Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. All locations are fabricated and the lore in this story has been manipulated to suit my nefarious, storytelling purposes.
Spoilers: Season 3. The majority is set after 3.12, Jus In Bello. But there are spoilers for all of Season 3.
a/n: This is for yasminke.
A long time ago, in a country far, far away (from me), and in a beautiful display for what fandom can do to help our collective world, yasminke was part of a coordinated effort to raise money to help the victims of massive, destructive flooding in Australia. I tossed my hat in the fandom_flood_ap author's auction ring (on LiveJournal) and she was the winning bidder.
Based on my offer and her request (Season 2 or 3 tag, threat of Lilith or YED) I offer you this glimpse into our heroes after the events of a pivotal episode during an intriguing season. It's a tag…of sorts. It was a supposed to be a one-shot, but, um…grew. I'm posting it in two parts so that you don't get eye strain. *smiles*
Yasminke, I hope this fits the bill. Thank you for taking a chance on me and for your efforts to help people recover from tragedy. And…thank you for waiting.
I hope you all enjoy.
We want to live at any price; so we cannot burden ourselves with feelings which, though they might be ornamental enough in peace-time, would be out of place here.
- Erich Maria Remarqu
Pontiac, IL, now
He'd lost count of the number of graves he'd dug in his lifetime.
If he closed his eyes, he could remember each blunt impact of the shovel blade into the packed earth, feel the burn of the muscles that ran along his arms and back as he heaved the weight of dirt aside. The smell was always the same: rot, rain, and mud. The mud caked on him—even if it was desert dry. Grave dirt was always damp. And it clung to him as if wanting to pull him down, wrap him up, keep him there.
But those had been graves dug for the job. Holes designed to expose a solution, a means to the end of an evil. Digging those graves meant they were safe. They'd fixed the problem.
This one was different.
The dirt coated his hands, his arms, stuck to his hair, smeared his cheek. He'd made the hole too shallow, he knew, but there was something suffocating about the idea of there being six feet of earth between Dean and freedom.
"This just ain't right."
Bobby's voice sounded hollow, tinny. The wizened hunter was at once too close and too far away. And the only reason he was there at all was because Sam's body wasn't cooperating with him. His arms were heavy, his legs clumsy. He moved slower than he should.
And he couldn't stop shivering.
"He wouldn't have wanted this, Sam." Bobby tried again.
Bobby hadn't stopped talking about a hunter's burial since he'd found them, huddled in a pool of Dean's blood, Sam's arms wrapped in a frozen grip around his brother's still body. Sam had been aware of Bobby's eyes as they took in Dean's torn flesh, the way Dean still seemed to be looking at something, though it was clear Dean was no longer there.
Sam hadn't been able to answer Bobby's choked question of how, though Lilith's name beat with angry wings against his ears. He hadn't been able to tell Bobby how Lilith had sent Ruby away, how she'd managed to trap them in the room, how she'd pinned him to the wall, forcing him to watch, helpless, as the Hellhounds ripped his brother apart.
Dean's screams had echoed in his ears long after Lilith left, fearful when she hadn't been able to end them both. He could still hear it, even as Bobby helped him wrap the tattered remains of his brother's clothes around his shattered body: Dean's screams. And Lilith's name.
"Can you at least tell me…why?" Bobby asked, finally breaking the silence as Sam stood in a waist-deep hole in the middle of a nameless wood near Pontiac, Illinois. "Why…this?"
Sam looked over, fully intending to answer. To tell Bobby that this wasn't the end; he'd made a promise. A promise he hadn't been able to keep. And now…now he had to make up for that as best he could.
I don't want to die…I don't want to go to Hell.
Sam opened his mouth, but the words tripped over themselves inside of him. Dean lay inside a crude wooden box, the top not yet fastened, at Bobby's feet, next to the hole. Removing the tattered clothes and replacing them with clean ones had been one of the hardest things Sam had ever had to do.
Dean had been so…still. So pliant. No fight, no resistance…no thrum of life beneath the touch of his fingers. Dean—his brother, the man who'd protected him to the end—was in Hell. And his shell was all that remained.
The shell he was going to need when Sam found a way to bring him back.
I couldn't live with you dead. I just couldn't.
As Bobby watched him, waiting for an answer, Sam climbed out of the hole, unable to tear his eyes from his brother's pale face and closed eyes. Irrationally, he wanted to grab him up, hold him close, haul him away from this place in the woods where no one would find him. He wanted to scream, to cry, to beat something bloody, to run until his lungs exploded.
But he couldn't move. He couldn't speak. Couldn't breathe….
"Sam…?" Bobby prompted softly. After a moment Sam sensed his old friend shift, accepting that he wasn't going to get the answer he sought. "Let's…do you want to say anything?"
Sam felt his breath hitch. There was so much to say. There wasn't enough to say.
Dean was lying there, in that box, in Hell, because of him. Every pain in Dean's life stemmed from him. His brother's face swam before his eyes as he tried desperately to find words enough to encompass a lifetime of sacrifice.
Remember what Dad taught you…and Sam…remember what I taught you.
Images, memories, moments assaulted Sam sending him reeling. Hands…he saw Dean's hands—holding a sawed-off shotgun, felt them rubbing the top of his head, remembered reaching for them and felt them grip tight. He reeled, unable to stop himself. He tipped toward the maw in the earth, suddenly welcoming it, wanting it to swallow him.
"I gotcha," Bobby whispered, holding him. He could smell Old Spice, whiskey, gunpowder, and dirt. "I gotcha, boy."
Sam pushed away from Bobby, wanting to release the sob pressing against his throat, choking him, suffocating him. But he couldn't cry.
"He fought, Sam." Bobby's voice was rough from sorrow, his words tearing apart the quiet of the night that pressed close around them. "He fought until the end. Damn kid wouldn't give up. Always admired that about him. He always believed there was a way…."
Bobby's voice cracked, dying. Sam knew he was right; Dean had fought until the end—all-but challenging the Hellhounds to get him and drawing attention from Sam. But there was a part of Sam that knew Dean had accepted the truth weeks ago.
He remembered the moment, exactly. Before Ruby's Hail Mary plan. Before Indiana. Before the hallucinations.
The moment Dean had accepted his fate was the moment Sam had vowed he would get him out of it.
No matter what.
Outside Monument, CO, one month ago
They hadn't said anything to each other since Ruby left the motel room. There didn't seem to be space to speak around the words left lingering between them.
Do you know how to fight a battle? You strike fast and you don't leave any survivors, so no one can go running to tell the boss. So next time, we go with my plan.
