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Snowing again. Little flurries, swirling. Peaceful, in that Christmas movie kind of way, and the sort of thing Victor wouldn't mind if it were actually Christmas-time and he were tucked up in a picture window with a mug of cocoa. Extra marshmallows. As is, it's barely November and he's freezing his balls off in the middle of the night on a shitty little excuse for an airport runway and any cocoa's a hell of a long way off, he's thinking. He's not feeling predisposed to admiring picturesque snow.

He shivers and tries not to make it obvious. Sanders is leaning against the local office's Yukon, the nicest thing they could scrounge up at this notice, and seems more interested in whatever's going on with his phone than the approaching appointment. No big surprise. The entire Bureau has given up on this case. Just the old die-hards left to give a damn, and after this many years—yeah. Victor's lucky Sanders is cooperating at all.

Finally—lights. Little private jet coming in to land, some make he doesn't know and doesn't care. Millionaire toys are Treasury's line of work, not his. The plane's late, though that's no surprise in this weather. Half a miracle that the pilot even managed to find the tiny excuse for an airport. He takes a deep, cold breath, ice crackling in his lungs. Tar smell of the runway. The plane lands easy, looks like, bouncing down onto the long runway, coming toward them. Lights blinking at wingtip and tail, flickering in the cockpit. Christmas, Victor thinks again, and strides toward where the stairs will fold down. He's expecting staff to boil out—a secretary, a PA, lawyers only there to make his job harder—but instead it's just a flight attendant opening the door, and out steps the bigshot, too-long hair swept back behind his ears, shoulders square in a greatcoat that probably cost Victor's month's salary. Dark, but the runway lights are enough to see that he's frowning as he looks over the airport.

"Mr. Winchester," Victor calls up, and the frown focuses on him, right away. He smiles, wide, and it doesn't feel like it comes out nice. "Welcome to Wyoming."

*

Cheyenne's a small town and it's dark, this close to midnight. Sanders drives—local agent, Victor's letting him deal with the road conditions—and Victor sits in the middle seats in the back, with—

"Can I call you Sam?" he says.

He gets a glance. "I'd rather you didn't," Sam says. Victor smiles at him, tight-lipped, until he looks away again, out the window at all the nothing there is to look at. The field office is a stone's throw from the airport but they're not going back to the field office. They pass the hospital and there's a flare of light from their parking lot, but then it's back to residential roads and there's nothing to distract from where they're headed.

"I've got to differentiate, see," Victor says. "I mean, I've been working this case for… god, seventeen years, now, ever since my boss handed me this file and said, Henriksen, here's your chance to take down a big-time killer. Told me, don't screw it up. And, hell, I was excited. Get to make a name for myself, see. All these years in the Bureau and never got a serial killer before. Pretty exciting stuff, right, Sanders?"

Sanders glances at them in the rearview. "Thrilling," he says, sounding like he could happily drive the car off the road.

Sam doesn't respond. "Thrilling," Victor says. "Yeah, that's how it felt. That was 2006. Seventeen years, I've been looking at the name Dean Winchester in my files. Dreaming about it, and not in a way that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So, if I call you Winchester, I'm just afraid my wires are gonna get crossed. See?"

"Agent," Sam says. Extremely polite, in that way that sounds like a fuck-you. "How long will it take to get to where we're going?"

Sanders answers, before Victor can. "Ten more minutes, sir," he says, and it's actually polite. Obsequious. Victor rolls his eyes. "Got to get off Pershing onto 80, but there's no traffic."

A tight, fake smile, flashing there-and-gone in the glimpse of a streetlight. "Excellent," Sam says. He turns his head toward Victor. His eyes are hard to see, the faint reflections from the dashboard glinting on his glasses. "Perhaps our conversation can wait until then, Agent Henriksen."

"Oh, perhaps," Victor says, sarcastic as he can fuckin' make it, and gets that fake fake smile again before Sam looks again out the window, and—well, fuck. He's watched the damn TED Talk. One of the Pillars of Success, according to Samuel Winchester, Esq.: be polite, because the polite always get the upper hand.

He snorts, not bothering to hide it. Looks out the window on his side. Snow settling on the few trees by the roadside, frosting the dead grass white and uniform and gleaming in the night. A sad little shopping center, the lights of a Pizza Hut still gleaming well past close. No kale anywhere in town, he bets, and it gives him a mean little spurt of pleasure before he leans back into his seat, watches suburbia coast by in the dark. Seventeen years, he thinks again, and can't quite make his mind jolt past what's waiting. Long time. He can wait, just a little longer.

*

The Laramie County Coroner's isolated, but not as much as it could be. An RV park, close. A sign advertising disc golf that glows in the headlights as Sanders turns into the coroner's lot. Snow's heavier out here and the streets are going white. The lot's grimed up, grey-brown piles cut through where ambulances have been and gone. The snow crunches under Victor's dress shoes when he hops down out of the Yukon and he wishes again he'd had time to pack something more appropriate to the weather, but there's no point fretting about that now. Desolate out here—no trees, no bushes, just endless flat fields. A sense of waiting held breath in the night, the way it is sometimes in these places where people feel like a brief imposition upon an uncaring landscape. Like something might just step out of the dark and say, with finality, that he is not wanted here.

