Dean had spent the night hallucinating. It was to be expected after spending hours up a tree slowly but surely losing blood. The place where the wolf's teeth had dug into his skin was red and angry, even through the blood. It was swollen and a few dustings of something black clotted around the edges: dirt from the scramble up the tree. He leant heavily against the cool bark and let the dreams take him.
He came around not long after, slowly, an aching thud in his head. His eyelids felt like lead shutters. All his senses lurched one way, and his body followed. Unable to come around quick enough, he couldn't catch a hold on the branch. His head thwacked against a neighbouring bough as he plummeted to the floor, then he hit the ground boneless, everything plunging into black.
"Hey, son, come on, open your eyes,"
He was aware of someone, like a shadow, ghosting just above him. A hand touching the side of his neck and the top of his shoulders, pushing down gently but firmly. It wandered up to his head, gently touching the part of his head that was sticky with something half-dried and heavy.
"U-Mmmmm," he mumbled, turning his head away from the hand.
"Come on, wake up,"
His eyes snapped open before sliding closed again. Dean groaned and pulled them back open carefully. The light was bright, different to the light last time he'd woken up. It slanted through the trees and swamped him where he lay on the damp forest floor.
He jumped when footsteps thundered close to him.
"Think so. Got a bite the size of a plate on his right arm,"
"What do you think got him?"
"Wolf!" Dean croaked, shards of his memory falling painfully into place at the back of his mind, "Wolf," he mumbled, shaking his head, trying to get the hand off him, wanting to get up. His right arm was leaden and numb, pulling down that whole side of his body.
"Hey, hey, just stay still kid-"
"Sam," another piece of information swam to the surface, "Sam,"
"It's alright kid. Lets get you out of here,"
"He been here long d'ya think?"
"All night by the looks of it. We rescued a bunch of kids here lat night. One of them had a seriously bleeding nose and a severe fever. He's probably one of them,"
Dean tried to tie his scrambled thoughts together and fix them still in his head. He was, technically, supposed to be dead. So long as he didn't have one of his many IDs on him, which he doubted he did, he could be anyone without having to prove it.
"What's your name?"
"Sam…Sam Winchester," Dean croaked, trying to get his head up to figure out where he was.
"'Kay. Any idea what bit you?"
Above him, the paramedic gave one of the park rangers - who he'd manage to drag, albeit begrudgingly, to the scene in case there were any more beasties feeling bitey - a look. The park ranger shook his head, "I've never known one wolf to try and bring down a guy just because he was walking through. I wasn't even sure we had wolves in these woods. Not this side anyway. Probably a mad dog,"
"We've got to pump him with antibiotics, either way," the paramedic said.
"Wolf," Dean protested, trying to sit up, "It was…ow,"
"Easy, easy, lay down, you hit your head,"
"No! No, I have to…find-"
"Hey, sit back, come on-"
The easy motion of being lifted steadily drew Dean into a sleep, more peaceful and quiet than any he'd had recently.
He woke up an achingly bright light straight into his eyes. He groaned and tried to move away. The light pulled away and natural light took over.
"Look like we got there in time. No signs of actually contracting rabies, nor tetanus. He was lucky though. Spending all night in those conditions could have been fatal,"
"A nurse will arrive in a minute if he…or yourself, should need anything,"
Didn't he recognise that voice? Slowly straining his eyes fully open, he craned his head to the side to focus the figure by his bed. It was Sam. Sat at the side of his bed, hair hanging in his eyes, blood drying on his face and neck, a bruise around his left eye. He looked very unimpressed.
"Hello Sam," Sam said.
"Hello," Dean cracked a smirk. They were silent for a moment, before Sam began to laugh.
"Dean…why are you me?"
"I'm dead, if you remember?"
"They're going to find out who you really are soon Dean. The only reason you've been left alone up until now is the fact I've drawn more attention to myself than any usual visitor,"
Dean pushed himself up with his good arm to a sitting position, Sam leaning quickly forward to help. Dean gritted his teeth and tried harder, knowing too well he couldn't do it himself but not wanting Sam to have a chance to mother him.
Sam shrugged, "The nosebleed. And I must have hit something," he touched the bruise about his eye tenderly.
"You remember anything?"
"No. Nothing. Just feeling ill, then suddenly waking up at the edge of the forest. All over again. What happened to you?"
"I can't really remember. You did your disappearing act almost straight after that girl got sick-"
"Yeah. The…the blonde. She got sick, remember? Same symptoms as…oh shit Sam we've got to find her!"
"Whoa, slow down. A girl was sick?"
"You wouldn't remember. Almost as soon as she started doing a Niagara Falls impression, you started up too. Thankfully the kids didn't notice or they'd all be convinced we'd contracted Ebola or something,"
"So…this girl, she's got the same as me?"
"Blindness, nosebleed, everything,"
"What does that mean?"
