The Family Business
by River Winters

Chapter 2 / The Woman in White

Stanford, California
October 31st, 2004

I'm leaned up against the car, out here alone. Dean is a weirdo and he parked behind Sam's apartment building—and the reason he gave me when I looked at him weirdly and mouthed 'why?'

"Cuz all these Halloween freaks out here are gonna be drunk off their asses and I don't feel like having some idiot mess with my car!"

Classic Dean. This car is his baby to the point of ridiculousness. I tap my foot against the pavement impatiently, nervously. I was too chicken to go in and Dean's been in there for at least ten minutes now. It's the dead of night, around two am and the buzzing sound of the old lights attached to the butt of Sam's apartment building is starting to really piss me off. Should I have gone in? I'm being a little shit about this, I'm pretty sure. Loud sigh. Well I'm not going in now, that would make me look even stupider.

We drove twenty-four hours straight from San Antonio to Stanford to arrive here and see if Sam will come give us a hand finding Dad... and to me, that is the definition of a long shot. I guess maybe Dean decided an in-person appeal would work better than a phone call, cuz he wouldn't call Sam to even give him a heads up that we were coming. He told me not to give Sam a heads up either. I humored him. Mostly because I don't even have Sam's current number anymore. I texted him on our twenty-first birthday when I was mad—he didn't contact me or Dean to say hi and I was indignant and wounded and kind of drunk… so in all of my great maturity I texted him happy birthday you fucking JERK and he'd replied who is this? He'd removed or lost my number, apparently… and I deleted his number angrily, like it was some great revenge I was getting on him. Real grown up of me, I know.

I start to pace a little, looking around the dark alleyway I'm in with a frown. I haven't felt this upset in at least six months, which is funny, given the hunts we've gone on recently. I'm more freaked out about the prospect of seeing my long-lost twin brother than I was about facing a necromancer. Nice. I just don't have a clue how this will go or if Sam will even come out at all. If I'll see him at all, period. He might shoot Dean down and tell him to get lost. Some idiots dressed as ghosts and sexy pirates walk by at the end of the alley. Geez. Halloween is so stupid. I don't like it, honestly.I stop pacing abruptly when I hear a door slamming nearby. I look over at the staircase I saw Dean jog down a few minutes ago—I can hear Sam, I recognize his voice immediately, and my stomach flips weirdly. Is he actually coming with us?

I see the top of Dean's head now bobbing up toward me as he climbs the stairs. Sam, towering over Dean, is behind him, and it's too dark to really see very well, but I can hear better now at least. "I mean the weapon training, and melting the silver into bullets?" Sam is asking. He doesn't sound too happy. Actually, he sounds indignant. "Man, Dean, we were raised like friggin'—" he stops talking the second they get to the top of the stairs and he sees me—they're under a light now and I can see him, too. Surprise filters over his face and he attempts to finish his sentence. "...warriors."

I stand there silently (well, what else is new, but I mean, like, frozen and shocked, just like him). Wow, he looks different. Taller somehow, or maybe I forgot how freakishly tall he was in the first place. He's like a beanpole, thinner than he was before, his hair is longer and floppier than it used to be. He's looking at me weird, hesitant, nervous. Like he wasn't expecting to see me, like he didn't know I'd be here. He attempts a smile and it falls flat. "H-hey, Alex."

I put a hand up, palm facing him, wave hi once, sharply, attempt a smile—it ends up being one of those stretched, flat-mouth expressions that looks more like a grimace than anything else. "You uh, you look good," he says automatically, trying to say something nice, and I make a face because it's so damn obvious he doesn't genuinely think what he said. Really? Even I know I look like shit. Cuz I haven't had a shower in three days and I never sleep and I feel like puking at the current moment. He never approved of this life for me and I remember that very well.

Dean doesn't seem to notice the awkward exchange, or maybe he doesn't care… he just looks at me and crosses his arms. "Sam here doesn't want to help us out, you believe that Al?" He asks and I look back at him sidelong, trying not to give him an I told you so look.

Sam fumbles for an excuse because he doesn't like Dean's guilt-trip implication that he's a bad son and brother... and he's abruptly talking really empathetically, almost whiningly, like I'm suddenly remembering he always did. "Dean it's not that I don't wanna help, I just—"

"You just what, you wanna live some normal, apple pie life, knowing what you know about what's out there?" Dean demands, and there's an edge of hooded anger to his voice.

Sam looks at Dean cooly. "No. Not normal. Safe."

"Is that why you ran away?" Dean asks, going right in for an argument, again trying to needle Sam with guilt Dean obviously thinks he should feel. "Cuz you were scared of the life?"

Sam makes a face, almost amused or offended. I'm not totally sure which and maybe he's not either. "I was just going to college," he says, but we all know it's not that simple. "It was Dad who said if I was gonna go I should stay gone," Sam continues, and there's a bitterness to the way he says it, even though he's trying to sound nonchalant. "And that's what I'm doing."

Did Dad also tell you to not contact your brother and sister ever and ignore us, too? I think bitterly, then realize I don't actually have any right to think that. It's a two way street and I've ignored him these past few years like it's my job. Maybe he's just as resentful of us as I am of him.

"Yeah, well, Dad's in real trouble right now," Dean insists, putting aside the argument, his tone dark and worried. "If he's not dead already. I can feel it." Sam is pensive, looks down, conflicted. "Come on, Sam. Please," Dean says. "I can't do this alone."

My head whips up to look at Dean accusingly—I'm shocked he'd say that, and he looks at me, guilty. "You're not alone," Sam says, voicing exactly what I was thinking and looking at Dean pointedly.

"I mean—you know what I mean," Dean says to him, glancing at me briefly, trying to save face and obviously realizing that what he said was really hurtful and thoughtless. "I—we—don't wanna do this without you."

Sam looks over at me and I think he can tell I wasn't exactly gung ho about the idea of him coming along... but he seems almost sympathetic towards me and that only makes me madder. I don't need anyone to feel sorry for me. And maybe Sam's just being nice, I'm not sure… but he sighs, grudging, and at least decides to hear Dean out. "What was he hunting?"

Dean grins, chuckles, glances at me like he thinks I've got him now! I don't smile back, just give him a dirty look. My feelings are hurt by his comment about 'doing this alone.' But even as Dean is looking away sort of chastised and walking around to the back of the car, Sam is looking at me with a quizzical little expression. "You get taller?" he asks me—trying to break the ice a little I guess. I shrug a little. I've been five-foot-eight since I was like sixteen and I haven't grown any since then. I don't want to bond with him, I don't want to be happy to be around him… I don't want to lose him again, watch him walk away again. Fuck. I wanna shoot myself in the foot because I promised myself I could be cool about this and not get upset either way, whatever he decided to do.

Dean is opening the trunk of the car and I go back there too with Sam trailing behind. I suddenly remember that my duffel bag is back there and my sketchbook. They'll need to be moved so that Dean can lift up the spare tire compartment where all the other stuff is. Not wanting to hear it from Dean, I swoop in and grab my stuff up so fast that a bunch of loose pages flutter out of my sketchbook. Sam crouches to pick up a few that fell to the ground and I'm mortified as I grab up a few near me, trying to beat him to the punch, but he's gotten two before I can get to them.

"Still drawing these?" Sam asks, straightening up. It's from the series of really silly cartoons I used to draw of us—me, Dean, and Sam—through the middle school years. I was Mouse, they were Lion (Dean) and Bear (Sam). Lion and Bear were really big, I always drew them with capes and big claws. Mouse… me… well, she was little and furry but I always gave myself a machine gun or a machete. I snatch the drawings away from my twin, indignant. "Hey, they're good!" he protests and cracks a dimply smile at me, chuckling. And I just glare at him, hold my sketchbook close to me, once again feeling pulled into fond memories of our childhood when he used to grin at me like that all the time… and then of course the inevitable devastation of when he left us.

"Nah she doesn't draw those anymore, those are from a few years ago," Dean answers offhandedly for me as he opens the little arsenal we have built into the spare-tire compartment—he props it open with a shotgun—my shotgun. He starts rooting around in all the junk that we aren't so good at keeping organized—Dad would kill us for the mess, too. He likes order and neatness. "All right, let's see, where the hell did I put that thing?" Dean mutters, tossing a folder aside.

I open one of the back doors of the Impala and toss my duffel bag and sketchbook there, shut the door behind it. Sam, looking slightly uncertain of himself, watches Dean dig around in the trunk. "So when Dad left, why didn't you guys go with him?"

Dean jerks his head toward me as I come to stand near him, opposite Sam on the other side of the open trunk. "Me and Mouse over here were working our own gig. This, uh, voodoo thing, down in New Orleans."

"Dad let you go on a hunting trip just the two of you?" Sam asks, mildly incredulous.

Dean stops and gives Sam a look. "I'm twenty-six, dude. I can look out for myself. And her too."

Sam just raises his eyebrows briefly, glances at me. Sam would be surprised about how much Dad has changed these past few years, I think. Dean gets the folder of research we complied and pulls out a few pages. "All right, here we go. So Dad was checking out this two-lane blacktop just outside of Jericho, California. About a month ago, this guy..." he hands a paper over to Sam. "They found his car, but he vanished. Completely MIA."

"So maybe he was kidnapped," Sam suggests and I give him a look, like really Sam? You think Dad would be into this job if it wasn't nine kinds of weird?

Dean shakes his head, doubtful. "Here's another one in April..." he tosses down another newspaper clipping for each date he mentions, stacking them onto the opposite side of the folder they're in. "Another one in December 'oh-four, 'oh-three, 'ninety-eight, 'ninety-two, ten of them over the past twenty years." He takes back the article he'd handed Sam. "All men, all the same five-mile stretch of road."

Sam looks dubious, unconvinced and I cross my arms. God, this is a waste of time. I almost feel, like, emotional at this point and it's making me angry. I guess I'm steeling myself for the inevitable walkaway but I'm also realizing that it's going to hurt a lot more than I thought. In my mind, Sam had become a memory and I had been resigned to the fact that he was gone. It was easier not to think about him or communicate with him and I wish we had left well enough alone.

