Disclaimer: The Winchesters belong to Eric Kripke and I will be forever grateful to him for sharing them with us. I hope he doesn't mind me borrowing them from time to time; I promise to return them as I found them.
A/N: Thanks for Kelli, Karen and Jayme for reading this and encouraging me. And to The Emu who persuaded me to write again.
He had never experienced darkness so complete. He couldn't see anything; not even the proverbial hand in front of his face. He felt the space around him. He was sitting on the floor and it felt like concrete; so did the wall he was leaning against. He couldn't remember where he was or how he'd gotten there. He didn't hurt anywhere and after a quick check, didn't find any injuries.
"Dean?" he called quietly. He heard nothing and tried again, louder this time. "Dean!"
He saw a light come on at the end of what he now could barely see was a hallway. He slowly stood up and looked around, but the area was still too dark to make anything out.
"Hello?" he called. "Who's there?"
Getting no response, he moved slowly toward the light while sliding one hand along the wall. He could see something hanging in what looked like a doorway several feet away. As he got closer, he could tell it was a body. He was afraid to go any further, but it wasn't a fear he could explain. It was almost like he knew what he would find; as if he knew somehow it had been there. He hesitated but pushed himself forward, and when he was close enough, he could see blood dripping from the body; there was a large pool of it under the body and he knew he was too late to help. His eyes moved upward and he saw the ring on the right hand, the leather bracelet, then the jacket.
"No." he said to himself. "No! Dean!"
Sam jerked awake, sweating and breathing hard. He looked around the dingy motel room; his brother wasn't in the next bed where he should be. Sam suddenly felt sick and threw the covers off before rushing to the bathroom. A moment later, he flushed the toilet and closed the lid, leaning back against the wall. The floor felt cold, but he didn't notice.
Is that what happened? Sam wondered. He couldn't remember checking into the motel; he didn't even know where he was. Dean…What the hell happened? Why couldn't he remember? He banged his head against the wall in frustration.
Come on, Sam, he said to himself. Figure this out.
He stood up on shaky legs and took inventory of what he was wearing; jeans, t-shirt and a hooded jacket. There was no blood on the clothes and nothing to indicate he'd been involved in a fight. He splashed cold water on his face and drank water from the tap before leaving the bathroom, staggering a little as he walked back to the twin beds. He sat down quickly and took a moment to catch his breath before looking around. Dean's duffle bag was on the floor at the foot of the bed he would have slept in. Dean always took the bed closet to the door.
The car, Sam thought. Where is the Impala? He felt his pockets for the keys, but felt nothing. They weren't on the nightstand or the small table in front of the window. Moving to the window he could see the car, Dean's car, parked outside.
Did I park it there, Sam wondered? He stared at the car. Dean's car. Where was his brother? The last thing he clearly remembered was dinner – was it only yesterday? He and Dean were at some random roadside diner, sitting near the window and talking about their next case. There were a lot of possibilities but nothing in particular was jumping out at them. In truth, they were both tired and even Dean wasn't ready to take on something new. The conversation moved from there to the movie they'd watched the day before and then onto other random topics. Sam remembered the conversation almost verbatim but he couldn't remember anything past paying the check and getting into the car.
Where had they gone? Where was Dean?
Sam turned his attention to Dean's duffle bag; it was on the floor at the foot of the bed closest to the door. The bed hadn't been slept in – but if his brother had died the way Sam saw in his dream… Sam glanced down at the table in front of him and saw his cell phone. After looking at the date and confirming the dinner he remembered had, in fact, only been the night before, he dialed his brother's number. There was no answer but Sam realized he couldn't hear the phone ringing in the room; he idly thought the phone could be off or the battery could need charging. Putting the phone back on the table, he turned his attention to Dean's duffle bag. There was nothing in it that shed any light on his situation. He wondered why he brought it into the room and why he dropped it where Dean would have.
He searched the room thoroughly while trying to remember anything that could help him. He found the car keys on the floor next to the nightstand and gripped them tightly as he leaned against the bed. Why couldn't he remember anything past dinner the night before?
After a moment, he slowly stood, slipped on his shoes and made his way out to the car. The outside was spotless, as always. He unlocked the driver side door and checked the interior. There was no blood and nothing out of the ordinary inside the car.
