Disclaimer: Don't own them. Just playing with them for a while.

Summary: While investigating the mysterious disappearances of several hikers, Sam and Dean are caught up in a town's dark secret that will leave them both struggling to survive. Set mid-season 2.

A/N—Thank you everyone for the gracious responses to the last chapter. They really encouraged me.

Thanks also to firstcatfish for beta reading this for me.

I hope you enjoy!

Chapter 9

It had taken Ty a while to figure it out.

Too long, really, considering all the evidence had been right there before him the whole time.

He and his men had spent a full night and day searching for the Winchesters, but the heavy overnight rain had washed away any tracks, and Ty had finally been forced to admit that the boys were either lost in the wilderness, or they had somehow managed to make it back to Denton.

Leaving most of his men searching the wilds, he had returned to town where he and Rawly had spent most of the afternoon and well into the evening searching every abandoned building, church and warehouse in Denton, all with no luck. Rawly had been ready to admit defeat, but Ty had refused to give up. He knew what was at stake if they failed.

It was well after midnight, as he was driving a lonely stretch of highway several miles south of town that the pieces had finally settled to place within his mind. All it had taken was a flash of memory…a vision of walking into the bar and grill to find Annie leaning casually against the small table, chatting amiably with Dean, her face lit up with a shy smile. The memory was innocent enough as it was, but when he remembered Annie's strange behavior outside of the clinic, the first sparks of suspicion flared to life within his mind. Annie had acted nervous…even afraid of him, and though at the time Ty had assumed her behavior was the result of him startling her, he was suddenly no longer sure. After all, as far as Ty knew, Annie was the only connection Dean had made in town…the only person he would have known to go to for help.

And then there was Dr. Juarez. While her behavior hadn't been overtly suspicious, there had been something about her…a tension hidden just beneath the surface that didn't jive at all with her normally bold and confident personality. Her excuse of being called into work on an emergency was certainly believable enough, but it was also very possible that she had other reasons for needing to close the clinic.

It had taken a single call down to the hospital in Rocks Springs, and his suspicions had been confirmed.

Speeding back to town, Ty immediately called Rawly, pulling the man from his bed with a terse order to meet him at Annie's house immediately. He knew there was a chance that the boys were at the doctor's house, but if he had to put money on it, he would have wagered they were with Annie. He knew she had a guestroom at the back of her house, and taking in two complete strangers was something he could see her doing. She had always been too trusting for her own good.

Arriving at the house, he found everything dark and quiet, the only sound disturbing the peace of the night the incessant chirp of insects. Sheriff Rawly was already there, his face red and puffy from sleep, his lips pulled down in a deep frown.

"Are you sure about this, Ty," he grumbled, approaching from the front of his squad car. "Cause if you're wrong…"

"I'm not wrong," Ty snapped. "They're here, I know it. Annie and the doctor have been helping them."

Ralwy grimaced. "So what's the plan?" he asked. "You want to call in some of the boys?"

Ty shook his head. "No, we take care of this now…ourselves," he answered shortly. "We'll have the element of surprise on our side." Things had already been allowed to get far too out of hand. He wanted this ended…tonight!

"And Annie and the doctor?" Rawly asked, loosening his gun in its holster on his belt.

"They have to be silenced," Ty replied coldly, pulling his own revolver free. "Undoubtedly they know too much. They're a liability that we can't afford."

Rawly didn't look very happy, but he nodded his agreement, his jaw tightening into a determined line. Together they moved across the front lawn toward the small gate leading into Annie's backyard. Once they were through the gate, Ty motioned Rawly toward the back door of the house. "Go and get the girl," he ordered in a whisper before moving off down the path toward the guesthouse.

The sky was just starting to lighten with a pre-dawn glow, and the pathway down toward the garage was heavily shadowed. So intent was his focus on the building at the end of the path that Ty missed the small flower pot sitting to one side of the sidewalk. The edge of his boot just barely brushed against the edge of the pot, but it was enough to cause it to topple over with a loud clatter. Ty froze, his gaze locked on the building in front of him, his hand tightening its grip on his gun. He stood silently for nearly a minute, his eyes on the dim light spilling from beneath the guestroom door.

Eventually he continued his trip down the path, creeping silently up to the door where he leaned in close, listening intently for any sound from within. There was only silence, but Ty didn't let that fool him. He didn't bother trying the door handle, afraid that jiggling the knob might alert those inside to his presence. The door looked flimsy enough he knew he could bring it down with a solid kick or two, and Annie's nearest neighbors lived far enough away he wasn't too worried about the sound carrying.

Stepping back, he shifted his weight onto his left leg before lifting his right and slamming it with all of his strength against the door, right beneath the handle. The door shattered beneath the blow, pieces of wood flying, and Ty darted inside, his gaze sweeping the room before coming to rest on the startled faces of the two men inside.

Dean had just risen from the edge of the bed and taken a single step forward when Ty leveled his revolver at the man's chest, feeling a surge of relief and triumph wash over him. At long last…

"Hello, Dean," he drawled softly, "Did you miss me?"

At Ty's softly spoken words, Dean moved to one side to stand between the tall man and his brother, using his body to shield Sam. It was a subtle move, but Ty didn't miss it, and his eyes narrowed slightly.

"You've caused me quite a bit of trouble, Dean," he commented stiffly, the gun never wavering as it pointed straight toward Dean's chest.

Dean didn't bother to respond but merely raised his chin and met the man's stare with a steady one of his own. His heart was hammering wildly within his chest, but he allowed none of his fear to show as he continued to meet Ty's gaze, waiting to see what the man would do next.

"Dean?" Sam called softly into the silence, his voice sounding nervous. Dean heard the rustle of sheets as his brother shifted in the bed.

"Stay still, Sam," he ordered, his voice sounding rough, his eyes never leaving Ty's face.

One corner of Ty's mouth turned up in a mocking grin. "Don't worry, Sam," he called. "I'll be getting to you in a moment. But right now, your brother and I have some unfinished business to attend to."

"How did you find us?" Dean demanded, drawing the man's attention away from Sam and back to himself. Ty was standing too far way to lunge at without giving the man plenty of time to get a shot off, but if Dean could get him to step closer, he thought he might be able to disarm the man. It was a long shot, but Dean was determined to take it if given the chance.

"Does it matter?" Ty answered smugly. "The important thing is I did find you. And I know you got yourself some help, too…pretty little Annie and the good doctor."

Dean felt his heart sink at Ty's words, and had to fight to keep his features expressionless. Only a brief blink of his eyes gave away the sudden spike of fear he felt for the women's safety.

"I'm kinda surprised at you, Dean," Ty continued, rocking forward a single step, "hiding behind a couple of skirts. I expected more from you."

Dean narrowed his eyes, feeling a rush of anger sweep over him. "Now that's rich, coming from you," he retorted coldly. Lifting his chin slightly, he leveled Ty with a challenging glare. "If you think I'm such a coward, why don't you put down that gun and face me like a man?"

