pos·sess [puh-zes]

1. to have as belonging to one; have as property; own

2. (of a spirit, especially an evil one) to occupy, dominate, or control (a person) from within

Dean's boots sank heavily into the muddy ground as he ran through the woods. Figures Mother friggin' Nature would pick today of all days to make it rain like there was no end. Branches snagged at his clothing, lashed out at his face; water mingled with blood and oozed down the side of his face. Where the hell was his father? They had split up earlier; John went south, Dean to the north, but the man never showed up. It was twenty minutes past their rendezvous time and the sun was well below the horizon.

He could hear the creature crashing through the trees on his heels. It was getting closer. The young hunter may have been in near perfect physical condition, but, damn, he could only run so fast.

As he ducked under a low-hanging branch, Dean risked a glance over his shoulder. That was a mistake. He went down…hard. "Fuck!" he yelped out in pain, his ankle twisted. Goddamned, mother f'ing, uneven forest floors. And yep, would you look at that. Coming out of the trees, just a few feet away, was the seven foot tall, green, brown, and yellow, fuglier-than-hell, honest-to-goodness swamp thing.

Dean had his Colt in his hand and took aim, pulling the trigger without so much as a thought. The bullet hit home and the thing let out a howl of pain, but it didn't go down like it should have. Moving much faster than Dean thought possible, the creature was on top of him, hand clamped around his neck, squeezing. The hunter squirmed in the thing's grasp, clawed at the grasping digits, but he wasn't having any luck freeing himself. Spots started to appear in Dean's vision and he could feel himself begin to slump in the tight grip. His gun fell from his hand as he continued his futile struggle, but he was too weak now to make any real progress. Shit. His dad was so gonna kick his ass, dead or alive.

When Dean came to, he was being dragged through the trees by his right foot, the same foot with the twisted ankle. He groaned. At least he wasn't dead…yet. His shirt and jacket were riding up high on his back; the rough ground was scraping his skin raw. He began to claw at the weeds and small saplings poking up from the soil, trying to gain some kind of hold to pull away from the creature's firm grip around his ankle. Everything he got a hold of came right out of the over-saturated ground.

Dean's hands were burning from all of the plants that had slipped through his palms, stripping away the skin. He knew he left a trail of plant destruction in their wake. No matter how much he grappled, nothing held, or if he did, the thing had such a strong hold on him that Dean's grasp wasn't enough.

Soon they made it to the edge of a fairly large swamp somewhere out in the forest. Oh, great, Dean thought to himself. No fucking way. The Green Giant was heading right for it, only stopping once he reached the edge. The thing looked back at Dean, beady, black eyes narrowed at him.

"Dude, come on. You gotta be kidding me. Eau de Swamp doesn't work for me. And I don't do mud baths. My skin is smooth enough." Dean took advantage of the few seconds of non-movement to sit up and try to pry the thing's vise-like grip from his ankle which felt like it was swollen to ten times its normal size. His foot was another story; he couldn't feel it at all anymore. Even if he got up, Dean wasn't sure if he could make a run for it. But he'd damn well try.

He heard a low growl emanate from the creature's throat and looked up. Yeah, he'd shoot the beast again, empty the clip into it if he could, but his gun was long gone, lost back in the woods where the thing first attacked him. Dean glanced around, hoping he'd catch a glimpse of his father in the trees.

Dean swallowed his pride and yelled, "Dad!" That caught the creature's attention. He felt the grip around his ankle release, but Dean barely got a sigh of relief out when the cold, swampy fingers were back around his neck. He was lifted from the ground and the next thing he knew, he was thrown down into the frigid water. Dean was caught off-guard and choked on the god-awful liquid splashing over his face. "Son of a bitch!" Dean reached up and grabbed at the creature's chest, trying to catch hold of anything that would keep him from drowning in this foul-smelling water.

Mud filled his ears as the creature pushed and held him down. Dean took one last deep breath before he went under. He kicked out, but the effort was fruitless. Nothing seemed to hurt the being; nothing could sway it from its current task of killing Dean. The hunter fought, grasping at the slick, seaweed-like fingers, arm, anything, but this was it. Dean's body instinctively took a breath in, needing air, but instead of air, his lungs took in a gallon of swamp water.

Dean's last thought was of Sam. Sam's birthday was in a couple of days and Dean wasn't even going to be able to tell him Happy Birthday.

John cursed as he ran through the trees. Where he had thought there was only one of the swamp creatures, there had really been two out here. He surmised that they were a mated pair. The one he just took down had to have been the female of the two. She was much smaller than the one he and Dean originally came out here looking for.

