Gasping for Breath

Author: Lady Sam Mallory

Disclaimers: Boys not mine; I just borrow them from time to time when the muse moves me.

Special Thanks to: My exceptional Beta Queen, Zoe, without whom I'd be doomed to a life of grammatical inaccuracy. You are truly my Conductor of Light. Thank you for over 30 years of friendship and fandoms.

For my beautiful friend, Heather, whose incredible command of the English language allows her to provide me with individually needed words at a moment's notice.

Warnings: H/C, Angst, Smarm, Some violence and usually a bit of colorful language.

Spoilers: There are several for Something Wicked so you should definitely watch that episode before this. What you've seen that episode? Then you might watch it again for a quick refresher. Mentions an attack from one of my other stories Fighting for What's Mine. Also, mentions the episode Faith.

Story Playlist: Breathe (2 AM) by Anna Nalick, Brother by Need to Breathe

Author's Comments: This story takes place when the boys are ages 6 and 10 and during the episode, Something Wicked, S1 E18 in which the boys are faced with the consequences of hunting a Shtriga.

16 or 17 years ago

I look back at my brother as I get to the door. Sammy's fast asleep. For three days, I've been bored out of my brain taking care of my kid brother and watching crappy movies after he falls asleep. I know I shouldn't walk out this door and leave Sam unprotected. My father will kill me, and I would never forgive myself if something happens to my brother.

My mind numbs at the thought of staying in this room for one more second. It'll just be for a little bit and what dad doesn't know won't hurt me. I look at Sammy, heave a sigh and make the decision. Stepping out the door, I close it tightly and use the key to throw the deadbolt.

Walking briskly across the parking lot, I enter the motel lobby and spot the Andro Dunos video game I've been hoping to play ever since I got here. It's not my favorite, but at least it's somewhat entertaining, and I have the quarters.

I haven't been out on a hunt since the werewolf incident. It took me a while to feel like myself again, and dad made me touch silver every night for weeks like some jacked up bedtime ritual. The important thing here is that I escaped infection, and that's all that really matters. It would totally suck being ganked by my own dad. I almost died that night, and even though that happened nearly two years ago, I still have nightmares about it.

Not the kind that most people would figure on either. I don't dream about the werewolves or the hunt at all. It's Sammy having to sew me up and the horror that he must have felt. I mean he was just a four- year- old kid, and I still feel super guilty for making him worry so much. I saw the fear in his eyes for weeks after that. I could barely leave his sight to take a piss without him freaking out. The mind's a tricky thing, at least that's what Dad always says.

Less than thirty minutes later, a big guy comes out and tells me they're closing up. He calls me kid, and that always pisses me off, but, hey, this guy doesn't know me. He doesn't realize that I can field strip nearly any weapon and spend more time training against enemy combatants than most police officers at the local academy. Of course, this training always takes place in a controlled environment that dad has put together to teach us the right way to get the job done.

My old man is thorough if not overly affectionate, I think with a smile.

I quickly kill off my last two ships on the game and add the initials DAS near the bottom of the scoreboard. I smile because it's always been Dean and Sam. What can I say? I'm the oldest, so I'm always first We usually play the game together, and I feel a little bad I played without him. When we played down in Wichita, we owned the top scores screen. It was beautiful-just a solid column of DAS all the way down the page.

That's the one concession Dad makes when it comes to video games. At first, he had absolutely no use for them, but our Dad supports anything that improves hand eye coordination and sharpens our shooting skills. I pat myself on the back for coming up with that little gem just so we could spend some time playing them.

I make for the door and hustle back across the chilly parking lot, keeping my head on a swivel just like Dad taught me. I know to be vigilant. Dad and life have taught me that lesson quite well.

This is the last night before dad get back, so I need to make sure everything's ready. Dad will drop a dime if the hunt runs longer because the Shtriga takes a lot to kill. I remember dad saying something about using iron, but I'm not sure. I can look it up later.

Pushing my key into the lock, I open the door slowly so as not to wake my brother. The hairs on the nape of my neck rise as I glance toward the bedroom door. Crap, that door was wide open when I left. At first, I think Dad came home early, but that can't be right. If Dad was here, he'd be waiting out here and super pissed.

Reaching trembling fingers forward, I gently push the door open and damn near piss myself. There is a monster bent over my little brother, its gaping mouth a glowing bluish light. I don't even remember doing it, just that the sawed- off Remington 870 was by the door, and now it's in my hands and I'm aiming at the creature.

I want to blow that thing to pieces, but it's so damn close to my brother's head. Crap, shotguns are not super accurate in the first place. What if I end up hitting them both? I cock the hammer back startling the monster who moves away a bit but still not enough that Sammy is out of the line of fire.

I consider my crappy options, trying not to make the decision out of fear. Taking care of Sammy is my job, and I damn well am NOT going to shoot my own brother. My finger begins to apply pressure when the door bangs open behind me and I freeze.

Awesome, this one hunts in pairs is my first thought when I hear Dad roar to get out of the way.

I wheel out of the line of fire, and Dad proceeds to empty the clip of his Colt M1911A1 into the creature as it bellows and leaps through the plate glass window. Dad's focus is legendary, and he doesn't break fire for a second as he tracks it visually and continues firing until the telltale click tells him the weapon's clear.

He looks out the window to make sure the thing is gone before turning to Sammy who hasn't moved a muscle since the attack.

Well, shit. What if my second of hesitation just got my brother killed anyway? I can't seem to move away from the wall outside the bedroom. It's like my legs won't support my weight. I can hear my dad's raised voice trying to wake my brother.

Knowing it's time to own up to what I did, I turn slowly to make sure I don't land on my ass, lay down the Remington and take a step into the room. I can't take my eyes off Sammy as dad rocks him back and forth in his arms calling his name. I want my brother to be fine. Please, let him be fine. It's all I need at this very moment. I'll take the ass chewing my dad's gonna heap on me when he finds out how bad I jacked this up. I feel as though I might puke and wish like hell I could breathe.

Sammy asks dad what's going on, and the world tilts back onto its axis. My heart pounds so loud I can barely hear my dad's breathing, even though I can see the relief has his breath sawing in and out of him. He's cradling Sammy's head against his chest when he asks me the question I've been dreading. He wants to know what happened, and I am certain this is gonna suck.

"I…I…I just went out," I stutter out the truth knowing that if I lied it would be so much worse. Dad's taught me to be responsible for my actions, and I already failed once tonight. I'd be damned if I was going to screw things up even more.

My father has the most expressive eyes, and right now they are flashing angrily. He can get many a point across with just one look. "What?" Dad asks hoarsely, and I know he's astounded that I've disobeyed an order. I don't even try to pretend that I don't know there will be consequences, and frankly, I deserve whatever the old man dishes out.

What's worse than the anger I see in his eyes is the disappointment. I could handle almost anything but that and yet I am about to make a critical error. I give him an excuse and a lame ass apology.

"Just for a second. I'm sorry," I stumble through wishing like hell I could pull those words back. My dad does not do excuses. He says that excuses are a weakness of people who refuse to take responsibility, and I just walked right into that mess. Nice one, Dean.

"I told you not to leave this room," my father reminds me through clenched teeth, his jaw so tight that for a second I think it might shatter. "I told you not to let him out of your sight," he spits out angrily, his mouth turned downward in disgust at my choices.

I say nothing because, first of all, I may make a stupid choice now and then, but I am not stupid. And second, what can you say when you nearly get you little brother killed? He's six years old, so he really hasn't had much of a life yet. Lucky charms and Thundercats don't really make for a full life.

Dad picks up Sammy and tells me to grab our gear as he heads out the door. He places Sammy in the back of the Impala, and I climb in on the other side throwing our duffel bags onto the floor boards.

I look over the seat at my dad's profile and know one thing for certain. This is going to be the longest drive of my life. I assume he's taking us someplace safe then going after the Shtriga. Dad never lets anything get away, not ever.

When we hit I-90, I know how bad I messed up. Dad isn't just taking us to another motel. He's taking us to Pastor Jim. That's at least three hours away. I want to tell him that I can watch Sammy and that I'll do it right this time so the monster doesn't get away, but I don't dare open my mouth.

I have never seen my father this angry. He's so pissed that his jaw twitches, and he turned the radio off the second we got in the car. I can't even remember the last time we drove without the radio because I'm pretty sure it's never happened.

I'm ten years old and to this point, I've made mistakes, but they've always been small ones. You know like, I tried Orange Juice on Captain Crunch when we ran out of milk or that one time Sammy and I climbed the fence and he got hurt. I have never messed up on this grand a scale before. I want to apologize again, but this time not to my Dad. I owe it to my brother.

The worst thing is that I know better. Since I was four years old, I have known with absolute certainty that something is after my brother. Imagine that if you can. To be aware without a doubt that something in the world wants to hurt or kill the person you love most in this world. We protect him because it's necessary. It's rule number one and because I take a break, I darn near get my brother killed.

"Dean forgot" is not what I want written on his tombstone. I almost put my brother in the ground tonight and that cannot happen on my watch. Not ever again.

It's only been an hour, and Dad already looks at me differently. Orders are meant to be followed, and I will never forget that as long as I live. I will find a way for him to trust me again, because the bottom line is I refuse to fail my brother. I have protected him his entire life, and I will not let something like what happened tonight happen ever again.

Present Day April 2006

I watch Michael face the Shtriga, and I can't help but think he's such a brave little kid. The creature presses the boy into the mattress, and Sam and I head for the door. Kicking it in, Sam yells at the Shtriga and Michael scrambles under the bed like I told him. At least the kid seems to follow orders really well. That's more than I can say for myself at that age.

Sam and I fill that thing with so much consecrated iron, I have no idea if we'll be able to lift the damn thing to get its corpse out of the motel. The last thing Joanna needs to come home to is that mess staining the carpet.

I come around the bed to verify it's down, and before I know it, the creature's got me by the throat and is flinging me across the freaking room. Fantastic, why do I always seem to hit the wall or shelves or something solid when they do that?

I hear Sammy yell my name and then I must have blacked out for a second, because when I come to, that thing has my brother pinned down and is sucking his very vital life force away. Now I'm pissed. Not once, but twice this freaking thing has attacked my brother, and it's time for this bastard to die.

I yell to distract it, knowing this time my aim will be true. I fire the Desert Eagle drilling it right between the eyes. Relief pours through me, and I sag to the floor for a second before making sure my brother's okay.

Course, when I ask him, he just gives me two thumbs up, and I realize he's still gasping for breath as I get up and make my way over meeting him as he stumbles to his feet. I came way too close to losing him…again. Only this time, I'm not some unsure kid. I'm a man who knew it was way past time to waste the son of a bitch.

Watching it decay on the floor gives me a bit of comfort, but putting a few more bullets in it really brings the message home that this is finally over. I almost sink to my knees. Sammy still wheezes a bit, as I give Michael the all clear, and he crawls out from under the bed.

Damn this kid reminds me so much of myself at that age. The lengths I will go to for Sammy scare me sometimes, but I see what this kid's willing to do for his own brother and think maybe it's normal to feel that way.

Sam and I spend the next couple of hours repairing the wall, shelves, and cleaning up the mess on the floor while the kid tries to catch a little sleep. He's reluctant at first until I remind him that his mom will be home in the morning and be upset if she thinks he stayed up all night.

We get back to the room in the way too early hours, and both crash face first on our beds without another thought.

The next morning, I wake up feeling different somehow. More at peace, I guess. This thing has haunted me for so long that letting go of some of that guilt feels lighter somehow.

I look over at Sammy who's still crashed out and smile. He's turned so he lays diagonally on the bed because it's the only way he's got room for all that height. I think about messing with him for just a minute before deciding maybe I'll just work on cleaning the weapons, refilling the med kit, you know the usual post hunt stuff.

After a couple hours, I start to worry. We really don't sleep for long periods of time. Oddly, monsters don't keep regular hours, so we work on the 'we'll get all the sleep we need when we're dead' principle. Seems to work for us, so that's just how it's done. Sammy usually gets up before I do. When I say usually, I mean almost always.

So, this is a bit not right. I throw one of my dirty socks at his face, and it lands perfectly. I watch as his nose twitches, and a big smile threatens to split my face wide open.

"Sammy," I yell, tossing my other sock to join its mate. I start to count. Three. Two. One.

"Dammit, Dean," he shouts swiping my massively fragrant socks off his face. "Dude, that's so gross. What is wrong with your feet?" he asks in a raspy voice.

I just stare at him for a second before responding, "What's wrong with your voice?"

Sammy drops his arms from above his head and swings upward in the bed. "It's morning, Dean."

"Yes, Sammy. That's very good, except it's more like late afternoon. Why don't you get moving, and we'll blow this joint," I chide just egging my brother on feeling better than I've felt in years. "Maybe we can even stop at that waffle place for dinner."

