New story, spoilers through 1x12. Definitely not a sequel and not even really a companion piece, but like "Vocabulary," it deals with the Winchesters four. Dean POV this time. Dean's thoughts throughout "Faith." Special thanks to the TWoPpers for the nickname "Longboy" (I think it's tm Giggling Kat).
Don't own the boys or the show. Not for profit, just for fun.

"Think It Through"

This place reeks. There's stagnant water dotting the floor in muddy pools, and the odor emanating from the rawhead would be staggering all on its own, even without the cocktail of blood and piss and fear thrown on top. The light from the flashlight is nice and strong and he keeps his hands steady. Sam's beam isn't wavering any more than his, and he knows that Sam heard him when he explained why he wanted to track this thing down.

Down the stairs, ahead of Sammy, even though that means his peripheral vision's a little compromised by the light from his brother's flashlight; the height difference between them is just right for that.

Sweep, sweep, wrists locked, Sam steady to his left. A moment to brace himself before he opens the cupboard, cheating a little, getting there just before he finishes counting to three, so Sammy won't be tempted to do it himself. Look down, and see two kids huddled inside, each panicking silently and separately. They'll be stronger if they just learn to lean on each other. "Grab your sister's hand," he orders, knowing what they need most is a familiar touch. The girl has snot all over her face and the boy's pants are damp in the front, but they suddenly cling together. Sam's herding them upstairs, good shepherd that he is, and a scaly hand shoots out and sends that lanky height toppling. Come out to play, motherfucker? He swings himself behind the staircase and sees it. Clear shot, now. But the thing's got a hell of a survival instinct, and he misses by a mile. Well, shit. He trades Sam's weapon for his brother's absence, and Sam gathers the kids once more. The weight of his homemade electrogun is comforting in his hand; his heartbeat settles again into its normal rhythm, now that it doesn't have Sammy's scattershot footsteps overhead to mimic.

The basement is frustratingly silent. "Come on," he growls, and the rawhead pops up in front of him, clocking him and sending the electrogun skittering across the floor like a wild thing. He's sprawled and dazed, his ass soaking wet, when the rawhead appears again, backlit as if it's posing for a glamour shot, and he pushes his tangled limbs into an uncoordinated crab crawl and snatches up the weapon. One squeeze and the coils burst forth; the rawhead is extra fucking crispy and so, for that matter, is he. Blinding light and every nerve is burning. Oh God, is this what it felt like for Mom, going up in flames? How long did it last for her? Snap, crackle, pop. I'm done.

Catch a falling star. There are whole constellations making themselves at home in his head. She used to wear socks all the time, had a sweater hanging on a nearby hook even in the summertime. She could never get warm enough. It pisses him off that he wakes up to the same train of thought, chugging uselessly along the only track his mind apparently possesses. He opens his eyes, blinks against the fluorescent lights overhead and the sparkling lights inside his head, and realizes he's in a hospital bed, the new, crisp thinness of the drafty gown rough against his skin. Oh, he's going to kill Sam. He's awake, he's fine, he does not need to be in a place where they can draw blood and maybe match it to a St. Louis coroner's report. He looks at his arms. No pinpricks, no gauze taped to the inside of either elbow. Maybe he's caught a break. He's considering escape routes when a nurse walks noiselessly in, big smile on his face. "So the hero's awake?" he asks rhetorically.

There are whole constellations making themselves at home in his head. It pisses him off that he wakes up to the same train of thought, chugging uselessly along the only track his mind apparently possesses. He opens his eyes, blinks against the fluorescent lights overhead and the sparkling lights inside his head, and realizes he's in a hospital bed, the new, crisp thinness of the drafty gown rough against his skin. Oh, he's going to Sam. He's awake, he's , he does need to be in a place where they can draw blood and maybe match it to a St. Louis coroner's report. He looks at his arms. No pinpricks, no gauze taped to the inside of either elbow. Maybe he's caught a break. He's considering escape routes when a nurse walks noiselessly in, big smile on his face. "So the hero's awake?" he asks rhetorically.