Sam sat behind the wheel. The seat was adjusted for his longer legs; he definitely drove the car to the motel. There was nothing in the glove compartment and he found nothing unusual in the trunk. He leaned against the car and looked around. He still had no idea what had happened after leaving the diner last night.
Damnit, he thought as he slammed his fist against the steering wheel.
Dean sat next to his brother's hospital bed. He was scared but wouldn't admit it. Sam had what they'd started calling a waking vision and the pain had been too intense for him to tell Dean what he was seeing. While Dean held him and tried to comfort him, Sam had suffered, unable to do anything more than moan pitifully. He lost consciousness suddenly and when Dean couldn't rouse him after several minutes, he reluctantly loaded his brother into the car and brought him to the hospital. He told the attending physician only that Sam had suffered a painful headache and passed out. Sam was admitted and subjected to tests while Dean paced in the waiting room. Finally, he was settled into a room and Dean was allowed to see him. The test results showed nothing the doctor could treat yet, but Sam's vital signs were strong and the doctor was confident; there were other tests and he was sure the problem would be discovered.
There was nothing for Dean to do but wait and he wasn't very good at waiting. If something had hurt his brother, Dean could kill it but he didn't know what to hunt. Sam hadn't been able to even give him a clue about what he was seeing in his vision and since they weren't working on anything in particular, Dean was at a loss. So, he sat at his brother's bedside and waited.
Dean woke with a start when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"It's me, Dean." John Winchester said squeezing his older son's shoulder.
Dean blinked his eyes in confusion. "Dad?"
John stood next to the bed and looked at Sam.
"You okay?" John directed to Dean.
Dean rubbed his face and stood up. "Yeah. I didn't expect you to come."
John ignored the possible insult and touched Sam's shoulder. "What happened?"
"Like I said in the voice mail; Sam had a vision and passed out. That was –" Dean looked at his watch. "Five hours ago."
The family had been separated for years and even after their reunion, things were somewhat tense. They were still looking for the demon that broke their family and killed Sam's girlfriend; although they'd finally gotten close, it slipped away from them and they weren't sure where to look next. John had figured out the pattern that preceded the thing's arrival, but he couldn't find any of the clues now and there was nothing to do but wait. He was no better at that than his son.
"Tell me exactly what happened."
Dean moved to stand next to his father, needing to be close to Sam. "We were in a motel room getting settled in for the night. Sam was on the computer and I was on the bed flipping through TV channels. I didn't realize he was having a vision until he called my name and damn near fell out of the chair. " Dean stopped talking and looked at his brother.
"Dean?" John prompted.
"He couldn't talk because it hurt so much. I just held onto him and he – he went limp. I couldn't wake him up and didn't know what else to do but bring him here."
John looked at his older son. He knew Dean could handle damn near anything, but the one thing that would bring him to his knees every time was seeing his brother in any kind of pain.
"That was the right decision."
Dean looked at his father, somewhat surprised because compliments were not easy to come by from John Winchester. All of them were quite skilled in first aid and hospitals were the last resort.
"So what do the doctors say?"
"He's had x-rays, CAT scans and I don't know what else. There's nothing that says why he's unconscious, but they'll run more tests."
"What did you tell the doctor?"
"That he'd been having severe headaches. That he had one and passed out."
John nodded and they stood in silence for several minutes, both watching Sam intently.
"You should go back to the motel." John said finally.
"You are, too."
"Go to the motel and try to get some sleep. Come back in the morning and then I'll go to the motel. "
"Dad – " Dean's voice broke. "I can't leave him. Not even with you."
John hesitated then nodded.
Sam awoke with a start. He was leaning against the passenger side door of the Impala and sat up slowly. The car wasn't moving and Dean wasn't sitting behind the wheel. Sam looked around and saw nothing but darkness around him.
"Dean?" he called quietly as he got out of the car.
He heard nothing. Sighing, he grabbed a flashlight from the car and looked around the car. He could see a road in the distance, but no sign of his brother. "Dean!" he called again.
