Dean slept late the following day, leaving Sam to explore the town alone. He gave that up quickly, having seen it all the night before, and instead planted himself in front of his laptop, then the television. When Dean finally woke, they ate and headed to Mr. Beasley's store for inventory instructions. One hour later, at five straight up, the shop closed and the brothers started counting. What started quickly soon ebbed into mindlessness.

"Dude." Dean chuckled and held up an object. "Look familiar?"

Sam made another stroke with his pencil on the yellow pad, and looked up. "Oh my god," he laughed. "It's the Impala."

"Beauty, huh?" Dean fingered the die-cast model. "I ought to get my baby a baby of her own."

"Yeah, you know that sounds about seventeen different kinds of wrong," Sam said. "And if you keep adding to that stack we'll run out of things to count." He nodded to the growing pile in the corner.

"Just trying to give you a proper childhood, Sam."

"I was the one with the car in the backseat," Sam reminded him gently.

"Yeah, okay. So I'm trying to give me a proper childhood." Dean rubbed his eyes. "How long have we been at this?"

"Four hours."

"God, my eyes feel like sandpaper."

His brother did look more tired than he should. Sam's eyes narrowed. "You snuck out, didn't you? You met that waitress after all. No wonder you slept so late."

"Oh, the backroads she knows," Dean sighed happily.

"TMI, man. Keep it to yourself." Sam smiled in disbelief.

"I'll tell you this. I walked her home, and her family invited me right in. I mean, it was late, you know? But they were still up. Nightowls I guess."

"What time was it?"

"Had to of been two, three am."

"Probably making sure you were returning Lisa in one piece."

"Her name is Mariette. She's new at the restaurant. She was borrowing the nametag. Anyway," Dean shifted closer to Sam, "Her mom looks just like her. I mean, just like her. I'm talking, they could be sisters, man."

"Quite the compliment. Another MILF to add to your collection."

"No, Sam," Dean shifted even closer, and lowered his voice. "Look, I've been thinking while I've been counting."

"Sounds like I need to check your sheet, then."

"Will you shut your piehole for two seconds? I'm gonna go see Mariette again tonight, when we're done, and I want you to come with me."

"Dude, I am NOT harboring whatever sick sexual fantasy. . ."

"No, you idiot!" Dean swatted his head. "I want you to check this family out."

"Sisters, huh?"

"Forget it."

"No, really. I'll come. Hand me that box." Sam dug inside, then laughed and pulled out a small red firehouse. "Check this out! It looks like the one down the road." He smiled, and his eyes fell on the Impala beside Dean's knee. His eyes traveled upwards to a hanging puppet of an older man.

One that could have been Mr. Beasley.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

The house was white, like most of the others, but an aged, more subdued shade. Sam halted at the front gate, a freakin' white picket fence of all things, and looked at the yellow cotton curtains hanging in the window. Green pots of mums sat outside, bring a festive red and orange to the golden surroundings. The front porch was covered with artificial grass, the bent plastic stalks crunching underneath his feet as they climbed three stairs. Dean knocked on the door. He shoved his hands in his front jeans pockets and gave Sam a smile and a wink.

Sam felt like he was being set up.

The door opened and a small lady peeked out, then smiled and flung the door open wide. "Dean! I was hoping you would come by here. How was inventory?"

"Tedious," he said, flashing another smile at Sam as he was led into the foyer by the arm. They stepped onto a smartly cleaned wooden floor, and paused as the door was closed behind them.

"Mariette? That young man is back!" the lady called out, and she folded her arms, letting her eyes wander up and down Sam's body. "And this must be your brother."

"Sam." He offered his hand, bending forward slightly as he shook hers.

"I'm Lena, Lena McGivens. But call me Lena. We're a bit informal around here." Her brows raised and she called up the stairs once more, to be answered by a quick, muffled voice. "I'm sure Mare is getting herself ready."

"For what?" Sam asked. He hadn't realized they were taking Mariette out.

"To be seen, of course. A woman must always look her best." She gestured with a laugh, then signaled with a crook of her finger for them to follow her into the sitting room. "We'll wait in here."

"Where's Bob this evening?" Dean asked, making himself at home.

"He's playing cards with some friends. He'll make a late night of it."

Sam nodded, and sat. He leaned forward uncomfortably, glancing around the perfect room at the glass figurines. "How many people live in this town, Mrs….Lena?"

"Oh, let's see," she seemed startled by the question. "I don't rightly know. People are born, people die, I don't know who keeps up with it all. I'm sure there's records. Why do you ask?"

"Are there houses in the hills?"

"All over the place, son. All over the place. In fact," she twisted and pointed, "if you were to go up that ridge, my old cabin is there, the one I was born in. It's abandoned now. To be honest, I'm surprised it's still standing. All this mountain rain, you know." She smiled.