Dean had stared at the pouch she'd tossed him for a full minute before stuffing it deep into the duffel bag at the foot of his bed. Sam had watched as his brother rose stiffly from the bed, holding his wounded arm close to his body as he turned away, moving toward the bathroom.
The door shut; the sound of running water muted as it drifted into the room. Sam waited, his fingers running lazy circles around the base of his own leather pouch. A million thoughts assaulted him, none of them a clear beacon on how to approach Dean about what had just happened.
The people they'd risked everything for had died anyway, for nothing. Because Dean wouldn't sacrifice one life.
Sighing, Sam stood, moving to the window, peering out through the crack in the heavy curtain.
That's how he thought about it: Dean wouldn't sacrifice one life.
Sam had been willing to do so. For the greater good. Hell, Nancy had been willing to do so. But not Dean. Saving people. Hunting things. The motto had driven Dean when he was running on nothing but coffee and pain. Sam knew his brother was trying to center himself inside of a storm right now, he just wasn't sure what the biggest trigger was at the moment: the fact that Ruby had been right, the fact that those people had died…or the fact that Sam had known about Lilith and hadn't told him.
After what seemed like hours, Sam heard the water shut off. He turned, waiting, wanting the confrontation. The loss of all of those lives—lives of people who'd fought valiantly next to them—had turned sideways in his heart and he needed to talk about it.
He needed to talk to Dean about it. He needed someone to tell him how he was supposed to feel. Because he didn't know.
Dean emerged from the bathroom, his hair standing in crazy, wet spikes, dressed in only jeans, a small towel gripped in his hand. Sam winced at the angry red skin surrounding the hole in Dean's shoulder. Nancy had done a good job field-dressing the wound, but it needed stitches. To the side of the open wound Sam saw a white, puckered scar where another bullet had entered some time back, blasted into Dean from a different gun—one that had been fired by Sam.
"Do you want me to patch that up for you?" Sam asked, his voice sounding too loud, too clear in the quiet of the room.
Without answering, Dean crossed to the bed, ripped back the covers with his good arm, and fell face-first onto the pillow. The bullet had passed through the flesh of his shoulder and Sam saw that the exit wound was larger than the entry, the skin around it torn, ragged and bruised, as if a fist had punched through a bag.
The bruise had traveled down Dean's side and colored his ribs. The only blessing was that it had stopped bleeding.
"Shut the hell up, Sam." The sound of Dean's reply was muffled by the pillow, but the sting was no less sharp.
"Fine," Sam grunted and stomped past his brother's bed to the bathroom.
He'd lost track of the time. They'd been up for over forty-eight hours and his adrenalin had been on high alert for the majority of that time. He was tired, his body hurt, and there was an ache in his chest that no amount of pain medication would touch. It was the ache of loss that seemed to dog his steps—the ache that had haunted him in a very real way since the night Dean had climbed through the window of the apartment he shared with Jessica.
Sam turned on the shower, swearing under his breath at the lukewarm water. Stripping down, he washed quickly, bruises from the battle at the police station alighting across his back, shoulders, ribs. He stood naked before the sink and wiped the minimal steam from the small mirror.
Lilith killed everybody. She slaughtered your precious little virgin plus a half a dozen other people. So after your big speech about humanity and war, turns out your plan was the one with the body count.
He blinked back at himself, remembering Ruby's words. Remembering how they seemed to cut into him, how they sliced Dean up before his eyes. How they sucked the air from the room. His eyes burned as he stared hard at his reflection.
Even Ruby was afraid of Lilith. And Lilith wanted him dead. Saw him as competition.
"Why me?" he asked the steamy bathroom. Competition for a demon would not look good on a resume. He knew he should be more afraid; so why wasn't he? "What is so freakin' special about me?"
If he'd asked Dean, he'd get a suitably sarcasm-laden answer. He knew why Dean thought him special; he was Dean's brother. End of story. Their father had set Dean's path on this earth when his brother was four and for Dean, there'd been no veering.
"Doesn't make sense." Sam sighed, wrapping a damp towel around his waist and heading out to the cooler air of the main room.
He heard the slow, deep breathing of his brother's sleep and knew he wasn't going to get the talk it out moment he needed to ease the weight sitting like a rock in his chest. He wasn't even sure he knew what comprised that weight; there was too much to choose from. Not one boulder, but a pile of stones so tall that to remove one would undoubtedly send them all tumbling.
Sinking slowly down on the bed, Sam let his body uncoil, his spine crackling like bubble wrap. He didn't bother pulling down the comforter to lie on the sheets. The moment he lay back he was asleep, his dreams confusing, troubled images of dark smoke and innocent eyes.
When he woke, he felt stiff, sore. Trying to turn over, he realized his legs were tangled in a blanket. Blinking through his tangled hair, which had dried around his face while he slept, he worked to get his bearings.
Sitting up, he rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes. The blanket wrapped around his lanky body was from Dean's bed, he saw. And Dean's bed was now empty, a smear of blood left behind where his brother had been laying.
Digging at the crust that wove his lashes together, Sam looked around the small room, spying Dean sitting at the small table in front of the window, staring with a scowl at Sam's opened laptop. He was still shirtless and Sam saw that he now had an ice-filled towel draped over his wounded shoulder.
"Hey," Sam tried, clearing his throat.
Dean lifted his chin, pulling his eyes slowly away from the computer screen. "Hey."
"Time 's it?" Sam yawned.
Dean glanced at the large face of his watch. "'Bout 5:30. In the morning."
Sam's eyebrows bounced up. "What? What the hell are you doing awake?"
"It's Tuesday, Sam," Dean grumbled. "You slept like…twenty-four hours."
Sam looked down, staring at nothing. Sleep still tugged at him, slowing his thoughts, muddying his reaction time. "What about you?"
"Couldn't sleep anymore." Dean closed the lid of the laptop and pushed it away from him. "Got hungry. Plus…my shoulder was killing me."
Sam frowned at his brother's closed expression. "Why didn't you wake me up to help you?"
Dean bit the inside of his lip and shrugged. "You were beat, man. You needed to sleep."
He stood and Sam saw that he wasn't moving his arm away from his side.
"You want me to check it for you?"
Dean shook his head, moving to the dresser across the room. "Nah. I'm good."
He tossed the ice-filled towel on the dresser and Sam saw that he'd managed to fix a square of gauze over the wound on the back of his shoulder. He grabbed a small, brown paper bag from the top of the dresser and tossed it to Sam.
"Sandwich. Eat up. Get dressed." Dean's eyes roamed Sam's face and his eyebrow quirked. "And for God's sake do something about that mop on top of your head."
Sam reached up instinctively to smooth his tangled hair. "We got a date or something?"
