Silent Hill Gaiden : The Brothers [Supernatural/Silent Hill]

"Are you sure this is the right road?" Sam asked, shouting a little more than he might have otherwise intended, but only so as to be heard over the devastating chords of Motley Crüe. "We haven't seen anything else for miles."

"Scary little haunted vacation hideaways are always like this, Sammy. Miles away from everything and everyone, tucked away in some tiny, out-of-the-way sleepy place where you don't go unless you live there or are headed specially there, so nobody's likely just to drive by and notice, hey, everyone's been eaten by a ... well, you know, by whatever it is." Dean drummed his fingers on the steering wheel; the music and its corresponding volume Sam knew to be sort of the aural equivalent of putting his thumb to his nose and wiggling his fingers about not being in the cakehole-shutting position.

Sam just sighed and slunk lower in his seat, wishing the car were big enough -- or that he were small enough -- to put his feet on the dashboard like he used to do. Of all the things that sounded in his book like a good time, heading out into the middle of nowhere to investigate some 'mysterious disappearances' ranked about dead last on the list, possibly even after a few good root canals. He flipped through the book on his lap, the one Dad had left them, to a page marked by a post-it note containing a list of handwritten names: Cybil Bennett. Dahlia Gillespie. Alessa Gillespie. James Sunderland. Angela Orosco. Eddie Dombrowski. Douglas Cartland. Claudia Wolf. Eileen Galvin. Henry Townshend.

He hated mysterious disappearances. Come to think of it, he was really starting to hate anything with the word 'mysterious' attached to it, period.

Sam's gaze caught one sorry-ass signboard for the moment before they passed on by: WELCOME TO BEAUTIFUL SILENT HILL, with then end of the 'BEAUTIFUL' half-obscured by corrosion. Man, things like that gave Sam the willies, big-time. That sort of contrived folksiness, the homey, too- friendly evidence of a tourist industry's earnest attempts come to naught? Creepy.

"I guess we're almost there, huh?" Dean grinned from across the car. "Which is good, because I was starting to-- Christ!"

Sam looked up just in time to see what appeared to be a female figure illuminated in the headlights, the split-second before the front of the car intersected the place she should be. The car jerked, directed into a spin by Dean's ineffective last-minute manouvering, and the last thing Sam saw before sudden vertigo robbed him of steady vision was the wispy cloud the girl left behind her. And then he closed his eyes, trying to remember not to tense up, trying to remember that stiff muscles suffer worst in collisions, trying to think about anything except the crunch that would bring their progress to a swift halt.

But it never came. The car spun fully once, then came to a rest with one front wheel tipped precariously into the soft ground beyond the road's shoulder, headlights burning but the engine still. For a moment, they just sat there, breathing loudly in the new silence. Dean turned the key in the ignition: nothing. "...Did you see that?"

"What, the ghost?"

"Okay, just checking." Dean sighed and thumped his head against the steering wheel, then pulled the keys from the ignition and opened his door to get out. "Well, we're going to have to hoof it. Come on, let's get stuff from the trunk."

Sam glanced out the window and frowned at the fog. That definitely hadn't been there a minute ago. "I'm going to try and call Triple A," he called after Dean, pulling out his cell phone from his coat.

"Triple A doesn't handle ghost-related accidents." Dean popped the trunk and began rummaging around in its contents. "Besides, I bet your cell phone isn't going to work."

As usual, Dean was annoyingly right -- the cell screen was dark, as though Sam hadn't just spent last evening charging it on the motel room nightstand. Dammit, he hoped it wasn't broken for good; he had really liked this model. He glanced back in the rear view mirror, but saw nothing but the raised door of the trunk. "It's acting like it's out of charge," Sam said loudly. "I think whatever we're dealing with here has a real short-circuit touch. Or maybe we're about to be abducted by aliens, like on one of those episodes of the X-Files. Do you think there's anything in Dad's book here that deals with extraterrestrial life? ...Dean?"

There was no answer from the back end of the car. Sam felt a chill, took a deep breath, and stepped out of the car, into the fog and the dark, cursing whatever malfunction in Dean's brain thought it was a good idea to go check out a haunted town at night, praying to whatever benevolent force might be listening that his brother was just caught up in his own thoughts, frowing in silent debate of whether made more sense to take the 12-gauge or the hatchet, not listening to a word Sam was saying, like a good big brother should--

There was nothing. The contents of the car's back end were untouched, the fog was rolling in even heavier now, and Dean was nowhere to be seen. Sam felt the bottom of his stomach drop out. " Dean?" he called out again, knowing full well there would be no answer. He didn't even bother with the customary you'd better not be joking, because somehow, deep in his heart, he knew that Dean wasn't about to pop out from behind the bushes with a great big 'Boo!' just to see how close to giving Sam a heart attack he could get.

Working against all his best 'if you're lost, stay put so people can find you' instincts, Sam reached into the trunk, pulled out both the 12-gauge and the hatchet, went back to the passenger seat for his satchel of papers, and started down the road. Wherever Dean was, that town probably had something to do with it, and if Dean was in trouble, waiting in the car wasn't going to get him out of it. Jiggling a little kinetic flashlight to life, he set his jaw firmly and stepped beyond the headlights' sphere of illumination.

He was having a very bad day.


The fog seemed to be getting even worse as Sam went along down the road, creating a dilemma that promised only to get worse as events progressed -- if he lit the flashlight, he could see very clearly a cone of light that extended about three feet in front of him and absolutely nothing else; if he turned it off, he could see a great deal of very vague figures and objects. He decided on leaving the flashlight on after an unexpected pothole very nearly introduced his face to the asphalt. He was going to have to be careful about little things like that.

The flashlight beam shone off an object on the side of the road, catching Sam's attention. He bent to pick it up, curious as always, and found it to be a brown bottle with a label clearly marked HEALTH DRINK.

Well, that was ominous.

No way he was drinking it, of course; sure, it was probably just one of those really out-there East Coast health drinks with so many weird ingredients like spirulina and seaweed that even Jessica hadn't been able to convince him that it was full of things he'd ever want to ingest. It could, however, be some sort of homemade brew that was probably 90% alcohol and 10% turpentine, the drink of choice for high schoolers without ID. And either way, he had found it on the ground by a haunted town, and for all the weird habits growing up with his dad and Dean had instilled in him, four years with an actual college cafeteria had managed to beat all the scrounging instincts out of him good and proper.

Still, he decided he might as well keep it. Hey, you never knew when you'd need a health drink, or something that claimed to be a health drink. Experience with the paranormal had taught him how often the most random objects turned out to be irritatingly consequential. Maybe all the ghosts really needed here was some good nutrition.

He nearly dropped the bottle, however, when he looked up and saw, just at the edge of his vision, a woman disappear into the fog. He hadn't gotten the best look at her, of course, considering the circumstances, but he hadn't dated a woman for four years, seen her burn to death both in his dreams and on the ceiling, and started catching glimpses of her on street corners without knowing her cold at a glance.

"Jessica!" he shouted, breaking into a run, knowing it was impossible, knowing that she was dead, that she didn't exist, that something was most assuredly fucking with his head and playing him for a fool, that he had better things to do than let a memory get him even more lost than he was already. He just didn't particularly care.


Progress through the town, as buildings and named streets began to appear, was somewhat slow, as Sam really had no idea where he was going. Dean was the one who always knew where he was going, or if he didn't, was perfectly happy with making things up as he went along. It was always easier to believe Dean's lies, even knowing they were lies, than to try and convince himself that he knew anything at all about what he was doing.

The sudden burst of static from his cell phone in his pocket was unexpected, and so loud that he dropped the hatchet. What the hell? He thought that thing had shorted out for good, but fished it out of his pocket to find the screen blankly aglow, the earpiece making an incredible racket. That, Sam reasoned, would get really annoying really quickly, and he tried to turn it off manually, but to no avail. He didn't dare throw it away or leave it somewhere, but didn't exactly see how he was supposed to go around a haunted town -- haunted town, he kept reminding himself, haunted town, haunted town, even though the place looked like a ghost town in the more pedantic sense of the phrase, it was still a haunted town -- sounding like a radio signal just out of range.

The whole of the matter confused him so thoroughly that had it not been for a chance turn of his head, Sam would have missed entirely the armless figure swinging its elongated neck in his direction. "Aaaugh! Fuck!" Sam picked up the hatchet from the ground and, in one swift movement, buried it exactly where he figured the creature's head would be.

For a long moment, they just contemplated one another, Sam breathing heavily, the monster with the hatchet lodged firmly in its mottled, slightly drippy body. The cell phone sang its staticky song over the otherwise pristine stillness of the showdown.

And then the creature decided that a little thing having a hatchet wound was not going to affect its lifestyle choices, and lunged for Sam again. Sam, having been in the town proper only five minutes and yet already having had quite enough of this sort of thing, did the most manly thing he could think of at the moment, turned on his heel, and ran like the dickins, still clutching the barrel of the shotgun in his hand.

He might have run the entire length of the town, and perhaps the entire West Coast, all the way back to the relative ghost-free-ness of Southern California, had a pair of hands not grabbed his shoulder and arrested his progress. "Woah, Sammy! Woah! Hold it! Where're you heading?"

"Dean!" Sam resisted the urge to punch him. "What the hell? Did you see that?"

"See what?" Dean frowned and scratched the back of his neck. "Oh, hey, you brought the shotgun. Nice work. I found a map," he held up a tattered piece of paper with various coloured blocks, "so at least now we can see where we're going."

Sam didn't think he'd imagined the monsters, and he certainly liked to think he wouldn't let the hatchet go so easily, but... "Hey, a map." So Dean was going to play it cool. Well, Sam could match that. "So ... where are we going?"

Dean shrugged and grinned. "How about the Silent Hill Historical Society? Nothing like a little history to keep my nerdy assistant happy."

Sam kicked Dean in the shins, and they started walking.


Dean had no idea how he had gotten lost in the few feet from the driver's door to the trunk, but he found the whole thing slightly embarassing, and really hoped Sam wouldn't bring it up the next time they saw each other. He also had no idea why he was lying on the stage of what appeared to be a fairly ratty strip joint, but also found that whole thing slightly embarassing, and really hoped he hadn't been a participant in something funny and exciting that he couldn't remember.

Slinging his legs off the stage, he sat upright, checked his head, and stood. He didn't feel bad -- a little drowsy, maybe, but nothing like the last time he'd woken up in a strip club without knowing how he'd gotten there. A knife was jammed into the bar's surface and, after a moment's contemplation, he took it. Hey, you never knew when you'd need to cut something. The Big Evil of the town might challenge him to an Iron Chef-like duel, and then where would he be?

All right, he resolved. Time to find Sammy. Lord knows what kind of trouble that boy would get into on his own.


The fog was not improving Dean's mood, so he tried to look on the bright side -- that being the side where it didn't matter if he could see where he was going or not, because he didn't know where he was going anyway.

That wasn't really an improvement either.

He seemed to have found his way into something like a park, with a lot of well-manicured hedges and little benches. It was cute, really, in a Stepford creepy sort of way. He thought he could hear water, and seemed to remember there had been a lake by the town. Seemed like the type of place Sam would gravitate toward. If the scary town didn't have a library, or something.

Dean supposed the lake would be pretty, if he weren't inside of a cloud. As it was, all he could see were the rails and the hedges and ... who was that?

"Sam?" he called, stepping forward. "Hey, Sammy, I--"

The figure turned around. He was tall and lean, with hair that curled into his forehead and a very sincere look Dean knew all too well plastered all over his face. Except for the part where he wasn't a man. "...No, you're not."

The woman smiled and leaned back against the railing. "Do I look like your girlfriend?"

Well, this was awkward. "No, my ... brother." She really did, too, which was the weird part, since he couldn't really put his finger on it. "It's kinda eerie. I mean, you look more like him than I do. Your face, your voice ... only your hair and clothes are different." He coughed. "And your rack. I ... you know, I think I would have remembered that."

"My name," she took a step toward him, her hips swishing in her tightly tailored khakis, the aforementioned cleavage bouncing a little beneath the fabric of her grey athletic t-shirt, "is Samantha."

Oh, how dumb did this town think he was, anyway?

"I don’t look like a ghost, do I?" She reached for his hand and placed it against her chest, in a place where if he had placed it there himself, he might have lost it. "See? Feel how warm I am." He'd never really thought about what a pretty girl Sam would make. She was still taller than he was, too, which was kind of demeaning, but the five-inch platform shoes she was wearing probably had something to with that.

Dean backed off and took his hand away. Well, when in Rome... "You're ... gosh, you're not Sam."

Her smile was eerily Sam-like, and almost made Dean uncomfortable. Almost. Man, this town had to attract some real losers if this was the best it could do. "I told you ... I'm Samantha."

"Uh-huh. Sorry. I get a little confused, you know. Too many hits off the ol' fog." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "I'm just gonna go back the way I came, okay?"

"Where are you going?"

"Trying to find my brother. Have you seen him?" He held his hand at a level a few inches about both their heads. "About this tall, dumb-ass haircut, pretty like a princess?"

She shook her head. "Haven't seen him. Was he going to be waiting for you here?"

"Not really, no." Dean tried to look completely calm despite how she seemed to have decided that around his neck was the best place to put her arms, leading him into a series of contortions trying to determine the most polite way to convey through body language that he did not really want them there. "He's just ... a park person. I guess. ...Silent Hill doesn't have a library, does it?"

She -- Samantha, which wasn't her name, he wasn't that stupid, but in the absence of anything else to call her, it would have to do -- shrugged. "I'm not much of a reader. So he's a park person? Kind of a special place for the two of you?"

He didn't particularly like the tone she gave the words 'special place.' "Um, no. Not really." This was getting a little too weird, even by his standards, and he turned to go.

"Don't get so mad. I was just joking." She caught the sleeve of his jacket, wrapping her hands around the crook of his elbow. Was she shorter than he now? Maybe her height had just been a trick of the light. "Anyway, if Silent Hill has a library, it won't be that way. There's nothing that way. It'll be this way." She started off back largely the direction from whence Dean had come.

Dean raised an eyebrow. "You're coming with me?"

Samantha's eyes widened. Oh, she was definitely shorter than he was now, and frailer, and her clothes hung off her a little, as though they had been made for someone sturdier than she. "You were just gonna leave me here? With all these monsters around?"

So there were monsters around. That was good to know, in a perverse, horrible sort of way. He felt the knife he had strapped to his calf with strips from a rag on the bar, weirdly glad that he had made the decision, strange at the time, to make the effort of concealing it. "No, I just--"

"I’m all alone here. Everyone else is gone...." She placed her head against his shoulder, and her hair looked exactly the way Sam's did when he did that. "I look like your brother, don't I? You love him, right?" And then something changed about her voice, something sinister creeping in beneath. "Or maybe you hate him...."

Okay, this was just entirely stupid. "Don't be ridiculous," he retorted boldly, placing his larger hand over hers, which folded just inside his arm's bend. "I wouldn't leave you alone like that. What kind of a gentleman would I be?"

"So it's okay?" She looked up at Dean, all sweetness and light and apple pie, and he knew right then that he was probably going to have to kll her. No matter how much she looked like Sam. Which she really, really did. Honestly, it was getting more than just passingly creepy; he had to fight back the heebie-jeebies.

He gave her his best grin. "I insist."


"Hey, Dean?" Sam wheezed a little and leaned against a nearby wall. "Can we rest for a minute?"

"What's up, Sammy?" Dean turned and folded back the map with one hand; with his other, he tapped the shotgun over his shoulder, having insisted that Sam hand it over to him because he was the better shot -- which wasn't entirely true, but Sam had been so rattled by the hatchet incident earlier that he didn't feel comfortable handling any more weapons than necessary. "You doin' okay?"

Sam placed a hand to his chest, feeling the effort necessary to take each breath. "I just..." His words wheezed around the edges. "Having trouble breathing, is all."

"Oh, man, is your asthma acting up again?" Letting the shotgun drop to his side, Dean walked over and leaned against the wall next to Sam. "You didn't leave your inhaler in the car, did you?"

Asthma. His inhaler. He didn't have it. That made sense. "I ... don't have my inhaler. I didn't grab it." His head throbbed a little, and it was difficult to concentrate.

Dean laughed and reached over to ruffle Sam's hair. "You're so forgetful. Why didn't you tell me earlier? We'll take it easy."

"Take it easy," Sam echoed. "Right." He had started wondering about that health drink he had picked up, debating the merits of drinking something found by the side of the road versus putting up with this damn headache. It was really getting bad, too, probably because he couldn't breathe.

Dean's fingers slipped from Sam's hair down his cheek, then around to the back of his neck. "You okay, Sammy?" He was close now, very close, close enough that Sam could feel the heat from his body in the cool pre-dawn, close enough that there were issues more pressing than his head to concern himself with.

"I'm fine. Just ... fine." Sam didn't want to lean into Dean's body, wanted to tell him that they had more important things to do than making out in a haunted town. Somehow, though, the words never made it out. "...Hey, Dean?"

"I'm here, Sammy." Dean's lips were close to Sam's ear, and he felt them almost as much as heard them. "I'm right here."

Sam swallowed, his mouth dry and his lungs damp. "Closer," he whispered, and Dean obliged, leaning in to kiss him, getting a knee between Sam's thighs, pinning him against the wall with his weight, and Sam closed his eyes. Dean tasted like sweat and confidence, like nothing could ever hurt him or even touch him. He tasted like he had since they were younger, Sam remembered, like everything was going to be all right.

The hand that pressed against the front of his jeans made him whimper, a thin, bronchial sound, and he clung to Dean harder. As long as Dean was here, he wouldn't have to be scared. He wrapped his arms around Dean's neck, clutching at the back of Dean's jacket, pleading not to be left alone. Dean kissed back, kissed hard, and for a moment Sam could go back to pretending that everything was all right, that they weren't anywhere spooky or horrible, that there were no monsters or ghastly fogs, just the two of them. He gasped and pressed his hips harder into Dean's hand, wanting contact and friction, wanting as much of that heat as he could be given.

And then Sam made the horrible mistake of opening his eyes, and looking at Dean's face, and seeing that it was ... wrong. Dean's face was not outwardly scarred or anything like that, nor was it mutilated or tricked by the light, nothing visible, but deeply, spiritually wrong on an intensely visceral level, planting a cold sickness through his gut that told him with absolute certainty this is not your brother.

