tripping over one of his magazine stacks and flinging out a hand to catch himself. With a cold blast of dismay, Dean realized that Lewis' hand had landed on a discarded kitchen knife. Before anyone could take another breath, Lewis gripped the knife in a shaking, scrawny hand, drawing it from the pile of filth and bringing it up toward his own throat.

"Hey," Sam said, his voice shocked, stretching his hand out beseechingly. "Hey, man, take it easy."

"Don't come any closer!" Lewis bleated, his voice a thin line between mania and pain.

"We're staying right here," Dean promised. "Just put the knife down, okay? All we want to do is talk."

"I know the truth. I know the truth."

"The truth about what?" Dean asked. "About the blonde woman? The one you've been following?"

"I know the truth!"

"Okay, we get it, man, we do." Sam nodded. "Just…put the knife down, okay?"

"She's been right here…the whole time, she's been right here. Watching. She was always watching."

Dean swallowed, needing to look at Sam, to gauge his brother's understanding of Lewis' increasingly crazy ramble, but he didn't dare take his eyes from the trembling man in front of him.

"She didn't think I could see; she didn't think I'd know. But I do. I do." Lewis seemed to be fighting himself, struggling both to drop the knife and push it toward his face.

Dean stepped closer, Sam mirroring his actions, both holding their mental breath, both circling in minute steps to either side of Lewis, searching for a way to save the man from himself.

"Lewis," Dean soothed, dropping his voice another octave. "It's gonna be all right. You just need to put down the knife, okay?"

Lewis choked out a shaky, humorless laugh. "I'd been looking for so long. And she…she was right here. She killed him. Killed him and no one did anything about it."

Dean swallowed, feeling the energy in the room shift. It was as if a sigh skimmed past them to wrap around Lewis, easing his tension, making up his mind.

"Lewis, man, put the knife down," Dean repeated, his hands up, fingers tapping the air, encouraging Lewis toward sanity, "and we'll talk about this. Just put—"

Silently, Lewis gave up his fight. On an echo of Sam's cry of denial, he shoved the knife into his own eye, staggering back, off-balance. As the brothers lunged forward in an ineffectual effort to salvage what was left of him, Lewis crashed through the window at his back, landing with a dull thud on the hood of the Impala, blood flowing freely from his ruined eye socket.

For nearly a minute, the brothers didn't move.

"Holy shit," Dean breathed.

Sam sagged against the window frame, staring in shock. "We…uh…" His swallow was audible, and Dean knew that he was fighting not to be sick. "Dean…the police."

Dean turned to him, reaching out both to steady Sam and for his own balance. He curled his fingers into Sam's sleeve. "Take it easy, Sammy."

"We gotta stay off the grid, man," Sam said, seemingly unable to tear his eyes from the gruesome sight. "We can't…. They can't find us. People are gonna see…."

Dean nodded, feeling sweat gather along the back of his neck and on his upper lip. Using Sam's shoulder as leverage, he climbed through the window and dropped the short distance down next to Lewis and the Impala. Wiping the back of his hand across his lip, he looked up at Sam.

And at the item in Sam's hand.

"You brought that here?"

Sam looked down at the hex bag. "I wasn't…I thought we could use it to convince him…."

"Jesus, Sammy." Dean shook his head, a feeling of helplessness swamping him and tightening his gut.

"I'm sorry." Sam's voice was weak with the burden of guilt.

Licking his lips, Dean forced himself to look back down at Lewis and what was left of his face. "Don't worry about it right now, okay? Help me."

Sam jumped through the window and helped Dean gently ease Lewis' body from the hood of the Impala. Staging a crime scene wasn't something either of them enjoyed.

But having Hendricksen find them again wasn't something either of them could afford. Gently easing the body to the pavement, they looked around with critical eyes to make sure fingerprints, footprints, and tire treads were ambiguous or non-existent.

"What are we going to do about the door?" Sam asked, his voice haggard.

"Nothing," Dean replied, his jaw hard, his tone empty. "Get in the car."

They pulled away slowly, neither looking back at the sad sight of the lone body lying in the lot outside of the broken window.

Sam made an anonymous 911 call as Dean took a corner too fast. It wasn't even lunchtime yet and they had already tasted death.

www

"What are you looking for?" Dean asked, flipping aimlessly through the TV channels. Without moving his eyes, he could see Sam tapping one key on his laptop, over and over.

Sam sighed, his mouth bowed low in a frown of distress. "Something…I don't know…witchy."

"This is not our fault, man," Dean intoned, knowing the thoughts that were leaving dark tracks across his little brother's face.

"Yes, it is. We—no, I—brought the hex bag there."

"Dude, the witch had been working him over for a long time before we even got on the scene."

"Yeah, but…." Sam stood up, running a hand through his hair and leaving a limp part.

"The guy shoved a knife through his eye, Dean. In front of us."

"I was there, remember?" Dean flipped from a commercial about Oxy Clean to an episode of Andy Griffith to what appeared to be a Latino soap opera. "Not something I'm gonna forget anytime soon."

Sam sighed. "Okay, let's break this down."

"Sam…."

Sam held up both hands, palms out. "Just…work with me here a minute, Dean."

