Title: Night of the Hunter
Fandom: Supernatural
Author: gaelicspirit
Characters: Dean, OC, with appearances by Sam, Bobby, and Castiel
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Title of the story comes from a 30 Seconds To Mars song of the same name.

Summary: Bridges episode 5.03 Good God, Ya'll to episode 5.05 The End. Hunting isn't something Dean can simply quit. Even if his family walks away; he's survived worse than loneliness. He's survived Hell. But when an ancient and dangerous breed of vampires and a mysterious hunter cross his path, Dean learns that Hell was just the beginning.

Warning: This story is definitely PG-13 and might be considered borderline R in some parts for language, violence, and one mature scene in the first chapter. However, I'm going to leave it at a "T" rating as I've seen similar in other T-rated stories and the "M" rating limits viewers. I trust you know your tolerance level.

Author's Note: My hope is that you'll be able to enjoy this story on the merits of the story alone, but since the whole reason you're here is because we share a love for those Winchester boys, I feel I must own up to Sam playing a very small role in this story. He is important to Dean's state of mind in this setting, but this story centers on Dean. Because of where I've chosen to situate the story, Sam does return at the end.

Also, I've taken a few artistic liberties with the timeline. In canon, it appears there's roughly one week between Sam's walking away from Dean at the picnic table and Dean and Castiel's Excellent Adventure to trap Raphael. I'm stretching that out a bit to make the events of this story work. If done right, you won't care. But there are those who notice such things, so I wanted you to know it was purposeful.

This story is for my dear friend Janet who has worked tirelessly to save my sanity. Bead buíoch thar lá mo bháis ! (I shall be forever in your debt.)

One night of the hunter; one day I will get revenge. One night to remember; one day it'll all just end….

"Night of the Hunter" by 30 Seconds to Mars


Somewhere beneath Greeley, Pennsylvania

Keep breathing.

It was an order, barked in Dean's head with conviction, shouted in his own voice, spoken from his soul, forcing him to pull in a thin, shallow breath. He gagged slightly on the stench of death and blood, thick in the air around him, helplessly shuddering in revulsion. Gooseflesh raised along his bare skin, more out of horror than cold. Dean clenched his jaw, his next breath skipping across his teeth on its way in.

He could not – would not – let them win. Not now. Not like this.

His shoulders burned, the muscles there quaking with effort, stretched beyond their limit. He was so tired, his body thrumming with exhaustion. He yearned to give in, just one moment of relief, but the second he did, the ropes binding his wrists to the hooks above his head slacked and the rope around his neck tightened, choking him and reducing his air intake to a thin slipstream.

The skin of his throat was raw – both inside and out. His wrists were raw and ached from taking the weight of his body. His calf muscles shook from the effort of pushing himself upright. His head pounded – a relentless spike of pain behind his left eye, ratcheting up as he strained to see something.


Because none of the physical pain matched the panic-inducing fear spawned by the darkness wrapping around him.

Dean could see nothing, the black surrounding him as complete as if he'd literally been swallowed by the Earth. He'd seen pitch like this only one other time in his life: right before he'd forced himself to claw his way up through the wood and dirt and pulled free of his own grave.

But he could hear them moving; the sound of claws skittering along the crumbling rock wall, the hiss of what he assumed was language as they encountered one another. He felt them moving; the slight shift of air as one passed by him on its way to another victim.

They were biding their time.

Dean was fresher, could last longer. He'd caught a glimpse of his prison before the creatures had yanked him by his rope tether, ripped his shirt from his body and strung him up inside the darkness. He'd seen a hellish vista of half a dozen bodies hanging from the ceiling in an earth-bound cold storage. Men, women, young, old – some obviously dead, others barely alive. But then his ropes were pulled tight, his arms raised above his head, his body suspended from the ceiling until he was precariously balanced on the balls of his feet.

He was left in the darkness, nothing but memories of another Hell to combat the increasing fear of his fate.

Keep breathing.

As cold, dry skin brushed against the taut muscles of his abdomen, he tried to pull away without strangling himself. He tensed, his body trembling, awaiting the sharp sting and burn of the cuts he knew would come his way. He knew because he'd seen the remains of those who hadn't survived.

He knew because of what they were. What they wanted.

The creature moved away and Dean dared to relax, trying to draw in a slow, shallow breath. A helpless, insane laugh threatened to choke him. He was in the hurt locker. No one knew where he was, no one was coming for him. And the hell of it was, he'd done it to himself. He'd allowed this to happen.

He was hidden from Castiel due to the markings along his ribs; he didn't know if the angel would hear him even if he were able to call. And he'd let Sam go, let his brother just walk away – from hunting, from him, from temptation. Because Dean hadn't been able to protect him. Dean hadn't been there and bad things had happened to Sam.

Dean swallowed a rush of bile, burning the tender skin of his abused throat. He'd gotten himself into this; getting himself out was going to be hell.

And he knew Hell.

Lock it down. Put it away. Don't think about it. Don't think at all.

Carefully twisting his hands against his bindings, searching for a weakness that would give him an advantage, Dean allowed that this would be a perfect time for Sam's Spidey sense to tingle, alerting his brother to the fact that Dean was more than in danger – he was literally hanging on by a thread. It would be a perfect moment for Sam to change his mind, to return, to sweep in and cut him free so that together they could take out these bastards.

For a sudden, brief moment Dean recalled with crystal clarity the moment Sam had appeared in that filthy, abandoned warehouse and cut Dean's arms free from the djinn's bindings, holding his heavy body as feeling returned to his limbs, keeping him up, keeping him there.

I thought I lost you for a second.

You almost did.

Between one heartbeat and the next, Dean felt an acute stab of longing for his brother's presence; it drew a sob from him, but he bit it off, unwilling to let them hear. Sam wasn't here. And he wasn't coming.

But something else was.

He heard it chatter and hiss in his direction, the stench of death nearly overpowering as it drew close to Dean once more. And suddenly Dean was grateful Sam wasn't there. No way did he want his brother cut into by these things, his blood drained, his body hollowed out.

Dean cried out, his voice hoarse and foreign in his ears, as the skin along his stretched ribs was split with the scalpel-like sharpness of the creature's clawed fingernail. He felt a mouth follow the path of the slice. Cold lips on his burning skin, a wet tongue sliding along the cut. He growled, trying to pull away from the hideous sensation, but the ropes at his wrists tightened the rope around his neck and he choked, forced to hold still.

What followed caused his breath to still, his skin retracting in horror as a groan climbed from his gut: the thing was drinking.

