Title: Sibling Metamorphosis

Author: FaithDaria

Rating: Teen

Summary: Its Halloween night, 2005, and Sam discovers an unexpected visitor in his apartment. Sequel to Parental Evolution.

The impromptu Halloween party hadn't been as bad as Sam had feared. It had been less about the holiday and more about getting drunk and laid, basically a typical college party with costumes. He and Jess had stumbled back in around one am, tired and a little drunk.

So Sam was understandably upset when a muffled noise woke him from a sound sleep at two. Thankfully, Jess slept like a rock and didn't stir when he slipped out of bed. The floorboards in the living room creaked as he padded down the hall in his bare feet, hefting the baseball bat he kept handy. He peered around the corner and saw a figure bent over the sofa. When the man straightened, Sam slipped out of his hiding place and attacked.

The interloper ducked and countered with a well-placed blow. Then he reached out and . . .slapped on the light?

Sam squinted against the sudden influx before his eyes widened with recognition. "Dean?"

His brother gave him a weary half-smile. "Hey, Sammy. Can I crash on your couch?"

Sam's gaze traveled from Dean's face to the small head peeking out from beneath a blanket on the couch. "Dean, what the hell?"

"Pretty much exactly what it looks like, Sam. Mind if I turn the light off?"

Sam nodded and hit the switch, taking his brother's cue and dropping his voice down. "Dude, seriously. What's going on?"

The older man brushed his hand over the sleeping child's. Then he jerked his head toward the tiny kitchen. Sam took him up on the suggestion and led the way, pulling a beer out of the fridge and passing it over to his brother.

Dean uncapped it and took a long drink before setting the bottle down on the table and looking at Sam, his expression hard to read. "He's my son."

Sam choked on his own beer. "What?"

"Keep it down," Dean hissed. "He'll be awake in a few hours as it is. You wake him up now and he'll never go back to sleep." He took another swallow and glanced through the doorway to the couch and its occupant. "His name is Ben and he's five years old. I found out about him two years ago when his mom died and I was given custody."

Sam abruptly remembered the three phone calls he'd ignored two years ago, the first and last calls he'd received from his brother while he was at Stanford. He hadn't done it to hurt Dean, but it had been finals week and he couldn't afford the magnificent distraction that was his brother. "Tell me what happened," he said, because to open up that can of worms right now would be entirely pointless.

"His mom was named Lisa. Remember that road trip I took around six years ago? Seven states in seven days?" Sam nodded, and Dean took a pull from his bottle and grinned. "I made it as far as Lisa Braeden's loft in Indiana, three days in, and that's where I stayed for the rest of the week. Didn't hear from her afterwards, even though I left her a contact number. Then two years ago I get this call. Turns out she had me down for custody if something happened."


"Car wreck. Lisa didn't have any decent family other than Ben, which I guess is why I got him at all."

"So you just travel around, hunting, with a five-year-old?" Sam's voice was tight, the disapproval evident.

Dean snorted and set his beer aside. "Boy, you really don't have much faith in me, do you Sammy?" His eyes narrowed as he looked at his brother, and Sam was startled at the anger there. "They wouldn't give me custody without a place to live."

Sam frowned, more to himself, and tried to picture his big brother doing anything other than hunting, or settling down someplace longer than a week. He didn't have long to contemplate this scrambling of his world order, though, since Jessica picked that moment to walk into their small kitchen. "Sam? What's going on?" She was obviously still a little blurry with sleep and alcohol and had apparently missed the fact that she was wearing her pajamas and that there was a strange man sitting at her kitchen table.

"It's nothing, Jess, go back to bed."

She blinked at him, visibly clearing the cobwebs. "It's something. You're upset and there's some guy in our kitchen."

"I'm Dean," his brother said. The man's face brightened with Ithat/I smile, the one that Dean had used to get into girl's panties across the lower forty-eight since he was fourteen. "Sorry, sweetheart, didn't mean to wake you up. My kid and I just needed a place to crash for the night. We've been driving since school got out and my eyes were starting to cross."

"Dean?" Jess looked from Dean to Sam. "Your brother Dean?"

"The one and only." Dean grinned at her, somehow managed to look charming despite a day's worth of stubble and the clear exhaustion written on his face. "Listen, I'm just going to grab a pillow and a blanket and crash on the floor. You two go back to bed."

Jess nudged Sam with her shoulder and gave him an oblique look. "You don't have to sleep on the floor."

Dean shrugged. "Ben's got the couch. I'm fine. I've slept in way worse places, believe me."

"He really has," Sam muttered. "He'll be fine, Jess. Let's go back to bed." He glared at his brother over Jessica's shoulder. "They'll both be here in the morning."

Dean made a placating gesture that Sam took as agreement and retreated into the living room, grabbing a throw pillow and a blanket from the end of the couch.

He half-expected Dean to be gone in the morning, or for all of this to have been a particularly odd and vivid dream, but when Sam trudged into the kitchen around ten there was already coffee made and Dean's little boy sitting at his garage-sale table, coloring a blank sheet of paper with crayons. Dean was sitting across from him, a mug of coffee at hand and a map spread out across his side of the table. "I went ahead and made coffee," his brother said without looking up. "There should be plenty in the pot for you and your girl, though I don't know if there's any of that sissy creamer you like."

Sam sat down in the one remaining chair, the movement violent enough to shake the table and make Ben glance up with a frown. "All right, let's hear it."

"Your haircut is stupid and you're clearly out of practice," Dean said, his focus still on the map. "Also, you're almost out of beer. Anything else you want to know?"

Sam pulled it away with a huff of annoyance and finally garnered his brother's attention. "Why are you here, Dean?"

Dean's eyes flicked over to his son. The boy looked incredibly intent on his coloring, so intent that he was no doubt listening to every word that was said. "Something's up with Dad."

"Something's always up with Dad," Sam countered. "Try again."

"Dad got a lead on his personal white whale," Dean said. "He thinks it might be coming after you."

"Why would it be after me?"

"He wasn't as forthcoming about that. It's more of that ex-Marine, need-to-know crap. Just that we're all in danger, maybe you in particular." Dean took a swallow of coffee that had to be cold, and Sam could see him calculating what to say next that wouldn't tip off the little ears at the table with them. "You remember Bobby Singer's specialty?"

It took Sam a few moments to sort through the memories and come to the conclusion that Uncle Bobby had been the go-to guy when it came to exorcisms. "Yeah," he said, a little cautious.

"Let's just say he's had a major up-tick in business in the last few months." There was a grimness there that seemed out of place on his brother with the reckless habits and the bright grin. "Normally he gets two or three a year, but since May he's seen ten."

Well, that can't be good, Sam thought. "And Dad thinks that's the threat?"

"It's our best guess so far."

Sam's fingers itched to grab a book and bury the instant worries that sprang up with research. Instead he sipped at his coffee and changed the subject. "So if you're not traveling around with him, what are you doing?"

"We've been living out at Bobby's. I thought about getting my own place, but there's no way to beat the wards at Singer Salvage. I do some work for him, some stuff for other hunters. The man has some of the best contacts in the hunting world, I swear to God."

"He's still in the business?"

Dean nodded and took a swallow of his coffee. "Yeah, he's still in. You know you really never get out of hunting."

Sam snorted in disbelief and Dean looked up from his coffee with a steady stare. "You trying to tell me that if something showed up that threatened this happy little life you wouldn't go after it? If you ended up losing Jess, or almost losing her because of some monster that no one else believed existed?"

It wasn't something Sam wanted to contemplate, so he changed the subject and pushed the idea, which meshed unpleasantly with the dream he'd had last night, to the back of his mind. "Let me finish this cup of coffee and we can go out and get some groceries." They were usually running a pretty bare cupboard by Saturday. Sam was surprised that his brother had managed to find coffee; he'd thought they'd used the last of it yesterday.