Sam grabbed the shotgun and tried to push the thing that looked like Dean but wasn't away from him, and he shouted something he didn't precisely remember, and his cell phone erupted in a burst of static about the same time his head erupted in red pain, and he passed out.


"This isn't a library," said Dean, Master of All Things Obvious, as he looked up at the building where 'Samantha' had led him.

She shrugged, urging him onward; her breasts pressed against his arm every time she pushed him forward, and he wasn't precisely uncomfortable with this arrangement. "Maybe someone's in here. What if he got hurt? Wouldn't he go here instead?"

Every instinct in Dean's body told him not to trust this woman with a toothbrush, much less with the decision to walk face-first into what looked for all intents and purposes like an unlit, uninhabited building. However, he couldn't precisely argue with her logic -- for all that Sam was a very sensible human being, he had never been the one getting merit badges in first aid; if something had in fact gone wrong, it would be like Sam to go for supplies. Or maybe just help. Not that either of them really trusted doctors -- they'd both been in and out of too many hospitals, getting patch-up jobs, to have anything but a guarded distaste for the medical community in general -- but hey, any port in a storm, as the saying went. Or any person in an abandoned haunted town, which the saying didn't say, though maybe it should have.

Taking a deep breath, Dean opened the front door of the hospital.


Sam dreams.

A girl in white, on the ceiling, in flames. Not certain if it's Jessica or his mother or someone else entirely. He's had this dream before. This time, though, it's different. She's ... in a box? Calling to him? She's never talked before. Shouting something? Angry? At him or at someone else? Or at nothing at all--?


The dream's end was pre-empted, however, by a sharp pain in Sam's side. Sam opened his eyes just in time to see a figure looming over him, retracting his boot and getting ready to kick him again.

"Gyaah!" Sam shouted, reaching for and being unspeakably grateful to find the shotgun. Whatever that ... that thing pretending to be Dean had been, it had left the shotgun. And the map. Well, that was polite of it, in a weird sort of way.

He trained the shotgun on the man, who seemed supremely unimpressed. "Why the hell are you sleeping in the street? Go on, get outta here." He kicked Sam again, just for good measure; he was old enough that the kick didn't have much force, but a boot in the stomach is still a boot in the stomach.

"I don't know what happened," grunted Sam, unwilling to wake up. "My head...."

The man frowned down at him from beneath a pair of wild white eyebrows and poked him suspiciously with his cane. "You been drinking again?"

"I don't drink!"

Another jab to his gut made him feel even more like he wanted to vomit than he had just a few minutes before, which was not an improvement. "You hung over?"

It was one thing to be harassed repeatedly by a man he didn't know while lying on the street recovering from a terrible headache brought on by a Something Horrible that knew how to wear his brother's face, it was another to ... no, really, he was going to stop at the first part. "What are you doing here? How did you get here? What is this place?" He tried to pull himself up off the street, with the understanding that a face full of asphalt didn't make his case any more convincing. "I want some answers!"

The man grunted. "Get off my street. Let me through." He poked Sam one last time before stuttering off down the road, limping heavily.

"Where are you going?" Sam frowned and flicked a few pieces of asphalt from his palm.

"Bah." The old man staggered even further away, a tweed-clad figure fading into the fog. "That's no business for a bum."

Sam pulled himself to his feet, wishing for some asprin -- and also his inhaler. "I want some answers!"

"You want answers, I want a new hip, we've all got wants. Goddamn summer people."

"I'm not a vacationer. I'm looking for my brother." Sam soldiered on, following after the man. He might be a demon, or a monster, or even just a regular human being, but one way or the other he had to know something. "His name is Dean Winchester, about this high--"

"Ain't seen him." He looked like a professor-type, Sam thought, with the elbow patches on his jacket. His father's age? Maybe a little bit older. Surely he had some idea about what was going on in this town.

"I think you're lying. I think you know exactly what's going on."

"Are you threatening me, boy?" The professor-man spun around, pointing one gnarled finger into Sam's chest. "I'll call the cops on you."

That almost made Sam laugh aloud. "What cops? This whole town is empty. There's just the fog and the mon... us."

"Is it drugs? Is that it?" The man cocked his head slightly, peering in.


The man started up again, staggering down the street and muttering, "Damn fool kids, up to no good these days...."

"Look, sir." Sam caught the man on the shoulder, turning him around too forcefully and nearly tipping both of them over in the process. Not one of his finer moments, but his head still hurt, and he figured that excused a lot of his lack of cool. "I went to Stanford pre-law. I'm not on drugs, I don't drink, I just want some answers to my questions and then I'll be out of your hair."

"Oh," the man rolled his eyes, "I doubt that." He began walking once more, and though he walked with a noticeable limp, he made a pace good enough that it taxed Sam to keep up with him. For a stocky old man, he was fast, too fast. This would be the last time Sam left his inhaler anywhere, you could bet on that.

"This is Silent Hill, right?"

"Scenic Silent Hill, the one and only." They had walked so far now that Sam no longer had any idea where they were, and couldn't really spare the moment necessary to pull out the map.

Now, Sam was a patient man, but this was getting a little irritating. Where was Dean when he needed him? He was always so good at things like this. The real Dean, that is. "Do you know anything about the disappearances here?"

"Do you?"

"I'm ... trying to find out."

"Well, good for you. Every fool kid needs a hobby." They turned a corner, and all of Sam's attempts to see the street signs through the fog failed utterly, meaning he was even more lost than he had been a few moments ago -- something of a dubious accomplishment, to say the least.

"Please. James Sutherland, Dahlia Gillespie ... her daughter Alessa...." Sam took a deep breath, clearing his lungs; it was getting harder and harder to breathe with every step. "All disappeared within the last few years."

The man shook his head. "Don't nobody like that live around here."

Sam made another reach for the man's shoulder, but ended up grasping at air. "Please. I don't want my brother to be the next on the list."

"He's important to you, eh? You two close?"

Sam swallowed. If only they could slow down, rest for a moment, he could clear his head. "He's pretty much the only family I have left."

If anything, the professor seemed to quicken his pace, running Sam well out of breath. "You sure you want to find him?"

"Of course!" Why wouldn't he want to find Dean? Further progress was impeded, however, by a coughing fit that left him leaning against a fence, gasping for breath. His lungs felt and sounded much like wet sponges. This couldn't be good.

Sam's distress did nothing to slow down his companion, who kept on without him, speeding into the distance. "I bet he's gotten hurt. Better check the hospital."

"There's a hospital?" Sam shouted after him.

"Check your map," the professor called back as his outline faded into the grim mist. "But careful what you may find instead." The sound of his footsteps faded, until they were inaudible over Sam's gasps for air, until Sam could hear nothing but his own heart and lungs, working desperately overtime to keep him alive.


The hospital didn't smell like a hospital -- it wasn't alive enough, which was a weird thing to say about a hospital, but everything about this situation was weird, so Dean didn't find myself too troubled by the description. Samantha still held fast to his arm, looking around cautiously. Sure, Dean thought, the town was trying to throw the damsel-in-distress routine at him, so it was better just to play along with it, rather than call the town on it and make the town hostile.

Besides, even if she looked like Sam, she was still evil. Evil he could handle.

"Well, this looks like the place to be." He kicked at a rusted wheelchair, sending it into a half-pirouette before friction ground it to a stop. Empty beds lined the hallways, neat and orderly, all stained with age. "You sure anyone, uh, sane would come in here?"

"There is a mental hospital on the top floor," Samantha pointed out, walking him deeper into the hallways and away from the front door. She ran her fingers up and down his arm, and Dean noticed that she had weirdly strong hands, for a woman. "You're not scared, are you?" This, he knew, was when evil things started springing their evil traps. He'd have to be on guard.

"Nah. Are you?"

"Of course not." Her voice sounded scared, though, and she tightened her grip on his arm. "That's because you're going to protect me, right?"

He smiled down at her. "Sure I will."

"Promise me?"

"I promise." He held up his right arm, raising three fingers and pinning down his pinky with his thumb. "Scout's honour." He'd never been a Scout of any kind, but figured that a little mutual deception was about par for the course. He went back to examining their surroundings, poking at a few knobs, pulling and pushing on a few more swinging doors, though nothing gave way. "If everything's locked, what makes you think Sam'd be in here?"

"Maybe he's in the patient wing." Samantha pointed at a pair of double doors. "I bet they keep supplies and things there."

Dean used the presence of a keypad by the doors as an excuse to shrug away from her. Damn, she was clingy. He hated that in a woman, even one he was trying to keep an eye on. He poked a few of the buttons, managed to hit four digits before the apparatus behind it buzzed at him, and he heard the lock that secured the door re-assert its presence. Math had never been his strongest subject, but he seemed to remember (from previous hopeless breaking and entering experiences) that a four-digit combination had ten thousand possibilities. He could be here for a while. "Looks like this one's locked too, sweetheart," he sighed, turning back over his shoulder. "Got any more ide--"

Okay, that was definitely not Samantha, or Sam, or anything Dean had ever seen before. It was at least seven feet tall, wearing a bloody butcher's apron, and sporting a huge red pyramid where its head should be. Not to mention dragging behind it a knife at least as long as it was, that left deep rivets in the linoleum in its wake. Oh, now the little knife strapped to his calf made him feel really inadequate. How on earth had he not heard that thing coming?

"Niiiiice monster." Dean held up his hands, open-palmed, taking a step backward. He was really trapped; the patient wing doors were in a little nook walled in on all other sides. Who had thought this was a good design for a hospital. "Gooooood monster. Monster want a milkbone?" The thing stared at him silently, its only noise the creak of the knife on his approach. Oh, shit, this thing was freaky. "Just as well, I'm fresh out of milkbones. ...Well, fancy meeting you here. I'm just going to go that way, how does that sound? Huh? No harm, no foul?"

The thing reached for its knife -- more of a sword, really, or a small helicopter propeller -- with its other hand. Oh, it was slow, but not slow enough that he could make it past before that blade got the best of him. Maybe it was time to panic. He backed against the wall, his hand colliding with the keypad. Ten thousand possibilities. He had time for one.

Dean could see the muscles straining in the thing's arm strain as it picked up the knife. Oh, it was heavy, and the monster was strong, and no good was going to come of this if he didn't pick the needle from the haystack of numbers on his first try. What seemed like a likely number? Lots of one digit, logical sequences, numbers that spelled out words, utterly random digits -- keypads like this were made specifically so people like him had no chance of guessing. The monster moved closer, and he could smell the meat-and-blood stink that appeared to be the apron's fault. Behind the monster, the hospital corridors were dark and empty, and in this moment of utter catastrophe, he at least could be thankful for how Samantha must have gotten away--

His fingers slammed into the number pad, blind and upside-down, but hit dead-on the keys: 5-2-8-3.

Sam's birthday.

The double doors unlatched with a click more beautiful than anything Dean had ever heard before, and he sprinted through them, slamming them shut behind him and hearing the security bar slam shut again. No sound came from the other side of the door, and Dean suspected that the butcher-thing was lacking the combination, or manual dexterity, or both. Still, as he took off down the hall, he wasn't going to stay long enough to find out.


Sam's being ridiculously glad to see Dean sitting on the front steps was quickly doused by the caution of recent memories. "Hey, Sammy," Dean waved -- cautiously, Sam noticed, as one of Dean's arms was bloody. "Glad I found you. Got caught a little by surprise there, figure I'd stop in for some first aid. Feel like patching me up?"

"Sure." Sam stepped forward, folding the town map and stuffing it in his back pocket. It sounded like Dean, sure, but he kept his hand tight around the shotgun. Just in case.

"What's wrong with you?" Dean's grin faded a little as Sam approached. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

"Rough day," Sam offered as an excuse. Dean's arm didn't look bad -- mostly abraded, scratching off the skin, the kind of wound that'll bleed like a bitch but won't hurt anything permanently. "Caught you by surprise, huh?"

Dean stood up, dusting off the seat of his pants with his good hand. "Just a little, yeah. Turned a corner and there it was."

Sam nodded. "...Hey, Dean, do you have your cell phone with you?"

Dean shrugged. "Sure. Doesn't get any reception, though. I couldn't call you. How come?"

"Never mind." Sam waved his hand dismissively. "Have you been inside yet?"

"Nope." Dean shook his head. "Just got here."

"Great. Why don't you stay outside for a sec? Let me poke my head in and check it out?"

Dean looked a little confused, but shrugged again. "Sure thing. You got the shotgun, I don't." He leaned back against the concrete barrier, holding his arm to his chest. "Make sure it's not infested by evil nurses or anything?"

"Something like that." Sam edged the door open and stepped through -- then turned behind him and slammed the doors shut. A pair of discarded crutches lay by the doors, and he grabbed one, jamming it through the handles, barricading the doors.

The thing that said it was Dean slammed its fists against the doors. "Sam! Hey, Sam, open up! Sam, it's me! Don't leave me out here with the monsters! I'm hurt, Sam! Sam!"

It took about every ounce of willpower Sam had in him to turn away and walk down the corridor.


This was certifiably the most disgusting hospital Dean had ever been in, and considering the number of tiny rural clinics he had frequented growing up, that was saying a lot. Everything stank of rust and decay, especially the crowbar he had found jammed into the wall, and he was certain that his hand was going to smell bad for days. However, it was bigger than the little knife, and he felt safer walking around carrying it. If he ran into the monster thing again, he could at least beat it a few times, maybe even bruise it before it sliced him in half. Which was comforting, in a way.

All the rooms were locked, except for the one on the end, where the door nearly came off its rotted hinges as he pulled it open. Inside was filthy, overrun with mold and mysterious brown stains, with chunks of rotted ceiling tiles dusted all over the floor. It was about the size of a closet, really, not a hospital room, and Dean wondered what kind of hospital this place was. Besides a gross one, that was.

In fact, the room was only really big enough for a bed, and on the bed was a bright purple box, and the box was wrapped with about thirty different chains, padlocks, combination locks, and wires; contrary to the decor, the box and its surroundings were pristine, as though they had been placed there just moments before Dean arrived -- which, for all Dean knew, they had been. On the wall by the bed, scrawled in near-indecipherable handwriting, was what looked to be a long series of instructions, running in two columns, floor to ceiling.

He examined the situation more carefully. Obviously there was something important here, something key to solving the mysteries, the kind of thing that always would end up being vital to saving the day and getting the hell out. And, in Dean's experience, only one thing opened puzzles like this -- critical problem-solving. Fortunately, he'd done this sort of thing before. He squinted in the light from the window, and made out the verses:

Now I will shut you in a box
with massive sides and lid that locks
and bind your heart inside the chains
so only one last light remains.
To find your heart, then find the key
and find the means to set it free.
The window hovers o'er the lake
and lives where all the shadows break
beneath the folds around the stair.
The lock of pain is hidden there.
Another's heart will only tell
the numbers inside Herod's cell.
Then back again, and find the tree
beneath which hides the golden key
which fits into the lock of woe
that keeps the mortals down below.
The book of crimson rests within
the prison bars of hollow tin
through which shine bright the dusty beams
that summon forth the lock of dreams.
Then three times twixt, and that in twain
and all the pages back again
to find the park with carousel
and horses riding fast to hell
beyond the seven-headed man
with seven scepters in his hand
who speaks the seven-numbered name
that will release the lock of flame--

...You know what else opened freaky hospital puzzles? Blunt force trauma.


The fact that the Dean outside the door stopped shouting pretty much as Sam turned the corner and entered the front office did wonders for convincing Sam that it was not, in fact, really his brother out there. Dean had to be here, though, somewhere. The Professor -- he didn't know when he'd started thinking of the man as the Professor, and that made him uneasy -- wouldn't have just pushed him toward the hospital on a whim, though. ...Would he?

Something glistened in the dark, and he reached for his flashlight, glad to find it hadn't done something like bounce out of his pocket during all the excitement on the street. The object in question was a coin, it seemed, an old one, on one side the engraving of a woman's profile, on the other side some writing he couldn't decipher. He put it in his pocket, figuring that if it wasn't useful for getting him out of the town, he might at least be able to sell it to some rare coin dealer. Hey, it was better than credit card fraud.

His head hurt a little, and breathing had become difficult again. Maybe he could find an inhaler here, one just like his own. After all, it was a hospital. They had to keep these things on hand.

He sits down at the desk, moving some paperwork aside, and rests his head on his arms. Maybe just a little rest. It'd make it easier for him to think.


Sam dreams.

The woman is not his mother, this time -- no, she's definitely Jessica, and she smells like smoke. She might burn at any moment. He has to find her before she burns. Before she burns again. If he can't, he'll have failed at everything in life. After all, what good is he if he can't take care of the people he loves?

He tries. Of course he tries. I mean, it isn't as though he wants her to--

It isn't as though--



The door behind him scared the hell out of him, almost so much as to keep him from recognising her fast enough to make the right decision about how to respond. Fortunately, the split-second of clarity was all he needed.

"You're all right!" Dean called, crossing the tiny room in two long strides and clamping his hands around Samantha's shoulders. She was definitely shorter now, and looked dirtier; her hair was all mussed, and she looked tired. He wasn't entirely certain how sincere this appearance was. "Thank God, you're okay!"

"Woah there, cowboy. What happened to you?" She stepped away, suddenly demure; her shirt had bunched up a little, and he could see fair skin in the gap before her pants started. She really was attractive, dark-haired and big-eyed. Pretty much exactly his type, in fact. He'd never quite made the connection between the women he liked and Sam before, and was pretty sure it reflected badly on him either way.

"Are you hurt? Did you see that thing?" He chanced another step forward -- big man, gotta look tough and caring -- and brushed a strand of hair from her face.

She looked up at him and practically fluttered her eyes. "See what?"

"The ... thing." Dean blinked at her for a moment, looking confused. Whatever that monster had been, she was obviously in league with it, and he'd have to be really cautious now if he knew she could summon it. "...You know, it was probably just my imagination. A shadow. Heh." He scratched the back of his head, looking sheepish.

"Where did you go? I was worried."

"Where did you go?" Dean reached again for her, and she allowed him to take her arm, leading her out of the room and into the hallway; he kicked the door shut in his wake, closing in the yards of battered and broken chain behind him and tapping his crowbar against his leg. "What happened, do you remember?"

