A/N: Set mid-season three. Written for sapphire_phoenix, because it was Christmas and I'd abandoned her. She wanted Dean being the awesome, clever one for once. She must read really specific fic.

They're in the standard two single, no service motel room, this time in Texas. They could be in a New Jersey Motel 6 with a southwestern theme, for all the authenticity that the cowboy boot wallpaper and plastic lizards on the wall don't provide.

Sam is ready to leave, and drops his packed duffel on the kitchenette's formica table top with a pointed thud. Dean is, in his opinion, taking forever to pack. They've just wrapped up a successful hunt, a smooth two days' work on a shtriga, no casualties outside of the ones that pointed them toward Brenham in the first place.

The normal work is something Sam enjoys, but part of him is antsy to be on the road hunting bigger game. After the Seven Deadly Sins debacle, there's no denying what a big mess they've made, and Sam's ready to get out there and start cleaning up after himself.

He starts thinking about combing the newspapers for their next job, maybe giving Ellen a call to see if she's caught wind of anything this side of Little Rock. Dean's thoughts are, as always, chugging right along on the same track.

"Wanna hit that diner down the road?" he asks, tossing a last pair of cartridges into his bag and pulling the zip shut with zest. "I hear they've got a burger the size of your head." He grins, the one that reaches his eyes and lets Sam know he's about to be teased. "And I don't mean no rhetorical head, Sammy, I mean your sasquatch noggin."

Sam wrinkles his forehead and pulls his best skeptical face. "You heard that it was the size of my head, specifically? I doubt it."

"Well, you can doubt whatever you want." Dean tosses his bag over his shoulder and heads for the door. "But his exact words were, 'the burger is huge, officer. About the size of your partner's head over there.' And as an officer of the law, I follow up on all leads."

Sam grabs his own bag and follows Dean out the door, rolling his eyes. Lunch first, then find their next job. Is there ever any other option?

The burger is suitably impressive, though as Sam points out, his chicken salad is actually larger. With his mouth full of red meat, Dean doesn't bother answering.

They spend the next two days frustratingly unemployed. Dean hits the Stones hard, which means he's feeling a lot better about the situation than Sam is. When they reach Tuscon (just to have somewhere to go), Sam picks up one of every newspaper on offer and spends the night stretched out in the back with his feet propped up on the open window, combing through the blotters and back pages, hoping for a scent of supernatural anything. Dean snores in the driver's seat, tipped back and utterly at ease with in his current, obnoxious state of denial, or as Dean puts it, 'making the best of a bad situation'. Sam resists the urge to kick him, and resists the urge to run through a mental list his contacts on the West coast again and invent new and creative ways in which they might have the answer to Dean's problem.

He's already asked them all, anyway.


And tried to bribe a few of them.

Just the ones who wouldn't respond to threats.

Sam buries himself in the Phoenix Sun and considers very intently if the accidental death of a Prescott woman within two months of the anniversary of her twin sister's death ten years ago could somehow be relevant to a hunter.

Probably not.

By morning he has something.

"Wild animal attack in Whittier, California," Sam says proudly, brandishing the newspaper at Dean when he comes back from watering a nearby cactus. "Pretty gruesome. Body parts missing, even."

Dean glances over the article and shrugs. "It's no Asami, but it's something. Let's go."

Sam sleeps for the majority of the trip, tired from his long night and feeling more at ease now that they've got work to do.

"I hate when they don't get any more detailed than 'the attacks happened on the south side'," Dean mutters once they've arrived, tossing the newspaper into the backseat as Sam flips through their ID cards outside the city's animal control center. "State Police?"

"I was thinking CDC," Sam suggests, holding out a set. Dean shrugs and straightens his tie.

"Mutated rabies strain it is," he says with relish, and as one they exit the car, a well-oiled, well-practiced lie-generating engine, revving to go.

They find a werewolf, a pretty little sixteen year old girl. Sam hates it when they're young, or girls, or don't know what they've done.

"It wasn't me," she sobs. Sam catches Dean looking at him with something like sympathy. It hasn't been that long since Madison, and Sam thinks what he's feeling might be vertigo, from the deja vu whiplash.

"I- I have an alibi!" she continues, and Sam and Dean blink. Their weapons falter for only a second. They wouldn't be holding her at gunpoint at all, but the moon is nearly up and they've still got two days of transformations left.

"An alibi," Dean repeats. "What does that mean?"

Despite the tears still spilling out of her eyes, the girl, Josephine, manages to sneer. "It means, you asshole, that I didn't kill anyone!" She sniffles and wipes her eyes. "I was locked up that 's how we do it ever since I got bit."

Sam and Dean exchange another, baffled glance, but she continues.

"My mom usually takes me up to Big Bear this time of the month, but our car broke down so we did this instead. We're careful."

Another brief silence falls over the small group, and Josephine leans back against the trunk of the tree they're standing under off an empty trail in one of the city parks.

"And speaking of careful," she says, glancing up at the sky, where the sun is threatening to set at any moment, "I should be getting home to my well barricaded basement bedroom before it's too late."

Dean rubs his mouth with one hand, and Sam can feel their combined certainty faltering.

"Look," Dean says finally, shifting his stance and straightening his spine, reasserting his confidence. "I'm sure you're usually careful. But you slipped up this month, broke out somehow, and went all Ginger Fitzgerald on some dude. A monster that does that once will do it again. I'm sorry."

The tears, which have been silent if not entirely gone, return in earnest.

"I'm not a killer! I'm not! I'm dealing! I'm Remus, not Ginger!" She sinks down against the trunk of the tree and stares beseechingly up at Sam. "Please believe me."

Sam frowns. He wants to believe her. She seems incredibly sincere, but then he remembers Madison, who was just as sincere, and just as wrong.

"There is no Wolfsbane in the real world," Sam says, and his voice reflects his regret. The moon is reaching the point of change, and he can see in her eyes that she's starting to react already. "I'm sorry."

"That didn't take long," Dean says as they clean up back at the motel room. "Three days, barely."

Sam glances over, expecting to see Dean preening over the accomplishment. When he sees his face, he recognises the odd tone Dean used.


"We found her, man," Sam says. "There were werewolf attacks, and we got rid of the werewolf. Seems pretty straightforward to me."

He's already bought a handful of newspapers on the way back to the motel. He's hoping to find signs of demons within a few hundred miles of here.

"Yeah." Dean draws out the vowels as he pulls on a new shirt. "But something about it feels wrong. We don't usually follow trails like this, Sam. We find the monsters through the stiffs they gank. We found Josephine working at a diner near Animal Control."

Sam shrugs. "We get lucky sometimes, Dean. It happens."

"Yeah, in small towns," Dean counters. "This ain't no small town, and we had no leads. Then there she is, falling right in our laps." He rubs at his jaw. "I don't know, man. Maybe it's nothing. But I think we should stick around til the end of the week. Just to be sure."

"You think there's another werewolf?" Sam isn't skeptical. He trusts Dean's instincts, and Josephine picked up that bite somewhere.

"Could be." Dean flops back on his bed and flips on the TV. "We'll find out."

If there's another werewolf, it's unusually quiet for the rest of the full moon. The news in Whittier is anticlimactic, the worst report on the scanner or in the local paper being about a mugging on one of the nearby hiking paths. No bloody animal attacks to speak of.

"Guess it was her," Dean says, once they've combed the papers on the morning after the last transformation of the month and come up empty. "Case closed."

He promptly drops his newspaper and picks up his fork. They're at Polly's Pies for lunch, and all traces of doubt from Dean are gone as he shovels sugary, flakey apple pie into his mouth with satisfaction.

Sam pulls the newspaper across the table and flips it open to the middle, where he spotted a potential case earlier.

"Mysterious death in Watsonville," he reads. "The victim was drained of most of their blood. Could be a vampire."

Dean takes a last bite of his pie and wipes his mouth with a napkin. "Could be a lot of things. Let's roll."

The creature isn't too difficult to pin down. The only hitch in their investigation is when Dean goes to interview the family of one of the victims.

"Terribly sorry, young man. It's been hard, that's all." The old woman, a great aunt of the first exsanguinated corpse they'd discovered, blows her nose and peers with watery eyes up at Dean. "There have been a number of deaths in the family recently."

Dean's eyebrows stand to attention. "Is that so, ma'am? Why wasn't this mentioned in the police report?"

The woman takes another tissue and shakes her head. "Oh, it was nothing criminal, dear. Accidents, illnesses, that sort of thing. It's a large, extended family. I have six siblings myself, you know, and they may not all get on, but I like to keep track of my nieces and nephews and their families."

Dean looks down at his small notebook. "And David was your..."

"He was Janice's grandson. Janice being my older sister, long since passed on. Cancer of the throat, I believe it was. David got into a bit of gambling trouble a while back, but it did run in that part of the family, you know. His father had a weakness for the ponies, and his brothers could never say no to a weekend in Nevada. I remember one year, after they all three went down for a bachelor party, for a college friend of Albert's, I think it was, although it might have been Jim's, I don't recall..."

Dean smiles painfully and nods through this deluge, making a mental note to let Sam deal with the old ladies and small children from now on. He'll deal with co-eds and hot, distraught moms. That's more his area.

"-but her grandfather never knew when to quit, you see. He was my youngest nephew from Susan's brood. Caroline says he wants to sue for malpractice so they made the coroner do an autopsy, but of course it was only pneumonia. Very distressing to the entire family. Her poor mother!"

Dean's herbal tea is stone cold. He holds up a hand with a genial smile.

"I think I've got enough to go on, ma'am," he says, standing before she can offer another biscuit or more tea. "Thank you for your time."

They find the culprits, a pair of vetala in the next town over who seemed more surprised to see them than Dean would have expected from a species with any kind of self preservation instinct.

The vetala are caught so completely off guard, in fact, that Sam and Dean are able to kill them with only minimal resistance. They stand together in the middle of the abandoned warehouse and wonder at their luck, still half braced for a surprise attack from the shadows.

"Search the place?" Dean asks in an undertone, and Sam nods, sliding a flashlight out of his jacket pocket and retreating into the shadows in a defensive posture. Dean mirrors his actions, headed in the other direction.

The warehouse is empty. There is nothing suspicious about it that cannot be discounted by the dead pair of monsters lying in a pool of light from the single working fluorescent fixture in the middle of the enormous room.

Sam and Dean share a baffled glance, but each of them dutifully hoists a vetala over one shoulder. It's time to dispose of the evidence.

They finally find a demon in Oregon, to Dean's relief. He's been wondering when they'd find another, and the challenge breaks their two-to-three days per case streak, which has been making both brothers uneasy. Either Sam and Dean are getting better at hunting, or the creatures they hunt are getting careless all at once.

Dean doesn't feel more on top of his game than usual. The other option seems sinister. College and booksmarts might be Sam's area, but Dean understands the finely calibrated dance between predator and prey and knows that when all your meals come running into your mouth, it's because something bigger than you is chasing them there.

He's always been the type to run the wrong way through a panicking mob, and now that he's only got a year to live, Dean's feeling like he's got nothing to lose. So while Sam shreds the papers and builds distractions out of the bits of information that fly out, Dean keeps his eyes and ears open and resolves to be hunter, not prey, to whatever's throwing their usual jobs off their game.

Oregon is an easy place for a demon to hide, it turns out. The demon leaves five slit throats in its wake, which suggests heavy communication with something down in hell.

"He must have possessed a family member," Sam suggests as the two of them stand over the slab and examine the body of the oldest boy. All five members of the Rosing family have the same deep slash drawn across their throats, and the scene of the crime, when examined by an experienced eye (Sam's), turns out to be covered in sulfur.

Sam and Dean allow the coroner to slide the fourteen year old's body back into the fridge and exchange all the necessary words and stories it takes to have them on their way out the door.

Sam rubs the back of his neck as they step into the weak sunlight. It's about to rain. "Dean, the thing I don't get is, they usually only need one person at a time. One death per communication, right? So why did this demon kill all five at once?"

Dean shakes his head and unlocks the Impala. They climb inside and he drops his palms down on the wheel with a thump. "Beats me, Sammy. Maybe it was a 900 number."

Sam stares at him, and Dean raises his hands defensively. "Too soon? Okay. The important thing is now we know it was here. All the signs point to it being gone by now. The trail's going cold, and fast."

Over a week passes before they finally manage to pin it down, fifty miles north in a small enough town that cattle mutilations are reported in the papers as a big deal.

The manage to catch the demon in a farmhouse through creative and sneaky use of a devil's trap and a pile of hay. It hisses with rage when Sam and Dean step out of the shadows and it realises it's caught.

"What do you want?" it snarls, dressed in a middle aged Asian businessman, out of place in this small town already without the liquid black eyes and animal rage. He surges toward the edge of the trap, but it holds.

"We want you to tell us what you needed with that much bleed-as-you-go airtime," Dean snaps. "Who were you talking to in hell that it took five human sacrifices to reach?"

The demon pauses. Its eyes glitter, then narrow as it studies Dean and Sam, armed with holy water and their father's journal.

"How I wish you would free me," it says softly. "Salt would not spare his life this time."

Sam and Dean share a glance. Sam takes the cue.

"Whose life?" he asks. A smile curls the demon's borrowed mouth.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend," the demon says inexplicably. It tips its head as though making a difficult decision, though it's grinning underneath. "And you know? I think I like you less."

"Stop talking in riddles, demon," Dean spits, feeling pretty fed up with the whole situation. "We got holy water, and we don't got a lot of patience. Start singing."

The demon only drops casually down into the hay sprinkled over the wooden slats of the farmhouse floor and beams up at them.

"Make it worth my while, and I'll see what I can do," it says. Sam's brow wrinkles and Dean shakes his head.

"You're going back to hell, buddy," he tells the demon. "And we don't deal with demons."

Dean refuses to look at Sam on his right as the demon snickers in front of him.

"Liar," it says, leaning back on its hands and crossing its legs. The human eyes it's borrowed haven't made a reappearance yet. This demon isn't afraid of them. It doesn't want a thing from them. Even though it knows it's going back to hell, it looks like it's enjoying itself thoroughly.

This isn't the usual front most demons put up, either, Dean thinks as he whips a sluice of holy water into the trap and watches the demon curl its shoulders and hiss through the burn and sizzle. It's not even the vindictive pleasure he sees in some demons who know something he doesn't that's going to bite him in the ass soon.

This demon just looks like it's been told a really clever joke and it's not over the punchline yet. It's as sincerely amused as Dean's ever seen a demon, even as it shakes off the effects of the holy water.

Of course, that doesn't mean it doesn't know about something that's going to bite Dean in the ass soon. In fact, it's pretty likely that it does.

Dean narrows his eyes. "Sam."

Sam opens the journal to the demon banishing ritual and begins reading carefully, slowly. He already has it memorised, but at times like these presentation is everything, and what they're really looking to do is intimidate.

Dean has a feeling it's not going to work.

It's a few days later, after the demon has been banished back to hell and Sam and Dean have checked out of their motel and are on the lookout for something new and pointy to kill nearby. When they're off case they don't usually stay in motels, mostly because if they're not working, they might as well be driving. Dean doesn't want his baby to get lonely out in some dank parking lot when they could be gliding along on the interstate, listening to Zeppelin and Sam's bitching.

Sam is asleep in the backseat, his enormous feet sticking out the driver's side window, and Dean has just kicked back for a nap himself. From the look of things, Sam's going to keep them in constant work until one or the other of them drops dead. Dean can't make that joke out loud because Sam will make a bitchface and he'll spend the next week living with a giant girl.

Dean crosses his arms across his chest and slumps lower in his seat, letting his eyes fall closed naturally. His thoughts unwind into a dream without his ever noticing, so when there's a brief struggle and a thump in the backseat, it takes him a groggy second to realise it's not part of his current dream. His eyes snap open and he twists in his seat to see what's going on, one hand already on the gun hidden in the driver's side door. He's ready to tell Sam off for waking him up, but the words die on his lips and are replaced with worry.


Sam is gone.

Dean's skin prickles, and his brain jumps into stage red as he automatically checks the safety on his gun and throws a quick glance at the area around the car before getting out and doing a more thorough check.

"Sammy!" He shouts for his brother, even though he knows he probably shouldn't. He can't help but hope that Sammy just got up to piss and will answer.

He prowls around the parking lot of the rest stop they're parked in, looking for signs of passage. There are marks in the gravel that suggest someone was dragged about twenty feet away from where they'd been sleeping.

Dean snarls and marches back to the Impala to search it again. Somehow, someone managed to overpower Dean's baby brother. Without waking Dean up. That's impressive, and Dean is going to figure out how they did it.

The Impala looks normal. There's nothing on the seat or the floor in the back that might give Dean a hint. There aren't even any real signs of a struggle. There's no strange smell, nothing spilled on the seats, no weird residue on the door or open window, and when Dean gets out his floodlight and fingerprint duster, he finds nothing. Not even his and Sammy's fingerprints.

Whoever it was had time to clean their friggin' fingerprints off his car.

Dean feels rage and terror building up in his chest and rubs his face with frantic movements.

Sammy's gotten himself kidnapped only one other time so far in all their years hunting. Dean feels his blood run cold when he thinks about it. The Benders nearly took them both out.

What really has Dean worried is that he knows supernatural creatures. They always leave a sign. There's always a trail to follow, always some little mark.

Supernatural creatures don't cover their tracks. They don't wipe the car for fingerprints or sulfur or whatever creepy mark they've left on a scene.

Humans do that.

Dean can't think of what person might have a big enough beef with them to actually follow them out to some rest stop and kidnap Sammy, and that scares the shit out of him.

He has no idea where to start.

The trail is cold.

Dean finds himself a motel room a few miles up the road from the rest stop, and spends the rest of the hours until sunrise making a list in his head of everyone they might have pissed off recently.

The family of that werewolf, a couple cops in Texas who they left tied up in a closet, any hunter who knows it's their fault the gates of Hell have been opened and feels like wasting their time on petty revenge instead of being smart and focusing on the demons.

None of them seems very likely.

When the sun rises, Dean gives the Impala another lookover, and when he finds nothing unusual, he goes back to the rest stop and searches it from end to end, leaves no patch of gravel unexamined, no bit of trash uninspected. He studies every tire track, finds the drag marks he discovered last night and memorises them.

He finds nothing new, just the newspaper Sammy spent yesterday afternoon poring over. He takes his feelings of helplessness out on a tree. His toes bruised, he limps back to the Impala and peels out of the parking lot.

At the police station, he spends a wasted hour and a half arguing about the 24 hour waiting period.

"We went to sleep, I heard a struggle, I woke up, he was gone," Dean shouts at the blank-faced cop. "He's not friggin' puppy, he didn't wander off. He's not out somewhere tiptoeing through the tulips. He's a grown-ass man!"

"I'm sorry, sir," the cop repeats, clearly unimpressed. "The twenty four hour waiting period still applies. Despite your skepticism, he could easily have walked into town. It's only three miles."

"Why the hell would he do that?" Dean demands. "It was three am. We were in a car."

"I don't know, sir." The cop files some papers and glances at his computer. Dean wonders if he could make it out of the station and keep searching for Sammy if he punched the guy in the teeth. Probably not. "Come back in eighteen hours if he hasn't turned up."

"Eighteen hours," Dean repeats, slamming his hands down on the counter between them. "I want to talk to your supervisor, buddy."

The cop finally looks up at Dean with an infuriating smirk. "This is not a McDonalds, mister...?"

"Wilkins," Dean supplies without missing a beat. Their family name is too tarnished to risk using, and if Sam happens to turn up in some nearby town, he's not going to use it anyway.

"Mr. Wilkins," the cop says. "You don't get to complain to my boss 'cause your fries are cold. Come back in eighteen hours and you'll have all my sympathy."

Dean reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a police badge. He should have had it out from the start.

"Look, I ain't no Adam Henry panicking 'cause his buddy disappeared for ten minutes. I know what 'left to take a piss and got lost' looks like, and this ain't it. This is serious.'

The cop, who looks briefly surprised at the sight of Dean's badge, nods and actually makes eye contact for the first time in almost an hour.

"I understand officer, but you know how protocol works. We can't submit a misper less than twenty four hours after they disappeared."

Dean grimaces. He's not going to get anywhere with this. He's got better things he can be doing to find Sammy than standing around here watching this guy shove his own head up his ass.

Eighteen hours later, Dean trudges back into the station, defeated. He's done everything he can think of. He's checked all the motels nearby for Jim Rockford and come up empty. He's wandered through the woods near the rest stop for at least four hours, searching for any tracks or signs, despite knowing Sam isn't likely to have gone near the woods. He's asked around town about suspicious activity and tall, dark haired men. He's called Bobby and Ellen. Repeatedly.

He's got nothing.

"I'm here to file my brother as a missing person," he says to the secretary at the front desk. For a small town, this station is pretty busy at three am. There are at least four cops bustling around, radios blaring. "It's been..." He glances at his watch and waits fifteen seconds. "Twenty four hours now."

She nods and pulls a clipboard out of a file cabinet next to her. "Fill out this form, sir, and we'll get to it as soon as we can."

"Susan... can I call you Susan?" Dean leans against the desk with one arm and gives her some serious puppy eyes. Sammy's better at them, but Dean's got style. "I know you guys are probably busy around here, but I'm real worried about my little brother. It's not like him to run off. I think he's probably in a lot of trouble."

She looks up at him through her lashes, but shakes her head. "I understand, sir, but we-"

"Oh, you're back." It's the cop from earlier, half dressed in his full uniform and carrying his hat under one arm. "Look, we'll find your friend later. We've got a situation right now. A one eighty seven."

Dean double takes, and his stomach drops through the floor. "Homicide?"

The cop realises what Dean's thinking pretty quickly. "Keep your head and you can ride along with me, officer."

Dean straightens his back and swallows hard. "Yes, sir."

The scene is only about four miles down the road, but it's one of the longest trips of Dean's life, which is saying something. Sam's supposed to be the one bracing for Dean's death. Dean already had to deal with his little brother dying once this year. He can't do it again.

Hell already has his soul; he has nothing left. He doesn't know how he'll bring Sammy back if it's him that's been killed, and the dread and anxiety claw at his throat and stab at his stomach.

He's seriously considering pulling the same move their father did and going down tonight, if that's what it takes to bring Sammy back.

"We're here," the cop says. Dean surveys the scene. They're pulling up next to an empty barn set far back from the main road. There isn't an occupied house for at least a half mile, and the owners never use the building judging from the air of abandonment around the place. Right now, the outer walls are flashing red and blue with the lights from the police cars, but the windows are boarded up and the doors are bowing inward where they stand, propped open by cement blocks.

Dean's out of the vehicle and halfway to the barn before the cop can put the car in park. He flashes his badge at anyone who glances his way and ducks under the police tape before anyone can lift it up for him.

The body is badly mutilated, but still identifiably male.

It's not Sam.

Dean rubs the back of his neck and paces back and forth, trying to shed some of the adrenaline that's been pumping through his system since he heard 'one eighty seven'. It's a dark haired man, shorter and a lot flabbier than Sammy's ever been. The cop that drove Dean to the scene breaks away from a forensics guy and stands next to Dean, who gives up on pacing and just stands and lets out a long exhale.

"The body's been here a couple days," the cop says. In his relief, Dean realises suddenly that he has no idea what the guy's name is. He said it awhile back, but Dean wasn't listening. "It's not your friend, I'm assuming."

"My brother," Dean says. "No, it's not."

He looks over the body more closely. There are pieces missing, chunks of skin and meat torn off, and what almost looks like bite marks. It looks like something right out of one of Bobby's books. He's stumbled on a classic ghoul attack.

A suspicion borne of several weeks of uneasiness begins to build in the back of Dean's mind, and he frowns, dropping into a crouch a few feet away from the body and shining a borrowed flashlight on the wounds. The guy is probably missing a lot of blood. Dean can't be sure, but the corpse has that kind of look to it.

Something is off. Dean can't put his finger on it, but there's no question that this isn't an open-shut case.

He has a suspicion it'd probably only take him two or three days to track down the ghoul in the area. And he has no doubt that there is one. Thinking back to California, and that werewolf kid who 'had an alibi', the uneasy feeling only grows. The fishy smell of this whole situation is leaving a bad taste in his mouth.

Dean decides to ignore the ghoul attack. His instincts are at war: part of him insists that a monster is a monster and he needs to go take care of it before it hurts someone, and part of him wants to tear this backwater town apart until he finds his baby brother.

What he does instead, is the smart thing. He goes to a bar.

Dean finds the hottest spot in town, as a matter of fact, and saunters right up to the curvy brunette bartender. Leaning up against the bar, he flashes a charming smile at her as he reaches into his inner pocket and shows her the cop badge. He's careful to let no one else see.

"Rum and coke," he tells her. "Nonalcoholic, and keep 'em coming." He raises his voice slightly. "I'm getting drunk tonight, sweetheart."

She tilts her head and smiles back, quizzically. "Sure, boss."

Dean downs his coke and cokes and tries to look like he's aiming to get on the list for a new liver. When the bartender strikes up conversation, he tells her all about Sammy and how he's searching for him. He tells the guys at the pool tables too, as he deliberately drops a couple hundred and downs a few more of his coke and cokes.

By the time he leaves the bar a little after last call, he's made a ton of friends, he's weaving slightly, and his eyes have gone all glassy. If this doesn't work, he's gonna have to go decapitate something or he'll end up going crazy.

The bar isn't too far from his motel, so he stumbles back in the dark, muttering to himself and tripping occasionally.

Once he's turned onto his street, he hears a pair of footsteps fall in line with his own. He sighs briefly with relief and keeps walking.

His plan is to get the guy inside his motel room and interrogate him as to Sammy's whereabouts, but the bastard has other plans, and his own movements are quieter than Dean's coordinated stagger. A sudden blow to the back of his head tells him he's underestimated the situation, right before he stops thinking at all.


Dean swims into consciousness unwillingly. His eyes are gummy and his body feels constrained.

"Dean, hey. Dean!"

Someone is hissing near his ear. Dean shakes his head once and stops, bracing himself until the shooting pain subsides.


"Yeah, I hear you," Dean mutters. "Good to know you're not dead, Sammy."

He forces his eyes open and takes stock. Thick rope binds his wrists and upper arms to a radiator in a windowless room. There's blood dripping into one of his eyes, and his jaw feels sore. Other than that, his wrist feels like it's bleeding. He still has all his clothing, though by the feel of it, his pockets have been emptied.

Sam is tied to the other end of the radiator. The only thing in the room with them is a crappy wooden chair over by the door. The room looks dirty, but not disused. By the quality of the air, Dean's guessing they're in a basement. The radiator feels solid.

"It's set into the concrete," Sam says, tipping his head at it. "I tried pulling it out of the wall already."

"How long've you been here?" Dean asks, blinking rapidly and tilting his head to clear his vision of blood. He strains with his wrists, and finds there is very little give in the rope. He begins flexing his wrists back and forth slowly, trying to give himself room to maneuver.

"How long ago did I go missing?"

"Couple days." Dean takes stock of his brother, and notes that he's almost completely undamaged. "What is it and what does it want?"

"It's just a guy," Sam says ironically. There is no 'just' about this guy, and they'd be stupid to pretend there is. "I have no idea what he wants. The effects of whatever he drugged me with only wore off about six hours ago."

The corner of Dean's mouth curves up a little. Sam frowns.


"You got roofied, Sammy," Dean points out. Sam's frown deepens.

"It's not funny, Dean!"

Dean nods, but he can't help it. He's been frantic for almost forty eight hours straight, barely slept, he's gone over that stupid rest stop with a fine-toothed comb, and Sam's been napping. There's hardly a scratch on him.

The door to the room swings open and their 'just a guy' walks in, holding a gun in one hand and a large pouch in the other. He pulls the chair over to sit in front of them, far enough back that they can't extend their feet to touch him, and drops the pouch next to his chair. Dean's relieved that he's already got his shoulder twisted so that he can pull some of his jacket sleeve through the rope. There's a razorblade in the cuff lining that he can use to start cutting his way out. He put it there before going to the bar on an instinct. The blood trickling down his wrist is evidence that it's still there.

"Good to see you both up and about," the man says. He has light brown hair, cut short, and average features. He's broad shouldered and strong jawed. Dean struggles to note any identifying features outside of his clothing, which are cheap looking, dark colored, and covered by a thick apron.

"No thanks to you, jackass," Dean spits. It's not easy to be on the offensive when you're tied to the floor, but he tries, if only to distract from his unnecessary movement as he pries the razorblade free. "If you wanna settle something, you could at least face us like a man."

"Hey buddy, it's not personal," the man says, shrugging. "You think I'm an idiot? If it was personal, your brother'd be dead already. You guys just know too much." He shifts and reaches into his pouch, lifting a metal pipe from inside. Dean hears clinking and wonders what else he's got in there. "I need to know how you found me."

Dean blinks. He can feel Sam glancing at him, and he doesn't need to turn his head to know that their confusion looks the same.

"Well," Dean says slowly. "See, we were sleeping, minding our own business, then outta nowhere, you roofied my brother-"

"-Dean, really?"

Dean persists. "-and took him here. So I started looking for him, then I got drunk. I figured maybe beer goggles would-"

The man's impatience grows visibly as he listens, until he raises the hand with the gun gripped in it and cuts Dean off with a wave.

"Don't lie to me. I know you're hunters. Sam and Dean Winchester."

"And who are you?" Dean shoots back. "I don't think we've been introduced."

"My name is Jim," the man says, and nods at both of them as though in greeting.

Dean looks at Sam. "What kinda creature is named Jim and carries a gun?"

"I'm no creature," Jim says. "I'm human." He's more calm than Dean likes.

"Then why would we be hunting you?" Sam asks. "I thought you said you know who we are."

Dean stares hard as Jim's eyes move between his two captives calculatingly.

"He knows," Dean says. The suspicion that's been building since he saw that body yesterday night solidifies. He lets his shoulders slump, the better to reach the rope on his upper arms. His hands are free now. "We've been tailing him for a while."

In contrast, Sam sits up straighter. Surprise stiffens his entire body and he glares at Dean. "What? No we haven't."

"We have." Dean meets Jim's eyes and thinks it through. "We've been following him since Texas. Maybe even Arkansas."

"No." Sam is shaking his head. "I've been picking out the cases. I think I'd know-"

"He's good," Dean says, still caught in his staring contest with Jim, whose mouth is curving up into a small appreciative smile. "But so are you, Sam. Who was it, Jimmy? What kind of monster did you meet first?"

Jim's smile blossoms fully. He doesn't even blink at Dean's nickname for him. "I learned about the supernatural because of my mother. She was killed by a rugaru. Eaten, really. A hunter set it on fire before it could finish me as well."

"Okay," Dean says. "So then you, what? Pulled a Nancy Drew? You know an awful lot about an awful lot of monsters."

"I did my homework," Jim agrees. "I found books, internet resources, places where hunters gather. It's easy if you know what you're looking for. Hunters talk. 'The one that got away', 'rumor has it', 'this kind only shows up every ten years', that sort of thing. I just listened."

"And then you started ganking people and making it look like the monster of the week did it," Dean says. Even though he's guessed, even though he's said it outloud, he doesn't really believe it until Jim nods, visibly pleased with Dean's deductions.

Sam connects the dots quickly. "And then hunters like Dean and I show up, clean up your mess and lie to the cops for you," he finishes. His voice is low and horrified.

"Wonderful," Jim says, pressing his hands together around the gun and beaming at them both. "I worried I might have been wrong about the two of you, but you pulled through for me." He stands and catches Dean on the shoulder with the pipe with a brutal suddenness. "I would have hated to kill you if you hadn't actually caught on."

"Hey! Hey, let's not be hasty," Sam says, straining against his ropes uselessly as Dean hisses through his teeth. "We have questions. How did you find creatures to frame? Did you kill random people or was there a goal? How'd you figure out we were following you?"

Dean is still gasping through the pain of that blow. Jim pauses and tilts his head, then lands another one to Dean's stomach.

"I'm afraid I'm not really interested in a Q&A session," he says as Dean pulls his knees up to his chest, careful not to reveal how far he's managed to get on his ropes. "Although actually, I do have a question for you."

Jim slams Sam's head against the radiator with the force of his next swing. "What is vulnerable to stabbings, shootings, beatings, silver, salt, and holy water?" He pauses and his eyes crinkle. "Though I suppose you'd have to force the last three down their throats."

"I don't know, Riddler, what?" Dean asks sarcastically. Next to him, Sam spits out blood.

Jim's forehead furrows with disappointment. "You aren't thinking, Dean. Here's a hint."

The hint comes in the form of the lead pipe connecting with his ribs. Jim isn't holding back, and Dean's pretty sure something's broken already.

"Humans! It's humans," Sam blurts, leaning against his ropes. He's obviously trying to distract Jim from Dean, and it's a gesture that goes completely unappreciated.

"Ten points and a cookie, Sam," Jim says, and drops the pipe. He leans over his chair and picks up his pouch, which he empties of a silver knife, a canister of salt, and a ziploc bag of yellow powder.

"Is that sulfur?" Dean drops his head and really starts to saw at the last bit of rope. He's nearly out now. "You gotta be kidding me."

Sam makes a soft 'oh' sound of comprehension, watching Jim test the knife against the pad of his thumb. "We met your demon friend," he says. "He was pretty pissed when he realised you framed him."

Jim waves a negligent hand, which is still holding the gun. "And if you hadn't already banished him back to Hell, you wouldn't be a loose end for me to tie up now. I'm not worried."

Dean's free now, but the gun is still pointed in his general direction. Pretty much all he can do is resolve to take the bullet in a nonessential body part. He braces his feet against the floor and is preparing to leap up and knock Jim off his feet when the man himself turns and locks eyes with Dean.

"Like I said, it's nothing personal," Jim tells him. He lifts the gun and points it at Dean. "Keeping that in mind, would you ultimately prefer a gunshot or a knife wound? In the heart, lungs, head or femoral artery?" His eyes are clear, considerate, and incredibly cold.

Dean has frozen in place. "This ain't Burger King," he says, feeling somewhat outraged. Sam, who can see Dean's free arms, speaks up.

"I don't know, Dean, if we get to choose, I'd take the knife. It's neater that way," he says, casting his gaze downward. Jim nods, and before Dean can argue or kick Sam, he's turning on Dean's brother and Dean tackles him without thinking. The gun goes off, but Dean punches Jim in the face and breaks his wrist before he can get it pointed anywhere valuable for a second shot.

He doesn't have time to check on Sam until Jim is out cold from blunt force trauma to the temple, courtesy of his own gun and Dean's fury. Once this chore is complete, Dean falls back against the chair and wrenches the knife out of his arm where it was lodged during the initial surprise of his attack. He looks up at his brother to assess the damage.

There is a bullet. In the radiator. Five inches from Sammy's head.

"I could kill you myself, you stupid bastard," he grouses, dropping to his knees to cut the ropes holding his brother captive.

"It worked, didn't it?" Sam stares at Jim as Dean works, and looks like he might want to throw up. His voice is low when he speaks again. "We've been working as a maid service for a serial killer, Dean."

Dean cuts the last rope and Sam pulls free, flexing his shoulders and wincing.

"Not anymore," Dean mutters, staggering to his feet and kicking the unconscious body. "What do we do with him? Turn him in?"

Sam stands up and joins him in staring down at Jim. "With what evidence? Of what crimes?"

"There is still the unsolved barn murder in town," Dean says. "I guess we could claim he's the freaky cannibal type."

Sam uses some of the rope from the radiator to tie their serial killer up, then hoists his body over one shoulder. Dean gathers up the weapons and sulfur and grips his arm tightly to keep the bleeding down as they exit the basement room and search for a way outside. Dean goes first, leading with the gun.

They're back in the motel room. Their serial killer is in lockup at the police station until he can be charged. Dean's uneasy about trusting the police to get the job done, and he knows Sam feels the same.

"We still have to gank the ghoul in town," Dean points out. He's sitting at the table, waiting for Sam to pop his arm back into its socket.

"By the time we're done with that, we should know what's going on with Jim," Sam agrees. "I'm gonna count to three, Dean."

Dean nods, and Sam puts one hand on his opposite shoulder and the other on his forearm.


Dean waves the whiskey bottle he's holding in his other hand and nods impatiently. "C'mon, just get it over with."

"Okay, on the count of three."

Sam wrenches Dean's arm back into place suddenly and without warning.

"Goddamit Sam!"

Sam shrugs and rotates Dean's arm carefully. Satisfied, he picks up a roll of bandages for his bloody bicep.

"You usually at least count to one first," Dean mutters, allowing Sam to spread antiseptic and gauze over the knife wound.

"One." Sam flashes a quick grin at Dean as he wraps the injury. "You aren't supposed to expect it, Dean."

Dean opens his mouth indignantly, finds that he has no response to that, and takes a swig of Jack instead.

"Bitch," he says eventually.

Sam is game. "Jerk."

They both swallow enough whiskey to dull the worst of the pain, then Dean drops the bottle on the table and snaps up his jacket on the way to the door.

"Let's roll," he says. Sam catches his own jacket when Dean chucks it at him and follows curiously.


"I need pie. Carrie recommended this great diner-"

Sam frowns and lets the motel door fall shut behind him. "Carrie?"

"The bartender from last night," Dean explains. "She said it has-"

Sam pauses next to the Impala's passenger door and puts his hands on the roof, staring at Dean. "You actually went and got wasted while I was trapped in a basement with Dexter."

"I did it to save you, Sammy," Dean reassures him. "It was all part of the plan."

Sam has his 'disappointed' face on, so Dean rolls his eyes and slides into the car. He'll explain when he's had his pie.