"Has there been a lot of rain lately? The river seemed a bit low coming up here." Sam thought back to the dry spots he'd seen where the rocks showed that water usually flowed.

"It is? Well, I don't get to the river much." She grinned again. "Can I get you boys something? Some tea?"

"Thank you." Dean smiled.

Sam watched her rise and walk into the kitchen, then turned sharply to Dean. "Dude, I feel like I just walked into house of the Stepford Wife of the year."

"Weird, isn't it?" he muttered. "Keep watching." He started and turned as Mariette entered.

Sam hadn't paid much attention to her at the restaurant, but now she could see that this was a lovely girl. Dark blond hair was pulled neatly back. Her jeans were well-fitted and showed off shapely legs. Her halter top proved she worked out. Blue eyes lit up as they fell on her brother. "Dean!"

"Hey, you." Dean smiled, his own eyes following her as she sat beside him. The cushion gave in such a way that she was forced to lean towards him. Dean didn't seem to mind in the least.

The blue eyes found Sam. "Sam. I'm glad you came. I made Dean promise to bring you."

"Yeah?" His brows rose and he eyed Dean suspiciously. Dean surreptitiously waved him down.

"Sure. I thought maybe we could take a walk together. Dean says you're staying for a while."

" - he did?" This time Sam planted a look on his brother.

"Here we are," Lena chimed, carrying in a tray. Each took a glass of sweet tea and sipped. Sam kept his eyes on his brother for another few minutes, then let his eye roam the room as Lena engaged in the idle chatter that was due a mother when her daughter was being courted.

Everything was clean, completely dust-free. The only way the house could stay that clean was to be tended to daily. Behind him, the stairs led to bedrooms. He knew where the kitchen was, and he imagined there was another room besides. It was a small house, quaint, but definitely suited the family needs. He jumped faintly as his reflection in the curio case caught him, and he smiled at himself ruefully. There was nothing here to see. Dean was pulling his leg, enticing him with some mystery. He took another sip of his drink, and his eyes fell on a small photo. He swallowed the drink. "Lena? That's a terrific picture of your daughter. Where was it taken?"

Lena turned, and both she and Mariette burst into laughter. "Bless you for a gentleman," Lena said, standing. She crossed the room and picked up the frame, then carried it to Sam. "That's me, when I was Mariette's age. I've always thought we look alike."

Sam held up the photo. His startled glance flew from the picture, to Mariette, to Lena's seemingly unaged face. "Yeah. You're right. You look scarily alike."

His gaze flew to Dean, and his brother raised one eyebrow in an I-told-you-so response.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

They walked to the cabin, flashlights bobbing in the dry air. Dean and Mariette led the way, with Sam bringing up the rear. Lena had declined going herself, but had insisted the "younger folk" go visit the cabin. "The view is amazing at night. The cabin is in a clearing. You can see every star out there," she had insisted, handing out flashlights and telling Mariette to get her jacket. He thought it strange that she would send her daughter into the woods late at night, but then it seemed such a trustworthy town. Even if she were with two - strange men. Yeah, it was weird all right. He noticed Dean reach back to take Mariette's hand as they negotiated the slick, rocky terrain. Sam had already nicked his shin on a jutting rock half hidden by the mulch. It wasn't a safe ascent.

They cleared the top of the hill and slid down the other side. A large, dark silhouette could be seen in the distance. It morphed into a recognizable cabin, the ground lit white by the moonlight, spotlighting the old building. The three paused, then continued on.

"Careful here," Mariette cautioned, "the porch is rotting." She stepped gingerly on the bottom step, then tip-toed her way up and into the open door.

Sam followed Dean, hearing the boards creak. The cabin seemed as clean as everything else, and he wondered who cared for it. There were no webs, no leaves, nothing, though there were several boards that needed replacing. The inside was bare and smelled dank. Humidity? The air was dry as a bone. He swung his beam around. "How old is this place?"

"Dunno," Mariette grinned. "It's been in the family for a long time. This was my playhouse as a kid." Her face turned up to Dean's, and his was angled down to hers.

He had no interest in playing third party. "I'm gonna look around back," he said, and left quickly. He didn't even bother with the stairs, he just hopped off the side of the porch and walked around. His beam found several uniform sticks poking up from the ground. A graveyard of sorts? He approached slowly, his instincts taking over. Too many nights spent in too many graveyards.

The sticks were indeed markers. Sam knelt down and let his flashlight sweep over the crude tributes. There were no dates, but the scratched name of "McGivens" was plainly seen. He stood slowly and walked past the markers, his heart first thumping loudly in his chest, then threatening to stop altogether. There were rows upon rows upon rows of such markers, stretching hundreds of yards into the treeline. All called "McGivens."

"I see you've found our family plot."

Sam spun to see Mariette pressed to Dean's side, his arm around her. Dean was looking down at the name, but his face registered nothing amiss.

