Disclaimer/Spoilers: See chapter 1. Note: Violence, potentially disturbing images, a mature scene, and language in this chapter.

a/n: You are all wonderful people. My thanks to you for reading and for commenting. My thanks to The Powers That Be for a fifth season. My thanks to Kelly for her shrewd eye. And to the hands at my back that alternately push me forward and keep me from the edge. You know who you are.


Hold me now I need to feel relief
Like I never wanted anything
I suppose I'll let this go and find a reason I'll hold on to
I'm so ashamed of defeat
And I'm out of reasons to believe in me
I'm out of trying to get by…

The Gift, by Seether

www

He could feel his heartbeat in his throat.

The strength that had carried him from waking in the hotel room to standing in the nightshade of the crypt seemed to flood out of his pores with sweat from the insane heat. Sam's words of warning back in the rail car echoed loudly in his ears as he watched Brenna's small hand close over the hilt of the dagger. He stepped forward, the can of salt slipping from his fingers, the fine hairs on his arms and the back of his neck standing as his skin tightened with the horror of the moment.

"Brenna, don't move," Dean said, his voice rough with honest fear.

The six people in the room seemed to collectively hold their breath as Brenna's wild eyes slid to meet Dean's and the wizard froze in his frantic effort to grab her waist.

"You need to let go. Now." Dean's order was soft, but his words strong and clear. He barely noticed the tremble of his limbs as he took another step forward.

As if compelled to obey despite the look of determination on her face, Brenna's fingers stiffly released the knife and she lifted a shaking hand away from the danger.

"No! No, you can't be here," Adoamros hissed. He lay stretched forward, a hand hovering over the small of Brenna's back, his eyes pinned to Dean as if seeing an apparition.

"Stow it, Gandalf," Dean snapped, his eyes on Brenna's cowering form. "Brenna, come here."

Brenna blinked, as if she, too, were working to believe Dean was truly standing in the crypt with her. She didn't move. Dean took another step toward her, aware of Griffin and Sam moving to either side of his periphery, aware of Virgil at his back, aware of the almost palpable tension in the room. The air was electric; it was the moment before a lightning strike.

"Bren—"

"STOP!" Adoamros roared, rolling away from Brenna and hopping lithely to his feet. "She's mine."

Dean spared the wizard a malicious glance. "You didn't get me, you didn't get my brother, and you're not getting her."

"She is mine! He led me to her!" The wizard took a step to the side, putting himself between Dean and Brenna.

Dean's jaw was so tight he thought he felt his teeth crack. His stomach muscles coiled, his fingers curled against his palms. Sweat ran unchecked down the sides of his face as the night air reached a peak that made the heat seem almost visible.

"We're done here, man," Dean said.

"No," the wizard shook his head, sliding toward Brenna once again. He spread his hands at his sides and Dean felt the pressure in the room increase. "No, this is not the way it happens. This is not the way!"

Adoamros began to mutter, a low hum of words that sounded like bees trapped against glass and made no sense. He stood between Brenna and her saviors, pinning her with position against the opened coffin of Lane Carter. Dean willed Brenna to move, screaming silently with every cell in his body.

Move, baby, get away from him, GO!

She seemed frozen to the spot, broken somehow. She simply stared at him, her eyes wide and predatory, though no one touched her. Blood and bruising marred her fine-boned features, her shirt was torn, her wrists and knuckles scuffed. Rage rolled inside of Dean, making him tremble.

"Sam," Dean said, his voice low.

"I got it," Sam replied, confidence etching the dimly lit room with certainty. Dean saw him reach to his back pocket and remove papers that he'd stuffed there back in the rail car.

The wizard's voice sped up as he slowly raised his arms away from his body. The room began to hum, pressure rattling the stained glass windows, wind emanating from an unseen source swirling around them, slapping the vines that grew in the corners of the stone room against the walls and sending thick cobwebs skittering across their faces. The candles flamed higher, illuminating the room and defying the power of the wind.

Sam began reading, hesitantly at first, his voice stuttering and stalling as the unnatural wind pushed at them from all sides. Dean took advantage as his brother pulled the wizard's attention and stepped toward Brenna. Just as he did, Griffin moved toward the knife.

"No!" Dean spat as Griffin reached out.

Griffin shot him a black look. "Stay out of this!"

Sam's voice rose in tempo with the wizard's, whatever he was reading managing to hold the wind at bay for a moment. Dean had lost track of Virgil in his efforts to get to Brenna and keep Griffin away from the Kestrel Dagger.

"It'll kill you!" Dean grabbed Griffin's sleeve

"Bull shit," Griffin snarled, shoving Dean backwards. "You think this pig sticker's gonna keep you from Hell?"

Sam's voice filled Dean's ears, desperation beginning to edge out composure.

"If Hell wants you, ain't nothing gonna save you, boy." Griffin reached for the knife once more.

Dean snapped.

All sound, all sensation, all fear, all worry, all regret, all hope slipped beyond his control and he attacked. He slammed into the older hunter, feeling the jarring impact echo through his weakened body as he bore them to the floor, Griffin's back taking the brunt.

Not allowing Griffin a moment to recover, Dean reared up and slammed his fist against the hunter's jaw, his silver ring opening up the man's cheek and splashing crimson across the stone floor. Dean hit him again, his throat beginning to vibrate from the low scream of anger and pain that shook loose from his gut.

"Dean!"

He heard his name, but it wasn't Sam's voice. He ignored it, hitting Griffin again, feeling the man go slack in his grip.

"Dean! Stop!"

A hand touched his shoulder and he turned, fist drawn back, blood in his eyes, ready to lash out. Two seconds before he struck, blue eyes registered in his vision and he pulled up short.

"Virge?" he croaked, awareness returning. He released Griffin, turning and searching the room for his brother. Virgil kept a loose grip on his bicep as they faced the battle of wills across the room.

The heat in the crypt was almost unbearable. Dean gasped as the breath was sucked from his lungs by the increasing wind. He searched frantically for Sam, seeing him across the room, papers before him flipping and folding in the gale, the tendons in his neck taut and straining, his face red from screaming Latin phrases back at the wizard.

In contrast, Adoamros looked eerily calm, showing for the first time since the brothers had encountered him a union with the magic that had elongated his life and stolen his humanity. His words were whispered, their volume stolen by the wind, his face pale and serene, his hands spread, one toward Sam, the other, Dean realized with horror, reaching back to Brenna, knowing instinctively that touching her could spell their doom.

"No," Dean whispered, looking at her.

She was pinned against the crypt, head back, lips trembling. Dean started to push to his feet, but stumbled, his body giving in to weakness. His head spun, his breath caught, and he felt the sensation of movement at his back, realizing belatedly that Virgil had grabbed his gun from his waist and was pointing it at the wizard.

"Stop it!" Virgil demanded.

As if batting a fly, Adoamros blinked in the blue-eyed man's direction and sent him flying. Dean's head whipped to the side as he watched Virgil hit the wall of the crypt, the gun slipping from his fingers. Dean reached back and grabbed his Bowie from its sheath tucked into his waistband. He stood and raised the knife in one motion.

"Wait," Griffin spoke up from his crumpled position at Dean's feet.

Dean didn't bother looking at him. He heard his brother's voice wavering, felt the heat of the room, the pressure of the power, saw the fear in Brenna's tight face and threw the knife at the wizard. As if bouncing off of an invisible shield, the Bowie ricocheted, flying back at Dean and causing him to drop to the floor to avoid being skewered. Virgil dodged, rolling away, arms covering his astonished features as he stared at what until now had been impossible.

Dean looked up, his eyes locking for one moment with Sam's. This is it, isn't it? Sam's eyes seemed to be asking.

"No!" Dean shook his head. "No way, Sammy." He looked at the wizard, seeing him reach back for Brenna, realizing what he was going to do a heartbeat before his fingers closed around Brenna's wrist. Son of a bi—

He wasn't able to complete the curse. As power connected with power, the room seemed to implode. He heard the start of Brenna's scream, the beginning of glass shattering, the first syllable of his name captured in his brother's rough voice.

Then all was silent and white.

Thump-thump.

He was drifting, floating.

Thump-thump.

He saw sparks, like fireworks in his mind.

Thump-thump.

His face was wet.

Thump-thump.

And his body hurt.

The sharp burst of pain in his chest when he finally drew a breath again brought him from the nothing of white space to the harsh, smoky reality of darkness. He coughed, pressing the flat of his hand against his chest, rolling to his side.

"Sam?" he tried. His voice was gone, stolen by heat and rage. He coughed again. "Sam?"

Only the sound of crumbling stone and falling glass met his ears. He blinked, his eyes watering as he peered around the darkened room, the candles having finally succumbed to the power of the wizard's wind. Virgil lay near him, eyes closed, chest moving in slow, even breaths. Griffin had rolled to a slumped, seated position, holding his head in his hands.

The wizard was standing across the room, staring straight ahead, his mouth agape, face pale, fingers still on Brenna's wrist. It was almost as if connecting with Brenna's natural-born power had shorted him out, sending the wizard's sense spinning. Dean shot his gaze to Brenna, feeling the slow thrum of his heart slam hard against the prison of his ribs.

She was standing behind the wizard, her battered form appearing smaller somehow, her eyes too large for her face, and, Dean saw with true fear, completely black. No gold edged the enlarged pupils as before. It was as if her power had taken over and there was nothing of Brenna left.

Their stance felt unreal, their stillness unnatural. Dean rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands, blinking through the starlit room, trying to make sense of what was before his eyes. Coughing again, he pushed carefully to his knees, feeling oddly detached from his own body, his stomach dropping when he realized the one form he didn't see inside the ruined crypt was Sam.

"Sam!" He called, his voice sounding to his own ears like sandpaper on glass.

Something dripped into his left eye and he blinked it away, frowning as it stuck to his lashes. He swiped at it with the back of his hand and was slightly surprised to see his hand come back red.

"Answer me!" he called.