Looking at Sam for several seconds, weighing the option of a smart-ass comeback that would buy him more minutes of TV time versus the big brother move of letting the kid talk, Dean took the high ground and pressed the power button on the remote. Sitting up and curling one leg under the other, Dean leaned forward, focused on his brother.

"I'm all ears."

As Sam started to pace, Dean worked to ignore the itch behind his eyes. The tingle that told him he was forgetting something.

"So…Lewis sells a bunch of clothes at the second-hand store just a couple of hours before we walked in yesterday, right?"

"Right." Dean nodded, watching Sam step through his thoughts.

"Only, he didn't think he'd put the hoodie in the group of clothes."

"Which just so happened to have a hex bag in the pocket."

"Right."

"A hex bag that, based on how he died, had Lewis' contact lens in it."

Sam's face paled. "Don't remind me."

"Unless you're catching up everyone who tuned in late, we're not getting anywhere, Sam."

Taking a breath, Sam grabbed the pad of motel paper from the dresser, uncapping the pen with his teeth and started to draw. Speaking around the pen cap, he continued, "Okay, so the girl in the store said that Lewis was stalking some woman, right? Vertis or something like that?"

"Right." Dean swung his legs over the side of the bed, leaning his elbows on his knees. "Said she was…opposite of her. Pale, blonde, skin—oh, shit!"

Sam brought his head up. "What? What's the matter?"

"Shit, Sam!" Dean stood up, resting his hands on his hips. "I saw her."

"Saw who?"

"The witch. Vertis."

"What? Where?"

"In the store—when we were checking out yesterday. I saw her in the reflection of the Top Gun glasses."

"Wait, she was there?"

Dean nodded. "I turned around, but…she'd left."

"You think she was…I don't know…watching the clothes? Seeing who got them?"

"How should I know? Maybe she was hiding from Lewis. That Goth chick said he'd been in just a little bit before us."

Sam narrowed his eyes. "Hey, what was Lewis saying?"

"When?"

"Before he, uh…y'know."

Dean frowned. "Dude, he was seriously buckets of crazy. I don't think he knew what he was saying."

Sam shook his head, the pen threaded between his fingers, his hand stretched out in an unconscious gesture of supplication toward his brother. "C'mon, man! Work with me on this."

Dean spread his arms wide. "What do you want? I'm right here! I just don't—"

"You were in his apartment, Dean, you saw how he lived!"

"Yeah, and I saw that he'd been going downhill for awhile. There were notebooks and protection symbols, and…rats. You followed him!"

The energy in their argument pulled Sam to his feet, facing his brother. "All he did was ride out to the edge of town and stop at some old cemetery."

"And?"

"And what?"

Dean rested his wounded hand in the cradle of its mate, staring silently at Sam.

Sam sighed. "He…went up to a marker and made a rubbing."

Dean's eyebrows jumped to mid-forehead. "Is it me? Or does that just sound dirty?"

"A rubbing, Dean." Sam sighed, exasperated. He dropped down into his chair once more and pulled a paper smudged with brown crayon, spreading it out on the table next to his laptop. "He rubbed the characters from the grave marker onto this paper."

"How'd you get that?"

Sam shot him a look. "I'm a professional."

Grinning, Dean clapped his brother on the shoulder. "When did you get a chance to pick his pocket?"

Sam shook his head, looking back down at the rubbing. "I didn't. He stuffed it in a pack on his bike."

"So that's what took you so long to get up to the apartment."

Sam lifted his shoulder, shrugging Dean's hand off.

Dean leaned in, reading aloud. "Martin Stacey," he said. "Lewis had articles about this kid's death taped all over his room."

"Who is he?" Sam asked.

"Dunno." Dean shrugged. "Brother maybe? Didn't really get a chance to ask Lewis before he died all over my car."

"Nice," Sam complained.

"What?"

"There's no date." Sam pointed to the bottom of the rubbing. "What kind of grave doesn't have a date?"

"Maybe he just didn't get it," Dean said. "There's a bunch of space between the name and this… whatever this is."

Sam peered closer. "Truth is the lie. Believe only when you see."

"Swell." Dean nodded. "That makes about as much sense as the rest of this—"

"The truth…." Sam interrupted.

"Come again?" Dean carefully stretched out his hand, wincing as the stitches pulled.

"It's what Lewis was babbling about—he knew the truth about something."

"Yeah, and?" Dean lowered his chin, warily regarding his brother through his lashes.

"Veritas," Sam whispered.

"Huh?"

"Not Vertis. Veritas. Latin for truth."

Dean blinked. "The witch's name is…truth?"

Sam turned and faced his computer. "Witches take on names of elements of power—you know, like water, air, earth, or planets or energy…things like that."

"Should I be worried that you know this?"

Sam ignored him. "It has to do with a number system—a birth number. You take your birthday and add the numbers until you get a single digit. That number equates to your power or energy or whatever."

Dean crossed his arms over his chest as he listened, worrying his lower lip with his teeth. "This is all very interesting, Sam, but what the hell do we do with it?"

"Well, I'm thinking that if I can backtrack Veritas to her birthday, I can figure out who she is. We can find her. Stop her."

Dean nodded, opened his mouth, closed it, pressed his lips forward, nodded again. At a loss for what to do while Sam searched, and feeling boredom creep up at the very idea of sitting and waiting, Dean began to rock back and forth on his heels, ticking his tongue against the roof of his mouth in time with Ozzy's Crazy Train.

