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

Spoilers: Season 2, dove-tailing the end of Episode 2.12, Nightshifter. If you're just joining the fun, spoilers up to then.

a/n: These last six years been an eventful, heartbreaking, and often-times hilarious journey with our heroes. I am in for the long haul, but have to say that Season 2 has thus far been my favorite part of their story, back when they were working out how to be brothers and partners after being orphaned by a demon. I wanted to write a story that was just the brothers and a hunt. You'll be the judge if I pulled it off okay.

Note: the main geographic location in this story is fabricated. Any similarity with an existing location is purely coincidental.

Caroline, this one is for you. We've been more than virtual friends, we've been writing partners and confidents. I am honored to continue our 'sojourn' of friendship. And because both music and Supernatural brought us together, each chapter will have lyrics rather than quotes.

TTE, you are my touchstone.

I heard a voice inside of me; I looked up and saw the sky scream, and there was light everywhere. If life is an ocean, then I must be on the surface.

~On the Surface by Civil Twilight



New Lethe, MN

"It's freezing out here."

"Quitcher bitchin' already."

"You quit."

"Stop shovin' me!"


Four birds, startled by the sudden, sharp voice, took flight from the protection of the boathouse in a hap-hazard flutter of wings and screeches, sending the three teenagers into an instinctive crouch. The dark inside the boathouse pressed around them, suddenly filled with the unknown and the frightening.

Beyond them, the lake's ink-like surface seemed to absorb the starlight rather than reflect it. Wavering light from orange, plastic flashlights swung around to the dark corners of the wooden building as nerves settled. A half a dozen boats, moored by ropes and covered in protective tarps, bumped gently in their respective stalls and the lap of water against the building and shoreline assured the boys that they were still alone.

Blowing his bangs from his eyes in a huff of air, Matthew Mead repeated his reproach.

"Hey." It was softer this time, drawing the eyes of his two friends, their shoulders still curled in as if expecting the birds to return and seek revenge for being startled from their perch. "Shut the hell up, okay? You wanna bring the whole town down here?"

"I still say this is a bad idea," grumbled Nate Fischer, shoving his gloved hands deeper into his down-filled coat. "It's freezing."

"You said that already," pointed out Eric Jones. "About five times now."

"It was true every time." Nate's voice edged on a whine.

"You girls wanna just stay here?" Matt pointed his flashlight first at Nate, then at Eric, making sure to hold the light long enough that they registered his disapproval. "'Cause I can find two other guys to make this dive next week."

"No." Eric's reply was swift. Matt knew Eric wanted this as bad as he did. "No, I'm up for it."

"Fischer?" Matt's flashlight was joined by Eric's as they pointed the beams toward Nate. "You gonna punk out on us?"

Nate pulled his lower lip in, his thick glasses reflecting the light and masking his eyes. Matt tipped the beam down slightly, but Eric kept his steady. Nate was smaller than both of them, and the weakest swimmer. But his dad had the boat and they all knew they weren't going to do this without him.

"Why couldn't we wait until later? Y'know…like, when it's light outside." Nate turned to look out over the dark water; sunrise wasn't for another hour and the combination of trees and the remains of the dam shielded the lake from any reassurance of first light.

Matt sighed and Eric let the beam of his flashlight fall to the creaking, wooden deck along the inside edge of the boathouse.

"Dude, we've been over this, like, a million times," Matt said, trying for patient and landing somewhere near annoyed. "We cannot get caught. You know that part of the lake is off limits now. We gotta get down there, find the lock box, and get our asses back before the patrol comes 'round."

Nate chewed his lip another moment. "We don't even know if the lock box is there."

"Sure it's there," Eric protested, rubbing the back of his neck in a nervous gesture, the close-cropped bristles of his hair flicking against his fingers. "Everyone who's lived here since they made this lake knows it's there."

"No," Nate corrected, shaking his long bangs away from his glasses in a practiced tick of his head. "Everyone who's lived here since they made this lake has heard that story. Don't mean it's there. 'Sides, if it's there, hows come nobody's gone after it before?"

Eric pushed at him with the flashlight. "Because until this past summer the buildings were all covered by water and no one knew where the Judge's house used to be."

"Oh, so it's okay to steal it now since we've had a drought. I get it." Nate rolled his eyes.

"Jesus, Fischer!" Matt exploded, Eric and Nate ducking in anticipation of more birds. "If you were so against this, why'd you even come this far, then, huh?"

Nate was silent, but Eric smirked. "I'll tell you why. Jenna Maloney."

Matt frowned. "Jenna's a senior."

"Exactly," Eric continued, his smirk twisting wider as his flashlight caught Nate's obvious discomfort. "And no way is some hot senior gonna look twice at a punk-ass sophomore like Fischer unless he's part of something like this."

Once more joining his flashlight to Eric's, Matt nodded sagely. "So what about it, Fischer? You ready to risk it?"

Nate shook his head, swearing softly under his breath. "Fine. But I stay on the boat," he finally relented, reaching for the knot to loosen the tarp that covered the boat. "You two jerk-offs freeze to death down there, don't come crying to me."

"We have wet suits, dumb ass," Eric pointed out, helping Nate roll the tarp back.

Nate's glasses caught the beam from Matt's flashlight has he looked over his shoulder. "How'd you get those?"

Matt shrugged. "Borrowed 'em. From my dad."

"You stole them from the sheriff?" Nate squeaked.

"No." Matt's voice was firm as he dropped the two duffel bags full of equipment into the back of the boat. "I borrowed them from my dad. Kinda like you and this here boat, pal."

Eric climbed in and caught the flashlight Matt tossed his way. He reached for the rope anchoring the stern to the deck, then made his way to the bow to help Nate step into the boat.

"I'm just going on record as saying this is a bad idea," Nate huffed.

"But you're in, right?" Eric asked sliding out of the way to allow Nate access to the steering wheel.

"I'm here, ain't I?"

Working as a unit, the three boys pushed the boat from its stall, using oars to shove it out from the boathouse and into the yawning opening of the lake. Once they'd paddled a fair distance from the building, Nate pressed the starter button as he turned the key and the Evinrude motor came to life like a million angry dragonflies.

Nate turned toward the west end of Lethe Lake as the other two took seats on either side of the twenty-foot boat. The sound of the motor seemed to echo off the shoreline, but all three knew they were safe from detection until the Lethe sheriff's office sent out the first morning patrol to keep boaters from venturing into what was now an unsafe section of Lethe Lake.

Lethe had become a haven for those who enjoyed a life of semi-luxury and preferred to stay off the grid as much as possible. Residents proudly dubbed Lethe the Hamptons of the North; it was exclusive to those who could afford the real estate prices, it was geographically private, and the almost familial connections of those who lived year-round and those who summered on the lake created a virtually impenetrable neighborhood watch.

Eric Jones' father was one of the two developers responsible for creating this sanctuary. After systematically buying up the properties of Old Lethe, MN, population 324, they destroyed the dam and created Lethe Lake and the town of New Lethe, playground to the could-have-been-wealthy and the wish-they-were-famous.

Matt Mead, Nate Fischer, and Eric Jones had never lived in Old Lethe, moving to the revitalized town four years ago with their families. The town had enjoyed nearly three years of prosperity before a year-long drought lowered the water level of Lethe Lake, exposing the rooftops of Old Lethe in several places and creating water hazards in over half the lake. Word in the small community was if they couldn't restore the lake, summer residency would drop and the town could be in financial ruin.

It was Matt's idea to search for the lock box.

Judge McAvoy had passed away the year after the town had been flooded; it was common knowledge among Lethe residents, old and new, that the good Judge had not trusted the small bank and had kept his riches in a lock box in the study of his home. After his death, no one had been able to find his box, sparking the rumor that he'd left it behind.

Matt was convinced that he could find that box; he'd found a street map of Old Lethe, located the Judge's residence, and with the confidence of youth fanning the flame of his conviction, talked his two friends into joining him on his quest to save the town—and become heroes in the meantime.

"Spooky out here," Eric said softly as Nate slowed the boat.

The moonless sky gave way to stars too numerous to count, but the dead light was barely enough to illuminate the dark surface of the lake. As they drew closer to the barrier that police now patrolled, Nate's hands shook slightly and he switched on the search light his father had mounted on the bow of the boat.

All three boys drew back involuntarily as the light immediately hit the cross and bell tower of the First Baptist Church, the tallest building in Old Lethe built atop a hill that crested at the edge of the sunken town.

"This is a bad idea," Nate whispered, the words almost becoming a chant as he muttered them again under his breath.

"Oh, Jesus, don't be a pussy," Matt growled, unzipping one of the duffel bags and pulling out an oxygen tank. "It's just some old buildings. Grow the fuck up already."

Eric and Nate exchanged a nervous glance, neither certain what scared them more: the empty, water-covered town, or looking like a pussy in front of Matt.

"Lookit that," Eric whispered, his hushed voice conveying deference to the eerie sight before them.

All three boys stilled, eyes front as Nate maneuvered the boat past the old church and further into the restricted area. They could see the very top crest of a rooftop near the shoreline, a rusted, bent weather vane breeching the surface of the dark water. Eric took hold of the search light, bending the beam until it no longer reached outward, but downward, through the first few clear inches of lake water, to the submerged buildings below.

"This. Is. So. Cool." Matt's voice trembled slightly. He wasn't sure if it was nerves or cold, but at this point he didn't care. "It's like we're discovering the Titanic or something."

"I think it's creepy," Nate muttered, turning the boat slightly to avoid catching the engine propellers on a barely submerged roof.

"You would," Matt and Eric replied in unison.

Nate shot them a dirty look, the gray light of dawn that had begun to penetrate the protection of trees turning his face a cold blue.