Sam hurried to him, full of concern, then turned back to point out the - five markers, and rows of rows of undisturbed trees.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

"So, we're staying for a while, huh?" Sam asked as they climbed into the Impala about two that morning, after seeing Mariette back inside. "You were gonna mention this when?"

"I'd just decided."

"She already knew."

"Okay, so I'd decided a while ago."

"Dean. . ."

"Why don't you want to stay here? Nothing touches this place, Sam! Everyone's good to each other. Hell, I bet even the apocalypse wouldn't touch this place."

"And that doesn't bother you?"

"Frankly? No. No, it doesn't bother me at all."

"What about Ruby? And Castiel?"

Dean flung his arm over the seat and looked at Sam. "If you're missing your little blood-buddy, then bus it outta here. And I'm sure as hell convinced Cas doesn't need me around. He can go find another bitch to play with." He cranked the engine angrily. "Hell, he can take you on for all I care."

"Why are you saying this?"

"Why are you trying to ruin the only chance I have to be happy, huh? She a nice girl, Sam! This is a nice place!"

Sam shook his head. "It's got to you. This place."

"Oh, for Christ's sake!" Dean charged the car forward.

Sam urgently turned in his seat. "No, Dean, listen to me. You were right. There is something strange going on, I just can't put my finger on it. Back there, those graves? They stretched all the way into the woods. Hundreds of them. All with the same name."

"You're imagining things, Sam."

"No, I'm not! And neither were you when you thought something strange was going on!"

"When did I ever say that?" Dean darted a glance at him.

"Dean, I know you. You've got some of the best instincts of any hunter, ever. Now I'm sorry if you've suddenly had some sort of hope for this place, but open your eyes, man!"

"I'm about to close yours," Dean snapped. "Now drop it."

"No!"

"I said drop it, Sam. For once, just let it go!" His hands tightened on the steering wheel, and he ignored Sam's comments all the way to the hotel.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

But Sam couldn't let it go. He saw what he saw, and the thought nagged at him through the rest of the night. The sun rose, filling the sky with amber then daffodil light. Sam muttered something about getting breakfast, and snatched the keys as Dean grumbled and buried his head under the pillow. With promises of coffee, Sam walked out, but not to get food.

He went to the cabin.

The Impala was parked at the corner, in a dead end that lead up to the mountainside. He walked to the McGiven's house, then quickly cut through their backyard and started jogging up the steep slope. The climb was less treacherous this time, since he could see, but he managed to nick his shin on the same rock as before. He cursed and kicked at the ground, but made good time up the slope and scurried down to the other side.

The cabin stood alone. It looked as clean in the day as it did at night. Sam eyed the exterior, then hurried to the small grave markers. He dug into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, squatted carefully, and aimed the shot. Five markers were in the foreground with the trees yawning out behind them. He took several pictures, and stood to take even more of the land beyond. He paged through the photos, then froze. One shot had him running and skidding back down the hill to the car.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

"I told you!" Sam burst in and slammed the door shut, then quickly turned and threw his face against it. "Aw, Jesus, warn a guy!"

"What?" Dean was hastily pulling the blankets over himself, looking like a deer in headlights.

"What? That's what bathrooms are for, you - shit! Seriously?"

"Did you get the coffee?"

Sam started to turn then squinted and clenched his fists as he thought better of it. "No!" he said to the door, "I didn't get the damn coffee!"

"Then you deserve whatever the fuck you walk in on!"

"Just - God, I never want to sleep on a hotel bed again." He raised his balled up fists to his tightly closed eyes.

"Tubs are worse."

"Christ, Dean!" His arms fell to his side and he almost turned, but discovered he wasn't ready.

"Okay, okay! Damn, princess! Adjust your freakin' crown."

"You just - go finish your job and get back in here." Sam waved in the general direction of the bathroom before cautiously turning to the room.

He heard a snatch of material. "It's gone cold now. Thanks for that. I'm getting a shower, and you better get some coffee!" Sam had turned enough to get a glimpse of a shirt jabbed in his direction, and a bare ass heading for the bathroom.

Caffeine was just what he needed to clear his brain. That and a long, long drive.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

The restaurant was full, as usual. Sam walked up to the counter, his eyes roaming the large room, but there was no sign of Mariette. He ordered two coffees and biscuits to go, then smiled up at the menu. "Don't change it a lot, huh? You've had the same special for three days."

The waitress smiled as she filled two Styrofoam cups. "People around here don't like change much. Keeps things simple, I guess."

"What about you? Don't you get bored?"

"Me? Nah." She set the cups in front of him. "I went to school. Came back here to be with my family. Biscuits'll be up shortly."

Sam nodded. He toyed with his phone, studying the images he'd taken. When the biscuits were ready, he paid and hurried back, his sense of urgency renewed.