"We've already been out," Dean told his brother. "You guys have less food than Caleb usually keeps around. I'm not planning on feeding my kid ramen noodles for breakfast, no matter how much the college kids swear by it."

Sam shrugged. They'd also had macaroni and cheese and beer, but admittedly neither of those were appropriate for breakfast for a five-year-old. They didn't really keep much more than a pack of bagels or a thing of eggs around at the best of times. "You found the grocery store all right?" More importantly, what kind of groceries did his brother pick up? If he hadn't had hazy memories of Dean taking care of the two of them when he was little, he would have worried that it was all junk food.

"It wasn't a problem. Your girlfriend one of those freaky California vegans?" Sam shook his head and his brother smiled. "Awesome. Eggs and bacon it is. Ben, more juice?"

The kid nodded and held up his cup, and Sam wondered if this quiet was normal or if Ben was pulling out this shyness just for him. Dean filled it up and then topped off both of the coffee cups. "How's your girlfriend like her eggs, Sammy?"

"Sunny side up. I'll go get her out of bed." And warn her about his brother's strange bout of domestic arts, and the kid currently sitting at the table. She'd been just drunk enough that she might not remember last night's adventures all that well, and Jess generally had a potty mouth when she was hungover. Dean had made an obvious effort to curb his language around Ben, and it was the least he could do to continue that trend a little. There was no telling what kind of things the kid had heard from John Winchester.

Jess was in the shower when Sam got back to their bedroom, and he changed clothes and waited around until she emerged, dripping and barely covered with a towel. "Dean's making breakfast right now," he told her, watching with appreciation as she dried off and slipped into her favorite jeans and weekend shirt.

She squinted, scrunching up her face a little as she fought past the headache to process his word. "Dean your brother, who showed up with a little kid last night?" she finally asked. She rubbed at her temples for a second, making Sam wince in sympathy. Jess didn't do hungover very well, part of the reason she rarely drank. "And you let them in really late," she concluded, a little more firmly.

"That's the one. The kid's his son Ben." She sat down on the bed to begin untangling her wet hair, wincing along with her as the brush found a particularly stubborn bunch of curls. "He thought it was time for a visit."

Jess was concentrating a little too fiercely on the process of brushing out her hair. "You never talk about your family," she finally said. "I know that your father is named John, and your mother is dead, and you have a brother named Dean. That's all I know, Sam. So it's a little weird that your brother shows up with a nephew I didn't even know you had and crashes on the couch in the middle of the night."

"Dean's not really one for calling ahead," Sam said, trying for a laugh. He got a steady, measured look instead and sighed. "Is it going to be a problem, him visiting like this?"

"I don't know. Probably not?" There was an uncertainty to her words that was unusual for Jess. She was usually incredibly confident. "I can probably pry a few childhood stories out of him, if nothing else."

Sam was a little doubtful about that, but he nodded. "Come on, your eggs are probably ready."

She perked up at that thought. "Sunny side up?"

"That's what I told him." He stood up and offered her his hand, which she took. She used the opportunity to get in close to the ticklish spot on his side, something Sam didn't truly appreciate, and grinned before taking off towards the kitchen.

Breakfast was surprisingly comfortable. Dean did wind up telling Jess all about the time that Sam had snuck a puppy into the car, which made him turn a little pink with embarrassment. Being only six at the time, he hadn't really understood that, just like humans, animals needed to go to the bathroom. The puppy had left John Winchester a present on the driver's seat that his father had promptly sat on and just as quickly tried to remove.

It had ended in tears and the puppy being left behind at a dog shelter, and the Impala had smelled faintly of dog shit for almost a month. Sam still missed that dog sometimes. He had planned to name it something ridiculously cliché and do all sorts of impossible things with it, and even though he understood now why you couldn't raise a large dog inside of a car Sam believed that a dog might have been useful in their life.

All in all, the story was one of the few that didn't involve hunting or Sam's own bodily fluids (there were so many stories of him peeing in a cup because Dad refused to stop or getting carsick when he tried to read in the backseat that he blushed just thinking about those possibilities) and after Jess was done laughing at the tale the table grew quiet. Ben had been listening to the story with rapt attention, his big dark eyes glued to Dean, but he returned back to his coloring fairly quickly once the story had ended.

It reminded Sam uncomfortably of his brother's hero-worship for their dad, but he trusted Dean with that kind of adulation far more than he trusted John Winchester. "So tell me about what you've been working on at Bobby's," he invited, because he'd much rather consider those projects and his brother's semi-normal life than his absent father.

Dean shifted forward in his seat, rough, worn hands cradling the chipped mug Jess had found at a yard sale for a quarter. "Most of it's the usual stuff. Patching up some cars, rebuilding a few wrecks that Bobby salvaged, you know how it goes." There was a quick flash of Dean's cocky grin, probably while he thought of something that could be shared with their current mixed company. "He picked up a 1969 Dodge Charger a few weeks ago and that's where I've been spending most of my free time. The engine was basically trash and the whole thing had been sitting in some redneck's barn for more than twenty years, but the body was in decent condition and that's a lot harder to fix. I can always just build a new engine, even if it's not to the specs of the original, but body panels from the sixties that aren't rusted to hell are hard to track down."

"Planning to sell it when you're done?"

Dean snorted. "Well, I'm sure as hell not trading my baby for it. I should get some pretty good money for it once it's painted." The grin appeared again, this time a little more like a smirk. "I could always paint a Confederate flag on the top and make the horn play 'Dixie.' I probably wouldn't need to do that great of a job on the engine to sell it to some idiot collector."

Sam rolled his eyes, because the idea of Dean doing anything less than a stellar job on any engine was laughable. "You split the money with Bobby afterward?" He really wanted to ask if his brother was using that money instead of relying on credit card fraud, but that definitely wasn't something he was willing to bring up in front of Jess.

"Yeah, he pays for all the parts and finds a buyer, I do the work, and we split the ridiculous amount of money people pay for a decent-looking classic car. Works out pretty well for both of us." He got up for the coffee pot and filled up his mug before offering it around the table. "So how are your classes going, Mr. Hot-Shot Lawyer?"

"Pretty good," Sam admitted, wondering how in the world Dean had figured out his major and why he wasn't giving him any crap about it. "I have an interview on Monday, and I think I've got a shot at a full ride at Stanford Law School."

"So your solution to graduating from school is more school," Dean said. "Somehow I'm not surprised. This mean you'll be my lawyer, Sammy? We both know I'll need one sometime."

"I was thinking of going into patent law," Sam said carefully. He very specifically did not mention Dean needing a criminal lawyer, though it was a near thing. It was obvious that his brother was trying to at least look a little normal for Jess and the least he could do was return the favor.

"Perfect," Dean said, standing up and heading over to the duffel bag tucked against the couch. He rummaged inside for a moment before returning to the table and plunking something down in front of Sam. "I can make these from scratch now and they work better than the ones you buy in the store. Can you make it so I can sell 'em online without someone running off with the idea?"

Sam turned the device over in his hands. "Is this an old walkman?"

"It used to be," Dean said, settling back down with his coffee. "Now it's an EMF meter. I've been selling the things to Bobby's contacts for cost plus ten percent, but I figure they'd do better online. I can get the individual parts and build it that way, too, but this way I don't have to make a casing for the damned thing."

"And it's completely functional?" Sam asked, unable to take his eyes off of the thing. The question was rhetorical; he knew his brother well enough to know that despite its decrepit appearance the thing probably worked better than the so-called 'professional' units. It made so much sense in the dysfunctional Winchester world that his brother would pick something like this up at a Salvation Army thrift store and turn it into a functional weapon for a hunter.

"I field test every single one," Dean said impatiently. "They chew through batteries like you wouldn't believe, but they work."

"How long does it take you to make one?"

