SUMMARY: H/C Tag to Alex, Annie, Alexis, Anne. After Sam was drained of most of his blood, he made it down those basement stairs only by leaning heavily on Dean and…then they cut to commercial. Sigh. This tag takes place during that missing chunk of time, and offers some Sam POV on the Mark of Cain-fueled changes in Dean.

SPOILERS: Refers to events throughout Season 9.

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Supernatural belong to Kripke, Carver & Co. I am playing in their sandbox, with their toys, with much gratitude.

RATING: T for some swearing.



A/N: Anyone who has read any of my fics knows I believe the brothers' relationship is the heart of Supernatural. Writing a fic when they're at odds is tough for me. What I hope I've done is show that beneath the anger and outside forces controlling their actions throughout Season 9, the love is still there. Unbetaed, so I could get this posted before Season 10 begins (which is this week \o/). Enjoy.


Damn it, Dean. Wake up.

Sam's vision slid out of focus, blood loss threatening to rob him of consciousness. He willed his brother to move, to give him some sign he was playing possum, but Dean remained motionless, sprawled on the floor, his back to Sam. They had a hunter's lifetime of code words, looks and gestures to warn each other of danger, of their next move, but here they were all…useless. He could only hope that Dean was faking, biding his time until

Until what? Until he could swoop in and save Sam?

"You think you're my savior—my brother the hero"

Sam swallowed, the memory leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. They were his words, spoken in hurt and anger, and they were about to bite him in the ass. Without his brother playing hero, he was screwed.

Sam's head lolled forward, suddenly too heavy to hold up. He stared at the duct tape circling his arms, chest and ankles, pinning him to the chair. The tape also hid the needles jammed into the veins of each arm, those needles siphoning his blood, feeding it through plastic tubing into the buckets and jars at his feet. One bucket was almost full. Fuck. A body his size held what–two gallons? There was more in the damn bucket than left inside him.

Groaning at the effort, he lifted his head. The vamps had used him as a distraction to take down Dean, made him carry his unconscious brother down the stairs, taking away any chance to fight back, and then kept a gun to Dean's head while they forced Sam into the chair and bound him there.

Dean hadn't moved since Sam lowered him to the kitchen floor…not when the vamps had trussed Sam to the chair, not when a raging Connor had viciously driven a rifle butt into Sam's chest, and not when they'd stuck needles into Sam's arms. He was out cold; conscious and aware, his brother would have ripped off the vamps' heads long before now. The younger vamp still had a gun on Dean, was just itching to pull the trigger if he so much as twitched, but that meant squat; Dean's hardwired protective streak, the one that had caused so much friction between the two of them, was just too damn instinctive to ignore.

Another wave of dizziness darkened the edges of Sam's vision. He twisted his wrists, pulling against the tape, trying to stretch it and pull a hand free.

"Sam, the more you struggle, the faster you're gonna bleed out. So you might as well just lie back and relax…."

The voice of the ghoul posing as Adam echoed through his head. Another time, another place, another pair of monsters, but they'd tried to drain him dry, too. Sam screwed his eyes shut, trying to block out the phantom pains that came with the memory of the vicious slashes to his arms, of the hole in his side, and of being tied to that table, helpless, while the ghouls tortured and tormented him.

"That ringing in your ears? It's from the venom…. They tap your three, four times…you're dead."

The vitala–she'd fed on his blood twice, but her poison just left him numb, unfeeling to anything beyond the sting of her initial bite.

This…this was different. There was no pain, no poison, just an ever-growing need for sleep. And sleep was the one thing he couldn't do. Sam forced his eyes open and focused on his brother, the walls of the cabin behind Dean's crumpled form twisting and warping like some kind of Dali painting. Dude, come on–give me something.

Dean still didn't move.

Sam clenched his fists, again straining against the tape, but he was getting weaker. He wouldn't last much longer–and he didn't miss the irony in that. Soon the vamps would be forced to pull the plug. Once his heart stopped beating, once he was a dead man, his blood became poison; they couldn't–wouldn't–risk tainting what they'd already taken. No, they'd yank out the needles while he was still breathing, while his heart was still pumping…then just rip out his throat to finish the job.

Then they'd move on to Dean.

As if on cue, the older of the two vamps, Connor, appeared suddenly in front of him and crouched down. He dipped his finger into the bucket, tasted the blood, then smiled coldly. "Tapped his keg." He glanced at his brother. "Get the short-haired one ready."

No…. Sam again twisted his wrists, but there was just no damn give…no damn strength in his arms.

Dale, the younger vamp, was standing behind Dean and delivered a vicious kick to his prisoner's lower back. Dean grunted in pain, but otherwise didn't move.

But that simple grunt was enough…enough to tell Sam that Dean was awake now–awake, aware and planning something.

Sam blinked rapidly, trying to force his eyes to focus as Dale set down his gun on the kitchen table, pulled out a knife and bent down to grab Dean by the hair.

And that was the opening Dean had been waiting for. In a blur of movement, he reared up, jamming a syringe filled with dead man's blood into Dale's chest. The vampire crumpled, shock painted clearly across his face. Dean scrambled to his feet and charged at the older vamp. Connor's face darkened with fury, but he easily blocked Dean's attack, tossing the hunter across the kitchen. Dean slammed into the table before crashing to the floor.

An adrenaline surge cleared Sam's head and his vision. Get up, Dean. For an agonizing moment, Dean didn't move while Connor paced, clearly spoiling for a fight.

But the vamp had nothing to fear on that score; Dean was more than ready to give him one.

Dean staggered to his feet, eyes widening as he watched Connor pick up the dropped machete. Incensed, he launched himself at the vamp. Connor blocked the attack, grabbing Dean's arms in the process and slamming him into the wall, the machete between them, level with Dean's throat.