Sanders opens the door for Sam. Victor rolls his eyes. Sam steps out into the grey snow and straightens his coat as he does. He's not dressed warmly enough for a Wyoming winter, either, but shows no indication that he minds it. "Mr. Winchester," Victor says, and holds a hand out, exaggerated. "If you please."

His lips press tightly together but he doesn't say a thing. Victor leads the way, even if it's Sanders' beat and he should hold back. The office is mostly abandoned except for the night shift. Sanders nods hello to the kid at the desk, who presses a button to let them into the back halls. Victor finds that his palms are sweating and puts them back into his coat pockets.

Doctor they meet is a woman, Singh. Hair scraped up into a bun and dark purple under her eyes and purple scrubs under her white coat. "Madden's on vacation," she says, shaking Victor's hand. "I'm the deputy on duty."

"Hunting trip?" Sanders says, and Singh shrugs. "Man's a good shot. Hope he's sharing some venison with the rest of the team."

Victor feels like his bones are going to vibrate out of his body, he's so tense. Singh doesn't seem to recognize Sam—not a fan of hippie liberal self-help YouTube crap, apparently—and Sam doesn't speak. Singh leads them back through the white-and-green hallways, past locked offices, toward the sign that says MORGUE with an arrow pointing right. In front of Victor Sam's shoulders go very square and high, snow melting to damp spots on the grey wool, and something lurches, low in Victor's stomach. Seventeen years, he thinks, again, and then Singh's beeping them through big double doors, and then they're in the sterile steel-and-white of the autopsy suite. Almost as cold in here as it is outside.

Sanders sits at the unoccupied desk, by the door. Singh raises her eyebrows at Victor. "Next of kin?" she says, and Sam flinches hard, his arm twitching like he just got punched. Singh looks at him, and then back to Victor, and then shrugs. Not her problem.

The exam table's wheeled to the middle of the room. Lump of a body, under the standard white sheet. Victor's teeth hurt from clenching them and he relaxes his jaw, breathing in through his open mouth. Singh says, "I'm sure Agent Sanders filled you in. Brought in two nights ago. With how cold it's been the decomp is minimal, so it should be an easy match." She marks something on a clipboard, slung onto the base of the table, and then leans the clipboard against what must be a shin, casual, and then steps up to the head and folds the sheet back, and—there. Just like the picture Sanders sent, an email that could've been lost in the flood of shit Victor had to deal with every day. This your guy?

Waxy-pale, like most dead Caucasians. His hair's longer than it was in the last handful of cobbled-together shots Victor had managed to get: quarter profiles from store surveillance, a blurred-white shot on a speed camera. Odd bluish bruises at his temples, at the back of his neck and the shoulders rising out from below the sheet, the blood collecting low as the body's waited for them to get here. Freckles, visible when Victor gets closer. He lets out a huff. All these years and he didn't know the bastard had fucking freckles.

"What was the cause of death?" Sam says.

Victor starts, visibly, and curses himself for it. So stuck on what couldn't be happening that he forgot what was. Not Sam's place to ask but Singh answers, assuming maybe that Sam's a LEO too: "Well, that's what's strange."

Victor blinks, brought back to earth. "Strange how?"

"Take a look," she says, and folds the sheet back further, to the waist, and—

"Fuck me running," Victor says, and Singh nods. "You couldn't have said something?" he says, to Sanders, and Sanders shrugs, says, "You were going to come either way, figured you'd see for yourself."

Broad shoulders, fitting a guy with a six foot frame. Skinny, though, the collarbone standing out high, and the ribs showing beneath the waxy flesh. A weird tattoo like some kind of flaming demonic star, grey with age on the left pectoral. Unharmed, despite the torn-out hole in the chest. The skin ripped like something had reached a clawed hand in and punched straight through to take whatever was left. Victor's seen corpses like this, before. Over and over, through the years. A trail of bodies, left at random, all over the U.S. with no rhyme or reason to it. That the damage had been done by the man lying here was a certainty. It had been a certainty.

"Heart's missing," Sam says.

"Yes, sir," Singh says, easily, while Victor's looking sharp up at him.

While Victor stared Sam had come up close to the table. Almost no expression Victor can read. He puts his fingers on the exam table, over the sheet, close to where the hand would be if they could see it. "Well," Sam says, quietly, like it's to someone who's not there. He looks at the face, and then at Singh. "Dean Winchester," he says, in a normal voice. "Date of birth, January 24, 1979. For your chart."

*

Technically Sam's job is done. Victor had called up his PA and demanded he come out here to ID the body, with threats of a subpoena if he didn't comply, and Sam had met him here, and done so. Technically, Victor should be loading him back onto his fancy-ass private plane, heading out to the motel, and getting drunk on minibar whiskey because, hallelujah and souls above, his case was over, after all this time.

There's a shithole steakhouse and bar across the highway from the coroner's office. Friday night they're open until two a.m., which is lucky, because if they weren't Victor would seriously have considered breaking the doors down. Sanders let them take the Yukon, annoyed, so at least he doesn't have a bitchy field agent trying to look over his shoulder. He orders a double and drinks it as soon as it's poured, and then orders another, and then on consideration he orders two beers, and brings them to the hightop where he left Sam. "I don't drink alcohol," Sam says, when the glass clunks down in front of him, and Victor says, "I'll drink it, then," and when Sam pushes the glass away with a wrinkle of his stupid pointy nose Victor says, quieter, "How did you know the heart would be gone?"