He headed toward the road but only took a few steps before dizziness overcame him. He leaned against the nearest tree, sitting down a moment later. He rubbed his face and realized that he had no idea where they'd been going. He couldn't remember where they had been. He took a deep breath trying to stave off a wave of nausea and he realized he couldn't remember anything since dinner – when had that been? He looked at his watch; it was just after 2 am. The worst of the dizziness was over; he reached into his pocket for his cell phone and dialed Dean's number. There was no answer.
There was something on the edge of his memory, nagging him. It was almost a feeling of familiarity about this situation but he didn't know why. Slowly he stood, and began to make his way toward the road again but after only a few steps, the nausea overtook him again. Once it passed, he decided to head back to the car.
Where was Dean? He wouldn't have left Sam asleep in the car and gone off alone. Would he? Flashlight in hand, Sam examined the car. It looked like it had come to a gentle stop; there was nothing to indicate Dean had lost control and ran off the road. He opened the driver side door and shined the light in and was shocked at what he saw.
Panicked, he yelled his brother's name. As before, he heard nothing.
Sam knelt down and forced himself to look inside the car again. There was so much blood on the seat… what had hurt his brother? Had Sam slept through it somehow? He checked himself for injuries but he seemed unhurt. The keys weren't in the ignition and Dean's bag was gone from the back seat. Why would he have left Sam sleeping and gone off without him? If this was Dean's blood…who else's blood could it be?
Sam felt the nausea again and fell back onto the ground with his eyes closed. Soon enough the feeling passed and he slowly opened his eyes.
"No!" he yelled when he saw his brother hanging from the tree above him.
Dean put a hand on Sam's arm as his brother jerked.
"Sammy?" he said quietly. "Sammy, wake up. Come on."
Sam jerked again.
"You're okay." Dean said gently. "I'm here and nothing is going to hurt you. You just have to wake up."
Dean glanced at the doorway as his father walked into the room.
"Did he wake up?" John asked hopefully.
"No." Dean said looking back at his brother. "It's like he's dreaming or something, though. He's restless."
Sam had been in the hospital for more than a day now and other tests were performed, but the results weren't in yet. John left an hour ago to make some phone calls, trying to find some help for his younger son.
"Any luck?" Dean asked a moment later.
"No, not really. A couple people are going to look into some things, but I don't think anything will come of it."
Sam settled back into a still silence. Dean walked to the window and stared out into the parking lot.
"What are we gonna do, Dad? We can't just sit here forever – we gotta find out what's wrong with him."
"We will. We don't know yet that the doctors won't figure it out. It could still be medical."
Dean nodded, not sure he believed that his brother's condition was purely medical.
"I know what you said before; about not leaving him." John began. "But I want you to go back to the motel and get some rest. You've been here for over 24 hours –"
"You'll be no good to him if you get sick. You have to take care of yourself."
Dean was quiet.
"Just for a couple hours. Get some sleep, take a shower, get something to eat."
"What about you?"
"I'll stay with him until you get back, then I'll go."
Dean looked uncertain but after a moment he nodded. "All right. You don't leave his side."
John nodded. "I'll be right here."
"If he wakes up, call me."
"Dean – "
Dean looked at his father, unflinching. John nodded. Satisfied, Dean pulled his jacket on and walked to his brother's bed.
"Sam I'll be back in a little while, but Dad is here with you. You hang in there, okay?" Dean waited a moment for some reaction but when none came, he reluctantly left the room.
Driving back to the motel, Dean thought about how things had changed since the family reunited. When Sam went to college Dean somehow became even more faithful to their father. He'd been proud of Sam for having the courage to leave, especially since John told him if he left not to come back, but as proud as he was of his brother, he was that afraid to lose his father. He paid even more attention to the orders; he trained harder, hunted harder, and tried harder to be the perfect son. But then John had disappeared and Dean got Sam from school to help look for him. The harder they looked, the harder John hid. Dean and Sam spent the better part of a year together learning to be brothers again and when John came back into their lives, Dean realized his father didn't have all the answers. John made mistakes just like anyone else. Dean still loved him, still respected him and would still march into Hell with him if needed, but Dean now realized he didn't have to follow every order. John was slowly realizing he didn't have to issue orders, but it was a hard habit to break.