It takes a moment for his brain to process that, another, longer moment before his voice decides to cooperate. "Kids okay, then?" he rasps. He grimaces when he realizes he sounds like he's been smoking since the nineteenth century.

"The Thompson kids are fine," the nurse assures, deft fingers hooking him up to a machine, placing small pads on his chest, deaf to his grumbles. The question his eyes are asking, however, gets a response. "Your brother's outside, taking care of the paperwork."

Christ. Sam has no idea which card to use, which insurance plan will raise the least alarm. All he's doing here is lying in a bed, which he could accomplish in any of the fine motels that this country has to offer. "Easy there, champ," the nurse says, watching him with a practiced eye; "he's still got to talk to the police after that."

Shit. The cops don't need to take a gander at him. He sighs and resigns himself to his fate. Maybe he'll catch up on his sleep.

Mint green must not be his color. Not one nurse has succumbed to his charm, and he's more than ready for Sammy to waltz his ass in here and liberate him from this joyless place. It's a pretty spring day, if the view from his window can be trusted, and he's going to make his baby roar and purr, speed and control surging and coasting under his sure hands.

Any minute now. Damn it, Sam, come on.

All at once, the pain stops hibernating and it hits without mercy. He needs an immediate distraction. He gropes blindly for the remote control, gritting his teeth when it takes actual effort to raise his arm high enough so that the damn TV turns on, the remote slapping against the tender flesh of his wrist. He feels like he's been beaten for days with aluminum baseball bats, reverberating as they strike. There's a pounding in his head that won't go away, and his heart is galloping clumsily along. What he needs is for his father to walk through the door and take the agony away. What he gets is more hospital drama, televised this time, as a nurse, a busty redhead with stock in Mary Kay, sheds one careful tear as her perfectly manicured hand smoothes over a comatose man's brow. Bet he's got insurance up the wazoo. The scene goes fuzzy with hundreds of twinkling lights, and commercials begin to roll. There's one for Tylenol in which the blurry fine print all but admits that the damn things don't work. One for a mop that apparently lobotomizes women and makes them show off all their teeth as they push soapy water around and around their floors. A third for fabric softener with a teddy bear gamboling about and bouncing around people's laundry baskets, popping up occasionally to chat as if he's best friends with every single person he sees. Who the hell is the target audience for this shit? He wonders if those kids – the Thompsons – slept last night through, snuggled up with teddy bears. There's only ever the illusion of safety, and he's close to chucking the remote at the TV when Sam finally, finally, walks in.

One look at Sammy's drawn face, at his downcast liquid eyes, and he knows. Nurses don't flirt with dying men; baby brothers don't tremble out of relief.

If this is the last thing he's going to do, he might as well do it right.

Before Sam can raise his eyes, he's willed his mind blank and clamped down hard on the pain. He doesn't let himself think about what he can do or say to make Sammy stop looking so stretched tight; doesn't think, just does. He plays nonchalant, flipping casually through TV stations. "You ever actually watch daytime TV?" he asks, like they're just meeting for coffee and chatting while the waitress is heading their way, fishing a pencil out of the bun in her hair. "It's terrible," he finishes, since Sam's stubbornly refusing to play the game.

"I talked to your doctor," Sam says, like that's not written all over his face, in every line of his too-tense form.

There's something he's missing in all of this, but he remembers Dad's analysis and he lets his mouth go on autopilot again. "That fabric softener teddy bear . . . ooh, wanna hunt that little bitch down." He's got a curved blade that would look great impaled in cotton and fluff and lies. But Sammy says his name, broken, like he's afraid it's the last word he'll ever say. He can't keep himself from responding, looking up at that pinched little face and turning off the TV. "Yeah." Sam's throat is knotted tight, so he keeps talking, and he knows that for whatever reason, there's a smile on his face and that has to be pissing Sam off to no end, but he's not going to fight his own instincts. "Alright, well, looks like you're gonna leave town without me."

"What are you talking about? I'm not gonna leave you here," Sam blusters, like he wasn't inwardly crying Dean you're dead just a moment ago.

At last. Now they're getting somewhere. Keep pushing, because sooner or later the answer will sneak right up, make itself at home, and whistle innocently, like it's been there all along. "Hey. You better take care of that car. Or I swear I'll haunt your ass."