Dean's not giving up though. "It started happening more and more," he's saying as I brood, "so Dad went to go dig around. That was about three weeks ago. We hadn't heard from him since, which is bad enough but then I get this voicemail yesterday." He holds up the tape recorder and presses play and Sam listens with an increasingly focused, distressed look on his face.

"Dean… something big is starting to happen… I need to try... figure out... going on. It may... you two… very careful. We're all in danger."

The recording stops and Sam looks at Dean quietly. "You know there's EVP on that?"

Dean cracks a grin. "Not bad, Sammy. Kinda like riding a bike, isn't it? All right, so we slowed the message down, ran it through a gold wave, took out the hiss, and this is what we got..." he presses play again and that soft, haunted female voice says "I can never go home…"

"Never go home," Sam repeats, thoughtful and a little troubled. He's thinking hard about coming along. I can tell. And there's a flutter of surprised hopefulness in my stomach. I realize that I super want him to come along and I also super don't. Either option is making me anxious as hell and I'm gnawing the inside of my cheek repeatedly.

Dean closes the arsenal and stands straight, shuts the trunk, then turns his back to it, leaning there, sitting halfway. He looks at Sam long and hard. "You know, in almost two years I've never bothered you, never asked you for a thing," he says, shrugs mildly. I can hear how pained he is. "Given you your space, let you do your thing…" he looks down, wets his lips. "But we need you on this one." He pauses and looks at our brother meaningfully, pleadingly, tries to cover it up with a crooked grin that doesn't reach his eyes. "We wouldn't be here if I wasn't desperate."

I look at Dean out of the corner of my eyes. I can hear how sad he is and how deep that sadness reaches. He always tries to act cool about everything—like he's not affected by the blows life has dealt him—but right now I can really hear how how much he misses Sam, how much he just wants the family back together. How scared he is about Dad. I don't like it when Dean is scared or not confident about stuff. I think Sam can hear it too. He looks away and sighs, reluctant and hesitating, thinking about it. I watch how Dean looks at him, trying not to give away how much he hopes Sam will say yes.

Sam looks back, first at me, then at Dean. He looks like he already regrets what he's about to say. "All right. I'll go. I'll help you find him." Cue my eyebrows raising up as dawning, pleased surprise softens Dean's features. "But I have to get back first thing Monday," Sam adds on quickly, making sure we know he's in, but only for a couple days.

"What's first thing Monday?" Dean asks, and Sam hesitates, like he doesn't want to tell us.

"I have this… I have an interview."

"What, a job interview?" Dean scoffs slightly, shrugs like it's no big deal. "Skip it."

"It's a law school interview," Sam clarifies meaningfully, a little annoyed with Dean's flippancy, "and it's my whole future on a plate."

"Law school?" Dean smirks. I'm looking at Sam in surprise, sort of impressed. That's pretty ambitious. I suddenly wonder how he's paying for school and if he has a job and if he's got friends and how he's been doing—really doing—these past few years.

"Yeah, law school," Sam retorts. "So we got a deal or not?"

Dean lets out a breath, shrugs nonchalantly. "Yeah. Deal. Go get whatever stuff you'll need."

Sam rolls his eyes at Dean's offhand bossy command then looks at me. "Hey, Alex, why don't you come up with me? Jess will wanna meet you." I look at him, puzzled... who's Jess? "My girlfriend," he explains at my confused expression. Ah.

Dean makes to come with us but Sam gives him a look. "You stay here." Dean raises his hands in mock surrender and I wonder what Dean did—probably flirted with this Jess chick, if I know my oldest brother (which, trust me, I do).

"Fair enough." Dean chuckles, and gives Sam a smug grin, cracks a stupid joke. "Just remember to pack your underwear, Samantha."

Sam rolls his eyes again, looks at me. "Come on, Alex." He leads the way. I follow Sam inside, down the stairs and into the basement of the building, then back up more stairs—Sam shuffles up the steps, turns back slightly to me, I guess trying to make conversation as best as he can. "So, uh, everything okay with you these days?" He asks as we get to the top of the stairs and holds a door open for me.

I shrug, looking at surrounding area closely as we move into a dim hallway lined with numbered apartment doors. There's an open door and a guy talking to a girl, which is where we seem to be headed. The girl is blonde and beautiful, wearing a house robe of some kind—actually, I think she just put it on, cuz she's tying the sash, smiling sort of impatiently, uncomfortably, at the guy leaned against the doorframe casually. He turns, sees Sam and me, grins widely. "Heya Sam!" he greets with a great amount of enthusiasm. I take one look at him and make a snap judgement: total douchebag—it's written all over his preppy outfit and smug smile and general aura he gives off. He's blond and handsome I guess but something about him is immediately unlikable to me.

"Hey, Brady," Sam responds as we reach them. He sounds a little tired or edgy, but is trying to disguise it and be pleasant.

Brady smiles at Sam, a really wide, cocksure kind of grin, and I hang back a little behind Sam, suspicious. "Just came over, thought I heard some noises," Brady explains. "Wanted to make sure everything was okay with Jess and Sam!" He exclaims and laughs, and I wonder if he's on something. He's zany and just sort of off, seems twitchy and drugged out or something. He looks at me now and he doesn't bother to hide the creepy way he looks me up and down. "So who's she?"

"Not interested," Sam responds immediately, good-natured but very firm, almost patronizing. He claps Brady on the shoulder gently and looks at him, wincing sympathetically. "I think you've had a few too many tonight, my friend. Need help back to your apartment?"

Brady makes a face. "Pssh. I'm one door down, if I were that plastered we'd be in trouble!" He laughs loudly and Jess is looking at Sam like please get rid of this idiot. She's really pretty—long wavy blonde hair, strong jaw, striking eyes. My first impression of her is that she seems sweet and girly. Exactly Sam's type so I'm not that surprised.

Sam chuckles, a strained sound. "Goodnight, Brady."

"Yeah, night Sam." Brady grins leeringly at me and then at Jess. "Seeya later, girls."

He stumbles away down the hall and Sam looks after him, sighs gustily. I have to wonder if maybe that guy is one of Sam's pet projects. He's always taken broken people under his wing. I used to be one of them. "Come on in," Sam says to me, and indicates I go ahead of him. Jess smiles at me, holds the door open wider.

I walk in slowly, down a tiny little entry hallway and into the main room, curious as hell but trying to be discreet as I check out the dimly lit apartment, this place where Sam lives and apparently shares with a serious girlfriend. "If he comes and knocks on our door one more time in the middle of the night, I'm gonna smash him in the head with a frying pan," Jess says to Sam behind me somewhere, jokingly.

"He's just going through a rough patch," Sam says, and I hear the door close, hear them coming in behind me as I stand in the main room, looking around. It's a nice little apartment—it has a really homey feeling to it and I feel a pang of sadness because I've never lived in a place like this, a real home. No, that's not sadness I'm feeling, it's mild jealously.

"A rough patch? For a whole year, Sam?" Jess laughs softly, and she sounds endeared to Sam, proud of him but also sort of exasperated. "You're a much better friend than he's been to you."

I see pictures of Sam and Jess dotting the surfaces of the tables in the living room, and in the photos they're grinning widely, arms around each other. In one of them she's sitting on his shoulders and making a mock-scared face with her arms thrown out wide, like he's about to drop her. They look so happy and normal and I bet he's never told her about his real life, what he did before he came here to Stanford. I mean, how could she still look so young and carefree if she knew? I don't know how Sam can hide from the dark things we've seen and done, how he looks so normal and well-adjusted in these pictures.

"Yeah, well, someone's gotta be there for him," Sam says, and I can hear the smile on his voice. I turn around now and see them coming into the living room.

"You must be Alex," Jess says, smiling warmly at me. "I recognize you from the picture." She gestures at one of the framed pictures I didn't notice, sitting on the little table beside the couch. Wow, I'd forgotten about this one and I'm also really surprised that there's a picture of us displayed here, period… the picture is when Sam and I were fourteen or fifteen I guess. Dean is standing in the middle, with one of us on either side of him. He has his arms draped over us and a cocky little smirk on his face—Sam is smiling widely like a normal person does in pictures—I'm smiling too but close-mouthed, and it looks like I'm trying to suppress it. We'd just played paintball in Bobby's salvage yard and our coveralls are splattered in paint of every color. We almost look like a normal family. That was one of the few days that I remember actually feeling like a normal person.

"Your brother's told me a lot about you," Jess says, friendly and welcoming and I look back at her, glance at Sam dubiously—I doubt that he has, he's never been very into sharing details about his family… but that's just the thing people say when they meet you. "It's really nice to meet you," she says and I smile tightly, glance at Sam again. I'm markedly uncomfortable right now. I'm not used to Dean not being at my side constantly, for one, and I don't know Jess and I haven't been around Sam in what feels like forever and I'm not exactly the best in social situations like this.

"Are you hungry? Thirsty?" Jess asks. "Can I get you anything?" she asks. I shake my head no, no. She seems really nice but also a little on edge. She glances at Sam, clearly wondering what's going on and anxious to find out.

"So uh, I'm gonna head out for a day or two," Sam says to her and concern and uncertainty flash across Jess's face—her gaze flickers over to me. "Help my brother and sister track down my Dad," Sam says. "It's no big deal. I just gotta pack my bag, okay?"

Jess is sort of stunned. "O-okay," she says, and Sam smiles at her briefly, goes into a room that's off of the living room. The bedroom I guess. Jess watches him go and she looks at me again. I give her another awkward little smile and I can see how unsure she is about what to do with me. That's the thing about being mute… it makes people uncomfortable by default.

"You sure I can't get you anything?" she asks. She's so, so pretty and I feel extremely ugly and gross in comparison with my stringy brown hair and dirty wrinkled clothes. I shake my head no again and force a smile. I know this has to be weird for her… I have no idea how long she and Sam have been dating but from the looks of it—living together, photos of them together everywhere, they're pretty serious. So she knows that Sam's not close to us. And me and Dean showing up in the middle of the night is sort of nuts, all kinds of suspicious. She clears her throat.

"Sorry, uh, if you'll just excuse me a sec," she says, and follows Sam. I keep looking around, can hear their voices, sort of muffled. My curiosity wins out. I steal a little closer to the room, keeping out of their eyesight, but getting close enough to hear.