Dean rubbed the part of his head where he'd hit the ground. The bruise was soft, like pummelled fruit, and he drew his hand away quickly, "Think about it Sam. That Diana Lumley girl got back, and killed herself. Now a nineteen year old blonde has-"
"Taken her place,"
"Why is it so important for him to get a nineteen year old…." He trailed off quickly. He looked up at Dean with a horrible realisation in his eyes, "It's like a family, isn't it? The teenage girl. The little boy. The baby. The guy, Caleb Tenner. He could be an uncle or a father or something. And me…I'm like a teenage son,"
Dean shifted uncomfortably on the bed and nodded vaguely, "Uh…yeah, sounds good,"
"Sounds more than just good, Dean! This…thing, is trying to create a family! A family of it's own,"
Dean cleared his throat and turned to eye the nurse hovering around at the curtains of his bed, a small tray in his hand, rimmed with cotton wool buds.
"I think you've got a well wisher,"
"Excuse me Sir," the nurse said quickly, taking the opportunity to leap forward, "Are you sure you don't want me to check you over-"
"No, I'm fine," Sam said, trying not to sound testy, "Honestly,"
"You're covered in blood though. Can we at least clean you up?"
Dean sat up quickly as Sam re-entered his room, a cotton bud pressed against his eye.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just…I got prodded and poked so much when they 'cleaned me up' all my bruises have flared up again,"
"Moaner. I'm the one in the hospital bed,"
Sam rolled his eyes, and scrunched the bud closer to his eye.
"Well it isn't going to help with you poking it like that,
"I think I got something in it. Like, half the forest,"
Sam settled himself back in the chair next to Dean's bed.
"By the way Sammy, how did you get here? How did you know I was here?"
"When I came around I went back to the car. I checked the local hospitals, and tried all your 'names'. I eventually tried Sam Winchester, and there 'you' were. Look, Dean, we've got to get you out of here before they notice that you're not me. I heard a doctor say one of the park rangers has organised to come talk to you about what got you-"
"It was wolves,"
Sam nodded, knowing that despite the improbability; Dean was right.
"But, on the other hand, we can't take you out too soon. If you don't get the antibiotics that you need you could be open to lots of different things. But…I suppose you've been here long enough to have had just about enough,"
"Exactly. So lets go already,"
"No. I've got to do something first,"
"Yes 'I'," Sam chuckled, "Because you are bedridden. I've got to go and see if that girl they brought in is still here,"
"You think she may be taken already?"
"I don't know,"
Sam slipped furtively down the dim corridors, keeping his head down in-case a passing nurse recognised him and enquired as to why he was sneaking around the intensive care unit. Thankfully, Dean had been moved from here a while ago, but Sam still cursed the long trek it took to get from Dean's private room to intensive care. He checked every patient, trying to find one fitting the description that Dean had given him, as well as the fragmented memories that were slowly starting to emerge in his memory. So far, all he remembered was a blurry scene of a forest, blonde hair, and blood. He picked his way from patient to patient, trying to bluff his way past the staff. No-one stopped him. Afterall, he was cleaned up and looked outwardly confident in what he was doing. Who was going to stop him? He took a left where he probably should have taken a right, and stopped to take in the corridor. It was dim, the natural light shining through a fire escape at the other end making the linoleum floor glisten in odd streaks and patches. There were four chairs lined up against the right hand wall, and occupying them were a couple, and someone that Sam remembered vaguely from the craggy memories of the night in the forest. He figured, by the description of the events that Dean gave him, that this was Denny. Laila's older sister.
Denny was sat with his elbows planted on his knees, hands scraped through his hair, eyes fixed to the floor. The couple were obviously Denny and Laila's parents. The father got up and strode up and down the smell stretch of corridor, head too bowed to notice Sam. Just a little closer up the corridor to Sam, a door stood, shut still. Sam paused, wondering what to do. He imagined briefly the pain the these three were going through, knowing that a love one was suffering and they could do nothing about it. He thought about how, a long time ago, Dean and his father were having to feel that sort of pain as he suffered. Sam let out a long breath, indecision clogging up his actions.
Before he could decide what to do, a nurse shuttled out of Laila's room so fast she was a blur.
"Uh…uh-um," she said, wringing her hands, "Uh…um, Sir? C-Could you um…could you come in here a second, please?" she said, jerking her thumb over her shoulder to the door she'd shot out from, her voice shrill as she tried to get their attention. Sam moved forward quickly, rushing up the door and it was pulled too behind the family. He put a hand on it to stop it being shut, and Denny turned to see where the resistance came from.
Behind Denny, and through the gap between his parents, Sam could see an empty bed where Laila once lay.
"She's gone," Sam gasped, as he swung into Dean's room.
"She's gone Dean. Laila. The girl. She's gone,"
"The nurse says she went into Laila's bathroom to clean the sink, came back, and she was gone. She's disappeared. Exactly the way I've been doing it. I was stood in that corridor outside her door from when the nurse walked in to when she came back out again, and Laila didn't come out of the corridor. The window was fast shut and it's an eighty foot drop to the floor,"
"They looking for her?"