Dean moved to his bed and Sam looked again at the smear of blood on the sheets. If he'd insisted on wrapping Dean's shoulder before his brother fell asleep—
"Or something," Dean was saying as he dug into his duffel. Sam watched him fish out a black T-shirt, sniff it, grimace, and put it back. He grabbed another one—gray this time—and pulled it on carefully: right arm, head, left arm.
"We don't have to run, Dean," Sam said, rubbing his face, trying to get rid of the cobwebs. "The bags Ruby gave us—"
Dean made a noise half-way between a snort and a growl, rolling his shirts into one side of his duffel to make room for his flask, gun, and knife on the other side.
"What?" Sam asked, dropping his hands to his blanket-covered lap and staring at his brother. He'd been waiting for this.
"Not exactly ready to blindly accept party favors from your demon girlfriend, dude."
"She's not my—" Sam stopped, looking down, working to resist the bait. "She's trying to help us, Dean."
Dean stopped rolling his shirts and tipped his chin to the side, his eyes following. Sam felt his stomach tense in preparation for the barb that usually followed that look.
"Help us? Or help you?"
Sam frowned. "What are you talking about?"
Dean turned, tossing the shirt he'd been holding into the opening of the duffel. "You tell me, Sam. I mean, you knew about Lilith for weeks and didn't tell me. For all I know, you and Ruby have a whole secret club going on."
Sam balled up the blanket covering him and threw it onto the floor between their beds. So it's door number three, Sam thought, standing up. He tightened the towel at his waist and gave his brother a withering look.
"You're an idiot."
Dean's lip bounced in an aborted snarl. "Yeah, well. Apparently that's a popular opinion around here," he said quietly.
Sam turned away, heading to the corner of the room where he'd dropped his own duffel, and crouched to grab some clean clothes. His stomach burned and his throat was tight. He always felt near tears when Dean wouldn't listen to him; it was an instinctive reaction that he had to fight to quell before he exposed how weak he felt in the face of his brother's ire.
"Hurry up," Dean snapped, zipping his bag closed. Sam stood and faced him. Dean was working a long-sleeved shirt up his left arm, trying to ease it over his wounded shoulder. "We've got a job."
"A job?" Sam replied, surprised.
Dean glanced up quickly, his eyes still hot. "Yes, Sam. A job. Get your ass moving."
"What kind of a job?" Sam bristled at the authoritative tone and purposely dug his heels in.
"Black Dog. Cheery little town called Hanging Hills, about a hundred miles east of here."
Sam arched an eyebrow. "A Black Dog? Dean, we thought we had a Black Dog once and it turned out to be Hellhounds."
Dean's eyes flashed with a strange emotion, one Sam wasn't easily able to place. It almost looked like…fear.
"It's legit," Dean bit out. "Dug up some intel on Hanging Hills. Not the first time there's been reports of a Black Dog there over the last hundred years or so."
Sam stood still a moment, regarding his brother, watching as a muscle in Dean's jaw flexed, a certain tell that there were words being held back.
"You want to talk about it?" Sam asked softly.
"I can catch you up in the car," Dean said, taking a quick breath as he pulled his shirt on the rest of the way. Sam saw beads of sweat on his forehead and upper lip reflecting in the lamplight of the room.
"Not about the job…," Sam rubbed a hand through his tangled hair. "About…what happened."
Dean's reply was immediate and the look in his eyes left no room for argument. But Sam tried anyway.
"We did the best we could, Dean—"
"Stop it, Sam," Dean snapped. "Just stop."
They stared at each other almost a full minute, Sam mentally leafing through retorts and platitudes that might offer some common ground, might ease the pain-tinged anger tightening the corners of his brother's eyes, and finding nothing. He relented, turning away and moving to the bathroom to clean up and get ready to head out.
It was always the way with them. Even after everything they'd been through. Keep moving, keep fighting, don't let them see you, don't let them find you. Dad had died for Dean. Dean had made a deal to save Sam. And yet there were walls between them too high and too well-built to easily scale.
As Sam loaded his duffel into the Impala's trunk next to his brother's he couldn't help but think that if they just stopped—even for a minute—to talk through what they managed to survive each day, it would be a lot easier to remember why they were fighting in the first place.
"Local paper in Hanging Hills reported three mysterious deaths in the last five days," Dean was saying as they pulled out of the motel lot, the pre-dawn quiet of the small town wrapping around them with a false sense of security.
Then again, Sam thought, maybe I'm the only one who needs to remember why we're fighting.
"Mysterious how?" Sam asked as he inhaled the sandwich Dean had given him. He was starving after sleeping for so many hours.
Dean rotated the wheel of the Impala one-handed, taking the first exit onto I-70 and heading east. Traffic was light this long before rush hour. Sam almost offered to drive and give his brother more time to rest his shoulder, but bit off the words. He knew Dean needed the distraction. And even one-handed, Dean was a better driver than most of the people on the planet.
"Local authorities got calls that a stray dog was seen in town, around houses, behind business, that sort of thing. But when they got there—"
"Let me guess, no dog," Sam broke in, warming to the hunt.
A hunt was a mystery to solve. A puzzle to assemble. It was that aspect that drove Sam, kept him grounded through each job: finding the common thread that pulled everything together. For Dean, though, it was the solution. He didn't so much care how it came together, Sam knew, as long as he was able to stop the evil in the end.
"So what makes you think it's actually a Black Dog?"
"These people? That reported the stray?" Dean glanced at him before returning his eyes to the interstate. "Every one of them—dead."
Sam tipped his head. "How'd they die?"
"Fell," Dean said, his voice going tight for a moment as he shifted in his seat. "Two from a bridge that's under construction and one down an elevator shaft of an abandoned building."
"What the hell were they doing there?" Sam asked, intrigued.
"You got me," Dean shook his head. "But two witnesses say they saw them running from a dog."
"Straight to their deaths?"
Dean nodded. "According to the witnesses, it was as if the dog drove them to it."
"Did the paper ID the witnesses?" Sam asked.
"Well, here's where it goes a bit sideways," Dean said, glancing at him. "One was the reporter writing up the three articles. Someone named Ambrose. The other was some high school kid."
"Wait, the guy writing up about the deaths also saw the dog?"
"You could say that," Sam replied, frowning as he heard Smoke On The Water emanating from the pocket of Dean's leather jacket, lying across the back seat.
"That'll be Bobby," Dean predicted.
"Why'd you call Bobby?" Sam asked, reaching over the seat to fish out the phone.
"Well, one," Dean said, darting a quick look in the rear view mirror as he changed lanes, "I wanted to let him know we hadn't blown up."
Sam felt himself go cold as he grabbed the phone and flipped it open. He hadn't thought about Bobby seeing that news report.