It was hard to tell in the dim light, but Dean could have sworn he saw a flash of fear pass through Ty's eyes. "You think I'm stupid?" he asked incredulously, his grip tightening on the handle of his gun.

"No, I think you're a yellow-bellied shithead of a coward who only feels like a man when hiding behind his gun," Dean retorted, pouring all the disdain he could summon into his voice. It was a risk…goading Ty into a fight, but it sure beat sitting around waiting for the man to put a bullet in his head. He was weak and injured, but if Ty agreed to fight him…he would tear the man apart.

Ty's features darkened angrily, but before he could reply there was the sound of a small scuffle from directly outside, followed by a breathless cry of pain. A moment later Sheriff Rawly stepped through the door, his gun in one hand and Annie's elbow held firmly in the other. Annie was dressed in a simple white night gown, her hair loose about her shoulders, her face tight with fear.

At the sight of her, Dean took a small step forward, his hands clenching into fists at his side. "Let her go, Ty," he growled, anger making his voice come out harsh. "This is between you and me..."

"That's where you're wrong, Dean," Ty replied shortly, his face still flushed with anger. "You're the one who got her involved in this. Her blood is on your hands!"

Annie whimpered slightly at Ty's statement, her gaze flying to Dean's face, her eyes desperate. Dean wanted to tell her everything was going to be okay…wanted to comfort her, but he knew the words would come out sounding hollow and empty. He had known when he first involved her that he was putting her at risk, but he had done it anyway…to save his brother. Now he found himself wondering how much more innocent blood he would be responsible for before this all ended. At that moment he almost wished Ty would shoot him in the head; that way he wouldn't be forced to watch Annie die…watch Sam die…and all because he had screwed up.

"Put her over there," Ty ordered, jerking his chin in the direction of the chair at the end of the dresser.

Keeping his gun on Dean, Rawly dragged Annie over to the chair and then roughly shoved her into it, eliciting a small cry from the girl. "Don't move," he ordered tersely, before turning his attention back to Dean.

"Now, where were we?" Ty asked, stepping forward until he was only a few feet away from Dean.

Dean's felt his body vibrating from his pent up energy. He wanted to reach out and knock the gun from Ty's hand and proceed to beat the man bloody, but he was too aware of Sam sitting helpless in the bed behind him…of Annie huddled in the chair. Any foolish move on his part, and Rawly would kill them both before Dean had a chance to blink.

Without warning Ty drove his fist forward, straight into Dean's bandaged torso, the blow driving all the air from Dean's lungs and causing him to double over as white hot pain washed over him. The first blow was followed just as quickly by a second to Dean's side, then a third to his kidneys and finally a fourth to the side of his head. The last blow drove Dean to his knees, stars exploding around the edges of his vision.

He distantly heard Sam cry out, his brother's voice angry and fearful, but the sound was lost in a roaring rush of pain as Ty continue his assault, alternating between fists and booted feet as he mercilessly drove Dean to the floor.

When Sam saw his brother go down, a surge of fear driven adrenaline rushed through him, and he rolled from the bed and to his feet, yanking the IV from his arm as he went.

"Dean!" he cried, stumbling forward in an attempt to go to his brother's aid.

He had taken no more than a step before a strong arm grabbed him from behind, twisting his injured arm up and behind him, causing him to cry out at the sudden pain. A second later, the cold barrel of the sheriff's gun came to rest directly below his ear, the sharp metal digging into the skin of his neck, causing him to arch his head back and away from the bruising pressure.

"Not so fast, kid," Rawly growled into his ear. "You and I have some unfinished business of our own.

Sam struggled weakly, but it was no use…the sheriff had a tight hold on him and was not letting go. He could only watch helplessly as Ty continued to beat his brother to the floor.

"Leave him alone, you son of a …," Sam broke off as Rawly dug the barrel of his gun deep into his neck, forcing his head back and causing him to gasp in pain.

Ty glanced in their direction, finally taking a small step back, Dean lying bloody and unmoving at his feet. "What's wrong, Sam?" he taunted, his eyes cold as he took a small step in their direction. "Feeling left out?"

Sam let out a small growl in response, the only sound he could make with his head angled so far back. Ty made a motion with his hand, and Rawly released some of the pressure against his neck, allowing Sam to pull his head back to a more comfortable angle. His injured arm was still pulled painfully up behind his back, the sheriff's hand gripping his wrist tightly, but his left arm hung freely at his side.

"You know, I really should be giving you the same treatment," Ty taunted him coldly. "After all, you're the one responsible for this mess in the first place. Do you have any idea how much money you and your brother have cost me?"

"Go to hell," Sam managed to gasp out, his eyes stinging from a combination of pain and anger.

"You first," Ty hissed, "but not until you tell me everyone you've talked to…everyone you've seen since getting back to town. We know about Annie and the doctor…is there anyone else?"

Sam clenched his jaw and remained silent, glaring back at Ty defiantly.

Ty slowly shook his head. "You shouldn't test me, boy," he hissed. "I think you know that you and your brother are both dead, but it's up to you how it all ends. I can make it quick and painless, or I can send you from this world screaming in agony." To drive home his point, Ty viciously kicked out at Dean once more.

Sam let out a frustrated curse, his eyes on his brother. He'd thought Dean was unconscious, but at Ty's kick, Dean groaned and pulled his body into a protective ball at Ty's feet. Sam felt sick as he looked down at his brother's battered form, but a slight movement of Dean's hand suddenly caught his attention, and a moment later he realized his brother was slowly inching his fingers down toward his boot, his fetal position putting him within range of the knife hidden there.

Sam's eyes flew back up to Ty, hoping the man hadn't noticed Dean's movement. Ty's gaze was fixed steadily on him, his expression expectant, and Sam knew he had to keep the man's attention on himself in order to buy Dean time to reach the knife. It was a long shot; one blade against two guns, but at the moment it was the only chance they had.

Grinding his teeth, he stared back at Ty with all the hatred he felt burning through him. "We've already called the feds," he spat, trying to ignore the fierce pain radiating down his arm. "They're already on the way…should be here any time now."

He felt the sheriff stiffen at his words, his grip tightening worriedly, but Ty merely threw back his head and laughed. "You really expect me to believe that, boy?" he snorted. "You and your brother are both wanted men. The last thing you'd do is call the FBI! Nice try, but you're going to have to do better than that." Without looking down, he kicked out at Dean once more, eliciting another small moan from the man on the floor.

"Alright," Sam snapped angrily. "There…there's no one else, okay. We didn't tell anyone else. Just leave him alone!"

Ty looked at Sam for a moment, then his gaze swept to one side. "Is that true, Annie girl? Did these boys include anyone else besides you and the good doctor?" he asked, his voice cold.

