Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.

Spoilers: Season 5, set after 5.05, Fallen Idol. Anything up to that point is fair game.

a/n: I had a dream.

No, really. I did. And I woke up, jotted it down, and it turned into this…. This is my first foray into Season 5. Because of the history and the destiny and all of the weight of that season, I wasn't really ever sure I wanted to go there. But go there I have. We'll see if it works for ya'll. At the very least, I hope you're entertained.

WARNING: There are a couple "mature" scenes here in the first chapter and overall this story carries a bit of a darker theme than I've written before. I'm keeping it as a PG-13/T rating, but wanted to give you a heads up. As usual, I caution for bad words and the like in the chapters to come.

I hope you enjoy!

Tammy, this one is for you. Thank you for riding out the whimsy of my muse to receive your KazCon author's auction story almost a full year after the fact. Ní dhíolann dearmad fiacha.


Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.

~Oscar Wilde

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"You took an angel to a whore house?"

"A strip club."

"A whore house fronting as a strip club."

"Dude, he was about to have a Holy-fire showdown; I wasn't gonna let him die a virgin."

"He's an angel, Dean. I kinda think that's the point."

Sam shoved a fry into his mouth as he watched his brother grin around the opening of a beer bottle. He knew that grin. It told him that Dean was dying to divulge more details, but was stubborn enough to wait him out.

Sam was going to have to ask.

"So…did he close the deal?"

Dean rolled his lips in as he swallowed, then leaned back into the corner of the booth. There was an air of coiled tension and heightened awareness around him, and yet it was the most relaxed Sam had seen his brother in weeks. The world was folding in at the seams, and for the first time in their adult lives, he and Dean were moving forward from a level playing field.

No roles of guardian and guarded. No hierarchy of age. No watch out for your brother.

He hadn't expected Dean to relax at all.

Their waitress paused at the table, asking with disinterest if their food was okay, and Dean nodded. As she left, Sam watched his brother's eyes follow her, then take in the dark edges of the bar and grill. People clustered around one of the two pool tables toward the back of the small, shadowed room. Four men flanked the corner of the bar, silently munching pretzels and staring up at the TV.

In the back of his mind, Sam registered a news reporter speaking in affected tones about record temperature extremes in the western part of Kansas, while in the eastern half, where they were, rain was causing the Missouri River to rise at what was—according to the over-excited reporter—an alarming rate.

The Apocalypse is in our backyard, Sam thought, chewing the remains of his chicken sandwich.

"This anything like that place you worked, Keith?" Dean asked, poking at Sam's choice of alias while they'd been apart.

Sam ignored the jibe and looked around, nodding. "Sure. It's a bar, man. We've been in thousands."

"Yeah," Dean nodded, then sighed and leaned forward, resting his weight on his elbows and cupping his hands around the bottle of Dos Equis. "I guess we have."

Sam stifled a sigh; they were still working out the balance of conversation. The moment Dean had handed him Ruby's knife on that deserted back country road, Sam knew they'd have each other's backs in a fight. He knew that the big struggles would be rolled up into their history and they'd find ways to move in synch once more.

That wasn't what had him worried.

The details mattered now. The tense silence filled with unspoken thought where there had once been a comfortable quiet of understanding. The uncertain glances, the slight pause before speaking. They were all tells of a mending relationship between two people who'd been broken in one way or another.

No one has ever done anything so bad that they can't be forgiven or can't change.

Lindsey's words clung to Sam's memory. Every time he saw shadows cross Dean's face, heard the breathless rustle of hellish nightmares still wrap around his brother at night, caught the note of doubt in a once-certain voice, Sam tried to find a way to tell Dean that same thing.

They'd both screwed up; they'd both suffered for it.

Dean so much as said that back in Canton. Sam was ready to steadfastly stand by his declaration that the only way they were going to get around their apparent angelic destinies was if they fought together. As Dean said, keep each other human. And right now, he needed to haul Dean up out of the thoughtful melancholy he so easily slipped into these days.

"So," Sam prompted, pushing his empty plate aside and reaching for his beer. "Did he get laid or what?"

Dean chuckled. "You looking to get some by proxy?"

"Hey," Sam tipped his fingers upward. "It's been a long time."

Dean lifted an eyebrow. "You mean you didn't let some honey share your motel bed while you were on your own?"

Sam felt a twisted chill curl around his spine as he thought of his dreams of Jessica, so real, so needed. He looked away, the taste of the beer souring on the back of his tongue as he remembered those dreams turning into a nightmare of truth as Lucifer washed away the image of Jessica's innocence.

"Sam?" Dean's voice cut through the memory with a blunted edge.

Sam looked back at his brother; he should remember that Dean missed nothing. Even when they were apart, somehow, Dean always sensed when something was off.

"No," Sam shook his head. "Nobody."

"What is it?"

Sam took another drink, wondering as he did why he'd been able to tell Dean about the horror of finding out he was to be Lucifer's vessel, but not how he'd found out. Dean had divulged in horrific detail what his trip via angel transport to 2014 had been like. He'd shared with Sam every vampire nest he'd cleaned out, every low-level demon he'd killed, even how many times he'd washed and waxed the Impala while they were separated.

It was as if Dean had been trying to somehow insert Sam into those moments through the magic of storytelling. Sam had told him about working at the bar, about the hunters who'd found him—drawing Dean's lips back in a snarl as he recounted having to fight them off because they'd discovered he'd started the apocalypse—and about Lucifer's message.

But he'd left out Jessica.

The weakest point in the whole time he'd been away from Dean had been night, when he'd been most alone, when she'd been most real to him. He'd almost been ashamed of his need for her, of his gratitude that his brother hadn't been there to interrupt those moments, however false they'd been.

"Nothing," Sam muttered finally, lifting his shoulders and folding down his lips in a shrug. "Just…had a lot of dreams about Jessica during that time."

He hazarded a glance at his brother and saw something soften around Dean's eyes. He almost told him in that moment. The words were poised at the edge of release. Lucifer used Jessica to break down my defenses. He got to me through her.

"If it's any consolation," Dean said, breaking the moment. "Been awhile for me, too."

"What?" Sam scoffed.

"You remember that girl from the library?"

"Girl from the li—"

"Before we got the call from Adam. Or, you know…ghoul-Adam."

Sam blinked, setting his beer down on the table with a thunk. "What!" This time it was said in shock.

Dean lifted his eyebrows and nodded.

"No way," Sam shook his head in denial. "Dude, that was…months ago."

"Tell me about it."

"How are you even still walking?"

The door opened with a splash of the seemingly endless rain and Dean turned his head to watch a woman walk in, his eyes following her to the bar. "Kind of a lot has happened between then and now, Sammy."

"What about at the whore house?" Sam asked, still trying to connect the dots.

"That was for Cas," Dean said, sitting back once more, his gaze resting comfortably on the woman.

Sam rotated slightly so that he could follow Dean's eye line. The woman shoved a black hood from her head, shaking out shoulder-length dark hair and finger-combing it away from her face. He couldn't get a good look at her features, but she moved as if she were familiar with the place. As they watched, she shrugged out of the short, black leather jacket and hoodie combo and handed the wet garments across the bar to the bartender, laughing as she did so.

"You're telling me you sat at the bar like a good boy?" Sam pressed.

"Someone had to be the wingman," Dean said casually, then slid his eyes to Sam, grinning at his pun.

"Sad," Sam shook his head.

"You should've seen him, though, man," Dean chuckled. "He was like a kid playing spin the bottle for the first time. I thought he was going to hurl when the girl came out and led him back to her room."