He could feel the lips vacuumed to his side, the tug of his flesh into a mouth as it swallowed the blood pulled from him. He wanted to scream, to thrash, to wrap his fingers around the thing's throat and rip its head off with his bare hands. His body shook with the need to fight back, resisting this invasion. He felt something half-way between a groan and a whimper catch at the back of his throat.

Keep breathing.

He closed his eyes, taking himself away from this moment, away from this crypt. He was in the Impala, driving down an empty road, Sam sitting next to him, bent arm resting on the open window, evening zephyr rolling across them. He was on Bobby's porch, drinking a beer, watching Rumsfeld stalk a squirrel. He was back-to-back with Sam as they fished off of Pastor Jim's pier. He was sitting on the tailgate of his father's truck, filling clips with silver bullets and listening to Bad Company.

Dean grunted with pain, trying to keep quiet and failing as he felt another slice along his other side, another mouth on him, another tug.

Lock. It. Down. Do not think.

He'd survived worse than this; he'd survived Hell. This time he knew they couldn't get into his head. They couldn't use his balance against him. They couldn't poison the only light he'd ever had in his life: his family.

And he knew they wouldn't kill him – not yet. They could feed on him for weeks, if he survived that long. He could still get away, get free. Kill them all. If they were going to take him out, they damn well would be going with him. He drew strength from knowing they couldn't get to him – not really.

Not like the others had.

Dean felt the mouths leave his body, heard the clicks and scratches as they moved on to another victim. And for one brief moment his heart panged at the thought that Sam would never know what had happened to him. Dean would simply be gone. And Sam would go on.

Fatigue swept over him, a wave so dizzyingly powerful he nearly succumbed. He felt his knees give, the muscles in his legs seeking relief. And then the rope at his neck pulled taut, snapping his head up and back. He began choking, unable to breathe. He forced his eyes open, no matter that the dark around him matched the dark behind his lids. It was the act that mattered, the effort of awareness that would save his life. He straightened his trembling legs, swallowing roughly.

Told you these guys were bad news, man.

Dean shot his head to the right in shock. Sam's voice had been so real, so there….

He regretted the motion immediately as the coarse rope rasped along his weeping skin. Of course it wasn't Sam. His brother was gone. In Idaho. Or Florida. Could be in Canada for all Dean knew. He wasn't here. He wasn't here and they couldn't get him.

You always gotta be the hero, dontcha?

"Shut up," Dean whispered, willing the voice away. His words elicited a familiar, human-like cry down to his left. Another victim, another body.

He felt the creatures stirring closer to him once more; he tensed up as he tried to figure out how to stop them from cutting him again. He wanted to grab the rope – the rope they'd used to haul him in here – and leverage himself up, get his legs around a throat, rip it out, kill them…kill them all…. His hands were numb, and he knew the minute he messed with the ropes binding his arms he'd end up strangling himself.

Keep breathing, Dean.

"'m trying."

Help is coming.

Dean blinked wide into the darkness, a shadow somehow, impossibly moving before his eyes. A shadow that looked an awful lot like Sam.

"No…," he moaned. It couldn't be Sam.

Sam had left. He quit hunting. He was far, far away from here.

But Dean could see him.

Hang on, Dean. Don't you let them beat you.

"Get outta here," Dean pleaded, his voice rough against the heavy, still air.

And then he felt them again – this time along his back. A slice, a mouth, the pull of blood causing his belly to sink and his heart to shake. Two, then three. And Dean released a weak scream from the pain of it, from the helplessness.

"Get outta here!" Dean yelled, louder, stronger this time, willing the image of Sam away, needing it to not be real.

He needed Sam safe. Needed to know that no matter what, Sam was free of this. He was living a normal life. He wasn't a hunter anymore.

And he wasn't in this pit.

"Please…," Dean whispered.

The mouths left his burning skin and he froze, listening as the creatures scraped and clawed their way to someone else. He waited for what came next. Remembering the bite marks on the other victims.

Keep breathing.

And then the scraping sound stopped.

And the darkness exploded.


One week earlier, outside Riverpass, Colorado

It was a rest stop. Nothing special.

They'd been to hundreds of rest stops just like this one all across the country. They'd used the seclusion to steal a few hours sleep, used the facilities for make-shift showers, taken shelter from storms, planned hunts, recovered from wounds. For the nomadic life of a hunter, a rest stop on the interstate was an oasis of calm in a desert of chaos.

But this one was different.

Because after arriving here with Sam – regrouping post-hunt as they'd done so many times – Dean was leaving alone. Sam had walked away hours ago. Shouldered his backpack, given Dean one last glance, and hitched a ride to somewhere else.

Somewhere not here. Somewhere not with Dean.

Dean sat for hours. Listening.

The cool air chilled his hands, his cheeks, the tip of his nose. His eyes burned from staring at the top of the rough-hewed picnic table. His backside and legs were stiff from sitting motionless. There was a hiss in his ears, like the sound of the ocean from inside a shell or the after effects of a rock concert, from hours of listening for something – something real, something right, something familiar – and hearing nothing but the wind and his own heartbeat.

He waited.

He wasn't sure what he was waiting for—a phone call? Sam to come back and tell him he'd changed his mind? Absolution?

He simply…sat there.

Thing is, the problem's not the demon blood, not really. I mean…what I did, I can't blame the blood or Ruby or...anything. The problem's me. How far I'll go. There's something in me that...scares the hell out of me, Dean.

It had been Sam's idea. Sam's choice.

But Dean hadn't fought it. Hadn't resisted in the slightest. He'd actually known before Sam did that his brother was done. Was going to walk away—leave the job, the life, Dean. And part of him wanted Sam to go. Wanted an end to the reminder of how badly he'd screwed up his one job.

Sitting silent and still on the hard picnic bench at the cold, Colorado rest stop, Dean realized that he'd known the moment he'd seen Sam staring at the demon blood coating their knife. He hadn't wanted to accept it then; he accepted it now.

Sam had sat across from him, his presence heavy, weighted with purpose and decision, and told Dean he was leaving and Dean had simply…looked at him. He'd ignored the instinct screaming at him that to keep Sam safe was to keep Sam close. He'd told his brother the naked truth he so often buried or shifted so as not to push Sam away…always needing him in his eye line. Always needing to know where Sam was. Until now.

The truth is, I spend more time worrying about you than about doing the job right. And I just, I can't afford that, you know? Not now.

The job.

When had it gotten so big? How had they come to a point where the job was more important than worrying about Sam? Angels, devils, Heaven, Hell…. The Apocalypse. It was more than Dean knew how to handle—more than he wanted to handle. But the universe wasn't giving him a choice.