Sam had almost forgotten the girl's presence. He rolled his eyes in her direction, unable to turn to face her fully because of the sheriff's grip. Annie was huddled in the large chair, her eyes impossibly wide, her cheeks stained with tears. She jumped at Ty's question, her throat working convulsively. "No," she finally managed to choke out, her voice trembling. "No…there's no one else."

Knowing they were about out of time, Sam couldn't resist another quick glance down at his brother. Dean's hand had reached the top of his boot, his fingers reaching inside, and Sam couldn't help but tense slightly in anticipation. He would need to make his own move at the same time Dean made his. Their only chance would be in the element of surprise.

Ty shifted his gaze away from Annie, his eyes flickering down toward Dean. "You'll never get away with this," Sam blurted out hurriedly, hoping to keep Ty's attention away from his brother for just a moment longer.

Ty laughed, casting Sam a disdainful look. "Of course we will," he replied arrogantly. "In fact, when this is all said and done, the sheriff and I will be hailed as heroes for stopping two cold blooded killers. It's tragic that our actions will have come too late to save Annie and the doctor, but I'm sure the town will mourn easier knowing their murderers were brought to justice." He leveled his revolver at Sam's chests, his expression victorious. "Any last words, Sam?"

Sam swallowed hard, lifting his chin to stare back at Ty defiantly. "Just one," he replied, his blood pounding in his ears, his heart racing in anticipation of impending action.


At his shout, Dean unfurled from his bent position on the floor, moving with impossible speed as he lunged upward, knife in hand. Ty tried to step away, his gun swinging downward; but he wasn't quite fast enough, and Dean buried the small blade of his knife deep into the back of Ty's knee. Ty screamed in pain, his leg collapsing beneath him, his gun flying from his hand toward the door as Dean delivered a well-aimed chop directly to his wrist.

All this happened in the space of a heartbeat, and if Sam hadn't been expecting it, he would have been unable to take advantage of the brief moment of surprise that temporarily left Rawly frozen in shocked disbelief. Without waiting to see Ty hit the floor, Sam drove his left elbow back into Rawly's gut with all the force he could muster. Rawly let out a grunt of pain, his hold on Sam loosening for just an instant. Sam used the moment to twist out and away, wrenching his arm free from Rawly's grip even as he reached up with his left arm to grasp the man's wrist, forcing the gun up and away. The weapon discharged, sounding loud in the small confines of the room, the bullet slamming harmlessly into the ceiling above Sam's head and raining pieces of plaster down around them.

Rawly swore, attempting to wrench his arm free from Sam's grip, but Sam held on tightly, desperation lending him strength. He tried to kick out at the Sheriff's leg in an attempt to knock the man off balance, but Rawly dodged the blow, his features twisting in a grimace of determination. They shuffled back and forth, each one struggling to overpower the other, the gun wavering in the air between them.

Sam knew he didn't have the strength to keep up a prolonged fight…already he could feel himself weakening, the burning pain in his arm making it hard to maintain his grip on the gun. He stumbled back, grunting with effort, only to feel the edge of the bed pressing up against the back of his knees. The sudden contact threw him off balance, and with a roar Rawly pressed forward, shoving him roughly, wrenching his gun free even as Sam sprawled back helplessly across the bed.

Taking a few quick steps back, the sheriff aimed the gun down at Sam's chest, his features triumphant. "This time I won't miss," he hissed, his hand tightening on the gun's handle.

Before he could pull the trigger, however, the lamp from the desk suddenly slammed into the back of his head, shattering on impact and casting the room instantly into heavy shadow. Rawly stumbled forward, off balance from the blow, and Sam used the man's forward momentum against him as he pushed himself upright in the bed and drove his fist into the Sheriff's throat. He didn't pull the blow as he otherwise might have, needing to drop the man fast so he could get to his brother. He felt the flesh of Rawly's neck give way with sickening ease beneath the power of his strike, and the man went down hard, his hands flying to his throat, his gun skittering away across the floor to disappear into the darkness beneath the bed.

Sam tried not to listen to the gurgling gasps of the injured man at his feet, his eyes darting across the room to where Annie stood, the shattered remains of the lamp still clutched in one hand, her eyes wide and horrified. He barely spared her a glance, however, his eyes darting instead to the two shadowy forms wrestling on the floor at the foot of the bed. In the dim light it was hard to tell which was his brother, and he started forward, only to be drawn up short by a wave of dizziness so strong he was forced to lean against the bed to keep from falling on his face.


His brother's frantic cry had him jerking upright, blinking to clear his vision even as the room was suddenly lit by a bright slash of light. A glance to the side showed him Annie had turned on the light in the small adjacent bathroom, her body halfway hidden in the doorway, her eyes glued on the struggling forms at the foot of the bed.

Sam turned back toward the two combatants in time to see Dean deliver two sharp punches into Ty's face, the blows driving the man's head back against the floor. Then his brother rolled smoothly to one side, his hand thrusting beneath the bed and emerging a second later gripping Rawly's dropped gun. Pushing himself swiftly to one knee, Dean aimed the gun at Ty's head, causing the man to go instantly still.

"Sam!" Dean called again, his voice filled with the same panicked desperation as before, his eyes never leaving Ty's face.

"I'm okay," Sam called back hurriedly, realizing where the fear in his brother's voice was coming from. "I'm right here, Dean…I'm okay." He repeated, stumbling forward until he stood directly at his brother's back, using the bed's baseboard to help hold him upright.

He saw some of the tension leave his brother's frame as Dean automatically turned his head to glance up at him, as though Dean had to confirm for himself that Sam truly was alright.

It was in that brief moment of distraction that Ty made his move. Unbeknownst to either of them, the man had somehow gotten hold of the knife Dean had used on him earlier, and even as his brother turned to look up at Sam, Ty lunged forward, the blade aimed directly for the exposed side of Dean's neck.

Sam felt a cry build in his throat even as he realized it was too late to warn his brother. He reached out desperately, hoping he might somehow push Dean out of the way of the deadly weapon, when suddenly the loud sound of a gunshot rang out through the small room. Sam watched in frozen surprise as Ty's lunge turned into a limp drop, the man's body slamming into the floor, a bloody hole filling the space where the back of his skull should have been.

Dean let out a surprised curse, jerking backward, and he might have fallen if Sam hadn't reached down and grabbed his shoulder, steadying him. Both brothers' eyes flew to the door, where the figure of a small woman stood outlined by the pre-dawn light, Ty's revolver gripped firmly in one hand, the weapon still trained on Ty's unmoving form.

Sam heard Annie's sharp gasp of surprise from across the room.

"Maria," Dean murmured softly, before slowly toppling sideways and down to the floor.

If fifteen years as an ER doctor had taught Maria Juarez anything, it was how to take a stressful and emotionally charged situation and deal with it calmly and professionally. It was a necessary trait when someone's life depended on clearheaded thinking and a steady hand, when all you really wanted to do was find some corner and throw up.