Sam's calm, looking at him. "Common feature in the cases, wasn't it?"

"Not in any public record," Victor says. "We kept that out of the papers. Didn't want to cause panic about any satanic mumbo-jumbo."

Sam mouths mumbo-jumbo, silent echo.

Victor squints at Sam. "All these years, you know. I did all kinds of research. How was Dean Winchester raised. How could a man go from some little snot-nosed blond baby in Kansas to being a murderer wanted across the whole lower forty-eight. Crazy stories left behind everywhere, people he'd tricked into believing all his nuts. You know, some cop lady in Baltimore said he saved her from a ghost? A ghost. That's the kind of shit I've been dealing with. I figured, Daddy John must have been into some wild nasty, raised his boy up into it and left him with a psycho complex that put Gacy to shame. But the part that never added up was you. Sammy."

Sam's been silent, eyes on the untouched beer in front of him, not giving any indication of listening. At the last his shoulders stiffen, under his coat. He looks up and meets Victor's eyes and there's a wild and still second of silence, between them, under the godawful country soundtrack and the clatter of the few other late night drinkers, in which Victor feels absolutely pinned to his seat, Sam's attention sudden and oppressive. Violent in a way that makes the hair on the back of Victor's neck stand on end. "Sam," he corrects, voice oddly deep.

"Sam," Victor says. His hackles haven't settled. The weight of his sidearm should be reassuring, against his ribs, but with how Sam's looking at him it doesn't seem at the moment like it'll be enough. Long night, though—long decade, almost two—and even with the warning screaming up his back he wants—needs—an answer. "Sam Winchester. Brother. Mother dies in a house fire in '83. Boys raised on the road. All that crazy, and yet here's Sam, who enrolls at Stanford University in 2001, heads to Stanford Law in 2006, model student and model citizen, clerked at the Supreme Court and founded Winchester & Clark and made all the cash, and yet I just keep thinking, how's that possible? How's one brother this perfect ideal guy, and the other one's a serial killing psychopath? How's that work, Sam?"

Victor's watched the TED Talk. He's read the self-help book. He's watched the interviews with damn Hoda. Sam Winchester, guru to the ascetic: hone the body, hone the mind, and don't let emotions cloud what needs to be done. Kinda nasty piece of work, as far as Victor could tell—that smile's been fake every single time he's seen it—but hell if it didn't get results. Bunch of agents he knew tried to follow the Winchester way; he'd so far refused every invite to yoga. All the time he'd looked for Dean he'd had an eye on Sam, too, and as far as he could tell in forty years Sam hadn't put a single damn toe out of line.

There's that smile. Fake, fake. It pulls at his lips in this unpleasant way, tipping the corners of his mouth down instead of up. Victor sits back, his stomach flipping over. It'll take him less than a second to draw his gun if he needs to.

The smile drops away, like it was never there. After a second he reaches up and pulls off his glasses. Folds them, neat, and tucks them into an interior pocket in the coat. Without them his eyes look very different. Intelligent, cold. A muscle ticks in his jaw. "The asshole act doesn't actually get results, does it?" Sam says, even. He tips his head. "Maybe not an act." He takes a breath, long and slow, his nostrils flaring. "You want to know how I know about the hearts because you want to know what killed my brother. I know what killed him. I can show you."

Victor's pulse throbs hard enough in his throat he thinks it must be visible. "Show me," he says.

*

The Cheyenne Motel is a dump but it serves. Victor's got a tiny room. Clean, two beds because that was the only option. No minibar. Two a.m. and the snow's stopped and the night's a cathedral vault of tiny, hard stars. He follows Sam to the office where he wakes up the manager like the peremptory rich prick he is. "You rented a room to this man," Sam says, holding up his cell, not asking. A picture of Dean, one Victor's never seen—younger. Smiling, and not fake. The manager nods, scared by Victor's badge, but speaks up enough to say, "Paid up through tomorrow but I haven't seen him. Rockford's the name he gave. What'd he do?"

Room seven, four down from Victor's. He feels out of his mind. "How did you know?" he says, and Sam doesn't look at him but says, "First motel in the yellow pages," and without a hesitation kicks in the room door.

Victor curses but Sam's already pushed through the destruction. He's moving fast, deliberate. Not the nerdy turtleneck he plays on TV. He flips the light and the room is—a sty. Laundry spilled all over the nearer bed, the other bed a wreck of twisted blankets. Beer bottles absolutely everywhere, rolled on the thin carpet and stacked on the tiny bureau. No TV—or, no, the TV has been swiped off the bureau, lays broken on the floor. In its place on the wall is a crazy-person collage, newspaper articles and photos and honest to god yarn strung between them. Sigils marked onto the wallpaper, in sharpie and carved in with a pocket-knife and in—

"Blood," Victor says, and Sam, looking at the collage from a few steps back, glances at him, and then says, "Seals in the spell, when you need all the protection you can get."