"Okay, we need to find Hanover Street," Matt said, shining his flashlight on the map he'd found of Old Lethe.

"Yeah? And how the hell are we supposed to do that? Not like we can ask for directions." Nate's sarcasm was cut by his chattering teeth.

Matt ignored him. "It's three streets down from the old church," he said, shining the flash light over his shoulder. "So, if that's the church, then I'd say…." He grabbed the search light from Eric and pointed it forward. "Hanover is probably right up there near that piece of land that juts out. See it?"

"There aren't any roofs above water over there," Eric pointed out, frowning. "What if the house is on the other side of the lake?"

"Nah, it's here." Matt shook his head once. "My dad said that the Judge had the biggest house in town. We can't miss it once we're down there."

Nate continued forward for a few more minutes, throttling back when Matt put a hand on his shoulder. He cut the engine and watched as Matt nodded with satisfaction. Breath collecting in small clouds before their shivering lips, Eric and Matt began to pull on the wet suits, their pale skin puckering with goose flesh in the cold morning air. All three had spent the last few summers shagging golf balls from the East end of the lake for minimum wage. They were accustomed to the suits and heavy tanks.

As the sun drew thin slivers of light on the eastern horizon, the pale gray of the morning shifted, exposing the shadow of the shoreline. Nate pressed the button on the dash, dropping the anchor to keep the boat stationary as his friends searched for the lock box. The quiet was broken only by the soft grunts of effort as the boys pulled the malleable rubber up over their slim bodies and the quiet lapping of the lake against the fiberglass hull of the boat.

The boys toppled slightly to the side when the boat bumped against something solid as it floated.

"I think we might be scraping against a roof," Eric said, tugging the zipper of the wetsuit up.

"I'll reset the anchor," Nate offered, pressing the button to pull up the anchor.

The grind of gears brought their heads up, three frowns identical.

"What's that?" Matt asked, shining the flashlight on the dash.

"It's stuck on something," Nate said. "I can't pull it up."

"Probably snagged one of the buildings," Matt said, shrugging into the shoulder straps of the oxygen tank. Eric helpfully shone the flashlight on the gauges as Matt checked the levels, testing the breather. "You two stay here; I'll get it loose and then Fischer can move the boat."

The other two boys nodded, watching as Matt pulled the face mask on and swung his legs over the edge of the boat. Instead of flippers, both he and Eric wore rubber shoes so as to move more easily inside the buildings and avoid getting snagged on any structural damage caused by the destructive water. Matt turned on the powerful underwater flashlight and grabbed Eric's arm, allowing his friend to lower him down.

Eric pulled his arm up quickly once Matt was in the water, shaking his fingers dry.

"Dude, that water's wicked cold," he complained. "This is crazy."

"Oh, so now it's crazy," Nate muttered, pounding on the anchor button sullenly. "When Mead's up here you're all, oh, Matty, I'm up for anything…I'll go with you, Matty…I'll wipe your ass for you, Matty…."

Eric threw a shoe at Nate, bouncing it off of his shoulder. "Shut up, Fischer."

"You just watch," Nate said, leaning over the edge of the boat and shining his flash light down onto the surface. "This whole stupid idea is going to totally blow up in our—"

Nate and Eric fell back yelling as Matt suddenly exploded from the water like a geyser, screeching around his breather. He scrabbled madly at the side of the boat, spitting his mouth piece out.

"Pull me up! Pull me up!" he shrieked.

Completely freaked out, Nate and Eric scrambled back to the side of the boat. Moving as one, they reached over the edge of the boat and grabbed onto their water-logged friend as Matt's voice became young and high-pitched with fear. Matt was heavy: the rubber wet suit was hard to grip and the oxygen tank pulled him backwards toward the water and out of their hands.

"What! What is it? What is it?" Eric screamed back at his friend, grabbing anything his cold hands could reach.

Before Matt could reply, a tangled mass of rotted cloth, weeds, and protruding bones surfaced next to him. Any doubt as to what it could be was removed when the yawning grin and empty eye sockets of a skull rolled upwards, bits of skin and hair still clinging to the bone.

Eric and Nate screamed, dropping their friend back into the water and backing away from the edge of the boat. As the corpse bobbed next to him, Matt's screams rivaled his friend's as he shucked the oxygen tank in record time, allowing it to fall to the bottom of the lake.

He kicked frantically, using his panicked momentum to reach the top edge of the boat. Nate continued to back up as Eric stared, horrified, at the body.

One arm floated toward Matt, the motion of the water turning the boney fingers into a summons.

"Get outta here, man! Go!" Matt screamed.

Nate crashed into Eric as he headed for the wheel. He slapped the flat of his hand on the anchor button, the satisfying sound of the cable retracting settling his nerves slightly.

"Jones! Jones! ERIC!" Nate yelled, finally having to reach out and shove his friend's shoulder to get his attention. Eric turned wide eyes toward him, his face sickeningly pale. "Get Matt! Help him!"

Eric didn't move. His feet seemed to have grown roots, cementing him upright at the edge of the boat. Nate could hear Matt's gasps of effort as he tried to climb aboard the boat.

"Matt!" He yelled. "Go around to the stern! Use the motor like a ladder, man!"

Matt clung to the side of the boat, his body shivering from cold and shock, his hands uncooperative. He followed Nate's instructions and flopped aboard the boat, rolling from the rear seat to the floor. The moment he was aboard, Nate started the motor, turning the wheel a sharp right and sending Eric to the ground on top of his friend.

"Just wanted to find the box—" Matt's voice trembled in time with his chattering teeth, covering his friends in a litany of horror and regret without pause for reason, "—that's all…wanted to save the town show my dad I could do something that mattered, you know…just do something right for once…something he'd be proud of…just one thing…find the box…and it's down there holding the fucking anchor like it's gonna ride out of the lake…oh my God it was just there just fucking there—"

"Shut up!" Eric finally yelled, shoving Matt away from him. "Shut the hell up!"

"Told you this was a bad idea," Nate proclaimed.

As he steered them toward the lakeside police station, the sunlight finally hit the water, turning their wake a frothy gold and glinting off of the cross that crested the surface, shining like a beacon toward what had been a watery grave.


Chapter One

Milwaukee, WI

It was like being hit with a sledgehammer.

Dean dimly recalled reading about shapeshifter's superior strength; Sam had recounted the struggle to simply survive the fight with the shifter who had taken on Dean's form. And there was no question this chick had eaten her Wheaties this morning. He was getting his ass kicked and hard.

His natural inclination to not hit a woman evaporated when he felt his shoulder pop as she twisted in his grip. Heat blew through his upper chest like a wildfire; he tried to stifle his cry, unwilling to draw the S.W.A.T. team's attention to the boiler room until he'd neutralized this threat.

Channeling the pain from his wrenched shoulder into a series of reactive blows, he managed to get her against the wall, barely controlling his hammering breath, his pulse pressing against the thin skin of his neck. Working to ignore the human look of desperation caught in her eyes, Dean grappled with the shifter for dominance.

And then her skin peeled away.

Horrified, Dean looked at the angry red of the exposed muscles in her arm, the skin gooey in his grip.

"Gross!" He gagged, reacting instinctively to the mess in his hand.

He dropped it to the floor, returning his attention to the creature caught between him and the wall, but he was two beats too late. The shifter used his distraction to her advantage and delivered an incapacitating blow to his groin. Dean instantly went to his knees, gasping for air. The white-hot pain shot like a lit rocket through his system, exploding in his gut like a bomb. His eyes watered as he sucked the involuntary yelp back behind his teeth.

Before he had a chance to recover, his head snapped harshly to the side as her closed fist slammed against his cheek once, twice. On the third hit his ears began to ring and the breath he desperately sought retreated further, his vision wavering, the shifter swimming before his eyes.

I know about your dad...I just can't get a handle on what type of whacko he was….

Hendrickson's words echoed in his ears, the implications spinning him, sending his vision gray. He once more felt the acid in his chest as the agent's bitter words draw black marks across John's memory, adding to the marks Dean had created with his own anger, resentment, and regret.

His failure to locate and eliminate this monster before Ron had been killed, before he and Sam had been cornered by Federal Agents twisted inside of him, turning his blood to ice. But as she pulled back her fist for another blow, Dean's mind suddenly quieted.

He barely felt the crack of bone on bone as the shifter endeavored to knock him cold. He ignored the lingering memory of Ron falling to his knees, his trusting eyes going dim and empty. He closed off the bright ache of anger Hendrickson's words about John had triggered in his heart.

He simply moved, years of hunter instinct overcoming pain.

Thrusting upward from his crouched position, Dean grabbed the shifter's leg, shoving her hard and fast against the wall and rising to his feet in one smooth motion. Muscles throbbing, Dean used his body to keep her pinned, grappling to keep her hands away from his aching head. He could feel the silver letter opener pressing against his lower back.

Moving quickly, he grabbed the weapon. With his face so close to the shifter's he could feel her breath on his bruised skin, he captured her desperate eyes with his and plunged the blade into her chest.

He felt her gasp, felt her shake with the shock of silver to her system, watched her eyes—inches from his own—flash in denial before awareness evaporated and the shifter's body went limp. Dean slid with her to the ground, unable for a moment to pull his eyes away from her face.

It was a monster. It was evil. It didn't matter how human it looked. It didn't matter that the sweat from their struggle still beaded on the smooth lines of its face or that the eyes still stared back at him or that the lips were parted with a last gasp of denial.

Evil was evil and this wasn't a she, this was an it. A thing. And he'd done his job.

He'd just done it too late to save the one innocent he'd wanted to protect.