"They've got security guards doing floor-to-floor checks but…Dean I think she's gone,"
"Not completely," Dean said, shaking his head, ripping the covers from him, "We're going to find him,"
"What? Dean, no, you still need antibiotics,"
"I'm fine," Dean insisted, hissing through his teeth as he struggle his arm out of the hospital gown and into his shirt that was folded neatly by the side of his bed.
"Look, I talked to the nurse, and she said my course of antibiotics were over. They just wanted to keep me in for observation; make sure I don't get a fever or anything,"
"Exactly, you should stay here,"
Dean rolled his eyes. He threw the gown to the floor and tugged on his jeans one-handed, "If I get a fever or something, then you can bring me back here. But for now…I wanna find out what this damn thing's doing, and stop it,"
Sam bit the top of his pen and scanned the page shown brightly on his laptop screen. Scrubbing his eyes wearily, he tried to reach blindly for his beer. He swiped at the air.
"Did you steal my beer? You're not meant to be drinking alcohol if you've been on antibiotics recently,"
Dean paused, the beer bottle to his lips.
"Fine," he grumbled, passing it back over, and squinting back down at the tomb in front of him, "Got anything yet?" he asked, his voice raspy from lack of sleep and thirst.
"God it's hot in here," he added in an undertone.
"I've got nothing. No idea what this thing is. But Dena I'm still going with it's a demon,"
"Alright. So, lets get this confirmed then. We think that a demon is trying to create a family. For reasons we don't know. He kidnaps the appropriate people. Part of that kidnapping process is giving these set of symptoms. A bit like a drugging someone, because it makes them easier to kidnap. It then keeps the family…well, we don't know where. For a particular amount of time. Then…for some reason, it lets them go, and they come back. They come back and they…they get violent,"
"Right," Sam could barely stifle his yawn before continuing, "God that reasoning has a lot of holes in it,"
Dean stood up, wincing and groaning at the pain in his arm. It stung badly under it's bandage, and his whole arm felt slightly numb and heavy from the pain of all the cleaning fluid use, and the needle that had fed the antibiotics into his system. The rest of him felt tired and sluggish, and overall he didn't feel his usual cheery self. In fact he felt almost as he had done up that tree.
"Dean, maybe you should go to sleep,"
Dean laughed coarsely, "What, and leave you open for that 'thing' to come and snatch you? Jesus Sammy, that thing must be a supernatural psycho if it wants you as his perfect eldest son,"
Sam gave Dean a look and went back to reading this article. He tapped irritably at the table, then quickly decided to check out a site he'd been searching about avenging spirits. He tapped onto the link and the page come up, but something in the Link History box on their toolbar caught his eye. Sam quickly brought it up in a separate window, and checked the list again.
"What's this article on here? The…The 'Tea Murder's,"
Dean blanched, thankful that his back was turned to Sam so that his little brother didn't see his reaction.
"Uh…um, I don't know. Never heard of it before,"
"Well it's on our history page. And I don't remember seeing it before. Hey, listen to this,"
Sam started a brief summary of the article, and Dean sat down heavily on his bed, feeling even more tired than he had done before. Why did he keep that from Sam? It was stupid, Sam was going to find out anyway.
"Wow, Dean. This…this is exactly what we've been looking for. This guy, Daniel Tea, he died in this area and he lost his family in a brutal attack. All this stuff I've been reading about avenging spirits, it's…it's almost exactly the same. Someone dies from a brutal attack, the spirit lives on, and tries to make things right,"
"Yeah, but avenging spirits 'avenge'. This thing is avenging,"
"You're right. It's making it's own family," Sam shook his head, "You know, this is weird, because I never looked at this before. Did you?"
"Um, I…I think it must have been up from some other…time,"
Sam raised an eyebrow, "Really?"
Dean lay down his bed and tried to stop himself shaking underneath his heavy jacket. 'There's probably just a draft or something,' he told himself, as he slipped off into a heavy sleep, ignoring the flare of heat on his skin.
"Dean. Dean don't go to sleep. Dean!"
Sam growled under his breath and tried to move to wake his brother up, but he was sweaty and hot and pinned by the table to the corner of the room. He rolled the cool surface of the beer bottle around on his forehead and face and tried in vain to cool down. Things were starting to make a little sense now. Sam was being picked to replace this thing's idea of his dead perfect son. How could Sam do that when he was the black sheep his family?
"Sam, I thought you were going to come back in for a sparring-"
"Football ran, over, I'm sorry Ok!"
"You should be here, with me and your brother,"
"Why do I have to? This isn't fair dad, you're not being fair!"
"Dean doesn't mind-"
"Dean's different to me, Dean wants to do all of this. I don't. I'm not Dean. I'm sorry I'm not the perfect son but I am who I am!"