Author's Note: Wow. It's been a long time since I posted. Hope you didn't give up on me. I know I took a little break and wrote a short Hobbit piece, but I still love our boys. And hopefully, I can find my muse again to write more. It has been on vacation for a while. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this fic. Yes, it's a get-Sam, but as I mentioned, I am an equal opportunity whumper. There's some hurt!Dean in here as well. :) Thanks for reading!
Out of Africa
By AJ Wesley
They were running. Dean wasn't even sure they were going in the right direction. Not that he cared at the moment, as long as it was away. Sam was ahead of him by a length, glancing back every so often to make sure Dean was still there. That was one area Dean was never able to best Sam in: running. It was those giraffe legs. But if that made Dean the first target when they were sprinting for their lives, then that was okay, according to Dean's big brother book of rules.
He didn't know where they'd gone wrong on this one. They'd followed the evidence, done the research, and decided it was a cryptid, a…what had Sam called it? A Tirisuk. So they'd come armed to kill it.
It wasn't a Tirisuk.
What they'd found in the middle of Nowhere, Georgia, was a self-proclaimed witch doctor, supposedly descended from the Zulus. Sure, they could have taken him out with a well-placed silver bullet—which was what they were packing for the Tirisuk—but Sam had a problem with ventilating a human being, even one who had murdered a bunch of innocent people. All right, allegedly murdered a bunch of innocent people. They had no real proof, just personal belongings that seemed out of place scattered throughout the guy's cabin. That was enough in Dean's book.
But, truthfully, having Jiminy Cricket for a brother had Dean second-guessing himself. Everything was shades of gray in Dean's black-and-white world.
So they'd decided on the live-to-fight-another-day course of action.
Right. So. How did you stop a psychotic witch doctor bent on making sure his activities remained undisclosed? Time to regroup.
Up ahead of him, Sam glanced over his shoulder—and suddenly toppled, hitting the forest floor with an "oof."
Dean skidded to a halt at his side and crouched next to him. "You okay?"
Spitting dirt from his mouth, Sam nodded. "Yeah," he grunted breathlessly. "What the heck did I trip over?"
As Sam rolled onto his back, Dean scanned the area, seeing nothing but leaves and small roots. Yeah, Sam could have tripped on the roots, but… "Your own big feet?"
Another laugh echoed through the woods on the heels of Sam's.
Dean's head snapped up at movement to his left, and he saw the witch doctor step from behind a gnarled old tree. Dean shot to his feet and stepped between his downed brother and the threat.
The witch doctor smiled, his lips curling in a way that made goose bumps rise on Dean's arms. He heard Sam climb to his feet, then the low warning:
This was not the time or the place for a challenge. They didn't know what they were up against. Strategic retreat was the best option for now, but Dean hated leaving the scumbag in business.
Sam tugged at his arm, and Dean suddenly realized how tense he was. He took a step back, allowing his brother to guide him. Then they were running again.
The maniacal laughter followed them, and Dean swore he heard, "You'll be back."
You bet your ass, you son of a bitch.
The car doors slammed nearly in unison, encasing the brothers in the relative safety of the Impala. But Dean wasn't taking any chances; he jammed the keys into the ignition and cranked the engine to life.
It was several minutes and several miles before either of them spoke.
Sam broke the silence with a breathless, "I think we missed something."
"No, really?" Dean shot back.
Sam's head snapped in Dean's direction, and he fixed his brother with a glare. "You're not blaming me for this, are you?"
"No…" The reply was drawn out so that the unspoken not for all of it hung between them.
"You are," Sam said accusingly.
"No," Dean repeated more firmly, then added, "I just think we should have plugged the guy."
"Dean, we don't know for sure that he killed anyone."
"What about all that stuff in his cabin? Huh? He didn't seem like the My Little Pony backpack kinda guy to me."
"Maybe he found the stuff."
"Well then why didn't he say so instead of coming after us?"
"He just chased us off his property."
"With a machete."
"Dean…" Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm just playing devil's advocate here."
"All right, all right. Fine. Let's just get back to the motel and see if we can figure this out."
Sam didn't reply. The trip back to their room seemed a lot longer in the silence.
Dean stepped through the door, the peace offering of a large pepperoni and sausage pizza balanced on one hand. "Anything?"
Sam didn't even look up from the computer screen. "Not much."
"What have you got?" He set the pizza on the table.
"Well, he lives near the area where the disappearances have been reported. And we know he's got some really odd things in his cabin…"
"…but there's no other physical evidence. No bodies have ever been recovered."