"The first one took about a week to get it functional, but now that I know what I'm doing it usually only takes me a few hours to put it together. I spend more time hunting down parts then actually building the thing."

"I'll look into it," Sam promised, putting it carefully aside.

There was a smile, sharp in the sunlight streaming in through the kitchen window. "Good." He immediately turned his attention to Jessica, smiling the way he always had to charm waitresses and the occasional librarian. "So, Jess. Why don't you tell me how a geek like my brother managed to land a girl so completely out of his league?"


Sam managed to corral his brother after Jess disappeared to do her laundry after their late breakfast. "What do you need?"

"That one's a long list," Dean groaned, stacking the dirty plates in the sink. "Let's settle for right now, okay?"

"Fair enough. What about it?"

There was a lopsided smile as Dean glanced at Ben, who had pulled a bag of Matchbox cars out of his army green duffel bag and spread them out across the floor of the living room. Whatever he was playing or possibly reenacting, it involved loud vocal crashes and the occasional high-pitched squeal of supposed tires. "I want the same thing I always want, Sammy. I want my family safe. Anything else is just gravy."

They were treading on dangerous ground now. Dean's idea of staying safe was closer to John's than Sam's, and Sam wasn't about to leave Stanford and Jess and his nice, normal life for the Winchester life. "We can ward the place if you want," he offered. "Salt and cats-eye shells, that kind of thing."

"That would help," Dean said, some of the tension melting off his brother's shoulders. "I picked up some sigils from Bobby that might work on the windowsills and doorframe. I can paint them in something that should blend if we can find paint that matches, just have to add a few things to the paint."

"I don't keep that kind of stuff on hand," Sam said, frowning. He had a very complete first aid kit, because going without something like that was incredibly stupid, but beyond two knives and a 9mm under the bed (mostly because he hadn't been able to leave without Dean pressing them into his hands) he'd left all his hunting paraphernalia behind when he'd walked out the door of the shitty rental house.

"Just salt and a little blood, Sammy," Dean said, turning to him and smirking. "Don't worry, I've got it covered. Besides, I got the traveling kit out in my baby."

"Really?" Sam looked at him with a little skepticism. "You travel around with that stuff and your son in the car?"

"Never know when you might need to do a cleansing ritual or something," Dean pointed out. "Most of the arsenal is at Bobby's, and he worked up some paperwork for me to carry the rest, but going around without that stuff is just asking for trouble."

"You don't have any paint in there?"

"Spray paint, just for emergencies. Nothing for something like this. Come on, Sam, somewhere in this building there has to be a bucket of paint for touch-ups or whatever."

It turned out there was, hidden away in the back of a supply closet downstairs that Dean promptly unlocked, pulling out a familiar, well-used set of lockpicks and gesturing for Sam to keep lookout. That particular task was depressingly easy and Sam made a mental note to upgrade the locks on the apartment upstairs while Dean grabbed a can of off-white paint and the dark-green that was used as trim all through the apartment.

Sam kept Jess and Ben occupied in the other room while Dean did whatever he was doing to the paint. It had necessitated a trip down to the car, and Sam could make a few educated guesses on the specific additions (graveyard dirt, sage, probably some blood, possibly a little salt), but neither Jess nor Ben needed to see that. It would be hard enough to explain the sigils that Dean was getting ready to paint.

Jessica was the one who solved the problem, oddly enough, volunteering to spend time with Ben while he and Dean 'caught up.' It was the perfect opportunity, as long as they stayed out of eyeshot and kept quiet.

"So why did you bring him along?" Sam asked, spreading out the salt carefully on the top of the doorframe.

"I didn't really want Ben out here where he could get hurt, especially during the first couple of weeks of November," Dean said quietly, looking over from the window that they were quietly scribing with protective runes to where Jess was fussing over the little boy. "But Dad became unavailable and Bobby was out of town and I'm not really convinced any other options are really safe."

Sam smiled as he watched his girlfriend play with his newfound nephew. He'd be lying if he said he didn't get certain fuzzy feelings from seeing that. "Pastor Jim?" he suggested, keeping his eyes on the two of them. He remembered being left behind at Blue Earth several times during his childhood, though he didn't know why at the time.

"He has too much on his plate right now, and there are way too many strangers around," Dean said with finality, turning back to his project.

Jess looked up and met Sam's eyes, and Sam followed his brother's example and went back to working on the window frame. She knew something was up, though she'd not really had the opportunity to ask. Dean showing up in the middle of the night after years without communication was a big warning sign, and then there was the lack of explanation for their current home improvement project. "You're worried about him on holy ground?" he asked quietly. Pastor Jim's place in Minnesota had always been a sanctuary when he was little.

"It might keep demons out, but what about a demon convincing someone to go and get him?" Dean's jaw tightened in that familiar, stubborn way that Sam had missed. "All it would take is a demon possessing some small, helpless-looking woman asking them to help her find her kid. Besides, he really wanted to meet you."

"Really?" Sam's eyebrows went up at that revelation. "He hasn't said more than a dozen words to me so far."

"That's because you're too tall," Dean said with a mocking smirk and a slap on the shoulder. "Too tall and too unfamiliar. It took him a while to warm up to Dad, too. Give him another hour to get used to you and he'll start talking your ear off. I have a hard time getting him to shut up and eat his dinner most days when he gets home from school." The rough words and eyeroll were in strong contrast to his brother's fond tone and smile. "He reminds me a lot of you at that age, actually. You two should get along great."

They worked quietly side by side for a while, falling into an easy rhythm. Sam had missed this kind of thing. Not hunting, God did he ever not miss hunting, but working with Dean on something like this was soothing. "Do you think this will be enough?" Sam asked. "Will this keep them safe?"

"This stuff?" Dean gestured at the windows and the bag of salt at their feet. "I've got no idea. But I'll tell you right now that the only way anything is getting to Ben is over my dead body."

Sam shivered and hoped that those words wouldn't turn out to be prophetic.


It was incredibly strange when Dean headed for the spot on the floor that he had claimed for the duration of his visit and prepared to go to sleep before ten at night. Sam had memories of his brother staying up while Sam went to bed, presumably waiting up for their father, and being awake before Sam the next morning, so for Dean to go to bed this early on a Saturday night was almost as worrying as all the rest of his behavior combined. He'd already kicked Sam and Jess out of the living room an hour ago so that Ben could sleep on the couch.

Sam turned off the lights and double-checked the lock on the door, even though he knew his brother would get up sometime during the night at least once to check the locks and probably the salt lines. Up until Dean's break-in last night they'd never had a problem, but some things you never really unlearned.

Jessica was waiting for him in their bedroom. She'd changed into pajama pants and a tank top that used to be black and had faded into a dark gray and was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking at him warily. "What's really going on, Sam?"

He fought back the urge to sigh in resignation and began to get ready for bed. The question would be how much to tell her, because it was obvious that she was (finally) at the point where Sam's continued silence on his background was about to start the biggest fight of their relationship. Dean's sudden appearance was the straw that broke the camel's back.

"Tomorrow is November second." He held up his hand to forestall her inevitable interjections. "It's the anniversary of our Mom's death and one of the reasons I've always hated Halloween. Dean always wanted to be around family on the second, even if 'family' meant sitting next to Dad when he was hunkered down with Jim, Jack, and Jose. With Dad going radio silent, Dean came here." There, that should do for the moment. Enough of the truth to count, but still vague on the details.

Jessica was quiet for a moment, processing this. She reached over and grasped Sam's hand, squeezing it lightly. "All right. What about the salt and the windows?"

This was a little harder to explain away, but Sam had a little more practice at it. "It's superstition. We kind of grew up all over, and Dean picked up some of the stranger little pieces along the way. Salt's for protection because it's a sign of purity, so nothing impure can cross it, and Dean learned about that somewhere in New England. The symbols are something he picked up when we spent a year in Louisiana and are supposed to defend against evil. They make him feel better." He got up and turned off the light, hopefully signaling the end of the conversation, and slid under the covers. Jess followed suit a moment later, and Sam relaxed slightly now that the interrogation was over.