"Probably felt heaven's wrath bearing down on him," Sam muttered.

Dean lifted a shoulder. "He didn't forget who he was," he said cryptically, stretching out one leg on the bench in front of him.

His face pulled into a slight grimace until he'd found a comfortable position, reminding Sam that his brother had recently had his ass handed to him by a pagan god—who just so happened to look like Paris Hilton.

"What do you mean, he didn't forget?"

Dean's grin crinkled slightly at the corners, causing Sam to lean forward in spite of himself. His brother had always had a gift for telling stories—especially if sex were involved. Sam signaled the waitress with two fingers and pointed to their beers, returning his attention to Dean when she nodded.

"Dean?"

"He, uh," Dean chuckled. "He told the girl that…it wasn't her fault that her father left."

"Oh, God, he didn't," Sam groaned, closing his eyes and rubbing the flats of his fingers across his lids. "He tried to save her?"

Dean finished his Dos Equis and shoved the empty bottle to the back of the table, clearing space for the cold one the waitress thunked down in front of him. Taking a drink, he glanced at Sam.

"Kinda. I mean, I don't think he could help it."

"Doesn't he know every girl in there probably had the same story?"

The woman at the bar laughed again, this time tossing her head back as she did, and Sam watched Dean's eyes shift to her as if pulled by a magnet. Her laugh reminded Sam of Ellen Harvelle's: deep, throaty, and released with abandon.

"I thought it was…refreshing," Dean confessed. "I think I kinda forgot that some of those girls…I don't know…."

"Aren't there by choice?"

"Yeah, I guess," Dean nodded, rolling his neck. "Was a rush ducking the bouncers, though," he chuckled. "Hadn't laughed that long in—" He stopped suddenly, his eyes bouncing to Sam's, and then quickly away again. "Well, in awhile."

Sam rolled his shoulders back against the booth, sighing inwardly. "Yeah, well," he allowed. "We haven't had a lot to laugh about, have we?"

"Maybe we should change that," Dean said, tipping his chin to the side and catching Sam's eyes in a challenge that Sam hadn't seen on his brother's face in years.

"Yeah? How're we gonna do that?" Sam asked with a half-grin, thinking to indulge this game of make believe and lengthen the time Dean was relaxed around him.

"We stop."

Sam frowned. "Stop what?"

"Everything. Hunting. Traveling around this…literally God-forsaken country." Gaze directed toward the middle distance, Dean's voice cracked slightly around his words.

Sam blinked, eyes taking in the expression on his brother's face, ineffectually trying to find the joke hidden in the lines around Dean's mouth.

"What do you mean, like, just…ignore this whole Michael and Lucifer destiny stuff? Quit the apocalypse?"

"Yes," Dean turned toward him, dropping his foot back to the floor with a solid thud against the wood. "Yes, I mean exactly that."

Sam pulled his head back, unsure what road his brother's thoughts were suddenly traveling. He palmed his beer, letting the condensation from the bottle roll down the green glass and trip over his knuckles as he said, "We…we can't quit, Dean."

"We're in Kansas City, Sam," Dean said, his chin lowering even as he kept his eyes on Sam's face. "Back to where we pretty much started. Wanna know what this place looked like the last time I was here?"

"You told me."

"That's right," Dean nodded, pointing at him and easing back against the booth. "That's right. I told you. It was Hell, Sam. Diseased and…and burned out. And why?"

"'Cause of us," Sam said quietly.

"'Cause we played their game," Dean redirected. "Or…didn't in my case."

"We started this," Sam said. "This is happening because of us."

"So…we end it." Dean tipped his fingers up in a shrug. "We stop. They can't have their war without their vessels, right?"

Sam frowned at this thought. It couldn't be that easy. "What if they…pick someone else?"

"If there was someone else," Dean said, slowly peeling the label off of his sweaty bottle in one long tug, "don't you think they would've picked them already?"

Sam looked away and down, considering. He'd told Lucifer no—to the fallen angel's face, more or less. Dean had told Zack what he could do with his flash of the future. How long would the opposing factions continue to pursue them?

Watching as Dean flattened the loose label on the table top, rubbing along the edges with his thumb, Sam found he was actually considering the idea. It was one thing for him to leave hunting—it was something completely different if Dean were with him.

"What would we do?"

Dean's shoulders flinched in what might've been a shrug. "Open a bar?"

"A bar? Like the Roadhouse?"

"You said it yourself," Dean glanced up at him too quickly for Sam to read his expression before he looked back at the Dos Equis label. "We've been in enough of them. You worked in one."

"Open a bar," Sam repeated slowly, tasting the words, letting the thought ricochet through his head.

"Few pool tables, few beer taps, some top shelf liquor…," Dean said, shifting once more, his eyes traveling to the woman at the bar who was now, Sam saw, looking back at him.

She was too far away to hear their conversation, but Sam could see in her expression what she wanted to be saying to his brother.

"We could host a regular poker night and clean up," Dean was saying.

"What if they come looking for us?"

"Salt the windows and the doors. Paint sigils on the outside of the building. Make 'em part of the décor."

"What if they kill people to get to us?" Sam pressed. "Like Meg did to Dad?"

Dean looked over at him and this time Sam caught his eyes, though the memories there were so thick they sucked the air from his lungs.

"What if Cas needs us?" Sam continued quietly, knowing how much worth his brother placed on the lives of their friends—and how close he'd gotten to the rogue angel.

Dean held completely still for a heartbeat, his eyes boring into Sam's as if he were searching for something. Finally, just as Sam felt himself turning to glass in front of the only person in the world who could truly see through him, Dean took a breath and turned away.

"Why you gotta shoot holes in all my plans, huh?" he said, his tone once more jovial, once more in step with the casual rhythm of conversation they'd perfected for moments that weren't supposed to matter. "You're gonna make me panic."

"Part of the job description," Sam replied, his mouth tugging upwards in a reluctant half-grin.

Dean arched an eyebrow. "Oh yeah? For which job?"

"Pain in the ass."

Dean chuckled, draining his second beer. "You're right, man," he sighed. "You can't quit who you were born to be."

"So you really think this is our destiny?" Sam asked quietly, needing to know, searching for grounding. "Being an angel's vessel?"

Dean shook his head once, decisively. "No," he said, leveling his eyes on Sam. "I think they think that." He pointed at Sam, leaning further over the table. "Nobody controls your destiny except you, Sam."

"Yeah, maybe," Sam shrugged.

"Lemme ask you this," Dean said, arching a brow. "If I was always supposed to be an angel condom, how come they let me go to Hell in the first place, huh?"

Sam blinked. He hadn't thought of that.

"They let their precious…Michael's sword…get…ripped up by Hellhounds," Dean spat, his eyes flat, but the quaver in his voice exposing the pain he could obviously still remember. "They let so many awful things…." He stopped, looking away, then down, his throat working as he swallowed, his eyes hidden from Sam. "Point is, they're stumbling around in the dark, same as we are." He lifted his head. "So I say, to hell with their destiny, right?"

"Right," Sam replied, surprised to find his voice closed off, the sound forced through stiffened lips.

"We're nobody's meat suits."

Sam grinned. "I'll drink to that."

"'Cept, you're on empty," Dean nodded toward his bottle. He glanced around the room. "I think Susie Sunshine ditched us."

Sam's eyes cut over to the brunette at the bar, noticing as he did that she glanced away. Looking back at his brother, Sam made a choice. Dean needed a break; Sam needed to give him one.

"How 'bout you head over to the bar and get some?" Sam let his lips tip up at his own joke.

Dean picked up the challenge immediately. "Oh, you don't think I can?"