"And, two," Dean was saying as Bobby grumbled, "Took you long enough," in Sam's ear. "I asked him to look up some stuff on Black Dogs," Dean finished.
"Hey, Bobby," Sam said into the phone, holding up a finger to quiet his grim-faced brother. "You find anything?"
"Since I didn't have anything else going on at dawnthirty," Bobby said, his voiced laced with sarcasm, "I made some calls." Sam could hear another phone ringing in the background. "Hang on."
"What's he saying?" Dean asked.
"Hang on," Sam repeated, his eyes catching a highway marker that told them they were eighty miles from Hanging Hills.
"Okay, I'm back," Bobby informed him. Sam pushed the 'speaker' button on the phone so he wouldn't have to repeat everything to Dean. "There's some differing lore on Black Dogs. Some say it brings death, other say it warns of it. It's associated with electrical storms, supposed to be bigger than—"
"Normal dogs, yeah, Bobby we know all of that," Dean interrupted, his voice gruff. "How do we kill the damn thing?"
"You get up on the wrong side of the Impala this morning, boy?" Bobby grumbled back.
Sam heard another phone ringing in the background and Bobby swore under his breath. But this time he didn't leave them to answer it.
"Sorry, Bobby," Sam offered, trying to smooth the path between Dean's rough edges and Bobby's bristled feelings. "He's nursing a shoulder wound from the other day."
"Bad?" Bobby asked, concern seeping into his voice.
"I'll live," Dean bit off.
"Well, you don't kill a Black Dog," Bobby said, answering Dean's question. "It's not the dog you have to worry about, it's whoever has summoned it. Whatever's controlling it."
"What, like a demon?" Sam asked, frowning.
"Could be anyone. Demon, human, witch. Black Dogs go hand-in-hand with crossroad deals." Bobby's voice held a sigh and Sam couldn't help but steal a glance at Dean. "You get rid of whoever summoned the damn thing, you get rid of the dog."
"So…the dog wouldn't necessarily be killing people," Dean surmised, taking an exit off of the interstate heavy with semi-trucks and following a side road Sam didn't even know the name of. He wasn't terribly concerned, however. Dean had been born with an internal navigation system that rarely, if ever, got them lost.
"Hell, the dog could be warning people. Says here," Sam heard Bobby flipping pages of a book, "that to see the Black Dog the first time means joy, a second time means misfortune. Seeing the Black Dog a third time is said to be a death omen."
Sam shared a glance with his brother. "So," he postulated, still looking at Dean, "maybe someone's using the lore as cover? Using the town's history…blaming these recent deaths on the dog?"
"Could be," Bobby allowed. "Someone would have to know a lot about the lore, though."
"Yeah," Dean said, grimacing. "Hey, thanks, Bobby."
Bobby was silent a moment. "You got any leads on Bela and the Colt?"
Sam swallowed. This time he didn't dare look at Dean. Their silence was Bobby's answer.
"That's what I figured," the older hunter grumbled. "If this is a demon—"
"We'll figure it out," Dean interjected, his voice a low growl.
"Yeah, well. Keep in touch, boys," Bobby asked after pausing long enough to let them know he didn't appreciate Dean's tone, but would roll with it.
"We will," Sam promised, then closed the phone, tucking it into the glove box of the Impala.
They drove in silence for several minutes as the sun dominated the gray dawn, glinting off of the chrome edging the Impala's windshield and making Sam squint. He'd lost his sunglasses months ago. Reaching up, he flipped his visor down, then reached over to do the same for Dean, knowing that his brother wouldn't be able to reach his wounded arm up that high.
"Bobby's right, you know," Sam said, keeping his voice low, quiet.
Dangerous energy radiated off of his brother. The storm Sam had felt building inside Dean back at the motel was only growing in strength and was fueled by loss, pain, and frustration. Sam knew that he would be at the epicenter if Dean released the fierce control he used to clamp down on his emotions. He unconsciously separated further from Dean, pressing his back against the door as he chose is next words.
"Without the Colt, we really don't have a lot of chance to fight something as powerful as Lilith."
A muscle flexed in Dean's jaw, but he remained quiet. Sam pressed on; if he wanted to talk about what had happened back in Monument it was clear he would have to push Dean into it.
"Unless…y'know, we see if Ruby has any—"
"No. No way."
"Dean, she's done nothing but help us," Sam protested.
"She's a demon, Sam."
"Who warned us about Lilith—and risked her life to save us from that demon cloud back at the police station!"
Without a word, Dean pulled over to the shoulder of the deserted road, gravel grinding under the wheels of the powerful Chevy. Sam braced himself against the dash as dust rose up around them when Dean applied the brakes. For a moment neither of them moved. Sam took a slow breath, looking at the rows of pine trees that flanked the quiet Colorado road.
Reaching across his body, Dean opened the door with his right hand, shoving it wide with his foot. Sam watched as he climbed out, slamming the door behind him hard enough to rock the car. Taking a breath to steady himself, Sam wrapped his fingers around the door handle, trying to determine the best approach.
He didn't like the feeling that wrapped around his heart—the feeling that he was in trouble. That he'd let his brother down. But the bottom line was, he'd purposely not told Dean when he'd found out about Lilith. He knew Dean was pissed about that; he knew Dean hated being kept in the dark.
But Sam was an adult; Dean wasn't going to be able to protect Sam forever.
Especially with a death sentence hanging over his head, Sam thought dismally, exiting the car and moving slowly around to rest his back pockets on the hood of the Impala, watching Dean's back as his brother stood, facing the trees, the toe of his boot digging into the gravel shoulder of the road as if snuffing a cigarette butt.
The sun had turned the sky to tin above the treetops, tossing deceptive shadows along the tree-flanked road. Sam felt a real storm building around them, could smell the rain rolling in from the west.
"You were really going to let her kill that girl." Dean's voice sounded stale, the edges of the words hot against the cool air of the morning.
Sam took a breath, relieved to have this opening. Any opening. The myriad of reasons why Dean was pissed didn't matter; the one he chose to talk about did.
"I thought…I just thought it was the best way to save all those people," Sam tried, the words tasting sour to him as they were released.
"How'd we get here, Sam?" Dean asked him, still not turning around.
Sam wanted to see his brother's face; the sound of Dean's voice dug into him, offering no quarter. He didn't sound mad, he didn't sound forgiving. He simply sounded…tired. Tired and scared.
"What do you mean?" Sam asked softly.
Dean rotated slightly, glancing over his shoulder toward Sam, but still not really looking at him. "When did it become okay in that head of yours to kill someone to save our hides?"