He should have known better. "Why were you avoiding your brother's calls?" she asked, and Sam sighed. He had hoped that she hadn't noticed that particular habit, because that was even harder to explain than the salt, especially to someone who had never met John Winchester.

"When I got into Stanford, I told my Dad about it and he told me if I went away to college not to bother coming back." That wasn't everything he and John had said to each other, not by a long shot, but the actual fight had lasted for about three days and that was the end result. "Dean didn't side with me. He chose to stay with Dad instead." That still stung a little, even though he could look at it with a little more perspective now that he was an adult. His brother had always seemed like an adult to Sam's eyes, and even now it was hard not to interpret Dean's refusal to take his side as a betrayal.

Jess was quick to put those pieces together. "So at the beginning, talking to Dean would have been like talking to your Dad, and then it just became habit," she said. She curled up against Sam, her forehead resting against his chest. "Dean coming here was good for you, then?"

He was quiet for a minute, processing this statement. He'd been so caught up in the moment, in learning about his brother's life and his newfound nephew and just spending time with Dean that he hadn't had time to think about anything further. "It's good," he finally said. Sam was aware that he was just stubborn enough to not answer any of his brother's calls and that Dean would similarly dig in his heels and refuse to make any further gestures. If John Winchester hadn't sounded the warning and triggered Dean's 'protect Sammy' urge, there was no telling how long they would have maintained radio silence.

His last thought as he drifted off to sleep with Jess in his arms was that he actually owed John Winchester a favor. This chance to become reacquainted with his brother was something he was going to enjoy.


Sam shouldn't have been surprised that his brother was up before him, especially considering that Dean had turned in earlier than he'd ever seen his brother willingly go to bed in his life. He had woken up once during Dean's patrols the night before, though, which had probably started right at midnight, and had been expecting that once the sun was up Dean would relax a little and crash.

This meant that it took him a moment to adjust when he stepped into the kitchen at a respectable eight in the morning to find coffee brewing and Dean mixing a bowl of pancake batter. Ben was sitting with crayons and fresh paper at the battered table, though he looked up and gave Sam a brilliant smile before returning to his task. Apparently somewhere between yesterday and this morning Sam had become safe and familiar, because he hadn't received so much as a nod from the boy without prompting from Dean until this moment.

Dean looked appropriately tired, which made Sam feel a little better. He held up the coffee pot with a grunt and Sam nodded, reaching around him for a mug from the cabinet. Dean poured out a cup for him and then topped off his own before turning back to the stove and starting the pancakes.

"Rough night?" Sam asked. It was a rhetorical question, asked mostly to show a little sympathy. Dean always got this pinched look on his face when he was too worried to sleep.

"A little too used to sleeping on a bed," Dean griped. "Your floor's uncomfortable, dude."

Sam nodded and didn't challenge Dean's words. There wasn't much point in calling Dean on his bullshit. "That had nothing to do with the date?"

Dean glared and Sam backed down with a glance to Ben. "The floor is hard and it creaks when you move," he elaborated. "That's all. I'm fine." He dropped the plate of finished pancakes on the table with more force and noise than necessary. Ben pushed aside his crayons and eagerly reached for the food. Dean handed over silverware and a handful of paper napkins and smiled as his son dug into the pancakes.

"So what's the plan for today?" Sam asked, changing the subject to one his brother would actually consider.

"Hang around, I guess," Dean said, shrugging. "Apartment's warded, plenty of groceries. Ben doesn't have school tomorrow so we'll stay the night and head back home in the morning." He ducked his head down and his voice became a little rougher. "Might be nice to talk to Dad sometime today, see what's going on."

Sam snorted. "Yeah, good luck with that." He wanted to say more, but the expression on his brother's face told him to keep his mouth shut. It would just have to wait until Ben was out of the room.

"If you'd pick up a phone once in a while or answer your freaking calls, Dad would talk to you," Dean said, turning back to the pancakes. "It works both ways, Sammy."

"He told me when I left not to come back," Sam protested.

"The one time in your life you had to listen," Dean groused, transferring golden-brown pancakes over to a second plate and setting them in front of Sam. "We're not talking about this right now, Sam. He's trying."

Sam was about to let fly with a retort about Dad and how trying looked a lot like something else when Ben pushed his empty plate towards Dean. "More pancakes, Daddy."

Dean speared the smallest two from his fresh pile and dropped them onto his son's plate. "More juice, kiddo?" Ben nodded and Dean raised his eyebrows. "What do you say, Ben?"

"I would like more juice, please," the boy said carefully, a smile spreading across his face as he met Dean's eyes.

Dean nodded and returned the smile. "Good." He filled the cup about two-thirds full and set it down in front of Ben before rolling his eyes in Sam's direction and holding up the carton. "Sammy?"

Sam nodded and Dean smirked. "And what do you say, Sam?"

Ben giggled and turned to look at Sam, his eyes bright with laughter. "Yeah, Sam, what do you say?"

"Can I have some juice, Dean?"

"Still waiting for the please," Dean said. The smirk was familiar and Sam was reminded of a hundred different mornings while they were growing up. He had missed this.

"Please pour me a glass of juice, Dean," he said, unable to keep his own smile away.

"Better." He got a glass from the cabinet and poured out some orange juice. "Anyway, I guess we can watch movies or something. You got anything that's, uh, age-appropriate?"

Sam mentally ran through their collection of movies. "We've got 'The Incredibles'," he offered. Other than that, he wasn't really sure what Dean would consider a good movie for his five-year-old to watch. Sam could remember watching Ghostbusters when he was six, but that wasn't exactly a good measure of what Ben should be watching.

Ben's eyes lit up and he abandoned his partially finished pancakes. "That's my favorite movie ever!" He slid out of his chair and headed for the door into the living room.

"Ben, get back here and finish your pancakes," Dean said. "The movie will still be there when you're done eating."

Ben came back to the table and sat back down, pouting a little. "But it's my favorite, Daddy."

"You'll have plenty of time to watch it." He poured syrup over his own stack of pancakes, turned off the burners on the stove and sat down with a fresh cup of coffee. "We'll probably end up watching it about five times," he muttered to Sam once Ben was occupied with his food. Hope you don't mind too much."

"It's my favorite movie, too," Sam said, grinning. Ben looked up at him with a bright smile that was so reminiscent of his fuzziest memories of his brother it was almost painful.

"Crampy got it for me for my birthday," the boy announced proudly. "The Incredibles and Toy Story and boots just like Daddy's."

Sam turned to his brother for clarification to see him smirking. "'Crampy'?"

Dean's smirk became more pronounced. "That would be Dad," he said, his tone slightly gleeful.

"No way," Sam denied. "Dad didn't even like it when we called him 'Daddy.'"

"You'd be amazed at what being a grandfather can do to change a guy," Dean said. "Ben couldn't quite get out Grandpa when they first met up and it just came out as Crampy. Dad wasn't crazy about it at first, but he got used to it."

"Seriously? You've got to be pulling my leg."

"I'm not, Sam." His expression was shuttered as he drained the coffee in his cup and stood up. "I'm heading out to the car for a second. Got a couple of things I want to bring in."

"No weapons," Sam warned.

Dean pulled back the edge of his untucked overshirt to reveal his favorite pearl-handled Colt. "It's cute, the way you think I'd go anywhere without a piece," he said, grinning. "Just because I'm not doing much hunting nowadays doesn't mean I'm not prepared for things."

Sam rolled his eyes and sighed as his brother hid the weapon again and headed for the door. He'd gotten complacent with this supposedly kinder, gentler version of Dean, and forgotten that his brother had smuggled knives into a dozen different schools across the country until he decided to drop out and get his GED. For Dean, the only place safe enough to go naked was Bobby's.