Sam's vision swam; he blinked rapidly to force his eyes to focus. His chest hurt now, his heart fighting to pump faster, his falling blood pressure unable to meet adrenaline's demands.

Vamps possessed superhuman strength–strength even a canny fighter like Dean should have been hard-pressed to match. But Dean was holding his own–more than holding his own. His expression hardened. A vicious knee to Connor's groin and suddenly their positions were reversed; Dean now had the vampire pinned against the wall and was forcing the machete towards his neck.

Connor glared at Dean, fury giving way to disbelief, disbelief to resignation as Dean gained the upper hand. His gaze slid sideways, the vamp unable to look his executioner in the face.

But Dean wouldn't be denied his victory. "Look at me." His deep voice was raw…feral. "Look at me, bitch!"

Connor's gaze slid forward. Fangs on full display, he could only offer one last defiant glare as the machete sliced through his throat. His head toppled to the ground, his body crumpling after it.

For a moment, Dean seemed entranced by the kill, by the power of it. Even through vision that refused to focus, Sam could see his brother's torso heaving, his arms trembling, and not just from the adrenaline rush–from the pure thrill of the kill.

Then as quickly as the bloodlust had overtaken him, it was gone. Dean exhaled, his shoulders slumped, and he turned toward Sam. Arterial spray from the vamp covered his face, shirt and hands but the blood couldn't hide the fear, the guilt in his brother's eyes, emotions that quickly morphed into familiar worry when his gaze met Sam's.

Sam wasn't really aware of Dean moving; his brother was just suddenly on his knees in front of him, knife in hand, cutting through the tape that bound Sam to the chair. "Dean–"

"I know. You wouldn't have done the same for me." Sarcasm, hurt and anger were all bundled together in Dean's response, scars of their last few months of fighting.

"No…." Sam ignored the jibe, fighting just to make his voice work as Dean pulled the needle from his arm. "Jody…."

Dean's head snapped toward the front hallway. "Jody? She's hiding, right?"

Sam shook his head–a really bad move. "Mother vamp's…got her."

"Fuck." Dean sliced through the tape binding Sam's chest to the chair. "Where? Where are they?"

"She…." Freed from his restraints, Sam toppled forward, faceplanting into his brother's chest.

"Easy…easy now…."

Dean's hands wrapped around Sam's biceps, gently but firmly sitting him up again, but not before Sam got an earful of his brother's racing heart, the rapid rate in total contrast to Dean's steely calm exterior. Sam frowned; his brother routinely wore the I'm fine mask, hiding hurt and fears with practiced ease until he could drown them in a bottle of scotch, but this…this was different. The immediate danger was over but Dean's heart was still racing, his hands, now wrapped around Sam's arms, thrumming with energy. This was definitely something more than adrenaline driving him.


His nickname snapped him from his reverie; he stared at Dean in confusion, having no idea what the question was.

"Jody–where'd they take her?"

Sam swallowed, watching as Dean reluctantly let go of his arms to cut through the tape around his ankles. "Cellar…."

Dean pointed to the door under the stairs. "There?"

Sam nodded. "The mom…." His gaze slid from Connor's headless corpse to Dale, still twitching under the paralysis of the dead man's blood. "Told'em to…to take our blood–while she…turned Alex."

"And she's using Jody to do it. Fuck." Dean's gaze scanned the jars and buckets holding Sam's blood, the sight further stoking fury. He tapped his fist on Sam's knee, grabbed his machete and stood up. "Stay here."

"No." Sam grabbed the arms of the chair, instinct rather than strength driving him to his feet. "I'm coming…."

"The hell you–whoa!"

Instinct only carried him so far. The head rush of the sudden movement almost put Sam right back on his ass–definitely would have if Dean's hadn't caught him. For the second time in less than five minutes, he found himself draped over his brother, this time with his nose jammed into Dean's shoulder blade, Dean's arms locked around him.

"Damn it, Sammy. I hate to say to I told you so but–"

"You love saying I told you so." The retort was muffled, Sam's face still buried in Dean's shirt. When he lifted his head, the room was spinning like he was on some crazy-ass carousel. His legs felt like rubber but he locked his knees, forcing them to hold him to up. He pushed himself off Dean, teetering but staying upright. He swallowed, then nodded at his brother. "Just…just stood up too fast."

"Yeah…that's what it was." Dean glanced from the blood-filled jars to the basement door then back to Sam. Obviously deciding that a fight would just waste time Jody didn't have, he tapped his shoulder. "Hold on to me, but fair warning–you go down, I'm leaving you on the floor."

It was a hollow threat, but Sam was determined not to test it. He grabbed Dean's shoulder, burrowing his fingers into the worn denim of his brother's jacket and stumbled along behind him.

It was eerily quiet when they opened the cellar door, and quiet was never a good thing in their world. Dean glanced back at Sam, gave him the Head's up look, then headed cautiously down the stairs.

They'd barely taken their first step when Jody's voice floated up toward them, her simple statement both clear and chilling.

"Don't watch this, sweetheart."

Dean picked up the pace; it took all Sam's concentration just to put one foot in front of the other and keep up. With each step his legs threatened to give out; he was totally on autopilot, one hand locked on Dean, the other firmly gripping the handrail. They made it to the base of the stairs in time to see the sheriff pull back the mother vamp's red hair, swing the machete and cleanly sever Celia's head from her shoulders.

Sam felt his brother tense beneath his hold. Jody's face was bruised and bloody, her left eye almost swollen shut, and she was limping as she stepped back from the corpse.

Dean slipped from Sam's hold and stepped off the stairs. "Jody?"

Jody's arm fell to her side as she dropped the machete onto the concrete floor. "You boys need to work on your timing."