A footfall behind him broke his revere. It was only a matter of time, he knew, before Hendrickson's team found him. With an odd sense of relief curling around the knot of dread in his gut, Dean sank to his knees in front of the body of the shifter, slowly raising his arms in surrender. He turned to face whoever had come to take him away.

The flashlight blinded him for a moment, but then he recognized the silhouette behind it.

"Sam?" he whispered, surprise sandwiched between the questions in his tone.

"You okay?" Sam's voice was breathy from exertion, the beam of light dropping from Dean's eyes.

Dean nodded and began to push to his feet. The pain in his groin had faded to a dull ache but his movement lit it up again. He gasped, swaying. Sam's fingers wrapped around his bicep, tightening and pulling at him.

"C'mon," Sam hissed through clenched teeth. "Don't have much time."

Dean allowed his brother to tug him upright; he stumbled away from the dead shifter and out of the boiler room. Leaning against the wall of the hallway, directly behind Sam, he paused to make sure no one was approaching from the other direction. Silently, Sam beckoned him forward with a nod of his head and Dean followed, biting hard on the inside of his cheek to keep from swearing out loud. His body thrummed with the rhythm of bruises, strained muscles, and regret.

They turned the corner and the sight that met Dean's eyes took him a moment to compute. Two men in full S.W.A.T. gear lay unconscious, their hands cuffed behind their backs. Dean shot a glance at Sam, unsure what his eyes were telling him.

Sam crouched next to the head of one man, looking up at Dean, anxiety clear in his expression. Dean knew what his brother was asking, knew what they needed to do, but he was having a hard time registering the fact that while he'd been fighting a woman—a woman with super-strength, yes, but still—his little brother had taken out two armed S.W.A.T. team members.

Jerking his head to the side in an impatient order to follow, Sam lifted the shoulders of one unconscious man and began to drag him to a small broom closet just beyond where they'd fallen. Taking a steadying breath, Dean grabbed the other man by the ankles and followed his brother through the doorway. His hands moving with quick precision, Sam began to strip his captive's clothes and gear.

Nodding, agreeing with his brother's logic, and more than a little pissed at himself for not thinking the same thing, Dean crouched, wincing at the tug of sore muscles along his belly and thighs, and began to pull the gear from his S.W.A.T. guy. In moments, they'd reduced the two unconscious cops to their skivvies and had donned their uniforms—pulling the gear over their own clothes with the exception of their long-sleeved shirts. Dean tossed his into the corner and watched as Sam shrugged and did the same.

It wasn't as if the Feds didn't know who they were. Leaving behind a small bit of DNA wasn't going to make much of a difference.

Habit had Dean checking the clip of his weapon and automatically flicking the safety on before pulling the ski mask down over his face. Voices were approaching from the south end of the building. Meeting his brother's eyes through the mask, Dean nodded once, then turned, heading back the way they'd come—toward the boiler room. More men were collecting in the hall both behind and in front of them.

Shoulders set, breathing even, Dean flicked his fingers once at his side, indicating Sam should follow him. He headed directly to the boiler room, his weapon pressed into his shoulder, barrel lowered. An African American man dressed in a dark suit with posture so tight it screamed Government Agent was standing in the center of the room glowering at the body of the shifter and the two cops that flanked her. Sam rotated, his back to Dean's, his weapon covering the other end of the hall.

As another man approached the room, Dean took a step back, signaling to Sam with a lift his chin that the room was clear—in case anyone was watching. Sam nodded and began to move away from the wall, his role played well.

"Sir?" The man who entered the room addressed the angry face of the Agent. "My team said it's secure. They're gone."

"You tell your team to tear it apart."

Dean froze mid-step. He knew that voice.

"The ducts, the ceilings, the furnace, everything."


Glancing back over his shoulder, Dean took another look at the agent who'd made it his mission to know all about Dean's life and had still managed to get it all wrong.

"I don't think that's necessary." The other cop shook his head.

Hendrickson frowned. "Why not?"

As the cop led Hendrickson from the boiler room, Dean and Sam folded themselves into the crowd of S.W.A.T. members, slipping through the halls to an unprotected exit. Silently, taking the steps two at a time, they hustled in unison from the rear of the bank into the cold of the winter morning, the steel-plated sky glaring down on them with silent accusation. They hustled to the parking garage where they'd left the Impala parked a lifetime ago.

Or yesterday.

Dropping behind the wheel, Dean waited until Sam slammed the passenger door shut then pushed the suffocating mask to the crest of his forehead, pulling in the cold, still air from the interior of the Impala into his quaking lungs.

He didn't look at his brother. He didn't need to.

"We are so screwed," he verified softly.


The morning light was tight around them, drawing every passing car, every building, every heavily-bundled pedestrian into sharp focus. Sam felt himself breathing shallowly, as if the sound of his lungs expanding might draw attention to them. They'd been forced to fly under the radar before when they were young, but John had always been with them. Sam had always been relatively shielded from the fear that they were two beats from being separated forever.

Dean shifted stiffly in the seat next to him; a small grunt of pain that Sam was positive his brother hadn't realized was audible leaked out between clenched teeth. Sam glanced over, tearing his eyes from his surveillance of the passing geography. Dean gripped the steering wheel as if it were a lifeline—the one thing keeping him grounded in the safety of now.

"You okay?" Sam asked, the sound of his own voice in the quiet confines of the Impala making his skin jump.

Dean lifted his chin slightly by way of an answer.

Sam looked closer; he could see a red mark on his brother's cheekbone, framing his eye—marks of knuckles that would inevitably fade to purple and yellow bruises. He'd not taken time to absorb much beyond shifter dead when he'd hurried back to retrieve his brother and get the hell out of there.

Flexing his right hand, Sam looked down at the black-clad appendage. Dean had cut the cast free not more than a week ago. The skin that had been covered by the plaster had been pale, flakey, and he'd scratched it for almost a full day. But it felt strong.

Strong enough to take out two S.W.A.T. guys. On his own.

Dean turned a sharp right, sending Sam against the passenger door.


He wasn't, Sam knew. It was just lip-service to cover I can't think of what to do next. Sam didn't have any answers at the moment, either, but Dean not knowing what to do torqued up Sam's anxiety to an almost visible level. Things had been bad before. St. Louis had rattled them. Baltimore had been rough. But it had never been this bad. It had never been this close.

"That guy…the suit in the boiler room," Sam started.

"Hendrickson," Dean provided, his voice like ground gravel.

"He was the agent you talked to?"

Dean nodded.

"And he," Sam swallowed, "he knew about us?"

Dean took a left. Sam was completely lost; the only thing he was sure of was that they were still, unfortunately, in Milwaukee. Dean was doing his level-best to get out of the city without using any main roads.

"He knew about Dad?"

"He didn't know shit about Dad."

The anger riding the surface of Dean's words brought Sam's head up. He turned, focusing his full attention on Dean.

"What did he say to you, man?"

Dean shook his head once and Sam saw his eyes slide to the side-view mirror. Instead of answering, Dean pulled the ski mask completely off his head and tossed it in the back seat. Tucking one hand under his arm, he pulled a glove free using his bicep as a grip, then alternated with the other hand.

"We gotta ditch this gear."

Sam looked down at the vest, large, white letters across the front proclaiming what they weren't.

"Some of it might come in handy," he offered.

"No," Dean shook his head. "We ditch it."

"Fine," Sam relented, sagging back against the seat and bracing his legs on the floorboards as Dean managed to fit the wide Chevy down an impossibly narrow alley.

Silence sat like a judge between them for another moment until Dean said, "You just get the drop on them, or what?"

Sam looked over, confused. "Huh?"

"Two cops, dude. Down and cuffed. How the hell?"

Sam arched an eyebrow, masking the flutter of worried panic that woke once more at Dean's words. "Jealous?"

Dean's lips twitched and Sam felt the bands encircling his chest ease slightly at that small indication of normalcy.

"Next time," his brother drawled, "you fight the monster; I'll take the cops."

"No thanks," Sam shook his head. "Already had to fight one of those bastards."

"Your hand okay?"

Now at the edge of the city, they approached an empty railroad crossing, the cross bars lowered. Sam felt rather than saw Dean tense up; he echoed the feeling. A frightening scenario immediately shot through Sam's mind: sitting at the crossing, cops pulling up behind them, train in front of them. Trapped and out of options. His gut told him the agent that had found them in the bank wouldn't be stonewalled as easily as the Baltimore police department.

Dean leaned forward. "See a train?"

Sam shook his head, palms sweating as another scenario—this one ending with them as so much scrap metal smeared on the front of a freight engine—filled his head. The tracks were empty, though, as was the road behind and ahead of them.

"I'm going," Dean informed him.

Sam spread his hands flat on his knees, holding very still as Dean threaded the crossbeams, the Impala jostling and bumping across the tracks. Once clear, he felt sweat tickle the back of his neck and shed the ski mask and gloves, tossing his into the back seat with Dean's.

"Hand's fine," he answered Dean's question. "Didn't even really punch them."

"How the hell are they training those guys?" Dean remarked, visibly relaxing as they left Milwaukee in their rear-view mirror and wound their way through the suburbs toward Highway 18. Madison was roughly an hour away, according to the road sign.

Sam shrugged, looking back down at his hand, thinking about how easy it had been to disarm and overpower two presumably highly-trained cops. He swallowed. Dean's quiet confession—he said I had to save you…and if I couldn't…he said I might have to kill you, Sammy—never really left Sam's mind. His brother's subsequent promise—to follow through—both chilled and reassured Sam.

Sighing, Sam rubbed his head, stress pushing the edges of his skull against the taut skin. A low thrum was starting up behind his eyes. He hadn't had a vision in months. Not since the Croatoan massacre—as he'd come to think of it.