Sammy looks at me and shakes his head, the corners of his mouth drawn downward like he's not sure what to make of my mood.

"Sure, Dean. Let me get ready, and we can go," Sam says, grabbing his duffel and heading for the bathroom.

I clear and check every weapon in the bag twice before he gets out and, of course, have to give him crap about it. "Does your hair really take that long to wash?" I ask giving him my best asshole face.

He glares at me and I hear his patented response, "Jerk."

I smile as big as the sun and respond with "Bitch" as we grab our bags and head toward the door. I turn back to do a once over of the room and meet Sammy at the car.

Dumping my gear in the trunk, I hear Joanna yelling for Michael. He pops up just as she makes her way to us. She tells us all that Asher and the other kids are gonna be fine. She also lets us know that Hyedeker, the Shtriga doctor, must be sick cause he didn't show up at work today. More like dead, lady.

Joanna jokes about Michael hotwiring the car to drive himself to see his brother, and I turn around with a knowing smile. I actually did that when I was Michael's age, and Sammy had broken his arm. I had to get him to the hospital. Dad was on a hunt. Oh, and it wasn't our car either. Minor detail.

I retrieve the keys and close the trunk up tight, shaking my head at the memory.

"It's too bad," Sammy says making his way to the passenger door of the Impala.

"Oh, they'll be fine," I reassure him as I reach the driver's side and lean on the roof mirroring my brother's position.

He shakes his head and says, "That's not what I meant. I meant Michael. He'll always know there are things out there in the dark, and he'll never be the same, you know?"

I look away because really, what the hell can I say to that?

Sammy just continues his thought before trailing off, "Sometimes I wish..."

I know what he's going to say, but, dammit, I'm a stubborn son of a bitch. While I don't want to hear the words come out of my brother's mouth, I can't help but need to know exactly what he's thinking so I ask, "What?"

"I wish I could have that kind of innocence," Sammy's words and wistful tone punch me in the gut as we watch Michael and Joanna drive away.

I turn back towards him, and I am compelled to admit, "Sometimes I wish you could too."

I get into the Impala, turn the ignition and my baby purrs to life. It's the sweetest sound, and I wonder how long Sammy will stand there before taking his seat next to me. It isn't long. Maybe twenty seconds.

Driving down the street away from the motel it occurs to me that I'm not that hungry after all. This hunt has given, but it's also taken away.

It gave me the peace of mind of finally finishing off the son of a bitch that attacked my brother all those years ago, but it took away Sammy's, and somehow that was so much worse.

16 or 17 years ago

"John, wait," I hear Pastor Jim call my father as he is running back toward the Impala after depositing a sleeping Sammy on the sofa.

Dad looks over his shoulder but doesn't pause a beat, and Jim has no choice but to follow.

Jim grabs his arm, "John, what happened?"

John shakes him off, "There's no time, Jim. I've got to get back and kill that thing. Keep the boys safe and we'll talk when I get back."

Jim nods and turns to make his way back into the house. He closes the door quietly and crosses the living room floor without pause. Grabbing a throw off the back of the sofa, he gently covers Sammy and places his hand on my brother's head in benediction before turning back towards me.

I can feel his eyes measuring me since it's been a while since we've been back here, but he doesn't say a thing. Even though he has no idea of the magnitude of my screw up, shame burns through me, and I turn away to look at my brother.

Sammy's fine and he's sleeping right there. What if Dad hadn't come back when he did? I remember that my finger was on the trigger and seconds away from shooting that thing, but it's suddenly not enough. My failure to protect Sammy weighs on me so much I can hardly take a breath.

"I always protect, Sammy," I whisper, my vision beginning to gray out from lack of oxygen. Spots dance before my eyes, and I realize that it only matters because I can't protect what I can't see. I inhale deeply and move to the couch, my leaden limbs uncooperative.

I sink down on the cushions, right at Sammy's head and place my left hand on his chest. I can feel the beat of his heart steady against my palm, and it comforts me more than anything else in my life. Sammy's chest rises and falls with each breath, and I start to breathe with him as if I've somehow forgotten how and he reminds me. My head drops back on the sofa and my eyes close.

"Dean?" Jim calls my name and I hear him but can't seem to answer.

He places a gentle hand on my shoulder and offers quietly, "Let's get you settled in your old room. You'll sleep better lying down."

My body stiffens and he senses the disquiet. "No," I force out through tight lips without opening my eyes.

He pats my shoulder firmly as if in understanding, and I feel him move away. In no time at all, the weight of a blanket settles over me and I drift off, only to pop my eyes open when I see a flash of the Shtriga bent over my brother. I scope the room and see that we are alone, and my eyes find their way to my brother.

This continues for what feels like forever, and I realize I don't remember setting our duffel bags down, but they are now on the floor at my feet. I bend over my bag and drag it into my lap. Rooting around, I find what I'm looking for and grab the Colt Mustang that I used with the werewolves so long ago. I check the clip and rack the slide to make sure it's fire ready, then double check the safety is engaged to prevent accidental discharge.

Looking up at the clock, I see that we've been here a little over an hour. I rest my right hand down at my side, the gun pointed toward the floor and lay my head back once again. My eyes flick towards Sammy as I once again place my left hand directly over his heart. Again, I find myself settling into his breathing pattern before surrendering to a very light doze.

The tick of the clock is the only sound I hear until Jim's voice becomes clear.

"He's a boy, John, and you've given him the job of a man. Actually, your job. So, don't be pissed if he falters," Jim chastises my father. "Yeah, he's sitting with his brother right now."

There's another pause and I realize that he must be talking to Dad on the phone because I only hear one side of the conversation. "Sleeping," Jim reports, and I flinch knowing that my father will see that as a weakness.

"Give him a break, John. He's sleeping with a gun in his right hand and his left on his brother's chest. He's ten years old. In case you're unaware of this, boys that age don't sleep with a gun in their hand," Jim reminds Dad, which I'm sure went over awesomely.

I keep my eyes closed as I feel Jim move into the room and continue his conversation when he sees I'm still sleeping. "Did you kill it?" He listens intently, then responds with, "Nothing to be done about that now. We'll just have to keep an eye out and see when it pops up again."

At these words, I feel tears prick the back of my eyes. That monster got away, and Dad's gonna be majorly pissed. But worse than that, more kids are going to get hurt or killed because I didn't follow Dad's orders.

Jim's next words solidify how very right I am, "Calm down, John. There's nothing to do now but come back to your boys."

And won't that be a cheery reunion. I hear Pastor Jim sign off with Dad on the phone.

"I know you're awake, Dean," he says, and my eyes open of their own volition. "Since when did you start sleeping with a loaded gun?"

I look down at my right hand and back at Sammy. I don't really feel like talking, so I just close my eyes again and kinda hope that Pastor Jim takes the hint.

"You know we need to talk about that," Jim says and I picture him gesturing toward the gun.

Unfortunately for him, I disagree. I don't feel the need to talk right now at all.

Present Day April 2006

I look over at Sammy in the passenger seat, and he's staring out the windshield blankly. "Sammy," I call, hoping to break the spell the road seems to have on him.

"Sammy?" I try again a bit louder, becoming genuinely concerned. My brother may be many things, but a space cadet is not one of them.

"I was sleeping with my peepers open," he croaks, before bursting into laughter and smacking my shoulder.

I shake my head. This is gonna be a thing for a while, I just know it. "Dude, driving," I remind, and shrug his hand away. "That's so not funny, man. You really have no idea how close I came to pulling the trigger. She was just some crazy old lady. She didn't need to be ganked like that."

Sam's still laughing, and I suggest impolitely what he can do next.

"You hungry? I saw a diner sign about thirty miles back, and we should be getting close," I ask my brother, a little worried that he still looks so tired.

He shakes his head and replies, "Nah, I'm good. Another diner? You're killing me, man. All that grease can't be good for you."

"Don't diss my diners, Sam," I scold and finish reminding him yet again why diners rock. "They have pie."

We hit the exit and I crank the wheel to make the sharp turn into the parking lot. Killing the engine, I pocket the keys and get out. Sammy does the same, although slower.

"You want me to order you anything?" I ask as he heads directly for the john.

He waves me off and I settle into a booth where I can see my Baby. Seems like a nice enough town, but really, with us you can never be too careful.

Dad once told me that trouble seems to find me and like the awesome smartass that I am, I responded that it always seemed to know exactly where I was. He was not amused. Sammy laughed so hard he fell off the backseat.

The waitress heads over and hands me a menu, pulling a pencil from her gray hair. "My name's Sarah. What can I get for ya?" she asks and I fully expect her to snap some gum.

Glancing down at the menu, I see my old friend. "I'll have a bacon cheeseburger with all the trimmings, fries and a coffee. My brother should be back in a second, but all he eats is rabbit food, so…"

I trail off as he joins us at the table, glaring at me for my comment, like usual. I always seem to time that just perfectly. I smile and raise my eyebrows at him, and he rolls his eyes, turning my smile into an all-out shit eating grin.

"So, where are we?" He asks and I smile again as I can barely contain my enthusiasm at having found this place.

He looks up at me and shakes his head.

I nod back and my smile stretches so big it actually hurts my face. "This is…Sparta," I bellow and throw back my head and laugh. Damn, I needed that.

He laughs as well and shakes his head at me again. "You had to stop here just so you could say that, didn't you?"

"Dude, a man waits his entire life to say that," I assure him as he turns to the waitress to apologize.

"Sorry for my brother. He was dropped on his head as a baby. Repeatedly," Sam says, and my smile grows wider. I know this kid so well.

The waitress laughs at his joke. "He's not the first, and he certainly won't be the last. You kind of expect that when you live in Sparta, Wisconsin. You boys just passing through?" she inquires politely.

"Yes, ma'am," I reply heartily, before adding, "You always have to stop for pie."

My brother looks at the waitress with exasperation before he looks me in the eye and tells me, "No, Dean. YOU always have to stop for pie." He turns toward the waitress once again. "Do you have salad?"

She smiles widely, "Of course, sugar. Coming right up. Do you want to wait for the burger?"

Sam smiles at her and she returns it. "That'll be fine. Could I have some ice water, please?" He asks clearing his throat a few times.

"You betcha," she replies as she saunters away to put in the orders.

Sam looks at me, and I can't help but notice how tired he still looks.

"You okay, Sammy?" I ask, knowing what he'll say before he even opens his mouth to answer.

"I'm fine. Maybe a little tired," he responds with a shrug, and his admission throws me.

I look him over, studying him carefully. He just glares back at me, his head tilted to the side. "Come on, man. It's nothing," he starts and then pulls his laptop from his bag like always. He's searching for the next case.

"So, I was thinking, we're not too far from Blue Earth," I start and his brows squeeze together as he looks at the screen.

"What? Oh, hey. That's interesting," Sam states as he peruses the news feed. He can find cases like nobody's business. He's scary good at it too.

"What's interesting?" I ask, still watching him warily, not liking that he seems vastly more tired than he should. If he admits to it, he's probably drop dead exhausted and he's slept more today than in the past week.

Sam looks up from his computer; his face screwed up in confusion.

"What'd you find, dude? C'mon the suspense is killing me," I add because, well, I'm a smartass.

"Huh," Sam mutters, his hazel eyes flitting across the page, and I kinda want to reach over and slug him. "This could really be something, Dean. Apparently, there was a grave dug up, and a body was desecrated," Sam explains, turning his laptop so he can show me.

I glance at the screen and ask, "Another hunter maybe? We do that you know?"

Sam rolls his hand motioning me to keep reading and smiles when I sit up straight and look over at him, my mouth open in shock, "What the hell?"

"So, you saw it too, right? The only thing missing was the liver, not the heart, the liver. We've never seen anything like this, Dean," Sam states his words blending together in his excitement.

I shrug and spout off, "Maybe an alcoholic monster who wanted a fresh start?" I laugh at my own joke knowing it'll drive him nuts. "Ok, fine. New monsters mean steeper learning curve, dude. Where we going, Sammy?

Sam turns the laptop back around and smiles hesitantly, "Oakland Park, Florida."

"Damn, Sammy. That's like over 1500 miles from here," I bark but relent when I see the look on my brother's face. He's intrigued, and I love it when he gets like this. Could be fun. "Ok, road trip it is."

"Actually, it's 1,609 miles," Sam replies, then his eyes actually light up when he sees Sarah returning with an honest to God fresh vegetable salad.

I can't take my eyes of this bacon cheeseburger. "It's perfect, Sarah. I think I'm in love."

"Right?" Sam echoes looking down at the lush greens covering his plate. "This isn't salad from a bag. These are real vegetables, Dean."