"I dunno…looks like you've got everything under control." Dean's focus was now on Alex, at the blood staining the teen's mouth, at her disturbingly familiar bloodshot eyes. He pointed to her with his machete. "Is she–"

"No." Jody stepped protectively between Dean and Alex. "Her mother…." She glanced down at the body at her feet. "The vampire tried to turn her…fed Alex her blood." Unsteadily, she turned to face the teen. "But she didn't drink mine…she wouldn't."

Dean adjusted his grip on the machete but didn't lower it. "You sure?"

"Damn sure." Jody's gaze shifted to Dean, then Sam. "How 'bout you two–you alright?"

"One of us is." Dean's focus stayed locked on Alex.

Jody needed no help figuring out which one, her worried expression fixed on the Winchester on the stairs. "Sam?"

Sam could feel himself swaying but was powerless to stop, despite his death grip on the railing. Jody said something else but her words came out all garbled...unintelligible.

"Sammy!" He jumped at the sound of Dean's voice which had a strange, distant quality, like he was hearing it from underwater.

Sam blinked; his brother–brothers?–were moving towards him. He tried to answer, tried to say I'm fine, but his voice wouldn't cooperate. His legs would have made a liar out of him, anyway; they chose that moment to give way. His knees buckled and he fell backwards, landing hard and sliding down three stairs on his ass before two familiar hands grabbed him and stopped him from toppling forward onto the floor.

"Hey, hey…stay with me." Dean's face, less than a foot away from Sam's, slid in and out of focus. "You hear me? Everyone that matters is in one piece so it's time we am-scray…get Jody a steak for that black eye…top up your tank. We'll have you back to your moody self in no time."

Sam's eyes slid closed, his head suddenly too heavy to hold up. He slumped forward, caught again by his brother, his head slamming into Dean's chest. He could smell sweat and blood and laundry detergent, feel the worn flannel of Dean's shirt against his cheek but it was the beating of Dean's heart–the too damn fast beating–that again filled his head as everything went black.


"Sammy!" Dean could see Sam teetering on the stairs; it was no great shock when he went down–the bigger mystery was how the hell he'd managed to stay on his feet this long.

Dean dropped the machete and skidded to the base of the stairs, grabbing Sam just before he toppled forward and hit the concrete floor. "Hey, hey…stay with me." Dean gently smacked Sam's cheek, hoping to rouse him. "You hear me? Everyone that matters is in one piece so it's time we am-scray." He tried a smile. "Get Jody a steak for that black eye…top up your tank. We'll have you back to your moody self in no time."

There was no focus in Sam's eyes. They slid closed and he went limp in Dean's hold, collapsing against his brother's chest. Holding him there, Dean pressed two fingers to Sam's neck and found a pulse; it was weak but rapid. Shock was setting in.

"Is he–"

"He's out." Dean's mind was racing, working out their next move.

"What did they do to him?" Jody limped to Dean's side.

"Made him their own fucking blood bank." Dean glanced up at Jody. "Nearest hospital–how far?"

"Um, St. Anthony's–twenty, thirty minutes from here." Jody worriedly ran a hand down Sam's lax face. "What blood type is he? Could one of us give him a transfusion…keep him going 'til–"

"No." Dean sat Sam up and shifted into position to pull his brother over his back in a fireman's carry. "Even if we had the stuff to do it, you're beat to shit, Alex over there just ingested vampire blood and me…." He had the Mark of Cain; who knew what the hell that had done to his blood. "I…I'm not a match." He grunted loudly as he pulled Sam over his shoulder.

"What can I do?" Jody's hands were up, steadying Sam as Dean settled him in place and secured his grip.

Dean's knees loudly objected to the additional weight. He wasn't 20 any more, carrying his teenage brother home from his first bender–and Sam was a long way from the scrawny kid he'd been back then. "Car keys–right pocket. Get the back doors open and start the engine. The sooner we get gone, the better–for all of us." He glanced over at Alex. "That means you too, kid."

"No…." Alex shook her head, backing up until the back of her knees hit the camp bed in the corner and she collapsed into it. "I can't. I–"

"You can–and you will." Dean waited until Jody fished the keys from his jacket pocket then began moving slowly up the stairs, the old wooden treads groaning as loudly as his knees, Sam's limp arm bumping his hip with each step. "There's nothing for you here."

"But what–"

"Damn it, Alex, move!" Dean didn't look at her; he needed all his focus to make it safely up the stairs. "I can fix you, but Sam comes first. Once he's good, we make you human again–so move your ass." His tone was sharper than he intended but damn if that anger didn't feel good, didn't feed his strength…make Sam seem just that much lighter.

"Alex, honey, come on." Jody's voice was softer, caring, the polar opposite of his. "My knee's screwed…not sure I can make it up these stairs without help."

That was bull. Jody was as tough as they come; she'd drag herself up the stairs on her ass if necessary, and still beat him to the top. The plea for help was entirely for the kid's benefit.

It worked though. After just momentary hesitation, Alex pushed herself off the bed and moved to Jody's side. She wrapped an arm around the sheriff's back and pulled Jody's arm over her shoulders. The two of them then began climbing the stairs, right behind Dean.

By the time he reached the top, Dean was breathing heavily; Sam showed no signs of coming to despite the unavoidable rough handling. Carrying him upside down was a far cry from ideal but, at this point, speed trumped care.

"This way." Dean barked the order as he moved through the hallway toward the front door–past Connor's decapitated corpse…past Dale, still paralyzed by dead man's blood but managing a hate-filled glare…past buckets and jars filled with his brother's blood. Dean's heart beat faster, his pulse pounding in his ears, his arm burning like blood had turned to gasoline and ignited beneath the skin. Son of bitch; he wanted nothing more than to take off Dale's head for what they'd done to Sam, then reassemble his brother just so he could tear him apart all over again.

He was snapped from the building fury by the sharp intake of breath behind him.

The two women were surveying the carnage; Jody seemed unfazed by the dead and dying vamps; it was the buckets and jars of blood–Sam's blood–that had color draining from her face.