She shook her head. "No ... just that you promised you'd protect me, and then that thing showed and ... everything got blurry. I've been wandering around here for a while. I was really scared." If she was waiting for Dean to call her on her inconsistencies, Dean wasn't going to bite. Not only did he still feel it advantageous to let the town (or whatever it was that was powering the town, that was something to keep in mind) think it had fooled him, he wasn't entirely certain what she'd do if he pointed out the places where her stories contradicted, and thought he might want to be armed with a bit more than a butcher's knife and a crowbar before he did that.

"It's okay. C'mere." He put his arm around her shoulder protectively, possessively, the kind of gesture a boyfriend makes toward his girlfriend when they're in public and he sees other guys looking at her. "Just don't leave me again, okay?"

She shoved him a little. "Don't leave me! You're always leaving me."

"Well," he nodded, "let's stop leaving each other, okay? Now, come on. I've had enough of this place; I want to get back out to the street again."

"You never think things through, Dean, honestly." Samantha's voice echoed in the empty hall, more resonant than their footfalls, and almost painfully loud. "What's so great up there? That's where the monsters are! You're always putting me in the way of the monsters."

Is this what the town thought he thought Sam was like. Because if so, this town got a C+ for accuracy. "The monsters are everywhere," he countered, not pointing out that he hadn't seen a single monster until he walked into the hospital. "Up there, you can see them coming."

She let go of him, crossing her arms in a huff against the wall. "I don't know what we're doing here. I don't know what I'm doing here with you."

"Look," Dean extended his hand toward her, not entirely certain why he wasn't just taking the opportunity to ditch her and running with it gleefully, "you find a better offer? You go on and take it. For now, I'm going try and get out of here. Coming?"

Samantha looked at him cautiously, debating a long, long moment before reaching for his hand and twining their fingers together. "Okay. But I don't have anyone else, so you better take care of me."

"I will," he said with little conviction, and then, "...I will." She was right, he had promised. But in his life, he'd made a lot of promises he couldn't keep. Why should this one matter more than any of the others?

She sidled close to him again, pressing her breasts against his body. She did, in fact, have a fine rack, and he couldn't be held responsible for responding to that, could he? I mean, he was a red-blooded male, and she was an attractive woman. Equations like that usually had a predictable conclusion. "There might even be something ... in it for you at the end." She trailed one fingertip along his lower lip. Had her nails been painted that dark, raisin-red earlier? He honestly hadn't noticed.

"You don't say," he said, though it came out slightly higher-pitched than he had intended. "I'll keep that in mind." And with her hand in his, he set off back the way he'd started.


The stairwell was dark and smelled funny, but Dean supposed this was about par for this hospital's course. Geez, this place was horrible. It didn't make sense that the door with the keypad only seemed to have a keypad on that one side, but few things in this town made any sense anyway, so Dean couldn't quite muster the surprise. Samantha had let go of his arm now, but she held his hand, fingers twined together, and he led her as stumbled ahead in the dim red light of the emergency EXIT signs. So far, they'd been lies all the way down, each one pointing to a door that hadn't cared to budge, no matter how hard he'd kicked any of them.

He'd already started to think the whole thing was shaping up to be a hugely bad idea even before he heard the footsteps behind them, coming down the stairs in time with a heavy horrible scraping sound, metal against metal, a blade as big as he was ringing with every stair it hit. It might not know how to open combination locks, but it could apparently navigate stairs.

"Come on," Dean hissed, gripping Samantha's hand tighter and starting to move as fast as he could manage without making undue noise -- but her shoes made horrible sounds every she took, and Dean decided it wasn't even worth it to attempt subterfuge under these conditions. He just tugged her arm and bolted. "Run!"

They moved fast downward, their shoes making sharp staccato sounds with every footfall, spiralling down what felt like an endless number of steps -- good grief, how deep did this hospital go? -- moving almost-blindly. A few times Dean misstepped and stumbled, bringing Samantha crashing behind him, which was unpleasant but brought no complaints from her. Come to think of it, she hadn't said anything at all. She was just breathing heavily, wheezing audibly as though something were wrong with her lungs. No time to ask now, though. Only time to run. The noise kept coming.

When they hit a flat corridor, dimly illuminated from some unseen source, Dean broke out into a full-fledged run. "Keep up!" he shouted. "I'm going to see where this ends!" And he let go of her hand.

"No!" Samantha screamed, running after him but falling slowly behind. "Don't leave me!"

Dean kept his hands extended along either wall, turning as the corridor did, feeling for doors, switches, buttons, anything; the search distracted him so much that he didn't notice when he ran full-face into a cold metal wall, hitting his forehead pretty hard. His hand, however, slapped against a button on the side, and he heard gears crank to life. Not a wall, then. An elevator.

"Come on!" he shouted at her. He couldn't even see her anymore, but could hear her running, uneven and slowing.

"Don't leave me!" Her voice rang shrill through the corridor, rising to a fever pitch. "You promised you wouldn't leave me! You promised!"

The doors swung open behind him, casting light into the darkness that nearly blinded him for a moment. As his eyes adjusted, he could see the final bend in the corridor, could hear her faltering footsteps approaching -- and the monster's behind her, steady and cold. "Come on!" The doors started to slide shut, and he jammed his foot in them -- then put his shoulder to it when just the pressure of his foot didn't seem to be enough to trigger the safety mechanism. "I have to hold this!"

Her footfalls grew louder, as did her gasping breaths. "You promi--"

From his vantage place in the elevator doors, Dean saw her turn the corner just in time to see the blade of the knife cut off both her scream and her head (as well as a goodly portion of her right shoulder and arm, but now was not the time for semantics). She fell to the ground with a meaty thud, and the thing stepped over her -- stepped on her -- as though she weren't even there, snapping bones with its footsteps and dragging some unidentified part of her on its knife as it approached.

"SAM!" Dean heard himself scream, barely stopping himself from bolting from the elevator by reasoning that such a thing would, in fact, be pretty much exactly what the monster would want him to do. Steeling himself, he fell back into the elevator and jammed at the 'close door' button, flattining himself to the wall and hammering hard. He didn't stop even after the doors had shut and the car had begun its ascent, away from the monster, away from the carcass of the girl who had looked too much like his brother for anyone's comfort, away from danger. His heart threatened to hammer out of his chest as he slid down the back wall of the elevator, landing hard on his butt on the floor.

...Well, that had been unpleasant.


The hissing sound from his cell phone made Sam jerk awake so hard he hit his head on the nearby file cabinet, sending his already-achey head into a new and exciting world of pain. Blearily, he reached for it and flipped it open, but the still-dark screen did nothing but blare forth its static wail. It was getting louder, too. He tried to clear his sleep-addled brain enough to remember why that was important.

The rusted pipe that came crashing down on the desk inches from his head served the dual purpose of reminding him and scaring him out of his skin at once. He groped for the shotgun and spun out of the way, tangling his feet in the chair and sending himself sprawling on the floor. Adrenaline made his fingers fumble, and as he tried to remember the proper way to hold a shotgun, he looked up to see what had brought about the attack.

Though it couldn't have been more than five feet tall or so, from Sam's vantage point on the ground, the thing looked monsterous, towering over him, looking down at him with ... with a complete absence of a face, in fact. Where there should have been features, the monster looked as though someone had pulled a cheesecloth too tight, impossibly tight, around its head, until the cloth had stained lightly with blood where those features would have been. It looked like a woman, and Sam had to check to make sure he wasn't hallucinating when his eyes told him that it was wearing a nurse's uniform. But it was, stained and aged and disgusting, the old-fashioned white kind from old movies, complete with little folded hat. Sam would have found it ridiculous had he not been more unspeakably, absurdly terrified than he could ever remember having felt before.

It wasn't just the way it looked, though -- it was the way it moved, as it staggered forth brokenly on spindly legs, holding its shoulders and hips in a way that suggested its spine might be broken in a couple place. Even standing still, it shuddered, jerking constantly as though it were having a low-grade seizure (hospital's a good place for it! commented Sam's brain, which obviously hated him and wanted him to die), a terrible out-of-phase shambling motion. Everything about it was horrible.

Sam's reflexes kicked in, and he swung the shotgun out, planting two blasts directly in the center of what looked like the thing's chest, and the thing knocked back, taking a stack of file folders with it. Wheezing, Sam pulled himself to his feet, grabbing for oxygen with startled lungs. The thing was still twitching, like a cockroach, only maimed, not dead, bleeding horrible black liquid clots across the floor. Moving now out of sheer panic, Sam put a foot down just below its head, stomping vigorously in an attempt to break its neck. It was disgusting and evil and was about to pass out from the lack of air in his system when it finally gave one last shudder and fell still. It was only then Sam realised he had not only broken the thing's neck, but very nearly severed its head from the rest of its body.

The monster seemed to shimmer, out of phase for another moment, then completely dissolved, soaking inexplicably into the floor and leaving ... was that what it looked like?

"Oh, thank Jesus," Sam wheezed at no one in particular, and reached down into the muck to pick up an inexplicably pristine inhaler, white plastic with the little cap over the mouthpiece, full by the weight. He shook it vigorously, put it to his mouth, called on his last reserves of self-control to expel all the air from his lungs, and took a deep breath as he pressed down atop the cannister. The mist flooded his system, and he held it in as long as he could, exhaling finally in a noisy rush. Repeat. He was allowed to do this twice if the attack was bad enough, and it was.

There, that was exponenetially better. He found himself able to think clearly again, which was a lovely change from his recent state of asphyxiating panic, and jammed the inhaler in his pocket. Had to be careful not to lose that. Didn't know where he'd find one again.

There was something else in the goo, Sam saw at the last moment -- another one of those coins, this one engraved with a mountain scene, featuring both a waterfall and a tiny cabin with smoke coming out the chimney. That too went (after a good wiping off on some nearby gauze, which was itself none too clean) into Sam's pocket, jingling against the earlier find.

"Sam?" A voice too familiar from behind him made him jerk to his feet, nearly toppling him as his footing slipped in the black goo; he gripped the shotgun with one hand and the reception desk with another, and somehow managed to save himself another intersection with the floor.

He knew he shouldn't respond, that it was ridiculous, that it was another monster. But he no more could have kept himself from answering than he could have forced his lungs of his own accord to stop working properly again. "...Jess?"

"Sam, I'm here." The disembodied voice floated around the room, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once, sounding distorted, as though coming through a recording of some sort. Sam shone the light around the room, but illuminated nothing helpful. "I'm waiting upstairs. Come find me, Sam."

Sam swallowed hard. "I'm coming, Jess," he said to no one in particular, taking a medicinally deep breath and opening the office door.


There really wasn't much to say, or do, or think, so Dean fell back on his old standby routine of not thinking at all. The elevators opened on another floor, this one much quieter and lit by dim, flickering fluorescent lights across the ceiling. The place looked like a waiting room, with once-brightly-coloured chairs in various stages of disarray and disrepair, complete with a little toy set for the kiddies, one of the ones with winding wire tracks over which painted discs could be pushed. Wasn't that thoughtful.

Sam had actually loved those when they'd been small, when they'd had to go to the emergency room or some free clinic or another, first to patch up Dad, then, as time went by, to patch themselves up. Of all three Winchester men, Sam was the least likely at any given time to be sporting a major injury, and therefore the most likely to be left entertaining himself in the waiting room. It hadn't been so bad once he'd learned to read, but Dean could remember clearly toddler Sam's chubby hands pushing the little pieces of wood along their various courses, naming for Dean the colour of each one as it went by. Red. Yellow. Green. Blue. Children's toys didn't seem to come in any colours other than those. At least, they hadn't when Dean had been growing up.

There was something different about this one, however -- something was lodged between the tracks. Dean stepped closer and squinted in the terrible light (man, he was going to have to leave here soon or he'd get one hell of a headache), then reached down to extricate a handgun from the wires. Man, who'd left that there?

"Anybody want this?" Dean asked the empty room. The lights hummed at him and he shrugged. "Okay. Gun for Dean. That's awful thoughtful. Thanks, evil town. I owe you -- SHIT!"

Turning, he saw something he instantly recognised as every nurse from every hospital nightmare he'd ever had shambling toward him, faceless, disgusting, and obviously out to do him a great deal of harm. Even as he screamed, however, he was pulling the trigger, emptying all three bullets already in the clip into the thing's head with a markmanship born of absolute necessity. The nurse-thing jerked against the pressure from each shot, then collapsed into a heap, twitching mechanically a few times before growing still.

"What the shit was that?" Dean addressed no one in particular, strutting toward the monster carcass with the kind of pomposity born only of narrowly avoiding having to face one of those things that, in his dreams, never died that easily. "I mean, seriously! Evil nurses! What the fuck? What the fucking fuck?" So what if no one was listening? Yelling about it felt good.

Two boxes of handgun ammo sat one one of the waiting room chairs, and Dean eyed them suspiciously for several moments before picking them up and shaking them, letting the empty room hear the jingle the bullets made as they clinked together. "I'm gonna use these!" he announced loudly. The room did not respond. "Just in case you were wondering!" Still nothing. "...You know, you're arming me. That's, uh, pretty dumb, even by evil town standards. I bet you were in remedial evil town school. Had to take night classes. Flunked out twice." The town refused to even dignify that one with a response.

Death had given the nurse-thing an excuse to dissolve into a near-unrecognisable mass, but Dean still kicked it as he walked by. "Turn your head and cough now, bitch. This won't hurt a bit." He kicked it once more, but it got goo all over his shoe and pant leg, so he stopped taking his anger and frustration out on monster remains. It was counterproductive and, more importantly, messy.

A therapist he'd once had occasion to meet during a case had told him he had anger management issues. As he reloaded his newfound handgun, Dean figured that, considering the circumstances, he was managing pretty well.


Two floors, three nurses, and five hits on the inhaler later, Sam reckoned he wasn't doing well. In fact, he had no idea where he was going, and was so turned around that he didn't think he could find his way back out to the street even if he'd wanted to. The elevator at the end of the corridor looked promising, however, so when it dinged open, he walked into its warm, inviting light.

When he pressed the buttons, however, it didn't budge. A sign above the control panel read WEIGHT LIMIT: 82 KILOS.

It was at this point Sam began cursing the luck that birthed him in the United States as opposed to, say, anywhere else in the world. What did he weigh in kilograms? Was there some sort of cute conversion, like two cups in a pint, or did it just rely on actually knowing math? Was he even close?

Reluctantly, he placed the shotgun outside the door; it was heavy, after all. No dice. His satchel of papers followed. Nothing. Well, that sort of killed his plan, as he didn't have much else weighty one him. The health drink went too, though, just in case. The elevator didn't budge.

This was probably an exercise in the ridiculous, Sam wagered. Little things didn't make a difference in elevators like this. It couldn't tell 82 kilos from 82.1, whatever that was.

He untied his shoes and placed them outside the door. Nothing. Now he was standing in his socks in an elevator that would take him somewhere he didn't even know he wanted to go, assuming he could get himself light enough to make it work. What, did it want him to starve himself down to that weight? His stomach rumbled a little, and he thought such a thing might not be too far-off in the future. He wasn't skipping down to his underwear in a haunted hospital just to make the elevators work.

With a last-ditch effort that almost seemed like reason, Sam took his map, cell phone, and flashlight and placed them in a nice little cairn outside the door. The elevator pinged happily and slid shut, chugging him off to an unknown destination, not even bothering to mark which floor he had left all this things on.

...Well, great. Now what?


"Hello?" Dean gave a little wave. "Hi there, excuse me. Have you seen my brother?"

The nurse jittered down the hall toward him, but she was still at least ten feet from him, which was more than enough. Dean had figured out pretty quickly that if you stopped wetting your pants every time you saw them, they were actually pretty easy to handle, on account of their being absurdly slow-moving. He held his hand up, palm flat down, a few inches above his head. "About this tall, dumb-ass haircut, pretty like a princess? Really, he's kind of distinctive."

Closer to five feet now. She had a pipe, and he knew if she got close enough, she'd probably be able to hurt him pretty badly with it. "You'll have to speak up, I can't understand what you're saying. ...Oh, wait, I'm sorry, you have no face. That's probably racist of me. Or something. Shit, I don't know." He lifted the gun sideways, gangster-style, like in the movies, and shot her point-blank in the face three times. Three, he had determined through careful experimentation, was the proper number; four was just a waste of bullets, and two meant she'd just twitch on the floor until he came over and broke her spine, which was sort of gratuitous and never any fun.

Damn, he really had to get out of here.

He supposed he wasn't too surprised to turn the corner and see her there, alive and in one piece instead of several, but it still unnerved him a little to see her swagger toward him, that little kitty-smile he'd recognised since they were kids turned somehow sinister and painted with pink lipstick. "Dean!" She rushed toward him, looking pleased as punch.

Okay, so she was going to try honey rather than a nailbat. Dean stashed his gun in the waistband of his pants a split second before he caught her up in his arms, stroking her hair. "Are you okay? I was worried!"

"This place..." Samantha shuddered, clinging tightly to him. "It's horrible. I got lost, and I didn't know how to find you, and then ... I just don't know. I got lost, and then couldn't figure out where you'd gone."

"There was an elevator." Dean released her from the embrace, but kept an arm around her waist, guiding her down the hallway toward ... well, he didn't precisely know where they were going, but it seemed like a direction, and that was good enough at this point. "I wanted to make sure it would work, and it just ... took me away."

"Get out!" She smacked his chest playfully. "I found an elevator too! Where'd you find a key?"

Dean raised an eyebrow. "A key?"

Samantha reached into her cleavage -- oh, yeah, like there wasn't another, better pocket somewhere else in her outfit (Dean cast a quick glance down the rest of her body only to find that, no, actually, there wasn't) -- to produce a card key on a small ball chain. "It was in a locker. I think it may get us down to the ground floor."

"...What floor are we on now?"

"The third."

"Oh." Dean had to admit he hadn't been paying a spectacular amount of attention to his location, but hadn't assumed he'd made it up that high, either. Stupid scary hospital. Stupid evil town. "Well, where's the elevator?"

She reached down to twine her fingers with Dean's, taking the lead. "This way." Her skin was soft and warm, but she had knobby knuckles, hands almost too large for her body, and Dean found himself curiously charmed by this little incongruity. Holding hands with her reminded him of holding hands with Sam when they'd both been teenagers, when Sam's sudden increase in height had taken his previously chubby figure and stretched it out, tall and lean, bones moving almost too fast for adolescent skin to keep up, until Sam's hands felt the same as hers did now. It may have been dangerous to engage in nostalgia at this very moment, but really, Dean couldn't stop himself.