Virgil groaned beside him, stirring. Griffin still held his head, not moving. Dean used the wall to pull himself to his feet, hating the weakened tremble of his legs as they held his weight. He looked at the oddly frozen figures of the wizard and Brenna, aching to go to her, but anxious to see his brother in one piece.

"Sam, goddammit! You answer me right now!" He yelled, desperation lending strength to both his voice and his body. He took a step forward, glancing through the broken stained-glass window. One glance told him why Sam wasn't answering.

His brother lay outside the crypt in the rubble of the glass, unconscious.

"Oh, Jesus, Sammy," Dean breathed.

He stumbled forward, hauling himself through the broken door, falling to his knees, and crawling to his brother's side, clumsy fingers searching desperately for the beat of Sam's heart.

He felt dizzy with relief when the steady cadence met his search.

"Sammy?" Dean whispered, cupping his brother's slack face with a bruised, dirty hand. "Open your eyes, little brother."

When Sam didn't comply, Dean carefully reached for his brother's shoulder, rolling Sam to his side, and slid his hands down Sam's back, searching. His fingers felt the wetness of his brother's blood, but not as much as he feared, and caught on several shards of glass. Wincing, Dean pulled Sam's limp body up into a semi-seated position, wrapping an arm around his brother's back, resting his head on his shoulder as he probed the back of Sam's head.

He felt a good-sized knot that was going to give Sam a headache for awhile, but no gaping wounds. The edges of his vision swirled in as he started to breathe again. He clutched at Sam a moment more, cold memory threatening to swamp him as he relived another moment where Sam's weight bowed his back and filled his arms.

"You're gonna be okay, Sammy," Dean whispered against Sam's hair. "You did real good in there."

The heat of the night seemed to surge around them and Dean gasped with the shock of it. Sam stirred slightly in his arms and Dean held on tighter, craning his neck to see around his brother's broad shoulders. He could barely make out the figures inside the crypt as the wan starlight filtered through the broken windows. He saw the starlight reflect off of Virgil's pale arm as he reached for Brenna.

"Brenna, honey," Virgil whispered. "Bren, look at me."

Dean felt his muscle tighten as Virgil's fingers found Brenna's skin. Her scream sliced Dean's heart. It was rage and denial and fear and need wrapped up in a hawk-like cry that tore through the graveyard, startling birds from trees and shaking Sam into awareness.

"Dean?" Sam mumbled, his mouth pressed to Dean's shoulder.

Dean didn't reply. He simply held his brother close, staring with confusion and awe as Brenna finally pulled free of the wizard's grip. She backed away until she was in shadow from the starlight, until he couldn't see her any more.

But he could hear her.

"Don't touch me," she rasped. "Stay away."

"Brenna, honey, it's me. It's Virge."

"Stay back!" Her voice broke on the final word and Dean felt Sam stiffen in his arms.

"Dean?" Sam said, his voice clearing as he pulled away from Dean's shoulder. "Ah!" he cried as the glass shards in his back made themselves known.

With burning eyes, Dean watched Virgil whirl and face the statue-like wizard, rage triggering nerve that had been dormant until this moment."You did this," Dean heard Virgil growl at the smaller man. "You did this to her."

Dean eased Sam away from his body, holding his brother's face between his hands, their eyes meeting.

"Dean," Sam breathed, his eyes closing in pain. "Go." He pulled further away from Dean, and slumped against the side of the crypt as Dean struggled to his knees.

"I'll be right back," Dean promised, pushing himself upright and stumbling back into the crypt in time to see Virgil lunge for the wizard.

Adoamros took the hit, his face impassive, his body collapsing like a house of cards against the force of Virgil's fury. Dean's eyes darted around the floor of the crypt, searching for a weapon—his gun, knife, anything. His eyes caught on the Kestral Dagger.

And Griffin's hand closing over the amethyst hilt.

In that moment, Dean's world began to rotate in a miasmic kaleidoscope of colors and time, leaving him at the core, unable to affect even one of the events spiraling them all toward a tragic end. Adoamros came to life as Griffin grabbed the knife. The wizard struck back as Virgil advanced, sending the blue-eyed man to the floor in a gasping heap.

Adoamros rose with unnatural swiftness, moving with a hovering grace past the tilted coffin that cradled his brother's wasted body. Faded bits of a conversation saturated in pain and blood swam back to Dean as he bent quickly to feel around on the ground for the can of salt.

I think he was talking to him…

Maybe he was…

Adoamros' power had a source greater than spells. Something was enabling him to keep control of the dagger for all these years. Something was leading him to his victims. And Dean was betting all their lives that he knew what that something was.

As the wizard focused on Griffin, Dean skirted the edge of the room, not daring to look at Brenna, unscrewing the cap on the salt can as he went. He stayed in the shadows, slipping between the coffin and the stone wall, keeping the body between himself and the others in the room.

"You're done, freak," Griffin smirked, standing, the dagger balanced expertly in his grip.

Adoamros didn't reply, he simply stood before Griffin, looking up at the hunter with a mild expression. Dean slipped a box of matches from his pocket, hoping the mummified strips of cloth would be enough to catch fire without the aid of accelerant.

"What are you grinning at?" Griffin scoffed, his voice edging on nervous. "You got nothing left."

"I have you," Adoamros purred. "And your greed."

As Dean started to dump the salt on the caved in chest of Lane Carter, he felt pressure against his belly, like a large hand shoving him back, pinning him to the wall. He groaned, fighting against the power, the can of salt falling from his numb fingers as he struggled. Through blurred eyes he watch Griffin raise the dagger, advancing on the wizard. He wanted to tell Griffin to drop the knife, to try one more time, but the fight to pull away from the wall overpowered his capacity to speak.

Pinned to the wall, the opened coffin between him and the older hunter, Dean watched helplessly as the candles once again sprang to life, burning blue, then surging up to a white-orange flame. He stared as Griffin and the wizard seemed to dance in the light of the flames, a slowly choreographed struggle for power and dominance over the diamond-studded blade. He clenched his teeth, straining against the frustrating immobility, working to reach the salt can once again. And then Griffin lunged.

Though pointed toward Adoamros, when Griffin thrust the knife forward, the blade shimmered, shifting in his grip, blade and handle swapping positions so that the knife now pointed at Griffin. Unable to stop his forward momentum, Griffin walked into the blade. It buried itself to the hilt in his body with a smooth, silent motion.

Dean flinched, narrowing his eyes to block both the heat and the sight of Griffin's shock as he fell to one knee. Dean felt the invisible grip at his middle go slack as Adoamros jerked the knife free, blood spilling across the blade and onto the wizard's hands. He began to chant, Latin slipping over his lips like syrup. Dean slipped down the wall, landing in a heap.

Griffin gasped, a strangled, desperate sound, and locked eyes with Dean. He fell forward, catching himself on one hand, then falling to his elbow and finally his back. Dean pulled further back into the shadow from the fire while Griffin's body shook, arched, then finally collapsed as his breath escaped one last time. It was over so quickly; one minute Griffin was fighting, the next, he lay still. Dean felt cold creep through him despite the heat.

He grimaced as the wizard faced him, voice rising, the blood slicked knife glistening in the light from the dancing flames. Shocked, Dean saw the blood being absorbed into the dagger's blade. A glow began to suffuse the weapon, traveling up Adoamros' arm to his body, his face reflecting spasms of pleasure.

In the next moment the candles died and the wizard was standing in front of Dean.

"Now," he whispered, his fetid breath skimming Dean's face, "I only need one more."

Dean snarled, lunged, but was slammed forcefully against the wall, the back of his head cracking painfully against the stone, the eerie feeling of fingers at his throat.

"Not gonna find his soulmate anytime soon," Dean rasped, straining away from the wall.

"That's the beauty of it," Adoamros said, his eyes flicking toward where Brenna hid in the shadows. "With her power… I no longer need the soul's mate… I simply need the soul."

"Son of a bitch," Dean growled through teeth clenched in fury. His gut twisted as the implications of what the wizard had done to Brenna shook him with brutal force. He needed to get to her. Now.

The smell of death permeated the room, drifting in the heat-saturated air from the wasted, rotted body of Lane Carter.

"Gonna be hard to find the soul without your guide," Dean said, his lip curling in hatred and disgust, his body thrumming from abuse. Sweat rolled down the sides of his face mixing with the blood congealing there. "I'm gonna toast his ass."

Adoamros spared his brother's ashes a glance. "It won't matter," the wizard crooned, "he's a part of me."

Dean's eyebrows met over the bridge of his nose. "Dude, you're crazy on toast."

Adoamros stood, looking down at Virgil, then back at Brenna.

"Hey," Dean barked. "You want a soul?" He pulled his shoulders free from the grip of power, leaning forward.

"Don't bother," the wizard said, dully. "Yours was wasted in a desperate act. Hers," he tilted his head as he gazed at Brenna, "is of no more use to me. But… his…"

The wizard turned to Virgil, stepping forward gracefully.

"N-no, stop…" Dean heard Brenna breathe, her voice so broken that his heart skipped at the sound.

"Some wizard!" Dean taunted, straining against the invisible hold, feeling it weaken as the wizard focused on Virgil, who was slowly pushing himself away from the threat. He fumbled clumsy fingers into the pocket of his jeans, searching for the matches he'd stashed there. "You stirred up a little windstorm. Somebody call Guinness."

Adoamros glanced over his shoulder at Dean. "I can silence you."

"Give it your best shot, Sparky," Dean snarled, working to ignore the tightening sensation at the base of his throat.

"You may not be able to feed me," Adoamros said, turning his back on Virgil and advancing on Dean, "but I'm tired of your… antics."

"Cry me a river," Dean strained, his throat working against the invisible grip. As he choked out words, the hold tightened, bruising skin and collapsing his airway. "The on-only reason you're st-still alive is… because… we…"

He was fading, the world graying, his breath all but stilled as his throat closed, choking him. The sound of the gunshot echoed in the hollow behind his ears and he felt all bonds released. He sagged to the floor, gasping, choking for breath, his world spinning.

"We thought you were human," Virgil said, darkly. "Turns out, we were wrong."