"You're the one who said it had been months," Sam tossed back.

"Only 'cause I had demons to kill and a pain in the ass little brother to save."

"If that helps you sleep at night." Sam lifted a shoulder in a nonchalant shrug.

Dean tucked his tongue into his cheek and Sam watched an inner light hit his brother's eyes. "Oh, it's gonna be like that is it?"

"Exactly like that."

"Better find a ride home, brother, 'cause it's on," Dean stated, eyebrows up.

Sam lifted the Impala keys from his pocket and shook them. "I drove. You find the ride."

Dean slid out of the booth and Sam watched him grip the edge of the table for the briefest of moments as he worked feeling back into his legs. His knee hadn't quite recovered from the impact of Leshii's Manolo Blahnik heel.

"Don't wait up." Dean turned from their table to approach the bar in a confident, rolling stride that had always left Sam just this side of jealous.

As he watched, Dean sat on a stool two down from the brunette and signaled the bartender with a tip of his chin. Looking at his empty bottle, Sam sighed. He knew that left-field comment about quitting was just Dean's way of attempting a semblance of control.

If he pretended he didn't care, then they couldn't get to him. Not really. Not where it mattered.

Not like they had before.

For a moment, Sam felt incredibly weary. All they'd survived, all they'd overcome, and all they had potentially yet to defeat pressed down on him and he felt his joints creaking with the weight.

This was more than war. This was a cage fight to the death and they'd been so close to tapping out only to grip tight to one another at the last possible moment and find their way out of the chasm.

How long can we keep this up?

The woman's throaty chuckle grabbed his attention again and he looked up to see Dean's face angled just so, offering her a look, taking her in with a glance. He'd watched his brother work his mojo on women enough times to know he was as good as in when her shoulders dropped just so and her hand moved to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.

Digging a few bills from his pocket, Sam left them under the salt shaker and slid from the booth, heading back to the restrooms before he left so that he could make sure leaving was indeed in line with Dean's game. He caught his brother's eye surreptitiously and saw the two-beat blink that gave him the all-clear.

"Guess it's another night of pay-per-view," Sam muttered as he pushed open the restroom door.

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"Your partner?"

Her voice matched her laugh: husky. Like Kathleen Turner. Or Princess Leia, Dean thought with a buried grin.

He saw her glance skid across Sam's back as his brother retreated into the restroom and considered for one brief moment handing her a cover story. He had plenty on deck, and it wouldn't be as if he'd need to remember the lie. These encounters never really resulted in a repeat performance.

"My brother," he found himself saying.

"Oh yeah?" she tilted her head at that, her dark eyes sparking interest.

Dean nodded, returning his attention to his whiskey shot, holding the wide-mouthed glass with his thumb and the pad of his middle finger, then tipping it to watch the amber-colored liquid roll around the bottom.

"We're…kind of on an extended road trip," he told her, reverting back to what seemed like an age-old story. One they told when the worst thing they had to worry about was how many salt rounds to fire into a vengeful spirit.

Before they each had the fate of the world on their shoulders.

"Sounds like fun. What do you think of Kansas City?"

Dean huffed out a slightly strangled laugh and tossed back the whiskey. "It's a town," he shrugged, half-turning to face her. "But it does have some perks—"

A crash in the back of the room interrupted his delivery and he and the woman turned as one to face the crowd by the pool table as they grew increasingly rowdy. Dean slipped off his barstool and stood, watching tensely as fists were clenched and punches thrown. A blonde woman jumped onto the back of one of the brawlers, screaming obscenities until someone else pulled her free.

After several minutes, two bouncers grabbed the fighters and physically threw them out the front door and into the rain. It wasn't until the ruckus died down that Dean realized his body was coiled tight, his own fists at his sides. He forced himself to take a calming breath and felt eyes on him. Without turning, he knew they belonged to Sam. He sank back onto the barstool, then rotated around, letting his gaze hit his brother's worried face before looking back at the woman. He saw Sam leave the bar out of the corner of his eye.

"Rain brings out the crazies, huh?" he said with a half-hearted laugh.

She was watching him closely, the comfortable haze of alcohol that had loosened her shoulders replaced by something close to wariness. "Must be a full moon," she returned.

He shook his head. "Not for another four nights," he replied without thinking.

Her eyebrows climbed her forehead, speaking a paragraph on their journey. "Lunar enthusiast?" she commented dryly.

"Just…environmentally aware," Dean offered lamely, then turned back to the bar, signaling for another drink. Sam was going to kick his ass when he had to call him for a ride.

"Bet there isn't much you aren't aware of," the woman said softly. "Where'd you serve?"

Dean frowned, looking over at her quickly. It was the second time someone had asked him that in the last month. "Come again?"

"You were about two seconds away from stepping into that dance," she said. "I bet you checked hands when you walked in here, too."

That pulled the corner of his mouth up in a quick bounce of a grin. "Yeah, actually."

"Two in the back, concealed handguns," she said, then tipped her head to the side to indicate the booths behind her. "Kenny Rogers back there has at least one. I'm guessing in his boot."

Dean was now turned, his left elbow resting on the bar, his body facing the woman. With a quick flicker of lashes he caught sight of a heavier set man with snowy white hair and a full beard and mustache digging in to a large steak and baked potato. He nodded.

"I'm thinking your brother was clean," the woman continued. "But I'm willing to bet he had plenty stashed somewhere else. Besides," she said, slipping from her stool and swinging her leg across the seat that had been vacant between them, "he didn't need anything did he?"

"He can take care of himself."

"And he had you," she said, glancing at the bartender and asking for another drink. "And I'll bet this drink that you've got…at least two weapons. So," she pressed. "Where did you serve?"

Dean swallowed, his eyes sliding down the length of her throat. Her ears were bare, as was her neck. She wore a black, V-neck T-shirt that covered the waistband of faded jeans and the toes of her black heels were scuffed. He glanced quickly at her hands; she wore a silver ring on her right thumb with what looked like a crescent moon inlaid in the metal. Nothing else.

"It's not really a great memory," Dean offered her.

"Hell, huh?" she asked, the question more layered then she could have possibly known.

"You could say that," he nodded, finishing another shot—he'd started to lose count at this point—and rolling his lips against his teeth. "You?"

She shook her head, a sad smile playing across her mouth. He noticed that her bottom lip was fuller than her top, giving her an almost innocent, pouty expression when she wasn't smiling.

"I serve every day," she told him. "I'm a cop."

Fantastic, Winchester, he berated himself. You sure can pick 'em.

He schooled his features quickly as she glanced up at him and he realized he saw something hesitant shifting in her dark eyes. Something that said, if you're gonna run, do it now. Something that challenged him.

"Dean," he said, dropping his chin slightly and meeting her eyes.

This time her smile was honest. "Raya."

"Interesting name," he said.

"Hebrew," she said. "Means 'friend.' My parents were Jewish."

"Doesn't that make you Jewish?" Dean asked.

"Only if I say it does," Raya said, lifting a shoulder.

Dean nodded, appreciation for this woman adding heat to the slow-burning fire in his belly. "Nice."

"So what do you do now, Dean?" Raya asked. "When you aren't traveling around the country with your brother, I mean."

Dean quirked his lips. "That's…complicated."

"Is it, now?"

"I could tell you, but—"

"You'd have to kill me?" she guessed, eyes just shy of rolling.

"But…then you might not find me half as interesting as you do now," he finished.

"What makes you think I find you interesting?" Raya challenged, arching a brow.

He liked how the ivory coloring of her skin contrasted with the dark shade of her hair and the almost ebony of her eyes. When she smirked, her skin pulled tight at the corner of her eyes and belied an affected expression of disinterest with the warmth captured in a glance.

"The way your shoulders shift," he started. "The position of your body. The fact that you can't stop touching your hair. How your eyes flashed just now. And the way your mouth looks like your lips are about to wrap around a word…or…something," he finished, allowing his words to guide him forward until he could feel her breath on his face.

"Oh," she breathed.

He didn't move. He simply watched her, waiting. After a moment, she tucked a breath of air deep inside and pulled herself upright.

"You have talent, Dean," Raya informed him, her voice steady once more. "Not a lot of people put me at a loss for words."

Dean grinned. "Don't feel too bad," he said. "I'm pretty sure in another environment, and without my friend Jack here," he tipped his glass toward her in a salute, "you would've had me pinned against a wall."

Raya's lips twitched. "Oh, don't worry," she said nodding her head toward the bartender and gesturing for her jacket. "I fully intend to pin you against a wall."

His body immediately responded, the blood in his head racing low.

"Just not one here," she finished. "You lost your ride, didn't you?"

Dean nodded, his mouth suddenly too dry to reply and keep his tough exterior in place at the same time.

"Well, I live two blocks down. Soon as you're ready, we can go."

"I'm good," he said, tossing back his last shot and slapping a couple of twenties on the bar. "We can go."

Raya tossed a wave at the bartender, then slid her arms into the sleeves of her layered jacket. "You got anything other than that?" She nodded at his green Army jacket.

He shook his head, resting his hand on the small of her back and matching her stride as she led the way out. "I'm okay with this."

"You're gonna be soaked," she warned.

"Guess you'll just have to figure out how to dry me off, then," he returned as they stepped into the roar of a Midwest thunderstorm.

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"…I'm crossing here. And while you guys are dragging your candy-asses halfway across the state and back, I'll be waiting for you on the other side, relaxing with my thoughts."

"Do you use your left hand or your right hand for that?"

Sam chuckled.

He'd seen this movie easily a dozen times. Not only that, Dean had read him the short story it was based on one Halloween when he'd been laid up with a broken ankle and John had been gone for several days. It reminded him of their childhood and a time so innocent in comparison to now that he almost felt like crying.

Clearing his throat, Sam capped the flask of whiskey he'd pulled from Dean's duffel and set it on the nightstand.

Enough of that, he admonished himself, picking up the remote and flipping aimlessly away from Stand By Me, searching for something else.

Anything else.

His eyes flicked up to the cardboard stand on top of the TV advertising Skin-O-Max. He glanced toward the door. Theoretically, Dean should be gone for several hours. However, the last time he thought the coast was clear he'd been busted and had to do some throat-clearing through a rather awkward moment he'd rather not share with his brother.

Rubbing his face, Sam squared his shoulders and flipped through the eight channels once more, unable to keep his eyes from the advertisement.

"Oh, hell," he sighed, sliding one leg off the bed and letting his boot hit the floor as he leaned forward and aimed the remote at the TV.

It figured that he was left alone to release tension while Dean was out with an exotic-looking woman. Of course, the last time Sam was the one to get laid there had been demon blood involved. And the time before that, Dean accused him of bedding a siren. And then there had been Madison….

"Face it, Sam," he grumbled as he searched titles too embarrassing to say aloud, let alone cop to on a motel bill. "You do not have the best luck with women. It's safer this way."

Settling on a selection that seemed to not bother with too much plot and basically got right down to business, Sam tossed the remote aside and leaned back against the pillows he'd stacked against the headboard. Closing his eyes, his hands moved to unfasten his belt and he froze.

Jessica….

The moment he closed his eyes, she was there. Next to him. In bed with him. Her hand sliding along his, lacing her fingers with his as he fumbled with his buttons.

Is it really you?

She didn't answer him, and he didn't open his eyes. She felt real. He could even smell her if he concentrated hard enough. He wanted her to be real. He felt himself respond to the idea of her touch, her fingers, the feel of her skin on his, the sound of his name captured in her whisper.

His sigh caught, tripping across his tongue and tumbling from his lips as she seemed to tangle with him, wrapping around him, slipping into him as easily as he yearned to slide into her.

Jess….

The ring tone of his cell phone jarred him harshly from the moment. Gasping, Sam sat up, staring with bleary, confused eyes at the couple on TV. The gratuitous shots of flesh turned his stomach and he fumbled for the remote, turning the TV black and sending the room into silence except for his phone. He swallowed, looking around the room, half-hoping, yet half-afraid he'd still see Jessica.

The last time she'd remained real after he thought he was awake, she'd not truly been Jessica. She'd been a thing of nightmares.

"Dean," he practically growled as he reached for his phone. "You better have a goddamn good reason for this." He picked up the phone, flipped it open and frowned at the unfamiliar number. "Yeah?"

"Sam. It's Castiel."

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Raya's place was small, but Dean found he didn't feel cramped. The simple furnishings and black and white photographs complemented each other. She led him through a curved door into a small living room with a couch, a couple of wooden, high-backed chairs, a bookshelf, and a TV, then asked him to wait there while she moved through another archway into what appeared to be a kitchen.

He glanced to his left and saw that the door to her bedroom was partially open and the sparse furnishing continued in there as well. In a moment, she returned with two beers in on hand and a towel in the other. He took a beer and the towel with a smile.

"This is Steve," Raya said, nodding toward a pathetic-looking potted plant hanging from the ceiling in the corner of the room. "Say hi."

"You named your plant?" He asked, eyebrow arched as he rubbed his wet hair with the towel.

"Don't look at me like I'm eight kinds of crazy," she said. "He's my starter plant."

"Starter for…what, exactly?"

"Well," she shrugged out of her jacket layers and tossed them over a chair. "If I can keep Steve alive for a year, then I'll get a fish, and maybe, eventually, graduate all the way up to a dog."

Dean laughed appreciatively, dropping the towel and slipping out of his wet jacket. Raya was looking at him and there was something unguarded in her expression. He found his eyes moving to her mouth, his libido urging him to move, conquer.

After all, this was why he was there.

"Be right back," Raya said suddenly, heading back toward the kitchen once more, setting her beer on the top of her TV as she passed by.

He took a breath and then drank deeply from his bottle. The hops hit the back of his tongue and he felt it roll down his alcohol-slicked throat and fill his belly. He wasn't drunk—took a lot more than what he'd had these days for that condition to set in—but his head was, as Pink Floyd said, comfortably numb. He moved toward the bookcase on legs that seemed to belong to someone else, smiling at the heady feeling of detachment.

Control was the essence of his reality these days. Had been since he'd been ripped free of Hell and clawed his way through the earth to taste the sweetness of air once more. Control over his environment, over his brother, over himself. He'd held that grip so tightly he'd almost lost Sam in the process and had felt himself slowly cracking from the inside out.

He wanted to just feel. Allow himself to be in the moment. Let it wash over him. Escape inside of it.

He didn't want worry about consequences or destiny; he didn't want to worry about each step, each choice, each breath being the difference between saving the world and ending it.

His eyes scanned Raya's books without comprehension and he ran his index finger along the spines, letting the digit bounce loosely against the bindings, listening as the dull, playing-card-in-bicycle-spoke sound filled the small room. Before he could repeat the motion, music slipped around the corner and stroked his ears, pulling his head around toward its source. He peered into the shadow of the small room that connected Raya's living room to her kitchen.

"What is that? Fats Domino?" he called.

"Ack, heathen!" Raya scoffed from the other room. "Louis Armstrong. You like?"

Dean curled his lip, finishing his beer. "I'm more of a classic rock guy," he replied.

Raya appeared then, moving from the shadows of the anteroom into the living room, dressed in only a black bra and panties, a shoulder holster that had apparently been situated under her T-shirt, still latched onto her body.

"But a man can change," Dean said softly. He set his empty beer bottle on the bookshelf.

Raya moved forward, in step with the music, unlatching the shoulder holster. Dean swallowed.

"Listen, uh," he started to shake his head. "I'm not really…into…y'know…romance."

Raya chuckled. "This isn't romance, Dean," she said. "This is me getting my head in the game." She tossed the holster—and gun—on the couch, stopping just shy of touching him. "You ever have too much in your head? Too many voices, too much to do?"

Dean's nod of assent was jerky, stilted, as he looked down at her, seeing her eyes, her lips, the rise of her breasts, the points of her hips.

"Sometimes it won't be quiet and I can't breathe," she reached up with the tips of her fingers and pushed his green long-sleeved shirt off his shoulders, exposing the black T-shirt beneath. "And if I can't breathe…neither of us'll have much fun."

He let the shirt slip from his arm and pool around his boots.

"So, Louis, huh?" he said, his voice husky, low, his lips inches from hers.

"He gets me," she whispered, then lifted Dean's hand and pressed it against the hollow between her breasts, "right here."

Dean sank into her with a sound somewhere between a sigh and groan, scooping the base of her skull with palms of his hands and tangling his fingers into her dark hair. Her bottom lip fit comfortably between his, and he teased it slightly with the tip of his tongue before pulling her in and against him like a breath of air.

He felt her hands on the base of his T-shirt, hungry fingers seeking the feel of skin on skin, and reached back to grasp the cloth between his shoulder blades, pulling it over his head. As Raya watched, her lips slightly red from contact with his days-growth of stubble, he pulled a Beretta from a lower-back holster, ejected the magazine and popped the chambered bullet from the slide.

Pocketing the loose bullet, he dropped the weapon and clip on top of his shirts.

"Nice," Raya purred. "Nine millimeter?"

Dean gave her a half smile.

"One down," Raya said softly, stepping close to him. "One to go."

"G'luck finding that one, sweetheart," Dean murmured against her mouth.

Raya pressed her hips close to him, canceling out all thought of further conversation until he could taste her once more. Slipping his hands to her jaw he held her face still, then touched his lips carefully to hers until, with a harsh breath bordering on desperation, she wrapped her arms around his bare shoulder and pressed him close.

Kissing did interesting things to Dean.

More often than not, he was too busy working to get to the point of physical oblivion to worry about the seduction of a kiss. But when a woman wanted him to take his time, he was willing to give them whatever they needed. And when they offered him back the same amount of intimacy, he felt his belly uncoil with a unique, liquid heat.

It wasn't the same as sex. It was closer. More real. More…vulnerable. It was why, he presumed, crossroad deals were sealed in such a manner. And it had taken several kisses from several women to rid his mouth of the taste of dirt.

Raya tasted like whiskey. The taste itself was infinitely more intoxicating that the drink had been. He ran his tongue along the inside of her lip, feeling the smooth enamel of her teeth, then slanted to dip deeper, stroking the roof of her mouth and feeling the thrill of the touch shimmer through his core.

She pressed against him and he felt the silk of her skin—the muscles underneath rolling and pushing, moving him backwards even as she kept him close—against the coarse hairs of his arms, the plane of his chest. His shoulders hit the door of her bedroom and he curved his back to push it open. The apartment was small enough that the music carried into this room, playing a background of jazz with the sound of their quick gasps for air and low groans of pleasure.

"You know how to kiss a woman," Raya said, breathless.

"Haven't practiced on anything else," Dean returned.

She pushed at him—not rough, but with intent—until he felt his back hit the far wall. Dean's grin was slow as she ran her hands along his arms and pressed them above his head.

"Told you," Raya said.

He felt his grin turn slightly feral as he slipped quickly from her grasp, grabbed her backside and lifted her until her legs instinctively circled his waist. Turning quickly, he pressed her against the wall, his mouth at her throat.

"Touché," she murmured, her head falling back to expose more of her flesh, her legs flexing around his waist in reaction to his touch. "I think one of us has too many clothes on."

"I can do something about that," Dean replied, slipping a hand behind her back and twisting the clasp of her bra with practiced fingers.

"I was talking about you." Her mouth was at his temple.

He let his hands trail up the smooth curve of her waist as she slid down his body. He toed off his boots, keeping the throwing knife tucked safely in the sheath fashioned inside the left one.

Raya climbed onto the mattress backwards, kicking the quilt and sheets free as she did. He shimmied free of his jeans and boxers, watching with appreciation as she moved. She was trim, but carried her share of scars.

"Bullet?" he asked, crawling toward her.

She shifted so that his approach led up between her legs. Hooking her heels into the bend of his knees, she looked up at him. "Yeah. Twice." She trailed her fingers down several scars on his chest, and the nearly faded mark where Castiel had pulled him free of Hell. Though it no longer resembled a handprint, a scar remained. "You too?"

"Knives, mostly," he said, though he knew some of the bruises sustained from Leshii's attack traced his ribs and one knee.

Thin white lines and puckered purplish tissue scored the history of the past year on his skin. His life left its score.

And there had been more. So many more. Until Hell. Until Castiel.

"Interesting tat," she whispered, drawing him closer until he felt her heat against him.

"Protects me," he whispered.

"From what?" she replied, her mouth at his chin.

He saved himself from answering by kissing her once more, trailing his mouth along the shape of her jaw, finding her earlobe with his teeth. He knew the sensitive points on a woman's body, knew how tracing the curve of her ear would send shivers to her belly and cause her to arch up against him—just as he wanted.

It never failed to intrigue him, though, how the first moments of connection were filled with hesitant approaches, uncertain fingers, and unfamiliar touch. No two women's hands had ever felt the same against his skin, even though they always followed the same path. There was an instinct to grip, to stroke, to soothe and caress, to dig and claw.

Raya fumbled for the small drawer inside the nightstand next to her bed. Guessing what she was reaching for, Dean leaned over and found the small foil packet, ripping it open with his teeth. It amused him that he'd applied this very metaphor to his destiny not hours ago.

Once they were safe, he felt Raya roll against him, pliant and willing, seeming to search for the same release, the same escape. No promises, no obligation, just the irreplaceable connection of touch.

He felt heat fist inside him, felt it follow the path of her fingers down the dip of his spine and gather at the small of his back as she latched on. Her gasp as he entered her was welcome and ragged. Dean shut everything out but the rhythm; ignored everything but the build. The tension coiled in him clamped down harder around his resolve, twisting and churning until he felt as if his core was alight with the heat of it.

Raya moved almost silently beneath him, strong fingers clinging to his shoulders, nails digging in. Dean felt her breath begin to hitch, her stomach muscles tighten. With practiced ease, he slid his hands beneath her shoulder blades, hoisting her up with him as he straightened and holding her against him as he kept them connected.

Lips parted, eyes hooded, they faced each other, moving with instinct. His hands spanned Raya's back, hers clutching at his shoulders, and Dean felt himself crest, spilling over a dizzying edge, his forehead meeting the hollow of her throat as she canted her head back, moving for a few beats more until he felt her tighten and tremble, her breath matching his in staccato bursts.

Boneless, spent, and more than satisfied, Dean allowed them to tumble sideways onto the bed. He rolled slightly away from her, but kept his arm around her, her head lolling toward his shoulder as she worked to catch her breath.

"Wow," she said finally.

"Exactly," Dean agreed.