Now he was behind schedule. He was supposed to meet up with Dean twenty minutes ago, but that bitch took more than just bullets to take down. Thank god he thought to bring a machete with him, something he knew Dean didn't have on him. After beheading the thing, it took even longer to get a fire going to burn her, what with the torrential downpour that had opened up for most of the day.

He approached the two misshapen trees he and Dean had agreed to meet at, but Dean was nowhere to be found. John studied the forest floor and could see Dean's size eleven boot prints. It looked like the man had been pacing as they overlapped each other countless times.

"Fuck," John mumbled when he saw another set of larger, non-human prints in the mud. He followed them down a barely noticeable trail. After maybe a tenth of mile, he caught sight of Dean's prints again. These were deeper; Dean had been running.

Suddenly, a gunshot rang out through the air and John tensed, hand tightening on the long, sharp blade in his hand. He knew Dean's Colt like he knew his own sons' voices. It was up ahead somewhere. From the sound of it, Dean was at least a half mile away. There was no time to think or worry. John dug his heels in and ran.

By his estimate, it was closer to a mile away, but instead of finding Dean, John found the Colt lying on the ground, shining under the moonlight that was peeking through the clouds. "Dammit, Son." He tucked the pistol into his waistband as he eyed the ground at his feet. He could see there was a struggle and since Dean wasn't still here, it was obvious the creature had won this battle.

It took no time at all to find out which direction they went in; there were the tell-tale signs of someone being dragged over the ground and into the trees. John's jaw clenched as he followed the tracks, knowing Dean was probably fighting for his very life. The swamp beast they came out here to hunt was much bigger than the one John just killed. He knew there wasn't much time as he followed the trail.

No more than three hundred yards farther on, John broke out of the trees and came out on the edge of an overgrown swamp. Halfway around to the other side he saw the creature. John's eyes immediately went down to the ground to where its focus was. He could just barely see Dean's form fighting in the beast's grasp.

John wanted to yell out, get the creature's attention…save Dean, but stealth was all John had on his side. He cringed when he saw Dean's body continue to flail under the tight grip of the beast. And then Dean was being pushed under the water. The older Winchester knew in the back of his mind that he had maybe five minutes to save his son once he was under. He did his best to stay calm as he circled the murky water, heading straight toward the scene before him.

John stepped as quietly as he could from the trees, lips curled up in anger, eyes hard. A twig snapped underfoot and the creature spun just in time to block the deadly blade. It grabbed the hunter's wrist and threw him aside like a ragdoll. John landed on his shoulder with a grunt. He got up and attacked again, very aware of the fact that Dean was still under the water and he didn't have time to spare.

The seconds turned into minutes too quickly. The creature seemed to know John was trying to get to Dean; it stayed between father and son as it fought. "Goddammit, I don't have time for this shit," the hunter grumbled as he took a step one way, and then launched in the opposite direction at the last second. He was almost surprised that the creature fell for the move. Once more he swung the machete with everything he had. This time, it connected exactly where it was supposed to and the swamp thing's body fell lifeless to the ground beside Dean.

Dropping his weapon, John ran over to pull his too still son from the water. Dean was unconscious and wasn't breathing. The older hunter quickly checked for a pulse; it was there, but faint. He leaned over and began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. After a several seemingly futile attempts at reviving the man, Dean jolted up, curling in on himself, coughing up muddy water from his lungs.

John let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding and his shoulders slumped in relief. He ran a trembling hand through his hair. Yeah, these damn sons of bitches all had to die, but he hated when his sons' lives were put in jeopardy.

"Dean, y'okay, Son?" he asked after giving the man a minute to catch his breath. John was still kneeling next to Dean, wet and dirty palms resting on his thighs.

"Just peachy" came the raspy response. Dean lay back and rested his forearm over his face, taking deep refreshing breaths as the rain washed the mud from his clothes and skin.

"Good." John smiled, and then stood up. "I have to burn this thing and then we'll get going. It'll give you some time to get yourself together for the walk back to the truck.

Dean had the shower turned all the way to hot, but no matter what he did, it still couldn't wash the foulness of the swamp water from his system. He knew he'd be coughing for days trying to bring that shit up from his lungs.

He closed his eyes as he let the spray of water wash over him. Dean thought about what his father had told him on the way back to the motel. Come to find out, there had been two of the creatures out there. He was damn lucky John was able to get to him in time. There was nothing like dying in a nasty puddle of scum; Dean would rather take a bullet any day. He should've known something was up as soon as his dad didn't show up when he should have. John Winchester was never late unless he had good reason.