Sam swallowed, his heart heating in resistance of the disappointment and disapproval heavy in his brother's tone. "Dean...you know better than anyone that sometimes you have to make sacrifices—"
Dean turned so fast the gravel beneath his boots shot to the side like mini missiles. Sam drew back slightly.
"How is that the same, Sam?" Dean snapped. "How is that even in the vicinity of the same?"
Anger burst hot and fast behind Sam's eyes, drying his mouth and coiling in his gut. "I just meant—"
"I don't want to hear what you meant," Dean shot back.
"Well, you're going to!" Sam roared suddenly, pushing away from the Impala's hood and balancing on the balls of his feet. He was done feeling as if he had to make up for some wrong-doing. "Jesus Christ, Dean, you just don't get it, do you?"
If he hadn't been so angry, he might've seen the moment Dean shut off, the moment the wall came down and Sam lost his in. Access to Dean's feelings was denied before Sam even started his explanation, but he was too juiced up to notice.
Dean settled back on his heels, tipping his chin slightly to look at Sam through lowered lids. "Why don't you explain it to me, Sam?"
"I shouldn't have to," Sam spat. "Dad did. For years. In wars, you make sacrifices for the greater good. You have to be willing to make the hard choices—there are acceptable losses."
"Acceptable losses," Dean repeated, his voice dangerously quiet. "Like the life of an innocent virgin? Who was only involved in this damn war because we just so happened to be there?" He flicked the fingers of his right hand in the space separating them.
"She was willing—" Sam tried.
"Screw willing," Dean broke in, pushing Sam backward in a burst of frustration. "She had no fucking clue what she was volunteering for. She just wanted to save her friends."
Sam took a breath, feeling the heat of tears at the backs of his eyes. "I didn't want to kill her, Dean."
Dean tilted his head in disbelief. "Really? 'Cause you sure seemed gung-ho back there before I told you I had another plan."
"I just didn't want all those other people to die," Sam continued, working to swallow the emotion that built in his throat. "I didn't…I didn't want you to die."
Dean shook his head slowly, his eyes sad in his tense face. "You should've trusted me, Sam."
"I did! I do!" Sam protested. "But…we were trapped, and—"
"And we got out of there. Like we always do. We fought the bastards off—"
"And then Lilith showed up and killed them all anyway!" Sam shouted.
Dean closed his mouth with a click, whatever else he'd been about to say seeming to shrivel up inside of him as his eyes bled helpless anger.
"I know you don't want to hear it, Dean," Sam pressed, his stomach burning, his throat dry. "But Ruby was right. Lilith isn't like that yellow-eyed demon. And he was bad enough."
Dean looked away and Sam watched the muscle coil and roll along his brother's jaw line.
"And for whatever reason? She's gunning for me. We haven't fought a war like this before," he pointed out, hearing his voice shake. He looked down at the gravel, watching the shadows grow across the ground as the sun fought its way upward. "We've never had them coming after us. Not like this."
"I know," Dean said softly.
"So…I just think…maybe…," Sam swallowed. He licked his lips. Then he lifted his head and looked hard at his brother, willing Dean's eyes to meet his. "Maybe we accept that the old rules don't apply."
"I won't, Sam," Dean said. "I can't."
Sam looked down again as Dean continued.
"There's no way it's ever going to be okay for me to kill some innocent person for the chance that it might save a bunch of others."
"You did it," Sam replied, his voice thick with frustration.
Sam raised his eyes, letting the pain that had torn him up each night since Dean saved him, since he came back from the dead, show plainly. He saw Dean flinch at the sight.
"You did it to save me," he clarified. "If we don't find a way out of this deal…you're gonna leave me here. Alone in this mess. Because you couldn't live with me dead."
Sam heard the bitterness swimming in his words, but didn't care. He saw Dean's face close off, his expression turning stoic, and it pissed him off. He wanted his brother to feel the fire that turned in his belly, he wanted Dean's heart to twist in his chest and ache with each back-beat because there was no way out.
He wanted this choice Dean had made for him…because of him…to be killing Dean as surely as it was killing Sam.
"And if you're not here," Sam continued, "I gotta figure out some way to fight her."
Dean moved forward, reached up with both hands and grabbed the front of Sam's shirt. "No, Sammy," he said tightly. "Not that way."
"It would have worked," Sam argued, not knowing exactly why he was pressing the issue except that it was forcing a reaction from Dean.
"You don't know that!" Dean shook him slightly and Sam watched him go pale, sweat beading once more on his forehead as he dropped his left arm and pulled himself upright. "Our way worked."
Sam pressed his lips together, trying to stop his chin from quivering. "No, it didn't," he said softly. "It just delayed the inevitable."
The words burned; he was voicing a secret fear that the same would be true two months down the road when Dean's time ran out.
Dean looked at him a moment, then turned away. Sam watched his shoulders shift with a deep breath.
"There are consequences to everything, Sam," he said, his voice low. Sam felt a shiver run parallel to his spine: Dean sounded exactly like their father. "No matter what choice you make, there are always consequences." He lifted his face and Sam saw that his eyes suddenly looked ancient and weary. "And you're the one that's gotta decide if you can live with them."
"You can live with this?" Sam asked, his voice choked. "You can live with…with Henricksen dead? And Nancy dying anyway? With Lilith winning that battle?"
Dean looked down and with his right hand he pulled his left arm close to his body. "She didn't win," he said, not touching the rest of Sam's question. He turned his eyes down the length of empty road, away from the Impala. "You're still alive."
Sam sank back on the Impala's hood, marveling for a moment at the path his brother's mind followed to get to a point where he could justify his choices. Dean headed back to the driver's seat of the Impala. Sam felt the car shift with his brother's weight, but he stayed put. He wasn't sure how to feel about what Dean had said.
They'd saved the people of the town. Lilith's demons hadn't won that round. But Henricksen, Nancy, all of the people who'd help them battle the demons—they were all gone. A loss of the innocent he'd been trying to save, a loss of a new ally…and Dean, while rocked, had decided to live with those consequences because Sam was still alive.
He jumped when Dean honked the horn to get his attention. Standing, he turned and faced the car, looking at his brother through the glass for a moment. Dean was pale, the skin around his mouth and eyes tense, his left arm cradled against his side, but Sam could see that he was ready to go.
Ready to take on another job. Ready to keep moving.
Anything to keep from focusing on the consequences he couldn't live with.
Outside Hanging Hills, CO, later that same day
"Freakin' storm," Dean grumbled, his knuckles white on the steering wheel as he gripped it with his right hand. The wipers beat across the Impala's windshield, but didn't seem to be doing much to assuage the flow of rain or clear their view.
"You want me to drive?" Sam offered for the thirtieth time.
"You want me to hit you?"