"You don't have to wait."

"I think I'll go," Dean agreed, grabbing his jacket. "I'll be back in, what? An hour?"

"Make it two," Sam said, his eyes pinned to his laptop. "And Dean?"

"Yeah." Dean half turned in the doorway.

"Stay out of trouble."

"You have so little faith in me," Dean said, tossing him a mock-grin. Just before he pulled the door shut, he stuck his head back in. "Hey, you know the thing that's bugging me about this?"

Sam lifted his eyes. "You've narrowed it to one thing?"

"Lewis didn't put the hoodie in the bag. Veritas put the hex bag in the hoodie. So…"

"Veritas must've gotten rid of the hoodie," Sam concluded. "But why? If she was looking to get rid of Lewis?"

Dean studied the floor a moment. "Maybe she had second thoughts…."

www

The gray dawn leaned on them heavily as Sam parked the Impala out of sight from the dilapidated house.

"I think you backtracked one generation too far," Dean grumbled, his sleep-heavy eyes peering through a crop of weeds and wild grass at the address Sam had found for Alena Parsons.

A narrow creek, swollen with rain water, burbled along the side of the road, winding around the yard full of what appeared to be wild sunflowers, twisting and disappearing into the ground near the base of the house.

Sam popped the plastic lid from a thick paper cup and handed it to his brother. Dean's eyes lit up and he inhaled deeply as his greedy hands reached for the steamy cup of coffee. They sat side by side on the trunk of the Impala.

"No, I'm sure this is it," Sam replied. "I worked it out, and Alena has to be Veritas. The numbers match her name, and from what I could find, no one has seen her for years. Woulda given her time to, y'know, perfect her craft. Or whatever."

"Any reason we had to get here at the ass-crack of dawn?"

Sam sipped his coffee, watching the house. "I don't know if she knows about Lewis yet. Wanted to find her before she tried to get away. Maybe, y'know, break in. Take a look around."

Dean nodded, allowing that line of thinking, but grumbled into his cup, "Still don't see why we couldn't have found her at a decent hour."

A trio of birds burst from their hiding place in the long grass and a low rumble of thunder shimmered invisibly through the air.

"Rain," Dean complained as the humidity seemed to surge around them. "Perfect. That will just make this so much easier."

"You want to wait in the car?" Sam glanced sideways at him, eyebrow raised.

Dean matched his raised brow and added a smirk that, when used appropriately, backed Sam down ninety-nine percent of the time. "You think you're funny, but you're just being a smart ass."

"Learned from the best," Sam said, sipping his coffee, his eyes on the sagging porch.

"So," Dean yawned, "I been thinking."

"Good thing I'm sitting down," Sam quipped.

Dean raised an eyebrow. "This is obviously not your first cup of coffee."

Sam simply grinned.

"I think Lewis made the hex bag."

Sam's grin tumbled from his lips, and he splashed coffee on his hand as he turned to face his brother. "Huh?"

"He said it was proof, right?" Dean continued, his eyes on the ground, heels hooked in the bumper of the car, wounded hand flexing tenderly.

"I… I guess so."

"We'd have to get his notebooks and stuff from his apartment to be sure, but—"

"We can't go back there, Dean."

"—but we can't go back there." Dean lifted his eyes to glance up at the house once more.

"I think he figured out what witches used the hex bags for. I think he just got some of the…ingredients mixed up."

"You mean, like using his own contact lens?"

"Like that." Dean nodded.

"Yeah, but… for what purpose, man?"

"Not real sure about that," Dean yawned again, "but whatever it was, it backfired."

A screen door banged. In unison, the brothers slid from their perch on the car, setting their cups of coffee on the ground. Peering through the weeds, they saw the slim, waif-like figure of a woman slip out through the front door, down the front steps and disappear into the wooded area behind the ramshackle house.

Nodding to Sam, Dean indicated he'd move left as Sam moved right. Sam blinked once in response that he understood, and they separated at a crouched run, using the long grass as cover.

Okay, this place could definitely use an extreme make-over, Dean thought as he approached the sagging porch. It didn't appear as if anyone had lived here for years.

Slinking up to the porch, Dean climbed up and shifted his weight carefully, trying not to trigger a creak and give away his position. He saw Sam on the other end of the porch doing the same.

Undetected, they approached the door, drawing their weapons.

Locked, Dean mouthed when he tried the handle. Strange, he thought, that she would lock the door of such a run-down house set so far away from any other buildings or people. What could she possibly be hiding?

Pick? Sam replied.

Dean nodded, and handed Sam his gun, pulling out the lock pick case they were never without. It took him less than a minute to open the door, which was good because he was holding his breath the entire time. Retrieving his gun from Sam, they eased inside, Dean in the lead, both with guns up and covering the empty corners.

The house smelled of age and rotten wood. Dean parted his lips to breathe shallowly. Straightening slowly, they looked around, seeing nothing outside the wavering glass of the only window but the wild tangle of weeds, long grass, and sunflowers.

"This place is like…Mrs. Haversham's living room," Sam whispered.

Dean looked at him, eyes blank. "I'll pretend I know what you're talking about."