"Wanna go again?" Raya asked.

Dean chuckled weakly. "Honey, you're gonna have to give me a minute."

"I can wait a minute," Raya grinned, sitting up.

"Or…two," Dean closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of liquid gold rolling through his system. "'Course…we could always use your cuffs…," he teased.

"I don't have handcuffs," Raya told him.

Dean opened one eye. "What kind of cop doesn't have handcuffs?"

"The kind that goes undercover," she replied. "I use zip ties. Easier to conceal, easier to explain, and a helluva lot harder to get out of."

Dean winced. "I'll say."

"Plus…," she traced a tip of her finger around the edge of his tattoo, "I'm not exactly…on duty right now."

"Is that right?" Dean glanced askance at her profile.

She shrugged, sweat glistening on the curves of her prominent cheekbones. "Somebody thought I needed to get perspective…." She waved her hand in the air above Dean's chest.

He closed his eyes. He could relate.

Raya stretched out on her stomach with a satisfied groan, her head toward the foot of the bed, giving him a view of her backside. "I'm thirsty."

"Me too," Dean said. "Could go for a beer."

"I left mine on the TV out in the living room," Raya said lazily, making no move to get up.

Dean waited a beat, then sighed loudly. "I'll go…," he groaned, rolling to his side, then sitting up and grabbing his jeans.

"Wait," she said, holding out her hand. "Leave them."

Dean arched an eyebrow, looking at her over his shoulder.

"I want to enjoy the view," she continued.

He wasn't modest and had often walked around naked in their motel room simply to tick off his brother. But moving around a stranger's apartment without even his clothes to protect him wasn't something he was going to concede.

"Maybe next time, sweetheart," Dean grinned, standing and pulling his jeans over his bare hips before he made his way out through the door and toward the source of Louis Armstrong's voice to grab Raya's beer. He was about to lift the bottle and take a drink when the peace of the night was destroyed.

With bone-jarring suddenness, Raya's front door blasted open and Dean caught the reflection of two figures in the darkened TV as they rushed toward him. Instinctively, Dean turned, gripping the beer bottle by the neck and flung out his arm to crash the dark glass against the skull of a figure in black.

He had roughly two seconds to register that there were now three people in the living room before a fist the size of a sledge hammer slammed into his face and darkness followed with haste.

www

"Virus? What virus? You mean the Croatoan virus?" Sam asked the angel, frowning into the mouth of the phone as he fastened the buttons of his jeans.

"This would be easier to explain without this…phone," Castiel replied, his modulated voice betraying signs of frustration.

Sam sighed. He knew the Enochian symbols Castiel had carved onto his and Dean's ribcage made it so that even he couldn't find them without first knowing their location. Sam would never admit it to Dean, but he actually liked that little bit of anonymity.

"We're in Kansas City," Sam said, swinging his legs off the side of the bed and leaning his elbows on his knees. "An Econo Lodge off of I-70—"

He'd barely finished the last word before Castiel appeared in the center of the room.

"Room 235," Sam said, unnecessarily.

"Why are you here?" Castiel asked, the cell phone still up at his ear.

Sam closed his phone, breaking the connection. "That's my line."

"Dean was just in Kansas City," Castiel said, looking at his phone with what appeared to be confusion, then closing it and sliding it into the pocket of his ever-present trench coat. "It did not end well."

"Yeah, I know," Sam replied, standing and facing the angel. "But we left Canton a few days ago and didn't really have a next stop. We knew this place."

"It is unwise to return to familiar ground too often," Castiel cautioned. "You do realize there are demons who want your brother dead."

"Uh, yeah," Sam lifted an eyebrow and moved across the room to their duffel bags, searching for the notes he'd taken on the Croatoan virus. "I noticed."

"Where is Dean?"

"Out," Sam replied. "You gonna tell me what all this Croatoan panic is about?"

"It isn't the Croatoan virus," Castiel informed him, causing Sam turn around in surprise.

"I thought you said—"

"I merely said demonic virus. You drew your own conclusions."

Sighing, Sam dropped into one of the chairs flanking the small table their duffels rested upon. "How about you start from the beginning?"

"We need to find Dean," Castiel insisted.

"Dean's fine," Sam snapped. "He needs a break."

Castiel's eyebrows drew close, his lips tipping downward. "I suppose separating himself from Lucifer's vessel is ultimately the smartest decision. However, I'm troubled that he didn't tell me he was leaving."

"He didn't leave." Sam was surprised by the pang that shimmied through him at Castiel's casual reference to his being Lucifer's vessel—and that Dean would be smart to leave him. "He's just…clearing his head."

"Ah. He's with a woman." Castiel frowned.

Unbidden, Sam's imagination painted images of Castiel saving souls in a whore house and he was forced to glance away.

"Tell me what you know, Cas," Sam insisted. "What are you so worried about?"

"There is a virus—created by a demon," Castiel said, his deep voice managing to sound even more grave than usual. "The manufacturers of this virus intend to inject it into Dean."

"How do you know this?" Sam frowned, the thought of demons anywhere near Dean making his heart thud painfully.

"How I know is irrelevant," Castiel replied, looking away from Sam.

Sam narrowed his eyes. "Who have you been talking to, Cas? I thought you were, I don't know…cut off or whatever."

"I have…brothers," Castiel stated, his gruff voice hesitant, "who understand that exceptions must be made."

"Brother's like Zachariah?" Sam asked, his voice flat. He shared Dean's healthy dislike for the manipulative angel.

"Zachariah has nothing to do with this. We need to find Dean," Castiel insisted. "I will retrieve him if you reveal his location."

"Why?" Sam muttered, standing and crossing the room to grab his boots.

Castiel actually drew back. "Why?"

Sam shook his head. "Not, why do we need to find him," he clarified. "Why inject him with a virus?"

"I think answer to that is obvious," Castiel replied.

"If they could find him, why not just kill him?" Sam pulled his laces tight. "I mean, they tested the Croatoan virus on me…and now we know why. But…why bother with a demonic virus for Michael's vessel?"

Castiel tilted his head in concession. "Perhaps there is an alternative explanation."

"Your source didn't clue you in?" Sam asked, checking the clip of his Glock and slipping the weapon into his back waistband before going for the demon-killing knife.

"No," Castiel answered simply.

"Then how do you know they want to inject Dean?"

"Because I was told," Castiel practically growled, advancing toward Sam, his expression grim. "This virus is new. I do not know how they manufactured it; I only know what it will do once injected."

"Yeah? And what's that?"

"It will systematically shut down the human senses."

Sam brought his head up. "It'll do what now?"

"The human senses," Castiel repeated. "Taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing—"

"I know what the senses are, Cas," Sam lifted a hand to stop the angel from continuing. "How does it shut them down?"

"It impedes the brain's natural connections until it results in death."

"Death?" Sam's frown was fierce. "How?"

Castiel's lips pulled tight in a very human expression of anxiety. "The virus works until it shuts down the kinesthetic receptors in the internal organs that are neurologically linked to the brain."

"Kinesth-?" Sam's eyes darted as he began to calculate the implications of what Castiel was saying. "You mean like…sensory receptors."

"The victim will ultimately suffocate because his lungs will not know they need to inflate," Castiel said, bringing it home for him.

"Holy shit," Sam breathed.

"Yes," Castiel nodded in agreement, looking infinitely relieved that Sam was once again in motion.

"What about those Enochian symbols you branded onto us?" Sam asked. "Won't they protect him?"

