All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts. William Shakespeare

Tonight he plays protector.

Cold air surrounded him, biting furiously, nipping at his skin until he swore he couldn't feel his limbs anymore. He unconsciously pulled his hoodie from his tall frame. The air became colder still, the thick mist clawing and stifling him, his arms shaking violently his mind shouting violent recriminations even as his hands shook and he thrust his hoodie down onto his brother's chest.

It became all too clear to Sam Winchester as the howl echoed around the pitch dark cliff face that he really should have been paying more attention to the visions that had plagued his mind of late. It was hard to ignore the screams inside his tortured conscience as his eyes fell to his brother bleeding and incoherent before him.

Your fault Sammy.

All your fault.

You didn't listen. You never listen.

The howl became louder more enraged, more inhuman than Sam could ever imagine as his head swung frantically around him, even as he subconsciously adjusted himself so Dean was behind him.

'Sammy…got to go…got to get away…'

Sam ignored the struggled words at his back as he raised a shaking finger to his lips. 'Shhhh.'

Dean never did know how to do as he was told. 'Sam…I…mean it…' he was wavering and Sam knew it, all the more reason to get him out of there, to finish the job. 'Get out of here…you have to leave me.'

Sam snorted in absolute disbelief, he couldn't help it, even as the howling intensified and his right hand tightened on the gun, his left hand only clutched his hoodie to Dean's chest tighter. 'I'm not even going to bother giving you the answer to that.'

Dean sighed, a quiet, pained sigh that made Sam shiver all the more. His heart threatened to leap out of his chest as his dark eyes scanned the infinite blackness before them. 'Sam…please…'

Sam's voice didn't waver. 'Dean…no.' He wouldn't leave his brother. He'd never leave his brother. Not again. Dean would just have to deal with it. 'You think you can hold that yourself a minute?'

He indicated his now blood soaked hoodie with a tilt of his head, and Dean could do nothing but nod at Sam's back as his hands feebly clutched the flimsy fabric to his wounded chest. Nothing like a Howler to instigate an award worthy chick flick moment.

It wasn't meant to turn out like this. Wasn't how Sam or Dean had planned things. But then rarely in their lives had they ever been able to predict the way things turned out. They were Winchesters. Hell they had been brought up by a father who found their next stop based on whatever evil or supernatural news report he'd discovered in the paper the night before. Routine had never been much for the Winchesters.

Neither had normality. Something that if Sam let himself think about too much simply broke his already shattered heart into a thousand pieces. For most of his life he'd longed for normal, for somewhere to call home, for something, anything that stopped him from wanting to take the 45 he'd had slammed into his palm at nine, and blow his pretty brains out. He tried Stanford, he tried Jess, he tried normal. Like everything else he tried at, he had failed.

He didn't have a home anymore, he didn't have a girlfriend, or a school, or even a father, he had a brother though. The one constant, real, tangible thing he'd ever had. The one person in the world that let him dare to hope, that made him feel like he was worth something, something more than a shot to the chest of whatever bastard had found them and a 'good job son, but your aim was a little off'.

Sam unconsciously moved closer shielding Dean's body further as he sensed the creature coming out of the darkness. His left hand strayed against the cold familiar leather of Dean's jacket as his jeans scraped the rocky floor. They were cornered. Out on this god damned isolated cliff face…and all Sam had was the cold, unwelcome shotgun in his hand, a mind full of regret and a brother bleeding to death behind him. The hell he'd let it end like this. Especially for Dean. Sam didn't care what happened to him, he'd been running on empty since Jess really but he damned well cared what happened to his brother, and death by Howler wasn't one of them. Not on Sam's watch anyway.

The inky blackness was broken by two glowing narrowed eyes as the Howler made it's way forward, the howl, high pitched, threatening, still echoing in the freezing night. Sam stared straight at the cat-like creature, it had the appearance of an incredibly large panther, it's teeth bared, snarling. Sam's green eyes fell to the claws it walked on, knowing full well just how much pain those mothers were capable of. His arm went unconsciously to his bleeding forehead and he wiped the blood away with the back of his arm. But that wound wasn't what had him gazing enraged and oddly fascinated at the creature, it was the wound that ripped open his big brother's chest as he'd once again placed himself in the line of fire for the youngest Winchester. Sam raised the shotgun, his grip alarmingly steady, if he'd allowed himself a moment to think, he'd have been terrified at the darkness that covered his soul, his heart in that moment. He wanted the creature dead. But that wasn't all.

He felt the darkness calling him, felt a fiery vengeance fill his chest. He didn't give a damn about this creature, in fact the mere thought of sending it to its death had him buzzing with adrenaline, with a sick enjoyment. He was going to enjoy this. And if there was one thing Sam never felt on a hunt it was enjoyment. If he'd allowed himself a moment to realise this feeling, he'd have wondered why he was allowing the darkness to consume him so easily lately. How he'd allowed himself to pull the trigger that would have sent his brother to an early grave, how he'd sliced the head from the banshee with all the satisfaction of a kid in little league earning his first home run. It was starting to take hold.