What if I'm…changing? Is…strength just part of it all?

"Don't do that, Sammy."

Sam brought his head up, blinking at his brother in confusion. "Do what?"

"I know what that big brain of yours is thinking." Dean glanced askance at him. "You were trained by a soldier and a hunter. You have instincts. End of story."

Sam didn't know why he was so surprised. When he wasn't tail spinning from grief and pain, Dean had always been able to see right through him.

"But…I mean…," Sam tilted his head, popping his tense neck. "Even you have to admit…that's not really like me."

Dean lifted a shoulder, tilting his head slightly in concession. "True. You totally suck at hand-to-hand."

Sam grimaced.

"But," Dean continued, "you have never let me down. Not once, man."

"How did I—"

"And if you hadn't done what you did? I'd be in some Federal lock-up right now."

Sam frowned. "You'd have gotten away."

"Nah, man." Dean rolled his right arm, wincing at the motion of his shoulder. "That chick kicked my ass. I was done."

Sam took a breath. "Guess you never know what you'll do until you're tested, huh?"

"Exactly," Dean nodded. "So none of this what am I turning into crap, get me?"

Sam couldn't stop the half-grin that ticked up the corner of his mouth. He dropped his eyes to his lap in an effort to disguise the relief of having his brother understand.


The first few months after John's death had been hard on Sam, but it had nearly erased Dean. His brother had been flailing, fighting shadows, not sleeping, wired so tight a deep breath practically shattered him. Part of that, Sam knew now, was the secret John had pressed upon him; a weight so great that even now it bowed Dean's shoulders and dogged Sam's every thought.

But most of it stemmed from a truth so thin and fragile Sam could only really see it from the side. It was a hologram of fact that sprang forward in vivid color if Sam stared hard enough. He knew Dean couldn't bring himself to see it, not yet anyway.

It was the truth that screamed that they were alone.

There was no longer a leader, no one to tell them what to do. No coordinates to follow, no approval to seek. The only thing keeping them together now was history and an unspoken agreement to find and kill the demon that had taken their family from them. It was a freedom Sam had craved—not at the cost of his father's life—to simply to be left to his own discretion.

But that freedom was suffocating to Dean.

His brother had been a soldier in someone else's war his entire life and the one battle he'd never won—as far as Sam knew—was the fight to gain his own father's approval. They were in a new world now, on their own with only a scant few friends willing and able to cover their backs. Sam knew Dean walked around the jagged truth that Sam could leave anytime.

He didn't want to, not now. But sometimes Sam had to wonder if being with his brother was just another harsh reminder to Dean of the father he'd lost and the reward he'd never get.

"Where are you going?" Sam asked, pulling out of his head and taking a renewed interest in their surroundings.

"It's Friday, right?"

Sam frowned. "Yeah, I think so."

"Middle of the morning—everyone's at school or work."

Sam looked at his brother. "Yeah…so?"

"Hang on," Dean ordered, turning down a residential street to an apartment complex and a gravel alley.

At the end of the alley was a collection of dumpsters. Sam nodded slowly.

"Use the shop towel," Dean instructed, shoving the gear into Park. "Wipe down all prints. Get rid of everything—vest, clothes, belt, the whole nine. Take the weapon apart—completely, every piece—and put them in the dumpsters."

"Got it."

The winter air was frigid; Sam felt the moisture sucked from his skin and mouth, reminding him immediately that it had been over twenty-four hours since they'd eaten or slept. He grabbed long-sleeve shirts from the duffels in the trunk; he heard the pieces of Dean's weapon clank against the inside of the dumpsters. He followed suit, tossing a shirt and jacket to his brother, watching as Dean moved stiffly back toward the Impala, his normally rolling gait lurching unevenly with his limp.

"You mess your knee up or something?" Sam asked.

"Not…exactly," Dean groaned, twisting at the waist to work out the soreness gathering in his muscles.

"What happened?"

"Let's just say…that shifter never heard of the Marquess of Queensberry Rules."

Sam's eyes instinctively bounced down to Dean's groin, then back up. He winced. "Ouch."

"That's putting it mildly."

They climbed back into the car and Sam immediately cranked the heat, rubbing his hands together in front of the vent.

"Now where?"

Dean sighed, pulling away from the apartment buildings. "I don't know, man."

"Want to get some food?"

Dean's stomach growled loudly in response.

"I'll take that as a yes," Sam chuckled.

"Let's get to Madison," Dean suggested. "Farther we are from that guy, the better."

"Maybe we should…I don't know…change our appearance or something," Sam suggested, once more scouring the streets, checking the mirrors, watching for signs of a tail or suspicious activity.

"What, like disguises?"

Sam shrugged, his face heating up. "Maybe."

The grin was evident in Dean's voice, though Sam refused to look at him. "Sure, Sammy. I could die my hair blond with peroxide and you could cut yours short…use a pocket knife, though. Make it authentic."

"Shut up." Sam shook his head and looked out the window. "It was just an idea."

"No, no, I'm with you," Dean said, warming to his theme. "We could go hide out in an abandoned church and read Gone With the Wind until the church burns down 'cause of our cancer sticks."

"We don't smoke."

"Good point."

"Like I said," Sam pouted, his pride marked up a bit by his brother's teasing, "just an idea."

Dean pushed at his shoulder good naturedly. "Relax, man. We didn't have to do that after Baltimore. We're gonna be fine."

Disgruntled, Sam snapped at him. "This is on an entirely different level from Baltimore, Dean. We have no idea if we're gonna be fine!"

He heard Dean's jaw pop as his brother clenched his teeth. "What do you want me to say, Sammy?"

"I don't know!" Sam shouted. "But saying it's gonna be fine doesn't make it true. It was bad enough that you were wanted for murder in St. Louis—"

"I beat that; I died, remember?"

"—and then we had to get mug shots taken in Baltimore," Sam reminded him. "You know we only got out of that by luck."

"I'd like to think it had something to do with our wit and charm," Dean glanced at him.

Sam glared at him.

"Dude, look." Dean tilted his chin down, eyes darting between Sam and the road. "I know we're screwed. You know we're screwed. Since when has talking about being screwed made it any better?"

Sam blinked, seeing the twitch of Dean's mouth as his brother returned his attention to the road. He quieted, accepting Dean's point—however skewed with subversion it might've been—that they weren't going to improve their situation just by beating the facts into the ground.

"Least we don't have to ditch the car," Sam muttered, absentmindedly.

The air around Dean seemed to disappear for a moment. Sam looked over, surprised to see his brother so pale.


"Don't even joke about that."

Sam held up a hand. "Sorry, I just—"

"We are never ditching her, you understand?" Dean looked quickly at him, then returned his eyes to the road.

"Of course not, Dean," Sam placated. "I only meant…I'm glad this Hendrickson guy never saw her. We wouldn't ditch her."

Dean shook his head. "Damn straight."

Sam swallowed. It was good to have Dean back in the game, doing the job without that bloodlust that had frightened Sam and with a little less of the bone-deep weariness he'd witnessed on more than one occasion. But it didn't take much to remind Sam that his brother was gripping this persona by the fingertips. There was a thin line between Dean and devastation.

And it made Sam wonder why he was different. His desperation was there, was palpable and real, but he never felt as if he was one step away from crashing.

"Might have to change her plates one of these days, though."

Sam nodded carefully, unwilling to agree too quickly.

"Dad had to do that a few times when you were little," Dean informed him.

"I remember."

"We've had this one a long time, though," Dean sighed. "Kinda…I don't know…makes me feel like we have somewhere left to go."

"You mean Lawrence?" Sam asked, unable to keep the snarl from his voice. He never wanted to go back there. That place meant nothing but pain to him.

Dean lifted a shoulder. "Yeah, I guess. I mean, everyone has to be from somewhere."

Sam didn't reply. They rode in uncertain silence until they reached the exit for Madison. Dean pulled into a gas station, leaning over to the glove box to pull out a collection of credit cards.

"You remember which one we used in Milwaukee?"

"Ezra Gamble," Sam replied.

"Right," Dean nodded, flipping that card back into the stack. "How about Jerry Kaplan? Haven't seen him in awhile."

He grinned disarmingly at Sam who rolled his eyes in return.

"Whatever, dude, just hurry up. I'm starving."

The door of the Impala opened with a creak and Dean flipped him a smart-assed salute before circling around to the back of the car and to fill it up with gas. He left the door open allowing the bite of air to crystallize the interior of the car.

"Jerk," Sam muttered, sliding across the car and pulling the door shut.

As he did, he caught the image of a police car rolling up to a pump across the way. He shot a look at Dean over his shoulder and saw that his brother had turned his back to the cruiser, the collar of his jacket popped to both protect him from the wind and shield his face from a clear view.

Using Jerry Kaplan's credit card to pay at the gas pump, Dean returned to the wheel and started up the Chevy, pulling away from the gas station without a word. Sam felt anxiety beating a syncopated rhythm on the backbeat of each breath he took. There was virtually nowhere they could go that they wouldn't run into cops. And there was no guarantee that this Agent Hendrickson hadn't flooded every police station in Wisconsin with their pictures and descriptions.

"Gotta be someplace to eat outside of town," Dean said quietly.

Sam nodded. He'd gone this long without food—another hour wouldn't kill him. Needing to dispel the tense quiet, Sam fished around in the box of cassette tapes Dean had salvaged from the wreckage and popped the first one he found into the player, turning the volume up to just beneath burst-ear-drum level.

Dean shot him a look of surprise. "Dude, Iron Maiden?"

"It could be Simon and Garfunkel for all I care," Sam yelled over the scream of guitars. Just need something else in my head besides my own voice.

Dean's frown was fierce. "I'd rather go to Federal prison."