"It's just… you won't ever even talk about your family," I hear her saying. "And now you're taking off in the middle of the night to spend a weekend with them?" She sounds worried. "And Monday's coming up, which is kind of a huge deal."

"Hey," Sam tells her soothingly, and I can hear him moving, walking toward the door of the room—I quickly move back toward the center of the room, think I can hear him telling her everything's gonna be okay and he'll be back in time. He comes back into the living room, a bag slung over his shoulder, and Jess calls after him "At least tell me where you're going!" She appears in the doorway, looking at him pleadingly, giving him a pouty, puppydog face.

"Would if I could!" Sam says, shrugging and giving her a cute, helpless little smile and then going back over to her. They kiss and I feel insanely awkward, try to look the other way, not stare or leer. "Love you," Sam tells her softly and she smiles up at him, her eyes crinkling up.

"Love you too." She is a little shy now, looking over at me. She smiles warmly at me. "Nice to meet you Alex." She sighs and looks at Sam helplessly, like she doesn't want him to go but will be supportive anyway. "Look after your big brother for me?" she asks me.

I give her a nod, and I don't have to fake the smile I give her. I can't help it… I do like her. Sam jerks his head at the door. "Ready?" he asks me.

Uh no. Definitely not. But I shrug 'sure' and lead the way out. Here goes nothing...

The Next Day

"Yo, Alexander!" Dean booms. "Wake up, already!"

What the… when did I fall asleep? And when did it become morning? I'm cramped in the back seat, my neck is stiff from sleeping sitting up, head leaned onto the window. Groggy and grumpy, I glare as I try to get my heavy eyes to cooperate and wake up. It's too bright. I look at the side of Sam's head resentfully. I earned that shotgun seat and Dean saying "youngest sits in the back" last night is not forgotten by me. Nope. AC/DC is blaring loudly and I rub one of my eyes with the heel of my hand, wondering how I slept through that racket. Not that I don't love AC/DC but, seriously. I'm impressed with myself. I guess I must have been really exhausted.

"I got you some breakfast," Dean says, and tosses a can of Pringles back at me without looking. I wasn't expecting it and am half-asleep and it hits me in the forehead. Ouch! I grab the can up and smack my oldest brother in the back of his head with it. Watch where you throw stuff, jerk!

"Ow!" He protests and I grin, am suddenly the most innocent person on planet earth, angelically smiling and opening the can of chips and popping one into my mouth with exaggerated saintliness. Sam shakes his head, grinning faintly at our antics. He returns his attention to whatever he's doing. Looking through something from the looks of it.

"So, Alex…" he says. "Al Beebak? Anita Bath?" I sit up ramrod straight. He's going through my wallet?! Yup, he's got all my fake credit cards I'm using right now and is reading through the stupid names I have on them with increasing amused incredulousness. "Ima Butt? …Yura Weiner?" He begins to laugh. "Ho Lee Fuk?" He looks back at me, shaking his head in mirth. "You're even worse than Dad and Dean."

"Not worse, better," Dean corrects cheekily, chortling and glancing back at me in the rearview as he grins at me proudly. I try to act like that doesn't make my day, try not to smile and glow. I look down to cover up my huge grin. I think up those fake, extremely juvenile names to amuse Dean, mostly. He really gets a kick out of it—Dad gets really aggravated and tells me to grow up. His sense of humor is sort of… nonexistent.

I shrug modestly at Dean's compliment and then I swipe my wallet away from Sam, start to put the cards back in there, remind myself not to leave my belongings strewn all over the car… at least not right now while Sam's with us. "Does anyone really fall for those names?" Sam asks, still grinning about it, looking at Dean and then me in humored disbelief. "I mean some of these are really obviously fake. Actually, they all are."

Dean shrugs, grinning. "People don't usually ask, Sammy. Guess they chalk it up to life being stranger than fiction."

"Speaking of fiction…" Sam kicks one of the paperback books at his feet over and I'm chagrinned as he picks a couple of them up. "I'm guessing these are yours?" He asks me, smirking, then reads the titles with a mocking tone. "'Love's Last Desire'? 'On the Tide of Romance'? 'Taken for Revenge, Bedded for Pleasure'?" Sam is practically giggling at me now. "You trying to keep Harlequin novels in business or something?" He asks and I sit back with my arms crossed and eyes narrowed, try and look like I don't give a crap. "What happened to Vonnegut and Tolkien?" he asks, turned around to face me, laughing at me.

I give him a you suck face. "Hobbits just aren't as sexy as Fabio," Dean says and chuckles.

I'll kill either of them if they tell anyone, and I make sure my you're dead to me scowl communicates that to them both. Instead, they just sort of chuckle in unison at my irritation, glance at each other, deeply amused. Great. So they're gonna team up on me again. Losers. Actually I'm smiling now to myself and this very familiar stomping ground of picking on each other and making fun of each other at any given opportunity. Sam's laughing and he lets the books fall back down to the floor. My one very embarrassing interest… romance. Because unlike my brothers, I have about zero experience in the department and no prospects… no one was ever too interested in the rough-around-the-edges tomboy who couldn't speak a word. So I live vicariously through others.

"Anyway, no," Dean says with an overly dramatic sigh. "Those novels are mine, obviously. You know I can't get enough of that dime store romance crap." Sam laughs at the thought and I do too, picturing Dean reading a romance novel with a rapt expression. I mean, he'll watch soap operas and stuff and blame me as the one who makes him watch them but that's definitely not true. He loves that crap and admits it when it's just me and him. It's good blackmail material if nothing else.

I offer Sam the can of Pringles and he eyes it dubiously. "You know how much cholesterol and sodium is in those things?" he asks.

"You know how much we don't care?" Dean retorts playfully, and I make a face at Sam. Suit yourself, Mr. Vegetables. He's always been sort of a health nut, picky and not into junk food. Weirdo. Well, more for me. I crunch down on another salty crisp, smacking loudly on purpose... and getting an annoyed look from Sam at the noise. I remember how much that always got on his nerves. I'd chuckle if I could. Deal with it, bro. Give me my front seat back and maybe I'll quiet it down.

"I mean, would some apples or bananas once in awhile really hurt you guys?" Sam asks Dean.

"We love apples and bananas!" Dean says in faux-defensiveness, then cracks a shit-eating grin, "… if you mean banana pudding and apple pie, hell yeah!" Sam rolls his eyes and Dean laughs, cranks the music up really loud over Sam's complaints and rolls the windows down to let in the crisp, fresh fall air outside.

A few minutes pass and you know what? I feel sort of happy right now, my two brothers in the front seat and me here in the back. Call me crazy but I could maybe get used to this. It's not that bad. I wonder, for a second, if maybe Sam will come back, join us on the road again. Then I think about his normal life with Jess, his bright future as a lawyer or whatever. Why the hell would he want this shitty existence? Why would anyone? My good mood fades slightly.

"You know what, lemme call the Jericho hospital, see if maybe Dad's turned up there," Sam says when we pass the sign that says Jericho is seven miles off. I think maybe he's looking for an excuse to get Dean to turn down the AC/DC blasting through the car stereo. It works, either way, and my oldest brother turns the volume down substantially.

"Good thinking," Dean answers. And it is good thinking, but I can hear how Dean's really stricken by the thought of Dad being in a hospital somewhere. His good mood is sullied. While I eat my very nutritious, Sam-approved breakfast, my twin calls 411, jots down the numbers of the hospital and morgue. He's always been really good at this part of the job… information gathering and research. He calls both numbers he gets, gives them Dad's description, asks if anyone who looks like that has shown up. He gets a no from the morgue, then calls the hospital.

"Okay, thank you," he says, and closes his phone, looks over at Dean. "All right. So, there's no one matching Dad at the hospital either. So… that's something, I guess."

Dean just glances at him. "Mm hmm," he says absently. Suddenly his attention is piqued and he squints at the road ahead, slows the car down. "Check it out," he says, and Sam and I do so in unison. A bunch of cop cars are clustered around a big metal bridge, blocking it off completely. Yellow crime scene tape is plastered all over the place. Dean pulls off to the side of the road and we all stare. I can see a car in the middle of the bridge and it seems to be the center of the crime scene. Decisively, Dean leans over Sam, opens the glove compartment and pulls out the little box of fake IDs.

"You wanna be FBI or federal marshals today, Al?" he asks. I grab my federal marshal badge and wink at him, scooting sideways toward my door. "Federal marshals it is," he says. Sam is looking at us wide-eyed and baleful and Dean gives him a get over it look. "Let's go," he says, even as I'm grabbing the EMF meter from under the seat where it was shoved last.

"This is so illegal," Sam hisses as we get out of the car and head toward the crime scene. I pocket the EMF meter, looking around furtively.

"And?" Dean asks Sam with a smug little sidelong smile and glance. "Just act like you own the place, relax, follow my lead." Sam huffs unhappily. He's always been the do-gooder of the family I guess you could say. Never was too comfortable breaking the law.

I squint in the bright mid-morning sun. The bridge stretches over a river and some cops are down there poking around, looking for something. Who knows what. I'm following Dean toward the car where the sheriff and an officer are in deep conversation.

"...spotless," the officer is saying. He's inside the parked, empty car, looking at it in confusion. "It's almost too clean."

"So, this kid Troy," the sheriff asks the officer. "He's dating your daughter, isn't he? How's Amy doing, anyway?"

Troy. Amy. I know Dean is also saving the names to mind, silently cataloguing the information. "She's putting up missing posters downtown," the officer replies.

"You fellas had another one like this just last month, didn't you?" Dean asks, and the sheriff notices us, straights up and turns to face us. He takes in Dean's authoritative, I-belong-here swagger and my cool, narrow-eyed stare. Sam's just kinda there.

"And who are you?" he asks.

Dean and I flash our badges like we always do… quick and casual. "Federal marshals," he answers, giving off the air of boredom. The sheriff looks at the badges, which are already being tucked away. He looks dubious.

"You three a little young for marshals, aren't you?"

I make a face like here we go again and head over to the car, careful to exude annoyance, like I get accused of being too young for the job all the time. Dean chuckles derisively. "Thanks, that's awfully kind of you," he replies sarcastically, and follows me over to the car, looking at it carefully.