Sarah beams with pride, her smile stretching from ear to ear. "Well, boys, it's my diner, and I only use fresh produce from the farmer's market. Just went this morning. Hope you like it."

"My brother was right, ma'am, I may just be in love," Sam flirts a bit, and it's really good to see. "Difference is I'm in love with you and he's probably in love with the burger."

"What? Were you talking to me? Dude, not now," I say around a mouthful of burger.

Sam waves a hand toward me, and I hear Sarah laugh, which makes Sam chuckle as well.

I shrug it off and place my hands on either side of my plate. "I gotta hit the head," I say as I get up from the table and toss my napkin next to my plate which I point to, regretting the call of nature.

"I'm not done with that," I warn, then look up at him, my eyes deadly serious. "Don't forget my pie, dude. Pecan and cherry."

"When do I ever forget your pie, man?" He says and I'm not amused. I can actually recall several occasions where my pie has been conspicuously absent.

16 or 17 years ago

Dad's here. Awesome.

Jim walks out the door to meet him, more like head him off at the pass, I'm guessing. He should just let him come. I really need to just get it over with. I look up from the sofa where I still watch over Sammy.

I'm starting to get a little worried cause it seems to me he's been sleeping an awful long time.

Dad comes through the door with Jim, and I glance over at him standing there larger than life. Great, he won't even look at me. He's seen everything else in the room, but that one mistake is gonna cost me and I feel like I'll keep paying for it forever. My Dad doesn't tolerate mistakes very well. At least he's consistent. He doesn't tolerate them from anybody including himself.

"Dad," I begin, not even realizing I intended to speak and kinda wishing I'd kept my trap shut.

There. He looks right at me. I can still see the disappointment lingering in his eyes. "Yeah, Dean?" He responds and somehow his tone doesn't inspire my confidence.

I clear my throat as he waits expectantly for whatever I plan to say and he does wait. One thing about my Dad. He's super patient. He once waited on a Wendigo for three days on his belly in the mud out in the Oregon wilderness.

"I really am sorry that I screwed up, Dad. I promise you that it will never happen again, and I'll take whatever punishment you decide," I hear myself say as I look my father square in the eyes and hold myself accountable for my mistake.

Dad just looks at me for a really long time, his dark eyes measuring me. Finally, after what seems to be an eternity, he nods and I know that's all I'm going to get.

Jim looks on and shakes his head as Sammy let out a huge yawn and wakes up. "Hi, Pastor Jim," he says brightly, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Is there food cause I'm starved?"

Dad and Jim both laugh and I crack a smile. Leave it to Sammy to break the tension, even when he has no idea he's done it.

"How about some waffles, kiddo?" Jim asks and I'm game. Sam shrugs and heads toward the kitchen, and even though we haven't lived here for years, it almost seems like we've stepped back in time.

One thing Dad and I have down pat is the whole keeping stuff to ourselves. That seems to work for us, so that's how the next few days go by smoothly.

Sam gets to play with the kids from the Church while Dad and I work on a 1989 Chevy Camaro that's mint and so sweet. This car is a thing of beauty. It's cherry red with T-tops and some guy donated it to Pastor's church cause his wife didn't like the color. Seriously man. I'm not ever getting married.

Four days later it all goes sideways.

I fell asleep on the couch last night watching a movie, and I guess they left me here. I would have too because I don't wake up nice, like at all.

The next morning, I find a note from Dad saying that Pastor Jim had to visit a domestic violence victim on the edge of town and wanted Dad there as backup. I don't blame him.

The pastor doesn't really need it, but Dad can be a powerful deterrent to stupid.

I figure I better go find Sammy. Usually, he's poking me in the face asking me if I'm up yet. Answer should be obvious, but he's a little kid so I let it go.

I walk through the house barefoot seeing if maybe he got himself some breakfast. That's usually my job, but sometimes he does it himself if he doesn't feel like waiting. Course he leaves a hell of a mess for me to clean up, but I probably should have been up in the first place so that's another thing I let go.

He isn't in the kitchen, so I make my way down the hall to check our room. Dad may not move me if I'm sleeping; I mean I'm pretty tall for my age and sometimes come up swinging, but Sam's easy so he would have put him to bed.

I find him shivering under the covers with his eyes closed. Ah, hell. He probably had a nightmare about who knows what. He claims he doesn't remember anything about the Shtriga attack. He didn't even know it had happened. One second he's sleeping, and the next Dad is crushing the air out of him.

He says his nightmares are usually about something happening to Dad or me. He won't let me tell Dad about them so I don't really know if that's normal, but it seems logical so I don't worry too much.

I touch his shoulder, and he damn near burns my hand. He's got a fever. Ah, crap. According to the note, Dad and Jim left about an hour ago, so they should hopefully be back soon.

I head to the bathroom, put some cold water on a wash cloth and put it on his forehead like they do on TV.

Sammy moans a little, but he seems pretty out of it. "Hey Sam," I try to wake him up and glance at the door again hoping to see Dad come through it.

"Sammy," I attempt again, a bit louder. Wow, he's really hot and he seems to be wheezing. Did he get sick because of that attack? But Sammy's never sick. He's six years old and he's never even had a cold. It's kinda freaky.

I hear the front door open and my Dad calls out, "Dean?"

"In here, Dad. Hurry," I yell and wait for him to catch up to his shadow I see moving down the hallway wall at a run.

"What wrong, Dean?" He asks coming into the room at a sprint.

I finally spit out the words I've been dreading. "Sammy's sick," I mutter quietly before repeating them with more force behind them. Just because my father thinks I'm weak, doesn't mean I have to act the part.

My Dad can move really fast for a big guy, and before I can blink, he's kneeling next to the bed. "Sammy? Time to wake up, son," he says gently, picking Sam up and placing him on his lap as he sits down on the edge of the bed.

Dad looks really mad. Then I remember Jim telling me once that fear and anger look about the same on a man and that's almost more upsetting. I've never really seen my Dad afraid. Not since I was four and he was handing me my baby brother.

Jim just walks through the door and crosses the room. "When did you first notice, Dean?" He asks and I gotta tell you one thing I love about Pastor Jim is the man doesn't assume a thing and, like Dad, has amazing patience.

"I just got up a little bit ago and found him like this," I report and move a little closer to Sam. I need to be close to my brother right now. Too bad I didn't feel like that several days ago or this might never have happened.

Dad shakes my little brother and says firmly, "Come on, son. Open your eyes for me."

Sammy moans like he wants to comply, but he just isn't able. That's when the real upset starts. I hand the cloth to Jim who takes it to the bathroom and wets it down once again before handing it to Dad.

Dad wipes down Sammy's face, then turns to me and demands, "This is important, Dean. Did the Shtriga have time to take any of your brother's life force?"

I'm thrown off by the line of questioning. We haven't mentioned it once since we got here other than my apology. I think about it for a second and remember that glowing mouth that haunts my dreams.

"Yes, sir," I answer and my concern for my brother sky rockets. Did the monster take something from him and I never noticed? Sammy seemed fine until this morning.

Dad looks up at Jim and they share a concerned look before springing into action. "Dean, we're going to take your brother to the hospital," Dad informs me as he gets up from the bed heaving Sammy, blankets and all, up into his arms. My Dad is the strongest person I know.

"I'm coming," I say grabbing my gear out of habit and stuffing my feet into shoes. I turn quickly and snatch Sammy's bag as well. He may want some of the things he keeps in there.

Dad pauses for a second and I think he's going to tell me to stand down, but that's not going to happen and he must have realized that.

"I'll get the car," Jim announces and we all move toward the front door.

The Impala's in the drive, and Dad gets Sammy settled in the back seat before climbing into the front passenger seat.

The ride to the hospital seems to take forever as Sammy gets hotter and hotter. I can feel the heat waves from my side of the car. He's crying by the time we get there and has been gasping for breath for the last five minutes.

Jim pulls directly up to the emergency room doors, and I fly out of the car to get help. Dad grabs Sammy and barrels through the double doors on the run only about a dozen steps behind me.

I spot a guy in scrubs and slide to a stop in front of him.

"Where's the fire, kid?" He says before he can see my face, and he instantly becomes serious.

"My…my brother's super sick. My dad's bringing him now," I stammer out and am shocked by the amount of fear in my voice. Why does anything that has to do with Sammy always hit me so hard?

The guy bolts past me and gestures for us to follow him. "Let's see what we've got," he takes command of the situation, and we follow gratefully.

Dad lays Sammy on the exam table, and the guy starts to unwrap him like a burrito. It's funny the things that pop into your head when you're under stress.

I barely hear the doctor introduce himself and launch into the questions they always ask, "I'm Dr. Tanner. What's his name? How old is he?"

"Sammy and he's six," my Dad answers without missing a beat and lays down the cover story. "We've been traveling and have only been in town a few days staying with a friend. My son found him like this about thirty minutes ago."

"Any vomiting or diarrhea?" He asks at the same time he calls out for a nurse.

"No," Dad reports keeping to his specialty of one word answers.

The doctor rakes his knuckles over Sammy's chest, and my brother doesn't even moan. Crap. We know first aid and that failed response to the sternal rub is most definitely not good.

"Sammy, can you hear me?" The doctor tries again and frowns when he receives no response. "Come on, kid. Give me something. Sally get those vitals, stat," he barks at the nurse as she comes up to the side of the bed.

The doctor puts his stethoscope in his ears for a listen. I don't even need that thing, and I can hear Sammy struggling to breathe. My chest hurts in sympathy for him.

"Temp 104.6 degrees, pulse 107, respiration 28 and his bp is 124/81. Doctor his O2 sat is at 89%. Lips are blue," the nurse reports and my heart seizes up. That seems like a lot of numbers, and I don't really know what most of them mean. I'm feeling some real fear here and I don't like it.

The doctor turns toward Dad saying, "Sir, you and your son need to wait outside. We need to get Sammy stabilized, and we'll come out and talk to you.

"What the hell's going on with my son?" Dad barks and the doctor keeps working on my brother. My dad is an expert at reading people.

A nurse tries to lead us out of the room which does not go over well. "Look, my name's John. I'm former military. I know how to stay out of the way and follow orders, so just give me a damn sit rep on my kid."

The doctor takes two seconds to figure out my father's right. He nods and reports, "I suspect Bacterial Pneumonia, but his persistent unconscious state has me concerned. He's not getting enough oxygen. We fix that first, then we work on getting that temp down. Any allergies?" the doctor asks.

"No, he's never been sick a day in his life," Dad reports causing the doctor to pause for a second.

"Ok, get that nasal cannula in. We've got to get him up to 90% to intubate. Then we'll do a chest x-ray to get a clear picture of what's going on in his lungs. After that, we'll see," Dr. Tanner explains as he continues to examine Sammy from head to toe. "Sally, go ahead an open a line of saline. Push 75 mg of thiopentone and 50 mg rocuronium to prep for the intubation."

"O2 sat's at 90%, Dr. Tanner," the nurse dutifully informs him as another nurse named Michele continues to pull Sammy's soaked pajamas off his small frame. I don't like it and wish I could tell everyone to leave my brother alone, but I don't know how to help him and I know they do, so I just try to stay out of the way.

The doctor turns to face us once again. "Okay, guys. I really do need you to go out to the waiting room. This will be much easier for everyone involved if you don't watch the process."

Dad puts his hand on my shoulder and squeezes it, and I find comfort in that small gesture. It's like all the crap from the past five days just melts away. He leads me out of the room as I hear the doctor say, "Hand me a 5.5 endotracheal tube and the smallest laryngoscope we've got. Sally, apply cricoid pressure on three…"

I don't hear any more, and I'm really kind of grateful. I've dealt with my fair share of trauma. Hunting monsters is a dangerous job and things happen. Dad keeps a killer kit in the trunk with medicine, supplies and preloaded suture needles.

I was five the first time I stitched Dad up and Sammy was about three when we started using the stitch cloth for him to practice. Once, on a really bad case, we both had to stitch Dad up, although he's pretty much a bad ass.

All I can think about is that my brother can't breathe. It's the most basic thing that we do in this life. We don't even have to think about it and Sammy, well…they have to shove a tube down his throat.

I close my eyes at the imagery that provides and wish I could just turn back the clock to that night when the Shtriga changed the rules for me. It's always been so simple. See monster. Shoot monster.

Add a human, someone you love that could be killed if you shoot the monster, well, that just freaking sucks. That thing took Sammy's breath away from him, and someday I'm gonna take its freaking breath away from it.

I remember that first night we got to Jim's, when he helped me breathe and hope that the doctors here can do the same for Sam. He's my little brother and I have always taken care of him and I try to put his needs before mine…every single time.

I screwed up this time and let my own boredom get the best of me, but I can't let that happen again. There is nothing that I will put in front of him. Not one thing.