Dean finished up with his shower, finally giving up after shampooing his hair several times and soaping up a couple of times. He was destined to have the smell of swamp in his nostrils forever. He got out and toweled off, slipping into a pair of sweats when he was dry enough.

He wiped the condensation off the mirror and looked at himself. Dark bruises were already forming around his neck from where the monster nearly choked him to death. Pressing his fingers gingerly to the marks, Dean grimaced. They were more than tender to the touch. His ankle was killing him, too. He would have to wrap a compression bandage around it and possibly get some ice to get the swelling to go down. Dean brushed his teeth (twice) before heading out of the bathroom.

The first aid kit and a bucket of ice were already sitting on his bed. His father might be a bastard most of the time, but he still cared for his sons. Dean opened the plastic box until he found what he needed to wrap his ankle.

John was sitting at the table making notes in his journal about today's hunt; there was a glass of amber liquid sitting next to him. He looked up when Dean flopped down on the bed. He didn't bother asking how his son was doing. John knew Dean well enough that even if he was hurting, the man wouldn't fess up to it. "There's beer in the fridge…Jack if you need something stronger."

"Thanks," Dean said somewhat tiredly as he clipped the small silver fastener on the bandage, and then reached over to put some ice in a towel.

After twenty minutes of icing his injury, Dean groaned and sat up, combing his fingers through his hair. He wanted to go to sleep, but it was only just after ten o'clock. That was still early in their book. "We got anything to eat?"

Without looking up, John replied, "Leftover pizza and Chinese."

Not exactly what Dean was looking for, but really, what was he expecting? It was better than Spaghetti O's or cold cereal. He stood up and stretched. His body was stiff from the beating he took today and he'd have to keep weight off his right ankle as much as he could, but things could have been much worse, so he wasn't complaining. Dean walked over to the kitchenette, trying to hide his limp the best he could from his father. He bit his lip trying to hide his grimace as he made the final steps to the fridge.

Dean took the first two things he saw: a carton of cold pork fried rice and a bottle of beer, and then found a fork in the drawer. He took a seat across from his father and dug in.

"So, Sam's birthday's in a couple of days," the younger hunter said, mouth full of rice.

John lifted his glass and took a large swallow, setting the glass back down a little harder than he probably should have. It was John's only answer to Dean's statement.

Sam was wrapping up his sophomore year at Stanford. Dean had tried to stay in touch as much as he could, but lately, it seemed like he and his little brother were drifting apart. The calls were becoming less and less and the ones that were made generally resulted in voicemails.

John still held a grudge against Sam for up and leaving like he did. Dean knew that, to some degree, it was pro7bably better for all of them. His brother and father could never see eye-to-eye on anything; that was just a given. The two couldn't be in the same room for more than five minutes without fighting. Sometimes Dean could just ignore the petty bickering, but other times, things escalated almost to the physical level, especially as Sam got older, and Dean had to step in between the two before punches were thrown. Dean once sported a black eye for a few days after trying to block a right hook from his brother meant for their dad. It would have been even less pretty if it had hit its intended mark.

But Dean knew why John was pissed. Actually, he wasn't so much as pissed off as he was worried. With Sam off at college, the elder Winchester couldn't keep an eye on his youngest son, make sure he was safe at all times. There were a few times in the last couple of years, when they had a job in California, that John would disappear for an extra day here and there. Dean knew where the man was; he was shadowing Sammy to make sure the kid was alright.

"Dad, come on. We're so close to him, we could stop in, say hi." They were just outside Truckee, California, some three and a half hours away from Sam. "It's his twenty-first birthday for Christ's sake. Can't you just put the crap aside for once?"

"Dean…" John looked up and his features were tight. The word was a warning.

Dean took a long pull from his beer and tugged at the corner of the green label. "Well, I'm gonna at least swing by. If something comes up between now and then, I can meet you wherever."

John closed his journal and sat back in the chair. He picked up his glass and drained it. He studied the tumbler before placing it back on the table, gently this time. "That's fine, Dean. I wasn't planning on going anywhere for a few days anyway. I wanted to take inventory on our supplies before heading back out. I'll be here when you get back." He got up and went over to his bed. "You better make sure you don't fuck that ankle up even more driving out there though. I can't have you hobbling around when we're on a job." John pulled his t-shirt up over his head, throwing it down on the foot of the bed. He scratched at his chest before turning the covers down and sliding under them. "Get some sleep. If you're gonna go to see your brother, you need to take care of your stuff tomorrow."