Samantha led him through corridors empty not only of nurses but of their bodies (which sometimes turned to goo, sure, but they left residue), of random bottles labeled 'HEALTH DRINK' (something Dean found way too suspicious to convince him that he should do anything with them except leave them right where he found them), of scattered boxes of ammunition (the health drinks he got, sure, it was a hospital ... but bullets?), of anything, really, except locked doors and dim fluorescent lights and the vague disgusting residue of decay that seemed to have invaded the entire building (but he was getting used to that by now). She seemed to know her way around the place, at least, and Dean resolved that keeping her around was worth it for not running into monsters.

Except for that pyramid-headed guy. The more he thought about that one, the more it made his stomach sour. What the hell was that thing?

She led him through a set of double doors, down a hall to an elevator that sported not a call button, but a card reader. "Here we go." She slid the magnetic stripe down the slit, and Dean heard an elevator mechanism whir up somewhere in the distance. "I think it's a staff elevator. But that means it should take us outside. I mean, doctors have to go home sometime, right?"

"Good thinking." The doors slid open and, sure enough, the pad on the inside sported a big round button with a cheerful '1' on its face. Dean couldn't recall ever being quite that glad to see the inside of a hospital elevator before (it wasn't a phobia of elevators, not really, not like he was with airplanes, but they'd never been his idea of a good time even before today). He gestured Samantha inside, then followed, pressing the '1' button, and saying a little prayer of gratitude as it lit up and the doors slid shut. "Now we're getting somewhere."

That 'somewhere,' however, proved more elusive than Dean had originall imagined. No more than half a floor down, the elevator came to a stop, machinery still humming somewhere off in the distance, but the car completely unwilling to move. "Oh, what now?" Dean reached over and re-pressed the '1' button, just in case the elevator hadn't gotten the message; the mechanism continued to seem unimpressed. "What the hell?" He pressed the '2' button, then the 'G,' then the '3,' and by then he'd run out of new buttons, and had to content himself with hammering on the old ones. When that didn't work, he sighed and rested his forehead against the metal. "Okay, any new ide--"

Samantha was just standing there, looking at him with a vaguely interested but entirely vacant expression. Her arms hung loose by her sides and she stood free from the wall, but she might as well have been a marionette that the puppeteer left dangling when he stepped out for a beer. "Hello? Samantha?" It felt so ridiculous to say her name. "Knock knock? Anybody home?"

Dean moved to one side, and she turned to follow him, but that was about it. He reached out to her, and she didn't approach him or pull away. "All right, sweetheart, time to stop playing the let's-freak-Dean-out game, okay?" He snapped his fingers in her face; she didn't even blink. For a moment he contemplated poking her, but realised that he didn't really want to touch her anymore, and let that one go. "Okay, somebody fell asleep at the wheel in there...." Dean sighed, falling back into his old routine of talking to himself to keep the silence from getting to him. "All right, stuck in an elevator time. I think I've seen this episode of Rescue 9-1-1. Lucky for me I have a crowbar, huh? Time to pry these babies open."

He'd managed to wedge the bar into the slight gap between the doors when he heard a soft sound from behind him, something almost like a whisper. "What's that, babe? I didn't hear you." The sound repeated, this time sounding less like words and more like radio static. "Just a second here, okay? I'm kind of in the middle of something." The sound just grew louder. "Look, do you get Radio Free Amityville Horror on that thing? Miskatonic Bandstand?" Damn, it was hard to make those kind of jokes when no one listened to the radio anymore, least of all him. "...I'm sorry, there's an NPR joke to be made here, but it's really not happening at the moment, hope you're not too disappointed...."

Feeling a hand come to rest on his shoulder made him start only a little at first, then made him panic harder when he turned and realised that Samantha was still her corner of the elevator, staring at him with -- oh, God, her face was ... well, melting was a bad word for it, as was shifting, and the only thing Dean could think of was how human skin looked when it turned to plastic, if that sort of thing even made any sense, her features softening and moving, and oh shit the thing making the sound was her face, shifting in and out of phase, somehow having lost the signal that told it what it was supposed to look like, being the skin version of static replacing Sam's face--

Dean wasn't entirely proud of the panic that followed, and hadn't even quite finished registering the horror that was going on in front of his eyes before he had brought his crowbar smashing down on it, splitting her in two with a huge, gorey crack. She fell to her knees, looking up at him so very calmly with the one eye that hadn't been obliterated by the blow, and Dean put all his energy into keeping himself from throwing up and none of his energy stopping instinct from raising the crowbar and bringing it down against her head again. And again. And again. And her back, once her head wasn't there anymore. And her legs, just for good measure.

When it was all done, Dean just stood there, crowbar still in hand, covered with viscera. He tried to make his brain thing reasonable things, like how human beings don't just come apart like that, he'd hit someone with a crowbar before and human beings were a whole lot more indestructable than that, even very fragile human beings, all human beings. That thing wasn't human. Or hadn't been human. What it was now was a big pile of chunks and red stickiness. Not human at all.

The silence left rang so loud that he actually lifted his free hand to his left ear, trying to filter out the noise, only to find out that he couldn't, that the sound was far more pervasive than that. It couldn't be blocked out; it was already inside.

After the longest minute of his life, the elevator began to descend again.


Sam dreams.

It's a small house, nothing too fancy, but it's what the salary of the youngest firm member to make partner will get in a nice California neighbourhood, and with good public schools and good public transportation, it's all his family really needs. The lawn needs to be mowed, and he'll do it this weekend; the weather will be nice, or so the newspaper says, and he'll enjoy getting a little sun, and even getting a little sweaty.

He steps in the door, putting down the briefcase in the same swoop as he picks up his youngest, three, all golden curls and laughter, so glad to see her daddy home from a hard day at work, kicking her feet in her little Osh Kosh B'Gosh overalls. The six-year-old peeks up from the carpet, where he's hard at work building small universes from Tinkertoys, something Sam says must be a sure sign he's headed for engineering school someday. And the eldest, already so tall at ten, picks her head up from her math homework, which she knows she should finish before dinner, like the good girl she is. So smart, all of them, and he loves them all more than he thought even possible.

Sam turns the corner into the kitchen, where she stands by the stove, still in her work clothes but wanting to get the water boiling for dinner before she goes to change. Sam slips up behind her and puts his arm around her waist, kissing the back of her neck, pressing his face into her straw-blonde hair.

She smiles and reaches back, patting his thigh. Spaghetti and meatballs sound good for dinner?

Sounds great, Sam tells her, and promises to chop the veggies to put in the tomato sauce just as soon as he goes and gets out of his tie.

She laughs and says she'll be right up after him, these high heels are killing her and she'll be glad to get out of them. She kisses their youngest and tells her to go wash up, which she complies with by wriggling out of Sam's arms and toddling off to the bathroom. Tell your brother and sister, she calls after her, shaking her head. She's going to be a handful.

Must be my side of the family, Sam grins, bending down to kiss her before wandering upstairs. He loves his work, of course -- defending the righteous never gets old -- but sometimes it's just nice to be home.


Sam awoke in the elevator, disoriented and sick, shoeless and cold, wheezing but without his inhaler to make his lungs stop seizing, unable to remember having fallen asleep, still rattled by his dream. It felt like one of his prophetic visions, but it couldn't be. Jess was still dead.

Wasn't she?


He was so glad to get out of the elevator that he didn't really care where it had put him, nor did he actually think about picking up the keycard from the remnants of the thing that had called itself 'Samantha' (where, in his entire existence, had he ever come across something that made him think that getting in an elevator with something like that was even a remotely good idea?) until the doors had shut, making retrieval impossible. Fuck it, he shrugged, setting off down the hallway, brandishing his bloody crowbar like the world's most ineffectual torch. He sure hoped there weren't any monsters around; they could probably smell him a mile away.

He could see, however, a slick smear of blood trailing across the floor, into a room marked MEN. Saying a small prayer that truth in advertising under these circumstances only went so far, he pressed the door open and was unspeakably relieved to find a washroom with several cubbyholes for personal belongings (and no actual men, dead or otherwise). Dean grabbed a roll of paper towels and started trying to clean himself off; the stains might never come out of his shirt or his jeans (dammit, he liked those jeans), but he was bound and determined to save his leather jacket from whatever that goop might do to it. Fortunately, it seemed to come off without a lot of associated effort, and Dean hung it on a nearby hook to dry. There was a shower here, too, but it looked like it might end up making him even more disgusting than he was right now, and that was a risk he wasn't willing to run.

There was something in the shower, though, and his heart stopped halfway in the middle of washing his face; he reached for a paper towel and patted himself dry, trying to look casual as he reached for the gun with his free hand. With as much stealth as he could muster, he sidestepped his way over to the shower curtain, tearing it back and pointing the gun into the darkness behind it.

The corpse slumped on the tiles looked weirdly familiar, though decayed and dismembered as badly as it was, he couldn't quite place it. Then he caught a glimpse of its very fashionable platform shoes and had to fight back the urge to vomit for the second time in about ten minutes.

"Come on, Dean," he gritted through clenched teeth, shutting his eyes. "Get yourself together. Come on and fucking pull yourself together." He took a deep breath and counted to ten, first in English, then in Spanish (stopping through the second iteration when he realised he didn't know what came after seis and just finishing up in English again).

When he looked up, he found that the body was far less recognisable. It could have been anyone or anything at all, human or animal, a sack of meat from the butcher's or a stage prop. There was no reason for it to make him think of Sam. It could have been anything.

The knife stuck in it, however, was pretty distinct. With a grin, Dean went for the handle and pulled it free.


In all his years hunting, Dean had learned to trust his instincts, and his instincts told him that the figure that he crashed into as they both rounded a corner too quickly should be fended off at gunpoint. Its looking like Sam did absolutely nothing to convince him otherwise. "Back off!" he shounted, sounding a lot more panicked than he had perhaps originally intended. "Back off or I'll shoot!"

"...Dean?" And when it spoke, it sounded so perfectly, unimpeachably like Sam that Dean didn't even blink. He just lowered the gun.

"Sammy?" Dean frowned, realising perhaps a second too late that he shouldn't have let his guard down so easily, should have made sure. "...What was the name of your stuffed dog when you were five?"

"Rascal, and you used him for knife practice when I was seven. Dean, what's going on?" Sam took an awkward step backwards, and Dean was puzzled to see that he was not, in fact, wearing any shoes. "Is it really you?"

"You found Dad's porn stash when you were eight and came to ask me why women's coochies look like space aliens."

Even in the dim, artificial light, Dean could see Sam's face turn bright red. "Thanks. Please stop offering me proof now." Sam coughed, straightening his shirt. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"What do you mean, what the hell am I doing here? I came here to find you!"

"Well, I came to find you! Where'd you go?" Dean looked down. "Where are your shoes?"

"I had to take them off to ride the elevator." Sam waved his hand. "Long story. Anyway, we have to find the elevator, because I left all my stuff there."

"You had to take off your shoes to ride an elevator?"

"It had a weight limit."

Dean poked Sam in the gut, trying not to let it show how absolutely, desperately glad he was to see his brother again. That was not how this game was played. "Need to lay off the hamburgers, huh, Sammy?"

"Shut up!" Sam batted Dean's hand away. "Here, give me your gun. I had to leave my shotgun there."

"No way I am letting you have my gun."

"Then your knife. Come on, I know you're carrying one."

Dean shook his head. "Nothin' doing. You might still be one of those town hallucinations, and I am not arming you."

"Dean, that's ... you're...." Sam balled his fists in frustration. "So you're, what, going to leave me all defenseless against the monsters?"

His hand tightened around the crowbar he'd hooked beneath his belt, but memories of bludgeoning the 'Samantha' monster came rushing back to him, and he figured his stomach couldn't stand the juxtaposition of handing it over; besides, if Sam was trying to convince Dean that he wasn't a town-induced hallucination, he could do a lot better than sounding like his faux female counterpart. "Well, there's gotta be something ar--" The flashlight beam fell across a small heap of what must long ago have been some patient's personal effects, and Dean reached for the prize atop the pile. "Here ya go," he grinned, pressing the purse into Sam's hand.

Sam looked at the purse, its fashionable pink suede exterior corroded with time, the chic brass chain that made its handle rusted at several joints. "You have an entire arsenal on you right now."

"Yep," Dean nodded. The little knife, the handgun, the crowbar, the big fucking blade -- yeah, even by his own standards, he was pretty tricked out. "And?"

"And I'm stuck with a fricking purse?"

"Looks like it."

Sam made that face he always made when he could not, in fact, understand why on earth Dean would have strung together the words that had just come out of his mouth; it was a face Dean knew particularly well. "Why do I have the purse?"

Dean grinned. "'Cause I think it's funny?"

A moment passed as Sam looked at his new weapon, considering its merit as a bludgeoning object, feeling its weight in his hand, getting a sense of how it would react to his strength -- then turned on Dean, beating him repeatedly about the head and shoulders with said purse, doing a fair amount of damage largely because Dean was laughing too damn hard to put up much of a defence.

It was Sam, all right. Accept no substitutes.


Sam coughed a little, feeling the ache in his lungs that had returned in force as they had descended flight after flight of stairs. "We really need to find that floor," he wheezed. "I had to leave my inhaler behind, too."

Dean glanced over his shoulder from where he was crouched down, surveying the bar that kept the door at the bottom of the stairwell shut. "Your inhaler?"

"Yeah." Sam placed a hand against his chest and leaned against a wall. "The air down here really makes my asthma flare up."

That gave Dean pause, and he turned around, settling back on his haunches. "Sammy, you don't have asthma."

"What are you talking about?" Sam could feel the tightness in his lungs, the way they refused to take in all the breath he so badly needed. "I've always had asthma."

He didn't like the way Dean frowned at him when he said that. "...You don't have asthma, dude."

It was ridiculous, of course -- he could remember the doctor's visits, those awful days in gym class when the weather was humid and triggered attacks, the way the medicine tasted as it rushed in great gasping breaths down the back of his neck. But arguing with Dean at this point seemed not only unnecessary, but actively wearying. "...Whatever, let's just get out of here."

Dean gave him one last strange look, then turned back to the door problem. "Right. Hand me the hacksaw."

Sam looked around. "I can't. It's chained to ... that spiky wheel thing next to the vent."

"How the hell did that....?" Dean glanced over to the mass of chains, shaking his head sadly. "Never mind. How 'bout the baseball bat, nurse?"

"Don't say nurse," Sam shivered. Speaking of doctor's visits, he didn't think he was going to be particularly comfortable in one for a long time to follow.

Dean turned back to look at him again. "...You saw those too?"

"What do you think they were? Some kind of ghoul?"

"Ugly, ugly bitches, that's what." Leave it to Dean to reduce complex supernatural classifications to the simplest possible terms.

"None of this is making any sense, though." Sam chewed on his lower lip for a moment, trying to connect things in his mind that seemed bound and determined to stay separate. "I don't recognize any of the monsters in this town. Not from books, not from stories ... nothing. I mean, malicious phantom health care personnel usually stick to the tools of their trade -- needles, scalpels, not iron pipes."

Dean had started carving around the lock with the knife from his leg sheath. "Remind me to change my HMO."

"Seriously, Dean. Have you ever seen monsters like this? I've seen new variants on existing species before, but these are unlike anything I've ever heard of. How is that even possible?"

The knife ground against the metal screws that stubbornly held the lock bolted to the door. "...I don't think they're species," Dean offered finally, not even bothering to look up. "I don't even thing they're really individual. I think they're all made of one thing."

"What do you mean?" But even as Sam asked it, he had to concede that it made sense together. An awful lot of sense, in fact, far more than anything did separately.

"Like ... one thing that's thinking them up. Think about it -- they're way too uniform, but they're all...." Dean fell silent, ostensibly concentrating on what was looking more and more to be a futile effort. Finally giving up, he returned the knife to where the strap wound around his calf. "...I met a girl who looked like you," he finally offered, quietly, not looking Sam in the eye.

A cold, unsettling feeling grabbed hold of Sam, deep enough that he could feel the dread in his bones. "There are other people here?"

"I don't think she was people. Not in the strictest sense."

Sam took a deep breath, shook his head to clear his thoughts. "We need to get out of here."

"Yeah. We do." Dean pulled the handgun from the back of his pants, firing four shots dead into the locking mechanism; the sound thundered in the tiny room, deafening, with a residual roar that lingered in Sam's ear almost so loudly that he didn't hear the door creak open shortly afterward. "A lot."


They stood, side by side, eyeing one of the toilets in the men's room. There was a long, horrible pause.

Dean cleared his throat. "Scared of a few germs? You damn girl?"

"I'm not a girl!" Sam protested, looking more than a little green around the gills. "That thing looks like it's never been cleaned in its life."

"Whatever. Girl."

Sam wheeled on Dean. "If I'm a girl, why don't you do it?"

Dean frowned and smacked a hand againts Sam's chest. "Look, will you stop whining and just do it?"

"Why do I have to be the one who has to do it?"

"Just do it! Jesus, such a girl."

Sam cleared his throat, steeling himself. "...Fine. But you owe me."

"Whatever." Dean rolled his eyes, then added, just for good measure, "Girl."

The squishing sound that resulted was possibly the grossest thing either of them had ever heard. "...God, this is even more disgusting than I thought."

"Yeah? How disgusting did you think it'd be?" Dean tried not to sound too smug, but it's hard when there are two people in the room, and you are the one of them not with your hand in a toilet.

Sam retched a little. "Pretty damn."

"So what'd you get?"

"Another one of those little medallion things." Sam's gag reflex wouldn't hold back quite long enough to let him take a good look at it. "Aw, Christ, hand me a towel."

Dean turned, glad to have that over with. "Just use your sleeve or something."

Sam stood and wiped his hand on Dean's jacket, which got him whapped good, but was entirely worth it.


"Why do you even keep dragging that around?" It wasn't even the weird sort of smell that the metal kept giving off, Sam finally concluded, nor was it the horrible screeching sound it made while Dean dragged it along. It was the impracticality. "It weighs a ton."

Dean shrugged. "It's useful." He had tried balancing it on a wheelchair earlier, but they'd had to abandon that idea when it had punctured the seat and set about a six-inch gash in the linoleum floor; then they'd tried resting it on a gurney, but the weight had caused one of the supports to collapse, the knife nearly severing Sam's leg as it crashed to the ground. Finally, Sam had put his (still attached) foot down and told Dean that if he was going to insist on that thing, by God, he was going to have to carry it.