But standing in the ruined doorway of Annie's guestroom, the weight of the revolver heavy in her hands, it took every ounce of training and experience to keep from giving in to the overwhelming flood of emotions flowing through her.

Taking a deep, steadying breath as her mentor in medical school had taught her, she slowly lowered the revolver and surveyed the room before her. Ty was lying in a growing puddle of blood a few feet away, Dean lying next to him with Sam kneeling worriedly over him. Sheriff Rawly was face down next to the bed, still and unmoving, and Annie hovered by the bathroom door, her face pale and frightened.

Pushing down her emotional response, Maria snapped into work mode, crouching down and grabbing her medical bag from where she had dropped it before striding resolutely into the room. Careful not to look at Ty's body, she moved over to kneel next to Sam, reaching two fingers out to lay against the artery in Dean's neck. She was relieved to find his pulse steady and strong, but couldn't stop the frown that crossed her face when she took in his bruised and battered form. The bandage around his torso was slightly askew, and Maria could see concerning patches of red soaking through the white material.

She glanced over at Sam, noting the young man looked only marginally better than his brother. His features were far too pale, his eyes hooded, and she guessed that it was merely a combination of adrenaline and an iron will that was keeping him upright.

Turning back to Dean, Maria reached out and removed the gun from his hand, placing it and the revolver at the foot of the bed. Then she gently tapped her fingers against the young man's cheek, calling his name softly. Dean responded almost immediately, groaning roughly, his lashes fluttering before finally slipping open to reveal green eyes clouded with pain and confusion. Beside her, Maria heard Sam let out a deep sigh of relief.

"What happened," Dean muttered groggily, one hand fluttering up to rub at his forehead.

"You passed out," Maria informed him crisply, sitting back on her heels to give the man more breathing room.

Dean's eyes widened slightly, and his gaze snapped to his brother. Sam gave him a tired smile and a small shrug. "I guess it was your turn," he stated softly. "At least you didn't take me down with you."

Dean groaned, pressing the knuckles of his hand hard against his forehead, his eyes screwed shut in pain. "Did someone shoot me in the head?" he asked.

Sam frowned, "No," he replied slowly. "No one shot you in the head."

"In that case…will you?" Dean mumbled, still rubbing at his forehead. "I've got the mother of all headaches."

Sam let out a mirthless laugh, his long hair swaying as he shook his head. "That's what comes from Ty using your skull as a punching bag," he answered wryly.

"Do you think you can make it to the bed?" Maria broke in, ignoring the exchange between the two brothers.

Dean didn't respond, but merely braced his forearms against the floor and used them to push himself up into a seated position, his jaw clenching tightly against the pain. Sam and Maria both reached out to brace his shoulders, and with their help Dean was able to pull himself to his feet and stagger the few feet over to the bed. Sinking down wearily, he flung one arm over his face while the other slid protectively around his injured waist.

Maria turned away from him long enough to grab the sheet from the foot of the bed and throw it over Ty's body. Then she quickly knelt down next to the sheriff, her hand reaching out to search for a pulse, unsurprised when she found none. Straightening, she grabbed a second blanket from the bed, covering his form as well. When she was done, she turned to find Sam watching her, a look of sick horror on his face.

"He's dead?" he asked, his voice coming out rough, a muscle in his jaw jumping slightly.

"Yes," Maria answered simply, feeling a flash of sympathy at the devastated look on the young man's face.

"I knew I hit him hard, but I didn't think…" Sam trailed off, his already pale features turning even paler, and he staggered slightly, one hand reaching out to grab the baseboard of the bed to steady himself.

"Annie," Maria called, and a moment later the girl appeared at her side, still looking shaken and frightened, but at least with a bit more color in her cheeks. "Why don't you help Sam to the chair before he falls over," Maria urged, knowing that having a task to do would help bring Annie out of her shock better than anything. "I'll come and examine him in a minute."

Sam frowned and attempted to push himself upright. "I'm fine," he argued, his features taking on a stubborn cast. "My brother…"

"Is going to be taken care of," Maria finished for him sternly. "Something I can do a lot better without you stumbling around getting in my way."

Sam looked uncertain, but Dean suddenly spoke up from the bed. "It's okay, Sam," he muttered, his voice coming out muffled from beneath his arm. "Just do as she says."

Sam let out a long sigh, but he allowed Annie to grab his elbow and help steer him across the room and over to the chair.

Turning her attention back to Dean, Maria pulled out a pair of gloves and some scissors from her bag and began carefully cutting away the bandages from around his waist. She could see Dean's jaw clench, and the hand at his waist tightened into a fist, but he made no sound as she pulled the bandaging free and peered down at his chest. The burned scab of his wound had broken open in several places, the small cracks steadily oozing blood, but not so much that Maria was overly concerned. The cuts were already beginning to clot around the edges, and she suspected they might completely close on their own if given enough time.

"Where is the burn cream I left with you?" she asked, and Dean flicked one hand halfheartedly toward the bedside table. Opening the drawer, Maria pulled free the bottle of cream and opened it, applying a generous portion to the unbroken section of burned flesh. When she had finished, she placed gauze pads over the bleeding sections and pressed down gently, eliciting the first groan of pain from her patient. With the gauze pads in place, she withdrew a large bandage and placed it over the cut, then used medical tape to tape down the edges of the bandage.

"So what's the diagnosis, doc," Dean asked, finally lowering the arm from across his face and looking at her.

"The wound broke open in a few places," Maria informed him, "but it doesn't look as bad as you might expect. I think it will re-clot on its own. If not, I'll have to reseal it."

"Hell, no," Dean growled, his eyes widening slightly.

"I don't think it will come to that," Maria quickly reassured him, "as long as you lay still…give it a chance to form a scab."

Dean nodded. "Lying still…no problem," he muttered, lifting his arm and draping it across his eyes once more.

Maria gave him a gentle squeeze on his shoulder. "I'm going to go take a look at Sam now. Just rest for a while."

Dean gave a tiny nod, and Maria rose from the bed and turned to go to Sam, broken glass crunching loudly beneath her feet as she moved across the room. She found Annie already removing the bandage from around Sam's upper arm, and she gave the girl a nod of approval that turned quickly into a frown when she realized how badly Annie's hands were shaking.

"Good job, Annie," she encouraged softly, reaching out and touching the young woman's arm. "I can take care of it from here. Why don't you go and sit down somewhere…try to relax a little bit."

Annie nodded, looking relieved, but before she could go Sam reached out and caught her wrist with his hand. Annie looked startled, her eyes flying to his face, but Sam only smiled at her gently.

"I just wanted to say thank you," he spoke quietly, gesturing with his chin toward the broken shards of lamp still scattered over the floor. "For helping my brother and me…and for saving my life back there."