Well, that didn't go over as bad as it could have, Dean thought to himself. He got up and threw the cardboard container and bottle in the garbage and rinsed his fork off. It was going to be an early morning if he was going go through his weapons stash in the Impala. It had been too long since the last time he went through and checked everything. Guns needed to be cleaned and oiled, knives needed to be sharpened. He knew he needed more rock salt and holy water; there was no question there; they used them more than anything. Yeah, definitely a long day. It would be even longer with his dad looking over his shoulder the whole time.

Sam was heading back to his dorm after a day from hell. It was Friday. First he spilled coffee all over his notes, and then his sociology professor had sprung a pop quiz on them (one that he wasn't as prepared for as he thought he should have been). He managed to slip into the library for a few hour's peace after classes, but Jess had found him and pulled him off to yet another get-together, one he really would rather have not gone to. She said he needed to get out more. He supposed it was true, but that didn't mean he had to like it.

It was only eleven-thirty, but having been up since five that morning, Sam was dragging his feet. He had a few too many beers in him and not enough food. Jess stayed behind with some friends, saying she'd meet up with him tomorrow.

They were still living in separate dorms, but come next semester, he and his now steady girlfriend were moving in together. Sam was really looking forward to it; he really was. Last year, things were awkward, the whole getting settled in thing, being away from Dean for the first time in his life and all. This year was much easier, especially with Jess lifting his spirits on days he found himself down and missing his brother. It was good not being under the watchful eye of John Winchester though. The man was borderline freakish with his Marine attitude and orders.

Dean would most likely be calling him Sunday with his birthday and all and Sam was looking forward to hearing from the man. The last time Sam and his brother had actually talked to each other was back in January…Dean's birthday. Everything in between was either voicemail or text…maybe an e-mail or two. School was tough, kept Sam busy, and when it wasn't school, he was out with Jess, enjoying his normal. It felt good, too. Dean sort of got put on the proverbial back burner.

Sam got over the guilt of leaving Dean after the first few months away. The man was twenty-five years old (well, twenty-four when Sam left); he was old enough to choose his lot in life. If Dean wanted to keep hunting, well, that was his prerogative. Sam had things he wanted in life, like get a normal job, get married, buy a house, and maybe even have a couple of kids. Hunting…yeah, not so much.

He was a block from his building when Sam got a chill; the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Instinctively, Sam spun and took in his surroundings. The path was lit, but he still couldn't see much. It had rained most of the day and it was one of those dark nights.

Sam jumped when a shadow passed by to his left. "Who's there?" he called out into the darkness. There was no answer, of course. Years of training kept Sam calm, but he had to admit to himself that he was just a bit on the tipsy side, not as alert as he should be. He just had to make it back to his room; it wasn't far. There was a canister of salt just inside his door. He kept it there for those "just in case" times, like now.

Picking up the pace, Sam made a beeline straight for his dorm. It was starting to feel like it was a mile away instead of the half block that it was. He glanced over his shoulder again. Still nothing, but he could sense something there. A shadow passed by right in front of him then, making him stop in his tracks. "Shit," he mumbled under his breath. The last thing he wanted to do was have to call for help. Who the hell knew where Dean and his dad were these days anyway. They could be all the way in Maine for all he knew.

The shadow was getting a little more daring in its movements. It shot past Sam and nudged his left shoulder as it went by. Sam hissed as a bone-deep chill sank into his skin. "Screw this." He fumbled in his pocket for his phone. His left arm was starting to grow numb as the iciness slithered down from his shoulder. His hand trembled as he tried to hold the phone still while he dialed the number that was etched in his memory. Sam pressed the phone up to his ear, eyes watching the darkness as he waited for the familiar voice to answer.

"Sam?" Dean's sleep-laced voice filled the line. "I was supposed to call you; it's your birthday, dude."

Sam was walking again, trying to make it back to the dorm. "Dean, where are you?" It was almost a whisper.

Dean sat up in his bed. He instantly knew something was wrong and his heart rate increased as anxiety kicked in. "Sam, what's going on?" He was wide awake now. Dean could see his dad shift in the darkness, but he hadn't woken up.

"There's something here. I'm almost back to my room, but whatever it is, it's following me."

"Shit, Sam. You have anything on you? A knife? Salt?"

"Dean, this is Stanford. I haven't carried a weapon in more than a year." Sam stopped talking. He could have sworn he saw the shadow again in his peripheral vision. His eyes widened when it appeared in front of him and came right at him. "Holy shit, Dean!" He jumped and dodged it, and then turned and ran. The door to his building was less than ten feet in front of him, but Sam knew once he got inside, he'd have to take the stairs up to the second floor.

Dean could hear his brother's heavy breathing as he ran. "Sam! Just get to your room and salt the doors and windows." He hoped his brother had salt. "I can be there in three hours. I just need you to get to your room. Can you do that?" Dean was out of bed searching for his clothes in the dark.