And damn if he could figure out how to help Sam now.

His brother was an adult with adult problems. Dean couldn't protect Sam from himself. And the longer Sam was around all of this…this temptation of hunting and demon blood…the harder it was going to be for him to stop. To really stop.

Nothing he did meant anything if Sam was lost to an addiction perpetrated by a moment neither of them could have controlled nor changed.

It wasn't Sam's fault he was predisposed to this addiction; it was Sam's fault if he didn't fight it. And it was Dean's fault if he didn't help him. Keeping Sam close was no longer protecting him. It was killing both of them. The terror of not being enough, of not keeping Sam safe even when his brother was right there, was paralyzing Dean.

Separation had to be better then what they'd been trying to overcome…. Sam knew how to take care of himself, had done so plenty of times in the past year while running off with Ruby.

This was better. This was safer. This was right.

So why do I feel like shit?

The roar of a diesel engine startled Dean and he pulled in a quick breath, blinking and looking around for the first time since Sam had walked away. The high, sharp sunlight had turned the world to tin, tilting his perception of color until it was faded and muted as he scanned the rest area. It was deserted now, except for a pickup truck coming to a stop in one of the empty parking slots that ran along the edge of the grass bank of the rest stop. He watched as two dogs and a passenger unloaded, all stretching travel-stiff legs.

Dean dragged his cold hand down his face, surprised to feel wetness at the corners of his eyes. From the bite of the wind, he reasoned. He rotated, swinging a leg over the bench, the pins-and-needles sensation of blood flowing once more to his extremities causing him to hiss in discomfort. He let his eyes wander the nearly empty lot, taking in the backdrop of snow-capped mountains, the pines and aspens swaying with the lazy wind, until they rested on the Impala.

He'd offered her to Sam. Asked his brother to take their only home with him.

His legs were a bit wobbly as he stood and made his way across the bare expanse of grass, listening as the dogs barked and their owner uttered a command. The mountains had a sound-canceling effect that made everything around him quieter and all of that non-sound beat relentlessly against his ears.

He was unconsciously straining for the sound of his brother's return. A change of mind, an admission of need. But he got all the way to the Impala with nothing stopping him, no one appearing.

She was cold. He pressed his body flush against her side, folding his arms on her roof and resting his chin on his fingers. The world around him was sun-faded and cold. He exhaled slowly through barely-parted lips; he was done waiting. Pushing away from the Impala, he reached for her door handle.

The hinges creaked with familiarity and he slid behind the wheel, breathing in the scents of home, rolling his back against the seat, letting her hold him - the only embrace he wouldn't push away. As he closed out the slam of silence and turned the ignition, letting the rumble of the engine build and roll through him, he breathed a sigh of gratitude.

Once, he'd torn her apart as an outlet for his pain. Once, she'd shielded him when no one else would. Once, she'd been home, a level playing field, a safety zone, Winchester Holy Ground.

Now, she was all he had left.


Dean didn't realize his course had been aimless until he passed a sign telling him he was entering Kansas.

"Where the hell am I going?" he muttered, looking around at the flat, wide, brown expanse of nothing.

He flipped open his cell phone, frowning at the lack of reception bars, then checked his gas gauge. He had a quarter of a tank. Salina was 80 miles away. He could make it that far. Maybe call Bobby and check in on the old man. See if he'd gotten wind of any jobs.

"Evil doesn't take a holiday," he groused, leaning over to Sam's—the passenger—side and grabbing blindly for a cassette tape, "just because the Apocalypse is stocking up on party favors."

He turned up the volume as Led Zeppelin's Babe I'm Gonna Leave You broke through the quiet interior of the car. Sam had gotten him the Zeppelin box set for the first birthday he celebrated after…well, coming back. It had seemed odd to celebrate a birthday after he'd been dead for forty years, but for Sam, it hadn't been nearly that long. It had only been a four months. And Sam had needed to commemorate the occasion, no matter how awkward Dean had felt about it.

Hell if he was going to turn down a Zeppelin compilation, anyway.

As he pulled into a Phillips 66 at the first exit for Salina, Dean glanced again at the opposite side of the car, words poised on his lips to ask what his brother wanted from inside the convenience store. Anger surged up, making him clench his teeth.

The muscle-memory causing him to check on and for Sam was going to get old, fast. He'd been on his own before. He'd hunted alone more times than he could remember. This was just residual coping. The phantom pain from a missing limb. He'd get used to an empty car again. He filled up the tank, then went inside the store, grabbing random bags of junk food and pop, and microwaving a burrito.

Because I can, dammit.

It was stifling being around someone twenty-four-seven. Having them always watching. Watching what he ate, when he ate, how much he drank, who he picked up at bars, who he didn't…. It was going to be nice to be his own man for awhile.

In fact, he could damn well get used to this.

"You got any beer, man?" Dean asked the dull-eyed kid behind the counter.

"Over next to the antifreeze," the kid mumbled. "All we got is Bud, though."

Dean lifted a shoulder, turning to grab a twelve pack of cans. "Works for me."

He actually thought Budweiser tasted like piss, but none of that mattered now. He didn't have to worry about Sam's sidelong glance and half-raised eyebrow. Didn't have to counter his choices with arguments that included phrases such as long, hard day and just wasted two spirits or mind your own freakin' business.

Because Sam wasn't here.

Wandering back to the car, Dean lifted the trunk and dropped the bags of food inside, keeping his burrito and a plastic bottle of Dr. Pepper in one hand. Just before he shut the trunk, however, he noticed the spare bag of weapons lying on top of his duffel. It was half-zipped; Sam had been in a hurry to get his things together. Ripped the bandage off quickly.

Frowning, he pushed the zipper all the way open.

Dean knew their weapons cache. Knew it like he knew the parts of the Impala's engine, intimately—every gun, every knife, every piece of ammo, silver, iron, down to how much salt they had on board.

Sam had taken the Glock and one extra ammo clip. That was all.

Dean swallowed. "Dammit, Sammy," he muttered.

How was that going to protect him? He knew his brother was resourceful, knew he could get his hands on silver if he needed it, and that salt could be purchased at any corner market. But what if he was caught off-guard? What if he left his weapon behind? Sam wasn't used to being alone without someone to cover his back – at least not the way Dean did.

Dean closed the trunk, his eyes darting around the cars at the station, the highway beyond. He'd noted the license plate of the truck Sam had hitched a ride on. He could just call Bobby, track it, find out which way they were headed. He could follow and just make sure Sam had enough supplies. Make sure he was covered for weapons. No harm in that; he wasn't getting Sam to come back, he was just being a conscientious brother.

