Title: One Step Ahead

Rating: PG-13 for violence, gore, and language

Category: AU gen fic

Spoilers: Slight "Scarecrow" and "Dead Man's Blood"

Author's Notes: Takes place in my little AU world after "Dead Man's Blood" but before the Winchesters kill the demon.

Disclaimer: The following characters and situations are used without permission of the creators, owners, and further affiliates of the Warner Bros television show, Supernatural, to whom they rightly belong. I claim only what is mine, and I make no money off what is theirs.

"You need to stay in California."

Sam adjusted the phone on his ear, not sure if he had heard Dean correctly. Behind him, three of his old friends were laughing loudly with the groom-to-be, a man who had been Sam's college roommate only a few years ago. There were two nights until the wedding, and Sam was going to be in town for that week.

"What?" Sam echoed back to Dean.

"Stay in California, okay?"

"Dean, I told you, I'm coming back this time. I'm just here for the wedding. I'm not leaving for school until we find the demon…I thought we talked about this?"

"No. Stay away. Don't look for me. Don't call me. Stay in California, and you'll be okay. Go back to your life, Sammy. Please, just do me that much. Go back and stay there."

"What are you talking about? Are you drunk?" Sam said, moving out of the room and into a silent stairwell. Something in his brother's voice worried him. "I don't know what's going on, but I—" There was a final click, and then a painful silence that would last for many long months to follow. "Dean? No, don't do this. Dean, answer me…Dean?"

- - - - -

In the cracked mirror, he looked at his smudged reflection and wondered who was really to blame for all of this. Yet he knew that accusing someone would not change what had already happened, so he tried to turn his attention elsewhere. Although covered in so much blood, he knew that his was dried and theirs was fresh. His own blood was crusted brown against his neck and shirt collar with the wounds still swollen and pink, while their blood glistened in crimson smears on his skin and was wet on the fabric of his clothes. A single red bead ran down his forehead and curved across his blackened eyelid, before dribbling down the side of his face. It mocked him as a tear of a devil.

When he turned to search for a new pair of clothes, he was careful to step over the decapitated body behind him. The vampire's wide eyes stared at him from across the room, where the head had landed after he removed it from its neck with a single sweep of his blade.

The vampire's hammocks swung slowly and carried warm bodies that seeped blood from their headless torsos. The only sounds were the staccato, metallic plinks of dripping blood, and the murmured creak of twisted ropes forming the hammocks. Silently, he looked at the massacre he committed before the others had even had time to save themselves.

Even though they were dead, it had been too late for him. The only release he found in the killings was the sheer fact that they would not pose a danger to the rest of his family.

After he changed into a clean pair of clothes, he reached up and touched his swollen lips. They were crusted with blood; it was a taste he tried not to remember. Yet, he wondered if he could drink on his own when the hunger came for him.

- - - - -

"Dean? It's Sam. Would you please tell me what's going on? This is the fifth time I've tried to call. Dammit, don't try to do something stupid. Let me know where you are so I can buy a plane ticket and meet you…I'm serious about that. I don't know what's so dangerous, but if it's that dangerous that I need to stay away, then you're going to need my help. All right? Don't be an asshole about this. Call me."

- - - - -

Sitting on the top of the monkey bars at midnight, he watched the strolling teenage couple from afar. The last time he had had blood was days ago in the first meal brought to him by the same vampires who made him. He lacked the ability to kill on his own, and he wished there were some way to justify what he knew he must do.

The hunger was presently so fierce that his body ached with it. Around his joints, the skin was pulled tight, and his eyes were beginning to sink into their hollow sockets. Clothes that were slightly too small only days ago when he was healthy and vibrant now hung loosely on his pale, gaunt limbs.

On a park bench, the young couple sat and kissed, oblivious that they were being watched by two sets of eyes; one pair belonged to a confused immortal and the other pair to a mortal fiend. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a man appeared with dangerous intents. Holding a dirty gun, he grabbed the shrieking girl, and he shot her boyfriend in the leg with a poor, haphazard aim.

When the criminal dragged the girlfriend off into the secretive darkness, Dean was running after them before he had a chance to ask himself why. Even though the world was shrouded to human eyes, he was still able to find the criminal by the human scent, and Dean discovered the wicked man proceeding to rape the crying girl at forced gunpoint.

Before the man could act, Dean grabbed him by the back of the neck and pulled him away from the terrified girl. Seeing the two men scuffle and dance, the teenager fled to her injured boyfriend. The rapist swore and tried to shoot Dean, but even on the brink of maddening hunger, Dean had him pinned to the ground in a flashing instant.