"For what? You can't lift it!" Sam's irritation level was not helped by how his socks were now all dirty and cold, nor by the fact that the corridor he'd taken earlier now seemed to be a dead end, blocked off by automatic sliding glass doors that didn't seem to want to budge. He could see his things through at the other end, but getting to them was another matter entirely.

Smiling his know-it-all smile, Dean propped his shoulder under the hilt, balancing the blade blunt side down and wiggling the tip between the gap in the doors. Then, taking hold of the hilt, he heaved all his weight sideways, and the glass doors gave way with a soft whoosh.

Oh, he hated it when Dean was right. "Okay, fine." Sam breezed through and started re-collecting his things, shoes first. "What'd you get that thing from, anyway?"

Dean shrugged. "Found it in a room."

Well, that was ominous. "Uh-huh." Sam reassembled his previous arsenal, eyeing the inhaler suspiciously before sticking it in his back pocket. Well, he didn't feel like he had to use it anymore, but that didn't mean he wouldn't have to again.

By the doors, Dean kicked at the knife, using it to push the doors further open before giving up and kicking it to the side. "Wonder when that guy with the triangle head is gonna start missing it?"

Sam looked up. "The guy with the what?"

"With the butcher's apron." Dean gestured down his front, then shook his head and gave up. "...Never mind. Ready to go."

"I think so." Sam certainly felt more ready, and definitely less naked in the face of slimy evil. He shot a glance at the knife, which lay at a funny angle, owing to its blade's having been bent slightly in the process of serving as a prybar. "Is that coming with us?"

"Nah." Dean spun the crowbar baton-style, then stuck it back under his belt. "It's served its purpose."


The great big EXIT sign that marked the door they'd come in was a wonderful sight to behold for both of them, and Dean jogged down the short hallway toward it. "We found the way out! Come on!"

Sam followed at a sightly less enthusiastic pace, his enthusiasm tempered by a nagging voice in the back of his head telling him this is too easy.

And it was. Dean slammed his hand down on the handle -- and got nothing for his efforts. He tried again, jiggling the mechanism, but it was locked tight; he threw his shoulder and entire weight into the door, but nothing budged. "Oh, come on." Dean frowned and body-slammed the metal doors again, which gave off a satisfying percussive noise but gained no ground. "Son of a bitch."

"Dean, wait." Sam stepped closer, examining four circular indentations in the door. "...I think this might be the way out."

Dean raised an eyebrow. "Beg pardon?"

Sam's fingers skimmed the recesses, feeling their relative shape and size, then reached into his pocket for the medallion that had come from the toilet (and had cleaned up very nicely with a little rusty tap water and an old scrap of cloth), spinning it in the light; its profile was an old man, facing the opposite direction from the woman on the other coin, with the same indecipherable writing on the back. He pressed the coin into the leftmost indentation, and though nothing precisely happened, fit perfectly. "I think ... it's a puzzle."

"Oh, man." Dean shook his head. "Man, there is nothing telling with those things. You should have seen the one I got earlier! Something about a lock of flame, and a lock of woe, and a lock of something else, and there were some numbers in there and shit, and it was bad."

"Uh-huh." Sam wasn't precisely listening. He dug around in his pockets to retrieve the two coins from earlier, setting them in the next two slots in the sequence. "I wonder where they go."

"Look for poetry. Wait until it pisses you off sufficiently, and then we'll go find the nurse monster that'll give us the blowtorch."

By now, Sam had largely stopped paying any attention to Dean; he was more interested in the puzzle. His fingertips searched the metal of the door and the plaque, trying to find some sort of clue. "Hey, shine the light over here." Dean pointed the flashlight in the direction of the door, and Sam squinted to make out four tiny words scratched beneath the recesses. "'Had, hadn't, haven't, have.' ...Got any ideas?"

"Sounds like we should ask my third-grade English textbook."

"Thanks, that's real helpful." Sam removed the coins and stepped back. Now that there appeared to be an order, he had to do this right. He spread the coins on his hand, looking them over -- the woman, the man, the little house. Was it some sort of linguistic puzzle, maybe, a pun in a language he didn't understand? ...And if there were four, was he one coin shy?

He decided to work with what he had for now, calculating quickly that there were only twenty-four possibilities, and he bet he could try them all, if worse came to worst. Had, hadn't, haven't, have -- what did that even mean? On the off chance that it had something to do with the order he'd found them in, he slipped them in that way, left to right: woman, house, man.

...Which, left to ponder like that, made a weird amount of sense. Looking closely, Sam could see that the woman on the first coin looked an awful lot like this one picture of his mother he'd seen, with her hair all pulled up away from her neck, not smiling but looking very elegant: I had a mother. And the little cabin by the waterfall was all kinds of domestic and permanent, the kind of house someone would spend a great deal of money on and never want to leave: I hadn't ever had a home like that. And the old man.... Well, Sam hadn't seen him in four years, of course, so it wasn't hard, with a little imagination, to see how the face on the coin might be what his father's face had become: I haven't found Dad again yet.

"Mom, home, Dad, ...and then what?" Sam asked aloud, absently.

"Excuse me?" Dean bent over and squinted at the coins. "Hey, I gues that does kinda look like Dad. Weird."

Sam drummed his fingers against the door, staring at the coins; he took a deep breath. "I think it was made for me."

"Made for you?" Dean raised an eyebrow. "What, like the monster construction company came along while we were someone else and outfitted the door just to give you a brain teaser?"

"Yes, Dean, I am at the point of paranoia where I have had frickin' nurses chasing me and a guy on the street who knows my name and told me to come here to find you, and no, I do not think I'm too far off-base taking this puzzle personally!"

Dean stepped back and crossed his arms, coming to rest against the wall. "...All I'm sayin' is, you get the easy ones."

"I don't think so." Sam shook his head. "We're still one short, we're going to have to go back."

"Oh, yeah." Dean reached into his pocket, fumbling around for something. "I was hoping we'd find a vending machine or something, but I guess this could work here too." He reached toward Sam, holding in his fingers a coin of the exact size and shape as the others.

Sam snatched it up. "Where did you get this?"

"I get all the hard puzzles,"  Dean grumped.

The coin showed two figures, one on each side, neither with many distinguishing features, but one definitely male, one definitely female. Without thinking about that, without even noticing which side showed outwardly, Sam stuck the coin in the fourth slot and sighed with great relief as the lock clicked open. "Come on," he nodded to Dean, pushing the heavy door outward and breathing in the freshness of the night air. "Let's move."


Dean squinted into the fog, trying to read the street signs -- not that being able to read them would have done him any good, but still, he would have felt better. "Where are we, now?

"I found this map," said Sam, looking more at the map than at where he was walking, which Dean was sure would lead to disaster any minute now. "Looks like we're by the bowling alley."

Dean made a face. "I hate bowling."

Sam looked up, gesturing to a huge, out-of-fashion BOWL-A-RAMA sign. "Tell me about it."

Evil town had no taste. "So ... okay. You have the map. We're at the bowling alley. ...Now what?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know?" Sam held up the map, turned it sideways, turned himself around, and righted the map again. "I think that way is the way we came in. Or the way I came in. I don't know how you got here."

"Yeah, neither do I." Dean sighed and took another look at the BOWL-A-RAMA sign, shuddering a little. "You know, there's horrible Hell-spawned evil and then there's retro, and some days I don't know which is worse." He braced himself for the inevitable defence of platform shoes on short girls, disco, Sam's own haircut, and That 70's Show that usually followed statements like that, but what he heard was silence -- which, given the circumstances, was far worse.

"...Sam?" Dean turned to see an empty street. "Sam?" His voice rose a little, panicked. Oh, no, come on, he had just found him again. "SAM!"

No answer. Dean felt his stomach sink. Reaching for the gun, he set off down the street in the direction Sam had indicated, hoping beyond all good sense and reason at this point that there'd be something there worth finding, something that could get both of them home.


"You know those bad feelings you get? Those deep feelings in your gut, when you know you've sinned so deep it'll never wash out?" The voice came from out of the fog, and Sam turned, feeling the pit of his stomach turn cold even before he saw the stocky form to whom it belonged limping into focus. "You think those things just disappear into the air?"

Sam stepped back, reaching for the place Dean had been a minute before, but wasn't even surprised when his hand struck empty air. The BOWL-A-RAMA was gone, too, and all the landmarks looked different. The town must really be doing a number on him if it could sneak up on him like that. "...I, I've never killed a person." He swallowed and reached for his shotgun, unsure even as he did that he could bring himself to pull the trigger if the need arose. "I've never cheated or - or struck anyone other than in self-defense...

"Did I accuse you of any of those things?" The Professor clucked his tongue, shaking his head. "You must have a guilty conscience, boy."

Mention of conscience struck a chord somewhere in Sam's brain, as he began putting the pieces together, squeezing all his experiences into an attempt at a conclusion. "So, so what.... The town takes those feelings? All the anger, all the guilt, all the stuff you just can't let go of? What does it do with them?"

The Professor shrugged, still approaching, always moving forward and never quite getting there. Zeno's Paradox? Was that it? Sam tried to remember the one required calculus class he'd taken. The one that said you can always only go halfway so you can never really get anywhere? "Everything's got to eat." So really, by that mathematical statement, his TA had told them, not only can't you get anywhere, you can't even start.

"But what--" Sam cleared his throat, feeling the moisture in the air sap the same from his mouth. "What does it want with Dean?"

"Oh," the Professor laughed. He was closer now, almost close enough to see clearly. How did you defeat Zeno's Paradox? Every half you cross, the time you need to cross the other half gets shorter -- did that work? Did it have something to do with limits -- lines, points you can approach but never reach? ...Why did any of that matter right now, anyway? "He's got guilt you haven't even thought about."

That made Sam's heart freeze in his chest. The amount of things Dean had hanging over him as possible sources of personal torment was legion, and those were just the ones Sam could think of. What else might have happened in the four years they were apart? What hadn't Dean told him?

"Not as close as you thought, huh?" The old man's chuckle was decidedly sinister.

"Look, old man--" Sam stormed toward the Professor, temper flaring, eyes wide, getting right into the old man's personal space. Oh, right -- that was how you defeat Zeno's Paradox. Take bigger steps. "I am closer to my brother than you can even conceive."

"It's disgusting, really," the Professor sighed, sounding not particularly disgusted at all, but by this point, Sam didn't care.

"Fuck. You." Each word was punctuated with a thick, strong finger jabbed against the Professor's chest; Sam had to admit a small degree of surprise when his finger hit solid mass, and didn't merely pass on through (and, in fact, felt a strange stab of familiarity when his finger connected with something small and hard beneath the man's shirt, something very much like an old pair of dog tags). Still, as his father had sometimes said, enough was too much. Giving the old man a parting sneer, he spun on his heel and turned to go. He didn't particularly have a direction, of course, nor did he know which way Dean had gone, but right now, anywhere was better than here.

"Don't you want to know why the town's got you?" called the Professor from behind him. His voice sounded distorted, like being underwater, but Sam did not turn.

"Not really, no."

"Might get you out sooner."

Sam kept walking. "I'll manage."

"I doubt that," came the chuckled reply.

"You know--" Working against his better judgement, Sam turned again -- and was distressed to see that he'd actually covered no ground in his attempted escape. Bigger steps. Right. "I'm getting pretty tired of you."

The Professor shook his head, and though Sam was decidedly the taller of the two, he still felt looked down upon. "That's your solution, isn't it? You don't like what you're hearing, so you just--" the old man fanned his fingers by his ear, "--tune it out."

Sam scoffed. The statement was ridiculous, the situation was ridiculous, even standing here talking to the man instead of walking away (for real, this time, he swore) was ridiculous. "Next you'll be telling me I don't take my responsibilities seriously enough."

"You're here, aren't you?" That smirk, that I-know-what's-best-for-you smirk never faltered. "Instead of some suit-and-tie palace?"

Sam's lips drew into a thin line. "I'm here looking for answers."

"How magnanimous of you." Condescention dripped from the Professor's voice.

It was all Sam could do not to punch the old man in the face; instead, he clenched his hands into fists and started stepping backward. When he had sufficiently reassured himself that this was, in fact, putting distance between the two of them, he chanced turning his back on the Professor. "Look, do whatever you want," he called behind him, not even turning to look for fear that doing so would result in either losing Dean to the Underworld, or Sam's turning into a pillar of salt, depending on which mythology was in vogue in the town at that moment. "I'm going to find Dean and get out of here."

A voice came echoing from the fog, dissipated, sourceless: "Be sure it's him you find."



"Sammy?" Dean whipped around, trying to find the source of the noise. "Keep yellin', Sammy, I'm on my way!"

"Dean! Over here!" Sam's voice sounded panicked, and Dean stumbled toward it, nearly tripping over the curb as he broke into a run toward the park. "Dean, help, he's coming!"

Dean didn't precisely know who he was, but the fear he could hear in Sam's voice made him run faster toward whoever or whatever it was. "Sammy, how'd you get all the way over--"

Any further complaining was waylaid momentarily as he ran face-first into a chain-link fence, hard and sudden enough that his mouth tasted the rust on the metal. "Bwah!" he spat ungracefully, rubbing his tongue on the (arguably more disgusting) sleeve of his jacket. "The fuck's that doing--"

The sight of something's moving beyond the fence caught his attention; today was apparently not going to be his day for finishing sentences. It was too far away and too dark to tell for certain, but it definitely looked like Sam -- and was he tied to something? Dean squinted, so concerned about the visual in front of him that he almost missed the sound of a long knife, scraping as a dragged against the ground.

"Oh, shit, Sammy, hold on, I'll be right there!" Dean pounced on the chain link fence, swayed for a moment as it decided if it wanted to hold his weight, and landed ass-first on the ground again when it decided it emphatically did not. Apparently the tall fence had been anchored badly, making the barrier too flimsy to hold his weight, but too high to cross in any other way. Sam tried one end of the fence, but found only a smooth cement wall, too broad to climb; the other end held much the same problem, and both walls stretched off into the distance, with no discernable break.

The sound of the knife was getting closer. "Dean!" Sam shouted. "Dean, he's almost here!"

"Sam!" Dean ran back to the center, the only place where he could get a good view of what lay beyond the fence. Sam was, in fact, not only tied but tied upside-down, suspended by one foot, hands tied behind his back. "Sammy, what happened?"

"He's coming, Dean!" And Dean could see the tip of its head now, peeking out from around the corner, moving so slowly toward Sam that it was obscene that he couldn't do anything. "I can't get out! Do something!" The sound changed as the monster stepped onto the metal grating beneath Sam's feet, becoming a horrible screech that hurt Dean's ears to hear. "Help me!"

Dean reached for the gun -- the first thing he could think of -- and raised it to eye level, preparing to fire at the monster first, then at Sam if necessary, then at himself, if it came to that ... and then stopped, lowering the gun to his belt again.

"Dean?" hollered Sam from beyond the fence. "Dean, help me!"

"No." Dean's voice sounded too calm, even to his own ears. It had been far too quick, too soon from losing Sam (the real Sam, he had been sure of it) outside the BOWL-A-RAMA to finding him here, on the other side of an impossible fence, tied up in a perfect situation. But the whining that had rung false in Samantha's mouth sounded ten times more hollow coming from Sam's. "No, you're not that helpless." And with a great breath, he steeled himself and turned away.

"DEAN!" Sam's voice was now a scream; Dean could scare recall a time he'd heard his brother sound so terrified. "For God's sake, Dean! Don't leave me!"

"I have to go, Sam." One foot in front of the other, he walked away -- not too quickly, never run, it only attracts attention. Behind him, the sound of the knife got closer, the great knife he knew to be bent now, the bend he could see now if he only turned his head around. He didn't turn. It wasn't his brother behind him. He had to be sure of that by now.

He was not far enough away to be out of earshot when the great knife came down, severing flesh from bone and stopping Sam's screams for good. But he managed to walk on another full minute before falling to his knees, in some dark, disgusting alley, vomiting and crying in one bitter rush.


Sam dreams.

It's a small house, nothing too fancy, but it's what the salary of the youngest firm member to make partner will get in a nice California neighbourhood, and with good public schools and good public transportation, it's all his family really needs. The lawn needs to be mowed, and he'll do it this weekend; the weather will be nice, or so the newspaper says, and he'll enjoy getting a little sun, and even getting a little sweaty.

He steps in the door, putting down the briefcase in the same swoop as he picks up his youngest, three, all golden curls and laughter, so glad to see her daddy home from a hard day at work, kicking her feet in her little Osh Kosh B'Gosh overalls. The six-year-old peeks up from the carpet, where he's hard at work building small universes from Tinkertoys, something Sam says must be a sure sign he's headed for engineering school someday. And the eldest, already so tall at ten, picks her head up from her math homework, which she knows she should finish before dinner, like the good girl she is. So smart, all of them, and he loves them all more than he thought even possible.

Sam turns the corner into the kitchen, where he stands by the stove, still in his work clothes but wanting to get the water boiling for dinner before he goes to change. Sam slips up behind him and puts his arm around his waist, kissing the back of his neck, pressing his face into his slightly axel grease-scented hair.

He smiles and reaches back, patting his ass. Spaghetti and meatballs sound good for dinner?

Sounds great, Sam tells him, and promises to chop the veggies to put in the tomato sauce just as soon as he goes and gets out of his tie.

He laughs and says he'll be right up after Sam, these coveralls smell terrible and he'll be glad to get out of them. He kisses their youngest and tells her to go wash up, which she complies with by wriggling out of Sam's arms and toddling off to the bathroom. Tell your brother and sister, he calls after her, shaking his head. She's going to be a handful.

Must be our side of the family, Sam grins, bending down to kiss him before wandering upstairs. He loves his work, of course -- defending the righteous never gets old -- but sometimes it's just nice to be home.


Sam lifted his face from the pavement. "...What the hell was that?" he asked aloud.

The town, he was grateful to realise, didn't bother answering -- not right away, anyway, so he got up and brushed himself off, wincing a little. He couldn't remember a great deal of what had happened after walking away from the Professor, and figured that was probably for the best. At least the dreams weren't painful like his visions, yet not only were they inconvenient, they were weird, and he'd thank them to stop any day now, really.