Annie swallowed, her eyes dropping to the ground, her hands fiddling with the cloth of her nightgown. "I didn't even really think," she admitted softly. "I just…sort of reacted."

Sam's smile was kind, and he dropped his hand from her wrist. "You did well…really well," he assured her.

Annie jerked her chin in a quick nod of acceptance before turning and carefully picking her way around the shrouded body of Ty and over to the cot sitting in the far corner of the room. Once there, she sank down on the edge of the cot, her eyes on the floor, her hands folded in her lap.

Maria watched her with concern for a moment, then turned back to Sam. She peered down at the cut across his arm, grateful to see that his stitches were holding nicely. There was a little redness and swelling around the wound, but it already looked much better than it had the night before. Reaching out, she quickly took Sam's pulse, noting it was slightly fast, but nothing like the frantic beat of the previous morning, and his skin felt only slightly warm beneath her fingers. She thought Sam's recovery had been remarkably fast, considering the young man had been on death's door barely twenty-four hours previously. He still looked pretty rough, but considering what these boys had gone through, Maria figured they had a right to look a mess.

Maria smiled at him, aware that she barely had to look down at him even though he was sitting and she was standing. "You're going to be just fine," she assured him, "your stitches are holding nicely and the infection is already much reduced. You may be sore for a while, and I don't want you lifting anything heavy…but I expect a full recovery.

Sam nodded, his gaze flickering toward the bed. "What about my brother?" he asked worriedly.

Maria let out a small huff of laughter, shaking her head in wonderment. It had been just yesterday morning that Dean had been sitting in this exact chair asking her the exact same question with the exact same obvious disregard for his own injuries. The brothers were two peas in a pod.

"With a little time and rest, he'll be alright too," Maria assured him.

Sam nodded slowly, some of the tension draining from his shoulders, his gaze returning to Maria's face. "Thank you, doctor," he told her sincerely.

"Please, call me Maria," she answered smoothly, giving him a quick smile. "I guess we were never formally introduced, seeing as you were unconscious last time I was here."

A ghost of a return smile flitted across his face, and his features were earnest as he replied, "My brother told me everything you've done for us. I can't thank you enough." His eyes flashed toward Ty's body then just as quickly returned to her face. "It looks like we both owe you our lives," he finished quietly.

Maria didn't respond right away, but reached for a fresh role of bandages. "I'm just glad I couldn't sleep and decided to come check on you early," she finally commented quietly, her fingers working quickly and smoothly as she re-wrapped his arm. And glad that my father taught me how to shoot from a young age, she added silently.

"How do you do it," Sam asked her wonderingly. When she cast him a questioning look he continued, "How do you stay so calm? Most people in your shoes would probably be in a panic right now."

"Yes, well, most people haven't worked fifteen years in an ER," Maria responded smoothly. "It's part of my job to remain calm in intense situations." She finished tying off his bandage and took a small step back, hesitating briefly before adding, "And it helps that this is not the first time I have come face to face with evil."

Sam gave her a curious look, his head tilted slightly to one side. Maria spared a quick glance over at the bed where Dean lay still and silent, his chest rising and falling evenly, his face still covered by the arm draped across his eyes. Beyond him, Annie sat quietly on the edge of the cot, her eyes still turned down to the floor, her hands playing with the folds of her nightgown.

With a small sigh, Maria turned back to Sam. "When I was twelve, some men broke into my parent's home in Columbia," she explained quietly, unsure what it was about the young man that made her want to share a story she had told to only a very few others. "My father was away, and only my mother, my little sister and I were home. The men raped my mother, all the while telling me that I was going to be next, and then my sister. She was only nine." Maria paused, noting that Sam's expression had darkened slightly, his jaw stiffening in anger at her words.

"I managed to break away," she continued, her gaze fixed on nothing as her mind returned to that terrible day. "I ran into the kitchen where I knew my father kept a gun hidden. When one of the men came to get me, I turned around and shot him in the face. His companion heard the gunshot and ran away…he was never caught. Shortly after that, my family moved to the United States."

Sam swallowed, his features sympathetic. "I'm sorry," he whispered, his eyes gentle as he looked at her.

Maria shook her head. "About what, Sam? I may have lost my innocence that day, but I saved my family, and to me, it was a sacrifice that was well worth it. I didn't even hesitate. All I could think was… 'they're not going to touch my sister.' It's amazing what you're willing to do to protect your family."

Sam's gaze flickered over to the bed, his expression softening. "I know what you mean," he said quietly.

Maria watched him, feeling an odd ache in her chest. "I can see that you two are very close," she observed softly.

Sam nodded, his eyes still on his brother's form. "I honestly don't know where I would be right now if it weren't for him. We…we kinda had a rough childhood, but Dean always looked out for me…still does."

"I'm sure it's a two way street," Maria replied.

Sam shrugged, and seemingly against his will his eyes dropped to the shrouded body lying next to the bed. "I try," he whispered.

Maria reached out and gripped his forearm, squeezing lightly to gain his attention. "Don't be too hard on yourself about Sheriff Rawly, Sam," she urged him gently. "Remember that it was his choices that brought him to this place, not you. You just did what you had to do to protect your family."

Sam nodded slowly, his gaze dropping to his lap, but not before Maria caught a glimpse of the unshed tears making his eyes seem unnaturally bright.

"Well," Maria stated briskly, straightening and putting her hands on her hips. "Now that I know that no one is about to bleed out, I guess it's about time we decided what our next move should be."

"About that…" Dean grunted suddenly from the bed, causing both Sam and Maria to jump in startled surprise. Maria had thought him asleep, but Dean's eyes were bright and alert as he lowered his arm from his face and began carefully pushing himself upright in the bed, one hand pressed tightly against the bandage on his chest. "I think it would be wise if you and Annie got out of town as fast as you can."

Maria arched a surprised eyebrow, watching as Dean carefully swung his legs over the side of the bed, then sat hunched on the edge for a moment, his arm wrapped protectively around his middle, his face pale. "And where exactly are we supposed to go?" she asked slowly, her eyes moving across the room to meet Annie's startled stare.

Dean glanced at Sam, a silent communication passing between them. "Doesn't matter," Dean replied simply. "Just make sure it's far away from here. Drive for at least two hours…more if you can. Don't go anywhere familiar and don't call anyone to tell them where you are. When you stop, use cash to get a hotel room and don't use your real name."

Maria let out a huff of air, her head shaking incredulously. "You really think that's necessary…" she began, but Dean cut her off.

"Yes." He stated emphatically. "Ty had some rich and powerful men as clients, and once they find out he's dead, they'll go to any lengths to make sure nothing damning gets traced back to them. And if they find out about you and Annie…well, let's just say you'll probably have a couple of contracts put out on you before the day is out."

Maria stared at him in shocked surprise, her mind struggling to comprehend the implications behind his words.