"Far away from the land of our birth, we fly a flag in some foreign earth. We sailed away like our fathers before; these colors don't run from cold bloody war…."

They drove on, leaving Madison behind them and following Highway 18 to the next point on the road. It had started to snow several miles back and the large flakes flung themselves against the windshield, coating it until Dean was forced to turn on the wipers to see his way clear. Sam could feel the wind push against the large machine, enhancing the floating effect.

Turning the volume down slightly so that he wasn't screaming, Dean said, "What'd you tell your friends about Dad?"

Sam shot a look at him. "What? What friends?"

"I mean when you were at Stanford. What did you tell them he did?"

Sam looked away, guilt turning his gut cold, his heart heavy. "Why?"

"Something that dick Hendrickson said…made me think about how all our stories just…," Dean rolled his bottom lip against his teeth. "I mean he had all the right facts but had put the picture together all wrong. Y'know?"

"Who's gonna put the right picture together, Dean?" Sam challenged him. "Who would ever believe the truth about Dad? About how we lived?"

"People we've helped," Dean replied. "People who've seen what's really out there."

"Not like we have reunions or anything, man. We help them, we move on. End of story."

Shaking his head slowly, Dean turned the car into the sloped entrance of a truck stop and diner. The music cut off mid-lyric when he shut off the car. Turning slightly in his seat, Dean met Sam's gaze, his eyes heavy with everything he wasn't saying. Sam waited, expecting details, a reveal of Hendrickson's words, but instead Dean's eyes went flat, action and duty canceling need.

"We eat, we find a place to crash for a few hours, and then we figure out what to do next."

Sam nodded in agreement. "We gotta lay low for awhile, Dean. A hunt right now…," he let his tone trail off.

Dean worried his lip a bit more. "Haven't been to Bobby's in awhile."

"Good idea." Sam stepped out of the car, his mind on options, coming up with few.

Snow had begun to accumulate on the ground and along the front grill of the Impala. Sam watched it dust his brother's short hair and collect on his lashes in the short time it took to walk from the car to the diner's entrance. They walked in, stomping their boots clear of snow and ruffling it from their hair with a quick swipe of fingers.

Dean flashed two fingers at a hostess who looked as if time had pulled the skin of her face loose and neglected to fold it back up again. The weight of it dragged the corners of her mouth down into a bored frown, though her brown eyes were bright as they raked over Dean and tracked down the length of Sam's body.

He felt his face heat up under her sharp gaze. She grabbed two menus and led them to a booth. Dean tipped his head toward the restrooms and Sam nodded back, sliding into the booth as Dean continued past. He ordered two coffees and picked up the menu, his mouth practically watering as he contemplated the sparse offerings.

"Hey, George," called a smoke-ravaged voice sitting at the coffee bar. Sam instinctively looked over, eyes catching on a gray-haired man in overalls with a green John Deer hat shoved to the back of his head. The man was looking at the small TV situated over the coffee makers. "Turn that up, will yas?"

"Since when d'ja care about the news, Charlie?" George, Sam presumed, replied, reaching up and cranking a tiny knob to the right.

"Yous all see that crazy shit—er, 'scuse me—stuff last night in Milwaukee?" Charlie asked him.

Sam's fingers went numb. The menu slapped against the Formica table top as he stared at the news report. On TV, a woman stood in front of the City Bank of Milwaukee, pale daylight surrounding her and causing her to squint as the wind and snow slapped her styled hair against her cheek. He couldn't make out what she was saying over the sound of the men at the counter.

"Some lunatic took a buncha hostages at that bank yesterday; killed three they said," Charlie continued.

"You don't say," George replied, turning the volume up more.

Sam zeroed in on the report, watching as the shot faded from the female news reporter and "Bank Robber: Milwaukee, WI" appeared in the lower left corner, "Recorded Earlier" in the upper right. Unconsciously, Sam rubbed his forehead, his eyes burning with denial.

The female reporter's voice was tinny through the speakers, but it didn't matter: the effect was sufficient.

"We're here downtown in front of the City Bank of Milwaukee, and though a short exchange of weapons fire occurred just minutes ago, police and S.W.A.T. teams maintain position as we enter the third hour of this intense standoff."

The camera bounced slightly as the news team became aware of action at the front of the bank. Sam could hear the voice of the security guard Dean had been leading out to get medical help call out to the myriad of police.

"No, don't shoot, don't shoot!"

And then he saw him. Dean's face was tight with fear—fear like Sam had not seen on his brother's face since they found out that Meg was holding John captive. He saw then the realization of how much trouble they were in settling against Dean's shoulders, crashing down on his brother like a judge's gavel.

"No, no, no, don't even think about it! Get the hell back!" Dean shouted at the cops, pushing the security guard in front of him with one hand, a rifle clutched in his other.

Sam hadn't been there—he'd been heading back into the bank, searching for the shifter. He trembled slightly inside, unable to tear his eyes away as the image returned to daylight and the freezing reporter outside the scene of the crime. She continued speaking, but Sam could barely register the words.

Dean's smart-assed, lip-puckered mug shot flashed up on the screen followed by images of an African American male, the female shifter, and Ronald. Sam rubbed his face. All of them—they were blaming all three deaths on Dean.

"The suspect was last seen fleeing the scene dressed as a S.W.A.T. officer. He is considered armed and extremely dangerous."

The image of Dean emerging from the bank behind the security guard returned, the frame freezing on his profile. Where Sam saw only fear in that expression, others, he knew, would see danger.

"If you have any information on this man, call the number you see on your screen here."

George tsked, his tongue clicking against his teeth loudly. "That boy's gonna have all of Wisconsin on his ass," he muttered.

"Yeah," Charlie nodded as George turned down the volume. "He ain't got nowhere to run."

It took until that moment for Sam to register one key fact: they hadn't once mentioned him. Dean had told him Hendrickson knew about both of them, but the news report had focused only on Dean. Rubbing his face, Sam looked back up at the TV, but the news had moved on to other stories. His eyes caught those of the hostess, though, and he felt his heart trip slightly.

She was watching him, sliding her gaze carefully from their booth back toward the restroom.

She knows, Sam thought desperately.

As casually as possible, he stood, smiled innocently at the keen-eyed woman, and ambled back to the restroom. Once in the alcove, he slapped his hand against the door, hissing is brother's name in a stage whisper.


A toilet flushed.


"Jesus, Sammy, what the hell?"

Dean's voice drifted toward him from the back of the row of stalls. Passing the urinals and the carefully averted eyes of the truckers standing there, Sam followed the sound.

"We gotta go. Now."

Dean exited a stall, his eyes worried, his gaze shooting up and over Sam's shoulder.

"What is it?"

"Now." Sam stressed.

Nodding, Dean moved past him, heading for the restroom door. Pushing it open, he snuck his head around the edge, looking toward the front.

"You see a back door?" he asked Sam.

"No." Sam was practically bouncing on the balls of his feet from anxiety.

"Hey," said a man standing at the sink.

Dean and Sam turned to look at him.

"Thataway," the man informed them, jerking his head to the side. "Past the coolers."

"Thanks," Dean replied, then led the way, Sam close on his heels.

They didn't question the help; they simply took it and the escape it offered. Leaving hefty tracks in the snow as they jogged toward the Impala, they pulled out of the parking lot with Iron Maiden's scream loud enough to cover their fear-laced heartbeats.


Dean's hands flexed on the steering wheel; he tried to calm his racing pulse. The daylight was weak; watered-down sunshine giving way to the darkness of the growing storm. He'd turned northwest when they left the diner, picking up I-94 in hopes that the Interstate would be clearer from the apparently state-wide snowstorm.

The music beat against his skull, distracting him, but Dean didn't want to release the wheel long enough to turn it down. Snow coated the windshield between swishes of the wiper blade and the wind, that had nearly knocked Sam off his feet as they ran to the car, beat against the Impala from all sides, turning her into a giant zamboni.

From the corner of his eyes, he could see Sam dividing his attention between the mirrors and the road ahead, his body leaning forward in an unconscious indication of how badly he wanted to keep moving, get away, turn invisible. It shook Dean how vulnerable he felt; after all they'd done, all they'd survived it seemed unfair that they would be in danger of getting caught like this.

Correction, he was in danger of getting caught. His face, his name was plastered all over Channel 8 news as a murderer. Not Sam's.

"Friggin' cops killed Ron," Dean muttered, unable to help himself. "Even a rookie in ballistics should be able to tell that."

"Hendrickson wants people to catch you, not sympathize with you," Sam pointed out.

"Dick." Dean shook his head slightly, remembering the look of relief and gratitude on Ronald's face when Dean confirmed that, while not a Mandroid, what they were after was indeed unnatural. "This wrong place, wrong time stuff sucks ass. Hendrickson sucks ass."

"You said he knew about me," Sam said once more.

"Bonnie to my Clyde," Dean said by way of answer.

"So how come they didn't show my pic—"

"Because this bastard's got a hard on for me, man," Dean muttered. "Said he's made it his business to know all about me."

"He only knows the lies, Dean," Sam replied, his resistance automatic.

"He knows enough," Dean muttered.

"What do we do now?" Sam asked, his voice losing years as it slipped between the tracks of music and finding a home in Dean's heart.

Dean didn't answer. He couldn't.

There had always been somewhere to go next; a mission, a job, a hunt. There had always been a way to avoid detection. But before…there had also been someone to lead the way, to bark the orders, to focus them. Sam was right; they'd been lucky in Baltimore. If it hadn't been for Ballard seeing the truth, if it hadn't been for her sympathy and understanding, Sheridan would have killed him and Sam would be in prison.


