Disclaimer: Don't own 'em, just love to play.

The rotting floorboards groaned beneath Dean's feet. "Damn dilapidated house. It's falling down around us." He glanced uneasily around the dirty, moldy walls. Soft streaks of pale moonlight filtered in through holes in the sagging ceiling. They'd just salted and burned four corpses out back, but the uncle hadn't been buried in the small family plot.

"Yeah. Let's do this quick." Sam grimaced at the sodden wallpaper. "We just need to find something that tells us where Gus is. In and out."

Dean floated the beam of his flashlight over an old roll-top desk. "Should've known Uncle Gus wouldn't be buried near the family, not after hurting the kid and then committing hari-kari on himself. Sick twisted bastard, I'm gonna enjoy takin this one out." He shifted the shotgun in his hand.

The floor creaked loudly as Sam moved farther into the house while Dean sifted through the papers on the desk.

Frustrated, Dean shoved the brittle papers to the dusty floor. Any crime against a child automatically set Dean's nerves on edge, even if the child was long dead a century past. Yeah, this ghost was so going down.

Sam angled his flashlight to play over his brother. "Anything?"

"No." Dean shrugged the duffle bag off his shoulder to get to the lighter fluid. "There's nothing. I say we burn the whole place and hope we get old Gus in the fire. It's a hazard anyway. For once I'd like to find an old deserted house in the middle of freaking nowhere that isn't haunted."

Sam chuckled at that. "Might not be a bad idea. I don't think we're gonna find much—Dean! Drop!"

Without hesitation Dean dropped to the floor, rolling as the salt round from Sam's gun flew over him. He had a fleeting glimpse of a big man in muddy work clothes and suspenders as it dispersed in a flash of smoke and swirling light. Dammit. The more sadistic a person was in life, the more demented the ghost.

"You okay?" Sam shouted.

"Yeah." Oh he was so done with this ghost. "The remains are here somewhere." Dean got to his feet. He pulled salt and lighter fluid from the duffle, ready to pass the bag to Sam so he'd also be armed with his own supplies. "Sam, here." He tossed the duffle across the room.

Stepping forward to catch the bag, the floor groaned heavily, splintering under Sam's foot. Eyes wide, Sam's mouth moved in a soft "oh shit" as he caught the duffle and the extra weight broke through the floor, swallowing bag, mortar, floorboards, and Sam.

"Sam!" One moment his brother was there, the next he was gone. Heedless of the possibility of himself falling through, Dean rushed forward and was ripped sideways through the air and slammed up against a wall. Uncle Gus's rancid, graying face was inches from his own. Not good, not good. He didn't have time for this now. Sam needed him. Bringing the shotgun up, his finger twitched on the trigger, and his arm exploded in pain as Gus wrenched his hand while the shotgun blasted and the shot went wide. Damn! A smart ghost. Who'd've thought? And Dean felt himself fly again through the air, this time smashing through the rotting wall.


Sam landed on his back, the air knocked out of him at the same time a lancing spike of pain speared through his body. The shock of it had completely steeled him and only now was he able to fight through it, make his lungs start breathing again. Loud thumping and crashing noises came from above. Dust and dirt drifted over him. He blinked at the jagged hole he'd fallen through, hoping to find a glimpse of Dean, knowing that must be him, occupied with the ghost above.

His flashlight had landed somewhere above his head, the beam of its light stretched crossways across his chest and off to his right. Turning his head, Sam came face to face with a grinning skull. He jolted and the sharp pain lanced through him again.

Breathing through it, Sam lay still. Well, at least they'd found Gus's bones. Suspenders, work clothes. Yep, no doubt about it. The family had simply shoved him into—what? Not exactly a basement. A small dug-out cellar maybe—and left his corpse to rot beneath their house. Gross. Guess he couldn't blame them after what he'd done. Too bad they hadn't known how to really take care of him. That's why Sam and Dean were here. Time to salt and burn.

Sam tried to get up and the pain nearly overcame him this time. He gasped, and held himself rigidly still, not that he'd been able to move anyway. Something was pinning him down. Swallowing the bile that was threatening to erupt, Sam felt along his chest, moving down to his side toward the right where the sharpest point of pain erupted from, and just above his hip bone found—oh God. Slick with something wet . . . had to be blood . . . Sam's fingers curled around something solid, round, a thin bar . . . shit . . . a metal rod pierced through his side. His breathing increased, hurting, as he felt upward along the rod, gauging how long it was. He stopped at the slick pointed end. Two, two and a half feet maybe? Just his luck to fall onto an embedded metal rod poking straight out of the ground.