He'd pulled out his phone and dialed Bobby's number before he'd fully rationalized the intelligence of such a plan.


"Bobby," he started, dismayed to hear his voice crack.

"Dean? You okay?"

"Um…yeah." He cleared his throat, climbing behind the wheel and setting his food down on the seat next to him. "Listen, uh…Sam's…."

He couldn't find a word. It was as if half his vocabulary had suddenly vanished.

"Sam's what?" Bobby pressed. "Dean? You boys okay? What happened in Riverpass? Rufus' message didn't make any sense."

"We're okay." Dean balanced his pop between his legs, then pulled out of the gas station and back onto the road, needing action, motion. As long as he was moving, he'd be okay. "Riverpass was a fuckin' mess. War was there."

"Wa-ar." Bobby stretched the word out, said it as if it were foreign to him. "War…as in…?"

"As in the Horseman."


Dean sighed, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. It was hard to remember how unbelievable his reality was when he spent every breath just trying to survive it.

"As in one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. Dude drove up in a red Mustang, made the people think they were seeing demons, and, well…you can guess how that went over."

"Holy hell."

"Pretty much."

"Ellen and Jo okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, they're fine. Everyone's fine." Dean sighed, bracing the steering wheel with his knee so that he could rub at his tired eyes. "We're all fucking fantastic," he muttered soft enough he didn't think Bobby could hear.

"What is it, kid?" Bobby asked his voice gentle.

Dean recognized the tone Bobby used when talking to battle-worn hunters and wounded civilians. He swallowed hard, pushing the lump of emotion that had welled at the base of his throat down so that it sat like a rock above his heart, pressing against his sternum painfully.


"Left?" This word seemed to have just as little meaning to Bobby as 'war' had.

"He's not over it, man." He suddenly felt language betraying him again, evaporating before he could grab it tight enough to apply meaning. "The demon blood. He…. Being with…. Hunting, it's…."

"Okay, take a breath before you choke to death," Bobby ordered. "He just…took off?"

"Packed a bag, grabbed a ride, gone."

The last was fractured and soft, as if the molecules of sound required to create the shape of the words were disappearing even as Dean pushed them from his lips. And with that reveal, Dean knew he couldn't go after Sam. Wouldn't go after him.

"You know where he is?"


Dean made sure that word was solid. Had a form, meaning. Bobby was quiet for a moment and Dean focused on the road, the vibration of the car, the feel of the steering wheel.

Tangible things.

"Maybe it's for the best."

Dean blinked; he hadn't expected Bobby to agree with him. He nodded, not trusting his voice.

"You got a mess of trouble on your hands, son. Hard to keep all your irons in the fire when someone keeps yanking them out."

"Yeah," Dean rasped. They were both quiet a moment. "I didn't lose him, Bobby."

He didn't know what he meant, exactly, except that he needed Bobby to know that Sam chose to leave. He may not have stopped him, but Sam chose to leave him. There was something significant in that. Something the failing words weren't finding.

"I know you didn't, kid."

Dean swallowed, needing more.

"You're his brother, Dean. Not his guardian."

Dean nodded again, feeling the rock above his heart stab outward hard enough to make him gasp.

"What is it?" Bobby asked, his voice betraying that he was listening for anything.

Dean pressed his lips close. There was a reason he kept stuff inside where no one else could see it. When he let even a little of it out, the mass oozed, slipping through the cracks of his grasp like mercury, following paths he couldn't anticipate.

"He's gonna be okay, Dean." Bobby filled in the quiet. "He's damn good hunter, knows how to take care of himself, knows how to defend himself. He knows who his family is. He needs a break is all. I think you both do."

At that, Dean released a breath, able to find some balance inside of Bobby's words. "I don't think my contract includes paid leave, Bobby."

"Yeah, don't look like it," Bobby muttered. "Let him go, Dean," he advised quietly. "He's always had to be the one to walk away. Needs to be able to do this. He'll come back."

"Yeah, maybe," Dean whispered, barely audible.

Bobby let it go; Dean heard something that sounded like paper crinkling in the background.

"Where're you headed?"

"Hell if I know," Dean grumbled. "Just…east."

"Got some activity in Pennsylvania could use your attention."

Dean's eyebrows met his hairline. "Pennsylvania? That's like…five states from here."

"You want a job or you want a vacation, Nancy? Looks like vamps."

Dean balanced the wheel with his knee again to rub his eyes. He was going to have to sleep soon if he wanted to make Pennsylvania in one piece.

"Anyone else in the area?"

"Rufus gave me—"

"Wait, Rufus? How'd he hear about this already?"

"The man doesn't sleep. It ain't natural."

"I'll say," Dean yawned.

"You want the intel?"

"Lay it on me."

"Three bodies, last week, exanguinated. Here's the kicker—the bodies were people who went missing months ago."


"No, that's just it." Dean could practically hear Bobby shaking his head. "They're recent kills."


"You got me—has vamp stamp on it like a lower back tattoo."

"Who'd Rufus say was there?"

"He didn't, actually. Just said someone's looking into it."

"Yeah, well, they're about to have company."

He needed a mission. A focus. Somewhere to go that wasn't waiting for the next Horseman to drop or for Zachariah to swing by and tell him more fun facts about being Michael's sword. Something that wasn't wondering where Sam was or what he was doing.

He was a hunter, dammit.

"Head to Greeley and…well, look for the bodies."

"Thanks, Bobby."

"Keep me posted, boy."

"Um…," Dean ran his tongue over his bottom lip. "Thanks, Bobby."

"You said that already."

"Yeah, but not for this."

Bobby was quiet a minute. Dean heard him pull in a breath.

"Dean…," Bobby started. Dean waited a moment, feeling the weight of the next words before they filtered through the phone. "When you died, Sam's world changed. Sam changed. Getting you back changed everything all over again. And things…things have happened so fast with all this…all this shit you boys are dealing with, I…I just don't think either of you have figured out how to be just…brothers again."

"Yeah, well…." Dean swallowed. He didn't want to think about that. It didn't matter now, anyway. Sam was gone. He was alone. And it was better this way.

Bobby took a breath and exhaled across the phone receiver. "Keep me posted. Let me know if I need to, uh…send reinforcements."

"Right," Dean said, not bothering with goodbye.

He never really said 'goodbye' to Bobby. He liked to leave at least one door open. He closed the phone, turned up the radio, and watched the bruised horizon stretch wide as the sky grew darker around him.


The hotel sign had two letters burned out in the middle of its neon-lit name and the room smelled like stale cigarette smoke and old Chinese food, but it had a bed and hot water and Dean was spent.

