And Fools Shine On
(c)2006 b stearns
Author's note: Title stolen from a Brother Cane song; the lyrics are easy to find and I'd suggest it.
Boring trivia: This was intended to be a one-chapter hit and run, and then the plot bunny gnawed on my spine until I kept adding chapters. I hit it with a rolled up newspaper; the fuzzy bastard kept gnawing anyway. The plot bunny actually attacked during a set change at a Disturbed concert, of all places. Many many thanks to the sn LJ community folks who have been nice enough to encourage me and anyone here who's reviewed any of my nonsense so far. Sorry for the present tense I had no choice.

-I-

Sam knows to be inside by dark.

No matter where he is, it's always somewhere he can get indoors; a place where he can count on more than walls and locks. There's no hiding, so he's stopped trying. But he doesn't make things easier than he has to for what stalks him. The presence of others, the threat of silver bullets he can't fire, the gathering of every bit of artificial light he can obtain - none of these put it off. Sam is the flame that draws this particular moth. The moth knows him well enough to haunt his steps and occasionally it's somewhere just before he is.

Tonight it's a travel lodge in upstate New York. He knows he's close to the Pennslyvania border and doesn't care enough to pinpoint exactly where anymore. All that's important is that he set up shop while he's still got daylight. It doesn't come out in the daylight, and Sam doesn't know for certain yet whether that's restriction or choice. He's pretty sure now that it's the former, because it wants him badly enough to do whatever it has to in order to get him. The last couple of nights it's been nearly as frantic as Sam.

He wonders if it's running out of time.

He remembers when he and Dean found that last hotel room their father had been staying in. The walls, completely covered with newspaper accounts and legends and photos, scribblings and incantations; the bed surrounded with salt. He almost laughs about the parallel as he tacks things to the walls, things for alternately warding off or trying to save what will come to his door later. He has ideas, he has leads, he still has hope. He's methodically being worn down to a shadow no one would recognize, since he exists now in a haze of dread and that fickle thread of hope. He's not sure how long he can really go on like he is.

Hey, dad, what do you think about your son now?

When twilight threatens, he realizes he's been too caught up to do the one thing, the only thing that will give him a choice. He pulls one of several cylindrical containers of salt from his duffel on the single bed. As an afterthought, he lays a handgun beside it as a last resort: the .45 automatic his brother favored, the Glock. Nine in the magazine and one in the chamber, silver wrought by his brother's hand. He hasn't used a single silver bullet since he became a solo act. He can't waste them, knowing it was one of the last things Dean did, making that batch. He needs to hold onto everything Dean was and did.

The line of salt in front of the doorway is an inch thick and an inch high, and there are no breaks. He leaves the door open because he needs to do that as well. He doesn't want to hear it knock. There's a single window and he salts the sill as carefully as he can.

He hangs a protection charm from the top of the door. It's a joke, he knows it is, because he's seen what it wears around its own neck and it mocks him with it at every turn. But he has to do what he can.

He returns to his laptop, searching for hints, grasping at straws, adding to his obsessive collection of parts that might make him whole again. He's closer than he was a week ago, and that alone makes his existence tolerable.

Sam never hears it, when it arrives; he simply knows it's there. He wants that to be due to some sort of recognition, that the form it wears is not all that's left. Dark has fallen and yellow lamplight paints him with the same wan afterglow it has for weeks, finding his hollows. The hollow thing wearing his brother pauses on the other side of the saltline and smirks. It's an expression his brother used to wear often, but not with anything approaching the level of malice Sam can see in its eyes. Never in their shared lives had Dean looked at him with such vituperative longing or even been capable of it.

It braces its hands on either side of the doorway, and some part of the back of Sam's mind that isn't screaming in silent anguish notes that it's careful to keep those hands on the outside of the doorframe so as not to cross the threshold.

"Sammy," once-Dean says, "...you can do better than this."