He could feel his chest tightening, his breathing ratcheting up as panic set in. He couldn't go there, couldn't think about how the rod could be piercing his liver or stomach or intestines. Stop. Stop. Fight the panic.

A shotgun blast echoed above and Sam flinched, tearing another shock of pain through him. "Dean?" he screamed. More crashing from above.

His brother needed him.

Okay, he was stuck, wounded, but he wasn't useless. He looked at the grinning corpse, then cast about to locate the duffle bag. He remembered it falling with him. There. Above his left shoulder.

"Arghh!" Lifting his arm shot pain so great through his side it nearly blinded him, but he didn't stop. Tears streaming down his face, shaking with effort, Sam stretched even farther until his fingers hooked a strap. Dragging the heavy bag back toward him took the last bit of energy he had, but he held on. Dean needed him to do this. The noise upstairs had gone deathly quiet and Sam had no idea if that was a good or bad thing.

The salt was easy to find. With one hand, Sam rooted around in the duffle for the lighter fluid. Dean had taken one out so there should be another one. He hoped the lighter in his back pocket still worked. Finally. His hand closed around the lighter fluid. At an awkward angle on his back, he pretty much had to toss the salt on the bones. The lighter fluid didn't fare any better as it was too painful to reach over his own body with one arm so he went with flopping his closer arm over Gus's bones while squeezing the fluid out. The effort cost him. Sam was breathing heavily and coated in sweat by the time he dug out the lighter.

He tried to shift the bones away from him, but even that small of a movement nearly made him pass out. He'd just have to take his chances.

Worming his arm beneath his hip, he hooked the lighter with two fingers and pulled it out of his pocket. The slight pressure from his arm moving below his back shot bolts of pain up and down his side. He blew out a shaky breath and flicked open the lighter. "Here goes nothing."


Dean was getting the crap beat out of him. The room was spinning. Gus was one tough SOB, he'd give him that. He swore the house was coming down around them. Dean lost count of how many walls he'd crashed through or if there were any left to hold the ceiling off them. And right about now he'd love for the entire building to cave if it meant getting the damn ghost off him long enough to grab his shotgun. Bungee cords, the hookman had said. Why don't they attach their weapons to bungee cords? If Dean got out of this, he was heading straight to an Army/Navy store. His chest was expanding painfully as he tried to get a breath, the strong fingers, far from ghostly, dug into his neck, thumb sliding nearer to Dean's trachea as the room spun harder and harder, closing in on his darkening vision.

He was losing this fight . . . until Gus shrieked, his head flung back and the ghost burned away in a quick flash of fire. The heat washed over Dean.

Dean sank to the floor, dragging huge drafts of oxygen into his suffering lungs, hands over his throat. That's my boy, Sammy. Dean grinned despite the pain, knowing Sam had come through, found the bones, and sent the demented ghost packing.

He looked toward the hole in the floor, at the dark smoke pluming out of it, expecting to see Sam's shaggy head emerge.

Any time now, kiddo.


He waited a beat.


Enough waiting.

Lunging up, the floor creaked, splintering beneath him. Damn. He stilled, lowering back down. Spreading himself thin, he inched over the floor until he was over the hole that had swallowed his brother.


The smoke billowed around him. He couldn't see a damn thing. Coughing, he pulled his t-shirt up over his mouth and nose and squinted back in through the smoke, barely catching a waning beam of light arrowing through the haze. Sam's flashlight, not too far down. Dean could lower himself down there easy.

"Sammy," he tried again. "Answer me."

Not waiting any longer, Dean tested the floor around him, finding a spot he thought would hold him, and shimmied over the edge, lowering himself into the smoke and dropped.

His feet hit the ground and he backed up out of the wash of smoke to get his bearings. It was dark, but for a skeleton burning in the center of the small earthen room, and right next to it, freaking right next to the body, awash in thick smoke, was—"Sammy!"