Sam sighed. He should have taken the keys, not given Dean a choice in the matter. He saw the sweat rolling in teardrops down the side of Dean's face, and knew that in addition to his shoulder wound, his brother was at least as tired and hungry as he was.
The storm had hit just after they'd refueled outside of Limon and had grown in intensity over the last several miles. With nothing to block the wind or slow the driving rain across the open prairie, the Impala and whatever other vehicles unfortunate to be on the road that morning had been slammed by the powerful surge.
"You get that paper at the gas station?" Dean asked as they passed a faded sign reading Hanging Hills, 3 miles.
"Yeah." Sam opened to the classifieds.
Squatting was a money-saving, off-the-grid trick they'd picked up from John. The key was to find a place that had been on the market long enough to be standing empty, but not too long that the modern conveniences had been shut off. They were rarely that lucky, but in a place the size of Hanging Hills, Sam doubted they'd be any more fortunate with the motel selection.
He found three possible locations. Using the GPS on his phone, he directed Dean through the storm. The first had cars parked on the street in front, the second had lights on inside, but the third was down a rutted, flooding dirt road. Weeds grew up around the For Sale sign and the windows were dark and boarded over.
"Don't think we're going to get a shower or hot meal here." Sam sighed, peering out through the rain as Dean stopped near the front porch.
"You want a shower?" Dean asked looking over with a quirked eyebrow. "Step outside."
Hunched in instinctive but useless protection from the storm, they ran in tandem up to the porch. The paint on the front of the house was peeling, and there was no a lock box on the door knob. Dean crouched low to pick the lock, an effort made more difficult by the darkness from the storm. Sam peered through the windows, seeing nothing immediately suspicious.
"Got it," Dean grunted, straightening.
He pulled his Colt from his back waistband and nodded at Sam who lifted his own gun from his pocket. Pushing the door open, Dean covered Sam as he entered first, checking the entry way, and looking up the stairs. Within minutes they'd cleared the house and were meeting back up in the main living room.
"Place is empty," Sam reported needlessly.
"Find any beds?" Dean asked.
Sam shook his head. "Just a room with a bunch of boxes and old newspapers. Looks like we got this couch and what used to be a table and chairs in the kitchen."
"Power's out," Dean said, flicking a light switch to illustrate. "No running water."
"Swell," Sam sighed, rolling his neck. "Let's get this done and go find us a Hilton."
"Sounds like a plan," Dean nodded, turning back toward the door. "Break up the table and chairs."
"Break them up?" Sam asked, confused.
Dean paused at the door. "There's a fireplace, dude. You wanna get warm? We're gonna have to Wagon Train this bitch."
Sam huffed a laugh as Dean went back out to the car to grab the bags. He followed orders, using his feet to leverage and then break up the table and chairs, stacking the wood next to the fireplace in the main room. By the time Dean closed the front door with a groan, Sam was nearly dry and had started a fire using the furniture and classified section of the newspaper as kindling.
"Can't believe it's not even noon," Dean grumbled, dropping down on the sagging couch, rainwater running from his hair down his face and pooling beneath his feet.
"Dude, you're soaking the couch," Sam protested.
"Sor-ry," Dean said, stretching out the word. "Didn't realize this was the good furniture."
He stood and began to peel off his long-sleeved shirt as Sam said, "If you want to sit on something other than the floor, that's all we got."
"Whatever," Dean groaned as he dropped his wet, long-sleeved shirt on the floor and started working his way slowly out of the wet T-shirt. "If that bastard Groves wasn't already dead, I'd shoot him on principle."
Sam looked up from stoking the fire. "Dean!"
Dean glanced over. "What? Too soon?"
"Dude." Sam shook his head, feeding more wood on the fire after getting a glance at Dean's pale face.
"The guy shot me, Sam."
"Yeah, I know that."
Dean hissed as he rolled the wet sleeve from his shoulder, dropping the T-shirt on top of the long-sleeved shirt. "Hurts like a mother, too."
Sighing, Sam got up and moved over to the bags Dean had brought inside. "Go sit."
"Thought I'd ruin the furniture," Dean sassed.
Glancing over his shoulder at his irritating brother, Sam dug into his duffel bag and pulled out a towel and a pair of sweats and tossed them at Dean. "Change, dry off, and sit. I'm gonna find the meds we stashed here from the last time you got shot."
Dean muttered something under his breath as Sam turned away and he was pretty sure he was glad he hadn't heard it. He pulled out the canvass pouch he'd turned into a first aid kit several years ago. Inside he found a bottle of Cipro, some Tylenol 3, and the pain pills Jo had given Dean nearly a year ago.
They'd picked up a couple of pre-wrapped sandwiches and chips at the gas station. He looked through Dean's bag, but didn't find any water. He couldn't remember seeing any bottles of water in the car, either, cursing himself for not having the foresight to better prepare.
He grabbed Dean's flask, tapped two antibiotics and one of the pain pills into his palm and turned back toward the fire. Dean sat bare-chested, dressed in Sam's sweat pants, the towel and his wet clothes hanging over a jury-rigged drying rack made up of andirons and pieces of a chair.
"Here," Sam thrust the medicine out toward his brother. "We don't have any water. Sorry."
"This is better," Dean said, taking the flask and swallowing the meds.
"I doubt it, but we'll deal with that later." Sam crouched next to Dean, setting the first aid kit next to him.
The storm had darkened mid-day to night and their main source of light came from the cobweb-dusted fireplace. The wood floor of the main room was scuffed and scratched, a musty-smelling braided rug digging into Sam's knees. Two tall windows flanked the fireplace and lightning flashed like camera work, briefly illuminating Dean's pale face and the angry red of his shoulder.
Sam pulled the small flashlight from the first aid kit and shone it on Dean's wound. Setting the light to the side to help illuminate his work, he pulled the wet gauze patches from either side of his shoulder, wincing at how hot Dean's skin was to the touch.
"Tried to call Bobby when I moved the car," Dean was saying, his tight voice evidence to how much it hurt for Sam to touch him. "No reception. Missed a couple calls, though."
"Yeah?" Sam asked, wetting another gauze patch with antiseptic. "From who?"
"Bobby," Dean said, jerking slightly and stifling a groan as Sam dabbed at the swollen skin with the disinfectant. "Letting us know he'd looked into the newspaper dude and he's sketchy on multiple levels."
"Demon?" Sam asked, narrowing his eyes at the back of Dean's shoulder.
It was a little too late for stitches, and the tears in Dean's skin were swollen and bruised enough as it was. Sticking a needle into that mess to close up a wound that wasn't even bleeding anymore would just be needless torture. Unless he could knock Dean out, he wasn't going to go there.