Sam shook his head and moved slowly forward. They could see an equally ancient and deteriorated kitchen through an arched doorway. There didn't appear to be a bathroom, but a mud room and hall leading to a screened door were visible.

Dean moved toward the opposite side of the living room, opening a door with the flat of his hand, then tipped the muzzle of his gun into the empty space. "Sam."

He felt his brother turn and they peered into the room. It was clean. Not just clean, it was pristine. Gleaming. A CD player graced the top of a white wooden dresser. A wrought-iron bed was covered with a blue and green comforter. A TV was in the corner.

"Twilight Zone," Sam whispered.

"Double time," Dean replied. "She could come back any minute."

Dean stepped further into the room, catching his reflection in a mirror and jerked. Sam bit the inside of his cheek, and Dean tossed him a glare, approaching the dresser that the mirror was mounted upon. Alternately painted and carved into the wooden surface were sigils and symbols, and random words in Latin, meaningless in their individuality, worrisome in their collectiveness.

Dean motioned to the mirror, and the brothers peered closely at the pictures stuffed into the frame. Polaroid pictures of the blonde woman Dean had seen in the second-hand store. Pictures of her in a college sweatshirt, arm around a boy that looked alarmingly like Lewis. Pictures of her smiling and vibrant.

"Hello, Alena." Dean nodded at the Polaroids, shifting to follow the path of pictures that descended down the side of the mirror until one caught his attention. He felt his skin shrink against the bones of his face as pieces of their accidental hunt fell into place.

The picture was of Alena standing alone in a black dress, eyes cut out, hands blackened with a marker, and the word veritas written in red ink across the front.

"Dean," Sam whispered. "Look at this."

The ambient light in the room was diminishing and Dean heard rain begin to beat a violent rhythm on the roof of the old house. He turned away from the destroyed picture and peered around Sam's shoulder to see the scrapbook he'd found in a stack of picture albums on the floor next to Alena's bed. Sam was pointing to an article of Martin Stacey's death—the same article Dean had seen papering Lewis' windows.

Sam turned the page and matched Dean's frown as they saw a visceral snapshot of Alena, hair ragged and unkempt, eyes bruised, naked, blood-like ink on her body spelling out the words truth, beauty, liar.

"So… Lewis was obsessed with her, but not because he loved her… he was stalking her because he blamed her for his brother's death," Sam whispered, flipping back to the article of the car accident that had claimed Martin's life.

"Sam, wait," Dean said, pointing at the article. "Look. Martin wasn't his brother."

The date that had been missing from the articles Lewis had cut up and plastered on his windows was included on Alena's copy. It read April 14, 1976.

"Dude, I think he was Lewis' father." Dean's voice was hollow with this discovery.

Sam blinked, turning wide eyes to his brother. "She… do you think she's Lewis'… mom?"

Dean lifted a shoulder. "You tell me. 1976. Martin dies. Looks a helluva lot like Lewis…"

"But why'd she let her own kid die like that?" Sam questioned, incredulous.

Dean looked back at the portrait, the obvious loathing there. He skimmed his eyes across the Wiccan symbols scrawled in the shaking hand of one distressed. "Maybe because…he learned the truth," he said softly.

Sam shook his head, out of disbelief or wonder, Dean never found out. Before he could open his mouth, Sam was jerked off his feet, slammed hard against the floor, then thrown viciously across the room. His gun fell loose from his grip as he grabbed the doorjamb to stop his movement.

Dean whirled, gun up, eyes searching out the enemy. Standing before him was the diminutive figure of Alena Parsons, years having worn down the vibrancy captured in the photos, replacing it with paper-thin skin, blue veins trailing paths from her temples, around her eyes, and down to the corners of her mouth. Her long blonde hair hung loose, twisted and tangled into dreadlocks. Her sundress was grayed with dirt and age, and her hands were curled and wrinkled from abuse.

But what gutted Dean, what sucked the breath from his lungs and hammered his heart against the base of his throat, were her eyes. Gray, hollow, sunken, and so full of pain he felt his soul bleed at the sight of them.

"Alena—" he started, tipping the barrel of his gun up.

"I am Veritas!" she hissed viciously, sweeping her arm to the side and tossing Sam from the room.

"Sam!" Dean called in alarmed response to his brother's cry of pain.

A crash echoed from the living room and Dean started to charge forward. Alena lifted an arm to stop him, but Dean ducked his shoulder, barreling past her and into the other room.

"Sam!"

He saw Sam push himself up from a pile of glass that surrounded him. Alena's toss had thrown him into an end table, destroying the rickety wooden structure and shattering the empty glass hurricane lamp that had apparently been on top. Sam made it to his hands and knees, dragging in panting breaths, wheezing them back out.

Dean saw the blood before he saw Sam's eyes. His heart dropped from his throat to his stomach and he started forward.

Sam brought his head up. "Dean!"

Dean turned, ducking just in time to receive a glancing blow from what looked like a heavy, leather-bound book. "Sammy, get out of here!"

"Don't be…an idiot," Sam gasped, pushing to his feet.

Alena stepped into the room, her movements stilted, stiff, awkward, as if she weren't sure if she could hold back the power that surged through her.

"Alena—Veritas," Dean amended, his face tight, his hands up, gun flat against his palm, fingers free of the trigger. "We know…we know about Lewis."