Fortunately this time, Dean was showered and dressed and sitting on the balcony watching the stream below. Sam joined him, passing over the wrapped biscuit and coffee. "I went back to the cabin this morning." He pulled out his phone. "You remember those graves?"

Dean quickly unwrapped his biscuit. "Yeah," he mumbled around a mouthful.

"Take a look at this." Sam adjusted the phone settings then handed it over, watching Dean's face carefully as he flipped through the images. He stopped chewing as he studied the last one. "Funky effect. What function were you toying with?"

"It's not an effect, Dean. I saw it with my own eyes when the three of us went to the cabin last night. And I got it here."

Dean studied the image. "This has to be an illusion."

"It isn't. I promise."

"Then why the hell isn't it in the other photos?" Dean asked, gestured with his camera hand in a semblance of a confused shrug.

"I don't know."

Dean took another bite, then nodded. "We should go check this out," he said with his mouth full.

And Sam sighed in relief.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

They slipped up the mulch-covered incline, crested the hill, then hurried to the small graveyard with the noonday sun beating hot on their backs. More leaves had fallen. The trees sliced through the golden blanket. The small markers stood out like black nails poking up from the soil.

Both Sam and Dean knelt down to examine each of the five. "All McGivens", Dean said. "All the same family."

"But look at them, Dean. Do you think Lena had family members that died at the same time?"

Dean leaned forward, his fingers running over the wood. "It's not unheard of," he moved to the next marker, and to the next one, "But yeah, I see what you mean."

"And?"

"I don't know. These markers should show various signs of aging, if these people died at different times. But they don't." He checked the backs. "No dates."

"It's like the cabin. These things are pristine."

"Not weather-worn at all. Must be the mountain air." Dean rose, then held out a cautionary hand to his brother. "Sam. . ."

Sam stood, his eyes widening. Before them both, acres of markers stood testament to lives that had passed before their own. Hundred of them. "It looks like a soldier's graveyard," Sam muttered. "No, don't move. I don't want it to go away yet."

"Sam," Dean's voice sounded ill. "Look at them. Look closely."

He squinted, praying the sight wouldn't vanish again. "Can you read it?"

"McGivens. McGivens. McGivens." Dean's head angled so he could better see.

"They can't all be from the same family!"

Dean was shaking his head quickly. "I don't think they are, Sam. Look at the markers. Look close."

Sam did. His brother reached out impatiently and tugged him back to the ground to squat before the first marker. "Look at the pattern here. This splinter. See it?" Sam nodded, and Dean tugged him to the next one. "Right there, See it?" He shuffled over three feet. "And here."

The realization dawned on him as the sun dipped behind a cloud. "Shit. Dean. . .they're all the same." He stood. "All of these - it's the same marker!"

The sun vanished, and the distant markers faded with it.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXx

They didn't head right back to the Impala. Instead, the brothers sat on a patch of ground in front of the cabin. "This design," Dean craned his head around to take in the cabin, "it matches those cabins back in the Smokies. We're talking turn of the century construction, here."

"Those cabins were well-maintained, like this one." Sam said. "No reason to think Lena's family wouldn't keep this one up. I mean the porch has its issues but otherwise it looks pretty new."

"But do you really think Lena grew up here? She's probably in her fifties. I don't know, maybe she did. We are out in the middle of nowhere."

"She doesn't look like she's in her fifties," Sam said thoughtfully.

Dean licked his lips, then faced Sam with a serious expression. "Those markers are the same. This cabin is well preserved. Lena looks like a freakin fashion model, and I'm willing to bet Mariette is older than she looks."

"You think someone's worked a sort of anti-aging spell?"

"Anti-aging in the good ole Botox capital of the world? I wouldn't dream of it." Dean thought for a moment. "That dude at the toy store. Did I hear him say his brother had died?"

"Yeah. He died and left him the store."

Dean's lips pursed. "I wonder where he's buried?"

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

Mr. Beasley looked up as the brothers walked in. "Just in time, boys. I was about to close up shop. I went over your sheets. Some fine work you boys did, I can't believe you finished so quickly."

"It was nothing," Sam said. "Actually, we came to ask you a question. It's kind of important."

"For my inventory boys? Sure. Anything." Mr. Beasley leaned his elbows on the counter.

"Well, it's sort of personal, but we were wondering where your brother was buried."

Mr. Beasley's eyes narrowed. "You're right. That is personal. Now why would you be asking about something like that?"

"It's, uh. . ." Sam darted a look at Dean.

"Doesn't matter." Mr. Beasley straightened and waved down Sam's discomfort. "He's three counties over."

"What do you know about the markers behind Lena's cabin?"

He paused. "She showed you that?"

Sam cast a quick glance at his brother. "Actually, we found it."

"I see. But Lena wanted you to go to the cabin?"

"Yes, sir," Sam said hesitantly.