The events that transpired in Riverpass hadn't really worked themselves out of his system and as he stripped in the bathroom, stepping beneath the scalding water, he saw flashes of black eyes and blood and dead bodies and Ellen and Jo and Rufus…and Sam.

Always Sam.

"Son of a bitch….," he choked, lifting his face to the water and filling his mouth, spitting it out against the wall as he soaped his hair. "Always did know exactly what you needed, didn't you? Always had a hard line to what was best for you."

He heard the bitterness in his voice and ignored it. No, it was more than that. He embraced it. Allowed it. He gave himself this moment, shielded by the rush of the water, the steam rising to cloud the glass, the solitude of the single room waiting for him on the other side of the bathroom door.

Just this one moment, and then it was over. What's done was done.

"Damn you, Sammy…."

The first hit was weak, a tap really, unsure how angry he actually was, the tile cold and hard, unyielding beneath his knuckles. The second was hard enough to reverberate through his arm to his shoulder and start his hand aching. The third hit split his knuckle and the water slicking his skin stung the opening, a small trickle of blood sliding through his fingers and down the wall.

He was thirsty for breath, fists pressed against the cracked tiled wall hard enough his knuckles were white. He hung his head, letting the hot water beat against his stiff neck, sluice down his face, and drip from his chin, his lips, his lashes.

Staring at his feet, watching the water and blood swirl down the drain, he felt the fire of resentment slowly die. He hadn't stopped Sam; this time, Sam may have walked away…but Dean let him go.

"For the best," he panted.

When the water cooled, he shut it off, wrapping a small towel around his hand and stepped from the shower, drying off in the steam-filled bathroom before he walked naked to his duffel, pulling on boxers and a T-shirt, his body begging for sleep. He paused long enough to tape up his bruised knuckles, then yanked back the covers, turned off the light, and fell face-first into the pillow.

The nightmares hunted him; they never had to look far to find the hold they needed.

The moment he closed his eyes, felt himself to slip under, he pulled the Devil down with him and the walls fell. This time, though, when he fought his way free of the hooks and knives, the screams and blood, the darkness and suffocation of Hell, there was no familiar sound of breathing coming from the other bed to anchor him in reality. No reminder that he wasn't there, he wasn't gone.

There was nothing but more darkness. And silence. And both pressed on him like a weight until he felt as if he were splitting apart, dizzy with the need to breathe.

Dean fumbled for the light with a shaking hand, sweat stinging his eyes, slicking his skin, the twisted sheets adhering to his bare torso like wet paper. His pulse raced, sending splotches of dark to the corners of his eyes as he worked to control his gasps for air. He curled his fingers against his palms, tightening his fists until he could feel his nails dig into the skin, crescent-shaped grooves growing deeper as the sounds of clanking metal and snapping bone lingered along with the sickening smell of sulfur and death.

Sam had taught him a trick when the nightmares were bad enough they woke them both: anchor himself to something that hadn't been there. Something that couldn't have been there. Dean could almost hear his brother's low voice, easing him down from the fight-or-flight ledge, a low hum of reassurance that told him, you're okay, Dean, you're back…you're safe.

He tried to fix his gaze on something—one real thing, one thing that was his.

His eyes found his Colt 1911, the pearl handle milky in the muted light of the bedside lamp. He stared at it, at the barrel, the grip, the trigger. He mentally took the weapon apart, naming each piece, picturing it, touching it with his mind. Soon he was able to unclench his hands, the nail impressions in his palms stinging sharply. He drew a slow breath, relieved it was done without feeling as if the exhale would rip his throat out.

As his racing heart slowed, calmed, he blinked, almost surprised to see the gun sitting untouched, whole, next to his bed and not in the individual pieces he'd imagined. His hand now barely trembling, Dean dragged it down his face, feeling the tug of rough whiskers against his callouses. He leaned forward in the bed, elbows on bent knees.

The dream had been intangible—not a memory of specifics, but a memory of sensations. Those were worse, he thought, because he couldn't remind himself that it wasn't real anymore. He couldn't ground himself in the safety of here and now and Sam. The sensations – the memories of the sounds, the pain, the weight of what he'd lost down there – were all still very real.

He never really got away from them.

They were in the metallic slide of a knife against a whetstone. The slap of a shoe against pavement. The sound of paper ripping. The feel of a hand against his skin. The quick burst of unexpected noise. The smell of blood. And the cold…God, it had been so fucking cold….

Each one—all part of his everyday life—took him back to Hell for a moment, sending pin-points of fear and pain through his gut into his brain and it was a daily, conscious effort to force it back, tamp it down, make sure no one saw as he flinched from a memory.

But the nightmares…. At night everything was amplified. Every innocuous sound became a threat of danger. Every sigh a warning.

Dean rubbed the heel of his hand against his eye, looking at the clock. He'd been asleep three hours. He could get up, drive on. There was no one else to consider, no one else to worry about. It was just him; he could come and go as he pleased.

He hung his head, rubbing at the tight muscles in his neck. He needed a few more hours if he didn't want to drive his car off the road.

Lying back, he listened to the hum of the highway outside of his door. It was too constant, too loud. His mind changed the noise into words. The words into threats. He turned the digital clock radio to face him, staring at the red numbers rebelliously. Switching the radio button to 'on' he turned the dial until he found some music, then, leaving the light on, rolled to his side, putting his back to both.

No one needed to know he couldn't breathe in the dark. No one was there to care, anyway.

In moments, he felt his eyelids fall closed and drifted, his dreams following the tempo of the music, turning visceral, sexy, heated. Curves of bodies, the brush of lips, the feel of soft, soft skin…. When he woke he was once more covered in sweat and on edge; this time, though what he needed to relieve this brand of tension was more easily achievable than alleviating the stress of Hellish dreams.

He drove through the following day, losing track of what day it actually was, watching the skies for signs of weather that would make his job more difficult, refilling the Impala, and listening to Led Zeppelin. It didn't occur to him until his second stop for gas, right across the border of Pennsylvania, that he hadn't said a single word that day.

When he pulled to a stop at a bar called The Bottleneck, just inside the city limits of Greeley, he surveyed the parking lot by the cold, bluish light of a low quarter moon. Roughly twenty cars, varying conditions. Highway within a few yards of the entrance. He reasoned he would be okay with just his Colt tucked into his waistband and a knife in his boot.

Entering the bar, he breathed in the scent of cigarettes, hops, sweat, and fried food. It was the same in every bar they went to—sometimes balanced with the scent of chalk if a pool table graced the back wall, but mostly, it was the same. And it was comforting; he knew what to expect here. He knew what role to play.