Back at the motel, Dean paced restlessly, his eyes avoiding Sam's things. Finally he took a long, hot shower then lay on top of the bed to try to get a little sleep.
Sam slowly opened his eyes, not ready to be awake. He stared at the ceiling for a moment, a vague memory of something on the edge of his consciousness. He thought maybe he'd been dreaming when he woke up, but he had no memory of a dream. After a few minutes of listening to the silence of the room around him, he glanced around; Dean wasn't in the other bed but Sam heard no sounds coming from the bathroom. He tossed the covers off, got out of bed and slipped into a pair of jeans while calling his brother's name. He was met with only silence and could see the bathroom door was open.
Sam stood in the middle of the room, hands on his hips, looking around. Where was Dean's duffle bag? He moved to the window and looked out; the Impala was gone and Sam felt a surge of panic. He grabbed his cell phone from the nightstand between the beds and dialed Dean's number. There was no answer and instead of his brother's voicemail message, all Sam heard was ringing.
Suddenly dizzy, he sat down on the edge of closest bed. The one Dean should have been in. The room went dark around him.
"Mr. Winchester," the doctor began. "we've called in a specialist. There is nothing in any of the tests we've run to indicate why your son is unconscious. I'm also concerned because his vital signs; well, they aren't as strong as they were. "
John listened to the doctor with a knot in his stomach. His son's condition was deteriorating and the doctor didn't even know what to treat. John wasn't so certain anymore that the problem was purely medical but, like the doctor, didn't know what to treat. In their last round with the demon that killed his wife, the family lost two of their trusted friends; friends that had a lot of knowledge and expertise in the supernatural arena. John placed calls to other people that might be able to help, but so far none of them had been able to come up with anything. Dean used the EMF reader and other tools, but there was nothing to indicate a demon possession or other paranormal cause for Sam's condition.
"The neurologist will be here in the morning." John realized the doctor was still speaking and he struggled to pay attention. "In the meantime, we'll do what we can to keep his condition stable."
The doctor waited for some acknowledgement from his patient's father and all John could do was nod. Alone with his son a moment later, John put a shaky hand on his shoulder. It might not have always seemed like it, but there was nothing more important than his children. He'd taught them that nothing came before killing the demon that had destroyed their perfect family, but in reality, he never believed that. Killing the demon was more important than his own life, but not the life of his boys. He'd given Sam grief for not shooting him when was possessed by the demon but he didn't think he could have killed either of his boys if the demon possessed one of them instead.
He stayed away from them when they needed him; when Dean was dying and when Sam's visions sent them back to Lawrence. He regretted that now, due in large part to the changes since their reunion. Sam wasn't a boy anymore and Dean – Dean wasn't his perfect unquestioning soldier. His boys weren't children anymore…but they would always be his children. His responsibility. The reason he was still alive. He wasn't terribly gentle with them after Mary's death. Sam was only a baby at the time but his four year old brother showed him more gentleness and compassion than John could muster. At first, it was his own grief, but after Missouri told him the truth and opened the eyes to the dangers around him, he was afraid to be gentle with them. Gentle would get them killed.
But now….What did Sam need now?
"Sam." John said quietly. "Son, I don't know if you can hear me, but I think you can. I don't know what's keeping you away, but you have to fight it. You're not alone, Sam. Your brother and I – we're here waiting for you. We'd come to get you if we knew where to look. If you can give us a sign; some indication of where you are, we'll be there."
"Dad?" Sam opened his eyes. He'd heard his father's voice clearly but he was alone in the motel room. Dean wasn't there and, for some reason, Sam hadn't expected him to be. He got out of bed and pulled on a pair of jeans. He didn't bother to look for his brother; he knew Dean wasn't around. He took his cell phone but didn't try to call Dean, he didn't even look for the Impala. He stood at the edge of the motel property trying to decide in which direction to walk.
"Hello?" Dean answered his ringing cell phone. He listened for a moment, then raced out of the motel room and to his car. He'd only been gone from his brother's bedside for a couple of hours but when he got back to the hospital, he was shocked to find that Sam was now on life support equipment. At first he was too stunned to do anything other than stare; he'd never been this close to losing Sam.