Dean lifted blurry eyes to see the faded image of the wizard holding his wounded arm, the knife blade glinting from the ground where it had fallen. Virgil sat against the wall, Dean's .45 clutched in his grip, its barrel shaking as he pointed it at the wizard.

"Sh-shoot him…" Dean said, his voice barely audible. "Vir-Virge, shoot the bastard!"

Virgil took aim once more, but with a snarl of anger, the wizard bent, grabbed the knife, and before Dean could so much as take another breath, he turned, slipped through the crumbling doorway, and headed out into the night. The knife gripped firmly in his hands, death on his mind.

"I-I couldn't… I couldn't do it," Virgil said, lowering the gun, obviously feeling the effects of the fight. "I'm sorry…"

Dean rolled his head weakly, turning to look at Brenna. He could see her hands clasped around her knees, her bare feet poking out, but the shadows hid her face, her eyes.

"What do we do now?" Virgil asked, his voice lost.

Dean swallowed, struggling to his knees and crawling the few spaces toward Griffin. The hunter was dead, his eyes barely parted, his lips white, flecks of blood drying at the corners of his mouth.

"I mean… we can't just let him go."

Virgil's voice became a low hum in Dean's background. He pulled himself painfully to his feet, gripping the edge of the coffin as he bent to retrieve the can of salt. Slowly unscrewing the lid, Dean covered the gaping maw of fractured teeth, the sunken chest, the fingers curled into claws, the crooked leg bones with the purifying mineral.

"He's going to kill someone else!" Virgil yelled.

"Not if I can help it," Dean said, his voice a soft shadow of Virgil's frustration.

He flicked the head of a match with his thumbnail, lighting the edges of the rags hanging from Lane's body. He did that in three more places, stepping back as the flames caught, burning the bones and filling the small area with an all-too-familiar stench. He backed away from the flames and trudged out into the dying night to check on Sam.

"You okay?" Dean said, crouching in front of Sam's slumped form.

Sam simply looked at him.

"Can you move?"

"Probably," Sam whispered. His fingers were blood-covered where he'd been working some of the glass shards from the backs of his arms. "Hurts like a bitch, though."

"You're going to be okay, Sammy." Dean traced gentle fingers down the back of Sam's torn shirt, counting the glass fragments still embedded in Sam's skin.

"What about," Sam swallowed, blinking heavy-lidded eyes as he lifted weak fingers to touch the new cut on Dean's forehead, then dropping to the bruises rising on Dean's neck. "What about you?"

"I'm okay," Dean said, rolling Sam toward him and grimacing at the sound of Sam's barely-suppressed whimper. "I burned the brother."

"Figured."

"Could slow him down." Dean winced as he pulled a shallow piece of glass free, feeling Sam shudder against him.

"Virge's right, Dean."

Dean sank slowly to his knees, Sam shifting with the motion to lie awkwardly against him. The night was ebbing, the sun working once more to take over the sky. The world began to slowly wake around them. What should have been a cool, dew-filled dawn, however, was simply a shift toward the impossible: more heat. It shimmered in the air around them, making movements sluggish, making breathing laborious.

In the distance, a train whistle cut through the hot silence, shaking Dean from a stupor of exhaustion. Sam's head was on his shoulder, hip against his thigh, breath hot on his neck.

"What?" Dean asked, trying to pull his scattered thoughts together. He felt like something inside of him had been dropped, cracking with tiny fissures, weakening to the point of shattering. "What did you say?"

"Virge is right," Sam repeated. "We can't just let him go. We have to finish this."

Dean looked over Sam's tangled hair to see Virgil crouching in front of where he knew Brenna was sitting, the fading fire throwing odd shadows across his back.

"Sam… Griffin's dead," Dean said, feeling as if the only thing keeping him together in that moment was the barrier of his skin. "Brenna's…" Gone? Broken? Empty? "Hurt. You're a pincushion. Virge isn't thinking straight."

"We gotta do this, Dean," Sam said.

"She's not coming out," Virgil said suddenly behind him. "She won't even say anything. Whatever that bastard did, she's buried so far down inside herself…"

"Virge—" Dean started.

"You do what you have to," Virgil said, looking once at Sam's back, his blue eyes electric in the morning like, off-set by dirt and bruises. "But I'm going after him. "

"What!" Dean started to push Sam away, started to get to his feet, unable to untangle himself quickly enough as Virgil stalked past them, Dean's .45 in his grip. "Virgil! Wait!"

"Go, Dean," Sam pushed him away weakly, "I'll be okay here."

"I'm not leaving you," Dean proclaimed. "I can't… I can't leave you two here."

"I'll be okay," Sam breathed. "I'll watch her until you come back." He started to push himself to his feet.

"Like hell!" Dean exclaimed. "You're cut-up pretty bad, Sammy."

"It's not as bad as—" Sam hissed as he stood, gripping the side of the crypt for balance. Dean stood with him, tucking his shoulder into Sam's chest, supporting him.

"Here," Dean said, "let's get you inside."

Sam didn't argue, his face pale in the early morning light. Dean eased him down inside the crypt near Brenna's hiding place, then, with a promise to be right back turned and headed out of the crypt toward the Impala. He felt the weight of his borrowed clothes on his skin as he moved, felt the air cling to his exposed skin like a blanket.

There was a hollow in his chest, and it echoed with each step, shaking through his pounding head and shimmering through his heavy limbs. As he reached the Impala, he saw Virgil rifling through the back of Griffin's black truck. He knew the paramedic was looking for more weapons, but was too weary to make something of it.

He opened the trunk, the train whistle sounding once more in the distance, the sound carried by the heat toward them. Shoving aside bags of clothes and weapons, he grabbed the med kit they were rarely without and closed the trunk.

"You go alone, you're going to get yourself killed," Dean pointed out, not looking directly at Virgil.

"Maybe," Virgil replied.

"What's she going to do without you, man?" Dean looked at him askance, surprising himself with the question.

Virgil lifted wounded eyes, his heart held there for Dean to see. "She never really needed me anyway."

Dean swallowed, looking down. "I think she needs you more than you know."

Virgil hopped down from the truck, a Sig in his one hand, ammo in the other, Dean's gun tucked into the front of his jeans. "If taking out this… this wizard guy brings her back… then nothing else matters."

Dean felt his heart stop, then sluggishly beat once more. Memories of Brenna hit him with force, staggering him slightly and causing Virgil to reach out instinctively.

"Hey, man, you okay?"

The flash of her eyes when she caught him in the garage at her grandfather's Inn, the hum of his skin as they touched, the taste of her mouth the first time, the taste of her body the last, the sound of her laughing, the sound of her yelling, the sound of her screaming, the soft whisper of truth as she saw more deeply into him than anyone had bothered to look…

"Do you love her, man… it's okay if you do…"

He vaguely recalled answering his brother, saying words he'd never thought he'd say aloud. He'd never said it to her, never trusted himself to really know if the emotions he felt around her were driven by honesty or need.

"'M okay," Dean muttered shrugging of Virgil's arm. "Don't go anywhere."

"Dean—"

"Dude, just," Dean pinned him with fierce eyes. "Just wait for me."

Not giving Virgil a chance to reply, Dean headed back to the crypt and to Sam. His brother hadn't moved and looked as if he might've passed out once more. Dean knelt in front of Sam, positioned between his brother and Brenna's hidden form. He opened the med kit, removing the scissors and touching Sam's arm carefully to warn him.

"I'm back, man," Dean said softly.

Sam frowned, but didn't open his eyes. He shifted slightly and Dean began to cut the T-shirt off of Sam's body. "At least the magic cuts are still stitched. Virge did a good job with that."

He wet a thick gauze pad with antiseptic and cleaned the cuts he could see along Sam's exposed arm. The bleeding had stopped.

"This might hurt a bit, brother," Dean said, keeping his voice low and calm.

He moved to Sam's back, biting his lip at the site of the three hunks of glass sticking into the muscles there. Using the over-sized tweezers Sam had purchased awhile back, after they'd finished the job at Roosevelt Asylum and Dean had half a dozen chunks of rocksalt embedded in his chest, Dean gripped the largest of the shards and pulled it cleanly from Sam's skin.

"Ah!" Sam woke with a cry. "Holy shit!"

"Easy, man," Dean crooned, resting his hand on Sam's bare shoulder, knowing from practice that touch was one of the only things to calm Sam down when he was hurt. "It's okay, Sam. It'll be over soon."

"What the hell, Dean…"

"Just hang in there… one minute… longer…" Dean pulled the second shard out as Sam bit his lip to quiet the scream building in his throat. "Almost… done… there."

Sam sagged against the wall, panting and trembling. Dean continued to talk calmly, keeping one hand on the back of Sam's neck as he cleaned the larger of the lacerations, removing the comforting touch only when he had to tape gauze patches over the wounds.

"You need to shift a little, Sammy," Dean instructed. "Gotta get to that other arm."

"Where is everybody?" Sam asked weakly. "Are they gone?"

"No," Dean said, glancing over his shoulder at Brenna. He wanted to see her face, but kept cleaning Sam's cuts. "They're still here. 'Cept Mr. Soul Eater. He ran off. There, you're all set."

Sam rotated until he could rest his back gingerly against the wall. "Feels better."

Dean grinned slightly. "Always were a lousy liar, Sam."

"The train," Sam said suddenly.

"Yeah, I heard it," Dean nodded, cleaning up the med kit.

"No, I mean, that's where he's going. Adoamros."

Dean frowned. "The train?"

"He's gonna ride the rails. Hard to track, get him to another town…"

"Wouldn't he want to bring the last one back to his brother? Or the cave?"

Sam shrugged slightly, wrapping his arms across his bare chest as if he were cold, though Dean could see sweat beading on the scabbed-over tattoo and gathering in the hollow of Sam's throat.

"If I were him," Sam said softly, "I'd jump on the train."

"Where's Virge?" came a soft voice from the shadows.

Sam jumped slightly and Dean looked over toward Brenna. "He's waiting for me outside."

"You're leaving?" Brenna asked.

"We're gonna… uh, we're gonna try to stop him," Dean said, shifting closer to the shadows, pausing only when he saw her pull her bare toes from the beam of light and closer towards her.

"Kill him," she said.

Dean looked down, feeling the fissures inside of him crack a little deeper at the venom in her voice.

"He isn't human anymore," Sam said softly, giving Dean an out.

His head down, Dean raised his eyes to Sam. "Watch her."

"I will," Sam promised.

"Brenna…" Dean tried, unsure how to say goodbye.

He didn't know how this was going to play out, but chances were high that one of them wouldn't return to the two that stayed behind. Unable to find the words, Dean stood, looked back once, then headed out to the heat of the day and Virgil.

www

Sam stared at Griffin's body.

They'd warned him. They'd tried to save him. And there he lay. Moving stiffly, Sam pulled his legs underneath him, rising to his knees and peering closer at Griffin's face. In his life, dead didn't always stay dead. And he'd never trusted Griffin.

"He's gone, Sam," Brenna whispered.

Sam jerked back as if she'd caught him in a lewd act.

"I know," he said defensively, "I just wanted to—"

"Will he be back?" She asked, her voice wounded and young.

It took Sam a moment to realize that Brenna wasn't talking about Griffin.

"He'll be back," Sam promised. He scooted closer to her, sitting at the edge of her shadow of protection. His back throbbed and he felt cold without his shirt on, despite the oppressive heat.

"Dean or Virge?" She asked.

Dean, Sam thought. "They both will."

"That wizard said my soul… he said it was… that it didn't have a mate," Brenna whispered, her voice catching on the confession.

"He's crazy, Brenna," Sam said, matching her volume. "Everyone has a match out there somewhere."

He'd never really thought about his match being his brother, but it made sense to him with all they'd been through in their lives. All they'd fought for and against. All they'd sacrificed for just one more day. One more chance. He looked closer into the shadow, able to see Brenna's drawn face in the dim light.

The broken expression, the bowed mouth, the haunted eyes stabbed deep into him, showing him a future he shrank from. A future without his brother, a future wandering lost, fighting evil for the sake of fighting, saving nothing, including himself. He saw himself bereft and alone, a useless husk of humanity trapped in a world without purpose or light.

No way

He would save Dean, or die trying. And if the worst happened, if he lost Dean to the pit, if he lost Dean at all, he had the perfect example to follow in the wake of tragedy: his father.

John had returned to the only structure that hadn't abandoned him when Mary died. Being a soldier saved John's life, kept them all alive. Sam knew how to live like a soldier. He knew how to survive like one. He knew how to fight like one. He knew that he'd be able to save himself, and perhaps one day, save Dean.

"What's it like, Sam?" Brenna asked.

He scooted even closer, his wounded arm slipping under her shadow—not touching, but close enough that he could feel the heat from her body.

"What's what like?"

"Having that… having him. Having someone… sacrifice for you. Because of you."

Sam looked down, his eyes burning. "It's… hell."

Brenna sniffed. Sam didn't look up.

"It's everything you wanted and nothing you'd ask for," Sam continued. "I love my brother. But I hate him, too. And I… sometimes I can't find that line, y'know?"

"Hate him?"

"Because he…" Sam swallowed, his weary body weeping for him when his eyes lost the essence of tears. "Because he gives everything but never asks me what I want."

"You'd rather be dead?"

Sam looked over at her. "Rather than watch him die? Hell, yeah."

Brenna swallowed. "I'd rather be dead."

"Bren…"

"I don't want to see what I see. I don't want to see… anything."

Sam felt his inside tighten with her pain. He instinctively reached for her, needing to offer comfort through touch. Brenna sensed him and drew back.

"Don't!"

"Brenna, I—"

"God, Sam, please…" she begged, her voice cracking. "Don't touch me! It's… there's too much… too many voices…" She shuddered and Sam saw her press the palms of her hands to her temples. "The light is too bright."

With that whispered confession, she broke, tears wracking from her on broken-hearted sobs. Sam bit his lip, curling his hands into his fists. He didn't reach to touch her again. He simply sat against the wall as she cried, protecting her from the harsh light of day.

He knew there was only one thing that would heal her—he just didn't know if she'd ever allow it.

www

"This is an amazing car, but," Virgil said tightly, gripping the doorframe of the Impala's passenger window, "I don't think it can outrun a train."

"Don't need to out run it," Dean said briskly, his body rebelling with barely-suppressed whimpers as they bounced over the ruts in the field along the train tracks. "Just need to catch it."

"You're gonna tear up your suspension, man!"

"She'll hold together," Dean snapped, then winced as the Impala shuddered over a particularly deep rut. "Hear me, baby? Hold together," he murmured.

"There it is," Virgil called out. "I think it's stopped at the water tower."

"Fantastic," Dean slowed the Impala, pulling to a stop near a small clump of trees. He climbed out, wavering a bit as the heat wrapped around him, and closed the door. He looked around. "I better be able to find her again."

"You will," Virgil said, shoving a clip into the Sig he borrowed from Griffin's truck. "Here." He handed Dean the .45. "You might need this."

"You ready?"

Virgil swallowed, tucking the Sig into his waistband. "Hell no," he said. "I'm trained to save lives, not take 'em."

"Why are you here, then?" Dean asked, walking toward the caboose of the train as the squeal of metal on metal met his ears. The train was starting to move.

"'Cause I…" Virgil stopped talking as he jogged up to match Dean's strides. "I don't have anywhere else to go."

Dean nodded once. "I hear that."

The train began to pull away and the duo broke into a lope, grasping the metal ladder at the back of the caboose and pulling themselves up. Dean began to climb, making room for Virgil on the ladder.

"Now what?" Dean called down to him over the clacking of the wheels as the train picked up speed.

"Hell if I know!" Virgil called back.

Dean shook his head. Way to think ahead, Winchester… He climbed up to the top of the caboose, crawling up and bracing himself on all fours as the train rocked. The roof was metal like the sides of the car, slightly sloped, with ridges every four feet running horizontally across the space and a vertical stretch of boards about three feet wide running the length of the car.

"He's on the train," Dean whined to himself, balancing on the flat of the board walk-way, "just go get him, get the knife, come on back. No problem."

"Who are you talking to?" Virgil called, crawling up beside him. The wind from the train's motion lifted his hat from his head, blowing it away before Virgil could catch it.

"My pain in the ass little brother," Dean grumbled, glancing over at Virgil, trying to get used to the sight of the man without the red baseball cap. "How are we going to figure out what car this guy's in?"

"Uhh…" Virgil looked around. "I'm gonna say… that one." He nodded forward as the train curved around a bend.

Four cars up, Adoamros stood in the opened door of a seemingly empty rail car, staring back at them.

"Huh," Dean folded his lips down. "Gotta say I did not see that coming."

"Let's go," Virgil started forward.

"Hold up," Dean grabbed his arm. "Listen, uh, if this thing goes south… I need you to promise me something."

Virgil frowned. "What?"

"Promise me that you'll… watch out for my brother. Keep an eye on Sammy."

Virgil swallowed and looked down. "I don't know what it is about you, man."

"What do you mean?" Dean released Virgil's arm.

"Last time you left, you asked me to look out for Brenna," Virgil pinned Dean with his bright blue eyes. "Keeping that promise changed my life."

Dean nodded. "Yeah, I know."

"I don't think you do," Virgil replied. "See, you can go. Anytime. You love her, maybe, but you have this… this life that pulls you away. Like some kind of… superhero."

Dean simply watched him, his body aching from balancing on the top of the rail car, hot wind stealing the moisture from his eyes.

"And there's no competing with that. 'Cause whatever you feel about her… Brenna loves you, man."

Dean looked down.

"And Sam… I come back without you and Sam's not gonna make it."

Dean's eyes snapped up. "Yes. He is."

"I know you want to believe that, but—"

"I don't want to, I have to." Dean started forward, the rest of his words tossed over his shoulder. "That knife might save me. Maybe. But no matter what, Sam is gonna make it."

"Hey, Dean," Virgil called, stopping Dean once more. "I promise."

Dean met Virgil's eyes, nodding. "Good. Now let's get this bastard."

He moved forward again until he reached the end of the caboose and looked down. The tracks swam dizzily beneath him, blurred with speed. The wind from the motion of the train pulled at his short hair and buffeted his shoulders.

"Jesus Christ," Virgil exclaimed, peering over the edge. "No way we'd survive a fall from here. Those wheels would chop us into dog chow."

Dean frowned at him. "Okay then, no falling."

"Right," Virgil nodded, still staring down.

Dean rotated on his belly, swinging his legs over the end and gripping the edge as he searched for purchase with his toes. Finding a lip on the side of the caboose, he balanced for a moment, taking a breath, then released his grip with one hand to reach across the opening between cars and grab the other ladder. He pulled himself across, then began to climb, willing Virgil to follow.

As he crested the top of the second, longer, rail car, the sun reflected brightly off a shiny surface above him, causing him to squint and duck. That last minute motion saved his life.

"Almost a century I've survived," Adoamros railed.

Dean pulled his gun free. "You just hadn't met the right hunter," he grunted, blocking another swipe of the Kestrel's blade with the barrel, knocking the wizard off balance.

Taking advantage of the space, Dean scrambled to the top of the car, standing on shaky legs, his gun up and ready.

"You think you can defeat me?!" Adoamros yelled, matching Dean's balanced stance, his eyes cold and wild.

"I think I already have," Dean shot back. He pulled the trigger, his shot going wide as the train rocked. He fired again, clicking on an empty chamber.

Cursing, he lunged at the wizard, dodging a slice of the Kestrel, going to one knee as the rocking of the train took his balance. He caught the image of Virgil moving past him, gun out, before he could regain his footing.

Virgil fired, his shot ricocheting as he staggered with the motion beneath his feet. Dean stood as Virgil fired again, this time catching the wizard on the cheek. Adoamros roared with pain and insult, flinging his arm viciously to the side as if banishing Virgil from his sight. When nothing immediately happened, the wizard blinked in astonishment, then physically crashed into Virgil's outstretched hand, the Sig flying from Virgil's grip and off the edge of the train.

Dean moved forward and the wizard rotated, turning his back on them and running. Dean blinked, confused.

"Dude's got magic on his side and he's running from two unarmed men? What the hell?"

"It didn't work," Virgil said, his legs loosely balanced with the rocking of the train. "He tried to throw me and it didn't work! He couldn't hurt me."

Realization dawned bright. Dean took off, running drunkenly after the wizard, working to catch him before he reached the end of the rail car. When Adoamros leapt, clearing the space between cars and landing in a staggered roll on the top of the next car, Dean skidded to halt.

The wizard looked back, laughing.

"Son of a bitch," Dean muttered. "I was right!" he yelled over the clacking of the train at the wizard. "Your brother was your source of power and I smoked him!"

"Perhaps!" Adoamros yelled back, holding up the knife. "But I still have this!"

With that he turned and began to walk away.

"Oh, you gotta be kidding me…" Dean took a breath, glancing over his shoulder at Virgil. Backing up several steps, he slipped the gun into his back waistband, then ran for the gap between the two cars.

The leap across the opening was done with his heart in his throat, his breath given to prayer, his eyes wide. He was so astonished that he cleared the distance he forgot to curl into himself and landed in a crashing heap, slipping toward the edge of the car roof, slapping the hot metal surface for purchase and finally stopping.

Catching his breath, he pulled himself to the boardwalk, checking quickly on Virgil, who had yet to make the jump, then turned to head after the escaping wizard.

"Hey!" Dean called, snarling in satisfaction when the wizard froze. "I'm not done with you."

The air around him flared up with heat, as if the motion of the train and wind wrapping around him, slamming him with the speed of its ferocity, mattered not at all. The wizard turned and advanced; as he did Dean felt the remaining moisture in the air slip away. He opened his mouth in a desperate gasp for air, his eyes burning, blurring, disoriented.

The wizard's first hit took him across the cheek, sending him stumbling back. He caught his balance and swung back, burying his fist into the soft flesh of the other man's stomach, feeling a powerful rush when he was able to hurt him.

The wizard was just a man. Flesh, bone, and blood. And he should have been dead a long time ago.

Dean hit him again, driving the wizard backward, unprepared for the sweep to his legs that took him down, slamming his back roughly against the metal roof, the ridges bruising his ribs, the barely-healed sores screaming in pain. His air escaped in a rush and he raised his arms to block the swings as the wizard sat astride him.

Twisting his body, he unseated the smaller man, catching with that motion the sight of Virgil landing in a rolling heap on the roof near him. Nodding once as Virgil regained his balance, Dean flipped around, coming up in a cat-like crouch, facing the wizard once more.

"You've got one chance to make it out of this, Carter," Dean said, purposely humanizing the little man. "I'll buy that knife from you."

Adoamros laughed bitterly. "You want to own it? You want to harness its power?"

Dean said nothing.

"You will have to kill me," Adoamros hissed.

"Have it your way," Dean shrugged, tightening his hands into fists. "You coulda made twenty bucks."

Adoamros snarled, an animal sound of insult and rage, then lunged at Dean with the Kestrel dagger. The blade slipped across Dean's forearm, opening his skin and spilling his blood before Dean could jerk back. The wizard laughed maniacally in triumph, but Dean simply stepped into the man's space, cracking his elbow up and across the wizard's face, then finishing the blow with a back-handed slap.

Adoamros staggered back and Dean pressed his advantage, shoving his thumb into the bullet wound on the wizard's arm, digging deep. Adoamros screamed and jabbed at Dean again. Dean's dodge to avoid the blade sent him off-balance and he staggered, slipping from the boardwalk and crashing to his knees on the ridges of the metal roof with a cry of pain.

Virgil appeared in that moment, running at the wizard, weaponless, apparently looking to knock the wizard from the train with the force of his body. He slammed into Adoamros, but was flung aside by the surprisingly strong smaller man, tumbling to his knees, but unable to catch himself. He slapped at the metal surface, his eyes shooting up once to catch Dean's.

Dean watched in horror as Virgil tumbled over the side of the rail car.

"No!"

Adoamros ignored Dean's protest stalking forward, knife at the ready. Dean shoved upward, weakness falling by the wayside, aching body, trembling heart, hardening to steel, pulling strength from seemingly limitless reserves as he surged forward. His attack was purposeful, vicious, unrelenting. He slammed his fists into the wizard's body, his face set, jaw hard, eyes like stone. He heard the wizard protesting, heard English mixed with Latin, but didn't care.

He was going to beat the man to death if that is what it took.

Dean was silent in his fury, absorbing the minimal hits the wizard was able to get in as he backed the man to the edge of the train car. Panting, he curled his fist in the wizard's shirt front when Adoamros went to his knees.

"I'm taking that knife," Dean said darkly.

"You can go to hell," the wizard replied, spitting a mouthful of blood toward Dean, his eyes barely open.

"Not today," Dean snarled, raising a fist for another blow, lips curled in a snarl of hate.

"Help!"

Dean paused as the weak plea met his ears, awareness seeping in. The sun beat with unforgiving force down on them, reflecting on the metal surface, searing their skin. In the distance, the train whistle blew. Out of the corner of his eyes, Dean registered a tunnel approaching.

"Dean! Help me!"

Dean dropped his fist, looking over toward the edge where he'd seen Virgil fall. He was shocked to see Virgil's fingers gripping the edge of the rail car, knuckles white.

"Virge?!" Dean cried out, going to his knees and crawling toward the edge, his back to the beaten wizard. His belly on the hot metal roof, Dean leaned over and saw Virgil hanging from the rail car, his legs slapping against the side of the box with the fury of the wind.

Dean immediately reached down and grasped the older man's forearms. Virgil awkwardly released the border of the train and gripped the muscled edges of Dean's arms, the blood from the recent knife wound making the hold tenuous.

"Is he dead?" Virgil yelled.

Dean saw Virgil's eyes latch onto his bloody, bruised hands.

"Almost," Dean called back. "Hang on, man, I'll pull you up!"

The whistle blew again and Dean and Virgil instinctively looked toward the front of the train. The tunnel loomed close. Dean shot a look over his shoulder. The wizard was pushing himself slowly to his feet, the Kestrel Dagger still clutched in his hand. Dean looked back at Virgil, his eyes desperate.

Sacrifice was a hell of a thing, Dean knew. It was both selfish and selfless, provided relief in tandem with terror. He had only seconds to make the choice between Virgil and the knife—both choices a different form of salvation.

I'm sorry, Sammy. Dean closed his eyes.

Opening them again, he locked eyes with Virgil. "No matter what happens," he yelled over the whistle, "don't let go."

"Aw, fuck…" Virgil bleated, gripping Dean tighter.

Dean kept his head low, tucking his chin into his shoulder, and slid his eyes askance to the wizard. Just as the ancient M.E. stood upright, the train encountered the tunnel. The wizard looked at Dean, seemed to see the horror there, then turned in time to slam against the solid stone of the tunnel entrance face-first.

Over Virgil's reverberating cry of fear, Dean heard the sickening crack of flesh and bone liquefying against the immovable rock surface, felt the hot splash of blood across his back and across his arms, and swallowed the rush of bile as what was left of the wizard's body crashed against him as it tumbled from the roof of the train to be crushed under the wheels, the Kestrel Dagger following suit.

After what seemed like years in darkness, the train exited the tunnel. Panting, Dean looked down at Virgil, silently praying that the man was still in one piece. Virgil looked back up, his blue eyes wide.

"Do you believe that just happened?" he squeaked.

Dean shook his head slowly.

"Get me up," Virgil said.

Dean strained, pulling as Virgil searched for a toe-hold, the wounds on his back breaking open with a searing pain. Groaning, he leaned as far back as he could, helping Virgil scramble up the side of the train. They rolled to finally lay still on the roof of the car, panting for breath.

"Holy shit," Virgil gasped.

"I know," Dean rasped, his voice the first to finally succumb to the beating he'd given his body.

"No, man, I mean…" Virgil slowly sat up. "Holy… shit."

Dean agreed, but was unable to do much more than lay there. His back throbbed, the wounds Brenna had treated punished beyond endurance. He felt the sticky wetness on his skin from the rock salt wounds, his head throbbed from the cut near his scalp, and bruises he'd ignored stood up to be counted.

"Dude… you feel that?"

Dean groaned. "You're gonna have to be more specific." He blinked, trying to bring Virgil into focus.

Virgil puffed out a breath and Dean finally saw what he meant.

It was cooling down. Rapidly. They could see their breath as the wind whipped around them. Dean began to shake, small trembles at first, inside, around his heart. He clenched his fists.

"I think the train is slowing down," Virgil announced, his eyes tracking the gore that ran the length of the rail car roof.

Dean nodded, trying to still his visible trembles.

"You okay?" Virgil asked.

Dean shook his head. His strength was gone. His chance was gone. He was wounded and aching and back at square one. And he had no idea how far away they'd traveled from Sam.

"I don't see the knife," Virgil said quietly, I'm sorry implied in his tone.

"I know," Dean mumbled. "It's—"

Before he could finish his sentence, he caught his breath against a hot, searing pain that sliced across his belly, his chest, his arm, his thigh. He tore at his too-big shirt, feeling for sure that he would witness his skin opening, exposing his life's blood for all to see. The burning intensified to an almost unbearable peak and he saw white, crying out as his back arched. Virgil was beside him, whispering meaningless words, moving his hands away, trying to see.

"There's nothing there," Dean finally heard.

Gasping he ran his fingers across the cooling skin of his belly, realizing that Virgil was right. As the pain passed, he struggled to his elbows, allowing Virgil to help him sit up. He pulled his shirt up, peering closely at the muscled ridges across his belly. There was nothing there. Not even the scars left behind from a knife that hadn't touched him.

"They're gone," he gasped. "The scars… they're gone…" He rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth. "Sam… I need to get to Sam," he looked over at Virgil. "We need to get back."

"Okay," Virgil nodded, gripping Dean with a strong arm as the hunter sagged with exhaustion. "We'll just, uh…" Virgil looked around. "You got any idea where we are?"

www

"Yeah, I'm okay," Sam said into his cell phone. "I'm sure, Dean. It hurt like hell for about five minutes, and I think I scared away a few birds yelling like I did, but… yeah, just like you said, the cuts are gone."

Sam looked over at Brenna who was on her knees near him, not touching him. She had scooted close when Sam had suddenly cried out, his back tensing, his hands going to his bare chest in a desperate search for relief.

"Yeah, I figured it out when it dropped like fifty degrees in five minutes," Sam told his brother. "Dean… what about the knife?"

Sam swallowed, closing his eyes as he listened to Dean tell him that the knife was gone. The reason they were there, that they suffered so much, that Brenna sat before him, wounded and broken, that Griffin was dead… was gone.

"Yeah, I'm here," Sam said softly. "Let's just talk about it when you get back." Sam paused, listening to the complete weariness he heard under his brother's voice, the bravado masking the pain Dean had been ignoring since they left the motel room. "What do you mean, come to you? Where are you?"

He looked at Brenna, watching her watch him.

"You just… left the Impala?" Sam exclaimed, incredulous. "Yeah, I'm good to drive. Not much else, but, yeah. Yeah… yeah, she'll come. You, uh… you be careful, okay?"

Sam closed his phone, sliding it back in his jeans pocket. He smiled weakly at Brenna.

"They're okay," he said. "Well, they're both on their feet and talking. Dean's definition of 'okay' is a bit… random."

Brenna's shoulders sagged and Sam shivered.

"We have to take Griffin's truck and meet them."

"What about… him?" Brenna looked over her shoulder at Griffin's body.

"We leave him here," Sam grunted as he pushed himself painfully to his feet. "I'm gonna call a friend. He can help."

Unthinking, he reached down for Brenna's hand to help her up, withdrawing it only when she looked away.

"C'mon," Sam said, bending carefully to retrieve his brother's knife. "We need warmer clothes."

Brenna stood, walking ahead of Sam out of the crypt as if her legs were made of glass. Sam looked down at Griffin, rubbing tired fingers across his mouth.

"I'm sorry we couldn't save you, man," Sam said softly. With a grimace, he bent, patting the dead hunter's pockets and searched for keys. Pulling them out with a handful of change, he looked around for something to cover the body. Finding nothing, he closed Griffin's eyes, then laid two coins on the dead man's lids.

"See you on the flipside," he said softly, then stood, wavering slightly, catching his balance. He pulled his cell phone back out, dialing Bobby's number.

"Hey, Bobby, it's Sam. Listen, we, uh… we need your help. We're still in Brookville and uh…" he sighed into the message. "Look, Griffin's dead. His body is in a crypt in a cemetery outside of Brookville. Crypt's name is Carter. It's a long story, but… we're beat to hell, and I have to find Dean, and… I just… could you help us take care of him? Thanks, Bobby."

When he reached the truck, Brenna was in the back, looking through the bags Griffin had stashed there. Silently, she handed Sam a shirt which he slipped on, gingerly avoiding the field dressing on his back. He watched as she pulled off the remains of her tattered T-shirt, grabbing a long-sleeved white T-shirt from Griffin's bag and pulling it over her black bra. She rolled up the sleeves to expose her hands, then grabbed some socks.

"No shoes," she shrugged.

"It's okay," Sam said, eager to get to the next town and get his brother back.

They climbed into the cab of the truck, Brenna pressed against the door, as far from Sam as she could physically get in the small confines of the front seat. Sam started the truck engine, letting the radio station Griffin had been listening to fill the tense interior of the truck with silence-canceling music.

"Train roll on, on down the line, please take me far, away. Now I feel the wind blow outside my door, means I'm leaving my woman at home…"

Sam looked sideways at Brenna as he pulled away from the crypt. He wanted to believe that she was going to be okay. That they were all going to make it out of this, in one piece, victorious. But he couldn't help but feel that fate had tangled them up for a reason, leaving some broken, some alone, and some unable to be repaired.

He pulled back onto the road, heading to the town about 10 miles away from Brookville, focusing only on getting to Dean, getting him back.

Because he wasn't strong enough to learn from fate's lessons.

Not alone.

www

She hadn't said a word to him.

Not when Sam found them at the train depot. Not when Virgil had lifted him beneath the arms, hauling his barely-functioning body into the back of the truck. Not when they'd found the Impala. Not when a switch of drivers and a quick round of rock, paper, scissors put Sam behind the wheel of the Impala and Virgil in the black truck.

She hadn't said a word when they stopped at the police station, reporting to a shocked-looking Calhoun and a thankful Ross that the reason it was so cool was that the wizard was dead. The killings were over. Life could return to their version of normal.

She hadn't looked at him when they'd stumbled into the hotel, thanking the clerk with dull voices when he handed them a message from Bobby saying call me.

She hadn't so much as whimpered the entire time. She seemed to barely breathe.

"Two hours sleep isn't enough, man," Virgil pointed out from behind him.

"I'm okay," Dean replied.

He stood in front of the hotel room bureau, staring at his own reflection in the mirror. Bracing his hands on the mahogany edge, he leaned his jean-clad hips against the wood, eyes boring into eyes, searching for something that said you did good. With a glance to the left he could see Sam reflected in the mirror as well, sitting on the edge of the bed, showered, in a clean pair of jeans, his chest bare. Virgil was positioned behind him, patching up the worst of the glass cuts.

"You are hanging on by your fingernails is what you are," Virgil argued. "You're pale, your hands are shaking, and don't think we can't see those circles under your eyes."

Dean looked back at himself. His face looked drawn, thin, his skin eerily transparent. Butterfly bandages sealed the wound at the base of his scalp. Fresh bandages pulled the punctured skin of his back together. Bruises aged his features. His bare chest was bruised and bloodstained, the tattoo showing up in stark contrast to the sunburned hue of his skin. He felt as if the fissures in his internal wall could easily undo years of shoring up if allowed to grow.

This hunt had started as a quest for a resolution to the deal he'd made for Sam's life and turned into a battle for humanity.

"Sam?" he called softly, hating the hollowness he heard in his own voice.

"Hmm."

"You really think the knife woulda worked?" Dean asked, his green eyes shimmering in contrast to the purplish haze of his skin.

"I don't know," Sam said, tiredly. Dean knew his brother was hurting. He could hear it in the tightness of Sam's voice, see it in the careful way he held his body. He was proud of him for staying quiet as Virgil worked. "I honestly don't know…"

The room was quiet for a moment, the hum of the heating unit ticking in the background.

"He wasn't that different from me, y'know," Dean said softly.

"Who? Carter?" Virgil asked, incredulity plain in his voice.

"He used magic, that knife… he killed people just so he could stay with his brother."

"You haven't killed anyone, Dean," Sam said.

"Griffin's dead," Dean pointed out.

"He's dead because he wouldn't listen to us," Sam replied.

Dean was silent. It all came down to choices. The choice to live, the choice to die. The choice to sacrifice, the choice to confess. The choice to fight, the choice to give in.

In the next room, Dean heard the radio come to life. Brenna had stepped through the adjoining door a few hours ago when they'd arrived, left it partly open, and fallen on the bed in an exhausted heap. Dean had followed shortly after on one of the queen beds in Virgil's room after washing the wizard's blood from his wounded back and changing into his own clothes. He'd woken abruptly when his dreams took him under the wheels of a train, the wizard's laughter ringing in his ears.

Static scratched the quiet as a dial was turned in the adjoining room. Sam hissed as Virgil repaired his damaged back. Dean stared at himself in the mirror, trying to find something in the reflection of his eyes that would tell him what choice he should make now.

"I have seen too many sad eyes look at me. The eyes that set me free. All the places that I've been…"

"You're a mess, man," Virgil said softly. "I don't have much by way of pain meds."

"I'm okay," Sam said, stalwartly echoing his brother.

"This bruising is not okay," Virgil said. "I mean, what is it with you two? You have to literally be camping out on death's door to admit you need help? This shit hurts, man! I know! I put street fighters back together. I've seen men twice your size break down and cry with a knife wound. One. Not… three."

"It wasn't a knife," Sam said.

"Whatever, man," Virgil sighed. "You're just lucky it didn't go too deep into muscle. You need—both of you need—sleep. Lots of it." He stepped away from the bed rubbing a hand across his face. "And I need a shower."

As if on cue the sound of water being turned on in the next room followed Virgil's words.

"You ever have a paper cut, Virge?" Sam asked. Dean slid his eyes to his brother's face, meeting Sam's gaze in the mirror as he spoke.

"Paper cut? Hell yeah, I've had a paper cut."

"You been shot?"

Virgil was quiet. "No."

"You get a paper cut," Sam said, still looking at Dean, "it stings, right? Sometimes, depending on where it is, it hurts like hell. You almost can't think of anything else, it's that annoying."

Dean felt his chin tremble as he watched Sam's reflection.

"You get shot, though, and the paper cut is nothing," Sam continued. "You forget you even had it. The paper cut doesn't matter 'cause the pain the bullet caused is so much bigger, y'know?"

Dean closed his eyes, unable to take the honesty in Sam's hazel eyes. He leaned forward, resting his forehead on the mirror. Listening.

"So… these are paper cuts? That what you're saying?" Virgil said, trying to follow Sam's line of thinking.

Dean heard Sam's voice change as his brother gained his feet and moved closer to him.

"I'm saying that sometimes there are things that hurt worse than you can see. Things you can't put bandages on."

"Like losing that knife," Virgil guessed.

"Among other things," Sam said, his voice tight. Dean kept his eyes closed. "The knife was a shot at getting out of this deal."

"So… it's gone…" Virgil hedged. "Now what?"

"We keep looking," Dean and Sam intoned together, not looking at each other.

"There's something else, isn't there?" Virgil said softly.

"There's always something else," Dean whispered, his thoughts bouncing from the haunting sensation of bleeding without being cut, to the odd realization that talking about his dream had healed his bruises, to the heavy-hearted discovery that his childhood had been his father's secret treasure.