"Well, well." He folded thick arms across his chest. "I wonder which one of you she wants to keep around, then. She's been hunting for a guy for that girl of hers. Which one has she taken a fancy to?" He pointed to Dean. "I bet it's you. You seem her type."

Something clenched tight in Sam's stomach as he looked at Dean. His brother looked uncomfortable as well. "I'm not really the settling down type," he said.

"Not much choice, here," Mr. Beasley said, and smiled.

"Because people here never leave, or they always come back," Sam said.

"That's right." Mr. Beasley smiled. "I'd consider yourselves lucky. Usually you have to be born here, but these folks have taken a liking to you. Can't say I'd blame anyone for wanting you to stick around."

"To be honest, it's about time we hit the road," Dean said, and Sam could hear the discomfort in his voice. "But thanks for all the hospitality."

"You'd leave? Without saying good bye to Mariette?"

"What do you know about that?"

"Small town, son."

Dean nodded. "Well, it's been a pleasure." He held out a hand for Mr. Beasley to shake.

A sudden vile feeling passed over Sam. He grabbed Dean's arm as a wave of dizziness assaulted him. "Dean," he croaked, and felt his brother weaken as they both sank to the floor.

"You see," Mr. Beasley said, walking from around the counter, "time is nothing more than an illusion. What we perceive as time, really isn't." He knelt down beside Sam, all signs of physical discomfort vanishing as quickly as the light outside.

Sam was prone on the floor with Dean beside him, curled on his side. His brother raised his head with effort, looking toward the store front. "How are you doing that?" he forced out.

"The same way I'm keep you there," Mr. Beasley said. "There's a - distortion - in play. You can move, if you learn to work with it."

Sam raised his hand, and it seemed to stretch away from him. "What have you done?" he asked in fear.

"I've done nothing!" Beasley raised his hands in defense. "What you're seeing right now, is true reality. Congratulations. Very few can experience it."

Dean was still looking outside. The sky had completely darkened. Streetlights blinked on. "You can manipulate time?" he asked.

"In a matter of speaking." He leaned over them. "What you're looking at is a fountain of youth, Dean. No one ever dies here."

"McGivens. . ."

"He was the last one. The very, very last to die here."

Sam's head snapped around. "What about your brother?"

"He wasn't here when he passed. He - didn't wish it. He left the gift to me." Mr. Beasley held out his hand. "He left it to me, and to this town. He taught me what I needed to know. He was so old, but he looked so young. He was tired and wanted to leave. So I let him, in exchange for the secret."

"What secret?" Sam felt as though the air was being crushed from his lungs.

Beasley looked at him for a moment, then passed his hand over them. They gasped for air. Sam felt Dean grab his arm, and he reached out in return. Gingerly, they hauled each other to their feet, bracing each other. Not letting go.

Beasley reached for a nearby chemistry set and pulled out two blank glass slides, setting them on the counter. A small bottle of mercury was opened, and a small silver liquid ball was dropped on one of the slides. "The mercury is time." He shuffled the two slides back and forth so that the ball dropped from one to the other. "What you perceive as time, is merely moments, like slide plates. Or photos. One shot passing seamlessly to the next, and the next. Living snapshots. I merely put a kink in the snapshots so that time would pass, but fold back on itself. So it does move. We can function. But it is no longer linear. We move from one frame to another, and back again."

"So there are two times," Dean said slowly, bracing himself with his hands against the floor. "How fast do they move?"

He smiled sadly. "Fast, and not fast enough. When it hits the other slide, in our time," he sighed, "you will not like what you see."

"And when will that happen?" Sam asked cautiously.

"Oh. . ." he looked up. "About three minutes.

Sam looked up at the clock, and noticed something else. The puppet of the old man was gone.

"Sam." Dean pointed to the small firehouse toy that sat on the floor beside the counter. Beside it sat a gas station. And a restaurant. An Impala was parked in front of a small store, a store with a red door in blue trim.

" - Oh my god," Sam barely whispered as both studied the scene. Above them, the clock chimed loudly.

"Uh-oh," Mr. Beasley said. "Seems one of the plates slipped a little too far this time." And he laughed, his jaw hinging and unhinging like a ventriloquist's dummy. His arms fell limp to his sides, his head cocked towards one shoulder, his eyes bright. "I told you!" the mouth cracked out. "You can live forever, Dean!" His laughter chattered throughout the store.

"Shit!" Dean pulled Sam back as Sam caught hold of him. And all around them, the store came to life. The gas station suddenly grew to full size, yet was still inside the store. The restaurant appeared, and the dead face of Mariette turned and froze at them. In an instant, all shrank back to normal size, and Beasley was on them.