He was back after less than five minutes, carrying a battered book that strongly resembled a hunting journal. He dropped it onto the kitchen table with a surprisingly solid-sounding thud and opened up the clasp.

"You were going to need some of this anyway, for that EMF meter patent," he said, flipping through pages until he found the appropriate page. The journal was three-ring bound, so he opened it up and pulled out the neat notes and sketches. Sam caught a glimpse of several other projects as his brother went through the book before he turned his attention to the notes.

"Wow," Sam said once he started to read. "These actually might be a little too detailed."

Dean shrugged, his focus still on the book. "I wanted someone else to be able to read them and put the thing together." He flipped through the pages, some of them intriguingly titled: Demon Detector, Salt Rounds, and Frankenstein's Search Engine were a few of the things that caught his eye. Finally he pulled out a handful of photographs and set them down between the two brothers. "Ben, you done eating?" The boy shoved the last bite in his mouth and chewed vigorously. "Good. Go wash your face and your hands, brush your teeth, and change into a clean shirt. We'll watch the movie when you're done."

Ben hurried out of sight and Dean turned to Sam, his pinched expression returning. "He doesn't know about this part and I'd rather he didn't, if you don't mind."

"Know about what?"

"Dad basically told me to leave him behind when he first found out about Ben. He wasn't exactly happy that I was going to be sitting things out for a while and he wasn't shy about letting me know." There was another smirk as Dean selected a photo of a young teenager with dark blond hair. "And then he found out about Adam."


"You're not the baby of the family anymore, Sam," Dean said. "Dad got a call pretty much like the one I received, only the kid's mom is still around. We've got a younger brother named Adam. He lives in Wisconsin. That's where Bobby is right now, in fact. He's keeping an eye on Adam until the threat level goes back to normal."


The news made a series of odd expressions cross Sam's face, and Dean wondered how in the world his brother planned on being a lawyer with a poker face like that. "Dad slipped one past the goalie?" he asked.

"Ew, Sam. No talking about Dad sex, if you don't mind. I just had some damned good pancakes and I'd like to keep them." Dean closed the book and fastened the latch. "Remember that Christmas when you were nine and Dad didn't come home?" The Christmas when Sammy had found Dad's journal and learned about hunting, and one of Dean's bigger screw-ups. It had hurt to realize what his father had been up to when he hadn't shown up for Christmas, but the presence of his new brother had made up for it a little bit.

"That's where he was?"

"He was laid up from a hunt for about a week. Adam's mom was a nurse who was caught in the crossfire and learned about what Dad was doing, and one thing led to another."

Sam made another face, hilarious in it's execution. "Now I'm a little grossed out. And kind of pissed off, but that's pretty much usual."

"Adam's a pretty good kid. He's gonna come visit us at Bobby's this summer. You should show up."

"I'm done hunting, Dean."

"Yeah, well, done hunting doesn't mean done being family unless that's what you want. You and Dad are so much alike sometimes it's scary. You both think it can only be one way, hunting or head in the sand." Dean clamped his mouth shut, keeping back all the words that were threatening to pour out. He had some issues with his brother despite how much he loved him, and chief among those was the way Sam had left his family behind without so much as a backward glance. "Adam doesn't know anything about hunting, Sam. His mom wanted him to grow up completely normal, so he doesn't even know about salt lines and how to shoot a gun. I'm hoping once he turns sixteen I can at least fill that gap, but it's not looking too promising." Dean leveled a steady gaze at Sam. "And he's still family."

"It's not the same thing, Dean."

"Sure it is. You're family, Adam's family, and Ben's family. Ben knows enough to stay behind salt lines and how to make a circle, even though I'm planning on him never becoming a hunter. The world's full of grays, Sam. Quit trying to make it all or nothing."

There was the quick, light sound of Ben's returning footfalls. Dean considered that the end of the conversation. "You ready for the movie, kiddo?"


"All right, then. Sam, you wanna show us how to work your tv? You have way too many pieces and parts over there for me."

It was a way out of the conversation, for the time being. Dean didn't want to talk about it in the first place, so changing subjects to something as innocuous as watching his son's favorite movie (surprisingly entertaining, although the enjoyment began to pale after the tenth iteration when you were an adult) seemed like a good start.

Sam huffed out his usual sigh, but he got up out of the chair and headed into the living room after a bounding, joyful Ben. Dean tossed back the dregs of his coffee and started a fresh pot. It was going to be a long day and he needed all the help he could get. Besides, he'd noticed how much Jessica had savored her coffee and it would go a long way towards smoothing things out with his potential in-law if he had newly brewed coffee waiting for her when she woke up.

He got a break from the movie right about the time Edna was showing off the super suits to Elastigirl when Bobby called with an update. Adam was fine, Kate was pissed off but trying not to show it, and Bobby was digging in for a potential long haul while he put down wards for the Milligan house. God Bless Bobby.

Syndrome was grandstanding with Jack-Jack and Dean had just gotten comfortable again on Sam's thrift-store couch (seriously, it's not like he had high standards when it came to the comfort of his furniture but this thing might be too lumpy for even him) when Jess blearily came into the room. She was clearly not a morning person, which endeared her to Dean a little more, and he missed the rest of the movie while he made fresh pancakes for her (and one or two more for himself, but it's not like anyone was counting) and brewed yet another pot of coffee.

He gave their cheap DVD rack a quick scan while he was up, spotting several movies that would be all right for Ben to see, six that he really wanted to see but that even Dean knew were a bad idea for a kid Ben's age, and two that made him shudder a little at the memory. He really, really hoped that someone had given them the copy of 'Harold and Maude' as a gag gift and that his thrifty brother just hadn't gotten to the point of donating it yet. He was similarly praying that 'My Fair Lady' belonged to Jessica, because Audrey Hepburn might be hot but enough was enough when it came to chicks in musicals.

Once they'd watched 'Jack-Jack Attack' he switched out that DVD with a copy of Back to the Future, which might be a little much for his son at a couple of places, but he'd fast-forward past the skeevy parts where Marty McFly's mom was hitting on him.

Jess came into the room with her coffee and a Chemistry textbook and curled up in the room's only armchair, highlighting parts and scribbling notes and occasionally looking up and commenting on some part of the movie. She made Sam rewind whenever she missed a scene because she was too caught up in her studying to hear it, so they watched the scene with Doc Brown and the supposed mind-reading device twice, the run-through of the plan three times (she got distracted halfway through by thermodynamics and missed the part where Marty's mom came by and talked him into asking her to the dance), and then the part where they performed Johnny B. Goode twice through because it was such an awesome scene. It was a little strange, because Dean remembered getting sullen glares and bitchfaces and angry rhetoric when he'd tried to watch television back when Sammy was in high school and trying to study. He'd always assumed that when quote-unquote 'normal' people were studying they didn't want distractions, but apparently Jessica loved them.

They managed to put off the 'Incredibles' rewatch with the original Star Wars movie. Dean's fingers itched with the lack of tasks to accomplish and he ended up heading back down to the Impala for his bag of electronics. He would rather have been cleaning guns or sharpening knives, but he had a feeling that the sight of his weapons collection would make the current goodwill he was feeling evaporate. Instead he settled for seeing what useful thing he could build from the parts he had scavenged in his last thrift store raid. People had no idea how much good stuff was hiding at the Salvation Army.

He started with an oversized tape deck from an old boom box as the first component and began to tinker from that jumping-off point. It should be possible to turn this thing into a way to rewrite magnetic strips, maybe even duplicate them, which might come in handy for getting into secured areas. It was at least as illegal as the weapons he would have brought up to clean, but much less likely to raise any eyebrows right now.