"I don't think that's funny." Christ, there he goes, bringing the word think into it, weighting down the soap-bubble reality that could set them free.

"Ah, come on, it's a little funny." He's proud of himself for that one, for the smile that covers how suddenly the pain has turned the dial to eleven. He can feel a sweat starting and he knows he's losing control. Say your goodbye, String Bean, and get out. "Look, Sammy, what can I say, man? It's a dangerous gig. I drew the short straw. That's it, end of story." Neither pathos nor bathos. Died in the line of duty.

Sam meets his gaze again like a challenge. It's Death Sam wants to take on, Death for whom he's posturing. "Don't talk like that, alright? We still have options."

Now he's sick of it. There's something here and it's dancing at the edge of his mind. If he could just get ten minutes alone, he'd have it, the truth lying at the foundation of this mess. Time to rile Longboy up. "What options? You got burial or cremation." Hoo boy, does Sam look pissed, like he's ready to throw a fist through him, give his guts a good sharp tug, maybe keep him here with a grip on his viscera. Don't break him, just move him along. "I know it's not easy. I'm gonna die. And you can't stop it."

Wonderboy's been given his mission now, and throws the words at him – "Watch me" – as he leaves the bleak hospital room.

Silence. Praise every god in every pantheon. Now rewind.

Did it start with the heart attack? You are the best weapon you've got, Dean. I've never seen anyone with instincts like yours. He'd seen the water, felt it soaking muddily through his clothes, and still his finger had called forth electricity. How was he supposed to make sense of his self-preservation's leave of absence? You and Sammy are different, that's all. Maybe it started before the heart attack. You both know how to research, know how to figure out what we're going up against. Sammy and me, we keep what we learn close, on the surface, and make it our first defense. Had he known before the final showdown with the rawhead that it would come to this, had he bargained his life for his brother's? What you do is to take your knowledge and let it sink deep into you, let it dissolve into instinct. Had prescience lay buried within him as he aimed the car in this direction, as he charged his weapons? So piece it together afterwards, think your actions through when you're done, and you'll figure out the truth. There it was. He had offered himself up to Death.

It had become a ritual after every battle for him to piece together the thoughts that had guided him. Dad would minister to him with holy water, gauze, and questions; Sammy would follow the proceedings with careful, tired eyes. He doesn't know if he'll be able to get to the why without Dad's patient illumination, without the familiar scritch of the pen against a page of Dad's journal, but the twitch of his subconscious is saying that he can.

Okay. Steady. Don't fall asleep, don't pay attention to the pain. Just think. There was water everywhere. Why electricity and not salt? Electricity is fatal to rawheads. Yes, but what else? The thought of salt still hurts too much, five states and hundreds of bruises away. Sammy knew what he was doing when he leveled that blast, when he snapped the pistol trigger four times. Did he really? Or was his mind being manipulated? He knew. And it's not like that was the first time his mind's been used as a playground. Sam's always prided himself on being a person of the mind. Yeah. Smartass. That's where he's most vulnerable. He's not going to be able to take much more of this, the prophetic dreams, living inside himself. They're killing him. They have to be stopped. Trace them back to the source. He prophesied Jess's death. He drew the tree from the front lawn. Jess died like Mom did. He brought us back to the house Mom was haunting. It's Mom.

It all clicks into place. Family business is right. While they've been hunting for her killer, she's been on the other side trying to send them a sign. He and Dad have had their defenses up too long for her to penetrate, so she's been battering at Sammy, clumsily pushing her way into the chinks of armor Stanford created. That's what she was apologizing for when she slipped out of flame to stand before them in the soft nightie Dad had helped him pick out for Mother's Day. And it's the reason he sent Sam out of the way and faced the rawhead alone and let his flesh sizzle. There's no choice to be made, if it comes down to his body or his brother's mind. If he can get to the other side, to where she is, he'll be able to get her message across. He knows all the barricades Dad can erect, knows his way around them. This is why she's been flitting back and forth through his mind since he squeezed that trigger. His death will solve everything.