"You did have another one just like this, correct?" he asks.

I'm looking at the car, circling it slowly and not acknowledging the officer who is looking at me oddly. I know I don't look exactly like the consummate professional in my outfit—old beat up jeans, my 1977 Led Zeppelin shirt that used to be Dean's, the cargo jacket thrown over it, my very beat up old combat boots. But the trick to the bluff is to always act like you know something everyone else doesn't, like you own the place (just like Dean said). I study the car carefully, frowning a little deeper than normal for show, posturing myself. The car looks like it was parked there and whoever was driving it just disappeared or walked away. Subtly, I switch on the EMF meter in my pocket, look down at it, watch the levels spike. Well hello ghosty… definitely some sort of spirit involved in this disappearance. The officer is looking at me weirdly—I think he can hear the EMF whining and crackling—but I give him a challenging, impatient glance and he looks away.

"Yeah, that's right," the sheriff is replying to Dean. "About a mile up the road. There've been others before that."

Dean and I exchange a glance. "So, this victim, you knew him?" Sam asks the sheriff who shrugs and nods.

"Small town like this, everybody knows everybody."

Dean circles the car to come stand near where I am. I discreetly give him our own little signal for EMF… I stick three fingers out sideways—pointer, middle, and ring—which makes a kind of E shape. He sees that and makes a not surprised face. "Any connection between the victims, besides that they're all men?" Dean asks.

"No. Not so far as we can tell," says the sheriff.

"So what's the theory?" Sam asks, getting into his role now, sauntering over to Dean and I, squinting at the car and looking very thoughtful.

"Honestly, we don't know. Serial murder? Kidnapping ring?" The sheriff shrugs.

Dean decides to cop a rude, superior attitude. "Well, that is exactly the kind of crack police work I'd expect out of you guys," he mocks. We don't mean to but in perfect unison, Sam stomps on Dean's foot as I elbow him in the side.

Sam is smiling, strained and pissed. "Thank you for your time," he says, and starts to walk away, throwing a brusque "gentlemen," over his shoulder. The cops are all looking at us oddly.

Sam is striding fast ahead of us, and it's easy to tell how irritated he is from the short, angry steps and the way his shoulders are drawn up toward his ears. Dean catches up, looks back to see if he's being watched, and then smacks Sam in the back of the head, hard. I'm almost jogging to catch up to them.

"Ow!" Sam hisses indignantly as Dean falls into step beside him. "What was that for?!"

"Why'd you have to step on my foot?" Dean demands.

"Why do you have to talk to the police like that?" Sam retorts, then gives me the evil eye, because I also jabbed Dean and got away with it scott-free. "And why didn't you smack her, too?!"

Dean moves in front of Sam, stopping him from walking any further. "Come on dude, I don't hit girls." He gives him a look then suddenly looks at me. "I flick them in the neck." Before he even finished saying the words, he flicks his finger hard into the skin at the side of my neck. Ouch! Oh no you didn't. I know exactly what to do to get revenge and my hand shoots out, I grab him by the nipple through his shirt and twist hard. He yelps, jumping back slightly, covering himself with a hand, looking at me in wounded disbelief. "Jesus Christ!" he protests, offended by my retaliation. I just shrug. You asked for it. Sam is chortling lowly now and Dean gives us both dark looks. "Come on," he says angrily, vehemently. "They don't really know what's going on! We're all alone on this. I mean, if we're going to find Dad we've got to get to the bottom of this thing ourselves. And don't touch my nipple ever again," he tells me authoritatively like he does after every time I do that. He's pointing a finger at me and glaring. I smirk at him.

Sam clears his throat, regulating his expression as he look over Dean's shoulder… another sheriff is approaching, and behind him, two FBI agents. "Can I help you folks?" the sheriff asks and as Dean turns around, his pissy expression expertly changes to easy going and polite.

"No, sir, we were just leaving," Dean says pleasantly enough, but I can hear the underlying this is bullshit tone. As the FBI agents walk past us, he nods at each of them, and he can't resist another sarcastic jab. "Agent Mulder. Agent Scully."

Heh, that's pretty funny. He begins to walk back toward the car and we follow. He seems to suddenly be in a foul mood. "I need some friggin' real food," he complains.

"What we need is to find this Troy guy's girlfriend," Sam corrects him, ever the time conscious one.

"What we neeeeeed is to find this Troy guy's girlfriend," Dean copycats in a goofy, mocking voice, like he thinks Sam just said the stupidest thing of all time.

"Oh my god, would you grow up?" Sam mutters.

We found Troy's girlfriend Amy downtown, plastering surfaces with missing person posters she obviously made herself. Dean immediately told her we were Troy's cousins from Modesto and even though she seemed a little surprised that Troy had never mentioned his three cousins to her before, she was too out of sorts and sad to really be properly suspicious. She and her friend Rachel agreed to sit down and answer some questions—Dean suggested the diner across the street and cracked a grin at Sam, like see, I can do two things at once: get info and stuff my face. Sam just rolled his eyes.

The girls told us that Troy's disappearance, how nothing had been abnormal, he'd been on his way home to her, then never showed up. Amy and Rachel told us how the more and more frequent disappearances has people talking ghost stories. Our ears perked up immediately when they told us about a local legend where a girl got murdered out on Centennial—the same place Troy disappeared from. According to this legend, she's still out there, hitchhiking, and whoever picks her up… disappears forever.

My brothers and I had exchanged a meaningful look after being told that little tidbit. That plus the EMF reading I picked up on Troy's car… pretty substantial lead, worth digging into. Dean asked more about Troy, trying to get a feel for the guy, profile him. Sam kept cutting in with questions of his own and I could tell Dean was both annoyed and proud. Annoyed because he's used to running the show, proud because Sam's still pretty resourceful and quick on the uptake. Anyway, after the girls excused themselves and left, asked us to contact them if we found anything, Dean stuffed his face with a greasy burger and fries, I had the kid-sized order of macaroni and cheese, Sam got a grilled chicken salad. He gave us both a bitch face when he ordered that. "What?" he'd asked at our amused, judgmental looks.

"Nothing," Dean grinned. "You enjoy your rabbit food, Sammy."

"Sam," my twin insisted with growing impatience. After lunch we went to the local town hall, found the local library where Sam and Dean proceeded to fight over the computer like little kids, trying to find out about this girl who was supposedly murdered on on Centennial. After Dean found nothing, Sam pretty much shoved him sideways and insisted "lemme try," changing the search parameters from murder to suicide… and finding an article from the 1980s titled Suicide on Centennial. We all leaned in to read it, almost cracking heads and Dean of course was all "geez you wanna give me some friggin' space?!"

So, a woman named Constance Welch jumped off a bridge into a local river off of Centennial after she found her two kids drowned in a bathtub… and the photo accompanying the article of the bridge in question? Looked pretty damn familiar. Dean clapped Sam on the shoulder, told him good crack detective work, suggested we go check out the bridge again. We realized, though, we'd have to wait until the cops left. We pretty much had to stake out the place, parking a mile away on a ridge overlooking the bridge, waiting for the cops to leave. After a couple hours, we gave up on it for awhile, went to the local laundromat to wash all of our sweaty, dirty clothes. Sam shook his head, told us how he has a washing machine in his apartment… Dean and I tried not to look too jealous. That sounds really nice. We headed back to the crime scene around dusk, cops were still there… Sam scrolled around on his phone while Dean peered through binoculars.

Around sunset, the cops finally get their act together, tow Troy's car, and vamoose.

"Showtime," Dean says when the last cruiser pulls away. He starts the car, drives us down to the bridge. He parks at the end of it and we get out, start to poke around aimlessly, looking for any signs of… I dunno, anything. I've got one of Dad's full-sized tactical flashlights in hand. They're heavy, made out of metal, designed to be mounted onto rifles but when they're not onboard a gun, they double as weapons in hand-to-hand combat.

The river rushes below loudly. "So this is where Constance took the swan dive," Dean comments, leaning over the railing and looking into the choppy water briefly. I sweep the river and then the banks with the flashlight beam, not seeing anything interesting.

"So you think Dad would have been here?" Sam asks.

"Well, he's chasing the same story and we're chasing him," Dean says, not really giving a straight answer. Mostly because I'm pretty sure he has no idea. He starts walking, Sam trailing after. I'm still leaned over the railing, looking down at the water apprehensively. Maybe it's just the cold out here, but I feel like there is gooseflesh on the back of my neck. And knowing that this was the place where a vengeful spirit was born makes me all the more cautious.

"Okay, so now what?" Sam asks Dean, and I tear myself away from the bridge side railing, jog a couple steps to catch up to my brothers. The flashlight beam waves up and down on the bridge ahead as my arms swing.

"We keep digging until we find him," Dean says evenly. "Might take a while."

Sam stops walking, exasperated. "Yeah, well, maybe you two do but… Dean, I told you, I've gotta get back by—"

"Monday," Dean cuts him off, nodding impatiently, turning around to look at him. I'm standing kind of between them, sensing the tension. "Right. The interview." Dean smiles tightly. "Yeah, I forgot," he lies. I always know when he lies. "You're really serious about this, aren't you?" he asks Sam, and there's a ringing criticism and doubtfulness to his question. "You think you're just going to become some lawyer? Marry your girl? Live the all-American dream in Suburbia?"

"Maybe," Sam replies neutrally. "Why not?"

"Does Jessica know the truth about you?" Dean asks. "I mean, does she know about the things you've done? The life you've lived?"

I already know she doesn't, or at least I'm like ninety-nine percent sure... but Sam confirms my private theory. "No, and she's not ever going to know." He's stepped closer to Dean and is giving him a very serious face, like this subject is off limits.

Dean pulls a mildly disgruntled face. "Well, that's healthy." He shakes his head, looks at Sam calculatingly. "You can pretend all you want, Sammy," he says, and he's smiling knowingly now, shrugging slightly. "But sooner or later, you're going to have to face up to who you really are."

He turns and begins to walk away again, closing the subject… but Sam doesn't drop it. "And who's that?" he asks challengingly, following Dean again.

"You're one of us," Dean replies nonchalantly, and Sam hurries to get in front of Dean, confront him.

"No," he says loudly, "I'm not like you. This is not going to be my life!"

Hanging back a little, sensing a fight is about to break out, I cross my arms and look away, not wanting part in this. Dean's getting fired up: "You have a responsibility to—"

"To Dad?" Sam demands angrily. "And his crusade? If it weren't for pictures, Alex and I wouldn't even know what Mom looks like. And what difference would it make?" He shrugs powerlessly, a little quieter now. "Even if we do find the thing that killed her, Mom's gone. And she isn't coming back."

Without warning, Dean grabs Sam by the front of his jacket and shoves him up against the railing of the bridge. Reacting in tandem, I'm striding forward a few steps then stopping short, not sure if I should intervene or not. All I know is that I didn't guess Dean would fly off the handle at Sam so soon after reuniting with him. Maybe it's some of the resentfulness he's been holding in all this time ever since Sam left. Dean currently seems to realize he's overstepped some bounds and he pauses, anger fading. "Don't talk about her like that," he says, soft and tense. "You may not remember her, but I do."

He lets go of Sam with a mild shove and backs up off him, then turns, begins to walk forward again. Sam looks at me darkly, like it's my fault Dean just did that to him and I just shrug helplessly. That's Dean for you.

"Guys," Dean says softly, and we both look at him, recognizing the urgent tone in his voice. About twenty feet from us, a woman in a breezy white dress with dark long hair stands barefoot on the bridge railing, facing outward, like she's about to jump. I shine the flashlight at her and the beam catches her attention—she looks back at us, haunted and agonized… and then suddenly looks away, steps forward off the edge, and plummets out of sight. We take off running toward her and when we get to the railing, we see nothing but the churning river below. "Where'd she go?!" Dean asks.

Sam is shaking his head slowly. "I don't know."

On the end of the bridge, we hear the Impala's engine starting, and the headlights suddenly snap on—we turn to look, mutually, I'm sure, all thinking what the hell?

Dean stares. "What the—"

"Who's driving your car?" Sam asks, and Dean doesn't take his eyes off his baby, just pulls his keys out of his pockets and jingles them. Not good. The car suddenly lurches forward, tires squealing, and we're backing up slowly, then turning to break into a full run, but the car is gaining fast and oh shit we're gonna die and beside me Dean is shouting "jump, jump, jump!" and pushing me forcefully toward the railing of the bridge.

I'm vaguely aware of my brothers taking flying leaps over the railing even as I'm jumping up and catching onto one of the metal beams, shimmying upward in a frenzy, feet slipping and sliding on the cross-hatched metalwork that makes up the beam. Below me now by about seven feet, the car jerks to a halt and idles there, then turns itself off, goes dark. But who cares about the car. Heart hammering wildly I squint down into darkness, try to see my brothers. I dropped the flashlight and I can't see, and I'm panicking and scared because that's a long fall and I don't see either of them—wait.

"Alex?! Alex!" Sam shouts. "Dean!" He's hanging onto a lower beam, he caught himself and didn't fall into the river, is halfway sitting on a ledge there. I whistle loudly and he looks up. I wave hello with a tight little smile on my face. Relief flickers across his features but not mine… I'm staring down at the body I just saw wash up at the edge of the river. Oh god, Dean, no! I'm sliding down, feet hitting the ground hard as I grip the railing and lean over the edge, looking at Dean despairingly.

Sam follows my eye line. "Dean? Dean!" Sam calls, assuming the worst, too… and then Dean moves, looks up at us.

"What?" he demands crossly. He's covered in mud.

"Hey! Are you all right?" Sam asks.

Dean holds up one hand in an A-OK sign. "I'm super," he grumbles, and starts to get up.

Sam laughs, relieved, and scoots away from the edge, reaches up for my outstretched hand. I use my foot, pressed against the railing, to help leverage my hold and heave his heavy frame up. And he's trying to balance some of his weight onto one of the beams, make it easier for me… so I just yank more zealously, proving to him that I'm stronger than he gives me credit for. He tumbles forward up and over the railing, almost falling forward, then managing to catch himself.

"Damn, I forgot how strong you are," he comments breathlessly as he stands up, brushes himself off. For a minute, I'd thought Sam was dead and I suddenly hug him, like a two second hug, feeling ridiculous but also like I really had to do it. I draw back and nod tersely, mouth in a thin line—I'm sort of mortified at myself but also wishing I'd hugged him a little longer. He's looking at me in faint amusement even as I'm walking over and picking up the flashlight from where it fell. I'm already heading down the bridge to help Dean up the steep embankment, at least light the way. He's already halfway up and I give him a murderous look. How dare you almost die on me?

"Hug?" he asks as he gets to solid ground at my level, spreading his muddy arms wide and chuckling immaturely. He is covered, completely, in river sludge. Ugh, gross… I hold up a warning finger at him. Hug me and you die, stinky. He's got his mind on other stuff, anyway… he looks down the bridge at Sam and the Impala, starts off for both. "What the hell did that crazy bitch do to my wheels?" He marches over to his car and yanks the hood up, inspecting every element carefully. Sam gives me a look, like, so Dean's still super into his car, huh? I shrug. Yup.

"Your car all right?" Sam asks when Dean finally shuts the hood.

"Yeah, whatever she did to it, seems all right now," Dean says lowly, then looks around angrily. "That Constance chick, what a bitch!" he shouts, like she should be able to hear him. He crosses his arms petulantly and sits on the hood of the car, glaring at nothing in particular.

"Well, she doesn't want us digging around, that's for sure," Sam comments. "So where's the job go from here, genius?"

Dean throws his arms up in frustration and lets them slap back down onto his knees as Sam settles beside him. Dean shakes his muddy hands uselessly, trying to flick some mud off. Sam and I are both grimacing. I can smell Dean from here, and I'm standing in front of them by like five feet. Looking at Dean with his nose wrinkled, Sam says, "You smell like a toilet."

Dean gives him an unamused scowl. "Bite me."

"Take a shower first," Sam quips, getting a severely bitchy face from Dean, who suddenly makes to grab Sam and cover him with the sludge, too… but Sam jumps back, laughing when he eludes Dean's sudden try.

"Hurry it up Sammy, geez, Alex would have had us in three years ago!" Dean complains as Sam picks the lock to motel room number ten.

Imagine our surprise when Dean slapped his credit card down (which read Hector Aframian), and the guy at the front desk of this dump had asked if the Aframians were having a reunion, said "that other guy, Burt Aframian, he came in and bought out a room for the whole month."

"Nope, must be a coincidence," Dean had said, even as his eyes skimmed the motel register, trying to see which room Dad had checked in to. The roster said room ten.

Dean—still covered in dry, cracked, stinking mud—and I are keeping a lookout, shielding Sam's very illegal actions with our bodies. I've got my duffel bag strap slung over my shoulder because I am so desperate for a shower. Dean's gonna have to fight me for dibs.

Kneeling down and jamming the lock pick around wildly, Sam looks up at Dean in annoyance. "I'm out of practice, okay? Unlike you two, I don't constantly break into places."

"Oh well good for you," Dean mutters as Sam finally has success and the door cracks open. We hurry inside and Sam closes the door behind us. It's dim in here, the curtains are drawn and the lights are off, we all blink, trying to adjust to the difference in light. Whoa, Dad was definitely here. As my eyes regain the ability to see, I gape. Every vertical surface has papers pinned to it: maps, newspaper clippings, pictures, notes. It's a mess and for just a second I think we must have the wrong room. There are books on the little cheap desk and assorted junk on the floor and bed. It looks like he was living here. The stale air in the room smells faintly like rotting food and salt.

"Whoa," Sam sums up. Dean turns on a light by the bed and picks up a half-eaten hamburger sitting there. Sam steps over a line of salt on the floor and it really looks like he left in a hurry. I walk alongside one of the walls that has a bunch of profiles of the guys who disappeared, numbered neatly in Dad's handwriting. Dad was trying to piece together the same mystery we are.

Dean recoils as he sniffs the burger. "I don't think he's been here for a couple days at least."

Sam's crouched on the floor, fingering the salt line, troubled. "Salt, cats-eye shells… he was worried. Trying to keep something from coming in."

Dean comes over to me, staring at the papers pinned to the wall. Sam stands up. "What've you got here?"

"Centennial Highway victims," he says, and his eyes scan the profiles rapidly. "I don't get it. I mean, different men, different jobs, ages, ethnicities. There's always a connection, right? What do these guys have in common?"

Sam has crossed the room and is looking at the other paper-strewn wall, as I frown at the shirts piled on top of the TV. Really, Dad, you demand such absolute neatness out of us and then live like a total slob on your own? "Dad figured it out," Sam suddenly says, and Dean and I turn to look at him questioningly.

"What do you mean?"

Sam indicates a printout that looks familiar. "He found the same article we did. Constance Welch. She's a woman in white."

Oh my god. That makes sense now… and Dean realizes too, turns to the wall of the disappeared guys. "You sly dogs," he comments wryly and I know why. Women in white… it's a legend where a woman, driven to temporary insanity after her man cheats, commits violent, murderous acts. So that meant that Constance killed her children… they didn't just drown by accident. And then she'd killed herself but blamed her husband for all of it. Damn. "All right, so if we're dealing with a woman in white, Dad would have found the corpse and destroyed it," Dean says.

"She might have another weakness," Sam says as I'm scrawling something onto a scrap of paper I find on the little desk.

"Well, Dad would want to make sure," Dean replies. I finish writing and hold up the scrap of paper, point to it.

Maybe he didn't get that far.

It's my reply to Dean's idea about Dad finding the corpse and wasting it. That's the frustrating thing I have to deal with constantly… I can never quite keep with with the flow of a conversation this way. Anyway, Sam and Dean see what I wrote and both look at me grimly. "Aw come on, a punkass little vengeful spirit didn't finish Dad off. Not now, not ever," Dean says, dismissing the thought entirely. "He'd dig her up. Does it say where she's buried?" he asks Sam.

"No, not that I can tell. If I were Dad, though, I'd go ask her husband." Sam taps the picture of Joseph Welch. The caption says he's thirty; the article dates to 1981, so he'll be, what, like sixty-four now. "If he's still alive," Sam adds.