Present Day April 2006

I glance over the seat at my brother who's crashed out in the back. He's been sleeping for about three hours, and I'm still wondering if maybe that Shtriga took more out of him than he's admitting.

He doesn't usually stretch out in the back unless I've parked the car for the night.

I can't help but worry. He's my kid brother, and it's always been my job to protect him since the beginning of forever.

I was there and remember how sick he got after that first Shtriga attack. We were at the hospital for days. Sammy ended up in ICU.

I had nightmares for months. You know like the Shtriga killed him, or Sam hooked up to all those machines. Part of me's glad he doesn't remember it, cause it was a shit storm and it sucked big time and who needs those kinds of memories anyway?

I see an exit ahead and swing into the other lane, so we can get off the highway. I've been driving for nearly twenty hours with only a couple of stops, and I need some coffee, like right now. Probably should gas up my baby too.

I'm dead on my feet, but we're getting pretty close. I hate to wake him, but Sam needs to hydrate and I need to stretch my legs and take a leak.

I pull into the lot and shut off my baby, before throwing my arm over the back seat and whacking my brother on the leg.

He moans and lashes out ineffectively with his arm. Sam's obviously not happy with my interrupting his beauty sleep, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, and I really gotta take a leak.

"Sam, meet me inside," I holler, tossing my keys into my pocket as I exit and double time it into the gas station.

After finishing my business, I start cruising the aisles for some road food. I grab some jerky and a bag of chips when the door dings announcing Sam's arrival. I nod to him, and he gestures toward the head.

I grab some wheatgrass tea from the cooler for Sam and try not to think about where I went wrong raising him.

Sam returns from the head and grabs a couple of bottles of water from the cooler. He runs his hands through his hair and finishes the move pulling his head down to stretch out his neck. Looking up, he smiles when he sees the nasty ass tea I'm holding out to him.

He grins and rasps, "Thanks, man. I'm gonna need that."

That just makes me smile. I mean, Sam's been going through so much crap with the damn visions we're still trying to figure out, losing Jess, and me almost dying several months ago and he thinks tea will help that.

Sammy looks at my food choices and says, "Did you actually grab anything with nutritional value, Dean?"

I would look sheepish, but I really don't care. "Nope," I retort with a belch for good measure and grin up at him, my eyes twinkling with obnoxious merriment.

I hold up the jerky and chips. "I've got meat and potatoes," I reassure him and he just shakes his head at me and finishes grabbing a few bananas and apples. He does grab a pack of jerky, so at least he's kinda human.

"You feeling any better, Sam?" I ask while sneaking a look at him. Damn if he doesn't still look worn out.

He drinks down half a bottle of water before telling me, "For the thousandth time, Dean. I'm fine. I was a little tired before, but I'm good, really."

He coughs and wheezes just as he finishes the sentence, then clearing his throat several times he assures me, "Just went down the wrong pipe."

I nod and wink at him, "Sure, Sammy. Whatever you've got to tell yourself to get through the day. I'm gonna get the car."

Four hours later and we're checking into another two- star motel. I go into the office to secure the room and get massive déjà vu from the fact it was a lady and her teenage son. Didn't we just live this movie?

I take the key and make my way out the door nearly stumbling in the process. Damn, I'm wiped. I blow out a breath and toss Sammy the room key. I make my way around the front of my baby and pat her on the roof as I climb in the driver's seat, rub my hand over my face and pull around to our room.

We grab our duffels and the weapons bag, go into the room and all I can think about is crashing. I toss the weapons bag on the floor between the two beds and set my duffel on the bed.

Sammy gives me a knowing look, and I have to laugh cause he couldn't be farther off base. I'm too damned tired.

"So, strippers and a nightcap? I saw the place down the road as we drove by, and I can't be sure, but I thought I saw a neon sign above it with your name on it," Sam teases me as he pulls his laptop from his bag and sets up on the little table across the room.

I shake my head so tired from the drive I can barely make the motion. "Bed first, then strippers," I mumble falling face first over my bag onto the bed. I try to remember that I'm only twenty-six, but that damn witch threw me into a very sturdy wall and I can still feel it. Oh, and I just basically drove for a day straight. That probably has something to do with it.

"I know I don't get out much, but even I know that's the wrong order," Sam comments like a true smartass. I can't help but feel a little pride about that.

I grumble unintelligibly at him. Well, it makes sense in my head and that's all that matters. Nope. I change my mind and have to make him understand. I turn my head toward his position at the table and admonish, "least…don't talk 'em…back…school…better life…lap dance…"

Sammy laughs out loud and it's good to hear, even if I can't respond in kind. "Well, okay, then. Sleep. I'm gonna check and make sure there aren't any more corpses," Sammy tells me, but I'm not really able to respond any more.

I can hear him occasionally mutter to himself and the scratches of the pencil as he makes his notes.

Before I drift off to sleep I hear Sammy tell me that this town has a population of 43,000 people. Damn, that's a lot of people. Why in the hell can't things be easy for once? You know, there's a victim and a monster. The monster has a nice neon sign pointing to it that clearly labels it. That'd be awesome.

The next morning, I wake up and all I can think about is bacon. Some mornings are like that. You just need bacon and nothing else will do. "Bacon," I say as I drag a hand over my face and let out a jaw cracking yawn.

Sammy chuckles at my greeting."Good morning to you too," he chides and then gives me the best news of the day so far. "There's an all you can eat breakfast buffet down the street, but you have to get up now if we're gonna have time to eat."

"There's always time to eat, Samuel," I lob back from my position on the bed, knowing the use of his full first name will piss him off. He doesn't disappoint when I hear his response.

"It's Sam. One syllable so it's easy to remember, even for you, Dean," he growls as I tsk in the middle of his corrections and continue to smile broadly.

"Mom loved that name, you know. It was her father's. You should wear it with pride," I can't help but wheedle him just a bit more as I bound from the bed and start for the bathroom.

He sighs, clearly irritated, and I turn away to hide my broad smile as I dodge through the door to avoid whatever Sammy just threw at my head.

"Yeah, well Dad said it enough times that I never need to hear it again," he yells through the door from his position at his laptop, and I toss my head back and roar with laughter. Damn, that feels good.

"Five minutes to bacon," I yell over the running water, grab my toothbrush and take a look in the mirror. I finish brushing my teeth in record time and realize nothing's gonna help that hair today. It's a mess and needs to be cut badly.

Details like that slip when you spend your time hunting monsters. I mean really is that even a choice? Save the people or get a haircut?

I feel better after several hours sleep, and I throw open the door to face the day. There's bacon on the horizon, and Sammy got up before me. All is right in the world.

16 or 17 years ago

"John?" I hear the doctor ask as he comes over to us in the waiting room.

My Dad looks up from where he's been sitting with his head dropped down and his elbows on his knees.

Sammy's hooked up to a bunch of machines and they have to do God knows what to him, and I'm pissed and worried and just plain scared. For the record, Winchesters, well we don't really do scared very well. We're awesome at angry, but scared? Not so much.

I look over at my Dad and try to follow along with what the doctor's been saying. Apparently, I tuned out for a minute cause I come in in the middle of it.

"…under light sedation. The chest films confirm the pneumonia as well as a condition known as parapneumonic effusion. That means your son has extra fluid built up around his lungs which made it hard to breathe. The increased pressure won't allow the lungs to inflate properly. Any questions?"

Dad just looks at Dr. Tanner and takes a deep breath, "What now?"

The doctor takes a moment and launches into the answer, "Sam has a very aggressive bacterial pneumonia. We started ampicillin and added vancomycin to bring it all back under control."

"We need to see him," Dad says and I actually stand up. This is the first thing anybody has said that makes any sense at all. I need to see my brother, to be right there next to him.

Dr. Tanner considers the request carefully before responding, "Follow me. Don't be alarmed. Your son is in stable condition, but we moved him to ICU so we could handle his care efficiently."

He no sooner finishes the explanation then we arrive at the door. He turns toward me, and I can guess what he's about to say.

"Sir, I have to see my brother. I know kids aren't allowed in the ICU, but I also know I have to be there for him, please," I plead with the man in control. I will beg if necessary…for my brother.

Dr. Tanner relents and tells me that I can see him for a couple minutes.

I exhale the breath I didn't realize I was holding and follow him into the room. I stop when I see the number of tubes and cords sticking out of my brother.

I take a breath and force myself to move to him. Just keep moving. One foot in front of the other. As soon as I reach the bed, I ask, "Can I touch him? He needs to know I'm here."

"That should be fine. I'm sorry, but in all the excitement, I never got your name," Dr. Tanner replies, his face congenial.

I like him, which is surprising considering my general view of anyone in authority. "It's Dean," I answer as I lay my hand on my little brother's forehead and whisper, "Hey, Sammy. I see you've managed to stumble into some trouble again, but I got your back, man."

The doctor steps in next to me. "Hhmm, that's interesting," he states and looks at me slightly weirdly. "Hey, Dean? Keep talking to him for a minute."

"About what?" I ask glancing up at the doctor.

Dr. Tanner smiles at me and just says, "Anything you want, buddy. I just want to check on something."

I lean over next to Sammy's ear and continue to murmur, "Hey, little brother. It's me and I'm right here. We need you to try real hard to get better. I'm the oldest and you know Dad always reminds you to do what I say." I turn my head towards the doctor. "Is that enough? Did you get what you need, or do you want me to keep going?"

"Remarkable," Dr. Tanner notes, his expression shuttered. "We've been closely monitoring your brother's vitals. When you talk to your brother, his heart rate comes back to normal. I've never seen anything like that."

John looks over at the doctor and tells him, "Dean and Sam are close."

Dr. Turner looks over at Dean and then glances down at his very ill patient. "Wow, that's some big brother you've got there, Sammy," he says patting me on the shoulder and from him it's totally genuine.

"John, we need to do a procedure called a pleural tap. We'll use lidocaine so he won't feel it. The machine is breathing for him, but we need to get that fluid out, so he can start breathing on his own. We'll also run tests on the fluid that we remove. Do you have any questions?" Dr. Tanner asks, sympathetic to my Dad's need for a few minutes to process the information.

Dad looks over at me, and I have the strangest feeling. Gone is the residual anger I've been seeing for the past several days. I can't even see any disappointment. All I see is fear and I wonder how dad will cope with all of this. Hunters never have it easy, but this is big and it involves Sam.

Dad takes a deep breath and the vaguely lost look that flashed through his eyes for a second is replaced by determination. I've seen that look hundreds of times when he leaves on a hunt. It means it's all gonna be fine. I place my hand on his shoulder.

"He'll be fine, Dad. I can feel it," I whisper and Dad looks at me with grateful eyes and nods.

"Go ahead and do it," Dad gives his permission and I am proud that this is my father. I admire his strength and hope to grow up to be half the man that he is.

Dr. Tanner has the nurse bring in a pediatric chest tray; they glove up and get started.

"Let's do this, Michele. We're going to rotate him onto his left side on three…two….one…roll," Dr. Tanner and the nurse gently roll Sammy onto his left side after raising his left arm high on the bed.

The doctor continues his dialogue calmly while he disinfects my brother's back with the orange crap.

"Raise the bed 30 degrees and let's numb the area," Dr. Tanner orders before explaining carefully. "See on the x-ray, Dean. That large white space, just below the 7th rib on Sammy's right side? That's the area we're going to drain," the doctor says as he runs his fingers down the ribs on Sammy's back.

When he gets to the seventh, he moves below it and readies the syringe. "Hand me a hemostat and an 18-gauge thoracentesis needle, please. Okay, I'm inserting the needle now to collect 100 mL of fluid for the labs and then we'll drain off any additional fluid," he orders, his hands moving constantly with a grace I don't usually see living in the hunter's world.

"Sammy, you're doing great," I say because I'm not sure what else to say, and I absolutely hate needles. They completely suck. My fingers shake as I brush the hair away from his slack features.

I look up at my Dad, his hand resting on Sam's much smaller one. I see hope and mirror the expression with my own.

Before I know it, the doctor takes off his gloves and tosses them in the biohazard bin across the room. He puts a bandage on the puncture site, and we roll Sammy onto his back.

I look down at my kid bother and am overcome by a wave of love and protection so strong it nearly takes my breath away.

I do something then that I never do- I pray. I made it part of the bedtime routine, because that's how mom taught me and we just never stopped it. It gives him comfort and that always makes me feel better somehow. Like I'm raising him the way Mom would want.

Present Day April 2006

This is one of my least favorite things to do, but it's part of the job so I suck it up.

We're at the morgue waiting for the coroner who's apparently running late because he's in court. Sammy's looking over the guy's bookshelves, and every so often he takes a look at one that catches his eye.

My brother's handling the intros today because they were out of bacon, and I'm in a bit of a mood. He's promised me a bacon cheeseburger at some point today. He damned well better deliver.