"From detection, yes," Castiel nodded. "But if he's found by other means—"

"Yeah, okay, I get it," Sam sighed, understanding Castiel's concern for them returning to Kansas City when Dean had been there so recently. A thought occurred to Sam. "Why did you call me, Cas? Why not just call Dean directly?"

"I called him first," Castiel informed him. "When I didn't reach him, I called you."

At that Sam's worry flashed straight to panic.

"C'mon," Sam said, grabbing his coat and slipping the demon knife into a holster he'd fashioned to conceal the large blade. "We gotta head back to that bar."

"I will take us," Castiel offered, reaching for Sam.

Sam flinched away. "No, not yet," he said. "Dean told me how fun a ride on your angel transport is. Plus…we, uh…gotta ask some questions first and I don't want to freak anyone out," he finished.

"Questions of whom?"

"Bartender," Sam replied, opening the motel room door. "He knew the woman Dean was with. He'll know where they went."

www

He was cold.

Which didn't make sense because having sex should have heated him up. And he was pretty sure he'd just had sex. Unless that was one vivid dream. In which case, he'd be willing to bet Sam had heard some of it.

Voices swam up around him, tuning in as the sensation of being submerged abated and clarity began its painful return. His face throbbed and there was a distinct tang of a rusted nickel in the back of his throat. Swallowing, he slipped his tongue between dry lips and tasted the salt of his own blood.

Instinctively he moved to wipe it off, only then realizing that his hands were bound behind him. He could tell his was sitting up, the surface unyielding beneath his jean-clad legs. His bare back sagged against hard slats and his arms were pulled uncomfortably tight against each other.

"…doesn't do us much good if you kill him."

"Relax. Look. He's comin' around."

The female voice was vaguely familiar, but the male voice…he knew he'd never heard that fake New Jersey accent before. And unknown, in Dean's experience, meant hostile. His neck burning from muscles stretched too far, Dean slowly raised his head. He wasn't able to open his left eye completely, but the vision in his right cleared quickly.

Raya stood in the middle of her living room, dressed once more in the clothes she'd been wearing when he met her at the bar. Behind her stood a man doing his best to impersonate Sylvester Stallone. Next to him was a smaller, weasely-looking man with rimless glasses catching and reflecting the light and tracks of blood painting one cheek where Dean's bottle had connected.

"Hello, lover," Raya greeted him. "Thought you were gonna sleep all night."

"Raya," Dean replied, his voice rough. "Moe. Curly," he nodded to the two heavies standing on either side of her.

Sly growled, curling his fingers into a fist, popping each knuckle with the motion.

"Neat trick," Dean rasped. "Does it talk, too?"

"You want I should crack open his other eye?" the man growled.

Dean's eyebrows bounced up, and he dropped his chin. "Seriously?"

"Okay, enough," Raya snapped, a hand out to Sly, her eyes on Dean. "This is getting us nowhere and we're running out of time."

"You got an appointment or something?" Weasel asked.

Raya shot him a look. "No, but you guys weren't exactly in stealth mode. He's gonna have people looking for him."

"Yeah," Dean said, his voice growing in strength. "I've got people."

Sly snarled and Dean kissed the air in the man's direction, twisting his hands against the bindings. The immediate sting that shot through his arms to his shoulders told him what he'd feared: Raya had used her zip ties. Working to get loose would only cut into him and pull the binding tighter.

"That's right, gorgeous," Raya said, suddenly in his eye line. "You're not slipping free this time." Her lips twisted in a disturbingly familiar quirk. "And nobody's gonna pull you out."

Dean narrowed his right eye, trying to ignore the flesh swelling around his left, and tilted his head to the side. "I know you from someplace?"

Raya pouted. "Dean," she whined. "I'm hurt. After all…I was your first."

The effect of her words was immediate and overpowering.

Flashes of heat, of cold, of knives and salt and flames…the sound of a scream so raw and full of pain and anger that it scored his heart…the smell of sulfur and burning flesh…the feel of blood slick on his hands, his face….

Dean gasped. "How…." He had to take another breath before continuing. "How did you get out?"

Raya smirked. "Your brother changed the rules when he turned the devil loose."

She'd been on the rack.

She hadn't been Raya then, of course, but he'd met her in Hell. His hand had trembled so violently he'd barely been able to grip the knife. His body had been on fire from pain—unlike anything he'd ever experienced. There wasn't a source, a wound…it simply radiated from him. His soul had been bleeding and no one saw.

No one cared.

He'd wanted so badly for it to stop. He had died over and over, filled with agony, filled with rebellion. For years. He'd screamed for Sam. For help. For release. For relief.

It came with his first cut into another soul. Her soul. She'd begged just as he'd begged. And he'd cut her just as they'd cut him. He'd turned off everything human inside of him, everything that had been Dean.

And he'd taken her apart.

"What do you want?" His lips quivered with his hate, his voice undulating with memories.

Raya's smile widened, looking feral on her delicate face. "I know what you're thinking, Dean."

He forced his eyebrow up, saying nothing.

"You're wondering how long I've been wearing her."

Dean set his face, his eyes empty, his mouth a thin line. He would not give her the satisfaction of seeing his skin crawl.

She moved forward, with Raya's grace, Raya's stride, until her knees touched his. She leaned over, her hands flattened on the tops of his thighs, and peered into his eyes.

"You're wondering if you have more in common with your demon-fucking brother than you thought," she whispered.

Dean watched with buried horror as her eyes slid to onyx, her face suddenly looking unnatural: a mask of innocence pulled over something evil.

He leveled his eyes on her, forcing himself to focus and remember that he was shielded from them; they couldn't have known he and Sam would be at that bar. They had to have found him by accident, pure chance. Perhaps tracking his movements, but not anticipating them. The woman he'd escaped inside earlier that night had been human, pure and simple.

"It's not gonna work," he growled.

"Oh, really?"

"I know when you took her."

"Are you sure about that?" Her voice was a hiss.

Dean looked over her shoulder at the two demons standing behind her. "Those two were at the bar," he said. "Watching the news. Right fellas?"

Sly's lip curled up in response. Weasel remained quiet.

"Don't know where you were hiding," Dean shifted his gaze to Raya's demon, "but I know you just got this body."

The demon smirked, opening her mouth to retort, but Dean cut her off.

"I know how a demon tastes," he whispered. "How it feels. Or did you forget how long I spent taking your kind apart?"

Her eyes slid back to normal—or as normal as a demon wearing a human could look to Dean—and she straightened up.

"I used to be your kind, y'know," she said quietly.

"Cry me a river," he snarled, feeling the zip ties cut into the flesh on the back of his wrists.

"This could've been you, Dean." Her hand traced a path down her chest, fingers bouncing lightly against the cotton of her T-shirt.

"Yeah, but it isn't." Dean leveled his eyes on her, feeling the heat from his nightmare echoing in his gaze.

"Right." Raya's demon nodded, turning away and crossing her arms. "'Cause you have yourself a guardian angel."

Dean didn't reply.

Raya rotated again, facing him, her smirk reminding him once again of the girl on the rack, the hatred she'd spat at him. "Tell me, Dean…," she sing-songed at him. "What makes you different from me, huh?"

"I'm better looking, for one thing," he retorted.

"Is it your soul?" she continued as if he hadn't spoken. "No…no, 'cause I have a soul. Demented and twisted, perhaps, but still, it's something. What else…?" She moved in a slow figure-eight pattern between Sly and the Weasel, tapping her index finger against her chin. "What makes you human, Dean?"

He wasn't sure where she was going with this, but he was starting to get a very bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. His fingers had long since gone numb, but he twisted them anyway, needing to do something to free himself.