"My god…. How is he even–"

"Alive? Because he's a stubborn S.O.B.. He just–hey!"

Alex started noticeably at Dean's raised voice. She, too, was fixated on the blood, but for a whole different reason.

"You drink–even a drop–before I get you the cure, there's no bringing you back–and I will take off your head." Dean meant for the words to scare her but, by the look of things, they'd gone a few steps better; Alex now seemed terrified.

Jody shot him a look…not judging exactly, more confusion tempered by worry. She said nothing though, only tugged at Alex to start moving again. "Come on. The sooner we get you away from here, the better."

Dean yanked open the front door, moving as quickly as his burden allowed down the porch steps and toward the car. When they reached the Impala, Alex opened the back door, while Jody limped around to the driver's side, jammed the key in the ignition and started the engine. Dean shifted Sam's weight forward, lowering his brother's feet to the ground and his ass onto the backseat. Folding all six and a half feet of unconscious Sam into a five-foot back seat should've been difficult, but it wasn't; he'd done it just too damn many times.

The Impala's throaty growl drowned out the groan of the door hinges as Jody slid onto the back seat from the opposite side. She grimaced when forced to bend her injured knee, but her focus was on Sam, on hooking her arms through his and pulling him across the seat towards her as Dean pushed. "Keep him lying down, right?"

"Yeah." Once Sam's head was resting on Jody's lap, Dean bent Sam's legs, putting his feet up on the bench seat.

"Keep blood flowing to his heart…keep it pumping so…." Jody's voice trailed off, leaving the unthinkable unsaid. She brushed Sam's hair off his face, her frown deepening as she pressed the back of her hand to Sam's cheek, then his forehead. "He's cold. Shock?"

The muscle along Dean's jaw line pulsed. "I'll get a blanket." He backed out of the car. "And the first aid kit. You should clean his arms. The vamps weren't exactly following Red Cross protocol when they stuck him."

He glanced over at Alex, motioning with his head to the shotgun seat. "You're upfront with me. Get in."

Alex, standing at the side of the car, arms folded protectively across her chest, shook her head. "I should–"

"Just get in. Unlike your adopted family, I don't bite." When Alex still didn't move, he moved to the back of the car and popped open the trunk. "But, hey, if you'd feel safer, you can always ride in here."

That got her moving. Alex yanked open the car door and slid into the front seat without another word.

Dean grabbed the blanket and first-aid kit, slammed shut the trunk and moved to the driver's side to hand off the items to Jody. As she covered Sam, he studied his brother; he was pale, his chest rising and falling rapidly beneath the blanket. "His breathing's too fast."

"And too shallow." Jody tucked the blanket under Sam's right arm and pulled up his sleeves. Beneath the blood smearing the inside of his arms, the skin was torn and already bruising.

"Fuck." Dean glared at the house, his mind's eye replaying the carnage in the kitchen–the headless vamp…the buckets of blood–Sammy's blood…and the younger vamp, taken down by dead man's blood but still breathing.

Still breathing.

"Dean! Where the hell are you going?" Jody's shout carried easily through the open car doors.

Dean's head snapped back to the car. He was almost back at the porch with no conscious recollection of moving toward the house. His heart was slamming against his ribs, the rhythmic beat drowning out even the Impala's growl. His right arm was cradled against his chest, the now-familiar burn coursing beneath the skin.

He could see Jody yelling something but couldn't hear her…couldn't hear anything now beyond the beating of his own heart…beyond the call for blood. He stared at the house, picturing the vamp inside who had almost killed his brother. He couldn't let that go. He wouldn't.

He disappeared inside the house, the old screen door clanging shut after him.


"Dean?" Jody watched in astonishment as Dean strode into the house. "Damn it."

Alex stared at the door Dean had just disappeared through. "Why is he…." Her question went unfinished; she already knew the answer. They both did. "He…. We should be going."

"Yeah, we should. We–"

Sam groaned, snapping both women's attention back to him.

"Hey…hey, relax. You're safe." Jody tried a smile but Sam's eyes were still closed. Instead, she closed her hand over his, giving it a comforting squeeze, while passing the first aid kit to Alex. "I need a sterile pad and antiseptic."

Alex quickly located the needed items, soaked a gauze pad, then handed it to Jody.

Jody began cleaning the wounds on Sam's arms, but as she cared for one brother, her thoughts wandered to the other. Something was off with Dean–had been since the Winchesters arrived in town. Sam needed help–now. The big brother she knew would be behind the wheel, accelerator jammed to the floor and driving hell-bent-for-leather for the hospital, revenge a distant second to Sam's well-being. But here…. She glanced again at the farmhouse; revenge was clearly front and center.

Sam shifted restlessly. This time though, his eyelids slid open, although there was little focus in the hazel eyes beneath.

"Hey…." Jody ran her hand down Sam's face, his skin still worryingly cool to the touch. "We're in the car, on the way to get you help. Everything's gonna be fine. Just–"

"Dean…needs help…." Sam's muttered protest was punctuated by rasped breathing. He tried to sit up. "I…need to go–"

"Yeah, not gonna happen." Jody wrapped an arm around Sam, holding him down. "Dean's a big boy–he can take care of himself. You need–"

"No…" Sam struggled to free himself from the blanket and Jody, failing on both counts. "The mark…. It's … it's…." He screwed his eyes closed, fingers now clawing at his chest. "Fuck…."

"It'll be OK…it'll be OK." Jody again closed her hand over Sam's and glanced again at the house; there was still no sign of Dean. "Damn it. Alex, get behind the wheel."

"What? But Dean–"

"You heard me." Jody's focus was back on Sam, who was fading back into unconsciousness. "We're not waiting any longer. We can't."