He says it like it's not crazy. Victor stares at him and then around at the mess. The tiny bathroom is barely better. Empty whiskey bottle in the bathtub. Blood spattered in the sink, not washed down. A dopp kit sitting on the toilet tank, unzipped, and Victor glances back at Sam and then picks it up, goes through it. Beard trimmer. Toothpaste. Condoms—expired. Personal lubricant, half-full. The bottle's sticky and Victor wipes his fingers against the rough wallpaper, repulsed. Prescription bottles, the prescriptions in random names—stolen, or forged—and they're antibiotics, ephedrine, painkillers. He rattles the Percocet, frowning. What was he expecting? Blood of virgins in handy gel-cap form?

Rustle from the bedroom. Sam's got a page in his hand, pulled off the wall. "Hey," Victor says, thought half-formed—not disturbing the crime scene, that evidence will need to be pulled—but Sam interrupts him.

"Have you found the car?" he says. Businesslike. Victor shakes his head—what car?—and Sam gives him this strange, pitying look. "Where was the body found?"

The body. Like it's any random stiff, and Sam's any random cop having to deal with it. "Campstool Road," Victor says. Dumb name; he remembers.

Sam nods. He glances around the room, dispassionate. "We're done here," he says, and steps over the splintered door remains like over a turd, left in his path by some inconsiderate dog owner.

*

Back out of the sleepy main part of town again, toward the frozen outskirts. Dead of night and passing no cars. Victor drives where Sam directs, based on some information from his phone, and feels like he needs to take the reins back, as much as he can. "How do you know what we're looking for?" He glances at the passenger seat. "And don't give me the tough silent lawyer thing, okay. A little beyond that at half past a cat's asshole in the morning."

Sam snorts. Unexpected enough that Victor's hands jerk a little on the wheel. "You know, you would've gotten along," he says. Victor's mouth opens but there's nothing that comes to mind fast enough to defend against something that appalling. Sam leans back, stretching his legs in the footwell as much as he can. He's too big for the front seat but manages to look comfortable, like he fits there. "Rude, funny. Talk too much. Guessing you drink too much?" He tips his head at Victor, blue dashboard lights glinting off his cheekbones and the point of his nose, and nods at whatever face Victor's making. "It's a type. Effective in its small role in the world." A pause. "Not capable of rising to something better."

"You this much of a prick in the self-help retreats?" Victor says. Brief smile, in the passenger seat. "What's your something better?"

"Not failing to solve a case until a body's found, for starters," Sam says, and Victor takes a white-hot breath to stop from slamming the brakes and hauling the bitch to the side of the road for the beatdown he deserves. In the beat of silence, Sam shakes his head. "Not drunk in a gutter, trying to pretend the world can be saved from its demons."

That was quieter. Victor tries to find his professionalism. Demons—that means something, from the mouth of a Winchester. "You're all about the personal responsibility," Victor says. "Not so much the larger scale?"

"Monsters never die," Sam says. That same quiet. "They just get replaced."

They're out of town, now. No lights other than the moon, shading down past half-full, and the pool of blue-white in front of the Yukon. A few trees make deeper shadows out of the night as he turns onto Hereford Ranch and Sam sits forward, consults his phone. Has him drive slow. More trees, rising black out of the night. More hills, out here, making a break from the dreadful Wyoming flat. Wide roads with no paint. A turn-in, toward a house, and Sam makes a weird noise that means nothing and then says, "Stop. Stop—stop the fucking car—"

Victor was braking, brakes harder. Sam takes in a deep gasp and reaches over, flicks the brights—and there's—something, a gleam, coming off something in the trees. Something metal.

Sam slams out of the car. Victor curses, fumbles into park, follows. Fuck—! It's got to be fifteen degrees out here, not the coldest it'll be but colder than Victor wants to handle, and the snow's six inches at least. Sam's moving fast and Victor follows the huge shape of his shoulders through the night, glad for the headlights making a sparking white stage before they hit the trees. Their shadows create crazy giants against the leading evergreens, make Victor shake his head—too long without sleep on this too-weird night—and then Sam stops dead, and there's—a car.

Big old bulky thing. Black. Impala, old model though Victor doesn't know it exactly—he has to know cars but he's not a nut about them—and the license plate isn't one he recognizes. "Dean's?" he says, but Sam doesn't answer. Maybe answer enough. Victor bites the inside of his cheek. Biggest question about Winchester was always how he was getting around all these places. Not flying, that was sure, but they had no idea what his preferred transport was. Victor'd always assumed it was a series of stolen cars. To miss this—unmissable thing—

Sam drags in an audible, shaky breath and Victor's irritation dissolves, distracted. Sam steps forward, his boots crunching in the snow. A piled up frosting on the Impala; he brushes a clump away, and lays his bare fingers on the steel. Must be freezing. A few seconds pass, in which Victor holds onto every speck of patience he never had in order not to speak, before Sam goes to the rear passenger wheel well, crouches. Runs his fingers in under the frame, and freezes in place again, and curls his shoulders forward like he's anticipating a blow.

When he stands up he waves a hand, something glinting. "Spare," he says.

Under the trees it's harder to see. Sam's expression is impossible. Victor crunches closer while Sam opens the trunk, and there's a new yellowy pool of light, and in it—disaster, chaos. Sam props the trunk open with a—a fucking shotgun, jesus christ—and rummages through the mess like it's familiar. A dreamcatcher. Rosaries. Case after case of bullets, which Sam's checking quickly and easily. He lifts a pile of manila folders and finds a camel-leather journal, and freezes in place for a second to see it—Victor looks at his face and sees it still as marble—but then he swipes that aside, too, and finds a gun-case, which he opens to find an old Taurus 9mm. Stainless, girly mother-of-pearl grips. "God, Dean," he says, quietly, and picks it up. "You…"

Victor doesn't get to hear what Dean is. He waits, while Sam holds the gun in both hands, and then says, "Is this what you wanted to show me? I'm not seeing how this leads to missing hearts."