Where had he been headed? He couldn't precisely remember. He and Dean hadn't discussed that one through, and now Dean was gone, lost somewhere to the fog. "Dean!" he hollered, neither expecting nor receiving a reply.

At least he wasn't in the hospital anymore. God, he'd had enough of that place to last him several lifetimes. He'd barely be okay going back into a regular hospital after this, much less that nightmare. He just hoped that Dean hadn't gotten it into his skull to head back there, because if he had, man, he was on his own.

Well, he was getting nowhere just standing here, and all roads looked much the same at this point. He squinted at the map, but the couldn't precisely find on it where he'd ended up, which officially helped him not at all. Something, however, was off -- nothing precisely wrong, but something certainly not right in a way he couldn't articulate. He brought the map closer to his face, but the smudged print revealed nothing of its secrets. Well, then, if the details weren't going to give anything up, perhaps the bigger picture would--

He couldn't believe that he hadn't noticed it before, that neither of them had, but he supposed they had been so concerned with figuring out where they were actually going that the larger layout of the town had been only a secondary concern. But when Sam held the map at arm's length, visible in the dim streetlamp above him, the streets and houses and shops suddenly converged into a pattern. A circle, in fact -- a summoning circle, with the streets marking lay lines and buildings indicating critical points.

And at the center, a prison tower. Of course, thought Sam. Why not a prison tower? And after that, they could all go to the undoubtably evil amusement park on the other side of the lake. Yes, that would be good clean family fun.

He didn't see a tower, but he couldn't see much of anything, so that was no help. At his navigational end, Sam folded the map and put it away, then reached and covered his eyes with his hand. "Round and round and round she goes," he muttered, beginning to spin in place. He leaned his head back, catching and welcoming the worst of the vertigo; at least the sickness was familiar. "And where she stops--" He opened his eyes.

Well, that hadn't been there before. He frowned at the street sign, its white letters reading Toluca Prison Road, and beyond it, a woman in white standing in the middle of the road.

"Jess?" he whispered, taking a step foward, and her image began to shimmer and fade. He frowned and took a step back, and she returned to sharper focus. Two steps toward her and she was nearly transparent; four steps and she was gone, leaving only a glass sphere where her feet had stood. He'd seen this kind of illusion before, the trick of the hologram visible only from a distance. For all the weird things he believed in (hell, for all the weird things he was dead certain existed), he was always a little surprised when his brain decided to rely on science to explain the bizarre.

But the sphere was real, and Sam picked it up, feeling its weight in his hand. It was colourless and had a cloud of bubbles trapped motionless inside, like the paperweights he saw sometimes on the desks of middle-aged men. "Are you important?" he asked the little sphere, which had nothing to say about this matter whatsoever, whereupon he resolved to stop talking to things that weren't going to talk back.

Adhering to Dean's Law #5 (whatever it is, you can probably use it later!), Sam slipped the sphere into his pocket, heading down the road to whatever lay ahead.


By this point, Dean reasoned, it was getting easy to tell where to go: just listen for Sam screaming for his life, then walk right by until hearing the next one. Like navigating by cairns that, instead of being made of stones, were little vignettes of his brother's being tortured. Nice to see the town cared enough to give it the personal touch.

After disembowlment had failed to sufficiently impress him, the town had tried strangulation, turning Sam's cries for help into sick, wet gasps for air. Decapitation came next, sufficient that Sam's severed head had rolled into the backs of his heels, startling him into a truly girly scream he was glad no one had been around to hear. Then they had progressed to burning at the stake, and the sweet-sick smell of burning hair and flesh had followed him for what he estimated was a mile, but could have been as many as ten.

The one that had brought him to his knees again had been when Sam, naked and wailing at Dean to save him, had been tied ahead of him, so that Dean could not go further without turning away. He swallowed and headed forward, determined to show his resolve in the face of these fictions, when the pyramid-headed man had appeared (moving more swiftly than Dean had ever seen him) and yanked Sam's flesh from his bones in one harsh movement. Blood flowed from the exposed muscle tissue, which still twitched and moved and howled, and Dean had buckled, doubling over in the street and waiting for it to stop.

But it hadn't stopped, and the thing that wasn't Sam had gone on impossibly screaming itself hoarse with pain, its cries those of a dying animal. Dean couldn't block them out, and he couldn't make them stop, so in the end, he'd had to force himself to his feet and keep walking, one foot in front of the other, until first there was nothing left to see, then there was nothing left to hear.

What disturbed him, though, at his core, was not now much these scenes affected him, but how his own internal horror was receding with each iteration. Slowly but surely, he was getting used to the idea of Sam's death.

Jesus, he swore. He had to get out of here before this did him in.


At first, the body in the road had been of minimal interest to Sam, as he'd seen no shortage of those since arriving in the town, and really didn't want anything to do with them. It was only when, mere feet from the figure, he heard it call his name with Dean's voice that he paid it any attention.

And then he was running to close the distance, leaning down and scooping Dean into his arms, holding him as tightly as he dared, while Dean kept his arms wrapped around his stomach. "My God, Dean, what happened to you?"

Dean lifted his hand to Sam's face. "...Jesus, Sammy, is that really you?"

"Yeah, Dean. Yeah, it's me." Sam grabbed Dean's hand, holding it tight. "What are-- Oh, Jesus, you're bleeding."

They both looked down to where Dean's arms had curled around himself, and the blood seeping out around his hands. "Funny, huh? Kept thinking I was seeing you dying. Got distracted. Got -- ow -- careless." He coughed, and little flecks of red dotted his chin; when he looked up at Sam again, his expression was equal parts sheepish and sad. "Guess we won't be riding into the sunset together after this one."

"Oh, Jesus no," Sam gasped. He tasted salt at the corners of his mouth and drew the back of his hand across his cheeks, wiping away sudden tears. This wasn't supposed to be how it ended, not at all. Dean was supposed to go out in a blaze of glory, or live forever, or maybe a little of both -- not wind up gutted and shaking on the street of some third-rate haunted town they never should have gone looking for in the first place. Dean coughed again, and Sam drew his brother into his arms, resting Dean's head against his shoulder. "It's gonna be fine. I'll get us out of here, I'll carry you to--"

"Forget it." Dean's voice was weak, a mere whisper, and Sam could hear in it real, mortal fear. "You have to ... to go on without me, I'll slow you down and there's...." His gaze darted to the side, into the darkness, edgy and fearful, and terror gripped Sam around his heart. Dean was the strong one, the brave one; Sam had never been scared of the dark with him, because he'd known that whatever was out there, Dean was scarier.

But now, watching his brother's lips tremble as they struggled to form words, Sam was himself struck cold. For the first time since they'd arrived, he felt certain that he'd never leave the town. They'd die here, the both of them, and no one would ever know. No graves, no burials, just bodies left on dirty, empty streets, first Dean's, then his surely soon to follow. He tried to say comforting things, the kind of nonsense you were supposed to say when your brother was dying right in front of you, but all that came out was a word that sounded like a faint approximation of Dean's name.

Dean reached red-slicked fingers to Sam's lips, hushing him with a wary gaze, no hint of the smile he always wore at times like these, the smile that always made him look so brave, even when Sam knew he couldn't possibly be. "Don't," he said, and he leaned in to Sam, and Sam leaned down to meet his face, so that Dean's mouth brushed the side of Sam's jaw, first lips cracked and bloodied, then the harder and sharper edges of teeth--

Sam shouted and threw the thing with his brother's face away as hard and far as he could; it laughed at him as it skittered off into the darkness on all fours, knees and elbows bent unnaturally backward, head snapped up at a grim angle. Sam grabbed for the shotgun, firing off two rounds after it, but they were aimed by panic, and as such fell far afield of their mark. There was a slithering, breaking sound, the noise of something squeezing through a space far too small for it, and then silence.

Willing himself neither to scream nor to puke again, Sam pulled himself upright and squared his shoulders. Dean was alive. If he were really dead, the town wouldn't even bother fucking with illusions.

All Sam had to do now was find him.


"Dean!" The voice was a woman's, and sounded more like a call for a friend's attention across a crowded plaza than a scream of mortal terror, and as such, Dean found himself despite all good sense and reason running toward the sound, not away from it. "Dean, over here!"

Perhaps he'd bludgeoned her -- or something that looked like her, it was hard to tell sometimes -- to death in an elevator a few hours earlier, but that didn't lessen his enthusiasm as he threw wide the metal door to reveal what looked like an old-fashioned prison cell, with bars from floor to ceiling dividing the room into somewhat even halves. The room was well-lit, such a sharp contrast to its surroundings that Dean's eyes took a moment to adjust. When they did, he saw that the other side of the room contained a bed, a chair, and Samantha, sitting demurely in said chair, just beyond where he gauged he could touch if he reached through the bars.

"Hey," said Dean, trying to sound casual and mostly failing. "You hurt or anything?"

"Not at all," she smiled, folding her hands in her lap, dark nail polish a stark contrast to her pale skin. She crossed her legs, all five miles of them now visible beneath the short denim skirt she wore. At least someone'd had the foresight to pack a spare set of clothes.

It was a cheap trick, and Dean couldn't stop staring. He felt a little light-headed, as though the everything in the room had begun to slip away from him, weighed just beyond reach by the intangibility of dream logic. There was a chair on his side, so he took it. "Because, you know, there was a lot of blood."

"A lot of blood? When?" She asked so sweetly, with such honest curiosity, that Dean began to wonder if the whole elevator nonsense had been something his overactive imagination had thrown at him, something far less than real. Of course she sounded confused; none of it had happened. "Did something happen to you? After we got separated in the hospital? ...Are you confusing me with someone else?"

That was a ridiculous thing to ask, though Dean, especially since he couldn't think of anyone he would have confused her with. She was pretty one-of-a-kind. "...Samantha?"

She laughed. "You're always so forgetful. Remember the time you left me in that rest stop just outside of Birmingham? You had to drive back all night for me, and John yelled at you the whole way."

That had been one hell of a time, too, that long midnight road back across Alabama and Georgia and back to Alabama again, Dean starting out taking the wheel as the only one in the car both old enough and sober enough to drive. They'd stopped at the rest stop for Dean to get coffee, with Sam sleeping in the backseat, and it hadn't been until they'd hit a filling station at just the dark side of dawn that it became clear the bundle of blankets spread across the backseat was just a bundle of blankets, and that the sleeper presumed beneath them had in fact slipped out unnoticed at the last stop. John had indeed yelled the whole way back to the ramshackle rest stop, where Sam sat perched in the crook of a high tree, patiently waiting for retrieval; Sam had tried to take responsibility, but John had kept souting at Dean over any protests, saying that if he couldn't take care of his twelve-year-old sister, what kind of man was he anyway?

"You couldn't even find me until I called out. You were looking all around, but you didn't think to look up." Her laugh sounded like bells ringing from the walls of the jail cell. "That's a good lesson for life, I guess. Everything rises. It all has to go up before it comes back down again."

Dean frowned, the gesture of a man at the onset of a headache. He'd never been the brains of the operation, but this felt like thinking through concrete. "So ... you're my sister."

"I am," she purred, "if you want me to be."

Dean stood with a force that toppled the chair, and nearly knocked himself over in the process. He felt sick and drunk at once, ready to lash out and grab her if she came within arm's reach of the bars -- except she did, standing and moving slowly toward him, until she was the one reaching through to him, not the other way around. Her fingers felt cold against his cheek, trailing the line of his jaw past what should have been a day's worth of stubble by now, but felt like barely more than a few hours' growth. "Tell me what's going on here," he growled, though he had no idea even as he asked why he expected her to have the answers. She was stuck here, just the same as he was.

She scuffed her nails against his cheek, shaking her head with a smile that told him absolutely nothing. "It doesn't matter. I'm here for you, Dean. See?" Her fingers skimmed along his lower lip, an affectionate gesture that was yet by no means sisterly. "There we go. I'm real. You can even touch me."

"I don't know," said Dean, because it felt like the thing to say, and because it was true -- he didn't know. He was at the stage where the whole world had conspired to leave him in the dark, and seeing her stare back at him like that left him completely at sea.

"Come and get me," she begged. The bars between them, which had faded as she touched him, now seemed to redouble their efforts to keep the two apart. "I can't do anything through these bars."

"Okay." He swallowed against a dry throat. "Stay right there, I'm -- I'll find another way around, I'll be there soon."

She brushed the pad of her thumb along his lower lip one more time, then let her hand drop, smiling; without saying another word, she stepped back, beyond his reach, and took her seat again. Heavy-headed and more than a little turned on (she's your sister, dude! said a little voice in his head, but for some reason that didn't bother him as much as it probably should have), Dean stumbled away without looking back, out the door and into the grimy corridor, with nothing on his mind but the need to find another way in.


The tower rose before him like the cover of a textbook on phallic imagery in architecture, which was about the cheeriest simile Sam's brain had furnished him with all day. He clutched his satchel close and took a deep breath. If Dean was alive -- and he was, Sam was certain -- he'd probably be in here. That was the messed-up way these these worked. He had to believe in that inch of consistency, if nothing else.

He expected some sort of ridiculous puzzle, another of those grotesque riddles that implied things he didn't care to have implied -- and was thus almost disappointed when the door stood alraedy open, half-off its hinges, keening back and forth in the still air. It was just as well he didn't have to touch it; everything there was covered in rust and slime, and Sam'd already had his fill that day of touching disgusting things. He scratched his cheek absently, and was horrified to find that his fingernails came away with dried blood underneath, the remnants of the Dean-monster. He couldn't in good conscience adopt a 'shoot first, ask questions later' policy with Dean still quite plausibly alive, but the temptation to do just that was somewhat overwhelming.

Inside was a long flight of iron stairs that circled around the exterior of the tower, looking grimy but otherwise sturdy. "Where do these stairs go?" he asked, not an honest inquiry but quote he and Jess had sometimes referenced, and he was only half-surprised to see scrawled on the bottom step the appropriate response: THEY GO UP.

He tested the first step, the one with the inscription on it, gingerly putting his full weight on it, and when it didn't collapse immediately, he shrugged and started upward. Whatever it was there in the town, Sam was sure it didn't want him to meet his end by shoddy construction on the doorstep of confrontation. No, he was willing to bet that if he'd made it this far, it was willing to keep him alive long enough to have a word with him. And he wanted just as much to have a word with it.

Eyes fixed firmly forward, fingers gripped solid around the trigger of his shotgun, he began his ascent.


"Oh, Jesus," Dean whimpered, falling to his knees beside the newly opened door. There was the same room he'd seen only moments earlier, the same chair and the same bed, only instead of sitting the former, Samantha lay out along the latter. She might just have been asleep, only she smelled dead, and it had been the smell that had hit Dean before his eyes even fell on her. The blood pooling around her body, dripping through the mattress and onto the floor, was only a secondary indicator.

He closed the brief distance between them, taking her hand, but it was cold and rubbery, and when he put his thumb instinctively to her wrist, he felt only the vague flicker of his own pulse, nothing of hers. She was dead, and had probably been that way since just after he'd left her. He never should have left her. Fuck the bars, why had he left her?

He felt as though the world had dropped out from under him. There'd been nothing in the world more important than her, from even before the world went wrong. Other kids became jealous of and resentful toward their new siblings, he'd read years later, but that had never been the case. From the second his dad had lifted him up to see her pink-swaddled face, he'd sworn to look out for her. He remembered the night of the fire, his dad putting her in his arms, yelling at Dean to take her and get out of the house, and how Dean hadn't wanted to give her up to anyone, not to the paramedics, not even to John himself. He'd beat up boys for her, scowled at girls for her, and finally, when she'd asked, taken her into his arms and held her, promising he'd hold her until the end of the world.

And for what? What had all those promises gotten her except a dirty cot for a bier and a prison cell for a coffin, and the deep knife wound that split her from the sternum to her belly? He'd left her, and more than that, he'd led the monster right to her. What was love worth if all it did was called down the demons?

Blinded by anger, he rose, pressing one last kiss to her bloodied lips. "Sorry, Sam," he whispered, turning from her and heading out the door. If she was dead, there was nothing for him there anymore. Whatever had killed her, it was out there, and he was going to make it very sorry.


He stopped at the first landing to catch his breath; the wheezing had come back with a vengeance, and he felt as though he were breathing underwater. The inhaler in his back pocket pressed against his skin, reminding him of his presence, promising clean air and easy breathing, all for the meagre price of a mouthful of what tasted to Sam like battery acid. He pulled it out and looked at it, squinting at the label, which had once proudly displayed the name of some name-brand product from some reputable pharmaceutical, but now more only faint smudges for identifying marks.

Sam rubbed at the inhaler with his thumb, frowning. Part of the label came off beneath the pressure, flaking away and falling to the floor. He scrubbed again, harder this time, and the whole sticker gave way, aged and decrepit, revealing an old-fashioned doctor's tag stuck beneath, illegible except for the patient's name: WINCHESTER, SAMUEL.

Disgusted, he heaved the offending object down the stairs, listening as it crashed away from him into the darkness, ricocheting off the walls, each rebound seeming to increase in intensity -- and then the noise of a much more fleshly impact reached Sam's ears, followed by a very familiar, "Son of a bitch!"

"Dean!" Sam dropped everything and took off like a shot back down the stairs, feet hammering on the iron steps, no longer caring about the pressure in his chest. "Dean! Dean!" One hand on the wall for balance, and to hell with what vile things there might be to feel there, he nearly fell down the staircase, rounding the corner in the tower's strange, dim light. It had to be him, it just had to be--

His feet tangled one over the other, pitching him forward, and he would have landed smack on his face had Dean not reached up, moving upward as fast as Sam had pitched himself downward, arresting his brother's fall with his arms. "Sammy! Jesus, Sammy! Oh, fuck, is it you?" Sam gathered his footing quickly, but held to Dean long past the point his support was necessary, burying his face in Dean's hair, throwing all caution to the wind. If the thing wasn't Dean, well, the last thing he'd think in this world would be that he'd found his brother, and that almost seemed good enough to Sam at this point.

But it was, Sam could tell. The town tended to be smoother with its entrances, smooth in a not getting hit on the head by a discarded inhaler way -- and anyway, it smelled like Dean, which Sam realised the imposters hadn't quite gotten right. Sweat and dirt and gross things and motor oil and store-brand deoderant and motel shampoo and spunk and just plain guy, which wasn't the kind of smell one forgot easily, not even with effort. "Yeah, Dean, it's me." Sam fisted his hands in the back of Dean's jacket, taking breaths as deep as his aching lungs would allow. "I've got you."