A quick glance at Sam was all Alex needed to know Jody was right. "OK." She slid across the seat, closed the driver's side door and settled behind the wheel. "Dean's not gonna be happy though."

Jody slammed shut the back door. "He'll be a lot less happy if Sam…." Dies. She couldn't say that word aloud.

Alex slid the gearshift into drive and cranked the wheel. The Impala made the turn easily and was already moving down the gravel driveway, stones crunching under her tires, when the screen door to the house swung open. Dean stormed out, his face darkening further when he took in the Impala on the move. Alex slammed on the brakes, fear and relief mixing equally in her expression as she shoved the gearshift into park and scrambled back to the passenger side.

Dean moved quickly to the car, yanked open the driver's side door and slipped behind the wheel without a word.

When he glanced up at the rear-view mirror, Jody met his gaze, her expression conveying both anger and worry. "His breathing's getting worse."

With that, Dean pulled the gearshift into drive and floored the accelerator, tires spitting out gravel as the car barreled away from the farm and toward the hospital.

No one said anything about the fresh blood spattering Dean's face, hands and clothes.


Dean paced at the foot of the hospital bed that had held his brother for the past five hours. The ER nurse was checking Sam's blood pressure for what seemed like the hundredth time. "How's he doing?"

The nurse, Connie, finished pumping up the blood pressure cuff and studied the gauge. "Better–his pressure is almost where it should be. One more unit of blood should be enough." She assessed Dean worriedly as she moved around the bed to hang the fresh bag of blood on the IV stand. "You should get some rest. The doctors told you they're admitting Sam, right? That once he's stable they want him under observation for 24 hours?"

"Yeah…but I'm good here." Dean resumed pacing. He'd spun some bullshit story for the admitting nurse about Sam being kidnapped by a cult. She'd been skeptical but had ultimately bought into the lie thanks to back up from Jody; it never hurt to have the local sheriff as your alibi. "Shouldn't he have come to by now?"

Connie methodically checked each of the monitors and Sam's IV lines. "Losing that much blood put his body through a lot of stress. He's exhausted. Sleeping is the best thing for him." She glanced up at Dean. "I understand you took a blow to the head during the rescue. Has a doctor taken a look at you? I could–"

"I'm fine."

Connie raised an eyebrow as she pulled Sam's chart from the bottom of his bed. "No offense, agent, but you don't look fine."

Dean sank down into the chair at Sam's bedside, a clear signal to the nurse that he wasn't going anywhere. "It's nothing caffeine and a shower won't fix. You just worry about Sammy."

"We're taking good care of him." Connie scribbled something on the chart, replaced it, then paused beside Dean's chair to offer a sympathetic smile. "I'll see if I can get one of the volunteers to rustle you up some coffee." She winked. "The shower you'll have to take care of yourself."

Dean nodded but couldn't find the energy or the interest to return the smile. The nurse left the medical bay, drawing the privacy curtain closed after her. For the first time since they'd arrived in the ER, he and Sam were alone.

Dean scowled at the cobweb of tubes and wires attached to his brother, monitoring heart rate and blood oxygen levels, feeding him oxygen, fresh blood and god knows what else. A few months back it had been a different hospital, but the same view: Sam in a bed, hooked up to all kinds of machines, and him parked in a chair, waiting for his brother to wake up. Except back then Sam wasn't going to wake up–the trials had done too much damage and the docs couldn't do a damn thing. So he did.

"I was ready to die, Dean."

"I know…. But I wouldn't let you–because that's not in me."

It wasn't, and never would be. He and Sam could butt heads 'til doomsday and that wouldn't change.

"I never wanted to keep you in the dark, you know. It was never supposed to play out that way. You were in trouble and I… I did what I had to." Dean leaned forward, elbows on knees. "Maybe you were right…about me not wanting to do this alone. I mean, what stupid son of a bitch would? But that's just a piece of it…." He scrubbed a hand down his face. "I watched Jake stab you in the back, Sammy…. I watched those hunters blast you full of buckshot... Fuck, I watched you throw yourself into the pit." The memories of Sam dying, still so vivid, physically hurt. "That…that broke me in ways Hell never could. I can't…I won't…watch that again."

But to save Sam, he'd placed his trust in the wrong angel. Dean screwed his eyes closed, heart racing, blood on fire, fueled by memories of all the ways that misplaced trust had gone sideways: the endless lies…Kevin's murder…Gadreel bodynapping Sam to go on a killing spree. They'd got Sam back, but then came the horror show that was the fight to expel the angel. Dean's knuckles whitened, his fingernails leaving crescent-shaped scars in the wooden arms of the hospital chair at the memory of his brother's screams as Crowley tried to pick the lock on Gadreel's hold on Sam.

"How're you doin', Cas?"

"You wanna talk about me now?"

"I wanna talk about anything that's not a demon sticking needles into my brother's brain…. So, yeah, humor me, man–how you doin'?"

"I understand. It's not Sam, yet it's still…Sam."

Yeah–it was Sam. They'd tortured Gadreel but it was Sam who paid the price, and that was on him. Dean launched himself out of the chair. He cradled his right arm against his chest as he stared down at his brother, fury overtaking worry. "That son of bitch will pay for what he did…I promise you. He–"

"Dean?" The privacy curtain was pulled back revealing Jody balanced on crutches, her injured leg in a heavy brace. "Sorry, it's a little hard to knock on a curtain. I–" Her smile faded at the glare Dean gave her. "If this is a bad time, I can–"

"No…no." Dean turned away, pacing again to push back the anger threatening to consume him. He massaged his right arm, trying to dull the burn. "Sorry…." He cleared his throat, emotions just barely under control. "How's the, um, knee?"

"Not broken–just dislocated." Jody hobbled forward. "I get stuck with a brace for a few weeks but…." She glanced over at the bed. "More importantly, how's Sam?"