But he had to make sure the wound was well and truly clean, if nothing else. Wishing fleetingly for simple soap and water, he rested a gauze patch beneath the wound and nudged at Dean's hand holding the flask. Dean took another swig, closing his eyes as Sam lifted the antiseptic and poured across the opened skin.
"Sonofbitchjesusfuckingchrist," Dean swore, his breath eking out in shallow bursts through clenched teeth. Raising a shaking hand, he took another swig from the flask and let out a low groan slowly. His lips trembled around his next words. "Could. Be. Demon." He took a quick breath. "Bobby…said the dead people were connected…."
"How?" Sam asked, applying the same treatment to the front of Dean's shoulder.
"Don't…know…." Dean's right fist knotted into the loose folds of his sweatpants and Sam watched as sweat rolled down his brother's temple and along his jaw line. "Son of a bitch that hurts," Dean gasped weakly.
"Breathe," Sam said in a low voice. "Almost done, man. Just breathe."
He waited until he heard Dean pull in a shaking breath before he pressed the antiseptic-soaked gauze to the wound. Dean pushed out his lips, pressing his eyes tightly closed.
"You okay?" Sam asked.
"Other call," Dean continued, rather than answering the question, "was from Ballard."
"Ballard?" Sam repeated, surprised. "How did she—"
Dean shook his head, cutting Sam off. "Word travels fast, I guess. Henricksen is—was…," Dean paused, clearing his throat, "a tenacious bastard. Probably called her more than once to find out how she let us get away."
Sam carefully dabbed antibiotic ointment on and around the swollen, torn skin, ignoring the spastic flinching of his brother's muscles. He knew Dean wanted to pull away, but was fighting to keep still. He hurried to press and tape a gauze patch over the opening, then wrapped an Ace bandage around Dean's shoulder, keeping pressure on the bandages, but not completely immobilizing his brother's arm.
"What did she want?" Sam asked pushing himself stiffly to his feet and moving to a closet he'd seen at back of the room. He was hoping for a blanket or sheet or something. It was empty.
"Said she wouldn't believe it until she saw a body."
"The place blew up," Sam said, turning back to regard Dean's form, hunched in front of the fire, staring into the flames. "There…wouldn't be any bodies."
"Still," Dean said listlessly, the pain having tapped his reserves. "Kinda nice to have someone believe in us, y'know? Someone on our side."
Sam looked down. "Yeah," he said quietly, making his way to the couch and sitting on the arm.
"I'm gonna miss that smug bastard," Dean said suddenly.
It was on the tip of Sam's tongue to ask who when he suddenly realized he knew: Henricksen. The man had twisted Dean up worse than anyone outside of John had ever been able to. Henricksen had been Dean standing on the other side of the law. They'd had to run hard from him only because the man had gotten inside his brother's head in more ways than one.
And when the FBI Agent realized – finally realized – the truth, Sam had seen something in Dean's eyes he hadn't seen since they'd found John: hope. The possibility of an ally. Maybe even a friend.
"Yeah," Sam repeated, not knowing what else to say.
Dean pulled his eyes slowly from the fire to look at Sam with such profound sadness that Sam had to catch his breath. He needed a warning when Dean's walls slipped free; he wasn't prepared for such raw emotion in a glance.
"Would've been nice to know that someone had your back, y'know?"
Sam pulled his eyebrows together. "Henricksen?"
Dean pushed out his lower lip, nodding as he glanced down. "He wouldn't have quit you, Sam. He'd have found a way to protect you from Lilith."
The tears came hot, fast, pooling in his eyes before Sam could stop them. "When you're…gone…you mean."
Dean didn't answer. Didn't move.
"Dean, I know what I said back there—"
"It's okay, Sam," Dean said softly.
"No, it's not," Sam shook his head. "I was just…I was mad. We're gonna find a way, man. I'm not gonna let you go to Hell."
Taking a breath, Dean used his right arm to push himself to his feet. Sam felt his brows pull together in reaction to the low groan Dean let leak out as he reached out and balanced himself against the fireplace. Moving to stand in front of a window, Dean rested his forearm against the wooden frame, peering out into the storm.
Lightning flashed with a thunder chaser loud enough to rattle Sam's teeth. Dean leaned his forehead against the glass and Sam heard him chuckle.
"What's so funny?"
"You remember the last time we hid out in a house this run down?" Dean asked, not turning around.
Sam frowned, thinking back. "You were still in school, right?"
"Yeah." Dean's breath clouded the window for a brief moment. "Dad was in one of his go to ground moods, and the place was a pit."
"I remember," Sam nodded, chuckling. "A raccoon under the sink…."
"A hole in the roof all the way through the bedroom floor," Dean added.
"And Dad made us stay there for a week," Sam grumbled, a grin pulling the side of his mouth high. "I hated every minute of it."
"Not every minute," Dean reminded him, rolling his head slightly on the glass to meet Sam's eyes. "You remember what you found in the bedroom closet?"
Sam pulled his brows together, confused for a moment, until another flash of lightning illuminated Dean's lascivious grin.
"Dude, I totally forgot about that," Sam laughed. "My first porn mag."
"You were freakin' hilarious, man," Dean chuckled, looking back through the window. "Trying to hide it from me and Dad, blushing every time you thought we'd caught on."
"And you knew the whole time," Sam nodded, looking down with a tremulous smile. It was moments like this – the small joys of being family – that made the depleting hourglass that was his brother's life hurt that much more.
"'Course I knew," Dean said, his voice a shrug. "I'm your big brother. Comes with the job."
"Plus," Sam arched a brow and glanced up at the back of Dean's head, "you were biding your time until you could swipe it."
"Dude," Dean replied, still looking out into the darkened day, "it was porn. I had plans—"
He bit his words off so quickly that Sam stood from his perch on the arm of the couch.
"Holy shit, Sam," Dean breathed. "I just saw it."
"What?" Sam drew close to his brother, peering over Dean's shoulder into the storm. "What did you see?"
Dean pressed his forehead harder against the window. "The dog. Big damn thing."
"You saw the Black Dog?" Sam replied, cupping his hands around his eyes to shield his sight from the firelight. "Where—"
But Dean was already moving toward the duffel bag and his gun.
"Damn thing is circling the house, Sam," Dean growled, checking his clip and heading toward the door.
"You can't kill this thing," Sam reminded him, following. "Bobby said we have to get the source!"
Dean pulled the door open and the rain slammed into both of them with drenching force. The wind whipped small branches from trees and scattered leaves across the paint-chipped porch. Sam shouldered Dean aside and pushed the door shut. They stared at each other in the dim light, gasping from the force of the storm, water peppering their faces with droplets.