"Good morning, Dr. Carpenter?" Sammy begins as the coroner walks through the door. He's getting better at this part too. "I'm Agent Page and this is Agent Plant," he introduces me and I flash my creds. We may have made them at Kinko's, but I take inordinate pride in my work.

Dad taught us master forging skills, along with the confidence needed to pull them off. The man's a damn artist when it comes to creating this stuff and let's just say that apple didn't fall too far from the tree.

Just in the past few months, we've been park rangers, reporters, doctors, and law enforcement, although that last one can be tricky since Sammy's so young. Our job may be a pain in the ass and things may try to kill us, but it's never boring and we get to work together. That alone makes it worth it.

Hell, I'm not paying attention to what the coroner's saying, and I really should be. I mean, he's elbow deep in this corpse again and that's on us for dragging him down here.

"See here, the liver was ripped out, so it's probably safe to say it wasn't anyone with a medical background," the coroner drones on and on.

"Ya think?" I retort and then try to reign it in when Sammy gives me that grow the hell up look. I hate that look. We gank all kinds of crap and besides I don't wanna grow up. "Sorry, long morning and no bacon," I apologize and continue on to ask, "Is there anything else you can tell us that was significant about the body? Maybe why someone would dig this guy up just for his liver?"

The coroner looks at me and shakes his head before replying, "That's just it. There's not a mark on him other where the liver was removed. He was a white, 54 year -old male, who had a stroke and died instantly. Took everybody by surprise according to my friend Andy over at Memorial. He'd been in the ground for about three days when this happened. Details are all in the report."

Sam turns to the coroner, "I'll need a copy of the report to take with me, please."

The coroner has been vaguely helpful and doesn't seem to be a douche, which is better than the last doctor we dealt with. He tells Sammy that he can keep the copy in his hands.

Sam nods and gives him the standard kiss off, "Well, okay, thanks for your time and here's my card in case you have any other findings to report."

We beat it out of there and head for the car. I know I'm being a dick, but no bacon makes me a cranky bastard.

"Well, that was a waste of time," I growl and shove the key into the lock a little more forcefully than I should. Sorry, Baby. I shouldn't take it out on you. I pat the roof to soothe any hurt feelings.

Sam shakes his head in disagreement, "Not necessarily, Dean. I saw claw marks at the edges of the wound tract. They think it was just a weird fetishist or something, but we know about stuff they don't. It took the liver, not the heart, so we can already rule out a werewolf, skinwalker, succubus, incubus or lamia."

"That's my little brother. Ever the optimist," I can't help but give him crap about it.

"Let's get some lunch. There's a bar and grill about half a mile south of here," Sammy informs me and it's the greatest idea I've heard yet, though I'm surprised he's already hungry.

"I can't believe you're already hungry. I thought I was going to have to wait forever for lunch," I complain popping in a Bob Seger mix and reaching for the volume.

Sammy huffs out a laugh and bats my hand away from the controls, before answering, "I'm not. I just don't want to spend the next several hours listening to you whine about it."

I shrug and then nod in complete agreement with him. I mean, come on man. How in the hell do you run out of bacon? "Fair enough," I supply as I turn into the parking lot of the bar and grill and pull into a space.

We stride through the front door, and I order us a couple of beers at the bar and take them to a table. "They better have bacon, dammit," I growl at him as he takes a seat across from me, opens the file and takes a swig of his beer.

"Well, it looks like this guy was a health nut. No booze, no drugs," Sammy lists as he peruses the file.

"No life," I interject with a sarcastic smile just as the waitress hits our table.

"Another round of beers, boys?" She asks as she gestures to the menus in the middle of the table.

I nod, but Sammy shakes his head says, "No, we're fine. This is a working lunch, but I'll take a glass of water and Grouchy over there will have a black coffee and something with bacon."

She smiles over at him, her eyes glowing with interest. "What ya working on?"

"Just a case," he answers, looking over at her and returning the smile before he looks back down at the file and she leaves to grab our drinks.

I shake my head and smack the file in his hands to get his attention. When he looks at me with his very annoyed eyes, I tilt my head saying, "Come on, Sammy. Live a little. For some weird reason, that waitress is totally into you, dude."

Sam looks up at me oddly and makes a face then shrugs it off. "Whatever, man. We've got work to do so knock it off," he redirects and glances back down at the file.

"I'm just saying. It's been a while since Jessica…" I start, but Sam cuts me off before I can even finish the thought.

"Don't," Sam warns me, and his eyes are flashing dangerously.

I raise both hands in surrender and sit back slowly to put a little distance between us. "So, did you find any leads? Something we can check out, or better yet something we can take out?"

Sam smiles at that last statement and shakes his head. I smile back because I know I dodged a Sam bomb and will live to tell the tale. His temper is legendary.

"Actually, I think we should go check out the cemetery. Maybe we'll find something at the grave site, cause this file's pretty thin, man. We need something to go on," Sam suggests sipping the last of his beer.

"Awesome. Love a good cemetery," I say as I motion to the waitress for the check.

I hand a credit card to the waitress and flash her my best smile stating, "Sorry, but we've got to go. Case to solve, clues to find." I lean forward with a wink and tell her, "I apologize for my partner. It's not you, It's him….definitely him."

She giggles and I get Sam's patented evil glare, which make me smile even more.

We get back to the Impala and Sam tells me to head north.

"What's the name of this place anyway?" I ask and crank the wheel to make the turn smoothly.

Sam looks down at the file to double check himself. He's such a careful bastard. "Looks like we're going to take a little tour of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery over on State Road 7," he directs, his gaze studying the scenery around us.

I reach for the radio and crank it up. "Don't that beat all. It's a sign, Sammy," I laugh and turn it up just a bit louder before belting out the lyrics to a little B.O.C.'s "Don't Fear the Reaper."

I get him to join in at the refrain, and we're at the cemetery only fifteen minutes later. Man, I love the rides where it's Baby, the music and us singing at the top of our lungs.

We get out of the car and take a little stroll through the grounds before Sam sees a groundskeeper who directs us to the disturbed grave site.

We walk around a few times, but there is just a whole lot of nothing here. Well, crap.

"Hey, Dean. Maybe it was just convenient," Sam says grasping at straws.

I scoff, "What like a supernatural take out menu? Come on, Sam. We need something real to go on."

"Look, it's thin I know, but let's drive around the area and see if we can figure out what drew it here," Sam offers and I clutch at it for something to do.

We drive the area in circles taking in all the apartment buildings and businesses. I look over at Sam and he's pinching the bridge of his nose between two fingers. Great, that's his classic headache signal, or maybe he's getting another vision.

"Headache or vision?" I ask my voice tinted with concern. I start to pull over when Sam scares the holy hell out of me.

"There," he gestures toward a large wooded area which somehow seems out of place in this urban jungle we've been driving around in for the past thirty minutes.

"Any particular reason this place trips your trigger, Sam?" I ask and he just keeps staring at the sign. We've gone on less.

I swing Baby into the entrance and wind down the road into the lot. Leaning over Sam, I grab our creds from the glovebox along with my weapon. Can never be too careful. I hand Sammy his credentials and we stroll down a white- washed boardwalk until we finally get to this two story log cabin.

We walk through a set of glass doors, and I dazzle the lady behind the counter with my wink and smile.

"Welcome to the Fern Forest Nature Center. How may I help you today, sir?" She asks with a beautiful smile of her own and some nice curves to boot.

I reach for my FBI credentials and flash them at her as Sam does the same with his own and I say, "Agents Page and Plant. We need to speak to the person in charge."

Her smile dims slightly as she reaches for the phone, "Ma'am, there are some federal agents here to talk to you." I smile and nod my head at her, and she waves her hand towards the exhibits and informs us, "Let me see if the director has time to see you today, gentleman. If you want to look around."

Sammy rubs at his head and pulls on his neck as he makes his way over to what is apparently a bat exhibit.

"You never answered my question. Headache or vision?" I whisper my eyes locked on him trying to get him to talk to me.

Sammy looks at me through half lidded eyes before answering, "Headache, I think. Hey, I'm gonna go freshen up a bit." He gestures towards the restroom, and I nod knowing we'll meet in a bit.

I watch him go and fight the impulse to follow. The man's 22 years old and doesn't need me in the head, but it's hard to let him go when I know he's in pain.

The little wrinkles around his eyes and the crease in his forehead always give him away.

"Excuse me, sir," the secretary calls and I make my way towards her. "Dr. Talley will see you now. Just go up the stairs and it will be the last door on your left," she offers and gestures towards the stairs across the way.

"Can you do me a little favor?" I purr with another wink and smile.

She nods and returns the gesture.

"Let my partner know where I'm going and show him the way if needed. He wasn't feeling very well, but he should be back any time," I inform her, and she readily agrees to do as I've asked.

I walk up the stairs and down the hall as a guy walks out of the office I'm headed to and bumps into me.

"Excuse me," he says, and I notice the military uniform almost immediately.

I hear a woman's deep voice follow him down the hall, "You be careful now, Jake."

After a few more strides, I'm in the doorway. "Dr. Talley?" I ask and step through the door.

"Yessir, you found me. Dr. Talley seems a little formal. Please call me Lovelie," the older woman behind the desk says in introduction. "I apologize if I was yelling in your face, Agent, but my grandson is heading to Afghanistan and I'm a might worried about it all," she smiles, her cocoa complexion slightly wrinkled by her time spent in the sun.

I nod and tell her, "Not a problem at all, Lovelie. We're grateful for his service." I shift in my chair and look over the room to get a quick read on her. "I need to ask you some questions," I start and turn to introduce Sam as he comes through the door.

"This is my partner, Agent Plant," I say with a nod towards him as he takes a seat in the other chair.

"Nice to meet you. Of course, the center will help you in any way we can," she responds and it's really a pretty common response when you thrust a federal ID in someone's face.

"Have you noticed anything strange here at the nature center?" I start and this one's always my favorite because they look at you like you're nuts. Yup, there's the look.

"What exactly do you mean, Agent?" She inquires and this too is a question we've heard a thousand times before.

Sam saves me from responding by asking his own, "Any changes in local fauna, dead patches that shouldn't be there, sudden drops in temperature, an increase in dead animals? That kind of thing."

She looks from Sam to me and then back to Sam. "Nothing that anyone has reported to me. I read over the reports daily to make sure that each exhibit and trail is as it should be," she assures me and patiently waits for the next question.

"What about strangers spending a lot of time at the park? More than is healthy," I ask and she looks at me oddly.

"It's a nature center, agents. We have dozens of people through here every single day and even more on the weekends. It would be nearly impossible to keep track of them all," she answers patiently although I can tell she's anxious for us to leave.

Sam throws one more question at her when he asks, "Do you have security surveillance that we can look at?" He brushes his hair back out of his face, and I notice something out of the ordinary. Not the hair in the face bit. That's a constant and he refuses to cut it like some demented Sampson. His hands are shaking. Time to cut this short.

She shakes her head, her brown eyes never leaving us for an instant. It's a tell, and we always look for that eye dodge when questioning anybody. "No, I'm sorry. We've never had any problems so we've not had the need for additional security measures," she adds and starts to reach for the phone. "Would you like me to call Randy in? He's the security guard who walks the property during open hours."

"That won't be necessary," I say and close my notebook with its nearly empty pages. Sammy usually takes the notes, but I fake it pretty well. "Thank you for your time," I state and my brother and I get up at the same time and make for the door.

We walk down the hall and stairs and exit to the boardwalk before I decide enough is enough. "Sammy, what's going on with you?" I ask and my look tells him I expect an answer to be forthcoming.

Sammy shrugs and pulls out crap. "I don't know what you mean, Dean," he claims and I damn near pop him one right there.

"I call bullshit, dude," I toss at him with a glare. "Your hands are shaking, you're sweating and you're a mess. I mean what the hell, man? Tell me what's going on or I swear…" I let the threat fade out. My little brother's smart enough to know when I mean business.

"Still not following you," Sammy throws out, and I'm forced to recant my theory on his level of intelligence.

I pop him on the arm, and he stops in the parking lot. He looks anywhere but at me and I know I've got him. He doesn't want to tell me something. I know this kid.

"Dean, can you just drop it until we get back to the motel? I told you I had a headache. I took some aspirin, and I'm sure they'll kick in any time now," Sam lies right to my freaking face.

I nod and reassure the big dumbass, "Sure, Sam. Just a headache. We'll head back to the motel and let you rest for a bit."

"I'm fine, Dean," Sam reassures me as he opens the Impala, drops into the seat and closes the door.

I make my way around the back of the car and mutter quietly, "Sure, you're fine, you dumb son of a bitch."

16 or 17 years ago

"Hey, Sammy. I know you don't feel so hot, but it's been a couple of days and I really need you to wake up and talk to me," I plead with my stubborn little brother.