"What about the whole Zulu witch doctor thing? Sacrifices? Cannibalism?"
"The Zulus aren't cannibals, Dean. Most Zulu people consider themselves Christians, even though many of them retain their pre-Christian belief of ancestor worship as well. If he really is a witch doctor, he would be shunned by their society."
"So he comes here. Peachy. Still could be chowing down on the vics, though."
"There's no evidence of that, either. No altars. No bone mobiles…"
Dean shuddered, remembering their experience not so long ago with the Benders. "So basically, we're back to square one." He slid a slice of pizza onto a paper plate and set it on the table beside the computer, then grabbed his own piece.
Sitting back in his chair, Sam rubbed his temples. "Maybe we should just let the police handle this one."
Around a mouthful of food, Dean said, "Yeah, 'cause that's worked so well in the past."
Sam spread his arms in a helpless gesture. "I don't know, Dean! Okay?"
"Whoa! Down, boy. I'm just sayin'." Dean set his pizza aside and looked at his brother, really looked at him. "Hey, you okay?"
Anger draining, Sam slumped back in the chair with a sigh. "I just have a headache."
"Take a break. Eat your pizza."
"I'm not really hungry."
"You gotta eat something."
"I just… I want to figure this out." Sam turned his attention back to the screen.
Dean could play this game; he'd been doing it since Sammy was little. He raised his eyebrows and stared at his brother.
After a moment, Sam's knee began to bob, his eyes flicking across the page too quickly for him to be actually reading. Finally, he huffed and turned an agitated glare on Dean. "What?!"
"Your eyes are bloodshot."
"So? I told you. I have a headache."
Dean nodded. "How long have you had this headache?"
A shrug, then, "I noticed it when we got in the car, but it wasn't…"
Sitting on the edge of his bed, Dean waited for Sam to continue. When he didn't, Dean prompted, "Wasn't what?"
But Dean already knew; he could see it in his brother's body language. "Wasn't this bad?" he surmised.
Sam reached up to rub the back of his neck, then nodded.
"Vision?" Dean asked cautiously.
A shake of the head this time, and when Sam leaned forward, the long bangs fell across his eyes. "Just pain without the imagery."
"Well, there's something. I'd hate to think Walla Walla Bing Bang was involved with you-know-who." Dean stood and tugged on Sam's arm. "Come on."
"Dean…" That exasperated whine.
"Humor me." Dean pushed his brother down on the mattress, then went to the bathroom to retrieve a couple of Advil and a glass of water. When he returned, Sam had already kicked off his shoes and stripped down to his skivvies.
Sam gestured at the computer. "What about—?"
"It can wait."
"But you said—"
"Never mind what I said." Dean shoved the pills into one of Sam's hands and the plastic cup in the other. "Since when do you listen to me anyway?"
Sam swallowed the meds and handed the cup back to Dean. Then he curled on his side in the bed, wrapping the pillow around his head.
Dean tugged the covers over him and gave his arm a pat. He turned off the light between the beds, then headed over to the computer. It was still early yet by Dean's standards; might as well see what the kid had come up with.
"I thought you said that could wait," came the muffled comment.
"Go to sleep, Sam."
Dean grinned, the battle won.
Morning—well, afternoon, really—came too fast. Dean groaned and rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling until his eyes focused. He was still in his clothes, sprawled across his bed where he'd collapsed however many hours ago. He really just wanted to go back to sleep, but now that he was awake, the case crept into his mind and demanded attention. Damn.
Man, he needed coffee. Coffee and breakfast. There was plenty of pizza left over, so that covered the "breakfast" part. Sitting up, Dean rubbed his hands over his face, then ran them up into his hair and scratched his scalp. Make coffee, shower, then breakfast. Sounded like a plan.
The fact that his normally up-with-the-sun little brother was still in bed said a lot about how bad the kid felt. That headache must have been pretty intense. Gnawing his lower lip, Dean realized that Sam hadn't moved at all since he'd gone to bed last night. And Sam was a tosser.
Dean swung his feet over the side of the bed, reached across the space between them, and shook his brother gently by the shoulder. It felt warm. "Sam?" When there was no response, he stood, shaking a little harder. "Sammy?"
Breath quickening, Dean turned on the bedside lamp and carefully rolled Sam onto his back…and swore.