"Better." Dean studied his brother; Sam was still ashen, the skin under his eyes still bruised but his breathing was less labored, the pain lines across his face less deeply etched. "Or so they say. He's still out."

"Can't say I'm surprised." Jody shook her head. "What the vamps did…."

"Yeah." Dean wrapped his fingers around the safety rail of Sam's bed, again reliving the vampires' attack at the farmhouse. Images flashed through his head; Sam with a rifle shoved into his back…Sam taped to the chair, buckets of blood at his feet…Sam collapsing against him….


His arms were shaking in anger, the metal railing rattling in his grasp broadcasting his building fury. He let go of the railing and stepped back. "He, um…he should be awake by now…bitching about getting outta here." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "I mean…look at him. He has tubes shoved in places tubes have no business being."

"And what about you?" Jody studied Dean worriedly. "How're you doing?"

"Me?" Dean snorted dismissively, his left hand unconsciously covering Cain's mark. "Save your worry for Sam. I'm fine."

"One, that's bull. And two, I've got enough worry for both of you." Jody lowered herself into the chair at Sam's bedside; Dean took the crutches from her and propped them up against the cabinet at Sam's bedside. "Let's start with the blood on the back of your head. I noticed it when we were in the car. You had that looked at?"

Dean's hand reflexively moved to his head; he winced as his fingers found a lump and hair matted with dried blood, both courtesy of the vamp who'd knocked him out. "So it was you who narked me to the nurse."

"Sue me–and don't change the subject."

"It's nothing." Dean shrugged. "Hard head."

"Hard head and hard-headed–not quite the same thing." Jody's expression softened. "What's really going on, Dean?"

Dean frowned. Jody meant well–and part of him loved her for it–but this was not something he wanted to get into, with her or with anyone. "I'm just worried about Sam."

"Of course you are, but you've been on edge since you got here–long before Sam was attacked." Jody tried a smile. "I just wanna help. What can I do?"

"Nothing. It's…it's just the job." Dean glanced out into the emergency room. "Alex still in the car?"

"Yeah." Jody's smile faded. "Like you said, an ER full of bleeding people–not the best place for someone jonesing for blood."

Dean turned his attention back to Sam. "Look, you said you wanted to help. If the docs are right, it could be a while before Sam wakes up. How 'bout you take a shift keeping watch and I go mix up the cure for Alex. The sooner she gets defanged, the better."

"Of course." Jody reached into her pocket, pulled out a set of keys and tossed them to Dean. "Take her to my place. She can stay there until she's…better, until she figures out what she wants to do. And thanks."

Dean shrugged. "I need to do…something. I can't do anything for Sam right now, but I can fix her." He glanced again at his brother. "Call me as soon as he wakes up."

"Absolutely. And Dean…." Jody's smile was warm, caring–two things pretty damn rare in the Winchesters' world. "I get you're not the talking type, but if you ever have a moment of weakness, you know where to find me. I'm a good listener."

"Yeah…. Thanks." Dean moved toward the curtain but cast another glance back at his sleeping brother. Sam was a grown man…a hunter to be feared, a stubborn pain in the ass and when he wasn't being a bitch, the best partner a man could ask for. But under threat, or all vulnerable like he was now, all Dean could see was the little brother Dad had placed in his arms the night Mom died.

"Take your brother outside as fast as you can–don't look back. Now, Dean! Go!"

That moment, that order, had planted the seed for the protective streak that was so hard-wired into him now. And no matter how old Sam got, how big or how good a fighter he became, there was just no re-set switch for that.


Sam woke up coughing, his mouth dry, throat raw.

"Easy…easy. Here, this'll help."

A hand slid behind his head, lifting it off the pillow. He opened his eyes, revealing a blurry Jody smiling down at him, holding a spoon filled with ice chips. When he nodded, she slipped the spoon into his mouth.


"Mmmmm." Sam sucked gratefully on the ice, the cold numbing his scratchy throat. He glanced around, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings through still sleep-bleary vision. "Where–"

"The hospital–St. Anthony's in O'Neill. You're in the ER." Jody lowered his head back onto the pillow. "Once you're stable, they'll move you into a room. Should be a little quieter there, then you–"

" room. I'm fine." Sam tried to push himself up but Jody stopped him, a lone hand on his chest pressing him back onto the bed–and far too easily for Sam's liking.

"Fine, my ass–you were barely breathing when we got you here. The vamps are toast so give yourself time…get your strength back."

The vamps. Memories of the attack at the farmhouse filled his head; Sam screwed his eyes shut against the onslaught of images.

"Hold on. I'm getting a doctor–"

"No…no." Sam forced his eyes open, blinking his vision into focus before attempting a smile. "M'okay–really." He again surveyed the room, ignoring the tangle of wires and tubing cobwebbed over him, and the bank of beeping, blinking machines at his bedside. Jody stood next to him but otherwise, the room was empty. "Dean?"

"Gone to help Alex. They fed her vampire blood." Jody's grip on the bed's safety rail tightened. "It'll work, right? The cure, I mean."

"As long as she didn't feed–yeah. It's no fun, but it works." Sam cleared his throat, frowned at the dry tickle of forced air under his nose and reached up to pull the canula from his face.

Jody's hand closed gently over his, stopping him. "How 'bout we let the docs make that call."

Sam raised an eyebrow at the sheriff while biting back as smile. "Really? The mom voice?"

Jody grinned. "What can I say? You boys bring it out in me." The grin faded as she worriedly studied him. "Seriously, Sam–how you doing in there?"

"M'okay. I'm just…tired." That was the truth; Sam felt stiff, his arms and chest sore but otherwise there was little pain. His frown returned as he studied Jody's battered face. "Tell the truth–who looks worse, you or me?"

Jody gave his arm an affectionate squeeze. "I'm not the one in a hospital bed." She gestured to her black eye. "As for this, what's that old saying? You should see the other guy–or gal, in this case."