Taking a breath, and releasing it a heartbeat at a time, Dean was finally able to unclench his hands and turn down the music. It was his turn to lead the way; Sam needed a beacon now just as surely as Dean had needed it all those years before.

"We go to ground," he said. "Just like before. You remember Utah?"

Sam frowned. "Utah?"

"The cabin?"

"Dude, I was twelve."

"Old enough," Dean informed him. "We get out of Wisconsin, stock up, find some place and hole up for a week or two. Just like in Utah."

"What about going to Bobby's?"

"We'll call him when we surface," Dean decided. "We need to be gone long enough that they start looking farther away. Mexico. Canada."

"But we aren't going farther away?"

"In this weather? We're gonna be lucky to get to Minnesota."

"So, no hunts," Sam said, as if needing to establish parameters in his mind. "No looking for the demon."

"Not until we've shaken Hendrickson loose, man," Dean said. "We can't risk it…right?"

"I know. But…kinda seems like sometimes…hunts just find us."

"Be hard to find us in the middle of nowhere," Dean muttered grimly.

They drove on, taking an exit for Highway 10 after passing a cop. The road was all-but deserted; people having more sense than to get out in the middle of a snowstorm.

Dean pulled out of a slight skid and narrowed his eyes at an almost snow-covered sign. "Look—20 miles to someplace called Lethe, Minnesota."

"Christ, it's windy," Sam muttered.

Dean gripped the wheel once more, working to see through the increasing snow. By the time he saw a red and blue neon sign through the blur, it was almost completely dark.

"What's that?"

"Looks like a…Quick Shop? Maybe?" Sam replied, eyes narrowed as he peered through the weather.

Dean pulled over, stopping outside the brick building, peering at the blinking lights in the window advertising milk, beer, and lotto tickets.

"I'll go," Sam offered.

"'S okay, I got this," Dean replied, reaching over the back of the seat to the floor behind him. He grabbed the gloves and ski mask he'd tossed back there, pulling them on and covering his entire face, save his eyes.

Sam folded his lips down in appreciation. Dean grinned behind the mask.

"Be right back."

He stumbled from the car, bending slightly to keep from being knocked over by the wind. Grasping the entry bar, he pulled the door toward him, using it to leverage himself inside.

"Damn," he muttered, shaking the snow from his eyelashes.

"You nuts? What the hell you doin' on the road in this?" exclaimed the clerk from his perch behind the counter.

Dean looked over taking note of the man's white hair and wide shoulders before he saw the paper in the man's hands. His picture graced the front page.

You gotta be kidding me.

"Just trying to get a few things before we find a place to pull over," Dean said, lifting a gloved hand in a dismissive, don't mind me gesture. "Be out of your hair in a minute."

Keeping the ski mask in place, he grabbed as many random supplies as he could as quickly as he could and headed to the counter. It wouldn't last them long; he'd have to find another place to stock up before they fell off the grid completely.

"You better get off the road soon, kid," the clerk informed him. "Looks to be going from bad to worse."

"Thanks," Dean nodded at him, gathering the sacks by the plastic handles and heading back out of the door. The wind pushed at him, knocking him against the hood of the Impala before he was able to push his way to the door and safely inside.

"Son of a bitch!" He exclaimed, closing the door behind him and thrusting the bags into Sam's lap. "It's like Hoth out there."

Sam dropped the bags over the back seat and obligingly turned the heat up. "Let's just make sure one of us doesn't get stuffed into the belly of a Ton-ton."

Dean yanked the ski mask from his face and tossed it to the floor at Sam's feet. "Funny," he said, rubbing his short hair and dragging his hands down his cold face.

"What'd you get?" Sam asked, peering into the plastic bags.

"Not enough," Dean complained, sliding the gear to Reverse and pulling out. He told Sam about the newspaper.

"Dude works fast, I'll give him that," Sam muttered, slouching low in the seat.

"I got a bad feeling about this guy, Sammy. This isn't the last we've seen of him."

"Yeah, well," Sam grumbled, his fingers pulling at his lower lip. "Next time let's make sure it's on our terms."

They drove into the storm, Dean's arms and back aching from the effort of keeping the big Chevy on the road. Sam called out when they crossed the state line, but Dean drove on. He could feel the agent's breath on his neck, his words teasing like a lure on a fishing line. Dean knew it served no purpose, letting the man's arrogance trigger him. But the smug attitude of assumption wrapped around each of Hendrickson's words had Dean's jaw line tight, his muscles there coiling beneath his skin.

"Whoa!" Dean cried as the Chevy slipped on the slicked road, her headlights bouncing off of the blowing snow rather than cutting through it.

"You okay?"

"Hang on to something, Sammy."

"Think we should pull over?"



"No, no. I got this."

"Dean—she's sliding…Dean!"

He turned into the skid, trying to correct the Impala's spin, but the elements worked against him. It felt as if the blizzard reached out, grabbed his car, and tossed her off the main road. They bounced across the embankment, the Impala's headlights picking up the hulking shape of what could only be trees.

Dean stood on the brake pedal with both feet, turning the wheel to the left as hard as he could, his will a living thing that sprang from his chest and flung itself between the metal of the car and the improbable fate of a wooden death. They rocked to an abrupt, harsh stop, Dean's chest crashing against the steering wheel as the resounding crack of Sam's head against the dash filled the interior of the car.

For a moment neither of them moved.

The radio played on, the engine hummed, heat wrapped around them.

"Sam?" Dean whispered. He pushed gingerly away from the steering wheel with a grunt of pain, his chest whimpering from the impact. "Sammy, you okay?"

He heard Sam's groan and reached over to tentatively ease his brother back away from the dash. Wincing, he turned Sam's face toward him.

"When I said…we should pull over…," Sam muttered, the wan light from the dash illuminating his tight features, "I really thought…it would hurt less."

"Lemme see," Dean ordered, shifting a knee up on the seat to leverage himself for a better look at Sam's head. He hissed. "You got yourself a goose egg there, kiddo."

"And a headache to match it."

"I got ibuprofen at the Quick Shop," Dean informed him brightly.

"Oh, goody."

Sighing, Dean wiped condensation from the interior of the window. "We didn't hit the trees."

"Lucky us."

Squaring his shoulders, Dean shifted the gear into Reverse, pressing on the gas. The sound of spinning tires filled the interior of the car. He tried Drive. No luck.

"Would it help if I got out and pushed?" Sam asked, the palm of his hand against his eyebrow.

"It might," Dean replied, shooting his brother a look. "Use the gloves and ski mask."

"I was kinda kidding," Sam pouted, pulling the protective covering on.

"Yeah, well, I wasn't."

Sam muttered something under his breath, exiting the car in a flurry of frenzied snow. Dean opened his door a crack to be able to hear his brother call out. Dimly, he heard Sam shout go and he pressed on the gas. Sam's cries of stop, stop, stop were audible over the spinning tires and Dean shoved the gear into Park.

Gasping for breath over the sound of the wind, Sam went to his knees in the doorway of the driver's side.

"We're wedged against a snow bank, man," he informed Dean. "We're not getting out until we can move that snow."

Dean nodded. "Get in here and warm up," he ordered. "I'll get the spare blankets from the trunk."

Sam nodded wearily and staggered around the front of the car. Dean saw Sam climb into the back seat as he blindly made his way to the trunk, grabbing the extra blankets, coats, and towels from the duffels, his hands shaking from cold, his body aching.

He climbed back behind the wheel, tossing Sam some blankets. "We're not going to be able to keep the car running all night, so bundle up."

"When you said go to ground," Sam grunted as he wrapped the blankets around his chilled body, "I had something totally different in mind."

Dean pulled on a third jacket, tucking the towels around his cold legs. "Look at it this way," he said, cranking the heat for a moment, "no way Hendrickson is gonna find us in the middle of blizzard in BFE Minnesota."

"Buried in snow off the side of the road."


Putting his back to the driver's side door, Dean looked over the back of the seat and met Sam's eyes staring back from the opposite direction. The bruise on Sam's forehead was going to be impressive, but his brother's eyes were bright and aware. Dean pressed a hand against his own chest, willing the ache to ease. Instead, it simply rolled into the other aches and twinges his abused body was working to combat thanks to the ninja skills of a now-dead shapeshifter.

"You still sore?" Sam asked after a moment.

Dean rubbed his chest. "I'll live."

"You hungry?"


Sam dug into the plastic bags, pulling out the ibuprofen first. Handing Dean four, he dug deeper into the bags. "Water, good. Jerky, okay. Dude, Hostess pie? Really?"

"I was in a hurry." Dean held his hand out for the pie.

"Beer, of course. Corn chips? We are gonna have some awesome breath."

"Hey, I also got toilet paper and toothpaste."

"What else is there in life?"

Sam popped a tab from a beer and handed one to Dean, taking another for himself. Turning the radio up, Dean finished the pie and motioned for Sam to hand him some jerky.

"Twenty minutes and I gotta shut her off. Need to make sure we got enough juice to get out of this in the morning."

Sam nodded, his eyes far away. Dean could tell his brother was listening to the music still rolling from the Impala's speakers. Dean tapped his fingers along with Iron Maiden as the band worked their way across the chords.

"Just for a second a glimpse of my father I see, and in a movement he beckons to me. And in a moment the memories are all that remain, and all the wounds are reopening again…."

"Hey," Sam said suddenly. "Did you mean what you said about Dad?"

Dean finished his beer and reached for another. "Which time?"

"When you said he was an ass," Sam replied. "I've never heard you call him that before."

Dean blinked, surprised. "You remember that? You were three sheets, dude."

"I remember," Sam said, starting his second beer. "I remember your promise, too."

"So you've told me."

"But did you mean it? What you called him?"

Dean sighed. "I meant it at the time. Did I mean it forever? No."