"Dean." John said after a moment. "This is Alexander; he's here to help your brother."
Dean turned. He hadn't noticed anyone else in the room. "Help him how?"
"Alexander is going to create a bridge; a way for us to rescue Sam."
"I don't know who – or what – is responsible, but I'm convinced that someone, or something, has–" John struggled for a way to explain what he suspected was happening to Sam.
"Something has trapped your brother in his own mind. His brain waves resemble someone who is dreaming, that's what some of the test results have shown, but he doesn't realize the things he's experiencing are dreams. He thinks they're real." Alexander stepped forward.
Dean looked unbelieving. "You're joking."
"Dean –" John began.
"You're talking about a – a Vulcan mind meld."
Alexander smiled patiently. "Something like that."
Dean looked at his father. "This is crazy."
"After everything you've seen and done, you can say that?" Alexander asked, still smiling. "Interesting."
Sam began to tremble and moan miserably jolting Dean's attention away from Alexander. He put a hand on his brother's arm. "Sam – "
"Why do you speak to him?" Alexander asked. "Is it because you think he can hear you?"
Dean glanced at him.
"I assure you that he can, but not the words you say."
"What does that mean?"
Alexander nodded toward the machines that monitored Sam's condition. "His vital signs are stronger. He knows you're here."
Sam felt like he'd been walking for hours. He looked at his watch but it had stopped and there was no signal on his cell phone. He didn't know where he was or where he was going, but he felt he was headed in the right direction. He experienced moments of nausea but it wasn't bad enough to make him stop walking. It felt very important to get to his destination; where ever that was.
"So what do we do?" Dean asked finally.
"You need to be in a trancelike state. I will act as a conduit, a bridge if you will, so that you can cross into the realm where your brother is being held. You have to find him and when you do, he will be able to come back. His body will wake up and he should be healthy again."
"Of all the whack-job mumbo jumbo." Dean muttered. But he would do anything for his brother and if this was what he had to do, he would. "Dad?"
"Your father must remain here to bind you to this world."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Of course. All right. Let's do this."
Sam heard a noise behind him but before he could turn, he felt strong arms around his throat. He was pulled to his knees and bound by something he couldn't see. The sky went black and he could make out nothing around him. The pain in his head was worse than anything he'd ever experienced before. He fought it, but he felt himself slipping into unconsciousness. He whispered his brother's name just before passing out.
Dean opened his eyes and looked around. He wasn't in the hospital room anymore; he was standing in the middle of a long straight road. "I'll be damned."
He looked around, not sure in which direction to walk. He chose the direction he was facing. "I cannot believe this crap. Of all the weird ass –"
Dean stopped as he saw a dark shape coming toward him from a grove of trees near the road. Before he could dodge it he felt something hit him, slamming him onto his back. With the wind knocked out of him, he couldn't avoid another hit.
Then another came.
He didn't think he'd be able to get an advantage over his assailant, but impossibly, he heard his father's voice. "Dean, you have to get to your brother. Get up, Son. Fight."
Dean felt a surge of strength and lashed out at his attacker. It was still only a shadow but it had mass and Dean was able to hit it. He managed to get to his feet and pull a gun from inside of his jacket. The shadow disappeared before he could shoot at it.
"Damnit." Dean wiped the blood from his mouth and straightened his jacket. He looked at the gun in his hand. "You weren't there earlier." He checked his pockets, but didn't find anything else he didn't already know he had.
"Keep going, Dean. You're headed in the right direction."
After a moment of hesitation and looking around, Dean continued in the direction he had been going. He'd gone no more than a few steps when the air around him changed. His skin began to tingle, and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. He barely saw the shadow before it attacked again. This time he was better able to defend himself, but still couldn't get off a shot. He took a few more hits, more blood was drawn, and again the shadow disappeared.
"You are really starting to piss me off!" Dean yelled. With gun at the ready, he continued on. The shadow didn't attack again.