On fire! Sam's arm was on fire! Dean rushed to his brother, patting the flames that crawled up the sleeve of Sam's jacket out before turning on the burning bones, kicking the skeleton away, across the dirt, bouncing trails of fire and bone until the flames went out.

Grabbing Sam's flashlight, Dean skidded to his knees, using the light to pierce the darkness and find the holy water. It didn't matter if it was blessed or not, Sam needed water. He dumped nearly the entire contents over Sam's arm. Dean's pulse was a persistent thrumming in his ears.

Dean set the flashlight on the duffle, angled so the light hit Sam's face. "Sam. Sam." Dean patted the young man's cheeks, before pressing two fingers against his brother's throat, only breathing himself when he found the rhythm he was searching for, though he wasn't satisfied until he bent close and felt the rise and fall of Sam's chest.

Heady with relief, Dean gave himself a moment to relax. "Okay, okay, that's good. We're good. Sam, come on, wake up now." He watched Sam's features through the flashlight beam that cut through the clearing smoke. "Come on." He jostled his brother, trying to rouse him.

Sam's eyes shot open and his neck arched back as he coughed, choking. Instinctively, Dean grabbed Sam's shoulders to turn him on his side and every muscle in Sam's body stiffened as he roared out in pain, simultaneously hacking out his lungs.

What the hell? The kid's body was rigid, tendons strained in his neck and forehead. And he wasn't going anywhere. Dean hadn't managed to move Sam an inch. What the hell was going on?

Sam had stopped coughing, but his hand was a grip of steel on Dean's forearm and he was breathing rapidly enough to make him pass out.

"Sam." Dean went to pull Sam closer to his chest, but Sam went rigid again.

"No! Stop! I can't move. Don't move me! Deeeean!"

Dean had barely pulled him. "Okay, okay, easy. I'm not touching." Fear was coiling tight in his belly. Had the fall broken Sam's back? He grabbed the flashlight, casting the beam slowly down Sam's long torso and . . . "Oh my G- Sammy."

One look at the rod piercing Sam's side, at the blood soaking his skin, his shirt, pooling into the soft soil beneath . . . and Dean's heart simply stopped beating.

He closed his eyes, squeezing the thundering fear away, the queasiness. It was no time to break down now. Later, later, when he was alone, in the shower maybe, he could let his knees buckle. But not now. He had to get it together. He opened his eyes, but as he stared at the rod, coated with his brother's guts, the same feeling of queasiness and helplessness rode over him.

And he knew exactly what his brother had done. He salted and burned that sucker even though he was pinned right next to him. Anger stormed through Dean and he welcomed it. Anger he could work with. Anger spurred him to action.

He trained the light back over Sam's face. "What the hell were you thinking? Lighting that thing up when you couldn't get away!"

Hazel eyes squinted away from the light, but the voice was calm. "I was thinking that once I got rid of Gus, you would come get me."

And there it was. That unwavering and confident trust Sam had that Dean would always come for him. Dean didn't know what he'd ever done to warrant that kind of faith, but he knew he was a better man because of it.

Dean worked the muscles in his throat, swallowing past the forming lump. It was too much to think of. What if Gus had taken out Dean, or rendered him unconscious for even a little while? Sam would have burned. Dean scrubbed a shaky hand over his face, glad for the darkness when he felt tears.

"Okay," Dean's voice was husky. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Okay, let's work on getting you out of here."

"Yeah," Sam's tone was clipped, waning. "That sounds good. Saw?" Dean honestly didn't know how the kid was still conscious.

Dean thought about that, running through options. "Yeah, should be one in the trunk." He hated leaving Sam even for a moment. The house groaned. Dean flicked the flashlight up, horrified as the floor above them shifted, sliding. He let the light play over the edges of what was left of the floor. Jagged edges of the hole where Sam had fallen were crumbling inward, pointed right down toward where Sam lay pinned. If the house went now, Sam would be impaled by more than one iron bar.


"What is it?" Pain and weariness coated Sam's voice.

"Dammit!" Dropping the flashlight on the bag, Dean crouched over Sam. "We're going to have to do this the hard way."

Sam's brows scrunched over fearful eyes, making him look like a kid again and something hard tugged inside Dean's chest. "Wha . . .? Why?"