Sam pushes a knuckle against his forehead. He releases the magazine and checks it—empty—and picks up one of the boxes of ammo. The trunk slams, final, and in the new dark Victor blinks, disoriented. Sam uses the key to open up the passenger door, instead, and there's no dome light or at least not one that's working, and Victor fumbles in his pocket for his cell, flicks the flashlight feature on.

Mess inside the car too. Through the windows he can see more empty bottles, more discarded clothes. Crumpled fast food bags. Miserable. "I thought paramilitary types were supposed to be all neat and tidy," Victor says, and Sam looks up from whatever he's rifling through in the glove compartment, his face doing something tight and unhappy, but doesn't answer. He stands up with a phone in one hand that he puts into his pocket—"Hey," Victor starts, because that really is evidence—but then Sam says, reading from a torn page, "10016 Campstool Road. Charles Mayweather."

"Who the fuck," Victor says, supremely irritated, "is Charles Mayweather?"

*

Sam has him leave off the headlights, as they approach. The car coasts to silence on the road. The houses are set far, far back, roofs glinting white-capped in the moonlight. A cluster of trees, crowding around like sentinels. A hard, quiet place, in the night.

No—a howl. "Thought the ranchers killed all the wolves," Victor says, very quiet. They're a million miles from anything but the night's oppressive enough that quiet feels necessary.

Sam stands silent, by the car. While they drove he loaded the rounds from the box into the Taurus magazine and slid it into place, capable and practiced. Victor should have hauled him in for questioning a dozen times over.

"When was the last time you saw Dean?" he said, while the loading was going on.

There was silence. "November 2003," Sam said. It wasn't said deadly, or warning, or any kind of way Victor could classify. Twenty years. God. "Also the last time we spoke. To forestall the next question."

Victor still didn't know whether to believe that or not. In the moment he'd said, unthinking, "When John disappeared," and when Sam didn't respond, he said, not meaning to be cruel, "We never found the body."

Sam looked at him, across the seat, and then out the windshield. "Well, you found one," he said, dry, and Victor didn't know what to say to that.

More silence, in the fields, and then another howl. A shiver starts somewhere between Victor's shoulderblades and doesn't seem to want to stop. Sam's holding the Taurus low and comfortable at his side and it occurs to Victor, only this far in, that he absolutely should not be letting the civilian lawyer pack heat into whatever they're looking for. He imagines demanding that Sam give him the gun. Sam's got five inches on him and maybe forty pounds and is a decade younger. Out here—on this night—

Sam looks at him. "Don't stop me," he says—odd echo of Victor's thoughts—and then starts moving.

Victor follows, unholstering his own gun—solidarity, mostly to feel the comfort of it in his hands. The ranch lays quiet and he feels ridiculously exposed on the flat approach, not knowing what they're heading towards. Some associate of Dean's? Some—weird, cultist ranch Sam knew he'd go to? He can't picture it and it's setting his teeth on edge, and more than that there's something warning at him, prickling at his neck, making his bones creak around his gun. He takes measured breaths, trying for calm. He imagines this is how the Christians felt when they walked into the pit with the lions.

Sam goes around the back of the house. Victor follows, feeling like an idiot. Farm things, piled up. He has no business with cows except to order them medium rare and has no idea what he's looking at. There's a cellar door, relatively free of snow, and Sam goes to it like he was expecting it—finds a padlock, like he was expecting that too—and glances at Victor, and fishes in his coat pocket, and produces… a roll of lockpicks, and kneels in the snow, setting to work. "Are you fucking kidding me," Victor breathes, but the only response is the lock clunking free, and Sam removing it to lay in the snow, and then opening the cellar doors wide. He picks up his gun again, moving like a professional, and Victor has no choice but to follow him down the stairs—into the dark—

It reeks. Something clicks—Sam pulled a string on a bare bulb light—and Victor sees why. "Lord above," he says, startled into the kind of curse his grandmother used.

Abattoir. It's the word that comes to mind and it won't unstick. Rust-red, smeared brown. The nasty tang of shit from spilled bowels. Victor's seen death, held it in his hands—has seen the aftermath of a Winchester crime scene more times than he cares to count—but this is—too much. It's more. His whiskey rises in his throat and he has to swallow viciously to keep it down. There aren't bodies or trophies but the reek of what happened remains. He imagines when he leaves the rotten blood-smell will cling to his skin and not wash off.

Sam is standing still, under the swaying bulb. His face is strange in the shadows it makes. Dark hollowed eyes; his jaw carved and dark. He looks at the floor—caked, foul—and steps back, twisting his foot in this almost fastidious way, like he can save his boot from being touched by it. After a moment he takes out his phone, taps at it left handed with the gun still held in his right. "What," Victor whispers, but Sam doesn't respond. He taps some more, looks at the ceiling, and then—blast of music, very loud. "What?" Victor says, louder—what the fuck, is that—Led Zeppelin?—and Sam says, "Get back," jerking his chin toward the corner of the room, and Victor wants to smack him but—god, it'll give him a vantage when whoever's at home comes down to check out the awful racket Sam's making—on purpose, Victor hopes, and hopes further that he's not about to be privy to some kind of heart-stealing cult orgy—and he backs up, all the way to the corner, by the empty wooden shelves. The whole cellar's empty, other than the filth—nothing stored here, no winter supplies or canned goods or anything. Just Sam, standing quiet at the back wall, in full view of whatever might come down the stairs, holding the phone at his side, letting it wail as loud as it can.