After Star Wars, Jess gave in to the inevitable pull of Ben's pleading brown eyes (the same eyes as Lisa, though none of them knew that little detail) and went for the red and yellow DVD case. Dean got up while Mr. Incredible was getting back into shape and made sandwiches and tomato rice soup for lunch. He needed comfort food today of all days and, short of pie, it didn't get much more so than that for him.

Ben came into the kitchen and sat down at the table when he was called, though he ate his food quickly, with the obvious goal of getting back to the movie. Jess was shortly behind him and ate her turkey sandwich and soup almost as quickly as Ben, her textbook at her elbow the entire time. Sam was the only one of them who appeared to savor the meal. "I haven't had tomato rice soup in forever," he said, and Dean smiled despite himself. It was one of the few things about their mother that hadn't hurt to share when they were kids, and also one of the few things about their upbringing that Dean felt Sam properly appreciated.

"All you have to do is ask, dude." He gave his brother a refill on the soup and sat down to eat his own food.


The knock on the door came at about ten in the evening. Ben had fallen asleep during the third rewatch of 'The Incredibles' (after a viewing of an episode of Mystery Science Theater, during which most of the jokes had flown right over Ben's head) and Dean had left him on the couch after covering him up with a blanket. The kid could sleep in his clothes. He was a Winchester, after all, and such things were pretty commonplace in their family. Sam and Jess both had classes the next day, though Jess at least had the good sense to not schedule anything before eleven on Monday, and were getting ready for bed at a depressingly early hour for college students.

Dean envied them that opportunity. He knew he wouldn't be able to sleep tonight, no matter how tired he was. Every nerve in his body was tensed and twanging, though that was probably as much from the copious amounts of coffee as the fact that it was the second day of November still, and now that the sun had set all sorts of things were comfortable and free to roam around the countryside. If it hadn't been for Ben, Dean would have probably been out hunting for something especially vicious and messy and satisfying to kill. It wasn't a full moon, so werewolves would have been out of the question, but he could probably have found some kind of creature to fit his needs. Instead, he was here with his young son and his dumbass brother, twitching and reaching for the gun tucked into his waistband while Sam went to answer the door.

It was obvious that his brother was more than a little irritated that one of their friends had decided to come by at this time of night when he had an 8 a.m. lecture the next morning and that aggravation clearly showed on Sam's face as he opened the door. Dean pulled back at the last second, slotting into the place he had scoped out in his first hour at Sam's place. It would give him at least a partial view of the door and the person behind it while giving him decent cover from sight.

"What's wrong, Brady?"

The guy at the door was blond and Dean guessed that he might have been considered handsome, if you were into the reedy type with high-maintenance hair. "I need a place to crash tonight," the guy said, his voice riding the edge between needy and hopeful. "I was thinking your couch would be good."

"It's not a good time," Sam said, his hand on the doorknob. "We've already got company on the couch."

The guy's gaze flitted past Sam and Dean shot a look at the couch where Ben was sleeping. The blanket camouflaged his form fairly well, thankfully, and he was already tall for a kid his age, so it didn't look specifically like a child was asleep on Sam's couch. "Really? Anyone I know?"

Sam shrugged, the motion a little too casual, and Dean wanted to pinch the bridge of his nose. His brother was one of the smartest guys Dean knew, with the possible exception of Bobby, but he almost always overplayed the con. The only time he'd been able to effortlessly and correctly play a part where hunting was concerned was when they had needed a student for something or another. Sam could charm the glasses right off a spinster librarian in a way that Dean simply didn't have and get her to unlock the special collection with unbelievable ease, but he just tried a little too hard when it came to pretending to be anything else. "Just some friends of mine. No one you know."

The stranger's expression changed slightly and Dean felt a shiver crawl up his spine. Something wasn't right here. 'Brady' was clearly pretending to be wasted. Dean had seen enough of the real thing to know, from early childhood on, and this was definitely not it. He had a feeling that the only way Sam's friend would be able to come into the apartment would be if someone else broke the salt line.

Despite Sam's rusty and sometimes practically non-existent instincts, he'd clearly picked up on the messages that Dean was trying to telepathically beam to him, or possibly he'd noticed that his friend hadn't moved past the door frame and the salt line spread across the top. "You going to come in? Coffee should still be hot and there's a cup left." Sam had watched him make the coffee with holy water an hour ago, after all, and even though he'd snorted in laughter when Dean had done it the idea had definitely slid home.

Dean had spent forty-five minutes painting protective symbols around that door from five different cultures in paint that almost matched the walls, except for the slight red-brown tint that came from mixing in a little of his own blood and a tiny bit of graveyard dirt, and he had a feeling that whatever this guy was, it had noticed as well. "Nah, I should get going. Maybe Becky or Zack would let me stay with them."

"Maybe," Sam said. "Sleep it off, Brady. I'll see you later." Sam waited until Brady had turned around and headed down the stairs before he closed it firmly and turned the locks.

Dean stepped back into the room from his hidden alcove. "OK, something was up with that guy," he said, releasing the achingly tight grip he had on the Colt tucked into his waistband. The hairs on the back of his neck was still standing at attention and he reached up with his stiff right hand to smooth them back down.

Sam sighed. "That was my freshman roommate, Brady. He probably wasn't really looking for a place to stay. Last time I let him crash here all my cash went missing."

"Great friends you've got here at Stanford," Dean groused.

"He's not a bad guy," Sam protested. "Brady's the one who introduced me to Jess. He just kinda lost his way about halfway through freshman year and he hasn't gotten cleaned up yet."

"Drugs?" Dean asked, and rolled his eyes with disgust when Sam answered yes. "And he's still a student here? It's a fucking Ivy League and the junkie cliché is still enrolled?"

"He's functional," Sam insisted. "I wish you could have met him freshman year. He was such a great guy. Pre-med, if you can believe it, but he'll never get into a medical school now."

"I would hope so." There was something off about the whole thing, but Dean couldn't quite figure it out. Dean had met more than a few addicts in his time and Sam's friend had seemed a little too clear, his eyes a little too focused, his demeanor a little too controlled and not really desperate. He crossed the darkened living room and glanced out the window, letting out a quiet curse at what he saw.

"What's wrong?" Sam asked, joining him at the window.

Brady was standing in the street below, staring up at Sam's apartment. The guy smiled at the two of them in the window and Dean saw his eyes flash dark for a second before Brady turned and walked out of sight.

"Damn it," Dean said, practically snarling, though he had the presence of mind to remain quiet. "You better wake Jess up. We've got a problem."

"What was that?" Sam had obviously seen the same thing Dean had witnessed, but he lacked the experience that Dean had built up over the past few years. "What kind of creature has eyes that do that?"

"That, Sammy, is what it looks like when some poor sap gets possessed by a demon," Dean said grimly, double-checking his weapon and digging through the duffel for a flask of holy water. "Dad always did his best to keep us away from demons, but if you spend a little time with Bobby you pick it up pretty quickly."

"He can't come in past the wards, can he?" Sam asked. "He could feel them so he didn't even try. That was the first clue."

"The first clue was probably when he suddenly became a different person three years ago," Dean told him. "But yeah, I'm pretty sure he picked up on the wards, and now he's seen me at the window and knows I'm here and his cover's been blown. We have to be ready to move."

"But we're safe behind the wards," Sam protested. "He can't get in here."

"He can't get into the apartment," Dean agreed. "He can't stand outside and use his freaky demon powers on anyone in here, either. That doesn't mean he can't stand outside and start shooting or put some kind of poison gas in the air ducts. Demons aren't exactly concerned with collateral damage."

"So what do we do?" Sam asked, and Dean felt a rush of relief that his brother was following his lead. It would have been just as in character for Sam to dig in his heels and argue about this disruption of his normal life.