Dean would do anything not to have to tell him this, but he knew it was better to just give it to Sam straight. "Upstairs, when Gus and I were going at it. Damn, he was strong, Sam. We took out a bunch of walls. Probably supporting walls and this place was on its last legs anyway. We have to move now." He used his no nonsense tone. The house moaned again. Dust and debris floated around them, reflecting like sparkles in the flashlight beam.

Dean watched a muscle in Sam's jaw tick. Sam was scared. Dean was scared for him. But when Sam nodded, he'd never felt more proud.

"Okay." Dean breathed, and stepped over Sam, placing his feet on each side of Sam's hips. Carefully avoiding the rod, he crouched, leaning close over Sam. The catch of breath nearly broke his heart as he brought Sam's arms up around his own neck. "Now hold on. Hold as tight as you can. I'm going to lift you off—" His throat was closing. "I'm going to take your hips, lift you straight off. Okay?"

Tears pooled in Sam's eyes. His chin was trembling, yet he nodded and it was killing Dean.

The house groaned.

"On three."

Sam's arms pressed around Dean's neck so tightly it pulled Dean down closer to him.

"Sam, don't let go. One . . ."

"Wait, wait!" Fear coated Sam's plea.


"On three, right? Not two so I won't tense."

"You're already tense. On three, I promise. Let's get you off of this, shish-kabob."

Sam didn't laugh, just clung tighter to Dean's neck and nodded.

Dean braced his legs, got his arms solidly beneath Sam. "One. Two. Three!" He roared, straining, bringing his brother up. Sam screamed, muscles suddenly locked, arms so tight around Dean he thought his neck would break. It was agonizingly hard, sliding his brother up off that effin piece of metal. He felt it slide, catch, slide some more and Sam's shriek was the most horrendous sound he'd ever heard. It pierced through his ears, drilling deep down into his heart, his gut. It would haunt his nightmares for years, but he kept lifting, even though his arms burned with the effort, his muscles shook, ready to give in, but he couldn't, wouldn't ever give in. Sammy trusted him not to. And Sam wasn't giving in either. He held onto Dean in a grip that coiled his biceps, straining and shaking his limbs in a fierce hug that mirrored a frightening dance with death.

Then finally, finally, he felt Sam lift clear of the rod. A final gasp was all the warning Dean had that Sam reached the end of his endurance before his brother went slack and was falling back. "No no no no." Dean threw them off center, letting them both fall to the side before he'd let Sam fall straight back on the rod and skewer himself again.

They hit the ground in twin thuds just as the house gave one last shuddering groan and the ceiling fell toward them. Grabbing Sam, Dean rolled with him, arms and legs tangling, rolling toward the closest wall, as far from the falling center as he could get. When Dean's back thumped against the earthen wall, he pounced back the other way, jumping on Sam, covering his younger sibling's body with his own as the world fell around them.


"Dean?" It was dark. Sam lay on his stomach with a crushing weight on him, so weak he couldn't so much as lift a finger. Heavy hands lay on top of his head. "Dean? Are you okay? I can't breathe."

He heard the groan, felt the whisper of breath being expelled at his neck and let himself relax a fraction. "Dean?"

The groan again. "Yeah?" The voice was rough, but pure Dean.

"I can't breathe."

"What . . .!" Now there was alarm. "Why? Why can't you breathe? Did something fall on you?"

"Yeah." Sam tried to chuckle, but it hurt too much. "You. You're heavy."

"Me? Oh, man, sorry." The pressure lifted as Dean scrambled off, banging into something. "Ow! No room under here. That better, Sammy?"

"Yeah, yeah." He concentrated on pulling air back into his lungs. "Dean?"


He forgot what he was going to say. He felt better now. It was dark and Dean was here. Dean would take care of everything now. His body felt numb, tingly.

"I feel funny."

"No kidding. You fell through a floor, burned your arm salt and burning a ghost that I could have handled by the way, got yourself shish-kabobbled, and lived through an entire house caving in on us. I'm feeling kind of funny myself."

Sam blinked, alarms going off. "Are you okay?"

Dean's chuckle was rich, so like Dean. "I'm awesome." Which could mean he really was fine or anything from a broken rib to concussion to hole in his gut. Sam would have to take Dean's word for it because right now he needed to drift away for a bit. Just for a little bit. He'd check on Dean in a minute.