Moving through the white noise the conversations of other people provided, he slid sideways through two groups of people and caught the eye of the pretty brunette behind the bar as she popped the tops off of three bottles of Corona. She lifted her chin in his direction, shoving limes into the open throats of the bottles before setting them on the tray of the waiting cocktail waitress.

"What'll you have?"

"Double of Jack, and two beers."

"What kind? We've got…." She nodded to the four pulls to her left, then tipped her head to the selection behind her.

"Sam Adams," he said. Because why the hell not?

She nodded, and he felt her gaze linger. She was cute, but her eyes held a note of toughness that kept him from turning on the full wattage of his smile. Her dark hair was twisted up in the back, a pencil through the knot, and he could see a tattoo peeking out of the top of her white, V-neck T-shirt, just over her right breast.

She poured the whiskey into a wide-mouthed tumbler directly in front of him giving him the opportunity to decide if it was worth the effort he suspected it would take to get on her good side. As she handed him the tumbler, he saw another tattoo on the inside of her left wrist.

"You want to start a tab?" she asked, lifting almond-shaped eyes to meet his.

"Yeah," he nodded, settling in with his elbows on the bar as one of the groups of people shifted away. "I'm gonna be here awhile."

She tilted her head, watching him and ignoring the eyes of the patrons several groups down from him as they sought her attention. "Rough night?" Her eyes tripped down to his bandaged hand.

Dean offered her what he hoped passed for a grin. "Rough life."

"Been there," she nodded, the beauty mark at the corner of her mouth turning her smile into a Gina Gershon-like smirk. She moved away from him to refill the pint of a man at the far edge of the bar.

Dean was going to have to step up his game if he wanted to get some action tonight. He needed to work through this tension that was nothing but an annoying distraction and get on with things. Had Sam been there, Dean knew there would be the inevitable sarcastic remark, a joke or two about how he chose to regain his focus. As far as Dean was concerned, sex was as good of an endorphin rush as any workout regimen, and its payoff was a damn-sight better than sore muscles.

He turned, putting his back to the bar and the pretty brunette, and looked around the room. Maybe there was an easier way to do this. He'd never been a quickie in the public bathroom stall kind of guy, but right now he was so preoccupied by the latest curve ball life had tossed his way, he might be willing to make an exception.

Groups of people clustered around tables, sitting, standing, laughing, talking. He saw a few past-their-prime frat boys playing darts and shooting not-so-subtle looks at a group of blondes in low-cut tops. A couple of girls who looked too young to be twenty-one were clustered around the jukebox. In the back, some business men sat with loosened ties and suit jackets slung over the backs of chairs as they discussed something that had all of their expressions pulled low and tight.

Other than the brunette bartender, no one stood out, caught his attention, or twisted up the heat in his gut. He'd always been able to spot a likely one-night-stand rather quickly, much to his brother's consternation; this time, there seemed to be a different vibe in the bar. Something subdued and edgy. Exhaling quietly, Dean wondered if it had something to do with the reason he was here in the first place.

He'd started to return his attention to the cute bartender when he felt eyes on him. The hairs on his neck stood and he held completely still. There, from the left…just…there. He glanced to the side, trying to find the source of the being watched feeling and spotted a man sitting at the edge of the bar, his back to the wall, a bottle of beer in his hand.

Dean could read people; he'd brag on it when he knew it could work to his advantage, but the truth was, John had honed Dean's natural kinesthetic awareness into a sharpened instrument.

His gut was rarely wrong; the times it had been, he'd been distracted and he'd paid for that distraction. Paid enough that he rarely allowed his guard to slip—especially with no one to watch his back. Some people simply sent off an aura of warning and Dean had to know the right balance of stay away and stay close that would keep him alive.

The man was dressed innocuously enough: flannel shirt and a denim jacket. He was thin, but the kind of thin that often disguised a dangerous layer of muscle, as Dean and Sam had learned the hard way on more than one occasion. There was nothing about his appearance that fed Dean a clue as to why his warning bells went off. He had dark, close-cropped hair, was clean shaven. Blue eyes skimmed the interior of the bar with precision – taking stock, watching. They paused on Dean the moment Dean looked over at him.

He held Dean's eyes like a challenge. Now on guard, knowing enough to focus on his instincts, Dean blinked slowly, shifting his eyes away, choosing to ignore the try it and see what happens vibe that was suddenly emanating from the man. Dean wasn't about to stir up new trouble before he'd even figured out the trouble he'd come here for in the first place.

Especially without a six-five back-up plan.

As he looked away, he felt the weight of the man's stare move on, once more scanning the bar, as if looking for something. Or someone. There was something about this guy—military? cop? hunter?—that tickled the edge of Dean's perception, distracting him from the quiet prowl he'd been attempting with his eyes.

Working to relax his spine and exude an air of carelessness, Dean kept the man in his periphery as he worked his way through the beers and the whiskey, calling the bartender back before the last beer was half gone and ordering more of the same. As the night thinned, so did the crowd, and soon Dean was one of four people at the bar, including the man Dean had noticed before. The other two remaining patrons were far more into each other than the bartender, so he used their distraction to his advantage, asking her name—Ali—and finding out more about the local color of Greeley, Pennsylvania.

She was eager to share; he'd noticed she'd had a couple shots with a few patrons and her movements were loose-limbed, her eyes less wary as she told him how long she'd lived in Greeley, what the town was like, how many people – give or take a few hundred – passed through in any given week.

"Pretty small town, then, huh?"

Ali's right brow lifted slightly, "Big enough to've seen some action."

Realizing he'd skirted the edge of an insult, he smiled lazily. "Sounds interesting."

"Mostly up by Saint Elizabeth's," she glanced quickly at him, "it's a school. But yeah…, we've got our stories."

Dean rolled his bottom lip against his teeth. "I'll bet you do."

"So…," Ali said with a slight sigh and a tilt of her hips that signaled the pending end to a long shift, "you ask a lot of questions for not being a cop, Dean."

He lifted his chin and dropped his eyes so he looked at her from lowered lashes. "Who says I'm not a cop?"

Ali smirked. "You drink too much, for one."

"Maybe I'm off-duty," Dean replied, his answering expression matching the twist of her lips.

She shook her head. "Nah. I'd peg you as…a P.I. Or a reporter. You have too much personality to be a cop."

He almost laughed out loud. "Not a reporter," he told her.

"P.I. then," she decided. "Why are you so interested in Greeley?"

Dean glanced at the man leaning against the wall. He hadn't moved, not once. His eyes seemed to take in everything, though. It was unnerving. He didn't glance Dean's way again, but Dean was left with the impression that he was seen just the same.