The thing he'd feared, the moment he'd sensed coming since his dreams of Jessica's death began, it was coming, and soon. It was already beginning. Sam was beginning to lose himself. He was starting to wonder where he ended and the all-consuming evil began. Was this what he should be fearing? Was this what his father had feared?

'Dean…something's coming…be careful Dean…we're all in danger.'

If Sam had taken a moment to really think about his thoughts lately, to connect the dots, he'd have wondered if that something was himself. If Sam was what they should be fearing. If Sam was the answer.

But Sam didn't have a moment on that cliff face. Instead he stared at the Howler, ignored Dean's whispered pleas to protect himself. He raised the shotgun.

He gazed into the eyes.

One shot Sammy boy, he told himself.

He pictured his father's face.

And he was smiling as he pulled the trigger.

The shot reverberated through the mountains. Snatches of rock fell from a ledge above the fallen body of the Howler where the bullet had travelled straight through the cat's dark, evil skull.

Sam watched for a long moment, the smirk didn't leave his face.


Dean's voice had the effect of a bucket of cold water on the head of a sleeping person. He snapped out of it, a deep shock travelling through his system. He could still taste it on his tongue, he could taste the excitement, the hunger for more, the desire to kill rippling through his very veins.

At the corner of Sam's brain a voice screamed that something was wrong, very, very wrong.

Sam pushed the thought aside and turned to his brother. Worry replacing the exhilaration.


'Nice job Sammy.' The elder Winchester's skin was the color of a milk carton, and Sam didn't miss the chattering of his lips though it was obvious Dean was trying to hide it. He managed a sigh and raised a hand to Sam's cheek 'you alright?'

Sam's smile didn't reach his eyes. 'I'm fine Dean, I'm not the with the chest wound.'

'You…you're bleeding.' Dean gasped out.

'It's a scratch'. Sam played down the gash, his brother didn't need to know it hurt like a bitch. He needed reassurance and he needed Sam's attention now. His full attention.

Dark eyes scanned the chest before him. 'Come on man, we need to get you back to the hotel.'

'Slight problem Sammy…' Dean offers that typical smirk, the smirk that would convince Sam his brother was fine if he didn't know good and well that it was a front to calm down his younger brother. 'We seem to be up in the mountains'.

Sam sighed deeply.

'I am aware of that Dean.'

'Good to know those four years at College were for something.'

Sam chose to ignore that comment seeing as his brother had a serious chest wound.

'It sent my torch flying when it attacked us it's gotta be around here somewhere.' He began crawling forward on his hands and knees, it was virtually impossible to see anything a foot infront of his face. The rugged mountain terrain bit at his knees through his jeans.

'Be careful Sam, the last thing I need is for you to fall off a cliff before you patch me up.'

He rolled his eyes at that remark. It took him only a minute to find the torch and Sam thanked god for small favors. 'I got it.'

Flicking it on he got to his feet and shone the beam before him. In the ray of yellow his dark eyes took in the dead creature before him and he once again pushed back the shudder that threatened to envelope his whole body and turned to his brother.

He was terrified to see the wound looked worse in the light. Dean's shirt was ripped open with claw marks, his blood was seeping through Sam's jacket at an alarming rate and his skin was indeed the waxy pale Sam had feared he'd glimpsed in the darkness.

'Jesus Dean…'

'I'm fine Sam, it'll be fine, just help me up.'

'Dean this is not fine…you need to get to…'

'Sam!' Dean's voice left little room for argument. 'Help me up.'

'There's no way you're walking down this mountain.'

'And pray tell genius little brother of mine, how do you intend to get me down otherwise.'

Sam raised an eyebrow and Dean was suddenly afraid.

To Sam's credit, he stumbled only twice beneath his brother's weight as he positioned him over his shoulder and climbed as carefully as he could down the mountain. To Dean's credit he only complained thirteen times. And that was saying something for Sam's big brother.

'Sam come on, I can walk, you have a head wound…'

'Shut up.' Sam responded for the tenth time as he gingerly gripped Dean's thigh with one hand and the torch with the other. Attempting to successfully balance both with a throbbing head. There was no way in hell he was showing Dean how hard it was right now. He was getting his brother down this mountain and getting him help if he died trying.

The Ozark Mountains were not known for their kind terrain and Sam suddenly wished he'd taken that rock-climbing course Jess had whined on at him about in his final year at Stanford. It would have come in really handy right now. Arkansas really was beautiful in the daylight as they'd discovered upon arriving their the previous day, but at night it was a fucking nightmare Sam could definitely have done without.

Then again nightmares had always found solace with him. It seemed only right that the mountains were as unforgiving as his dreams were. He found the fear pushing at his chest once more as he pondered his reaction to killing the Howler that had stalked these mountains for one too many years. He had enjoyed it. He had enjoyed that feeling. What did it mean? What the hell was happening to him?

Dean coughed harshly and the fear that had risen, threatened to choke him. It didn't matter about his reaction towards the creature, none of that mattered when it came down to it. What mattered was his brother was hurt. And that scared Sam more than any creature he'd ever have to encounter.

'You still with me Dean?'

'Always Sammy.'

The reply had him breathing a little easier again. But his heart didn't stop its incessant thump. Nor did his mind stop its furious thoughts.

He hadn't wanted to come to these mountains. Hadn't wanted to at all. He'd woken four days ago to the joyous vision of a black creature, he now knew as the Ozark Howler bearing down on him and his brother, it's fangs drawn it's claws raised. He had reluctantly spilled the beans to Dean who had desperately searched for any information on the creature Sam had described on the internet in their hotel room in Oklahoma. He'd found the legend of the Ozark Howler. Dean was like a dog with a bone, he wanted to go right away. Sam was more cautious.

'We don't even know for sure it's what I saw in my vision.'

'We have to check it out Sam.'

'For god's sake Dean it was about to attack you, attack us, I don't want to go walking straight into this with our eyes closed.'

'We don't have a choice.'

They did have a choice. Sam didn't know what his visions meant yet, a part of him was starting to think they were only meant for evil. After all the previous visions had ended up in pointless destruction. Jess's death, his mother destroying herself again. What real cause did he have to trust them. He wasn't even sure he wanted to.

One text message had changed that.

Once again Sam could count on his father to make things ten times worse than they were. He'd offered co-ordinates. Nothing more nothing less. For Arkansas, for the Ozark Mountains. And as usual that was all Dean needed. And all Sam feared.

Now as Sam neared the bottom of the mountain trail he remembered picturing his father's face before he blew that bastard's brains out and he knew why too. His father had once again sent them into the line of fire. Had almost gotton Dean killed. Sam had long since given up attempting to understand his father. How a mercenary, a soldier, could be so gentle one moment and so infinitely cold the next. But he was learning, he was starting to become one himself. Sam could feel it.

And it terrified him.

And if he was honest in the dark of night he could even admit. A part of him wanted his father gone. Not dead. He never wanted him dead, but he wanted him away from Dean. John always led Dean into danger. And that was the one difference between Sam and his father, they were both stubborn and quick thinking and emotional, but Sam would never, ever risk his brother for a hunt. And he would never forgive John for doing exactly that.

Dean could defend him till the cows came home, but he could never sway Sam's mind to his father's robotic reasoning. No one risked Dean's safety. Nobody. And especially not a man who was supposed to protect his children.

Sam neared the familiar dark silhouette of the Impala and adjusted Dean swiftly on his back as he cursed his father. He wanted to hit him. Sam swore to himself if he even saw John Winchester right now, he'd be terrified of what he might do to him. Because for all he'd tried not to. Sam loved his father, he fucking loved him, he loved him almost as much as he hated him and that was a hell of a lot. But there was never a second of a single day that Sam loved his father more than he loved Dean. No one came close.

And if John Winchester thought his youngest would sit back and watch this happening ever again he had another thing coming.

Reaching into Dean's pocket he pulled out the keys and gingerly opened the passenger door to the car, he slowly reverently lowered Dean onto the seat. Propping him up before hurrying around to the drivers side. It said something about the pain he was in that Dean's lips didn't even mutter a protest.

Sam slid behind the wheel and took a deep breath for a second. 'You still with me there man?'

Dean's quiet 'yeah' was enough to suffice but Sam still leant over him adjusting his brother's cold hands over the makeshift tourniquet. 'Just hold it still Dean. I'll get you to the hotel as soon as I can alright. Just hang on.'

The lights on the Impala lit up the mountains as Sam left them behind; he offered a final glance in the mirror and a final prayer that the people of Ozark were safe now. The blood streamed from his temple as he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror.

For a moment all he could do was stare entranced at the image staring back at him. But it wasn't the blood that frightened him it was the color of his eyes. They were completely black and for a mere second Sam could have sworn he saw a flame flickering beneath the inky pupils.

Shuddering Sam blamed the image on his lack of sleep and turned his eyes back to the road. Dean came first he could worry about everything else later.

Sam shifted carefully beneath Deans' outstretched arm and slowly eased his brother down onto the hotel bed. Dean was quiet. And if there was one indication that told Sam he wasn't feeling good it was the silence. He never had been able to shut his big brother up for long.

'Dean!' Sam attempted watching his brother's eyes struggle to focus. 'Look at me man, hey, I need you to stay with me here kay?'

Dean had never been able to deny Sam. Especially when he got all worried and upset. 'Ok', he exhaled quietly.

Sam immediately turned his attention to the blood seeping from Dean's torso. He grabbed the first aid kit he'd snatched hurriedly from the car and ripped it open tipping everything onto the bed. There was no time for caution now. Dean needed help and he needed it now.

Sam pulled out gauze pads, antiseptic, bandages, anything he could get his hands on. He was embarrassed to see his hands shaking. 'Pull yourself together Sammy' his father's voice screamed through his brain. He struggled with the kit dropping the box of needles to the floor.