"Dean," Sam said quietly, moving closer. Dean sensed a sudden lack of space and opened his eyes, meeting Sam's in the mirror. "You need to go in there."

Dean rolled his lip against his bottom teeth. "I can't, Sammy," he said softly, knowing what his brother was asking him to do.

"You're the only one who can," Sam replied.

"Can what?" Virgil asked, sounding slightly anxious. "What did I miss?"

"I go in there," Dean said, hating the thickness in his voice, "and it's goodbye."

Sam looked down, pressing the thumb of one hand into the palm of the other. "It's goodbye any way," he said. "You know that."

"You're talking about… Brenna," Virgil said

Dean pulled away from the mirror, looking at himself one last time, willing the cracks to seal up, just for tonight. He didn't want to break down tonight, no matter how much he hurt, how tired he was.

He turned, facing the other two occupants in the room. Sam's eyes, tired, understanding, sad. Virgil's eyes, worried, cautious.

"Okay," Dean said, nodding at Sam. He looked directly at Virgil. "Okay."

Virgil swallowed, looking away. "You do what you have to do," he said tightly.

"Virge—"

"Hey," Virgil interrupted, looking back at Dean. "It's okay, man. It is. Sometimes… things just… are." He rubbed a rough hand over his forehead, ruffling his thinning hair, then closing his blue eyes. "Thanks for saving my life."

"Thanks for keeping your promise," Dean replied.

Virgil shrugged. "Man's only as good as the promises he keeps."

Without another word he moved away from the brothers and into the bathroom. Dean blinked, looking back at Sam as the music in the other room faded, another song quickly taking its place.

"Just… be honest with her, man," Sam said softly. "I mean, she knows what you're facing. Let her know how you feel."

Dean looked down. "I'd rather face Hell."

"Well," Sam stepped forward, resting a hand on Dean's shoulder. "Consider this practice."

Dean lifted the side of his mouth in a weak smile, turning away and heading to the adjoining doorway.

"…You're getting closer, to pushing me off of life's little edge, 'cause I'm a loser and sooner or later you know I'll be dead. You're getting closer, you're holding the rope and taking the fall…"

When Dean stepped into Brenna's room, he slipped the door shut behind him. The sound of the shower warred with the music from the radio, shutting out all other sound, cutting them off from the other room and its occupants. Shuffling barefoot across the carpet, he made his way to the bathroom, tipping the door open with his fingers.

The shower curtain was pulled, but he could see her shadow silhouetted against the white plastic. She was sitting on the floor of the shower, her knees up, her head in her hands. He heard her speaking, but couldn't make out the words. It took him a moment to realize it was Gaelic.

"Brenna," he said quietly, trying not to startle her.

"Go away," she said, not moving.

"No," Dean replied.

"Dean, just… I don't want to see you right now."

"Well, I want to see you," he said, stepping to the outside of the curtain. "I want… I want you to…"

"Talk? Share my feelings? Get it all out in the open?"

She stood and shoved the curtain back, standing before him wet, naked, her eyes once more their unusual golden color, but so destroyed it almost hurt him to look at them. Her hair hung down her back, slicked against her skull. Her bruises shone painfully in the harsh light of the bathroom.

Dean kept his eyes on hers, refusing to comb her body with his gaze as his instinct screamed at him to do.

"I want you to let me touch you," Dean said quietly.

He grabbed a towel, handing it to her. When she took it from him, he shut off the water. He waited as she wrapped the towel around herself, wringing her hair out, the water splashing on the floor of the bathtub.

"He touched me," she said, her bravado wavering.

"I know he did," Dean said softly as she stepped from the shower.

"He… took something from me," she said, moving past him into the cool of the bed room.

Dean watched as she dropped her towel, sliding on a pair of briefs and a Slippery When Wet T-shirt before turning around. He wanted to hide his body's reaction to the sight of her nakedness, but she was looking at his face, nowhere else.

"Do you know what it's like to be… stolen like that?"

"No," Dean replied softly, the music providing a shield for them to hide behind, protected from the world.

"…But I will not hide you through this. I want you to help and please see the bleeding heart perched on my shirt…"

He stepped closer to her, the heat from her body slipping neatly beneath his bare skin, the smell of her filling his senses. She took a step back, sinking slowly to her bed. He stood where he was, watching her. She backed away further onto the bed, drawing her knees up.

"I saw you die," she whispered. "All of you."

"We didn't die," Dean pointed out.

"But you will."

"Everyone dies," Dean tried.

"I saw Sam stabbed in the back and fall into your arms," she said, her voice hushed, fragile. Dean swallowed, hard. "You told me that had really happened. I saw you shredded, your chest ripped to ribbons." He blinked, knowing only that Hellhounds would one day be on his trail. "Have you been torn up lately, Dean?"

"No," he said quietly.

"I saw Virge—" her voice caught at that, unable to finish. "I've never seen the future before."

"It's not the future," Dean said. "It's only your fear. Nothing is in stone, Brenna. Not until we make it that way."

"You sold your soul," she protested. "That seems pretty stone-set to me."

"Nothing is in stone," he repeated. "There's always a chance, right? And even if…" he stepped closer to the bed. "Even if we all die bloody… it doesn't mean we don't die fighting."

Brenna's breath caught in a sob. Dean stopped moving, waiting with shallow breath for her to speak again.

"What are we doing?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean… You're going to leave, aren't you?"

Dean didn't reply.

"You're going to walk away."

Dean looked down.

"So… what are we doing? Why are you here, Dean?" She scooted forward on the bed, causing him to back up a step with the ferocity in her shaking voice. "You want a good-bye lay? You want me to fall into your arms, thank you for saving me?"

He resisted the instinct to snap back at her, to react to her anger as she was goading him to do. He knew she was working to push him away, too afraid of what it might feel like to heal. He didn't know how to give her what she really needed. He had a job to do, and at the moment, there was no room in his life for anything—for anyone—else.

"I want to give you back… what you lost."

"You can't." She said it with such certainty that he almost took another step back.

"You can't be sure."

"What he took from me…" she swallowed. "I thought I could take him, Dean. I thought… I thought I was stronger than he was."

Dean watched her, his eyes darting between her mouth and eyes.

"All I could think about at first was getting him away from you. There was so much blood…" She swallowed. "And then… the things I saw when he touched me… I was wrong to want that power back."

"Your power is a part of you, Brenna. It makes you who you are."

"Well, I don't want to be me anymore."

Dean licked his lower lip. "I don't know if we get that choice."

"Says who?"

They stared at each other a moment, the music humming in the background, late afternoon sunbeams tossing dust particles through the thick, drawn curtains.

"Tell me one thing," Brenna asked, water clinging to her lashes, turning her eyes innocent. "Did you ever… love me?"

Dean lifted his eyes, letting his heart show. "Yes," he replied.

She swallowed and dropped her gaze. He didn't know which direction to move, afraid to push, afraid to leave. He needed a guide, he need a light. She reached out her hand to him. He almost didn't take it, aware of what might happen to her—to him—if she were able to strip him bare once more as she'd done so many times in the past.

When he hesitated she whispered, "Please. I don't know what else to do."

Stepping up to the bed, his knees hitting the mattress between her legs, he leaned close, letting his breath caress her face, then took her hand, weaving his fingers with hers. Her gasp pulled him in and as her head dropped back, he closed his eyes, falling into sensation, music filling the empty spaces of the room.

"Can you remember when...when we used to cry, but never in distress. Or can you picture then how we used to pride ourselves on neatness… 'Cause I can't understand, what you meant to me. You made me wild, then you tied my hands…"

Brenna sighed as Dean rolled against her, eyes closed, burying his face in the damp crook of her neck, breathing in the wet perfume of her hair, images flooding his senses. He'd never before seen what she saw, but something broken inside of her sought healing in the fractures of his borrowed soul. He opened up, showing her the moments of his life, the choices that led him to this moment, this bed, these arms.

He let her see the pain of loss he'd buried deep. He let her see the sorrow of failure that held him back. He let her see the fear, the unrelenting terror of a future he hurtled toward, resisting the choice he'd willingly made.

He wrapped his arms around her slim, strong back as she saw tears he never showed, felt her leg hook over his hips to draw him close as he let her see his escape into faceless women, searching for the sensation of touch, misery seeking company. He slipped his hand down the small of her back, tucking his fingers beneath the waistband of her briefs, feeling the silk of her skin as she dove head first into his nightmares, seeing his personal Hell, seeing his torture.

Her lips found his, his tongue sliding deep into the warm recesses of her mouth as she pulled poison from his memory, her hand stroking his bare chest as though caulking the cracks in his reserve with her touch. He heard her whisper to him, her mouth against his ear, meaningless phrases that comforted, consoled, promising nothing but now.

Tightening his arms around her, he rolled her on top of him, slipping her T-shirt over her head and letting her wet hair drift in thick tendrils across his face. She worked her slim fingers under his waistband, unfastening the button and sliding the zipper loose. In moments there was only skin and breath and scent.

Dean pressed his lips to her neck, desperate to touch, to taste, to own. He wanted to brand her, mark her as his. No matter what happened next. No matter who else touched her. They would never touch her this way. They would never see what he saw. They couldn't feel this connection.

"Mo chroi," Brenna whispered, her hands skimming the wounds on his back, her lips against his bruised cheekbone.

"What does that mean?" he asked, tracing her jaw line with his mouth.

"My heart," she said. "I'll show you."

"What do you—"

Dean gasped in surprise as her lips met his again amid a torrent of images. He saw himself through her eyes, felt the rush of sensation as they touched, felt the thrill in her gut as they became one.

He was swept away by sensation, almost not feeling her hand on him, stroking him, teasing him. His body felt as taut as a guitar string. He gripped her shoulders, rolling her to her back, settling himself between her legs, feeling her breathe in sharply as he entered her, burying himself deep, filling her as the pictures from her life scattered through his brain like a mental scrapbook. They fell in quick succession, fading, slipping, receding until once again there were only two people, in a bed, music as their protection.