Sam was torn away from Dean's grip and thrown over the counter, which wavered and started to shift. He scrambled onto his elbows, trying to pull himself out of the way. A force hit him and slammed his back against the wall as the counter pulled from the floor and flew at him, pinning him heavily, his back to the wall, one arm free to uselessly pound at the wood that held him. The pressure was incredible, he felt like he was being pressed through the old wooden beams. He gasped, hearing Dean call his name frantically, but he couldn't take a breath to answer him. Then his brother was on the floor near him, hands shielding his head from the dive-bombs of small metal cars as they shot against his body like bullets. A marionette flew at him, the cord wrapping around his throat. Dean gurgled and pried at the string, only to release it and desperately try protect his head against the sailing pieces of metal.

Sam pushed against the counter as hard as he could, but it wasn't budging. His head snapped up as Mr. Beasley leered down at him. "Life forever!" he cackled. "Toymaker! I make people happy, and give them eternal childhood! This is my gift!" And he laughed down at Sam, as his brother strangled to death. Green eyes turned and fixed on him. Sam saw a flash of anger before the lids closed.

"Okay!" Sam managed to yell out. "We'll stay! You hear me? We'll stay here!"

The cackles cracked through the air. "Do you promise?"

"Yes! Let Dean go!"

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"How do you think you get to stay here, boy?" Vivid eyes leered down at him.

"No," Sam whispered. "No, wait. Listen. We won't leave. We can protect this place. It's what we do, we protect things." His eyes frantically fell on Dean's stilling figure. "We can guard it for you."

"Against what?"

"Anything! Everything! Please!" His voice grew hoarse.

And Dean was instantly released. The marionette was whisked away, snapping its cord from his neck. The bombardment stopped. Dean's arms fell to his side, his head lolled as he fought for breath. Another moment passed before he saw Sam's predicament, and quickly crawled over.

"Hang on," Dean croaked out, his fingers working up the side of the counter as he fought for his own equilibrium. "Just hold on, 'k? I've got ya." Sam just nodded as the counter seemed to press harder against him. Dean managed to raise to his feet and shove as hard as he could, groaning loudly at the strain, and slowly the counter began to shift. A few more shoves and Dean was back down, pulling Sam out then pressing lightly against his chest. "Dammit! You okay? Nothing broken?"

"No," Sam breathed out gratefully. "Thanks. Let's just get outta here." He was pulled to his feet only to have window glass crash in around them. Odd howls filled the air.

"You said you would stay!" Mr. Beasley yelled out.

Dean raised his head from the protective shield of his arms, his eyes catching Sam's. Sam shrugged. "What can I say," he muttered. "Demons lie."

"Oh, Sammy," Dean breathed regretfully, then yelled out and pulled Sam away from the long, rotting arms that reached in through the window. Dean grabbed a bat and swung heavily. The arms pulled back.

"So this is the reality, huh?" Dean shouted, swing again at a hand that tried to poke back in. "Everyone here is dead!"

"No, Dean," Sam said quickly, pulling his brother back from the window. "I don't think so. Just really, really old."

Dean flung the bat to the floor, his eyes darting around quickly. "Dude, we've gotta get out of here. Now." He grabbed Sam's arm and pulled him towards the door, only to find Mr. Beasley standing in front of it. "You said you would stay," he said, accusingly.

Dean nodded, and looked around quickly. He caught sight of the model firehouse, and scooped it up. He raised it high, then let it crash to the floor. The horde outside exploded in a loud wail. Within moments, the building seemed to rock from side to side, throwing the brothers to the floor.

"That's it Dean, piss them off!" Sam said angrily.

"Better believe it! Here!" Dean looked up from the floor and tossed the gas station model at Sam.

Sam caught it, then gestured with it angrily. "People could be in here!"

"Do it, Sam!"

Sam stood and crushed the model underneath his heel. And Mr. Beasley was suddenly on top of him, pressing him back to the floor, putrid breath coming from his hinged mouth. Leathered fingers gripped his neck. He wasn't even a facsimile of a dummy. He was the never-dying soul trapped in a dying body. He was hell itself.

Then Dean was there, and Mr. Beasley turned quickly and grabbed him by the throat, shoving him back against the wall, pinning him. Arms instantly burst through and grabbed Dean, holding his arms, his legs, his head, pulling him back. Dean struggled, but there was no give. The wall splintered behind him, revealing wild eyes and gaping mouths around the arms and hands that held him tightly.

Sam rose like the wrath of god, and spied the tiny model of the toy store. Mr. Beasley turned, his own eyes widening in terror, his hinged mouth opening wide to form a scream that ripped from him and rent the air in half.

Sam, his hands pressed painfully to his ears, raised his heel, and crushed the store.

The walls buckled. The roof whined and tiled downwards as Mr. Beasley cried out, holding his head then flinging his hands upwards as though to prevent his shop from collapsing. Sam ran to Dean, fighting away the powerful grips and pulling his brother free. Dean's own grip was firm on his arms as the display window by the front door shattered, and bodies crawled in, oblivious to the fact that the store was a threat to tumble.