"We're not saying this to frighten you," Sam spoke up from behind her, his voice gentle. "We just want you to understand how serious the situation is."

"So what are we supposed to do," Annie whispered from her position across the room. "We can't hide forever."

"You won't have to," Dean answered her, twisting slightly on the bed to give her a reassuring look. "Once you're settled in somewhere safe, call the FBI and ask for an Agent Henricksen."

Maria shook her head. "And what makes you think this agent Henricksen will believe us?" she asked.

"Just tell him your story," Dean replied smoothly. "The man is an arrogant dickhead, but once you mention Sam and I, I'll guarantee you he will be on the first flight down here, and he won't stop until he's completed a thorough investigation. He can put you and Annie under federal protection until it's all over. But I warn you, it might be a long process."

"And what about you?' Maria asked worriedly. "Will you be coming with us?"

Dean shook his head, his eyes flicking to his brother's once more. "'Fraid we can't do that," he replied simply. "Henricksen is not a big fan of ours."

Sam let out a small grunt of agreement. "Do us a favor," he added with a sigh. "Don't believe everything he might say about us, okay."

Maria frowned, but before she could comment on the strange request, Annie spoke up from across the room

"So is it true? she asked, drawing all eyes to her.

"Is what true?" Dean asked cautiously.

"What Ty said…about you and Sam being wanted men."

Dean let out a long sigh, his head sinking down into his hand as he rubbed wearily at his forehead. Sam shifted his feet nervously, but didn't speak, his eyes on his brother. Finally Dean lifted his head, his gaze tired but steady as he looked from Annie to Maria. "It's a long story," he replied simply, "and one we don't really have time for at the moment. "You'll just have to trust us when we tell you that we're not the bad guys here."

Maria arched one eyebrow, a thousand questions running through her mind, but finally settled for a simple nod of her head, deciding she was probably better off not knowing all the details. She considered herself a pretty good judge of character, and despite having known them for less than a day she found that she trusted these boys. Perhaps it was naive of her, but she couldn't bring herself to believe they were bad. They had acted honorably and respectfully, and their concern for Annie and her was real.

"So what are you going to do?" she asked softly, indicating her acceptance by not pursuing the subject.

Dean merely looked at her and didn't answer, his gaze steady.

"You should leave right away." Sam suggested softly. "The sooner you get out of here, the better."

With a small sigh, Maria accepted the redirect. "First things first," she stated, moving over to where she had left her medical bag on the dresser. She began rooting through the bag, pulling out an assortment of items, including fresh bandages and several small bottles of pills. "Sam, these are for you," she directed, pointing toward the largest of the bottles. "You need to take one pill a day for the next ten days until they're gone…you know the drill." Sam nodded his understanding, and Maria turned her attention to the elder brother. "Dean, continue using that burn cream I gave you earlier and watch the wound for signs of infection. I've also included a bottle of pain pills for both of you, but be careful using them if you plan to drive…they can make you drowsy."

Dean nodded, giving her a grateful look. "Thanks doc," he murmured quietly, "for everything."

Maria nodded, then let out a long sigh before turning to face Annie. "Are you ready to go?" she asked.

Annie rose slowly, her eyes darting around the room, her expression slightly dazed, as though she wasn't quite fully able to comprehend what was going on. Maria knew exactly how she was feeling.

"It's going to be okay, Annie," Dean spoke softly from the bed, his eyes fixed on the girl, his voice low and rough. "I'm sorry about all this, but I know you're going to be okay."

Annie looked back at him, her face flashing through a variety of emotions. She opened her mouth as though to answer, then closed it again, biting her bottom lip.

"It's okay," Dean repeated, his eyes softening in understanding. "Thanks for everything."

Annie nodded slowly, her eyes suddenly welling with tears, and Maria moved forward to grasp her arm in a gentle grip. "Let's go," she murmured, steering Annie toward the door. With a final glance at Dean, Annie allowed herself to be led away; but Maria paused at the doorway.

Sam and Dean watched her silently, their expressions identical, and with a small shake of her head Maria murmured, "Be careful you two," before turning and striding purposefully from the room.

After the two women left, Sam and Dean sat in silence for several long minutes, simply enjoying the stillness of the early morning, content to be alive and together once again. Eventually Sam shifted in his seat, casting a critical eye over the hunched form of his brother on the edge of the bed.

"You look horrible," he stated simply, running a hand back through his long hair. "I thought you looked rough before, but now…"

Dean lifted his head slowly, casting Sam a dark look, his bruised and battered face adding effect to the glare. "Yeah, well, right back at you," he grumbled, wincing heavily as he pushed himself carefully to his feet.

Sam sighed and copied his brother's movement, biting back a groan as his exhausted and sore body objected to the movement. Both of them were moving slowly and stiffly, and Sam couldn't help but think that they looked like a couple of old men who had strayed too far from the nursing home.

"Dude, we look like a couple of eighty year old grandpas," Dean stated disgustedly, rolling his shoulders slightly and rocking his neck from side to side in an attempt to ease aching muscles.

Sam shook his head at the echo of his own thoughts, a small smile playing at the corner of his lips. "Think they'll be okay?" he asked, jutting his chin in the direction of the ruined door the two women had just exited through.

Dean considered for a moment before slowly nodding. "Maria's one tough gal," he commented, stiffly moving over to the dresser and pulling open the top drawer to retrieve Sam's clothes and his own jacket. "She would make one hell of a hunter," he added, glancing down briefly at Ty's shrouded form. "They'll be okay."

"Yeah," Sam answered, eyeing the torn and stained clothes his brother was handing him with distaste.

"Man, I'd give anything right now for a shower and some fresh clothes," Dean groaned, once again echoing Sam's own thoughts. "I smell like the sweaty back end of a mule."

"Well, I wasn't going to say anything…" Sam started, but cut off with a grin at his brother's warning look. "So what's the plan now?" he asked, casting his bloodstained and torn short aside and opting to wear the jacket only.

"We go and get my car," Dean answered simply, shrugging carefully into his own jacket. "And then we get the hell out of town before Henricksen and his minions descend."

"And how do you propose we get to the car?" Sam asked, sincerely hoping his brother wasn't going to suggest they walk.

"Why don't we take Ty's truck," Dean suggested, moving over to the dresser and beginning to stuff the supplies Annie had left for them in his jacket pockets "He won't be needing it anymore. Bet you the keys are in his pocket."

"I'll check," Sam volunteered, crouching down next to the body and flipping the edge of the sheet back just enough so he could reach Ty's jacket pocket. A quick search revealed the keys as well as something else he hadn't been expecting. "Dean?" he called, lifting up his discovery.

His brother turned to look at him, his eyes widening slightly when he saw what Sam was holding up. "Oh thank God," he muttered, stepping forward to take the medallion Sam held swinging from its leather cord. "I thought this was gone for good." Quickly retying the cord, Dean slipped the medallion over his head, breathing out a deep sigh of relief as the charm settled down against his chest. "Now all I need is my car and I'll be a whole man again," he muttered.

Getting Dean's car turned out to be easier than either of them had expected.

It was still the deep hours of early morning when they pulled into the parking lot of the Sheriff's Office, then followed the narrow lane to the back of the building where a small area had been fenced off to house impounded vehicles. Surprisingly, there was no sign of any guards, and the security camera mounted on the back corner of the building appeared to be unplugged.

They used Ty's truck as a battering ram to break through the gates, then quickly located the Impala. Sam had lost his key…probably during his wild fall down the hill…but a hidden compartment between the bumper and steel frame of the car held a spare one. As Dean circled the vehicle to check for any scratches or dents, Sam retrieved the extra key, then opened the trunk to check on the contents there, relieved to find them undisturbed. He couldn't help but feel a pang of regret when he thought of the clothes and other items they'd left behind at the hotel, but it simply wasn't worth the risk to try and go back for them. Opening the spare medical kit stashed in the trunk, he pulled out the bottle of Ibuprofen and quickly downed three pills.

"I'll drive first," he offered, closing the trunk and heading for the driver's side door. "Why don't you take a couple of the pain pills Maria left us and try to catch a nap."

Dean paused in his inspection to frown in Sam's direction. "What about your arm?" he asked, his brow furrowed in concern.

Sam shrugged. "I can drive one handed. You look dead on your feet, man. I've got this."

Dean gave in with a reluctant nod, the ease with which he relented confirming how poorly he must have been feeling. "Pull over if you get tired," he ordered, heading toward the passenger seat.

I'm already tired, Sam thought wryly, but kept it to himself.

Sinking down onto the soft leather seat, Sam let out a sigh of relief, the sound echoed by Dean in the passenger seat, his brother reaching out to run a hand lovingly across the dash board. The familiar feel and scent of the car had Sam thinking such words as home and safe, and he found it hard to believe that only a few short days earlier he had been thinking of the Impala as a prison. It was amazing what a couple of days wandering around in the wilderness could do for one's perspective.

"Let's get out of here," Dean muttered from beside him, and Sam was only too happy to comply.

With no particular destination or direction in mind other than away, Sam pulled out of the lot and headed out of town. Driving as quickly as the winding and twisting roads would safely allow, he settled back into the seat and tried to focus his mind on something other than his aching body.

After twenty minutes he glanced toward the passenger seat, expecting so see Dean's sleeping form, but his brother was still awake, his back angled against the passenger door, his eyes wide and alert as he watched the road through the front windshield.

"You okay?" Sam asked softly, concerned by the brooding expression on his brother's face. He knew Dean was in pain, but he suspected the pull of his brother's brow was due to more than just physical discomfort.

Dean glanced at him before giving a brief jerk of his chin, his eyes returning to stare out at the road.

"Anything you want to talk about?" Sam persisted cautiously, well aware of Dean's reluctance to share his feelings. The last few days had been hard on them both, leaving wounds both physical and emotional, and while Sam always felt slightly better after talking, it was something that had always been difficult for Dean to do.

Dean gave a small shrug, shifting slightly in the seat as he tried to find a comfortable position. "Are you still upset about killing the sheriff?" he asked, the question coming completely out of the blue, taking Sam slightly off guard.

"Of course," he answered immediately, blinking over at his brother before returning his eyes to the road. "Truthfully, I didn't even really mean to do it," he added, his grip tightening slightly on the steering wheel. "I just wanted to drop him so I could get to you, but I guess I hit him a bit harder than I thought."

"You did what you had to, Sam," Dean stated quietly.

"I know." Sam replied, swallowing hard and shifting slightly in his seat. "But that doesn't mean it doesn't still bother me."

Dean nodded in understanding. "I'd be worried if it didn't," he replied simply.

"So what about you?" Sam prompted, sparing another quick glance in his brother's direction. "As soon as I saw you grab that gun, I thought for sure you were going to kill Ty right then and there. Why'd you stop?"

"I don't know," Dean replied wearily, rubbing a hand slowly down across his face. "I probably should have, and part of me definitely wanted to, but…" he trailed off, the fingers of one hand tapping a slow cadence against his leg. "I guess I had just seen enough blood shed over the last couple of days," he finished softly.

Sam went still at his brother's words, holding his breath as he waited to see if Dean would continue. He knew his brother was hiding the details of his ordeal at the camp, and as curious as he was, he didn't want to pressure Dean into sharing… not when the wounds were still so raw. At the same time, he found himself hoping his brother would choose to talk to him instead of burying it all behind a wall, as was his normal practice.

It seemed he was going to be in luck, for Dean continued on a moment later, his voice low and rough. "There was another fight, you know," he stated simply, his gaze locked out the front window. "Before the one you saw…the first fight, actually."

Sam glanced at him from the corner of his eye, but didn't speak, somehow afraid to interrupt.

"The guy didn't want to fight me at first," Dean continued, still not looking at Sam. "But I could see it in his eyes…the moment he made the decision that it was going to be either him or me. They threw a knife into the arena, and he managed to get to it before I did. The next thing I knew, he was coming at me, and I simply reacted…I killed him Sam. He was barely older than you, and I killed him."

Dean's admission came as no surprise to Sam…he had already suspected as much, though he hadn't known the details. Still, he found himself swallowing hard at the raw emotion in his brother's voice. "You didn't have a choice, Dean," he replied quietly. "He came at you with a knife. What were you supposed to do, just stand there and let him kill you? You're a fighter, Dean…a survivor."

Dean slowly shook his head. "Maybe that's the problem," he murmured, his voice so soft Sam barely heard the words over the rumble of the Impala's engine.

"What?" Sam frowned, risking a long glance away from the road so he could peer at his brother. "What are you trying to say, Dean?"

Dean sighed wearily. "I don't know, Sam," he muttered, rubbing a hand back through his short hair. "I guess I just wonder sometimes how many people might still be alive if I wasn't such a fighter."

Sam felt an iron knot form in his chest at his brother's words, and his hand gripped the steering wheel so tightly he felt his fingers beginning to cramp.

"First there was Marshall," Dean continued, his voice taking on a haunted tone. "then dad, and now this guy. All of them would be alive right now if I hadn't fought so hard to survive."

Sam swallowed the knot in his throat. "Your life is no less important than theirs, Dean," he stated softly, willing his brother to accept the truth in that statement

"Yeah, maybe," Dean grunted doubtfully, "but it's no more important either."

It is to me, Sam thought, but didn't speak the words aloud. Dean had always had trouble accepting his own worth. It was one of the reasons his brother had had such a difficult time with their father's death. He just couldn't accept that John had placed Dean's life over his own. In his eyes he didn't believe himself worth that sacrifice. Sam only wished he knew the words to say to make Dean understand that he really was.