Sounds like a plan to me, but right now… I need a shower so bad. I point to the bathroom and make eye contact with Dean. He reads my mind. "Yeah, yeah, go ahead. Don't mind me." He's already sitting down on the bed, cracking a fond, you-owe-me-one smile my way. He was gonna let me go first anyway. I give him a little smile and go take one of my famous two-minute showers. I feel human again and when I get out, dry off, I can hear them talking through the thin motel wall. Something about bitch, jerk. Oh my god, that schtick again. I shake my head, chuckling internally.

I start to get dressed, not really paying attention to the conversation until I catch this part: "…found out anything new about her voice?" Sam asks. I listen closely now, interest piqued.

"No, Sam, if we did don't you think I would have told you?" Dean replies. He sounds a little offended.

"Uh, no… it's not like we've been pen pals the past four years," Sam says curtly.

Dean sighs wearily. "Right, well. No. Same deal." He sounds heavy and grim. "No voice, no leads, no idea why the thing that killed Mom took her ability to speak. I took her to a specialist last year while Dad was off on some job... same thing. Vocal chords work fine but it's like she's just been put on mute. Nothin' doin'." There's a long pause and I've stopped, clean shirt in my hands, forgotten. "She's never gonna speak, Sam. She's just not."

Hearing that deflates me a little bit. I mean, I know that. I resigned myself to it a long time ago but… I dunno, sometimes I think it'd be nice to have hope that someone or something out there could fix me. Dean even once took me to a witch, which must really mean he loves me: he hates witches, but thought maybe this one could fix me with some spell or magic. But obviously, she hadn't been able to do a damn thing for me.

"Don't you think she should learn sign language or something?" Sam asks, voice filled with concern.

"Why? The only people she needs to talk to are me and Dad," Dean replies. He hates this topic and Sam knows it. "Well, mostly me. Not like everyone out there in the big wide world knows sign language, anyway. She gets by fine."

"She deserves better than fine," Sam says firmly, and I feel surprised… touched. He sounds really defensive and caring.

"Oh, really? It's nice to know you're so concerned," Dean says sarcastically, probably thinking Sam has no right to say that to him after he ran off.

I pull my shirt on and I'm done… ball my dirty stuff up on top of my duffel and pick it all up, go out. My brothers glance at each other. "Ah, finally," Dean jokes, and slaps his knees, stands up, acts like he wasn't just deeply upset about my condition two seconds ago. "I'm gonna get cleaned up." He looks at me pointedly. "You should get your hundred in sometime soon, Al."

Yeah, yeah. He disappears into the bathroom, shuts the door behind himself. Sam turns to me. "Your hundred?" he asks, then shakes his head, laughs softly, but not pleasantly. The shower starts in the bathroom. "Dad still has you two doing that crap, huh?"

It's not crap, it's physical discipline and the reason I could lift Sam off that bridge last night. He sees my look of disagreement and sighs softly. "Sorry, it's just… the way Dad raised us. It's not right. I don't think it was right."

I shrug. I agree, more than he knows. But I'm getting down on the floor and doing my hundred pushups, concentrating on the right form—back straight, chin pointing at the floor, hips tucked in. All the way down, all the way up, steady and paced with controlled breathing—aiming for twenty pushups per thirty seconds, Marine Corps style just like Dad taught us. Sometimes, he has Dean and I go to two or three hundred which I can barely do. Mind over matter, Alex, he always tells me, voice overwrought with disappointment when I start to tire. I try so hard to be strong enough. Good enough. I don't want to be seen as the weakest one, but I always am.

Dad always told us if you ever have to run, you're gonna be able to run far. If you ever have to fight, you're gonna be able to fight hard. If you have to shoot it's gonna be straight, if you have to survive it's gonna be second nature to you. That's the way he raised us and the reason, I guess, why he treated us like his cadets more than his kids. That's what Sam hates.

It takes me the two minutes and thirty seconds it always does and when I get to the hundredth pushup, I decide to do one more… a hundred and one… and done. I wish Dean had told me to do my hundred before the shower. I'm sweating a little bit. Whatever. I stand up, dust my hands off for effect. Sam just looks at me sort of dubiously. He's standing near the dresser now, has turned around to me, is holding a picture in his hands. "You always look so happy in our family pictures," he teases, shows me the photo he's holding. In the picture, Dad's holding Sam, Dean's sitting on the hood of the Impala next to Dad, holding onto my waist tightly. Everyone else is smiling but I just look pissed off. Yup, that's me. Giving off the I hate everything vibe since I was a kid, apparently.

The shower stops and I go look over the walls again. Sam's phone makes a noise and he fiddles with it for a couple minutes. I stand there and try to look occupied but really I'm just feeling very uncomfortable and weird, not sure how to act around Sam.

Dean finally comes out of the bathroom, clean and looking like himself again. He grabs his leather jacket up—he wears that thing constantly, it's his favorite. He shrugs it up onto one shoulder as he crosses the room. "Dudes I'm starving, I'm gonna grab a little something to eat in that diner down the street. You want anything?"

"No," Sam says.

"Aframian's buying," Dean coaxes. "Or maybe even the lovely Yura Weiner, huh, Al?" He shoots me a playful smirk but Sam still shakes his head.


"Suit yourself," Dean says, and motions for me to come along. I was already planning on it. I feel to awkward to be around Sam alone for much longer, anyway, I think he wants to call his girlfriend or whatever… oh crap. Dean and I see the police car at the same time and the motel clerk, who is talking to the two officers we ran in to yesterday at the bridge. The clerk is pointing at us and Dean suddenly grins widely, speaks without moving his mouth. "Be cool, kiddo," and he turns around, snaps his phone open to call Sam. I watch as the officers start to approach. Not good. Just what we needed.

"Dude, five-oh, take off," he mutters into the phone, and glances back at the cops nervously. Sam says something unintelligible. "Uh, they kinda spotted me," Dean says. "Go find Dad." He snaps the phone shut and turns around, smiling jovially at the approaching officers. "Problem, officers?"

"Where's your other partner?"

"Partner?" Dean asks innocently. "What, what other partner?"

The sheriff glances over his shoulder and jerks his thumb towards the motel room. Dean fidgets and I watch one of the officers turn, begin to head toward the motel room Sammy's in… and decide this is as good a time as any to give Sam a chance to bail. I turn and begin to run, make a break for it, and my sudden attempt at escape sends everyone into a flurry of movement.

"Hey, hey!" I hear Dean shouting, then one of the officers is shouting "stop, hey!" And I'm abruptly slammed to the ground from behind. My chin collides into the pavement painfully, searing pain shoots across the skin there, my teeth clack together and I think I bite the side of my tongue by accident. Ow, ow, shit! I think I can taste the concrete… I can definitely taste blood. But I can see Sam slipping out of the motel room when I crane my neck around… he's already out of sight, disappearing behind the far side of the building. Excellent. I'm hauled to my feet, hands behind my back, and I feel the officer snapping cuffs onto my wrists roughly, ouch, a little too tightly. Dean sees my bloody chin and grimace of discomfort and he looks murderous.

"Hey, take it easy!" he thunders at the officer who is handling me roughly. Dean ran after me, too, I guess to try and stop the officer who tackled me… but he's being held in place by the other cop, like he's about to be cuffed. I spit out a mouthful of blood onto the ground beside me.

"We'll take it easy when you answer some questions," the officer holding Dean says, and manhandles him back toward the police cruiser. "Fake US Marshal… fake credit cards… you got anything that's real?"

Dean smiles facetiously, the bad attitude at nuclear levels. "My boobs," he snaps, and he's slammed down onto the hood of the car face first and cuffs are clicking onto his wrists. I'm slammed down too—cue another acidic scowl from Dean—and the officer is patting me down, takes my knife from where it's holstered in my back belt loop—oh hell no dude… "You both have the right to remain silent—"

I can't help it, I begin to laugh crazily at that comment. And of course it's silent, just a bunch of short breaths but my face is totally contorted with a huge grin and squinty eyes and Dean is looking at me like are you serious? Haaaaha oh my God, I have the right to remain silent, oh if only they knew… but Dean looks kind if pissed that I think it's funny. Sometimes I think he's more touchy about the subject than I am.

We're both forced into the backseat of the cruiser and Dean's looking at me grudgingly and I shrug. What? Sam got away, don't look at me in that tone of voice. Not the first time we've been carted away by the police. We always figure out a way to get out.

He's looking at my bloody chin unhappily. He's always upset when I get hurt, unless he's the one inflicting the pain—like when he flicked me today, or when he said he couldn't find Dad alone… with me standing right there.

I just look at him, give him an exasperated look. I'm fine, would you relax?

Sheriff Pierce comes back into the room, carrying a box now. Dean's sitting at one end of the table, arms folded casually, I'm to his left at the other side of the table. We sat in the back of that damn cruiser for like an hour while the cops poked around Dad's room and sealed it off as another crime scene. It looks like they are gonna point the finger at us for the disappearances, which is friggin' hilarious. They've already questioned Dean once, but he just made joke after joke and pissed off the sheriff real good. He's coming back again for more now, I guess. "So you want to give us your real name?" the sheriff asks Dean. He sets the mysterious box he's carrying down onto the table.

"I told you, it's Nugent. Ted Nugent and this here's my friend Stevie Nicks," he says without missing a beat.

The cop follows his gaze to me, sighs. He seems to think I look too young and innocent for all this. "You wanna tell me your name, sweetheart?" he asks me, a little gentler than how he addresses Dean. I look at him silently, irritated. "Look, your friend here's in a lot of trouble but maybe you can give us some information we can work something out, huh?" I can't reply, even if I wanted to and all I wanna do is tell him to shove it where the sun don't shine. The sheriff looks back at Dean. "'Stevie's' still exercising her right to silence, huh?"

Dean is incensed at that comment, true angry emotion flashing across his eyes. "I told you already man, she's mute all right? She can't talk!"

The sheriff doesn't believe it, which is making both of us mad. "Yeah, save the story for the judge. And keep that temper in check or you'll find yourself cuffed to this table." He pauses, leveling Dean and then me with a serious stare. "I'm not sure you realize just how much trouble you're in here, kids."

Dean sits back with a douchey expression on his face. "We talkin', like, misdemeanor kind of trouble or, uh, squeal like a pig trouble?" he asks with calculated smugness.