Thumping feet, down the stairs. Victor holds his gun low and ready. What appears is—an older white guy. Victor takes a breath, confused. White guy, maybe sixty, greying hair and greyer beard, the craggy face of someone who's lived hard. Wearing jeans and a grey flannel shirt and suspenders of all goddamn things, and not carrying a weapon. Victor's hand flexes on his gun.

"Who are you?" the guy says. He looks pissed, and rightly as far as Victor can tell.

"Charles Mayweather," Sam says. Calm.

"No, that's who I am," he says. Mayweather, then. Okay. Mayweather glares at Sam, notices Victor with a quick and vicious glance. Hard is right. "Could you turn off that godforsaken racket?"

Sam ignores this. The song comes to an end, and loops, while he talks. "Who was your sire?" Victor blinks but it's nothing compared to Mayweather's reaction—dropped jaw, goggle eyes. Sam motions a kind of get on with it with the hand holding the phone. "Who bit you?"

"Don't know what you're—" Mayweather starts, and Sam holds up his gun and shoots.

Victor jolts—fuck, it's loud in this little space!—and lifts his gun, shouts stop, but it's immediately clear that Sam didn't hit.

"You're crazy," Mayweather says. Not as scared as he should be with a lunatic giant asshole pointing a gun at him. "You'd better get off my property quick before I call the cops."

"You aren't going to call the cops," Sam says. His gun's still outstretched, held just off target. "I can smell that, can't you?"

Mayweather steps back and Sam's hand jerks, the gun coming to line up with Mayweather's head. Victor straightens up, levels his gun at Sam's torso. "Put the gun down," he says. This is—nuts. He can't be party to this.

Sam ignores this, too. "Guessing you're not too close to the alpha," Sam says, "but close enough. The moon's not full but you can change whenever you want, can't you."

"Sam," Victor says, loud. "Gun down."

"A few nights ago a hunter came here," Sam says. The fucking song—god!—ramble on, Robert Plant sings, loud. "Did you eat his heart?"

Victor's barrel dips, he can't help it. What the fuck.

Mayweather's head tips to one side. "He a friend of yours?" he says. His voice sounds odd. Rough. "That drunk? Could pick better companions, I think. Sam."

Sam clicks the volume on the song a notch higher and Mayweather winces. "Did you eat his heart?" Sam says, again.

Mayweather glances at Victor, apparently dismisses him. Ramble on— "He was all poison inside," Mayweather says, obliquely. "All the booze and drugs and whatever else. Hunters aren't worth it. All that bitter meat."

"Is that a no?" Sam says, and Mayweather—christ, snarls at him, loud as an animal, his hands held in odd fisted claws at his sides. "I need an answer."

"I took it," Mayweather says, face contorted. "I took it, hunter. Does that make you happy? You wanted to hear that?"

Sam's mouth parts—gotta keep searchin' for my baby, baby, baby… He licks his lips and Victor squares up, not sure what—but Sam smiles, then. That fake, upside-down, condescending smile. "Catch," Sam says, and tosses the phone lightly. It flicks up, flashing silver, and Mayweather sticks out a hand automatically to swipe it away—and when it touches his skin there's a sound like scorching cast iron hitting cold water and Mayweather yells like he got burnt, and when Victor looks at his face it's—wrong. Dripping fang, the bones contorted. Victor swivels the gun his way, shocked, but it's Sam who fires—three times, quick rapport, and Mayweather claps a hand to his chest and goes down like his strings were cut.

Victor rushes forward, gun held on Mayweather. Three bullet holes clustered tight over the heart, blood seeping dark on the grey shirt. His mouth's open and there are—jesus lord in fucking heaven. Fangs. Splitting his mouth like an animal, glistening spit and blood after death. The song loops. Leaves are falling all around, it sings, gentle, time I was on my way.

Sam picks up the phone and mutes it. "Silver case," he says, when Victor stares at him. He waggles it, briefly. "Actually silver, I mean."

"What—"

"Werewolf," Sam says. His face is cool. Remote. "A strong one, that can change outside of the full moon. They survive by eating the hearts of their victims. Don't like silver bullets."

Victor closes his mouth, by an effort. Sam's looking down at Mayweather's face. "Took it," he says, under his breath. He goes up the stairs and Victor follows, feeling like his head is at the end of a very long tether.

Light on in the house. Sam goes up the porch, in the door like he owns the place. Victor trails behind him thinking of—crime scenes. Bodies with hearts missing. Files in Dean Winchester's folder that baffled as much as they infuriated—all these murders with different M.O.s, held together by the thin trail the psycho left across the country. "Hunters," Victor says, and Sam looks back at him from his search of the kitchen. "Your brother was a—a werewolf—?"

That makes Sam smile, not in the fake way but not in any way pleased, either. "He hated dogs," Sam says, and he leaves the kitchen and takes the stairs to the second floor, confident and quiet. Hunter, Victor thinks again, and follows like a duckling.

Neat house, he finally notices. Orderly. A bachelor's place, without décor. A bedroom with a lamp on, from which Mayweather was presumably roused. The thought comes to mind that it should be a doggy bed and Victor bites the inside of his cheek hard enough to hurt. A little bathroom with a clawfoot tub. A guest room—do werewolves have guests?—and then Sam tries the door to the last room at the end of the hall and makes a sound, in his throat. Locked. The picks come out and Victor doesn't protest.

A click. Sam stands up and opens the door, and flicks the switch inside. He takes a breath, shakily audible, as bad as the tell he had at the car. Victor looks over his shoulder.

Hearts, in jars. Suspended in some kind of liquid. Lined up on the wall, like a collection. At least a dozen. Severed tubes, the muscles purple. Victor swallows bile.

Sam steps forward. He reaches out—"Don't," Victor says, instant impulse—but Sam ignores him, of course, and his fingers meet the glass. They're not labelled, as far as Victor can tell. Maybe werewolves can tell the difference from heart to heart, he thinks insanely—it wouldn't be the most insane thing that had turned out to be true, in the last half-hour—or maybe to Mayweather the vintage didn't matter. Sam looks at the shelves but it's clean in here, dusted recently. Which is the newest? Victor can't tell.

Steady, slow inhale. "Sam," Victor says, raw.

A glance at him. Sam's eyes are dry.

He turns, and goes down the stairs. "Sam," Victor says again—thinking, what? Thinking about missing persons cases—the field office must have dozens of reports, everyone always does—thinking about DNA matching—but Sam's gone right back into the kitchen, and Victor finds him turning on every burner on the gas stove. "What are you doing?"

"If you get in my way I will shoot you in the head," Sam says, matter of fact, and Victor comes closer to himself, shoulders prickling again. Sam's calm but he's not calm. It's the moment at the bar again—his eyes dark and his face intent—and Victor steps back, jaw squaring.

"We can—we can call this in," he says. Sam goes past him, opening another door—pantry? the water heater—more gas—and Victor swallows. "Sam. We can get people closure. We can close all these cases. We can get Mayweather's body to the coroner—god! Autopsy of a werewolf—we can tell people—"

"What," Sam says. Victor coughs on the smell of gas. Sam's eyebrows raise. "You'll tell them about monsters? What have you been doing for the last seventeen years? You think it'll make a difference?"

He advances on Victor and Victor takes an automatic step back and then is furious at himself. He unholsters his gun and Sam flicks a glance at it. "Not a good idea to set off a spark," Sam says, quelling, and goes past him—out the door, down the patio. Victor rushes to follow him.

"Why do you want to burn the place, for god's sake?" Victor bursts out. He can imagine the gas filling the kitchen—spreading. The evidence—

"Unquiet souls," Sam says, like that's an explanation. He's found—christ, the woodpile. The logs are wet but he's flung off the top layer and found dry underneath. He snaps off a branch, turns, and when he sees Victor with his gun held out he sighs. Sighs. "Unquiet souls," he says, again. "People who've had violent deaths. Who've been murdered. Their remains need to be burned so they can rest." He was speaking fast, lecture-voice like from a YouTube video, but then pauses. "Agent," he says, in a different tone. "I showed you the truth, like I said I would. No one will believe you if you tell them what you saw. Let me do this. It's the last thing I—"

He cuts himself off like Victor could think of what to say to interrupt him. Victor licks his lips and they sting in the cold. "You need a light," he says, finally.

Sam's shoulders move, an odd shrug under his coat. "In my life," he says, "I've never gone anywhere without a lighter."

Takes a minute for the edge of the wood to catch. Sam blows on the stripped twig, coaxing the flame. It makes his face glow, amber lighting up all the hollows and angles, and it occurs to Victor not for the first time that he doesn't look very much like his brother. Different nose, different brow. The eyes, the mouth. There's something, though. Victor saw Dean Winchester in person only once but he's seen camera footage, seen him caught on local news. A grim set to the jaw, maybe. A certain determination that a thing must be done. Twenty years, apart, and there it was. That echo, in bone.

Sam drops the burning branch on the rug, in the parlor. He moves fast, getting away, and Victor follows him, his mind in ten places. They're fifty yards away, nearly to the road where the Yukon's waiting, when there's a whumpf and a crack and the windows all blow out of the kitchen, the gas catching and blowing up through the interior of the house. Victor stops, staring, and Sam stops too but doesn't turn around. "It's burning?" he says. Weirdly unsure.

"Like a house on fire," Victor says, and Sam walks forward to the Yukon and puts his hands on the hood and folds over there, crumpled, like he can't bear to stand another minute.

*

The field office has a bag of personal effects. Victor retrieves it and goes to the Candlewood Suites where Sam took a room. Nicest hotel in town, according to Victor's phone. Not saying much. A nice view of a Home Depot and an IHOP. On absolutely no sleep, it probably looks about the same as any other room.

There's a TV or something on in the room when Victor knocks. Sam opens the door, wearing a black sweater—not a turtleneck, thank god—and slacks and no shoes, which for some reason is startling. Victor's nerves could be considered shot. Sam nods at him and walks back into the room, leaving the door open for Victor to come in or not, and Victor stands there with his head hurting and then closes the door behind himself, leaning back against it in the entryway.