They were horrible, fixing them within their sights through bulging eyes, their flayed, wrinkled skin discolored from misuse. Sam couldn't believe any blood pumped through those thin veins. Rotting breath, gaping, toothless grins, hairless fiends, they forced their way in with the energy of a ten year old and reached for him.

Sam felt Dean pulling him backwards, and caught his heel on a display. He went down, heard Dean curse. A face popped into view over his, one with bright eyes in a sunken face. The mouth opened, and spittle dripped onto his cheek. He dug his heels in, frantically shifting his weight backwards as Dean shoved at the old man, then grabbed the nearest, sharpest toy he could find and started swinging, all the while yelling for Sam to get on his damn feet. The toy turned out to be a busted golf club, and it crunched in the hands of the old man as he caught it, and grinned. Dean released the handle, momentarily stunned.

Sam grabbed Dean's jacket, and together they fought their way to the back of the store, past the kid's craft area. Sam looked at the small, handmade crafts with revulsion before he was herded out the back door and down the narrow concrete stairs. They tore off down the grassy block, behind the buildings, hoping to get a glimpse of the Impala from a safe distance rather than trying to fight their way to it. But the people followed them from the back of the store, and appeared from the trees, walked out of adjoining businesses, all with one goal in mind. They ran as fast as they could, convinced the horde couldn't keep up with them.

"What the hell is this place?" Dean gasped as Sam shoved him to hide against a pristine white building, untroubled by the chaos around them.

Sam caught his breath as he peered around the corner. "Fountain of Youth, Dean. No one dies here."

"Fountain of Youth, my ass! Fountain of Geriatrics!"

"They're living forever. Isn't that what people want?"

"It's not what I want." He bent and peered around the corner, hovering just over Sam. "How do we know these people really want this?" he asked quietly.

"We don't." The voice was craggy, but light.

They straightened and spun in one motion to see Mariette standing behind them. Her face was sunken, her eyes dim and lifeless. What had been luscious blond hair was now tangled and dry, drifting in an unseen wind.

"Mariette," Dean breathed out.

"We don't want this." She slowly walked to Dean. "We didn't ask for this. Please help us."

Sam put a warning hand on Dean's shoulder, and felt a tremor quake through his brother. He tightened his fingers, bracing him. "I can't help you," he heard Dean say. "I don't know how."

"I want to be young again!" Mariette wailed. She held up her wrinkled hands. "This isn't me!"

"Mariette, when were you born?" Sam asked softly.

Her face fell, her eyes filling with tears. "October tenth, eighteen eleven." Her eyes sought the ground below, confused. "What day is it now?"

Sam just shook his head and slowly pulled Dean back with him. "We have to do something," Dean muttered. "We have to help these people."

"We can't."

"Sam!"

"Think, Dean! What can we do?"

"You could stay, Dean." She smiled sadly, and reached out for him as he turned back to her. "You could be with me, forever. Nothing to worry about. Just you and me."

It was tempting. Sam could see it, and wondered how Dean could be even remotely considering this. But as his brother's face softened, he realized what Dean was seeing wasn't this aged crone, but the younger, beautiful Mariette.

He stood between the girl and his brother. "Dean, listen to me. Look at me! Dean!" Dean's attention snapped to his brother, then back to where Mariette had stepped to the side. His startled look showed he had regained his senses.

"Dude, okay. Let's go," he said in a low voice, cupping his hand around Sam's bicep and pulling him.

"Dean? Dean, no, please stay here! Please, Dean! I'm so lonely, please, don't go! DEAN!" The pleas were horrible, and ended in a heart-wrenching scream that echoed through the small town. Everywhere, the cry was carried, picked up, and shared. So many souls tormented, trapped, unable to do anything but live a shadow of an existence. It tore at Sam, and he could only imagine how Dean felt.

They rounded the corner and saw the Impala. "We'll just have to make a run for it," Dean said, and didn't wait for an answer, but gave one tug to make sure Sam was following him. They launched towards the car, shoving and battling their way through, pushing bodies aside, helping each other when one couldn't pull away. More people were coming, and images of the ghost markers flashed through Sam's head. Wasn't it the same marker trapped in time? What if these people were really all one person? No, it didn't make sense, but there suddenly seemed to be more souls than the town was possibly capable of holding and he didn't know where they were coming from.

The Impala was untouched. It seemed the brothers were a magnet. The only focus of these people was to get to them. There was no sign of forethought, nothing that told these people the brothers were heading for the Impala to escape. The one thought seemed to be to get the brothers, so when they reached the car it wasn't guarded, but merely pulling the horde towards it as they flung open the door and climbed in. A pounding noise on the trunk made both heads snap around as Dean cranked the engine. Another pound on the hood made them snap back. Sam's window busted, and a spindly arm shot through, grabbing him, pulling him with what seemed like supernatural strength. "They're getting stronger!" he yelled out through clenched teeth. "Dean!"