"How'd you-- I mean, the bars, and the cell!" Dean pulled back enough to look at Sam, eyeing him with a degree of suspicion Sam guessed wasn't unwarranted. "And then you were dead, and I--"

"Dean! Woah!" Sam gripped Dean's forearms. "Right here, dude. Not dead. Not even a little bit." The look of incomprehension on Dean's face was comic, and Sam laughed, half amused and half just plain relieved. "What happened to you?"

Dean took a deep breath and looked away, then straightened his spine, pulling out of Sam's grip. "Nothing. ...I really don't like this place."

"Tell me about it. I think we're almost here, though." Sam looked up the stairs. "Wherever 'here' is. These things usually converge at the highest point; lots of cultures have myths about high places, mountains where gods live, rocks where the sky can reach down, towers to talk to God -- stuff like that. So ... we go up."

"And then what?" asked Dean, though he was already starting to climb.

Sam followed him, wiping his hands on his pants; he was starting to regret his hasty decision to touch anything in this place. "We ... fight it. I guess."

Dean shot him a slightly bemused glare. "That's your plan? We just ... climb up there and fight it? Maybe we should ask it for a hot-air balloon and a pair of ruby slippers instead."

"You can ask it for a brain first."

"Yeah, cute."

They reached the landing again, and Sam was pleased to see that his shotgun and satchel were still waiting for him; he scooped them up, always more comfortable when armed. "I don't know, Dean. It's not just a demon inhabiting the town -- the entire town is the demon, and not just that, it's a sort of ... a reality trap, where it's reading our minds and pulling out images we recognise, or maybe just think we recognise -- familiar things, things we'll respond to. But it takes those, and it some how manifests them, using some sort of psychokinetic means. Psychotransference, maybe? It's hard to say."

Frowning, Dean crossed his arms. "So it's reading our minds and using our darkest fears against us. I think I've seen this Nightmare on Elm Street sequel."

"Sort of," said Sam. "Only this isn't like being in your own dream, it's like ... being in someone else's dream. Only this dream has an entire town to use like an echo chamber. And we've got to wake it up or punch our way out or do something, or else it's just going to keep feeding off us."

"Feeding? That sounds nasty." Dean started up the next flight of stairs, keeping his eyes trained ahead. Beyond the curve, the faint light began to fade, and Dean produced the flashlight from his pocket, shaking it to life again; its beam was little match for the town's thick darkness, but it was better than nothing.

Sam followed close behind. "It's doing it already. It doesn't eat flesh or bone, so far as I can tell -- it eats energy." Dean was often first in line to mock Sam's expositional tendencies, but Sam had long ago figured that the best way for him to work his way mentally through something was to talk it out, and Dean's ears were often the only ones around worth using. "I don't think it's trying to kill us. I mean, I don't think it'd be too broken up if it happened, but that's not the point."

A cockroach skittered across the step in front of them, and Dean's boot crushed it. "So while we're standing here, it's sucking the life out of us?"

"Sort of." Sam frowned, drumming his fingers on the barrel of the shotgun. This was hard to explain, and doubly so because he hadn't quite figured it all out himself. "I think ... it likes it when we're afraid." Dean snorted, and Sam resisted the urge to punch him in the back of the head. "Shut up. Not afraid, then, but ... I don't know, guilty? Does that make sense?"

"Wouldn't know," Dean shrugged. "I don't tend to feel guilty about much." He kept his eyes fixed straight ahead.

Sam opened his mouth to say something else, but the strap on his satchel took that moment to snap, and papers cascaded down the stairs behind him. "Oh, fuck me," Sam cursed, spinning around to catch as many as he could before they slipped away. "Dean, wait a minute, I've got to--"

But when he looked back up the stairs at the place he'd been only moments earlier, both Dean and his flashlight, Sam's last two talismans against the darkness closing in around him, had vanished.


When the door at the top of the stairs shut behind him, Dean knew he wasn't alone. He reached into the pocket of his pants for his handgun, then grabbed the flashlight in his left hand, using the latter to help steady the former. The room was a deep and bloody red, and it hissed in a way that made Dean think of breathing. "Sam!" he called.

"Dean!" came the reply, high and frightened, and Dean snapped his flashlight toward the sound. It was Samantha, all right, behind bars again, and strung upside-down in a cage in the middle of the room. She struggled, but was chained fast, unable to move. He ran toward her, but stopped cold just a few feet away as his light caught movement from the far corner of the room, slow yet steady, and accompanied by the horrible grinding sound made only by dragging a very heavy knife.

Putting his back to the cage, positioning himself between her and the approaching monster, staring it down and putting a bullet smack in the center of its chest. It barely budged, moving only forward. Dean darted sideways, trying to lead the it away, but when it did not deviate from its course, Dean knew that he was not the target here. "Leave her alone!" he shouted, putting two more bullets into the monster's side. "Leave us both the hell alone!"

If the pyramid-headed monster heard or even noticed him, it made no response, continuing its slow, deadly progression toward the helpless woman in the middle of the room. Steeling himself, Dean charged forward again, leading not with his gun, but with his knife.


When the door at the top of the stairs shut behind him, Sam found himself looking upon a clean, well-lit room, the first he'd seen since setting foot into Silent Hill. The walls looked like the walls of John's last motel room -- papered with clippings, photographs, pages, copies, so that Sam couldn't even see the wallpaper behind them. And in the middle, perched on a captain's chair, sat the Professor, wearing a thick sneer. Sam sighed. "Oh, for the love of Christ...."

"Well, well. I'm floored you made it this far." The Professor gave two perfunctory handclaps, then settled his hands atop a book in his lap. It only took Sam a moment to see that it was, in fact, his dad's notebook. He patted his satchel frantically for it, but his search came up empty.

"I do this for a living," he shot back, deciding that bravado in the face of blatant manipulation was better than any alternative. "And it turns out I never had asthma." He crossed his arms, trying to look self-assured, because looking that way made him feel better, and to hell with what could see through him.

The Professor looked mildly amused. "Is that a fact? Too bad you don't have any more excuses, then."

Sam sighed. "Look, just give me the book."

That gave the Professor cause to laugh, a deeply mocking sound that reminded Sam unpleasantly of how John laughed when he was drunk, drunk and mean. "You're not really in a place to demand anything, are you now, boy?"

"I could shoot you," Sam said, bringing the shotgun up to his hip.

"Are you up to killing human beings already? I suppose it's like they say, man is only one step away from the animals." The Professor eyed Sam up and down, then snorted. "In your case, perhaps half a step."

Whatever the Professor was, Sam was fairly certain it was not human -- but he'd called Sam's bluff, and put enough doubt into Sam's head that he no longer felt comfortable making the threat. There was still the very real possibility that the man was some innocent human being ridden by a monster, and he wasn't yet capable of pulling the trigger on that. "...Look, what do you want for it?" He couldn't leave without the book. Dean would never forgive him for having left without the book. It was the only real resource they had, and the only way they'd find their dad again.

The Professor steepled his fingers beneath his chin, over the book. "A confession."

The knowledge that he'd been right about the town's taste for sin-eating yet left Sam hollow. "What kind of confession?"

"We're very hungry, Sam." The Professor licked his lips, and Sam saw inhumanly sharp teeth lurking behind the old man's wrinkled mouth. "We haven't had a taste like yours in a long time."

"I'm not telling you anything," Sam spat, feeling his skin crawl. "You are the last person -- thing in the world who deserves to know my business."

"Oh, I know your business, as you put it. I know you quite well. I've known for a long time, in fact."

The dead certainty of the statement gave Sam pause. "...You have?"

The Professor laughed again, folding his hands again over the book protectively, the way a parent might lay hands on a child. The more he spoke, the more terrifyingly familiar his voice sounded. "You think you could keep something like that from me?"

"But you never said anything," Sam protested, lamely, no longer entirely certain to whom he was speaking. That had always been the fear at the edge of everything, hadn't it? How much could any son keep from his father, much less sons conspiring together? Sam's palms slicked with nervous sweat, and he felt the shotgun lower, his arm suddenly heavy.

"Could you have?" How obvious was his life from the outside? He'd spent so long pretending to be normal, wearing different faces, different disguises, that he no longer knew who could see through them.

No, that wasn't it -- he'd grown afraid that even he couldn't see through. This town was like coming face to face with the worst mirror in the world, the one that showed you not what you wanted to see, but unvarnished, unpolished, bright-lit reality. At the end of the day, it dealt not in lies, but in truth, placing absolute clarity in your hands and letting it lead you through a long road of deception straight to hell.

"...If you already know," Sam cleared his throat, finding it parched dead dry, "why do you want me to confess?"

The Professor shrugged, leaning back and crossing his ankle across his knee. His face twisted into a lean grin, curling at the edges, bleeding past normal into something truly sinister. "I hear confessions. It's what I do."

And Sam took a deep breath and began.



"I killed Jess," came the first words out of Sam's mouth, and after that it was like a dam had been breached, and all that was left was for all the words behind it to come flooding forward.

The Professor's lips twisted into a smile. "Go on."

"I didn't mean to, but ... I meant to. She died because of me." Sam stuck one hand in his pocket so the Professor wouldn't see him tighten it into fist, then let the other go tight around the stock of the shotgun even as the muscles aiming it at the Professor went slack. Each word felt horrible, but also liberating to say, like vomitous poisons purged. "If she hadn't been with me, if she hadn't been anywhere near me, she'd still be alive right now, going on with her life, doing great in school and great in life. I'm the only reason she's dead."

"Spare me the self-pity," sighed the Professor, wheeling Sam on with his hand. "You can't confess facts."

Dark clouds settled on Sam's brow, as he finally stopped and stared in the face the sensation he'd felt when he'd seen Jess -- not relief, but terror. If she was back -- if she was really, truly back -- that meant his old life was not only back, but restored entirely to its former state. He not only could go home to it, to her, he'd be expected to do just that. Put down the rock salt and pick up the penal codes, resume the previous trajectory of his perfect life.

All the more perfect for having no place for Dean.

Sam gritted his teeth and looked away. He supposed this was why confessions in churches happened in dark brown boxes -- so you never had to face your confessor. "I wanted him back." He felt tears sting at the corners of his eyes. "I wanted him."

"Him?" The Professor drummed his fingers on the notebook. "Ah, yes, your brother, of course. Your dear, perfectly fraternal blood sibling."

Sam's cheeks burned red. "I've wanted him since ... I could remember. He's all I wanted. And I tried to run away from it, I tried to find somewhere to be that he wasn't, just to see if it would go away, but everything I found was ... not him." The more he spoke, the truer the words became. "I want him back, please, let him out of this town. He hasn't done anythi--"

The Professor tut-tutted his tongue and shook his head. "No lies, Sam. Liars go to hell."

"Fuck you!" shouted Sam, but his anger burned out as quickly as it had flared up. "...What's this about? Do you want me to make a choice? Between him and her? Because I'll choose him. I don't care if you can ... bring her back to life, or make me think you have, or something or anything, I'm choosing him."

"Rather convenient for you that she's dead, then."

The words felt like a slap to Sam's face. Rather than rage, though, what bubbled up to fill the wound was deep, pure shame. "...I wanted her to die," he finally managed through a mouth gone completely dry.

The Professor nodded sagely, his hands folded atop the notebook. "Now we're getting somewhere."

"I wanted her to die," Sam repeated, and the hell of it was how true it finally sounded. "I wanted her to die so I could ... so I could leave with Dean. So I could be with him. God, I wanted him back from the minute I saw him, that's why I had to stay away, that's why I had to never call, because I knew I would, even if he didn't, even if he never wanted it again, I would, and I couldn't leave her there alone, and I couldn't ... she couldn't come with us, because then she'd know, and I--" He raked one hand roughly through his hair. "I never wanted her to have to know."

"Well, that's the way about terrible secrets, Sam. They have a way of outing themselves." Strong, burly hands -- so much like their father's -- remained fast atop the notebook, which now looked to Sam like just so much paper. "You don't need this."

Sam shook his head slowly. "No," he swallowed, "I don't." He felt tired all of a sudden. How long had it been since he'd slept, anyway? How long since he'd eaten?

How long had he been there, anyway?

"Go on, then," The Professor waved Sam away. "Go find your brother."

Turning so fast he nearly tripped over his own feet, Sam scrambled for the door and ran out of the room into darkness.


Years -- or maybe minutes -- later, Sam charged blindly up a flight of stairs to the wall-less top floor, nearly collapsing with relief as he saw Dean standing there alone. "Dean!" he shouted, his voice harsh and breathless. He closed the gap between them running and wrapped his arms around Dean's chest. "I was so worried, I--"

"Dude, what happened to you?" Dean patted him on the back, breaking up the hug. "You look like you got kicked in the junk. Metaphorically speaking, I mean."

"It's been a long night," sighed Sam. "Look, I don't have time to explain, but we really have to get you out of here--" A cold thought hit Sam's consciousness, and he straightened again, pulling away. "It is you, right?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "In the flesh. You need to stop watching so many monster movies. Anyway, I think I found a way out, it's just past those trees by the cemetary. Can't believe I missed it earlier. Come on." Dean clapped Sam on the shoulder. "Maybe we can even be out by breakfast."

Sam grabbed at Dean's collar, pulling him close again, desperate to hold him. "I'm sorry," he half-whispered. "I always--"

That was when Sam first smelled the fire. He broke the embrace to jerk his head back in the direction from which he'd come, where already a deep grey plume of smoke was creeping up the metal stairs. "Dean!" he shouted. "We're gonna need another way out!"

It was then the aluminum sheet over their heads exploded into flames, and both Sam and Dean were thrown back in opposite directions, sprawling out along the dirty floor. Sam watched, petrified with fear, as the waves of fire coalesced into a form. It was nebulous at first, just a coincidental concentration of flammable substances, yet it slowly began to descend, lower and lower, until Sam could pick out the contours of hands and feet and head, then the more tell-tale details of blonde hair and white dress.

Maybe Dad wanted Mom dead too, came the thought unbidden to his head, and once it had taken hold of him, it was impossible to exorcise it.

Dean was first back to his feet, pistol in both hands, shooting round after round into the thing, which shimmered with every hit it took, yet did not seem to lose focus. "You son of a bitch!" he howled, and Sam didn't know if that was directed at the thing or at him, but it was enough to spur him to energy. He picked up the shotgun and aimed straight for its head.

The smoke had begun to grow truly noxious, and Sam's steadying breath filled his lungs with hot, grey ash; he pulled the trigger, but it barely clipped the figure in the fire, and before he could get off a second shot, he collapsed, coughing. His lungs felt tight, as though someone had grabbed them at the edges and pulled until they were too flat to expand any further. I don't have asthma! he told his body, but his body seemed to differ entirely. He gasped for air, but each attempt sounded like trying to push air into a burst balloon.

"Sam!" shouted Dean, and Sam tried to respond, but there was simply not enough air left in his body to form speech, much less breathe. The smoke was thicker now, too, and Sam pushed himself to his feet only to crumble after another few steps, the hot air stinging his eyes to tears. The floor felt hot, a sure indicator that the fire was just beneath them, yet though Sam tried, he could barely lift his cheek from the ground.

His only sense left to him was sound, and he heard his name called again from somewhere across the fire, but it sounded distant compared to the roar of the coming inferno. More gunshots sounded, and then Sam's name again, and then all Sam was left was the sensation of falling as the building collapsed beneath them, taking them all the way down.


His first thought was that the air felt cool and clean, with only the slightest hint of ash, like the morning after a bonfire. Taking a deep breath -- and taken with the novelty that he could again -- Sam opened his eyes.

The mornng was grey and misty, and the remains of the building lingered in a pile around his feet. He sat up, and a shower of grey ash fell off him. Everything was burnt black, but there was no trace of heat left in the embers; everything had gone cold already, the fire gone on to brighter places, leaving the rest of them behind.

Blinking, Sam shook his head to clear his thoughts. Not much was visible in the early morning light, save the pile of rubble that had apparently cushioned his fall, and a pair of dark footsteps through the ash, leading from the debris down the street, until ash and distance robbed them from Sam's view. It was madness, of course, to think that anyone could have survived such a fire and a fall -- except that he had, and if he had, there was a possibility that someone else had too. Someone else who had missed him, camouflaged beneath the grey remains, and had gone off into the town, probably to get cleaned up, maybe even to the hospital. Yes, if he'd been hurt, that's where he would have gone first. Sam was sure of it.

Dazed and wounded, he stumbled off into the morning, looking for his brother.


Dean ran up from behind and planted the knife right between the monster's shoulder blades. It screamed like the opening of a heavy metal door, a grinding sound that made the hairs on the back of Dean's arms stand at attention. It twisted around fast, faster than Dean thought it had any right to move, and smacked Dean backward with its elbow. Dean fell backward awkwardly, reaching on instinct to steady himself; his right arm gave with the impact, though, and his head hit hard against the metal ground.

Dazed, he lifted himself to his feet again, hissing in pain as he tried to move his wrist. He felt up with his good hand to the side of his head, and his fingers came away bloody. "Dean!" screamed Samantha, rattling her cage. "It's going to kill me!"

Gritting his teeth against the pain, Dean charged forward again, brandishing the knife now in his left hand, slashing forward wildly. He'd been fighting with a knife since he was small, since before anyone would let him hold a gun, but he'd always been so right-handed that to switch sides threw off his balance and confidence alike. The tip of the blade grazed the thing's shoulder and neck, cutting its bloody butcher's apron string but barely scratching the mottled skin beneath.

And he knew, as the blade came away uselessly from the blow, that he had just blown his only chance.

With its metal-on-metal roar, the thing spun around, the great blade of the knife swishing barely an inch above Dean's head. The blade embedded itself into the wall nearby, and the thing heaved it free with a heavy jerk, then rose it to its shoulder again. It had no eyes, nothing to suggest that a face of any stripe lurked beneath the great red triangle of its head, but Dean knew it was looking right at him, and that its next blow would not miss.

Pure, hysterical fear choked him, poured down his throat and into his stomach until his whole body felt like ice, right up to his brain. If he'd been there, Sam might have called it a primal fear instinct, something smart and anthropological, hearkening back to the days of ancestor-monkeys and sabre-tooth tigers, where if something in your gut didn't tell you to run like fuck from the scary things, not only you but your whole race would be in danger of dying out.