It was the first time he had been this close to a human since he became a vampire, and the sheer blood scent from the man was overpowering. The hunger clawed at Dean's insides, and he could wait no longer. If he had to kill, he decided then, he would kill the evil in the world that would have destroyed life otherwise. When he tore into the human's throat, there was nothing graceful or seductive about his feeding as the movies would have people believe.

The flesh ripped, and the man screamed. His fingers slapped against Dean in futile measures, and he struggled to free himself. When Dean pressed his face against the hot liquid that bubbled forth from the man's neck, he drank in mad, frantic gulps.

In that moment, he had been given freedom and life again, but also an obsession and a prison.

When the man at last stopped thrashing and lay silent, Dean lifted his head to the sky where the moonlight reflected in his glowing eyes. Blood dripped off his chin and onto the dead man's forehead below.

- - - - -

"It's Sam, Dean. I've called Dad. Yes, believe it. I did because I thought that you two had gone off looking for the demon on your own. But that's not it. Dad's pissed off—and scared, too. He's meeting me in California, and then we're coming for you. What the hell have you gotten yourself into? Dammit, Dean…Just, dammit…call me as soon as you can."

- - - - -

In the middle of the forest, he was surrounded by a pack of werewolves. The monsters had already killed four men, and he knew that they would murder again if he did not stop them. It was not so much the simple idea that they would kill, but who they would kill, as his family was on their way to the very town that contained the wolves' lair.

One of the wolves crept forward on muddy paws, snarling at him; its matted fur was wet with blood and swamp water. The wolf growled ominously in the back of its throat, and Dean chuckled at the weak threat. His laughter died on the passing wind.

Then the wolves attacked in one movement to bring him down as they had the many before him. Their teeth tore what would be fatal wounds to a mortal man in his flesh. But, Dean no longer had a timeframe on his life, unlike the hundreds he walked amongst every day.

He lifted a flashing gun, loaded with silver bullets, and fired at the vicious creatures. The wolves yelped with pain and surprise. Soon, their bloodied human forms lay jumbled on the damp ground.

Panting heavily, Dean looked down at the gouges in his skin and was not entirely surprised to see that the wounds were already starting to close. After wiping the filth off the gun, he put the weapon back into the waistband of his jeans. He laughed again, and this time, the sound was carried through the night.

His father and brother would be safe for another day.

- - - - -

"Sam again, but you knew that already, I'm sure. Look, Dad's been in contact with some of his friends—looking for you—and there's stories going around about some guy who can survive anything. I don't know, but they say he's dangerous and probably crazy. He'll kill anything in his way. I don't know what to say. Did this guy get you, Dean? Is that why you're not answering my messages? I just…It can't be you. I mean, why? How? No…"

- - - - -

The other vampires talked casually with him, slapping him on the back and laughing too loudly, as they exited the bar and prepare for their nightly hunt. There was a pair of men who had killed a group of vampires a few weeks ago arriving in the city tonight. The hunters would be a perfect meal of revenge.

The vampires had trusted Dean all evening, which was why they never would have expected for him to pull out a set of twin machetes from beneath his black coat. Hearing the soft hiss of metal through the air, they turned, but by the time they could see the biting blades, it was already too late. They did not even have time to scream.

One lone vampire remained, staring at Dean, while the others lay in bloody heaps on the ground. Slowly, Dean circled the other vampire, the knives glistening with hot blood. Underneath Dean's feet, the gravel crunched, and his long coat snapped in the cool breeze. A wicked smile twisted across his face, and the other vampire began to plead for his life.

You are breaking everything, the vampire told Dean. We aren't supposed to kill our own kind.

But, Dean did not wait for the excuses and the explanations that would add more minutes to an immortal murderer's life, and he swung the blade once. The stroke was true and strong. The vampire was still crying wistfully when his head hit the ground five feet away from his body.

As Dean cleaned the blades, he reflected on the other vampire's words. Perhaps he was not supposed to kill his own kind. But, he surely would not take the risk that this same kind would take the lives of the two men with whom he had once walked.

- - - - -

"Dad's been showing your pictures around—it's Sam, in case you hadn't figured that out—and somebody recognized you from one of the bars a few states away. A bar where a bunch of vampires were beheaded. Vampires. Beheaded! The town's going crazy, thinking there's some psycho killer on the loose and the guys—the hunters, Dad's friends?—they don't know what the hell to think. Don't tell me you killed those vampires. Goddammit, Dean, I'm worried, all right? You've scared me real good. You happy yet? C'mon, the joke's over...I'm begging you…please call me or something…Anything, please."