Sam was burning up. His face was flushed, his breathing so low, Dean had to hold a hand under his nose to make sure it was there at all. While the fingers of his right hand sought the pulse point in his brother's neck, Dean gently lifted one of Sam's eyelids with his left. The breath left him in a rush. The white of Sam's eye was red. Completely. A quick check revealed that the other eye was the same.
"Damn it, Sam. What the hell?" Panic was flooding him. Running a hand over his face, Dean took a breath, closed his eyes, and tried to focus. First things first. He hurried to the bathroom and turned on the cold water faucet in the tub, letting it run a bit before he plugged the drain. He grabbed all the towels and tossed them in, soaking them in the water. Once they were cold, he wrung them out one at a time and hurried back to his brother. Dean didn't give a damn if the mattress got wet; he tossed back the covers and wrapped a towel around each of Sam's ankles, the hand towels around his wrists, and the facecloths at the back of Sam's neck and on his forehead.
A small groan of protest, barely audible, was the only response.
Sinking down on the edge of his bed, Dean sighed. What worried him the most was that Sam had shown no signs of being sick or coming down with anything all week. Add to that the fact that they were dealing with a witch doctor, and that the symptoms had begun shortly after their encounter, and Dean was coming up with a recipe for disaster. He had never in his life seen eyes so blood red. It was just creepy. That they were his brother's eyes… Dean's gut twisted.
A shiver from Sam had Dean moving again, checking on the compresses. They were warm already. He soaked them again in cold water and replaced them.
The routine was repeated multiple times over the next several hours. In between his trips to the tub, Dean made some calls, hoping someone, somewhere, would have an idea of what he was dealing with. He left a message for Bobby, and Jefferson didn't know, but said he would make some more calls.
All of which left Dean clueless. He kicked the leg of his bed in frustration. "Damn it!"
A deep laugh sent a chill tripping down his spine. Dean spun, eyes fixing on Sam. The kid was still out. What the hell? He scanned the room, but there was no one else there.
You'll be back.
Dean shook his head, uncertain whether he was remembering the words the witch doctor had spoken, or hearing them anew. It didn't matter, though. He was certain the bastard was responsible for Sam's condition. A curse, maybe?
Only one way to find out. Dean pulled one of the chairs from the table to the space between the beds, then grabbed the laptop and brought it over, too.
He would figure this out.
The word was spoken so softly, Dean wasn't sure he'd heard anything. He looked away from the computer too quickly and the room spun. "Sammy?"
His brother didn't move. It was probably time to change the towels again anyway. If he didn't find something soon, Dean was going to have to risk it and take Sam to the hospital. But how did you explain that your brother had been cursed by a witch doctor? After researching for hours, that was still the only explanation Dean could come up with. He set the laptop aside and began to gently remove the towels.
Sam's fingers twitched. It was the first movement he'd seen all day. But…
"Sam?" Dean laid a hand on his brother's forehead. Still hot, but Sam's hair was damp. If the fever had finally broken, that was a good sign, but the erratic rise and fall of his chest was worrisome. Feverish dreams were—
Sam sat bolt upright, so abruptly that Dean fell back, hitting the floor solidly on his backside. "Geez, Sam, how about giving a guy a little warning before you—?" Dean cut himself off, certain when he looked at his brother that he wasn't being heard.
Sam was staring across the room, blood-red eyes wide with terror, at something only he could see. In their line of work, that didn't always mean imaginary.
Sam shook his head, the short jerky movement resembling a shiver. But Dean knew better. He knew that look; he'd seen it before. Moving slowly, Dean shifted onto his knees and closed the distance between them.
Shaking his head, Sam backed away until he was pressed against the headboard. When he could go no farther, his breath quickened, panic engulfing him. "No," he whispered. Then louder: "Stay away from me. Get away!"
Dean knew the words weren't meant for him, but still he paused, wary of distressing his brother further. "Sammy, I'm here. Look at me. Look at me, Sam."
But Dean's words had no effect. His brother continued to press himself against the headboard, desperate to escape whatever was haunting him.
Then Sam screamed.
"Son of a—" Dean rushed forward and grabbed Sam's arms, shouting over the cries to try to get through. A fist connected with his jaw, and Dean saw stars. He managed to keep hold of his struggling brother, but it was getting harder. The strength in those weakened limbs was astounding, and Sam was showing no signs of calming down. So Dean did the only thing he could think of: he pulled Sam to his chest, wrapped his arms around him, and held him, tight.
"It's okay, Sammy. I've got you," Dean assured him. You're safe. I've got you."
And that became his mantra for…he didn't even know how long. But Dean was certain he had bruises upon bruises by the time Sam stopped fighting and collapsed against him, finally falling asleep—or passing out.
Dean gave a shaky sigh, some of the tension easing. He remained there for a long time, just holding his brother, looking after him. Lately, it seemed to be getting harder and harder. Case in point: how could he protect his brother from an invisible enemy?
Dean sighed. He found it hard to relax his muscles enough to loosen his grip on Sam. His arms ached, but he'd managed to keep his brother from hurting himself. But how much longer could this go on? He couldn't research when Sam needed him, but if he didn't do the research…
But Sam was showing no signs of improvement, and Dean was running out of options. He carefully laid his brother down on the bed, then stood and turned back to the laptop.
The computer displayed only the screensaver. Staring at it, Dean couldn't help but think if it were him on that bed, Sam would have found the answer by now. The kid had become quite the researcher. The years at school probably helped, but Dean suspected it was mostly due to the fact that that was all Sammy had been allowed to do when he was younger: research. Dean was no slacker himself when it came to hitting the keyboard, he just preferred the action. But Sam? Dean had to admit to a certain amount of pride when his brother got his geek on. A small smile quirked his lips while worried eyes glanced Sam's way.
Damn it! He could do this. Dean headed back to the computer and brought the screen back with a touch. He'd read so much on so-called Zulu witch doctors who weren't really witch doctors, ancient curses, traditions, enemies—he felt like he could write a book. A book about everything but how to cure Sam. How to break the curse. Maybe…
Maybe if he looked at it from a different angle. He'd been so busy looking for the cause, he'd ignored the effect. Okay, so…
He brought the search engine up in a new tab and typed in Zulu witch doctor, then added fever and bloodshot eyes.
And there. The very first entry. "I'll be damned…" The words he had typed were in bold, but it was the full passage that made Dean's stomach drop:
"Parker claimed that the Zulu tribes would sacrifice sheep and goats to the evil tree. ... severe headache, blood-shot eyes, and delirium, ending in death..."
Dean looked at the link: Evil Tree Species- The Umdhlebi of Zululand, then clicked on it. As he read, he became more and more certain he'd been wrong. Sam wasn't cursed; he'd been poisoned, by a friggin' tree Dean had never heard of. All the symptoms matched, but it was the last part that terrified Dean. There was no way, no way, he was letting Sam die. Dad was gone; he wasn't about to lose Sammy, too.
He couldn't help but send a glance Sam's way before continuing to read. There wasn't much, but what was there was enough to make Dean's hands curl into fists. There was a cure, made from the fruit of the tree itself. And there were apparently very few people who knew how to make it. Dean could guess at least one.
You'll be back.
He knew. The son of a bitch knew.
Dean felt the muscles in his jaw twitch, and he realized how tightly he was clenching his teeth. According to the legend, the Zulus had sacrificed sheep and goats to the tree. That explained the disappearances; the good doctor had kicked it up a notch. So maybe he wasn't directly responsible for the deaths of those missing, but the Umdhlebi was not exactly native to the area. Someone had to have brought it here. Three guesses who.
Okay, fine. So he had to go back there. The dilemma was, did he take Sam with him? If he did, Sam would be at risk. But leaving Sam alone while he was delusional was not an option either, and Bobby still hadn't returned his call. No, he had to keep Sammy with him. If anything happened while Dean was gone, he'd never forgive himself.
That settled, Dean made a mental list of supplies. Everything they needed was in the trunk. He had no idea how you were supposed to take out an evil African tree, but he knew what would work: a good old-fashioned bonfire always seemed to do the trick. And an ax for backup. And if the doc tried to stop him? Dean's piece was clean and fully loaded; he'd use it if he had to.
The hardest part would be getting Sam there. He wasn't exactly the scrawny kid he used to be. Since returning to the world of hunting, he'd gotten back into a regimen of exercise that was building muscle mass. They'd only just started sparring again since Sam had had his cast removed, and already Dean could feel the difference in his brother's strength. Sam gave him a run for his money; one of these days, the kid might even best him. Dean huffed out a small laugh. Nah, never gonna happen.
But he'd be damned if he wasn't about to make sure Sam had the opportunity to try.
Mind made up, Dean set about gathering the clothes Sam had shed. Most were still on the end of the mattress, some on the floor. Once that was done, he sat on the edge of Sam's bed and gently shook his brother. "Sam? I need you to wake up, dude. Time to end this thing."
A low groan was his only response. Then, as Dean watched, his brother's eyes slowly slitted open, gaze fixed on the ceiling.