I brush the hair off his forehead and start to report, "So Dad went down to the cafeteria to grab us some grub. He's been edgier than a ghost in a room full of rock salt. He paces up and down the room all day."

I turn as the door opens and see Michele coming to check on you. "You're doing a lot better. They told us last night that the antibiotics are working, and your bad cell count is down. They also told us that we're just waiting on you to wake up now. So, get to it, dude," I command and Michele smiles and adds her two cents.

"Sammy, it would be great to meet you. Your brother has told me a lot about you," she says and I have to smile cause she's real easy to talk to about almost anything.

I even told her how guilty I feel about you getting sick, which, of course, she doesn't understand, and I can't tell her the real reason. Wouldn't want to break the number one rule. We do what we do and we shut up about it.

She leaves the room, and I turn back toward the bed. "Hey, Sam?" I start but pause to make sure no one is around. "I need you to not leave, man. I know I'm asking a lot of a little kid, but I'm going to ask it anyway. Wake up…right now. I need you," I beg and am so startled to see his eyes twitch that I fall back from the bed.

I jump up and grab Sam's hand before I raise my voice at him commanding, "That's right, little brother. Wake up. You've slept long enough."

He groans and starts to gag a little on the breathing tube. I press the button for the nurse. Two come running in nearly immediately, and I almost drop Sammy's hand when I feel his smaller fingers tighten around mine. I need to give them some room, but I can't seem to let go.

"I think he's waking up. He's squeezing my fingers, and I can't let go," I warn them before they can get the notion to ask. "Come on, Sammy. You can do this. I'm right here."

The nurse looks over at his vitals and grabs the phone. "Get Dr. Tanner in here, stat," she says and I'm filled with fear and gratitude at the same time.

Dad barrels into the room with some sandwiches which he drops on the table. "Dean, sit rep," he barks and I immediately turn towards my father as I've been trained.

"He started to wake up about two minutes ago. Doctor Tanner should be here any second," I finish as the doctor rushes into the room.

"Hey, Sammy. I want you to know you're in a safe place. There's a tube down your throat helping you breathe so don't fight it. Can you open your eyes for me?" The doctor asks and I watch as I see a sliver of hazel peek through droopy eyelids.

"That's it, Sammy," I whisper not wanting to interfere with the doctor. I let go of his hand when I see the doctor reach for it.

"Ok, Sam. I need you to squeeze my fingers," the doctor orders and smiles as my brother complies readily. "Good. CROP index and RSBI are within normal limits. Increase oxygen. Sammy, we're going to get this tube out, but you need to be still and relax."

Sam's eyes widen in fear and wander the room in a panic. I know that he's looking for me. "Hey, doc," I start, still not wanting to get in the way, but knowing I have to step up for my brother. "He's scared. He needs to see me. This'll go a lot smoother if he does."

Dr. Tanner turns towards me, and I'm grateful he isn't pissed. He looks back at my brother. "Sam? Your brother's right here," he reassures and Sammy's hand flails about looking for mine. "Okay, Sammy. You win. Dean step forward so he can see you, but you've got to stay out of the way."

I step forward and Sammy's flailing stops as soon as his fingers are grasped in mine. "I'm right here, little brother," I comfort and his eyes close in relief.

Dr. Tanner shakes his head, counts down and pulls the tube causing Sam to choke and cough but not cry. He's a tough little sucker; that's for sure. He squeezes my fingers so tightly I worry he might break one or two, but I'll be okay as long as he is.

The doctor just looks at us and I smile back at him. "Thanks, doc. You saved my brother's life and I owe you one," I say and my Dad has tears in his eyes.

"Just doing my job, Dean, and you don't owe me a thing," Dr. Tanner replies in a gentle, steady voice.

I blow out a breath and then another. Sam's made it through the worst of it, and he's come out the other side. What more could either of us ask for?

Sammy looks up at dad and me, and I can see the relief there in his big hazel eyes.

He coughs a bit, but they've assured us that he's going to be fine. The medicine has done its job, and my brother just has to get his strength back.

He's a kid and they say kids bounce back from these things pretty quickly.

"We'll keep him for another day or two to make sure there's no complications and then you can take him home," Dr. Tanner relates and that blows my doors off. Two days doesn't seem long enough for everything we've been through, but, hey, he's the doctor so I guess he would know, right?

Sammy squeezes my fingers again and rasps, "Dean, I'm hungry," and I'm sure my smile could have powered that hospital for a month. That kid's always hungry. You wouldn't think he eats that much cause he's a skinny kid, but he can put away almost as much food as I can, and that's saying something.

I look at the doctor and ask, "You think he can have something to eat?"

Dr. Tanner smiles and there's a lot of that going around at this minute. "You bet. We'll have to start easy though. You also need to save your voice a bit. The breathing tube will leave your throat a little sore, and it'll need time to heal. How about some Jell-O, Sam?"

My brother nods enthusiastically already following the doctor's orders almost better than he does mine. I grin and ruffle Sam's hair so very happy to have my kid brother back. Sam, true to form, yanks his head away but keeps hold of my hand.

Five minutes later and he's eating green Jell-O with a goofy grin on his face. I couldn't be happier if Dad just told me we won the lottery, and we don't have to scam credit cards or hustle some game.

Hunting doesn't really pay the bills, so I started running cards a couple of months ago when Dad was gone on a hunt a little longer than we thought he would be. We ran out of grocery money and I didn't want to steal anything, so I hustled some kid out of his allowance. It was only $20 but it was enough to make it those last few days.

Dad was pissed when he got back. I had it under control, but he prefers zero exposure when he's not around. He put an extra twenty in both our go bags as emergency funds just in case. Should be enough unless he gets himself killed. Shouldn't think that way, but sometimes I can't help myself. It's not as if he's got the safest job in America and it's most certainly not a nine to five one.

"You okay, Dean?" Sammy asks, his voice a little hoarse.

I look over at Sam again and can't help but breathe easier. I am so lucky to have a brother who actually worries about me, and I know he'll always have my back.

I nod in answer to his question, a little overcome by emotion that he's going to be fine. That's he's sitting there still looking at me with that question hanging in his expression. He needs the words. He always does, even if they're bull at the time.

"I'm fine, Sammy," I announce and my brother instantly relaxes. Can I call 'em or what? "Glad you're gonna be okay, little brother," I say with a smile and he looks back at me.

At that moment in time, we just know that all is right in the world because even though things went pear-shaped, we managed to stand together.

Present Day April 2006

I'm officially pissed off. We've been at this for several days, and we still don't have a damn thing.

Well, that's not exactly true. We have two more dropped bodies and about a baker's dozen more victims. Oh, we know the official cause of death is exsanguination but not really helpful as there's no such thing as vampires anywhere other than the movies.

I'm on my way back from a food run, and my brother has another thing coming if he thinks he can keep hiding crap from me. I storm back into the room after a knock just to let him know it's me. The last thing I need is for Sammy to shoot me.

I toss the Biggerson's Bag on the table just inside the room and turn to my brother. "Eat first, then talk," I grunt out like a caveman knowing Sam doesn't like the attitude but unable to give a crap right now.

Sam nods and sits down at the table. He sets my burger across from him and pulls his salad shake cup thing out and adds the dressing. Sometimes it's hard to believe we're even related.

I pull out my chair and sit down, watching his every move like a hawk stalks its prey. He plays a good game, I'll give him that, but he's actually crunched the salad down into smaller pieces more than actually eaten it.

"You gonna play with that or actually eat it, Sam?" I ask beginning to get agitated that he's gotten this good at waiting me out.

Sam glances up at me and purposefully takes a bite, chewing slowly. When he finishes, he looks down in the cup, makes a face and shoves it away. "Sorry, just not very hungry, I guess," he admits and my worry ratchets up another notch.

Sam's been hungry since the cradle.

"What's up with you? You're not eating, you sleep more than ever. You're never sick, except that once, so spill, Sam," I attack, setting down my burger.

Sam's face draws into a frown and he says, "When I was six, right? I barely remember that, Dean. I woke up in the hospital. Dad and Pastor Jim had a fight so we moved to Colorado."

"Yeah, that's it and it was bad, Sam. Really, bad," I reiterate and pick up my soda to wash down the lump in my throat.

"Dad stopped hunting for like three whole months. He worked at that sketchy garage. We actually went to regular school for a little while," Sam recalls, then takes a sip of water.

"Yeah, the place was called Little Mario's Repairs," I confirm and allow the memories to wash over and through me. It was a great time in our childhood, and we were almost like a normal family for a time, but it didn't last. Dad moved us to New Orleans to go after a hoodoo priest and we kept on moving.

"You're changing the subject. Answer the damn question, Sam!" I command in a slightly raised voice filled with conviction.

"I didn't want you to worry," he starts then looks away.

"Well, stop it cause I worry anyway. It's kinda my thing," I snipe at him and pick up my cheeseburger only to set it right back down.

Sam has the grace to look guilty before he answers. "I had a vision at the Nature Center a few days ago, but it wasn't like the other ones, Dean. Aside from a little headache, I feel fine," Sam finishes his eyes locked on mine.

"Sammy that was three days ago, and you're just telling me now?" I holler and I know I'm being an overbearing dick.

Sam nods his head and pulls his salad back to him. He downs a few more bites before deciding to crash and plows face first onto his bed, curling his arms around the pillow.

I hit the sack as well. We have a long day tomorrow.

The next morning, I wake to find Sam sitting on the edge of his bed looking down at his left arm.

"Wha's matter?" I slur still half asleep but trying valiantly to get my weary bones out of the damn bed.

Sam rotates his arm a little and that has me up in three seconds flat. "What the hell?" I shout causing him to flinch.

I grab his arm and rotate it around. It's black and blue and swollen like a floater. It's just like the corpses Doc Carpenter showed us the other day. Son of a bitch.

"We need to get this looked at, Sammy. Get dressed. We're leaving in five minutes," I inform him and search the floor for my jeans.

Sam sighs, "Dean, we don't even know if it's the same thing…"

"Looks like the same thing to me, Sammy. No arguments. Just get moving," I order as I pull on my jeans and grab my gun. "Let's go."

I usher Sam to the Impala and shove his ass into the passenger seat. He's not happy about it and I don't care.

"Closest ER is University Hospital and we'll be there in ten minutes. How's it look?" I ask dividing my attention between traffic and my brother.

Sam rotates his arm around trying to get a better look. "Kinda the same. Hurts though, like it's bruised inside and out."

The Impala careens around a corner, and I see Sam brace himself against the dash with his good hand.

"Course my arm will be the least of my worries if I die in a car crash, Dean," Sam jokes and I wish I could be amused by it.

"That looks real bad, Sam," I say looking down at the arm he's cradled. "Almost there."

I pull into the circle in front of the ER and into the nearest space I can find.

Jumping out of the car, I meet Sam halfway and we enter the emergency room together.

"Look lady, my partner's arm looks pretty bad," I say to the nurse at reception and she glances up from her files.

She sighs and responds sympathetically, "Sorry, sir, but you'll need to wait your turn."

"It's Agent, as in the federal kind," I correct, flipping open my badge. "He needs to be seen to now. You get me?"

"Take a look around you, Agent," she commands flippantly holding up the files. "We've got six patients ahead of you, so if you could please take a seat, we'll be with you just as soon as we can."

I start to argue when Sam's hand tightens on my arm.

"Dean, look," Sammy says and he shows me patients waiting, hunched over various limbs.

"Something's going on. You ever seen anything like this?" I ask as I take it all in.

Sam's curiosity overrules his pain, and he walks over to the first patient he sees.

It's a woman about twice his age with blonde hair, blue eyes and missing her right shoe.

Her grimace turns into a sheepish grin when she realizes he's noticed. "I couldn't get it on my stupid foot. Not even my slippers," she tells him looking down at the offending limb.

Sam smiles in that trustworthy way that makes every person on the damn planet talk to him. How he's not better with women, I'll never know.

"So, does your foot look anything like this?" He asks sitting next to her to save her neck the strain. He rotates his arm around so she can get a good look at it while I stand by watching her micro expressions. I really do have trust issues. Add it to the list.

"Oh my," she gasps and pulls her sock down to show him her ankle and foot. They match nearly identically and that starts the wheels turning in my brain. "What do you think it is?" She whispers and the stark terror is evident in her trembling voice.

"I'm sure the doctor will be able to tell us," Sam's calm tone reassures her, which apparently doesn't work for me because I suddenly feel light headed.

What if he caught something because of the Shtriga attack? Last time, it lowered his immunity, and he got pneumonia and almost died. What if this time it finishes the job?

"Dean, you okay?" Sammy asks and I realize that I'm now sitting in the chair next to him. I don't remember doing that but I guess it's a good thing I didn't just fall on my ass right here in the waiting room.