"I'm going to paint a devil's trap in front of the door, just in case it can shove in through the wards." He rummaged in the duffel again and handed Sam a thin leather-bound journal. "There's an exorcism about halfway through, the best one Bobby has in his arsenal. How's your Latin?"

"Not bad," Sam said, a smile making his dimples appear briefly. "What do you think I should tell Jess?"

"Tell her Brady's strung out and you think he's going to start some trouble," Dean said. "I'm going to wake Ben up and get him in your bedroom with Jess, just in case. No way in hell he needs to see an exorcism."

"I've never seen an exorcism."

"They're messy," Dean said shortly. "Not, like, Linda Blair, pea soup messy, but demons like to try and get into your head. There's some kind of water-cooler gossip going on in Hell and they really, really like to fuck around with Hunters. Any secrets you have are fair game, and they're going to play rough."

"How rough?"

Dean took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "You ever learn about how Bobby got into hunting?" Sam shook his head and Dean grimaced. "His wife was possessed, but back then Bobby didn't know anything. He ended up stabbing her in self-defense when the demon went after him. Every single time he does an exorcism, the latest jackass tries to poke him with it. They started bringing up Mom by my second time. If this demon's been in your friend for as long as I think, it has plenty of ammunition and no compunction about using it. Anything you ever said to Brady, any complaint you made or corner you cut can and will be used against you. That's the way these things work."

"So what should I do?"

"No matter what, keep reading. There's a good chance your friend isn't alive in there anymore, so even if it pulls out a knife and start's stabbing its host just keep going with the Latin. The best thing you can do for Brady is to send that son of a bitch back to Hell before it can hurt anyone else."

"And if he goes for one of those other plans?"

"Then we'll have to get creative," Dean told him. "We can't let that demon walk away, no matter what else happens."

Sam breathed in and let it out, the sound a little raw and uneven. "All right. I'll go talk to Jess. You go ahead and do what you're going to do."

Ben was light in his arms when Dean picked his son up and transferred him over to Sam, and he only stirred a little. "You'll take care of him?"

"I've got it, dude."

Dean nodded and went for the can of spray paint. "You make sure Jess knows she's in charge of Ben. He gets out first thing, as soon as we get the demon trapped. I don't want it anywhere near my son."

"I'll make sure she knows," Sam said.

He had lots of practice with Devil's Traps over the last few years, so painting one large enough that it couldn't be avoided in front of the door took only a few minutes to finish it and then double-check his work. His nerves were tingling still, fingers twitching slightly from the rush of adrenaline. Demons freaked him the hell out and this one had all kinds of dirt on Sammy, things he was going to use to get both of them. It would make the whole thing way more difficult than it already was.

"They're ready to go," Sam said from behind him, and Dean looked up and smiled. Jess was clearly nervous and holding onto a backpack in her right hand with a white-knuckled grip. Her left was holding onto Ben's hand, thankfully less tightly than the hand on her bag. Dean had no idea what Sam had told her, but it had apparently worked.

Ben was more or less awake, blinking a little in the light of the room. "What's going on?" he asked, and Dean scrambled to think of something that he could tell his son.

"We're going home, Ben. I want you to stay with Jess, OK?"

There was a sleepy blink and then a nod. Ben might be a chatterbox when he was awake, but half-asleep like this he was almost disturbingly pliant and reserved. In this situation, Dean would take it as long as the kid stayed with Jessica.

They were fifteen feet from the door when the floor trembled, dishes rattling in the kitchen cabinets and bottles clinking from their space on the top of the refrigerator (because he'd learned the hard way about the hazards of a curious child and had child-proofed the booze first thing Saturday morning.) After a second, the trembling happened again, this time more violently, and the smell of sulfur filled the tiny apartment. "Damn it," Dean muttered. "It's trying to break down the wards."

"It can do that?"

"A normal stunt demon shouldn't be able to do a thing, but if it had some friends with a little more power, or just a lot of friends in general, it might stand a chance," Dean admitted. "You don't normally hear about them teaming up like that, though. Usually they're just in it for the murder and mayhem." More of that weird pattern his dad had picked up, Dean would guess, bracing himself as the room shuddered again, dust dropping down from the ceiling. Whatever this was, it wasn't anything he wanted to tangle with, not with potential hostages in the room with him. "Fire escape?"

Sam peered out that window. "There's someone on the ground at the bottom."

Dean swore under his breath. "All right then. Any other windows we could use?"

"Maybe the one in the bedroom." Sam headed back in that direction to check.

The door cracked down the middle, not completely broken through but getting there, and the Devil's Trap blocking it took some damage. "Is it clear?" he called, watching as his brother ran back into the room.

Sam shook his head, his eyes wide. "It's blocked, too."

Dean didn't even have time to curse as the building shook one last time and the door splintered inwards. The frame, with its carefully painted wards and symbols, cracked into pieces, taking the protection with them, and a tall, middle-aged man stepped into the room in a suitably dramatic cloud of smoke billowing in from the hallway. Dean could hear the telltale crackle of fire, something else to note in his future retreat.

"I have got to say, Dean-o, that you're more trouble than you're worth."

The voice rasped down his spine like a snake's dry scales and he had to fight to hold back any sort of reaction. There was something almost painfully familiar about the way the thing spoke, the words it used and the way it used them. He had few clear, concrete memories of his mother's death: most of them were cobbled together from what he'd been told from his father, on different occasions. He couldn't help but feel, however, that whatever this was, it had been there. Dean had met this thing before.

"I was just going to leave this whole business to my boy here," it said, eyes gleaming yellow as it moved further into the room with the guy from earlier at his heels. "No offense to your girl or anything, Sammy, but she's no Mary. I didn't feel the need to handle this personally." There was a casual wave of a hand, and Jess was ripped away from Ben and thrown into the wall. "But then you went and locked your friend out. That wasn't very nice of you, Sammy. I'm going to have to do something about that."

The screech of a smoke alarm in the apartment broke the melodramatic mood a little, though it didn't do a thing to lessen Dean's tension. The thing sighed, yellow eyes rolling and coming to rest on Ben. "Still, I will say that Mary Campbell was the gift that keeps on giving. Such fascinating children."

"You stay away from him," Dean growled out, trying to move forward between the demon and his son and finding his body flying back against a wall across from Jessica. His gun clattered to the floor when he hit the wall, the force of it making the weakened structure of the building shudder yet again.

"Wait your turn," the demon said, it's voice deceptively mild. "I'll get to you in a minute." It crossed the room to Jessica and Ben and Sam struggled against whatever was holding him in place. Dean was fighting just as hard, a growled litany of curses in more than one language slipping out past clenched teeth.

"You better get to me now," Dean spat out. He'd managed to pull out the knife that he kept stashed away on his person and held it up in a familiar pose. "I'm the one who's going to kill you, bastard."

That diverted the thing's attention, which was exactly what his brother was aiming for. "I think you're overestimating your own importance, Dean-o. Still, you are a bit of a distraction, and you've been causing trouble for my children." There was a gesture, like a clawed hand sweeping across the air, and Dean made a slight sound through his teeth as blood appeared on his grey t-shirt. The knife dropped and skittered out of range. "I think things will be a little more simple if I just take you out of the equation altogether. After all, you sent my daughter back down to Hell two weeks ago and it took a lot of work to get her back out. That kind of thing really can't go unpunished."

Another grunt of pain, followed by more blood, but for once Sam's brother was quiet. Dean had the thing's complete attention and that was exactly what he'd been trying to accomplish. Sam needed to focus on getting Jessica and Ben out of danger. His mind cast about for anything that could help and any escape from his once-loved apartment. The smoke was starting to visibly fill the air and there were sounds of panic out in the hallway now. Someone hit the fire alarm and he flinched as the sound pierced his eardrums.

The demon ignored the sounds of human alarm and kept his focus on Dean. There was a third gesture, this one more of a fist clenching, and Dean let out a half-strangled groan. They were running out of time if Sam wanted to save his brother's life as well as his own.