"You were mad at him, though."

Dean looked at his brother. "Yeah, I was mad at him."

"Why?" Sam folded his brows together. Dean watched him tap out three pills from the bottle of ibuprofen and swallow it with his beer.

"What do you mean, 'why'? I told you what he said to me."

"I mean…he was always asking you to do stuff you didn't want to, but you still always did it."

Dean crumpled his second can and reached for a third. "Like what?"

Sam shrugged. "Well…like…taking care of me."

Dean arched a brow. "How hard'd you hit your head anyway?"

"I'm serious, Dean."

"So am I. I wanted to take care of you, Sam. I was never mad at Dad for asking me to do that."

Sam looked away, quiet for a moment. "I guess…I just always figured I was…a weight on you."

"Sammy…you dumbass." Dean shook his head. "Why'd you think I came back to get you when Dad disappeared, huh?"

Sam lifted a shoulder, not answering.

"Taking care of you, watching out for you…man, that's never been the problem. The problem was Dad knowing something and pulling that 'need to know' bullshit and then giving me just enough information to scare the shit out of me before he…," Dean clenched his jaw at the memory, "traded himself to a demon in exchange for me. He was an ass for putting that on me—on us—without giving us anything else to go on."

"Yeah, I guess," Sam muttered, eyes still on the white world outside.

They were quiet for a moment. Dean kept his eyes on Sam, waiting. When his brother didn't reveal what else was obviously twisting him up inside, Dean took a breath.

"What are you really asking, Sam?"

"Why are you staying with me, Dean?" Sam looked at him then, his eyes like wounds in a face too young to have lived through as much as he had. "I mean…why don't you just…leave?"

"Leave?" Dean felt the weight of that word like an anvil on his heart, pressing down to the point of rupturing it. "Why the hell would I leave?"

"I'm like some…ticking bomb, man. We don't know what's going to happen to me, we don't know when." Sam's face was hollowed out with the worry that had been haunting him, Dean realized, since he'd been told the truth. "All we know is that it's gonna be bad—bad enough Dad made you promise to kill me rather than let me…go there. And now…on top of all that, we've got this Federal Agent after us—"

"—after me," Dean corrected.

"Exactly my point. After you. And if you didn't have me to worry about, you could disappear." Sam pressed his lips together for a moment, shaking his head. "I know you, man. Just like Dad, you could turn into a ghost and Hendrickson would never find you. If you were alone."

"Listen to me." Dean held his brother's eyes, his voice low, his tone as serious as he could make it without sounding angry. "You're my brother. We're all we've got. No deathbed prediction is going to shake me loose, you get me? Not after…," Dean looked down at the beer can in his hand.

Glancing out through the snow-blind window, Dean let his mind scroll back, opening boxes in his memory that had been categorized and closed. Remembering was one of the most painful things he ever had to do.

"We've been through too much, man." Dean said softly. "So much worse than this. So much more than some…some piss-ant Federal Agent and his…agenda. You think Hendrickson could have handled Gordon? How about staking Angela in her grave before she zombiefied anyone else? Think he could have handled that?"

"No," Sam replied.

"No. No he couldn't. He couldn't have handled Constance Welch or the striga. He'd have pissed his pants if he'd gone up against that freaky-assed scarecrow or the hookman. And don't get me started on that yellow-eyed bastard."

Sam nodded when Dean paused to take a breath.

"We have a job to do, Sam. Don't lose that. That demon bastard…he's our job. He took out our family. And he's still out there."

"Yeah," Sam whispered, somewhat reluctantly.

"We do this together, Sam. It's always been us, okay? I'm not going to let a little glitch in the system keep me from doing my job. And…," he sighed, rubbing his sore chest and burrowing deeper into the layers of coats. "And I made a promise."

"To kill me," Sam whispered.

"To save you," Dean countered, his eyebrows up, his gaze unwavering.

Sam rubbed his forehead gingerly. Dean sighed, allowing exhaustion to expose a level of vulnerability that rarely—if ever—saw the light of day.

"Shoot, Sammy," Dean said softly, letting his eyes slide away from Sam to rest on nothing. "Who else can I talk to except you?"

"You don't really talk to me," Sam replied, his tone matching Dean's.

Dean looked back at him. "Yeah. I do."

Sam's chin trembled slightly and he glanced away.

"What about you, Sam?"

"What do you mean, what about me?"

"Well," Dean tossed the third can down to the floor with the others. "You're saddled with a big brother who is a wanted fugitive. You could walk away clean. Can't pick our family, right? Isn't that what Ballard told you?"

"She was just—"

"Why are you staying, Sam?" Dean interrupted, holding his eyes steady.

Sam shrugged, his smile sad. "You're my brother, Dean."

"And that's a good enough reason?"

Sam took a breath; Dean instinctively braced for Sam's honesty. "It is for now."

Dean looked down, not willing to let Sam see his instinctive reaction. Sam never blurted anything out; he always thought about how the person he spoke to would hear his words. His brother's honesty had a unique way of cutting into Dean, leaving a mark that took awhile to seal up.

"Well, then. There you go. We're stuck with each other."

He reached over and turned off the engine. The storm outside immediately filled the ensuing quiet with a high-pitched whistle of wind and the tap tap tap of snow pellets against the windows. They sat in the dark, the unspoken worries too numerous to push aside.

And then Sam began to hum. Dean's brows pulled together as he listened; his brother didn't have the greatest ear for music. After a moment, though, Dean heard Sam pick up the words.

"When you think that we've used all our chances, and the chance to make everything right…." Sam's singing voice was soft and unsure, never really committing to the tune, but making the effort, Dean knew, because it was a way to say I'm still here with you.

Smiling appreciatively, Dean joined in. "Keep on making the same old mistakes. Makes untipping the balance so easy. When we're living our lives on the edge, say a prayer on the book of the dead."

He quieted then, listening as Sam sang softly, "We're blood brothers…we're blood brothers…."

When Sam trailed off, Dean shrugged lower in his jackets. "Get some sleep, Sam."

Sam didn't reply for a moment, but then he heard a soft, "Night, Dean."


He'd been dreaming about vampires.

He could still feel the strength in the grip that had held him fast—as if the creature's muscles had been strung over bars of iron. He could still see the look in his father's eyes as he'd used a precious bullet to save Sam's life. It wasn't unusual, having dreams about monsters. But it always rattled him and it left him feeling young and exposed when he finally pulled free of the dream, disoriented, sweaty, and afraid.

Sam didn't know what woke him. It was as if he caught the dying edge of a shout or heard someone call his name. It took him almost a full minute to remember why he was bent sideways in the back seat of the Impala. The sun was almost too bright as it cut through the rear window, as if it was being somehow amplified. Realization seeped in, tempering the suffocating remnants of the dream.

Pushing up to his elbow, he realized that he'd been covered in more than just the blankets from last night: the extra towels that had been wrapped around Dean's legs were tucked around his shoulders.


When no response—grumpy or otherwise—greeted him, Sam sat all the way up, discovering quickly that he was alone in the car. The rest of the food was spread out on the front seat and Sam saw that the toothpaste had been opened. Pushing the blankets from his shoulders, Sam exhaled in the frigid car, his breath creating a tiny cloud in the air in front of his face.

He started to open the back door, surprised when he couldn't budge it. Knowing Dean got out somehow, he flipped carefully over the back of the seat, pushing the driver's side door open. He was able to get it wide enough to slip sideways through the crack into the cold morning, the sun's reflection on the snow dazzling his eyes.


"Mornin', sunshine," his brother's voice echoed in the eerie, snow-dampened silence.

Rotating, Sam looked around, unable to find the source of Dean's voice at first. As he did, his heart fell inside of him, bouncing off the toes of his boots and landing somewhere around his belt. Everywhere he looked was blanketed by snow. Trees were bent with the weight of it, branches meeting drifts like catapults just before launch.

The road was gone—the definition of asphalt and earth smoothed out by snow. Drifts sloped upwards like miniature ski jumps, the crystallized flakes winking at him brilliantly. Sam turned, hooking one arm on the barely opened door and the roof of the Impala and gaped: their car was nearly buried.

Snow drifted up to the middle of the passenger door, covering the hood and flowed just about even from the opposite side of the car to the ground in one large swoop.

We are so screwed.


He whipped his head around, finding Dean's voice as he called from the trunk of the Impala.

"Could use some help here."

Sam slogged through the drift, shutting the door behind him. Snow tumbled into the top of his boots, pressing against his jeans, and chilling his legs almost instantly.

"What the hell are you doing?"

Dean straightened, his face red from exertion and cold, his gloved hands caked with snow. He put one hand on the trunk, the other on his chest as he caught his breath.

"Makin' a fort!" he called back sarcastically. "What does it look like I'm doing?"

Sam shrugged. "Looks like you're…makin' a fort."

"Gotta dig out the exhaust if I'm going to try to get her started," Dean explained. "Unless you want to asphyxiate."

"Get her started?" Sam repeated, looking around. Stuck solid against a snow bank, half buried in drifts, they were going nowhere fast.

"Don't know about you, man, but I'm freezing my bruised nuts off out here. I want to turn the heat on."

"Oh," Sam nodded, understanding.

"Get the other pair of gloves and clear a path at the front—gotta be able to pull air into the engine."

"Got it," Sam nodded, trying to narrow his thinking to one task and not be knocked flat by the fear of what the hell are we gonna do now.

It took him nearly an hour to clear out a pocket of space in front of the Impala's grill using his hands. By the time he was done, he was shaking from exertion, his hands crimped and frozen, his lungs screaming from breathing in the frigid air. He pushed himself upright, his lower back protesting with a kidney punch, and looked for Dean.