It's water, not fire, this time. She materializes gently, hair dark with damp, and steps smoothly forward, fierce and beautiful like a ship's figurehead. And then she smiles.

She's beside at him as he raps his knuckles against the door. Sammy's face goes adorably wide-eyed with surprise and he resists the urge to turn and grin knowingly at his mother. "What the hell are you doing here?"

No need to get rid of the smile Sam's suddenly sporting. He can't quite pull off a wink, but no power in the world can stop his mouth. "I checked myself out." Sam's about to veer from hopeful to angry, and it doesn't help that he finds himself clinging to the wall just to stand. He hopes it looks like he's just doing the casual lean he perfected long ago. "Ah, I'm not gonna die in a hospital where the nurses aren't even hot," he says, smirking as his mother rolls her eyes, and then her conspiratorial smile makes his hand steal once again to his heart.

"You know, this whole 'I laugh in the face of death' thing? It's crap. I can see right through it." Funny Sam should say that, when he's gone nearly translucent with worry. And there's no need for it. It will all be over soon.

"Yeah, whatever, dude," he answers automatically, pushing himself away from the wall and cursing inwardly at Sammy's need to see him strong. See, Mom, I take good care of him, even when he's a dumbass. "Have you even slept, you look worse than me," he lies, remembering the smudged pallor of his skin in the bathroom mirror, the way the bruises around his eyes darkened with each unsteady thrum of his heart.

Sam chooses not to respond to that, instead clucking like an anxious mother hen and hauling him around like a sack of dry goods. "I've been scouring the internet for the last three days. Yeah. Calling every contact in Dad's journal."

He's so distracted by the reminder of the journal – he needs to write this down and let Sammy find it later – that he forgets the reason his brother's set his bony jaw at him and is radiating fear and impatience in equal measure. "For what?"

"For a way to help you. One of Dad's friends, Joshua, he called me back. Told me about a guy in Nebraska. A specialist." If Joshua had let go of his paranoia long enough to call a cell phone, that meant Dad had pushed him to it. Shit. This was all going to be so simple. He was going to die, he and Mom would tip off Dad and Sam, the demon would be vanquished, Dad would finally find peace, and Sam would be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Eventually. He looks at her, waiting for a signal, something to get him out of this mess, but her eyes are unfathomable and he turns back to Sam.

"You're not going to let me die in peace, are you?"

The answer is instantaneous, and he knows he's the straight man to Sam's impeccable stand-up comic timing. "I'm not going to let you die, period. We're going."

He spends most of the drive sleeping. The pain hasn't diminished, and he can feel his vitality steadily slipping away. He wakes only when Sam drives through – the guilty look on his face gives him away – his millionth pothole on this shit road.

He'd decided before leaving the hospital, against medical advice, blah blah blah, that his baby was his best bet. So much of her had been made at the cost of his blood and sweat and time; there wasn't an inch of her that didn't bear the imprint of some part of him. The words had tripped off his tongue, the only part of him that hadn't been aching. You better take care of that car. Or I swear I'll haunt your ass. Under the cover of Sam's need to watch the road, he unloads his pockets as quickly as he can, mourning for his lost dexterity and speed. The ashtrays get pebbles and beads and the cord he ripped from the skinwalker's throat, his favorite knife goes in the door sleeve. He spares a glance at his leather jacket in the backseat, and sees his mother's hand hovering just above it. Even Sammy won't be able to reason himself out of belief when he sees his brother's possessions move as if his hand is still guiding them. Even Sammy won't let misplaced guilt deny the whipcord connection between them.

The only question now is how much longer he needs to keep this shell – just a bundle of nerves, really – before he gets to rest.

He knows he's whining like a baby, but the drive was long and jarring, and he'd counted on an hour alone in a doctor's waiting room to record his revelations in the journal and write his goodbyes somewhere in the back. But Sammy insists on shining like a beacon and trudging through mud like there's a pot of gold in the con man's tent and touching him with hands too desperate to be gentle.

He perks up a bit when he sees the security camera scanning the sick and the dying. Maybe this is a job, coded through Joshua instead of coordinates. "Yeah, peace, love, trust all over," he says but Sam can't be distracted. He turns and sees his mother skimming carelessly over the slop, her shining face turning curiously at everything around her.

Sam uses his height to spot empty seats up front, too far for most here to walk, and manhandles him into a seat on the aisle. He scowls at his mother and she smiles widely, clearly relishing her boys' interactions. He pulls his fists from his pockets and lets the frown slip off his face.

He turns his gaze away from her softening eyes and sees a man in dark glasses shuffling uncertainly across the stage. A reverential silence settles throughout the tent, making him fidget. "The Lord lets me see into people's hearts," he hears the man say. This must be the main attraction, Roy LeGrange.

"Yeah, or into their wallets," he mutters, rewarded by the way his mother's face crinkles in amusement.

"You think so, young man?" Roy asks suddenly, startling the bejesus out of him.

Now she's giving him a smartassed thumbs-up. He'll get her for that. "Sorry," he offers lamely.

"No, no, don't be," Roy says, nice and avuncular. "Just watch what you say around a blind man, we got real sharp ears." So the blindness isn't part of the scam. "What's your name, son?"

He can't remember why he'd given the blonde his real name, aside from the fact that she'd been about the only thing in a hundred-yard radius that wasn't covered in mud and despair. He clears his throat and gruffs out, "Dean."

"Dean. I wan – I want you to come up here with me."

The man's canny, he'll give him that. Isolate the troublemaker, cut him off from the herd, while maintaining a show of concern. The rising applause indicates that everyone's buying it, and Sam's begging to be punched if he keeps it up with the hopeful eyes. "Nah, that's okay."

Sam, of course, can't trust that he knows what's best. "What are you doing?" he asks frantically, like a shyster in a big-top tent can turn back time.

"You've come here to be healed, haven't you?" Roy butts in again.

"Please, Dean," Sammy whispers and his mother's eyes darken when she hears the heartbreak in his voice.

No, damn it, he's got a plan. "Well, yeah, but uh," and here the fuckers keep applauding and start stamping, and if they've got that much energy they probably don't need a healer, "maybe you should just pick someone else," he says, his hands drifting apart, indicating the true believers around him, until one hand is in front of Sam's struggling heat and the other is in front of his mother's quiet stillness.

And now Roy sounds amused that he just doesn't get it. "No, I didn't pick you, Dean, the Lord did."

Sammy falls for it, hook, line, and sinker. "Get up there!" His mother is nodding at him now, and he knows that it will break his brother if he denies him this. He'll play his part in this farce, skip the donation jar next to the exit line, and kick Sam's ass all the way back to the car when this is over.

He heaves himself up and approaches the stage. He nods sardonically at the audience, and his mother, trailing a step behind him, waves with phony Miss America glee. Roy's wife escorts him gingerly across the stage with a hand on his back, and Roy's heavier hand rests on his shoulder. "You ready?"

"Look, no disrespect, but uh, I'm not exactly a believer," he says, trying to stay alert, watching for whatever Dad might have sensed.

"You will be, son. You will be," Roy smiles for the crowd, and his mother smiles for him. He can get through this hullaballoo. "Pray with me, friends."

Roy's hand lies lightly on his arm, and he gives the man a sideways look. But Roy is deep in whatever he's in, and he thinks maybe Roy would do this even if there weren't an audience. He focuses on his mother's eyes. I love you. The hand slides up to the side of his face, holding it aloft and pressing it down at once. It's a little clammy but warm and soft too. His eyes must be dimming because her outlines are going soft and a little bit fuzzy. "Alright, now," he hears Roy breathe. He can't see the crowd in front of him anymore, can barely hear the buzz of their interest. He's getting dizzy. His mother is flickering before him. Fuck. Please just let me pass out. Don't let this be for real. Mom. Her eyes are wide, startled, and he's panicking. "Alright, now," he hears again, feels it as a vibration, and he staggers to his knees. No! This is not the way it should happen. He shivers as a cold knife casually swipes through him, slicing through something vital. She hisses like she's been cut too. Please, no. I'm so close. Darkness envelops him, his mother's face slides out of his mind, and the world goes black.