Sam's eyes opened and he blinked until his vision cleared. The pain in his head was gone. The sun had set, but the moon was full and provided enough light for him to see his surroundings. He was sitting on the ground, tied to a tree. He was in a small grove of trees but he could still see the road in front of him. He struggled against his bonds but couldn't free himself. As he tried to figure out his next move, he realized something felt different. He didn't know what it was, but something had changed. Not for the first time, he wondered where he was; he'd been on deserted back roads before, but something about this area seemed surreal. It was too quiet, the sky was too clear, and the moon too bright. He heard no animals around him and saw no lights other than what was coming from the moon. He pulled at the ropes again and felt them loosen but as they did, the pain in his head increased. He decided if pain was the price for his freedom, it was worth it. He couldn't get to safety, to Dean, if he was tied to a tree.
It was dark now, but Dean could see well enough. He scoured the roadside as he walked, looking for his brother. He'd heard his father's voice again, urging him forward and telling him to hurry. Dean realized that back in the hospital room, his brother was dying. If he didn't find Sam soon it would be too late.
The pain was excruciating but Sam managed to get out of the bonds and leaning heavily against the tree, he stood up. His nose began to bleed and he felt dizzy, but still he struggled forward, moving from one tree to the next until he reached the side of the road. There were no more trees to lean on and he didn't know how he would be able to go any further. He staggered for a few steps before falling. The last thing he saw was the too bright stars above him.
Dean felt the air change again.
"Look out, Dean!" he heard John's warning and this time he was ready for the shadow when it attacked.
"Bring it on!" He was able to shoot it with the rock salt in the gun he carried and with a screech it disappeared. "That's what I'm talkin' about."
His celebration was cut short when his father spoke again. "Dean, you have to hurry. Sammy – he doesn't have much time left."
Dean broke into a run. He didn't know how far he'd gone when he saw something in the road ahead of him. He slowed then stopped, dropping to his knees when he realized it was his brother. Sam's face was covered in blood and he was shaking. Dean wiped the blood away as best he could and pulled his brother close.
"Sam. Sammy, come on man. It's me. You have to wake up, Sam. Dad is waiting for you and I – I need you to wake up, Sammy."
Sam moaned. "Dean."
"Hey there, yeah, it's me. Wake up for me. We can get out of here as soon as you wake up."
"Where?" His voice was barely above a whisper.
"I don't know exactly, but I know how to get us out of here. You just have to wake up."
Sam reached up and grabbed Dean's arm. "Dean –"
Dean touched his hand. "Yeah, Sam. Open your eyes."
"Not what you think."
"What? What do you mean?"
"Not what you think, Dean."
He leaned closer to Sam to hear him better. "What isn't what I think, Sammy? What is it?"
"Not you? I don't understand. Look, Sam, you have to wake up so we can get out of here. You have to open your eyes."
"No, Dean." Sam squeezed his arm. "Not me. You."
Dean's eyes fluttered open. He looked around, taking in his surroundings.
He turned his head at the sound of his brother's voice.
"Hey, Dean." Sam said gently, smiling. "It's about time you woke up."
"Where – where am I?" Dean struggled. "What happened?"
"We were on a hunt." Sam said quietly. "We were in an old house and you fell through some rotted floorboards into the basement. But you're gonna be okay."
"How long?" Dean asked, confused.
"You've been unconscious for three days, but you were lucky. You fell onto boxes of old clothes and you're not hurt that bad. Now that you're awake, you'll be discharged soon."
Dean looked around the room. Slowly he remembered the hunt; their father sent them to check out a supposedly haunted house. "Dad?"
"He's out talking to the doctor." Sam smiled. "He's been here the whole time. He came when I called him and he's been here the whole time. When you get out of here, the three of us are going somewhere so you can recuperate. It's going to be a while before you're well enough to hunt again, so Dad is going to take us somewhere; we've been talking about where."
"That's good, Sammy." Dean whispered.
John Winchester walked into the hospital room a moment later and stood on the opposite side of Dean's bed. "It's about time you woke up."
"Yes, sir." Dean said, trying to sound less weak than he felt.
John put his hand on Dean's shoulder, his voice softened. "It's good to see you awake, Son."
"Yes, sir." Dean whispered. He looked from his father to his brother and even though he was in a hospital bed, he felt more at home than he'd felt in a long, long time. Surrounded by his family, he settled back into the pillow and closed his eyes.