Sam hates it that Dean's eyes haven't changed. He wants a violation of this magnitude to be more visible than it is, but it's still only that calm hazel gaze waiting for him to falter, pinning him unblinking and eating him alive. He isn't completely sure when Dean was taken over, but it's not like it hadn't happened before. The skinwalker in St. Louis managed to grab Dean without Sam knowing until it was too late. He had not watched Dean as diligently as Dean had watched him, and he regretted it now with every breath. This was no skinwalker; whatever this was, it didn't borrow form or function. It wore his brother around with a casual disregard.

"You would know," Sam says and his voice is as steady as any offhand conversation. "If you were Dean."

There's a full-on grin this time, and it hangs its head a little. "I am," it breathes in his brother's voice. "Every fucking thing and just a little more."

Sam gets up and comes as close as he dares, and it tracks him with Dean's eyes with a flash of wariness that he doesn't miss. This is new; at first Sam was always plastering himself to the opposite wall. The first few nights there had been tears, and threats, and denial. There was no way the thing in the doorway knew what to do with a Sam who fought back. "He's fighting you, isn't he," Sam says, and Dean's face has never been an open book for what he really thinks, but whatever this is isn't as contained and has most likely never played poker. Sam sees a flicker of uncertainty and he finally feels his foot lodge in an intangible door that he can pry at as he chooses. "He's not going to let you rest any more than you let me. I can almost feel sorry for you. Dean can be a real pain in the ass."

Those eyes glance toward the bed, at the handgun in plain sight. "Not going to shoot me when I really need it?" once-Dean says. "You had no problem before. Or is it that you just can't bring yourself to shoot something that looks like me...unless it really is me?" The creature runs fingertips down the outside of the doorframe while watching Sam with its head tilted forward, smirking at him from below. Sam knows the caress is meant for him and tries not to flinch. "Right, Sam?"

Dean would never do this to him. Dean would turn a gun on himself before he'd do this. But Sam has to believe there's still something of Dean in the thing at his door every night. He'll shatter otherwise. Not a single thing in their arsenal is going to protect him from his brother. Dean is even still wearing the same protection charm; blasphemy of the highest kind. He has always been dangerous, but never to Sam, even in his worst moments.

Whatever is behind those eyes, it doesn't love him. It wants him, yes, with a blistering lust that changes the very air Sam breathes. He can almost taste how bad it wants him to come within reach.

"You're going to wear out before I do," Sam hears himself say. His own voice is a parody, even worse than the one in the doorway. "We're going to break you down."

"Sammy...please," once-Dean whispers, face and tone suddenly plaintive, and it's every broken thing Sam has ever known. It's blood and tears and fire and the death of hope. "I need you."

And it does. But not for the same things Dean would need him for. The voice in the doorway is not his brother's, and he knows it but that doesn't stop it from stripping him down to an agony of tattered nerve endings. It doesn't mean anything it says or feel the pain it portrays. It's only here to subvert Sam. Sam is careful not to look back, because it might try the wide, pleading, tear-filled look again.

He hates and adores the form in the doorway with a wretched abandon that he didn't realize he was capable of. He's beyond fear now and it leaves him with handfuls of sad insight and loss. But it also clears his head enough to keep going.

"Dean," Sam says, "if you can hear me at all, I haven't given up. But if there's nothing left, I won't let you go on like this. You've gotta know that."

There's steel in his tone that hasn't been there before, and the dynamic shifts. Once-Dean raises its head.

"You silly. Little. Bastard. I have both of you, and I'll keep you."

Sam doesn't react. It won't do him any good.

"I'll be back again tomorrow night," once-Dean says, and when the smirk becomes something almost warm, it's all Sam can do not to come a bit closer. "Wherever you are. I'll always know where you are, Sam. And sooner or later you'll either have to do what's right, or what you want."

"I'll do both," Sam says. His hands no longer shake.

It shoves itself away from the doorway and scuffs Dean's feet into the dark, whistling. It'll be back to check on him throughout the night. It has no choice. Vehicle and occupant both want the contents of the room too much to stray far.

Sam goes on shining into the dark, the final flame of what was. His moth of a once-brother circles, and sooner or later one may snuff the other.

-I-