"You know nothing…" Alena said, her voice a steam-like hiss of heat.

She raised both hands as if reaching out in supplication toward him and for a moment, Dean was confused. His gun wavered, his gaze darting quickly between Alena and Sam, and then the pain hit. It was pervasive, causing his body to bow backwards, his neck tightening, his features twisting into an anguished pull of pain. He fell roughly to his knees and heard Sam called his name in fear. His hands flexed tightly, painfully, and his gun fell free.

"You know nothing," Alena repeated.

Dean tried to resist, tried to hold in his scream as his spine audibly popped, his body stretched to the limit of endurance. But it was impossible. The sound tore from him, the edges digging grooves in his throat as it escaped his body.

"You do not know the truth. You do not see." Alena spat.

Dean couldn't breathe. He tried to move, tried to speak, tried to open his eyes, but his entire world was pain.

"Veritas," he heard Sam say. "Please…you don't have to do this. Please, let him go."

Dean felt the pressure on his joints, the pain in his body, ease slightly. Just enough to take a breath. Just enough to force his eyes open to slits. Just enough to see his brother.

In a moment of lucidity, Alena turned from Dean to face Sam. Her body seemed to relax, her shoulders sagging, her head rising. Her sigh was one of resignation.

"I've seen. I've seen the truth. I've seen his eyes in the face of another."

"Lewis," Sam guessed, finding Dean's eyes with his.

Dean tried to blink, but the pressure inside of him was building once more, causing him to tremble.

"Lewis." Alena nodded. "His son."

"Your son," Sam corrected.

"I loved him. I lost him. I lost them both."

Sam moved toward her, his hands out. "Alena…let my brother go."

Alena looked down, then turned back to face Dean. "I lost him. The day he found me."

"Alena," Sam tried once more. "Please."

She lifted her tragic eyes to Dean's, and tilted her head in curiosity. Through a haze of pain, Dean watched sanity escape as her eyes were once again flooded by madness.

"Do you love him?"

Though she was looking at him, Dean knew the question was directed at Sam.

"Yes." Sam spoke without hesitation. His eyes tripped between the witch and his brother.

Alena lifted her hands and Dean collapsed, gasping, onto the floor, his world spinning, his body a thousand pinpricks of light and sensation. Alena tilted her head in the opposite direction, moving toward Sam, and then raised her arms once more.

"Does he love you?" she wondered aloud, stepping closer to Sam and lifting her arms.

Sam flew back, pinned against the wall, his head smacking hard enough against the wood that Dean winced at the sound.

"You bitch," Dean gasped from the floor. "You killed them both, didn't you?"

Alena turned to him. "What?"

Dean tried to push himself upright on trembling arms, forcing himself not to look at Sam. Looking at Sam now would destroy him. "Martin," he choked out through gasps for breath. "You were driving the car. You killed him."

"Truth is the lie. Dead is dead is dead," Alena whispered, fiercely, words sliding in and out of meaning.

Dean managed to get to his knees, spitting blood on the floor and feeling his chest rattle as he breathed. He knew something was broken inside. "Okay…maybe Martin was an accident…," Dean ground out, "but Lewis wasn't."

Alena moved forward, step by slow dragging step, her dirty, bare feet slowly trailing in the dust behind her. Dean dared to glance at Sam, watching his brother's face turn red, his neck muscles straining as he tried to pull free from the wall. Pushing himself shakily to his feet, Dean staggered a few steps back, hearing the elemental echo of thunder shake the skies into the angry pounding of rain outside of the dying walls of the house.

"You lost Martin," Dean continued, mind sifting through the jigsaw pile of facts and assembling the puzzle, eyes darting around the decaying room searching for a weapon. "And…you, uh, went a little Cuckoo's Nest…totally understandable."

Coughing, he spit more blood on the floor, dragging a trembling hand across his lips. Alena moved closer and Dean backed up a step, the heel of his boot bouncing against the bricked edge of a hearth. Looking down, he saw a set of andirons resting among the cobwebs of time in front of a fireplace that hadn't seen flame since before Lewis was born.

He reached for the poker and pulled it free.

"But then…you basically hexed your own kid." Dean backed up another step. "Who does shit like that?"

"He didn't know the truth,"Alena wailed, her voice full of pain. "He couldn't know."

"But he did know, didn't he?" Dean hefted the poker, trying to pull his vision into focus, to steady the slipstream of sight. "He found out about you. Found out what you were…tried to emulate you…and you, what? Turned it around on him? Put his own hex bag in his clothes?"

Alena clenched her hands into fists, and Sam cried out, eyes squeezed shut. Dean darted his eyes between the two, desperate to find a way to free his brother. Alena dropped her head back and opened her mouth emitting an almost inhuman howl.

"Okay, so maybe you had second thoughts," Dean tried, raising his voice to be heard over her cry and the sound of the storm outside. Alena snapped her head forward, her gray eyes cold and vacant. Her lips twisted into an insane snarl. Dean felt his heart slam against the base of his throat. "But you didn't stop it. You were there in the store. You saw us. You could have taken the hex bag back, and you didn't. He found out who you were…what you were…and you killed him for it."

"You know nothing!" Alena cried, lifting her arms just as Dean swung the fireplace poker.