I nod because there's no way I can get a single word past the lump in my throat.

He continues to look at me strangely as a nurse enters through a double set of doors with a clipboard in her hand.

"Agent Plant?" She calls, barely containing her irritation. I find my legs to stand and head towards her before I realize that Sam isn't right there with me.

Sam helps the woman to her feet and guides her over. "Look, Nurse Dietrich," he starts after checking her name tag. "If it's not too much trouble, could you see to this woman? She was here first and she's obviously in a lot of pain. I can wait," Sam says and the nurse's attitude does a complete one eighty, and she smiles at him.

I about pop him one. "Sammy," I start only to be cut off by the curt "don't" he issues.

"But," I try again and his glare shuts my mouth faster than anything else probably would have.

He leans towards me and whispers, "Dean, I am not going to cut in front of all these people. Saving people, remember? I'm not any more important than they are."

"You are to me," I grumble under my breath before I realize I said that part out loud.

He chuckles, gives me his best smirk and lays a hand on my shoulder, "What happened to no chick flick moments?"

"Whatever, man," I shrug off and get up from the chair. "I'm gonna grab some caffeine. You want anything?" I ask and turn towards him to get his answer. He shakes his head, and I move down the hall to grab a cup of coffee, double strong and a little sweet.

I return several minutes later to find they've just called his name, and we're heading to the examining room.

"My name is Angel. Have a seat on the bed, Agent Plant, and I'll get your vitals," she informs us as she begins. "Hmmmm. Blood pressure's a little high."

How high?" I ask, leaning forward in the chair unwittingly holding my breath.

The nurse glances up from the clipboard and pauses in her writing to look at Sam. When he nods, she states, "150/80, so not dangerous, just higher than we would normally expect for a 22 year- old white male."

"Relax, man," Sam tells me, not truly understanding how damn hard this is for me.

He turns to the nurse and inquires, "So, you've had six other cases like mine this morning? Any idea what's going on? What do we all have in common?"

Angel leans forward into Sam's line of vision and says smiling, "You sure ask a lot of questions."

Sam returns her smile and explains, "Kinda comes with the job description."

She nods and pulls out a thermometer. I laugh out loud.

"Something funny?" She asks looking at me critically.

"Just that he's never been a great patient," I reply and she giggles and turns to my brother.

"I have a feeling he'll cooperate just fine," she states smugly and I know she's right because, unlike the hospital where I almost died of heart failure, the nurses here are hot. Let's just say she was appropriately named and leave it at that.

Sam opens his mouth, and she places the thermometer in it.

"So how ya been?" I ask and laugh knowing he can't answer, but he sure can glare. If looks could kill…

Angel laughs again and notes, "You guys been partners a long time?"

"Seems like all our lives," I quip and Sam rocks forward and rolls over his arm protectively. "You hurting, Sam?" I ask and just like that the levity is gone. She pulls the thermometer and notes the temperature in the chart.

"102.8, so not so great," she reports and starts towards the door. "The doctor will be in to see you momentarily," she assures us and leaves.

"Wow, she's as bad as you are," I say to Sam and he looks at me questioningly.

I smirk and roll my eyes at him. "She didn't answer any of your questions either."

"Cute, Dean," Sam snipes with a smirk and winces with a groan as the pain in his arm increases.

His features stretch out as he opens his mouth slightly to breathe through the pain. "Come on, Sam. Hang on just a bit longer. Doc'll be here in a sec," I try to reassure him although, to me, the words sound pretty freaking hollow.

"Agent Plant?" The doctor questions as he comes through the door. "I'm Dr. Bancroft. Looks like you're in a bit of pain," the doctor offers as he looks down at the file in his hands.

"I'm fine," Sam hisses through clenched teeth as the doctor begins to examine his arm.

"You're not fine and you'll take whatever the doc gives you," I state emphatically with a nod as I watch Sam's reactions.

"There was no injury that you know of?" The doctor asks, his curiosity piqued.

Sammy shakes his head and the doctor continues, "We'll, of course, have to run a blood test, but as far as I can tell, it's severe contusions of unknown origin."

"Have you seen this type of bruising before?" I ask, showing my badge and gauging the doctor's response.

"It's unusual, but we've had seven cases over the past couple days, and I know other hospitals have as well," Dr. Bancroft states as he pinches Sam's fingernails.

He continues to manhandle Sammy's arm to the point that my brother's gasping for breath. That just serves to piss me off, and I'm about to beat that doctor to death with one of his own limbs before I process what he just said.

"Wait? There are patients with the same symptoms as my partner at multiple hospitals?" I clarify and look at Sam when the doctor assures me of this fact.

"Doctor, we're going to need a list of the hospitals that have patients with these symptoms. It's for an ongoing case with ritualistic undertones," Sam gasps out.

Doctor Bancroft hands me a list of care instructions and a prescription. "The script is a minor pain killer and anti-inflammatory. You need to take it or you could cause permanent nerve damage," He cautions and I know Sammy's thrilled.

The doctor seems to consider our request carefully. "I wouldn't be able to give you any patient information as that goes against the HIPPA privacy act," he hedges and Sam nods at him understandingly, his brows drawn together in both pain and understanding.

"Of course not, and we wouldn't expect you to, Dr. Bancroft. Our main concern is finding this guy before he can hurt anyone else. We can use the hospital locations to try to determine his hunting grounds and maybe even how he's choosing his victims. Three people are dead, doctor," Sam pushes to ensure the doctor understands how crucial this could be.

Dr. Bancroft looks at both of us sizing us up. I know he wants to help, but sometimes people get caught up in rules and need a little extra push to do the right thing.

"Look, this guy's out there. He won't stop until we stop him," I add hoping I can actually deliver on the promise I just made.

The doctor nods at both of us before turning back to his notes and contributing, "Here's what I can tell you. All the patients I've seen with this condition were vulnerable in some way. They'd been ill recently or overstressed."

He searches both of our faces before he continues, "Looks like there are four other area hospitals on the list. I'll have my nurse compile names and addresses for you. Let me know if I can be of further assistance."

Sam pats the guy reassuringly on the shoulder and states, "You've made the right decision, Dr. Bancroft."

The nurse returns a few minutes later with a smile, a manila file folder and a syringe. "Doctor Bancroft told me if you play nice, I can give you the file," she says holding up the syringe.

Sam starts to shake his head.

"Sammy," I warn when I see him get defensive.

The nurse places the file on the bed next to him.

"Look, Agent, the bottom line is you need to be out there getting the maniac, right?" She asks holding his gaze until he nods.

"This is very mild and will get you back to fighting the good fight. So…we gonna do this or what?" She asks, an understanding smile on her face.

Sam closes his eyes for a second, and I can hear the gears turning. He takes off his jacket and starts to roll up his sleeve when she shakes her head.

"Sorry, but this one goes a bit lower," she announces and I completely lose it. I damn near fall out of my chair.

"Of course, it does," he notes with a smirk and pushes his jeans down on one hip so she can get the job done.

"Stay safe, Agents," she blesses before leaving the room.

"Well, Dean, what do you think?" Sammy asks me while putting himself back in order.

"I think you took that like a man," I tease and his expression turns dour.

"Stop screwing around man. You know what I mean. What's the plan?" Sam qualifies and I look up at him from my chair.

"Pharmacy, breakfast and gank monster before you end up dead," I tell him and storm out the door with him trailing me down the hall.

"Dean? Don't you think you may be overreacting just a little bit? I'm fine," Sam reminds me for like the hundredth time in the past few days.

That stops me in my tracks. "You're fine? Sammy, you've been attacked by two freaking witches in the past week. You got a jacked- up arm and a shot in the ass. You are anything but fine," I finish quietly, my hands flexing at my sides wishing I could hit something.

I turn on my heel and leave him gaping after me as I exit the ER and make a beeline for Baby.

16 or 17 years ago

It's been a long couple of weeks, but we're settled in a little town called Fort Morgan, Colorado. Dad wanted something big enough that he could find work but small enough that he could keep an eye on things.

"Dean, go get your brother and wash up for supper," Dad commands stirring the chili on the stove.

"Yes, sir," I answer quickly and run into the other room to get him. He's watching Thundercats again, and I know he loves that show, but sometimes it'd be nice to watch something else. Course, I'd watch a hundred episodes if it meant Sammy stayed healthy.

"Hey, Dean. Wanna watch with me?" Sammy asks and I'm just so grateful that he's well enough to do so.

I shrug then shake my head. "Dad says we gotta wash up for dinner," I relay and head to the bathroom. "Come on, Sammy. You don't want to be late," I prod from the sink.

"Has Dad seemed kinda weird to you lately?" Sammy asks me, and I have to pause for a minute. It hits me that he seems like the Dad I knew before Mom died. Then I remember that Sammy's never known that version of Dad.

I look over at him washing his hands and tell him, "You being sick, well, that freaked us out a bit, Sammy. You'll just have to be a little patient with us."

We finish up and head to the table before I turn toward the fridge to grab the water pitcher. Course there's a pitcher on the counter, but I know that's for guests because that's the holy water.

Sitting around the table, we begin to eat dinner, and I can't help but be drawn back to when I was a little kid and Mom sat across from Dad. She would make faces at him when he got too serious, and then we'd laugh about it for the rest of dinner.

I miss Mom when I stop to think about it, so I try not to do that too much. I wish I could tell Sammy stories about her, but the truth is it hurts too much and I don't remember a lot. Mostly, Dad tells me when he's had one too many beers and talks about her to me.

"How ya feeling, Sam?" Dad asks and Sammy looks up from his bowl of chili.

"Fine, sir," he answers playing with his spoon a little.

"What did you do at school today?" Dad asks us and reaches for his water.

"Billy swallowed a bug at recess," Sammy offers with a shrug of his shoulders.

Dad chuckles and I'm again reminded of my childhood.

"What about you, Dean?" Dad drills me with a look, and I wince knowing he probably found out about the missing assignments.

"Took a couple of lame tests and read a few chapters of A Wrinkle in Time," I answer neglecting to mention the fight I got into at recess.

"We read Where the Wild Things Are about monsters," Sam adds and the table goes silent.

"Sammy, did you say anything…" Dad starts, eyeing Sam with worry.

"We're not s'posed to talk about it, Dad. I remember the rules," Sammy retorts and I smile cause he sounds so grown up.

Dad pats him on the back. "Great job, Sam," he says and I try not to be jealous, then he turns to face me.

"I'm not kidding, Dean. I want your math done right after we finish dinner. Ms. Gordon says you're missing three assignments and you don't want to get behind," Dad orders, his tone brooking no argument.

I stare at him and start to wonder if I should go for the holy water myself. "What does it matter, sir? We'll be out of here soon and maybe we'll attend a different school," I remind him because he's clearly lost his mind.

He stares through me, and it takes every bit of my concentration not to squirm under his scrutiny. "You best drop that attitude, you hear me, Dean?"

"Yes, sir," I answer without missing a beat. "Sorry, I just don't see the point."

Dad takes a deep breath and continues, "Anything worth doing is worth doing right the first time. Your brother needs a little time to get his strength back, so I won't be going out on any hunts for a little while."

"I'm strong, Dad," Sammy injects into the conversation, and I shake my head at him.

Dad ruffles his hair and speaks, "Yes, you're getting stronger every day, but I want you back at 100 percent. We'll still work on drills, and this weekend I'm going to take you out to the country again, and we'll do a little more target shooting."

Dad glances across the table at the empty chair, and I know that he's just thought about Mom.

"Just think, Sammy. A little more practice and you may shoot as good as me, right, Dad?" I ask to stop that faraway look in Dad's eyes.

"Right," he answers distractedly, and I know that I was only partially successful.

"Now finish up. I'm gonna start the dishes while you do your homework. Sammy go get ready for bed, and we'll be in to read a story to you," he orders and Sammy scuttles to obey placing his bowl by the sink.

Twenty minutes later, we're sitting on Sammy's bed waiting for Dad. He's in his pajamas waiting as patiently as a six year- old can.

"So, Sammy, I have something important to tell you before Dad gets in here, so I need you to listen up," I start turning to face him so that he knows this is serious.

"Did I do something wrong, Dean?" Sammy asks and it's like a punch to the gut.

I shake my head and tell him, "No, Sammy. I did. When we were at Fort Douglas, before you got sick, I should have protected you better, but I left you alone and you have no idea how bad that could have been."

Sammy pats my hand and squeezes my fingers, and I see the unwavering trust in his eyes and it floors me.

"You need to understand I messed up and I'm so sorry. I will never make that mistake again. Okay, Sammy?" I push past the lump that's settled in my throat.

"'k, Dean. I know you always p'tect me," He swears and we've run out of time because I hear Dad making his way down the hall.