'Sammy…Sam…it's ok Sam…I'm ok…'

Sam turns back to his barely conscious brother before scrambling to the floor, raking up pin after pin, breaths short, heart pounding. 'You're not ok Dean, jesus, just look at you, I can't even do one thing, I mean, you're always looking after me man. You always keep it I don't know…together…and I can't even get a stupid needle out of the first aid kit…'


Sam was losing it, he knew it. He was unravelling. He was babbling.

'You're better off away from me man, I'm useless, I'm not going to find the stupid needles and I'm not going to sew you up properly, I'm going to fail man…'


'I'm going to fail, like I failed Jessica, and I failed Mom and I failed Dad, I'm just going to mess it up like…'

'SAM!' Dean roared. Snapping Sam's head to his face in an instant. 'Would you just calm down please. Now listen to me. I trust you alright Sammy. You're not going to fail, hell you've never failed at anything in your life man, you don't even know how to fail.'

Sam bit back a scoff as he let Dean's authoritative voice wash over him again, as he'd done so many times growing up. He steeled himself, pulled himself together again. Sat on the edge of the bed.

'You're right. I'm sorry. I'm sorry Dean…' He let out a ragged breath. 'Ok…ok…keep still man, I'm gonna have to stitch this up.'

Dean offered a weak smile. 'You always did lose it at too much blood'.

He barely heard Sam's muttered 'only when it was yours'.

Sam placed the needle point into boiling water, poured a liberal amount of disinfectant on the wound, ignored the hiss of pain from his brother and then set about sewing up the gash across Dean's front.

Dean's hand grasped the bedspread so tightly his knuckles turned white as Sam laced thread after thread through his skin. Sam fought to keep control, it was hard. God it was always the worst when it was Dean. His strong, warrior big brother. The brother he'd always believed walked on water, could move mountains if he truly wanted it enough. Hell if Sam was honest he still believed that. Dean was special to him. He was all the family Sam had left, had ever had really, even with their father there. His heart was never truly with them. It died the day his wife was consumed on the ceiling of Sam's nursery.

And he'd been chasing the demon all these years hoping maybe, just maybe he'd be able to find his heart when he severed the head of the entity that tore his wife from him.

Sam doubted murdering the thing would ever give his father the peace he so desired, the vengeance he longed for couldn't cure a heart that barely even beat anymore.

Sam looked up as he finished the stitches, his hands stained with Dean's blood. His elder brother was unconscious now. Sam supposed it was a blessing really. Dean was better off sleeping. His wound was taken care of now. Hopefully his chest would heal with a little time. Even if it did leave one hell of a scar.

Sam kneeled on the floor and moved to Dean's forehead, which was covered with dirt from the mountain floor he'd been flung to. Gently, with the same tenderness he caressed Jessica's pictures he had hidden beneath his clothes, he brought up a cotton swab to Dean's head. He let his fingers softly wipe the dirt away. Carefully, so carefully he ran the cotton across that strong brow, so like their fathers. Remembered the frowns he'd brought to this brow.

He moved the cotton passed his brother's closed eyelids. Over his cheeks. For each swipe of the pad he found himself whispering.

Swipe…I'm sorry…stroke…It's ok Dean…the pad moved to his hairline…I've got you now man.

Dean didn't wake.

And Sam wasn't sure he wanted him to. Dean would try and dismiss the moment, get all antsy at the sheer chick flick element. He would never take it for what it was. Love in its purest form.

Sam loved his brother. He absolutely, completely adored him.

And tonight he'd thought…there'd been a moment there on that Cliffside, on the car ride to the hotel when he'd thought he was going to lose him. And Sam couldn't deal with that. He couldn't even think about it without his heart slamming against his ribcage and his throat closing up until he could barely breathe. Dean couldn't die. Dean could never, ever die. Simple as.

Sam prayed sometimes, he wasn't sure he believed in God, but he believed in something, he I had /I to, he had to believe that somewhere out there someone was taking care of his mom and Jess. It was all he COULD believe.

So sometimes late at night when Dean lay in the bed alongside his, he offered his soul, he offered his heart, he offered every single part of him he knew those demons wanted in exchange for his brother's life. He silently promised. All for him. You can have it all. Just let him live.

Sam wanted to go first. A part of him knew he would. That was how his future would play out. But another part of him, the part that terrified him knew Dean would do anything, risk anything, to save him. And that was what he prayed against in the darkest corners of night, in yet another nameless hotel room. On yet another sleepless night.

Please take me. Don't let him go first.

Sam wasn't sure he believed in heaven, or hell, or anything really, but he believed in Jess and he believed in his Mom, and he believed that something out there could hear him. He just prayed it would answer him. Would accept his desperate plea.

He couldn't lose Dean. He wouldn't lose Dean. Because that wouldn't only destroy his brother, it would destroy himself.

Gently he lowered the cotton and ran a hand gently over Dean's cheek. 'You don't have to protect me anymore', he whispered, 'you have to let me protect you now…don't you see that…can't you understand?'

Dean's even breathing was all that met Sam's soft spoken question. Sam gently moved his hand to his brother's heart, needing the contact, avoiding the bandages. 'It was always you wasn't it man? You were always there. Holding my hand, walking me to whatever school we were at that week, standing between me and dad. Why did you do that huh?'