There was an odd sound at the door, barely heard beneath the blare from the siren, and Sam watched as Brady's head turned towards the door and the newcomer decked out in firefighter gear. There was something a little off there. The guy was moving as if the protective uniform was no more consequential than a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and Sam knew from a job that he'd worked before Stanford that the cumbersome outfit weighed an easy fifty pounds and possibly more. The fireman tilted his head, seeming to take in the entire bizarre tableau, before turning to the yellow-eyed demon. "That is enough," he said, the voice muffled behind the helmet.

It made an oddly similar head-tilt and gestured to the demon inhabiting Brady, and Sam watched as it moved towards the interloper like a vicious predator. He spent a moment of worry for this stranger, a good man about to become a victim to something he probably doesn't believe in, before trying out new methods of escape that included the distraction that this new variable offered. He was so busy plotting possible escape routes that he very nearly missed the hand that went to the demon's forehead and the bright light that abruptly shone out of it's eyes. Brady's body dropped to the floor without fanfare and the helmet turned toward Sam. "Run," the voice grated out, and Sam fell away from the wall and collected his nephew and his girlfriend, hurrying out as fast as he could. He would come back for Dean with more weapons once they were safely closed up in the Impala.

The smoke and flames made the escape even more chaotic. Sam had Ben hauled up in his arms to make running down the crowded hallway easier, Jess right behind him with her hand gripping his shirt tightly enough to tear the fabric. The small group dodged around his neighbors and out into the street where the Impala was sitting, gleaming black a little distance down the road. "You two stay here," Sam said, setting Ben down on the hood of the car.

"Sam, don't go," Jess said. She hadn't let go of his shirt and her eyes were wide with the realization of what she'd just seen. Sam gently untangled her hands and guided her to sit down next to Ben. The Impala's suspension could handle it.

"I have to. It's Dean." He popped the trunk with the spare key he had never been able to give up and rummaged around a little wildly. He had no idea what would be effective against a demon, but there was no way he was heading back up there with at least something to use against the bastards. After a slight moment of hesitation, he loaded a familiar automatic with a clip of consecrated iron and closed the trunk before Jessica could get too curious and come around to the back.

"Does my Daddy know you have a key?" Ben asked suspiciously. It made Sam start a little, because he hadn't been aware that the boy was paying that much attention to what he was doing.

"He knows, Ben." Sam didn't elaborate on why he had the key. There would be time to explain that whole mess later. He turned to Jessica instead. "Watch over Ben?" he asked, and she nodded and gathered the struggling little boy into her arms, making soothing sounds as she sat down in the driver's seat of the Impala with him. He didn't want to leave them, but Dean was upstairs and he needed to save his brother.

It was a little difficult to slip around the firefighters and back into the burning building, but Sam was a Winchester and he found a way back to his brother. He would always find his brother, no matter what.

The inside of the building was significantly less crowded and far more smoky than was healthy for him. Sam ran up the stairs to his apartment with his heart in his throat, gun tucked in his waistband just in case he runs into another firefighter. The door to his apartment was still hanging open, the frame a splintered ruin, and Sam slipped the gun from its hiding place and peered around the broken doorframe.

The empty shell that used to be his best friend was still crumpled near the door. It was something of a miracle that no actual firefighters had wandered onto the scene yet and
Sam was certain that the time on that particular piece of good fortune was rapidly disappearing. He could hear the rumble of the supposed firefighter's low, slightly muffled voice, the words slightly indistinct, and the slightly higher-pitched tones from the yellow-eyed demon. Just as Sam angled for a better view, a reflected flash of light dazzled his eyes for a moment. He blinked and saw the firefighter pull an oddly-shaped and strangely shiny weapon from the host's neck. There was a slight flick of one hand and the long knife (or was it a short sword of some kind?) disappeared. Whatever it used to be, the being dressed as a firefighter was no longer human and Sam adjusted his responses accordingly.

The faceless helmet turned to Sam, and he fought back a shudder at the thing's obvious perusal. Then it turned to Dean and lifted Sam's brother off of the floor with one hand before lifting him into a fireman's carry. "We should go, Samuel Winchester," the voice said, walking past him. "Your brother needs medical attention."

By the time Sam had turned around to follow him, the gun still held in his hand, the thing had disappeared. Sam coughed as he hurried down the stairs, remembering to put the weapon away only at the last second, and saw it set Dean down on a gurney before stepping back and allowing the paramedics to swarm his brother. He lost it in the crowd for a moment and then the firefighter was gone completely.

The next few hours were a blur of paramedics directing him to the local hospital because there weren't enough emergency vehicles and all three of them needed to be checked for smoke inhalation. Answers about Dean were frighteningly vague and for the first time in a long time Sam wished he had their Dad's new number memorized. Dad should know what had happened. They needed to plan for the worst, to figure out how to defend the hospital from whatever that guy had been.

Ben had fallen asleep across the two of them, his head resting on Sam's right leg while his feet dangled off of the edge of Jessica's lap. There were tear tracks on his not-quite-clean face, but his expression was peaceful and his breathing was even. There was no sign at all of smoke inhalation, according to the doctor, and Sam was grateful. He could smell the smoke in his hair and on his clothes, though, and more than anything he wished for a shower. The scent made his stomach twist unpleasantly, and he could tell that Jess felt the same. But even greater than his longing to be clean was the fear that the doctor would come out to talk with them while he was gone and he would miss it, so Sam kept his butt planted on the uncomfortable couch with his girlfriend and his nephew. He hadn't had much success raising his father on the telephone, but he had managed to get Bobby and Pastor Jim and those two were both on their way.

Jess had nodded off to sleep beside him, her head resting on his shoulder, when the doctor finally made an appearance. "Dean Winchester?"

Sam scrambled up, cradling Ben in long arms. "That's my brother," he said. "What can you tell us? Is he all right?" He dislodged Jess, but she would understand his abruptness.

"He's doing quite well," the doctor said. "We have him sedated right now, but you can come and see him once we're done talking. We'll be keeping him for a couple of days, just to keep an eye on him and watch out for infection, but he should pull through just fine."

Sam felt his knees go a little weak at the knees, but Jessica was supporting him. "Thank God," he said. Ben shifted in his arms, stirring but not waking up. "How is he? I really need specifics."

"To be honest, I'm surprised that he doesn't have any more serious burns. The majority of them are superficial, with some second-degree burns on his legs. The most troubling injuries are the wounds to his chest. Do you know how they happened?"

Sam thought about the way the demon had gestured and made his brother gasp in pain, blood blooming across the front of his gray t-shirt. "No," he said. "Dean sent me out with Ben while he went back for Jess. How bad are they?"

"They're not good," the man admitted. "It's strange. There are several puncture wounds, deep enough to nick internal organs, but I've never seen a pattern quite like this before. There was significant blood loss, and with the burns and the smoke damage to his lungs there's definitely cause for concern, but we did manage to patch things up." He seemed to pause, planning out what he would say next. "Did they bring in the fireman who pulled your brother out?"

"No, I don't think so," Sam said. This lie was easy to say. "He wasn't injured. I think he just went back to the station. Why?"

The doctor shook his head and gestured for them to come back to the room. "The burns on his shoulder are particularly strange. I've never seen a burn victim with such strange scarring before." The door to Dean's room was open, though Dean's bed was hidden by a curtain, and the three of them followed the doctor inside.

Dean was out cold, as advertised, propped upright and wearing an oxygen mask to make his breathing easier. There was a sheet and a light blanket drawn up to his waist and a hospital gown over his upper torso, though Sam could see the thickness of gauze bandages underneath. The doctor approached him and delicately drew the sleeve back. There, on his otherwise unharmed left shoulder, was a clearly delineated handprint of bright red burn.