Right; she'd beheaded the mother vamp in the basement. Sam's memories got a little fuzzy after that. "And Dean–he's in one piece?"

Jody nodded. "He's fine–physically, at least." The worry lines on her face deepened.


"Come on, Sam–you know Dean's not himself. Something's…off. You said as much in the car."

"What? When?" Sam had no recollection of the ride to the hospital, let alone what he may have said.

"Right…you were kind of out of it at the time." Jody gestured to the bed. "Wanna sit up?" When Sam nodded, she pressed the control to raise the head of the bed, then sank down into the chair beside it, stretching out her braced leg with a groan. "You said something about a mark. Does that have anything to do with Dean's behavior?"

Sam exhaled slowly. Jody was a good friend, their bond cemented when they'd worked together to bring back Dean from 1944. He'd known few female confidantes; he'd grown up without a mom, Jess and Amelia knew nothing about hunting, and Ruby–well, her ulterior motives quickly crossed her off the list. But Jody… there was an ease in talking to her that came as welcome surprise. She had no agenda; she just genuinely cared about both him and Dean. She understood their world and the crap they faced daily, listened with an open mind and had a world-class bullshit detector that kept them honest. Still, the whole Gadreel mess and its fallout was a lot to dump on her.

"Is this that man thing?" Jody smiled. "You know, 'We're dudes, we don't talk about our feelings'."

"It's more a Winchester thing." Sam shrugged sheepishly. "We drink too much, we yell, we throw punches. But talk? Only as a last resort."

"So I've noticed." Jody leaned in. "But I'm not a Winchester, so consider me a loophole. Talk to me."

So he did, telling her about the trials, Gadreel's possession, Crowley's 'brain surgery' to expel the angel, and Dean taking on the Mark of Cain to exact revenge.

Jody listened. When he was done, there was no judgment in her expression, just sympathy. "And you had no idea…that Gadreel–"

"Was subletting?" Sam shook his head. "Not 'til Crowley crashed the party." He snorted. "A few times, I thought I was going nuts–I kept losing these big chunks of time. But trying to fill them in, figure out what happened just gave me a giant headache and no answers."

"But you're good now?" Jody rolled her eyes. "OK, stupid question to ask a man in a hospital bed."

"I'm fine." Sam gave her a tired grin. "Cas healed the physical damage from the trials and now…I remember everything." The grin faded under the torrent of memories; all the things his body had done while under Gadreel's control. "Every nasty detail."

Jody nodded slowly. "And that's the tension I sensed between you two–you're still pissed about what Dean did, and he's pissed at himself for doing it."

Sam swallowed. "We both know it wasn't his decision to make."

Jody frowned. "You're sure, back at the other hospital…that he knew you wanted to…go?"

Sam nodded, remembering his plea to Death, his shock when Dean was suddenly right there with him, strafing the room with all the reasons Sam should stay. "He was in my head…. He knew."

Jody frowned. "And it wasn't Gadreel manipulating you…manipulating both of you?"

"No…. Yes…." Sam exhaled loudly, anger and confusion again at war inside him. Gadreel had manipulated his brother from the jump; he knew that. And the angel had deliberately kept Sam in the dark to use Dean's love for his brother to his advantage–but Dean had opened the door; that's what Sam was struggling to forgive. "Dean…he could've told me Gadreel's plan, let me make the decision, but he didn't–because he knew what my answer would be."

"You were dying, Sam." Jody smiled sadly. "If there's one thing I know about your brother, he can never do nothing when you're in trouble."

"Watching out for you, it's kinda been my job, you know? More than that, it's kinda who I am."

"I know…." Sam was the hunter he was today because Dean had always been there for him. It was easy to take risks when you had that kind of safety net.

"But you're not a kid anymore…. I can't keep treating you like one."

And that's the part Dean would always struggle with–making decisions that weren't his to make. "It wasn't his call–and he's knows it. He…he could've stopped all this before it started. Hell, back at the church, I was ready to go. But Dean...he talked me down. If he hadn't done that…if I hadn't let him…then Gadreel, Kevin, the mark…none of that would've happened."

"He talked you down?" Jody raised an eyebrow. "Nobody talks you boys into doing anything you don't wanna do. Doesn't that mean at least part of you wanted to stay?"

"Yeah." Sam had struggled with that one himself, but Jody was right. "And that makes me as guilty as Dean. We both put family first. Whatever the reasons, we never should've done that." He rolled his head across the pillow, looking away from Jody. "It was selfish."

"You love him?"


"Do you love your brother?"

"That's not the point."

"Yes it is, because we're all hard-wired to protect the people we love. And when a loved one is in trouble, we don't always do the right thing…the logical thing." Jody shook her head. "When Dean was stuck in the past, you wore yourself out looking for a way to bring him back. All logic said it was hopeless, that you should just give up–but you wouldn't."

Sam turned back to Jody. "Dean wanted to come back. I didn't."

"You remember how we met?"

A frown carved deep furrows into Sam's forehead. How they met wasn't something he could ever forget.

"My son came back from the dead. Under what circumstances could that be right? But Owen and me, we didn't care–we had our boy back." Jody's eyes welled up. "After all the pain of losing Sean, suddenly there he was. It was a gift…a miracle." She twisted an imaginary band on her ring finger, a ghost of the real one she no longer wore. "I mean, he was just a little boy, back with his family. How could that be wrong? So we listened to our hearts…told our heads to shut the hell up."

Sam's stomach lurched at the memory of shooting Jody's zombie son after the boy had killed his father. "You didn't know…."