Dean didn't stick around long enough to find out what it was called. He turned and ran.

Wrist throbbing, head not much better off, he slammed his hands against the knob of the door he'd shut behind him bare minutes ago. He heard Samantha's scream from behind him, desperate pleas for him not to leave her alone, but even her terror couldn't hold a candle to his. He gave the door one last good jerk, and it flew open. Without even so much a glance behind him, he hauled himself out as fast as his legs could carry him, up the stairs, as far away from that deep-seated terror as he could get.

He nearly made it five whole floors before he had to stop and throw up.


By the time he reached the top floor, his head was roaring at the same pitch and volume of the pyramid monster's howl, making it desperately hard to think. His wrist had swollen up to twice its normal size already, and all commands to his fingers to flex had earned him feeble twitches at best. At best, it was sprained, at worst, broken, and either way, it was useless to him now. He'd tried to splint it with a stick and rag he'd found lodged in a corner of the building, but he had no finesse with his left hand, and moving it had made the world spin until he feared he'd be sick again, and by now there wasn't anything left in him to throw up. His mouth tasted like bile and his head throbbed almost badly enough to cover up for the pain in his wrist.

Therefore he was not, perhaps, in the best condition to appreciate when Sam, upon seeing him ascend to the top floor, practically tackled him. "Dude, where've you been? Are you okay?" Sam's large, paw-like hands poked at his head none too gently. "What whacked you?"

"I--" Dean barely made out the first word before he stopped, breathless and weak. What was he supposed to say? I just left the girl who looked like you, who might have been you, for all I know, to die at the hands of a monster because I, at the end of the day, I'm nothing more than a coward, after all this time, I thought you should know. "It's ... nothing." Dean turned his head away, taking the injury from Sam's immediate reach. "Bumped it."

"Are you okay, Dean? You look kind of pale." True to form, Sam didn't take Dean's reticence for an answer. "Maybe you should urk--"

When Dean looked up to see what, exactly, Sam had thought might improve his condition, and found himself staring not at his brother, but at the place where his brother's head had been, and the triangle-headed monster behind it, holding his sword taut at the end of its long arc. Sam's headless body slumped forward onto Dean, spilling blood and still reaching for him, even in death. It was kind of sweet, in a way.

Dean felt the edges of the world go blurry. Instinct had him grabbing for his pistol with his right hand, but even the shock couldn't numb the pain there, and he screamed in agony as he dropped the gun and fell to his knees. The monster stood and watched, hovering, tapping the tip of its weapon against the floor in a gesture of grim impatience. Clutching his wounded hand to his chest, he reached for the gun again, wrapping it in unsteady fingers. Beside him lay Sam's crumpled body.

From above him, the room burst into flames. It was so beautiful, Dean had always thought, the way fire looked almost like water as it washed across the plane of the ceiling, a gravity-defying flood of light. As he watched, the body of a woman began to coalesce from the waves. She looked kindly at him, her pale face twisted in a grimace so angelic it was almost a smile, and then she began to rush at him so quickly that Dean calculated he would, at best, get off a single shot.

That was okay, though, he figured. He only needed one.


It would be nearly ten years before the police found the old black Impala with the Kansas plates submerged in the lake. Running the plates brought up two missing persons files, both long ago taken from the urgent roster. A body behind the wheel was too badly decayed to determine conclusively identification or cause of death. The case currently remains unsolved.


Dean jumped on the thing's back, grabbing the front of its head and yanking upward, trying to find a vulnerable spot. His fingers found purchase at the place where the soft flesh of its neck met the hard metal of its head, and when it roared like the grinding of old, rusted gears, Dean knew he'd found the place. His ears hurt, but he held on, kicking upward with his feet, trying to brace his weight against the creature's legs. It was taller than Dean, and heavier, and when it shook him, Dean was nearly knocked away to the floor.

He held on, though, and steadied his knife between his fingers. "You son of a bitch!" he shouted, a defiant rallying cry, and plunged the knife into the monster's neck. Thick, black blood, the quality and temperature of engine oil, spewed forth, drenching Dean's hands and the floor with its sticky wetness. His hands threatened to slip, but he regained his grip and pulled the knife back deeper toward him, deeper still, until he saw its silver tip poking through the back of the thing's neck.

Finally, with great lurch, the thing pitched forward to the ground, twitching only once before stilling. In the silence the followed, Dean could hear like a kettle drum the beating of his own heart.

Samantha's voice finally shook him from the shock. "Dean!" she cheered, sounding desperate and grateful all at once. "Dean, are you okay?"

"Fine!" he called back, even though it sounded like a skeptical assessment at best. He jerked fruitlessly at the knife before deciding that as much as he'd liked the knife, he liked how dead the monster was better. His first attempt at standing afterward almost sent him sprawling to the ground, but his footing held, and his next step seemed almost easy. He poked the monster with the toe of his boot, and it didn't budge.

He'd done it. He'd slain the dragon, He was a hero.

"Dean!" shouted Samantha again. "Help me, Dean, I can't get out!"

That was more than enough to shock him back to reality. He rushed across the room to its center, where she still hung. "Cover your ears," he said, and as she complied he aimed the gun at the lock. One shot took it to pieces, and he swung the cage door wide, going first for her ankles. The heavy iron manacles had worn deep red welts into her flesh, but the latch on them appeared far more easily undone than the cage's mechanism. "Okay, put your hands down on the floor, I'm going to undo these and I don't want you to drop."

She did just as he asked, no questions or complaints, only deference to his superior handling of the situation. He held one of her ankles with one hand, and pulled the pin with the other, supporting as much of her weight as he could as gravity took over again, easing her downward to the floor of the cage. The first thing she did when her head was higher than her ankles again was to throw her arms around Dean's neck. "I was so scared," she whispered, clinging to him.

Dean wrapped his arms as tightly as he could around her, feeling her heart flutter in her chest like a scared bird. "It's okay," he hushed her, pressing a kiss into her hair. "I'm here now. Everything's going to be all right."


The room at the top of the stairs was almost anticlimactic, empty and open to the air, if not the sky. Dean held Samantha's hand tightly in his, and she clutched at his arm, cowering behind him. "Well," he said, casting his flashlight beam around the space, watching as it illuminated nothing so terrifying as exposed beams and unpainted drywall, "now what?"

As if to answer him, the ceiling burst into flames. Samantha screamed and drew even closer, but Dean only allowed a brief step backward as evidence of his surprise. Truth be told, he'd pretty much expected something like this. After all, heroes could never let their guard down.

At the center of the flame, from what appeared to be its source, a woman seemed to emerge from the ceiling. Though Dean had never seen anything like it, he recognised it from his dad's stories: just like the night his mother had died. Everything he saw rang true with all the stories he'd heard, from the white dress to the red stain of blood that crossed her belly to the fire that poured out with her as the center, the white at the heart of the flame.

The woman on the ceiling wasn't his mother, he knew his mother's face well enough, but she was also blonde and pretty and young -- and strangely familiar, a face he felt like he should know, though he didn't know from where. Perhaps someone he'd met only briefly, once, so long ago that by now she could've been anyone.

Oh, well, he sighed, lifting his pistol with the greatest outward calm and levelling it right between the woman's eyes. He couldn't let nagging feelings stand in the way of decisive action.


She'd started shivering in the cold dawn, so he'd given her his jacket. They'd walked back the forest path to the car in relative silence, his arm around her shoulders. Only one had they spoken, when she'd lifted her fingers to her forehead, and he'd asked if she felt all right, and she'd told him that, yes, she was fine, it was just that she got these pains sometimes, it was nothing to be concerned about.

By the time they reached the car, it was nearly full light, and Dean spent nearly a full minute fumbling in his pocket before coming up with keys. With a sheepish grin, he unlocked her side, then held the door open as she got in. As he settled into the driver's seat, he realised he felt tired but satisfied. It had been a good case, and he'd come out ahead of where he'd started, after all. Evil towns, great peril, and demons that manifested with flame? Just another day in the life of Dean Winchester.

"You know, maybe you should see someone about those headaches."

He turned the key in the ignition, and the engine roared to life.


"I'm not ashamed," said Sam, and it was the truth.

The Professor scoffed. "Then why am I here? If I'm a metaphorical construct -- as you believe I am, and for the moment, I'm willing to entertain this amusingly solipsistic theory -- why have you created a confessor figure?"

Like it or not, Sam had to admit that it was a fair question -- more than fair, in fact, all the way to decidedly crucial. The truth would not be enough to save him, then; it would have to be the whole truth, the beginning and end of his experiences. To confess was not to wallow in pity or guilty -- the purpose of confession, a priest friend of their father's had explained to him once, was not to feel worse, but to feel better. To confess was to seek not penance, but absolution.

Sam took another deep breath, and as he spoke, his voice remained calm. "...Because I'm not unashamed either. There are things no one can ever come to terms with and that's not bad. That's... that's just human, and you -- whatever you are, whatever you represent -- are exploiting that fact."

The Professor leaned forward as though to speak, but in the end said nothing, and Sam continued. "My life is just a series of events I'm going to have to learn to live with. Maybe I've got a few more things than most people, but I'm doing my best to avenge the ones that need avenging and fix the things that can be fixed -- but I am not going to justify myself to you."

A long silence hung on the air. The Professor looked Sam straight in the eye, as though waiting for something, but Sam stood fast and held his tongue. You couldn't confess to sins you hadn't committed. You could only tell the truth, and whether or not God decided to have mercy on your soul, once you'd said your piece, it was all out of your hands.

Finally, the Professor extended John's notebook toward Sam, who snatched it back before the man -- the thing -- had a chance to change its mind. "Careful what you wish for," the Professor smiled, folding his hands back on his lap. There was a dark edge to his smile, now, the grinning grimace of a sore loser.

"You can't possibly know what it is I want," Sam spat, turning his back on the man and heading for the exit. "You don't have it in you."

He wished he could have been surprised to find Jess waiting for him in the darkness behind the door, wearing her ghostly white sundress, but in his heart of hearts, he'd known this was coming from the moment he'd seen her moving like a shadow through the town, too tempting to be anything but an illusion. "...You're not really Jessica, are you?" he sighed, folding his hands around his father's brown notebook.

Her lips curved into a red smile, and she reached for his face. "I can be if you want me to--"

"No," Sam cut her off. "No, that's ... that's really all right." He caught her hand in his, and looked at it, looked at the blank spot on her fourth finger where he'd so often stared before, wondering what kind of engagement ring would suit her best. He'd never been able to make up his mind about that, about so many other things. "...I miss you though. You don't know how I miss you."

"You always will," she replied, sounding almost sad herself.

"I will," Sam nodded, bringing his hand to the curve of her cheek now, feeling its cool smoothness, almost like a marble statue. The ideal woman, flawless and immutable. "But ... there has to be more."

"More than what?"

His thumb brushed idly over the curve of her jaw. "More than feeling empty."

"You don't have to feel empty, you know." She moved closer, covering her hand with his now, twining their fingers. "You could stay here."

With a bitter little laugh, Sam finally let go and stepped back. "Jessica would never have asked that of me."

"You don't have to remember that."

"I really do. It's important."

She frowned, and her face took on a cruel edge Sam had never seen on her face in life. "I don't understand why you hold on."

"Hold on to what?"


That laugh like acrid water bubbled up again from Sam's mouth. He almost felt sorry for her, trapped here, having eaten so much grief and loss without having consumed any of its substance. "They're all I have left."

She stepped in front of him, blocking the way between him and the stairs. "They don't have to be."

"...Please." Sam placed hand on her shoulder. "Let me through."

"Where are you going?"

"To see if I can end this," said Sam, who figured it was the most answer he had that wasn't 'I don't know'.

"You can't," she scoffed, folding her arms. "You don't have the spells worth it."

"...Then what do I need?"

That earned him a dry, derisive laugh, and he supposed he deserved it. "Please, Sam. I'm not stupid."

He took a long, slow breath, letting the dank air of the building fill his lungs, then rush out again. "...I'm sorry. But I still have to go."

She regarded him for a long moment, then stepped aside, giving a shrug that so clearly said your funeral. "I'll see you soon."

"Thank you," said Sam, and he started up the last flight of stairs.


"...Dean!" Sam reached the top floor at the same time as his brother did, strolling up the stairs from the other side.

"Sammy!" Dean returned the call and jogged over to where he was, looking a little ragged but none the worse for wear.

"So, uh." Sam jammed his hands in his pockets. "It turns out I possibly, uh, have never had asthma. Like, for real this time."

Dean rolled his eyes. "I told you. Where've you been?"

"Getting back Dad's journal and arguing with a crazy academic. Where have you been?"

"Getting a girl killed again. Crazy academic?"

Sam shrugged. "Led me to you, didn't it?"

"Hey, not complaining. We good to go?"

"Yeah." The breeze blowing through was cool and clear. "Hey ... Dean?"

"Yeah, Sammy?"

Sam reached for Dean in a move that might have been awkward and unsure, had Dean not caught on and reached for Sam in turn, pulling him into a rather desperate hug. Sam pressed his face into Dean's hair and breathed deep, trying to remember how this felt so he'd never been unsure again. Some things deserved never to be forgotten.

"So," said Dean after a long moment, "...You wanna, like, hold hands or something?"

"Whatever, jerk." Sam whapped Dean lightly on the side of the head and let go, trying to muster as much of a scowl as sheer relief would allow to darken his face. "At least I can solve a coin puzzle."

Dean shook his head. "No, I mean ... so you don't get lost again."

"Me? Like I'm the one who keeps getting lost? I need to tie a damn leash around you so you don't wander off."

"You're the one who keeps wandering off!" Dean held up his hands. "Every time I turn around, it's like, where's Sammy? Another date with a monster, I see! Well, hello, Mr. or Mrs. Monster, I see you're having a lovely time with my brother, would you please feel free to return him in mostly unmolested condition when you're done, 'cause I'd appreciate it--"

Sam was saved from having to find a clever retort by the ceiling's conveniently catching on fire, and by the time the woman appeared at the inferno's middle, he was mostly just glad to have the chance to shoot something that wasn't Dean.


"Ugh," grunted Dean, throwing his bag into the back. "I can't decide if I want to eat for a week or sleep for a week first. Can't do both at once, though. Experience has shown."

Sam rolled his eyes and tossed his duffel right in next to Dean's. "I just need a two-day shower. I haven't felt this gross in.... I can't remember the last time I felt this gross, which is not a good sign."

"Well, you know what they say."

"What's that?"

Dean opened the door and grinned across the top of the car at Sam, his face dirty and tired but ultimately happy. "Any one you can walk away from, huh?"

The sky had already turned a rosy pink by the time they set off down the highway, riding off together into the sunrise.


Sam strolled through the door of Bobby's house, which wasn't home, strictly speaking, but he calculated that he'd spent more time there growing up than in any other single location while growing up, and it was enough to count. "I'm home, Dad," he called setting down his backpack. "Listen ... something crazy is going on."

He rounded the corner into the living room, where John sat at the table, his hands folded atop the only part of its surface not covered with arcane books. Next to him sat a little green alien, sipping tea calmly. A jowly man appeared to be hiding behind the curtain -- or, rather, was hiding behind the curtain, and might have been doing so successfully were he not emitting a rather telltale plume of cigarette smoke.

"Sammy, you're back!" John waved. "What happened?"

"Well," said Sam, taking a deep breath, "it's like this...."

A great deal of time passed.

Finally, exhausted by his storytelling, Sam sighed and held out his hands. "...And that's about it!"

"Oh, my poor little Sammy!" John stood and crossed his arms defiantly. "I can't believe that! I'm going to Silent Hill and I'm gonna bust some heads!"

The man with the cigarette held up a board, and John kicked it in two to prove his point.

Sam clapped his hands together. "Oh, Dad! You're the coolest!"

Off in the distance, a fleet of UFOs descended from on high, destroyed the town with their laser beams, and flew silently back into the dark universe.


Get back. Get back!

Who said that?

A thunderous, terrible sound. Glass shattering, metal screaming, wood snapping. The kitchen was exploding around me. I was flung backward and suddenly a blast of fresh air washed over my body.

I was looking at the grill of a car, my car, the grill of my beloved Impala a foot from my face.

The car reversed itself and wrenched free of the wreckage that had been the hospital's west wall. There was now a rupture, frayed with tufts of pink insulation and shredded aluminum siding. I flung myself out of the hole, fell onto the cool grass outside. I coughed, coughed, coughed, passed out.

I woke up what felt like hours later but it could have only been minutes. The trailer was a fireball behind me. I heard a bark.

Dean? You alive?

That voice again, from nowhere. I struggled to my feet, saw my car sitting about twenty feet away, saw that a fluffy golden retriever was sitting behind the wheel. I stared at this for a good solid minute.

“Okay,” I said, “I know for a fact you didn’t drive my car just now.”

The dog didn’t answer. I opened the driver’s door, shoved the dog over and sat behind the wheel. The dog barked. I said, “Shut up.” The dog barked a second time and I realized with mild, exhausted amusement that with a little attention I could understand it.



I noticed a hamburger in the back seat, spoiling rapidly in the town's rank air.

“Woof! Woof!” The dog said.

Meat! Bun meat!I heard.

What a fucking day. My eyes were on fire, watering down my cheeks. Frankly, I didn’t give a shit what this dog had to say. I grabbed the hamburger and sat it on the seat next to her. She sniffed it, barked. I heard my name in the bark. I turned and her big brown eyes were looking right into mine.



“Woof! Woof!”

You understand me? This is Sam.

I was vaguely aware that on another day this might seem strange, but I rolled with it and in mild annoyance said “uh... hello.”


We’re in big fuckin’ trouble, Dean.

“No shit, fluffy. How did you work the pedals?”


Dean, I don’t know how much longer I can- COCKROACH! COCKROACH! COCKROACH! COCKROACH!!!

The dog was up in the seat, jamming her head out the half-open passenger window.



Cockroach!! Cockroach! Cockroach!!! Cockroach!!! COCKROACH!! COCKROACH!!!! COCKROACH!!!

A cockroach the size of a small child zipped across the street outside the hospital, across the front of the car and off into the distance. The dog pulled her head inside and tromped over to the driver’s side window, stomping on my crotch and shouting "COCKROACH!!!” the whole way. It took ten minutes to get the dog calmed down, at which point she promptly curled up and went to sleep in the passenger seat.


The dog farted. I got nothing else out of her the rest of the night.

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