"Heard about some strange deaths here recently," Dean answered her. "Wondered if there might be a connection to…uh, another case I'm working."

Ali sighed again, this time leaning against the bar, crossing her arms over the edge, bringing her face within inches of his. It was an effort to drag his eyes from her cleavage to her face once she shelved her breasts on the bar top.

"Strange is one word for it," she said. "I went to high school with one of the…um…."

"Victims," Dean supplied.

"Right. Seems weird, though. With the cult and all. Calling them victims."

"Cult?" Dean asked, subtly shifting so that he was slightly closer to her, could smell her perfume over the multiple scents wafting around the bar. He felt her soft exhale on his cheek, smelling slightly of whiskey.

"I read that there were…markings on the bodies. Cuts, bites…. Looks like they were into some weird shit. It's no wonder."

"No wonder…they died, you mean?" Dean asked, eyes on her mouth.

"Yeah," she replied, slightly breathless. He saw her eyes were tracking his. "If you're gonna go and mess with the bull…." She lifted a shoulder as if to say you know the rest.

"Ali." The man down the bar was suddenly next to Dean.

Dean pulled up, surprised he'd been caught off-guard. He'd been keeping close tabs on the man, sure he was up to something. The guy wasn't looking at him, though; his eyes were all for Ali. Dean swallowed, shuffling one step back; the energy this guy gave off made him want to move away.

He once more sifted through his endless mental rolodex of evil; maybe it wasn't a military or hunter vibe that had triggered Dean.

"Hey, Noah," Ali smiled. "You cashing out?"

The man – Noah – nodded, reaching into the inside of his jacket. Dean tensed, his hand instinctively moving to the small of his back, his fingers on the grip of his gun. Noah pulled out his wallet, sliding a couple bills across the counter. Dean dropped his hand from the gun, but didn't let the tension out of his shoulders.

"You off soon?" he asked. His voice held an accent; one Dean couldn't place right away.

She nodded, darting a quick look at Dean.

"Be careful walking home," Noah advised.

As he started to turn, Noah met Dean's eyes squarely and Dean immediately dropped his shoulders in a loose fighter's stance, let emotion slip from his eyes, and lifted his chin, holding Noah's gaze. The hairs on the back of his neck refused to lie down as the taller man took him in, nodded, then turned away. Dean watched him walk out of the bar, the door slamming shut in his wake. Dean turned back around to face Ali, unable even then to completely relax.

"He a regular?"

Ali shook her head. "Not until a week ago. Then he's coming in every night, orders the same thing—and a lot of it—then just sits back and…watches everybody."

"Always goes home alone?" Dean asked, glancing back over his shoulder, his brows pulled together as he thought of the timing of Noah's arrival and the bodies Bobby had told him about.

"Yeah, why? You lonely?"

Dean turned back to Ali, allowing his full smile to spread across his face. "Sweetheart, he's got nothing I want."

Ali smiled and he saw the pulse at the base of her throat flutter. "This rough life of yours…it keeping you around here long?"

"Long enough to finish this case." He drew his lower lip in and caught it with his teeth.

"So, what you're saying is…this could be our last night together, that it?" Ali asked, her mouth still not quite making it all the way to a smile.

Dean felt a jolt of liquid heat race through his blood. "That's about right."

"We close in a half hour."

"I'll walk you home," Dean promised, finishing his drink, then watching more openly as she moved down the bar, cleaning up the bottles, tops, and glasses so that when her shift ended, she'd be free.

He'd gotten enough information from her to know what questions to ask the local LEOs in the morning, now he was free to ease that tension that had been building in him since the nightmare left him shaky and sweaty in a quiet motel room.

The night was cold.

Dean buried his hands in the front pockets of his jeans, waiting as Ali locked the door behind the last two patrons, who'd left with arms slung around each other in the embrace of the inebriated – part beer-goggle attraction, part need for balance. Dean watched as they stumbled past the remaining cars in the lot and walked down the hill toward town.

He glanced around once more, the sense of eyes upon him still strong. The moon had moved higher in the inky sky, the brilliant light spreading wide and turning the world into a black and white movie. The parking lot was devoid of people, save himself and Ali. Maybe he was imagining things, skittish without Sam there with him, checking his six, a phone call away if nothing else.

Dean felt electrified, turned on by the night. It was now, in the dark, when he so often went to work, when he was needed. He was one of a select few who knew what shadows to look behind when seeking creatures that hid from the light.

He exhaled as Ali draped her purse across her body, and pulled the pencil from the knot of hair, letting it fall in swirling, black waves down her back. He was close enough to her that he could smell her shampoo, feel her body heat as she turned to him and hooked her arm through his.

His muscles coiled, anticipation tight in his belly.

"You live close?" He didn't want to wait long; he needed to focus on the job. Get back to business.

Distraction in any form could get him killed. Would get him killed.

She nodded. "Two blocks. I don't often have company."

Dean arched a brow. "You're kidding, right?"

"What, I look that easy?" Ali's eyes crinkled at the corners, smiling in an experienced way that made him wonder at her age.

"No, it's not that, I just—"

"Listen," Ali interrupted, taking pity on him, and tugging him forward. "The guys who usually want to walk me home…hell, if you unzipped their flies, their brains would fall out."

Dean's lips dipped down as he suppressed a grin.

"You're actually interesting," she continued.

They headed up a slight incline and Ali let her arm drop from his elbow to weave her fingers with his.

"All I did was talk about dead bodies," Dean pointed out with a laugh.

"Well…that's interesting," Ali countered.

The night carried a crisp musk of cold, dirt, and the stale exhaust lingering in the still air from cars long gone. Dean pulled in the scent, trying to note any inconsistency, any warning of danger. As they continued up the hill, he divided his attention between the broken sidewalk, the small cookie-cutter houses, and the cars parallel parked along the side of the road. He watched four steps ahead, anticipating what could step out from an alcove, a shadow, from inside a car.

He'd do that in any situation; in a town with vampires killing people, it was a critical.

And there as something tugging at his memory, an itch in the back of his mind that he couldn't scratch. Something he'd missed, something he'd not paid enough attention to….

"Here's me."

Ali interrupted his thoughts by stopping, forcing him to do likewise or run her over. He took in the chain linked fence surrounding the house, the windows flanking the front doors, and assessed that fire code would dictate a back door as well. Always good to know his exits before entering a strange location.

"Want a beer?" Ali asked as she led the way up the brick walkway to her front door.