"We have to kill the source," Sam repeated.
"Why is it here?" Dean demanded. "Thought it was going after people from Hanging Hills."
"We'll find out," Sam said, a cold knot forming in his stomach. "We'll figure it out. Like we always do—together."
Dean blinked at him and a shadow shifted in his eyes, something close to doubt shaking hands with suspicion.
"Why didn't you tell me about her, Sam?" Dean asked suddenly.
"What?" Sam asked, taken aback at the shift in topics. Dean was swaying a bit, the gun hanging loosely from his right hand, the bandages on his left shoulder darkened to gray by the spray of storm. "What are you talking about?"
"Lilith," Dean spat, lifting his gun-heavy hand to wipe the rainwater from his face. "I shoulda known, man. You shoulda told me."
Sam stepped away from the door. He'd thought he'd wanted to push it; he thought he'd wanted to talk about it. But he wasn't ready, he realized. He didn't know why, but he wasn't ready to go there with his brother right now. Not with Dean swaying from pain and exhaustion in front of his eyes.
"Listen," Sam said softly, placing a gentle hand on Dean's elbow. "We're beat. Let's get some sleep until this storm blows over and then we'll figure out what's going on with this Black Dog, okay?"
Dean looked askance at him, but stayed silent. Sam edged him back toward the couch, guiding him as he dropped heavily onto the cushions. Sighing, Sam moved toward the fire and stoked it with more pieces of table. When it was crackling and popping with bright heat, he turned back to see Dean slumped back on the beat-up couch, looking as worn and ragged as the furniture he sat upon.
Cupping his brother's neck, Sam eased Dean down to lie on the couch, slipping the gun from Dean's fingers and setting it within reach on the ground. He dug around in the duffel until he found a flannel shirt to cover Dean with, then sat on the braided rug, ate his sandwich, leaving the chips for when he had more to wash them down with than whiskey, and watched Dean sleep.
Why hadn't he said something? Why hadn't that been the first thing he'd said when Dean had pulled him out of that nest of witches? Why was he so resistant to saying anything now?
I don't want to die…I don't want to go to hell.
Sam shivered and looked toward the fire.
Dean had always been his one constant. All his life, his big brother had been there for him. When the world blew up around him, when right flipped sideways and turned into wrong, when everyone he knew became strangers before his eyes, Dean had been there standing between him and the darkness. Dean had been the hand at his back pushing him forward, the protective arm keeping him from harm, the jester, the thief, the parent, the brother.
And then he'd taken it one step too far: he'd sold his soul. He'd made one sacrifice too many, and Sam didn't know how to accept it. Wouldn't accept it. Dean was going to die and Sam was running out of ways to stop it, running out of ideas to follow.
Staring down the barrel of that threat, some random Big Bad Force rising in the west hadn't really rattled him. Not until the police station. Not until she killed all of those people just to get to him.
Suddenly restless, Sam stood and crept soundlessly from the room. He made his way to the small bedroom at the top of the stairs where he'd seen the boxes and old newspapers. The storm seemed to be slightly tapering, allowing gray light to filter in through the curtainless windows. Shining his flashlight over the boxes he peered inside.
Books and magazines filled two of them. A collection of framed pictures and nick-nacks were in the third. Someone had probably been pretty disappointed when they reached their new house and realized this memorabilia had been left behind. Shifting his attention to the piles of print, he sat on top of a box and began flipping through them.
The first he picked up was dated June of 1994. He glanced over the headline, set it aside and picked up another, also from '94. Not really sure what he was looking for – if anything – he continued to scan through the stacks of papers reading small excerpts of the births, deaths, elections, county fairs, marriages, and scandals that all affected Hanging Hills, Colorado.
The by-line for the front page story switched from someone named Steven Darius to a Nester Ambrose in 1988.
"Ambrose," Sam whispered to himself, remembering Dean's run-down of the case earlier in the car.
Frowning, he began to look through the papers from '88 to '94 to find other articles by the same reporter. He found one from October of 2003 that had him sitting up straight and breathing out in wonder. The cover picture was a familiar rendering, one he'd seen before when they were looking into the possibility of a Black Dog back in Mississippi.
The article covered the lore of the Black Dog, painting the creature not as an omen of death or portent of danger, but as a remorseless killer who knew your sins, found you out, and punished you mercilessly. It called up unexplained deaths in the area as far back as the Civil War, citing misdeeds and misbehavior of the victims as the trigger for the Dog's vicious form of justice.
"A little light reading?"
Sam jumped, slipping from his perch on the box and dropping the flashlight into the dust surrounding him. "Jesus!"
"No, just me," Dean drawled, leaning against the doorway. "You let me fall asleep."
Sam stood, breathing shakily, and dusted himself off. "You were beat."
Dean rolled away from the doorframe and moved further into the room. Sam realized that the light outside had increased and the sound of the rain had lessened. He'd lost track of how long he'd been up in the small room reading through old newspapers. His hands were covered in dust and newsprint and he had a crick in his neck.
"Find anything?" Dean asked.
He'd pulled on the shirt Sam had covered him with, but hadn't buttoned it. He was carrying his gun loosely in his right hand. As he turned into the beam from Sam's flashlight, the bruises on his torso were visible. But he was moving easier and his eyes were clear and bright. Sam decided the nap had done him some good.
"Yeah." Sam tossed the newspaper with the Black Dog article onto a box near Dean. "This Ambrose guy's had a hard-on for Black Dogs for awhile."
Dean turned the paper with the barrel of his gun and his eyes scanned the article. "Kinda created his own version of the lore, though."
"Yeah," Sam nodded, still rifling through the papers. "And listen to this. Three deaths in 1994 went unexplained until Ambrose attributed them to the Black Dog due to the victims' lewd behavior."
Dean's mouth folded down into a sarcastic grin. "Lewd behavior, huh? Guess that explains why I saw the damn thing."
"Whatever," Sam shook his head, tossing the newspaper he'd been reading on top of a pile of others. "Guys like him make me sick, playing judge and jury."
"'94?" Dean looked over, his head tilted in thought. "That's over ten years ago. What's happened around here between then and now?"
"I don't know," Sam shook his head, casting about the room. "Couldn't find another paper newer than that."
"How 'bout we head into town, grab some food, do some poking around?"
Sam eyed his brother's arm, watching as Dean kept it close to his side. "You sure you can?"
"Dude, I'm fine," Dean shook his head. "Besides, it's almost dark out. Again." He moved past Sam to exit the room, his mouth pulled into a side grin. "Best time to poke around is at night."
"And you're hungry," Sam guessed, rolling his eyes at Dean's brand of humor.
"And I'm hungry."
Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple