The three of them have been hunting together for about a month and as far as Dean is concerned, things are cool. Sam has stopped provoking their dad, and their father, knowing a good thing when he sees it, has refrained from saying a word about The Ultimatum. They're saving people, hunting things, and getting a little closer to The Demon every day. What more could a guy want? Well, besides a little breathing room, away from his brother.

"Come look at this Dean," says Sam, for the fifth time in the last hour. "There's this guy in Switzerland running a website compiling all the late middle-age . . . "

"Does it say how to gank the thing we're hunting today, Sam?"

"Well, no, but . . . "

"Then keep your geekboy discovery to yourself. Dad said all we need for this one is good old-fashioned iron. You find anything that changes that?" Dean almost immediately regrets his words. He doesn't mean to sound so harsh, and invoking their father's directives is always a bad idea with Sam, but his brother is really overdoing it on the let's-bond-through-research kick he seems to be on.

Unfazed, Sam merely says, "Okay, I'll just add it to the bookmarks, then."

"Great," says Dean, who promptly volunteers to make a food run, lest he be subjected to a third (fourth?) lecture on effective categorization of bookmarks.

By the time Dean returns, so has their father. Balancing a cardboard tray in one hand, he enters the motel room warily, noting with some relief that whatever might have taken place between Sam and John in his absence has at least not resulted in blood spatter. To his surprise, he finds both remaining Winchesters hunched over the laptop, engrossed in the scintillating topic of . . . effective categorization of bookmarks.

"See, Dad? You can tag each link or document with whatever you think is important - by demonic origin, year of occurrence, victim profile, method of extermination, anything. Then you can search by tag and find patterns."

"That's great, son. It looks like something all three of us could be using. Make sure you show that to your brother."

Dean braces himself for a smug grin from Sam as he hands over a cup of coffee. What he gets is a shallow nod and a soft "Will do, Dad." It isn't exactly "Yes, sir," but it isn't exactly Sam, either.


John is burning the corpse of a black dog and Sam is rolling up his sleeves to display his lack of Canis atrum lacerations when Dean realizes something important is missing.

He pauses for a careful moment before asking, "Where's your watch?" The one Jessica gave you is left unsaid.

"Oh, I left it at Bobby's," answers Sam, unconcerned.

"But I thought. . . ," Dean's voice trails off. I thought it was really important to you. I thought you said it made you feel like you could keep a piece of her with you.

Sam doesn't look up as he shrugs his hoodie back on. "Just for safekeeping, Dean. It could get lost or broken too easily, living the way we do. I wanted it out of harm's way, is all."

A perfectly rational explanation, Dean acknowledges.

Sam continues, "It's in the top drawer of the nightstand in the extra bedroom. I made sure Bobby knows it's there."


Dean reaches for his phone and remembers, that it, along with the EMF meter, had been fried by his close encounter with the most recent fugly. The aspiring storm god had been unable to conjure anything like a lightning bolt, but it had been able to administer a hell of a shock. Dean is grateful there had been no standing water this time. "Sam, gimme your phone. I need to tell Dad we're gonna be late." He half expects Sam to tell him Dad could wait for five damn minutes, but he just hands it over without hesitation. Dean isn't too surprised that Dad is second (ICE2) in Sam's list of contacts - but he is surprised to note that the list is a lot shorter than it was the last time he'd seen it. Sam has been keeping in touch with a lot of people from Stanford - well, at least ones who hadn't been questioned by the police over the St. Louis incident.

"What happened to your contacts?"

"What about them?"

"There used to be more." Dean remembers something. "Weren't you playing some online game with them? What was it called?"

"Words with Friends."

"Yeah, you were really into that, what happened?"

"Nothing happened, Dean."

Dean doesn't really think that's an answer, but at that moment the phone rings. It's their father, looking for them, so Dean takes the call and drops the subject.


Dean wonders what he's done to piss off his father. Why else would the man go on his own to interview suspects and leave his sons behind doing research? It's almost the way things used to be when they were younger, before . . . before Sam had left them. Old habits die hard, apparently. Well, except for the part where Sam and their father don't argue anymore. It's weird, Dean thinks, but supposes he should be glad. Isn't this what he's always wanted? He considers coming out of the bathroom, where he is currently hiding from Sam's repeated attempts to engage him in a discussion on search engine optimization. It seems like a small price to pay, if it means Sam is finally getting with the program. Hand on the doorknob, Dean stops himself. He remembers now, the last time Sam was cooperative with Dad. It was during the months he was preparing to abandon his family for school. Rebellious, adolescent Sam had stopped challenging, stopped complaining, stopped mouthing off, and started doing a convincing impression of someone who would not embrace, but perhaps tolerate hunting. Dean and his father had assumed Sam was growing up, accepting that with high school graduation he would be hunting full time with his family. Damn it. That's why he's so gung-ho to share the research. He'd done the same thing before, trying to make Dean learn a bunch of the more obscure exorcisms. Dean had resisted, figuring he knew enough of the basics, and that Sam would be there if they ever needed the obscure ones. Sam had known differently and acted accordingly.

Things start to click into place. Sam is planning to leave again. No wonder he'd erased his school contacts. He wouldn't leave a trail that Dean could follow, not this time. Or maybe he really was through with that crowd.

After all, if he did go back to Palo Alto, Dean would find him easily enough. Washing his hands of Stanford would even explain leaving behind the watch. Maybe those memories were too painful to carry. Oh, sure, he'd tossed out the word "Stanford" back in Chicago, and hadn't that felt exactly like a grenade had been rolled into the room, but since then, he hasn't said anything. Dean realizes that the grenade had been nothing but a diversionary tactic.

If not Stanford, then where? Is he applying to some other school, or intending to do something else entirely? He could find some girl like that Sarah chick and just settle down somewhere. Whatever he's contemplating, there's got to be a plan. Sam is too methodical to do anything important without a plan.

Dean steels himself and leaves the bathroom resolving to figure this out, even if it means he's going to have to go along with the research gig for a while. Who knows, maybe he'll find something about Sam's intentions on the computer. What is it this time, Dean wonders. He can confront his brother as soon as he works out whatever the hell it is that Sam thinks would be so much better than hunting with his family.

"It's about time, Dean, I was gonna send in a rescue team," Sam eyes him a tiny bit suspiciously. "Did you wash your hands? I just need you to see this one thing . . . "


A week later, Dean knows he's overlooked something, but he'll be damned if he knows what it is. He's successfully feigning interest in the research, enough that Sam leaves him unsupervised on the laptop. John had come in once and been visibly startled to find the elder son scrutinizing the computer while the younger stripped and cleaned the guns. The ex-Marine had smiled approvingly and praised them on doing a little cross-skills training. Sam hasn't left anything on the computer except for a hyperlinked index to Central and South American demons he suspects might be migrating north. There are no clues in his duffle, either. The last time he'd run away, he'd gotten overprotective about his belongings, no doubt concealing things like acceptance letters and bus tickets. If he realizes Dean is watching him like a hawk, he doesn't let on, going around as if he hasn't got a care in the world. Hell, the last couple of days, he's been downright cheerful.

One warm day around dusk, right after Dean volunteers to monitor the police scanner for any new incidents related to their current hunt, Sam announces he's going for a walk, saying he needs some time to himself. John lets him go with a reminder not to stay out too long, he wants to get an early start in the morning. Instead of pulling a bitchface, Sam smiles a little too brightly at both of them and says not to worry about him, he understands the hunt comes first. Dean grinds his teeth a bit and reassures himself that his brother's duffle is right where it should be and it's not as if Sam would go anywhere without at least the essentials. He's relieved to see that Sam, who had refused to carry so much as a hunting knife with him when he'd left for Stanford, tucks a pistol into the waistband of his jeans before walking out the door.

Dean listens in on the police radio band for about an hour, hoping for something interesting, but it's just a quiet night of petty human problems - an early evening car theft, a report of shots fired somewhere on the edge of city limits, nothing that has anything to do with the Winchester kind of thing.

Just as he starts to think about calling Sam, his own phone rings. An unfamiliar voice asks, "Is this Dean Winchester?"

He answers in the affirmative, sounding enough unlike himself that John casts a questioning look in his direction.

Suddenly there's no air in the room and boiling acid pools in his belly as a stranger says, "I'm calling from County General Hospital. No, I'm sorry, I can't give you any information over the phone. But you need to get here as soon as possible."

End.

Reviews and concrit are welcome, emphasis on the "con."

Author's Notes:

My first second fanfic (3rd posted, but 2nd written)

So help me, I've written death!fic. Maybe. Probably.

Yeah, Words With Friends is an anachronism here.

I had to add "gank," "fugly," and "bitchface" to my spellcheck dictionary.

Effective categorization of bookmarks is very important.