Sam's eyes fell to Dean's outstretched hand and he carefully lifted it into his own. Traced strong, lean fingers he'd clutched so tightly his first day of school. He remembered the gates, the red gates, the smiling teacher, the happy children buzzing around him, the proud parents, but mostly he remembered Dean.

His Dad had lowered him to the ground. Sam had held tight to Dean's hand. He hadn't wanted to go. Had known instinctively that losing that tenuous hold would result in disaster, could only result in pain. He needed his brother like he needed oxygen. Dean made him whole. And Sam being a lonely five year old had screamed blue murder at the thought of even having to go away from Dean for a day.

Dean had been equally upset, had gripped Sam just as tightly, his nine year old frame shaking, resistant. No one was taking his little brother from him. Not even the teacher with her friendly smile and her flowery shirt. Sam's eyes trace the fingers once more as he draws circles on them with his own. He still remembers, remembers how it felt to have his hand physically wrenched from Deans. To feel the full glare of his father as he pulled their tiny wrists apart. I 'Sammy this is what all big boys do. Dean goes to school already, you'll see him at lunch time.' /I

And that had been it. Sam had cried and cried, Dean had bit his lip so hard it bled, even then not allowing a single tear to fall. He had fought his dad though, it had been the only time Sam ever recalled seeing his father and Dean at odds. The only time. Dean knew it wasn't right to let go of Sam's hand. He knew the dangers. Sam did too.

John had been so sure he was right.

So sure that school was a place Sam could be safe. They could both be safe.

He'd been wrong.

Sam hadn't seen Dean at lunchtime, he'd been grabbed just before heading around the side of the school with his class by the friendly smiling teacher with the flowery skirt. Turns out she'd been a succubus. The one they'd been hunting coming to town. Sam spent two days in her lair till his father showed up and blew her face away. He'd never ripped their hands apart again.

Even if he'd tried Dean wouldn't have let him.

Sam frowned at the memory, Dean's fingers twitched slightly and he rubbed them to keep the cold from taking them anymore. 'You remember that?' He whispered softly. 'You remember the succubus in Wisconsin?' His hands stilled for a moment. 'He shouldn't have made you let me go Dean. He shouldn't have made you let me go.'

Dean remained silent, unresponsive. Sam's head throbbed mercilessly. It occurred to him that he should probably tend to it. But he couldn't bring himself to let go of his brother. Not yet. It was too soon, and his mind was too fresh with the last time he'd let him go.

Instead he blew warm breath to his hand. Dean had the same thumb as Sam's. He'd never noticed that before. It tilted slightly to the right. Briefly he wondered if his father shared the same feature. But his mind quickly quashed that theory. In Sam's mind he was little like his father. He didn't want to be anyway. He had spent his whole life trying to avoid becoming the kind of man John Winchester was. Sam loved his father. In the way he had to. He was his father. He owed him his love. He did not however owe his respect. His gaze shifted to Dean once more, nor his allegiance.

That was one area he and Dean would forever disagree on. Dean followed their father blindly, with a faith, a passion Sam had never attributed to his brother before. Protective yes, strong yes, brave yes, but blind faith was something he had a hard time understanding in his older brother. Dean never did believe in things he couldn't see.

Hadn't Sam tried countless times growing up to get him to join him at church. On Christmas eve, in whatever town they were in. It was a ritual Sam started for himself. It gave him some sense of routine in a world where he had nothing but the unexpected. He needed something he could call his own, something he could do for himself. And church on Christmas Eve was one of them. Sometimes he missed it of course, sometimes he was tossing restlessly in the back of the Impala on the highway to hell, or his father simply forbade him to go out alone. But whenever he could Sam found a church.

He didn't do it because he believed, he didn't do it because he honestly thought it would help in the larger scheme of things, he did it because he didn't entirely NOT believe. He did it because if there was the slightest chance that his mother could hear him, that any higher being could hear him Sam wanted them to watch out for his brother and his father. So every Christmas Eve that he could he'd kneel in a pew, gaze at a cross, and pray for protection, feel the calmness of the church wash over him, and for a while, for a little while, he felt safe. He felt at peace.

Dean had asked him more times than he cared to remember why he bothered going and Sam couldn't come up with the right answer, so he'd shrug and mumble something about needing extra supplies of Holy Water, or crosses. The excuse worked especially well if it was vampire season. But he never stole any. Not from a church. It didn't sit right with him. Still even as he'd lied to his brother about going, not knowing the reason why, he'd still ask him to come with him. He'd still ask.

Dean would walk him to the door, but he never went in. He'd stand outside, kick the paving till it chipped. No his brother had never believed in things he couldn't see with his own eyes. So how could he so blindly follow a father who was for all intense purposes dead inside? When every step he took placed them further and further in danger. Why couldn't Dean see? Did he just not look? Did he just not look hard enough? Sam asked himself repeatedly why Dean followed their father without question, never wavering. And at times he wondered if the issue wasn't Dean not looking hard enough, the issue was Dean perhaps looking TOO well, TOO clearly. He knew a father, for four years he'd seen the John Winchester that sometimes hovered at the edge of Sam's dreams, a man who'd laugh and smile and hold out his hand to his children instead of a 45.