"They're desperate!" Dean yelled out over the angry screams. "Hang on!" And with no regard to who, or what, was on the car, in front of it or behind it, he threw the Impala into reverse and backed into a tight circle. The man holding on to Sam lost his grip and fell, and Sam swore he felt the car bump over his body as Dean floored it.

The Impala swerved, and finally plowed through the masses that tried to stop them. It seemed that hundreds of people were blocking his way, and Dean gritted his teeth and forced his way through. "Where the hell are they all coming from?" he demanded.

"I don't know!" Sam replied breathlessly, looking behind him as they finally reached the end of the large circle and started down the straight road that led them to the twisting highway. "Oh god. . ."

The people were still coming but they were slowing. Skin fell from them, catching in the wind. Their cries turned into the chatter of bones as they ran further from the town. Now skeletal forms, they cried out and reached for the departing car, then collapsed into dust. Dean glanced back quickly, then stopped the car and leaned out of his window. A barrier had been reached. They could see the people running, coming for them, but they decayed right before their eyes. Dust kicked up into the air as the mountains slowly became silent once more. Peaceful.

They hightailed it down the road and circled a loop which took them back over the valley. Dean pulled off to the side, and the brothers climbed out, looking down in disbelief at the silent yellow trees glinting in the moonlight, covering nothing but mulch.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

The motel was smarmy, and stank. And Sam had never felt so grateful for normalcy.

They unloaded quietly, shuffling their duffle bags into the room and relieving themselves. If each of them took more time than usual in the bathroom, nothing was said. Faces and hands were washed, coffee was made. Beer was pulled from a cardboard box and set on the table. The TV flicked on, but the reception sucked in this part of the mountains. Sam didn't feel like watching anyway, and Dean had already gone outside, his restlessness unabated.

Sam grabbed a small mug of coffee, and joined his brother who was sitting just outside the door in a weak-looking plastic chair. Dean glanced up and kicked his boot at the chair beside him, inviting Sam to sit down. He raised the bottle of beer to his lips, took a long drink, and sighed after the swallow.

So Sam took a seat, leaning forward with his hands cupped around the warm mug. The road was quiet, hell, the motel was oddly quiet. It wasn't full, most people opting for staying more in the small cities that dotted the mountains so they could take part in the nightlife. For Sam and Dean, the silence was preferable.

Dean took another swig of beer, smacked his lips, and studied the label on the bottle. "Don't suppose we have to worry about that," he said. "Growing old. Not in this job."

Sam contemplated his coffee. "No, I guess not."

"Wouldn't want it anyway. Just sitting around, thinking about the glory days. Waste of time."

"It doesn't have to be that way. Plenty of older people still get around. Besides, I don't think they had a choice."

"I wonder how many were lured there." Dean started peeling at the label, then looked up. His lips were pressed together in dismay. "I bet they're the ones that wanted to die."

"They did die, didn't they? I mean, they got what they wanted."

"I don't know, Sammy." Dean looked back at his bottle. He shifted, and faced Sam square on. "I really don't want to think about this any more than I have to. But I guess I've gotta say it." There was a pause. "You're not a demon, Sam. You're not bad."

"What?" Dean's words surprised him.

"Back there. You shrugged and you said 'demon's lie'. You're not a demon."

"Yet." Sam let a rueful grin pass over his face. It was replaced by a feeling of astonishment as Dean snatched his coffee from him and set his bottle down in the same motion, then knelt angrily before Sam on the pavement, gripping the arms of his chair tightly.

"You listen to me," he demanded in a low voice. "You are not evil. I don't care what anyone is feeding into that head of yours, but I'm telling you now. You're not evil. Yeah, I question your judgment and taste in women, but you are NOT a demon. You're not going to be one. You hear me?"

Sam felt tears stinging his eyes. He blinked furiously, refusing to let them fall in front of his brother. "Yeah. I hear you."

"You sure?" Dean's eyes were intense, and probing.

"I'm sure."

"Good. Cause I shouldn't have to make a spectacle of myself like that." He pushed back up and took his seat, handing Sam his coffee. He glanced at the windows, like he was afraid someone was watching.

Sam's mouth quirked, then he sobered. What was good for the goose. . . "Dean - about hell."

"Oh god, Sammy!" Dean's eye-roll looked painful.

"No, listen to me! You're right. I can't understand what you went through down there. I probably shouldn't even ask. I just - I care, man. That's what I want you to know. I just care."

"Well, this conversation hasn't turned uncomfortable at all. Thanks for that." Dean lounged back in his seat, but Sam saw the small smile that he tried to disguise around his bottle. Message received, and appreciated.

Golden leaves fell in the gentle breeze, drifting to cover the black pavement in front of them.

-END

Thank you so much for reading! Don't forget to comment if you enjoyed the story. And if you didn't enjoy it, tell me why. It's all good. :) - Kam