"But Bobby did–and even he couldn't put a bullet in his wife when she came back." Jody scrubbed a hand across her face, wiping away tears. "All I'm saying is that when someone you love is in trouble, things get–"

"Complicated." Everything about their lives was complicated. "I told Dean that if the situation was reversed, I wouldn't do what he did. I wouldn't save him." He closed his eyes, a vain attempt to shut out the memory of the hurt on Dean's face at that vicious jibe.

"You were angry."

"And I wanted to hurt him." Sam pulled the canula from his face. "I'm...I'm scared. We keep making the same damn mistakes over and over, and I want it to stop. I close my eyes, I see my hands killing Kevin. I open them, and I see Cain's mark changing Dean–and not for the better. Who's next?"

"So what're you gonna do about it?"


"Sam, you didn't kill Kevin, and you can't bring him back. But Dean's still here." Jody pushed herself out of the chair. "That you can do something about. I'm not talking about deals with devil, I'm talking about doing what you're good at-finding an answer to the impossible. So, what're you gonna do about the mark?"

"I dunno." Sam exhaled slowly. "I've been researching it…trying to find out more about what it is…what it does."


Sam shrugged. "Dean won't talk about it, so all I've got so far is bits and pieces of lore…nothing really useful. Then there's the First Blade…." He shuddered at the memory of Dean beheading Cuthbert Sinclair, of the cold rage in his brother's eyes, the building fury dissipating only when he dropped the weapon. "When Dean held that, it was almost like he was…possessed."

"Can he get rid of it–the mark, I mean?"

Again, Sam shrugged. "I don't know…that's what I've gotta find out."

"You don't have to do it alone, you know." Jody smiled down at him. "If you recall, I made a damn good research assistant." The sheriff's phone rang and she reached into her pocket to grab it. "Look, I'm not saying you should forget about what Dean did or pretend it didn't happen. But how can you deal with all the crap between you if Dean's not himself? Get him back on an even keel, then hash things out."

Sam nodded. Dean had shared little about the mark, about what it was doing to him, but after what Sam had seen at Sinclair's and at the vampires' farmhouse, digging into it wasn't something he could backburner any longer–not if there was any hope of saving his brother.

Jody glanced at the screen of her phone. "Speak of the devil. I told big brother I'd call him when you woke up. Guess I took too long." She lifted the phone to her ear. "Hey. Guess who's awake?… He's doing good…. No, the doc hasn't been back yet. He–" Her eyes widened as she glanced up at Sam. "How am I supposed to know? No, I will not ask him…. Dean, no–…. Dean…."

The sheriff lowered the phone from her ear, the tops of her cheeks turning pink. "Your brother wants to know…." She cleared her throat. "Have you…have you peed yet?"


Jody pointed to her phone. "His exact words, and I quote, were 'Has Sammy taken a piss yet?'"

Sam snorted, which set him off coughing. Jody limped to the cabinet beside the bed and poured him a glass of water. After a couple of sips, he grinned and held up the glass. "Tell him…tell him I'm working on it." Dean knew that severe blood loss and shock could cause kidney failure, and that the doctors wouldn't release him until they had proof everything was in working order. He shifted uncomfortably, trying not to think about the catheter that would provide that information.

"Oh…. Oh! TMI, Dean." His brother had obviously just filled in Jody on that bit of medical information, no doubt in his usual colorful fashion. "You know, most people would just say, 'How's my brother doing?' or 'Give him my love', but not you." Jody's eyes widened. "No, I will not tell him that."

Sam shook his head. "Just tell him to come get me. I'm done with this place."

"You hear that?" Jody nodded at Sam. "He's on his way." Dean said something else and Jody's expression grew serious. "Good. And how's she doing now?" Relief fueled the sheriff's smile. "Just tell her to hang in there, and that I've got a chicken soup recipe to die for once she can keep food down." She pulled a face. "Just maybe don't use those exact words."

She glanced over at Sam. "You wanna talk to–Oh, OK…. Yeah, see you soon." Jody clicked off the phone and slipped it back into her pocket. "He's given Alex the cure. She's got a world-class hangover, but she's not a vampire anymore. Dean says hang tight and, um…." She gestured to the glass. "Keep drinking water."

Sam nodded."

"In the mean time…," Jody reached for her crutches and settled them under arms, "I'm gonna go find your doc and tell him you're awake. If he says you're all good, I'll help with the great escape." She grinned. "If he says you stay, I'm gonna handcuff you to the bed."

Sam returned the grin. "I'm pretty good at picking handcuffs, you know?"

"Then just remember what happened to the vamp who gave me this shiner." Jody hobbled past the end of the bed, then turned to face Sam. "You and Dean… you'll get through this. What you two have, it's…it's too strong to crumble." The grin was back. "Pretty sure there'll be a few punches thrown along the way, but you'll get there." She winked, then pulled the privacy curtain closed.

Left to himself, Sam's smile faded. He sat up, closing his eyes until the dizziness passed then blinked his vision into focus.

Methodically, he began peeling the tape from his arms and pulling out the IV needles. In his head, he replayed the scene in the kitchen back at the farmhouse where his brother had beheaded the vamp. An angry Dean had always been a fearsome fighter, but there was a ferocity to that attack that Sam hadn't seen since…since, well, grieving their father's death, Dean had beheaded a vamp with a power saw at the lumber mill.

His brother was in a dark place. Sam knew the signs because he'd walked the same damn path; the only difference here was that demon blood and Ruby's manipulations had been replaced by Cain's mark and Crowley. If they were ever going to learn from their mistakes, prove that family was a strength, not a weakness, now was the time.

"I just know we're all we've got. More than that, we keep each other human."

Sam smiled; Dean's words from years ago offered both solace and purpose. It was time to stop being angry and save his brother. They were blood.


A/N: That last line is what I hope we see in Season 10. I'm sure there will be more than a few complications thrown into the mix, but anything that moves the brothers back together, I'm on board for. Thanks so much for reading. If you have a moment, I'd love to hear from you. Until next time, cheers!