"I've lost you," she gasped, arching up as he thrust deep.

"I'm here," he whispered. "Open your eyes." He held his body still until she complied, sinking in once more when he saw her look back at him. "I'm right here."

"So tell me you need me and I will stay. You believe me and I will wait. That you'd come back for me every time I fall. In your heart there's just no place, there's no room to make a mistake, and with one wrong turn you would never make it home…"

"Hold onto me," she pleaded, wrapping her legs around his waist, her hands at his neck, pushing up to fill herself with him. "Hold me tighter."

Dean scooped her up, sitting back on his rear, setting her in his lap, connected to her. She rocked, gasping at the sensation. He kissed her jaw, her chin, skimming her lips, then ran his mouth down the bow of her throat as she dropped her head back. His thumb skimmed her nipple, making her shudder.

Their bodies took on the primal rhythm inherent to need and lust, rocking with effortless motion, tension building to a peak. Dean felt her release, felt her quake around him, causing him to surrender, sparks of light dancing behind his closed lids, his breath stuttering in his throat as he worked to breathe.

In moments he came back to himself, laying on his side, Brenna sprawled next to him, her head on his arm. He reached out and brushed her damp hair from her face, watching as she blinked her eyes open.

"We're in a bed," she said, her rosebud mouth quirking with a shadow of her old humor.

"Wondered if you'd notice."

"What happens now, Dean?" she asked, rolling toward him, seemingly unable to break their tenuous contact.

He sighed, closing his eyes, his hand on her shoulder. "I wish I knew."

"Fight more bad guys?"

"Always bad guys to fight," he said quietly, rolling her closer to him, needing her warmth.

"So you'll walk away."

He was quiet, absorbing the feeling of her body against his, the serenity of the moment.

"I can't just walk away from you," he confessed. "I can't just leave."

"You can't be everywhere, though, can you?" she said, tracing his tattoo with the tip of her finger. "Not even Superman could do that."

"Batman."

"Batman was just a man," she said softly.

"So am I," Dean replied, kissing the top of her head.

The music faded into the background as weariness overwhelmed him. The comfort of Brenna's body by his side, the softness of the sheets beneath his bare skin, the darkness of the room all played a part in helping him succumb to the will of his exhaustion.

He slipped over the edge of sleep with her words held captive in his heart.

"Someday, Dean. You won't have to walk away."

His dreams were tangled, words in languages he couldn't understand, blood and death contrasting with safety and light. He saw Sam's smile, felt the leather of the Impala's seat, heard the low rumble of his father's voice, felt the stroke of soft fingers against his stubbled cheek. He rolled to bury himself in the comforting smell of woman, burrowing deeper under the covers and finally falling into peace.

When his brother's hand shook him awake, Dean blinked blearily up, confused, disoriented. It took him almost a full minute to realize he was alone in the bed. The curtains were still pulled, soft sunlight filtering in. At some point, the radio had been turned off. The doors between the two rooms were opened and Sam stood next to the bed, dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and jeans, a cup of coffee and a piece of paper in his hands.

"Time 's it?" Dean muttered.

"Three," Sam replied, his voice rough from sleep.

"In the morning?" Dean squeaked.

"Afternoon. Next day."

"I slept a whole day?"

"Yeah," Sam replied, sitting on the edge of the bed. "You needed it, man. You've been through hell."

"Says the human cork board…" Dean yawned, stretching gingerly. "That for me?"

"Yeah." Sam waited until he'd pushed himself up in the bed, then handed him the coffee.

"How's your back?"

"Been better," Sam confessed. "But I'll live. Talked to Bobby."

"Yeah?" Dean rubbed his puffy eyes with the heel of his hand. "And?"

"Said he got Griffin's body. Gave me hell for the mess we left."

"You tell him we had other things on our minds?"

"Gave me hell about that, too."

Dean blinked sleepily, a small grin on his face. "Where'r Brenna and Virge?" His stomach dropped at the look on Sam's face. "What?"

"They're gone."

"Gone?"

"They left last night."

Dean set the coffee on the nightstand, looking away, his jaw tightening as he worked to still the uncomfortable race of his heart, the automatic denial of the truth. "How do you know?" he asked, looking hard at Sam.

Sam sighed. "I found this in the corner of your mirror."

He handed Dean a folded up piece of paper written on hotel stationary.

Dean took it but didn't open it. "Did you read it?"

"Yeah."

Dean flipped the folded paper open.

Dean.

I know you'd hate to walk away from me after all this. And I also know that you have work to do. So, I had to leave. But I'm a coward. I couldn't do it with your eyes on me. I couldn't do it where you'd see.

I'm going to be okay. Someday. And you will, too. Just try to remember something. You have a purpose. Not even Hell can take that from you. You are light. And sooner or later, someone's going to notice.

A chuisle mo chroí.

Brenna

"You okay?" Sam asked softly.

Dean folded the paper, rubbing a hand across his face, then looked up at Sam. "Sure. Why wouldn't I be?"

"What do you want to do?"

Dean shrugged, pulling his lip in. "Get the hell out of here."

Sam nodded, and stood. Dean felt his brother's worried eyes on him as he stood stiffly from the bed, the night before and the hours of inactivity after catching up with him. He headed to the bathroom, a hand on his sternum, feeling as if he needed to keep something there so that he stayed in one piece.

The water stung his cuts and beat on his bruises. He let it. He relished it. He leaned his forehead on the tile, wishing he could turn the temperature up, wanting to melt away the disappointment, confusion, wariness, and pain of the last few days. Wanting to rewind time to when Sam suggested going to Dad's storage unit. Wanting to drive the other way.

Stepping from the shower, he wiped the steam away from the mirror, looking at his reflection and for one disorienting moment, not recognizing the person he saw there. He stumbled from the steam-filled bathroom, letting the chill in the main room ground him once more.

Inside thirty minutes, they'd both packed and were leaving the hotel rooms, moving stiffly, bodies battered, eyes ancient. As Dean made a beeline for the Impala, Sam reached out a long arm to stop his brother.

"Look."

Dean dropped his bag, his shoulders sagging. "I'll be damned."

Brenna's bike sat parked in front of the Impala, keys dangling.

"She left it?"

Dean walked over, stroking an index finger down the handle bars and across the seat. He picked up the saddle bags draped across the back and looked inside. One pouch held a jar of the purple goo she used to heal him. The other was empty save a pendant. He reached in, pulling it out.

"Saint Christopher," Dean said, showing Sam.

"She gave us that once, didn't she?"

Dean nodded.

"Now what?" Sam asked. "Think this means she's coming back?"

"She's not coming back," Dean said softly.

His gut told him that fate brought them together in the first place, and fate would be the only thing to bring them back. He stared at the bike a moment, trying to figure out what she was trying to tell him. What she wanted him to do.

When he saw the price tag spinning in the breeze from the handlebar, he laughed.

"What?" Sam frowned at him, worried.

"C'mon."

"Where?"

"Saw a used car lot on the edge of town."

"You're gonna sell it?" Sam asked, surprised.

Dean smiled softly. "She wants me to," he said, jerking the tag free and showing it to Sam. "Besides," Dean bumped him with an elbow. "If you think I'm giving you the keys to my baby before I'm in the ground, you're crazy."

Sam shook his head, saying nothing else as they loaded the bags into the Impala. Dean swung his leg across the bike, glancing at Sam as his brother slid behind the wheel of the Impala. Pausing a moment to take a breath, Dean turned the key and pressed the ignition, feeling the thrum of the vehicle roar to life beneath his legs. He turned the bike in a tight circle, pulling out to the highway, Sam following behind him.

The cool fall air slipped around him, stinging his eyes, soothing his bruises, sparking his senses. They reached the lot and Dean struck a deal, pocketing the cash and turning his back on Brenna's Indian, knowing she would have had to do the same thing when she at last climbed into Virgil's truck.

Sam slid over, surrendering the wheel of the Impala.

"Where we going?"

"I don't know, man," Dean said quietly. "I… I got nothing."

"Maybe I have an idea."

"Better be a good one this time," Dean scowled. He shuffled through his box of cassettes, pulling out one at random, shoving it into the tape deck. "I think I've had enough drama to last me awhile."

"I think there's something we need to do, Dean."

Dean pulled the gear down to drive. "Why don't I like the sound of that?"

"Just jump on the highway and head east."

Too tired to argue, too tangled to think, Dean followed orders. He suspected their destination, but was in no mood to debate with his tenacious brother about closure. He just needed to drive. He needed to move, see the trees pass by in rapid succession, see the headlights reflect the white lines of the highway, feel the rumble of his baby's engine, move, move, move, and hopefully, maybe, forget.

Dean lasted through three cassettes, two cups of coffee, and one gas station fill up before he gave in and let Sam take over. When Sam began to drive, Dean tried to stay conscious, tried to keep his blurry eyes open, tried to ignore the throbbing ache in his head, to no avail. Within minutes, he was sagging in the passenger seat, slipping sideways, his forehead coming to rest on the cold window.

Buffalo, NY

"Dean."

"Hmm."

"Dean, we're here."

"Where?"

"Open your eyes, man."

"Don't want to."

"Just for a second."

"Sam."

"Yeah."

"That's Dad's storage unit."

"I know, Dean."

"Why are we here?"

"There's something I didn't tell you..."


a/n: One chapter left, weaving together the last of the loose ends. It won't be as long as the rest, and I hope that when you reach the end the ride you've taken will have been worth it.

Also, a quick note about the music. I've been told that some readers feel the insertion of lyrics is distracting, and I apologize if this has been such for you as you read. The way I look at it, fanfiction is pretty much the only place you can get away with including lyrics without worrying about copyright issues and whatnot. And music permeates so much of what we do in life. We each have a soundtrack.

And this one is mine for this story.

Playlist:

Tuesday's Gone by Lynyrd Skynyrd (or Metallica, but Skynyrd did it first)

Reply by Staind

Loser by 3 Doors Down

Wasteland by 10 Years

Tied my Hands by Seether

Translations:

Mo chroi, My heart.

A chuisle mo chroí Pulse of my heart