"Sam? Sammy?" Fingers were at his chin, rolling his face back and forth, annoying him. He was on his back now? "Come on, stay with me."

"Just leave me alone."

"What? What? You trying to say something."

His head was moved again. "Come on, princess. Stay with me. Sammy? Oh, shit."

Hands probed at his side and Sam bucked upward, lurching abruptly into full consciousness. "Okay, okay. I'm awake. Just stop. Dean, ow! Stop. Please." He twisted to get away, but Dean held him in place.

"Just, just hold still, will you? Sam! You've lost a lot of blood. Let me fix this."

The sigh of clothing being removed whispered in the quiet and suddenly a wad of cloth was pressed against his side, then another against his back, and Sam couldn't stop the whimper from escaping. His side was one mass of concentrated pain.

"I know," Dean whispered. "Hold this for a minute." Sam felt his hand lifted and placed over the wad. It was already wet. He cried out as his hips were lifted and cool leather slipped around him, pulled tight to hold the cloths in place.

"Your belt? Dean, do you have any clothes left?"

"Just my pants and my dignity."

Sam chuckled, allowing that drifting feeling to take him away again.

"Na-uh, Sammy. You got to stay awake. You've pumped way too much blood out. Come on. We're at the easy part now. We've already been through the hard part. All we have to do is get out of here. I can see light. I can get us out, but I can't leave you to do that if you're going to slip away on me. Do you hear me, Sammy?"

"Yeah, Dean. Stay awake. I hear you."

"Good. Good. Just, hang on."

Sam nodded, forgetting that Dean wouldn't see it in the dark. Dirt flung on his leg as Dean moved. He heard shifting, boards scraping against each other, slamming down.

"You still with me?" Dean called out from a short distance. "Sammy?"

"Yeah," Sam breathed out. "Yeah, still here."

"Okay. Why don't you call out to me? Just every so often so I don't have to double back."

"I'm not a baby." Man, his voice sounded coated in syrup.

"Humor me."


There was more thumping around, a lot of rummaging. Once the house groaned, things slid loudly against each other and Sam thought the house was caving in again. "Dean!" Nothing. Sam tried to lift up, go to help. "Dean!" He pulled himself forward and pain ripped through him, severing his hold on consciousness.

"Sammy? You with me, boy?"

Sam crawled out of the blackness, opening his eyes to a muted glow.

"Hey there, sunshine. You back?"

Sam just blinked.

"It's time to go."

"You found a way out already?"

"Dude, you stopped talking to me about an hour ago. Yeah, I found the way out. Found the flashlight too. Whoa, whoa, stay with me. If I have to drag your heavy ass out of here, the least you can do is stay awake for it."

"Yeah, okay, Dean. Whatever you say."

He heard Dean chuckle. "Man, you are a piece of work." There was a heavy sigh. "You have no doubt that I'll get you out of here, do you?"

Sam wanted to drift off again. There wasn't anything to worry about with Dean near. "Of course you will."

A warm hand feathered over his forehead, pushing his bangs back. "Damn straight, Sammy. Damn straight I will."

Making it out was a nightmare that Sam would rather have remained unconscious for, but he'd promised Dean he'd stay awake so he focused on that, just that, shutting out every agonizing jostle and bump that Dean dragged him through.

When they were finally out, they lay back on the grass, staring up into the pre-dawn gray sky, both dragging in lungfuls of fresh crisp air. Wearily, Sam turned his head towards Dean.

Shirtless, his brother was filthy, mud-coated, with fresh scrapes crossing his chest and hands and he was the most wonderful sight Sam could imagine.

"Hey, Dean," he slurred.

Green eyes shifted to his.

Sam curved his lips in what he hoped was a smile, but he was too tired to tell if he succeeded. "Thanks. Just thanks."

Dean looked back into the sky. "Anytime, kiddo. Anytime."

"Every time," Sam corrected, and watched as the satisfied grin shifted onto Dean's profile.

They stayed like that for a while, not wanting to break the moment, though Sam knew that within minutes Dean would switch back into take charge mode and get the first aid kit from the car, wash out Sam's wounds and bandage him before demanding that Sam go to the hospital because Dean knew best.

And this time, Sam wouldn't argue.