He suddenly remembered the conversation they'd had only a few short months ago, when Dean had finally broken down and shared his feelings over their father's death. He remembered Dean's statement, 'what's dead should stay dead,' and the raw pain in his brother's eyes as he'd asked Sam what he could possibly say to make things right. Sam had been shocked speechless by his brother's words, unable to come up with a single thing to say to offer him comfort. He couldn't help but feel that he had failed Dean then, and he was suddenly determined not to let it happen again.

Stepping on the brakes, he quickly pulled the car over to the side of the road, flipping it into park as soon as they had come to a standstill. Dean was looking at him with surprised confusion, his features quickly turning concerned. "You okay?" he asked, his eyes flashing to Sam's bandaged arm.

"Fine," Sam replied shortly, turning in the seat so he could face his brother straight on. "You talk as though fighting to survive is a bad thing, Dean," he accused, leveling his brother with an intense stare. "You're so worried about the people that have died because of you that you can't see all the people that are alive because of you!"

"Sam…" Dean began, but Sam cut him off, not yet finished with what he had to say.

"What do you think would have happened to all the people you have saved if you hadn't been around?" he asked harshly. "There would be a hell of a lot more people dead now, I can tell you that much. And what about me?" he continued, "If you had died in that arena, then I would be dead now too, and Ty would have gotten away with everything. He would have continued running the fights and more people would have died…who knows how many more."

Dean sighed, lifting a hand to rub tiredly at his eyes. "Alright Sam, I get it," he muttered.

"Do you?" Sam demanded, his voice rising a notch. "Do you really, Dean? Do you have any idea how many people out there you have saved? How many people still need to be saved? Hell, you've rescued my sorry ass more times than I care to remember, so don't you dare try to say your life isn't worth fighting for! People still need you, Dean. I still need you!"

There was a ringing silence in the car after this last statement, Sam glaring at his brother while Dean returned his look with an unreadable expression. Sam refused to drop his eyes, though he felt a sudden flash of embarrassment over losing his cool. He hadn't meant to go postal on his brother, but Dean's words had scared him on a level he didn't like to admit. He wanted Dean to see that his life had meaning…had worth, because until he did, it would only be a matter of time before his brother cast it aside like worthless junk.

"Okay, Sam," Dean said softly, the first to drop his gaze. "I get what you're saying…I really do. And I promise you, I'm not going to go kamikaze on you or anything. You're my brother, and I'm going to keep looking out for you…no matter what."

Sam closed his eyes and let out a long, slow breath. The answer wasn't what he had been looking for, and he still wasn't sure that Dean really did understand, but he decided it was probably the best he was going to get. If it had to be duty that drove Dean to fight, then so be it…at least he would fight.

"You want me to take over driving for a while?" Dean asked hesitantly.

Sam shook his head, and without looking at his brother he shifted the car back into drive, pulling back out onto the road.

He hadn't driven very far before he heard his brother softly whisper, "Thanks, Sammy."

Sam nodded, and a few minutes later when he glanced over, he found Dean fast asleep, his head cradled against the glass of the window, his breathing deep and even. Sam felt the hard knot in his chest slowly beginning to ease, and he reached out and flipped the radio on, turning it down low so as not to disturb his sleeping brother.

He knew the effects of this hunt would stay with them for a while, but they were both alive and together, and that was the important thing. He had no idea what the future was going to bring, but as long as they faced it together, he had to believe they would be okay.

Humming along quietly to the music, he stepped on the accelerator and put Denton far behind them.

Ten days later

"Hey Dean, come take a look at this."

Dean glanced up from his position leaning against the bed's headboard, lowering the newspaper he had been perusing to look at his brother. Sam was seated at the small table across the room, his tall frame hunched as he leaned over and read something on the screen of his laptop.

Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Dean pushed himself to his feet…feeling only a slight twinge across his chest as he did so…and headed over to join his brother. Sam had an article pulled up on the screen from the Jonesboro Herald, and Dean arched an eyebrow as he read the title: Federal investigation continues into allegations of illegal fight club.

Residents of the small town of Denton, Arkansas were left reeling yesterday as federal agents arrested over a dozen people in conjunction with allegations of an illegal fight club in the area. Investigations began last Friday after the discovery of the brutal death of two men, including Denton's sheriff, in an area home. Both men are believed to have been involved in the fight club, and the FBI have placed at least two other residents in protective custody until the investigation is completed. The fight club is believed linked to the disappearance of over forty missing men over the last decade, and authorities claim there may be even more victims. "This is the largest and most organized fight club this agency has ever seen," commented Agent Henricksen, who is the lead agent in the investigation. "We are expecting many more arrests in the coming days." He made no further comment, and very little information is being released while the investigation is underway.

The article continued on for a few more paragraphs, but was mostly filled with the author's speculations and predictions, along with a few statements from the "shocked" residents of Denton. Dean only skimmed the last part, having already seen what he needed to.

"Looks like Henricksen is finally earning his pay," He commented dryly, straightening from the computer. "I must admit, I never thought the guy would actually come in handy."

Sam grunted his agreement, his brow furrowed slightly in a small frown. "I'm a little surprised there's no mention of us in the article," he mused. "I would have thought he would jump all over the chance to pin more crap on us."

Dean shrugged. "My guess is, he still hasn't figured out how we fit into the whole thing, so he's keeping it quiet for now. Whatever the reason, I'm grateful. It might keep some of the pressure off us for a while."

Sam nodded. "Well at least he's protecting Maria and Annie. Hopefully this whole thing will be over soon and they can return to their lives."

Dean nodded slowly. "Speaking of returning to lives…"he began hesitantly, watching his brother's face carefully. "Do you think you'll be feeling up to hitting the road again here soon?"

They had been holed up in this hotel room outside of Waco, Texas for over a week, barely daring to go outside lest their battered appearance draw too much attention. Dean had recognized the need for the downtime to rest and recover from their injuries, but he had never done well staying in one place for too long, and he was beginning to grow restless. With Henricksen's attention on something else besides them for once, he felt it was a good time to get back to work. Still, he didn't want to pressure Sam to leave until his brother was ready.

Sam glanced up at him, his eyebrows arched. "I was just about to ask you the same thing," he admitted ruefully. "This place is getting a bit stifling."

Dean couldn't hide his relief, and a wide grin slowly spread across his face.

"I may even have found a job for us," Sam continued, snapping his laptop shut and reaching to pull the cord free from the wall. "There's been some weird activity along highway 41 outside of Nevada City. I haven't finished looking into it yet, but it sounds like it might be our kind of thing."

"Let's do it!" Dean replied enthusiastically, already turning to begin packing his bags.

They had work to do…and that felt good.

Well, that's it, folks. I hope you have enjoyed this story. I have certainly enjoyed writing it. If you did like it, consider leaving me a review and letting me know your thoughts.

Thanks so much for reading. Until next time...