There was no answer. "Sam?" Dean yelled into the phone. The yell woke John up this time.

"I'm here, Dean. The thing, whatever it is, it just made a run right at me. I'm in my building right now, heading upstairs."

"Dean, what the hell's going on? Who are you on the phone with?" John reached over and turned the bedside lamp on. He was already pulling his shirt over his head.

"Sam, just get to your room, dammit!"

John was irritated that Dean wasn't answering him. "That's Sam? Dean, what the hell's going on?" He was already throwing his duffel onto the bed and was pulling a pair of jeans out.

"Something's after him, Dad," Dean answered his father in between talking to Sam. "Sam, were you able to see what it was? Wolf, spirit…black dog?"

"It's a black shadow. I don't know…maybe a spirit? It fucking touched me a little while ago and I can't feel my damn hand right now. It's like it's frozen or something." Sam was in the corridor to his room now, trying to hold onto the phone as he got his keys out of his pocket. The hairs on his neck started to tingle again. Dammit. He moved quickly, breathing a sigh of relief when he got his door open and pushed through it, closing it tightly behind him. Sam grabbed the container of salt and quickly poured a line across the threshold. "I'm in, Dean. I've salted the door and I'm gonna take care of the windows. I'll call you back."

The line disconnected. Dean looked at the silent phone in his hand. He hadn't heard from Sam in months…and now this?

"Dad, we gotta leave…now!" Dean had somehow managed to get dressed while on the phone with his brother. He went into the bathroom and gathered his things as quickly as he could, pulled his bowie knife out from under his pillow and stashed it in his duffel. After, he retrieved his gun from the nightstand drawer and tucked it into his waistband and grabbed his keys from the table.

While getting his things together, Dean told John what Sam told him about the being. It wasn't much to go on, but their father would probably figure out what it was before they made it to Stanford.

John was already at the door waiting for him when Dean pulled his jacket on. "I'll take my truck. You go ahead in the car."

Sam sat down on the edge of his bed when he was done salting every entrance to his dorm. He wasn't so much scared as he was concerned. The salt would keep him safe; he knew that much, but he wanted to know why this thing had all of a sudden decided to take a liking to him. As far as he knew, he hadn't acquired anything new that a spirit could be latched onto. He certainly hadn't done anything that would call up an entity.

His phone rang, causing him to jump. He picked it up from the table and looked at the caller I.D.; it was Dean. Sam answered it, mentally berating himself for forgetting to call the man back.

"Sam, you okay? You didn't call back."

Sam could hear the familiar rumble of the Impala and the quiet music of what sounded like Led Zeppelin in the background. Dean was on his way. "Yeah, I'm good. It just caught me off guard, you know. It's been a while."

"You're out of practice, dude." Dean chuckled with relief. "I should make you come out one weekend a month to keep you in shape."

Sam ignored Dean's valiant attempt at tricking him into going hunting again. "So you said three hours. Where are you?" He toed his shoes off and went to the kitchen to grab a soda.

"Me and dad were just outside of Tahoe National Forest, up near Truckee. We were hunting some slimy swamp critter and his better half. Your ass is lucky we're so close."

"Hey, I coulda figured this out without you, you know."

"Sure Sammy. I would've never guessed that when you called screamin' like a girl, bitch." Dean grinned into the phone.

Sam smiled at the old endearment. "Jerk." He cracked open the can of soda and took a long drink. He noticed his hand was warming up again and the numbness was going away. "Hey, I can feel my hand again."

"Well, that's good to hear. You're not permanently damaged, at least physically." Dean chuckled and glanced up in the rearview mirror. He saw the headlights of his father's truck not too far behind him. "So you think you can hang in there until Dad and I get there?"

"Shit, Dean, Dad's coming, too?"

"Sure is. You can't expect him to just sit by when something's after you now, can you? It'll be alright. Just keep your trap shut."

"Yeah, okay, Dean." Sam closed his eyes at the thought of seeing his father again.

They talked for a few more minutes, and then hung up. Sam felt safe enough to work on getting some dinner together. He was starved, having only eaten a handful of chips at the party, and before that, just a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch. At 6'4", Sam needed more than a few hundred calories in a day to keep him on his feet.

He pocketed his phone and went to the kitchen to turn the oven on. Sam would have to make do with a frozen pizza tonight.

Sam didn't see the entity hidden in the shadows of his room. It had been able to sneak in through the door behind Sam, before the salt line was put down. The young man didn't know what hit him when the being darted out of the darkness and merged into him. Sam only felt a deep coldness take over his body before he fell to the floor.