There is a view of the Home Depot, gleaming snowcapped in the morning. The TV's still on—or, no. Sam has sat on the bed—a king, of course—and is listening to—

Think I'm gonna hit Tallahassee next, Dean's saying. It is Dean—his voice, Victor heard more than once. Banshee causing trouble, I think. Plus, been a while since I've been down to Miami. You know those spring break girls can't get enough of me. Should come down and join me sometime, Sammy.

Sam's eyes are closed. "Voice memos," he says, when there's a beep. "Dean wasn't much for keeping a diary."

The phone Sam stole out of the car. He touches something on the face and it goes quiet. How many? How would it line up with the casefiles still bulging his desk? Victor wants to know, can't possibly ask.

"Personal effects," he says, instead of anything else. Sam's eyes open. "Taken from the body."

"Those are evidence," Sam says, and Victor shrugs. Sam looks at the bag, opens his mouth. Closes it again. "Can you—" he starts, and his jaw flexes. Dark shadow of stubble on his face. He looks very far from the version on the dust jackets. Still hasn't put on his glasses. "Is there a necklace?" he says, abruptly. "Or a—pendant. Something like that."

Victor hasn't looked through it. He nearly dumps the contents on the bed but Sam's expression is doing something strange and he isn't, actually, an entire raging asshole. He opens the bag, paws through it awkwardly. A wallet, coins. Pocket flashlight. A folded paper note. A silver lighter. A silver ring. A cord—a cord, worn thin, but he tugs, and upsets car keys and coins jingle, but something tugs out of the mess. A leather cord and dangling from the end of it an ugly, weird little totem. Some kind of witchy shit, he guesses, and holds it out.

Sam's face flushes, deep red in the hollows of his cheeks. "You fucking jerk," he says, under his breath, and then stands up fast and goes to the window, bracing his hands on the sill there. His shoulders round out, tense.

Victor stands there feeling like an asshole after all. Sam's silent. "With your ID we can close the file," he says, after a while. "I'm going to have a shitload of lying to do but it won't be the first time paperwork's been sketchy and it won't be the last." Sam hasn't moved. He rubs his beard, figures he might as well get it all out. "With him—passed, he won't stand trial, obviously. We'll have to determine what to do with the body."

"Cremation," Sam says. Cracked, and he clears his throat, and stands up straight, and turns to face Victor again. His face isn't wet. "Cremation, as soon as possible."

Not exactly a surprise. "What about the car?"

Sam licks his lips. "If you can manage it, I'd clear out the trunk. Burn what you can and get the rest out to pawn shops. It'll just cause more questions."

Victor nods, sort of impatient—he had thought of that, not being a complete idiot even if it turns out he's ignorant as hell—but the question remains: "Not the trunk, the car. Should we have it sent to—"

"There's a—" Sam clears his throat, corrects himself. "I think there's a salvage place in South Dakota. Singer Salvage. If it's still open, then—it should go there. If not, the FBI can do whatever it is they do. Asset forfeiture is the name of the game."

Shadow of that shitty smile. Victor's baffled. "You don't want it."

Sam's eyes dip from his, away. "I haven't been home in twenty years. There's nothing there, now."

A chime. Sam's expression sharpens—his phone, gleaming some notification. "Meeting," he says, picking it up. "And I need to get back to the firm. Will you need anything else, Agent?"

Like a switch, flipped. Victor lays the amulet on the bed and sees how Sam's eyes start to flicker and then stay steady. Gets that odd feeling, again, a prickle over his shoulders. Which of the Winchester brothers should he have been looking for, he wonders, and says, "Can I call you? If—something nuts comes up like this, again. If there's anything like…" Fangs. Monsters. He doesn't know how long the list might be and can't quantify the amount of help he might need.

Sam tips his head and the smile spreads, upside down and wrong and grim as a death-mask, for all Victor can see any joy in it. "No," Sam says, looking down at his phone. His voice goes distant as he scrolls through the email. "I don't fight losing battles."

*

Cold morning, though not as cold as it was last night. Victor wishes for a real coat, not for the first time. He needs to go to the field office. To the coroner. Needs to call in all kinds of things. Needs to find out where and what the fuck Singer Salvage is. Probably needs to call a therapist, too.

Cold, but beautiful. The traffic's made the road's grey-grimed and gross but the houses are topped with snow like a card, the few trees done in powdered sugar. The sky's that kind of deep blue that feels like you could just tip up and fall into it, sharp as glass in the lungs.

He walks to the IHOP and sits in a booth. The waitress is a Wyoming lady, blond and blue-eyed, a little fat and smiling pleasant. "Mornin'," she says, "cold enough out there?"

"Cold enough," Victor says. This is a world of monsters, his brain says, and he looks at her teeth. The pin on her uniform says Marian.

"Cinn-a-stack is on special today," she says, putting the menu down in front of him, "and we're only on breakfast menu until 10:30. Getcha something to drink?"

"I'll take all the coffee you'll give me, Marian," he says, and makes her chuckle, and when her sneakers squeak away he looks out the window at the Home Depot, and the sleepy road beyond that, and beyond that the cold white fields, where if he stood out alone he'd see the edge of the world on every side, and no longer know if it was empty.