Sam had never known that man. He couldn't remember him. And there was where the line was drawn. Sam could never remember the man his father used to be, Dean, well Dean could never forget.

Sam's memories of his father consisted of angry tirades, of heated stand offs, of eyes the exact blue of his own flashing with emotions Sam could never really decipher. Dean said they were too similar, John and Sam.

Dean was a liar.

Sam's hand pauses on his brother's heart. Dean's resting comfortably now, and Sam feels the familiar ache in his chest as he gazes at his brother's sleeping face. Dean could lie well. Sam had seen it countless times before…

'We're with the federal wildlife service.'

'We're U.S Marshalls'.

'Everything's going to be alright Sam.'

'Sammy, dad didn't mean it. He's just upset.'

'You're not to blame for Jess Sam.'

But he always saw through it. He could read Dean like a book, always had done, unfortunately it worked both ways and Dean knew exactly how Sam was feeling most of the time without him even uttering a word. It was reassuring and infuriating and downright exhausting at times.

It was comforting though, he supposed if he thought about it truly, comforting would be the real emotion to attribute to that little talent he and his brother shared. No matter how Sam tried to hide it, no matter how good he thought he'd got with the mask all it needed was one quirk of Dean's eyebrow and a low growl of his name and Dean got the truth out of him. There'd only been one time Sam had lied to Dean and truly, believably fooled him. Only one…

Sam sighs in the half-light of the motel room eyeing the clock on the nightstand, 4.15 am. He won't be sleeping tonight. He allows his mind to wander, and his thoughts cloud unbidden to the one lie Dean had believed…was it Shakespeare who claimed 'all the world is a stage and men and women are merely the players…one man in his time plays many parts.' Sam remembered vividly how much that line had got to him, had broken his very soul in that extra credit lecture at Stanford…his mind had unwillingly strayed to the one greatest performance of Sam's life. The lie he'd told, the role he'd assumed as protector, the very first time he'd taken the role. He'd also embodied the role of liar.

'I'm going to Stanford man…I know you don't get how I'm feeling but I'm asking you Dean…just try to understand man…please…I just…I want a normal life, I need it. You have to understand.'

Dean's slow burn rivalled his father's as he watched Sammy silently thrust his meagre belongings into the nearest rucksack he could find.

'I don't understand.'

Sam kept his gaze to his packing, he couldn't allow himself to meet Dean's eyes, wouldn't. 'Then…I'm sorry.'

'Sammy…' Dean's voice is nothing more than a desperate, angry cry.

'It's Sam.' He corrects automatically.

And then Dean's moving across the motel room, standing before Sam, making it near impossible to ignore that stare. But Sam tries anyway. Can't look up. Can't look up. Don't let him look into your eyes.

'Sammy…Sammy…would you stop a second please.' Dean's grasping his wrists then. Stopping all movement. Sam's fingers remain outstretched, hovering over his knife, unsteady, grasping. Dean's eyes are burning into his skull.

Sam can feel the anger, the terror between them. Dean is afraid, he's terrified of Sam leaving, and Sam…Sam is terrified of what's going to happen if he stays.

'Look at me…' Dean murmurs, voice tinged with fear, and Sam squeezes his eyes closed then. 'Sam. Look at me.'

No, Sam's mind screams, no, you'll see, you'll see right through me.

'Sammy…' Dean reaches out then and grasps his chin twisting it so he can no longer turn his face away. 'Look me in the eye and tell me why you're doing this. Why you're walking out this door.'

Sam contains himself, steals himself. He needs to convince him. He needs to do this. He opens his eyes and delivers the best performance of his life.

'I want a normal life. I need something outside of hunting. Dean, I don't want this anymore.'

'And that's the reason you're going?'

His eyes meet his brothers' the person who saved him, from a burning inferno, from their father, from this life, from himself. And he completely and utterly lied.


Dean couldn't know the truth. He would never let him go. And that would be the end of him.

His elder brother had stared for a long moment into his eyes. Tried to figure out if he was telling the truth. Sam forced himself to stay firm, resolute, willed his eyes to say something they didn't mean. Dean had turned and walked away from him. Stopping at the door, his shoulder's slumped in a way Sam had never witnessed before. 'Goodbye Sammy'.

It had been the last words he'd spoken to his brother before he arrived in his apartment looking for their dad years later.

Sam had strode determinedly out of the motel room, passed the slouched form of his brother, has paused raised a hand to touch Dean's shoulder, then lowered it again, he'd strode silently out of the motel into the freezing Boston air, his eyes had met the shadowy form of his father staring back out of the darkness from where he sat at the edge of the outdoor pool. They'd had their goodbye, it was their typical slanging match with an added 'don't bother coming back' thrown in for good measure. John's eyes had clouded and Sam could read the regret, the deep disappointment, and even the love in their mutual gaze. But he turned away. He'd given up trying to understand John Winchester the first time he'd sent Dean into harms way, the first time he'd forgotten his children weren't killing machines. The first time he'd made him hate what he was becoming. Didn't mean it didn't hurt to leave him though.

Sam had got into the cab and it was only ten minutes into the journey to the bus station that he began to sob, all consuming, unrestricted sobs. The cab driver kept shifting alarmed glances his way. Sam ignored him, hands to his face. He'd had to leave. Needed to. It was the only way his father and Dean would be safe. The only way.

It had been three weeks previously that he'd received the warning, nothing more than a hushed whisper from an angry spirit. Sam had been too slow, not cautious enough and the little girl had gripped his hand in those woods, and she'd whispered, very quietly, 'we want you. It wants you. You'll never protect them as long as you're around. You'll never be safe. They'll never be safe.'

Then Dean had unloaded rock salt into her chest. And his father had incinerated her bones. Neither of them had heard the hushed exchange. But Sam had. He'd heard it all and he knew she was telling the truth. Then the dreams had started. Ominously cloudy, dark, somebody on a ceiling, it didn't look like their usual motel, their were plants in the window and pictures on the wall, and Sam could make out nothing of the figure burning above him, but he knew he loved that person. And the only person he fully loved was his brother. And Sam had known, this was going to happen. Unless he got away, as far and as fast as he could from the little family he had left. He'd been the reason for Mom he couldn't be the reason for his Dad or Dean.

So he'd applied to College. He'd used it as a mask. Sure he'd never liked the hunting, had always craved normal, but he'd never have left his brother alone with their father. Not unless the alternative was so much worse. Turns out it had been. Sam had sat in the cab crying and crying. And cursing the gods and himself for giving such a god damned stellar performance.

Sam gets to his feet, withdraws his hand from Dean's chest and paces now. Withdrawing slightly from his turbulent memories. Turned out he'd loved College, loved the life he made for himself. Turned out the figure on the ceiling hadn't been Dean at all, but Jess. Now if the fact that that was almost a blessing to him didn't make him a monster he didn't know what did. He'd had to lie to Dean. Or his brother would never have let Sam leave. He'd have lied again. He'd have promised Sam they'd find a way, that these things weren't after him, that all of this was not down to him. And Sam may even have believed him, but somewhere along the way it would've caught up with him, this thing, this entity that had been watching him his whole life. And maybe Dean would have been the one to suffer.

Sam swallows deeply, offers the prone form a glance, maybe Dean may still be the one to suffer.

He walks to the window, head pounding as he gazes into the night. He's been getting head aches lately, so bad and so intense that Dean barely sleeps anymore for fear Sam'll pass out from the pain. The premonitions hurt, the ESP hurts, Sam hurts. His soul is one big aching wound lately, his bones are so tired and his heart cries for his mom or Jessica, or a quick death to save his brother. He doesn't want to exist lately, he doesn't want to see the darkness ebb at his soul. He doesn't want to know what this thing wants with him because he fears it'll destroy him. Sam knows the truth is more terrible than any nightmare he conjures up lately.

So what if he's been throwing himself a little too freely into hunts lately. He knows it worries Dean, and he never liked worrying Dean, but he also knows that Dean would give his life for Sam's. And that is simply not an option.

Dean moans softly and Sam whirls. But he falls still once more and Sam's back to the chipped paint on the walls, the cracks spreading, snaking across the plaster. He feels alone. Even with his brother lying next to him. Sam feels alone. He can't explain to Dean no matter how he tries how the evil reaches for him lately, how the darkness clings and grabs for him even in the daylight now. How he's losing control, ever so slightly, how the balance to him is shifting, is imploding in on itself. How do you tell your brother that you fear the one thing you've been hunting the one thing that needs to be destroyed is yourself.

Something is happening to Sam.

And it is not good.

And suddenly out of nowhere he is seized with a migraine, so intense and so painful he cries out and Dean shifts momentarily in his bed before stilling once more.

Sam clutches his head tightly.

White flashes hover at the corner of his vision and he makes out two figures in a room. There's a throw over a couch, and a flash of white, and then murmuring, a conversation, words serious, flashes of white, the figure to the left steps forward stares at the figure on the couch. Sam's head pounds and pounds and he feels like his skull is about to explode. He can't make them out…almost…the faces…almost…the dots of the picture begin to connect to form and Sam sees.

He gasps, even through the pain he gasps. He recognises the figure on the left. 'They need to know. They need to know the truth.'

The figure on the right swirls and blurs and morphs before him. Then the face appears clearly. 'They can't know. It'll destroy them. It'll destroy us all.'

Sam cries out in pain driven by anger now. His father and Missouri, Missouri and his father. A flash of white. 'It's here…I can sense something.' Another flash. 'It's been here all along.'

The image explodes to blinding white light and Sam slips to the ground cradling his head. 'Shut up, shut up shut up!'


The voice belongs to his brother. It infiltrates his mind, slowly filters through the pain induced fog.

Sam squeezes open his eyes and clambers unsteadily to his feet. Dean's gaze filled with concern, naked worry, he's leaning on his elbows, conscious now. 'You ok man?' He attempts to move forward.