"You got the faces of ten missing persons taped to your wall along with a whole lot of Satanic mumbo-jumbo. Boy, you and your little girlfriend here are officially suspects."

Dean ignores the girlfriend comment. People make that mistake constantly and usually he corrects them, but today he's in rare form. "That makes sense," he wisecracks. "Because when the first one went missing in '82 I was three and she wasn't even born!"

The sheriff doesn't bat an eye. "I know you've got partners. One of 'em's an older guy. Maybe he started the whole thing. So tell me. Dean." We're both startled that the sheriff knows his name. He reaches into the box and then tosses down a very familiar leather-covered book onto the table. "This his?"

We stare, unable to hide our shock. Dad's journal. He guards that thing with his life. Maybe he's in more trouble than we think. He wouldn't just leave it. The sheriff sits on the edge of the table and flips through the familiar pages of the journal, which is more like a huge information library, once you get past the first few personal entries toward the front: newspaper clippings, illustrations, notes… "I thought that might be your name," he says. "See, I leafed through this. What little I could make out—I mean, it's nine kinds of crazy. But I found this, too."

He opens the journal to a page that reads DEAN 35-111 in Dad's bold handwriting. There's nothing else on that page. Dean and I glance at each other briefly, because we immediately know what the numbers are. Coordinates. So Dad's not even in Jericho anymore, is he? Dean seems to be thinking the same thing and is now completely disenchanted, over everything, done.

"Now," the sheriff says. "You're stayin' right here till you tell me exactly what the hell that means."

"It's my high school locker combo," Dean lies flatly, impatiently, sitting back and giving the impression of utter boredom.

The sheriff just narrows his eyes and crosses his arms. "I'll give you two a couple minutes, see if some alone time jogs your memory." He leaves the room, shuts the door behind himself and Dean leans close to me, about to start in about Dad's journal, but I shake my head no, nod once toward the door. Dean follows my gaze, sees how the sheriff is watching us hawkishly from the little viewing window in the doorway.

"This sucks," Dean mutters. "This is such BS." He crosses his arms and looks at me in mild appraisal. "You okay?"

I just shrug my hand out, like whatever—no, I'd be okay if we weren't in the friggin' police station right now. If these people find out who we really are we're in trouble, and it's only a matter of time before the fingerprints come back and they incarcerate us for the actual crimes we've committed… fraud, robbery, grave desecration, evasion and inter-state flight… the list goes on for awhile. So… yeah. I'm great. I prop an elbow onto the table, lean my cheek against my fist, stare at the wall across from myself. I hope Sam's okay out there. He must really appreciate us dragging him into this mess. Wait until he finds out Dad's not even in town anymore.

The sheriff comes back in a few minutes later, begins to question Dean again about the journal, the murders, my name, the numbers in the journal and what they mean. I'm fed up. I've been fed up. I'm staring down at the table with my forehead propped into my hand as the sheriff asks my brother question after question. The sun goes down and he keeps at it and I want to jump across the table and get him to shut up.

"Now tell me, son, what do these numbers mean?" the sheriff asks.

"I don't know how many times I gotta tell you," Dean says, and his patience is saintly. Me on the other hand, I'm ready to start ripping walls down and drop kicking police in the face at this point. "It's my high school locker combo."

"We gonna do this all night long?" the sheriff asks, wearing thin in the patience department.

A deputy leans into the room. "We just got a 911, shots fired over at Whiteford Road."

"All right, well, let's continue this just a little later on," the sheriff says, standing up and putting his stupid hat on, pulling out a pair of cuffs. He snaps Dean's wrist into one silver bracelet, puts mine in another and then literally cuffs us to the table—there's a metal loop there just for that. It's uncomfortable because my wrist is cuffed against the wire loop and the sheriff snaps the cuff really tight so that it digs into my skin—Dean takes one look at that and his head whips around to the sheriff, who's leaving the room. "Hey, what gives!?" Dean demands, indignant.

"Maybe you shoulda been more cooperative," the sheriff replies with a facetiously sympathetic shrug, and shuts, locks the door behind himself.

"Son of a bitch," Dean growls and yanks uselessly at the metal clasp around his wrist. "What an assh—" he stops mid sentence, squints at Dad's journal which is still in front of us. "Well well, what have we here?" I follow his gaze. What is he… oh. I see it too. A single little paper clip pokes out of the journal. Dean pulls it out, and looks at it, smiling to himself. "Thanks, Dad." He smirks at me.

Dean shimmies down the fire escape below me, carrying Dad's journal. He jumps the last few feet, turns back and reaches his arms up like he wants me to jump to him. I give him piss off and move outta the way look, and he throws his hands up, steps to the side, annoyed. "Fine, but if you break your ankle—" he starts, even as I land solidly, raise a single eyebrow at him, already start walking forward, toward the end of the alley, leaving him to sigh gruffly. "You're a regular Bruce Lee, aren't you," he complains, catching up to me. He's pulling his phone out to call Sam—we definitely had to get our stuff back before making our escape: phones, Dean's gun and wallet, and of course, my most prized possession: It's a ka-bar knife, the most deadly combat knife there is, and was developed by the US Marines. Its carbon steel clip point blade cuts pretty much anything open and it is my baby.

Dean calls Sam as we skulk around the end of the alley, on high alert and looking back and forth, trying to make sure we're not seen by law enforcement. I hear one side of the conversation as I examine my knife then re-holster it. "Hey, it's me… fake 911 phone call? Sammy, I don't know, that's pretty illegal," he chuckles, "Took you long enough, though." Pause. "Yeah okay but listen, we gotta talk…" pause. "Sammy, would you shut up for a second?" Pause. "Well, that's what I'm trying to tell you. He's gone. Dad left Jericho. I've got his journal." Pause. "Yeah, well, he did this time." Pause. "Ah, the same old ex-Marine crap, when he wants to let us know where he's going." Pause. "I'm not sure yet." Pause. "Sam? Sam!"

I look at Dean, frozen by the scared, urgent tone in my brother's voice. He's looking at the phone in something close to panic. He looks at me and I know something's wrong. My heart drops completely at what he says next.

"Sam's in trouble. I think he went to Constance's house." He looks out at the street beside us. "We gotta go, now."

We race over to Breckenridge road, the address Sam told Dean he was heading to, in a stolen car Dean hot-wired after smashing the driver's side window in… we find an old decrepit house that's dark but there's a familiar black car parked in front of it and Dean and I get out of the stolen car and we race toward the Impala. For a minute I'm so afraid we're going to find an empty car or even worse, Sam dead…

My foot catches over something sticking out of the ground and the thought is cut short. Oof! I face plant into the dusty ground and I look back as I'm already pushing myself back up… and see that I fell over a tire iron. Hey, how convenient. I grab it up and continue to run to Dean, who is… firing his pistol at his car? What the… oh shit, as I practically screech to a halt beside Dean, I can see ghostly spirit hovering above Sam who is sitting in the driver's seat, he's screaming loudly. The gunshots seem to startle the ghost, and she disappears for a second and Sam suddenly throws the car into drive and screeches tires, heading straight for the house. The Impala smashes through the front of the house even as Dean and I are running after it, Dean yelling Sam's name.

We stumble in through the wreckage, Dean gets to Sam first, starts to pull him out through the open passenger window. "Sam! You okay? Can you move?" Sam says yeah he can.

I'm standing a few feet off, frozen as I watch the ghost of Constance Welch picking up a large framed photograph. In it, she's posing with two children, a boy and a girl, and her expression trembles wrathfully, she looks up and me and glares, her pretty face suddenly twists into something horrible and I am flying backwards, smashing into a wall hard and I hear Sam and Dean yell my name. I hear something smash and hear them both make sounds of pain, I'm panting and looking up—Constance pinned Sam and Dean against the car with a heavy looking old bureau—and then I see my tire iron laying where I dropped it. "Al, don't!" Dean shouts, but I'm already doing it. I run for it, grab it up and swing the tire iron at Constance and the ghost flickers, dissipates… where'd she go? "Behind you!" Dean shouts and I whirl… then suddenly the lights flicker and the ghost of Constance looks around, seeming to be afraid. Water begins to pour down the staircase and she goes over to it, watching. I edge away even as I hear Sam and Dean shoving the bureau off of themselves… at the top of the stairs are a boy and a girl. They hold hands and speak in chorus. "You've come home to us, Mommy."

On either side of me, two sets of hands grab onto my arms and pull me back, keep holding on. Sam and Dean stare along with me as the ghost children suddenly move, appearing behind Constance and embrace her tightly. She screams horribly and her image begins to flicker wildly—Sam and Dean's hands tighten on me and we're all backing up on instinct… in a surge of energy, still screaming, Constance and the two children melt into a puddle in the floor then are just gone.

"You crazy kid," Dean breathes, lets go of me, makes me look at him by turning my head with his hand. "You okay?" I wave him away. Fine, I'm fine. I just need a new back bone, I think I just ruined the one I have.

Satisfied that I'm gonna live, Dean nods, walks forward a little, examining the water on the floor. "So this is where she drowned her kids," he says thoughtfully. "This house."

"That's why she could never go home," Sam surmises. "She was too scared to face them."

Dean turns, smiling at Sam, pleased. "You found her weak spot. Nice work, Sammy." He walks back over toward his car, slaps Sam on the chest where he's been injured and keeps heading toward his car. Sam laughs through the pain and turns to look at Dean.

"Yeah, I wish I could say the same for you. What were you thinking shooting Casper in the face, you freak?"

"Hey, saved your ass," Dean retorts.

"I don't know how, cuz ghosts don't really care about bullets… they care about iron." He gestures to me meaningfully. I'm still holding the tire iron.

Dean shrugs. "Eh, I'm the brawn, she's the brains." He's crouching down to examine his car.

"What's that make me?" Sam asks, amused.

"The little bitch who screwed up my car," Dean says and gestures dramatically at the passenger-side headlight, as if the world has ended. "This headlight is smashed... this headlight is smashed!"

I walk over and smack him in the back of the head with my hand. "Ow!" he protests. I give him a lecturing look and he just makes a sullen face. "I'm gonna kill you both," Dean grumbles, staring at the busted headlight.