"Sure," Dean replied, standing behind her, amused by the courtesy. If he'd read her right, the only thing that had stopped her from suggesting they use the bar top was the fact that it would be so much more enjoyable in her own bed. He glanced to either side of the small porch as he waited her to unlock the door. "You should have a light out here."

Ali pushed her door open. "I did, once. An ex busted out the bulb and I haven't gotten around to getting a ladder to get the broken base out of the socket."

Dean looked up, seeing the broken shards of glass bulb sticking out from the overhead socket. "Bastard," he commented idly.

"Why do you think he's an ex? I even have a bulb…just no ladder. Sucks being short," she laughed, casually tossing her keys onto a side table inside the door.

Dean followed her in and immediately took stock of the interior. A bowl of loose change, mail, and a light bulb sat next to where her keys had landed. The dark was broken by moonlight and exposed a couch, a TV, a hallway, a kitchen. He closed the door behind him, watching as she shrugged off her purse and jacket, dropping them over the back of the couch. She turned toward him, the light from the moon leaking in through one of the front windows and cutting a pale slash across her face, turning her eyes dark and spotlighting her lips.

The heat in his blood that had cooled during the brief night walk spiked hot again and he felt his body respond to the instant, dirty thought he had about her mouth.

"You still want that beer?" She asked, her voice slightly breathless.

Dean darted his tongue out, wetting his dry lips and shook his head slowly. "Not really thirsty."

He kept his eyes on her mouth, not moving, not rushing, letting her pick the moment. He knew how to play this game, had known where he'd end up the moment she'd leaned across the bar to get closer to him. She'd wanted something mindless, easy, free just as much as he did.

"Oh, hell," she whispered a heartbeat before she closed the gap between them, grabbing his face and pulling his mouth down to hers.

She had to stand on her toes to reach his lips, and he gripped her waist, pulling her up and pressing her body against his, letting her set the pace of the kiss, letting her mouth tease up the fire, knowing he'd get what he needed, knowing it was just this moment and more than okay with that.

As they moved further into her darkened house, stumbling over discarded shoes, a basket of magazines, a remote control, and finding their way to the bedroom, Dean realized that Ali kissed with her hands. He shrugged out of his jacket as she pulled at his shirt, dragging him closer, pawing at his side, angling her mouth to get more of him, not letting him drag in a full breath.

She was devouring him and the intensity of it, the complete mindless release, had his knees buckling a little. Which just made Ali press closer and kiss harder, drawing inarticulate groans of need from somewhere inside Dean. The sound made Ali grin and he felt it against his mouth, a sensation of want shooting through him, angling right for his groin and setting his body on fire.

Her control made him feel awkward because, yeah, it'd been awhile, but not that long and he knew he was too much in his head and had to cut that shit out now before he turned this into an all-night affair and not the timed release he was seeking. He pulled her closer, making his grip just shy of painful as he turned her, driving her backward instead of the other way around. He'd gotten the general layout of the house, knew where he was heading, and pushed her through the bedroom door, drinking in the unchecked shiver that shook through her limber body as he stroked his tongue along hers.

Ali's bed was unmade, blankets and sheets tangled at the foot, pillows turned sideways from her sleep the night before. She tugged his shirt up and he realized she'd already removed hers, both straining to get skin-to-skin. She backed onto her bed, her legs straddling his thigh, her hands – Jesus Christ how many did she have? – tearing at Dean's button fly, working it open and trying to shove his pants down.

"Wait," Dean gasped, fumbling for his waistband and his Colt. Ali sucked his bottom lip into her mouth making him instinctively press against her as he groaned in response. But he needed – holy hell he needed to let loose and climb inside her and let it all explode and go blank and – to get his gun. "Wait, wait…just a minnit…."

"No," she gasped. "Don't wanna…."

She moved her mouth to his ear and began using her tongue on the lobe and the edge and he was going to come apart right there if he didn't—

"Just…just gimme…."

"Oh, I'm gonna," Ali gasped into his ear and it was all Dean could do to push her down against the bed, using both arms to keep her there.

Her eyes were wide, pupils large and feral with desire. He knew his had to look the same as he shook his head once to keep her momentarily still, reaching back and pulling his gun free, then dropping it to the pile of clothes.

Ali had seen it, but instead of it scaring her as he'd worried it might, it seemed to help her find another gear and before he'd finished kicking his jeans free from his ankles, she was all hands and mouth and he came apart, arching into the heat of her. He felt as if he were being eaten alive by silk teeth, felt himself bury deep, felt her shudder and shake and he lost himself.

For fifteen blissful minutes he closed off the screams and the cold and the smell and feel of blood and pain and he rode out the heat with a stranger, seeking nothing but the unique oblivion found in the connection of two bodies.

Sweaty, sated, and gasping for breath, they fell back to the bed, side-by-side. Dean's body felt liquid, the coil of tension in his belly happily unwound for now. Ali let out a throaty laugh and he grinned in response.

"You want that beer now?"

What he wanted to do was sleep. Right here, with her in the room to remind him that he was back, he wasn't there, he wasn't gone. He wanted to wake and hear her breathing.

He wanted to hide for a few more minutes.

"Sure," he replied, deciding that he was hearing a that was fun, thanks, bye tone in her voice rather than a you want to stay for breakfast tone.

Ali rolled from the bed, pulling the sheet with her, and made her way across the room to her bathroom, trailing the sheet behind her. Dean lay absolutely still for several seconds, then leveraged himself up, his body still humming, and dressed quickly. For one brief moment he considered leaving his number, leaving a note, waiting for her to get out of the bathroom and sharing that beer with her, but he knew that wasn't what this was.

That wasn't who he was, not right now.

He'd needed to find a release, and she'd been a willing valve. That was all. It's what he did, what Sam chided him for, teased him about. To think there could be anything else – ever – meant ignoring the reality that crashed around him every waking moment.

The reality of demons and angels, destiny and loneliness.

On his way out, Dean snagged the light bulb from atop the stack of change and envelopes and paused long enough to reach up, remove the broken bulb, and replace it. Light flooded her porch, turning the night around him darker. Sure, he'd used her.

But he wasn't a complete jerk.

He stepped off her porch and made his way back to the bar where he'd left the Impala.

a/n: I hope you're enjoying so far and intrigued enough to return.

This story will be 10 chapters long, each chapter posted one week apart until completed (I'm nearly done – just working on the final 2 chapters now). Those of you who have read my other stories will see that these chapters are shorter than my normal. I wrote the story as a whole and got some input (thank you, Terry) on where to break it up to make it easier for you to read.

There is quite a lot of action, angst, blood, and battle to come. If you do choose to read, I'd very much like to hear what you think.