Sam's eyes ignore him, rest upon the item on the desk. He launches himself forward and grips it in his hands.

'What are you doing Sam?' Dean's voice, worried, as if sensing something.

Sam can barely hear Dean now, he can hear only his heart beating, the residual throbbing of his head. He takes the journal and begins to rip page after page from the book.

'SAM! NO!' Dean's shouting now. Hurriedly attempting to get to his feet.

The younger Winchester wrenches pages free, fury practically pouring from his veins. 'You bastard.' He screams, his voice echoing from the paper thin motel walls, 'you bastard, how could you, how could you…' Ripped shreds of the journal float to the ground and Sam can't see through the blur of his tears. 'I hate you.' He hears himself roar, the sound of tearing in his ears competing with the pounding of his heart, 'I HATE YOU!'

'SAM!' Dean's shout gets through to him, his shove to the wall, stops him short. Dean's eyes are livid, and scared. 'That's Dad's journal Sam, what the fuck are you doing man? What the hell is wrong with you, we need that Sam, we need that.'

Sam laughs, verging on the hysterical now. 'He was there Dean. He was with Missouri man. He's fine. Dad's fine, the bastard's hiding from us, he's just hiding.' Dean's fists uncurl slowly on Sam's shirt.

'What?' is all he can manage.

'He's just hiding.' Is all Sam can utter before he slumps to the ground. Back to the motel room wall. He watches in morbid fascination as pieces of the journal float softly down, silently to the floor beside him, like ash, so like pieces of ash and ceiling and fire. And then Dean's face is before him.

'Sam, what did you see?'

'A coward, a fucking coward.'


'That's what I said.'


'Dean I don't want to hear you defend him alright. He was with Missouri in her house. On the same fucking couch we sat on man. And he was fine. And he didn't think we needed to know the truth.'

Dean's pale, Sam doesn't know whether that's due to the injury or just the freaking weirdness that's going on right now. 'What truth Sam?'

Sam laughs humourlessly, 'I don't know, but apparently we're all in danger.'

Dean rolls his eyes slightly and Sam is amazed he can be so normal, 'nothing new there then.'

Sam nods.

He's tired and his head aches and he doesn't know how to feel. His father is alive and hiding from them. Leaving them to the mercy of the very creatures he'd spent his life slaying. Sam hates him for it. And he hates himself for the weakness, for the relief he felt at seeing him alive. Because John Winchester doesn't care about them enough to show himself, so why should Sam care enough that he's alive. But he does. And it pisses him off more than anything in the world.

Dean's eyes are full of questions. He brings a hand to Sam's forehead. He has so much he wants to know, needs to know, but Sam is lost in his own head now. And Dean is scared to keep pushing.

'You alright Sammy?'

Sam feels the pounding in his head, the hard wall against his back, the ache in his heart. He examines the carpet. 'I'm alright.'

Dean takes his chin and Sam should have been expecting it, and he can't believe he wasn't. 'Look me in the eye and tell me you're alright.'

Sam dissolves into tears. Damn those eyes, damn that soul that knows him so well, that knew almost every time when he was lying, almost every time.

Dean says nothing. He slumps opposite him on the motel floor, ignores the pain from his chest and pulls Sam close, hugs him to his chest.

Sam sobs. Long and deep sobs. He's so tired, so god damn tired of all this hunting and fighting and darkness. He's so tired of going to sleep and praying he won't wake up anymore for fear of an inferno on the ceiling, of a human inferno. He's tired of existing and that's something that no one should feel.

He inhales deeply, leans further into Dean's chest as the sobs slow down, quieten. Dean is there. And Dean is solid and Dean is real. And when Dean's with him, he doesn't wake up wishing he didn't exist anymore. But how it hurts to know that being near the one person in the world you've ever trusted and loved is putting that person at risk. At fiery, fatal risk. Sam falls silent as Dean whispers hushed words to his hair. Assurances, 'everything's going to be alright Sammy', 'We'll deal with it together', 'you're ok'.

Sam gives into the luxury of pretence and allows himself to believe for a moment that Dean's telling the truth.

Maybe things will be alright.

Maybe they will deal with it together.

Maybe hewill be ok.

But Sam doesn't really believe that. And Dean doesn't really believe it either. Sam can hear it in his voice. How much he wants to believe, but he knows Dean's as unsure as Sam is. He'd always known when his brother was lying. 'All the world is a stage…' he thinks. But the thought is a fleeting one and there on the floor of the Motel Six, in the stillness, the breathing that mingles with the cracked wallpaper, the darkness outside baying at the window, calling him, waiting for him, the steadiness of his brother's embrace.

Sam Winchester breathes…

He believes the lie.

b Notes /b

The Ozark Howler is a large "cat-like" creature sighted in the general area of the Ozark Mountains. The Ozark Howler is also known as the Black Howler or Howler. The animal is said to be an extremely large, heavy set black cat. The howler produces an eerie "howl", hence the name. Occasionally the animal is reported to have horns or glowing eyes.

The Shakespeare phrase is taken from the play 'As You Like It' and is one that has always struck a strange chord with me.