In an odd ballet of frozen motion and improbability, the poker was pulled from his grasp, rotated in the air, and bulleted toward him leaving him with nothing but the space of a gasp to dodge the deadly end. As it pierced his thigh just above his left knee, Dean cried out, falling heavily against the wall nearest him and slid down into a puddle of loose bones and shivering flesh.

Alena seemed to almost float across the room as she approached and then leaned close, her breath both stale and odorless. "Love is love is love is love," she whispered.

Dean panted, sweating, shaking, his hand gripping the poker as blood flowed.

She slipped closer to him, resting her lips on his ear lobe. "I killed him the day I birthed him. He wouldn't see. He couldn't know. What happened was meant to be."

Dean blinked rapidly as she pulled away, feeling the room cave in around him, light curling in around the edges, and the sound of Sam's voice calling out to him fell into a void as he slipped slowly down the wall, sinking into the darkness that erased all knowledge.

www

Now

"Oh, shit, that's cold!" Sam gasped as the rainwater spilled down the rock wall and tumbled across the moldy floor to create small rapids around his bound legs.

Dean growled.

It was the only word appropriate to describe the sound that emanated from his brother. Sam felt him strain against his rope as his body attempted an instinctual escape from the torrent of rising water. The growl spoke not only of pain and chills, but of frustration and denial.

"Why didn't you just kill us, you bitch?" Dean yelled at the witch, who was apparently watching them from a perch safe from the water.

The water that was now quickly rising over Sam's legs and up his waist.

"Dude, don't give her ideas," Sam said, craning his neck to direct his comment at his brother.

"Verum mos paro vos solvo," Alena intoned.

"What?" Dean spat. "What was that?"

"The truth will set you free," Sam translated for him. "She's toying with you, man, don't listen to her."

"Come on down here, Veritas," Dean yelled. "You're the truth, right? What was that on Martin's grave? The truth is a fuckin' lie, right?"

The only sound that met his demand was that of the rushing water rising around them.

"Dean," Sam called, his teeth chattering from the bone-aching cold of the nearly chest-high water. "Dean, we have to stand up."

"Sam…"

"You can do this. Just plant your feet, press your back against the pole and—"

"Sam, I can't feel my leg."

"What?"

"It's…it's pretty numb. I'm not gonna be able to…."

Sam nodded, though he knew Dean couldn't see. "Okay," he said. "Okay, man. I got this."

"You got what?"

"Just…when you feel me pull…don't fight it."

"Sam! You can't—"

"Love is love is love is love," Alena sang once more, her voice fading beneath the heady rush of water.

"Hey! Hey, come back here, you freak!" Dean yelled, his voice cracking.

"She gone?" Sam gasped as the water splashed his collar bone. He grimaced as the body of a drowned squirrel floated past.

"Yes," Dean gasped. Sam heard him spitting out water.

"Good. You ready?"

Dean took an audible breath. "Yes." His voice shook with what Sam took to be both doubt and determination.

Sam nodded, bracing his feet. His whole balance was off-base with his bound legs and he found he had to use the post they were tied to in order to not lurch harshly to one side or the other.

He twisted his hands around to grab Dean's wrists as best he could. Once he was sure he had a grip on his brother, Sam pushed up, ignoring the pull and sting of the cuts along his side, ignoring the stitch in his lungs, ignoring the protesting muscles of his back. Using the beam as a brace, he pushed until he felt Dean's weight at the end of his bindings, his body shaking as he took another breath and shoved upwards with as much force as he could muster.

Then, suddenly, he was up, the water now only at his thighs. He was able to shift his grip to Dean's belt loops, helping to keep his brother upright.

"Damn," Dean breathed as they both gasped for air. "Someone ate their Wheaties this morning."

"Now… what?"

"I'm thinking," Dean said softly.

The water rose. Their teeth chattered. Their bodies shivered.

"I haven't thought of anything yet," Dean confessed.

"The truth is a lie, right?"

"She's just talking crazy, Sam." Dean leaned heavily against the beam.

And the beam shifted.

"Dude," Sam said suddenly.

"Did you feel that?" Dean asked, yelling to be heard over the rising water.

"It moved. The beam moved."

"The water must be loosening the foundation—" Dean sagged as the beam slid once more on its base. "Okay, but if the beam goes, won't the ceiling go, too?"

"C'mon, we'll shift it back and forth…and then…then we can…y'know, slide our hands free…and…uh…swim out of here," Sam said, beginning to shift his weight against the soggy wood.

"With our feet tied?"

"We have to be quick," Sam amended. "I go left, you go right. Okay, right! Left! Right! Left!"

With shivering shifts of their weight, the brothersslid their bodies one way, then the next, loosening the wooden beam from its base. Feeling the beam buoy, Sam yelled for them to shift once more, then the beam slipped loose.

With barely time to grab a breath, the weight of the beam pulled both brothers under the rising tide of rain water as it fell to the side.

Twisted to the side as best he could beneath the water, Sam grasped Dean's wrists, unable to see anything in the murky depths. Through a controlled panic, they managed to work their bound hands down to the base of the beam, sliding their hands loose.