Sam's eyes opened a little more, that horrible red still coloring them, and his brow furrowed in confusion as if he couldn't remember where he was or what had happened.
Dean smiled, hoping to offer some positive vibes, but the smiled faded when Sam's forehead smoothed out and his eyes blinked a few times before sliding closed again. "No, no, no. Hey, hey." Dean tapped Sam's face lightly. "C'mon, man."
Sam gave a small noise of protest, turning his head away.
Dean eased it back to face him. "Uh-uh. We got work to do. And I need your help, Sammy. You hear me? I need you." He could see the struggle it was for his brother to obey. Somehow, Sam managed, those awful red eyes shifting to look at Dean. "Attaboy," Dean said proudly. Sometimes that stubborn streak wasn't such a bad thing.
Sam opened his mouth as if he was about to say something, but Dean shushed him.
"You were poisoned, Sammy."
The sweaty brow furrowed again, Sam's fever-fried, geekazoid brain trying to put two and two together and coming up with zero. "P-poison," he rasped. "Wha—?"
"The witch doctor, remember?" Slowly, gently, Dean eased Sam upright, pushing back the covers and sliding the long legs over the edge of the mattress. "Somehow you were poisoned by his freaky pet tree. You believe it? Leave it to you to find the only Oompa-loompa tree in the country." He got his brother dressed, keeping up the litany. He wasn't sure Sam understood what he was saying, but the red eyes were following his movements. At the very least, he was giving the kid something to focus on. "You have the knack, I'll give you that, bro."
He bent to tug on Sam's jeans, pulling them up as far as he could before Sam needed to stand, then got sneakers on his feet. He straightened just in time to catch Sam's head on his shoulder as his brother pitched forward, no longer able to stay upright.
"Whoa! Yell 'timber,' dude." He clamped a hand on the back of Sam's neck, holding him there a moment and heaving a sigh. Then, with a quick squeeze and a pat, he carefully nudged Sam upright again before his emotions got the better of him. "All right, Sasquatch. On your feet." He took his brother by the shoulders and lifted, grunting out a "geez" when he realized Sam wasn't helping all that much.
But somehow, Sam managed to remain on his feet, locking his knees and using the bed for extra support. Fumbling fingers got the jeans fastened, even if it did take a lot longer. Dean let him, keeping one hand on his arm and one flattened on his chest to keep him steady. He could feel Sam trembling, his muscles spasming. This was so not good.
"All right, Sam. Time to go. Okay?"
Sam managed a jerky nod.
Pulling Sam's arm across his shoulders, Dean drew a deep breath. His own arm slipped around Sam's waist, fingers locking around his waistband. "One step at a time, bro."
The first step wasn't so bad. But the second… Sam's sneaker dragged across the carpet, snagging behind the other one and tripping Sam up. He would have face-planted if Dean hadn't had a firm grip on him. Sam grabbed a fistful of Dean's shirt and held on for dear life, his knees buckling, a cry of frustration escaping his lips.
"Easy, easy," Dean soothed. "It's okay. You can do this, Sammy. I got you." He gave Sam another moment to regroup, then lifted once more.
Sam still held on to him, but his feet moved. Awkward zigzaggy moved, but hey, it was something.
It took them several minutes to make it to the door, even longer to reach the car. Dean didn't even want to think about how long it would take to get back to that tree or the witch doctor's cabin. He'd deal with that when the time came. First, he needed to get Sam settled into the car. Propping his brother against the warm steel, he reached for the back door handle.
It was spoken so softly, Dean wasn't sure he'd heard. "Sam?"
"Wanna sit…up front…"
Dean paused only half a second. "Okay. Just thought you'd want to sleep in the back."
With what strength he could muster, Sam pushed himself upright, planted a hand firmly on the roof of the Chevy, and reached for the front door handle. "Can sleep…in front." He stubbornly fumbled with it, not enough strength in one hand to depress the push button. With a sigh of frustration, he used both hands and finally managed to pull the door open. The momentum nearly toppled him, but Dean was there with a steadying hand.
"Sammy…" Dean shook his head as his brother practically collapsed onto the bench seat. He waited until Sam was inside, then closed the door and circled the car to the driver's side. By the time he got in, Sam was curled on his side, eyes closed, completely spent.
It was about an hour's drive to get where they needed to go. Dean hoped his brother recovered some strength before then, otherwise the trip to the cabin was going to take a lot out of them both. And Dean was going to need to be in top form to deal with the doc and his little shop of horrors.