- - - - -

The weeks passed, and the legends grew. In the shadowed bars, the men spoke of poor John Winchester and his lost son. The great demon hunter's oldest boy was probably dead if he hadn't been found by now. With a wife and now a son, the Winchesters seemed to have their family marked for death.

Then the talk changed, as it always did, and the men told stories about a vampire who killed its own without forgiveness and hunted monsters like a man. Occasionally, the drunken fool of the table would wonder if the Winchester boy and the vampire hunter were one in the same. But, this idea never stayed; it was far too outlandish and horrific for anyone to believe.

Dean always avoided these conversations and remained seated in the darkest corner. When they finally noticed his lone figure and started the furtive whispers, he set his glass down and threw some money on the table. Before they could look at this face to describe him later, he disappeared into the darkness yet again. He needed to stay one step ahead of his brother and father, not just to avoid the temptation of their human blood, but to protect them from the supernatural evils lurking in the shadows for them.

- - - - -


"Dean? Dean! Oh God, where are you…what—I—oh God—"

"Sam." He only had to say it once in such a low tone for silence to capture the phone line. Then his voice softened when he said his last words before he hung up again, "Sam, it's been me all along."

- - - - -

Outside the window, the snow falls softly underneath the illuminated circle of the streetlamp. Dean, seated alone, pulls his coat tighter around him to conceal the long blades resting along the sides of his legs. He has just lifted his glass when two figures at the bar catch his eye.

John and Sam sit next to each other in pained silence. Their faces are tight and strained, and their gestures slow with exhaustion. Sam's eyes, underlined by black circles, skim the room before returning to his drink, while John sighs and runs his hand across his face. The great hunters have been rendered weak by the loss of one of their own.

Before Dean can stop himself, he is crossing the floor in long strides and resting his hand on his brother's shoulder. Sam whips around, prepared to argue with the local drunk, and then his eyes widen upon seeing Dean's face once again. His mouth gapes open, and he sputters something unintelligent, and John quickly turns to follow Sam's startled movement.

"Dean," John whispers, his pitch cracking on that one syllable he feared he would never speak again.

In his father's voice, Dean can hear the living blood, and he backs away from the two men quickly. "Don't come near me," he tells them, bowing his head.

"Don't come near you?" Sam gapes. "We've been looking all this time and we're not supposed to—" He rises to his feet and proceeds to walk towards his brother, who he has been searching for all these divided months.

Suddenly, John, understanding the reason for Dean's distance, reaches out a protective hand and grabs Sam by the forearm to keep him close. "Don't," he says to Sam. Hesitantly, he looks back to Dean, who is standing only a few feet away, but seems separated by worlds. John then says, "They did this to you."

Dean nods silently, and an overwhelming flow of emotions he has kept locked away begins to emerge. His father and brother stand before him, yet he smells their human blood, and the scent prickles his vampiric instincts.

He cannot trust himself any longer.

"There has to be a way—" Sam begins, seeking for a salvation to bring them together again. His hands open and close in frustrated fists at his sides, struggling to repair the bond with his only brother.

"There's nothing," Dean answers hollowly. "You can't be near me."

"It was you," John says after a moment of desperate silence where he has fitted the misshapen moments of the past months together into an austere reality. "It was you, getting to those hunts before we did, killing the vampires before they got to us…You've been watching us this entire time."

Dean's eyes glow in the dim lights when he replies, "Yes."

John looks at Dean, who is no longer a man but a monster fighting his own inhibitions. Even though the figure standing before him has killed so many, John still sees his son, and he knows that this will never change for him. When John nods silently, both Dean and he agree to the unspoken words that pass between them.

Finally, Sam twists out of his father's grasp and approaches his brother. He is afraid to touch Dean, somehow knowing what he has become, but Sam stands close nonetheless. "You've always been there? All this time?"

In response, Dean nods.

"And you're always going to be there? Whether we know it or not?"

"Always, Sammy, always."

Sam gives a jerky shake of his head and clears his throat. He says, "All right" without any true conviction and with tears in his eyes. Gradually, Dean begins to turn and exit the building before the risk of killing the two men escalates to a fatal level he can not control.

When Dean turns for one last time to look at the only family he has ever had, Sam is standing and John is sitting, both of them watching him leave. Dean gives them a small, sad smile, but he does not tell them good-bye.

There is no need for farewells. He never plans on leaving them.