They were free, but still back-to-back. Sam could feel the heaviness of his brother drag on his arms and he lifted his arm, twisting the rope around and turning himself so that he was facing where he knew Dean floated near him. Sam pushed his bound legs hard against the slimy floor of the basement and gasped in a ragged breath as their heads broke the surface. They faced each other, both blinking rapidly.

Coughing, choking on rainwater, Dean used his undamaged hand to tear at the rope that bound his left hand to Sam's right. Sam held him up as best he could, keeping them both afloat, Dean's wounded leg and his damaged side spilling red into the rising water.

The wet ropes argued with his chilled fingers, but Dean was able to loosen the knot enough so that they worked their hands free. Sam saw more blood swirl and follow Dean's hand as he moved, his stitches pulling away from the damaged skin.

"Feet!" Dean ordered roughly, straining to keep his head above water. "Knife!"

Sam nodded, diving below the surface, his left hand still bound to Dean's right, and pulled the throwing knife from Dean's boot, cutting their feet loose. Just as he worked himself to the surface once more, Dean's head slipped under.

"Oh, no you don't," Sam gasped, gripping the knife between his teeth and grabbing for his brother. After two missed attempts, he managed to pull Dean up, slack-faced and pale.

Turning Dean's back to his chest, Sam transferred the throwing knife to his bound hand and grasped Dean against him. He kicked for what was left of the basement stairs, stumbling and climbing, dragging Dean awkwardly next to him until they were both clear of the rapidly rising water.

Pulling his brother to the dry, but dirty, kitchen floor on the other side of the basement door, Sam shook him roughly. "Dean!"

Dean's head snapped back and forth like a wet rag doll.

"Dean! Open your goddamn eyes! You hear me?" Sam's voice broke across his bellow. "Open them. Right the hell now!"

Water sputtering from his lips, Dean began to cough, then blinked his eyes open, lashes melding, pupils wide.

"You okay?" Sam asked, his voice immediately softening.

Dean only shook his head, hanging limp from Sam's grasp.

"We need to get out of here," Sam said, breathlessly.

He pulled Dean close to him as his brother coughed again, his exhales huffing against Sam's wet chest. He used the throwing knife to cut the last rope from their wrists, the action offering him the excuse he needed to hold onto Dean just a little longer than his brother would have normally allowed.

The flooding basement water crested the floor of the kitchen and crept toward their shivering bodies. Sam braced his feet and pulled Dean up. He slipped his brother's arm over his shoulder, and held Dean's belt loops with a trembling hand and made their way clumsily back toward the door they'd opened just that morning, both instinctively glancing at the incongruous bedroom as they passed.

Alena lay on her bed, her hands at her sides, her eyes open wide and unseeing.

"Is she…" Dean started, his shivering body unable to complete the question.

Against his better judgment, Sam turned them, moving into the pristine bedroom. Alena's skin was pale, her eyes glassy, pupils fixed. Sam pressed his wet fingers to her throat and waited for the tell-tale beat of her heart.

"She's gone, man."

"I don't get it," Dean said, shaking his head as he stared at the body before him. "She had a second chance."

"Dean," Sam stopped him. "Look."

Leaning forward, careful to keep hold of his brother, Sam plucked another newspaper article from Alena's hand. It was folded into a tight square, only Martin Stacey's grinning countenance visible at first. Water from his longish hair dripping on the delicate parchment, Sam opened the article. It was dated one year to the day after the story of Martin's death with Alena behind the wheel.

"Oh, shit," Sam breathed.

"Wh-what?" Dean asked, shaking against him.

"Alena wasn't driving, Dean. Lewis had it wrong. She didn't kill Martin."

"Then who—"

"Martin was driving. Says here they…oh, God, Dean."

"I-I…don't w-want to know this."

"Lewis was there, man. He was almost a year old. He was on Alena's lap. The accident threw them all from the car. Martin died. Alena…" Sam shrugged, the motion shifting Dean against him. "Lewis went to foster care."

Water crested the threshold of the room, swirling around the base of the bed. Sam ignored it for a moment, looking around the room at the modern conveniences Alena had allowed herself in moments of lucidity.

"She thought he was dead, man. She thought Lewis was dead. Crazy as she was, when she saw him, she probably thought it was Martin."

"Okay, Sh-sherlock." Dean weakly tugged against Sam. "Let's f-figure out the mystery later."

"We just going to leave her here?"

Dean looked from Sam to Alena, then closed his eyes.

"Right," Sam said. "Guess this is the only place she's really home."

With that, the brothers staggered through the house and out into the rain.

Dean sagged heavily against Sam as they worked through the tall grass, water flooding up around their ankles, cresting to their knees. Sam hoped they'd parked the Impala on a high enough area that it wasn't mired in the flood.

"I-I'll…l-let you…d-drive," Dean managed, gripping Sam's shoulder with frozen fingers.

"That's big of you," Sam returned, finding the car with water half-way up the wheel wells. He eased Dean into the back seat, then climbed behind the wheel.

As they backed the car away from the time-forgotten house, Sam heard a deep groan. He looked up and saw the foundation of the wooden porch shift, pull and start to float away from the house. He knew it was only a matter of time before the house went with it.

And with the house, Alena.

And with Alena, the truth.

"Need to get to a hospital," Sam said, glancing in the rear-view mirror. He could see Dean struggling to tie something around the wound in his leg.