Raya's demon paused in front of the Weasel, holding out her hand. The Weasel reached into the front pocket of his jacket and Dean felt his muscles tightening in anticipation. When he withdrew a large syringe and placed it carefully in Raya's upturned palm, Dean felt himself instinctively draw back.

"I want you to do something for me, Dean. I want you to think about the taste of your favorite food," Raya's demon said, turning to face him, the syringe lifted so that the large needle gleamed in the lamplight. "I want you to think about how it felt touch this body. Think about how much you love listening to your precious music. Think about seeing your brother."

She stepped closer to him, leaning down and resting her lips against his ear. "Now think about that all going away."

"Hate to break it to you, bitch," Dean growled, "but I've got some angels who might not take so kindly to you killing me."

Raya straightened, her laugh humorless. "Oh, they'll smite me, is that it? Maybe bring you back from the dead?"

"Bet your ass," Dean replied, his voice tight with the pain from his bindings. He could feel his own blood slicking his hands as the zip ties cut deeper. "You kill me? You got an army of angels on your six."

"Who said anything about killing you?" Raya returned.

Sly chuckled low and each grunt-like sound dug a hole deeper into Dean's gut.

"What?" he couldn't help but gasp.

"I'm giving you a fair shot, Dean," Raya informed him. "This syringe is filled with a unique virus that my companion here concocted," she tipped her head back toward the Weasel, who grinned in response. "There is only one antidote. And only one way you're gonna get it."

"Yeah?" Dean snarled. "And what's that?"

"You give me the Eye of God."

www

"How do I know you're a friend of Raya's?" the bartender challenged them as Sam asked once more for her address.

Raya, Sam noted. At least now he had a name besides Hot Chick At Bar.

"Listen, you don't remember me?" Sam implored, his frustration at not being able to charm the information out of this man beginning to bleed through his tone. "I was in here with my brother like three hours ago, man. I left, he hooked up with Raya. I just gotta find him, that's all."

"Tell us and we will leave your body intact," Castiel chimed in.

Sam closed his eyes briefly, then said with teeth clenched, "Not. Helping."

"You with those other two?" the bartender asked, edging slightly away from Castiel.

Sam frowned. "What other two?"

"The probation officers. Said they were looking for the guy Raya hooked up with," the bartender shrugged. "Figured she'd want to know, being a cop and all. So I told them where to find her."

"What did they look like—these probation officers?" Sam asked, worry clipping the edges of his voice, his eyes hard.

The bartender shrugged. "One was big. Other guy had glasses."

Castiel glanced at Sam. "This is insufficient information. If they were de—"

"-tectives," Sam broke in loudly. "You're right. If they were detectives, then Dean's okay." Sam leaned across the bar. "But I won't know that for sure until I find where he went with Raya."

His glance darting quickly between Sam and Castiel, the bartender told them where Raya lived. Sam's stomach clenched as he turned toward the door.

"C'mon," Sam muttered. "Even if you're wrong about this virus—"

"I am not wrong," Castiel asserted.

"—Dean's still got two random goons looking for him. Not like we announced our travel plans," Sam muttered as they exited the bar and returned to the rain-soaked night, his thoughts on the last time he'd been caught unawares by hunters who'd known his name. "How'd they even know who he is?"

"You are known," Castiel informed him, water plastering his brown hair to his skull. "Both of you."

"Known?" Sam scoffed, pausing with his hand on the door of the Impala, blinking rain out of his eyes. "What, are there like…wanted posters pinned to a wall in Hell or something?"

"No wanted posters," Castiel said as he climbed into the car. "But we need to hurry, Sam."

"Why?" Sam shot at the angel as he slammed the Impala's door behind him, shutting out the rain and firing up the engine. He ignored the water they were both getting all over the interior of the Impala. "What aren't you telling me, Cas?"

"I don't know how quickly the virus works," Castiel told him. "If they have already reached Dean—"

"Yeah, yeah," Sam muttered, flattening the accelerator. "Story of our damn lives."

www

"The…what?" Dean stared up at the demon inside Raya with complete confusion.

"I know you have it, Dean. I killed the man who gave it to you."

Dean let out a strangled laugh. "I don't know what the fuck you're talking about."

"Really?" Raya tilted her head. "That's a shame."

Without warning, Raya spun the syringe in her hand and with a powerful downward thrust, buried the needle into the soft flesh at the base of Dean's neck. Even before she depressed the plunger, Dean was breathless from pain. His body spasmed, shaking against the wooden chair, bindings tearing into his flesh.

When the fire hit his blood stream, Dean couldn't help it: he screamed. The sound ripped from his gut as if yanked free by demonic fingers. He'd only screamed like this once before: in Hell. With hooks shoved through his body, stringing him up and filling him with desperate pain. It was the sound of hope dying, shredding his throat with its exodus.

Lava licked his flesh from the inside out, turning his vision white, stealing what was left of his control, sending him spinning. Vaguely, he felt the needle being tugged from his body, but the pain didn't abate. It simply rolled through him until he searched in vain for the blackness that rode the coattails of such agony.

But he was denied.

Gasping, unbidden tears spilling over his bruised features, his jaw tight from clenching his teeth, Dean peered up at Raya. Her scream echoed in his mind and he saw pleasure in her eyes. As if his pain was thrilling her in ways he didn't want to contemplate.

Just as he felt himself helplessly sagging against his bindings, the door behind his torturers shattered with the force of a powerful kick. Dimly, Dean registered Sam and Castiel moving into the room with the grace of twin hurricanes, water splashing from their sodden figures. His vision blurred as Castiel lifted a hand and Raya flew backwards, slamming into the couch and falling to the floor.

He saw Sam attack with frightening strides, the knife they'd used to kill Ruby cutting into Sly before the big demon could tighten its sledgehammer-like fist. With another furious arc of motion, Sam slit the Weasel's throat and both demons crackled and burned before the bodies they'd stolen fell to their knees.

Dean worked to keep his head up, to stay conscious, but he was spent, his will disintegrating with each ragged breath. He saw a swimming image of Raya's demon struggling to her feet as Sam moved forward, rage clear in his eyes.

Sam…wait…no….

He wanted to call out, to stop his brother from killing this one.

Not her. Save this one.

"You have two days, Winchester," Raya said.

And then Dean heard what he knew was the demon turning tail and escaping through Raya's opened, screaming mouth. Silence followed her departure and as Dean let his eyes fall closed, he heard Raya's unconscious body crumple to the ground.

"Dean?" Sam's voice was breathless and thick at the same time.

Dean could feel his brother's hands on his cheek, at his jaw, lifting his face upward.

"Hey, hey, c'mon, Dean, don't do this, don't…don't do this. Open your eyes, Dean, okay?"

Dean wanted to, if only to reassure Sam. But the weakness that followed the rush was overpowering.

"Cas?" Sam was saying. "Cut him loose."

Dean felt rough fingers against his arms, then the cool flat of a blade and suddenly he was tipping forward, tumbling into his brother's waiting arms.

"Dean?"

Sam….

"Dammit," Sam whispered, and Dean felt his body being held close. "What did they do to you?"

The demon's voice swam through his head and he breathed in, pulling with that breath the clean scent of his brother.

"T-Two …days," he croaked, still unable to open his eyes.

"For what, Dean?" Sam asked, almost rocking him. "Two days to do what?"

But exhaustion's power was relentless and Dean succumbed, sagging against the warmth of the one person he knew could keep him human.


a/n: Thank you for reading. I was going to wait until I had all chapters written before I started posting, but I was encouraged to go ahead and post this as a WIP. I'll strive to update every two weeks (or sooner), RL willing.

Hope to see you in the next chapter!