We pull up in front of Sam's apartment building. It's super early morning, like six am. We haven't slept tonight—we headed here straight after digging up Constance's bones and burning them… just to be on the safe side. Another vengeful spirit laid to rest, and in record time too. We did a good job, the three of us.

Sam looked up the coordinates Dad left and it's someplace named Blackwater Ridge in Colorado. Dean tried to talk him into coming with us, but Sam hedged, said he had to be at his interview. I guess I can't blame him. Dean was obviously disappointed, still is. Maybe hoping Sam will change his mind last minute. I dunno. I'm disappointed, too, but managing not to show it yet. I had known this would happen so I'm not sure why I can't just accept it.

Sam gets out when Dean throws the car into the park. I get out too, to reclaim my front seat. We make the switch and he leans down to look through my open window. I can't believe he's leaving already and manage to give him a little smile. "So, call me if you find him?" Sam asks.

Dean nods automatically. "And maybe I can meet up with you two later, huh?" Sam says.

"Yeah, all right," Dean says, trying to sound like he's fine and doesn't care either way.

Sam turns his attention to me. "Bye, Mouse. Text me sometime, okay?" I nod and surprisingly, he reaches out and ruffles my hair, a crooked little smile on his face, then he pats the car door twice and turns away, heads toward the building. Dean leans toward the passenger door, one arm going over the back of my seat.

"Sam!" He turns around.

Dean looks at our brother for a minute, smiling kind of in reminiscence. " know, we made a hell of a team back there," he indicates us all in turn. "The three of us." he trails off, smiling.

Sam is smiling too but faintly, a little sadly, nodding. "Yeah."

I feel a visceral pain in my chest. Sadness and loss and I have to look down a minute to hide my expression. "All right," Dean says. "Seeya, Sammy."

"Sam," Sam corrects ruefully, shaking his head and chuckling good naturally. We pull away and I wave, trying to give him a cheerful smile, but I'm struggling, bad. Sam waves back, watching us go and I watch him in the rearview mirror beside my window. There's a lump in my throat and it won't go away.

Dean sighs noisily, taps the steering wheel impatiently. "All right, so. Colorado," he mutters. "Why's this feel like a wild goose chase?"

Dunno. I'm looking down and trying not to cry. Oh my god. No please don't cry arghhh… I hate crying in front of anyone, but a couple tears leak out and I take in a few of those dead giveaway weepy breaths—I try to turn away and disguise the noise with movement, but Dean's head whips sideways to look at me. "Aw, no, Al, don't do that…" he pulls over and lets the car idle in park, puts his arm around my shoulder and pulls me a little closer whether I like it or not, his hand rubbing my arm soothingly. I'm mortified, mostly because this is so telling about how I actually feel about Sam… that my whatever attitude is a lie… not only a lie I tried to tell to my brothers, but also to myself.

"Hey, it was fun while it lasted, right?" Dean asks, trying to make it better. He sighs gustily, pauses while I stare ahead through watery eyes, sniffing and wiping at my cheeks uselessly. "You know, I wanted to say I'm sorry that I said what I did about not wanting to do this alone," he says and squeezes my shoulder reassuringly. I look at him sidelong. He's not looking at me, he's looking down and seems regretful but then he smiles down into his lap. "I mean, as long as I got you, I'm good. Better than good." He finally looks at me and rubs my arm again then pulls me a little close, where my forehead smashes into his neck and presses a kiss onto my my hair. "It's gonna be okay, sweetheart, all right? I promise."

I smile a little, tears ebbing. I love it when he calls me that… but I usually try to act like I don't, rolling my eyes or making a face. Trying to be tough like him. The funny thing is, Dean acts like a hard ass around other people and around Dad, but he's a teddy bear deep down. I guess I'm sorta the same. I hug my arm around him and shut my eyes for a second. Dean is my absolute hero, my favorite person in the world, the only one I have ever been able to fully depend on, ever. If nothing else, I know he'll never leave me like everyone else always does. I don't know what I'd do without this jackass. I love him so much.

He suddenly rubs his knuckles on the top of my head, giving me an affectionate, annoying noogie and I push back, shoving him, laughing silently. You jerk. He's got his hands up to defend himself against the swipe I make for his head, and he chuckles as I settle back into my seat. He reaches for the gear shift… then stiffens. "Hey, wait… why is the clock…" he trails off and I look, too. The colon between the hour and the minutes is stuck. We're checking our wristwatches at the same time. They aren't ticking anymore. "Oh no, no, no," he says as we both realize something bad is happening, and we're both scrambling out of the car, running toward the apartment building at a breakneck pace—noticing that the lights on Sam's apartment building are flickering tellingly. Dean lets loose a very grim "son of a biiiitch" as we race into the building. We tear up the stars to the second floor and Dean kicks the door to Sam's apartment without hesitation. "Sam!"

We hear him screaming and we run toward the bedroom—my heart is hammering and I am scared shitless, freaked out—what is going on!? I freeze in the doorway, shocked at what I see. Sam is laying on the bed, an arm raised to shield his face from the fire that's spread, unnaturally, across the ceiling. "Jess!" Sam is screaming, and then I see her, and I almost fall over. She's on the ceiling, pinned there brokenly like a ragdoll, blood dripping from her stomach, her face frozen in pain and shock. Flames roil around her like a tempest and I can see from her skin color that she's already dead and probably has been for a little while. I'm horrified and stuck in place. "Sam! Sam!" Dean yells and pulls Sam off the bed, then pushes him back toward me. My twin struggles the whole way, screaming for his girlfriend even as the flames begin to fan wildly, catching everything in the room on fire. A fireball flings itself downward to where Sam just was and the obscene heat blows me back slightly. "No! Nnooo!" Sam is screaming, even as Dean manhandles him out of the room and grabs a handful of my jacket, too, shoving me back, forcing me to move.

"Out, out!" he commands thunderously, dragging Sam out and into the hall.

"Jess! No!" My twin's struggling so hard that he's about to hurt Dean—arms flailing, he's desperate to run back in there and it's taking everything Dean has to control him. "Get these people out, Alex!" Dean thunders and I respond like Dad always taught us to: immediately, without a second thought, focused on the objective.

I start to blow on my silver whistle—it's always on a chain around my neck, tucked under my shirt—loudly and repeatedly to get people out of their apartments even as I run down the hallway, looking for the fire alarm which will be more effective. I find it at the end of the hallway, and it's the old fashioned kind you can to break open to trigger. Without hesitation I draw back and smash the glass with my jacketed elbow. I think I feel a deep cut but I don't even know, I'm too high on adrenaline to really notice. The alarm begins to blare loudly and people start to poke their heads out into the hallway and Dean is shouting "go, go, go!" I'm running back to Sam and Dean… I think Dean just punched Sam in the face—cuz he's sprawled on the floor and looks stunned. "She's already dead Sam!" Dean is shouting. "Now get on your feet and move!" He yanks him up and drags him along. Sam seems shellshocked, stumbling oddly, letting Dean pull him forward as I bring up the rear, looking back behind us—flames are spilling out into the hallway unnaturally fast.

We make it out onto the lawn in front of the building and Sam is going nuts again, screaming and shouting for Jess. Dean yells at him to pull himself together and Sam just falls into a crouch and puts his head in his hands, weeping miserably as firetruck sirens wail through the air. He falls forward onto the palms of his hands, shaking with grief, and I crouch down beside him, sitting on my heels, distressed and sickened and putting a hand on his back, trying to help him somehow. Dean stands back looking at us, breathing in and out rapidly. He's horrified and it shows. Sam is shaking his head, mumbling "this can't be real, this isn't happening, oh my god no, no, please no..."

And I don't even know what happens for a few minutes, it's just Sam sick with sorrow and Dean staring up at the fiery window and firemen shouting and smoke billowing and my stomach wanting vomit everything up.

Some paramedics come over, try and treat us… Sam for shock, me for my elbow. But Sam refuses and I wave the EMT away, annoyed. Seriously, a bloody cut elbow is the least of my worries right now. What the hell just happened? Wasn't that how Mom died? Burning on the ceiling?

As if he's reading my mind, Dean, standing right next to us, shakes his head hollowly, deeply troubled. "This is way too similar to the night Mom died," Dean says softly. "That's exactly how Dad said he found mom. Exactly." Sam looks up at Dean, stricken, his face tearstained.

Some cops come and make us move behind a perimeter they've set up and it's loud, confusing, chaotic. A bunch of apartment residents are buzzing around with questions and some bystanders come over to gawk. Sam's blank, staring at the building with this look of sheer, abject horror and sadness and complete loss on his face. He silently turns away, walks off toward the car, and Dean watches him go. I follow Sam after a minute, second guessing myself the whole way.

He's standing by the trunk and it's open, he's staring down into it blankly. He looks up and over at me and I look at him with all the sadness I feel inside. I'm so, so sorry. I see that he's got some of her blood on his forehead and I hesitate, then reach up and smear it away with the sleeve of my jacket. He looks at my sleeve, sees the blood. His expression darkens measurably, he picks up a shotgun and begins to load it with embittered focus. I can see more tears are rolling down his cheeks, but his face is like stone, and it's a strange effect. I don't know what to do.

Dean is coming over, expression hard to read. He stands near me, looking intently at Sam, who says nothing, just tosses down the shotgun into the trunk resolutely. "We got work to do," Sam says in a hard, soulless voice. He shuts the trunk loudly, looks at Dean. "So we gonna stand around here all night or find Dad and the thing that did this?" Without waiting for an answer, he rounds the car and gets into the passenger side seat, leaving us to stand at the trunk.

Dean and I exchange a tense glance, his eyes flick over to the apartment building. He breathes out heavily, his face rigid and stony. "I got a really bad feeling about all this, Al..." he says, looks at me meaningfully, concerned. "Stick close by me from here on out, okay?"

I always do anyway, but I nod agreement slowly, looking at the building where smoke billows out ominously into the low, dark sky. Dad's disappearance, this sudden callback to the tragedy that has defined all of our lives... I have the same bad feeling Dean's talking about.

And more than that, I can't shake the growing dreadful feeling that life has just changed tonight for all of us, forever for the worst.