"Not gonna…argue w-with you…"

"You stay awake until we get there," Sam ordered, slipping a hand across his tender, cold side, thankful that the germ-infested rainwater was good for one thing: he was no longer bleeding. "Dean?"

"We sure…messed this one up, huh?"

Sam looked in the rear-view mirror at his brother as he maneuvered the car onto the highway, windshield wipers working overtime in the deluge. Dean's face was pale and he lay slumped against the door. Sam shivered at the memory of another time, another injury…and another passenger.

"Yeah," he said softly. "Maybe I should have listened to you about the second hand stores."

"We can't save them all, though, right?" Dean's voice was fading.

"But…we did save someone, man," Sam argued.

"H-How do you figure? Lewis dug his eye out and b-bled all over my car…Alena just…dunno, gave up."

"Or something," Sam muttered.

"Or something," Dean agreed softly.

"Think about it this way. We stopped that hex bag from getting to someone else…maybe getting someone else tangled up in this…someone who…maybe wouldn't have been able to handle it."

"'Cause we s-sure did a bang up j-job of that…."

"Yeah, well…we're only human, Dean."

The back seat was quiet. Sam jerked his eyes to the mirror. "DEAN!" he barked, watching in satisfaction as his brother's eyes snapped open. "Close them again and I'm pulling the car over."

"And d-do what?"

"Oh, I'll figure it out, don't worry."

Dean chuckled weakly.

"What?" Sam asked, passing a semi-truck and fighting to see through the backwash of rain. He'd glimpsed a blue sign up ahead indicating a hospital was close. Warmth, stitches, antibiotics…fake names, fake insurance, fake explanations…lies.

Their lives were saved by lies.

"You just sounded like Dad's all."

"Good," Sam replied quietly.

"You know…Veritas, Alena, whatever the hell her name was…she was right."

"Yeah?" Sam said, taking the exit. "In what way?"

"The truth is a lie," Dean slurred. "Every good thing that's ever happened to us is 'cause of a lie."

"Not exactly," Sam said, feeling his cheeks heat up despite his shivering at how close Dean was to his own line of thinking. "I mean, you and me…we tell each other the truth. Now, anyway. Us, Bobby…"

"Yeah, but…there've been times…" Dean trailed off. "Lotsa times…"

Sam pulled into a parking spot near the ER entrance. It was a smaller hospital, which could be both good and bad, depending on their story. Which they had to get straight before they hobbled inside. He shut off the engine and turned to hang an arm over the back of the seat.

"If there's nothing else true in this world, Dean," Sam said softly, pulling Dean's hazy gaze to his. "You can count on this. I'm your brother. And I would die for you."

Dean's lips angled up in a smile. "You're such a softie."

Sam shook his head, glancing down at the make-shift bandage Dean had tied around his leg. Recognizing the green hoodie that had started this whole mess, he said, "You wanna know something weird?"

"Only if it gets me inside before I pass out."

"Alena had your birth date."

Dean blinked. "That is weird."

"So…," Sam grinned. "You're truth, Dean."

Dean looked away, cheek twitching as if he wanted to smile. "If that isn't the definition of irony, I don't know what is."

Sam got out, the rain almost warm on his chilled skin, the soaking from the basement flood saturating almost to his bones. He opened the back door and caught Dean as his brother slumped into the void.

"You got the card?" Dean asked through clenched teeth, his face pale and waxy in the lights from the parking lot.

Sam nodded once, gripping Dean's wet shirt and lifting him from the seat. He felt Dean tremble the moment he attempted to put any weight on his wounded leg.

"I got you," Sam assured him. He knocked the door shut with his hip and gripped him tightly, feeling Dean's stiff fingers grasp his shoulder for balance.

"C-cover story?" Dean gasped out as they lurched toward the lit entrance.

"Got caught in the flash flood," Sam said, spitting out rain as it tracked down his face. "Were changing a tire…you got stabbed in the leg…with the tire iron…"

"W-what about your s-side?"

Sam coughed, searching for a plausible explanation as he continued to haul the ever-increasing weight of his brother across the parking lot.

"You saved my ass," Dean supplied finally.

Sam pulled up short, shifting his grip on Dean's body. "No, Dean, I—"

"Listen," Dean lifted heavy eyes, his fingers clumsy as he gripped Sam's wet, clinging shirt. His voice dropped so that Sam had to lean forward to hear it over the rain. "You did, Sammy. You saved my ass."

Sam looked at his brother for a moment. Really looked. The unspoken gratitude was clear in Dean's pain-laced eyes.

"Dean…."

"That's how you hurt your side," Dean said on a wince as he turned away from Sam, facing the ER entrance once more. "You had to keep me from getting…s-swept away by the storm."

Huffing out a wet laugh, Sam nodded. "Right. Yeah, well, that works, too."

"Hey, man," Dean grunted, clutching Sam's shoulder once more as his leg threatened to give way. "I speak the truth."

They stepped from the darkness of the rain into the warmth of the ER light, ready to lie their way to safety. Once more, two steps from the freedom honesty provided, and sitting comfortably inside of the story.


a/n: Thank you for reading. Still working on a couple projects I've hinted at and will be posting a chapter from one of them in the coming weeks. As always, your comments and time mean a lot to me.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!