He pushes through the door, and I freeze because I can see that he seems proud. As long as I live, I hope I never let him down like that again.

Present Day April 2006

"Check this out, Dean," Sammy says bent over the map at the table in the motel room.

I stare down at his work and let out a low whistle saying, "You put an X on the nature center. How did you get there, Sammy?"

Sam nods and grabs the hospital file with his right hand. The swelling has gone down a little, but I can tell by the way he's holding himself that the arm still hurts like a bitch.

I pass him his meds and gesture for him to continue. He pops a couple of pills with some water and points at the map.

"So, here's University Medical where you took me," Sam starts, continuing to gesture toward the map he's taped down to the table. He draws a circle around it. Then he moves southward on the map and circles Plantation General Hospital and writes the number two next to it.

"Do you see it?" He asks me and I look, but honestly nobody's mind works as quickly as my little brother's; he can see patterns that would blow your mind. He's a lot like Dad in that way, not that I'd ever tell him that.

"Not yet, so just get to the finish line, Sammy," I urge a little forcefully.

He circles Midland Medical Center, Broward Imperial Point and Northwest Regional Hospital detailing the number of victims treated at each before reaching for his notebook. Using the edge, he draws a straight line between each of the circled buildings, and before I know it, there's a pentagram on the map with his X neatly in the center of it.

He raises his eyebrows and gives me a grin. Sammy does love to figure out the puzzles.

"This just can't be a coincidence," he says to me, and I'm inclined to agree.

"X marks the spot is good enough for me, Sammy. Do we know what it is yet?" I ask and he pulls a few of the lore books towards him.

"I may have something on that front as well. I couldn't figure out how I'd been attacked. I mean, we've practically been joined at the hip since we got here. We're light sleepers, man. Kinda have to be with this job," Sam explains as I continue to look at the map.

"Get to the point, Sam. Do I have something to gank yet or not?" I ask with a smile pulling a beer out of the mini fridge.

"I'm getting closer. I think that we were under some sort of spell, some version of hypnokinesis or somnokinesis. It's a magical sleep power which seems really out there, I know," Sammy informs me when he sees my eye roll.

"There's actually some lore on it, Dean. So, I checked into it and some Shtriga's can actually control sleep along with other witchy types," Sam concludes and I draw in a breath.

"We just killed one of those things. It better be something else, Sam," I threaten shaking my beer at him.

Sam waves me off. "Give me a minute. I think I'm onto something," he states and pulls yet another book across the table.

My muscles are screaming in protest at the stress of this damn case, so I pop into a seriously hot shower and try to relax.

The water feels awesome and I roll my neck under the spray to dispel some of the tension. After about ten minutes, I can breathe again. This thing attacked Sammy, and I'm getting really damn tired of things doing that. If I can't protect him in the same room…

I feel like I'm caught in a trap. When Sammy was at school, I worried that something would get him. I knew he was getting complacent in his new life.

When he was little, he wanted to hunt with us. Then he got older and it seemed as if he wanted nothing to do with it. He'd go on the hunts, but there were other things he wanted as well.

Sure, we hadn't seen each other in two years when I went to get him at Stanford, but Dad and I would check on him anytime we were in the area. He seemed happy, so we both threw ourselves into hunting. Then Dad disappeared and I had no choice but to crash into his world.

I broke into his place so easy that night I went to get him. No devil's traps. No salt lines. It had me worried. He made it too easy to get at him. It was obvious to me at that moment that he needed his big brother and I needed him just as much.

I shut off the water and grab a towel. Drying quickly, I pull on a pair of jeans and reach for the door.

When I come out of the bathroom, Sam can hardly contain his excitement.

"I think I got it, Dean!" he exclaims tapping the book in front of him. "It's called a Socouyant."

I stare at him in disbelief and question, "A suck you what?"

He laughs and corrects me, "No, Dean. A Socouyant. It's a type of shapeshifting bloodsucking hag witch."

"Awesome," I interject before complaining, "I hate witches, Sammy. They always overshare with the body fluids, dude. Are you sure?"

Sam nods and continues to explain, "Pretty sure. Listen, they enter through any hole, crack or crevice. They turn into a fireball, sucking blood from the limbs of their victims. If she takes too much blood, the victim dies."

I nod in understanding. "So, you wake with bruises, the wicked witch had self-control at the buffet table. She uses that hypnomagic crap to keep people from knowing she's there?" I ask, reaching for a tee shirt in my bag.

"It's hypnokinesis, but yeah, pretty much. Remember that grave that was dug up. Guy with the missing liver?" He asks and I nod and gesture for him to continue. "Well, it grinds up the liver and uses it in a spell that unbinds its skin."

I look at the ceiling and blow out a breath, rubbing my neck. God, I hate witches. I'm not sure I want to know what that means, so I take the lesser of two evils. I drop my head and look at him and ask, "How do we kill it?"

He glances through a book or two before turning to me, "Well… so first we have to find the mortar where she leaves her skin."

I gag at that and say, "Did you just say her skin, Sammy? Tell me you did not just say that."

"Wish I could, Dean. She leaves her skin in a mortar or hollowed out tree, then proceeds to go on her little feeding frenzy," Sam offers as he passes me the book.

I gag again and drop a curse word or two as well. "Freaking witches and their body fluids. They're just so gross, man."

"Dude, you sound like a fourteen year- old girl," Sam attacks, a wide smile on his face.

"Screw you, Sammy," I retaliate and throw my towel at him. "So, you think this mortar thing is at the nature center, and that's why the attacks have all surrounded it."

Sam sighs and nods his head in agreement as he tosses the wet towel onto the other chair. "That's my best guess. We need to find it and use coarse salt to foul the skin so that she dies," Sam finishes and crosses the room to start shoving gear into his go bag.

I nod at my brother and shake my head. "This job…" I utter disbelievingly. "Okay, so do you have any idea who it is?"

"Not really," he answers before he turns thoughtful. "Just a second. Wait, there's something…. where was that?" Sam mutters and sits on the bed, one leg bent and grabs his laptop.

He starts shifting between tabs looking at different sites.

"Here it is," Sammy exclaims and turns towards me, his hazel eyes gleaming.

"The Socouyant comes from the Caribbean, right?" He asks then continues when I nod. "That director lady, Dr. Talley, at the nature center? She has the right accent. Do we have those records? What was her first name?" he questions, shuffling through the file that we'd compiled on the center.

"Her name was Lovelie, Sammy," I fill in the blanks and cross the room to see what he's typing. He enters her name plus Caribbean into the search bar.

"Huh, look at that, Dean. It's Haitian. It's a place to start, and the nature center closed at five," Sam states and closes his laptop stashing it in his go bag as he grabs the weapons bag.

"And we were just at that center two days before you were attacked. That's how you pinged her radar. You'd just survived the Shtriga attack and were all post- vision messed up," I note and check my gun.

"I wouldn't say the Shtriga messed me up, Dean. I got all that she took back when we ganked her, remember?" Sam responds and I can tell I hit a nerve.

"I know. Look, I wasn't trying to start something. We got everything we need?" I ask and hold the door for Sammy because he's hauling most of the gear even with one gimp arm.

We toss it all in the trunk and make tracks for the Fern Forest Nature Center on Lyons. Pulling around the winding road there's a sense of anticipation as we hopefully get closer to stopping this monster.

I swing into a space as Sammy points out the car at the far end of the lot. I sigh, because really what else can you do when you're about to face gooey.

Sam pulls out his laptop, and his fingers fly over his keyboard. "That car is registered to Talley, Dean," he says and shuts his laptop and places it back in his go bag.

We toss our bags in the trunk, and I grab the weapons bag so that he can hold his Colt 1911.

Making our way up the boardwalk, I can't help but feel like sitting ducks. We are totally exposed out here, but we are not going into the questionable water. I have no plans to tangle with an alligator tonight or really ever if you want to know the truth.

Sammy picks the lock on the door in record time, which really isn't that much of an accomplishment since he's been doing that since he was four.

We take the stairs covering each other's backs as we make our way up to the office we sat in just three damn days ago. Three dead and hopefully no more after tonight.

This would end tonight, that was for damn certain. With any luck, tonight's feedings would be a small buffet without overindulging and dropping more bodies.

No lights on so that's a good sign. I gesture for him to cover the other side as I crouch down to pick the lock on her office. Seconds later, we are in and going through her stuff.

Sammy always goes for the books first. He's such a nerd.

His flashlight stays low as he scrolls across the book titles and then moves to the wall décor.

"Anything?" I ask beginning to get a little impatient as I search the small table under the window.

"Not yet, Dean, but give it a minute. We just started looking. So, relax," Sam reminds me and I hate it when he's the level- headed one.

"Relax? Did you just say relax, cause I'm sick and tired of you being a Scooby Snack for witches. I'll…relax…when this thing's dead, Sammy, and not a second before," I relay as I cross over to her desk.

Sam just looks at me and I ignore him. All I'm finding are a bunch of nature files on the life at the center and a few memos about upcoming meetings.

Running the light along the surface, I see two photographs. One is of a young boy and the other of some weird artsy thing that looks like two giant teeth. I notice the name at the bottom of the frame says Fern-Lore Guardians and an idea strikes me.

"Hey, Sam, so you think having a pair of guardians watch over your slimy witch skin would be appropriate?" I ask showing him the picture I've found.

He shrugs and answers, "Well, she had it prominently displayed on her desk, so it obviously means something to her. Can't hurt to check it out."

We put things back in their places and glance at the map to find the sculpture.

We make note of its location and leave the office as quietly as we entered remembering to relock the door. Dad always said to leave no trace.

That whole no security camera thing really helps us out right now as well.

Usually, Sam has to hack some magic into the feed so that we don't end up leaving our pics everywhere we go. Kid's got mad skills when it comes to the electronics.

We head down the stairs and out the way we came towards the park community center.

Guns up, we move cautiously toward our destination hoping like hell we're right because I really don't want to search over 250 acres of land. We just don't have the time.

Sam gestures at me to go low, and I duck down and peer into the grove where the statues stand guard. We start to methodically check the trees closest to the guardians, working out in concentric circles. When I find it, I have to suppress a shudder. One thing's for certain. I was right and it's definitely gag worthy.

I let out a low whistle, a signal to Sam that I've found it and he makes his way to me.

"Gross," I say nearly retching with the slimy skin and blood mixture that taints the inside of this tree slightly off the beaten path.

Sam nods in agreement and grabs the coarse salt. "Looks like the place," he agrees and dumps the salt, covering the nasty juicy bits.

I look down at the salt- covered hole and glance over at him. "Kinda seems anti-climatic," I note and turn away from the sight. "What now?"

Sam claps a hand on my back. "Now? We wait. Make sure she really can't get back into her skin and ends up as dead as some of her victims."

Hours pass and just before dawn a great fireball comes roaring through the sky towards us. I gotta say I didn't really believe the whole fireball thing. I mean, really?

It lands on the tree stump only to screech the most annoyingly high- pitched sound ever.

Sam and I watch in astonishment as it tries again to push back into its skin. The fire surrounding it continues to dim as she wails from the onslaught of a little salt in her diet.

"Sucks to be you, bitch," I gasp as the fire dies completely and ashes drop to the ground like volcanic debris.

Sam looks over at me and I shrug. "That seem a little too easy, Sammy?" I ask and he raises one eyebrow. I guess we were due for an easy one.

"You were right about the anti-climactic part, but we're not done yet," He cautions as he points toward the gooey mess inside the tree stump. "We need to dispose of that," he says and some days I can't believe some of the crap I've got to do.

"What do you think about a little cleansing fire?" I ask him reaching into weapons bag and tossing him a book of matches.

Sammy shrugs and answers, "That should work."

I clap my hands and rub them together with a smile on my face. "Sounds like a plan, Sammy," I say gleefully and pull out the gas can and douse the mess with gasoline. Sammy drops a match on it, and we watch to make sure that we don't start a nice little forest fire.

Wincing, I retch as I watch the skin splatter and melt and, dammit, if it doesn't start to look like bacon in a frying pan. I turn away because I will not allow anything to ruin bacon for me. "That's just so gross, Sammy."

"Kinda reminds me of bacon, Dean," he says with an evil knowing grin, and I glare at him. He knows how much I love bacon. I'm not amused as we stow our gear and make for the car.

"No more witches," I vow and know that's not realistic. Sammy does too because he laughs as we finally reach the Impala, toss our bags in the trunk and get in the car to drive away.

We share a knowing look as I pull out of the Fern Forest driveway because the bottom line is there are three things I know for certain.

First, Sammy and I need to be together.

Second, bacon and booze can never be a bad thing.

And third, if there's a monster out there and it gets one toe out of line, I know my brother and I will be there to put it down. That's the job and we're damn good at it.

The End