His brother had managed to unbury the rear of the car enough to open the trunk. He could hear Dean's harsh gasps and grunts of effort as he gathered supplies. Ordering himself to move, Sam made his way around the side of the car, snow still thigh-high, and joined Dean at the trunk.

"Take this," Dean said, shoving a duffel into his arms.

"What is it?"

"Just take it and get inside. Gotta warm up."

Sam blinked at his brother; Dean's nose and cheeks were sunburned, his lips chaffed and cracking and sweat rolled down the side of his face.

"How long were you out here before I woke up?" Sam asked.

Dean shrugged. "Dunno. An hour maybe?"

Sam shook his head, then made his way back to the driver's door, wedging the duffel into the opening, then following it inside. Dean was at his heels. The moment he was behind the wheel, he turned the key in the ignition. Sam found himself whispering a prayer.

The car started, cold air pouring from the vent.

"Give her a minute," Dean said, turning the radio off and the fan down to low. "She's cold, too."

Sam stomped his snow-covered feet, trying to get some feeling back into his toes.

"Eat something," Dean ordered.

Sam obligingly opened a stick of beef jerky and a bottle of water. The core of the bottle had turned to ice and the water made his teeth ache, it was so cold.

"You feeling okay?" Sam asked. "How're your ribs?"

"Peachy," Dean grumbled. "How about your head, Goose Egg?"


"Ibuprofen's in the glove box."

"I'll be okay," Sam replied. He was starting to feel the creeping warmth as the heater began to work. "You're not going to try to power us out of this drift are you?"

Dean shot him a look.

"Right. Of course. What was I thinking?" Sam turned away, tugging off a piece of jerky.

"Gotta figure out how to get her out of this," Dean muttered, rubbing his cold-reddened hands together in front of a vent. "We've got half a tank of gas."

"Well," Sam sighed. "We can't exactly call Triple A. Bobby's too far away."

"We could hike to the nearest town," Dean said. "Talk someone into hauling us out. Or…buy a shovel and a bunch of sand."

Sam looked at him, incredulous.

"What?" Dean asked, eyebrows pulled together over the bridge of his nose. "The last sign we passed said that Lethe was like…five miles. We can make five miles."

"Dude, did you forget? You're wanted by the Feds."


"So! You can't just go…wandering into some town ten miles over the Wisconsin state line. Hendrickson is gonna have that covered, you know he is."

"I'll wear the ski mask," Dean argued.

"That'll only get you so far," Sam shook his head. "No."

"What do you suggest, Sam? Stay here and wait for it to warm up?"

Sam swallowed more water. "I'll go."

"By yourself?" Dean pulled his head back.

"Sure, why not?"

Dean looked out through the front windshield, narrowing his eyes against the glare of the sun. Sam could see him searching the filing cabinet in his mind for a reason good enough that Sam would stay. He knew his brother; knew that having Sam walk away into the snowy wilderness toward a town they'd never been to in order to get help while Dean sat back and simply waited was worse than asking Dean to walk willingly into Hell.

"I don't like it," Dean said finally. "Too many things could go wrong."

"We have our cells," Sam pointed out. "We'd keep tabs on each other."

Dean rubbed the back of his neck, his main tell as far as anxiety was concerned. "You could get hypothermia."

"I'll wear extra clothes."

"You could get picked up by the cops."

"They don't have my picture, just yours. And I've got an innocent face."

"You could…get attacked by a bear, fall down a hole…not come back."

Sam had been a hairs breadth from grinning at Dean's worried tirade until the last words sank in.

"I'm not going to leave you here, Dean." His tone held the shocked surprise he honestly felt.

He looked hard at his brother's profile, waiting until Dean couldn't take the silence and turned back to face him.

"You know that…right?"

Dean looked away. "I just…I don't like it."

"We gotta do something, man. We can't just sit here."

"We'll just go together." Dean continued resisting. "I'll…hide outside why you go in for help."

Sam shook his head. "How're we gonna explain you when we both need the ride back to the car, then?"

"We'll think of something."

"This is the only way, Dean. You know it is."

Dean was quiet.

"I go, I get help, I get back," Sam pressed. "Simple as that. No law, no hunts, no mess."

Dean rubbed his face roughly, running his fingers up through his hair. "Okay," he finally relented. "But if we're gonna do this, we do it smart."

An hour later, Sam stood where the road had been the night before, facing the direction they'd been heading. He was dressed in two layers of jeans and long underwear—a feat of flexibility and dexterity he was in no hurry to repeat—long sleeved shirts, a hoodie, and a faded, brown Carhartt jacket stained with sweat, grease and something else neither of them could identify. He wore the S.W.A.T. team ski mask and gloves and Dean's sunglasses to protect his eyes from the blinding glare of sun on snow. He was armed with Dean's spare throwing knife—since Ronald had tossed his favorite one down the mail slot at the bank—and Dean's Beretta.

Dean had wanted him to carry the sawed-off shotgun as well, but relented when Sam pointed out that it would weigh him down and wasn't the best first impression to make when asking strangers for help.

"Would be if you didn't get far by asking," Dean had pointed out, sullenly.

"I'll be back before it gets dark," Sam called back to his brother, who was standing in the slightly-opened door of the Impala.

"That's in about seven hours, dude," Dean shook his head. "I wouldn't count on it."

"Stay warm," Sam said.

"You too," Dean replied.

Sam saw him shiver; he knew Dean wouldn't climb back into the car until he could no longer see Sam on the road, so he started walking toward Lethe.

"Please let this be a town that doesn't get Wisconsin news," Sam muttered to himself. He glanced back over his shoulder to see Dean duck back into the temporary warmth of the Impala. "Just a normal town with normal people. Who drive pick-up trucks. With winches."

The snow on the road wasn't as deep as the drifts to the side, and Sam found himself soon beginning to sweat as he walked rapidly, blanking his mind to any other possibility except getting help and getting the Impala back on the road before his brother froze to death waiting for him. He paused to drink some water, shoving one of the apple pies into his mouth and wiping the icing from his fingers with snow.

Continuing on, he lost track of time, his whole existence reduced to moving forward, one foot in front of the other, breathe in, breathe out. His feet were cold, but motion kept the rest of his body too warm to shiver. Motion, and the multiple layers of clothes Dean had insisted upon. He wouldn't have agreed if Dean hadn't been willing to keep the blankets back in the Impala for himself.

Sam's real fear wasn't in being caught or attacked as Dean had enumerated while they were getting ready. It was being too late—too late to save Dean from freezing to death, too late to get them out of the snow before Hendrickson caught up to them.

Two hours passed before he saw another soul on the road. He'd started to run scenarios of post apocalyptic times through his head—blaming too many late-night movies subjected upon him by an insomniac brother. With the snow dampening any and all sound—even that of his own rough breathing—it was easy to imagine he was the last person on Earth.

He called Dean's phone, getting voicemail. He doubted there was coverage where the Impala lay buried. He barely had any bars where he stood.

"Hey, Dean," he said to the recording. "Just wanted you to know I'm making good time. Should be in Lethe in about an hour. Stay warm."

The vehicle that approached him startled him so greatly he slipped, going to one knee on the side of the road. He pushed to his feet, keeping his head down as the vehicle passed. It was a news van, Sam saw, frowning. Nothing he recognized, though. He had one fleeting thought of the van passing Dean, his brother flagging it down for help, but two facts dispelled that hope: there were at least six turn-offs between Sam and the Impala, and there was no way Dean would willingly seek the attention of a news van.

He pushed on, the cold feeling of dread in his gut chilling him faster than the post-winter-storm air. He passed a snow-framed, wooden sign, brightly painted with a large lake and pine trees surrounding it.

"New Lethe," he read aloud. "Population 512. The Hampton's of the North."

Licking his dry lips and adjusting his shoulders, he continued on. "Doesn't sound so bad," he mused. "Small town…news van was probably just…covering an ice fishing competition…or a quilting contest…." He took a shallow breath, trying to ease the ache of dread in his chest. "One news van is nothing…doesn't have anything to do with us."

He entered a sheltering cluster of pine trees, all tall enough he had to lean back to see their tops. The snow was less here, though the cold seemed to collect and still. The wind was blocked by the trees, and as he continued forward, the snow virtually disappeared. Pockets and puddles of ice lay frozen across the road, but he was at last able to walk without snow weighing down his boots.

Picking up speed, Sam followed the curve of the road, pulling the sunglasses off and tucking them into a breast pocket as the trees shadowed the surface of the road. He could see a building in the distance with several cars parked out front. As he drew closer, he saw the name New Lethe CoffeeHaus painted in red letters on a large white sign fixed to the side of the building.

Above that sign, however, Sam saw the faded outline from letters spelling out Sanderson's Bar and Grill. Eyes seeking the warmth of the light from within, he nearly missed the words painted on the side of two vehicles parked on the far end of the lot. Two news vans, both affiliates he'd heard of back in Milwaukee, and three police cruisers, local law.

He balked for a moment, swallowing. Instinctively, though he was over five miles back, Sam looked over his shoulder, thinking of Dean. He could move on, look for help somewhere else. But he had no idea how long that might take, and he knew the warmth in the Impala would only last so long.

"They don't know you," he told himself sternly. "This has nothing to do with us. Whatever reason they're here, it doesn't matter to you. Get in, ask for help, get out."

Nodding to himself, Sam pulled the ski mask from his head, shoving his hair from his cold, sweaty face, and entered the coffee shop.

a/n: Thank you for reading. I'm going to (try) do what I did before—update every two weeks or sooner, real life willing. Hope to see you in the next chapter!

Playlist: Caroline, I hope these worked for you.

These Colors Don't Run by Iron Maiden

Blood Brothers by Iron Maiden